Recollections of a Cowboy    
Griff King

(As told to Celestine Irons)


A note from Mister King:

A while back, this lady, Celestine Irons, hunted me down. She said she'd been doin' some research and found that at one time, I had worked on the Ponderosa Ranch up there by Lake Tahoe. Claimed she wanted to know what it was like then. I told her I'd talk with her a bit but that I had things I needed to do too. Didn't tell her that one of the things I needed to do was protect part of my past. See, I'd come to the Ponderosa as Ben Cartwright's parolee. Yep, that's right. I had been in the Nevada State Penitentiary for beating a man, my step-father, near on to death. Old Man Cartwright had gotten himself taken hostage in a prison riot and when it was over, because I had sort of helped him, he arranged for me to come to work at his ranch. His ranch foreman was an old friend of mine who went by the name of Candy. We'd met years before, before prison, before I got angry at the world, well, just before. He tried his best those first few hours I was released to make me see that what had happened was going to change my life. Me? I was just angry at the whole set-up. No one had asked me, had they? I felt like I was just changing one jail cell for another; one warden for two since Cartwright had a son that Candy said pretty much ran things. But all this ain't what I wanted protect, to not have her find out.

Must have been in those first talks that Candy saw the chip I was carrying around on my shoulder and wanted me to get rid of it. I couldn't. For the next few weeks, I lugged it around and it got bigger and bigger, but, funny thing about it was it didn't get heavier.  But it kept getting in my way. I finally found a way to put it aside and it stayed over in one musty corner of the Cartwrights' barn for a long, long time. I forgot it and didn't even take it with me when I left there years later and started my own spread. But that's another story. And now with this fancy lady wanting to come and talk with me about the old days, well, that chip come back and found me. That was what I didn't want her to find out about me and here it was, as much as sitting in my livin' room havin' coffee with me. I was still ashamed of it.

I thought about trying again to hide it and forget it. I realized that wouldn't work. The years hadn't changed the size of it so there wasn't a really good way to go about shoving it into a corner any more. Finally, it came to me. I had to tell this writer-lady how I come to lay it aside in the first place. That was a big part of my life those first months on the ranch and she might get something that she needed if I told her. I knew I would. I'd get a little satisfaction, maybe watching that chip shrink and fade story by story.

So this is what I told her. She prettied it up and made me sound smarter with words than what I really am but she told it fair, too. And you know what? That chip, well, I went looking for it the other night and couldn't find it. Guess the wind blew it away.


Griff King

Carson City, Nevada

Summer. 1941


Chapter One

A Rich Man's Son

A rich man's son. Sure, he was the boss out on the range and I followed his orders but it wasn't because I wanted to. No, to me, he was just a rich man's son who used his daddy's wealth and position to back himself up. And to me, Griff King, that was all he would ever be.

Then came the day that old Ben was standing on the porch of that big house. His hands were knotted fists as he leaned on the table there. His white hair framing his tanned face let a body concentrate real well on his expressions. That morning, the dark eyes were narrowed and his lips were twisted as though he was fighting to keep from saying something hurtful. The whole of the big man's body seemed like a stiff piece of pine, like he had been hewn from the forests the same way his house had been: big strong lengths with the thick bark left on to protect what was held within. As I stood there beside the two saddled horses, even I felt the heat of the old man's anger though I was out of clear hearing range.

Standing there in front of him, Joe was half turned from his father. When his father had called his name out sharply, I had looked up at the same time Joe looked back then slowly rotated on his heels to face his father. As I watched, I saw him hook his thumbs into the back of his gunbelt. I knew the reason he did that. It was to keep himself from using his hands, his fists, maybe. A fellow inmate at the Nevada State Penitentiary had done the same thing and had earned himself a beating a few times but also the respect of the others. But for a man to do that with his own father perplexed me. Yet there he stood, his head tilted back so that I could see the crown of his tan hat. I saw his shoulders straighten as the old man talked, his voice apparently demanding attention. Then, Joe shook his head to one side just once and those same shoulders dropped. That was when he leaned forward, his hands still behind his back, and said something in a voice so low I couldn't begin to hear it.

Whatever he said, old Ben didn't seem to like the sounds of it and just as he roared out "Joseph!" again, that son had turned gracefully and headed across the yard to where I stood.

He took the reins of his pinto and swung into the saddle. He looked down at me as if to ask why I wasn't already on the horse. I studied him for a brief moment. Rich man's son, again, I pegged him. But there was an edge showing through that morning that made me pause and look at him again.

Joe Cartwright wasn't a big man. Not physically, at least. I stood taller than him even with my boots off. But he could fill up space with his just being there that I couldn't begin to do. Maybe he intimidated me a little. Might have been because the first time I had ever laid eyes on him, a little over three weeks before, he was behind the crank handle of a gattling gun. He had just sprayed the stone walls of the large prison cell I had called home for a year with enough deadly shot to kill all of the men there with me several times over. While I stayed on my belly like everyone else there, I had looked cautiously into his face. The expression I saw there told me that if a man raised his head, that he would shoot it off and not care. That face, I guess you'd called it his 'face with a purpose', I'd seen it other times now even though I hadn't been on the Ponderosa long. He'd show that face to a horse he was getting ready to break. I'd seen it over the edge of a poker hand too but I never expected to see it on his face that morning when it was clear to me he was defying his father.

I followed him out of the yard then across the broad meadow, my horse having no difficulty keeping up with him. For the better part of an hour, he stayed silent, only slowing his horse when necessary for the poor old animal to catch his breath. I tried then to stay slightly behind him since I had heard tell, and later seen, his vicious temper in action. We rode on, going ever higher and higher into the Sierra Nevadas. Even though it was early summer, there were still patches of snow in the deep shadows and I wondered if I should have brought a jacket.

His horse stumbled on a particularly rough stretch of trail and he pulled up. The horse stood, head down and sides heaving while Joe dismounted and loosened the cinch. He spoke lowly to the animal. It seemed to understand what he said for the black head eventually lifted and the muzzle sought out Joe's hand. I heard him laugh that odd cackle of his and wondered where the anger had gone.

"Come on, Griff. Give your horse a break," he called to me and I swung down from that lazy brown gelding, my feet hitting the soft bed of pine needles with a little thud. I followed Joe's example and loosened the cinch. The horse groaned. I wished I could've groaned too and gotten away with it when I saw him start out on foot up the mountain trail. Even after so little exertion, I felt winded. It had to be the thin air that high up.

I followed Joe's horse up the trail, the angle steep and the trail itself narrow. On both sides the tall trees soared into the blue sky. The underbrush began to give way until finally we were walking through hard rock country, with little growing on either side of the trail. Then we reached the top most part of the trail and Joe stopped. I pulled my horse up beside his and stood looking at the same things he saw.

It seemed to me like I stood on the top of the world. In every direction, craggy mountains rose. They were either deep lavender-gray in color or a green so dark it was nearly black. Most of them had patches of snow still on them and the wind blowing across them brought that coolness to me. I welcomed it since I was a little warm from our walk up the mountainside. I glanced sideways to see what Joe's disposition was at the moment. He had his head back and his eyes closed, seeming not to care that right at his feet, the mountain fell away sharply. One misstep and he wouldn't stop for…well, it was a long ways down.

"Smell it?" he asked, not looking at me.

I wondered what he meant, what he was smelling. I took a deep breath of my own and sensed nothing. I tried again but could only catch the whiff of the same things I had smelled all morning: horses, saddle leather, the bay rum Joe must have used that morning after he'd shaved and sweat, the nervous type - mine, mainly as I could feel the pull of gravity and the push of the wind teasing me.

"Do you?" His eyes tracked to me and I swallowed hard, easing back beside my horse. If I went, I was determined that the ugly brown nag would go with me. I seriously thought about grabbing hold of Joe with the other hand. Make it a clean sweep. But then I rethought that. I decided to let him be, thinking if I went over the edge, I would want someone to be able to go for help…or at least tell folks where I fell so they could look for my remains somewhere down below.

Grudgingly, I told him I couldn't smell much except what we'd brought with us.

He smiled, one side of his mouth twisting up. "That's just it, Griff. Up here, all you have is what you brought with you. Turn into the wind and take a deep breath."

I did as he asked and, facing the west, breathed as deep as I could. He was right. The air there had nothing on it. It was cool, light and as refreshing as anything I had ever experienced.

"The last person who breathed that air, Griff, was some Chinaman over in Asia. It's traveled a long ways to get to your nose." He laughed but it was a gentle laugh. I had to smile.

"Now, look to the north," he instructed and turned me, his hands on my shoulders. Guess he knew how uneasy I was that close to the edge. He pointed one black-gloved finger towards the north. All I saw were more mountains. Most of them looked like the lavenderish-gray color but they had lots of pristine white snow that made me want to squint my eyes closed when the sun glinted off of it. "Tell me what you see," he urged.

"Mountains," I answered and heard him snort so I went on. "Lots and lots of mountains. Some of them bigger than this one we're on. Some ain't but most seem to be about the same size."

"What else?"

I screwed my face into a hard knot. I had no idea what this fool man was trying to get me to see and say but then it dawned on me. I did see something else. "There's sky. Lot of it, too. Some clouds floating by that look like they could get caught on the mountain tops if they aren't careful. But mostly there's sky and it's a mighty pretty blue today, ain't it?"

"Yep," Joe answered and I could feel an odd sort of awe creeping into me. I could almost feel it, hear it and sense it in him too.

I voluntarily turned back to the east. That was the way we had come. There the mountains were heavily greened over at the lower levels. As they rose, they lost their greenery and became just like those to the north. No, I corrected myself, those mountains to the east had a deeper cast to them. Shadow, I thought, deep and dark shadows since the sun hadn't brushed across their western slopes yet. Even as I thought that, the sun crossed their shoulders and sent long fingers of light across their rugged faces.

Once again I turned and this time, faced the south. I was almost disappointed that there didn't seem to be anything different for my eye to catch. Then I saw it. Far away, riding the same wind that ruffled my hair and gave me a chill now, was a bird. It must have been a big one, maybe an eagle, since it was a long ways away and little more that a mere speck. As I watched, I saw it rise and fall then rise again.

Joe had also turned and I knew when he'd seen the bird too. I tucked my thumbs into my belt, somehow now ready to stand on that edge for the rest of eternity, taking in the wide expanse. Joe'd crossed his arms over his chest and then turned back to face the west, the wind teasing his thick curls under the brim of his hat.

This place is awesome, Joe. You come up here often?"

It startled him, my voice and it dawned on me that, for a few moments there, he hadn't been aware of me there…just like I had forgotten him too for a span of seconds. "No," he answered me softly and there was a hint of sadness in his voice. "I come up here when I need to be reminded how small I am in the grand scheme of things, like those mountains to the north. I come up here to remember that I'm free, like that bird riding the air currents, yet I have to rely on other people and things to get me where I want to go. I come up here to remember that without the sun on my face sometimes, I'm in the dark and can't see my own feet. I come up here to remember that there are other people in the world who need the same things I do, like that Chinaman over in Asia who had that breath of air before I did."

