SUMMARY: My entry for the Ancestry Challenge. Ben has had three wives and they all had relatives, many of whom he never knew. One shows up with a selfish ulterior motive focused on one son.
Rating = T Word count = 8308
Tired and irritated, Hoss rode into town in search of his brother. Guessing a saloon was the place to look, it took only three tries to find the right one. The bartender guessed his purpose as soon as he walked in the door and jerked his head slightly to the left. There in the back sitting at a table with a bottle in front of him, his brother saw him come in but didn’t react. Pulling out a chair, Hoss waited for a reaction and got none.
“Ya left us with a lot of extra work takin’ off like ya did.”
No response except for a slight upturn of the lips on one side showed the lack of concern for that.
“We was worried about ya too. I ain’t even had my dinner.”
“Feel free to go to any restaurant in town. As you can see, I’m fine and in no mood to talk.”
“Nah, all you’re in the mood to do is pout ’cause ya didn’t get your way again. We’re a family, ya know, and we ain’t always got ta do what you want.”
“Always? How about never. My ideas get voted down every time or vetoed outright by Pa. Maybe I should stop thinking altogether for all the good it does me. Probably none of you would even notice.”
“Now, Adam, that ain’t true. We done a lot of things the way you want.”
“We redid the way the mill was set up.”
“That was four years ago.”
“Pa let us build some windmills to bring up more water in the pastures.”
“That was three years ago.”
“Well, you rebuilt one of the line shacks.”
“Two years ago and that was hardly a great accomplishment as the roof was three fourths collapsed. Any idea I have about reorganizing anything on the ranch hasn’t been considered at all.”
“We considered ’em. Maybe we didn’t like ’em.”
“Because they were a change. Pa doesn’t like change, and you and Joe are just as happy to indulge him in that. If I suggest something that’s more efficient or cost effective, I know it won’t happen just like trying to reorganize the round-up. All I hear is that we can’t because we’ve always done it one way.”
“Ya don’t know it will be better.”
“You don’t know it won’t.”
“Maybe, but does sitting here drinking whiskey and letting us do your work help anything?”
“It’s better than what would have happened if I stayed after what Pa said to me.”
Hoss paused then instead of saying what he had meant to say. “What did Pa say?”
After downing what was left in his glass, Adam poured another and pushed the bottle toward Hoss. “He said it was his ranch and I needed to remember that. He said he couldn’t let me start making decisions because it would make things difficult with you and Joe. Apparently, I don’t have any more influence than either of you even if I’m older, went to school to get an education, and have been working the ranch longer. None of that matters. All that matters to Pa is that we’re brothers so we’re equal in his eyes.”
“Well ain’t that how it ought to be?”
Quirking up an eyebrow, Adam smirked but not in a way that showed any humor. Shaking his head slightly, he sipped the whiskey before answering. “When you’re my age, and you’re still one of Pa’s ‘boys’, then we’ll see if you think the same way.”
Knowing there was no way he was going to either change Adam’s mind on anything on this topic nor able to match him point by point in an argument based on logic, Hoss used one of Adam’s best techniques. He distracted. “One thing I’ll always take your advice on and that’s on whiskey. This here firewater is sum of the best I ever had.”
Smirking again, Adam warmed to the topic. “It’s not the rotgut you usually drink. I bought one of the sealed bottles from behind the bar. It costs three times as much but doesn’t burn all the way down or make your stomach churn the next day.”
“This is as good as that stuff Pa buys, but he’s a lot more stingy with his. He only ever brings it out when we have guests. Ain’t had any lately.”
“So, you would rather twaddle on about what we drink than to talk about anything serious?”
“Seems about the same to me.”
“So, this is twaddle and that was brabble. I guess that tells me more than I want to know. What I think is important isn’t seen that way by anyone else in the family if you don’t see it that way either.”
“It ain’t that so much as I see other things as being a whole lot more important. I kin put up with a lot ifn I got the love of my family, a good home, good friends, and a feeling of being safe.” Hoss snickered then causing Adam to frown in consternation amusing his younger brother even more. He relented finally explaining the snicker. “Ya have ta go ta that college to learn them words like twaddle and brabble?”
Rolling his eyes, Adam corked the whiskey bottle. “I know why Pa doesn’t bring out the good whiskey when you’re around. Let’s go home so I can face the music and we can still have dinner.”
“May not rest easy on the gut after Pa gets done talking.”
“Doesn’t matter much lately.”
