Summary: Ben Cartwright’s dead … well, some people seem to think so.
Rated: T (19,070 words)
The final page contains reviews/comments from the Old BonanzaBrand Library.
Ben Cartwright – R.I.P.
Nothing ever went right for Harry. Give him the best axe in the tool house and it was inevitable that the axe head would drop off within minutes of his picking it up. Give him the best slice of beef on the plate and he’d choke on it. Give him a map and tell him to ride east and he would end up in some town hundreds of miles north of where he was supposed to be….and today …give him a quiet little bank in a small nondescript town to rob and he couldn’t even do that right!
He wiped the sweat from his brow and glanced once again over his shoulder. It had been such a bungling mess of a hold up that even the posse had not had the heart to chase him too far out of town. Such was the story of his life!
Harry sighed and felt the weight of the world upon his shoulders. Now he would never be able to get back to town and explain to that little saloon girl that had the bank heist been successful he would have seen her decked out in the very best of everything! How was he to know that the bank only had ten dollors in the vault and the bullion was due at 2 in the afternoon, not 2 in the morning. Why did people who planned these things never explain it all through properly.
He thought over sweet revenge on Mike and Barry who had planned this bank robbery. For some moments he just rode along in the desert with the sun baking his brains and burning across his shoulders while he dwelt on what he would like to do with those two so called buddies of his…..and then his horse started to limp!
He dismounted and checked the horses forelegs and noticed the sight swelling and shook his head. He thought he had picked the best horse in the corral, but no – it was just another flea bitten old nag who had a tendancy to twist its legs at sight of a gopher hole!
He took down his water canteen and unscrewed the top and raised it to his lips….of course the cool water was refreshing (that fooled you…..thought it was empty, huh?) and he poured a little of it into his hat and let the horse drink some.
It was as he lifted the canteen to his lips again that he noticed the black speck in the sky. Of course he had left his spectacles back home so did wonder whether or not he was imagining things but after squinting for a few seconds he managed to focas in to the sight of a buzzard wheeling about just to the left of him. Not long after another buzzard floated into sight.
Harry wiped the back of his neck and shook his head. How did these birds figure it out, he wondered. He had not even shot the horse yet but here they were in anticipation of a meal out without having to fork out the expenses. He looked up at the birds again and shook his fist, dropping the water canteen in the process and seeing precious liquid seep out and puddle the dry ground.
Odd how birds knew where they could go for a meal. He checked the canteen and tried to remember whereabouts was the next water hole. He glanced up as he screwed back the stopper, and noticed that the birds, four of them now, were still wheeling about some miles from him. They had not drawn closer which meant only one thing in a place like this and that was some one had died before him!
He did not want to die. He knew that for a certain fact. He trudged along pulling the lame horse behind him and heading in the direction of the birds. For some reason logic had struck Harry that day and the logic was that if it were a dead man, then possibly there was a canteen of water close by.
The horse snickered and another horse snickered a reply. Do horses talk to one another? Harry pondered this question now. His mother had said to his brothers that the reason things went wrong so often for Harry was because he thought about things for too long. Things that they never even considered important enough to think about but which, to him, were amazingly interesting.
Having decided that horses did talk to one another and that these two horses in particular seemed to be getting along mighty fine by the amount of snickering and whinnericking going on he toiled along the butte until he came across what he knew he would find…..a body!
The horse standing close by stepped back. Without doubt it was a beautiful creature and it obviously had loyalty and integrity as it had stayed close to its master for some time. Harry stepped closer and knelt beside the man and touched his wrist and felt for the pulse but there was none. Of course, no one had ever shown Harry where exactly a pulse was but he knew that doctors and such felt a persons wrist and then said “No pulse” which meant the person was dead! He told himself “No pulse”.
Harry was thin and wiry, and about five feet ten inches in his stockinged feet. He weighed about as much as eleven stone (11 x 14 = 154 lbs) on a good day. The man at his feet was over six feet in height and must have weighed in at 16 stone easily so Harry figured that even if he had been alive, the man would have been a bit of a problem for him to shift. He raised the mans face to look good and hard at him. There was blood congealed down one side of his face which rather obscured the looks somewhat but what Harry could see was that the man had a somewhat ruthless, arrogant look about him. Stern features, darkly tanned, a generous mouth (did it ever smile? Harry wondered – just one of those side issues he would think about, not that anyone else would), deep set eyes and a very prominent nose. The jaw was long and square and the mans hair was iron grey with near white sideburns.
What appealed more to Harry was the mans clothing. It was good, well made clothing. He looked it over thoughtfully and realised none of it would fit him so he groped about in the mans pockets.
A letter addressed to Ben Cartwright of the Ponderosa. A wallet containing – now he felt sick – no decent human being should be allowed to ride about with a wallet stuffed so full of money. No wonder all the banks were empty!
Other articles were swiftly disgorged from the mans pockets and placed promptly into Harry’s. It occurred to him that this was a god given opportunity to ditch Harry Harris for good and to take on the personna of this Ben Cartwright. The idea appealed to him more and more as he stuffed Ben Cartwrights pockets with the thread bare belongings that came from his own pockets. All apart from a worn picture of his ma, he could never part with that. He stared at the picture thoughtfully, well, no one ever said she was pretty in her life, and thankfully, no one had ever said that he took after her either….not in looks anyway. Having stared at the picture for a moment or two he decided that perhaps he could part with it after all and slipped it into Ben Cartwrights breast pocket.
He stood up and wiped sweating hands down his trousers and looked over at the horse. What a beauty! He approached her slowly and felt a thrill of delight as it allowed him to stroke its nose. What a beautiful saddle and the leather work on the equipment must have cost a small fortune. For once things were working out just right for Harry Harris. He poked about in the saddlebags and felt delight surge through his body at the things he found in there. Well, so long Harry…..Welcome to the new day, Ben Cartwright.
He mounted the horse and wheeled it round and despite an initial struggle got it pointed in the direction of the nearest town. He had over two hundred dollors in his wallet and a stash of cash in his saddle bags. Life would never be so sweet for Harry Harris (sorry, I mean, Ben Cartwright) ever again!
“Look, I ain’t telling you again, stop fooling around up there and come on down!”
Hoss Cartwright laughed. He flung out his arms to embrace the world and laughed aloud. It was a lovely day, a perfect day. They had worked hard to haul lumber and stack it high on the wagon and just for fun he had climbed up to the top just to fill his lungs with the clean fresh air and take in the view.
What a view it was! Perfect and beautiful and Hoss felt thrilled to the toes with pleasure at the sight of it. He wanted to sing. So he did….
“Hoss, shut up that row and come on down before you fall down!”
“I’m singing, Joe!” Hoss yelled
“Okay, so that was what it was…now git down!”
“Joe, it’s jest about the best view there ever could be up here. It makes a man feel like he was drunk from the pure pleasure of seein’ all this beauty all around ..”
“Hoss, git down. You’re embarrassing me….”
“Shucks, Joe, nuthin’ could embarrass you….” Hoss boomed out laughing, flinging out his arms again and then wrapping his arms about himself and doubling over with laughter at the thought of him, Hoss Cartwright, embarrassing his little brother.
“Hoss, I’m warning you, if you don’t come on down, I’m going to have to come on up thar and bring you down!” Joe grinned, his hazel eyes beginning to twinkle as he watched his mountain sized brother prancing about on the logs.
“Oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’ Clementine
You are lost and gone forever ….er…er….er………er…”
“I’m warning you, Hoss!”
Joe put a hand to the wagon and hauled himself aloft. One foot on one log and immediately a broad calloused hand was held down to help haul him up the others. With a gurgle of a laugh the younger man grabbed hold of Hoss’ hand and …………………
“When you’re both done just lying around…” Adam Cartwright scowled darkly down at the two men sprawled flat on their backs on the ground. The fact that they both looked dazed and their eyes were still slowly spinning round did not impress him in the least. He dismounted from Sport, who also tossed his head in disdain at the sight of the two brothers, and walked towards them. He looked down at them and pursed his lips and shook his head.
“You are lost and gone forever……..er……..” warbled Hoss forlornly sitting up and brushing off the dust
“Are you drunk?” Adam asked, squatting down on his haunches to look more closely at his brother
“Oh my darlin’ oh my darlin’ oh my darlin’ little older brother…..” Hoss sang out loudly throwing out his arms and nearly knocking his brother down in the process
“He IS drunk!” Adam declared, jumping to his feet and taking several steps backwards and away from the flailing arms.
“Never touched a drop of whiskey in my life…” Hoss protested
“You’ve touched a drop of something though!” Adam growled
“Nope, jest water, pure sweet water…..from Jeds canteen…over thar!” he thumbed over in the direction of Jed Claythorpe who was sidling behind the cabin as swiftly as he could “An’ do you know what, elder brother, it was the best tastin’ water I did ever drink…HEY, JED…Brung it over for elder brother here to taste….” Hoss lunged forward and grabbed hold of Adams arm “What I wanner know is, why the water at home don’t taste so good……Is Hop Sing puttin’ summat innit d’you think?”
“He’s definitely drunk!” Adam said forlornly and pushed his brothers arms away from him and looked at Joe
“Don’t look at me. I just drunk out of my own canteen…..it was him, the big lummox, who shared Jed’s…..”
“Then why were you flat on your back as well….?”
“Becos, elder brother, I was trying to get fatso here down from the top of the lumber wagon before he fell down and hurt himself.”
“So you both fell down together, huh?”
“Yeah….I reckon I twisted my back!” Joe moaned
“You should have left him up there!” Adam growled and picked up his brothers dust covered hat and passed it over to him . “How bad is your back?”
“Bad enough!” Joe winced and put out a hand for some help in getting to his feet
“Do you want me to send for the doc?”
“No, I guess I’ll manage!” Joe winced again as he stood up and he touched his back gingerly “Reckon I’ll need to get home though!”
“You won’t be able to ride home, Joe. Not if your backs hurtin’ as much as you say!” Adam frowned
“I reckon I could, jest about manage it….” Joe pushed his hat onto his head and sighed and passed his hand across his face “It’ll be difficult but I think I could jest about git thar…”
“Best git to bed soon as you do…rest it a while…” Adam said consolingly and rubbing his chin as he surveyed his youngest brother limping towards Cochise.
“Take a hot bath and then git to bed.”
“Yeah, I reckon on doing jest that…” Joe said, trying to wipe the smirk from his face.
