Everybody Makes Mistakes (by BettyHT)

Summary:  Joe and Adam have a series of altercations that have significant consequences for them and their families until they work out their differences and both make changes in their lives.  (Recently I realized I never posted the last three stories in this series.)
Rating:WC:  30,906

Brenda/Heat Wave Series:
Heat Wave (by BettyHT)
Second Chances (by BettyHT)
Everybody Makes Mistakes (by BettyHT)
The Lord Is My Judge (by BettyHT)

Everybody Makes Mistakes

Chapter 1

For his whole life, Little Joe Cartwright had been sure of one thing in his life beyond the fact that his father loved him and that was that he was his father’s favorite. Oh he knew how his father depended on Adam for advice and treated him more like a partner and a friend than a son sometimes, but if it came to a dispute between them, Little Joe could count on his father’s sympathy leaning his way and Adam having to explain himself. Little Joe could always work things to his advantage because his father had that soft spot for him and was willing to grant him leeway his oldest brother didn’t get. But not tonight. No tonight his father had brushed past him and refused to listen to him. Clearly Hoss had explained what had happened. Ben Cartwright had no soft spot for his youngest son any more. He couldn’t. Not with his eldest son barely clinging to life because of what Little Joe had done.

With a lot of time to think and an empty room for company, Little Joe could remember his decisions and his behavior. Looking back, he couldn’t see even then how it had all ended up so horribly. He thought it had all been Adam’s fault. But slowly he realized it was all his fault. When Hoss came out hours later looking haggard and exhausted to tell him that Adam had been awake briefly giving them all hope that he was going to make it, Joe told him what he was thinking.

“I should probably leave. Pa doesn’t even want to look at me already and if anything happens to Adam, he won’t want to even be around me.”

“Don’t be such a jackass. He’s mad at you right now, of course. You did some stupid things and Adam done paid a price for it already. But leaving would be a bigger stupid thing than all the rest. You want to really hurt him bad? Adam don’t blame you neither. He blames himself.”

“What? But it was my fault.”

“He didn’t say much but he said to Pa that he was sorry. He said he made a dumb move and he shoulda known better. Said it was all his fault that the money got paid late and that’s why Harry got killed. Said he understood why Harry’s family was so upset with him they wanted him dead. Said he was real sorry to make Pa worry so much again. He mighta said more but Doc told him to shush. Said he needed to use his strength to breathe and to get better. Adam asked for Brenda and seemed real disappointed she ain’t here yet. He closed his eyes then and fell back to sleepin’ again.”

“How could he say it was his fault?”

“Cause that’s the way he is.”

“But is was my mistakes that led to this. He didn’t make a mistake. I did.”

“You still don’t get it, do ya, Joe. Adam tried to tell ya more than once. Everybody makes mistakes. We all do and then we move on. You want to be the one who don’t make mistakes. Well let me tell you something about that. Adam is right. We all make mistakes and that includes you. You make plenty of them. And I do. And Pa does. And Adam does. You’re the one who kept trying to say he didn’t make mistakes like he was trying to be better than everybody else. Damn, I don’t have time for this now. You need to think on things and get it all straight in your head. You done heard it enough times. Now you got to accept it, is all.”

With a tray of coffee, Hoss headed back into the surgery where Adam was laying on that surgery table ready for Paul to do more work if he had to. Paul didn’t want to because any additional surgery meant more blood loss, and Adam had already lost a lot of blood. For the time being, it was a waiting game to see if the slow trickle of blood would stop on its own so that Adam could recover. Prayers were the main method of treatment they had left as they sat beside the man who was pale with blood loss and breathing shallowly. Paul, Hoss, and Ben were nearly silently as they sipped coffee and occasionally spooned water into Adam’s mouth. There wasn’t much more they could do. Joe sat in the outer office and thought. There wasn’t much for him to do either. He did as Hoss had told him and went back through his memories of the few weeks that had led up to the events of this night. The events were ones he had set in motion with his temper.

The first outburst had occurred on a morning only three weeks earlier when Adam had laid into Joe for forgetting to put tools away that now had to be sanded and honed because of rust. He had started by telling Joe that he shouldn’t have ridden through the pasture so fast stirring up the stock, but Joe’s smart answer back to him had riled Adam up enough that he moved right on into a longer list of complaints about things he didn’t like that Joe had done.

“Sometimes, I want to smash my fist into that smirk. I want to bash his mouth in so he can’t make any of those sarcastic comments. He thinks he’s so clever. I think it’s plain mean.”

“Aw, Joe, I know he can say them things that rile you, and sometimes they rile me too, but ifn you think on ’em some, you know, they’re kind of funny. It’s the way he is. He sees the funny side of things all the time. Pa said it was something once about Adam. I can’t remember the word now, but he sees that there’s always something kind of funny in most things.”

“Well, he didn’t think it was so funny when he had to fix fence for a week. He came home all crabby and sour.”

“Yeah, and then he told us those stories at dinner where he was all grouchy and such, but we was laughing so hard, I near forgot to have thirds on the chicken. Ya gotta look in his eyes. He was enjoying himself being all grouchy and all and telling them stories getting all his frustration out and giving us a good laugh all at the same time. I think it plumb tickles him too to get Pa’s eyebrows to rise up that high too that they nearly get to his hair. I was sure ole Adam was gonna break out laughing with the looks Pa was giving him, but he kept on telling them stories and we kept on a laughing. C’mon now, Joe. Ya gotta admit, that was fun.”

“Maybe, but it wasn’t fun a few minutes ago with him laying into me like that. Heck it was only a few hammers and other tools. It wasn’t like it was a horse or anything alive that I forgot about. He acts like I’m the only one around here who makes mistakes.”

“That ain’t at all what he says to you. I heard what he said this morning, and it wasn’t nothing like that. You twist what he says to try to make it like he done something wrong instead of you. He maybe could say it better or say it nicer, but he ain’t said nothing mean to ya.”

“Oh, yeah? You heard him a few minutes ago call me a ‘boy’ and tell me to ‘grow up’ so how is that not an insult?”

“You like to bait him, and then you get all offended like when he jabs back at ya. Well, I ain’t having no part of that. You need to straighten up yourself before you got a right to tell him to change how he acts.”

“He had no right to say that to me.”

“How many times has he or Pa told you not to ride that way across the pasture? You upset the stock, stir them up. You got the milk cows all in a tizzy and Hop Sing was upset and yelled at Adam about it. Then he gets out here to remind you and you argue about it. He tried to talk to you about the tools too and you argued about that when you was in the wrong again. He tried to tell you about mistakes and how you ought to own up to ’em and learn from ’em. He said something that was pretty about it ifn I recall right when he started in on talking about that.”

“Yeah, I remember. ‘Mistakes we make are often the result of forgetting past failures and repeating them. If we learn, we don’t make as many mistakes’ Just because he said it ‘pretty’ doesn’t give him the right to lecture me. Then he asked me if I was ever going to learn anything. That was insulting, and besides, he isn’t in charge of me.”

“Oh, yes he is, and he has been for many years.” Ben Cartwright was standing there then fuming. He was getting tired of his youngest son’s refusal to follow even the most basic rules and especially his reluctance to accept the orders given by his oldest brother. It was frustrating not to make any progress with the young man who seemed to want to refuse to change any habit no matter how harmful it was. “I put Adam in charge of the two of you a long time ago, and he’s still in charge as far as I’m concerned. If he sees a problem, I expect him to address it. Do I make myself clear, Joseph?”

“Yessir.”

“And I want you to be respectful of Adam when he points out your mistakes.”

“How about him being respectful to me?”

“I can talk to him, but respect is earned and it’s a two way street. You get it when you give it. You want respect from Adam, you give it first. Is that clear?”

“Yessir.”

The less than enthusiastic if not downright surly response should have been Ben’s warning that Little Joe Cartwright was not ready yet to concede the battle much less the war. He was going to go into full battle mode apparently. This particular issue had been brewing for years, and with Adam gone from the ranch for some time first as a hostage of some renegades and then when he had courted and married Brenda, Little Joe had gotten used to doing things his way. When Adam came back, he assumed that things would not have changed much in his absence. The chasm between the two brothers was enormous. Now that Adam had a wife and an additional ranch as well as a new business arrangement in California that he had established for the Ponderosa, he was even more like a partner and a friend to his father than he had been before he left. Little Joe resented it a great deal and decided he was going to do something about it. He decided then and there that he was going to keep a running tally of every mistake that Adam made and make sure that everyone knew about them. He was going to use humiliation to retaliate. The thought of it made him smile. Hoss saw the smile and knew that his little brother was up to no good.

“Now, Joe, you know things are gonna go a lot better round here ifn you do what Pa says.”

“Sure, Hoss, sure. I won’t go against what Pa told me to do.” However Joe was thinking that it wouldn’t stop him from doing things his father hadn’t mentioned. In no way had their father mentioned any of the things Joe was planning to do. Joe could proceed with a clear conscience. He was going to make public Adam’s mistakes and make sure there were some to make public too.

 

Chapter 2

That night in bed, as Brenda snuggled up to Adam, she had a few questions and all were because of the tension she had seen in the family since they had returned to the ranch after the cattle drive. Things had gone smoothly until then it seemed. They had taken cattle across the mountains splitting the herd with some going to San Francisco for immediate sale and others to the Dodge Ranch to fatten up and wait for the market prices to rise. She and Adam had come back to the Ponderosa as planned. They were supposed to stay through the fall until after Christmas when they would go to the Dodge Ranch for the winter and manage the sale of the cattle as well as spend a warmer winter than what they would experience on the Ponderosa, which sat in the Sierras. However ever since their return, Adam and Joe were increasingly at odds.

“Adam, do you think it might be a good idea for us to go to the ranch early?”

“I told Pa we would be here through Christmas. He’s counting on me to help until then. Why are you asking? Nothing has changed with you, has it?” Adam’s hand slid lower on her belly then although he knew she wasn’t with child.

“Oh, you already know that I’m not that. No, it’s that things seem kind of tense around here. Maybe it would be better if there was a little distance between you and the Ponderosa.”

Flopping over onto his back, Adam stared at the dark ceiling. He couldn’t see anything, which was about as much as he understood about what had been happening between him and his youngest brother. Their relationship had always seemed to be complicated, but lately it was sour too. “You’re talking about me and Joe. You may as well come right out and say it. There’s no tension between me and Pa now, and there’s certainly never any between me and Hoss. Frankly, I don’t know why there’s this animosity from Joe.”

“I wondered too. Could it be that while you were gone, Joe stepped up and took over a lot of what you had been doing, and then you came back and he was pushed aside?”

“I didn’t push him aside. I did the work Pa wanted me to do. He should be grateful he doesn’t have to do it all.”

“Maybe you’re not trying hard enough to see it from his perspective.”

“Maybe that’s because I don’t think he’s got a decent perspective, and it’s about time that he change it.”

“I don’t want to fight about this.”

“I don’t want to fight at all. It seems I get enough of that from Joe. I think I could agree with him, and he would object. Actually, he does. If I agree with him, he seems to think I’m being sarcastic. I can’t seem to win.”

“Then consider what I said. I know you don’t agree with me, but agree to think about it at least?”

Pulling her into his arms, Adam relented that much. “All right. I promise to give your idea due deliberation.”

“You sound like a lawyer when you talk like that.”

“Maybe it’s because it feels like a sentence.”

Almost giving in to the temptation to say that only supported her contention, instead Brenda decided to help Adam forget all about the tension with his brother. She moved up to kiss him as her hands began roaming.

“I thought we already took care of this for tonight.”

Saying nothing, she simply increased her efforts, and Adam stopped talking too. All thoughts of tension and turmoil were forgotten entirely. Once they fell asleep exhausted an hour later, Adam had a good night’s rest waking to a cloudy day though and the prospect of more unpleasant work. He was supposed to put in a new fence line with a crew, and it looked like rain was a possibility. They would have to work fast so that they weren’t trying to set posts in mudholes. He didn’t know of course that Joe had removed ten posts from the wagon suspecting that Adam wouldn’t count them before leaving. He was ready to tally that up as the first mistake he could throw up at his oldest brother, and he thought it would be funny too. It was the beginning of a contentious week for the two brothers. Adam returned as expected disgruntled and disgusted the next day. Brenda asked him what was wrong as soon as he got in the house and took off his sodden jacket.

“I have to go back out in this mess tomorrow. We were a dozen posts short. I had thought I loaded enough in the wagon, but when we got out there, it wasn’t enough. I must have made a mistake in my calculations.”

Sitting by the fireplace, Joe chuckled loudly enough for Adam to hear. He didn’t have to say anything. Everyone in the room knew he was laughing because Adam had admitted making a mistake. However, that laugh coming so quickly made Adam suspicious.

“Joe, you didn’t have anything to do with the wagon being short a ten posts now, did you?”

“Oh, so now you want to blame your mistake on me like I’m the only one who can mess up around here. Oh no, that one was all yours for not counting the posts before you rode out of here this morning.”

Then Adam knew it even if he couldn’t prove it. Joe making reference to him not counting that morning meant that Joe knew he had counted the posts the day before and had thought he didn’t need to count them again. He checked his calculations later on the map and found that the number there didn’t match the number of posts that were on the wagon so it wasn’t the calculation that had been in error. It had been the number of posts on the wagon, which he had done the day before to save time. He was furious by the time he went to bed, but there was nothing he could do about it. Joe’s sabotage had been perfectly executed leaving no evidence. Once more Brenda brought up the idea of going to the Dodge Ranch as an alternative but it only served to make Adam more surly. He hated to be bested and to retreat. It only made him more surly when Brenda suggested that it had been meant as a joke and perhaps he ought to try thinking of it that way. In the morning, he was in a bad mood that was noticed by everyone. It was still raining lightly when Adam headed out to finish the fence. Joe picked that moment to offer sympathy to Brenda.

“Too bad that Adam took a short cut with the posts and didn’t count them yesterday. I’m sorry he took his bad mood out on you.”

“Adam knows there are no short cuts. You should know that by now too. He knows that hard work is the only short cut. However sabotage can be made to look like a mistake now, can’t it.”

“I’m sorry if Adam is in a bad mood.”

“If Adam is in a bad mood, you certainly should be sorry.” Frustrated with both men, Brenda stormed off to the kitchen to work with Hop Sing.

Ben and Hoss were concerned, and Ben had to ask. “Joe, you didn’t take any of those posts off the wagon yesterday morning, did you?”

“No, Pa, I swear I did not take any of those posts off the wagon yesterday morning.”

Taking him at his word, Ben smiled and guessed that Adam had been expressing frustration as much as anything else. He went to do his work as Hoss and Joe headed out to do theirs. Hoss had a look that made Ben wonder what he was thinking so he called to him. Hoss walked over.

“Hoss, what do you think is going on here?”

“Pa, I don’t rightly know, but Joe has set out on some kind of mission to show how many mistakes Adam makes. I’m hoping he ain’t trying ta make sure there are mistakes, but I got a bad feeling about all this. Something jest wasn’t right about this whole thing.”

“I know. I have the same feeling. Let’s keep the two of them away from each other for a while and let things cool down. Maybe then we can get this talked out.”

“I hope so. Things were going so well, but it’s hard when Adam is naturally in charge being the oldest and the one who did it for so long, and then Joe filled in twice now and likes being in charge too. I don’t know what to do about it.”

“Well, Pa, when we got two prize stallions, we don’t put ’em with the same herd. We give ’em their own herd and keep ’em away from each other so they don’t kill each other.”

“Well, Adam and Joe are hardly like stallions about to engage in mortal combat.”

“No, but the damage they could do to each other could hurt worse than what an out and out fight would do.”

“I don’t want to see my sons separated. I think that they can work this out if we help them.”

“I don’t know, Pa, but I hope you’re right. It all seems to be putting him on edge with Brenda too.”

“Yes, I’ve noticed. I wouldn’t want anything to come between them. Perhaps I should have a talk with Joe.”

The next morning after Adam departed for town to bring contracts to Hiram for his evaluation and approval before they were sent off to meet a deadline, Ben’s talk with Joe went about as well has the talk Hoss had with him. Joe had already set Adam up for another failure by the time Ben talked to him that day. He had switched the bundle of contracts on the desk with older contracts that were already completed. Adam and Ben had reviewed the new contracts the night before and left them in a leather envelope on the desk. Joe simply moved a second envelope onto the desk shifting the one Adam should have taken off to the side where he was likely to ignore it. It worked. Joe saw that when his father called him over to have a discussion with him. As they talked, Joe asked about the envelope.

