Loose Ends    
(October 2002)

Author’s Note:  This is a sequel to “Echoes”, which introduced the character of Cody Pyle, a wanderer Ben and five-year-old Adam met during their trip West.    


Six-year-old Joe Cartwright burst through the front door of the Ponderosa ranch house.  “Pa!  Hey, Pa!  You’ll never guess who me and Adam brung back for ya!   Pa!   Where are ya?”

Ben responded in a booming voice, “Joseph!  I’m at my desk.  And I’ll thank you to settle down and stop shouting.”

Too wound up to obey his father, Joe sailed around the corner of the den, nearly colliding with the stove.  His eyes widening, he maneuvered clear, scrambling to his father’s side, his voice raised to the hilt with excitement,  “Guess, Pa!  Guess!  I bet you never will though...”

Overwhelmed by his youngest’s exuberance, Ben tossed aside his pencil, standing to lift the grinning, bobbing boy into his arms.  Chuckling, he took the bait, “All right, young man, I give up.  Who did you and Adam bring home from town?”

A deep, gravelly voice, on the edge of laughter, responded, “A man ya prob’ly thought y’d seen the last of, thirteen years ago, Ben Cartwright!”

Blinking, open-mouthed, for several seconds, Ben finally stuck out his hand, “I don’t believe it!  Cody Pyle!  I’m flabbergasted, to be sure!”  Adam emerged from behind the large wanderer now and Ben’s eyes narrowed.   “You know, I owe you a word or two, Mr. Pyle.”  Watching Adam’s smile transform into a smirk, he corrected, “In fact, I owe you a whole lot of words!”

Joe studied the interchange, his bright eyes alive with glee.  He didn’t understand what this ruckus was about, but no matter.  This big friend of Adam’s promised some unscheduled excitement.

Hoss appeared at Adam’s elbow and the elder brother cleared his throat, still grinning devilishly over his father’s reaction.  “Uh, Cody?  Before you and Pa ‘have it out’, I’d like you to meet my other ‘little brother’.”  Cody turned from Ben’s playful scolding and smiled broadly.   Adam continued, “Hoss, this is Cody Pyle, a man I’ve mentioned a number of times over the years.  Cody, this is Eric, but we all call him Hoss.”

Cody shook the young man’s hand, observing, “Well, Adam certainly pegged ya right.  Yer a big fella, for twelve, ain’t ya?  Then again, I was bigger still, at yer age.”

Hoss grinned up into the hefty man’s laughing eyes, “Yes, sir, I expect you were, Mr. Pyle.”

“Aw, now listen, I know all you boys have been brung up to be real proper like with grownups.  But I’ll say this here and now, for yer pa.  I want all of ya ta jest call me Cody.  Not that I don’t expect the proper dues a youngun owes his elders.   A child should have good manners.  But I jest want it real clear that I don’t want none of ya havin’ to call me ‘mister’.  Okay?”

Hoss nodded, “Yes, sir, Cody.”

Throwing up his hands, Cody rolled his eyes and turned back to Ben.  “Ya must be a proud man, Ben, looks like ya got a real fine herd a sons here!”

Nodding, Ben cleared his throat, afraid those sons would get too cocky, amidst this man’s praise.  With a warning gaze at the three, he allowed, “Yes, well, they’ll do.”  Again, picking up the playful mischief in his oldest son’s eyes, he cautioned the big traveler, “Just see that you mind what kind of teachings you pass along to my youngest here.”  Patting Joe’s bottom, he insisted, “This one has plenty of ideas of his own, just as his older brother did when you first met him!”

Still in his father’s arms, Joe requested, eyes glittering,  “Pa, can Hoss and me show Cody the stock?  I told him ‘bout everything we got, on our ride back from town.” 

All too aware of Joe’s ability to monopolize the conversation on journeys to and from town, Ben chuckled, “Yes, I’m sure you did, but I’ll leave it up to Cody as to whether or not he’d like that tour now.  Perhaps he’d rather wait until tomorrow?”  Turning his attention to their guest, he insisted, “You will stay with us for a few days or so, won’t you, Cody?  We’d all enjoy your company.”

Memories of his travels with the Cartwrights flooded his mind during the trip back from town.  Warm thoughts of a five-year-old boy and his gruff, yet loving father filled his chest.  He welcomed the chance to reacquaint himself with this “boy” who befriended him so readily in the past and his father, so much mellower now.   What’s more, two sets of younger eyes begged him to impart stories of their family’s journey.  Delicious aromas drifted in from the kitchen, clinching his decision.

“I’m happy to accept your kind invite, Ben.  I’ll jest throw my bedroll down on yer barn floor and...”

“No need for that, Cody!  We’ve got a spare room right here...” 

Ben gestured toward the door off the great room, but Cody cut him off, “Thanks, all the same, but I’m used ta sleepin’ on the ground.  Don’t dare spoil myself with some soft mattress.  But I shorely would welcome a hot bath.”   Smiling at Joe, he suggested, “Tell ya what, son, how about if old Cody gits hisself cleaned up a mite, before we tour this grand ranch a yers?”

Squiggling to the floor, Joe offered, “I’ll run and tell Hop Sing we need the bath water.”  The child dashed off hollering, “Hop Sing!  Hop Sing!”  Cook and boy nearly collided in the dining area, filling the air with Chinese exclamations and boyish giggles.

Adam shook his head at the pair as a grin spread across his face.  “Well, it will be a bit before the water is ready.  Perhaps we might have a celebratory toast, Pa?”

Ben nodded his agreement as he asked, “Would you join us for a glass of brandy, Cody?”

“Wouldn’t say ‘no’ to it.  Ya know I got no quarrel with takin’ in spirits, Ben...”  Sending a wink at Adam, the big man knew the statement would set off his host.

Catching the conspiratorial look between the two, Ben growled, “Yes, I’m aware of that fact.”

