SUMMARY: This is my entry for the Missing Man Challenge. The episode is The Other Son and Adam has been added to the story line. The rest of the story of moving the nitroglycerin across the mountains remains intact.
rating = T word count = 7768
The Other Sons
This story includes Adam as if he never left. The basic plot elements and some of the narration and dialogue are from the original episode, The Other Son.
It was the worst crisis Virginia City had faced since its inception. The mines were flooded and thousands were out of work. The town was a powder keg and something had to be done. Ben Cartwright had written to his son Adam and he had written back with an idea that held the best promise of success. Ben was on his way to Placerville to meet the wagonload of supplies Adam had sent for that purpose and escort the driver to where those life-saving items were needed most. When he got to Placerville, the wagon hadn’t yet arrived so he continued on down the road and found not only the wagon but his son, Adam, and the sheriff of Placerville and a contingent of armed guards around the supply wagon. Adam was leaning against the wagon in that notorious casual lean of his that could mean anything from amusement to disdain to preparation for an explosion. This one looked like the latter. As Ben got closer, he realized that was the case.
“I’m glad but surprised to see you, son.”
Without explanation as to why he was there, Adam launched into the reason for his anger. “Pa, Sheriff Walker says they won’t let me drive the wagon through town. There’s no way to get to Virginia City unless I want to drive all the way back and up north across to Reno and then back down. It’s ridiculous.”
“Mister Cartwright, what I’ve been trying to explain to your bull-headed son is that the Wells Fargo office that used to be in San Francisco ten days ago isn’t there any more. Now it’s just a big hole in the ground and fifteen families are holding funerals.”
“Pa, by all reports, that shipment of nitro was leaking. The agents were told to wait for an explosives expert to show up to dispose of it properly. One of them probably tried prying the lid off the box himself to see what it looked like and paid the price for his curiosity.”
The sheriff interjected his criticism though. “Quite a few others paid that price too. Don’t forget that, and it don’t change the outcome none. Nobody in this state would drive that wagon now.”
At that point, Ben fully understood why Adam was there. “Sheriff, my son obviously was willing. He and I will drive the wagon.”
“No, I can’t let you move the wagon. It’s too dangerous.”
“Virginia City is in desperate need of these supplies. There’s no danger if it’s handled properly. My son is a mining engineer and has knowledge of what to do with this material.”
“A dozen or so families live along that route and outside of town. There are a lot more in town. They wouldn’t let you drive that wagon anywhere near their property even if I said you could.”
“What do you expect me to do with this then?”
“I expect you to get rid of it.” With that, the sheriff wheeled his horse around and headed back to his town apparently secure in the knowledge that he had done what he could to get himself re-elected.
Climbing up to sit on the wagon seat under the watchful eyes of the two men set to guard the road, Adam waited for his father to settle Buck. “So, now what do we do. We can’t force our way through, and the long way around is far too dangerous with too many variables. I know this road. I don’t know that route. We’re likely to find at least one town and probably more if they’ve heard the news, and they’ll meet us with the same attitude as this one. They won’t let us through.”
Sighing, Ben sat for a time in thought. He looked over at the mountains as he saw Adam staring that way and guessed what his son was thinking.
“Do you think we could?”
“We’d need some help, but yes, we could. We drove enough cattle through there to know the way.”
“There are places where we would have to ford streams or cover some rougher ground.”
“That’s why we need help to try it that way. Three or four men would probably be the minimum crew we would need to get us through. A bigger crew would be preferable. We would need a wagonload to carry supplies too.”
“I can get the wagon and the supplies, and I think I know who could do the work. I know they would do it.” Adam waited. “Clint Watson is an old friend and he’s got two sons.”
“Isn’t he an explosives man and a pack hauler too?”
“Yes, he is. Between the two of you, we ought to be able to get this stuff across those mountains to Virginia City where it’s needed. Maybe we could do it with a packtrain.”
“Yes, we could haul it up and over. That would be a lot faster than going through the valleys.”
“Would that bounce it too much?”
“Probably less severely than being in a wagon.”
“He’s got pack mules and two boys who know what they’re doing.”
“I remember his boys. They were pretty young the last time I saw them. Andy and Ellis, right?”
“Yes, those are his boys.”
“I remember Andy as a strong one, but Ellis was rather a slender boy. Did he grow up to be more like his father and brother?”
“I can’t say. I haven’t seen them in years. I guess we’ll find out. I hope so. I could use the help if I’m going to be working with them clearing rocks and brush out of your way.”
