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TO HAVE LOVED AND LOST
Summary: While leaving a gift for his father, Adam inadvertantly discovers a piece of Ben's past.
Rated: Family Friendly
Characters: Adam , Ben
Ben Cartwright leaned blithely against the rail of the modest sailing vessel. Truth be told he was enjoying himself immensely. He gave a warm smile to his oldest son standing next to him and reached over to gently ruffle his dark hair. He and Adam had traveled together on this business trip to San Francisco and the fourteen year old had been fascinated with the large city and all of its comings and goings. When he had seen the sails from the huge ships docked at the harbor he had begged, pleaded, and wheedled for days until Ben had finally agreed to book a short voyage.
The salt air, blown in by the cool breeze, floated over him and brought him back to the days when he had been a sailor. He had been born and raised near the sea and it was in his blood just as surely as the Ponderosa with its majestic mountains and impressive pines was now a part of him. Glancing to the horizon, he watched as the sun started its slow decent. He had managed to appropriate a cabin for himself and Adam, so the two would be spending the evening aboard ship. Adam had been elated when Ben told him they would be staying on the water overnight, and Ben had been pleasantly surprised at how well his son had acclimated to being out on the rolling waves. He supposed it might have something to do with all the times the boy had been out on the huge sparkling blue lake back home.
“Well, Adam,” he said, “why don’t you and I go below decks and see if they might be able to scrounge up some sea rations for two stowaways?”
Adam’s eyes lit up with excitement and Ben couldn’t help but laugh at his son’s over-developed sense of adventure. The two headed down to the galley with Adam chattering and asking questions faster than Ben could come up with the answers. He thought back to his conversation with his wife, Marie, before he had left for this trip. She had suggested that he and Adam might need some time alone together and Ben had agreed readily, looking forward to spending some one-on-one time with his fast growing son. The two had become closer in the last couple of weeks and Ben, once more, silently thanked God for sending such a wise and unselfish woman into his life.
During the course of their meal Ben managed to make several new acquaintances, one of them being the Captain’s first mate. When the man had learned of his past as a seaman, he had invited him to join some men in the Captain’s lounge later that evening for a game of billiards. He had started to refuse, but Adam had quietly leaned over and whispered that he thought he should go. Ben had an idea that his son might have some plans of his own for the evening and eyed him warily.
“Don’t worry, Pa,” he said blushing slightly under his father’s scrutiny, “I was just thinking about doing some fishing with that sailor we met earlier. You know, the one from Maine? He said if we had time he would teach me how to catch the really big fish.”
Ben couldn’t refuse the silent pleading in his son’s eyes and so had relented, as long as Adam adhered to his conditions on safety and curfew. Adam had nodded his head vigorously in agreement, his face a picture of happiness. Ben arranged to meet with the men in the Captain’s lounge at eight o’clock, and he and Adam headed for their cabin. Ben spent a good portion of the evening going over ship safety, and gave the eager young boy some advice on deep sea fishing. At ten minutes to eight, he left Adam with a one last reminder to be in bed by ten o’clock and then left for his own night out.
Adam breathed a sigh of relief as Ben walked out the door. He had heard his father’s rules so many times he was sure he could quote them backwards. He hopped down from the top bunk where he’d been sitting and excitedly retrieved his luggage from under the bed. He started to open it and then glanced at the closed door, quickly running over he peeked out into the hall.
Good, no sign of Pa.
He reached into his small suitcase and pulled out the carefully wrapped package. He slowly removed the brown paper and smoothed his fingers over the new soft leather wallet. When his father had told him he would be making this trip he had decided to bring along all the money he had saved so far that year. Marie had added to his sum by giving him a few extra dollars as a gift before he left. Once they’d arrived in San Francisco, to his amazement, his Pa had handed him a crisp new five dollar bill to spend however he wished. Never before had he had such a large amount of money all at once. His father had allowed him to wander the shops near the hotel during his business meetings and Adam had spent days trying to decide what to purchase. He had bought everyone in his family a Christmas present, but had decided to get his father something extra as a thank you for taking him on the trip.
