Summary: Ever since Adam left the Ponderosa, he and Ben have corresponded. The last communication brought the eldest son home. Could his return truly be the end of an era?
Rating: K (6,060 words)
Adam stood by his brother’s grave alone. The spot was a perfect place for Hoss to spend eternity. He was laid to rest under a majestic stand of pine trees overlooking the sapphire and emerald waters of Lake Tahoe – Hoss’ world. He’d been buried several months before but when Adam arrived with his wife and child, all gathered again for a memorial service.
Adam had been standing there for hours. Everyone left him to say his final good-byes. A simple tweed shirt, corduroy pants and Blundstone boots replaced his familiar black ensemble. He wore a dark brown, Akubra Stockman hat and had grown a short, neatly trimmed beard. It matched his sable black hair, now wavy and long, except for a wisp of gray at his temples giving him the distinguished look of a hard working, middle-aged man. Deep in prayer, he did not hear his father approach.
“Are you alright, son?” Ben asked softly, consciously trying to avoid startling him.
Ben’s resonant voice wafted through the air like a lakeside breeze. Adam hadn’t realized how much he’d missed his father’s voice. It filled his senses with a warmth he hadn’t felt in a long time.
“I’m fine Pa,” Adam finally replied.
“That sure is a lovely family you have.”
“Thank you,” he said simply. “I’m a lucky man.”
“Victoria is a beautiful woman. She is so much like your mother. And Eric, what a pleasure it is to have a little one around again. He does resemble Hoss.” Ben chortled remembering his middle son as a baby. “He’s a big one.”
Adam and Ben stood side by side in respectful reflection for another moment before Ben piped up again. “Hoss would be glad you’re here. son.”
“I was just thinking about the first time we saw this place,” Adam began to reminisce.
“I was about seven I think and Hoss was what… two, maybe three. I remember the feeling we all had when we got to the lake. All of us knew we were home. It was the same feeling I got when I arrived in Ferny Hills. I just knew I was home… you know?”
“Yes. I remember that feeling,” Ben replied with sentiment.
“Hoss and I used to go fishing right down there before Little Joe came along.” Adam pointed to a sandy cove below. “It was just the two of us. He’d always catch twice as many fish as me. But, then again, he always ate twice as much,” Adam chuckled, “so I guess it was only fair.”
“Yes. Hop Sing is still trying to adjust his recipe amounts,” Ben said trying to keep the moment light.
It was then that Adam finally broke down. He’d been remarkably stoic throughout his entire journey from Brisbane but could bear up no longer. He covered his face with both his hands and wept.
Ben stepped up and stood behind Adam to comfort and support him. He placed his large hands on each of Adam’s shoulders and squeezed tightly. “I know son. I know,” he said, trying desperately not to break down himself. The truth was, he had simply run of out of tears.
“I never got to say good-bye,” Adam murmured as he wiped his nose and eyes with his sleeve.
“None of us did son. He went so suddenly. But, there is comfort in knowing he didn’t suffer. He just fell asleep and never awoke.”
“But, what happened? Why did he die?”
“We’re not sure. Doc Martin assumes his heart just stopped.”
“But, why Hoss, Pa? If anyone deserved a long life, it was him. Why do good people die young? It’s not fair.”
“No it isn’t fair. But, we can’t question these things. Only God knows why.”
The pair stood for a while longer before Ben urged Adam away from the grave and began to walk back to the Ponderosa.
“I’m worried about Joseph,” Ben confessed as they walked. “He’s taken it so hard. After the funeral, he stayed in his room for days. It did lift his spirits when we got your wire telling us that you, Victoria and Little Eric were on your way. He and Hoss were best friends. Their relationship went far deeper than just being brothers.”
“You mean like me and you?” Adam said blatantly taking Ben off-guard.
“Yes…I guess so, just like you and me.”
“I’m sorry Pa. I had no idea my leaving home would hurt you.”
“It didn’t hurt me, son. It did make me realize how much I needed and depended on you, though. It was an adjustment, but one that I learned to live with. I understood your need to discover the world. Especially after all the stories I told you when you were a boy about my travels. It’s no wonder you didn’t leave a long time ago,” Ben said with a grin. “But, now with Hoss gone… things have changed.”
“How do you mean?” Adam asked quizzically – his voice as smooth as aged red wine.
