Summary: 12 year old Adam Cartwright decides to try smoking with his friends. When the sheriff surprises the boys, their simple act of mischief turns in to near tragedy.
Rating: K+ WC 6300
Up in Smoke
Twelve year old Adam Cartwright jumped down from his horse in front of the old Wheeler homestead. He nervously looked around before he made his way over to the dilapidated homestead. Just outside the door he paused, putting his hands to his mouth and emitting a signal that sounded like a bird call. There was silence and then a similar, yet muffled sound came forth from inside the building. Adam walked up on the porch. The door opened for him and he entered.
“What took you so long, Cartwright? We’ve been waiting at least twenty minutes,” a slender boy angrily attacked.
“It isn’t your Pa’s stuff we’re using so just bite your tongue, Matt.” Adam looked visibly on edge.
Another boy stepped up with eagerness in his eyes, “Did ya get it?”
Adam scanned the room and only answered with a simple nod, before walking over to a table and setting the item down for all to see.
“Boy, Cartwright, I didn’t think you’d have the guts. How’d you do it?” Matt asked in amazement.
Adam looked down at his father’s pipe now lying on the table and sucked in a deep breath. To be honest, he didn’t know how he’d found the guts to do it either. “Well, my pa’s been pretty busy as of late. I just have to make sure to put it back before he comes home tonight or I might as well make this my new home.”
Adam looked around at the less than appealing conditions.
“Did you remember the tobacco?” Jake asked eagerly. Adam just smirked and tossed the full bag on the table. Then he reached into his other pocket for the matches. The two boys eagerly went after the goods. Adam didn’t seem in a hurry to take part. He walked over to the window and glanced outside. Thoughts ran wildly in his mind. What would he do if his Pa found out? Or rather, what would his Pa do to him if he found out? Deep down, Adam knew what Ben’s method of correction would be; but, he also realized that he had made the decision to take on that risk the moment he left with that pipe in his pocket. What he wasn’t ready to face was the guilt. Suddenly, that overwhelming feeling was building up inside of him as he flat out realized he had stolen from his own father. He knew his father would be disappointed in his actions, and having his father disappointed in him was worse than any tanning he could ever receive.
Adam was brought back to the present by forceful coughs exuding forth from his friend’s lungs as they tried to breathe in the smoke.
“C’mon on Cartwright (cough-cough), it’s not so bad (cough-cough), once ya get use to it (cough-cough-cough).”
Adam glanced back and walked over towards them. He accepted the pipe from Matt’s hand as the boy made his way over to a broken window to catch some air. Adam no sooner took in a breath than Matt yelled out an alarm.
“It’s Sheriff Coffee! He’s coming this way!”
“What?” Jake questioned as he hurried over to look out the window himself. Adam stood frozen in place. A moment later, Matt turned and exclaimed, “He’s coming… he’s coming… hide!” Jake and Matt scurried around, but the homestead was small and there wasn’t anywhere to go. Matt noticed his friend standing dead center in the room, holding the pipe in his hand. He walked up briskly, snatching it from him, and tossed the smoldering pipe into the corner of the room.
“Cartwright, didn’t you hear what I said? The sheriff is coming.” Matt then quickly positioned himself behind the front door, figuring he could make a run for it once the sheriff entered. Jake was hiding behind the ragged curtain hanging from the back window and that left Adam nowhere to go. Suddenly the latch on the door began to turn and the sheriff cautiously peaked inside. Upon seeing Adam standing in the center of the room, he relaxed his guard and entered.
“Adam? What in blue blazes are you doing out…?” Matt quickly jumped out from behind the door and grabbed the nearest thing he could find; a metal skillet. He immediately whacked the sheriff on the head with it.
Roy crumpled to the floor unconscious. “C’mon boys we need to get out of here before he comes around.” Matt then charged out the door. Jake stepped out from behind the curtain and his eyes widened. “Oh no,” was all he could say. We better get out of here Cartwright… like Matt said.”
Jake made motion to leave and realized Adam was still standing in place. He returned to him and began pulling on his arm to encourage him to exit. Adam just stared down at Roy as the two boys passed. He could tell he was breathing and just unconscious. “Jake, Adam… come on… I’ve got the horses.” Matt called from outside. With one final look, Jake and Adam exited. The three boys hurried away.
