Summary: A skeptic, a dreamer, and a true believer set out on a journey to find gold.
Written for the 2018 Ponderosa Paddlewheel Poker Tournament. The card “suits” were:
Anatomy (body parts)
What Women Want
Things Found in a Saddlebag
Rated: PG 8,890 words
A Skeptic, A Dreamer, and A True Believer
Even at seven he would have been skeptical, now at seventeen he was not just lacking in belief but mentally dismissive, yet he bent closer and managed to appear engrossed.
“Could you find it?” Ellie’s hands rested lightly on his arm, and her breath warmed his cheek as she leaned to look over his shoulder.
“Of course.” He straightened and turned his head to gaze into her eyes. She believes; she truly believes.
He allowed his smile to deepen his dimples. “Absolutely.”
She spun around in excitement setting her curls bouncing. “Oh, Adam, just think!”
At that moment all he could think was how delightful and appealing she looked, and how he would do almost anything to keep the adoration radiating from her face directed at him. He turned his eyes back to the hand-drawn map spread on the rock before him. His left hand came up to tug his right earlobe, and he bit the corner of his lip. “You know, well, sometimes things can get, uh, exaggerated.” He cleared his throat and kept his eyes where he would not see disappointment deflate her enthusiasm. “It may be that, well, the mine might not be, umm…” He sighed and turned to face her again.
She stepped closer and shook her head gently. “I’m not some silly goose, you know, who thinks we’ll ride up, go in, and walk out with a bag full of nuggets. I know gold mining isn’t like going berry picking even if the mine is a true bonanza.”
“It may not be any kind of a bonanza.” There I’ve said it.
She put her finger to her chin and bit on the nail. “Maybe not a bonanza, but even a little strike. You wouldn’t bother drawing a map if there wasn’t anything there, now would you?” Her gaze demanded affirmation; he gave it.
“I don’t suppose that would make much sense.” I should tell her about fake maps and schemers. But…
“Even a little vein would…” Her tone grew wistful. “Even a little would make all the difference.”
Just enough for a new life. That’s all she wants. “Yes, even a little bit of a mine is better than none.”
“Then you’ll take me.” Her smile bloomed, and her eyes shone. “We’ll be partners, fifty-fifty.”
He shook his head. “It’s your map.”
Her voice became adamant. “Fifty-fifty. I need you, Adam.”
His arm slipped around her waist. “Shall we seal the deal with a kiss then?” Her arms settled around his neck as their lips met.
When they parted, she settled her cheek against his chest. “When shall we go, partner?”
He fingered her curls. “We won’t be able to go and come back in one day. It will take a least two.” He knew she had only one day a week free from her job cooking and serving at Hasson’s. He felt the change in her demeanor as she stepped back out of his arms.
Her right hand once again brought her fingernail to her mouth. “I could beg Dolly to work for me. Mr. Hasson might agree for me to have a day off if she takes my place. I could do the same for her the next week.”
She knows; deep down she knows even after we return she might still need her job. “That’s true.”
“What will you tell your father?”
“That I’m going hunting. I’ll just not tell him what I’m hunting for.”
Adam shook his head. “I go hunting from time to time.” He could still see concern in her eyes. “With Pa’s blessing. And it won’t matter if I don’t bring back any game.” He gave a small chuckle. “Pa knows sometimes what I’m hunting most is a few days without little brothers, a fiery-tempered stepmother, or him.”
“I’ll talk to Dolly and Mr. Hasson then and …”
“When they’ve agreed, we’ll make our plans.”
She nodded and went to fold the map to the gold mine into a neat square. She then turned and placed it into his hand. “You can keep it safer.”
“If you wish.” He accepted it, and she accepted another kiss.
Adam surveyed the clearing that had been chosen as a meeting place and then slid from Beauty’s back. His eyes were focused on his horse when he heard the bushes rustle and swung around pistol in hand. The figure that had appeared was dressed in overalls, a plaid shirt, and an oversized hat. Adam opened his mouth to demand an identity, but a high-pitched giggle stopped his words. “Ellie?”
The giggle continued as the girl stepped closer and doffed the battered headgear. Braids tumbled down as she spun around. “Do you like?”
I love how the seat of those overalls is a shade too snug. “Yes, actually I do!” He grinned, and she wagged her finger.
“It’s a disguise.”
“You felt in need of a disguise?”
“If someone one sees us in passing…” She shrugged her shoulders. “People are less likely to notice two boys out hunting.”
“I doubt anyone,” he swallowed, “but I suppose you’re right. Folks would take more notice of a girl and a boy.”
“Especially if they recognized Ben Cartwright’s son. We have your reputation to think of.”
“Hang my reputation.” Adam’s tone was dismissive. I’m far more concerned about Pa hanging my hide on the barn door if he should hear such.
“But your Pa…” He stopped Ellie’s concern with a finger against her lips.
“Don’t worry about me. Really, it’s your reputation that is most at risk. I should have thought…”
“My reputation! I’m a working girl in a mining town, Adam. My reputation is beyond saving among some.”
“Hasson’s isn’t a saloon.” Adam’s eyes sparked.
“More than nine out of ten customers are men, and most wouldn’t be mistaken for gentlemen.”
“I don’t allow liberties, well, except…” She blushed.
I know how few liberties you allow even me. “You’ve nothing to be ashamed of, girl.”
“Nooo.” She chewed briefly on her fingernail. “But that’s why… that’s why the gold mine is so important.”
At the words gold mine, a gasp preceded a parting in the undergrowth and the appearance of yet another person.
