Summary: A story of Cartwright family love: When Adam refuses to fight for his life…or his limb…after his Mountain of the Dead experience, (The Savage) Hoss and Joe return to the camp where they found him and figure out what really happened there. Hoss confirms that Ruth was real, but in following his Adam’s journey, he also finds truths his older brother couldn’t see. Twelve years later, Adam is a happy husband and father living in Boston at the time he travels to San Francisco where he meets his father and brothers there for a reunion. Another “unexpected” reunion sheds more light on the past.
Rating: T Word Count: 22,384
Paul Martin left Adam’s bedside, indicating with a quick jerk of his head that he wanted Ben to join him in the hall. Out of his patient’s earshot, he said, “You can see that it’s not going well, and if things don’t improve in a day or so, it’s going to have to come off.”
Ben shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
“That leg is festering somewhere.” He exhaled through clenched teeth. “The wound isn’t draining as I’d expect it would if it was badly infected, but the symptoms are all there anyway. Adam’s leg is hot, red, and looks like it’s ready to explode. And you saw the red streaks that almost look like tree roots.”
A nod. “What does that mean?”
“At best…the tissue in the rest of his leg is inflamed; at worst, it’s a sign that the infection is spreading…fast.”
“I don’t know that I can make this decision for him; it’s so…final.”
“I’ve been speculating on this from the very beginning, Ben; you just didn’t want to hear me. It would have hurt like hades, but I wish the person who removed the arrow would have pushed it through the rest of the way.”
“What difference would that have made?”
“I think there’s a pocket of infected, dying tissue imbedded deep in his muscle where the arrowhead was lodged, and that’s causing all the trouble. We’ve been working at the wound from this end, and with the irrigation and compresses we’ve been doing, the outside looks better. Still, his leg is worsening, and I’m running out of ideas.” Paul watched as Ben leaned back against the wall, and covered his face with his hands. The friend in him wanted to rescind his warning, and tell the man not to worry—that everything would be all right. But as a doctor, he had to make sure that everyone was prepared to move quickly when it became necessary. He leaned toward Ben, gently grasping his shoulders. “I’m going to talk to Adam about this, but he’s getting sicker so he may not be able to consent when it comes time. If that’s the case, I’ll need your go-ahead to amputate. I know this will be the hardest decision of your life.” Paul shook his head as he sighed. “It will be the hardest decision of my life too. But if we wait too long, the infection may start spreading upwards as well, and then it’ll be too late to do anything.”
Hoss had been in Adam’s room too, and followed the two men to doorway to hear what they were saying. He knew his brother was in bad shape, but his head and gut spun when he heard Paul talk about amputation. This entire odyssey had begun three weeks back when Adam had won an argument with Pa over going to see a demonstration of the Fairbanks windmill* in Nevada City. Adam had ridden off in good spirits, and there’d been no reason for his family to think anything was amiss until Sport had showed up at the ranch two days later with a dusty saddle, and no sign of its rider. They’d set out in search of the missing Cartwright, and had finally found Adam at a trapper’s camp in an Indian burial ground.
Hoss remembered saying that his brother looked like he’d “tangled with a grizzly,” because he’d been battered, bruised, running a high fever, and half-dead looking…at first. After coming to a little, he’d become agitated and had carried on about having to go after Ruth, the person who’d taken care of him. The camp where they’d found him had been used by “someone,” but other than the presence of a Bible containing the name, Ruth Halverson, there had been no signs of a woman.
They’d all listened with raised eyebrows as Adam had talked about a young woman who’d been taken by the Shoshone because they thought she was a powerful spirit who could heal their sick. The real head scratching part had come when Adam had said he’d wanted to marry this gal. Their Pa had been wise enough to hold onto his doubts about the story at the time, instead convincing his brother that going after her and the Shoshone would put Ruth’s life in danger.
It hadn’t been easy to get his brother to leave, but Pa had mentioned going to look for Ruth later, after she’d had a little time to do what she could for the Shoshone. Adam hadn’t exactly agreed with the proposal, but he’d resigned himself to going home for the time being.
What had bothered the middle Cartwright brother the most was that Adam hadn’t acted like Adam from then on. There was no spark, and that was purely odd. Adam was a fighter. He’d been through a lot of skirmishes and mishaps, and had never given up before. In fact he’d been gut-shot by one of Cochise’s braves just a year back, and had made a full recovery even though the odds had been against that happening.
An uneasy feeling was growing in Hoss’s gut that Adam was giving up this time. He hadn’t even been able sit his horse on the way out of the burial grounds, and after sliding to the ground twice, Hoss had gone back for the travois he’d seen at the camp. They’d used that to get his brother home without adding to his injuries.
Adam had been listless and irritable from the time they’d left “Ruth’s” camp behind, and seemed lost in a world of pain that wasn’t just from bodily grief. Hoss had spent a good deal of time at his brother’s side since they’d been home, and Adam’s suffering was so deep and dark that Hoss swore that at times he could see it hovering over the man like the low-floating storm clouds that sometimes engulfed the hillsides on the Ponderosa. There seemed no relief from it even with the strong doses of morphine that Paul was giving him, and that made Hoss wonder if some kinds of pain couldn’t be controlled by medicine because they came from the soul, not the body.
In hindsight, Hoss wished they’d looked for the clues at the camp before leaving that would have confirmed the longer version of the story Adam had told them later when they’d cleared the Shoshone land. Still, they hadn’t noticed any women’s things as they’d gathered Adam’s belongings. If Ruth had been there, she had taken everything except the Bible when she’d left. Without proof, they’d decided that Adam had probably been shot, just as the other trappers they’d found there had been, and had removed the arrow himself. Then in the delirium from his rising fever, he’d woven a mind-story from what he’d found in the camp he’d stumbled on. It didn’t matter though, because whether or not they believed Ruth had been there; Adam did.
Pa had given Adam’s account of what had happened to Paul Martin once they made it to the Ponderosa—minus the details of the love affair with a spirit woman. Paul had examined the wound and then shook his head and drew a deep, hissing breath as he’d given his conclusion. “He’s exhausted, dehydrated and banged up from the fall he took after being hit with the arrow. But all that will resolve quickly with rest and care. The leg wound is something else entirely. It’s going to take a miracle for this to heal.”
Hearing what Paul was telling Pa now; Hoss decided the fear that had settled deep into his gut a few days back was justified: there was no miracle in the making, even though he’d been praying for one. He took a quick look back at his brother, and wondered what Adam would have to say about the discussion occurring in the hall. His attention returned to the conversation when he heard his pa ask another question.
“So…if it becomes necessary…to…remove…” Ben shuddered before being able to continue. “Where would you take it?”
“It has to be above the knee. The infection is too close to the joint for me to create a usable stump below it, and then there’s the chance that I’d have to do further removal if I don’t clear the infected tissue and bone.” Paul noticed Ben paling while sinking back against the wall, and he helped his friend to sit on the floor. Crouching next to him, he said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be quite so blunt. When I act as a doctor, I have to remove my friendship with the patient and family from the equation to be able to do what I need to. I know this is hard, but you need to think about this just as you would for anyone in the same situation. The decision is too emotional when you apply it to your son. It’ll rip you apart inside and keep you from acting.”
Ben’s cheeks began to color again, but he stayed put and sighed deeply. “I am trying to think about what’s necessary to save his life, but if you do what you say you have to, he’s won’t be able to walk without crutches. How can he work the ranch, ride a horse or get around out here where the terrain would be unforgiving to a one-legged man?”
Paul chuckled sadly and sat on the floor next to his friend. “You’re thinking too far ahead. We have to get him healthy before he can worry about what he’ll do. And may I remind you that your son has an engineering degree from a prestigious Eastern school, so it’s not like he’ll lose his livelihood with this. It will take courage, and I can guarantee he’ll go through a great deal of readjustment, but he can do it.” He looked over at Ben and saw a nod of agreement. “When he’s ready, we’ll get him back on his feet.”
“Don’t you mean foot?” Ben interjected with a grunt.
“No, I mean feet—even if one of them isn’t exactly his. With Adam’s brains and resources, he can research what’s available and figure which prosthetic will work best for him. And with Adam’s engineering skills, he might even come up with something better. First we need to save his life; then we’ll work out the details.”
“And if you don’t do this?”
“Then your son will find out what it’s like to die by inches. The infection will get worse, and toxins will be released into his blood, making him sicker by the day. The dead tissue will become gangrenous and the pain will be unbearable. He’ll only die when the infection gets to his heart or brain.” The pallor returned, and Ben was breathing rapidly while beginning to sweat. Paul apologized again, but added, “You have to know the truth.”
Hoss’s head snapped back toward the bed when he heard a moan as his brother awakened.
Adam struggled to sit up, yelping as he moved his battered leg. His eyes were glazed in pain as he locked his brother in a steely stare. “What’s going on out there?” He chuckled humorlessly. “Must be bad if they had to go out in the hall to talk about it.”
“Ya really wanna know, ‘cuz the news ain’t good.” Hoss wasn’t sure what to do, but figured the decision to take a limb was something the person who was about to lose it had a right to make.
“That bad, huh?” He sighed and adjusted his back against the pillows to get more comfortable. “You better tell me. And don’t try to sugar coat it or make it sound better than it is, like Pa would.”
After an audible gulp, Hoss said, “They’s talkin’ about taking that bad part of your leg off iffen it don’t get better real fast.”
The color of Adam’s face faded to match the white sheets on the bed. “No.”
“Whadaya mean? Paul says if he don’t do it, it’ll kill you.”
“I said no, and I mean no. I think I still have the right to decide what happens to me.” He sighed as he slid back down in the bed. “What’s the point in living with guilt for the rest of my life? I deserve what I’m getting.”
Hoss made a quick glance toward the door. “Don’t let Pa hear you talkin’ that way.”
The big man’s cheeks flushed as he shook his head. “If this was happenin’ to me, I might feel like givin’ up. I only know how to one thing, and if that was taken away, I don’t know how I’d get on. But you…you can do anything you want. You’re smart; you have a good education, and you catch on to everything you’ve ever tried. Seems like the world would be open to you—on one leg or two. You think on that for a bit, brother. I know you’re hard-headed, but I ain’t never knowd you to be a coward.”
Adam’s eerie laugh chilled the room. “Then you should have been with me when the Shoshone came for Ruth. And if that’s not evidence enough of my cowardice, how about the day I let Pa talk me out of going after her? I say let the pain take over, because it’s the only time I can concentrate on something besides being a coward.”
Hoss’s tone softened. “But Adam…you don’t even know…”
He cut his brother off in mid-sentence. “Don’t you dare! I see how you three roll your eyes or look away whenever I mention Ruth’s name. I know you all think I imagined her because I was crazy with fever or something.” He closed his eyes and groaned as a wave of pain shot up his leg. His breath was coming in gasps as he hollered, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe me. I know what happened, and that I deserve this.”
“But, Adam, you was weak as a newborn pup when we found you. You couldn’t have done much of any..,”
“I don’t care what you think. I don’t care what any of you think. Either stand by my decision or get out and leave me to die alone. I will not let anyone take my leg,” He rose up on his elbow and looked toward the door. “I know you’re out there, Pa, and you’ve been listening, so don’t you dare wait until I’m unconscious and then go ahead with Paul’s plan. I swear that if I wake up without my leg, I will take matters into my own hands.” The outburst exhausted his strength and he fell back on the bed breathing hard, trembling, and clutching at the sheets.
Ben began to stand while looking sheepishly at Paul. “I’ll go talk to him.”
Paul locked Ben’s arm with a firm grip, and held him back. “Let me go. He’ll see your concern as pity and fatherly wheedling. I’ll give him the facts that I gave you. He should understand better what he’s up against, and accept the outcome.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“Then I’ll do just as he figures I’ll do…I’ll take it off once he can’t give his consent. People make bad decisions when they’re in pain, and they need someone to intervene. Being ill, and yet knowing that the only thing that can make you better will disfigure you and make it hard to function like you always have, is too much to handle all at once. He’ll hate me for it, but I’d rather have him mad than dead.”
Hoss found his father still sitting on the floor where he’d been with Paul. “This thing with Adam does leave ya a little weak in the knees, don’t it?” he remarked as he slid down the wall next to him.
Father and son looked towards the stairs as they heard footsteps. Little Joe appeared carrying a tray with food and a pot of coffee. “Hop Sing says none of you came down for lunch, and he doesn’t want to throw this away…so ‘eat!’” Once the tray was positioned on the floor between father and son, and Hoss was digging into the roast beef sandwiches and pickles, Joe asked, “What’s going on? I heard Adam hollering all the way downstairs.”