What could I say to him? I'd've never thought those things. Nor would I have made those comparisons. I wasn't a philosopher-type. I was just a cowboy. I punched cattle to earn my bed and beans. Until three weeks ago, I wasn't even that! Then I had just been another convict in the Nevada State Pen. I was tempted to rip something off real smart-mouthed to him. After all, what was he to me but a rich man's son who was also the range boss?

Then it dawned on me. For right then and there, there was no difference between us. Both of us were a half-step from a short eternity if we fell off that mountain. Both of us breathed alike and saw the same things. We pulled on our boots the same way and straddled a horse alike. The feel of his clothes might be a mite richer but they didn't keep him any warmer than mine did with that breeze blowing. His hair was grayer but then he was older than me. No, there was no difference between us.

He was studying me and I knew he had heard my thoughts. "There is one difference between us, Griff," he said and smiled that lopsided smile again. "I've got more experience dealing with Ben Cartwright. Let me say that another way. I have more experience dealing with an angry Ben Cartwright and I can get away with things other men can't because I am his son. So," he huffed out the word, "the next time you decide you're gonna lock horns with him, take a word of advice from me. Don't. You can't live on just air currents any more than that eagle can. And arguing with him just puts you that much closer to an edge you can fall hard off of and land someplace where you don't wanna. Take the time to let the sun hit you full on before you say something you might not if you could see where your feet were. And for God's sake, take a breath of fresh air occasionally. Get away from the ranch on your day off. Go into town and see other people."

Now it was my turn to twist my mouth into a half-smile.

"Figure it this way, Griff. You've got some time to spend here. You can either make the Ponderosa your prison without bars or your home for as long as you want it. It's your choice." He tugged on his hat brim and went to the left side of that old pinto, tightening the cinch. With that same swing mount, he hit leather and turned the horse, heading back down the steep trail. He hadn't told me to come with him. He hadn't told me to do anything so I stood on the edge and looked down. I couldn't see the bottom because the mountain angled outward. But that didn't mean there wasn't a bottom there. One more time I looked to the north and saw those mountains with their mantles of snow. South, I looked and there that bird still floated. To the east, the sun was shining on the afternoon faces of the mountains and I could make out where a lumbering operation was going on. Back to the west, the breeze still filled the afternoon with the scent of nothing.

I let the reins slip through my fingers a time or two while I stood there thinking. I knew I could ride back down that mountainside and go on acting like I had been. I'd challenged everyone and everything in the three weeks since I had left the Penitentiary. Where had it gotten me? I certainly wasn't any closer to bein' friends with any of the men in the bunkhouse. Except for Candy, I figured I had no friends. And I knew I had ticked old man Cartwright off any number of times. I knew because Candy had told me and been rather blunt in explaining to me what he would do if I fouled things up. And Joe, well, he was just a rich man's son and the range boss.

Something snagged at my thoughts then. This morning, Joe and his father had been arguing over something. Why did I suddenly get the idea that it had something to do with me? Because Joe had taken the time necessary to bring me here? Why? So he could shake his philosophy under my nose and make me see the light? Make me change my ways? 

Just as stubbornness raised my hackles I saw that eagle plummet downward, the breeze now gone. I almost shouted but stopped the outburst. What was it Joe had said about the eagle needing other things to keep it aloft? And that people needed more than air to get where they needed to be?

I hated to admit it, but Joe had been right. I needed to be somewhere and I needed the help of other people and things to be there. And whether I liked it or not, that "there" was the Ponderosa for the next year or so. And compared to those far off mountains, I was small, insignificant but I could still grow, learn to fill space with my presence the same way Joe did. I figured he learned that trick from his father so there I was back where Joe had left me, standing on a mountain top, trying to figure my way around in life when there was only one path up and the same path down.

After tightening the cinch, I mounted the gelding and started back down the trail. I leaned as far back in my saddle as I could to give the horse the counterbalance he needed but I still nearly bit a hole in my lip from worry. About a third of the way down, I caught my first glimpse of Cartwright. He was swaying easy in his saddle, letting his old horse pick his way down on his own. I decided to follow suit and found the gelding was more surefooted than I had given him credit for.

I never caught up to Joe on that mountain. He hit the flats before me and I saw him, clear as day, headed off towards the cow camp where they were busy branding the spring calves. Without a thought to the contrary, I pointed my horse in the same direction. That was where the work was and that was where I needed to be.

It was a long time later, years in fact, when I got around to asking Joe what he and his father were arguing about that morning we had gone to the top of the mountain. I had to jerk his memory around and wake it up but when it finally surfaced, Joe smiled that same lopsided grin.

"Pa wanted me to take you up to the mountain the same way he had me a time or two when I wasn't behavin'. Wanted me to give you the same speech he'd given me," Joe admitted then laughed and looked away.

"So all that philosophizing up there wasn't you? All those grand words were your father's?" In my memory I could still hear them and there was such a conviction of truth in them that I'd thought they were his own. Now, years later, I find out they weren't?

"Yep. Those were my father's words. I'd heard them enough times that I got them memorized… mostly. Don't matter whose words they were, Griff, you came around after that. Got to be a likable fella, too. Mostly you quit trying to make the world to your liking and accepted it the way it was."

I had to laugh. He was right. I had filled out my time at the ranch and come to like it there. I had grown to admire Ben Cartwright and with that growth I had stopped challenging his every decision. He had made the right ones for me when I would have made the wrong ones for sure, not seeing for sure where my feet were.

Joe nodded to me and patted my shoulder as he walked by, headed out for another day of work.

It hit me like a bucket of pump water on a winter's day. Quickly, I went after him. "You didn't want to take me up that mountain!" I exclaimed and the reality of that trip's importance was magnified. "Why?" I had to know.

He turned on his heels and tugged down on his hat brim. "You didn't have the respect for me that I had for my father when he'd taken me to that mountain top. I didn't think it would work with me saying those things to you."

"Why?" I repeated, the single word ripped from me.

"Because all I was to you was a rich man's son." He turned back and headed on his way.

I stood there in the yard and scratched my head up under my hat. As far back as I could remember, I had never told him that, had never spoken it aloud to anyone. Then I settled my hat back and followed Joe. "Then," I whispered, my head nodding at the thought. I laughed shortly then called after him, making my voice cover the distance between us. "You still are but you're also a damn good boss. And a better friend."

Chapter Two

Boys, Books and Beer

The summer days kept everyone on the ranch working from sun-up to sundown. For a while, it seemed to me that I had just exchanged one prison for another. There was one difference: this one didn't have any visible bars. Just like I had done while incarcerated in the Nevada State Penitentiary, I'd drag myself out of my bunk while it was still dark outside. Except here I would cast a bleary eye at the mirror and tell myself I would shave another day. Then I would stumble into line and, holding out my plate just like I had done in prison, get it heaped to overflowing with flapjacks, eggs, bacon or whatever was breakfast. Okay, so maybe the food was better here in this prison. I would fill my tin cup to the brim with black coffee and, while I was still standing there at the pot, I'd try to drink half of it so I could get some more without having to come back. Okay, so maybe the Ponderosa wasn't so much of a prison without bars. I still had to be there and had to do what I was told, and that rankled me that first summer I was there.

It would be getting light by the time my body got used to being upright. I would be at the corral, saddling my horse and listening as Candy called out names and what they would be doing that day. Since I was the new man on the ranch, I also got to saddle Candy's horse and, if any of the Cartwrights were headed out to work with us that day, theirs too. Because, as Ben had told me right off the first night I was there, this was a working ranch. So most of the time that meant that I saddled my horse, Candy's bay, Joe's pinto, Jamie's Pepper and Ben's buckskin. That meant five horses I tended to every morning. After not quite two months, I had gotten the hang of it and could get them all ready by the time Candy finished pontificating. With luck, and without having to saddle the old man's horse, I would have time to slip back to the hands' kitchen and have another cup of coffee. Yep, I had it down to a science.

But that morning in mid-July, Candy told me not to saddle my own horse. I had drawn "town duty." Everyone else in hearing range began muttering under their breaths but a few were open with their complaints. "How come he gets to go into town?" I heard more than once but Candy shut them all down when he said, "Because Mister Cartwright wants him to, that's why! Any of you yahoos want to argue with Mister Cartwright?"

Candy did direct me to harness the team to the buckboard. "You're going into town for supplies," Candy informed me as the men drifted away, most of them still muttering darkly. "You'll have a list. You get everything on the list and get back here and unload it all to where it's supposed to go. Understand?"

I thought he was teasing with me. "Piece of cake," I responded and grinned at him. "How long is this suppose to take? All day?" There were some things and a few places in Virginia City I had wanted to check out but hadn't had the opportunity --or the energy-- on my days off.

"Hardly," came Candy's sharp reply. "You ought to make it back by early afternoon at the latest. When you're done, check with Hop Sing. He usually has some things that need taking care of around here." He turned to walk back into the house then swiveled back and said, a smug smile plastered on his face, "Jamie will be going with you, so you don't need to saddle his horse either."

I wanted to kick something. Don't get me wrong. Jamie was a bright kid, but that is exactly what he was --a kid. Here I had visions of taking a little time for myself in the Bucket of Blood and knocking back a few beers, but you can't do that if you're babysitting. I growled and the noise of it made the horse I was harnessing step away from me. I had it in my head that I could walk over to the house and tell old man Cartwright that I could find my way into town. He didn't need to send Jamie with me to show me the way there and back. Even as I finished hitching up the team to the buckboard, I was practicing what I was going to say.

"Won't work," a voice said right behind me and I near about jumped from my skin it scared me so. When I found my voice again, I saw Joe Cartwright angling for the barn. I shouted that I didn't have his horse ready but he raised his hand and, looking back at me over his shoulder, said he could manage.

I pulled the wagon and team around into the yard and tied them to the side hitching rail. I tugged my hat down a little snugger on my head and hefted my jeans up. I kind of felt like I was preparing to do battle. Like the Good Book says to gird up your loins before you go into the lion's den. Well, if the Ponderosa had a lion's den, it was most assuredly that big main room you stepped into right smack from the front door.

"Come on! You don't wanna waste the day, do you?" Before I could even open my mouth to complain, Jamie, his hat barely sitting on his mop of red hair, whipped by me and was on the seat of the wagon. Just that fast! I sidled around and looked up at his back, catching a glimpse of something off-white tucked into his back pocket. He had his shirt tail out and flapping and I was sure it was to hide something in that pocket.

"Jamie! I told you. You help Griff with the supplies. Then get yourself a haircut! I don't want to hear that you've been roaming all over town," Ben was hollering as he followed Jamie out the door but at a considerably slower pace. I wanted to smile and tell the old man that when it came to hair length, he may as well save his breath. "And Griff, while, you're at it, you could use a haircut as well."

I couldn't help myself. "You want me to snag Joe and take him too? And while we're at it, Petey over in the bunkhouse could do with a haircut. We'll just grab them and-"

Ben put his hand up and I thought I had gone too far for a moment from just the sour look on his face. "Okay," he spun the word out real slow and I could tell he was trying to keep his temper just by the sound of that one word. "Just Jamie. I apologize, Griff. I have no right to try and tell you-"

Guess I must have been smiling because he quit trying to say things. I piped up and said that I thanked him for the offer and would take him up on it. I didn't tell him it was because I didn't like my hair curling up way too much in the back. I never liked it hanging over my collar. His raised eyebrows echoed his grunt in saying that he was lost as to what to make of me. I kind of liked things that way, especially with him, my new "warden."