“I don’t know. That looks like the envelope Adam was supposed to take to town.” Ben pulled the envelope to him and opened it finding the contracts Hiram was supposed to review. He was shocked and speechless.

“What is it, Pa?” Once Ben explained what Joe already knew, Joe had an answer ready. “I can ride to town with those faster than Adam can make the round trip. I can be sure to have those in Hiram’s hands and then mailed off in time.”

“Thank you, Joe. I don’t know how Adam could have left without them.”

Once Joe had left, Brenda came out with coffee for Ben and asked what the commotion had been with Joe riding out in such a hurry. He explained and she had a sinking feeling that she knew what had happened again. Ben saw her look and asked her to explain. She wasn’t comfortable doing that.

“I don’t think I can do that but expect Adam to be upset.”

“I don’t know why he should be upset.”

“Oh, if you think about it for a while, I think you may get the picture. I’m going back to the kitchen. I don’t want to think about what it’s going to be like around here later.”

Leaning back in his desk chair, Ben sipped his coffee and thought. Then he sighed and blew out a big breath next. If he was correct in guessing what Brenda suspected, there was going to be a major confrontation before the day was done. He could only hope it was here at home and that it didn’t occur in town. He got his wish, but that didn’t make it any easier to accept when it happened.

 

Chapter 3

As Adam rode home as fast as he could, he saw Joe riding hell bent for leather to town. Joe waved and Adam could swear it seemed as if his youngest brother was laughing. He had little time to think, but the few thoughts he had were dark and suspicious ones. When he got home and rushed inside to retrieve the leather envelope he needed, he was met by his father at the door.

“You don’t have to panic. Joe is riding to town with the contracts you should have taken and will get them to Hiram in time and then make sure they are posted today.”

From seeing Adam’s expression, Ben knew that his suspicions were correct but didn’t want to say anything to set off a major tantrum. He knew one was coming anyway. Adam’s jaw was set and his brow furrowed. It was clear that he knew too what had happened. At that moment, Brenda came out from the kitchen, but Adam turned and left the house to go take care of his horse without acknowledging her or saying anything to his father. Both watched from the door as he led Sport to the water trough and then to the stable. His stiff legged walk with his head down was communication enough.

“Papa Ben, something has to be done about this. The fence line issue was only an inconvenience. Someone could have been hurt today. What will happen next?”

“I can’t be sure that this was Joe’s fault.”

With a smirk as good as any Adam could do, Brenda walked out the door and proceeded to the stable without responding. She knew her feelings on the issue were clear, and she didn’t need to say any more. Ben shook his head a little at how much she was like Adam sometimes. He hoped that she could get Adam to calm down though and wouldn’t cause him to be even more upset than he already was. She found that Adam didn’t want to talk, but he did appreciate that she was there. They spent some time simply sitting together quietly before going to the house. Both knew what had happened so there was no need to discuss it. Neither of them had any answers as to why it happened so there was no purpose to talking about that either.

A few hours later when Joe rode in, Ben was ready to intervene if trouble looked like it was going to get too serious. Joe came into the house and Adam was already standing and waiting for him.

“What kind of fool stunt was that?”

“What fool stunt?” Except the slight smile that Joe couldn’t help turn up the corners of his mouth gave him away as well as a full confession would have. Adam knew without a doubt then that Joe had set him up, and Joe’s next words confirmed it.

“Seems like you made another serious mistake, older brother, forgetting to check to see that you had the right envelope and nearly costing us a valuable contract.”

Luckily Hoss was there by then to restrain Adam at that point because he lunged for Joe and there would have been an all out battle if not for the intervention of Hoss who held Adam until he waved him off.

“I’m fine now. I won’t do anything. I am sorry for losing control like that.”

Joe was smirking now but not with quite as much bravado as earlier. He was a bit worried about the anger he had unleashed in his oldest brother. He had seen how hard Hoss had to work to stop Adam at first until he calmed down. Then he was shocked.

“Let’s go outside and talk about this.”

When Adam asked him to go outside to talk about ‘things’, he wasn’t so sure he should go. Neither was Ben.

“Adam, if that is a euphemism for choosing another arena for a fight, I do not approve.”

“No, I don’t want to fight him, but I do want to talk. We need to clear the air, and I don’t think it’s going to happen with any witnesses. I want brutal honesty, and for that, I think it needs to be the two of us.” Looking at Joe, Adam issued the challenge that his youngest brother could hardly refuse. “You afraid to go outside and talk?”

Refusing to answer that, instead Joe walked outside ahead of Adam. Hoss offered to come along as a referee. “Hoss, I have only rarely raised my hand to either of you and not for many years. I hardly expect to do so now although I was sorely tempted a short time ago. I’m in control of myself again. If there are any blows struck, younger brother will do the striking, and you can be assured I won’t retaliate. Fair enough?”

“I guess it has to be.”

With a nod, Adam followed Joe out the door and looked for his youngest brother finding him standing by the corral well away from the house so they could speak freely. Adam approved. “All right, let me have it. What is the problem that’s between us that keeps cropping up in these stunts?”

“Maybe it’s because you do your best to humiliate me so I thought I’d turn it around to see how you like it.”

Adam leaned against the fence trying to appear relaxed when every muscle and nerve in his body was on edge. “I have no intention ever of trying to humiliate you. I know we get into it a lot lately, but there is no humiliation involved.”

“Oh, yeah, well what about calling me ‘boy’ and telling me to ‘grow up’ because that sounds a lot like humiliating stuff to me.”

“I know you’re angry about things like that, but anger is not an argument. We’ve had those kind of fights for years. I’m sorry that I called you that and said that. I apologize. You call me names too. You’ve done it for years. Then we move on. Now it’s different. Why don’t you tell me what’s really bothering you about me.”

“You sure you want to do this?”

“I asked, didn’t I?”

“You leave here and then come back like you’re some prince. You think you can just step in here and do whatever you want without any consideration for anyone else.”

“Joe, I had no choice to be gone when I was held hostage by those renegades.”

“Didn’t you? You as much as admitted that you could have found a way to escape before they found those chains that they put on you, but you decided to be the big hero and lead them off into the mountains. You could have gotten away. You could have led the Army back to them.”

“Maybe, but I didn’t know that. I did know that I could lead them into the most remote part of those mountains and as far away from towns and settlements as I could.”

“Well that was your choice then, wasn’t it? You could have come back here, but you didn’t. I took over all your work and helped Pa as much as I could. Then you came back and it was as if I hadn’t done anything while you were gone. No one seemed to have noticed what I had done. All they did was talk about what a big hero you were.” Even as he said it, Joe began to realize how petty it was sounding, but he was committed now and didn’t know how to back out of the direction he had taken the conversation.

“So I suppose it was doubly bad that I chose to leave to go see Brenda and then came back again and stepped in to do work that I had always done?”

“You always act like it’s your right. You act like Hoss and me have no rights around here. You act like you and Pa run the place and we should just follow along like our opinions don’t matter at all. Now you move into the house with a wife. I suppose you plan to take over the house here too someday even though you have another house and ranch that we have no right to at all.”

“Surely you’re not jealous of Brenda’s ranch too?”

“Too? You think this is jealousy? This is about being fair. You want it all and you don’t want to share. That’s what this is about. You want to act like you’re the boss of the Ponderosa telling everybody what to do. Well, you aren’t. You aren’t the boss of me at all. If you are, then maybe I ought to leave here.” Joe stood with his sides heaving and his fists clenched.

“Joe, I had no idea you felt so strongly about some of these things. I think we ought to all sit down with Pa and work some of this out. There must be a solution, don’t you think?”

“I’m not sure there is as long as you’re here.” Joe had not meant to say that. It was a hurtful thing to say and he had meant it to hurt, but when he saw the look on Adam’s face, that face that usually was so controlled, he knew he had struck deeply, far more deeply than he had intended. “I’m sorry, Adam. I didn’t mean that. I was only upset and hurting so I wanted to hurt you. Honest.”

“It’s all right, Joe. I understand.” It would have been better though if Joe had hit him with his fists. The pain would have been temporary. This pain ran deeper and struck at the very core of insecurity that Adam always carried within him. Joe didn’t know it, but Adam had always tried harder, worked harder, and did his best because he had a deep seated need to be wanted, to be accepted, and to be loved. A boy who lost two mothers by the time he was seven and didn’t have a permanent home for another year after that had issues with insecurity. His father and Hoss seemed to know it instinctively and let him know he was needed and loved. Joe had always been the one who didn’t understand it. Now he had probably severed some of the ties that held these two brothers together although he didn’t know it yet. “So, do you think maybe we could ask Pa to work something out so that you have your areas and I have mine and we don’t step on each other’s toes any more?”

A bit chagrined at what he had said earlier, Joe was willing to make that concession. “Sure, I guess we could do that. We could try it.”

“Do you want to be the one to tell Pa?” Accepting that as a concession from Adam, Joe agreed. “Why don’t you go on in and tell him then. He’ll be happy we were able to work it out without killing each other. You can bet he’s at that window by his desk watching even if he can’t hear what we’re saying.” Adam did his best then to give Joe a smile. It wasn’t much, but it did reassure Joe.

Joe grinned thinking things were better between them. “Should I tell Brenda that you’d like a walk in the moonlight?” Adam nodded, and Joe headed to the house unaware of the emotional damage he had inflicted.

When Brenda got outside, she could tell something was wrong, but Adam wasn’t talking. She wrapped an arm around his waist, and he pulled her close. They stood quietly for a time until he asked her about her day and then talked about the constellations. He didn’t tell her about the contents of that conversation with Joe until many weeks and a very traumatic event later. She did get a hint though when Adam mentioned a few days later that if they moved to the Dodge Ranch that he would miss seeing his father and Hoss regularly. He didn’t mention Joe in that sentence. She was so happy to realize that he was considering her proposal that she didn’t take time to think about why he was contemplating the move that he had previously rejected. She should have known something significant had happened to alter his perception of their future.

Inside the house, Joe relayed what he and Adam had agreed was a solution, but Ben wanted to know more of what they had discussed. Joe couldn’t withstand the pressure and admitted a number of points. He told his father, and Hoss who could hear too where he was sitting, that he felt that by coming back, Adam had taken away the position that Joe had worked so hard to achieve. He mentioned too that he wanted to be like Adam and have authority and status on the ranch especially in making decisions about the future of the ranch. He tried to argue that he and Hoss deserved a bigger role in running the ranch but Hoss objected to that telling Joe to speak for himself.

“Joe, you have no one to blame for this situation except yourself. You have handled things badly. You need to apologize to Adam, but I think you know that already. You don’t earn respect and get responsibility by the way you have been acting.”

“See, you always take his side.” With that, Joe turned and went up the stairs to his room.

Ben wanted to follow and did call out Joe’s name but to no avail. Hoss told him not to bother.

“Pa, he knows you’re right, but he’s hurting, and too proud right now to admit he’s wrong. Give him some time to come around. Things should get better now that he’s got a chance to start thinking right.”

Ben’s nod didn’t reassure Hoss enough though. Hoss expected that there was going to be more trouble, and when Adam came to find Joe gone and his father and Hoss looking decidedly unhappy, he guessed that things had not gone well with Joe any better inside than they had gone outside. He had gotten a concession but not one that Joe felt in his heart. He knew there was going to be more trouble before things got better. Hoss wanted to say something positive, but he couldn’t say something he didn’t believe so he remained silent too.

Sitting at his desk, Ben contemplated all that had happened and blamed himself. He knew that he still had a hard road ahead in trying to teach Joe to be a reasonable man. The way he had indulged and protected the impulsive and emotional boy had created a serious dilemma in the relationship between Ben and his sons and between the oldest and youngest sons. The problems had been building for years, but it seemed that they was coming to an explosive climax at this time. Ben only hoped there wouldn’t be too much damage before all the smoke cleared.

 

Chapter 4

Ben couldn’t help but remember the cattle drive and the time spent on the Dodge Ranch that was now the ranch where Adam and Brenda planned to spend winters and some short times during the year. Adam was animated and smiling when he was on the cattle drive. He had laughed and joked with the hands. He had been eager to work. It was as if the Adam of six or seven years earlier was back. He had a spirit and energy that was contagious. Now back on the Ponderosa and working hard with his brothers and living in the same house, tensions had risen and the more sarcastic, moody Adam was back. Ben worried that it was going to damage his marriage as much as it caused problems within his family. Of course, Brenda was family too, but she had not had experience with this side of him or hadn’t for a very long time. After a troubling talk with his youngest son the night before, Ben decided he needed to have a talk with his oldest son and asked him to work on contracts with him. It didn’t take long for Adam to figure out that the request to work with his father had nothing to do with contracts.

“Pa, what’s this all about? These contracts are so ordinary you could do them in your sleep. You didn’t need my advice at all.”

Leaning back in his green leather desk chair, Ben smiled. He should have known Adam would immediately know that this had nothing to do with contracts. “No, I wanted a chance to talk with you privately, and this was the best way to get that time without your brothers being around to interrupt.”

Sitting on a corner of the desk and letting one leg dangle over the side, Adam looked at the bookshelf and the window or anywhere except directly at his father. “I’m guessing that you want to talk about me and Joe.”

“Is there any other issue that needs attention?” Caught much as he had expected to be caught, Ben smiled that gentle smile that let his son know he wanted to talk with him and not lecture him. “I think you knew that before you asked as much as I did.”

“It is rather obvious, but I don’t know that us talking about it is going to do any good.”

“Perhaps it won’t, but I’m concerned at the toll this is taking on you.”

“You’re not concerned about the toll this is taking on Joe?”

Shrugging, Ben leaned back in his chair. “Joe made this mountain he has to climb. It can be as high and as difficult as he wants to make it. The toll will be as great as he chooses to make himself pay until he realizes that there was never an obstacle in his way at all. He sees you as that obstacle when he himself is the obstacle to achieving what he wants to achieve. He doesn’t come to me with his concerns. He lets them burn inside of him with resentment growing and self-righteous indignation burning until he strikes out at what he sees as the terrible unfairness of it all. With Joe, wisdom always begins at the end.”

“Isn’t that true for all of us?”

“To some extent it is, but Hoss likes time to ‘ponder’ as he calls it and often works out a problem without having to draw anyone else into his turmoil. You do the same mostly although you often draw one other into it with you.”

“Most often that has been you.”

“Yes, but I don’t mind. Those, ah, ‘conversations’ we have help me to shake loose some of my thoughts that need re-evaluation too. Now don’t go thinking you always made me change my mind to your way of thinking. It happened a few times, but what you did was make me take another look at my convictions. Most of the time, I decided that I was comfortable with the standards I live by, but on a few occasions, you did get me to change.”

“So I’m a bit like that storm that helps clear the air.”

“Yes, a bit furious at times and dark enough to make me want to take cover, but not too bad. Joe is a storm too.”

“Are you saying we’re alike?”

“Yes, you are in some ways. He has to bring things to a head too to clear the air, but where you’re the tornado touching down occasionally for a short time, when Joe gets riled up, he’s a hurricane. When he blows, he rolls on and on with a wide path of destruction until his energy is spent. Then he’s ready to work it out.”

“I don’t think his energy is spent on this one yet.”

“No, I agree with that. What I want to do is try to circumvent him this time. I want to divide the responsibilities.”

“To keep us apart?”

Smiling gently again, Ben was once more reminded how difficult it was to hide anything from Adam. “Yes, there is that benefit especially in the short run, but I was thinking that if Joe had some part of the ranch that was his responsibility alone, he would feel he had more status and feel less threatened.”

“If you want to put him in charge of the horses, go ahead. I’m tired of trying to break horses anyway. I ache for days after that.”

Realizing he was a little irritated that Adam had guessed what he was going to do, Ben had to work to keep that out of his voice when he agreed that was what he wanted to do. He said he was going to ask Hoss about it too.

“I’m sure Hoss will agree. It can’t be easy for him with the way things are now.”

“No, I’m sure it hasn’t been easy for him. Separating the two of you was his idea, and I finally came around to accepting it as the best way to go. Hoss understands Joe better than I do most of the time, and I should have thought about that. I didn’t handle things well with Joe last night either. I was angry with him and it affected how I spoke with him. I guess the apples don’t fall too far from the tree, now do they?”

