Summary: Hoss’ birthday present goes missing, and retrieving it gives both Adam and Ben an opportunity to find a new perspective on important matters in their lives.
Rating: G (9,745 words)
A New Perspective
There are many people for whose assistance and encouragement I am truly grateful, especially Marcia, Gwynne, Lissa, and Brenda. I must thank too all the other people who gave me the benefit of their insight. Thank you all.
“How I spend my free time is no one’s concern but my own!” Adam snapped at his father. “What I did in Nevada City is my business!” His eyes narrowed with anger, but he kept his voice down. “I am sorry I wasn’t here when you needed me, but I do have my own life to live, and it doesn’t always include cleaning up after Little Joe!”
“While you are under my roof you’ll answer to me, boy!” Ben retorted, equally angry, but a lot louder.
Adam took a deep breath, trying to contain himself. He crossed over to stand in front of the fire and stared into it, his back rigid, his fists clenched. He didn’t reply for a moment, then, quietly, “Let me remind you, Pa, that I don’t have to live under your roof.” He closed his lips firmly, not wanting to say the next thought, but the words “I chose to come home,” hung there in the air, unsaid, but there nonetheless. Ben frowned but didn’t reply. He changed the subject instead.
“You are still employed by me. I want you to get that horse,” he ordered, jabbing his finger at Adam as he returned to the original point of discussion.
Adam turned from the fire. He glowered at his father, then abruptly swept a couple of books off the table and added them to the already well-stuffed saddlebags he was carrying.
Ben watched him in surprise. “You don’t need that much for a few days on the trail!”
“It may just be time for me to strike out on my own,” Adam said as he fastened the last buckle on his saddle bags and slung it over his shoulder. “I’ll see you get that horse – one way or another.”
He stalked out of the house without a backward glance and slammed the door behind him. He didn’t need to look back to see his father’s expression – he’d seen it before and all too often lately.
Seething, Adam urged Sport into a gallop before he had barely left the yard. The horse’s drumming hooves matched the pounding of his blood in his ears as he rode swiftly away from the house. He let the wind in his hair and the horse’s motion cool him; easing the tightness in his chest. He didn’t care much about where they were heading, so it was with some surprise that he realised they were near the lake. He opened himself to its majestic calm and let its cool beauty wash over him until his anger was exhausted. Both horse and man were weary now, and Adam began to set up camp for the night. He unsaddled Sport first.
“Hope you got more rest than I did last night,” he told the horse as he rubbed his sweaty flanks down. “I never expected that spending the night in Nevada City was going to make Pa so angry.”
Sport snuffled his hair as if in answer. Adam patted him, rubbing him gently behind the ears. He grimaced as he recalled his words. He had behaved badly tonight.
“I shouldn’t have spoken to Pa like that, even if he did rile me,” he admitted. “So what am I going to do, Sport?” He sighed deeply. Angry as he was with his father, he couldn’t just leave like that; like a child throwing a tantrum. “No choice, really, is there, boy? I have to get Hoss’ present, and take it home. I’m not going to waste three years planning!”
But then what he wondered? Would the freedom he gained mean that he’d be throwing away something more important?
“Of all the stupid things to do! You can read. Swenson asked for mares. Or can’t you tell the difference? And now I’ll have to explain to the Cartwrights!” Bill Worthington’s face was red, and his voice rose with each word. He banged his fist on the corral rail.
The foreman pulled off his hat and twisted it in his hands. “I said I was sorry, boss! I didn’t know. Besides, you told Joe Cartwright yesterday ….”
“You would have known if you’d taken the time to look at that list I gave you! I told you it was important. So help me, if you weren’t my mother’s cousin, I’d send you packing!” Bill poked his meaty forefinger into the younger man’s bony chest.
“But, boss, Joe Cartwright didn’t seem all that upset,” Jake tried to defend himself.
Bill snorted. “Joe Cartwright is an irresponsible youngster. I’m sure either Adam or Ben will be out here before the day is out. I can’t afford mistakes like that, not with the Cartwrights. Besides being good customers, they’re my friends. I don’t like letting my friends down.” He stood, hands on hips, glaring at his miserable employee.
Jake swallowed nervously. This job was important to him, and he’d bungled it almost in the first week. He’d heard a lot about the Cartwrights, and he knew they were important folk around here.
“They won’t do anything, like, er, shoot me, or hit me or somethin’?” he asked nervously.
Bill folded his arms across his chest. “You’ll find out soon enough. There’s one of them now,” and he nodded towards the horse and rider who had appeared in the ranch yard.
The tall, serious-looking man in black dismounted easily from the big horse. His hand rested gently on the gun on his hip. His handsome face looked tired and not particularly happy with life, but his voice didn’t show it as he extended his hand towards Bill.
“Bill,” Adam nodded. “I’ve come to see about that horse.”
“Thought you might have. You must have left the Ponderosa mighty early to be here now. The sun’s barely up. Come in, have some coffee,” Bill offered, his voice a little agitated.
“I slept out last night. I thought I could get an early start that way.” He smiled wryly. “It was a mistake as far as actually getting any sleep was concerned. I’ll skip the coffee, if you don’t mind. What happened with the horse?” The deep voice was just a little gravely with weariness.
“I’m terribly sorry, Adam,” Bill Worthington apologised. “I’m thinking about finding me a new foreman. I’ll let Jake, here, tell you, since it was entirely his fault.”
“I’m real sorry, Mr Cartwright,” the foreman abused his hat even more as he moved back out of Adam’s reach. Mr Cartwright sure was a powerful big fella. Probably could hit real hard. “I didn’t check the lists proper before I sent that string out to Jim Swenson at Placerville. It’s just what Mr Worthington told Little Joe yesterday. That stallion was sent out accidental. I ain’t been on the job long,” he added.
Adam shook his head. “No, it wasn’t all your fault. It was a mistake anyone could make.” Adam shrugged slightly. “If Joe had been here when he was supposed to be, he would have been long gone with the horse.”
