Summary: Adam’s unexpected illness; an unexpected visitor, and Ben’s unexpected reaction to a developing situation leaves the Cartwright home in upheaval. Can the information this stranger holds, bring healing to old and new wounds?
Rating: G Word Count: 25743
The Cartwrights couldn’t ride into Virginia City without being stopped by someone needing “just a minute” of their time. Hoss, Joe, and Adam made it halfway down the busy main thoroughfare this time before a shout from the boardwalk brought Adam to a halt. He waved his brothers on, saying he’d meet them at the hardware store in a few minutes, and eased Sport to the side of the street.
“Hi Fritz,” he said from atop his horse, leaning forward onto the saddle horn, indicating his readiness to listen, while not giving the impression he would be sticking around long enough to dismount. “Did you need something?”
Fritz Malory was the current president of the Cattlemen Association. Adam liked the man and admired his ranching practices, but he also knew Fritz could get long-winded when discussing business. While the eldest Cartwright son often enjoyed engaging in such dialogues, he wasn’t up to it today.
Fritz held up a finger, and said, “Don’t’ move,” when he saw Stephen Granger trying to step up onto the boardwalk. Grainger was a member of the association who’d broken his leg after from being tossed off his horse. The poor man used his crutches with no more skill than he rode his horse, and always looked as though he was in mid-fall. While Fritz assisted the injured man into the building, Adam’s mind wandered back to the events preceding his ride into town—the ones that made him eager to finish the errands and settle down at a table in the Bucket of Blood for a cold beer and ham sandwich.
The Cartwrights had gotten up at dawn to do a few projects before the early spring hot spell made working uncomfortable, but their efforts had been thwarted at every turn. The first job had taken longer than expected when the stock needing to be separated for a small order, refused to head into the containment pen. They’d go as far as the gate, and then dart off. The brothers got tired of chasing them, and finally led them in one-at-a-time with a lasso around their neck.
Their next job was no easier. The block and tackle pulley they were using to lift items into the barn loft broke, dropping a heavy wooden crate within inches of Hoss’s head. Luckily the only injury was a small bruise on Hoss’s shoulder and a few splinters in Little Joe’s hand from shoving the box just enough to miss his middle brother’s head. The worst part was that they couldn’t finish the job because they’d forgotten to purchase replacement parts after they’d fixed it the last time.
But those things paled in comparison to the grand finale, when Adam brought their newest bull in from the pasture to “introduce” him to a few choice heifers. The two-year-old ladies were in heat, and while they weren’t quite ready to avail themselves, the magnificent beast showed no interest. Adam had delivered the bull to the corral, fully prepared to jump the fence as soon as the bull got the scent and built up some steam. But the darn thing walked around the edge of the large pen, munching tufts of grass. Adam had purchased the bull and chosen the heifers, and he was beginning to think he might have overestimated their ability to create a stronger line of beef. While he’d tried to shoo the bull towards the girls, his father and brothers had sat on the fence issuing an unending supply of advice.
Hoss had shouted, “Hey, Adam, maybe you need to give that big ol’ guy a few words of yer wooing advice. I bet he’s just shy around them good-lookin’ gals.”
The giggling from Joe had finally erupted into full-fledged laughter as he’d suggested that his older brother had brought in a steer instead of a bull. “Did you check real good to make sure that fella has all his parts?” he’d asked; his words barely discernable amid his guffaws.
Even Pa had taken advantage of Adam’s chagrin by recommending that he might get his guitar and play a few amorous ballads to get things started.
In the end he’d actually had to tug the big lug over and do pretty much as Hoss suggested, taking him near each cow to get their scent. With a little interest built up, he’d shooed everyone away, telling them no man could perform under such scrutiny. It hadn’t taken long before the heifers had gone into standing heat, and their short courtship was consummated. He hoped they’d conceive or there’d be no end to the teasing.
Even with the setbacks, they’d finished the tasks by 10 a.m., and no one objected when Pa suggested that all three sons get away for a few hours to pick up a new pulley and stop at the bank. Hoss added in the requirement of getting lunch and a beer before heading back.
He’d drifted so far away in thought that he jumped when Fritz said, “Adam?”
“Sorry,” he admitted sheepishly. “How can I help you?”
Their business was quickly dispatched with Adam agreeing that the Ponderosa would contribute towards trophies and cash prizes awarded in the best bull competition at the upcoming cattlemen’s function. He grinned to himself as he headed Sport back into the street, knowing one reluctant bull that would not be entered.
He heard the rumble of wheels as the approaching noon stage from Sacramento came up behind him, and he reined Sport a bit tighter so he wouldn’t spook when it passed. The stage had slowed enough that it did little more than create a cloud of dust that surrounded everything nearby until it stopped in front of the Overland office.
Adam waved and called, “Hey Amos,” as the older driver rose by inches from his perch atop the vehicle until he was fully upright.
“How you doing, Adam?” the driver called back as he stretched. “Man, I get stiff these days.”
With Sport stopped out of street traffic, Adam peered up the man he’d come to know in his years of traveling the route this seasoned driver handled. “You’ve been doing this so long you’ve probably grown roots into that cushion. Ever think of retiring?” There were many times when a crowded passenger compartment had sent Adam above to share the driver’s seat. Amos Cassidy was an interesting man full of worldly wisdom and well-worn platitudes, all delivered with a wry sense of humor.
“And do what?” The old man grunted and groaned as he turned and began his descent while hollering at the station master to get the luggage from the boot. He looked up at Adam once he was on the ground. “They’ll have to pry those reins from my hands when I’m cold and stiff.”
“I’m sure they will.” He gave Sport a gentle nudge to make room for Amos to open the door after Jake from the stage office set the step. The first passenger to disembark was a woman Adam figured to be in her mid-40s. She smiled at him as she reached for Amos’s hand, and Adam returned the mute greeting with a tip of his hat. He leaned toward his old friend to avoid shouting over the street noise, and was saying, “I’m going to Sacramento next week, so I’ll see…” when he heard Amos call the woman by name, and caution her about the long drop to the step.
The sweating began instantly, making Adam feel like a fire-heated blanket had been draped over him. He had trouble catching a full breath as he pulled his handkerchief from his pocket to wipe away the beads of moisture dampening his forehead, cheeks and neck. An assault of vertigo struck next, spinning the street in front of him in an endless loop and making him grab the pommel with both hands to keep from slipping from his saddle. The sensation of movement, even while sitting as still as possible, was rapidly joined by another offering from this ala carte menu of woes. Tingling at the back of his throat was accompanied by an over-production of saliva. He swallowed repeatedly to keep from drooling, but this action became futile when the receptacle receiving the flood of liquid began refusing new deposits. Fortunately it had been hours since he’d eaten, and the upward heave of his stomach produced nothing more than an uncomfortable retch that he hid behind the hanky.
Adam’s mind and body were being overrun by physical stimuli. The only thing he knew clearly was was that he needed help, and that he’d have to get to the hardware store. The passing traffic thinned for the moment, so he decided to go before he became too disabled to accomplish the move. He glanced up just long enough to locate the building amid the rotating landscape in front of his eyes. He grabbed the saddle horn with a shaky hand and held on tight as he carefully applied pressure on Sport’s flanks to set him moving. The store was on the opposite side of the street, so he pulled the right rein to change his trajectory while praying there wasn’t a wagon coming up behind him that wouldn’t be able to stop before running him down.
He gave thanks when the big gelding headed in the right direction, and then with a gentle prod on just his right side, Sport moved into a space at the hardware store’s hitch rail between Chubby and Cochise. With the journey complete, Adam closed his eyes tightly and bowed his head, ending the visual cacophony. He shivered violently as a breeze cooled his skin beneath the sweat-soaked shirt, and when he couldn’t hold back the nausea, he covered his mouth with his hanky again and retched as quietly as possible until his stomach calmed.
Relief flooded him when he heard familiar voices, but he kept his eyes closed to avoid setting the world into motion. Hoss was laughing as he exited the store, but he stopped abruptly. This was followed by the sound of his solid footfalls moving quickly in Adam’s direction.
“What’s wrong?” he asked immediately as he reached up and lent a steadying hand when realized that his brother’s normal lean in the saddle was moving too far off center.
“I don’t know.” He appreciated Hoss’s solid grip, and thought how a person usually paid no attention to their body. Yet in this moment, he was aware of everything. The sound of his breathing echoed inside his head; he felt each heartbeat pulsing from the vessels in his neck straight down to his toes, and every nerve inside him seemed on fire.
Hoss sprang into action. He knew when his older brother was sick. They all caught whatever bugs made the rounds through the crew and in town, and Adam usually suffered the most because he wouldn’t give in to being ill. But this caught him off guard, because Adam had been fine no more than ten minutes before. Now his shirt was soaked enough to look like he’d ridden through a rain storm, and he was hunkered over as though he’d been gut shot. “Somethings really wrong, ain’t it?”
“What’s botherin’ you the most?”
Little Joe’s sense of uneasiness was growing with each exchange between his brothers. “Can you get down?”
As long as his eyes were closed, Adam had some equilibrium. “I’d rather not.”
“It’s a pretty warm day,” Hoss noted. “Do you think you might’a overheated?”
“Maybe, but I’m cold now, and I don’t feel any better.”
Hoss looked around, seeking a solution. “We can get you over to the International House, help you inside, and you can rest up in the lobby or we’ll get a room.”
The response held a testy edge. “You’re not dragging me off my horse into a hotel. I’ll spend the two years dodging rumors about being too drunk to walk before noon.”
“All right…” Hoss took another minute to think, and turned to Joe. “Run down the street and see if Doc Martin’s in his office. If he’s not there get Doc Small.”
“Hang on, Adam,” Hoss said soothingly, turning back to his older brother. “You’ll be feelin’ as fine as Little Joe’s chin whiskers in no time.”
Paul Martin was eating his lunch when Little Joe charged through the office door. After hearing why the youngest Cartwright looked so upset, he told him to bring Adam over on Sport.
He stood in on the porch, watching as the three maneuvered down the side street with Hoss and Joe flanking their brother. Paul could tell Adam was struggling to sit up, and thought he’d have been better off if they’d have brought him on a stretcher. Yet he understood why they were making this look as normal as possible. The Cartwright family was always under scrutiny. Ben and his boys were generally well-thought of as good and extremely generous people. But they didn’t let anyone take what they didn’t offer, and that made them targets for malicious gossip by those who envied their success and position. Any perceived flaw brought great excitement among those inclined to find fault.
His friendship with the sick man atop the horse made him pray that they’d get to his house before Adam collapsed. The doctor in him began assessing the obvious symptoms before they came to a stop. Although still upright, Adam’s distinct list indicated issues with balance, and his complexion held a grayish undertone. “How are you doing?” he asked as he reached up for Adam’s wrist when they arrived, and felt a rapid pulse with recurring uneven beats.
“I’m not sure.” Adam’s reply was truthful…and uninformative. “I don’t want to open my eyes; that much I’m sure of.”
“You two are going to have to ease him down,” Paul charged Hoss and Joe, before addressing Adam again. “Do you need them to carry you inside?”
“I’ll walk between them,” the patient growled. “Just make sure the street is clear before you do this.”
“It’s clear now,” Hoss told him as he reached up, getting a bear hug around Adam’s chest to keep him upright and using his brother’s belt as a handle to slide his legs over Sport’s wide back. “Give Joe a second to get over here, and we’ll get you movin’.”
Even with his eyes closed, the movement made Adam sway between his brothers like a drunken sailor on deck in a storm. He breathed in relief when they finally lowered him onto the chaise in Paul’s office.
“Any idea what might be causing this?” Paul asked as he opened Adam’s shirt and listened to his heart.
“Everything was fine until I was talking to Amos by the stage 10-minutes ago. Then dizziness, sweating, and nausea struck like pellets from a shotgun blast.”
Hoss stood next to his brother, hat in hand, nearly rubbing a hole in the felt of the brim to calm his anxiety. “I was thinkin’ maybe he got too hot. It’s a scorcher again. The weather’s been off this spring. It went from, ‘dang it’s cold,’ to ‘holy cow it’s hot,’ without never stoppin’ at ‘gee it’s nice,’ for a few days in between.”
“That’s a valid point, Hoss, and a good way to describe it.” Paul was still laughing when he sat next to Adam. “What have you done today?”
“Usual ranch work before coming to town.”
Little Joe laughed. “He forgot the part about chasing a less-than-amorous bull around the corral for an hour just before we headed in.”
“Did you have some water after that fun?”
Adam’s tone remained surly. “I don’t remember.”
“Do you remember imbibing last night?” Paul asked.
“Wine with dinner: just a glass.”
“Coffee for breakfast and probably no water since?” Paul smiled up at Hoss before patting Adam’s shoulder. “You owe your brother the fee on this one. I’m guessing the culprit is dehydration, and you overheated because of it.” He went to his desk, pouring a glass of water from the carafe. “Take a few swallows of this. Keep your eyes closed so you don’t throw it up. I’ll get some compresses to cool you down, and then have you drink more when you start to feel better.”
Paul waved from the doorway as the trio headed to their horses. He hollered, “Take it easy for the rest of the day, Adam. You can chase bulls again tomorrow,” before returning to his office, tidying the room and sitting at his desk to finish his sandwich. As he ate, he mentally chewed on his long-time acquaintance with this family.
He’d been the only doctor when he’d first come to the small town in the territory where the Ponderosa was quietly growing into one of the largest operations in the West. But things had changed when Henry Comstock discovered silver ore in the foothills of Mount Davidson. The rapidly expanding town, known by various names to various people, was renamed Virginia City, and the influx of people left the area sorely lacking in doctors. News of the need brought a few physicians into town, but there was still more work than doctors to do it. Patient calls to outlying settlers, or tending to the injuries and sickness in the mines often took them from their offices for hours and even days at a time. As a result, people used whichever physician was available when necessity arose. No territorial boundaries were erected between the men delivering medical care, although they each had their favorite families.
A call to the Cartwright home was a boon for every physician. The family paid their bill quickly in cash, and a trip to the Ponderosa was an experience unlike any other. When the doctors in Virginia City gathered each month to compare their experiences, each would marvel at their treatment by Ben and his boys. Their horses were tended while they were inside, the buggies were wiped down of dust, and Hop Sing always made sure they either had something to eat and drink before leaving or a sandwich and sweets to enjoy while driving to their next appointment.
Paul was still the Cartwrights doctor of choice when possible. He’d treated Adam when he’d returned home recovering from a gut wound after a tangle with Cochise and his braves. He’d been called after Adam was found on the Mountain of the Dead with a festering wound in his leg, and an even deeper wound in his heart over the loss of the woman who’d helped him. He’d also become well acquainted with Adam’s propensity to wait in seeking a doctor’s care until he was galloping full speed toward the edge of cliff. Paul’s experiences with Adam over the years had made him an expert on how this man reacted to his infirmities and how he recovered. That was bothering him now.
