SUMMARY: The Cartwright brothers do not resemble each other. Many have remarked upon that, but there is a good reason for them looking so different from each other–they had different mothers and more. However, they are still brothers because there is something more important than who is present at your birth. The family learns to accept that principle.
Rating = T Word count = 21,656
Family Is of the Heart
Watching from the hotel window, Montel saw the four men ride into town. Ben Cartwright rode proudly with his three sons. The oldest son resembled him more than the others did. The second one, by all accounts, favored his mother’s side of the family, resembling his mother’s brother with his broad shoulders and imposing height. The third son though was the spitting image of his biological father. Small in stature, slender, muscular, and with a head of curly brown hair that refused to be tamed, he could have been his father’s twin at that age. He might have sat for a portrait and the artist would not have been able to tell that portrait from the one he had painted twenty-three years earlier of the boy’s father. However, the boy had never seen that portrait. It was hanging in Montel’s home in New Orleans.
Joseph Cartwright had never met Montel. However, Montel knew all that he could know about him. He had loved the boy’s mother and followed her from New Orleans when she married Ben Cartwright and fled the city. Using his skills at cards, Montel had easily made a living moving from city to city winning at cards. Although accused of cheating, he never had and could show that he could win without resorting to any kind of trick. Law enforcement where it existed or vigilance committees elsewhere were rather forceful in asking him to move on anyway. So in Eagle Station and Gold Hill, Montel had been discreet in his activities not wanting to be banned. It was the only way he could see Marie. They spent more and more time together as she tired of living in the backwater wilderness. The two were able only to get small snippets of time together mostly because of that suspicious oldest son who watched her whenever his father was gone. Those should have been times they could have enjoyed each other’s company with abandon, but he lurked around too much. Despite that, they did manage some special times. When her baby was born, she described him well, but then broke his heart telling him her son had to have a stable future and that meant staying with Ben Cartwright. He accepted what she said. After all, love was why he came here in the first place so love was the reason he had to go.
A dying man, before he met his Maker, Montel had to see the man his son had become. Accepting he could never tell him the truth, he wanted to know his son was a good man and loved. In the weeks he was in Virginia City, he was convinced of those truths. Finally, he boarded the stage to leave. His only thought was that love is why I came here in the first place, andlove is now the reason I must go. A true romantic, he thought he should write that down. It would make a fine epitaph. What he never expected was to have the door of that stage flung open and the angry face of Ben Cartwright confront him.
“What are you doing here after all these years?”
“As you can tell, I am leaving. That is what I am doing here after all these years.”
“Why were you here? What have you been doing?”
“I did nothing that need concern you. If you would be so kind as to unhand that door so that it could be closed, I believe that the driver standing behind you would like to begin this journey with us. I will be on my way, and you can forget all about me again.”
“I can never forget you.”
“No, I suppose you cannot, but you have nothing to fear from me. I am leaving and will never return.”
“How do I know that?”
“You will have to accept my word on that. I am an honorable man. I have proved that, I believe, over the past twenty-three years, have I not? I would do nothing to harm him.”
“You came here.”
“Only to be sure that he was what I hoped he had become and that he was loved. On all counts, I have been reassured. I leave now at peace with my decision.”
There was nothing more that Ben could say without revealing to anyone within earshot information he did not want them to know. Montel’s presence forced him to accept what he had known but tried to deny since Joseph’s birth. As the boy had grown especially as he got to be a young man, his resemblance to Montel was unmistakable. Ben could at least be grateful for Montel’s age and infirmity. He no longer looked the way he had looked as a young man. He stepped back as the stage pulled away. Adam walked up to him then. He had been only a short distance away and witnessed the confrontation.
“Was that Montel?”
“Yes, it was.” There was something in the way Adam said the name and the way he watched the stage leave that made Ben suspicious. He turned to look at his eldest son. “You knew, didn’t you?”
For thirty-five years, Adam had been unable to lie to his father or to anyone else for that matter. He could avoid telling the truth or evade or change the subject, but lying wasn’t a skill he had. Under direct scrutiny as he was at that moment, he had no avenue of escape so he said nothing. It was as much an admission as if he had simply said yes. Ben’s anger had a new target. All the unexpressed resentment and fear he had bottled up inside and had been unable to vent at Montel spilled out at his eldest son as his explosive temper got the best of him again. What he had learned had affected the very core of his life as a father and had shattered some things he had tried to believe for many years.
“You hid the truth. You concealed what you knew. It’s the same as lying to me all this time. How can I trust you if you could do this?”
“I wasn’t sure, Pa. I was twelve years old. I didn’t know. I suspected. It was only when I saw how you reacted to him that I knew.”
In no mood to listen to reason, Ben continued on. “Is that why you’ve treated him the way you have? Demeaned him? Argued with him incessantly? Been sarcastic to the point of humiliation until he lost his temper with you?” Then Ben threw out the most hateful thing he could imagine. “Did you shoot him by accident in Montpelier Gorge or was that intentional?”
Shocked and hurt by his father’s first statements, Adam was devastated by that accusation. Still wracked by guilt over that incident and his carelessness, he was hurt beyond measure to think that anyone especially his father would ever think he would do that on purpose. He had nothing he could say to the attack. Walking with a stiff gait to his horse, he mounted up without looking back and rode out in the opposite direction of the Ponderosa.
When Adam left, Hoss and Joe rushed over to their father certain that something was terribly wrong.
“Pa, what happened? We saw you arguing with that man and then with Adam.”
“Yeah, then Adam lit on outta here like his tail was on fire. What happened?”
Still furious but unable to express any of what he was thinking or feeling, Ben could only state what he thought he could and what was obvious. “Adam and I had a disagreement. He did something that made me question his honesty and had no answer for me when I challenged him on it. So he left.”
“Dadburnit, what was it about?”
“Something from a long time ago.”
“Was it something to do with that man on the stage? Hoss and I saw you arguing with him too before you argued with Adam.”
“Yes, it had something to do with him. Listen, this is between me and Adam and no one else. That’s all I want to say about it. Let’s go home. I’m sure when your brother cools down, he’ll be home and he and I can talk about this.” Already feeling guilty and knowing he had stepped way over the line, Ben didn’t know how to make things right. He had no idea even where his son had gone, but he hoped he would be home in a reasonable period of time. Adam was a forgiving son and had proved it a number of times. Ben hoped it would prove true once more. Forgiving transgressions however doesn’t always fix the harm that was done any more than floodwaters receding repairs the damage they wrought.
That night, dinner was quiet. None wanted to say what they were thinking as they all had thoughts about that man on the stage and what it could mean. Both Hoss and Joe had been surprised at his appearance and at what they had heard in the saloon. Apparently this Montel had been asking around town about Joe. Oh, he had done it quite discreetly, but he had done it rather thoroughly too always asking about Joseph Cartwright not Joe or Little Joe showing that he hadn’t known anything about him other than his birth to Ben and Marie Cartwright. There had been a few questions too apparently about the ‘suspicious oldest son’ and whether he had ever been ‘sent away to school’ at any point. Oh Montel had gotten his answers, but he had stirred up some curiosity too. Quietly, there were those who were discussing what those questions of his meant. When Hoss and Joe got a good look at him as he leaned forward to argue with their father, both drew the same conclusion but neither thought the other had. Both Hoss and Joe wondered why their father would have argued with Adam about it but didn’t want to ask him especially with the other present. On Monday morning, they were supposed to start the roundup. All of them wondered if Adam would be there.
Saturday and Sunday passed about the same as dinner had on Friday. There was no discussion except of light matters or of business. On Monday morning, it was clear that their father was concerned that Adam had not returned. Hoss and Joe were worried as well but still had no idea why he had left. As they rode out to the roundup with the men, they separated themselves and had a conversation about that.
“I don’t know why he left, but do ya think one of us oughta go lookin’ for ‘im? I mean, mebbe he’s needin’ one of us ta come lookin’ for ‘im. You know, to show we care enough.”
“Where would we look? Don’t get me wrong. I think you might be right, but I have no idea where he could be especially after three days. What could he be doing? He doesn’t drink that much usually so he’s not hanging in a saloon anywhere probably. Where else could he be?”
Shaking his head, Hoss pursed his lips as he thought. “You’re plumb right about all of that. I ain’t got no idea where ta look, neither. Let’s think on it today, and mebbe we kin think of what ta do.”
Joe agreed, but when they got to the roundup, they found they didn’t have to follow that plan. Adam was there. He needed a shave and looked a bit tired, but otherwise, he seemed fine. He wasn’t in a mood to talk about where he’d been or why so they steered clear of those topics and talked about work. As usual, he had planned out the roundup for efficiency. What surprised them the most was that he planned to stay in the camp with the men. They returned to the house that night to tell their father that Adam was back but wouldn’t be returning to the house. The implication was clear. He was home but didn’t want to see his father at all. Grumbling only a bit, Ben accepted that and suggested they ought to pack up some of Adam’s things then and bring them to him in the camp.
“Yeah, he gave me a list of what he wants.”
Seeing the list, which was extensive, Ben knew he didn’t plan to be home for quite a while. “So, he doesn’t plan to be home until after the drive.”
Neither Hoss nor Joe knew if he even intended to be home then so they said nothing. Their silence though was noticed. Ben nodded.
“Before the drive, I want you to take a letter to him from me. I know it won’t be enough, but I hope it will be a start to mending the fences. I did a lot of harm, and I accept that it was all my fault. I’ll do what I need to do to fix things, but I think your brother needs some distance right now.”
It was the wrong approach. A week later, Hoss brought the letter to Adam. He accepted it from Hoss and thanked him. When Hoss walked away, Joe watched from a short distance away and saw Adam crumple up the letter without reading it and toss it into the campfire. After drinking his coffee, he walked to his horse, mounted up, and rode off to work for the day. Hoss walked to where Joe watched.
“What’d he do?”
“Pretty much what we thought he would. He threw it in the fire without reading it. Pa should have listened to you and come up here to talk with him. Whatever he said to Adam, he needed to face him and tell him he was sorry.”
“Yep, I tried to tell him that. Adam wasn’t gonna take a piece of paper in place of that. Well, we got about three weeks or so now to find out what happened.”
“I found out where he was.”
“Yeah, I had to get the supplies for the drive. Some of the people in town already heard. Pa’s not gonna be happy about it.”
“What’d he do?”
“He spent all three days in a fancy house in Gold Hill. You know the one he likes with that one lady who plays the piano and sings. He was there.”
“Three whole days?”
“Yeah, according to the story, he never left until it was time to head up here.”
“Well, let’s get to work and get this roundup finished. We got one night left at home, and tomorrow we start the drive.”
“What do we tell Pa about the letter?”
“We tell him we gave it to Adam.”
In agreement that anything more would have to be from Adam to their father, the two brothers said nothing more. The situation was tense and uncomfortable for all of them so Ben didn’t realize that they were keeping anything from him. He asked about the letter of course. They told him they had given it to Adam.
“Pa, we think it best you and Adam talk about that. I don’t want ta tell any tales at this point either way. Things are tense enough, dontcha think? Best to keep this something between the two of you and not make it any more complicated than it is.”
“You’re right, Hoss. I shouldn’t drag you or Joe into it. Maybe after the drive, we’ll be able to talk.”
The next morning, Hoss and Joe headed out to begin the drive hoping that they might get to the bottom of the mystery and make some progress on resolving the differences between their father and their oldest brother. Adam was there already taking down the fence to get the drive underway. It would be several days before there was even a hint of what had caused the rift. It happened when Adam risked his life to save his youngest brother. He had done it before, but the risk he took was greater than anyone would have guessed he would ever take.
