By:  Gillian

Note: As a matter of historical fact the first steam hoist was built in the Comstock in 1860, (Thanks Puchi) so 14-year-old Adam couldn't have been involved with it, but why let the facts get in the way?

Adam Cartwright got to his feet and dusted himself off. His shirt was torn, his face was bruised and his lip was bleeding. The young man he had tried to help got to his feet too. "Thanks, kid," he said. "I really needed a hand there."

Adam shrugged, and winced as the movement made him aware of other bruises. "That's ok. I just didn't think three against one was quite fair."

The man smiled. "Me neither. My name's Jed Davis. How old are you anyway? You fight really well for just a kid."

"I'm fourteen," Adam said, visibly offended. "My name's Adam Cartwright."

Jed laughed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you. I used to hate being called 'kid' too. You really saved my hide. They said I was cheating, but I wasn't. They just didn't like me winning."

Adam began to smile, and then stopped. Smiling hurt. And when he got home that wasn't all that was going to hurt. "I'd better go home. My Pa's gonna kill me when he sees the state I'm in. I'd better not be late too." He held out his hand. "It was nice to meet you" he said politely.

Jed took it then he said, "Maybe I could come with and explain to your Pa? You helped me, maybe I can help you?"

Adam shook his head. "Thanks, but it'll be all right. My Pa's ok." And he swung himself up onto his horse.

"Come and see me next time you're out here" invited Jed. "Maybe you could have a closer look at the mine."

Adam waved and set off from the diggings for home. In spite of his brave words, he was nervous about his Pa's reaction to the state he was coming home in. He hadn't wanted Jed to come because he hadn't even been supposed to be near the diggings today. He sighed. The next time he was going to be near the diggings was going to be a very long time in the future, knowing his father as he did.

Ben Cartwright heard a horse come into the yard. He opened the door and stood in the square of light, looking out into the evening gloom.

"Is that you, Adam?" he asked.

"Yes sir" came the quiet response.

"You're late. Where ..." Ben changed his mind. He would find out why later. "Hurry up and get your horse settled. It's nearly supper time."

Ben went back in and left a relieved Adam to groom his horse. When he'd finished that, he went to clean himself up at the pump. Maybe the damage wouldn't show so much, and maybe he could change his shirt before either his father or his stepmother saw. His hopes were dashed as soon as he went into the big living room. Marie, his stepmother, looked up smiling as he came in. Her face fell as she saw the damage to Adam's face.

"Adam" she exclaimed in horror. "Are you hurt? Come here, and let me clean you up." Adam went towards her reluctantly. "I'm all right, ma'am," he said. "I cleaned myself up. I'm just going to change my shirt for supper." He got as far as the bottom step when his father stopped him.

"Adam" he said in a tone that Adam knew boded him no good," Get yourself over here now."  Adam obeyed. There was no point arguing with his father when he used that tone. Ben put two fingers under Adam's chin and turned his face towards the light. He looked him over in silence
for a moment.

"You've been fighting." he said in what to an outsider would have been a conversational tone. "Care to explain why?"

Adam braced himself. One thing was for sure; Pa wasn't going to like his explanation. He very briefly considered making up a story that might satisfy his father, but then he dismissed the thought. Pa always knew when he was lying, and he didn't like the thought of the consequences
of getting caught out in a lie.

"I'm waiting, Adam" his father's voice said, sternly.

"Well, Pa, there was this man who was being beaten up by three other men so I thought I'd help even up the odds a bit," Adam began hopefully .

His father looked at him. "A man." he repeated. "Did you have any idea what they were fighting about?"

Adam shook his head.

"So you were fighting with total strangers without any idea of what you were getting involved with." Ben's voice was no longer 'conversational'. "May I ask just where you were that you could even get yourself mixed up in a fight?"

" was at the diggings," Adam confessed.

This was too much for Ben. "At the diggings?" he barked. "You got yourself mixed up in a fight at the diggings? You could have been killed, boy!"

Adam swallowed. He knew Pa was right, but at the time it had seemed the proper thing to do. He attempted to explain this to his father.

Ben glared at him. "I don't know what gets into you, Adam. You're a smart young man. Didn't you realise how dangerous it could be?"

Adam looked down at his feet. "I didn't think about that. I just thought the odds were unfair." He raised his head. "You're always telling me how important justice is."

Ben took in a deep breath and then let it out again. The boy did have a point, he supposed. "Yes" he said, "I am. But I didn't think you were stupid enough to get involved without knowing what you were fighting about!" he snapped.

Adam bit his lip. "I'm sorry, Pa." he said. "I guess I didn't think." He didn't think an apology was going to get him off the hook either, but it was worth a try.

Ben shook his head. "An apology isn't going to be enough this time, Adam. You know how I feel about fighting."

Adam nodded. He knew.

"Furthermore, you were at the diggings. You know I told you to stay away from there. I would like to know what were you doing at the diggings."

Adam hesitated for a moment. "I heard they put in a steam hoist. I wanted to see it," he explained.

Ben sighed. He should have known. Adam and things mechanical were like ants to honey. "It didn't occur to you to ask my permission, I suppose." he said sarcastically.

"No sir" Adam said. Actually, it had, but he'd figured that Pa would say no. It didn't seem a particularly smart move to say so, though. Pa wasn't pleased, but he wasn't really angry. There was no point making things worse.

