Summary: When Ben’s Uncle Samuel visits from back East, things don’t go quite as well as Ben had hoped
Rated: K+ (17,590 words)
Samuel Cartwright eased himself forward and tried unsuccessfully to get the kinks out of his back and frowned. The enforced period of inactivity he’d been forced to endure had done nothing to ease his bad mood, which had seemed to linger all the way from Cincinnati. Honestly! he thought, If I’d realised just how far this Godforsaken place was then I never would have agreed to come. Benjamin should have told me!
His mood darkened even further as he looked at the snoring man opposite. Never known for his patience at the best of times, Samuel had very little now as another round of loud noises came form the man’s open mouth and he watched in disgust as a thin line of drool ran down his chin. ‘Disgusting!’ he said out loud to no one in particular and turned to look at the never-ending scenery through the open window instead. He stared at the snow-capped mountains and vast surrounds of pine trees. ‘Hmph!’ he snorted. ‘Tolerable!’ He thought that if this was the best Nevada had to offer then he might as well have stayed at home.
Samuel wondered how he would be able to stand a month living out here. If it hadn’t been for Benjamin’s insistence that he visit… well he still wondered if he’d made the right decision. He wondered what his nephew would be like after all these years. Probably like that infernal brother of his…Benjamin’s father Joseph. The two of them had never gotten on and he didn’t see why it should be any different now with his nephew. Come to think of it, he wondered why he’d accept the invitation in the first place. Probably because Benjamin and his boys were the only relations left to him. He snorted again as he wondered what those great-nephews of his would be like. ‘Probably like their father!’ he said out loud.
He remembered the last time he had seen his nephew. It had been at his marriage to that young….what was her name? Oh yes! Elizabeth Stoddard. Seemed a nice young thing…probably far too good for Benjamin judging by the look of her. Samuel had been genuinely upset when he’d heard about her death nearly a year later. And then that crazy nephew of his had taken off with a young baby to heaven knows where!
They had corresponded for quite a few years after that. Each time letters arrived from various parts of the country from his nephew, Samuel had shaken his head in amazement. Could the boy ever learn to stay put in one place? Especially since he had a couple of young boys of his own to consider. Samuel wrote and told him so in no uncertain terms and it seemed that the Benjamin had finally taken his advice when he settled here in Nevada. Samuel looked around him again. Although why he had chosen here would never cease to amaze him. He shook his head. ‘Stubborn just like his father,’ he said to himself. ‘Never could do as he should.’
It did sound as if the boy had made a life for himself out here though. Three sons and a large ranch by the sound of it should have kept him very busy. He thought again about the boys. Adam of course he’d met some years back when the youngster had been in Boston attending College. Seemed a nice enough young man, even if Samuel considered him a bit full of himself. It seemed that the boy had far too high an opinion of himself in Samuel’s mind and needed taking down a peg or two. He snorted for a third time. He could bet his bottom dollar that Benjamin thought he was wonderful.
The second boy with the strange name…what was it again? He crinkled his eyes as he tried to remember. Oh yes! Hoss! Now what kind of name was that? He’d make sure that Benjamin heard his opinion about it. The third boy…Joseph. Yes. Named after his grandfather, Samuel’s own brother. Well he certainly hoped the boy didn’t take after that particular individual in any way! Judging by where his mother had come from though, Samuel held grave doubts about the boy’s background.
He eased himself back on the hard seat again and took out his pocket watch. Two more hours on this stage. How was he going to bear it?! He sighed again as they hit a hole in the trail and he was flung sideways. Much and all as he was dreading it, they couldn’t get to this Virginia City soon enough as far as he was concerned.
‘Hurry up Joseph!’ called Ben from the bottom of the stairs. ‘Your brothers and I are waiting for you!’
Joe appeared at the top of the staircase. ‘Coming!’ he said as he bounded down the stairs two at a time while he did up his tie at the same time. ‘I still don’t see why we all have to go in to meet the stage though.’
‘Because I said so,’ said his father as he steered him towards the door and out into the yard. ‘It’s not every day we have family visiting.’
Joe giggled as he got up into the buggy. ‘Especially an Uncle Sam,’ he said with a cheeky look.
‘I wouldn’t call him that if I were you,’ said Adam as he hitched up the reins. ‘I seem to remember him as a rather severe old guy. I don’t think he’d appreciate being called Uncle Sam.’
‘No he wouldn’t,’ agreed Ben. ‘Kindly remember your manners with him please Joseph. He’s not the sort of man to tolerate your nonsense.’
Joe looked defensive. ‘I was only making a joke!’ he protested. ‘Don’t tell me he’s the sort of person who doesn’t like a laugh every now and then.’
Ben sighed. ‘To be honest son, my memory of Uncle Samuel matches that of your brother. He is a rather severe old man and I imagine he’s only gotten worse with age.’
‘Then why invite him?’ asked Joe. ‘Seems to me we don’t need someone like that around here.’
Ben wagged a finger at him. ‘I invited him because he’s family!’ he said. ‘He’s my father’s brother and I thought it might be nice for us all to get to know each other. While he is here I expect nothing but respect from the three of you. Do you understand me?’
‘Yes sir,’ they chorused.
‘I’m surprised he’s coming after all this time,’ said Hoss after a few moments. ‘All the way from New York!’
‘I suspect he’s become quite lonely in his old age,’ said his father. ‘We’re all he has left now since his wife Bertha died. They never had any children.’ He looked at his sons again. ‘Which is all the more reason for you three to be tolerant of him,’ he said firmly.
‘Yes sir,’ they chorused again.
As they neared the town, Ben noticed that the stage had already arrived. ‘Oh no!’ he said. ‘Now we’re late!’
‘We’re not late Pa,’ said Adam soothingly. ‘The stage must have been early.’ He drew the horses to a halt and the four Cartwrights got down. Ben strode over to the stage depot and asked Charlie in the ticket office. ‘Was there someone who got off the stage looking for me?’ he asked.
Charlie looked at him sadly. ‘Sure was,’ he said. ‘Old guy.’
‘Where is he?’
Charlie motioned with his finger into the depot. ‘In there,’ he said. ‘Good luck!’
Ben frowned. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ he asked, but before the man could answer there came a shrill cry from behind him. ‘Well it’s about time you got here! A body could die waiting for you to turn up Benjamin Cartwright!’
Ben turned to see an old man standing behind him, tapping his foot impatiently. ‘Uncle Samuel?’ he asked.
‘Who else were you expecting boy?’ asked Samuel. He looked at Ben intently. ‘Well Benjamin, I must say you look like your father.’
Adam, Hoss and Joe grinned to hear their father addressed as ‘boy.’ Ben frowned at them. ‘These are my sons Uncle Samuel,’ he said as he motioned them forward. ‘Adam you met some time ago of course.’
‘Uncle Samuel,’ said Adam as he smiled at the man and held out his hand.
Samuel looked him up and down. ‘Yes,’ he said shortly.
‘And this is Hoss,’ continued Ben.
Samuel frowned. ‘What kind of name is that?’ he asked.
‘Its… well its sort of a nickname,’ said Ben lamely.
‘And his real name would be?’
‘Eric. But we never….’
‘Hello Eric,’ said Samuel, cutting his nephew off. ‘Nice to meet you.’ Hoss frowned as he shook the man’s hand.
‘And this is Little Joe,’ said Ben.
‘Another nickname I presume,’ said Samuel as his frown deepened. ‘I don’t believe in them myself. Hello Joseph.’
Little Joe tried to keep a scowl off his face as he shook the man’s hand.
There was silence for a few moments. ‘I suppose it would be too much to expect that someone would get my luggage?’ asked Samuel. ‘Or do you expect an old man to get it down himself?’
Ben looked startled. ‘Of course not uncle,’ he said. ‘Boys! Get your uncle’s bags into the back of the buggy please.’ He motioned towards the buggy. ‘I thought you’d appreciate getting straight out to the ranch and having a rest,’ he said pleasantly.
‘None too soon either!’ said Samuel as he followed Ben to the buggy. ‘That poor excuse for transportation you have here has just about done me in!’
Joe rolled his eyes at Hoss as Adam handed them both down a bag from the top of the stage. ‘Looks like we’re really gonna enjoy this visit!’ he whispered.
Hoss made a face. ‘Yeah!’ he agreed. ‘Seems like a right old…’
‘Shut up!’ said Adam severely as he jumped down from the stage. ‘Remember what Pa said and don’t spoil things for him.’
‘As long as that old coot don’t spoil things fer us!’ said Hoss.
‘You can see the edge of the lake down there.’ Ben pointed with pride to the blue patch of water that could be seen through the trees.
Samuel frowned. ‘What did you say it was called?’ he asked.
‘Lake Tahoe,’ replied Ben.
‘Strange name,’ sniffed Samuel. ‘Although I suppose it looks nice.’
Adam raised his eyebrows at the term nice. ‘Most folks around here think its kind of special,’ he said pleasantly.
‘I suppose to those that don’t know any better it would seem to be,’ replied Samuel. ‘I suppose a lot of people around here have never been anywhere of note so they couldn’t be blamed for their short-sightedness.
Adam clamped his mouth shut and Ben noticed the hard set of his son’s jaw. ‘Up there are the Sierras,’ he said to change the subject. ‘They’re snow-capped all year round.’
‘I suppose that’s nice for those who enjoy the cold,’ said Samuel. ‘I find it hard to take myself.’
‘Well you ain’t gonna like it here then,’ declared Joe. ‘It gets mighty cold around these parts at night.’
Samuel turned to look at him. ‘I trust that you went to school young man?’ he asked
Joe looked puzzled. ‘Yes,’ he said.
‘Well you certainly didn’t take any notice of your grammar lessons then,’ replied Samuel. ‘The word is aren’t, not ain’t.’ Joe swallowed and went red.
‘Don’t worry Uncle Samuel,’ said Hoss hastily to change the subject. ‘We’ll get the fire good and hot fer you tonight. You’ll be nice and warm.’
‘Good,’ said Samuel as he pulled his coat around himself and shuddered. ‘It is getting rather chilly already.’
As they approached the ranch house, Samuel sat forward. ‘Is this it?’ he said.
‘Yes,’ said Ben proudly. ‘I hope you like it.’
‘Not bad,’ Samuel said as he got down from the buggy. ‘Certainly not what I was expecting.’ He started towards it. ‘I’d like a bath straight away if that’s possible and my luggage in my room. Benjamin… I trust you’ll show me where I’m staying?’
‘He’s horrible!’ declared Joe as the front door shut on the two men. ‘I don’t know how Pa puts up with him!’
‘You just keep your mouth shut!’ said Adam. ‘It won’t hurt us to put up with him for a few weeks for Pa’s sake.’
Joe pouted as he took the bag that Adam held out for him. ‘Yeah OK,’ he said. ‘But he’s got nothing good to say about anything! It’s hard to believe he’s related to Pa.’
‘I know what you mean,’ acknowledged Adam. ‘I remember when I stayed with him for a few weeks years ago. He wasn’t very complimentary about a lot of things. Seems he hasn’t changed at all. Come on let’s get these bags upstairs before he yells out of the window at us to hurry up.’ He grinned at his two brothers as they walked into the house.
‘That was wonderful Hop Sing!’ said Ben as the cook brought the coffee to the table.
‘Mighty tasty,’ said Hoss with a grin. ‘Don’t you think so Uncle Samuel?’
Samuel raised an eyebrow. ‘Tolerable,’ he said. ‘Although a bit rich for my stomach.’
Ben frowned as he noticed the look on Hop Sing’s face. ‘I thought it was just fine,’ he said. ‘Coffee Uncle Samuel?’