Ben gave a sideways glance at his middle son. “How can you eat after what just went on?” It wasn’t uttered as an accusation or with disdain, just amazement at Hoss’s voracious appetite even in stressful times.
“I ain’t had a bite since last evenin’, Pa. Maybe a little food in my belly will let me think straighter.”
Joe looked from one man to the other and finally reminded them, “Are one of you gonna tell me what’s happening?” His jaw dropped as his father explained the seriousness of Adam’s situation and the probable outcome. “I had no idea it had gotten that bad.” His voice dropped off as he decided whether to offer his opinion. He squatted down and handed his father a sandwich. “Eat this. I think Hoss might actually be right about something.” He grinned at his brother. “Maybe you can think better with some food.” After waiting for Ben to take a bite, he went ahead with his thoughts. “Does it seem to either of you that Adam has stopped caring what happens to him?” Hoss nodded as he popped the last bit of sandwich into his mouth while Joe added, “I haven’t even heard him talk about getting better. It’s like we brought home Adam’s body, but left his spirit back on that mountain with the rest of the dead.”
“I know just what yer talkin’ about!” Hoss blurted after he’d swallowed. “It’s what bothers me most.”
Ben nodded as he bit off another chunk of sandwich before tossing the rest of it back onto the plate. “He’s been through a lot,” he said as he chewed, “and whatever happened out there won’t leave him alone. He calls for Ruth while he sleeps, and I can see his eyes searching the room for her when he wakes up—at least until he realizes where he is.”
“Yeah,” Hoss agreed. “When he does figure out he’s home, he looks purely miserable, and then pulls back into himself like a doggone turtle.”
A long sigh led into Ben’s next thought. “I wish there was some way to convince him that this was all a dream. Until he can forget her…or at least stop blaming himself for not preventing something from happening to her, he isn’t going to give himself permission to recover.”
“That’s what I think too, Pa.” Hoss looked to Little Joe and then back at his father. “But I’m not so sure it didn’t really happen.” His father’s snort made him pause, but he continued with more surety. “Some of that story sounds like a tale. Yet, I think someone helped him, and someone lived at that camp. We’d all sort a made up our minds that he was imagining it, so we didn’t pay attention. We only saw what we wanted to out there, and I was thinking that I owe it to him to go back and take a better look. If this here, Ruth, was taken by the Shoshone, then maybe we do have to find her and give her a hand.”
“I think he’s right again, Pa,” Joe added as he grabbed the tray and placed it on the table outside his bedroom. When he returned, he sat across the hallway from them and blew out a long breath. “It seems we always hold our breath around here when one of us is in trouble, and that feeling of not having enough air to fill our lungs doesn’t go away until we do something about it.”
A small grin turned the left corner of Ben’s scowl. “What are you two proposing?”
“I’m not sure what my little brother had in mind, but I want to ride back and do some investigatin’. I’ll follow the clues if there’s any to be found.” He laid a gentle hand on his father’s arm. “And don’t tell me that there’s too much work to be done to have me go out chasin’ wild geese, because we ain’t tended to our work since the day Sport came riding in alone. All that needs to be done is the normal things the hands do every day, and they’s doing a good job anyway. We’ll have this all taken care of by the time we need to move the herd again.”
The hall remained silent as Ben considered his son’s plan. He was nodding as he agreed, “I think you’re right. Adam needs to know the truth, no matter what it is. Right now he’s stuck. He says it really happened, but there’s just enough doubt to leave him dangling between being a coward or losing his mind. It’s tearing him up inside.” He put his hand atop Hoss’s. “Leave as soon as you can, and take Little Joe. You can look after each other so I don’t have to go searching for another missing son.” Hoss and Joe stood, and each grabbed one of their father’s hands to help him up. Once upright, he took them by the shoulders. “Hurry with this. Do a good job, but you don’t have a lot of time to get back. From what Paul says, he can’t let that leg go much longer or it’ll be too late to do anything.”
Adam’s laugh was wry as he shook his head. “I get it, Paul. You can explain how my leg will turn black and become so painful that you won’t be able to give me anything strong enough to dampen the agony another 15 times, and it still won’t make a difference. I don’t…want…you…to…amputate…my…leg! Did I say that slowly enough for you to understand? It’s my decision, and I’ve made it.”
Paul never took any grief from Adam when he treated him, and sent back a verbal punch to the gut. “It…may…be…your…decision, but you’re making it from a flawed perspective.”
“This day is turning out to be so special,” the patient laughed grimly. “My family is pretty sure I’m crazy and imagining what happened to get me to this point, and now you think I’m…what…too addled to choose what I want? Or is my leg so decayed already that it’s rotting my brain.”
“I always enjoy it when you get defensive. You’re so descriptive.” He sat on the bed. “I don’t know what happened to get you to this point, and it doesn’t matter. All I care about is what I can do to get you back to fighting form.” He gave Adam a withering look when he heard his dismissive laugh. “I guess what I’m saying is that it seems a shame to bury all of you when I could remove the bad part, and still leave the rest of you to do a few useful things in your lifetime. Who knows what you might accomplish, even on one leg.”
Adam looked away. “I don’t think there’s a lot of good that can be accomplished by lunatic cowards, Paul, so I’m asking you to honor my decision.”
“You’re not leaving me with many options.” Paul rose, and in an angry outburst, threw his medical bag on the floor, before shouting, “You’re my friend, Adam. You can’t ask me to let you go without trying!”
“Then try.” He reached up to take Paul’s sleeve. “You said you didn’t have ‘many’ options. That sounds like you still have something in mind. What is it?”
Paul picked up his case, and laughed. “You are the only person who can get me mad enough to forget I’m a healer, and want to throw you against the wall. Luckily my bag made a suitable substitution.”
“That’s not actually a bad thing, is it, Paul? Maybe if you stay mad enough, you can keep me alive so you can kill me later.” This time he gave the physician a genuine smile. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
Grabbing a sheet of paper and pencil from Adam’s desk, along with a book to write on, Paul came back to the bed and began drawing pictures of a leg from different angles. “Here’s what I think is going on. The arrow went in here.” He added an arrow to the picture to show where it had lodged. “But it pushed deeper with the fall, and created a sort of pocket in there when you pulled the arrow back out.”
“Ruth pulled it out, and did a good job.” He watched Paul’s brows rise in question. “Oh, I suppose my father left out the details of the imaginary woman who came to my aid. Don’t worry about it, just go on.”
He shook his head and continued drawing a swirl of black to emphasize what he was about to explain. “Everything that was on that arrow is still in there. The damaged tissue in your leg is also starting to break down, but we can’t get to it from this side.” Paul drew an upward slanted line to the other side of the leg. “What I was thinking might help is if we’d make an incision on this side…one that will hurt as bad as anything you’ve felt before. If I’m lucky and get the angle right, I’ll go into that mess and I can drain it from this side. We’ll irrigate it around the clock with water and iodine, and see if we can keep it from getting worse.”
“That doesn’t sound so awful. Do you think it could work?”
“No. In fact it might speed up the progress towards gangrene, but it’s something we can try.” He gave Adam a lopsided smile. “I may have forgotten to mention that I have to put a probe through the wound to make sure I can follow it back through from the other side. I’ll go into town and bring back surgical supplies and ether, and I’ll have Ben set a plank on saw horses as an operating table. And that’s the beginning, not the end. I can’t keep you anesthetized forever, and while I can help ease the pain with morphine, I can’t keep you from feeling it most of the time.”
“It’s a chance, Paul, that’s all I ask.”
Paul was shaking Adam’s hand to seal the deal they had just made when Hoss slipped into the room. “Sorry, to interrupt, but I gotta talk to my brother.”
“Come right in, I was just leaving,” Paul said to Hoss before looking back at his patient. “I’ll see you later. Rest as much as you can until then.”
Hoss pulled a chair nearer the bed and began without preamble. “You gotta tell me about yer time with Ruth.”
Adam shot him a sour look. “What’s this about? First you don’t want to hear about her because you think it confirms my delusion, and now you want details?”
“Listen, I know we’ve been hard on ya, but you need to trust me now. The three of us been talkin’, and feel bad that we didn’t listen to you. Joe and I are gonna ride back out there and see what we can find.”
“How do I know that you won’t just go into town for a few days and then come back and reinforce that this was all in my mind? I suspect Pa thinks he could leverage that into getting me to agree to continue my life with a peg leg.”
Hoss’s cheeks grew pink as he looked down at his feet. “I ain’t never lied to you, Adam, and you know it. Well, maybe a few times when we was kids and I was lookin’ to get outta being punished when you was in charge, but never since we been growd.” He looked up, meeting his brother’s eyes with a resolute glare. “I’m purely sorry we didn’t look around more before leaving that place, but it’s not fair that you’d even suggest I’d do what you jest said, or that Pa would put me up to it. I will say this though; if we don’t find nothin’ to show that there was a woman there, then I’m gonna tell you that too, even if it chaps your hide that maybe you’re human and had to find comfort in a made up tale.”
“I want to go with you.” Adam inched himself to the side of the bed and tried to move his right leg over the edge, but gasped with the reminder of his infirmity. After breathing deeply several times, he could finally speak again. “All right, I’ll trust you, and I’m sorry I said what I did. Don’t worry; I’ll listen to everything you report, whether it confirms or repudiates what happened.” He got himself settled back in bed before asking, “So what do you want to know?”
Hoss and Little Joe entered the yard in full gallop and pulled their horses to an abrupt stop. They did a quick tie-up and hurried to the house to see how things had gone with Adam in their absence. Although they’d managed to find a lot of information in a few days, it had seemed to them they’d been gone for weeks. Little Joe beat his brother to the door, but waited for Hoss to join him before they entered. Both were surprised to see Adam sound asleep in the red leather chair, the low table pulled close and stacked with pillows on which only his left leg rested.
“Looks like Paul’s plan to save his leg didn’t go so well,” Hoss whispered as he nudged Little Joe. “Judging from the outline under that blanket he’s covered with, they musta took the right one off just at his knee.”
“Yeah,” Little Joe whispered back as he grimaced. ”But he looks a lot better. He’s not so pale like he was, and the fact that he’s down here instead of in his room is a good thing.”
Hoss nodded, and whispered back, “Maybe jest knowin’ we was going out to find the truth for him helped him face it.”
“What’s all the whispering about over there?” Adam’s groggy voice drifted to them as he sat up and rubbed at his eyes. “Stop gabbing like two old ladies and get over here to tell me what you found out.”
“Umm, we’re sorry about what happened. But I’m glad you decided to stick around even if it meant…”
The oldest brother squinted at them as his top lip rose in question. “What are you talking about, Hoss?”
“Yer leg, we’re sorry you lost it.”
Adam looked down at the way he was sitting and started to laugh. He pulled the blanket back, brought his left leg to the floor, and stood up; taking a few steps toward them as he watched their mouths drop open. “Sorry to disappoint you, but both legs are present and accounted for.” He laughed again as they remained rooted to the floor before shaking off their shock and making their way over to him. “I had the right one down because it cramps when it’s extended too long.”
“So Paul’s plan worked?” The question came from Little Joe as he hurried over to lend his older brother an arm for support to walk back to the chair.
“It did. You can see that I’m still a little wobbly, but things started improving within a few hours of making the drainage incision. The treatments were as vile as he promised, yet they worked. Paul said it was a ‘miraculous recovery.” He motioned for them to sit down. “I’m not sure what he’s charging for miracles now days, but I’m sure his bill will be painful too.”
As Hoss settled onto the settee next to Little Joe, he rolled his eyes to heaven in thanks, and grinned, thinking Paul had probably been right in his conclusion of spiritual intervention. Eying Adam again, he said, “I suppose yer anxious to hear what we got to say.”
“Were you able to find anything to prove this one way or the other?”
All three sons looked up as Ben flew through the door at full speed. “I was out in the back pen checking our new colt when I heard the horses and wondered if you two had gotten back,” he said while leaning forward against the back of the settee to catch his breath. “Ran all the way.”
“We can tell, Pa,” Little Joe teased.
Ben plopped down in the blue chair across from Adam. “Well, tell us what you found!”