"Let me see, " said his father. "You got into a fight, because you were in a place you had been specifically told not to go to. I think since you've got so much spare time, you can spend the next two weeks doing extra chores. And since you can't be trusted to do as I say when you are not here, you can also spend the next two weeks here. You will not leave the house or yard, except to go to school, without my express permission. And if I hear of you fighting again, I may forget
that you're getting too old for me to give you a tanning. Is that clear?"

"Yes sir" Adam said, relieved. He'd been a little worried about what Pa would say.

"Now go and change your shirt quickly. Supper's ready and we've waited for you long enough."

Adam jumped, startled, as he heard someone enter the barn. He moved quickly to hide what he was doing from wandering eyes, and as he did so he heard his father's voice. "What are you doing, Adam?" he asked.

"Oh, it's you, Pa" he said with real relief in his voice.

Ben Cartwright frowned. "I asked you what you were doing, Adam" he said warningly.

"Sorry, Pa," Adam replied. "I thought you might be Marie. I'm making her birthday present and I wanted it to be a surprise. I figured I might as well make good use of my restriction." He pulled something made of wood out of under the hay and displayed it proudly. "It's going to be a jewellery box."

His father took it and examined it curiously. There was no doubt about it; when Adam put his mind to making something you could be sure it would be a fine piece of work.

"That's very good" Ben approved. Adam was pleased.

His little brother Hoss' face crumpled. "I wish I could make something for Mama's birthday" he said.

Adam didn't like seeing his little brother unhappy. "Maybe you could do something else" he suggested. "I could help..." Then he had an idea. "Pa, I know there isn't much spare money, but maybe Hoss could do some extra chores and earn some money so he could buy something at the trading post. Then it would be something from him. It's still a long time to Marie's birthday."

Ben considered the idea. Adam was right, there wasn't much spare money, but he was sure he could find enough to pay Hoss for his work. Although only eight, Hoss was a big boy, and nearly as strong as his older brother. He smiled at his sons. "It's a good idea, Adam. What do you think, Hoss? Next time I go to the trading post you can pick out something, and then you'll know how much you need to earn."

Hoss' face lit up. "Could I, Pa? I'll work real hard. When can we go?" he asked excitedly.

Ben laughed. "Well, I don't know. I don't really have anything to go to the trading post for," he teased. "But I could go tomorrow...after school. If a certain boy gets on with his homework, right now."

"Yes sir" yelled Hoss, racing towards the door.

Hoss stared round the trading post. He'd been there before, of course, but never when he'd has to make such an important decision. There were so many things. He wished Adam had come too, to help him choose, but Pa had said no. He had to choose for himself. He looked and looked. Then he saw it. The perfect gift. He pulled on his father's sleeve.

"Pa, Pa! That's it! That's what I want to get Mama." He pointed to a silky headscarf in a lovely shade of blue, sprinkled with little white flowers.

Ben looked at it. It cost a whole dollar. He hadn't planned on spending that much. He fought a brief battle with himself. "That's a lot of money, Hoss. You'll have to work very hard to earn enough for that. Maybe you should pick out something cheaper."

Hoss' face fell. He was close to tears. "But that's what I want. Please, Pa.. You said I could pick something out."

Ben sighed. "If you can earn enough, you may buy it. But if you don't then you'll have to get something else. OK?"

Hoss nodded. He was sure he could do it.

Two weeks before Marie's birthday, Ben had to go to Sacramento to tie up a lumber contract. The night before he left, he went into Hoss' room to say goodnight. "Here you are, Hoss", he said, handing him a shiny silver dollar. "I didn't think you could do it, but you did."

Hoss had worked very hard at all the extra chores Pa had found him to do, although it must be admitted, sometimes Adam had helped him just a bit. Not that Pa needed to know that, Adam had told him. He wasn't looking for extra work! Hoss looked at the shiny coin.

"Thank you Pa." he breathed. He'd never even held that much money in his life before.

Ben chuckled. "Now be very careful with it. Don't lose it. You can go to the trading post tomorrow. I'll ask Adam to take you. You be a good boy for Mama, and I'll see you when I get back." He hugged his little son, and tucked him into bed.

Hoss was so excited at school the next day that he could hardly sit still. He even got into trouble, and was warned by Mr Taylor that if he didn't settle down he'd have to stay after school. Hoss didn't want that! After school Adam took him to the trading post. Ben had arranged for the package to be put away until Hoss came to collect it. Pa had suggested to Adam that he let Hoss manage this all by himself, so he was waiting outside, reading a book, when Hoss came rushing
up to him, in floods of tears. "Adam, Adam" he cried. "Ya gotta help me." He flung his arms round his brother, sobbing miserably.

"Shh, Hoss" Adam tried to comfort him. "What's the matter?"

"I've lost my money," the little boy wailed. "I put it in my pocket, tied up in my hanky, an' I've lost it." he sobbed.

Adam paled, and mentally kicked himself. He should have taken care of the money for Hoss. He hugged the sobbing child.

"We'll go look for it" he said. But although they searched everywhere they could think of the money was nowhere to be found.

Hoss was devastated. Adam felt he simply had to find a way to comfort him. He couldn't replace it. He only had thirty six cents he was saving towards a book he wanted. They couldn't tell Marie. Even if it hadn't been for her birthday present, Adam knew there was no possibility of Marie replacing the lost coin. They weren't poor, exactly; not like before they'd crossed the country in the wagon train when it was sometimes all Pa could do to feed them, but ready cash was tight. They couldn't afford to lose a whole dollar. The only good thing, sort of, was that by the time they got home they were so late that Marie got really mad with them. She assumed Hoss' misery was because they were late, and to Adam's relief she didn't ask about it, just sent them to bed straight after supper as punishment. He tried to comfort Hoss by telling him that maybe he'd dropped the money at school, and they'd look for it the next day, but there was no hope in his heart that they would actually find it. He'd have to think of something else.