Bill Worthington chuckled. “I suppose it was a girl again.”
“No, poker,” Adam replied. He didn’t return the grin. Jake watched as just the mention of Joe made Adam stiffen. It wasn’t hard to see that Adam Cartwright was real mad with his brother. His jaw was set, and he pressed his lips together firmly. It was a moment before he spoke, his words clipped. “Joe spent the night playing poker with a friend nearby instead of coming straight to the Bar W. Pa will deal appropriately with him. In the meantime I have to get that horse back. I suppose I’ll have to go to Placerville.”
“You can take Jake with you if you like,” Bill offered.
“Yes, sir, I’d sure be happy to do that,” Jake said, wanting to make amends. He felt real bad about sendin’ that horse off, but Adam Cartwright had been real nice to him. He wasn’t going to believe anythin’ bad anyone said about Adam Cartwright.
“Thanks, but I’ll travel faster on my own. I’d best be on my way. No chance of catching up with the horses before they get to Placerville now, I suppose?” Sport danced a little, and Adam took a moment to soothe the horse, patting his nose, and rubbing him gently under the chin; the long fingers getting to just the spots Sport liked.
Bill shook his head. “No, I’d expect they’d be there by now, even allowing for it to take longer with a dozen mares and Thunder.” He laughed. “That Thunder is one cantankerous beast! Might slow ‘em down considerable.”
Adam sighed, not looking forward to the trip. “If you give me a letter of introduction, and I have the paperwork,” he patted his pocket, “there shouldn’t be any difficulty. At least not once I get to Placerville.”
“It’ll take me a few minutes to write it. Why don’t you have that coffee while I do?”
Ben leaned back in his chair, frowning. That was the third time he’d added that column of figures, and each time he’d come up with a different answer. He rose and crossed over to the big fireplace to stand in front of it for a moment. There was a book on the table. One of Adam’s, no doubt. Adam was the only one of his sons who read thick books like this one. He raised an eyebrow at the title. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill.
As he flicked through the book, intrigued by Adam’s choice of reading material, an envelope fell out. He picked it up. It was Adam’s as he had expected, but…it was addressed to Adam in care of the bank in Nevada City. They usually had their mail sent to Virginia City. Why was Adam having mail sent to Nevada City? And in care of the bank? He turned it over to see if there was anything on the back. It had been opened. His hand hovered over the opening for a moment then he resolutely put it down. That was Adam’s personal mail. He couldn’t believe that even for a moment he had considered invading Adam’s privacy that way. The sooner Adam got back here and did the paperwork, the happier he’d be.
But was Adam going to come back? His last words before he left had been ambiguous to say the least. “Maybe it’s time to strike out on my own?” He thought about Adam’s comment as he went back to his desk, envelope still in his hand. He had been adding figures for at least fifty years. He wasn’t about to let one column of figures defeat him. He picked up the pencil to add them one more time, and his eye fell on the last set of entries on the previous page, written neatly in Adam’s careful hand. He picked up the envelope again, hand hovering, and then the door slammed.
“Joseph!” he bellowed, startled. He hastily shoved the envelope under the ledger. “How many times have I told you not to slam the door?”
“Sorry, Pa,” Joe said, looking curiously at Ben’s flushed face.
“Have you finished your chores?” Joe nodded. “Then go and…and… get me a cup of coffee, please. And make sure it’s properly hot!” Ben ordered, searching for a way to get rid of Joe and cover his own embarrassment.
As Joe left the room Ben retrieved the envelope from under the ledger. He studied it a moment, flushing again, then quickly he put it into one of the desk drawers. He would return it to Adam, when Adam came home.
Two days later Adam pushed open the outer door to Jim Swenson’s office in the main street of Placerville.
“I’d like to see Mr Swenson. My name is Cartwright.”
The secretary, a young man with sharp features and a pale face, looked the travel stained man up and down slowly. His mouth pursed as though there were a nasty taste in it. Unconsciously he stoked the lapel of his fine suit. He was very proud of that suit and of working in a position where he could dress so well every day. It put him, he thought, at a higher level than the cowboys and miners of the area.
“Do you have an appointment?” He looked down his nose as he spoke.
“No, but I need to see him urgently. I’ve travelled a long way.”
“I’m afraid Mr Swenson is busy. Perhaps you’d like to make an appointment?” The prim secretary’s discomfort was almost palpable; he clearly just wanted the man on the other side of his desk to go away. His tone suggested that the sooner the unwelcome visitor left, the happier he’d be.
“No. I’ll wait.” Adam crossed the room to the spindly chairs by the wall. He sat down carefully, half-afraid the chair would break under his weight. Stretching out his long legs, he tried to relax in the uncomfortable chair. He waited. The clock chimed the quarter. He stared across at the secretary. He crossed his legs, trying to get comfortable. The secretary watched him but made no move. The clock chimed the half hour. Adam’s patience was wearing thin. He rose and leaned up against the wall, arms folded, never taking his eyes off the secretary. His lips thinned. He was tired of waiting, and this young man had made no effort to tell his boss that he was waiting. He crossed the room and leaned on his hands over the desk. He was a big man, and his presence could be intimidating when he chose.
“Is Mr Swenson in there?”
“Er…yes….” the young man stuttered, recoiling in alarm. There was no mistaking the menace in this man’s face.
“I see.” Adam paused just for a moment then he strode across the room to the inner door.
“You can’t go in there!” the secretary yelped even as Adam opened the inner office’s door.
Jim Swenson looked up in surprise as the tall man, dressed in black, gun slung low over his hips, came in. His hand snaked out to the drawer where he kept a loaded pistol, and he eased it open carefully, never taking his eyes off his unexpected visitor.
“Mr Swenson? My name is Cartwright. I apologise for intruding in this way, but I have come a long way to see you.”
