Truth Is What You Make It (by BettyHT)

Summary:  Adam finds himself in a predicament and needs his family to help him. It lets him recapture the trust he needed to feel that he was truly at home.

rating = T  WC = 19808

Truth Series:

Truth Be Told
Truth is What You Make It
Matchmaking and More Truth

Truth Is What You Make It

Chapter 1

“It’s all gone then?” Adam leaned against the side of the fireplace doing his best to keep a neutral tone and expression. He had just found out that all his investments and bank accounts had been liquidated a year earlier.

“”No, it’s not gone. We invested all of it in the Ponderosa. Son, we had no way to know that you were still alive. The report we got was that the ship you were on blew up.” Ben was sorry to have to tell that to Adam but knew he deserved the truth of not only what they did but why.

Resigned to the fact that all the investments and bank accounts he had before he had disappeared were now gone, all Adam could do was to ask what the money was used to do. He found that they had built a new barn, bought some breeding stock for both the cattle herds and to improve the horses they bred on the ranch, rebuilt the sawmill, and increased the size of the timber operation by adding more men. There was nothing that could be liquidated. The money was effectively gone into the Ponderosa with no hope that he could retrieve any of it. What had been his property had become part of the family’s wealth. He stood and walked out to the porch when Ben finished the explanation of where the money had gone. Hoss wanted to go with him, but his wife, Belle, was up and headed that way before anyone else could react. She found Adam leaning on the corral fence. She wrapped an arm around his waist, and he put his arm around her shoulders to pull her close but said nothing.

“Why is it so important to you?”

Looking up at the stars, Adam said nothing for a time, but Belle could feel how rigid his posture was and knew he was upset. She waited. Even though they had not been together for more than a couple of weeks, she knew him well enough to know that he needed time to compose his thoughts before he talked.

“By this time in my life, I thought I would be doing something more than drawing wages like an ordinary cowhand. I wanted to have my own home, my own family. Sweetheart, I know I have you, but we’re living in my father’s house. I can’t even afford to build a house for you.”

“But you’re part of this family so everything they own, you own.”

“It’s not the same.”

“Because you don’t want to be dependent on anyone?”

Looking at Belle, Adam knew that wasn’t true. “No, I need you, and I’ve told you that, and I meant it when I say it. It’s not that. I guess I’m not sure what it is.”

“Maybe it’s that you have forgiven your family, but you can’t forget what happened?”

“That may be it. You are a very smart lady.” Adam turned toward her and pulled her close to him so that she had to look up at him. “I love you very much, and every day I see more reasons why it was a damn good idea to marry you. Now can you tell me how to trust my family again?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know them very well yet, but from what I know, they’re in there probably talking about the same things we’ve been talking about. Would you like to bet on that?”

“No because you’re probably right. I wish I knew why I feel the way I do. I want to trust them. I want to feel like we’re as close as we were, but if I’m being honest, it isn’t there yet.”

“You had some terrible experiences. You had a tough time when Marie was alive, when she was killed and your father left, and when you came back, you weren’t happy. You’ve told me all about those years. You haven’t said as much about your time on the Lucia, but I can guess. I’ve seen those scars on your back, and I’ve been there when you’ve had some terrible nightmares.” Adam was a bit embarrassed by that and looked down. Belle reached up to touch his cheek. “No, don’t feel badly about that. I’m your wife and being there for you is part of what I want to do. You had some bad times, and you need to give yourself time to recover.”

“It was two years ago that I got off that blasted ship. Being shanghaied and held for years was difficult, yes, but it was a long time ago.”

“You were alone all that time. You never knew what the next day would bring. Now you do because you’re back home, and you know how things are around here. It would be nice if we could have some peace in our lives for a few months or even years. It probably won’t happen though. From the stories I’ve heard since I’ve been here, this family seems to go from one crisis or problem directly into the next one.”

Rubbing the back of his neck, Adam rather sheepishly smiled and agreed with her. “Now would you like to take a short walk? I think we might find something to do other than talk.”

“We could go inside and say we’re tired and going to bed early?”

“Belle, sweetheart, we say that almost every night. I think they know what it means. No, I’d rather not walk through there now. I just walked out before so there may be some questions I’d rather not face tonight. I feel good now, and I’d like to stay that way.” Belle agreed by taking his hand and tugging to get him to start walking with her.

In the house, Ben was talking with his younger sons. Hoss and Joe were on opposite sides of an issue that affected all of them, and Ben was trying to let them work out a solution, but it was difficult.

“Well, I don’t know why he’s so upset that we took his money and put it into the Ponderosa. He owns a share of it too just like the rest of us so he still has the money. It just isn’t in the same places it was before.”

“But Joe, that was his money not our money. It wasn’t right to use it when we weren’t positive he was really dead.”

“I know. I know. That’s what you said a year ago when we sold off his investments. But all the information we had was that he had died when that ship exploded. We had no way to know that he blew it up so he could get away. Besides, he’s been gone for years, so he kind of owes us for not working the ranch all that time. We’ve done everything to keep it going while he was gone.”

That was the limit for Ben. He would not tolerate that kind of talk. “Joseph, that is enough of that. Adam was working on this ranch when he was still a boy. He had a dozen years of working this ranch before you finished school and started to help out, and that is without the years he was in Boston. He more than worked hard enough on this ranch to have an equal share. Now that is not to be discussed again.”

“Sorry, Pa. I guess I got upset and kinda fell back into some old ideas.”

“What we should be discussing is if we can do as Hoss suggested. If we can make an offer to Joyce to sell and she takes it, where can we get the money for the purchase price?” They had leased the Edwards ranch for years. Ben had always hoped that Joyce might come back some day. As Hoss said earlier though: “Miz Edwards ain’t ever coming back, Pa. It’s been a lot of years.” Ben had to accept that was the correct analysis.

“Joe, ifn we can get the Edwards place, we won’t have to pay the rent on it. That’s part of the money we need right there. If we take another one hundred head on the drive, that’s another big chunk of it.”

“I suppose if I use the money we get from the Army for this contract we have right now instead of buying more breeding stock, we should have close to enough.”

“Pa, what else can we do?”

“Our silver mine is not on Ponderosa property. We could sell it. That should be more than enough. Adam can have his own house if he wants that, and we can put that part of the ranch in his name. He’ll still have a share of the Ponderosa too. The mill there has two employees and runs most of the year now. He would have an additional source of income too. So, are we in agreement that we’ll do this?” Ben smiled when both sons nodded, but it also had dawned on him what Hoss had meant by this deal. He thought Adam wanted to live in his own house. If that was true, it was something else to which Ben was going to have to adjust.

“He’s going to be very surprised when we tell him.” Joe had gotten into the spirit of the plan. He still had a difficult time reconciling the truth he had recently been told with what he had always thought about his mother as well as the actions of his father, but he was gradually accepting all of it.

“Joe, I don’t think we oughta tell him just yet, but you’re right about telling him. Pa still has to make the offer to see if Miz Edwards is interested in selling and see about selling the mine. If we find out that we can get those two things done, then we should tell him and see what he thinks about it. I’d hate for him to have another disappointment to face so unless we know we can come up with the money, we should wait. Once we know we have the money, we should ask him if he wants the cash or the Edwards ranch.”

“Hoss, I agree with you on that. I’d hate for him to have to face another disappointment now, but we need to tell him as soon as we know we can do this. I’ll go to town tomorrow and send a wire to Joyce. I’ll see about selling that mine too. Once we know we can get the money and buy the ranch if he wants it, then we’ll tell him. Even if we can’t buy the Edwards ranch, we’ll at least be able to give him some of the money he had in the investments we sold. We’ll have to sit down with him and talk about how we can make this right.”

“If we’re planning on doing this, shouldn’t we tell him right away and let him say what he thinks about the whole thing?”

It was quiet for a few minutes as the men thought about what they should do. “Joe might be right about that, Pa.”

“Yes, Hoss, I think he is right about that. I’ll send the wire tomorrow to see if Joyce is interested in selling and check to see if there’s interest in buying that mine. Tomorrow night, let’s plan on sitting down and telling Adam what we’ve been discussing. I won’t do anything until we know if Adam wants us to do that. Now the two of them might be back inside soon, so we should do what we would normally do at night.”

Ben picked up the newspaper and settled back into his red leather chair. Hoss pulled out the checkerboard and Joe pulled a chair closer to where his brother sat. By the time Adam and Belle walked in the house, all looked normal. They walked up the stairs saying they were tired and were going to bed. Joe snickered as he always did when they said that, and Hoss and Ben bid them goodnight. Adam had been thinking that after all the kissing and hugging he had done with his wife that he would make love to her as soon as that bedroom door closed. Instead he was wondering about the scene downstairs.

“Did things down there seem a bit odd to you, or was it just me?”

“No, it was definitely odd. Adam, I thought they would say something or at least have that guilty look like they had before we went outside. Instead, it was all so much like they are every night.”

“Yes, and that is peculiar. I at least expected my father to ask if everything was all right or some rather innocuous question like that.”

“And he only said goodnight. Hoss is always the one who’s the most concerned about you, and well, about me too. He didn’t say anything but goodnight too. Joe was snickering like he always does like a husband and a wife going to bed is so unusual. Oh I suppose it is a bit unusual in this house, but I thought he might at least look a little concerned, but he had that goofy face like he does every night when we go to bed. What do you think made them act like that?”

“They’re up to something. I wish I knew what it was.”

“I know something that will take your mind off of that.”

“Oh, you do, do you? And what would that be, my little vixen?”

Downstairs, Joe snickered again when they heard the bedsprings creaking up above. “Do you think we ought to tell him about that noise?”

Ben shook his head. There was no changing the behavior of his youngest no matter what happened.

Chapter 2

By early afternoon of the next day, Ben rode hard into the yard of the Ponderosa. He had made the trip to town to send the telegram to Joyce and see about selling their silver mine. He had heard news though that made getting back home imperative. As soon as he rode in, he asked a hand to take care of his horse as he rushed into the house. His family was finishing lunch and his sons were about to go back to work.

“Pa, what is it? You look like a bird done lost all her chicks.”

“Hoss, it’s worse than that. All of you need to hear this so we can take some precautions. There was a raid on some of the homesteads. There are at least three farms that were hit. They took the women. Three wives and two older daughters were taken. Several men are dead, and more are wounded. All they could say was that they looked like Paiute.”

“We need to go alert the hands.” Hoss was already moving toward the gun cabinet. All three sons knew they should bring extra rifles and ammunition out to the men who were working on the ranch. They would also have them work in bigger groups and closer to the ranch house. As Hoss and Joe loaded up, Adam picked up a shotgun and walked over to Belle.

“Do you know how to use one of these?”

“No, I fired a small rifle once, but I’ve never fired a shotgun.”