For the first time, Hoss got the impression that Adam’s mood wasn’t based on what had happened that day and might be the culmination of what had been happening for months if not for years. At least he had gotten him to agree to go home instead of getting drunk in town. Even if that was a step in the right direction as far as he was concerned, he wasn’t at all sure he was going to feel that way if his father and Adam began butting heads again. Nobody ever knew how that was going to turn out.
However, on the Ponderosa, Ben Cartwright was reevaluating the words he had used in anger when he had talked with his eldest son and knew he had overreacted and made a bad situation far worse by how he had phrased his responses. Surprised by Adam’s anger, he had reacted emotionally and fallen back on old words he knew caused resentment. Unfortunately, he knew he had been making that same mistake repeatedly for months if not years, and to make things worse, it wasn’t even how he felt although he would have a difficult time convincing his son of that. Every time Adam challenged his authority, he reacted with anger as if his son was a boy and not a man. It validated the very argument his son was making, and yet he had yet to accept that conclusion verbally. He knew the reason was because it would mean an examination of his motives and his means of operation.
After so many years of doing things the way he wanted to do them, the idea of running the ranch by committee went against his gut feeling of how the ranch should be run. Yet, he had three sons who were men, and he still treated them as boys. Joe at twenty-three wasn’t yet old enough to consider that as a major issue, but Ben knew that in time, his personality would lead him to want more independence and responsibility too. Although Hoss might not forcefully push for change, he also would likely welcome it. However, the first who demanded it was Adam, and he wasn’t willing to let his father do this gradually because in his mind, he had waited long enough. At least, based on their conversations so far, that was the conclusion Ben had drawn. He was at a loss as to how to proceed at this point but knew he had to do something because he was well aware that Adam had other options, and he worried about what those were. Keeping his family together was more important to him than his ranch, but somehow he had to keep that perspective even when he lost his temper. It wasn’t going to be easy after the history of arguing with the oldest of his sons.
When Hoss and Adam arrived home, neither rushed through the care of their horses even though they knew they were a bit late for dinner. The prospect of their angry father and the explosion of his temper both thought was inevitable caused them to walk to the house with some trepidation although Adam wasn’t in a mood to back down at all. Ben’s cordial if somewhat cool reception of the two of them surprised them as well as Joe and Hop Sing. The inexplicable response was such a shock to Hop Sing that he didn’t even remember to remonstrate the two oldest sons for forcing him to delay serving dinner. Dinner conversation was muted but otherwise about fairly normal things with no mention of the earlier argument between father and son nor Adam’s desertion and his time in town.
After dinner, with Hoss and Joe playing checkers, there wasn’t a way for Ben and Adam to talk and it was still probably too soon. Later, when Ben was retiring for the night, he thought he ought to stop in to see Adam and at least make an effort to set a time for them to talk. The first thing he saw after knocking and then entering after hearing Adam’s call to come in was the half bottle of good whiskey sitting on Adam’s night stand. His initial reaction was to look to see if it was one of his and saw Adam’s smirk at his behavior. Shrugging, all he could say the habits of fatherhood didn’t go away easily.
“We need to talk and not argue. That would probably be best accomplished if we set a time to talk and not expect it to happen the next time we have a disagreement as we did at the roundup today.”
“I can agree with that.”
“Tomorrow morning, let’s have Hoss and Joe handle the roundup so we can talk.”
“Thank you.” With a slight smile, Adam had a small warning though. “Hoss and Joe may resent that.”
Ben inclined his head toward the whiskey bottle. “Let them know you’re willing to share. That will go a long way to making any resentment disappear.”
Although Adam thought he would sleep well with some expectation that his father might be accommodating, sleep was elusive. So many times, he had given in and let his dreams die so his father’s dream could be accomplished that he worried that he might be persuaded again to concede. So, part of his night was spent convincing himself that he would not do that again. He was determined that this time he was going to get concessions or he was going to leave. Heading out to seek his own dreams had been on his mind for years, but loyalty to his family and the feeling of guilt over even the thought of leaving had stopped him. He was determined that this time it wouldn’t happen. In the morning, Ben thought he saw a difference in Adam’s demeanor compared to other times they had talked or rather argued about this type of thing. Concerned about what that could mean, he could draw only one conclusion but first had to break the news to his younger sons of what he had planned to do.
“So, he runs off to town to take a day off, and as a reward, he gets more time off?”
After Joe’s outburst, Hoss stayed quiet waiting to see what his father had to say.
“We’ll be out to work as soon as we’re done here.”
Adam interjected there something Joe was more willing to accept. “I brought a bottle back from town yesterday. It’s half full and we can share it tonight.” Joe brightened a little at that prospect.
Hoss helped. “It’s the good stuff not rotgut. He bought a sealed bottle from behind the bar.”