“Dadburnit, Adam, what the heck were you thinking riding across the herd like that when they was running, and then doing a fool thing like getting down off your horse?”
“Joe needed help.”
“You coulda blocked the cattle with your horse. There were drovers who woulda been there soon.”
“Maybe not soon enough.”
“Sometimes the two of you drive me crazy, but I never wanted to be an only child. It looked real likely there for a while.”
“Lucky for you then that the herd got turned around. Joe’s going to be all right, Hoss. He’s coming around.”
With Joe’s head resting on his thigh, Adam was wiping blood from a shallow cut on his youngest brother’s forehead as Hoss did a thorough check of arms, legs, and body to make sure there were no other serious injuries. As Joe came to, he had a complaint though.
“This is the sorriest excuse for a bed I’ve ever had. It’s hard as dirt and the pillow smells like sweat, stinky cows, and smelly horses.”
Grinning, Adam pressed a clean handkerchief against the wound on Joe’s head.
“Based on that, my diagnosis is that the patient is going to be his ordinary ornery self almost immediately.”
“What the hell happened?”
“Something spooked some of the cattle and started some of ’em running and before you know it, we had a little stampede started up. You rode in to turn ’em, but Cochise got knocked around some and you went down. Our hero here, had to ride into the herd to keep you from being trampled. Fool got down and pulled you up and behind a tree.”
“Why didn’t you just hold a position in front of me with your horse until the other drovers could get to us?”
“I wasn’t sure it would be enough.”
“Adam, you don’t always have to treat me like I’m a little kid.” Joe paused. “But thank you. I do appreciate the result.” He grabbed Adam’s hand and the two grasped each other’s hands in a gesture of solidarity.
“It’s a tough habit to break.”
“There are worse habits to have.”
“Yeah.” And Adam had a funny little grin.
“Long as we gotta sit here a bit, you gonna tell us about those three days in Gold Hill of do we have to trust to rumors and gossip?”
“I had some fun.”
“Hoss, a gentleman doesn’t tell tales.”
“A gentleman don’t spend three days in a fancy house neither.”
“All right, I’ll tell a few tales but not now. Tonight after dinner, I can divulge some details. Until then, let’s see about getting our little brother back to camp. He’s going to be riding the chuckwagon today.”
“I can ride.”
“Maybe, but not today. Not safe for you and not safe for anyone else.”
“Do you always have to look out for me like you’re my father or something?”
A funny look came over Adam’s face then. Both Hoss and Joe saw it. Joe asked then for something that both he and Hoss wanted.
“Maybe instead of stories about Gold Hill, you can tell us why you and Pa had that fight in town.”
“Joe, I can’t.”
“Why, because you think I don’t know about Montel?”
Hoss almost grinned to see Adam’s mouth drop open. It wasn’t often that they were able to catch their older brother by surprise, but Joe had done it. Maybe it would be enough to get him to talk to them. Clearly he didn’t realize they had been able to figure some of it out. He must have forgotten an incident from many years earlier. To Joe, it had been too important to ever forget. Adam hadn’t forgotten, but he had thought Joe had been too young to realize the significance of it. That night as they talked after dinner, he found out he was wrong. Joe reminded him of an incident that he remembered quite clearly even though it had happened when he was only six.
17 years earlier:
“You don’t look like your pa cause he ain’t your pa. That’s what my Pa said. He worked on your ranch, and he said there was another man hanging around your ma. He said you look like him not your pa.”
“You’re a liar.”
“Oh, yeah. Ask your pa about Montel then, why dontcha?”
Little Joe had gotten into a fight with the boy who made that claim. Adam had pulled them apart and demanded an explanation. The other boy had been defiant but sullen and quiet. Little Joe blurted out what the boy had said. So angry at the other boy, Little Joe never saw the look Adam had at that utterance.
Looking at the boy who had stated the gossip, Adam told him that he ought to have his mouth washed out with soap for saying such vile things. He said he’d do it too and do it to his father if he ever heard that he had repeated such a thing ever again. It was enough. Even at eighteen, Adam was intimidating enough that men weren’t willing to have him angry at them. Then Adam turned to Little Joe.
“Don’t ever say anything about what he said. It would only hurt Pa to hear something evil like that said.”
“It’s not true, is it, Adam?”
“Little Joe, Pa is Pa. He loves you and he loves me and we’re brothers. What other truth is there?”
“He loves Hoss and we love Hoss too.”
“Yes, there is that too.”
Over the years, Hoss and Little Joe had discussed the issue. Little Joe noted, as did a number of others, that he did not resemble his father or his brothers. He had wondered about this man the bully in school had called Montel, but neither he nor Hoss knew what the man looked like.
Back to the present:
Now they did know. Or at least they were fairly certain they did because that man on the stage looked like a much older, and probably sicker version of Joe. They weren’t too upset by it though. Having talked about it over the years, they had come to an understanding that if it made a difference to Ben or to Adam who had to know, it had never affected their relationship as it was clear that both father and older brother loved him regardless of who his biological father might be. Hoss had told him the one thing that made the most sense.
“Your father is the one in whose heart you grow. You may start out inside a woman so your mama loves you right off, but a man has to learn to love his child. Well, Pa learned to love all three of us no matter how different we are. We’re all in his heart all the same. That’s what matters most.”
That had been what had mattered most. There had been times when Joe had wondered, but every time he had questioned the love of his father or his family for him, that love had been proven to be strong and unyielding. He had no doubts about it.
What concerned him and concerned Hoss was what had happened to the love between their father and their oldest brother because something was very wrong there.
“You gonna tell us what Pa said to you to make things go sour?”
Dropping his head and rubbing the back of his neck, Adam made it clear he wasn’t comfortable with that topic and didn’t want to divulge that conversation. Hoss and Joe though weren’t about to let it go.
“I admitted to you something that has been difficult for me to live with for a lot of years. I’ve come to accept it, but that doesn’t make it easy. I think what happened between you and Pa had something to do with that. I think we ought to get started on clearing the air about that too.”
“There was a lot more to it than the basic issue.”
“Yeah, then why don’t you tell me and Hoss. Maybe we can help.”
With a sigh of resignation, Adam conceded. “It started with him being angry at Montel. You know how he is when he gets angry sometimes. He lashes out at whoever is closest. I should have expected that when I saw Montel, or at least I guessed it was Montel. It had been a long time since I’d seen him and the last time was when I was twelve. Pa turned on me as the stage left. He saw that I recognized the man and accused me of knowing all along about what had happened. He said I had kept it from him and that was the same as lying.”
“That’s crazy. You couldn’t have known any more than Pa could have known.”
“Hoss, that’s just it. Pa must have known. He knew Montel before he ever came here. He knew that Montel knew Marie. For all I know, maybe they were together only one time. Maybe it was even before she and Pa got married. I don’t know. What I do know is that I knew as Joe grew up that he looked a lot like Montel.”
“So, if you were that young and knew it, Pa musta known it too.”
“He must have, but he didn’t want to know it. Seeing Montel in town made him face it. He didn’t like that.”
“Why do you think Montel was here?”
“Joe, I’ve been thinking about that. I asked Pa, but he never answered that. I think he was checking on you. He left without ever contacting you, but it seems he asked around about you. At least a few of the ladies mentioned that.”
As the subject of ladies, Adam had a little smile. He was hoping to change the subject thinking he had strayed far enough off track to get them away from the original topic. Hoss could be dogged though when on the trail, and he was then too.
“Don’t you be laying down a false trail for us. We still want ta know what happened between you and Pa. That’s what we started out talking ’bout here. So he said he thought you kept that news from him, but we know he knew it as well or even better than you. So what else did he say?”
“He said that was why sometimes I don’t get along so well with Joe. He insinuated that it was because I resent him or see him as less than a brother.”
“That’s just more crazy talk. We all know you two is like fire and kindling. Maybe I oughta say dynamite and primer cord. All it takes is a match. It ain’t you’re so different. Sometimes it’s ’cause you’re too much the same that makes you butt heads. Ya both want to be boss and be in charge. Ya both got big ideas. Neither one of ya knows when to keep your mouth closed sometimes, and neither one has the sense to be afraid of what the other kin do to ya.”
“Oh, is that all?”
Joe began giggling as Hoss gave Adam a glare for that remark.
“I’m being serious here.”
Quiet at least, Adam put up his hands in mock surrender.
“Now, one thing I do know is that wasn’t enough for you to take off for three days and not go home yet. What was the last thing he said to ya?”
Joe had thought they were done, but when he saw Adam’s response to Hoss’ question, he knew they weren’t. Adam’s stone-faced stare at Hoss said more than anything that whatever it was, it was too painful for Adam to even say it to them. However, they had to hear it. Adam flicked his eyes to Joe once and then Joe knew. Whatever it was, it involved him and Adam didn’t want to hurt him with whatever it was their father had said.
“Listen, I know you’re trying to protect me again, but I’m a man now. I can handle it. What’s most important to me is that you’re my brother and you’re hurting. We need to get this out in the open. Right now it’s festering wound. It’s time to clean it out.”
“When did you grow up, anyway?”
“When you were getting old.”
“I’m not old.”
“I guess not if you could spend three days with the ladies.”
“Well, we did spend some time at the piano.”
“Were you wearing clothes when you were playing piano?”
“Some but the lady on my lap wasn’t wearing much.”
Slapping his knee, Joe began to giggle again, but Hoss was getting frustrated.
“Joe, you ain’t helping here. We were trying to get him to answer the question.”
With Hoss’ dogged pursuit of the whole truth, Adam resigned himself to having to tell them the painful revelation of his father’s most serious accusation.
“I’ve thought about this since he said it. I think he must have been harboring doubts since it happened. This made him spew those at me.”
“Well, what was it?”
Looking squarely at Joe, Adam faced the hardest thing he had probably ever said to his youngest brother. “He said when I shot you at Montpelier Gorge, it was no accident. Joe, you know that’s not true, don’t you? I know I was careless. I know I acted without thinking like I should have, but I never wanted to hurt you. I would rather have died than to see you shot like that.”
“Adam, I know that. I never thought you did that on purpose. I know you saved my life too. If you wanted me dead, you had several chances that day and over the next couple of days. You beat yourself up pretty good over all of that too. I remember that too.”
“I remember too. I had to talk to you a lot to get you to accept that you had done what you could. You always try to be the perfect one, and I had to make you admit that you could be just as stupid as anyone else. We all make mistakes, and you made a big one. That’s what it was. We know that.”
Both younger brothers had moved closer as Hoss talked and Joe put his hand on Adam’s shoulder.
“Thank you both. That means a lot now just like it did then.”
“You’ll come home then when we get back?”
“I don’t know, Joe. It was Pa who said those things to me.”
“Aw, Adam, he feels darn awful ’bout it too. He’s all tore up ’cause of it.”
“Is he, Hoss? Then why didn’t I see him up here at the roundup? He wrote me a note like that was good enough. Oh, by the way, I’m sorry.”
“Aw, c’mon, Adam, it probably said more than that. You never read it.”
“No, Joe, I didn’t. I didn’t want to take the chance on what it might say.”
It was clear that Adam didn’t trust their father. Ironic that Ben had accused Adam of being untrustworthy, but it was Ben who had broken the trust between them. If it could be fixed, it was Ben who would have to do it. The brothers still had their bond and trust, but it was not transferable. The brothers, if anything, were closer than ever before, and the drive went well as did their time in the city at the end of the drive. The money was deposited in their account and the trip home commenced. It was then that Adam had to make a choice.
