Summary: As Ben Cartwright lies dying his sons each recall a special moment that they shared with their father. A special Father’s Day story, the companion holiday story to A Rose For Marie.
Rated: K+ (4,290 words)
Ben and Marie Series:
Ben Cartwright was dying. There was no doubt about it. Doctor Martin, himself had come out after the accident and confirmed it. “I’m sorry, Adam.” He said softly, his hand on Adam’s shoulder.
“Is there no hope?” Adam asked a lump in his throat so big that he could not swallow.
Doctor Martin shook his head. “None I’m afraid.”
Adam turned his back to the doctor. He stood by his father’s desk and looked at the papers scattered on it. “Call me if you need help, Adam.” Doctor Martin said walking toward the door. But Adam seemed not to hear him. The doctor shook his head and letting himself out he walked toward his buggy. This would be a hard blow for the Cartwright’s to take. Very hard. “I only hope they can survive it.” Doctor Martin muttered as he drove away from the ranch house. The Cartwright boys were very close to their father. Maybe too close. Paul Martin shook his head as he pulled his carriage onto the road. He did not even notice Little Joe cutting over the pasture on Cochise as he made his way to the ranch house.
Adam reached out his hand and carefully turned over one of the papers on his father’s desk. It was a timber contract, one that Ben Cartwright had been glad to get. He would never see it used now. Adam thought about ripping up the contract, calling it void, selling the Ponderosa and leaving Nevada with his brothers. His stepmother Marie had been killed out here and now his father was dying, a result of a terrible accident.
Adam could remember every moment of it. The scene would be burned in his memory forever. His father had rode gaily into the yard whistling a happy tune. He had just deposited a large sum of money in the bank and knew that the ranch would run smoothly for awhile now. Adam had come out of the house to talk to his father. He had seen Buck rear up, had heard his father’s shout “ADAM!!!” then saw his father hurled to the ground as Buck darted away from whatever had startled him. Adam had rushed to Ben’s side calling “HOSS!!” then he knelt next to his father. Ben did not move. Hoss had come around the corner, then. “What’s the trouble, Adam?” Hoss had asked. Adam looked up at his brother. “Pa’s been hurt! You have to go into town and get Doc Martin!” Adam replied. But first Hoss had helped Adam carry their father into the house and up the stairs as gently as possible. Ben groaned slightly as the boys gently laid him on his bed. Then the doctor had arrived.
“Adam!” a voice broke into his thoughts. “Adam was that the doctor I saw leaving?”
Adam turned toward the voice. It was Joe, his youngest brother, standing by the door, removing his gun. Adam nodded slowly. His eyes stung and his throat burned with tears that would not fall.
“Adam, what happened?” Joe asked. In his eyes Adam saw fear, fear for their father, fear for Hoss.
“Pa.” Adam choked on the words. “Pa was in a terrible accident today.”
Joe clutched the door handle for support. “Bad?” he managed to ask.
Adam nodded again and this time was able to swallow the lump that had been bothering him since Doc Martin had told him the news. “Joe, he’s dying.”
“Dying!” Joe gasped unable to believe his ears.
Now the tears fell freely from the eldest Cartwright. “Doc Martin said his back is broken.”
Joe had never seen his brother so moved. “I can’t believe it!” he whispered. “Just this morning he was hale and hearty. How did it happen?”
“Buck threw him.” Adam whispered, his voice cracking. He remembered the same incident with Marie, even if Little Joe did not.
Joe stared at his brother for several seconds. He could remember slightly that his mother had died the same way. Was their father now to be taken, too? Then the tears fell from his eyes and Joe, forgetting his age and pride ran to his older brother for comfort at this time of sorrow. Adam put his arms around Joe as he had done when his brother was just a child. Joe was the only one with whom Adam ever showed that he had emotions and Joe returned his love now, by burying his face in Adam’s shirt. “Does Hoss know?”
“He’s upstairs with him now.” Adam replied.
Joe looked up and wiped his eyes. “Let…let’s go up, Adam.”
Adam nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Together the two brothers walked up the stairs and into their father’s room.
