Cody Pyle Returns [1]    

(September 2003)


Abigail Jones smacked her yardstick across her desktop, the third time since lunch.   The wooden instrument shattered, spitting splintered sections into the laps of her two quietest students, the Woods twins.  Maria and Melinda exchanged wide-eyed glances from their front row seats as their dark brown eyes shifted from their reading lesson to the sharp-tongued teacher in front of the class.

“Joseph Cartwright, after all the warnings I’ve given you today about your behavior, what possessed you to take unexcused leave of your seat to go daydreaming by the window?  I’ve been extremely patient with you, young man, but my tolerance has reached its end.”

A trace of worry chased across the twelve-year-old face, but quickly vanished as the child prompted, “Can’t ya hear it, ma’am?  Don’t ya hear that whistling?”  Frustrated, the youngster rushed to the fling open the door.  “Ya GOTTA hear it now.”

Snatching her fragmented rule from the twins’ outstretched hands, Abigail marched to the door, demanding, “Since when does this classroom come to a standstill because some passing stranger just happens to be whistling?”  Taking in the size of the approaching traveler, the teacher commented a bit warily, “A rather massive man, isn’t he...  but just the same, Joseph...”

His own patience fizzling, Joe slapped his thigh, interrupting, “Ma’am, I’m tryin’ to tell ya, that AIN’T no stranger.  That fella is a real good friend of my brother Adam.  When I was a boy, he promised he’d come back and visit me one day and sure enough, there he is!”  Leaving the open-mouthed instructor in his wake, the child dashed out the door, leapt off the porch and barreled full tilt at the now laughing man.

“Cody!  Cody!”

Bending down to stretch out a beefy arm, Cody Pyle pulled Joe up into his saddle, returning the boy’s embrace with a heartfelt bear hug of his own.  Grasping the slender shoulders, he pulled the child back enough to study him. “Look at ya, boy, you musta doubled in size since I last seen ya!”  Still a small sprite fer yer age, but then there’s no gain callin’ yer attention ta that, I reckon.

As they approached the hitching rail at the schoolyard, Cody took in the slim, bristling woman on the porch, still gripping the wooden stub in her right hand.  A touch of concern in his deep, gravelly voice, the big man whispered in Joe’s ear, “She didn’t break that there stick across yer backside, did she, boy?”

Joe grinned over his shoulder, “Naw, but she’s as mad at me right now as a hive a bees in bear’s paw.”  Remembering Abigail’s promise to send home a note if he disturbed the class again with his shenanigans, the boy requested hopefully, “You think you can talk her out a writin’ a note to my pa?  Cause, um, I really would’a been good for the rest of the day, ‘cept I heard you whistlin’ and...’

Stroking his wild, dusty beard, Cody studied the worried hazel eyes poised for his answer.  “Yeah, well I reckon I’ve got me a reputation fer stirrin’ up trouble in Ben Cartwright’s sons, least ways in yer pa’s mind anyhow.”  Again, taking in Abigail’s stiff posture, the hefty man offered, “I ain’t no lady killer, youngun, but I’ll see what I cain do about gettin’ ya off the hook.”

After his passenger slipped from the saddle, Cody dismounted and removed his dust-laden hat, resisting the urge to slap it clean, against his leg.  Stepping humbly toward the school porch, he took in Abigail’s stern countenance and the flock of children peering from the doorway and through the windows.  “Ma’am, I cain’t tell you how sorry I am, fer disruptin’ yer day.  Believe me, this youngun’s big brother Adam cain tell ya, I’ve got nothin’ but respect fer anyone who’s got the know-how to teach another human soul.  And here you be, ma’am ... why ... teachin’ a whole passel a kids.  Yer ta be commended, fer shore.”

Detecting true respect for her talent, Abigail softened slightly, but then her eyes shifted to a grinning Little Joe and her temper flared, “It won’t work, Mr... uh, Mr...”

Extending his hand, Cody introduced himself, “Pyle, ma’am, but I’d be mighty obliged if you’d jest call me Cody, same as this youngun here.”  With a warning scowl at the youngster to wipe the grin off his face, he turned once more to the teacher.  “Now, this lad hasn’t seen me in a coon’s age and then some, ma’am.  He was jest yea high the last time I come through these parts.  And when my travels brung me so close agin, well, I jest had ta swing by, ta see him and his family.  Folks in town tole me yer school was gettin’ ready ta let out fer the day.  In fact, I recollect one woman sayin’ somethin’ about a spring holiday?  Might that be why these younguns have extra ants in their britches taday?”

Nodding, still a bit disgruntled, Abigail suddenly realized just how much she needed an intermission, “Well, I suppose with it so close to the end of the day and the beginning of their holiday AND since you are such a good friend of Ada...”  Blushing, she corrected, “That is, the Cartwright family, Cody, I’ll turn this ‘passel’ free a few minutes early.” 

A whoop of glee filled the air and the instructor spun on her students, “You just make sure you take all of your belongings home with you, children.  The schoolhouse will be cleaned from top to bottom while you’re away.  Anything not nailed down may not be here when you return.”

The children chorused, “Yes, ma’am,” before swarming through the classroom, scooping up coats, hats and other items, before vanishing in a streak, leaving only echoes of shrill laughter and yelps of joy lingering in the schoolyard.

Wearily, Abigail requested, “Do give ... all the Cartwrights my best when you see them, Mr. ... uh, that is, Cody.”  As Joe stumbled out onto the porch, choking an armload of his own belongings, his teacher added, “Enjoy your holiday, Joseph.  And do try to wear off some of that extra energy while you’re away from school.”

His face beaming, Joe answered enthusiastically, “Yes, ma’am.  And you have a good break too.  I bet you can use it, huh?”

Tipping his hat at the dumbfounded woman, Cody promised with a wink, “I’ll do my part to see that he uses up some of that there extra energy, ma’am.  Nice meetin’ ya.”

As the pair headed toward the Ponderosa, at Cody’s leisurely pace, Joe complimented, “Well, you sure picked the right words outta your hat, bringin’ Adam into it, Cody.  I think that probably swung her around.”

“How’s that?  Yer teacher have a warm spot fer that older brother of yers, does she, boy?”

Joe yelped with laughter.  “A warm spot!”  Crossing his hands over his heart, he pretended to swoon, “Her heart burns for Adam ... like a volcano about to erupt!”

Chuckling heartily over the youngster’s dramatics and analogy, Cody probed, “Should I be guessin’ that yer older brother don’t share that gal’s fiery feelin’?”

Rolling his eyes, Joe confirmed, “I’ll say!  And when my pa ain’t around and Adam’s gotta come sort things out at school, well let me tell ya, it doesn’t score me any points with older brother!”

A glint in his eye, Cody asked fondly, “How is Adam, Little Joe?”

“Oh, he’s fine.  Got lots ta do all the time.  Pa keeps him real busy.”  Hesitating, he revealed, “Truth is, he ain’t gonna be at home when we get there.”  Seeing the expected disappointment rise in Cody’s eyes, Joe quickly assured him, “But he ain’t so far away.  He’s up supervisin’ Pa’s latest lumber contract.  And I’ve been thinkin’ on it, ever since we left the school.  I’m gonna ask my pa if I can take you to the camp, so you can visit Adam.  Maybe he can even get off for a day or two, but that’ll have to be between him and Pa.”

Relieved that he wouldn’t miss seeing Adam, Cody relaxed and drew out a cigar.  “And how about the rest of yer family?  Yer pa holdin’ up okay?  And what about that large brother of yers and that there mighty fine little cook?”

Though he couldn’t recall every detail of Cody’s last visit, Joe remembered the essence of their goodbye and the love that flowed from this man’s eyes and arms as they shared their final hug.   The boy felt that love now, knew it encompassed the entire Cartwright household.   “Everybody is just fine.  And they’ll be so glad ta see ya!  Golly, Cody, you just made my school holiday extra special!”

Both sporting wide grins now, the pair picked up their pace, suddenly anxious to reach the ranch house.


Ben sensed something in the air, just before he turned from his wood chopping.  A smile lit up his face as he drove the ax head into the log at his feet, hollering, “Hop Sing!  Hoss!  We’ve got company!”

As Joe and Cody reached the house, the cook emerged from the kitchen and Hoss strode up from the barn.  Happily surprised at the guest’s identity, Hop Sing announced, “Hop Sing make stew bigger now, for large dinner guest.  Make dumpling, bake pie, have good crop of potato in garden...”  Shaking the big man’s hand, the little cook bubbled over with exuberance.  “You sight for sore eyes.  Make much smile.”  Locking eyes with Ben, he shook his finger, insisting, “You send someone, get Mr. Adam home, lickety-split, so he not miss good friend.”

Growling, Ben commanded, “Hop Sing, you take care of fattening up your stew!  Let me worry about ‘Mr. Adam’!”

Throwing up his hands, the cook spun on his heel and stalked off toward his garden.  His fiery retort in his native tongue left Ben massaging his temples.

Cody’s deep laughter returned smiles to everyone’s face.  “Well, I see yer cook’s still got his spunk.  Sure cain make a fella’s mouth water though, speakin’ about all that fine grub.”

Ben grabbed and pumped the large man’s hand, “Cody, this sure is a wonderful surprise.  And don’t you worry a moment about Adam not being here.  I’ll see that...”