“I’ll go home with you. I won’t promise that I’ll stay though.”
“Adam, you know Pa lets loose with things he don’t mean when he’s got a temper on especially when he’s hurt. I know he never meant what he said to you.”
“How can you be sure? Has he ever said anything like that to either of you?” Hoss had to admit he never had. “All I have ever done was try to protect him like I try to protect you and Pa. I would never hurt any one of you except by making a mistake. I’ve done that a few times and felt awful about it. Otherwise, I do my best.”
As they rode that morning, Hoss thought about all the times Adam had done his best to protect the family and realized he had risked his life numerous times. He had gone up against Poole, a professional gunman to save their father doing it. In the desert, he had told Hoss that he was too big a target, and he had run instead, a black mark against the white sand and surely an easy target for the gunmen. He had risked his life numerous times to prove he was a man of integrity and honesty. It had to hurt that the one man who had shown such doubt in him was his own father. There was something more eating at Adam though and Hoss knew they hadn’t gotten to it and the way things were going, they might never do it.
When they arrived at the Ponderosa, Ben was contrite. He apologized profusely telling Adam he never meant the words he said. He told him he was in shock at what he had learned from Montel and wanted to strike out and unfortunately Adam was the closest target. He claimed not to have believed any of the words he used and said he hardly even remembered what he had said but knew they had been hateful words because he was in a hateful mood. Saying there was no excuse good enough for his behavior, he asked his son if he could have forgiveness anyway and mercy.
“I forgive you, Pa. Now, I’m tired. I think I’ll go to my room.”
As Adam headed up the stairs, Ben had a question. “I do think you should tell me what you were doing for those three days before the roundup.”
Although Adam was thinking ‘That’s not any of your business.’, he didn’t say it. He didn’t say anything. Pausing on the landing, Adam turned and stared at his father. With that, Adam turned and continued up the stairs, and soon, with the silence in the room, they heard his bedroom door close.
“He said he forgave me, but obviously he still harbors anger and resentment.”
Joe was afraid to say anything, but Hoss thought it was about time they cleared up the mystery.
“Pa, he forgave you, but he won’t forget it, and it did change your relationship. That was your choice. He said something on the drive that’s been bugging me ever since I heard him say it. He wouldn’t explain it. Maybe you will. He said it was the second time you chose to push him away. He said ‘This time, I got the message clearly and won’t forget it again.’ What’d he mean by all that?”
Ben said nothing then either but Hoss was persistent.
“What did he mean by that, Pa? What did he mean ’bout you pushing him away?”
“He’s being foolish. It was a childish accusation then, and it is now too.”
“Well, what was it? Whatever it was, he thinks it’s important.”
Ben didn’t want to discuss it, but he knew his sons. They were going to gnaw on this particular bone until it yielded. “Marie wanted me to send Adam away to school. She said he was too bright to stay on the ranch and he ought to go live with his grandfather and get a real education. She pushed me to do it for quite some time. After she died, I felt it was important to honor that, and I sent Adam to his grandfather so he could go to school.”
For several minutes, Hoss and Joe were silent. Neither of them had ever heard the story told that way. They had always heard that Adam wanted to go to school and had gone willingly. To realize he had been pushed into it was an entirely different way of looking at things. They didn’t know how to react at all to that news. Joe had a question, but Ben didn’t have the answer.
“Why did my mother want him to go away to school so badly?”
“I don’t know.”
That was the truth as far as it went, but Ben evaded what he didn’t want to say. He suspected then and still did believe that Marie thought Adam was going to make an issue of who Little Joe’s father was as the boy grew older. His build, hair color, eyes, and generally everything about him resembled Montel. She knew Adam had seen Montel on numerous occasions. She had not known that people had drawn that conclusion and already brought it up to him, and that he had declared Little Joe was his brother daring anyone to say differently. The day Ben agreed that Adam would be sent away to school and told him so, she went for a ride that ended so tragically when she rode into the yard and fell when she saw an angry Adam talking with his father. Ben had kept his promise to her and sent Adam away to school despite all of his protests. Adam had made the best of it as he did with everything his father ever asked of him, but the pain of it had never ended. Ben wondered if Adam would discuss this story with his brothers. He didn’t have to wait long to find out.
The questions from Hoss and Joe brought back memories to Adam that he would rather have kept buried. Those memories aggravated hurts that had never fully healed because they had never been addressed only buried. Before Marie died, Adam had confronted her over her persistent effort to get him sent away. She had been direct in her responses to him, far more honest than she had ever been with his father. She never intended for Adam to return to the Ponderosa. She was trying to ensure that her son would inherit and she made that clear.
“What about Hoss? He’s my father’s son too. What will you do about him? He has no grandfather you can conveniently exile him to.”
“I do not mind Hoss. He is someone Joseph likes and I’m sure he will work with him. Joseph will need some help to run such a large ranch.”
“But not me?”
“You would not let him. You would be the one at your father’s side if you are here. You have other options.”
“But he is my father.”
“Do not dare say it. I know you will say it. I know you will say it to my Ben. I know you will repeat the hateful talk some have already said. You seal your own fate. You will be gone and my son will be safe.”
“My brother has nothing to fear from me.”
“I do not trust you.” The words he most hated had come from her lips in perhaps her most honest moment with him.
Despite the significance of that discussion and of other things that had happened, Adam couldn’t discuss any of it with his brothers or his father. They still loved Marie, and anything he said would hurt them and their memories of her. He had to wonder too if it would hurt their relationship with him even more if they thought him disloyal to her. So he didn’t answer the questions and in time, they didn’t ask and things gradually returned to what they had been before but with one difference. Adam didn’t feel the same about his father as he had. There was a wall there that he couldn’t breach and his father seemed blind to it acting as if all was well. He began to look forward to any assignment that took him away from the house and especially away from the ranch. Joe was especially happy that Adam was willing to do all the trips to the lumber mill and timber camps even in the worst of weather. He did gripe a little that Adam also got all the buying and contract negotiation trips, but it was a small price to pay to get out of the more onerous ones so he tolerated it with only some jibes when he could.
As the months stretched on into a couple of years though, Hoss was more and more concerned with his older brother and how he had seemed to withdraw from the family. All too often, he seemed more a spectator than a participant in family activities standing by reacting to what was happening but not partaking in anything directly. He guessed that Adam was going to leave long before his older brother told him he was considering it. To Hoss, he had been leaving for quite some time and perhaps before he even knew he was. They had never cleared the air about what had happened between their father and Adam and what was at the root of it either. It was festering below the surface and there was only one way it was going to turn out unless that was resolved. Hoss decided to talk it over with his father.
“Pa, has Adam said anything more to you ’bout leavin’ here?”
“No, only the vague things he’s always said about having some fool dreams about building things or seeing the world or whatever ideas he has that week or month from all those books he likes to read.” Seeing the look Hoss had, Ben laughed. “Oh, Hoss, I’m joking. No, he hasn’t said anything much about that lately.”
“Pa, I’m being serious. I’ve got this feeling that he’s getting ready to leave.”
“Why would he leave? He’s got everything here he could want.”
“Does he? Did you when you up and left it all behind to follow your dream?”
“I had almost nothing and my family had not much more. I sought to create much more to leave to my children, and I’ve got it. My sons will have the Ponderosa. It isn’t to walk away from.”
“Unless you want more; unless you want the thing you don’t have.”
“What is it that he doesn’t have?”
“Trust, Pa, he wants your trust.”
“I trust him. I give him authority to negotiate contracts, handle huge sums of money, spend weeks marking timber for cutting, and doing all sorts of things. What is that if not trust?”
“But doesn’t he have to bring the contracts to you for a final say? Don’t you go over his maps for the cutting? When we have a cattle drive, don’t you say where the money is going to go?”
“Of course, it’s still my ranch. You boys haven’t put me out to pasture yet.”
“Pa, you sent me and Joe to California last year to buy some cattle to improve the herd. You gave us ten thousand dollars to spend. You told us to bring back the best we could find.”
“Yes, and the two of you did a fine job. You know your cattle, Hoss.”
“This spring, Joe took almost that much money to go to Colorado to buy some breeding stock to improve our horses.”
“Again, Joe knows his horses and we needed to do something about our stock. We can’t rely only on mustangs forever. And besides, there are less and less of them every year.”
“Now, I know all of that, but how’s all those thousands different than the thousands that Adam handles. Why kin we do it on our own, but he needs your say so?”
“It’s not the same thing, Hoss.”
“No, it’s not, but it is a matter of trust, and I understand why he says what he says about that.”
“If it’s so important to him, why isn’t he in here pleading his case instead of sending you?”
“He didn’t send me, Pa. He don’t even talk about stuff like this with me. Ifn you bin paying attention, you mighta noticed, he don’t talk to anybody ’bout anything important anymore. It’s like he’s left already. Ifn you don’t do something and soon, it’s gonna be a real fact real soon too.”
“He’s a man. If he wants to make a decision like that, then he has a right to do it. It would be a foolish decision, but he still has the right to it.”
Hoss nodded. “You think he’s gonna leave too. Only you think ifn he leaves, he’ll see he was wrong to go and he’ll come back. Pa, you’re wrong. Ifn he goes, I don’t think he’ll be comin’ back, or if he does, it won’t be for a very long time and it’ll be on his terms not yours.”
“I’ve known him longer than you have, Hoss. I think I know my son. After all that trouble about him going to school in the east, he came back. He’ll come back again. It’s his home.”
“He’s not twenty-two any more, Pa, and he doesn’t have any little brothers to take care of any more either.”
Hoss walked out of the house then leaving Ben to think about things. Some doubt did creep in, but overall, he still believed his assessment of the situation was correct. He thought Adam’s wanderlust needed to be satisfied, but that he would miss his home, his family, and the benefits of both until he would be enticed to return.
The event that precipitated Adam leaving was not one anyone could have imagined. Montel died. In his will, he had named Joseph as his sole heir and Adam as his executor. Suspecting that Ben would never allow his youngest to inherit from him, he had insulated his son from his legal father. By handing the duties of executor over to Adam, Montel had based his decision on what he had heard while in Virginia City. Everyone had said how the oldest son watched out for his brothers especially his youngest brother and would do whatever it took to keep him safe even if Joe didn’t like it. They said that Adam was beyond reproach when it came to integrity and honesty. They did mention a bit of arrogance, pride, sarcasm, stubbornness, and other things, but none of those bothered Montel for none would interfere in what he wanted done. He made arrangements for all the legal documents to be delivered to Adam as soon as possible after his demise. His lawyers would only be caretakers of the estate for three months. That was how long he gave Adam to liquidate his holdings and pack up any belongings he thought Joseph should have. It was not a vast fortune, but it was a substantial one.
The most difficult task was going to be explaining to the young man why he was inheriting so much. Or perhaps that had already been discussed. Montel was beyond caring about such earthly concerns by that point. He yearned for the release from pain that death would provide, and only hoped that his fortune would be used well. In his last days, he used as much morphine as the doctor would provide until he went to bed and never woke up. It was what the doctor suspected would happen with that dosage but thought it a mercy to do it that way. Montel was a skeleton of a man as the growths inside caused such pain and ate away at him. When he died, it was a relief to him and those around him. He was buried quietly and the package of legal documents he had prepared was mailed out to Adam Cartwright in Virginia City, Nevada. It was picked up by Hoss and Joe when they got supplies. Hoss was excited to give it to Adam, but Joe wanted to know what was in it.