“I’m gonna let Hoss tell the story,” Joe said as he draped his arm affectionately around his older brother. “He went after this like a coon dog on a scent, and wouldn’t let anything stop him. You couldn’t have had a better investigation if you’d have hired a Pinkerton man to do it.”
“I appreciate this, and I mean that sincerely, no matter what you have to tell me. I’ll keep an open mind…and closed mouth until the end.”
Ben gave an impatient sigh as he eyed his middle son. It was all the incentive Hoss needed to get going. He sat up straighter and gave everyone a big smile. “First thing we done was go back to that camp, and we couldn’t find hide nor hair of a woman having been there, ‘ceptin’ that Bible…jest like before.”
Little Joe was looking at Adam as he closed his eyes and clenched his jaw. The younger man pointed toward him and said, “Wait a second, older brother. You said you’d listen all the way through without losing your temper, and just because we didn’t find anything of hers doesn’t mean we didn’t find anything of interest.”
Adam released a sigh and grinned sheepishly. “I’m sorry; go on, please.”
“It took some sortin’, but Joe and I looked at all the horse prints around that camp, and figured out which were ours and which were from the horse that had been put up in that pen. Hoss looked to Adam. “You told me that just the Shaman took Ruth away, and after we finished eliminatin’ all the extra prints, we found just the two unshod sets that left that camp together from the shelter.”
Ben nodded. “Go on, son; this is interesting.”
“Adam sort of walked me through the things he’d done those couple of days, and we found everything just as he done remembered. His fishing pole was still layin’ on the bank, and there was a lot of messed up grass and dirt near there where he tussled with them Shoshone braves. We even saw blood in the grass where he stabbed that one, and a new lookin’ grave nearby. The best sign we found was a woman’s-sized, bare footprints in the soft muddy edge of that lake. ”
“Finally, some real proof of her.” Adam sighed and sunk down into the chair.
Hoss ignored the comment and continued. “Next we followed the horse tracks from the lakes to the spot where I think you last saw Ruth. I even found what looked like rub marks on the tree bark where you was probably tied up, and the marks yer boot left when they dragged you to a horse. Them same horse prints led back to the camp, and there were more marks from the toes of them boots leading into Ruth’s camp from when they musta dropped you there.”
“You two really did a thorough job. Thank you.” Adam started to get up, hoping to go back to his room and think about what he’d heard.
“We ain’t done yet,” Hoss said, standing up as well. “If you’re tired, we can finish later, but you need to hear it all.” He waited until his brother was seated again. “It weren’t easy, but we followed the tracks of the two who dropped you off, back to the Shoshone camp.”
Ben jerked his head toward his sons on the couch. “You were careful, I hope.”
“We were, Pa, but it didn’t matter. There was no one there. It didn’t look like they’d been gone long though. After that, we went back to the road you was takin’ to Nevada City, Adam, and found a tradin’ post.
Little Joe flashed a big smile. “You shoulda seen Hoss get information outta that store owner. He was a little shy on details at first, but he told us pretty much everything we needed to know.”
“I suppose if you want information about people or goings-on in an area, the trading post is the place to get it.” Ben commented, as he looked admiringly at Hoss.
Hoss began to give the details he’d obtained after plying the clerk with a little cash. “Pete, the guy from the post, said a young blonde woman with an accent, came a couple times each year to trade pelts fer supplies. She always rode in sitting tall and proud on a white dappled horse pulling a travois with her fur, but never once told him her name. The thing he done noticed most was that even after a couple’a years comin’, she still seemed skittish around him, except when she bargained for them pelts. Then he said she’d get a fire in her eye, and hold out fer a good price. Pete said he’d tried enegagin’ her in small talk, but she had no will for it, and she sometimes left while he was in the middle of tellin’ her somethin’.” Hoss chewed on his bottom lip as he looked toward Adam. “You told me how Ruth had bad memories of them white men who killed the Bannock she’d lived with, so, I’m thinking that she wasn’t being rude when she acted that way, just scared silly that no good could come from her association with the store owner.”
Adam nodded. “You’re probably right. I think she helped me because I was in no shape to harm her.” Adam lost himself in a brief remembrance of his relief in seeing her standing over him when she’d come back to help. “Did you learn anything else at the post?”
“Pete heard from others that the girl was known as White Buffalo Woman, and was the only one them Shoshone allowed on the burial grounds. I asked Pete if he knew any of the Shoshone in the area, and he said that a good sized party had their summer grounds near that mountain. But he also told us that an old trapper had been in a day before us, sayin’ he’d seen the whole party ride by a week or so back with all their gear.”
“Did he know why they left?” Ben inquired,
Little Joe spoke up to give Hoss a breather. “He didn’t have a clue. As far as Pete was concerned, the Shoshone hadn’t bothered anyone while they were there, but he still breathed easier knowing they’d moved on.”
Adam leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees. “I don’t suppose anyone saw Ruth with them.” The silence from the two men occupying the settee answered his question. “I guess that’s it then. At least I know this really happened.”
Hoss looked over at Little Joe, who understood that the time had come to let his two older brothers alone. He walked to the door and looked back at his father. “How about you help me get our horses taken care of, and then you can show me that new arrival.” He received a skeptical look from Ben, but after giving him an encouraging nod, his father sighed and joined him outside.
“What was that about,” Adam inquired after the other two had gone.
“I told Little Joe that I wanted to talk to you alone after we told everyone what we’d found. What I got to say to you now is just between the two of us. You can decide how much to tell Pa, but it’s somethin’ you gotta hear from me first.” He relocated closer to Adam, sitting on the table in front of his brother. “I didn’t say none a this to Little Joe either, because to him, the story is over. He thinks we proved what happened, and now you should be able to toss it aside and be happy again. That’s Joe though. Truth is, you and me got some years on him, and a lot of life wearin’ us down he hasn’t known yet.”
“So what do you know that he doesn’t?” Adam grinned at his brother.
“I knew this here news we brought would make you feel worse, not better. Our story confirmed you was right about what happened, but it would also settle that you hadn’t fought hard enough to save her. Ain’t that about right?” Adam shrugged. “You don’t have to admit it. I saw yer face drop with gratitude and grief all balled up in one when we finished our tellin’. What we done said so far was the ‘what’ of your time on that mountain. But I had time to puzzle out the ‘why’ of things on the trip home.”
“How can you know why anything happened?” the older brother snarled. “You weren’t there.”
“Didn’t have to be there,” he chuckled in response. “I listened real good when you told me what went on. So the clues are pretty durn obvious if you want to see them. You ain’t seeing right because you lost someone you thought you loved.”
“Thought I loved?” Adam replied angrily. “Of course I loved her.”
“Which one of her did you love?” Hoss asked with a sly grin.
Adam’s upper lip rose, and his eye twitched. “Huh?”
“Here’s what I think.”
“I’m not sure I care what you think,” Adam spat sullenly.
Hoss chuckled again. “I know you better than you think I do, brother. If you really didn’t care, you’d a been outta this room already, even if you had to crawl. So close yer mouth and listen.” He saw Adam’s face settle into a begrudging smirk. “There were two different women with you on that mountain. The one you met first was White Buffalo Woman. She was sure of herself. You said her spine straightened and her shoulders squared for the fight when she talked to them braves, and even to that Chato feller. White Buffalo Woman was the woman Ruth became while livin’ on that mountain, but she was already on her way to becoming that from her time with the Bannock. She learned how to take care of herself, and knew Indian ways and medicine. Most women would have failed out there alone, but she didn’t cuz she was Bannock strong. The story Pete told about her shows that. She distrusted the white man because of what they did to ‘her people,’ and her. I recall you saying that she tossed a warning knife in yer direction when she found you looking through her things, and she kept her distance at first.”
He waited for Adam’s nod to confirm what he’d said with a grunt and a nod. “But you got curious about the woman you done read about in that Bible, and when you questioned her, you met Ruth Halverson. Ruth was shy, and holding a hurt and fear inside her so powerful that it made her live with the dead. Ruth Halverson came to trust you, Adam. You can be dad-burned convincing when you think you have the answers.” He laughed as he looked toward the door. “Our little brother can be convincin’ too, but that usually just gets us both in trouble.”
Hoss rose and paced in front of the fireplace before starting up again. “People see that you’re sincere as the day is long, and things always sound right…and simple when you say them. I’m sure Ruth got that feelin’ too. Truth was, you saw a woman who needed to face her fear to come to life again, and she saw a kind man who wanted to know the woman she’d buried.” He breathed deeply. “If you’d a had more time, it might’ a worked, but time was what you didn’t have, and it might not have worked out even then.”
“So you think Ruth didn’t have enough time to love or trust me?”
“I’m pretty danged sure she did both of them things, but when them Shoshone made her choose, she had to trust herself more’n anybody, and I think she done figured out that she wasn’t ready to be Ruth Halverson again just yet.”
“She only went with them because she wanted to save me!” The anger flared again.
“Did she? I recall Pa sayin’ at the time we found you that it appeared that if Ruth had been there, then she’d gone willingly. He might a said that to ease yer mind, but I think he was right. There was no sign of a struggle in her camp, and she took everything she had, ‘ceptin the Bible. She agreed to marry you as Ruth Halverson, but I think she gave the ring back, and went with the Shoshone as White Buffalo Woman—the person she knew best.”
He gave Adam a few seconds to think about what he’d said. “This here next thing I got to say is gonna be the hardest to hear cuz it might free ya free of the guilt that’s been plaguin’ you.” Adam gave him a doubtful look, but sat back and steepled his fingers in front of his face. “There were only two sets of unshod prints in her camp, so that confirms that she must abeen there with just that older shaman. According to what you told me, her knife and yer guns was at that camp. She could have used that knife to kill Chato, or to at least get the upper hand and tie him up. Then she could a gone back to you with yer guns to give you two a fightin’ chance to ride outta there to safety.
Silence filled the room, demanding that Adam put the pieces together. He finally sighed, “But she didn’t.” He chewed his cheek as he thought about what Hoss had said. “You make a lot of sense, and I admit that I’ve wondered about that too.” He looked up and smiled sadly. “There’s more to this for you than just looking at the clues. Why do you know what she was feeling and thinking?”
“’Cuz she did what I woulda done. I know how hard her decision must’a been. The only place in this world where I feel like I’m in charge of me is here on this ranch, just like Ruth musta felt her strength comin’ through that place she had, and the lady she’d become. Our steers don’t care that I’m not good lookin’ and smooth with words, or that I don’t know a lot about much that the world holds important. The ranch hands and you all listen to my ideas, and I stand as tall as my big frame can get when I make a difference here. But when I leave the ranch, especially when we get all gussied up for somethin’ in town, or we go to Sacramento or San Francisco, I feel like I got my boots on the wrong feet, and my head on backwards. I can’t keep straight what fork to use, I don’t know how to chit-chat, and I don’t understand the plays or that fancy music you want me to hear. I’d be plumb scared thinkin’ about going to them places, and plumb tuckered out from worryin’ when I was done.”
“I’m sorry, Hoss,” Adam offered sincerely. “You know I never did that to make you feel bad, but you owe it to yourself to experience everything that’s out there. Then you can decide what you like and don’t like. That’s all I wanted for Ruth too.”
“I’ve knowed you for my whole life, so I also knowed you wouldn’t make fun’a me, and you’d answer my goofy questions without making me feel dumber than I already am. And if I’d a said no, you wouldn’t a forced me to do nothin’. It don’t scare me like it used to ‘cuz I’ve done it enough times to know it won’t kill me. Fact is there’s some of it I really do like.” He grinned. “But Ruth Halverson didn’t know them things. What I heard you say was that you thought she was missing so much, but in bringin’ her here—even outta love—you was gonna take her from where she felt safest, and make her live in yer world as someone she hadn’t been comfortable being in a long time. Maybe that held more fear for her than going to help them Shoshone.”
“I thought she would love me enough that the rest wouldn’t be important,” Adam remarked as he sighed.
“Adam, it was White Buffalo Woman who left that mountain, and it weren’t just to save yer life. Whatever her reasons, she left Ruth Halverson behind in that Bible. Leavin’ that ring was her message to you that she couldn’t fulfill the words in them pages like she’d hoped she could. Maybe it was that she was too scared to find out who Ruth Halverson was just yet; maybe it was ‘cuz she thought she owed somethin’ to the people she thought she belonged to…but she left on her own, and I’m bettin’ she was sittin’ tall on her horse, lookin’ fierce—not scared a’tall.” He reached out and patted Adam’s knee. “Ya know though, I don’t know that she’d a been able to go with them if she hadn’t a met you. You made her face them fears she had, and doin’ it made her even stronger.”