“Well then, as long as there’s some good stuff for payback, I’m good.”
Adam was surprised. “That’s all it takes.”
“It’s the good stuff. It’s free, and I don’t have to ride to town to get it. It’ll do as long as you don’t make this a habit.” Joe grinned to let the others know he meant it. He was over being mad.
Having Joe and Hoss accept the situation with such good humor helped Adam be in a more receptive mood by the time they left and he and Ben were left alone to talk. It helped too that his father had been awake much of the night too thinking about how the situation with his oldest son might have changed. Evaluating his son’s mood correctly, his first question caught Adam off guard.
“What can I do to convince you to stay?”
“You’re not going to like my answer.”
“I knew when I asked the question that I wasn’t going to like the answer.”
With his chin out showing that his answer was going to be defiant, Adam answered. “I want my independence. I don’t want to be treated as an employee or a boy to be second-guessed or questioned about every decision.”
Ben had a similar look when he answered. “This is still my ranch and my responsibility to see that things are done correctly.”
“There it is. It’s ‘your’ ranch. It’s the position you always fall back to. And when you say ‘correctly’, you mean your way. I don’t have anything here then.”
“That’s nonsense. This is all for you boys. You’ll have all of it someday.”
“There’s a lot wrong with what you just said. There was no respect there for my ideas. You see us as ‘boys’ which means inherently you don’t see us as capable. And when will it be ours, Pa? When we’re your age? And we’ll still be doing it your way. That’s not my life. It’s yours.”
“Do we have an impasse here?”
“Maybe we do unless something changes.”
“And by that, you want me to change.”
Clearly Adam did. He said nothing but his stance and his look confirmed what his father had said. Further conversation was ended by a knock on the door. Not expecting any guest, Adam picked up his pistol before answering the door. The man who was there looked back at him and the two stared at each other with one thinking he was seeing himself as a young man and the other wondering if he was seeing himself the way he would look in thirty years.
Wondering why Adam said nothing after opening the door, Ben approached cautiously and saw a man slightly taller than himself but shorter than Adam. He had curly hair that was mostly gray but was bald on top. Although bearded, his dimples showed as he smiled and the twinkle in the hazel eyes offset what could have been a fierce look with the thick dark eyebrows. The man was barrel chested and muscular that was clear even though he was well dressed. He grinned at Adam and then looked to Ben who knew who he had to be.
A rich baritone voice greeted him. “I’d heard you were a smart one. Yes, it’s me though I haven’t used that name in a long time. People call me Rett.”
Looking back at his father, Adam clearly wanted to know who Rett was.
Focusing on Adam, Ben addressed him even if their guest was there to hear it all. “Son, this is Everett Stoddard, Elizabeth’s brother, my brother-in-law, and your uncle. I never met him before, but I heard a lot about him. I had thought he was dead. At least that is what I was led to believe by your grandfather.”
“Why wasn’t I told about him?”
“I didn’t think it was important. I haven’t told you about members of Elizabeth’s family that I never met especially if I thought they were deceased. I know only that Everett ran away from home and wasn’t heard from again.” Seeing Rett staring at them, Ben knew he had to change the tenor of the conversation. “We can discuss this later. We have a guest. Please, Rett, come inside. I’m sure you have quite a story to tell.”
“I surely would like to do that.”
Once settled in a chair by the fireplace with Adam’s full attention, Rett smiled and began to talk pointedly ignoring the earlier comment Ben had made about him running away from home. “Adam, my boy, I’m sorry I never met you before today, but you weren’t in Boston when I returned and father was already gone. I heard the story of what had happened and had no idea where you and your father were by that time. I was on a ship and only had a few weeks. I’ve lived in a number of places since then and haven’t been back here to the country except to eastern ports of call for all these years and not to any of them for the past fifteen years.”
“Where have you been?”
“Oh, I’ve traveled to Europe and down to South American countries. I lived in Australia for a time and even briefly in China, but then I settled in the Sandwich Islands about ten years ago with a bunch of other Americans. We’ve built ourselves a nice little economy there and trade has developed very well too, enough so I could make this trip at long last. I’ve been thinking of making this trek for many years ever since I got a copy of a San Francisco newspaper and read an account of your family here in Virginia City and building this empire. I wanted to meet you. You’re the only family I have left.”
“How long can you stay?” Adam pointedly ignored the reference to empire not wishing to get into a discussion of the family business. Although this man was his uncle, they didn’t know enough about him nor of his motives.
“As long as you want or until winter comes. I no longer have any desire to experience a cold winter here.”
“Good because my brothers are expecting us to come to help them. Would you like to ride along?”