He looked so pale, so still lying there between the white sheets. Just that morning he had been bright eyed and rosy cheeked eager to go to town and deposit the money, looking forward to a great day with his sons. For once, Joe remembered, he was going to work with them on the fences. Now, now, Joe sighed. Now he lay quiet, pale as death. And Adam realized that he had little time left. Hoss looked up as his brothers approached. His eyes were filled with tears and he searched Adam’s face for comfort. Adam shook his head sadly. He wanted solace at this time, too. But there was none coming. All the boys could do was stand next to their dying father, watching him sadly. “So many memories.” Adam whispered. “So many wonderful memories.”
He had been just a young child. He never really had too much time to spend with his father since Ben was always looking for work. But this time his father had had the time to spend with his only son. They had walked down to the lake, Adam skipping and jumping ahead of his Pa. He was full of questions and now was the time to ask them. “Pa, why are the clouds blue? Why do birds fly? Pa, what would it be like to fly? What would you do if I spread my arms and flew away from you?”
Ben had laughed and grabbed his son in his strong arms. “I’d fly after you and grab you tightly and bring you back to earth.”
“Why, Pa?” Adam asked, gently patting his father’s cheek.
“Because I need you with me, son.”
“Really?” Adam asked.
“Really.” Ben promised. “Would you like some lunch, Adam?”
Adam nodded and Ben spread out their picnic lunch on the grass by the lake. He had packed a delicious lunch and Adam had enjoyed every bite of it. When they had finished Ben cleaned up while his son stood by the lake, throwing rocks in. “WOW!” he exclaimed his hazel eyes shining. “Did you see that Pa? It really bounced far!”
Ben smiled. He really had to find more time to spend with his only son, Elizabeth’s child. Then he watched as a passing butterfly diverted his son’s attention. “Oh, Pa! It’s so pretty!” Adam exclaimed. “I want to see it better.”
Ben stood up and gathering the picnic basket he followed his son as Adam raced after the brightly colored butterfly. “Catch it, Pa.” He called gaily. “I want to take it home”
Ben laughed and joined in the chase. Together they ran around the park following the butterfly over the picnic grounds and up the hill. Finally, though Adam stopped. “I can’t catch it, Pa!” He breathed heavily. “It’s too fast.”
Ben smiled at his son. “Just like life, son.” He replied never hesitating when a chance presented itself to teach his son more about life. “It goes by too quickly.”
“What?” Adam asked puzzled.
“Don’t worry.” Ben picked Adam up. “Someday you’ll understand. Let’s go home.”
Tears stung Adam’s eyes and coursed down his cheek. “I understand now, Pa.” He whispered. He wished that he was young again and that his father was well enough to hold him again, to whisper words of comfort, to listen to him say his prayers, and then to tuck him in at night. “Oh, Pa!” he murmured. “Pa! Pa!” and for the first time since he was a small child Adam said it, “Pa, I love you.”
Hoss heard his brother utter the words of affection that not even the loveliest of woman had ever heard him say with so much feeling. He reached out and grabbed Adam’s hand tightly, reassuringly. This was a hard time for them all. Hoss watched his father’s breath coming in short gasps, becoming more and more shallow. His big heart, so full of love for his father, felt as though it would burst. “Don’t go yet, Pa.” He begged silently. “Ah need more memories.”
‘Ah was young.’ Hoss recalled. ‘Do you ‘member that day, Pa? We went walkin’ just you an’ me. Adam stayed at home ‘cause he was more interested in his book learnin’ anyway. Ah was glad to spend some time wit’ you.’
“Look, Pa!” Hoss had exclaimed. “See what a beautiful lake!”
Ben had smiled. He remembered the day he had taken his eldest son, Adam, to a different lake in another part of the country. “Yes, Hoss.” He smiled at his young son. “It’s very lovely.”
Together the man and boy had walked along the bank, Hoss occasionally throwing a rock in and laughing when it hit the surface. Ben would smile then. How easy it was to be a boy. Free from the cares of the world around him, his son, Hoss, saw only the bright things to life. Then Ben picked up a rock and threw it into the lake. Hoss clapped his hands joyfully. “Pa, yours went real far!” he exclaimed happily. And Ben had laughed and wrapped his arm around his son.
They continued walking down the path together. Neither said a word. Hoss was enjoying nature with his father and Ben was just enjoying his strong, quiet son. Then the stillness was broken by Hoss who had cried out “Stop, Pa! Look!” He pointed to the bushes bordering the lake. Shivering among the greenery was a little dog with a hurt paw.