Adam lay awake for much of the night, thinking. He'd come up with a scheme for replacing the lost money, but it relied on an awful lot of what ifs and maybes. He would go and see his friend Jed Davis. Since he'd helped Jed in that fight months ago he'd been back to the diggings more than once, secretly, and become really good friends with Jed. Jed's mine was doing well. Adam was hoping that he could persuade Jed to hire him for a day. He knew that at fourteen he couldn't get adult rates, but all he needed was a dollar. The only trouble was, he'd have to play hooky to do it. He couldn't go on Saturday-he had too many chores, and Marie would notice if he didn't come home for lunch. He could go and ask Jed on Saturday though. That shouldn't take too much time. He sighed. He really didn't want to miss a single day of school. He loved school. He was hoping he'd be able to go to college one day. And he'd have to get Hoss to cover for him at school. That was going to be difficult. Hoss wasn't real good at telling lies or keeping secrets. He turned the idea over and over in his mind. It wasn't a great plan, but it was the best he could
come up with to help his little brother.

Once Adam and Hoss arrived at school the next morning, they asked Mr Taylor for permission to search for the missing money, but the search was just as unsuccessful as Adam had expected. The day was long and dreary for both of them; Hoss because he was still upset, and Adam because he was so tired. Mr Taylor was so displeased with Adam's inattention that he did keep him after school, and threatened to send a note home if his behavior didn't improve. That didn't fit
in with Adam's plans at all. Hoss was still upset as they rode home from school, so Adam tried to cheer him up.

"Listen, little brother," Adam said. "I've got a plan to get you that money. I won't tell you what it is yet, but you'll have to help me do my chores on Saturday because I've got somewhere I have to go. But we can't tell Marie. It's a good thing Pa's still away."

Hoss brightened immediately. He had every confidence in Adam. "Sure Adam. I'll do your chores. Where are ya goin' ta go?"

Adam shook his head. "I won't tell you in case it doesn't come off. But if it does there's another part of the plan I'll need your help with, but I'll tell you later. Just make sure Marie doesn't know I'm going somewhere. Think you can keep that a secret?"

Hoss nodded. "Sure Adam" he said happily.

Saturday morning, bright and early Adam sneaked off to the diggings. It was a long ride, and by the time he'd found Jed it was later than he'd hoped. Jed was in the saloon-tent having a beer. He saw Adam and called him over.

"Hey, kid" he called. "C'mon and join me."

Adam hesitated a moment. He knew exactly what Pa would say if he caught him in the saloon, but, he thought, if he was lucky Pa would never know anything about it! He sat down next to his friend.

Jed grinned at him. "Haven't seen you for a while, kid. Where've you been?"

Adam grinned back. "Pa doesn't like me at the diggings much" he admitted. "I'm not really supposed to be here." Adam didn't add that he wasn't supposed to see Jed either. Pa had checked him out, and he didn't like what he had heard. He had given Adam strict instructions to stay away from Jed-instructions which Adam had conveniently ignored.

Jed slapped him on the back. "Always knew you had a lot of spunk. Have a beer."

Adam shook his head. "No thanks. I'm not trying to get Pa to kill me." he laughed.

"Yeah, I've heard about your Pa. Pretty strait-laced sorta guy, isn't he? Well. I won't push you." He took a swig of his beer and looked at Adam "What are you doin' here, kid?" Adam hated being called kid, but he knew Jed didn't mean anything by it.

"I'm looking for a job. Just for a day. I need some money. I was hoping you'd give me a day's work in the mine." He looked hopefully at his friend.

Jed shook his head. "That's not a real good idea, kid. The mine's a pretty dangerous place, and I wouldn't want you to get hurt."

Adam's heart sank. He'd pinned his hopes on this. He was hugely disappointed, and his face must have shown it.

"This is pretty important to you, huh?"

Adam nodded. "I need the money for someone else." he explained. "Its very important that he get the money." He didn't intentionally mislead Jed, but the way he put it made Jed think that he owed someone a gambling debt. Jed knew about gambling debts. The fight Adam had helped him in had been over a gambling debt. Adam was pretty young to have got mixed up with gamblers, thought Jed, but he'd have to help him out.

"I could lend you the money" he offered.

Adam bit his lip. "That's very nice of you" he said, "but I can't accept. How would I pay you back?"

Jed nodded. The kid had a point. He tapped his fingers on the table, thinking. "Ok," he said finally. "Its against my better judgement, but you come here Monday. My pick boy's sick so you can do his job that day. Be here at seven, and we work till three."

"Thanks Jed" Adam said gratefully. "Er... how much will you be paying? And...will you pay me on the day?"

Jed grinned. "Pick boys get two dollars a day. That enough for you?"

Adam nodded. He'd even have some money left over. That could go towards the book he really wanted, too. "Thanks, Jed. I'd better go. Got chores to do." He rode home, very pleased with himself. He was even more pleased with himself when he got home before lunch, so Marie didn't even know he'd been away.