He grabbed the handkerchief from his pocket to sweep away the bread crumbs that had fallen on his shirt, as he thought about what he’d just witnessed. The nagging uneasiness made the sandwich feel like a brick in his stomach.
It was unlike Adam to seek an exam without delay. And while everything he was experiencing did point to dehydration, his recovery didn’t uphold that diagnosis. The only treatment Paul had given him was those sips of water.
When Adam put his head back to rest after that, the three brothers started talking while Paul gathered the supplies he needed. Their conversation turned toward an incident with Little Joe trying to escape the clutches of an overzealous female at last weekend’s dance, and that prompted a round of rowdy laughter. Paul had gone into his kitchen to get a basin of water, and had been gone only minutes when he’d re-entered the exam room to find Adam sitting on the edge of the couch—symptom free.
Consuming four ounces of water might have begun to reduce the severity of the symptoms associated with heat prostration, but it wouldn’t have instantly removed the dizziness, extreme sweating, and urge to vomit. Paul recreated the visit in his mind, and came to other realizations. Someone experiencing “heat” induced symptoms would have felt warm to the touch. But Adam hadn’t. There’d been some cooling through evaporation, but Paul should have felt fever-like warmth when taking his pulse.
He pictured what might support a different diagnosis. It hit him soundly that the set of Adam’s jaw had been so tight that Paul had worried that he’d crack his teeth. Adam’s fists were clenched; he’d had deep worry lines etched around his eyes and mouth, and there’d been a look on his face… He now realized that what he’d seen was not a man experiencing heat stroke, but a man who was frightened—nearly in terror. Illness never made Adam happy, but he wasn’t afraid of being sick or of being treated. There seemed to be nothing in the morning activities the brothers had described that would have provoked the response Adam exhibited. Moreover, the symptoms faded quickly once whatever triggered them was forgotten in conversation and laughter.
He’d allowed Adam to leave when he’d finished another glass of water and had no further dizziness. His only other treatment had been to make them promise to stop for a quick bite to eat and more water before the ride home.
A quick check of his appointment book and a glance at the clock confirmed that he was due at the boarding house to check on a patient who’d sustained a self-inflicted gunshot after a daylong drunk at the Sazerac yesterday. Paul looked over the contents of his bag, tossing in a few rolls of cotton to redress the wound. Another wave of uneasiness struck him like a hot poker as he passed the chaise Adam had vacated.
Returning to his desk, he paged forward, penciling in a stop at the Ponderosa for the following afternoon. His uneasiness was palpable, and he was suddenly filled with dread for his friend.
Adam was the last to come down for breakfast. He blew a long breath from the side of his mouth as he noted the tall, ruby-and-crystal glass sitting next to his coffee cup. Hop Sing always served water with their evening meal, but the addition of this very full tumbler to his breakfast setting suggested treason.
He sat and raised the glass, nodding first to Little Joe and then to Hoss. “I propose a toast to my brothers, Judas Iscariot, and Benedict Arnold.” He took some satisfaction in watching his brothers turn as rosy as the glass he set back onto the table after taking a long drink. “You know,” he began while Hop Sing poured him a steaming cup of coffee, “I distinctly recall asking you two not to say anything to Pa about our detour to Paul’s office yesterday.”
Joe bent over his plate, shoveling food into his mouth as his cheeks continued to blaze, but Hoss looked his older brother in the eye.
“We intended to honor that, but then you went up for bed early last night, nearly draggin’ yourself up them steps.” Hoss squirmed in his chair as his eyes darted towards his father and then back to Adam. “Pa saw that, and then must’a seen Little Joe and me exchange a worried look, and he locked on us like Jigger’s bull did on that red handkerchief. We had to tell him or face his horns.”
Ben nearly spit coffee as he tried to hold back a laugh at Hoss’s depiction. Once he swallowed, he focused on his eldest. “You might be able to withstand my scrutiny, Adam, but I can still get Judas and Benedict to talk. Yet it’s not fair to think of them as traitors in this case. I know you don’t like anyone knowing your troubles, but what you experienced brought up an important point. This unseasonably hot weather has caught us all off guard, and what happened to you could happen to any of our men if they aren’t careful. I’m going to have a quick talk with the hands this morning and make sure they each take a full canteen.”
The eye roll was brief, but Adam’s sigh was not. “Your concern for the men is justified. But…” he addressed his brothers. “Instead of tattling, you could have sent Pa to talk to me. I would have explained what happened…without the glorious embellishments of nearly carrying me into Paul’s office after dragging me down from Sport so I didn’t fall on my face.”
A lopsided grin grew on Ben’s face. “Actually they just said you felt dizzy, and even though Hoss was pretty sure you were overheated, you had Paul confirm that before heading home. But thank you for providing those details, son.”
It was Adam’s turn to blush, and then laugh. “How about someone pass me the eggs to enjoy with my foot.”
The snow still atop the Sierras at this time of year usually provided a cooling breeze, but not today. Ben glanced up at the blazing sun and shook his head. “I’m sure not ready for this heat,” he grumbled while making his way behind the barn to where Hoss and Adam were repairing feed bins the field mice had chewed into over the winter. Fortunately the tall building afforded shade as the afternoon temperatures continued to rise. Adam had seemed well while helping his brothers fix the pulley and get the crates stored in the loft after breakfast, but Ben knew that his hard-headed son wouldn’t allow himself to slow down. He felt compelled to make an appearance now-and-then to remind him to take care of himself. He grinned when he heard Adam groan as he rounded the corner to where they were working.
“You don’t have to keep checking up on me,” Adam groused. “If I pass out, Hoss can toss me over his shoulder and carry me to the house.” He had meant for his statement to sound humorous, but it came out in such a petulant tone that his father laughed.
“I know you’re all grown up, but sometimes I forget that when you sound like the little boy who argued with me about going to bed at night.” He laughed again when Adam turned away with a hint of a smile lingering below his pink cheeks. “I’m glad you’re doing well, and I promise this is the last time I’ll check.” He whispered, “Until the next time,” under his breath, as he inspected their work. His sons were men, but that didn’t take away his right to worry. They would understand that once they had children of their own.
Hoss pointed to the bin they’d been working on. “The mice got into every last one of them boxes, and in more’n one place, so Adam and me are gonna attach a strip of metal over the wood at the bottom edge where them critters like to gnaw,” Hoss told his father. “I’ve got Jimmy firing up the forge. He can straighten some of them curved iron strips we use to reinforce the bigger wagon wheels, and poke some nail holes in ‘em while the two of us keep fixin’ the holes.”
Ben had talked a little more with his sons before heading back inside to do paperwork. His green ledgers remained piled on the corner of his desk when he got sidetracked reading through the business section of the newspaper the boys had brought back from town. He was engrossed in an article about a new president being named at one of the banks used by the Ponderosa. It was a person he’d dealt with at the main branch in San Francisco, and he was mentally composing the congratulatory note and invitation to the ranch he’d write later, when he was startled by the sound of wheels turning on the hard-packed ground in the yard. He rose quickly to peer out the small windows near his desk and saw a stranger pulling to a stop.
“It’s a hot day for a ride,” he told the woman in the buggy as he exited the house.
The middle-aged woman untied the bow of her large-brimmed hat and set in on the seat next to her. “This monstrosity,” she said, pointing to the headgear, “kept me shaded, and I moved fast enough to create a pleasant breeze, so it wasn’t bad.” She turned in the seat and looked around the yard. “It is as lovely here as the people in town described it, but being a city-girl, all this vastness is a bit daunting.” She refocused on the man by the house. “Are you Mr. Cartwright?”
Ben approached the buggy. “There are four Mr. Cartwrights living here, but let me help you down and we’ll go inside where it’s more comfortable.” He steadied her descent and led her into the house. “Have a seat while I arrange for a cool drink. Would you prefer water or lemonade?”
“Water would be nice. Thank you.” She got comfortable on the settee, and set her large handbag next to her before removing her gloves and opening the top button of her cotton dress to let in a little cool air. “So, which of the four are you?” she asked when her host returned.
“I’m Ben. And you are?”
She extended her hand. “Patricia Matson. I’m looking for Adam Cartwright.” She smiled. “Might he be one of the other three?”
Ben sat on the arm of his red leather chair. “Adam is my eldest…” he did a quick scan of the woman, noticing her thin, gold wedding band, and the strands of gray mixed in with her blond hair. “May I ask why you’ve come all the way out here in the heat of the day, Mrs. Matson?”
He eyes narrowed as her nose wrinkled. “The most spoken of topic since I arrived in town yesterday, has been the heat. Nevada is known to be hot, so I’m not sure why everyone seems so shocked that it is.”
Ben laughed even as he noted that his guest had ducked his question. “Nevada gets extremely hot in some areas, but even the deserts are cooler in the winter months. And this this ranch sits high in the Sierra foothills. Spring here is usually a mixture of mild weather combined with rain and snow flurries. We expect extreme heat in July and August, but not in April. Then again, weather is as unpredictable as anything else in life.” He looked up as Hop Sing brought out a tray with glasses and a pitcher and served the guest. Ben’s, “thank you,” sent the cook bustling back to the kitchen.
“Oh!” Patricia’s eyes widened after taking a sip. “This is wonderfully cold.”
“Our well is fed from mountain streams, and they run cold this time of year.” Ben hadn’t realized how thirsty he was and drained his glass before concentrating on his guest again. “You were about to explain why you need to see Adam.”
“I’d prefer speaking to Adam directly about the details, but I believe Adam was the last man to have seen my husband.”
He wasn’t sure why, but Ben was suddenly suspicious. His protective nature prompted concern about his son walking into a retributional ambush. “Might I have known your husband?”
She smiled, but her bearing and tone was as hard as flint. “I need to speak with your son. If he’s not nearby I can return at another time or he can meet me in town at his convenience. I’ll have to stay in Virginia City until I see him.”
His instinct was to send her back to town, but he knew Adam would be curious enough to go after her. Better to let her speak to him here where his family could keep an eye on the situation. In the meantime, he was not about to be “handled” by an uncooperative guest. “My sons are often away for weeks at a time on ranch business. Life in this…vastness…isn’t as predictable as it is in the city, and I’d have expected that you’d send a wire or note of introduction.” He watched the color rise in her cheeks, but there was a fire in her eyes that seemed to flame with his admonition too. “That being said, you have been favored despite your lapse of forethought. Adam is working close enough that I can get him.”
“Her name is Matson?” Adam asked his father as they walked toward the house. “And she thinks I knew her husband?”
“That’s what she said: but that’s all she said too. I’d say she’s in her mid-forties. She’s pleasant looking, well-spoken, and she seems nice, except for this mysterious game she’s intent on playing.” Ben pointed to the buggy. “She drove that out by herself. Looks like a rental from Zeke’s. She did let it slip that she lives in a city and that she arrived in town yesterday.”
Adam shrugged and chuckled. “I don’t recall anyone named Matson, but I suppose the best way to find out what she wants is to ask her.” He entered the house and was halfway to the sofa when the woman stood and turned, making him stop so fast that his father ran into his back.
“You’re the man on the horse who was talking to the Overland driver.” She smiled broadly. “I wish I’d known it was you. We could have had our talk right then.”
“I, ah…my father said your name is Matson? I thought I heard Amos call you by a different name.”
She breathed deeply and exhaled. “Please come sit down and I’ll explain why I’m here.”
Adam gave his father a quick eyebrow lift and shrug before perching on the arm of the blue chair.
Patricia resumed her seat on the settee. “I don’t mean to seem mysterious, but the information you might provide is most important for my future.”
Adam smiled as his eyes widened and he sought his father with another quick glance. “I’ll gladly help if I can.”
“That’s all I ask.” After chewing on her lip for a second, she sat ramrod straight and took a quick breath. “My husband came west many years ago and lived alone during that time. During his absence, I received letters about twice a year, and I replied by sending my correspondence to a store in a small town where he purchased supplies. I received the last letter from him over two years ago, but I continued to write until I received a packet with my unclaimed letters. The owner of the store included a note saying he hadn’t been to town for some time.”
Adam nodded. “They gave no thoughts as to why that was?”
“None.” Mrs. Matson reached for the handbag she’d set next to her, and gripped it tightly. “The description my husband gave of that town was that it was no more than a ‘wart on the hindquarter of stray dog,’ but he’d mentioned speaking to a sheriff in one of his letters.”
“Did you write to the sheriff and ask for information?” Ben asked.
“I did. His reply echoed what that shopkeeper wrote: that my husband hadn’t been around in some time, but that he might know someone who could verify his fate. This may sound callous, but I’d begun to think his great adventure would end badly. He hadn’t been able to find gold as he’d thought he would, and he’d been gone over ten years by then. It mattered little whether I was still married or a widow.”
Adam adjusted his position on the chair’s arm, crossing one leg over the other, and flashed his guest a half-smile. “I’m assuming there is now a reason to know your marital status?”
“You are intuitive, Mr. Cartwright. I looked into having him declared dead, but it takes seven years without signs of life, leaving five more to go. However, if someone witnessed his death and signs an affidavit swearing to that, he can be declared dead immediately. I’ve followed the leads I was given, and I think you’re the last piece of the puzzle.”
“I was never with anyone named Matson when they died,” Adam said as he closed his eyes to take a quick mental journey back over the times he’d been in the situation this woman had described. When he looked up again, he saw a look of apprehension in Patricia Matson’s eyes, and he knew she wasn’t being honest about something.
“I’m quite sure you were,” she responded solidly, and then chuckled. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long journey to get to this point and I’m anxious to know the truth. We can speak later of the process, but what I’ve found leads to you.”
Adam shook his head and lifted the collar of his shirt to send a waft of air down his back. The room that had been comfortably cool when he’d entered was now feeling oppressively hot, and he feared he was experiencing a recurrence of the illness from the day before. Anxious to be done with this, he pressed her. “Perhaps I’d remember if you’d be less vague. I have been with people when they died, but never a Matson.”
“Matson is my maiden name,” Patricia confessed. “I know this conversation is odd, but the lawyer I contacted about the proof I’d need to make the affidavit valid, told me that your identification can’t be based on a name.”
Sweat began meandering down Adam’s temples as he demanded, “Then how on earth can I give you what you need!”
Adam’s rising anger seemed to have no effect as Patricia calmly answered, “I have something better: something conclusive.” She pulled a small paperboard folder from her handbag, and slid it across the low table separating her from Adam. “I realize the man you met was some years older than he is in this photograph, but I feel he wouldn’t have changed so much you won’t recognize him. He was always particular about his grooming habits, and I doubt that changed even in the wilderness.”