Further down the road, the three of them finally eased their horses into a walk. There were no words spoken between them as each pondered what had just happened in their minds. When they reached the road that turned off towards the Ponderosa, Adam split from the group. He waited until Jake and Matt were out of sight before he swiftly turned his horse around and headed back to the homestead.
As Adam came over a hill, he noticed black smoke rising in the air. At first he thought it was perhaps a farmer burning his field, but as he neared closer to his destination, he realized it was the homestead engulfed in flames. Adam kicked his horse hard and headed straight towards the yard. Roy’s horse was there, which meant only one thing. He swiftly dismounted and burst through the front door. His lungs instantly filled with black smoke as he crumbled to the ground from lack of oxygen. The heat was intense and the fire surrounded him. Adam’s eyes burned as he fought to keep them open, frantically searching and feeling around for the sheriff’s body. Suddenly, his hand hit something hard on the floor. Adam grabbed and began to pull. The sheriff’s dead weight was almost too much for the twelve year old, but he just couldn’t give up. Adam pulled and pulled as his arms and legs burned. He pulled and pulled with all his might and strength. Inch by inch he was able to pull the unconscious body out the door and into the yard before succumbing to sheer exhaustion. Adam drifted off into unconsciousness straddled across the sheriff’s still body.
Adam awoke with a start to find himself in his own bed. His father was seated in a chair next to him.
“What happened?” Adam managed to mutter softly.
Ben was quick to his feet and sat down gingerly alongside his son.
“It’s okay, Adam… there was a fire. You’re safe…” Ben reached up and stroked the boys head.
“It hurts, Pa… it hurts…” was all he managed to utter before succumbing to unconsciousness once more.
Ben looked down at Adam with a pain in his heart. The boy’s arms and legs had been severely burned in the fire and the doctor had told him it would be a long recovery.
Just then Marie stepped into the room holding their newborn child. “How is he, Ben?” she softly questioned. Ben turned towards her and solemnly stated, “He came around for a moment, but the pain was too much.”
He then arose and made his way over to the dresser. There were fresh bandages and ointment that the doctor had left with strict orders to change every few hours lest infection would occur. Ben began fumbling with the dressing. Marie could tell he was at a breaking point. She silently walked up behind him, placing her hand on his as he fought back the tears.
“Ben, let me do it… you take Joe and go downstairs for awhile. I’ll call you if he should wake.”
Ben nodded meekly and accepted the sleeping baby from his mother’s arms. He had sat by his son’s bed for three days on end, replaying in his mind the very moment he discovered Adam and the Sheriff unconscious in front of a now smoldering pile of rubble. There were so many unanswered questions and the only two people who could shed light on what had happened had remained unconscious.
Ben walked out into the hall and paused at the door of the first guest room. He rapped softly as a gentle voice answered, “Come in.”
Ben opened the door and looked towards the occupied bed. There was his friend, Roy Coffee. His wife sat at his side, holding a moistened towel to his forehead. “How is he?” Ben Questioned. She hung her head and softly uttered, “No change.”
Roy had received similar burns to his arms and legs, but what really drew concern was the mysterious head wound he had sustained. The doctor had confirmed that the injury did not take place from a fall or accident.
“It was definitely inflicted, Ben, with true intent to harm.”
Suddenly, Ben’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Mrs. Coffee crying. “Oh, Ben. Who could have done this to him and why? I don’t know how many times I’ve told him not to go off looking for people all alone…”
Her words trailed off as she began to sob.
Ben walked up to her, resting one hand on her shoulder.
“Well, perhaps he’ll listen better now,” he stated calmly.
Mrs. Coffee reached up and patted Ben’s hand. “Perhaps, but knowing Roy…”
The two slightly snickered at the thought.
“Can I get you anything?” Ben asked.
“No, we’re fine, and Adam?”
Ben lowered his head, “No, change.”
“Well, we’ll just keep hoping, then, won’t we?”
Ben simply nodded before turning to leave. Just as he approached the door, Mrs. Coffee’s voice reached out to him once more.
“You do know, Ben that Adam saved my husband’s life, and for that, we will always be eternally grateful.”
Ben could not find the strength to respond to the woman’s comment. There were just too many questions unanswered and too many stones left unturned. Right now all he could do was focus on his son and his friend and hope they were both strong enough to overcome their injuries. The answers would come, but little did they know the painful journey awaiting them all.