At his words, Jim Swenson relaxed a little. The courteous, well-spoken manner of the man before him seemed at odds with the dusty black garb he wore. His interest was piqued. He recognised the name Cartwright. Who didn’t, in this part of the world?
“I’m sorry, Mr Swenson,” the secretary bleated. “I couldn’t stop him!”
“It’s all right, Ted. Get some coffee, will you?” Swenson dismissed his secretary with a wave of his hand. He slunk out of the room, two spots of colour burning on his pale face.
“Have a seat,” Swenson offered. “Did you say Cartwright? Of the Ponderosa?”
Adam nodded. “Yes, I’m Adam.” He held out his hand, and the other took it. “Please excuse my appearance,” he gestured at his dusty clothes, ‘but I’d like very much to conclude our business and go home. You have a horse belonging to us that was shipped to you accidentally.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a packet of papers. He handed them to Jim Swenson, then sat back in the comfortable armchair he’d been offered. He stretched out contentedly with a small sigh. A man could relax in this. He smiled politely at Ted when he brought in the coffee, but Ted wouldn’t look at him.
Jim Swanson took his time examining the documents Adam had given him. He wasn’t a successful businessman for nothing. Fifteen minutes later he put the papers down on the desk and smiled across at Adam.
“I won’t argue that the horse is yours. I’m sorry that you’ve had to come so far, Mr Cartwright. I was surprised at the quality of that one, since I only wanted working animals, not breeding stock But that was such a fine horse, I’ve sent it to my ranch just outside Sacramento. You wouldn’t want to sell it to me, would you?”
Sacramento! Adam thought. Just wait till I get my hands on Joe!
“No, sir,” Adam’s response was polite but firm. “We’ve been looking for just the right stallion for some time, and this is a gift for my brother. If it’s all right with you, I’ll go and retrieve it. With a bit of luck I might be back in time for Hoss’ birthday.”
“You’ve gone to a great deal of trouble for your brother. I’d sure like to have a brother like you!” Jim smiled as he returned the papers to Adam. “I’ll write a letter to my foreman so he’ll know to give you the horse. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No, I don’t think so…oh, yes! Could you send a wire to my father? I’d like to get started as soon as possible, and I don’t want him to worry.” He quickly wrote the wire out and pulled a couple of coins out of his pocket.
Jim waved his money away. “Ted! See this wire goes today,” Jim ordered.
Ted nodded and took the wire. He held it in the tips of his fingers, as though it were distasteful. He watched as the door shut behind the two men, then, with a malicious smile, dropped the wire deliberately into the wastebasket.
“But, Pa,” Joe protested as they left the livery stables and went towards the sheriff’s office. “I’ve been getting the mail for years. I don’t know why you had to come into Virginia City too.”
Ben stopped so suddenly that Joe almost bumped into him. His eyes flashed. “Because the last time I sent you on a simple errand you couldn’t even manage that! Did I not tell you that you were not to set foot off the ranch without me?” Joe scowled. “And take that look off your face. If you’d done as you were asked, I wouldn’t have to be here at all. You,” and he pointed a finger at his youngest son, “cannot be trusted to carry out the simplest task without supervision! We don’t even know where Adam is!”
“I’m sure Adam’s fine, Pa. He’s probably on his way back from Placerville by now.” Joe looked hopeful, but his father wasn’t placated.
Ben glared at him. “If you’d done as you were asked, when you were asked, Adam wouldn’t have had to go to Placerville at all! He should have been back by now. It’s been over a week!”
Joe opened his mouth to argue then shut it again with a snap. “I’m sorry, Pa.”
“Sorry, Pa,” Ben repeated. His voice dripped with sarcasm. “Sorry isn’t going to get Adam back here. I’m going to talk to Roy. Do you think you can manage to walk across the road to get the mail without needing a keeper? I will meet you at the General Store when I’ve finished with Roy, and you had better be there.”
He stood with his hands on his hips waiting for Joe to go into the building opposite. Joe raised his hat to a young lady just leaving, and his eyes watched her as she strolled down the sidewalk. Ben gave a slight smile. Sometimes Joe was so transparent. The deprivation he felt at not being able to flirt with the girls, or, Ben had no doubt, have a beer was written plainly on his face.
Roy had heard Ben’s angry tones and met him as he stalked into the office “What’s Joe done now?” Roy asked, his voice recalling his friend to the present.
“What’s Joe done now? Managed to lose Hoss’ birthday present just because he can’t do as he’s told.” He shrugged slightly. “Just Joseph being himself. It’s Adam I’m concerned about.”
Roy handed the worried man a cup of coffee. “You worry too much about that boy, Ben. You know he can take care of himself.”
Ben plonked himself down in a chair. “I wouldn’t be so worried, Roy, if I knew where he’d gone.” He took a sip of his coffee, then put the cup down with a deep sigh. “If he has gone to Placerville, he should have been back by now. But I don’t know that he did. He hasn’t contacted us at all.”
Roy was surprised. “It’s not like Adam not to let you know what’s going on.”
“I know. That’s one reason I’m worried. But if he didn’t go to Placerville then he might not want to let me know where he is. I think he might have gone to Nevada City.”
“Nevada City? Why?”
Ben picked up a pile of papers off the desk and leafed through them absently before putting them down again. His eyes met Roy’s. “That’s partly what the argument was about. I wanted to know what he’d been doing in Nevada City, and he effectively told me to mind my own business. I suppose he was right.”
“He’s a grown man, Ben. He’s sure old enough to make his own mind up about things. An’ you know how he likes to do things for himself.”
“I know. I certainly had no right to ask, much less demand, an accounting of his time. Then I ordered him to go fetch the horse from Placerville – and that was when he told me he’d see I got the horse – one way or the other.”
Ben rose and wandered over to the window, staring out of it silently for some minutes. Roy watched him but said nothing, just waiting. His patience was one of the things that made him such a good sheriff.
