SUMMARY: a continuation of the Confederacy of Dunces series, this story is about Adam adjusting to his role in life. Although there are skills he has that are admired by many, Adam faces situations in which he wants the skills he no longer has. His family is there to back him up until he makes the adjustment.
Rating = T Word count = 12,726
A Confederacy of Dunces Series:
Franklin Was Right
In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride.
– Benjamin Franklin
“Books are stupid.” AC’s voice at six years old held a certain air of authority born of new confidence in his abilities. Most of that was because he was getting such positive reinforcement from the other boys at school.
“School is stupid.” Benji’s voice sounded significantly older even though he was only a few minutes older than his twin. He too was getting to be a leader at school, but unfortunately not in academic pursuits. Bored by school subjects, he was already a bane to the teacher after only about a month of formal schooling.
Hearing his young sons talk so blasphemously about things he held dear, Adam left the work at his desk and went to talk to them. Probably letting more of his anger color his words than he intended, he left his sons speechless.
“People who do not read books and people who do not value an education are truly the stupid or shall I say ignorant ones. Everything that is known in the world eventually ends up in books.”
The boys were silent unwilling to express an opinion when their father was that vehemently opposed to it. There also was no way to escape until he told them they could go so they had to stay and endure whatever speech he was going to deliver. Both were visibly relieved when Adam realized what he had done and smiled a bit to let them know he wasn’t angry at them but only at the opinions they had expressed so openly.
“Now what brought on this latest condemnation of school and learning?”
“Why are you upset about school and learning?”
“We both got extra homework to do again. Benji has extra arithmetic and I have extra reading and writing.”
“What happened this time? Why did the teacher give you that extra work?” Adam expected a story but knew that although it would be colored to show the boys in the best light, they would not lie to him.
“I was looking out the window during reading time. He saw me but didn’t tell me not to do it. After reading time, he asked me some questions, and I didn’t know the answer right away.”
“Why were you looking out the window instead of reading?”
“I read that stuff last week already. I would of known the answers if he would of given me some time.”
“Yeah. I knew you would know what I meant, Papa.”
“No, you said ‘would of’ when it should be would have.” That got him a scowl from AC. “Now, Benji, why do you have arithmetic to do?”
“I told him the work he gave me was too simple so he gave me ten times the problems he gave the others. He said that ought to make it hard enough. Papa, it’s not harder. It’s only longer. I’ve got pages and pages of problems to do.”
“It seems that instead of complaining, the two of you ought to be at the table working on your homework so you don’t delay dinner for our family.”
“Yes, Papa.” The twins answered in chorus and trudged to the table not at all pleased with the result of that conversation.
Walking into the kitchen where Georgia was conferring with their cook, Adam wondered if she had heard. He didn’t have to ask. The small smile she had for him said she had heard it all.
“They’re very young yet. They’ll understand the value of education better as they get older. I do wish the teacher had listened to you when you told them how smart they are.”
“Apparently he wasn’t about to be told anything by a lowly doctor. I guess I’m not too intimidating a figure any more. He dismissed me as if I was a overly proud parent who didn’t have any idea what I was talking about.”
“I know the boys can be challenging. They’re creative and curious and that gets them into all kinds of mischief. But the attitude of that teacher seems to be one that is trying to turn them into some kind of miscreants.”
“I’ve noticed that. He seems to want them to be bad boys.” Frowning, Adam was lost in thought for a time. “I wonder if that’s why Hoss said we were welcome to have to boys go to school out on the Ponderosa. They’ve got that little school going there for their children and the neighbors’ children. I wonder if he guessed we might have this trouble.”
“Maybe you ought to talk to him about that. There might be more going on than we know.”
There was more conversation going on too. Georgia wished the boys wouldn’t talk so loudly, but they were being honest. AC especially looked up to his Uncle Joe who could do so many things that AC talked about doing someday.
“I want to be like Uncle Joe. He can do stuff that I want to do.”
“Yeah, all the boys at school always talk about what he can do. That’s the kind of man I want to be.”
Benji seemed to be developing the same hero worship for his uncle. Watching Adam as they heard the boys talk, Georgia understood how that made Adam feel. Fathers wanted their sons to look up to them and perhaps follow in their footsteps. When they were younger, AC and Benji adored their father, but now that they were getting older, they were looking to other role models. It hurt Adam that he could no longer do the things he once could, but his brothers could do those things. What they heard next bothered him more because neither of them knew that the stories had gotten to the children.
“I bet if Mister Starry threatened Uncle Joe, he’d fight him. He wouldn’t be afraid of him.”
“Yeah, Uncle Hoss would take care of him too. He’s real strong and a good fighter. I don’t think Papa can fight at all. Do you think Papa’s afraid of Mister Starry like people say he is?”
“I don’t know.”
Getting stone-faced, Adam turned to leave. Putting a hand on his arm to stop him, Georgia knew it wasn’t likely to work. He didn’t even turn back. It had been a difficult couple of weeks.
Gilbert Starry, a wealthy businessman, had moved to town, purchased a small horse ranch, and a large supply of alcohol in which he indulged frequently and too much. An uncouth man who had worked his way up the ladder, he hadn’t acquired much in the way of social graces or decent behavior with his wealth. After one of his binges, he drove his carriage into the path of a freight wagon on a steep road into town. The skill of the freight hauler meant that the carriage was only overturned, but Gilbert landed on his own left arm awkwardly and shattered it. Doctor Paul Martin wanted to amputate it. Gil said no. Paul told him the only chance he had of keeping his life and his arm was to have Adam operate. Through what Paul later could only term a miracle of surgery, Adam managed to get enough of the blood vessels repaired and muscles, bone, ligaments, and tendons back where they belonged so that the arm could be saved.
However once the cast was off, Gil found that he had only limited use of that arm. Severely damaged, it was partially numb and he could only raise it halfway. He blamed Adam, and he challenged him to a gunfight. Adam of course said he couldn’t. It had not been quite that simple. During the middle of the day and caught out in the middle of the street, when Gil called out for him to turn to draw, Adam had to admit it all in front of perhaps hundreds of witnesses. Now anyone who knew him was well aware that being shot in the War had taken away his ability to draw with his right arm. Because of that, he no longer wore a pistol rig. He didn’t want anyone to get the idea that he could draw. He knew he could probably shoot well enough if he had time to raise the weapon and use his left hand to steady his aim, but he couldn’t do a classic point and shoot any more. Perhaps with practice, he would be able to get that skill again, but at this point in time, he didn’t have it.
Instead, he concentrated on his career saving lives and tried to forget that once he was feared not only for his intellect and demeanor but also his skill with a pistol. That aspect of intimidation was gone and he was forced to lift his coat and show everyone that he was unarmed and in effect defenseless. Gil had laughed derisively and told him he wasn’t a man. With an angry man with a pistol standing there ready to kill you, it wasn’t a good idea to argue so he didn’t. But it rankled then and still did especially when people continued to talk about it. They must be talking about it at home too for their children to have brought the story to school.