“Pa?”  Hoss reminded the three of his presence and Ben threw an arm across his middle boy’s shoulders.  “Son, I’ll let you have just a drop.  But I expect what you’re really looking for is an explanation for my comment?”

Nodding, Hoss accepted the glass  and Ben transported them back in time...


Five-year-old Adam spied the silver flask peeking out of Cody’s inner coat pocket.  Cody had thrown the heavy wrap down on his bedroll, before heading off into the woods to scout for food, the morning sun providing ample heat.  Knowing his huge friend wouldn’t likely return soon and that Ben was occupied with watering the horses at a nearby pond, Adam eyed the flask with growing curiosity.  He’d seen Cody pull it out sometimes before their meals in the evening.  He’d watched his father refuse the offer to share the contents, with a decided scowl of disapproval.

Swiveling his head, for a cautionary glance in several directions, Adam slipped the shiny container from its hiding spot and popped the top.  Sniffing the opening, he brushed his tingling nose.  ‘Whew!’  He sniffed again, sneezing this time.  ‘Well, Cody must like it, else why would he sip it while he cooks our supper?’  The child mused, ‘Could be his medicine, but then how come he tries to get Pa to drink it?’  With a final whiff, the boy brought the flask to his lips and tipped his head back with a quick jerk, the way he’d seen Cody do.  Too much liquid escaped at once, burning a path down his throat.  Scrunching up his face at the unpleasant taste and hot sensation, Adam recapped the container.  Twigs snapping alerted him to his father’s return and he hastily shoved the bottle back in Cody’s coat pocket.

Leaping to his feet, the child instructed his body to search for kindling.  Instead, he teetered in place, his feet in mutiny.  Ben tethered the horses, all the while studying the little boy.  Concerned over his child’s apparent confusion, he walked quickly over and knelt before him.  ‘Adam?  What’s the matter, son?’

Everything spinning before him, the boy clumsily answered,  ‘Nothshing, Pa.  I’issh jussh  thhhinkin’.’

If the slur of his son’s words wasn’t enough of a clue, the odor on his breath more than confirmed Ben’s suspicions.  ‘Adam Cartwright, did you drink from Cody’s flask?’

‘Whasha flassh, Pa?’  Swallowing, Adam licked the lingering flavor from his lips.

Drawing out the object of reference, Ben held it under the swaying boy’s nose.  ‘THIS is a flask.  Now, I expect a straight answer to a direct question, young man.  Did you drink from this?’

Rubbing his nose, Adam avoided his father’s angry chocolate eyes.  ‘Yessir, Pa.’

‘Haven’t I taught you you are not to touch someone else’s things without permission?’

Nodding his head, Adam shut his eyes against the throbbing in his temples, moaning,  ‘Tasteshh-ed terrible.  B...Burned my fffroat.   My head’s hurtin’.  Everything’s turnin’.   Why’s he wanna drink it?’

His anger over his son’s blatant disobedience fizzled, sympathy creeping in to displace it.  He watched the pinched face grow white, ready when Adam’s hand flew to his mouth.   Reacting quickly, Ben turned him, bending him slightly, steadying him as he heaved into awaiting bushes.   Retrieving some cloths from their wagon, he soaked one with water and mopped the youngster’s mouth and hand.  Damping another cloth, he sat the boy on his lap and gently sponged his forehead, cheeks and neck, repeatedly wetting the rag with fresh water from his canteen. 

The cool sensation provided some relief and Adam finally whispered shakily, ‘I’m sorry, Pa.’

Drawing his son close, Ben acknowledged with a sigh, ‘Yes, I expect you are, right about now.’   Rubbing his son’s back, he heard his breathing grow steady, the aching little head resting heavily on his shoulder.   He’d only just tucked his son under a blanket in the wagon when Cody emerged with a duck and squirrel dangling limply in his grasp.

‘Where’s the boy?  I got plumb lucky this mornin’.’

Ben glared, growling, ‘The boy made the unfortunate decision to try out the contents of your flask a while ago.  Afraid he doesn’t have much of an appetite just now.’

Snatching the item from its hiding spot, Cody gauged the weight, exclaiming, ‘Why that little...’  Thinking on it, he added, ‘Poor little tyke.  I’m sorry, Ben.  Didn’t occur to me that the lad would...’  Casting an eye toward the wagon, he fished, ‘Hope the little fella ain’t sufferin’ sore hind quarters, along with his achin’ belly and head...’

Unable to blame the man for his son’s error in judgement, Ben let his annoyance slip away.  ‘No, he had plenty enough discomfort, without me adding to it.’   His eyes rested on the game at Cody’s feet and he encouraged, ‘Why don’t we cook up that meat.  That’s a breakfast that’ll last through dinner!’

Lighting a fire, Cody prepared the game, but once he’d suspended it over the flames, he offered,  ‘Let me boil some water.  I got some tea in my saddlebags that might give the youngun some relief.  Be a shame fer him ta miss out on this fine grub’...


Adam sipped his brandy slowly, remembering distinctly the extent of his pains that day long ago.  What’s more, he recalled a wonderful relief spreading through his body as he slowly sipped Cody’s remedy, the taste of peppermint still lingering in his memory.  “You and Hop Sing should compare notes on your hangover cures, Cody...”  Biting his lip, the young man amended carefully, “Um, that is, uh, from what the men tell me, he has a good one.”  Adam winced inwardly, simultaneously giving himself a mental kick in the pants.  When he dared a peek at his father, Ben’s eyes seemed to bore into his thoughts.   Clearing his throat, Adam suggested, exiting hurriedly, “Best see how that bath water’s coming along.” 

Hoss followed, wanting to avoid any ramifications of his older brother’s imprudent observation.  “I’d better find Joe and see about gettin’ to our chores.”