Ben abruptly turned away from the window. “I didn’t think much of it at the time, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder. I assumed he went to Placerville, but I don’t know that he did. I…I don’t know where he is.” There was a catch in his voice, and he sagged back into the chair, looking suddenly old and tired.
Roy scratched his head a moment, trying to find a way to help. “I could wire to Placerville and Nevada City. Ask the sheriffs there if they’ve seen him,” he suggested finally.
Ben thought about it for a moment. “No, I don’t want my family business paraded around the community like that. I certainly don’t want to be the subject of gossip.” He rose, suddenly, decisively. “I think I’ll go to Nevada City myself.”
Ben put Buck up at the livery stable in Nevada City. He looked around the stable but he could not see any horses that looked like Sport, but that didn’t mean Adam wasn’t about. He grabbed the arm of the liveryman as he walked past.
“No sir, I ain’t seen Mr Cartwright for a coupla weeks now.” The liveryman pushed his hat up on his head as he thought about it. “Nup, no sign of him.”
Ben nodded politely and set off. By noon, he had been into every place on the south side of main street, and he was hot, tired and getting more irritated by the minute.
He saw a saloon he recalled Adam mentioning and decided that having a drink would give him an opportunity to ask the barman. They usually knew what was going on. He pushed the saloon doors open and went in, eyes widening a little in surprise at the opulence of the place, in contrast to its unusual name, “The Old Tin Cup.” While he leaned on the bar, waiting to catch the eye of the bartender, he caught the eye of a pretty blonde girl in a pink satin dress that showed much of her considerable attributes instead.
Sashaying over to him, she cooed, “Hi there, mister. You want to buy a girl a drink?”
“No, thank you, miss.” His eyes slid from her to the bartender. “Bartender, I’d like a beer, please.” Ben threw some money down on the counter, turning his back on the girl.
The bartender handed him his beer. “You look like a mile o’ bad road,” he said.
Ben eased himself down into a chair and took a long drink. “Feel that way too. I guess I’ll have a steak dinner. I think I’ve been in every building in this city,” Ben said. “I’m looking for my son. Perhaps you know him. Adam Cartwright?”
“ Mr Cartwright? If anyone one’s likely to have seen him it’d be Janie here.” The bartender nodded towards the girl.
Ben cringed inside. Just how well did his son know this cosy little armful? Then it struck him that the bartender’s tone had been extremely respectful. And he had referred to Adam as ‘mister’. “Call her for me, would you?”
Janie came back at the bartender’s call. “You’re Adam’s father?” She examined him in the dim light. “I suppose you do look a bit like him. Adam hasn’t been here for at least a week, and I’d know. Adam’s always real kind to me.”
Just how kind was kind Ben wondered then squashed that thought down resolutely. That was the sort of question that had driven his son off. “I’ll have another beer,” he said. “Why don’t you have a meal too, miss, and tell me what you know about my son?”
Janie’s eyes lit up as she slid into the seat opposite him, eager to talk about her favourite customer.
Adam stretched lazily in the tub that he’d been offered by the foreman, Chet Rogers, of Jim Swenson’s ranch. The letter he carried from Jim was almost like a magic talisman. “Open Sesame” from the moment he’d produced it, unlike the suspicion he was greeted with.
“I’m Adam Cartwright,” he told the man standing in the open yard, pointing a rifle at him. He kept his hands clearly in sight although offering his name was disarming in itself. The ranch hand didn’t move his rifle.
“What do you want?” he asked suspiciously.
“I’ve got a letter here from your boss, Jim Swenson. Mind if I get it out of my pocket?”
The man nodded.
Adam reached very slowly into his pocket and pulled out the package of papers. He held out one.
The man called out. “Chet! Come out here!” A man came out of the bunkhouse. “This guy says he’s got a letter from the boss.”
The newcomer took the letter and read it. “It’s all right, Dave. You can put the rifle up. He is from the boss.”
“I’m Chet Rogers, foreman around here. I’m sorry, Mr Cartwright. We’ve had a bit of trouble here lately. Ever since that string o’ horses came in. So the stallion’s yours? Pity. Good horse that, but mean as all get out. I suppose you wanta check it.”
“Yes please,” Adam said politely. “I wouldn’t mind somewhere to stable my horse, either. He’s worked hard the last week.”
With the magic talisman of Jim’s letter, Adam got a stall for Sport and an offer of a bed, a bath and a meal for himself, all of which he had accepted gratefully. It was too late to start out tonight, and there were parts of him that rebelled at the thought of getting back on a horse. The first thing he did after putting Sport up was check Thunder. The bay stallion was a fine looking horse and his sleek lines would improve the bloodlines of the horses Hoss was breeding. The horse had stood up to the rigours of travel well, but the trip back would be harder and take longer, with only one man to keep this difficult horse under control. It was much easier to take a string of docile mares than one ornery stallion, and as beautiful as the horse was, he didn’t have a temperament to match. There had been trouble on the way up it was plain to see. One hand sported a black eye, given him when the horse had lunged unexpectedly. Another had extensive bruising.
“I was lucky that danged horse didn’t run right over the top of me!” the hand had told him with feeling.
Just what I need – another ornery critter around the Ponderosa, Adam mused as he relaxed in the tub, the warm water easing tired muscles.
Ben finished his meal and left the saloon, determined to find out just how much that Janie had told him was true. At almost every place he went into, he was greeted with “Mr Cartwright? Sure I know Mr Cartwright, but I haven’t seen him for a week or more.”
He methodically went into every building on the north side. He went into the last saloon on the street.
“Excuse me, sir.” Ben turned to see who was accosting him and was astonished to find he was looking into the Sheriff’s eyes. “I heard you’ve been askin’ a lot of questions about Adam Cartwright. Just what is it you want with him?”
“I’m Ben Cartwright,” Ben replied. He was a little taken aback when the sheriff showed no recognition of his name.
“Cartwright? You any relation to Adam Cartwright?”
“Yes, I’m his father.”
The Sheriff’s face cleared, but there was still a hint of suspicion.
