Summary: Ben is disturbed when Marie’s father arrives in Virginia City wanting to meet his grandson.
Rated: K (19,580)
He knew what the answer would be even before he had even asked the question. It was so obvious to him that the question in fact had become superfluous, yet he knew he had to ask it anyway.
‘His name’s Joe Cartwright,’ said the man next to him. ‘Do you know the Cartwrights?’
Francois shook his head. ‘No not really,’ he said. ‘Thank you sir.’ He tipped his hat and stepped back into the shadow of the porch. Did he know the Cartwrights? No he didn’t know them, although they would soon know him. As he watched the youngster across the street he wondered just how to go about making contact. He couldn’t very well just walk up to him and introduce himself could he? All this time and he hadn’t even considered how it would be done. All that mattered to him was that he got to meet the boy and now the time was here he was being forced to face the practical details of how to achieve his aim. A letter! Yes that was it……a letter to his father. Ben Cartwright would come instantly when he knew Francois was in town and he would be able to explain things that way. In the meantime……
In the meantime, he stood and watched the boy opposite with a lump in his throat. Even at this distance, he could see that he was the living reincarnation of his mother and the thought of it made Francois close his eyes for a moment. Perhaps he had been wrong to come here? Perhaps it was too late after all? He coughed again and put his handkerchief up to his mouth to stop it, then stared at the blood that spotted the white cloth as he withdrew it again. No…this was his last chance to meet the boy. Lord knows what the doctors in San Francisco would tell him and he might never make it back this way again. If he was going to do this, then it would have to be now.
He continued to stare at the youngster, fascinated with what he saw. Marie’s son! He had his mother’s curly chestnut hair and slim build. She had been such a beauty. Francois had been so proud of her before……… he shook his head slightly. No! He wouldn’t allow himself to think in that direction. The past was over and done with now and all that was important was that he got to meet Marie’s son before it was too late.
He regretted so much that he hadn’t come here before. All those years that he could have been in contact with the boy…….gone ………never to be able to be captured again! And whose fault was that? He knew he had no one to blame but himself and that was the sad part. If only he had been less stubborn he could have seen his daughter one more time before her death. Now it was too late! Well it wasn’t too late to meet his grandson and he intended to use every argument at his disposal to persuade Ben Cartwright that he needed to see the boy. No matter what it took, Marie’s son would know of him before he died. He wouldn’t repeat his past mistakes again.
‘You will do as I say!’ he thundered. ‘I am your father and I will have respect from you in this house!’
She glared at him. ‘Respect! Why should I give you respect when you never show me any father? All I want is to make a few decisions of my own for a change.’
‘I am your father and I will make your decisions for you young lady. As long as you live under my roof you will do as I bid.’
‘Well then maybe I won’t live under your roof for much longer!’
He pointed his finger at her. ‘You are eighteen years old and far too young to be thinking like that. When the right man comes along….’
‘The right man?’ she interrupted. ‘I’ve told you I’ve already found him.’
‘Don’t you mention that good-for-nothing in this house!’ he thundered.
‘Jean is not a good-for-nothing!’ she retorted. ‘He’s the man I love and I ….’
He snorted. ‘The man you love! What would you know about love? You’ve had no experience of such things.’
‘That’s exactly why I want to start living a bit father! You need to let me grow up and experience…..’
‘I will tell you what you can and cannot experience young lady! Now go to your room.’
‘I’m not a child any more. I won’t be told when to go to my….’
He reached out and struck her on the face. ‘I don’t want to repeat myself. Now go!’
She turned and fled without a word.
Ben Cartwright opened the door after the second knock. ‘Yes Charlie?’ he said to his foreman standing on the porch. ‘What is it?’
The man handed him a letter. ‘This is for you Mr Cartwright,’ he said. ‘Gerald from the International Hotel said one of their guests was asking how to get it to you. He knew I was in town so he asked me to bring it out to you.’
Ben looked at the letter puzzled. ‘Thank you Charlie,’ he said. He wondered who on earth might be staying at the Hotel that he knew. As he shut the door he glanced at the handwriting on the front of the envelope. It looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. He sat down and tore open the envelope as he began to read.
I know this letter will take you by surprise after all these years. I’m sorry if I have startled you by writing it. I am travelling to San Francisco and have stopped in Virginia City for several days on the way and dearly wish to speak to you.
I know you may not feel inclined to see me after all these years and especially after what happened between Marie and myself, but believe me Ben I do regret many things from the past and only want the chance to tell you so in person.
I also wish to discuss with you the possibility of meeting my grandson Joseph.
I have not presented myself at your ranch for fear of intruding upon your family and upsetting you, but I will be at The International Hotel until Friday and hope that you will see your way clear to meeting with me here.
Ben stared into the fireplace in front of him. Francois Dubois! How many years had it been since he had heard that name or even thought about the man? More than he wished to remember that was for sure! He studied the letter in his hand again. I also wish to discuss with you the possibility of meeting my grandson Joseph. He frowned. After all the man had done he honestly expected to just waltz in here and…….. The front door slammed open and Joe entered the room with his customary abruptness.
‘Hi Pa!’ he said as he plonked himself down on the settee beside his father. ‘Guess what?’
‘Joseph take your feet off the table,’ said Ben automatically.
Joe put his feet down. ‘Sorry Pa,’ he said undaunted. ‘Guess what?’ he repeated.
Ben sighed. ‘What?’ he asked.
‘Adam finally got that black broke,’ Joe said with a grin. ‘You shoulda seen him Pa. He was a tough one alright, but Adam…. Hey, what are you reading?’
Ben put the letter into his pocket. He had no intention of talking to his son about it until he’d had time to think about what to do first. ‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘Tell me about the black.’
He listened to his son, but his mind was elsewhere.
‘Ben I’m not sure I can do this.’ She leant against him as the buggy came to a halt. ‘What if he doesn’t want to see me?’
Ben smiled at her and took her hand. ‘Well you’ll never know unless you try,’ he said gently. ‘You know you have to do this.’
She nodded. ‘Yes. It’s just that after all this time…… well I’m scared that’s all.’
‘Of course you’re scared. You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t darling. Don’t worry. I’m sure that he’ll greet you with open arms.’ She tried to smile at him. ‘Ready?’ He asked. She nodded and put her shoulders back.
‘Ready,’ she said. They walked together up the pathway to the house and Marie knocked resolutely on the door. After a moment it opened and a large black man stood in front of them.
‘Hello Jacob,’ she said. ‘Is my father in please?’
The man raised his eyebrows in surprise. ‘Miss Marie,’ he said. ‘It’s sure been a long time.’
She nodded. ‘Yes it has. Is my father at home please?’ she repeated.
He shut the door and left them standing on the doorstep. Marie reached out for Ben’s hand and clutched it tightly. He smiled at her.
Within moments the door opened again and Jacob appeared. ‘Your father ain’t available Miss,’ he said.
She stared at him. ‘Please tell him I’d like to see him. Tell him I’m going away and I want to talk to him before I do.’ she said. ‘I’ll wait.’
He shrugged his shoulders and disappeared again. Marie hung her head and closed her eyes as she felt Ben’s strong arm around her shoulders. ‘He doesn’t want to see me Ben,’ she whispered. ‘I knew he wouldn’t.’
Before Ben could speak, Jacob was back again. ‘I’m sorry Miss,’ he said with pity in his voice. ‘But your father ain’t available.’
Maire turned and fled down the path back to the buggy. Ben gave the man a helpless look and strode after her. He caught up with her at the gate. ‘Marie don’t,’ he said as he pulled her into his arms. ‘It isn’t worth it.’
‘Well now I know,’ she said. ‘You said I had to know and now I do.’ She looked up at him. ‘At least now we can leave for Nevada knowing that I leave nothing behind me.’
Ben helped her into the buggy and turned to go to the other side. As he did he saw a slight movement behind the curtains from an upstairs window and stared at it for a moment. He shook his head as he wondered how a father could so totally reject his own child. As a father of two young boys himself, Ben knew that nothing……no matter what it was could ever separate him from his children as Francois Dubois had done to himself and his daughter.
He glared at the window and turned to get into the buggy. Putting his arms around his sobbing wife he hitched the team up and turned them to the west.
Ben knocked on the door and waited. His heart was in his mouth as he wondered what the next few minutes would bring and he wondered for the tenth time that morning if he was making the right decision by coming here. Before he could think it through for another time the door opened and he stared at the man in front of him.
‘Ben Cartwright. I’m glad you came,’ said Francois. ‘Please come in.’ He opened the door to let Ben pass and motioned him to a chair. ‘Would you like for me to send for coffee?’ he asked.
Ben stared at him. ‘What I’d like is for you to explain to me what you’re doing here,’ he said.
Francois raised an eyebrow as he sat down. ‘Still as blunt as ever I see,’ he said. ‘Always came straight to the point, didn’t you?’
Ben nodded his head. ‘I believe in saying it like it is,’ he said. ‘You haven’t answered my question.’
‘I believe I made it clear in my note,’ said Francois. ‘I came to apologise to you for the past and to ask your permission to see my grandson.’
‘I’m not the one you should be apologising to,’ said Ben.
Francois nodded. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘But Marie’s gone and I can’t tell her how I’m feeling.’
‘And just how is that?’
Francois stood up and began to pace the floor. ‘I have realised in my old age just how wrong I was,’ he began. He put up his hand as Ben opened his mouth to speak. ‘Please let me have my say Ben. I’ve come a long way and spent many hours rehearsing just the right way to say this to you. I’d appreciate you giving me the opportunity to speak plain.’
Ben nodded and sat back in his chair as the man continued.
‘I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life Ben. The biggest one was letting Marie go like that. I don’t know how much she told you of our relationship, but needless to say it was a very unsteady one. It was difficult for me after her mother died. I was never an involved father at the best of times and knowing what to do with a young girl was just beyond me. In hindsight perhaps it would have been better if I had sent her away to live with relatives….’ He shrugged. ‘Who knows? All I know is that we were both two very stubborn people who clashed. I was determined that she would do as I said and in many ways I know now that I was far too strict, but I thought I was doing the right thing by her. She was…….well, she was very wilful. You must know that.’
Ben smiled slightly. Yes he did know that. Didn’t he live with her son after all? A boy who was as stubborn as his mother had been and who also possessed her free spirit.
‘It was inevitable that she would rebel sooner or later I suppose,’ Francois continued. ‘I never thought it would be in such a way though. Marriage to that good-for-nothing…..’ His voice trailed off and he stopped for a moment. ‘I told her in no uncertain terms what I thought of it, but she took no notice of me of course. She always did exactly what she wanted to and by the time I realised how serious things had become she had eloped with him and it was too late for me to do anything about it.’
‘So you turned your back on her,’ Ben said.
Francois stopped pacing and turned to him. ‘Yes I did,’ he said. ‘And I was wrong. I admit it now.’
‘Well you’re about twenty years too late,’ said Ben. ‘Do you realise what she went through during that time? She was destitute before I met her and you never once lifted a finger to help her.’
Francois rubbed his hand over his eyes. ‘The past is past Ben. I’m asking you to help me move forward now.’
Ben continued to look at him. ‘You ask me to help you? Why should I when you wouldn’t lift a finger to help your own daughter?’ He shook his head. ‘No Francois. I don’t feel inclined to help you at all.’
‘I know now that I should have helped her. But there are things that you don’t understand Ben. Things that happened between us………’
‘All I know is that no matter what happened Marie never deserved you to turn away from her like that! I could never do that to one of my sons. Even when she came to see you that day after we were married you still refused to see her,’ said Ben.