“Well, I’m not sure Joe is up to running things. I didn’t really raise him to take charge. I raised you to take over, and then when you left, I started to train Hoss toward taking over. Now, there’s just Joe and Jamie. I don’t know if I have the time or the strength to get them ready to run the ranch.”
“I think you’re selling Joe short, Pa.”
“I hope you’re right, Adam.”
“I know I’m right. Little Joe will rise to the occasion you’ll see. He may be the youngest and impetuous at times, but he’s still one of your sons.”
Ben forced a dubious smile at his eldest and patted him on the back. He could never image how happy he was to see him again. He so desperately missed Adam’s advice, companionship and common sense. They walked the rest of the way home in silence.
Victoria Cartwright sat with six-month-old Eric on her lap. The midday July sunshine beamed down on them, giving them halos. The scene was idyllic. They set themselves at the table on the front porch of the ranch house where Victoria fed Little Eric his lunch. She watched her husband and father-in-law approach. Adam kissed her on the cheek and softly cupped the back of Eric’s head in his hand all in one, rhythmic motion. “Everything all right?” She asked Adam, seeing his redden eyes.
“I’m fine, Vic,” Adam replied with his trademark curvy grin. “How’s my boy?”
“Hungry as ever. You know him. He loves mealtime,” Victoria smirked. “And, how are you, Mr. Cartwright?”
“Mr. Cartwright?” Ben responded with a mock frown. “Call me Pa or Ben, whichever you’re comfortable with. I’ll not have my daughter calling me Mr. Cartwright.”
“Alright, Ben. I do find that much better.” Her accent was sharp and sweet all at the same time.
“So do I.” Ben said graciously. “Well, I’ll leave you two to yourselves. I must go see what Jamie is up to. Make sure he’s done his chores and his homework.”
Adam and Victoria watched Ben turn the corner into the house and heard the front door open and close.
“No. Really,” Victoria said to Adam now that they were alone, “how are you?”
“It’s a difficult thing,” Adam confessed. “Hoss and I were… well, I loved him. I loved him very much.”
“I know you did, sweetie.”
“Pa says Joe is having a hard time.”
“Little Joe and I had a long talk when we got back from the ceremony. All the guests had left and we had some time to get acquainted. He showed me Hoss’ picture. He had a lovely one of him on his dresser. He sure looked like a happy bloke.”
“Yes, he was. Happy and caring and genuine. Hoss was the best man I’ve ever known.”
Adam thought another moment before he purposefully turned his attention to his son. He seemed to almost snap himself away from thoughts of his beloved brother. He pursed his lips and sighed through his nose then pushed forward another grin. “Is that good?” he said with an animated tone, as he got face-to-face with the child. “Does Hop Sing make good baby food? Does he?” Adam made a face and tickled Eric making him laughed heartily. Victoria too couldn’t help but smile at the relationship that was forming between father and son.
“Ben is a wonderful person too, Adam. I can see you in him. And, Joe too. And, I know he’s the reason Hoss was so special. He’s the reason all of you are such good men. Your description of him couldn’t have been more perfect.”
“Yeah. He’s the best,” Adam agreed. “By the way, ah… have you seen Little Joe anywhere?”
“The last time I saw him he was headed for the barn.”
“I’m going to go talk to him. We haven’t had much time to catch up.”
“Okay dear,” Victoria said as she spooned another mouthful of mashed sweet potato into Little Eric’s waiting lips.
Adam made another face at the baby and pressed his forefinger gently against his button nose. “You eat everything up. That’s a good boy,” he said before he stepped down from the porch and walked toward the barn.
“JOE?” Adam called, not seeing his brother right off.
Adam looked into the loft where Little Joe was stacking hay.
“Mind if I join you?”
“Not at all, brother, not at all.”
Adam peeled off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves and climbed the ladder into the loft. He picked up a pitchfork and began to toss some hay. Neither man said anything, working side-by-side, just like old times. The feeling between them was strange though, almost strained. They both knew there was a missing piece to the picture. It felt like they had lost an arm or leg. Adam sensed that Joe was stewing about something and decided to confront him. “Joe,” he finally said as he planted the pitchfork into the wooden floor and leaned on it. “How you holding up?”
“Holding up?” Joe replied as if he was unaware of what Adam was getting at.
“Pa’s worried about you.”
“Worried? About me? Why?”
“He’s afraid you’re taking Hoss’ death too hard, that you’re having a terrible time dealing with it.”
“Well, I am,” Joe confessed. “Of course I am.”