“It’s a pity though…” Adam said, half turning to look at Hoss who was now sitting up and rubbing his head
“What is?” Joe paused and turned to look at Adam
“There’s a party over at the Lazy SusieC’s. tonight” Adam shrugged “You won’t be able to go with that back of yours hurtin’ so much. As for you, Hoss Cartwright, you won’t be in a fit state for anything …..”
“Oh Elder Brother…Elder Brother
Did I tell you
I love another?
Elder Brother, Elder Brother
Give me a drink?
I need another…..hahahahahahah” and Hoss doubled up laughing
Adam shook his head and glanced over at Joe who was chewing at his bottom lip
“What are you hanging around for, Little Joe, you should be getting’ on home and seein’ to your back!” he walked over to the well and hauled up the bucket of water and began to carry it over towards Hoss who was still singing and laughing.
“Do you still want a drink, Hoss?” he asked Hoss as he carried the bucket of water towards the still laughing, chortling, singing Cartwright
“Sure do….’Oh, Elder Brother, Elder Brother
Hurry up and give us another……….pshchew….what was that?” Hoss jumped to his feet as cold water from the bucket sluiced over him “Why, dadburn your hide, Adam Cartwright, you near on drowned me!”
“Fat chance of doing that…” Adam laughed skipping out of reach of his brothers arms.
“Wait until I ketch a hold of you…” Hoss spluttered, lunging forward to grab hold of his elder brother who still succeeded in getting out of his reach “And as for you –” he jabbed a finger in Joe’s direction “I heard you call me fatso….you little whelp…I’ll skin you alive…”
Running towards the well Adam grabbed at another bucket which was still full of water and without pausing in his stride he threw it at his approaching brother. Water as well as bucket, which Hoss succeeded in brushing aside, as he approached menacingly towards his elder brother
“When I git hold of you I’m a-gonner throw you down that thar well…” he growled as the water streamed from him.
The men in the lumber camp were watching with delight. The antics of the three brothers never failed to amuse them and they were already placing bets as to who would come out the worse of the three. Joe was in the category of an almost run as he was still dithering about, wondering whether or not to join in the fracas as he was still nursing his bad back excuse, but the lure of the party at the Lazy SusieC’s was wearing his pretences down.
“Ya-hooo” he yelled and took a flying leap at his soaking wet brothers broad back, only to be promptly tossed away and left in a crumpled heap on the ground close to the wagon.
An ominous rumble from the wagon was blithely ignored.
“Gotcha!” yelled Hoss triumphant as he grabbed Adam by the arm
“Not now you haven’t!” Adam laughed as he kicked his brother in the shins and pushed him for all he was worth in Joe’s direction.
Joe, who was at that precise moment of time, getting back onto his feet with his hand on the wagon, was now knocked back to the ground as his brother Hoss staggered back into him.
The wagon lurched and creaked and the lumber, somewhat loosely secured, began to move.
“The lumber….” Claythorpe yelled at the top of his voice.
Danger brought with it the ability to move with the speed of lightning. Hoss, Joe and Adam scattered in three different directions as the timber rumbled and rolled and disgorged itself from the security of the wagon.
Dust billowed up as though as earthquake had struck it. Within a few moments the well no longer existed except as a pile of rubble beneath some of the timber and the cabin was decidedly crooked, its door complete with hinges lay several yards distance.
Everyone was coughing and spluttering and wiping their eyes and faces. In silence they crowded around the resultant debris and stared about them at the chaos the timber had caused. Adam shook his head slowly from side to side, whilst Joe bit his bottom lip and swivelled his eyes from one brother to the other and Hoss rubbed the back of his neck with one hand and a black eye that had come from somewhere with the other.
“Shucks, pa ain’t gonna be pleased when he see’s this!” Joe muttered
“Guess it’s back to work, huh?” Hoss murmured
“No dance at the Lazy SusieC’s?” Joe looked hopefully at his elder brother who only shook his head and stepped forward “What about my back, huh?”
“Yeah…and look at my eye!” Hoss pointed to the swelling member on his face.
“The only thing I’m looking at right now is the mess you’ve caused, Hoss Cartwright!” Adam hissed “If pa were here….”
The implied threat brought an immediate silence as the three men glanced hurriedly over their shoulders, just in case by some miracle or perchance, Ben actually was there. The three of them swallowed hard and looked at one another and shook their heads
“Back to work, huh?” Hoss said meekly.
“Any news from pa?” Joe glanced at the papers in his eldest brothers hands as he made his way to the breakfast table and gingerly sat down
“Back still sore?” Adam asked without even looking up from his letter
“Just a bit!” Joe yawned and picked up the coffee pot
“Any news from pa?” Hoss glanced at the papers in his eldest brothers hands as he made his way to the breakfast table and gingerly sat down
“Head still sore?” Adam asked without even looking up from his letter
“Just a bit!” Hoss yawned and picked up the coffee pot
Adam put down the letter and shook his head and glanced at his two brothers. Hoss was sucking at a splinter that had embedded itself in the palm of his hand and his black eye was carrying that nauseous green and yellow tinge. Joe looked tired and lack lustre as he stirred the spoon round and round in his coffee cup with his eyes dreamily staring out at the wall beyond the table.
“I was thinking –” he said quietly “that must have been a great party at the Lazy SusieC’s”
“Yeah, they always have good parties there” Hoss mumbled as he began to pile food onto his plate
“Too bad we had to miss it then” Adam replied with a slight edge to his voice.
“Yeah, and a good thing pa wasn’t here to see what happened!” Joe frowned and then glared over at Hoss “You should have known better than to accept a drink from Jed Claythorpe”
“He said it was water” Hoss glanced at his two brothers innocently “He never said anything about what he had added to it!”
“Well, never mind. It’s too late now and the damage has been repaired – ” Adam picked up another letter and began to read it through with a slightly furrowed brow. Joe filched the newspaper as a headline caught his eye. When he started to chortle Adam and Hoss stopped what they were doing and looked over at him
“What’s so funny?” Hoss asked, a forkful of food halfway to the cavern of his mouth
“This here…” Joe tapped the newspaper “Here, I’ll read it. ” he smoothed out the newspaper and cleared his throat “Bungled Bank robbery in Lexden –”
“Where’s Lexden?” Hoss asked
“About ten miles south of Placerville” Adam replied
“Ain’t that near where pa was going?”
“No, pa wasn’t going anywhere near Placerville. What’s it say, Joe?”
“A local man by the name of Harry Harris attempted what must have been the most inept bank robbery in the history of bank robberies. Having pulled a gun on the teller and demanding all the money in the vaults Harris was attacked by Mrs Julia Hanson, aged 67 years, when she declared she was not going to have her life savings taken from her by any lout. She set about him with her umbrella so soundly that he dropped his gun. The gun then went off and the sound of the retort so alarmed the bank teller that he swung the vault door open so fast that it knocked the would be robber to the ground. Harris was immediately set upon by Mrs Hanson and the bank teller. Harris would be safely behind bars now if the bank teller had not unwisely confided that there was only ten dollars in the vault which so incensed Mrs Hanson, who assumed her life savings were safely secured there, that she then set about the bank teller with her umbrella. Harris took this opportunity to make good his escape, apologising for the interruption to the days business to the next customer who was about to enter the bank. ”
“Harry Harris! Never heard of him!” muttered Hoss “Fancy trying to rob a bank with no money in it!”
“Fancy getting drunk and climbing on top of a wagon load of timber…” Adam muttered, folding the letter back into an envelope and beginning to eat his meal
“Shucks, Adam, you won’t tell pa will you?”
“Not if you don’t” Adam grinned
“How long is it before pa gets back now? He’s been gone two weeks already!” Joe sliced through his ham and eggs and stuffed it into his mouth
“Well, I doubt if he’ll be back for another three weeks yet.” Adam frowned slightly “While he’s away I’d like this ranch to function as though he were here. No more sampling the mens water rations, Hoss!”
“Yeah, old Mrs Claythorpe boils Jeds socks in his still, Hoss, I’m surprised you bothered to sample anything out of his canteen!” Joe chortled
“Seriously though” Adam looked severely at his two brothers “There’s a lot of work to do here and I don’t want pa coming back to find a back log. Let’s see if we can get everything done on time –”
“I’ve no problem about that” Hoss observed, pouring out some more coffee “I wouldn’t want pa to come back and find that we’ve been slacking”
“Do you think he’s okay?” Joe’s brow crinkled thoughtfully “I don’t like it when he goes off on his own….”
“He insisted” Adam said quietly “When pa insists he wants to do something, there’s little point in trying to persuade him differently. Anyway, he knows what he’s doing- ”
“Yeah, he’s a grown man an’ all that, Joe!” Hoss frowned and wiped grease and egg yolk from his plate with the heel of his bread
“I know that!” Joe said defensively “But pa usually takes one of us –”
“He’s alright” Adam smiled and picked up his cup and leaned both elbows on the table and smiled over the rim at his two brothers “He’s no doubt enjoying every minute of peace and quiet without us causing problems for him!”
“As if?” chortled Hoss “Us? Cause him problems?”
“I don’t like this” the farmer leaned down and peered once again into the face of the man sleeping on the straw filled bedding in the small cabin that was his home. He glanced up and looked at his wife who was sitting beside the bed with a bowl of blood stained water on the small table and a wet cloth in her hands.
“It’s not a matter of what you like or don’t like” she said, casting a dark look in his direction and then gently placing the wet cloth on the mans brow “We couldn’t just leave him there, could we?”
“I couldn’t see why not! He’s practically dead already….”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that……”
“Be practical about things….if he survives that’ll be another mouth to feed until he’s strong enough to walk outa here. If he dies, it’ll mean having to bury him …”
“What’s the problem with that? Or are you too lazy to pick up a shovel to do that little thing?”
“If we’d just left him there, someone else would have come on by and helped him, that;s all I’m saying.”
“That’s all you’ve been saying ever since we found him.” She stood up and wiped her hands down her grey stained apron and glared at her husband with something akin to hatred in her eyes “How can you even think of driving past a man who called out for help…in that place…in his condition?”
“He could be a murderer for all you know!”
“If you had driven past him and left him there, you would have been the murderer!” her eyes blazed and she picked up the bowl and rags and passed them to him “Take these out and clean up. Then put the water on for something to drink”
“I’m warning you, Patsy, he’s trouble. I know trouble when I see it, and he’s trouble!”