‘Thank you,’ said Samuel. ‘Not too strong though please. That cup you gave me this afternoon was far too strong.’ He looked around the great room. ‘Well I must say this is most pleasant,’ he continued. ‘You’ve done well for yourself Benjamin.’ He looked at his nephew. ‘You’ve come a long way from the young seaman I remember. You didn’t have two cents to rub together in those days.’
Ben laughed. ‘Life has been kind to me in that regard,’ he said. ‘I’ve had my share of problems along the way though.’
‘Yes so it would seem,’ said Samuel. ‘Three wives would have given you a great many worries.’
Ben looked surprised. ‘On the contrary,’ he said. ‘My wives brought me a great deal of happiness.’ He smiled around the table at his sons. ‘And three wonderful boys,’ he said. ‘Joseph, get your mothers’ pictures to show Uncle Samuel please.’
Joe got up and fetched the pictures from his father’s desk and handed them to Samuel. ‘This one I remember,’ said the man, pointing to Adam’s mother Elizabeth. ‘A nice young thing she was. I could never understand what she saw in you at the time Benjamin. I always felt she had class.’
Ben cleared his throat and tried not to look angry at his uncle’s words. ‘We were very much in love,’ he said simply.
Samuel picked up the picture of Hoss’ mother Inger. ‘Well you certainly didn’t marry this one for her looks,’ he said. ‘Sort of plain.’
Ben put his hand on Hoss’ as he saw his son go red. ‘She was a beautiful woman,’ he said. ‘Truly beautiful.’
Samuel raised his eyebrows. ‘If you say so,’ he said as he picked up the third picture of Joe’s mother Marie. ‘Hmm,’ he said. ‘You made up for it with this one. Kind of flashy though.’
Joe started up with a jump. ‘My mother was beautiful!’ he declared.
‘I didn’t say she wasn’t boy,’ replied Samuel. ‘That fact is obvious. Kind of what I expected though, considering.’
‘Considering what?’ asked Joe.
‘Her background,’ answered Samuel.
‘Let’s have our coffee in the living room,’ said Ben quickly standing up and putting his hand on the back of Joe’s neck. He smiled at his son. ‘Joseph… would you please bring the coffeepot?’
Joe looked up at his father. ‘Yes Pa,’ he said and then glared at Samuel, deciding that he really didn’t like the man at all.
‘We’ll be going to Church in the morning,’ said Ben pleasantly. ‘Would you like to join us Uncle Samuel?’
Samuel sipped his coffee. ‘Too strong,’ he said, putting it down on the table. ‘I’ll have another one Joseph. And make it weak please. Yes I think I will Benjamin,’ he said. ‘I’d like to hear the standard of preaching you have out here in the wilderness.’
Ben bristled when he heard the word wilderness. ‘Well we don’t think of it that way Uncle,’ he said. ‘Nevada is really growing up now and we consider that civilization is catching up with us around here.’
Samuel raised an eyebrow. ‘Do you?’ he said, obviously not believing him.
‘We even have a theatre in town now,’ said Adam.
‘Really? All I noticed when I was waiting for you were two Saloons.’
‘Well we have them too,’ acknowledged Adam. ‘Virginia City caters for all tastes.’
‘I’d sure like to show you the ranch while you’re here,’ said Ben, changing the subject again. ‘There are some beautiful spots to see.’
‘That would be nice,’ said Samuel politely. ‘Well I think I’d better get to bed now. Early to bed, early to rise…. You know the old saying.’ Joe looked puzzled as the others nodded. ‘I suppose you’ll all be turning in now anyway,’ continued Samuel.
Ben took the hint. ‘Yes,’ he said, getting up. ‘Come on boys, time for bed.’
‘But Pa…’began Joe.
‘Joseph, would you please show Uncle Samuel to his room?’ asked his father.
Joe sighed and stood up as well. ‘Yeah sure,’ he said with a sigh. ‘Come on Uncle Sam….I mean Uncle Samuel,’ he corrected himself.
Adam and Hoss stood up as they watched the two go upstairs. ‘It’s going to be an interesting month,’ said Adam quietly.
Ben frowned. ‘Yes,’ he said shortly. ‘Good night boys.’
Ben sat stiffly in the pew conscious of the tapping of his uncle’s foot on the floor next to him. On the other side of him, Joseph was his usual fidgety self and Ben found it hard to concentrate on the sermon, placed as he was between the two of them. He was extremely glad when the end of the Service liberated him from his position and he found himself very eager to get outside. ‘I’ll introduce you to a few people,’ he said to Samuel as they walked out of the Church together.
‘I’d like to meet that young Minister first,’ replied Samuel. ‘I have a few comments about his sermon for him.’
Ben raised his eyebrow, but ushered his uncle over to the Minister straight away. ‘I’d like you to meet my Uncle Samuel,’ he said. ‘Uncle Samuel, Reverend Allen.’
Reverend Allen shook Samuel’s hand eagerly. ‘Pleased to meet you sir,’ he said. ‘Any Uncle of Ben’s is most welcome to our community.’
‘Been preaching long?’ asked Samuel.
‘About three years,’ said the Reverend with a short laugh. ‘Why?’
‘I thought you could have made more of the analogies included in those parables,’ said Samuel.
Reverend Allen gulped. ‘You did?’ he said. ‘That’s interesting.’ He blushed.
‘I’ll be interested to see what you do with next week’s readings,’ continued Samuel. ‘I really think that the people around here deserve your undivided attention to detail don’t you? They are after all…’ he looked around. ‘Needing as much spiritual guidance as they can by the look of them.’ He tipped his hat. ‘Until next week,’ he said. ‘And make sure to concentrate on those parables won’t you?’
Ben gave the Reverend a look of apology as he followed his uncle across the yard of the Church. Suddenly Samuel stopped. ‘Benjamin!’ he said as he glared at him. ‘Do you allow this kind of behaviour of your boys?’ He pointed to where Joe was standing surrounded by a few young ladies. The young people were laughing at some joke and one of the girls linked arms with Joe and smiled up at him as they did so.
‘What?’ asked Ben, genuinely puzzled.
‘That!’ said Samuel pointing at the group. ‘Don’t you think that is unseemly behaviour for a young man? Surely you are aware that it couldn’t be doing Joseph’s reputation any good to be seen in public like that with those young ladies.’
‘They’re perfectly respectable young people,’ said Ben frostily. ‘I see nothing wrong with a few young people chatting after Church.’
‘Well if you say so,’ said Samuel. ‘However if he were my son…’
‘He’s not your son,’ said Ben and then stopped himself. ‘I’d like to introduce you to one of my friends…’ He pulled the man over towards Paul Martin. ‘Dr Paul Martin,’ he said. ‘This is my Uncle Samuel.’
‘Pleased to meet you,’ said Paul. ‘Ben told me that you were coming. I hope you’ve been enjoying our fair town so far?’
Samuel ignored the question. ‘A doctor eh?’ he said. ‘And just where did you do your training?’
Paul seemed a bit taken aback by the man’s question. ‘Yale,’ he said.
‘Hmm. I’ve always thought Harvard had the best medical school,’ said Samuel. ‘Still, I suppose they’re lucky to get whoever they can way out here.’ He tipped his hat and walked over to the Cartwright buggy.
Paul looked at Ben in amazement. ‘Don’t take it personally,’ said Ben with a shrug. ‘He’s like that with everyone.’
Paul gave his friend a look of consolation. ‘How long is he staying?’ he asked.
‘A month,’ replied Ben. ‘One long month by the look of it.’
Paul smothered a laugh. ‘How are the boys taking it?’ he asked.
‘Well so far,’ said Ben. ‘Although he’s managed to get them all offside already. Mind you, I don’t think he means to…he just doesn’t think about what he’s saying that’s all.’
‘Well good luck!’ said Paul.
Ben smiled and walked over to the buggy where Hoss was sitting with Samuel. ‘Aren’t those other two boys of yours ready to go now Benjamin?’ asked Samuel crossly. ‘This cool air isn’t good for me you know.’
‘Joseph!’ called Ben. ‘We’re going now! Come along!’ He searched the area for Adam. ‘Do you know where your brother is Hoss?’
‘I’m here,’ said a voice behind him. ‘You go on without me Pa. I’ve been invited to Sarah’s for Sunday dinner, so I might stay in town tonight and see you in the morning.’
‘All right son. Joseph…come on!’
Joe climbed up into the buggy. ‘How come Adam gets to stay in town and I don’t?’ he asked. Ben ignored his question. ‘Pa? How come?’
‘Joseph, do not question your father like that!’ said Samuel severely.
Joe ignored him. ‘Can I stay in town too?’ he asked hopefully.
‘No you may not,’ said Samuel.
Joe glared at him. ‘I was asking my father,’ he said. ‘Not you.’
Samuel glared back at him. ‘The impertinence of it!’ he said. ‘Have you never been taught respect for your elders boy?’
‘Joseph, apologise to your uncle,’ said Ben.
Joe glared at his father. ‘What?’ he said. ‘It’s none of his business who I…’
Joe sat back on the seat of the buggy grumpily and crossed his arms over his chest. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said grudgingly.
Ben hitched up the team and they headed for home. ‘I thought we might take the long way around by the lake,’ he said. ‘It’s a mighty pretty drive.’
‘If you say so,’ said Samuel.
The atmosphere on the drive home was considerably strained as Joe sulked in the back of the buggy and Samuel grumbled in the front. Nothing seemed to please the man.
‘We’ll stop here for a minute,’ said Ben finally. ‘Do you like the view?’
Samuel looked down over the startling blue lake that was surrounded by the tall pine-covered mountains that reached up to the impossible blue sky. It was a sight to take the breath away. ‘Very nice,’ he acknowledged.
‘Do ya like ta fish?’ asked Hoss. ‘I’ll take you if ya like.’
‘Well what would you like to look at around the ranch?’ asked Ben. ‘I could show you some of the horses tomorrow if you’d like to see them.’
‘No thank you.’
Ben gave Hoss a frustrated look. ‘How about the timber operation?’ he asked. ‘Adam’s been working on a new design up there and it might be interesting for you to see.’
Samuel nodded ‘That might be nice,’ he said.
‘Well here we are,’ said Ben as they came into the front yard. ‘Smells like Hop Sing has dinner all ready for us. I know he’s been working on a extra special one just for you Uncle Samuel.’
‘Well I hope it’s not as rich as last night’s dinner,’ said Samuel as he got down from the buggy. ‘Much too heavy for my liking.’
‘Is there anything he likes?’ asked Hoss, shaking his head as he and Joe watched the man go into the house followed by Ben. ‘He must be the most ornery critter I’ve ever come across.’
Joe scowled. ‘He’s more than ornery Hoss,’ he said. ‘He’s plain downright mean!’ His eyes narrowed. ‘How are we gonna stand a month with him?’
Hoss sighed. ‘I dunno little brother,’ he said. ‘Pa’s the one I feel sorry for though.’
‘How d’ya mean?’ asked Joe.
‘Well we can get away from him when we go back ta work tomorrow,’ said Hoss. ‘But Pa’s stuck with him. Poor Pa!’
‘Yeah!’ Joe agreed. ‘Poor Pa!’
‘Mr Samuel not like?’ asked Hop Sing with a disappointed look on his face as he took the plate in front of Samuel.
‘I’m sure it was very nice,’ said Samuel. ‘Just not to my liking thank you Hop Sing.’ He turned to Ben. ‘Benjamin I was wondering why Adam is staying in town all night if he’s only going to Sunday dinner with a young lady? Why isn’t he returning this afternoon?’
‘He probably wants to see some of his friends tonight,’ said Ben as he poured himself a cup of coffee. ‘The boys work very hard through the week, so they usually get in a bit of relaxation on the weekend.’
‘Some of the boys,’ said Joe under his breath.
Ben ignored the remark. ‘He’ll be back in the morning for breakfast ready for work,’ he said.