“Hey, Adam, we got a big letter for you. It came all the way from New Orleans.”
“Yeah, it’s from a law office. Who do you know in New Orleans, older brother, who would be sending you such a big letter from a lawyer’s office? You haven’t gotten yourself in trouble with a gal down there that we don’t know about, have you?” Joe was at Adam’s elbow by that time wanting to see what was in the thick envelope.
Not knowing what it was and not even having a suspicion of its contents, Adam opened the letter finding a single page letter inside and another thick sealed envelope. He began to read the letter.
“Son of a bitch!”
Without another word, he folded the letter and whirled around to head up the stairs without saying another word. His brothers and father were shocked. Hoss was the first to recover.
“I think maybe I ought to be the one to go up there to find out what’s wrong.”
Ben quickly agreed with him before Joe could respond. Ben had no idea what that letter was, but it was from New Orleans and based on Adam’s reaction, Ben guessed it had to have something to do with Montel and it had to be bad. He didn’t want Joe anywhere near Adam at this point. He knew that most likely Montel had died but didn’t know why that would have upset Adam so much.
In Adam’s room, Hoss found his older brother slumped in a chair with the letter crumpled in his hands and the thicker letter still sealed and laying on the bed. Adam’s head was down in a posture of defeat. Hoss had never seen him look that way.
“You gonna tell me what news is in that letter?”
“The news is that Montel is dead.”
Frowning, Hoss tried to think of why Adam would be upset by that. He couldn’t think of a reason. “I’d think that would make you, well, not happy, but at least feel relieved. He cain’t show up here and cause no more trouble.”
“Oh, he can still cause trouble. Before he died, he named an heir and an executor for his estate.”
Frowning more, Hoss thought about that and then he knew or thought he knew why Adam had been so upset. “He didn’t?”
“Well, say no.”
“And what? Deny our brother a significant inheritance? What if he wants it someday or needs it? How do I have the right to make such a decision for him?”
“But ifn you give it to him, it could tear this family apart.”
“Don’t you think I know that. We know the truth, but no one wants to say it. No one can face it and move forward. Pa thinks I’m something less than his son simply because I know it and didn’t tell him I knew it. But if I ever told him what I knew, he would have been upset with me for telling him and taking Marie away from him. Despite everything, he still loves her and loves her memory.”
“I know. It’s a mess. I think Joe knows too, but he don’t like to think on it ’cause he loves Pa so much.”
“You see, that’s the strange part. That’s what matters, but the don’t accept that. We all love each other as family. What does this other stuff matter?”
“I guess it really don’t.”
“Unless they let it matter.”
“Damn, this is a really ugly mess.” Hoss sat on his brother’s bed and picked up the envelope that sat there. “What you gonna do with this?”
“I think I have to go there. My best bet is probably to sell most of it and put the money in accounts for Joe. Someday if he wants it, he can have the money.”
“Sell most of it? What would you keep?”
“There are probably some personal items that have no great value except to relatives. I’ll probably keep some of those and store them. If he ever wants some mementoes, he can have them.”
“Where would you store them? You can’t keep ’em here. You know how nosy he is and how he snoops around. He’s bound to find them.”
“I have a place I can keep them.”
When Adam didn’t elaborate on that, Hoss got curious and then speculated. “You got yourself a place in San Francisco?”
“As often as I was there, it made sense to me. I didn’t like staying in a hotel that much.”
“You liked a quieter more private place.”
Shrugging, Adam accepted Hoss’ conclusion. It would do. There was more to it than that, but certainly his evaluation was part of it so he could honestly agree with him on that. Hoss though wasn’t fooled and guessed that it was part of a greater scheme.
“You’re getting ready to leave too.”
“It seemed wise to be ready.”
“Damn. I knew it, but Pa wouldn’t believe me.”
“You two talked about me leaving?”
“Yeah, Pa seems to think you got some kind of need to wander for a bit and then you’ll be back. I told him ifn you left, it wasn’t gonna be that easy. He didn’t like my way of thinkin’ on it.”
“I won’t begin to predict the future, but I would say your thinking and mine are on the same track.”
“Yeah, that’s what I figured. So, you headin’ to New Orleans? That gonna be it?”
“It could be. I haven’t decided yet. I need to look in that other envelope and see just how big a mess I have to handle.”
“Anything I can do, you know you only have to tell me.”
“I know. Thank you.” Reaching for a sheet of paper, Adam wrote and then handed the paper to Hoss. “That’s for you only. It’s the house I own in San Francisco. If you need me and you can’t find me, you should be able to get a message to me through there.”
“There’s somebody there?”
“Somebody important to you?”
“Yes, but not in the way you’re thinking. A friend. No more.”
Hoss never quite knew what to make of those kind of ambiguous statements Adam made but he knew too that there wasn’t going to be any more information coming from his brother. He nodded to accept what he’d been told. “Thank you.”
After Hoss left the room, Adam opened the larger envelope and got an idea of what he had to do. He guessed it could take a month or two to accomplish what was needed. Then there would be some travel involved as well. He went down the stairs to dinner and at the conclusion of it, told his family he planned to head to New Orleans for some legal, financial, and business dealings that required his presence. His father clearly didn’t like the idea.
“We have plans for things here that included you. How long will you be gone?”
“By my best estimation, no more than two months or so will be needed to get this completed satisfactorily.”
“Two months! Who’s going to take over your responsibilities here for that long?”
“Hoss and Joe can take over when I’m gone.”
“Yeah, Pa, Hoss and I are used to doing Adam’s work when he’s gone. He’s gone often enough right now that it won’t seem that different.” There was both a jibe and some humor in Joe’s response. On the one hand, he resented all the trips Adam made leaving the extra work for him and for Hoss. However, he also accepted that Adam trusted that he and Hoss could do any job on the ranch. He was trying to lighten the mood a bit as he could see their father building toward an angry confrontation.
“I suppose that’s true enough. They can handle things. They’ve done it before.”
“Yeah, we sure have, haven’t we, Hoss?”
“Yeah, we sure have.” Hoss looked at Adam with a bit of a frown though. He had noted how his older brother had phrased his statement and his responses. In none of it, had he mentioned that he was coming back or set a time frame for that. In fact, he had not said that his brothers could take over while he was gone but ‘when’ he was gone. Hoss had a good idea why he had put it that way. What he said next reinforced what Hoss was thinking.
“Well, when are you planning on leaving?”
“I’ll be leaving in the morning.”
Hoss locked eyes with Adam and he knew when Adam didn’t break that hard stare. He was not coming back. The decision was made. Being in New Orleans for a couple of months would give his father and youngest brother time to get used to the idea and then he would tell them probably with a letter. By then, they would likely be suspecting as much anyway. That address Adam had given him upstairs had been his statement of intent. Adam had told him too if not directly at least as clearly as he could without doing so. Hoss nodded and looked to his father.
“I’ll take Adam to town tomorrow to catch the stage.”
“That soon?” It dawned on Ben that he wouldn’t be seeing his eldest son for months.
“The business is something that needs to be done now. I have to go.”
“Very well. We’ll have breakfast together and say our goodbyes in the morning.”
In the morning, Adam was much in the mood to eat anything with the major change he was making in his life. He had coffee. Hoss didn’t each much either surprising both his father and Joe. Hop Sing didn’t fuss much at either of the two men further adding to the mystery as if he knew that they wouldn’t be hungry. Ben and Joe talked then asking each other if there was something they missed. They didn’t know what it could be. It was going to be days before it began to sink in. They said goodbye as if Adam would be home in a couple of months and then went back into the house as Hoss drove the carriage from the yard. On the way to town, Hoss and Adam talked a bit about the future and what it would take for Adam to come home again. With the things he wanted, Hoss knew it would be years probably before he was back. So when he said goodbye, it was with that in mind.
“You write now, ya hear. I don’t want no excuses on that account. I need to know you’re all right and the only way is ifn I get some letters.”
“I’ll write as often as I can.”
“I’ll take that as a promise.”
It made Adam grin for he knew as well as Hoss what he always said about his promises. Hoss was glad to see that grin at least one more time. Roy walked up to them as the stage was about to depart. Adam shook his hand and climbed aboard. As the stage pulled away, Roy and Hoss waved goodbye.
“How long you figure he’s gonna be gone?”
“Sure. There been signs of it coming for some time. Your Pa know?”
“Not yet. Adam’s on a trip to New Orleans to do some business first.”
“Good. That’ll give him some time to get used to the idea before he gets hit with it.”
“Yeah, him and Joe too. Gonna be hard on both of them.”
“And me. Never knew a time in my life when I couldn’t count on Adam coming home or being there for me.”
“First time for him too.”
“Yeah, he’s all alone now.”
On the stage, Adam was feeling that too. He had cut the ties and forged ahead yet wasn’t sure exactly what he was going to do or where he was going to go except for the trip to New Orleans. It gave him a couple of months to think about his future and hope his ideas would coalesce into something more concrete than dreams.
When Adam arrived in New Orleans, one thing he found abundantly clear was that his future was not in that city. Hot and humid weather made him wish for a breeze, any breeze. Even in his hotel room out of the sun and with a fan, he felt the air was stifling. He made an appointment to see the lawyers handling the estate and went to find dinner. That much as well as the music he did enjoy. As a boy, he must not have minded the oppressive weather. Of course, he wouldn’t have been attired in a suit then either. Even a lightweight suit made him feel that much warmer. He wished he could wear what a boy could wear, but that wasn’t an option for him.
The lawyers were businesslike and officious in their dealings with him. He put up with it only until he had a clear understanding of what Montel owned and the extent of the investments he had made. He had brought his own legal representation with him and had purposefully not introduced him. That changed.
“Your comments to me have been annoying at the least and at times bumptious. Your advice has been meddlesome and intrusive assuming as it does that I need your help and cannot made a decision without your counsel. Your overly assertive opinions are unwelcome. I have retained the services of my own attorneys who will assume all duties with regard to the estate as of now. Your services and all compensation for such are now terminated.”
“You cannot do that.”
“I can and have. Marcel?”
Adam’s attorney stepped forward and served all appropriate papers to the attorneys requesting that they divest themselves of all documents and papers relating to Montel’s estate. They claimed they could not do it without weeks to go through their files.
“No need. I have a warrant to search if necessary. I have clerks outside who will accomplish the task under the supervision of the constables. Of course, should they find any other documents that the authorities would find interesting, that would be found as part of a legal search and would be turned over to the authorities as required by law.”
The three lawyers immediately conferred stepping to the window and looking down at the street below. They then admitted that all the documents were in that office. They opened files and produced all documents, deeds, and certificates in a fairly short period of time asking only that Adam and Marcel turn their backs when the safe was opened. With their valises nearly bursting, Adam and Marcel walked out of the offices and climbed into their carriage to head to Marcel’s father’s office. One clerk climbed in and sat in the carriage wondering why she had been required to be there at all. Adam and Marcel thanked her and Marcel relieved her of the official looking document she held. It might not have borne close scrutiny, but it did resemble a search warrant, and the two men standing outside the law offices had looked very much like constables. They saluted the carriage as it pulled away and sauntered off down the street to return the borrowed uniforms and go out to celebrate on the fifty dollars each had earned for standing outside a building for a couple of hours.
As Marcel and Adam went through the papers later, they found that the attorneys representing Montel had taken far more than they should have taken for their fees, but it wasn’t so much as to require them to take legal action. Clearly they would likely have taken more if they could have.
“Do you think this is all of it?”