Adam gently set the wallet aside and then, once again, looked over the other gifts. For Hoss and Joe he had purchased a funny looking puppet called a marionette. He’d laughed when the store owner had illustrated how to make it move and he had already come up with a number of stories to amuse his two young brothers. For his father, he had purchased a rare blend of pipe tobacco that he had heard him mention once before. He had hesitated over whether or not to make this particular purchase when he found out that the only place in which to buy it was located a good distance outside of the boundaries his father had set up for him. But, he had thought of his father’s fondness for the rich blend and had decided it was worth the risk. He hoped he still would by the time Christmas came around. He had decided to combine his present for Marie and Hop Sing as they would both equally enjoy the special Cajun spices he had found.
Adam carefully put the treasured possessions back in his suitcase and then, once again, picked up the wallet. His father had been using an old brown pocketbook for as long as he could remember, and the wear and tear was really starting to show. He dug under the bed a second time and pulled out his father’s larger suitcase. Adam stared at it hesitantly for a moment. Years of diligent upbringing made it difficult for him to get into his father’s things, even if his motives were pure. Finally, he opened it and quickly found the old pocketbook he knew his father had left behind.
“A person can’t be tempted to gamble if he doesn’t have any money,” he’d told his questioning son.
Adam quickly shut the suitcase and shoved it back under the bed. He opened the large pocketbook and proceeded to transfer its contents to the new wallet. He was almost finished when a small piece of paper fell from one of the pockets. As it hit the floor it flipped upside down and he saw that it was a picture. A young girl seemed to be staring straight back at him. He slowly leaned down and picked up the image. Adam stared at the picture that had fallen from his father’s pocket book. Who was this girl and why did his father carry her picture? He stared at it closely for several minutes. It was evident by the yellowed paper and numerous creases that the picture had been taken some time ago. He picked it up and quickly slipped it into the new wallet, and then almost jumped out of his skin when a loud knock sounded on the door. He quickly finished transferring his father’s things, and then cautiously opened the door. He was relieved to see the young sailor who was to take him fishing.
“Met your Pa up on deck,” he said jovially, “said you’d be ready about now.”
“I’ll be right there,” Adam answered. “Just give me five minutes.”
The man gave him a wink and then leaned against the door frame to wait while Adam scurried over to a small desk in the corner. He pulled out a piece of paper and wrote a note for his father, explaining about the new wallet being his way of saying thanks. Setting both the note and gift on his father’s bed, he headed out the door and was soon so caught up in the evening’s delights that he forgot all about the mysterious girl from his father’s pocket book.
Ben returned to his cabin a little after eleven-thirty. He’d had a wonderful evening and, although tired, he was in good spirits. He quietly shut the door behind him and tiptoed over to where Adam lay sleeping. The young boy seemed to have fallen asleep with a grin on his face. Ben decided he would have to purchase something extra special for Marie. This trip had been a pleasant experience for both him and his young son. Ben started to undress, and it was then that he noticed the objects on his bed. He picked up the wallet wondering where it had come from. When he read the note a soft smile came over his face.
“You’re welcome, son,” he whispered softly to the sleeping figure.
Ben opened the new black leather wallet and saw that Adam had already transferred the contents from his old pocketbook. A sudden thought struck him and he quickly dug through the numerous pockets. He sighed with relief when he found the precious picture. For a moment his anger burned over the thought that his son had gone through his personal belongings. Clutching the picture in his hand, he quickly strode from the room and out onto the upper deck.
It didn’t take long for the cool night air along with the gentle swaying of the ship to soothe his troubled thoughts. He glanced down at the picture of the girl. Over the years, he had memorized every feature of that gentle face. His eyes misted and he swiftly wiped the tears away. He couldn’t stop the memories however, that came rolling over him like the waves upon which he now gazed . . .
“Benjamin, what do you think you’re doing?” Charlotte questioned the young boy.
