(September 2002)


“Hey!...”  ‘Hey! ... Hey!... Hey!...Hey!....’  Six-year-old Joe grinned.  “That’s a good echo, ain’t it Adam?  It came back four whole times.”

“Yep.  It’s a deep canyon, buddy.  Makes a good sound all right.”  He smiled as Joe cupped his hands around his mouth and screamed his name.   Clapping his hands at nature’s response, the boy giggled when his clapping returned to his ears as well. 

Such wonderful, innocent fun.  Couldn’t afford that kind of  innocence, not that long ago...

Five-year-old Adam glanced around.  He’d tried to ‘stay put,’ as Ben ordered before promising to return shortly with their dinner.  The boy wished now it wouldn’t be too shortly, knowing  Pa would question why his ink-black hair was so wet.  He’d grown bored trying to skip stones.   No, frustrated.  His stones  ‘plopped’ instead of skittering across the pond, the way Pa’s did.   He’d finally hurled a sizable rock, in anger, nearly hitting a startled duck, sending the flapping creature several feet into the air.  It came to rest once more on the water, but at a safer distance.

Ashamed of his temper, he’d waded in, pants rolled to his knees, apologizing to the scolding creature.  Stumbling in the process, he fell face forward, causing the perturbed fowl to fly off, squawking all the while.  Splashing and sputtering, as he regained his balance, the child glared at the empty sky.  ‘Should have hit you,’ he yelled.  ‘YOU coulda been dinner!’

Now what?  He wasn’t allowed to start a fire without his father’s supervision.  The late afternoon sun, its heat dwindling, no longer warmed him, so he knew his clothes would never dry before dark.  Climbing into their wagon, he dug out his only other outfit.  Nothing fit him very well anymore, but his father had explained there wasn’t enough money to buy other clothing.  Skinning off the wet things, he dried himself with a corner of his blanket, then pulled on the replacements, exact duplicates of the wet items.  With luck, he could drape the soaked clothing over some bushes, then retrieve it tomorrow, before his father realized he’d changed. 

But his hair... he couldn’t switch that. Glancing at the sky, he wondered if he needed to worry at all.  Soon it would be dark.  His father wouldn’t likely notice his hair then.  He returned to the water’s edge, searching the surface for the offended duck.  No, it wasn’t foolish enough to return.  Noticing a large stick on the ground, he grabbed it and slammed it against a nearby boulder.  The rotting wood shattered, but not before the echo of its impact found his ears.  Selecting a sturdier club, he hit the rock again.  The thud repeated several times in the air before dying.  Enjoying nature’s fun, the child treated the rock like a drum, trying different beats, grinning over the rhythms answering back across the pond. 

He raised the stick again, jumping this time when it froze, mid-swing.  He spun to find himself trapped in his father’s searing gaze.  ‘Pa!  You...’  Swallowing the rest of his words, he held his breath, figuring his father was furious about his wet head.

‘Have you completely lost your senses!  Do you have any idea how far that echo carries?  You’ve likely attracted the attention of Lord knows how many Indians!  Adam, I’ve a good mind to...’   His anger melted as quickly as it flared.  Of course the boy didn’t realize.  His child wouldn’t deliberately endanger them.  Reaching out to stroke the boy’s hair, Ben retracted his hand, surprised by the dampness.  ‘Adam Cartwright, did you go swimming while I was hunting?  Young man, you know you’re forbidden to swim unattended.’  Meeting silence, he ordered, ‘Answer me, this instant!’

‘I wasn’t swimmin’.  Honest, Pa.’  Holding up his left hand up, he placed his right over his heart.  ‘I swear.’

Scrutinizing the child, Ben interrogated sternly, ‘Then why is your hair wet?’

‘I... I was trying to say I was sorry to a duck and I fell in the water.  Really, Pa,   that’s the truth.’  Of course, he shouldn’t have been in the water at all.  He suspected his father wouldn’t take the answer well and hung his head.

Rubbing his chin, hiding a slight smile, Ben cleared his throat, before bending down on one knee.  ‘All right, son, I’ll let this go.  But make no mistake, I expect you to stay out of the water in the future, unless I’m with you, no matter what the excuse.  Do you understand me?’  Adam nodded, still staring at his boots, so Ben lifted his chin, forcing eye contact.

‘I’m sorry, Pa.’  In the dim light, the boy saw forgiveness in his father’s eyes.  Noting the rabbit carcass on the ground, he gladly changed the subject, ‘Mmmmm, I like rabbit, Pa.  And I... I got the firewood waitin’.  Stacked proper for you to light, too.’

Stroking the wet head once more, Ben praised, ‘Good boy.’  His hand dropped to squeeze the child’s shoulder.   Noting the dry shirt, he raised an eyebrow, inquiring, ‘Where are your wet clothes, son?’

Pointing into the nearby bushes, the boy hung his head once more, answering quietly, ‘Hangin’ over some bushes, dryin.  Pa.  I...’

‘All right, son.’  Not wishing to drag the incident out further, he patted the slender shoulder, ordering, ‘Fetch the coffee pot, please,  while I skin this.’

‘Yes, sir.’  Adam started toward the wagon, then paused, ‘We got enough pelts to trade with yet, Pa?’

Ben’s shoulders dropped a bit and he shook his head, ‘Soon, son.  Soon.’

Nodding, understanding, Adam responded quietly, ‘Yes, sir.’  He pulled himself into the wagon, rummaging for the coffee pot and skillet.  While his father was gone he’d managed to dig up some wild artichokes.  Even though they often ate them raw, readily enough, he knew Pa would happily fry them in some of the rabbit fat, creating a whole different flavor.



“Adam?”  Little Joe shook his brother’s arm, jolting him from his memories.

“Yeah, Joe?”

“Well, are we gonna move along?”  The boy waited, his eyes puzzling over Adam’s foggy expression.  “I thought you said we needed to keep movin’, if we was going to get to Mr. Henley’s afore dark.”

Chuckling, Adam ran his fingers through the boy’s curly hair.  “Yep, that’s what I said all right.”  Lifting the grinning lad, he placed him on Sport, then handed him Pokey’s reins.  The pack horse shook his head in response.

Joe giggled before shaking his index finger at the creature, “You can eat more at the next resting spot, Pokey!  Don’t drag your feet now, ya here?”

Laughing at his brother’s regurgitation of their father’s expression,  Adam mounted up behind him, urging Sport onward, with the barest touch of his heels.  Their destination was Ollie Henley’s shack, high in the mountains.  In his early seventies, Henley preferred solitude, same as he did nine years earlier when Ben Cartwright stumbled across his cabin during a hunting trip.  The old man had twisted his ankle, tripping over one of his own rabbit snares, frozen and covered with snow.  Ben insisted on helping him back to his cabin, doctoring him, then remaining overnight to ensure Ollie could manage unassisted.  Ben’s persistence, despite Henley’s gruff, repeated objections,  created the foundation for a lasting friendship.  