Adam leaned forward and grabbed Hoss’s arm affectionately, and then sighed as he reached down and massaged the calf of his sore leg. “The one thing that bothers me the most is that the Shoshone may harm her if she can’t be what they want her to be.”
“I thought about that too.” Hoss grinned. “Ain’t an Indian shaman thought of like a spirit healer, even though he’s just a man? Ruth sure took good care’a you, so I bet she’ll figger somethin’ out to fix them people up, or at least make them think they’re better off with her there. After that she might convince them that the spirits are telling her to mosey along, and they’d have to let her go.”
Silence lingered as the worry lines around Adam’s eyes and mouth relaxed and the tightness in his jaw and shoulders eased for the first time since the day he’d awakened at the camp and knew Ruth was gone. “I believe you may be right about everything, Hoss. I don’t know exactly how you do it, but you do seem to understand the ways of people.” He watched his brother blush and moved on to his final question. “Did you bring the Bible back with you?”
“Nah, we left it there where it belongs. I wrote yer name and how to find you in the cover, in case she goes back for it. I’m bettin’ you left enough of a seed planted in her that she’ll want to know who Ruth Halverson is. Fer now, the Almighty has other plans for you two, but who knows that someday you’ll meet again…as friends.”
Adam chuckled. “I’m thinking this ‘healer-woman’ fell in love with the wrong brother.”
Hoss laughed loudly. “Don’t they all! Seems to be our fate, don’t it.”
The Book of Ruth
San Francisco – 1872
“Can you believe our Adam is on this poster?” Hoss remarked as he, Little Joe and Ben stood in the theater lobby, waiting to be seated for the performance. The playbill he was referencing was one advertising “Four Gentlemen from Boston” who were appearing that night with the San Francisco Symphonic Choir.
Adam had joined a similar choir in Boston shortly after he’d moved back East to marry Melinda, his college love. He’d done well in the group, with his vocal solos being featured in several concerts. But the one opportunity Adam had enjoyed most was when he’d been asked to join three other guitarists in accompanying the choir for a night of folk songs. One member of the quartet was a musician who had arranged a Baroque composition for four guitars, and they’d played it that night. It had been received so well that from then on, choir patrons had demanded that the guitar quartet appear at every concert.
Their repertoire had increased over the next couple of years, and their last performance in Boston had been attended by the director of the San Francisco choir. When he found out that the Gentlemen had done appearances at charitable events in Washington, New York and Baltimore, he’d issued an invitation to the four of them to travel to Frisco to appear with his choir in a fund raiser.
Adam’s decision to go was easy since it gave him an opportunity to visit the San Francisco and Sacramento offices of Wadsworth Engineering—divisions of the group he now oversaw. Frank Wadsworth, the owner of the firm, had known Adam since the young Cartwright had been his son Frankie’s roommate at Harvard. The Wadsworth family had pretty much adopted Adam during his school years, and renewed their commitment to him when he’d returned to Boston about eight years back, and began his life as a married man. Frank had eagerly given Adam a job with his engineering company, and then had challenged him to become familiar with as many different project types as possible. He’d even sent his young protégé to England for two years to learn how to engineer inland harboring. When Adam had returned to the states, Frank had turned over the Eastern operation of the business to Adam. Frank wasn’t an engineer, and had realized that Wadsworth Engineering would grow even more with a young expert like Adam in charge. His plan had always been to revitalize the aging family business. He’d done that by hiring on the brightest men he could find, and Adam was the brightest of the bunch. With the young Cartwright taking over, Frank and his wife, Marian, were free to tackle new projects and travel more, and that suited them just fine.
Frankie, the actual Wadsworth heir, was in charge of Wadsworth Engineering in the West, and had no desire to return home to run his father’s business there, so he had no objections to sharing the managerial duties with Adam. In fact he liked having his old friend and business partner come out whenever they were bidding water projects because Adam was the undisputed engineering expert in the field of harbor construction throughout the United States.
The other three members of the guitar quartet had been able to arrange additional opportunities of their own in San Francisco, and had decided they could make the trip as well. They’d all headed west on the Wadsworth train car—a luxuriously remodeled unit with a sitting and sleeping area, as well as furniture that could be converted into additional beds. A railroad system crossed the United States now, but track widths still differed in some parts of the country, so the car had been fitted with adjustable wheels, making it work anywhere between the east and west coasts.
Once the concert date and arrangements had been settled, Adam had wired his family, asking them to join him in Frisco for a reunion. The Nevada Cartwrights had managed to absent themselves from the ranch for a bit, and they’d spent their first day catching up while touring engineering projects with Adam to make the best use of their time together. The other “Gentlemen,” and Frankie Wadsworth had joined them for dinner at a restaurant that evening—one that served Ponderosa beef. They’d all been treated like kings, and Hoss had enjoyed the never-empty platters of steak lavished on their table.
Plans for tonight were simpler, with a quiet family dinner following the concert, and a large consumption of strong libation to follow while attending a show at the hotel’s salon.
Hoss’s head snapped up when the gas lights in the theater brightened as the choir’s part of the concert ended, and the curtains closed.
Little Joe turned to his brother with a scathing glare. Ya know, if you’d snored any louder through that, I was gonna toss you right over this railing.”
Ben added his own reprimand. “If you hadn’t been sitting far enough toward the back of this box that the audience below couldn’t see you, I’d have helped your brother do what he said. Do you suppose you could try to stay awake for the next part when Adam’s on stage?”
“Sorry, Pa,” the big man said sheepishly, while unable to stifle a loud yawn. “What with all that walkin’ around today and the glass of sherry we had before comin’ up here, I was plumb tuckered out. Besides you know I don’t like that fancy singin’.”
“I do know that, son, but Little Joe isn’t fond of it either, and he managed to at least act interested.”
Joe chuckled. “The only reason I didn’t doze off was because I could hear Hoss breathing so heavily that I was gritting my teeth the whole time.”
“You two are hopeless. I suppose you’ll both like the singing at the revue we’re going to later. The voices won’t be as good, but the pretty girls doing the singing will keep you awake.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” Hoss laughed, but added more seriously, “I’m lookin’ forward to Adam comin’ on. From what he said they was gonna do, I won’t have any problem stayin’ awake for it.” He grinned at his father and brother. “Even if he ain’t so purdy as them girls we’re gonna see later.”
The Cartwrights returned to their box seats after going for a quick breath of air and then mingling in the lounge while sipping coffee instead of brandy to keep one of the three awake. In their absence, a small stage extension had been added into the orchestra pit, where four empty chairs were waiting. Adam had explained to his family that they needed to be out a little further to be heard better, especially when they followed a large choir with a lot of volume.
The house quieted when Adam and three other men in tuxedos walked across the stage, took their seats and eased their guitars into position. After a few notes to ensure the four instruments were in tune, they began to play a powerful number with strong chords intermixed with difficult runs.
Ben, Joe and Hoss leaned forward on the box rail to see better. Hoss’s whispered, “Ain’t that just somethin’,” at watching his brother’s hand fly across the strings, was met with a stern look, and “Shush,” from his father.
The Four Gentlemen played on for another five minutes before they stopped and stood to bow, indicating the completion of their first set. Thunderous applause went on for over a minute, and only ended when Adam held up his hands and began to speak.
“Good evening,” he began. “Thank you for that wonderful welcome! We have to stop and talk a little now since our fingers are cramping, and if we continued without a rest it would sound much like my two-year-old daughter plunking on the piano.”
After waiting for the laughter to subside, he continued. “It’s our pleasure to be with you tonight; thank you for inviting us. The story of how we got started is in the program, but I’ll take a few minutes to introduce everyone. I’m Adam Cartwright. Some of you may know me, because I grew up on this side of the country and probably ‘strongly encouraged’ you to buy my family’s beef or timber.” He grinned as those in the audience who did know him, chuckled or called out a greeting. “You may even have wondered what became of me of me when my brother Joe took over the strong-armed negotiations. Tonight’s a reunion for me since my father and brothers made the trip here from Virginia City.” He pointed to the box where his family was seated and waited while the audience applauded—some of the boisterous patrons adding their welcome to Ben and his sons.
When the auditorium quieted, he continued on. “I’ve been elected spokesman for our group. They told me that I should handle it because I’m more ‘articulate’ than they are, but I’m assuming that just means they think I’m long-winded, and they’ll get a good rest while I ramble on.” The other members of the Gentlemen nodded as the audience laughed again.
“Let me introduce the others.” Turning to his right, Adam bowed slightly. “This is Carl Rosen. He’s the only music scholar up here, and the genius behind what we play. You probably recognized some of the pieces in the medley we just performed. Carl flawlessly incorporated phrases from Bach, Corelli, Handel and Vivaldi into that piece. Baroque compositions translate well to guitar because they were scored using low, heavy chords to underlie the higher-pitched melody. We’ll do another medley using modern classical composers such as Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.”
Carl nudged Adam, and whispered to him, prompting Adam to smile and nod. “He wants me to tell you about our guitars. We’re all using a classical style for this part of our program.” At his nod, a young man handed up another guitar from the orchestra pit. “However, later we’ll switch to this kind: a folk guitar. Adam held them out at arm’s length. “The classic style has a slightly different shaped body and a wider neck that gives a little more room between strings to finger individual notes. The folk guitar has an almost hourglass shape with a narrower neck to make it easier to play chords which may stretch over a large area.” He passed the larger guitar back down to the pit and moved his hand along the lines of his classical instrument. “A fine guitar of either kind will have a long neck, a well-proportioned curve to its body, and a beautiful voice.”
The man to his left laughed, and held his hand to the side of his mouth to issue an aside to the audience. “He talks about his guitar like that when he begins to miss his wife.”
Adam shook his head, rolled his eyes, sighed, and issued an aside of his own. “Sometimes I wonder why we call ourselves, Gentlemen…” He cleared his throat, sent a warning look to the offending member, and then laughed again before continuing. “I know you’re anxious to hear more music, so let me finish the introductions. On my left is Merle Oxnard, a lawyer from Cambridge. Merle says he’s the best defense attorney on the East Coast, but since none of us has had need of his legal prowess…so far, we’ll just have to indulge his claims. And finally, the man on the end is Mike Cummings. Mike’s Chief of Staff at Massachusetts General. He’s made this into a working trip by arranging to do rounds at some of this city’s fine hospitals, so you may see him in a white coat tomorrow—especially if you should injure yourself tumbling out of your chair as you sleep through the performance tonight…as my brother is prone to do.” He looked up toward his family’s box with a big grin. “Certainly his somnolence could have had nothing to do with the quality of the music presented by the fine San Francisco choir, but I won’t make any guarantees that our offerings won’t induce sleep, so, Pa, poke him if he dozes off again.” All eyes in the auditorium looked toward the Cartwright box, where a blushing Hoss waved and laughed along with the audience.
Adam finished his introduction. “As you might suspect, we are all busy men with families and careers, but we do this to raise money for good causes such as the Children’s Academy of San Francisco, and for the love of music: not because we are skilled artists. So…should you hear wrong notes, sense a little confusion up here or see pure panic in our faces, please bear with us because we always manage to get it back together for a rousing conclusion.” He sat too, and glanced back up at his family. “Just a word of warning,” he said as he chuckled. “My brothers will jump the rail and remove anyone who feels the need to let their displeasure at our performance become vocal or physical.” He saluted the other Cartwrights. “We’ll do a few selections now from classical and Spanish composers before we stop for another break.”
The next sets were received as enthusiastically as the first had been, and when it came to a close, the four men removed their formal coats and donned vests and cowboy hats that were handed up to them from the orchestra pit, and exchanged their instruments for the guitars Adam had shown earlier. Once dressed, Adam explained. “Our last offering tonight is a selection of folk music. Many of these ballads will be familiar, and since we were choir members before we became instrumentalists, we’ll actually do some singin’ along with our pickin’. Feel free to join in if you know the words.”
The standing ovation they received prompted an encore, as they suspected would happen, and the Gentlemen performed their signature piece of Pachelbel’s Canon in D, provoking another rousing ovation. After several bows the group finally left the stage, and the theater began to clear.
“Now why didn’t they do that whole dadburned program tonight ‘stead of having that stuffy choir sing first?” Hoss said enthusiastically as he stood and stretched. “I wouldn’t a fallen asleep if they’d been playin’. That sure was somethin’!”
