The Final Bequest
A retrospective on two episodes of Bonanza
Sharon Kay Bottoms
It’s hard to watch your best friend die. Harder
still when you’re the one that puts the noose around his neck. Pa
says I did the right thing, and Adam, too, of course. Never any shades
of gray with him, all black and white with never a doubt that he’s done
the right thing. Me, I always doubt myself, even when I know I’m right.
I was right this time, wasn’t I . . . finally? Took me long enough
to decide, but I think I knew from the very start that what Seth was asking
me to do was wrong. Must be why I woke up screaming, “Seth, no!” like
Adam told me later, ‘cause I knew, deep down, Seth was wrong. He was
my friend, though, my very best friend in all this world, next to Hoss, and
as I watch him mount those stairs to the gallows, I can’t help but feel like
I’ve betrayed him.
It was either that or betray Sara, though. She
had a right to know, didn’t she, what kind of man she was marrying?
Yes, that much I’m sure of, ‘cause once she knew that Seth had killed her
father, she wanted no part of marrying him. What if she’d found out
years later, after they’d had a nest of kids together? What if Seth
yelled it out in a nightmare some dark night? No, I’m the one with nightmares,
not him, although he did say he had trouble sleeping nights. Did he,
really, or was that just a lie to keep me quiet? Guess I’ll never know
for sure, same as I’ll never know for sure just why he killed Mr. Edwards,
out of some twisted sense of mercy or just plain greed.
It’s hard to watch your best friend die.
Harder still when you’re the one that takes his life. Joe thinks that
I don’t understand. He’s forgotten that I’m the one, above all others,
who can, because I’m the one who’s been there. That never crossed Joe’s
mind, I’m sure. Can’t blame him, though, with all the turmoil he’s
been through the last few weeks: first carrying the secret, then turning
in his friend and after that having to testify against him at the trial.
Untouched meals, screams in the night, last night the worst of all, knowing
what would happen today. It’s eating him alive, even now. I can
see the hurt in those expressive eyes, the glimmer of unshed tears, and I
want to help the kid. But I can’t without dredging up all those dark
memories, all that terrible grief, and I’m not sure I can bear it, even now.
Let the memories surface and I’ll be the one waking up in a cold sweat in
the middle of the night, just as I did those first few sleepless nights after
. . . oh, Ross! I didn’t want to put that bullet in you, anymore than
Joe wanted to turn Seth over to the law. We both just did what
we had to do, but how does a man convince himself of that when his own heart
Why didn’t I see it sooner, that dark side of his
heart? I thought I knew him inside out. Should have; I’d known
him long enough. I mean, we were kids together, from the time I started
school. No, not quite that soon. Seth came a year later, and I’ll
never forget the day we met. I was in the middle of a fight, like usual.
Don’t remember what it was about, but it wasn’t hard to trigger my temper
back then. Pa says it still ain’t as hard as it should be, even
now that I’m grown, but as a kid, all it took was someone making some snide
remark about Hoss at recess. That was probably it, ‘cause I remember
how those bigger boys used to say things about him, more to rile me than
to hurt him. Guess they thought it was funny to see a little mite like
me flare up to defend big ole Hoss, and I stepped right into the trap, every
time. Usually, Hoss would wade in and settle things before I got hurt,
but he wasn’t around that day. Can’t remember why, but I was on my
own . . . and losing, ‘til Seth came along. He just pitched in and
started punching those bullies alongside me, and somehow we managed to hold
our own ‘til the teacher came running and stopped the scuffle.
Seth and I talked a few minutes before we had to go back in the classroom.
We introduced ourselves, and I thanked him for helping me out. Seth
said he just hadn’t liked the odds, but I saw it different—saw him different,
I mean. Guess I sort of looked up to him like some kind of hero, never
dreaming we’d become friends. He was older than me by a year, his
size making him look older than that, at least to me. But, then, practically
everybody was older and bigger back then. Okay, ‘most everybody still
is—bigger, I mean. Runt of the litter, Hoss calls me when he’s riled
and Shortshanks, even when he’s not. Now I take the teasing about
my size in stride—well, most of the time—but back then it meant something
to me to have someone older and bigger side with me, when he could have
thrown in with those bullies, instead. It made me feel special.