Father and son ended the conversation with smiles and hope that this would help alleviate the tension between the oldest and youngest Cartwright sons. However even though things were better, tension was still evident in the following days. Adam was at a loss to understand why because he did his best to stay away from Joe and out of his way. Ben didn’t understand it because he had given Joe responsibility that no one else had, but Joe still acted as if he had been slighted in some way. Hoss had an idea about what was still bothering his youngest brother but didn’t want to say anything until he had a chance to talk with Joe about the situation.

However Brenda did have a lot to say to Adam about the situation because she continued to believe that the best solution was some physical distance between the two brothers and also thought that Adam would benefit by a move to California and the opportunities there for him. It came to a head with them when they were in bed as she once again brought up that subject to him. He finally let out a lot of his frustration about the contentious relationship with Joe.

“I try to avoid Joe and his remarks. I do my best not to rile him up in any way. Yet Pa and Hoss seem to want to talk about it at every chance. This is supposed to be my sanctuary, my chance to get away from all of that and have some peace.”

“You could have that all the time if we went back to California.”

Then Adam did something he had never done in their relationship. He rolled over on his side presenting his back to her and closed her out. She was angry with him then and probably as frustrated as he was. She had learned though that he couldn’t be forced to talk when he didn’t want to talk. In the morning, the coolness persisted and was noticed by the other members of the family. There was nothing they could do either and they had no idea what had caused it although they could all guess and would probably have been reasonably accurate. After breakfast, Adam went to see Harry Slocum who was selling some cattle to the Ponderosa. The Slocums couldn’t manage the herd they had and wanted to sell most of their herd for enough money to start up another business. Adam was handling the negotiations for the purchase of the cattle for the Ponderosa. With Adam gone for the day and the obvious tension between him and Brenda that morning, Hoss felt that he had an opening to try to get Joe to open up about what was bothering him so much. When they were working on their chores, Hoss brought up the obvious coolness between their older brother and his wife that morning.

“Well, it doesn’t surprise me.”

“Why doesn’t it surprise you? They shur seemed like they was gettin’ along fine.”

“I bet he’s jealous yet that she owns her own ranch. He rushed into that marriage too.”

“Joe, how can you say any of that? They own the ranch together now anyhow, and Adam ain’t the kind to be jealous of that kind of thing.”

“Oh, he has to be first and have the best of everything.”

“That ain’t so. He likes doing his best at things not having them.”

“It always seems to be that way around here.”

“Aw, c’mon, that’s only cuz Adam is a lot older. He was here first so of course he does things first. Is that what’s been sticking in your craw? Adam got married and such? Heck, Joe, you’ve had lots of chances to get married first ifn you wanted to do it. You coulda been married easy by now ifn you wanted to.”

“That’s not it.” But Joe had realized as he and Hoss talked that it was a lot of what had bothered him. Adam had so much of what he wanted and was so much of what he wanted to be, and then he showed up with a wife and Joe saw the look of pride and joy in their father when that happened. It had stoked some fires of jealousy that had long been banked causing them to flare up. He couldn’t seem to control what happened because of those feelings either. He had always been the most emotional member of the family and those emotions frequently got him in trouble. He had to steer the conversation in another direction because it was getting uncomfortable. “It’s all the things he says to me to rile me up, and his smirks and sneers. After everything I’ve done to prove myself, he has no right to act so superior around me. Pa gave me this responsibility, but Adam hasn’t said hardly a word about it and hasn’t come around to see what I’ve been doing either.”

Pausing, Hoss leaned on his shovel handle. “Yeah, I’ve noticed him keeping his distance from you. I figured he was trying to avoid any trouble. That could be it, you know.”

Unwilling to concede that point, Joe brought up a different subject instead. “And why did Pa send Adam to negotiate with Harry Slocum? I know Harry and his sons a whole lot better than Adam does and so do you.”

“Maybe that’s why Pa thought he’d be the one to do it. Better to negotiate without being friends sometimes.”

“Well, I want to know the deal he makes with Harry because I want to make sure it’s fair. I don’t want him using his tricks to take advantage of him. Harry and his family have been good friends of ours for a long time and we should help them out and not just use them to make more money.”

“Now, Joe, it’s saying stuff like that that makes trouble. Why are you in this kind of mood anyway? You got me all mixed up in how I’m supposed to be feeling about my brothers. It sure ain’t much fun being around either one of you lately.”

“Maybe it would be better then if one of us would leave.”

“Now don’t go talking about taking off. That ain’t no way to solve a problem.”

“I wasn’t talking about me leaving.”

“Dadburnit, you shouldn’t be talking about nobody leaving. You ain’t said that to Adam, have you?” Joe’s look told Hoss his answer and explained a lot about why things had gotten so sour around the Ponderosa. “Right now, I’m upset with you. Ifn Pa ever finds out that you said that, you can bet there’s gonna be hell to pay. You can’t be saying things like that.” But it did give Hoss some idea of what was going on between Adam and Brenda too because he was sure that the issue of moving to California had probably come up between them. Adam had to be torn, and his inner conflict was being manifested in the sour disposition and the silences Hoss had witnessed. A lot was making sense that had not made sense before he had heard what Joe had said.

“Joe, you talked a lot about how Adam makes mistakes too and you was gonna make a big point of showing everyone how he made ’em. You made quite a mess of that. Now you’re making a mess of a lot of other things. You want to keep on proving that Adam is right and everyone makes mistakes cause you shur as heck been making plenty?”

Hoss stomped away then leaving Joe feeling guilty. Joe had time to think then about his actions and the things that he had said. He couldn’t see a solution though because everything he thought of doing required him to apologize to Adam, and he wasn’t ready to do that yet even though he knew he should. Apologizing felt like he was giving Adam one more thing to put him higher. Joe didn’t realize that apologizing would have made him be able to step up and be more of an equal. The only thing he decided to do was to ask Adam about the negotiations with Harry Slocum.

In the house, Hoss had time to think too and evaluated the things Joe had said as well as what he knew about his brothers. Here Adam didn’t have the challenges that got him excited about living but he did have a wife, he was a ranch owner, and he was an investor in California railroads. He had the type of things that Joe wanted but he didn’t have the kinds of things that he wanted. Begrudgingly, Hoss began to think that perhaps Brenda was correct.

 

Chapter 5

Dinner that evening started more quietly than usual. Joe was still thinking about the things that Hoss had said, and Hoss was trying to find a way to get his brothers talking about what really mattered. Adam was thinking about how to bring up the negotiations with the Slocums. Ben resolved that issue by asking Adam directly to explain to all of them how things had gone.

“They’re willing to sell us the cattle at three dollars each. I looked them over and that’s probably fair. Hoss can take a look at the herd and see what he thinks.”

Immediately, Joe objected. “That’s hardly fair with what we can get per cow at the end of a drive.”

Adam took a deep breath but said nothing looking to his father to see if he should continue. Ben was getting so frustrated with the whole situation but wanted to be fair. “Joe, why do you think that it’s unfair when you haven’t even heard the rest of what Adam has to say?”

“He didn’t say there was anything more.”

“Perhaps you could be so gracious in the future to wait to find out before you offer your objections?”

The rebuke was justified, and Joe knew it, but it still rankled. Anything rankled him in this situation. Adam continued then.

“He wants us to get them tomorrow. I know it’s short notice, but it’s the last day of the month, and he said then he can pay off his hands so he won’t have any more expense with them. The cattle they have left, he’ll be able to handle with his boys and with Charley who’s been with them about as long as Hop Sing has been with us.”

Looking to Hoss, Ben asked if that was feasible.

“I think I can do it, Pa. If it’s for Harry, we’ll work it out. Yeah, we can do it.” Hoss nodded and smiled. He guessed there was more from Adam and waited to hear what it was.

“Harry said he wants some help from us in setting up a lumber operation. He’s had some experience with that, and thinks he can make a go of it producing wood products for buildings. He said he’ll have to work to train his boys but that they know the basics already. Once they get that going, they’ll sell the rest of the cattle and probably most of the ranch. They’ll keep those wooded slopes and start doing some selective cutting to feed their lumber operation.”

“Did it seem like he might be open to us investing in that operation? It sounds like it might be a profitable arrangement if we could supply the logs and they could produce products for sale. I would rather see that than to have those slopes cut clear.”

“I mentioned that, and he said he would talk to his boys about it. He thinks a lot of you so any negotiations on that would probably have to be between the two of you.”

A rude noise from Joe at that got a glare from Ben. Adam had only been stating the obvious in having Ben work with Harry on the rest of the deal, but Joe took it to mean that Harry didn’t trust Adam. Everyone else at the table knew too what Joe was implying by his reaction. Hoss shook his head because he had hoped that if Joe had time to think about things, he would soften his attitude. Adam looked resigned, but both Ben and Hoss noted the fierce look that Brenda gave Joe. It was clear that she harbored some strong ill will toward Joe because of his behavior. Ben was becoming worried about that too. He knew that Adam had said he and Brenda were going to spend the winters at the Dodge Ranch, but if this tension continued, it was quite possible that time would be extended. Adam finished what he had to say about the negotiations.

“He has a few other ideas of things to sweeten the deal for them and justify the price we’re paying for the cattle.” With the tension at the table, Adam didn’t mention that Harry wanted him to do the design work on a lumber mill as part of the compensation for the cattle. He didn’t want to do anything more to get Joe riled up but did tell his father once he had a chance to speak to him privately.

Later that evening, the trouble with Joe was exactly the content of the conversation that Brenda and Adam had once again. Brenda stated her position and the additional evidence to support a move to that ranch for them. She noted that although Adam’s answer was the same, he said little to support it and wasn’t upset with her for suggesting once more that they consider a permanent move to California. Surprised, she knew then that he was seriously considering the move. She hoped he would agree with her and soon because the current level of tension between the two brothers was likely to lead to some serious trouble if nothing changed and quite dramatically. She didn’t pressure him though because she could tell how tense his muscles were already. He wasn’t relaxed as he rested beside her. She decided she knew a way to deal with that. She began by running her hand over his chest and across his abdomen as she kissed him and told him to simply lay back and enjoy her attention. He knew what that meant which elicited the first genuine smile from him she had seen for a while. He let her do what she wanted until he couldn’t stand it any more and then gathered her in his arms and unleashed his passion. When they finished and lay breathing heavily as they lay on their sides facing each other, Brenda touched his face gently.

“Sometimes you almost purr when we’re together and sometimes you growl, but tonight it was a roar. I think the whole family may have heard us.”

“Maybe not. It’s the advantage of going to bed before anyone else does. They know what we do, but usually they’re not upstairs when we’re doing it.”

“As far as we know.”

“That’s true. We’re not exactly paying attention. I guess that could be another argument that you could use to persuade me to move to your ranch permanently.”

“Adam, it’s our ranch, and I don’t want to argue with you about it.”

“I don’t want to argue about it either. I don’t want this to come between us any more than it has already.”

“It hasn’t. This trouble with Joe has created some tension but not trouble between us.”

“Good, because I’ve been worried. I know I’ve been difficult. I try not to be, but it weighs on my mind a lot.”

“I’ve only brought moving up because of what I see happening to you here because of Joe. He doesn’t seem to want you here. And I know too that you’re not using all of your skills and your intelligence here. You were so happy in California setting up those deals and the investment in the railroads. You came home so energized and excited to tell me what you were doing. At the end of the days here, you’re often only exhausted. What will happen when you tire of the routine here and the lack of challenges? It made you very unhappy before. You told me that you were considering leaving then because of those reasons and they haven’t changed much, have they?”

Adam was quiet then making Brenda wonder what he thought about that. She didn’t pressure him though. He needed to make this decision. He knew how she felt, and she had already stated all the reasons she had for why the move would be a good one. She knew better than to nag him by repeating any of that.

“What if I decide that the best course of action is to stick with the original plan?”

“Then I’ll make the best of it, and we’ll be happy here.”

Wrapping his arms around her, Adam began to kiss her then surprising her with the intensity of the kisses considering what they had just done. “I do love you so much.”

“Adam, I know that. I love you and I love you more than I thought I could ever love anyone.”

“I wish Joe could think like you.”

“And love you?” Brenda giggled then as Adam rolled his eyes at her. She didn’t have to see it. She could tell by the way he sighed and shook his head that he was doing it.

“No, you understand that there are two choices when you face a difficult situation: bitter or better. You can be bitter or you can try to make things better. You try to make things better.”

“Of course I would. I faced tough situations before. I had two stepbrothers who were less than ideal if you recall. I had to take some rather drastic steps to keep my inheritance. I did what I could to make my life better. Being bitter about the hand I had been dealt, so to speak, would not have helped me in any way.”

“No, it never does, and the things you did made you a better person, and then I got to meet you. I wish I had been smarter then and married you then.”

“It’s interesting to think about how our lives could have been so different if we had married then, but we didn’t. Now we can move forward though. Do you still think we can take that trip to Paris? The more I think about it, the more I want to go. At first, it seemed like something too strange for a cowgirl like me, but I know you’ll be there to guide me and help me, and my curiosity is starting to grow immensely.”

“We would probably have to go this winter. If we have a child, I can’t see you being willing to travel.” Adam was fairly certain after what had happened with her first child, that Brenda would never take a child on a long trip. She would be too worried to take the risks involved. He accepted that and that was why he suggested that they travel that winter. He was beginning to lean toward the idea of spending more time on the ranch in California with less time on the Ponderosa but didn’t like the idea of telling his father that. He didn’t like the idea of failing at working out the problems in his relationship with his youngest brother either, but that seemed to be beyond the scope of his abilities and decisions. He had made mistakes with Joe especially in how he gave him orders and tried to continue the relationship he had with him when he was younger. He tried to change, but it was difficult. It was especially difficult in that Joe didn’t seem to want to change his way of reacting to his older brother at all. He seemed to want all the change to come from Adam. That wasn’t going to happen so it seemed they were at an impasse unless something dramatic occurred to change how Joe perceived things. Adam fell asleep secure in the knowledge that his marriage was still strong and undamaged despite his moody behavior.

In the morning, Hoss led the crews to move the cattle from the Slocum ranch to the Ponderosa. Adam and Joe rode with him to the ranch and then the Slocums came out with them to show them which cattle to take and which to leave behind. They cut the fences and let the cattle through and by afternoon, the transfer was nearly done. Adam rode to the town to get the money to pay Harry as Joe and Hoss headed home to clean up to go to town that night. Harry had asked for cash so that he could pay his hands.

“Harry, you sure you want that much cash at the ranch? I could bring some cash and put the rest in a draft.”

“Don’t worry yourself, Adam. No one will know we have that money out here. I’ll get the rest to the bank on Monday after I pay off some bills we got and such too.”

It seemed reasonable so Adam agreed. He returned to the Slocum ranch with the cash late that afternoon. Harry’s sons had already headed to town to celebrate, but Harry thanked him and shook his hand. Adam rode home to spend time with his wife on what he hoped would be a quiet peaceful night. Joe and Hoss were all smiles, were all cleaned up, and getting their horses ready for a ride to town when Adam rode in and dismounted. Joe even congratulated Adam on a job well done because he had seen how happy Harry and his sons were about how things were working out, and they had told him how nice it had been to sit down and work out a deal with Adam. Hoss too was grinning at how well things were going. By the time Adam got to the house, he had a slight smile as well. Brenda asked him why. Ben waited to hear his response.

“Harry Slocum and his sons are paid and seem very happy with how things have worked out so far. Hoss and Joe seem like they’re in a very good mood too, and Joe congratulated me on doing a good job. I know the reward of a thing well done is to have done it, but it’s nice to have others say so too.”

“Well, then, son, let me add my congratulations too. This has worked out well for everyone. No one can fault you for feeling some pride in this accomplishment.”

After thanking his father, Adam had a late dinner and then he and Brenda took a walk that turned into more of a return to romance. When they got back to the house, Ben had to smile when he noted the few bits of debris clinging to the back of Adam’s shirt and still in Brenda’s hair. He didn’t say anything. He knew they would be embarrassed enough when they got to their bedroom and discovered those things for themselves and wondered if he had seen. He smiled, lit his pipe, and took a seat at the fireplace to read for a time and wait for Hoss and Joe to return. He was sleeping in that chair hours later when Hoss and Joe came home and woke him with some dreadful news.

“Pa, Harry Slocum’s been murdered. His wife’s been attacked and she’s in an awful, terrible way.”

“Hoss and I were in town when old Charley from the Slocum place rode in to get the Slocum boys. He was mighty upset and Roy rode out with them. We rode out there too.”