The room began to spin as Adam opened the folder and he got his first look at the face of the man in the wedding picture. He breathed deeply to halt the rotation, but his hands started shaking so violently that the photograph fell from his fingers. Every symptom he’d experienced the previous day returned with such force he had to grab the table edges to keep from falling forward onto his face. Adam’s heart was beating irregularly and the dizziness was replaced by darkness crowding the periphery of his vision. The room closed in around him like the walls of a cave; the heat and stillness overwhelming his ability to inhale. He whispered, “Excuse me,” and stumbled toward the door, crashing into the credenza before finally reaching the latch and flinging the door open. He sucked in a deep breath as he exited and ran in as straight a line as he could away from the house.
Ben’s watched in horror while feeling paralyzed. His son was already outside when he finally moved toward the door. He saw Adam cut through bushes at the side of the yard before he disappeared. He wasn’t sure what had caused the unexpected departure, although two options presented themselves in rapid succession. The dizziness seemed to fit the description of the illness Adam had experienced in town yesterday. Yet…what Ben had seen most prominently when Adam darted a look towards him after viewing the picture…was terror.
Hoss had exited the barn with an armload of metal strips and was talking to Jimmy, who was stoking coals in their small forge. Both men looked up when they heard the front door open and saw Adam stagger out and head into the yard beyond the house. Hoss handed off his load, and trotted to his father, who’d come out shortly after his brother. “What’s goin’ on? You’re as white as a sheet, and Adam looked like he was runnin’ from the devil himself.”
“Please find your brother, Hoss. I think he’s getting sick again…or….”
“Or…?” Hoss asked.
“All I know for sure is that something is very wrong.”
The big man looked past his father and nodded towards the woman standing in the doorway. “Who’s that?” he asked quietly.
“I’ll explain later. Find Adam and see how you can help.” He grabbed Hoss’s arm as he turned to go. “Keep your brother away from the house until I get that woman on her way.”
With Adam’s safety assured, Ben took a deep breath, clenched his fists at his side, and strode purposefully back towards the door.
“What happened to Adam?” Patricia asked in a shaky voice.
He walked past her without saying a word and headed towards the table where the picture had fallen from his son’s hands. “Oh dear God,” he moaned as he realized what his son had just seen. The photo held the image of a serious looking man in a suit, but in Ben’s mind, the image transfigured into a sun-scorched corpse lying on the travois being dragged by his nearly-dead son. He held the picture up and pointed to it as he bellowed. “This…is your husband? Peter Kane?” He skidded the cardboard folder across the table towards her. “I hope you got what you wanted out of this little performance, but now you should leave. Don’t try to contact us again.” His outburst and sudden fear for his son drained him, and he dropped into the blue chair, holding his head in his hands.
Patricia walked quickly around the low table, and sat directly in front of Ben. “I didn’t mean to cause you or your son such distress.”
Ben looked up and met her stare, his eyes blazing like the coals in the forge outside. “Then why didn’t you just show Adam the picture and ask if he knew him?” He snorted angrily. “I can confirm that the man in this photo is dead. I didn’t see him die, but I did bury him.”
“Thank you,” she said sincerely while not moving. “I have waited a long time to hear that. I’m sorry the memory of Peter brings so much pain, but that’s a common occurrence with those who’ve known him.”
He rubbed his head and looked up at her. “You sound sincere, so why did you lie about your name and deflect our questions? You were obviously hoping for a reaction.”
“I was hoping for an indication that Adam was the man I needed: the one who could release me from my fears and give me a new start. Please understand that my method was not to abuse Adam, but to protect myself.”
Ben’s laugh was cynical; his glare hard as nails. “Why would you need protection from Adam?”
She swallowed hard. “I’ve faced continuous roadblocks and mandates from those who’ve possessed the information I needed. In Adam’s case, I knew he had what I needed most. I wanted proof that he was the right person before he made demands.”
“What sort of demands did you think he’d make?” Ben’s question was now driven by curiosity.
“Let me tell you what I’ve experienced.” Patricia rose, stretched her shoulders and walked to the fireplace. “When I contacted the sheriff in Salt Flats, that town where Peter went for supplies, I assumed that as a public servant, he would offer what he knew without requital. I was wrong.”
Ben’s brows slid together as he relaxed back into the chair. “What do you mean by that?”
She turned abruptly, facing Ben squarely. “My husband took delight in playing mind-games. He was arrogant about this ability to control people, and he neither acknowledged the pain he caused nor felt responsible for the chaos he left in his wake. This I can attest to from first-hand experience.”
Ben allowed a brief nod and knowing smile. “This sounds like the man who tortured my son with his games.”
Patricia’s eye widened and she blew out a long, shaky breath while she arranged the pleats on her skirt. “The sheriff’s response indicated he might have useful information, but Peter had left behind so much debt and ill-will in town that the only way he might be more inclined to remember what he’d heard was if those debts were satisfied. I felt mildly responsible. I had been sending Peter money for supplies, but the last letter he actually picked up, contained no cash and my intention to stop financing his project.”
“You paid the debts for the information?” Ben asked.
She nodded. “I don’t want to wait another five years to marry. Neither I nor my fiancé, Jason, knows this area, so he suggested we travel to Sacramento and hire a Pinkerton man. The agent went to Salt Flats; paid the debt, and kept us informed. The sheriff explained that the town needed every cent it was owed to keep going, and after receiving our money, he sent the agent to a blacksmith’s place located between Salt Flats and Peter’s claim. This man was just as sincere as the sheriff, yet he showed the agent Peter’s purchase agreement on a mule, and asked for the remaining payments first. That was money well spent. The blacksmith told the story of holding a lame horse for a young man named Cartwright.”
“That was my youngest son, Joseph.” Ben offered.
“Then it was Joseph who recognized a horse this man had purchased as being his brother’s, and they both knew something bad had happened. The ‘kid’ rode on to Salt Flats to get help.”
“He wired me,” Ben explained. “My middle son and I went to help. After we found Adam, Joseph went back to get his horse. I’d guess that’s how the blacksmith knew what happened.”
“That fits the story the agent told us. When the blacksmith went to town later, he told the sheriff that when the kid returned, he said his brother had been found, even though barely alive, and that he’d been with another man who’d died during their attempt to get to water. Your son described the dead man as a miner who’d been working a claim out there. The only miner still working in that area was Peter. The Pinkerton returned to Sacramento then, and asked if I wanted him to go to Virginia City and get the affidavit. He assured me that the Cartwrights were well known in the West, and by all accounts, a good and honest family. I decided this last leg of the journey was mine to take.”
Ben was convinced that her story rang true. “Did you think Adam was owed something too, and that he’d demand payment as the others had?”
“Everyone I spoke with in town says wonderful things about your family. And when I described the incident to a Sheriff Coffee yesterday, he thought it was Adam I needed to see. But I knew what Peter was like, and based on your son’s reaction, I must owe him more than I can possibly repay.” She walked to the settee and retrieved her purse. “I should go now so you can see to Adam.”
Ben escorted Patricia towards the door. “What Kane took from my son can’t be repaid. Seeing that picture was a shock, but his departure was precipitated by a recurring illness. I will share what you’ve told me, but he needs to rest now. Have the affidavit prepared and one of us will come to sign it. Where are you staying?”
“The International House,” she replied before taking Ben’s hand. “You mentioned that Peter tortured your son. I assume his wounds weren’t visible; that the scars were left on his soul?”
Ben’s brows drew close as he tipped his head. “I’m beginning to think that’s very true.”
“Adam was the last person Peter tortured, Mr. Cartwright, but he wasn’t the first. Please encourage him to come speak with me. I may be able to repay him after all.
Hoss stopped at the edge of the garden, removed his hat and used his sleeve to wipe the sweat from his forehead before muttering, “Hop Sing ain’t gonna be happy about this.” He followed his brother’s footsteps visually through the row of green onion tops, and cringed at how many were now flattened. Hop Sing was already bemoaning the fact that hot weather was rushing the spring vegetables, making the lettuce and radishes bitter, and the spinach tough. Hoss knew Adam hadn’t done this maliciously. He was pretty sure his brother had been more interested in getting away from something, than in getting to somewhere.
Not wanting to add insult to injury, he walked across the unplanted area of the plot and tried to pick up Adam’s trail on the other side. “Where did you get to?” Hoss mumbled as he tried to find a footprint in the loose stones beyond the garden. The bright sun reflecting off the hard surfaces in the distance made it impossible to distinguish anything, so he used his hand as a visor, extending the shade already provided by his hat brim. There were a few trees close by, but none of them were wide enough to hide a person. Reason suggested his brother must be behind one of the boulders dotting the landscape. His instincts were right, and he picked up a set of footprints as he headed towards the closest ones.
Hoss slowed as he rounded the corner of a wide rock, and eased down next to Adam. “What’s goin’ on, brother,” he asked softly. Adam didn’t move. He was curled into a ball, grasping his legs as he rocked back-and-forth. “Are you feelin’ like you did yesterday?”
The rocking stopped, but Adam didn’t look up. “He’s was in the house, and….” He sighed raggedly. “I thought he was dead, but he’s here.”
“Who’s here?” I saw a buggy, but only a woman by the door. How’s about we go back to the house.” Hoss rose and extended his hand, his mouth nearly dropping open when Adam raised his head. His brother’s eyes were glassy and furtive and his mouth was set in a hard, thin line. He couldn’t tell if it was caused by pain or fear. His question was answered as he saw that Adam was trembling from head to foot.
“I can’t go anywhere. He’s got my ankles hobbled.” Adam sat back and extended his legs. “See?”
Hoss bent down and looked carefully at his brother’s legs, even pulling his pants up a bit to make sure they weren’t hiding a rope. “Maybe you fell asleep fer a minute when you got out here, and dreamed you was tied up. There ain’t nothin’ there now.”
“There is! I can feel it!” Adam said firmly, while pointing towards the house. “He’s back, and he did this!”
“Who’s back, Adam?” Hoss knelt down and took Adam’s shoulders. “Who do you think tied you up?”
“Peter Kane! Didn’t you see him?”
“Peter Kane is dead,” the younger man said soothingly. “We buried him more’n two years back.”
“You think you buried him,” Adam snapped back. “It was another game. He pretended to be dead, and you couldn’t bury him very deep so he crawled out after we left. He probably had food and water stashed out there. He’s been waiting for a chance to come after me.”
Hoss imagined Adam was stuck in a dream fueled by illness. Whatever was driving this, he figured he had to address it. He reached down and moved Adam’s legs further apart. “Well, whatever was there seems to be gone now, so I’ll help you to that bench by the barn and I’ll go in and make sure Kane isn’t there.”
Adam nodded and grabbed Hoss’s arm to stand. The walk back was accomplished quickly, and Hoss began to think that maybe the dream had passed. He got his brother settled in the shade, close to where Jimmy was working at the forge. “Take it easy now, and I’ll be back as soon as I know what’s going on.” The buggy was gone, making Hoss assume the guest he’d seen earlier had left.
“Did you find him?” Ben asked as he walked towards the door when Hoss entered.
“Yessir. But something’s sorely wrong. Adam told me that Peter Kane paid him a visit, and he thought he was tied up. It was spooky as all get out.” Hoss shook his head. “I feel silly asking this, but was Kane here?”
Ben walked over and leaned on the edge of his desk. “It was Kane’s wife. She gave us her maiden name, and remained vague while saying Adam had been with her husband when he died. When Adam pressed for a name, she said he would have to make the identification from a picture. It was a photograph of Kane. Adam looked uncomfortable from the time he set eyes on her, and seeing that picture drove him over the edge.” He shook his head. “I tore into her for her subterfuge, but then she told me all she’s been through to get information, and I believe she meant no harm.” Ben scrubbed his face with both hands. “Is Adam sick like yesterday?”
“Maybe, but this is different. Adam don’t give into fear, but he looked scared bad just now.”
Adam leaned back against the rough barn siding and breathed deeply. Being with Hoss had helped him think straighter. It was a picture he’d seen in the house. A picture brought by Kane’s wife, not the man himself. The fact that Kane had a wife was as big a shock as seeing the picture. The dizziness and sweating had ended, but he was still trembling. He accepted that Kane was dead, yet he could still feel the ropes around his ankles; the ropes he thought Kane had tied… The ropes Hoss had proved weren’t there.
He could hear Jimmy using the bellows to add air to the fire in the forge pan, making the coals sizzle and pop. The young man was becoming a very good blacksmith. Adam had liked to work the fire and metal at one time, but it had been a while since he’d been able to do it. Something about the clang of hammer against iron. It was a hot job anyway, and he thought it good to let other people learn new skills.
Adam opened one eye when it became quiet and he looked to where Jimmy had been working. He was gone, and Adam wondered why he disappeared with the fire blazing. But then he heard a rumbling, and Jimmy rounded the corner of the barn pushing a wheelbarrow with a feed bin balanced on the tray. He smiled wanly and nodded. “I guess it would help to know how those metal strips should fit onto the boxes.”
Jimmy chuckled. “Hoss described what he wanted, but I figured it best to bring a box up here and try out my idea. He thought I could flatten out those wheel rims, but I found a pile of flat pieces in the shed that we use to reinforce joints in the heavy-haul wagons. All I gotta do to those is heat ‘em up to enough to punch nail holes. That strip oughtta break off a couple teeth if a critter gets a mind to try chewing through.”
“Your plan will go much quicker, and you’ll be ready by the time we’re done with the repairs.”
Jimmy looked around the yard. “Will Hoss be back soon?”
“He’s talking to Pa. Do you need something?”
“I could use some help.” Jimmy grabbed a medium-length tongs and used it to point towards the fire. “It’s hard to keep such a narrow strip of material in place. I’ll have to clamp it down, unless…” He grinned good-naturedly. “Unless you could lend a hand? You’d just need to man the tongs and keep that strip from moving while I pound the punch through.”
“I can handle that.” Adam was feeling his old self when he joined Jimmy by the fire and took the implement from the young man. “You want me to pick that strip out of the fire and lay it on the anvil?”
“Yup, but give me a minute.” Jimmy slipped a heavily padded leather glove on his left hand and then fit a short-handled clamp around the punch, shaking the combined pieces it to make sure the grip was secure. While he grabbed his hammer, he explained, “I’ll have to dunk this punch in the bath after a few strikes. It’ll heat up quick, and I’ll lose the point if I don’t cool it down. Just keep the strip in place when I do that.” He gave Adam a final nod. “All right, bring it out.”
“Should I bring Adam inside now?” Hoss asked his father.
Ben looked around the room as he chewed his lip. “Let’s make sure there’re no reminders of Mrs. Kane’s visit before you do that.”
While Ben gathered the glassware and pitcher, Hoss walked around the seating area in front of the fireplace. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but he saw something gray and flat sticking out from under the settee. He was retrieving it as his father got back.
“Oh, heavens. I’m glad you found that before Adam came in.”