Eight-year-old Ben Cartwright started at the unexpected voice and quickly stood up straight. Normally, he hated being called Benjamin, as it usually meant he was in trouble, but when his older sister used his full name it rang of her affection for him. He looked down at the ground as he scuffed at the dirt with the toe of his shoe.
“I just wanted to give you these,” he said and presented her with a small bouquet of flowers.
The thirteen-year-old girl’s frown melted into a soft smile.
“Benjamin, they’re lovely,” she said, “But what do you think mother would say if she saw you digging through her flower garden?”
Ben looked up suddenly, frightened at the thought.
“I guess she’s gonna be pretty mad at me, huh?” he asked with a slight tremble to his voice.
His sister gently took his hand and led him over to the trampled flower bed.
“Well,” she answered after looking over the damage, “I think that if you and I work together we can get things patched up so that she won’t notice a few missing flowers.”
Ben looked at his sister with a glimmer in his eye and then jumped up to give her a kiss on the cheek.
When the mess was cleaned up, she tenderly took the flowers her brother had picked for her and inhaled deeply of their sweet perfume.
“Your heart was in the right place,” she had said to him, and the two walked hand in hand into the house.
Ben smiled as he tenderly traced the outline of his sister’s face.
“I suppose you would tell me that Adam’s heart was in the right place when he went through my things tonight?” he chuckled softly to himself. “And I suppose you would be right.”
The peacefulness of the evening and the warm memories of his sister made it impossible for him to stay angry with his son. He decided that he would talk to him about getting permission in the future before going through someone’s belongings, but he didn’t have the heart to punish him for what was no more than childish enthusiasm.
Ben stared out at the reflection of the moon upon the water and fought a wave of nostalgia as more memories carried him away . . .
Ben paced anxiously outside of his sister’s bedroom. The doctor had arrived over an hour ago and still had not emerged from the room. He and his older brother, John, had been waiting in the sitting room, until Ben could no longer stand the suspense. He had crept away when his brother had become absorbed in a book, and stolen silently up the stairs. He had tried to get an idea of what was going on by pressing his ear to the door but, although he could hear the occasional soft murmur of voices, he couldn’t make out what was being said.
He jumped when the door opened suddenly and the tall lean doctor made his way into the hall.
“Well, young man, you may go in now. I’m all finished,” he said and patted him gently on the head.
Ben couldn’t tell anything by the tone of his voice, but the doctor’s shoulder’s sagged and his eyes seemed sad. He crept through the door cautiously, not sure whether his mother would be upset that he was no longer in the sitting room. He saw his mother seated next to his sister’s bed. She was holding her hand and there were tears on her cheeks. Ben quickly went to her side.
“Mother, what is it?” he questioned.
His mother was a little startled over his presence and quickly wiped at her tears with a handkerchief.
“Ben, you are supposed to be down stairs,” she chided gently, but he could tell she wasn’t really angry.
“Benjamin, I’m so glad you’ve come to see me at last,” came Charlotte’s weak voice.
She reached out her hand to him and he carefully sat up on the bed beside her.
“I wasn’t allowed to come see you,” he said softly and then looked to his mother. “She was afraid I would get sick too.”
“Well, you needn’t worry about that anymore,” she said. “The doctor says that what I’ve got isn’t catching.”
She smiled warmly at her younger brother and gently pulled on his ear causing him to giggle.
“Are you going to be well soon?” he asked her.
Ben grew worried when she didn’t answer right away, and he saw her glance helplessly at their mother.
“Now, Ben,” his mother said, “we don’t want to tire your sister out with too many questions. You tell her goodnight and then run along so she can get some rest.”
Ben looked from his mother to his sister. He didn’t want to leave, but he knew better than to disobey. Instead, he gently leaned over and kissed her softly.
“Good night,” he whispered, “I’ll come back to see you real soon.”
“Good night, Benjamin,” she answered, “I’ll be waiting.”
Over the next few weeks, Ben diligently kept his promise, making as many visits during the day as his mother would allow, along with a few during the night that she knew nothing about. Finally, the doctor gave his permission for Charlotte to get out of bed and no one was more delighted than her youngest brother.
