Summary: A WHI for Season 10’s Emily. A Missing Man story.
Rated K ~ WC 11,800
There are men who are easily broken and destroyed. Some men are too weak to come out ahead of the game. Is my young brother one of them? Can he finish the dance and survive with his head held high?
That’s What We Do Best
Most days on a ranch are considered ordinary and predictable. If one of us is elected to go to town for mail or supplies, we might chat with Roy Coffee or one of the local bartenders and bring home the latest news, which made for interesting talk during supper but this time, I wouldn’t have that kind of story to tell.
I was elected for today’s run to Virginia City, but the day’s events were unsettling. Though my brothers would be clamoring for the latest gossip, I chose to only tell Pa. Perhaps I underestimated my youngest brother. Perhaps he’s the only one I should’ve told, but he would know most of the details soon enough.
The day proved warmer than usual, and I after picking up Ponderosa mail; I headed straight to the saloon. One of the rewards after a long dusty ride into town was a freshly drawn beer before returning home. Now that wagons delivered ice to Virginia City’s restaurants and saloons, drinking beer was a much more pleasurable experience than in years past.
Strolling across C Street toward the Silver Dollar, I glanced at a petite blonde and took a second look before staring like a kid gawking at jars of candy in the mercantile’s front window.
I didn’t think we’d see her again—or should I say, I hoped we never would. I stopped in my tracks. Perhaps I was mistaken. They say everyone has a twin, but like a cat stalking his prey, curiosity won out and my mind wouldn’t rest until I was certain.
Logic told me there was no reasonable explanation for her to be standing in front of the mercantile handling two pieces of fruit as though the decision to buy was as important as the color and texture of a new spring dress, but that wasn’t my main concern. Her presence in Virginia City disturbed me, and I could only think of one good reason she’d be in town. She’d come to see Joe.
Memories of my youngest brother sped through my mind. Though not the wild and flighty kid he’d once been—quick to love, and quick to see the brilliance in every woman he met—Joe had matured over the years, but the biggest change had come nearly five years ago. The woman standing in front of me had nearly been his ruin. His ability to let her go and move on with his life had taken its toll, and I still felt partially responsible.
Seeing her again also brought memories of a happier time, a golden time when love conquers all and the world is right on its axis. I was there to witness love firsthand. The small flirtatious gestures that were so subtle they could easily be missed if one wasn’t paying close attention, but it was my duty to pay close attention when it came to my younger siblings.
Before I could completely swallow the idea of her presence in Virginia City, she spotted me and looked up, smiling. “Adam? Adam Cartwright?”
“Emily Anderson,” I said, touching the brim of my hat. Her smile was radiant. She was just as beautiful as the day Joe and I’d met her. A horse-buying trip to Monterey had produced more than the four mares we brought home to the Ponderosa. One glance at the blonde-haired beauty and youngest brother was smitten.
“It’s been a long time,” I said.
Her cheeks flushed a light pink. “It’s good to see you, Adam.”
“I’m surprised to see you here? Virginia City is a long way from Monterey.”
“I’m going to live here,” she said.
Oh, God. Was she serious? I kept my thoughts to myself and tried to carry on a normal conversation. “I thought you’d be married, settled down by now.”
Her smile was warm, her eyes were bright and penetrating, but she kept her private life under wraps and diverted the question back to me. “Are you married?”
“No, I’m not.” I could’ve said more, but it wasn’t my place to bring my brother into the conversation. Instead, I smiled and played the polite gentleman, but more than anything, I wanted to leave her and those five-year-old memories behind. I tipped my hat and stepped off the boardwalk as though I was in a rush to complete my errands. “It was nice to see you again, Emily.”
I studied her petite form as she walked away, and I was taken aback by the obvious. No mention of Joe, but he was definitely the elephant in the room. Not much information was exchanged except that she lived here now. Of all the towns she could’ve chosen, why had she picked Virginia City? God knows my brother didn’t need the likes of Emily Anderson stepping back into his life.
Forgetting the cold beer I’d planned to have, I mounted Sport and galloped out of town, but nothing was pressing at home and I slowed my horse to a walk. My brothers had a full day scheduled and picking up mail gave me some leeway, time I didn’t have to account for. I let my mind wander back to those first few days in Monterey.
Five years earlier~
It was early summer, and the snow in the Sierras had melted enough for travel to the California coast. Joe had received word from a longtime friend of Pa’s who bred Spanish with Appaloosa and had several mares to sell. Since Joe was in charge of the horse operation, selling to the army and keeping the best of the bunch for us, he talked to Pa about checking out the new breed.
“They’d be sturdy enough for us and good mounts for the army,” he said. “If I brought back three or four, they’d make great breeding stock.”
Joe made a good point, but Pa had already decided he should go although he wasn’t about to let his youngest ride off by himself to Monterey. With roundup and the cattle drive still a couple months away, I was elected to ride along. Joe was twenty-two, and he was definitely old enough to make his own decisions, but I understood Pa’s reasoning. He wouldn’t have let any of us make the trip alone. Chances of a mishap were great and a man without backup was a fool.
Phil Anderson greeted us warmly when we arrived. “Good to see you, boys. How’s old Ben gettin’ on these days?”
This was Joe’s operation, transactions and all, and I let him take the lead. “Pa’s fine, Mr. Anderson,” he said, shaking the elder’s hand. “He sends his best regards to you and your family.”
“Ben and I go back a lot of years, you know. Haven’t seen him in more’n a decade, though. You boys have grown too. Wouldn’t have recognized you on the street, Little Joe. You were just a little shaver the last time I was on the Ponderosa. Now Adam,” —he turned toward me— “I’d know you in a heartbeat.”
“Nice to see you again, sir,” I said.
“Come on in. Let’s see if Martha has any fresh lemonade made.”
We sat in the Andersons’ parlor sipping lemonade when she first appeared in the doorway. “Papa?”
“Emily. Come meet our guests, sweetheart.”
As striking as a summer’s day, Phil’s daughter gathered her skirts and swished into the parlor to stand beside her father. Joe and I stood, dust-worn and wind-blown, and stared at the sight before us. She was a beauty, no doubt about it, and a friendly sort too. Her smile radiated a comfortable life, a happy life, but one look at my brother and I nearly chuckled. I’d seen the look before. The kid was practically drooling.
The “look” wasn’t unusual. Joe had courted several women in the last few years, and Emily was just another pretty face that had obviously sent my brother into a lovelorn state. The fact that she lived three hundred miles away and that we’d come to buy breeding stock didn’t seem to matter. The girl had thrown his composure off balance. He was almost giddy and seemed to actually stand taller in his boots.
There wasn’t time for romance and it was a foolhardy thought on Joe’s part. There were plenty of young ladies closer to home, but I wasn’t Joe. I rarely fell in love on sight, and I hoped he wouldn’t either.
“Which one of you is Little Joe?”
“Just Joe, Ma’am,” he answered.
“My father has mentioned you several times. He claims you know as much about horses as he does.”
“I do my best.”
