SUMMARY: Adam is back, but will he stay, and what happened to him while he was gone that he won’t talk about? His family has more questions than answers, but Adam isn’t one to talk until he’s ready or has no choice.
rating = T word count = 26,557
Two brothers, one tall, muscular, and dressed in black with a gambler’s black hat and a black gunbelt hung low on his right side leaned against the corral fence, and the other slender, short, wearing a green jacket and black gloves held the reins of a pinto.
“Why are you here then if you don’t plan to stay?”
“I’ve lived places where men listened to me. I got to do things I wanted to do. There was no one telling me what time to get up, what fence to mend, what water hole to clear out, or how many cows I had to chase that day.”
“So why did you come back?”
That was what Adam was loath to admit but had to tell the truth. “I missed all of you.”
There it was, unvarnished and simply stated but minus a lot more that should be said.
“After nine years, I suppose you would, but you know, we kinda got used to you not being around.” That hurt him as Joe knew it would. “At first, we waited for every letter. Then the letters were further and further apart, and for the last two years, we had nothing. You show up with no apology for that as if it didn’t matter. We thought you were dead. We each mourned in our own way, but now we know you were being you not communicating because you were being selfish and just doing what you wanted to do.”
At that point, Adam was in pain and not at all ready to reveal anything more. After all, once he said something, he would have to say it all. One word about malaria, betrayal, prison, exile, or escape would mean telling everything about all of it, and he wasn’t willing or ready to do that. He might never be ready to tell all of that. Joe wasn’t done though.
“Pa thought that when you came back, it was going to be for good. You’ll break his heart by leaving.” Joe was done then and didn’t give Adam a chance to respond as he swung up into the saddle and rode out.
Noting that he was still rather agile, Adam also remembered that he was twelve years younger and hadn’t been through nearly what he had suffered for the previous two years either. Hoss walked up behind him and gently put a hand on his shoulder. It was quite a contrast to the bear hug he had gotten the previous afternoon when he had ridden into the yard and surprised his family. He had managed to avoid showing any obvious signs of discomfort with that tight embrace, but somehow Hoss knew he had been uncomfortable with it. Since then, he had been very gentle in every move he had made around him including in his conversation unlike their younger feistier brother. Of course, now he had an even younger brother he hadn’t known about until he arrived home. That had been a shock.
“Joe’s got a lot to work out in his head and his heart about you being back. I hope you plan on giving him some time ta do it. Ya know he always needs some time.” When Adam didn’t respond, Hoss guessed the reason. “Ya know, when ya left last time, you was chasin’ something. This time, I get the feelin’ somethin’s chasin’ you. Or is it someone?”
Pursing his lips but saying nothing, Adam all but answered Hoss’ question. He couldn’t deny it because he wouldn’t lie to him, but didn’t want to explain either.
“Well, when you’re ready ta talk, I’ll be ready ta listen. Ya know that.”
“I’d rather have ya talk ta me and ask for help than leave. Ya know that too, dontcha?”
“Dang, ya know, sometimes I’d just like ta shake ya and have the whole story come tumbling out.” Adam dropped his head. “Aw, ya don’t hafta feel bad about it. I know how ya are, but it jest ain’t my way.” Changing the subject abruptly then to ease the pressure on his older brother, Hoss smiled. “Now, me and Jamie gotta head on up to the north to check on the herds, and I was wondering ifn you’d come with us. Get to know the boy and all.”
“Sleeping on the cold, hard ground, eating beans, and smelling like a horse for a week?”
“Breathing fresh air, seeing beauty all around ya, and having the two best companions a man could have ifn he’s feeling a mite troubled.”
“A man would be a fool to say no to that.”
“I told Pa you’d probably go with us. He said he’d miss ya while ya was gone, but he liked that you’d get to know Jamie a bit more.”
“That red hair stands out, doesn’t it?”
“Ya get ta know him, you’ll find there’s a lot more to him than that hair.”
“It’ll give Joe and Pa time to talk too and maybe decide I’m not a complete jackass.”
“Yeah, things might be a bit more settled out when we get back, and we always knew you wasn’t a complete jackass. I’ll let Pa know you’re going.”
With a broad grin, Hoss was going to slap him on the shoulder but thought better of it. He had felt Adam flinch when he had hugged him the previous day and knew he was hurting. Not sure how bad it was, he didn’t know exactly how much he could do but with his strength knew he could easily do too much. He and their father had talked about Adam with both worried about how thin he was and how pale as if he hadn’t been in the sun much for quite a while. Neither knew what to make of it and had scoffed when Jamie suggested that maybe he had been locked up. Later though, Hoss had wondered about that because Adam kept the cuffs of his shirt down all the way on his wrists even though it was very hot. He had always been one to roll up his sleeves on a hot day. He thought about what Adam might be hiding.
As Hoss walked to the house, Adam sighed deeply and wondered how long he could keep his secrets hidden. Apparently it wouldn’t be much longer. If he had refused to go with Hoss, he would have been questioned about that, but when he showed little stamina on the trip as he expected would happen, he would face questions about that. He had no good answers that would evade the larger questions so that would make him face the largest question. Should he leave or should he risk answering their questions? If he could have heard a conversation from thousands of miles away, the answer would have been easy.
“So you are sure he survived?”
“We are sure. There is ample proof that he arrived in San Francisco and that he likely traveled from there to his family ranch.”
“We did not assign anyone to follow him only to report back on his whereabouts. They followed the evidence until they were sure he was alive as they were instructed to do and gave us all the information they had collected.”
“I suppose, but I wish they had had a bit more initiative. This could already be concluded.”
“What do we do about him now?”
“Do about him now? That is simple. Send a man to eliminate him. Now that he is free and among those who will support him, he will begin digging and will find the truth. If he does that, he will ruin us. The simplest method is usually the best. One man sent there unobtrusively to watch and get an opportunity and then, poof, our problem is no more.”
“We should have had him hanged instead of put in prison. Who knew he could get himself out of that by choosing exile to that island and then managing to escape from it. A man in his condition shouldn’t have been able to escape from anything.”
“Make sure the man we send after him doesn’t underestimate him. I don’t want any mistakes made. I want him dead and buried before three months are up.”
“But it will likely take two months for our man to get there.”
“That gives him a month to carry out his orders. He’ll be paid well on his return.”
“The sharks in the harbor?”
“What else? We can’t have any more who know too much. I’m assuming that’s what happened to the two we sent to look for him?”
A wicked feral grin was all he got in return, but it was enough. The country had so many opportunities for illegal gain, and one American had gotten into his head that he could stop them gathering evidence against them and preparing to go to the authorities. They had discovered his investigation though and set him up to look like the criminal with many illegal things in his possession and unexplained bank accounts with substantial sums in them that he couldn’t explain. They had some businessmen testify against him or face certain ruin. As a foreigner, he had gotten no mercy from the court and had gotten twenty years at hard labor. No one had listened to his story. It had helped of course that he was suffering a bout of malaria at the time and in his weakened condition was unable to withstand the vigorous questioning of prosecutors and the judges. However on the outside and able to organize his allies and talk to those in authority, he still knew where to point an investigation. They would be found out and face the same penalties he had managed to escape if he decided to go after them. From what they knew of him, he was the type to seek justice if not retribution. Therefore the logical thing was to eliminate him to remove the threat.
In Nevada, as Adam lay down to try to sleep that night, he had some of the same thoughts as the men who meant to end his life. He knew a great deal about their criminal enterprises. When he had been getting close to exposing them, they had struck first planting evidence to make it appear that he was the criminal. The amount of evidence against him was overwhelming and the court had not allowed him to present his theory that he had been framed because of the investigation he had been conducting. His lawyers had all that he had uncovered yet none of that had made it to the police. Too late he realized his lawyers were either employed by his foes or terrified of them. It didn’t matter. His representation had been pathetic and his conviction the only likely result. Now that he was far enough away and safe for the time being, he could write down everything he knew and send it to the appropriate authorities. What he didn’t know was whether they would pay attention to anything said by an escaped prisoner. A more worrisome thought was now that he had surfaced publicly, had that news reached his foes and would they do anything about him. He suspected they would when he considered the lengths they had gone to have him imprisoned and then the attempts in prison to end his life. That had been why he volunteered for exile. It was his only chance to survive.
On that island though, he had recovered sufficiently from the abuse he had endured so that he was able to construct a small raft and weave a sail for it from local vegetation. Using skills he had learned from his father and grandfather, he had figured out what direction he would have to go to reach the mainland again. He waited for the calmest seas that he thought he could handle and pushed the raft out onto the waves. The authorities had said they would check up on him in a year. He guessed they would be surprised to find him gone, but would likely assume he had perished.
Once on the mainland, he guessed he would have to travel west where he wasn’t known so that he could try to find a way to sail away by getting a job aboard a ship. There had been some real scares with sharks circling his raft, then saltwater crocodiles longer than the raft in the surf and along the coast when he came in. Somehow, his prayers must have been enough because he made it only to find hundreds and hundreds of miles of barren land under the blistering sun. He ate insects, bats, and anything he could get. Once he arrived in a settlement, he was sunburned, thin, and covered in insect bites looking like the classic desert rat. His beard and long hair fit the part quite well. No one would have recognized him as the architect and engineer sent to prison a year and half earlier for the crimes of fraud, theft, and embezzlement. He spoke little and when he did, he spoke with the accent of the typical worker there. In time, he had enough money to travel on to the next town and the next until he reached the port. There he managed to sign on to a ship as a common seaman for the trip to the Sandwich Islands and San Francisco. In San Francisco, he jumped ship as did a few others. He had a little money and not much else, but he did manage to get a shave, a haircut, and one set of new clothing before he presented himself at the bank as Adam Cartwright and asked if he could get some money from the family account. It had taken him over a year and a half to accomplish this so he wasn’t going to be deterred by a haughty bank clerk who demanded some identification.
“If you will contact my family, I’m sure we can find a way to prove I am who I say I am. I’ll wait while you determine how you want to do this.”
It had been over nine years since Adam had been in that bank. None of the clerks knew who he was. However, the bank president knew him and his family so the clerk smugly asked the man working beside him to ask the president of the bank if he would please come to tell this imposter that they would summon the police if he insisted on trying to defraud the bank. Adam waited patiently and without a response until the bank president huffed into the bank lobby. When he did, he looked angry, but that look was replaced by first confusion and then uncertainty.
“Adam, I had no idea that you were back. The last time I talked to your father, he said they hadn’t heard from you in a very long time.”
“Yes, it couldn’t be helped. Now, I only want a small amount at this time. I need enough to travel home and I need to buy some personal items. Can that be arranged?”
“Yes, of course.” Turning to the clerk, the president instructed him to cash whatever draft Adam handed him.
“Thank you. I’ll be sure to give my father your regards and tell him how helpful you have been.”
“Thank you, Adam. We’re always happy to serve our customers’ needs. Now safe travels to you, and I hope we’ll be doing business with you again soon.”
So Adam had traveled for a couple of days and arrived home with only the minimum of personal possessions and enough money to rent a horse to ride to the Ponderosa. Luckily his family had not discarded his old clothing but packed it away. Some of it was too large, but most fit reasonably well. His old boots, pistol rig, and even an old hat were in there too. Hoss had told him why when delivering the boxes to his room.
“Pa couldn’t get it out of his head that you was coming back. I kinda hoped so too even after the letters stopped. So we kept your stuff.”
“Thank you. I don’t deserve all that you’ve done, but I do appreciate it.”
The next morning, he would be packing up some of those items to travel with Hoss and Jamie to do one of those jobs he had left to escape. Now he looked forward to it and the peace he might enjoy while doing it. But he was still worried about all the unknowns involved and that made sleep hard to get.
Tired when dawn arrived, he knew Hoss and Jamie would likely be anxious to get going. With efficiency, he packed up what little he would need and carried it downstairs to eat breakfast. He still wasn’t used to having such rich good food and knew that probably worried his father and Hop Sing. He did his best though and hoped a peaceful atmosphere would let him eat, but breakfast wasn’t peaceful as Joe was still seething. There was going to be a confrontation if something didn’t change and soon. The four sons took their places at the table with Ben at the head, but the tension was noticeable.
As Ben watched his sons eat, he could determine their moods. Joe was stabbing his food and chewing it as if it had harmed him. His anger was palpable. Hoss was worried and more tentative than usual taking far less than his usual helping and glancing from Joe to Adam as if worried about what might transpire between them. Adam was intent on his plate not looking at anyone else. He moved the food around more than he ate anything, but he had to be aware of Joe on his left side who was making his unhappiness clear to everyone. Jamie was watching everyone and looking to his father occasionally as if to ask for help because he didn’t know what to do. Ben smiled at him and nodded encouraging him to eat and saying nothing more than that. Finally Joe couldn’t take the silence.
“Aren’t we going to talk about it?”
“Talk about what, Joseph?”
Joe knew by that response that his father was going to stand for anything less than a civil discussion. He bit down what he had intended to say. “About Adam being home and where he’s been all this time.”
“I’m sure that Adam will tell us when he’s ready.”
Ben was fairly sure that Hoss and Jamie were holding their breath waiting for the next response from Joe. Adam continued to do what he had done. He moved the food on his plate and then ate a small piece of bacon. It was about all Joe could take, but before he could blow, Hop Sing came in with a platter of hot biscuits.
“I got hot biscuits fresh from oven. You eat now when best. Little Joe, you want one?”
Clearly Hop Sing had been listening and had stepped in to defuse the situation. Joe had little choice but to answer him and then Hop Sing was next to Adam who was inclined to refuse more food.
“You take. Wrap in napkin. Good on trail. You see.”
“Thank you. I will.”
“Hey, Hop Sing, do me and Jamie get to take some for the trail too? We like to have good food to eat on the trail too.”
“You take, but not too many.”
After Hoss and Jamie had taken biscuits to wrap in their napkins, Hop Sing served Ben.
“Thank you, Hop Sing. This is wonderful.”
Both knew the thank you was for more than the biscuits. With their napkin bundles, Hoss and Jamie stood signaling Adam that it was time to go, or to escape, depending on your point of view. They grabbed their hats and coats as Ben followed them out the door leaving Joe alone at the table with his unhappy thoughts.
