Summary: Adam has been back from college for a few months but is having a hard time settling in with the ranch hands and his brothers. Through the wisdom of his father he learns some lessons about being a boss and a brother. A What-Happens-Years-Before the episode The Grand Swing.
Rating – K+, WC – 9978
The Witness Tree
“Hoss!!” Adam Cartwright ran from the porch of his Ponderosa home into the fray of fighting men. Seeing his sixteen year old brother fall off his horse as he was riding out of the yard gave him a start. Hoss stood up quickly enough and began punching the nearest ranch hand. By the time Adam got to them his middle brother was taking on four ranch hands. Adam grabbed at any shirt he could to break up the fight.
“Alright, stop it! Break it up, now!” As Adam pulled one man away, another quickly took his place. After a few minutes he lost sight of Hoss and lost count of how many men he was battling. The next thing he knew, someone slammed a fist into his gut, sending him sailing backwards to land in the horse trough with a huge splash. As he floated to a sitting position in the murky water, gales of laughter assaulted his ears. A large hand was tentatively offered to help him out but Adam ignored it. At Adam’s dark glare Hoss lowered his head and backed away. Adam slowly rose out of the water, and stepped onto the muddy ground, dripping from head to toe. He threw each man a withering gaze, letting them know they were marked men. There were many things he wanted to say but held his tongue. Silently, Adam made his way to the side of the house to enter into the kitchen. Remaining still until Adam disappeared around corner of the house, the men finally returned to their work, a few daring to release a some giggles at their boss’ unexpected dunking. The foreman, known to everyone as Old Charlie, witnessed the entire fight. He quickly chided those who’d crossed the line, then moved to check on Hoss.
“You okay, boy? Ain’t hurt are ya?
Hoss rubbed his left arm. “No sir, Charlie. I fell on the arm but it only hurts now ‘cause of punching some o’ them men fer loosenin’ my saddle.”
Charlie shook his head. “Boy ya gotta control that temper o’ yourn ifn ya want the men ta accept ya as one of ‘em. You can bet they’ll be gettin’ an earful from me, an’ I reckon from your brother too, as soon as he gets some dry clothes.”
Seeing Hoss’ sad face, Charlie patted the teen on the shoulder then headed back to the barn. As Hoss fixed his saddle, he debated on whether to go and apologize to Adam or get on with his work. By his figuring, he felt the work would be safer, so he mounted up and rode out to the herd. He decided a few hours would give time for his brother to cool off. That choice of words brought an unbidden chuckle to Hoss, which he quickly squelched.
Inside the kitchen, Adam got his own earful from Hop Sing for the wet puddles on the floor. Little Joe was having a snack, and began to giggle at his brother’s appearance, so Hop Sing quickly dispatched the amused youngster to retrieve dry clothes for his sodden brother. Adam remained silent through the entire affair, only nodding his gratitude to Hop Sing and Little Joe before heading to the washroom to change.
After changing clothes and cleaning up his mess in the washroom, Adam headed outside to find the men involved in the fight. He realized that all four were the newest hands and seemed to take pleasure in continually harassing Hoss for one reason or another. His fury had cooled a bit but he was determined some heads were going to roll. Before Adam got halfway across the yard, Charlie crossed from the bunkhouse and intercepted him.
“Adam, I need to have a word with ya.”
“Out of my way, Charlie.”
Charlie grabbed Adam’s arm in a tight grip. “Listen to me a moment. I done gave a good lecture to the ones involved. Made it clear to them that this is the last time for any fightin’. Next time an’ they’ll be out of a job.”
“That’s not what I want to see them about. This harassing of Hoss is going to end now. If you’ll excuse me.” Adam attempted to free his arm but Charlie held fast.
Ignoring the deadly look from his boss’ son, Charlie pressed on. “Adam, I know you’re the boss but I gotta say this to ya. Them men was wrong to fight and wrong to loosen Hoss’ saddle. Believe me when I tell ya, they know that now. But you also gotta know that your brother has got to learn on his own how to handle all that. Ya can’t go and defend him all the time. Surely you haven’t forgotten what ya went through before you went off ta school, how it was when you was runnin’ this here ranch after Joe’s mama died. I had ta stay back an’ let ya figure on your own how to deal with the men. Well, same here with Hoss. I’m stayin’ close so’s nothing bad happens, just so’s ya know.” Charlie released Adam’s arm. “Ifn ya got more to say to the men they’ll be back in the bunkhouse in a couple o’ hours.”
Adam stared at the bunkhouse, his jaw working as he tried to settle the conflict within himself. Without a word Adam turned on his heel and headed back to the house. He had work to do on the ledgers, to get ready for payday at the end of the week. He also knew he had some things to think about in the next two hours. Charlie watched after him before heading to the barn to finish his work in the tack room.
When Adam entered the house, his thoughts changed from his brother to his father. He glanced at the large desk laden with ledgers, then at the stairs. Having made his decision, he took the steps two at a time. He reached Ben’s room just as Hop Sing opened the door and tip-toed out to the hall. The revered Chinaman shifted the tray he carried to avoid bumping into Adam.
“Father sleeping. Ate all soup. Getting much better. You let him sleep, talk later.”
Adam watched Hop Sing pad down the hall and down the stairs, then he slipped into his father’s bedroom. It had been a rough couple of weeks while Ben recovered from a cold that had gone into his chest. Adam sat by the bed and noticed his father’s breathing was no longer labored. He did appear to be sleeping peacefully. Having seen for himself the truth of Hop Sing’s words Adam left the room as silently as he had entered. With a deep sigh he returned to the great room below, and the waiting ledgers.
The long clock had just chimed the fifth hour as the sound of a single horse entering the yard reached Adam’s ears. The ledgers had been brought up to date an hour before, so for the last hour Adam leaned back in his father’s desk chair, feet resting on the corner of the desk, his fingers steepled in front of him. The problems of the hands and Hoss plagued his thoughts. He’d pondered Charlie’s words, and wondered how his father would have responded. As the door opened, quite slowly he noted, Adam swung his feet to the floor and leaned his elbows on the desk.