“He’s a man we found injured, John. Injured.” She stressed the word and compressed her lips and sat down again by the side of the bed “There’s a woman out there grieving for him, may be even children….”
“You think too much you do…” he mumbled beneath his breath as he closed the door upon them.
When the door closed the woman drew closer to the bed and turned the flame in the oil lamp a little higher. It was a faint light for the wick of the lamp had long needed trimming and so the flame smoked a lot, leaving sooty residue on the glass. Carefully she leaned forward and once more began to clean out the wounds of the man they had found as they had ridden home from town. A three day journey, and on the second evening they had stumbled across him.
So typical of John to want to ride by, she thought. Had she not pulled up the reins of the horse herself and threatened to stay there with the injured man rather than continue with the journey, well, no doubt the man would have been dead long before now. As it was she was unsure as to how much longer he would survive.
John had insisted on looking through his pockets and saddlebags to find out all that they could about the man, so they knew his name, Harry Harris, and that he had a wife, the photograph of whom had elicited the only words of sympathy for him from John, and he was very poor for his wallet contained only a few dollars and coins. Even so John had pocketed them and said it would pay for their trouble.
Harry Harris. She leaned forward and stroked the grey hair from the mans brow and looked down at the still face. He could be dying, he could be a few breaths away from death, but at least he could die in the comfort of a bed, a poor one though it was, and he would not have been alone either. Not like if he had been left out there in the wilderness with the birds hovering so close, waiting….a bit like her husband really, and she sighed and pulled her shawl a little closer round her shoulders.
The room was dark, the light from the lamp flickered and made odd shadows. Shadows within shadows stretched out and leaned over and seemed to leap into the room. The sick man on the bed opened his eyes and glanced about him and saw only the shadows and the drift of smoke from the burning wick.
“Adam?” he whispered hoarsely “Where are you, son?”
“Hush! It’s alright, you’re safe …” she leaned over towards him but his eyes were shut again now and his lips merely moving, mouthing words that she could not hear.
She leaned back in her chair and picked up some knitting. The door opened with a creak and her husband stepped inside the room and placed a cup of something hot to drink on the table by her side. He leaned over the bed and stared down at the sick man
“He’ll be dead by morning” he announced sombrely
“In my bed too….”
“It’s my bed too….”
“I s’pose that means I have to sleep in the barn?”
“Sleep where you like, John, I ain’t hindering you none!”
“I’ll sleep in the barn then, with the cow…at least I’ll be warm there!”
“I daresay you will be…”
He ground his teeth and muttered beneath his breath and left the room, closing the door behind him with a soft thud.
He raised himself up on his elbows and glanced around the room. A strange room full of shadows and smoke, and with the odour of unwashed bodies and unwashed linen all around him. A firm but gentle hand touched his chest and he turned his head to observe the face of a woman looking thoughtfully at him
“Where am I?” he asked in a voice that sounded different even to his ears.
“I’m Pat – Patricia Mycroft. This is my home, mine and my husbands, John. We found you –”
“Did you find my son?” he raised a hand and gripped her wrist tightly “My son, Adam…he’s not quite four yet, dark, he was with me –”
“We never saw any little lad with you, Mr Harris, nor any sign of -”
“Harris? My name’s not Harris!”
She looked at him and sighed, and shook her head. His injuries had obviously affected his memory and she pushed him gently so that, without any protest at all, he sunk back down against the pillow. Taking a damp cloth she wiped his face for the perspiration had began to bead through his pores and trickle down his face and his lips moved feverishly and his eyes were beginning, once again, to roll round and round in his head.
“We found you in the wilderness, desert or whatever you like to call it. John calls it the dry lands. We saw the birds circling and I told John to head for them in case there was someone in need of help and that was when we found you. You must have been there for some time, Mr Harris, and you’ve been here for nearly a day now…” she paused and looked down at him and realised he had drifted back into sleep or unconsciousness. With a sigh she wiped away the perspiration and then pulled the thin sheet up to his chest and having completed her ministrations, she picked up her cup of warm milk and sat back in the chair, prepared for the long nights vigil to watch over him.
He drifted back through years to a time lost in the realms of his memory and seldom explored. Life had been too busy to pander to memories, to the foundation stones of life as it was enjoyed now.
He saw before him the river. It was smooth although fast flowing. He watched as the current flowed by and then he turned and looked at the raft he had been working on for what seemed endless days. Further up river they had told him the way would be too hard for a wagon, and they had been proven right. They had said he would have to resort to travelling along on the river, and again, they had been proven right.
He had hauled the wagon close to shore and then day by day hacked down the trees. Together he and his son had chopped off the boughs and trimmed the trunks to size and tied them together. Not that a four year old could do much, but Adam knew how to use an axe and he had worked hard.
When he had grown tired he had crawled to the wagon and slept there, curled up with his old blanket around his shoulders and his thumb in his mouth. A small, slender child with a mass of dark unruly near black curls and a face like some Botticelli cherub. Sometimes he had not wanted to work so hard, he had cried that he was too tired, or he wanted to play, or he wanted pa to read to him. Sometimes he had a tantrum and would stamp his foot and be rewarded with a smack, sometimes he was quiet and would go and play with the few toys that his father had carved for him during the quiet times of their travelling.
Now the raft was ready and he had the child secured by a rope in the wagon. But he had to drag the raft, with the wagon on it, and its contents, to the water and get it to float. He turned his gaze to the water and stared at the currents
“Adam? Adam?” he whispered
The woman leaned forward and wiped round his face and neck and put water to his lips and was grateful when he swallowed some of the liquid. Then he pushed her hand away before allowing his own to drop slowly by his side.
He was so tired. The rope had eaten into his shoulder, carved a bloody welt into the flesh as he had hauled at it to drag the raft into the water. He lay there panting, weary, sore and aching and with his eyes closed.
He opened his eyes and smiled up at the boy who was leaning over the wagons side down at him and the boy smiled, his dark eyes sparkling with triumph
“We did it, pa!”
“Yes, son, we did it.”
“Can I come down now?”
“No, not just yet.” He stood up and steadied himself on the logs and looked about him and smiled. Yes, they had done it. The raft was river worthy and the waters had carried the raft out mid stream already. He had been told that in four more days, if he kept to the left of the river, he would reach the newest settlement along the river, where he would be able to replenish his dwindling supplies and maybe get enough work to get money for the next step of his journey. Maybe he would even like it enough to stay there for good…perhaps it would even be the paradise he was looking for, the one he and Elizabeth had talked about and planned for their future together.
He picked up the long pole that he had trimmed from a sapling, and dug it down into the water and pushed. The raft seemed to glide so easily across the smooth mirror like surface of the water and he smiled to himself and chided himself for thinking that driving a wagon over and through a wilderness would be easier than poling a raft down stream…..
Two days later it had been a different story. Mid day and mid stream and a storm broke. The river became a mad creature. It was like a wild stallion that bucked and reared and tossed itself to be rid of the enemy on its back. The little raft with the laden wagon was tossed and swivelled about, lashed with water and punched by the waves in a manner so horrific that he doubted their survival. The child had been terrified, screaming in fear at times, or mute with terror at others.
But he had fought the monsters, just as he had fought them years before when he had been at sea. When waves as big as ten houses had yawned before them and threatened to swallow them in one gulp the men on that small ship had tenaciously defeated them…and now on that wild river with the rain and the wind screaming down at him and his little son, he fought the demons all over again and defeated them.
The settlement had been there and he held his son close and felt the comfort of the childs arms around his neck and the raft had cruised gently to shore and nudged into a patch of reeds.
“Here we are, son, safe and sound” he whispered
“Is he dead yet?”
Patsy looked up as the door opened and she rubbed her eyes and glanced about her dazedly. She had fallen asleep sometime during the night and the oil lamp had burned itself out. She rubbed her eyes and stood up, stretched some life into her cramped muscles and then leaned over the man in the bed. She felt his brow and smiled slowly
“I think he’s going to recover. The fever seems to have subsided quite a bit.”
“Drat! His horse is eating its head off in our stable and now we’ve to share our grub with him!”
“John, I doubt if he’ll be well enough to eat anything for quite a while yet.” She leaned down and looked at the pale face and sighed and shook her head “He’s still quite ill. Perhaps we should get the doctor into see to him”
“What? Are you mad, woman? That’ll be more expense to be paid out for and who’s going to get the doctor here?”
“You could go”
“Me? Fine thing…I’ve only jest arrived back at my own house and you expect me to go back into town. Three days it takes us to get into town and three days back…and whose to know the doc would be in town anyway? What would happen here in the mean time..Huh?”
She shook her head and said nothing but followed him into the other room and began to restore life into the stove. It rattled and clanged as she emptied out the ash and cinders and then it banged and clanged as she put in kindling and fuel. Pots began to rattle as she placed them on top and began to cook her husbands first meal of the day and make their morning cup of coffee.
“I’m hungry, pa!”
He looked down at the pinched white face with the big black eyes looking back up at him and his heart smote him. Was it wrong to bring a child on such a journey as this for the sake of a promise to a dead woman, for the sake of the fulfilment of a dream? He leaned forward and brushed back the dark curls and realised that the child was thin, even for an active four year old, he was too thin,
He could smell food cooking and looked about him as the smells wafted towards him. The child was lethargic, limp against his shoulder. He stroked the thin back and felt the bones of the boys spine against his hand and chided himself once again. Abel Stoddard had urged him to leave the boy in New England, to be reared by him and educated there. Safe and secure. Happy and Content. Abel had wanted to extend his years of happiness with his daughter Elizabeth, through his grandson, Adam…to give to the boy what he could no longer give to the girl.
Ben stroked the boys thin arms and remembered the arguments he had had with Abel. The way he had been so plausible in disagreeing with the old man by saying that a son should be with his father, they would share experiences together, they would have bonds no other son and father would ever have…but he had not thought one of the experiences would be starvation, or having to creep through a wilderness in fear that savages would hear them and take them and kill them, or that they would drown in some rapids on an unknown uncharted river….a fathers love could be so selfish and so self consuming.
“Are you awake?” she leaned forward and then shook her head as the man in the bed remained unmoved. “Here, drink this…” she put an arm behind him and raised his head and put a cup to his lips and was grateful when he swallowed, gulped down the liquid it contained and then she lowered him back down upon the musty smelling old pillows.
She walked over to the window and pushed it open. Immediately sunlight streamed into the room, touching the dark corners with light, gleaming upon the few ornaments and rickitty pieces of furniture that existed in the cabin, scattering light across the bed with its sick occupant.