Outside, Ben told his sons not to rush but to have a good time while they got the work done. The unspoken message to Hoss was not to push Adam. Like Hoss, Ben had seen signs that his son was not in the best of condition. He didn’t pry but suspected that Adam had had a difficult time the previous two years. The lack of communication, the lean look, the way he moved rather stiffly, and his reticence as well as a haunted look he had all added up to something bad that had happened. Ben was willing to give Adam time to recover before he pressed him for any of that story. He guessed that Adam was going to be curious about Jamie’s story. Perhaps once Jamie started talking, Adam might begin to share some things. It was a long shot, but it could happen. He watched them as they rode out with Hoss in the lead, then Adam, and then Jamie leading the packhorse. All turned to wave and Ben waved in response. Candy walked up to him as the three rode away.
“Saw Joe in town last night.”
“So you heard that Adam is back.”
“Joe is going to need someone to listen as he sorts through his thoughts and feelings about all of this.”
“Don’t worry, Mister Cartwright. I already started last night. I’ll stick close to his side so he doesn’t do anything stupid.”
“Thank you, Candy. You’re a good friend.”
“Joe’s pretty angry. Is that why you sent Adam away?”
Surprised that Candy would see it that way, Ben quickly clarified the situation for him. “I didn’t send him away. Hoss wanted him to go with him, and I thought it would be good for the two of them and for Jamie too. He needs to get to know his oldest brother and Adam needs to get to know him.”
“Probably best to do that with Hoss instead of from Joe.”
Ben didn’t have to say anything in response to that for the answer was obvious. He walked back inside to see if Joe was ready to talk. He wasn’t so Ben simply shared his thoughts and observations to let Joe think about those. He wanted it to be there as a counterbalance to Joe’s more negative thoughts and give him a second perspective. Hopefully by the time Adam was back, Joe would be willing to listen and not judge. Time to think things through usually had a beneficial impact on Joe and Ben had no reason to think this time would be any different. When he finished, Joe still had that same look so Ben had no reason to suspect that he had made an impact on him.
However, Joe was in even more turmoil than he had been before his father spoke to him. As Ben and Hoss had observed, he too had noted how stiffly Adam moved, how thin he was, and how little he ate. He pushed him to get him to talk and was frustrated that his best efforts had yielded nothing. Adam was closed up as tight as a mussel in the shoals when they waded in barefoot. Joe’s anger was real. His irritation and frustration were equally intense, but he still wanted to hear Adam explain that there was a logical reason why he had let them believe he was dead. For their father’s sake if no other, he wanted Adam to have a reasonable story to explain why he had been out of touch for two years and then just showed up as if nothing was wrong. He tried to explain it later to Candy.
“I want to hit him because there’s so much built up inside of me, but I don’t want to hurt him. I want him to say he missed us and that he has a good reason to explain why he couldn’t let us know he was alive.”
“Jamie’s theory is that he was locked up.”
“Candy, that’s just crazy. You’ve heard the stories we’ve told about Adam. No matter what anyone might say about him, he wouldn’t break the law. No, that isn’t it, but I can’t come up with any other good reason. I want to hear him explain it, and it makes me so mad that he didn’t say anything. He just showed up like we weren’t supposed to care that we hadn’t heard from him and thought that possibly he had been killed.”
“Maybe he’s telling Hoss and Jamie.”
“I hope so. However the truth comes out, at least it would be out.” Joe paused then before discussing it further but decided he had to discuss it with someone, and Candy wouldn’t judge. “Pa thinks Adam may have had a rough time of it somewhere the last couple of years and that’s why he didn’t write.”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know. I mean, he is kinda thin. He looks thinner than when he left here.” Joe paused again. “He walks kinda stiff too.”
“Like an old injury or like a recent one?”
“Hard to tell. He hides things so well.”
“He looks around like he’s worried, but there’s nothing here that should worry him.”
“Maybe he’s worried that he might be bringing trouble here.”
“Yeah, if he had been in trouble, it could be following him here and that would bother him.”
“So he looks thinner, worried, and stiff like he’s been injured because he might have been in some serious trouble, but he’s been home a day and you figure he ought to get over it and tell you all about it?”
Looking at Candy then, Joe frowned before pursing his lips like he was a disapproving schoolteacher. “You know, no one likes a smart-alecky friend. Maybe you’re the reason I didn’t miss Adam more. The two of you are a lot alike.”
“Oh, you mean we’re both smart, handsome, and charming?”
“Those weren’t the words I was thinking of using.”
“Let’s not get into specifics then and ruin a good thing.”
“All right. Let’s go see if lunch is ready. I didn’t eat much for breakfast.”
On the trail, Hoss called the third break of the day. He had seen quite early on that Adam wasn’t ready to make a long ride and had broken up the trip into short segments and had taken it slow. They were going to take the whole day to arrive at their destination or at least Hoss hoped they would get that far because he wasn’t sure they would make it.
“Hoss, I’m sorry to hold you up like this. I’m not used to riding. I haven’t done much in the last couple of years.”
“That’s all right, Adam. I bet you’ll start feeling like your old self in no time.”
With a half-smile, Adam had agreed. They ate the lunch Hop Sing had sent with them. The biscuits had been devoured in the previous breaks they took. The good news was that the horses were still fresh so the steeper terrain ahead of them wasn’t likely to bother them much. The trek bothered Adam though as both Jamie and Hoss noted how tired he looked by the end of the afternoon. They arrived at the spot where Hoss wanted to camp because there was a nice pond there for fishing and swimming which he and Jamie wanted to do.
“Hey, Adam, after we take care of the horses, we’re gonna jump inta the pond to cool off. Ya wanta join us? Clean off all that trail dust and cool down too?”
“No, I’m not hot. I think I’ll rest up a bit on dry land.”
“Well, you could wash your feet. I know you always liked to do that when we was camping out. There’s a nice bank ta sit on.”
Shrugging, Adam followed his brothers then as they took the horses to the pond to water them and then hobbled them in the pasture so they could graze. Hoss and Jamie undressed and waded into the pond as Adam stood on the side eventually sitting down and pulling off only his boots and socks. He rolled up his pant legs and put his feet in the water admitting it did feel good. Though they encouraged him to join them in the water, he declined. As they waded toward shore an hour later, he pulled his feet out of the water and rubbed them dry before donning clean socks and putting his boots on.
“I’ll head back to camp and start a fire for dinner.”
After he was far enough away not to hear, Jamie had a question. “Hoss, what’s the story with those scars on his ankles? I never heard a story from any of you that had anything about something happening that would leave scars like that.”
“Jamie, I never saw those scars before today. Makes me wonder what other scars he might be hiding. Might be why he didn’t want ta go swimmin’ with us. Adam always used ta like swimmin’ but today he didn’t want to when he had to be as hot as we were.”
“Can I ask him about them?”
“Not yet, but maybe ifn he don’t start talkin’ at some point, you could. Give it some time though.”
“All right. How good a cook is he?”
“Unless he improved a lot while he was gone, we should get back there quick like.”
With a grin, Jamie pulled on his boots, jumped up, and ran back to the campsite surprising Adam who whirled on his with his hand on his pistol. “Sorry, but Hoss said you were a terrible cook, so I wanted to get back here to help before you got too far. Usually when we camp, I cook a lot because I’m better than he is at cooking.” Jamie ignored the hand on the pistol knowing he had startled his oldest brother. He filed that information away. It was useful information to know that your oldest brother could be quite formidable when startled because he had turned very fast and if necessary, that pistol could have been drawn very rapidly. Jamie remembered then that Joe had told him that he learned shooting from Adam.
Equally adept at ignoring some things, Adam turned back to meal preparation. “I’ve only started the coffee. I can do a fair job with that. I’m pretty good with beans and bacon. Anything else, I’ll leave to you.”
“I was thinking of cooking the ham, potatoes, and onion that Hop Sing packed in the provisions for us.”
“You go right ahead then. I’ll watch.”
By then Hoss was back and settled down by Adam to watch Jamie cook. He put potatoes in the pan first with some bacon grease, then onion, and then chunks of ham. What surprised Adam was that he pulled a couple of eggs out of a jar next and cracked them over the whole mix and sprinkled some seasonings over all of it. Then he put a cover over the pan.
“There, it needs to cook a bit and then we’ll be ready to eat.”
About fifteen minutes later, Jamie took off the cover and declared the concoction was done. He cut a large portion out and put it on a plate for Adam and then a larger portion for Hoss serving himself last with the remainder. Hoss watched as Adam began to eat and not push the food around his plate. Adam surprised himself too with how hungry he was. A short time later, Adam leaned back though.
“Jamie, I can’t eat all of this, but it is no reflection on your cooking. That was delicious. Where did you learn to cook like that?”
“With my Pa, my first Pa. He was a rainmaker and we traveled a lot. There were a lot of times we were camping and I had to cook. I learned to fix a variety of dishes. My Ma cooked very well too and I remembered some of the meals we had when she was alive. So I tried to figure out what she must have done and tried to make those kinds of things.”
“So your father was a rainmaker. That must have been quite a life. I bet you have a lot of stories to tell.”
“I sure do. A lot happened before Pa, our Pa, decided to adopt me. It’s like I have two lives: the one before and the one now. Sometimes it still doesn’t seem real.”
“I can understand that. The two lives you led must have been so different. You must have traveled a great deal back then when you were younger.”
“I did. Pa said you and him traveled a lot too when you were young.”
“We certainly did. It leaves a mark on you, doesn’t it, to have those experiences.”
“Yes, I guess everything that happens to you leaves a mark on you, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, some more than others. Now, does it bother you to talk about your first father? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
“No, I don’t mind.” So Jamie told the stories he had about traveling the west with his rainmaker father. He told about his grandfather too and how he had come to take him away from the Ponderosa and to go live in Boston. “I’d like to visit him sometime, but I don’t want to live there.”
“I can understand that. The cities of the east have gotten crowded and dirty. The city governments are corrupt in so many ways. Life out here is cleaner and simpler. You’re a wise one to prefer it here.” Adam said no more though both Hoss and Jamie waited.
“Well, I guess it’s gettin’ pretty late. We oughta turn in so we can get to work in the morning at first light. Whoever wakes up first, wake the other two. All right?” With that, Hoss rolled out his bedroll and made himself comfortable. It was a warm night so he didn’t think he’d need a blanket but he kept one handy in case the temperatures dropped. He noted with some surprise that Adam wrapped himself in a blanket right away and had his bedroll closer to the fire than either him or Jamie did. He hoped his older brother wasn’t ill but he had shown no signs of being sick so he put that worry aside.
In the morning, Adam was stiff and sore. He did his best to loosen up but clearly the ride from the day before had taxed muscles he hadn’t used much recently and sleeping in a bedroll on the ground had aggravated whatever problems he already had. Hoss told him to rest easy as he and Jamie got the horses ready. Although Adam wanted to argue the point, he knew Hoss was right so he made coffee and got bacon frying. That much he could do without a problem. When they got back to that, both were pleased to have the hot coffee and bacon to go with the biscuits Hop Sing had packed for them. Probably because Adam was there, Hop Sing had packed better food supplies than was usual for a trip like this. Hoss didn’t say anything about that and shushed Jamie when he was going to comment. For lunch, they opened a can of peaches to share. Dinner was another fry pan casserole cooked by Jamie who told them he used the last of the eggs though so the next night wasn’t going to be as good.
“Ya still got some of them potatoes and onion left?”
“Yeah, Hop Sing packed a lot of those for us.”
“Then maybe we can knock off a little earlier today and try to catch us some fish for dinner. I’m thinking some fried fish with potatoes and onions sounds mighty tasty. How’s that sound to you, Adam?”
“That sounds like a wonderful plan.”
Herd counts were going well, fence lines were all intact, and there were no signs of any intruders. The first few days had gone very well. The evenings were mostly filled with Jamie telling more stories of his time with his rainmaker father or Hoss filling Adam in on what had happened in the time he was gone but mostly what had happened in the past two years. Adam was shocked to find that Joe had married and lost his wife and unborn child. The tragedy of that hit him hard. Hoss knew that Adam would want to say something to Joe about it but warned him it was still a sensitive issue.
“He ain’t fully come to terms with it yet even if he’s gettin’ closer. Like as not, he’ll strike out at you ifn you was ta say something so maybe it might be best to let that lie for a bit. You know how he can be.”
“I suppose that’s another reason he’s upset with me. I wasn’t here for his wedding, and then I wasn’t here for the funeral either.”
Hoss and Jamie said nothing in response to that which confirmed to Adam that his theory hit the truth dead center. The next few days, they had a bit more work to do as they found a few places where the fencing needed repair. Again, Hoss and Jamie noted that no matter how hot they got, Adam still kept his shirt buttoned up and his sleeves rolled down to the wrists even as they rolled up their sleeves and opened their shirts to cool down. Neither could tell whether he was hiding something or if he was unused to the temperatures in the mountains. Hoss guessed that maybe it was a combination of both and didn’t know he had hit the truth dead center too.
At the end of six days, there was still some work to be done, and Adam had gotten to know a lot about Jamie who decided he liked his oldest brother. However Hoss knew that if they stayed to finish the work, their father would worry especially because it would take them quite a bit of time to finish it all. Hoss had told him they would be gone a week. If they didn’t return by the next night, he would be worrying which wasn’t good for him at all. He said as much to Adam and Jamie who agreed that they ought to head back. Jamie spelled it out much as Hoss had thought.
“We can always come back up here to finish. It looks like about five days work anyway. If the line shack needs some work too, it could take more than a week. It seems like a return trip might be the best bet.”
With a deep sigh, Adam wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and lay back to sleep on the ground again. “I’m looking forward to sleeping in a bed. I’ve spent far too many nights sleeping on the ground.”
“It’s only been six nights, older brother.” Hoss was grinning when he said it but saw the look on Adam’s face and realized he had just gotten a clue as to what he had faced for the previous two years. The look vanished quickly and Adam tried to make light of it.
“Yeah, right, but that’s six nights too many.”