So when Gil couldn’t get any revenge on Adam with a weapon, he instead threatened to ruin anyone who went to Adam for medical care. For weeks now, the only patients Adam saw were those who were already financially ruined and unable to pay for any services they got. It would be a matter of a few months at most before he would be forced to give up his practice for lack of resources. Georgia had told him to call on his family for help, but he refused to go that route.
Quiet at dinner, Adam said only grace. Then he went to his office and closed the doors. When it was time for the boys to go to bed, Georgia had a special bedtime message for them. She told her sons that their father was a hero and they should never forget that he had been wounded in the War and almost died. She reminded them too that he had stood in the street and faced Gilbert Starry even though he was unarmed.
“What does someone do when they’re scared?” She waited. “They would run away, wouldn’t they?” Both boys nodded enthusiastically. “You can tell your friends that next time they’re telling stories. Not many men would face a man with a gun when they didn’t have one. You have to be very brave to take that chance.” Georgia shivered a bit remembering how she had felt when she had first heard that story. “Your father is a brave man. Never forget that.”
In their bedroom, Adam caught her around the waist and pulled her to him. “I do appreciate what you said to the boys, but you shouldn’t have to do that.”
“I thought I heard you walk by in the hall when I was there. No, I shouldn’t have to do that, but if small minded people are going to be saying horrible things about you, your sons should get to hear the truth too.”
They made love that night and held each other close. There was no doubt of her love for him, and Adam thanked the Lord each day that he had found her, or rather that she had found him in that creek in The Wilderness. She had saved his life in so many ways. Although she could be bold and sometimes as stubborn as he was, her loyalty was as solid as he could ever hope to have and she was his partner as well as his wife and his friend. If only he could feel more like a complete man who felt more like he deserved her, he could be happier.
The next morning, Adam was in a reasonable mood when he walked the boys to school and then headed to his office. It was quiet there with no patients all morning. Georgia arrived soon after he did, and they organized the surgery into a new configuration although both wondered if it would ever be used again. At noon, Adam announced he would go get some lunch for them if Georgia wanted to sit down and relax for a bit. When he got outside, he was almost immediately confronted by Gil Starry apparently tiring of the slow pace of his revenge.
“I got an idea, Cartwright. You got a perfectly good left hand. I brought a left-handed pistol rig. You and me gonna have that gunfight. You got no excuse left. Here, you put this on.”
Just then, Hoss Cartwright walked up to Gil. “Well, Gil Starry, you live right next door to us practically and I ain’t seen you in a month of Sundays. How you been?
“Hoss, I got business with your brother. Step aside.”
Except Hoss stayed between them and leaned in close to Gil.
“Gil, you been drinking? I don’t think you oughta be thinking on gun fighting ifn you bin drinking.”
As Hoss talked, he leaned in closer to Gil sniffing and wrinkling his nose. Gil backed away trying to get away from Hoss until his legs came in contact with a horse trough. Hoss tapped him on the shoulder rather forcefully right about that time to emphasize the point he was trying to make that Gil shouldn’t be thinking about fighting if he’d been drinking, and Gil fell lengthwise into the horse trough.
“Now, see, I knew you had too much to drink. You can’t even stay on your feet. Here, let me give you a hand and I’ll help you to your carriage and make sure you get home safe and sound.”
“Hoss, you did that on purpose.”
“Pushed me into the horse trough.”
“Pushed you? Heck, Gil, I was talking to ya when ya fell. Dontcha remember? Ya really musta had too much to drink.”
Hoss knew the story that would go around town about this one. He made sure the commentary was nice and loud about Gil having too much to drink and falling. Facts weren’t likely to change the perception that people had that Gil had been drunk and fell. No one had any idea just how hard Hoss had poked him that last time. He was already leaning backwards because of Hoss sniffing him.
Standing and watching Hoss’ retreating back, Adam wasn’t sure what to think. As Georgia walked up to stand beside him, he sighed.
“Do you think that was serendipity or has Hoss been watching out for me the whole time?”
“I guess you’ll have to ask him.”
“That’s two things we need to discuss.”
So plans were made for Adam to take a trip to the Ponderosa the next day to talk to Hoss. He wanted to know about the school and the teacher if he knew anything, and he needed to know if Hoss was being his nursemaid or not. He hadn’t spent much time out there lately so it would be a good time to visit too.
As Adam rode toward the Ponderosa, he had many thoughts occupying his mind and didn’t see the man on the ridge watching him and matching his route. Only when he was safely on the Ponderosa did the man halt and find a quiet place to rest to wait for him to return. He had to remain alert because Hoss and Joe would have his hide if he lost sight of their brother. As one of the men assigned to keep an eye on their older brother, he was getting paid extra to make sure nothing happened to him so vigilance was the key. Down below, Adam had no idea he had a bodyguard at a distance. No, Adam’s thoughts weren’t on the shadow rider because he had enough dark thoughts in his mind. In the past, when he still wore a pistol, he had been in a number of confrontations. Although he never sought them out, he never ran away from a fight either. The only one he had ever declined was with Bill Enders and that was because he was trying to prove Bill a murderer and getting killed by him wouldn’t have been beneficial to his cause. He smirked a bit at himself over that one admitting he had been afraid of Bill’s skill with a pistol. It had been the one time he lacked any confidence that he could win a fight. Usually he walked into a fight with confidence that he could win or at least confidence that he had a far better chance of winning than the other man. What he had always known too was that the other man probably knew it and if he didn’t, Adam’s swagger let him know he should. As a result, Adam could walk tall anywhere he went with an intimidating glare when he wanted to use it or aggressive words that he could back up.
Now with the problems raising his right arm, he couldn’t draw. All of that confidence was gone and with it, the swagger and the intimidation. It hurt his pride to have to back down because he couldn’t fight. He wanted to fight. He had been fighting with himself ever since he had returned home with his wife and sons. He was a father, a husband, and a doctor who had no business fighting. Yet, when challenged, that is exactly what he wanted to do. Diplomacy and negotiation worked but left him feeling that he was less of a man. To hear his sons so openly admire his brothers over him had brought that into sharp focus. If Hoss was fighting his fights for him, he was going to feel like even less of a man.
When Adam drove the carriage into the yard of the Ponderosa, Hoss saw him and noted the look he had. Not one to avoid his family when there was trouble, he walked over to the carriage to greet his older brother.
“Hey there, Adam, you look mighty serious this morning.”
“I am serious this morning.”
The stare was all Hoss needed to start talking.
“Ifn you think I was in town watching over ya, you’re wrong. I was there getting supplies, and I saw Gil was in one of his angry drunk rants again. I figured he was heading your way and followed him. I only done what I thought was right. He had a gun and you didn’t. With him under the influence, I didn’t know what he’d do. I figured to cool him off some.”