“Is there something I can do to help?” Adam offered trying to push his little brother into divulging his pent up emotions.
“No. I think you’ve helped enough, don’t you.”
“Now, what’s that supposed to mean?” Adam replied, knowing he’d hit a vain and Joe was about to open up.
Joe stopped pitching hay and faced his older brother. Rage glowed from his jade green eyes like they were on fire. “What I mean is that you should have never left, Adam. That’s what I mean.” Joe returned to his chore after he’d flung his revelation. It stung like a slap in the face.
“What?” Adam sounded shocked.
Joe didn’t respond to his brother’s reaction. He was afraid to. Adam stretched across the loft and stopped Joe mid-throw. “Talk to me, Joe.”
“There’s nothing more to say.”
“Nothing, my foot. I know you’re angry with me, but I’m not sure what for.”
“I’m not angry!”
“Joe.” Adam grabbed his brother’s bicep and locked eyes with him. “I’ve never seen anyone angrier than you are right now. Now tell me what’s on your mind before you explode.”
“Talk to you?” Joe pulled sharply away from Adam’s grip. “Why would I talk to you? You abandoned this family and if you’d stayed, maybe Hoss would still be alive.”
“NO, you listen, Adam! When you decided to take your world tour, all you thought about was you. You didn’t consider anyone else or how Pa felt about it. It was selfish, Adam. You just up and left without even asking how we would get by without you. We had a lot of work to do around here. Hoss and I had to pick up the slack. Maybe… maybe the extra work was too much for him, maybe he…you should have never left Adam. You should have never left!” Little Joe’s voice trembled with fury.
“Are you blaming me for Hoss’ death?” Adam said flabbergasted.
Joe continued his chore, refusing to answer, fearful to go any further with his accusations.
“If it makes you feel better, I’ll take the blame.” Adam stated firmly – his voice even and calm. “If that’s what it’ll take for you to realize that he’s gone… I’ll take the blame, Joe.”
But, it was just an excuse and Adam knew it. There had to be a reason why Hoss was taken from Joe, even if Joe had to invent one.
With Adam’s bold declaration still lingering in the air like smoke, Joe melted into his brother’s arms and allowed himself to fall into a dark well of grief and sorrow. He hadn’t wanted to burden his father and found Adam’s presence the perfect release. Finally, he could let himself go.
“I know Joe. I know it will be hard without him. But, we’ve got to be strong for Pa. He needs us. He needs YOU more than ever now.”
Joe continued to cry on Adam’s shoulder – his guttural sobs made Adam’s throat tighten making it hard to talk. “Now, I want you to let it all out right now. I don’t care how long it takes you. You can take all night if you have to but after this I don’t want you to shed another tear for Hoss. He wouldn’t want you to. You know he wouldn’t. The man hated to see anyone unhappy and it would hurt him to know that you were sad for too long.”
Adam waited for Joe to expel as much as he could. He didn’t budge from Adam’s locked embrace. When he felt Joe had recovered enough so he could be heard, Adam continued his speech. “When you think of Hoss, think of his humor and his kindness and how good he made all of us feel. That will be his legacy. Do you understand?”
Joe did not answer. His brother’s soothing voice echoed through his body, slowly calming him.
“Joe?” Adam pushed him away from his chest and held him squarely by the shoulders. “Do you understand me?” he asked again.
With anguish etched on his face, Joe gulped for air in between sniffs to try and get himself under control. Adam looked at him intensely. “Now Pa is afraid you don’t have what it takes to run the Ponderosa and I know that you do. Don’t let this tragedy make you lose sight of your future. I want you to go in there and prove to Pa that he has nothing to worry about.”
“But, I…” was all Joe could manage before he broke down again.
“Look Joe.” Adam said forcefully, “I’m not saying forget Hoss. Of course not. All of us have to grieve for him. It’s the natural thing to do. We have to grieve for him so we can move on in our lives. But, don’t let your mourning cripple you. We will never forget Hoss. Time will help, you’ll see. But, Pa has to go on too. Please try to be strong. You can do it. You’re feistier than all of us Cartwright’s put together… well, aren’t you?”
Adam’s accusation made Joe smile. He couldn’t help it. “I’ll try Adam.” Joe was finally able to reply.
“You’ll do better than try younger brother…you’ll do it. You’ll do it for Hoss… understood?”
“Understood.” Joe was looking at his boots but nodded agreement nonetheless.