Joe tugged on his father’s vest tail, “Pa?  I was kinda hopin’ you’d let me take Cody up to the lumber camp.  I know the way and Cody will keep a good eye on me, so you won’t have ta worry or nothin’...”

Ben and Cody exchanged a strange look, which neither Cartwright son missed.  Squeezing Joe’s shoulder, Ben allowed, “Well, I’ll give it some thought, Joseph.”

“But, Pa...”  A stern glance reminded the boy of who was in charge and that proper respect was expected.  Joe answered quickly, “Yes, sir.”

Cody Pyle observed the scene.  He’d met countless people during his exploration of the country, but none of them made more of an impression on him than this father and his relationship with his sons.  He marveled at Ben’s ability to corral his children with a single word or glance, but much more impressive, this same man could tell his boys he loved them with every breath in his body, simply by laying a hand on their shoulders or capturing their eyes with his own.  An orphan, with no family ties he knew about, Cody swallowed hard, reminded suddenly of just what this family really meant to him.

Clearing his throat, to remove the tightness there, the big man asked jovially, “My room in yer barn still available, Ben?”

Hoss grabbed their friend’s horse, knowing there was no talking him into staying in one of the guest rooms.  “I’ll get yer horse settled, if’n ya like, Cody.”  Admiring the animal, Hoss couldn’t resist stroking it.  “He shore is a beauty.”

Glad to have the subject shift, Cody grinned at Ben’s middle son.  “Yep, he’s a fine critter all right.  He and me, we’ve seen a lot tagether.  Lost my other horse a few years back and a fella give me Cinder here as a present fer helpin’ him clear off a sizeable chunk a his land.  Said a big man needs a big horse and it was only fittin’ that this big fella carry a proper-sized passenger.”

Hop Sing poked his head out the bathhouse door.  “Water hot now, Mr. Cody, whenever you leady.”

Tipping his hat, Cody grinned, “Ya shore know how ta take care of a fella, Hop Sing.”  Sniffing the air, he added, “And much as I want a bath, I’m so lookin’ forward to that there fine supper yer rustlin’ up!”

Turning Joe in the direction of the barn, Ben landed a swat to his rump, ordering with a grin, “Go on and help your brother with Cody’s horse and his things, then get to your chores, young man.”

Giggling, the boy stepped quickly away, to avoid a second swat, “Yes sir, Pa.” 

The brothers wandered off amiably and Ben accepted the cigar Cody presented, with a nod of thanks.  They puffed silently until Cody broke in, “Boys seem to have come along nicely, Ben.  That youngun still keeps ya hoppin’ though, don’t he?”  He chuckled.  “Guess he keeps that teacher a his on her toes too.”

With furrowed brow, Ben probed, “Was he acting up at school today?  I warned that young man this morning, that just because this was the last day before...”

“Now, Ben, that boy’s got a spirit about him.  And I’m ta blame fer the trouble this afternoon.  He heard me headin’ toward his schoolhouse and he jest plumb had ta come greet me.  I settled it all with that teacher a his.  The boy left on good terms.”

With an appreciative nod, Ben noted, “Well, Abigail has her hands full.  Of course, Joe isn’t the only one who acts up, but I fear he’s often the spark that starts the wildfire.  To her credit, Miss Jones keeps the class fairly well in control and she doesn’t hesitate to bring it to my attention when that scamp crosses over the line between rambunctious and just plain naughty!  We’ve been through it enough times that her threat of a note home usually settles him sufficiently.”

“From what Joe says, Adam’s still got a good hand in helpin’ ya raise that frisky pup?”

A warm smile spread over Ben’s face.  “I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have Adam home again.”

“Home agin?”  Cody’s eyes filled with confusion.

Shaking his head, realizing all the omissions, Ben hurriedly explained, “Well, there’s lots to fill you in on, isn’t there?  Adam went back East to school for several years.  Long years, it seemed at the time.  To be honest, there was a part of me that feared the East would lay claim to him, but he settled back in here, raring to put all his learning into practice.”

Ben mused, a hint of worry in his words, “Maybe I keep him too busy...”  Pushing away the guilt, he admitted, “He’s an enormous help to me, what with expanding the ranch, spreading out into other ventures and ...”  Shaking his finger at the barn, he emphasized, “And keeping an eye on that youngest scalawag of mine.”

Cody grinned, “Yes, well, from what I seen my last visit, those two have a certain respect fer one another.  Cut from the same cloth in some ways, ain’t they?”

Nodding, Ben surmised, “More than either of them realize I think.”  Considering it further, he added, “Then, I expect their differences are just as important as their similarities, in making that relationship what it is..."  Slapping the big guest on the back, he declared, “No matter!  They’re brothers, the three of them and they’re there for each other when it counts.”

And for you, when it counts, my friend.  “Well, I’ll take that bath now.  I cain shore use it.  Wouldn’t think a distractin’ yer noses from that fine meal in the waitin’.”

Ben chuckled, but as his large guest disappeared into the bathhouse, he mulled over his youngest son’s request.  Don’t let the past cripple you.  That was a long time ago and nothing more than an innocent oversight. 



Hop Sing’s cooking filled the air with fine aromas and Cody’s stories filled the room with laughter.  He shared the most memorable places and faces he’d encountered since his last visit and all the family members regretted that Adam was missing these colorful yarns. 

Finally, Ben announced over dessert, “Joseph, you’d better plan on an early night tonight, if you expect to take Cody to the lumber camp in the morning.”

Leaping up from his place, Joe engulfed his father in a hug, “Oh, thanks, Pa!  I can’t wait to see the look on Adam’s face!  Pa, I’ll never get to sleep tonight, just thinkin’ about it!”

Holding his son close, Ben patted his back, his own heart full, imagining his eldest son’s reaction to this surprise visit.  Clearing his throat, he insisted firmly, “Well, you see if you can’t settle down just a bit, young man.  After all, the last thing Cody needs is to have you falling asleep and slipping off your horse on the trail tomorrow.”

“Aw, Pa, I won’t.”  Joe grinned, then announced, “I’m gonna run upstairs and get my stuff together, case Adam says he can’t get away, cause then we’ll just camp out with him.  Okay, Pa?”

Joe shot up the steps, before his father could comment and Ben’s eyes sparkled over his son’s spontaneity.  Catching a similar light in Cody’s eyes, he insisted, “There’s no reason why you can’t bring Adam home for the weekend and then some.  The foreman he hired, Jake Weber[2], is a very capable and dedicated man.  He’ll keep things running smoothly in Adam’s absence.  Besides, they may be near finished with the cutting by now.” 


As Hoss bid them goodnight, Ben retrieved the brandy and the two men sat sipping it, the crackling fire a welcome accompaniment to their conversation.

“The place looks good, Ben.  Joe tells me you’ve got yerself inta all sorts a business now... lumber, mining, horses ... and you ‘got enough heads a beef ta feed everybody in the world’!”

Ben chuckled, “My youngest son tends to exaggerate, but we’re doing well.  We have money in different ventures in the area.  It’s good for the community and has benefited us, to be sure.  And the herd has certainly grown since you were here last.”  Refilling Cody’s glass, Ben raised his, “I’m a very lucky man, for so many reasons.  And ‘good friends’ is mighty high on my list.”

Joining in the toast, Cody nodded, “I count myself lucky ta have acquired yer friendship, Ben.  Having you and yer boys here, well... I know it’s taken me a while ta get back fer this visit, but I was mighty glad to hear ya were still in these parts.  I’ve kept yer family in my heart all these years and yer all jest as I remembered ya.”  With a yawn, he stood and stretched, “Well, best git on ta bed, if we’re ta get that early start.  ‘Spect that youngun will be up at first light, anxious ta lead me ta that brother a his.”  His eyes gave away his own excitement, “Lookin’ forward to seeing the growed up boy a yers, Ben.  What, with all them college lessons in him now and all, ya must be right proud a him.”

His voice suddenly husky, Ben replied, “You know I’ve always been proud of that boy of mine, Cody.”

Raising his glass in salute, the big man admitted warmly, “Yep, I know it.”  Draining the glass, he set it on the table and bid his host goodnight.


They’d been riding for a good hour or more and Cody couldn’t help but smile in amazement, at Joe’s incredible knack for keeping the conversation going.  As well, he imagined that this conversation could take place just as easily without his presence!

“Boy, why don’t ya take a swig off yer canteen.  Ain’t yer throat dry by now, from all that jawin’?”

Joe grinned weakly.  “Oh, guess ya’d like me to stop yappin’ for a bit, huh?”

Cody chuckled, “It’s okay, son, I spend lots a my life jest listenin’ ta birds and squirrels.  I don’t mind if’n ya talk, but I’d like ta slip in a question or two, if’n you’ll let me.”

“Well, sure.  Honest, Cody, you can just tell me ta shut up, if I’m talkin’ too much.  My brothers sure do.  I’m just excited, ya know?”

His grin widening, Cody nodded, “Yes, son, I know.  I’m excited about seeing him myself.”

His thirst quenched, Joe launched into another soliloquy and Cody couldn’t help but note this blatant difference between Ben’s oldest and youngest sons.  Five-year-old Adam had not been a chatterbox, by any means.  Not that he’d been shy.  If he had a question, he voiced it, though Cody suspected the tyke chewed on most things long and hard before he spit them out...

‘You like my pa, Cody?’

‘How’s that, boy?’

‘My pa.  Do you like him?’

‘Well, sure I do, son.  Any reason why ya’d think otherwise?’