From his bedroll on the other side of Adam, Jamie frowned. Hoss nodded at him as if to say they would talk later. Jamie dipped his head in response before dropping down to sleep. Hoss wondered if he too had a hard time falling asleep wondering where Adam had been and how hard a time he had had.
In the morning, Adam realized that the stiffness and chills of the day before had been a harbinger of what he feared the most. When he thought Hoss and Jamie weren’t looking, he took a small tin from his pocket and swallowed a pill from it. The supply was limited and he doubted that Doctor Martin had more, but he was probably going to have to contact him and ask for help in that regard. He only had six doses of quinine. If he had a full-blown relapse, he was most likely going to need more than that. All he could hope was that the six doses he had would be enough to stop a relapse. He had been able to get quinine on the ship because sailing in tropical waters, they had to be ready to treat crewmen for malaria rather often. In San Francisco, men came in with the disease because they traveled through Central American or through southern Mexico to get to the gold fields. He had bought what he could there, but he didn’t have much money so six pills had been all he could afford before he left town. He should have gotten more money from the bank to purchase more but hadn’t thought about the medication until he was nearly ready to leave town and realized it was not likely to be available in Nevada.
Despite Adam’s precautions, Jamie had seen him furtively take that pill. He asked Hoss about it and their discussion left them even more worried wondering if Adam was ill or if he had let himself become addicted to a drug. After the War, a number of men had come home or moved to the west who were addicted to morphine as a result of being wounded and being treated with the painkiller. Jamie had not seen exactly what Adam took, but it worried him and Hoss.
“Hoss, I saw some men in Sacramento that my Pa said were using opium. He had a name for them, but they were thin and haunted looking. You’ve said that Adam is thinner than you expected and has kind of a haunted look. Do you think he could be using opium?”
“I dunno. Far as I know, people smoke that stuff. I guess I don’t really know much about it. I know people use morphine powders too and mix it with alcohol. I don’t know what kind of thing is in a pill like what you said he took.”
“It looked like it was some kind of pill, but it could have been a pinch of something too.”
“Yeah, that’s what’s got me more worried.”
“What should we do?”
“I guess all we can do is watch and wait, Jamie, watch and wait.”
Nothing happened that Hoss noticed other than Adam seemed chilled even though he seemed to be sweating too or at least there was a sheen of sweat on his face. They arrived home late that day and Adam helped them with the horses and then headed to bed. Ben asked how things had gone, and Hoss couldn’t keep the worry from his voice.
“It seemed to go all right. Adam ain’t used to riding so we had to take it easy gettin’ there and back but otherwise he did fine. He was a mite tired and stiff in the mornings though not used to sleeping on the ground or maybe not likin’ it much.”
“Hoss, what is it you’re not saying? I can see too by the looks that Jamie’s giving you that you’re holding something back.”
“Pa, it’s just that we’re worried about him. He was awful tired and stiff out there. Now I knew he wasn’t probably ready for hard work and all, but it seemed like maybe there was more wrong than not being used to it.”
“Do you have any idea what the reason for that might be?”
“Well, not really.”
“Not really or is it that you don’t want to tell me what you’re thinking?”
“Pa, I rightly cain’t say. I got to think on it some. Now me and Jamie been looking forward ta sleeping in our beds too. Fact is, I’d like a big ole heaping plate of Hop Sing’s good cooking and then I’d like ta sleep about twelve hours.”
For the next month, Hoss and Jamie kept their suspicions to themselves and never saw another sign that Adam was taking any more pills. He didn’t go to town so he wasn’t getting any more of whatever he had. For his part, Adam was relieved that the six pills he had stopped the symptoms and there was no relapse. He had contracted malaria many months earlier and had feared a relapse but had not expected it in the cool air of the Sierra Nevada. He began to feel a bit stronger as he gradually increased his work he was doing and the stiffness and soreness diminished. Although he knew his family wanted to know where he had been and what he had been doing for two years, he couldn’t find a way to break the news to them. However as more than a month went by, he began to worry that someone would be showing up who could cause harm to his family and wondered if he should leave. That caused a change in his demeanor though slight but enough that his family noticed. Joe, who had been giving him a lot of leeway, wasn’t going to let that pass. When they were assigned to fix some boards in the back wall of the stable one morning, he figured it was a good time to question his brother.
“You said when you got here that you’d be here awhile. You implied you wouldn’t be staying. Now lately you’ve been acting differently. Does that mean you’re getting ready to go again?”
Trying to buy some time to find a way to answer that question without starting an argument, Adam was evasive as usual. He did stop measuring the boards he had spread across two sawhorses though so Joe could tell he had his attention at least. “What do you mean by acting differently?”
“Don’t start with me. I know what you’re doing. It may have worked when I was younger and didn’t know better, but I won’t accept it now. Either answer my question or don’t which will be answer enough.”
There was only one truth that Adam was ready to share, but he was fairly certain Joe was going to like hearing it. “I think perhaps it is time for me to think about leaving.”
“Damn it, why? Things were just starting to seem a little normal around here. Why would you want to mess that up?”
“I don’t want to mess that up, but sometimes you don’t really have a choice.”
“What does that mean? You talk in riddles and think somehow we’re supposed to understand. Well, we don’t, and if you want us to be a real family, it’s time you told us the truth, all of it.”
Pausing for a very long time, Adam was still not doing anything as he wrestled with the concept Joe had postulated. He wondered if Joe was correct. Was he selling his family short and not being the responsible son and brother he thought he was if he didn’t trust them enough to tell them the truth. He wanted their trust and yet he had not been willing to give them his. “Joe, I don’t know if I can tell this story so easily. I guess I need to think about that.”
“Well, can you promise me one thing? Can you promise me that you won’t leave before you tell us the truth so we at least understand what you’re doing and why?” He saw Adam’s look and the pain in it. “If it’s so hard to tell that you don’t want us to know, you can tell us and then leave. You do that, and I won’t hold any of it against you, and I can pretty much guarantee that Hoss won’t either. Fair enough?”
Again, Adam didn’t respond for a long time until he softly spoke. “That’s more than fair.”
“All right, then, let’s get this wall fixed so we can go in and get something to eat. I’m hungry.”
At lunch, Ben and the others noted how quiet Adam was but that Joe was in a much better mood. They couldn’t understand what had happened, but clearly something had. Hoss mentioned that he had the mail for the homesteaders and was making the ride down to the settlement. Every week when he picked up the mail in town, it was his habit to pick up the mail for a group of homesteaders who had settled quite a distance from town but not too far from their ranch. He brought their mail to them, and Joe always said it was because of the pie he always got there and the pretty young daughters some of the families had.
“Now, Joe, that jest goes to show how much smarter I am than you.”
“I don’t know, Hoss. That’s a long way to go to see a gal.”
Curious, Adam asked about the trip. “How long does the ride take?”
“It’s about three hours each way. I’ll likely be getting back late.”
“Isn’t that rather dangerous to be doing alone?”
“Never had no trouble before.”
“I could ride with you if you like.”
“It’s not necessary, but I wouldn’t mind the company.”
So Adam saddled up his horse and rode with Hoss to the homesteaders’ settlement where he was shocked to see how poorly the people lived. The children were barefoot and most were thin. The married women all looked old and worn out. Considering the hardships of trying to raise a family and keep a household under the conditions they faced, he could imagine why. There was no pie and there were no pretty young daughters. Hoss did have some extra food from the Ponderosa that he handed over when he gave them the couple of pieces of mail that he had. It was clear that the mail was an excuse to bring some food. When they left, Adam waited until they cleared the settlement before he said anything.
“Hoss, those people are barely surviving. Why don’t they move?”
“Land speculators sold them the land with promises of how rich it was and how well they’d do. They used up everything they had to get here and get started. They ain’t got enough money to go anywhere. Heck, they ain’t got no money at all.”
“I suppose the children will move away when they’re old enough, and the people who are left will stay until they’re old and die. The settlement will become one more ghost town out here.”
“It’s how I figured it too. Meanwhile, I do what I can to make sure the young’uns get to grow up so they can leave. Sometimes when I go hunting, I bring some meat there. Pa lets me take a cow there every now and then. It’s just enough so they can get by.”
“You’re a good man, Hoss.”
“I just do what I can to make the world a better place while I’m in it. I can’t fix everything, but this is one thing I can do, so I do it.”
“I’d like to ride with you again.”
“Next week, same time.”
With a nod, Adam agreed. He was happy that he could do something that pleased Hoss so much. With all the hours of riding, he had a lot of time to think, but he still had no answer to how he was going to do what Joe wanted him to do though. Over the next week, he still couldn’t think of a way to broach that subject. He couldn’t tell whether he was embarrassed or worried about their reactions, or humiliated that he had been so easily defeated by some corrupt men, or that he had failed so miserably to achieve what he wanted to accomplish. In the end, in his mind, he had been a failure so he wondered if that wasn’t perhaps the biggest reason he couldn’t face his father and tell him what had happened. But to admit that his failure might bring danger to them all was probably the worst part of it all, and he knew he had to leave or tell them that soon. It was the next ride with Hoss that was going to break it all wide open.
Working with Candy at the forge, Adam got an inkling of what was going on with Joe and who he had to thank that things had remained calm between them. Candy didn’t say much but what he did let him read between the lines.
“You seem like the restless sort.”
“I thought I’m calm enough.”
“On the outside, but you don’t seem to settle in like you mean to stay. You haven’t picked one horse to ride or made a habit of anything that I can see.”
“I guess a rolling stone like you would know about such things, but maybe I’m a different sort. You don’t know me.”
“Not directly, no.”
As Candy worked the bellows and Adam heated the metal to glowing, the two were quiet. Then Adam pulled his piece from the forge to hammer it as Candy put in metal to make a horseshoe. Soon both were hammering and it was too loud to talk which most likely suited both giving them time to think and work. As they plunged their metalwork into the water at the same time, they stood close for a moment.
“Joe’s not happy with me, but I’ve been trying to think of how to answer his questions.”
“The truth is usually the best way.”
“Not always. Sometimes it can lead to trouble.”
They got back to work then and went through the same routine as Adam was working on creating new hinges for the corral gate and Candy was making horseshoes. The next break was a bit more tense.
“Seems maybe you’re afraid of something. Your brothers gave me the impression you were a stronger man than that.”
“Sometimes there are things stronger than any man.”
“I guess that would be the best time to ask for help then unless somebody was too proud to ask.”
Too angry to respond, Adam went back to work and didn’t say anything more about that. By the time lunchtime arrived, there had been almost two hours of uneasy silence while they worked saying only what needed to be said to accomplish necessary tasks. Even though as Adam had thought about it, he knew Candy had been perceptive. Adam had come home seeking refuge and healing and now resisted the very things he had sought. He didn’t even know why he couldn’t reach out for the help he needed, but he still resented Candy telling him what he knew was his own failing. Hoss noted the uneasy tension when he rode in and asked Candy about it when Adam went to the washroom and then into the house.
“Your older brother isn’t as much like Joe as I thought. I prodded him pretty hard thinking he’d get mad and explode so maybe I’d find out what’s been bothering him so much. Instead he closed up tighter than a mussel but the heat coming off of him was almost hotter than the forge.”
“Yep, coulda told ya that. Older brother is more like one of them there volcanoes I’ve heard about. He’s gonna let it all simmer inside. He may blow or he may not. Ifn he blows though, watch out. He’s got a temper as big as Pa’s when it goes. Used to be the two of them could raise the roof a couple of feet at least when they had one of their shouting matches.”
“He would do that with your father?”
“Yeah, only one of us who ever could. Ifn he got mad enough, he’d stand toe-to-toe with Pa and they’d go at it. He won a fair share of those too ifn ya kin believe it.”
“Hard to believe it. He seems kind of a beaten man.”
“Yeah, in some ways, he does. I still wonder what they done to him. Something changed him, and I never thought there would be anything that would. The longer he’s here, the more of him is coming back, but I’m still worried he’s gonna leave before he’s all healed up inside and out.”
“You got your shirt open and your sleeves rolled up ’cause it’s hot working the forge. Adam used to do that too, but not today. He’s buttoned up like it wasn’t the hottest job to do on a hot day. He’s hiding something. He’s not as stiff as when he first got here so he’s getting stronger, but there’s still something that ain’t right.”
“Joe thinks he’s hiding something too but something he did not something that happened to him.”
“Could be both, you know. It could be both.” Hoss walked to the house then deep in thought wondering if he could be right and how to get Adam to start talking. It had been too long already and he wasn’t opening up at all. Usually in the past, Hoss was well aware that he had been the one best able to get Adam to talk, but he wasn’t having any success. Realizing they hadn’t been alone much though, he thought he should talk to their father about arranging more time for the two of them to work together without anyone else around. Although he liked Adam and Jamie getting to know one another and liked that they seemed to already have a bond developing between them, Adam wasn’t likely to open up with Jamie around, and having Joe there was too emotional usually. No, he was the quiet calm one that needed to be there to get Adam to talk. He decided to talk to their father as soon as he had a chance to do so privately. When he did, Ben agreed with him completely.
“I was thinking the same thing. Although I like all of us to be together and I like being with Adam after he was gone for so long, he doesn’t talk, really talk, with any of us. He listens though. I was thinking too that he might start to open up with you. Why don’t the two of you work together and then when you get the supplies and mail in a couple of days, he could go with you and then ride out to the homesteaders with you as planned.”
“Pa, I was thinking that same exact thing. When we talk about the work we got to do yet, you should make sure we’re working together. Then it would seem natural like for us to take that ride to town too. Nothing like a couple of hours riding on a wagon to get a man talking, is there?”
“Let’s hope it works, son. Let’s hope it works. If necessary, a beer or two in town before the ride home might help.”
That got a big grin. “That was exactly what I was thinking on that too, Pa.”
Their planning wasn’t lost on Adam who both was pleased with their caring and a bit irritated at their hovering. Knowing they wanted him to talk to Hoss only made that much more difficult to do so as he expected whatever he said to be relayed to his father and then to his brothers. That made him more uncomfortable than he had been about the whole situation. After two days of that, Hoss was even more frustrated.