“Of course, I would. What are they doing? How many brothers do you have?”
As Ben and Adam made preparations to go and then on the ride out to the herd gathered for the drive, Adam answered Rett’s questions filling him in on what amounted to a short history of the family. Once they reached the herd, Adam introduced Rett to Hoss and Joe who immediately took a liking to the charming man who showed intense interest in what the men were doing and asked what he could do to help.
“You kin help old Adam here ifn ya wanted ta do some good. He’s fallen behind on the job and could use a bit of help.”
Rolling his eyes, Adam simply asked Hoss what areas still needed to be checked. He got the list and told Rett they would be busy for the rest of the day and probably the next day too. For hours, they were busy looking in deep canyons and into brush choked ravines looking for cattle who had gotten separated from the main herd. During their work, they found the old remains of a number of calves and then came on a relatively fresh one. After examining the ground around the dead animal, Adam pulled his rifle and kept it in his hands when he mounted up causing Rett to question him about that.
“There are cougar tracks around that old carcass. They’re at least several days old, but that cat could still be in the area.” Adam paused and then had to ask. “How good a shot are you?”
“Not fast but pretty accurate if I have the time.”
“Those cats don’t usually come at you straight on. Most often, they like to ambush their target so you won’t have much time. Should I take you back to camp?”
Although Rett looked nervous, he shook his head. After another hour of searching, they found another dead calf and this was a fresh kill. On high alert, Adam’s eyes examined the area all around them for any sign the cat was near.
“Is it here?”
“I can’t see it, but I can smell it. It’s here. We need to leave and get back to camp.”
“We’re going to run? There’s two of us against it.”
“The sun’s going down. In a half hour, the advantage goes to the cat. We’ll get help and come back for it tomorrow.”
When Adam got back to the roundup without calves, Hoss and Joe were both ready with jibes, but Adam’s serious demeanor in response made them pause.
“The only calves we found were dead. There’s a cougar up in that area and it’s killing calves and it looks like it’s been doing it that for a while. There are lots of carcasses, some are quite old, and one is a fresh kill.”
“We going on a hunt tomorrow?” Joe nodded when he got Adam’s positive response.
With that, they found their father and gave him the news. He agreed with their plan and warned them to be careful making Rett laugh.
“Ben, have you noticed your sons have grown up. I don’t think I’ve ever met three more formidable men. They’re quite intimidating especially together.”
Somewhat irritated, Ben was short in his answer. “Of course, I noticed. They’re my sons so I have a right to worry about them.”
Rett quirked up one eyebrow in the exact manner that Adam did. Joe pointed and laughed making Hoss talk about the similarity. Rett and Adam chuckled a little while Ben’s irritation lingered. That evening, after spotting Adam’s guitar, Rett asked who played. Soon uncle and nephew were singing together with Hoss and Joe as an off-key addition with Rett’s encouragement. Ben declined to participate. In between songs, Rett entertained the brothers with stories of the beautiful women of the Sandwich Islands and how they often paraded about wearing only a skirt. Adam had retrieved the bottle of whiskey from his room and shared that loosening up all their inhibitions.
“Ya mean their top parts is there for anybody to see?” Hoss was amazed but still smacked his lips in appreciation of the sight that would be.
Adam and Joe laughed at Hoss’ antics.
“Yes, indeed, that’s exactly it. In fact, it’s the only thing I hold against the Christian missionaries there. They keep telling the women who convert that it’s a sin to walk about like that and make them cover up.”
Again, the brothers were laughing. There were quite a few laughs before Rett ran out of stories and commentary. After all the fun stories and singing, it was late, but Adam had one last question.
“Why did you leave your family and Boston behind?”
“Oh, my man, you don’t pull your punches none, do you?” Rett looked at Ben who finally had a reason to smile but only briefly as Rett’s words created an explosive atmosphere. “It was a gilded cage. I needed more than being my father’s son, taking his orders, and living his dream.”
Silence met that statement, and Rett had no idea why that was so but guessed he had inadvertently hit a nerve somehow. To avoid any trouble, he had a suggestion. “I’m quite tired after such a long day. I hope you won’t consider me an unappreciative guest, but I surely could use some time to sleep and recover from all that has happened today. I’d like to go along when you hunt that cat tomorrow. I think I could be some help.”
Not only was his suggestion accepted, but Adam said about the same thing about needing some rest and offered to show Rett to a guest bedroom. Hoss and Joe said they would be up soon too. Within a half hour, all five were in their bedrooms with only some serious thoughts for companions. The one who struggled the most that night with finding peace was Ben who wondered if Rett was going to stir his eldest son’s wanderlust and encourage his dissatisfaction with living on the Ponderosa. If that was the case, there was a strong chance that Adam would be leaving when Rett left. Ben was already at an impasse with his son and spent much of the night wondering how much he could change and how much change his younger sons would tolerate too.