Samuel frowned. ‘I suppose by relaxation you mean drinking and gambling in one of those Saloons I saw in town,’ he said. ‘Do you really think that’s an appropriate past-time for one of your sons?’
‘Adam is nearly thirty years old,’ said Ben. ‘I think he’s old enough to decide for himself what is suitable and what isn’t. I trust my son to organise his own life accordingly.’
‘I’m sure he is,’ said Samuel. ‘It just seems that he’s a young man with a few brains about him. I thought he out of all your boys would have had the sense to see what drinking can do.’
‘As I said, Adam looks after his own affairs,’ said Ben frostily.
Samuel raised an eyebrow. ‘I’m sure he does,’ he persisted. ‘It’s just that with two younger brothers who perhaps might need his guidance…’ his eyes rested on Joe and Hoss. ‘He might have had the foresight to give them a good example.’
Hoss stood up, his face dark. ‘I’m going fishing,’ he said abruptly, his face showing his anger at the criticism of his elder brother.
Samuel stared after him. ‘Well that wasn’t very polite,’ he said. ‘I would have expected better manners from him. Now if it had been young Joseph here, perhaps I would have understood it.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ asked Joe defensively.
‘Nothing young man,’ said Samuel. ‘It’s just obvious that you’re the one who has the volatile nature. Your brother seemed to be…well more easy-going that’s all.’
‘All my sons are different,’ intervened Ben smiling at Joe soothingly. ‘It’s what makes them all so dear to me.’
‘To be sure,’ agreed Samuel. ‘That’s all that I meant. Young Joseph here does need a firm hand though Ben, that’s obvious. After all, you don’t want him to turn out like his mother do you?’
Joe sprang to his feet. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ he asked angrily. ‘There was nothing wrong with my mother!’
Samuel raised his hands in a gesture of pity to Ben. ‘See what I mean?’ he said. ‘It’s in the blood Ben. You must have had a hard time raising this one!’
‘Joseph go outside please,’ said Ben as he stood up next to his son. He pulled on the boy’s arm as Joe started forward. ‘Please do as I ask.’ Joe glanced over at his father and nodded his head before leaving the room. Ben sat down again.
‘Uncle Samuel,’ he began. ‘I think that you and I need to have a talk.’
‘Of course,’ said Samuel. ‘What can I help you with Benjamin?’
Ben took a deep breath. ‘I’d appreciate it if you would refrain from criticising my sons or the memory of their mothers while you are here,’ he said. ‘I realise that not everything about the way we are or the way we live is going to be agreeable to you, but I would certainly appreciate it if you would just try not to upset any of my boys with your remarks.’
Samuel frowned. ‘What remarks?’ he asked. ‘I’m only trying to point out things that they could improve in for their own good. It seems to me that you could use a bit of help in that regard Benjamin.’
‘I will deal with my sons in my own way,’ said Ben. ‘Please stay out of it.’
‘Well! I always knew you were a stubborn youngster just like that father of yours, but I did think that age might have given you a bit of wisdom,’ said Samuel haughtily. ‘I think I’ll spend the afternoon up in my room if my presence isn’t appreciated around here!’ He got up from the table and walked towards the staircase.
‘Uncle Samuel!’ called Ben. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s just that … well…’
Samuel turned. ‘That’s all right Benjamin I forgive you,’ he said. ‘Sometimes people say unkind things without thinking. Perhaps you should take my example. I never say anything unless it is in the other person’s best interest to hear it. Perhaps one day you’ll also be able to conduct yourself in like manner.’
Ben watched open-mouthed as his uncle mounted the stairs.
‘I think you’ll enjoy it,’ said Ben pleasantly at the breakfast table. ‘Adam has designed a whole new system at the sawmill which nearly halves the time needed to cut the timber.’ He smiled at his eldest son proudly.
‘It sounds very interesting,’ said Samuel. ‘Your degree was in Engineering wasn’t it Adam?’
‘Yes,’ replied Adam. ‘I also studied Architecture.’
‘Adam helped Pa build this house,’ said Hoss. ‘After he came back from College they added onto it and he designed that part.’
‘You get to use your skills here then?’ asked Samuel.
‘There are quite a few things to hold my interest,’ said Adam. ‘I’ve been able to design a few buildings and then see them through to completion. The sawmill is just an example of one.’
‘Really?’ replied Samuel, thinking that the young man sounded quite full of himself. ‘I’m interested to see it then.’
‘Adam is real smart,’ said Joe defensively. He hadn’t forgiven the man for his remarks from last night. ‘Better than any of them city engineers!’
‘Those city engineers Joseph,’ said Samuel with a smile. ‘You really should work on your grammar young man.’ He stood up, ignoring Joe’s dark look. ‘Well let’s get going then Adam,’ he said. ‘I need to walk off that heavy breakfast.’
Adam made a face at his brothers and stood up to follow his uncle out of the house. Ben closed his eyes for a moment and tried not to look relieved.
‘Pa?’ said Little Joe.
‘Remember those line shacks you wanted checked? Well I thought that I….’
Ben put up his hand. ‘Thank you for the offer Joseph,’ he said. ‘But you are going to stay here and suffer along with the rest of us while your uncle is staying. I expect each of you to take your turn in entertaining him as well by the way.’
Hoss looked appalled. ‘Entertaining him?’ he said. ‘How?’
Ben sighed. ‘I’m sure we’ll discover something that he likes to do,’ he said wearily. ‘There must be something.’
‘Well with any luck he and Adam’ll hit it off. He seemed to be interested in the timber operation,’ said Joe. ‘We can always hand him over to older brother.’
‘Hmm,’ said Ben.
‘What do you think?’ asked Adam as he stood proudly by the side of the river. ‘Effective don’t you think?’
Samuel nodded. ‘I must admit Adam, I think you’ve done a very good job here,’ he said. ‘You’re obviously a very intelligent young man to get this operation up and running so smoothly.’
Adam smiled. ‘Well thank you,’ he said, beginning to think that Uncle Samuel wasn’t so bad after all. ‘We’ve increased production quite a bit since changing things.’
‘Hmm.’ Samuel looked at the young man closely. ‘Seems a pity that a young man with your brains spends his time on things like this though.’
Adam frowned. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked. ‘There’s a great need for this sort of thing out here.’
‘Oh I’m sure there is,’ said Samuel. ‘It’s just…. Well you must feel out of touch with things.’
‘I don’t understand what you mean,’ said Adam. ‘Out of touch how?’
‘How long is it since you graduated from College my boy?’ asked Samuel.
‘About eight years. Why?’
‘Well…a lot can happen in eight years. Seems to me that you’ve been left to flounder out here while other young men of your ability are caught up in the exciting happenings back East. Don’t you ever feel left behind?’
Adam frowned even more. He wondered how his uncle could have touched on the very thing that he’d been feeling lately. ‘Well…’ he said. ‘I try not to think about it really.’
‘Why not?’ asked Samuel. ‘You really should you know. Another stint back East would do you the world of good. You’d be able to do some more study…catch up on how things have progressed…. That sort of thing.’ Adam was silent. ‘I’d be happy to have you stay with me if it would make it any easier for you,’ continued Samuel. ‘Well you think about it eh? We can’t have a man of your ability wasting your talents out here now can we?’
Adam watched as his uncle walked back towards the buckboard. He wondered if the man was right. There were times he felt left behind living all the way out here. Maybe a trip back East would do him the world of good? He dug his hands in his pockets and scuffed his boot in the dirt. Pa wouldn’t be pleased about it though. He could just imagine his father’s face if he suggested it. Adam sighed. Suddenly he felt rather dejected.
‘How come I haveta take him?’ asked Hoss. ‘Why me?’
‘Because I had my turn yesterday,’ said Adam. ‘Pa said it’s your turn to look after him today.’
‘Yeah Hoss,’ chimed in Little Joe. ‘It’s your turn!’
Hoss glared at his younger brother. ‘I wouldn’t look so cocky if I were you little buddy,’ he said. ‘Your day will come!’
‘Yeah, well until it does I aim to stay away from the nosey old galoot,’ declared Little Joe. ‘I don’t like him!’
‘He’s not too bad,’ mused Adam thoughtfully. ‘He’s got some good ideas.’
Hoss made a face at Joe. ‘Yeah?’ he said ‘Well I ain’t heard any of em yet.’
‘Good morning boys,’ said Ben as he and Uncle Samuel approached the table. ‘I hope you all slept well.’
‘More than I did!’ declared Samuel. ‘Sorry as I am to say it Benjamin… that mattress you gave me is as hard as a board!’
Ben looked pained. ‘I’m sorry Uncle,’ he said. ‘No one else has ever complained about it before.’
‘Maybe because no one else has a delicate back like mine,’ said Samuel testily. ‘Is there any chance of changing it?’
Ben looked at the boys who all put their heads down and were silent. ‘Well…’ he said. ‘We could always change it over with one of the others. ‘Joseph, would you see to that this morning please?’
Joe’s head shot up. ‘Why me?’ he squeaked.
Ben raised an eyebrow. ‘Because I told you to,’ he said. ‘Adam has work to do at the timber mill and Hoss is taking Uncle Samuel into town. I’d like you to exchange your uncle’s mattress with Adam’s please.’
Adam’s head shot up. ‘Why mine?’ he asked.
‘Because Hoss’ is too worn out by his heavy frame and Joseph’s is… well Joseph’s has had far too many accidents from years gone by on it and is still rather discoloured. I’d like your uncle to have the best one. I know you won’t mind for a few weeks.’ Adam scowled, but said nothing.
‘Accidents?’ said Uncle Samuel, raising his eyebrows. ‘Don’t tell me this young man is a bed-wetter!’
Joe flushed a deep red. ‘When I was a little kid!’ he declared. ‘Not now!’
Samuel looked at him thoughtfully. ‘Well I must say I’m not surprised,’ he said. ‘It’s a sign of weakness you know Benjamin.’
‘Joe hasn’t had the problem for a long time,’ said Ben, giving Joe a reassuring look.
‘Do we really have to talk about this?’ asked Joe. ‘It’s embarrassing!’
Samuel ignored him. ‘It runs in the family you know,’ he said to Ben. ‘Your father used to do it. I remember many times waking up with a wet nightshirt after that particular youngster had sprayed all over me.’ He helped himself to a generous serving of eggs happily. ‘I’ve never had the problem myself.’
‘Sorta sounds familiar don’t it Adam?’ said Hoss with a wink. ‘Joe’s done it to both of us lotsa times.’
Joe went even redder. ‘When I was a little kid! You make it sound like I’ve been doing it recently!’ he said. ‘Can we change the subject please?’
‘They say that boys are the worst ones for it,’ continued Samuel unabashed. He stared Joe up and down. ‘Young boys with little control over their emotions.’
‘I do so have control over my emotions!’ declared Joe, going red with anger.
Samuel smiled at Ben. ‘See what I mean? I’m surprised the youngster isn’t still doing it.’ He leaned over towards Joe. ‘Are you young man? There’s no need to be embarrassed if you are. I could give you some stomach tightening exercises to help control it you know.’
Joe stood up. ‘Pa can I go now?’ he said tersely. ‘I’m not hungry!’
‘Yes of course,’ said Ben, not knowing what else to say.
Samuel watched as Joe left the room in a huff, banging the door after him. ‘Emotional youngster isn’t he?’ he asked. ‘Must be that Southern blood in him. I warned you about marrying into it when you wrote about your marriage to that … woman with the questionable background. Blood will always tell I say!’ He sat back in his chair. ‘Now if you’ve finished stuffing yourself Eric, could you tear yourself away from that food long enough to take an old man into town? There are some things I need to buy and I would like to get there before noon if you don’t mind.’
Hoss put down his fork reluctantly. ‘Sure Uncle Samuel,’ he said. ‘I was just about finished anyways. ‘He took a longing look at the leftover food on the table.