“He may come gunning for you next.”
“Oh, I don’t think so, and if he does, well I kin handle him.” As soon as he said it, Hoss regretted those words and what they implied. He had been watching out for his older brother and nothing he said was likely to convince Adam he hadn’t been. All he could do was hope to change the subject. “Let’s go on in the house. Pa’s been asking ’bout you a lot lately ’cause you ain’t been here much.”
Deciding to let the prickly subject drop, Adam opened up the second reason he had come out to the ranch. “There is another thing I’d like to talk with you about. The boys are having some trouble with their teacher. You kind of hinted that might happen. Want to fill me in on that.”
“I wondered ifn you’d have the same trouble we did. That was a few years ago for us. You weren’t back yet. They pushed Pa off the school board ’cause he don’t live in town. They pushed others off too. Got some new ones on there. Said they needed new ideas and such. Hired themselves some new teachers including the one you’re having trouble with, Nicholas Turnkey. We did too as soon as that turkey was hired.” Adam smiled at Hoss’ play on the man’s name. “It seemed didn’t like any Cartwright children especially boys.”
“What did he do?”
“Oh, no matter what they did, it was wrong. He said they wasn’t smart enough. Now you know how smart James is. Well, they always got extra homework it seemed making ’em not like school at all. He didn’t dare do anything we could really fight him on. He was just making our boys miserable. Priscilla was none too happy neither. Her teacher told her she was trying too hard for a girl.”
“So you started up the little school out here.”
“Yeah, the children don’t have to travel so far especially in bad weather. The neighbors like it too. We can afford to pay the teacher seeing as how it’s Ellen and Alice doing most of the teaching. Now we know when the children get a bit older, we’re gonna have to look at someone else, but for now, it’s working out fine.”
“How much longer?”
Hoss fidgeted a bit. “Not much longer. You’re right. Priscilla is already almost eleven. We’re gonna hafta start thinking on what to do next.” With a frown then, Hoss looked at Adam. “Your boys having a lot of trouble with him?”
“Same as what you’re describing. He won’t accept that they’re smart, and he keeps giving them extra homework. They’ve only been at school a short time and already are saying school is stupid and books are stupid.”
Wincing, Hoss knew that must hurt his brother. Adam nodded.
“Yes, except I don’t know what we can do. We don’t have another school where they can go unless I move my family back here. Of course, right now I don’t have any patients to speak of anyway so it might not make any difference if I live in town or live out here.”
Hoss didn’t like that defeated tone in Adam’s voice. He, Joe, and Candy were doing what they could, but it would take some time. Somehow he had to get Adam to come around to that way of thinking.
“Oh, that trouble with Gil is gonna settle down soon enough. I already heard talk by the time I was leaving town yesterday. People have had enough time now to think about things.”
“What’s there to think about?”
“Oh, about you and about Gil, and about which one you’d rather have for a friend and a neighbor. Folks are thinking on it. They’ll get it right. They only need a little more time.”
By the time they walked inside the house, Adam was quiet so Ben knew his son had a lot on his mind. One quick look at Hoss let him know not to push so he talked about light matters and of course asked about Georgia and the boys, which got into the topics anyway. The conversation was so similar to that which Hoss and Adam had that Adam voiced his suspicions.
“So I would guess these topics have been discussed around here sufficiently enough that you have drawn the same conclusions?”
Caught out, there was nothing either Ben or Hoss could say other than to agree.
“Son, we care about what happens. We were not gossiping but only trying to understand the situation.”
“Like why your son isn’t man enough to stand up for himself?”
“That was never what we said. It’s unfair of you to characterize what we’ve said as anything like that.”
“I don’t know why not. It’s what I’ve been thinking. Maybe I ought to get a left-handed rig like Gil suggested or a side draw.”
“Do you think that’s wise idea?”
“I don’t know what else to do.”
Understanding his frustration, Ben urged patience, not one of Adam’s strengths. “Why can’t you wait him out? He’s a drunk and a loudmouth. People will tire of him.”
“Until the next one like him? Pa, surgery is not a sure thing. There will always be failures or as in his case, less than optimal results. Do I have to run and hide every time there’s a disgruntled patient or patient’s family?”
“You’ve never run and hidden in your life even when you probably should have.”
“You know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t. What I think is that you want to be the man you were. You want to walk out there with a pistol on and scare him or best him. You can’t do that and that bothers you.”
“It does now that I have sons who see what I can’t do. Well, nothing more is going to be settled here. I should get back home. Georgia and I should talk about this school situation before the boys get home.”
Hoss didn’t want to let things end on a sour note like that. “You know, Adam, your boys ain’t been out here in a while. Why don’t you bring ’em on out here to stay on Friday. We kin bring ’em on back to ya for church services on Sunday.”
“Yeah, sure, they’ll like that. Yeah, that’ll certainly help, won’t it?”
The words were positive but the tone and delivery said the opposite. Ben was wondering if there could be some jealousy of his brothers there when he was distracted by a more serious problem. Adam was almost out the door when the tremors hit. Hoss grabbed Adam’s arm and pulled him to the dining table and under it as Ben moved quickly to sit under his desk. The house shook for almost a minute and then a few minutes later shook for about twenty seconds. Hoss and Adam waited and there was nothing more. Hoss got up from under the table and called out to their father.
“I’m all right, Hoss. More importantly, how’s the plaster?”
While Adam frowned wondering at the strange question, Hoss began to look up and around moving around the room as his father did the same. Then both stopped and congratulated each other. They saw Adam and knew they had to explain.
“You weren’t here in sixty-eight and sixty-nine when we had some real good quakes. Shook a lot of that plaster loose, older brother. It’d been in place for a long time, but every little bit of rocking that happened musta put some cracks in it. When the bigger ones hit, it all started to come down.”
“Yes, we did some reading and found that by adding some things to the plaster, it can hold up better to earthquakes. We get quite a few of the small ones here so we tried it out. It looks like it worked too. That was a pretty good shake.”
“I’m gonna go check on the ladies. Ellen is over to Alice’s house. I’m sure they’re fine, but I’m gonna check anyhow.” Hoss left with a wave.
“I need to head to town to see about Georgia and about the school and my office.”
“It should all be fine, Adam. After the big fire, things were built better.”
“I should still go check.”
“Of course you need to do that, but don’t take any chances on the drive back to town. I’m sure they are fine.”
Although Adam drove back rapidly, he kept his father’s advice in mind. His father was right in that his house and office, and the school were fine. Georgia was shaken up by what had happened as were the boys, but overall except for a few broken dishes and some glassware, there were no casualties. However, one of the mines had a shaft collapse. There were men trapped down below and many were hurt. Men were soon at Adam’s door asking for his help. All thoughts of Gil and his threats were forgotten.