I had other friends, lots of ‘em, and I didn’t like them less than I had
before, but I took to hanging around Seth more and more. And he let
me, runt that I was, but I didn’t feel like a runt when I was with him;
I stood tall when I stood next to Seth, and I liked the feeling.
Why didn’t I see it sooner, that darkness descending
over my friend? I thought I knew him like the inside of my hat.
It took us awhile to get acquainted, partly because of the way Ross was: quiet
and shy, hanging back from any group, instead of putting himself forward
like some of the other loud-mouthed kids in the territory. I first
noticed him at a shooting competition one sunny Fourth of July. Boy,
that skinny kid could handle a rifle! He didn’t fare as well as I did
in that contest, but I lay the blame for that at his pa’s doorstep.
There’s a lot of blame to be laid at that doorstep, maybe more than I ever
thought. Anyway, I think Ross would have stood a chance of beating
me that day if his pa hadn’t put so much pressure on him to win. It’s
always harder to shoot straight and steady when you have to, when too much
rides on a single shot. That’s how Ross felt that day, like he had
to win, to earn his pa’s respect. I knew Pa would be proud of me, regardless
of how the contest turned out, and that assurance gave me the calm confidence
I needed to come out on top. Ross did almost as well, but instead of
being proud, his pa landed a swat on his backside, harder than Little Joe
usually got for bonafide mischief.
Joe . . . that’s who I ought to be thinking about, not
Ross, not myself. He looks so—I don’t know—distant, maybe . . . like
his mind’s far away . . . or maybe fixed on long ago, like mine has been,
like it has to be when I think about Ross, because what came later is just
too hard to think about. So I ignore the pain and think about the
good times, instead.
Good times. That’s what me and Seth had together—so
many good times, a lot of them with Sara in tow. How we ever became
a threesome is beyond me. Last thing in the world I wanted was some
girl hanging around, and in the beginning, at least, Seth felt the same.
But Sara kept tagging along, whether we wanted her or not, and I guess we
just sort of got used to her bein’ there. Wasn’t so bad, really, ‘cause
Sara was different from other girls; she was what folks call a tomboy, I
guess. She liked to roam the woods and fish and swim, and she was ‘most
as good as any boy at all of ‘em. Me, I still liked it better when
she stayed home and it was just me and Seth, and we could skin down to our
birthday suits and swim free as fish. Sometimes other fellas went along,
too, but that was okay. Mitch and Tuck were good friends, too, probably
better friends to me than Seth, at least in Pa’s book, and maybe even in
mine when I was honest with myself. Those two tended to hug the straight
and narrow tighter than Seth, and Pa always seemed happier when I was with
them, instead of my older friend. ‘Course, Pa didn’t know everything
the four of us got into, and I’m not about to tell him, even now.
Seth never did anything bad, though—not real bad, I
mean. We pulled some crazy stunts, I gotta admit, but I was as likely
to be behind them as Seth. I could always count on him to go along
with anything I suggested, even when Mitch and Tuck balked for fear of getting
in trouble. That never seemed to bother Seth, even though he had more
cause to fear than any of the rest of us.
Never did understand what made his uncle so hard on
him, his brother’s own boy. Took Seth in when his folks died, like
family should, but never seemed to treat him like a son, the way Pa wanted
to do for Cousin Will when Uncle John died and the way I think Pa’s kin
would have if I’d lost my whole family like Seth did. Elijah Pruitt
was hard on Seth, way too hard by my reckoning. I’d even known him
to take a razor strop to Seth for mischief that earned me no more than a
long, slow raking over the coals. And once or twice he got worse than
I never saw Pete Marquette raise a hand to Ross,
other than an occasional swat on the backside, but he could do more harm with
words than most men do with a whip. Like that day we all worked together
to clear a landslide that had buried the old emigrant road. I got such
an earful of Marquette’s belittling and badgering that I just had to take
up with Ross. That skinny kid needed a friend, if anyone ever had,
so I volunteered to work alongside him and we managed to talk a little bit
before Marquette hollered at Ross to quit slacking off.
