Chapter Two



Ben sat outside a room above the Post. He had sent Adam home with Hoss and Little Joe while he waited for word from the doctor.

The door swung open and Ben jumped to his feet. "How is she, doctor?" he asked.

"She's awake, but shaken," the doctor said. "Keeps asking about her daughter."

"Can I see her?"

I don't see why not. Not too long though. She's been through a lot, it still needs to register."

Ben nodded and slowly entered the room. Margaret was lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling. "Maggie?" he said as he walked closer to the bed. Margaret continued to look up at the ceiling.

"She's dead, isn't she?" Margaret said without turning her head. Ben stood in silence as Margaret looked over at him. "My baby's dead, Ben, isn't she?"

"I'm so sorry, Margaret." She turned her head and went back to staring at the ceiling. "There was..."

"I couldn't open the door, Ben." Margaret started crying. Ben sat down beside her and took her hand in his. "I heard her crying. She begged me to get her out and all I could do was...pray that by some strange miracle that door would open. But it wouldn't and I felt the fire getting closer. I couldn't just leave her in there. Ben, she was my baby. I couldn't just leave her. I couldn't..."

Ben held her hand tighter, "It's alright, Maggie," he said trying to comfort her. "Everything's gonna be alright, you see."

"How can you say that? How can you say that everything'll get better when it can't? Tess was my world and now she's gone. Nothing matters anymore." Ben was silent as he listened to Margaret's words. "Please go, Ben." She pulled her hand away from him.

"Maggie."

"Please go."

Ben stood slowly and turned, exiting the room. Margaret went back to her silent stare. Ben walked downstairs into the Post. A group made up of Eli, Ruth, Shelby and Big Dan were all standing, waiting for news.

"Well?" Shelby said as Ben hit the bottom step.

"She doesn't want anybody up there." Ben said.

"Then she's awake. Did she say anything?"

"Margaret seems to think that nothing matters anymore now that Tess is..." There was a long silent pause. They all looked around at eachother. "I'm worried about her."

"Is there anything that we can do to help?" Ruth asked him.

"We're doing all we can." Ben leaned up against the counter. "There isn't much more we can do."

"Then what?" Shelby asked.

Ben rubbed his eyes with one hand. "I don't know. She needs some time. Give her time, but we have to try to keep her from isolating herself." Ben turned to Eli. "When are the services?"

"Tomorrow afternoon." he said pulling out a pocketwatch. "...This afternoon."

"It's late, I should get home."

"You ain't plannin on ridin' all the way back to the ranch jest to turn around and come back in a few hours." Shelby asked.

"I have to see my boys. I have to se how they're handling this. We'll all be back in the afternoon."

"Careful ridin' home, Ben." Big Dan said.

"I will be." Ben started to exit the post. "Goodnight." He walked outside and mounted his horse. He turned to leave town. riding at a steady speed. He could no longer see the glow in the distance. The other townsfolk must have gotten the fire extinguished. All that was left, were a few clouds of smoke that could be seen over the trees. Ben continued riding, staying clear of what had been the Greene ranch. He tried to keep the picture of what he had seen that night from entering his mind as the Ponderosa came into view. As he dismounted his horse, he saw Adam sitting on the porch.

"How is she?" Adam asked, standing as his father approached.

"As well as can be expected. What about you and your brothers?"

"I told Little Joe. He's... dealing with it. He's lost so much in this past year. First Ma, then Carlos, and now Tess. I think he's stronger than any of us." Adam sat back down. "Hoss... still doesn't want to accept it. He didn't say a word on the way back, shrugged it off when I brought it up. I don't know, Pa."

"He loved her, Adam." Ben said walking over to his son. "This is hard for all of us, but especially for Hoss and Margaret." Ben put his hand on Adam's shoulder. "Come inside, Adam. We've got an early start tomorrow." Adam stood and walked with Ben inside.

****************************************************************

"Let's go, boys!" Ben called. Little Joe ran out of his room, an untied necktie hanging from his collar. He approached Ben.

"Can you do this, Pa?" Ben bent down and tied it in a bow.

"Where's your jacket?" Little Joe turned and ran back to his room as Adam walked out. "Where's your brother?"

"Little Joe? He's getting his jacket." Adam said.

"No, where's Hoss?" Adam looked at him as Little Joe ran back out.

"I thought he left early. He said you knew."

"How long ago did he leave?"

"About an hour, maybe an hour and a half."

Ben grabbed his hat. "Adam," he said. "I want you to bring your brother into town while I go get Hoss."

"You know where he is?"

"I have a good idea. I'll be there as soon as I can." Ben and the boys left the house and Ben rode off in the opposite direction as them. He rode for a while and then stopped, dismounting his horse.

He walked forward and caught a glance of where the Greene's home stood. The smoke had lifted and all that remained was ash and burnt wooden boards. Ben looked around and then saw his son, sitting on a log, staring at the rubble. He walked over beside him.

"I thought I'd find you here." Ben said. Hoss was silent. "We're all going to the services."

"I can't go." Hoss said without turning to his father.

"Hiding from this isn't gonna make it better, son."