Adam remained unconscious for another three days before he finally opened his eyes. He glanced over at his sleeping father in the chair next to him and guessed it was early morning by the hint of sunlight peeking in through the curtain.
Adam studied Ben’s face. He looked so tired and drawn. His eyes glanced over at the glass of water sitting on the nightstand and he tried to raise his arm up to reach for it himself. That’s when he felt the shooting pain and shouted out from its intensity. This brought Ben instantly to his feet.
“Son…Adam. Are you okay?”
“Pa,” was all the boy could say as tears rolled down his cheek. “I…I…”
“Shhh… don’t try to talk. Here…” Ben reached over and grabbed the water, holding it up to the boy’s lips. Adam eagerly accepted the cool liquid.
“Not too much, now. Take it slowly,” Ben encouraged.
Adam sipped slower at his father’s request until he had his fill. The sharp pain in his arm had subsided to a dull ache. Adam glanced down at his wrapped extremities.
“What happened, pa?”
“There was a fire Adam at the old Wheeler place,” Ben answered matter-of-factly. His simple words brought Adam’s memory rampantly flowing back.
“Sheriff Coffee, Pa! Sheriff Coffee… he was there he was unconscious in the fire. He….” Tears started to pour down Adam’s face at the sheer remembrance.
Ben could see the panic in his son’s eyes and quickly reassured him. “Adam, Roy’s fine. We’re taking care of him in the next room. He’s injured, but he’ll be fine…just fine… in time.”
Ben watched as his son took a deep breath of relief and closed his eyes for a long moment before trying to speak. “Pa…”
“Not now, Adam. You can tell me all about it later. Right now all that matters is getting you up and around and healthy once more. Are you hungry?”
Adam instinctively shook his head no as the pangs of guilt started growing in his mind.
“Well, all the same I’m going to ask Hop Sing to put on some broth for you. You haven’t eaten in several days.”
Ben arose and headed for the door. Adam called out after him.
“Tell Sheriff Coffee that I’m….” Adam wanted to apologize, but something stopped him mid sentence. He swallowed hard before adding, “Tell him that… I’m happy he’s going to be okay.”
Ben smiled. “I will son, now you rest and we’ll have that broth up her quick as lightening.”
He then strolled out of the room.
It was several days later before the sheriff stirred. He was weak and disoriented, but his wife was able to get broth down him before he fell unconscious once more. Adam had the side of youth in his favor. He steadily became stronger with each passing day. Stronger physically, but Ben could tell that Adam was not Adam. There was a quietness about him that brought concern. He ate little and talked even less. There was a distant look in his eyes that told Ben he was millions of miles away. The boy had been through trauma and the doctor told him that his actions were not uncommon.
“He’ll talk when he’s ready, Ben. Just give him some time.”
Weeks passed and Ben grew impatient. Roy was on the mend, but he could not remember the events of the day other than leaving Virginia City in search of some youths that had stolen merchandise from the mercantile. One evening, Ben decided it was time to approach his son on the issue. Perhaps with a little coaxing, Adam would open up and release his pent up emotions. He waited until after supper before asking his troubled son to go for a walk.
The two walked side by side in silence with only the moonlight to lead them. Adam was fidgety. He had been able to avoid all inquiries, but he knew his time was running out.
“Pa, how’s Sheriff Coffee today?” Adam asked softly. This had become a daily routine as Adam hadn’t seen the Sheriff since that fateful day.
Ben chuckled, “Well, quite frankly he’s been pretty cantankerous as of late. I think he’s tired of that bed and his wife’s doting attention. He should be up and around pretty soon.”
Adam answered with a simple, “I’m glad he’s going to be okay.”
“Me too, son.” Ben drew in a long breath before getting down to business.
“You know, Roy’s been asking to see you. He wants to thank you for all that you’ve done.”
“I didn’t do anything special,” Adam was quick to respond.
“Well, saving another’s life might not seem important to the one who did the saving, but it’s pretty special to the one that was saved.”
Adam swallowed hard. “I’m just not ready to see him, pa. I just keep thinking about his horse waiting outside and the flames all around… I remember fighting to breath and fighting to see and pulling and pulling and pulling…”
Adam suddenly stopped and turned away. He felt the tears welling in his eyes and his inner guts telling him to just spew out the whole story right now. Adam Cartwright wasn’t a hero. He was a no good louse and thief.
