SUMMARY: For the first time, the four Cartwright brothers meet. It’s a time to get to know one another and for the older brothers to share stories with Jamie so that he can better understand the family members including their father.
Rating: T Word count = 3273
The Cartwright brothers were on a cattle drive that was historic as far as the family was concerned. Hoss and Joe were taking Jamie along on his first drive, and Adam had rendezvoused with them at the crest of the Sierras to help with the drive down the mountains and through the valleys of California. He was headed to Sacramento as they were and thought it would be a good time to meet his new brother and catch up on news with the other two. For the first and perhaps only time, all four were on a cattle drive together. Joe joked that Adam ought to ride drag as he hadn’t been on a drive for years. Jamie held his breath wondering how the famous temper of the eldest would take that as Hoss bent over laughing at the smirk and eye roll Joe got. Then Hoss saw Jamie.
“Takes more than that ta make him blow, Jamie. He’s a lot like Pa. His temper is a wonder to behold when he blows, but it takes a mite more than Joe spouting off ta do it.”
“Yeah, I’m just getting him to simmer. Give me a few more days and you might see a whole eruption.”
Shaking his head, Adam poured a cup of coffee and sat down on a stool by the campfire. After one day with his brothers, he felt like he had never been gone. The others sat too. Jamie seemed fascinated by how Adam leaned back and balanced the stool on two legs. Hoss guessed that Adam wanted to get to know Jamie and guessed the opposite was true too. There was more going on in the family though, and he thought he had a way to get all three things done.
“Hey, I thought maybe we could share some stories about Pa so Jamie would get to know him and us better.”
Hoss saw Adam get that faraway look he got when he was thinking deeply about something. He took the match he was chewing on and looked over at Hoss.
“You remember how important these used to be on cattle drives?”
“Oh, yeah, and on hunting trips and about everything else we did that took us away from home. A lot nicer than struggling with a flint especially when things were wet.” Then Hoss thought he knew where Adam was going with that. “And I remember too seeing you and the hands playing poker for matchsticks. I wanted to play too, but by the time I got old enough, well, we weren’t usually playing poker on a trip. Too much trouble happened mostly caused by you mostly if I recall right.”
Adam ignored that last part. “Yeah, it was better when all the men were almost like family. You see, Jamie, Pa taught me how to play poker. Most men here then played faro, but you need a table and a dealer, and it meant you would lose real money when you lost. Often on a drive or anything like that, there might be four or five of us who wanted to play cards. Poker was the game. First rule was that we could only play for matchsticks. Everyone of us carried a tin or two of matchsticks. Pa didn’t want to lose a good man over gambling. Lose your matchsticks, and it meant you had to use your flint.
“I bet the second rule was no cheating.”
“No, Jamie, in those days. that wasn’t even mentioned. It was assumed that if you were the kind of man who worked with Ben Cartwright, then cheating would never be an issue.”
“Yeah, I guess that makes sense to me.”
“We went with the standard rules. Call, and everyone shows their hand. Fold, and there’s no right to see the other man’s hand.”
“Why is that important?”
Chuckling, Joe took over. “I think because Pa taught Adam how to bluff. He’s one of the best at it too. Smiles like he does with any hand. Always acts the same way when he gets cards. No matter how good or how bad, he nods and smiles. He always acts like they’re just fine.”
Hoss added his part then. “Kinda like he is when he’s hurt. He’s always fine.”
Suitably impressed, Jamie tried to lean back on two legs of his stool. Hoss and Joe smiled and watched as he struggled to adopt the lean of his oldest brother. Clearly, he found that balancing on two legs of a stool was unsettling while Adam looked relaxed doing it. Jamie saw Adam looking at him with that impassive look he had so different than the obvious amusement of the other two.
“I never know what you’re thinking.”
“Now ifn you think that’s bad, remember who taught him to be like that.” Hoss was nodding.
“All right, Pa doesn’t show what he’s thinking either unless he wants me to see. One thing I don’t get though. Why no poker playing now? Sounds like it would be fun.”
“Well, that would be my fault. The men told me how good I was. They took a chance and financed me in a game in Gold Hill, and we split the profits. So we did it on a regular basis for a while. I’d go in for supplies for the ranch with one of the men and a stake, play some poker while he got the supplies, and then bring home the profits and we’d share.”
“What was wrong with that?”
“I was fifteen. Pa wasn’t happy.”
“How did he find out? Somebody snitch on you?”
“No, men wouldn’t do that, win or lose. One of the men must have said something to his wife. Marie went in to her women’s group and came home with quite a story for Pa. I have to tell you that was a painful message I got.”
“At fifteen and you were working cattle drives and all?”
“Last time, but it left quite an impression. Pa doesn’t like his rules being ignored.”
“I bet that was the last time you broke one of Pa’s rules.”
“Last time I got caught.”