‘I’m glad to hear it,’ said Samuel. ‘I’ve been observing that you eat far too much. Not good for your digestion you know. We might have a talk about that on the way into town.’ He stood up. ‘Come along then.’
Ben shook his head as he watched Hoss and Samuel leave the room. ‘Twenty-seven,’ he said softly.
‘What?’ asked Adam.
‘Twenty-seven days until your uncle leaves,’ said Ben shortly. ‘I’ve started counting them down.
Adam smiled. ‘He’s not that bad,’ he said.
Ben raised an eyebrow at his eldest son. ‘No?’ he said.
Adam shrugged. ‘Well I’d better get out to the timber mill,’ he said dully.
‘You don’t sound too enthusiastic about it,’ said his father. ‘I thought it was coming along well.’
Adam shrugged again. ‘I suppose it is,’ he said. ‘For a small-town operation we’re doing OK.’
‘Small-town?’ said Ben surprised. ‘What brought on that remark?’
‘Oh nothing!’ said Adam testily. ‘Its just that sometimes I’d like to do something worthwhile Pa. You know… a big job instead of these little country projects.’ He walked away from the table. ‘Waste of time even thinking about it I guess. There’s not much else to do out here.’
Ben massaged his temples. It seemed that ever since Samuel had arrived everyone was on edge including himself. He sighed. Well at least he’d be able to have a quiet morning away from the whinging old man. He jumped as he heard a clanging noise from the kitchen. Hop Sing was obviously not happy again. Not that he could blame the man…after all, all he’d had from Samuel were complaints for the meals he’d put so much preparation into. Ben could almost hear him now: Hop Sing go back to China! He hoped it wouldn’t come to that!
‘So where did you get that outlandish name of Hoss from Eric?’ asked Samuel as they drove towards town.
‘My second name is Haas,’ explained Hoss. ‘It kinda came from that. Plus, Hoss means ‘big man’ in Swedish.’
‘Ah yes! Your mother was Swedish wasn’t she?’ said Samuel. ‘The plain woman in the picture.’ Hoss frowned but said nothing. ‘Still,’ continued Samuel. ‘It does seem a strange name. I supposed you’re used to it though.’
‘Yep,’ said Hoss shortly. ‘I think it suits me.’
Samuel raised an eyebrow. ‘Your father tells me you’re good with animals,’ he said, changing the subject.
Hoss puffed up. ‘Yep,’ he said. ‘I love working with em.’
‘Hmm. ‘I’m sure you do. It’s nice to think that you have something going for you at least,’ said Samuel.
Hoss frowned. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked.
Samuel patted him on the arm. ‘I only mean that it’s nice that you have something that you’re good at,’ he said. ‘It must be hard for you being between those two brothers of yours. Adam is so smart that you must feel sort of lacking in that regard next to him.’
Hoss frowned. ‘I don’t really think about it,’ he said slowly.
Samuel patted him again. ‘Good,’ he said. ‘It’s best not to. You’d only upset yourself feeling so limited in comparison. And as for that young brother of yours… well I imagine he’s quite popular with the flashy looks that he’s got. You must feel very inadequate at times when he’s around.’
Hoss looked dejected. ‘I do OK,’ he said.
Samuel nodded ‘I’m sure you do,’ he said. ‘After all, no one would hold it against you for being the plain dull one in the family would they? I’m sure people still try to be very kind to you in spite of it all.’ He smiled happily. ‘Well here we are at last! I didn’t realise that the ranch was so far from town. It must make you feel quite isolated out there. I’m sure it causes some problems.’
Hoss sighed, feeling quite despondent. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I spose it does. Where can I drop you Uncle Samuel?’
‘I need some things from the General Store if there is such a thing,’ said Samuel looking around. ‘Will you accompany me please Eric? I might need your assistance.’
‘Sure!’ said Hoss with a sigh. He showed his uncle the way to the Mercantile and followed him in.
‘Good morning sir!’ said Uncle Samuel. ‘I’d like your assistance please.’
Sam Winters looked up. ‘In a moment,’ he said. ‘When I’m finished with Mrs Peters. Hi Hoss!’
‘Isn’t that nice!’ said Samuel. ‘I told you that people would be kind to you in spite of your shortcomings Eric.’ He sat down and looked around happily. ‘Well they certainly seem to have a few things here in spite of their isolation.’
Sam Winters came over. ‘What can I do for you sir?’ he asked.
‘You can fill this order for me please,’ said Samuel, handing the man a list. ‘I’m Benjamin Cartwright’s uncle. I presume you know him?’
‘Of course,’ said Sam with a strange look at Hoss. ‘Everyone knows the Cartwrights.’
‘Well then I expect the same service you’d give to Benjamin,’ said Samuel. ‘Thank you.’ He sat back and looked around him again as Sam went to fill the order. He studied the people in the store closely. ‘I can see that Virginia City is quite a bit behind the times in fashion,’ he said loudly as a couple of young ladies passed them. ‘Understandable though when you think about it.’
Hoss noticed the young girls blushing at his uncle’s words and looking at their dresses in an embarrassed fashion. A few other people in the store stopped and stared at him and he smiled back at them pleasantly.
Hoss turned as Roy Coffee entered the store. ‘Hi Sheriff Coffee,’ he said warmly. ‘I’d like you to meet my great-uncle Samuel. He’s Pa’s uncle. ‘He’s staying with us fer a few weeks. Uncle Samuel this is Sheriff Coffee, one of Pa’s friends.’
‘Hello,’ said Roy, tipping his hat to Samuel. ‘Any friend of Ben’s is a friend of mine.’
Samuel raised an eyebrow. ‘Really?’ he said. ‘How can that be when we are not acquainted yet Constable? I believe that’s rather forward of you to suggest that we might be friends already.’
Roy’s eyes bulged. ‘I only meant….’ he began.
‘Yes I know what you meant and I’m sorry if I sounded a little harsh,’ said Samuel. ‘It’s just that I’m not used to the ways out here yet. I suppose back East we just expect people to be more aware of manners.’
Roy’s mouth dropped and he stared at Hoss who shrugged apologetically. ‘Well, good day then,’ said Roy after a few minutes. ‘I’ll be seeing you.’ He shook his head as he walked away.
‘Have you finished with my order yet?’ asked Samuel loudly.
Sam walked over to them. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Everything is here in the bag.’
‘Well that’s surprising!’ said Samuel pleased. ‘I never thought you’d be able to fill the whole order! Perhaps things here are a little more civilised than I thought. Now,’ he continued. ‘There is one more thing while I’m here. Do you have such a thing as a rubber sheet young man?’
‘A rubber sheet?’ asked Sam puzzled.
‘Yes a rubber sheet,’ repeated Samuel in a loud voice so that everyone turned to listen. ‘Or something of that nature. An oilskin perhaps? Large enough to spread on a mattress and cover it.’
‘I think so,’ said Sam, still looking puzzled. ‘I’ll have a look out back.’
Samuel turned to Hoss and continued in a loud voice. ‘I’m surprised that Benjamin hasn’t thought about it himself,’ he explained. ‘After all, it must have been difficult all these years to get Joseph’s mattress dry if the youngster keeps wetting the bed.’
Hoss looked around at everyone who was listening and went red. ‘Joe don’t do that any…’ he began.
Samuel held up his hand. ‘Oh I know what you’re going to say Eric,’ he said. ‘And I know that you’re trying to protect your brother from further embarrassment. But problems like bed-wetting need to be brought out into the open if they are going to be cured,’ he said. ‘I know Joseph says he doesn’t do it any more, but you can never be too sure can you? I know the type when I see them and mark my words… that young man is still not in control of himself!’ He stopped as Sam entered the room again. ‘Ah! Just the thing!’ he said. ‘I’ll take it.’
He looked around happily at all the people who were listening. ‘I’m sure you all understand the importance of bedroom hygiene,’ he said. ‘Come along Eric.’
Hoss followed his uncle out of the store. ‘But Uncle Samuel,’ he said. ‘Joe don’t need no rubber sheet! I told you before that…’
‘Now don’t you worry about it Eric!’ said Samuel. ‘It was no trouble at all for me to get it for your brother. I like spending my money on other people and it seems that the youngster would appreciate it. If it gives him pleasure it’s been worth the effort.’
‘Oh I don’t know if pleasure is the right word,’ said Hoss.
Samuel smiled at him. ‘Now!’ he said brightly. ‘Are you going to show me around this town of yours?’
Hoss grudgingly led his uncle down the main street. ‘Over there’s the Livery,’ he said. ‘And up there is the Blacksmith.’
‘I see. And where is the theatre that Adam mentioned?’ asked Samuel.
‘Down the end of town,’ said Hoss. ‘Ya wanna see it?’
‘Please. Lead the way.’
Hoss led the way past the Silver Dollar Saloon, wishing he could stop in and pick up a drink on the way. Somehow though, he didn’t think his uncle would approve. ‘Here it is,’ he said, stopping outside the brick building.
‘Hmm,’ said Samuel, studying the board outside. ‘Not much on offer is there?’
‘Hoss shrugged. ‘I dunno,’ he said. ‘Ain’t really my kind of place.’
‘Your brother Adam enjoys such entertainment though doesn’t he?’ asked Samuel.
‘Yep. He sure does.’
‘I wonder if he would appreciate me buying him a ticket then?’ mused Samuel. ‘I’d like to give him a present as well.’
‘I’m sure he’d like that,’ said Hoss.
‘Good,’ said Samuel. ‘Would you wait here for me please Eric? I won’t be a moment.’
Hoss leant against the building and whistled softly as he waited for his uncle. After a long time the man appeared again. ‘Well I’ve certainly been able to do your brother a favour!’ he said, quite pleased with himself. ‘He’ll be delighted when he hears the news!’
‘What news?’ asked Hoss suspiciously.
Samuel smiled. ‘I’d like it to be a surprise for him, he said. ‘I’ll keep it to myself until tonight. Now!’ he looked around. ‘What else is there to look at? I’d like to buy you and your father something as well Eric. What would you suggest?’
‘Aw, that ain’t necessary Uncle Samuel,’ protested Hoss. All he wanted was to get his uncle out of town before he caused any more embarrassment to his family. He was rather suspicious about what he had in mind for Adam for a start.
‘Nonsense!’ said Samuel. ‘It’s my pleasure. What’s down that way?’ He took off down the street before Hoss could stop him. ‘A bookstore!’ he said. ‘Let’s have a look in there shall we?’
Hoss sighed as he followed his uncle into the store. ‘Well hello Hoss!’ said Mrs Sheridan who ran the store. ‘I’m surprised to see you in here. Looking for something for your brother Adam?’
‘No ma’am,’ said Hoss blushing. ‘My uncle here wanted to have a look around that’s all.’
‘Oh? And what are you looking for sir?’ asked the woman politely.
‘Something for this young man here,’ said Samuel. He put up a hand as Hoss began to protest. ‘Now Eric! I insist! Let’s see if we can find you something to broaden your mind shall we? Could you suggest something young lady? Perhaps not too difficult, as he isn’t the brightest if you get my meaning.’
Mrs Sheridan looked embarrassed and tried not to look at Hoss. ‘Well…. she said. ‘Let’s see… What do you think you’d like Hoss?’
Hoss glared at his uncle. ‘It’s not necessary Uncle Samuel,’ he said shortly.
‘He’s embarrassed,’ explained Samuel tactfully. ‘Now Eric, there’s nothing wrong with being a little behind. This kind lady will show you something to your taste I’m sure. He enjoys animals,’ he continued. ‘Perhaps a nice animal story in the children’s section would be appropriate and not be too taxing on him?’