Note: There were significant earthquakes in that area in 1851, 1860, 1868, and 1869. There were many other small quakes as it is in an active zone with numerous fault lines.
At the mine, the rescue operation was going extremely slowly. There was a narrow opening and care was being taken so that none of it would collapse. If it did, the fear was that the men would not have enough air and that the lantern they had would have to be extinguished as well. When Adam arrived, Doctor Martin was already there waiting for casualties to be brought up. Adam had questions for the man in charge of the rescue effort.
“Are there many injuries?”
“Yeah, there are two very serious ones and probably ten or so not as serious from what we’ve been able to hear so far but lots of them are going to need you from what we know so far.”
“When can you get them out?”
“That’s the big problem. We don’t know if we can get them out today. It may be tomorrow before we get enough room to get a stretcher through that opening.”
“If they’re seriously injured and need my services, they may not have that much time.”
“Doc, don’t you think I know that, but I can’t risk all their lives and the rescuers by rushing through this.”
Contemplating that, Adam began to formulate a plan. If they didn’t have those men out in a couple of hours, he was going to suggest an alternative. Two hours later with no discernable progress in getting any of the injured men out of that shaft, Adam approached the rescue party again. Doctor Martin walked with him afraid of what he was planning to do. The two of them had organized a tent to care for the injured as soon as they were brought out, but had nothing more to do until that happened. Adam asked if there was any timetable for getting the injured men out and pointed to the anxious families waiting beyond the barricades set up not more than fifty yards away.
“No, sorry, doc, but every time we expand one area, another area starts filling in. They’re digging to ’em from another shaft and that might still be the best way.”
“How long will that take?”
“They should break through tomorrow some time.”
“Seriously injured men don’t usually have a full day to wait. I’ll go in.”
“Whoa, now, wait a minute there older brother.” A big meaty hand settled on Adam’s shoulder.
“Yeah, if anyone goes in it should be me. You’re too big even if you are thinner than you used to be.”
“And which one of you will do surgery if it’s needed?” Looking around to see a number of Ponderosa hands there, Adam had to ask. “Are you here to take over?”
“Nah, we heard what happened and figured they could use a break and even us cowboys can lift and carry rocks.”
“So you want me to sit by and do nothing?”
“Nah, by now, some of these men got scrapes and such. You need to start tending to them and keeping their spirits up. Me and Joe and the men here will do the work that needs muscle. You do the work that needs brains and know-how.”
A short time later, the foreman was back with Joe. They had a question wondering if they could pull an injured man out in what amounted to a cocoon instead of a stretcher.
“If you’re sure he has no broken bones or if you can splint ones that he has, that would work.”
“Well Joe had the idea. He says you pulled him up a cliff face once that way.”
Remembering that, Adam nodded. “It could work. Get some sheets and splints to them and ropes.”
“Yeah, I’m thinking we could start getting men out fairly soon. Where a stretcher woulda caught up on stuff, what you’re describing we should be able to pull right through that opening we already got.”
It still took what seemed to be an interminable length of time, but they heard the cheer before they saw that they had a man out. They lifted the cocoon onto a stretcher and carried him to the tent so Adam and Paul could get to work. Now that they had proven that the method worked, the foreman went over to tell the families who had been brought up and what they planned to do to bring the others out. One by one, the injured men were cocooned and pulled through the narrow opening and then the rescuers who had wrapped them in the cocoons came out to cheers from the waiting crowd and darkness. In the tent, lanterns made it almost as bright as day as Adam and Paul continued to work. It was the middle of the next morning before they finished with the patients. All were still alive and likely to remain that way because of Adam’s skills as a surgeon. Paul went outside the tent and told the foreman exactly that.
“We’re almost done in there. I have to say I couldn’t have saved some of those men. You’re lucky we have Adam here. He did things to save those men that I don’t know how to do. I helped him all I could but even after seeing him do it, I don’t know if I could do what he did to put things to right for some of them.”
“I know some of them was busted up pretty bad. I kept waiting for you to tell me to give the bad news to the families.”
“No bad news this time. Some of them are going to need a long recovery, but unless infection gets too severe, they should all survive.”
Although exhausted, Adam said he would stay with the men in the tent because several shouldn’t be moved yet even by stretcher no matter how careful the stretcher bearers were. There were already women there ready to take over though so once more, Adam was overruled. Several of the women patted his arm as they passed him and told him to go home and get some rest as he deserved it. He and Paul got more thanks and compliments as they turned to walk back but Paul’s carriage and Adam’s pulled up courtesy of the mine. They had taken care of them earlier and now brought them back. Paul was philosophical.
“You see, Adam, it’s times like these when we get paid the extra that makes this job so fulfilling.”
“Yes, it does, Paul. That it does.”
However when Adam got home, the old demons assailed him again when his sons had some questions for him. Benji started it with a question about one of his dream jobs.
“Papa, did you go down into that mine to rescue those men?”
“No, son, Doctor Martin and I set up a tent to take care of the injured when they brought them up. Other men who know more about those things brought the men out of the mine.”
“But I thought you know about mines? You told me lots of things about mines. You told me about the honeycombs.” Doubt was creeping into Benji’s mind about his father’s expertise on mining issues.
“It’s been a long time since I was in a mine, and I was never an expert on mine rescues. Men who have been in mining in the years I’ve been gone have been involved in mine collapses and other problems many times. They knew what they were doing.”
“Your uncles did come in to help move rocks to make it easier to get the men out.”
As soon as Adam said that, he regretted it. In the minds of his sons, the role of his brothers immediately took on great significance as they began describing their uncles tossing huge boulders aside and pulling injured men from the rubble as their father waited in a tent. Georgia put a hand on Adam’s arm.
“You should go get some rest. Do you want a bath first?”
“I do, but I’m afraid I’d fall asleep in it. I’ll clean up now and have a bath later.”
Georgia knew Adam would likely need a bath later to help with his back. Although it was much stronger than it had been, it still bothered him sometimes when he pushed himself as he had done by working such long hours with no sleep. She was amazed though that he was as strong as he was. All those years ago when she and her father had found him wounded in The Battle of The Wilderness aftermath, she had not really thought he would live much less walk. Yet here she was married to him and the mother of his sons. Life certainly could surprise you, but she worried too because he had never truly adjusted to his new role in life. Although he was an excellent surgeon, he wanted to be all the things he once was yet he had lost some physical abilities because of the wounds he received in the War, and nothing was ever going to bring those back. His sons admiring their uncles for those very attributes brought those issues to the forefront again. She felt helpless because she never knew what to say when he was like this. Usually it made her say things she later regretted.
That’s what happened again when she found Adam opening a package wrapped in brown paper the next day. The boys were back in school and he had gone out to do some shopping. Expecting that perhaps he would buy her a present or something for the boys, she was shocked at his purchase.
“What are you going to do with that?”
“I’m going to learn how to use it.”