The only trouble with his plan, thought Adam, was that he was going to have to get Hoss to cover for him at school, and get his homework assignments. He couldn't think of a way to do this without involving Hoss. And he'd have to think of some excuse to leave the house in time to get there. No, he'd just sneak out. He'd pay that particular piper later. At least he wouldn't be home too late. It was going to be pretty hard to explain his absence from home at both ends of the day. He sighed. It wasn't the world's greatest plan, but it was the best he could do. Where else was he going to be able to earn that kind of money?

"Now listen carefully, Hoss." Adam told him. They were in Hoss' room on Sunday night, and Adam was giving him instructions.

"When Mr Taylor asks you where I am, you tell him I was needed to do something else today. Got it? That way you won't be telling lies."

Hoss nodded and repeated carefully, "You were needed to do something else today. Yeah I got it. What if he asks me what?"

Adam frowned. "You tell him you aren't sure. You're only a little kid, no one tells you anything." That was certainly true. No one tells little kids much, although Pa had shared lots of things with him over the years. Pa. That was the biggest thing wrong with his plan. There wasn't a single thing about it Pa would approve of. Well, Pa wasn't due back for three days, so he wouldn't know anything about it. Hoss would get Marie's present, and everything would be fine.

"I'm going to be leaving really early. I'll do most of my chores, but anything I don't have time to do, you'll have to do. And if Marie asks you, well, you don't know where I am, or why I left so early. OK? And you'll have to tell Marie I got kept after school. ...umm...for...daydreaming." He sighed. "That's an awful lot for you to remember. Think you can do it? If you spill the beans you won't get Marie's present. And I'm depending on you."

Hoss nodded proudly. "I can remember, Adam. I won't let you down."

Adam woke in the dark of early morning, and slipped out of the house. He did his chores by the weak light of the moon, afraid that if he lit a lantern someone might see. Lighting flames in barns was a really dangerous thing to do too. It was just sunrise as he arrived at the diggings. Even at that early hour the diggings were a hive of activity. To his relief Jed was there, and he hadn't forgotten. Jed introduced him to Pete, the shift foreman.

Pete looked him up and down. "You're the kid filling in for Johnny, are ya?"

Adam had no idea who Johnny was but he figured that was the regular pick boy's name. He nodded.

"Well, boy, here's what ya gotta do. Pick boys do the errands. Ya gotta take fresh water down to each level, collect the blunt picks, sharpen 'em and take em back. Lucky for you this mine ain't too deep yet-we only got six levels so far. An' no slackin' off, boy. Them miners get mighty hot. Don't appreciate bein' kept thirsty. They c'n get mighty riled. Understand, boy?"

"Yes sir" Adam replied, wondering what on earth he'd let himself in for. He soon found out. He'd thought riding on the steam hoist would be fun, and so it was the first few times. By lunch time, when he got a half hour break, he was hot, tired dirty and sore. The water canisters were heavy, full. The load of picks wasn't too bad, but bending over the sharpening wheel gave him both a backache and a head ache. But the worst part was the dark, hot smelly sweaty mine itself. He decided he really didn't like being underground, at all. He wanted the clean sweet smell of the Ponderosa pines in his nostrils. Pete was right about no chance for slacking off. He'd been a bit slow with the water for the lowest level, and one of the miners had cuffed him. He got the distinct impression too that if he hadn't been new to the job the miner would have been much harsher with him. He wondered if Johnny was really sick, or just wanted a day off! By the time the whistle blew for the end of shift, Adam had a real appreciation for the work the miners did. Pa had always expected him to work hard on the ranch but the mine was something else again.
He didn't think he'd ever worked so hard in his life. No wonder they got paid so much, he thought.

The thought of pay made him drag himself to his feet and hunt out Jed. He was in the saloon-tent again.

"Sure you don't want a beer, kid?" he asked. "Man needs to clear his throat of all that dust after a day's work."

"No thanks" he said. A cool drink would have been nice, but he had enough to worry about without drinking beer. "Could I have my pay, Jed? I've gotta be getting on home." he said anxiously.

Jed laughed and handed him two dollar coins. "Foreman said you did a good day's work" he told Adam. "Said he'd be happy to hire you permanently if you want a job."

Adam grinned. "I think my Pa would have something to say about that. But its nice to know I did OK. Thanks."

It was so late that he didn't think any later would make a difference. Marie was going to be really mad with him anyway, so he stopped off at a creek on the way home to clean up. He hadn't thought to bring a towel or clean clothes so he was going to have to go home with dirty clothes. Maybe he could say he'd been in a fight? No, Marie didn't approve of fighting any more than Pa did. That excuse wouldn't work. It was only as he got closer to home that he decided on his alibi for his stepmother. His horse had shied at a rattlesnake and thrown him. He was all right, just a bit dirty and bruised. That was good. That would explain the dirt and the soreness.

Hoss's day hadn't been particularly easy either. Hoss really was no good at telling lies. His first problem came when Marie couldn't find Adam at breakfast time. She was annoyed. "Adam knows he's not supposed to go off like that" she said crossly. "And he's left you to get to school by yourself."

Hoss brightened. Now there was an idea. "I could stay home today," he offered, hopefully.

Marie laughed, her irritation diffused. "No, Hoss, you need an education. I know what a good woodsman you are. You can get yourself there all right, can't you?" The last thing Marie wanted to do was take the time to drive Hoss to school. Trying to control a horse and keep two-year-old Little Joe under control was almost impossible.

"I can manage, Mama" Hoss said. "I know the way. I'll go straight there." Hoss very briefly considered the idea of playing hooky himself, but then he remembered Adam was depending on him to carry out his part of the plan. He couldn't let Adam down. After all, Adam was doing this for him. He rode to school rehearsing his lines all the way. He had to sound convincing, Adam had told him, or Mr Taylor would smell a rat.