“Now let’s start right now. If you think you can, put on a smile and let’s go talk to Pa… okay.”
“Okay.” Joe said, wiping his face with his shirttails.
“Are you sure? Because now’s the time to get it out of your system.”
“I can do it, Adam.”
“Atta boy.” He gripped Joe by the collarbone and shook him playfully.
“Thanks.” Joe said simply.
“Ooooh. So now you’re thanking me,” Adam jabbed.
“I needed you to be here. Thanks for coming home.”
“You’re welcome, but don’t fool yourself. I did it just as much for me as for you and Pa. I needed you too.”
The pair climbed down the ladder one after the other. When they reached the barn floor Adam, slung his arm around Joe’s shoulder and steered him toward the house. “Are you still mad at me?” he asked with a smirk.
“Oh. Now what?” Adam sounded surprised.
“You’re always right,” Joe shot back sarcastically. “Do you always have to be right?”
“Believe me, now that I’m married, I’m hardly ever right.”
The comment settled the boys and they walked through the courtyard in a much lighter frame of mind. Victoria and Eric had gone inside and Joe and Adam joined them.
“Yeah…” Joe laughed, “and then there was the time Hoss saw the leprechauns. Remember that, Adam?”
“I sure do.”
“I thought he’d lost his mind.” Ben added.
“What about the time Delores visited from Mexico,” Adam reminisced, “and he decided you should fight a bull to impress her. Now, THAT was funny.”
“I didn’t think it was so funny,” Joe confessed. “After we finally corralled that bull, I couldn’t move for a week I was so sore.”
“I didn’t think it was very funny at all, Joe,” Ben said with a sneer. “Our neighbors didn’t speak to us for a month after that bull destroyed everything in its path. You boys sure put me through some trying times.”
“They may have been trying times, Ben,” Victoria said, “but looking back they sound like they were also the best of times.”
“Oh. Don’t get me wrong, Victoria. Any time spent with my boys was good.”
“You say that now, Pa,” Adam joked, “but that sure wasn’t the case when Hoss and Joe robbed the bank.”
“Robbed the bank?” Victoria sounded appalled as all the men broke into loud laughter again.
“I want to hear that story too, Miss Victoria,” Jamie stated with sincere interest.
“No. No. We really must stop. We could go on for hours and you, young man, have to finish that assignment for school tomorrow. So off you go.”
“Do I have to, Pa?”
“Well, only if you want to graduate this year.” Ben quipped.
“Yes sir.” Jamie sounded disappointed. “Well, good night everyone. I’ll check on Little Eric before I go to bed, Miss Victoria.”
“Oh would you Jamie. Thank you so much.”
“Yes ma’am.” Jamie said as he stood to retire. “Good night, Pa. Good night, Joe. It was nice to finally meet you, Adam. Joe and Hoss are always talkin’ about ya.”
“Good things I’m sure,” Adam replied skeptically as he sipped his after-dinner coffee.
Jamie’s confession made the adults at the dinner table return to their laughter. It was good to hear after the woeful weeks of mourning.
“Good night, Jamie,” Ben said. “Shall we retire to the living room for a night cap?”
“Ah yes,” Adam said with anticipation, “that sounds good, Pa.”
Ben, Joe and Adam allowed Victoria to take the lead and followed her into the living room. They indulged in Ben’s best brandy and toasted Hoss. Now that the family was together, things seemed a little less strained. The burden seemed to be easier to bear when they were together. Ben was so happy to see Joe enjoying himself again; at least for the moment. He knew grief came in waves. One moment you were fine and the next you’d fall to pieces again. He decided to take advantage of this moment.
“I’d also like to toast Adam and Victoria.” Ben held up his glass. “May you live full and happy lives.”
“Here, here.” Joe raised his snifter and winked.
“And to our Little Eric. May he grow to be as good a man as his namesake,” Ben said but then shook his head.
“What’s the matter, Pa?” Adam asked fearful that his father was becoming morose.
“I was just thinking how proud Hoss was when we got your wire about Eric’s birth. He just beamed, didn’t he Joe?”
“Boy, he sure did. That was all he talked about. He wanted to hop on the next boat to Australia.”
“He sure would have loved to see that little guy. He loved children so. And they him.”
Nobody said anything after Ben’s sentimentality. They just sat and drank their drinks in silence; all of them thinking about what could have been, all of them thinking about Hoss. Good thoughts; happy memories.