“What is it,” Hoss asked as he handed it over.
“It’s the photograph. I tossed it across the table, and it must have slid off and under the couch.”
“Let me see that before you put it away, Pa.” Hoss opened the folder and drew a sharp breath. “Man-o-man. I can see why Adam got a fright.” He carried it over to the window for a better look. “You know what’s so eerie about this? He has that dead-pan look you have to keep on yer face for a photograph, and exceptin’ for his eyes being open here, he looks pretty much like he did on that travois when he was stone-cold dead.”
Ben joined Hoss by the window. “His eyes are cold. I can’t imagine the fright Adam got when he opened it, and saw that face staring back at him. I’ll put it in my desk for now, and we’ll both go out and get your brother. The more familiar everything seems to him right now, the better.”
Hoss waited by the credenza while his father secured the photograph. Ben was on his way over when they were both startled by a howl from outside. “That was Adam,” Hoss shouted as he grabbed the latch and ran.
“What in tarnation,” Ben muttered when he saw Jimmy trying to hold Adam up. Both men were dripping wet.
Hoss scooped his brother from the startled looking young man, and carried him to the bench where he’d left him earlier.
Free of his burden, Jimmy ran to Ben, flailing his arms while jabbering a rush of words.
“Calm down and tell me what happened.” Ben shook the boy’s shoulders when he kept babbling.
“Pa,” Hoss called from the bench. “Adam’s hand is burned bad.”
Jimmy nodded and was finally able to calm himself with a deep breath. “I told him that punch would get hot…”
“Start from the beginning,” Ben instructed before looking over at Hoss and asking, “Can you manage while I figure out what’s going on?”
“He’s out cold, Pa. I’ll get his hand back in cool water and go for Doc Martin.”
With some order reestablished, Ben locked Jimmy in a stare. “Start talking, son.”
“I asked Adam to hold the tongs on that iron while I punched the nail holes. He was in a good mood when we got started. I was pounding through the last hole on that strip when Adam got a look on his face.”
“What kind of look?” Ben asked.
“Like he was mad at me, but maybe more scared than anything. His eyes got all squinty and he said he’d helped me all he was gonna, and then some more stuff that didn’t make any sense.”
“I don’t care how little sense it made, just tell me.”
“He said there wasn’t any gold in the cave anyway, and then something like he wasn’t gonna be my pack mule or play any more games.” Jimmies eyes widened and he grimaced. “That’s when he dropped the tongs and grabbed my hammer with one hand and the punch with the other. He hollered that I couldn’t make him keep working if there were no tools to work with.” He looked down and shook his head. “I was just gonna cool that punch when he took it, so it was doggoned hot. He didn’t even seem to notice that his hand was burning for a second or two, and then he screamed. I yanked him over to the water tub and shoved his arm in. I don’t think he understood and he tried fighting me off, but I held on tight.”
“Thank you, Jimmy. You probably saved his hand doing that.”
“Mr. Cartwright?” Jimmy said softly. “Did I do something wrong?”
Ben squeezed Jimmy’s shoulder and patted it again as he released his grip. “Adam hasn’t been feeling well. Sometimes being sick can play tricks on the mind. Thank you again for your quick thinking.”
“I hope he feels better and that burn ain’t too bad.” He looked down at his feet, and added, “I know what you mean.”
“What you said about a mind playin’ tricks. I don’t know what’s laying heavy on Adam’s mind, but when I was a kid, my brother and me were supposed to get to bed while my folks finished chores outside. We got to roughhousing and knocked the oil lamp to the floor. It started a fire that spread so fast we barely got out before the whole house was blazing. Ma and Pa hollered, but Ma always said she was just thankful we were safe, and living with what happened would be punishment enough. I dreamed about that fire a lot, and it was always worse when I was sick. I’d try to grab that lamp before it hit the floor over and over in my fevered dreams. I’d scream for everyone to get out of the house, and start pulling them out of bed. It was so real. For some year just looking into a fireplace could make my skin nearly crawl off and hide a corner.”
Ben was anxious to get to his son, yet there was something about what this young man was saying that seemed important. “I’m surprised you took up blacksmithing,” Ben told him. “Doesn’t working with fire bring back those memories?”
Jimmy shook his head. “It’s kind of the opposite. “My dreams were always about being helpless to stop what happened. In blacksmithing, I control the fire, and that makes it all right.”
Ben lifted Adam’s hand from the bucket of water, and inspected the damage. “Thank goodness the punch wasn’t heated in the forge. It would have burned clear through.”
“It’s blistering deep, but the top layer of skin is still there,” Hoss replied as he eased his brother’s hand back into the water. “He ain’t comin’ to, Pa, but he keeps mumbling things I can’t make out. Seems like his brain is still pushing like a steam engine while his body kind of shut down.”
Ben found himself smiling at Hoss’s simple, dead-on assessment, even while his forehead remained furrowed with worry. “Let’s get him in the house so you can go for help.”
Father and son were working out the details of the move when Paul Martin drove his buggy into the yard. Ben hurried over to welcome the doctor. “I don’t know why you’re here, but your timing is perfect.” He nodded back at the figure laid out on the bench with his hand in a bucket. “Adam burned his hand pretty bad, passed out, and….” The worried man’s face collapsed in a look of agony. “But that’s the end of the story, not the beginning.”
Paul hurried out of the vehicle and came to Ben’s side. “Stay here for a minute. I want to talk to you after I check Adam.” He trotted to the bench and did much the same as Ben had done minutes earlier, lifting Adam’s hand to check the wound. He removed a clean, white handkerchief from his pocket, wrapping it loosely over the palm and rested Adam’s arm on his chest, before addressing Hoss. “What did he do?”
“He was helping Jimmy at the forge and grabbed onto the hot punch.”
Paul nodded. “It looks like the burn you get grabbing a pan handle that’s been over the fire.”
“It was hot from being hammered into hot metal, but luckily not hot from the forge.”
“Did Adam grab it when it slipped?” Hoss looked away, prompting Paul to take his shoulder and turn him back. “You have to be honest. I stopped today because everything about yesterday bothered me. I had a hunch we’d only seen the beginning of whatever caused those symptoms.”
Hoss finally nodded. “He got to feelin’ poorly again and I left him out here while I went inside to see Pa. Jimmy didn’t know anything was wrong and asked him to help. He said Adam grabbed the hammer and hot punch away from him when he sort of went crazy, shouting about not doin’ any more work or playin’ games.”
Paul’s face pulled into a pucker. “Adam was confused?” Hoss nodded. “Get that young man to help carry Adam inside, and put him in the downstairs bedroom for now. Then ask Hop Sing to warm some water. I’ll be in as soon as I talk to your father.”
Paul motioned for Ben to follow him to the house as he passed by, saying “Wait here,” when they got through the door. He made his way to the guestroom to open the French doors so Hoss could bring Adam inside without going through the house, and then asked Ben to take a seat at his desk when he returned. After pulling a chair over, Paul rested his elbows on the desktop. “Hoss explained how Adam burned his hand, but you need to tell me what happened before that.”
Ben gave a condensed version of the unexpected guest, her request, and Adam’s reaction to seeing the photograph. “When he stumbled out of here, I assumed his illness from yesterday had returned,” he concluded.
“That would make sense,” Paul responded. “Except that I had second thoughts about that diagnosis. It concerned me enough to follow up.”
“What does that mean?”
“Adam was having ‘symptoms’ that corresponded with dehydration and heat stroke, but his recovery didn’t uphold that. It seemed like he forgot that he was dizzy and nauseated when his brothers got him thinking about other things.” Paul paused to think. “Something set those symptoms off yesterday, just as something set them off today. You said he seemed ill after seeing a picture?”
“Actually, Adam seemed tense as soon as she mentioned that he had been with her husband when he died. I imagine that Peter Kane was someone who came to mind with that description. The photograph was what sent him running.”
“That’s when he told Hoss that Kane was alive and had come back to torture him?”
Ben shivered and nodded.
The shiver was contagious. Paul remembered his concern two years ago when he heard that Adam had gone missing in the wilderness. The family had gone in search, and the talk in town during their absence had been the unlikelihood they’d ever find the oldest son alive. He’d been thrilled when Little Joe had shown up at his door with the news that they’d done just that. His joy ended immediately when he got his first look at the man they’d brought home. Paul had feared the worst when he saw the severely dehydrated, malnourished, and unconscious man in the bed. But with Ben’s permission to try “anything,” he’d initiated some new measures that had managed to keep Adam alive long enough to begin an actual recovery.
“Did he ever tell you what happened to him out there?” Paul asked.
Ben sniffed as his eyes filled with hot tears at the memory of his son crawling away from him before he recognized that he was safe, and then collapsing into his arms in relief. “All he could tell us at first were broken phrases about games, and gold. As he fell asleep that first night, he mumbled something about a mule being shot and knowing he was going to die. I told you as much as I knew when we returned with him.”
Paul nodded repeatedly as he recalled those days of working nonstop to keep Adam alive. “And he said nothing when he recovered?”
“I don’t think he remembered anything. When he was better, he just went back to work. You were here; isn’t that what you saw?”
Paul gave another quick nod. “It’s probable that when a body is so severely stressed, the physical needs override the mental horrors. It’s a protective thing: a means of allowing the body to heal first by locking away the memories that could prevent recovery. It’s the only way people survive in those situations.”
“And seeing that picture today unlocked those horrors?” Ben asked with a sigh.
“I’d say that was true, but it doesn’t explain the reaction yesterday.”
Ben slouched further into his chair while making an inventory of the conversation he’d witnessed between Patricia Kane and his son. The answer hit him just as surely as he’d bumped into Adam when they’d walked into the house earlier. “There might be a connection.” He stood and walked around the desk, visualizing the scene as it had played out. “Adam recognized the woman when he first walked in.” He pointed to a spot in front of the credenza. “He stopped there…abruptly…like a horse shying back when it’s sees something that frightens it.”
“Was this woman unfriendly or confrontative?”
“No. She laughed, and said she could have saved a trip out here if she’d have known who he was when she saw him the day before. She used the name Matson when she introduced herself to me, but Adam mentioned that he’d heard a different name in town. Perhaps someone called her Mrs. Kane.”
Paul became excited, as the puzzle came together. “Did she come to town by stage?”
“Yes, that’s right! She mentioned seeing him by the stage.”
“When Adam was in my office yesterday, he told us he was fine until he was talking to the Overland driver. I’ll bet he heard her called Mrs. Kane there. The name alone could have turned the key to those locked-away fears, letting them begin oozing to the surface. His body created physical symptoms to deal with the mental upheaval. Today, that picture opened a floodgate of memories.”
The conversation between Paul and Ben ended when Hoss exited the bedroom and headed their way. “He’s still out cold, Paul, and Hop Sing’s gettin’ things ready for you.”
“I’ll go check him while your father explains what we think is happening.” Paul began walking away, but turned back. “If we’re right, we’d best prepare for a bumpy road. There’s going to be a war between his body and mind, and only time will tell which comes out the victor.”
Paul built lather on the square of soap Hop Sing had provided, and carefully worked the bubbles over Adam’s hand. “What did you do,” he murmured as he got his first good look at the inch-wide blistering burn running across the entire palm with more blisters going up the inside of each finger. He continued speaking in a soft voice. “This could have been a lot worse. So if you behave yourself while it heals, it won’t give you any permanent problems.” After rinsing the wound with fresh water, he put the bowl on the floor next to the bed and gently patted everything dry.
Hop Sing bustled into the room with a clean bowl containing a cool, wet cloth, and nodded briefly at Paul before grabbing the basin from the floor. “He be all right?” he asked in a soft voice.
Paul wasn’t sure how to answer. “His hand should heal, as long as he doesn’t do something he shouldn’t.”
A grin reversed the worried look on Hop Sing’s face for a moment. “He very good at doing thing he shouldn’t.” The smile faded. “But something more wrong, I think. In here and here.” The cook indicated his head and heart. “I saw him run outside through garden. He look worried…lost.”
“You know him well. He is a little lost right now.” He touched the cook’s arm. “Thank you for your help. He’ll need some water to drink when he wakes, and I’ll need bandages to wrap his hand.”
“I get anything you need; just say.” Hop Sing stopped in the doorway, turned back, and sighed. He had helped this family through a myriad of illnesses and injuries, and he knew this was more than burned hand. He shivered as he walked towards the kitchen, having felt the darkness that surrounded the oldest son. “Doctor Paul treat body,” he said quietly. “But who heal soul?”
Alone with his patient, Paul used the wet cloth to wipe away the beads of sweat that were trickling down Adam’s face, and then draped it across his forehead.
The coolness penetrated Adam’s stupor and his eyes fluttered open. His quick perusal of his surroundings landed on Paul, and his lip twitched into a question mark. “What are you doing here…and by the way…where is ‘here’?”
Paul snorted as he nodded toward each side of the room. “I know your family doesn’t come in here often, but you should recognize your own guestroom.”
Adam took a better look around. “Well, the first thing I saw was your face, and that sort of scared me enough that I didn’t look further.” His face pulled into a deep grimace. “What happened? My left hand feels like it’s on fire.”
“It was…” Paul’s grin reversed to a deep frown. “Do you remember what happened?”
Adam poked at the puffy blisters.
“Let those be or you’ll get an infection, the doctor ordered. “Do you remember what happened before burning your hand?”
A wave of emotions assaulted Adam, ranging from a sheepish shrug at first to full-blown terror as he tried to pull it all together. He bolted into a sitting position, cradling his injured hand close to his chest. “He was here!” he finally whispered.
Paul shook his head. “Who was here?”
His eyes darted furtively around the room. “Kane. He pretended to be dead. He was here with his wife today. He came outside and tied me up and then Hoss found me and brought me…” He looked upwards trying to recall. “No, that’s not right. Hoss said Kane wasn’t here. I remember…it was a picture of him…just a picture.”
“Slow down, Adam,” Paul soothed. “Let it come without forcing it.”
“Hoss found me and took me to the barn while he went inside to make sure they were gone. But after he left, Kane came around and asked if I’d help him for a few minutes.” Adam’s breath was coming in ragged spurts as the scene played in his mind. “I agreed to help him for three days, but then there was incessant hammering. It got so hot in the cave I couldn’t breathe, and I knew he was going to keep me there pounding on that drill until I died this time. So I grabbed it away from him and…that’s….”
Paul pulled the pillows up behind Adam’s back. “Sit back and relax. Breathe slowly until the panic passes. Then I’ll tell you what really happened.”
“I just told you what really happened.”
The tortured look on his friend’s face made him want to hold back the truth, but it was important to see if Adam could pull back into a firm reality. “Hoss told you the truth; Mrs. Kane was the only one who came to the house. Your family buried Peter Kane where they found you. He was most certainly dead.”