She looked down at him and frowned
“I don’t really know what else to do for you” she said quietly “I don’t know whether I’m helping you to survive or just prolonging your death. I wish there were something more definite I could do for you.”
She turned as movement behind her indicated her husbands presence and she frowned as John Mycroft stepped into the room and scowled down at the man in the bed.
“How much longer?” he growled
“Longer for what?”
“For him to die or get well enough to leave here?”
“How do I know, I’m not a doctor.”
“Then why do you keep fussing around him. Why not just let him be….”
She looked at him thoughtfully and wondered, not for the first time in her life, why exactly she had married him. It was a pointless question because the answer was carved in her heart and it was not a cupids bow and arrow either! She walked back into the main room and looked about her, at the mean little room, at the dirt and the grime. She looked at the curtains, merely sacking, that she had fastened with string to the windows, and the cracked plates that she had retrieved from someone’s bin in the town….she closed her eyes and could have wept!
“Feeling sorry for yourself, are you?” he pushed her, sending her staggering back against the stove, which was still hot. “Sorry you married the likes of me, are ya?” and he pushed her again, so that her hand brushed against the burning stove and she cried out in pain and brought her hand forward in a defensive action. Pain made her strike back as hard as she could …
She sang a little song as she rocked back and forth in the chair with the sunlight dappling the room, sprinkling across her lap and onto the bed. He opened his eyes and looked up at her and frowned
“Hush! It’s alright now, you’re quite safe.”
“Safe?” he whispered and then he smiled and closed his eyes and drifted back those years when yes, he had been safe, quite safe.
Inger …he reached out and she took his hand and they had walked through the fields and meadows together and then sat down and he had told her his dream, his promises to Elizabeth and together they had watched a little boy playing. The child ran through tall grasses scattered with wild flowers. His voice was shrill with laughter and when he turned and waved to them he called out “Mama…papa….”
“Inger!” he whispered her name and sighed contentedly.
Patsy Mycroft went into the other room and stirred thin soup on the oven. She hummed a tune as she stirred, a tune her mother had hummed when she had been busy cooking years ago on the old family range with her children running around her feet. Patsy could remember them as happy days.
She opened the door and leaned against the doorframe and stared out over the fields and looked up at the sky and realised that soon the day would be gone. It was going to be a warm pleasant evening. She stood there for a little while with the breezes drifting by, and her skirt billowed out about her ankles.
The bread was cooked to perfection and she sang to herself as she tapped it to make sure it was quite ready. Bread, warm and fresh, home made butter and soup…she smiled and placed it carefully on the table beside the bed.
“Hello, Harry….would you like something to eat now?” she whispered.
He opened her eyes and looked at her and frowned and then looked at the food and realised that he was hungry, really hungry. If she wanted to call him Harry so be it…he was too tired and too weak to argue and besides, it really did not matter that much anyway.
She helped him to sit up and piled some pillows behind him to support him
“How long have I been here?” he asked quietly as she dipped a spoon into the dish of soup.
“Four days” she said and smiled and brought the soup to his lips.
He tasted the soup, it was so pleasant to taste that he wanted to grab the bowl and drain it down, and the smell of the bread filled his nostrils…he could hardly breathe for the longing to eat it…
“Wasn’t there a man here?”
“Yes, but he isn’t here now” she said quietly and smiled at him, “Would you like some more?” she said.
He fell into a deep sleep, drawn down into its darkness much as a whirlpool draws down the currents of a river and pulls into its vortex whatever floated by….he had dreamt of Adam so much over the past days. Adam as a child, hungry and lost and afraid., Adam as a child, happy and laughing with himself and Inger.
He had fallen asleep wondering why he was so worried about Adam. Perhaps it had been the dreams that still hovered on the fringes of his mind, dreams the memories of which still clung to his subconscious. Now as he drifted back into sleep the vortex of darkness began to swirl around and around and around, dragging into it the driftwood of memories that still lingered …unfinished business….unexplained problems….halfway through solutions.
“T’ et nul autre”
She said it with her eyes closed and her long lashes forming a dark crescent upon the soft down of her cheek and her sweet generous mouth had smiled as she had spoken the words and so he leaned down and kissed her
“- et joi sans fin!” she murmered
“I love you….”
“I love you…”
They kissed again and their fingers entwined and through the windows came the fresh smell of the trees on the ponderosa miles away. She looked up at him and smiled again
“Are you happy, my Ben?”
“Of course I am happy….”
“Have you then – joi sans fin?” and she smiled through half closed eyes as she turned her face to look at him, her hair all tumbled and jostled upon the pillow.
“Joy without end? With you here….mais qui!”
“Mais, qui!” she laughed and kissed his nose
The shrill voice of their son trickled through the floorboards from the room beneath them and the sound of another voice threatening their offspring with a shorter than usual life span …
“Joy?” he raised one dark eye brow in a cynical manner and she laughed
“Go and see to them, darling….Joseph has obviously done something quite evil to upset that sombre son of yours…”
“YOU LITTLE TERMITE”
He sighed and shook his head as Adams voice seemed to echo through the room and pulling on his dressing gown he hurried from the room and down the stairs
“Will you be quiet! The first time your mother and I have had a chance for a pleasant lazy morning together for months and you two go crazy down here. Adam? Can’t you look after a three year old better than this at your age?”
“He took my book….” Dark eyes had looked at him…a plea for the father to understand the unspoken words and a plea that went unheard, unnoticed.
“Squibbled in it!” Joseph Cartwright giggled gleefully and waved the book at his father with his eyes alight with mischief and his face beaming with pleasure at the sight of his father who always saw things just the way Joseph wanted him to see them.
“Is THAT all!” he had scowled darkly at the tall lanky youth who had stared back at him in surprise, then that blank look of misery had settled over the handsome features and the mouth had fallen into a sullen thin lipped button of protest. “Adam, what’s got into you, you could have let him have something to draw on. Making a fuss about nothing…” and he had snatched the book away from Joe and tapped him playfully on the head with it “Scoot, go and see your mother, scamp!” and he had laughed, actually laughed, as the child had giggled in victory and ran up the stairs. “As for you, Adam…” but the door had closed with a resounding thud!
So much fuss over a book. He had sat down and smiled to himself. Brothers! Yes, it was a big age gap, twelve years between them, but on the whole they got on well enough. Adam and Joe….so alike, so unalike….he flicked through the pages and recognised his sons handwriting and also his youngest sons efforts of vandalism….then he paused as a word or two sudenly caught his attention and he turned back a page and began to read:
“Memory…Adam Cartwright…May 18th 1845
I wish I had the memory of my mother.
Not just a picture of a lady in a frame.
I wish I could recall her voice,
And the way she would say my name.
I’d like to say her skin was soft to touch
As she’d hold my hand in hers,
She’d say: “Adam, I love you very much”
As she held me in her arms.
I remember a woman with pale golden hair,
But her eyes were blue as the nordic sea.
And she laughed and sang without a care
As she held her child….but it wasn’t me.
I have the memory of a lady I called ma,
With her laughing eyes and smiles.
But she wasn’t the lady who first married my pa,
The lady behind glass in a frame.
I called her ma, but she was not mother,
And she loved me and held me dear.
But when she said ‘Son’ to another,
It sounded differently to my ear.
And…would my mother have kissed me so gently?
And held me close like that?
Would she have called me ‘sweetheart’
And ‘Darling’ and other words like that?
I know a woman with bold dark eyes
And hair as wild as the wind
She said “Adam, call me mother….”
But she is not, ‘tho I love her.
She holds her son close and kisses him
In a way none had ever held me.
Her eyes dance and devour him with love,
But my mother…is in a picture in the room up above.
She laughs and sings to her baby,
And takes him by the hand.
She holds him close in a warm embrace,
In a way, I’ll ne’er understand.
I wish I had a memory of Elizabeth
Not just words about her from pa.
She only lives when I dream of her
Never too near, always too far…
“Mama” I say, “Don’t go, don’t go away”
But she’s just a picture behind glass,
A memory that fades with the day
A pretty face in a frame.
How I would love a memory of mama,
To remember her voice and her smell
To recall the way she would hold me
The things I’d remember so well.
She would tell me that she loved me
That the sea and the sky aren’t always so blue.
Nor the grass so green when it withers,
She’d say “But I’ll always love you!”
If I had a memory of my mama,
Of her warm, loving and laughing,
If I could remember the smell of her,
And her touch and her smile…
But I won’t, and I don’t,
Because she’s Elizabeth…my mama in a picture,
In a frame”
… … …
Patricia Mycroft leaned forward with a frown and anxiety in her eyes. She touched the mans brow and shook her head. There was no fever, and no perspiration but there were certainly tears falling slowly from his eyes, tightly shut as they were …and his lips were moving almost feverishly.
“It’s alright.” She whispered as she leaned forward, “You’re safe here, you’re alright there’s nothing to upset you here”
Still he lay there with the tears slipping down from his face and she bathed them away gently and then held his hand and wondered what else she could do to help him.
“Joi sans fini?” he whispered suddenly and opened his eyes.
He saw what he did not expect to see – yes, he had expected to see a woman, to see Marie, to hear her whisper something in return – but this woman? He blinked and screwed up his eyes and shook his head
“What’s happened to me?” he murmered
“You’ve been ill, very ill ”
“Nearly a week. We – I – I thought you were going to die several times over –”
He lay there and stared up at the ceiling and frowned and then glanced back over to her
“A week, did you say?”
“Yes, nearly a week. Nearly six whole days –”
“What happened to me? Do you know?”
“No, sir, I can’t tell you what happened to you. We – I – I found you on the track in the dry lands. You’ve had a bad fall, I think….no bullet wounds … your horse was lame…”
“My horse? You have my horse?”
“In the barn.”
He sat up and looked about him. The room was small and despite the attempt to make it appear clean, there was the appearance of months, perhaps even years of neglect. He looked at her and frowned
“I have to contact my family and let them know I’m safe…”
“All in good time. You need to build up your strength first. I’ll ride into town with you as soon as you’re well and strong enough to do so..” she stood up and looked down at him, her head a little to one side as she observed him thoughtfully “I’ll get you something to eat and drink.”
“Can I have some hot water.. I need to wash and shave and …get clean…” his voice was almost apologetic as he said the last two words. It seemed to him as though washing and being clean were not exactly de riguer in that mean little cabin.