Hoss ran over to him and gathered the dog up in his arms. “Por little pup. Pa, let’s take ‘im home and care for ‘im.”
Ben understood. His son was a kind boy, a gentle boy. “All right, son, we’ll take him home. I’ll teach you how to care for a suffering animal.”
Hoss had smiled and carried the dog home in his arms. He would comfort it often with words like, “You’ll be all right, pup. My Pa’s goin’ fix you all up.” And Ben had agreed. At the house Hoss gently laid the dog on the sofa and Ben brought water, towels, and salves for the animal. Ben gently took the pet’s paw in his strong hands and looked at it. “See, son.” He finally said. “The animal has a thorn in its paw. Now hold the puppy still and I’ll pull it out.”
Hoss had grabbed the puppy tightly and Ben carefully drew out the thorn. The puppy tried to get away but Hoss held him closer. “Don’t worry.” The boy had reassured the dog. “Everything’ll be all right. You’ll be fine.”
Ben smiled at his son and wrapped the whimpering dog’s paw in a bandage. Then he patted Hoss on the shoulder. “You’re right, son. You’re pup will be fine.”
Hoss’ eyes lit up. “My pup?” he asked.
Ben had laughed. “Your pup, son, unless someone comes to claim him.” Nobody ever did.
Hoss had hugged the dog closely, then releasing the animal, he gave his father a big hug. “You’re the most wonderful Pa in the whole world!” he had exclaimed and Ben had smiled.
“Pa?” Hoss asked his mind spinning with the memory. “Pa?”
Adam pressed his hand and shook his head. Their father made no sound.
Hoss’ voice broke and his giant frame shook with tears.
Joe understood why his brothers were so upset. His own eyes overflowed with tears and he felt as though his heart would break. “Oh, God.” He begged quietly. “God, I’m not much of a praying man. Mama tried to teach me how to pray but I’ve forgotten so much since she died. I miss her terribly. I know my Pa would be happy to be with her again, but I still need him. And Adam and Hoss need him, too. Please, God, please don’t take him away, yet.”
He reached out and gently grabbed his father’s hand. “Please, God, let me build more memories with my Pa.’
‘God, I was so young.’ He whispered. ‘Mama was still alive, too and we were all so happy together. But this particular day was my birthday and pa had a very special gift for me. My very own pony!’
Joe wiped his eyes, discretely. ‘I was thrilled!’
“Oh, Pa!” Little Joe had exclaimed. “Can I ride him? Can I?”
Ben had nodded and Joe ran toward the little horse. Adam and Hoss reentered the house with Marie. They knew that their brother would have more fun learning with just his father alone, than with all his brothers around.
Little Joe was wobbly and unsure in the beginning. But his father’s voice was reassuring. “You’re doing fine, son! That’s right! Move with the horse. Someday you’ll be a better horse rider than me!”
Little Joe was proud. He rode with his head held high, the reins clasped tightly in his small hands. The he looked down at his father. Ben had been walking beside him, his arm holding the lad tightly. “Pa?” he had asked.
“Yes, Little Joe.”
“Can I try it alone?”
Ben nodded and smiled. He was proud of his son’s independence. “All right, but be careful.” He said releasing his son.
Joe rode around the yard a few times, imaging himself a real cowboy like his older brother Adam. He imagined himself roping a wild steer and his father watching him proudly and explaining to all the ranch hands that it was his son who was able to so adeptly rope that wild bull. Then he heard his brother Adam call from the kitchen door. “Pa! Joe! Supper time!”
“Come on, Joe.” Ben said. “Let’s go in now. You can ride more tomorrow.”
Joe nodded and tried to leap off his horse as he had seen his father and Adam do. But his foot got stuck in the stirrup and he fell to the ground. Ben had rushed up to him.
“Are you all right, son?” he had asked anxiously.
Joe had nodded. But his father wanting to make sure picked Joe up and poked him carefully. “No broken bones?” he asked.
Joe laughed. “No broken bones.”
Ben hugged his son as he carried him into the house. “I love you, Pa.” Joe had whispered.
“I love you too, Little Joe.” Ben had replied.