“Based on the will, yes. And Montel did a good job of insulating much of it from anyone like those lawyers from being able to cannibalize it before you got here. By requiring your signature notarized, they would have had to have your agreement to any shenanigans. With the attitude they showed, they thought you were going to be easily manipulated.”
“I’m glad you decided to come here to practice law. I might have been at the mercy of those jackals without you.”
“Oh, I don’t think so. By the way, remind me never to consider playing poker with you. That was quite a bluff you pulled, and I never saw a tell. You had a stone face the whole time.”
“Why did they give up so easily?”
“Montel’s estate wasn’t big enough to jeopardize the other things they’re doing.”
“Is corruption that rampant everywhere?”
“I’m afraid so. City, state, and national government is the most corrupt as it’s ever been. There’s been so much disruption with the War and there’s been so much growth, that laws haven’t kept up with the opportunities for greed.”
“There must be some honest men who will step forward to fight it.”
“There are but we’re fighting against a wall of corruption. I’ve been offered a federal judgeship, but I need some men to work with me. I haven’t had one accept that offer. I won’t do it alone. It’s too difficult and too dangerous.”
“Don’t look at me. It’s too hot here for me.”
“It’s not here. It’s in Colorado.”
“I trust you.”
“I’ll think about it. I have a lot of work to do over the next couple of months though.”
“I know. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly. We can talk whenever you want. Meanwhile, let’s get started on this stuff. We should probably start by selling the land and property Montel owned before we look at his investments.”
“I’d like to go through the residences to see if there’s any items that I should probably keep.”
“We can do that tomorrow and the next day. He has one place in the city and another well outside the city so it will be two days to look at both and check the inventory against the contents. We can bring a clerk along to help.”
It was hot work and they found that some works of art were missing apparently ‘borrowed’ by the attorneys who had been representing the estate. There were meetings and threats of legal action with the accompanying bad publicity before the items were all returned and the ‘misunderstandings’ resolved. It all took almost a month during which Adam was also busy working at selling the properties. He had some items crated and shipped to his house in San Francisco with instructions for them to be stored there. One item he shipped directly to the Ponderosa with a skimpy explanation telling Joe only that he had found the small portrait, recognized it as Marie, and thought Joe should have it. He doubted that Joe would see through the ruse but suspected his father might.
More complicated was the work of tracking down all the investments that Montel had made. Apparently not all of them were formalized with adequate formal documents. They had to work at showing a pattern of payments and transfers of assets to establish the claims in court. As money was realized from each investment, Adam reinvested the money in more formal investments getting stock and trust certificates that proved ownership of shares. He did most of the investing in corporations and projects in the west so that the money would be more readily available to Joe should he want or need it. He did his best to diversify the portfolio and to make it as liquid as possible too not wanting to commit his brother to holdings that he might not want.
The last legal requirement for Adam was to settle any who had a financial claim against the estate, and there were some. Adam listened to each of those and settled them with only one complaining that he had been cheated. The man had come in with an outrageous claim and had been treated accordingly. Those who had come in with reasonable stories and requests for compensation had gotten a fair hearing and payments. By the end of three months, the estate was settled and Adam had earned himself a reputation as a fixer who took care of things legally. He had numerous offers to be executors of estates but accepted only two after consulting with Marcel about which of the potential clients was reputable enough to consider. It also had to be within a reasonable time frame that they expected to use his services because he didn’t want to commit to anything too far into the future. It seemed that didn’t matter as there were two men who were ill and wanted to be sure their estates were apportioned according to their wishes.
There was time for Adam to do this because of one final task he had to complete which was to go through all of Montel’s personal papers. There were many boxes of them. It was on a cursory exploration of them that Adam had found the portrait of Marie that he sent to Joe. He read letters that Montel had written to Marie over the years after he left and before she died, and then there were about twenty years of letters written to Joe. Adam read every one of those letters and when he finished, he was in a quandary. On the one side, there were reasons Joe had a right to know what was in those letters. Adam had been surprised to learn that Montel had genuinely loved Marie and did love his son wanting only to do what was best for them by his actions. That was clear in his letters. But the other side of the letters was a solid argument that if he did turn them over to Joe, it could harm his relationship with his family and hurt his future. Suffering through weeks of indecision, one night, Adam gathered all of the papers and burned them in the fireplace of the place he had rented when the hotel room had become too confining. He knew his decision would be a burden he would carry for the rest of his life, but thought the benefits outweighed the cost by a wide margin. In the morning, he began packing to leave. He had done two jobs in New Orleans and completed his job as executor of Montel’s will. He hoped to make preparations to leave the city as soon as he could complete the job he was working on. That decision however was made for him.
It was after handling the second of those two estates that Adam arrived in Denver. Marcel got a call from the hospital that a badly injured man had been brought there and had a letter on him addressed to Marcel. On reaching the hospital, Marcel was shocked to find that the man was Adam. He read the letter and waited for Adam to wake after having been given medication by the doctor. When he opened his eyes as well as he could later, Marcel was there.
“It seems you have angered some in New Orleans, and they have decided you should have taken the job with me here in Denver.”
With lips still swollen from the beating he had taken, Adam did his best to explain. “I got some warnings over the past two weeks. I didn’t take them seriously and should have. Unfortunately I thought they were in the same category as that disgruntled charlatan with Montel’s estate hoping to make a quick profit at an opportune time for them. Apparently, I made a mistake and they were quite earnest about what they wanted. The proof of that is that I’m laying here.”
“Oh, I thought perhaps it was a woman. You seemed to have attracted enough attention in that regard.”
“Not any one woman though so it was unlikely anyone was jealous. No, it had to be this last estate settlement. There were some who were unhappy with the terms of the will, and I would not change them.”
“Of course not. Why would they think you would?”
“They talked to me, and said I had met with him a number of times and could testify to what he had said and his intent to alter his will. For a sum of money that was substantial as my reward, all I had to do was to tell the court that and have the terms modified.”
“Greedy little bastards.”
“Yes, the vultures certainly do come to feed as soon as they can.”
“You’re probably lucky to be alive.”
“They wanted me out of the city so they can get another executor and probably another judge.”
“The corruption is too much for one man to fight.” Marcel was hoping that Adam wouldn’t want to go back on his own to fight the injustice of what had happened.
“I know. I hate it, but I know I’d probably be killed if I went back and to no purpose. Did they send my things with me?”
“I don’t know. I’ll check.”
“I’d like to get out of here and check for myself.”
The doctor however had other ideas.
“Try sitting up.”
Adam tried and failed.
“When you can sit up, stand up, and walk across the room unaided, you can leave. Until then, stay in that bed. You have enough injuries.”
It took four days for Adam to manage that. All of his property was at the railroad depot in crates and boxes neatly packed and waiting for him. Again, he declined Marcel’s offer of employment though.
“I’ve had my taste of working legal cases. It was interesting but not for me. I want to go back to my original plan of spending some time living and working in San Francisco. I have a house there and I know people there. I can still handle some of the Ponderosa business if my father wants me to do so or trusts me to do it any more. I can better manage my investments there and think about what I want to do next.”
“Going to stop and visit your family?”
“No, I hadn’t planned on it. I saw them only a few months ago. If I stop back now they might expect that I’m done traveling and ready to stay there.”
“They may be upset to find you went right by and didn’t stop.”
“They’ll get over it.”
“Well, good luck, my friend. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
“I hope so too as soon as I figure out what it is.”
Looking a little battered, Adam traveled to California with a bit of a wistful feeling as he passed through Nevada. Once in San Francisco, he hired a coach to take him and his belongings to his house. It was more than a modest little home but by no means was it large. It was a comfortable place and his roommate enjoyed living there too.
The young man living in his house was from a ranching family. Like Adam, he didn’t fit in. Eugene wanted to be a doctor and his family had all but disowned him for not wanting to be a rancher like the rest of the family. He was in San Francisco studying medicine when he met Adam. Eugene had been alone and without friends. They had met quite by accident at a pub that served some of the best fish in the city. Adam knew people and introduced him to a number of them getting him connected socially. When Adam decided to buy a house, it seemed a natural fit to ask Eugene to live there. He acted as caretaker when Adam wasn’t there, and it gave him a home too. Both benefitted from the arrangement.
Now that Adam was going to be living there full-time, they were going to have to discuss if there were going to be any changes. The only difference there was seemed to be that Eugene now had a lady friend. She was visiting from Australia. Her father owned a shipping line and had established a route between Sydney and San Francisco by way of the Sandwich Islands. It was a lucrative trade and she was on an extended vacation in the United States. As serious as the two were, Adam wondered if she would be staying permanently. When the two asked to talk with him, he was surprised by what they told him though.
“Evie and I are getting married, Adam. Her father approves, and we’re going to be going to Australia in a month.”
“Well, congratulations! I didn’t expect that.”
“You must have known how serious I was about her.”
“Yes, there was no mistaking that. I thought though that she might stay here. It surprised me that you’re going there.”
“Her family is excited to have me join them. It’s what I wanted and needed. They’re proud to have a doctor in the family. I’ll have my certificate in a week, and we’ll be married when I get there.”
“Congratulations on both counts. I am very happy for both of you.”
“I’m sorry to leave you in a lurch here. I know you needed me to take care of your house when you were gone, but I thought that at least while you were here, you wouldn’t need anyone for a while.”
“That’s true. I may be here a while.”
“Unless you want to come to Australia too. We’ve been talking about it and think you would like it there. There’s so much to see that you’ve never seen before.”
“Yes, Adam, do come with us. Gene likes you so much, and we would like you to come. My country has so many opportunities for a man like you. I’m sure you would find so much to do.”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought that much about traveling outside of the country. That’s a long way to go.”
But Adam did begin to consider it, and he made a list at least in his mind of the pluses and minuses of such a move. In some ways, it was a very attractive prospect. However he had family in Nevada, and if he went to Australia, he knew he might never see them again. When Eugene and Evie came to visit one last time and said they were leaving the next day and asked one more time if he would come with them, he hedged and said maybe.
“If we see you at the ship then we’ll know. Otherwise, know that we hope for the best for you always, Adam. You have been more like family to me than my family ever was. I know now that family isn’t to whom you’re born. It’s who takes you into their hearts. You told me that soon after we met, and I’ve come to believe in it wholeheartedly.”
Those words were still echoing in his mind when there was a knock on the door and he answered it expecting Eugene and Evie to have returned only to find Hoss and Joe there. They looked as somber as he had ever seen the two and he worried that something dire had happened.
“It’s not Pa, is it?”
“No, but it could be for all you’d know.”
“Joe, you settle down. We said we’d do this like brothers, right?” Joe shrugged and sat when Adam offered. Hoss continued. “May as well get right down to it. Adam, the ranch is in big trouble. We got behind on some contracts. We never shoulda made so many at once. Now we got penalty clauses we can’t pay. Pa used the ranch as, I don’t know what you call it, but ifn we don’t pay, they can take the ranch.”
“How much time do you have?”
“That’s just it. We only got to the end of the week. That’s only four more days.”
“How much do you need?”
Joe spit out more sarcasm. “More than you have, it looks like. Looks like you spend everything on this house and the clothes you’re wearing.”
“Joe, I ain’t warning you again.” Hoss turned back to Adam. “We owe almost fifty-thousand on the lumber contract, but we owe over one hundred-fifty thousand on the timber contract. We bought breeding stock for the horses and cattle as you know and used up too much of our cash doing that. We can’t raise the money and knowing that we’re in trouble like we are, we can’t use the ranch to get a loan.”
“My investments aren’t liquid enough probably to get two-hundred thousand by the end of the week, but there is a way.” Adam looked at Hoss and glanced at Joe.