A few minutes later Hoss was clutching a large brown paper parcel and standing on the street scowling. ‘Well that was fun wasn’t it?’ said Samuel as he came to stand beside him. ‘Those books will certainly keep you entertained for a while.’ He looked around happily. ‘Now there’s only Benjamin left. Any suggestions?’
Hoss tried to look pleasant, but it was difficult with the knowledge that he held a pile of children’s books under his arm that his uncle felt were suitable for him. ‘Pa sure enjoys some of that choice pipe tobacco they sell over….’ he began.
‘Filthy habit!’ interrupted Samuel. ‘I won’t be encouraging any of that!’ He looked up and down the street. ‘No… We’ll find something else Eric. Come on boy! Let’s get moving!’ Hoss followed the man down the street with a sigh.
‘Lemon drops!’ said Ben in amazement. ‘Um…. well…. Thank you Uncle Samuel.’ He looked puzzled.
‘I remember how you enjoyed them as a boy,’ said Samuel. ‘I was sure you hadn’t grown out of the habit.’ He smiled at his nephew happily.
Adam and Joe tried not to smile. What did you get Hoss?’ asked Joe, his eyes lighting upon the parcel that Hoss had placed on the coffee table.
‘None of ya business,’ said Hoss grumpily.
‘Aw come on Hoss!’ said Joe, becoming determined to have a look once he had sensed that his brother didn’t want to let on what his present was. ‘Let’s see!’ He grabbed the parcel and ripped the paper off it and stared in amazement at the pile of children’s books. ‘Huh?’ he said.
‘Now Joseph,’ said Uncle Samuel. ‘Don’t make fun of your brother’s reading ability please. He’s trying to better himself.’
Hoss went bright red and stared into the fire as Joe began to giggle. ‘Oh I wouldn’t dream of it Uncle Samuel,’ he said. ‘I would never make fun of my brother!’
‘I’m glad to hear it Joseph,’ said Samuel as he handed him a parcel. ‘Because he certainly doesn’t make fun of your afflictions!’ He beamed broadly as Joe began to unwrap the parcel. There was silence in the room as he took out the rubber sheet and held it up with a puzzled expression on his face. He looked at his father, but Ben shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
‘I’m surprised your father never thought of it before,’ said Samuel. ‘But I’m sure it will give you a great deal of comfort and relief to know that you don’t need to be embarrassed anymore about your disability Joseph.’ Joe looked at his uncle in disbelief, his mouth hanging open. ‘Why don’t you go and try it on your bed now?’ asked Samuel.
Joe stood up and took a step towards the man, his fist clenched. Ben jumped up and pulled on his son’s sleeve and said. ‘Joseph! I’d like you to go upstairs son.’ He looked at Joe meaningfully. ‘Do as I say please! We’ll speak about this later.’
Joe looked at his father, his nostrils flaring and his face a bright shade of red. After a moment he gave a slight nod and turned away. Ben watched as his son walked slowly up the stairs, the rubber sheet trailing behind him. He turned to Samuel. ‘There was no need for that!’ he began.
Samuel put up his hand. ‘Please Benjamin!’ he said. ‘Don’t thank me. It was worth it just to see the look of gratitude on the boy’s face. Why… he was absolutely speechless with delight.’ He turned to Adam. ‘Now Adam!’ he said. ‘I have a real treat in store for you!’ He beamed. ‘Eric showed me the theatre today and I visited the Box Office with the thought of purchasing a ticket for you to see the latest show.’
Adam smiled. ‘Well what a nice thought,’ he said. It seemed to him that he was getting the best of the presents. ‘Was it for the new comedy or the Shakespeare?’
‘The Shakespeare,’ said Samuel. ‘I hope that meets with your approval.’
‘Yes,’ said Adam. ‘I haven’t seen it yet. Thank you!’
‘Ah but there’s more!’ said Samuel. ‘As chance would have it, I met a dear friend of yours in there.’
Adam frowned. ‘And just who might this dear friend be?’ he asked.
‘A lovely lady. The resident school teacher I believe.’
Adam paled. ‘Not…. Not Abigail Jones!’ he whispered.
Samuel beamed at him. ‘Yes That’s her! Miss Abigail Jones! Such a lovely young lady and so very refined! She filled me in on your … well shall we say… long-standing relationship with each other.’ He turned to Ben. ‘I’m sure you’re most pleased with the match Benjamin.’ Ben sat down heavily on the sofa and tried not to look at Adam. ‘Well anyway, it was lucky that we bumped into each other, because I was able to persuade Miss Jones to accept a ticket as well,’ said Samuel. ‘She’ll meet you there on Friday night. It will be much more pleasant for you seeing the production with your young lady’s company than by yourself.’ He beamed at Adam as he held out the tickets to him.
Adam sat back in his chair and stared at the tickets in his hand silently. Samuel stood up. ‘Well I’m off to bed,’ he said. ‘All in all Eric, I think we’ve had a very profitable day. It gives me such pleasure to be able to give things to others in this way.’
Ben watched as his uncle walked up the stairs. ‘I think I got the best of the deal,’ he said as he popped a lemon drop into his mouth. He made a face and spat it out again into his hand. ‘I never could abide these things!’
‘I ain’t doing it!’ declared Joe. ‘You can’t make me!’
‘Joseph!’ thundered Ben. ‘You most certainly are doing it young man! Both of your brothers have had a turn with your uncle and its about time you did the same!’
‘No way!’ declared Joe. ‘I’ll end up hitting him or something!’
Ben pointed his finger at his youngest son. ‘You most certainly will not!’ he said. ‘And if I hear of you being impolite to your uncle you’ll be sorry young man!’
‘Well if he starts on about that bed-wetting stuff again I’ll….’
‘I told you before that I’ve had a word with him about that,’ said Ben. ‘He understands that he’s not to talk about it.’
‘Well I hope so!’ said Joe. ‘Cause it ain’t funny!’
‘Uncle Samuel don’t think it’s funny Joe,’ said Hoss. ‘He thinks it’s serious.’
Joe glared at his brother. ‘Well it ain’t funny and it ain’t serious!’ he said. ‘It’s….’ he flung his arms up in the air, lost for words. ‘It’s….. nuthin!’
Ben stroked the back of his youngest son’s neck. ‘Now Joe,’ he said soothingly. ‘We know there’s nothing to it son. Don’t get so steamed up about it. Just forget it.’
‘That boy being emotional again?’ asked Samuel as he came into the room. ‘Honestly Ben, I thought you would have beaten those tendencies out of him by now. A good thrashing is what he needs!’ He looked at Joe sternly. ‘You have to learn to calm down young man,’ he said severely. ‘You want people to treat you as a grownup like your brothers don’t you? They never will if you carry on like that you know.’
‘Joe is just getting something off his chest,’ said Ben. ‘He’s fine.’
‘Well he needs to act a little more maturely if he expects people to treat him as such,’ sniffed Samuel. ‘Come on Joseph, I’m looking forward to that ride you promised me.’ He drew his coat around him as he headed for the door. ‘I sure hope it’s not too chilly out.’
‘Joe will bring a blanket for you Uncle,’ said Ben handing Joe a blanket. ‘Remember what I said Joseph,’ he warned his son. ‘Keep your temper young man.’
‘I’ll try,’ said Joe. ‘But don’t blame me if he comes home with this blanket stuffed into his mouth!’ Ben grimaced as the door banged behind his youngest son. He lifted his eyes heavenward. ‘Nineteen days!’ he said. ‘And counting!’
‘Strange name for a ranch,’ sniffed Samuel. ‘Where did your father get the name Ponderosa from Joseph?’
‘Its named after the Ponderosa pines,’ said Joe pointing up at the trees that surrounded them.
‘Oh I see, ‘ said Samuel wrinkling his nose. ‘Spanish!’ He sighed as if that said it all. ‘I don’t hold with those foreign names myself.’ He glanced at the young man driving the team beside him. ‘I gather you don’t like me very much Joseph,’ he said.
Joe shrugged. ‘I like you well enough,’ he said diplomatically.
Samuel put up his hand. ‘Now now,’ he said. ‘There’s no need for you to lie about it boy. I’ve been sensing a bit of hostility from you in the past few days. I just want you to know that it’s all right. I don’t blame you for the way you are.’
‘Don’t you start in on that again!’ said Joe.
‘I have no intention of mentioning your disability,’ said Samuel soothingly. ‘You father has explained to me how sensitive about it you are. No… I meant your personality that’s all.’
‘Yes. Your fiery nature. It takes all kinds to make up a world you know Joseph and there’s some people who believe that that’s a good thing. Personally I think that we’d all be a lot better off if we were the same. However, I’m well aware that hot tempered people like you do have their place and I’m not about to let your unfortunate nature spoil our relationship.’ He smiled at the young man kindly. ‘I’m prepared to allow you a certain amount of leeway for your father’s sake.’
Joe gritted his teeth. ‘That’s kind of you,’ he said sarcastically.
‘Yes I know,’ continued Samuel. ‘Mind you, if it wasn’t for your father I’d give you a real talking to young man.’ He sighed. ‘Not that it would probably do any good. It’s in your blood and there’s not a lot you can do about that.’
Joe pulled the horses to a halt and turned to face his uncle. ‘You keep saying that!’ he said. ‘What’s that supposed to mean in my blood?’
‘I mean your mother of course,’ replied Samuel. ‘I’m sure she was a beautiful woman as you keep telling me, but beauty isn’t everything you know.’ He shook his head. ‘I’m sure that Benjamin rues the day he took up with that one.’
‘She wasn’t what you would call from a suitable background,’ said Samuel. ‘Mind you I don’t want to talk out of place. I’m sure your father has filled you in on her past.’
Joe stared at the man. ‘There’s nothing unsuitable about my mother’s past,’ he said.
Samuel nodded. ‘If you say so Joseph,’ he said. ‘I’m sure that your father has his own reasons for shielding you from the truth. Anyway!’ he said brightly. ‘Let’s not dwell on the past shall we? The important thing now is that you try to overcome your background and try to make your father proud of you.’
‘My Pa is proud of me!’ declared Joe, hitching up the reins again.
‘Is he?’ asked Samuel, genuinely surprised. ‘Well how about that! Still, it never took much to please Benjamin. I remember when he was a boy how the smallest thing would make him happy.’ He patted Joe on the thigh. ‘Be thankful that your father is content to settle for what you are Joseph. He’s a sensible man not to expect too much from you when he knows that you can’t deliver it.’
Joe frowned. ‘What do you mean by that?’ he asked.
‘You’re still young,’ said Samuel. ‘I’m sure you’ll measure up a bit more when you’re older. I must admit you have the looks for it.’
Joe smiled. ‘Thanks!’ he said. ‘…..I think.’
Samuel looked sideways at the boy. ‘A mite flashy,’ he said. ‘But still worthy of notice.’ He paused. ‘You make sure that you use those looks in the right way young man. Don’t you go the way of your mother now will you? It would break your father’s heart to think that a son of his had fallen into the gutter.’
Joe drew the horses to a halt again. ‘That’s it!’ he said. ‘I promised my Pa that I’d keep my temper with you… but enough is enough!’
Samuel looked at him shocked. ‘I thought you were going to work on that temper?’ he asked. ‘Honestly Joseph! I really think that Benjamin is wrong in not giving you the flogging you deserve young man!’
‘Here!’ said Joe flinging the reins at the man. ‘I can’t hit you, but I sure as hell don’t have to ride with you no more!’ He got down from the buggy and stood on the trail. ‘You can drive yourself back. I’m walking!’ And with that he strode off down the trail leaving Samuel shaking his head and muttering to himself. ‘Such language! If he were my son I’d belt him within an inch of his life! The problem with young people today is that they have no respect for their elders!’
‘Uncle Samuel,’ said Ben as his uncle drew up into the front yard. ‘Where’s Joseph?’