Ben walked over to Adam resting his hands on his shoulders. “Yes, son.”
“I…I…just don’t want to see him, Pa. Please don’t make me see him… not yet.”
Ben hung his head. The pleading in his son’s voice told him that he had failed at his attempt. He felt Adam shudder before making one final plea.
“I just need more time, Pa… just a little more time.”
“All right, son. I understand.”
The two then solemnly turned back towards the ranch house.
The next morning the family was sitting at the breakfast table when there was a commotion heard upstairs.
“Roy Coffee you get yourself back into that bed this very instant!”
“Hush up, woman. I told you I’m tired of that room and I’m tired of that bed.”
A moment later, Sheriff Coffee appeared at the top of the stairs with his wife fighting to hold onto his arm.
“You are the most stubborn… Ben… I couldn’t stop him…”
Ben swiftly arose and rushed up the stairs to assist his friend who was now wobbling precariously above the first step.
He reached out to grab his arm as a means of support “Now, Roy… Don’t you think that…”
Roy instantly pushed his arm away and looked Ben directly in the eye.
“Ben… you should know that when my minds made up, it’s made up. Now I’m a gonna walk down these steps and sit at that table and eat like a normal human being. And no one is gonna to stop me.”
Ben smirked; knowing full well to argue would be pointless.
“All right, Roy. Suit yourself, but I’m going stand here in front of you… just in case.”
Roy just huffed and then grabbed a hold of the banister. Step by step he painfully walked down those steps and over to the table. He gingerly sat down and then looked up in satisfaction.
“Well now. I’d say this is a much better situation.” Ben assisted Mrs. Coffee to an open seat and then asked Hop Sing to bring out additional plates and silverware for their guests.
Ben could see that Mrs. Coffee was obviously shaken by the recent event. He reached over affectionately and patted her hand. “No harm done…”
She shot her husband an evil glare before picking her napkin off the table and setting it carefully in her lap. Marie silently communicated to her from across the table. The two women shared a brief look that only women could understand. This brought a smile to Mrs. Coffee’s face and lessened the tension at the table.
Adam sat rigid with eyes down. The sheriff was seated right next to him. He could see that his arms were still bandaged in spots with scarring prevalent.
He swallowed hard in hopes the sheriff would not address him.
“Well, Ben. It looks like Adam has been healing well from his injuries. You must pretty proud of how brave a boy you have raised…”
Roy’s words trailed off as he looked up at his friend and noticed him slightly shaking his head in disapproval.
This made Roy instantly turn towards the boy to analyze the situation. Adam was scrunched down so low that his nose was almost in his plate. The two men exchanged puzzled looks.
Roy decided the boy’s reaction was out of embarrassment more than anything, so he just stuck out his hand in front of him stating, “May I just shake your hand, son?”
Roy’s hand remained in mid air, hovering in front of Adam. He was frozen in place. A long moment passed before Ben decided his boy’s actions were to the point of rudeness.
“Adam, Sheriff Coffee would like to shake your hand. I think it would be in your best interest to accept his kind gesture.”
Adam glanced nervously over at his father before carefully raising his hand to meet Roy’s. As they shook, Adam began to tremble uncontrollably. Tears began pouring down his cheeks. Roy released the boy’s hand and gently touched his shoulder.
“What’s wrong, son?”
Just then, what little Adam had eaten came up on him and spewed all over the table. He couldn’t stop the wave of emotion controlling his body. He heaved several more times before he found the strength to rise up. He turned towards the sheriff and looked him straight in the eye.
“I’m sorry… so sorry…please forgive me,” he uttered before running from the table straight up to his room.
There was complete silence as time stood still. Roy dwelled on the moment that had just passed. There was something in Adam’s look that set his mind to thinking… thinking about that day. Suddenly, Roy remembered riding up to the homestead.
“There were horses…” he uttered out loud. All eyes looked over towards him.
“Ben, there were horses… three of them outside the Wheeler place. I figured it had to be those kids.”
Roy stopped. His face was construed up in deep thought as he tried to force a memory.
“Keep thinking, Roy. What happened after you saw the horses?” Ben egged his friend on, trying to gather any information.