Cody shared a chuckle with his host.  “Still got a good rein on that boy, ain’t ya, Ben?”

Ben grinned,  “Adam’s a big boy now, doesn’t need much direction from his pa, most of the time.  Certainly,  HE doesn’t think so.  I trust him to make good decisions and act properly.  Make no mistake though, I’m in charge in this house and I don’t hesitate to remind him of it, when necessary.”

“It’s real clear now, as it was then, Ben, the boy has a lot a respect for ya.  Plenty of love in those eyes a his, too.”

His own eyes misting a bit, Ben responded huskily,  “Yes.  Yes, I know.”

Joe burst on the scene, announcing,  “Your bath’s all ready, Cody!  Me and Hoss are gonna do our chores now, so’s we can take ya around after.  You’re in for a real treat for supper too.  Hop Sing’s cookin’ up a storm!”

“Okay, son, but don’t be rushing old Cody, now.  When I get the chance for a hot bath, I don’t like to be hurried.”

“No, sir.”  With a worried glance at his father, thinking he’d offended their guest, Joe added quickly, “Didn’t mean no offense, Mr. Cody, honest.”

Ruffling the child’s beautiful dark curls, Cody insisted, “Jest call me Cody.  And there’s been no offense taken, youngun, really.  Lead me to that bathtub now.  I don’t know the layout of yer place jest yet.”

Grabbing the powerful hand, Joe tugged, “Come on, it’s this-a-way.”


Before dinner, the younger boys paraded Cody through the whole barnyard, starting at the chicken coop; on to the pig pen; down to the corrals, to show off both cattle and horses; then back to the barn, where Adam had deposited their guest’s bedroll, saddlebags and satchels.

“You fellas have quite a spread here.  Lots of work though, I’ll wager?”

Hoss answered, “Yes, sir, but it’s good, honest work, that’s what our pa’d tell ya.  He’s mighty darn proud of this ranch.”  Grinning, he added, “We all are.”

“Yer pa runs a mighty tight ship, I reckon.”

Joe pulled on Cody’s sleeve, “Did you know my pa when he was on the sea, too, Cody?”

His deep laugh rumbling forth, the brawny traveler explained, “That’s jest an expression, son.  It means yer pa keeps a tight rein on things.  Doesn’t cotton ta too much foolin’ around or breakin’ of rules.  He expects his help ... and younguns...  to do as they’re told or he does some hollerin and such.”

Hoss grinned, “Yeah, Joe is real familiar with both the hollerin’ and that ‘and such’ part, ain’t ya, little brother?”   He patted Joe’s head, quickly erasing the emerging scowl.   Turning to Cody, he posed, hopefully, “You about ready for supper, Cody?  Hop Sing sure has been scurryin’ around like a squirrel, ever since Adam told him you’d be stayin’.”

A small smile twitched beneath the big man’s bushy beard.  “Hoss, I’d like a word with yer cook, if I may, private like, before dinner.”

“Well, sure.  I know he’s been waitin’ ta meet ya.” 


The Ponderosa walls vibrated that night, the dinner conversation no less than a dull roar.  Cody’s booming laughter rattled the chandelier as he talked about his adventures after separating from Ben and Adam.  He’d trekked into Canada, weaved back into the northern territories, headed into the deep South and finally meandered West.  Winking at Adam, he entertained his wide-eyed brothers, recounting how he’d arm wrestled in saloons, earning money to buy necessary supplies along the way.

“Yep, I remember this one fella, went by the name of ‘The Crusher’.  Why, his hands were so big, I thought fer sure he might break all the bones in my fingers, grabbin’ hold a me the way he did.  But I whooped him.  Guess my growlin’ belly gave me the push I needed at the last second that day.  Old Crusher, he was a good sport about it though.  We shared a couple beers after, on my winnin’s, then walked away friends.  Well, least ways, we weren’t enemies.”

Sometime during this tale, Hop Sing slipped in, sliding a covered dish on the table, in between Adam and Ben.  At a lull in the conversation, Adam peeked under the lid.   Pressing his lips together, he soon surrendered to a slow, impish smile.  Ben, raising a curious eyebrow, stole a glance at the mystery food, then directed an accusing look at their guest. 

Chuckling, Cody admitted, “Aw, Ben, yer little cook was mighty obligin’.  I jest couldn’t help myself.”

Hoss craned his neck, his eyes widening as he questioned indignantly, “Hey, are those my squirrel acorns?”

Adam burst into laughter.  “Cody, you sure do have a way of stirring things up!”

Ben shook his head, trying to look stern, his dancing eyes giving him away.  With a wave of his hand, he surrendered,  “Go on, tell the boys the story.”

Cody slipped one of the acorns from it’s shell and popped it into his mouth.  With a nod toward the kitchen, he commented, “Now, that fine cook a yours has done somethin’ mighty special to these.  But then, I expect he’s got lots a spices and other fixin’s to do any food up proper.  Preparin’ ‘em out in the wild is another story, ain’t it, boy?”  With a wink at Adam, he continued, “Course it helps if ya take the proper steps when cookin’ ‘em up too.”  With that, he launched into the story...


Supplies had run low, with flour, cornmeal and beans exhausted.  Ben patted his son’s shoulder and assured him, ‘We’ll restock at the next opportunity, Adam.  For now, well, we’ll just have to make due with whatever we can find out here.’

‘Yes, Pa.’   The boy offered his father a small, brave smile, trying to ignore his grumbling belly.

One of their wagon team had come up lame, so they’d stopped to allow it a chance to rest.  Ben tended to it, nodding distractedly when Cody suggested he and the boy go hunting for dinner.  As they wound their way through a stand of nearby oaks, Cody observed the littered ground, ‘Where there’s acorns, there’s squirrels, boy.’  Spotting no targets, as he surveyed the trees, the husky fellow turned his gaze once more to the earth.  ‘Well, we cain always eat the acorns, if no critters come our way.  Not bad eatin’, the white oak nut.  It’s kinda sweet, really.  Better’n goin’ hungry, fer sure.  A good steamin’ in a skillet and ya got yerself a meal.’

