“And stay out!” the burly bartender bellowed. “There ain’t no work for your thievin’ kind here!” He dusted off his hands and marched back into the dull gloom of the bar, leaving the boy he’d just thrown out sprawled in the dirt almost at Adam Cartwright’s feet.

“Hey!” Adam yelled, interrupting his best friend Ross. Ross glanced down at the boy, now picking himself painfully up off the ground, and then back at Adam.

“Adam, no!” Ross exclaimed, recognising the look on his friend’s face. The look that said, “Here’s someone who needs help, no matter what!” He’d seen that look many times before, and it nearly always got Adam into trouble-usually with his Pa. “That boy’s a gypsy. You know how your Pa feels about gypsies, especially since that tribe stole three beeves last month. And you know what your Pa said about picking up strays!”

Adam pulled a face. “Yeah, I know, Ross, but he’s only a kid.” He went to help the boy up. The boy cringed involuntarily at his touch and then swiped a dirty sleeve across an equally dirty face as he squared thin shoulders.

“I don’t need no help, mister. I don’t want no charity, neither. I jus’ wanna work.”

“It’s all right, kid.” Adam’s voice was gentle, but he carefully refrained from coming too close. “What did you do to upset Sam?” Adam didn’t know the bartender very well; Ben Cartwright was not a man to encourage his seventeen-year-old son to spend much time in saloons, but Sam had always been friendly enough to him.

“Nuthin’” The boy drooped a little. “It’s always the same. They call me a thievin’ gypsy, but I ain’t no thief. I can’t help bein’ a gypsy. It’s what I am.” His dark eyes, too big for the thin face, snapped with hurt and outrage. “I just wanna job. An’ my name’s Jasper, not kid,” he told Adam, indignation brightening him up again.

Adam laughed. “Sorry. Jasper it is. Where’s your family?”

The boy ducked his head as a flush stained his cheeks. “The tribe didn’t want me when my Mama died. They didn’t want no…no half-breeds.” His voice was soft, but Adam could hear the pain in it, so bravely hidden.

“You got anything you’re good at?” Adam asked, wanting to help. Jasper was just a kid.

 The boy’s face lit. “I like working with horses.” The light faded. “The guy at the livery threw me out too.”

Adam tilted his head to one side, considering the boy. “You ever worked on a ranch?”

Ross’ sharp intake of breath attracted Adam’s attention. “Adam! You can’t! Your Pa will kill you!” Ross had known Adam’s Pa for many years, and the idea of  facing Ben’s anger didn’t cheer him at all. He watched Adam’s face, and what he saw made him nervous. “You’re on your own, boy,”  he told Adam. “ I ain’t facing your Pa.”

“I didn’t ask you to.” The voice was flat, uncompromising. Ross knew that voice. There were going to be major ructions at the Ponderosa between Adam and his father. He’d seen Adam butt heads with his father before and he certainly didn’t want to be caught in the middle. He definitely wasn’t going to the Ponderosa tonight.

It was almost suppertime by the time Adam and Jasper rode into the yard of the Ponderosa. Skittish Sport had taken a little while to settle down to two riders, although not nearly as long as Adam had expected. Adam was not surprised to see his father standing, hands on hips, on the porch.

“You’re late,” he said without preamble, his voice harsh. “You should have been back three hours ago.

“Sorry, Pa,” Adam said with a lightness he wasn’t quite feeling now that he could see his father’s stormy face. “I met Ross, and I brought home someone.” He pulled Jasper to the front. “Pa, I’d like you to meet Jasper. I’ve offered him a job.”

Jasper held out a thin hand. Ben took it automatically then looked at the boy properly. There was a very long silence. Skinny, dirty, ragged and obviously a gypsy. Ben took a very deep breath.

“Find Jasper a bed in the bunkhouse and some food. Then I’ll see you inside.” Each word was clipped. He turned and stalked into the house.

Uh-oh, Adam thought. Pa’s a lot angrier than I expected. Perhaps I overestimated his tolerance.