“What in tarnation!” The volume of Adam’s voice rose and then sank into a more controlled fury. “Hoss! What in blue blazes are you doing here?”
Adam’s brother answered with a question of his own. “What gold mine is she talking about?”
Lord in heaven, pray keep me from fratricide! “That’s no concern of yours. I asked you what you are doing here, little brother. I want an answer.”
Hoss stepped further into the clearing. “Going hunting with my brother, onliest now I guess we ain’t exactly hunting game.”
“We ain’t…aren’t hunting anything. You’re going home.”
“Pa will ask why ya sent me back.” A smug look descended onto Hoss’s face. “I don’t like lying to Pa, elder brother.”
Adam crossed his arms and added some older-brother intimidation to his stance. “I’m pretty sure you must have already lied to Pa.”
Hoss’s eyes dropped, but he stood his ground. “Not ‘xactly. By the time I told him you’d changed your mind about me coming, I figured you probably had. You like me to go hunting with you mostly; I didn’t know when I followed ya that you was meeting up with a gal.”
Adam rolled his eyes and then rubbed the bridge of his nose with his fore finger. Figured I already had, did you? He chewed the corner of his lower lip. He knows too much to send him home. He’d not tattle on purpose, but…
“I could help ya, Adam. If you’re going mining, I could be a big help.” Hoss turned slightly to address the girl. “I’m right strong.”
Ellie chewed her fingernail for a few seconds. “I… another partner… I don’t…”
“Not another partner.” Adam huffed. We have to take him with or give up all together. It’s not as if… “Not a partner, an assistant, my assistant. His part will come from my share.” A part of nothing isn’t exactly something to be concerned about.
“He’s too young to be a partner.”
Hoss gave his brother a glare, but turned to Ellie and grinned. “It’s fine with me. After all you and Adam did the planning.”
I’ve done a poor job of that so far it appears. “It’s fine, Ellie. Hoss doesn’t mind sharing, and he can keep a secret. He is strong, and actually he knows the land around here as well as I do.”
Adam shook his head and clapped Hoss on the back. “Okay, better.”
Ellie’s hand dropped from her mouth and reached toward Hoss in greeting. “I’m Ellie.”
“I seen ya at Hasson’s. I’m Hoss .”
Adam decided it was time to take charge. “We should get started then; it’s almost full light.”
Ellie started toward the horse Adam had led into the clearing.
“Umm, Adam, there ain’t no saddle on Windy.”
“I couldn’t exactly explain to Pa how my packhorse needed a saddle. We don’t usually worry about the comfort of dead game.”
“I know .” This time it was Hoss’s eyes that rolled. “A gal shouldn’t be riding without a saddle when there’s one to be had.”
“Actually, there’s two to be had. Ellie doesn’t ride well enough to handle Beauty, especially when the going gets rougher, so if the gentlemanly thing is to be done…” Adam gestured Hoss toward Windy.
“I can…” Ellie took another step toward the packhorse.
“No, seeing how I came without an invite, it’s only right.” Hoss proceeded to settle himself on Windy’s back while Adam helped Ellie mount Buckwheat who actually was one of the Ponderosa’s most biddable mounts. He then mounted Beauty. “We’ll get clear of town, and then Hoss can take a look at the map and see if his profound knowledge is of any help.”
“There’s a map!”
Adam shook his head at his brother’s exclamation. Another true believer!
Why I ever agreed to such a fool’s errand! Adam pulled Beauty to a stop. Maybe it would be best to just…
“Adam! ADAM! I found something!” Adam located Hoss’s voice and headed in that direction with Ellie following close behind.
Hoss had already dismounted and was pulling at undergrowth when Adam and Ellie rode up. “Hold on.” Adam dismounted, tied off Beauty, and turned to help Ellie just as her feet touched the ground. He rolled his eyes and walked over to his brother. “I said hold on.”
“Hoss!” The boy stilled.
“All right then, but this must be it.”
Adam studied the area and then focused on the darker opening before him. “It probably is.” A gasp of joy from the girl standing beside him was answered by a whoop from Hoss. Well, I’ll be; there actually is a mine. “Still, we’ll go about things the right way, the careful way…”
“The Adam way.” Hoss’s grumble held a note of resignation. He had been Adam’s little brother for eleven years after all.
“Yes, my way and don’t you forget it. I’ll not be explaining to Pa how my little brother broke his neck in an abandoned mine.”
Hoss’s eye roll was a great deal more pronounced than any that Adam had produced. “All right.”
Adam’s hand rubbed his chin. “We’ll settle the horses and set up camp first. In fact, it would be best to wait until the morning…”
“The morning!” The same exclamation erupted from two different throats at the same time.
Adam studied the faces of his companions. “Well, a quick check before we eat supper wouldn’t hurt, I suppose.”
Hoss’s eyes widened at his brother’s change of heart until he followed Adam’s gaze to Ellie’s face. Then he grinned at the thought that the only thing that could change the decision of a Cartwright male was the pleading eyes of a pretty female.
The horses were tended and a minimal camp set in order quickly. Adam and Hoss then finished clearing the underbrush that covered the opening to the mine. Adam lit a lantern and stepped in front of Hoss and Ellie. “I’ll go first. Then you, Ellie. Then Hoss.”
“Should I bring my rifle?”
Adam fingered the pistol on his hip. “Set it just inside the opening. Don’t want any accidents with a rifle in here. Do you have some candles in your pocket?”
Hoss nodded even though Adam was looking into the opening. “Yup, and Lucifers too.”
“So do I.” Ellie’s voice was filled with suppressed anticipation.
