Treasure (by Susan G)

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Summary:  Hoss and Joe end up with old Jim Bridger’s treasure map.

Word Count:  23,100  Rated:  T

 

Treasure

“Sure is nice to be able to work at our own speed,” commented Joe Cartwright as he stretched out on the sofa and rested his feet on the table in front of the stuffed piece of furniture. “This has almost been a vacation with Pa and Adam gone.”

“Enjoy it while you can, little brother,” answered Hoss Cartwright from the red leather chair near the fireplace. “I expect that the pace will pick up considerably once Pa gets home.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that,” Joe agreed ruefully. He turned his head toward the kitchen. “What’s Hop Sing doing in there? All we wanted was a couple of sandwiches.”

“I don’t know,” Hoss said, frowning. “But if I don’t eat something soon, I’m going to fall right over.” Hoss turned to look toward the kitchen also. “Hey, Hop Sing!” he shouted. “Where’s our sandwiches? We’re starving out here.”

As if waiting for the summons, Hop Sing scurried out of the kitchen, carrying a tray piled high with sandwiches as well as a coffee pot and two cups. “Hop Sing need to make many sandwiches,” he said curtly as he approached the sofa and chair. “Otherwise, Mr. Hoss not get enough and Little Joe get nothing.”

“Well, it looks like you made just about the right number,” Hoss replied, reaching forward to take the tray from the Chinese cook’s hands.

But Hop Sing stopped and pulled the tray back away from the arms stretched toward him. “Sons not work hard when father gone,” he scolded. “You eat fast then go back to work.”

“Hop Sing, we’ve done most of the things Pa told us to do,” said Joe in a tolerant tone.

“You fix fence? You check cattle?” asked Hop Sing.

“And cleaned the barn and whitewashed the he house,” Hoss added. “Now give me that tray before I faint from hunger.”

“Ah, very good,” said Hop Sing, handing the tray to the biggest Cartwright. “Sons work hard. Father will be pleased.” Suddenly, the cook frowned. “Take feet off table,” he ordered Joe.

“All right,” agreed Joe with a sigh. He sat up and put his feet on the floorboards. Hop Sing waited until Joe’s boots were firmly sitting on the wooden surface. Then the cook sniffed and shuffled back to the kitchen.

“You’d think I was two instead of twenty-two,” grumbled Joe. “Hop Sing can be worse than Pa.”

“Yeah, but he sure does make good sandwiches,” Hoss said. He piled one of the sandwiches on top of another, then brought them to his mouth. Opening his mouth wide, Hoss took a large bite out of both with one snap of his jaw.

Watching his brother almost inhale the two sandwiches, Joe shook his head and commented dryly, “You’re unbelievable.”

“I’m hungry,” Hoss protested as he continued to chew.

“Watch out you don’t eat one of my fingers by mistake,” said Joe as he snatched a sandwich from the tray.

“Naw, they’re too tough to chew,” answered Hoss with a grin.

The Cartwright brothers ate in companionable silence for a time, with Hoss downing six sandwiches while Joe managed to get his hands on two. The coffee cups were filled from the pot and drained almost as quickly as the black liquid was poured. Only one sandwiches was left on the tray when the men heard a loud rap on the front door.

“I’ll get it,” said Joe, rising.

“I’ll just finish this up in the meantime,” Hoss remarked, reaching for the last remnants of the meal. “It wouldn’t be polite to eat in front of company.”

“Just remember it’s also not polite to eat the company,” commented Joe as he walked toward the front door.

Pulling open the door, Joe saw a man about 30 standing on the porch, wearing a battered hat to cover his short cropped brown hair. The same brown hair grew on the man’s face in a neatly trimmed mustache and beard. His gray shirt was tucked into a pair of faded black pants ringed by a worn tan gunbelt.

“Hi Pete,” Joe greeted the man, a bit surprised. “Come on in.”

“Thanks, Joe,” replied the man.

“Who is it?” called Hoss from across the room.

“Pete Dawson,” Joe answered back to his brother. He turned to Dawson. “I’d offer you a sandwich but Hoss decided he’d better store up on food in case of a blizzard.”

“In July?” said Dawson with a grin as he followed Joe into the house. He was familiar with the Cartwright brothers gentle teasing of each other.

“You never know,” Hoss replied with a wide smile. “We’ve had some funny weather this year. A man can’t be too careful.” Dawson laughed as Joe shook his head.

“Come in and sit down,” Joe said. “I can at least offer you a cup of coffee.”

“No, thanks,” replied Dawson as he moved to sit on the sofa. “I’m fine.”

“What can we do for you, Pete?” asked Joe, lowering himself to sit on the wide ledge in front of the fireplace.

“Is Adam around?” asked Dawson. “I wanted to talk with him.”

“He’s in Carson City with Pa, negotiating with the railroad on a lumber contract,” explained Joe. “He’ll be back in a couple of days, by the end of the week at the latest.”

Disappointment showed on Dawson’s face. “That’s too long,” he said, shaking his head.

“Is there something we can help you with?” Hoss asked.

Rubbing his bearded chin, Dawson thought for a moment. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. “I got this paper that I was hoping Adam could explain to me.”

“What kind of paper?” asked Joe.

“Well, supposedly it leads to a treasure,” Dawson answered.

“A treasure map?” exclaimed Hoss. “Where’d you get that?”

“Won it in a poker game,” replied Dawson. “Only it ain’t a map. It’s kind of a code or something. I read it, but it don’t make any sense to me. I thought maybe Adam might be able to figure it out.”

“Adam and Pa will be back by Saturday for sure,” said Joe. “Why don’t you come back then.”

“I can’t wait that long,” Dawson stated, shaking his head. He saw the surprised look on the Cartwrights’ faces. “It’s kind of a long story, but I need some money fast. And I have to be in Texas by the end of the month with it. That means I have to leave real soon.”

“You want to come to work for us for a couple of days?” Hoss asked. The offer wasn’t a casual or unusual one. Dawson was a cowboy turned prospector. Whenever he ran short of money, he worked for the Cartwrights for a while, herding cattle or fixing fences. At the same time, whenever the Ponderosa was short of hands, the Cartwrights knew they could count on Dawson to help them out for a time. It was an arrangement that suited everyone and benefited both sides.

“Thanks, Hoss, but a couple of days pay won’t be enough,” answered Dawson. He sighed. “I knew this treasure thing probably wouldn’t work out, but I had to try.” Noting the curious expressions on the face of Joe and Hoss, Dawson went on. “I need $635 to give to my sister in Texas so she and her kids won’t get kicked off their ranch.”

“That’s a fair amount of money,” commented Hoss.

“Yeah, it is,” agreed Dawson. He shifted uncomfortably on the sofa. “Look, I’d better tell you the whole story. My sister and her husband have this ranch just outside of Fort Worth. They were doing all right – built up the place, started a family and so on. But then her husband decided he wanted to make the ranch into a real large homestead. He borrowed some money from the bank to buy land and cattle.”

“And now he can’t pay it back,” stated Joe sympathetically.

“Yeah,” Dawson said. “I don’t know exactly what happened – drought or maybe rustlers. But anyway, they weren’t able to sell as many cattle as they thought or get the price they were counting on.”

“Can’t they ask the bank to wait a bit?” Hoss asked.

“Well, it’s not just the bank they owe,” explained Dawson. “There’s some taxes due too. My brother-in-law got pretty desperate, and then he did something real stupid. He robbed a Wells Fargo office.”

“And he got caught,” Joe finished for Dawson.

“He got caught,” Dawson agreed. “The judge gave him two years. It would have been worse only my brother-in law took just what he needed. There was over $5,000 in that safe, but he only took about $700.”

“Still, Wells Fargo probably didn’t look kindly on being robbed,” Hoss said.

“No, they didn’t,” Dawson stated. “I guess the judge went easy on him because he didn’t take all the money, but that don’t really matter. My sister and her three kids are all by themselves, and they’re going to lose their home unless somebody helps them.”

“And you’re that somebody,” said Hoss. “But Pete, over $600? That’s a lot of money.”

“I got most of it,” Dawson answered. “I sold my claim for $200. It isn’t worth much more than that. I never got more than about $50 a month out of it, sometimes less. Anyway, I took $100 of that money and got into a high stakes poker game at the Silver Dollar.”

“That was pretty risky, wasn’t it,” Joe said. “You could have lost the money pretty quick.”

“It was a gamble,” agreed Dawson. He smiled briefly at his pun. “But I figured if I lost it, I’d still have $100 to get to Texas and see what I could do to help my sister. And if I got lucky, maybe I’d win enough to pay her bills for her.”

“How’d you do?” asked Hoss, curious.

“I won about $500, but then I started losing so I decided to quit,” answered Dawson. “With the $100 I held back, I’ve got $510.”

“And a treasure map,” added Joe.

“And a treasure map,” Dawson stated. “This fellow I was playing with, he got cleaned out. He put up this paper to cover his bet.”

“Pete, you don’t really think this paper will lead you to a treasure do you?,” asked Joe in a dubious voice. “Don’t you think this fellow would have collected the treasure by now?”

“Well, that’s what I thought until I saw the paper,” replied Dawson. “Like I said, it ain’t a map. It’s directions to the treasure, but it’s written in a code or riddle or something. This fellow couldn’t figure it out so he couldn’t find the treasure.”

“And you thought you could?” asked Joe, a bit surprised.

“I wasn’t sure,” admitted Dawson. “But I thought it was worth a try.” He grinned. “Besides, I knew I had him beat. Four aces. Prettiest hand I ever did see.”

“Did this fellow say where he got this paper?” Hoss asked. “Maybe it’s a phony.”

“If it’s a phony, then someone went to a lot of trouble,” Dawson replied. “But according to this fellow, he got the paper from old Jim Bridger himself.”

“The mountain man?” said Hoss in surprise.

“The same,” stated Dawson. “Story is that, a long time ago, Bridger found a man in the woods with an arrow wound. Bridger took the man back to his place and tried to help him, but the man died. Before he died, though, the fellow told Bridger about the paper and gave it to him.”

“Did Bridger know who he was?” Joe asked, his curiosity piqued.

“No,” answered Dawson. “The fellow was hurt bad and couldn’t talk much. He also was out of his head with fever a lot. According to the story, the man rambled on about a treasure and how he was the only one who knew where it was. He begged Bridger to take the paper and find it so it wouldn’t be lost. Then the fellow died.”