Hoss looked over at Joe too knowing what Adam probably meant by that. “I think he knows anyway, Adam. May as well get it all in the open now and be done with it, dontcha think?”
So Adam told Joe everything. The youngest brother sat very still through it all and as Hoss had said, he nodded as if he had known or expected what was being said. When Adam handed over the investment portfolio though, things went sour. As Joe looked through the documents and saw his brother’s signature on everything, he made assumptions.
“So as executor, you got a share of my inheritance. It was quite an inheritance too, so your share was a lot. And you got to keep siphoning off money all this time while I didn’t even know this was all mine. Gee, thanks a lot.”
With a voice low and hard as steel, Adam handed them the card of the lawyer and the bank that could handle all the transactions they needed. He walked to the door and opened it clearly inviting them to leave. Hoss was embarrassed by Joe’s behavior but didn’t know what he could say to make things better. Putting his hand on Adam’s shoulder as he departed, he apologized.
“It’s all right, Hoss. I had a decision to make tonight, and it made it easier to make. Goodbye, and I hope all goes well.”
The finality of that statement didn’t hit Hoss until the next day. He and Joe did meet with the lawyer and the banker. They got the procedures underway to get the money to save the ranch. What they discovered in the process though shocked Joe. Adam had never taken a cent as executor even though he was entitled to a percentage of the estate or at least fees and expenses. He had been advised to do so a number of times and had refused to take anything. Humiliated by what he had learned, Joe wanted to go to Adam to beg his forgiveness. As soon as they could, they went to Adam’s house. When they got there, they found a crew boarding up the house.
“What are you doing?”
“Owner ordered it. He’s gonna be gone and wants it protected. We covered everything inside and now we’re protecting the windows.”
“Where did he go?”
“I dunno. Usually when we get these jobs, it’s when somebody leaves the country for a while.”
It was then that they remembered Adam saying he had a decision to make and that they had made it easier. Looking out toward San Francisco Bay, they wondered which ship was probably carrying him away.
Arriving back at their hotel later, Hoss was the first to see the tall dark-haired man waiting for them. He looked haggard but smiled when he saw them. Grabbing Joe’s arm, Hoss turned him so that he would see too. They moved as quickly as they could to his side.
“Dadburnit, I thought you left. Your house was gettin’ all closed up and they said you was gone.”
“I had planned to be gone, but I couldn’t leave with things the way they were. I had some letters for you and instead of dropping them off, I waited for you.”
“Hoss, I’m giving you authority over my property and investments if any decisions have to be made. My lawyers will contact you if they need you to say yes or no on anything. You go ahead and give it your best shot.”
“Adam, I don’t know much about that kind of stuff.”
“I trust you and that’s all that matters.”
“What’s in my letter?”
“What I did in New Orleans and anything I found out about Montel. There are two letters there. One to tell you that, and the other is the information. You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to know. It’s not disloyal to Pa to be curious, you know.”
“I know. I figured that out. You’ve been helping me with that since I was six. I wish I could show you how grateful I am instead of acting like a jackass so often.”
“You can work on that while I’m gone.” The smirk was classic.
“You’re still leaving?”
“Yes, that’s why you’re getting these letters. I missed the ship out that I had thought to take, but there’s another one that I can still get if I hurry.”
“Adam, where you going?”
“Australia, Hoss, I’m going on a grand adventure.”
“When ya gonna be back?”
“I don’t know. How long does a grand adventure take?”
With a grin, Adam grabbed Hoss in a hug and then Joe. It was so out of character, it caught both of them by surprise. Then he turned quickly and got into a waiting coach, which pulled away almost immediately and headed toward the harbor. A wave from the coach was the last they saw of their brother for years.
In Joe’s letter, there was a line that brought tears to his eyes. He wished he could talk to Adam about it, but he would have to wait. Adam wrote that a family was the sum of all the people who took you into their hearts. It didn’t matter who was around when you were born.
“You’ve always been in my heart, little brother, and you always will be there. Love you forever, Adam.”
Apparently Hoss’ letter ended on much the same note as Joe noted him wiping tears from his eyes too every time he pulled that letter from his pocket and read it over again. Both admonished the other that if they kept doing that, the letters were going to become unreadable.
“Shucks, Joe, in the little time I was in school, I never could get the hang of all that memorizing they wanted me ta do. But this here letter is already tucked away in my memory already. I know it word for word right down to the last thing he said and especially that. I ain’t never gonna forget it neither.”
“I feel the same. There never were more important words for me to remember.”
“It’s not gonna be easy tellin’ Pa we saved the ranch and lost a son for him.”
“Don’t say it like that. He’s not lost. He’s on a great adventure. He’ll come home. He’s in our hearts. He has to come home.”
When they got home, Ben was overjoyed to learn that their mission had been successful and the Ponderosa, his dream, was saved. However, it was a somber mood that prevailed for a time when they had to tell him the rest. When they finally got their first letter from Australia and knew that Adam had arrived safely, they felt better, but it wasn’t the same and wouldn’t be for a long time.
Chapter 7 seven years later
On the street in Virginia City, three cowhands decided that the pretty lady needed some company. She wasn’t in the mood for company though and asked them to let her pass. She had an accent with which they were unfamiliar.
“Ma’am, you shur talk funny.”
“Yeah, I hear’ed wimmin from the South, from Mexico, and all over, and I ain’t never heard one talks like you.”
“You mean with proper English and without smelling like a three day old carcass?”
“You saying we stink?”
“Saying you stink would be a gross understatement of the truth.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“It means that you stink to high heaven, and get away from my wife.”
The three men turned to find a man dressed in fancy clothing and holding a cane. His hair was slightly grayed and he had a full beard. Thinking he was a city dweller and perhaps infirm, they felt they had nothing to fear. Across the street, Hoss and Joe Cartwright walked up with their foreman Candy and little brother Jamie.
“Hoss, that’s him, isn’t it?”
“Shore is him, Joe. Looks like he got himself right into a mess first off.”
“Well let’s go take care of things.”
Candy was ready to go help, but Joe and Hoss each grabbed an arm.
“Whoa, now, we wouldn’t want you to ruin the fun. Let’s see what he does first.”
“But it’s three against one. And he’s older.”
“Candy, they’ve underestimated him for those reasons too. You can see how they’re acting like there’s nothing to worry about. I can tell you by the way he’s standing there, that there’s a lot for them to be worrying about.” Joe was grinning.
Candy looked from Joe to Hoss to see that Hoss was grinning too. Jamie looked at Candy and shrugged. They had both heard stories about the older brother. They were about to find out if any of them were true.
One of the three men made a move as if to grab the lady’s arm. He never got to do it as that cane came down on his arm and there was a loud crack. It wasn’t the cane that broke. He dropped to one knee cradling his arm. One of the other men stepped toward Adam.
“Hey, there was no need for that. He was only funning.”
“I told all of you to get away from my wife. He was going to put a hand on her. That is not acceptable.”
The man decided to teach Adam a lesson. He took a swing, but Adam ducked and pounded a right hook into his belly. As the man bent forward with that, Adam hit him behind the head and knocked him to the ground. The third man charged and Adam spun to the side and used his hands to propel that man into a wagon headfirst. The man dropped down holding his head. The second man got up and took another swing, but he had slowed after the first blows he had received, and Adam hit him twice more on the chin knocking him back into the wagon as well. Then he stood shaking his hands and then rubbing his knuckles as his wife came up to him pulling out a handkerchief to wipe the blood from his knuckles.
“Still in the store.”
“Although quite flattering to have men fighting over me still, I do not appreciate my husband being involved in a common street brawl.”
“Sweetheart, this was no common street brawl. This was a demonstration of superior fighting skill.”
“If you say so, dear. Now let’s go get our son.”
“Yes, dear.” The cheeky grin said he was anything except remorseful about his behavior though.
As Adam and his wife and son exited the store, however, there was more trouble. The three cowhands were back and now two of them had guns out.
“Mister, you had no right to do what you did.”
Pushing his wife and son behind him and back into the store, Adam slowly grinned. “Oh, I think I had every right. You accosted my wife. Now if you will put those guns away, you can go on your way instead of going to jail.”
“Who’s gonna take us there? You ain’t even got a gun and we got two.”
“Boys, I think the math is against ya.”
The words came from behind them as did the sounds of three pistols and a rifle being cocked. They glanced back over their shoulders to see three Cartwrights and Candy Canady. Very slowly so as not to get anyone too excited, they lowered their pistols and put them back in their holsters. Adam’s wife and son were peeking out past him to see what was happening. He let them look as there was no danger.
“Maybe you ought to walk over to the doctor’s office and get that forearm splinted before it swells any more.”
As the three cowboys meekly walked away, Adam greeted his brothers and Candy.
“And you must be Jamie. Good to meet you finally, little brother.” Turning to Candy, he put out his hand. “Candy?”
“Good to meet you as well. This is my wife, Clare, and my son, AC.”
Jamie had a question. “I thought your hand would hurt after that fight.”
Looking at Clare, Adam sighed. “It does, and you had to bring that up, didn’t you?”
Hoping to help by changing the subject then, he asked another question. “Why aren’t you wearing a gun?”
“I don’t regularly wear one at home and when we were packing, there wasn’t one at the house. The guns were at the station, the ranch, we have. It was too far to go just to get them. I thought, if necessary, I would get one here.”
“Older brother, it was almost necessary. Ya better start ta wearin’ one ifn ya plan on taking on toughs like them three.”
Wincing a little at the direction Hoss had taken the conversation, Adam tried to downplay it. “We can talk about that later. How about we head on out to the ranch. I assume you were here to meet us?”
“Oh, yeah, where’s your luggage at? We have a carriage and the surrey at the depot.”
“It’s there, but I promised AC a treat if he behaved on the trip so we took a quick trip here which turned out not to be such a quick trip.”
Then Adam frowned slightly realizing he had brought the conversation back to the altercation with the three cowhands. However Clare was kind enough to overlook that topic and move on.
“I so look forward to seeing the Ponderosa. I have heard so many wonderful things, and AC is excited to see everything too. I especially wish to meet Adam’s father.”
Unsaid was the question of why Ben Cartwright wasn’t there to meet his son after so many years. Adam was concerned that the negative feelings from the past still lingered. Joe was quick to explain though that it was nothing like that. His smile told them that he thought it wasn’t a serious issue.
“Pa has a little problem that makes sitting difficult.”
“A little problem?”
“Yeah, and a ride to town was going to be a bit more than he could tolerate. He wanted to be here very much, but he had to delegate that to us.”
“You haven’t explained what kind of ‘little problem’ he has. You’re not minimizing something serious, are you?”
“No, he ain’t, older brother. When we git home, you better not bring it up neither. Pa don’t like talkin’ ’bout it neither. He thought ta give Jamie here a lesson at the forge. Well, the best way to explain it is that it didn’t go well. Pa needs a new pair of pants and things and he ain’t gonna be settin’ on anything with ease for a bit.”
Looking over at Jamie, Adam had an observation that was more of a question. “You seem fine.”
“I am. Pa told me to stay back and away from the weak leg of the forge just before he kicked it with his foot and made it give way. He was looking at me and giving me that pointy finger lecture and wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing with his foot. He fell and landed on the coals and it took a bit for Pa to get up.”