Francois nodded. ‘Yes,’ he whispered. ‘I still refused to see her. My only daughter and I couldn’t allow my pride to bend enough to stop her from walking out of my life like that. It’s taken a long time for me to realise the fact that I was wrong.’
Ben didn’t say anything for a few moments. Then he spoke. ‘You’ve had plenty of time to fix things over the years, yet you never did.’
Francois sat down with a sigh. ‘No,’ he said. ‘No, I didn’t.’ He paused and looked at Ben. ‘That was wrong of me. Marie wrote to me when Joseph was born you know.’
‘Yes I know,’ Ben acknowledged. ‘I also know how desperately she waited for a reply from you. A reply that never came. She was so badly hurt over that. You have no idea how deeply you wounded her when you wouldn’t even acknowledge the birth of your own grandson.’
Francois hesitated before replying. ‘I have no excuse for myself except to say that I still wanted to hurt her for leaving me like that. Can you forgive me?’
‘I told you before its not for me to forgive,’ said Ben. ‘I wrote to you at the time of her death,’ he continued. ‘What excuse do you have for not answering then?’
Francois shook his head. ‘Grief,’ he said. ‘I began to realise how unfair I had been to her and it became too late to do anything about it then.’
Francois put his head up and looked at Ben. ‘I want to see my grandson.’
‘Why now?’ Ben repeated. ‘He’s eighteen. Why suddenly now after all these years?’
Francois sighed. ‘I need to see him before its too late,’ he said.
Ben sat forward in his chair. ‘Too late?’ he said.
Francois looked him in the eye. ‘I’m an old man now Ben,’ he said and raised his hands. ‘You see if I don’t meet my grandson now then perhaps I never will. This could be my last chance.’
Ben frowned. ‘Well…….’
‘Please,’ said Francois. ‘I know I don’t have any right to ask this of you Ben, but I am asking it all the same. You know I’m not a man who finds begging easy, but I need to meet that boy. He’s so much like Marie that in a way it’d be…..’
‘What do you mean he’s so much like Marie? How would you know that?’ asked Ben sharply.
‘I saw him yesterday down on the street. I knew it was him even before I asked.’ He put up his hand again. ‘Oh don’t worry, I didn’t speak to him. I wouldn’t do that. He has no idea I was even watching him. But he’s just so much like her I couldn’t take my eyes off him.’ He stood up and faced Ben. ‘I lost the chance to make my peace with my daughter Ben. Please allow me to at least do it with my grandson.’
Ben stood up as well. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘It’s really not my decision to make. I’ll think about it, but ultimately it will be up to Joseph.’
Francois nodded. ‘I suppose that’s all I can hope for,’ he said. ‘I’m catching the noon stage on Friday.’
Ben nodded and walked to the door as he opened it he turned back again. ‘You understand why I won’t be asking you out to the ranch,’ he said.
Francois nodded as the door closed.
‘Joseph I need to speak to you about something,’ said Ben. ‘Would you excuse us please boys?’
Adam and Hoss exchanged amused glances as they left the table wondering what Joe had done wrong now. Joe looked at his father wondering the same thing, but for the life of him he came up with nothing.
Ben stood up. ‘Come on over here son.’ He motioned to the settee and Joe followed him warily.
They sat side by side for a moment as Ben wondered how to begin and finally Joe couldn’t stand the tension any longer. ‘I ain’t done nothing,’ he declared while staring at his father.
Ben smiled and put his hand around his son’s neck. ‘I didn’t say you did,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry son, you’re not in trouble.
The relief was evident on Joe’s face and he let out his breath with a sigh. ‘Then what is it Pa?’ he asked.
Ben hesitated, for he didn’t quite know how to begin. Finally he said. ‘I received a letter yesterday that concerns you Joseph.’
Joe looked at him startled. ‘Me?’ he asked in surprise. ‘Who’d be writing to you about me?’ He thought for a moment. ‘If it’s that Mrs Addison about what happened to her…..’ he stopped as he realised what he was saying.
‘Yes?’ prompted Ben with an amused look on his face.
Joe slumped down in his seat. ‘Nothin,’ he finished lamely. He didn’t want to get himself caught up in a conversation that could otherwise be avoided. ‘What were you saying Pa?’
‘The letter was from someone who wants to meet you,’ continued his father. ‘Your grandfather.’ He watched the boy carefully to see what effect his words would have on him.
‘My grandfather?’ repeated Joe with a puzzled look on his face. ‘I didn’t know I had a grandfather.’
‘Well you do,’ continued Ben. ‘He’s your mother’s father and he wants to meet you.’
Joe continued to look puzzled. ‘How come I don’t know about him then?’ he asked. ‘Where’s he from?’
‘He’s from New Orleans where your mother lived,’ said Ben. He left it at that.
Joe turned to him. ‘Really?’ he said, his eyes shining. ‘Hey how come I didn’t get to know about him then?’
Ben took a deep breath. ‘Your mother wasn’t in contact with him very much,’ he explained.
‘Well they had a falling out many years ago and they never communicated very much.’
‘What kind of falling out?’
‘They just didn’t get on,’ said Ben. ‘She never saw him again after we married and left New Orleans.’
‘Didn’t they ever write to each other?’ asked Joe.
‘Well…….Your mother wrote to him when you were born and I sent him a letter after she died,’ said Ben carefully.
‘Did he write back?’
‘No,’ said Ben shortly. ‘He didn’t.’
Joe frowned. ‘Then he couldn’t have cared very much could he?’ Ben was silent. ‘Why’s he here now then?’ asked Joe. ‘Seems to me if he wanted to meet me he’s had plenty of time to do it. Why now all of a sudden?’
Ben shook his head. ‘I guess that’s something you’d have to ask him Joe,’ he said. ‘He’s asked to meet you.’
Joe looked at his father. ‘Is he coming here to the ranch?’ he asked.
Ben shook his head. ‘No. I didn’t invite him out here. I told him that if he…..’
Joe looked at his father sharply. ‘You told him?’ he asked. ‘Have you spoken to him?’
Ben nodded. ‘He’s already in Virginia City,’ he explained. ‘I went into town yesterday and met him there.’
Joe glared at him. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ he asked. ‘You went and talked to my grandfather and you didn’t tell me?’
‘I wanted to be sure what his motives were for seeing you first,’ answered his father. ‘The letter was addressed to me son, not you. He wanted to speak to me first.’
‘Why?’ asked Joe. ‘Why wouldn’t he just write to me if he wanted to see me?’
‘Because he doesn’t know you,’ explained his father. ‘He didn’t want to worry or upset you by just contacting you out of the blue like that. He felt it was best if I speak to you about it first.’
Joe nodded. ‘I see,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘What’s he like Pa?’
Ben tactfully avoided the question. ‘He’d like you to see that for yourself,’ he said gently. ‘Do you want to meet him?’
Joe looked up at him. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Do you want me to?’
Ben stroked the back of his son’s neck. ‘It’s not up to me to say Joe,’ he said. ‘He’s your grandfather, so it’s your decision son.’
Joe ran his fingers through his hair. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Can I think about it?’
‘Of course you can,’ said Ben gently. ‘He’ll be in town for a few more days. He leaves for San Francisco on Friday.’ He patted Joe on the arm. ‘Why don’t you take the morning off and go and think about it?’ he suggested.
Joe stood up, his face showing his shock. ‘Thanks Pa. I will.’ He moved to leave the room, then turned. ‘If I decide not to see him it’ll be alright, won’t it?’ he asked.
‘Whatever you decide is alright Joseph,’ replied his father. ‘It’s up to you what you want to do son. Having a relative turning up like this so suddenly is a difficult thing, so you take your time to think about it. It’s your decision.’
Joe nodded and left the room. Ben sat and stared into the fireplace in front of him.
Adam opened the door and entered the room, followed by Hoss.
‘Did you pick up the mail after school today boys?’ asked Marie, hopping up from her chair.
‘Yes,’ said Adam. ‘There’s sure a heap of it too.’ He put it down on his father’s desk.
‘Anything ta eat?’ asked Hoss giving Marie a hug around the waist. ‘I’m hungry!’
‘You’re always hungry,’ laughed Adam.
‘In the kitchen,’ said Marie, smiling down at the little boy. ‘Hop Sing has something ready for both of you.’
Hoss ran out into the kitchen, stopping momentarily to hover over the cradle and give his baby brother a grin. Adam followed more sedately.
Marie turned to Ben who was sifting through the mail. ‘Anything interesting?’ she asked casually.
Ben looked up at her. ‘I thought we’d been all through this,’ he said as he stood up and came round the desk. ‘If he was going to reply I think he would have done it by now don’t you? It’s been four months after all.’
She nodded and turned away from him, her eyes filling with tears. ‘I just can’t help it Ben,’ she said. ‘I keep hoping, that’s all.’
He pulled her towards him and put his arms around her as he held her close, not knowing what to say. She put her head on his chest and whispered. ‘I thought he’d be pleased.’
‘I’m sure he is,’ Ben replied. ‘He just doesn’t know how to show it to you. After all, who wouldn’t be pleased to know that they had such a beautiful little grandson?’ His eyes darted over to the cradle where Little Joe could be heard cooing.
She smiled and brushed her tears away. ‘He is beautiful isn’t he?’ she said. ‘Such a little darling.’ At that moment their ‘little darling’ let out a loud yell and they both laughed. ‘Well sometimes,’ she added as she stooped to pick him up. ‘Hello there little one,’ she said and kissed the tiny child on the top of his curly head. ‘I think he needs to be changed.’
Ben watched as she carried the baby upstairs. For a moment he considered writing to Francois himself and letting him have a piece of his mind, but he knew that doing something like that would only make the situation worse. He sighed. There was nothing he could do to ease her pain and knowing it caused the pain in his heart to grow as well.
‘What’s wrong with Joe?’ asked Adam. ‘He rode out of here as if his tail was on fire.’
‘Yeah and he ignored me when I spoke to him,’ added Hoss. ‘I don’t think he even heard what I said.’
‘Joe has some thinking to do,’ said Ben as he leant on the corral fence. ‘I’ve given him the morning off to do it.’ Both of them stared at him while he continued. ‘Marie’s father has come to Virginia City,’ he said simply. ‘He wants to meet Joe.’
Hoss looked at Adam. ‘I didn’t know Marie had a father who was alive,’ said Adam. ‘I just always assumed her parents were dead.’
‘Her mother died when she was a young girl,’ said Ben. ‘Her father raised her after that until…….’ Both boys looked at him. ‘Until they had a falling out,’ he said. ‘She left home to get married and never saw him after that.’
‘You mean when she married Jean,’ prompted Adam. Ben nodded.
Jean de Maringny had been Marie’s first husband. Given the circumstances between her and her father, Ben strongly suspected that the marriage had been her way of escaping from his domineering attitude towards her. She had almost told him as much herself. The marriage had only lasted a year before Jean left to come west. He had ended up working on The Ponderosa and was eventually killed here, which was how Ben had come to meet Marie. At Jean’s request he had made the long trip to New Orleans to inform her of her husband’s death and it was there that they had fallen in love and married.
Ben had returned to Nevada with a new wife and Marie had left behind the only life she had ever known as well as her family. He could still hear her sobs as she lay in his arms that night after been turned away from her father’s door and he knew that time had not lessened the hurt for her here in Nevada. Ben watched her hurt become deeper as she realised over the years that he had no intention of forgiving his daughter for the hurt that she had caused him. For Ben’s part he would never forgive the man for hurting his precious Marie in that way and he had no intention of allowing him to hurt Joseph as well.