At breakfast, the conversation between Rett and Adam centered on the art and architecture that Rett had seen and that Adam had read about in books. The conversation moved from Rett’s trip to France to those he made to Italy, Brazil, Argentina, India, and China. Rett had stopped in Adam’s room that morning and seen some of his drawings and been impressed by them. The more they talked, the more enthusiastic Rett became about his nephew’s prospects in the world.
“You have a bright future. Where I live now, there’s a lot of potential that could be tapped by someone with your skills. I predict that someday this country will take it over. The economy there is already dominated by Americans and shipping a large amount of goods to this country.”
“What about the native population?”
“Sadly, they’re a weak lot, prone to diseases like leprosy. They won’t last long except those strong enough. It’s not like here where they’re killed although the treatment of the lepers is barbaric. I can’t say I’m proud of how the Americans there act in that case, but they’re afraid of the disease spreading.”
“Why don’t you do something to change it then?”
“I’m one against many and not one of the more powerful men there. It’s not killing them or doing the kinds of things that are done to Negroes in the South and the terrible things done to the aborigines in Australia. Those things, if I told you about them, would make you ill.”
With the discussion about to get into some serious topics and likely to distract from the task of the day, Ben decided it was time to intervene. “Perhaps if you’re going to talk about the tragedies of past and present, you should wait until you have more time. Now you need to use the daylight you have to find that cougar. I don’t want you out there looking yet when the sun begins to drop.”
Some indulgent responses from his sons delivered in good humor greeted his statement but got them busy with preparations. As they checked over the items they needed and made sure the firearms they were taking were in good working condition, Adam emphasized to Rett that he needed to follow their instructions.
“Uncle, I know you’re older, but we’ve hunted these cats in these hills and mountains and know how they’re likely to act and what they might do next. They’re far more dangerous than they look and the most cunning animal you could likely imagine. We’ll need to watch our backs at all times.”
“It’s only an animal, Adam, not some mythical beast with legendary powers.”
“No, but a healthy respect for the skills it has will help keep all of us alive.”
After Adam walked out with Rett to help him get a horse from the corral, Ben walked up to Joe and Hoss as they finished packing up ammunition. “Rett’s attitude makes me nervous. Don’t let him distract any of you too much today.”
“Dontcha worry none, Pa. We know how ta hunt a big cat.”
“I only want you to remember that the cougar knows how to hunt too.”
It was a sobering thought that made Hoss and Joe quiet and serious as they left the house. It didn’t take long though for Rett to have them laughing again with stories of his exploits. It was an hour later that Adam suggested to Rett that it was time to be quiet and time to go into hunting mode. Another dead calf with the blood still wet let them know a short time later that the cat was close. The cow was nearby and bearing some scratches showing it had tried to defend its calf but had failed to save it.
Before they moved on to hunt the cat, Hoss checked the prints the cat had left as Adam and Joe kept watch. Hoss looked at the prints and used his fingers to probe the prints as well. Finally, he stood and offered his opinion of what had driven the cat to kill.
“It’s about what we figured, Adam. It’s got a weak leg. Probably it’s an old cat, and she can’t get no regular game no more. She’s hunting calves ’cause they’re easy. She ain’t even fighting the coyotes or others that come to eat what’s left after she takes her first meal.”
Always a planner, Adam began to put together methodical steps they should take. “She ate recently so she’s probably sleeping. We might be able to spot her and get close. Let’s work our way around here and look for her. When we do, we can advance from two angles. We’ll work in pairs and get as close as possible before anyone takes a shot.”
“Adam, let’s use hand signals to decide who’s got the best shot and should shoot first.”
“That’s a good idea, Joe.” For Rett’s benefit, Adam explained further. “With hand signals, we won’t wake the cat, and we’ve used them before so we can communicate quickly.”
“I guess it was a good idea I came along so you could have two pairs for this part of the hunt.”
Hoss and Joe said nothing but rolled their eyes a bit when Rett turned away to look out over the ravine. They would have taken one of the other hands if he had not wanted to come, and both were thinking that perhaps it would have been a better idea to do that.
“Adam, maybe me and Joe should follow the tracks, and you and Rett take the flank position.”
With only a nod, Adam agreed and told Rett which way to go as Hoss mounted up to follow the direction the tracks had gone. Adam and Rett would keep Hoss and Joe in sight as they watched for the cat which was assumed to be sleeping. Rett couldn’t wait though for the question burning inside of him.