When the door had closed and he was alone he made an attempt to get out of the bed, but his legs were weak, too weak even to support him. He reached for the side table and leaned upon it for support but when it began to move away from him, he was only too grateful to sink back upon the rather musty smelling mattress. He closed his eyes and sank back against the pillows and wondered about his boys….if he could only remember what had happened and when it had happened! If he could only recall how long ago it was when he had left home…and when it was that they would be expecting him home again!
“At the count of three…”
“One- two- three….go…”
Adam glanced up over the edge of his book and frowned and then smiled and retreated back behind the pages ….
“Try again, alright?” Joe tried to keep the edge of impatience from his voice as he surveyed his brother “Now remember, you have a really pretty young lady in your arms here, Hoss…”
“Yeah, I’ll try and remember that…”
“Try harder ..”
“It ain’t easy when all I got is your ugly mug to look down at…”
“Do you want to learn how to waltz? Do you? Because if you do, Hoss Cartwright, you had better stop throwing around the insults and start concentrating…”
“Sure I want to learn how to waltz..I wouldn’t have asked you to teach me if I hadn’t been serious!” Hoss threw a look over at Adam “Hey, Adam ..”
“Don’t involve me…”
“I already know how to waltz, thank you….”
“Fine help you are to a fella when he’s in need!” Hoss grumbled with a scowl
Adam smiled and raised the book higher to hide his face from his sensitive younger brother. But he was distracted from the story now and peeked to watch the performance that was being enacted before him
“Right! Now then, Hoss, put your arm around my waist..good…right…not so tight, Hoss..and take hold of my hand…remember this is a girl you’re holding here, no need to crush so hard..
“I ain’t!” Hoss protested, jutting out his jaw for good measure
“Alright, no need to look so fierce. Are you ready?”
“For the dance?”
“I’m ready.” Hoss paused and glanced over at Adam who swiftly ducked behind his book “Hey, Adam, couldn’t you give a hand here or summat…?”
“Who? Me? No, thanks…”
“Couldn’t you hum or sing or summat?”
“I don’t think so!”
“Shucks, I don’t want Cara to think I’m some kind of left footed idiot….”
“She won’t!” Adam smirked
“Hoss, are you going to concentrate on this dance lesson or not, because if you don’t then I’ve a lot more interesting things to do than stand here all evening trying to teach you to waltz!”
“Oh yeah? Such as?”
“Such as never you mind…”
“Shucks, how can I concentrate on learning to dance with a girl when I’m dancing with my brother?” Hoss pushed Joe away “You don’t look nuthin’ like a gal!”
“Of course I don’t look nuthin’ like a gal…why’d I want to look like a gal fer?”
Hoss frowned and folded his arms across his chest and scowled at his youngest brother who gave a groan of exasperation and tossed his arms in the air
“What am I going to do with you, Hoss?” he demanded “Adam, ain’t you got no suggestions?”
“Well, the dance isn’t until Saturday night, so why not….”
“Is this better?” Joe interrupted by whisking a napkin from the table and tying it round his head and knotting it under his chin
“Hey, Joe..” Hoss chortled “You remind me of somebody…and you make a nice looking gal too, come to that….”
“Right…arm around waist and hold my hand and on the count of three…one two three..”
“That was too fast…do it agin!”
The sharp staccato rap on the door startled all three of them and each of them looked at the door as though it were about to burst into flames. Hoss eventually pulled it open and admitted Roy Coffee.
He glanced at the three of them – Hoss looking at him with a pleasant smile on his face, Joe with a stupid kind of headscarf tied about his face and an inane grin on his lips and then Adam, who seemed to sense something serious was about to be said for he stood up with his face blank, signalled to Joe to remove the scarf and then looked at Roy
The way he said the words was enough to bring a chill to the room that smothered any sense of foolery from his younger brothers. They stepped closer together, as they often did when some form of adversity was about to befall them.
Roy removed his hat and took a deep breath but before he could get out the words Joe stepped forward
“Is it about Pa? Has something happened?”
Roy nodded and looked over at Adam and handed over a cablegram, which Adam slowly opened with his two brothers crowding in around him on either side.
“Is this all you know?” he glanced up at Roy
“Isn’t it enough?” Roy said quietly “The best man who ever lived….I can’t believe it…”
“I don’t believe it…” Adam murmered, staring down at the words before him “I won’t believe it” he whispered, more to himself than to anyone there.
“Where’s Endurance anyway?” Hoss muttered, as though concentrating on something so insignificance would make the bigger issue go away.
“I don’t understand this!” Joe cried “Pa – can’t be dead.”
“I’m sorry, boys…real sorry to have to come and tell you the news …sorry that it has happened …you’ll never know how sorry!” Roy tugged at his moustache and it was obvious from the red rimmed eyes that he had shed plenty of tears on the way from town to the ranch.
Adam sank down into the chair and put a hand to his brow and stared at the words on the cable, they seemed to dance in front of his eyes and he realised that his hand was shaking…he re-read the words slowly
“Regret to inform you Ben Cartwright died 9 a.m. today stop Please advise ref. Funeral arrangements stop D. Hendry Undertaker stop Endurance”
So this is how one feels when the best person in the world is taken from you! Your head spins round and round and your heart pounds and your mind says No No it isn’t true and you want someone to come and say ‘of course it isn’t’. You feel lost. Like a ship that has slipped its moorings and drifted out to sea. Adam screwed the cablegram into a tight little ball and threw it into the flames.
Hoss retrieved it and looked anxiously at his eldest brother before smoothing the paper out and re-reading the words for himself. ‘Funeral arrangements’ he tried to think how to arrange a funeral for his father but all he could think about was his fathers hand on his shoulder, and the dark voice saying encouraging things all his life long.
Joe sat down at the table and folded his arms on the hard surface and buried his face within their confines and wept. His heart hurt, physically hurt, as it tightened into a small ball and then threw itself against his ribs. He wanted to sob and yell and howl like a coyote would howl at the moon. He wanted to scream so loud that all the pain and the hurt and anguish he was feeling now would just go away….but even if it did, even if it did, the reality and the cause of the anguish never, never could.
He felt a glass being pushed into his hand and looked up to see the dark eyes of his eldest brother looking down at him
“Drink it, Joseph” Adam said very quietly
He glanced around him and realised that Roy had gone. He had not noticed nor cared. His hand shook so much that the brandy in the glass spilled over his fingers and splattered on the polished surface of the table and he felt guilty because Hop Sing would not be happy about that…
“Hop Sing” he mumbled through lips that seemed to wobble about without any control “Does he know?”
“Hoss is telling him now!”
“Is – is Hoss alright?”
Adam opened his mouth to speak but the word stuck in his throat and the tears sprung to his eyes and all he could do was shake his head and then he turned away, as though ashamed of the tears because he was the eldest and he should be the strongest, the one to hold them all together and to organise things….he put a hand to his face while his other hand rested gently upon Joe’s shoulder and Joe raised a hand and placed it upon that of his eldest brothers
“Oh Joe….what are we going to do?” and without another word Adam burst into a heartbreaking sob of despair and misery.
“I’m not proud!”
He looked over at the woman as she sat on her chair by the open door. She was wearing a not too clean gown with a slightly cleaner apron and on her head she wore a straw hat with silk flowers on the brim. In some ways she looked quite attractive with her washed out blue eyes gazing out to the horizon, and the freckles chasing over her nose. She was spare of frame and quite tall, and she had a wide mouth that was meant for smiles but seemed to have known more misery than joy, the way the creases of her face fell. She glanced back at him
“I could never afford to be proud!”
She snapped the beans and tossed them into a bowl. Then she sighed and looked at him and smiled. It was good to see Mr Harris looking so well now. Just a few days of good food and plenty to drink and he was looking physically in pretty good shape. There was a rather confused air about him still, as though he still could not make out exactly what was going on. He even denied that his horse was his…and when he had been shown the picture of his wife, he had gone so far as to flinch back as though looking at his worse nightmare. She decided, thinking about her own situation, that perhaps the sole reason for his discomfiture was that he did not want his wife to find him. Bearing in mind how she looked and how handsome he was, perhaps that was understandable.
He sat in the chair opposite to her and watched her face moving, making shadows as the sun fell upon it. His hand reached out and picked up the cup of coffee and brought it to his lips. He was grateful for that at least, for the strength now to pick up a cup and for being able to taste the bitterness of what he drank instead of everything tasting like mud. If only she would accept that he was not Harry Harris, whoever that was….but things did seem jumbled in his head just now and he felt tired, desperately tired. If he could just rest here for a few more days then perhaps he could head for home and everything would get sorted out.
“Do you know what it’s like to be standing out in front of a crowd of folk and all of them gawping at you and thinking that you must be lower than dirt to be there? They never stop to think, nor ask why you’re there. They don’t stop to ask who you were before –” she put the pan down and picked up her cup of coffee which she nursed between her hands. “Who would have thought it though, me – , Patricia Counsell, youngest daughter of a college professor in Maine, standing in front of a dirty crowd of dirt farmers to be sold for a wife to the highest bidder.” She shook her head and sighed “The man who advertised for a bride got six applicants, me included. He chose the youngest and prettiest and the other five went on the market…still, at least we were married and became ‘honest women’, for what it was worth!”
“It must have been hard for you –” he said wearily, too tired to think how desperate the woman must have been, too exhausted to ponder over the misery of a young life wasted and brought to such a terrible solution.
“It was all that I could do, apart from becoming a – well – one of those women –” she frowned then and looked over at him “Do you think what I did was wrong?”
“I’ve never thought about it before…” he tried to think about it now, but his head ached.
“I was married to John for five years. He was not a bad man, he meant well and for the first two years we were happy enough. I think I made him happy and if I had been other than what I was, I could have been happier – ” she put down her cup and stared over at the horizon “I had a good education, and my father said I was the brains of the family. I think that was why I never got married before, no one wanted a clever wife. I scared the men off, that’s what ma said once.”
“I like women who can think for themselves.”
“Yes, I could imagine you would.” She smiled over at him, thinking of the photograph of the mans wife and realising that she must have the biggest intellect going for him to have married her. “Then slowly the family disintegrated, going their various ways and such….and I decided to explore. I wrote a book once…..” her voice trailed away and she shook her head dismally “never got it printed though. Then one day I realised that I had no money, my family did not want me around, and I was on my own.”