Adam shook his head, ‘No.  I was thinkin’ you must like him, otherwise you wouldn’t be travelin’ with us, all this way.’

Wondering where this particular conversation was headed, Cody probed, ‘Do ya think some folks DON’T like yer pa, son?’

Eyebrows knitted, the boy explained, ‘Some folks don’t understand Pa.’

Stroking his bushy beard, the big man nodded, suspecting that this youngster had made it his primary ambition, to understand his father.  Ben Cartwright meant the world to this ‘little man’, intelligent beyond his years.  It was more than intelligence though.  The lad clearly adored his pa and studied him, learning his moods, his motives, his values and his passions, as they worked their way though good days and bad, ever forging ahead.

His eyes reaching out to the child, Cody stated sincerely, ‘He’s a good man, yer father.  Got a good heart.  Hard times make their mark on a man, son, but yer pa, well, his goodness is there.  A fella can see that and has ta, well, fergive the hard edges.

Adam grinned, satisfied that he’d sized up this big man correctly.  His attention shifted to the trail ahead and he pointed to the growing speck approaching.  ‘Look, Cody, Pa’s coming back from his scouting.’

The large traveler didn’t miss the hint of relief in the youngster’s eyes.  He slapped the reins, encouraging the team, bringing them closer to that growing figure in the distance...



As they neared the camp, Joe requested in an excited whisper, “Can you stay outta sight, till I find Adam, Cody?  I wanna make him guess who brought me up here.”  Enjoying the boy’s youthful fun, Cody nodded and took out a cigar.  As he lit it, Joe’s face clouded, “Are those special cigars, Cody?  Do ya think Adam will recognize the smell?”

“Special?  Yeah, a mite.  I’ve smoked others when I have ta, but I prefer these here ones, from Pennsylvania.”  He considered a moment.  “Your brother has a sharp mind, son.  No telling what he’s got tucked away in his memory.  Smells can stick in a fella’s head fer years and bring back them days gone by, quick as that.”  He snapped his fingers for emphasis.  Trying to interpret the boy’s expression, he finally questioned, “Would ya rather I didn’t light it, son?”

Shaking his head, Joe grinned, “No, you can.”  Rubbing his hands together, he noted the drift of the wind, encouraging, “And puff on it good.  We’ll just see how smart Adam is.”

The boy marched into camp as if he owned the place, drawing the attention of several lumberjacks.  Jake Weber stepped out of a tent, calling out, “Little Joe?  Somethin’ the matter at home, son?”   When the child spun round and shook his head, the foreman glanced about, then scolded, “You’d best not be up here all by yer lonesome, son.  Yer brother won’t like that.  This is no place for a youngster.”

Biting back an angry retort, Joe huffed under his breath, then answered as politely as he could, “No, sir, I ain’t here by my lonesome, but I want to see Adam, kinda in private.”

Rubbing his chin, to hide a knowing smile, Jake concluded, “Ah, I see, in a bit a trouble, are ya?”

Temper flaring, Joe snapped, “No, sir, I ain’t in trouble.  I just want to see Adam!”

“Joe!”  The boy spun to find his brother behind him, hands on hips, brow creased as he searched the area for signs of Hoss or Pa.  Scrutinizing the boy, voice edging toward anger, he questioned, “What are you doing here?  I sure hope you didn’t just wander up on your own...”

“Doggone it, Adam, this ain’t goin’ like I planned at all!  You’re ruinin’ everything!”

“Now, hold on a minute.  I overheard what sounded like a fair amount of disrespect in your voice, talking to Jake there, just now...”

Remembering the big man waiting on the sidelines, Joe managed to swallow his anger and disappointment, stubbornly forging ahead with his plan.  Looking Adam directly in the eyes, he insisted, “Sniff the air.”

“Huh?”  Beginning to wonder if his little brother might be experimenting with drink, Adam scrunched in his eyebrows, peering more closely as he posed, “You want to repeat that?”

His voice something between a whine and plea, Joe insisted, “Aw, golly, Adam, humor me, will ya?  Just sniff the air.  Tell me what ya smell.”

Lifting his hands in a gesture of surrender, Adam sniffed.

Groaning, Joe pushed impatiently, “Deep, like you was tryin’ to figure out what’s on the stove, from out in our barn.”

Looking briefly to the heavens for strength, Adam shut his eyes, taking a deep whiff.  He stopped dead cold.  His eyes shot open, to immediately scan the woods beyond the camp.  “Cody Pyle,” he breathed out in a whisper.  His gaze met Joe’s, instantly spotting tears glistening in the child’s eyes.  His voice rose, demanding now at the trees, “Cody Pyle!”  Though keeping his own tears of joy in check, Adam couldn’t remain still, taking off in long strides, bearing down on the hearty laugher answering him from the woods.

Jake and his loggers exchanged bewildered glances as their boss broke into a run.  Joe followed, at a respectful distance.  Something told him to let his brother have his reunion alone.

Beyond all eyes now, Adam sprinted, reaching out to grab Cody’s outstretched hand, before surrendering to his bear hug.  He admitted quietly into the huge shoulder, “He gave me your message, back then ... but I ... well, I wasn’t sure ... that you’d really ever get the chance...”

Giving the young man’s strong back several affectionate slaps, the large man scolded gently, “Promised that little boy I’d come back, son.  Old Cody don’t make a habit of breakin’ his promises...”

The two men stepped away, their hands briefly clasping each other’s forearms before they released each other completely.  Their eyes continued to speak, before Adam nodded, a hint of smile on his lips, “Yes, I didn’t always like the outcome of those promises, but I can’t think of any that you broke.”

The rustle of leaves alerted the pair to Joe’s presence and Adam turned, eyes filled with warmth as he opened his arms.  Capturing the boy in his embrace, he whispered into soft curls, “I’m sorry, buddy.  Thanks for bringing him up here to me.”  Joe held on tight, the memories of messages he’d delivered long ago, to both men, came rushing back.

Keeping an arm around his brother’s shoulders, Adam led them back to the camp, to introduce their large friend to the curious loggers.  Afterwards, as the men broke away to build their evening campfires, Adam held the foreman behind.  “What would you estimate, Jake, two more full days of cutting?”

“Closer to three, I think, Adam.  It’s been a long haul.”

“Yeah, I know.  The men have been working hard and they’re tired.”

Cody interrupted,  “Be happy to pitch in, Adam.  I’ve cut down my fair share of lumber over the years.”

Jake insisted, “Adam, I can keep this goin’ if you...”

Shaking his head, Ben’s eldest insisted, “I’m here until the last log hits that river, Jake.”  Turning to Joe, he stroked his chin, face twisting with his thoughts.  “This isn’t the place for you to be spending your spring break though, buddy.”  He looked to Cody, “How long had you planned to stay?  Because I was thinking, there’s a spectacular waterfall nearby.  You and Joe could camp there and I could join you in the evenings until the cutting is finished.  Much as I’d welcome your help, I think the kid here would enjoy exploring with you the next few days.  How would that be, Joe?”

Wide-eyed at the prospect, the boy looked up to Cody who just grinned his agreement.  Joe quickly suggested, “You’ll send word to Pa though, right, Adam?  Cause... well, he seemed worried about me comin’ up here at first and...”  The child watched the same silent exchange pass between his older brother and Cody, that he’d seen a day earlier between Cody and Pa. 

With a pat to his brother’s shoulder, Adam assured, “Of course I will, Joe.  I would never leave Pa wondering over your whereabouts.”   

Turning away he called out, “Billie!”  An older man trotted up and Adam instructed, “Need you to head to the Ponderosa, at first light and give my father a message for me.”  Thinking further, he decided, “I’ll write it out.”  Heading for a table beneath a canvas canopy, Adam sat and jotted down a rather lengthy message.

Joe shrugged, then rolled his eyes as he confided to his friend, “My brother sure can be long-winded, even when he’s writin’ a note.”

Ruffling the boy’s hair, Cody just chuckled.


The following morning, with the rush of the falls in their ears, the three campers enjoyed a fish breakfast, early enough to allow Adam to report back to the logging operation at a reasonable hour.  Seated on a large boulder with his little brother, the older sibling drained his coffee cup, then announced, “Well, I’d best get cracking, before my crew starts making comments about the boss being on spring holiday!”

Joe hopped up first, instantly trapped about the wrist, as Adam ordered, “Hold on there, boy, there’s something I want to discuss before I head out.”

Groaning inwardly, before turning to face big brother’s “lecture look”, Joe moaned, “Aw, Adam, you don’t gotta tell me ta behave.”

Eyes narrowing, the older brother reined the child back in to stand directly before him.  “Perhaps not, but I’m going to say my piece, just the same.”  Resigned to this fact of life, the boy waited, his gaze dutifully meeting his brother’s.  “I expect you to behave for Cody, the way you would for me or Pa.”  Catching a brief flicker of cunning spark in the boy’s eyes, Adam firmly amended, “Let me put that another way.  I expect you obey Cody and to act in a manner that adheres to the rules and guidelines under which you’ve been raised.  AND I’m going to leave you with a tidbit to chew on, in the event you foolishly choose to ignore my warning.”

Joe waited, growing fidgety, his wrist still captive.  “From personal experience, I can assure you that Cody Pyle knows just what to do to little boys who make foolish choices.”  With that, Adam released his hold and stood to face their large companion.  “He’s all yours, Cody.  You two have a good time.  I’ll try to get back for supper, but feel free to start without me.”