“My God, what happened?”

“Well, you know old Charley is nearly deaf. He didn’t hear nothing from where he was in the bunkhouse, but he saw the lights on real late and that was odd so he went on over there to see if something was wrong. He found ’em. Someone musta come for the money Adam paid to Harry today. Anyway that’s what the Slocum boys are saying.”

“Yeah, Pa, they’re blaming Adam. They’re saying Adam must have told people he was bringing that money out there, and somebody heard and decided to go get it. The boys are really mad. Hoss and I heard them say some nasty stuff.”

“I didn’t tell anyone. As far as anyone knew, I was getting money to bring out here.” Adam was on the stairs with Brenda behind him.

“It may not matter, older brother. Those Slocum boys are angry right now. We better keep an eye on you and make sure they don’t try anything.” Joe turned to Hoss and their father. “Right?” They nodded in agreement.

 

Chapter 6

The bad news didn’t end that night. Martha Slocum recovered from her physical injuries but remained in a catatonic state. She had to be fed and did nothing to help herself at all. Doctor Paul Martin gave her family a poor prognosis for her future noting that without care around the clock, she would likely perish unless they put her in a state hospital for the mentally incompetent. Her sons had no choice. They didn’t have enough money to pay for her care even after selling most of the ranch and the rest of the cattle. They avoided the Cartwrights although there were a number of threats made against them especially against Adam whom they blamed for the whole mess. However, there was nothing they could do with the protection Adam’s family maintained around him. After burying their father and eventually committing their mother, the three young men left town to seek out employment elsewhere. The Cartwrights were finally able to relax a little though Ben warned his sons to remain on their guard.

“We don’t know that those Slocum boys are gone for good. We know they needed money. They may return when they get some. So all of you need to stay alert to the possibility that they may try something yet.”

The best news was that the crisis had made Joe take a good look at what was important in his life especially focusing on everyone and not only on himself. He was getting along better with everyone. He had a long talk with his father one night and admitted that it was with his father he was actually most angry, but unable to express that anger, he had lashed out at Adam instead.

“Pa, you’re the one who gave the responsibilities to Adam instead of me. You’re the one who asked Adam’s advice instead of mine.” Seeing his father about to respond, Joe held up a hand. “I know that’s not fair and not the whole story, but it is what got me feeling like I was being left out. We both know that I react emotionally first, and there was so much going on that I was pretty mixed up there for a while.”

“Yes, you were. And now?”

“Well, some things are more clear and some things are going to take more work. I still don’t like being bossed around by Adam. I don’t think I ever will like that. It gets my back up every time. There are other things too. But I do love my brother, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to him. You know that at least, don’t you?”

“Yes, that I know. You’ve been as vigilant as anyone, but we still can’t let our guard down. I have a bad feeling about this whole thing. Those three leaving town like they did and leaving their mother behind seems out of character. I think they’re planning something. I only wish I had some idea what it was.”

“Maybe they only want to get away for a while and forget all their troubles at least for a short time. They’ll be back to see their ma, but by then, I bet they’ll have cooled down.”

“Yes, but sometimes cold anger like that is even more dangerous. Now, we’re all going to town tomorrow except Brenda. She’s not feeling well with that cold she has, and Adam wants her to stay inside and rest. Adam and I will see Hiram and then we can all have lunch together and perhaps the three of you can do something together before you bring all the supplies home. I’m staying and having dinner with Hiram and his wife. If it gets too late, I plan to stay overnight and come home in the morning. I don’t like riding home in the dark.”

“Maybe I’ll get a chance to talk with Adam like I talked with you.”

“I hope that you do. Try to keep it as objective as you did with me too.” That got a smile from Joe who understood what his father meant.

In the morning, Adam made sure that there were books, a fresh pitcher of water and a glass, and a plate of cookies on the table next to their bed as he bid goodbye to Brenda. She had a red nose and rosy cheeks. It was an ordinary cold but she still felt miserable. He told her he would bring back pastries and chocolate from town making her smile. In town, everything went according to plan. After lunch, Ben headed off to visit Roy and then go to Hiram’s house for an afternoon of socializing with a small group of friends before dinner that evening. The three brothers headed to the saloon to get a beer or two while the rest of their supplies were loaded on the buckboard. Hoss and Joe had finished all the ranch errands while Ben and Adam were busy with Hiram. Things should have been calm and friendly except that Adam was anxious to get back home to see how Brenda was doing. After he asked Joe for about the fifth time when he would be done with the poker game he had entered, Joe was rude.

“Dang, Adam, scared of the Slocums and henpecked by your wife. When did you lose them anyway?”

The men at the table laughed, but Hoss saw the muscles in Adam’s shoulders tense up. He walked to Adam’s side and put a hand on that shoulder. “It ain’t the place for it.”

“No, it isn’t, but that didn’t stop him, did it.”

“He’s had a few beers and you know how that makes him. You go on over and finish your beer. I’ll handle this.” Adam retreated and Hoss moved next to Joe and talked softly but forcefully with the young man who stood to argue with Hoss.

In the saloon, the two men who had been waiting for Adam to leave couldn’t help but smile when he left alone after the altercation with his youngest brother. Keeping in the background with their hats pulled low, they doubted that any of the people realized who they were. A few weeks of work had given them enough money to buy new horses, and the new clothes that were already coated with trail dust. They fully agreed with what Joe had said but were surprised that he had said it. Obviously there was some tension within the Cartwright family. Privately each thought that perhaps the youngest brother wouldn’t be too upset then with what they had planned. As Hoss paid attention to Joe, they watched Adam walk out the doors of the saloon with only a slight pause as he looked back at his two brothers who didn’t notice him leaving. The two had expected Adam to leave with one or both of his brothers. When they had left town weeks earlier, Adam never went anywhere without his brothers there to protect him.

The third one outside was going to help them spring the trap and then they were hoping the three of them could make a getaway after they did what they had planned. They had expected there was probably going to be some shooting, and they had fresh horses stashed outside of town. Their plan was to get so far ahead of a posse that they would never be caught. However with only Adam, this was so much better because they could eliminate the witness too. They would still flee but without the immediate pursuit. Their odds of a successful escape had increased significantly and both of them knew it. When Adam moved down the wooden walk toward the livery stable, the other man stood, walked toward him, and confronted him at opening of the alley.

“You didn’t think I’d forget about you, did you?”

“Listen, I am sorry for what happened. If I could go back and do anything differently, I would.”

“It’s too late for that now, ain’t it.”

As soon as they talked, the other two arrived there to silence Adam and block the view of anyone who might wonder what was going on. They pushed him into the alley and away from public view. One man pushed Adam against the wall of the closest building as he kept his hand clamped to Adam’s mouth as the two others immobilized his arms. Adam expected to be beaten. What he didn’t expect was the blade that was shoved into his side.

As the shock immobilized him and the pain assaulted his senses, the words were hissed into his ear. “That’s for Pa. There’s a grave marker that says Harry Slocum because of you. He’s dead because of you. Ma’s not right in the head no more and never will be. The ones who done it got away and we figure that’s all because of you and your big mouth. So you gotta pay.”

At that moment, Adam knew he was probably going to die and he had been told why. He was powerless to stop them because no matter how much he struggled, he couldn’t shake the restraining arms of three strong men especially with a knife in his side. He couldn’t talk with the hand over his mouth. The assailant meant to twist the blade and pull it sideways to do maximum damage, but two boys ran into the alley at that point. To avoid detection, the man turned to the side to hide what he was doing and slid the knife out before dropping it behind a barrel as the two other men sat Adam down on a crate next to the barrel. One of them growled at the boys that they were discussing business and the boys ought to skedaddle. With wide eyes, the two boys retreated knowing they had intruded on some serious business but not knowing how deadly it was. With little delay, the three men left as well. Adam was slumped on the crate and propped against a barrel. Weak already, he reached back to his wound, and when he brought his hand forward, it was covered in blood. He was bleeding heavily and rapidly growing lightheaded from it. He guessed they had decided that the wound was deadly and they would let him die slowly. He was going to do his best to thwart their plans.

In the saloon, Hoss had angrily shoved Joe down into a chair telling him that he had no call to talk to Adam that way. He was frustrated because he had thought they had gotten beyond the point of that kind of meanness. When he turned to say something to Adam, he found that his older brother was no longer there. He stepped to the doors and outside looking toward the livery stable. There was no sign of Adam so he assumed he was already there and probably saddling up to ride for home. Across the street, Hoss could see that the wagonload of supplies was ready for them. Unhappy with the whole situation, Hoss turned back to finish his beer before he went to join his older brother and talk with him. He guessed that there would be things they needed to discuss. He drained his beer and told Joe to be ready to go in ten minutes.

In the alley, grasping the side of the wooden barrel, Adam knew he had to stand. He knew he had to walk about twenty paces to the end of the alley or at least most of them so that when he fell, he would be noticed. There was no doubt in his mind that he was going to fall. The doubt was whether he could stand and walk to get to the point of falling. The world was already swirling around and turning unnatural shades of color. Every breath a torture, he pulled with one hand as his other hand sought purchase on the crate beneath him to push up. Between the two efforts, he managed to stand leaning against the barrel that thankfully was full of something and able to withstand his weight because he was using it to prop himself up at that point. Shoving away from the barrel, he took one step and nearly fell. Berating himself for attempting too much and risking his life in the process, he struggled to maintain his balance and the next step he took used only a small fraction of that effort but only moved him a small fraction of the distance too. One small step at a time, he moved ever so slowly toward the end of the alley that seemed no nearer with each small step. He wondered if he was even stepping forward. A couple paused in the alley entrance and stared at him for a moment as if wondering if he was drunk or something worse. Opium addicts could look worse and he heard the man say something about drunks and lotus eaters. Then he heard the words that almost made him smile.

“No, Hubert, we can’t move on. He’s not drunk. He’s bleeding. Look at his hand. That’s blood, and that’s Adam Cartwright. You go help him.”

Adam’s face hit the dirt before Hubert got to him, and Hubert was surprised to see a small smile when he rolled Adam over. From that point on, Adam was aware of poking and prodding, of voices, and of hands grabbing him, carrying him, moving him here and there, and undressing him. Some things were painful and some not, but he heard his brothers’ voices and Doctor Martin. He heard sobs and moaning. He guessed those sounds had to be from him, but it was weird because it seemed that he was some distance away from himself witnessing it all. Finally he heard his father’s voice too. He waited for his wife’s voice but didn’t hear that before fumes assaulted his nostrils and there was no memory for quite a while.

 

Chapter 7

It was dark before Brenda arrived. Roy had sent a deputy for her, and then they had to take the carriage to town. With the sun setting, they couldn’t go as fast as she wanted to go. Finally she saw the buildings of town and began to shake. The fear within her threatened to overwhelm her. Adam had never been seriously injured or ill since she had known him. This was a whole new kind of experience for her in some ways and frightfully familiar in others. The only other times family members had been so close to death, they had died. When the carriage finally arrived at Doctor Martin’s office, Sheriff Coffee was arriving there at the same time to check on Adam. He helped her from the carriage and escorted her inside. Joe pointed to the surgery and said nothing. Roy stayed with Joe as Brenda walked into the surgery anxious to know and terrified at what she would find out. Ben stood and wrapped an arm around her and brought her to Adam’s side.

“It’s looking better than when they first brought him here. He’s sleeping now. I was scared when he closed his eyes again, but Paul said he’s only sleeping this time, and he’s not unconscious.”

Cautiously, Brenda reached out her hand and touched Adam’s chest that was covered with a sheet and a blanket even though he still was on the surgery table. “Why haven’t you moved him to a bed?”

“He was attacked with a knife. Paul did what he could to repair the damage, but there was still some bleeding. He doesn’t want to move him until morning. He wants all the bleeding to stop to give Adam the best chance.”

In a shaky voice and with tears threatening, Brenda had to ask. “And what kind of chance is he giving him?”

“A much better chance now.”

Without opening his eyes, Adam turned his head slightly to the side and there was a keening sound from him. Ben told Hoss to get Doctor Martin who had asked to be summoned if there was any change. Brenda was scared, but Ben tried to reassure her even though he too was worried. Doctor Martin rushed into the room and quickly assessed Adam’s condition. Smiling slightly then, he pushed the sheet and blanket back on Adam’s chest and shoulder so he could move Brenda’s hand to make skin to skin contact.

“He’s fine. His heartbeat is stronger than it was earlier. I think he heard your voice. He isn’t quite ready to wake completely yet, but he knows you’re here. Keep your hand there and gently move it so he knows you’re still there. Talk to him softly but very positively. Encourage him. Talk to him about your future together, your plans. I’m going to go get something for him to drink. I’ll be right back.”

Seeing Roy standing at the door of the surgery, Ben and Hoss walked over there. “Has Adam said anything yet about who done it to him? With a knife, he has to know who done it.”

“No, he’s been awake only very briefly and not long enough to answer any questions.”

“All right then I guess we gotta wait for him to tell us.”

“We know who did it.” Joe came up behind Roy from the office. “The Slocums were the only ones who wanted Adam dead. They came back to do it. I think I know where they’re going too.” When Roy turned to look at him, Joe continued. “I spent a lot of time with them. They talked about going up to Oregon quite often. I’ve had a lot of time to think about things and to remember. They have an uncle in Portland. I’m sure that’s where they’re headed. They’ll think we have no idea, but we do. We can wire ahead and have people watching for them.” Joe looked to Adam then and could see how weak he was. The apology he wanted to give was going to have to wait. Adam’s eyes were still closed as they discussed going after the men who had attacked him.

“Joe, we don’t know it was them.”

“Roy, if we send a wire to watch for them and they show up headed north, then that would help confirm that it was them, wouldn’t it?”

“Yeah, Roy, and I went to take a look, and there were three sets of boot prints in that alley by that barrel where the blood was smeared and where you found the knife.”

“I gotta admit it is all adding up. I took the knife to Cass’ store and he remembers selling one like it to the oldest Slocum boy not more than a few months ago.”

Ben understood the hidden message in that information. “So you suspected them too?”

“Course I did, Ben. Everyone in town suspects them. What I need are some witnesses or some evidence though.” By the time Roy got back to his office, he had both. Two sets of parents were in his office waiting for him even though it was late. They had brought their sons with important information. The two boys told Roy about running into the alley and seeing three men with Adam. They said that Adam sat on a crate when they were leaving and he looked sick. Roy asked if they knew the men and they didn’t so he asked if they could describe them.

“Yessir, sheriff, sir, the one who yelled at us, he had a tooth missing right in front. Made him look kinda funny especially with that one eye that looks crooked. One of the other men walked with a limp. We saw that when they left and just before there was all that commotion.”

When he asked if they could tell him anything else, the second boy remembered one thing. “Two of them were right-handed, but the tallest one wore his pistol on the left side but kinda to the front and higher than most people do.”

“Thank you, boys. You done real good. Because of you, I can put out wanted posters for the men who tried to kill Adam Cartwright. Most likely he’s gonna live. I gotta think that maybe you interrupting them three men mighta had something to do with that, and now you come in here and gave me what I needed to help track those men down. The Cartwrights are gonna be mighty grateful to you two.”

“Pa says they done a lot for us over the years and it was time we paid ’em back by telling what we knew. It don’t seem like much.”

“Boys, it is more important that you know. Trust me. You did a valuable thing today, and you can be proud of yourselves. Now you can go on home with your folks, but I’d appreciate it if none of you was to talk to anybody about what you told me.”

The two families agreed and left, and Roy headed to the telegraph office. It was going to be expensive, but he guessed that Ben would help out if the city thought he was excessive in his spending on telegrams. He caught the telegraph operator about to leave for the night and told him he had some more work to do. By the next morning, every town that had a telegraph line and was within a hundred miles had the word that the Slocum brothers were wanted for the attempted murder of Adam Cartwright. As soon as Roy finished, which wasn’t until much later, he headed over to the doctor’s office to tell the family and hope that he was right in believing that he wouldn’t have to change the message to murder instead. When he got to the surgery and found Adam sipping from a cup of sweet tea after having had some broth, he had to smile. They had been able to move Adam to a bed so he could be propped up with pillows. He was pale and drawn, but was alert enough to confirm to Roy that it had been the Slocums who had attacked him.

The next few days went well until Adam started showing symptoms of a cold. Brenda felt terribly guilty, but Doctor Martin said he had expected Adam to get the cold as soon as he had seen that she had symptoms.