“And Bridger never followed the directions?” Hoss said, surprised.

“Bridger could barely read and write his name,” explained Dawson. “He couldn’t make heads or tails of what was on the paper. So he just kept it. Bridger showed it to the fellow in the poker game a few months before he died, and this fellow said Bridger gave him the paper.”

“Or the fellow stole it,” commented Joe.

“Could be,” Dawson agreed. “Anyway, I won the paper, hoping maybe I could figure it out and get the rest of the money I needed. Only it don’t make any sense to me either. Your brother Adam, though, he’s real smart. Been to college and everything. I thought maybe Adam could figure it out for me.”

“Could I see the paper?” asked Joe. “Maybe I could figure it out.”

“Sure,” said Dawson. He reached into the pocket of his shirt and pulled out a paper yellowed with age and folded into a small square. Dawson opened the document carefully and extended it toward Joe.

Getting up from his perch on the fireplace ledge, Joe walked a few steps to take the paper. The ink of the writing was faded and barely legible. Frowning a bit, Joe read the writing aloud:

Where the sky turns to water, look to the setting sun

See the white haired mothers reaching toward the clouds

At the foot of the smallest mother, lovely dryads frolic

Hiding the passage from dark to light

Follow the path of playful Pan

Until mighty Poseidon’s scepter is etched in granite

Turn to the nymphs aligned against the wind

The zither’s sound will lead to great Ida’s immovable presence

When the fiery chariot starts its descent

The shade of the rood will show the pit of darkness

Lift the flinty cover carved with holy letters

And find the treasure more precious than gold

Looking up, Joe glanced at Hoss. He could see the puzzled expression on his brother’s face and was sure his face looked the same. “This doesn’t make any sense,” Joe said, turning back to Dawson.

“Well, not a lot,” agreed the man. “I spent some time thinking about it, and I figure the first line means Lake Tahoe. The lake is about as blue as the sky. And the setting sun is west. But after that, I couldn’t make any headway with it.”

“White haired mothers,” said Hoss thoughtfully. “What was that line again, Joe?”

“ ’White haired mothers reaching toward the clouds’ “ Joe read.

“That could mean mountains,” said Hoss. “There’s mountains west of the lake.”

“And there’s something at the foot of the smallest mountain,” added Joe in an excited voice. He read the paper again, and his expression turned to one of dismay. “But what’s a dryad?”

All three men were silent for a minute as they searched their minds for an answer. Finally, Hoss shook his head. “I got no idea what that means.”

“You fellows got further along than I did,” Dawson admitted. “I could only figure out the first line.”

“I bet Adam knows what a dryad is,” asserted Joe. “Couldn’t you wait until he gets back?”

“Nope, I have to leave for Texas in a few days if I want to get there on time,” answered Dawson, shaking his head. “It’s a long ride.”

“You didn’t give yourself much time,” Hoss commented in a surprised voice.

“I figured on a day for Adam to work out what’s on the paper, then another day or two to find whatever it led to,” answered Dawson. “I know it’s not much time, but that’s all the time I’ve got.” A woeful expression crossed his face. “I got all but $125 of the money I need. I can pay the taxes and give the bank some of what it’s owed. Maybe that will work.”

“Pete, why don’t you let us lend you the rest,” suggested Joe. “Pa knows you’re good for it.”

“I appreciate the offer, Joe, but no,” stated Dawson firmly. “The money the bank wants is only part of what’s owed. The rest is due in six months. If I borrowed from your Pa, I’d be owing both him and the bank, and I just can’t see doing that.”

“Aw, Pete, Pa wouldn’t expect you to pay it back right away,” Hoss said. “You can pay us when you get the ranch back on its feet.”

“No,” said Dawson again, his voice even firmer than before. “I know you mean well, Hoss, but I ain’t no charity case. If I can’t make a deal with the bank, we’ll sell up and move my sister and her kids someplace else.” He smiled to soften his words. “I’ll work things out, Hoss. Don’t worry.”

Studying the paper in his hands, Joe looked thoughtful. “Pete,” he said slowly, “how much would you sell this paper for?”

“Sell the paper?” Dawson said in surprise. “You want to buy it? Why would you want to do that?”

“Because once Adam gets home, I’ll bet he can figure out the rest of this,” stated Joe. “I bet we could find the treasure.”

“Maybe,” agreed Dawson. “But I wouldn’t sell it to you. The Cartwrights have been good friends, and besides, it ain’t going to do me any good now. You can have it for free.”

“No,” said Joe in a voice as firm as Dawson’s had been. “If we find the treasure, we want it to be because we bought this fair and square. We wouldn’t feel right about the treasure if someone just handed the directions to us.” He grinned. “The Cartwrights don’t take charity either.”

“Well, the fellow in the poker game put it up to cover a $50 bet,” Dawson mused. “So $50 would be about right.”

“I think it’s worth more than that, don’t you, Hoss?” remarked Joe. “I think this is worth $150.”

“What?” Hoss said, startled. “Oh, yeah. It’s worth at least that.”

“That’s way too much,” protested Dawson. “You may not be able to figure it out, or it could lead to nothing.”

“Or it could lead to a treasure,” answered Joe. “I think $150 is a small price to pay for…” He glanced down at the paper. “…a treasure more precious than gold.”

“If you’re sure you want to pay that, I’ll take it,” said Dawson in a hesitant voice. “But I don’t think it’s worth it.”

“I do,” Joe stated. He handed Hoss the yellowed document, then crossed the room toward the den. Walking behind the desk at the back of the den, Joe pulled open a drawer. He grabbed a small paper sheet from the drawer, then sat at the desk. “I’ll write a draft for the money,” explained Joe, reaching for a pen. “The bank will cash it with my signature on it.”

“I sure do thank you boys,” Dawson said, his gratitude evident. “That money will cover the rest of what my sister owes and gives me a little extra for supplies or whatever else my sister might need. It’s a big help.”

Finished writing, Joe waved the draft in the air to dry the ink. “It’s us that should be thanking you,” he said. “It’s not often that we get a chance to buy directions to a treasure.”

“Yeah, we ain’t been on a good treasure hunt in a long time,” added Hoss in a voice that was a bit too eager. He looked down quickly when he saw Joe scowling.

“Here’s your money,” Joe announced as he walked from the den. Dawson stood and took the paper from Joe’s hand. He looked at it briefly, then folded the sheet and put it in his shirt pocket.

“Listen, I’d appreciate it if you’d tell your Pa and Adam about all this,” Dawson said.

“Don’t worry,” replied Hoss, giving Joe a pointed look. “I’m sure Joe is going to be happy to explain things to Pa.” Once more, Joe threw a scowl at his older brother.

“Tell them I said good-bye,” Dawson continued. “And that I’m sorry I won’t be here to help with the fall round-up.”

“We’ll miss you, Pete,” Joe said with genuine regret. “It won’t be the same without you around here.”

“Good luck to you and your sister,” added Hoss, offering his hand to Dawson. “If you get a chance, let us know how things turn out.”

“I’ll do that,” Dawson agreed. He shook Hoss’ hand and then Joe’s. “Once I’m settled, I write and let you know where I am.” His lips formed into a small smile. “I’m kind of curious to see how you make out with that paper.”

“I am, too,” Hoss said, giving his younger brother another pointed look. “I’m real anxious to see what happens once Pa and Adam get home.”

***********

The soft rays of the morning sun bathed Pete Dawson in a pale light as he exited the bank. Anxious to be on his way to Texas, Dawson had been one of the bank’s early customers, trading the Cartwright bank draft and his own wad of bills for a new draft in his name. Outside the bank, the cowboy turned prospector stopped for a moment to read the slip of paper from the bank again, a bit proud that he was smart enough not to carry a large amount of cash with him to Texas.

“Dawson! Hey, Dawson!”

Hearing his name shouted, Dawson hastily folded the draft and put it in his shirt pocket, resolving to find a safer place for it later. Then he turned to look at the source of the shouts. Recognizing the loud voice, he wasn’t surprised to see two men coming down the sidewalk toward him.

The man calling Dawson’s name was a heavy-set cowboy, with thick black hair and bushy eyebrows, dressed in mostly in black. A light colored checked shirt contrasted his dark hat, vest, pants and gunbelt. Bart Peterson thought the black clothes added a touch of menace to his looks. In contrast, his companion – a tall, thin man named Hank Jones – seemed not to care how he looked. His light blue shirt appeared to have been hastily stuck into the waistband of his brown paints. The shirt and pants were lightly dotted with dirt, as was the blue bandanna tied carelessly around his neck. Only his tan holster and polished pistol seemed clean.

“Dawson! Hold up a minute!” Peterson called as the two men hurried down the street.

“What do you want, Peterson?” asked Dawson cautiously when the two men stopped near him.

“We heard down at the saloon about that treasure map you won in the poker game,” Peterson answered. He tried to flash a smile, but the barred teeth merely added to his menacing look. “Hank and I thought we would offer to help you look for the treasure.”

“Why would I want your help?” Dawson asked, his suspicion growing.

“You could use someone to help you dig, guard the treasure, that sort of thing,” answered the dark clothed man, trying to sound friendly. “Hunting treasure can a bit lonely, not to mention dangerous. We thought you might want someone along to watch your back.”

More likely someone to shoot me in the back, thought Dawson. Peterson and Jones were known as two men who tried to accumulate money with as little effort as possible. He was relieved that he wasn’t going to have to deal with them. “Sorry to disappoint you fellows, but I’m not going treasure hunting.”

“You’re not?” Jones said in surprise.

“Nope,” stated Dawson. “I’m leaving for Texas right away.” He glanced toward a horse tied to the hitching post in front of the bank to emphasize his point. The animal was carrying a thick bedroll and the saddlebags draped over its flanks were bulging. “Got to be there by the end of the month to help my sister out of some trouble.”

After exchanging a look with his partner, Peterson said in a sly tone, “Well, if you ain’t going to do anything with that map, maybe we could look for the treasure for you. We’d give you a share of anything we find.”

“It’s not a map, boys,” explained Dawson, who knew full well he would have never seen a penny from his would-be partners. “It’s more like directions, only written in a code or something. I couldn’t figure it out, and I doubt if you boys would be able to either.”