While Ben respected Ollie’s choice of lifestyle, he insisted on sending him a care package on occasion, a not-so-veiled excuse to check on the old man’s health and overall situation.   Responding to Ben’s  kindness, Ollie adopted the Cartwrights, even graced them with a visit once, while Marie was still alive.   Joe won the old man’s heart during that short stay.  So, when Adam volunteered to deliver the latest care bundle, he suggested that Joe accompany him.  Pa agreed that his youngest would be the perfect tonic to go with Hop Sing’s bread, cookies, pie, and donuts.

After riding for some time in silence, Joe asked, “What else we bringin’ Mr. Henley, ‘sides Hop Sing’s cookin’, Adam?”

“Hop Sing sent along a couple sacks of sugar and flour, some of his herbal remedy for Ollie’s rheumatism, a bottle of Pa’s brandy, a nice supply of beef jerky, plus a couple wool blankets.”

“That’s a lot of stuff.  No wonder Pokey ain’t in no hurry!”  Joe bent around Adam’s frame, to sneak a peek at the burdened creature.

Adam grinned as he insisted, “Well, he’s built to carry the load, buddy.  Besides, we’ll take another break soon.”

“Good, cause I gotta pee.”  The boy squeezed the saddle with his knees, then squirmed a bit, his face contorting as he strained.

“Joe!  If you need to pee, we’ll stop now.  Why didn’t you say something?”  Pulling Sport to a halt, he dismounted and plucked his brother from the saddle.  Resisting the urge to give the child a swat, he ordered,  “Go on, you take care of your business, then we’ll have a snack.”  Shaking his head, he watched his brother scurry up to a nearby tree.

What is it about little boys and peeing... or NOT peeing, when the need is there?   A distant memory rushed back in a flash...

Ben and Adam had joined up temporarily with two other families they’d met at the last town, the Weavers and Masons.  Stopped now for the day, they were grateful for a nearby lake, providing a mouthwatering fish dinner and the promise of a much needed bath later.  While Ben prepared their feast, Adam followed Billy Weaver and Walter Mason to the lake’s edge.  The twelve-year-old boys tolerated the child tagging after them.  He didn’t pester them, just monitored their antics.  At five, Adam, used to amusing himself, didn’t insist on playing with the others, but was content just observing.

The two older boys wrestled each other first, clearly a familiar pastime for them.  Then, they initiated a more dangerous sport.  Striking matches, they held the fiery sticks, in a contest to see who would let go first.  Fascinated, Adam watched as they kept score, charred matchsticks collecting at their feet.  Walter decided bigger torches would be more of a challenge and the boys gathered twigs to use instead.  Coating them with wax from a candle Billy pulled from his pocket, the two grinned at the prospect. 

Aware that he needed to relieve himself, Adam ignored the urge, mesmerized by the boys’ grimaces as the flames crept  toward their fingers.  It wasn’t until Billy pointed and Walter laughed that Adam realized he’d waited too long.  He felt the warm trickle down his leg, the wet patch spreading across his pants, the heat of shame simultaneously spreading in red across his face.  Turning away from the laughter, the child ran back towards camp.  He stopped abruptly, wondering suddenly how his father would react.  He couldn’t imagine telling him he’d wet his pants, certainly not in front of all the other campers. 

Suddenly, Ben’s voice hit his ears, demanding a response,  ‘Adam, come eat.  The fish is done, son.’  Remaining silent, crouching behind some bushes, the boy held his breath.  ‘Adam?’  Hearing impatience creeping into Pa’s voice, the youngster knew he didn’t dare delay much longer.  Ben expected immediate obedience, after any command.  Disregard of his father’s orders usually resulted in quick correction, most often in the form of at least one stinging swat to his little bottom.

‘I’m here, Pa.’  Adam stood, remaining behind the clump of brush.  Perplexed, Ben approached him.

‘Son, didn’t you hear what I said?’  Getting no response, Ben started around the bushes to retrieve his child.

‘No, Pa, don’t come over here!’  Frustrated, ashamed and feeling just stupid at this point, Adam burst into tears.

At the sound of the boy’s distress, Ben ignored his plea, quickly moving to kneel before him.  Absorbing the obvious evidence, partially concealed behind his son’s crossed hands,  Ben didn’t respond with the anger Adam envisioned.  Rather, he spoke gently, softly, ‘Looks like maybe we need to take that bath a little earlier than we expected.’  Lifting his son, he soothed, ‘Don’t cry, Adam.  Little boys have accidents sometimes.  Your pa understands that, son.’

‘I was watchin’ Billy and Walter.  Watchin’ and...  then... then it was too late.’

Patiently, Ben continued in his attempt to quiet the boy, ‘Okay, never mind now.  Let’s see if we can’t borrow Mrs. Weaver’s tub, hmmm?’

‘No!  Then she’ll know too.  Everybody’ll know.’  Burying his face in Ben’s shoulder, the boy sobbed.

Stroking Adam’s head, Ben assured, ‘Listen now, I don’t have to tell her why I need the tub, son.’

‘It doesn’t matter, those boys saw me... laughed.  They’ll tell everyone and they’ll laugh too.’

Heather Mason, listening at a discreet distance, harvested a substantial switch and strode swiftly toward the lake’s edge.  Scolding, the threat of harsher reprimand gripped in her hand, she reminded Walter, ‘You wet your pants a time or two at that little boy’s age, or have you forgotten?  Now, you march yourself over to Mr. Cartwright’s wagon with our tub and the water heating in our big kettle.  Then you draw sufficient water from the lake to make that little boy a bath of proper temperature, before I remind you that you aren’t as old as you think you are!’  One lash across the boy’s backside spurred him to do her bidding.  Billy, knowing Mrs. Mason had no qualms about thrashing him as well, leaped to follow his friend, volunteering loudly to help make amends for his part in embarrassing their little neighbor....

“I’m sorry, Adam, I was just tryin’ to keep us movin’.”  Joe looked up into Adam’s glazed eyes, glad to see them focus on him.

“Yeah, I understand, buddy.  But peeing is a real important thing.  When you need to go, you just tell brother.  Don’t worry about our schedule.  Okay?”

Joe, giving an emphatic nod, asked, “Do we really have time to have a snack, Adam?”

Adam assured him, “Joe, the horses need a rest.  We need fuel.  Mr. Henley doesn’t even know we’re coming, so we don’t have to hurry on his account.  In fact, the weather is so nice, I hate to rush.   Another day’s delay won’t much matter.”



After sufficient rest and sustenance, the boys continued up the steep, narrowing path.  Suddenly, Joe sat erect.  “I hear water, Adam!”  Swiveling in the saddle, the boy cocked his head, trying to pinpoint the source.

Through a wide grin, Adam posed, “Shall we go find it?”

Bouncing, nodding vigorously, Joe squealed, “Yeah!  Please, Adam, hurry!”

