Summary: A somewhat metaphysical explanation of what happened to Adam after he left the Ponderosa in a story set in the time period immediately after the death of Hoss. Though the story is about what happened to Adam, Joe is the central character.
Rating: G Word count: 1640
Although Adam had only been home for three days, Joe stormed from the barn once again after another argument with his oldest brother. He wondered when the angry words would turn to a fight. Adam was heavier and taller, but Joe was younger and muscular from working on a ranch. A fight between them at this point could be devastating for both. Walking to the house, Joe wondered what he could possibly do that would ever make things better. When Adam followed him inside, he got a sheepish look from his brother. Adam offered the olive branch once more.
“I guess you would like me to stop making you mad.”
“That would be a good first step.”
“Joe, I don’t know how to talk to you at all. Years ago, Hoss warned me that if I left, you would get to be more like me. You used to say I was arrogant and Hoss said the same, but now I have to say you may be that and probably more than I was. Hoss said you always were more stubborn than I ever was and wouldn’t listen to anyone and would want to do everything your way. That’s what I see now. I feel responsible.”
Doing his best not to explode in anger, Joe tried to get some humor out of what had been said instead of focusing on what to him were only criticisms. “Hard to believe Hoss would have used a word like arrogant.”
“Well, he said I was a smart mouthed know-it-all who thought he knew better than anybody else about everything, but the idea is the same.”
“Now that sounds more like Hoss. The ranch is doing pretty well with me running things. And if you want to get along better with me, I don’t see that calling me arrogant and stubborn is going to help.”
“No, I’m not calling you anything. I’m saying we have similar traits, and what got me in trouble does the same for you. On the ranch, there are problems.”
“Yeah, but every ranch has problems.”
“I know how to fix some of them and I could explain how, but you won’t even talk to me about them. From what I can tell, you won’t even tell Pa what they are. You’re keeping it all to yourself; the worry, the responsibility, everything.”
“That’s what you’ve been worrying about?”
“Yeah, I want to help. What did you think I wanted to talk about?”
It was time for Joe to have a sheepish grin. “I guess I thought you wanted to take over your old role and run the place like you did before you left.”
“Joe, I don’t belong here anymore. I only want to help.”
There was the hint there of something Joe had not expected. “You’re not staying?”
“Have you told Pa? It near killed him when you left. Did you know that? What do you think this will do to him?”
“Joe, he knows I won’t be staying. I don’t have to tell him. It’s next to impossible for me to tell him anything. I can’t talk to him.”
“Of course not because he’s in Carson City for a few days, but when he gets back, you can talk to him.”
Ignoring that line of conversation, Adam veered back to the original thread. “I can talk to you except almost as soon as I start talking to you about the ranch, I hear a litany of complaints always starting with I have no rights because I left. You seem to forget the years I put in building this place before I left. It seems that counts for nothing with you. I gave up all rights by leaving the way you see it.”
“Yes, that’s the way I see it, and I said it to you when you left, and there’s no reason for me to have changed my mind about that.”
“How do I get through to you?”
“There’s only one way for you to do that. You stay. You make a commitment to work here, to be here with me, to be part of this family and not tear Pa’s heart out again.”
“Joe, maybe we can talk about that again. I’ll discuss it with you if you’ll write down the ideas I have for taking care of some of the problems you’re having here on the ranch.”
Seeing an opening that hadn’t been there before, Joe moved into his negotiator role, and moved to seal the deal. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow morning with Pa.”
“If at all possible, it will be discussed with Pa at breakfast tomorrow.”
“You’re going to meet Jamie too. He’s going to want you to stay too. I know that. Now, what are these great ideas you have?”
For the next hour, Joe sat at the desk and jotted down ideas for improving the ranch. He worked out the possible costs involved and how those could be offset by increasing income or delaying some repairs or purchases. Looking over the list of things that had to be done, it was daunting to consider all the work that had to be completed in the next few years.
“The family can do it. ‘We’re Cartwrights. It’s what we do.’ Isn’t that the family motto anymore?”
“It sure is, Adam.”
For the first time in months, Joe slept well and got up in the morning to the smell of bacon, coffee, and biscuits. Walking down the stairs, he heard his father and Jamie and realized they must have risen at dawn to be home already.
Although Ben was pleased to see that Joe had slept through the night for a change, he couldn’t help teasing him a bit at his late start to the day.
“Pa, I feel good. I have some ideas to talk over with you.” Looking at the table, he had a question. “Why did Hop Sing only set three places. Adam didn’t leave already, did he? He promised we could all talk that over at breakfast.”
At his question and statement, Ben paled and had to sit down. Jamie was concerned, but Hop Sing rushed out.
“Mister Ben all right? Need tea?”
“I’m fine. It was just a bit of a shock.”
Hop Sing gave a withering look to Joe for the way he had so abruptly mentioned what had happened. Then he saw how confused Joe was and realized he didn’t understand what had occurred. Hop Sing returned to the kitchen. Then Joe remembered. It was in the letter. It had arrived only four days earlier. Adam’s caregiver had sent it. The first paragraph was seared into their minds.
“My employer, Mister Adam Cartwright, did not want me to send this letter until all was concluded. If you recall, he wrote to you several years ago saying he was ill and unable to come back from England for a visit. I am sorry to tell you, the illness was severe and debilitating. It is why you received no more letters from him although he did receive your occasional letters and treasured them. Despite what you were told, he was not traveling except in his books and in his mind. I am so sorry to inform you that he has now succumbed. The news that his dear brother had passed seemed to have been too much for him to bear. Here, his dear friends all believe the two of them are together now and at peace in the Lord’s hands.”
There was more in the letter especially about the friends and about the disposition of Adam’s estate. The letter and crates of Adam’s property had arrived in Carson City at the same time. Ben and Jamie had gone to Carson City to retrieve the property and make arrangements for the money transferred to the bank there to be moved to the family account in Virginia City.
“Pa, I’m sorry. Somehow, Adam was here. He talked to me just like Adam always talked to me. He was brutally honest, and it was like he knew how I’d been acting ever since we lost Hoss. Of course I didn’t agree with all the things he said, but it got me thinking and made me realize there were some changes I needed to make. I’m going to be better now. I needed someone who could shake me out of the mood I was in. I know I can’t hold it all in. We need to talk, all three of us.”
“Joe, I don’t know what kind of dream it was, but I thank the Lord or whomever blessed you with it. I know it’s hard. I don’t know how all of us have gone on, but yes, if we all pull together, we’ll manage. We can do it. We’re Cartwrights. It’s what we do.”
“That’s what Adam said when we were writing out the list of ways to improve the ranch.”
When Joe showed the list to his father, Ben made only one observation. “Joe, every word here and every number is in your hand writing. You made this list and did all the calculations.”
Unable to deny that, Joe wondered at what he had experienced. “Pa, somehow, he was here with me. Somehow, he made a stop on his journey.”
At that point, Jamie made his only contribution to the narrative. “Hoss told me once that Adam promised to come home someday, and he said Adam always kept his promises. Maybe this visit was all he could do.”
There was no more talk about the visit, but in the kitchen, Hop Sing blew out the candles he had burned for three days and let the incense burn away to ashes. The paper prayers that were left were fed into the stove to follow the spirits to their final rest.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Hop Sing, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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