“We’d be willing to give it a try,” offered Peterson in a hopeful voice. “Give us the paper and we’ll see what we can do with it.”

“Sorry, I can’t do that,” Dawson answered, trying to hide a note of satisfaction. “I already sold it to the Cartwrights.”

“The Cartwrights!” exclaimed Jones. “What do they want with it? They already got more money than anyone in Nevada.”

“Didn’t ask them,” said Dawson, shrugging. “Anyway, Adam Cartwright is probably the only one who could figure out what it means. Might as well sell it to somebody who might actually be able to understand it.”

Abruptly, the cowboy turned to his horse. “Look, I’ve got to get going. You boys take care.” Quickly, Dawson untied the reins of his horse from the rail and climbed into the saddle. He turned his mount from the bank and kicked the animal into a fast trot.

As he rode out of down, Dawson looked over his shoulder and saw the two men on the sidewalk were still staring at him. He decided that he’d better keep off the trail and cover his tracks until he was well away from Virginia City. The two men watching him were not above bushwhacking a lone traveler.

“What are we going to do now, Bart?” Jones asked, turning his attention away from Dawson. “The Cartwrights ain’t going to let us help them find that treasure.”

“I’m thinking,” snapped Peterson. He stared off into space for a minute. “You know, Hank,” he said slowly, “I wasn’t sure that story about a treasure was true. But if the Cartwrights are willing to pay good money for that map, there must be something to it. The Cartwrights aren’t fools.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t help us any,” complained his partner.

“Not right away,” Peterson acknowledged. “But let’s keep our eyes and ears open. We hear anything about the Cartwrights taking an unexplained trip, we might just want to follow them.”

“And get to the treasure before them?” Jones asked eagerly.

“Now how could we do that, since we don’t know where they’re going?” answered Peterson, his voice tinged with disgust. “No, we’ll let them do all the work. Once they find the treasure, we’ll just take it away from them.”

“Rob the Cartwrights? I don’t know about that, Bart,” Jones said doubtfully.

“It isn’t as if the Cartwrights own that treasure, Hank,” Peterson explained. “It belongs to whoever gets their hands on it. We’re just going to make sure those hands are ours.”

**********

“If we’re right about the mountains, then it has to be this range here,” said Joe, pointing at a map spread on the table before him. He and Hoss were sitting on the ledge of the fireplace, looking a one of several maps scattered across the table. “And the smallest mountain is this one,” added Joe, stabbing his finger at rough outline of a mound which had been drawn on the map.

“Whatever we’re looking for is at the foot of that mountain,” agreed Hoss.

“I think the part about darkness leading to light means a canyon or maybe a tunnel,” Joe said. “There’s got to be some passageway at the foot of that mountain.”

“But Joe, there could be all kinds of canyons there,” Hoss pointed out. “We don’t know which one to follow unless we can figure out what this dryad is.”

“Yeah, I know,” Joe said in a discouraged voice. “And even if we should find the right one, it wouldn’t do us much good. We don’t know what the ‘path of playful Pan’ means either.

The two men sat staring at the maps and yellowed paper on the table, hoping that some inspiration would come to them. They were startled out of their reverie by the sound of the front door opening.

“Hi boys!” Ben Cartwright greeted his sons heartily as he walked into the house, followed by his oldest son, Adam.

“Pa!” Joe exclaimed in surprise. “We didn’t expect you home for a couple of days.”

“That’s obvious,” Adam commented dryly. “Otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting around the house in the middle of the afternoon.”

Ignoring his oldest son’s jibe, Ben threw a saddle bag on the bureau by the door and began to unbuckle his gunbelt. “Hop Sing! We’re home!” Ben shouted as he removed the belt. His call was answered by the sound of soft footsteps shuffling toward the living room.

“Mr. Cartwright, Mr. Adam, welcome home.” Hop Sing bowed slightly. “It good to see you back safe.”

“It’s good to see you, too, Hop Sing,” Ben replied. He nodded toward his middle and youngest sons still sitting in front of the fireplace. “Those two keep out of trouble?”

“Sons work very hard,” Hop Sing confirmed. “All work, no mischief. I tell them father be very pleased.”

“And so I am,” Ben replied with a smile. “I’ll be even more pleased if you cook up some chicken and dumplings for dinner for us.”

“Hop Sing cook good dinner, you see,” the cook replied with a wide smile on his face. He bowed again and hurried into the kitchen.

“Well, how have you boys been?” Ben asked as he moved to sit in his favorite leather chair by the fire. He frowned a bit when he saw all the papers on the table. “What’s all this?”

“Nothing, Pa,” Joe said quickly, shuffling the papers into a pile. “Just some maps Hoss and I were looking at. How did things go in Carson City.”

“They didn’t,” Adam replied for his father. He moved to sit on the sofa.

“What Adam means is that the railroad wanted the lumber much sooner than we could deliver it,” explained Ben. “There’s no way we could meet their deadline, so we didn’t bother to bid on the contract. We just packed up and came home.”

“Pa, I told you we need a bigger sawmill,” Adam said. “If we had expanded the mill six months ago, we could have handled that deadline with no problem.”

“I know, Adam, but expanding the mill costs money,” Ben answered. “Money that we don’t have right now.”

“We have the payment from the Army for those horses plus the profit from that last sale of lumber to the Virginia City mines,” argued Adam.

“Which I want to use to buy more cattle and upgrade our stock,” said Ben.

“But we can wait on the stock,” Adam insisted. “A couple of months won’t make that much difference. If we expand the mill, we’ll make that money back and more from the new contracts we’ll get.”

“If we get them,” cautioned Ben. He shook his head. “I know your idea is a good one, Adam. But we just can’t afford to expand the mill and upgrade the stock at the same time. There just isn’t enough money in the bank. And upgrading and adding to the stock is safer. We can’t afford to be cash poor. I want to make sure that any money we spend is used wisely.”

“Um, Pa,” said Joe in a hesitant voice, “while you were gone, I wrote a draft for $150 from our account at the bank.”

“Uh oh,” Adam said. He looked at the papers on the tables. “You spent $150 and you’re looking at maps. What did you buy now? A deed to all of California? Or maybe the water rights to Lake Tahoe?”

“Doggonit, Adam, you make it sound like Joe and I don’t have enough brains to come in out of the rain,” grumbled Hoss. “Just cause we spent some money doesn’t mean we wasted it.”

“Hoss is right,” agreed Ben. “Your brothers are very responsible and they wouldn’t have spent that much money unless they had to. I’m sure they wouldn’t do anything foolish.” He turned to Hoss. “What did you spend the money on?”

Hoss shifted his weight uncomfortably on the stone ledge. “Uh, Joe, why don’t you tell Pa what we spent the money on.”

“Me?” said Joe in surprised voice. He saw his father and oldest brother looking at him expectantly. Joe swallowed hard, and scratched his neck nervously. “Well, we bought something from Pete Dawson.”

“From Pete?” Ben said in surprised tone. “What could Pete have that was worth $150?

“It was a paper,” Joe replied slowly.

“A paper?” Ben frowned. “What was on this paper?”

Joe looked at Hoss for help but found his brother was staring at the ceiling, seeming oblivious to the conversation around him. Joe turned back to face his father. “It was…kind of… directions,” Joe said in a hesitant voice.

“Directions to what?” asked Ben, his voice now full of suspicion.

“To a buried treasure,” Joe blurted out. He winced as he said the words.

“Buried treasure!” thundered Ben. “You spent $150 on a treasure map! Have you lost your mind?”

“Well, at least it wasn’t anything foolish,” Adam said in a sarcastic voice.

“Now, Pa, let me explain,” said Joe hastily. “It wasn’t exactly like what you’re thinking. Pete needed some money in a hurry to help his sister.” In a rush, Joe related the story of the plight of Dawson’s sister, and how the cowboy was trying to raise money to help her. He told of Pete winning both money and the paper in a poker game, but was still short of the amount he needed. “He wouldn’t take the money from us as a loan,” Joe finished. “So I figured buying the paper from him was a way to help him out without hurting his pride.”

“Well, that does put things in a different light,” Ben agreed, somewhat mollified. “I’m glad you found a way to help Pete. He’s done a lot for us over the years.” He shook his head. “But I hope the story doesn’t get around that you paid $150 for a treasure map. We’ll have every con man in the territory knocking on our door, trying to sell you a map.”

Sitting forward on the sofa, Adam looked at the maps on the table. “You two weren’t actually thinking of trying to follow that map, were you? Even if it isn’t a phony, someone would have found whatever it led to years ago.”

“That’s the thing, Adam,” said Hoss, suddenly interested in the conversation again. “It’s not a map. The paper has directions on it, but it’s written in some kind of code. Nobody has been able to figure it out. That’s why Pete came out here. He thought if anyone could make sense of it, you could.”

“Me?” Adam said. “Why me?”

“Well, listen to it and you’ll see,” said Joe. He picked up the yellowed document from the table and read the faded writing slowly.

“Whoever wrote that was a Greek scholar,” said Adam with a frown when Joe had finished. “Or at least knew a lot about Greek mythology. Let me see that.” He reached for the paper and his youngest brother handed it to him.

“See, we figure the first part points to the mountains west of Lake Tahoe,” Hoss explained. “And at the bottom of the smallest mountain there’s some kind of canyon. Only we don’t know which canyon because we don’t know what a dryad is.”

“A dryad is a spirit that lives in an oak tree,” said Adam in a distracted voice, still reading the sheet Joe had handed him.

“An oak tree!” Joe exclaimed. “That’s it, Hoss. There’s some oak trees in front of the right passage through the mountain.”

“I told you Adam could figure it out,” Hoss said almost smugly.

“Now wait just a minute,” Ben interjected. “You boys aren’t thinking of going treasure hunting, are you?”

“Why not, Pa?” asked Joe, a bit puzzled.

“Because it’s a waste of time, and there’s plenty to do around here,” answered Ben sternly.

“But Pa, all it would take is a couple of days,” Hoss argued. “Joe and I finished all but a couple of little chores on that list you left us. And you and Adam weren’t even suppose to be home for a couple more days. It wouldn’t hurt nothing to take a couple of days just to see what we can find.”

“And if we do find something,” Joe added, “that could mean a lot of money. Enough to expand the sawmill and buy all the stock we want.”