Privately he hoped that the boy would decide not to see the man for he felt that no good would come of it. But if Joseph wanted to, then he would have to allow it. After all they had the right to get to know each other if that was that they both wanted. Perhaps this time the past could be buried and forgiven?
Hoss broke through Ben’s thoughts. ‘How come he wants to see Joe now?’ he asked. ‘It’s an awful long time to wait don’t ya think Pa?’
Ben nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I wrote to him after Marie died and I never even heard back from him then,’ he said. ‘Frankly it worries me that he wants to see Joe at all.’
‘Are you going to let him?’ asked Adam.
Ben nodded. ‘It’s Joe’s decision,’ he said. ‘I’ll abide by whatever he wants to do.’
‘How did he react to the news?’
‘I’m not sure,’ said Ben. ‘He seemed to be more startled than anything. After all a grandfather coming out of nowhere is a hard thing to come to terms with so suddenly.’
‘Yeah,’ agreed Hoss. ‘I’m not sure how I’d feel about it.’ He grinned. ‘Hey Pa, you don’t have long-lost grandparents for me do ya?’
Ben laughed. ‘No I don’t son,’ he said. ‘Your mother’s parents died many years ago, I can assure you of that. No,’ he added. ‘We’ll just have to give Joe time to work this one out on his own. Give him some space about it boys, alright?’ They nodded. ‘Now off to work with you both,’ their father said. ‘Just because I gave Joseph the morning off doesn’t mean you two have it as well you know.’
‘Pity,’ said Adam with a sardonic grin. ‘Maybe if I got my grandfather in Boston to write to you you’d let me take it easy for a while.’
Ben laughed again. ‘Get!’ he said with a wave of his hand and stood back to watch as the two of them rode out. He sighed as he turned back towards the house. He had his personal feelings about whether or not Joseph should see Francois Dubois, but he only hoped that the boy would make the decision that was right for himself.
Joe plucked casually at the blades of grass that surrounded the headstone and sighed. It seemed right that he come up here this morning after the news that his father had given him. He really didn’t know what to think about the news that he had a grandfather and he hoped that his mother could help to sort out the questions that were running through his mind.
Since he could first remember Joe had always come here when he needed to think. When he was little his father had brought him up here and they had sat together looking over the lake as he listened to his Pa tell him stories about his mother. When he became old enough to come up here himself he tried to make a habit of it because at that time he didn’t really understand too much about death and he thought his mother would be lying here with no one to talk to and she would be lonely. Now he knew better of course. He knew that she wasn’t really here, but he still liked to think that her spirit remained close.
He knew that it did. There were so many times when he had talked out a problem here and come away with the answer. He knew that his mama was helping him to sort things through and he hoped that she would be able to help him this time. After all the problem was someone that she knew very well and who else could help him find the answer more than her?
It was strange. He’d never thought about his mother having any family before. He knew he had a few assorted relatives on his father’s side and occasionally one of them would pass through for a visit, but never anyone on his mother’s side at all. But then again, he supposed he’d never asked about it.
He’d always envied Adam having a grandfather. When his brother came back from College in Boston, Captain Stoddard was all he ever talked about. They had written to each other for years and usually there would be a package on Adam’s birthday from the man. Joe sometimes liked to pretend that he was his grandfather as well. It was something special that Adam had and he wanted to share in it. He’d have given anything to have a special grandfather to send him a package on his birthday.
Maybe now that he’d found a grandfather he’d have those things too? Maybe they’d be able to write to each other as well? He frowned as he thought about Hoss. He was the only one now who didn’t have a grandfather and Joe didn’t want to hurt him. He’d ask his grandfather to write to Hoss as well sometimes perhaps.
He lay down next to the grave and touched the lettering on the stone marker.
Beloved wife and mother
What would she want him to do? He wondered what the ‘falling out’ was between her and his grandfather and why his father had never mentioned the man before. Maybe whatever had happened was something that Pa didn’t like him for? Maybe he wasn’t a very nice man? Maybe………. Joe sighed and rolled over to look at the clouds above him. He could lay here and wonder all day, but the fact remained that he’d have to make a decision whether or not he wanted to meet this man and at the moment he just didn’t know what to do.
Joe chewed on a blade of grass as he thought about it. If he didn’t go in and meet him he might regret it always, but what if he did and they didn’t get on? Well, he supposed he’d never know unless he tried. Joe sat up. Thanks Mama, he thought. I guess I’ll have to find out one way or the other and I’ll never know unless I meet him. Guess I’ll just have to take a chance on whether or not I’ll like him.
Ben looked up from his desk. ‘Yes Joe?’
‘Pa I’ve been thinking about…you know, my grandfather.’
‘I……well I think I’d like to meet him.’
‘Alright,’ answered Ben. ‘We’ll go in together this afternoon if you like.’
Joe nodded. ‘OK thanks Pa.’
Ben stood up and walked around the desk. ‘Joe its quite normal for you to be worried about this. Even though he’s your grandfather he’s still a stranger to you and until you meet him its all going to be a bit daunting.’ He stroked his son on the back of the neck. ‘Just take it one step at a time. Alright?’
Joe nodded. ‘I’m not worried,’ he said. ‘Pa, do you think I should dress up to meet him?’
Ben smiled.’ That’s up to you,’ he said. ‘But I think your grandfather would like to see you just the way you are.’
Joe nodded. ‘OK,’ he said.
Later that afternoon Ben smiled to himself as they entered the hotel. Joseph had been unusually quiet during their ride into town and he knew that the boy was very anxious about this meeting even if he wasn’t admitting to it. He hadn’t changed into anything special but had brushed his hair meticulously, had a bath and made sure that he looked his best without trying to appear obvious about it. Ben knew that he wanted to make a good impression on the man upstairs. If only he knew just how much of an impression he’d already made.
Ben was determined to allow this meeting to take its own course, but he couldn’t help but be worried about it all the same. After all he didn’t know this man well either and his past impression of him had done nothing to endear him to him at all. He prayed that he would do nothing to hurt Joseph.
As they walked the length of the corridor and approached Francois’ door, Joe stopped and looked at is father. ‘I think I should meet him by myself Pa,’ he said.
Ben put his arm around his son’s shoulder. ‘Joe it’s your decision you know that. I’ll be over visiting Roy Coffee when you’re ready.’
Joe smiled at him. ‘Thanks Pa,’ he said. He waited for his father to leave and then took a deep breath before knocking on the door.
Within a minute the door opened. ‘Ben,’ said Francois. ‘I didn’t expect to see you so…..’ He stopped as he spied the boy standing there. ‘You must be Joseph,’ he said. ‘Please come in.’
Joe walked into the room, watched closely by Francois who motioned for him to sit down. ‘Well Joseph,’ said the man. ‘I’m so glad that we get to meet at last. I suppose your father has told you that I’m on my way to San Francisco?’
Joe nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said.
Francois smiled at him. ‘I suppose you know that you’re very like your mother?’ he asked.
Joe nodded again. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘That what Pa tells me.’
‘She was a beautiful woman,’ said Francois. ‘When she was a little girl she was so pretty that people use to stop us in the street to talk to her.’
Joe sat forward. ‘Did they?’ he said.
‘Yes. And she had a sparkling smile that just melted anyone who came into contact with her. ‘I remember once when she was about seven…….’ As Francois talked of Marie, Joe’s eyes were alight with wonder at the tales the man had to tell about his mother and he listened enthralled as he hung on every word the man spoke.
‘Well,’ said Francois after a while. ‘Now you need to tell me about yourself.’
Joe smiled at him. ‘What do you want to know?’ he asked.
‘I want to know everything,’ said Francois. ‘Do you like living out here?’
‘Yeah, I love it,’ said Joe. ‘I don’t ever want to live anywhere else.’
‘You don’t ever want to go anywhere else?’
‘Well maybe to visit,’ explained Joe. ‘I really want to see lots of places. But not to live in. I always wanted to see New Orleans some day,’ he added somewhat shyly.
‘It’s a beautiful city,’ said Francois. ‘I’m sure that you’ll get there one day. My…. that is…. our ancestors have lived there for quite some time.’
‘Your name is French isn’t it?’ said Joe. ‘Francois, I mean.’
‘Yes. It is….its Francis in English.’
Joe sat forward. ‘Really? That’s my middle name!’
Francois smiled. ‘So your mother named you after me did she?’ He was surprised to hear it.
‘Well I’m named after my Pa’s father really…that’s the Joseph part. But I guess I’m named after you as well,’ said Joe, quite pleased. ‘I never knew that.’
‘It seems we have more in common than we realised then,’ said Francois smiling at the boy.
Joe grinned back at him. He was beginning to fee quite comfortable with the man after all. ‘Will you tell me more about my mother when she was a little girl?’ he asked.
‘And did you know that she used to climb over the wall at school and play hooky for the day?’ said Joe, his eyes shining. ‘Just like I…….’ he stopped and grinned at his father with a guilty expression.
‘Yes?’ said Ben with a twinkle in his eye. ‘Just like you what?’
Joe shrugged. ‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘And she didn’t like dressing up, so one time…..’
Ben smiled as his son related to him all the stories that Francois had told him. It seemed that the meeting had been a success after all. As they rode back towards the ranch together Joe was illuminated and he practically bounced in his saddle as he spoke.
‘And he says I can call him Grandpa,’ he said. ‘Is that OK with you Pa?’
‘Of course its alright with me,’ said Ben. ‘He is your grandpa after all.’
Joe grinned. ‘Yeah. I have my very own grandfather now. Just like Adam does. Hey Pa?’
‘You never told me that I was named after him.’
‘That was your mother’s idea. Actually she wanted to call you Francois Joseph, but I convinced her otherwise.’
Joe gave him a horrified look. ‘Thank you!’ he said.
Ben laughed. ‘Yes I thought you’d appreciate that,’ he said.
‘Joe’s eyes widened. ‘I sure do,’ he said. Imagine going through life with a name like that! I mean its alright for him cause he’s French and all, but……well…..’
‘I know what you mean son. Its alright,’ said Ben.
‘Um…. by the way Pa, I…. well, I told Grandpa where Mama is buried and I said I’d ask you if it was alright to take him there. Is it?’
Ben hesitated before he spoke. ‘Of course its alright,’ he said.
Joe smiled. ‘Good,’ he said. ‘I said I might take him tomorrow, but that I’d have to check if I could get some time off first.’ He looked at his father hopefully.
‘I think you can have the next few days off while your grandfather is in town,’ said Ben carefully. ‘I’m sure you’ll want to spend some time with him while he’s here.’
Joe turned to his father. ‘Really? Gee thanks Pa. That’d be great!’ They rode along in silence together for a while before Joe spoke again. ‘Pa?’
‘You don’t like him very much do you?’
Ben stared at his son for a moment. ‘Whatever would make you say that?’ he asked genuinely surprised. He thought he had been able to hide his feelings successfully from the boy.
Joe shrugged. ‘I don’t know. You just don’t seem to like him very much that’s all.’
Ben chose his words carefully. He didn’t want to hurt the boy when he seemed so keen on his new relationship with the man, but he also wanted to be honest with him. ‘It’s just that I don’t know him well Joe,’ he said. ‘And I …. Well, there are a lot of things from the past that I still find difficult to come to terms with that’s all.’
‘You mean between him and my mother,’ said Joe.
Ben looked at him. ‘Did he talk to you about that?’
‘Well, yes. I just know how hurt she was through it all and I don’t want you to be hurt as well,’ said Ben.
Joe reached over and patted his father on the shoulder. ‘You don’t have to worry Pa,’ he said. ‘I’m getting on fine with Grandpa. I won’t get hurt.’