Mounting Sport, Adam vanished within seconds and Joe looked up to find Cody peering down on him, an expectant grin peeking out of his beard.  “Aw come on, Cody, that ain’t fair.  That’s just plain teasin’, Adam sayin’ that, then ridin’ off, leavin’ me wonderin’.”  When Cody’s smile widened, the boy begged, “Aw, come on, tell.  Did ya really wallop him when you were travelin’ with him and Pa?  Where was Pa when it happened, anyhow?  Does Pa even know ya did it?”

“Come on, boy, busy yerself cleanin’ our skillet, or didn’t ya want to go explorin’ while yer brother’s off workin’?”

“Please, Cody...”

Chuckling, the traveler scratched his beard, finally deciding, “Well, seein’ as how yer brother admitted ta the fact, I don’t see why I cain’t fill in the missing pieces.  First off, I think ‘wallop’ is a pretty harsh word fer a few smacks to a little tyke’s hind quarters.  What’s more, I expect I hurt yer big brother’s feelin’s more ‘an anything.”

Joe pestered, “You’re stallin’, Cody.”

“And you ain’t cleanin’ that there skillet neither, are ya, boy.”  As Joe tossed a bit of sand into the pan, Cody launched into the tale from the past...

Cody and the Cartwrights grew comfortable with each other, very early in their relationship.  An intuitive child, Adam trusted the stranger instantly.  Ben’s own instincts soon told him to do likewise and the three shared their food and few means of comfort as if they were a family.  By the same token, Ben freely left Adam in Cody’s care on the occasions he thought it wise to scout ahead of their wagon.  Cody’s horse, like his master, was an easy going creature and allowed Ben to ride him, while Cody either drove the Cartwright team or remained with Adam at the current campsite.

Cody became the primary hunter for the group and this particular instance marked the first time he took Adam along with him.  Before they started out, the husky traveler squatted down and fixed the boy in a firm stare.  The youngster waited, surprised at this sudden change in his friend’s demeanor.  ‘What with yer pa out on my Rusty, you’ll be comin’ along on the hunt taday, son.’  Adam’s eyes shone with excitement and pride as he nodded his ascent.  The lines in Cody’s face deepened and his voice grew even more serious, ‘I expect ya ta stick close to me, youngun.  No wanderin’ off fer any reason, ya got me?  Last thing I need is ta find I’ve shot me a little boy fer dinner.’  Cody watched the young eyes triple in size and gave a satisfied nod, glad to see his point had registered.  ‘That’s right, it’s a scary thought, but I want ya ta be scared.  Huntin’ is serious business, boy.  Bullet an arrow cain do ugly damage, that jest cain’t be fixed, much a the time.’

‘My pa’s told me about guns and all, Cody.  Don’t worry, I’ll stick close.’

‘Well, see that ya do.  When I look behind me, I expect ta see ya in my footsteps.’

Boy, adults sure liked to repeat things!   Adam kept his thoughts to himself, nodding his understanding.  He hesitated, then suggested, ‘Maybe I can shoot somethin’ with the slingshot you made me?  I’ve been practicin’ with it.  Gettin’ real good at hittin’ pinecones.’

For the first time Cody noticed the lumps in the boy’s pockets, resembling the cheeks of a busy chipmunk storing up for the winter.  ‘You got yerself  loaded down with stones there, son?’  At the boy’s nod, Cody chuckled before compromising, ‘Tell ya what.  How about if Cody makes a killin’ first, then we’ll see about givin’ you a lesson with that there new slingshot a yours.’

‘We’ll see’, Adam repeated grudgingly, fingering his weapon. 

Cody shook his index finger under the child’s nose.  ‘Now listen here, youngun, we need ta get us a good feed tanight.  Yer pa’s anxious to push ahead and our bellies best be filled up decent, aforehand.  So, ya best plan on doin’ things Cody’s way, else you’ll find yerself havin’ trouble settin’ fer yer supper tanight!’  Again the boy nodded, not wishing to rile his companion further.

With his slingshot dangling out of his back pocket, Adam trailed in his companion’s footsteps, his eyes searching ground and tree for possible targets.  After a bit, nature’s call forced him to stop and relieve himself.  As he did up his trousers, his ears perked up at the unmistakable chatter of a squirrel in the tree he’d just christened.  Cody’s long strides had carried him a fair distance already.  Adam knew he’d have to run in order to catch up.  Still, as the squirrel scolded, the budding hunter slowly reached around to tug out his slingshot, simultaneously digging a stone from his left front pocket.

As if laughing now, the squirrel twittered more incessantly, springing upward to light on a branch directly in the sun’s glare.  Adam squinted at the furry silhouette, then set his jaw, more determined than ever to nab the jabbering critter.

Launching the first stone, the boy scowled as it sailed well below his target.  The squirrel’s tail beat the air and Adam dipped into his pocket for more ammunition.  ‘You’re gettin’ cocky, but I’m gonna get ya this time.’

‘The only thing yer gonna be gettin’, boy is a lesson in followin’ orders.’  Adam dropped the slingshot and spun to find Cody glaring down on him, two rabbits dangling from his right hand.  Seconds later, that same hand was delivering the promised lesson to a captive backside, stinging swats accompanied by a sharp lecture, ‘When I tell ya somethin’, boy, I expect ya ta heed me, jest the same as yer pa expects from ya!’

When Cody set the child back on his feet, he ordered, ‘Pick up yer slingshot and folla me back ta camp.  You ain’t actin’ responsible enough fer no huntin’ lesson taday.’

Adam’s little chin puckered as he worked to contain threatening tears.  Without turning, Cody growled, ‘I’d best hear little footsteps patterin’ behind me, right quick, or boy, so help me, I’m gonna warm them britches a yers good and proper this time!’

Snatching up his slingshot, Adam resisted a sudden urge to hurl it at the still tittering squirrel.  He shot daggers at the blasted beast instead, before jamming his weapon back in his pocket and quickly matching Cody’s pace, to avoid further reprimand.  None-the-less, he stewed over the incident, his mood good and black by the time they reached camp.

Cody ordered, ‘Get the firewood tagether, boy, while I skin off these pelts.’  It only took one glance, to know Adam was giving him the silent treatment.  The boy prowled around the campsite, plucking up pieces of kindling, his face a dark cloud.  Shaking his head, the big man ignored him, confident he’d done the right thing, hoping Adam would soon draw the same conclusion.

Ben arrived just as the scent of cooked rabbit kissed the late afternoon air.  ‘Mmmm.  Smells like you two had a very successful day.’  Watching Cody silently slide a skillet of greens over the fire, Ben suddenly noticed his son’s absence.  He opened his mouth to ask, but was immediately interrupted.

Motioning toward their wagon with his chin, Cody explained, ‘Had ta give a lesson taday about followin’ orders.  Guess he’s decided ta go hungry, rather than apologize.’  Pulling out a cigar stub, the big man jammed it into his mouth and grunted, ‘Mule-headed little fella, ain’t he?’

Dragging off Rusty’s saddle, Ben mumbled, ‘Mule-headed.  Humph.  The word doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.’

After briefly discussing Ben’s observations of the trail ahead, the two ate in silence.  Their eyes suddenly met, at the sound of two small boots hitting the dirt below the back of the wagon.  Moments later, after careful deliberation, Adam approached the campfire.  ‘I’m sorry, Cody.’

Meeting contrite eyes, the big fella extended his huge hand, answering, ‘Apology accepted, boy.’  As their hands clasped, Cody encouraged, ‘How about sharin’ some of this meal with yer pa and me?’

The boy nodded, but turned to his father and quietly admitted, ‘I’m sorry, Pa, for bein’ naughty while you were away.’

Reaching out to push his boy’s tousled hair into place, Ben answered with a gentle smile, ‘All right, son.  You just see that you mind Cody in the future.’  Reaching for the plate Cody had prepared, he slid to one side of his log, suggesting, ‘Sit down now and eat.  We’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow.’

When Adam opted to climb into his father’s lap, Ben broke into a warm smile, slipping his left arm tightly about his son.  Cody slid a well-stocked plate onto the child’s lap and Adam dug in eagerly, commenting enthusiastically, ‘This is real fine, Cody.’  Looking his friend in the eyes, he asked hopefully, ‘Next time we camp, will you show me how to hunt proper with that slingshot?’

With a wink at Ben, Cody nodded, ‘Yep, that’s a promise, son.’


Joe absorbed Cody’s soft mood, but couldn’t hide his smirk as he asked, “Did Adam ever hit anything with that slingshot?  I mean, actually kill somethin’ for ya to serve up for a meal?”

“Sure did.  Was a squirrel in fact.  Only seems fittin’, don’t it?”  Chuckling, Cody suggested, “What do ya say, son, shall we see what all is out there, in them trees and bushes, fer our own supper tanight?”

Distracted by the waterfall behind them, Joe asked abruptly, “Are you a good swimmer, Cody?”

“Sure am, boy.  Got throwed in the water by some well-meanin’ fella who thought I’d better learn.  I was nothin’ but a pup at the time and I’d a drown, I think, if I didn’t get the proper way a thrashin’ down, there and then.  But I made a point of gettin’ dern good at it, after that day.”  Studying the boy, he dug, “Jest what’s so interestin’ ‘bout my swimmin’ talents, anyhow?”