“We sure could use Hoss and Joe.”
“They’ll be here. I sent word that I needed them.” Ben noted the smile his oldest son had and knew he probably would have hidden it somewhat if his brothers had been there. It made him feel good though to know the joy Adam felt simply in knowing his brothers would be joining them in this endeavor. However, knowing he was bringing all three sons into danger once more made him send a prayer to the Almighty in hopes that all would proceed well in this mission to help the people of Virginia City.
“Adam, I hate to leave you all alone, but I need to ride over to see Clint and the boys to see if they’ll help us.”
“Don’t worry, Pa. I can handle this part of the trip. It’s flat for the next forty miles or so. I’ll take it easy. You can bet on that. Meet you at the foothills in three days?”
“Don’t rush. We’ll come out to meet you if necessary.”
“I’ve got a lot of respect for this cargo. I got it this far by being careful. I’m not about to do anything different, although I’ll be happy to get to the foothills where it’s cooler. This stuff is far less volatile when it’s cooler.”
“Would some ice help?”
“I couldn’t hurt.”
“I’ll ride into town to see if there’s any to be bought. I’ll wire Hoss and Joe to see if I can intercept them and let them know to meet us at the Watson’s.”
“Thank you. I guess I would rather have the company.”
Noting how nervous Adam seemed despite the outward calm, Ben amended his earlier plan. “I’ll veer off when we get close to the foothills and get the Watsons to help. Maybe by then Hoss and Joe will be there. If not, I hope they’re there soon after.”
“Pa, as long as you’re in town, how about some peaches?”
“Maybe some butterscotch candies too?” Adam grinned. “Seems my middle son is not the only one with a sweet tooth.”
“Pa, you might be surprised how dry a man’s mouth can get driving this wagon.”
Suddenly sober, Ben could only nod. He knew what Adam meant. “I’ll get plenty for both of us.”
Two hours later, Adam gently urged the team of horses to move out. The slight jerk as they pulled the wagon loose from the sand startled him only slightly but made his father’s heart lurch in his chest. The pace was slow, but with the chunks of ice packed around the crate and a canvas cover providing shade but allowing the breeze to move freely, both felt somewhat better about the situation. When they neared the foothills, Adam slowed his pace to be safe, and Ben rode off to contact the Watsons for help.
At the Watson place, Andy stepped in when Ellis had some trouble sawing a log. Taking over, he did it easily and quickly to show his brother how to do it without getting the saw stuck. Then he asked Ellis to try it.
“Why don’t you do it yourself, Andy, so it’ll get done right.”
“I was only trying to help, Ellis!”
Ellis stalked away in anger frustrated once more to be treated that way by his brother. Clint asked Andy about the situation.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“I don’t know, Pa. Every time I try to help him, he turns on me. Hey, I bet you can’t saw through this log without getting the saw stuck.”
“You already owe me a dollar and a half. What you gonna do if I win again?”
A short time later, the two were about to wrestle for it after Clint succeeded in sawing through the log when Ben rode up.
“Don’t hurt that old man, Andy.”
“Ben, how are ya? What are you doing around here?”
“Thought I’d drop in on you and see that you were staying out of trouble. It’s been almost a year.”
“Why don’t you stay and have a bite to eat. Andy here is a terrible cook, but we don’t have too much trouble getting the doctor out to see to sick folks.”
The three men chuckled and walked to the house. Later sitting at the table fully satisfied after a good meal, they enjoyed some coffee as Ellis refilled their cups. Clint asked more about the nitro solution Adam had proposed to resolve the mine issues in Virginia City.
“Adam has consulted with engineers as far away as Boston. They’re sure it will work. It’s a matter of getting enough explosive to do the job. Black powder explosions would simply take far too long to do the job in time to save the mines.”
“Ben, is this nitro stuff as dangerous as they say?” Andy wanted to be sure they knew what they were handling.
“It is dangerous enough, but there are ways to make sure it doesn’t explode when you don’t want it to. You can’t bump it around or let it get hot.”
“Boy, how do you know that?” Clint was clearly skeptical of Ellis’s statement.
“I read some articles.”
“Boy’s always got his nose stuck in a book or some other reading and lots of times when he ought to be doing his work.”
Hoping to intervene and stop a family squabble, Ben summarized some of what Adam had written to him originally. “Adam says here in his notes that he sent that as long as it’s handled properly and used carefully, it’s dangerous but safe enough in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing.”
