Summary: You’ve probably read what the producers want you to know about the map that hung on the wall behind Ben’s desk, but here is the real story.
Rating: K (2,790 words)
‘It’s got to be something really special this year,’ said Adam. ‘After all, it is his fiftieth birthday.’ He sat in thoughtful silence while his two brothers looked at him hopefully. They all knew that Adam was usually the one to come up with good ideas and both Hoss and Little Joe relied on him now to have an idea for their father’s birthday present that would make the day truly memorable for him.
Suddenly Adam snapped his fingers. ‘I know!’ he said. ‘What is Pa’s most treasured possession?’
‘Me!’ said Little Joe quickly.
Adam gave his youngest brother a withering look and Hoss laughed as he tickled his brother. ‘Adam means besides you, shortshanks,’ he said. He looked over at Adam. ‘You mean The Ponderosa, don’t ya Adam?’
‘Yes of course The Ponderosa,’ replied his brother impatiently. ‘So let’s give it to him.’
Hoss scratched his head. ‘But ain’t he already got it?’ he asked. ‘How can a man get something twice?’
‘I mean a momento of The Ponderosa,’ explained Adam.
‘A what?’ asked Joe.
‘A momento,’ repeated Adam. ‘Something for him to keep as a … well, a reminder of it.’
‘Why does he need to be reminded of it?’ asked Joe. ‘He can see it every time he looks out the window.’
‘Would you please be sensible!’ exploded Adam. ‘I’m trying to explain this.’
Joe made a face and sat back against the wall of the barn in a huff with his arms folded over his chest. ‘I thought I was,’ he muttered half to himself. ‘He can so see it out the window!’
Adam ignored his youngest brother and continued speaking to Hoss. ‘A map,’ he said. ‘He doesn’t have a map of the ranch.’
Hoss scratched his head again. ‘Well I reckon that he does Adam,’ he said. ‘He’s got a bunch of em from the Land Office, don’t he?’
‘Not one map showing the whole ranch,’ insisted Adam. ‘He’s only got maps of different sections of it. Anyway, I’m talking about a special kind of map. One that shows not just the boundaries of the ranch, but special things about it as well.’
Joe leant forward, interested in spite of himself. ‘Special things like what?’ he asked.
‘Oh … you know … like the towns around. Carson City and Virginia City … Lake Tahoe … Special landmarks like that.’
‘Yeah!’ Joe started to get enthused about it now. ‘And we could put some tiny pine trees on it for the ponderosas too.’
‘And a stage coach to show where they run!’ said Hoss, catching his brother’s enthusiasm. ‘You could draw it Adam… you’re good at that sort of thing.’
Adam tried to look modest, but his eyes were shining with the very thought of it. ‘And you could make a special frame for it Hoss,’ he said. ‘A really fancy one with a backboard so that the map won’t get ruined. Pa will probably want to mount it on a wall and you’re good with woodwork.’
‘Great idea!’ said Hoss. ‘I’ll choose some nice pine for it.’
‘What about me?’ asked Joe excitedly. ‘What can I do?’
Adam hesitated as he looked at his youngest brother. ‘We’ll think of something for you later,’ he said finally. ‘I’m sure we’ll come up with an idea.’ He stood up. ‘Now we’ve got two weeks to get this done. I’m going into town to see if I can find a large piece of parchment paper to draw it on. I’ve got a nice black pen that I can do the drawing with.’
‘This is going to be the best birthday present we’ve ever given Pa,’ said Joe. ‘He’s going to be so excited!’
Adam pointed his finger at his little brother. ‘You just remember to keep quiet about it,’ he warned. ‘I know what you’re like with keeping secrets.’
Joe looked offended. ‘As if I’d tell him!’ he said. ‘Don’t be stupid Adam!’
Adam said nothing as he left the barn. Hoss stood up. ‘Well I’d better go and pick out some good pine and get ta carving that frame,’ he said.