“Adam, give me that paper,” demanded Ben. His oldest son handed the yellowed sheet to him and Ben read the writing quickly. “These so-called directions could be meaningless. And look at this last line – ‘a treasure more precious than gold’. It sounds like whatever is hidden isn’t even valuable, at least in terms of money. Most of the time, people use a term like this to describe something more intangible, like friendship or love.”

“But Pa, you can’t hide friendship under a rock,” said Hoss. “And that paper says to lift a cover to find the treasure.”

“Pa’s right,” Adam stated. “Whatever is hidden doesn’t sound like a treasure. More likely, it’s some kind of personal treasure, like a journal or picture. Besides, I’m not sure I know what all those references mean. Some are pretty obscure.”

“Poseidon’s scepter,” Ben murmured in a soft voice as he continued to look at the paper in his hand. “That probably means a trident.”

Quickly, Joe and Hoss exchanged knowing grins. “What’s a trident?” Hoss asked innocently.

“It’s like a pitchfork,” explained Ben without looking up. Suddenly, he frowned and shook his head. “It’s a lot of nonsense,” he said, quickly putting the sheet of paper on the table. “We’ve got a ranch to run. We haven’t got time to go hunting for treasure.”

“Yes sir,” said Joe in a discouraged voice.

“Do you mind if I take this for awhile?” asked Adam, picking up the paper from the table. “I’d like to look up some of these references in a book I have.” Seeing the frown on his father’s face, Adam added hastily, “I just want to see if I can piece this together. It’s a…intellectual challenge.”

“Sure, take the paper, Adam,” Hoss encouraged his older brother. “Maybe you can figure it all out, just like Pete thought.”

“I just want to see if I can solve the puzzle,” Adam stated firmly. “I am not going treasure hunting with you two.”

“Of course not, Adam,” Joe agreed solemnly. Then he turned and winked at Hoss.

***********

The hunt for the treasure wasn’t mentioned at dinner that night, but the thought was on all the Cartwright’s minds. The idea was like an unwelcome visitor – pointedly ignored but still visible to everyone. Ben asked about the ranch and list of chores, questions which Joe and Hoss answered a bit too enthusiastically. Joe’s queries to Adam about Carson City were answered by his oldest brother in a distracted tone, his mind obviously elsewhere. When Adam excused himself to go to his room as soon as the meal was finished, his younger brothers gave each other a knowing look. The looks disappeared quickly when Ben pointedly cleared his throat and frowned.

It wasn’t until breakfast the next morning that the unmentionable topic was raised. Ben and his youngest sons were already seated at the table when Adam bounded down the stairs.

“Good morning,” Adam greeted his family with a smile.

“You’re a bit late this morning,” Ben chided his oldest son.

“And smiling,” added Hoss. “What’d you do last night?”

“I spent most of the night going through some old textbooks on ancient history,” explained Adam. “It took me awhile to figure out some of the reference points on that paper.”

“But you did figure them out, didn’t you?” asked Joe eagerly.

“Now wait a minute,” interrupted Ben before Adam could answer. “I thought we agreed this treasure hunting business was a lot of nonsense.”

“Well, you said it was nonsense,” Hoss said a bit slyly. “Joe and I didn’t say nothing.”

“Pa, all I wanted to do was to see if I could decode that paper,” explained Adam. “I didn’t say anything about following the directions to this so-called treasure.”

“Did you figure it out?” Joe pressed his brother.

“Most of it,” admitted Adam. “The part about the nymphs had me mystified for awhile, but then I found a reference to something called ash tree nymphs. I think that part refers to a line of ash trees.” Adam shook his head. “But the part about the zither has me stumped. I know a zither is sort of like a harp, but I don’t understand how someone could hear a zither out in the middle of nowhere.”

“Maybe the wind through the trees makes that sound,” suggested Hoss.

“That could be,” agreed Adam. “But it doesn’t explain how that sound would lead someone to the next clue. Just hearing it wouldn’t help much.”

“A zither, hmm,” mused Ben. He looked off for a moment. “You know, back when I was sailing, we stopped in a port down in Jamaica. I met an old Greek sailor there, and he was playing an odd instrument that looked something like a harp. He called the music it made the sound of the West Wind. I found out later that it was a zither.”

“That’s it!” Adam cried. “The zither’s sound means to follow the line of ash trees to the west! That’s the part I couldn’t understand.”

“Pa, you have to let us go look for the treasure,” Joe pleaded. “Adam’s figured out the clues on that paper. We can’t just sit here and wonder about what it leads to when we could find out for sure.”

“Joseph, I’ve told you that I consider this a waste of time,” Ben replied sternly. “We have other things to do.”

“Aren’t you just a little bit curious, Pa?” Hoss asked. “I mean, wouldn’t you like to see where that paper leads us?”

“No I’m not curious,” Ben answered but there was something in his voice that indicated his statement was less than true.

“I certainly don’t think there’s buried treasure in Nevada,” said Adam. “But I have to admit that document has piqued my interest. Why would someone go to all that trouble to write such obscure references unless there was something important that he was trying to hide?”

“Not you too, Adam,” groaned Ben. “It’s bad enough your brothers have the treasure fever. I thought you’d be sensible enough to know this isn’t going to lead to anything.”

“Maybe it won’t lead to anything, Pa,” agreed Joe. “But it would only take a day or two to look. What harm could it do?”

“Pa, you once said that when a man has an urge to find out about something, he’s better off going exploring than just sitting home. Otherwise, he’ll wonder all his life what he missed,” stated Hoss.

“I said that?” asked Ben in surprise.

“Well, something like that,” Hoss admitted.

“If we don’t go, Pa, we’ll all go a little crazy thinking about what might be out there,” added Adam. “It’s better if we just get it over and done with.”

Looking around the table at the three eager and expectant faces staring at him, Ben knew that he had lost the battle. “All right,” he said, throwing up his hands. “You can go.”

“Yippee!” shouted Joe while Hoss slapped the table as a sign of his delight. Adam merely smiled and nodded, adding “Thanks, Pa.”

“Now hold on,” Ben said sternly. “I don’t want you boys going off half cocked. If you’re going to do this foolish treasure hunt, you’re going to do it right. Adam, you make sure each of you has at least four days supplies and plenty of ammunition. And don’t forget tools, like a hammer and chisel. Hoss, you go the Land Office and get an updated map of the claims staked in those mountains west of Lake Tahoe. I don’t want you boys digging round on someone else’s land. And Joe, you be sure you have a compass. I want to make sure you can find your way home.”

“Pa, why don’t you come with us?” Hoss urged his father.

“Me?” said Ben in surprise.

“Sure, why not,” added Joe. “You were suppose to be in Carson City for the next couple of days so you can’t have anything important to do.”

“And you did figure out the clue about the trident and the zither,” Adam said. “I might have something wrong, and two heads are better than one in trying to understand this puzzle.”

“I…I have things to do,” Ben answered in a hesitant voice.

“Nothing that can’t wait,” stated Joe.

“Besides, Pa, ain’t you the least little bit curious about what we’ll find?” Hoss asked.

“You’ll only spend the next few days wondering and worrying about us,” added Adam. “Why don’t you come with us and see for yourself what happens.”

His sons waited patiently while Ben considered the idea. His face showed his practical nature struggling with his desire to see where the directions led. Finally, Ben shrugged. “Well, I suppose a few days on the trail with you boys wouldn’t be too bad. We haven’t made a trip together in quite awhile.”

“Yeah, it’ll be sort of a family outing,” Joe said with a grin. His brothers’ faces broke into a grin also.

“I’ll go,” Ben agreed, “but only if we’re fully prepared, like I said.” Then he grinned also. “What are you doing wasting time around here? If we’re going to leave first thing tomorrow, you’d better start getting things together.”

“Yes sir!” said Adam as he and his brothers pushed back their chairs from the table.

**********

As he walked into the Silver Dollar saloon, Hank Jones looked around. He spotted Peterson sitting at a table in the back, a half-empty beer glass in his hand. “Hey Bart,” Jones called, walking toward the table. “Guess who I saw in town?”

“Who?” asked Peterson, taking another sip from his beer glass.

“Hoss Cartwright,” Jones replied. “I saw him coming out of the Land Office with some kind of map in his hand.”

“Now isn’t that interesting,” Peterson mused, placing the glass on the table. “Because I was over at the General Store, and Joe Cartwright was there. He was ordering some trail supplies. He also wanted a compass.”

“A map and a compass, eh?” Jones said with a grin. “Sounds like the Cartwright boys are going exploring.”

“You know, Hank, I think you’re right,” agreed Peterson.

“We going exploring, too?” Jones asked.

“Yep, we are,” Peterson stated. “Soon as I finish my beer.”

**********

“We’re at the foot of the mountain,” said Adam almost pensively. “Now all we have to do is find the oak trees, and then look for….what was the phrase again?” A small smile crossed his face as Adam heard crisp papers being unfolded behind him. As part of the preparations, Adam had copied the directions to the treasure on four separate sheets – one for each Cartwright. The reason he stated was to make sure they didn’t lose the original or have only the one yellowed document to rely on. But privately, Adam had another reason – he knew his family. Each of them would want to see the original paper to check their progress for themselves. His copying had avoided the endless requests he had foreseen for the paper to be passed to from one Cartwright to another.

“Hiding the passage to light,” called Joe, secretly pleased that he had been the first to find the right words.

“Them trees ahead,” Hoss said loudly, pointing to a small stand of hardwoods growing a few feet from the granite rock, “those look like oaks to me.”

Nodding his agreement, Adam kicked his horse lightly and led the trio behind him to the trees. By unspoken agreement, he had taken charge of the expedition; his father and brothers understood that Adam was best qualified to recognize each clue.

The oaks grew in an odd formation. Several trees were clustered together, then two trees grew separately. A few feet from the lone oaks, another cluster of trees were grouped together. “This is it,” Adam announced. “Start looking for an opening in the rocks.”

“Are you sure?” Joe asked with more than a trace of doubt. “There could be another strand of oaks around.”

“The paper said ‘dryads frolicking,” replied Adam. “See how these are growing? It looks a little like the beginning of a dance, with the two trees coming out of their separate groups to bow to each other. Dancing, frolicking – they’re the same thing.”