“Cause, I wanna swim out to that waterfall.  Adam says the current’s too swift and that I don’t swim well enough for him to chance it.  Last time we came up here was when he first came back from college.  He waded us out there just like he did when I was little, with a anchor rope.  I just thought, you’d swim out there with me...”

Shaking his head, Cody scolded, “I ain’t gonna override nothin’ yer bother has set up fer ya, son.  Besides, we’d be better placed to let that water set fer now and get ta our huntin’.  Them falls ain’t goin’ nowhere.’

Glancing at the supplies heaped on the ground, Joe noticed Cody’s bow-and-arrow.  “Would you show me how to make one of those, Cody?”

“Sure will, boy.  We cain find us the proper wood while we’re out taday and start work on it when we git back.”


“Well, if that don’t plumb beat all.  Don’t know how we come up empty-handed.  Ya’d think these here woods would be just brimmin’ with critters.”  Though he didn’t voice his conclusion aloud, Cody had a pretty good theory of why the game had eluded them.  This youngun’s gonna need ta learn ta be a lot quieter, if he expects ta catch anything with that bow-and-arrah he wants ta make.  But mehbe while he works at strippin’ the wood, I can sneak off and find us some  supper.

Cody voiced his suggestion diplomatically and left Joe to strip his bow wood while he sought meat for their dinner.  The boy finished peeling off the bark and listened for sounds of his teacher’s return.  The rushing waterfall roared his name now and he glanced down again at the supplies Cody and Adam had piled near their bedrolls.  “Boy, that’s plenty of rope.  I don’t see why I can’t go out to the falls myself, if I tie myself first.  I remember what Adam did before.”  With one final glance around, the youngster grabbed the rope and bounded over to a tree at the water’s edge.  “I’ll just hook these pieces to each other, then around me... Now, I’m all set.”

Wading out into the cold water, the boy whistled, “Whew, that mountain water comes down like ice!  Sure would wake a fella up quick in the mornin’.”  With the heat of the sun on his back, Joe shrugged off the chill below his waist and continued forward.  He recalled back when he was six and visited these falls.  Adam had carried him to the rocks beneath the falling water.  When he was ten, he’d swum as far as he could, then Adam moved ahead, towing him, once the current got too much for him.  “Well, I’m two whole years older now, I’ll swim to those boulders on my own... and if I can’t get there, I’ll just go back to the bank, is all...”

His arms tiring, Joe soon realized he wasn’t going to make his goal.  Sighing, he tried to reverse course, only to discover his anchor rope was tangled up on a dead tree lodged in between several fair-sized rocks.  “Great.  This water’s gettin’ darn cold now, too.”  Chewing on his lower lip, the child ticked off his options.  “I could dig out my pocket knife, cut the rope and try to swim back to shore.  I could wait here for Cody ta come back ... but I gotta feeling he ain’t gonna be too pleased findin’ me like this.”  The boy dug for his knife.

The instant rope and boy parted company, Joe knew he’d made the wrong decision.  The current snatched him up, dragging him along, no matter how hard he tried to swim toward the bank.  Adam had always described these as the “mother falls”, but up ahead, the water took some fairly long drops, onto sharp rocks.  Beginning to panic, Joe hollered at the top of his lungs for help. 

Cody rode into camp, proudly displaying a pheasant and duck slung over his saddle.  His smile wilted instantly, at the sound of Joe’s screams and the sight of flapping arms in the water.  Urging Cinder forward, he headed well below where he spotted Joe.  Dismounting, the big man stripped out of his coat and boots, before bounding into the chilling water.  His strong arms and legs carried him against the current and he reached out to snatch the flailing boy, then swam toward shore.

Towing his cargo, until he could touch bottom, Cody stood, hoisting Joe from the water.  Pinning him against his hip, he growled, “You know, boy, I thought Adam was overdoin’ it a mite, givin’ ya that lecture, ‘fore he set off this mornin’, but I cain see he knew exactly what he was doin’.  Well, by thunder, I know jest what I’m gonna do too!”

Joe couldn’t have escaped the mighty grip if he’d tried, but he knew better than to bother.  What’s more, considering the fright he’d just shot through both of them, he knew he deserved exactly what was heading his way.

Sitting on the same rock from which Adam had delivered his lecture, Cody roughly shifted his wet charge from hip to lap and proceeded to paddle the boy’s sopping backside until he was quite certain he’d made a lasting impression.  Depositing Joe back on his feet, he hollered, “When yer brother gits here tanight, I have half a mind ta tell him ta send ya packin’ fer home in the mornin’!”  Jerking his head toward their gear, he grunted, “I suggest ya find a dry set a clothes and get them wet ones into what’s left a the sun, so’s they dry off proper.”

Joe took several steps away, but stopped and turned.  His bottom stung like all get out, but his conscience and heart cried out in fiercer pain.  “I’m sorry, Cody.  What I did was real stupid.”  Slapping his hands to his sides the child begged, “Please, forgive me.  I won’t give ya no more trouble.  Don’t make me go back home.  I wanna camp out here with you, till Adam’s done and we can all go home together.” 

Anger still driving his words, Cody bellowed, “Boy, do ya have ANY idea how sick I’d be if anything happened ta ya while ya was in my charge?  How could I EVER face yer brothers or pa if ...  Dad-blame it all ta the devil, boy!  Ya jest scared a good ten years off a my life, at least!”

Desperate to make peace, Joe bargained, “Cody, please, ya got every right to be sore.  I’d do almost anything ta take back what I did today.   You ... You can wallop me all over again, if ... if it’ll make ya stop being mad with me.”  His words a pitiful whisper now, the youngster begged, “Please, say ya forgive me though, Cody.”  Meeting silence, Joe sucked in a sob, his tears mingling with the water still dripping off his wet head.

“Aw, come here, dad-blame it all.  Come here, boy.”  Drawing the child to him, Cody patted his wet back and spoke so gently, Joe couldn’t believe it was the same man.  “Cody fergives ya, son.  And I ain’t gonna wallop ya agin.  You’ll be havin’ enough trouble settin’ tanight as it is.  Come on now, let’s us get a fire started and get ya dry.  The night air will have a chill in it and I won’t have ya gettin’ sick.”  When the child continued to hold on, Cody assured him, “It’s okay, Joe.  We’s still friends, son.”


Adam arrived as his fellow campers were just cleaning their plates.  “I could smell your cooking for a mile, I think.  Wow, pheasant AND duck!   Don’t dare let my crew know I’m dining like this at night!   Cody share some of his hunting tips with you today, buddy?”  Suddenly realizing he was the only one grinning, Adam studied his brother.  “What’s the matter?  Something happen today I should know about?”  Joe hung his head and after a glance at Cody, Adam noticed the doubled up wool blanket beneath his brother’s seat.  With an edge in his voice, Adam insisted, “All right, what happened?”

Joe admitted to his boots quietly, “Cody didn’t just go huntin’ today, Adam, he, uh... had ta go fishin’ -- for me.”  Firelight illuminated the older brother’s face.  Cody watched relief chase the flicker of anger from the dark hazel eyes.  Clearly, the older sibling realized how lucky he was to have his reckless brother alive and sitting before him, his only apparent scar a scalded backside.

Anger soon resurfaced, climbing into Adam’s voice, as a lecture grew in the back of his throat, “Joe...”

Cody put up a hand, “Adam, the boy and I, we had a rough afternoon.  The youngun’s paid fer his mistake.  Let’s drop it, huh?  Ya look like ya could do with some of this here food.”

Joe couldn’t leave things unresolved.   As Adam sat down by the fire, the boy rose and went to his brother’s side.  “I’m sorry, Adam.” 

Relief flooding him once more, Adam drew his brother close.  “Okay, boy, apology accepted.”  With several pats to the child’s back, he encouraged, “Let’s enjoy this food, hmmm?”  The boy nodded against him, suddenly deciding Adam’s lap would be more comfortable than his custom-made seat. 

Accepting the plate Cody handed him, Adam ate voraciously, interspersing the day’s progress, in between bites.  He finally concluded, “Jake thinks we’ll be finished tomorrow, after all.”

“Well, it’ll be nice ta git back and spend a bit a time with the rest a yer family.”  Motioning with his chin at a now sleeping Joe, the big man added, “I’ll try ta see that we don’t have quite so much excitement while yer away tamarraw.”

Resting his chin on the curly head beneath his, Adam answered quietly, “Life is rarely dull, when you’ve got this one under your wing, Cody.  I certainly don’t fault you for what happened today.” 

“Yeah, well I don’t have younguns under this big wing much, but my experience in the past shoulda taught me that when ya leave a little fella on his own, there’s always a chance he’ll do somethin’ you ain’t even thought of.  ‘Spect yer pa mighta been thinkin’ on that, when he considered whether er not ta let me bring yer brother up here.”

“Now, Cody...”

“Dang it all, boy, never woulda occurred ta me, no how, that a tyke like you would...”

Adam shrugged, “Well, he was such a gentle horse and smart... or so I thought...”

Ben had risen just before dawn to go off hunting.  He and Cody agreed the night before that they’d camp one more day, to give them and the animals a much needed rest.  As the sun rose, Cody finished the coffee Ben left behind, deciding he’d like to harvest wood for a new supply of arrows.  Peeking in on Adam, sound asleep, he slipped away to an elm tree, just a short distance from camp.