Adam nodded.  Pa had served up acorns more than a time or two.  They’d always tasted a bit bitter, but maybe this variety was different, as Cody indicated.  Besides, it WAS better than going hungry.  The child knelt and began filling his burlap sack with the fallen fruit.

Smiling down on the bent head, Cody encouraged,  ‘Good boy.  You gather ‘em up and I’ll scout on ahead and see if I cain’t come up with somethin’ to go with ‘em.’

Gun shots told Adam there’d likely be meat after all, but he continued to collect the nuts, knowing that meat wasn’t really enough of a meal and that the acorns could be stored for later.  By the time Cody returned, he’d filled his sack to the neck, earning him a proud smile and pat on the back from his towering companion, who easily tossed the load over his shoulder.

Back at their camp, Cody skinned the squirrels, putting the hides aside.   Meanwhile, Adam dug out their skillet, lined it with a couple layers of nuts, added a bit of water, before covering and placing it carefully over the fire. 

Ben finally joined them, complimenting, ‘You did well, Cody.  Sorry we can’t serve up some biscuits or beans to go along with your catch.’

Gesturing at his helper, Cody revealed, ‘Well, yer son scrounged up a nice supply a acorns.  Some sweet white oak dropped her fruit fer us an’ lured a couple old squirrels into my sights at the same time.’

Adam puffed up his chest, in response to his friend’s compliment and his father’s proud expression.  He was glad to make a significant contribution to their meal.

Suddenly, a loud pop hit their ears.   Cody questioned, ‘You put enough water in that there skillet, son?’

Adam shrugged his shoulders and Ben removed the lid with his gloved hand.  Steam escaped, as water simmered in the bottom of the pan.  Cody opened his mouth to ask the next question, too late.  Another loud pop cracked the air as one of the acorns exploded, launched itself, attacking the center of Ben’s forehead.

‘What in blazes!’  Ben dropped the pot lid to the ground, startled by the hot acorn’s impact.  A second nut struck his right eye.  A third landed in his hat.  Before anyone could react, the remaining acorns joined their companions, sending shards of their meat and husks in every direction.

‘Take cover!’  Ben yelled, seizing Adam, pulling him to safety.  Cody leaped in a different direction and no one spoke again until the popping ceased.  Adam wished he could shrink under the rock his father chose for refuge, but all too soon, Ben hoisted him to his feet.  They walked back to the campfire and observed the battlefield.  An empty pan greeted them, but for one lone nut, which Cody wisely plucked out and tossed into the brush.

Ben shook his head at the sight of their side dish in shambles.  ‘Adam?  What does Pa always do when he cooks acorns, son?’

The child cast a miserable eye at the empty skillet and mumbled regretfully,  ‘Somethin’ with your knife.’

Ben exchanged looks with Cody, who asked, ‘Didn’t ya know they need ta be punctured, boy?’

Scowling at the taunting pan, Adam asked innocently, ‘What’s puncture?’

Again the two men traded glances.  Ben lifted his son, so their eyes met.   The boy looped his legs around his father’s middle and his pa slid one supportive arm beneath his bottom, the other across his back.  Gently, he explained, ‘Puncture means poke a hole, Adam.  Before you subject something with such a tough shell to heat, you have to give the moisture inside it a way to escape.   When moisture heats up, it turns to steam.  If you don’t give it a means of escape, well, it forces its way out.’  Smoothing the furrows from his son’s worried brow, Ben assured him, ‘This wasn’t your fault, son.  I guess Cody and I both assumed you’d asked the other to slit the shells for you.’

‘Did ya get hurt, Pa?’  Adam reached out, touching the burned patch on his father’s forehead.

Smiling softly as Adam tenderly examined his right eyelid, Ben assured him, ‘No, it’s nothing I can’t live with.’

Adam began to laugh, but seeing his father’s expression darken, he quickly plucked out the acorn still nestled inside the top of Ben’s hat.  ‘I was just thinkin’ I’d better get this out, before some squirrel lands on your head, Pa.’

With a chuckle, Ben asked, ‘Did you collect enough acorns for another meal, son?’

Adam nodded, ‘Sure did, Pa.  Enough for lots of meals!’

Setting his son on his feet, Ben urged him forward with a couple soft pats to his bottom, ‘Then go pull another batch from your sack.  We’ll try this over again and poke holes in the shells this time around.’....


Cody laughed, until tears ran down his cheeks, watching both Hoss and Joe reduced to a fit of giggles.  Adam and Ben eyed the lot of them, shaking their heads, their lips twitching as they tried unsuccessfully to suppress their grins.

Hop Sing interrupted their gaiety,  “Mr. Ben, you want coffee and dessert now?”

Cody motioned the cook over, commending him,  “Sir, you dish up a fine meal.  Don’t know when I’ve been spoilt better!”

Hop Sing smiled proudly, “Glad you like, Mr. Cody.  Little boys verly happy you here tonight.  Mr. Ben, too.  And Mr. Adam, he say you verly special man.  Hop Sing glad to make fine meal for old friend of number one son and honorable fah-tha.”

Adam blushed slightly, but it was no secret to Ben how much his eldest enjoyed those days when this big guest had shared their journey.  Ben and Adam met many people on their trek across the country.   Men and women alike frequently treated that child as just that, a little boy.  But Cody treated Adam like a friend, an equal, pure and simple.  He respected the child’s intelligence, his inner strength, his dogged attitude.  Like Ben, Cody spoke to Adam like an adult, expecting him to understand and knowing that when he didn’t, he’d seek clarification.