“But…it’s so real.” Adam looked down at his injured hand and sighed.
“I know it seems that way, but I believe that hearing Kane’s name and seeing his picture opened up some hidden passages in your memory, and now you’re stuck between what happened back then and what’s happening now. You burned your hand when your memories caused a hallucination where you were back in Kane’s mine, and you grabbed a hot punch from one of your crew that you were helping at the forge.”
The tortured look turned to outrage as Adam’s eyes flew open. “You think I’m crazy!”
“No. I think something is clouding your thoughts right now. You need to rest your mind, and then we’ll talk more.”
Adam sat forward, bringing his face within inches of the doctor’s. “He was here, Paul. Kane was here, and I don’t think he’s gone.” He reached, grabbing Paul’s arms with both hands. “Don’t you see? Kane liked mind games. Playing dead and waiting a couple of years to come back—letting me think I was in the clear—is the perfect final game!”
Paul felt the warmth seeping through his shirtsleeve where Adam’s left hand was clamped on his arm like a vise. “Let go, Adam, he said softly. You’re tearing open the blisters.” The words had no effect and Adam gripped even tighter while seeming transfixed and unhearing. “Let go, Adam,” Paul said louder, while trying to pry the fingers loose. He was aware of movement next to the bed, and realized Adam’s shouts must have alerted Ben and Hoss. He turned to see that Little Joe was with them, and instructed, “Get his hand free! But be careful!”
Adam hollered over the attempts at restraining him. “Kane’s out there!” He squirmed against Hoss’s grasp. “Don’t hold me, go look for him. He’s not dead!”
Hoss managed to release Adam’s left handhold, while Ben did the same on the other side. They lowered him onto the pillows and kept a grip on his arms while he continued to thrash. His cries for help now diminished to agonized moans.
Ben saw the large area of wetness and blood on Paul’s white shirt where Adam’s hand had been. “What’s that?” he asked loudly, nodding toward the stain.
“He ripped his hand open.”
Looking back to his son made the man nearly sob. Adam was struggling against their grip and his hand was dripping blood onto the pink bedspread. What tore at Ben’s heart even more was that Adam’s spirit seemed to be seeping out of him along with his blood. “Can’t you do something?” he implored Paul.
Once freed from Adam’s grip, Paul moved quickly to the dresser where he’d left his bag. He withdrew a vial of clear liquid and a small leather box. He continued searching until he found a bottle labelled alcohol, a wad of cotton and a small tray. The box contained a metal syringe and a thin needle which he quickly assembled, and inserted into the vial of morphine. Pulling back on the plunger, he withdrew half of the strong opiate before putting everything onto the tray. “Get the shirt off his arm,” Paul told them as he headed to the bed.
Little Joe unbuttoned Adam’s shirt while his father and brother held him. With a shoulder exposed, Paul quickly saturated cotton with alcohol and cleansed a swatch of skin before sliding the needle into the muscle, injecting the contents of the syringe.
Adam yelped and tried to yank away but Hoss kept him pinned. “Thank you,” Paul told the strong man. “This hurts. I’ve had people jerk so hard, the syringe flew across the room.”
Paul Martin kept up on the latest advancements in medicine. The syringe as a method of administering medication had been around for nearly ten years, and although the size of the needle bore had been reduced enough to make it feel less like being stabbed by a pitchfork tine it was still an uncomfortable proposition. He knew this because he’d given himself injections of sterile water to hone his technique. The bolus of morphine he’d just pumped into Adam’s arm would have pushed at the straining muscle tissue, feeling like it was tearing it apart in order to disperse the liquid. The morphine solution stung too, so the injection hurt…a lot. What offset the pain was the quick effect.
The sedation was nearly instant and Adam yielded to its calming power. His head dropped back to the pillow, and the strained look on his face dissolved.
“You can let go now,” Paul told the others. “He’s down for the count.” He quickly disassembled the syringe, placing it on the tray, and handed it to Little Joe. “I’m glad you got back. We couldn’t have done that without you. Would you ask Hop Sing to put these in a pan of boiling water for ten-minutes and then let them air-dry.” As Joe neared the door, he nearly bumped into Hop Sing, who was on his way in with towels and a pitcher of water.
“I see what happened,” he explained as he set down his load. The final item atop the linens hanging over his arm was a clean, white shirt. He held it out to the doctor. “Change shirt. I wash yours before stains dry. Then I boil that…contraption.”
Paul did as commanded, and when the Chinese powerhouse left, he laughed. “You don’t win any arguments with him, do you?”
“Nary a one,” Ben responded with a soft chuckle. “And he always knows what we need before we know we need it.” He took a deep breath, relieved that Adam was resting comfortably and the tension in the room had neutralized. “What do we do now?”
“I’ll clean and bandage his hand and then we’ll let him rest. I’d bet he didn’t sleep last night, even though he didn’t know why that was. That physical upheaval yesterday, little sleep, and the shock of seeing that photograph today, has left him exhausted. A mind can’t work that way.”
“What made him so upset with you?” Hoss asked.
“He recognized me and the house when he came to. I thought everything was fine until he started telling me that Kane had tricked you all into thinking he was dead, and had come to finish what he’d started.”
“So he’s still stuck in that dream,” Hoss offered.
Paul nodded. “That’s a good way to think of it.”
“Will rest cure this?” Ben’s forehead had drawn up into a mountain range of wrinkled concern.
“It might, but the woman’s visit today seems to have opened a Pandora’s Box of memories Adam didn’t even know he had. We’ll have to be patient and see how this progresses.” Paul handed the basin to Hoss and asked him to hold his brother’s hand over it while he repeated the wash he’d done earlier. “I’m glad Hop Sing had a jar of Dr. Kam’s ointment,” He said as he examined the ripped flesh and raw-looking wound. “That stuff has miraculous powers on something like this.”
Paul bandaged Adam’s hand and allowed his family to get him undressed and tucked under the covers before moving everyone from the room.
“Are you leaving now?” Ben asked, in a tone indicating the answer should be no.
“I gave him enough morphine to knock him out for several hours, but I’ll need to check him frequently. If you don’t mind, I’ll bunk here for the night. I always carry a portfolio of office work and reading material in my buggy, so I’ll do that while you finish up the afternoon chores.”
Ben looked at his two sons and back at Paul. “It doesn’t feel right to resume normal things. Yet there is work to finish before dinner.”
Little Joe had been unusually quiet throughout the incident in the bedroom. “Pa, you were telling Hoss and me about that woman’s visit when we had to help Paul. Did you say she left the picture of Kane behind?”
Paul was about to sit in one of the soft leather chairs but he popped back up with Joe’s request. “I’d like to see that too.”
Ben retrieved the folder from his desk drawer. “Do you think it might help to show this to Adam again to prove it was just a picture?”
Paul’s head moved side-to-side. “Let’s see how he does.” He took the folder from Ben and looked it over. “When I took care of Adam while he recovered from what this man did to him, I pictured a monster.” He held it up in the light coming through the westerly facing panes. “There is something eerie about his eyes though. He almost looks…”
“Dead?” Hoss supplied.
“That’s it!” Paul grimaced and handed the picture to Little Joe.
With assurances that he needed to keep an eye on Adam anyway, Paul ordered the other Cartwrights to bed. Knowing the sedative effects of morphine on the respiratory system, Paul had made frequent trips to check Adam’s pulse and breathing throughout the evening, and continued to do so in as it edged into deep night.
When he checked at midnight, he found Adam sleeping on his side, indicating that he’d roused himself enough to get more comfortable. Paul took this as a sign that the sedating effects of the morphine were wearing off, and Adam was now sleeping soundly on his own. He brushed his hand across the slumbering man’s temples, checking for fever, and brought the lamp closer to inspect the bandage on his hand, finding it clean and dry.
The tired doctor took the opportunity provided by Adam’s improvement to stretch out on the settee, and was startled when he heard the clock strike three. The steady tick of the grandfather clock was all he heard, yet he sat up, feeling that something was off. He’d left a lamp burning on the table by the couch and he noticed the flame briefly grow and flicker. When it happened again, he noted the slight breeze that was causing the change. A quick glance towards the kitchen confirmed it was still dark, but while looking in that direction, he saw the edge of the dining room tablecloth flutter with another wisp of passing air. His eyes were adjusted to the low light, so he could see the outer walls of the dining area well enough to confirm that the windows were shuttered. When he realized there was only one place the breeze could be originating, he quickly slid into his boots.
Paul knew what he’d find before he entered the room. The breeze became more evident as he got to the doorway of the guestroom, and the dimmed lamp he’d left burning in there, cast enough light to confirm the empty bed and open outer doors. His hasty self-reassurance that Adam had gone to the outhouse was overridden by his fear that he could be wandering outside in the dark, confused and lost.
“Thank God,” he said quietly when he saw his missing patient across the yard, sitting on the ground by the hitch-rail. Adam’s feet were bare and he was wearing only the flannel drawers his family had decided were enough bedclothes, considering how warm the day had been. The doctor shivered as a cool breeze swirled around him, an indication that the wind had shifted, bringing along more normal spring temperatures.
He tugged a spare blanket from the quilt rack before heading outside. The moon was washing the yard with light as he crouched next to Adam, and offered the cover. “It seems the heatwave has broken,” he said casually. “I thought you might like this.”
Adam draped it around himself the best he could, and laughed when the nubby fabric stuck to the dressing and pulled off of him when he moved his left hand away. “You have a tendency to overdo your bandaging, Paul,” he said, grinning. “I remember getting clobbered on my melon one time, and you put so much fabric on my head, it looked like I was wearing a turban.”
Paul helped get the blanket back in place while grumbling good-naturedly. “I don’t know why you’re complaining now. That turban got you a lot of sympathy from the ladies as I recall.”
“Now that you mention it, I did get some use out of it.” He became quiet as he examined Paul’s wary, expectant expression. “You can ask.”
“How are you doing now that you’ve had some good sleep?”
“Better in some ways; worse in others. I know where I am and that this whole soul-searching, mind-boggling mess started with an unexpected visit from Kane’s wife, who brought a picture of him…and that he’s dead. What I don’t understand is why it’s happening now.”
“What do you recall from when you were out there with him?”
“I remembered hardly anything…until today. Of course my family never talked about it after I recovered. I had flashes of being hot, hungry, thirsty and confused in the weeks after I was back to work, with no recollection of why I should feel that way. It passed with time. Being robbed has always been clear, and I remember walking for help…. Then my family found me…dragging Kane behind me. I thought they were a vision I was having as I died.” He snorted softly. “Back when I finally recovered, I mentioned to Pa that I couldn’t recall anything, and he said it was just as well forgotten.” Another snort. “It’s easy to forget what you don’t remember.”
“Would you like to know more? I don’t know what happened out there, but I can explain why your memories are scarce.”
Adam snugged further under the blanket and stretched his legs straighter. “I would…if you don’t mind talking out here. Memories of Kane are returning in jarring scenes I seem to have to play out to understand. I recall things without context at first, and right now I feel that if I go back into the house, my family will be in danger.”
Paul’s expression took on a puzzled squint. “You said you know Kane is dead.”
“Stop looking so worried. I told you things were better, but it’s still hard to keep what’s real and what’s not from colliding like two bighorn rams running towards each other at full speed. I know that I grabbed that hot punch from Jimmy, not Kane, and that it was the sound of the hammer pounding on it that brought back memories of being in that airless mine, trying to set timbers and drill holes while Kane accused me of being a lazy, worthless liar. I just had to stop him.”
Adam grew silent for a moment before being able to continue. “And when I woke up just now, something kept whispering that I had to sleep tied up outside, not in a bed.” He looked over at the doctor. “I remember now that it was how Kane made me sleep once he was keeping me there against my will. It seems so real that I thought there were ropes around my ankles and wrists until you came over here and sort of shocked me out of it. And what’s laying on my mind now is that Kane will shoot my family if they should come downstairs to check on me.”
Paul’s eyes widened but he continued to listen without offering interpretations.
“I’ve been able to reconstruct what happened back then by going through the motions of what’s plaguing my mind now.”
“Can you remember what’s driving the fear of your family dying?” Paul asked.
Adam nodded and breathed deeply. “It came back as I’ve been talking to you. I’d been with Kane about a week when Pa, Hoss, and Little Joe rode by above the canyon where we were.”
Paul pulled back; his jaw dropping. “Did that actually happen?”
“This was before they found you and brought you home?”
“Some days before, I’d reckon.”
“Why didn’t you holler back?”
“I knew Kane would kill them. I’m not sure why, but it was all part of the game.”
“Did you ever tell them?”
“I just remembered.” He stood, wrapping the blanket around himself, and relocated to the step of the porch where Paul was sitting. “Weren’t you going to tell me why I don’t remember much?”
Paul patted Adam’s blanketed arm. “I’m going to be brief…and blunt.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.”
“You took sips of water when your family found you, but when they gave you some later, you began vomiting violently. They knew that didn’t bode well, so they packed up and rode for home. Pulling a travois and having to rest the horses took more than a day.”
“I don’t recall that at all.”
Paul chuckled. “I’m not surprised. You were slipping away rapidly when they arrived, and I had no more luck getting things to stay down. Luckily I read my journals, and I’d seen an article about hydrating someone in your condition. Ben permitted me to thread a rubber tube down your esophagus into your stomach, and I started instilling an ounce of water every ten-minutes. That stayed down, but it didn’t stay put. You got nearer to dying when the rapid exit of fluids from the opposite end of the digestive system made the dehydration worse.”
“Maybe I don’t want to hear this after all.” Adam’s lips took a decidedly sour turn before he winked at Paul. “I was starved and dehydrated. Why would my body reject food and water or get rid of what little came in?”
“Science can explain what happens, but not exactly how. Going a few days without food wouldn’t cause the severe reaction you experienced. But Ben said you were working for 18 hours or more a day without nourishment or water.”
“I don’t remember telling him that.”
“You talked in your sleep the first night. It was a jumble, but that was the gist. The heavy physical labor had the same effect as being starved for weeks. A person’s system begins to operate differently during starvation. Any extra weight you have is used first, and then your body ‘digests’ its own muscle to keep vital organs nourished enough to function. This completely alters the way a body works, and scientists propose that things get is so far off kilter that your system eventually sees anything coming into the body as a threat—the same way it does when you get a cold or the flu—and it goes to war against itself.
“That makes sense. So how did you get things working again?”
“I sent a telegram to a friend who teaches medicine in St. Louis. He suggested adding small amounts of sugar to the water, and then using a diluted broth made with sugar and salt. That turned things around, but it still took another two weeks before I knew your kidneys weren’t shutting down and the rest of your organs hadn’t been damaged. During this fight to stay alive, your memories got pushed away deep to let the vital things keep working.”
“It sounds like I should have thanked you,” Adam said sincerely. “Did I?”