Smoke teasing his nose, Adam woke only moments later.  He remembered that Pa was hunting and slid out of the wagon, surprised to find himself alone.  Busying himself picking up a new supply of kindling, the boy felt his stomach rumble.  Rusty whinnied and Adam wandered up to him, to stroke his nose.  ‘You sure are a big fella.  Bet you know where Cody is, huh?’  The large red beast whinnied once more and Adam took that as his answer, before leading the horse over by the back of the wagon.  Using the wagon as his stepping stone, the child mounted the horse’s bare back and urged, ‘Go find Cody.’

Adam grinned as the gentle creature seemed to understand, heading into the trees.  However, Rusty’s destination was not Cody; his nose sought water.

A short while later, Ben and Cody emerged from the woods:  Cody with a bundle of straight, raw sticks;  Ben carrying rabbits from their snares, plus several fish he’d pulled from a nearby stream.  Brow furrowed, Ben inquired, ‘Adam still sleeping?’   Poking his head into the wagon, he turned sharply, ‘He’s not here.’

Dropping his sticks, Cody immediately noticed the absence on his mount.  ‘Neither is Rusty.’  Aghast, the large man insisted, ‘I ain’t been gone, but a half hour, if that.  The youngun was still in dreamland when I left, Ben, I swear ta ya.’

Worry and anger competed on Ben’s face.  ‘That boy!’  He searched the ground and pointed at the fresh horse tracks.  ‘Let’s go, they can’t have gotten too far in a half hour’s head start.’

Meanwhile, boy and horse found water.  Adam looked around and realized that there were no human tracks behind them or here at the water’s edge.  Rusty dipped his head for his drink.  ‘I didn’t say ta find water, dang it!  I said find Cody.  Darn old horse, I thought you were smart!’  Worry invading his face, Adam nudged the horse’s sides with his heels.  ‘You better take me back to camp or I’m gonna be in trouble for sure.’

Rusty ignored the weak impressions on his hide and continued to satisfy his thirst.  His temper overriding his sense, Adam dug his heels in with more force, ‘We gotta turn round, now!’  Lifting his head, Rusty shook it, simultaneously snorting his refusal.  Glaring at the stubborn creature, the boy grabbed its mane as he demanded, ‘Now, listen here, we gotta get back to the wagon.  Why, you’re in just as much trouble as me.  Cody won’t be too happy with ya, seein’ as how you’ve run off without him.’  Mulling over who led whom from camp, the boy considered, ‘Wonder it they hang little boys for horse stealin’...

A roar from behind answered his question, ‘No, but by now you should know what happens to little boys who are expected to stay put, until their father tells them to do otherwise!’

Cody watched Ben grab the boy from Rusty’s back.  He couldn’t help but wince as father and son disappeared behind a clump of bushes, followed by the sound of several well-deserved swats landing on a small bottom.  With the sniffling boy tossed over his shoulder, Ben marched back toward camp.

Shaking his head at his horse, Cody admonished, ‘Don’t take that youngun fer a ride agin, less yer bringin’ him ta me or his pa.  I thought you had better sense than that!’  Meeting the horse’s eyes, he admitted as he patted his neck, ‘It’s a lesson fer us both, fer shore.’


Adam shook his head and chuckled.  “Guess I gave my pa a white hair or two, on our trip out here...”

Cody’s bushy eyebrows arched then plummeted, “Boy, I’m here ta testify, there ain’t no guessin’ needed on that point.  And from what yer pa has shared with me, ya didn’t exactly stop, once ya reached the Ponderosa neither.”

Palms raised in surrender, Adam shifted the subject, to protect his hide.  “You know, I’ve got a long day tomorrow; I should take this boy’s cue and turn in.  Would you lift him for me and I’ll tuck him into his bedroll.”

With a knowing smile, Cody quietly accepted the white flag and rose to lift the sleeping youngster.  Shortly, the sound of the falls lulled the two adults to sleep beside their young companion.


Joe took special care the following day to walk a very straight line.  He and Cody spent a good bit of the morning studying area wildlife, before settling in to catch fish for lunch.  The boy was amazed at Cody’s knowledge of medicinal uses for more than a handful of plants they encountered.  “You should spend some time comparin’ notes with Hop Sing.”

“I doubt I know anything that little fella don’t already, but I’ll make a point of talkin’ to him ‘fore I go.”

The afternoon afforded Cody the chance to give Joe some of those hunting tips Adam had mentioned the night before and the youngster was done in by the time they sat down for their dinner.

“Guess Adam ain’t gonna be joinin’ us tonight, Cody.”

“Well, if they finished up there taday, like he said they would, I expect he had some details ta take care of.  There’s plenty of stew left here fer when he gets back, but you look like them eyes a yours are fightin’ ya, boy.  Why don’t you turn in.  You’ll have plenty a time tamarraw ta chat with Adam on our way home.”

Joe grinned.  “Yeah, okay.  Goodnight, Cody.”

“Goodnight, boy.”  Chuckling over just how quickly the boy fell into deep slumber, Cody moved closer to the water and built a new campfire.  Pulling out a cigar and his flask, he brewed fresh coffee, then set the pot of stew where it would stay warm, but not dry out.  Looking up at the sound of Adam’s horse, the big man dished out food and drink for his weary young friend.

“Oh, thanks, Cody.  I’m starving.”  Noting the bundle off in the distance near the second campfire, Adam smiled, “Wore him out today, did you?  And still awake yourself?  That’s some feat.”  Saluting him with his flask, Cody just grinned.

The responsibility of the logging operation behind him, Adam leaned back against his saddle, relaxing for the first time in too long.  When Cody passed him the silver container, Adam accepted, taking a long swig.  His eyes widened at his friend as he returned the bottle.  With a smirk he noted, “You know, that’s about how I remember it tasting the last time.”

Cody shook his index finger at his companion, “I could have wrung your little neck that day, boy.”  Jerking his head at the sleeping bundle in the bedroll up the hill, he inquired, “That one had his try at this stuff yet?”

“At least once that I’m aware of[3].  Dealing with it was part of my initiation back into becoming Pa’s right hand man, so-to-speak.  Joe was ten at the time and a friend of his talked him into sipping a fair amount of cold remedy they found in the barn.”  Speaking of wringing necks, Seth Pruitt’s is one I’ve had a mind to wring, for some time!”

Studying the concerned eyes across from his, Cody commented, “Yer Pa depends on ya quite a bit, don’t he, Adam?”  The young man’s expression was hard to read in the flickering firelight.

“Well, we’re partners, after all.”  Working at a kink in his neck, he added, “Hoss does a fair amount too and as that one gets older, he’ll get his share of the load.”

“The Ponderosa has growed a fair stretch, since I come through the last time.  Expect with the other boys taking on more of the load, yer pa’ll expand that much more, won’t he?”

“Find more for me to do, you mean, Cody?” 

“He knows ya, boy.  Knows he’s gotta keep ya busy, keep that mind of yers thinkin’.”

Accepting the container passed back across the fire, Adam took another sip while he studied the big traveler’s face.  “Cody, you taking the long way round at asking something?  You and I have always talked straight out to each other.”

With a wink, remembering a few of their conversations, the large fellow admitted, “Yes, we did and I dare say, as a young fella, ya shore did surprise me with some of yer thoughts.”  Adam’s probing eyes told him to get on with it.  “Well, I guess one of my thoughts when I come back this way was that... well, mehbe you’d join me fer a spell?  Ya know, travel with me a bit?   There’s parts a Canada I ain’t seen, as yet and well, I’m thinkin’ mehbe ... I’ll edge my way up ta Alaska one of these days...”

“Alaska?”  Adam took another taste of whiskey, before passing the flask back.  “I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I get ants in my britches sometimes, especially times like this, when one job is finished and I have time to daydream a bit.”  A boyish delight in his eyes, Ben’s eldest admitted, “Those days on the trail West were hard and long, but ... this would be different...  It really would be quite an adventure, just taking off for a couple years to explore...”  A bit giddy from the drink, Adam laughed, “Oh, Cody, travelling with you would be like a boy’s dream come true!  Alaska, no less!”

Neither man noticed that the bundle in the bedroll uphill had moved down behind a large rock near their campfire.  Little ears absorbed Adam’s words and the romantic tone capturing his voice.  Slinking back to his bed, Joe covered his ears, as his throat tightened and tears slipped through his tightly sealed eyelids.

Beyond Joe’s earshot, Adam concluded, “But I’ve really only been home such a short while, since my trip East to college.  And... Well, there’s a lot to do here, Cody.  Pa, he... well he needs me.  And that boy over there, well, whether he likes to believe it or not sometimes, he needs me too.”  Cody’s expression told him he was fooling no one and Adam admitted, “Those three Cartwrights ... they’re home to me, Cody.  This is a life I love very much.  I stay here because I want to, not out of obligation.”

With a resigned sigh, the big man replied, “Well, I had ta ask, but I expect I knew what yer answer’d be.  Promise me though, if ya ever get the hankerin’ to roam, you’ll think a me?”

Adam nodded, “If you’ll promise me, you’ll continue to think of the Ponderosa as a place you can come ... anytime ... whenever you need a good dose of family.”

“I will, son.  I will.”


The smell of coffee tugged at Little Joe’s nose and the sound of laughter between his trail companions quickly brought back last evening’s revelation.  A black mood crawled through the child and he tugged his blanket up over his head, to muffle the jovial conversation.

Several minutes later Adam finally knelt to shake his brother’s shoulder, “Hey, buddy, rise and shine.  Time to have a bite of breakfast, before we hit the trail and head back home.”