Hoss laid his gun belt on the credenza and hung his hat on the wall, then tried to head to the kitchen for a snack, but a quiet voice stopped him midstep.
Turning slowly toward the desk, Hoss waited. “Yeah, Adam.”
Adam rounded the corner and met his brother’s gaze. “Let’s sit by the fire.”
Hoss sat on the hearth as Adam settled his tall frame on the low table. Hoss watched his brother stare into the fire, eventually rotating his head to look at him. “You okay after what happened this afternoon?”
“Where’d you go?”
“Out to the herd, like ya told me to. They’re getting good an’ fat, Adam. Johnny says there might be a few more calves due soon, too.”
“That’s good news.” Adam was always pleased when he’d see Hoss’ face light up when talking about the animals on the ranch. That seemed to be what excited Hoss the most in working around the ranch.
“I’m, uh, sorry about what happened with the men today. That was a dangerous prank.”
“Aw, Adam, it weren’t nothin’. Just a silly prank. I ain’t hurt.”
Adam listened to Hoss’ words but could tell his voice didn’t reflect them. Hoss was bothered by it no matter what he said to the contrary.
“Hoss, be honest with me. Has anything else happened to you? Any other pranks?”
Hoss remained silent.
“Adam it’s nothin’. Just let it be.” Hoss stood up abruptly. “Look, I’m starvin’. Can I go see if Hop Sing has something for me to eat?”
Adam let him go, passively watching his brother leave the room. He started to look away when he saw Hoss lean against the doorway to the kitchen and rub his left hip and arm, before continuing into the other room. Adam dropped his head into his hands, frustration eating at his insides. More was going on but neither Hoss nor Charlie were talking. Adam wanted so badly to stop it but was caught between being a brother and being a boss.
After dinner, Adam sat on the front porch strumming his guitar. He’d spent some time with his father earlier but before he could discuss anything serious, Hoss and Joe wandered in so Adam stepped back to observe his family. It was good to see his father alert and smiling. Now as he played a nondescript tune, sounds of laughter and hollering drifted from the bunkhouse. Those sounds brought a tension back to the eldest Cartwright. A movement to Adam’s left caused him to stop playing and turn to find Hop Sing smiling gently at him.
“Brothers playing checkers with father. Hop Sing sit and drink tea, listen to music. You have hot chocolate to warm belly and calm soul.”
“Thanks Hop Sing.” Taking the warm mug, Adam carefully tasted the steaming drink, savoring the rich chocolate flavor. Setting his cup down to let the drink cool a bit, he returned to playing his guitar.
Hop Sing sipped his tea and stared into the night. “Good to rest, to let day’s troubles drift away on strains of music. Soul become peaceful so body can rest.”
“I wish it were that easy.” Adam stopped playing and rested his arms on his instrument. “I can’t seem to get back into the rhythm of running the ranch. I lost so much being gone so long. I can’t get the men under control and now this issue with them teasing Hoss is getting out of hand.”
“What you not do right? Men do what you say, work get done. Mister Charlie say so. New men learn place, follow rules, be good workers. Mister Hoss new man too. He do good job. What is problem?”
Adam set his guitar aside and reached for his mug. “A few of the new men have been teasing Hoss. It began as minor ribbing, but it’s turned rougher. Charlie says he’s watching it and won’t let it go too far. I know it’s part of the job, I’ve been through it, but…” Adam couldn’t continue.
“This different, Mister Hoss your brother.”
Adam met Hop Sing’s kind, understanding eyes. “Yeah, it’s my job to look after him, protect him.”
“Yes, brothers do that, but he need learn to protect self. Mister Hoss wise, he know when men get too rough. Men might be sorry tease too much, yes?”
Adam chuckled. “Yeah, you could be right.”
“Ha! Not ‘could be’….Hop Sing always right.” He stood and pointed his finger at Adam. “You not forget that, Number One Son.” A slight smile brightened his almond eyes as he took his cup and strolled back to the house. Adam slowly finished his hot chocolate feeling a warmth not from the drink fill his insides; his spirit was renewed. While he thought of his Chinese friend and the wisdom he’d imparted, Adam picked up his guitar and began playing a more lively tune.
The morning dawned peacefully but didn’t stay that way. Adam took Hoss and a few of the new men with him to clear some trees that had fallen on a section of fence. Charlie would be out later with materials to rebuild the fence. Adam purposely choose the men as they were the ones causing the most trouble with Hoss, and who had caused his own ‘bath’ in the horse trough the previous day. His plan was to observe their work ethic. Would they focus on the work or on Hoss?
The first hour or so went well as everyone worked quietly and efficiently on their tasks. Hoss and two of the men were cutting the trees trunks into manageable lengths while Adam and two other men worked to clear debris and the broken fence. As Adam loaded reusable posts into the wagon loud voices caught his attention.
“Hey! Ya gotta finish cuttin’ those branches an’ stack ‘em by the wagon.”
“Nah, you’re doin’ jest fine by yerself, you big ox. We’re hot an’ tired an’ are goin’ over to the creek to get cooled off.”
“I said get back here.”
Adam was prepared to intervene just as Hoss slammed the blade of his ax into the tree trunk and stormed over to the two men. He reached for them but one, a short, burly man named Buster, was faster and shoved him away. The other, a tall scrawny man named Calvin, drew a knife and swung it toward Hoss, making contact with his arm.
“We don’t take no orders from a kid. I don’t care if you are related to the boss.”
Hoss’ face grew red with rage. “You done pushed me too far. I don’t rightly care about all them pranks, but quitting work when it ain’t finished don’t set well with me. I’ve had it with the both of ya.”
Ignoring his bleeding arm he attacked Buster, laying him flat to the ground with one punch. Calvin held his knife out daring Hoss to attack. Hoss paused, appeared to back up with his hands raised causing the man to lower his guard. At that point, Hoss moved quick as lightning and felled Calvin with a fist to the nose.