Adam strapped on the side draw holster and put a revolver in it. He pulled the pistol from it with his right hand to show he could do it.
“So you want to be a gunfighter?”
“No, I want to be able to defend myself when I need it.”
“You want to defend yourself against a drunk like Gil who doesn’t know what he’s talking about? I thought you were smarter than that.”
“It has nothing to do with how smart I am.”
“No, it has a lot more to do with how your pride has been hurt and this is the stupid way you want to deal with it instead of facing the truth.”
“So now I’m stupid?”
“No, doing this is stupid. You’re a lot smarter than this but you’re letting your hurt pride get in the way of the good sense God gave you and the lessons your father taught you. There’s nothing to be gained from this and a lot could be lost. What lesson are you teaching your sons?”
“That a man stands up for himself!”
Knowing she could not change his mind, Georgia conceded but asked one small favor. “Could you at least not wear it until you’ve practiced enough to know you can actually hit something after you draw? You haven’t used a pistol in over ten years.”
Accepting that the argument was over and that Georgia had given in, Adam was gracious on that at least. “All right, I’ll practice before I start wearing it.”
It was more a truce than a peace treaty though. The boys didn’t notice as they had more complaints about their teacher and more extra homework. However Ben noticed when Adam and Georgia brought the boys to the ranch on Friday. He rarely saw Georgia acting so coolly toward her husband so he knew something was wrong.
“What did you do?”
Tipping his head to the side, Adam made it clear he was uncomfortable answering while his wife was there. She gave him a look that conveyed her feelings rather clearly and walked into the house to visit with Ellen and Alice. Ben noted the look and the dismissal guessing the matter was a serious one and waited for Adam to explain.
“We had a disagreement on something I think I need to do and she doesn’t agree.”
“Some things never change. You can evade answering through more means than any man I know. Now what have you done that she doesn’t like?”
With a slightly defiant set to his posture, Adam answered that one. “I bought a pistol and I plan to wear it.”
Shocked, Ben said what he thought was the only sane reaction to that. “But you can’t use a pistol.”
“No, I can use a pistol. I can’t draw a pistol or at least I can’t draw one the way any other man would. I can’t lift my arm to do it, but once my arm is at a normal level like this, it works just fine. I can do surgery and all sorts of other things.”
“I know that. But if you wear a pistol, other men will assume you can draw it.”
“That’s why I got a side-draw holster. I can draw it. I’ll have to practice, and I told Georgia I won’t wear it until I have practiced with it and can use it properly.”
Unconvinced that the plan was wise, Ben at least accepted that the plan made sense as far as it went. What he didn’t understand was the motivation for Adam to do it after all these years of not wearing a sidearm.
“I guess I don’t like being compared to others and found lacking. It’s gotten to be an issue for me, and it’s one that’s easily resolved. I can defend myself.”
Considering that response for several minutes in silence, Ben thought he had the pieces of the puzzle.
“You’re concerned that your brothers are watching out for you and protecting you. You think others may be shielding you from harm. Meanwhile you don’t get into any fights while others do, and your sons have a high regard for those who fight.”
“And ride and break wild horses and go bear hunting and do all sorts of things their father can’t do.”
“Adam, you do amazing things that none of us can do. There isn’t another person anywhere near here who can do what you do. You should be proud of that and be willing for your sons to mature enough to appreciate their father. Do I have to remind you that you weren’t always so proud of me when you were a boy?” Ben understood well who Adam meant by his comment but didn’t want to talk about what Joe and Hoss could do. Instead he wanted to talk about Adam. “Son, I know it’s difficult. You’re a proud man, but do you want to do this one thing that could lead to all sorts of harm to your marriage and put your life at risk when you have so much to live for?”
“Pa, do you know what it’s like to face a man like Gil Starry in the street when he had a loaded weapon and you’re unarmed? Do you know what that feels like?” Adam remembered the terror of what that man could do to him and knew there was nothing he could do to stop him.
“Son, I remember how well you got yourself out of numerous situations with your words. As long as you can talk, I know you’re not unarmed.”
“They won’t stop a bullet.”
“They could stop one from being fired.” Ben waited but Adam was done talking about it. “I only ask that you think about what you’re doing and discuss it with Georgia as if the final decision has not yet been made.”
“I can do that.”
On the ride home, Adam and Georgia were both quiet. When they got home and the horse and carriage were put away, Adam said he had something to say. Georgia was ready for him to proclaim his desire to shoot his damn pistol and was shocked at his statement.
“We can talk about whether I’m going to wear that pistol or not. You can think about your best arguments why I shouldn’t. I’ll think about my best arguments why I think I should. We’ll talk about it and reach a logical decision that we can both accept as the most reasonable. I think tomorrow would be a good day to do that. The boys aren’t here and we aren’t likely to be interrupted.”
Although it sounded like he was conceding something to her, Georgia wasn’t all that happy hearing what he had to say. Adam was still dictating the terms and winning an argument with him was a herculean task. Things were cool between them that evening and that night, but Adam didn’t mind. He needed time to think and examine his motives.
In the morning, they were both relatively quiet and had a simple breakfast. They had given their cook a couple of extra days off taking advantage of the boys being gone. By noon, Georgia was bursting with a desire to get it over with. She pushed to have the conversation he had promised. He told her to begin by laying out all objections she had to his wearing that pistol and the reasons for her objections. She was careful to avoid any purely emotional response even if she had many of those as well as her logical and rational reasons. When she finished, Adam stood, picked up the pistol rig which he had placed on the table between them, rolled it in a soft towel, and placed it in the top of her highest cupboard in the kitchen.
“What are you doing?”
“Just like that? You didn’t even argue with me at all.”
“I argued with myself plenty last night and this morning. Everything you said agreed with my conclusions. I was going to wear that pistol for all the wrong reasons. It was hurt pride and not an actual need of self-defense. Now, if I do need it to defend myself, I will wear it. I have already found that I can use it properly. I haven’t practiced drawing it with any speed, but I can draw it and I can shoot. I know that much.”
“But you won’t unless there’s a real need?”
Putting his hands up in mock surrender, Adam had to smile a little. “There’s no age limit on being a bit foolish, I guess.”
Georgia smiled. “There’s no age limit on being a great lover either. The boys aren’t here. The cook isn’t here.”
“My dear, are you suggesting what I’m thinking you’re suggesting?”
“You are so smart, Adam.”
No one saw Adam and Georgia that Saturday even though their boys were gone. Apparently they were busy at the house; very busy.
Sunday morning, Adam and Georgia waited outside the church for the Cartwright caravan to arrive with their sons. When Ben saw how relaxed they were with each other, he knew they had worked out their differences. He was glad to see Adam was not wearing a pistol too. In church, he had a few extra prayers of thanksgiving to offer up for those blessings. After church services though, he almost regretted that he had talked Adam out of wearing that pistol. Almost, but not quite because things worked out very well when Gil Starry confronted Adam one more time.