“Mister Cartwright, can I read those?” Ellis was polite but Ben could see he was anxious too to read the information. Having someone else who understood their cargo better was certainly a benefit so he handed the papers to the young man who moved to the side to read.
“Boy will read anything even what he ain’t ‘sposed to.”
“Clint, it is a big risk, but if we’re careful, we can get this done.”
“Pa, it can’t be any more explosive than the whisky we’ve hauled across those mountains, can it? Now how many cases did you say it was, Mister Cartwright?”
“Well, Pa, that’s two on a packhorse. We could do it.”
“I think we ought to pack it . . .”
“Who said you were coming along, Ellis. You’re staying home to take care of the stock.”
“Pa, I think we ought to have Ellis come with us. He knows more than we do about handling it. He and Adam could work together on packing it and keeping it safe while the rest of us keep the path clear and make sure the horses have an easy smooth path to follow.”
“All right, Andy. Anything you say. You know best.”
The four of them rendezvoused with Adam the next day. It didn’t take long to convince Adam to go over the mountains on a shorter, cooler route than through all the mountain valleys by wagons. He was happy to work with Ellis once he found out that the young man did indeed have an understanding of the chemical nature of nitro and how it had to be handled. The two worked well with Adam discussing how they would pack the material and Ellis listening carefully. Occasionally Ellis would ask a question and they other men could hear the two discussing possibilities. Clint was concerned that Ellis was making trouble, but Ben assured him that Adam wouldn’t allow that and had a lot of experience dealing with younger brothers. Andy simply frowned as he watched the easy way Ellis and Adam talked after not seeing each other for years.
NOTE: In April of1866, three crates of nitroglycerin were shipped to California for the Central Pacific Railroad, which planned to try using it to blast through the Sierra Nevada Mountains as they worked on constructing the Summit Tunnel, which needed to be over sixteen hundred feet long. Unfortunately, one of the crates exploded in the Wells Fargo company office in San Francisco and killed fifteen people. That tragedy caused the state of California to move to ban all transportation of nitroglycerin anywhere in the state. However, nitro could be manufactured where it was going to be used so that was what was done for any remaining explosive work required for the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Similar laws were passed in other states as well as in other countries, which was the reason that Alfred Nobel and his company developed dynamite in 1867. Dynamite is nitro in a mix of other ingredients that make the material more stable and safer to use.
For safety of travel, Clint had chosen four mules to carry the nitro and two horses to carry supplies. They had five horses to ride and a spare horse and a spare mule should anything happen to one of the horses or mules. The boy they hired to look after the Watson stock came with them and took the wagon horses back to their place leaving the wagon behind. They were on their way at first light with Ben leading the packhorses and extra animals and the others each leading a mule. They looked forward to their rendezvous with Hoss and Joe because they could use the extra help. It was going to be slow going until then. Occasionally the mules balked and had to be coaxed. It was at one of those moments when Andy was helping Ellis that Clint talked to Ben about sons.
“Do you ever get to worrying about favoring one son over another?”
“I think every father and every mother who ever lived has had that worry. Why do you ask now?”
“Ben, I have to tell you I love Ellis with all my heart, but I don’t understand that boy at all. I don’t know what he’s thinking or what he wants. Now, Andy, there, I can tell what he’s gonna do any time. I know him like I know myself. I’m comfortable with him. Ellis, I can’t get comfortable with.”
“Clint, Adam and Ellis are a lot alike.”
“Adam and Ellis! Nah, I don’t see it. Adam is strong and confident. He’s a real man.”
“Yes, he’s all of those things, but he likes poetry, and plays and theatre. He loves music and creating things. And you can stand there with your mouth hanging open, but he always had his nose in a book whenever he had a chance sometimes neglecting his chores when he was younger and even more often not sleeping when he should. We had many a ‘talk’ about that, but he is stubborn too.”
“Couldn’t get through to him, ‘eh?”
“No, never could. He’ll do what he’s going to do no matter what I say. He’ll listen and take my words into consideration, mind you, but he won’t simply follow orders. He never fit in like that. That one has challenged me his whole life.”
“Ellis too. He don’t ever seem to care if I’m mad at him or not. Now Andy there, he would be upset if I was mad at him. He’d do what he could to fix things. Not Ellis. He’d figure he was in the right and hold his ground.”
“He’s a strong one.”