“I don’t think they have a big enough repertoire to do anything longer, son,” Ben explained, putting his arm around the big man’s shoulder as they exited the loge level and headed down the grand stairway. From what Adam was telling us yesterday, they first learned some of that Spanish music on the train ride across country. They’re all important men in Boston, and while they love doing this, none of them can put their careers aside to do any more preparation than they do now. To make this trip more productive, Mike worked it out to meet with other doctors from this area. Merle was fortunate to time his trip with a law conference he could attend, and Carl is visiting with friends who came west from Harvard to teach at that new university. I think it’s called, Berkeley.”
“I s’pose that’s true enough. It sure was good though.” Hoss shook his head and grinned. “I guess I never knew my older brother was so…”
Little Joe had been listening to the conversation and offered, “Talented?”
“I guess that’s it. I knowed he was smart and all, but didn’t have an inkling he could do all the things he did tonight…talking in front a that big group a people, crackin’ jokes and actin’.”
“Ya gotta be kidding!” Joe squealed as he stopped to face Hoss. “Adam was always a performer. Remember that one day he came riding in while we were sweating and working our backsides off, and then told us that he’d had it worse because he’d been riding on that hot, dusty road with that terrible wind blowing in his face?”
A loud guffaw preceded Hoss’s, “I do remember that. And I also recall we didn’t give him no standin’ ovation that day.”
The other concert goers had moved around them, leaving the Cartwrights alone on the steps. Joe began to giggle at his brother’s recollection. “Yeah, but he did make a ‘splash’ at the Ponderosa, didn’t he?”
Ben shook his head and sighed, and then joined his sons in a good laugh. “Seems to me Adam wasn’t the only one in the horse trough that day.” He motioned them off to the side of the stairway as the last of the balcony patrons straggled by. “I don’t think any of us encouraged Adam to show us these sorts of talents when he was home, and I don’t want you to tease him about anything tonight. I know the man on stage isn’t quite the person you knew, but it was always inside him.”
Hoss gave a shy grimace. “I think what you said is true, Pa. I remember how he played that Spanish guitar music the one time when that purdy girl was with us, and if I hadn’t been after the same girl, I’d a told him it sounded real nice. And I did hear him sing some of those songs like that choir done earlier, but only when he thought no one was listenin’ so we couldn’t give him any grief about it.” He looked down at his feet and then back up at his family. “Do ya think that might’a made Adam leave home? I mean if we’d encouraged him to do them songs for us, or at least not laughed or made him feel foolish the few times he did, maybe he wouldn’t a gone.”
Ben rubbed his son’s back. “I don’t think that was it. He just had to go where his heart led him, and that was back to Boston. He’s done well there; he’s happy, with a beautiful wife and family, and he’s taken every opportunity he’s had to find things of interest. It’s just who he is. You two are doing great work on the Ponderosa, and knowing Adam, he’s bound to amaze us with what other thing he’ll accomplish as time goes on. In fact we were talking this morning while you two were still in bed, and he said he’s receiving an honorary degree from Harvard for his work on harbor engineering, and they’ve asked him to teach a class each semester on that topic.”
The three made their way to the main auditorium, as Hoss remarked to himself, “Ain’t that just somethin’; my brother the professor.” They’d planned to meet Adam and head out to dinner, but there was such a large crowd waiting to get backstage to meet the Boston performers that Hoss suggested he stay and bring Adam with him while Little Joe and their father went on ahead to hold their table. He flopped down in a front-row seat figuring he’d wait a bit before looking for his brother. One woman caught his attention as she forcefully elbowed her way through the group, giving her apologies to those she pushed aside. She was alone and not dressed as lavishly as the other women around her, but her bearing made her stand out among them. Her blonde hair was piled atop her head with a long single tail trailing mid-back. She had a full figure—not exactly heavy—but abundant, and her voice had a mellow tone with a trace of an accent. He thought she was attractive and he smiled at her when she turned his way, but she seemed more interested in getting somewhere than in paying any mind to him.
The blonde woman made her way to the rear of the stage, interested in only one of the men who’d appeared in the program. Instead of waiting in the queue of well-wishers making their way through an informal receiving line, she skirted the edge of the crowd until she had an unobstructed view of Adam, and then caught her breath as he turned toward her. He didn’t see her in the shadows, but her memories of the time she’d spent with him rushed in to quicken her pulse and breath. She thought he’d died because of his injury, but she had begun to wonder if she’d been mistaken after she’d seen an article in the Chronicle about tonight’s performance. The picture accompanying the article had been grainy and blurred, but the name, Adam Cartwright, had caused a storm of confusion. Her curiosity had been strong enough to make her purchase a ticket for the gala. She knew it was her Adam Cartwright as soon as he walked on stage. He was twelve years older, but he still had a devilish smile, and there was no mistaking his voice.
Between the information in the program and Adam’s banter between numbers, she’d gotten an idea of what he’d been doing since they’d last seen each other. He said he lived in Boston, and made references to a wife and a child, although the comment from the other performer about Adam “missing” his spouse, and the fact that only his father and brothers were in the audience, implied that his Boston family was not with him in California. This left her wondering what Mrs. Cartwright was like, and she experienced a moment of deep melancholy as she considered her lost opportunity to have that role and title. It was hard, but she subdued her sense of loss, convincing herself that it wouldn’t have worked between them, at least not then.
Her impatience to have her reunion made her pace behind the backdrop until the crowd finally thinned and Adam went to pack up his guitars. She walked up silently behind him as he snapped the clips shut on the second case. “That was a lovely show, Mr. Car-tright. I had no idea you were brilliant…and talented.”
Adam froze, his mind combing through his memories, although he easily recognized the throaty voice and the pronunciation of his name. His only puzzlement was why this reunion would happen here or now, but then he realized that man had no control over such things. He closed his eyes for a moment, straightened his shoulders, and then smiled as he turned to face her. “Ruth.”
She had been 20 when he’d met her, putting her in her early 30’s now, and she looked her age in a good way. Her hair was still as golden, and her mouth was set in the wide smile he had come to love in the days he’d been with her. Her face was rounder and she had curves where they hadn’t existed before, yet she would have been stunning if not for the matronly, dark, Sunday-go-to-meeting style dress she was wearing. These initial impressions flashed through his mind in an instant, leaving a moment for self-appraisal as he wondered what judgments she was making about him. Did she think he looked old? And even more important, did she hold him responsible for having to go with the Shoshone. For someone who was not easily set off guard, he marveled at his nervousness.
“It really is you,” she whispered, as she touched his cheek and chuckled nervously. “I thought you had died from your injuries back when we knew each other. But for some reason, I turned to the arts section of the paper the other day, and there was your name.” The nervous laugh returned. “I hope you are as happy to see me as I am to find that the Adam Car-tright in the article is you.”
He stepped forward and took her hands, noting the absence of a wedding ring. “I’m delighted. I have often thought of you, wondered where you had ended up, and prayed for your happiness.” Looking down at her, her large blue eyes twinkling even in the dim light backstage, he was overcome with emotion, and pulled her close to kiss her. There was no passion in his kiss; it was a kiss of reunion—of relief, release, and joy at realizing his worst fears hadn’t come true. An ache throbbed beneath the scars in his right leg as those long-ago weeks of mental and physical pain crowded in for recognition. They stood embracing for a moment, and then he kissed her again: a quick peck this time, in celebration of old love and renewed friendships.
Taking her hands again, he stepped back and gave her a broad smile. “You’re more beautiful than ever.”
“Ha!” she returned his smile with a doubtful grin. “You must be overlooking the fact that I’ve gained weight, and the years of being in the sun have aged my light complexion beyond my years.” She chuckled as she watched his cheeks color, knowing she’d caught him in a white lie. “The pounds I claim without shame. After so many years of living sparsely, I was overtaken by an insatiable appetite when I joined my own people again, and found so many new ways to prepare food that were filled with flavor…and fat. And then there were the pastries. I hadn’t tasted sugary things since my childhood, and became quite addicted to sweets. I’ve learned to control those urges…most of the time.”
A good-natured smile replaced his embarrassment. “A gentleman, as my advertisement says that I am,” he said, pointing toward the Four Gentlemen from Boston poster tacked to the backstage wall, “wouldn’t notice any changes. I was serious when I told you that you are beautiful. You were too thin when I knew you before, so your new figure becomes you. And you were so young back then, that you were bound to look older now. I say that from my own chagrin in watching the years accumulating each time I look in a mirror.”
“I will trust what you say, because I believe you are an honest man. Speaking honestly on my part, I would say that you are even more handsome now than I remembered.” She leaned in to kiss his cheek, and then stepped away. “You spoke of a family. I would like to know about them, and what you’ve been doing.”
He chuckled. “Oh, dear lady, if you’re curious about my life, you can imagine all the questions I have about what’s gone on in yours.” He looked around; his brows meeting as his face registered his confusion. “I’m supposed to go out with my family tonight, and I thought they were going to wait for me.” After checking the large clock hanging offstage, he shook his head. “I didn’t realize how late it is. I didn’t feel comfortable walking away from the crowd, but it did go on for quite some time. They must have gone on ahead.” He’d barely uttered his conclusion when an usher walked up to him.
“You’re Mr. Cartwright, aren’t you?” Receiving Adam’s nod, he continued. “Your brother waited for you, but he had to leave, and asked that I give you the message to join your family at the restaurant.”
“I guess that explains it.” He looked around to make sure the other Gentlemen had gotten off to their respective evening activities, and then stuck one guitar case under his arm, grabbed the other by its handle, and took Ruth’s hand. “If you’ll accompany me, we’ll head over there so that you can meet them and we’ll compare stories.”
She followed him down the steps into the auditorium, before pulling on his hand to stop him. “Actually, I have plans tonight too, Adam, and I can’t cancel them.”
His cheeks brightened again. “I’m so sorry. I should have asked rather than assuming. Do you live in San Francisco now?”
“I live in Napa, but I’m here with my father on a business trip.”
“Your father?” Adam croaked as his eyes widened. “I guess we have some catching up to do.” He shook his head and grinned. “I’m here for a few more days, so can we plan a time? I really do want you to meet the rest of the Cartwrights, and now I really need to hear what went on after we…” he stopped as he realized he didn’t know what to call what had happened.
“Parted company?” she supplied. “How about tomorrow for dinner? Where are you staying?”
Hoss stormed into the restaurant, found the table where his father and Little Joe were sitting, and dropped onto his chair in sullen silence.
“What happened?” Little Joe inquired. “You were in a good mood when we left you.”
“Nothin’,” he growled as his family stared curiously. He glared back at them. “At least nothin’ I wanna talk about right now.”
Ben let the subject drop. “Where’s Adam? I thought you were going to wait for him.”
“He was occupied, so I left a message and skedaddled. He should be along shortly…or as soon as he can pull himself away.”
Hoss’s reply had seemed sarcastic, and even the tone of his voice was snarly, leaving Ben wondering what had gone on since they’d left Hoss at the theater. Even though Hoss denied it, his fatherly intuition was telling him something had happened between his boys, and it made him uneasy. Their waiter broke into his thoughts as he delivered the wine they’d ordered, and filled their glasses after Ben gave his approval. He left them alone after handing them menus and telling them of the specials.
Adam arrived just as they’d begun perusing the evening’s selections. “Sorry it took so long,” he said as he sat, and took a long sip from his wine glass. “Mmm, that’s good. I needed that.” He took another appreciative sip. “I never expected so many people coming backstage.”
Hoss harrumphed, and lowered his menu enough to see his brother, saying snidely, “Yeah, it looked like you might a enjoyed one a them a lot more’n the others.”
A tilt of his head and a questioning look accompanied Adam’s, “What do you mean?”
“Your brother stayed at the theater while we came on ahead.” Ben explained before Hoss could respond and raise any tension. “I think he just got tired of waiting for you.”
“Tweren’t that at all, Pa,” Hoss broke in. “It was just how our brother was greetin’ one of them people in particular that got me thinkin’ he ain’t quite the gentleman he pretends to be.”
Adam laid his menu on the table and stared his brother down, repeating his earlier question. “What’s eating you?”
No further information came from opposite side of the table, and Ben tried again to move the conversation to pleasant things. “The concert was wonderful, son—a rousing success—judging from the comments we heard afterwards.” Little Joe added his praise of the show before Ben asked, “Did anyone we know come by?”