“Patience, little boy, we can’t possibly hurry anywhere on this path.  You got me?”

Concern and warning laced Adam’s voice and Joe settled down somewhat, but his eyes darted about, as he waited for a glimpse of the source of the thrilling rushing sound.  “There, Adam!  There it is!  It’s a waterfall.  WOW!  Look how much water!  Look how far up it’s comin’ from.   Can we go swimmin’?  Can we stand under it?  Oh, please, Adam.  I want to get in the water!’

Tightening his hold around the child’s waist, Adam bent down and kissed his cheek.  Joe swiveled round to look into his brother’s eyes, surprised to find them glistening.  “How come ya did that, Adam?”

Not really sure where the sudden surge of emotion came from, Adam answered quietly, “Because I love you, that’s why.  And I want you to calm down a bit, before we go anywhere near that waterfall.”   Knowing he had his brother’s full attention, Adam continued, “It’s not like the creek near our house, Joe.  There’s a lot of power in that water.  The snow’s melting off the mountains at a great rate now and as it melts, it turns to water and all that water is... well it’s like all the water is having a race, trying to see who can get down the mountain first.  So it’s coming down fast.  It’s like ...  It’s like when you start walking down a  steep hill, it’s hard to stop sometimes, isn’t it?  Remember last month when you fell on those sharp stones?”

Joe nodded, rubbing his knee subconsciously, recalling the fall on a rocky incline.  Ben had warned him to go slowly, but once he’d started running, Joe couldn’t stop, his little legs carrying him against his will.  He tumbled, cutting his right knee on a sharp stone and badly scraping both his palms.  Pa quickly arrived, scooping him up, hugging him tightly until he’d stopped crying.   His knee was stiff for days afterwards, thwarting his active spirit, a frustrating time for everyone in the household!

Cascading water.  Joe couldn’t compare that to running down a hill.  Still, Adam’s tone was clear.  The boy quieted down enough to satisfy his minder and Sport moved slowly forward, at his master’s urging.  Dismounting, Adam pulled his brother to the ground and immediately knelt before him.  “First things first.  Do you need to pee?  Because the cold water will make you want to, once we get in there.”

Joe chewed his lip, his focus on the water crashing against large rocks below it.  “Umm.”

“Joe?”  Taking the boy’s chin, forcing attendance, he insisted, “You go give it a try.  Then we’ll wade in together.”  Musing, watching the flow before them, he added, “Brother will do the same, then we’ll set up a safety net, before we go in.”

Impatient, the boy didn’t ask for an explanation.  “’Kay, Adam.”

Leaving the horses tied securely, the boys attended to their needs, then Adam grabbed several lengths of rope.  Eyeing Joe, he ordered, “You stay right where you are, until I get this set up.”

Joe nodded, but his eyes hinted at other plans.  “Joe, I mean it.  If you want to go in closer to the waterfall, you’ll do as I say.  Or do I need to remind you what happens to little boys who disobey?”

Snapping his attention to Adam’s eyes, Joe shook his head emphatically, immediately shielding his bottom with both hands.  “Nope, ya don’t, Adam.  Cause I know what happens.  I won’t move a inch.  I promise!” 

Amusement flickered in Adam’s eyes, but he commanded his emerging smile to retreat.  “That’s better.”  Patting the boy’s head, he promised, “This will take just a few minutes.”  Scrambling up some large boulders, Adam made his way to the sturdiest tree near the falls.  Securing one end of the rope around the trunk, he returned to the water’s edge.  “Come here, buddy.”

Joe scurried to his side, watching Adam tie another rope onto the first one, then secure it about his waist.  Reaching for Joe’s hand, he explained, “The rope will keep the water from taking us away, if the current is too strong.  I’m going to hold your hand, to start, while we wade in.  We’ll go right up to the waterfall if we can.  There are some big rocks there we can climb up on.”

Joe nodded, willing to agree to anything, just for a chance to feel that water falling from the sky.

Adam’s powerful legs pressed through the current.  When the water got too deep, he lifted Joe and pushed forward until he could deposit his excited charge onto an impressive boulder.  Joe screeched with joy as the cold spray from the falls hit his face.  Adam knew his anxious sibling wanted to feel the power of the water and transferred him to a closer perch.   Joe stuck his arm into the steady rushing stream from above.   “It’s so strong, Adam!”

In too short a while, over exposure to the water’s temperature etched a blue line around Joe’s lips.  Adam didn’t give him a choice, announcing, “You’ve had enough, buddy.  I need to get us back to shore and get a fire going.”

Whining through chattering teeth, Joe complained, “B.. B... But I... I want to s... s... stay longer.”

Shaking his head, Adam explained, “You’re turning blue, Joe.  You’ve had enough.”    Lifting him, he insisted, “I know what’s best, boy.” 

Shivering, Joe welcomed the warmth radiating through Adam’s wet clothing as their chests met.  Wrapping his legs around his brother’s sturdy frame, he capitulated, “Okay, Adam, but this was fun, wasn’t it?”

Nodding, Adam pressed his cheek to Joe’s as he battled the reverse current trying now to topple him.  Back on solid ground, he rapidly gathered wood for a soon roaring fire.  He watched Joe’s eyes,  nearly as excited over the bonfire as they were over the water.

Yes, fire and water, both like magnets to little boys...

Ben pulled their wagon to a stop at long past dark and decided to let Adam sleep, rather than rousing him for a meal.  The trail was hot, rugged and dusty, wearing them both out.   Foregoing his meal as well, he tended to the horses and crawled into the wagon, curling up along side his boy.

Dim dawn light peeked through the back of the wagon, but it was the smell of wood smoke that flicked open Ben’s eyes.  A glance to either side revealed no Adam, so he scrambled to the ground, finding his five-year-old poking a stick into a substantial campfire.

‘Adam Cartwright!  How many times have you been told you may not light a fire in my absence?’  Stepping forward, he grabbed the boy’s arm, knelt and pulled him across his legs. 

Reaching back to protect his bottom, the boy cried out, ‘I didn’t, Pa.  That man lit it for me.  He wanted coffee.’

His hand still threatening the little behind, Ben demanded, ‘What man?  Where is he?’

‘Honest, Pa, he wanted some of our coffee.  Said he’d get us a rabbit to pay for it.  Please don’t spank me.   I didn’t do nothin’ wrong.’  The child didn’t struggle, only held his breath, hoping his father would accept his word.

His eyes landing on a strange bedroll and blanket, Ben placed his son back on his feet.  He looked  into the offended dark eyes and felt a hint of guilt, for judging the lad too quickly.  Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time he’d spanked the boy for experimenting with fire.  Still, Adam clearly spoke the truth and Ben offered, ‘I’m sorry, son.’  Squeezing the small shoulder, he asked, ‘Forgive me?’