Joe grunted, to which his sibling responded with a rougher shake.  “Come on now, boy, it’s not as if I’m waking you for school...”

The child snapped, “I’m awake, Adam, but I’m not hungry.  I’ll be ready to leave when you are.”

Holding his temper just barely in check, Adam warned, “Well, when you get up, I suggest you leave your bad mood in your bedroll.  I won’t put up with too much more of that, boy.”  Meeting silence, Adam pushed back his hat and stood with a sigh.  Maybe he had a bad dream.  Hopefully, he’s not coming down with something...

All their gear packed and on their horses, the three headed toward home, a moody Joe well out in front.  Exasperated now, Adam quizzed, “You didn’t have another incident yesterday, you’re keeping from me, did you, Cody?”

Shaking his head, Cody studied the stiff-backed boy ahead of them.  “Nope.  Fer as I know, he had as much fun as I did.  Heck, Adam, the boy was as good as gold and seemed ta enjoy everything I showed him.  He took me ta a fishin’ spot he remembered and we et real fine fer lunch.  The boy was laughin’ and talkin’.  I swear ta ya, there weren’t a bad moment in the day.”

“Well, he has his cranky moments.  Maybe he just woke up on the wrong side of bed...”


The adults opted not to catch fresh food for lunch, but rather, dug out the beans and bacon.  Adam called out, “Joe, we’re gonna stop to rest the horses and have lunch.”  The boy stubbornly moved on ahead and Adam’s temper surged as he nudged Sport forward. 

Grabbing Cochise’s reins, the older brother narrowed his eyes as his voice dropped to a tone Joe knew better than to ignore.  “Now, I don’t know what’s eating you, but I’ve about had my fill of it.  You didn’t have breakfast.  Fine.  You don’t want lunch?  Fine.  But your horse needs a break and I won’t tolerate you abusing her.  You’ve got exactly one minute to get down out of that saddle and take care of her or I’m gonna make certain that getting back into that saddle is real uncomfortable for you.  Do I make myself clear?”

Joe dismounted as his only answer and stayed as far away from his companions as he could.  Adam counted to twenty before stooping to collect wood for their fire.  Cody shook his head, wondering how in the world Ben Cartwright managed to still have any hair left in his head.


By the time they reached the ranch, Adam was ready to strangle his brother.  Ben met them with a big smile and Joe ran to him for a long hug.   Concern deepened the creases in his face, but he received nothing but shrugs from the boy’s trail mates before the two led the three horses to the barn. 

“What is it, son?  Didn’t you enjoy the trip?”

There was no sense hurting his father.  He’d find out soon enough what Adam and Cody were planning.  “Just tired, Pa.  Think I’ll just have a nap before supper.”

Hands on hips, Ben watched his youngest pass a grinning Hoss without more than a grunt.  Turning abruptly, he marched to the barn, seeking answers.

“Adam!  What’s happened?”

Shaking off Cody’s warning hand, Adam snapped, “He’s your son, Pa.  I wish you could tell me!  He was the picture of sunshine yesterday and this morning he woke up with a chip on his shoulder so big, it’s a wonder he could walk!”  Pacing the barn, the eldest son glowered, then abruptly turned to face his father, his voice more subdued, “I’m sorry, Pa, I shouldn’t be yelling at you.”

Accepting his son’s apology with a nod, Ben found his concern mixing with anger now.  He didn’t approve of rude behavior from any of his sons, especially from a youngster toward his elders.


Ben wisely sent his middle son up to retrieve his youngest at dinner hour.

“Little brother, I don’t know what’s troublin’ ya, but if ya won’t tell any of us, then you’d best find a way ta keep that fierce temper a yours under control.  Pa ain’t exactly on yer side at the moment.”

“Well, he should be.  If he only knew...”

“Only knew what, little brother?  Why don’t ya let me help ya here?”

His heart aching over what was in store for his family, the child just shook his head.  “I ain’t even hungry.”

“Dang, Joe!  Adam says ya ain’t ate a thing all day!”

“Aw, like he cares!”

“Now, Joe, this is jest what I’m talkin’ about.  You’d better settle yerself down, right now.  I mean it, boy.  You and Pa are headin’ fer a tussle that ain’t gonna be good fer yer hide.  Mark my words, boy.”

With a resigned sigh, Joe agreed, “Yeah, okay, Hoss.”

“That a boy.”  Hoss followed his dejected brother downstairs and the pair joined a silent group at the table.

Slowly, conversation opened and Adam and Ben discussed the lumber contract.  From there, Cody managed to lighten the mood with a couple stories about a fellow he’d met down in Texas.

It was Hoss who inadvertently set off the youngest Cartwright’s rage, by jokingly commenting, “Gosh, you spent all that time cookin’ down Texas way and now ya wanna head fer Alaska and right near freeze?  That’s a mighty big change in temperature, Cody.”

Joe glowered, “Yeah, I think brother Adam forgets just how hard the cold is on him, but the idea of going to Alaska just tickles you all to pieces, doesn’t it, big brother?”

“What?”  Adam wiped his mouth, gritting his teeth, ready to yank the boy from the table, for this endless bad attitude he was displaying.

“Joseph.”  Ben warned.

Cody smiled, “Why, son, Alaska can be right tolerable, depending on when...”

Joe jumped to his feet, throwing his fork down on an untouched plate.  “Don’t you dare try to laugh this off!  I thought you came back to see me, cause ya promised you’d come.  Bein’ so nice, like you were my best friend.  You ain’t a friend of NOBODY at this table!  It was all a big plot, wasn’t it!  Probably right from the start!”

Slamming his fist to the table, rattling wine glasses and china, Ben stood, his dark, piercing eyes freezing his youngest son in his tracks.  “Joseph, that’s enough!   You march yourself straight up to your room, this instant, young man!  And you had better have a VERY good explanation for the behavior you’ve been displaying since this afternoon, before I follow you up those steps!”

The child glared at Cody, then turned abruptly, with not so much as a ‘yes, sir’.  Further stirring his father’s temper, he stomped up the steps and slammed his door.

Adam closed his eyes, resting his forehead in his hand as he slowly shook his head, Boy, you sure don’t know when enough is enough, do you?  This goes waayyyy beyond getting out on the wrong side of the bed.  What in heaven’s name has gotten into him?

His appetite gone, Hoss quietly retreated to tend to the animals.  Adam abandoned his meal, to stare into the fireplace.  Ben paced the room, trying to walk off his anger, while Cody studied both father and son from the settee.  Though Ben remained furious with his youngest son’s appalling lack of manners, Adam clearly was searching for some viable explanation for his little brother’s loss of sanity. 

“Pa, there’s got to be some explanation for this.”

Turning sharply, mid-pace, Ben snapped, “By the time I’m calm enough to go up to that boy’s room, he’d dang well better have come up with one and be ready to explain it.  Because, as of this moment, I can think of no reason not to go up there and give him the hiding of his life.”

Adam continued to think aloud,  “It just doesn’t add up.  Cody said the two of them had a ball yesterday.  The kid was so worn out, he was already asleep by the time I joined them at camp.  Then, when I went to wake him this morning, well, it was as if I was waking up a whole different boy.  Talk about getting out on the wrong side of the bed.  You’d think he hadn’t gotten any sleep at all, instead of hitting the hay early.” 

Freezing mid-thought, Adam met shared realization in his friend’s eyes, “Or maybe he woke up at the wrong time and heard the wrong thing ... that is, heard just enough to come to the wrong conclusion...”

Cody nodded and Ben glared at the pair of them, asking a bit acidly, “I wonder if one of you would be so kind as to explain?”

Voice and eyes filled with regret, Adam lamented, “Oh, Pa, this is terrible.”

His patience gone, Ben drew out his son’s name, “Adam.”

Eyes drifting to the second floor, Adam requested quietly, “Could Cody explain it to you, Pa?  I’d like to go up and settle this, one way or the other.”

Exasperated, Ben dismissed his eldest with a wave of his hand, warning, “Regardless of the reasons behind what happened down here, I expect apologies, all around, when that young man comes downstairs!”

“Yes, sir.” 

Taking the steps two at a time, Adam drew in several long breaths before knocking on his brother’s door.  The boy stood, expecting his father, but instantly spun away, his back stiffening in his brother’s presence.  He demanded, “Go away.”

His own temper beginning to churn again, Adam warned, “If I were you, little brother, I’d muzzle that temper of mine, real quick.  The fact that I’m standing here, instead of Pa, has temporarily saved you from having your britches set on fire.  Though I dare say, considering Pa’s mood, if he chooses to come up here, you’ll be dropping those britches.”

His lower lip trapped in his teeth now, the boy faced his brother, concern for his hide suddenly a bit closer to the surface.  Still, he remained silent, as he fought the turmoil of emotions swirling within him.

Taking advantage of the boy’s introspective state, Adam crossed over to the bed and sat down.  Cooling down, his motive to solve this mystery taking priority once more, he ordered quietly, “Come here.”

Joe heard the change in tone, the deep concern reflected there.  Confused over last night’s events and the clear evidence of Adam’s love here and now, pushed the child’s emotions over the brink.  “It ... It only seems like you just came home ... How... How c... can... How can ya already be wantin’ ta leave again?” 

As pooling tears started the trail down the youngster’s cheeks, Adam reached out to pull him into his embrace.  His hand stroking the child’s hair, he soothed, “Ssshhh.  Brother isn’t going anywhere.” 