‘That young man decided to walk home,’ said Samuel as he got down from the buggy. ‘Just as well too. I was just about to give him the thrashing he deserves, if you don’t mind me saying so Benjamin!’
‘I do mind you saying so!’ said Ben angrily. ‘What happened?’
‘The boy lost his temper as usual,’ replied Samuel. ‘You really need to do something about that young man Benjamin. His language could do with some correction as well.’
Ben stared at his uncle as the man wandered into the house. ‘Seventeen,’ said a voice behind him and he turned to see Adam grinning at him.
‘Seventeen,’ repeated Adam. ‘Seventeen days left.’
Ben scowled. ‘Hmph!’ he said.
‘Well you must be honest and admit that he’s hard to take,’ said Adam. ‘I’m surprised that he made it back without a black eye considering the way he’s been riding Joe. All of us for that matter.’
Ben sighed. ‘He’s family Adam. I know that he’s a bit of an old grump…’
‘…. but he is family. Surely we can put up with him for a while. He is an old man after all.’
Adam lifted an eyebrow. ‘He’s an interfering old…’
Ben lifted his hand to stop his son. ‘Don’t say it!’ he warned. ‘It only makes it worse if it’s said out loud.’
‘Well I’m sorry Pa, but after him fixing me up with that….. Abigail Jones…. Well that’s the end as far as I’m concerned! Personally I think he deserves a punch on the nose and if Joe had done it then I’d stand there and applaud him.’
At that moment Joe entered the yard looking weary and very sorry for himself. He held up a hand as he passed by his father and brother. ‘I didn’t do it Pa,’ he said. ‘Much and all as I wanted to…. I didn’t do it.’ He looked around. ‘Did he make it back OK?’
‘Yes,’ said Ben. ‘You look as if you could do with soaking those feet young man.’
Joe shook his head. ‘They’re sore all right, but I’d much rather have aching feet than an aching head from listening to him all the way home.’ He shook his head as he looked at the house. ‘Is he in there?’
‘Then I’ll go soak them in the horse trough,’ he said. ‘I’ll see you later.’ He walked over to the corral and began to pull off his boots wearily.
‘Well don’t you look nice for your date?’ said Samuel brightly as Adam reached the bottom of the staircase. ‘I’m sure you’re looking forward to it!’
‘Yeah,’ said Joe. ‘Adam always enjoys spending time with Miss Abigail!’ He giggled at the thought of it as his older brother glared at him.
‘I’m glad that I was able to be of service then,’ said Samuel. ‘You go off and enjoy your night Adam. Please don’t bother to thank me.’
Adam glared at him and then at his father who was motioning to him to do just that. ‘Thank you,’ he said between gritted teeth, which only caused Joe to giggle even more. He turned and left the room, slamming the door behind him.
‘Now there’s a young man with style,’ said Samuel. ‘I’m so glad that he’s thinking about returning with me to New York. After all Benjamin, he’s really wasted out here don’t you think?’
Ben’s jaw dropped. ‘Adam’s thinking of going to New York with you?’ he said. ‘He hasn’t said anything to me about it.’
Samuel looked a little distressed. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I really shouldn’t have mentioned it until the boy was ready to talk to you about it. You see he feels that he’s missing out on things being stuck way out here. I imagine he’s trying to build up the courage to tell you so. Just act surprised when he does bring the subject up won’t you?’
‘I thought Adam was quite contented here,’ said Ben, trying not to look as hurt as he felt.
‘Oh I’m sure he wants you to think that,’ Samuel reassured him. ‘He wouldn’t like to hurt you.’ He turned his attention to Joe and Hoss who were engaged in a game of checkers. ‘Boys I notice you have a beautiful chess set over there,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you play that instead of checkers?’
‘We do sometimes,’ said Joe.
‘I’m glad to hear it,’ replied his uncle. ‘It would do Eric the world of good to stimulate his brain with a game or two. Chess can be a wonderful way of exercising ourselves mentally and I’m sure that you help your brother to do that when you can Joseph.’ He smiled at Hoss kindly. ‘You seem to be doing well with the checkers Eric, but don’t forget to aim for things a little harder when you can boy. It will do you good.’ Hoss glared at his uncle, but didn’t comment.
Hop Sing entered the room bearing a tray of coffee. ‘Thank you Hop Sing,’ said Ben as he began to pour. ‘Uncle Samuel?’
‘I’ll pour my own if you don’t mind Benjamin,’ replied Samuel. ‘That way at least I’ll be sure to be able to drink it.’ Ben clenched his jaw, but said nothing. ‘Do you really think that’s wise Joseph?’ asked Samuel as Joe reached for a cup. ‘You really should think about restricting your liquids after supper you know.’ Joe scowled at the man. ‘I know you consider yourself grownup now,’ Samuel continued, ‘and I promised that I would not mention your disability, but you really can’t expect the rubber sheet to be enough you know. You’ve got to exercise some control as well.’
Joe stood up. ‘I’m going to bed!’ he said angrily.
‘Good idea,’ said Samuel as he sat back in his chair. ‘Now you be sure to do those stomach exercises I showed you, won’t you?’ He turned to Ben. ‘He’s a sensible boy sometimes Ben. I’m glad to see that he has a good side to him as well when he wants to. Perhaps there’s hope for him in some small way.’
Hoss stood up abruptly. ‘I’m going out to the barn,’ he said.
Samuel watched him go with a smile. ‘Eric is a nice young man in spite of his limitations Benjamin. You really have done a good job with all your boys, even though it must have been hard at times.’
‘Yes,’ said Ben shortly.
Samuel nodded. ‘I suppose you haven’t really had a chance to think of your own needs when they were younger, but the time has come when you really should start to think about it.’
Samuel leant forward and said in a soft voice. ‘Companionship, Benjamin … of the female variety.’
‘I’m fine thank you,’ said Ben. ‘Since Joe’s mother died I haven’t really felt the need for a serious relationship.’
‘Well you should,’ declared Samuel. ‘Think of yourself now that you’re approaching your twilight years Benjamin. You don’t want to end up a lonely old man like me do you?’
Ben shook his head firmly. ‘No that’s true,’ he acknowledged. ‘I certainly don’t want to end up like you Uncle Samuel.’
‘Well there you are then!’ said Samuel. ‘A man of your advancing years should really think about his future. You can’t expect to rely on your boys to look after you forever. They will have their own lives to live soon and you don’t want to be left alone do you?’
Ben frowned. ‘They don’t look after me!’ he said. ‘If anything it’s the other way around!’
Samuel patted him on the arm. ‘There there,’ he said. ‘Don’t get yourself all upset now. I only meant that you might want to start thinking about your future. You deserve to think of yourself now that your best years are behind you.’ He sipped his coffee. ‘Believe me I know,’ he said sorrowfully.
‘I don’t consider that my best years are behind me!’ declared Ben. ‘I’m still a very active man.’
Samuel nodded thoughtfully. ‘Oh I’m sure you are,’ he said. ‘It’s all relative though isn’t it? Compare yourself now to what you were able to do even a few years ago Benjamin. Surely you’ve felt a little slower as the years creep up on you?’
Ben hesitated. ‘I…. I do just fine thank you,’ he said crossly.
‘That’s good. You keep going while you can,’ replied Samuel. ‘Make the most of it in the time you have left I always say.’ He thrust his legs forward towards the fire contentedly.
Ben stood up. ‘I think I might go up to bed,’ he said.
‘That’s a good idea,’ said Samuel with a smile. ‘Get as much rest as you can. You’ll need it to keep your energy level up tomorrow.’
Ben nodded thoughtfully and climbed the stairs slowly to his room. Suddenly he felt rather tired. Samuel continued to toast his toes in front of the fire happily.
‘Quick!’ said Joe as he shovelled another mouthful of breakfast in. ‘They could be down here at any minute!’
Hoss reached for the basket of rolls. ‘These are OK if ya put em in ya pocket,’ he said. ‘Ya can eat em on the run.’
Joe grabbed a couple. ‘Thanks!’ he said. ‘Good idea.’ He looked over at Adam. ‘Hurry up!’ he said. ‘We’re running out of time.’
Adam looked up mournfully. ‘So what?’ he said. ‘What does it matter? In fact what does anything matter?’
Joe swallowed his mouthful. ‘What do you mean what does it matter?’ he asked. ‘You don’t want to be the one to get stuck with him today do you?’
Adam shrugged. ‘Anything would look good compared to what I had to put up with last night,’ he said dully.
‘That bad eh?’ asked Hoss sympathetically.
Adam merely nodded and put his head down. There was a noise behind them on the stairs and Ben and Samuel appeared. ‘Good morning boys,’ said Ben.
‘Morning Pa,’ chorused Joe and Hoss as they made for the door.
‘Where are you going in such a hurry?’ asked their father.
‘Work!’ said Joe. ‘Bye Pa!’ He slammed the door after them.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ asked Ben as he sat next to Adam.
‘Oh nothing!’ Adam replied sarcastically. ‘I had a wonderful time last night with Miss Abigail Jones remember?’
Ben tried not to laugh, ‘Oh of course,’ he said. ‘How did it go?’
‘How do you think?’ asked Adam mournfully.
‘I’m glad to hear it,’ said Samuel as he seated himself at the table. ‘You know Adam when you come to New York your young lady is most welcome to accompany you. I assume that you’ll have made it official by then.’ He glanced over at Ben. ‘Oh I’m sorry!’ he said apologetically. ‘I forgot that you two haven’t discussed it as yet.’
‘Discussed what?’ asked Adam.
‘Your trip to New York,’ said Ben with a touch of bitterness in his voice. ‘It seems like I’m the last one to be told about it.’
‘Oh,’ Adam looked embarrassed. ‘I’m sorry Pa. Nothing was definite. Uncle Samuel and I were just talking the other day and…’
‘I explained it all to your father Adam,’ said Samuel. ‘He understands.’
‘Do you Pa?’ asked Adam. ‘Good.’
Ben looked hurt. ‘Of course I understand Adam. ‘If you really feel the need to go back East for a while, then who am I to stop you? You know that I only want the best for you son.’
Adam looked puzzled. ‘But I never said…’
‘Your father understands Adam,’ said Samuel. ‘He knows how useless you’ve been feeling around here.’
Adam frowned. ‘I never said that!’ he said. ‘Pa, I don’t! I would talk to you if…’
‘He doesn’t want to hurt you,’ explained Samuel. ‘It’s alright Adam. Your father only wants what’s best for you boy.’
Adam stood up. ‘I give up!’ he said.
‘Oh don’t give up son!’ said Samuel anxiously. ‘You’ll find you’ve still got a lot to give once you update yourself back East. It’s never too late you know.’
Adam shook his head at Ben and left the room, banging the door as he went.
‘You know Ben, none of your boys seem to know the polite way to leave a room without banging a door,’ said Samuel. ‘I really thought you would have instilled better manners into them. It’s the small courtesies that are so important I always say.’
Ben massaged his temples as he reached for a second cup of coffee. It seemed that he would be the one stuck with the man today and he wasn’t looking forward to it.
Ben reached for another piece of paper and glanced at the sofa as he did so. Samuel looked very comfortable in the large armchair by the fireplace where he was reading a book. Ben shook his head and focused his attention on the paper in front of him. Somehow today, the ranch accounts looked interesting to him. But then, anything would look preferable to conversing with that uncle of his!
As if he had read Ben’s mind, Samuel suddenly spoke. ‘You know Benjamin I’ve been thinking…’ he said. ‘I’m glad to see that you’re taking it easy. It would be so easy for you to overdo things at your stage of life.’
I told you last night that I’m feeling fine,’ said Ben crossly. He watched as Hop Sing put a cup of coffee in front of Samuel.