"Come on, will ya, Griff?" Jamie whined behind me, and I forced a dumb smile onto my face and turned from my confrontation with the old man. Slowly, I climbed onto the buckboard and picked up the reins then sat down heavily, the springs working overtime. It was all Jamie could do to keep from being thrown into the nearest horse's rump. When I slapped the reins down, the horses moved off right smart and the poor kid was tossed back hard into the seat.

We had no more than cleared the barn lot when Jamie decided to look behind him; like he expected to see someone chasing us? I just glanced at him. Then he slid down in the seat until anyone behind us could've just barely seen his hat. I started to say something but then his motive became clear. Out from that hip pocket and from under that hanging shirttail came a book. Not any book, mind you, but one of those dime novels that featured all sorts of wild tales and pictures on the cover that were interesting, to say the least. The first night I had met Jamie he had been reading one. His father had caught him and while the old man hadn't said so, his whole manner said he didn't like his son reading that sort of material. Me? I didn't see anything wrong with reading them, even if they were wrong sometimes. I'd seen one that the picture showed a cowboy protecting a woman on the cover. Now I've seen lots of fancy get-ups on cowboys but none of them that looked like that guy. But then I had heard about something that made it make sense to me. It was something called "literary license."

"What's the bad guy's name in that one?" I asked, jarring Jamie from his reading with my words more than the jolt of the wagon or my elbow.

I swear, that boy's face turned as red as his hair. His mouth opened and closed a couple of times, gulping air like he was a fish out of water. He closed his book and crossed his arms, hiding the book as he did so. For a while, he looked at the passing countryside.

"Well?" I pushed and slapped at a fly buzzing around us.

"It's about Kit Carson. See?" He held the book so I could see the cover and was presented with a picture of a stern-faced fella with a long rifle. The subtitle proclaimed Kit Carson Junior to be "The Crack Shot of the West."

What could I say besides "Oh?" which I followed with "So? Is it any good?"

Jamie shrugged his shoulders once. "Better reading than Shakespeare!" He made a retching sound. "Can't handle Romeo and Juliet. Just too-- too--I don't know what it is too much of but it's too much of it." 

I wanted to laugh right out loud. True, I hadn't read much Shakespeare, having left school way too early in life. No, what made me want to laugh was the expression on Jamie's face. Sheer repugnance at the thought of Romeo and Juliet. "That's the story where the two warring families' kids fall in love then kill themselves 'cause they think their folks will never let them marry, ain't it?" Where I pulled that errant piece of information from, I had no idea. It sounded right, though.

To my relief, Jamie nodded, his mouth in a twisted scowl. "That's the one. All that romantic stuff just turns my stomach. This," and he gestured with his Kit Carson, "this is real reading! Not only that, it's reading modern history. Did you know…" and off he went. For the next half-hour, I was enlightened as to the deeds of Kit Carson. I didn't want to tell him, but the Kit Carson I'd heard about didn't come even close to the hero he was describing.

"Got to admit that I liked "The Rock Rider" better," I finally was able to get my own two cents in when Jamie paused.

His eyes opened wide and he turned in the wagon seat to look at me, slack-jawed. "You, you," he stammered, "you read "The Spirit of the Sierra"? Wasn't that a great story?"

"You mean besides the fact that the writer had never been any farther west than New York?"

"Well," and he flopped back and sat looking over the rumps of the team. "If you say so, but I still thought it was a good story."

I had to laugh and that made him peevish. I tried to tell him that I thought the writers were okay, but that they needed to check things out before they wrote about them. Okay, so he got me when he commented that Shakespeare sure hadn't tried poison before he wrote about Romeo and Juliet.

The rest of the ride into town passed quietly with Jamie sulking, his book shoved back into his hip pocket. He sat slunk down on the seat, his arms folded across his chest and his hat pulled low over his eyes. I thought about apologizing since there is nothing any more boring than a trip made with someone who won't talk to you. But every time I went to open my mouth, he must have seen it coming and would yawn or purposely look away. Finally I had had it with him and I reined the horses up sharp there on the last rise before we would have dropped down in to Virginia City.

"Listen, Jamie. I don't think there's a thing wrong with you readin' them stories. Your pa is wrong about 'em. I've read a few and they were okay." I didn't want to tell him that my reading those stories had been in defiance of my step-father who felt the same way as Ben Cartwright when it came to the past-times of his sons. In the case of my stepfather, he felt I should have been chopping wood or some such work instead of reading. Didn't matter to him that it wasn't Shakespeare since he couldn't read even his own name. That was just one of the things that irritated him, my being able to read and write. Guess that was why when he married my mother, my formal schooling stopped. I swallowed hard, remembering the beatings I had taken because I defied him. Maybe... no, I had never seen Mister Cartwright raise his hand to the boy but then again, that didn't mean that it didn't happen.

"Listen," I finally went on and laid a friendly hand on his scrawny shoulder to show him I was with him, "Your secret is safe with me. I know what it's like to get a whuppin' for something you like doin' and, like I said, I don't see anything wrong in reading those stories."

Jamie looked at me, confusion plain on his freckled face. "Pa may not like me reading these dime novels but he ain't never whupped me for it. I always got the feeling from Joe and Hoss that they'd had their fair share of tannings when they were growing up but they both said the same thing: they deserved them when they got them. No, Pa's good to me. Better'n the one I was born to."

Now it was my turn to be confused. As we let the team pick their own pace on into town, Jamie told me how he had come to be a Cartwright. It had never occurred to me that the boy had been adopted after losing his real blood family. For some reason, I had figured that Ol' Ben'd had a mid-life celebration and it had left him with a red-haired son to raise. And, I discovered, he wasn't that much younger than me, but I wasn't going to tell him that.  Maybe it had been the years in prison that made me feel older.

We pulled up in front of the mercantile, the horses barely breathing hard. Setting the brake, Jamie tied the near horse to the hitching rail then skipped up the steps. I couldn't decide whether to follow him or not since my throat had gotten more than a little dry on the way in and the Bucket of Blood was two doors down. In the back of my mind I could hear Candy's voice and it was saying something about behaving much the way I am sure Jamie's pa had said the same thing. I took a deep breath and went into the mercantile. With luck, I could have my beer while Jamie was getting his hair cut.

"Mornin' Griff," Mister Clay, the storekeeper, greeted me as he held a sheet of white paper up, studying it. "Say, this here sugar that Hop Sing wants, is it okay if I give it to ya in two five pound sacks? Out of the big sacks."

It took me a moment to realize that he was speaking to me. After all, I was just the hired hand and my name meant nothing when it came to signing for these goods. I looked around for Jamie, hoping he could give the man an answer. I spied him finally, over next to the counter on the far end. Beside him was a pile of books, dime novels to be exact. The one on top of the stack was sitting up so that you could read the title. Jamie had picked up a copy and was reading much the way a man starving would approach Hop Sing's kitchen.

"Hey, Jamie! You wanna answer the man?" I called out. Up his head came and his cheeks flushed red with embarrassment.

"That'll be fine, Mister Clay," Jamie sang out but I knew he was answering blind.

I scowled at him as I strode over to him. I pulled the book out of his hand and smacked it back on the counter. "You could have just told the man that you were buying his horse manure!" I ripped into him, and without thinking, I had also grabbed hold of his arm. Hard, I held it, tempted to shake him as I did so. I didn't. For just that single half-moment I saw fear in his eyes. It had to be the same sort of fear I had shown my stepfather and it scared me more than it did Jamie. I dropped his arm and stammered out an apology, then told him I would wait out at the wagon. 

The kid had class, I tell you. Once I had said I was sorry, he punched my arm and smiled at me. "You help Mister Clay load the wagon. I got something I got to take care of," and then he was gone, leaving me there in the mercantile.

It took forty-five minutes to load the buckboard with everything on that list. By the time I was finished, Jamie hadn't reappeared. Mister Clay figured up the damages but still Jamie hadn't come back. The merchant handed me the paper and a pencil, telling me that he had gotten everything on the list. Stalling for time, I read down through the list, trying to make it look like I was checking. Seeings how I had never laid eyes on the "want" list, how could I know whether it was all there or not? Ten pounds of sugar, twenty five of flour, fifteen of cornmeal, 5 gallons of lamp oil, a new stew pot, a set of kitchen knives, a tin--large size--of lard, a packet of sewing needles and a spool of gray thread…on and on the list went and I marveled at what it took to run the domestic side of a spread like the Ponderosa.

The man cleared his throat and I figured the jig was up.

"What's this down here at the bottom?" I asked and turning the paper, pointed to the word scribbled there that I couldn't read.

"It's this," the storekeeper said and produced two small packets. One was flat and the other was smaller but both were lumpy in their brown paper wrappings. He must have seen the question mark on my face because he laughed and then explained. "Mister Cartwright, he takes care of his boys. That top packet is from those jars over there." He gestured with his chin to the candy jars that lined half of the other counter. "Jamie has a passion for licorice. How about you, young fella? Lemon drops? Some taffy, maybe?"

I had to swallow a couple of times before I found my voice. "Lemon drops," I croaked then wondered why I felt so guilty admitting that I had a hankering for something sweet. I watched as he went to the jar that held the bright yellow candy and scooped up some into a small bag. "Wait a minute!" I spoke up. "I didn't bring any money with me."

He turned and smiled then took the paper from me and adjusted the last figure, making it a nickel more. Me? I panicked. I already owed the Cartwrights for the clothes I was wearing. When I added the candy to it, I could see my wages dwindling down to nothing before I even got a chance to spend it. Even though he handed me the bag, I laid it back on the counter. He pushed it back into my hands.

"Listen, you're new to the Ponderosa and the way they do things. I've had this store and been takin' care of the Cartwrights' needs since Joe was knee high to a grasshopper. Been the same every time. A scoop of sweets, your choice of course, and Ben pays the bill. No questions asked."

"Ever?" I asked, still not sure.


"Okay, that explains part of it. But what about this other package? What's it?"

The other man positively glowed. "That's a deal I have with Jamie. Don't worry, there ain't nothin' wrong with it. I told his pa, albeit in secret, and Ben said it was okay as long as it didn't get out of hand. So far, it hasn't. Jamie's a smart boy."

"I don't understand a word you just said. Want to make it English?" I leaned onto the counter and picked up the packages, setting the smaller ones aside. Hefting it in my hand, I knew exactly what it was: the latest dime novel.

"Well, it's like this," and he leaned over so close that our heads were about to touch and continued in a whisper. "There are some customers I'd rather not see too often. Know what I mean?" I grunted to show him I followed him. "Well, Abigail Jones, the school teacher is one of them. That woman has a hankering to marry like no female I've ever met. When she comes in, I feel my skin begin to tighten up, right around my throat and my ring finger. Understand?" I almost wanted to laugh but didn't. "So when she does come in, I get her out as fast as I can. I tell her I'll have her order delivered. But she's a good customer too, so sometimes Jamie helps out on both ends. Know what I mean?" I shook my head because he had lost me. "Jamie, if she's been in lately, will take her order down to her. If she ain't been in, he'll go down to her house and ask if she needs anything and bring me the list if she does. Makes him look good for the teacher, too, I 'magine. That's our deal and I pay him with them books he's always hankering for. Like I said, Ben knows about it and said it was okay. Truth be told, I'd give the boy the books since the Ponderosa is such a good customer and he's a good kid."