“Get the pocket pistol I bought for you. You’ve practiced with that, but keep this handy too. If you’ve fired a rifle, you know enough. Point and shoot at anyone threatening and close enough for you to see them from the house. Even if you don’t hit your target, you’ll scare them. Keep extra shells in your pockets too.”

“Do you have to go?”

“Yes, a lot of men depend on us to get the warning out when there’s trouble. Pa will be here, and so will Hop Sing. He uses a shotgun too. There are two hands working here in the stable, and we’ll have them take positions as lookouts. We’ll be back as fast as we get this done.”

“Please stay safe.” Belle tried to put on a brave front, but Adam could see that she was terrified.

“I’ll do my best. It will be all right. We’re taking these precautions so no one does get hurt. Stay in the house within sight of Pa or Hop Sing. I’ll try to be back tonight. If I can’t, I’ll stay with the hands and ride back with them tomorrow.”

Adam pulled Belle into a quick embrace before heading out to the stable where his brothers had saddled their horses and were waiting for him. They had divided up the task three ways. Joe headed southeast, Hoss to the west, and Adam to the northwest. The men in the near pastures would be told to stay together and keep watch. Candy had a crew up in the northwest pastures and Adam would suggest that they come down closer to the others. Within hours, Hoss and Joe were with the hands they were sent to find. It took two more hours for Adam to reach his destination. As late as it was, those men decided to wait until the next day to drive the cattle down lower.

“Candy, if there’s an attack, keep the men safe. Let them have some cattle or even scatter some. We can always find them or replace them.”

“I appreciate you saying that. Aren’t you staying with us until morning?”

“No, if I ride hard, I can be back home while it’s still light. Belle has never faced anything like this, and I want to be there for her.”

At the ranch house, Belle was on edge but kept her composure. She wasn’t sure yet what her role was in this house, but she knew that if she wanted their respect, she needed to stay as cool as she could under pressure. Hop Sing did all the cooking and the laundry as well as most of the cleaning. She tried to help, but he still treated her more as a guest than as a member of the family. She had volunteered to do the entries in the ledgers, which Ben was happy to hand over to her. Her precise penmanship was a great improvement over Ben’s flowing but sometimes difficult to decipher writing. There was nothing to enter that day though because she had done it earlier that morning. Finally she stood at the kitchen door and waited for Hop Sing’s attention. When he looked at her and asked if she needed anything, she had an answer.

“I need something to do. Waiting for Adam and his brothers to return and having nothing to do is making it very difficult. If you have something for me to do, I would appreciate it very much.”

“Missy like chickens?”

“I don’t know. I guess I never really thought about liking or disliking them.”

“We go get eggs. You carry shotgun and watch. Hop Sing get eggs. Then we get beans. Hop Sing carry shotgun and you pick.”

“Thank you, yes.”

Working as a team, the two of them collected the eggs and then picked beans from the garden. Back in the kitchen, Belle started cleaning the beans as Hop Sing kneaded bread. The two began to talk. Ben could hear them from the other room. He had stayed near the kitchen door when he realized the two of them were heading outside. When he heard them returning, he had retreated to the main room after taking a look out the various windows to be sure there was nothing amiss outside. Nothing happened until about three in the afternoon when Hoss rode into the yard. Ben saw him ride in, but was surprised when one of the hands had to help him into the house.

“Dagnabit, those dang Indians. I swear one of em shot at me just to get me running. They didn’t chase me at all.”

“Then why are you limping and how are you hurt?”

“I kicked old Chubb into a run, and he didn’t like it much I guess. When I pulled him up to slow him down cause I knew they wasn’t chasing me and we was out of range, he lowered his head, and I flew right off. He’s done it once or twice before when I made him run so I was kinda ready for it, but I stepped in a darn hole when I went to stand up. I twisted my ankle something fierce.”

Ben had helped Hoss to sit in a leather chair and helped him by pulling off his boot. Hoss’ ankle was swollen and already turning various shades of blue and purple. Ben stepped away when Hop Sing and Belle got there with bandages and began wrapping the ankle tightly. Soon Hoss was resting with his foot and ankle supported by a stack of pillows nestled on the table in front of the fireplace that Ben had moved closer to him. Then it was time for more information.

“Were they Paiute?”

“Yep. There weren’t none there that I recognized though, and they were all ages from what I could see so it wasn’t some young bucks out to prove themselves. Funny thing is they were Paiute but their clothes were a might ragged looking and some didn’t look as Paiute as the others. But they all looked like they’d been eating regular.”

“Which way were they headed?”

“I couldn’t tell. Might have been west or it might have been north.”

“Right toward where Adam went and where Candy has that crew.”

“Maybe not, Pa. There’s a lot of territory up there.”

“Did you see any women with them?”

“Not that I could see, Pa. Might have been more of them in the tree line, and they wanted me to go in another direction. They didn’t seem all that interested in me. Maybe they got what they came to get.”

Any additional conversation was ended when Joe rode in. He rushed into the house seeing Chubb tied up at the rail. He knew Hoss would have taken care of his horse if he was able. The whole story had to be repeated for Joe who had found nothing out of the ordinary. Joe took care of Chubb then when he took Cochise to the stable. The men on lookout duty reported that they had seen nothing out of the ordinary either. Adam wasn’t back by dinner, and even though Belle was repeatedly reassured that Adam probably stayed with Candy and his crew, she knew she would worry until she saw him. Ben was feeling the same way as were Hoss and Joe, so all of them were relieved when Adam returned just as the sun dipped below the mountains and turned the whole sky orange and pink. Belle ran out to greet him nearly jumping into his arms.

“Now, for that type of homecoming, I think I’ll ride out for at least a bit every day.”

“We were so worried. Hoss was shot at by Indians. He’s inside. Hop Sing and I bandaged his ankle.”

“He got shot in the ankle?”

“No, oh just come inside and he’ll tell you the whole story.”

But Adam had to take care of his horse first. He had ridden him hard so he especially needed good care. Belle was going to go to the stable with him until Adam asked where her shotgun was. She ran back to the house to get it telling everyone inside that Adam had not seen any Indians or at least that was what she had assumed and was relieved to find out a few minutes later that it was true. Once they went inside, Hop Sing brought out a plate of food for Adam who ate while listening to Hoss’ tale.

By the end of the story, Adam was somewhat relieved. “Well, if they were in our western land, and they were heading west or north, they’re done with whatever they had planned to do. If nothing happens in the next day or two, I think we can relax our guard.”

That might have been the situation except the next morning, a cavalry column rode into the yard of the Ponderosa. It was a detachment that had been in Wyoming and then diverted to Carson City because a homestead had been raided there by a party of Paiute who made off with a dozen horses. The soldiers had been ordered to stay in the area but there had been no more raids. With these latest attacks on several homesteads, the kidnappings, and the injuries and men killed, the soldiers were ordered to hunt down those who had participated in the raids and bring them back for military justice. The officer in charge and his aide were the only ones who dismounted.

“We’ve been told that Hoss Cartwright is the best tracker in the region. We’ve come to get his assistance in tracking down these raiders.”

Ben, Adam, and Joe had been there to greet the officers and all three were perturbed not to even get a good morning from the commanding officer. “I’m afraid Hoss will not be able to help you.”

“Sir, we can conscript him if necessary. If we do so, he will likely serve a ninety-day stint with us. It would be easier for all concerned if he helped us voluntarily.”

“Colonel, I do not appreciate being threatened here at my home. My son was injured yesterday so your threats are meaningless. He couldn’t ride unless it was an emergency and even then not well.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I will require seeing him to verify what you’ve said.”

The second-in-command, Major Miles, was still seated on his horse but knew how badly the situation was getting out of hand. “Sir, perhaps you could discuss this inside with Mr. Cartwright. He is a friend to the Army, sir, as well as to the governor.” The broad hint was picked up by the Colonel.

“Ah, yes, politics. Very well, Mr. Cartwright, if you would be so kind, perhaps we could discuss this quietly inside?”

Ben could see that both Adam and Joe were furious, but Adam looked like he was ready to fight. Ben needed to calm this situation down immediately. “Yes, Colonel, perhaps you could come inside for some coffee, and then perhaps you would be so kind as to introduce yourself.”

Being reminded of his manners did little for the Colonel’s mood, but he was also aware that he had made a mistake in how he had addressed Ben Cartwright so he smiled and introduced himself. “I am Colonel Carter. I held the rank of general in the Civil War with a lot of experience in the heat of battle, but I must say that sometimes I do lack proper manners in dealing with civilians. For that, I apologize.”

Ben and his sons had a very good idea then of why Colonel Carter acted as he did. Many brevet promotions that had been given of necessity in the Civil War had been rescinded at the completion of the war. Men used to a significantly higher rank found accepting a lesser role to be humiliating and would do almost anything to return to their former glory. Such men were sometimes more dangerous than any other threat in the west for their sense of ethics and decency were subjugated to a quest for promotion by any means necessary. Colonel Carter and his aide entered the home with Ben and his sons. The second in command, Major Miles who had achieved his rank by hard work and a strong work ethic was happy to be free of martinet and told the sergeants to have the men dismount. Once inside, Carter quickly saw that Hoss was injured. As he had the day before, Hoss was sitting in a leather chair with his foot and ankle elevated on that stack of pillows. He told Colonel Carter of his encounter the day before.

“Now who would you recommend that we enlist as our scout? Who’s the next best tracker in the area?”

Hoss didn’t want to say, but Adam volunteered to go and asked if Joe could help him. Colonel Carter questioned that option.

“No one even mentioned you when I asked who were the best trackers here. They only mentioned your brother.”

“I’ve been gone for a number of years and only recently returned.”

“Colonel, I can tell you that my brother can track almost as good as me, and he knows those mountains even better. He hunted them with the Paiute when he was young, and then showed me trails and such when I got older. Both of us taught Joe what we know. You got yourself two of the best trackers you could get in those two.” Hoss knew that Adam had some plan in mind and wanted to help him set it in motion if he could.

“Very well. How soon can the two of you be ready to go?”

“Give us a half hour. We have to pack some saddlebags and get ammunition and weapons checked out. Once we get our horses saddled, we’ll be ready to go.”

As the Colonel sipped his coffee, Adam and Joe headed up the stairs to pack a few things. Joe had one big question for Adam and it was about the same as the one Belle was thinking. She had followed them up the stairs.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Adam pulled both of them into Joe’s bedroom and explained his plan. Belle looked at Joe when Adam finished talking. She had no experience with which to evaluate what Adam had said.

“Great thinking, older brother. We can do this.”

“Yes, we can. Now let’s grab a few shirts and things so it looks like that’s what we were doing up here. Just follow my lead, and Winnemucca’s people will be safe and the raiders will be caught. We will hopefully be able to bring those women back home too.”