“Well, I remember dismounting and sneaking up on the porch. I heard some shuffling inside and I drew my gun.” Again there was silence.
“I remember opening the door just a bit and….” Suddenly Roy’s face spoke louder than words. He stood up and started wobbling towards the staircase.
Ben was quick to follow. “Help me Ben… Help me… I need to talk to Adam… I need to talk with him now…”
The two men made their way to Adam’s room and surprisingly they found the door wide open. Adam was curled up on his bed with his head buried in his pillow.
Roy walked over and sat down gingerly on its edge. “Adam… we need to talk, son. Look at me…”
Adam buried his face into his pillow further as a muffled cry emerged, “I … can’t… I just can’t.”
Roy grabbed hold of the boy’s shoulder and gave it a firm shake.
“Now, I don’t want to get rough with you, but I asked you to look at me and I ain’t asking again.”
The gruffness in the sheriff’s voice made Adam turn over on his side. He kicked his legs over the opposite side of the bed with his back facing the sheriff.
Ben walked around the other side of the bed and grabbed hold of his son’s arm. He firmly brought him around to the other side, forcing him to stand directly in front of the sheriff.
Roy waited a moment and then repeated his request. “Look at me son.” Adam’s eyes remained to the floor.
“Roy reached up and grabbed hold of his chin. “Look at me.” Finally, eye contact was made.
“You were there that day, Adam… before the fire.” Adam’s stomach wrenched and he instantly felt queasy. He firmly wrapped his arms around his middle as a means to try and control it.
Roy repeated once more, “You were there… weren’t you?” Adam slowly shook his head in acknowledgement. This time it was Ben’s stomach that felt suddenly unsteady.
“You were there…before the fire?” Ben asked in disbelief. “Why?”
Adam swallowed hard. “I…I… was with some friends.”
“Which friends?” Roy immediately asked.
“Matt and Jake…we were… we were… smoking.”
“Smoking!” Ben’s voice boomed out as Adam cringed. “I…I… took your pipe, pa… and tobacco… and we were just gonna try it. The sheriff surprised us.”
Ben moved away from his son and ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. He had been so busy taking care of his son that he hadn’t even noticed the pipe and tobacco missing.
Roy could see his friend was crushed by his son’s actions. He also wanted to make it clear that Adam was not the one that rendered him unconscious.
“Who hit me, Adam.”
Adam glanced over towards his pacing father before turning back to Roy.
“It was Matt. I think it was a skillet. I… don’t remember exactly. When you fell to the floor we all were scared and ran. I guess I must have dropped the pipe… I didn’t realize it was missing until I turned to come home. That’s when I came back and found the house on fire.”
Adam bowed his head and let out a sigh. He had final told everything. The room was completely silent. Adam could feel the disappointment and anger exuding from his father. It was as if the four walls of the room were closing in upon him, stifling him. He just had to get away.
Adam suddenly turned towards the door and with a burst of speed disappeared out of sight. Ben started after him only to be stopped verbally by his friend.
“Give him some time, Ben. That boy’s been through hell. You can get to the business end of things later. Right now he needs to work things out for himself.”
Roy lifted himself off the bed and started hobbling towards the door. “I think I’ll lie down a bit before we go over and visit Matt and Jake’s families.”
He paused to place his arm around his dejected friend. “He’s a good kid, Ben. Remember he was the only one to come back and I don’t think it was just to get his father’s pipe.”
Ben took Roy’s advice and gave Adam some time. In all truth, Ben needed time himself to process and analyze the situation. This was far too important of a lesson to handle hastily and Ben did not want to act out of anger and regret his actions later. That evening, he accompanied Roy out to speak with Matt and Jake. Both boys made quick confessions. When Matt’s father heard of his son causing bodily harm to the sheriff, he insisted that Roy press charges against him. He would take his son into town the next day and turn him over to the deputy. He wanted him to stay 24 hours behind bars as a means of his punishment. The judge could decide the rest later.
A few days later, Roy thanked Ben for his kindness and he and the wife headed back to their own home. There was still a lot of healing to be done, but Roy was definitely on the mend. Ben wished he could say that about his own son. Since the night of the confession, Adam hadn’t said a word. He spent all his time in his room except when required to attend school, church or meals. Food was of little interest and Adam only ate the bare minimum in order to be excused.