A grin spread across the oldest son’s face. “As a matter of fact, I did talk to several old friends and customers, and…”
Hoss cut him off with a deriding snort, as he tossed his menu onto the table. “From where I stood, you was doin’ a lot more’n talking.”
“That’s enough, Hoss,” Ben warned with a stern look.
Leaning back in his chair, Adam crossed his arms over his chest in a defensive posture. “Please don’t silence the man, Pa,” he said with a drop of his own venom showing. I’d like to hear what I did that has offended my younger brother enough to put him off his feed. I’ve never seen him place his concerns before a good meal before.”
“Maybe I ain’t never felt this way before, big brother. I guess findin’ out that a man I’ve always respected and looked up to, ain’t quite the man I thought he was is enough to make me lose my appetite.”
Adam had to admit that Hoss hadn’t hit him that hard verbally or physically since the day the middle Cartwright had seen the kiss in Regan’s garden. That night Hoss had shown his hurt over what he thought was his brother’s betrayal with punches that had left Adam badly bruised and recuperating in the International House for a couple of days while he’d let things simmer down at home. He shook his head to clear the old memory before responding, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Hoss, so you’re gonna have to tell me what I’ve done to make you so indignant.”
The big man breathed out, leaning forward to rest his arms on the table and scrubbed his face with his hands as the memory of what he’d seen earlier tore at him again. He’d waited until the crowd at the theater had cleared, and then made his way behind the curtains. He’d heard voices, and had headed toward them, and had nearly blundered into an intimate moment of two people kissing. He’d backed away as quietly as possible, but for some reason he’d been unable to look away. The realization had hit that the woman being kissed was the blonde he’d seen earlier, and the man she’d been lip-to-lip with…was his brother. It had left him feeling like a peeping Tom, but he’d stayed in the shadows…watching as they’d stopped to embrace and then held hands and laughed. He’d practically run through the theater to get away, and had stewed over the scene on the walk to the restaurant. His dismay bubbled over as he looked up and locked on Adam with an angry glare. “You know, I give my ‘right leg’ to have what you got in yer life. Melinda is as nice a person as I ever met, and she’s beautiful and smart to boot. And them kids you got are the best, so I can’t see why you’d risk all that for a few kisses from some backstage hussy.” He paled as he forwarded his conclusion to a higher sin. “Unless this is more than that!”
Ben hissed, “Hoss!” while little Joe grinned and said, “Adam?”
An angry, cautionary glance from their father stopped all conversation for a moment. Turning to Hoss he said, “I don’t know what you saw or what conclusions you’ve drawn, but this isn’t the time or place to discuss it.” He turned next toward his oldest son with a look of admonition. “What I gather from your brother’s outburst is that you have behaved questionably tonight. You’re too old for me to scold, but I would counsel you to think long and hard about how much you have to lose and the amount of pain you can inflict with such actions.”
Adam observed the disappointment reflecting in his father’s eye; the anger in Hoss’s, and the astonished half-grin on Little Joe’s face, and started to laugh. There’d only been a few times in his life where is actions had flabbergasted his family, but this had to be one of the best. He could only imagine what Hoss had thought when he’d blundered into that kiss with Ruth, but at least now he knew what was bothering him.
Hoss slammed his hand on the table, forgetting his father’s warning as he hissed, “I don’t rightly care what a mess you make of yer own life, but I gotta stand up fer Melinda and yer babies.” He rose from his chair, and leaned forward on the table to make his point. “And if you think it’s funny, then I guess I’m right about how much you done changed, and I can’t spend a second more with you.”
“Sit down!” Adam demanded of his brother. “Now that I know what bee’s in your bonnet, I can explain.” He waited for Hoss to resume his seat, noting the expectant looks that had fixed on the faces of the three others at the table, and started to chuckle again. Composing himself, he began. “I suppose if you observed that kiss without knowing why it was happening, you would think it more than it was. And it’s interesting that you condemned my actions by bringing up the fortune of being able to keep my leg some years ago. I suppose you think that I’m throwing away the opportunity that miracle afforded me.”
“That’s about right,” Hoss conceded.
“I say it’s interesting because that ‘backstage hussy’ you saw me kissing was Ruth Halverson.” The jaws of his father and brothers dropped simultaneously. “The crowd had left and I was packing up when she came up behind me and started talking.”
“I saw her in that crowd, and even thought she seemed powerful determined to get somewhere,” Hoss said as he nodded. “Ya didn’t have no idea she was comin’?”
“How could I? I didn’t even know if she was alive. I admit that I kissed her, but it was given only in joy at finding her alive and doing well. I wish you’d come over to meet her instead of running away.” He grinned. “But I can imagine how it looked to you and I truly appreciate your loyalty to Melinda.”
Little Joe asked excitedly. “Where’s she been and how’d she get away from the Shoshone?”
“There wasn’t time to talk, but we can get the whole story when we meet her tomorrow for dinner.”
“When you say, ‘we’, are you implying that we’re invited,” his father inquired.
“Absolutely, Pa. You were all a part of what happened back then, so it’ll be interesting to fill in all the missing pieces. I’m sure she has as many questions as we do.”
“So this is your stubborn father, and these two, your hard-headed brothers,” Ruth teased after being introduced to Ben, Joe and Hoss. She laughed at their questioning expressions. “Adam described you that way, but he meant it in the best of ways. He was trying to explain that I was missing so much by living alone, and said having a family gave him a sense of home no matter where he was.”
“I’m sorry your father was unable to make it tonight. If I remember correctly, his name is Olaf?” Adam inquired.
“It is. He’s had a busy week, and his health is not good. Perhaps we will still have a chance to meet before we all leave.” She focused on her hands. “I imagine you’d like to know how we found each other again.”
Adam’s smile was encouraging. “We would, but why don’t you start at the point where you left with the Shoshone. I’d like to hear this in order.”
Her left brow rose in thought as she looked around the table at the four Cartwrights. “Do you all know what happened back then?”
Three heads nodded, as Adam explained. “My family came looking after my horse got home without me. I was in pretty bad shape when they found me, and we had to get going. I was…um…upset, and a little confused about what had happened, so Hoss and Joe went back to see if there were any clues to confirm my memories.”
“Oh, that’s interesting!” She gave the two brother an admiring appraisal. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
“Everything pointed toward it happening exactly as Adam said,” Joe supplied.
“The only thing we didn’t find was you,” Hoss added. “The trading post operator remembered you comin’ in regularly, but he said the Shoshone had left their camp and no one knew where they’d got to.”
“That’s right,” she said as she tapped her cheek. “We left for the winter camp about a week after…Adam…” She stopped for a moment as a sad looked washed across her face. Replacing that with a smile, she continued, “It sounds like you did a good job investigating.”
“They did,” Adam confirmed, and then got the conversation back on track. “You said last night that you thought I’d died. What made you think that?”
“I was out gathering fresh herbs to make teas for the sick in the Shoshone camp when I saw three men ride by, pulling a fourth. I recognized my travois, and could see that my dressing was still in place over your leg wound. But your face was covered, making me think your family had arrived too late to help.”
Ben lent his insight. “The sunlight hurt Adam’s eyes, so we did cover his face.”
“But what made you think I was sick enough to die?” The look Ruth gave Adam was the same knowing one Paul Martin always used when he tried to explain how he knew things were going bad long before his patients did.
“I noticed that you grimaced when you moved your bad leg too quickly that last day we were together, and your eyes held that glassy look that heralds a rising fever. And by the time I saw you with Chato and his warriors, your cheeks were glowing, confirming that my earlier concerns were correct. It saddened me that I hadn’t been able to tend your wound well enough to forestall an infection. I realized then that I should have pushed the arrow through instead of removing it.”
“Our doctor had a similar thought, but I’m sure you did what you thought was best at the time,” Ben interjected. “Adam said you seemed to know what you were doing.”
“I stayed in the tent of a healer’s family with the Bannock and I learned many of his ways.” A wistful look passed over her features before she looked back to Adam. “My only thought and prayer when I left, was that you’d be all right until your family found you.” She smiled at the men around her. “And before you ask; after Adam told me about how close you all were, I knew you would come.”
A low, throaty chuckle preceded her final thought. “My ‘suspicions’ about your death were confirmed about two years ago, when my stage made a long stop in Virginia City. I remembered that’s where the Car-tright family lived, and asked a couple of older men who were sitting outside the Western Union office if they knew Adam. They said the Car-trights were an important family, but they had to think a little about you. Finally one of them said he’d heard that the oldest boy had some kind of bad accident. The other added that you’d been ‘gone’ a few years already.”
The entire family laughed as Hoss shed light on her story. “You must’a been talking to Zeke and Fred. They’s the town historians, if you don’t mind your history a little mixed up.” He looked over at his brother. “I imagine they was talkin’ about the time you fell off the ladder and hurt yerself bad.”
Adam nodded. “I’d agree with that. And I did leave for Boston about a year later. The funny thing is that they probably weren’t sure whether I’d left town or died. They just knew I wasn’t around anymore.”
“So what happened with them Shoshone, Ma’am,” Hoss asked. “We were all worried fer you, but felt we shouldn’t follow them, since we didn’t want to make things worse.”
“I left willingly with them, hoping I could offer some kind of help. I’m glad that you decided against ‘rescuing’ me.”
“Did you figure out what was wrong with the Shoshone?” Little Joe posed the question.
Ruth nodded. “It didn’t take me long to suspect that the water supply was tainted. The women, children and elderly were sick; the braves who’d been out hunting were not. They only became ill when the water they’d brought back in their skins was gone, and they drank from the stream by camp. Whatever happened must have begun upstream and fouled things after the braves left. I had seen some of the same symptoms these people were experiencing back in Norway when I was a child, and a pond used by our village went bad.”
Ben asked, “Were you able to help?”
“The shaman had been using poultices and chants to ward off the evil spirits, but I decided to start boiling all the water that people drank. I remembered my mother boiling everything when we were sick. She said it was the only way to get them clean, so I thought it might be good to do the same with the water. Then I gathered herbs and roots to make various teas to sooth their stomachs and ease the cramping. It didn’t take long before the symptoms eased except in those who didn’t follow the rule of only drinking water that White Buffalo Woman had prepared.”
“Was that enough to convince them folks that you were a spirit like they thought you was?” Hoss asked as he pursed his lips.
“Chato was leery at first. I think he thought I would pray to the spirits to ease the sickness, but I convinced him that the spirits had guided me in what to do. In fact I was able to make him understand that I wasn’t exactly a spirit, but a woman with a connection to the spirit world, much as he was. I didn’t think that was a lie, since I really did feel a higher power leading me in what to do.”
“I jest knew you would!” Hoss turned to his older brother. “I told ya, didn’t I?”
To answer Ruth’s questioning look, Adam explained, “Hoss had some very helpful insights after he went on his fact-finding expedition. He seemed to have a pretty good understanding of why you left and what you’d be able to do.”
She nodded. “Thank you, Hoss. I’m glad you were able to do that for your brother.” Her look became reflective. “I wish my father had known someone like you. He didn’t fare as well.” She sat up straighter after a moment, and smiled. “Ah, back to the story. When no one else became ill, and those who were ill got stronger, I told the shaman that we should return to the winter camp, and he agreed that there was bad medicine where we were.”
“Did you stay with the Shoshone after that? It would have seemed a good time to leave,” Ben offered.
“I actually stayed about a year, teaching Chato what I knew about herbs. You see, I didn’t learn everything about such things from the Bannock. My mother was known for her potions and cures too. Her elixirs contained different combinations of herbs, leaves, tree sap or needles, and roots. I was young when she died, but she left behind her recipes and I practiced making them when I was living alone.” She laughed as she looked at Adam. “All those papers were in the box where you found the razor. I took them with me when I left with Chato.”
Adam asked the next question. “Did they object to your decision to leave?”
“I told them the spirits wanted me to go—that there were others I needed to help. So one foggy morning, I ‘disappeared.’ They didn’t follow, and I made my way out to a road and was picked up by a family named, Fleming, that was heading to land they’d purchased south of San Francisco. I stayed with them for a while and helped them start their homestead. But they helped me far more than I did them. Agnes was a teacher, so she helped me improve my English and grammar, and complete the classwork I’d missed after going to live with the Bannock. The Flemings were gentle and kind, and being around them and the people from that little town they were near, helped me learn to trust others again.”
“It seems like it was the perfect situation,” Adam offered, sincerely. “I did notice that your English and syntax is so much improved, and I only hear your accent with certain words.” She smiled shyly and thanked him before he asked, “Did you reunite with your father while with the Flemings?”