“Uh, Mr Adam?” Jasper’s timid voice broke into his thoughts. He turned and smiled at the boy. The boy’s anxious eyes looked up at him. “Your Pa’s real mad, ain’t he?” he asked. “I don’t want ya to get in trouble.”

Adam forced a smile. “It’s not you. My father doesn’t like surprises,” he explained.

It was a while before Adam came in. It was a homely, comforting scene. The fire burned brightly in the big fireplace, the smell of supper wafted out from the kitchen where Hop Sing was rattling dishes as he prepared the meal, his little brothers were talking loudly as they washed up for supper. There was nothing comforting about the expression on Ben’s face as he sat behind his desk, puffing furiously on his pipe; the big ledgers open in front of him. He had worked himself into a fine rage and he didn’t even wait until the young man had put his gun belt down.

“What do you mean by bringing a boy like that here?” he demanded.
His father’s tone set something off in Adam. “A boy like what? A hungry one, you mean?” He sounded far calmer than he felt.

“I mean a gypsy. You know they can’t be trusted. Look what happened when that last caravan came through here!” Ben’s voice rose with his anger.

 “That’s ridiculous, Pa! You can’t compare the cases. That was a tribe. This is just one person-a scared, hungry kid! What would you have me do? Leave him alone and hungry in the streets of Virginia City? You taught me not to succumb to prejudices. Besides,” and Adam played his trump card, “How many times were you thrown out of places because the owners didn’t want vagrants hanging about?” He spat out the word, bringing back unpleasant memories for both himself and his father.

Ben glared at him. “That is entirely different!”

“How?” The question hung in the air, unanswered. It was obvious to his son that he had no answer.

Ben stabbed his finger at Adam. “This is MY ranch, boy. I make the decisions around here. I decide who will stay on this ranch-not you! You don’t just bring home another one of your strays without discussing it with me! I’ve told you before that I will not tolerate you bringing God knows what here! Even if you didn’t think about asking permission, you might at least consider your little brothers. That’s a dangerous world out there, boy, and their safety is paramount! Do you recall what I told you the last time you felt inclined to rescue someone?”

Adam was silent. It had been a while since he had made his father so angry. He did remember. Pa had told him specifically he was not to bring anyone home without permission, among other things. He wavered a little, wondering if he had done the right thing after all. He hadn’t meant to disobey his father. Then he caught sight of his twelve-year-old brother, Hoss, peering nervously round the kitchen door, sympathy for his big brother written all over his round face. It made him think of the scared boy he’d brought home. The doubts vanished.

 “Now, just a minute, Pa,” His angry voice cut across his father’s tirade. “That kid out there is hardly any older than Hoss. What if it were Hoss? Or me? Would you want us to be left hungry and in need?” It was an unfair argument, and Adam knew it. He knew just how much Ben worried about what would happen to the boys if he wasn’t around, although that worry had faded a little as Adam grew.

As Adam’s words sank in, Ben realised the boy was right. That was just a child out there. He probably would have done the same thing himself. It didn’t make him any less angry, but he took refuge in a mundane disciplinary matter instead.

“You watch your manners, boy. How dare you raise your voice to me?”
Adam knew he’d won, if only for now. It wouldn’t hurt to bank his father’s fire. “Sorry, sir,” Adam replied, meekly. A little too meekly, his father considered.

“Hm” Ben grunted, unappeased. “That boy is your responsibility. Anything happens and it will be on your head. Understood?” He waited for Adam’s nod. His tone softened fractionally as his anger cooled. “Have you considered just what you are going to do with him? He’s not like the orphan animals Hoss brings home, you know.”

Adam pinched the bridge of his nose. “I hadn’t thought about it that far,” he admitted. “I just felt that he was being treated unfairly.”

“And you rescued him.” Ben was thoughtful for a moment. “What I said stands, Adam. You are responsible for him. Do you know anything about him?”

“Not much. He’s a…a half-breed. His tribe threw him out when his mother died. He’s been living on his own for about six months.” Adam’s voice was soft. He was beginning to see just what problems he did have. “I will have to see if I can find someone who can take him on.” His eyes brightened as he looked hopefully at his father, but his father shook his head.

