The Perfect Sketch

In honor of Lorne Greene's birthday 2020

Adam Cartwright caught his little brother by the arm and held him just inside the door to the jail.

"Let me go, Adam," Joe snarled, his temper barely contained. "I'm going to join the search party."

"No. You're not." He deliberately kept his tone even. "You're going to come back in here and sit down at the table and do as Roy asked."

Joe shot a look at the lawman who stood near where Hoss sat. Across from Hoss was a stranger with a pad of paper and a pencil. His brother lowered his voice as he replied.

"This is stupid, Adam. It's a waste of time…."

"Joe, listen to me. I saw this kind of thing used when I was in Boston. It can work." Adam paused as he fought his own raging emotions. "Besides, what can it hurt? It's been days and the search parties have found nothing."

His brother had been straining against him.

Joe crumpled.

"Adam….what if…."

"Come on, Joe. Let's not play that game. Roy has something he thinks will help. Let's give it – and him – a chance. Okay?"

His brother nodded, but he didn't look up.



"Don't lose hope."

Baby brother nodded again and allowed himself to be drawn over to the table where he slipped into one of the wooden chairs and sat down; his lean frame the picture of abject despair. Hoss reached over and laid a hand on Joe's leg. It was a sign of the close bond the two of them shared that Joe didn't toss it off.

Adam sat as well. After a second, he cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, Mister – "

"Adam." Joe's tone was warning.

He looked at his brother.

"I can apologize for myself." Joe sat up straighter. "Sorry, Mister McGowan. I didn't mean any disrespect."

The man sitting across from them was about as Irish as they came. Ian McGowan was probably in his mid to late thirties. He had red hair, pale skin, and a whole herd of freckles that stampeded from one round cheek to the other. He'd been sent by the sheriff in Placerville to assist Roy in issuing a wanted poster. The man was a sketch artist. Roy had given him a description, but Ian said it wasn't enough. He said he needed to knowthe man behind the face he would be sketching.

The face of their missing pa.

The Irishman put his pencil on the table and laid the pad beside it. His keen gaze went from Joe to Hoss and then came back to him.

"I take it you all had different mothers," the artist said.

Adam nodded.

"I can see your father lurking beneath the surface, but 'tis your mothers have the upper hand." Ian smiled. "Isn't that the way with women?"

No one laughed.

"Which of you takes after him the most in size and strength?"

"Pa's a big man," Hoss said. "Somewhere between Adam and me."

Ian's gaze shifted to Joe. He smiled. "And his temperament? Is it English as his name or Irish like his youngest son's?"

"Our father has a temper but he controls it." Adam winced when he realized what he'd said. He glanced at Joe, but his brother appeared to have missed both insults. "Pa would be the first one to admit that. When he was young, he struggled with it." He paused to collect his thoughts. "It's like smelting metal. The heat has to be high to burn away impurities. When it's done, what you're left with is pure gold."

Ian nodded. "You have the soul of a poet, Adam Cartwright. Is that something your father shares?"

Adam thought about that one a moment. A slow smile curled his lips. "Yes."

Joe and Hoss both shot him looks.

"When I was a boy – and Pa and I were traveling – the end and the beginning of the day were often the only times we had together. Pa's a natural leader and the others counted on him. I spent most of my time with other families." He looked at middle brother and grinned. "Much as it's hard to imagine, Hoss was a tiny baby, and I lacked the skills to care for him alone. The women of the wagon train often helped me." Adam noticed that Joe had straightened up and was paying attention at last. His little brother had always been fascinated by tales of their journey west. "Not always, but often Pa would wake me and we would watch the sun rise together. We'd sit in silence for a while and then he would begin to speak. Pa would tell me of the wonders of God's world, of the majesty of the heavens and the glory of the sun and stars." The man in black's voice grew wistful as he remembered. "Pa's voice would rumble like the thunder that brings a soft healing rain. He'd say, 'Son, when your problems seem too big, remember how very small you are, but always know, that in God's – and my – eyes, you are everything."

Tears choked his voice and he stopped.

"Adam's right, sir," Hoss said, his tone hushed. "We got us a thousand acres of land. Sometimes Pa takes all three of us up onto one of the high ridges just so we can look at it. He don't say much, but you know what he's feelin' on account of you're feelin' it too."