Adam ran up and stared at the two men on the ground, both out cold, then up at Hoss. “You alright?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry Adam. I shouldn’t a hit ‘em. I…”
“No Hoss, look at me.” Hoss turned his face to his brother and saw misery in every feature. “I’m the one at fault. I let this go on too long. You did the right thing. They attacked you and you defended yourself. As soon as these two wake up, they’ll get their pay and be gone. Here, let me see your arm.”
Adam led Hoss to the wagon and sent the other two men to stand guard over the sleeping troublemakers. He was grateful the wound wasn’t deep but it did bleed a lot. He had it bandaged quickly and gave Hoss some cold water to drink.
“Sit here and rest while we finish up with that tree.”
When Adam returned to the scene Buster and Calvin were getting to their feet. Adam confiscated the knife and their guns. “Okay you two get back to that tree. I want it cleared, the wood stacked in the wagon and debris piled beside it. Get it done before Charlie arrives with the new fencing.” Adam sent the other two men, who had worked hard with him, to the creek to get fresh water and keep an eye on Hoss.
Buster started to complain but thought better of it upon seeing Adam’s dark glare and threatening stance. When Charlie arrived, he immediately knew something had happened. With the assigned work completed, Adam ordered the two men into the wagon with all the logs and old fence posts. Hoss quietly sat in the seat cradling his injured arm. Adam quickly explained the situation to Charlie who nodded in agreement. The other men chose to stay with Charlie and return to the ranch later.
It was a silent ride back to the ranch. When Adam pulled into the yard he jumped down and turned to Hoss. “Go see Hop Sing. Ask him to clean that cut real good and rebandage it. We’ll talk later.” He gently squeezed Hoss’ shoulder to confirm he wasn’t in trouble.
As Hoss made his way to the house, Adam turned to find Calvin and Buster heading to the bunkhouse. His dark mood returned as he called out to them, “Just where do you two think you’re going? Get back here and unload this wagon. Have it done when I get back. I’m going in to get your wages, then you can clear out your gear and get off the Ponderosa. I don’t want to see you two back here again.”
Calvin moved into Adam’s path. “You’re jest as bad as yer brother. Ain’t no kid gonna tell me what ta do. Gimme my gun and knife. You ain’t got no right ta hold ‘em.” He made the poor choice to ignore Adam’s black eyes and decided to take a swing at him. Adam effectively blocked the arm, grabbed it, twisted it behind the man and spoke low into his ear.
“Your first mistake was ignoring my orders, your second was picking on Hoss. Your third and final mistake was talking just now. Hasn’t anyone told you it is better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt? You also seem to not hear very well. I told you to unload this wagon.” Adam released the man with a shove and waited for him to move toward the wagon, then he walked to the house. He missed the hateful look both men gave him.
Storming into the house Adam’s long legs took him to his father’s desk in seconds. He went to the safe and removed the money he needed to pay the two men. As he made notes in the ledger, Little Joe came rushing in from the kitchen full of questions and worry.
“Adam did you know Hoss got hurt? He said one of the hands did it? Are you gonna fire him? The man, not Hoss, of course. You can’t fire Hoss ‘cause he’s family, right Adam? Hey Adam what are you doin’ with that money?”
Adam stopped his work to glare at his young brother. “Little Joe, I don’t have time for all your questions. Go find something to do.”
Little Joe looked offended for a split second then brightened when he had a new thought. “Sure Adam, I’ll go tell Pa. I bet he don’t know about Hoss yet.”
“No Joe!” But the boy was at the top of the stairs before Adam’s cry died in the empty room. Sighing he returned to his task.
Hoss came out from the kitchen and dropped into his father’s chair. He noticed Adam at the desk but remained silent. Slow, heavy footfalls on the stairs caught both brothers’ attention. Hoss looked up briefly but continued to mope, and Adam sighed. He’d hoped to get the problems with the men handled without disturbing his father. Rolling his eyes upward without lifting his head Adam observed his father, wrapped in his robe, leaning heavily on the banister at the foot of the stairs. He also noticed a lone knee peeking out at the top of the stairs. When Ben addressed Hoss his voice was quiet but not without authority.
“Hoss, you okay boy?”
“Yessir. Just a scratch.”
“Good. Would you mind leaving me and Adam alone for a few minutes? I’ll speak with you later.”
Hoss bobbed his head and meandered back to the kitchen.
Seconds passed then quiet footsteps were heard on the steps.
Ben turned to look at his third son. “What is the rule about eavesdropping?”
“Not to do it.”
Ben held his son’s gaze. “I’m sure there are chores to be done in the barn.”
Adam smirked a little when his ten year old brother slid carefully by his father and walked quickly to the front door. As soon as the door was closed, Ben slowly made his way to the desk. Adam immediately vacated the chair so his father could sit.
“Pa, Joe shouldn’t have disturbed you. I’ve got all this under control.”
Ben held up his hand. “I’m sure you do son. Why don’t you tell me what’s been going on.”
Ben expression was gentle but also showed he wanted to know everything, so Adam told him all that had been happening with the two new hands, Hoss and the recent fights. He also explained his decision to fire the two men but he was making sure they completed their work for that day. Ben listen intently and when Adam finished he shared his thoughts.
“Adam I can’t disagree with firing those men but I feel all of it could have been handled, um, differently, perhaps avoiding today’s incidents.” Adam bristled visibly at that. “I will speak with Hoss later to get his part in all of this. For now son, I’m more concerned about you. You’re looking strained, tired. I’m worried you’ve taken on too much so soon after returning from college. I regret my being sick caused you to have so much responsibility.”
Adam began to pace. “Pa, I’m fine. I can handle this.” He waved his hand through the air to emphasize the ranch. “If you don’t mind I need pay off those two men and get them on their way, then I’ve got chores to see to.” Adam exited the room before Ben could reply. He put his aching head into his hands wondering how to get Adam to slow down and see things with a less critical eye. Even Hoss and Joe had confided to him that Adam was too critical of some of their work.