She sighed and stood up and walked over to the stove and poured out more coffee into their cups. She stood there for a while and looked down at him, then she smiled and he thought that when she smiled, she really was very attractive
“Things got steadily worse. I became desperate and answered an advertisement for a bride – and ended up married to John”
“So – where is John now?”
“It could have been worse, I suppose. At least we were happy for two years.” She sat down and picked up some knitting and grew silent.
It was strange how she never mentioned what had happened to her husband. He put a hand to his brow and tried to remember the shadowy figure at the door when she was caring for him in the bedroom. Surely there had been a man in the house then?
“What about you?” she looked over at him with narrowed eyes “You talked a lot about your son, Adam ….talked poetry too once…”
He looked over at her and felt a touch of relief and gratitude touch his heart. So, his dreams had not been just dreams …. And if they were reality then the rest of what he felt to be true, WAS true!
“Adam is my first born son.” He said quietly “His mother and I always dreamed that we would find our very own paradise in which to live and raise him and any other children we would have together. But she died at his birth…..”
“I’m sorry….what happened after that?”
“I took my son, a baby, into the wilderness. My fatherly love took him into the greatest dangers possible. My obsession to fulfil my promise to his dead mother meant that I nearly killed him, hundreds of times over! A man must be mad to take an infant into the wilderness like that…a child needs to be nurtured and loved and protected, kept secure and safe until he is old enough to undertake the things I put that child through!” he clenched his fists and shook his head “God forgive me!”
“Is he dead then?”
“Your son, Adam?”
“No, he’s alive and well. A fine strong young man.” He smiled slowly “He looks like his mother, loves books, writes poetry….he’s brave and resourceful …”
“Then you taught him well…”
“He would have learned, and should have learned all of what he was taught, in a better and safer environment than those he suffered with me.”
“You called out a woman’s name once…Inger I think it was…”
“My second wife…she was like a breath of fresh air and Adam loved her as much as I did myself. We had a son, Erik. Adam was barely six when he was born…..at the time we were on a wagon train heading towards my dream…our dream” he corrected himself, and smiled slightly at the memory of the evening he and Inger had talked about their future together
“Was she pretty?”
“She was lovely, lovelier than a spring morning…”
“What happened ?” she had put down her knitting, engrossed in the story of this stranger, enthralled by the adventures that she could imagine unravelling before her very eyes.
“She was killed during an Indian attack.”
“Really?” she looked at him doubtfully and then shook her head “That’s sad.”
They said nothing more for a while but sat together in companionable silence as the sun mounted its passage in the sky. Eventually she stood up and put the beans on the stove to cook. She looked at him and thought of the tragic end to his second wife .
“What did you do then?” she asked “When Inger died, and you had two children to care for?”
“I pressed on, of course. Despair makes a desperate man more obsessed than ever. Adam was such a stalwart then, caring for Hoss.”
“The name we called Erik…” he smiled slowly, remembering times with baby Hoss and the young Adam. “I worked in various settlements, travelled onwards, reached Eagle Station eventually. Bought some land about there land with no guts to it so that no one else wanted it at the time. As time passed I bought more land, land with timber on it, and in the lowlands, when the land got too poor, too poor to feed a gopher, I planted grass to feed the cattle that I didn’t then have”
“How did you get the money for this . she frowned, and looked around at her own miserable small holding, knowing that the little money she possessed would not go far.
“I got an income from breaking and selling horses…I still do! I sell mainly to the army, freight and haulage companies now as well….it was back breaking work, but Hoss and Adam worked hard alongside me. We’d go home exhausted, fall asleep on the floor at times, wake up and get back to work without changing clothes or washing even, planting, building, catching and breaking in horses…Adam was – is – the best son a man could ever have, I’ve never known him complain about anything…not the times when he was small, nor the work load that came when we finally found our paradise….”
“You’d have to go a long way to find a gentler, kinder, bigger hearted man. We toiled hard, bartered horses and such, then they struck silver…the silver lode …people wanted timber then. We built a timber/saw mill. We traded lumber for a share in their mine. People had no money, everything they owned went into their mines. That was all they had but they needed timber.”
“And as their mines paid out, you got rich?”
“That’s right. All of a sudden we were rich. We were practically the first settlers there, apart from the Grosch brothers and a few other panhandlers. But we were the first to buy land to use it for cattle, horses and timber….people need timber, and they need meat…and we could provide them with all that they needed. Then I married Marie…” his voice softened and he sighed
“Don’t tell me she’s dead too?”
“We had some happy years together, had a son, Joseph. Probably the only time Adam and I came to disagree about something.”
“He didn’t want you to marry again?”
“I married Marie in New Orleans….brought her home as my bride and their mother. It was the first time I had never taken him into my confidence. I shut him out..” his voice trailed away and he picked up his cup and looked into its emptiness and with a sigh put it back down again “For once there was some disharmony between us, it didn’t exist for long, but it had happened – I had never thought it would, or could –”
“Well, that’s a woman for you – ” she sighed “the cause of all mens woes….”
“Marie was a wonderful wife though – I thank God for her”
“My youngest son. I think he was born looking for trouble. He certainly kept our hands full – still does.” he smiled slowly.
“You’re a very fortunate man, Harry.” She said softly “To have loved and been loved, to have your sons.”
He sighed and shook his head, why did she have to insist on calling him Harry?
Hendry stood on the sidewalk and watched the three men dismount and tether their horses reins onto hitching rail. He had been expecting them since receiving the cable a few days earlier but even without that foreknowledge, he would have known them. They looked like men with their hearts torn out. Their eyes seemed dead and sunk deep in their faces and their mouths were thin and expressionless.
He watched as they walked towards the door, and shook his head in wonder. How could a man like Ben Cartwright have caused so much grief by his death? The puny little man he had laid out and buried and known for only a few days just did not seem to have been the kind to have inspired an emotion – other than intense irritation – in anyone! Yet these three men looked as though they were dying on their feet with misery.
“Mr Cartwright? Mr Cartwright? Mr Cartwright?” he acknowledged the three of them in turn and did a little bob as each passed him.
They said nothing. Like a lot of grief stricken people their mouths were too dry to speak. The eldest drew himself up, thrust back his shoulders and took off his hat which prompted the other two to do likewise. The youngest and smallest had obviously cried himself dry and his red rimmed eyes were sore and near to closing up all together.
“I’m – I’m huh Adam Cartwright – my brothers – Hoss and Joe” Adam gestured to the two other men and turned to Hendry “We’ve come to take our father home”
“Home? Did you say home?” Hendry frowned
“Yes! Is there a problem with that?” Adam frowned, his throat was tight with emotion now and he swallowed hard “Can we see him?”
“er – well –”
“How did he die?” Hoss Cartwright stepped forward, twisting his hat round and round in his hands and his blue eyes looking like grey slate “Do you know how he died?”
“Oh.. sure…yes.. you mean no one told you?”
“No, we got your message and came right on over – apart from cabling you from Placerville.” Adam frowned
“Ah yes…well…” he frowned and twiddled with a button on his jacket “Yes, well..how did he die..umm. Well, your father – he was your father, right?” he looked at them thoughtfully “Not your eldest brother or cousin?”
“Ben Cartwright was our father – ” Adam said very evenly through gritted teeth “Go on, what happened?”
“He died from a fractured skull”
The three men looked at one another and then at the undertaker, their faces registering disbelief and confusion and dismay
“A fractured skull?” Joe exclaimed “Are you sure?”
“Sure I’m sure…the doc said he had the thinnest skull on a man he had ever seen.”
“Pa didn’t have a thin skull.” Hoss protested, thrusting out his chest in disdain at the very idea “Pa had a head as thick as a cannon ball….Doc Martin said so countless times!”
“Yeah, pa had a head like a rock!” Joe’s eyes flashed and he gave a snort of contempt at the very idea of anyone accusing Ben Cartwright of having a thin skull!
“How did it happen?” Adam now asked
“Wal, he was here in town for a few days. Didn’t seem to have any good reason for being here ‘cept to spend money ” he ignored the glances the three men cast at one another “then one night he got so drunk the sheriff locked him up for his own good”
“He got drunk…” Adam frowned – the thought of his father getting drunk in a strange town seemed quite at odds with the Ben Cartwright he knew.
“He was here just to spend money?” Joe’s voice was shrill and he shook his head, that didn’t fit in to the picture of the father he knew.
“So? What happened? How’d he crack his skull?” Hoss leaned forward, anxious to hear more.
“Next morning the sheriff went in to tell him his breakfast was ready and jest coming up, and Mr Cartwright sat up, said he was mighty hungry, and fell out of the bunk.”
“He did WHAT?” they exclaimed and then looked at one another again. Misery was quickly being replaced by some other emotion and the undertaker stepped backwards a pace.
“He fell out of the bunk. Seems he got his foot caught in the blanket and jest fell and cracked his head on the floor and that was it…he was dead”
The three men, from slightly leaning forward to catch the story, now stepped back and straightened their backs. They looked at one another and then the eldest, with his head to one side, surveyed the undertaker as though the man was responsible for all manner of ills.
“We want to see him!”
“But I’m afraid you can’t.”
“We can’t? Why not?”
“Because – because we buried him yesterday!”
“Buried him?” the three of them exclaimed, their eyes and mouths opening as wide as they could go in horror.
“You buried my pa before we got here!” Hoss growled, grabbing the man by the shirt front and lifting him bodily from the floor.
“We couldn’t keep him indefinitely Mr Cartwright. There’s only so long a body can be kept – especially in the weather we’ve had lately.”
Adam shook his head and walked to the door, the frame of which he thumped with his clenched fist several times over, before he turned to look at his brothers
“Something’s not right” he snarled.
“He had no right to bury pa” Joe protested.
“No, I mean, something doesn’t seem right about this” He frowned and looked at the wretched man “Are you sure you buried our pa?”
“Sure I’m sure. I’m mighty sorry an’ all that, but we’re a slow dying population around here and I don’t have much of a back log”
“Take us to the grave!” Hoss demanded.
They took their hats off out of respect for the dead and then turned to the undertaker
“Dig him up” Adam demanded
“But I can’t do that…”
“Why not? You dug him in, now dig him up”
“But you have to get a special document from the sheriff and Mayor. I can’t jest go around digging up bodies jest to please anybody”
“That’s not our pa in there, anyway!” Hoss snorted in contempt
“Not your pa? Of course it was your pa! All his belongings –”
“You’ve still got them ?” Joe asked
“Yes, of course I have….I’m surprised you didn’t ask for them before…” he looked questioningly over at Hoss “What makes you think it ain’t your pa?”