“Well, then… Stay close, the both of you.” Adam bent and entered the opening holding the lantern so it cast a circular glow around the three of them. There was a wider natural chamber that narrowed into a man-made tunnel. Adam moved the light of the lantern over the sides of the chamber. They did not glow, gleam, or glitter with gold.
“The vein would most probably be deeper down the tunnel.” Hoss’s excitement had lessened only a shade.
“We really didn’t expect to see golden walls.” Ellie seemed to be reminding herself of the difference between fantasy and reality.
“Someone obviously put some effort in here. The tunnel seems to go back quite a ways.” Adam had moved to where the light shined down the tunnel.
“Well, then…” Hoss stepped forward into the tunnel but stopped as a hand grabbed his belt.
“I go first!” Adam’s voice snapped, and the hand holding Hoss’s belt jerked back. Hoss did not budge but turned his head to lock eyes with his brother. “Me, Ellie, you or we don’t go at all.” The last words were delivered in a steel-edged whisper.
“Yes, sir.” Adam was not sure how much sarcasm Hoss’s response held, but he simply stepped in front of the boy and started down the tunnel.
It happened in a series of small reactions like a toppling line of dominos. Ellie saw a sparking reflection and stopped abruptly. Following behind her, Hoss did not. Hoss fell against Ellie, who knocked into Adam. Adam’s boots slipped on a slick bit of exposed granite. He toppled forward and hit the stone beneath him knees first. His flaying arm swung the lantern further down the tunnel where it tumbled along until it was extinguished thrusting the tunnel into its accustomed blackness. Ellie’s scream echoed just long enough to distract from Adam’s moan. It did not distract from his subsequent expletive.
“Adam!” Adam’s eyes rolled as he clutched his right knee; he could not believe he was being reproached by his little brother for cursing. “There’s a lady present.”
“I beg your pardon, Ellie.” This time it was Ellie whose eyes rolled; she heard much worse language on a daily basis at work. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, I think. I mostly landed on you.”
“I was on top of both of ya. Did I mash ya much, Miss Ellie?”
Ellie had managed to retrieve a candle, but in the pitch darkness she was having difficulty lighting it. She shook her head though neither boy could see her response. “Just a minute. I’m… There.” The candle illuminated a small area around them. Ellie and Hoss both heard the moan that slipped from Adam as he tried to rise.
“It’s nothing. I just… I hit my knee. Just give it a minute.” Adam drew his breath in slowly. Adam had had enough injuries, minor and major, to know that he had more than a skinned or bruised knee. He could not know, however, that his patella had three hairline fractures radiating from the point where it had struck a finger of stone sticking up from the rough tunnel floor.
“Let me look.” Sitting next to him, Ellie turned and moved the candle into position over Adam’s leg.
“There’s nothing to see except the leg of my pants.”
Hoss knew the irritation in Adam’s voice meant his brother was instinctively covering up an actual injury. There was also a catch in his breath that indicated serious pain. Hoss smoothly pulled out his pocketknife, and before Adam or Ellie realized his intention, he had split the seam of Adam’s jeans from hem to mid-thigh.
“What in da…tarnation!”
The pocketknife clicked shut and returned to Hoss’s pocket. “Now we can get a look at your knee.”
Adam’s response was a nonverbal growl. Hoss ignored the growl, and Ellie patted Adam’s arm with her free hand as she lowered the candle over Adam’s knee. It was obvious to all three that the knee was already beginning to swell.
Adam pushed the candle to the side. “It’ll be fine.” He started to rise. When Hoss’s hands pinned him in place, he managed to keep his curse mental.
“Nope.” Hoss was a boy of few words.
“If it’s truly hurt, standing on it will make it worse.” Ellie had seen several men with lifelong limps due to lack of proper medical treatment. In the most authoritative tone that Adam had ever heard from the girl, Ellie began to issue instructions. “We’ll splint it before you try to stand. Hoss, do you think you can find something to use? I’ll stay with Adam and keep him from moving.”
Hoss had lit his own candle. “I’ll get the lantern for ya and then go collect things.” He squeezed Adam’s shoulder as he passed him. “You mind Miss Ellie now. I’ll be back quicker then spit.”
“Remember to pick up your rifle on the way out.” Adam felt the need to assert some small measure of authority.
When they had Adam settled, Ellie watched Hoss’s light recede back toward tunnel opening. She had moved behind Adam, and he lay with his head in her lap. The relighted lantern crated a small pool of light around them. Adam sighed. This isn’t the way I planned to spend some time alone with Ellie this trip.
Her hand smoothed his curls back from his forehead. “Just relax.”
“Things will be fine. You and that brother of mine…”
“Will see to you.” Ellie’s hand moved from Adam’s forehead to her mouth, and she began chewing on her fingernail. “Hoss will be fine alone, won’t he? Maybe, I should have gone. He’s only a boy.”
“A boy who could carry you around the woods which he has spent plenty of time alone in and who can hit most anything he shoots at with that rifle. Don’t be silly. It’s much better that he’s alone in the woods than you.”
“We’re all here because I’ve already been silly.”
“What? No.” Adam’s head rose from Ellie’s lap, but her hands immediately pinned his shoulders.
“It’s true. It was silly to believe anyone would give me a map to a real gold mine.”
“No, not silly. You did nurse him. There is a mine. We don’t know for sure, well, that there isn’t any gold.”
“You don’t think there is.” It was a statement not a question.
“I… we can take back some samples.” He could hear defeat in her tone. “You saw something, didn’t you?”
“I thought I did.”
“Shine the light where you thought you did. Go look closer.”