Ben tried to smile back at him. He sure hoped the boy was right!
‘It’s down there.’ Joe pointed down towards the lake. ‘But we have to leave the buggy here and walk the rest of the way.’ He jumped down and tied the horses to a low branch. ‘Come on Grandpa, I’ll show you the way.’
Francois got down from the buggy and tried to smother a cough with his handkerchief. Joe watched him as he did. ‘Are you alright?’ he asked.
‘I’m fine,’ said Francois. ‘I’m just not used to all this fresh air that’s all. Show me the way Joseph.’
Joe led him down towards the lake until they came to the spot he knew better than any other on The Ponderosa. It was the spot where they had laid his mother to rest all those years ago. He turned to face his grandfather. ‘There it is,’ he said pointing, but the man’s eyes were fixated on the water before them.
‘I can see why your father would have chosen this spot,’ he said softly. ‘It’s beautiful.’
‘It was Mama’s favourite spot,’ said Joe. ‘She used to bring me here when I was little, but I don’t really remember it much.’
Francois turned towards the stone marker that showed Marie’s resting place. He stood still and stared at it for a full minute before Joe said, ‘Ain’t you going to come over and see it?’
Francois nodded, but didn’t move. Joe walked back over to him. ‘Its alright to be sad,’ he said. ‘I get sad all the time when I come here. She understands.’
Francois looked at the youngster standing next to him looking at him so intently and caught his breath. For a moment he could have sworn it was Marie herself standing there next to him, for the boy had the same features and the same gestures as those of his mother. Even the same tilt of the head. It was so real that he felt the tears welling up in his eyes and he had to turn his head away to stop his grandson from seeing them.
He walked slowly over to the marker and read the words that had been carved so lovingly upon it.
Beloved wife and mother
He sank down on his knees before it and touched it tentatively while Joe sat down next to him. Not a word was spoken as both of them looked silently at the reminder of the woman they had both once loved.
After a few moments Francois turned to Joe. ‘Joseph do you mind if I have some time alone here?’ he asked.
Joe shook his head. He of all people understood the need to be alone here and he was willing to give his grandfather the time he needed. ‘No I don’t mind,’ he said. ‘I’ll go for a walk around the lake a ways and come back for you later.’ He stood up and walked away.
Francois knelt next to the stone marker and traced the letters with his finger. ‘Marie,’ he whispered. ‘Why couldn’t you have been what I expected of you? Why did it all have to end like this, my daughter?’
He bent down until his forehead was touching the headstone and closed his eyes as he felt the roughness against his cheek.
‘Well? Have you found her?’ he asked the man abruptly. ‘Where is she?’
The constable licked his lips and hesitated before replying. ‘Yes we have sir,’ he answered. ‘She is living on the East Bank. I have the address for you.’ He held out a piece of paper and Francois took it from him. ‘She has married a Monsieur Jean de Marigny and they are living there as husband and wife.’
Francois was silent. So she had gone and done it! She had followed through with her threat and married the man!
‘Will there be anything else sir?’ asked the constable.
Francois shook his head. ‘No thank you,’ he replied. ‘Jacob, will you see the constable out now please.’
He walked over and looked into the fireplace and stared at the flames for a few moments. Behind him he heard Jacob’s voice as he entered the room. ‘Shall I have Matthew hitch up the carriage Sir?’ he asked. ‘I take it you will want to go and visit Miss Marie now?’
Francois turned to face the man. ‘No,’ he said shortly. ‘I have no intention of visiting her.’
‘Yes sir,’ Jacob turned to leave the room.
‘And Jacob?’ added Francois. The man turned. ‘You are never to mention that person’s name in this house again, is that understood?’
‘Yes sir,’ said Jacob and left the room.
Francois turned and threw the piece of paper into the fireplace and watched it shrivel up and burn away until it was ash.
‘So where are you going today then?’ asked Adam as he watched Joe hitch up the buggy for the third consecutive day.
‘Nowhere on The Ponderosa this time. Grandpa is going to take me to lunch at The International House. He’s leaving tomorrow so its kinda a farewell lunch.’
Adam nodded his head. ‘I suppose you’re going to miss him,’ he said.
‘Sure am,’ replied. Joe. ‘Its been nice to have someone to tell me about Mama when she was a girl.’
‘I know what you mean,’ said Adam. ‘My grandfather does the same thing for me.’
‘Does he?’ said Joe surprised. He had never really thought much about Adam’s mother. Both his and Hoss’ mothers had died of course long before he was born and he had never really given either of them much thought. They were just names to him and didn’t mean much more than the fact that their pictures were on Pa’s desk alongside his mother’s. But now that he thought about it, it would of course make sense that Adam and probably Hoss would be just as keen to know about their mothers as he was about his. He wondered if Pa talked to his brothers about them. He supposed he did.
‘Yes,’ said Adam. ‘Not even Pa knew our mothers for that long you know.’
Joe nodded as he thought about it. ‘I guess not,’ he said and then grinned at his brother. ‘I guess that’s why having grandfathers is a great thing ain’t it?’
Adam looked at him carefully. ‘I guess so,’ he said. ‘Just don’t go getting too caught up in all this though Joe.’
Joe turned to face him. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked.
‘Well having a grandfather is great, but they can’t ever be everything we want them to be,’ replied Adam.
‘Yours is,’ countered Joe. ‘So I don’t see why mine can’t be too.’ For some reason he felt quite defensive about the man.
Adam snorted. ‘No, he isn’t,’ he said. ‘My grandfather is a great man, but he’s not perfect by any means and neither is yours, I’m sure. There were many times that he and I didn’t see eye-to-eye when I lived with him in Boston I can assure you.’
‘Really? I thought you always got on fine,’ said Joe. ‘He writes to you all the time and sends you packages on your birthday.’
‘Yes, but that’s because he’s thousands of miles away,’ replied his brother. ‘Don’t get me wrong…..I do love him…….but he’s a difficult man to get on with at times. Just like I’m sure yours is.’
Joe bristled. ‘No, he ain’t,’ he said. ‘My grandpa ain’t like yours at all.’
Adam shrugged. ‘Suit yourself,’ he said. ‘I’m only trying to tell you …..’
‘Well I don’t need your advice,’ said Joe, getting up into the buggy. ‘My grandpa and I get on real fine thank you very much!’ He hitched the reins and left the yard at a fast pace. Adam watched him go with a shake of his head and then turned towards the house again.
Francois lifted his glass in a toast. ‘Here is to you and I, Joseph,’ he said. ‘To our new-found relationship.’
Joe clinked his glass with that of his grandfather’s. ‘And to lots of time ahead for us to get to know each other better,’ he said happily. Francois’ face dropped. ‘What’s the matter?’ asked Joe. ‘Are you thinking about when you have to leave tomorrow?’
Francois hesitated. ‘Yes, that’s it,’ he said. ‘I’m not looking forward to saying goodbye to you just when I’ve found you.’
Joe smiled at him. ‘Well you can always come back and visit on your way home from San Francisco, can’t you?’
Francois lowered his glass. ‘I … I may not be able to,’ he said. ‘I really don’t now what my plans will be.’
‘Won’t you be coming back this way?’ asked Joe disappointed.
Francois studied the menu in his hands. ‘I’m not sure,’ he said. ‘It…. well it all depends on my business in San Francisco.’
‘Oh,’ said Joe disappointed. ‘Well, maybe Pa will let me come to visit you in New Orleans.’
‘Maybe,’ replied Francois. He looked up at the boy sitting opposite him. ‘Joseph, what about you coming with me for a few days to San Francisco? Do you think your father would agree to that?’
Joe’s eyes lit up ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I could ask him.’ He thought for a moment. ‘But its kinda short notice isn’t it? You’re leaving tomorrow.’
‘Hmm. Well maybe you could join me there for a while later on,’ suggested Francois.
‘I’ll ask Pa,’ said Joe. ‘I’m coming in to say goodbye to you tomorrow, so I can tell you then.’ He smiled happily. Convincing his father to let him go might be a difficult thing, but Joe was nothing if not optimistic. He planned to use the most convincing arguments he could think of.
‘Absolutely not!’ repeated Ben. ‘How many times must you make me repeat that Joseph? I said no and I mean it. Now that’s an end to the matter.’
‘But why Pa? You haven’t given me a decent reason why not, except to say that you don’t want me to!’ Joe glared at his father.
‘Because you are eighteen years old, that’s why. You can’t expect me to let you go traipsing off with a man you don’t even know to another city.’
‘He’s not a man I don’t know,’ countered Joe. ‘He’s my grandfather!’
‘You are still too young,’ replied his father.
‘Eighteen is plenty old enough. Adam was my age when he went to Boston,’ said Joe. ‘And that was for three years and it was much further!’
Ben waved his hand at his son. ‘That was different,’ he said.
‘How?’ said Joe. ‘How was it different? He went to live with his grandfather. You let him go!’
‘Adam’s grandfather was…..’ Ben voice trailed off. ‘I just knew him better, that’s all.’ he said.
‘You mean you liked him better,’ said Joe angrily. ‘You won’t let me go just because you don’t like my grandfather. Why don’t you just tell the truth Pa?’
Ben waved his finger under his son’s nose. ‘Don’t you speak to me like that young man!’ he said angrily. ‘I said no and I mean it! You are not going to San Francisco with your grandfather and that’s final!’
Joe gave him one last glare and turned on his heel. Ben flinched as the front door slammed shut and he sat down heavily. He knew that what Joe had said was partly true. He didn’t like Francois and he certainly didn’t trust him. From the boy’s point of view he supposed it didn’t look fair, but he had known Adam’s grandfather for many years and didn’t have any hesitation in entrusting his son to his care when the time came. He knew him to be a decent and caring man who would watch over the boy as if he was his own. But he couldn’t honestly say the same thing about Francois.
How could he tell Joseph that he simply didn’t trust the man? How could he tell him that he feared he would do to him what he had done to his mother? Ben shook his head. There was just no easy answer to this, and he was angry with Francois for causing the problem in the first place. Why couldn’t the man have just stayed away and left Joseph alone? Why did he have to come into the boy’s life and cause all these problems? Ben had watched anxiously during the past few days as the two had become closer. He had listened to Joe’s tales every night as he related all that the man had told him. He had feared that this might happen, but he hadn’t for one moment thought that the man would be selfish enough to suggest anything so inappropriate as the boy going with him, even if it was only for a short time.
What had he been thinking? Ben clenched his fists in anger and he felt that if the man had been in front of him at that moment he felt that he would probably have hit him. And to top it all off, the man was now coming between him and his son. For the first time, Ben thought he knew how Marie must have felt about her father. He understood how frustrated she must have been about the way in which he was trying to manipulate others….. just as he must have tried to manipulate her.
He would not let Joseph be hurt! He resolved to go with the boy the next day when the stage left to ensure that things didn’t become too complicated.
‘Joseph, would you give your grandfather and I a few minutes please?’ Joe glared at his father as he spoke and Ben sighed. ‘Please,’ he said. Joe moved over to the stage and began to talk to the driver.
Ben turned to Francois and gave him a dark look. ‘I want you to know that I don’t appreciate you pressuring Joseph to go to San Francisco with you.’
Francois returned the look. ‘Why?’ he asked. ‘I didn’t mean the boy to stay with me long term.’
‘I’m just thinking of my son that’s all,’ replied Ben. ‘Joseph has become quite attached to you in these past few days and I don’t want him to be hurt any more than is necessary.’
‘Hurt?’ said Francois. ‘Why would I hurt the boy? I told you how I feel about him. He is my grandson after all and I certainly don’t intend to hurt him.’