“Cartwright, I done heard you bought yourself a pistol. I heard you even practiced some. All right, it’s time you used it.”
“I’m not wearing a pistol.”
“I don’t need it. I only need you to go home and sleep it off. Then you should say a prayer of thanksgiving that you still have that left arm instead of being a grumbling fault-finding unappreciative ingrate.”
“I think you heard me. Or are you a ludicrously deficient in intellectual capacity perhaps at a moronic level?”
“Listen, you stop throwing words at me that I don’t understand.”
“There’s apparently quite a lot you don’t understand. First of all, you wouldn’t even have a left arm except for what I did. Doctor Martin wanted to amputate it. You wanted me to save it. I did. Now you complain that it isn’t perfect. Whose fault is that? Mine for putting a massive mess of smashed tissue back into an arm that still functions albeit not perfectly or is it your fault? It seems to me that you drank too much and drove too fast and drove directly into the path of a freight wagon. Now if your arm is not working as you want it to work, who is more responsible for that situation, me or you?”
There was quite an audience to this exchange, and a number of the men had moved close to Gil as Adam talked. When Adam finished that last piece, several of them grabbed Gil and disarmed him. The men looked back at Adam.
“Doc, we got this. You go on with your family. We’ll take care of this trash for you. We all owe you for what you done. A hero like you don’t need to deal with the likes of this drunk.”
“I’m no hero.”
“You try telling that to a dozen men who came through your hospital tent last week and their families who are still glad to have them alive.”
All Adam could say then was to thank them for intervening and preventing any violence that could have gotten innocent people hurt.
Sheriff Coffee told the men to take Gil to the jail. He planned to have him spend at least a few days in the jail for causing yet another public disturbance, and he wasn’t going to let him get out of it with only a fine this time. He was tired of his drunken displays and disturbing the peace of the town.
AC and Benji had been standing with their mother and the rest of the family witnessing the entire exchange. They wanted to know why the men called their father a hero.
Ben went down on one knee to explain. “Boys, your father helped save the lives of men caught in that mine collapse because of the earthquake. He was tired and yet he worked himself to exhaustion saving their lives. Families here in church have loved ones alive because of what he can do and did. Then he stood out there using only his words against a man who had a gun, and he didn’t back down. Every man and woman here knows how brave you have to be to do that. He used his words against a man with a gun, and he won.”
“He shur did. Didja see how confused that varmint was? He didn’t even know how to fight back against your pa’s words. Adam had him outgunned ’cause he knows more words than anybody I know. He’s the best with words there is.” Anyone could see how proud Hoss was of his brother.
Benji still wasn’t so sure. “But they’re just words.”
Joe took a turn. “Benji, so is the Bible and look what happened because of that book. We’ve got the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and all those words that you learn about in school.”
AC took a turn at disagreeing. “We don’t learn about words like that.”
“Oh, you will, and then you can read some of your father’s books. I do, and he’s got some really good ones.”
Benji and AC were surprised by that and their expressions showed it. Both Hoss and Joe said they read their brother’s books except they couldn’t read them as fast as he did so he always had more books for them to read.
“It’s like having our own private library in the family. We’re darn lucky, I say.” Hoss saw the look that Adam was giving him and decided they had said enough. “Well, I guess it’s time to get on home now. Adam, you coming out for dinner later?”
A look at Georgia who nodded enthusiastically and Adam agreed to bring his family to Sunday dinner.
“Ifn you come early, maybe we could do a little target shooting.”
“Ah, we’ll see.”
As Adam and Georgia headed to their home, she noted what Hoss had suggested. “He doesn’t know that we settled that issue, does he?”
“No, we haven’t had any time to talk about it.”
“Maybe it would be a good idea for you to do some target practice.”
Surprised, Adam didn’t say anything but waited to hear if she had a reason for what she had said. She had several.
“Then if you did need to shoot a pistol, you would likely be better with it. Plus, it would show the boys that you do know how to use one but choose not to wear one. That’s a good lesson for them to get. A man doesn’t need a gun to be a man. Out here too someday, they might handle firearms. Oh, hell, they probably will. I would like them to learn a decent respect for them and a proper way to handle them. I can’t imagine better teachers on that than you and Hoss.”
Knowing how she must feel about the issue by her language and how much she must have been thinking and worrying about it, Adam said nothing but wrapped an arm around her to let her know he loved her. The boys wisely stayed quiet in the back of the carriage somehow knowing they could ruin a good thing if they said anything. When they got back, Adam gave them a list of things that had to be done including changing into clothing more appropriate to returning to the ranch and putting their Sunday best clothing away properly.
Before they could make the trip back to the ranch for dinner though, Adam got a call from some of the leading citizens of the town who also happened to be on the school board. Worried that he was going to hear complaints, instead, he found that they wanted him to be on the board. The president of the board, Elijah Anderson, presented their proposal.
“Ever since your father was forced off the board with the new rules, well, we haven’t had anyone who, well, understands the financial side of the schools like he did. Now, well, we’re not saying, well, that there’s any, well, shall we say, impropriety or anything like that, but, well, none of us feel like we are qualified to know. Now, well, you’re an educated man, and well, you taught school here at one time so you would know better than most what is needed. We were wondering, well, if you would accept a position on the board, and well, take over the oversight duties that your father used to do.”
Fighting back a smile because he understood the jokes about “Well, Well” Anderson, Adam wasn’t sure he needed any more responsibility, but his curiosity about the whole situation made him want to know more. “Why are you asking me now? My father hasn’t been on the board in several years.”
“Well, we’ve been concerned about the rising costs of the schools even though, well, the student population remains about the same, and, well, you now have sons in the school system. Well, we thought that might make you more interested in what is happening.”
Another board member added more insight to their proposal. “There’s been a high teacher turnover too in the last few years and many more complaints about the teachers we now have. We have less teachers and higher costs. It doesn’t seem to make much sense to most of us.”
A third man added even more. “Yes, the current head of the schools told us that he was hiring better teachers which cost more money yet we get more complaints instead.”
“What about the state tests?”
Adam saw the looks and knew there was something else that concerned them. It took some time for them to admit that problem.
“Last year after the tests, we had numerous complaints that the students told their parents that they had felt they had been woefully ill prepared for the tests. Yet when the scores came back, our students did far better than ever before.”
“That seems odd.”
“Yes, we thought so too, but of course, the parents and students were quite happy with that result.”
“And you were afraid to rock the boat. Now you want me to step in and do just that. You think that after what’s happened, I’ve built up enough status that I can get away with it.”
Adam didn’t need an answer. They all knew that already.
“Gentlemen, I will think about your proposal and discuss it with my family.”
“Adam, when do you suppose you could give us an answer? Well, we may have to come up with something else if you won’t do it.”
“I’ll tell you tomorrow.”