“You say you’re Mr. Cartwright’s father?” the Sheriff said. “I’d heard that, but I thought you’d be older.” He scrutinised Ben carefully then nodded. “You do have a look of him about you. Is there some problem I c’n help you with?”
Ben wasn’t quite sure he wanted to tell anyone else he’d misplaced his son, but he had to say something. “I was looking for Adam,” he said, without further explanation.
“I haven’t seen Mr. Cartwright in town lately. Perhaps he’s gone over to check on the land that he’s interested in. Tom Duncan over at the Land Office might know.”
Ben raised an eyebrow. ‘Mr. Cartwright’, again!
The Sheriff introduced him to the land agent. “This is Mr. Cartwright’s father, Ben,” he said, unaware of the frown his words caused.
“I haven’t seen Mr. Cartwright since he paid me for the land. A real bargain, that ranch he’s bought,” Tom Duncan told his client’s father excitedly.
“How much did he pay for it?” Ben cut across the excited sales pitch.
“I can’t tell you that, sir. That’s his business.” Tom was a little shocked.
“I own The Ponderosa,” Ben informed him. “That’s Ponderosa money!”
Tom shook his head. “No, sir, I can tell you that I know the money was transferred out of Mr. Cartwright’s personal account. The land belongs to him, not to the Ponderosa.”
Ben stared at him. “Adam owns that ranch?” he asked, barely able to control his voice.
Ton nodded. “Yes, sir. I have to ride out to check on something for him. Would you like to come with me?”
“Yes, I’d like to go and see it,” Ben managed.
It was a fine little ranch. It was right on the edge of the river, and it looked prosperous and inviting in the afternoon sun. A thin curl of smoke wisped away from the comfortable little house.
“Ah, the Davies have settled in, I see,” Tom Duncan said. “Mrs Davies, I’d like you to meet Mr Cartwright’s father, Ben,” Duncan said when she answered his knock.
Ben pressed his lips together firmly. That expression was really beginning to grate on him.
“Adam has been so kind to us,” Mrs Davies said. “Letting us live here rent free and giving my Charlie a job. We really didn’t know which way to turn, since Rosie needs us just now. This is my daughter, Rosie.” She smiled as the pretty young woman sitting at the table rose, and Ben had to work hard to stifle a gasp. She was obviously pregnant.
“Yes, Rosie being in the family way at this time is very difficult. Adam is such a good boy. We’d be happy to have him in our family. You must be very proud of him.”
“er…yes….” Ben said, stunned. For a moment he didn’t know what to say. Was Adam the father of Rosie’s child? “Have you known Adam long?”
“We’ve known Adam for about five years,” Mrs Davies said, thinking the question was for her. “He’s always been helpful to us, and to Rosie.”
Ben glanced at Rosie sharply, to see how she responded to those words, but the serene smile on her face didn’t change. “I really like Adam. He has been so very considerate especially now.”
“Do you see Adam often?”
“Not often enough,” Mrs Davies replied. “The dear boy works so hard, but he always comes to see us whenever he is in Nevada City.”
Ben took the coffee Mrs Davies offered him with a smile as he tried to think of a way to ask the question consuming him, but there was no polite way to come straight out and ask. He had to leave with the question still unanswered.
Adam was up before dawn the next morning. He grabbed a quick breakfast with the hands in the bunkhouse and headed over to the corral to collect Thunder and be on his way. He swore softly and fluently under his breath as he stared at the gate swinging open and the dark shape of the horse on the other side of the field the corral led into.
“I’ve saddled your horse for you, Mr Cart…” Dave stopped, appalled, as he saw Thunder on the other side of the pasture. “I’m real sorry, I don’t know how that happened”, he babbled, apologising. “Please don’t tell Chet, else I’ll lose my job.” His obvious distress touched Adam, even irritated as he was by the setback.
“Never mind,” Adam sighed. “Just go get a couple of ropes and help me catch him. Otherwise I won’t get away till lunchtime.”
Adam’s prognosis was almost correct. Thunder was wily, and he didn’t want to be caught. Dave wasn’t much help either. Twice Adam managed to get close enough to the horse to lasso him, but Dave startled him, and the horse slipped by. Patient as Adam was, he was almost tempted to tell Dave to go away but relented when he saw the anxiety in his face. It was a long hour later before Adam could mount Sport, take up the stout leading rein that secured Thunder and be on his way.
Thunder didn’t like being on a leading rein and fought against it whenever he got a chance. So Adam wasn’t surprised when the horse’s tugging and lunging broke the leading rein. Before Adam could catch him, Thunder was gone with a swish of his tail and a shake of his beautiful mane. Adam could do nothing but track the horse. It was almost dark before he caught up to Thunder, standing head hanging, wearily drinking from the rushing waters of a small creek. As he came nearer, Thunder raised his head, listening, and took a couple of nervous steps, but then dipped his head down to the water again. Adam breathed a sigh of relief. He knew how easily spooked the horse was. He approached as quietly as he could, thankful for the time he’d spent as a youngster with Young Wolf. He’d learned a lot then, and he was finding those lessons as useful now as he had then.
Without giving Thunder a chance to get away, he sidled up to the horse and dropped the rope over his head. Thunder was not happy. He reared and lunged, trying to shake this irritating human off, but Adam wasn’t letting go. Pulling the lasso tight with one hand, he grabbed the horse’s headstall with the other, all the while talking in a soothing, gentle voice. Tired as he was, Thunder soon calmed, and Adam took him back to where he had left Sport. The time he’d wasted with Thunder today made it most unlikely that he’d get back in time for Hoss’ birthday, but he decided to try anyway. It was getting late, but he decided to at least get another few miles under his belt before they made camp. He began to regret that decision a while later. The rain began again, a slow drizzle at first, which seemed to get in every gap in his clothing. Then the wind picked up, and the slow drizzle turned into driving, soaking rain. It didn’t seem possible that he could be any colder, wetter or more miserable. They plodded on through the rain.