‘Just like you didn’t intend to hurt your daughter?’ answered Ben.
‘I told you I regretted that. It’s obvious to me Ben that you don’t intend to forgive me for the past, but I’d like you to take a few moments to think about whether or not Marie would if she were here.’
‘You hurt my wife badly Francois. No, you’re right…..I can’t forgive you for what you did to her and I don’t intend to let you do the same thing to my son.’
‘Really?’ replied Francois. ‘Is it that you don’t want Joseph to be hurt, or rather that you might be feeling somewhat insecure about my relationship with the boy?’
Ben glared at him. ‘That was uncalled for,’ he said. ‘My only concern is for my son.’
‘I promise you that is my only concern as well,’ said Francois. ‘So we don’t have a problem, do we?’
Ben continued to glare at the man while he walked over to Joe. ‘Well its goodbye for now Joseph,’ Francois said. ‘I’ll write to you from San Francisco.’
Joe smiled at him. ‘I’ll write to you too Grandpa,’ he said, then with a glance towards his father added, ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t come with you.’
‘I’m just glad we had these last few days together,’ said Francois. ‘You look after yourself, won’t you?’
Joe suddenly flung his arms around the man, taking him by surprise. As Ben watched, Francois tentatively returned the hug and said, ‘I’m glad I got to know you Joseph.’
Joe stepped back and looked at his grandfather as he bit his lip. ‘I’m glad I got to know you too,’ he said. ‘And don’t forget I’m coming to New Orleans one day.’
Francois smiled at him. ‘I won’t forget,’ he said.
Ben and Joe watched as Francois stepped up into the stagecoach.
Ben nodded and waved as the stagecoach went down the street, then turned to Joe. ‘Come on son, it’s time to get home now.’
Joe turned and walked to his horse without a word, leaving his father to follow him.
Ben looked out of his study window at his son. Joe was still there chopping wood as he had been for the past few hours and he was worried. Not that he minded the fact that the boy was doing his chores for a change, but he worried about the way in which he was doing them. Joe was attacking the wood as if his very life depended on it and Ben could sense the anger that was still in him as he watched. He dropped the curtain with a sigh and shook his head.
It had been like this for weeks now. Every time he tried to talk to the boy Joseph brushed him aside. He knew he was still angry with him for not letting him go to San Francisco with Francois, but he also knew that he’d made the right decision. The more Ben thought about it the more convinced he was that to allow Joseph to have anything more to do with that man would only cause him problems in the long run. He wasn’t to be trusted and Joe just had to learn to live with the fact that his father had made this decision for him. In the meantime….. there was the problem of course. In the meantime they’d reached a stalemate.
Joe was determined to show his father his displeasure at his decision and Ben was equally determined to protect his son from what he felt was an explosive situation. Ben searched his heart daily to come up with a compromise that they might be able to try, but for the life of him he couldn’t.
Ben walked to the porch and watched Joe pick up yet another log from the pile. ‘Joe come inside now,’ he called. ‘You’ve cut enough to last a month!’
Joe glanced up and looked at his father. ‘I’m not finished yet,’ he said and continued to chop.
Ben moved out into the yard and stood beside him. ‘Son it’s obvious to me that you’re still angry about all this. But you’re going to exhaust yourself if you keep this up.’ He put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. ‘Come inside now.’
Joe shook his father’s hand off. ‘Yeah Pa you’re right, I am still angry,’ he retorted. ‘I’m sick of you treating me like a little kid all the time.’
‘Joe, I’m not treating you like a child,’ Ben said.
‘Yeah Pa you are! All I ask is that you let me go for a short while. Is that too much to ask?’
Ben sighed. ‘Joe we’ve been through all this before son. Yes, it is too much to ask. I don’t want you going off to a strange city and staying with a man I don’t even know.’
Joe glared at him. ‘You mean a man you don’t even like, don’t you Pa? That’s it isn’t it? You don’t like him and therefore I’m not allowed to have anything to do with him. That’s right isn’t it?’
Ben stared at him. ‘Yes, its true. I don’t particularly like Francois, but he is your grandfather and I wouldn’t keep you from him. I let you meet him in Virginia City didn’t I? You’ve been exchanging letters back and forth haven’t you?’
‘Yeah sure, but it’s not the same thing,’ Joe retorted. ‘Here I have a grandfather for the first time in my life and you won’t even let me see him. I have the right to know him Pa and you don’t have the right to stop me!’
Ben tried to keep his temper under control. ‘Joe I’m not trying to keep you from getting to know your grandfather. I’m just concerned that you’re rushing into this thing too quickly. Let yourself have time to form a relationship with this man slowly son. You’re not going to help anything by forcing this.’
‘Forcing what? He wants me to be there with him and I want to go. What’s wrong with that? The only thing that’s stopping us is you Pa and I just haven’t heard you give me any reason except to say that I’m too young for heaven’s sake! And I just don’t accept that!’
Ben looked at his son and knew that he was partially right. He was trying to stop the boy from being hurt, but at what expense? He was causing a rift between them and that was the last thing he wanted. But he just couldn’t bring himself to trust Francois and he couldn’t make Joseph understand that. ‘Tell you what,’ he said. ‘How about we both go to San Francisco for a few days? That way you’ll get to see your grandfather and I’ll….’
‘And you’ll be able to hold my hand for me? Yeah right Pa…. The little boy needs you there. Well I’m grown up now Pa and I don’t!’
‘I was going to say Joseph that I’ll be able to do some business there,’ said Ben frostily. ‘Don’t you take that tone of voice with me young man!’ Joe said nothing, but bent down to pick up another log. Ben’s voice softened. ‘Well you think about it Joe. Let me know what you decide.’ He turned and walked towards the house again.
Joe watched him go with a dark look. His father just didn’t get it! This wasn’t just about getting to know his grandfather, this was about letting him make his own decisions in life and following them through. It seemed that every time Joe turned around there was either his father or one of his brothers watching over his shoulder and he longed to break free and do things for himself for a change. Why could his Pa see that? What was it about this that made it so difficult for his father to let go of him?
Joe dug the axe deep into the stump beside him and glared in the direction his father had disappeared. It just wasn’t fair! He was old enough to make his own way in life and he wouldn’t be dictated to by anyone anymore…….not even his own father. Pa would just have to see that his little boy was grown up now.
Adam shook his head. ‘No Pa, nothing,’ he said. ‘Hoss hasn’t come up with anything either. We’ve searched just about everywhere we can think of and he’s just disappeared. Did you come up with anything in town?’
Ben threw his hat onto the table angrily. ‘I certainly did!’ he said. ‘He left on the stage for San Francisco early this morning. I’m going to kill that boy when I catch up with him!’
Adam grimaced. He had been afraid of something like this happening. He had watched his brother and his father walking around each other like two sparring partners for the past few weeks and it was obvious to him that no good would come out of the situation. He wasn’t surprised that in the end Joe had forced the situation by leaving, and in a way he could understand it.
No one knew more than he did just how difficult it was to live with a father who tried so hard to shield his sons from their problems. Adam himself had longed to break free of his father’s protectiveness for a long time. He had felt it particularly when he had returned from Boston after spending three years there at College. It was difficult at times to abide by his father’s decisions, but he had enough sense to know that they sprang from the man’s desire to do the right thing by his sons and the fact that he had had to be both father and mother to them all for so long. He couldn’t help himself if he tended to be a bit protective at times and Adam had come to appreciate the fact that his father did it because he loved them.
Not so Joe, however. That youngest brother of his needed to realise that he couldn’t always have things his own way. Granted Pa was protective of him, which probably was made worse by the fact that he was the youngest, but he just needed to learn that the man did it with the best of intentions. Going off like this was not the way to deal with the situation, but given his youngest brother’s volatile nature Adam could well understand him doing it.
He studied his father’s expression. ‘So what are you going to do?’ he asked, already the knowing the answer to his question.
Ben glared at him. ‘Do?’ he shouted. ‘What do you think I’m going to do? I’m going after him of course and I’m going to drag him back here!’
Hoss came down the stairs. ‘Pa?’ he said. ‘Did you have any luck in town?’
Ben turned to him. ‘Your brother has left for San Francisco,’ he said shortly. ‘I’ve booked myself a ticket on tomorrow’s stage.’
Hoss exchanged a look with Adam. ‘Pa, you know what …….’ he began.
Ben put up his hand. ‘Save it Hoss,’ he interrupted. ‘Don’t waste your breath telling me not to be too hard on him. I’m going to pack.’
They watched their father climb the stairs. ‘Joe’s really done it this time,’ said Hoss mournfully. ‘Do ya think one of us should volunteer ta go with Pa Adam?’
Adam shook his head. ‘No I don’t,’ he replied. ‘I think this is between Joe and Pa and I for one wouldn’t want to be any near either of them when they come head to head on this.’
Hoss nodded. ‘Yeah you’re right,’ he said. ‘Pity help Joe, that’s all I can say.’
Francois handed him the piece of paper. ‘You must have known your father wouldn’t let you just disappear like that Joseph. What were you thinking?’
Joe glanced at the message from the telegraph office. ‘Yeah I thought he might contact you, but I didn’t know that he’d come after me.’ He shrugged. ‘I just wanted to see you again.’
Francois gave him a frustrated look. ‘And I want to see you Joseph. But this certainly wasn’t the way to go about it!’
Joe stared at him. ‘I thought you’d be please to see me,’ he said.
‘Of course I’m pleased to see you. That isn’t the point! Now you’ve got your father angry and he’ll most likely blame me as well as you.’ Francois started to pace up and down. ‘Don’t you see what you’ve done boy? Didn’t you stop to think?’
Joe shrugged again. ‘You sound like my Pa,’ he said. ‘He’s always telling me to think before I do things.’
Francois shook his head. ‘I can see why!’ he said. ‘You’re just like your mother Joseph. She never stopped to think either and that’s what got her into so much trouble.’
Joe studied the man pacing in front of him. ‘Really?’ he asked. ‘What kind of trouble?’
Francois sighed. ‘Let’s concentrate on you for now shall we?’ he said. ‘We’ll just have to deal with your father when he comes tomorrow to take you home.’
Joe stood up. ‘Well I ain’t going,’ he declared. ‘I want to stay with you for a while and I aim to make him understand that!’
Francois glared at him. ‘Joseph I would love to have you stay with me you know that. But it isn’t up to me, it’s your father’s decision.’
‘I think it’s my decision!’ said Joe. ‘He’s got no right to tell me what to do!’
‘Yes he does. He’s your father and you should abide by what he says,’ answered Francois. He swallowed as he looked at the boy, momentarily taken aback. It was as if it was Marie standing in front of him again and he had to close his eyes to bring his mind back to reality. ‘You’ll just have to work it out with your father when he arrives tomorrow,’ he said.
Ben stared at his son standing before him. ‘Well I hope you’re proud of your behaviour Joseph,’ he said. ‘Dragging me all the way to San Francisco just because you couldn’t do as you were told!’
Joe glared at him. ‘I didn’t drag you all the way here!’ he declared. ‘I didn’t ask you to come!’
Ben pointed his finger at his youngest son. ‘Don’t you dare speak to me like that!’ he said. ‘Did you honestly think that I wouldn’t come and drag you home again? I have no intention of leaving you with a man like…’
Francois drew in a sharp breath at the man’s words as he stood outside the door and listened. It was obvious to him that Ben didn’t like or trust him, but he didn’t really think he would say as much to his son.
‘A man like what?’ countered Joe. ‘Go on, why don’t you say it? A man like my Grandpa, that you don’t trust. Why don’t you trust him Pa? He’s never hurt me!’