“Father isn’t the best at introductions.” She turned to me. “You must be Adam?”
Anderson smiled up at his daughter. “Will you join us for a glass of lemonade, dear?”
“I’m sorry, Papa. I’ll be back in time for supper, though.” She glanced at Joe and me. “Will you be joining us?”
“Of course, they will, won’t you, boys?”
“Yes, sir. We’d be delighted.” Joe was as high as a kite.
“I’ll have the mares ready for you to see tomorrow morning, but I insist you stay with us while you’re here. We have plenty of room so make yourselves at home.”
“We don’t want to be a bother,” I said, feeling Joe’s hidden glare but dismissing him all the same.
“No bother at all,” Phil replied. “My wife will show you to your room.”
Though the bedroom was large, there was only one bed and we’d be sharing. I wished now that we’d gotten a suite at the hotel, but we’d only be staying one night, two at most, and I could live with that. At least Joe didn’t snore like Hoss.
Emily was seated next to my brother at the dining room table. I sat directly across and watched every emotion under the sun play on his face. Trying his best to impress, he often became tongue-tied, not the Joe I normally saw around women. His smooth talk went right out the window. She’d really put him in a frenzy.
After supper, Emily turned to my brother. “I’ve overeaten,” she said. “Would you mind taking me for a short walk?”
“No, Ma’am, Miss . . . I mean Emily. I could use some air myself.”
I winked at Joe. What could it hurt? A moonlight stroll with a beautiful woman. Only a fool would say no; besides, we’d be leaving Monterey in a day’s time. Let the kid have his fun. After all, it’s what he did best. He loved to flirt, loved the sensation as much as he loved a good bar fight or breaking an untamed bronc.
He reached for her hand and led her to the front door where she grabbed her shawl. “Nights can be chilly,” she said.
I knew what the kid was thinking. “You won’t need that shawl, Emily. Not with me by your side.” But I’d be the first to kill him if he wasn’t on his best behavior. Joe would never take advantage, but I wasn’t so certain about the girl. I knew nothing of her, but I saw the way she looked at him, seemed to hang on every word, and reach out to touch his arm if he cracked a joke. Her parents didn’t seem to think she was overly friendly, and I took it as her way of welcoming us to their ranch.
“We’ll have brandy in the parlor, Adam. Your brother should be back shortly.”
After talking ranches and weather and horses with Phil Anderson, I became concerned about the young couple and why they hadn’t returned. Her father said nothing about their extended absence, and I tried to concentrate on the conversation though I wasn’t doing a very good job. “I’m sorry. What was that, sir?”
“The mares,” he said. “How many did you have in mind?”
“Actually, I’m just along for the ride. The horse operation is Joe’s, but I think he had three or four in mind.”
“Three or four is a good start, but I think you’ll both be surprised when you see what I have to offer.”
“That will be Joe’s decision, not mine.”
I didn’t dare turn the conversation to Joe and Emily, but I wondered what the hell Joe was thinking, keeping her outside so long. It wasn’t like him to— The front door burst open and in walked they walked hand-in-hand. Their raucous laughter hinted that Joe had been nothing less than a proper gentleman, and I sighed with relief.
“Oh, Papa,” she said. “The stars and the moon were as brilliant as ever. Joe pointed out three different constellations. His father was a sea merchant. Were you aware?”
“Yes, dear. I’m well aware of Ben Cartwright’s escapades.”
“I’ve asked Joe to say over a few days. Is that all right with you? We had such a good time that I’d hate to see our company leave so soon.”
“Slow down, Emily. The boys are more than welcome, but the decision is up to them. Will your father spare you a little time to enjoy our part of the country?”
Joe and I spoke at once, but we each had a different opinion.
“I don’t think—” I started.
“I don’t know why not,” Joe said. “Spend a little time at the ocean and visit the wharf? How does that sound to you, Adam?”
“Joe, I really don’t—”
“A few days won’t hurt, will it?”
I wasn’t born yesterday. The ocean and fish-markets weren’t what interested Joe—though the excuse he’d give our pa—how could I say no? He was right. Pa and Hoss could handle ranch business without us for a few extra days.
“All right,” I said. “If you’re sure we’re not an inconvenience.”
“Not at all, Adam. As long as Ben doesn’t get his long johns in a knot, you boys are more than welcome to stay.”
“I’ll send a wire tomorrow. “
Joe and I thanked Mrs. Anderson for lovely dinner, Emily thanked Joe for the walk, and we all headed to our rooms for the night, but Joe wasn’t ready to sleep.
“I’m gonna marry that girl, Adam.”
“Tomorrow? I’ll have to buy a new suit. I forgot to pack mine.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I haven’t asked her yet.”
“Oh,” I said, pulling my nightshirt from my bag. “So you’ll ask her tomorrow.”
“No. Tomorrow’s still too soon.” Joe flopped down in the chair.
“Glad to hear it.”
“Maybe the day after.”
I rolled my eyes. “Go to bed. Maybe you’ll wake up in the morning with at least half a brain.”
Love conquers all, as they say, and Joe had left our world behind to pursue Emily Anderson, a courtship separated by endless miles of rough terrain. Not to mention he barely knew the woman; he was prepared to dive right in.
I woke early and dressed quietly. I didn’t bother waking Joe. The kid wasn’t an early riser; he needed his beauty sleep or he’d be a grouch all day. I wanted to get the wire to Pa off early, and before making contact with the family, I headed to the barn to saddle my horse. But, when I walked through the open double doors, I heard people talking, a man and a woman, and I hesitated before going inside.
They were arguing although I couldn’t make out all the words, something along the lines of, “I don’t either—yes, you do,” but in whispered tones. I felt like an intruder and moved away from the door. I leaned back against the barn wall but, within only moments, Emily stormed from the barn and made tracks toward the house.
With lifted eyebrows, I questioned her quick getaway. Someone had upset her. Another man, it seemed, maybe her father. Had he spoken to her about lingering too long last night with Joe—nearly a stranger in his eyes—when she knew proper etiquette and had gone against everything she’d been taught? I didn’t know the family well enough to judge anyone’s character, but after Emily was safely inside the house, I cleared my throat and walked inside the barn.
I patted Sport’s rump as I circled the stall. A voice spoke out from a distance. “You one of them Cartwrights?”
I turned to look, but the man was hidden in shadows. “Good morning.”
“Names Frank,” he said coming into the light. “
“Adam Cartwright.” I figured Frank to be around Hoss’ age, tall and lean, a good-looking man, either a ranch hand or wrangler. “My brother and I came to buy some of Anderson’s mares.”
“Where you from, Cartwright?”
“Nevada, Virginia City area.”
“You’ll be on your way soon?”
“Yeah, I suppose we will.” I didn’t care for the man’s attitude and turned my back to him. I spread the saddle blanket on Sport, but I could feel the man’s eyes boring into me as I lifted the saddle. “Something on your mind?”
“No,” he said. “Nothin’ that concerns you.”
His response was stone cold. Not exactly a friendly sort, and I went on about my business.