“Well, if you gentlemen will forgive me,” Victoria announced, “I think I’ll turn in as well. I must admit I’m tired from our journey.”
Ben, Joe and Adam stood. She gave Ben a kiss on the cheek and had one for Joe as well before she approached her husband. She simply placed her hand on his cheek and said good night.
“I’ll be up soon,” Adam said as he watched her ascend the stairs.
“Lovely girl, Adam. Lovely girl.”
“Thanks Pa. I think so.” Adam beamed with pride, pleased that his father approved.
“I like her too Adam,” Joe complimented before stretching and letting out an indulgent sigh. “Well, I’m off to bed too. I can barely keep my eyes open.”
“Good night, son.”
“See you tomorrow, Joe.”
“Thanks again, Adam.”
“Sure thing.” Now it was Adam’s turn to wink.
When Joe was out of earshot, Ben placed his glass on the coffee table. Adam sat on the edge of it with his foot propped on the fireplace hearth, poking at the flames with the iron making the wood snap and crackle. It was his favorite place for reflection. He’d built a duplicate of it in his new home in Ferny Hills.
“How did you do it?” Ben asked after a long pause.
“How did I do what, Pa?”
“Joe. I haven’t seen him smile since… well, I’m just wondering what you said or did to make him feel better.”
“Oh we just talked.”
“Well, you must have done more than talk.”
“You know him, Pa. All you have to do is give him the opportunity to let it all out and he does. I know how to push his buttons…” Adam shrugged. “He’s my brother.”
“I appreciate it son. I really and truly do.”
“Well, he still has a long way to go, but he’ll be fine, Pa.”
The entire conversation was finished without either man making eye contact. Their communication was so pure it didn’t need any. It never did. But, Ben could tell that there was more on his eldest son’s mind.
“There’s something else, isn’t there?” Ben probed.
Adam just grinned sideways making his single dimple deepen. Fooling his father was still impossible. He turned to face his father and tucked his ankle under his leg and leaned on his knee with his forearm. “Yes. There is.”
“And that would be?” Ben asked with great interest.
“Well, how would you feel about a change in careers?”
“At my age? I don’t think so.”
“Well, don’t you even want to hear what I have to say, Pa?”
“Yes, yes. I’m sorry. Of course I do. Go ahead, son.”
“Victoria and I want you, Joe and Jamie to come back to Australia with us. Hop Sing too. Start a new life there. Leave the cattle behind and help us on our sheep ranch.”
“Sheep? I’m a cattleman, Adam.”
“So was I, Pa.”
“What about the Ponderosa?”
“SELL IT! After all the work and sweat and blood we put into this place. Adam, I don’t know. I don’t know if I can do that.”
“Why not? You’d love Brisbane. So would Joe and Jamie. There’s too much of Hoss here. We could all get over it so much easier down there.”
“I don’t know if I want to get over it, Adam.”
“I’m not saying forget. I’m saying move on. A fresh start.” Adam’s hand was outstretched toward his father. He hadn’t realized how much he wanted his father to accept his proposal until he’d actually made it.
“Well, I’ll have to think about it. And, Adam…”
“Don’t mention any of this to Joe or Jamie quite yet. I need to mull it over on my own first.”
“Then you will consider it?” Adam sounded excited.
“Yes. Of course I’ll consider it. But, as for commitment either way, it could take some time.”
“I’m willing to wait. Just think of seeing Eric grow up.”
“I don’t suppose you and Victoria would consider staying here,” Ben offered hopefully.
“I’m afraid not, Pa. We’re booked on a ship leaving a week tomorrow. My life is in Australia now. And, I just know you’ll love it there too. I just know it.”
“A week tomorrow? So soon? I thought you’d be here for a few months at least.” Ben sounded disappointed.
“Well Marcus, Victoria’s father, was nice enough to take care of the ranch in our absence and I don’t want to burden him for too long. We won’t be home until early September as it is. We’ll be on the same ship we sailed up on. Seattle was its last stop and we’ll catch it on its way back down.”
“Oh. I see,” Ben said quietly.
“Pa. You understand… don’t you?”
“Yes, yes. I understand son.”
“Well then, I’m going to bed.” Adam exhaled.
“Alright. Sleep well.” Ben seemed deep in thought.
“You alright, Pa?”
“I’ll be fine ,Adam.”
“Good night then.”