“You recovered. That’s the best thanks a doctor can get.” He smiled at his friend. “Do you think you might sleep a little more now…inside?”
“I’ll try.” Both men stood but Adam took Paul’s arm before he could walk away. “There’s still so much of that time missing or coming back in pieces. Will I continue to act out what I’m remembering before I can understand, like grabbing that hot punch or thinking I had to sleep tied to post?”
Paul shrugged. “I’ll stick around while you find out. But you’re doing better already. More rest might help.”
He’d left the French doors open when he’d come inside, and slept soundly until noise in the dining room alerted him that others were up. “Might there be enough for one more?” Adam asked as he stepped into the dining room and saw his family plus the good doctor having breakfast. “I hibernated through dinner last night and I’m hungry as a spring bear.”
Hoss jumped up to get the extra chair from the corner while Little Joe disappeared into the kitchen to alert Hop Sing to another hungry Cartwright. While waiting for things to be readied, Adam glanced into the living area, spotting a grayish-brown folder on the low table.
Ben choked on a sip of coffee as he saw where Adam was headed and mentally kicked himself for leaving the picture out. They’d passed it around for another look while talking after dinner, and he’d forgotten to store it before going up to bed. Now he wondered if there’d be a repeat of yesterday’s reaction. He held his breath as Adam took a long look at the photograph, and then returned it to the table.
“He doesn’t look much different alive or dead,” he said as he sat down and asked for the coffee pot.
“That’s what I said too,” Hoss offered. “But you look a whole lot better than you did the last couple’a days.”
“Rest will do that,” Paul chimed in before Adam could answer.
“How’s the burn, son?” Ben asked.
“It feels tight but I think that’s just the abundance of bandaging Paul used.” He held his hand up for emphasis. “Although it looks like I have puffy sausages instead of fingers, so I’d guess it has a ways to go.”
Joe’s sausage-filled fork stopped halfway to his mouth. “Could we talk about something other than meat-shaped fingers and burns until after breakfast?”
Adam chuckled. “Sorry kid. I forgot your tender stomach doesn’t allow for such conversations during meals.” The apology appeased the youngster and the fork progressed to its destination. “So what are you all planning to do today?” The quick, uneasy glances exchanged by his family told Adam all he needed to know. “So you plan to hover around me in case I lose my mind again,” he said tightly. “Paul said he’d stick around and knock me out with morphine again if I get rowdy.” He hadn’t meant for anger to seep into his tone, but it had, and his jaw felt like it had fused to solid granite.
“I’ll probably get back to them feed bins so we can fill them,” Hoss said quickly, glancing up at Joe. “Maybe you can toss the bags of seed down from the loft, so we’re ready to go when Jimmy and me finish addin’ them gnaw strips.”
Adam’s posture and tone eased as he teased his brother. “It sounds like we could make money with a new product line, Hoss. Feed bins with ‘gnaw strips’.” Everyone was laughing when Hop Sing set a plate loaded with eggs and sausage in front of the eldest. “Thank you. That looks great.”
He felt the sweat drenching his hair and forehead before he was even aware his mind was turning again. He was reaching for his fork when his line of sight returned to the picture lying in the other room. His stomach rumbled with emptiness, but he heard Kane telling him he wasn’t fit to eat with people. He grabbed his plate without a word and headed into the bedroom, shutting the door behind him.
Paul looked across the table and shrugged. When Ben began to rise, he said, “Give him a minute before we send in the cavalry.”
When Adam didn’t return by the time the others were finishing, Ben gave Paul a look that dared him to say anything. He stopped short after cracking the door and seeing his son crouching just outside the French doors, scooping eggs into his mouth with his fingers.
Paul told the two brothers to stay put while he went to see what was making their father stare open-mouthed. He laid a hand on Ben’s shoulder and whispered, “Step away and let him work this through.” Gently pushing Ben aside, he pulled the door further shut, and tugged the startled man into the living area.
Shaking off his shock, Ben grabbed Paul’s arm and nearly shouted, “How long will these…episodes…keep happening?”
“I can’t tell you that. You always thought he’d been tortured. You’re seeing the proof of that now.”
Ben’s hands locked on his hips as he assumed the wide-legged stance he used when demanding answers. “But why must he act so strangely? Yesterday he staggered out of here like a drunk, claiming a dead man had come back to life and followed him to tie him up. He nearly destroyed his hand in another fit, and I saw him outside last night, sitting in the dirt, holding his arms behind that post as though he was tied to it. You came out then and he seemed to snap out of it, so I stayed put rather than intruding. He seemed better today, but now he’s acting like a wild animal, eating with his hands and cowering like we’re going to take away his food.” He folded his arms across his chest. “Jimmy probably told the men about the ‘accident,’ and if one of the more cynical hands sees Adam out there now, they’ll laugh their heads off and there’ll be no end to gossip in town. We’ll become the source of disgusting rumormongering.”
“He doesn’t know why he’s doing these things!” Paul drew himself up until his posture mirrored his host’s. “During the night he told me that he feels compelled to follow through with what his mind is reconstructing. It’s only as he goes through…relives…these physical elements that he begins to understand the circumstances behind them. Kane’s widow and that picture of him may be why his memories began to overwhelm him now, but they’ve been festering deep inside for over two years.”
“Then it would be best if he would go somewhere else to ‘relive’ these situations. Somewhere without witnesses….”
“Stop it, Ben!” Paul’s forehead pulled into a confused crease. “I can’t believe you fear what others ‘might’ say.” He waited for a response, but when none came, he added. “He’ll come with me. He needs to be safe, with someone who won’t judge.”
“Pa!” Hoss waited a second, and repeated, “Pa!” to get his father’s attention, and nodded toward the open door where Adam was standing.
Ben’s cheeks flushed to crimson. “I suppose you heard all that.”
Adam set his empty plate on the table. “I’m sorry I embarrass you.”
Paul offered a verbal nudge. “Last night you told me how sitting out there helped you remember being tied up at night, and the same thing has driven each episode you’ve re-constructed.”
Adam stayed put in the doorway, but he nodded at Paul before looking towards his father. “I’m acting like an animal because Kane intended I become one. I’ve remembered that it started reasonably. He was friendly and concerned when I walked into his camp, and after asking how I ended up out there alone, he supposed that I’d kill the thieves who’d left me to die should I ever find them. I replied that I was a logical man, who would let the law handle it. That poked something in him, and he countered that any man could act on pure, instinctual rage.
Ben held up his hand to stop Adam’s narrative, and motioned towards the sitting area. “Why don’t you get comfortable while you finish this?”
Adam’s quick glance into the bedroom confirmed that the outer doors were still open. He gripped the door frame and shook his head. “There is nothing in what I’m telling you that is comfortable, Pa, so I’d prefer standing right here where I can feel the breeze coming in from outside.” He took a long breath and blew it from his puffed cheeks. “Picking up where I left off, Kane had heard of our family, and remarked that the Cartwrights were well known for our ‘empire,’ to which I replied that our success was built on years of hard work. I had no reason to suspect that I’d said anything to offend him, and offered to help for three days in exchange for the use of his mule to go for help. He accepted without a hint of animosity, but he’d already decided that my money and privilege had made me soft and spoiled, and it wouldn’t take much prodding to make me act in uncontrolled rage, just as he predicted. When I worked 18 hours a day, he accused me of laziness because I couldn’t last 19. When I said I was leaving, he shot the mule, made me his prisoner, and reduced my rations to one lump of beans and water. In those few days, I accomplished what would normally take a crew to do. I shored up an entire new section of cave, and then hammered in holes for dynamite so he could blow out what he promised was his motherlode vein. Then he forced me to carry that worthless rock from the mine in the bags he’d taken off the dead mule, all the while taunting me about how I’d become the animal in camp. Each thing he did to demean me; each shred of dignity he took away, was meant to make me go after him so he’d ‘win’ his insane game.”
Adam bent down, resting his arms on his knees and drew a long breath. He began speaking again as he stood and resumed his grasp on the frame “Seeing his picture this morning reminded me of being held at gunpoint while he said animals didn’t use eating utensils. It made me sick inside, but I was expected to do the work of a crew and a mule, so I ate…like an animal. That didn’t last long; he stopped all food after that, saying it was all gone. But he’d hidden some to dangle in front of me later when I was nearly insane with hunger.”
Ben looked down at his feet. “I suspected it was bad.”
“I played his games, hoping to get away. I figured I’d die anyway, but I wanted to be away from that hellhole.”
Little Joe shifted in his chair and shot Hoss a pained look before addressing his family. “You know what always bothered me was that we found you walking out of the same area we’d searched for over a week. We rode nearly every mile of that flat. ”
Hoss nodded in agreement. “You never said exactly where that mine was, but we must’a been near it at some point.”
Paul glanced at Adam, raising his brows in silent encouragement. “You need to tell them.”
“Tell us what?” Ben asked.
“The mine was in a small canyon that wasn’t visible from horseback,” Adam explained. “From where you were riding, it looked like a rise with nothing beyond except more rocks. It wouldn’t have seemed a logical path for someone on foot either, but I walked up there for a better view, and found a drop-off with Kane’s camp tucked below the ridge. I did hear you calling one day when you rode by.”
“If you could hear us, then why couldn’t we hear you?” Ben asked.
“I tried getting up that cliff, but I was too worn out to get ahead of Kane. I saw the look in his eyes when he grabbed me, and I understood that his ‘game’ had turned deadly. If I’d called out, he’d have shot you when you got to that ledge above us.”
“So you let us go and faced what was coming on your own,” Hoss said sadly as he silently pounded his fist on the table, turning away so no one would see the anguish on his face.
“Making the decision to stay quiet was the one thing I did willingly and without regret.” Adam had been inching his way forward while he spoke, but came to a dead stop.
Every head in the room snapped toward Ben as he roared, “So you never gave us a chance to rescue you? You had no right to make that decision for us!”
Adam stood taller and fought to explain even as his thoughts blew apart like the dynamited rocks in the cave. “I knew…you’d…be fine…without me.”
Ben’s eyes blazed as he stared at his eldest son. “How dare you put an order of priority on my consideration for you three boys!”
The wellbeing he’d felt after a good night’s sleep and the ability to work through some memories waned quickly. He stepped sideways, bracing himself against the wall with his good arm and hung his head; struggling first to understand the disquieting statements he’d overheard his father make, and now the feeling he had to defend himself against the man’s angry accusations. He righted himself suddenly, focusing on the man causing his distress. “Didn’t you just establish that priority ten minutes ago when you told Paul I was crazy and should leave instead of causing this family undue embarrassment?”
“Well…I just…I don’t want you to become a laughingstock because of these crazy antics.” Ben said with a little less volume and a lot more hesitation than his previous comments.
Adam’s laugh sounded more like a moan. “I’ve seen you laugh at the crazy antics of my younger brothers any number of times with no worry of how they would be perceived. Those two once brought an elephant home, and you rode it back to town without concern for how you’d be talked about in the bunkhouse or feeling compelled to explain yourself to anyone in the city.” His burned hand and head were throbbing as he swallowed hard and tried to catch a decent breath.
He looked directly at his father while walking over to him. “You searched nearly two weeks to find me and then did everything you could to save me. But now you want me to get out because my returning memories of what happened during those two weeks embarrasses you? Fine, Pa.” His walk continued to the stairs, shaking off his father’s attempt to stop him. He paused on the landing. “Hoss, if you’d saddle Sport, I’ll be out of here in ten-minutes.”
It was as silent as an undertaker’s back room for several seconds until Ben harrumphed. He took a deep breath.
“Ben,” Paul broke in before the man could speak. “I warned you that Adam would be raw. He’s remembering, and he feels every ugly thing that happened. What’s even harder is that he’s trying to understand why Kane did that to him. If you’re embarrassed by his memories of what he had to do to survive, then he assumes you’re judging him: not just now, but for how he acted back then. He sees himself as weak and pitiful in your eyes; someone to be done with, hidden away, and not worth defending. Your support should be the one thing he would never have to question, but your anger and disgust are adding to his burden. I understand what’s driving you, but you have to rein this in, and then explain it to him.”
“What are you talking about?” Ben eyed Paul with anger.
“Guilt.” Paul replied softly.
“What do I feel guilty about?” The fire was gone, and Ben’s question was sincere.
“That you couldn’t rescue your son from the torture. And after what he’s just told you, you’re guilty that you didn’t get off your horse and search on foot. You’re guilty that he chose to die to protect you over himself, and that he nearly did because you got to him so late. And that’s just the start. You feel guilty because it hurts so much to watch him go through it all again while you feel as helpless now as when it happened.”
Hoss moved towards his father and looked up the steps. “Paul’s right, Pa. I feel guilty for all them same reasons, and It was my suggestion to give up the search. If we’d left a minute sooner, we’d a missed him and he would’a….” He touched his father’s arm. “And…well…what Adam heard you say just now might make him wish he had died out there. This ain’t like you, and guilt is the only thing that explains it.” The big man waited for a response, but Ben continued looking at the empty stairs in silence. “I’ll go up, Pa. Me and Adam…maybe I can help.”
“I’ll go, son.” He looked at Paul and back to Hoss. “Thank you both for your honesty.”
Adam hadn’t shut his bedroom door, so Ben stood out of sight, watching his son toss personal items onto his bed next to the large saddle bags he used for trips. He was having trouble using his injured hand, and Ben’s fatherly concern finally outweighed not knowing what to say when he saw bright red blood soaking through the bandage.
“You’ve reopened your wounds,” he said as he walked inside and turned Adam’s hand over to expose the saturating fabric.
Adam’s cheeks took on a rosy tint. “I pulled the dresser drawer so hard with my good hand that it flew out and I caught it by a sharp corner.” He held up his hand, and chuckled wryly. “If I get gangrene and lose it, people could find irony in calling me ‘Lefty’.”
“Adam!” Ben shook his head. There was a dark side to his oldest son’s humor at times. This was typical and would have struck him as funny had it not been shrouded by the ugliness of the recent conversation. “Son, I need…”
“It’s all right, Pa,” Adam broke in. “I know you’re sorry, even if only for the tone rather than the message. And as far as where I plan to go…” He wrapped a handkerchief around his hand to keep his gear clean while shoving things into his saddlebags. “I’m going back to where it happened. Maybe if I walk through the memories where they took place, it’ll help me understand what I did to make him to treat me as he did. I think Kane won after all. He didn’t have to reincarnate; he just had to leave me with enough ugly memories…and your disgust…to make me wish I was dead.”
Ben’s mind was in turmoil, yet something was pushing for recognition among the chaos. He closed his eyes to concentrate while his thoughts calmed. “You can’t go back, son. You left that place with dignity despite what you endured. Going back will mire you there for good. I don’t believe you did anything to provoke Kane, and I know someone who might help you see that.”