“Adam’s right,” agreed Ben. “Start looking for a canyon or some other opening.”

It took the Cartwrights only a few minutes to locate the narrow trail that seemed to split the mountain in two. Flanked by both sides of the mountain, the trail was hidden in shadows – difficult to see if someone was simply riding by, but easy to spot if someone was looking for it. Adam took the lead up the trail, while his family followed in single file.

The trail wound upward through the rocks for about a half a mile, a gradual ascent that horses could manage without effort. When the path became flatter, Adam could see sunlight ahead. He knew they had found ‘the passage from dark to light’.

The shadowed trail led to a large meadow ringed by the mountains. The grass was thick and lush, and wildflowers were sprinkled among the blades. The meadow was bathed in sunlight, and the distant chirps of birds drifted through the air.

“Ain’t that pretty?” commented Hoss as he pulled his horse to a stop next to Adam’s halted mount.

“I wonder if anyone besides the man who wrote that paper has ever been up here,” Adam replied in a quiet voice. “It’s almost like finding a new world.”

“My guess is that the Piute know it’s here,” remarked Ben from behind his oldest son. “There’s not much they don’t know about these mountains.”

“I suppose you’re right,” agreed Adam, a little disappointed. For a moment, he had felt like an explorer, experiencing the thrill of discovery. Quickly, he cleared his voice. “The next line talks about ‘the path of playful Pan’. Pan was the god of goats and goat herders, so I’m guessing that means a path that the mountain goats use.”

“That could be pretty tough to follow, Adam,” Joe said. “Those goat trails are usually pretty steep.”

“It must be passable,” Adam insisted, “because the fellow who wrote this out followed it. Let’s split up and look for it. It must be pretty close to here; I doubt if this man would have gone clear across the meadow. Pa, you and Joe go right. Hoss and I will take the left side.”

For over an hour, both pairs of men rode around the edge of the meadow, looking almost casually at first, and then searching more carefully for a trail that had been trod by mountain goats. The pairs passed each other as they searched, hoping that the other two Cartwrights would spot something that the first duo had missed.

As the four met at the top of the meadow once more, they pulled their horses to a halt.

“Nothing,” said Ben shaking his head. “Not even tracks of a mountain goat. Are you sure you’re interpreting it right?

“Well, I can’t be positive,” admitted Adam. “But ‘the path of playful Pan’ sure sounds like a goat trail to me.”

“Maybe we should have brought along our own goat and let him find it,” Hoss suggested with a grin.

Staring off in the distance, Joe said nothing. His eyes searched the rocks around the meadow. “Hey, Adam,” he said suddenly. “Look over there, about ten feet to the right. See the way that moss is growing in those rocks? Doesn’t that look like the horns of a mountain goat?”

“Yeah,” agreed Hoss enthusiastically, “and that long piece of rock in between looks kind of like the face of a goat.”

“That must be it,” Ben said in an eager voice. “You can’t see it up close, so we rode right by it. You have to look at it from a distance.”

“Let’s check it out,” Adam ordered, as he urged his horse forward. The four men rode to the mossy rocks, then stopped to look around.

“I don’t see a path,” said Hoss, frowning,

“It’s up there,” said Joe, pointing. “See, right at the top of the horns; there’s a small path cutting through the rocks.”

“We’ll have to leave the horses here,” Ben advised, frowning. “I’m not sure I like that idea.”

“There’s plenty of grass for them,” Hoss replied. “They’ll be fine.”

“It’s not the horses I’m worried about,” said Ben. “I’m not sure I like the idea of us trekking through these mountains on foot. Maybe we’d better call this whole thing off.”

“Pa, we can’t quit now, not when we’re so close,” Joe argued.

“There’s four of us, Pa. It’s not like it’s one man by himself,” added Hoss.

For a moment, Ben said nothing; he merely looked at the three eager faces around him. “All right,” he agreed reluctantly. “We’ll go on. But be sure each of you takes your bedroll, canteen and supplies. Hoss, you carry a rope with you, just in case. Joe, you take the saddle bag with the tools. Adam and I will carry the rifles.”

“I hope we can walk carrying all that stuff,” grumbled Joe softly as he dismounted. He hurried to find a good spot for his horse when he saw his father frowning at him.

After spending twenty minutes or so tying up horses and gathering the items they needed, the Cartwrights returned to the mossy rock. Joe approached the side of the mountain first.

“Hey, there’s some footholds here,” Joe shouted. Despite being burdened by heavy saddle bags and a bedroll, he easily scrambled up the side of the rock and stood triumphantly on the ledge atop the image of the goat. “I can see a path through the rocks. It widens after a few feet. Nothing to it.” Joe started up the path at an easy gait.

“Joseph! Joseph! Wait for us,” Ben shouted. He hurriedly climbed the rock after his youngest son, followed by Hoss and Adam.

The four men walked slowly along a path that snaked through the rocks. The path led them upward, toward the top of the mountain.

“How far do you figure we have to travel along this trail, Adam?” Hoss asked his older brother.

“Until we see something that looks like a trident…a pitchfork,” answered Adam with a shrug. He looked at the backs of his father and youngest brother ahead of them. “Keep your eyes open. At the pace Joe’s going, he could walk right by it.”

The trail seemed to coil through the mountain, zigzagging right and left, but always upwards. Ben was about to suggest they halt for a rest when he saw Joe stop a few yards ahead of him.

“There’s another meadow up here,” Joe called over his shoulder. Quickly, the other three Cartwrights climbed up to stand next to him.

This meadow was smaller, but just as lush and green as the one below. Trees formed a boundary on either side of the grass – a single row of ash trees, some bent to the wind.

“Here’s the ash trees,” Adam said. “Now all we have to do is figure out which set to follow.”

“Which way is west, Joe?” asked Ben.

Quickly, Joe dug into one of the saddle bags slung over his shoulder and pulled out the compass. He positioned it a bit, then studied it. “That way,” he said pointing down the middle of the meadow. He looked up at the men around him. “Both lines of trees go west.”

“That’s why that pitchfork thing is important,” Hoss said, nodding. “It shows which side of the meadow is the right one.”

Pulling out a sheet of paper from his pocket, Adam studied it carefully. “The directions say that the trees lead to ‘great Ida’s immovable presence’. Ida is a mountain. Both sets of trees lead to the mountain, but they go in different directions at the end.”

“So if we pick the wrong set of trees, we won’t see the next clue,” Joe stated. He shook his head. “I suppose we could follow one line of trees and if that doesn’t work out, come back and follow the other one.”

“That won’t be necessary, little brother,” Hoss said. “Look behind you.”

Turning quickly, Joe’s eyes opened wide in amazement as he looked at the rocks over his right shoulder. Three small trickles of water ran down the rocks, a small but steady stream of liquid. The water evidently had been running for a long, long time because it had etched deep grooves into the rocks. For some unknown reason, the rivulets on the right and left abruptly turned inward, joining the middle stream to form a larger flow which spilled into the ground. The water had etched the perfect image of a trident into the rock.

“Guess we follow the line of trees on the right,” said Joe, grinning. He hefted the saddle bags a bit higher on his shoulder. “Shall we go, gentlemen?”

Once more, Adam took the lead, strolling almost leisurely through the thick grass as he walked a parallel line to the ash trees. The wind whistled through the trees, shaking the leaves and branches. While he wouldn’t have compared the sound to a musical tone, Adam had to admit the noise had a certain timbre to it.

The line of trees edged the meadow, then veered in an uneven line to the right. The Cartwrights followed the line of ash trees until they ended a few feet from the base of a large slab of rock.

“Now what?” asked Joe as he looked around.

“We need to make camp for the night,” Adam answered. He pulled the paper out of his pocket and read it again.

“According to this, after noon there’s some kind of shadow that points to a certain rock with some letters carved on it. Under the rock is the treasure.”

“Couldn’t we just look for the rock?” asked Joe impatiently.

“Where?” replied his father. He waved his hand around him. “On that slab of stone? On the ground at the bottom? Or maybe it’s behind those trees?”

“Yeah, well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to wait,” agreed Joe reluctantly. “It’s getting kind of late anyway.”

“Hey, Pa,” shouted Hoss from a few feet away. “Come over here and look at this.”

With long, quick strides, Ben hurried toward his middle son, Adam and Joe close behind him. “Did you find something?” Ben asked anxiously.

“Not a carved rock, if that’s what you mean,” Hoss answered. He pointed to the ground. “Look here, though. Somebody built a campfire here a long time ago. See how the rocks make a ring around the bare ground, and there’s bits of burned wood stuck in the ground.”

“We’re in the right place,” said Joe, almost gleefully. “Whoever wrote that paper must have camped here. We found it!”

“Did you ever doubt we would?” asked Adam in a wry voice.

“Well, you have to admit, son, that those clues were a bit obscure,” Ben said. “We could have easily missed one of them.” He put a hand on his oldest son’s shoulder. “You did a fine job interpreting that paper, Adam, as well as leading us here.”

“The actual indicators weren’t that hard to find once we knew what we were looking for,” replied Adam modestly. “Whoever wrote these directions knew that they could be found pretty easily if he put them in plain English. That’s why he couched them in the terms of Greek mythology. He couldn’t hide the signs, so he tried to hide the clues.”

“Pretty clever,” commented Hoss.

“If he went to that much trouble to hide the clues,” said Joe, “then whatever is here must be pretty valuable.”

“At least, it was valuable to him,” Ben cautioned. “Don’t get your hopes up. We still might find this leads us to nothing valuable, maybe even to an empty hole.”

“You’re wrong, Pa,” Joe asserted. “There’s something here. I can feel it.”

Suddenly a pair of eagles shot into the sky, screaming in loud voices.

Frowning as he looked up, Hoss said, “Wonder what scared them?”

“We’re too high for most animals,” Ben answered in a reflective voice. “But not for a bear or a mountain lion. Let’s get a fire started. And let’s be sure to take turns keeping guard tonight.

**************

Deep in a dreamless sleep, Joe barely felt the large hand shaking him gently. “Go away,” he mumbled, swatting at the hand and shifting to a more comfortable position on the ground.

The hand shook him harder, and then harder yet, while a voice said in a loud whisper, “Get up, little brother. Your turn for guard duty.”