Walking down the stairs with Belle, Adam kept an arm around her waist. “I’ll be back in less than a week.”

“Be safe.”

With a kiss, Adam did his best to reassure his wife and asked his father and brother to take care of her while he was gone. Then he and Joe headed out to saddle their horses.

Chapter 3

For two hours, the column followed Adam and Joe as they led them to the pasture where Hoss had said he had been when the Indians fired at him. Once they got there, Adam took the lead and acted as if he was following a trail. He and Joe knew that there it was unlikely that they could find a trail in the rocky hills and gravel strewn dry streambeds most likely used by the band of raiders. If they were correct though, they would lead the column directly to the raiders who could not travel very fast with captive women and girls inevitably slowing them. The trail was treacherous though and they had to move slowly enough to avoid injuring their horses. Colonel Carter was impatient by the middle of the day.

“When will we catch these savages?”

“The group we’re trailing had at least a sixteen hour head start. Even if they move slowly because of the captives and because they don’t know we’re tracking them, we still will only gain a few hours on them every day. We most likely won’t see them for several days at least. They know that someone may pursue them so they’ll keep going as long as there’s light every day.”

“We should continue on then until we can’t see.”

“Colonel Carter, then we can’t see their trail either. We could miss where they turned in another direction. Most likely they will keep following these dry streambeds and narrow valleys. We won’t know which ones unless we can see the signs.”

“Very well then, but I thought Winnemucca’s camp was further north than this. Why aren’t we headed in that direction?”

“I thought you wanted to catch the raiders?”

“Well, of course, but if we attack the Paiute camp, that would make it very difficult for any more raids to happen.”

“But what if the Paiute in that camp have not done anything wrong?”

“You mean to ask if I would attack a so-called good Indian. Mr. Cartwright, I was at Fort Cobb when General Sheridan met with the savages there. I agreed with what he said. Indeed, the only good Indians I’ve ever seen are dead Indians.”

Joe was shocked by the man’s attitude. “You mean you would kill women. You would kill children?”

“Indian women make Indian children. Indian children grow up to be so-called warriors but they’re actually savages who murder and do terrible things to decent people. So yes, I would if the opportunity presented itself. I would make sure there was no longer a danger to our good American people.”

Joe wanted to say more, but Adam grabbed his forearm and squeezed it hard. Joe turned to look at him, and Adam shook his head slightly. They were not going to change this man’s mind. It was better to try to stay neutral around him so as not to antagonize him any more than he was already. For some reason, Carter had seemed to take a dislike to Adam that grew in intensity as the day wore on. It would be days before they knew the reason for it.

Finally as the sun was so low in the sky that shadows obscured everything, Adam told the Colonel that they couldn’t see the trail signs any more. The Colonel turned to Joe.

“Do you agree or can we go for a short time more?”

Bristling that the Colonel was showing such disrespect to Adam, Joe did manage to answer civilly as Adam turned toward Joe and rolled his eyes but smiled knowing the Colonel couldn’t see him. Major Miles saw it, and he wondered what the two brothers might be planning for they seemed to be sending nonverbal messages fairly often and never disagreed. If one said they saw signs on the trail, the other agreed just as they did this time. They seemed to be decent men and the family had a very good reputation so the Major wasn’t worried, but he was curious. The next in command was the aide, a very young second lieutenant fresh out of West Point, who seemed to write everything down. Miles planned to ask Wood what he made of the two brothers as soon as he could talk to the young man away from the Colonel. Miles smiled to himself realizing he trusted the judgment of the young shavetail more than he trusted the senior officer.

Efficiently, the soldiers made camp and prepared the evening meal. Adam and Joe were offered Army rations but preferred the food Hop Sing had sent with them. Eventually they might be forced to eat beans, but for the time being, they had ham sandwiches as well as some hard-boiled eggs, bacon, biscuits, and apples. They laid their bedrolls side-by-side and talked quietly.

“Adam, are you sure those raiders weren’t some of Winnemucca’s people?”

“Joe, the Paiute do go on raids, but do you know of any of Winnemucca’s people who would take women and girls but leave horses behind?” Joe nodded in understanding. “After what happened in the Paiute War, they don’t even raid like that. They quietly slip in at night and take a few horses or a few cows, and then they hightail it back to their camps probably celebrating that the white people are so poor at guarding their livestock.”

“That’s true. I know for years, people have been complaining about the Paiute as thieves, but no one is that afraid of them. They haven’t killed anyone or burned any buildings since that raid on Wilson’s Station and all the raids because of that. You’re right. That was a long time ago. You must have another reason though. You don’t usually jump to conclusions based on one thing unless you changed that much while you were gone.”

“No, remember Hoss said they looked like Paiute but not quite?” Joe nodded. “Well, what Paiute do we know that look like Paiute but not quite because they have people from other bands with them, and they make a lot of their own clothing without knowing the patterns that Winnemucca’s Paiute are using now?”

“The renegades?” Joe’s voice had risen with that so Adam quickly shushed him and looked around to see if his reaction had been noticed. Most of the soldiers were busy with their own concerns, but Major Miles and Lieutenant Wood were looking at them. Apparently the two of them had been in a conversation not too far away. They must have noticed Joe’s excited utterance.

“Oh-oh, looks like we have an audience. Let’s talk about other things.”

Soon though Major Miles was standing by them. “I heard you mention renegades. Is that who you think we’re chasing instead of Winnemucca’s warriors?”

Making a quick evaluation after having noted the looks that Miles gave to Carter when he wasn’t looking, Adam decided to trust the man. “Yes.”

“So this trail isn’t leading us toward Winnemucca’s camp at all?”

“No.”

“Carter would be very upset if he knew that.”

“I suppose he would.”

“You don’t seem too worried.”

“If we catch those raiders, he’ll have all the glory he can handle, and he’ll forget about Winnemucca and his people.”

“I don’t know about that. The Colonel likes to have things his way, and he doesn’t like being crossed.”

“We’re not crossing him. He wanted us to trail the raiders. We are taking you to where they should be. It’s his assumption that the raiders and Winnemucca’s people are one and the same. The raiders are mostly Paiute, but they’ve been banished by their own tribes. They’ve taken in others who were banished from their tribes too. If we catch the ones who did the raiding, that should satisfy him.”

“I hope so for your sake. I only want to find the ones who killed those people and took those women and girls. If we can get them and take them back to their families, that would be the best of all. It would probably stop another war from breaking out.”

“That’s what we want too.”

“Good. I’ll do what I can to help you with the Colonel. He isn’t one to be steered though so I can’t make any promises about that. Don’t underestimate his vindictiveness if your plan doesn’t work out.”

“Thank you. We’ll do our best.”

After Miles walked away, Joe whispered to Adam. “Are you sure we can trust him?”

“I’m betting my life on it.”

“I think you’re betting my life too so I hope you’re right.”

“No, Joe, I think that late tomorrow or early the next day, we tell them that the raiders split into two bands. The smaller one seems headed over the mountain passes, and the other group headed north through the valleys.”

“But we think they’re all heading over the mountains.”

“Yes, but you heard the Major. He wants to get those women back to their families. Carter only wants to kill Indians. If he’s in charge, what chance do you think those women will have?”

“Ah, I get your point. But are you sure that Carter will head north toward Winnemucca’s camp, and how are we going to make sure he doesn’t attack Winnemucca’s people?”

“Because we won’t tell them about the split until we get to the echo valleys. I’ll lead them up the valleys that are up ahead, and you must remember how sound bounces around in those. Those tall granite walls are perfect for letting sound echo all around. Carter may want to go a quieter way, but once we’re in those valleys, there is no other way. Winnemucca’s people will know we’re coming with all that noise, and they’ll have plenty of time to pack up and leave.”

“And if we’re right about those raiders, we should intersect their trail in a day or so or even get ahead of them. We took a shorter route because we weren’t worried about anybody chasing us so we should be right on their tails if we haven’t already gotten ahead of them. The major seems like the type who can work it out from there.”

“Yes, he does. I wouldn’t want to come up against him in a fight.”

“What about Carter? When he finds that camp empty and no Indians to kill, you’re going to be in his sights.”

“I know, but I’m hoping by then that you and Miles will have caught the raiders. Remember to send a messenger as soon as you do that. The sooner we can get Carter to pull back, the better it will be for everyone.”

“Adam, I’m worried about you. If Carter is as out to get even as Miles made him out to be, you won’t be safe when he finds out what we did.”

“What can he do, Joe? Shoot me? He can’t arrest me because we didn’t sign a contract. We acted as volunteer scouts. I haven’t disobeyed an order and I haven’t put any of these soldiers at risk except for probably making them bored by this whole thing.”

“I don’t know. I just don’t trust Carter. If there’s something he can do, I think he will.”

“Joe, I’m glad you care about what happens to me.”

“Of course I do, even if sometimes I don’t show it very well. My brain is sometimes a step or two behind what’s in my heart.”

“I feel the same sometimes. That’s all right, but tomorrow, we need to keep our wits about us all the time. We need to head further south and the Colonel isn’t going to like that. Once we have we have them well on their way to capturing the raiders, I’ll suggest that it looks like they split up. That’s likely to be later tomorrow or early the next day depending on the weather. It looks a lot like rain.”

“What’s that going to do to our plans?”

“It’s going to slow us down. We’ll have to come up with signs that can still be seen if it’s raining. In the morning, grab a few stones and scrape them with something, and grab a few twigs. Keep them in your pockets. When the Colonel demands to see something, dismount and act like you just found something. A scrape on a stone or a broken twig wouldn’t be affected by rain. We only have to fool him for a short time. I’ll do the same.”

“You are a sneaky man.”

“No, I call it planning. Nothing can beat the beauty of a well thought out plan.”

“No, nothing except a Colonel who can’t see anything in his future except a general’s rank.”

“Yes, he’s the card in the hole, and we don’t know what he’ll do to our plans, but all we can do is our best. Now, get some sleep. It could be a miserable day tomorrow.”

Joe awoke later to raindrops hitting his face. He opened his eyes to see Adam pull the tarp over a rope he had strung between two trees. That stopped any more rain from hitting him.

“Sorry about that. I was trying to get the tarp up, but I wasn’t fast enough. The rain came down before I was done.”

“How did you know the rain was coming?”

“I thought I smelled it last night, so when I heard some thunder in the distance, I pulled the tarp from our gear, and strung the rope. The storm was closer than I thought though.”

“You can smell rain?”

“Well not exactly, but something changes in the air before a storm comes in. I smelled that that air was different and assumed it was rain coming in.”

“What time is it?”

“Just after midnight. We can get some sleep now. You might want to pull your slicker and throw it over your blanket. The tarp won’t stop any rain that the wind blows.”