Another week passed. Ben’s anger had subsided only to be replaced by deep concern. Adam was drifting further and further away from them all. Ben kept procrastinating on dealing with Adam’s punishment. The boy had been through hell and Ben felt that Adam just wasn’t stable enough, yet. So, he gave the boy space and more time in the hopes Adam would eventually come to him. That moment finally came one evening as he made his way to his bedroom. Marie was still rocking the baby quietly by the fire. Ben was exhausted from a hard days work and had decided to retire early. As he went to sit down on his bed, he noticed an envelope waiting for him on his pillow. It was simply addressed to “Pa.” Ben smiled slightly and eagerly opened its content. As he suspected, there was a neatly written letter from Adam.
I need you… I need your help. I can’t face this anymore alone. I can’t face my friends… I can’t face the sheriff… I can’t face my family… I just can’t do this anymore. Please…Please come find me… Please…
Ben sat stunned but a moment before he swiftly scooped the letter into his pocket and headed downstairs. He told Marie he was going for a walk so as not to cause added concern. He then saddled his horse and rode off into the night.
Ben knew there was only one place Adam could be, so he headed swiftly to the Wheeler Homestead. As he came upon the scene, he found his eldest son sitting in the rubble. The dim glow of a lantern was at his side. He quietly dismounted and walked over towards Adam. His son was sitting with his legs crisscrossed, fiddling with an object in his hand. Ben knew it was the remnants of his pipe.
He waited a moment to see if Adam would acknowledge him, but the boy seemed lost in his own world; a world that had been consistently shrinking all around him; hour after hour, day after day, and week after week. The boundaries of Adam’s world had shrunk to the mere edges of this crumbled and charred homestead. It was easy to see that the boy was filled with guilt and shame for his wrongdoing. It was easy to see how weighted down his shoulders were by the burden of knowing his actions caused bodily harm to someone else. But, it wasn’t easy for Ben to see his son struggling with all that blame and not knowing how to help him.
He pondered momentarily before doing the only thing he could think of at that moment; he stepped into what was left of Adam’s world and sat down right next to him. He made instant contact by pressing his forearm firmly up against his son’s. Adam felt his father’s soothing presence as the warmth of his body penetrated into his own. That simple act, gave Adam the strength to speak out.
“Pa…I… really messed up…”
Ben nodded slowly. “Yes, son you did. You made a mistake that unfortunately will stay within your memory the rest of your life.”
“You must be so disappointed in me.”
“No, I’m not disappointed in you.”
Adam turned and angrily lashed out. “That’s a lie!” He then quickly realized the harshness in his accusation and followed it up with softly muttered, “That can’t be true.”
Ben looked over at Adam rather puzzled. “Why would think that?”
“Because…because…” Adam started to feel his emotions rise. He fought back the tears. “Because you don’t even want to face me, Pa. You don’t even want to punish me. It’s like you don’t care… Both Matt and Jake were punished and neither of them can sit down properly. Matt had to spend time in jail and Jake has to help Sheriff Coffee with paper work… and then… and then there’s me. The one that stole your pipe and tobacco and set the house on fire and practically killed the sheriff…”
Adam started to crumble and Ben instinctively wrapped one arm around his son as he fought back his own emotions. It was almost as if the guilt he was trying to ease in his son was suddenly passed over to him.
A long moment of silence followed before Ben spoke.
“Adam…you’re right. Your actions warrant punishment and quite honestly it was never in my plan not to administer it. I felt you needed some time to heal from your wounds and process the events in your mind. I didn’t think that waiting would cause added pain and grief, but I can see now that I was wrong.”
Adam swallowed hard. “So you will tan me then?”
Ben smirked. It was hard to believe that a son of his was making such an inquiry.
Then he sighed deeply, knowing Adam would be unhappy with his answer.
“No, son I’m not.”
Adam looked back down at the pipe as the tears started to flow once more.
“I will tell you what I am going to do, however.”
Ben cleared his throat before continuing.
“Starting tomorrow, you will have extra chores assigned to you until you have earned enough money to replace what was lost in the fire.”
Adam nodded slightly and then waited for more, but nothing else came. His eyes remained glued to the pipe. Ben could see that things were not settled and things needed to be further explained.
“Adam, I want you to think for a moment and remember a time in your life when I did give you a good tanning. Tell me what happened and why you think I felt a tanning was warranted.”