Reluctantly, Joe pulled himself from the throes of his slumber. He squinted up at the large brother standing over him, then yawned and stretched. “What time is it?”

“About three hours after Adam woke me to relieve him,” Hoss answered. “You got the last shift. Now get up, ‘cause I want to get some sleep.”

Slowly, Joe pushed himself up to a sitting position, yawning once more. “Did you see anything?”

“No,” replied Hoss. “Adam said he thought he heard something moving around in the woods, but I haven’t heard or seen a thing. It’s been quiet as a graveyard since I took over.” Hoss thrust a rifle into his brother’s hands.

“Here’s the gun, and there’s some coffee on the fire. You keep awake, you hear; I don’t fancy getting eaten by some bear.”

“Don’t worry, older brother,” said Joe with a grin, almost fully awake now. “If a bear came into camp, he’d probably think you were one of his long-lost cousins and give you a big hug.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Hoss stated. He stretched his long arms toward the sky. “I’m turning in. Your turn to keep watch for ghosts, goblins and whatever else is out there roaming in the dark.” Hoss turned on his heels and walked a few feet toward a ground sheet and blanket laying on the dirt.

Moving slowly, Joe got to his feet and strolled toward the dying campfire. He threw a few sticks on the blaze from the pile next to it, then pour himself a cup of coffee from the battered old pot warming on the rocks that surrounded the fire. He settled on the ground with his back to the fire and the rifle across his bent legs. Sipping the coffee slowly, Joe looked around into the night.

As his night vision started to focus, Joe could make out the outline of a few trees. Other than that, the view before him was as black as ink. Looking up, Joe saw the dark sky was filled with twinkling stars. He spent a few minutes admiring the sight, picking out the North Star and a few constellations. Then he turned his gaze back to stare into the darkness.

The blackness and silence around him didn’t worry Joe as much as it bored him. His thoughts began to drift to the treasure and to musings about what they would find. He was convinced they would find something tomorrow, but couldn’t seem to grasp what it would be. In his mind, he saw pictures he had seen of pirate treasure – large chests filled with gold coins and jewels. Joe smiled at the image; he figured a pirate would have had to gotten really lost to make it to the mountains of Nevada with a chest full of gold. His thoughts turned to what else might be hidden, what valuables someone logically would leave in this area. Visions of gold nuggets, silver coins, and saddlebags full of paper money drifted through his head.

With that much money, he could do whatever he wanted, Joe thought. Then, with a start, he realized that he wouldn’t know what to do with a fortune. He could build a fine house in Virginia City, except that he liked and was comfortable at the ranch house on the Ponderosa. Joe thought about traveling, visiting cities like New York, London and Paris. That idea would excite his brother Adam, but it had little appeal to Joe. He didn’t particularly like big cities, and while he enjoyed short breaks from living on the ranch, Joe always was glad to return home. He rejected the idea of fine clothes and fancy meals, both of which made him uneasy; he preferred his comfortable work duds and the plain but tasty meals Hop Sing put on the table for him each night. Joe envisioned hiring people to do his work for him, but he knew his father would never stand for that. Ben Cartwright believed that a man handled his own responsibilities. And besides, Joe knew he would get bored fairly quickly.

Sighing, Joe finally admitted that he already had just about everything he needed out of life – a comfortable home with good food, a fine ranch, and most of all, a family with whom he shared great affection and respect. A large throve of valuables would add little to the riches he already had. A wry smile appeared on Joe’s lips. It would be nice, he thought, if the treasure turned out to be worth a little something though. Joe would be happy if they recovered enough to allow his father to expand the sawmill, buy a few luxuries for each of the Cartwrights, and maybe stake him to poker games for the foreseeable future. He would be disappointed if they came home empty handed.

As he continued to watch for movement in the night, Joe began making a mental list of things the treasure could buy the Cartwrights. A new saddle for Hoss was on the list, as well as a fine shirts for Pa, books for Adam, and a rifle for himself. He grinned as he realized that he was making what amounted to a Christmas list. Christmas in July, thought Joe, what an extraordinary event that would be. He began thinking about the celebration he could organize with gifts for everyone.

Hearing the sound of movement and stirring behind him, Joe looked around. He saw his father and brothers were beginning to wake, and realized that the dark of night had turned into the lightness of dawn. The night had been quiet, with nothing to cause Joe alarm or disturb his thinking. Nevertheless, Joe felt his hours staring into the blackness had been productive. He had spent his hours of guard duty dreaming about the treasure they might find, but more importantly, reflecting on the treasures Joe had finally understood that he already possessed.

**********

“ ‘The fiery chariot starts it descent’ is what the paper says,” Adam argued over breakfast. “That means the shadow or whatever won’t be visible until after noon.”

“I know, Adam, but we can’t just spend the whole morning sitting around the fire,” countered Ben. “It wouldn’t hurt to start looking for this, this ‘flinty cover with the carved holy letters’, whatever that is.”

“But Pa, I thought you were the one who said yesterday that looking for that rock would be a waste of time,” said Hoss with a twinkle in his eye.

“I can change my mind, can’t I?” Ben snapped at his middle son. Hoss nodded quickly.

“Sitting around the fire all morning sounds like a good idea to me,” remarked Joe in a soft voice as he brought his coffee cup to his lips.

“You’re the one who was so anxious to find this treasure,” Ben said sharply. “I’d think you’d jump at the chance to start looking for it.”

“I want to find it,” agreed Joe. “I just don’t want to spend all morning climbing over rocks and digging through brush to do it.”

Giving his youngest son a look of displeasure, Ben turned back to his oldest. “Adam, how long ago do you think that papers was written? Ten years? Fifteen? Maybe more?”

“I’d say at least ten years, given the age of the paper,” Adam replied.

“Isn’t it possible that whatever causes this shadow or shade has grown, or maybe fallen down?” continued Ben. “We could waste all morning just sitting around, and then find out we need to start searching because the clue isn’t there. I don’t want to waste another day on this.”

“You have a point, Pa,” Adam agreed. “Just because all the other signs were still there doesn’t mean this one will be.” He took a gulp from his coffee cup, then placed it on a rock by the fire. “All right, we start searching. Now, let’s do this logically. Hoss, you check out the area by the trees. Joe, you see what you can find around the left side of these rocks, and I’ll look around the right side. Pa, you search the area around the camp.”

Initially, the four treasure hunters eagerly searched the area, scrambling up the uneven sides of the mountain or walking through the brush. They turned over or moved every rock that had an unusual marking, and many that did not but seemed large enough to be hiding something. But as the morning wore on, the search slowed down. Enthusiasm was replaced with frustration, and excitement with impatience.

“We’re never going to find it, Pa,” said Joe in a hopeless tone as he flopped on the ground at the campsite. “Whatever is hidden here is probably going to stay here forever.”

Looking up from the pan of beans he was heating over the fire, Ben gazed at his son with sympathy. Joe’s disappointment in not finding the treasure was almost palatable. “Well, it’s coming up to noon, Joe. Maybe when the sun shifts position, we’ll see the clue.”

“I hope so,” said Adam, walking up to the campsite. “Because if we don’t see it, we’ll never find what’s here. Whoever hid this treasure did a good job of it.”

“No sense hiding a treasure if just any fellow can find it,” Hoss offered as he joined the rest of his family. His rubbed his hands together. “Are those beans about ready, Pa? I’m plumb starved.”

“You’re always starved,” commented Joe, who could barely muster enough energy to tease his older brother.

The four men ate in silence, each lost in their own thoughts about what they had seen – or rather not seen – and the prospect of returning home empty-handed.

Suddenly, Adam jumped to his feet. “Look!” he exclaimed, pointing to the mountain. “See that shadow? It looks like a cross. A cross.” He looked at the men around him who were staring up at his face. “A rood is a cross. ‘The shade of the rood’ means the shadow of a cross.”

“Where’s it coming from?” asked Hoss with a frown.

“Up there,” Adam answered, pointing to the top of the mountain. “See those rocks piled up in an odd way? When the sun shines on left side of them, they cast a shadow that looks like a cross.”

“Who cares where it’s coming from,” said Joe eagerly, his enthusiasm for the hunt renewed. “Look where it’s pointing to.”

The other three men followed Joe’s gaze. The shadow was pointing to a narrow ravine, a thin break in the large granite slab.

“Did you check that ravine, Joe?” Adam asked in a quiet voice.

“I looked in it, but I didn’t see anything,” Joe answered, frowning.

“Well, let’s look again,” stated Adam.

The four men walked quickly to the ravine, then slowly began climbing up alongside of it. As each man scaled the granite, his eyes searched for a rock with something on it, a manmade etching or scratches which would show it was the final clue.

Once again in the lead, it was no surprise that Adam found the telltale stone. The rock was near the top of the ravine, angled upward so that the markings would not easily be seen.

“This is it,” Adam said almost reverently as the rest of the Cartwrights gathered around him.

“What are those marks on it?” asked Joe.

“Alpha and Omega,” Ben answered. “That’s the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In the Catholic religion, those symbols are often used to represent God.”

“ ‘Holy letters’. That’s what the paper said,” Hoss remarked.

Silently, the four men knelt around the rock, simply staring at it. No one seemed to want to touch it. Finally, Joe cleared his throat nervously. “Well? Are we going to lift it or just sit here looking at it?”

Without answering his brother, Adam reached down and put his hands around the rock. He tugged hard, trying to lift the heavy stone without success.

“Here, let me do it,” offered Hoss, pushing his older brother aside.

The biggest Cartwright put his large hands around the stone and pulled. He grunted a bit, then pulled harder. At last, the earth gave up its hold and the stone moved. Hoss lifted the granite from the ground, then dropped it a foot or so down the ravine.

The rock had hidden a hole dug into the dirt, one that was fairly large and deep. None of the Cartwrights could see anything but blackness in the cavity. Adam reached into the void, and at first, felt nothing. Then his fingers brushed something hard. Laying on his side, Adam stuck his arm further into the darkness and felt rough leather. He moved his hand over the object, determining from the feel that it was some kind of satchel. His fingers found a handle, and closed tightly over the grip. Adam pulled the bag toward him, maneuvering it carefully against the uneven sides of the hole. Slowly, he lifted it until the case at last emerged from the darkness.