“No, no, the important thing is to take care of you. Maybe latter, maybe after we splint your knee.”
“There’s nothing really wrong with my knee.” Ellie let out a derisive harrumph. “Well, nothing more than a little sprain.”
“I’ll not argue with you about it.”
“We haven’t looked the whole length of the tunnel.” Adam wanted to hear belief in her voice again.
“You won’t be going any further into this tunnel. None of us will.” Adam decided to let her have the last word for the present and settled his head back in her lap to wait.
Adam was in pain. It was not due to any lack of competence in the way Hoss and Ellie had managed to splint his knee. No, Hoss had experience with injured animals and Ellie was a woman in a territory where women were scarce but doctors even scarcer. Adam had pondered the irony of women being considered incapable of being doctors even though they were always the ones expected to provide care for the sick and injured in the absence of a medical professional. No, Adam’s knee had been successfully splinted and working together, the two had also managed to get Adam back to the campsite without him putting any significant pressure on his right knee though it had taken time and considerable effort on the part of all three of them. Thankfully, no energy had been wasted in arguing because Hoss had not been positive that he could carry his elder brother the entire way without risk of further injury. No, Adam’s pain was the natural result of his fractured kneecap and the fact that they had traveled without anything to numb pain: no laudanum and not even any whiskey. Hoss and Adam had both heard of natural plants and herbs that helped with pain, but none they could remember were immediately available or likely to be located in the dark. So, Adam’s pain was keeping not only himself but his companions awake. Though Adam tried mightily and actually quite successfully to hide the degree of his pain, both Ellie and Hoss knew he was suffering and felt guilty for being the cause.
Any nails that had graced Ellie’s fingers at the start of the day were gone, and she was now chewing unconsciously on the inside of her cheek. She took a wet cloth, twirled it through the air to cool it, and laid it gently again across Adam’s knee.
“Is there anything…”
“No.” Adam realized he had been far too abrupt and curt and made his tone gentler. “No, there’s nothing I need. I’m fine.”
“I just wish there was something more I could do.”
“You’ve done everything a body could. You and Hoss.”
“I… I don’t know what I would have done without Hoss.”
“Ya wouldn’t have had to worry ‘bout doing nothing except what you all planned iffen I hadn’t knocked the two of you down.”
“It’s not either of yours fault. It was just an accident is all. I should have…”
“Never let me come along.”
“Told me to have some sense. I never should have involved you.” Ellie’s voice was filled with self-recrimination.
Adam sighed. “You didn’t strong-arm me.” He forced a smile which Ellie could barely see in the firelight. “We’re partners after all. Don’t go blaming yourself. Not you, Ellie, or you either, Hoss, and I’ll try not to too. Accidents happen, and like Pa says that old sailor told him: sometimes it’s just best to blame the devil and then give him no never mind.” Hoss and Ellie both murmured agreement even if that agreement was less than whole-hearted. “What both of you should do is get some sleep.” Adam did not bother to point out how difficult the next day’s journey would be.
“I suppose we should all try.” Ellie stood. “Excuse me a minute.” She lighted a candled and slipped further into the shadows.
“Going back is gonna take a mite longer than getting here did.”
That’s an understatement. “It’s best if we leave at first light.”
“I can get ya on the horse, but I’m thinking it’d be best maybe if someone rode with ya. Better on ya knee.”
“Buckwheat would be the best for that, but I don’t know about Miss Ellie handling Beauty.” Hoss twisted the weed he had pluck from the ground.
Adam tugged at his earlobe. “You on Beauty handling Windy with Ellie and me on Buckwheat.”
Hoss nodded. “There’s a few places where we can go the longer way a little easier.”
“There is.” Adam swallowed and studied Hoss in the light from the fire. “Are you comfortable taking the lead?”
A slight grin appeared on Hoss’s face. “Do I need to worry about the fact that you’re thinking of letting me?”
“No!” Adam shook his head and spoke with assurance. “I know I can trust you to handle it.”
Hoss’s smile broadened. The silence between the brothers was companionable for the next minute, and then Hoss spoke in a near whisper. “You don’t think there’s no gold in that mine.”
“I don’t think it’s a bonanza, no, but, well, there may be some. We were going to have some samples assayed.”
“Miss Ellie don’t want nobody going back in that mine, does she?”
“Nobody is going back in that mine.”
The silence between them was less companionable. “It’s not just she’s wanting to be rich, is it?”
Adam was not truly surprised by Hoss’s observation; his younger brother was quite perceptive when it came to people. “No, it’s not just that she fancies being rich. She… she’s had a hard time since her father died and left her alone and with working at Hasson’s… well, she really doesn’t have any choice. She has to make a living.” At sixteen she has to make a living. She hasn’t the freedom to choose. Poverty can hold one tighter than any iron chain.
Hoss made no reply, but that may have been because Ellie reappeared at that moment. She and Hoss both settled on their bedrolls and made an attempt to sleep. After a while, Ellie and Adam actually managed to do so for a few hours.
The trio managed the trip back to the Ponderosa though it took until well after the sunset. By the time they rode into the yard, exhaustion had eliminated any worry about Ben Cartwright’s reaction to the explanation the boys would be required to give. In the end, no detailed explanation was even requested because Adam fainted dead away as he slid from Beauty into his father’s arms. Marie took over as Adam was carried to his bed and then sent Ben immediately for a doctor who had recently set up residence in town. After which she saw to it that Hoss, Ellie, and even Little Joe were all asleep before Ben and the doctor returned. Between the effects of a fever and hearty doses of laudanum, Adam spent the next few days in a haze. It was not until the morning of the fourth day after their return that he awoke naturally and with a clear head. His gaze slid toward the open door where he saw a small head peeking around the door jamb.