Harold Taylor smiled at Hoss as he came in. "Where's Adam?" he asked pleasantly.

Hoss looked a bit worried. "Adam was needed to do something else today, sir" he said carefully.

"Oh? What?" Mr Taylor asked him, casually.

", I'm not sure" Hoss stammered.

Mr Taylor was surprised at Hoss' response. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable question to him. One that Hoss should have been able to answer without stammering. He frowned at Hoss. "Is your father back, yet, Hoss?" he asked.

"No sir" answered Hoss, glad that something he'd been asked he could answer honestly.

"I see. You may take your seat."

Hoss escaped to his seat, relieved. He had an unpleasant feeling that Mr Taylor didn't believe him. Hoss was quite right. Mr Taylor didn't believe him, but he felt there was no purpose in pushing the point with Hoss. Adam would have to face up to the consequences of his own actions, and Adam was fourteen, not eight. It really wasn't kind of Adam to drag his little brother into this, Harold Taylor thought.

It was one of the longest schooldays of Hoss' life. Mr Taylor kept looking at him, and even though he didn't get asked more questions than usual, he couldn't keep his mind on his work. Mr Taylor called him to order several times, and finally, when Hoss didn't complete his spelling properly, said, sternly. "Eric, you will remain after school today and do your spelling again."

Hoss looked unhappy. "Yes sir" he whispered. As he worked on his spelling after school, he wondered unhappily whether this day could get any worse. It could. It did. His father walked into the schoolroom. His heart hit his boots. He had the answer to his question. The day had just got as bad as it could possibly get.


Ben had managed to get home early, and he was happy. When he'd arrived home, Joe was asleep, and Marie had been taking the opportunity to weed the vegetable garden. Her face lit up and she hugged him. "Oh Ben, you're three days early. How wonderful to see you."

He held her tightly and kissed her soundly. "I'll try to get home early in future if I get a reception like that" he grinned. He tucked her under his arm and they went inside.

"I've sold the cattle for top dollar" he told her proudly. "And I tied up that lumber contract. Things should start looking up for us now. How have things been here?"

Marie smiled. "Fine. No problems at all. Except Little Joe being into everything whenever he's awake." They both laughed. Little Joe was a handful, all right. Just as Marie poured Ben a cup of coffee, their handful woke up.

"Papa" he yelled with glee. He'd missed his father.

Ben cuddled him. "I do miss my family when I'm away." He had a sudden thought. "I know, I'll go and meet the boys at school." he said.

"That's a nice idea, as long as little mischief here doesn't throw a tantrum when you leave." Marie observed.

Ben kissed his little son. "Papa's going to get Adam and Hoss from school. When I come back, I've got some candy for you. But only if you're a good boy for Mama while I'm gone and don't cry. OK?"

Little Joe nodded. He loved candy.

Marie frowned. "Ben, you shouldn't bribe him," she scolded.

Ben smiled. "I know, but I've brought something back for all the boys. If his present serves double duty, who are we to complain?" They both chuckled as Ben mounted his horse again.

He arrived at the school just as the children were being let out and decided he might as well go and have a chat to Harold Taylor about the boys while he was here. He didn't often get a chance to speak to him without making a special trip, or at church, where such things weren't appropriate or always possible. He walked into the schoolroom. Ben frowned to see Hoss sitting at his desk, working on his spelling. Mr Taylor rose as Ben walked into the room. "Ben, how nice to see you.
Did you have a good trip?"

Ben shook his hand. "Just fine, thanks, Harold. What has young Eric been up to?"

Hoss gulped. He only got his real name when Pa was mad with him.
"I'm afraid he couldn't keep his mind on his work this afternoon, so I kept him after school to do it again," he told the boy's father.

"I see" Ben looked around the room. "Where's Adam?"

"He didn't seem to make it to school this morning. Eric told me that he was needed to do something else today. I rather doubted his story, but I assumed Adam put him up to covering for him."

Ben was very angry but he only nodded. "Undoubtedly. Do you mind if I take Eric home now?  He can finish this work at home."

"Of course. I expect I'll see Adam bright and early tomorrow morning."

"You can be sure you will ," Ben said grimly. He took Hoss by the shoulder and led him out to the horses. Ben was both angry and disappointed. He'd looked forward to seeing his sons, and it hurt him that they behaved like this when he was not at home. He told Hoss so when they got home. Actually, Ben was more annoyed with Hoss about being inattentive in school and getting kept after than he was about his covering for Adam. Adam had undoubtedly put him up to it, and
as far as their father was concerned the blame could be laid squarely at Adam's feet. He went inside the house with a dejected Hoss trailing behind him. Marie was surprised at the anger on Ben's and the misery on Hoss' face.

"What's the matter? Where's Adam?" she asked.

"That's a good question." Ben said angrily. "And when he does manage to turn up that's the first thing I shall ask him."

Adam arrived home an hour late. He was hoping that Hoss had remembered to tell Marie that he'd been kept after for daydreaming, that plus the snake story should keep him out of too much trouble, he thought, as he led his horse into the stable. He unsaddled his horse, still thinking about his alibi when it suddenly occurred to him that his father's horse was in its stall. He froze. PA was home. Early. He hadn't counted on that. He chewed his lip a moment, thinking. One way or another Pa would have the truth out of him. He pulled one of the dollar coins out of his pocket and hid it in the tack room. Whatever else happened, at least Hoss would get his money. He didn't want to have spent that horrible day down the mine for nothing. He sighed to himself, as he finished grooming the horse. How was he going to deal with this? He decided to brazen it out. If Hoss had got his story right, he might get away with it. He squared his shoulders and entered the house.