The ride to town and back didn’t take long, and I’d worked up quite an appetite. I left Sport at the hitching post and walked inside the house. Everyone was seated at the breakfast table, and Phil waved me over. “You’re quite the early bird, aren’t you, son?”
“It’s more habit than anything else,” I replied.
“Come have some breakfast. You must be starved.”
“I’ll wash up.” Joe had lifted his head to acknowledge my presence, but he dug back into his breakfast and his conversation with Phil’s daughter.
“You’ll be on your way soon?” Frank’s bold but odd question bothered me. The hushed, though angry discussion with Emily had stayed with me, but I didn’t hear enough of the conversation to draw a conclusion, and I should’ve let it go. But I couldn’t.
I sat down with Joe and the Andersons, and platters were passed my way. I filled my plate and dove into a breakfast that rivaled one of Hop Sings’. “Very good,” I said.
“What are your plans for the day, Adam? Emily wants to show Joe the bay, but I’m sure they’d enjoy your company.”
“I’ll probably head that way too, but I’d rather take in the wharfs and fishing boats first. I’ll catch up with them later.”
After Joe and Emily finished breakfast, they were off for a day of . . . frolicking in the water? Building sand castles? I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t want to be a third wheel. I could find my own entertainment.
A leisurely walk along the coastline suited me just fine. I wasn’t in a hurry; I had all day to explore. This was my vacation too, and I was mesmerized just watching and listening to the waves roll in. It was a beautiful sight; each new wave glistened and sparkled like diamonds on a sea of blue.
Chinese fishing boats dotted the water, and the smell of the day’s catch filled the air. Some of the sun-dried fish found their way to the silver mines in the Sierras, some were shipped up to San Francisco, and some back to Canton, China. Unused boats were docked next to poorly constructed shacks along the coast. Had Hop Sing not found a home with us, he could’ve easily been living in Monterey along with several of the cousins he never stopped talking about.
I left the sandy shore and rode up to an overlook thinking I might see Joe and Emily, but the bay ran for miles, and I had no idea which direction they’d ridden. By noontime, I’d grown hungry and stopped at an open market for a bite to eat. Still, no sign of the lovebirds and my thoughts took me back to the incident in the barn between the ranch hand and Emily. Why had she stomped out of the barn as mad as a hornet?
Clearing my thoughts was a difficult task, but I managed to put the young lady out of my mind, at least for the time being. I’d come to the ocean to enjoy the day, not to worry about incidental matters that were none of my business. But then, I wondered about Joe. He wasn’t the careless type, and if he kept his head screwed on straight and didn’t fall too hard for the woman’s charms, we’d head back home with the mares and nothing more would come of the budding romance.
“Wire from your brother, Adam,” Ben said. “Seems they want to stay in Monterey a few extra days.”
“Wonder what that’s all about.” Hoss seemed bewildered by the request.
“I doubt it has anything to do with mares.”
Ben folded the wire and stuffed the paper back in its envelope. “Doesn’t Phil Anderson have a daughter about Joe’s age?”
Hoss chuckled. “That little scamp. He sure is a crafty one, ain’t he?”
“Oh, let him have his fun,” Ben said. “There’s nothing pressing. You and I can take up the slack.”
“I was afraid you’d say that.”
By late afternoon, I headed back to the ranch. I’d enjoyed the day immensely, no worries over contracts, shipping agreements, or cattle. I was as free as a bird. Besides, Joe could handle himself. I wasn’t his keeper.
After stabling Sport in the barn, I started toward the house but the sound of soft laughter caught my attention. A gazebo laced with red roses had been built to the right side of the house and the sound came from behind the painted white structure. “Good Lord, Joe. Not in front of God and everybody.” But it wasn’t Joe. The man in question was too tall. Emily was wrapped in another man’s arms—Frank, Anderson’s ranch hand. I turned my eyes away and hastened my steps as though I’d seen nothing. “Damn her.”
When I entered the house, I found Joe and Phil sitting at the dining room table discussing the price of mares. “Hey, Adam,” Joe called out. “Thought maybe you got lost.”
“No,” I said as I removed my hat and fumbled with my gunbelt. I was so annoyed with the gazebo situation; my fingers wouldn’t work right. “Just enjoying the ocean.”
“It’s quite a sight, isn’t it? But cold.” Joe mock-shivered. “Nearly as cold as Tahoe.”
“Sorry, kid. I didn’t go for a swim. Guess I’ll have to take your word for it.”
Joe leaned back in his chair. “The mares are everything I hoped for, Adam. Good breeding stock and I bought four. Think we can handle that?”
I moved closer to the dining room table and turned my attention to horses rather than what I’d seen and heard outside. I kept my voice steady and calm. “I don’t see why not.”
“I’ll be back for more, though, sometime this summer.”
“You might want to wait a year,” I said. “See the new foals first.”
“A year? I doubt that, brother. I’d buy more today if I thought we could handle them, but guiding four mounts over the mountains is enough for the two of us to handle. I’ll have to come back for more.”
Joe’s smile was radiant. He had an excuse to return to Monterey, and purchasing mares wasn’t his only objective. He wanted time with Emily. If he could, I’m sure he’d come back and buy four new mounts every week just so he could continue courting Phil’s daughter.
“There are still some places Emily wants to show me,” Joe said. His eyes sparkled with that look that told me he’d fallen hard for the beautiful girl. “Think you can find something to do for a couple more days?”
I didn’t want Joe anywhere near that two-timing woman. “You know how Pa will grumble if we stay too long. We really should make plans to head back.”
I’d been ready to let Joe have his fun, but not anymore. Not after seeing Emily in the arms of a ranch hand while Joe made a deal with her father. I should’ve told him straight out, but I held back. Let him have one more day, and that would be the end of Emily. If I had to, I’d find him a local girl to court and put an end to any kind of long-distance romance.
She wasn’t the girl for him. I’d been in love before, and so had my brother. I knew he wanted to take Emily’s friendship to the next level, but I had to give him credit. He hadn’t lost track of the reason we’d ridden to Monterey. He made the deal with Phil Anderson, and I was pleased he could actually wrap his mind around something other than love and romance.
Joe was a grown man. He prided himself in his horse operation. He took the job seriously, and I was proud of the man he’d become. His love life was none of my concern, but I knew more than he did and if worse came to worse; I’d have to let him know what I’d seen behind the gazebo. For now, my lips were sealed. We’d leave Monterey, and I hoped that would be the end of the courtship.
The next two days passed quickly. While Emily entertained Joe, Phil showed me around his ranch, which was smaller than the Ponderosa, and he pointed out the open government land he used for grazing his herd of fine horses. He was proud of his accomplishments, especially the new breed, which he sold to the army and to private buyers like Joe. “Mighty fine place you have here,” I said.
“Thanks, Adam, and I’ll have to agree. The land is fine, and the horse operation keeps the creditors away.”
“I know the feeling well. The sale of our cattle and timber contracts keeps our creditors at bay.”
We’d stopped on a rise looking down at the herd of Spanish and Appaloosa. “Can I ask you a rather personal question?” Phil said.