In the morning, there were a lot of soggy, crabby soldiers, and the Colonel was one of the worst. It seemed as if he blamed Adam for the rain, or maybe he was dismayed to find that Adam and Joe were the only ones who were dry. No one else had taken any precautions. Apparently a grumpy, damp Colonel was worse than the wide-awake, suspicious, dry one. He ordered camp broken and a cold breakfast, and again was irritated when a cold breakfast meant that Adam and Joe were eating eggs and crispy bacon while he and his men had hardtack.

Chapter 4

Wearing their slickers to keep the rain from soaking them thoroughly, Adam and Joe led the column slowly in the rain drenched terrain made all the more treacherous by the wet soil on narrow trails. There were times that fog slowed them even more and made it difficult to know where they were. At one point, the Colonel demanded to know how they knew they were following the right trail. Adam was going to tell him but got cut off.

“No, him.” The Colonel pointed rather imperiously at Joe. “I want your younger brother to tell us how he knows we’re on the right trail.”

While the Colonel was addressing Adam, Joe quickly dug a small stone from his pocket and held it in his right hand. He dismounted and leaned down to grab a couple of stones in that same hand. He walked over to the Colonel and handed him two stones. “That’s what the stones should look like.” Then he handed the stone he had scraped earlier that morning over to the Colonel. “This one shows someone rode a horse over it recently.”

“How can you tell it’s recent?”

“Look at how clean that scraped area is compared to the rest of the stone. If it had laid here very long, the scrape would be darker and maybe have some dirt stuck in it. That scrape is as clean as the day God made that stone.”

Reassured that the brothers were following a trail, the Colonel gestured for Joe to mount up and continue. As they got ahead of the column again, Adam whispered his praise for a job well done. Joe grinned in appreciation. He knew they wouldn’t likely get far enough unless there was an end to the fog and the rain. He wanted that to happen and he didn’t want it to happen. If it did, they could get on with the next part of their plan, and those women and girls would be rescued. But he didn’t want it to end because he and Adam would be split up, and he had dreamed the night before that he had awakened to find Adam covered in blood with the Colonel standing over him and demonically laughing. He tried to tell himself that it had been the rain that had caused the dream, but in his heart, he had a great fear of what might happen to Adam at the hands of the Colonel when he realized he had been tricked for Joe didn’t believe that the Colonel would be satisfied to have a successful mission. He feared that the Colonel pictured himself commanding a force of men as they rushed into battle killing the enemy. He didn’t tell Adam any of that though because he had no logical reason for thinking it. It was a bad feeling he had, and Hoss had often told him to trust his gut.

Late in the afternoon, the rain stopped and the sun came out. In the cold, dry mountain air, steam could be seen rising off the horses and from the clothing of the men. It was as if they were generating fog as they went. It was a ghostly apparition that made Joe shudder when Adam had to ride ahead on the narrow trail as the column was forced to go single file. Joe watched as tendrils of steam rose from his brother and his horse giving him a ghostly appearance. He had the same feeling of great unease that he had been feeling since the dream of the night before. That night as they built a fire and stretched out their bedrolls, Joe addressed his concerns.

“Adam, maybe we should stick together and follow those raiders. We can do our best to make sure the women and girls are safe.”

“You want to do that and risk their lives when you know they’ll stand a better chance if Miles is leading the soldiers who catch up to the raiders?”

“Yes. I’m real worried about that Colonel. I just don’t think you’re going to be safe.” Then Joe had to admit why he felt so strongly about it. He told Adam about the dream that he feared was a premonition.

“Well I guess on my tombstone, you’re going to have to put that ‘Here lies a man who should have had another plan’ for my epitaph.”

“It’s not funny. I told you real concerns. You don’t have to make a joke out of it.”

“Joe, I’m sorry. It’s just that I think the risk is worth it. I told you before that there isn’t any legal ground for him to try to do anything to me. If those raiders are caught and especially if the women and girls are rescued, he won’t dare do anything to me.”

Joe said nothing more. He sensed that there was something inherently wrong with Adam’s plan, but he couldn’t think of what it was. He had a thought niggling at the back of his mind, but it just wouldn’t coalesce into a rational thought. He hoped that by morning he might be able to convince Adam to change his mind.

Meanwhile, Adam had a question for him. It caught him off guard, and that with his reluctance to answer was an answer in itself. “What were all of you talking about the other night when I got upset and went outside to calm down?”

“Uh, I, ah, Hoss and me were just playing checkers.”

“So it didn’t bother you at all that I was upset that my personal possessions had become the property of the whole family?”

“Well, no, ah, damn, Adam, we were supposed to talk about this together with the whole family. Pa was gonna check into a few things, and then we were going to see if we could get the cash to buy the Edwards ranch for you or give you that amount of money to pay you back at least what we could. Anyway that was the idea we had, and we were going to talk to you the next night about all of that but this happened and everything had to be put off.”

“So you were going to pull assets from the Ponderosa to compensate me for what I lost?”

“That’s about it, but we wanted to talk with you first to see if you wanted it that way.”

“I hate to see the Ponderosa diminished in any way because of me.”

“Oh, we weren’t going to do that. We would have some of the money just by what we would save by not paying rent to Joyce. I have a horse contract I’m working on and instead of buying more stock, I was going to put that money toward it. Hoss said we could take a hundred head more on the drive, and we all thought we could try to sell that silver mine we own.”

Leaning back on his saddle and looking up at the stars so Joe wouldn’t see that his eyes had filled with tears, Adam blinked a few times. Joe noticed but wasn’t going to say anything about it. He simply waited for Adam to respond for he knew he would once he had a chance to think it all through. “And the three of you worked that all out in that short time. I should have come back in to talk with you about it then.”

“Pa and Hoss thought that we should check to see if we could actually do all of that before telling you so we wouldn’t get your hopes up only to have them dashed again.”

“Yes, that was a wise precaution. I would have been happy just to be able to build a house for Belle.”

“Does that mean you don’t want the rest?”

Laughing, Adam pulled a blanket up to his chin in the chilly night, but Joe’s information had already warmed him inside. “Oh, no, I’ll take it. It seems a very fair settlement. Goodnight, Joe. Let’s get some sleep so we can get this done tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, Adam, and thanks.”

“Thanks?”

“For being the brother I remembered.”

The brothers slept well that night. As they had been talking, Miles and Wood had been discussing them. Miles trusted the two even though he knew they were doing things their way. “My feeling is that whatever they’re up to, it will work out. Everything they’ve said and the way they’ve said it supports the idea that they want those women and girls returned safely and those raiders brought to justice if we can do it.”

“Yes, they both seem very smart, and the older one seems to be as battle hardened as any man I’ve met out here.” Wood was young but perceptive.

“I’d like to know his story sometime. I’ve seen the scars on his wrists. He’s been shackled at some point and for quite a while too.”

“I hadn’t noticed those.”

“Look. He keeps his sleeves down but when he reaches for something, they’re very visible.”

“Do you think he’s been in prison?”

“I’ve never heard anything about the Cartwrights like that. But I am curious. And keep writing everything down. We may need your notes at some point.”

Wood said nothing to that because he knew exactly what Miles was thinking, but neither of them could say it where anyone might overhear. They fully expected a disciplinary hearing for Carter because a man with that kind of overbearing ambition was going to break the rules at some point.

In the morning, Adam and Joe finished the last of the eggs, bacon, and biscuits that Hop Sing had sent with them. They would be forced to eat beans the rest of the way unless Carter allowed some hunting, but he seemed reluctant to let the brothers out of his sight. As they saddled their horses, Adam and Joe went over the plan they had. Joe was still thinking that they shouldn’t split up, but Adam was more concerned about the women and girls they needed to rescue and that Carter would not worry about them if he had Indians to kill. Adam reminded Joe to send a messenger as soon as the rescue was successful and the raiders would hopefully be apprehended. After a few hours, they got to the place where they needed to head in different directions. Adam and Joe both dismounted and searched the ground as if surprised by what they found.

“Well, what is it? You haven’t lost the trail, have you?” Colonel Carter was impatient.

There was no trail to lose, but neither was going to admit that. Adam spoke first. “It looks like they split into two groups. A small group is headed over the mountains from the looks of it. The larger party is headed north through the valleys.”

Carter pointed at Joe. “What about you? What do you think?”

“It looks that way. It’s going to be difficult to track them over those mountains. The group going up the valley won’t be very difficult to track unless they know we’re behind them and brush the tracks away. Adam will be able to find sign though even if they do that.”

Major Miles had an inkling then about what the brothers might be trying to do. He decided to help out. “Colonel Carter, I could take a small detachment and try to catch the small group. You would have to defeat the larger force without my help though.”

That was all it took. Carter was already seeing his name in headlines, and there would be no one else to take any of the credit away. The glory would all be his. He of course chose the valley route as expected and took most of the soldiers with him leaving only a company of twenty for the Major to command. As the troop column divided, Miles reminded Wood to document everything. Then Adam and Joe bid each other goodbye and led their detachments away, one going north at a slow pace and noisily while the other moved up the trail to a great ambush site that Adam and Joe had decided would be the best place to take the raiders. After Miles went along with the plan for a few hours, he called a water break and bluffed to get Joe to tell him more.

“All right, now what have you and your brother planned because I know you weren’t following a real trail?”

Joe was surprised because he had thought they had fooled them all. “I, ah, well, we figured the raiders would come this way. We cut across at an angle to get ahead of them. If they don’t think they’re being followed, they won’t be worried. We thought you could set a trap for them in a canyon up ahead.”

“I guessed it had to be something like that. Now is Colonel Carter actually going to find any Indians?”

“Not likely. Adam is taking him up those valleys that have sheer granite walls on either side. The sounds will echo so that people miles away will hear even the jangle of saddles and tack. Talking will carry well too.”

“So Winnemucca will know they’re coming and get away?”

Joe bristled a bit at that. “Yes, they will retreat because his people didn’t do this, and they don’t deserve to die.”

“Don’t get your back up about it. I agree with you or I wouldn’t have cooperated. I would have told Colonel Carter right away if I thought you were doing something to put the men at risk. Now, you and I have never had this conversation. Is that clear?”

“Yes, yes, it is. Do you want me to tell you the plan for the ambush that Adam and I cooked up? It can be another one of those conversations we never had.”

Miles smiled. “Yes, I think you understand the situation perfectly.”

So Joe told him what he and Adam had thought they should do. A few hours later, the trap was set. As the raiders moved up into the mountains, they were relaxed thinking that there might never be any pursuit. Once they got deep into the mountains, it wouldn’t matter. No Army column would ever find them in their hideouts. They had five wives to bring back to their encampment. Each man hoped that one of the women might be theirs, but they knew it was up to the whole camp to decide. That’s where their thoughts were as they rode slowly into a canyon planning to camp there before tackling the arduous trek up and over the crest of the mountains.