“He was already exposed. Once he was weaker because he was wounded, it was only a matter of time until he had the cold. Now we have to minimize the coughing though because it could cause some serious problems with the wound.”

So Adam didn’t go home to the Ponderosa to recuperate. He stayed as a patient with Doctor Martin for a week and then was moved to the International Hotel for another two weeks. Hop Sing sent his herbal teas, and they kept his room steamy to ease his breathing until he no longer had symptoms. Even then, Doctor Martin wanted him to stay in town a short time longer because the Slocums had been arrested and their trial was about to occur. Rather than have Adam travel back and forth, it made more sense for him to stay in town to testify. As expected, the three Slocum brothers were in court but surprised everyone by pleading guilty instead of requiring a jury to convict them. Adam asked the judge to be lenient also surprising everyone including his family. Brenda was the only one not surprised because she and Adam had talked about it after visiting the three brothers in jail and confirming the theory Adam had surmised.

“What did you three do the day you sold most of your herd to us?”

“You know what we did. We went to town to celebrate.”

“What did you tell people?”

“What does that matter? We said we sold most of those stinking cattle to you, and we were gonna go into the lumber business.”

“And I was in town at the bank getting thousands of dollars in cash.” Adam said no more and let that penetrate. It didn’t take long. The three brothers looked at him one by one with shock and then that horrible sinking feeling of guilt. “Yeah, anyone who could put two and two together would know I was going out to give that money to your father. They would know you were in town and that the hands were in town so your parents were alone.”

“Oh, my God, we got Pa killed. It’s all our fault that Ma’s the way she is.”

“No, some horrible evil men did all of that. Unfortunately by blaming me, you lost focus on who should have been blamed, and we never were able to track down the ones who did it. It could even have been some of your hands that you let go, but we’ll probably never know. I’ll talk to Roy about it, but it’s a long time ago now. Any trail has gone cold as ice.”

“Adam, saying we’re sorry ain’t gonna mean much now, but, I think I’m speaking for all three of us when I say we’re damn sorry.”

“You can say it, but now you have to find a way to show it.”

Adam had left then with Brenda. They weren’t surprised when the three brothers offered their guilty pleas. It showed they were decent enough inside. Adam wished they didn’t have to go to prison, but he knew they did have to pay a price. Roy stood then and offered a solution.

“Your Honor, I know it’s irregular, but I think that I got an idea that might work. They got an uncle in Portland. He’s a lawman up there from what I heard. Now ifn they was to sell their ranch or what’s left of it, take their ma with ’em, and move up there promising never to return here, would that be enough? They could be parolees in the custody of their uncle for whatever term you was to set. They could pay some kind of fine say a certain amount every year?”

When Adam let the judge know he had no objections, the judge agreed as long as all the details could be worked out. He did warn the three brothers that any violation of the agreement meant that they would be back in Nevada to serve a five-year sentence for attempted murder no matter how many years of the parole had passed. Many thought that Adam was foolish not to insist on prison for punishment, but all admired him for his willingness to forgive.

The whole Cartwright clan headed to lunch then except Joe who made excuses that he had work that had to get done.

“With you hurt and in town, and with the trial and everything, things are getting backed up. I need to get home and get to work. You all enjoy your lunch though. I’ll see you later.”

With that, Joe had left before Ben could encourage him to stay.

Ben turned to Adam. “He’s still feeling very guilty about what happened to you. It would help if you could talk to him about it.”

“I told him it wasn’t his fault. It was my fault for walking out there alone.”

“Adam, you know there’s more to it than that. Why can’t you talk to Joe about these things?”

Adam had no answer and Ben saw the look that Brenda gave to him. He guessed that she must have urged him to do the same thing, but Adam was so reserved with his emotions and so stubborn, it was unlikely that either of them was going to get him to open up like he needed to open up to help Joe. He didn’t know how much more there was to the issue.

Ben shook his head. “One son with no control of his emotions much of the time and the other with so much self control it is amazing. I don’t know how I got two sons who could be so alike and yet so different.” It was clear that Ben wasn’t happy with Adam’s method of dealing with Joe either but there was little he could do about it. After lunch he had another question. “Are you coming home now?”

“Pa, I think I’m going home to California for a while. Brenda and I have been talking and there’s nothing that I can do on the Ponderosa right now. We would like some time at our ranch. We’ll be back for Christmas.”

Even though Ben had been expecting that, he was still stunned a bit by the abruptness of it. He had hoped for some time with his son before he left and had hoped that there would be some kind of reconciliation between Joe and Adam before Adam went to California.

“You’re going to let these issues between you and Joe fester while you’re gone?”

“I think that if I’m gone, these issues as you call them may mostly disappear. Joe needs to learn some things, and I think he’ll learn them better if I’m not here.”

“So you’re leaving because of Joe?”

“I’m leaving because I can’t do any work on the Ponderosa right now anyway, and there are things I can do at our ranch in California in my office there. Brenda wants to spend time there and that’s another reason. The problems with Joe may have been an additional reason but not the main one.”

“All right.” Ben did realize it would be easier for Adam and Brenda to leave from town. Their luggage was already there with almost all of the essentials they would need. The only discussion left was to make a list of any additional items they wanted, and then to set the date for them to leave.

“I’d like some time with you to talk over any ideas you have for the lumber and timber operations before you go as well as the deals we have coming up with the railroads.”

“We can do that, Pa. There’s no big rush. It will take some time to get everything together and make all the arrangements for travel. We should be here for at least a week. We can talk and work anything out during that time.”

“A week?”

“Pa, if the need arises, I’m not that far away. You can come visit anytime. We have extra bedrooms. I even ordered an extra large bed and bathtub before we left so that I could make things comfortable for Hoss if he ever visits. We’re hoping he does and that you will take us up on our offer.”

“Please, Papa Ben. You had a good time when you visited after the cattle drive.”

“Yes, I did. Perhaps, I could even travel with you. I haven’t had a break from work in a while, and it’s fall. It’s a good time to take one.” Ben smiled then. “Besides, I can give my youngest son a taste of what he has so coveted. He can be in charge of the Ponderosa while I’m gone.”

Those plans were announced to the rest of the family the next day when they came back to town.

While Hoss liked hearing about the bigger bed and the bigger tub as well as the invitation to visit, that last part made him groan and offer his complaint. “Adam, I’m gonna miss you something fierce but I like that idea of the big bed and the tub. I may be seeing you when the snows get real deep up here. But, oh, Lordy, Pa, you’re putting Joe in charge. Maybe I oughta come with you now.”

Everyone laughed at the pained expression on Hoss’ face. Joe came up to them and wanted to know why they were laughing except for Hoss. Ben explained that he was going to go with Adam and Brenda to California and wouldn’t be back for probably a month and that he would leave the Ponderosa in Joe’s hands.
Adam was grinning. “Somehow, Hoss doesn’t seem to think that’s a good idea.”

Joe turned to Hoss and slapped him on the shoulder. “Aw, Hoss, this is gonna be great. I’ve got some really good ideas already.”

The thought of that only made Hoss look even more despondent. Adam actually felt sorry for him, but not sorry enough to withdraw the invitation he had given his father. Ben smiled though knowing that Joe was about to get a very rude awakening. Fall was a slower time on a ranch than spring or summer but there was still a lot that had to get done before winter, and there were the timber camps and the lumber mill to oversee as well.

“Now, remember, Joe, you are taking over my job not giving any additional work to Hoss. He has his responsibilities and no more. He didn’t ask for any additional work and it would be unfair to make him take on more because you want to be in charge.”

“Yessir, Pa, that won’t be a problem.”

Adam got Ben’s attention and smirked just a little. Joe had expressed no regret that Adam was leaving nor had he expressed any desire to go visit Adam. He may have been feeling guilty about what happened, but some of that jealousy and resentment was still there and needed to be worked out.

 

Chapter 8

Sitting in the hotel room and watching Adam dress for dinner, Brenda decided to try one last time to get Adam to concede in a recurring discussion they had been having. “You have one last chance to clear the air with Joe before we leave. One more day and it may be years before the two of you have another good chance to talk. Right now you have the perfect opening.”

“To talk about ranch business and then move on?”

“Of course.”

“I know you’ve suggested that it seems every day for weeks now, but I’m not comfortable doing that.”

“Why? Because you think it won’t work, or because you’re afraid to open up about how you feel?”

“I’m not afraid.”

“All right, that was a poor choice of words. Uncomfortable?”

“It’s not my way.”

“Maybe it should be. You don’t know apparently how much it hurts me when you turn away from me. The first time you did that, it hurt so badly for days that I think I was physically sick. To love one so much and have them put up a wall hurts terribly. Don’t you know that? How would you feel if I did that to you?”

“I am sorry I did that. I will try to do better, but it’s difficult. I learned from when I was a child to hold things in. It’s difficult to change, and I don’t know how Joe would react if I tried to be open with him.”

Adam couldn’t do any better than that for an explanation when he was feeling emotional. Brenda had gotten him to talk about his childhood on a number of occasions. These short emotional reactions coupled with the longer stories he told when he was relaxed were gradually giving her a more complete picture of the man she had married. There were far more contradictions in his nature than she had ever imagined when she had first known him. He was bold but also shy. He was confident and could be intimidating but also insecure needing reassurance that he was loved and needed. He cared deeply for his family and his friends but his drive to do well sometimes made him seem ‘bossy’ by his younger brother’s definition and superior in his attitude by way others saw him. She thought that the trip to Paris and the move to California might help him break out of that mold. She knew in her heart that he wanted to change.

From his perspective, Adam knew that he should talk to Joe and say goodbye at least as well as see if Joe had any questions about any of the operations he would be overseeing, but Adam was reluctant to do so. It was exhausting for him to deal with Joe, and he had to admit he avoided it most of the time. By far, he preferred talking with his father or with Hoss. Brenda struck at the heart of that issue next.

“Don’t you trust him?”

“Of course I trust him. He’s my brother.”

“But not like you trust me or your father or Hoss? You won’t trust him with what’s inside your heart.”

For a few minutes, there was silence in the room. Brenda was the type who could stand silence, and that was one more thing that Adam loved about her. She didn’t feel the need to fill silences with conversation like some women he had known. It gave him time to think and reflect. When he was ready, he answered her. “You may be right about that, but it won’t be changed within a day. It’s going to take more time, and trust goes both ways.” Finishing with his tie, Adam turned and offered her his arm. “Now, let’s go to our last dinner in Virginia City for a while and have a good time. By tomorrow evening, we’ll be on our way to our ranch.” Still pale and thin from his ordeal, Adam was getting back to acting more like himself at least. That made Brenda smile as did Ben’s comment to them at the end of dinner that he was looking forward to a vacation on their ranch.

Adam offered a toast to Joe on his ascension to boss of the Ponderosa. Ben added his praise of his youngest and his confidence that Joe would do a fine job. Joe was once again feeling secure in that he was in his father’s good graces even if he was no longer his father’s favorite. Ben stayed in town then so that it would be easier for them to begin their trip the next day. Hoss and Joe made their farewells to their family members and told them they were looking forward to their return for Christmas although Ben was planning to be back at least several weeks earlier than Adam and Brenda. Once Hoss and Joe were back at the ranch, Joe began making a list of things he had to do. It was more daunting than he had expected and he made a comment about that to Hoss as well as mentioning that he was no longer his father’s favorite. Hoss stared at him a moment before responding.

“Is that what some of this has been about? You think Adam was taking your spot as the favorite? Well let me tell ya something you probably shoulda known a lot sooner than this. Pa ain’t got no favorite son and never did. Ifn you thought you was the favorite, it was only cause you got more attention than me or Adam.” Joe looked confused so Hoss explained more. “You needed it, so you got it. Adam ain’t needed it near as much cause he’s been able to take care of himself better than either one of us since he was pretty darn young. He started in on taking care of me when he wasn’t more than about six or seven himself. I did my best to follow his lead and try to handle myself. You needed Pa more than either of us ever did. Pa saw that and he did what he had to do. It never meant you was the favorite. That was all in your head. Pa loves us all the same and always did. We all got a place in his heart just as big. It ain’t no contest, and if you try to make it one, you’re gonna tear this family apart more than you already done.”

“So you blame me for Adam leaving?”

“I ain’t in the mood for making another speech. You work that out for yourself.”

As Hoss left the stable, Joe regretted more than ever that he had not made the effort to apologize to Adam for how he had acted. Now it was going to be a couple of months before he could do it. The only consolation was that he would have plenty of time to think of the things he had to say. The problem that occurred in that plan was that Joe was excessively busy for those two months. He had no idea how busy he was going to be until he found that everyone came to him with every issue on the ranch, with the timber operations, or with the lumber mill, and with any questions on contracts that had to be met. He had to get up earlier than he liked and found that many nights he went to bed later than anyone. On Friday and Saturday nights, he came home early from town or in most instances, didn’t go at all. He finally understood how his father and Adam had frequently wanted to stay home when he and Hoss had gone to town to have fun. He found that there were many nights he was too tired to have fun. Everything got done though. The hay was harvested and stacked, the herds were moved and counted, fences were repaired, roofs were checked and repaired as need, and supplies were laid in for the winter months at the ranch and at the timber camps which would be snowbound for three months at least. He had the lumber mill shut down by the end of November just before his father arrived home. By then, he had a list of problems that needed to be addressed including a list of items that were needed such as new equipment for the lumber mill, new freight wagons, new winches and other supplies for the timber camps, and a long list of things for the ranch. They couldn’t afford all of them, and he didn’t know how to prioritize the list. As soon as he saw his father, he was relieved and asked for help.

“Pa, I’m so glad you’re back home. I really need you to do some of what you do.”

“No, Joe, that’s not how it works. If you have responsibilities, they’re yours. You find a way to get the job done. I’m going in the house to relax and put my feet up for a while. All this traveling has worn me out. Hoss, would you like to hear about how the cattle operations are going in California? Perhaps you could help out your father and carry in his luggage too.”

Nodding, Hoss turned to Joe and poked a finger in his chest. “Getting ain’t always nearly as much fun as wanting something, now is it, little brother? I’m thinking you got to see sum of what Adam had to put up with all them years. Maybe now you kin understand his way of thinking a whole lot better than you did before.”

Only Joe didn’t need Hoss to tell him that. He had realized it long before that day even if he hadn’t said it. It had been a lot easier being the youngest and assuming your father or oldest brother would handle it every time there was a problem, or at least they would be there to help if there was a problem. It was nearly overwhelming sometimes to know that you were the one that everyone looked to for the solution. He was ready for his father to take over again.

At dinner Ben said that Adam had an announcement to make to them when he got back. He wouldn’t say what it was, but Joe speculated later to Hoss that he thought Adam and Brenda were probably going to have a baby.

“Nah, I don’t think so. Pa wouldna dropped a hint on that and taken a chance on ruining Adam’s surprise. No, I figure this is something more serious and he’s telling us to get ready for it by letting us know that it’s coming.”

“Serious like in maybe Adam is going to stay in California instead of coming back here? Hoss, I hope that’s not it. I hope I didn’t ruin things that much.”

“There’s no telling what it’s gonna be, but that could be it. I don’t think it’s your fault though. I was mad when I told you that. The more I thought on it, the more I figure Adam wouldn’t make a move like that over being upset with you. He woulda had other reasons. We’re gonna have to wait to see what he’s got to say.”

Hoss was correct of course because he knew his older brother well. When Adam and Brenda returned for the Christmas holiday, Joe made a point of asking Adam if they could talk. Ben and Brenda both looked to Adam because both had been encouraging him to open up to Joe, to trust him. It was an important moment for the rest of the family.

“Sure, Joe, why don’t we take a walk and see what you’ve done with the place.”

Once the two men were away from the house, Joe started the conversation. “I may as well admit what we both know. I was a jackass. I did my usual thing of acting emotionally and didn’t think things through. As usual, I blamed you for things that were not your fault, and I should have talked to Pa long before I did. I saw slights where none existed and created trouble because of it. I am sorry for all of it. I know saying I’m sorry isn’t enough, but I’m trying to show you that I’m trying to change. I’m accepting responsibility.”