“Come on in.”
The door swung further back, and Little Joe dashed toward the bed coming to an abrupt halt near Adam’s head. He stood very still with his hands clasped behind him. “I won’t touch your knee none.”
Adam smiled. Obviously you’ve been well and sternly warned. “I appreciate that. You can touch the rest of me though.”
His brother leaned against the bed reaching out to pet Adam’s face. “You gottted hurt, but Mama says the doctor says you’re gonna heal just fine.”
“Of, course I shall.”
A reproachful pout settled on Little Joe’s features. “I don’t like when you get hurted. Don’t do it no more.”
“Yes, sir.” Adam did not suppress his grin.
“I serious, Adam. Pa, Mama, and me was worried lots. Hoss too.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll do better from now on. Okay?”
“Okay!” Little Joe’s forgiveness exploded in a huge smile.
“Where’s Pa?” I half thought to see him here.
“He’s working. He stayed in here ‘til your fever broked yesterday, and the doctor said …” Little Joe’s face grew puzzled. “Doctor said something ‘bout weaning and that la..dum stuff. Mama said it’s what made ya sleep funny. You was sleeping the same as always this morning, so everybody went back to working, and I was gonna watch ya for them, but I wasn’t supposed to bother you, so I watched from the hall, and now you’re awake. Pa’ll be back for lunch.”
“And where’s Hoss?”
“He’s doing chores in the barn.”
Little Joe’s curls bounced in the negative. “Just same as always.”
Adam crooked his finger, and Little Joe leaned even closer. “Little Joe, could you do something important for me?” This time the boy’s curls tumbled in the affirmative. “Could you go ask Hoss to come see me? And, umm, don’t tell anybody else I’m awake yet.”
Little Joe’s chest swelled with pride. “I’ll do it!” The boy was gone before Adam could voice anymore cautions. His departure shook the bed which jostled Adam’s knee. The resulting pain caused Adam to just lie back and wait. Hoss arrived in a few minutes.
“Little Joe said ya wanted me. Is something wrong?”
“No, I just wanted to talk to you.”
“Before you talked to Pa?”
You know me too well, little brother, and we both know Pa. “Well.” The syllable was slow and extended.
“Me and Miss Ellie told him everything the next morning.”
“Everything. I told ya I don’t like to lie to Pa, and anyways it seems Miss Ellie don’t hold with leaving things out.”
“Was he mad at Ellie?” Adam held his breath as he waited for the answer.
“Nah, not really. I think he likes her. Mama and her talked a lot ‘fore she went back to town.”
Adam let out half his breath. “Pa didn’t blame you, did he?”
“I think Mama talked to him ‘bout not being mad and ‘bout nature giving out consequences. Anyways, he wasn’t best pleased, but I didn’t get no real punishments. Not like I ‘septeced to.”
Adam released the rest of his breath. “Good.” I’m glad Pa’s not holding anybody to account but me. After all, I am the one responsible.
“I kinda told ya this before, but ya wasn’t really clear-headed, and doctor said ya wouldn’t remember much. He said your knee should heal fine though.”
“I told you both…”
“He said we was right to splint it. He’s sure ya broke something in ya knee, and it coulda been a lot worse iffen ya tried to walk on it. You ain’t gonna be walking without crutches no time soon, not at all for a while.” Only Hoss’s tone said I told you so.
Adam frowned. Then he looked up at Hoss through his lashes. “Thank you, brother. For all you did and for getting me home.”
Hoss’s smile was shy, and his head dropped. “Not like I could just leave ya in that mine. Pa woulda been really angry at that.”
“So Ellie went back to town?” A thought struck Adam. “She didn’t lose her job, did she?”
“No. Pa went with her and talked to Mr. Hasson.” Hoss shifted suddenly uneasy. “Then he took the samples to be assayed.”
Adam jerked upward. “What samples!”
“Now, don’t go getting a burr under your saddle.”
“I repeat: what samples. We didn’t take any samples.”
“No, we didn’t; I did.”
“When you and Miss Ellie was sleeping. Didn’t take that long.”
Lord help me! “You went in that mine alone after I said no one was to set foot back in there?”
“There was a need, Adam.”
“And it’s good I did. There’s some gold in the samples. Not high grade nor nothing but some. Pa’s gonna help see to things.”
Well, I’ll be damned. Still, he could have… A stern glared focused on Hoss’s unwavering eyes. “You’ll be answering to me; you know that, don’t you?”
Hoss grinned and shrugged. “No time soon, elder brother.”
Adam started to rise, but Marie walked through the door followed by Little Joe.
Just you wait, brother mine, just you wait.
The door had remained open so that Adam could be heard if he called out, therefore Ben Cartwright simply walked into his son’s room carrying a large tray holding Adam’s lunch.
“They tell me you’ve come to your full senses.” Ben stood next to the bed holding the tray.
I wonder if he meant the double entendre. “Well, I have as much sense as I usually do.” Ben’s right eyebrow rose. “I mean, yes, sir. Pa? Umm, I’m sorry.”
Ben studied his eldest son’s face and then glanced at the tray he held. “Would you rather talk before or after you eat?”
“After.” Though I doubt that I’ll have any more appetite then than I do now.
Ben carried the tray to the dresser and set it down. When he returned to the bedside, he saw Adam’s head was bent and his eyes were focused on his hands. He sat down in the chair in which he had spent most of the three previous days and nights. “What exactly is it for which you are sorry, son.”