Joe could not hide the tears, nor did he want to. “Please God,” he begged. “Please let him live. I love him so much. He’s my father and I need him. Please, please. Give him another chance.”
His hand gently caressed his father’s cheek and he looked up. “Mama,” he whispered. “You always were an angel so you must be in heaven. Please don’t take Pa from me yet. I know you want to be with him, but I need him, Mama. Please let Pa stay with us for a little while longer. Please, Mama, please!”
He felt a hand laid on his arm. He turned to look up at Adam. His older brother said nothing but he removed his arm and pointed to their father. The three boys held their breaths. It was so quiet in the room, so still. They listened, praying. There was no sound. Ben Cartwright was dead.
Joe started crying audibly now and Adam buried his head in his hands. Hoss struggled to maintain his composure but giving that up as a hopeless task he wrapped his strong arms around his brothers. Together the three orphans stood weeping over the body of their dear departed father.
Ben Cartwright knew that he was dying. The fall from his horse had sealed his fate. He lay still in the bed, his eyes closed. He heard Doctor Martin mutter, as the family friend looked him over. He could imagine the good doctor shaking his head and biting his lower lip as he often did. The he heard the terrible news. “I’m sorry, Adam.” Paul Martin said softly. “Your father broke his back in that fall.”
“No!” Adam’s voice was sharp.
“I’m sorry, Adam, Hoss.” The doctor repeated, placing his instruments back in his black bag. “Your father is dying.”
Ben heard this declaration of his death but somehow it did not bother him. Nor was he afraid. He had lived a full life, he had three wonderful sons and now he was ready to go. He was ready to be with their mothers, his beloved wives who had died so long ago. “I’ll walk downstairs with you.” Ben heard Adam say. And somewhere in his subconscious Ben smiled.
He loved his sons all of them. He had built up a mighty empire with them, he had suffered with them, had counseled them, had seen them fall in love, had helped them through broken hearts, had smiled with them, laughed with them, and built memories with them.
Memories, he sighed inaudibly, so many wonderful, lovely memories. Adam, his eldest son, his right hand man. The memories he shared with Adam were sad ones. His mother had died so young and he led such a sad childhood. “If only I could have given you more, Adam.” Ben thought. “You had such a sorry childhood. You never really got to dance and sing like other children. Then Inger died and Marie too. And you became a man before your time because I deserted you and left you with your younger brothers who you cared for so well. Oh, my poor son, I love you. I wish you could hear me now, Adam. If you could, son, I want you to know I love you. I love you!”
Then he heard Adam’s voice. It was barely a whisper but he heard it and his heart leapt. Adam’s voice was choked with tears and he said the words Ben so wanted to hear “Pa, I love you.” And yet something inside Ben’s heart cried. He would never be able to return the words of love his eldest son had spoken.
Then he heard Hoss’ voice. “Don’t go yet, Pa.” Hoss begged. “Ah need more memories.” And Ben’s eyes under his closed lashes filled with tears. Memories, what memories had he given Hoss? His childhood was rough, very rough. Born on the prairie his mother Inger was killed while he was still a baby. But Adam had cared for him and Hoss was Ben’s quiet gentle son. He and Adam got along wonderfully. As for Hoss and Joe, well, they fought but they were great together. Ben knew that after he died Hoss would be the one to help his brother’s get over their sorrow. “Poor Hoss.” Ben barely smiled.
He heard his name called softly. “Pa?” but he could not move. He wanted to, he wanted to call out to his son, to reassure him. “Yes, Hoss, yes I’m here.” But he could not speak. He lay silent unable to say what was in his heart and then he heard his strong son sob and Ben’s heart cried along with him.
“Please, God, let me build more memories with my Pa.” That would be Joe’s voice. Little Joe, his baby son. Memories, if anyone had happy memories it would be Little Joe. Joe was born on the ranch. Joe had never known the hardships of the frontier like Adam and Hoss had but he and his brothers got along wonderfully. Ben loved all his sons equally, don’t let anyone tell you differently, but Little Joe, well, Little Joe was special. Ben would never admit it but he loved his youngest son’s spirit, his temper. “Like a wild untamed horse.” Ben thought. “I just wish I could stay around to help tame him. Rough, wild, untamed, precious colt.”