After pie and coffee, the group adjourned to the great room, around a crackling fire.  Joe climbed into Ben’s lap, fighting drooping eyelids as he tried to take in more of Cody’s riveting tales.  Soon though, the excitement of his day caught up with him.  He snuggled close in his father’s loving embrace and drifted off to sleep.

Cody lowered his voice, ever so slightly,  “Nothin’ like a warm lap and a fire, to lull a little fella to sleep, eh, Ben?”

Ben smiled softly, with a glance at Adam, who seemed as enthralled as his brothers over Cody’s tales.  He noted once more the blush on his eldest son’s cheeks.  Adam excused himself, explaining he needed to make a final check on the stock.  Hoss followed on his heels.

Musing over Cody’s words, Ben couldn’t help but think of Adam during those days on the trail.   Yes, his oldest boy had acted quite the little man in many a situation.  Even when he needed babying, he often resisted the urge to seek his father’s comfort.  Ben, however, read his son well and certain circumstances demanded his gentle care.  He remembered the nasty cold Adam contracted while Cody traveled with them...


‘Adam?  Come here, son.’

The little boy stumbled, dropping the load of kindling he’d collected, falling over the wood in the process.  He didn’t cry, but he didn’t pick himself up either, spurring Ben to lift him.

Cody watched the father press his lips to the boy’s forehead, his face reflecting concern over the heat there.  ‘Why didn’t you tell Pa you were sick, son?’

‘Didn’t want to worry you, Pa,’ came the quiet, subdued response.

Pushing his fingers through the damp hair, Ben insisted gently, ‘Pa needs to know when you’re sick, Adam.  How else am I to properly care for you, son?’

‘But I’m not a baby anymore, Pa,’ the child insisted, his nose running, his eyes tearing from the cold’s effects. 

‘Baby or not, you still require care when you’re sick.’  Pulling out the scrap of cloth he carried as a handkerchief, Ben dabbed his son’s runny eyes, before wiping his nose.  ‘Don’t hide illness from me again, please, son.  Believe me, it’s best for both of us.  We need to nip this kind of thing in the bud.’

His mind clouded by his discomfort, the child questioned wearily, ‘What’s that mean, Pa?’  

‘It means it’s best to attend to a problem when it’s small, like the bud of a flower, instead of when it’s blossomed into something bigger, like an open bloom.’

‘Oh.’   Resting his head against his father’s shoulder, the boy sighed, ‘But we don’t have any medicine, Pa.  How ya gonna clip the bud?’

Catching Cody’s appreciative grin, Ben smiled slightly before answering, ‘Well, for one thing, you should be resting, instead of running around in this damp air, collecting firewood.  Cody’s going to stew the pheasant carcass from yesterday’s dinner.   Some of that soup will do you a world of good.  Meanwhile, just drinking hot water should help relieve some of your congestion, help you breathe just a bit easier.’

‘How did you learn about doctorin’, Pa?’  Adam shivered slightly.

Grabbing a blanket from the wagon, Ben moved toward the fire Cody had started.  Sitting, he wrapped Adam snuggly in the wool cover, before pulling him close.  ‘The older you get, the more you learn, Adam.  I’ve been sick more than a time or two.  Had to doctor myself, plenty of times.  And I’ve met many people along the way who have shared their secrets of medicine with me.  I’ve experimented with different things and use what’s worked for me.’

The child squiggled closer to Ben’s warm body, as the alluring fire warmed his back.   He drifted off to sleep, comforted by his pa’s gentle touch, stroking his hair.

Cody studied father and son.  Ben was an enigma, to be sure.  One moment, he was severe, almost cold in his response to the world around him.  However, with his little boy on his lap, he exhibited so much compassion, quite motherly, cuddling the boy close, stoking the dark head, humming a soft tune, lulling the child into slumber.

Looking up, Ben caught the soft expression on the large man’s face.  He tried to escape, suggesting, ‘I should get him settled in the wagon.’

Cody held him with his observation, ‘He’s a caution, ain’t he, Ben?  Ya jest never really know what ta expect from him, do ya?’

Tightening his protective embrace, Ben agreed, ‘He brings a surprise to me, one way or the other, almost every day.  He’s an education of a sort a man could never read about in any book.’

Cody admitted, ‘I envy ya, Ben.  Me, I never considered marryin’ or bein’ a papa.  I’m a wanderer, no two ways about it.  But these days with you and that boy, well... as ya say, it’s a ed-u-ca-tion.  And I’m bound to say it, I’ve enjoyed every minute with the two of ya.’

‘You sound as if you’re planning on leaving us soon.’  Ben kissed Adam’s forehead, in response to the boy’s low moan.  ‘I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed your company and your help.  But to this one here, well, you’ve become much more than just company.  I hope you realize he’s grown very fond of you.  He’s going to miss his big friend.’

His blush hidden by the night, Cody cleared his throat, trying to shrug off the tug on his heart.  Still, Ben heard a tell-tale tremor in his voice.  ‘He’s a fine boy, Ben.   I’ll miss him too.  Yer right though, I am thinkin’ of movin’ along.  You two got a destination in yer minds.  Old Cody jest needs ta keep explorin’.  Gotta see it all, Ben.  Or as much as I cain, before God takes me from this beautiful world a his.’.....


When his older sons returned from the barn, Ben lifted Joe and turning to Hoss, insisted, “Time for you to be in bed too, son.”  His sleepy middle son looked as if he might protest.  “Cody isn’t going anywhere tonight, Hoss.  There will be plenty of time for you to talk with him during his stay.”

“Yes, sir.  Good night, Cody.  Adam.” 

“Night, big fella.”

“Night, Hoss.” 

With the others gone, Cody turned to Adam.  “Didn’t peg that middle boy to be one to argue with yer pa.”