“Shoot. I’ll answer as truthfully as I can.”
“I’m curious about your brother’s intentions toward my daughter?”
I answered truthfully. “Joe seems quite smitten.”
“Can he be trusted . . . I mean, she’s my only daughter, Adam?”
“Absolutely,” I said. Little did he know that Emily was two-timing my brother. It seemed that I was the only one aware of his daughter’s appetite for healthy young men.
We left Monterey the following morning. Our horses and the four new mares had been watered and fed buckets of grain for the past couple of days. They were ready for the trip. Joe took Emily aside, and with her mother and father watching, he was quite the gentleman as he said his goodbyes and guaranteed his return. I thanked the Andersons for putting us up, for the delicious meals, and extended my hand to Phil. When Joe finally broke away from the petite blonde, he did the same.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can afford to buy more,” he said. “Hopefully sooner than later.”
“I’d like that, Joe. They’ll be ready and waiting, and from the looks of things, so will my daughter.”
“I like her very much, sir.”
“I can see that, son.”
Joe blushed and ducked his head.
“We’d better be off,” I said. “Thanks again.”
The ride home was uneventful. Joe was in a lovelorn daze most of the way, not making the usual chatter that wore on a person over time. I let him enjoy his dreamy visions of the past few days and didn’t reveal Emily’s disheartening character or that fact that hundreds of miles separated the two and a long-distance romance rarely worked out.
We rode up to the house just before nightfall. We pushed ourselves those last few miles so we could sleep in our own beds and not have to make camp again. The older I got, sleeping on the cold, hard ground didn’t sit as well with me as it had when I was a younger man. I’m not sure how Pa still managed without complaint.
“Welcome home!” Pa beamed as he and Hoss crossed the front porch. “Have a good trip?”
“We sure did, Pa,” Joe replied.
I dismounted and stretched out my back. “It’s good to be home. I hope you saved us some leftovers. I’m starving. Joe’s quite the slave driver when he’s anxious to get home.”
“Me?” Joe said. “Who didn’t want to spend another night on the ground?”
“That’s enough, boys. Come in and get yourselves cleaned up. I’m sure I can find you something to eat.”
“Why don’t I help you put up them mares, Joseph?” Hoss said. “We’ll be in shortly, Pa.”
“Good. Thank you, son.”
I handed Hoss my reins and smiled. “Do you mind one more?”
“‘Course not. Just don’t eat all that chocolate cake Hop Sing made for supper. Save me a piece, will ya?”
“I’ll do my best.”
Pa and I walked inside together. I threw my hat and gunbelt on the sideboard and heard my stomach growl. I followed Pa to the kitchen. “There’s roast beef,” he said.
Pa and I gathered enough bread, meat, and cheese for an army and set it out on the table. While my father scooped coffee into the pot, he asked, “Well? Why the extra days?”
“Come on, Pa. Don’t tell me you haven’t figured things out?”
“It wasn’t me.”
“Love at first sight?”
“He wants to go back . . . on the pretense of buying more mares, of course.”
Thoughts of Emily and Frank filled my head, but I kept silent. “I’ll let Joe tell you the rest.”
Pa shook his head and chuckled. “That boy,” he mumbled.
Joe and I fell back into a routine although he was much quieter after the trip, but none of us pried into his personal life. Not even Pa. Joe had explained more about the mares than about Emily, and Pa had no objection to him returning with an escort, of course. Hopefully, Hoss would make the trip next time.
One long-distance venture was enough for me, especially when the dinner conversation concerned the upcoming roundup and drive, and three weeks of sleeping on hard ground. Joe mentioned his idea to Pa. He would help drive the cattle to Sacramento as planned, then he and Hoss would ride down to Monterey for a few days and bring home a couple more mares.
“Are you sure mares are all you’re after, young fella?”
“Well, no, Pa. Not exactly.”
I cringed at the thought of Joe pursuing the girl any further, and I almost spilled the beans about her indiscretion, but for some unknown reason, I held back. Had I been a soothsayer, maybe I would’ve jumped right in and burst the kid’s bubble before it was too late. Looking back, I wish I had.
Hoss threw his head back and laughed. “Ain’t nothin’ gets ‘round Pa, Little Joe. Just admit it. You don’t care nothin’ about bringin’ home prime stock. You just want to visit that Anderson gal again. Ain’t that right?”
“It depends on what you mean by prime stock,” I said.
“Cut it out, Adam,” Joe growled. I’d ruffled his feathers and he wasn’t taking it sitting down. He jumped to his feet. “You don’t call a woman prime stock.”
“Sorry, my mistake.”
“You’re damn right.”
“That’s enough, Joseph.”
“I’m gonna ask Emily to be my wife, Pa, and I expect more out of Adam than—”
Pa was on his feet too. “Wait a minute, Joseph. What’s this about marriage.”
“I love her, Pa. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me, and I won’t have Adam—”
“Hold on, now, son. Don’t you think this is a bit quick? You barely know the girl.”
“I know her well enough,” he said and then he was gone. Flying up the stairs, he closed the bedroom door behind him. Not the usual slam and I should’ve followed him. I should’ve told him the rough, hard facts.
Pa looked at me for answers. “Did you know what his intentions were?”
“He said the same thing to me the day he met her, but I hoped . . .”
Joe would never take my word, and I prayed he’d find out the truth on his own.
With roundup behind us, the four of us along with four handpicked drovers set out on the drive. We pushed nearly a thousand beeves through wind and rain and blazing heat. Over mountain passes and through tight ravines, we only lost four head on the hundred and thirty-mile trip. We were dirty and tired, and anxious for a decent meal and a soft bed in one of Sacramento’s finest hotels.
The next morning, while Pa had a final world with his youngest, I pulled Hoss aside. Though I hadn’t said anything about Emily to Joe, I told Hoss to keep his eyes and ears open. When he gave me a strange look and asked why, I didn’t say anything against the young woman. “Just do as I ask.” Joe would believe Hoss over me any day, and that was my only comment before my brothers rode off to Monterey.
I wasn’t sure if Joe planned to propose on this trip or not. He’d talked about nothing else, but he and Emily had only known each other a couple of days, and the trip with Hoss would be just the same. One or two days in Monterey and then head back home with some of Phil’s prized mares. Even if Joe popped the question, her parents should have something to say about the lack of a proper courtship. And, if Emily had any backbone at all, she’d politely tell Joe he was a nice enough person, but that she wasn’t ready for marriage.
He’d written her the day we got home. More letters followed but to my knowledge, she hadn’t written back. That should’ve told him she wasn’t interested, but mail can be tricky at times. Mailbags were a priority for most stage lines, but letters got lost. Letters ended up at the wrong post office and were resent. Those things took time, but Joe didn’t seem worried.
When my brothers returned home from the coast, Joe’s big toothy grin told me things had gone as he expected. As sad as I was to hear that, I realized how wrong I’d been to hold back when I’d first spotted Emily with Frank. Were there others I hadn’t seen? Emily enjoyed playing with fire. She was that kind of girl.