“Pa, we ain’t talked none in the whole two days we been together, well not the way I wanted to talk. He talks about work, he talks about Jamie, and he asks me questions to get me talking, but he says nothing about what I want him to say.”
Dropping his head, Ben could only admit defeat. “He knew what we were doing from the moment we assigned you two to work together and he wasn’t going to be manipulated that way. He might be the most stubborn one in this family, and I guess that hasn’t changed. He’ll tell us when he’s ready or when he has to and not before.”
“Sometimes circumstances change. There have been times when he’s been pushed to admit things he didn’t want to admit even to himself. I remember prodding him about Laura, but it was only when he found out about Will and Laura that he admitted what he had been thinking.”
“Oh, so maybe something could change around here and get him talking?”
“Yes, unfortunately, it will likely be something big like that though I have no idea what it would take this time to break down those walls he’s put up.”
“Well, I got one more shot at it. Tomorrow, he said he’d go to town with me for supplies and the mail, and then we’re heading out to the homesteaders like I do most weeks.”
“Be careful. You said it yourself this morning. It feels like rain is on the way.”
“I know, but it ain’t rained in months. That rain could be days away yet.”
Except it wasn’t. The next morning, Hoss and Adam wore slickers and threw a canvas tarp over the back of the wagon as they drove in a light rain to Virginia City. Ben warned them to turn back if it got worse, but it didn’t. It did make them forego the beers though in favor of hot coffee and an early light lunch before they headed for home and then the trek to the homesteaders. They kept their slickers on and got the same admonition from their father. They paid it about the same amount of heed as the morning one, but when rain began to get heavier, Adam asked Hoss if he didn’t want to consider turning back.
“Aw, Adam, let’s at least see ifn we kin get there today. I got some candy for the children and some provisions that they rightly need too.”
“All right, but that ford over the creek up ahead might be impassable.”
“Then we should hurry.”
“We can’t go any faster or we’ll risk these horses.”
“I know, but let’s go as fast as we safely kin go.”
They did until they stopped because both thought they heard something.
“Adam, what’s that?”
“I wasn’t sure I heard it, but if you did too, then I did. I sounds like a child yelling, but with the wind, I can’t tell the direction.”
“It almost has to be up ahead, right?”
“Can’t be behind us or we would have seen someone, and it is rather steep up these hills on either side. Yeah, must be up ahead.”
With silent communication, they spurred their horses into a faster pace going with as much speed as the conditions allowed. When they got to the ford, they saw a wagon loaded with wood trapped in the middle of the ford with a child in the seat screaming for help as a man who must have been his father clinging to the harness of the horses and being pulled by the current. The water was rising rapidly. He stood little chance of surviving without help.
“You get the man. I’ll get the boy.”
Chubb was able to fight the current better than Sport and Hoss went after the man and he tried to pull him up as Adam reached the wagon and put out an arm for the boy.
“Save my Pa!”
“Hoss is saving him. I’m taking you. Come with me now!”
The boy responded to the tone of Adam’s commanding voice and went with him as Adam rather unceremoniously draped him over his legs and rode back to the bank and up letting the boy down before turning to see how Hoss was doing. It wasn’t good. The man didn’t want to let go of his team and wanted to get them out of their harness to save them.
Riding back to the wagon, Adam pulled a knife from his boot and began cutting the harness from the wagon. It wasn’t going to be enough though as the water was rising too fast and he could feel Sport struggling to keep his feet.
“Hoss, make him leave. We have to get out of this water!”
“I’m trying, Adam.”
Turning to ride to the bank again, Adam barely managed to get there and turned hoping to see Hoss following only to see the man pull Hoss from Chubb in the struggle. He pulled his lariat and unwound it as fast as he could throwing it to lasso Hoss in the water. He got it around one arm and his shoulder but it was enough. He began to pull his brother to safety even as Chubb and the man began to swim desperately downstream. As Adam pulled with the strength he had left, he got Hoss into water shallow enough that the big man could fight the current and walk out. He collapsed on the bank as Adam dismounted and ran to him.
“Did you swallow any water?”
“Only a little thanks to you. I should be all right. What about Chubb?”
“I saw him swimming and I think he got into shallower water and climbed out. I couldn’t be sure though as I was pulling you.”
“What about my Pa?” The distraught boy stood next to them then.
They were going to answer when the screams of two horses drowned out anything else. The raging current had toppled the wagon and took the horses down with it. They thrashed in the water for a time and then there was silence except for the rain. A sudden crack of lightning and the resulting thunder ended that quiet moment though. Sport took off running with that. Watching him go, Adam thought there was only one comment to make.
“That ought to let them know at home that we need some help.”
“Let’s go see if we can find the boy’s Pa and Chubb.”
“Some shelter would be good too. I’m freezing, and we’ve only got about four hours now to find shelter and get some firewood that isn’t soaked.”
“But we gotta go look for my Pa!”
Hoss tried to be reassuring. “We will, but we’ll look for shelter along the way. What were you two doing out here anyway?”
“We were getting firewood and wood for fenceposts and shingles.”
“Damn fool thing to do on a day like this.” Adam was direct. Hoss thought he was too blunt though and gave him a look that told him so. “Sorry. We’ll do our best to find your father. Now, what’s your name?”
“David, but everyone calls me Davy.”
“I’m Adam, and this is Hoss.”
“I know. Everybody knows Hoss, and I saw you the last time when Hoss came.”
They didn’t find Chubb but Hoss was relieved to see muddy tracks that looked like his. They found no sign of the boy’s father though and had to give up after a couple of hours because all three were shivering although Hoss thought that Adam seemed to be suffering worse than he or the boy. There was no natural shelter, so Hoss constructed a lean-to as well as he could as Adam searched for wood that could be used for a fire. He found enough kindling up under some pines to get a small fire started. Hoss used their slickers to wind-proof the lean-to and that stopped the rain from leaking through as well. With the wind blocked and the fire burning, Hoss thought they would be warm enough, but Adam continued to shiver. Their clothing was still damp of course and there was no way to dry them. The rain intensified during the night making it more and more difficult to find wood for the fire. The three of them huddled together to sleep with Davy between the two men. All they had was a dismal smoking fire by morning, but what was more ominous to Hoss was that Adam clearly had a fever and the shivering had progressed into chills. The rain had stopped, but it was still windy.
“I thought we’d walk back to the ford this morning and wait for Pa’s rescue, but you ain’t fit to be walking out in the this weather at’all. I’ll leave you here with the boy and walk there.” Adam hardly responded so that Hoss knew how sick he really was. Turning to the boy, Hoss was sober. “Davy, my brother is very ill. I need you to keep putting small sticks from this stack on the fire. Try to keep the flame up so it doesn’t smoke so much. All right?”
“Hoss, is my Pa dead?”
“I don’t know, Davy. After my Pa gets here, we kin send some men to search. Last we saw of him, he was swimming so he had a chance to make it ifn he got to the bank somewhere. You could say a prayer or two or three while you’re waiting for me ta get back with help.”
Looking back as he walked away toward the ford, Hoss was worried. His brother was very sick, and Davy might now be an orphan. Hoss knew his mother had died a few years earlier. He strode as well as he could through the muddy terrain and hoped Sport had gotten all the way home and that a rescue party indeed was on its way.
As they rode toward the homesteaders’ settlement, Ben and the rescue party were worried. There was no sign of Hoss and Adam, and it was clear that there had been far more rain up in the hills than there had been at the ranch house. When they got to the stream, it was still roaring with unaccustomed vigor. Clearly Hoss and Adam would not have been able to cross it. Candy made a suggestion.
“Mister Cartwright, maybe they were at the ford and tried to make a crossing there. It’s about a mile from here.”
“Show us, Candy. You’ve been this way with Hoss before.”
As Candy led them to the ford, they saw no tracks or any evidence of the missing men, but as they looked at the stream there, Joe pointed downstream. A short distance away, the wheels of a wagon could be seen. Clearly it had overturned. There was no way to get to it in the raging current, but everyone there began to worry about who could have been on that wagon when it went over. Just as they were considering the worst, Ben heard Hoss call out to him.
“Hey, Pa, you’re a sight for sore eyes.”
Turning, he saw Hoss emerge from the trees not more than a hundred feet away. Dismounting, he rushed to his son and wrapped his arms around him. “Where’s Adam?”
Pointing back the way he had come, Hoss’ smile disappeared. “He’s not doing too good, Pa. He’s sick. We got a boy with us too. It was his Pa who was driving that wagon. I tried to save him, Pa, but he went down the stream. I don’t think he made it, but I ain’t told the boy that yet so don’t say it ’til we know for shur.”
“He went downstream too, but I thought I saw him climbing out. By then, there was so much commotion, I’m not sure and we couldn’t find him. We found some muddy tracks, but we couldn’t be sure it was him.”
“Let’s go see about Adam, and then we’ll see about Chubb and the missing man.”
There were extra horses, so Hoss had one to ride. They arrived back where Adam and Davy were only a few hours after Hoss left. However, Davy was clearly scared and uncomfortable too with so many strangers. Hoss told him there were friends and he should think of them like they were just like him.
“Hoss, he talked strange while you were gone. He started saying stuff that made no sense.”
As Ben moved to the lean-to and knelt down next to Adam, Hoss asked Davy what Adam had said.
“He said things like I should hide ’cause he was the one they wanted. He said take all my stuff and hide where they couldn’t see me ’cause they weren’t interested in me. Then he really got scary. He said to tell my father our secret. Hoss, we don’t have no secret.”
Clearly Adam had been talking about another time and place, but by this time he wasn’t hardly responsive at all. When Ben tried to ask him questions, his only response was to say ‘Pa’ and nothing more. He must have recognized the voice, but quite obviously was not comprehending the words spoken to him. Ben was worried.
“Hoss, we should move him in a wagon, but it’s too muddy and it would take too long to get a wagon here. We need to get him home.”
Stripping off his coat, Ben moved to pull Adam up. Hoss helped him and they managed to get Ben’s coat around him.
“I wish I had something more for him, but we didn’t come prepared for this.”
“It’s all right, Pa. We’ll get him back to the house and warmed up. I’m sure he’ll be fine then with some of Hop Sing’s broth in him and tucked into his own bed.”
“I hope so, Hoss, but I’m sending a man for Doctor Martin too.”
“We need to see if these other men kin find Davy’s father.”
“Oh, the boy – he’ll have to come with us. There’s no other place for him right now.”
“Ya, I’ll tell him.”
When Hoss told Davy the plan, he wanted to stay and help search for his father.
“Davy, you’ll only slow these men up. Ifn ya want yer pa found, ya gotta let these men get ta work. Now, you come with us and ifn yer pa kin be found, these men will do it. They’re the best we got. That man in the red shirt and black vest is Candy Canaday, our foreman. He’ll lead these men looking until they’ve searched everywhere there is ta search.”
“Honest. Now we gotta get my brother home and you too before you get sick too.” Hoss pointed at Joe. “That’s my other brother Joe. Think you kin ride with him? He’ll watch out for ya and make sure nothing bad happens.”
“How many brothers you got anyway?”
“I got one more. That one with the red hair is my youngest brother. He’ll be helping too.”
At Joe’s suggestion, Jamie took charge of Davy so Joe could help with Adam. Soon they were headed back to the ranch as Candy led the others to search for Davy’s father and for Chubb. One rider had left already for Virginia City to summon the doctor to the ranchhouse. Hopefully he would be on his way before they got Adam home.
The rider intercepted Doctor Martin on the road to Virginia City as he returned from another call so he arrived at the house soon after the rescue party returned. As they got Adam to his room, the Doctor was there and took charge.
“The first thing is to strip all these damp clothes from him. I want some warm cotton blankets to wrap around him then.”
Ben and Hoss began to strip Adam’s boots and pants as Joe and Jamie worked on taking off his shirt. It was when they pulled his shirt from him that all activity halted. Ben stared in shock at his son’s back where evidence of lashes were evident and at the scarring at his wrists. There was the evidence of a wound too in his side that was fairly recent. Adam’s brothers were just as shocked especially Joe and Hoss. Joe couldn’t believe what he saw.
“Pa, what the hell happened to him?”
However, Doctor Martin got them all back to the present although he too was surprised by what he saw. “We’ll discuss that all later. Those are healed though. What we need to deal with first is that he has a fever and chills and needs to be dry and warm again.”
That got the worried family members focused again. They got his boots, pants, and socks removed finding scarring at the ankles and another scar on his leg. Those scars and the things that he had said to Davy pointed at some serious trouble that he had had and enemies who had done terrible things to him. He had survived and made it back home, but clearly he had been hurt badly by all of it. Now they had a better idea why he had such a difficult time talking about the previous two years. He had suffered through some kind of hell and didn’t want them to know. Doctor Martin was more concerned though with the present. Once they had Adam wrapped in warm blankets, he listened to his lungs and checked his heart. He looked at Hoss.
“Did he swallow any of that floodwater?”
“I don’t think so. I was the one caught in it. He lassoed me and pulled me out after he rode in on Sport and got Davy from the wagon.”
Looking around then, Joe asked where Davy was. Jamie said he had turned him over to Hop Sing. Ben frowned at that.
“Jamie, it might be best if you would go take care of Davy now.”
“Thank you. And tell Hop Sing everything we found out up here. He’ll want to know.”
Doctor Martin was still frowning. “I don’t understand why he’s so sick. Hoss has more reason to be ill than he does. As far as you know, does he have any underlying medical condition that could cause him to be weaker than Hoss?”
As Ben and Joe shook their heads, Hoss looked down at the floor causing all attention to shift to him. Ben frowned.
“Son, is there something you know that we should know?”
“Well, maybe. When we was out checking the herd and the fences and such, Jamie saw Adam sneak something from a tin and take it. He thought it was a pill but said it coulda been a pinch of something.”
Instantly attentive, Doctor Martin focused on that. “Hoss, it’s very important to know what it is that he’s taking.”
“I don’t know that he is taking it. It was only that one time as far as I know.”
“Where is this tin?”
“Jamie said he put it in his coat pocket.”
“Go find it. Joe, go with him. Find that tin and bring it to Paul.”