The satchel was made of stiff black leather, and shaped similar to a doctor’s bag. Dirt was clinging to the case, large clods which could easily be brushed away as well as smaller specks ground into the rough material. A rusty clasp held the bag closed at the top.

“Open it!” Joe urged his brother. Now that the container which held the treasure was actually in view, his eagerness to see the treasure was difficult to repress.

Slowly, Adam undid the clasp and pulled the satchel open.

Laying on top was a leather book, tied together with rawhide string. Adam picked up the book and pulled the looped string loose. He flipped open the cover and saw it was filled with loose pages, all of which had been written on. Pulling out the first sheet, Adam read, “The Journal of Anthony Papagora.” Adam shook his head. “No wonder the clues all referred to Greek myths. A Greek hid this.”

“What else is in there?” Hoss asked eagerly.

Putting the journal aside, Adam took the next item out of the case. Like everything in the bag under the journal, the object was wrapped in oilcloth and tied with a rawhide thong. Adam quickly undid the leather string and opened the cloth.

A small statue carved in marble laid in Adam’s hand. The figure was the image of a beautiful woman, wearing the draped dress of ancient Greece. Around her feet was a representation of bubbling foam.

“Aphrodite,” declared Adam. “The goddess of love who emerged from the sea.” He turned the statue over and inspected it carefully, then whistled softly. “I’m no expert but this doesn’t look like a copy. This statue is old – very, very old.”

Impatient with his brother’s slow progress, Joe reached into the bag and grabbed the next object. This one was a thick, flat slab with uneven edges. Joe untied the leather string and opened the oilcloth. In his hand was a piece of limestone on which figures had been painted. One was of a man holding a large piece of land on his back, the other was a man holding sticks of fire. A bit of the painting had been scratched or fleck away, but the figures, tan background and ornate border were still very visible.

“Atlas holding up the world, and Prometheus discovering fire,” Adam announced, looking a the picture in his brother’s hand. “That looks like it could have come from a Greek temple.”

All of the Cartwrights began reaching into the bag, pulling out wrapped items. They uncovered two more small statues, a pewter goblet decorated with elaborate images of men hunting, and another piece of painted limestone. The cloths covered two copper bracelets with symbols and drawings delicately etched into them, and small alabaster box with a crouching lion on the lid. The last item in the satchel was a velvet bag closed by a braided drawstring. Joe opened the bag and poured a handful of tarnished silver coins with uneven edges into his hand.

“What is all this?” asked Joe, bewildered. “Where’s the treasure?”

“This is the treasure,” Adam explained. “All of these objects are artifacts, pieces of art from ancient Greece. I bet some of these things are thousands of years old. They’re priceless in the minds of collectors and scholars.”

“And these coins?” Joe asked.

“Obols – ancient money,” replied Adam. “The silver used to make them isn’t worth near as much as their historical value.”

“So this is what the man meant by a ‘treasure more precious than gold’ “ said Ben. “They’re pieces of ancient history, his country’s ancient history since the fellow was obviously Greek.”

“I wonder where he got all this?” Hoss said in a puzzled voice. “And why did he hide them way up here.”

“I don’t know, but I’m guessing the answer is in this journal,” replied Adam, picking up the leather cover.

Disappointed by the artifacts in the bag, Joe reached into the hole. His hand searched the dark void until he was sure there was nothing else to be found. “That must be all there is,” he stated in an almost sad voice.

“I suggest we pack this all up and take it home,” said Ben in a voice that indicated he would stand for no objection. “We’ve spent enough time on this. We can decide what to do about these things once we’re back at the Ponderosa.”

As his sons began re-wrapping and placing the objects back in the satchel, Ben reached over and put his hand on Joe’s shoulder. “I’m sorry we didn’t find a treasure of gold, Joe,” he said gently.

Looking up at his father, a small smile crossed Joe’s face. “I guess I didn’t really expect to find gold. Down deep, I think I knew that whatever we found wouldn’t be worth much.”

“These objects might not have any intrinsic value, but I wouldn’t consider them worthless,” stated Adam as he placed the journal in the bag and closed the satchel. “There are scholars, collectors, and maybe even the government in Greece who would love to get their hands on these.”

“It’s still ain’t the same as a chest full of gold and jewels, though,” Hoss said in a discouraged voice.

“You’d look pretty silly in a diamond necklace, Hoss,” Ben kidded his middle son. His attempt to lighten his sons’ gloomy mood was rewarded by an embarrassed “Aw, Pa” from Hoss and loud laughs from Adam and Joe. “Come on, boys,” Ben added. “It’s time to go home.”

***********

Despite the additional burden of the black satchel, the Cartwrights made good time on their trek back to the first meadow. They were walking downhill, which made the walk easier, and none of them stopped to look for signs or symbols along the way. Adam, in the lead once again, reached the head of the trail above the mossy rock first. He turned and handed the bag and the rifle in his hands to Hoss, then quickly climbed down to the meadow. Hoss threw the rifle down to his older brother, and then, after a few seconds of hesitation, the black bag. Adam caught them both easily. He nodded at Hoss to imitate his actions. It took several minutes until all four men and their gear were on the ground.

With their attention focused on the process of descending from the stone ledge and shifting saddlebags onto their shoulders, none of the Cartwrights heard the two riders who approached them until a horse snickered softly, and a voice shouted, “Drop your guns.”

As one, the Cartwrights whirled around. Two men, sitting atop brown horses, were aiming their rifles directly at Ben and his sons.

“Drop the rifles,” Peterson ordered the men standing before him. “And the pistols.” He lifted his rifle a bit. “Now!”

For a moment, no one moved. Then Ben threw his rifle to the ground. “Do what they say, boys,” he advised his sons, as he slowly pulled his revolver from its holster. Ben threw the gun down as his sons followed suit.

“Bart Peterson,” Hoss said in a speculative voice. “Didn’t you get fired from the Bar J when some of their cows went missing? I thought you’d be behind bars by now.”

“Or for robbing the general store,” added Joe. “I remember the sheriff was planning to have a long talk with Peterson and Jones about that.”

“No one could prove anything,” Peterson replied with a smirk. “There weren’t any witnesses.” He turned to his partner. “I told you waiting here by their horses was a lot easier than trying to follow them through the mountains.”

“You’re the smart one,” Jones agreed.

“Not so smart this time,” said Ben in a tight voice, trying to hide his anger. “We don’t have anything worth taking.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Peterson replied. He slowly dismounted, keeping his rifle trained on the four men in front of him. Once Peterson was firmly on the ground, Jones did the same.

“Now then, I’ll just take that treasure off your hands,” said Peterson. “Hand it over.”

“There wasn’t any treasure,” Ben explained.

Frowning, Peterson didn’t say anything. He studied the Cartwrights, then gestured a bit with his rifle. “That black bag? What’s in there?”

“This is what we dug up,” Adam admitted. “But I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. There’s no gold or jewels in it.”

“I think I’ll see for myself,” said Peterson. “Bring it over here.” Adam walked slowly across the grass and offered the satchel to the man with the rifle. Peterson snatched the bag from Adam’s hands. “Get back with the others,” Peterson ordered. He turned to his partner. “Hank, keep a close eye on them. Anybody moves, shoot them.”

As the Cartwrights watched, Peterson knelt on the grass and opened the black bag. He pulled out the leather case containing the journal, looked it over, then threw it in the grass. Reaching into the bag again, he pulled out a small object wrapped in oilcloth. Opening the package quickly, Peterson frowned at the marble statue in his hands. Adam winced a bit as the statue was also thrown aside, but the lush grass cushioned the figure’s landing.

For the next several minutes, Peterson opened packages and threw the items inside the oilcloths aside. The grass around him with littered with the statues, bracelets, and paintings. In anger, the man turned the case upside down and watched the remaining objects tumble out of it. Then he felt around the inside of the empty case, looking for a false bottom or some other recess where an object could be hidden. Finally, Peterson threw the case aside also. Getting to his feet, he demanded, “Where’s the gold?”

“I told you there was no gold,” Ben replied patiently. “Now why don’t you fellows just get on your horses and ride out of here. No harm’s done. Let’s keep it that way.”

“We went to a lot of trouble for nothing,” Jones said in disgust.

“Maybe not,” remarked Peterson. He looked at the Cartwrights in speculation. “We got ourselves four Cartwrights. That ought to be worth something.”

“I don’t know to who,” said Ben with a shrug. “You’ve got all of us here.”

“For now,” stated Peterson. “But I don’t aim to keep all of you with us.” He pointed his rifle toward Adam. “You, come over here and pick up all this stuff.”

Quickly, Adam walked across the grass and retrieved the black satchel. He picked up items from the grass, not bothering to put the oilcloths around the pieces that had been unwrapped. With rapid movements, he placed items back in the bag, cushioning the antiques as best he could with the cloths. When the antiques returned to the bag, Adam snapped it closed and stood up. “Now what?”

“Get back over there with the others,” ordered Peterson. He waited until Adam had rejoined his family. “All right, here’s what we’re going to do. Adam and Hoss, you are going to ride into Virginia City and get $20,000 out of the bank. If anyone asks why, you’re going to show them the stuff in the bag, and tell them you need the money to buy equipment to help you find the rest of the treasure.”

“No one is going to believe that,” Adam said in a grim voice.

“Then you’d better convince them,” Peterson replied. “Because your Pa and youngest brother is going to be with Hank and me, and if we don’t get that money, well, they’re just liable to have an accident. These mountains can be dangerous, you know.”

“Nothing better happened to them,” Hoss threatened angrily. “Because if it does, I’ll make sure you regret the day you were born.”

“This could get…complicated,” suggested Ben. “It would be better if you simply got on your horses and rode away.”

“I don’t think we want to do that,” answered Peterson with a sneer. “And you’re going to behave nicely until these two get back. If you or the kid cause us any problems or try to get away, we’ll just put a bullet in your knee. A man can’t get very far in these mountains if he’s crawling.” He raised his rifle again. “Maybe it’d be safer if I just made sure you can’t walk now.”

“Wait!” shouted Joe in a frantic voice. “Don’t do it. We’ll give you the gold.”

“Joe! What are you…” Ben started.

“Pa, it’s not worth it,” Joe interrupted his father. “The gold’s not worth getting killed over.”

“Where is it?” asked Peterson in a suspicious voice.