The raiders were surprised to hear a call from behind them to halt. Turning they saw soldiers with rifles pointed at them. They moved to kick their horses into a gallop, but were shocked when another group of soldiers stepped from the brush in front of them and had rifles aimed at them. The renegades were badly outnumbered and caught in a crossfire if they attempted to fight. Deciding that escape was the only option left, the leader ordered his men to climb the talus slope to their left. Horses would never make it so if they got to the top, they would be free. They dismounted and raced to the slope leaving their horses, their booty, and the five females behind. All of that could be replaced. As they began to climb, the soldiers moved in quickly to rescue the women. The warriors continued to climb surprised that no shots were fired at them. When they were about halfway up the slope, Joe and several soldiers stepped to the edge of the crest and pointed their rifles down at them. Two of the raiders pulled their weapons to shoot and were shot down with fire from below and above. The others dropped their weapons and raised their hands in the air. They were familiar enough with the white man’s ways to know that was the thing to do. As they headed downslope, Joe and the soldiers followed them. They were put in irons when they reached the bottom. Miles walked up to Joe as he reached the bottom too.

“Hostages rescued and twelve raiders captured and not one of my men was ever in danger. Thank you. You and your brother could have had wonderful careers in the military.”

“Now please send a messenger to the other column. Adam can only delay Carter for a short time. When he finds Winnemucca’s camp deserted, I’m guessing he’s going to be very angry and want to chase after them. Adam won’t let him murder those people so Carter needs to know that this mission is completed before he and Adam butt heads.”

“I’d send you but I need you to lead us out of here. I don’t know which of my men is capable of finding his way to the other group. I can send two to try to make sure they get there. I wish I could do more, but my first concern has to be these women.” Miles looked over to where the women were being given food and water. Each was wrapped in an Army blanket. The two younger ones looked to be in shock, two of the older women were softly crying, and the fifth one was looking around. Joe noticed.

“Major, I wouldn’t let that one anywhere near a knife or a firearm. I have the feeling she would like nothing better than to kill a few of those renegades.”

“We’ll watch her. They’ll probably all hang anyway, but we can’t let her get charged with murder. I’ll send two messengers, and then I’ll talk to the women. Maybe you can help with that seeing as how you live near them. They may know your name and trust you more than they have any reason to trust me.”

“Major, you saved them. They’ll trust you, but I will help. And thank you for sending messengers. I hope they get there soon enough.”

“For your brother’s sake and for Winnemucca’s people, I hope so too.”

Chapter 5

Moving up the mountain valley with the other column of soldiers, Adam offered to hunt for fresh meat for their meals. Colonel Carter didn’t like the idea.

“I’m not letting you out of my sight. It would be just like you to strand us here in the wilderness. I’ve heard some of the things about you. You used to hunt with the Paiute. You don’t think the Paiute did those raids even though your own brother said they looked like Paiute. You’re going to stay right here with us. If we see something you can shoot for us, you can do it from the column. You’re an Indian lover, and I will not trust you not to run off and tattle on us to your friends, the Paiute.” Adam said nothing in response. There was nothing he could say that would make a difference anyway.

No game was spotted that day. That night it was beans for everyone around the campfires. Adam spread his bedroll and missed his brother. Having family around even for the past few weeks had made him so much more comfortable that he truly missed them and wished he wasn’t so alone. He hoped that Joe had talked Major Miles into their plan. He also hoped that they had been able to implement it because such a plan was best when it was a surprise not only to the renegades but to the soldiers too. Concealing themselves and waiting to spring the ambush would put them on edge, and that was a good thing for it made them more alert and ready for anything. If they had to wait too long, the soldiers could relax about it too much, and that could prove costly.

The next morning, the men were up early and headed out at first light. Carter pushed them hard that day. As they were having their lunch break, a big horn sheep was spotted but it was a long distance off. Smirking, Carter told Adam to shoot him for the men if he could. Adam walked to his horse and pulled his rifle. He leaned against a scrub tree to steady his aim and fired. The sheep stood for a moment and then toppled over. Carter’s smile, that had blossomed when he thought Adam had missed, vanished and was replaced by an angry grimace. Somehow this civilian seemed to find a way to make him look bad, or that was how it was seen by Carter. He vowed to himself that he would put him in his place somehow. In addition, the shot had echoed through the valley and was completely at odds with military procedure in such a situation. Carter knew that the men knew that. He saw the looks some of them gave him as the echoes died away. He would show them somehow that he was a worthy commander. He would get that general’s rank somehow.

Smiling, the men went to get the sheep and brought it back in four pieces. They planned to have a good meal that night. Riding until dusk, the column finally halted when it was too dark to see where they were going. Campfires were set and meat was roasted. Most of the men liked Adam. He had led them carefully through some treacherous terrain, and now he had provided them with one of the best meals they had eaten recently. Adam sat with some of the soldiers and talked about the mountains and what they would likely see the next day. He told them that in the morning, he would try to get some fish for breakfast if he could. True to his word, Adam was up and ready to try as soon as there was a hint of light. Soon after using the Paiute method, he had several fish that he brought to the camp. There was still some leftover roasted meat and the fish were quickly fried.

Moving out soon after that, the men were ordered to be quiet. Adam had told Colonel Carter that they were less than a day’s travel from Winnemucca’s camp. Carter pressed his men to cover as much ground as possible. He hoped to arrive at the camp while there was still sufficient light for his attack and victory. Adam wasn’t worried. He assumed that the Paiute had heard the column coming. That rifle shot the day before should have removed all doubt. He thought he had seen Paiute scouts ahead of them several times but tried not to look to closely for Carter was always watching him and would have wanted to know what he had seen. The column exited the valley and rode hard toward where Adam told them to find Winnemucca’s camp. When they got there, all they found were fire rings and cold ashes. There was no longer a camp there, and it had apparently been evacuated the day before. Adam dismounted and waited for Carter’s reaction. He expected to be told that the next day they would begin a pursuit of the Paiute.

There was a commotion at that time and two soldiers who had been with Miles appeared in the dusk as they emerged from the tree line. They reported that Miles had captured a dozen renegades, killed two, and rescued the women. Adam expected Carter to be angry that Miles had been successful. Instead, Carter ranted about Adam.

“You tricked me. You lied to me. You knew all along that these Paiute would escape. You warned them somehow. You’re going to pay for this. You’re under arrest. Put him in irons.” No one reacted so Carter pointed directly at several of the men. “Now! You men, get some irons that we were going to use on those renegades and put them on this traitor! This man has committed treason against the nation.”

Lieutenant Wood did his best to intervene. “Sir, he couldn’t have warned them. He was with us the entire time. He said he would lead us to their camp, and he did. He and his brother made this a successful campaign.”

“Wood, do as I say, or you’ll join him in irons. Now!”

For Adam, there was no other way to describe his reaction other than as panic. He could not believe what he was hearing. Of all the things he had thought might happen, this was not one of them. He saw the irons the men pulled from a packhorse and knew he could never be shackled like that again. He turned to his horse and mounted up intending to ride out. Carter was incensed when he saw that.

“Shoot him! Shoot him! The prisoner is escaping. Shoot him!”

Not one soldier got a rifle to do that so Carter pulled his pistol. Wood tried to stay his hand but was pushed back. Carter fired three shots before trees and brush obscured his target. Adam had gotten away. However Adam was hurt. He had dropped low over his horse’s neck after he heard the first shot whistle through the leaves near him. The second shot spurred him to go faster, but the third shot hit him low on the left side. Because he was nearly laying across the horse, a shot that would have been a through and through on his lower left side became a shot that tore through muscle and tissue all along his left side banging into a rib and exiting just below his armpit and tore through the muscle at the back of his left arm. His arm went numb and the pain of being shot nearly caused him to fall from the horse. He rode until it was too dark to ride any more, but he knew that dismounting was likely his death. He stayed on the horse and walked him by the light of the moon. It wasn’t safe to do that, but it was his best option.

By morning, he was exhausted and weak from blood loss. He had stuffed a handkerchief inside his shirt but knew it did little good. He couldn’t take care of himself, and he feared he might fall from his horse before he got to the Ponderosa and help. He pulled his lariat and put the lasso end around the pommel of his saddle before wrapping it around himself a few times. He took his pocket knife from his pocket and cut the rope so that he could tied the end into a knot. It was simple to describe but very difficult to do with one arm functioning and his vision becoming more and more of a problem. It took at least fifteen minutes to do what should have been a one minute task, but Adam had to move slowly and carefully ever aware of his weakening condition and worried that he would drop the knife or rope. He knew if he dismounted, he would never be able to get back up on the horse. Once he had very deliberately tied himself to the saddle, he nudged the horse to continue moving toward the Ponderosa and safety.

During the early hours of the night, Adam had thought about Belle and how worried she must be. He was sorry that she was going to have to deal with this. He thought about Joe and how worried he had been about this part of the plan. As it turned out, Adam should have accepted Joe’s warnings. It was too late now. He had not had another plan. He had forgotten his grandfather’s advice. Be prepared so that if first plan fails, you have another plan to follow. He worried about his father and Hoss. Only recently, they had found that he was alive and not dead. Now a few weeks later, they might have to mourn him all over again. By the morning though, he was no longer thinking at all. He was in survival mode simply trying his best to get home.

Hoss had gone out that morning to help Candy and the men bring the rest of the herd down from the high pasture. His ankle still hurt, and he couldn’t ride hard, but both Ben and Candy knew that he wanted to be there because he was hoping that his brothers would soon be back. By early afternoon, Hoss was sure he heard the sound of a lot of horses heading their way. He and Candy rode in that direction and soon were rewarded by seeing Joe leading some of the soldiers as well as renegades in irons on their horses that were being led by soldiers. Up front next to Joe and one of the officers rode the five females who had been rescued. The column halted when Hoss and Candy rode toward them.

“Little brother, it shur is good to see ya. Looks like you were successful. Where’s Adam?” Hoss was worried at the small number of soldiers and that Adam was not with the group.

“We split up. Adam is leading the other group toward Winnemucca’s camp.”

Joe’s statement shocked Hoss. “He wouldn’t do that.”

“Don’t worry. They won’t be there. He took the soldiers up through the echo canyons. Winnemucca should have had at least a day’s warning. The Major sent messengers so by now Carter knows the mission is over.”

Hoss and Candy grinned, and Hoss offered to go get some of their hands to help out. Soon the women were being escorted to their homes, and the soldiers had guides to take them to Carson City where the renegades would be jailed until the military could send instructions as to what to do with them. That left Hoss, Joe, and Candy who elected to ride toward Winnemucca’s camp to find Adam and help guide the soldiers home. They rode on and were about to stop for the night when Candy told them he thought he saw something up ahead.