‘What about me?’ asked Joe again. ‘What am I gonna do?’
‘Adam done told ya Joe,’ replied Hoss. ‘We’ll think of something. Don’t you worry!’
‘You’d better!’ called out Joe. ‘This is my present too!’
‘Hey that looks great Adam!’ Joe leant over his brother’s shoulder to admire his work closer. ‘So is that the real shape of The Ponderosa? I ain’t never seen it in one bit before.’
‘As near as I can make out it is,’ said Adam as he concentrated on his drawing. ‘Move back a bit will you?’
Joe stepped back and craned his neck so that he could see. ‘Don’t forget the pine trees,’ he said. ‘You have to put in some ponderosa pines.’
‘I won’t forget,’ said Adam absently.
‘Nice paper,’ said Joe. ‘Where’d ya get it?’
‘It’s parchment,’ said Adam. ‘I found it in the Mercantile.’
‘I could draw some of them ponderosa pines if ya like,’ Joe offered generously. ‘I’d be good at that.’
Adam sighed. ‘Not right now,’ he said. ‘I have to finish this part first.’
‘So what is it?’ asked Joe. ‘Hey! That’s the house ain’t it? And over there … is that Virginia City?’
‘Carson City,’ said Adam. ‘That’s Virginia City over there.’
‘Well they’re both pretty good,’ said Joe. ‘You’re a good drawer, ain’t ya Adam?’
‘Thank you,’ said Adam.
‘I reckon it needs a name,’ mused Joe thoughtfully.
‘I’m going to give it one. Why don’t you go downstairs and help Hoss with the frame in the barn?’
‘Yeah OK. You sure you don’t need me here?’
‘No, I’m sure,’ said Adam between gritted teeth.
Joe left his brother’s bedroom and happily bounced down the stairs. His father looked up from behind his desk where he was doing the accounts and smiled at him. ‘Joseph!’ he said. ‘No one seems to be around tonight. Where are your brothers?’
Joe came over and leant on his father’s desk. ‘Oh they’re around,’ he said airily. ‘Hoss is in the barn and Adam’s in his room doing …. stuff.’
‘I see.’ Ben bent over his work again.
‘It’s your birthday in a week or so, ain’t it?’
‘Yes it is. Stop fiddling with those papers please.’
‘You’re fifty, ain’t ya?’
‘Adam says that it’s a special birthday so our present hasta be a real good one.’
‘We’re getting something really good for ya, but I ain’t allowed to tell you what.’
‘Well then you’d better not. Get off the desk please.’
Ben sighed. ‘Yes?’
‘You’re gonna be real happy with what we’ve got you.’
Ben put down his pen. ‘Joseph, if you’re not supposed to tell me what it is, then you’d better stop talking about it. I don’t think your brothers would like it if they heard you.’
Joe pulled a face. ‘OK,’ he said. ‘I’m going out to the barn to help Hoss with it now.’
Ben smiled to himself as his son left the room. Keeping secrets had never been Joseph’s strong point and he hoped that he could make it to his birthday without the boy blurting out what the special present was.
As Joe entered the barn he saw Hoss bent over a barrel sawing something. ‘How’s it going Hoss?’ he asked.
Hoss turned to face him. ‘Real good Joe,’ he said. ‘I’m nearly done putting it together. I’ll start on the fancy carving then.’
‘Can I do a bit?’ asked Joe. ‘I ain’t done nothing yet.’
‘Not this part shortshanks,’ said Hoss, ruffling his brother’s hair. ‘It’s a mite too tricky for ya’
Joe frowned. ‘Seems like there’s nothing left for me to do!’ he grumbled. ‘Adam’s doing all the drawing and you’re doing the frame. What can I do Hoss?’
‘Adam done told ya shortshanks. We’ll think of something,’ Hoss answered absently. ‘Move away from there. I gotta use that now.’