Son not Adam Stoddard. “Everything.” He raised his eyes to study his father’s face and discovered far less anger than he had expected.
Ben leaned back, put his right leg across his left, and clasped his right knee in both hands. “Actually, there is only one thing that I am still angry about and, well, one that truly disappoints me.”
Adam winced at the word disappoints. “The deceit makes you angry.” Adam knew his father well.
“Yes.” Ben’s voice rumbled with reproach.
“I didn’t actually lie.” Adam’s eyes rolled inwardly at his own comment. Close enough though, and I know it.
Adam capitulated. “I know, and really I am sorry. Sorry for deceiving you, sorry for doing something I knew you wouldn’t allow, and sorry for dragging Hoss into it all. Most of all I’m sorry for not being the son you’ve taught me to be.”
Ben reached out and placed his hand on Adam’s arm. “You are the son I love and of whom I am so often proud, and who I never expected to be as perfect as the Lord God’s.”
“Forgive me, Pa.” I should take my punishment first but please…
“I forgave you days ago, Adam. I expect better choices in the future, but you have been forgiven.” Ben smiled. “Actually, it wasn’t all that hard to do.”
“Hoss really isn’t…”
“Hoss and I have settled things. Didn’t he tell you?”
“He said they told you everything and that you didn’t p…punish him. And that was right, he really…”
“Right was it?” Ben’s tone indicated a disinclination for one son to judge his dealings with another.
“I, I, uh, I didn’t mean…”
“Adam, your brother made some poor choices, but it has been pointed out to me that if he had not the situation for you and the young lady would have been a great deal more serious, and despite Hoss’s readiness to accept responsibility for the accident we all know something much the same could have happened with only you and Ellie there.”
Adam nodded. “I know.”
“Boys seldom allow such considerations to override their desires; a man doesn’t have the luxury of overconfidence in his own invincibility. It is not that many years before you will be a man, Adam.”
“I’ll do better in the future, Pa.”
Ben patted the arm beneath his hand and waited. When Adam did not speak, he did. “You haven’t asked what disappoints me.”
Adam’s eyes blinked in confusion. “My behavior…”
Ben’s voice overrode his son’s. “I am deeply disappointed that you felt you could not come to me and that led to you taking unnecessary risks. Risks that could have had even worse outcomes for you, or Hoss, or Ellie. Not just physically but in other ways.”
“But… Pa, it wasn’t that I didn’t trust you. I…I’ve always trusted you. I just… I knew you wouldn’t let me and, well, it was so important to Ellie and…” Adam blinked, and then looked directly into Ben’s face. “You wouldn’t have let us go, would you?” I’m not in trouble when I needn’t have been, am I?
“Not you and the young lady alone, no, but a much safer and more prudent exploration could have been arranged.” Ben leaned back and clasped his knee.
“You would have believed there was a gold mine? I mean, I know there was a mine, and Hoss said… not that he ever should have gotten those samples, but he said that they showed some gold.”
“They did, and we’ll discuss that after supper, but, first, you didn’t believe there was a mine?”
Adam’s eyes dropped to study the coverlet. “Well, not, well, not really, not the way Ellie did.” He plucked at the cotton beneath his fingers.
“If you didn’t believe there was a mine, then why the elaborate deception?” Ben desired to be entirely clear about his son’s motivation.
“Umm, Ellie… it was so important to her, and, well, uh, a little, ummm, privacy… but really I just … I couldn’t crush… I couldn’t crush her dreams, even if, well, I didn’t think there was much of a chance.”
Adam’s blush gave his father all the additional clarification needed. Ben shook his head and considered rethinking how he should handle his eldest son’s transgression. Adam watched a number of emotions flicker across his father’s face.
Now it comes! Well, I deserve it.
Ben drew in a calming breath and let it out slowly. “How close are you and the young lady?”
Adam noticed his father’s emphasis on the words young lady. He cleared his throat. “I like Ellie, and she likes me. I… I think she’s special.” Adam took a deeper breath. “We haven’t… I wouldn’t… She… She is a lady, Pa.” She’s only let me kiss her a few times.
“I’ve no reason to think otherwise, Adam, and I can see that she would be very appealing to a boy your age. Actually, she and Marie seemed to have become friends. Marie feels she is a fine girl.”
Are you saying that you and Marie would have no objections to my courting Ellie? “That’s good.”
Ben nodded in agreement. “Adam, should I be concerned that an appealing female will lead you astray when you are in the East at college?”
Adam’s eyes widened. You wouldn’t… that’s too much… you can’t mean to take my college away. “No, no, Pa. Ellie didn’t lead me astray; really, she didn’t. Please, Pa. I won’t. You don’t have to worry.”
Ben straightened placing both boots on the floor. “In much too short a time- for me anyway- you will be far beyond the reach of my, ummm, chastisement, so I hope that you can learn from this experience in a more, umm, adult fashion.”
You didn’t tan Hoss because it wasn’t fair if you weren’t going to tan me. “I’ll do without complaint whatever you think is needed to balance the books.” Adam came to attention as much as it was possible lying in a bed and awaited the pronouncement of his punishment.
“That is an interesting choice of words, son, as one of the tasks that you shall assume while your knee is healing is the keeping of the books.”
Well, that’s really not bad at all. I don’t hate it the way Pa does.
“You will be kept useful in any way that is possible during your recovery, but, well, your injury will supply more than enough restrictions for some time, so, there is no needed for me to impose any additional ones. Is there, Adam?”
“No. No need at all.”
“I shall be taking a much closer interest in your whereabouts until your departure.”
Adam flushed and nodded.