“Because my pa wouldn’t fit into a skimpy little grave like that one thar…” Hoss declared, looking at the grave with disdain
“Well, he fitted it okay when we put him in it”
“Our pa was over 6 foot tall, that little dinky thing wouldn’t reach his shoulders”
For the first time in his career David Hendry felt grave misgivings about the late departed! He led the three men back to his offices in silence.
“Well” Adam sat back and shook his head “They’re pa’s things alright. Even his wallet and watch…everything”
“Somethings mighty wrong around here….” Hoss shook his head and looked fiercely at Hendry who quailed back “This guy you buried….what did he look like?”
“Well, he was about just over five and a half feet, thin, weasely looking if you don’t mind my saying so.” He ran through a description of the dead man and when he stopped looked at them thoughtfully “Did that sound like your pa?”
“Someone stole pa’s things from him” Joe said, chewing his nails energetically.
“Which means pa could be dead somewhere else” Hoss frowned and bit his lip.
“Or injured, or just in need of some help” Adam leaned forwards and scooped his fathers belongings into his arms and then stood up “Someone who steals may well be on a wanted poster ….” He looked at Hendry “Would you recognise the dead man if he were on a wanted poster?”
“Yeah, yeah, sure I would” Hendry blustered forlornly
“This is him!” he said over an hour later and he held up the picture of a rat faced man with a hang dog expression on his face who was wanted for the mighty sum of $500 for theft and an attempted bank robbery
“Harry Harris!” Hoss murmered and frowned “Where’d I hear that name before recently?”
“He was the guy who tried to rob the bank which had no money in it” Joe glanced up at his brothers and smiled “He must have cut across country and come across pa and stolen his money” His voice trailed away and he recommenced chewing his nails, or what was left of them as he pondered over the fact that perhaps he had shot and killed his father to get the money.
The sheriff stood up, took the poster from them and shook his head
“Sorry, boys, it wasn’t Harris. We just got a wire from Pleasance saying they’ve just arrested a man by the name of Harry Harris there – for murder!”
“Where’s Pleasance?” Adam asked quietly
Pleasance was a small town, not unlike so many that were springing up all over the territory. Viewed through the bars of a cell window, however, whatever attractions it held to the stranger, were incredibly limited.
Ben Cartwright sat on the edge of his bunk with his head held between his hands. He was tired and he felt ill. But worse of all he was angry, he could feel the anger boiling over and over inside himself and he knew that if he let go of that anger he would do himself far more harm than if he could just keep himself calm
“I’m not Harry Harris” he repeated for what seemed the millionith time. “I’m Ben Cartwright. I own the Ponderosa. Why don’t you just cable Virginia City and ask the sheriff there – Roy Coffee – he’ll tell you who I am!”
Sheriff Luke Manson shook his head and turned away from the cell and walked over to his desk. He picked up the meagre belongings that lay there and turned to the man in the cell
“You denying these to be yours?”
“I am – I have done since you dragged me in here for questioning yesterday – those things are not mine. That horse out there is not mine. I am not Harry Harris and I did not kill Patsy’s husband. I never even met him!”
“You claim to be Ben Cartwright, right?”
“I AM Ben Cartwright!”
“Wal, I received a cable jest now from a place called Endurance, claims that a Ben Cartwright was buried there three to four days ago. Now you can’t be in two places at once, can you? Especially you can’t be dead in one place and alive in the other…” and he guffawed a little at his own joke,shared by none, as there was no one else there and Ben did not find it funny.
Ben rubbed his brow and closed his eyes and asked himself yet again how on earth had he got himself into such a mess? When Patsy left yesterday morning to get supplies from town and left him to take care of the place, why had he not just got on his horse and ridden away from there?
She had looked happy as she left, assuring him that she would return as quickly as possible. Every day of his stay there the place had got cleaner. She had made an effort to restore order and even made an attempt to make herself look cleaner and neater and more attractive. Once she had been sure that he was well enough to be left on his own, she had told him they needed supplies and he had watched her go – waved her good bye from the doorway and then, a few hours later, decided to walk about her small holding.
Why? He could have got on the horse and ridden away. But within himself he felt the need to help her. She had,after all, saved his life. So he had walked about the place, looked at the soil, the out buildings, the barn…the worse thing about the place was the location. She was too far from the nearest town. But he had realised that there was potential to it. With the proper care and attention, she could make it a going concern, should she have chosen to stay there.
He was walking close to the back of the house when he came upon the freshly dug over ground. He knelt down and touched the soil and rubbed it through his fingers and thought that it was a good piece of loam….just odd to find such a fresh section of dug over ground so close to the house.
He had stepped back and wondered why she had dug over this section. To plant things? He stepped back further and pondered over the shape of the patch of ground…it seemed rather deadly in its familiarity.
He returned to the mound less than an hour later with a spade, and very carefully began to dig away the soil until the spade had touched something soft but unyielding. He knelt down and brushed back the soil very carefully and found himself looking down at the singularly unpleasant features of Patsy’s husband, John.
He was wondering what to do next when there came the familiar click of a trigger being pulled back and a long shadow suddenly loomed over head, casting him and the body into shadow.
“An’ so – jest who might you be?” the sheriff had drawled.
He had protested his innocence. He had explained for hours on end how he had been rescued by Patsy and probably her husband but her husband had disappeared sometime during his illness. But it all fell upon deaf ears. Manson was disinterested. He was only happy to be able to send out cables to the local law officers to tell them he had arrested Harry Harris, the most hapless outlaw in the world.
“Are you sure about this?” Hoss glanced over at his eldest brother as he urged Chubb into a gallop to keep abreast of him
“There ain’t no other answer , is there?” Adam scowled “Unless you can give me one”
“Nah, I’ll go along with this for the time being” Hoss frowned and glanced over at Joe who had ridden by their side in total silence eversince they had left Endurance. “You alright, Joe?”
The youngest man nodded and pulled his hat lower to shade his eyes and to shield his face from their observation. Everything had been such a farce and it had wrenched at his heart strings. The only thing that kept him going was that the suggestion Adam had made could actually be true. If Harry Harris had died with pa’s possessions on him, then perhaps he had done a switch and the man waiting to be tried for murder in Pleasance, with Harris possessions could be Ben. He glanced over at Buck and forced a smile, looking at the horse seemed to make the possibility of Adams suggestion being a reality more concrete.
The sheriff scowled as he read the cablegram and he walked over to his prisoner and looked him up and down and then stuffed the cable into his breast pocket
“Seems you were telling the truth” he murmured.
“About what?” Ben glanced up, he was lying full stretch on the bunk of the cell with his hands folded behind his head and his eyes closed. He was still feeling ill, and the constant arguing with the sheriff was making him feel worse.
“About not being Harry Harris” Manson approached the cell door and looked down at his prisoner “Seems they buried Harris a few days ago, got a positive i.d. on him.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” Ben sat up and grabbed for his hat “Now I can get out of here and on my way home!”
“Nope – I reckon not” Manson drawled “Whether your name is Ben Cartwright, Harry Harris or Old King Cole – you still are the man who killed Mycroft”
“I did not kill John Mycroft”
“Let’s go over this again..”
“You claim the Mycrofts found you, nearly dead. Took you to their home and cared for you during which time John ends up dead,then Patricia leaves the house to go on a shopping trip and you decided its time to bury John…behind the house”
“I was not burying him” Ben rubbed his brow with his fingers and shook his head in exasperation “I never left the house until that morning. When I saw the freshly dug ground I was curious”
“…and decided to dig up whatever had been put there, huh? That’s hardly likely”
“How would you know? Try and imagine yourself in my position….for a while I know Mycroft was there, then he disappears, Pat never refers to him and gives the impression that I was hallucinating or something, then she goes and I find that…that grave…”
“Mebbe we should dig about a bit more…perhaps we might find Pat as well, after all, she ain’t turned up here for her shopping yet, has she?”
“That’s crazy” Ben sighed and sunk back down onto the cell bunk “She told me she was going to go shopping for some essential supplies….I don’t know where she went…”
Manson said nothing more but strolled back to his desk and pulled back the chair and settled into it. He had been getting himself comfortable when the door opened and three dusty, rather weary, looking young men walked into the jail house.
“Anything I can do for you gentlemen?”
“Yeah, you can release our pa” Hoss Cartwright’s voice boomed across the room, and in his cell Ben jerked upright, hardly daring to believe his ears.
“Your pa?” Manson scowled
“Adam? Hoss? Joseph?” Ben rushed to the cell door, his face alight with relief, joy, and the fact that Joe turned his face away for an instant went unnoticed, but the young man felt such a rush of emotion at the sight of his father that the tears had sprung into his ears and spilled over even then, when he had thought there were no more tears to weep.
“Shucks, dadburn it, pa” Hoss clung to the cell bars as though he would have ripped them apart had he the chance to do so, “Pa…we’ve been through hell and high water these pass six days”
“We were told you were dead” Adam looked at his father right in the eyes as though that one look would let the older man know just how much they had suffered knowing his loss and yet, how relieved they were to find him – relatively safe.
“I almost was.” Ben muttered and he took hold of their hands and held them tightly and he embraced Joe as best he could through the bars and then shook his head “The sheriff here is convinced I killed the man who saved my life.”
“Probably killed the woman too. She ain’t turned up yet….he claimed she’d gone shopping but there ain’t been no hide nor hair of her since she was supposed to have left the building”
“So the place you were at was a way out of town, huh, pa?” Adam glanced at the sherriff and then at his father, who nodded “We saw no one on our way here from Endurance. ” he glanced over at the sherriff “What were you doing at the homestead, sheriff? Seems strange to go socialising on a couple so far out of town”
“No, it ain’t!” the sheriff replied straightaway “Fact is I was due some leave and when the weathers good for fishin’ I allust calls up on John Mycroft because he’s one of the best fishermen I know….then I spend an evening with ‘em because Patricia’s the best cook I know” he frowned “Are you cross examining me?”
“Pa? Have you had the doc in to see how you are?” Joe asked anxiously “You look mighty poorly still”
“Are you sayin’ I don’t take proper care of my prisoners?” the sheriff demanded.
“Seems to me you ain’t done much exactly in finding this lady who’s gone missing – sheriff!” Hoss said thoughtfully
“Now you’re questioning my methods..”
“I don’t think you have any methods” Adam said contemptuously and he looked over at Ben “We’ll get the doctor over to examine you, pa….then we’ll go and find this Mrs Mycroft and see what she has to say about her missing late departed!”