"No," I reassured him, "it's better that he earns it." The merchant agreed with me and taking the small packages, I signed the bill where he pointed for me to do so and I left the store.

For a couple of minutes, I sat waiting in the wagon then decided I had earned myself a beer. I called out and told Mister Clay to tell Jamie I was at the Bucket of Blood when he came back.

Inside the Bucket, with its high ceiling, it was cooler than outside. The smells of the bar were like old friends to me since my stepfather had spent a lot of time and money in them while I was growing up. After my mother had died, it was either stay home alone or go with him. I went with him since he wouldn't let me have a fire to stay warm by and the saloon was warm at least. I'd even made a little money emptying spittoons and cleaning up the places but he always took it from me. So as I eased into the famous Bucket of Blood saloon in Virginia City, it was a lot like taking a step back in my own history. The swinging doors nudged my back and pushed me further in when I paused at the entrance. I stepped to the bar and put my hands palm down on the cool mahogany.

"What'll you have?" the bartender asked as he waddled down towards the end of the bar where I stood.

I had my mouth open to ask for a beer when I remembered that I hadn't any money to my name. Instead I asked for a glass of water. He got a funny, strange look on his face but poured me a glass of water.

"You're that new hand of Cartwrights', ain't ya?" he asked, not moving away.

I studied him over the rim of the glass. His round face was open and friendly, his hair slicked back. He stuck his hand out to me.

"Name's Cosmo. This is my place. You're---" he introduced himself.

"Griff King," I said, pitching my voice low and shaking his hand.

"Well then, first drink is on the house, Griff, so what'll you have with your water?"

So I got my beer. I thanked the man then carried it to one of the open tables and sat down. I was prepared now to wait for Jamie to appear so we could continue our chores. As I sat waiting, I watched the clock on the back wall and came to the decision that the ranch hands that had grumbled this morning were right to be upset. Here I was in a cool saloon, drinking a free beer and getting paid.

"I said you dealt from the bottom!" a cowboy at a near table shouted and stood up. The table spilled its contents onto the other men at the same table and they jumped up from their chairs. One backed into a skinny fellow who was walking by carrying a bottle of whiskey. The skinny fellow took offense and….well before I could twitch, there was a full-blown fight going on.

I am not one for barroom brawls. There are just too many guys and it is impossible to tell who is on which side. They also reminded me now of the riots in the Nevada Penitentiary that had ultimately gained me my freedom but at the cost of a good man's life. No, give me a one on one fight and I'm fine. So when this one started, I had no inclination to join it. Besides, I wanted to finish my beer. I picked it up just in time as a cowboy hit my table and broke it in two just as I stood up.

Carefully, I angled myself away from the fight, my beer held high to avoid an accidental hit. There was only one problem. My flight was in the direction of the back of the saloon, not towards the front and the doors and the street. But I saw a door that I figured led to the back alley and I would make the best of the situation. I did a little fancy footwork and just as I was about to gain the door, I saw it. Yes, there it sat, all alone, its head still fresh and foamy white. Another beer. Looking around, I saw that everyone else was involved to one degree or another with the brawl. No one would notice their fresh beer walking out the door, so it did, keeping company with mine.

The doorway I chose didn't go into the alleyway but into a storeroom. A storeroom full of barrels. It wasn't nearly as cool as inside the saloon. I plopped myself onto a large barrel there and continued sipping my beer and congratulating myself on snagging the second one.

"There you are!"

I couldn't believe my eyes. There stood Jamie Cartwright in the same door I had just come through. Something crashed behind him and he turned wide-eyed to look in that direction. I grabbed his arm and hauled him into the room with me, slamming the door shut behind him just a second before a chair smashed into the pine planking of the door. It was followed by something glass that left a puddle leeching under it towards our hideaway.

What possessed me? I have no idea. Maybe I was just not thinking. I mean, I should have known better. This kid had been raised different from me but I seemed to think that he'd had the same experiences in life. Whatever my excuses would have been, I did it any way.

I handed Jamie the second beer.

Like I said, the kid had class…and guts. He held that beer for about thirty seconds then tipped it up and took a big swallow. I knew then that I had made a mistake because when it hit him, he did everything but turn himself inside out to keep from coughing. It was, I knew without a doubt in my mind, his first beer. Ever.

What did Jamie do? He licked his lips and took another long pull, nearly emptying the mug. When he dropped the mug down, the foam on his lip on accented the freckles across his nose.

What did I do? Inside my own head, I could see Ben Cartwright putting the prison shackles back around my hands and feet as he shook his head and kept repeating that he had tried. Shaking my head to dislodge that thought, I reached for the beer. Jamie pulled it away from my grasp and I saw those shackles and heard the tsking tsking from Ben, again. One beer, I kept thinking, how much damage could one beer do?

Thinking that I would distract him, I went to stand up but my belt caught on something on the barrel behind me. I found myself being watered from behind as beer gushed out the hole I had just created by busting the bung. I turned, looking for something to plug it with. It gushed onto the front of my shirt as well. The only thing I could find was at the end of my arm and I poked two fingers into the hole. It slowed it down. I shouted for Jamie to get me something.

He was a smart boy, Jamie was. He stuck first his glass then mine under the trickle. By the time they were both filled, I figured that the level in the barrel would be below the bunghole. To test my theory, I pulled my fingers out completely. I was rewarded by the golden cascade onto my boots. I shoved my fingers in again.

"What do we do now?" Jamie asked and I looked at him just as he finished his second beer in as many minutes.

"Let me think a minute," I said, and using my free hand, snagged my own drink before Jamie could drink it as well. I drank it quickly; the warm beer rather strong--or at least that was why I justified my knees not wanting to hold me up any longer. "But you, young man, have had your last beer." For emphasis, I started to shake my finger at him.

It was on the wrong hand. I guess I would have stood there dumbfounded, watching the beer continue to puddle at my feet but Jamie shouted at me and lunged for the barrel himself.

I was glad the fight in the saloon was still going strong because it sounded a lot like a shot going off when that barrel hit the floor and burst open. Sure, the floor sucked up the booze pretty quickly but it wasn't quick enough to keep Jamie from being engulfed in it to about ankle deep and splattered with it clear to the brim of his hat. Saying a few choice words, I figured that the best place we could be at that exact moment was on the seat of the buckboard headed back to the Ponderosa.

Hauling Jamie twisting and squirming behind me, I took the other door and found us in a back alley. Something large and heavy hit the door behind us so we ran down the alley as fast as our legs would take us. At the first cross-cut, we saw the team still standing and waiting patiently for us in front of the general store. I also saw Sheriff Clem Foster and a couple of others wearing badges running down the street towards the saloon. Getting a good grip on his shirt, I towed young Cartwright behind me as I made my way towards the open street. Once to the boardwalk, I paused just long enough to make sure everyone was occupied elsewhere, namely the brawl at the Bucket. Sure that we could make our get away, I shoved Jamie before me and told him in no uncertain terms that we were headed for the wagon and then the ranch.

I took up the reins and shushed Jamie for about the thirtieth time. We turned the team and wagon in the wide street and headed out of town just like we knew nothing about what was behind us - or should I say what wasn't in the storeroom of the Bucket of Blood?

"Griff!" when Jamie shouted my name right in my ear, I was tempted to smack him. When he saw he had my attention, he continued. "We didn't go to the barber's. Turn around. We - I - have to get a haircut or Pa'll skin me alive, I tell you!"

Pulling the team up and over to the side of the road, I figured I had a few things to explain. First, though, I had to take the half-full beer glass out of his hand and drain it.

"We can't go back into town." I patiently explained then drained the glass and pitched it into the brush alongside us.

"We have to! Or at least I gotta!" Jamie countered as if I was some knot on a log and that by simply repeating what he said, he could make me understand. I did understand and I proceeded to make him understand just what we smelled like at that precise moment. Okay, so I wasn't gentle about it and he wound up rubbing his nose and glaring at me.

"See?" I continued. "We go sit in Sam the barber's chair and it will sure get back to your father that you've been somewhere that I am sure he wished you hadn't. Me too for that matter."

"Pa wouldn't say a thing about you being in a saloon," Jamie oozed and I noticed that he was having trouble keeping his focus. "After all, you're one of the hands."

Sighing, I thought about telling him that I had said "me too" because I had come to the conclusion that I wished he hadn't been in the Bucket of Blood with me either. I couldn't figure out how to make him understand so I just left him with that erroneous idea.

"But I gotta get a haircut," Jamie whined.

"No," I said and let the word out real slow so he would follow it. "We need to get the beer smell off us. There's a creek beside the road for most of the way back to the ranch. What we need is a place, a pond maybe, where we can park the wagon and wash ourselves off. Needs to be someplace where someone just riding by won't see us. Know any place like that?"

It took him a little while but he finally came up with a place and directed me to it. It had everything we needed: a good stream pushing through a pond that was waist deep on me, grass for the team and, best of all, was far enough from the road that anyone just going by wouldn't see us or the wagon.

The water was cool but I had jumped in clothes and all so the shock wasn't too bad. Standing there in the water, I shed my clothes and let the stream run through them. That would wash away the smell of beer, I thought, as well as the dirt and sweat. I pondered the fact that it wasn't Saturday night but I was taking a bath anyway and had to chuckle.

"Jeeze! This water is cold!" Jamie yelped behind me. I turned and grinned. I had forgotten that water waist deep on me would come considerably higher on the shorter Cartwright. He was chest deep and trying to shed his clothes the same way I had mine but every time he leaned over to tug on his pants, he got a mouthful of water.

In the end, I helped him. Granted it wasn't the best way to shed clothes but it proved up to the task of shedding the smell of beer. We hung our clothes on the bushes to dry and, wrapped in the blankets we found under the seat of the wagon, sat down on the grass beside the stream. Jamie retrieved his Kit Carson, Crack Shot of the West and began to read from it again, his lips moving as he did.

"Hey!" I caught his attention when he turned the fifth page. "Mister Clay's package is in the back of the wagon." His eyes lit up. "Down between the bags of sugar."

When he plopped back down beside me, he handed me my bag of lemon drops and smiled around a strand of licorice. "I haven't finished Kit Carson yet. Want to read this one?"

He was offering me his new book.


The rest of the ranch hands, Candy, Joe and Mister Cartwright came pulling into the yard just as Jamie and I were finishing unloading the wagon. Yes, we were late but they were early. The boss man handed his horse off to one of the hands and sauntered over to where Jamie and I were putting the end gate back into the buckboard.

"You boys are a little late getting home, aren't you?" he queried and grabbed a hold of Jamie's shoulder, shaking it playfully.

"Hot day like today and we had to take it real easy on the team," Jamie rationalized for his father. I saw the brow lift in speculation and held my tongue.

"Good thinking, boys." The silver head nodded appreciably then he started for the house. "Oh, and Jamie, your hair cut -"

I am sure that at that exact moment, both Jamie and I were thinking the same thing: we hadn't gotten our required trims. It was on my lips to make an apology and claim complete responsibility.