“Once I felt ready to face a little more of the world, I set out for San Francisco, where I enrolled in a teaching school. It didn’t suit me, so I got a job in a store, and took lessons from a Chinese herbalist to learn more about plants and medicine. During that time I lived in a boarding house where I helped with the cooking and cleaning. One of the regular guests, a traveling salesman for mining equipment, said he’d just come from the north, where he’d met someone named, Olaf Halverson. He thought my smile was similar to that man’s, and he wondered if we might be related. I began to wonder if I might have family here so I wrote to Olaf, explaining who I was and where I’d come from, and asked if he might know anyone from there. He showed up on my porch a month later; he was my father.”
Ben shook his head. “That’s a remarkable story. What had happened to him?”
“He set out to find parts for our wagon, but fell on an icy patch of rock, and was hurt badly. He was found by a trapper who set his broken leg and helped him recover, but by then the snow had blocked the way back to me. When Papa came looking in spring, I’d already been rescued by the Bannock. He had no way of knowing that, and after searching for some time, he had to assume his delay in getting back had resulted in my death. He went on to California and ended up in Napa, working at the Silverado mine. He’s done well for himself there, and after our reunion, I went to live with him. The only sad part to this story is that Papa carried such a heavy burden in thinking he’d let me die that it affected his health. He tires easily and is often ill. But we do the best we can, and I am happy to have my own stubborn father back.”
Hoss sighed as he shook his head. “That is one powerful story. I’m sorry as all get out fer them comments I made last night.”
Her eyes widened and she again looked to Adam for an explanation.
“He saw us backstage at the theater, and jumped to some erroneous conclusions.”
Ruth’s laugh was rich and deep. “You don’t mean…” She saw Hoss’s deepening blush. “I can assure all of you that what Hoss saw was a happy reaction to re-finding someone we thought was forever lost to us, and nothing more.”
Seeing his middle son’s discomfort, Ben motioned for the waiter. “I think we’ve kept him at bay long enough and should order now.”
Ruth tucked her hand in the bend of Adam’s arm as they walked out the hotel door. “Did you have an arrangement with your family to give us a time alone? They disappeared quickly after dinner.”
“I did mention that there were a few things I’d like to say without an audience.” He turned right, heading to a grassy area with park benches. The place was emptying with the coming darkness, making it a perfect place to talk privately. Adam sat on a bench under a gaslight, and angled himself to see her better, and said without preamble, “I am so sorry that I couldn’t keep the Shoshone from taking you.”
She took his hand. “I said earlier that they didn’t take me, and I meant that. It was the hardest decision I ever made, and yet it was the easiest. Those days we were together were wonderful. You were the first man I trusted since those men attacked my people, and those days were like a fairy tale where a handsome prince awakens a sleeping princess. But even if the Shoshone hadn’t been a factor, things still had to change. You wanted me to come with you just as Ruth went with Naomi—to trust your ways, your ideas, and become part of your family. I wanted to…but I couldn’t because I was still White Buffalo Woman…then.”
Adam chuckled, causing Ruth to look injured. “I don’t think I said anything funny. Why do you laugh?”
“Because Hoss had come to the same conclusion back then. He said I could be very convincing, but what I was really asking you to do was to give up a huge part of who you’d become, and change overnight into someone you’d only recently found again.”
“He is a smart man. When Chato demanded that I use my powers to help his people, I realized that I had already made the promises of Ruth to the Bannock when they rescued me. I had to make their ways my ways, and their people became my people. I grew to love and respect them, and part of why I hid on that mountain was my shame at not being able to save them. But Chato gave me a chance to save their Shoshone brothers. I always felt I’d been spared in that massacre for a purpose, and then, I knew what it was.”
“Hoss said something to that effect too.” A moment of silence passed as he thanked God for the brother who had the wisdom to see the truth, and whose honesty had saved him from losing himself on the Mountain of the Dead just as surely as Ruth Halverson had.
“Did he say anything else?” She prompted when he seemed lost in his thoughts.
“He reminded me that I believe all things happen for a purpose, so I should stop blaming myself for something that would have happened whether I’d been there or not. He thought my role in your life might have been to prepare you for what was coming…to give you courage to live in the world again. Hoss wondered if facing your fears allowed you to make the your decision.” He grinned while a mild blush colored his cheeks. “After I thought things through, I even began to question how quickly I’d fallen in love…you know, as to whether it was a reaction to a time and place, and to a beautiful young woman who needed to feel the joy of life again. I don’t mean to hurt you by admitting that. I just came to think that we had been placed in a situation that had pushed our emotions into a blaze without getting a solid kindling fire going first.”
This time she laughed. “Did Hoss say that too?”
“Sort of,” he admitted with a grin. “I supplied the analogy.”
“It’s perfect. When I thought about you…even suspecting you had died, I realized I knew nothing about you. You’d mentioned something about being an engineer, but I didn’t realize you’d gone to a well-known college to become one until I read through the program last night. You told me you had a father and brothers, but never informed me that the Car-trights were a prominent, wealthy family. You talked of introducing me to art and music, but again, I didn’t know until last night how versed you might be on those subjects.”
She blushed, her cheeks a golden pink in the flickering light of the street lamp. “I hate to admit this, but try as might; I have not grown accustomed to the symphony or music like the choir performed last night. I’ve been told I have no ear for it. I love literature and history, but some of it, like Shakespeare, is beyond my comprehension—or more likely I don’t care to put the time into comprehending it.” She smiled as he cringed. “From that look, I’m assuming you find great pleasure in the classics. The simple truth is that I doubt I could have become your protégé, and I think we would have made an unhappy couple in time.”
He nodded. “That might be true. Yet, in spite of the circumstances, I felt so happy in that place with you.”
“I might be able to shed some light on that,” she said as she pulled her hand away and began to pick at the lace neckline of her dress.
“I don’t understand.”
“You hit your head in the fall you took, and your leg wound was deep and sore, and while my teas and poultices helped some, I knew you were still in pain, so I added another herb to what I was giving you. It was one I’d seen the Bannock men use when they gathered for spiritual rituals, and I thought it would help you forget how badly you hurt. I knew you’d refuse my efforts if I asked first, so I just mixed a bit in with your food.” Her cheeks were blazing red with her admission.
He gaped at her before he started to laugh. “You drugged me?”
“It wasn’t enough to cause you to have visions, as the Bannocks used it,” she assured. “But it was enough to make you feel, um, ‘better’…maybe even to the point where you forgot how bad you really felt. I knew it was working when I came back with more branches for my hut, and found you standing on your good leg, happily fixing my roof.”
He eyed her curiously. “Do you think this…ah…herb is what caused me to…ah…?”
“I don’t think it can make people do or feel things that aren’t in their heart. You…felt love for me because you are a good and compassionate man who knew I needed to free myself from the past. The herb may have made you more expressive or dramatic about your feelings.”
“Another mystery solved.” He chuckled, and then rubbed his forehead as he put the 12-year-old episode in perspective. “It does seem that this is exactly how it was supposed to work out. Yet I will always remember you and your kindness in saving my life.”
“My kindness?” She smiled at him and touched his cheek. “You gave me my life back as surely as I saved yours. Your kindness, acceptance…and love made me realize that I was hiding from the living, by living with the dead. When I faced my fears about what had happened to me, I could finally see that those were only two men out of many, and there would be more people like you, than them. And then, once I finished my work as White Buffalo Woman, I found Ruth Halverson again. That led me to find my father. None of that would have happened if you hadn’t taken an arrow in your leg and tumbled off a rock.”
“Thank you.” He leaned forward, massaging his leg, and then chuckled as he turned to her. “I’m reminded of that arrow and fall quite often. It’s nice to know they produced something good.”
Her look became mischievous as she poked his arm. “Now that we have talked about the serious matters…I’m wondering something.”
“Was my kiss last night better than the ones I gave you twelve years ago? You were the first man I’d ever kissed, but I’ve had ‘some’ practice since then.”
Adam sighed as he looked upwards, asking of the heavens, “Isn’t that just like a woman? All the years, and all that’s happened since, and her worry is how well she kissed.” He stood and helped her up. “We should get you in a cab back to your father; it’s getting late.” Noting the disappointed look, he tipped her chin up and spoke softly, “Your kisses were wonderful, Ruth.” He winked then as he stepped away. “They might have been a little moist back then, but I can’t say that detracted from their sweetness.”
The Boston Gentlemen left San Francisco at separate times, so Adam had his railcar all to himself as he set out for home. The train was only a few hours into the cross-country trip when he began to miss his father and brothers, and he spent some time remembering the things they’d done and the conversations they’d had in San Francisco. On the other hand, he missed Melinda, and his children, AJ, and Elizabeth, in a soul deep way, and he couldn’t wait to be home. The three weeks away from them had been harder than he’d imagined they’d be, and he was already picturing what he’d do when he walked into his house. He’d kiss Melinda with enough dash to knock her stockings off, and give each child a bear hug before tossing them up in the air to hear their delighted shrieks of, “Do it again, Daddy!”
There was another memory that came calling when he tried to rest his mind from the math he was doing on the specs for Frankie’s engineering projects, and that was the time he’d spent with Ruth. He shook his head and smiled as he thought again how accurate Hoss had been twelve years ago.
Spending a few hours with Ruth had left him reflective, but not regretful. It seemed that both their lives had unfolded as they’d been meant to. When she’d asked about his wife and family, he’d watched her face for “tells” as he’d told her about Melinda and his children, and his life in Boston, expecting he might witness some ambivalence about what he’d said. There had been none, so when she’d stated that she was happy for him, he’d known her sentiments had been genuine. She’d told him that she still held out hopes of marriage, but her concern for her father’s health took most of her time. Her conclusion had been that Olaf’s days were limited, and Adam had to admit that the man had looked frail beyond his years when he’d met him. One thing she’d revealed that night they’d talked, had both surprised and pleased him; she’d written a book about her time with the Bannock and Shoshone.
Ruth had brought Olaf along to the train station for a brief get-together the day he’d left for Boston. After a bit of conversation, her father had taken him aside to thank him for influencing his daughter to move on with her life. He’d said that he would have gone to his grave thinking he’d failed her if Adam hadn’t made her think about what she was missing. Olaf went on to say that Ruth had let him read her manuscript, and to him it seemed that Adam’s appearance on the Mountain of the Dead was timed perfectly: a blessed providence. He’d been sorry to hear that Adam had suffered so much because of the wounds he’d received, but he’d supposed it was all part of an unseen plan.
The closer Adam got to Boston, the more excited he became, and he nearly kissed the pavement when he exited the train car for the last time. A Wadsworth coach was waiting at the station to take him home.
The driver met him as he exited the platform, taking his luggage while offering a wide smile. “So good to have you back, sir,” he avowed. “Things just ain’t the same around here when you’re gone.”
Adam offered his thanks, and settled in for the ride that seemed interminable, even though it lasted no more than 15 minutes.
He looked around while his luggage was being removed from the vehicle, and saw saw two curly-haired children bouncing their way down the street. His heart sank, realizing that AJ and Elizabeth seemed to be on their way somewhere with their great grandfather Abel, and his wife, Sadie. At first he thought he should run to catch up to them, but then figured he’d be better off going inside to get unpacked and catch up on the mail before they got back.
The house was silent. It was Wednesday, their nanny’s day off, and Melinda usually worked at home when Anna wasn’t there. Since the children were with Sadie and Abel, he figured she had to go to the office instead. “Anybody here?” he called, feeling a surge of disappointment that his homecoming was so quiet. But he hadn’t slept well, and he decided to make the most of his time alone by taking a quick nap before tackling any chores. He stowed his guitars in his small office off the parlor, and grabbed his traveling cases to begin the climb up the stairs to his room. He was so deep in thought that he jumped when he heard Melinda’s voice drifting toward him.
“I’m in our bedroom, Adam.”
“Are you working up h…” He fell silent as he walked through their door, and stared hungrily at his wife. She was sitting at a small table arrayed with food, and seemed to be wearing only his old blue robe—draped alluring from her bare shoulders and exposing her long, beautiful legs. Her hair was down and tousled, just the way he liked it.
“You must be starving,” she purred. “Your office sent news that the train would arrive on time, so I arranged for a few of your favorite things to be ready when you got home. Sadie provided the lunch and took the children for the afternoon.” She winked at him. “She thought we should have some time to ourselves, noting that I was getting pretty cranky with you being gone so long.”