Ben shook his head. ‘You don’t know him Joseph. You can’t make a judgement like that!’
Joe turned on his father. ‘Well then, neither can you!’ he said. ‘You’re making judgements on a man you don’t know either!’
Ben took a deep breath. ‘Joseph, I know enough to know that Francois is not the man I want to look after my son.’
‘I don’t need looking after!’ said Joe angrily. ‘I can look after myself!’
Francois listened to the boy and was immediately reminded of that time when his mother had spoken the same words to him in anger. He moved closer to the door and continued to eavesdrop.
‘I just want the chance to get to know him a bit Pa. Can’t you understand that?’ Joe pleaded.
Ben took a step forward towards his son. ‘Yes, I can understand that son. But I just don’t think this is the way to do it.’
Joe felt tears welling up in his eyes in spite of his resolve not to get upset and he brushed them away angrily. ‘He’s my grandfather, Pa. He’s the only one apart from you who can really tell me about my mother. I want to know about her.’
Ben took a deep breath. ‘I understand that Joe and I’m not saying you can’t. But do it gradually boy. Not like this.’ Joe said nothing. Ben took another step forward and put his hand on his son’s shoulder. He noticed that this time Joe didn’t brush it off. ‘Son, Francois isn’t your mother. You can’t substitute him for her.’
Joe looked up at his father. ‘I’m not trying to Pa. I just……’ his voice broke and he stopped. ‘I just want….. please let me have some time with him.’
Ben closed his eyes. His son looked so miserable standing there in front of him. ‘Alright,’ he said. ‘I’ll give you one week. But its against my better judgement.’
Joe looked up at his father and smiled through his unshed tears. ‘Thank you,’ he said simply.
Ben patted him on the shoulder. ‘One week,’ he repeated. ‘I’m going to book you a ticket home while I’m here and I expect you to use it Joseph. Do you understand?’
Joe nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I promise I’ll behave myself.’
Ben wagged a finger at him. ‘You’d better!’ he said. ‘Come on. We’ll go and talk to your grandfather about all this.’
Francois turned away from the open doorway and hurried down the hallway.
‘I have something for you Joseph,’ Francois held out a small package to his grandson.
Joe looked up at him. ‘What is it?’ he asked, taking it.
‘Open it and see.’
Joe opened the package up and smiled when it revealed a heavy silver locket. ‘Did this belong to my mother?’ he asked softly.
Francois nodded. ‘Yes, ‘ he said. ‘I gave it to her on her sixteenth birthday. I thought you might like to have it.’
Joe nodded. ‘Thank you Grandpa. I would love it.’ He closed his fingers around it and held it tightly. ‘I don’t have much that belongs to her. Pa has given me a few things, but she didn’t have much to leave.’
‘I have quite a lot of her things back home in New Orleans,’ said Francois. ‘And one day they belong to you.’
Joe looked at him startled. ‘You do? How come she didn’t take them with her when she got married? Didn’t she want them?’
Francois frowned. ‘It didn’t matter if she wanted them or not,’ he said. ‘Your mother gave up any rights to them when she made her decision to leave.’ He noticed the puzzled look on Joe’s face. ‘You knew she was married before she met your father?’
Joe nodded. His father had told him all about Jean de Maringny and his trip to New Orleans. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But I don’t understand. ‘Why did her getting married have anything to do with leaving her things behind?’
‘She was far too young to marry,’ Francois said abruptly. ‘I warned her against it, but she took no notice of me. She was a very willful girl and needed to be taught a lesson. I kept her things and I still have them to this day.’
Joe said nothing, but held the locket tightly in his hand as he looked at his grandfather strangely. After a while he said. ‘Well, thank you for the locket. I’ll treasure it.’
Joe scratched his head as he looked at the locket in his hand. He wondered why his grandfather had sounded so angry when he spoke of his mother. He also wondered at the extraordinary amount of business the man seemed to have each day. He went off for hours at a time and Joe was left to his own devices. This wasn’t how he had imagined it to be, but he supposed at least he was getting to know him a bit. Also, San Francisco was proving to be an exciting place and Joe was able to get around and see far more of it than if his father or brothers had been around.
Pa would never have approved of the places he wandered to and the things he saw. His grandfather was very generous with handing money to him and Joe was taking full advantage of the time he had to himself. He had discovered the harbour area and the people who frequented it and ventured along many of the alleyways and streets. He longed to go to some of the night shows that were on offer but didn’t quite know how his grandfather would react to his suggestion.
‘Um…………Grandpa,’ he ventured.
‘Yes?’ Francois turned to face him.
‘I was thinking I might go out tonight. Is that OK with you?’
Francois frowned. ‘Go out where?’ he said.
‘Oh….I dunno. Maybe to one of them shows they have here. We could go together, ‘ Joe asked hopefully.
‘I don’t think so,’ replied his grandfather. ‘They’re not really suitable for a boy your age Joseph.’
‘Well we could pick one that was,’ Joe mumbled while looking at the floor. ‘They’re not all … that is I didn’t mean one of them…well there are lots we could see.’
Francois raised an eyebrow. ‘You mean one with girls in it I suppose,’ he said.
Joe’s eyes brightened. ‘Well yeah, I guess they’ve all got girls in them haven’t they?’
Francois sat down next to him. ‘Those shows are not for you,’ he said firmly.
Joe bristled. ‘Why not? I’m old enough!’
‘It’s not a matter of being old enough,’ replied Francois. ‘It’s a matter of discretion. You are not going and that is final!’
Joe stared at him. ‘Alright,’ he said crossly. ‘I was only asking!’
Francois stood up. ‘Well you should know better,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to hear any more about it! I’m going out this afternoon for a while so I’m assuming you can amuse yourself in an appropriate fashion?’
Joe shrugged his shoulders, still cross with the man for treating as a child. ‘I suppose going for a walk is allowed,’ he said sarcastically. Francois nodded his head. Joe stared at him as he left the room and wondered what he had said to cause such a reaction.
Francois watched Joe leave the house and turn down the street towards the harbour end of town. The boy’s attitude was worrying him and he wanted to make sure he was obeying his instructions. He had enjoyed his grandson’s company during these last few days, but with the doctor’s appointments he had been forced to keep he hadn’t been able to spend as much time with the youngster as he would have liked to and he worried that he might be at a loose end. Francois remembered all too well where that had led the boy’s mother and he didn’t intend for his grandson to go down a similar path.
He followed him discretely for a while, pleased to see that he was headed towards the market end of town. Surely he couldn’t get into any trouble there! He had just about resolved to leave him to his own devices when he noticed Joe stop and tip his hat to a woman on the sidewalk. Francois frowned. She didn’t look like the type of woman he would have chosen for his grandson to be seen in public with…as she seemed to be rather shabbily dressed. He stepped forward as he saw Joe bend down to pick up a parcel that she had dropped and hand it back to her. The two of them stood and talked for several minutes while Francois’ temper rose.
Couldn’t the boy see what he was doing to his reputation standing there in broad daylight chatting on like….. Francois clenched his fists and strode over to them. ‘Joseph!’ he said angrily.
Joe turned and gave his grandfather a broad grin. ‘Hello!’ he said. ‘I didn’t know you were around here!’
‘Obviously not!’ said Francois. ‘Come along please!’
‘What?’ said Joe surprised.
Francois pulled him by the arm. ‘I said to come along,’ he repeated.
Joe looked startled. ‘Oh……OK then.’ He turned and tipped his hat to the woman. ‘Good day ma’am,’ he said.
‘She smiled at him. ‘Thank you,’ she replied and watched as Francois pulled Joe across the street.
When they got to the other side, Joe pulled away from Francois crossly. ‘What was that for?’ he asked.
Francois glared at him. ‘I wouldn’t think I should have to remind you not to speak to women you don’t even know in broad daylight,’ he said.
Joe looked puzzled. ‘I was only picking up something for her that she’s dropped,’ he said. ‘What’s so wrong about that?’
Francois pointed a finger at him. ‘You did more than that!’ he said angrily. ‘You stopped and had a conversation with her. If I hadn’t come along you’d probably still be there with her.’
Joe shrugged his shoulders. ‘So what?’ he said. ‘She was nice.’
Francois shook his head. ‘I can’t believe this,’ he said. ‘Is this what you’ve been doing when I’m not with you? Walking the streets propositioning women?’
Joe took a step back. ‘What?!’ he said incredulously. ‘I was only talking to her!’
Francois pushed him back a step. ‘You can just march yourself home young man!’ he said. ‘I’ll have none of your insolence. While you are staying with me I’ll say what goes around here and I’ll have none of that kind of behaviour.’
Joe stared at him, trying to keep his temper. ‘Grandpa, I….’
Francois pointed up the street. ‘I said to go home,’ he said.
Joe shook his head. ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ he said. ‘I’m eighteen years old. Old enough to….’
‘You should be old enough to be a bit more responsible,’ interrupted his grandfather. ‘Go!”
Joe put his hands up in gesture of defeat. ‘It ain’t worth fighting about,’ he said.
‘I agree,’ replied Francois. ‘Now go.’
Joe turned and strode up the street towards their hotel, wondering for the second time that day what he had done to make his grandfather so angry.
Francois opened the door and entered. ‘I suppose you’re still angry with me,’ he said to the youngster sitting on the bed.
Joe shrugged his shoulders. ‘Yeah I am,’ he said honestly. ‘What’d you go and do that for anyway?’
Francois sat on the bed next to him. ‘Joseph you have to realise that a young man’s reputation is very important. You can’t go carrying on like you did this afternoon.’
Joe looked at him puzzled. ‘I still don’t understand what you’re talking about,’ he said. ‘I told you I was only talking to her!’
‘I’m sure you were, but that’s not how it looked to anyone passing by,’ replied Francois. ‘It could have been misinterpreted.
Joe shrugged his shoulders. ‘So what?’ he said. ‘I don’t care.’
Francois glared at him. ‘Well I do!’ he said. ‘And I’m sure your father would if he were here.’
Joe snorted. ‘Pa wouldn’t care if I talked to a girl on the street,’ he said. ‘I do it all the time at home.’
Francois shook his head. ‘Well you’re not doing it here,’ he said.
Joe bristled. ‘You’re not gonna tell me who to talk to!’ he said angrily. ‘Just because I’m staying with you…..’
‘Exactly,’ replied Francois. ‘You’re staying with me young man and I’m responsible for you. While you are here you will exactly what I say….is that clear?’
Joe stood up. ‘No it’s not,’ he said. ‘Look Grandpa, I’m trying to understand your side of this, but the fact is that I don’t have to take your orders around here. I’m glad to have the chance to stay with you for a few days, but I’m eighteen and I’m not a child. Can’t you understand that?’
‘What I understand is that you are being extremely wilful,’ retorted Francois standing up next to him and staring into the green eyes that he knew so well. ‘While you continue to live with me you will do as I say young lady!’
Joe stared at him. ‘What did you say?’ he asked.
Francois returned the look. ‘I said you will continue to do exactly as I say!’ he repeated.
Joe looked puzzled. ‘You called me young lady,’ he said in a quieter voice.
Francois was taken aback. ‘Did I?’ he asked. ‘Well that’s probably because you remind me so much of your mother Joseph. And I’m beginning to see just how like her you actually are.’ Joe stared at him, but said nothing as the man began to pace up and down the room. ‘She was just like you,’ he continued. ‘Wilful and disobedient. She was no good and I don’t intend to let you make the same mistakes in your life that she did in hers.’
Joe’s eyes widened. ‘How dare you say she was no good!’ he said angrily. ‘My mother was a wonderful person!’