Adam fidgeted slightly, remaining quiet for several moments. He finally said, “Well, you tanned me good the time I lied to you about going to a friend’s house to study and we went swimming instead.”
Ben waited before prodding, “And why did I do that?”
“Because… because I lied to you and you told me that you would not tolerate deceit in your household. You said the tanning was to help me remember that rule and not forget it.”
Ben accepted his son’s explanation and continued. “Well, let’s take a look at this current problem, but we’ll have to look at it in two different ways. Suppose everything went the way you had planned it to go that day. You were able to smoke with your friends and return my pipe unbeknownst to me. Then, I discovered what happened. What do you think I would have done?”
“You would have tanned me good and probably grounded me to my room for a whole month.”
“That’s true.” Ben paused to allow Adam some time to think before continuing. “So… that brings us to what really happened, Adam.”
Ben reached over and grabbed hold of his son’s chin, turning his head towards him.
“You were punished that day, not by your father, but by a life experience itself. I am confident that all that you’ve been through will serve as ample reminder not to do it again. You have had your ‘tanning’ son and I am sure it is far worse than any I have ever given.”
Adam looked down and then simply nodded in agreement. He now understood.
“To be honest, Pa, I’d much rather have experienced the one from you.”
Ben Chuckled and then added, “which brings me to another issue…” Adam’s eyes bulged as he wondered what was coming next.
“Now that I think of it, I am disappointed in you son. I am disappointed in the fact that you would ever think that I would turn my back on you…ever.”
Adam once again hung his head, but Ben reached over and guided his eyes back to his.
“Always remember that ‘Disappointments are to the soul what the thunder-storm is to the air,’ (Friedrich von Schiller – German poet 1759-1805) quick to come and quick to pass. In all truth, I’m very proud of what you did that day, Adam.”
Adam was stunned, “But…”
“But nothing…You were the only one that cared enough about another individual to go back and make sure he was okay, knowing you’d face punishment.”
“I just went back for the …”
“Adam.” Ben’s voice was stern. “Do not lie to me.”
Adam looked immediately down. He paused a moment before acknowledging, “Well, maybe I did go back… to check… around.”
Ben couldn’t help but laugh at his son’s evasive words. It wasn’t exactly the truth, but it was close enough for him. He patted his boy on the back and asked, “Are we ready to go home then?”
Adam smiled and nodded. The two arose and stepped out of the rubble. When they reached their horses, Ben was about to blow out the lantern when he noticed Adam holding the charred remains of his pipe.
Without a word, Ben extended his hand out to his son, waggling his fingers as a means of emphasizing what he was requesting. Adam begrudgingly handed over the object as his eyes fell to the ground.
“I was just going to…”
“Keep it as a memory… a reminder?” Ben finished his son’s statement.
Adam just stood still.
Ben took the pipe and threw it off into the darkness of the night. He then knelt down and squared his son to him.
“Holding onto that pipe is like holding onto a bad memory. It will only make you dwell on what happened, nothing more. I want you to promise me that you will never return to this place again… ever.”
“Yes, Pa,” Adam softly whispered.
Ben patted his boy’s shoulder. “Good. Now let’s get home.”
Ben blew out the already dimming lantern and the two started on their way.
They quietly rode side by side using the moonlight to guide them. Ben seemed relaxed and content because he could tell that his son now seemed much more at ease. Adam felt good about what had happened with his father, but in the back of his mind there was a burning question. Finally, Adam just had to know the answer.
“You said that I’d have to do extra chores to make up for the expense of what was lost in the fire, but you didn’t tell me how much you were going to pay me and how long I was going to have to do those extra chores.”
Ben tried to keep a straight face as he answered calmly, “No, son, I didn’t.”
Adam waited a little before hesitantly asking, “What exactly do you plan on having me do?”
Ben chuckled. “Well, let’s just say that by the time I get through with you, young man, you’ll wish that I had given you that tanning even more.”
Adam swallowed hard, just thinking of what was to come. Then he realized that his summer vacation was soon approaching.
“Will I have to work ALL summer, Pa?”
Ben just turned and raised an eyebrow in Adam’s direction.
This made Adam immediately hang his head. He could tell by his father’s look that his whole summer vacation had just gone up in smoke.
Other Stories by this Author