By:  Debra P.



(With appreciation to E. Jack Neuman who wrote ‘The Hopefuls’.)


Ben Cartwright stood on the porch of the ranch house staring up at the sliver of moon that hung high in the sky above.  He was finding himself too restless to go to bed, though it was  past his usual time, and he had come outside to try to let the peacefulness of the night envelop him.


By all rights he ought to be feeling relief, Ben thought.  For the last several days his two older sons had been away from home, escorting the wagon train of the Quaker group led by Jacob Darien and his daughter Regina as far as Slatersville, near which they hoped to find land to settle.  And Ben had spent those days anxiously wondering if both of them would be coming back.  Ben knew that Adam had been powerfully attracted to Regina Darien, and that he had decided to accompany the train primarily to be able to spend more time with her and see what might develop.  Ben had been genuinely concerned that the obviously strong feeling between the two might lead Adam to cast his lot with Regina and her people and stay with them...that he might never come home again.  When Hoss had also decided to go along, partly at their father’s urging and partly because of his own concerns for his brother, Ben had been very grateful.  He had counted on Hoss’ presence to provide a steadying influence and to keep Adam mindful of his ties to home and family.


Then, about six o’clock  this evening, both Hoss and Adam had appeared, riding around the corner of the barn, and Ben had raised a silent prayer of thanks.  But when he noticed Adam’s injured arm and the tired, pained look in his eyes, Ben’s relief turned immediately to anxiety.  Adam had quietly but firmly brushed aside his father’s concern, saying that he was exhausted and simply wanted to clean up and go to bed.  He assured his father that his injury was not serious and promised that he would tell him all about the trip tomorrow.  Then he disappeared inside the house, with his father’s eyes following him all the way.


Ben turned to Hoss with a question in his eyes.  His middle son cast his eyes down and fidgeted slightly under his father’s gaze.  “Don’t worry, Pa...Adam’s okay,” Hoss said.  “Guess I’d better take care o’ the horses, then I could sure stand to get cleaned up and get myself somethin’ to eat.  We’ll talk a little later, I promise ya, all right, Pa?”


Ben nodded and Hoss turned away, leading the horses to the barn.  That had been more than four hours ago, and Ben was still waiting for his talk with his son.  He was coming to the conclusion that, for some reason, Hoss was reluctant to speak about whatever had happened.  And that only added to Ben’s own uneasiness.


As Ben stood there thinking about all of this the door opened and a powerful figure was framed for a moment against the light from inside.  He felt Hoss come up to stand beside him before he actually turned his head and saw him.


Ain’t ya goin’ to bed, Pa?,” Hoss asked.


“I guess I just didn’t feel like turning in yet,” Ben answered.  “Maybe it’s because I was hoping to have that talk you promised me.”  He raised his hand and laid it gently on his son’s shoulder.  “Are you ready for that now, son?,” he asked quietly.


Hoss nodded slowly.  “I s’pose so, Pa.  It’s just kind of a sad story is all...not easy to talk about.”


“Why don’t you start with how your brother got his arm hurt?,” Ben urged him gently.


Hoss sighed.  “ ‘Fore I can do that, Pa, I guess I’ll hafta tell ya about what led up to it.” 


And he began to do just that.  In low voice Hoss began to describe how he and Adam had seen indications that the wagon train was being watched and how they had persuaded the reluctant Quakers to at least take the precaution of circling the wagons in a defensive position when they made camp.  His voice began to tremble as he told of how Sam Bord, the acquaintance of Adam’s who had left the group earlier, had returned that evening with some of his friends in order to rob the train.  He had to swallow a lump in his throat as he described how they had rifled the chest which contained all of the group’s money and how Jacob Darien, who had attempted to intervene,  had been brutally shot to death.  Then he fell silent, lowering his eyes. 


Ben was shocked and saddened at the news.  His brief knowledge of the man had led him to admire Jacob Darien.


“So is that when Adam was injured...during the robbery?,” Ben finally managed to say.


“Not quite, Pa,” Hoss replied.  And he continued with his tale, telling how Adam had felt responsible for what had happened, since he had introduced Sam Bord to the group in the first place, and how he had felt compelled to track down Sam and his companions in order to get back the stolen money.  When Hoss began to tell how Regina and Adam had clashed over what he planned to do, Ben was listening especially intently, and he unconsciously nodded his head, as though that was no surprise to him  Finally Hoss reached the point in the story where he and Adam had tracked Sam to Slatersville, while the wagon train had been making its way to the same place. 