Hoss nudged my side. “She said yes,” he whispered and said Joe couldn’t wipe that lovesick grin off his face the whole way home.
My father caught Hoss’ gesture and, as expected, Pa was curious. “What was that, Hoss?”
“He’s more’n just smitten this time, Pa. That boy’s so far gone; there ain’t no way to bring him back to earth. He’s . . . he . . . I’d better not say no more. He’ll have to tell you the rest.”
“More so than usual?”
“She’s a real beauty.”
Pa crossed his arms and smiled. “Is she now.”
“She sure is. Smart too.”
“She’s a keeper, Pa. Little Joe’s one lucky feller.”
Pa smiled at his overgrown son. “Why don’t you two stable the horses while I talk to my love-struck boy.”
By the time Hoss and I joined Pa and Joe inside the house, Hop Sing had set out enough food to feed four hungry men. Pa and I had eaten earlier, but our cook was well aware of Hoss’ appetite and never thought twice about filling the table with my brother’s favorites. Hoss dug right in. Joe managed half a sandwich while he explained a bit more of his trip.
“I’ve invited the family to visit, Pa. I hope that’s okay.”
“Of course, it is, son. By the way, what did Phil and Martha have to say?”
“Oh, well, I haven’t exactly asked for her hand yet. Emily thought we should wait.”
I couldn’t help but ask, and I cleared my throat. “Wait? Why’s that, little brother?”
Joe shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. You know how women are. It’s all about the timing.”
“Oh, right. The timing.”
Another missed opportunity on my part. Why couldn’t I come out and say what was on my mind? I was sure that once Phil and Martha heard about marriage plans, they’d want more time put into the courtship before their only daughter ran off with someone she barely knew. I relied on their good sense. The fire would diminish in time, and Emily would fade from Joe’s memory.
“I’m sure she’ll want to get married in Monterey—you know, so her friends can attend the wedding,” Joe said. “You wouldn’t mind, would you, Pa?”
“No, son. I wouldn’t mind at all.”
Joe took a bite of sandwich. He glanced up at Hoss, smiled, and then glanced my way. I returned the smile but hid behind the coffee cup I held with both hands. “So she really said yes.”
“You bet she did. Wait? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing, Joe. I’m happy for you, and I wish you the best.”
Pa glanced at me before he said anything more. Could he read my mind? Pa had a way of knowing everyone’s mind even if the signs weren’t always clear. “Let’s hold off on anything until you’ve had a chance to talk to her father, Joseph. You’ve only known the girl a short time and—well, let’s just take it easy for now, okay?”
“Is something wrong, Pa?”
“Wrong? Nothing’s wrong per se, but I’d like you to consider all the facts.”
“Let’s not worry about anything tonight. You and Hoss have had a long trip and . . . I’m sure everything will work out just fine.”
“I know it will, Pa. I can’t wait for you to meet her. You’ll love her just as much as I do.”
It wasn’t long before Joe and Hoss turned in. Joe would hug his pillow and dream about the life he planned. And Hoss, who often lived vicariously through Joe, would let his mind wander to happy days ahead. If Joe was happy, Hoss was happy too.
Pa poured us each a cup of coffee and we moved in front of the fireplace, content in each other’s company without having to strike up unnecessary conversation to cover the silence. I opened my book where I’d marked my page the night before and made it halfway through the first paragraph before Pa cleared his throat, a sign something was on his mind.
“You know something, don’t you?”
“About Joe and Emily.”
I chuckled softly. “Why would you think that?”
Pa didn’t answer. He turned his attention to the dying fire and waited for my response. Leaning forward in my chair and marking the page with my finger, I knew it was time to, at least, tell my father. Where it would go from there, I didn’t know. “If my eyes didn’t deceive me, and I don’t think they did, I saw Emily in the arms of another man when I was in Monterey with Joe.”
“Did she see you?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“And you haven’t told Joseph?”
“Haven’t told me what?” Joe’s voice came from the top landing. He braced his hand on the railing, and he stared down at me. He wanted answers.
I tried to brush him off. “Nothing, Joe.”
“Come on, Adam. I know you have something to say.” I didn’t want to holler up the stairs, and I motioned Joe to join us. He did as I asked, and I tried to think of a way to rephrase what I’d said to Pa. But there was no other way to state the obvious.
“I’m not sure Emily is a one-man woman,” I said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Again, I glanced at my father. “I saw her with one of the ranch hands when we were in Monterey.”
“Yeah? So? I’m sure there are a lot of ranch hands on the place.”
“It wasn’t like that, Joe. She was . . . overly friendly.”
“What have you got against her, Adam? Pa says it’s too soon for marriage, and now you drum up a story that discredits her character, and she’s not that way. Stay out of my business, Adam. Emily loves me, and we’re going to be married whether you like it or not.”
Five years had passed since Monterey, Emily, and marriage plans. When Joe and Hoss had returned home, all Joe talked about were picnics and dances, and riding together, and how it had been the best time of his life. He sent letter after letter. He was ready to settle down and have a family of his own, and he was anxious for Emily and her parents to visit the Ponderosa, but the marriage was not to be.
Perhaps it was the abruptness of it all or the complete disappearance of the woman he planned to marry, but with no reasonable explanation and no final farewell, Joe had kept Emily perched on a pedestal that he treasured over the years. Even without answers, the girl from Monterey would always hold a place in his heart.
That night after supper, after Joe and Hoss had gone to the barn to tend the stock, I turned to Pa to relay the news of Emily’s unexpected arrival in Virginia City.
“Emily? Emily Anderson?”
“That’s right,” I said. “She’s going to live here.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I don’t either, Pa, and she was clever enough to change the subject every time I asked her a question. I didn’t get much out of her.”
“Have you told Joe?”
“Told me what?”
Joe’s voice shook me. Damn if he wasn’t the sneakiest person I knew. When had he come back to the house? “I thought you were helping Hoss.”
“I was . . . I am.”
I looked at Pa, and he did his best to divert the subject matter. He mumbled something about a contract. “Should be in the top drawer,” he said as he shuffled through papers. Joe crossed room from the kitchen and pressed his hands on Pa’s desk. “Tell me what, Adam.”
I had no choice but to come right out and tell him. “Emily Anderson,” I said. “I saw her in town this morning when I rode in for the mail.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Joe chuckled as though he knew better, as though I was making up some crazy story. “Clearly, you saw someone who reminded you of Emily. She has no reason to set foot in Virginia City.”
I cleared my throat. “She lives here, Joe. She told me herself.”
“You talked to her?”
“You’re saying she lives here. Emily Anderson . . . in Virginia City.”
I said as little as possible, but the look on Joe’s face brought back five-year-old memories as though his marriage proposal and the heartbreak that followed had been only yesterday. I stood from my chair. Though Pa had already slipped his arm across Joe’s shoulders as a simple gesture of comfort, Joe’s reaction was complete silence. No measure of effort by my father could erase the words I’d spoken.
“Excuse me,” Joe said and made his way toward the stairs.