Later, we worked in the woods together, felling logs
for the new schoolhouse, and since his pa wasn’t around, Ross began to open
up, like a flower slowing unfolding its petals to the sun. A bit poetic,
I suppose, but I think that’s what I was to Ross, the sunshine he needed
to blossom. Our relationship wasn’t one-sided, though, except in the
beginning. I soon came to realize I was getting as much as I was giving.
Ross was different from my other friends—more sensitive, more thoughtful—and
I found I could share my inner thoughts, hopes and dreams with him, as I
didn’t feel free to do with anyone else, even those I’d known longer.
He didn’t have a lot of book learning, didn’t even finish grammar school,
but we could talk about almost anything, even poetry or Shakespeare, and
he’d be interested. If he’d had the chance, I think he might have enjoyed
more schooling, but Pete Marquette was always bent on seeing Ross work with
his back, instead of his brain. He’s the one that pulled Ross out
of school, claiming to need him around the place. That happened before
I met Ross, but I doubt that I could have said anything to change his pa’s
mind, anyway. That was one stubborn man, stubborn and well nigh impossible
to please. Pushing, prodding, never satisfied, no matter how
hard Ross tried, and the constant criticism ate holes in my friend’s soul.
Kid that I was, I could see that much. I tried to patch them up with
well-earned praise whenever we were together, but I must have missed a few—enough,
maybe, to give the darkness a way in. Oh, I don’t know! How
can you ever really know what holes inhabit another man’s soul?
Maybe it wasn’t so much that Seth didn’t worry about
getting in trouble as that he knew how to squirm out of it. I probably
picked up some of my talent for that from my friend, but Seth had ways I could
never master. Wouldn’t have wanted to, for that matter—the lying, I
mean. Seth could look his uncle right in the eye and tell a whopper
with a straight face, while my face was an open book anytime I tried it with
Pa. I learned the fine art of hedging, eventually, but just never could
get comfortable with outright lying, knowing what store Pa set by honesty.
I didn’t think less of Seth for lying to his uncle, though; I knew what was
likely to happen if he got caught, so I went along with it. Somehow,
it was easier for me to cover for Seth with Mr. Pruitt than to lie to Pa about
my own doings. Is that where it started, Seth lying and me covering
up for him? Is that why he felt free to ask me to cover up the truth
behind Mr. Edwards’ death, because I’d covered for him so many times before?
Maybe the signs were there, even when we were kids, but I sure never saw
them, never thought it could lead to what it did.
Were there signs I should have seen that the
Ross I knew was slipping away, his place being taken by that stranger he became?
I think back to those days right after I returned from college. We’d
kept in touch by letter throughout my time away, and everything seemed the
same between us as before I’d left. We shared similar challenges, too.
I was trying to find my place as second in command at the Ponderosa, and
after Pete Marquette passed away, Ross was thrown into running the ranch
on his own. It wasn’t easy for either of us, convincing men older
and more experienced to take orders from someone they viewed as a kid.
I’d had a taste of it, briefly, before I went to school, but I was dealing
with a mostly new crew when I came back. They didn’t know me, and I
had to prove myself before they’d accept me as their boss.
It was tougher for Ross, whose father hadn’t given him much responsibility
before and hadn’t shown him any respect in front of the men. Sometimes
at the end of a hard day we’d meet for a drink, usually at his place since
that was more private, and we’d commiserate together over the struggles
of the day. I remember how determined Ross was to make a go of the
Bar M, as if he were still trying to prove himself to the ghost of his father.
He used to say I had it easy, with the Ponderosa already an established
operation and Pa’s authority to back me up if anyone balked at my orders.
I resented the implications, but grudgingly conceded that he had a point.
I did get tired of hearing how easy we had it at the Ponderosa, though,
how much easier money made everything. Was that a sign I should have
seen, that love of money the Good Book says is the root of all evil?