Gulping for air, Joe insisted, “I heard you.  I heard you, Adam.”

“Sssshhh.  Easy, buddy.  Oh, Joe, I’m afraid this is just another case of a certain little boy listening to part of a conversation and getting just enough of the story to hurt him.”

Pulling back, his vision blurred, Joe drew his sleeve across his eyes and nose,  “I don’t understand.  You and Cody were all excited about travelin’ together!  You said, travelin’ with him would be like livin’ a dream!  You wanted to see Alaska!”

Pulling his brother back against him again, Adam coaxed, “Come on now, listen to brother’s words, boy.  Please, Joe, you must believe me, I have no intentions of going off adventuring with Cody.  I’m speaking the truth, boy.  You didn’t hear the end of the conversation, buddy, or you’d know I told him my place was here.” 

Joe studied the kind eyes looking back at him, knew the words were indeed the truth.  Tears of anger and hurt transformed to tears of relief and Adam reached out again, to wait it out, one hand rubbing Joe’s back, the other softly stroking his hair.  He finally declared softly, “I love you, Joe.  Please believe me, I’m not going anywhere.”

His breathing slowing to normal, Joe whispered, “Adam?”

“Yeah, buddy?”

“I’m sorry.”

With a final pat to the child’s back, Adam pulled him away, pursing his lips at the sight before him.  Pulling out a handkerchief, he gently dried his brother’s face before handing over the cloth.  “Blow your nose, then go rinse your face off a bit.  Then we’ll talk, hmmm?” 

Obeying, the boy walked to the basin on his dresser and filled it with water.  He tried to explain, “I know I give you a hard time some days, Adam.  I was afraid maybe you thought travelin’ would be a good way to...”

Standing abruptly, Adam remarked a bit too sharply, “To shirk my responsibilities?”

“No, I...  Pa keeps ya real busy and I thought...maybe you just wanted to have some fun and get away from... well too much hard work and a what must just feel like babysittin’ to ya...”

“Joe, I chose to come home for a lot of reasons.  Helping Pa to raise you was definitely one of them.  I don’t consider it babysitting.  Helping to expand this ranch was another, but there are more.  I was just a baby when Pa decided to come out here, there was no choice, but for me to come along.  But his dream of building this place became mine, as I grew up during our journey.  It wasn’t just a little boy’s dream, Joe, it’s one I still believe in, still want to be a part of.  And Pa, bless that man’s heart, tries very hard to make sure I get to use my education, because he knows how important THAT dream was to me too.” 

Walking to his brother’s side, Adam dipped the washcloth in the basin and gently mopped the child’s swollen eyes, before cleaning off the rest of his face.  With the hint of a smile, he admitted, “Yes, you get on my nerves sometimes.  I expect that isn’t likely to change.  But then, older brother gets on yours a fair bit too, doesn’t he?’  Joe tried to smile and Adam ruffled his hair.  “Well, you don’t have to agree.  I happen to know it’s an unwritten law, that siblings irritate each other, at least once in a while.”

“Aw, Adam, I really am so sorry.  And what about Cody?  How am I ever gonna apologize?  He must think I’m a terrible person now.”

Pushing the boy’s mussed hair back in place, Adam assured him, “Cody understands what happened, Joe and he understands... well, your motives.  He’ll accept your apology and so will Pa, to whom I suggest you apologize to first.”

“Golly, Adam, I really flew off the handle.  Do you think Pa’s cooled down enough by now?”  Looking at his feet, he whispered, “Besides, even if he understands why I blew up down there, it doesn’t excuse it.”  Staring intently into his brother’s eyes, he insisted, “I wasn’t tryin’ to eavesdrop... Honest.  I was just comin’ down to spend some time with you two, since I’d fallen asleep before you got back.  That’s the truth.  It’s just that when I overheard what you were saying, I ...”

Laying a hand on his brother’s shoulder, Adam frowned slightly, “Joe I make no promises about the final outcome of this whole mess.  My best advice is to come downstairs and make your apologies.  Ultimately, your fate is in Pa’s hands.”

“Gosh, Adam, I wish ya hadn’t put it quite like that.”

Shaking his head with a half smile, Adam guided the boy from the room.  “Come on, boy.” 

As the two brothers descended the stairs, both Cody and Ben spotted Joe’s red eyes, despite Adam’s attempt to clean up his face.  Joe marched straight to his father and met his gaze.  His chin trembling ever so slightly, he managed to hold onto his voice.  “I don’t know what to say, except I’m sorry, Pa.  I made a big mess of things, all because I listened when I shouldn’t have, even though I didn’t really mean ta be in the first place.”  Turning to Cody, he explained, “You see, I just wanted to come down to the fire and be part of the nighttime chat, that’s all.”  Fresh tears started as Joe plead, “Oh, Cody, I’m sorry, I said horrible things.  I just didn’t want ya takin’ Adam away from me... from us.  Please understand and forgive me.  I want us to always be friends.”

Ben gave his son a slight nudge and the boy took a few steps toward the settee.  Cody stood up, to lift him into his arms.  “Come on, youngun, let’s you and I take a stroll and get this all straightened out between us.”

As Cody took Joe outside, Ben’s eyes focused on Adam easing himself into his chair by the fireplace.  “Out with it, son.”

The young man shrugged.  “He’s just a bit worried ... well ... that you still may decide he needs that hiding.”

“No, he’s been through enough pain over his mistake.  His apologies were heartfelt and heartbreaking.  Time to put it to rest.  I’ll talk with him a bit later.  What’s most important, is that he’s settled with you two.”  Adam’s eyes corrected him, “Yes, I know, he wants to make sure everything’s settled with his pa too.  I’ll talk to him, son, surely you know that?”

Nodding, Adam sighed.  “Pa?  You’ll forgive me, but I sure could use a drop of your brandy.”

Chuckling, Ben walked to the round table and poured out two glasses.  “Son, I’ll join you.  This has been a very trying day.”


Cody carried Joe until they reached the coral, then gently seated the boy on the fence.

“Adam used ta bring me down here, when I was little and we ... we had somethin’ to work out.  Did he tell ya that?”

“No, jest seemed like a good place ta bring ya, so’s we could look each other in the eye.”

Joe hung his head. “It’s hard ta look you in the eye right now.  I’m so ashamed of what I said, what I thought.  Adam loves you so much and I hurt him and you both, sayin’ everything I did.”  Meeting the kind eyes now, he confessed, “I love you too, Cody.  I wouldn’t want ya leavin’ us, before we got things straight  between us.”

Reaching out to touch the boy’s face, the large traveler assured the boy, “Joe, old Cody loves you and yer family, as if you were his own kin.  And I know what that older brother means ta ya and you ta him.   It was as clear to him, as tanight’s sky, what made ya say the things ya did.  You thought Cody was takin’ him from ya.  But ya gotta know, son, I’d never hurt yer brother, not fer anything.  And it would hurt him ta leave this ranch jest now ... and you.”


Snuggled in bed, Joe smiled into his father’s gentle eyes as Ben tucked the blankets more securely about his shoulders. 


“Yes, son?”

“Thanks for understanding today.  I’m sorry I embarrassed ya, with my bad manners and all.”

“Apology accepted, son.”  Reaching out to stroke the child’s head, he insisted, “Let’s put this all behind us now.”

“Yes, sir.  I’ll be glad to do that.”  He considered a moment, then added, “And I’m glad Cody’s decided to stay a little longer.  We ... well didn’t get to go anywhere with him, as a family.  Hoss and Adam thought we could maybe spend the weekend up at the hunting cabin.  Would you come with us too, Pa?  Please?”

Taking in the child’s expectant eyes, Ben reached out and squeezed the boy’s shoulder, “Well, I expect I can spend a day with you.  How would that be?”

Joe beamed, “Thanks, Pa.” 

His mind playing over the better moments of his time with Cody, Joe suddenly spouted, “Hey, Pa, was Adam a real handful for ya on the trail?  Cody told me Adam got into a little trouble, when he didn’t stick with Cody during a huntin’ trip they took.  Did he do that kind of stuff with you too?”

“You should be asleep, young man,”  Ben admonished, as he tried to rise, but Joe grabbed his hand and tugged him back.  “Aw, Pa, you’re just protected older brother’s reputation, ain’t ya?”  Ben simply raised an eyebrow at the boy. 

Smiling devilishly, Joe proposed, “Can you imagine what your trip out here would have been like if all three of us were little at the same time and travelin’ with ya?”

His dark eyes widening as a flood of images hit him, Ben replied, “Joseph, I’ll answer your question with a question.  Which do you think would cover your pa’s bald head better?  A powdered wig or a raccoon skin cap?”

The boy’s giggle and his father’s deep rich laughter seemed to embrace as they filtered down the stairs.  Adam and Hoss grinned at each other, drinking in the soothing sound.

Cody absorbed the boys’ expressions, as the laughter from above continued to bathe their ears, washing away any residue of the day’s friction.  Adam’s content expression touched Cody’s heart and he raised his glass of brandy in a toast, “To a dose of family.  A fella couldn’t find better medicine anywhere.”

[1] Cody Pyle initially appeared in the author’s story “Echoes” and it’s sequel “Loose Ends”.  Joe was age six in these tales.

[2] Jake Weber was featured in the Bonanza episode “The Quest”.

[3] An incident described fully in the author’s story “A Firm Hand”.


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