Morning came but brought little improvement in the weather. The rain stopped, but all that meant was they were no longer getting soaked. Adam pulled his coat around him tighter. The wind bit through him, and the horses plodded along, heads down, clearly as miserable as he was. Even ornery Thunder was too miserable to be ornery. The day passed in a kaleidoscope of cold rain, mud and weary horses. Towards late afternoon they topped a ridge some ten miles away from the ranch. As he approached the top of the rise, the wind dropped for a moment. He could see smoke from the ranch house in the distance.
“Not long, now, boys,” he told the horses, his spirits lifting just at the sight of his home. He snorted to himself. Home. No matter how annoying his father was, he could handle his father. The Ponderosa was his home. He wasn’t going to move out. Not yet, anyway, but he wasn’t going to tell Pa that without them clearing the air a little first. Sport danced a little where he stood, breaking into Adam’s reverie. He could smell home, and he didn’t want to wait.
“Ok, Sport,” he said, slapping the horse’s neck affectionately, “I don’t know what we’re hanging around here for anyway! Let’s go!”
Thunder picked up the mood and followed eagerly.
Ben decided he’d had enough unpleasant surprises for one day, but still they kept coming. On his return to Nevada City he went to withdraw some money from the Ponderosa account. It looked like he was going to be staying overnight, and he hadn’t brought much with him.
“I’d like to know the amount in my account, please,” he asked the young man behind the counter.
The teller glanced up disinterestedly. “The account name, please, sir?”
“ The Ponderosa account.”
“The Ponderosa account? Do you have a letter of authority from Mr Cartwright? I can’t give that information out to just anyone, sir,” he explained politely in response to the surprise on the other man’s face.
“What are you talking about? I am Mr Cartwright!”
“I’m sorry, sir, but I know Mr Cartwright, and you aren’t him,” the teller declared
Ben stood with his hands on his hips. “I am Ben Cartwright. I own the Ponderosa! How dare you stand there and tell me I need a letter of authority for my own account!”
The teller was embarrassed by this yelling, red-faced man. “I’m sorry, sir, but I only know Mr Adam Cartwright.” He stuck to his guns. “It’s the rules, sir,” he tried to placate Ben, at the same time wondering if this was a prelude to a robbery.
“Is John Henderson here?” Ben demanded. “Get him. He knows me.”
The teller debated for a moment between having this man thrown out and sending for Mr Henderson. Then he decided to err on the side of caution. If this man was who he said he was, there could be trouble otherwise.
“There’s a man outside who wants to look at the Ponderosa account, sir. He says he’s Mr Cartwright, but he’s not the Mr Cartwright I know. He says he knows you.”
“I’d better come out. If that voice is who I think it is….”
John Henderson came out, buttoning his jacket. “Ben! It is you! I am sorry for the mix-up, but Henry has only been with us for a few months. This is Mr Cartwright’s father, Ben,” Henderson said.
That expression, again! Henry apologised, but Ben waved the apology away. He was feeling much better now he’d met someone who actually knew him.
“You staying in town tonight? Join me at the Cattlemen’s Club for dinner,” Henderson said.
Ben accepted eagerly. He didn’t much like being “Mr Cartwright’s father.” He was, of course, immensely proud of Adam, but for over twenty years he had been “Mr Cartwright,” and he didn’t much like being relegated to the sidelines as he had been all day. The President’s invitation to join him at dinner was a balm to his wounded soul.
Ben tugged at his shirt collar uncomfortably as he waited in the imposing lobby of the Cattleman’s Club that evening. His work clothing was in stark contrast to the finery of the other men. Some of the well-dressed men frowned as they saw him, but most simply looked through him, their glance sliding over him as if he wasn’t there, seeing only his clothing, not him. It had been a long time since he had felt so invisible, so out of place. One of the men paused to speak to one of the club stewards with a brief nod towards Ben as he stood there. His embarrassment was complete as the servant approached him.
“Excuse me, sir,” the man said, “I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave. This is a private….”
He was interrupted by John Henderson. “It’s all right, Tonkins, Mr Cartwright is my guest.” He turned to his guest. “I’m so sorry, Ben. My business took me longer than I expected. Come inside and let me introduce you to some of the men.”
Ben’s embarrassment was betrayed only by a slight flush, and he smiled politely as John led him into the bar.
“I hadn’t thought about my clothing,” he said in apology.
John shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. You’re my guest.”
But it did matter, to Ben at least, who felt more and more self-conscious. John led Ben around the room, introducing him as he went. The men were polite but cool. He could hear the faint susurration of voices behind him, each quiet conversation stopping sharply as John introduced him to some of the more prosperous citizens of the town, then picking up as he moved on to the next group.
“You’re Adam Cartwright’s father?” he was asked repeatedly.
The surprise in their voices echoed the astonishment in their faces. The Cartwright they knew was an urbane gentleman who would never have come into the Club dressed like that, although, some of them admitted, he did have a presence. It was easy to see where Adam had inherited his poise. When John mentioned that he owned the Ponderosa their coolness faded further. It turned to real warmth as the conversations turned to Adam. Time and again the business community’s respect for Adam’s business acuity and moral standing; indeed, for Adam himself, became apparent in what they said. Ben tried hard not to wince each time he was introduced as ‘Adam’s father’, but he grew more and more irritated. Only his good manners prevented him from saying something. Good manners and more than a little embarrassment. He couldn’t stop thinking about the pregnant girl in the little house by the river. When John Henderson excused himself for a moment Ben stopped trying to put the thought out of his mind. He sat there turning the question of the child’s father over and over in his mind. How would these men, singing his son’s praises, react to that? He was still thinking about this when John Henderson slid back into his seat.
“Sorry I was so long, Ben,” he said cheerfully. “I was just talking to someone about that land Adam bought. That’s a fine piece of land,” he continued, buttering a bread roll. “It’s a good thing he’s doing for the Davies, too. Things were difficult for them when they first heard about Rosie.”