“Who would that be?” Adam’s response came in a mixture of doubt and hope.
“Kane’s wife.” Ben had finally remembered her parting comment. He sighed heavily. “I don’t understand what’s happening to you, and I’m handling it badly. I said things I didn’t mean…things so outrageous I couldn’t believe they were coming from my mouth, even as I was saying them. Paul suggested my reaction stems from my guilt.”
Adam stopped his father’s words with a touch on his arm. “Why would you feel guilty?”
The older man smiled at his son for the first time in two days. “I didn’t get to you in time to prevent Kane from inflicting physical and mental torture—torture you had to deal with in any way possible to survive. And I feel just as helpless, useless and angry watching you relive the experience. I lashed out at you instead of recognizing that I can’t always stop bad things from happening to you.”
A single nod. “That’s a logical response from a man who thinks he should fix everything when his sons are concerned.” A smile returned. “So what about Mrs. Kane?”
“She implied that you weren’t the only one Kane tortured, and she said you could benefit from talking with her. It’s worth a visit.” Ben’s smile became a devilish grin. “Let’s get your hand tended…Lefty. After that we’ll head to town. If you agree, I’ll listen in. I think I need to hear this as much as you.”
“I’d appreciate you being there. Let me shave and wash up before Paul redoes the mitt.”
Perspective shed light on the truth behind the things his father had said, but Adam’s feelings were still stinging at him like wasps stuck in the weave of his clothing. There was no embrace given to seal the beginning reconciliation, but Adam did grasp his father’s arm sturdily. “I want to explain something too. I didn’t mean to imply that you care less for me than my brothers. But when you seemed so angry at me, I became defensive instead of saying what I’d intended.” He laughed at his father’s uncomfortable grimace. “I desperately wanted to call out for you. As your voices got more distant and I thought I’d die without seeing you again, I reached the lowest point of my life. But in that instant when I had to decide whether to call out and hope for the best, I pictured what would happen. We both know Joe would have flown off his horse as soon as he heard me and made it to that ledge first. Hoss moves slower than Joe, but faster than you, so he’d have been next to arrive…and not realizing what was happening…he’d have died next. Even if I’d managed to get Kane’s gun away, he’d have gotten Joe. My decision to protect my family was my right, Pa. It’s what each one of us would have done. Had I not made it out, I know you would have grieved forever. But the three of you would have carried on. It’s what Cartwrights do.”
Patricia Kane was startled to see five men in the hotel hallway when she opened the door to her suite. “What a pleasant surprise,” she said as she shook Ben’s hand, and then moved to Adam. “I’m so glad you’re feeling better and decided to come.” Taking a step back, she grinned at the two men she recognized. “I assume the young man in the green jacket who had the lame horse in the Peter Kane story, and I got a glimpse of this tall gentleman at the ranch yesterday. But now there’s one extra person, so I’ll have to decide which of you two is the fourth Cartwright. But please…won’t you all come in.”
Paul slipped ahead of Hoss, took the woman’s hand, and offered a cordial smile. “I’m too old to be Ben’s son, so I’ll save you the embarrassment of eliminating me on that basis. The tall young man is Hoss Cartwright, Ben’s middle son, and I’m Paul Martin. I asked if I might be included in this conversation. Adam agreed, but it is your privilege to send me packing.”
Noticing her slight squint and rising cheek, Adam explained. “Paul is better known as Dr. Martin in Virginia City. He’s our family physician, and he’s been tending me the last couple of days. Paul’s offer to leave if you’re not comfortable, applies to my family as well.”
“You’re all welcome,” she said, motioning them inside. Nodding towards Adam’s bandaged hand, she asked, “What happened?”
“It’s a long story.” Adam avoided divulging more by getting everyone seated. The stinging wasps were still busy in his head, and he found himself unable to follow suit, leaning against the mantle instead. “I’m sorry you had a hard time finding out what happened to your husband, but my father said you might be willing to tell me a few things about the man I met…?”
Patricia nodded slowly. “I was naive when I married that monster. But I’m stronger now because I met a man who put clarity to what I endured in the two years I lived with Peter. This man is my fiancé, Jason Freeman. He’s a physician doing research in the field of mental disease, and trying to build on the theories of Benjamin Rush*.
Paul leaned forward, smiling broadly. “I’ve read everything Dr. Rush wrote on psychiatry.” He turned toward Adam. “I used his textbook when Ross Marquette began acting so differently.”
“Ross was a friend of mine who began doing horrendous things no one could fathom,” Adam explained to Patricia. “Paul theorized that while Ross had been the decent man I’d known, somewhere…somehow, he’d taken a turn through a dark gate in his mind where he saw everyone as an enemy.” He sighed raggedly. “None of that was real.”
“I couldn’t find a name for it,” Paul added. “But Rush described this change exactly as it happened with Ross. Does your fiancé think this happened to your husband?”
“Peter didn’t change from being a decent, reasoning man,” She responded quickly. “Jason believes that Peter was born with a condition that made him unable to be reasonable. People like Peter can’t see another person’s pain and they neither understand nor care that their own behavior is not in line with the rest of humankind.2 These people do unthinkable things to get a reaction, and they have no regrets when they create self-loathing and confusion in those they target. They walk away when there’s nothing more to take, and find someone else to torment.”
She saw the stunned faces on the others, but that didn’t bother her. She’d been just as stunned the first time she heard the theory. “Jason and I will leave for Germany as soon I am free of Peter. He’ll work there with a young doctor named Julius Cook, who has begun classifying types of mental illness.” She took a deep breath and winked at Adam. “But for now, let’s get back to describing the one insane person we both came to know.”
Paul rubbed his hands together while Adam gave him a sidelong look and shook his head. “Well, this conversation has gotten Paul’s attention. How do you want to do this, Patricia?”
“Tell me how you came to meet Peter, but stop before you describe anything he did to you.”
“The first part involves Little Joe too.” Adam looked at his youngest brother. “Why don’t you give the recap.”
Little Joe spent a few minutes telling about the cattle drive to East Gate; their plans to meet up in three days; Adam’s failure to arrive, and the numbing shock at finding Sport with the blacksmith along with penning the unthinkable telegram to their father.
“So after those thieves took everything, you went looking for water and stumbled into Peter’s camp?” Patricia asked Adam.
“I’m sure you thought you’d met an intelligent and cordial man.” Patricia’s comment elicited another nod. “I stumbled onto Peter Kane too.” She rose and paced as she spoke. “My mother died when I was young, but Papa kept me with him. He made sure I got a good education, and when he developed a heart ailment, he put our house in my name, and made sure there was cash in the bank for me to live on. Even better, he taught me bookkeeping, and got me hired at the company where he worked.”
“Where was this?” Adam asked.
“In St. Louis. I lived quietly after Papa died, but while eating out with a friend, I was approached by a man from my firm. Rodney was showing a new teacher from his son’s school around town. Peter Kane had just arrived from Baltimore, and as a board member at the school, Rodney had volunteered for the tour. Peter was handsome, intelligent, mannerly, and I was instantly smitten.”
Patricia stopped at the table containing a carafe of water and poured a drink for herself, while offering her guests something stronger from an adjacent bottle. With no takers, she continued. “Papa warned me about men who’d be more interested in my means than my heart, but since Peter was new to the area, I assumed he didn’t know about my financial situation. I let him sweep me off my feet, and we married within the month.”
Ben held up his hand. “It sounds like you now believe he did marry you for money?”
“He didn’t do it for love.” Patricia laughed bitterly. “After Peter cleaned out my accounts and left to find gold, Rodney admitted to telling Peter about my finances when he expressed interest shortly after meeting me. Rodney worked under my father so he knew of the arrangements, and thought Peter might be more inclined to court me if he knew I was set enough that we wouldn’t have to rely solely on his small teacher’s salary.”
“Why’d he want yer money, ma’am?” Hoss’s crinkled nose, displaying his disdain for any man who’d take money that he hadn’t earned.
“He took our marriage license to the bank the day after our wedding and used it to add his name to my account and have the house signed into his name as well. With this access, he began ‘investing’…badly. I was not wealthy, but I had enough for him to play with. About eighteen months into the marriage, store owners began demanding cash because the checks I’d given them had been declined for insufficient funds. I went to the bank and was told the account was empty. Peter didn’t have the decency to look embarrassed when I confronted him. In fact he said that I should be grateful that at least he’d tried to make it useful instead of stuffing in a sock like I had.” She sat suddenly, and folded her hands in her lap. “But that was the least of my problems.”
“Did you have children?” The question came from Adam as he tried to imagine what a child of Peter Kane would be like.
Patricia choked back a laugh as her cheeks pinked. “Please don’t think I’m crass in telling you this, but Peter never took me as his wife…in a physical sense.”
“Never?” Adam said without thinking, and added a hasty, “I’m sorry. That was rude.”
She chuckled. “Never. His failed efforts on our wedding night were attributed to me for being too much of a child. He slept in a different room after that. However,” she winked at Adam, “I did hear that he ‘invested’ much of my money at the brothels in St. Louis, and then in the upstairs rooms of the saloon at Salt Flats.”
The room silenced until Patricia suggested that she could do with a break and would continue after lunch.
They decided to order room service rather than going to the dining room where strangers might pick up parts of their conversation. Ben went down to make the arrangements, taking Hoss and Joe along to help carry up a few of the items they’d need rather than stripping the restaurant of its wait staff to deliver the large, unexpected order. While they were gone, Paul and Patricia talked about St. Louis and the work her fiancé was doing, and Adam sat off by himself, mulling over what he’d heard about Kane so far. Patricia had shared only the initial facts, but he was already seeing the portrait of a man who was impotent in many ways, including being human. The theory that some people were born without a conscience was taking shape. He shivered unexpectedly, and walked to the window, viewing the street below and tapping the frame to calm his anxiousness to continue.
Adam didn’t think he was hungry, but when his family arrived with coffee and rolls, he felt a rumbling in his stomach and was the first to pour a cup of hot coffee and butter a bun. He couldn’t help but notice the quick glances his father gave him once the full meal arrived and they each had a plate. He was about halfway through when he finally looked over. “I’m doing fine, Pa. There won’t be a repeat of this morning.”
When Patricia gave him a questioning look, Adam explained, “Kane liked to call me an animal. He reinforced that by making me sit in the dirt and eat with my fingers. This morning at breakfast, I had a memory of him telling me that animals ate by themselves. My father was a little taken aback when I left the table and he saw me huddled in the doorway eating with my hands, as I…relived…that situation.”
Patricia sighed heavily. “Peter loved to belittle people and bully them into positions where he could claim superiority. He called me an animal too, and my memories are similar to yours.”
“I’m so sorry.” Adam’s agonized expression was a mirror of the woman sitting across from him. “I’d just met the man, but for you to have loved him, and then be treated that way. It must have been heartbreaking.”
“It’s important for you to hear what I’ve been through so you know there was nothing you could have done to change what he did to you.” Patricia set her empty plate on the tray and moved her chair closer to Adam. “You talked about reliving what happened. You’re instinctively doing what helps most with your recovery. Coming to Virginia City is my final pilgrimage—the last step to end those memories for good. If I couldn’t have confirmed Peter’s death, I’d have continued looking over my shoulder, expecting that he’d show up one day and end every good thing I’d claimed in my life since he’d left. Last night, with Ben’s confirmation of Peter’s death, I slept with both eyes closed for the first time in nearly 20 years.”
“I’m thinking there was great fortune in forgetting about what happened to me until you were here to help.” The two survivors shared a nod and silent moment until Adam asked, “Was Peter ever truthful with you?”
She looked towards the ceiling and shook her head. “He didn’t always lie, but I can’t say he ever gave a direct answer. He was sketchy about his past. While obviously educated, he never told anyone where he’d studied. I suspect he didn’t want anyone asking after him, wherever it was.”
“How did he manage to get a job as a teacher?” Ben asked.
“Rodney said Peter had given them a list of the schools where he’d taught rather than any actual background. Their school desperately needed a teacher, and since Peter was willing to work for a low wage and had experience, they hired him.” Her forehead pulled into a map of worry lines. “One outright lie he told me was that his family had died in a flu epidemic, but a year ago, I received a letter from his brother, containing a check for his share of the estate following the recent death of their father. The brother was unwilling to meet with me, but he did write to explain that Peter had put his family through such hell that his father had demanded he leave.”
“It’s hard to imagine a father rejecting a son,” Ben said as he looked lovingly at his three boys. His gaze settled on Adam. “Although I make mistakes with them at times, I would be less a man without each of them.”
“I can see that you’re a close family.” Patricia began pacing again, but stopped at the fireplace and rested a hand on the mantel. “This will be hard to talk about, but It’s time I get specific about Peter’s games during those two years in St. Louis.” A heavy sigh. “I made a casual remark during our courtship, telling Peter I ‘feared’ I had much to learn about being a homemaker, since Papa had always hired ladies to keep our house. The first change he made after our wedding was to fire my housekeeper. He said it was time to grow up, take care of myself and try to please him. He became a different person from that day on. What continued to unnerve me all his entire time with me was how he would say these mean-spirited things with that ingratiating smile. It was like he looked straight through me.”
“Did he ever manhandle you?” Paul asked.
“His abuse was aimed at my confidence. He wanted me to cower, constantly apologize, and try to get things right. But there was no right way to do anything. He took that single fear I’d mentioned, and turned it into his justification for everything ugly thing he said and did.”
“That sounds familiar,” Adam told her. “I made the claim that as a logical man, I couldn’t be pushed into a gut reaction. After that, he set out to prove that I was an animal who’d react when provoked enough.”
“That was Peter.” Patricia took a deep breath. “His first complaint was that I was unorganized and undisciplined, so he offered to teach me better habits. This would start by him giving me instructions each morning on what to prepare for his dinner. It sounded reasonable, and that first night I hurried home from work to have it ready when he arrived. He looked at his plate, and calmly told me that wasn’t what he’d asked for. He ‘forgave’ me, and things were all right for a few nights. But then it happened again…and again, and I began to fear the nights he arrived home looking unsettled. The last time I allowed that ploy was the night he stated that I must be either too stupid to remember or intentionally fixing the wrong thing to disrespect him. First I ran and cried, knowing I’d always done exactly as he’d asked. But then I went back and told him that he needed to write out exactly what he wanted so I wouldn’t get confused. He refused, saying that I might as well cook what I wanted if I couldn’t handle simple verbal directives. I felt relieved and thought we’d move on from that odd hiccup. But then he began picking on the quality of my meals, declaring my food fit only for animals. He’d pick at it, and scrape the rest in the garbage.”
She smiled wryly. “Once Peter went west, the floodgates of information opened, and I found out that he stopped to eat at a saloon on the way home every evening, and often used those services I spoke of earlier. I always wondered why he was so late returning from a job that ended at 3 PM. He told me he corrected papers at school rather than bring work home.”