Joe dutifully stepped away and watched his brother working. Hoss hammered the pieces of wood until they formed a frame and then hammered a backboard onto it carefully. ‘There,’ he said, holding it up proudly when it was done. ‘Perfect!’
‘How do ya know that it’s the right size Hoss?’ asked Joe.
‘Adam measured the paper of course,’ said Hoss. ‘It’s just right. Now I’ve gotta carve out something special on it.’
‘Joseph! Bedtime!’ Their father’s voice came drifting across the yard and Little Joe made a face.
‘How come I always gotta go to bed when things get interesting?’ he whined. ‘It ain’t fair!’ He left the barn and walked towards the house slowly, dragging his feet as he did so. ‘Hurry up!’ called out Ben from the house. He closed the door behind Joe as the boy entered the room. ‘Up to bed with you now,’ he said. ‘Go on.’
‘What’s the most precious thing you have?’
‘You three boys of course,’ answered his father without hesitation.
‘I done told Adam that!’ declared Joe. ‘But he reckons that it’s The Ponderosa.’
Ben smiled. ‘Well of course The Ponderosa is very special to me as well,’ he explained. ‘But without you three boys it wouldn’t mean very much to me. Now up to bed!’ He swatted the boy on the backside and turned him towards the stairs.
‘I done told Adam that!’ muttered Joe under his breath. ‘I knew it!’
Adam placed the paper carefully in the finished frame and smoothed the edges down. All three boys stepped back to admire the map and nodded their heads. ‘Perfect!’ said Adam happily. ‘Pa will love it!’
‘I put some hooks on the back so that he can hang it up iffen he has a mind to as well,’ said Hoss. ‘It looks right fine Adam.’
‘Your frame is beautiful,’ said Adam generously. ‘It really sets it off.’
‘Thanks,’ said Hoss, beaming at him. ‘But your drawing of that map is real special. ‘You done a fine job!’
‘I told him to put them ponderosa pine trees in.’ said Joe.
‘And they look mighty fine shortshanks,’ Hoss assured him.
‘I ain’t done nothing yet!’ declared Joe. ‘You both said I could!’
‘He’s right Adam,’ admitted Hoss. ‘We did say that he could do something.’
‘I wanted to do the lettering,’ said Joe. ‘But Adam already done it.’ He fingered the words that Adam had written: Map To Illustrate The Ponderosa in Nevada. ‘I got to do nothing!’
Adam thought for a moment. ‘How about you wrap it up?’ he suggested. ‘You could do that real fine!’
Joe’s eyes lit up. ‘Yeah!’ he said. ‘There’s some brown paper in the barn and I can get some string from Hop Sing. ‘I’ll do it real fine Adam.’
‘Well you just be careful with it,’ replied his brother as he slid it under his bed for safekeeping. ‘Pa’s birthday is tomorrow and it has to be perfect.’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Joe. ‘You can trust me!’
Joe pulled out the map and put it on the bed, looking at it carefully before putting his brown paper and string on the bed beside it. He traced the line of Lake Tahoe with his finger and then peered closely at the ranch house. ‘Sure is a mighty fine map,’ he muttered to himself. ‘Wish I coulda done something more than just wrap it up though.’ He peered at it closely and then a smile spread across his face. He clapped his hands in glee and then jumped up and went to Adam’s desk. Grabbing his brother’s best drawing pen, he came back and leant over the map again. ‘I knew I’d think of something,’ he muttered as he poked his tongue out and began to draw.
‘What do you mean you already wrapped it?’ whispered Adam across the supper table that night. ‘I was going to supervise you doing that.’
‘Well I already done it,’ said Joe proudly. ‘It looks real fine too. Pa is gonna love it.’ He gave both his brothers a cagey look. ‘I done a surprise bit too.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked Hoss in a low voice. ‘What surprise bit?’
‘Just a surprise bit,’ said Joe with a grin. ‘Don’t worry … Pa will like it.’