After a few moments Ben stood and peered through the window behind his desk. He watched the scene play out as Adam gave the men their money, saw them to their horses then indicated for another ranch hand to escort them off the property. The exchange seemed simple enough except for the angry looks exchanged by the two men and Adam’s tense stance that brooked no argument from either of them. Ben dropped the curtain and shook his head. He hoped they had seen the last of those men. He also knew he needed to do something to get through to his eldest son before he self-destructed.
The next day, Adam and Hoss left early. Word had come that one of the herds needed to be moved. After Hop Sing’s ministrations and a goodnight’s sleep, Hoss was able to use his injured arm quite well. As they rode Adam noted his brother seemed more relaxed. That was because he’d was able to tell Pa all that the hands had done to tease him. They were minor things but it seemed to Hoss that they were getting more dangerous. Hoss didn’t want to tell Adam about it but that morning as they rode out to the herd, Hoss mentioned he was glad to see Calvin and Buster gone from the ranch. Adam agreed and nothing more was said. It would be a good day for both brothers.
At home Ben was determined to stay out of bed, contrary to Hop Sing’s judgement. The two settled on middle ground if Ben agreed to sit a lot and not go outside. That was fine for Ben as he had much planning to do in a short amount of time. When lunch was announced he left his desk piled with several maps to join Little Joe at the table. It was a quiet meal for a short time.
“Pa what are you doing with all those maps?”
“I’m studying the boundaries of the Ponderosa, son.”
“What for? You gonna buy more land?”
“No, Little Joe. Just checking on some things. Now eat your lunch.”
“Do I have to go back to school next month? I wanna stay here and help Adam and Hoss. They look like they need a lot of help.”
“They’re doing just fine and you need your education. You’re too young to leave school. Now I won’t hear any more about that subject.”
“Yessir.” Little Joe ducked his head and took a few bites of his stew. “Pa, why is Adam so surly these days? He promised we’d go fishing tomorrow but now he says he has too much work to catch up on. Why’s that?”
“Little Joe, as you know while I’ve been sick your brother has been doing work that I normally do plus his regular jobs on the ranch. That’s a lot for one person. It’ll be better now that I’m able to take over some of my jobs again.”
“Does that mean he and I can go fishing tomorrow?” Joe’s face brightened with the prospect of a little time with his brother.
“I can’t answer that Little Joe. Now finish your lunch then get to your chores with Charlie.”
“But Pa, you said…” The look his father gave him had Joe eating quickly and heading to the barn.
That afternoon Ben finished his planning which included speaking to Charlie and having a long discussion with Hop Sing. All was in place by the time Adam and Hoss arrived home for dinner. Everyone ate quietly with Adam and Hoss sharing details of their day. Just as Hop Sing was serving dessert, Joe looked at Adam with a hopeful expression.
“Adam, Pa says that now that he’s better he can do more of his jobs. That means you might be able to take me fishing tomorrow. Can you, huh?”
Adam remained silent. He’d really wanted to do that but after today’s work he’d learned that he and Hoss were going to have to move another herd. There had been rainfall in the mountains which caused some streams to flood and as the water continued on its way, it began to flood some of the northern pasture. It was no longer safe for the herd. He had explained all that at dinner. Ben spoke up at his extended silence.
“Adam, Joe asked you a question.”
Adam took a deep breath. “I know. Joe, I can’t. I explained about the herd just now. They’re in a safe place for tonight but they have to be moved tomorrow.”
Joe slammed his hand on the table and pushed out of his chair. “But you promised! And you said you never go back on you promises. It’s not fair Adam. You and Hoss get time together but I’m always stuck here at the house. It’s not fair!”
“Joseph! Sit down and apologize to your brother for that outburst.”
“I won’t Pa. I’m right and he’s wrong. You said we need to keep our promises…”
“That’s enough Joseph.”
“He’s right Pa, but I just can’t keep this promise. I’m sorry Joe. I’ll try to make it up to you on Friday.”
“Uh Adam? Ain’t that when we need to get supplies an’ do some business at the bank? You said I could come along an’ see how it’s all done.”
“See? He and Hoss get to go to town but I don’t get to go fishing. It’s not fair. I don’t mean anything to him anymore, not since he got back from that dumb college.” Joe shoved his chair away from the table and ran outside.
Everyone else was silent until Adam spoke up. “So tell me what I’m supposed to do Pa. I can’t be everywhere at once.” He angrily left the table and went to his room.
Hoss had his head ducked. He hated conflict and this time he didn’t see any solution. He chanced a glance at his father and Hop Sing and wished he hadn’t. Both seemed more miserable than he was.
No longer wanting his pie, Hoss stood quietly. “Guess I’ll go check on the horses.”
After Hoss left, Ben dropped his napkin onto the table and released a long sigh. Hop Sing moved closer to his boss.
“You make good decision today. Boys need to go on trip. Come back just fine. You no worry, Mister Cartwright.”
Ben raised his head and studied his cook’s face. He saw hope and compassion in the gentle expression. “I sure hope you’re right, Hop Sing. I better go up and tell Adam.”
Hop Sing’s soft expression changed to worry behind Ben’s back. “Gonna be hard trip but Hop Sing know it’s right step.” With that he began to clear the table, taking care to save the dessert for later in the evening.
Upstairs Ben patiently sat on the edge of Adam’s bed while Adam sat at his desk tinkering with his guitar. After nearly breaking a string he put the guitar aside and turned to his father.
“Pa, I’m sorry for all that was said downstairs. I’ll find a way to make it up to Little Joe. Maybe I can take him to town on Friday.” Adam bolted out of his seat and began pacing. He paused, ran his hands through his hair then paced some more.
“Son, come sit beside me, please.”