“Did this go on the entire time he was with you?” The question came from Ben.
“He would lose interest when I stopped playing a game. After I told him to purchase our food to ensure the quality, he stopped complaining and then directed his attention to my housekeeping. He was an orderly person but not strange about it. Suddenly he demanded to have towels folded and hung by the wash basin in a certain way. I didn’t mind doing that, and I was so excited that he might actually be pleased. He gave me that ‘tolerant’ smile when we went to his room that evening. He threw everything on the floor, explaining that I was obviously too stupid to do that right either. That demand for orderliness expanded to how the knickknacks were set out on the tables, where the dishes were kept in the cupboard, and how the furniture was placed. I’d get everything straightened before bed, and swore it moved just enough during the night for him to complain about in the morning. I honestly thought I was losing my mind until I snuck down one night and saw him switching things around.”
“He set me up too,” Adam told the group. “I just remembered that. He left a gun and a canteen out one night, and then ‘caught’ me when I tried to leave. Of course the gun was empty and the canteen filled with sand. He took great delight in how easily he had fooled me.”
“I’m sure that’s when you realized he was horribly insane.” Patricia said sadly. “Yet knowing that gave me a backbone. The next morning when he pointed out my errors, I told him to make sure everything was exactly as he wanted it. He fussed and arranged things…and then I went around with a brush and bottle of India ink and made small dots on the floor beneath each leg of furniture and every item on a surface, telling him that this way things would always be just so. I even did a quick drawing of where the dishes were placed in the cupboard. He called me impudent, and said I was just proving my stupidity.”
Adam grimaced. “I have to admire your spunk. It makes me wish I’d fought back a little more.”
Patricia laughed and patted Adam’s shoulder. “Remember that I saw his patterns developing over months. And it changed nothing. If I ended one of his games, he’d just come up with another. The night following that bit of fun for me, he sat down to supper, inspected his silverware, and held up the fork. He told me it hadn’t been washed properly, and that if I was too much of an animal to clean his utensils, then I deserved to be treated like one. He grabbed my arm and my plate and dragged me into the kitchen. After dumping the stew on the cupboard, he commanded me to eat it with my fingers. His previous games humiliated me, but he’d been verbal, not physical. That night he grabbed my head and shoved it down into the food while yelling at me to grunt like a pig. The look in his eyes that night scared me, and I did what he said. Afterwards he stood there laughing like a madman. It was the lowest point of my life. I ate before he arrived home after that, and never set a table or offered him a meal again.”
Little Joe broke the tension by saying, “I would have poisoned his food.”
The others laughed when Patricia seemed to enjoy the comment. “I thought about it, but he never ate enough for it to have killed him.” Her smile faded. “I knew that these games came from a sick mind, but I kept on playing, hoping maybe I could pass his test and it would all end with a normal life.”
Adam blew out a long breath “What finally made him leave?”
“The money was gone; I refused to play his games, and he lost his job. He began tormenting his students when I stopped playing. I didn’t know he’d been fired until I stopped there with the briefcase I thought he’d forgotten at home. After leaving the school, I happened to see him through the window of a bar on my way to work, and confronted him there. He said he’d thought so little of the job that he hadn’t seen any reason to note its passing.”
Hoss’s tone was fueled with concern when he asked, “What was he doing to those kids?”
“The headmaster told me that they’d received several complaints about Peter abasing any student who questioned him or confided their fears about their performance. He’d give special assignments and then berate the student in front of class for doing the wrong thing when the poor child presented it. The school didn’t care what Peter had to say in his defense. He’d poked a few prominent families who made threats.”
Paul interrupted. “Sounds like Kane had problems coming up with original ways to torment people.”
Patricia nodded and grinned. “The best thing to come from it was that he decided to leave. I’d made arrangements to move in with a friend, and thought I was saved from that when he told me about an opportunity to go west to mine in the territory east of California. He could buy a large claim cheaper there, and he’d been assured that gold had been found already. All he needed was four-thousand-dollars.”
Hoss rubbed his chin. “He’d cleaned out your bank account by then, hadn’t he?”
Patricia nodded. “I said that if he hadn’t squandered that money, he’d have had plenty.”
“Kane told me he got the money by selling everything he had,” Adam offered with a confused squint.
“It seems odd that I can laugh about this now, but I can’t shed any more tears. I came home one night to find a family moving into my house. I was frantic for them, thinking they’d been duped. I was the fool. Peter had sold my house, all the furnishings; the buggy and horse we kept at the livery, and found where I’d hidden cash I’d been saving from my paychecks.” She shook her head and chuckled. “He said I didn’t deserve a house. I should live in a boarding house where people took care of me. I was so relieved that he was gone, I didn’t mourn the loss. But he wasn’t done. About nine months later, a letter came demanding money for supplies. If I didn’t comply, he’d return home. I moved into a cheaper boarding house and took a second job on weekends to keep him on the other side of the country.”
Little Joe groaned painfully. “That’s some story. I’m surprised you’re not jaded.”
“I found love, Joe. The company where I worked did Jason’s books and we started talking when he came by. He knew I was married, but when he heard we were estranged, he asked me to dinner. I think he was sent from God to help me understand what I’d endured.” She moved behind Adam again, placing her hands on his shoulders. “It’s your turn now. Tell me what happened in that camp.”
Adam didn’t like talking about himself, but the more details he revealed, the more he remembered, and the calmer he felt. Patricia was right; hearing the similarities between their stories helped him understand that he he’d merely represented an opportunity for Kane’s insanity to be deployed.
Patricia sighed as she sat across from Adam again. “It must have hellish when those memories began returning with such force. But you are blessed with a loving family…and doctor…to support you.” She wondered why her statement made Ben look away. Yet she knew how crazy this all sounded to people who hadn’t gone through it, even to a family as strong as the Cartwrights.
“At least I had breathers between his games,” Patricia added. “And as I saw his patterns, I got strong enough to push back. Peter got a sick satisfaction from observing fearful, confused responses to his manipulation. I was fortunate he left when he did, because Jason is convinced that had Peter stayed, his games would have taken a deadly turn for me. You’re the proof of that, Adam. He used everything in his arsenal on you in less than two weeks without breaking you. At some point, he decided it would have to end with your death or at least leave you too destroyed to have a normal life.” She shivered. “It must have felt like hell had opened again and was sucking you in when I slid that picture across the table yesterday.”
Adam snorted softly. “A line from The Tempest kept running through my head while I was with Kane. Hell is empty and all the devils are here.3 “He looked around the room at those who’d come to share this revelation. “My family will attest that I thought Satan had grabbed onto my ankle from the grave the last two days.”
“I began to heal when Jason allowed me to reconstruct each ploy Peter used against me. Then he helped me see what that devil hoped to take from me.”
“I am happy for you.” Adam’s smile was sincere.
“Perhaps you’ll heal faster since Peter’s influence was a short distraction in an otherwise good life. I hope you feel better for coming today.”
“I do; thank you,” Adam replied. “I see now that if he could have provoked me into that act of illogical rage, his prize would have been my soul.”
“We talked this morning about something maybe you can explain, Mrs. Kane,” Hoss said. “Adam told you how he let us go on by so Kane wouldn’t kill us. But why didn’t your husband call us and do just what Adam figured? That would have hurt my brother the most.”
Patricia looked at Adam and saw that he now knew the answer. “Why don’t you explain it, Adam.”
“Kane knew that I would have defended my family any way I could. However, that would have been a logical reaction, and it would have proved my point, not his.”
Little Joe tilted his head even as he nodded. “But all those things he did to you put you in a position of self-defense, Adam. A logical man would have been entitled to save himself too.”
Adam looked to his hostess, and gave a quick nod. “Kane had the airs and fine words of an intelligent, educated man, but he approached life with the animal instincts he claimed he could produce in others. In some ways, bringing people to his level of reaction was comforting—like looking in a mirror. I don’t believe he understood the concept of self-defense. He only saw the game.”
“Misery loves company,” Hoss offered.
“Well said.” Patricia rose and stretched. “I think it’s time we get that affidavit signed, and go downstairs for a drink to seal new friendships and understanding.”
Paul witnessed the signatures, with Adam adding an approximate location of the grave before penning his name.
Ben stretched. “C’mon Hoss…Little Joe. We’ll head down and get a table off to the side of the dining room and order a bottle of champagne.
“That would be nice,” Patricia said as she reached for Adam’s arm. “And I will use that time to speak privately to your son and Dr. Martin. I promise we’ll be down in a minute.”
Adam stood with one foot on the hearth, poking the logs to bring up a cozy blaze.
“I’m glad it’s cool enough for a fire again. I miss it during the summer.” Ben smiled up at his oldest son. “You’ve been relaxed since we got home.”
Hoss and Joe had gone up to bed, citing the long day. But Adam knew they were allowing time for their father and brother to talk. “I’m glad you remembered Patricia’s suggestion, and that we heard her story together.”
“It’s odd that Kane was so predictable, even though I’m sure he thought he was quite clever.” Ben shook his head. “Such an evil man.” After a moment of silence, he asked, “Did Patricia offer further information after we left?”
“She said she owed me an apology, but didn’t feel comfortable explaining why in front of Little Joe and Hoss.”
Ben’s eyes widened as the corners of his mouth moved upwards into a grin. “You’ve got me curious now. Are you able to tell me about it?”
“Once she understood that Kane had never loved her, she decided to press for a divorce. A lawyer friend of Jason’s drafted a divorce document that she sent to Peter, along with the details of what they’d do if he refused.”
“I assume she claimed abandonment?”
Adam grinned widely. “Even better. She wrote that she’d take care of all the expenses for the divorce. But…if he refused, she’d file for an annulment.” He winked at his father. “This is the part she didn’t want Joe to hear. She threatened to submit to an exam by a court-approved doctor to verify that Kane had never consummated their marriage. And once she had an annulment, the lawyer would present the financial evidence to the courts alleging fraud since he’d obviously married her only to access her assets. He felt Kane would be forced to return the money, and maybe even do some time in jail.”
“Wow! That must have gotten his attention.”
“She figures it was the last mail he picked up before I arrived. Jason had warned her that people with Kane’s personality never make things easy. What she couldn’t know was that Kane was also facing the fact that he’d put many years into that claim and it had yielded nothing. He’d reached the end of his control over the two biggest parts of his life, and I walked into his rage.:
“Facing failure must have been impossible for a man like that,” Ben offered.
“Patricia played a strong hand, and when he realized he couldn’t win in a legal fight, he chose the one means of control still available. He decided to let himself die without witnesses, knowing she’d have to wait another seven years to be free. When I came along, he decided he didn’t have to die alone and could have one last chance to play his games.”
Ben’s complexion paled. “You would have died too except for Little Joe finding Sport and realizing you were in trouble. Your will to live, coupled with Joe’s quick thinking, and later, Paul’s medical knowledge, gave you the chance to survive. You did the rest.” He tucked the bowl of his pipe with tobacco and struck a match. After pulling in a few puffs from the fragrant leaves, he rested his arm on the chair and looked back up at Adam. “I am sorry I couldn’t understand what was happening to you the last few days.”
“Even I didn’t understand what was happening, Pa. What matters is that you were willing to listen and learn.” Adam’s sincere response was followed by a quick lift of his brows with an accompanying smile. “One last thing… I’m going away for a week or two. Jason has written a case study on Patricia’s experience with Kane, and he wired her, hoping she could convince me to accompany her to Sacramento. He’d like to hear about Kane’s last days directly from me. It will provide a clear picture of this…disorder of the mind…to use when he gets to Germany. She suggested that Paul come too.”
“You need to do this,” Ben said solemnly. “We learned a lot today, but talking this out with a professional will help even more.” He allowed a grin. “I imagine Paul was bouncing like a toddler over the chance to be a part of this.”
Adam nodded and chuckled.
Ben waited for his son to offer more, and finally prompted, “So, it was a good day, even though it had a rocky start?”
“Yes it was, but there’s one last thing to do.”
Adam pulled the cardboard folder with Kane’s picture from his pants pocket and held it up. “I tried to return this, but Patricia said I might like to dispose of it as she did with the few things Kane left behind.”
“How was that?”
He tossed it into the fire and watched as it curled and then disintegrated into ashes. “By returning one devil back to hell where he belongs.”
Story Notes: I struggled with where to place East Gate, Salt Flats, Kane’s mine, Signal Rock and Pyramid Lake to make sense in the canon story. I’d assumed they’d gone south to California on that drive because of the desert and gold. However, the episode has Ben and Hoss arriving quickly with Hoss saying Adam had left East Gate two-weeks prior…after they’d already been searching several days. The CA deserts were too far to arrive in time for that scenario. After Googling Eastgate in several states, I actually found a place that fits what happened. There was/is an Eastgate about 150 miles east of Reno. There were salt flats and deserts between the two, and even an actual trading posts/stage stop called Salt Wells, between Eastgate and Reno. Pyramid Lake is north of Reno, and whatever they called signal rock would have been an easy 3 days ride from Eastgate. Deserts and rocks abound in that area. And finally, I found that there was mining activity in that section of Nevada. This if from a site called, Cowboy Country:
In Cowboy Country (a section of Nevada going east and north from Reno), the Old West meets the Gold West. During the 1800s, some of the pioneers lured to California for the gold rush settled in Cowboy Country and established ranches and trading posts. Later, after the gold rush ended in California, prospectors explored northern Nevada and discovered gold in the majestic mountains of Cowboy Country.
I found that people began mining earlier than this snippet says.
I attached a map to this, but my maps don’t usually come through the formatting for the story. It shows that this is a viable location. I doubt the writers put this much effort into placing the episode, but I always have fun establishing some reasonable setting.
*Dr. Benjamin Rush, the “father of American psychiatry,” was the first to believe that mental illness was a disease of the mind and not a “possession of demons.” His classic work, Observations and Inquiries upon the Diseases of the Mind, published in 1812, was the first psychiatric textbook printed in the United States.
2 German psychiatrist, J.L.A. Koch (1841-1908), coined the term psychopastiche, or psychopath, in 1888. Koch claimed that psychopathy arose from a flaw in one’s constitution at birth. Constitutional psychopathy became a popular disorder in the literature of the early 1900s.
This is a little outside the framework of my story, although the condition was recognized much earlier. Philippe Pinel (1745-1826), the founding father of modern psychiatry, first described a group of patients afflicted with mania sans délire (insanity without delirium, 1801). This described individuals who had no intellectual problems with a profound deficit in behavior typified by marked cruelty, antisocial acts, alcohol and drug use, irresponsibility, and immorality. This “moral insanity” occurred in the absence of confusion in mind and intellect, differentiating it from patients with psychotic behaviors.
3 William Shakespeare – The Tempest