Jamie started to laugh and tipped his stool over.
Laughter filled the night as one of the best cattle drives ever for the Ponderosa continued on. The next morning, Jamie got up early and saw that Hoss and Adam were already up. As usual, Joe was grabbing as much sleep as he could get. Jamie smiled and pulled on his coat as the morning was chilly. He rolled up his bedroll and stowed it in the wagon before heading to the chuckwagon for breakfast. He sat on the stool that had been his nemesis the night before but refrained from attempting a lean. Both Hoss and Adam suppressed smiles at that.
“I know what you’re both thinking.”
Hoss eyes got big and Adam’s eyebrow rose.
“All right, maybe not everything, but I’m not going to lean back on this stool and give you any more entertainment at my expense.”
Pursing his lips, Adam looked at him and finished his breakfast. After putting his plate and cup on the short table where they were being collected, he looked at Jamie. “So, you wouldn’t have laughed if one of us had tipped our stool over and fallen on our butt?”
Then Adam turned and walked away without giving Jamie a chance to answer frustrating the young man. Hoss looked at Jamie and waited to see if he’d say anything. Clearly Jamie was irritated. When he was about to voice that irritation, Hoss cut him off.
“Seems to me you asked for that one. You poke a cougar, you shouldn’t be so surprised ifn he snarls at ya.”
Then Hoss followed his older brother and walked to the horses to get ready to work. Joe had come over to them in time to hear Hoss but wondered what had happened. Jamie told him, and only got a grin from Joe.
“Jamie, don’t expect Adam to pull any punches because you’re young or because you’re new to the family. He never did with me. You can expect him to stand by your side whenever you need help, and he will sacrifice anything he has including his life for a member of his family. There is nobody better in the world to call on when you need help, but there’s one thing he won’t do. He won’t lie to you and he won’t coddle you. It took me a long time to understand that.”
“He could be nicer about it.”
“Yeah, he could be, but he works with all men. I don’t think he’s very good with how younger people might feel about things. I’ll try to have a talk with him. I don’t want you two at odds. There’s one thing you could do though.”
“Don’t challenge him. It’s not likely to turn out well for you.”
“That’s kinda what Hoss said.”
“Yeah, well, we know our older brother well.”
“Maybe somebody needs to get him to nicer to his brothers.”
“You thinking you’re that somebody?”
“Well, no, but somebody should.” Except of course Jamie was thinking exactly that and was trying to think of a way he could show Adam that he was hurtful in the things he said.
One more time, Joe tried to get Jamie to understand Adam better. “He tells the truth as he sees it. If you don’t like it, he expects you to tell him not pout about it.”
“I’m not pouting. Don’t you start in on me too.”
“You might think about holding that tongue a bit. I’m the last brother still talking to you this morning.”
“Sorry, Joe. I guess Adam and Hoss kinda got me on edge.”
“I think maybe you were on edge before you ever saw them this morning.”
“I guess so. I think I was thinking about what happened last night when all of you were laughing at me.”
“Yeah, well, I used to let things like that simmer too. Took me a long time to know I needed to just be honest with him like Pa was. The two of them used to have the loudest arguments you can imagine, and at the end, they always seemed to be smiling or at least at peace with each other. I figured it out. They learned to say what was on their mind and not hold back. They got it all out and nothing was simmering inside. That stuff that you let sit inside you like that only turns into poison.”
“Hoss said that you and Adam used to fight a lot.”
“Yeah, took us a while to find our way to communicate, but we got there. That’s what you need to do. Find a way to tell him what you’re thinking and stand up for yourself. He’ll respect that. He won’t respect you trying to find some way to get even for every little slight you think you’ve suffered because you weren’t up to telling him what was on your mind.”
“I told him what was on my mind this morning.”
“Yeah, I heard.” Joe folded his arms over his chest and stared at Jamie.
“All, right, maybe that was more whining that saying what I was thinking, but I did think it.” When Joe said nothing, Jamie had to respond. “So, what he said and what Hoss said made sense too. Is that what you want me to say?”
“I want you to remember that thinking before you start talking will help you get along with a lot of people not only our oldest brother. Now let’s have some of these eggs for breakfast. We’ve got a long day today and probably won’t be stopping for lunch. It’ll be biscuits and jerky while we push the cattle through that cut up ahead. There’s no good place to stop.”
“I wondered why Hop Sing cooked up all the eggs. He was afraid they’d get broken, wasn’t he?”
“Yeah, probably, and eggs make a good hearty breakfast that sticks with you for a good part of the day too. Grab some jerky and wrap up some of those biscuits before you head out. You might not get another chance to do it. I want you to work with me on the flank today. Hoss and Adam are working with the men in the lead.”
Perking up at that news, Jamie was surprised. “I’m not working drag?”