"- looks really good." Ben finished by saying then opened the door and disappeared into the house.

I know I had a sappy smile on my face when I turned around. It faded quickly. There was Joe, his jacket over one shoulder and a crease of sweaty dirt down one jawbone. He was within an arm's length of me but when he reached out, he grabbed Jamie and pulled him around in front of me.

"Either Pa's vision is failing or you have got to be the luckiest pair alive." Joe's right hand tightened on Jamie's shoulder as he spoke then he flipped a finger at the red locks that hung over Jamie's collar. "When I was your age, he could always tell when I 'forgot' to get my hair cut. But it ain't just the hair. Was in town late this afternoon. Heard about the big blowout at the Bucket of Blood."

"Fight, huh?" I tried to sound innocent.

"Nope. Two barrels of beer that wound up on the floor of the storeroom--without their barrels. But that isn't the really puzzling thing. On the way home, I found a beer mug alongside the road. Besides wagon tracks that took me down by Old Man Thompson's mill pond. And do you know what I found there?" 

What could I do? I was looking at the coldest green eyes in the state of Nevada. I had it figured that he would make mention of our little foray this afternoon and while Jamie would fetch himself a tanning and maybe be restricted to the Ponderosa for a time, my fate would certainly be a little more drastic. I could feel the cold walls of the Nevada State Penitentiary closing in on me as I stood there.

"I found this," and Joe pulled Jamie's vest and my neckerchief out from under his jacket. "And this." That was the brown paper and twine Mister Clay had used to wrap up the book and the candies. "And this." I think it was Jamie who groaned when Joe held up his Kit Carson dime novel, but I wouldn't swear to it.

We swallowed hard, in unison. "What- what are you going to do about it?" I stammered as I asked.

Joe's face puckered and I could tell he was thinking real hard about something. Jamie, however, had something on his mind. He took hold of Joe's arm and pulled him, and I do mean pulled him, to the side of the house. There they stood for a couple of minutes, Joe's head bent as he listened to Jamie. The kid's hands literally danced in the air as he spoke but I couldn't figure out what he was saying. I saw Joe shake his head then Jamie stopped and Joe looked into the air above him. The younger of the two said something else, this time apparently pressing his point upon his brother. Finally, Joe nodded but even from where I stood, I could tell he was reluctant to agree to it. Whatever it was made Jamie smile as the two of them came back to the wagon.

"Get the team taken care of, Griff. Jamie, you'd better help him." With that, Joe huffed and went into the house, shoulders slumped and nearly dragging his jacket on the pine flooring.

I was about to burst but held off until we got into the barn and were unhitching the team. "What did you say to him? I thought we were fired!"

Jamie smiled and, I swear, the summer sun wasn't any brighter. "Nah!" he said, his face glowing. "For one thing, how do you fire your own brother? And I don't think that Joe or Pa would fire you either. You're turning out to be a top hand. Hey, remember to give me back my Kit Carson book when you finish it, okay?"

"Come on!" I pressed hard. "What did you say to Joe?" I completely let the comment about me being a 'top hand' fly right by me. I knew different, I thought. "Jamie, I screw up and they'll send me back to prison." I had to impress upon him the seriousness I felt the situation deserved.

Again that dazzling smile but this time he shook his head. "I just gave him a little dose of his own medicine. Something our brother Hoss taught me a long time ago. And you would have to shoot someone, or rob the bank or something like that before they'd send you back to jail, Griff."

I told him I still didn't understand. That he didn't understand.

"It was just a little brotherly blackmail, that's all."

I blinked twice and he was gone I leaned against one of the barn posts and had a little laugh. Blackmail from a kid brother that I thought could keep me from going back to prison was powerful stuff. Or maybe my fear of going back to prison made it seem strong. I heard myself echo his words but not as though warning myself to be wary of the innocence Jamie projected. He was a good kid, a smart kid and I was deciding that he would make a good friend. No, really --he would!

"Just a little blackmail." I smiled and went back to unhitching the team.


Chapter Three

Working Dignity

A Side Story to "The Hidden Enemy"


It had been so stupid of me. Looking back now, I can’t remember doing something that stupid in a long, long while. But I did that night. When the bunkhouse crew had made a joke of hanging my saddle from the hayloft winch, I had done my best not to lose my temper. They were just trying to show me that I was slowly becoming one of them…that is if I could not lash out in anger but approach it the same way they did, as a joke. So I there I was that evening, up in the loft, leaning out the door, reaching for my cinch, a stirrup, any part of my saddle, so I could get it down. Even as I reached, I felt the rising wind of a storm. It pushed my shirt against me and I took my eye off of my target for one moment, one single moment, to watch a flash of lightning light up the upper corral. And then I fell.

As funny as it may sound, I don't remember hitting the ground. I clearly remember feeling my feet slip on the hay and my fingers grazing the leather of my saddle. I even remember looking down at the upturned faces of my friends and seeing their eyes widen in fear, their mouths opening to shout, their bodies suddenly propelled into motion.

And then I was on the ground and in pain. Somehow when I was in the air, I had turned and when I hit the ground, my arm was twisted awkwardly under me. I glanced down and saw my left hand lying there un-naturally and then the pain hit me. It felt as though I was being suffocated by it as it washed across me. At first I was hot and started to turn away from the pain radiating up my arm but Candy was there, telling me not to move. He further blocked me by resting one hand on my shoulder and the other on my hip. I could hear Mister Cartwright shouting out orders and could feel the ground throb beneath me as a rider left, in search of the doctor. I tried to form my thoughts into words: I didn't need a doctor, I thought, I was going to be just fine but then the pain came again, leaving me cold and trembling.

They carried me into the main house and laid me gently on the settee. I welcomed the warmth of the fire burning in that big fireplace since now I shook with the cold. The pain still rose against me, making me weak and unable to think straight. Mister Cartwright was still giving orders and one of those was for Jamie to get something to make a temporary brace, a splint, for my arm. I swallowed hard and watched in detached fascination as Joe used a snowy white napkin and a silver knife, both from the dinner table, and made a tourniquet around my upper arm. Once he had done that, his hands moved away and for the first time, I saw the damage I had done to myself. It almost made me ill.

"Easy now, Griff", Candy was crooning as he lowered a blanket across my legs. "We've sent for a doctor but you need to tell us. You hurt anyplace other than your arm. Your legs, your chest, your back, any place?"

I shook my head then wished I hadn't as my vision swam and acid rose into the back of my throat.

"Shallow breaths, son," Mister Cartwright was saying, one of his big old hands brushing down the side of my face. I anchored my eyes on him and tried to do as he asked. In the corner of my narrow vision, I saw Joe lean down beside his father and felt him doing something on my arm. I couldn't stop myself. I looked down just as he loosened the tourniquet and fresh blood bubbled up onto my arm. With it came renewed pain. I twisted on the settee, trying to move away from it but Mister Cartwright held me fast.

The rest of the evening became a blur to me. Whether it was my own heartbeat I was hearing or a torrential downpour beating on the ranch house roof, I couldn't tell you. All I know was that it seemed like it took forever for the doctor to get there. When he did, the first thing I noticed right off was how wary Mister Cartwright was. I chalked it up to it not being their regular doctor. I didn't care. All I wanted was to get fixed up. The doctor must have figured the same thing because even as he stooped over me in his wet coat, he pulled a funny looking tube and a bottle of clear liquid from his bag. By then, Mister Cartwright had moved away from where he had planted himself all evening. The doctor did something but I didn't watch. Slowly, I felt as though I was being dragged into a soft featherbed, feeling light, warm….


When I awoke, there was a clear blue sky showing through the open window in the room. I wiggled. The bed I was in was soft and comfortable. The sheet, blanket and quilt covering me were of far better quality than anything I had ever slept under so I had it figured where I was at: one of the Ponderosa guestrooms. I continued perusing that room. There was heavy furniture made of a dark wood that gleamed with its subtle patina. On the floor was a rug, intricate in design of a rich blue-grey, burgundy and deep green. The fireplace in the room, although cold and still, was bigger than the one in my mother's cabin that she'd cooked on. I tried to lift my shoulders so I could look around to see if the door was open, to see more of the room. I failed, still too washed out to manage. Flopping back brought a stab of pain to my arm.

Because of what I had seen before, I was leery of looking at my arm again. Curiosity finally won out and I peeked at the weight nailing me to the bed on that side. I felt foolish. Down the length of my arm, from elbow to fingertips, was a thick white bandage. Sticking out of each end, was a shaft that a little experimenting with proved to be a pair of padded wooden slats.

"Once your skin heals up, the doc said he'd put a regular cast on your arm." The voice, coming from the doorway made me jerk in surprise. It was Candy and, when I looked at the big mirror over the set of bureau drawers, I could see his reflection. He stood there in the doorway looking at me through the same medium. Smiling, he came on into the room and sat down in the chair beside the bed.

"How long am I gonna be out of work?" I managed to mumble out.

Again came that smile to Candy's face. "Not long. Six weeks would be my guess but I ain't a doctor."

I pushed my head deeper into the pillow behind it. From somewhere in my memory I recalled being told that if I didn't work, I wouldn't get paid. I already owed the Cartwrights for my clothes and Mister Cartwright had given me a few dollars as an advance. As I laid there in that fancy bedroom, I could see one thing really clear: I was getting into debt with my jailers. That wasn't a pretty view since I figured that my doctoring had been paid for by them and would also be taken out of my wages. Add to that the fact that my arm would be pretty much useless and I decided that I really wanted the earth to open up and swallow me whole. Guess it showed on my face.

"Hop Sing is bringing you up some breakfast. You feel like eatin'?" Candy asked, his hands planted on his knees as he leaned forward. "Although from the looks of you right now, I hope it's something that'll be easy on you goin' down and comin' up. Let me go tell him that some soup or something would be better. Easier on your stomach." He stood then turned to go but I called him back.

"Don't make no big to-do out of it, Candy. I could probably eat a cow right now." I wasn't lying. I was hungry.

He lifted his eyebrows and twisted his mouth to one side. Having known him for a while, I knew what that expression said. Plainly he doubted me. He didn't feel my stomach pinching and grabbing me, telling me to feed it. Candy opened his mouth to say something but never got it out. Instead the little Oriental houseboy of the Cartwrights came bustling in and started ranting and raving in whatever language that was he spoke. Candy quickly backed away, his hands raised as though in surrender.

Hop Sing put a tray down on the bureau across from me and then waddled back to the bed.

"First, you need to clean up. Hop Sing have hot water, razor." I had to listen carefully to him to understand what he was saying, especially that last word. When it dawned on me what he was saying and he went about laying things out, I decided Candy had been right about my queasy stomach after all. Of course, it was for totally different reasons. I swallowed hard a couple of times and wished I knew the words in his language that told him he needn't bother. Hop Sing just kept on what he was doing: laying out what a fella needed to clean the whiskers off his face.

"You don't need to be doin' that," I tried. Even smiled at him but the little man with the long pigtail just acted like he didn't hear me. I tried again. "Look, I'm sure you have other things that need doing worse'n this." It didn't seem to matter to him and he draped a towel across my chest, yanked the pillow from behind my head and commenced to slather my face with lather.