Ben watched Adam leave the room and go upstairs. It would be difficult to be separated from him again. He’d planted a seed of decision in Ben. A decision that would have to be made quickly, something Ben rarely did. He’d have to talk to Joe and Jamie about it as well and he wasn’t sure the timing was right. Joe’s emotions were unstable and fragile to say the least. Ben wasn’t sure how he might react to Adam’s proposition.
After several hours of reflection, Ben finally went to bed. When he settled under his blankets, he pondered life in Australia. He did want to see Eric grow up and be there for any future children Adam and Victoria might have. The Ponderosa was a constant reminder of Hoss. It would be a good experience for Jamie. He was interested in learning a new business, even if it was sheep. It was Joe. The decision would ultimately be his.
He finally fell asleep as dawn’s purple light crept into his bedroom. The questions and concerns swirled through his head like a tornado, but he could stay awake no longer. He’d talk to Joseph the next day. But, he knew he’d have to tread lightly.
“Joseph? Where are you son?”
“Up here, Pa.” Joe had returned to the hayloft to finish the job he’d started the day before.
“Could you come on down please. I need to talk to you.”
“Yes sir.” Joe replied as he propped his pitchfork against a beam and descended the ladder to the barn floor. “What is it Pa?”
“Let’s take a seat over here,” Ben offered as he took Joe by his elbow and walked him to the tack box to sit on.
“You alright?” Joe sounded concerned.
“Yes, yes. I’m fine.”
“Well then, what is it?”
Ben opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. He thought he knew what he was going to say but when it came time to say it, he wasn’t sure if he should or even could.
“Pa?” Joe asked again – his brow furrowed with trepidation.
“Adam and Victoria want us to sell the Ponderosa and move to Australia with them to help run their sheep ranch,” Ben blurted out. But, his abrupt flood of information didn’t seem to register with Joe. He stared into his father’s eyes without so much as a flinch.
“Did you hear what I said Joe? Adam wants us to move to Brisbane.”
“Oh.” Joe finally responded quietly, and then lowered his head to pick at his fingernails.
“Is that it? Is that all you can say…oh?”
“Well, as soon as we can, I suppose. I haven’t gotten that far. I wanted to put it by you first before I made such a big decision.”
“What do you want to do, Pa?” Joe asked making eye contact again.
“I don’t know. Do you have any feeling either way?”
“Right now, I don’t know what I feel. I’m kinda numb.”
“I know it’s sudden. All of this has been sudden.”
“That’s what scares me. Pa. I don’t think we should do anything we will regret. The Ponderosa is our home. It’s our life. I know Adam has found happiness down there but it’s his not ours.”
“I know, son.”
“What makes Adam think we’d want to go to Australia?”
“Well, there are lots of reasons.”
“Name one,” Joe said bluntly.
“To be together again. To move on after Hoss’ death. The Ponderosa holds such memories of him no matter where we look.”
“But, that’s a good thing Pa. I want to be reminded of him… everyday, always.”
“Adam wants us to be with Eric. See him grow. He wants us to help run the sheep ranch.”
“Sheep? I hate sheep. They stink. You hate sheep too, Pa. I don’t want to herd sheep. I want to stay on the Ponderosa. It’s my future and Jamie’s too. It’s my home. My mother is buried here and I want to be buried here too.”
Ben got the answer he wanted and needed. Joe was right. There was no need to make a new start. Running away from the Ponderosa to better deal with Hoss’ death was foolish and Joe was right, he did hate sheep. Ben hung his arm around Joseph and smiled at him with pride. “It’s going to be alright, isn’t it, son.”
“Yes… it is.” Joe sounded positive.
“Adam surely will be disappointed.”
“We can visit him, can’t we Pa?”
“I don’t know why I was ever concerned about you, Joseph. I think some of Adam’s common sense is finally wearing off on you.”
“Better than his new liking of sheep,” Joe chortled as the men stood face to face.
“It could be worse,” Ben reacted.
“Well, I can’t think of anything Pa,” Joe commented with a smirk. “I’ve got some hay to stack, Pa.”
“And, I’ve got another son to talk to.”
“I’ll see you at dinner,” Joe commented as he climbed the ladder and got back to his chore.
Ben, feeling like a load had been lifted from his shoulders, left the barn to find Adam.
Adam couldn’t help but savor the afternoon sun. It was different here. The Nevada air was sweetly crisp and smelled like pine. He’d been walking for hours, taking in the Ponderosa. He new it would be the last time he’d see it.