“Joseph?” Pa called out.
“Not now, Pa.”
We didn’t see Joe the rest of that night. Pa kept glancing at the staircase, hoping he would join us, that maybe some discussion might clear the air. My back was to the stairs, and I didn’t bother looking over my shoulder. Just as I suspected, Joe still carried a torch. Emily meant more to him than all his other women combined. The fire had never gone out, and it would take time to bury those old wounds.
It wasn’t until a few days later that I convinced Joe to join Hoss and Candy and me see to a slideshow presentation in town. Emily hadn’t come knocking on our door, and I didn’t figure she’d be out at night alone attending an educational slideshow. I thought Joe would be safe.
Since he hadn’t rushed to town to find her, I was led to believe he’d either matured greatly over the past five years or he was scared to death. I chose to think maturity prevailed. The past was the past, and I was proud of my brother for realizing she wasn’t the right woman for him or could never become the right woman. Why she’d opted to live here was still a mystery, but Joe had acted accordingly.
We, including Pa, rode into Virginia City the following afternoon. The new marshal wanted to speak to all of us, and my father said he’d treat us to dinner at the International House, but we could attend the lecture without him. He didn’t go in for late nights and riding home after dark anymore. I couldn’t blame him really. I wasn’t fond of late night rides myself.
With dinner finished, Pa rode home and the rest of us made our way down to the lecture hall. Joe lagged behind. Lectures weren’t his cuppa tea, and I was shocked he’d even agreed to come. I was glad he was making an effort but surprised he’d agreed to come.
Although the room filled quickly, we found four seats together. Hoss and I bookended Joe and Candy, and the lecture began. I could tell by Joe’s demeanor that he couldn’t have cared less about the slides being presented or the description of veiled women, but the outing I’d planned changed in an instant.
The slide mechanism overheated, and the professor was forced to take a break. When the house lights were turned up, we all shifted our attention to the center aisle and the overheated projector. I’m not sure who spotted her first—Joe or me—but in the doorway to the lecture hall stood Emily Anderson.
Her velvety blonde hair cascaded over her shoulders as she eyed my brother then quickly turned and left the room. After a slight glance at me —“Be back in a minute,” —Joe was out of his seat and slipping down the center aisle to follow the woman outside.
Feeling responsible, maybe it was guilt although there was no reason I should’ve felt that way, I left Hoss and Candy and followed my brother as far as the entrance to the main hall. I kept my distance, but I knew nothing good could come from the unfortunate reunion.
It had to happen sometime, though. Virginia City had grown considerably over the last several years, but certain locations were common ground for everyone, including the International House where we’d dined with Pa. Although I hadn’t seen her, I wondered if she’d followed us from the restaurant, none of us being the wiser.
I couldn’t hear their conversation, but I watched Joe take her hand and lead her into the shadows behind a grouping of buggies parked on the far side of C Street. The way he looked into her eyes and gently cupped her face told me his feelings had never changed, that the Emily he remembered from those days of his youth was just a beautiful and vibrant as ever. In the darkened shadows of night, Emily had appeared like a goddess in a dream, a reality he never believed possible. History be damned. Joe was living in the here and now, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.
I returned to my seat next to Candy. “Where’s Joe?” he asked and I shook my head. The slideshow continued, but I’d lost interest. Tombs and burial grounds. The professor’s words meant nothing to me after seeing my brother holding that woman in his arms.
“Fight! Fight! Fight!” The screams were loud and clear and came from the back of the hall. “Joe Cartwright’s havin’ a fight with some fella out in the street!”
I was still processing the rude interruption when Hoss jumped to his feet. He was the first to react, leaving Candy and me to follow in his wake. Onlookers followed and the stage was set for a night’s entertainment, a much more satisfying performance than the lecture wives had urged their husbands to attend.
Circling the two brawling men, the audience grew in numbers, but the three of us plowed through to the front as Joe and a larger man rolled on the ground, groping and fumbling for the upper hand. Rising to their feet, my young brother swung his fists like a madman until his opponent was flat on his back. The downed man pulled his gun, but Candy was quick with his own Colt. He couldn’t miss much at close range.
As Marshal Calhoun rushed to the scene, the downed man stood, and I recognized him from earlier in the day and our meeting in the sheriff’s office. Deputy McPhail, the marshal’s right-hand man was—for reasons none of us could understand—at odds with my brother. He was part of the team—Joe, Hoss, Candy, me, and McPhail—that had been orchestrated to follow a Wells Fargo shipment, carrying ninety thousand in cash across the Ponderosa.
“McPhail, go down to my office and wait for me,” Calhoun said to his deputy.
“No, wait a minute.” Joe’s voice halted any further movement by Calhoun or McPhail. “I want to find out what this is all about.”
“I’ll tell you what this is all about,” said McPhail. His eyes were sharp and hateful as he raised his right hand and pointed his finger at Emily who remained in a carriage that I suspected Joe had been driving out of town. “That’s my wife.”
“No,” I mumbled softly. Blindsided by a revelation he’d never considered, Joe tracked the man’s steps; watched McPhail pull his wife from the buggy and haul her away from staring eyes. Pain and disbelief shone in my brother’s eyes. In plain sight, the girl he cherished more than any other had done the unthinkable. Mocking the constitution of marriage, she’d lured him into her web of deceit. What Emily wants, Emily gets, no matter who gets hurt in the process. And Joe was the last to know.
He looked to Hoss and then me. Neither of us turned away, but with onlookers still gaping in disbelief, no words of comfort were spoken. The crowd had not only witnessed telltale signs of an illicit affair by the youngest son of Ben Cartwright—a man who had the moral character of a saint—but they appeared awestruck after watching the uncomfortable situation and the downfall of a truly decent man. Joe walked away, but gossips would talk, and the story would gain momentum as word spread about the street fight and the sinful actions of Joe Cartwright.
Hoss and Candy and I rode home together. I was tempted to stay in town until Joe was ready to ride, but the last thing he’d want or need was company. There were times when a man had to lick his wounds without the presence of an audience.
The house lights still burned when we rode in. And though none of us spoke during the ride home, I asked Candy to put up my horse while I explained the situation to Pa. He readily agreed, and I didn’t blame him or Hoss for not wanting to see the look on my father’s face.
Pa folded the book on his lap. “Where are your brothers?”
I slipped off my hat and gunbelt and sat on the hearth next to my father. “There was some trouble in town.”
“For your youngest, I’d say yes, it was serious.”
“Is Joseph hurt?”
“Physically no, he’ll mend.”
Joe wasn’t the bad guy, and I needed to make that element clear to Pa. It was that damn woman. She knew exactly what she was doing and the trouble it would cause, yet she seduced my brother just by making her presence known.
“Simply put, Pa, Joe saw Emily Anderson in Virginia City. Apparently, they were driving off to be alone when her . . . her husband—”
“Emily is Deputy McPhail’s wife. We met him this afternoon in Roy’s office.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know, but let me explain.” I relayed the story to my father and left nothing to the imagination. The look on Joe’s face. The anger in McPhail’s eyes. The stone-cold reaction of Emily McPhail. “None of this was Joe’s fault, Pa. He was the victim in all this.”