It didn’t take long for them to find it. It was still in Adam’s coat pocket. Hoss handed it to Paul who took a look and nodded.
“Well, that makes sense at least. Quinine. Now I know what I’m dealing with. Ben, I need you to send someone to my office in town to pick up some quinine. I keep a small supply because sometimes I need it for miners who come in here directly after arriving in San Francisco.”
“What is it, Paul?”
“A medicine used to treat malaria. I think Adam has had a relapse of malaria. It’s not uncommon for the disease to relapse. However, quinine is usually quite effective and if he’s used it before, then he’s probably found that it works for him.”
Joe volunteered to go and left before anyone could say anything else. Four hours later, Paul began administering doses of quinine to Adam. In about a day, he was showing significant improvement and his recovery was assured. A day after that, resting in bed wrapped in soft cotton blankets and being fed hot broth, Adam knew that at least some of his secrets had been exposed. He was too weak to hold the bowl and still too weak to be questioned extensively, but it was only a matter of time and he knew it. There was no hiding any more that he had suffered physically and would have to explain how that happened. When his father sat down beside him though and repeated the things he had said to Davy, he knew he had to tell the whole story. What he had said to Davy wouldn’t make sense unless he admitted all of his tragic tale. Ben saw his look of pain and knew that the story was going to be unpleasant to tell as well as to hear, but he wanted to know and understand. This was the only way.
“I’d rather tell it with Hoss and Joe here with you. It’s not the kind of story I want to have to repeat.”
“I understand, and you’re not strong enough to spend hours talking either. We’ll try to make it as easy on you as we can.”
“Nothing about this is going to be easy.”
Ben knew that was true by Adam’s reactions and by how restlessly he slept. His dreams were clear evidence that terrible memories had been stirred up and were bothering him greatly. The only smile they saw on Adam was when Davy asked to see him and thanked him for saving his life. Even that one was short-lived however when Davy declared that he thought his father must have perished in the high water. He looked at Adam and asked what was to become of him. The skinny seven-year-old stood there and waited for an answer that Adam didn’t have. Hoss quickly ushered him from the room telling Adam he would talk to the boy and they would figure something out. It only added though to the worries Adam had and brought back bad memories of their experiences with the flash flooding. That made him remember the escape from the island and riding through shark infested waters only to emerge into surf infested with saltwater crocodiles and then traveling through barren lands with poisonous snakes and other dangers. Every minute of every day he wondered if he would live to see a sunset and then wondered if he would live to see the next sunrise.
No matter how bad that had been, it had been better than his time locked up. There he had no hope thinking each day he would be beaten or killed for what he knew. Frequently he was set up for punishments and then confined in solitary after that. It was when he was in such terrible condition that they thought he would die in solitary that he was put in the infirmary instead where a kindly doctor was curious enough to ask questions. It was then that he was offered exile to that island and isolation as an alternative. It had saved his life and given him hope. They had no idea of course that with his engineering skills and western background, he would be able to create a raft from materials on that island. They had thought anyone sent there or to any of the islands would spend all their time finding food to survive. They had given him basic tools only and left him there telling him they would check on him in a year. By now they knew he was gone and possibly had him listed as a fugitive from justice. This was the part of the story he told his family first because it explained all of the marks on his body without going into gruesome details. It wasn’t enough though. He had worried that they would want to know much more.
“How often did you get the lash, older brother? Seems ya got a mighty lot of them scars on your back for a lashing.”
“I have to tell you, Hoss, that I don’t know. Sometimes it was only a few from a guard’s whip, and sometimes it was official and then it was ten or at worst, fifteen. Most of the time, the ones I had had barely healed when I got more so it made it worse.”
Remembering then the last time, Adam shuddered. “Bloke, you ain’t gonna have no skin left on them bones of yours.” He could hear the guard who seemed to want him dead taunting him. It was then that he had realized that there were men there who had probably been paid to see that he didn’t live much longer. To keep suspicion down though, they had to do it more slowly than their employers probably wanted. That one though had gotten too greedy and Adam couldn’t walk to solitary and had to be carried to the infirmary instead. He wondered if they thought that he was no longer a problem once he was put on that island or if they were planning to send an assassin there. It hadn’t mattered though. He escaped.
Looking up at his family staring at him, Adam hadn’t realized how much he had said. Somehow all the words had come tumbling out, and he had admitted far more than he had originally wanted to tell. He saw tears in his father’s eyes and wished he had kept more of that story hidden away. Looking to Hoss and Joe, he saw tears in Hoss’ eyes too and openly flowing from Joe. Even Jamie who didn’t have a deep emotional tie with him yet looked shaken by what he had said. He had thought there would be some shame or condemnation coming from them especially his father to know his son had been in prison and was an escaped prisoner, but instead all he saw was sympathy and concern.
Emotionally shaken by all that he had heard, Ben wanted to hold his son and comfort him but knew that wasn’t the right approach. Adam had told them some terrible things that explained much but created even more questions. They had wanted to know how he had received all of those scars he carried, and they had those answers now. However, he had to wonder how his honest, forthright son could ever have gotten into such a horrible predicament in the first place but didn’t know how to ask him. Jamie took care of that.
“Adam, I don’t know you very well yet, but Pa and Hoss and Joe have told me a lot of stories about you. I think I know you kinda from those. I can’t believe you would ever have done anything to get put in prison, so what dirty no-good weasel did that to you?”
Staring at Jamie for a moment, Adam broke into a grin that shattered the tension in the room. There hadn’t been a smile in that room or a grin from him like that in a long time.
“Jamie, thank you for that. That question alone makes me feel better. And it was more than one dirty, no-good weasel who did it.”
“So you going to tell us or make us guess?” Joe was impatient and his tone wasn’t polite.
“It’s all right, Pa. I’ve made him wait, no, I made all of you wait too long for answers because I didn’t know how to tell the story. I need to tell you now. I got involved in a large project and realized some people involved were using cheap materials and paying kickbacks to get away with it. The more I dug, the more I found bribes and embezzlement. I was collecting evidence on widespread corruption, but I didn’t cover my tracks well enough. They found out what I was doing, and they planted evidence to make it look like I was the corrupt one. Then they came for me. By then, I had stumbled over some of the planted evidence and knew what they were doing. It was too late to save myself so I tried to save my fiancée and our unborn child. I told her to go into hiding and to tell her father about the child she was carrying. I had hoped that he would want to help me because I was going to marry his daughter and I was the father of his future grandchild.”
Stopping then as his voice choked with emotion, Adam found it too difficult to continue. Ben suspected what happened.
“He didn’t help though, did he?” Adam shook his head. “He had his daughter marry someone else?”
At that point, Adam dropped his head. To him, this was perhaps the most painful part of the story. It was silent in the room as his family realized how alone he must have felt at that point and how betrayed.
“When I stood in that criminal dock, I was as alone as any man could be. My friends thought I had fooled them and had deserted me. My fiancée was married to another and my child was going to be raised by another man. The future I had planned was lost.”
“Son, why didn’t you tell the court what you had discovered?”
“My lawyers told me that I couldn’t because I had no evidence. I told them it was in my apartment and told them where to look. They said there was nothing there.”
“The varmints, they was in on it, wasn’t they?”
“Yes, Hoss, I realized after the fact that they were paid off by my enemies. My conviction on all counts was guaranteed. Their plan was that I was to die in prison with everything I knew dying with me.”
“But you still know all that stuff, dontcha?”
“Why dontcha tell somebody?”
“I have no evidence to back up anything I say, but that does hit at the other reason that I found it difficult to tell this story to all of you. If they find out I survived, they won’t be happy about that and will possibly want to remedy that situation.”
Joe stood. “They try anything here, we’ll take care of them.”
Only all of them knew how difficult it could be to watch over one man at all times in such a wide-open territory. It was going to be difficult to protect Adam when they didn’t know the identity of the man who might be coming to try to kill him and didn’t know when.
Doctor Martin’s orders were that Adam stay in bed for two more days and even then he was to take it very easy until they were sure he wouldn’t have any more trouble. He wanted him to continue on the quinine until they could be sure that the malaria was no longer a threat especially after Adam admitted he thought he had been bothered by symptoms earlier.
“And you thought it was a good idea, I suppose, to keep that a secret too. You medicated yourself and thought you had it all under control, too, I suppose. Did you get a medical degree in the years you were gone? Because unless you did, how about leaving the diagnosing and dispensing of medications to me?”
Rather sheepishly, Adam agreed to the doctor’s orders with his family standing there reinforcing the doctor’s unhappiness with him. He guessed they all thought things could have gone better if he had told them all the truth a lot sooner, but he didn’t know that he could have, and even now worried that because he had, they might be in jeopardy. After they began to file out after the doctor, Joe hung back.
“I understand now why you wouldn’t talk, but you should have have trusted us.”
“Joe, I do trust you. I worry about all of you though. These men may stop at nothing.”
“They’ve never met the Cartwrights, and they don’t know what we can do when we work together. You just give us a little time to think about everything. We’ve already been talking, and Pa has some ideas. He’ll be in later to talk to you. We’re going to beat them, Adam, and we’re going to get justice for you. You’ll see.”
With a small half-smile, Adam nodded. He knew Joe meant well but couldn’t see how his family could accomplish what Joe was promising they would do. He leaned back and must have fallen asleep because he was startled slightly later when he heard his door squeak as it opened. He didn’t see anyone there, which made his heart beat fast and he sat up thinking perhaps there was a threat especially after the dreams he had had. However when he sat up, he saw a frightened Davy standing in his room. The boy was small for his age and Adam hadn’t seen him when he was lying down. He tried to smile to reassure him.
“Everybody says you’re gonna be all right. I come to see for myself. You saved my life so I didn’t want you to die.”
“I’m not going to die, at least not from anything to do with what happened out there.” Adam could see how sad and worried the little boy was. “Do you want to talk?”
Davy nodded slowly. “I was wondering what you thought.”
“Thought about what?” But even as he said the words, Adam knew what he meant. “Oh, you mean about your father?” Davy looked at him hopeful for his answer and yet looking scared of what it was going to be. “I don’t know. The men who looked for him didn’t find anything or at least that’s what Hoss told me. That could be good news. It could mean he got out of the water safely. Maybe he got back to the settlement and doesn’t know where you are.”
“No, Hoss said he sent a rider around and Pa ain’t been back home yet.”
“It could be that he’s in the forest and taking his time making his way back.”
“Or he’s dead. That’s it, ain’t it?”
Although Adam didn’t want to admit it, he had to agree with him. He couldn’t lie to him. “Yes.”
Davy started to cry then. Hoss had told Adam that the boy was likely an orphan. Adam put out an arm, and Davy moved into his embrace and sobbed. He hadn’t cried with Hoss because he had wanted to appear strong, but there was something about a man in bed looking vulnerable that made him feel he could show his heart too. He gave into the sorrow and let it out. Remembering how he had soothed Little Joe when he was a small boy and his mother died, Adam began singing a lullaby as he rubbed the boy’s back and held him close. Slowly the sobbing diminished as Davy simply rested his head on Adam’s chest. In the hallway, Hoss walked softly away and back down the stairs to tell the others that Davy had finally shed the tears he had been holding back, and that Adam had opened his arms and his heart to another.
“Hoss, do you thing this is wise? Davy is going to grow dependent on Adam and you know how Adam always was with children. He’s going to have a terrible time letting go.”
“Pa, they need each other right now. Who says they ever have to let go anyhow. Davy needs a place ta live and Adam needs somebody to love. He lost his child. Maybe loving Davy could help him.”
“It could, but it’s a risky business doing something like this.”
“Pa, I didn’t do nothing. Davy did it. I just told you about it, and I think it’s a good idea to let it keep going ifn it does.”
“You didn’t send him up there?”
“Nah. I couldn’t find him and went looking for ‘im and found him up there when I heard Adam singing a lullaby. I figured they’d been talking when I heard Davy crying and then he stopped. The two of them looked right natural together.”
Upstairs, Davy was talking again. “Thanks for telling me the truth. Nobody else would tell me. I’d ask and they’d say they was still looking, but I knew he’s probably dead.”
“There is still a chance, but only a small one.”
“Can you tell me why it’s only a small one?”
“If he’s alive and hasn’t made it back, it probably means he’s hurt. He’s out there with no extra clothing, food, or supplies and no way to let us know where he is. With so many miles to cover in such rough terrain, he could be there and we’d never find him no matter how hard we looked.”
“Do you think that’s what happened?”
Once more seeing that face that wanted the truth, Adam had to tell him. “No, I’m so sorry to tell you this, but that flood water was heavy with mud and fallen wood and brush. Hoss’ horse Chubb was big and strong, and even though he got out, he was hurt by it. I can’t see that any man could get out of that alive.”
“I heard the doctor talking about you. He said you were lucky you didn’t swallow any of that water. He asked Hoss if he did and Hoss said a little. He was worried about him too, but he didn’t get sick.”
“We were lucky. We were on the side of the wagon that was mostly water because the wagon was blocking a lot of the other debris at least for a while. Otherwise, I’m not sure I would have been able to save you either.” Pausing for a moment, Adam tousled the boy’s hair. “I’m glad I was able to save you too.”
“I’m glad you could too, but now I don’t know what’s going to happen to me.”
“Trust me. I’ll make sure you have everything you need. You’ll be taken care of here or with someone we trust.”
Somewhat reassured by that, Davy started to take a good look around Adam’s room and was fascinated by some of the things he saw. When he saw all the books, he was amazed.
“You’ve got your own library!”
“Do you like books?”
“My Ma was teaching me to read before she died. I’ve tried to keep learning, but it was hard without a school.”
“I’ve got a few books with pictures.”
They spent the next two hours looking at Adam’s books with Adam reading parts of them to the boy and both of them paging through the ones with pictures. When Ben brought up lunch, he brought up enough for two setting it up on the table in Adam’s room.
“I know Paul said you had to stay in bed, but I think he wouldn’t mind if you got out of bed for meals.”
After helping Adam into his robe, Ben left the two to their lunch and their book discussion and returned to the dining room where he met his other sons. “Hoss, I think you were right. I haven’t seen Adam this relaxed and happy since he got home. He and Davy seem to be a good match.”