He came upon the fenced in field he’d set out for and leaned on the top of a post. In the distance, grazing happily, was Adam’s horse Sport. His flaxen tail swished lazily at persistent flies. His coat shone like copper in the brilliant sunshine. He’d been put out to pasture the year before and looked like he was sincerely enjoying his retirement. He was unaware of Adam’s presence.
“Sport?” Adam called to him. “Come on, boy.”
The horse raised his head from the grass, looking in the direction of the disturbance. But, he didn’t seem to care and lowered his head once again. It wasn’t until Adam clucked and whistled that Sport seemed to take interested. They were familiar sounds and he turned to investigate further. He walked slowly toward Adam who had slipped between the fence rails entering the pasture. He stood with his hand outstretched.
“Here Sport.” Adam called again, “Come and see me, ya old plug.”
With the sound of his owner’s voice floating into his pricked ears, Sport seemed to recognize Adam and picked up his pace toward him. He trotted at first and then began to canter across the meadow to Adam.
Now, face-to-face, Adam rested his cheek on Sport’s nose and rubbed his neck. “How’ve you been old buddy? Do ya miss me?”
Adam reached into his pocket for some sugar and Sport took the treat gently from the palm of Adam’s hand. They spent the next hour together and it was a time that Adam relished. This would be the last time he’d see his horse. He’d never again breathe this mountain air or gaze upon the lush landscape. It saddened him.
But, his reflections were interrupted when he heard a horse and rider approach. It was Ben on Buck and he’d brought another horse for Adam to ride.
“Afternoon, son.” Ben said as he dismounted and walked toward the fence to lean on.
“Afternoon, Pa,” Adam welcomed seated on the ground and propped against a post. He chewed on a piece of grass.
“Sport looks good.”
“Yes he does. For an old man.”
“Buck’s getting on too. I should have retired him long ago, but I just can’t seem to bring myself to do it. I can’t seem to find a horse as comfortable as he is or as willing. We’ve sure put a lot of miles in together,” Ben rambled, “I’ve been looking for a new…”
“You’ve decided to stay… haven’t you,” Adam interrupted, knowing his father was stalling.
“Yes,” Ben resigned.
“Did you talk to Joe?”
“Yes. I just talked to him.”
“How did he react?”
“Very maturely actually. He surprised me.”
“Yes, that is surprising. Maybe he’s finally growing up.”
“Well, he’s not a boy anymore. I know it’s hard to see you’re little brother as a man. But, he is. He’s a man.”
“I guess you’re right, Pa. I guess Joe will always be my kid brother no matter how old he is.”
“We’ve decided to stay,” Ben said reinforcing his decision.
“I knew it was a long shot. I had to ask. If, I hadn’t asked, I would always wonder.”
“I understand, son. But, like you, we know where we are supposed to be and it’s right here.”
“I know, Pa. I know.”
“Shall we go for a last ride? How about into Virginia City for one last drink.”
“That sounds good. But, I should tell Victoria first. She’ll worry.”
“I’ve already told her where you’ll be.”
“Alright then, my son,” Ben said as he lightly slapped Adam on the back. “Let’s go have that drink.”
“I’m buying, Pa.”
“Of course you are, Adam. Of course you are.”
The men mounted their horses and headed to town. As Adam rode away, he looked back over his shoulder at Sport who had gone back to the very spot he’d found him in when he gotten there. He was content. He was happy. And, now so was everyone else. Their paths were set; their lives written; Ben, Joe and Jamie on the Ponderosa, and Adam and his family in Ferny Hills. But, they would always be fused together by love through good times and through tragedy. The Cartwright blood flowed deeply no matter where any one of them lived. Ben and Adam rode west and disappeared over the horizon.
Joe, Jamie and Ben accompanied Adam, Victoria and Eric to San Francisco. They wanted to spend as much time with them as they possible could. It was a farewell journey and Adam took in as much as he could of the mountains and scenery between Virginia City and the Pacific Ocean.
It would be the last time Adam would ever set foot on the continent, let alone Nevada. It was a hard realization, but he had to look forward to his life with Victoria and Eric. It would be more than enough.
Ben and Adam would continue their correspondence, enjoying news of each other’s lives. Adam and Victoria would have more children – six in all; Adam Junior, Marc, Elizabeth, Marie and Little Joe. They would continue on their father’s legacy of the producing the finest wool in Australia on their ranch… The Ponderosa – Ferny Hills, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.