Francois snorted. ‘When it suited her!’ he said. ‘Oh yes I’m sure your father has told you all the good things about her…..she could be very charming when she wanted to be! But there was another side to that young lady that I knew well. Oh yes! She had a bad side to her for sure!’
Joe took a step towards his grandfather. ‘You take that back,’ he shouted. ‘My mother was not bad!’
Francois smiled sarcastically at him. ‘Really?’ he countered. ‘She was just like you! Couldn’t keep away from the young men when they came around. Oh no! The trouble she would have got herself into if I hadn’t stopped it. She needed my guidance…..but would she take it? Would she listen to me? No wonder she got herself involved with that good-for-nothing…….and then,’ he turned on Joe. ‘And then going off with your father like that to that God-forsaken place! That just proved to me how little she understood.’ He paced the floor again. ‘She could have been something! She was such a beautiful young girl and she could have made a brilliant marriage if only she’d listened to me.’
‘Why should she have listened to you!’ countered Joe, his temper rising with each word that came out of his grandfather’s mouth. ‘If she loved my father why shouldn’t she have married him?’
Francois turned on him. ‘Because I told her not to!’ he said. ‘I was her father and she should have done what I said!’ He pointed his finger at Joe. ‘Just like you will! I will not have you disobeying me Joseph! You will do as I say!’
Joe took a step back and shook his head. ‘No I won’t!’ he said. ‘You are not my father and I don’t have to do anything you tell me to. Especially when you say things about my mother that aren’t true!’
Francois shook his head. ‘You don’t understand boy,’ he said. ‘You didn’t know her like I did.’ He took a step forward. ‘I don’t want to fight you on this Joseph. I just don’t want you to repeat the mistakes of your mother that’s all.’
Joe shook his head. ‘Well it’s not your decision how I live my life,’ he said. ‘You can’t force me to do things your way.’
Francois glared at him again. ‘I most certainly can,’ he said. ‘It’s for your own good Joseph.’ He turned swiftly and left the room, locking the door behind him before Joe realised what was happening.
Joe sprang forward, but reached the door too late. ‘Let me out of here!’ he yelled as he thumped on the door. ‘Open the door and let me out! You can’t lock me in here like this!’
There was silence from the other side of the door and Joe shook his head in frustration. He sank down onto the floor and put his head on his knees and thought about what to do next.
Darkness had fallen before Joe heard the key turning in the lock again. He stood up and faced the door, determined to keep his temper this time. He had spent the last few hours trying to understand why his grandfather would be reacting in this way to what he felt was just a trivial incident. He decided that no matter what had caused it, their time together was too short and he would try not to fight with him again. However he couldn’t get out of his mind the things that had been said about his mother and he didn’t like one bit the inferences that his grandfather had made about her.
Pa had always spoken of his mother in such glowing terms and his two brothers’ memories of her had always been ones of love and warmth. Joe’s few recollections had always been such positive ones as well and he was sure that his grandfather was merely saying things that weren’t true out of a sense of frustration with Joe himself. But why should he lie like that about her even so? Joe couldn’t understand how anyone would say such things when they weren’t true and he could only suppose that his grandfather had his reasons that were beyond Joe’s understanding.
Even so, he didn’t intend to listen to the man’s accusations any more. He would be polite, but firm with him.
The door opened and Francois entered the room with a tray. ‘Here is your supper,’ he said, putting it on the bed.
Joe looked at it. ‘Thank you,’ he said simply. ‘I assume you’re leaving the door unlocked now?’
Francois nodded. ‘Of course,’ he said, then hesitated. ‘I’m sorry about that Joseph, but you just made me very angry this afternoon. I didn’t mean for it to go that far.’
Joe nodded, but said nothing.
Francois looked at him embarrassed for a moment. ‘I’m also sorry I said the things I did,’ he said. ‘Whatever my feelings for your mother I had no right to include you in them.’
Joe nodded again. ‘Why don’t we just put it behind us then?’ he suggested.
Francois smiled at him. ‘Good,’ he said. ‘Now eat up your supper before it gets cold. He left the room.
Joe sat down on the bed. Much and all as he didn’t want to admit it, there was an unspoken barrier between the two of them now and he didn’t want it to be like this. He had come here to get to know his grandfather and he worried that the man he was beginning to know wasn’t the one he had pictured at all. Maybe Pa was right and he was trying to rush things between them?
The night before he was due to leave, Joe decided to try again to convince his grandfather to accompany him to a show. ‘So how about it?’ he asked hopefully. ‘Pa gave me some money before he left and I know he wouldn’t mind of we just went to one of more…..um discreet ones.’
Francois gave him a frustrated look. ‘I thought we had this out before Joseph?’ he said. ‘The answer is no.’
Joe sighed. ‘But Pa took me to one last year when we came here,’ he said. ‘All they do is dance a bit.’
‘I’m surprised your father allowed that,’ replied Francois. ‘But then again…..’
‘Then again what?’ asked Joe, forgetting his resolve to keep his temper.
Francois lifted his hands. ‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘Joseph I’m sure it’s no secret to you that your father and I don’t exactly see ey to ey about many things. I suppose this is just one of them.’
‘Hmm…well I guess I can’t change your opinion about it,’ said Joe. ‘I’ll just have to go on my own then.’
Francois stood up. ‘You will not!’ he said loudly. ‘We have had this out before young man and I’ve said no!’
Joe stood up to face him. ‘Look Grandpa,’ he said. ‘I’ve had just about enough of this! I know what you think and I’m sorry that I can’t agree with you, but I just don’t see why I should miss out on something that I know my father would approve of just because you don’t. Now I’m going to that show with or without you!’
He turned and made for the door, but was stopped by a tug on his arm. ‘Let go of me!’ he said angrily.
Francois shook his head. ‘No!’ he said. ‘I have told you what I thought and you will obey me young man! Now hand over that money and go to your room.’
Joe snorted. ‘It’s my money,’ he said. ‘My Pa gave it to me not you!’ He stepped back in surprise as Francois hit him across the cheek. ‘Don’t you dare hit me!’ he yelled. ‘I ain’t done nothing wrong!’
Francois raised his hand again. ‘Hand over that money!’ he yelled. ‘If that’s what it takes to keep you from going the same way as your mother then I’ll take it from you!’
Joe pulled free of the man. ‘No,’ he said quietly. ‘I’m sorry Grandpa but you’re not telling me what to do no more.’
He turned and left the room, listening to his grandfather’s yells behind him. ‘You’re just like her! You’re no good! I should have known better than to think that you might be!’ The words echoed in his ears as he closed the door behind him. ‘Go then!’ Francois yelled. ‘Get out now and don’t come back!’
Joe walked down the hallway with tears in his eyes. Why did it have to end like this?
‘Joe?’ said Ben quietly. ‘Supper is ready. Hop Sing has made all your favourites to welcome you home.’
Joe looked up at his father. ‘Thanks Pa,’ he said quietly. ‘I’ll be down in a minute.’
Ben frowned. Something was obviously wrong with the boy. Since the moment he had got off the stage that morning he could sense it and questions about his trip had been answered with little enthusiasm and as little information as he could give and still be polite about it. Ben was sure that the visit had not lived up to Joe’s expectations and he wanted to help him talk it through, but he knew from experience that it was best to wait until Joe himself was ready to talk through a problem without forcing the issue.
He walked over and put his hand around the back of his son’s neck, rubbing it gently as he waited. After a moment Joe said tentatively. ‘I suppose you know that things didn’t work out too good in San Francisco.’
Ben nodded and sat down next to him on the bed. ‘I thought that might be the case,’ he said. ‘What happened?’
Joe scratched his head. ‘I honestly don’t know Pa,’ he said. ‘Grandpa was real nice to me and he even gave me a locket that belonged to my mother. ‘Look.’ He held it out to his father who took it into his hand and studied it.
‘It’s beautiful,’ said Ben. ‘I sure you’ll treasure it.’
Joe nodded as he took it back from his father. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘But then he went all funny, you know?’ he looked at his father enquiringly. Ben shook his head and waited for the boy to continue. ‘Well he talked about me getting a bad reputation just because I talked to a girl in the street and I wanted to go to a show,’ continued Joe. ‘Not one of them……..well you know, just a show with dancing like we saw last year. He said it wasn’t right for me to do things like that.’
Ben raised his eyebrows. ‘Well Joe, your grandfather is an old man. I’m sure that in his generation things were a little different.’
‘Yeah but it was more than that Pa. He locked me in my room one time.’
Joe shrugged. ‘He kept talking about how like my mother I am and how he didn’t want me to be bad like she was.’ He watched his father carefully to gauge his reaction to the words and noticed that Ben looked angry. ‘I tried to tell him that my mother wasn’t bad, but he kept saying that she was. I know she wasn’t Pa, but why would he carry on like that?’
Ben shook his head. ‘No Joe, your mother wasn’t bad,’ he said, trying to maintain his anger. ‘She was a wonderful woman. A warm and loving wife and mother.’ He patted his son’s back. ‘You remember, don’t you?’
Joe bit his lip. ‘A bit,’ he said. ‘Not much. But I know what you and Adam and Hoss say about her and I know she was.’
Ben smiled at him. ‘Well you just keep that thought in your mind,’ he said. ‘Your grandfather had no right to tell you differently.’
Joe thought for a moment. ‘He wasn’t…….well he wasn’t what I thought you know.’
Joe shook his head. ‘At first I thought that it was wonderful to have a grandfather and that he would be able to …….well you know Pa……sort of be a link to my mother. But it turns out that he wasn’t really because he didn’t like her.
Ben massaged his son’s neck again. ‘Well I wouldn’t say that Joe,’ he said. ‘He was her father and I’m sure he loved her, but I think he just felt let down by her and the way in which she left him. He couldn’t handle it when she didn’t do as he expected her to.’
‘He said she shouldn’t have married you,’ said Joe mournfully.
Ben clenched his fists. ‘Did he?’ he said.
‘I don’t think he approved of me because of you and her getting married.’
‘I’m sure he approved of you Joe. He wouldn’t have wanted you to go to San Francisco with him if he didn’t,’ said Ben.
‘Yeah but that was before,’ replied Joe. ‘Before he thought I was no good like her.’
Ben put his arm around his son’s shoulder. ‘He hurt you didn’t he?’ he asked gently.
Joe shrugged. ‘I just thought it would be different that’s all.’
‘Son, families can’t always be what we want them too,’ said his father. ‘I’m sure your grandfather loves you in his way.’
‘Yeah but we could have got on so good,’ said Joe. ‘And we ended up hardly speaking to each other. ‘I understand how my mother felt about him now. She musta wanted him to be different don’t you think?’
Ben nodded ‘I know she did, he replied. ‘But he couldn’t change just to suit her. No more than he could for you.’
‘I just feel like I shoulda been able to get on with him more,’ said Joe. ‘I wish we coulda.’
‘We can’t always have what we wish for in life Joseph,’ said his father gently. ‘Be happy that you at least had some good times with him.’ Joe nodded. ‘Now if we don’t go down to supper Hop Sing will have thrown it all out,’ said Ben as he stood up.
Joe laughed. ‘Or Hoss will have eaten it all,’ he said as he stood and put his arm around his father as they left the room.
‘Joseph?’ said Ben as he heard the front door open. ‘Is that you?’
Joe’s head appeared around the side of the study wall. ‘Yeah Pa, its me. Adam said you wanted to see me?’
Ben motioned for him to sit on the settee and stood up to join him. ‘Yes,’ he said as he sat down next to him. ‘I need to talk to you about something….. and no,’ he added as he saw the look on his son’s face. ‘You’re not in trouble.’