“I never thought of him that way.”
Ben was going to say “Maybe you should take another look.” But Clint had to go help Ellis with his mule get through a narrow opening in some boulders, and as usual, he berated the young man telling him he was going to get them all killed. Adam came through next with his mule and looked at Ben as if to ask what the problem was. All Ben could do was shrug as it wasn’t the place to have an open conversation about the subject. However Andy added to the trouble.
“Listen, Pa don’t mean to turn on you like that, but if this stuff is as dangerous as you say, you gotta be more careful.”
“You think I did that on purpose?” Ellis was going to walk away but Andy held him back by saying his name softly. Ellis turned to see Andy pointing at the pack. It was wet. Immediately, Ellis moved to take the lead rope from Andy. “Go get Adam and you and the others get everything else a long way away from here. Any strong vibration could set it all off.”
Andy whispered in response. “You mean like if this box explodes?” At Ellis’ nod, he moved off carefully but quickly telling the others what had happened. Adam moved up to the mule as Ben and the others left with the mules and horses. Ben had only put a hand on Adam’s shoulder quickly before he moved up the hill.
“Be careful, son.”
Talking softly to the mule as Andy had told him to do, Ellis did his best to keep the mule calm and quiet and Adam moved to the pack and opened it. Slowly and carefully, he removed the box of bottles and carried it to a flat boulder setting it down with the utmost care. He lifted the moss from the top and saw one bottle had cracked. He slid that bottle out and carried it some distance away setting it down on some sandy soil. Then he returned to the box and removed all the moss that was wet and carried that to where he had set the bottle. Then he went back and put the dry moss back in the box to fill the empty space. With care, he returned the box to the pack and told Ellis to take the mule down the hill slowly.
“Stay away from the others. We’ll keep this mule away from all the others until that small wet area in the pack is dry. Luckily most of the material leaked out the seam.”
Once Ellis was a safe distance down the hill, Adam returned to where he had deposited the material and made a small ball of tinder. He lit it and rolled it toward the discarded moss before putting himself behind a large boulder. When there was no explosion, he chanced a look and was gratified to see the material burning. He relaxed then and walked slowly down the hill on somewhat rubbery legs where he was met by his father.
“Andy suggested to Clint that we camp here. I agreed. I didn’t think you would object.”
All Adam could do was smile weakly. Ellis walked over to him, and Adam slapped him on the shoulder.
“That was a fine job you did, Ellis. I couldn’t have asked for better.”
Ben added his thanks as well. Ellis nodded. It wasn’t often he ever got praise or thanks for doing anything. His father however couldn’t let it stand at that.
“It wouldn’t have been necessary if he had handled that mule better.”
That got Adam’s attention and not in a good way. “There’s no way on mountain trails like this to know how this happened. It could have happened in any of the boxes we’re carrying. There are too many variables to pick one thing and think you know what happened.”
“Listen, you young pup, I’ve been working with explosives and packing goods across these mountains longer than you’ve been alive. You’ve no right to talk to me that way. Ben, you should’ve taught this one some respect.”
“Listen, all of you, this had been a difficult day. How about we all get some dinner and some rest. Maybe cooler heads will prevail by morning.”
Later as Adam and Ellis were checking the packs, Ben and Clint talked. Clint apologized for losing his temper, and Ben commiserated saying there had been many times he had lost his temper with his eldest son.
“You know, I have the greatest confidence in my son, Adam, but I have to admit, I said a few prayers when I saw him working with that nitro up there earlier hoping he knew what he was doing. He usually does, but that’s never stopped me from questioning him. You saw the temper and know the reaction I’ve gotten. He doesn’t back down easily because he’s got that confidence you mentioned earlier.”
“Where do they get it from, Ben, you know, that swagger and such, that Adam and Ellis have? That know-it-all attitude?”
With a grin, it was Ben’s turn to slap Clint on the shoulder. “Clint, I think you know that answer. Sometimes the obvious has to smack you in the face for you to see it.”
For a time, Clint was quiet. “Ben, if this stuff is so dangerous, why don’t they just use the black powder?”
“This can be mixed with gelatin and used in water. It can be put right to where the problem is and blast if clear in a short time. With black powder, we’d have to blast all around the problem area. It could take up to a year or more. With this, we can have those mines working again in a week. Virginia City is going to see a boom like you’ve never seen before.”
“Ben, could you use another word other than ‘boom’ please?”