Adam paused at the bed then sat down near the pillows. Ben took a deep breath and began. “Adam, son, I’ve got something I want to say to you. I want you to hear me out before you make any comments. I’m taking back my responsibilities for the ranch as of tomorrow morning. Now, hear me out. I won’t be working outside just yet but I know Charlie can handle anything that comes up. I’ll see to paying the men and all the other book work that needs doing.
“You have done a wonderful job taking over while I was sick, but son you need a break, a change. I’m worried about you. You’ve done a good job but I have to say I’ve heard reports that you’ve been a bit too quick to judge some of the men. Many are willing to follow you anywhere but they’ve mentioned you need to tone down your attitude.”
Adam rocketed off the bed tossing a pillow across the room. “Who said all those things? I want to know. They’re lies and I’ll see they get what’s coming to them for that.” Adam froze at the window. Ben could see his back muscles relax and his head slump forward as he leaned it against the glass. Ben could barely hear the next words. “That’s what they’re talking about isn’t it? Just like tonight at dinner, too.” Adam turned to look his father in the eye. “Pa, I don’t know what it is, why I’m like this. Lately it seems I get on everyone’s last nerve and they on mine.”
Ben rose and walked to his son. He rested his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “Son, I understand perfectly. It’s just been too much too soon. You’re near burn out. You need a break.”
“Pa, there’s no time for a break. So much…”
“Adam, listen to me. We have good men here. The ranch will be fine for the next week, and beyond. I have a job I want you to do for me. It’ll take about a week, maybe a little longer, and I’m willing to bet that by the time you get back you’ll feel much better about a lot of things.”
“What are you talking about Pa?”
“I want you to do the Grand Swing.”
Ben knew he had his son’s full attention now. He returned to the bed to sit. “Forgive me. It’s called the ‘Grand Swing’. I started this while you were at school. Hoss is the one who named it. I need you to ride the perimeter of the Ponderosa and look for all the boundary markers. I did this rather haphazardly when I was still trapping or out with the herds. It was the first year that you were gone that I took Hoss with me and made the entire loop. I took Joe on a more recent trip but it hasn’t been done for almost two years. I’d like you to make the trip, find the markers, note their locations and whether any are missing or damaged. That’s all there is to it. Oh and check on a couple of folks that live on the edge of the property. I’ve marked their location on the map. They keep an eye on the property in those remote areas so I let them live there in exchange for their help. Do whatever you need to do to help them before you move on.”
Ben could see the wheels turning in Adam’s mind. He appeared to be intrigued by the entire proposition. “Just follow the map, ride the perimeter and find the markers. That’s it?”
Ben smiled. “That’s it. Oh one more thing. I want you to take Hoss and Joe with you.”
Adam’s face darkened. “Why? I was almost looking forward to this trip, but Joe and Hoss…really Pa? How can they help?”
“Probably more than you realize right now, son. Remember, they’ve been on this trip.”
Adam eyed his father carefully. If he had an ulterior motive, Adam couldn’t see it in his face.
“Alright. I’ll do it. When do I, uh, we leave?”
“Tomorrow, first light. It will take you nearly all day to get to the first marker from here.”
Adam’s eyes bulged. “Tomorrow?!”
“Hop Sing will have all your food supplies ready. Charlie’s working on the camping supplies. You just need to get your personal gear together. Spend some time doing that then I’ll see you downstairs to go over the maps.”
After Ben left, Adam was still rooted in the middle of his room staring dumbfounded at the closed door. Why did he feel there was more to this trip than his father was saying?
When Ben heard his son bustling about his room he smiled and descended the stairs. He knew this trip was just what his son needed but Ben also knew Adam wouldn’t realize it until the end of the trip.
Poking a log to get it to settle down and burn, Hoss finally gave up and tossed his stick into the fire. He looked toward the sleeping form of his little brother. It had been three days since the brothers began the Grand Swing. They’d found a couple of markers and Old Ned Baxter’s cabin. But they were also pretty doggone tired, from all the riding and from helping Ned with repairs to his cabin. Hoss wasn’t the least bit surprised when Little Joe collapsed onto his bedroll after dinner. But what did surprise him was that Adam was still up and still very quiet.
As he stared at the campfire he mused about the previous days. Joe had been ornery from the start, complaining for a whole day about being sent on the trip. He kept saying he hadn’t done anything wrong except to get mad at Adam for not keeping his promise about fishing. Hoss was glad he finally got his little brother to see that the trip was more for Adam’s sake and to quit his belly-aching. Once Joe settled down he became rather pleasant to be around.
Now Adam was another problem. Hoss found himself glad to be on the trip with his brothers, and for the added responsibilities Adam had given him, but he wondered if Adam would ever pull out of his dark mood. Hoss knew something was eating at his older brother and decided he needed to try to figure out what it was. It was pretty easy for Hoss to guess why Pa had sent them all on the trip and who it was really meant to help. Well, Hoss figured it was time to do a little helpin’ himself.
He pulled his jacket a bit tighter around his large frame to ward off the night chill and to help keep his confidence in place. As he made his way to the edge of camp, he saw Adam leaning against a tree. He didn’t move but quietly acknowledged his younger brother.
“I thought you’d be asleep, Hoss.”
“Yeah, I thought that about you too.”
Adam glanced sideways at his brother, noticing how the moonlight highlighted the young man’s furrowed brow. “Something bothering you?”
Adam waited but Hoss didn’t speak. He turned to face his brother. “Go ahead and tell me what’s on your mind.”
Hoss took a deep breath and forged ahead. “I’m worried about you Adam. Joe’s settled in and we’re gettin’ along fine now but you’re still awfully quiet and well, I reckon I don’t know what to make of that. What’s got you so troubled, Adam?”
Adam let his shoulders sag and rubbed his neck. When he raised his head he wore a faint smile which Hoss could barely make out in the light of the moon. Adam reached out to Hoss, wrapping his arm around the broad shoulders. “I’m fine. I was moody when we first left, and not totally because of Joe’s ranting. But now I’m just thinking about our time with Old Ned.” He lead the way back to the fire. “Let’s sit by the fire, I’m getting a bit cold.”