Now let me explain something. Out in the bunkhouse, I would go a couple of days in between shaves. It had nothing to do with not sprouting whiskers. I'd been putting out a respectable showing since I was maybe 16 or so and I knew to look halfway decent, I should have shaved every day. I didn't. It had more to do with shaving with the lather brought up by the hard yellow soap I had available. That, and the fact that the water I would usually wind up with was luke-warm at best. It makes for a real uncomfortable shave, even if the razor I had was really sharp, which it usually wasn't. I had tried sharpening it but it was about done for so what I tried to bring an edge on was the thickening towards the blunt edge.  I am sure by now that you have the full and total picture of what I felt when I shaved and can understand why I didn't.

The lather that Hop Sing plastered me with was warm and had a light fragrance to it. Just that was enough to bring me up short and I quit complaining. He danced the shaving brush around my chin, my jawline, my throat and onto my cheeks. I could almost feel my whiskers leaning into the froth, it felt so good. While I was busy getting lost in the lather, I heard him slapping leather then the razor touched me. I swear, a woman touching my face couldn't have felt any different. I closed my eyes at the sheer unexpected bliss of it.

He never nicked me or even pulled hard. A little touch to the side of my face and I automatically turned and felt the silken lather and cool steel of the blade take it away. He didn't speak, his concentration on what he was doing, I guess. Once he was done, a warm damp towel covered my face, soothing and lulling me almost asleep again.

It was a sharp and heavy thud that made me take away the towel. Raising up on one elbow, I saw Candy and Jamie manhandling a large copper tub into the room. Behind them, Smoky and some of the fellows from the bunkhouse were holding buckets of water. Steaming water. Grinning at me like some sort of fools, the procession began as the men dumped bucket after bucket of the hot water into the tub. They didn't make any comment but Smoky smiled at me and tugged on his hat brim like he was greeting some fancy lady. Me? I was too flustered to say anything.

"You need any help?" Candy asked when the last bucket had been emptied and the room was suddenly emptied too. I guess my blank-eyed stare told him I hadn't a clue what was going on. "I realize that it isn't Saturday night but there seems to be an unwritten law around here. Hop Sing pretty much thinks if you are going to spend any time whatsoever in between his good sheets, you need to be on the clean side to do it. Now, as I asked before, you need any help?"

I took a long look at the steam rising over the edge of that big old tub. Next to it, a chair had been pulled up and there was a pile of fluffy white towels there a mile high, I swear it. There was also a scrubbing brush with a long handle and a bar of soap. That was the key that opened my mouth.

"Nah, don't need any help. Thanks for the offer but I been gettin' into and out of the tub by myself for a long time." Tell him anything, my inner voice shouted, just get him out of the room and let me at that tub and that bar of white --white, God damn it!-- soap.

He grinned at me and left the room.

Within two minutes, I was chest deep in water so hot I could feel it turning me red. I rested my bandaged hand on the edge so it wouldn't get wet and tried using the other to lather up a washcloth with that wonderful soap. Okay, so I wasn't having much luck. I had just lost the bar into the water for about the fourth time when this hand plopped into my line of sight. The blue cotton cuff was shoved back to his elbow and the almond-shaped eyes were telling me just what they thought of my foolishness.

"No do good job with one hand. Give Hop Sing cloth, soap. Hop Sing fix." His voice was like a song, rising and falling within the space of a few words.

"I ain't gonna let you wash all of me, ya understand?" I fiercely put to him, to which the little man raised his shoulders in a shrug. Again he held out his hand, wanting the soap which was somewhere close to where I didn't want him washing.

The last person who washed my back, besides me, was my mother. Just like her, Hop Sing was thorough. He scrubbed every part of me twice over…that is the parts I would let him at. He went so far as to manhandle my feet and ran that cloth between my toes. Okay, so I jumped a little when he did that, but we were both smiling by that time.  Satisfied, I guess, that I was as clean as he was liable to get me, he soaped up the cloth one more time and handed it to me. Then he took up the remaining two buckets and dipped them into the grimy water.

"You stay put. Hop Sing get more hot water plenty quick." Faster than a cat on a hot tin roof and he was gone. I took one look at the soapy cloth and knew why he had left. I had new respect for him as I used it to clean the places I wouldn't let him close to. Funny how he let me have my dignity.

I heard the door creak open behind me and I knew by the soft padding footfalls that he was back.

"You ready more hot water?" he asked and I nodded. He poured in the water, making more bubbles rise to the surface. "You scoot down. Hop Sing wash hair. Very dirty. Make pillow case hard to wash."

I really did do it just so he wouldn't have a hard time doing the laundry. Really, I did!

As I sat there soaking in the last of the warmth, I closed my eyes and kind of floated. In the room, I could hear the little man bustling around. I cracked an eye open just in time to see him strip the sheets from the bed I had wallowed in. Chagrinned, I saw dirty spots that I knew I was responsible for.

"I'm sorry, sir. I really am. Didn't realize how filthy I was," I apologized and meant it. Since I had been released from prison less than a month ago, I'd had one complete bath and now I regretted not doing it more often. That meant even if I had to go down to the river with a bar of hard yellow soap and a piece of sacking, I was determined to change my ways.

Hop Sing stopped what he was doing and looked at me, his face blank of all expression. With a snort, he resumed his work. He swapped the linens on the bed for clean ones, snapping them open then leveling them onto that soft mattress, the corners squared and, when he was finished, the crispness and tidiness of the completed package was impressive. The pillows - and I counted four, which was three more pillows than I'd ever seen on one bed in my entire life! - were plumped and replaced, their slips so white it almost hurt to think about what I had done to their predecessors. Then he turned back the coverlet and gathered the soiled items into his arms.

"Hop Sing bring you breakfast. Doctor say soup first. What Mista King say?" There was something hard in his tone and I had no idea what I had done to put it there.

I was reluctant to answer him but I did, now paying closer attention to the fading soap bubbles than to his face. I felt ashamed that I had made this extra work for him and I figured that was what was making him angry at me, finally seeing the added burden I'd created. "Just some coffee. Maybe some toast. That's all but don't go to no trouble, okay?"

He harrumphed once and left the room.

The water was cooling down and I didn't feel good about it any more so I stood up and, mindful that I was dripping water all over the carpet, I grabbed a towel and tossed it on the floor to stand on. Before long, I had myself dried off and had even managed to get my hair out of the dripping stage. I used my fingers to comb it back away from my face and stood looking at myself in the mirror over the bureau. I saw some bruising down my left side where I had taken most of the impact and I skimmed my free fingers down them, reassuring myself that the doctor hadn't missed anything like a busted rib. He hadn't.

At the bottom of the pile of towels, I found a soft cotton nightshirt. Rather than somehow insult Hop Sing again, I pulled it on. It was a little short but who was I to complain? In prison, you slept in your clothes, right down to your boots. Undoubtedly that made your clothes wear out faster but being in rags was being like everyone else there. Since I had gotten out, my sleeping time had been in the bunkhouse, or, when I wanted to be alone, out under a big old pine tree. In either case, I found myself doing like I had in jail; I slept in my clothes. But now I had been given something that harkened back to the days before my mother had died. She had always insisted that I wear a nightshirt to bed. She'd said it was the civilized thing to do no matter what your age or gender. Sure, most of the time it wasn't the right size but that didn't matter to my mother. I rubbed my good hand down the front of the soft cotton and tried to remember for a moment what she sounded like, talking to me. The memories were too far back, too covered over by harder living and I couldn't do it. My legs, feeling the sudden sadness, wouldn't hold me up any longer and I sat down on the chair heavily. I hung my head, tired, ashamed, my arm hurting, my body limp.

"Come on, Griff. Let's get you back in bed," Candy spoke, his voice low and right next to my ear.

I jerked at the sound and ran a hand quickly over my face, fearing that I had turned loose of some closely held emotions. I hadn't but it must have looked to Candy like I was ready to drop since he grabbed my good arm and pulled me up, wrapped a supportive arm across my back then walked me over to the bed like I was some sort of invalid. He held the blankets and coverlet aside as I got into it then tucked them around me. I muttered my thanks as I pushed myself up against the headboard.

"Don't thank me," he cajoled and got the smile it called for. "Thank Mister Cartwright. Before he left with the doctor, he said to take good care of you. That means Hop Sing is pulling out all the stops!"

The tray he placed across my legs was loaded with eggs, bacon, hash brown potatoes, biscuits, butter, jam and --oh yeah!-- coffee so rich smelling it made my mouth water. I was admonished to eat all of it but I couldn't see how I would manage that. Candy grinned, then said he was leaving and that I was to behave.

I mumbled my goodbye around a mouthful of hot buttered biscuit but I didn't see Candy leave the room. I was too busy trying to decide what to eat next.

In the late afternoon, after my second meal and nap of the day, I heard noises downstairs and concluded that work was done for the day and that Candy and Joe had returned. Mister Cartwright had come home at noon and stayed. He'd checked on me and was pleased to find that I was doing just what the doctor ordered. He made a comment that I didn't understand about that being refreshing but I didn't ask for a clarification. But laying up there in that fancy bedroom with the door open, I listened to what was going on downstairs.

"I know that!" Joe's voice rang out with a considerable amount of heat that his father didn't care for because I heard the tone the old man used when he just said "Joseph!"

"Kind of hate to admit it, but, Mister Cartwright, Joe's right. We need every man we can get right now." That was Candy and in my mind's eye, I could see him standing there in that big front room, his hands on his hips as he braced the older man. I'd figured out that pointing out the obvious to Ben Cartwright was throwing away words since he was sharp as a tack. There was only one problem. He'd raised sons just as sharp and as I listened, the eldest one at home argued back at him.

"If we are going to get those cattle to the railhead in any decent shape, we have to use…" As I strained to listen, Joe's voice was lost to me. I leaned out of the bed towards the door.

"Then I'll go!" That was Ol' Ben roaring right back.

That's when it hit me that part of the reason they were having this conversation was that I had been stupid, fell out of the barn loft and broken my arm. I lay back in the bed, more than a little ashamed.

Don't get me wrong. Old Man Cartwright was still hale and hearty and could probably work half the men in his payroll under in half a day. But that isn't truly saying much, considering some of the men working the ranch that summer. He was a robust man but the years were beginning to tell on him. You could see it by the way that he did simple chores, like chopping or toting in wood. I'd seen him, not long before this all happened, when he'd come home from a long trip and the man was exceptionally tired. More than, say, someone of Joe's age would have been. Now, because of my foolishness, he was going back out to do the work of younger men. I felt a twinge of regret but then commonsense reinserted itself. This was his ranch after all. Why should he have the luxury of staying home every day when his sons went out and did the work that kept it going? I nodded to myself and settled back into the bed.

"That isn't what I meant!" Joe's voice, tired but still angry, came floating up the stairs. His father must have said something back to him that I couldn't hear but I heard him clear when Joe said "Have it your way then. But who does the bookwork then? Not Jamie. I need him out there in the saddle pushing cattle."

The next words sealed my fate for the next few weeks. They came from Candy. "Griff can handle numbers and such. He writes a fair hand. Probably better than yours, Joe!" I heard an explosive snort and figured Joe had climbed the steps and was at the top of them., not far from where I was. "Let him take care of your books."