Joe ginned again. ‘Oh good,’ he said. ‘It’s just that it’s hard to tell sometimes.’
Ben raised an eyebrow at him. ‘Only someone with a guilty conscience would perhaps make a comment like that,’ he said in a teasing voice.
‘Well, what do you want to talk to me about then?’ asked Joe, deciding to ignore the comment.
Ben handed him a piece of paper. ‘Hoss brought this home from town this morning when he collected the mail,’ he said.
Joe glanced at it. ‘It’s for you, not me,’ he said.
Ben nodded. ‘Yes, but I’d like you to read it,’ he said.
Joe opened the letter and began to read.
Dear Mr Cartwright,
I wish to inform you of the death last Tuesday of Mr Francois Dubois……
Joe looked up. ‘Grandpa’s dead,’ he said quietly.
Ben nodded. ‘Read it all,’ he said.
Joe looked at the paper again.
As Mr Dubois’ lawyer it is my job to ensure that his last wishes as outlined in his will are carried out and I wish to inform you that he named his grandson Joseph as sole beneficiary to his estate. As Joseph is a minor and still under your guardianship, I am informing you as his father of the details of Mr Dubois’s estate as outlined in the following pages. Please contact me at your earliest convenience to discuss details of the arrangements you wish to make for the dispersal of the items mentioned.
Mr Jacob Burns
Attorney at Law
Joe turned to the next page and skimmed it. ‘He was worth a lot of money,’ he said.
Ben nodded. ‘Yes, so it seems,’ he said.
There was silence for a few moments while Ben studied his son’s expression. ‘How do you feel?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know,’ replied Joe. ‘I didn’t really know him that much. Only that couple of weeks here and in San Francisco we spent together last July. And we had that fight……’
‘Joe it’s alright. You don’t really need to feel guilty about not grieving for him. As you say, you didn’t know him very well.’
Joe studied the paper again. ‘How come he left me all this stuff though? I didn’t think he liked me that much. He never even wrote to me since I saw him in San Francisco.’
‘I think you’ll find that he did ‘like you’ as you put it more than you thought. ‘It’s like I said to you at the time Joseph, we can’t make our families all that we’d like them to be…….but they’re our families all the same.’
Joe nodded. ‘What do you think Mama would have thought if she’d been here?’
Ben hesitated. ‘I don’t know Joe. He was your mother’s father, so it would be different. I think somehow she would have had a lot of regrets just like you do.’
Joe nodded. ‘I guess so,’ he said. ‘He didn’t leave me a letter or anything did he?’
‘Not that Mr Burns mentions,’ replied Ben. ‘I’m sure he would have said if there was one.’
‘Mmm, I guess so,’ said Joe. ‘It’s just that…..well, if he cared that much I would have thought he might have written something for me. Can we have all that stuff sent here that he left me?’
‘We’ll have to go through the list together,’ said Ben. ‘There are some large things that need to be sold and decisions made about his property, but most of the smaller things we can send for.’
‘OK,’ said Joe. ‘I’ll get back to work now Pa.’
Ben watched him go with a worried expression. He had expected something more from the boy and in a way his reaction was a bit of a surprise. Joe usually felt things so deeply and usually wore his heart on his sleeve. But this…..well he hadn’t seem to be too upset that was a blessing at least……..it was just that there seemed to be something he wasn’t saying. Ben sighed. He’d just have to let the boy work it through in his own time.
Joe pulled absently at the grass beside him and pulled up a couple of weeds which he threw away. He stared into the water and tried to think about his grandfather, but his thoughts kept drifting away.
‘I suppose I should feel sad about him dying,’ he said to no one in particular. It was always like this. Every time he came up here he ended up talking out loud. Even though his mother couldn’t hear him he liked to think that she could and it made him feel like she was closer when he did. ‘I just don’t feel……well I don’t feel much of anything really. I guess that’s wrong of me.’
He propped himself up on his elbow. ‘I mean, he was my grandfather and all. I just don’t ….well I don’t know that I liked him all that much. I tried to Mama, but he made it awful hard you know.’ He smiled. ‘I guess you do know. Sounds like you and him didn’t get on too well at all. Guess you and I are alike like he said we were.’
He glanced at the headstone. ‘Wonder what you would say if you were here?’ He squinted up his eyes with the glare of the sun. ‘I guess you’d tell me like Pa does. He said we can’t make families what we want them to be. But it’s just that….well ….. I wanted it all to be so good.’
‘You remember Adam’s grandfather don’t you Mama?’ He frowned. ‘I guess you never met him either, but you musta known how Adam wanted to get to know him so much. Well he did you know. He went to live with him in Boston for a while when he was at College. They got on OK I guess. Why couldn’t I get on with my grandpa like he did with his? I mean, Adam says that they didn’t always see eye to eye, but they wrote to each other and stuff. My grandpa didn’t even write to me after I met him. I guess he didn’t care.’
Joe sighed. ‘Pa says he didn’t write to you either. Guess he didn’t care for either of us Mama.’ He tried to smile. ‘Well it doesn’t matter any more anyways. He’s dead now and I wished I’d never even met him! I wish he’d stayed in New Orleans and never come here at all.’ He stood up and walked away, then hesitated for a moment and turned. ‘Bye Mama,’ he said softly. ‘I love you, even if he didn’t.’
‘Hey shortshanks, ain’t ya ever gonna open that trunk?’ asked Hoss one night after supper. ‘It’s been sitting down here for days now and I wanna know what’s in it.’ He indicated the large trunk near his father’s study.
Joe shrugged. ‘Yeah I’ll get around to it,’ he said casually.
Ben indicated for Hoss to be quiet. ‘Joseph if you don’t want to open it then we really should put it up in the attic,’ he said. ‘But it seems a shame not to look at it first.’
Joe looked over at him. ‘I thought you said I could do it when I wanted to,’ he said.
‘So I did,’ his father replied. ‘But if you’re not going to it’s in the way and can’t stay there forever. If you’re worried about opening it….’
Joe stood up. ‘Why would I be worried?’ he said. ‘I just haven’t got around to it that’s all.
‘Well it goes into the attic tomorrow, one way or the other,’ said Ben.
Joe scowled. ‘I don’t care,’ he said. ‘I’m going to bed.’
As he left the room, Adam looked up from his book. ‘Why do you think he won’t open it Pa?’
‘I think Joseph cares quite a bit,’ said Ben. ‘But I think he’s worried about his feelings for his grandfather and the fact that whatever’s in the trunk is a reminder of him. He hasn’t really reacted to Francois death these past few weeks and I think he’s still uncertain about how he feels. He’s been hurt by the man and doesn’t feel sure about his own emotions yet.’
Adam raised an eyebrow. ‘Well he won’t end all this until he looks at whatever’s in there,’ he said.
‘I know,’ said Ben. ‘But he has to do it in his own time.’
Ben opened his eyes and blinked. He sat up and wondered why he had suddenly awoken as he listened intently for any noise that might have disturbed him, but heard nothing. He lit the lamp next to his bed and glanced at his pocket-watch. 2am! There was no reason why he should have awoken, but something inside him was gnawing away at him and he lay down again wondering why sleep was eluding him.
He rolled over and thought back over the past few weeks. Joseph had been his usual happy self, but Ben knew that beneath the carefree exterior the boy was still worried about something. Yet try as he would he couldn’t get him to open up to him. He felt it had to do with Francois’ death and brought the topic up a few times, but Joe had always brushed his father aside insisting that he was fine about it.
He glanced at his pocket-watch again. 2.30am! It seemed that he was not meant to sleep again for a while, so he got out of bed and put on his robe, intending to go downstairs and read for a while. As he reached the top of the stairs he was surprised to see a light from below and edged around the corner slowly.
There on the floor of his study sat Joseph with the open trunk next to him and things scattered around the floor. He was examining a book intently and didn’t raise his head until his father was nearly on top of him.
‘Oh, hi Pa,’ he said. ‘I didn’t hear you come downstairs.’
Ben pulled a chair over towards him and sat down. ‘You opened it,’ he said simply.
Joe nodded. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t sleep so I thought I’d come down and……’ he hesitated. ‘I’ve kinda been avoiding it.’
Ben nodded. ‘Why?’
Joe shrugged. ‘I dunno really,’ he replied. ‘I guess I didn’t want to see what Grandpa had left for me. I thought it might have been something……’ he shrugged again. ‘I dunno.’
‘Something to make you upset about him dying?’ asked Ben.
Joe didn’t say anything. ‘Look at all these things,’ he said after a while. ‘They all belonged to my mother I guess.’
Ben looked at the jewelry, clothing and books that were spread around them on the floor. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I’m glad your grandfather left them to you.’
‘So am I,’ said Joe. ‘Look at this.’ He held up a book for his father to see. ‘There’s an inscription in the front, see?’
Ben took it and read it.
To my darling Marie
on your 14th birthday
with love from Papa
‘And this,’ said Joe handing his father a bracelet. ‘He gave it to her as well.’
Ben read the engraved words.
Love from Papa
‘It seems like your grandfather gave her a lot of things,’ he mused.
Joe nodded. ‘Most of this stuff has things like that on them,’ he said. ‘He did love her after all didn’t he Pa? I mean he must have at one time if he gave her all this.’
‘Of course he did,’ replied his father. ‘I told you before that I was sure he did. I just don’t think he knew how to handle his love for her when things went wrong that’s all.’ He looked at his son. ‘Or you.’
Joe put his head down and stared at all the things around him. ‘I guess he left me all this stuff for a reason, huh?’
Ben nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I think it was his way of saying to you what he couldn’t when he was alive Joseph. Sometimes things get in the way of what we’d really like to say to someone.’
Joe looked up at his father. ‘Things?’ he said.
Ben nodded. ‘Feelings son. I think your grandfather really wanted to tell you that he loved you, but he didn’t know how. I’m sure he regretted what happened with your mother.’
‘Then why did he treat me like he treated her?’ asked Joe.
‘Because he didn’t know any different,’ responded his father. ‘He did the best he could Joseph, but he wasn’t perfect. None of us are.’
‘You tell us that you love us,’ said Joe. ‘You always have.’
‘Yes, but it wasn’t so easy for your grandfather,’ said Ben. ‘He was just a different kind of person. He couldn’t help that.’
Joe nodded. ‘Well I’m glad you’re not like that Pa,’ he said. ‘And I’m glad my Mama wasn’t. I think it’s sad that my Grandpa wasn’t like both of you.’
Ben put his hand on the back of Joe’s neck and rubbed it. ‘Yes, it was sad,’ he said. ‘He could have had so much more in life if only he’d let himself. A daughter who loved him in spite of all that had happened, and a grandson to be proud of. You know what?’ Ben asked. Joe shook his head. ‘I think he was proud of you after all. I know that I am.’
Joe smiled at him. ‘Thanks Pa,’ he said softly. ‘I love you.’
Ben patted the back of his neck. ‘I love you too son, he said. ‘And let’s be grateful that we’re able to say that to each other. It would be mighty sad if we weren’t.’ He smiled. ‘Now come on, up to bed with you. We’ll clean all this up in the morning.’
‘I’ll show it to Adam and Hoss then,’ said Joe as he turned to the staircase. ‘I guess they’d like to see what Grandpa left me.’
Ben smiled ‘I’m sure they would,’ he said as his eyes drifted over to the sliver-framed photo of a laughing green-eyed beauty on his desk. As he passed it he kissed his fingers and placed them on the face of the woman he had loved so dearly and then sighed as he followed her son up the stairs.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
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