“There is only one more thing.”
Adam held his breath. How bad can it be?
“You shall write out an essay explaining the need for considering all possible avenues of action and choosing the most prudent one. I expect you to include all the methods you can think of that a young man might need to use to keep his desire to please a young lady from- shall we say- leading him astray. Are my expectations clear?”
“When you have finished, I want you to place it in the Bible you will take east with you and keep it close to hand.” Adam saw the sparkle in his father’s eyes, and the knot in his own chest unwound.
Adam’s smile had his father’s hand cupping his face while his finger traced Adam’s dimple. “I expect you to clean that plate now. No, excuses.”
“We’ll discuss that after supper. For now: a clean plate, your medicine, and a nap. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Pa.” Ben brushed Adam’s curls back from his forehead pleased that the boy sounded contrite enough for now.
Marie watched Adam swallow the detested laudanum pleased that a contrite Cartwright made a much more biddable patient than normally found among her husband and sons. She took the glass from Adam’s hand and set it and the spoon on the small bedside table ready for the next dose.
“Yes, mon fils?” When she observed the look on Adam’s face, she sat down in the chair that was positioned beside the bed.
“Uh, I, umm, I’m sorry for worrying Pa and you and for making more work for you having to see to me and all.”
“Seeing to you is not a burden and you need not feel sorry.”
“Still, I am.”
She smiled. “And I accept your apology.” She started to rise but stopped her back held rigid. “There is one thing I would have the truth of though.”
“The truth? Hoss said he and Ellie told Pa everything, didn’t he tell you?”
“Naturellement. It is not happenings that concern me, but something only you can answer.”
Adam shifted uneasily. At times, his stepmother was the person least likely to receive the whole truth from his lips.
“Adam, you would not have done this for even as charming a girl as Ellie if she were but a passing acquaintance.”
“No, I guess I wouldn’t.”
“You did not introduce her to your father or to me. You did not invite her to your home. I cannot believe that you thought your father would judge her harshly or be less than welcoming.”
Adam’s eyes widened in indignation. “I know Pa’s not like that!”
“And he has taught all of his sons to be as he.” She learned closer to the bed. “Was it because you thought I might?”
“No, no, not at all.” I know you had to work in New Orleans in a gambling house. I wouldn’t expect… but some do say that a reformed sinner can be the harshest accuser of all.
It was clear that the boy spoke the truth. Marie relaxed against the seatback. She turned the wedding band on her finger around and around again.
“Hoss said you and Ellie talked a good bit, and Pa said you two got along.”
“Oui.” Marie paused. Then making a decision, she continued. “She is an intelligent girl.” It was not the observation Adam expected, but he had to agree it was true. “You’ve told her of your plans for college?”
“Yes.” Adam wondered just where Marie was taking this conversation.
“Has she told you she also desires to learn more?”
“I know she’s interested in learning things.”
“I am not surprised she would think more schooling an impossibility too silly to mention.”
“Unless she found a gold mine or something.” It was a sudden thought spoken without intention.
“Oui. But now there is a gold mine.”
“Hoss said there is some gold.”
“I do not know the details; you must discuss those with Ben.”
“Pa said we’d talk after supper, but you could tell me what you know.”
Marie nodded. “There is enough gold it is thought to be worth an attempt at mining. Ellie told Ben that you and she are partners.”
Adam nodded. “But if…”
“She was insistent. As neither of you are of age, your father filed on the claim. Either he will arrange for the mining operation or the sale of the mine, whichever seems best. The monies will be placed in accounts in yours and Ellie’s names for your futures. Your father has agreed to advise Ellie as well as you.”
“But there’ll be enough for her to quit working at Hasson’s?”
“If things go as indicated, yes. She will not live lavishly, but comfort should be possible, and…” Marie drew in a breath. “The sisters in California have started a school near San Francisco for daughters whose fathers would have them educated properly but do not desire for them to travel thousands of miles away.”
“Oh.” Adam took a moment to consider the implications of Marie’s information. “You were educated by nuns.”
“Yes. The good sisters of several orders are well-known for educating girls and young women.”
Adam tugged his left ear. “You mentioned it to Ellie?” Marie nodded. “You think it would be a good place for her? The sisters would be good to her?”
“They are women of God.”
“And Ellie? You told her about the school.”
No decisions have been made, and no hasty decisions are needed. There is time for thoughtful consideration.” Marie patted Adam’s hand as it plucked at the cotton of his coverlet. “I am sure she desires to discuss things with you. There is no doubt that soon- when you are up to visitors- she will be first among them. But now you must rest, and I must check on your brothers.” Marie rose, but Adam caught her hand.
“I… thank you, thank you for befriending Ellie.”
She squeezed his hand. “Rest now. It is also certain that Little Joe will insist on helping you in your convalescence, so you shall need your strength.” Marie’s laughter was soft and light. She left. Adam’s body sunk into his pillows and his mind into thoughtful consideration.
Adam was surprised at how easily he had wheedled his way outside even though he was sure he had not really needed his father’s and brother’s assistance to dress and make his way to the porch, but his pa had insisted. At least he had something to look at beside four overly familiar walls and a ceiling. Hoss had taken Little Joe off to parts unknown, and Adam had to admit that a respite from the good intentions of his baby brother was welcome. He sat with an unread book in his lap and watched the comings and goings of several birds. As he relaxed, he heard the buggy’s approach before he watched it pull into the yard. Smiling, he recognized that it contained another occupant in addition to his stepmother.
“Ellie!” Adam instinctively started to rise.
“Stay in that seat!” Marie’s voice was firm but not sharp.