“Hoss rarely gives Pa any real trouble.   Most of the time he’ll bend over backwards to help keep things on an even keel.  No easy task, with Joe working just as hard to keep things in an uproar.   Some days it seems as if that little boy’s got more energy than all of us put together.”  Eyes dancing, he added, “But we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“He’s got a special light about him, don’t he?  Certainly makes your pa’s eyes shine.”  Cody watched Adam’s face, seeing agreement there.

“Pa loves all his sons, as much as any one person possibly could, but Joe is special, there’s no arguing that.  I don’t mean Pa favors him over the rest of us, but...”

“Keeps his spirit up, I expect.”

Adam laughed, “Yes, Joe has an infectious personality.  He’s a tonic for Pa, to be sure.”  With a glint in his eye, Adam added, ‘ Pa’ll tell you that Joe is responsible for his white hair, but the truth is, that boy keeps him young.   He makes Pa laugh.”

“Well, you gave your pa his share of chuckles, youngun.” 

Raising an eyebrow, Adam waited for Cody’s explanation....


For the past few days, the travelers had passed through a stretch of barren land, sustaining themselves on Adam’s dwindling acorn supply and water.  They finally hit a green meadow and stopped to track down fresh water and any game they could scare up.

Cody started off with his rifle and Ben grabbed canteens.  ‘Come on, son, let’s see what we can find.’

‘Let me get my sack, Pa.  Expect we’ll find some greens I can collect up.’

Nodding, Ben waited, catching the impressed expression on Cody’s face.  The big man decided to walk along with them, his own empty canteens dangling at his sides. 

Adam dropped to his knees almost immediately.   ‘Purslane, Pa.  Chickweed too.’  He pulled up the weeds, snapping off any roots, before stuffing the plants into his sack.

Cody scratched his head, ‘Never knew the names of them greens, but I know they’re good eatin’.  What’s that one ya got there, Adam?’

‘Um...’  His mouth twisted in thought, he looked up at his father, but Ben held his tongue, knowing he’d taught Adam that one as well.  ‘Oh yeah, this one here is ox-al-is.’

‘That there is a sour one.  You like sour, do ya, boy?’

‘Yep, just like my pa.’

With a wink at Ben, Cody asked, ‘Ya sayin’ yer pa’s a sourpuss?’

His eyes wide at the thought, the boy declared, ‘No, sir!  But sour wakes up your mouth.  Makes it tingle.’  His head bent again to his task, he didn’t see his father grin.

‘Well, I was just funnin’ with ya, son.  Old Cody likes sour and it can quench yer thirst quicker, too.  Here, hand me up some of that there pucker grass and I’ll get movin’ on findin’ some meat to go with all them fine greens.  And don’t ferget to throw some of them wild onions in.  Can’t beat onions for flavor in cookin.’

Ben joined his boy on the ground and they worked together to pull up onions, dandelion and mustard greens, along with more of the other weeds the child had identified.  Ben relieved his son of the bulging bag, handing him an empty canteen in trade.  The sun felt good and the smile it brought widened as they spotted a spring fed pool ahead.  Leaving Adam to fill the canteens, Ben returned to their camp to bring the wagon, so they could fill their two water barrels and water the team....


The following day the three brothers offered to take Cody on an extended tour of the ranch.  There was a distinct chill in the air when they rose.  Before heading out, Adam pulled Joe aside and whispered in his ear.  Cody watched the little fella’s face light up before he charged up the steps.

“What in tarnation?”

Moments later, the child descended, his head adorned with a gray, furry cap.

Cody grinned.  “Aw, ya done kept that hat all these years?   I’m glad ta see it’s in such fine shape.”

Joe ran to the big man’s side.  “Adam says you made this for him when he was just a little boy like me.”

“That’s right, son.  That there hat brings back some memories, ta be sure.”...


The weary companions entered the town of Farmington, Illinois, hoping to exchange their squirrel and rabbit pelts for food.  Ben’s main concern was replenishing their supply of beans, coffee and cornmeal.   Cody hoped to scare up some whiskey, though he kept that thought to himself. 

‘Adam, you stay with the wagon, son and keep an eye on our team for Pa.’

‘Yes, sir.’  The boy watched as his father and Cody each headed off in separate directions:  Pa into the general store, Cody toward the livery.  The child hadn’t been sitting more than five minutes when a boy twice his size came up along side him. 

‘Nice hat.  Must be right warm.  What’s it made of?’ 

‘Squirrel pelts,’ Adam answered cautiously, wary of the older boy’s tone and manner.

‘Like to trade fer somethin’?  My pa runs this here store.  Bet he’d give ya  a couple sticks a candy fer it.’

Adam shook his head.  ‘A friend of mine made this hat special for me.  I don’t want to trade it.  Besides, it’s worth more than sticks of candy.’

With an air of superiority, the older child responded, ‘What do you know what it’s worth?  Yer just a little kid.’

With confidence, Adam answered, ‘I learned tradin’ from my pa and we’re here for food, not candy.’

The older boy threatened, ‘Well, I could take that hat off ya and you wouldn’t get nothin’ fer it.  How’s that sound?’

‘This here hat is mine.  Taking somethin’ that doesn’t belong to ya is stealin’.  Didn’t your pa teach you, the Bible says, Thou shalt not steal?’

Watching the other boy’s lips curl into a sneer, Adam removed the hat and clutched it tightly in his hands.

Cody, who had returned to stash his bottle of whiskey in his saddle bag, caught most of the conversation from his vantage point around the corner of the building.  Clearing his throat loudly, he casually emerged.  Noting the massive size of the fellow, the older boy took off.

Coming up along side the wagon, speaking for Adam’s ears only, Cody suggested, ‘Ya shoulda traded with him, son.’

Still clutching the furry headpiece, Adam countered, ‘But you made this hat for me, Cody.  I don’t want to trade it.  Besides, Pa says it’ll be good, when winter sets in.’