“Have the men found any sign of his father?”
“Not a thing. I’m afraid he’s buried in debris and we’ll never find him. I guess we oughta go to the settlement and get things taken care of there.”
“When you feel up to it. I don’t want you to go there until you’re sure you can handle the ride. And don’t go alone.”
“I won’t. Candy already said he’d come with me. We’ll take a wagon and see how much of the stuff we kin take with us for Davy’s sake. The rest we’ll let the folks there have. We’re planning on going tomorrow ifn the weather holds.”
When Candy and Hoss arrived the next day, there was nothing left in the cabin, which had been stripped bare. Even the furniture was gone. Looking up, they were actually surprised that the shingles were still on the roof but guessed they might not be there for long as they were fairly new. With disgust, Hoss stepped outside and saw a woman approaching with a basket. When she arrived, she set it on the small step at the cabin.
“We saved the personal stuff in case anyone ever came back for it. There’s a Bible, some pictures, and a few books. That’s all there was. If you brought Davy back, we woulda taken him in and made sure he was took care of.”
“Anything from his ma?”
“All of that is from his mother. There was nothing special there from his father. The man wasn’t educated so he had no books or anything like that. He was wearing the only set of clothes we ever saw him in.”
“He had a rifle.”
“He would have taken that with him as well as some things to cook with and such. There wasn’t much of any of that here either. We figured as how Davy was with you, he wouldn’t need the bedding or the furniture. Well, the firewood and such too we could put to good use.”
Looking at the roof shingles, Hoss pointed. She shrugged.
“We was waiting to be sure he wasn’t coming back. Everything else can still be returned if we has to. Once we start taking stuff like the shingles and such, it’s darn near impossible to put back.”
“We don’t think he’s coming back. We’ve been looking and haven’t found a trace of him. We’ll take care of Davy seeing as how he has no family left.”
“That’s what we figured, but good to know for shur.”
Looking around, Hoss realized he had been helping them when perhaps they should have been leaving instead. “I won’t be making that trip out here every week any more. The mines in Virginia City are hiring right now. Wages are good. Every one of you could get yourselves that far and get work. Your kids could go to school. You could go to church. Pick up your own mail. Not have to steal a man’s stuff as soon as you think he died.”
With that, Hoss climbed into the wagon where Candy already waited. He drove off without saying anything more. A few miles later though, Candy had something to say because he didn’t understand why Hoss had made such a sudden turnaround.
“Weren’t you rather hard on them? They’ve got a pretty tough life there.”
“Yeah, and what I was doing was keeping them in it. I was doing just enough so they wasn’t desperate enough to leave. Maybe now they will be. It ain’t no way to live especially for the children.”
Thoughtful for a time, Candy finally looked at Hoss. “Yeah, I suppose sometimes being tough on someone is the best way to show you love them.”
Hoss shrugged. He felt bad about what he felt he had to do and hoped that someday they would understand. When he got home and told his father what he had done and got a similar response as he had gotten from Candy and then Joe, Jamie, and Adam all concurred one at a time as he had conversations with them, he felt better about it. Davy was pleased too to have some of his family possessions but wished he could have something of his father’s. Candy suggested that they ought to go out and search that wagon that had been overturned in the floodwaters. They did and found a sack of food stuffs that was rotted of course, but inside was a cast iron fry pan, some tin cups, and two tin plates. They even found a rifle in the mud under the wagon. Everything was rusted and filthy, but the mud had prevented the rust from being too bad. Hoss and Candy worked on the items diligently when they returned and were proud to be able to present the shiny items to Davy the next day.
“These are from our wagon?”
“They sure are. Me and Hoss dug around in the mud until we found them.”
“That’s why you two were so dirty when you got back yesterday. Adam said you looked like you’d been wrestling in the pig wallow.”
Both men looked at Adam who was sitting in a chair by the fireplace. He shrugged and grinned sheepishly. Then Hoss laughed.
“Candy, I bet we did.”
“Maybe you did, but I never look like that. I only wrestle greased pigs.”
That got Joe giggling and everyone laughing. Davy joined in realizing he had laughed more despite his sorrow than he had laughed ever as far as he knew. Being with this family was the best thing that had ever happened to him. He took the things they had brought to him and showed them to Adam who suggested he might want to keep them in his room even offering an old trunk he had. Joe suggested that he could call it his treasure chest and put everything he had in there from his mother and father. By that night, Davy had his treasure chest sitting by his bed as he slept. Everything was in there except the rifle. Adam promised him that he would make a rack to hang that in his room if he promised not to use it until he was old enough. He had promised that he would wait until his new father taught him how to use it.
In Virginia City, Roy had been alerted to the threat Adam anticipated. Many strangers came to the town, but not many had an English accent or anything like it. When Adam explained what kind of accent he should listen for and Roy explained it to his deputies, they were immediately on alert when such a man checked into the International Hotel. When he began making discreet inquiries about the Cartwrights, they focused their attention on him and alerted the Ponderosa. Ben ordered guards around the Ponderosa and told the men not to let any stranger on the property. They began to discuss how they might lure this man into a trap when Roy arrived with word that the man had left town. Adam wasn’t convinced that the threat was gone.
“Maybe he hired someone here.”
“Clem or me talked to everyone we saw him talking to and all he seemed to want to know was if you was really you and not some imposter, that you was in good health, and that the family was as fine and upstanding as he was led to believe. Then he left.”
Those seemed to be odd questions for an assassin to ask. The whole thing was a mystery. All they had though were questions.
“Where did he go?”
“He bought fare for all the way back to San Francisco and that’s where he come from in the first place.”
“Roy, my son is right to be concerned, but do you think this man was a threat?”
“Can’t say as I see a reason to think so. Seems like he was more curious than dangerous. Can’t see as why he was asking all them questions though. We’ll keep alert for anybody else showing up sounding like that.”
“Thank you, Roy. The boys and I are going to keep alert here too.”
Those words from Ben were accurate, but one thing they had not anticipated was that being alert meant they noticed changes in Adam too. With confinement and the necessary precautions to remain safe, he became irritable. Depression was setting in too as he spent too much time thinking about all that he had lost with no avenue that he could see for regaining any of it. If not for Davy, he would have sunk into melancholia. It was the best part of his life, and he knew he needed to be as positive and upbeat as he could to try to help that boy too. When he talked with Candy, he was reminded too that he was lucky to have a family who loved him and a home too.
“I know. I shouldn’t spend so much time thinking about what I lost, but the one thing I can’t seem to forget is that I have a child I’ll never know.”
“Is she a good woman?”
“Is she a good woman? I mean, you were planning to marry her so you must have thought she was worth it. If she was, then she’ll be a good mother. She married a good man hopefully so your child will have a good home.”
“It’s not the same.”
“It’s what you’re doing for Davy. He lost good parents, but you stepped in and offered him a home and love. He’s got what he needs now so he can grow up to be a good man. What more could a father want for a child than that.”
“There’s been no decision made that Davy will stay here forever.”
“You’re kidding yourself if you think you haven’t made that decision.” With that, Candy had walked away knowing already from experience that Adam needed time to think things through once you planted the idea. He wouldn’t argue with him.
On that day, Davy was off fishing with Hoss and Joe. Jamie was off on a trip to St Louis to visit with his grandfather who was there on business. Adam stayed near the house to make it easier for the hands to keep him safe. It chafed, but he didn’t want to put any of his family or especially Davy in danger by being too close to him in an environment where an assassin could lurk. He realized at that moment how protective he had become of the boy and too how much he loved him already. His father walked out on the porch to ask him if he wanted to play a game of chess and found him staring into the distance. Worried that Adam was morose, he tried to be upbeat in his comments.
“Don’t worry, Pa. I’m not upset or down. I was thinking about something Candy said to me.”
“Oh, and what did Candy say to you?”
“A few things, but the most important got me to realize I need to talk to Davy about something but I should probably tell you first. I want to ask Davy if he would like me to adopt him. I would like to be his father.”
“This is rather sudden, isn’t it? We’re not even sure if Davy’s father is dead.”
“Davy has no wealth and his parents have no wealthy relatives. We don’t need to go to court right away on this one. We can wait on that, but I want him to know and everyone else to know my intentions. As for it being sudden, so was the loss of his father and his home. He needs to know he has a home and a family again and not to worry what will become of him.”
“Does this have anything to do with you losing your child?”
Dropping his head, Adam took a deep breath to collect his emotions before answering, but even then, his voice was choked by the sadness he felt. “Yes, of course it does. I have love to give to a child and no child to give it to. But there’s Davy, and I realize I love him already like a son. I can give him my love, my care, and anything else I have to give. I worry about him and want the best for him. When he smiles, I smile.”
Smiling then too for the same reason, Ben nodded. “I agree. You need to let Davy know your feelings and your thoughts about this. Congratulations, son, you’re a father.”
When Hoss and Joe arrived back at the house with Davy and a stringer of fish, they noticed that Adam seemed to be in a better mood. He even offered to clean the fish for them although he said he thought Davy ought to help as he needed to learn how to do it if he was going to fish with Hoss fairly often. Davy liked that idea so he followed Adam out behind the house to get the fish ready for Hop Sing. Hoss turned to his father after the two were out of sight.
“Not that I’m complaining, mind ya, but what got into older brother there?”
“I’ll let him tell you later.”
“I bet he wants to adopt Davy!” Joe couldn’t contain his grin with that guess.
Looking hopefully at their father, Hoss told him what Davy had said while they were fishing. “The boy mentioned more than once that he thought Adam would make a real fine papa for him. Said he would be just as good as his first father. Personally, I think he’d be even better, but that boy shur is hopin’ Adam wants to keep him here.”
“Like I said, it’s Adam’s news to share.”
That was enough though that both brothers were ready to whoop with joy. Ben cautioned them then.
“I don’t know when Adam is going to talk to Davy so keep it under your hats. Let the two of them work it out and tell us. All right?”
“All right, but Pa, this is really good news, ain’t it?”
“Yes, Hoss, this is really good news.” And Ben had to match their grins. It was an unusual way for it to happen but he was going to have a grandson very soon. He had a little sadness though knowing he had one in Australia that he would never know. Like Adam though he had to put that thought aside and concentrate on the boy he could love.
About an hour later, there was a commotion on the front porch and then they heard Adam’s voice.
“Davy, remember, you don’t run with a knife in your hand. Put that down on the bench by the kitchen please.”
“Remember, there’s no running in the house either.”
“All right, go ahead. You can tell them while I bring all of this into the kitchen.”
By the time Davy burst into the house, Ben, Hoss, and Joe were already grinning. Outside, Candy and several others had heard too and were smiling. It was going to be fun having Davy around the place. Davy talked so fast it was difficult to understand him, but they already knew what he was going to say so that helped. Apparently he was quite happy that Adam had asked if he could adopt him. Although sad at the loss of his father, he and Adam had talked about that and about waiting a decent amount of time before making the process legal. Adam had done his best to explain what that meant too.
“But he said that from this day and forever, I can say my name is Davy Cartwright. Is that all right with you?” He turned to Ben to be sure he wasn’t going to upset him with that.
“Yes, it is perfectly fine with me. Do you know that makes me your grandfather?”
“I never had a grandfather before. What do I call you now? Do I still call you Mister Cartwright?”
“You can call me Grandpa now.”
“All right, Mister, ah, Grandpa Cartwright.”
“No, just Grandpa is fine.”
Looking at Hoss and Joe, Davy frowned. Hoss and Joe both responded that he could still call them by their names. About that time, Adam came in the room though.
“You can call them Uncle Hoss and Uncle Joe. They’re your uncles now.”
“I never had any uncles before either.”
“If they ever get married, the ladies they marry will be your aunts.”
“Ants? That’s funny.”
Suspecting the problem, Adam spelled out the difference until Davy understood. Different words that sound the same. There are quite a few of those. You’ll find that out in school.”
“I get to go to school now?”
The boy’s obvious excitement over that prospect had both Hoss and Joe rolling their eyes as neither could imagine wanting to go to school.
“Joe, this boy shur got himself the right father, I kin tell ya that. Imagine, wantin’ ta go ta school.”
“I know, on purpose.”
Sitting down on the settee and pulling Davy down beside him, Adam wrapped an arm around the boy’s thin shoulders. “Ignore them. We know what’s important. You’re going to love school, and I’ll help you with your schoolwork.”
“How will I get to school?”
The first issue to arise was there. Adam didn’t want to give in to the obvious though. He looked at his father and brothers and stated his position forcefully enough that they knew he wouldn’t give in.
“I’ll take you to school and pick you up every day.”
Guessing there would be a discussion with his father and brothers about that later, Adam was satisfied though with Davy’s smile at his response. For now, it was settled. They had a celebration dinner with the fish, and the next day, Adam decided it was time to go to town.
“No one is expecting me. I think we can safely assume I can go to church services and take Davy there and introduce him.”
That was logical and reasonable so there were no strong objections, but Ben did ask Candy if he and another man could watch the route to town and back to be sure there were no surprises. He agreed to do that. It made the whole family feel more comfortable when Ben, Adam, and Davy climbed into the carriage the next day. Hoss and Joe rode their horses. When they arrived at church services, there was a great deal of interest in Adam’s news and in Adam too. Many ladies were interested in him as a potential spouse. He did his best to avoid them and headed toward the carriage with his father as the end of the service.
Standing at the carriage was a man about Adam’s height and a woman holding a baby. When the man turned toward them, Adam strode to him and slammed a fist into his chin before furiously attacking the man who did his best to defend himself. It took both Hoss and Joe to restrain Adam. Davy was crying and the woman was distraught. Ben was shocked.
“Adam, what is the meaning of this?”
“This is the Jezebel who abandoned me and this is the traitor who married her and stole my child from me!”
“Adam, I know this must be difficult for you, but could we have this discussion in private some place?”
Although Adam wanted to turn his back on her, she was holding his child. He couldn’t do it. Ben stepped up to try to stop it from turning into more of a spectacle than it already was.