Marie and Ellie descended and walked over to Adam. “I felt since you were released from your bed you might enjoy a visitor.”
“You couldn’t have been more right.” Adam answered Marie, but his eyes did not leave Ellie’s face.
“So you’re really going to be fine?” Ellie’s eyes searched every inch of Adam for assurance.
“Absolutely, now that you’re here.” Adam flashed his dimples and then remembered Marie’s presence. “Um, thank you for bringing her, Marie.”
“It is nothing. We had a very enjoyable ride, but now I must see to several things. Little Joe?”
“He’s off with Hoss somewhere.” Adam saw a certain smile flicker across Marie’s face. As per your instructions, no doubt. So, now I know why I was allowed the porch; it’s an entirely appropriate place for me to receive a female visitor.
“Ah, then I shall go in search of them.” She motioned Ellie toward an empty chair. “Sit down, child. If you will pardon me, I’ll tend to my younger sons and leave Adam in your care for a bit. Then I’m sure Hop Sing has some refreshments we can all enjoy. ”
“Oh, of course.”
Ellie and Adam watched Marie disappear before either of them spoke.
“I was so worried.”
“I’m pleased you care enough to worry even if there is no need.”
“Your knee will heal completely? You won’t…”
“The doctor says the only reminder I may be left with is a slight ache when it coming on rain. Now, don’t frown; that may even prove a bit useful.”
Ellie relaxed and then straightened again. “Hoss he, well, he was so, so capable and kind and all…” Her eyes flashed. “But he went back into that mine. When he said that I was so angry. To think he might have been hurt. Oh, I gave him a piece of my mind; I’ll tell you that. And do you know what he said?”
Actually, I probably do.
“He just stood there and said ‘There was a need.’ Just as unrepentant as you please. A need, a need he said, my need, and he could have…”
“Hoss is fine and stubborn as a mule about some things. You needn’t feel guilty, and you needn’t worry about his comeuppance; his older brother shall see to it.”
Ellie’s finger went to her mouth, and she bit her nail. “Now, Adam, you wouldn’t do anything…umm, I don’t want him to do anything like that again, but… He’s such a sweet boy. So… well, he’s a fine and comforting soul.”
Adam laughed softly though he was not sure if he wanted Ellie to laud his younger brother quite so much. “His comeuppance shall be appropriate; I assure you, and I already thanked him for everything he did.”
“Good.” Adam felt his chest swell at the confidence and trust he heard in that word. “They told you about the mine?”
“Yes, you were right all the time.”
Her hand dropped to her lap, and her teeth sunk into her lower lip. “I still can hardly believe… Your pa said that it will take some time for the mine to actually produce a profit unless we just sell it. What do you think, partner?”
“Pa and I discussed things. Actually, Pa thinks it would be a sound investment to keep the mine and operate it for a while. So do I.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do.”
You’re willing to wait. Just that easy, you’re willing to wait. He leaned forward. “Pa knows, well, he doesn’t want you to have to wait and keep working, so he has a proposition.”
“He will advance the money for getting the mine operating and also advance you the money to, well, to live on or for school or whatever. He would just take a portion of the profits until the money advanced is paid back.”
Ellie’s fingernail returned to her teeth. “What if the mine didn’t cover all the money advanced?”
“There’s no guarantee, but Pa’s fairly certain that won’t be a problem.”
“And if I have the schooling, I can get a better job and pay him back if there’s need.”
“Pa’s not worried about that, Ellie, but, yes, you could. Do you want to go to that school?”
“I… I’ve always wished I could get more schooling.” Her eyes found his. “You still want to go to college, don’t you?”
“Yes, except… Ellie, I, I don’t want to… to lose you.”
She stood and walked to the edge of the porch and stood with her back to Adam. “I care for you, Adam, so much, and, well, to be plain about it, any girl would want a Cartwright for a husband. Not, not just because your family has money, but you’re all such fine, kind people. And you, you’re…”
“The only currently eligible Cartwright.” Ellie heard the teasing in his tone.
She turned to face him. “I could always just wait for Hoss to get grown.”
“Or even Little Joe.” He motioned for her to come nearer. When she did, he took her hand. “Do you love me?”
“I think no more than you love me. And that’s not, well, it’s not like, well, that Romeo and Juliet you told me about in the play. It’s not even, well, like some real married folks I know. It might grow to be, maybe, but it’s not now.”
No, we don’t look at each other the way Pa and Mama did or the way he and Marie do. “If we tried now, we might resent what we had to give up.”
“And resent each other for it.” She brought her other hand to clasp his. “We needn’t toss each other away.”
“No. We’ll still be partners after all.” He studied her face. “There’s something more though, isn’t there?”
She drew in a deep breath. “I just… well, it’s hard to explain, but with the mine and the money, umm, it’s like for the first time I have a certain…” Her voice trailed off as she searched for the word.
Adam squeezed her hand and then released it. “Freedom.”
“Yes, that’s it. A freedom to choose that I’ve never had before.”
“And every man and woman wants freedom.” I certainly do. “I suppose part of what college means to me is a certain kind of freedom.”
“Then you understand?”
Adam’s smile grew slowly, but his dimples were at their deepest when he spoke. “Yes. I think we understand each other very well.” And we always will, partner. We always will.
The cards (words/phrases) dealt to me were:
Map to a gold mine
A day off
Other Stories by this Author
- A Hot Day, a Cold Lake, and a Bare Brother (by DJK)
- Adam and the Imp of Satan #2 – The Imp, Some Demons, and a Few Short Lists (by DJK)
- Seeing a Man (by DJK)