That seemed to please them, and the men left in a genial mood thinking they had probably achieved their goal. Georgia came into their parlor as the men walked away from the house.
“Are you going to be the sacrificial lamb?”
“I was rather thinking of myself as the avenging angel. I already had some questions about what was happening at that school. I’ve been paying attention to the boys’ homework. It’s repetitive.”
“They’re doing the same kind of math problems over and over. There’s nothing there to indicate any kind of teaching. As for the reading, it’s very simple and again, there’s no vocabulary or spelling development. It is all very simple stuff although there is lots of it. It seems to be meant to keep them very busy and looking like they’re learning without the teacher doing much teaching at all.”
“The boys haven’t been in school that long.”
“No, but if it keeps on like this, it won’t matter. They will waste a year treading water and learning nothing.”
“I heard what they said about the state tests. What could have happened?”
“I think you know.”
“Someone filled in answers for the students after the test was finished.”
“That would be my guess. I’d like to see those tests and take a look at each test to see if all the answers match in penmanship.”
“That would be a lot of work.”
“Yes, and probably invalidate student scores too.”
“Quite a scandal that would make many people angry with the man who found it out as well as those who did it.”
“Yes, so do I want to get myself involved in such a mess?”
“I think we both already know the answer to that one.”
On Thursday evening, at the next school board meeting, Doctor Adam Cartwright was introduced as the newest member of the school board replacing a member who was resigning due to ‘personal reasons’, which he did not disclose. The other members of the board expressed their gratitude for his service and welcomed Adam to the board. The head of the school system, Liam Garth, lodged an objection.
“He has not been elected. What qualifications does he have to help oversee schools in a city this size? His background as a cowboy on a ranch and then apprenticing to be a doctor hardly gives him enough credentials.”
That was the opening Elijah needed. “Well, he attended college and studied architecture and engineering and has excelled in both as well as investing his earnings to good success. He taught school here when we needed a substitute teacher and accounted himself quite admirably. He served in the War and was wounded but didn’t let that stop him from becoming a surgeon and has taught at a medical school in St. Louis as well as practicing his skills in three states. He is licensed as a surgeon here, in Missouri, and by the U.S. Army. I don’t know of any other person in Virginia City with greater qualifications. Well, do you?”
There was no one of course including Garth who could match those qualifications. He had to withdraw his objection. What he heard next bothered him even more. The board decided that an audit of the school system was in order and nominated Adam to take over that responsibility. They requested that Garth prepare any documents that were necessary to such an audit and have them ready for Adam in a timely fashion. With that, they did the usual minutiae of a meeting and concluded their business.
As Adam went home to tell Georgia that he was going to be very busy, Garth met with his handpicked teachers.
“We have to do something about Adam Cartwright. Our system is about to be taken away from us if he gets a look at things. I need time to cover our tracks better.”
“How can we do anything about him? He’s too well known.”
Turnkey had an idea. “He’s pretty dedicated to those boys of his. If anything happened to one or both of them, he wouldn’t have time for us.”
The others weighed in then as Garth and Turnkey thought about what they could do.
“We can’t hurt them. You know the Cartwrights well enough by now. If we hurt them, they’ll hunt us down and kill us.”
“If they don’t kill us, they’ll make sure we end up in prison for a long time.”
“I don’t want to be around when they catch us either.”
The others stopped talking when they saw Turnkey start smiling. They knew he had an idea, and it was probably something nasty. Garth told him to spit it out. They were waiting.
“We strand them somewhere a long way from town. We leave them with food and water so they don’t die or anything, but they’ll be lost. They’ll have to search for them. They’ll find them, but then they’ll have to try to figure out who did it. They won’t have much in the way of clues.”
“How do we not leave clues?”
“You know that Gil Starry has been making trouble for Cartwright. Well, we go to his place and take a wagon or a carriage, whatever we can get the easiest. We park it behind the school. At the end of the day, those two boys will have to stay to do chores because they misbehaved. I can make sure they do. All I have to do is say something to them and they like to argue with me.”
“All right, then what?”
“Once they’re out back, a couple of you stuff a rag in their mouths, drop sacks over their heads so they don’t see you or anyone else, and wrap a coil of rope around them. Pull another sack up over the legs and wrap another coil of rope around and you’ve got yourself a nice couple of packages. Roll them into the carriage or wagon and drive out of town with them. At that time of day, there’s so much noise, a little noise from them won’t make much difference. If they’re trussed up like a couple of large packages, no one will think anything about it anyway.”
“I get the rest. Drop them off with food and water. Do we let them loose before we go?”
“No, but loosen up the ropes so they can get free soon enough. You don’t want it too soon or they could identify you.”
“Then I drive the carriage or wagon back to Starry’s place?”
“Yep, and one of us will be there to get you two and bring you back to town. If anyone gets blamed, it will be Starry. All of this will keep Cartwright too darn busy to pay attention to what we’re doing. We need to clean up the books and think about what else he may be looking for.”
“Are we sure he’s looking for something?”
“The others all looked at the man who asked that as if it was obvious. They knew that there was a reason Adam had been inserted into the board, and as guilty men, they assumed it was because of their crimes. So they decided to escalate instead of run. When Adam told them a date on which he wanted to examine the books, they put their plan into action. It was less than a week after the school board meeting.
The next day, the Ponderosa hand watching Gil Starry’s place saw something quite odd. He followed up on it even though it wasn’t in his instructions because it was that odd. When his replacement came, he was surprised the hand assigned to be there wasn’t there. That was odd too, but he didn’t know what to do except to watch as he had been instructed.
In town, the day went normally until it was almost five in the afternoon and the boys weren’t home yet. Adam decided to walk to the school to find out what the problem was. He assumed they were probably in trouble again and hoped it was nothing too serious. Finding Turnkey in the room, he asked about his sons.
“I’m glad you’re here. I assigned them some tasks as punishment for being disrespectful. They were to bring in a bucket of water and some firewood. I didn’t think that was too onerous a punishment. Yet here it is an hour later and no sign of either.”
“A bucket of water?”
“I would have had them wash the board if they had returned in a timely fashion. It will have to be done in the morning now. My day is done and I’m going home. Please have a talk with your sons about how to properly accept verbal reprimands. Arguing with me is not an acceptable response.”
With that, the teacher more or less flounced from the room. Adam walked out the door behind him and then out the side door to find his sons. He found an overturned bucket and no sign of either boy. Calling their names got no response. Taking a walk in the general vicinity, he asked everyone he saw if they had seen AC or Benji and no one had. Beginning to get very worried, he continued on until he saw one of the sheriff’s deputies. He told him his dilemma and he alerted the others in the office who began to search through the town. There was no sign of the boys anywhere in town. After two hours, Adam went back home to tell Georgia their sons were missing. Hoss rode up to him as he got there. As he was going to deliver the bad news to his wife and brother, Hoss took his arm.
“Let’s go in the house. We got to talk.”