If it had surprised or startled Adam to hear Jamie call their father ‘Pa’ so easily, he didn’t show it but talked easily with the youth. Hoss and Joe looked at each other and at Candy and shrugged. They had discussed it and wondered if he would accept a new member of the family coming in while he was gone. Hoss had said it wouldn’t be a problem, but Joe and Candy had wondered about it. As Joe thought about it now, he smiled because it all became clear to him. He remembered well what Adam had said to him many times about his own situation and that family is who you accept into your heart not who is there when you’re born. As Adam had accepted him as his brother, he accepted Jamie. Family was family no matter how they arrived as far as Adam was concerned. What was important to him was having people around him who loved and trusted him and whom he could trust and love. As they all rode to the ranch, Joe said as much to Candy who agreed that it all made sense to him. It also meant that Candy decided that he was probably going to like the long absent oldest Cartwright son if the rest of his attitudes matched up with that one.
Hoss drove the carriage with Clare and AC and Adam went with Jamie in the surrey, which had most of their luggage. As they traveled, Hoss pointed out many of the features of the area to his passengers. Meanwhile everyone noted how Adam and Jamie carried on a nearly nonstop conversation with apparently almost every topic open to discussion because they overheard rainmaker, college, gunfights, horsebreaking, Paiutes, architecture, grandfathers, and myriad other terms as the two talked. By the time they arrived at the ranch, Hoss had gotten to know Clare and AC rather well and Adam and Jamie were on good terms too. As Adam climbed down from the surrey and moved to the carriage to assist his wife, Ben came from the house.
“Adam, my Lord, son, it’s good to see you.”
It was everything Adam had hoped it would be. There was none of the negative feelings that had been there. Both had managed to dispel those through letters over the years communicating slowly but effectively by written words what they had never been able to do in conversation. The need to be precise and the time they had to be careful in how everything was worded let them express themselves more accurately and more sensitively. It was ironic that being so far apart had helped them grow much closer. There had been a time early on when they had lost communication, but then the letters from Australia had resumed as if nothing had happened and there was news then too of Clare and marriage. Ben still wondered what had happened during that time and hoped that while he was home, Adam would explain more of his experiences from his time in Australia. However he probably didn’t think of it as home any more as he had a home in Australia and by all indications intended to return there. At least they had the summer in Nevada though.
That evening after dinner, Ben asked Clare how she and Adam had met. That was something too that Adam had never explained. When he asked, Clare looked to Adam who sighed and then shrugged. Ben didn’t know how to interpret the looks that passed between the two of them, but there seemed to be sympathy and regret.
“May I tell them?”
“Go ahead. We’ve told AC the story so sooner or later it would come out anyway even if it was the version told by a five-year old. In fact, that might be the best version to tell.”
“Adam rescued me from pirates.”
The whole group laughed until they realized that Adam and Clare weren’t laughing. Apparently it wasn’t a joke even if they found it hard to believe. Though she had said few words so far, in her mind, thoughts were racing by with speed as they did every time she thought about those days. She remembered that first time she had met Adam when he was hurt. Later she had realized she had started to fall in love with him then as he held her hand to try to comfort her when he found out her circumstances even though he was the one who was physically in great pain. As he knew her better and listened to her tale, he had touched her cheek gently and declared his intention to save her. As the others waited for details, Clare told the story and they were all still skeptical when she finished. With a voice that was tight and seemed to rise a bit, Clare stuck to the main points as if to tell the story as quickly as possible. Occasionally she paused as if there were some things that were especially difficult to say. Adam took her hand and held it as she talked.
“I was a hostage aboard a pirate ship. I had been taken off a ship they had boarded and raided. Adam was taken when they plundered a ship but lost some crew in the fighting that occurred. He was forced into working. Dressed as a businessman, they had no idea who they were getting when they took him. I met him when he was flogged for breaking their rules. He was in need of attention and I was assigned to care for him. As a hostage, I was treated reasonably well and didn’t have to do much, but I did have to care for the injured. When he met me and realized I was being held there, he told me he would get me free of them. I didn’t believe him at first, but he organized a mutiny aboard the ship and took it over. It took some time to do that, but by the end of that month, we sailed as a free ship although it was badly in need of repair. We had to stop at an island for quite some time and work on fixing it. By the time we returned to Australia, Adam and I were in love. I told my father that we planned to marry officially.”
As Clare had talked, both she and Adam noted the increasingly skeptical looks from his family. Ben did ask a respectful question though.
“How did your father react to that?”
“He was aghast. He took one look at Adam and forbid me from even considering it. Here was a man with a pistol in his belt and a sword at his side looking more like an outlaw than anything else as his clothing was rather ragged by that time.” Ben noted that she didn’t call him a pirate. “Well it took some convincing and a bath and change of clothing, but we got Adam presentable and tried again.”
“He still said no, but you do know how stubborn Adam is, don’t you?”
As Clare had talked, Adam remembered walks on the beach, sitting under palm trees talking, and holding hands intertwining fingers. He had comforted her and the feelings went from friendship to something much deeper. Then when she let him know her feelings for him were the same, he had held her in his arms for that first tender kiss. There had been more kisses and then passion had overwhelmed both as they surrendered their hearts to each other. There had been no possible way her father was going to keep them apart after that. They held all the cards in the game so to speak which was the point Clare made next without saying as much.
“So five years ago, Adam and I got married.”
But Joe blurted out what she had not said. “But AC is five years old.”
Adam grinned a bit as Clare blushed with Joe’s faux pas.
“Oh, so he couldn’t say no, could he?”
“Clare and I were married in an unofficial ceremony on the island where we stayed while the ship was being repaired. There was no chaplain or an official ship’s officer, so we simply had one of the men designated as such, and he read the words and we pledged our vows to each other. We told Clare’s father, but he said that didn’t matter until he got the rest of the news. Then he had it recorded officially, and we had an official religious ceremony as well to make sure there was no doubt of the marriage. Everything is legitimate.”
“You two shur do tell a great story.”
“Hoss, it’s the truth.” Adam said it with sincerity.
“Yeah, and I remember them tall tales you told us when you was younger and always told us them was true too just like you did now.”
“What tall tales, Uncle Hoss?”
AC changing the subject to tall tales effectively ended the conversation about their marriage so Adam and Clare said nothing more about it. Strenuous defense of their story wouldn’t help convince anyone but might think them too willing to offer more support of it than truth required. Hoss and Joe spent the next chunk of time telling AC some of the stories Adam used to tell them.
“There was this one story, see where Adam told us about the man who built this house. His name was Thor and he cut all the trees and split all the logs for this house all by himself. He went up to the mountains where the tallest trees were to but down the ones he needed to build this house. With one swing of his axe on most trees and two swings on the biggest, he laid the trees down in a line neat as can be. Then he walked down that line to trim them with one swipe of the axe down one side and one down the other. Then he tied all the trees together in a bundle and hauled them here. The most amazing thing was that it only took him two days with the big ox he had to bring all the trees he needed to build this whole house. I swear that ox was at least twenty feet tall.”
“How tall is that, Uncle Joe?”
“As tall as this house, AC.”
“That’s bloody tall!”
“Yes, he would have stayed and worked here, but that ox ate so much that we would have had to add twice as much land to the Ponderosa just to feed that ox. So they had to move on.”
Hoss added his story next. “It was nothing compared to that bear that chased Adam up a tree. It was twelve feet tall if it was anything. It must have weighed two thousand pounds. He was afraid it was going to climb up that tree after him but when it tried, it bent the tree over so much it bent right down to the ground and Adam was able to jump out and run away.”
“Did the bear come after him then?”
“Nope. When he jumped out of that tree, it released enough weight that the tree sprang upright again and shot that bear a half mile away in the other direction and banged him right into a pile of boulders knocking him silly for a couple of hours.”
“And that’s how Papa got away?”
“Nope, the bear ate him for lunch.”
For a moment, AC had a wide-eyed look but then started laughing. “Uncle Hoss, you’re so funny.”
About that time though, Adam told AC that it was time for him to go to bed. He said he would take him up to the room he was going to use, but AC said he had other plans.
“Uncle Jamie said he has a book he can read to me. He said it’s good and he can read to me every night I’m here until it’s done. Uncle Jamie can tuck me in, can’t he, Papa?”
“That would be fine, AC, if that’s what Uncle Jamie wants to do.” Looking at Jamie, Adam got a vigorous nod. He nodded once in return and smiled at his new brother.
With no complaint, AC stood then as Jamie took his hand and they headed up the stairs. Clare was amazed.
“I don’t think he’s ever willingly gone to bed like that. He usually hates to miss anything and hates to go to bed until he’s exhausted.”
“I remember one of my sons being that way and often falling asleep with a book on his chest as a result.”
With an innocent look, Adam had a cheeky reply. “Who could that be, Pa?” No one was fooled.
“Yes, I rather suspected he got that from his father. I’ve never been one to deny myself rest when I needed it. In fact, I wouldn’t mind being tucked into bed myself about now. It’s been another long day after a month of long days.”
Standing, Adam gallantly offered his arm to his wife. Ben asked if he would be back down for a brandy and conversation.
“Not tonight, Pa. I’ll be down early for breakfast probably. We can talk then.”
Watching Adam disappear around the corner of the hallway upstairs, Hoss and Joe were especially disappointed. Both had thought Adam would want to spend more time with them the first night he was home. Joe expressed that and Ben had an answer for the two.
“He’s tired from traveling for a month. During that time, he’s probably missed having time with his wife too. They finally get to relax with each other with no worries. When you two decide to finally get married, you’ll find out what I mean by that.”
“But it’s been seven years.”
“I’m sure he’ll be much more rested and relaxed in the morning and ready to give you and Hoss some well deserved attention then, but tonight someone else gets his undivided attention.”
Hoss grinned then as he realized what his father was trying not to say. Then Joe got it too.
“Oh, you mean he’s, well, oh, yeah, I understand then. Of course, we can wait until morning, can’t we, Hoss. Heck, we’ll play some checkers then. Right?”
They did play checkers as their father read the paper and then walked out on the porch to smoke his pipe. Hoss looked over at Joe and grinned.
“We ain’t the only ones having a time of it trying not to think about what’s going on upstairs.”
“It’s been over an hour. Do you think it’s safe to go up to bed now?”
“Yeah, you know, long enough so I won’t have to hear anything. I really don’t want to hear anything, Hoss.”
“I’m guessing it’s probably ‘safe’ then, Joe.” Hoss chuckled more then.
With a grimace, Joe put the checkerboard and pieces away and then headed up the stairs stopping at the top of the stairs to listen. Hoss started laughing softly again and was chuckling still when his father came back in the house. He had to explain why then and although it was a bit of a sensitive subject, it was funny enough that he was able to tell his father who also thought it was funny. Of course, neither one admitted that they too felt a little of what Joe had expressed. Oh, no, they were never going to tell Joe that. Instead, they went up to bed planning to be up early for that breakfast with Adam and a chance to find out more about his years away from the ranch and perhaps more about his future plans.
In the morning, Jamie was at the breakfast table with AC soon after Adam and Ben got there so there was no teasing about the previous night. It was clear that Hoss and Joe were disappointed to see the younger ones there but they recovered quickly. They had three months to tease Adam so they could save up their ideas and use them when an opportunity presented itself. Instead the discussion was more about the work that Adam did and some teasing about his story about the pirates or more accurately, the story that Clare had told and Adam had supported about the pirates. Adam stuck to that version of events though and they couldn’t shake him on that. Instead, they teased their father a little about the accident at the forge because he noticeably grimaced every time he sat down. Then Adam asked if they could all teach Jamie a bit more about using it.
“Having one more person who can handle the forge is a good idea. You never know when you’re going to need something and having someone who can handle the job and available is the most efficient way to take care of that.”