He laughed while standing there grinning like a little boy in a toy store. “I think I’ve been a little cranky myself.” He put his cases down, and crossed his arms, tapping his chin thoughtfully. “Now comes the decision: which part of this homecoming shall I partake of first: the food…or the entertainment?”
Melinda stood and let the robe fall to the floor as she grabbed her petticoat from the end of the bed. Feigning an angry look and voice, she grumbled,” If you wait too long to decide, my love, I shall get dressed and join the children at the puppet show.”
His eyes widened before giving her a leering head to toe inspection. “You’re not going anywhere except between those sheets with me,” he said as he shed his jacket and shirt on his way to the bed, and pulled her to him.
“I was hoping you’d make the right choice,” she whispered in his ear.
“Honey, I’ve been dreaming about this since the train pulled out of San Francisco.”
She helped remove his remaining clothes and tugged him back with her as she fell to the bed. “I have missed you so much.” She growled before kissing him passionately, and then teased, “Although I’ve missed some parts of you more than others.”
“What parts might those be?” he managed to ask between kisses.
“Your lips,” she breathed as she kissed him again. “Your hands…” She brought his fingers to her lips and then returned them to what they’d been doing before she’d interrupted them. Rolling him over, she straddled his legs and leaned forward to kiss his eyes and cheeks, saying, “I missed these,” before continuing soft kisses down the length of his body while murmuring, “And I missed your furry chest, your firm, flat stomach…and…”
Adam gasped as his eyes flew open. He moaned, “Oh, yeah,” and then let his wife have her way with him…twice.
“That was extraordinary,” he murmured into her hair, while holding her afterwards. “I’m so relaxed right now I don’t think I could stand up if I had to. You are a most amazing woman.” He snuggled her closer. “Do we have time for a quick snooze?” His question was drowned out by a growl from his empty stomach.
“Sounds like you should eat something first.”
Reaching out, he slid the table containing their lunch closer to the bed and pushed up to a semi-sitting position as he set the plate of sandwiches on his stomach, and said, “Dig in.”
Melinda sat up next to him and did as her husband suggested, and winked. “I think I already did that, my love.” After taking a few bites, she looked at him with a devilish grin. “Now that you’re so relaxed, you can tell me about kissing Ruth.”
He nearly choked as he swallowed. “How?” He figured it out and chuckled. “Hoss wrote you.”
“I got two letters yesterday. One from you with news of the concert’s success, and of meeting an ‘old friend’ you’d tell me about when you got home, and the other from your brother saying how sorry he was for ‘accusin’ you of no good when he saw you kissin’ that gal backstage.’ He went on to say that it was Ruth, who was ‘just an old friend of yourn,’ and he was sure you’d tell me all about it when you got back. He then asked me to make sure you didn’t ‘harbor no bad feelings towards him,’ and would I please write him if you did so he could apologize again.”
Adam’s laugh echoed in the quiet room. “That brother-in-law of yours is mighty protective of you. I told him you already knew about Ruth, and I’d surely tell you about this reunion, but apparently he wanted to make sure I did by seeding a letter with just enough information to make you wonder what went on.”
“I figured that out.” She waited while he finished his lunch; snuggled under his arm and said, “All right, out with it. Tell me what happened in San Francisco.”
He made her wait for what she most wanted to hear by telling her about the concert and working with Frankie on the engineering projects first. When her playful twirling of his chest hair became more of an extraction of follicular roots, he knew she’d had enough small talk and he turned to the topic of Ruth Halverson. “I told you the story of meeting Ruth on my way to see the Fairbanks windmill when you asked about the scars on my leg. I didn’t hold anything back from you then, so you know that I came to love her, and thought I wanted to marry her. You also know the aftermath—the near amputation, the deep darkness I experienced, and Hoss going out to find the truth.” She nodded, and he continued to tell of his reunion—of how Ruth had thought he was dead, and then becoming curious after seeing his name in the paper. After completing the story of her coming backstage; meeting her for dinner and their conversation during the meal and afterwards; and the sendoff from Ruth and her father, he concluded, “So that’s all there is to tell. It was a shock to see her again, but it put an end to a story I often wondered about.” He didn’t think he’d said anything to make his wife worry, but when he looked at Melinda, he saw the question lingering in her eyes, and he knew the story wasn’t quiet over. “You can ask,” he said softly as he tipped her face up. “I know it’s bothering you.”
“How do you know what’s bothering me,” she snapped, but then chuckled. “I suppose you do. You always seem to know what’s on my mind.”
“You want to know whether seeing Ruth again brought any doubts or regrets about how my life turned out.”
She closed her eyes and nodded.
“Please remember that when I first met Ruth, you and I hadn’t communicated for some time, and we wouldn’t know for a couple more years that our estrangement was based on a series of errors.” She nodded again. “But there’s something even more important for you to know.” He placed her hand on his chest. “Feel how fast my heart is beating? It does that whenever I think of you or walk into the house and I see your smile as you come to kiss me. It happens when I watch you playing with our children, and begins as soon as I round the corner onto our street when I come home at night or return from a trip. And my heart nearly pounds out of my chest when we make love. We have never known a time together when we didn’t raise the roof at least a few inches.” He sat up straight and pulled her up next to him. “I can’t imagine my life with anyone else.”
He kissed her, before adding, “And any lingering doubts about the ‘what might have been’ times in my life ended the day I saw you again in Sacramento. It became clear that all those years of ‘romantic failures’ were merely stops on a journey that kept me headed to where I was meant to be. It took a while, but I made it back to you, and I’m the most fortunate man alive.”
Adam and Melinda decided to skip the nap and go find their children instead. “What are you looking for?” she asked as he rummaged through his luggage while they finished dressing.
“I have some things for AJ and Liz, and I know they’ll be looking for them when I see them.” With a mighty pull, he yanked a brown packet from the bottom of the largest case. “Here it is. I got some little dolls for our daughter, and a science kit with a magnifying glass and some recipes for experiments that our young professor can do.” He saw his wife’s doubtful look. “I know it’ll be messy, but I’ll work with him and we’ll have fun.”
“And what do you have for me?” she asked with a twinkle in her eye. “I would think a man accused of an indiscretion, even if it turned out that it was just a kiss between old friends, would be compelled to bring his wife some gift of atonement.”
He came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her, and opened his hand to reveal a velvet box. “I did get you something, even though it was ordered before I left for California, and purchased before my ‘indiscretion.’ It’s from the same jeweler who made your wedding ring.”
The hinges squeaked as she opened the lid. “It’s beautiful!” She smiled radiantly, as she traced the intertwining flowers suspended on a golden chain. “It’s so unique, and knowing you, it must have more significance than being a simple necklace.”
“You know me too well, my dear. The stones making up the ‘petals’ of each flower are our children’s birthstones. I just wanted to show you how much I love you, and your two ‘gifts’ to me.”
Melinda turned to face him, caressing his cheek with her free hand. “It‘s absolutely perfect. Help me put it on.”
After assisting with the clasp, he went back to his traveling case and pulled out a large, thick envelope. “I got you something else you’ll like.” He opened the clasp and withdrew a sheaf of papers. “One of the things Ruth did in the years between our meetings was to finish writing a book about her life. She thinks the story is interesting, but she didn’t know what to do with the finished manuscript. Her biggest concern was in finding someone to give her an honest appraisal, and then to help her improve it. She’s afraid that the wrong person could turn it into cheap dime novel. I explained that you were a writer who had a lot of experience with editing, and that you’d used the profits from your teachers’ guides to buy a controlling share of the publishing company where you worked. It seemed the perfect solution to have you look at it.”
“Are you sure about this?” she asked warily. “You know that I’m always honest, and I won’t be ‘easy’ on her just because she’s a friend of yours. She’ll have to be prepared for all my thoughts about her presentation, whether good or bad, and then decide whether she’ll put more work into it to make it saleable…if that’s what she wants to do with it. First time writers always think they’ve penned the perfect book, and then are disheartened to hear how much work it really needs.”
Adam handed Melinda the manuscript, entitled, White Buffalo Woman, and grinned. “I think I probably used the exact words you just said, and she agreed that’s what she needs, and she’d be grateful for any suggestions.”
“You won’t feel uneasy having me looking into an old love’s story?”
He gave her a puzzled look. “Why would I?” he asked even as a blush revealed the truth. “All right, I admit that I wanted to know what she wrote about me so I read it on the train. She doesn’t use my name, and she presents our time together as a turning point in her life, rather than a love story.”
Melinda frowned, and then giggled wickedly. “I’m not sure if I’m happy about that or not. I think I should have liked to read about your wooing of White Buffalo Woman.”
“I’m sure you would.” He shook his head, giving her a look of censure, before laughing and pulling her close. “How could I fall in love with such a devious woman?”
She winked. “That’s the thing about devious women. You didn’t know about it until you were hooked, and then it’s too late to turn back.” She rose on her toes to kiss him before asking, “So once you knew there weren’t any stories in there that I could hold over you, did you enjoy the book?”
“I did. It’s got great details about Indian life and folklore, but her writing style is formal, and often choppy. She writes as she talks, and I suspect it will take some serious rewriting to get it flowing like a story should.”
“I’ll read it, and let Ruth…and you, know what I think. If there’s promise, we’ll figure out what to do.”
“Thanks, Melinda. I knew you’d want to help.”
Putting the envelope aside, she wrapped her husband in a tight hug. “You know me pretty well too,” she whispered before giving him a kiss that nearly knocked his socks off.”
“Daddy!” The scream came in unison as AJ and Elizabeth recognized the couple walking towards them in the park. Seconds later, Adam was holding a child in each arm receiving bilateral hugs and kisses, along with simultaneously tellings of their adventure. Five-year-old AJ was talking a mile a minute as he described the puppets, the storyline of the show they’d just seen, and his feelings on the quality of the presentation.
Elizabeth was a little over two now, and far more quiet than her brother had been at the same age. After a brief statement saying she’d “liked the poppets,” she cupped her hands around Adam’s ear and whispered, “I missed you, Daddy,” before putting her head on his shoulder and cuddling in.
Adam’s attention went back and forth between the two, vowing, “I missed you too, sweetie,” to his daughter as he gave her a kiss on the forehead, and, “That’s interesting, AJ,” to his son. When the chatter ended, and both children settled into their favorite spots in their father’s arms, he was finally able to greet Abel and Sadie. “So how much ransom do I owe you for the return of my kidnapped children?”
Abel nudged his grandson’s elbow. “As always, dinner at the pub and few pints ought to do.”
Once the homecoming gifts had been given to the excited youngsters, and they went off to play, the adults were finally able to sit together and talk. Sadie asked, “How was your trip, Adam?”
“I got a lot of work done; the concert was a success; I spent some nice time with my father and brothers, and reconnected with an old friend. I guess that makes it pretty good.”
“I bet nothing beats coming back home to those two,” Abel offered as he patted Adam’s hand and pointed toward his children.
The oldest Cartwright son nodded as he watched his daughter playing with her new dolls, while AJ inspected everything in sight with his magnifying glass. He turned toward those who made Boston home for him, and smiled broadly. “I do miss those three in Nevada, but this is my life now. Having them out West, and all of you here means we are blessed from coast to coast. And that’s the best any man could ask for.
*I found something interesting as I did some research for this story. I knew that Bonanza writers often used historical facts in their scripts, and I wondered about the Fairbanks windmill that Adam was on his way to see when he ventured onto the Mountain of the Dead.
There was a man named Thaddeus Fairbanks, and he actually held patents for a number of things, including plows, furnaces, and a platform scale that was considered the industry standard for decades. Fairbanks employed a man named Morse in his Chicago office, and Morse bought a company in Beloit, Wisconsin (yay Wisconsin) owned by a man named Wheeler who’d invented a pumping windmill.
Later, Fairbanks merged with Morse to become Fairbanks Morse. So, what Adam probably went to see (although he was a little ahead of the Fairbanks Morse timeline) was the Wheeler windmill that Fairbanks owned. The Fairbanks Morse company still operates three different divisions. The one fact that gave me fun goose bumps was that the Fairbanks Morse water pump division was purchased by a company named, Pentair. My son heads a Pentair company here, although it’s a water treatment division, not the water pump division. but he says the Pentair Fairbanks Morse pumps are still made in Delevan, WI, about 40 miles from here. It tickled me that I have a “real” connection back to this episode and a “fictional” Adam, and that’s what makes researching a story such fun.