Hoss turned to him. "I couldn't hide if I wanted to, Pa." he said. "Everywhere I turn, every time I close my eyes, she's there. I see her face and ask myself why. Why did this happen?"

"I can't answer that, Hoss. All I know is that it was beyond our control. We tried to help her. You were the one who ran into that burning house. You saved Margaret's life."

"But I couldn't save Tess."

Ben sat down next to him. "You were very young when your mother died." Ben said. "I know you don't remember her, but she was..." He began to trail off. "When she was shot, I tried harder than anything to save her, but nothing I did worked. For a long time it hurt, and I didn't think I would ever be able to go on. Truth is, son, it always hurts. You always miss them and you never forget. You never forget what they meant to you or how special they were. Just looking at certain things or being certain places reminds you of them. Just looking at you son, reminds me of your mother. When I look at all of you boys I see your mothers. That's because they're a part of you... After some time, you learn that they wouldn't have wanted you to mourn forever. Eric, grieve, but don't let your feelings control your life."

Hoss looked over at Ben, his eyes completely glazed. Ben leaned over and put his arms around his son, allowing Hoss to cry on his shoulder.

****************************************************************

Ben and Hoss rode into town and up to the town hall. Everyone was standing outside as they dismounted and hitched their horses.

"What's going on?" Ben asked.

"It's Margaret," Big Dan said. "She ain't comin' down. Shelby's with her now." They then saw Shelby approaching from the Post.

"She ain't movin'," Shelby said. "It's like talkin' to a wall in there." They all looked at eachother in deep thought. Hoss turned to his father.

"Let me try."

"Hoss," Ben said. "I'm not sure that'll do much good.

"Please, Pa. Let me do this. I need to do this." Ben looked at his son for a moment without answering him. "Please."

"Go," Ben finally said. "Give it a try." Hoss walked towards the Post and walked inside up to Margaret's room. He softly knocked on the door and then entered.

"Ma'am?" he said. She was lying in bed facing the ceiling and made no effort to look at him. Hoss walked closer and sat down next to her bed. "Mrs. Greene, I'm right sorry about what happened. I know you're sad and you don't wanna go down there. You see, I didn't plan on comin' today either. I was just gonna sit and think about how I wish I could've changed things and how much I wish this wouldn't have happened." Hoss paused looked over at Margaret who still stared at the ceiling. "When Pa came and found me, he told me about my Ma, and how even though I never knew her, she's still a part of me. He made me change my mind about comin' today. I really think you should come down." Margaret still went unmoved.

Hoss continued. "You can't just quit livin'," he said. "Now I don't mean no disrespect, ma'am, but you ain't no different than anybody else. My Pa lost three wives and he still manages to raise us and keep a roof over our heads. Not to mention manage the Ponderosa. Isabella's brother was shot and killed. But she still found the courage to go back to Mexico and leave everything that she ever knew behind to help a sick friend." He was still receiving no response. "And what about the Orowitz's? They lost both their children to influenza comin' West. They didn't turn around and go back. They didn't quit. Nobody quit. Why should you?"

Margaret turned to him. "Don't you understand, Hoss?" she finally spoke. "Tess was my whole life. I can't just say goodbye."

Hoss leaned over, his arms resting on his legs. "Then don't." The tears started to well up in Margaret's eyes. "The way I see it, Mrs. Greene, goodbye is a mighty powerful word. Usin' goodbye is like sayin' you ain't never gonna see the person again. But they're always with you, and like my Pa says, they're part of you. We're all gonna see eachother again someday. So I guess it's more of a so long than a goodbye." Hoss stood and began to exit the room when Margaret called to him.

"Hoss," she said. He turned back. "I need ten minutes to change. Then I'll walk with you if you wait."

Hoss smiled. "I'd be happy to," he said as he turned and walked out of the room.

****************************************************************

Margaret stood outside the Trading Post. Nearly a week had passed since the accident. Ben and his boys noticed her standing there and approached.

"Glad to see you're feeling better, Maggie." Ben said.

"You've got Hoss to thank for that. I don't think I would have ever been able to get out of that bed if it weren't for him." She paused. "Actually, Ben, I was hoping to see you."

"You just let us know when you're ready to rebuild the house and..."

"Ben," she interrupted him. "I'm not going to rebuild."

"But..."

"I'm moving back East. This whole situation has made me look at things in a new light. My father's living alone back there. I was figuring on staying with him." Ben was silent as Margaret reached into a small purse, pulled out a folded piece of paper, and handed it to him. He unfolded it. "That's the deed to my land. I kept it in the bank. It's the only thing I didn't lose in the fire. I want you to have it, Ben."

"I can't accept this, Maggie."

"I won't take no for an answer. Besides," she smiled, "I never really liked ranching anyway."

"I don't know what to say." Ben said as the stage pulled up and he helped Margaret inside. "Will we ever see you again?"

"I'm sure you will. But until then, you take care of yourself, and those boys of yours." Ben nodded. "So long, Ben." Margaret motioned for the driver to move and they began to ride. Ben took his boys and stood back, clutching the deed in his hand. They watched as the stage rode to the end of town, and were silent as it disappeared over the horizon.