“Where’s Joseph now?”
“I don’t know.”
Pa nearly leaped from his chair. He smoothed his hand over the back of his neck as he paced in front of the fireplace and pictured the scene I’d described. He turned and stared down at me. “I promised the marshal we’d ride out early tomorrow and help guard that shipment.”
Pa was already thinking a day ahead. After tonight’s fiasco, I’d nearly forgotten about Wells Fargo. “Joe won’t back out on a promise. He’ll be home soon. He just needs time to sort things out.”
Pa sent sparks flying. It wasn’t a gentle nudge with the poker. He prodded the logs with such force that flames grew in intensity until his anger over Emily abated. “That woman,” he growled. “Giving Joseph the impression . . . ”
“Ease up, Pa. Joe won’t have anything to do with her after tonight.”
“Ease up? I could wring her neck for all the trouble she’s caused.”
The last thing Joe would do is carry on with a married woman. He’d been shamed enough by a woman he had once loved. Mrs. Emily Anderson McPhail had just toppled from her pedestal and hit the ground with a resounding thud.
After the horses were put up and the story was told, Hoss and Candy and I went up to bed. Hoss had added his two-cents, and Candy remained silent, but I could tell he was fuming over a woman he’d never even met.
As expected, Pa waited up, and any conversation between father and son was privileged. We’d only be in the way. I’d told Pa the facts as I knew them, and that’s the best I could do.
The following morning, Joe was the first of us out the front door and saddling his horse. If he was anxious for a change of scene, I didn’t plan to stop him. Anything to take his mind off Mrs. McPhail and the humiliation she’d caused the night before would be a godsend.
We were positioned twenty minutes apart. Hoss and Candy rode out first. I rode with Joe, and Wade McPhail brought up the rear. Ninety thousand dollars was at stake, and we were to guard the shipment while the unassuming buckboard crossed Ponderosa land.
A woman’s shout had Joe and me turning our heads. Emily sat on a rise above us and after we’d acknowledged her presence, she began steering her mount down the hill. “What the hell’s she doing here?” I questioned.
“I don’t know. Give me a minute, Adam. I’ll catch up.”
“I don’t think it’s wise.”
“She’s my problem, Adam. Let me handle it in my own way.”
I turned Sport toward higher ground overlooking the trail the buckboard would take. I hated leaving Joe alone with her, but he’d given me no choice. Considering he was an adult and not a kid who had to be coddled and protected, it was still hard for me at times, hard rules to play by. Protect those who were vulnerable, at risk, but Joe had a strong mind and strong moral values. Though his heart still bled for Emily, I had the utmost confidence in my brother.
Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Joe ride away from her and I wanted to jump for joy, but I had other work to do. Watch for road bandits. Ninety thousand was a fair amount of cash and if word got out . . . and then a shot rang out. Between a grouping of trees, I saw the red-painted wheels of a buckboard parked just off the road, and with no sign of Joe or Hoss and Candy, it could only mean trouble.
Another three shots—a distress call—but from whom? Joe? Hoss or Candy? Then came a fourth shot, which made no sense at all. I turned toward the sound and headed down the ridge toward the road.
As Sport sidestepped down the steep hill, the Wells Fargo wagon came into plain sight, and a rider raced to the scene. McPhail. Before I reached the buckboard, two more figures, Hoss and Candy, appeared at the edge of the clearing, and the deputy drew his gun. I leaped down from my horse as Joe’s familiar green jacket came into view. Sprawled face down in the dirt, blood pooling on his right shoulder, laid my wounded brother.
“Hold it right there.” The deputy tried to guard the crime scene with Hoss and Candy and me approaching from different angles. His gun hand traveled back and forth between us.
“That’s my brother,” Hoss shouted.
I circled behind the deputy, knelt down on one knee, and inspected the wound on Joe’s shoulder. After lifting his head from the ground, a soft moan escaped, and I knew he was alive. “He’s hurt bad,” I said. “He needs a doctor.”
McPhail spun on his heel. He didn’t expect me to disobey a direct order, but after last night’s fiasco, he had more on his mind than just Wells Fargo. No one could blame him, but I remained adamant about Joe. “I’ll need use of the buckboard.”
McPhail was outnumbered, and Candy mentioned something to him I hadn’t considered. “It occurs to me you’re an awfully long way from where you’re supposed to be.”
“So was Joe Cartwright,” McPhail said and lifted the Wells Fargo bag of money. “And so was this.”
There wasn’t time to worry about money or crime scenes. “Hoss?” I called. Without a second thought, Hoss slipped passed the deputy and slid his hands under our brother’s lifeless body. After pulling Joe to his chest, he whispered words of encouragement while Candy and I spread our bedrolls on the back of the buckboard. “I’ll get him home. You ride for Doc.”
My brother and I understood one another and lengthy conversations weren’t needed. We knew what had to be done. Candy stayed with McPhail. We trusted him to gather as much information as possible.
“He hasn’t moved or said a word,” Pa said, but Doc was reassuring.
“That’s understandable. Shock. Heavy loss of blood. A long, rough ride in a buckboard.” Paul Martin rolled down his sleeves and said the magic words that would put Pa’s worries to rest. “I’ll stay with him tonight.”
Hoss and I stood back from Joe’s bed and let our father voice his concerns. No sense all of us asking questions the doc couldn’t answer with complete certainty. Any bullet wound was bad. Infection could set in and a healthy man could be stone cold dead by evening, but the bullet wound wasn’t my only concern. A man had to want to live. It took mind over matter to make a full recovery, and Joe had more than just a bullet wound to overcome.
Hoss and I excused ourselves from Joe’s room and left Pa alone with the doctor. Candy had returned, and I wanted to hear the deputy’s take on the bungled robbery attempt. But as we descended the stairs, not only had Candy come home, but the deputy and marshal had followed him out to the ranch.
Questions were asked and assumptions were made, and it all boiled down to a matter of timing. Who was where and when, and it appeared that both Joe and McPhail had become the two prime suspects. We knew Joe, and we were confident he’d never consider holding up a Wells Fargo shipment, but the marshal knew his deputy and thought the same about him. We were divided right down the middle—Joe versus Wade McPhail—and one of them would be charged with robbery and murder.
Calhoun seemed like a fair man although fingers were pointed and blame was implied in a matter of minutes. The money had been recovered, but ninety thousand was a large sum, and Wells Fargo would demand answers. Even though I trusted the system, could I trust McPhail or the marshal to do the right thing?
I sat with Joe that night after supper. Against my father’s wishes, I told him about the marshal’s suspicions, and what was his reaction? He laughed. Then, remembered his shoulder and the pain that came with any unexpected movement.
“I should’ve known it would come to this. I should’ve expected McPhail would blame me. Remove the unwanted party. I can hear the talk now. ‘Joe Cartwright absconds with ninety thousand dollars and the deputy’s wife.’ Makes a great headline, doesn’t it?”