“Well, what is it, Candy? We ain’t gonna go check it out just because you saw something up ahead. There’s a lot of something up here.”

“No, well it looked like a man on a horse, but he wasn’t moving. He was just sitting there on him. Then the sun went behind those clouds and I couldn’t see anything any more.”

A bit ill at ease about that, Hoss decided they could ride ahead to check out the something that Candy had seen. At first none of them saw anything, but then the sun cleared the clouds just before it dipped below the mountains. They saw a man sitting on a horse ahead of them, and as Candy had said, he wasn’t moving. Even in the dusk, the brothers knew it was Adam. Once they reached his side, Hoss and Joe called out to him, but he didn’t respond. They saw too that he had tied himself to the saddle. All three men dismounted. Candy thought Adam’s left pant leg looked wet. He leaned forward to sniff it for he was sure he knew what it was. Then he touched it with his hand and held it up so that Hoss and Joe could see. Without saying another word, Hoss reached up to slice through the rope holding Adam in the saddle.

“Steady him, Joe.” With the rope pulled away, Hoss dropped his pocketknife and reached up to pull his brother from the saddle. “Hold the horse, Candy. He looks exhausted but a mite skittish too with the smell of blood so close.” Adam groaned softly as Hoss pulled him from the saddle. After retrieving his knife, Hoss pulled Adam’s coat open and saw that the inside was soaked with blood too. He cut the black shirt open and asked Joe to help him roll Adam on his right side. The extent of the injury was visible then. Candy had brought them an extra shirt from his saddlebags, and Hoss told him there would be at least one more in Adam’s saddlebags.

“We can’t take care of this here. He needs a doctor. We’ll bandage him up as well as we can, and then we have to get him home. Joe, can you ride for the doctor. I’d be a real blessing ifn he was at the ranch by the time we got Adam back there.”

Very quickly Joe mounted up and started riding. It was dark but he had to do this. A nearly full moon helped. Hoss wadded up two shirts and pressed them against the long wound. Candy asked how they were going to be able to keep pressure on the wounds and still move him.

“We’ll time him up. You hold his coat closed against those shirts, and I’ll wind some rope around him. It’s all we can do. If we stay here, and he bleeds much more, he might not make it.” Hoss’ voice broke when he said that. Candy nodded and began to wrap the coat tightly around Adam as Hoss got the rope ready. Soon Adam was bound tightly around the middle, but then they had to decide how they would transport him.

“A travois is going to be too slow. With the rocks up here, it would be a very bumpy ride too. I’ll take him on my horse. When my horse gets too tired of two of us riding, I’ll switch to your horse. You bring Adam’s horse. We may need him too.”

About midnight, Ben was awakened by a pounding on the front door. He looked out his window and saw Joe’s pinto but also saw Doctor Martin’s carriage. He quickly grabbed a robe and headed down the stairs to unlock the front door. Hop Sing got there before he could, and Belle was right behind him on the stairs.

“Joe, what happened?”

“Belle, Pa, I’m sorry. Adam got hurt. Hoss and Candy are bringing him down from where we found him.”

“How bad is he hurt?” Belle asked before Ben could.

“It’s a nasty wound but shallow. The big problem is he lost a lot of blood. We need to get everything ready so the doc can get right to it as soon as they get him here.”

Hop Sing was already headed to the kitchen. Belle went out the front door and stood at the edge of the porch looking toward the northwest. Ben walked out to stand beside her.

“I’m not leaving. I’m standing right here until he gets home.”

“I know you are. I thought you might be cold, and Adam told me to take care of you.”

“I’ll be fine.” That sounded so much like Adam that Ben almost smiled. Instead he was gone for a couple of minutes and returned with two blankets. He wrapped one around Belle and then the other around himself as he stood beside her. They watched for an hour before Belle said she saw something. Ben went inside to tell the others that Adam was going to be there soon. In about ten minutes, Hoss and Candy rode into the yard. Adam was in the saddle on Chubb with Candy sitting behind him. Hoss dismounted and carefully took Adam in his arms as Candy lowered him. Belle wanted to rush in to help, but Ben held her back saying that Hoss would take good care of his brother. Soon Adam was in his bed that had been stripped of the normal blanket and comforter and covered in towels as well as old sheets. Hoss took out his pocketknife and sliced through the ropes holding Adam’s jacket tightly around his middle. Doctor Martin peeled back the coat and found that most of the bleeding had stopped. He turned to Ben and asked him to take Belle and leave.

“Hop Sing will help me. Once we get him cleaned up some and take care of that wound, Belle can come back, but I don’t want her to see what I have to do next.”

“I’m staying.” Belle had Adam’s right hand in hers.

“Belle, I have to debride the wound and then stitch it up. It’s going to be awful to see.”

“I won’t look then, but I’m staying.”

“All right, then. Ben would you stay close in case I need your help?” Ben knew that meant in case Belle had to be removed from the bedroom so he nodded and stepped outside the room to wait. Joe was already there, and Hoss came up a short time later after washing the blood from his hands and arms. He went to his room and put on a clean shirt and pants before joining the vigil at Adam’s closed door.

After almost two hours, the door opened and Doctor Martin stepped outside. Hop Sing came through next with a bundle of dirty towels and clothing wrapped in a sheet. Paul took a deep breath and gave the family the news. “I already told Belle. She did well, by the way, and ended up being a big help to us in there. Now, the wound looked awful but it was shallow. The best I can tell is that it was a single shot that entered low on the left side of his back and traveled upwards exiting and then hitting his arm.” At their look of surprise, he nodded. “Yes, I didn’t see it at first either with everything else. He’s lost a lot of blood. His breathing is regular as is his heart rate. They’re both weak but steady. His system is working, but he needs to get fluids. Broth, water, tea, anything as long as he gets a steady diet of them. My guess is that he will be very weak for probably a month to six weeks. For the first week or two, there won’t be much of a problem keeping him resting because he’s going to be weak as a baby and need help with everything. When he starts feeling his strength coming back, he’ll want to do too much. Hide his boots, his slippers, or anything else he could wear to leave the house. I don’t want him out of this house for the next month. He should recover but he has to rest and avoid any strenuous activity.” He saw their looks. “I know it will be difficult, but his life depends on that. It takes a long time to recover from blood loss like he suffered. In some ways, it’s easier to have a more serious wound or a broken bone because your body is strong then and can fight what’s been done to it. He’s as weak as he could be and still survive. If you hadn’t found him when you did, he would have died.”

“He was shot in the back then?”

“Yes, Ben, the bullet entered his lower back. He was probably riding away from whomever shot him.”

Chapter 6

Refusing to leave Adam’s side except to go to the necessary, Belle was there praying and trying her best not to lose hope when Adam didn’t wake. After a full day of sitting by his side, holding his hand, and talking to him, she was exhausted. Ben came in as he had many times during that day until Hoss and Joe had convinced him to sleep as they took turns sitting with Belle. Occasionally Adam would moan softly, or Hop Sing would put an ice chip in his mouth and he would suck on it. Other than that, there was no reaction. He laid there in bed, pale and cool to the touch. They kept warming blankets and putting those on him to keep him from being chilled. Ben watched as Belle rocked slightly in her chair.

“My dear, you have to get some sleep.”

“I’m not leaving him. He would stay with me if I was hurt. I know it. So I won’t leave him.”

“You don’t have to leave him to get some sleep. He’s your husband. Lie down on his right side on the bed. Maybe he’ll know you’re there, and it will comfort him. I’ll sit here to watch over him as you do that so you can get some sleep.”

Ben slipped his arm around Belle and helped her to her feet and around the bed to lie next to Adam’s uninjured side. He laid a blanket over her then before retreating to the chair to do as he promised. She put her forehead against Adam’s shoulder and her hand on his arm. Almost immediately she succumbed to the weariness and was sound asleep. Ben watched in amazement as Adam turned his head toward Belle and almost seemed to smile a little though he never opened his eyes. When Adam had brought Belle home as his wife, Ben had fought to hold his tongue. He worried that Adam had rushed into a marriage. He knew Adam could fall in love as quickly as Joe, but Adam had a tendency to be deeply in love when that happened, and it had been to the wrong woman each time. There had always been an insurmountable obstacle to him being happy in love. However, Ben was glad he had never expressed these doubts to his son because he found Belle was delightful, loving, smart, and now when it mattered most, she was strong and determined as well. She may have made some questionable choices in her life, but Ben wasn’t going to judge for he had done the same. What mattered most was that she was deeply in love with his son even if it was only a short marriage so far.

When Hoss and Joe stopped by later, both smiled a little to see the two sleeping with Belle snuggled up to Adam’s right side. Hoss told Ben that he would be there at midnight to take a turn, and Joe said he would take a turn after that. As dawn broke the next morning, Ben opened the door to Adam’s room and Joe turned to look at him, but that wasn’t what grabbed Ben’s attention. Adam’s eyes opened too as light from the hallway brightened the room. His eyes were sunken, his face pale, and the dark beard he already had made him look deathly ill, but the look in his eyes was clear.

“Adam, I am so glad to see you awake.” Ben got a slight smile in response as Adam turned slightly to look at Belle sleeping by his side. “She’s been with you ever since you got home about thirty hours ago. I finally got her to agree to sleep but only if she didn’t have to leave you. I have to wake her now.”

Belle was already blinking sleep from her eyes though after hearing Ben’s voice. Joe had gone to get Hoss. Belle got out of the bed to pour a glass of water and go to Adam’s side.

“Paul said you have to drink as much as we can get you to drink. Would you like me to spoon it to you or do you want to have someone hold you up to drink?” Unable to make a sound, Adam couldn’t answer. Belle answered for him. “I’ll spoon it for you then.” Adam did that little smile again, and Ben moved to slip another pillow behind Adam’s head propping him up a little. He grimaced in pain but made no sound. Belle waited until he was able to open his eyes again and spooned the water into his mouth letting him swallow and catch his breath after each one. As she finished, she leaned down to kiss him softly. He smiled gently again, closed his eyes, and was fast asleep in seconds. Hoss and Joe stood at the door with small smiles that were mirror images of Adam’s.

Ben put his hand on Belle’s shoulder as she started to cry. “He’s going to be all right. We’re all here to help. Now I’ll get Hop Sing to put some broth in a covered pot, and we’ll keep it here on the small stove. We have to keep the stove going to keep him warm anyway.” Belle stood then and let Ben wrap his arms around her and soothe her. He never had a daughter, but he was thinking that if he ever had, he would have liked one just like Belle. Once she stopped crying, she asked if they could leave the room for a few minutes so she could change. They had to do the same so it wasn’t a problem. A short time later, Hop Sing brought two plates of food to the bedroom, and Belle and Ben sat at the table next to the window and ate breakfast as they discussed what they would need to do for Adam that day. They heard riders come into the yard but couldn’t see them from Adam’s room. Hoss was there a short time later.