Yeah, I knew Ross envied our prosperity; I knew he was keen to rake in the
profits and make his spread a little Ponderosa of his own, but I just saw
that as healthy ambition and laughed when he renamed his ranch the Silver
Dollar. Never dreamed it was so he could make the Ponderosa his own—one
steer at a time.
Took me awhile to understand that we Cartwrights
had more than most folks in the territory and that some folks resented us
for that. Wasn’t hard to see, of course, that my clothes tended to be
newer than the ones my friends wore. Lots of them wore hand-me-downs
from older brothers or sisters, but I kind of shrugged that off as just a
case of them havin’ family closer in size and age. I mean, can you see
me wearing Hoss’s hand-me-downs? Maybe I could’ve worn Adam’s if they’d
still been around, but there’s an awful lot of space between him and me.
I reckon some other needy little boy got those duds before I ever had a chance
to grow into ‘em.
Seth’s clothes were shabbier than most ‘cause anything
he wore had passed through both of Mr. Pruitt’s sons before it got to Seth,
most generally with patches on elbows and knees. Seth’s uncle never
gave him any pocket money, either, so I’d share mine, when I had it.
We’d hustle over to the general store after school (and sometimes during)
to fill up on sour balls or gingerbread. I did the same with other
friends from time to time, and after I figured out that the Cartwrights were
considered rich, I sometimes wondered whether it was me or what I could buy
them that earned me so many friends. Not Seth, though; I never doubted
him. With us, it was always share and share alike; whichever of us
had cash would treat the other. I honestly never thought he envied
me until that day in the mine, when he said something about me havin’ so
much and havin’ it so long that I just couldn’t understand how he felt.
Up ‘til then I just plain missed how important money had become to my friend.
Seth did like to hear the jingle of coins in his pocket.
Hard to blame him or any other man for that; I always smile a little brighter
on payday, too. Besides, Seth worked hard for anything he got, startin’
out pretty young. His uncle didn’t pay him a cent for chores around
the ranch, but so long as they were done, he didn’t mind Seth hirin’ himself
out. Young kids don’t earn much for the kind of work they can do,
but even that little bit seemed to make a difference in the way Seth carried
himself—like the money made him stand taller, the way havin’ him for friend
did for me.
I was happy for him when he went to work for Mr. Edwards.
I knew Sara’s father to be a fair man, and I knew he’d do right by Seth,
better than his uncle, who left everything to his own boys when he died and
left Seth to fend for himself. Got to say this much for Seth; he never
took the easy way out and just stole for a living. Well, a little petty
pilfering when he was a kid, but he wasn’t scared of hard work, couldn’t
be and do the kind of jobs he did. Personally, I wouldn’t want to work
underground, but Seth seemed to take to mining . . . or, maybe, just
to the chance of bein’ close to Sara. That’s what I thought then, but
now, when I can’t sleep nights, I wonder if he didn’t just like bein’ around
the stuff money was made of.
It wasn’t just money, though. That’s not
enough to explain what changed Ross. Sure, he wanted to succeed.
What man doesn’t? But few men turn to robbery and murder. I’d
never have believed that could happen to Ross, couldn’t believe it when Pa
and Roy Coffee first told me their suspicions—still can’t believe it, for
that matter, though I saw the evidence with my own eyes.
Was there other evidence, before, that I refused to
notice? I can remember Ross being fascinated with the toughs of Virginia
City, from that first time when we trailed after Sam Brown for pure sport,
just kids too dumb to realize we were about to witness a killing.
Sometimes we’d be in a saloon in Virginia City, and some notorious chief
would waltz in, spoiling for trouble. I was all for finishing our
drinks as quickly as possible and getting out of there, but Ross would sip
his beer all the more slowly, as if waiting for a show to start. I
turned a blind eye, not willing to see any weakness in my friend, but now,
as I look back on those days, I think maybe Ross admired those louts—not
because they were lawbreakers, but because they stood up for themselves and
took nothing off anyone, the way he wished he could be with his pa.
Ross was tough, too, though, in the right kind of way.