Nodding, the boy dismissed the incident, wanting to fill his father in on the stranger.  ‘He’s a great big man, Pa.  And he’s got this real bushy beard!  Says his name’s Cody.  Cody, um...’

A deep, gravely voice finished, ‘Cody Pyle’s the name, Mr. Cartwright.’  Nodding toward Adam, he explained, ‘The youngun told me he ain’t ta touch matches or fire.  He’s a good little trader though.  Said he bet you’d share a bit of yer coffee stash if I could supply some meat.’

Glaring at the child, Ben barked, ‘Adam!  I’d have shared the coffee just the same!’

Adam hung his head, not completely sure what he’d done wrong.

Cody laughed, ‘Aw, Mr. Cartwright, you should be proud a the boy, a small sprite like him knowin’ the value of tradin’.  Mighty handy learnin’ out here, where money don’t come easy and Mother Nature don’t rightly know the meanin’ of it nohow.’

Ben nodded, but he still wanted his son to understand that offering a kindness, without expecting pay, was payment in and of itself sometimes.  Now was not the time to explain it though.  He admitted, looking at his son, ‘I am proud of him, for many reasons.’  Seeing the small contented smile form on his boy’s lips, Ben turned his attention back to Cody, noticing the two rabbits at the man’s feet.  Grinning, Ben admitted, ‘Well, you certainly did well.’

‘Yessir, I was plumb lucky to catch this pair workin’ at makin’ more rabbits.  Got ‘em both with the one shot.’  Winking at Ben, he grinned at the confusion on Adam’s face.   Ben coughed and Cody, switched the subject.  ‘Sonny, cain ya skin these fer us?’

Immediately annoyed, Adam stared darkly at his father, answering. ‘No, sir.   I ain’t allowed ta use a knife.’  Ben responded with a warning glance that told him he’d best check his behavior quickly or the spanking he’d avoided earlier would become a reality after all.  ‘I’m sorry, Pa.’

Nodding, Ben suggested, ‘Why don’t you gather up some more wood, son.  I think we’ll need it, to cook this feast Mr. Pyle has generously provided.’

‘Yes, Pa.’  The boy obediently scoured the areas he hadn’t covered earlier, making sure to stay within sight of the wagon.  He’d touched off his father’s temper enough this morning and getting beyond sight of the wagon  would definitely rouse Ben’s ire.

Cody grinned, ‘Seems a good lad.’  Pulling a large knife from its sheath, he made short work of the skinning, carefully putting the pelts aside, before skewering the meat.   ‘Stubborn little cuss I bet though, ain’t he?’

A glint in his eye, Ben nodded, ‘Yes, but he’s a good boy, a big help to me.  Still, he thinks he should be allowed to do things I haven’t permitted yet.  We lock horns sometimes.’

‘A little tyke like that cain do more than ya might think, Mr. Cartwright.’

‘Call me Ben, please.’  Checking out Adam’s whereabouts, he continued, ‘You may be right, Mr. Pyle...’

‘Cody, sir.’

‘Cody.  Adam is very mature for a five-year-old.  Very bright too.  Already reads like a boy several years beyond his age.  He’s willing to tackle any job I give him.’  Chuckling, he continued, ‘And jobs I haven’t given him.’  Shaking his head, Ben insisted, ‘But lighting fires and skinning rabbits aren’t tasks I’m willing to turn him loose on quite yet.  I’m his father and those are my decisions to make and to enforce, if need be.  He knows I will and having someone try to tell him he’s old enough, when I’ve told him otherwise sets up a conflict.  Hopefully, you understand my meaning?’

Pulling out a cigar, Cody inclined his head.  Still, he continued his argument, ‘Been on my own most of my life, Ben.  Never had no papa, that I can remember.  No mama neither, ‘cept to give me breath.  Learnt how to fish, hunt and light fires without too much help from anyone else.  Never got burnt, never got cut... least, not of my own doin’.  Treat ‘im like a baby, that’s what he’ll be, is the way I figure it.’

‘I don’t treat him like a baby.  Quite the contrary.  He shoulders quite a bit, for a child his age.  But HE does have a papa and this papa will decide when he can do what!’

Adam listened as he collected wood, absorbing the words, letting them ferment.

With Ben’s permission, Cody continued to accompany them as they headed toward Illinois.  He had no destination of his own, but felt the need for company.  He happily helped supply meat, in exchange for coffee and biscuits.  During heavy rain, he gladly curled up inside the tail end of their wagon, but otherwise, he slept in his bedroll.  Tying his horse to their wagon, he sometimes spelled Ben and drove their rig, with Adam often sitting next to him.  Ben scouted ahead, leaving the two to discuss whatever surfaced in their comfortable chatter. 

On one occasion, Cody mentioned, ‘Yer pa tells me you read, boy.  That true?’

Squaring his shoulders, Adam answered proudly, ‘Yep.  My pa taught me.  Now I read to him all the time, when I’m sittin’ next to him here.  We got a Bible and some other books.  I know lots of words.  Pa helps me with the hard ones, when I spell ‘em to him.’

‘You spell too?’

Well, sure.  How else could I read the letters?’

‘I mean write.’

Twisting up his mouth in thought, the boy answered, ‘Well, I can print the letters.  Pa hasn’t shown me script writin’, if that’s what you mean.’

‘Nah, print’s what I meant.  Like you see on signs and such.’

‘Yes, sir, I can print.’

They rode on in silence and finally Cody asked, ‘You reckon you could teach me them letters?  Show me how to print out my name and read some?’

The boy held his tongue, though he wanted to ask how come a man who was as big as Cody and surely at least as old as his father, never learned to print.  Somehow, he didn’t think that was the right thing to ask, then waited so long with his response, that Cody voiced his thoughts for him.

‘Bet yer wonderin’ how come I ain’t learned ta read?’  Seeing the answer on the boy’s face, he snapped, ‘Well, cause I just ain’t, is all.’  Softening, he continued,   ‘But I reckon I could do with learnin’ it.  Yer a smart boy.  You could teach me the letters, couldn’t ya?’ 

Adam shrugged his shoulders.  ‘I ‘spect so.’

Cody suggested, ‘Maybe I could teach you somethin’ back?  Fer payment?’

Remembering his father’s quiet lecture a while back about doing someone a good turn without taking payment, Adam shook his head.  ‘I don’t think Pa would like that.’

‘Well, you think about it.’




The brothers entered Ollie’s yard the following day, just past noon.  Adam announced their arrival,  “Ollie!  Hey, Ollie, you here?’

Joe chimed in, “Mr. Henley!  Ya got callers!”   Looking up at Adam, Joe asked, “Where da ya think he might be, Adam?”

“He’s his own man, buddy.  Answers to no one.  He could be anywhere.”

“Ya mean we might not even get ta see him?”  Joe frowned.

“Well, I didn’t say that.”  Dismounting, he lifted his brother down and suggested, “Why don’t you water the horses.  I’ll take all these things for Ollie inside.  Then we’ll see about sniffing him out.”