“Shouldn’t you be in the lead? Why did you get pushed aside like this? Don’t you resent the way he talked to you?”
“Hoss is a bit better at tracking than I am, and Joe is an experienced hunter. It made more sense for them to take the lead.”
After only a brief moment of thought, Rett understood the implication. “So, I’m the albatross.”
“No, but you are the least experienced, and the least experienced is the one who ends up on the flank. Now we need to be quiet and keep a watch on my brothers and a lookout for that cat.”
Moving slowly and deliberately for the next few hours, they covered a lot of territory and didn’t see the cat anywhere. Hoss suggested that perhaps they ought to look toward a stand of pines to the side where the cat might have sought cover. Approaching cautiously in a line four across, they looked across at the others frequently to make sure that they stayed even with each other. Feeling protective of his uncle, Adam also was pleased to have him there. Halting all of them, Hoss signaled when he saw the cat. He motioned with his hand to Adam that Joe was going in on foot to get a better shot. Hoss had his rifle in hand and Adam moved slightly forward until he too saw the tawny color of the cat up in a tree. Following his signals, Rett moved forward too until he too saw the color of the animal as it had been described to him. He thought Joe foolhardy to advance on foot and wondered at how calm Joe appeared as he moved toward the cat’s position. Drawing his rifle, Rett aimed at the cat. When Joe neared the cat and the cat moved, Rett fired.
Cornered and wounded, the cat charged Joe. Neither Hoss nor Adam had a shot at that point and raced in the direction Joe had taken. Another shot was fired, and when they got to Joe, he had blood on him but was standing. The older brothers were relieved, angry, frustrated, and unable to express how they felt. All they could do was care for Joe and watch for the dangerous cat which had run off.
“Are you hurt?” Hoss asked as Adam was examining their little brother looking him over carefully. Hoss knew Adam would do well to find any damage.
“A little, mostly some scratches. Damn cat jumped me, but hurt like that, I was able to club it with my rifle and make it back off. I shot at it as it ran, but I missed because of the brush.”
Concerned because of the scratches that were bleeding, Adam pronounced what had to happen next. His hands were sure and his voice was strong enough even if everything inside of him was in turmoil. “We have to get you home. You know how badly scratches like these can fester. You could get an infection in your arm or get a blood infection. I’ve got a small amount of whiskey in my saddlebag but you need more than that.”
“Who fired that shot?” Joe thought he knew though.
Hoss’ silence and Adam’s look confirmed what Joe had assumed. Rett got there about that time.
“Good! I wounded it enough so it didn’t kill you.”
With that Joe exploded. “Good? You caused this to happen, you fool. I was almost close enough to shoot it in the head and kill it. You wounded it. Now it won’t be killing calves. Now it will look for weaker targets, and there’s a Paiute camp near here.”
“Well, at least no white families live up here, and your herd is safe now.”
“Hoss, we better get me home before Roy has to get involved in this.”
“Joe, I was thinkin’ ’bout the same thing. I got a sudden urge to take justice inta ma own hands.”
“Everyone shut up until I can get these scratches tended to. We can talk, not argue, once that’s done.”
Because Adam’s tone left no room for argument, there was silence as he took care of Joe. It pained Adam to pour alcohol directly into the damaged skin on Joe’s arms and chest, but he knew it was necessary. He did his best to dab away the offending liquid after it had done its work because he saw how it had made his youngest brother suffer. Behind him, he heard Hoss breathing hard and knew that Hoss was experiencing the same reactions. When he finished, Joe was clenching his teeth, and Hoss helped him stand.
“Mebbe it would be best ifn I was ta jest take our little brother home for Hop Sing ta take care of them scratches. He usually has some salve or such to take the sting outta such things.”
“A good idea. I’ll stay here and handle things.”
Hoss tipped his hat. “I don’t reckon I begrudge ya that job.”
After Joe and Hoss left, Rett turned to Adam. “Your younger brothers lack a sense of gratitude and respect for their elders.”
Unwilling to be completely honest and giving his uncle as much leeway as he could manage, Adam took a moment before answering. “What you did could have led to that cat killing Joe. You didn’t do what you were told and work as part of the team. Your action could have cost me a brother and did hurt him. We value Paiute lives as much as white lives. Leaving that cat alive puts their lives at risk. We won’t accept that.”
Shocked to have the much younger man speak to him in that manner lecturing him and admonishing him, Rett’s first instinct was to lash out, but his long-term plans would be ruined if he did. He decided on a more prudent plan. “I am sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing. I will do what you say from now on. What do we do next?”