‘What exactly …’ began Adam and then stopped as their father entered the room. ‘Hi Pa!’ he said.
‘Evening boys,’ said Ben as he sat down. ‘How was your day?’
‘Mine was good Pa,’ Little Joe assured his father. ‘You’re gonna have a good one tomorrow, ain’t ya? It’ll be your birthday.’
Ben smiled at the boy. ‘I’m sure I will,’ he said. ‘Now let’s begin our meal, shall we?’ He reached for the meat platter.
‘We gotta good present for ya Pa,’ continued Joe excitedly. ‘Ow!’ He bent down to rub his ankle. ‘What was that for?’ He said angrily to Hoss. ‘I wasn’t gonna tell him about the m …. Ow!’ He rubbed his other ankle and glared at Adam.
‘Boys stop kicking your brother,’ instructed Ben. ‘Joseph begin your meal please and stop talking about my birthday. Your brothers do not want you to spoil any plans that they may have.’ Joe scowled at both his brothers who glared back at him. He picked up his fork and began to eat slowly.
‘Here you are Pa. Happy fiftieth birthday from the three of us,’ said Adam at breakfast the next morning as he handed his father the large brown paper-wrapped present.
‘Well thank you boys,’ said Ben with a grin at them all. ‘I wonder what this could be?’
‘Open it and see Pa!’ said Little Joe excitedly, clapping his hands and grinning at his father. ‘It’s a real good present!’
Ben smiled and began to undo the string that Little Joe had carefully tied around it. As the paper fell away, his jaw dropped open and he stared at the beautifully-framed map in stunned silence. ‘Why … why it’s truly beautiful boys!’ he gasped. ‘How on earth did you ever manage to get something like this?’
‘We made it,’ said Hoss proudly. ‘I made the frame and carved it and Adam drew the map.’
‘And I wrapped it!’ added Little Joe.
Ben put it on the table and peered at it closely while all the boys clustered around to get a better look. ‘It’s just beautiful!’ their father declared with tears in his eyes. ‘Just beautiful! Thank you so much!’
‘We thought that you might like to hang it on the wall,’ said Adam eagerly. ‘Hoss put some hooks on the back.’
‘Yes I will,’ said Ben. ‘Now … I’ll have to think of the best place to put it.’
Adam frowned as he stared at the map and poked his finger on the top left hand corner. ‘What is that?’ he demanded, staring at Little Joe.
Joe puffed up with pride. ‘You forgot to put in a compass,’ he explained. ‘So I did for ya! Do you like it Pa?’
Ben looked at the cross that depicted the compass points. ‘It’s lovely son,’ he said.
‘But …’ Adam’s face began to go red. ‘But it’s pointing in the wrong direction!’ he spluttered.
‘No it ain’t!’ declared Little Joe defensively. ‘It’s got all the letters in the right spots… see? N for north and W for west and ….’
‘North shouldn’t be up there!’ interrupted Adam angrily. ‘It should be over that way!’
‘Adam your brother was only trying to help,’ said Ben. ‘And it doesn’t really matter, does it?’
‘Yes it does matter!’ declared Adam. ‘He’s ruined it!’
‘I have not!’ shouted Little Joe angrily.
‘Adam, it’s fine,’ said Ben, putting his hand on his eldest son’s shoulder. ‘No one will ever notice I’m sure.’ He stood up with the map in his hands. ‘I think I know just the right spot for this.’ He took it over to his study and hung it on the wall behind his desk. ‘There!’ he said. ‘Doesn’t that look perfect?’
‘It did before a certain someone decided to put a compass on it pointing in the wrong direction,’ muttered Adam with a dark look at Joe.
Ben smiled at them all. ‘Boys, I think your present will be in the Cartwright family for a long time to come,’ he said happily. ‘If I’m not mistaken, this map will be identified with The Ponderosa ranch for many long years. He stood proudly in front of it. ‘Yes sir,’ he said. ‘That’s a map to be proud of!’
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