The brothers settled down and Adam spoke quietly so as not to awaken Little Joe. “Old Ned’s not quite what I expected. Pa said he’s had a hard life that would have turned anyone bitter. That’s pretty much what we got when we arrived, right?” Adam nudged Hoss in the ribs and smiled at him.
“Yeah, he sure did scare Little Joe with his yellin’ and all. Shortshanks didn’t even want to git off his horse.”
“Yep, but you know Joe warmed up to him right away and even looked forward to helping with the repairs to his cabin.” Adam grew silent as if lost in the memories.
“Adam something botherin’ you about Old Ned? It was a pretty rough start but everything worked out in the end, didn’t it?”
“It did, Hoss. It just seems kind of odd to me. Old Ned seemed ready to toss us out on our ears but once you talked to him he settled down. And I still can’t believe how much work he got out of Little Joe.”
“Wal, there’s nothing special I did. Just talked easy to him, that’s all. Ned’s got a good heart, he just ain’t been ‘round nobody for a long time, ‘specially kids.”
Hoss could tell Adam was mulling that over.
“Besides, Adam, don’t reckon I seen anybody grin any bigger than Old Ned when you promised ta come back and make his place bigger.”
Adam grinned. “Yeah, that was worth the trip, wasn’t it? Let’s get some sleep brother. We got a long ride to the next marker.”
“Sounds good. ‘Night Adam.”
“Good night Hoss.”
The fire continued its comforting popping and crackling into the night as the brothers slept peacefully.
Over the next couple of days, the brothers enjoyed gentle riding across Ponderosa pastures and making the climb into the hills. They knew they were on the home stretch but still had a couple of markers yet to find. Nearing a small farm, which Ben had marked on the map as one of their stops, Adam suggested they take time to wash in a nearby creek. Joe and Hoss brightened at the idea so all three spent the afternoon bathing and splashing in the cool mountain water.
As they rested on the bank, enjoying a snack in the late afternoon sunshine, Hoss and Joe kept up a silly banter of teasing remarks. Stretched out in the grass, Adam half listened as his mind was turning over the events of the trip and the problems he’d left behind on the ranch. A small voice in his head kept trying to suggest they were connected, that perhaps there were some things he could have done differently on the ranch.
Memories of his father’s gentle ways of teaching, Hoss’ patience with wild animals and Joe’s reminders of not being so bossy danced in his head. He reflected on how Ned used encouragement and a quiet tone with Joe to keep him working when the youngster became bored with his task. Adam began to see a pattern and realized he needed to amend his ways if he was going to be as good a boss as his father, and be able to earn the men’s respect.
A yelp from Joe and a groan from Hoss made Adam sit up and look around. He froze halfway to his feet when he saw the fear in Hoss’ eyes. Following his gaze Adam saw Joe being held at gunpoint by one of the hands he’d fired.
Adam slowly continued moving to his feet, hands away from his body. “What’s the meaning of this? Let my brother go.”
Calvin laughed as Buster tightened his arm around Joe’s chest to keep him from squirming. “It seems you don’t have too good a memory, Cartwright. I told ya before, I don’t take no orders from kids.” He lowered his pistol toward Hoss. “Get up and you two walk ahead of me. Buster bring that wiggly brat along.”
Adam and Hoss carefully obey, Adam giving Joe a warning glance to calm down. When they arrived at the horses, Buster released Joe with a shove and took up the reins of the Cartwright mounts and pack horse. Calvin took the reins of his and Buster’s horses. Indicating the direction with his gun, everyone headed toward the farm house about a half mile away. Adam got Hoss and Joe to walk a bit faster than their captors who were dealing with six horses, so that gave them a few moments to talk quietly.
“You two stay calm and do whatever they say. Don’t try anything to get away. I mean it.”
“Adam what’ll we do when the couple who live on that farm sees all this?”
“I don’t know Hoss. We’ll have to deal with that when we get there.”
“Adam they really won’t shoot us will they?”
“Not if we cooperate with them. They aren’t too bright. Our pistol rigs are still hanging from our saddles and we all still have our knives. That might work to our advantage. Stay quiet and keep your eyes and ears open, alright?”
“Hey, you three quit talking up there. When we get to the house you get on inside.”
The brothers complied without a word, Adam sending Hoss and Joe in first. His eyebrows went up went he saw the condition of the house. Some pieces of furniture were missing while other pieces remained. Dust and cobwebs were everywhere. Hoss notice a folded piece of paper on the mantel and grabbed it as he went by stuffing it into his pants pocket.
“Shh.” Adam realized that the men hadn’t followed them into the house. With a flick of his hand he indicated for Joe and Hoss to move into another room at the back of the house. After they closed the door, Adam quickly moved behind the front door and peered through the crack at the frame. Calvin and Buster were standing by the corral having a heated conversation. Both haphazardly waving their guns in the air and occasionally pointing them at each other. Although Adam rolled his eyes at their stupidity, his brain was in high gear. The horses had been left to wander around the yard and Hoss’ had drifted over to the front porch to nibble on a weed growing through the cracks. Adam crept around the door and crouched down. Chubb was in the perfect position to hide Adam’s movements. He reached the horse and pulled out Hoss’ rifle and pistol.
Just as the argument grew louder, Adam slipped the pistol into his belt and aimed the rifle. A second later a gunshot split the air. All the horses shied and ran, sending dust into the air. When Adam got a clear view through the dust, Buster was standing over Calvin, his gun loose in his hand.
Adam worked his way over, training the rifle on Buster. “Drop your gun Buster and move away.”
Buster looked up at Adam, shock and tears on his face. “I shot him. I didn’t mean to. He pushed at me and my gun just went off.” Buster looked back a Calvin. “Is…is he dead?”
“Drop your gun, now or you’ll be joining your friend.”