The next morning, Mister Cartwright came into my room early but I was already awake. He smiled at me and settled into the chair beside my bed.

"You sleep well?" he asked, appearing truly concerned for my welfare.

"Yeah. You said the other doctor, Doc Martin, was going to be out today, right?" When he nodded, I went on. "Think he'll put a cast on this arm so I can get back to work?"

That silver head bent then came back up and those dark brown eyes, a little sad this morning I thought, looked at me. He sighed. "Years ago, Griff, a young man working for us got hurt. Not bad, but it was an open wound. Against my better judgment, I let him go back to work before it was completely healed. It got infected. Bad, it got infected and the young man lost his leg because of it."

"What happened to him?" I asked cautiously since I hadn't seen any one-legged cowboys riding herd.

"I got him another job. One at the mercantile where we do a lot of business. But the young man looked at it as charity and he got very discouraged. He took to drinking and in the end, he took his own life because he thought he was useless."

With him looking at his hands clasped between his knees I could tell that the young man's death weighed heavily on him. I couldn't think of anything to say to him but I didn't need to since he looked back at me and spoke again, his voice firm and no-nonsense. "That is why any man that is hurt on the job here at the Ponderosa is taken care of. Until he is healed enough that the doctor says he can go back to work, he doesn't work. Period. End of discussion." Even his tone of voice held certain finality to it so I hesitated to point out that I hadn't been working exactly when I'd gotten banged up.

"Okay then, let me go back out to the bunkhouse. That way Hop Sing won't have an extra mouth to feed," I suggested but I could tell that suggestion was going to go as far as the last one had.

"No. I realize Charlie does a good job of keeping the bunkhouse relatively clean but he is out with the others herding cattle and can't be there to help you."

I exploded. I had to. "I can take care of myself!"

He smiled at me and, patting my good arm, said, "I know you can, Griff, but Hop Sing would be insulted. And trust me, it isn't a good idea to insult him."

"But I just can't lay around here-" I saw his eyes light up and understood in a flash that I had been set up by a master.

"Good," he chirped. "Because with me going out to help Joe and the boys, someone has to take care of the paper work needed to run this ranch. Now Candy says…"

I sagged into those four pillows and wished I had never opened my mouth.


Actually the paper work was rather straightforward and seeing some of the pages with Joe's awkward scrawl across them, I had to agree with Candy: my writing at least was neater and more readable than his. There was only one place where I truly felt at a loss and that was doing the arithmetic. I kept running out of fingers and toes way too soon. I thought about telling Mister Cartwright but what could he do? Stop what he was doing and give me a lesson? Hardly, so that first day behind that desk on my lonesome, I tried to thrash it out, making sure I used a pencil. Thought I did all right too! Except I rubbed a hole in the paper erasing what I thought was a mistake.

About midmorning, Hop Sing came padding over to the alcove and set me up with some coffee and some sort of sweet roll that melted in my mouth, it was that good. He looked at the paper with its hole and clucked his tongue.

"I never did well when I was in school with numbers. Don't suppose you could look at these at see where I made my mistake."

He looked at me like I was some seventh type of idiot then explained that he couldn't read English words, saying they looked like insect tracks to him. He did, however, have something that could help me out. With that said, he disappeared only to return a short time later with some strange gadget in his hand. He said it was an abacus. Listening to his quick singsong directions and watching his fingers dance with the beads, pushing them from one side to the other, I swear, for the first time in my life, I understood carrying and borrowing numbers in arithmetic! It wasn't long before he went back to his chores and I was clicking and clacking those beads, making entries into Cartwright's ledgers in my "fine hand" and grinning for some fool reason.

That evening, just before dusk, I heard horses pulling into the yard and knew that the fieldwork was over for the day. I quickly put Hop Sing's abacus away in a bottom drawer under some old ledgers. Just as I closed the drawer, Mister Cartwright walked in. You could tell by looking at him that he was done in but he smiled at me and asked how I had gotten along.

"Pretty good, actually," I lied. "I even found a mistake here…" I went on and, like a fool kid, told him - and showed him - where he had made a mistake in subtraction. When I glanced up from my explanation, I could see Joe standing over by the fireplace, smiling and shaking his head. Mister Cartwright just grunted and thanked me. That was when Joe began laughing. The older man cleared his throat and Joe stopped- but only for a moment before he headed up the steps saying he had to wash up for dinner. Once he was upstairs, you could hear that cackle of his probably out in the barnyard.

"Good work, Griff. I see that Doc Martin was here."

I lifted my bandaged arm and smiled for him. "Yep, said it was healing nicely and that I should be able to get a cast on it in a week, once the incision starts healing good. After that, he said it would be about a month and it should be good as new. Did tell me to be careful about using that painkiller the other doctor left. Seemed pleased when I told him I hadn't touched it."

Don't know why but as he turned from the desk, I heard Mister Cartwright mutter that it was going to be a long month. He took the stairs slowly, his boots barely clearing the steps. As he went, he pulled off his vest and I could see that his shirt under it wasn't near as dirty as the sleeves and whatnot. Mentally, I shook my head. "More work for Hop Sing," I muttered then went back to putting away the green books with their blue-lined pages.

Every day became a new adventure for me after that. If I wasn't spending time taking care of the books for the Ranch, I was helping Hop Sing. Or reading. I was given permission and delved into the books I found in one bedroom upstairs. I attacked them much the way a hungry man would of one of Hop Sing's meals, devouring them and wanting more. I understood from Joe that the books actually belonged to his absent brother, the oldest one, Adam, but as long as I treated them with their due respect, there would be no problem. I didn't intend for there to be a problem so each book was cared for and, when I finished reading it, it returned to its place on the shelf.

I also came to have a certain amount of respect for the little Oriental. The man never stopped or slowed down from early morning until the supper dishes were done at night. Nobody told me I had to help but I'm not the type to sit and watch someone else sweat when I'm not. Looking at him, I saw the bowed legs and funny gait that sent his pigtail whipping back and forth. His hair was still black as sin even though I figured him to be old enough to be my father but he kept that cap on it and that tail hanging nearly to his waist. His clothes were loose fitting and considering how he bent and twisted, squatted and turned all day, I came to see it as the perfect outfit for him, never binding or bunching.

Monday, I think it was a Monday, I decided he had to have help doing the laundry. Should have left him alone but I didn't. He had a big oval boiler going on the stove in the kitchen and was stirring it when I walked in from doing my paperwork.

"Need help?" I asked then didn't wait for him to answer before I peeked into the tub of water. Maybe he figured he was going to get me back for messing up his nice clean guestroom. I don't know; didn't then and I still don't but it didn't matter. He got this gleam in his eye and before I knew it, I was standing on that same chair, using that big paddle-thing to stir the clothes he was putting into the tub.

Once they had been stirred enough, he told me to use the paddle and lift the stuff out and put it in another tub of water he had prepared at the foot of the chair I stood on. I had one hand to work with but that didn't seem to matter to him and, as I struggled, he let me. I was panting with the exertion as well as the heat by the time I had the washtub emptied.

"You go rest. Hop Sing finish," he offered but I wasn't taking. I told him instead to bring on whatever was next. He gestured behind him at the small mountain of clothes there. I cringed.

By the time the day was over, I was almost too tired to move. I had helped that little slave driver wash clothes, wringing them one-handed when needed be. I had hung out sheets, towels, shirts- well, you name it- including a tablecloth that I accidentally dropped on the ground while it was still wet and barely got onto the clothesline before he would have caught it and made me go wash it again. When the stuff was all dry, I helped him bring it in and sat in the living room, folding clothes and such, putting aside the items he said he wanted to iron. I kept my mouth closed as I saw that particular pile growing higher. With the folding done, he whisked it all away. Alone, I leaned back in the red leather chair and promptly fell asleep. I awoke with big Ben Cartwright's hand on my shoulder, him asking me if I were all right. I lied and said I was but in truth, every muscle in my body ached. Especially when I heard pans clattering in the kitchen.

Just after the dew burned off the next morning, Hop Sing asked if I could help him in the garden. With "anything besides laundry," running through my thoughts, I followed him to the garden behind the main house. I knew it was there but I had never been face to face with it and, now that I was, I had to gulp. For some odd reason, I pictured this neat, tidy little garden full of straight rows of vegetables growing like good little vegetables. Like everything else lately, I came up asking myself why I thought such foolishness. Oh, the rows were straight and the garden on the whole had a neat appearance but it wasn't postage stamp size! I've seen hay fields in Kansas that were smaller! And as I stood there with my mouth open, Hop Sing handed me a hoe and indicated a row of green beans that needed attention.

"When you finish beans, please pick peas. We have for supper," and then he was gone, leaving behind a basket for the peas. The basket looked like it would hold half the Ponderosa.

You ever tried to hoe weeds with one arm? It is tough work, believe me! By the time I was only half way done that first row, my shirt was plastered to me with sweat and the place where I had tucked the handle under my arm was rubbed raw. I shifted its position and grimly hung on, hacking at weeds, loosening the soil around the roots of the green beans so that any moisture that came their way would feed the plant, not run off to the stream at the other end of the garden. I looked over my shoulder and counted three more rows just like the one I was working on. With a glimpse at the sun now bright overhead, I wondered what Mister Cartwright would say if I told him I was leaving.

"Probably just say, 'Fine, Griff. I'll let the Prison Board know. You will be going back there, you understand, should you decide to leave here before your time is up.' How did I ever get myself into this? Oh yeah, a saddle hanging in the loft doorway…." And on and on I went, talking to myself as I pulled weeds, hoed hard dirt and cursed the fates. I finished the first row and headed back towards the house on the next row, still talking to myself. I fussed and I fumed. I turned the air around me blistering hot and made plans out loud on what I was going to do to Smoky and the other boys who were responsible for my busted arm. Oh, their deaths would be messy things if I'd had my way that morning.

"Yak yak yak. All the time yak. Why you yak all time?"

My eyes opened wide and I turned around to find where Hop Sing was. Yes sir, there he was. On his knees in the pumpkin patch, pulling weeds. He must have been there all along since I could see several large mounds of grass and the like.

Does it surprise you that I had no answer for him?

I went to bed early that night, more tired than if I had punched cattle all day. Before I climbed those stairs to that soft bed, I asked Mister Cartwright again about returning to my regular work. I told him point blank that I didn't think he was getting his money's worth out of me. He smiled knowingly but reminded me that the doctor still had to give me the okay and I was a long way off from getting it.

"Besides," he said with a tired grin himself, "Hop Sing says you have been a tremendous amount of help to him these past few days."

Yes sir, there he was, that sawed off, shortened version of a tyrant, standing over next to the kitchen door, grinning like a cat with a mouthful of feathers.

"You rest plenty good, Mista King. Tomorrow, we go Virginia City. Get supplies. You see doctor again."

I knew in my heart of hearts that the only reason he called me Mister King was because he couldn't pronounce my first name.


That had to be the quietest ride into town I had ever experienced. Hop Sing drove, telling me before I even got into the buckboard that I wasn't expected to because of my arm. So I leaned back on the hard seat and tried to sleep. There was just one problem: I kept expecting him, that Oriental tornado, to catch me and--do what? I have no idea, but I was going to be ready for him. He pulled the team up in front of the doctor's office and I jumped down. Before I could even turn back and say something, he was pulling out into the street, headed down to the mercantile.