“That damn Colonel Carter is here, and he says he wants to arrest Adam. I told him that Adam wasn’t getting arrested by him no how, but he’s demanding to come up here to see him.”

“I’ll handle this.” Ben stood. “Don’t let anybody in this room except family.” He then proceeded down the stairs to confront the Colonel. Joe was standing at the front door refusing to let the Colonel enter the house. When the Colonel saw Ben he immediately made his demands.

“Your son is facing military charges. I insist that I see him to verify that he is unable to face these charges at this time.”

“My son is not and never was in the military. He cannot face military charges. You have no authority over him.”

“We’ll see about that. He volunteered on a military mission. I’ll be contacting the general who commands the forces in this area. You’ll be hearing from him and from me again.” Colonel Carter had failed in his attempt to bluff his way into the home and get custody of Adam. However he had learned that one of his shots at least had found its mark. He was gratified to know that Adam was confined to bed. In that state, he would be less likely to be much of an opponent, and Colonel Carter did enjoy beating a weak opponent. Lieutenant Wood was with him as were about a dozen soldiers who must have heard the conversations by the door. He would be able to call them as witnesses. As soon as he got back to Carson City, he intended to fire off a telegram to General Howard asking for an investigation into Adam Cartwright and suggesting he ought to face a military tribunal. Unknown to him, Wood was sending all of his written reports to General Howard as well. Major Miles had suggested it, so Wood carefully copied everything he had written in regard to the campaign to track down the raiders. It was all in a large dispatch envelope that Miles sent by courier to Howard. Howard was a tough man but a fair one. Miles was willing to let him take over this mess.

Upstairs Belle watched from the window as the soldiers left. She waited for Ben to come upstairs and tell her what happened. Once he did though, he asked her to step into the hall. He didn’t want Adam overhearing anything that he said. “Colonel Carter wants to prefer charges against Adam.”

“Why? They got those women and got the renegades too. Adam was the only one hurt in all of this.”

“I know, and I’m sure that nothing he tries to do will be successful, but please try to keep this from Adam. He shouldn’t get upset now. We all have to act as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened so he stays relaxed and concentrates on healing.”

“I know. The doctor said he had to rest, but if he knows about this, he’ll have trouble sleeping.”

“You’ve been a wonderful wife to Adam. Now you have to be an actress too and make him believe there is nothing to worry about except getting better. Can you do that?”

“I will. Now I’ll go sit with him again, and you can tell Hoss. I know how worried he is too.”

As Ben explained to Hoss what Colonel Carter wanted, Joe came up to join them. Hoss was highly irritated about what Carter wanted to do. He echoed Belle’s arguments and added one. “It wouldn’t surprise me none if Carter was the one who shot Adam. He’s just the type to shoot a man in the back.”

“Pa, I’ve been thinking the same thing. While we were out there, Carter didn’t even try to hide the fact that he didn’t like Adam. He talked to him and acted toward him like he wouldn’t mind if Adam got killed along with the Paiute. I agree with Hoss. One way or another, Carter is responsible for Adam being shot.”

“We’ll have to wait until Adam can tell us what happened. Until then, we don’t want him to know what Carter wants. He needs to stay calm and resting. So everyone needs to put on a good act, and there will be no serious talk in his bedroom.”

“It’s kinda odd, though, ain’t it, Pa. One of us hurt, but you ain’t the one sitting by his side all the time. Belle’s been there through it all. Kinda wish I had a gal like that.”

Ben put his hand on Hoss’ shoulder. “Son, I wish that too. Now maybe when Adam is back on his feet and we can put this all behind us, you could go out there and find yourself a wife. I’m not getting any younger, and I’d like to have some grandchildren before I’m too old to enjoy them.”

Their conversation was interrupted by Belle who opened the bedroom door to say she needed some help for Adam. That was the beginning of the routine for the next several days as Adam began his long recovery and needed help with everything. Ben offered to shave him because Belle said she had no experience doing that. Each morning then, Ben would play barber and shave Adam’s beard. Adam very much wanted a bath, but because of his wound, he could not be submerged in water. Hoss stepped in to help with that. After Adam was shaved, Hoss carefully and gently lifted and turned him as needed while Belle washed him. He had complained that his back was very itchy, and they found out why the first time they bathed him. There was a lot of dried blood still on his back that was irritating his skin. After removing the bandages, Belle bathed his back and the area as close to the wound as she dared. Then they applied clean bandages, and Belle bathed the rest of him with Hoss’ help. A few times a day, they rolled him onto his right side so that he didn’t develop bedsores. Belle or one of the others would massage his back gently then to alleviate any sore and stiff muscles but also to relieve any pressure points. These fairly minor activities would make Adam exhausted, and he would sleep for a few hours after each one. When he awoke, he was given fluids, and then Belle or Ben would read to him, or Hoss or Joe would sit and tell him about what was happening on the ranch. Each day for four days, Doctor Martin checked in with his patient. On the fourth visit, he said he didn’t need to come out any more unless there was a problem. He was sitting beside Adam but addressing the whole family who had crowded into the room.

“Adam is recovering well. As I told you, he will be very weak for some time yet. Keep doing what you’re doing though because as far as I can tell, he’s out of danger now. His kidneys are working just fine, and his color has improved. You may not be able to see that because you’re with him so much, but each day I’ve been here, he’s looked better. He’s going to lose some weight with this liquid diet so if he can tolerate some soft foods, let him start back toward eating normally although very small meals spaced a few hours apart would be much better than three big meals a day. If he eats something six or seven times a day, that would be best.”

“Doc, I shur wish you’d tell me I oughta do that.”

“Hoss, I thought you were doing that already.”

Everyone chuckled and heard a hoarse rasping from the bed. Adam was chuckling, but his long unused vocal chords were a bit stiff and it hurt his side to do it so there was a bit of a groan mixed with the chuckle.

“Although I’m glad to see you so alert and able to be amused, I think it best if we avoid too much humor with you. I apologize for causing you any discomfort.” Adam reached for Paul’s hand and squeezed it letting him know that there were no hard feelings at all. In fact, it felt good to Adam that people were beginning to act so normal around him. The way they had acted at first with tears in their eyes and barely able to speak to him had made him wonder if he was dying. Now that they were being themselves, he could relax and better enjoy the time he had with them.

Chapter 7

One week after Adam had been brought home near death, he was able to sit in a chair at the table in his room and feed himself a soft egg and part of a biscuit. It took all of his concentration to manage it, but he needed to be able to do something for himself. After he ate though, he needed Hoss to help back to the bed. He couldn’t walk by himself at all. His balance was terrible, and standing was about all he could manage alone in that regard and even then he needed to hold onto something so that he didn’t tip over. The good news for Adam was that he was able to get out of bed to use the chamber pot without assistance then. The others wanted to help but he would send them from the room to wait anxiously outside the door until he called that he was done. He would pull himself to the edge of the bed and then stand once the worst of the dizziness passed. Leaning on the bedpost he was able to do what he needed to do. Once he managed to pull his robe closed again, he would slowly sit because he had found that flopping back although easier because of his physical weakness was also a source of excruciating pain in his side. So very slowly he would lower himself to the bed to sit. Then he had to call for help because by that time, he didn’t have the energy to lift his legs onto the bed.

Whoever had to help Adam to recline again in bed would usually scold him for his demand to do what he had done because he would be pale and shaking by that time. He still slept a lot, and still needed help with bathing, shaving, and even rolling over in bed sometimes as he found it difficult to get leverage with the weakness as well as the pain from his wound. After a few more days, Adam finally felt strong enough to tell his story, but not strong enough to repeat it. In the evening, he asked Belle to tell the family he would relate what had happened to him to any who wanted to listen. Soon Belle, Ben, Hoss, Joe, and Hop Sing were in his room. Belle sat by his side holding his hand, and Ben and Hoss pulled the other two chairs to the opposite side of the bed. Hop Sing and Joe stood at the footboard and waited expectantly.

“Joe was right. Carter didn’t take any of it well. He was upset when we found Winnemucca had moved his camp. When the messengers arrived with the good news, it was like he went crazy. He was a madman. He yelled that I had tricked him and betrayed him. I think he even used the word treason. I managed not to antagonize him further, but he wanted me arrested. Then he mentioned irons, and all I can say is that I panicked. It was if I was back on the Lucia being shackled and thrown back down in the hold. I felt smothered and hot, and all I could think to do was run. I mounted up ignoring whatever else that Carter was saying, and I rode out. I heard him screaming at the soldiers to shoot, but there was no rifle fire. I thought I was going to get away clean except then a pistol shot came close. I rode low to make myself a small target and there were more shots. I don’t know how many because I got hit. After that, I don’t remember too much. I knew if I got off that horse, I was probably a dead man so at some point I tied myself to the saddle and pointed the horse toward home. I kicked him to get him moving until he was exhausted and I couldn’t kick any more. That’s the last thing I remember until waking up and you said I had been brought home thirty hours earlier. Belle was at my side and I remember Hoss and Joe coming into the room. I felt safe then and fell asleep.”

Adam’s voice had grown weaker and softer as he spoke, and those last words were barely audible. The family heard them though and smiled. Ben had a question though.

“Are you sure you heard pistol shots?”

“Pa, I’ve been around firearms most of my life. I can tell a pistol shot from a rifle.”

Ben as well as Hoss and Joe had very serious looks then. Enlisted men carried rifles. Swords and pistols were in the officers’ domain. If Adam had been shot with a pistol, then Carter and Wood were the only likely candidates.

“Would Lieutenant Wood have shot you?”

“No, I remember him arguing with Carter on my behalf. Carter threatened him too.” Adam had grown pale as his voice grew weaker. Belle wasn’t going to allow him to do any more at that point and shooed the other men from the room closing the door firmly. When she turned around, he was smiling at her. He moved his right hand to signal her to come to him. When she moved to go to the chair, he patted the right side of the bed. She smiled too and moved to rest beside him putting her head on his shoulder as her hand caressed his chest.

“I missed being close to you like this.”

“C’mere. I want to kiss you.” They kissed softly and tenderly for a time, but as Adam’s right hand pulled her closer to kiss more passionately, Belle pulled back. “Too much?”

“Yes, for you. Doctor Martin said nothing strenuous, and that’s for at least two weeks. He told me very quietly so your family wouldn’t hear. He must know you very well to know you would want to even though you’re as weak as a puppy yet.”

“Yes, as long as I can draw a breath, I want you. I suppose I have to wait until I can do more. But the moment I feel strong enough, you better be ready.”