Buster finally seemed to realize Adam had a rifle pointed at him. He quickly dropped the gun and fell to his knees. Before Adam could check on Calvin, he became aware of bodies behind him. He called out to his brothers, “Hoss get some rope to tie these two up. Joe, see if you can get the horses rounded up and into the corral.” Boots crunching through the dirt told Adam his brothers were doing as they were told.
After a few minutes, Buster was tied to the corral fence and Calvin’s hands and feet were tied while Adam worked to bandage his bleeding leg.
“What do we do now Adam? He’s gonna need a doctor.”
“Hoss isn’t there a town marked on the map? I think Pa said we could get supplies there if we needed them.”
Hoss found the map and sure enough the town was just a few miles away. While Adam guarded their prisoners, Hoss and Joe rode for the sheriff and doctor.
A couple of hours later, his brothers and two men arrived, one driving a wagon and the other on horseback. During that time Adam had gotten to know his captives very well.
“Sheriff, I’m Adam Cartwright.” He held out his hand. “I believe you’ll find these two are wanted for robbery and horse stealing.”
Noting the doctor was already checking his patient, the Sheriff raised his eyebrows at Adam’s statement, and shook the young man’s hand. “Matt Barnes. And just how do you know this?”
Adam gave a half smile, which Hoss immediately recognized to mean Adam had been busy while they were gone. “It’s amazing how much talking one does when one’s leg hurts really bad.”
The Sheriff scratched his ear and gave Adam an odd look. “Yeah, I just bet it does get one to talking.”
After taking the Cartwrights’ statements and getting the prisoners into the wagon, the Sheriff turned to the brothers.
“You sure you don’t want to stay the night in town? It’s on me you know. Those horses were from a ranch about fifteen miles from here and the owner’s going to be mighty glad to get them back. He’ll probably have a reward for you.”
“Thanks for the offer Sheriff but our home is that way,” Adam pointed toward the mountains, in the opposite direction, “and we’re ready to get home. You know where to find us if you need to.”
“Yeah, reckon I do. Well, thanks again for all your help.” He shook Adam’s, Hoss’ and Joe’s hands. “You boys keep following your brother and you’ll do alright in life.”
A pair of mumbled “yes sir’s” were heard as he mounted his horse. With a final tip of his hat he turned his horse and followed the wagon back to town. Adam noted that neither Calvin or Buster looked too happy about their future.
Turning back to the house, Adam rubbed his hands over his face. The danger he and his brothers had been in was finally sinking in.
Hoss notice his older brother getting a dark look so he broke the mood, “I don’t know about anyone else but I’m starvin’. Since we got some new supplies I bet we can get a good meal going tonight.”
Joe chimed in with a resounding “Yeah!” So Adam told Hoss to get things started while he and Joe took care of the horses. After a while they had a good fire going in the fireplace and were sitting in front of it eating stew and fresh bread. As they ate they discussed what happened and tried to come up with ways they could have avoided getting caught in the first place. By the end of the meal all three were in stitches when Adam told them the truth of why Calvin talked so much. All Adam had to do was just look like he was going to touch the man’s leg and the words started spilling out. Buster was glad to help fill in the missing pieces of the tale. The men were even planning to steal some Cartwright horses but got fired before they could do that. Joe begged to be the one to tell Pa when they got home and Adam and Hoss agreed to let him.
As they settled down to sleep Hoss felt a crunch of paper in his pocket and suddenly remembered the note he’d found on the mantel. He pulled it out and gave it to Adam.
“Found it on the mantel when we got here. Forgot all about it till now.”
Adam unfolded it and read the note through, then read it aloud.
“Mr. Cartwright, Thank you for letting us stay here and for all your help with the farm. It’s been a long time since we last saw you but the farm was doing pretty good for us. I’m sorry we have no way to repay your kindness and I regret I can’t say this in person, but Emmie and I have to leave. We got word her ma is sick so we are returning to Kansas. I doubt we’ll ever see you again but we promise not to forget you or your boys. I sure hope your oldest gets home soon from that college as it was easy for us to see how much you missed him. Anyway, since we can’t repay you for your generosity we have decided to help others anyway we can, much like you helped us.
Wishing your family all the best,
Howard and Emmie Watson”
Silence filled the small room as the boys looked around, each of them thinking about the couple who had live here and now were gone. Adam folded the paper and slipped it into his wallet. “I’ll show this to Pa when we get home.”
His quiet voice told Hoss and Joe he didn’t want to discuss it further. All three settled down and were quickly asleep. Somewhere in the night an owl hooted and the horses quietly nickered in the darkness. The moon shone down on the darkened farm house as if to keep watch over the sleeping forms inside.
Riding home should have only taken a day and a night, but the brothers agreed to take a bit longer. They spent an extra day fixing the roof and the fencing on the farm so that it would be easier for someone else to live there. Adam wondered if his Pa might decide to sell the property as it really didn’t have any important connections with the Ponderosa. He decided he would discuss that with him when he showed Ben the letter from the Watsons.
Ready to head home Hoss and Adam looked over the map. Joe squeezed in between his two brothers and pointed to a mark near home. “That’s the last marker we need to find, Adam. And I remember just where it is.” He grinned at Hoss.
“Oh really, Little Joe? And in what direction do we need to head to get to it.” Adam and Hoss had stepped back to let Joe get closer to the map. They shared grins behind Joe’s back. Joe studied the map, looked up and all around him then back to the map. Hoss was getting impatient but Adam stilled him with a hand and a wink.
Looking up again he grinned proudly as he turned toward Adam. “That way!” He pointed toward a range of mountains.
Adam pursed his lips and rubbed his thumb across his chin. “Hmm, are you sure Little Joe?”
Hoss hid a snicker behind a cough.
Joe’s grin faded just a bit as he looked at everything again. “Yep. I’m sure. Head toward those mountains, then we cross a pasture and a river. After that we find the, um, marker. After that we head south to home.” He crossed his skinny arms and stared at both brothers, daring them to prove him wrong.