“Adam, perhaps this discussion should take place on the Ponderosa. They have come a long way. Son, she is holding your child.”
Nodding, Adam turned to Davy who was shocked not only by his new father’s behavior but by what he had heard. Adam picked him up and put him in the carriage.
“Do you have a carriage?”
Climbing in with Davy, Adam let his father take the reins. Even as upset as he was, he knew he had a lot to tell his new son before they reached the Ponderosa. It was going to be difficult, but he had to make him understand so he would know nothing would come between the two of them.
When the two carriages arrived at the house, Adam got out and took Davy by the waist and lifted him from the carriage to stand by his side. Keeping a hand on Davy’s shoulder, he let the boy know he wasn’t going anywhere. Ben asked some hands to take care of their carriage and to take care of the horses from the second carriage. He walked with the couple into the house and Adam and Davy followed. Hoss and Joe brought up the rear. Once inside, Adam had an announcement to make.
“Before there is any talking, I want to make one thing clear. This is my son, Davy.” Everyone could see the couple was startled by that news. “He recently lost his father and his mother has been gone for some time. He is now my son, and nothing that happens is going to change that.” Looking down at Davy, Adam smiled to try to reassure him. “I’ve done my best to tell him who you are and to tell him some of my history and why I was so upset at church. I’m sure my reaction frightened him. Now, there may be things said that are inappropriate for someone so young. I would like him to leave now. Please, Hoss or Joe, could one of you go with him so he’s not alone and reassure him that everything’s going to be all right?”
Both Hoss and Joe volunteered but Joe tipped his head toward the man sitting in the room and Hoss got the message. He might be needed if Adam lost his temper again so he let Joe go with Davy. Once the boy and Joe were out the door, the man stood and cleared his throat. He was still using a white handkerchief to dab at blood coming from his nose and a small cut in his lip.
“Adam, I would like to explain some things right off, but I think Alva would like to say a few words first.”
“Adam, I am so sorry for what happened to you. We did what we thought was best, but we found so many who were not what we thought them to be. Even my father was not honest with us at first. Please let Maurice explain everything before you say anything more. I know you feel betrayed.”
“Feel betrayed. I was betrayed.”
“But perhaps not by whom you think. Please listen. There’s so much you do not know.”
“Son, it can’t hurt to hear their side, can it?”
Although Adam was fuming, he listened to his father. He nodded. Maurice took the floor again.
When Alva’s father came to me with the proposal to marry her because he had found she was with child, I was aghast. I wouldn’t do it. He said then he would get one of his partners to do it. Adam, I knew he would find someone who would. I changed my mind and said I would. Then I went to Alva. I explained that I would marry her in name only. I would do it to protect her. I never touched her, Adam, other than to protect her.”
Looking from one to the other, Adam found that hard to believe, but they were looking at him so earnestly that he had his first doubts about his own convictions.
“Now, about your trial. I know you had evidence that would have led some to believe you were framed. Your lawyers came looking for it. They didn’t find it. I know you thought they destroyed the evidence but they could not because I took it from your office before they got there.”
That’s why Hoss was there. He grabbed Adam before he could get to Maurice and held him. “Hold on there, older brother. Let’s hear why he done it first.”
“Alva’s father said I should get it when I told him about it. He said your lawyers were dishonest and would destroy it if they found out you had that. Of course, I should have been suspicious as to why he knew that, but I trusted him. I handed the material over to him because he said he would get it to the proper authorities. What we discovered was that he kept it to try to blackmail the people you had investigated. It didn’t work very well because they intended to have you killed. Without your testimony, a lot of that evidence wasn’t very useful. He complained to me about that thinking I was complicit in his scheme. I was shocked and told Alva about it. She knew how to sneak into his study so we stole the material back from him and brought it to the authorities who found it quite interesting. We were working on getting you out of prison. That’s when we found out how terrible it was for you there and got you sent into exile to save your life. Alva said with your background, surviving on an island would be something you could do.”
Shaking free of Hoss’ grip, Adam sat back down. Hoss sat beside him to be safe.
“Why would Alva’s father do all that?”
“He didn’t want you to marry her. He figured having you in prison took care of that. Having my family tied to his was much more respectable and got him leverage or so he thought. When I told my father what he had done, his ability to get loans and contracts ceased to exist. We were working on a plan to have you brought to the capital to testify to the evidence you had collected when we were given the news that you had escaped. I thought you were dead when they could find no sign of you. Alva wouldn’t give up hope though. She kept insisting that you would find a way to come back to her and the baby.”
“I couldn’t come back. They would have thrown me back in that prison and that was certain death for me.”
“We came to understand that in time. Then a man working for a detective agency came to us and offered us information for a price. He worked for a less than unsavory client, he said, and he wanted to get out of the country. That’s how we found out you were alive and had returned here. We booked passage as soon as we could.”
“So you expect me to believe all of this and accept your version of events as if it is all truth? Just like that?”
“I suspected you wouldn’t. I brought this.” Maurice handed a thick envelope to Adam.
Opening it, Adam pulled out the papers and found it was all the evidence he had collected while investigating the corruption that had started this whole mess for him. “But I thought you said you handed it all over to the authorities?”
“We did. Copies have been made of everything. They have copies, and copies have been secured in several places. No one can possibly destroy all of them, or I hope they can’t. What you have, as you can tell, are the originals. They will be far more valuable if you will testify to them and explain what the significance is of every entry.”
“I won’t go back. This could be an elaborate ruse to get me to go back.”
“You don’t have to go back. Write it all down. Make copies of that too. I can take it back. I can bring it to the appropriate people. It’s taken us some time, but we know now who the honest men are.”
“This is a lot to take in.”
“I understand that. I guess we could go back to town and let you think about it. I can wait outside.”
It was Alva’s turn then. “Would you like to hold your son? He sleeps a lot, thankfully. He’ll wake soon and want to be fed, but right now, he is still sleeping quite soundly.”
Hoss nudged Adam who seemed unable to make a decision. Adam moved then toward Alva who raised the child toward him. He took the long, thin bundle in his arms and looked into the face of his son. Hoss moved toward the door.
“I’ll send Joe and Davy in. They oughta be here for this.”
Speaking softly so as not to wake the boy, Adam turned to Alva. “What’s his name?”
“Adam Aaron Cartwright. Maurice calls him AC. He said calling him Adam was too confusing.”
When Davy came in looking uncertain, Adam walked to him. “Look, Davy, this is AC, my other son. You have a little brother.”
“A brother? I never had a brother before.” After taking a close look at the baby as Adam held him for Davy to see him better, the boy had another question. “Will he live here with us?”
All the talking caused AC to wake and start crying, which meant they could defer answering Davy’s question. No one had the answer anyway. Adam reluctantly handed the small boy back to his mother who cradled him in her arms and rocked him. His crying ceased almost immediately.
“I suppose we should go. AC is hungry and you need time to think about all of this.”
Looking to Adam not sure of how he would react, Ben stepped forward. “Perhaps you could stay here. We have plenty of room and that would be more convenient for all of us to get to know one another and for you and Adam to talk.” Ben looked pointedly at Adam then as if to challenge him.
“All of our things are in town at the hotel.”
“We could send for them. Please stay.”
Looking at Adam, Alva looked uncertain. “Adam, what do you want us to do?”
Torn by conflicting feelings and thoughts, Adam wasn’t at all sure what he wanted, but one thing he did want was for his son to stay so he had an answer. “I want you to stay because I want AC to stay. That much I’m sure of.”
“I guess after all that’s happened, that shouldn’t surprise me.” From the way she looked and sounded though, it seemed that answer had hurt her.
“I kin show you up to a guest room, ma’am, so you kin take care of your young’un.”
Hoss’ heart had already gone out to the young woman. He had listened to everything and thought she and Maurice were telling the truth. The way they looked and acted was how honest people acted as far as he could tell. By the way his father was acting, he guessed he was thinking the same way. Adam had been hurt so much, he was suspicious and wary. Hoss figured he and the family were going to have to help Adam get through this too. He kinda liked this Alva figuring she was a feisty gal to have done all she had done already although he didn’t know how they were going to get around the fact that she was married to Maurice.
The issue of marital status became a bit more clear later that night. There was little discussion at dinner and nothing after dinner as conversation was kept to light topics and attention was focused on the children. Davy spent all of his time next to Adam needing reassurance that nothing was going to change. When it was bedtime, Adam spent an hour with him reading with him and waiting until he was sound asleep before leaving his room. Alva retired to her bedroom when it was time for AC to sleep. Maurice asked where he would be sleeping.
“We have been separate the whole time as I told you. We are friends as we were when I was Adam’s friend and partner in Australia. I have done nothing except continue to be as loyal as I was then.”
Although clearly Maurice had hoped for a response from Adam, Joe showed him to a room as Adam was silent. Hoss looked at his older brother and ignored his father’s hand signal not to say anything.
“Ya believe him or not?” He got a glare in response. “I think ya don’t wanta believe him ’cause it means all the things ya been thinkin’ maybe could be wrong. Maybe you gonna hafta admit you got some of it wrong this time, older brother. I think ya did. Not your fault. I could see where anybody woulda thought the same, but they’re tellin’ ya the truth, I think.”
Until Joe came walking back down the stairs, Adam stared into the fireplace. “What do I do then. The woman I wanted to marry is married to my best friend. I’m a fugitive from justice and had to leave all my business and property in Australia. My youngest son is legally another man’s son.”
At that point, Ben intervened. “I think you’re being too negative. They gave your son your name. I think that tells you their intent. As for being married, it is a marriage in name only and a lawyer could have it annulled here or there quite easily if either or both request it. I know you cannot risk returning to Australia, but if Maurice goes back with your testimony which is what he seemed to be requesting, then those who did you such grave harm might find that they will have to face justice. As for your business and property, we have enough here. We can help you establish yourself in business again if that is what you want.”
“Yeah, older brother, we handled the ranch when you was gone. We can handle it even if you is doing other things some of the time.”
“Hey, now, Hoss, don’t let him off the hook too much. We can use his help on some projects. There isn’t one of us can design a building, engineer a mine, or draw up plans like he does.”
“Don’t you forget either that according to Davy, he does everything better than anybody.”
That finally got Adam to smile a little. He nodded in appreciation of what everyone had said. “Thank you. You are all making this quite a bit easier on me. I have to thank you for all you’re doing. I’ve dropped a big mess on you, and you act like it’s nothing.”
“Dontcha think on it like that older brother. Way I see it, a big mess done got dropped on you, and me and Pa and Joe are just trying to clean things up a bit.”
Things were getting a little too emotional for Adam, so he did what he often did in such situations and changed the subject. “When’s Jamie supposed to get back? There’s going to be a lot to surprise him. He may want to leave again.”
“I expected a telegram from him telling us when he planned to be back. With all that’s happened, I didn’t send one to him. I’ll do that tomorrow.”
Having effectively deflected the conversation away from himself, Adam stood and told everyone he was tired and needed to go to bed. There was no fooling anyone. He wasn’t going to sleep. Sitting in his room alone and trying to think through all that had happened and all that had been said was going to make sleep difficult if not impossible. However, he needed time to work out what he was going to do and say. Everyone there knew it and no one disputed his stated desire of going to bed. None of them were likely to sleep well.
In the morning, Adam was ready to ask Alva and Maurice what their plans were. Not surprisingly, as Ben had stated, they did have tentative plans and hoped Adam would concur.
“For now, I want to stay here. I do not want to be at home when all this breaks.”
“Because your father will be in the middle of it?”
Alva agreed with that. Maurice spoke up then.
“We believe that a lawyer here would be able to get a judge to annul our marriage if we explain the full circumstances. We never wanted to be married and never, ah, well, that is, we never consummated the marriage. It is a marriage of convenience only and it made the birth of AC legitimate. However, I’m sure everyone understands now why it was done.”
“What will you do, Maurice?”
“If you will write your testimony to the documents I brought, I will bring that back. With everything else you found, and with what I now know, it should be enough for the authorities to build a case against those who did all of this to you and for all the corruption they are carrying on. The fraud, the bribery, and the outright violence has to end. They have corrupted many good people and dragged them into their villainy. I think many of those may come forward as witnesses if given enough incentive and protection.”
“I don’t have enough evidence.”
“The authorities have been working on the case or I assume they have. We gave them copies of what you had and I told them what I knew. They will have questioned people by now and found out more. It will help too if you can give us the names of those who mistreated you in prison.”
“Those who ‘mistreated me in prison’ makes it sound so benign compared to what happened.” The bitterness and anger in Adam was unmistakable in those words.
Alva was sympathetic. “Adam, we don’t know what happened. We only heard that they tried to kill you. We heard that with an informant. We did our best to get you out of there then.”
With his eyebrows drawn together, Adam stared at her for a time still trying to determine if she truly cared. Seeing the glistening eyes, he began to relent. “They tried to kill me but slowly, bit by bit. Beatings and whippings were their preferred methods.” He said no more letting them slowly digest that and what it meant. He watched as understanding dawned and Alva’s hand went to her mouth.
“Then when you went to that island, you were already injured?”
“Yes, but as you said, I was able to survive.”
“I had no idea it was that horrible for you.”
“I guess there was nothing you could do.”
It was the first concession Adam had made and the first step to forgiving Alva and eventually Maurice and himself for all that had happened. His true healing could begin. Hoss put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed softly to let him know he was doing the right thing. When he agreed to write down all he could remember about his investigations and about what had happened to him in prison and who had done it, his whole family supported his decision.
“While we’re working on that, could someone ask a lawyer to come out here and talk to us about annulling the marriage between Alva and me. I would like to conclude that business as soon as possible as well.”
“We haven’t settled what Alva will do.”
“That is up to you and her. I will be leaving as soon as I have all your testimony. She and AC can stay here as long as it takes for the two of you to decide what happens next.”
Surprised, Adam said nothing for a time. Then he looked at Alva who was doing her best to maintain a neutral look. “We can talk about it. I do want my son to stay.” He knew that those words hurt, but he was being honest. He didn’t know if he wanted her to stay although he had to admit if his son stayed, he would want her to stay because she was obviously a good mother so he had to amend his statement. “If my son stays, I want his mother to stay too. You’re a good mother. I can see that, and the two of you need to stay together.” It was a concession, a small one, but at least he was opening up a little.