Adam was quiet for a time. He knew that made Joe nervous but he needed the time to think through what he was going to say and had to give Joe credit for waiting this time and not overreacting. “Thank you for understanding that I can’t always open up like you do. I don’t share my feelings so easily and need time to think about how to say things like this. Joe, I’m sorry too for how I acted. You think I don’t have feelings because I don’t cry or laugh or act crazy like you do. I have feelings every bit as strong as you do, but I learned long ago to keep a tight rein on them or at least most of the time. I think you’ve seen me on occasion when I lost my temper. It’s not a pretty sight.”

With a chuckle, Joe had to agree. “No, it definitely isn’t especially if I’m the one on the receiving end.”

“Joe, I don’t ever want to be like that. I don’t like myself when I’m like that, and the only way I know to avoid it is to hold it all in. It doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings. It doesn’t mean that I can’t be hurt just as much as you can be by words. I know I can be mean and nasty sometimes. I know I can be downright moody and dark. Thank God that Brenda is willing to put up with that.”

“Yeah, you’re a lucky man to have found her.”

“Very much so. Joe, you’ll find the right one for you too. Open yourself up to the one who touches your heart and not the one who catches your eye.”

“But Brenda is a pretty woman.”

“Yes, but I’ve known other pretty women, and a number of them were willing to be my wife, but they didn’t touch my heart. I almost made a mistake of marrying when I shouldn’t have, and I’m lucky that none of those worked out even though at the time it made me unhappy.”

“Thanks for talking with me. I needed to apologize to you. I wanted to clear the air and help pull the family back together again.”

“The family was always the family and always will be together even if we aren’t always in the same place.”

“What does that mean?”

“We were going to tell everyone at dinner, but I’ll tell you now so we can talk it out if you want. Brenda and I are taking a trip to Paris. We’re leaving after Christmas.”

“Wow, so it will be a long time before you’re back here.”

“And when we return, we’ll be living on our ranch in California.”

“But I thought we were good. I thought we worked things out so you could come back here.”

“Joe, I didn’t leave here because of you. It may have been the catalyst for me thinking about leaving, but the reasons were many other things. I have opportunities and challenges in California that I don’t have here. I need that. Besides I like the weather there more.” Even Joe had to chuckle a bit at that. “I was getting the same way here as I was before all the trouble with the renegades. The ranch had lost its appeal long ago. I was going through the motions but my heart wasn’t in it. It made me unhappy, and you know how I am when I’m unhappy.”

“So, will you come back at all?”

“Every Christmas if we can manage it and hopefully a visit in summer when things are so nice here. And in the spring and fall, you and Hoss will be in California. You could visit. There are also many times that one or more of you are in California on other business and you could visit. The door will always be open.”

When the brothers returned to the house, they saw curtains moving in a couple of windows. As they came in the door and took off coats and hats, everyone was seated by the fireplace where they seemingly had been for an hour by the looks of it. Adam made a point of looking over at the windows and the curtains hanging so still and then back at everyone seated and so quiet. He looked back at Joe.

“Must have been a downdraft from the fireplace.”

“Yeah, maybe it was, or maybe we need to check the chinking in the logs.”

“I suppose that could be it.”

“You don’t think the house is haunted, do you?”

“Probably not, but you never know. Has there been anything else strange like that?”

Ben had had enough. “All right, you can stop now. Yes, we were concerned. Now, is everything all right between you two?”

“Everything’s fine, and I told Joe about Paris and afterwards, so I guess we better tell Hoss and Hop Sing now.”

Both Hoss and Hop Sing had been expecting something like that so were not surprised. It made Christmas extra special though as everyone wanted to make sure they had wonderful memories of each member of the family because there was always uncertainty with travel especially across the ocean and to France with its political upheavals. Then Ben added to the concern by deciding to travel with Adam and Brenda as far as New York. He planned to visit with relatives and friends in New York and Boston before returning to Nevada in the spring. He explained it to Adam one evening as the two shared a brandy.

“I’m going to give my youngest son exactly what he has been asking for. He will be in charge of the Ponderosa. He will have all the status and power that he has wanted so badly. If he thought those small problems he had last fall were difficult, he has no idea what he will face with what spring will bring. He made a lot of excuses for the problems he had last fall because of the short notice he had, and various other things. Well I’m going to give him plenty of lead time this time. I need for him to learn to be in charge.”

“Pa, do you think the finances of the Ponderosa can handle it?”

That did give Ben reason to pause at least briefly but he did notice that Adam was smiling. The question was in jest or at least appeared to be so Ben answered in kind. “We can always earn more money.”

So that was what happened. Shortly after the new year began, Adam and Brenda boarded the train with Ben and headed east. Ben bid them bon voyage in New York as they set sail for Paris with a plan to retreat to London if things in France were in too much turmoil. Ben visited relatives and friends in New York and Boston as planned before returning home. He announced on his return that he had invited an old friend and his daughter to come for a visit because the gentleman was suffering from a lung disease that might benefit from the clear, dry western air. He was also very pleased to find things operating smoothly on the Ponderosa with some changes that Joe had made.

 

Chapter 9

After a few days at home, Ben was gradually settling back into his routine. He got up early and had coffee before his sons joined him at the dining table. What was new was that Candy Canaday was joining them there too for each meal. It had surprised him at first and Candy had been quick to say he would move back to the bunkhouse.

“Sir, Joe said while you and Adam were gone, it would be just as easy for me to be in the house so we could talk things over about the ranch. He said there was plenty of room. Now that you’re back, I’ll move my things back to the bunkhouse.”

“No, Hoss told me that Joe made you foreman and that you’ve been doing a wonderful job. As long as we have room, I see no reason to change things. You’re welcome to stay in the extra bedroom and join us for meals. It makes sense.”

“Well, sir, if it’s ever a problem, you only have to say the word, and I can move my stuff back into the bunkhouse.”

“Candy, I’m not so sure why you want to move your stuff back into the bunkhouse. Don’t you like living in the house with Joe and Hoss?”

“Oh, no, sir, it’s been a real nice deal. It’s just that I thought maybe you thought it wouldn’t be right.”

“There’s not a problem. If there ever is a problem, you can be sure you will hear about it. Fair enough?”

“Fair enough.”

For breakfast though, Ben found he got a chance to visit with Hoss much as he had visited with Adam in the past because Hoss was up long before the other two. It was the same on this morning, and Ben was grateful. He wanted to have a talk with Hoss to see how he felt about how things were going so he asked him exactly that after the basic pleasantries were exchanged.

“Pa, it’s going better than I thought it would, and I have to tell ya that it surprised me. At first Joe tried to do it all again, but he learned something from last fall after all. Soon as he could, he asked me if we could move Candy on up to foreman so he could take on some of the work. I thought it was a good idea. Then he left Candy in charge and headed up to the timber camps to work for a couple of weeks. By the time he got back, he told me he had done about the same up there making McGinty the foreman and appointing two men to assist him. They get a bit more pay but not so much as to hurt the bottom dollar.”

“He learned a lot about delegating authority and planning.”

“Well, he had you and Adam to watch all these years. It gave him a good pattern to follow in getting organized.”

“That was good organizing, but he was still doing the work of three. What did he do with the rest of it?”

“He went and hired a manager for the lumber mill too although he watches over him a lot closer. He’s still real busy keeping up with the paperwork and the horses and everything else, but things been moving along real well.”

“How about you? He didn’t pile any extra work on you, did he?”

“Nope. I told him ifn he did, I was gonna have to be telling you about it cause I’d have to be drawing extra pay. I told him ifn I didn’t get my Friday nights and my Saturday nights in town, somebody was gonna hafta pay. He got the message.”

“What about Joe? What about his nights in town?”

“Pa, that boy is miserable. He ain’t had no more than about a half dozen nights in town since you left and even then, he came home early. I know he’s waiting on you to take over your old spot so he can get to having some fun again. I was wondering what we’d do about the drive cause roundup is about done, but now that you’re back, that shouldn’t be a problem either.”

“Why not?”

“You are gonna stay here and run things while we do the drive, ain’t ya?”

Smiling at Hoss’ look of worry, Ben nodded. “Of course I am. I wouldn’t let you boys down. Besides, I have some guests coming. An old friend from New York, Charles Darnell, is coming to visit. He isn’t well.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“He’s got some kind of lung disease. The doctors told him that the clear, dry air of the west might help him, but he couldn’t afford to move out here. I told him he could stay here as long as he needed.”

“That could be a long time, Pa.”

“I know, but we have that extra cabin that they could use, or perhaps Joe would let them use his cottage.”

“They? Is he married?”

“No, he isn’t but he has a daughter, Amelia, who is unmarried and who takes care of him. She’ll be coming with him. She’s a very bright and pretty woman, but a bit forward and combative. She tends to be judgmental especially when people don’t fit the standards she thinks they ought to fit.”

“Don’t sound like anybody I’d like too much.”

“No, but I thought perhaps Joe might be willing to escort her to some social events. If he wants some chances to go to town, that would be the way to do it.”

“Pa, that don’t sound like the kind of gal Joe would like either.”

“No, probably not, but at least we’ll have a woman’s touch around her for a while again.”

“You miss Brenda, dontcha?”

“I do. I didn’t realize how much I missed having a woman in the family until Adam brought her home.”

“I miss her too, almost as much as I miss Adam. I’m really hoping to go see him after the drive.”

“That’s a good idea if he’s home by then. Having her here made me miss my wives all over again. I miss the sound of children around here too. I’m rather hoping to hear some news on that front from Adam one of these days. Perhaps by the time the drive is done, he’ll be back. He did say that they might be back in June.”

“Oh, that reminds me. We got some letters from Adam while you was gone. I plumb forgot to tell ya with all the stories you been telling bout your trip and the folks you saw. Both of ’em was real short. He said they was leaving Paris cause it was too hot for them. Pa, I didn’t think France was hot this time of year.”

“France isn’t hot this time of year. I think it’s more likely that Adam was making a reference to the political situation. It was what they worried about before they left. Did he send news after that?” Ben was concerned then hoping that they had escaped the turmoil in France unscathed.

“Oh, yeah, he said they got to London but when they did, there was a chill in the air cause they came from Paris. That seemed odd too.”

“It’s all because of the troubles in France. The English might have been suspicious of them because they came from France while there was trouble there. However, we have friends in England so he has connections and they can vouch for him. I’m sure he’ll have no trouble there.”

There were a few more letters from Adam mostly about their visits with people in England and the sites they visited and then that they had set out for home. By the date of the letter, they expected them back by the end of June or early July so Hoss and Joe were not able to see them at the end of the drive. Things worked smoothly with Hoss, Joe, and Candy running the drive and Ben supervising the ranch in their absence. Ben’s friend Charles and his daughter Amelia arrived a short time before the men returned from the drive. Amelia seemed to take an instant dislike to Candy and Joe. Candy moved back into the bunkhouse for their visit so Joe had to take the bulk of Amelia’s hostility. It became very public on the second night that they were back and Joe was demonstrating his new harmonica to her and to Hoss as Ben and Charles sat at Ben’s desk and engaged in a private conversation about where Charles might live if he chose to stay in the West for any length of time.

“What came first, the music or the misery?”

“Excuse me. To what are you referring?”

“Oh, your harmonica playing sounds like someone is suffering so I assumed you were in pain. I wondered if the pain was from your music or if your misery caused you to play such awful sounds so you could share your pain with others.”

Hoss had a difficult time holding in his laughter and sputtered so much he had to go to the kitchen. They could hear him break out in loud guffaws as soon as he walked through the dining room door and into the kitchen.

Joe sneered a bit with one side of his lip up. “I suppose you’re an expert on music too as you are on so many other things.”

“No, not an expert, but I do love beautiful music, and what you are doing to that poor instrument in your hands is a sad testimony to your lack of appreciation of fine music.”

“I like good music too. I at least make an effort to learn to play an instrument instead of sitting back and sniping at those who try while doing nothing myself.”

“I do play an instrument, but I do not subject others to my practice. I would only ever allow anyone to hear me play when I am sure that I have learned the piece sufficiently not to assault their ears when they hear me play.”

“So you don’t want to hear my harmonica playing. Is there something else that you would like to do that would allow our fathers the time they requested to talk privately?”

“I suppose we could walk outside. I don’t think you can cause any misery by walking.”

Rolling his eyes and doing his best not to say anything more or show what he was truly feeling, Joe slipped his harmonica in his pocket and offered his arm to the young lady. After the front door closed, Ben turned to his old friend who looked terribly disappointed.

“Oh, Ben, I had so hoped that your son Joe and my daughter, Amelia, would like each other. She has spurned every other man she has met as not intelligent enough, not talented enough, not handsome enough. I thought Joe would meet her high standards, and yet all she does is complain. She seems to hate him so how could I ever think she might fall in love with him.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much just yet, Charles. The opposite of love is indifference not hate. She has shown a great deal of interest in Joe even if their exchanges have been a bit, shall we say, fiery. He hasn’t retreated either. He seems to like a challenge as long as it is not insurmountable. No, there may be some hope here. Yes, I wonder what that heat between them may bring.”

“I hope it is not the fighting and arguing that I have seen in the past.”

“Joe is not the type to fight and argue with women, or at least not for very long. He prefers to charm them.”

“My daughter is not so easily charmed.”

“My son is not easily discouraged when it comes to a pretty woman.”

Charles began to chuckle then as did Ben. It was going to be an interesting visit with that scenario to play out. Hoss came out and noticed the absence of the two younger ones.

“Pa, this sorta reminds me of Adam trying to tame that one gal that visited here. I think he kinda enjoyed that too. Wonder if Joe is liking this.”

In fact, Joe was beginning to find a certain satisfaction in finding a woman who would say such challenging things to him. He was having fun shooting comments right back at her, and he was surprised to find that instead of getting angry, she seemed to be enjoying it too. Perhaps both of them had been looking for someone with a backbone all along and hadn’t known it. As time passed, the barbs weren’t so sharp and there was more conversation. After two hours had passed, they realized it was getting late and that they had spent an enjoyable evening together, but it was getting cool so they headed back inside where they found their fathers seated comfortably by the fireplace enjoying a brandy while Hoss lounged on the blue chair. Both Amelia and Joe enjoyed the raised eyebrows of their respective fathers about equally too. Amelia went to the bookshelf she had seen near Ben’s desk.

“I’d like a book to read before I go to sleep. I saw that you had quite a collection. May I borrow one of your books?”

Ben was happy to agree to her request. “Certainly you may. Joe, why don’t you bring a lamp over by the bookshelves so that Amelia can read the titles more easily?”

“There’s a lot of books by Shakespeare here. Who in the family reads these?”

“Nobody. We got rid of him.”

Hoss saw the look on his father’s face, and Joe did too when he turned at the sound of disgust his father made. Ben turned away before Amelia saw anything, but Joe knew that he might have lost some respect in his father’s eyes once more with such an insensitive comment even though it had been made in jest. An apology wasn’t going to make it any better, but he knew he needed to make one anyway so he did. Amelia frowned wondering at what was going on and curious about the dynamics of this family that had seemed so simple at first but was obviously much more complex than it appeared. She was finding Joe to be that way too. She was intrigued. She was even more intrigued the next day when a very excited Hoss returned from town with a telegram saying that Adam and Brenda would be stopping by on their way to California and should be there within the week. Ben was equally excited, but she could see a mix of reactions in Joe that included joy but also a measure of apprehension. She waited until she had some time with him and a chance to ask some questions. Joe liked to talk about himself so she guessed she would get some answers.

“Adam and I don’t get along so well sometimes. He tends to get what I call bossy. He can act a little bit superior with me and almost like he’s my father. He says things that make me mad.”

“Then you say insulting things, refuse to accept his advice, and in general, make things much worse.”

“Well if you knew all of this, why did you ask?”

“I didn’t know, but I suspected. My oldest sister is like that. Just because she’s fifteen years older and took over caring for me and my brother when Mama died, she acts like she has the right to tell us what to do. Then she gets mad when we don’t do what she tells us to do.”

“And you get mad at that, and your father gets mad at you.”

“Well, if you knew all of that, why are we even talking about it?” Amelia started laughing then as did Joe. “They mean well, though, don’t they. I guess they got so used to taking care of us when we were young, they can’t get used to the idea of us being grown up.”

“It’s a lot like Pa. He can’t get used to me being a man either instead of a boy. I guess I’ll always be his youngest boy.” And then it dawned on Joe that he would always be Adam’s youngest brother, the one he had to take care of and watch out for because there was no one else to do it much of the time. “Wow, I just thought about it and I guess they probably feel a lot like our fathers. They can’t let go of that feeling that they have to protect us. Pa said something once that Adam had said I had things to learn and I wouldn’t learn them while he was here. At the time, I kind of resented hearing that he said that, but now I understand it better. We both needed to be apart.”