“No. I just told you; you can’t keep him. We don’t have the work to keep a boy like that on permanently. He can stay for a month, but you’ll have to find something for him. And on your own time. Not mine.”

Adam’s shoulders sagged. “Yes, sir,” he said, meaning the respect this time. There went any and all of his free time, until he could find something for Jasper. And that wasn’t going to be easy. His father was one of the most tolerant men he knew, and even he didn’t trust gypsies. Where was he going to find a job for Jasper?

First, he had to find out what Jasper could do. He took his responsibility seriously, as always, and his father permitted him to include Jasper in all of the tasks that he was assigned. That those tasks were the ones Adam liked least had more than a little something to do with the fact that his father was seriously displeased with the whole situation and was letting Adam know it in no uncertain terms. Jasper was a hard worker, and he had an instinctive feeling for horses. Adam didn’t want to admit that maybe there was something in the old notion that Gypsies had some kind of magic with horses, but certainly the boy handled them with understanding. Cattle, on the other hand, the boy loathed and made it clear to Adam that he would rather do anything that work with them.

“They’re just so stupid, Mr Adam. Ya tell a horse what to do an’ he does it. You try to get a cow to do somethin’ an’ it does just what you don’t want it to.”

Adam laughed, even though privately he agreed with him, but the cattle had to be brought to the lower meadow, and that’s what they were going to do. Ben was pleased when they completed the job in record time.

“You did well today, Adam,” he remarked over supper. Adam was cheered by the compliment. It was the first time for days Pa hadn’t growled at him.

When he wasn’t working, he visited all the people he knew trying to find Jasper a job. He got varying receptions, but once they saw that Jasper was a gypsy, the result was always the same. “Sorry, Adam, we don’t have any work for a boy.” They meant, specifically, a gypsy boy. Some of his father’s friends pulled him aside and in various polite or less than polite ways, told him much the same thing–Jasper was a gypsy and gypsies were thieves. They couldn’t trust a gypsy. And many of them said, if Ben Cartwright wouldn’t employ him, why should they? Ben was wealthier than many of them. He tried asking about work without Jasper in tow. That didn’t work either. They wanted to know where he was, or they wouldn’t consider him without seeing him.

Adam came in from yet another of these fruitless missions radiating disappointment. Displeased as Ben had been when Adam had brought the boy home, he had come round to approving of what Adam had done and to liking the boy for himself. The boy might be a gypsy, but he was a quick learner and pleasant enough to have around. Hoss had taken to him and the two spent much of their free time together. Ben sighed. He still didn’t like Adam bringing home waifs and strays, but he knew Adam would keep doing it. He applauded the hard work Adam was putting into to finding the boy a place.
 “No success, son?” he asked.

Adam shook his head. “It doesn’t seem to matter who I ask or talk to; no one wants a thirteen year old gypsy anywhere near them. If they aren’t afraid that he’s a thief, they’re afraid that he’ll put some kind of spell on them. The month’s nearly up, and..and…oh, Pa. I don’t know what to do!” He dropped heavily into a chair, his head in his hands, the picture of seventeen-year-old misery and despair.

Ben refrained from saying, ‘I told you so.’ It wouldn’t stop Adam from trying to help the underdogs of this world, and it wouldn’t find Jasper a job either. Much as he wanted to help Jasper, he felt strongly that this had to be Adam’s responsibility. If he persisted in bringing home strays, he had to learn there were consequences.  It looked like the boy would be with them for a while yet. Gypsy or not, Ben was hardly going to turn a child out. He patted Adam’s shoulder. “The month doesn’t matter. You know I won’t throw him out. But you’ll have to keep trying. Have you tried the stables in Virginia City?”

“Yeah, an’ the horse doctor. An’ everyone else I can think of who might be able to use him. It’s the same story all the time, Pa. No one will take him.”

“Tomorrow I want you to take those two new horses over to Carson City. Charlie Abernathy has been asking for them. Take Jasper. Maybe you’ll get lucky! Charlie might want a hand.” He clapped Adam’s shoulder.