Hearing the laughter from the two older men as they finished their work, Adam and Ellis were quiet until Ellis asked if Adam was upset with Clint.
“No, he has his opinions and I have mine. I won’t back down because he’s older. I have more knowledge of this material so he needs to respect that.”
“He’s worked with explosives since he was young.”
“He’s never worked with this. If it was black powder, I’d defer to his expertise. It isn’t, so I’ll trust what I know.”
“I’ve read about it too. You seem to know more than I know though.”
“I have access to more recent journals probably because of living in San Francisco.” Seeing the look on the young man’s face, Adam made an offer. “I could send some to you as I finish reading them. I can always get extra copies if I need them. If you let me know what kind of books you like, I’d ship some of those too.”
“Thank you. I would really appreciate that.”
“I know what it’s like not having enough to read. I was always on the lookout for the latest books when I was younger. Now I can get them, but it’s still like Christmas to find a new book at the store.”
“I never met a man like you before who would admit to liking books so much.”
Looking at his father talking with Clint, Adam had a wry smile. “Not everyone always appreciated that in me either, but I never let it stop me.”
Ellis sighed. “It’s not easy though, is it?”
“No, it’s not easy. But would it be easy trying to be someone you aren’t?”
“That would be impossible.”
“Exactly. Now, let’s get some sleep. Tomorrow won’t be any easier than today either.”
It seemed that things were better between Andy and Ellis that night when Andy told Ellis he was proud of him for being calm when he helped Adam. Although Ellis said he was scared while doing it, Andy admitted he would have been afraid too. The next day though, tensions were high again with the work they were doing, and when Ellis had trouble with his mule, Andy intervened once more. This time he told him he couldn’t do anything right. Ellis took a swing at him starting a brawl. Clint rushed in to grab the mule’s lead and calm the animal before it bolted.
“Andy and Ellis, cut that out. Ellis, what got into you?”
“Why don’t you tell him to leave me alone?”
“Leave you alone? You could have gotten us all blown up! Andy, are you all right?”
“I’m all right, Pa.”
“Ben, I knew I never should have brought Ellis along. He can’t be trusted.”
“Aw, Clint, we’re all getting a bit edgy. Why don’t you and Andy stop picking on him and give him a chance. He seems to do better working with Adam and getting some good words instead of criticism all the time.”
“You raise your own, and I’ll raise mine!”
By then, Adam was there and demanded to know what had happened. “Why wasn’t Andy taking care of his mule? Who is taking care of Andy’s mule?”
At that point, all of them realized that Andy’s mule was free to roam. Closer to it than any of the others, Ben moved quickly to gather up the lead rope to it before it could go anywhere. Adam suggested it might be time to set up camp and settle down for the night.
“It’s getting colder. As Ellis told you last night, altitude and temperature affect the nitro. Now cold is helpful but we can’t let the nitro freeze. So we’re going to have to work through the night to keep an even temperature around the stuff. We’ll need lots of firewood to make sure it doesn’t get too cold.”
Having jobs to do that didn’t involve danger was a good way for the tensions of the day to be dissolved so both Ben and Clint agreed quickly. Even Andy and Ellis saw the wisdom of the suggestion. After taking care of the animals and stacking the nitro carefully, they headed out to get firewood as Adam packed blankets around the crates. After Clint apologized for his earlier outburst, Ben and Clint had an amiable conversation. Eventually the two older men reminisced about Clint’s earlier visits to the Ponderosa. Ben sobered when Clint talked of Marie and her tragic accident.
“I remember that about nine months after Marie’s funeral, I lost my Bessie. She should never have had that second baby.”
“Aw, Clint, you shouldn’t feel that way. Bessie wouldn’t want to hear you talk that way. I know she would be very upset to hear you say that.”
“I can’t help it Ben. It’s the way I feel.” Then Clint excused himself to go get more water.
Near enough to overhear, Adam had more reason to understand Ellis’ tortured soul. Like him, he had lost his mother in childbirth, but unlike Ellis, his father had not blamed him for her death. He had spent some time torturing himself with that blame, but his father had talked to him many times letting him know it wasn’t his fault and that he was loved and wanted. Ellis must know that his father felt the opposite way. Adam had a very good understanding of how the young man must feel knowing that and wondered if there was any way he could help. His father walked up to him as he finished his work.
“I don’t suppose you could find a way to talk to Ellis about it.”
“If I can find a way that I think would help, I will.”