"Hi Pa" he said, "I'm glad you're home. Did you have a good trip?"

"Are you?" asked his father, in a deceptively polite, calm voice. "Why are you late home?"

"I got..," he started and then saw Hoss frantically shaking his head behind his father's back. He bit his lip. He wasn't sure what to say. Fortunately for him, Ben wasn't expecting an answer.

"I got home early," he said still in that same voice, "and I thought I'd ride up to the school and ride home with my sons. Imagine my surprise when I find one son kept behind for being inattentive in school," and his voice grew louder, "and the other son nowhere in sight because he hadn't even been to school!" he finished in a roar. "So I ask you Adam, where have you been?"

Adam looked at the floor. This was much harder than he'd expected. "Look at me when I speak to you, boy." Ben ordered. "And don't lie to me. You're in enough trouble without lying to me as well."

Adam tried to look at his father, but he couldn't. Pa was really angry. If there was one thing that really made Ben Cartwright angry, it was dishonesty. He decided to tell most of the truth. "I wanted to go to the diggings again."

Ben stared at him in disbelief. He was so angry he could hardly find his voice. "You wanted to go to the diggings? You got your little brother to lie for you so you could go to the diggings?" he spluttered. "How dare you? I spoke to you not all that long ago about going to the diggings, and now you make it even worse?" he bellowed. "Well? Answer me boy!"

Adam looked up at his father briefly and looked down at the floor again. "Yes sir" he said quietly.

"What were you doing at the diggings? Have you been with that Davis fellow again?" Ben's voice was low and threatening. Ben didn't like what he'd heard about Jed Davis, and Adam had been warned to stay away from him.

"Yes sir," Adam replied, hoping it would be enough. It wasn't. Pa hadn't forgotten about the first question.

"What were you doing there, Adam? You don't need all day to go to the diggings, and you certainly don't need to be out before dawn. What was the attraction that kept you out for twelve hours?"

Adam was scared. Pa knew far too much. If he already knew about the mine, and he lied, things would be even worse for him. He figured he might as well tell the truth.

"I...I...was working in the mine." he said in a rush.

Ben stared at him in disbelief.

"You were what?" he roared.

"Working in the mine. I got a job for one day as a pick boy in the mine."

"Working in the mine?" echoed his father. "Did you enjoy working there? Perhaps you'd like to leave school and work there instead. We could certainly use the money."

Adam’s eyes widened. Pa couldn't be serious, could he? He blinked back tears. ", Pa." he stammered.

"All right. Tell me why you were working in the mine?" demanded his father. He'd gone past angry now.

Adam licked his lips. He was in for a tanning whichever way he looked at it, but maybe he could protect Hoss. He figured Hoss was already in trouble over covering for him.

"I needed some money, sir." Adam confessed.

Ben's eyebrows raised. "You needed some money? What for?"

This was the tricky part, Adam thought. He took a deep breath. "I can't tell you, sir. Its someone else's secret and I promised I wouldn't tell. Its not for anything bad, Pa." He watched his father's face as he digested this information. He didn't like what he saw. Pa was going to kill him.

Ben Cartwright's mouth dropped open. That was the last reply he'd expected. He glared at Adam. "I asked you what you needed the money for, boy," he said in clipped tones. "now answer me."

Adam shook his head. "I'm sorry Pa, I can't. I gave my word." he said stubbornly. He looked directly at his father. Ben knew Adam was stubborn. If it came to a battle of wills over this, neither of them would win. It was possible that he could force the boy to tell him, but the cost would be too great. Besides, he had taught the boy to keep his word.

"Very well." Ben said sternly. "I accept that you can't tell me. I'm glad that you've managed to learn at least one of the lessons I've been trying to teach you." He paused, watching relief flicker briefly across Adam's face. The boy's secret was clearly very important to him. He hoped that it really wasn't "anything bad", but he would have to wait and find out. It would come out eventually. Ben continued. "It seems however, you have failed to learn the lessons about honesty and obedience, and I will have to reinforce those lessons. I had decided you were too old to be tanned, but you've disproved that by your behaviour. I will not accept dishonesty or disobedience in my son. We will continue this discussion in the barn. Get yourself out there now!" Adam fled. Ben sighed and followed slowly.

Adam buried his face in his arms and cried. The session in the barn with his father had been particularly unpleasant. Ben believed there was no purpose in punishing a child unless that child knew exactly what he was being punished for. The tanning itself had been painful enough, but what hurt Adam more was what his father had had to say about his disappointment in Adam, and his lack of trustworthiness. It wasn't the playing hooky, but the planned disobedience and the lies that went with it. Dragging his little brother into his deceit just made it all that much worse. Adam hated his father to be disappointed with him. It had taken all Adam's willpower to stop himself from telling his father that he'd been doing it for Hoss, so it wasn't as bad as it seemed. Adam knew how Pa felt about dishonesty. Pa would never forgive him. And he was on a month restriction and extra chores. He wondered if it had all been worth it.

Hoss sneaked into his room. "Do ya hurt much, Adam?" he asked anxiously.