I couldn’t ask for a better man to stand with me when trouble threatened,
as it often did in those rough early days of this territory. Courage,
quick reflexes, steady gun hand—all qualities you need in a man who stands
by your side when danger is near—and Ross had them all. But they were
all there, too, the day he turned against me.
Don’t exactly remember when I figured out that Seth
and Sara had eyes for each other. Sometime after I figured out that
she was good for something besides fishing and swimming and exploring caves,
I guess, but I still never looked at her as anything but a friend or, maybe,
the sister I never had. Like my pa said after hers died, she was always
over at our place, and I was over at hers just as much. We liked bein’
together, and when I started looking at girls differently, she’d be the
one I’d talk to about whichever one I was buzzing around at the time.
She’d give me advice, sometimes, on which girls were right for me and which
were plain trouble. I didn’t always listen, but when I didn’t, I generally
wished I had. I did date Sara a time or two, but I just didn’t feel
about her the way a fella should about a girl he’s romancing, even though
she’s everything a man could ask for in a woman. I guess I’d just
been around her too much as kids, and datin’ her kind of felt like bein’
out with Hoss.
Seth grew up with her, too, though, and he sure didn’t
have any trouble falling head over heels. I think he was in love with
her before I even started looking at girls. Seth was a year older
than me, of course, and I can remember bein’ disgusted with him for gettin’
all moony-eyed over anything in a skirt. Kind of put a wedge between
us for a little while, but then I started noticing how nice skirts could
swish around a gal’s ankles, and Seth seemed like the natural one to turn
to for advice. I talked with Mitch and Tuck, too, of course, but they
didn’t know any more than me. Never occurred to me to talk to my brothers.
Hoss was slow to ask any girl out and awkward as a cow caught in the mud
when he finally did get started, and Adam—well, askin’ Adam for advice about
anything personal just never crossed my mind back then, though I did pick
up some of the finer points of flirting from peeking through the bushes,
so to speak.
Sara shared the same feeling for Seth that he had for
her, and I couldn’t have been happier the day they told me that they were
going to get married. I know a marriage is something just between
a man and a woman, but I felt like part of it from the first, maybe because
both of them were like family to me. I was looking forward to seeing
Sara walk down the aisle of the church on her pa’s arm, while I stood beside
Seth at the front, watching her beautiful brown eyes shine with love and
eagerness to start their lives together. Oh, Seth, why’d you have to
spoil that picture? Why’d you have to kill her pa? I know what
you told me, that it was just to spare him and her a lifetime of pain, but
I can’t forget what you said later, either, that you and him hadn’t been
gettin’ along so good, that he didn’t want you to marry Sara. That
good and wise old man, he saw something, didn’t he? Something I should
have seen, but didn’t.
I’ll never forget the shock that surged through
me when Ross accused me of carrying on with his wife. How could he possibly
have thought that? Wasn’t I the one who introduced him to Delphine,
the one who pushed him to ask her out that first time? And I had to
push hard, too! Ross was a gawky kid, awkward and shy as Hoss around
girls, and just couldn’t believe one would pick him over me. My time
back east had smoothed any rough edges I’d had before, and women did respond
to my more sophisticated approach. I knew Ross envied my “way with
women,” as he called it, and I suppose that’s when those first seeds of jealousy
must have been planted.
But Delphine? He had to be insane to think that
she and I—she never had eyes for anyone but Ross, from the moment they met,
and even after he’d beaten her, all she thought about was him—how he was
doing, if he needed her—up to the very end. Some women like to mother
a man and are just naturally attracted to the kind that seem to need it.
It seems to me that it was that way with Ross and Del. They were a
perfect match, him with a need for love and her with a need to give it.
I was thrilled to stand up with Ross at their wedding, not just because
I was proud to be his best man, but because I knew he’d found a woman he
could live happily ever after with, as the fairy tales proclaim.
But life’s no fairy tale, is it? You’d think, after all I’ve seen
Pa go through, I’d have given up on “happily ever after” long ago, but maybe
I thought it was only Cartwrights who were doomed to limited love and short-term
happiness. Five years—that’s all Ross and Del had together before
something inside him snapped. I’ll probably never know what triggered
it: the loss of his herd that winter, some chance remark or exchange of
concerned glances between me and Del or something no one could guess.