“You crazy fool. How can you even joke—”
“How can I not, Adam? Hell, I’m the number one suspect.”
Joe was hurting. The physical pain that came with any gunshot wound had him edgier than a caged lion, but the wound would keep him down for a few days, and that was a blessing in disguise. Otherwise, I’m convinced he would have pestered the hell out of Calhoun until his name was cleared.
There was no sense going back and forth on the subject. The outcome would surely prove my brother’s innocence. Someone else was after the shipment, and all I could do now was assure Joe we were all on his side. Before I could get a word in, though, he whispered softly, “She used me, Adam.”
I leaned forward to agree, but Joe had more to say.
“She asked me to go away with her.”
“She what?” I tried to picture the scene. Emily begging Joe to leave town, and Joe trying to think with his mind and not his . . . “Go where?”
“Anywhere. North, south. It didn’t seem to matter.”
“What about her husband?”
Joe shrugged his good shoulder but grimaced from the pain anyway. “She said it was over. The marriage.”
“I told her to go back to her husband.”
I nearly grimaced myself. That lying bitch, but for Joe’s sake, I changed my tone. “You did the right thing.”
“Did I?” He looked so lost that nothing I said would change the fact that Emily had pushed all the right buttons and made him—if only momentarily—consider his options.
“She’ll never be satisfied with just one man. You know that now.” I could’ve elaborated on all of her faults, but what was the point? Joe had made the right decision. He wasn’t about to sink to her level and as hard as it might’ve been to send her packing, he could hold his head high in the end.
Joe chuckled softly. “I should’ve listened to you five years ago.”
“You tried to convince me then, but I wouldn’t listen. I even thought you might be jealous.” He shook his head. “I was a fool, Adam. I was a fool then and an even bigger fool now.”
“No, Joe, you’ve got it all wrong.”
“In the name of love, we all do things we come to regret.”
“I’m not much of a man, am I?”
“You might be a crazy fool, but you have to know one thing. I’m proud of you, Joe. You’re one of the best men I’ve ever known.
Joe’s lopsided grin was all I needed to see.
Hoss and I had just finished our barn chores when we heard a carriage enter the yard. Paul Martin and Marshal Calhoun headed straight for the front door.
“Calhoun didn’t waste any time gettin’ back out here, did he, Adam?”
“We’d best see what this is all about.”
“I’m right behind you.”
We followed our guests upstairs. The marshal needed answers. His initial questions were routine; after all, he was an officer of the law and only doing his job.
While Pa stood at the head of the bed in support of his youngest son, Joe did his best to answer Calhoun’s questions. He didn’t know who shot him. “All I could see was the guard and the driver.” His voice carried the weight of a wounded man. “I fired the warning shots. Next thing I knew I was here.”
“Two more questions,” Paul said, and I nodded my thanks for sparing my brother the excessive aggravation in his weakened state.
Joe cringed at Calhoun’s mention of Mrs. McPhail. “That’s personal,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the shooting.”
But Pa voiced a different opinion. “It might be helpful if you did answer.”
Joe’s quick nod to our father—the dutiful son that he was—answered the question just as he’d told me the night before, but there was no emotion this time around. Just the facts. “She wanted to leave her husband,” he said evenly. “I talked her out of it.”
Paul ended the interview. “That’s all, Marshal.”
But Calhoun didn’t seem satisfied. “I’ll be back tomorrow. And I’ll keep coming back until I know exactly what happened out there.”
After Paul and the marshal left, Joe asked us all to leave his room. Hell, I couldn’t blame him for wanting a certain amount of peace. Being accused of murder and attempted robbery was a bit of a stretch for a son of Ben Cartwright, but the marshal was new in town, and Joe was more of a suspect in his eyes than the deputy who’d served under him for the last nine years.
McPhail’s theory of the crime had been that if a man was trying to convince a woman to run away with him that ninety thousand was motive enough to take even a rich man’s son out of the country. Although McPhail made his version of the facts fit the crime, he was so far off base; I tried not to laugh. If the damn situation wasn’t so absurd, I might’ve laughed hysterically.
Emily had her own version, too. She’d said she couldn’t see Joe when she heard the shots. She had no reason to lie so what was Calhoun to think? She could’ve sent an innocent man to prison if Joe hadn’t mentioned something to Pa in passing.
He said he’d never been close to the hole the men dug to bury the money, and the following day, we were able to say in all honesty that Joe’s innocence was proved beyond a shadow of a doubt. McPhail was innocent too. A pair of boot prints saved two innocent men from the gallows. The driver had stood over the guard; their boot prints told a story no one had considered until Joe mentioned his whereabouts.
Minutes after the mystery had been solved, Emily and McPhail rode up to the scene. Emily had something to say. “I lied. Joe didn’t want to go away with me. It was the other way around, and I could still see him when I heard the shots. He couldn’t have killed those men.”
Her confession proved nothing. The crime had been solved without the benefit of her or her deputy husband and his outlandish theory. In my eyes, Marshal Calhoun had proved his worth as a trustworthy officer of the law. I’d be proud to call him a friend.
The next few days were rough for Joe. Against Doc Martin’s wishes, my brother had insisted Paul drive him to the scene of the crime. His life was on the line and he’d wanted to clear his name in person. Now, though, he was paying the price for the rough ride in Doc’s buggy.
I tapped on his bedroom door. Sleep hadn’t come for either of us, but I didn’t expect it would. Joe’s eyes shifted from the bedcovers to my face, and that lopsided grin appeared. There’d be no trial for two dead men. The money would be sent on ahead, and our job guarding the Wells Fargo’s payroll was over.
I didn’t come to discuss any of that. It was a moot point now, over and done with, and the Cartwright name had been cleared, but my brother’s life was still in shambles. He’d been made a fool of. He’d been chewed up and spit out, and I wanted him to know I was there to help pick up the pieces.
“Feeling better?” I said.
He nodded, and I had no doubt he was on the mend physically. In a week’s time, I hoped we’d see some the old spark that made Joe Cartwright the man he was. Time was a healer, and words of encouragement seemed overrated and worthless at this point. If Joe wanted to talk, I was there to listen.
“You should be asleep by now,” he said.
“I suppose I should. Hoss and I are heading out early tomorrow, and I won’t be worth my weight in salt, but I’ll manage.”
“We all manage, don’t we, Adam? That’s what we do best.”
“Are you managing?”
“No, but I will.”
Joe’s comment brought a smile to my face. “I’m sure you will, but I’m sorry.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah. Guess I do.”
“Get some sleep, Joe.”
Joe slipped quietly under the bed covers, and I turned down the lamp before I left his room. My brother’s road to recovery was two-fold, but he’d survive both, the physical pain and the sorrow that came from loving the wrong kind of woman. He was strong enough to weather both storms and come out a winner. After all, Joe was a Cartwright, and as he said only moments ago, “That’s what we do best.”
Missing Man Challenge
Certain phrases and quotes were taken from Season 10’s Emily, written by Preston Wood.
9 – 2017