Adam tried to smile through his tears. "I'm ok, Hoss" he tried to reassure his little brother. "It hurts, but I'll live. Pa's real mad at me though."

Hoss patted him. "I could tell Pa it was all my fault." he offered. "Then maybe he won't be."

Adam glared at him. "Don't you dare!" he hissed. "I didn't go through all that for nothing. Not a word to Pa. You hear me?" He grabbed Hoss' arm hard and shook him.

Tears welled up in Hoss' eyes. "I'm sorry" he said, rubbing his arm. "I won't say anythin'. I just don't want Pa to be mad at ya."  

"No, I'm sorry, Hoss." He fished in his pocket. At least he still had the money. "Here. Here's your dollar. You'll have to go to the trading post in the morning, before school and get Marie's present. We'll just have to be late for school." He sighed. It had been a stupid plan, but it had been his stupid plan. He had no one else to blame but himself, but what worried him more than anything else was his father's suggestion that he should leave school. He didn't know if Pa was serious or not. Adam spent a lot of the night awake, wondering.

When Adam asked permission the next morning to leave a little early because riding was going to be painful, to say the least, Ben took pity on him and allowed it. He could see the tell tale dark rings under Adam's eyes that showed he'd had a sleepless night. He wondered what had kept Adam awake. Perhaps the boy had taken his lecture to heart.

"Don't forget I expect you to apologise to Mr Taylor" he reminded Adam as they left. Leaving early gave the boys a chance to get to the trading post.

"Glad to see you found your money after all" the man behind the counter said.

"Uh...Yeah" said Hoss uncertainly.

Adam came to his rescue. "Thank you for holding the package for my little brother. He was afraid you wouldn't keep it for him".

The man smiled. "I knew Ben Cartwright's boys would be good for it," he replied. Adam smiled back uneasily. If only he knew, he thought. When he saw the pleasure and pride on his little brother's face as he made his purchase, though, he decided that it had all been worth it. They even made it to school on time. Adam apologized to Mr Taylor. He knew Pa would check up on him. It was going to take some time before Pa would trust him again, he thought to himself, sadly. Sam at the trading post was surprised to get a second Cartwright visit in one day when Ben came into the trading post later in the day. He was out of tobacco, and he wanted to get a couple of things for Marie's birthday.

Sam greeted him with a smile, as Ben selected his purchases. While he was paying Sam said, "Glad your youngster found his money. I was beginning to wonder if he was ever going to pick up that package."

"Found his money?" Ben said with surprise. "I guess I hadn't caught up with that one. Did he pick up his package?"

"Yeah, this morning," Sam said. "Took him a while to find it, I guess."

"Yeah, I guess so. Thanks, Sam" Ben said mechanically. So that was what Adam had wanted the money for. He smiled to himself. It was so typical of Adam to take the hard road! At least he hadn't tried to make Adam tell him what the money was for. It put a whole new light on Adam's misbehavior. He'd been wrong to lie and to sneak off, but his motive was good. He would have a talk with him after school.

That afternoon as Adam was doing his chores his father entered the barn leading his horse. As he began to rub down the horse he said. "I had an interesting talk down at the trading post, today, Adam."

Adam looked up, worried. "Did you Pa?" he asked. "What about?"

"I was just chatting about this and that when Sam told me he was glad my youngster had found his money." He paused. "I didn't know what he was talking about. Do you?"

Adam was startled. "Uh, yeah, Pa. mislaid his money when we went in just after you went to San Francisco. We had to go later to buy Marie's present." He risked a look at his father. "Hoss was so upset when he lost it..." he added.

"I'm sure he was." Ben remarked drily. "That was what you wanted the money for, wasn't it?"

"Yes sir." He eyed his father warily. "I only wanted to help Hoss." he explained. Was he in more trouble? Was he going to get Hoss in trouble? Ben stopped grooming his horse for a moment, and smiled at his son, reading his thoughts. "No," he said gently, "you're not in more trouble. I will have a talk to Hoss about his carelessness, but that can wait until after Marie's birthday. It was a very kind thing for you to do, Adam. Stupid, but kind."

Adam smiled tentatively. "I knew it was stupid, and I knew you wouldn't approve, Pa. I just couldn't think of a way to help him otherwise." He sighed. "I guess I hoped you wouldn't find out, but I should have known you would. There were so many places for my plan to go wrong, and I think all of them did. I'm really sorry, Pa."

Ben smiled at him."Yes, I know you are, Adam, and I forgive you. The restriction and extra chores still stand, however. Whatever your reason for your behaviour, you did both lie and disobey." Adam nodded. That was to be expected. At least Pa wasn't mad with him any more.

Then Ben asked, "What was it like in the mine, Adam?"

"It was awful Pa. I worked really hard." Adam told him about the activities of the previous day.

"Did you enjoy working there, son?" he asked.

Adam paled. Pa wasn't serious about taking him out of school was he? "No sir. I didn't like it at all." What he said next really surprised his father. He took a deep breath and with his voice quavering just a little said, "Pa, if you're going to take me out of school, could...could you please let me work on the ranch? I'll work hard, Pa. I promise. I hated being underground. Please?" He looked up at his father anxiously. The boy's distress was obvious.

Ben looked at him in astonishment. "Why would I take you out of school? You know how important I think an education is." Then he realized. He'd said something about it last night when he'd been so angry. Poor Adam. He'd been stewing over that all day, and all last night too, knowing Adam. He put his arm around Adam's slender shoulders and hugged him. "Son, have you been worrying about what I said last night?"