“No need to have so many working back there in this narrow valley. It’s time you learned what gets done on some of the other jobs. Now stick close to me. In these close quarters, there’s no room for mistakes. You need to follow me and do what I do.”
“I will, Joe. You know I will.”
Although Jamie did his best, he was no match for the skill and precision of his brother. Joe had to hold up for him a number of times, but he was patient and spent time teaching him what had to be done. There was time for it as only so many cattle could be safely moved through the narrow opening at the end of the valley. They didn’t want to push the cattle too hard in that direction and overwhelm the men working there as they did their best to get the cattle through safely. At the end of the day, the chuckwagon and the last of the men went through. It meant a late dinner, but at least the herd was through. Hoss told the men they would take a half day the next day to get ready for the next push so that meant an easier night for most. Jamie was disappointed to find out that Hoss expected all four brothers to help out with night herding.
“Jamie, this is when the men see what we’re made of.”
Hoss took the first shift, and Joe had the second one. Joe woke Adam for the third shift.
“Looks like there might be some weather coming in. If there is, wake me and I’ll come back out and help.”
When it was time to wake Jamie, Adam sent a man in to wake Joe. Lightning was flashing on the horizon. Adam stayed out singing to the cattle and keeping them bunched and turned away from the storm and away from the open valley where they might stampede and scatter. When Joe got out there, he noticed what Adam had seen.
“We’re going to need more men.”
“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. You know them better than I do so I thought I’d let you see the situation and decide who to send out here.”
“You didn’t wake Jamie.”
“I’m letting that be your call too. I don’t know if he’s ready for this.”
“He is if he’s got someone by his side. You ready for that?”
“If he’s ready for me, I am.”
A short time later, Jamie and some men arrived at the herd. Adam rode to them and quickly explained what he wanted. Then he had a question for Jamie.
“Can you sing?”
“Of course, I can sing.”
“Better than Joe?”
“Yes, I think so.” Adam smiled. “Yes, better than Joe.” Adam nodded.
Not sure what to think, Jamie waited while the other men rode off to do as they had been instructed. Adam watched and then looked at the approaching storm clouds.
“We’re going to sing lullabies to these cows as long as we can. We’re going to try to keep them as calm as we can until we can’t. Two voices are going to be better than one when the thunder rolls. Then we’re going to make sure they don’t run just like I told the men. You ready to ride by my side?”
It worked. They sang, and then they sang louder. When the storm hit, they rode with the other men keeping the herd circling and moving to burn up their nervous energy without panicking. Not one steer bolted away. No one got hurt. When the storm abated and everything calmed down, a fresh set of riders came out with Hoss in the lead.
“You boys go get some rest. We’ll take over now. You all did a great job.”
In camp, they found that tarps had been strung up and their bedrolls were under them. Adam rolled his out, flopped down, and was going to go to sleep when Jamie brought him a plate of food. He sat up then in his bedroll to eat.
“Thank you. I didn’t have the energy to get any. I’m getting too old for this.”
Jamie grinned but said nothing. Adam noticed that but simply ate his breakfast.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“I think you just did.”
“Huh, oh, well, you know what I mean. Why did you ever leave? You and your brothers get along so well and work so well together. I mean, you’re family.”
Finishing his breakfast and draining the cup of coffee Jamie had brought with it, Adam leaned back. “I needed independence. I’ve wondered for years too why I had to leave. I chafed at authority. I don’t like being told what to do. Neither does our father. He likes to be in charge. So do I.”
“So you were willing to give up your family for that?”
“Jamie, I still have my family. I love my family. I simply don’t live with them. If I did, I don’t think they would like me very much. It was getting to be that way when I was home. I was unhappy. I made them unhappy. It’s better this way. I spend my days checking my mill to see that the saws are set right to cut the flitches I want or drawing up my latest project. I have traveled. I have done a lot of those things I wanted to do and couldn’t when I was part of the fortress that is the Ponderosa. It protects those within it, but it also cuts them off from doing other things. That’s fine if that’s what you want, but it wasn’t what I wanted.”
“I guess I understand.”
“Jamie, you’re still young. What do you plan to do in the future? Do you plan to stay with Hoss and Joe and punch cattle and work with the horses?”
“Sure, but I want to go to school too.”
As Adam nodded and said no more, Jamie had a premonition. Someday, he might have the same predicament in which Adam had found himself. Adam had lived in a place many considered a paradise, but it was also a fortress with velvet bars holding him in. He had decided to leave because he needed to fly free in order to do things he longed to do. Jamie had traveled, met many people, and wondered if he could live a life in which he would no longer do that. At least if that did happen, he had someone with whom he could discuss the situation. At least he hoped he did. He looked at Adam as the older man lay back against his saddle and let his eyes drift closed.
“Adam, if I ever need to talk.”
“Yeah, I’ll be here. You can count on me. Let me know when and where to rendezvous.”
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