The rest of the night passed quietly even if it was busy as they took turns sleeping and tending the fire. In the morning, they were going to get a late start as a result. However Adam told them that would be preferable anyway as the temperature would moderate by then so the material would be more stable. At that point, saving a few hours wasn’t worth risking their lives so they all agreed it was a good plan.
The next morning, two familiar riders showed up. Ben was the first to see them as he went to get fresh water. Waiting with his hands on his hips as if he was upset with them for being late, he couldn’t stop the smile that belied the stance. With a big grin, Joe told him Hoss could smell their cooking from miles away.
“I made him leave before breakfast so I hope you’ve still got some left.”
The two men dismounted and began to walk up the slope with their father who left the empty bucket to walk his sons to the camp.
“Plenty of good cooking up there boys. It sure is good to see you. Adam’s here too.”
“Adam’s here? How did that good-for-nothing lazy older brother of ours latch onto this adventure? I thought all he did was write letters and send supplies.”
Stepping out from the trees with a plate of food in his hands, Adam greeted his younger brothers. “Very funny, Joe. It’s so good to see you too.” Adam handed the plate of eggs and bacon to Hoss.
“Hey, don’t I get any?”
“Not with that smart mouth of yours, you don’t.”
“Hey, older brother, where’d ya get eggs?”
In a serious tone, Adam replied mixing the sober truth with the whimsical as only he could. “As long as we had to be gentle as a maiden carrying a baby, I thought we could carry some eggs without scrambling them.”
“Mm, mm, good. Ifn these is the last of ’em Joe, I have ta tell ya, they’re real good.”
Rolling his eyes, Ben could only sigh. “There’s plenty more in camp, but tether the horses here. We’ve got other stuff in camp that shouldn’t be jostled.”
“You look plumb tuckered out already, Pa. Bin a tough trip?”
“It sure has, Hoss. It’s like riding on ten kegs of powder every step of the way. Now, why don’t you head on over to the camp with Adam. I’m going to get more water.”
Once Hoss and Joe got to the camp, there was a jovial reunion with Andy and Clint and a quieter one with Ellis. Adam reorganized how the packs were distributed using the spare mule too so there was less weight on each mule. He, Ellis, Hoss, Joe, and Andy each took a lead rope. Clint and Ben led the way with the packhorses. Adam insisted that they leave a significant distance between the mules. Andy asked why and there was silence for a short time until Ellis answered.
“Vibrations can set the stuff off. If one of our packs goes, it won’t make the others go if we’re separated enough.”
Hearing it said aloud sobered the whole group. The roughest part of the trail was coming up and they all knew it. Later that day as they crested the last of the treacherous ridges, Clint yelled up at Ellis to halt where he was. He sent Andy back to take the mule Ellis was leading. As Ellis handed over the lead rope, Andy apologized for the harsh words of the day before and for losing his temper. Ellis admitted he had been a bit hot under the collar too.
“When we get to Virginia City, Ellis, we’re gonna take in the sights together, right?”
“I’ll buy the first drink, Andy.”
“Sounds good to me. Now get out of here so I can get this dang mule down this ridge.”
As Ellis made his way down the slope, he looked back to see that the mule was being his usual stubborn self and balking at Andy’s lead. He was about to go back to offer the apple in his pocket to get the mule to advance. It was how he had gotten him over the last ridges. The thunderous explosion blocked all thoughts for a moment as he stood in shock unable to even seek shelter from possible debris that might fly his way. Down below, all were frozen in disbelief watching the explosion obliterate the slope where Andy had been and all evidence that he and the mule had ever been there. Clint dropped to his knees paralyzed by his loss. After staring at the spot where Andy had been knowing it would have been him if Andy had not taken his spot, Ellis walked down the slope to his father.
“Stay away from me.”
“Pa, he was my brother. I cared for him too.”
“If it wasn’t for you, Andy would still be alive. You killed him as sure as you killed your mother the day you was born.”
“Well you finally said it. You implied it before, but now you finally said it. I waited all my life to hear you actually say it, and now you did. You finally said it to me instead of just to other folks.” Ellis turned and walked away.
Walking up to Clint then, Ben wanted to help but didn’t know how. “Clint, I don’t know what to say.”
“I can’t believe it happened. I never thought it would happen. When Bessie died, I said that was the worst hurt I would ever let myself feel. We were more than father and son. We were like brothers too. We were best friends. Now I haven’t even got anything to bury.” He turned to Ben then. “You did this, Ben. You know that, dontcha?”