“First things first, Adam.  I gotta pee.” 

As the boy scurried off, Adam smiled, Well, at least he’s finally got his priorities straight!

“Adam Cartwright!  That you?”

Spinning, Adam grinned, “Yep, sure is, Ollie.  And I brought my squirt of a brother along, too.  He’s just taking care of some personal business.”

“Well, good.  Last time I saw that little whisker he was still wetting his...”

Bursting from a cluster of trees, Joe hollered, “Hi, Mr. Henley!  Remember me?” 

The child charged at full gallop and Adam caught him, lifting him to his shoulders.  Ollie was a big man, but Joe had knocked younger men off their feet with his exuberant ‘hellos’.  “Whoa, there, buddy.  Be careful.”

Ollie grinned at the memories of this little tornado.  “Glad to see you, Little Joe.  You and your big brother have any trouble getting here?”

“No, sir, no trouble.  Just took a extra day cause ... cause we had good weather and we saw some good stuff.  You got a real nice waterfall up here.”

Nodding, Ollie gestured toward his cabin.  “Come up and sit a spell on the porch, boy.  You can fill me in on your trip and tell me how your pa and Hoss are fairin’.  And what about you?  Your pa got you in school yet?  You helpin’ him out enough?  And what about that little fella, the cook?  He still with ya?”

Joe scrunched up his face,  “Ya mean Hop Sing?”  At Ollie’s nod, Joe squeaked, “Sure!  We couldn’t get on without Hop Sing!  Could we, Adam?”

“Don’t see how, buddy.”  Leaving Joe to entertain Ollie, Adam hauled in the supplies and their gear, watered the horses and proceeded to take a nonchalant tour of the premises.   He and Pa always did repairs when they visited.  Ollie  protested lightly, but gave in without too much fight.  His age just didn’t permit him to do some things anymore.

Climbing down off the roof later, he noticed the porch was vacant.  Finding Ollie inside, unattended, he questioned, “Where’s Joe?”

With a sweep of his arm, Ollie answered, “Oh, out exploring.  He was gettin’ mighty fidgety on the porch and said he just wanted to ‘splore’  a mite.  I didn’t see as he could get into too much trouble while I come in here to fatten up my stew supply a bit, to feed two extra mouths.”  Noting worry on the older Cartwright’s face, Ollie questioned, “Something wrong, son?”

Adam slipped on a calm mask, but his heart raced, just the same.  “Well, I’d best go find him.  The plant life up here is a bit different than down below.  Plus, he’s liable to lose his sense of direction.”  Sniffing the air, he added lightly, “Your stew smells great.” 

Quickly picking up the child’s path, Adam took long strides, praying the boy had the good sense to follow his brothers’ and father’s teachings.  His heart leaped to his throat as he spotted Joe reaching into some brush.  Running now, he reached the boy just in time to abort a deadly mistake.

Adam slapped berries out of Joe’s hand, before kneeling to pull the boy across his legs.   He delivered several stinging slaps to the child’s bottom,  before asking sharply, “What have you been told about eating fruit you know nothing about!”  Setting Joe back on his feet, he waited for an answer, his forehead beaded with sweat, his expression a mixture of anger and fright.

Joe rubbed his bottom, tears starting down his cheeks as he blubbered, “I thought they were some kind of elderberry.”

His temper up full now, Adam demanded, “Are the leaves like any elderberry bush you’ve ever seen?”

His bottom on fire, Joe snapped, “NO!”

Adam shot back, “Then what made you think they were elderberries?”

Still angry, Joe retorted, “I wanted fruit.”

“That’s not a good answer, Joseph!  The berries on that bush are poisonous.   Do you remember what poison does?”  Adam shook the little shoulders slightly for emphasis.

Smearing the tears still sliding down his cheeks, the boy nodded, sorry now.  Scared too, recalling all the different things his father had told him about poison.  His voice shaky, he choked, “I’m sorry, Adam.  I won’t never eat nothin’ again, if I don’t know it for dead sure.”  The word ‘dead’ cut into him and sobs consumed him.

Knowing the lesson had really sunk in now, Adam lifted him, stroking his head as he held him close.  “Okay, buddy.  Okay.  Brother needed to make sure you got the message.”   Heading back towards Ollie’s cabin Adam rubbed the boy’s back and drifted back to his own hard lesson on poisons in the wild...

Ben possessed excellent hunting skills, but there were days when he returned empty-handed.  Still, he did his best to feed his child, even if they just ate a meager meal of wild onions or other greens.  Adam learned what weeds were edible.  He memorized the shapes of the leaves, the colors of the flowers and fruits, the scents of herbs.  One day, Ben discovered a sizeable crop of mushrooms.  He carefully explained that mushrooms were a dangerous food to harvest.  There were many varieties and so many of them were poisonous.  Deadly poisonous.  The boy nodded, knowing poison often meant death.  His father insisted that he didn’t want his boy to ever eat them until he’d seen them first.  Still, Adam studied the fungi Ben gathered.  He noted the color and the shape.

Adam and Cody walked in the woods near their camp one early morning.  Ben had been suffering the last week with a serious cold and finally agreed they should take a day or two off the trail, so that he might regain his strength.  While Ben’s appetite languished,  the boy and his big friend craved real nourishment and hoped to scare up a rabbit or squirrel in the cluster of trees nearby.  Cody brightened as he pointed to the shady side of a tree.  ‘Hey, here’s a goodly batch of mushrooms, boy.  We can eat them while we look for game.’

Adam shook his head, ‘Nope, I can’t eat mushrooms without Pa’s say-so.’

‘How’s that?’  Cody studied the child with a quizzical eye.

‘I made a bad mistake once.’  Adam rubbed his bottom, remembering the outcome.  ‘My pa lit into me like he’s never done ‘fore or since.  Said I’d a been a goner, if I ate that mushroom I had in my hand.  And he said if I ever ate or even touched another mushroom, without showin’ it to him first, I wouldn’t sit for a month.’  Adam looked at Cody, ‘That’s a long spell not to sit.  ‘Specially, if you’re ridin’ in a wagon!’

Cody laughed, then nodded.  ‘Tell you what, son.  I’ll pick the mushrooms and put ‘em in my sack.  We’ll show ‘em to your pa when we get back to camp.  I’m shore if we walk a bit more in this direction, we’ll come across some unsuspectin’ critter who’ll cook up real fine, with mushrooms scattered over his carcass.’

Adam agreed to the compromise, but still refused to touch the food.  He was glad later when Ben concurred with Cody’s assessment.  Squirrel with mushrooms made good eating...



The boys returned to the smell of stew and biscuits, shaking Joe out of his subdued mood.  A quick wash of his face removed the tear stains.  As they sat down to dinner, Adam hoped the lesson wouldn’t wash away quite so easily.  He knew that no matter how old he got, he’d never be able to eat a mushroom without remembering  his father’s warning.  He prayed the harsh treatment he’d given his little brother would rear itself  the next time some unknown wild berry tempted him. 