Adam nodded, anxious eyes fixed on his father's face.

"Adam, we all say things we don't mean when we're angry. I didn't realise you'd taken it so seriously." He smiled at his son. "No, son. I'm not taking you out of school. You'll just have to wait till you're older."

Adam's shaky laugh was one of sheer relief.

The day of Marie's birthday dawned bright and sunny. Hoss was up very early. He was more excited about Marie's birthday than Marie was herself. He was so excited about giving her the present he'd earned for her that he could hardly even eat his breakfast, a most unusual situation for Hoss. In the face of his excitement Ben gave up any pretense of it being a normal day and let the boys give Marie their gifts before they'd finished breakfast. Hoss was so proud as he handed
over the package. Marie opened it and drew out the pretty scarf. "Oh. Hoss, it's beautiful" she exclaimed.

"Do you really like it, Mama?" he asked eagerly.

She smiled and hugged him. "Yes, I do." She glanced up at her husband. "Ben, should you have given him so much..."

He cut her off. "Nothing to do with me. It was his money." he grinned.

She looked surprised. "What do you mean, his money? Where did you get the money to buy it?" she asked him, with a smile.

Hoss drew himself up as tall as he could at this. "I earned it." he said proudly. "Pa paid me when I did extra chores and I earned ..oops" he said, putting his hand over his mouth. "I nearly told you how much."

She laughed and hugged him again. "It is beautiful. It will go with my Sunday dress."

She liked Adam's gift too. He'd finished the jewellery box and lined it with soft satin. The carefully polished wood glowed. "It's a beautiful job." she told him. "I doubt that I could buy one as fine." Ben agreed. Adam was very pleased with himself. He was pleased that Marie liked it, but getting his father's praise meant a lot to him. After a cheerful breakfast, Ben took Little Joe off Marie's hands for a while. He took the toddler into the barn while he checked on the buggy, which he'd asked Adam to polish up as one of his extra chores. Ben was going to take Marie out for the afternoon, and he wanted to be sure Adam had done the job right. Little Joe was full of beans as he followed his father inside the barn.

"Now come on Little Joe", he scolded, "you know you're not supposed to go near the horses." He picked the little boy up. "I'll take you to pat them."

Joe wriggled and squirmed. He didn't want to be carried. "No" he yelled, kicking "Joe walk."

Ben chuckled and put him down. "All right, you walk. Where do you want to walk to?"

Little Joe giggled. "Horsies" he said decisively. He ran towards them.

Ben grabbed him again. "No, Joe, you mustn't run behind the horses. They might hurt you."

Little Joe stamped his feet. "Horsies," he yelled, tears in his eyes.

Ben sighed. This child really was a handful. He led him over to the horses.

He lifted Little Joe up to pat the horse. "Nice horsie" Joe said. Then he’d had enough. "Down" he demanded.

Ben put him down but before he could stop him Little Joe was off again. He led his father a merry dance around the barn until Little Joe tripped over and landed in a pile of hay. He yelled but as Ben picked him up Joe caught sight of something white in the darkest corner of the barn. He squirmed out of his father's grasp and grabbed the object. Ben took it off him. You never knew what was hiding in odd corners, and everything still went straight into Joe's mouth. It was a dirty handkerchief, with something tied up in it. Ben untied it. There in the dirty handkerchief was a bright, shiny dollar.

"Mine" demanded Joe, grabbing for it.

Ben shook his head, and moved it out of Joe’s reach. "No, Joe, I think this is Hoss'." He chuckled to himself. Adam had said they'd looked everywhere, but it seemed there was one place they'd missed. "Adam!" he called. "Adam!"

Adam was chopping wood. "What now?" he wondered. He couldn't think of anything else he'd done wrong. He put down the axe and turned as his father came out of the barn.

"Oh there you are, Adam. I've got something to show you. I found it in the barn." Ben held out the handkerchief with the coin nestling in it.

Adam looked at it, then up at his father. His expression was one of sheer disbelief. "Hoss' money?" he asked. "You found Hoss' money?"

Ben kept his face straight, but it was very hard. Adam's face was a picture. He nodded. "It was in the barn. In the corner of Hoss' horse's stall." he told his son.

"In the barn?" he echoed. "It was in the barn all the time?" His voice rose to a squeak. "You mean I went through all that all for nothing? Missing school and going down that awful mine all for nothing!" he spluttered.

"I'm afraid so, son." A thought struck him. "Didn't you think to look in the barn?"

Adam shook his head. "No sir. We looked everywhere else I could think of, but it never occurred to me, once, to look in the barn! Just wait till I tell Hoss!"

Ben couldn't help it. Adam's tone of total disgust really was funny. He laughed, hard. Then the situation got to Adam, too and he joined in his father's laughter.

Ben stopped laughing. He put his arm round Adam. "Actually son, it wasn't quite all for nothing. I'd like to think you've learned at least one other valuable lesson." He paused for a moment.

"What's that, Pa?" asked Adam, bracing himself for another lecture.

Ben grinned. "That you should always look in the most obvious places first, if you ever lose anything."

Adam gaped at him. That wasn't at all what he'd expected Pa to say. Then he started to laugh again. "Yes, sir." he managed through his laughter.

Ben grinned again. He started to put the coin in his pocket and changed his mind. He held it out to Adam, instead. "Here, son, I think you should keep it."

"Really?" Adam asked, delighted.

"Really" his father replied. "After all you earned more ways than one." And he laughed at Adam's wry grin.

The End