‘Thank you Hop Sing,’ said Samuel. ‘Do you think you could stoke up the fire a little please? It’s rather chilly in here.’ He shivered as he clutched his coat around him even tighter. ‘I’m sure you’re feeling fine Benjamin,’ he continued. ‘Taking it easy agrees with you. You’re lucky that the boys run things for you so well.’
‘The boys don’t run things around here!’ said Ben, feeling his temper begin to rise. ‘They’re a great help to me of course, but I’m still very much in control of the ranch.’
Samuel nodded as he sipped his coffee. He made a face and replaced it on the table again. ‘Too strong!’ he said. He smiled at Ben knowingly. ‘I’m glad to hear you say so,’ he said. ‘Doing the administrative tasks is almost like really working isn’t it?’
‘I’m usually out there with the boys,’ said Ben shortly. ‘Today is an exception.’
‘Oh I see,’ said Samuel. ‘If you say so.’ He called over his shoulder. ‘Hop Sing! Do you think you could give me a blanket? It really is rather chilly in here.’ Hop Sing dropped a blanket on his lap with a grunt and a sour look on his face. ‘Thank you,’ said Samuel. ‘And you can take that cup of coffee please. It’s far too strong for my delicate stomach to cope with.’ Hop Sing picked up the coffee cup and walked behind Samuel. For a moment Ben had a horrible feeling that the man was about to tip it over his uncle’s head, but to his relief he turned and stalked off into the kitchen again instead.
‘Why don’t you go for a walk?’ he suggested. Anything to get rid of the man!
‘No thank you,’ said Samuel. ‘It’s really rather cold out there. I honestly don’t know how you stand the weather here.’
‘I love it,’ said Ben defensively. ‘It’s very bracing once you get used to it.’
‘Well I could never get used to it!’ declared Samuel. ‘For someone of my delicate constitution it’s just too much to handle. I’m surprised that you still cope with it so well.’ He looked over at Ben. ‘You’re at an age when you’ll begin to feel the cold in your bones soon,’ he said. ‘Arthritis is very prevalent in our family Benjamin. You really can expect to stiffen up soon. Particularly leading such a sedentary life as you do.’
Ben’s jaw dropped. ‘Sedentary life?’ he said incredulously. ‘I’m very active!’
Samuel raised an eyebrow. ‘Hmm,’ he said, obviously not believing it. He turned back to the fireplace again. ‘If only I could get a decent cup of coffee!’ he said mournfully. ‘You wouldn’t think it was too much to ask.’
Ben clenched his fist and tried to concentrate on his paperwork. He glanced at the calendar on his desk. ‘Fifteen!’ he said. ‘And counting!’
‘Do we have to?’ whined Joe. ‘You know he’ll only say something nasty and upset everyone.’
Ben looked at his youngest son severely. ‘That will do!’ he said. ‘Your uncle is coming to the Church picnic and that is an end to it! Besides…’ he continued. ‘If we don’t go, then we have to think of something else to do with him for the day.’
‘Well, we could go and you could stay here with him,’ suggested Joe. Ben glared at him. ‘Well it was worth a thought,’ said Joe with a shrug.
‘Well good morning everyone,’ said Samuel brightly as he got to the bottom of the stairs. ‘Lovely day for a picnic isn’t it?’
‘Good morning Uncle Samuel,’ said Ben, trying to look bright.
‘Well you certainly look well rested Benjamin,’ said Samuel as he sat down. ‘I must say that I’m surprised though at all the early nights you and the boys seem to have. You certainly get lots of sleep around here.’ Joe scowled. If only the man realised that they all went to bed early to get away from him! ‘Well, what time is the picnic?’ Samuel asked brightly.
‘Straight after Church,’ said Ben. ‘Hop Sing has packed us a basket of food and we’ll take it with us.’
Samuel frowned. ‘I hope he hasn’t included anything too heavy,’ he said. ‘You all seem to eat far too many rich foods as far as I’m concerned. I think you should consider having a fast day once a week to cleanse your systems. Have you ever considered it?’
Joe leapt up to bang Hoss on the back as he began to choke. ‘You OK Hoss?’ he asked anxiously.
Hoss nodded. ‘It was just the shock of what he said,’ he replied as he reached for his coffee. His eyes bulged as he stared at Samuel.
‘I can see that Eric agrees with me,’ said Samuel. ‘Perhaps it’s something you could think about Benjamin?’
‘Perhaps,’ said Ben with a comforting shake of his head at Hoss. ‘Come on, we’ll be late for Church if we don’t get a move on boys.’
‘Oh that wouldn’t do at all!’ said Samuel. ‘I certainly don’t want to miss the sermon today. Do you know I believe that young Minister has been looking forward to my suggestions each week? He actually told me last week that he’d never had anyone speak to him the way I did. I’m glad to be of use to him of course, but I must admit it was a very nice thing for him to say.’ He stood up and reached for his hat. ‘He is a very nervous speaker though don’t you think?’
‘He never used to be before you started going to Church,’ said Adam pointedly.
‘Really?’ said Samuel. ‘I wonder why he’s suddenly developed that habit? Perhaps I intimidate him?’
‘Yeah,’ said Joe and earned himself a glare from his father.
‘Oh I hope not!’ said Samuel. ‘I’m only trying to help him. I really have an insight into the scriptures you know.’
At that moment, Hop Sing came into the room carrying a large picnic basket. ‘Picnic lunch!’ he announced with a glare at Samuel who gave the cook a pained look.
‘I hope it’s not too rich,’ said Samuel. ‘My stomach is….’
‘Velly delicate!’ snapped the cook as he flung up his hands. ‘I know! I know!’ He exited the room muttering to himself in Chinese and still waving his arms around.
‘Well come on boys,’ said Ben as he stood up. ‘We don’t want to be late for Church.’
‘No we don’t,’ agreed Samuel. ‘One of you bring out that picnic basket please.’
Joe glared at Samuel as he left the room. ‘How come he gets to give the orders?’ he asked.
Ben looked at him. ‘Just bring the basket please Joseph,’ he said as he also left.
‘Why me?’ asked Joe defensively.
‘Because you’re the youngest,’ said Adam as he passed him. ‘Come on sonny.’
Joe glared at his brother as he picked up the heavy basket and followed him.
‘Well this nice,’ said Samuel as he settled himself on the rug overlooking the lake. ‘Even if it is a mite chilly.’
Ben sighed. ‘Would you like to move to another position?’ he asked wearily.
Samuel sniffed. ‘No its alright,’ he said. ‘You know me…I never complain.’ Joe’s eyes bulged at the man’s remark and Hoss rolled his eyes at Adam behind Samuel’s back. ‘I suppose to people out here these affairs are quite enjoyable,’ continued the man. ‘I’m sure when you have nothing much to amuse yourself with they could be.’
‘Can we eat now?’ asked Adam. ‘I really want to go and talk to a few people.’
‘Me too!’ said Joe.
‘So do I,’ agreed Hoss.
‘You’ll all stay here!’ said Ben with a meaningful look at all three of his boys.
Hoss opened the picnic basket. ‘Oh boy!’ he said. ‘Hop Sing’s sure outdone himself!’ He began to unpack the food and spread it on the rug.
‘Now Eric,’ Samuel chided. ‘You don’t want to overdo it do you? Try to remember that all that rich food isn’t good for you… especially in your condition.’
‘What do ya mean…. My condition?’ asked Hoss defensively. ‘I’m not in any kinda condition!’
‘Well you must admit you’re not exactly in the best physical state,’ said Samuel calmly as he helped himself to a sandwich. ‘You don’t want to jeopardize your health any more than you have.’
Hoss looked worried. ‘I ain’t jeopardizing nothing!’ he declared with his mouth full.
‘If you say so,’ said Samuel. ‘Things in moderation though is my motto.’
There was an uneasy silence as everyone began to eat. Hoss chewed his food thoughtfully. ‘Drink up Joseph,’ said Samuel as he offered Little Joe a glass of lemonade. ‘There’s no need to worry at this time of the day you know.’
Little Joe stood up angrily. ‘Pa!’ he said. ‘Can I get outta here…..please?’
Ben sighed. ‘All right,’ he said wearily and watched as his youngest son strode off angrily.
‘Not another chicken leg Eric,’ said Samuel. ‘Don’t you think that one is enough?’
Hoss stood up and glared at his father. ‘Pa?’ he said.
Ben sighed again. ‘All right Hoss,’ he said as he rubbed his eyes and watched his second son disappear.
Adam stared at his father and Ben shook his head at his son’s unasked question. Adam sighed as he continued to eat. ‘So,’ said Samuel as he looked around. ‘What usually happens at these events?’
‘Families usually take the opportunity to catch up with each other,’ said Ben. ‘There’ll probably be some games in a while as well.’
‘Games?’ asked Samuel. ‘What kind of games?’
‘Oh … horseshoe throwing, tug of war, races….. that kind of thing,’ said Adam.
‘Hmm…well it’s as I said. For people who don’t know any other form of entertainment I suppose they’d be happy with that sort of thing,’ said Samuel. ‘I can understand why a young man such as yourself would be bored with things around here Adam.’ Adam shot a look at his father and shook his head. Suddenly Samuel sat up straight. ‘Adam … There’s your young lady!’ Adam looked across warily at Abigail Jones who was smiling at him from across the pasture. He looked at Samuel again, obviously torn between the two evils in his mind. ‘Why don’t you go over to say hello to her?’ asked Samuel. ‘We wouldn’t mind, would we Benjamin?’ he winked at Ben.
‘No, I don’t suppose so,’ said Ben.
Adam hesitated. Suddenly his face lit up with a smile and he stood up. ‘Thanks,’ he said and left. Ben watched as his eldest son walked towards Abigail and then quickly changed direction and headed off in the other direction. Smart! he thought to himself. I wish I could think of something to get me away from here as well! He settled back reluctantly to listen to Samuel.
‘Well you must enjoy days like this Benjamin,’ said Samuel. ‘Nice and relaxed for you.’
‘Yes,’ said Ben.
‘Good for you to take it easy now that you’re able to,’ continued Samuel. ‘A man of your years…’
Don’t start that again!’ said Ben crossly. ‘I told you before I’m still very active.’
‘I know,’ said Samuel. ‘And I’m glad that you think so. Try and convince yourself that for as long as you can! I must say Benjamin, when I first came here I was rather reluctant when I saw how things really were, but you’ve managed to change my mind a bit I must admit,’ the man said sociably.
‘How things really were?’ asked Ben in spite of himself.
‘Well you know… it’s not exactly what you’d call a civilised part of the world,’ said Samuel as he looked around. ‘In fact it’s quite the opposite in some respects. Yet you’ve managed to overcome quite a few obstacles to make a decent life for yourself and your boys out here after all.’
‘Well thank you!’ said Ben, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
‘Don’t mention it!’ said Samuel with a smile. ‘I know it mustn’t have been easy for you either, what with the problems those boys have.’
‘I don’t think they have any problems to speak of!’ said Ben, rather testily.
‘I’m glad you defend them in spite of their shortcomings,’ said Samuel. ‘That’s what parents are for after all. They’re nice boys in spite of it all.’ He sat up straight. ‘What’s Joseph doing?’
Ben glanced over at his youngest son. ‘Just talking to some friends,’ he said.
‘That boy seems to be very social,’ said Samuel. ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course, but I do hope that you impress upon him the importance of watching his behaviour.’
‘Joseph knows how to behave himself,’ said Ben crossly.
‘I’m glad to hear it!’ said Samuel. ‘Still… knowing and doing are two separate things aren’t they?’ He shot a meaningful look in Joe’s direction as one of the girls reached up and pulled off the young man’s hat and ran off with it, and Joe chased her to get it back. Samuel sniffed. ‘If I were you I’d keep an eye on that youngster Benjamin,’ he said with a dark look. ‘It’s in his blood.’