The unfolding dinner scene soon relaxed his fears.  Ollie brought out several types of preserves for the biscuits and set them in front of Joe.

Eyeing the one containing red jelly, Joe frowned.  “What kind of jelly is this, Ollie?  It looks like what Hop Sing makes me eat when I got a sore throat.”

“Right you are, son.  It’s made of Hawthorne berries and they make good medicine, but old Ollie stirs up a fine jelly out of that fruit too.  You give it a taste and see if you don’t think so.”  He dipped a knife into it and handed it to the boy.

Joe bit his lip and looked at Adam, knowing full well they didn’t lick knives at the Cartwright table.  Adam gave him the barest nod and Joe ran his tongue carefully over the sticky red substance.  Licking his lips, he smiled, before cleaning off the knife.  “I’m gonna tell Hop Sing about this.  Betcha he could whip up a batch.  And I could pick the berries for him too.”  Looking into his older brother’s eyes a moment, he added,  “Um, that is if you could you show me the bushes these come from, so I’ll know what to pick at home.”

“Sure can, boy.  We’ll do a bit of walkin’ tomorrow, before you boys head home.”

Giving the child a big grin of approval, Adam suggested, “Okay, Joe, take some of the jelly and pass it around.”  Nodding to their host, he complimented sincerely,  “This is mighty good stew, Ollie!”

“Well, I got plenty of time up here to experiment with flavors.  You two boys eat hearty now.  I wanna make sure you’re well fed.  You need energy to go back down that mountain, same as ya needed to come up it!”


No sooner did the brothers return to the Ponderosa, than Hop Sing complained Adam had left him dangerously low on both flour and sugar.  The following day, to keep peace in the house, Adam and Joe headed into town.  Joe chatted all the way about the highlights of their recent jaunt.  The waterfall in particular stuck in the child’s mind.  He’d insisted they revisit it on their journey back down the mountain.

Pulling the buckboard to a stop at the General Store, Adam glanced across the street, glimpsing a lone rider.  Something about the traveler’s posture touched a memory, sending a shiver of anticipation skittering along his backbone.  Joe’s chattering melted into the background as he studied the large man slowly guiding his dusty mount.  The rider’s profile, his size, oh, that unmistakable wild beard...  Adam’s eyes widened with recognition and he yelled, waving his hat, “Cody!  Cody Pyle!”

The burly man stopped instantly, turning in his saddle, to study the dark haired stranger and bright-eyed boy at his side.  Nudging his mount, he slowly crossed the road, all the while peering into the eyes of the animated young man.  Those eyes flung open a door to his past.  Pensive eyes they were at times, but lurking behind them was a stubborn will for survival,  a burning desire for life and a craving for learning.  Oh yes, always studying, always learning.   Those eyes had belonged to a little boy, so very long ago now.  Yet, magically, they stared back at him, set in the mature face of this tall, handsome fellow before him.

Adam climbed down into the street, watching recognition grow with a grin behind the now salt and pepper beard.  “Adam Cartwright!   Adam Cartwright!”   Dismounting, Cody grabbed and vigorously shook the outstretched hand.  His deep laughter filled the air.  “I ain’t dreamin’.  It really is you.”   Taking in Joe’s enchanted stare, he noted,  “Totin’ along your own little tyke now, are ya?”

Remembering Joe, Adam raised an eyebrow at the thought, then quickly scooped the boy out of his seat.  “No, no, I’m not quite ready for that yet.  This little boy keeps me plenty occupied though.  This is Joe, my youngest brother.”

Joe stuck out his hand and Cody chuckled as he took it.  “I see yer pa in ya now, boy.  Somethin’ in the expression of your eyes, I expect.”

Beaming, Joe piped up, “You know my pa and Adam from the trail days, mister?”  He glanced at Adam, then back at the friendly stranger.

“I shore do, boy.  Your brother Adam was right ‘bout yer age, I reckon.  He and yer pa was good company.”

Joe’s eyebrows arched as he gushed, “Bet ya have some good stories you could tell me, huh, Mr. Pyle?”

Grinning at Joe’s suggestion, Adam set him on his feet.  Digging several coins from his pocket,  he instructed,  “Listen, Joe, why don’t you run in and pick out your candy, a bag for you and one for Hoss.  Miss Issie will help you.  I’ll see if I can’t convince Cody to come back to the ranch and share some of his tales with you, okay?”

“’Kay, Adam.”   Looking up at Cody, Joe insisted, “You’ll still be here, when I come out, right?”  At the man’s nod, the boy dashed off.

“Fine little fella.  Glad to see yer pa remarried.”

Adam frowned,  explaining quietly, “Twice actually.  Both of them gone now.”

Such deep sorrow behind those eyes.  “Sorry, son.”  Gesturing through the General Store window, he commented,  “That littleun there seems like he’s comin’ along right nice though.  Got a good healthy glow to ‘im.”

Adam burst into laughter, “Oh, he’s got a glow all right.  He’s a regular little fireball!  Keeps his whole family and a hefty number of ranch hands on their toes almost constantly,  with all his mischief!”

Cody smiled in response to the rapid dissipation of Adam’s somber mood.  Then reminded him, with a wink, “You kept yer pa on his toes yerself, youngun, as I recollect him sayin’.”

Clearing his throat, Adam produced a wry smile, before answering a bit defensively, “And as I recollect, a certain traveler helped me along, just a mite, in that direction.”.....

Though aware that Adam was teaching Cody, Ben kept out of the lessons, thinking he might embarrass the man.  He occupied himself elsewhere, pretending not to notice, but his chest swelled with pride, listening to the little teacher with his pupil.  Adam used his small blackboard, to draw each letter and demonstrate their sounds, mimicking Ben’s teachings. 

Cody watched during one lesson as Adam placed three letters on the board.  ‘What’s that fer?  A.A.C.’

‘The first letters of each of my names, my initials.  Pa says sometimes grownups gotta sign just these, for important papers and such.’

‘What’s that second A fer?’

‘Andrew.’  A shadow passed over the boy’s face.

‘And who was Andrew?’ 

Glancing toward the sky, Adam answered quietly, ‘He was my ma’s ma’s Pa.’

Despite the boy’s hushed tone, Cody, laughed, ‘That’s a mouthful, boy.  Ya coulda just said he was your great grandpappie!’

Adam grinned at the term, his dark mood slipping away.  Thinking a moment, he asked,  ‘You got a middle name, Cody?’

Cody shrugged, ‘Don’t know, son.  When I was a little fella, I was took care of by strangers to my parents.  No one really could tell me nothin’ about them or me.  So if my ma gave me a middle name, I don’t recollect I’ll ever know.’  Staring at the blackboard, he suddenly decided, ‘But you know, I think I’d like to give myself the middle name of Adam, after the youngun who showed me how to make sense of the alphabet.  That all right by you, son?’