Then Joe’s voice broke into his thoughts. “Mama, you always were an angel so you must be in heaven.” Ben sighed. It was becoming more and more difficult to breathe. He remembered another time that he was so sick and could hardly sit up. Marie had nursed him through his sickness and back to health. When he was well enough to speak he had smiled at her. “Thank you, Marie.”
She had smiled at him. “You had to get better, Ben.” She had told him. “You have to care for my boys.”
Ben’s breath grew more and more shallow. “Marie, I failed. I’m sorry.” He felt his son’s cool hand rest gently on his hot face and the rest of Joe’s prayer. “Please don’t take Pa from me yet. I know you want to be with him, but I need him, Mama. Please let Pa stay with us for a little while longer. Please, Mama, please!”
Ben smiled sadly. He wanted to stay with his sons but his wives were calling him, beckoning to him. He drew one last breath, then nothing. Somewhere Ben saw a bright light and he knew he was dead.
He heard singing, a lovely voice, a familiar voice. Then in front of the light Ben saw the figure of a woman he had thought he would never see again. She stopped singing and walked toward him. “Ben.” She whispered.
Ben Cartwright stared at her for a moment then he ran to her and wrapped his arms around her, tenderly. “Liz!” he exclaimed. “Oh, Liz! My Liz.” He kissed her again and again. And she kissed him back gently. Then she left his arms and stepped back. Standing behind her were Inger and Marie.
Ben’s eyes filled with tears as he looked at them. He gathered them both up in his arms and pressed them to his breast. “I’ve missed you all so terribly.” He whispered. “I’m so glad to be home.”
Elizabeth, Inger, and Marie were crying. Then taking his hand Marie led him towards the light. “Look, Mon amour.” She whispered.
Ben looked. He saw his bed and his body. He saw his son’s weeping. Joe, with his hand still resting on his father’s face; Adam, with his head buried in his hands; and Hoss, his arms wrapped around his brothers. “Poor boys.” He murmured. “Poor dear boys.”
Elizabeth placed her hand gently on Ben’s shoulder. “They still need you, Ben.”
“But, Liz.” He whispered. “I’m dead. The accident…”
Inger shook her head. “You can still choose, Ben.”
“How?” he asked searching her face for the answer.
“Marie’s son uttered a prayer.” Inger replied. “You are given a special choice, Ben. You can still choose whether you want to be with us or fulfill Joe’s request by building more memories with your sons.”
He gazed at his three beloved wives. He did not want to leave them. Now he could spend all of eternity with them. But there, down there, were his sons and they needed him. His wives were happy now, they always would be. But his sons… Heaven or Earth, the thought rushed through his mind. Would he choose Heaven or Earth?
“My sons needs you.” Marie whispered softly.
Elizabeth and Inger nodded. They did not want to see him leave but their sons, the children each had carried for nine months. Well, the love of a mother overcame the love of a wife. They were letting their husband go so that he could help bring their boys to them someday when they all could be happy together.
Ben took a deep breath and made up his mind. He held each of his wives in his arms for one last time. Then he kissed them and smiled. “Take care of our sons, Ben.” Elizabeth begged and Ben nodded not trusting himself to speak.
Somewhere down on earth his body stirred. And while his spirit saw the last of his beloved wives, disappearing into the light, he opened his eyes. He was in pain, oh he’d be in pain for a long time, but his hand reached up and gently covered Joe’s. “Don’t cry, boys.” He said softly. “I’ll be all right.”
Adam gasped. His hands dropped to his side and he looked at his father in surprise. “Pa, how?” he stopped.
His father was smiling. “Joe,” he replied with a faraway look in his eyes. “You were right. Your mother is an angel.” Then he smiled at Adam and Hoss “And your mother’s are too.”
“Pa?” Joe asked. “Did you see Mama?”
Ben nodded. “She sent you all her love. She sent me back to care for you. I love you boys.” He held his arms out to them.
Adam was the first to rush to his father. “I love you, too, Pa.” And Hoss and Joe following their brother’s example ran into their father’s arms with the words “We love you, Pa. We always will.”
Happy Father’s Day. Thanks for all the wonderful memories.
Other Stories by this Author
- Ben and Elizabeth – A Celebration of Love (by deansgirl)
- The Christmas Surprise (by deansgirl)
- Autumn’s Story (by deansgirl)