Whatever it was, none of us saw it coming, and Del paid for our blindness
with her life . . . and then Ross with his.
So I finally saw the truth, with a little help from
Pa and Adam and words from Seth’s own mouth. Didn’t make it any easier,
though, to haul my friend, my best friend, in to Sheriff Coffee and tell
what I knew. And then to tell Sara. Thought I’d never live through
that. Seth was right about one thing; the truth did hurt her, sliced
a knife right through her, and I felt like I was the one holding it.
In the end, though, when the telling was done, it was Sara I was holding,
and she was clinging to me, crying her heart out and begging me to take
her to Seth. Guess she couldn’t believe it, either, ‘til she heard
it from his own mouth. That was something I could understand, so I
took her. It was hard going back to that jail, listening to Seth call
me traitor and refuse to see me, but when Sara came out of the cell block
and I drove her home, she thanked me for digging out the truth and having
the courage to bring Seth in. Her heart was broken, but I think she
saw, even in those first awful hours, that I’d spared her worse pain later
And all it cost me was my lifelong friend.
Hardest thing I ever did, drawing down on my
friend. I had no choice; I know that, but those last moments still haunt
me. Ross was so far gone by then that he didn’t even recognize me and
just kept firing no matter how much I called to him. It was instinct,
that God-given determination to stay alive, that made me fire back after
he wounded me. If I hadn’t, I’d be the one lying dead in the sand,
and even that sacrifice wouldn’t have saved Ross. Someone else would
have gunned him down, like the mad dog he’d become, and while the guilt might
be less that way, the grief would still be as strong.
I think it was harder for Joe, all that time stewing
over the secret he was hiding. Partly because he’s still so young and
partly because he’s just the kind of kid who takes things hard. We all
knew something was wrong, of course. Unlike Ross, the signs are easy
to read when Joe’s upset. The kid’s always been a tough nut to
crack, though, never owning up to a problem until he’s exhausted all his
own resources for coping with it. In a way, I was waiting for that moment,
and when we were alone, out with the herd, I sort of sensed that he might
be ready to talk. Nearly keeled over myself when he blurted out the
truth so bluntly: “He killed him.”
Just three words, and the world rocked beneath us. They came
out so fast that I knew Joe had been wanting to say them for a long time,
but I still could barely believe what I was hearing. Though I’d suspected
Joe’s inner turmoil had something to do with Sara and her loss, none of
us guessed the horror that was chewing away inside that sensitive kid brother
of mine. I stayed calm, for his sake, and gave what I still believe
to have been good counsel. Joe seemed to accept it, to be ready to
act on it, but the next time I saw him, he was packing up to leave, working
hard to convince himself that two wrongs actually could make a right, and
wouldn’t listen to anything I said. Well, that’s my little brother;
just when I think I’ve got him figured out, he twists off in a new direction.
Ultimately, he did the right thing, but no matter how much Pa, Hoss and
I—and even Sara—assured him of that, the pain never left those veiled eyes.
I think he wanted to hear it from the one person who would never say it.
I tried, time after time, to see Seth, while he
waited in jail for the trial to begin. I wanted him to know that I
was still his friend and that I’d stand by him, whatever came. Every
time, though, he yelled out that he didn’t want to see me, that he had no
use for a turncoat traitor or the worse things he called me. Roy finally
asked me to quit coming, said it wasn’t doin’ me or his prisoner any good,
and I guess he was right about that, but it tore me to pieces.
The trial was worse. Last thing in the world I
wanted was to testify against my friend, but I was the only witness there
was. Doc Martin testified, too, about the cause of death, but he couldn’t
say if the blow that killed Mr. Edwards was intentional or accidental.
No, the jury had nothin’ but my word that it had been murder, but they believed
me. I almost wished they hadn’t, especially after the judge sentenced
Seth to hang. Though I had doubts myself, I’d been hoping that the
judge might believe he’d killed Sara’s father out of mercy and show my friend
some mercy, too. I was hoping for jail time, but Seth got the rope.