Adam nodded, his eyes sparkling with pride.   He wrote Cody’s  initials beneath his.  ‘C.A.P.  Hey, your initials spell cap!’

‘Reckon that’s all right by me, boy.  And I ‘spect that’s the end of our lesson today.  It’s gettin’ too dark to see by and besides, yer pa wants to get an early start in the mornin’.’

Many lessons later, Cody finally came up with a way to repay his little instructor.  Adam had grown so comfortable in the man’s presence that Ben was willing to trust the small boy in his care for short periods.   Leaving the two at the camp they’d been resting at the last two days, he went hunting.

Cody handed Adam his ‘first reader’, a simple book with pictures and single words describing them.  ‘You can have this back, son.  I know all them words now and lots of others, thanks to you.’  He reminded his teacher, ‘You know, ya still haven’t told me how I cain repay ya.’

Adam shook his head.  ‘My pa wouldn’t like me takin’ payment for teachin’ you.  I told you so before.’  Distracted by the sheath on Cody’s belt, Adam chewed at his bottom lip.  ‘Betcha that knife of yours makes a real fine spear for fishin’, huh, Cody?’ 

Seeing the excitement in the child’s eyes, Cody offered, ‘Well, I could certainly learn ya a lot of good uses for this here knife, boy.  Even if’n yer pa ain’t ready fer ya to use one of yer own, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if I was ta give ya some instructin’, do ya reckon?’’  Aware of the creek nearby, he suggested, ‘’Spect your pa won’t be back anytime soon.  You an me could go down to that there creek, do a mite of that spear fishin’ and maybe set a rabbit snare.  Or do ya know how ta do that already?’

His face a scowl, Adam pursed his lips, finally responding,  ‘Well, I watch Pa set ‘em, but I never did it myself.’  Kicking a rock, Adam grumbled, ‘Ya need a knife for that too.’

‘Bout time ya learned all these things, boy.  Who knows, you could git separated from yer pa fer several days.  Ya need ta be able ta take care of yerself.’

Looking around a bit guiltily, Adam considered Cody’s logic.  The idea of being without his father shot a short burst of panic through him.  It wasn’t something he ever wanted to imagine.  Still, he should know how to catch and skin game.  THAT was something he’d been thinking for some time now. He made up his mind, ‘Well, since you’ll be with me, I think it’s okay.’

They spent the next couple hours at it.  Cody showed Adam how to stand stock-still in the running creek, knife bound to a stick, poised for attack.  At first, the boy’s reflexes wouldn’t cooperate, but Cody assured him he just needed practice and patience.  Heeding the advice, the child was rewarded with a fine catch.  Grinning at his pupil, Cody suggested,  ‘Maybe I should learn ya about booby traps too.’

Adam screwed up his face, ‘That kind of bird doesn’t live around here.  Pa told me about them.’

Cody’s laughter shook the leaves in the trees, ‘Boy, it ain’t a particular critter!  Well, least ways, not the way I mean it.  Ya see, a booby trap is for catchin’, well, like maybe a bear or maybe someone who’s chasin’ ya, who ya don’t really want ta meet up with.  Ya get my meanin’?’

Not really certain he did know, Adam asked, ‘Well, what’s this trap made of?’

Stroking his chin, Cody admitted, ‘Depends.  Depends on what’s yer tryin’ ta catch.  I reckon a rabbit snare could be called one, but I was thinkin’ more like a big hole covered with sticks and pine needles, say fer a bear.  Or maybe a giant loop, that pulls a unsuspectin’ so-in-so right off his feet, when he steps inta it.  There’s all kinds of booby traps, son.  And I know lots of ‘em!’’

‘Oh.’  Adam thought for a moment.  ‘Well, I don’t think I’ll be needin’ them, but you can show me some, just in case.’

‘That’s the spirit, boy.  A fella in the wild cain’t know too many tricks, believe me!’  Cody proceeded to demonstrate some of the less treacherous examples in his repertoire.  Adam studied him silently, his quick mind absorbing, recording and wanting very much to practice his new found knowledge...  

All too soon for Adam, Cody decided it was time to part company with the Cartwrights.  Their destination of Illinois did not suit him and he turned North.  Several days after his departure found Adam waiting at camp, while Pa scouted the route ahead of them.  Heavy rain had made it impossible to travel with the wagon and Ben hoped the trail had now grown more passable. 

Adam sat brooding.   ‘Pa thinks I’m too little to use any really good tools.  No knife, no ax, no gun.   Maybe I could figure a booby trap that doesn’t need any of ‘em.  I sure would like to surprise Pa with one of those wild turkeys that keep walkin’ through here, when they think no one’s lookin’ at ‘em.  They didn’t see me, when I peeked at ‘em from the wagon.’

The boy prowled about the campsite, trying to figure a way to catch one of the birds.  ‘Pa says they’re a stupid critter.  Must be somethin’ I could...’  His eyes lit on a massive tree, with large branches within his reach!   ‘I could climb that tree and wait for the turkey.  Maybe I could drop a big stone on it.’  With a frown, he decided, ‘Need both hands to climb that tree.  Couldn’t carry a big stone.’  Noting the charred wood from their morning campfire, Adam brightened, quickly scrambling into the back of their wagon.  ‘Our big skillet!  It’s heavy like a stone.  I could tie a rope to this hole in the handle and pull it up in the tree.  Then, when one of those stupid birds comes by, I’ll drop this on top of it.’ 

Grinning at his cleverness, Adam dug once more into their supplies for some cord.  Feeding it through the handle, he knotted the rope securely and walked confidently toward the tree.  Tucking the rope between his teeth, he left the skillet at the base of the trunk and began his climb.  Wanting to camouflage himself, he edged out on a limb, to sit in a sturdy ‘V’ hidden behind dense foliage.  He hauled the skillet from its resting place, then sat patiently  in wait for a victim.   ‘Boy, will Pa be surprised!’ 

At the sound of hoof beats, the boy tied the rope to a branch, left the skillet nestled in the foliage and scrambled back to the ground, only a moment before Ben appeared.

‘Pa, how come you’re back so quick?’  

‘Didn’t like the look of the sky ahead.  A pretty good storm’s brewing.’

‘Oh.’  Glancing up nervously, Adam wondered how to retrieve his ‘weapon’.

‘Something bothering you, son?’

‘Uh, no, sir.’ 

‘Well, maybe we should try to cook up some beans, before the storm gets here.  The wind’s starting to pick up now.’  Gusts rocked the trees and Ben decided, ‘A fire might be too risky.  Why don’t you pull out what’s left of the corn biscuits, son.’