“Miss Regina, well she just about begged Adam not to use his gun, but as far as Adam was concerned, there weren’t no choice.  He saw Bord and Bord saw him, they both drew their guns, and, when the smoke cleared, Bord was down.  Adam got back the money, but it cost him a bullet in his arm...and it cost him Miss Regina too.  That’s how it happened, Pa,” Hoss concluded.


Ben blanched on hearing the account of the shootout, thinking of the risk that his oldest son had taken, and a little shiver passed through him.


A silence fell between them.  But it didn’t last very long.  There was something that Ben just had to ask.


“Hoss,” Ben ventured tentatively.  “About Adam and Regina Darien.  Did you...did you feel that whatever it was between them was something real and serious?  Or do you think it was just a passing thing?”


Hoss regarded him soberly.  “Pa, I think I know what you’re hopin’ I’ll say.  If it was just a passin’ thing then that would mean Adam would get over it sooner and it wouldn’t hurt ‘im so much.  But I just can’t say that, Pa.  I saw how the two of ‘em were with each other and it looked pretty darn real to me.  And I saw how they were when they said good-bye.  You shoulda seen it, Pa.  Miss Regina reached up and touched Adam’s face and Adam, he grabbed her wrist to hold it there.  Then he turned his head and he was kissin’ her palm...hard.  You could just tell how much it was hurtin’ ‘im.  Neither of ‘em really wanted to turn away from the other, but with everything that had happened it seems they both just decided it wadn’t meant to be.  Adam said neither of ‘em really had a choice, and I s’pose he was right, but I can’t help thinkin’ it’s a dang shame.”


Ben shook his head uncomprehendingly.  “The two of them were so very different.  How could it be?”


“But don’t ya see, Pa?,” Hoss interjected.  “That’s just it.  Maybe they was different in the way they’d been brought up, but when you look way down deep there were ways that they was more alike than you’d wanna admit.  Both of ‘em strong willed.  Both of ‘em with a powerful sense about what’s right and what’s wrong.  And both of ‘em dead set on doin’ what they think is right, no matter what it costs ‘em.  And down deep Adam hates violence just as much as Miss Regina and her folks.  You know that.  It’s just that Miss Regina’s people was lookin’ to build them a kind o’ perfect place where there wouldn’t never be any room for violence.  But Adam grew up in a world that he knows ain’t perfect, and he learned that sometimes ya just gotta defend yourself or what’s important to ya.  That’s all.”


Ben continued to stare up at the sliver of moon, apparently in deep thought, and did not reply.  His shoulders slumped a little, and Hoss noticed that his eyes were troubled.


“You okay, Pa?  What is it you’re thinkin’?,” Hoss said.


“Oh, I was just wondering,” Ben answered with sadness in his voice.  “Wondering if, by warning him against getting involved with Regina Darien, I may have contributed to spoiling Adam’s best chance at real happiness.”


Hoss looked at him sympathetically.  “I wouldn’t worry too much about that, Pa.  Whatever advice you gave ‘im, when it comes down to it Adam ain’t one to let what anybody else says keep ‘im from doin’ what he thinks is best.  If he decided he and Miss Regina couldn’t stay together, then he must be convinced that’s the right decision, and he’ll learn to live with it, however painful it is for ‘im.  It may take a little while, but he’ll be all right.  You’ll see.”


Ben looked back at him with gratitude.  “I hope you’re right son. I really hope so.”


“I’m sure of it, Pa,” Hoss returned.  “Now, I don’t know ‘bout you, but I’m feelin’ pretty tuckerd out about now and I‘m more than ready to get me to bed.  How ‘bout you?”


“I guess things are catching up with me too,” Ben admitted.  “You go on ahead, son, and I’ll be up in just a couple of minutes or so.  Sleep well.”


“Thanks, Pa.  You sleep well too.”  And with a smile for his father, Hoss turned and headed back toward the door.


Ben watched him disappear inside the house, then he slowly stepped down from the porch and made his way out into the yard.  He turned and gazed up at the window of Adam’s room.  The curtains were drawn and all was dark.


“Good night to you too, son,” Ben whispered.