“Ya don’t hafta convince us. Ya gotta convince Jamie that ya know what you’re doing.”
“Jamie, do you believe that I could teach you about using the forge?”
Jamie shrugged. “Sure, I guess so.”
Looking at his other two brothers, Adam was smug. “See, a ringing endorsement and he hardly knows me.”
Joe wanted to argue and began to state his objection when Ben intervened.
“Stop right there. That is something I have not missed for seven years. You can forget about the bickering. Just finish your breakfasts and go get to work. You have a few hours to teach this young man how to use the forge.”
“Papa, can I help?”
“AC, you can watch from a safe distance, but like at home, you have to stay away from the forge yet. It’s not safe for you.”
At the forge, Adam asked Jamie if there was anything in particular he wanted to make.
“Well, I’d like to have a pistol so could we make one of those?”
Whistling, Adam shook his head. “Not in one morning. That’s a pretty ambitious project and would take a lot of time.”
“Do you know how?”
“I did one once. It didn’t look like much, but it fired accurately. I wouldn’t mind trying again sometime, but for now we need a simpler project just to learn how to use the forge safely. How about something less complex?”
“All right, how about a scoop for Hop Sing to use. He complains about his wooden scoop for flour all the time.”
“That we can do.”
By noon, they had success and Jamie presented a new metal scoop to Hop Sing who was delighted. But there was another development that had shocked all the brothers when they saw it. It got hot working the forge and Adam took off his shirt handing it to AC to hold for him and wore the leather apron only to protect his front. His back was crisscrossed with a faint pattern of scars. Clearly he had been whipped and rather severely at some point. They knew then that the pirate story was true yet they weren’t sure what to say about that. There were a few other scars with which Hoss and Joe weren’t familiar either. At some point, they were going to have to have a serious conversation about the dangers their brother had faced alone after leaving the Ponderosa.
That night at dinner, Adam and Clare discussed their plans and surprised everyone by saying they were going to spend the summer at the ranch as expected but then would be staying in San Francisco for the rest of the year. Adam would take a trip to Australia and back to handle any business that needed to be done but wouldn’t be gone any longer than necessary. They were all curious as to the change in plans, but only Jamie was willing to ask why. Adam said they would discuss it later, which was code for after AC went to bed. When that happened, he was forthright and direct.
“It’s a bit earlier than we would normally announce something like this, but there will be an addition to the family. We’ve tried for years and we don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the new arrival. We had no idea when we left Australia that this would be in the cards. After so long, we were thinking AC might be our only child.”
Although everyone wanted to offer congratulations, Adam was cautious and serious. “We’re not so sure. We had one stillborn so as you might expect, we’re worried. That’s why we’re going to be so careful.”
“Son, you could stay here.”
“I need to handle my business responsibilities too. San Francisco is close enough for both. You can visit, and I can do what is necessary.”
“What about when you go to Australia?”
“By then I hope to have some people hired to help at the house. The best case is that the letter I send will get a response that I do not need to make that trip. We’re hopeful.”
“You would stay in San Francisco then?”
“For a time, we would. Out future plans are dependent somewhat on what happens with the baby and what happens with the business. We don’t have answers yet.”
Of course, Hop Sing did all that he could do to ensure that Clare had a healthy pregnancy, and Doctor Martin confirmed that she was about three months along and doing well. Like Hop Sing, he did what he could to reassure her and help her to continue to be healthy.
With so much time and such momentous news, Ben took his time in finding the right time to have a lengthy heart-to-heart talk with his eldest son. They had never talked so openly.
“I know I lashed out at you. It was unfair. I don’t know why I did it.”
“You may think I know a lot of things and that I act with a plan all the time, but Adam, I can be as emotional and impulsive as Joseph ever was. I know I’ve counseled him about that, but it was hypocritical and I knew it. I should have had that talk with myself. No, I don’t know why I did it.”
“I think I know.”
“How could you know if I don’t?”
“I’ve thought about it a lot. I was on the receiving end too much for me not to think about it a lot. I think you struck out at me hoping I’d strike back.”
Surprised by that, all Ben could do was repeat it to be sure that was what Adam meant to say. “You think I wanted to fight with you?”
“In a way, yes. If I struck back, then what I said had less meaning. I would have discredited myself and what I had said. Your anger at me was at what I said that couldn’t be wiped away and what I could say.”
“Yes, the secrets that I knew that weren’t so secret, but were treated like they were and hidden like they were. Do you know Joe heard those when he was six?” Ben was shocked. “The boys at school repeated what their parents were discussing. I stepped in and threatened the bullies. Joe talked to me over the years about it. He was worried that he wasn’t part of the family. I always did what I could to let him know he was. It didn’t matter if what the gossips said was true or not.”
“So the things I said against you were especially galling.”
“They hurt, but what hurt most was that I was still feeling guilty about being so careless and shooting Joe, and it hurt too that you could think those things about me.”
“I didn’t. I was mad and tried to think of what would make you the most angry and upset. It worked too except I never considered the consequences. I was doing a little drinking then to bury my hurt. Every time something came up about Marie, I did that. I found ways like that to cope with her betrayals and her loss and none of them worked.”
“I didn’t know you were drinking.”
“I hid it well. You’re not the only one good at hiding things. I’ve ended that. Paul and Roy figured it out and gave me a good talking to after you left. They knew I would never have done what I did if I was in control of my faculties. There had to be something wrong, and it didn’t take long for them to guess what it was. Roy even went to the general store and checked to see how much of my favorite brandy was being ordered every month. He knew by the amount what was wrong.”
For a time, Adam was quiet. There was a lot to absorb. “You know what is most sad about all of this. I think Marie did come to love you and she certainly loved Joe. She wanted me gone because she thought I would ruin it all for her, for all of you. She thought that at some point, I would say what I knew and you would toss her and Joe out. She never understood what family really was, but I think she might have been finally coming around to it about the time she died.”
“Yes, I wonder what our life would have been like if there had been no one else here.”
Knowing his father was referring to Montel, Adam decided that perhaps they needed to clear the air somewhat about that too. He hoped he could help his father get some peace about that. “She was unhappy, Pa. When she came here, she didn’t know what to expect, and it was too much for her. I see that now. Montel did love her. She knew that and it drew her like a moth to a flame.”
“I loved her too.”
“Yes, but it was a different kind of love. It took her time to appreciate that. She did after Joe was born. She sent Montel away and chose you.”
Ben was going to ask how Adam knew that, but then remembered what Adam had done in New Orleans. “You must have read his diaries.”
“Close. He wrote letters but never posted them. They were informative.” Ben could tell from Adam’s expression that there was a great deal he was not saying and likely would never say about what was in those letters.
“Where are these letters now?”
“Gone. I saw no reason to keep them. All they could do was open old wounds. Anything in them that could help, I know.
“You do understand the love of family like no other. I’ve seen now how you love Joe and how you have accepted Jamie. In fact, Jamie has taught everyone including Joe that the idea you tried to instill in him is the most important one of all. Family grows in the heart. I don’t know where you got that wisdom.”
“I got it from you, Pa. You lost your way for a bit, but with Jamie as you did with Joe, you showed that you know where love truly grows. It doesn’t matter if you were present when they were conceived. It matters that they’re your sons now.”
“And you love AC. He’s the spitting image of you at that age, but you loved him before you knew he was yours.”
Startled by that, Adam recovered quickly. “How did you figure that out?”
“Oh, when we got the truth that the two of you had truly been held by pirates. The more we learned about that, the more I saw how Clare reacted to any mention of that time, and I knew she was not treated kindly by them.”
“It was the captain of that ship. He thought he had privileges by his position.. When I found out, that’s when I was determined to take over that ship or die trying.”
“I could see why she would fall in love with you.”
“She was very brave and she trusted me to do what I said I would. She wasn’t so sure of me at first, but when she saw that I meant it, she believed in me.”
“That’s a sure way for love to grow, isn’t it. Plant the seed of love in trust and it will grow healthy and strong. You’ve got a good marriage.”
“We do butt heads now and then.”
“Oh, I’ve seen that too, but even when you’re having a disagreement, the respect you have for each other shows through.” Ben smirked though. “However, every time you say ‘Yes, Dear’, I expect something to come flying through the air at you.”
“I know. I’ve been waiting for that for years. She has remarkable self-control, doesn’t she.”
The two men laughed and could have ended their conversation on that light note, but there was still an issue that Ben needed to understand.
“All those years and even after you returned from the east, you must have been very angry at me.”
“I was. When I was younger, I was angry at you for bringing Marie here. Then I was angry because you didn’t see what she was doing. Later of course, I was furious that you would send me away because she wanted that.”
“And when you did get an education, I had a difficult time letting you use it.”
“Yes, you could say it was a trying time.”
“So why didn’t you ever strike out at me? Why were you the ever suffering son?”
Not wanting to answer that, Adam looked away for a time but eventually had to be honest if not only with his father but with himself. “It was pride and a selfishness that went way beyond anything reasonable. I was going to show you I was the better man. I set myself up to be beyond reproach in the matter and in the process showed just how much of the problem I was. Too proud, too stubborn, I wallowed in my sense of injustice.”
“You wore it like a shield.”
“I did. But there’s nothing like being alone and needing help to make you drop all pretense and have to reach out for help to make you truly humble and to face your own shortcomings.”
“I guess we both ended up doing that.”
“Growing up is hard to do.”
They laughed again and managed to end their conversation on the lighter note they had hoped.
At the end of the summer, Adam got word that he was being assigned the responsibility of running the San Francisco end of the shipping business as well as the coordination of shipping through the Sandwich Islands if he was willing. He wouldn’t need to make that trip back to Australia. His father-in-law said he could take care of anything that needed to be done with any of Adam’s properties or investments if he would send instructions. Hearing the good news, Clare’s father said he wanted to know the expected date of the new arrival and planned to be there. That alleviated the last of Clare’s concerns as she knew her mother would likely come too.
In September, Adam moved his family to his house in San Francisco. Workmen had the summer to get it ready and the place was immaculate when they moved in. He planned to expand it while they lived there, but for the immediate future, it was large enough. The worst thing he thought he could do was add a room for a nursery or fourth bedroom and then have it there empty should anything go wrong. It would be a stark reminder of tragedy if that was the case. If all went well, it wouldn’t take long to add a room.
At Christmas, Adam and Clare welcomed their Lily. She was born healthy and hearty as her grandparents and uncles could attest by her cry that made AC put his hands over his ears. Hoss looked at his father when Lily cried and Clare picked her up to take care of her needs.
“Pa, you ever heard a baby cry that was that shrill?”
“Yes, I have, and I had hoped never to hear one like that again.”
“Was Adam a loud crier, Pa? It figures he would be one to scream for attention like that.” Joe was smirking at his older brother who knew better because he had a good memory too.
“No, boys, it wasn’t Adam.” Then Ben stared pointedly at Joe who looked affronted.
“Pa, I could never have sounded like that. It must have been some other son of yours.”
“No, you were the only one who sounded like a screech owl every time you were hungry or needed a dry wrap.”
“Huh.” Then Joe looked over at Adam. “Hey, all those things you said to me over the years that were mean, and I could never think of a great comeback. Think of it as Lily getting even for me.”
As Adam rolled his eyes, the others laughed. Clare’s father shook his head. Ben looked over at him.
“I’ve got quite a family, don’t I?”
“You certainly do, and I can tell how much you all love each other. Although we’ll miss her dearly, my Clare has found a good home here in a good family.”
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Angst, Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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