Adam didn’t laugh at his father’s remark even though the idea of curmudgeonly Charlie taking Jasper in was ludicrous. Charlie owned the livery stables in Carson City, and the only thing he valued more than his stables was his  pretty sixteen-year-old daughter, Corinna. Charlie hated almost everything else with a passion. Especially gypsies. And small boys. Adam heaved a sigh as these thoughts swirled around his head.

“Is somethin’ wrong, Mr Adam?” Jasper asked. He liked Mr Adam. He was the first person who had been kind to him since his mother had died. He had even stood up for him with Mr Cartwright.

“N-no, I was just thinking,” Adam replied hastily, recalled from his thoughts by his companion.

Jasper nodded but didn’t reply. If Mr Adam didn’t want to talk, that was fine with him. Jasper had that rare quality of being able to not only endure silence but to tell when not to talk, so he stayed quiet as they finished the ride into Carson City.

“Thanks, boy,” Abernathy growled as Adam signed the receipt for the money. He was secretly very proud that his father trusted him with it.

“I don’t see young Dave here, “ Adam remarked as he put the money away carefully.
“Had to fire him,” was the laconic reply.

“You wouldn’t want to hire another one would you?” Adam asked hopefully. “Jasper here’s looking for a job for the winter.”

“Hire that…that… gypsy?” he responded, his disgust evident.
 Adam looked around quickly, but Jasper was on the other side of the stable’s corral, and hadn’t heard.

“He’s a really good worker. And he’s no trouble. All the men on the ranch like him,” Adam offered quickly.

“If he’s so likeable why don’t you keep him?” Charlie laughed, pleased with his own witticism. “I don’t know what the Cartwrights are doin’ with a gypsy, but I don’t hold no truck with them. They’re all thieves. No, I ain’t going to hire him.”

Adam was disappointed but not surprised. He turned to call Jasper when the afternoon was split by a scream and a horse thundered past the corral with a girl clinging to its back. The horse had been running hard–its brown flanks were darkened with sweat and lather flecked it. The girl’s long brown hair was blowing out behind her, and her long skirts had been thrown up to catch on the saddle. Adam caught a quick glimpse of a pale and frightened face as the horse pelted past him, the girl trying desperately to reach the reins she had dropped

“ That’s my Corinna! That horse is heading to the river!” Charlie exclaimed, afraid for his daughter. Even as he ran to the horses someone was there before him. A slight figure leaped onto the back of one of the horses and took off after the runaway.

“Jasper!” Adam yelled, taking off after him.

 Jasper took no notice. He was bent low over the horse’s neck, his fists locked in its mane, his heels drumming on its ribs. He whispered in its ear, pleading, begging, encouraging it to go faster. It responded to whatever Jasper’s magic was as he pushed it harder. He could see the river ahead; its waters swift and cold. Corinna would have little chance in that with a frightened horse and her heavy skirts. He urged the horse on. “C’mon, we’re catching up!” he told the horse. The horse responded and as they drew level, Jasper leaned across and grabbed the trailing reins of the runaway. There wasn’t a chance he could haul the frightened animal down–he just wasn’t strong enough, but he did his best. The horse slowed in its headlong rush for a moment, then took off again, dragging an unexpected weight along behind it. It pulled Jasper off his horse. He couldn’t keep his feet, but he hung onto the rein for dear life, regardless of the risk to himself. His weight slowed the horse further, allowing Adam and Charlie to catch up and stop it, just on the bank of the river. Charlie lifted his frightened daughter down.

“Sweetheart? Are you all right?” Charlie asked, with a tenderness Adam had never heard him use before.

“I’m fine, Papa. Rainbow was spooked by a snake.” She shuddered, and her father folded her into his arms. “I was so scared.” She smiled across at Jasper. “I don’t know who you are, but thank you!”

She impulsively leaned over and kissed Jasper on the cheek.
“It’s ok,” he muttered, embarrassed as only a thirteen-year-old can be .

“Oh! You’ve hurt yourself! You’re bleeding!” she exclaimed.