“Hmm, I wonder if that is any part of the reasoning that Papa used when he insisted that I had to come with him out here. I didn’t want to make this trip. Now I’m glad I did. This is beautiful and clean compared to the city. It’s so quiet too. I like that. You can relax here.”

“And you’re away from your older sister and able to be yourself.”

“That’s funny. I came all this way to find someone who is in a situation that is so similar to my life. Joe, we understand each other so much better already than people that I have known for years. I’m glad we’re becoming friends.”

“Perhaps we can be more than that.” Joe leaned in for a kiss, and Amelia didn’t object. In fact, she decided she liked the idea, and participated rather enthusiastically after a moment.

 

Chapter 10

A few days later, it didn’t take long for Brenda and Amelia to evaluate each other. Adam saw the look and wondered about her conclusions, but he knew she wouldn’t share them until later. Meanwhile the family had all sorts of questions about their trip. With two guests already and Adam and Brenda settling into his old room, the house was full. Ben enjoyed that very much, but it was clear that Joe was on edge again. Ben wondered about that because he thought that Adam and Joe had cleared the air sufficiently to put the two at ease. Then he realized at dinner that the nervous glances that Joe had were for Brenda and not for Adam. That made him wonder but he knew he would have to wait. Brenda wouldn’t talk any easier than Adam would.

For his part, Adam knew exactly why Brenda had those looks for Joe. He had trusted her with all the things Joe had said to him to upset him so that she better understood the relationship. While admitting what he said and did that irritated Joe, neither he nor Brenda probably understood what it was like being the youngest just as much as Joe had found it so hard to understand what it was like to be the older, more responsible sibling. Brenda respected Adam’s trust so she wouldn’t ever reveal what he had said, but it affected her relationship with Joe although, like Adam, she liked Amelia from the start and thought she would be a good influence on Joe if he chose to make things more permanent between them. At dinner, after all the big stories had been told that day and all the introductions made, and things had calmed down, Adam made the announcement that Ben had been hoping he would be making.

“One reason Brenda and I returned home when we did was that we will be welcoming a new addition to the family in a few months.”

There were exclamations of surprise that weren’t as genuine as they seemed. The wrap dress that Brenda wore on arrival on the Ponderosa as well as the one she wore to dinner was either to disguise some weight gain from travel or she was with child. The rest of the family had been awaiting the announcement ever since they had first seen Adam helping her from the carriage they had left in town for them to use. Now that Adam finally had told them, they could celebrate and offer their congratulations. Charles and Amelia were pleased to be able to be part of such a happy occasion especially with the special meal Hop Sing prepared and then the special cake he had for dessert.

Everything might have gone very well for the visit except Brenda no longer slept well in her condition and frequently got up in the night. She usually got some tea or something to settle her stomach and stayed up an hour or two until she was tired enough to fall asleep again. Adam rarely noticed her slipping out of bed because it was when he was in deep sleep that she usually had trouble staying asleep. On the second night on the Ponderosa when Brenda was up, Joe got up too because he heard noises downstairs. He found Brenda trying to add wood to the fireplace. She apologized for the noise she had made and explained why she was up.

“Adam should be up with you and helping you.”

That raised Brenda’s ire. “No, he shouldn’t. I am quite capable of taking care of myself. There is no reason for me to interrupt Adam’s sleep, and no reason for you to be immediately critical of him either.”

“I’m sorry. I only thought that it was what a husband ought to do for his wife who is carrying his child.”

“It is our child, and it seems you look for any reason to criticize Adam.”

“You haven’t forgiven me for getting him stabbed then?”

“You weren’t responsible for that. I was angry then, but I realize that wasn’t your fault. No, what I find unforgivable is you pulling fence posts off the wagon so Adam fails to complete a job on time or making sure he takes the wrong contracts to town.”

“You could think of those things as pranks, maybe poor pranks, and try to get a laugh out of them instead.”

“Perhaps, but how about telling Adam he ought to leave the Ponderosa? In effect, telling him he didn’t belong as part of this family?”

At the top of the stairs out of sight, Ben Cartwright almost gasped loud enough to be heard. Now he knew the root of the problem that vexed the relationship between Adam and Joe. Even if Joe had apologized and Ben believed him when he said he had, Ben knew that there were some things that an apology simply couldn’t correct. Words like that even spoken in anger did damage and caused pain that could never be fully healed. Ben wondered what could be done and concluded that Adam had known what was needed: distance and time, lots of time, because something like that even if forgiven could not be forgotten, and it would take quite some time for the memory to dim enough not to affect the relationship between the two brothers. Ben went back to his bed, but he had trouble sleeping the rest of the night. The next morning, Adam noticed.

“I heard noises last night and saw Brenda and Joe downstairs talking.” Ben noted the worried look that elicited.

“Did you hear what they were talking about?”

“Even if I did overhear something before I returned to my bed, it would be best for me not to repeat any eavesdropping, don’t you think?”

That was enough for Adam to guess the subject of the conversation between his wife and his youngest brother. He guessed it was for the best that the two of them got that out in the open, but he had never wanted his father hurt by hearing those words. He got up and got a cup of coffee changing the subject to mundane matters. His father cooperated in that. A few days later, Adam and Brenda departed for California with an invitation for any of the family to visit them in the next two months but not in September as it would be getting too close to the expected arrival of their baby. Ben didn’t take that very seriously telling Hoss that was in fact the perfect time to visit. Hoss could only chuckle but then thought about it and asked if his father wanted some company when he made the trip.

“I think that would be a good idea. We don’t need to do a fall drive so we could all go.”

When it was time though, Joe said he was too busy. In fact, he was reluctant to leave Amelia for any length of time. At his suggestion, she and her father had moved into the little cottage on the Ponderosa. Her father was not improving but at least he was comfortable and enjoying the time he had left. Doctor Martin visited him regularly and had little of a positive nature to say about his lung disease. He was growing weaker, and Joe wanted to be with Amelia as she cared for her father. Hoss and Ben left to go to California to support Adam as he awaited the birth of his first child. Luckily all went well for everyone although Hoss and Ben were bemused by Adam’s worry about Brenda giving birth. In the end, Ben told Hoss it was probably a good thing.

“He’s so worried that she’s not focused on her own worries. She sees how scared he is because of what happened when he was born, and all she can think to do is try to reassure him that everything is going to be all right. In the process, she’s reassuring herself. He’s the reverse trying to reassure her and in the process reassuring himself, well, at least a little. All we have to do is keep the two of them eating and sleeping on a regular schedule and things should work out well.”

“They have a real fine staff here, don’t they?”

“Yes, I have to say I’m impressed with the people who work here. Now I know why they feel so comfortable leaving for as long as they do. This is a very orderly and well organized operation with good people in charge.”

“I like the set-up they have with their foreman, Chambers. Maybe we oughta think on doing something like that with Candy.”

“You might be right. Let’s look into doing something like that when we get back. It wouldn’t take much to build him his own quarters. It would be a place where the men could approach him, and a place where he could have meetings but have his privacy too.”

“Yep, exactly what I was thinking.”

“Yes, I’m sure that was exactly what you were thinking.” Ben was smiling when he said it though and Hoss couldn’t keep a straight face for long.

There was time to conduct some business too while they were there, and contracts for cattle and timber were completed. Hoss enjoyed the extra large bed and large tub so much he pressured his father to order similar items for the Ponderosa. He made a strong plea for both and Ben had to agree he made sense.

“Pa, I been sleeping in the same bed since I was a young’un, and you mighta noticed I got a quite a bit bigger since then. I shur would like a nice big bed like the one that Adam has here for me, and a tub that I can actually get my knees under the water when I sit in it and not have to roll my shoulders sideways too.”

“We probably should think about some new furniture. When Adam and Brenda come to visit now, they’ll need a bed for the baby. We’ll have to consider redoing one room at least to accommodate their child.”

That child chose to enter the world early in October in the middle of the night. Brenda had not had much of an appetite at dinner and couldn’t seem to get comfortable. Although she wasn’t having any obvious signs of labor, Ben suspected she was getting close. He and Missus Saunders talked and got things ready after Adam helped Brenda up the stairs to their bedroom. Both of them had experience with their own children being born and had some idea of what the early signs looked like. They were correct so Ben wasn’t surprised to be awakened about midnight by a very disheveled Adam who wanted to know what to do.

“She told me not to leave her alone and to go tell everyone and to get the doctor. She started crying as soon as I walked away from the bed, but I have to tell you and I need to tell Missus Saunders.”

“No, I’ll tell her or she probably already knows. She can hear the footsteps up here and we suspected this earlier. You go back to Brenda, and we’ll take care of everything else.”

When the doctor got there, he told Adam to leave as he and the midwife and Missus Saunders could handle everything. Missus Chambers came over and made coffee and some light food. Adam paced most of the night while Ben and Hoss dozed in chairs and were there when he wanted to talk. It was nearly eight before they heard a baby’s wail and Adam shuddered as he exhaled. Ben stood and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Soon now, you’ll get to share the most beautiful moment a husband and wife ever get to have. Relax as much as you can. They have to clean both of them up some, and Brenda will want a moment or two to recover. The hardest part of everything is over for both of you.”

While Ben was advising Adam, Joe was spending a night in which he could have used his father’s counsel although he knew Adam needed their father more at that point. Joe had a dilemma. He thought he was falling in love with Amelia but wasn’t sure and wanted to wait. However her father was dying. That much was becoming obvious. No matter how much Amelia tried to deny it and paint a rosy picture of how the western air was helping, it was only making Charles more comfortable. He was getting noticeably weaker and the looks that Joe got from Doctor Martin when he checked in with Charles were clear enough too. Paul couldn’t and wouldn’t say it, but he thought the man was dying slowly. That was Joe’s dilemma. If he married Amelia, he thought she would want her father there for the wedding, but he might die fairly soon. That was putting pressure on Joe to make a decision. Ironically, it was the morning when Abel Cartwright entered the world that Joe decided to ask Amelia to marry him. What he had never considered was whether she would actually agree.

 

Chapter 11

With great anticipation and a small amount of trepidation, Adam entered his own bedroom after the doctor told him that his wife and son were waiting for him. Brenda was pale and drawn but smiled as soon as she saw him.

“Adam, he’s beautiful. We have a son. Come see him.”

Cautiously, Adam sat on the side of the bed and Brenda pushed back the receiving blanket that held their son. He had small ringlets of dark curly hair. His eyes were closed and his fists were clenched as he squirmed a bit before settling down to calmly rest in his mother’s arms. Adam reached out and touched his son’s cheek for the first time and knew his father had been right. This was a moment of wonder.

“Are you still agreeable to naming him Abel?”

“Yes, I like the name. Abel Joseph Cartwright has a nice sound to it. He will have my father’s name and your grandfather’s name showing how he ties both of our two families together.”

A soft knock on the doorjamb announced that Ben and Hoss were there and hoping to see the baby too. Adam turned to them but it was Brenda who invited them in. She told Adam to take Abel and introduce him to his grandfather and uncle. Quite gently, Adam took his son in his arms and with a huge grin, stood and showed off his son to his father and brother. He and Brenda explained the name choice too. Both Ben and Hoss were aware that Brenda’s first baby had been named Adam and that was why they were not using that name even as a middle name. After a short time, Missus Saunders was in the room with a light breakfast for Brenda and told the men it was time for them to head downstairs for the breakfast that Missus Chambers had ready for them. It was a little late for breakfast but with the labor lasting until eight, no one had been hungry enough to eat a meal earlier. That had changed.

“Dang, we plumb forgot to eat, didn’t we? No wonder I feel like I’m about to fall over from weakness.”

With chuckles in their wake, Adam and Ben escorted Hoss to the dining table downstairs so he wouldn’t faint from hunger, or at least that was what Adam told him. The mood in the house was jovial and light from that point forward until Ben and Hoss had to leave a few days later. As Adam and Hoss saddled the horses, they had a talk.

“Hoss, how is Joe doing, really?”

“He’s doing pretty well, Adam. Oh, he’s made some mistakes, and he’s delegated a bit too much up at the timber camps, but he’ll learn.”

“Delegated too much?”

“He picked a foreman for the camps and two assistants.”

“That sounds like a good plan. What’s wrong with it?”

“Oh, the plan ain’t so bad, but he don’t go up there much to check on things trusting the foreman to let him know how things are going, and he picked McGinty for the job.”

Throwing the saddle up on Buck, Adam almost threw it right over the horse’s back. “McGinty? That conniver?”

“Yep, that’s the one. He and Joe play poker sometimes, and he’s an honest player according to Joe, so he figures he can trust him.”

“He’s an honest player with Joe because he’d lose his job if he got caught cheating by Joe. McGinty can’t be trusted with anything of importance. Yes, he’s skilled and a hard worker but only if he’s supervised. And you let Joe do this?”

“He’s gotta learn.”

Shrugging, Adam finished saddling his father’s horse. “I guess so, but that could be costly. Have you told Pa?”

“Nope. I figured ifn I did, he’d take care of it right away. That wouldn’t do Joe any good. He needs to take care of it. It could be that he’s taking care of it while we’re gone. He’ll be upset, but there’s some lessons to be learned.” Pausing in thought for a minute, Hoss had a question. “How much you think McGinty will steal?”

“I don’t know. We always kept a close watch on him. Hopefully not too much.” Then it was Adam’s turn to pause in thought. “Hoss, have you been giving Joe a hard time about anything else?”

“Like what?”

“Oh, like me leaving. I got the impression that maybe you were angry with him.”

“I was a bit at first, but I know you left for your own reasons. I know you’re happy here. You and Brenda get along so well. Oh, I know you have your spats. Ain’t nobody gonna live with you and not have spats.” Adam rolled his eyes as Hoss chuckled. “But she can hold her own with ya.”

“Yes, she can. We’re doing fine.”

“Yeah, and I can tell you’re always gonna do fine together. I did lay it on Joe that he made trouble in the family cause he did, but I don’t blame him for you leaving. I jest don’t like the trouble that happens between the two of you.”

“After the talk we had last time, I think we’re working our way past that.”

“Good. Now I suppose the next time we’ll see you is at Christmas?”

“Yes, I don’t think I’ll be able to pry Brenda away from the ranch before then. By Christmas, Abel should be old enough that she’ll be willing to travel with him. He’ll be nearly three months old then.”

“We’ll have a nice place fixed up for him and you two when you get there. We’re gonna redo the bedrooms. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all. I was a little surprised that Candy had been living in the house, but that made sense once it was explained. Changes need to be made.”

“Oh, we’re gonna build separate quarters for Candy like you got a house for the Chambers here. Pa and I both like that. I like that extra big tub too. I want one of those.”

“As long as you’re redoing the house, maybe I should draw up plans for a new larger washroom with a space for a larger tub?”

“And who’s going to pay for all these changes?” Ben walked into the stable at that point. Both brothers turned relieved to see that he was smiling. “Don’t look so worried. We’ll find a way even if they don’t all happen right away.” After bidding Adam goodbye and getting his promise to try to be there for Christmas, Ben and Hoss left for home wondering what they would find there.

As Hoss suspected, Joe was embroiled in a mess at the timber camps. He had thought only to be gone a couple of days but was gone a week trying to straighten out the mess he had created by making McGinty the one in charge of the timber camps. Not only had the man been stealing, he was lazy and the work was way behind schedule. There was resentment among the men that Joe had appointed someone they didn’t respect to be their boss. So Joe had to do what he should have done the first time. After having McGinty locked up in a storeroom, he went to the hands who were trusted by the Cartwrights and had worked there longest to ask them who was respected, knew the job, was organized, and could be trusted. He had to appoint those men to their new positions and work with them to get the camp organized again and back on a regular work schedule. He had to inventory supplies to see what was needed and found it was far more than he anticipated because McGinty had sold so much of what had been there. At the end of the week, he took one of the freight wagons, two men, and McGinty and went to town. He handed McGinty over to the sheriff, loaded the wagon with the needed supplies, and sent the two men back to the camp. Exhausted, he headed for home late on that Saturday afternoon only to find a message from Amelia that she wanted to see him. He cleaned up as best he could and headed over to the cottage to find that there was another problem brewing.

“Papa wants to leave. He’s getting bored here with no one to see but me. When we were in your house and he had your father for company and people in and out all the time, he was fine, but spending all this time here with only me has made him ornery.”