“We’ve only got a short time, but the cat is old, hurt, and wounded. We need to find it and kill it. The bad part is that it may be as dangerous as it could be because of those factors. It will be desperate.”
Going to Sport, Adam mounted up and pulled his rifle.
“How are you at firing from the saddle?”
“I’ve never done it.”
“Then don’t try. If we get in a position where you can take a shot, get down, steady your rifle on something, and then fire.”
Although Rett once more resented getting instructions, he followed them, and the strategy worked. They followed the blood trail until they got to a grassy area. Adam veered off then and rode to higher ground. Rett stayed quiet even as he wondered why they were doing that. At the top of the rise, Adam watched over the valley and raised his rifle to fire. Rett dismounted and tried to see what Adam saw. At first he had no idea what it was but then saw it. Some of the grass was obviously knocked down. Adam fired into that as Rett steadied his rifle. The cat jumped up not hit but startled. Rett fired again hitting the cat once more. It started to run so Adam followed and took two more shots as he rode. The cat went down and stayed down. Riding down the hill toward the cat, Adam was joined by Rett who was amazed by the show of shooting skill he had seen.
“I had no idea you could shoot so well.”
“It’s necessary out here. You should have trusted us back there. This could have been over without Joe being hurt. Now, hold the horses. I’m going to make sure it’s dead and then the skin for Joe. He’ll like having the souvenir.”
Swallowing the resentment that boiled inside of him at taking those orders, Rett did his best to be conciliatory. “Probably make those scratches hurt less.”
“Now you’re getting it.”
After rolling up the skin, Adam mounted up and turned toward home. They arrived well after dusk and were met by Ben who was obviously relieved they were safe. His stern look when he looked at Rett though made it clear that Hoss and Joe had told him the whole story of the hunt. Noticing that, Adam explained.
“Pa, I took care of it. You can tell Joe we got the cat, and I’ll stretch the skin out back before I come in.”
“Thank you, son.”
As Ben turned to leave, Rett moved to walk with him.
“I’ll go inside and apologize again. There’s a lot I don’t understand out here, but Adam set me straight.” Once in the house, Rett sounded sincere. “I am not a stupid man, but I can be pretty ignorant sometimes. Today was one of those times. However, ignorance can be cured with some education, and Adam started me off with a few lectures today. I do apologize for my ignorant actions and the harm it caused. I promise to try not to be so obtuse in the future.”
“Thick as a boulder, Hoss.”
“Oh, yeah, that would be good.”
With the cougar issue resolved, the roundup continued. At night and during breaks, Adam and Rett shared stories and often were singing together or discussing literature or architecture. The rest of the family couldn’t miss the growing relationship between the two. The weekend before the cattle drive was due to begin, there were two important conversations that took place. The first one was when Rett asked Adam to travel with him back to the Sandwich Islands to become first part of his business empire there and eventually to carve out his own niche in the economy of the islands. It pleased Adam to hear his uncle speak so highly of him and have such confidence in his abilities.
There was only a short time for Rett to do his best to influence Adam, and he did his ‘darndest’ to do just that as Hoss would complain when talking to Joe or his father. It was clear to the whole family what Rett wanted as he extolled the virtues of travel and adventure, told stories of the many exciting experiences he had had, and in particular made a point of how he could use all of his talents and creativity building an estate of some value in a wide-open place like the Sandwich Islands. It was one day before the drive was to begin when he made his open pitch to Adam.
“So, you’re going to go off and spend three weeks riding with cows and breathing in dust again, are you?”
“It’s part of what a rancher does.”
“It’s not something you have to do. Your brothers seem to enjoy this life, but I sense in you a dissatisfaction with being only a rancher. You want to be more. I’m right about that, aren’t I?”
“You are.” Adam waited rather expecting what he heard next but not willing to make it easy for him by predicting it as if he was preparing for it.
As they stood on the porch after dinner, Rett made his pitch. “Adam, I want you to come with me. I want you to work with me as a partner in my enterprises in the Sandwich Islands. I have no heir except you. It would all be yours someday, but not like here. You could find your own way too and take on your own work and set up your own business or even more than one if you wanted. The whole economy there is growing and wide open with opportunity for growth and development. A talented, intelligent, educated man like you would have others begging you to do work for them. I want you there with me. It’s not like you would be so far away that you couldn’t visit with your family here or have them visit you. Ships go back and forth to San Francisco on a regular schedule, so what say you? You must have guessed I would ask you this.”
By the way Adam began his answer, Rett knew he had lost. “Uncle Rett, I thank you for the offer. It is generous beyond compare, and I am touched to the core that you would make such an offer to a nephew you hardly know, but I cannot accept. I need to make my way in this world on my own. Going from one gilded cage to another is not how I see myself leaving here.”