‘What’s in his blood?’ asked Ben, beginning to lose patience with the man. ‘If you’re referring to anything to do with his mother, then you can just stop right there before you say something you might regret!’
‘Well I would think you’d be the one to regret taking up with her,’ said Samuel. ‘Not me!’
‘Please refrain from any more remarks of that nature Uncle Samuel,’ said Ben angrily.
Samuel looked hurt. ‘I’m only trying to help!’ he said huffily.
‘Well as I’ve said before Uncle Samuel, please don’t!’ said Ben. There was as awkward silence for a few moments and then Samuel got up. ‘Well I’ll think I’ll go for a walk,’ he said in a hurt tone. ‘It might help my delicate stomach after all that rich food.’
Ben watched him go. ‘Ten!’ he said in a determined voice. ‘And counting!’
‘It certainly is a strange place,’ said Samuel as Ben drew the buckboard to a halt. ‘What with theatres and saloons standing side by side its hard to know what to make of this town.’
‘It suits us just fine,’ said Ben as he got down. ‘Boys? Which of you is going to accompany your uncle to the Barbershop while I’m at the Bank?’
Adam, Hoss and Joe all looked at each other silently.
‘Well don’t fall all over each other will you?’ said Samuel crossly. He stared at them all. ‘I think it had best be you Joseph,’ he said.
‘Why me?’ squeaked Little Joe.
‘Because you look as if you could do with a cut as well,’ said Samuel. ‘Now don’t worry, it’s my treat!’ He pulled on Little Joe’s arm impatiently. ‘Come on boy,’ he said. ‘We can get it done together.’
‘Pa!’ called Little Joe desperately.
Ben lifted his hands in a gesture of futility. ‘Your uncle knows best son,’ he said, trying not to laugh at his son’s expression. He watched as the two of them disappeared around the corner. ‘Well if Uncle Samuel can manage to get that young man’s hair cut, then he’s more determined than I thought!’ he said. ‘Off you go boys, make the most of your freedom while you can. I’ll meet you back here in half an hour.’
As Little Joe and Samuel approached the barbershop, Joe tried to dissuade his uncle from his determined course of action. ‘I really don’t need a haircut,’ he said. ‘I’ll just watch you Uncle Samuel.’
‘Nonsense!’ said the man as he pushed the youngster into the shop. ‘Of course you do! No arguing now.’ He took off his hat. ‘Good morning my man!’ he said, pushing Joe into the chair in spite of his protests. ‘A haircut for this young man first while I sit here and watch. ‘I’ll go next.’ He sat down on a chair and watched in satisfaction as the barber put a cloth around Little Joe. ‘Nice and short I think please barber. It’s far too long for my liking!’
‘It’s my hair!’ declared Little Joe. He ducked as the barber came near him with the scissors. ‘I want it left long.’
‘Who’s paying?’ asked the barber matter of factly.
‘I am,’ said Samuel.
‘Then I listen ta him,’ the man declared to Joe as he attacked his head with the scissors. ‘Must say it’s mighty strange ta see you in here though Joe,’ he said. ‘You only had a haircut a month ago.’
‘Yeah,’ said Joe. ‘Mighty strange ain’t it?’
‘Hmm,’ said Samuel ‘You mustn’t have done a very good job then sir. Make sure it’s better this time. I’m not paying good money for nothing.’
Joe scowled at his uncle in the mirror as he watched in dismay as his curls fell around him. ‘Hey!’ he said.
‘Sit still,’ said the barber, well used to the antics of the youngest Cartwright. ‘Unless you want to lose an ear.’
Little Joe sat as still as he could.
‘So what’s been going on out at the Ponderosa?’ asked the barber brightly.
‘Nothing!’ said Little Joe sulkily. ‘My uncle’s been visiting.’ He rolled his eyes to indicate Samuel beside them.
‘I’m Ben Cartwright’s uncle Samuel,’ said Samuel with a smile.
The barber turned and looked him up and down. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I’ve heard about you.’
‘Yeah. Lots of folks have been talking about you around town.’
‘I’ll bet they have!’ declared Little Joe.
‘Well isn’t that nice!’ said Samuel, pleased. ‘Shorter please barber.’
‘That’s it!’ said Little Joe, trying to get out of the chair.
‘Do you want it lopsided?’ asked the barber, pushing him back down again. ‘I haven’t finished yet.’
‘He’s too emotional for his own good,’ Samuel explained to the man. ‘Needs to calm down about things.’
‘Always was highly strung,’ agreed the other man. ‘I remember many a time when he was a little boy coming in here with his Pa for a haircut. Seems that Ben had to practically hold him down before I could do it.’
‘He gets it from his mother’s side of the family,’ explained Samuel. ‘She was….’
‘Do you mind?’ asked Joe indignantly. ‘I am here you know! Quit talking about me as if I wasn’t!’
‘Finished,’ said the barber as he took off the cloth and stepped back to let Joe stand up. Joe picked up his hat and plonked it on his head as he scowled into the mirror. ‘Thanks for nothing!’ he said and turned to go. ‘I’ll see you later Uncle Samuel,’ he said. ‘I’m going to find Adam and Hoss.’
‘Don’t go too far Joseph,’ said Samuel as he sat in the chair himself. ‘Now what was I saying? Oh yes! Apparently the boy’s been like it for a long time then? Tell me more.’
Joe strode into the Silver Dollar and sat down next to Hoss. He leant over and grabbed his brother’s beer and took a long swig of it before banging it down on the table again. ‘I’ve had him!’ he declared.
‘Neither of his brothers needed to ask to whom he was referring. ‘Five,’ said Adam quietly.
‘Five,’ he repeated. ‘Five days left with him. Pa’s been counting them down for ages.’
‘Has he?’ asked Hoss. ‘I’m not surprised. I wish I’d thought of doing it sooner. It might have helped the time go faster.’
‘Nothing helps where he’s concerned,’ said Joe with a scowl. ‘The sooner he goes the better! You ain’t really going with him are ya Adam?’
Adam snorted. ‘Of course not!’ he said. ‘That was all in his mind! I may be many things you know, but I’m certainly not stupid! There is no way that I’d voluntarily spend more time than I had to with that particular relative of ours!’
Joe nodded sympathetically. ‘Well he practically got me scalped this time,’ he said mournfully and took off his hat to show them. ‘See?’
‘Hoss made a face. ‘Kinda suits you little brother,’ he said. ‘Makes you look younger.’
‘Great!’ said Joe as he took another swig of Hoss’ beer. ‘Just what I need!’
‘Come on,’ said Adam, ‘We’d best go and meet Pa. He’ll be waiting.’ The three brothers headed for the swinging door and left the Saloon, almost bumping into Samuel as they got to the sidewalk.
Samuel looked shocked. ‘Boys!’ he said. ‘You haven’t been in there have you?’
Adam gave the other two a frustrated look. ‘Is there anything wrong with that?’ he asked.
‘Of course there is!’ exclaimed Samuel. ‘I can understand you having the occasional drink at night.’ He looked at Hoss and Adam, then his eyes travelled to Joe. ‘Well at least two of you should be old enough for that,’ he said. Joe sighed. ‘But in the middle of the day! What would your father think?’
‘He’d probably think of joining us if he knew where we were,’ said Joe rudely.
‘That is enough young man!’ said Samuel crossly. ‘I’m surprised at you allowing this youngster in there Adam.’
Joe’s been going into Saloons for a while now,’ said Adam. ‘Pa knows all about it.’
‘Well I must say that I’m quite shocked,’ said Samuel indignantly. ‘After all the boy is hot headed enough without any of you encouraging him in this way.’
‘Excuse us Uncle Samuel,’ said Adam. ‘We need to go and meet Pa now.’
‘Yes, I’ll come with you,’ said Samuel. ‘I think that Ben would like to know about this.’
As they crossed the street, Joe sidled up to Adam and asked. ‘How many did you say?’
‘Five,’ said Adam grimly. ‘And counting!’
‘Well who would have thought that my visit would have gone so quickly?’ said Samuel. ‘I’ve been here a month already! It hardly seems like it though.’
‘Has it really been a month?’ asked Adam sarcastically. ‘Well, what do you know?’
‘I know that my ticket is booked, but perhaps I should think about staying a little longer,’ Samuel mused. ‘After all, we’ve just begun to get to know each other haven’t we?’
Joe and Hoss exchanged a horrified look. ‘Ya can’t!’ said Hoss.
Samuel gave him a surprised look. ‘No?’ he said.
‘What Hoss means is that I don’t think the tickets are refundable,’ said Ben, giving Hoss a meaningful look.
‘What a pity,’ said Samuel. ‘It isn’t as if a man of my years can make a trip like this too often is it? Who knows when we’ll meet next?’
Joe tried to look sad. ‘Yes who knows?’ he said with a mournful expression on his face. ‘It’s too bad isn’t it?’
Samuel patted him on the arm. ‘There there,’ he said. ‘You’re not a bad boy underneath it all are you Joseph? One day you might rise above your background and amaze everyone. You could make your father proud of you in spite of it all.’ He turned to Hoss. ‘And you still have time to get your life in order Eric,’ he said. ‘It’s never too late to make something of yourself if only you have the willpower to do it.’ Hoss gave him a forced smile. ‘And as for you Adam,’ said Samuel. ‘I’m sorry you’re not coming back with me after all.’
‘Maybe another time,’ said Adam grimly.
‘I hope so. You’re welcome to visit me any time you like. I wouldn’t be ashamed of showing you off in New York. You’re quite the best of the bunch and would know how to behave in decent company in spite of all your years out here in the wilderness. Perhaps you could take these two under your wing and try and show them how to make something of themselves? One day they might be up to visiting the civilised East as well without being out of their depth.’
Ben felt himself losing his temper, something that he had vowed not to do so close to his uncle’s departure. ‘I think you’d better get on the stage now Uncle Samuel,’ he said.
Samuel smiled at him. ‘Yes you’re right,’ he said. ‘Well, goodbye boys. Remember what I’ve tried to teach you while I’ve been here won’t you?’ He walked over to the stage with Ben. ‘Now Benjamin,’ he said. ‘I have to tell you I am quite proud of you in spite of everything,’ he said. ‘I always thought of you as like your father, but it seems that you’ve grown to be much better than that particular individual.’ He developed a sour look on his face as he thought about his brother. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘You haven’t done too badly at all.’
‘Goodbye Uncle Samuel,’ said Ben. ‘Thank you for the visit.’ He practically pushed the man up the stairs into the stage.
Samuel put his head out of the window and waved to them all. ‘Goodbye!’ he called. ‘Remember to keep me in your thoughts!’
The four Cartwrights watched as the stage disappeared around the corner of Main Street. ‘I’ll keep him in my thoughts all right!’ said Adam sarcastically. ‘Shame there won’t be any good ones amongst them!’
Hoss let out a sigh of relief. ‘Thank goodness he’s gone!’ he said.
‘Yeah!’ said Joe. ‘Good riddance I say!’
‘Now boys,’ said Ben. ‘He is family after all.’ He smiled at them all. ‘And I for one am very pleased that that particular member of the family lives so far away!’ he declared. ‘Boys will you please do me a favour? The next time I mention inviting any member of our family for a visit, please remind me of what I’m about to say.’ He took a deep breath. ‘That man is the most cantankerous, nasty-minded, troublemaking individual I’ve ever met and I have no intention of ever letting him step foot on The Ponderosa again!’
His three sons grinned at him. ‘And mighty pleased we are to hear you say that too Pa!’ declared Adam. ‘We can do without Uncle Samuel in our lives!’
‘Sure can!’ echoed Hoss.
‘Come on boys,’ said Ben. ‘The drinks are on me. We’re celebrating our freedom again!’
‘Yes sir!’ said Joe happily. ‘Goodbye Uncle Samuel… may we never meet again!’