‘Old Cody will make ya another hat.  So if’n that shifty young pup comes back, make sure an’ show him just how much ya learned about tradin’ from yer pa.  Okay?’

Reluctantly, the child agreed.

Cody disappeared into the store and again Adam sat alone.  Sure enough, the ‘young pup’ returned.  ‘Was that big fella yer pa?’

His dark eyes watching the older boy’s every move, Adam answered, ‘No, my pa’s inside still.’

‘So, you thought better about makin’ a trade?’  The boy dangled a couple sticks of candy in front of Adam’s nose.’

‘I told you already, this hat is worth more than candy.  I won’t trade for any less than...’  Thinking a moment, Adam continued, ‘A sack of cornmeal, one of coffee and ... a pouch of pipe tobacco.’

‘Tobacco?’   The feigned indignation in the young man’s voice did nothing to dissuade Adam.   With a chokehold on his hat, he watched the young trader’s eyes crawl over it.  ‘That hat ain’t worth all those things.’

Adam insisted, ‘That’s the trade.’

The youngster stomped off and Adam shrugged his shoulders, surprised when the lad reappeared several moment’s later, his arms laden with the goods Adam requested.  A smaller boy accompanied him.  ‘This here’s my kid brother.  Our pa says if he wants the hat, you can have yer trade.’

The younger sibling nodded vigorously, his arms outstretched and Adam slowly relinquished the hat.  The older brother laughed, ‘Boy, you ain’t as smart as I thought!  Now we got the hat and you ain’t got nothin’!  Scoot, Timmy!’  Turning to scramble after his little brother, the swift-footed thief ran headlong into Cody.

‘Seems you fergot somethin’, didn’t ya, youngun?  I overheard that boy sittin’ there trade his hat fer these here goods.’  His large hand gripping the struggling boy’s forearm, Cody watched him pale, suggesting, ‘If I was you, I’d mend my ways, fore someone less patient than me takes their trade out of you in a piece of yer hide.’

‘He said you ain’t his pa.’  The young weasel’s eyes darted nervously between Cody’s face and his steely fingers.   Finally, he demanded, ‘How come yer stickin’ up fer him?’

‘Cause I’m the friend that made him the hat.  If I do say so myself, it’s put together to last a lifetime.  And I’d like to see the little fella get a fair exchange fer it.  Now, are ya gonna turn yerself around and carry through yer part of the bargain, or am I gonna have to take ya ‘round back of this here store and teach ya somethin’ about what happens to younguns who takes advantage of someone younger and smaller than ‘em?’

Still in Cody’s grasp, the budding young hoodlum turned and walked back to the Cartwright wagon.   He deposited the sacks on the seat and darted away as soon as Cody released his arm.

Solemnly, Adam offered, ‘Thanks, Cody.  Guess I don’t know so much about tradin’.’

Running his hand down the back of the boy’s head, Cody suggested, ‘No, ya done traded good.  Ya just didn’t read that young fella’s meanin’ proper.  It’s nice to be trustin’, son, but some people ain’t to be trusted.  Ya knew to be careful of him at first.  Ya shoulda carried that feelin’ through ‘till yer deal was done.  Ain’t how it should be, but it’s how it is sometimes, jest the same.’

The boy nodded, his eyebrows knitted in frustration.  His friend added, ‘Every day brings a lesson, boy.  Best to learn it and move on.  No sense lettin’ a mistake pull ya down.  And don’t let that hooligan change yer mind about folks in general.  Yer pa’s a good example of a man.  You jest keep learnin’ from him and you’ll be a fine one yerself some day.’

Adam grinned at the man’s confidence and his praise for Pa.  Ben returned then, a puzzled look on his face.  Spying the goods next to his son, he raised an eyebrow.  ‘Is that why I saw your hat pass by me a moment ago?’

‘Yes, Pa.’  Adam looked down at his hands.

Cody quickly jumped in, ‘I told the boy I’d make him another hat, Ben.  Advised him to trade it, since he had such a fine offer.’

Reaching out to pat Adam’s cheek, Pa handed him two peppermint sticks.  ‘A young man gave these to me.  Said they were for you.  Something about payment for a lesson.’

Cody winked at the boy, ‘Seems that lad isn’t as fer gone as I thought.  See that?  Old Cody learned somethin’ today too.  Never give up hope on no one.’....


Well aware the Cartwrights had a ranch to run, Cody pitched in on their daily tasks, then entertained them around the dinner table and fireside at night.  He’d been with them nearly two weeks, when Adam convinced Pa to give him time off, to take his friend exploring in the mountains. 

Their weekend over, Adam studied Cody’s face as they negotiated the steep path, heading homeward.   A sharp pang of loss shot through him, as he commented, “You’ve got that look in your eye.” 

Cody met Adam’s penetrating gaze and tried to explain,  “Well, I cain’t stay on this beautiful ranch a yours ferever, now, cain I?  Old Cody wasn’t cut out ta stay in one place fer too long.  Ya know that, son.  Besides, yer pa said somethin’ about ya goin’ on a bull buyin’ mission next week.  Ain’t that so?”

Adam nodded silently.   “Yes, but...”

“No, buts, son.  It’s as good a time as any fer me to move along.  It’s just pure luck we even run across each other again.  ‘Sides, now that I know where ya are, I cain drop in again some time.”

The two rode on in silence, remembering their last parting....


The first morning rays of the sun peeking through the back of the wagon woke the child.  Crisp morning air filled his nostrils.  Something was different though...  No campfire smoke!  Cody always wakened first and started the fire, so he and Ben could have coffee.  Adam sat bolt upright, knowing, without really knowing, that Cody was gone.  The big man had been trying to tell him, for days now, that he had to move along.  Ben had tried to tell him too, but both men knew the boy couldn’t really grasp the idea... refused to grasp it.  Adam’s eyes shot to the dark object at the back of the wagon.  He reached out, feeling the soft squirrel fir of the cap Cody had promised to replace.   Quietly, he put on the cap, tugging it over his ears.  Slipping out of the wagon, he searched the campsite with his eyes.  Tears trailed down his cheeks as he slowly gathered kindling for the morning campfire.  Ben joined his son, neither of them speaking....