Alva had seen how Adam was with Davy too. “You’re a good father. I can see how you are with Davy. I want you to be able to do that for our son too.”
With the situation as tense as it was, Ben decided to play the role of Solomon for a little longer. “Perhaps Joe could ride to town and explain the situation to our lawyer. He could come out here and talk to the three of you and give you your options.” There were no objections so he and Joe walked outside. “When you talk with Hiram, be sure to let him know how touchy Adam is about all of this. He knows him well but this is beyond anything Adam has had to face before. He’s facing many bad memories and needs to make some major decisions at the same time. It’s a difficult position to be in.”
“He knows we’re all here backing him up though. I hope he knows that.”
“He knows, Joe. He knows.”
“He looks awful tired this morning.”
“I doubt he slept very well last night, and he was up with Davy too. I heard him call for Adam, and then I heard AC crying. I’m sure he heard that too.”
“I guess none of us slept very well last night.”
Inside, Davy was clinging to Adam who wanted to write out all that he remembered so that Maurice could leave. He wanted to talk with Alva too but didn’t know how he could manage that with Davy’s fear of being abandoned. Alva too had AC who was bewildered by the change in his life. The only constant he had was her so he wanted to be with his mother at all times too. Hoss had an idea that surprised everyone.
“Let’s go on a picnic after Hiram gets here and talks to all of you.”
“Big brother, we have a lot to do. We don’t have time for a picnic.”
“Yes, I think you do. It’s what you all need. You need time to relax and get to know one another and have some fun. We can all go down to the lake, relax, skip some stones, play a bit, and maybe you and Alva can even find a bit of time to talk ifn the young’uns are havin’ enough fun with the rest of us.”
“Son, Hoss has a point. It may be the best place for you and Alva to talk. It certainly isn’t going to happen here with so many little ears.”
“All right, if the conversation with Hiram goes fast enough, I guess we could do that if Alva and Maurice are agreeable.”
It was with a sigh of relief that both of them agreed with Hoss’ proposition. The stress of the trip, the tensions of the meeting with Adam and his family, and telling the whole tale had been a heavy burden. Both looked forward to some genuine time to relax.
“Perhaps while you and Maurice talk and write, Davy could help me with AC?”
Intrigued, Davy looked up at Adam.
“How could he help?”
“All these big men are somewhat frightening to such a little one. I think getting to know someone smaller would be reassuring to him. Perhaps they could sit here on the floor next to me and play a little.”
So that was how the morning passed with Adam and Maurice at the dining table looking at documents to stimulate Adam’s memory, and Davy on the floor trying to get smiles and coos from the baby who began to respond especially with his mother right there to encourage him. Occasionally Maurice noted Adam looking over to see the two boys together. It made him smile softly, and that gave Maurice some hope that things could still work out. He knew Alva would tell Adam that he had offered to consummate the marriage but that she had refused his advances. However, they had agreed that the news of that wouldn’t be shared until Maurice left. She wanted to be completely honest with Adam, but Maurice told her that they also needed him to be completely honest in his testimony and to cooperate as much as possible. Animosity toward Maurice could complicate that. Because Maurice never intended to return to America and would likely never see Adam again, he thought he had nothing to fear if Alva told him the truth once he was gone. After all, when he had made those advances, they thought Adam was dead and Alva was a very attractive and desirable woman. Maurice had thought his need to be honorable had been fulfilled, but Alva had insisted that she believed that somehow Adam might have survived. Maurice had argued that if the ocean hadn’t killed him, the sharks, the crocodiles, the heat, the insects, or any number of other horrible things would have. He didn’t have the faith she had and had been truly shocked to find out that Adam had survived. Then he had felt quite guilty about trying to seduce Alva. However now he was glad she had refused him, and his honor and hers were still intact.
When Joe returned with Hiram, the discussion was as brief as Adam and the others hoped. Hiram questioned Maurice and Alva with pointed questions and when he was satisfied that they were being truthful, he agreed that he would petition the court for an annulment of their marriage. He said it could be done quietly so that no one other than the judge need know about it. Everyone thanked him for that. After telling them he would let them know when to appear before the judge for the official annulment proceeding, he left.
Then it was time to pack for the picnic. As Adam and Maurice carried things to the carriage, Adam stopped Maurice before they returned to the house.
“You didn’t, but you tried, didn’t you?”
“Didn’t but tried what?” Maurice feigned a lack of awareness of what Adam had openly implied, but failed miserably when he couldn’t look Adam in the eye.
“It’s all right, you know. I believe you when you say nothing happened, and that’s what’s important. I could see how you would have been tempted.”
Maurice dropped his head. “It was when we thought you were dead. Or at least I did. Alva said she thought you were dead, but when I approached her, she said maybe you weren’t. She still held out hope that despite everything, you would have survived somehow. I’m sorry that I didn’t have that kind of faith in you.”
“I beat the odds. Understandable that you wouldn’t expect that.”
“Your enemies did.”
“Yes, and I still worry about that.”
“You should. I presume you have taken precautions.”
“We have, but it’s a wide open country. It’s difficult to cover everything.” Adam worried about the picnic even though he knew his father had asked Candy and another man to keep watch over them. It was still a somewhat risky proposition.
At the lake, there was the fun Hoss had intended. Everyone got to relax. Skipping stones was the main activity, but there was some splashing in the water too. Adam rolled up his sleeves to help Davy, and Alva got her first good look at the scars on his wrists. In the sunlight, they were more pronounced. She expected to see those, but it was still painful to see the evidence of what had happened to him. She sat on the shore with AC who was fascinated with the activity, the water, the splashes from the stones being thrown, and the general conversation all around him. He was starting to get used to the commotion of so many people instead of only the three of them being together.
Everything seemed idyllic until the first rifle shot. She froze not knowing what to do until a strong arm grabbed her and AC pulling her roughly along and behind a large boulder. There she realized it was Adam who had manhandled her. He had Davy there too. Both boys were crying.
“You could have been more careful of the boys.”
“There wasn’t time.”
Pulling Davy into his embrace with one arm, he pulled Alva and AC to him with the other arm trying to get all four of them into the smallest possible space to make them as tiny a target as he could. There were more rifle shots but none seemed to be directed at them. He heard his father and brothers call out to ask if he was all right.
“I’m fine and so are the children and Alva. How is everyone else?”
“No one was hit. Whoever it was, they apparently were a bad shot or were distracted by one of our men.”
“Pa, I’m betting on our men. We was sitting ducks down here. No way anybody was gonna miss lessen somebody made ‘im miss.”
“Hoss is probably right, Pa.”
Adam had one more concern. “Where is Maurice?”
Hoss answered. “He’s with me. Hurt his ankle getting to cover. Might be broken. He ain’t sayin’ much. I think it may be hurtin’ something fierce.”
As Joe noted that it had gotten quiet up on the ridge, they heard Candy yell that he was riding down. There was a collective sigh of relief because he wouldn’t do that unless it was clear. Ben, Hoss, and Joe stood and put away their pistols preparing to greet Candy. When he got there, he told them that the assassin was dead. Through that, Adam stayed where he was with the children and Alva although he relaxed his grip on all of them.
“Will you be able to soothe AC now?”
“Yes, he’s calm already. He’ll be fine.” Turning to Davy, Alva asked him how he was.
“I’m all right. My arm is a little sore where Papa grabbed me.”
Alva smiled at him. “Mine too, but you know he was only protecting us, don’t you?”
“Was that a bad man up there shooting at us?”
“I think it was, but we have good people here protecting us.”
“Papa protected us.”
“Yes, he did.”
“He must love us.”
Looking at Adam, Alva wondered what he would say. He didn’t say anything about that, but he did say they ought to get up and join the others. When he stood, she saw he had ripped his shirt in the back. She reached out to touch the tear and gasped when she saw his back through the rip.
“Adam, your back!”
“It’s healed now. It’s no matter.”
“Alva, we can talk about that later.” Adam didn’t want to talk about that part of his prison experience in front of Davy. She got the message. Later that evening after the children were in bed, she asked him about it. He said she could come in his room and he would show her. He took off his shirt and turned around making her gasp again. The scarring was worse than what she had thought.
“Is there anything that can be done?”
“Doctor Martin said that I should use some salve and Hop Sing has some that he says will soften the tissue and even make it less noticeable.”
“Why don’t you use it?” Then Alva answered her own question. “You wouldn’t want any one of the men here to have to help you and you can’t do it yourself.” Pausing for only a moment, she continued. “Do you have the salve?” Adam opened a drawer and took out a small jar. “Give it to me.”
“I wasn’t asking you to do it for me.”
“I know. I’m volunteering. Now, I can see the scars go lower than your beltline. I’ve seen more of you than that so you can lower your pants so I can rub this on all of the scars.”
Although Adam wanted to object and tell her that wasn’t necessary, he didn’t want to argue with her. He did as she asked. When she told him to rest face down on his bed, he did so. He felt her hands on his back and tears came into his eyes. He had no idea he was going to feel that way, but he realized it had been a very long time since anyone had touched him with such tenderness. Even though he squeezed his eyes closed, Alva saw the tears on his cheeks. It broke her heart to know the pain he must have suffered. She wanted to hold him and tell him how sorry she was but didn’t know how he would react. Instead she finished with the salve, closed the small jar, and sat on the bed beside him waiting for him to respond in some way.
“Adam, what are we going to do?”
“I don’t know. I guess we’re going to have to figure that out.”
“I guess we are. Good night.”
But they had made a connection. Each night, she rubbed the salve into to the scars on his back, and each night, he was a bit more open in talking with her especially after the judge granted the annulment. He was a bit reluctant to do so when he learned there was a child, but Adam stepped forward to say the child was his and he would assume all responsibility for support. That took care of any reservations the judge had. Maurice was free of responsibility and had his testimony from Adam so he left to go back home although he was hampered a bit by the crutches he was forced to use.
The family was hopeful as they saw Adam warming up to Alva. He didn’t talk about her moving out anywhere so they assumed he meant for her to stay, but no one knew what relationship he meant to have with her. What they didn’t know was that he had no idea what kind of relationship he meant to have with her either. He wanted her to stay with AC and he thought it best that she be there for Davy too so that the brothers could have a mother’s influence as well. Ben talked to him about it and found out that he was undecided and touchy about it too.
“Adam, I hope you know that although you had relations with Alva at one time, that isn’t proper for you to consider here. You have children to think about now.”
“Pa, don’t worry about me breaking some rules in your house. I have more important things to consider than that. If I had any intention of bedding Alva, I think there’s too many ears here anyway so you don’t have to worry about that.”
“And what are your intentions?”
“If I knew, I’d think it would be proper to tell Alva first. Now this isn’t a conversation I want to have if you don’t mind.”
With that, Adam had left the house and had not returned for hours effectively shutting off that line of communication. When Adam and Alva talked, it was about the immediate future and not long term plans. A week after Maurice left, Alva was rubbing salve into the scars as she did each night, but AC started crying. She apologized, but Adam told her to go. He put a shirt on but didn’t button it and knocked on her door. She told him to come in after a moment as she was nursing AC and had pulled a small towel over her chest. However AC didn’t like that and tried to pull it away over and over again as Adam smiled. Finally she gave up and let him pull the small towel away.
“It’s not like you haven’t seen them before.”
Sitting on the bed, Adam watched Alva nurse their son. “Isn’t he getting a bit old for this?”
“Yes, he’s getting to the age where he could be weaned. But, so much has changed for him that I didn’t want to do that too. This soothes him and makes him sleep better.”
“It would probably make me sleep better too.” Adam grinned at her with that comment.
She had to smile back. It was the most genuine smile he had shown her yet. “I bet you would too.”
When she put AC in the large cradle to sleep, Adam stood and put his arms around her to look at their son. She reveled in the feel of his arms around her as it was the first time he had hugged her or held her other than when he had grabbed her to pull her to safety at the lake. Leaning back into him, she felt him react to her. They stood that way for several minutes until Adam shifted his arms to turn her toward him.
“May I kiss you?”
They kissed softly and sensuously at first and then more passionately. As Adam began to trail kisses down her neck, Alva remembered that her dress was still unbuttoned and that Adam’s shirt was open. She pulled back.
“Adam, we shouldn’t.”
Closing his eyes, he sighed deeply but didn’t release her. He pulled her into a hug instead and rested his chin on her head as she put her cheek against his chest.
“Alva, tomorrow, let’s take the children and go to town.”
“Yes, I would like that.”
“We could go to see the minister.”
“Alva, I asked you this a long time ago, and you said yes. I’ll ask you again. Will you marry me?”
“Adam, are you sure?”
“To be honest, no, I’m not at all sure. I’m not sure at all what I should do, but I do think it’s the best thing we can do.”
“Do you love me?”
“I think I do.”
“I love you, and I think you love me. I’m willing to let you come to that conclusion in your own time.”
“Then you will marry me?”
“Yes, I will. I do think it’s the best thing we can do. Shouldn’t we include your family in the wedding though?”
“No, I want to keep this as small and private as possible. We’ll tell them what we’re going to do. If they want a celebration dinner tomorrow night, that’s fine. What about your father?”
“By now, he’s probably disowned me. When Maurice gets back, my father will be in some trouble. It won’t be as bad as some others, but he has some things to answer for including what he did to you. He could have helped you avoid prison. He didn’t because he didn’t want me to marry you. That is unforgivable in my book.”
“How did he react, by the way, when you named our son with my name? That must have irritated him.”
“I don’t think he knows. By then, Maurice and I knew what he had done and we were estranged.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“I’m not so sorry. I have you, I have AC, and now I have Davy, and your father is much nicer than mine ever was.”
“And you get three brothers too.”
“I know. This is quite amazing.”
Well, it all worked out except Ben was not to be denied. He insisted that the minister come out to the house. That way the whole family could be there for the wedding. Candy was invited to attend, and Jamie arrived home in time for the celebration. He had a lot to catch up on when he rode in. He only had one comment.
“This family just keeps getting bigger and better all the time.”