Jasper looked down at himself. He hadn’t noticed before. His pants were ripped and torn where he’d been dragged over the rocks, and there was a spreading patch of blood on his knees. His arms were scraped and raw too, and there was a big tear in the front of his now very dirty shirt.

“Come on, boy, we’ll clean you up,” Charlie said gruffly.

Jasper was bathed and bandaged by Adam and Charlie. He was silent through the whole process, although he winced as they cleaned the dirt out of his abrasions.

“I’m sorry, Mr Adam,” he said finally. “I’ll pay for them.”

Adam was puzzled. “Pay for what?”

“The clothes. I didn’t mean to damage them,” he said.

Charlie stared at the boy sitting in front of him. “Where did you get those clothes from, boy?”

“Mr Adam lent them to me. My own were dirty, and Mr Hop Sing said they had to be washed.” He looked very unhappy. “I’ll pay for them,” he repeated, “but I’ll havta wait till the month’s end.”

Charlie Abernathy folded his arms across this chest and leaned against the doorframe. “Let me get this straight,” he said, his voice puzzled. “You tore them clothes rescuing my daughter and now you want to pay for damaging them?”

Jasper nodded. “I don’t take nuthin’ that ain’t mine,” he said proudly. He suddenly remembered the horse. “I’m sorry I took your horse without permission.” He swallowed really hard and blinked back tears. “I know they hang horse thieves.” His voice had dropped to barely above a whisper, and it  shook.

Suddenly, Charlie saw, there in front of him not one of ‘them thievin’ gypsies’, but a scared, injured youngster–a youngster who had saved his precious daughter, at great risk to himself.

“Like horses, do you, boy?”

Jasper nodded, a quick smile flitting across his pale face. “Yes, sir.”

Adam grinned. “They certainly like him. I haven’t seen a horse that didn’t yet.”

“Good,” Charlie said. “That’ll be real good in a livery stable.”

Jasper turned a puzzled face to Adam, who, quicker on the uptake, smiled broadly. “I think Mr Abernathy is offering you a job.”

“If ya want it, that is,” the man said gruffly. “I expect people who work for me to work hard, but ya get fair pay for it. An’ not just a job. A home. But I won’t have no thievin’. You do right by me, boy and I’ll do right by you. Deal?”

Jasper looked dazed. “I..I…don’t know what to say.”

“Say, ‘yes, sir’,” Adam advised him, grinning.

“Yes, sir!” Jasper said, obediently.

Ben met Adam in the yard of the Ponderosa. “Everything all right son?” he asked, noting Adam’s preoccupied face.

“Yes, sir. Here’s the money,” he said, extracting it from his pocket.

“You seem to have mislaid something on your way home.”

Adam’s querying expression made him laugh.


“Oh, Jasper! Pa, Charlie did give him a job! I left him there. He was too sore to ride.” He quickly described the day’s events. At the end of his recital, his brow wrinkled. “What if Charlie changes his mind, Pa? What happens if he stops being grateful and remembers Jasper’s a gypsy?”

“What happened once Jasper settled in here?” his father asked.

“People got to know him for…oh, I see,” Adam said. “Once they get to know each other it won’t matter that he’s a gypsy. And Jasper will prove his worth.”

“That’s right. As you have, once again, to me.” He clasped Adam’s shoulder briefly, and his son smiled his lovely slow smile that went right to his eyes. The one Ben didn’t see nearly often enough.

“And Jasper has one more thing going for him, son. A good friend, who will stand up for him against all comers-even his own father. You and your underdogs!” He shook his head .

“It’s your own fault, Pa,” Adam told him. “You shouldn’t have raised me to be just like you!” He evaded the playful swat his father aimed at him as he led his horse into the barn. At the door, he turned for a moment. “Admit it, Pa. You wouldn’t have me any other way.”

Ben chuckled, “No, I wouldn’t. But I could wish you didn’t always have to choose the harder road, son.” He shook his head. “Of course, then you wouldn’t be my Adam,” he said, too quietly for Adam to hear. His smile was proud.

August 2002