Stung by Clint’s accusation and his own feeling of responsibility, Ben turned to walk down the slope to where his sons waited. By the time he reached them, he had condemned himself. “It was my fault. I thought I could do something and I cost him his son. Get rid of this stuff, all of it.”
Hoss was the one who spoke first. “Ole Andy wouldn’t hear of you talkin’ like that. He knew we had a job ta do and he come along ta do it. Thousands of folks depending on us.”
Ben walked away in silence. The next person Hoss tried to counsel was Ellis who was sitting on the edge of a boulder.
“Ellis, sometimes a man says something in his grief or his anger that he regrets for the rest of his life ’cause he knows no amount of sayin’ he’s sorry is ever gonna wipe it away even if he never really meant to say it.”
“Oh, I know that, Hoss. Only I always knew this. Andy told me. He heard Pa tell folks that and he wanted me to know that he didn’t think that way. He told the rest of the story Pa told. When I was born and Pa heard it, he took an ax and began chopping wood. When he came home, I guess he didn’t cry because he didn’t know how. You know, when I was a boy, and I was scared, and I wanted a hug from my father, I never got one. He said that was for girls. That’s not true, you know. I found out the real reason from Andy, and then I understood why he never wanted to touch me. You understand, Hoss?”
“I understand, Ellis, but I understand your pa a little bit too. He was hurt so bad that he didn’t want to take a chance on being hurt that bad again.”
“But why couldn’t he give me a chance? I was only trying to show him I could do it. That’s part of love too, you know, living up to what someone expects of you.”
“Yeah, and sometimes that can take a long time. Ellis, we’re going on. You comin’ with us?”
“Well, I suppose Andy wouldn’t let you go on alone, would he? Adam needs my help too. I’ll be right there.” Ellis approached his father and told him they were leaving.
Reluctantly, Clint followed them but didn’t help. They headed out and made good progress that day until they got to a rocky ridge too steep to ride. Adam and Joe rigged up a rope line and with the other men cleared a path to drag the crates up the hill. A man worked with each crate to keep it steady as two at the top pulled the weight. As Joe was guiding the last case up, he slipped, and he and the case fell several feet back down the slope. Joe grabbed a boulder to stop his slide and wrapped his legs around the case. Adam was guiding a case up the slope ahead of Joe and couldn’t help him. Ben pulled Adam to the top as Hoss kept the rope taut on Joe so he couldn’t slip any further. Ellis volunteered to go down to help Joe. Taking the rope from his waist, Adam tied it around Ellis knowing the lighter man would have an easier time maneuvering around the rock where Joe had a precarious perch. Ben wasn’t so sure.
“Adam, maybe you should go.”
“Ellis is a better fit for what needs to be done, and he’s as good as I am at handling the stuff.”
Carefully, Adam let the rope feed through his hands, which allowed Ellis to go down the slope gradually and safely. When he got to Joe, Ellis put up a hand asking Adam to hold firm. Ellis lay down and turned upside down to wrap his arms around the case. When it was secure, he told Joe to move to a safe position. He did and then turned to help Ellis pull the case up. The two of them grinned when they had the case secure and signaled up the slope that is was time to pull them and their cargo the rest of the way to the top. When they got there, Hoss took the case from Joe.
“Ya clumsy knucklehead, I done tole ya ta be careful.” Getting a roll of the eyes from Joe, Hoss walked away with the case.
Clint stepped forward and locked eyes with Ellis. “Andy couldn’t have done it better, son.”
By the time they got all six cases to the top, it was late afternoon and they still had to get down from the ridgeline. The incentive though was that it was the last one. It was downhill to the valley from that point on and soon their job would be done. With Adam in the lead, they headed down the slope and saw a camp in the distance. Joe volunteered to ride to that camp, and Ben took charge of his mule as the younger man left. That night, Adam and Ellis packed the nitro one last time.
“Adam, do you think my Pa and me have a chance?”
“Ellis, you and your father have a complicated relationship. It’s going to take time to see what happens. But, yes, you have a chance if you both keep trying. You’re never going to be Andy, and he’s always going to remember the pain of what happened when you were born. What both of you need to do is try to look at the good things and put the other things away.”
“I suppose I can’t hold it against him for all those years that he wasn’t the father I wanted.”
“No, those times are past. You can only control what will happen not what already did.”
“Adam, you never told me if your father ever blamed you for your mother’s death.”