“Ben, thanks for lettin’ me stay fer so long.  You’ve got yerself a wonderful family here.  Did my heart good to be a part of it fer a while.  Yer boys really make a fellow feel at home.”

Shaking the outstretched hand warmly, Ben assured him, “It didn’t require much effort.  You’re an easy man for a boy to like.”    Smiling, he added, “For anyone to like, when you’re not stirring up his sons!” 

Ben’s smile faded and his eyes filled suddenly, “The little boys will miss you.”  Sighing, he finally asked, “Did he not say good-bye?”

Cody swallowed, “We... we said ‘goodnight’ before turnin’ in... I ... I got up real early this mornin’ and went fer a long walk.  His horse was gone when I come back.”

Ben sighed, “My oldest ‘little boy’ took it pretty hard when you moved on the last time”.....


Ben awoke in pitch black, to the sound of his son’s sniffling.  Realizing Adam was crying, he reached to touch his shoulder,  ‘Adam, son, what is it?’

‘Nothin’, Pa.  I’m sorry I woke ya.’  The child swallowed and wiped his face, bringing his tears to an end.

Sitting up, Ben pulled him close.  ‘It’s all right that you woke me, son.  Can you tell Pa what’s wrong?  Did you have a bad dream?’

‘N...No.  I...I...’  Pressing his face into his father’s warm chest, the boy asked, ‘Do you think Cody misses ... us, Pa?’

Stroking the child’s head, Ben understood and assured him, ‘Yes, I’m sure he does.  And I think he stayed with us longer than he originally intended, because of you.’

‘Cause of me?  How come?’

‘I expect he’s as fond of you, as you are of him, son.’

The boy remained silent.  Ben waited, hoping his son would express the question still lodged in his heart. 

It came soon, in a whisper, ‘Is that okay, Pa?’

Hugging the boy, Ben responded, ‘For you to love someone else besides your pa?’

Adam responded with a forceful embrace, insisting, ‘Not like you, Pa.’

Ben explained, ‘There are all different kinds of love, son.  The way a boy and his pa feel for each other, well, that’s a very special kind... there’s no other like it.  But you’re going to meet a lot of people as you grow up.  There’ll be other folks, who, like Cody, give you a warm, good feeling inside.  That’s love too.  The heart is a big place, Adam.  There’s room inside it for you to love lots of people, in lots of different ways.  Friendship is a wonderful thing, son.  I’m glad you and Cody had a chance to form such a special one.’....


Joe and Hoss emerged from the barn, leading Cody’s horse.  Hoss shook the traveler’s hand and grinned, “Maybe when you visit the next time, I’ll be as big as you, Cody.”

Squeezing the boy’s shoulder, Cody suggested, “Well, if that little cook keeps fillin’ ya full of his great chow, I don’t doubt ya will be, son.”

Looking down at Joe, Cody knelt suddenly.  “Joe, I got a special favor ta ask ya.”

“Yes, sir?”  The boy waited, his bright eyes filled with questions.

“Give this ta yer brother Adam fer me, okay, son?”  Cody placed a kiss on Joe’s cheek, before pulling him close, for a long, tight hug.   When he pulled away, tears glistening in his eyes, he was surprised to see the wide grin on Little Joe’s face.

The boy beamed, before explaining enthusiastically, “But that’s what Adam told me to give you!”  Joe returned the kiss and squeezed the big man around the neck. 

Cody stared into the child’s innocent sparkling eyes.  “He did?” 

Joe nodded, “Yes, sir.  He said ...”  The boy hesitated, wondering now if he should repeat Adam’s confidence.

“He said what, son?”

“Well, he said he wished he’d had a chance to do that ‘fore you left last time.  But since he didn’t, well, he said it was better for me to give the message now.”

Lifting Joe into his arms, Cody requested, “Can ya take one more message back to yer brother for me, boy?”

“Yes, sir, if I can remember it.”

“Jest tell him I was glad our paths crossed again and that we had a chance ta tie up loose ends.  And be sure ta tell him, I love him too.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll tell him.”  Putting his arms around the wanderer’s neck once more, Joe squeezed him tight.  “Thanks for all the stories, Cody.  I’ll miss ya.”  Placing another kiss on his cheek, he explained, “That one is from me!”

Returning the kiss, Cody assured him, “I’ll miss ya, too, boy.  And I promise I’ll drop in again one day.  Might not be until yer all growed up like your biggest brother though.  Meantime, take care of yerself.  And yer family.”  Handing Joe over to his father, Cody mounted his horse and rode off with a wave.

The three Cartwrights watched him until he disappeared into the trees.

“Pa?”  Joe noticed Ben’s eyes were filled with tears.

“What, son?”  Ben swiped his eyes.

“Will Cody come back?  I mean, he said he’d come back after I’m growed up.  Did he really mean it?”

Ben nodded, “He meant it, son.  I’m sure he’ll come back this way again.”


At the end of the week, when Adam returned, Ben stood on the porch and watched Little Joe fly across the yard to greet his eldest brother.  He didn’t have to hear their exchange, to know Joe delivered Cody’s message.   Adam swung his brother up into his arms and Joe whispered in his ear before planting a kiss on his cheek and hugging him tightly.  Older brother returned both before gestures, then turned away from the house, slinging the boy up onto his shoulders.  Ben returned to the great room, knowing his eldest boy needed a few moments to tuck his friend’s message into his heart, before rejoining the rest of his family.


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