Belle smiled at him. “I’ll be ready, but right now, let’s take a nap. I can tell you need one. Your voice is so soft, and your eyelids are drooping.” She snuggled up against his right side as he kept his right arm around her. He realized it was the first time he had hugged her since he had awakened in this bed after being wounded. He knew he was getting better. That made him smile and relax, and within a few minutes, he was sleeping. Belle heard his breathing grow more shallow and slow. She rested her head against his chest and let his steady heartbeat lull her so sleep as well.

About two hours later, Belle heard a knock at their door. She slipped from the bed and straightened her hair with her hands before opening the door. Joe was there with an Army officer, and that made Belle bristle a little.

“Belle, this is Major Miles. I told you about him. He would like to see Adam, and talk to him briefly if that’s all right. I don’t think anything he has to say will upset Adam at all.”

With Joe’s assurances, Belle pulled the door open to allow the two men to enter. Adam had awakened with the voices and waited expectantly. Miles was shocked a bit at Adam’s appearance. He looked gaunt and gray compared to the vibrant and powerful man he had seen on the campaign. He had heard he had been near death when he was found, and now he knew that had been no exaggeration. He was going to stand to talk, but Belle pointed to the chair.

“Adam’s voice isn’t very strong yet. It will be easier for him to talk with you if you sit by his side.”

Miles sat in the chair. “I know you’re probably very tired so I’ll just get to the point of my visit. Colonel Carter is demanding an investigation of your behavior on the campaign. General Howard has to respond, but I’ve talked to him, and he’s willing to come here to your house to conduct the hearing. It will be relatively informal for an Army proceeding. You have nothing to worry about. I have talked to General Howard and given him my report of what I saw and did. I also had Lieutenant Wood make copies of everything he wrote on the campaign and send that to Howard as well. Wood writes down everything. Now Howard is a very perceptive man. He fought in the Civil War and has been on numerous campaigns in the west. He knows exactly what kind of man Carter is and what drives him.”

“What about the renegades?”

“General Howard is trying to pacify the region. Three white men died in those raids. Two of the renegades were killed, and two will face trial for murder. The most likely result is a conviction and a sentence of hanging. The other ten are being sent in irons to Florida. They’ll likely be confined there for ten or twenty years depending on what happens here.” Adam nodded. “Yes, that was a better result than I anticipated, but then General Howard is a very fair man.”

Belle interrupted then. “Adam isn’t strong enough to face anything right now.”

“Yes, ma’am, I can see that. I’ll tell General Howard that we need to wait at least a week. Will that be sufficient?”

“No, but I can see the look Adam has right now, so it will have to do. Just make the General aware of Adam’s condition. The doctor has ordered that he stay in bed for two weeks and not leave this house for at least a month.”

“Yes, ma’am, I will tell him. Now, I bid you good day and my sincerest gratitude for what you did to save those women and capture those renegades while keeping my men safe. I could never have asked for more.”

Adam had one more question. “How did Carter take the news that you had been successful?”

“Oh, not very well as you can imagine. He tried to come up with a reason for me to face disciplinary action, but he was not successful. Bringing back five captives and the men who did it gives one a short time of invincibility. I am enjoying it immensely.”

Adam gave the Major a thumbs-up before closing his eyes. The Major got the message and stood to leave. Belle put a hand on his arm and said a thank you before he left. Joe escorted the Major down the stairs where he talked briefly with Ben and his younger sons before leaving. They had a week for Adam to be stronger before he saw Carter face-to-face again.

A week later, Adam asked Hoss to help him down the stairs. He did not want to let General Howard and especially he did not want to allow Colonel Carter to see him in bed still weak and recuperating. “Hoss, I can do it with your help.”

“Adam, you don’t have to do this. You haven’t walked anywhere on your own yet, and you ain’t been done those stairs yet neither. With all you have to face today, you shur you want to tackle all of that?”

A nod was all that Hoss got for a response. Belle stood by clearly unhappy with Adam’s decision, but she did not have a reason to forbid him to try it. She did go put a chair at the top of the stairs and another at the bottom as Hoss stood and waited for Adam to stand on his own. They had worked out a system for letting Adam walk to the table and back. He stood on his own and then stood behind Hoss with his right hand on Hoss’ shoulder. Hoss guessed that would be the safest way to try to navigate the stairs. If Adam grew too weak to continue, he could lean against Hoss. Belle was at Adam’s side to help if she could. He had insisted for the past week that he would dress each day even if all he wore was a shirt, pants, and socks. Belle insisted that he put a belt on before they headed down the stairs. Adam knew why and accepted her demand. The stairs proved as difficult as Hoss and Belle had expected. Once Hoss stopped to let Adam rest before they continued down to the first landing where Adam stopped and rested again leaning against the railing. By the time they got to the last step, Ben was there to help. Without letting their guests see what he was doing, he slipped his hand through Adam’s belt in the back and helped him keep his feet as he shuffled to the blue chair and sat. Belle stood at his side as he looked over to see Miles and Wood standing and looking at him with concern, while with a disdainful look, Carter stood behind General Howard who sat in the red leather chair across from Adam.

General Howard spoke first. “Mr. Cartwright, first, I want to say how much I appreciate all that you did to make this last campaign successful.” Ben let a smile tug at his lips as he watched the shock on Carter’s face. Joe and Hoss actually chuckled a bit but stopped immediately with a stern look from their father. Howard ignore them focusing all of his attention on Adam. “I have to apologize sincerely that you suffered so grievously and needlessly. I have read Colonel Carter’s report and I must say it has nothing in common with the report filed by Major Miles and the copious notes kept by Lieutenant Howard. I have spoken briefly to your brother. I think I have all the information now to make a finding. If forced, I’m sure there are many soldiers who could also be called on your behalf.”

“General Howard, you cannot accept the word of civilians and lower rank officers and one who has only recently arrived in the West over the word of a decorated officer.”

“Oh, you see, Colonel Carter, I can. I have found the truth will come out regardless of anyone’s efforts to obscure it. Now, my finding is that Adam Cartwright acted nobly in defense of his country, and while his methods were unorthodox, he and his brother devised an ingenious plan to protect women and girls forcibly taken from their homes in raids, the soldiers sent to rescue them, and Chief Winnemucca’s people who were wrongly suspected of participating in said raids. I have here official commendations for Adam Cartwright and Joe Cartwright for their voluntary and heroic service to the United States Army.” Howard signaled Lieutenant Wood forward and handed him the two documents to give to the two men. Then he continued. “Major Miles is being promoted to Colonel for his service in this successful campaign. He showed good judgment and leadership skills that deserve such a promotion. He will take command of the soldiers who conducted this campaign.”

“General Howard, that is my command.”

“As you heard, it is no longer your command. You have twenty years in. You can retire.”

“My retirement date was one month ago. I let it pass so I have to finish the rest of this year.”

“No, Carter, you do not. I have postdated this letter of resignation for you that also states that you will serve as a volunteer commander for one month after that date. If you sign it, you may retain your rank and your pension.”

“And if I refuse to be bullied like this? It isn’t true. I didn’t retire a month ago.”

“Then I will call a general court martial for dereliction of duty, submitting false reports, and the attempted murder of a civilian that was by all accounts completely without cause. Truth is what you make it, Carter, and I can assure you that I can predict the results of such a court martial that examines the truth of what you have done. Would you like to test me on that? You nearly started an Indian war, and you very nearly were guilty of murder.” Howard held out the document to be signed.

Grabbing the document, Carter quickly scribbled his name. Then he stood not knowing what he would do next. General Howard helped him with that too. “Your pension checks will be sent to your family farm in southern Ohio. I have already forwarded the information to the Department of the Army. I knew you didn’t have the courage to resist me on this. Now I suggest that you leave Nevada as quickly as possible. I have also informed the Sheriff Roy Coffee of Virginia City that a civilian commander of an Army unit attempted to murder one of the leading citizens of this fine state. The sheriff is likely on his way here now to arrest you.” Howard looked over to Adam who was grinning. “I hope that satisfies you, sir. It was the least I could do for you.”

Adam nodded, but his father walked over to Carter who was now a civilian. “It’s not enough for me.” He hit Carter knocking him back into the credenza. Hoss and Joe hooted, and Adam chuckled. When Ben turned around cradling his right hand and said he thought he might have broken something, Adam started laughing. It hurt so much though that he grabbed his side. Belle picked up a pillow and pressed it against his wound to relieve the pain, and Adam thanked her for that. In all of that commotion, Carter had gotten up and fled. The next sound that anyone heard was a horse galloping away. Howard looked at Miles.

“Perhaps you would like to file a report with the Department of the Army that a civilian has stolen one of the horses belonging to your unit as well as the saddle and rifle that were on it?”

“Yes, sir, that would be the responsible thing to do. Sir, does such an offense cause the termination of a pension?”

“Well, yes it might do that, I believe.”

Hoss and Joe started laughing so hard they had to lean against each other so they wouldn’t fall on the floor. Ben was still cradling his sore hand that was rapidly swelling, but Hop Sing was soon there with a bowl of ice water for him. Ben couldn’t help himself though. He had to smile at how all of this had turned out.

General Howard looked at Lieutenant Wood next. “Lieutenant, I need an aide.”

“Yes, sir, I would be honored, sir, to serve with you.”

Ben turned to Hop Sing. “Do we have enough food that we could invite these men to dine with us?”

“I make more. Honorable guests need Hop Sing dinner.” With that he quickly moved to the kitchen to prepare a fine dinner.

Ben looked over at Adam then. He was asleep in the blue chair, but a small smile was still there. Ben nodded and looked at the General. “I have some fine cigars. Perhaps all of us could go to the porch and enjoy them while my oldest son takes a nap before dinner.”

The men quietly retreated to the porch. Belle leaned down to kiss Adam on the cheek. Then she picked up a book and moved to the settee to read quietly while watching over him. She didn’t read anything for a while as she contemplated how dangerous living on a ranch in the Sierras could be, but she loved Adam with all of her heart, and had come to love his father and brothers too. This was her life now, and she felt more alive and more loved than she could ever remember. Being a Cartwright made life worth living. She could no longer imagine a life other than on the Ponderosa.

 

Next Story in the Truth Series:

Matchmaking and More Truth

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Author: BettyHT

I watched Bonanza when it first aired. In 2012, I discovered Bonanza fan fiction, and started writing stories as a fun hobby. I have hundreds of stories now. If I am unavailable and anyone needs permission to post one or more of my stories on a site such as Bonanza Brand, AC1830 and/or Mo1427 are authorized to give permission in my absence.

2 thoughts on “Truth Is What You Make It (by BettyHT)

  1. Excellent follow up to Trusts. You do such a great job with Adam. Belle was a good addition. Your ending was excellent. All tidy with a big bow. Just perfect.

    1. Thank you so much. Yes, it is important to bring all the story threads to a logical conclusion. I don’t like to leave things hanging unless there’s another story to follow that will answer them.

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