“I suppose what is freedom to one could be a gilded cage to another.”
“Yes, you already have plans and ideas. Again, I would be constrained by them and looking to the future for my own chances. It wouldn’t work.”
“I am truly sorry you feel that way. I’ll be packing and leaving. I guess you knew that was coming too. Ben isn’t that happy with me here. Seeing those scratches healing on young Joe is a constant reminder to him of why he doesn’t want me here. He’s probably guessed too that I would make this offer to you. ”
“I’m sure he has.”
“Know that the offer remains open should you ever change your mind or feel free to make a counteroffer. I want you there enough to accept you on your terms. Please don’t be offended by the offer because I think most highly of you and asked you because I am most impressed by you.”
“Thank you, and I will keep that in mind. It will be something I will consider as I make my plans for the future.”
Being kind, Adam was trying to let Rett down easily and leave him with some hope even though he had little inclination to think he would ever settle in the Sandwich Islands. Rett was destined to be disappointed, but at some point, Adam thought he might visit him at least. The smile that Rett had meant that he took Adam’s words to heart and would have that hope Adam wished him to have when he left. He would leave with that at least. When Rett went into the house to announce his intention to pack and leave the next day, Adam’s family wasn’t sure how to interpret Rett’s good mood, but it did worry them. Hoss was the first to say he wanted to know what was going on so he was the one who approached Adam outside.
“I would have thought Pa would have been the first to come talk to me.”
“I beat him to it. He’s worried, but he don’t want ta make ya upset. I only want ta know. You leavin’ with ‘im or meetin’ him later?”
“He made the offer as we all knew he would. I turned him down.”
“You’re staying? But I thought you were thinkin’ on leavin’ here?”
“I am, and I probably will. No, I have to be honest with you. I will leave.”
“But not now?”
“It’s complicated. I’m not simply going to go off because I got an attractive offer especially by an irresponsible uncle who likes to have adventures but lacks concern for what his actions means to the lives of others.”
“He looks a lot like you or what I’m guessin’ you’re gonna look like when you’re a lot older, but otherwise, you two are pretty much night and day.”
“Yes, at first we seemed so similar, but I realized the similarities are superficial.”
“Yeah. He tells a great story and he sings good too like you. He favors a lot of the same things as you and does a lot of what you do, but in a fight, I’d rather be alone than have him watching my back.”
“Yes, Joe paid the price for me not knowing that. I’m very sorry about that.”
“Joe knows that. None of us knew he could be so darn dumb as he was that day. I wanted to wring his neck. Joe coulda been killed, and he acted like he didn’t do nothing so bad. He never really did rightly apologize for what he done. He kinda made it seem like he was sorry it was the way of things but not like it was because of him.”
The two stood quietly for a time until Hoss had to ask another question. “When you gonna leave?”
“I’m not sure, but this winter might be a good time. It would give all of us time to get ready for it.”
“How long would you be gone?”
“I can’t answer that. There are things I want to see and do and have no idea how long it would all take. With what I have in mind, I guess at least a couple of years. Then it would depend on what kind of job I want to do after that. I might decide I want to come back here. I don’t know because I don’t know what I’m going to find when I’m gone.”
“Ya gotta promise me you’ll come back one way or another. I don’t think I could sleep well at night ifn I had to worry that I might never see ya again.”
“I promise I’ll come back.”
Putting a hand on Adam’s shoulder, Hoss sighed. “Let’s go tell Pa. He’s been talkin’ to me ’bout changes maybe he could make to convince you to stay. We need to tell him to stop worryin’ ’bout it so much and blamin’ hisself. This is somethin’ you gotta do.”
“Thanks for understanding.”
“Help me explain it to Pa and to Joe so they know it’s not because of them. I know they feel guilty about things thinking maybe they been pushing you away. They gotta know you’re being drawn away not pushed.”
That evening passed pleasantly enough as did the evenings after that with the major issues settled. As planned, Rett left thinking that he had a chance to reunite with his nephew at some point in the future which kept his heart light. Ben knew he had about six months with his eldest son and a promise from him that he would return. After Rett’s exit, the three brothers went off to do their last cattle drive together with Adam letting Hoss and Joe handle most of the decision making in preparation for them doing drives on their own in the future. Joe and Adam traveled together quite often over the next few months meeting business contacts and negotiating contracts and submitting bids. When the six months were up, Adam boarded the stage and bid farewell to his family looking forward to adventure and learning while his family got ready to learn to live without him until his return.