“Once when I was very young, he was drinking with some friends on the wagon train. I heard him talking then. He talked about marrying Inger. The other men said she was a fine woman. She was. Then he said his first wife was a fine woman too, but she was too weak to have a baby. She died because she had a son. I knew years later that he was talking about her frail health, but at the time, I thought he was blaming me. I know I blamed myself. It’s a heavy burden to bear. I think your father has to understand that someday. You carry that with you all the time, don’t you?” Ellis agreed. “Knowing you’re alive and that your birth caused your mother to die is not an easy thing to accept.”
“No, it isn’t. I really wish I could know something about her. I wish I could ask about her, and know what she was like. I don’t even know what she looked like.”
“I hope someday your father can talk to you about her. I think he might find some solace in that as well as give some to you. I know it helped me.”
“Does your father talk about your mother?”
“All three of them. Their pictures are on his desk. I think he gets some comfort from all the good memories, and he shares those with us. The more we remember the good things, the less the dark ones can make us hurt.”
“Do you know what the last thing Andy said to me? He apologized for what he had said that caused us to fight. I apologized too. He said we were going to do the town together when we got to Virginia City. I told him I’d buy the first drink.”
“It’s good that you settled things between you before that happened.”
“Yeah, it would have been a lot more to carry if we didn’t. You know, I’d still like to buy that drink, but I’ll buy it for you and your brothers. We can toast Andy. Maybe you can all tell me a little more about my brother. He’s so much older that I bet you know things about him that I don’t know. Like you said: talking about the good things can help keep him alive for me.”
“Yeah, I guess we might have some stories to tell. We can do that. It would be a good way to remember him.”
“It would be like he made it there with us.”
In the shadows, Ben and Clint had heard that discussion. Clint turned to walk back to camp. They had come down to talk with Adam, but Clint no longer felt that he could talk. Ben went ahead to where Adam was finishing up after Ellis too walked back to the camp to get some sleep.
“I was curious as to why you wanted me to bring Clint down to talk to you about tomorrow. After we got close and could hear the discussion, I guessed what you were doing.”
“I was packing up the nitro to keep it safe for the night.”
“Yes, of course, that was all you were doing.”
“Yes, of course, it was.”
“Hoss is right about you.”
“Right about what?”
“You are sneaky.”
“Pa, you are developing a very suspicious nature as you get older.”
“You scamp. Let’s go get some sleep. This has been a tough day.”
The next morning, they turned the nitro over to the mining engineers who were going to mix it with gelatin and blast to resolve the flooding problem in the mines. Clint apologized to Ben for his outburst, and Ben accepted the apology understanding how he could have been overwhelmed with grief. Clint said too that he was too old to run any more pack trains over the mountains.
“Clint, a lot of people depend on your pack trains especially when the weather turns bad in winter. It could mean life or death for some.”
“I’m too old to do it any more, Ben. I’m done.”
“Who’s going to do it then, Clint?”
“Did you forget, Ben? I’ve got another son.” Clint inclined his head to where Ellis was talking with the Cartwright sons.
“So you have.”
Within minutes, Joe came over to tell them the plan. “We’re all heading to Virginia City to have some fun. Adam hasn’t seen the latest saloons, and Ellis hasn’t been there in a couple of years. Hey, Clint, Adam is going to ride back with the two of you. He said he’d take the two horses and then go get the wagon he left. If you know our older brother, he’ll never waste a dollar if he can help it.”
“Does that mean I’ll be stuck with two of them with their noses stuck in a book or talking about books?”
By then Hoss was there too. “That ain’t the half of it. Adam is already tellin’ him all the books and such he kin send to ‘im. He jest loves it when he finds another book lover.”
“I wish he’d find a woman to marry instead.”
“Pa, about that. Did you see that pretty letter he’s got tucked in his pocket that he reads whenever he gits a chance?”
“Hey, Adam, son, we’ve got to talk.”
Hoss and Joe began giggling as they rode behind their father in his quest to catch up to Adam. Clint rode beside Ellis.
“Ellis, son, when we’ve got some time, we’ve got to talk too. I have a few things I need to tell you about your mother.”
Other Stories by this Author
- Father and Sons (by BettyHT)
- Charity Series #2 – Wounded Hearts (by BettyHT)
- Charity Series #1 – Fractured (by BettyHT)
- Very Bad and Then Very Good (by BettyHT)
- The Worst Thing (by BettyHT)