"So, the soul of a poet and an artist as well." Ian fell silent for a moment, thinking. Then he looked at each of them in turn. "I would like each of you to describe your father for me. Who would like to go first?"

Joe scrunched down further in his chair.

He and Hoss exchanged looks.

"I guess I will, sir," middle brother said. "Pa's a big man and you know that means somethin' comin' from me. But I don't mean just on account of his size. I was lookin' up to him when I was twelve, and I was already taller than him. He's got hair white as snow and thick as a blanket of it layin' on a meadow." Hoss grinned. "It weren't always that way. Pa says it was brown 'til he got himself three boys. His eyes are brown too, but you wouldn't know it lookin' at him. They's blacker than pitch most of the time." The big man laughed. "It's kind of like a puddle on a stormy day. Them clouds roll in and everythin' goes dark."

"Ah, the temper again."

"No, sir, I don't mean that," Hoss said. "Sure Pa's got himself a temper, we all do, but he don't get mad without reason. Usually it's when he thinks somethin' ain't right or fair. He's got himself what you call a 'high sense of justice'. You ask anyone."

Ian nodded. "Go on."

Hoss looked at him as if puzzled.

"He appears to be a man of faith?"

The big man nodded. "Yes, sir. Pa reads his Bible most every day. He says faith is what keeps a man breathin'."

"It's how Pa survived our mothers' deaths," Adam said softly.

Ian turned toward him. "Would you care to elaborate?"

The man in black looked at his brothers. Then he shook his head. "I'm probably not the one to ask."

"Oh? Do you reject your father's faith?"

Adam shifted uneasily in his chair. "No. I think I just see God in a different light. Pa believes that God is in everything – the good, the bad, and everything in-between. His faith is as solid as the bones of the mountains and as deep as the ocean he once sailed. Nothing shakes it. It has carried him through hardship, near starvation, and unbelievable loss. Faith is…." Adam paused. "It is what our father is."

The artist pursed his lips and nodded. "Is there anything else you would like to tell me about your father, Adam?"

"Pa is the most honest man I have ever known. What you see, as they say, is what you get. There's not a deceptive bone in his body. Rarely do you meet someone who has nothing to hide. He's also the most generous, not only with us, but with strangers. I can't tell you how many times he's sacrificed his own good for others." He drew in a breath. "And there's one other thing."

"What's that?"

"Forgiveness. Pa stuns people with his forgiveness." Adam shook his head. "As he shames me with it."

"As you forgive, so are you forgiven, eh?"


The sketch artist was silent for a moment. Then he turned to Joe. "Young man, would you like to add anything?"

Joe's hat was pitched low to hide his face and eyes. It took a moment for him to stir and, when he did, a shiver ran the length of his lean frame. Lifting the hat, he revealed cheeks lined with tears.

"I've listened to Hoss and Adam, and everything they said is right," he began, his tone reflective, "but they missed the most important thing."

Ian leaned back in his chair. "Would you care to explain?"

"Love. Pa is…love." Joe sucked in a breath and let it out slowly before meeting the artist's stare. "You know what it says in the Bible? 'Love is patient and kind'. That's Pa. 'It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs.'" Joe snorted. "If it wasn't for that last part, I'd have been sent on my way a long time ago. 'Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.'" Joe looked at him. "Like Adam said, Pa is the most honest man I've ever met and he sure rejoices in the truth when I remember to tell it!" His brother shifted and sat up even straighter. "But this is the most important part. 'Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. It…never fails." Joe choked. "I've given Pa plenty of reasons not to love me, but he always does. He protects me. He believes in me. After I've been an idiot, he always hopes I'll do better, and he keeps on hoping no matter how many times I mess up. Pa…never gives up."

The tears were flowing freely now. Hoss had circled Joe's trembling form with an arm. Adam rose and placed a hand on both their shoulders.

It was odd, but he needed the touch.

Roy was wiping his nose with a handkerchief. "You think you got enough?" he asked the Irishman.

Ian nodded. "T'would take more talent than I have to do this man justice, but I'll do my best.

"It's the first time I've been called upon to sketch perfection."

1st Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.