In the next two hours, Doctor Paul Martin, MD managed to remove the stitches in my arm and place it in a heavy plaster cast. As I sat waiting for the plaster to dry and harden, he gave me a list of rules concerning its care. That list went on and on but basically came down to not using it a tool and to not get it wet. Apparently he thought I would be doing both in the near future but I could have disabused him of that idea. He did ask me one odd question: what was I doing with my time? Before I could form an answer, he launched himself into a spiel about staying active and not letting my body---It was as if I had been hit by something. Had Mister Cartwright and Hop Sing known …? Were they doing it on purpose? Or was it just an accident that I was kept busy while I was recuperating? Sure, I had "volunteered" but had I been maneuvered into it?

"There's Hop Sing now. Do like I said and you'll heal much faster," the doctor was saying as I dropped back into his presence mentally. I wondered if he knew where I had been but then decided it was better that he didn't know that I hadn't been listening. I just nodded and put my hat on and strolled out onto the broad plank walk.

 I scowled down at the cook.

He looked up at me and smiled.

"The doc says my arm is doing real good." I opened the conversation home with an obvious observation.

"Good. Get arm all better then you go back to work."

I snorted and saw him look at me out of the corner of his eye. "Seems to me that I am still working, even now. Hoeing beans, picking peas, helping you with the laundry. That's all work, if you ask me, even if it ain't what I was hired to do."

Could have sworn that I was ready for anything but that little man outfoxed me again when he smiled then slapped the reins over the horses rumps, moving them out at a faster clip.

When we arrived back at the ranch, Hop Sing disappeared and I was left unloading the supplies from the wagon. Ever tried to juggle a twenty-pound sack of cornmeal with one arm? Well, take it from me that it is darn near impossible. I had a fleeting memory of Paul Martin telling me not to use the cast as a tool. I wondered briefly if using it as a clamp to hold that bag of meal to my chest qualified. Sure the cast was heavy and more than a little unwieldy but I was managing pretty good by the time I got the wagon emptied. I even managed to get the horses tended to and the buckboard put up.

"Well, Griff!" Mister Cartwright sang out as he brought his horse into the barn where I was just finishing with the team. "Hop Sing says the doctor said your arm was doing okay. Is it?"

"Sure is! In fact, if you don't mind, I think I could go back to doing some of my regular work." I held fast to a sliver of hope that he would relent.

"Tell you what, we'll see in a week. Let's see how you get along with the cast but I don't think -"

"At least let me move back here into the bunkhouse," I pressed and was rewarded by his smile that said he would agree to that. The rest, as he had said, would wait for a while.

Dumb me! I hadn't realized that with the cattle being slowly pushed to the railhead, that the bunkhouse was empty. I spent my first night of "freedom" playing checkers against myself. I won two out of three.


The next morning, Mister Cartwright had his horse saddled before I managed to roll out of my bunk. So much for me getting back to normal. He grinned at me over the seat of his saddle and told me that Hop Sing was holding some breakfast for me. And, he would appreciate it if I would work on the ranch's books again as they had gotten a little behind.

I ate my breakfast in the kitchen while Hop Sing puttered about, washing dishes and straightening up.

"Today, Hop Sing wash windows. You finish Mistah Cartlight's books, you help." He waddled away, his braid slapping him on the back the same way I kept wanting to.

As I walked into Mister Cartwright's office area, I was muttering something about resting and getting better. Those had been my original orders but now? So much for rest, when I had had one day? Okay, maybe two. Grumbling, I looked at the pile on the leather-topped desk. It was deeper than the mud in the pigpen! I pushed aside some of the papers and made a spot for my cup of coffee then dove in.

"Mistah King, you stop now. Have some lunch," Hop Sing pestered me. I looked up and heard the grandfather clock chime the last of its noon notice. Where had the morning gone? As I studied the desk, I saw the neat piles I had first made were about gone, having disappeared into the places Mister Cartwright had shown me to file them. The green ledger book now had two full pages of my numbers running their length and the abacus Hop Sing had loaned me was balanced against my cold coffee cup, close at hand.

"Okay," I huffed. As far as I was concerned the bookwork was done. Over. Finished. I had been hired to work horses, not numbers and erasers. When Mister Cartwright came home that night, I would tell him so, in not so pleasant a manner either. Ever wonder where righteous indignation comes from? I decided it came from getting used.

Back in the kitchen, I slumped over the worktable and had a bowl of the soup Hop Sing had made. It was thick with meat and vegetables, the liquid more like gravy. He had added several slices of bread that was still warm from the oven and the thick coating of butter I gave it made a golden crown on it.

"You finish lunch, we wash windows," Hop Sing said.

This was it, I decided. I would start with this little fella and let him know just what I thought. I swallowed the mouthful of milk and picked up my spoon then said, clearly, plainly and succinctly, "No."

It must have been the first time he had ever heard the word since he spun around so fast his pigtail smacked him in the face. And his mouth dropped opened as his eyes narrowed.

"What you mean?"

I shoveled another spoonful of soup into my mouth, chewed and swallowed before I answered him. "That means I am not gonna help you wash them windows!" My spoon went back into the bowl and levered up some more.

"Why you not help Hop Sing?" he asked, coming a step closer. I casually glanced around, checking for any sharp knives. None were handy so I figured I was safe.

"Because I was hired to work horses. That's a man's work. What I've been doing the last two weeks, well, that's woman's work. If I can't do the work I was hired for-" I never got to finish my statement but it wasn't for lack of words. Nope, it was because the cook reached over and took my bowl of soup away and I was so flabbergasted I wasn't sure my mouth was working right.

"You finished. You need to rest." There was an odd note in his voice when Hop Sing said that but I couldn't figure what it was. He'd made himself abundantly clear though. I was finished eating.

I went out to the bunkhouse and played another few games of checkers but playing against myself suddenly wasn't as entertaining as it had been. I tried reading some more but the book I had borrowed from Adam's library suddenly had no meaning for me. Sighing, I rolled out of my creaking bunk and headed for the house, intent on returning the book. The downstairs was all quiet and I slipped up the stairs and down the hall.

Passing the open door to the guestroom, I saw him. Hop Sing was on a tall ladder outside the window and he was scrubbing it hard. That wasn't what held my attention, though. It was the look on his face. Sure he was yammering on in his native language but just by looking at him, a body could tell that he was really upset about something. I went into the room and stood at the closed window. Our eyes met through the glass.

"You need some help?" I offered, trying to put an apology into my voice.

He would have none of it. Without saying a word, he began to climb down the ladder, taking his rags with him. I opened the window to say something more but his constant stream of muttering told me that he wouldn't hear what I had to say. The ladder was taken down and I felt like a fool, hanging there out the window, hollering at that pigtail as it disappeared around the corner of the house.

There weren't any books on those shelves that caught my attention that afternoon. Couldn't have because my attention was somewhere else entirely.

Just at dusk, I heard Mister Cartwright ride in. I went out to meet him and take his horse into the barn.

"How's the drive going?" I asked eagerly. I was eager for another human voice, for words I could understand, not for the information.

"They're close enough to the railhead that I went into town this afternoon and sent word to the railroad and our broker. What's the matter? Getting restless?"

"I was kind of hopin'," I started but Hop Sing stepped into the light at the kitchen door and said that supper was ready and for Mister Cartwright to come on. Even though he said nothing about me, I tied Buck to the hitching rail and trailed Mister Cartwright in.

There was one place set at the table.

The message was clear and I took it, returning to my chore of putting the buckskin away. Once I finished, I knew what I had to do and I headed across the yard towards the kitchen door. Before I got there, I heard him. He was banging pots and pans loud enough to wake the dead. I stopped at the entrance and waited for him to see me there.

"What you want?" he all but shouted at me. And it wasn't too kindly, either. "You say you come to work horses. You go work horses. Mistah Charlie, he feed you. Hop Sing fix meal for Mistah Cartwight."

"I didn't come for supper, if that's what you're fussing over." I couldn't look him in the eye so I studied the floor at my dusty boot toes.

"What you want, then? Make more fun of Hop Sing?" he accused. I felt his words land on me so hard that if I hadn't already been flattened by my own stupidity and carelessness, it would have done a good job of making me about an inch tall.

"I came to tell you that I was sorry for what I said." I tried to look him in the eye when I said that but he had his back turned to me and I couldn't see his face. "I was wrong."

He didn't turned around. I went on, telling him what I had thought about all afternoon long while I had lain in the bunkhouse, alone. "You did everything you could to help me, to make me feel good, when I first did this," I gestured aimlessly with my casted hand. His back was ramrod straight to me. "And I did volunteer to help you. Didn't think it was going to be such hard work, though." I tried to chuckle when I said that but it sounded kind of hollow and I quit.

"All work hard. That why it called work. No matter it what you call woman's work or man's work. It all is work." He was right and I told him so but still he wouldn't turn around. "All work have purpose. It no matter what it is, it mean something. You break horses so can ride and use horses. Hop Sing plant garden so family, men, have fresh vegetables to eat. You care for Mistah Cartlight's horse so he can take care of ranch. Hop Sing take care Mistah Cartlight's house so he can take care of ranch."

I didn't have to think about what he was saying. He was right and all afternoon long I'd had the same argument with myself.

"Hop Sing take care of Mistah King, not because it his job. Hop Sing take care of hurt man because he need it." Finally he turned around and I was able to look into his face but I was able to read nothing there.

"And I thank you for it, Hop Sing. I really do. And at lunch, I -"

He wouldn't let me finish, waving aside my stumbling words with his dishcloth. "When man hurt on ranch, Mistah Cartlight think they need to not work. Not true. To feel better, man must do something. Sometimes, yes, can't do work because hurt bad but you, arm hurt, not head. You too much hurry so Hop Sing let you help so you feel useful. Give little jobs to keep Mistah King moving."

That much I had figured out but, since both of us knew it, why bring it up?

Tossing his towel over his shoulder, he crossed his arms over his chest. "All work mean something to someone. No can put one job above another. All work has purpose, dignity."

"And all men who work, no matter what the job, have that same dignity," I said, taking the towel from him. "I wanted to thank you for giving me some of that dignity. It's the first I haven't had to fight for in a long time. Now, let me dry them dishes for you." I angled into the kitchen and towards where I saw dishes gleaming wetly.

His hand pushed into my chest stopped me. I looked down at him and saw a peculiar glint come to those almond eyes.

"You just 'member. You ask for work. Hop Sing say okay. Nobody make you."

I laughed and nodded. "Okay, I volunteered. Just don't get my cast wet, okay?"

He smiled and his whole face lit up like a summer sunrise.


Over the years that followed, Hop Sing and I would become better friends than I could have imagined from our rocky beginnings. Got to admit that I learned a lot from him. More than the abacus thing, more than how to do laundry, I learned about work, even though I thought I knew a lot about the subject. He taught me that work had no gender as I had once claimed. And there is no hierarchy to work. A person who does figures in books is no more or less important than the one who cleans their house or cooks their meals. Any job, well done by a person who cares about what they are doing, has dignity. And that dignity flows over into the person and becomes part of them.

But to know all that, you first of all have to do the work.


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Celestine Irons

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