A short time later, Clem was at the house to tell them a posse was being formed to look for any signs of the boys outside the city and they were looking for men who knew how to track. Hoss told him to come inside too as they had some talking to do.
At the school, Liam Garth was in his office. Turnkey showed up to help doctor the books and reported on all that he knew about what was happening.
“It’s perfect. They’re in a panic, and no one is thinking about us.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
Turnkey spun around to see Adam Cartwright with a pistol pointed directly at his middle. He backed up until he couldn’t any more.
“You don’t know how to use that. I’ve heard stories.”
“Mister, he don’t know how to draw it, but he sure as hell knows how to use it. In the mood he’s in, I wouldn’t give him no reason to shoot neither.”
“Why, ah, why would he want to shoot us, anyway?”
“Now you see, this is where it gets kinda funny. You see, Adam here didn’t want me and Joe, that’s his other brother here, playing nursemaid to him. Now our brother Jamie would help out too except he’s off studying some more medicine in California. Now that’s not important, but I told Adam we wouldn’t play nursemaid to him. But you see, Gil Starry was a threat. So we had a Ponderosa hand watching him. We wanted to know whenever he headed to town so we could keep an eye on him. He’d been in jail for a few days, but he got out again. Funny thing was, you see, two teachers come to his place and stole his carriage. Now that was a mighty odd thing for them to do. It was so odd that our man followed ’em. He watched ’em as they grabbed two boys behind the school and then took ’em way out of town and dumped ’em. He waited for that carriage to leave and then he went to help them boys. Now, lo and behold, them boys was Adam’s sons, AC and Benji. So meanwhile the man who was supposed to take the lookout’s place there at Gil’s place, he gets there and no one’s there, but he does his job. He sees two teachers bring a carriage to Gil’s place. Then you know what he saw next? You do, dontcha. He saw the two of you pick up them two varmints and head on back to town.”
In near panic, Garth and Turnkey thought about running. Garth spoke first. “If we run, you can’t shoot us. If you shoot us, that would be shooting unarmed men. You would get locked up for that.”
“Yeah, we thought you might say that.” Hoss pulled two small pistols from his pocket. “These look like the kind of little pistols men like you would carry. These oughta do, right, Adam?”
“They will. Toss them on the desk, and we can finish this right here.”
Adam still had that cold as ice voice that could make someone shiver even if it was hot. Both men facing him felt it. They turned as one and raised their arms high over their heads.
Garth was whining. “You can’t shoot now. You can’t shoot us in the back.”
“You confess to everything including stealing from the school accounts and cheating on the state tests? You planned the kidnapping of my boys and dropping them off in the middle of nowhere?”
“Yes, yes, we did all of that.”
“Clem, you got enough?”
“I got more than enough. Adam and Hoss, thank you. I’ll get these two charged with fraud, forgery, theft, conspiracy, kidnapping, and anything else I can find. With any luck at all, they won’t ever get out of prison. We’ve arrested the others too. It’s going to be a busy night. I need your two men to give me full statements before they leave town. Are the boys back yet?”
“Could be. Candy and Joe were bringing ’em. Probably took ’em directly to the house.”
“I’ll need to talk to them too at some point. Tomorrow morning all right with you, Adam?”
“Not too early, Clem. We’re going to need some time together.”
“I understand. How about ten?”
“That will be fine. We’ll see you at the house then.”
At his house, Adam found his wife with reddened eyes but a big smile. Her sons were home safe if a bit banged up. They had been terrorized too and rushed to their father when he came into the house. Wrapping his arms around them, he moved to the long couch in their parlor and sat telling Georgia to sit with them as Hoss took a seat in another chair. Joe and Candy were already there. Hoss filled them in on what had happened at the school. AC and Benji were proud of their father but then told him what they had experienced although in a more disjointed way. Encouraging them to talk about it and telling them how brave they had been, Adam got them calmer than they had been. Candy and Joe added their endorsement to what Adam was saying.
“We don’t know any other boys your age who could have done what you did and not been crying the whole time. You boys were very brave.”
The boys chuckled a little at Candy mimicking crying a little and as they thought about the tough man crying.
Joe continued with a similar persuasive argument. “Yeah, heck, I mighta been crying a bit myself if somebody did that to me.”
When Joe said he might have cried too, Hoss and Candy both said they knew that. Soon there were jibes being tossed around rather quickly and the boys were laughing. It was a release of tension that they needed.
Hoss quietly asked what they needed to know. “You all gonna be all right now?”
Adam answered as quietly. “We are, and thank you to all of you.”
“Good ’cause Pa’s holding down the fort all alone and he’s gotta be wondering what’s been happening. We’ll head on home to tell ‘im it’s all over. You want anyone to stay to help?”
“I think we’re good.”
“Adam, I could stay just to be sure they haven’t got some other scheme cooked up. All of you might sleep better knowing there was someone keeping watch down here.”
Georgia answered before Adam could decline. “Thank you, Candy. We would appreciate that very much.”
They did sleep better with Candy keeping watch, but not as well as they had hoped. Sleep was disrupted for the next several weeks as the trials put all of them on edge. The boys had to testify which even though it was limited in scope made their parents nervous. Adam and Hoss had to testify as did Clem. The Ponderosa hands testified, and there were the books from the school and the altered tests sent by the state. Most of the men turned against the others to get mercy from the court by testifying against the others. By the end of the trial, it was guilty on all counts for all defendants. As the ringleaders, Garth and Turnkey got enough consecutive sentences that it was unlikely they would ever get out. The others got sentences that might get them paroled in ten years or so especially as they got more concurrent sentencing.
There was an unexpected school vacation for a number of students. There weren’t enough teachers to handle all the students and even hiring back some of the teachers who were let go didn’t fill all the vacancies. It took weeks to get enough teachers in the buildings to get all the students back to school. Most parents didn’t mind though as now their students would actually be learning something. That was apparent to most as soon as students began bringing home their first assignments including geography, history, spelling words, and new arithmetic problems. The new complaint from AC and Benji was that they needed help with their assignments. It was welcome to Adam and Georgia though because it meant their bright sons were learning. When Benji asked his father if right angles were used in honeycomb shoring of the mines, Georgia could see how pleased he was to discuss that with his young son. AC came home one day and said his teacher said there was a book about a ship that could travel under water.
“That’s crazy, isn’t it, Papa?”
“Maybe it’s something for the future, but there is a book about it. Would you like me to read it to you?”
So Adam began reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea to his sons in the evening. They talked about how the ideas of Jules Verne might one day be reality and talked about other things that could be but had not yet been done.
AC endorsed the Verne book and others. “I like these books you have, Papa.”
“Yeah, I like learning about new things too.” Benji liked the ideas.
Georgia smiled as she saw her husband beam in appreciation of his sons enjoying books and learning as much as he did. She was so proud of him and glad that he had found peace with himself and his life.
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