Relieved he didn’t have to retrieve the skillet, Adam nodded and started toward the wagon.  Another strong gust shoved him abruptly.  Simultaneously, the crack of a branch snapping free hit his ear and he spun, watching in horror, as the frying pan broke loose, careening through the air, picking up momentum in its downward flight.  His tongue captive, the boy winced as the bottom of the pan smacked Ben square in the butt, knocking him to the ground.

Taken aback for a moment, Ben finally shook his head, before slowly rising to his feet.  Eyeing the dangling  cookware, his temper flared as he turned a dark gaze toward the wagon.  ‘ADAM ANDREW CARTWRIGHT!  COME HERE THIS INSTANT!’

Adam emerged reluctantly from his hiding place behind the wagon, but stayed well beyond his father’s reach.

‘What is the meaning of this, young man?’  Strangling the skillet handle, Ben shook the pan in his son’s direction.  Meeting silence, he growled impatiently, ‘Well?’

‘Pa, um, I have an explanation.’  Adam gnawed at his lip, trying to formulate it.

‘I’d be very grateful if you shared it with me.’ 

‘It ain’t what you think...’

‘Oh?  And just what is it that you think I’m thinking?  Believe me, boy, I can come up with no logical reason as to why my five-year-old son would hang an iron skillet in a tree.’

‘I got a good reason.  Honest.  It’s just that... um...well, I wasn’t expectin’ you to be back yet and then I wasn’t sure you’d understand, so I thought I’d wait until later to, um...’

‘Speak plain, boy!  Why was our frying pan in the tree?  Just give me a short, simple answer!’

‘It was my booby trap, for catchin’ a wild turkey.  I... I wanted to show I could be of help.  That I could do somethin’ besides pickin’ up sticks.  And I wanted to make a trap without any of those things you said I couldn’t touch.  Didn’t use no knife or nothin’ dangerous.’   Seeing no change in his father’s stern expression, Adam gulped.  ‘I...I didn’t mean to hurt your bottom, Pa.  H...H...Honest.’  His face filled with remorse, he finally asked quietly, ‘You gonna be hurtin’ mine now, Pa?’

Ben pulled in a big breath and released it slowly.  He knew his son was frustrated by the confines of his age.  Knew, too, that his mind was that of much older child, trapped in an immature body that just wasn’t ready to do everything he wanted yet.  And he had ideas.   LOTS of ideas.  Ben had a sneaking suspicion that this particular idea came as a result of his association with their recent guest.  His boy worked constantly, it seemed, to elaborate on whatever information drifted his way, from whatever the source.  

Drawing in another breath, he let his anger fade away as he exhaled.   Striding  toward his son, he noted with relief that the storm had suddenly shifted away from them.  Lifting the boy into his arms, he assured him,  ‘No, I’m not going to hurt your bottom.’  He patted the little behind gently,  ‘I know you’d never  intentionally injure your pa.  But you and I need to talk about a few things, I think.’

Adam nodded and Ben carried him to log where they’d been sitting to eat their meals.  With the boy on his lap, he explained, ‘Adam, I know you want to help your pa, but I don’t think you realize just how much you already DO help, in many, many ways.’

The child interrupted, sullenly,  ‘How, by pickin’ up sticks for the fire?  I want to help for real, Pa.’

‘Now listen to me, son, picking up kindling isn’t all you do and you know it.’

Trying to think of other examples, the boy grunted, ‘You mean like stirring the beans, so they don’t burn?’

‘I wouldn’t want to eat burned beans.  Would you?’

‘No, Pa.’  Pursing his lips, Adam asked, ‘What else?’

Smiling, he hugged the boy a moment, then stated, ‘Well, you read to me, something I enjoy very much.’

‘But that’s my lessons.  How’s that helpin’ you?’

‘Because I like to hear you read.  It makes me proud, to hear a boy your age read so well and understand the meaning of all the words.’  Lifting the child’s chin, he added, ‘Makes me feel pretty good to know you could teach someone else what I’ve taught you.’

Adam heard the sincerity in his father’s voice and knew he wasn’t patronizing him.  ‘Is there anything else, Pa?’  Dark hazel eyes searched the chocolate ones looking back at him.

‘You’ve got sharp eyes and ears, both assets to me when we’re camping, hunting and traveling.’

‘Yes, sir.’  The child digested everything and straightened his shoulders, knowing Ben never said anything he didn’t mean.

Glad he’d gotten through, Ben set the lad on his feet.  ‘You can help me right now, with a very important task.’

Eyes wide, Adam insisted, ‘You just name it, Pa.’

Turning his son in the direction of the big tree, he issued one gentle swat to his bottom and ordered, ‘Climb up and untie that rope, so we can have our skillet back for what is was intended!’

Laughing, the boy sprinted forward to obey his father’s command....



Cody’s deep belly laugh attracted the attention of several passing town folk   “I ain’t so sure it’d be safe fer me ta come ta dinner with ya, Adam.  Yer pa might not be so happy to see the fella that put one too many suggestions in that active head a yours!’

Grinning, Adam insisted, “Oh, no you don’t.  You’re not going to get out of facing my father.  Besides, you have to meet my brother Hoss, too.  He’s a big fella like you.”

Joe sailed out of the store, a brown sack gripped in each hand.  “Miss Issie wants ta know if you’re comin’ in for supplies, Adam.”

“Yes, I have to get flour and sugar for Hop Sing, or he’ll have me strung up by my thumbs.”  With a wink, Adam ordered, “You keep an eye on Mr. Pyle while I’m gone, Joe.”

Joe grinned.  “’Kay, Adam.”  Climbing up in the buckboard, the boy held out his bag of mixed candy.  “Want some, Mr. Pyle?”

Dismounting, Cody plucked out a gumdrop, insisting, “You call me Cody.  And thanks, son, been some time since I had any sweets.”  He took in the resemblance to Adam in the child’s features.  Yet, there were no burdens on this lad’s shoulders.  His sparkling eyes conveyed that.  The big man watched with a smile as the small boy squirmed in his seat, searching the streets, the boardwalks, the buildings and the bustling passersby, awaiting the next piece of excitement heading his way.

As Adam emerged from the store and climbed up next to his brother, Joe looked into Cody’s laughing eyes and asked, “You gonna be eatin’ at our table tonight, Cody?” 

“Seems so.  From what yer brother tells me, I’m in for some mighty fine cookin’!”

“Yes, sir!  Hop Sing is the best cook anywhere.”  The boy watched as Cody mounted his horse, spying the handsome, large knife sheath.  “Whew!  That’s a big knife, Cody!  Bet that’s good for all kinds of things!”

Spying Adam rolling his eyes and shaking his head, Cody just nodded.  “Yep, shore is.   And I cain think of one thing it’s bound ta do.”

Joe prompted, “What’s that?”

“Get me a lecture from yer pa!”

Adam chuckled as he shook the reins, directing them homeward.  Joe heard Cody’s deep laughter echoing from behind them.  Scratching his head, the boy dug into his candy, unable to figure what these men could possibly find so funny about a lecture from Pa!


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