Adam couldn’t contain his laughter anymore. He ruffled Joe’s thick hair and grinned. “You’re right. Tell you what, you can take the map and ride lead. Hoss would you handle the pack horse?”
Hoss could only acknowledge with a nod of his head as he was still laughing pretty hard.
Joe jumped up and down then mounted his horse. Adam handed him the map. “Take your time, Joe. Even at a leisurely pace we’ll make it home before dinner tomorrow.”
“I’ll do a good job, you’ll see, Adam. Oh and just you wait till you see what’s there at that marker.”
“Oh don’t worry Hoss, I ain’t tellin’. But just you wait, you’ll be so surprised.” Joe looked around and added, “Well, mount up, we’re burning daylight!” With that he nudged his horse into a lope, not waiting to see if anyone was following.
Adam started to ask but Hoss shrugged from the saddle. “Like he said, we’re burning daylight, Adam.” Hoss took off after Joe leaving Adam to bring up the rear.
The rest of the day was spent enjoying the scenery and talking about what each of them would do when they got home. Joe wanted his bed, Hoss wanted Hop Sing’s cooking and Adam wanted to sit and read, after a hot bath. Hoss and Joe groaned over the idea of getting baths but agreed they’d have to before getting their other wishes.
The next morning, as they prepared their horses, Adam complimented Joe on following the map so well.
“Do you want to lead us home, little buddy?”
“Sure Adam, but first we have to find that last marker.”
“You’re quite right. And just where is that marker?”
“Right over there. Right Hoss?”
Hoss looked up from checking the ropes on the pack horse. He followed Joe’s pointing finger. “Oh, yeah, it sure is.”
Adam looked where Joe was pointing and didn’t see anything. “All I see is an old dead tree.”
Joe cackled. “Of course, silly. That’s the Witness Tree. Come on.” He led his horse toward the tree that was a couple hundred yards away. Adam and Hoss followed.
“Oh, I see it now. There’s the boundary mark.” Adam pulled out the notebook and made his notes. “Well, that’s the last one. I guess we can head home how.”
He turned to find both brothers shaking their heads at him.
Hoss and Joe moved closer to their brother but Hoss spoke. “Adam, when Joe and I came here with Pa, we always took a little time to linger, do some thinking.” He slowly looked all around. “Sure is pretty ain’t it?”
Joe agreed. Adam wondered what was up but took time to look around too. “Yeah, you’re right Hoss. I never thought to look at it. Seems so different from this old tree here, huh?”
Joe, finally spoke. “Yeah, but this tree is real important Adam.”
Hoss nodded, “Yeah, you see, this is the last stop before home. We’re deep into the Ponderosa here and Pa always said it was his favorite spot. You can see the beauty but you can smell it too.” Hoss and Joe both took deep breaths, as did Adam.
Hoss continued, “You see Adam, Pa always made me and Joe go on this trip ‘cause we did somethin’ pretty bad back at home. He figured the best thing was for us to get away from the problem and that would give us time to think.” Hoss became silent and casually looked around at the scenery.
Adam started to smile as all the little pieces of confusion settled into place. Joe nudged Hoss to get his attention. “I think Adam’s finally figured it out, Hoss.”
“Yes, I guess I have.” He began to pace. “Ever since Pa told me about this trip, I felt he had an ulterior motive.”
“Some other plan besides what he was telling me. Anyway, I’ve had time to think about all the problems with the ranch hands, and with you two. I realized I could have handled all of it much better. Hoss, you and Old Ned helped me see that sometimes being gentle is better than yelling. Pa is that way but as you know he yells some too.” Adam chuckled at his brothers’ vigorous head nodding. “So it has to be a mixture, and I’d say it depends on the circumstances.”
Adam put his arm around Joe. “I also realize I need to pay attention to my brothers and my promises, wouldn’t you both agree?” He was rewarded with big grins.
“Now as far as Calvin and Buster are concerned, I could have handled that better from the beginning so that maybe you wouldn’t have gotten hurt Hoss.”
Hoss punched Adam’s arm. “Shucks, them two was crazy anyway. Don’t know if anything would have made it better.”
Adam warmly accepted Hoss’ answer to that issue.
Adam took a deep breath of the fresh mountain air. “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? Are you sayin’ Adam that you were foolish about how you handled things then?”
Adam gave Joe a stern look. “No Joe. Think about the words and I think you’ll figure it out. As for me, well, maybe I was foolish, but then again maybe not. Besides that’s not something for you to judge, now is it?”
“Nah, guess not. Maybe just for myself, right Adam?”
“That’s right, Joe. You can judge yourself but not others.”
Silence now filled the air, except for the occasional bird call or horse nicker.
“Joe you reckon older brother’s learnt his lesson as Pa wanted him to?”
Little Joe scratched at his chin, pretending to think. “Yeah, I think he has.”
Adam frowned at the discussion but before he could say anything Joe jumped in, his green eyes alight with mischief, “Adam go look at the other side of the tree.”
Puzzled, he looked at Hoss whose blue eyes were sparking with a smile. “Yeah, Adam, go on.”
Adam shrugged at his crazy brothers and wandered around the tree. As his eyes moved from the roots upward, they landed on what he knew his brothers wanted him to see. Carved into the barkless trunk were “HOSS” and “JOE”. Now he understood the significance of the trip and this special tree. Tilting his chin forward, Adam pulled out his knife and began carving his own name into the tree, under Joe’s. When he finished he stepped back to stand between his brothers. Soon one arm was on his shoulder and another was around his waist. Adam studied each special face, looked back at the names on the tree and gave a firm nod. Without any words, the three brothers mounted their horses and headed home, Adam filled with a new confidence after having completed the Grand Swing.
Other Stories by this Author
- The Light Inside (by AC1830)
- The Long Night (by AC1830)
- Rendezvous (by AC1830)
- Missy (by AC1830)
- Being Hoss (by AC1830)