The three of them gave their father the kind of looks of love and relief and concern that a man treasures all his life long, and then they left the office, closing the door with a sharp snap of finality.
Smoke was rising from the chimney of the little cabin and when they dismounted the three of them looked around them, as though surprised that they had actually found the place. It was just as Ben had described – a promising little homestead with sturdy outbuildings and barns left to go to seed due to years of neglect and laziness.
The door was open and from the interior of the house wafted the smell of freshly baked bread. Hoss raised his head and snuffed the air and raised his eye brows.
She heard their feet on the boards of the porch and paused as she stood by the table with the steaming bread before her and a knife in one hand. She turned and looked as they paused at the door, and then Hoss, the biggest of the three, knocked and stepped inside.
“Yes, I’m Patricia Mycroft. I take it you’re Hoss Cartwright?”
“Huh, yeah, ma’am, that’s me, how’d you know that?”
“Your father told me all about you” she glanced over as Joe and then Adam stepped into the room “Adam and Joseph – ” she wiped her hand down her apron and extended her hand which the three of them took and shook gently, as though she were some fragile little princess too dainty to be touched. “Do sit down. I’ve made fresh bread and there’s butter and cheese”
“Mrs Mycroft…” Adam started
“Later. I know why you’re here.”
“I don’t think you do, ma’am” Joe said, sitting down and watching as she sliced through the bread.
“You’ve come for your pa. He always said you would. Only he ain’t here….as you can see.” She swung the knife around as though pointing out the fact the house was empty apart from them
“We know – he happens to be in the jail awaiting trial for the murder of your husband!” Hoss picked up a slice of the bread, dripping with golden butter.
“I’ll make us some coffee.” She turned and picked up the coffee pot and frowned slightly “I wondered what had happened. I realised that John’s grave had been disturbed and thought your pa had just ridden on off home, I thought he was Harry Harris”
“No, ma’am, he ain’t Harry Harris” Hoss bit into his second slice “This bread is plumb delicious, Mis Mycroft!”
“I’m glad you like it. Now, while the coffee is brewing tell me what happened?”
“Perhaps you should be telling us what happened, ma’am? After all, our pa could be hanged for your husbands murder…if the sheriff were to have his way!”
“Phew, that sheriff Manson. Always creeping around insisting on doing fishin’, he knows as much about law keeping as I know about…about keeping a brewery” she dismissed Manson thus, and pulled up a chair and sat down between Hoss and Joe after having placed crackers, cookies and sweet things on the table for them to eat. “What happened is this…your pa was near dying, raving in the bed, delirious…and my husband just kept on belly aching about the fact that he had been denied his own bed Then he started on at me….have some of that cheese, Mr Hoss, I made it myself you know”
“Hey, no thanks, ma’am. No disrespect an’ all but I jest hate cheese!” Hoss licked his fingers with lip smacking relish
She stood up and walked back to the stove and prepared the coffee and then brought the pot to the table. Then she went and rummaged around until she had found some mugs.
“Well, he started yelling and his eyes went all red and mean and I knew I was going to get slapped around agin, which would mean that I would be in no fit state to look after your pa. So I slugged him back as hard as I could.”
“What with?” Adam asked.
“Nuthin’…jest the back of my hand. Well,he staggered back some and then clutched at his chest and started moaning that he had a pain, a bad pain….I ignored him, thinking he was tryin’ on a trick to get his bed back….then he made some kind of strange noise and died.”
The three brothers looked at one another and Hoss put down his slice of bread and frowned
“You mean, he jest died ?”
“I recall once he said that he had a funny heart…but that was years ago. So, there was nothing else I could do but bury him. I buried him where he liked to sit on a sunny day…near the house at the back of the yard.” She shook her head “I didn’t ever love him so in that way it was no loss. He had cared for me though, and looked after me…and he meant well. He was just mean, that’s all!”
“So he wasn’t murdered?” Joe raised his eye brows and smiled and bit into his food with more relish than he had for days.
“No, who would want to murder John? He never did anyone any harm, nor any good either come to that….he was too lazy to do anything for anyone I guess” she smiled and poured out the coffee “I could never afford to give him a proper burial like in town…and I had to care for your pa, so I couldn’t put John in the wagon and drive him to town for burial anyway” She sighed and shook her head “He used to love sitting there though, I used to say to him, one day you’ll take root there” She smiled “I went down where the wild roses grow and dug some to put on the grave… so thought that would be kinda nice…I told your pa I was going to get some essentials but that wasn’t true, but I couldn’t tell him where I was really going otherwise he would have been curious about John. Anyway, when I got back to dig the roses in I realised the grave had been disturbed then got into the house and your pa was gone!”
“So – all’s well that ends well..” Adam murmued, and picked up his second cup of coffee.
“I guess it does. So your pa wasn’t Harry Harris after all?” she smiled and the three of them began to laugh, they laughed until the tears rolled down their faces and Mrs Mycroft thought she had three lunatics on her hands but how could they explain to her the relief of knowing their father was safe? Safe, and alive, and well.
“Are you okay, pa?”
“I’m fine, Hoss..thanks again!”
“Wal, you want anything, anything at all, pa, jest let me know”
“I will, Hoss, I will…you bed down now and get yourself some sleep..”
“Sure, pa..” Hoss gave his father a gentle loving smile and then reached out and touched him gently on the arm “G’night, pa”
“G’night, Hoss, see you in the morning”
Hoss nodded and then mid way to his bed roll he paused and turned and smiled, a smile that stretched from one ear to the other,
“Hey, pa..that sounds real good. See you in the morning”
Ben smiled and watched his son settle down beside the camp fire. He shook his head and turned to see Adam smiling quietly at him, the flames of the fire made the dark eyes look sunken in their sockets and the high cheek bones stood out more sharply than normal. Ben glanced over at Hoss, whose snores could already be heard
“Didn’t take him long..”
“He was tired, pa..he’s not slept properly for quite few nights.” Adam refilled his cup from the coffee pot and replaced it on the stones that bordered the fire.
Joe passed them by and paused, he leaned over and placed a hand on his fathers shoulder and then quite involuntarily wrapped both arms around his fathers neck and hugged him
“G’night, pa, sleep well” he whispered hoarsely
“G’night, Joe. Sleep well and sound”
“G’night, Adam” Joe glanced over at his brother and smiled, then walked over to his saddle and bedroll and settled himself down for the night.
By the light of the fire Ben and Adam could see the two dark shapes and Ben smiled and leaned back against his saddle and smiled slowly
“They’re good men..” he said quietly
“Adam…remember when you were little and we used to make camp like this?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“We didn’t have much then, did we?”
“If I recall rightly, there were times when we had nothing at all – except each other” and Adam smiled over at the older man, and stretched out his legs and cradled his cup between his hands and then stared into the flames of the fire “Sometimes I was so frightened and scared – but I always had complete confidence in you, and it always worked out real fine”
“Did it?” Ben frowned “Adam, sometimes I wonder whether or not I did the right thing back then…taking a small child and dragging you along on some harebrained dream of mine”
“Yours and my mothers –”
“Yes, mine and Elizabeths.” Ben stared down at the empty cup in his hand and then over at his son who seemed deep in thought “You could have grown to hate me”
“Well, I guess there must have been plenty of times when you could have done without me around your neck.” Adam glanced over at his father before resuming his intense study of the fire “We had good times and bad, I guess”
“But we came through them”
“We came through them all, together, pa.”
Ben smiled slowly and thought about what was implied and then glanced over at the two sleeping men
“They had it much easier than you ever did”
“In some ways”
“They never went through the hardships you had to go through. The dangers and the heart ache”
Adam said nothing to that, but stared into the flames and remembered times long past – being so scared in Indian territory, hearing soft feet pad past where he lay in his fathers arms with his fathers hand across his mouth – tears of fear pricking his eyelashes, and terror making his heart pound beneath his fathers hand. He could remember the terror of just laying there, not daring hardly to breathe, frightened to move – at an age when most children know nothing about such restraints, where laughter and play and comfort are the normal things in their lives. Yes, he could remember clinging to the edge of the wagon as it was tossed high and low in the waves of angry rivers and only his father standing there, poling them through the rapids and the white water and looking over at him with his face dripping wet and his hair in strands over his eyes and smiling and saying “Alright, son…alright?”
Yes he had learned from a baby when to cry and when to be silent. As most children learned their ABC’s so he learned when to face fear, and pain, and hunger and not to give in to any of it. He closed his eyes and tried to stop the memories only to be jerked back to the present when Ben placed a gentle hand on his shoulder
“There would have been no reason to do any of it had it not been for you son” he said quietly.
Adam merely smiled and gave a slight shrug of the shoulders, he looked at his father and noticed the love in the dark eyes and nodded
“Pa, I’ve been frightened a lot of times in my life” he said quietly “but nothing compares to how I felt when I got that cable saying you were dead”
Ben said nothing, he wanted to say a lot, but the words would not come out – instead he stood up and put some more wood onto the fire and stared out into the darkness and then up at the skies.
“Adam” he sat down again beside his son “Do you remember the poem you wrote?”
“I wrote a lot of poems, pa” Adam said quietly
“You wrote one on your 15th birthday, .to your mother”
“I – I remember – ”
“I never apologised to you for what happened that day…When I read that poem it near broke my heart. ”
Adam shivered, recalling the day very well and remembering how bitterly he resented Joe and how angry he was with his father He had never seen his poem again. Ben nodded as though to himself and sighed,
“I tore it out of your book. It’s been pinned here” he touched the inside pocket of his jacket “ever since Sometimes when I think of her, I like to read that poem, and have my own dreams”
“Always so near, always too far.” Adam whispered
“Thank you, Adam – thank you for being the son that you are” and without another word he stood up and walked away from the fire to his bedroll.
For some minutes his son sat alone, staring into the flames, remembering roller coaster rides on wild rivers, icy frozen mountain ledges, fierce Indian faces and always the man at the centre of his life – Ben Cartwright, his father.
Other Stories by this Author
- Captain Cartwright # 5 – Invictus (by Krystyna)
- Captain Cartwright # 9 – All Those Tomorrows (by Krystyna)
- Captain Cartwright # 4 – The Commodore (by Krystyna)
- Captain Cartwright #10 – Written in Stone (by Krystyna)
- Captain Cartwright # 7 – A New Command (by Krystyna)