And now it’s time. I try one last time to lock
eyes with my friend, but he won’t look at me, even now. He’s gonna die
hating me, and I think I may hate myself forever, for doing this to him, but
then I think of Sara and know I had to. As the trap door springs open,
I turn away; I can’t bear to look. I feel Pa’s hand on my shoulder,
and I know Hoss and Adam are close by, too, but I feel alone . . . so
Long, quiet ride home. Joe doesn’t say a word, and none of
us knows how to break through that wall he has built around himself.
Dinner’s on the table by the time we get home, but no one is surprised when
Joe says he isn’t hungry. I make an effort to eat myself, but everything
tastes like sawdust in my mouth, thinking about that kid suffering outside.
I finally leave the table and go out, but I can’t quite bring myself to
intrude on his privacy. So I just stand here outside the front door,
watching him slumped on the porch step, wishing I had the words to bring
peace to the kid’s soul, like Hoss did to mine.
“He was a friend, then; he didn’t die a stranger.”
What a world of comfort in those simple words from that big-hearted brother
of mine! I don’t know how the big lug does it, cuts right to the heart
of a problem and puts it in perspective with words simple enough for a child
to understand, simple enough even for the book-befuddled brain of a college
graduate to fathom. It’s a gift, pure and simple, as much as my ability
to play the guitar or Joe’s to charm the birds from the trees. Ross
did come back to himself after I put that bullet in him; in the final moments
he was the friend I’d always known, but it took Hoss’s words to bring that
home to me.
I long to say those words to Joe, but for him, they
wouldn’t ring true. Seth didn’t die a friend . . . or even a stranger;
he died an enemy, and that’s what’s ripping my little brother apart.
What can I possibly say that would help? I don’t have Hoss’s gift,
but somehow I sense that this time the comfort has to come from me, that
I hold the key to unlock Joe’s pain and set his heart free, but I just don’t
know how to start. Perhaps with a touch . . .
I feel a hand on my shoulder and know whose it is,
just by the feel of it. What’s he doin’ here? Can’t he tell I
want to be by myself? “Leave me alone, Adam.”
“Let me help.”
“You can’t; you don’t understand.” The grip
on my shoulder tightens, forcing me to look up, and I see my brother’s eyes
flooded with concern for me. My lip starts to tremble, from the strain
of holding everything in. “How could you understand?” I whisper, wishing
with all my heart that he could, that this was one of those little-boy hurts
that big brothers can heal, but knowing that black-is-black-and-white-is-white
Adam would never find himself in a spot like this.
A tear trickles from the corner of my eye and
words choke in my throat, ‘til I’m able to croak out only one: “Ross.”
The light dawns in those brimming eyes, and suddenly my little brother is
on his feet, sobbing out my name, falling into my outstretched arms, and as
I comfort Joe, comfort is renewed inside me, too. What happened between
me and Ross suddenly takes on new meaning, for that time, hard as it was,
has imparted to me something I could not otherwise share, something my little
brother now desperately needs. I hold him close, knowing that I am
giving him what no one else can, the knowledge that someone else has walked
before the path he now must tread. I may never be as adept at this
kind of thing as Hoss, but I, too, have been given a gift, and of all the
gifts Ross gave me through the years, this final bequest, the gift of an
understanding heart, is the most precious of all. Be at peace, little
brother. I can’t say the words yet, but somehow I’ll help you understand
that what happened between you and Seth was not without purpose, either,
but is meant to birth something invaluable inside you that you may one day
pass on to another, as I do now to you. Be at peace, little buddy,
and until you find your own, take hold and rest in mine.
The characters of Seth Pruitt and Sara Edwards were first presented
in “The Quality of Mercy” by Peter Packer and those of Ross and Delphine
Marquette in “The Dark Gate” by Al C. Ward. The family background
and early lives of both young men, as presented here, are the invention of
the author. Sam Brown is a historical figure; for a detailed account
of Adam and Ross’s encounter with him, referred to here, please read “A Dream’s
Darkest Hour” by the author.