Ben flushed and looked down at his plate, not wishing to meet his friend’s eye. He wondered if all the men in this town were usually so cavalier about an unexpected pregnancy. Henderson didn’t notice his embarrassment and just kept talking.
“Her home was tied to her husband’s job. When he died, she had to move, and where else would a girl go except back to her parents? At least she’ll have the baby to remember him by. He was a good man, and she adored him. Adam offered the Davies the ranch to live on.”
Henderson kept talking, but Ben didn’t hear him. The words rolled around in his head “Her husband’s job!” Adam wasn’t the father! He felt like shouting to the rooftops with relief, but he didn’t.
“It sounds like just the thing Adam would do,” he said mildly, while all the time he had trouble keeping the grin off his face. The rest of the evening slipped by him. He didn’t know many people there and those he did only wanted to talk about Adam. Adam Cartwright wasn’t just Ben Cartwright’s boy, Adam, here. He was Adam Cartwright, businessman in his own right. An eye-opener indeed. If, no, he corrected himself firmly, when Adam came home he would do better, he promised silently.
“Happy birthday, Hoss!” Joe loved birthdays. It didn’t matter whose it was – he was always so excited by them. Adam had once said that he thought Joe enjoyed birthdays – anyone’s birthday – more than any other two people he knew; Hoss remembered, grinning, as he took the eagerly offered gift. Hoss took his time unwrapping it, watching Joe dancing with impatience out of the corner of his eye as he carefully took off the paper and folded it. Then he carefully folded back the inner wrap to show a beautiful new bridle adorned with silver conchos.
Joe could wait no more. “Do ya like it, Hoss?” he asked, his eyes sparkling.
“I shore do, shortshanks,” Hoss held it up to admire it. “Chubb’ll look real fine wearin’ that.”
Joe opened his mouth but the faintest shake of his father’s head stopped him from speaking. Hop Sing placed another platter on the table and paused to look at the gift.
“That very fine, Mr Hoss,” he said in his quiet way.
Ben handed his gift over. “Happy birthday, son,” he said. Hoss forbore to tease his father as he had teased Joe. He opened the package and drew out a fine pair of new chaps. The smell of new leather rose from them, adding to the more usual smells of the food that Hop Sing was bringing in to put on the table. Hoss sniffed appreciatively. He liked the smell of new leather. He liked the smell of good food too, and Hop Sing had gone to a lot of trouble for him today.
“Supper leddy, Mr Hoss. You eat special supper for birthday.” Hop Sing announced.
Hoss nodded, smiling at the cook.
“Thank you, Hop Sing, you sure done me proud today. I sure ain’t had food like this up in them mountains.”
Hop Sing beamed. “Mr Hoss eat good supper now. Happy birthday!” He bowed to Hoss and went back into his kitchen. The men took their seats. Adam’s chair was conspicuously empty.
Hoss’ eyes fixed on Adam’s empty chair, and he drooped. “No word from Adam, Pa?”
Ben shook his head. “I was sure he’d be here for your birthday,” he said, sadly. “Or even a wire, or a letter.” His shoulders sagged, and for the first time Hoss realised just how old his father was. Hoss was worried. It sure wasn’t like ol’ Adam to not even send word if he was going to be away, especially not on his birthday.
“I’m sure we’ll hear soon,” Hoss said, trying to ease his father’s mind. He didn’t care what it was that Adam had gone to get – he would have much preferred to have his older brother home with him to share the day. Not much of a birthday with his older brother missing and his father worried so. Perhaps if he’d been home earlier he could have helped, but he’d barely made it home for his birthday, himself. Hoss saw his father force a smile.
“I’m sure we will, son,” Ben said with obviously false cheeriness. “We’d better eat, or Hop Sing will threaten to go, and we can’t have that on your birthday!”
Hoss joined Joe in laughing at the old joke dutifully, but he wasn’t fooled.
They moved across to sit in front of the fire after the meal was finished. Ben offered both sons a brandy and then sat there silently as Hoss played a game of checkers with Joe in their never-ending competition. The only sounds to be heard were the occasional clack of a checker piece, the homely sounds of Hop Sing in the kitchen, and the wind as it rustled through the treetops. Ben’s sudden movement startled them all as he sat bolt upright, listening, then sank back into his chair, disappointment clear on his face.
“What is it, Pa?” Hoss asked.
“I thought I heard a horse,” Ben explained.
Hoss listened then shook his head. “I can’t hear….” He broke off what he was saying and listened again. There was something out there. The sound turned unmistakably into hoof beats. “I think you’re right, Pa. There is something.”
All three rushed out into the cold wind, not even stopping to grab a coat. The wind brought the sound of hoofbeats closer and they strained to see in the evening light. Adam rode into the yard, with Thunder behind him. He looked like a drowned rat, soaked from head to toe, even with his oilskins.
“It is Adam, Pa!” Joe yelled, jubilantly. “And he’s got it!”
“Got what?” Hoss wondered, but he didn’t stop to think about it. In front of his eyes, his father suddenly looked ten years younger.
“Adam! Son!” Ben exclaimed. “Where have you been? You’re soaked! Thank God you are all right!”
“You got it!” Joe yelled.
“I’m sure glad to see you safe!” Hoss glanced up at Thunder. “Shore is a fine looking horse ya got there,” he added.
Adam dismounted slowly, his movements showing his weariness. “I’m glad you like it, since it’s your birthday present. Happy birthday, Hoss.” He handed the rope to Hoss.
“Mine?” Hoss’ face was filled with pleasure. He looked at the horse, patting its neck and taking in every aspect. “He’s a beauty, all right. Where d’ya get it?”
“The Bar W, we’ve been planning this forever!” Joe told him.
“It’s a fine animal, but you coulda told us where you were,” Hoss scolded, too worried about his father to accept the gift properly. “We’ve been worried sick about ya.”