“Maybe the two of you could move back into our house.”

“Joe that isn’t what I was asking.”

“I know, but I think that’s what you should do. I can have a wagon over here in the morning and move you back to the house.”

“Joe, stop being so bossy. I didn’t want you to tell me what to do.”

“Well, why did you ask me to come over here then?”

“I wanted to talk to you about it.”

“We did, and I told you the best thing to do.”

“You can’t help it, then, can you? You are bossy. I simply wanted to tell you that moving here was a mistake, and that we needed to try something else. I need alternatives not orders.”

“You think that my idea for you to move here was a mistake?”

“Yes, it was. I don’t blame you. It seemed like a good idea to us too at the time. Don’t worry about it. Everybody makes mistakes.”

For a moment, Joe was stunned. She had called him bossy and now had told him that everybody makes mistakes. Somehow it was as if Adam had never left except now he was Adam in some ways. He was the one in charge, the one who took the brunt of the criticism when a decision turned out to be the wrong one because there was no one else to blame. When his father returned, he was the one who was going to have to explain about this and about McGinty. All the stolen supplies and lost revenue were his fault. He was going to have to think hard about how to handle this new role. It wasn’t easy. Amelia was looking at him wondering what was occupying his thoughts.

“There are several alternatives. One is a boardinghouse in town run by a woman whose husband was in the circus. It’s quite a colorful establishment but respectable. Another possibility would be to try to find a small house to rent in town, but they tend not to be in good condition because most often they’re rented by miners. We have a small cabin near our house. It’s the cabin that Pa, Adam, and Hoss lived in before they built the house we have now. It’s small and doesn’t have a separate bedroom or kitchen. Rooms would have to be separated by hanging blankets or draperies, but we keep it clean for when someone needs to use it. There is a stove and a fireplace.”

“Thank you. I’ll talk those over with Papa to see what he thinks. All of those would put us closer to where there are other people so that would be nicer than this. It’s a very nice cottage, but we never see any people.”

“Yes, I can see that would be a problem. I didn’t think about that when I suggested the cottage as a place to stay. Now, Hop Sing packed up some food for us while I was cleaning up. I know I’m not cleaned up as well as I should be, but perhaps we could still have dinner together with your father. Tomorrow, I can come by to pick both of you up for church services?”

“Thank you for asking. Yes, let’s go see what Papa thinks.”

By the time Ben and Hoss returned home, Charles and Amelia had moved into the small cabin near the main house. That had been one of the possibilities Ben had suggested originally so he was pleased to see that Charles had decided to move there. He was a bit concerned about his friend when Joe explained the whole situation, but Ben was far more upset when he learned about the timber camps and that Joe had appointed McGinty to run the camps for him.

“Why in tarnation would you appoint that scoundrel to be in charge? Certainly the other men said something?” By Joe’s look, Ben knew that he had never asked them. “Well then, what did Hoss say? Certainly Hoss told you to go right back up there and fix that?” By Hoss’ look, Ben knew that Hoss had allowed Joe to make this mistake. He thought he knew why but was still upset about it. “Hoss, why would you let your brother do this?”

“He never asked my advice. He wanted to do it all on his own so I let him. He don’t like other people telling him what to do.”

“That may be true, but you didn’t even tell him that none of us trusted McGinty?”

“He did so I didn’t think he’d believe me anyway.”

Ben shrugged. Anger wasn’t going to do any good, and he guessed there were going to be some growing pains with Joe taking over Adam’s responsibilities. “Oh, it’s all right. It’s the surprise of it all, I guess. There’s no need to worry too much. Everybody makes mistakes.”

Stunned for a moment, Joe began to chuckle. His father gave him a stern look wondering why he would be chuckling over such a serious conversation. Joe had to explain.

“It’s like Adam never left the house. I keep hearing things he said to me coming out in conversations we have. Even Amelia says things that remind me of Adam. It’s weird and it’s funny. Now, why don’t you tell me all about Abel and why they won’t visit until Christmas.”

“Now it’s mostly cause Brenda don’t want to travel. She won’t put little Abel at risk. She’ll keep him close to home ‘cept they’ll come here for Christmas. Adam told me that he’ll be nearly three months old by then and he figures he can convince her that it will be safe to travel by then. He promised me and Pa that he’d do his best to be here for Christmas.”

“So they’re definitely coming for Christmas?”

“Joe, you heard Hoss. Adam said he’d be here for Christmas if he can be. He’s hoping that Abel will be old enough that Brenda will be willing to travel with him then. After what happened with her first child, she’s nervous.” Thinking for a moment longer, Ben had a question. “Why is it so important for Adam to be here for Christmas?”

 

Chapter 12

“Have you forgiven him yet?”

“Who?”

Simply waiting silently, Adam let her know that he was aware she knew whom he meant. They had talked enough in the past year that it was no secret that Brenda didn’t like Joe much. Her personality and his seemed to be so opposite and their viewpoints so much in opposition that it was unlikely they could ever be friends. Adam hoped they could at least manage to tolerate each other though. He knew Joe would be willing, but his wife was fiercely protective of her husband although he didn’t think he needed it. He waited knowing she would answer if he gave her enough time.

“I guess so. It’s hard to hold a grudge that long especially when you forgave him for everything he’s done. I don’t know how you can do it.”

“I haven’t been perfect either. I’ve made mistakes, and it doesn’t do any good for me to hang onto anger and resentment. I need to look forward not back. Right now, I’m a happy man with a beautiful, caring wife, a wonderful son, and work that challenges me and gives me opportunities for trying new things. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

“Are you sure?” Brenda kissed him then and moved rather suggestively against him. “Abel is sleeping and won’t be awake for hours. We should get a good night’s rest because we’re going to spend several days traveling to the Ponderosa so perhaps we should go to bed early tonight.”

“Why is it that I get the distinct impression you don’t plan on sleeping though?” Grinning broadly, Adam made it quite clear that he was very pleased with her suggestion and his hands were roaming about too letting her know that.

“Oh, I was hoping you would be asking for something more.”

And he did as she hoped. The two of them had a loving relationship that had been somewhat interrupted by Abel’s birth, but now that he slept longer and Brenda was feeling better again, they were resuming their more romantic evenings even if less often than before because of a baby whose schedule sometimes was unpredictable making parents who were sleep deprived. They had talked about getting someone to help but neither trusted anyone else with their baby so they had dropped that idea. Packed for the journey, they headed out early the next morning.

On the Ponderosa, preparations for their arrival were underway with great anticipation of having the whole family together again. Joe expected to shock Adam and Brenda with his news and the event that would occur a few days after Christmas. He had asked Amelia to marry him. It had taken her a full week to decide, but she had finally agreed. Joe had been concerned about the delay and had worried about it. She had wanted to talk with her father about it as well as to think through the decision that also would mean a permanent move to the West. Once the decision was made, she was able to explain to Joe that it was more than a decision to marry and he understood. It opened the door for him to tell her of some of his worry about marriage and not being able to be sure that they were making the right decision.

“Joe, no one ever knows if it’s the right decision. You only know if you’re making the wrong decision. Does it feel wrong to you?”

“No. It doesn’t feel wrong at all.”

“Then, it’s the best we can do. I feel the same way. It doesn’t feel wrong at all. I don’t know if I’m making the right decision. Can anyone ever know the future? But I do know that it feels like the right decision at this moment, and I plan to do my very best to make sure it stays that way. Can you say the same?”

“Yes, I can. I know you’ve probably heard stories about me. I hate to admit it, but a lot of those stories are true if they’re about women. I thought I was in love almost every time I met a pretty woman. It wasn’t love of course. I know that now.”

“What changed?”

“My thinking changed. Adam told me to pay attention to the woman who touched my heart, beautiful or not. He said that Brenda touched his heart. So, when we first met, I realized about two days in that you were more interesting than any woman I had met before. I found that I looked forward to seeing you not only because you were pretty but because I wanted to talk with you.” Looking a bit embarrassed, Joe was reluctant to admit the next part. “That wasn’t the usual reason I wanted to see a woman.”

“So, you didn’t want to kiss me?” Amelia had a small smile as she said that though.

“You know I wanted to kiss you, but I wanted more. I wanted to spend time with you, talk with you, tell you about my dreams and about my thoughts. You gave me some good advice along the way too. I think we’re going to do well together.”

So they agreed to marry and the wedding was scheduled for shortly after Christmas. It was a short engagement, but a big part of that was that Charles wasn’t doing well at all. Doctor Martin was concerned that he might not survive the winter. The air was clean but cold, and perhaps it was too cold.

As expected, Adam was surprised, almost shocked, by the news of Joe’s upcoming wedding. However, he quickly recovered and offered his sincere congratulations. Joe thanked him for his advice, and then Adam was a bit embarrassed when Joe told everyone what that advice was. Brenda however was very pleased to hear it. Adam had brought a number of gifts with him from California, but the largest gift had been shipped to the Ponderosa. Ben had received it and had it stored away in a hay barn. It was brought to the main house on Christmas Eve. Hoss got his present early when that crate was hauled in on a wagon. All of the family headed outside as Adam presented Hoss with a pry bar and told him he could open his present early. Hoss stepped up into the wagon and opened the crate to reveal an extra large bathtub. Once the packing was stripped away, Hoss, Adam, and Joe hauled it into the existing washroom where Hoss intended to use it at the first opportunity.

“I plan to take a lot more baths now. It was always uncomfortable for me before, but now it’s gonna be a pleasure.”

“It’s going to be a pleasure for all of us who don’t have to smell your feet any more either.”

That line earned Joe a frown from Hoss, but it didn’t last long as he turned back to admire his new bathtub. Everyone else had to wait until Christmas morning to receive their gifts, but most of them were up early because Abel decided that five in the morning was a good time to exercise his lungpower. Unused to such noise, it awakened everyone else in the house. Because it was Christmas morning, no one minded and everyone headed downstairs for coffee and biscuits by the tree. At three months, Abel was beginning to smile quite a bit and he had his father’s dimples. His parents found it rather endearing to watch six adults do their best to see those dimples as much as they could by every antic they could imagine and every sound they could employ to get Abel to smile. For some reason, he smiled the most when Hop Sing spoke to him pleasing the cook immensely and frustrating everyone else who wondered what the secret was. Adam said his son must like the Chinese language that Hop Sing used when he spoke to him so soon Hop Sing had numerous requests to teach the others Chinese words that they could use to make Abel smile. Abel didn’t smile when Hoss tried speaking Chinese, but everyone else laughed hysterically and that did get Abel to smile so it worked in a roundabout way. It was one of the best Christmas mornings anyone could remember.

In town on that Christmas morning, two young boys in Virginia City had a Christmas morning to remember too. They were amazed to find a large amount in their name in a bank book for the Bank of California when they opened a special present left for them with their parents the day before. The note enclosed with the gift said the money was to be used for their education or their first house or first investment. The note was signed by Adam Cartwright with his thanks for their help in saving his life and then coming forward to testify against men who had broken the law. There was more about that, but the boys were too young at that point to appreciate it. Their eyes were too big seeing the dollar amount they had. The note did end with an admonishment that the gift was to be their secret. That didn’t surprise their parents at all. They had been a lot of ‘secret’ Cartwright gifts to people over the years. In fact, there were other gifts left by various Cartwrights in households all over the Comstock. Each of them shared the spirit of Christmas in the way it was supposed to be shared.

At Christmas dinner on the Ponderosa, Ben proudly presided over the festivities that marked the first time there had been three generations of Cartwrights in his home. After dinner, Amelia and Brenda sat on the settee with Abel and talked about the wedding preparations with Ben and Charles. The three brothers took that as permission for them to leave and bundled up in their coats for a walk outside. It was a mild December day for the Sierras and there was no snow on the ground. Hoss showed Adam where they planned to build the separate quarters for Candy. The cornerstones were set but no building was started.

“We figured the size we thought we wanted, but we was hoping you’d give us a quick plan on how to build it seeing as how you know more than the rest of us about them kinda things. Joe figured we could have it built before the snow is a problem ifn you had time to draw up something while you was here.”

“If all you want is a two room building, then, yes, I can do that. Do you have a stove for it, or do I have to draw in a fireplace?”

Once they told him that they already had a large Franklin stove in the storehouse, Adam agreed that he could sketch out the plans in a day or two. Joe had lumber already stacked and drying for the project. They asked for how many windows they would need and Adam suggested that three would be good for cross ventilation. Hoss slapped Joe on the shoulder then with a look that said he had been vindicated. He looked back to Adam.

“I told him you’d want three windows and a door. I remember when we built them line cabins. You always said the same for a simple building in order to get cross ventilation, just like you called it. You know, the wind blowing through when you want it. I already ordered the windows. They should be in town by now waiting for us to pick them up.”

“And the natural light.”

“Oh, yeah, that too.”

“Thanks, Adam. You know a lot about stuff like that.” Joe paused and Hoss gave him a look that said there was no better time than the present. “And thank you for everything else. I know that I should have said this a lot sooner, but I never realized it until I talked with Amelia and then I had some talks with Hoss. You gave up a lot to help raise me, and I was ungrateful and not very agreeable. I’m sorry for all the trouble I gave you, and I want you to know I do appreciate all that you did. I especially appreciate all the good advice you’ve given me over the years. I’ve been practicing this speech for a while now. I needed to say a bunch of things but I can’t seem to say them all. I do know that you opened my eyes to how I was messing up my life, and that’s what got me back on track. I thank you for that. The best thing you said to me was that everybody makes mistakes. I guess I needed to know that. I needed to accept that. None of us is perfect, but we’re all here to help each other when we need it. We only have to do the best we can do, and then we can count on our family when that isn’t enough. I’m glad you’re my brother and that I can count on you when I need you. I hope you know I’ll be there for you if you need me too.”

“You’re welcome, Joe. Now I need to know something and don’t take it wrong. How about Amelia? Are you confident in that decision?”

“As confident as I can be. I know that I can’t be sure of the future and what it will bring, but I’ve made the best decision I can make right now. You told me to look for the woman who touched my heart. She does.” Joe explained then all the reasons for what he had done and why.

“Good. You’ve thought it through very well. That’s all anyone can do. Now, let’s go inside and make sure they aren’t planning some elaborate affair for your wedding.”

“But maybe that’s what I want.”

The three brothers laughed and went back into the house to hear the details of Joe’s wedding that occurred a couple of days later. Joe and Amelia wanted to take a trip but had decided that they couldn’t because of the state of Charles’ health. They were shocked and pleased by what happened next. The day after the wedding, Charles surprised them at dinner with an announcement that let them change that decision.

“Amelia, Joe, I have something to tell you, and I don’t want you to argue with me. I’m going away.”

“Oh, Papa, not now. You have lots of time yet.”

“Now, Amelia, I told you not to argue with me. I should have told you not to interrupt me either. Adam and I have been talking, and he and Brenda have been gracious enough to extend an invitation to me to visit them. He tells me that the air is as clear and dry where he lives as it is here but that it is much warmer there. I think that I shall take them up on their offer. When Doctor Martin was here for the wedding, we discussed it, and he is of the opinion that the change could extend my life by months or perhaps even a year or more. I would like to take that chance. If all goes well, I would come back here with the spring and warm weather. Adam says it does get rather warm where he lives, and I would prefer the cooler breezes here. Now, I’m finished and you may comment.”

Amelia stood and hugged her father. Joe stood and went to Adam who was prepared for a handshake and got a hug.

“I don’t deserve you as a brother, but I’m very lucky to have you. Thank you.”

 

 

Tags:  Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright

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Author: BettyHT

I watched Bonanza when it first aired. In 2012, I discovered Bonanza fan fiction, and started writing stories as a fun hobby. I have hundreds of stories now. If I am unavailable and anyone needs permission to post one or more of my stories on a site such as Bonanza Brand, AC1830 and/or Mo1427 are authorized to give permission in my absence.

4 thoughts on “Everybody Makes Mistakes (by BettyHT)

  1. A good story about learning the important lessons, and sometimes they take a long time to learn, as Joe and Adam found out. Their relationship has reached a new level and I’m sure it will create a new dynamic within the family. Looking forward to the other two stories on this growing family.

    1. Thank you so much. Yes, as complex as this relationship was, it seemed it would take some time to be resolved into a more mature one.

  2. This is a great story of Family love and many lessons learned. Joe got to be number 1 for the first time in his life. He learned some important things about life as a man. Love this story. Thanks

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