A few days later, Charlotte asked him to accompany her on a picnic. The two headed for one her favorite spots, on a small hill overlooking the harbor. They had feasted on ham sandwiches, sweet pickles, and cherry tarts until Ben was sure he would bust. After their scrumptious meal, the two sat peacefully for a while just watching the water rise and fall. Ben studied his sister closely. He had noticed how thin and pale she had become, and often her thoughts seemed to drift away when he was speaking to her. A cold fear once again clutched his heart. Alone with her now, surrounded by the beauty of nature, he decided to ask her the question that had never been far from his thoughts.
“Charlotte,” he said softly and, scooting to her side, he gently laid his small hand over hers. “Are you going to die?”
Charlotte sighed, never taking her eyes from the water. She put her arm around her brother’s shoulders and pulled him close to her. Ben knew then the answer even without her speaking it and he couldn’t stop the tears that spilled onto his cheeks. Charlotte held him close, gently stroking his head. When his crying settled to soft sniffles, she handed him her handkerchief.
“Benjamin,” she said, pulling him away from her in order to look him in the eye, “do you know what it means to die?”
“Yes,” he replied mournfully, “it means you go away and don’t come back, like Fluff when he got squished by that buggy.”
Charlotte quickly hid her smile over his reference to the family cat.
“Benjamin, do you think of Fluff sometimes?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” he answered, “I remember how he used to like to hide in father’s slippers and then pounce at you when you walked by.”
Ben giggled at the happy memory and Charlotte smiled at the young boy.
“You see then, Benjamin,” she began gently, “when a person dies, they never really leave you. Not if you remember them and hold those happy thoughts in your heart.”
Ben sobered some as her words sunk in.
“I won’t ever forget you, Charlotte, not ever,” he stated earnestly.
“I know you won’t,” she replied.
Brother and sister once again lapsed into silence and watched as first the moon and then the stars started to appear one by one.
“Charlotte,” Ben said with his head resting against his sister’s shoulder, “I won’t ever love anyone one again when you go. It hurts too much lose someone you love.”
Charlotte remained silent for a few moments and then spoke gently, “Benjamin, are you sorry you loved Fluff? Do you wish he had never come into our lives?”
“Oh, no,” Ben replied quickly looking into her eyes, “I’m glad we had Fluff.”
She hesitated a moment more and then asked, “Are you sorry you’ve loved me? Do you wish that you had never had an older sister?”
“Never, Charlotte, never, never, never!” Ben replied, flinging his arms around his sister, in tears once more.
She held him, rocking him gently until he was once again calm.
“Benjamin,” she began, gently taking his shoulders and looking him in the eyes, “you must never be afraid to love someone. You have a big heart and so much love to share. It hurts to lose someone, but I think it’s better to have had someone to love for a while than to have had no one at all. Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?”
“I, I think so,” he answered.
The next day Charlotte had her mother take her to town and had a picture made for her younger brother. Two weeks later, it arrived at the door at the same time that Charlotte left this world. Ben was devastated and had been inconsolable for days. His father had returned from sea in time for her funeral, but had only stayed a few days after that. Ben’s mother was beside herself, and in her grief had forbidden Ben to even mention her name. But he kept his promise, he never forgot her, and he always carried her picture and her memory with him wherever he went.
Ben brushed away the tear that had fallen unbidden onto his cheek and carefully tucked the picture of his beloved sister into the wallet. He had never mentioned his sister to anyone, the memory of her was so dear to him that it had almost become sacred. He realized that Adam must have seen the picture, and his son’s naturally curious nature would have him asking about her before too long. For years, whenever he had lost a friend or a loved one, he had comforted himself with her words. Maybe it was time to share his memories with his family. There were some great lessons that could be learned from the young girl’s wisdom.
Back in his room once again, Ben softly stroked his son’s cheek. Here was a boy that too understood love, and loss.
“Yes,” he thought to himself. “It’s time to tell you about your Aunt Charlotte.”
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