“It only takes four days to get there and back to Placerville,” Ben added. “And I wasn’t even sure you’d gone there.”
Adam stared at them both in surprise. “But I told you where I was. I sent a wire from Placerville. Do you mind if we go inside? I’m cold and wet, and I’ve been riding for days.”
“Of course,” said Ben. He reached as if to put his arm across Adam’s shoulders then dropped his arm again. Hoss watched them, hesitated a moment then thrust the reins of the horses into Joe’s hand and followed the other two men into the house.
Adam peeled off the wet coat and shirt and stood in front of the fire to get warm, rubbing his wet hair and drying off his wet chest with a towel that Hop Sing handed him. He pulled on a dry shirt and sat down to remove his boots.
“Ahh, that’s better, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be dry,” Adam said.
The cook brought out a tray of food and coffee, and Adam dug in eagerly.
Hoss waited till Adam had downed a cup of coffee and had started in on the food.
“We didn’t get a wire, Adam,” he told his brother. Pa was watching Adam as though he was half afraid he’d disappear while Adam started his meal.
Adam put his fork down. “You mean you didn’t know I had to go almost all the way to Sacramento to get Thunder?” Hoss shook his head.
Ben scrubbed at his face a moment. “I didn’t know if…if…you had gone to get the horse,” he said, delicately. “I didn’t know where you were or if you were coming back. You don’t usually take books with you for a few days on the trail. I…”
Ben stopped speaking suddenly. Hoss glanced across at him. He could tell from the look on Ben’s face there was something more their Pa wanted, or maybe needed, to say, but somehow the words just wouldn’t come.
Adam leaned back to see his father’s face properly. He blew out his breath.
“I won’t deny, Pa, that I was blazingly angry when I left. I did consider not coming home. But I decided that it wasn’t fair to Hoss not to get his gift or to you if I just took off in such an uncivilised fashion. So I decided I’d go and get the horse. I’m sorry you didn’t get the wire I sent from Placerville. Jim Swenson’s secretary was supposed to send it.”
“But you are stayin, ain’t ya, Adam?” Hoss asked. Now he knew what the problem was, although he had no idea how to fix it. This was something Adam and Pa had to fix for themselves.
Adam tilted his head on one side. “How old am I, Pa?”
Ben smiled a little. “You are thirty years old. Why?”
“What were you doing at thirty?”
“You know what I was doing. I was travelling west with one extremely inquisitive small boy.”
Hoss once again showed the uncanny perception that so often surprised his family. He looked from one to the other. “There weren’t no one around to tell you what to do, huh, Pa?” he said, getting to the heart of the matter.
There was a very long silence. Ben stared first at Hoss and then at Adam. He nodded slowly. “You’re right, Hoss.” He turned to Adam. “All right, son. I take your point. You are a grown man, and I should try to remember to treat you as such.”
Adam grinned at him. “That’s it, Pa. I just want you to remember I’m not Joe’s age anymore.”
“You’ll always be my son, Adam,” Ben pointed out.
Adam laughed. “True, and I’m proud of that. But I want you to remember I am no longer a boy.” He rose and crossed the room to his father’s side. “I wouldn’t move out without telling you, Pa. You should know me better than that.” His voice was gentle. He rested his hands on his father’s. “I promise you, Pa, if ever I do go, I will tell you first.” He squeezed his father’s hand briefly.
The door banged. “What did you do to those horses, Adam? It took me forever to clean ‘em up…” He stopped as he took in his oldest brother kneeling by his father’s side.
“What’s goin’ on here? How come I always get to do chores while you discuss things? You never tell me anything! I wish you’d all stop treating me as a kid!” he grumbled in disgust as he flung himself down onto the settee.
“Joseph! Don’t put your muddy feet all over the furniture!” Ben barked.
“We’re not treating you as a kid, shortshanks,” Hoss said. “It’s just something Pa and Adam had to discuss. And it is my birthday, an’ I want some o’ that pie Hop Sing made. Hop Sing!” he yelled. “You wanna bring some o’ that pie in?”
Hop Sing brought in the pie and a birthday cake. “I keep till Mr Adam come. Know Mr Hoss want to celebrate with brother,” he said, handing out plates and cups. The clatter of china made them all relax, easing whatever tension and emotion that was left.
The cake was almost all finished when Ben put his plate down on the table with a decisive snap.
“Adam?” The tone was questioning, but a little nervous. Adam looked up quizzically.
“I went to Nevada City while you were away. I wasn’t prying,” he added hastily. “I just wanted to see if you were there. You seem to have made quite an impression.” He paused, uncomfortable. “I found out about that land, that ranch you bought. I met the Davies.”
How did you find out about that? I suppose Tom told you. He has a big mouth! I thought it would be useful for the timber operation. I was planning to hire a new manager for the Nevada City end of things, then when I heard how hard things were for the Davies, I thought Charlie would do for it. He knows about timber, and with the grandchild to support, I knew they could do with the money. And before you ask, I used my money because I’m going to be using that land for some deals of my own, so I didn’t think it right to use Ponderosa money.”
Ben smiled tentatively and a little shamefaced.
Adam was momentarily puzzled by his father’s embarrassment. “You can go where you like, Pa,” he said, “and I appreciate that you cared enough to look for me.” Then he realised the cause of his father’s embarrassment. “Rosie’s a wonderful girl,” he said, a touch of malice in his voice. Ben glared at him, the colour rising in his cheeks. Adam took pity on him. “Did you enjoy your visit to Nevada City?”
“Mostly,” Ben said, then he grinned. “I can’t say that I much enjoyed being introduced as “Mr Cartwright’s father. Made me feel old.”
“But you are my father.” Adam’s lips twitched. “How else should people introduce you?”
“Oh, finish your supper,” Ben said, crossly, but Adam could see the smile lurking in his father’s eyes. He grinned back, ate his last bit of cake and sat back.
“It’s good to be home,” he sighed.