“In here,” answered Joe. He lifted the saddlebag off his shoulder and shook it a bit. The hammer and chisels inside clinked together in a metallic sound.

“I knew you found gold,” said Peterson in a smug voice. “You just bring that bag over here.”

Turning his head, Joe stared hard at his father and brothers, then nodded almost imperceptibly.

“Hurry up,” Peterson shouted. “I’m getting tired of waiting.

“I’m coming,” answered Joe, walking slowly forward. He let his arm drop to his side, holding the saddlebag only a few feet above the ground. As he walked, his arm began swinging a bit.

“Give it to me,” demanded Peterson.

“Sure,” agreed Joe. His arm swung back, and then quickly arched upward. The saddlebag full of tools flew forward, hitting Peterson in the side of the head.

Stunned, the bandit staggered a step. Joe rushed up to him and knocked the rifle out of Peterson’s hands with his left arm while his right fist landed squarely on the man’s jaw. He followed that punch with a solid blow to the man’s midsection. Peterson let out a small grunt, then crumpled to the ground.

At first, Jones didn’t realize what was happening to his partner. He heard the clink of the tools in the saddlebag, then Peterson’s grunt. Puzzled, Jones turned to look. It took several seconds for his brain to register the fact that Peterson was on the ground while Joe stood over him with the rifle. Jones swung his rifle toward Joe, but his reaction was too slow. The shoulder of a charging bull of a man hit him solidly in the body, knocking Jones backward. For a big man, Hoss Cartwright was surprisingly fast on his feet, especially when his little brother was in danger.

Snatching the rifle out of Jones’ slack fingers, Hoss pointed the weapon at the figure at his feet. “Get up,” he ordered. “And do it real slow.” Jones scrambled to his feet and put his hands in the air.

Rushing forward, Adam stopped next to Hoss. He reached down and pulled the pistol from Jones’ holster, pointing the gun at the now cowed outlaw.

Ben came up to stand next to Joe, stopping for a moment to pull Peterson’s pistol from his holster. Then he turned to Joe. “If you ever do something like that again,” Ben said angrily to his youngest son, “I’ll…I’ll…” He stopped, unable to think of a punishment bad enough to equal the scare Joe had given him. “You took ten years off my life.”

“Sorry, Pa,” Joe replied apologetically. “But I thought he was going to shoot you.” An impish grin crossed Joe’s face. “Besides, I didn’t like the thought of being with stuck these two idiots for the next day or so.”

“I wasn’t…going…to shoot,” gasped Peterson as he pulled himself to a sitting position. “That was…just a bluff.”

“So was this,” stated Joe, picking up the saddlebag from the ground. He opened the flap and showed the tools inside to the outlaw on the ground. “There never was any gold.”

“Why, you dirty little…” Peterson started. His eyes narrowed in anger and frustration. Suddenly, his hand shot out and grabbed Joe’s ankle. Yanking hard, the bandit pulled Joe’s foot toward him. Surprised and off-balance, Joe fell backwards. His head twisted a bit as his body slammed into the ground.

“I always did say you were the graceful type,” Hoss yelled at his younger brother with a grin on his face. His grin quickly faded, though, when he saw Joe was laying still on the grass.

“Adam, watch Peterson,” said Ben, his voice tinged with panic and fear. He hastily knelt on the grass next to Joe. Turning his son’s head slowly, Ben saw the gash on the side of Joe’s head, and the blood streaming down from the cut.

“He hit his head on something,” called Ben, his voice now frantic. He raised his hand so his other sons could see the blood from Joe’s wound which had stained it. “Get me some water!” Ben pulled at the bandanna around his neck, untying the cloth so he could use it as a bandage. As he pressed the bandanna against the gash on Joe’s head, Ben saw something lying in the grass.

When Adam collected the relics and oilcloths from the grass, he didn’t realize he had more cloths than objects. Adam didn’t know he had missed something in the tall grass, that he had overlooked a small statue made of hard marble with sharp edges on the figure and base. Lying among the green blades was the statue of Aphrodite, now streaked with blood.

***********

For most of the time, Joe’s mind was locked in a black void, unable to register any sensations and not allowing the rest of his body to do so either. Occasionally, he would emerge from the void for a while, but those were the times his brain would be in a fog, beset by strange images and dreams. Joe felt himself being lifted, and believed he was being raised to join the beautiful pattern of stars he had seen in the night sky. He felt himself moving among those stars, bumping into them from time to time as he walked between the twinkling lights. Sometimes, Joe dreamed of a beautiful woman all in white, who offered him a pewter goblet. She held the cup to Joe’s lips and he drank from it. The liquid was alternately cool, designed to ease his burning throat, or warm, offering him nourishment.

Once Joe thought he saw a crouching lion, readying itself to spring forward. He tried to cry out a warning but wasn’t sure if he was able to make those around him understand. Another time, he dreamed of a man carrying fire, a bearded image who came so close that Joe could feel the heat. Once more, he tried to shout a warning but again was unsure if anyone heard him.

At first, each emergence from the blackness to the fog was brief, and Joe would sink back into the void quickly. But during each visit to the land in his dream, Joe lingered longer and longer. He felt he was pushing away the mindless emptiness and moving forward through the haze of jumbled images and confusing thoughts. Joe knew he had to fight to push himself out of the cloud of befuddlement which surrounded him. He wasn’t sure why, but Joe somehow understood that he had to get to the clear expanse that seemed far in the distance. Despite feeling tired and in pain, Joe fought hard to leave the fog and come into the clear light of day.

**********

“Any change?”

Turning a bit in the chair by Joe’s bed, Ben squinted at the dark figure in the doorway. With tired eyes looking through the dim light of Joe’s bedroom, he needed a few seconds to recognize his oldest son.

Shaking his head, Ben answered, “Not really. A little while ago, Joe started mumbling again. It was still gibberish, though. He’s been…sleeping ever since.”

Moving into the room, Adam stood at the bottom of Joe’s bed. He looked at the still figure lying on the mattress. Joe’s face was as white as chalk, almost as white as the thick bandage which was wrapped around his head. Heavy blankets covered the youngest Cartwright to his chin. Joe’s breathing seemed regular and even, as if he were asleep. The only problem was that Joe had been asleep for almost three days.

“Why don’t you get some rest, Pa?” suggested Adam. “I’ll sit with him for awhile.”

Ignoring his son’s suggestion, Ben turned back to the bed. “If only there was something we could do, some medicine we could give him….Adam, I feel so helpless.”

“I know, Pa,” Adam sympathized. “Hoss and I feel the same way. But the doctor said there was nothing to do but wait.”

“Wait and see,” Ben agreed, repeating the doctor’s advice. “It could be a long time before he wakes up, Adam.” He swallowed hard. “He might never wake up.”

“He’s not going to die,” said Adam sharply. “You heard the doctor. He has a concussion, complicated by loss of blood and a fever. There’s no sign of a fracture. The fact that his fever is down, and that he’s trying to talk is a good sign. He just needs some time.”

Ben took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You’re right. I’m sorry, Adam; I shouldn’t have given in like that. We need to be strong and hopeful, both for Joe’s sake as well as our own.”

“You’re just tired,” stated Adam. “You haven’t had but a couple of hours sleep over the past few days. Go get some rest; I’ll stay with Joe. Things will look better in the morning.”

Once more, Ben ignored the suggestion. “If only we hadn’t been so far from home,” he said almost to himself. “If only we had been able to stop the bleeding sooner, or done something to prevent the fever, things might be different. ”

“Pa, we did everything we could,” replied Adam in a firm voice. “We cleaned out the cut, and wrapped the wound as tight as possible. You held him in your arms on your horse for all those miles, held him until your arms were almost numb. There was nothing more we could have done.”

“We should have never been out there,” Ben said in a bitter voice. “In the middle of nowhere, hunting for some foolish treasure.” He looked up at Adam. “What’s wrong with you boys? Why can’t you be satisfied with what you have,” Ben railed at his oldest son. “Why are you always cooking up some crazy get-rich-quick scheme?”

“That’s not fair, Pa,” protested Adam. “None of us could have foreseen what happened. And we all wanted to see where that paper led. Even you. You wanted to go as much as we did.”

“You’re right, Adam, “ admitted Ben a bit sadly. “I let my greed get the best of me. I wanted to find that treasure as much as you or Hoss or Joe did.”

“Now you’re not being fair to yourself,” Adam chided his father gently. “You’re not greedy, Pa. You’re the most unselfish and generous person I know. You wanted to see where that paper led because you were curious. You wanted to see if we could figure out the clues, and what they led to. You probably wouldn’t have known what to do with a fortune if we had found one.”

“Don’t be so sure, son,” said Ben, a small smile crossing his face. “I’m not quite the saint you seem to think I am.”

“I didn’t say you were a saint. In fact, I can make a list of all your faults if you’d like,” Adam replied, returning his father’s smile.

“That won’t be necessary,” said Ben, still smiling. Then his face sobered. “You’re right that I was curious. But I’m old enough to know better than to go traipsing through the wildness on some fool’s errand. We were just asking for trouble.”

“Pa, we took every precaution; you make sure of that,” Adam answered. “You’re just looking for someone or something to blame when the truth is that this just happened. Joe could have just as easily cracked his head breaking horses.” The smile returned to Adam’s face. “Joe’s got a hard head; we all know that. And he’s stubborn. He’ll be fine, and he’ll wake up when he’s good and ready.”

“I suppose,” said Ben, but his voice lacked conviction. “And you’re right about looking for someone to blame. I just can’t quite figure out who.”

“How about Peterson?” said a voice from the bed.

Both Ben and Adam snapped their heads toward the bed, astonishment evident on their faces. Joe looked back at them with his eyes wide open and a crooked grin on his face.

“Joe!” exclaimed Ben. “How long have you been awake.”

“Long enough to hear myself described as hard headed and stubborn,” answered Joe in a voice that was weak and a bit hoarse. He started to push himself up a bit, but collapsed back to the bed when his arms didn’t seem able to support him. The fact that room seemed to be spinning and tilting didn’t help things.

At once, Ben reached over to adjust the pillows on the bed so the cushions would offer more support to Joe’s head and shoulders. His hand moved to Joe’s head and lingered there as his fingers softly rubbed his son’s hair. For a moment, his hand slipped down to Joe’s cheek, lightly stroking the wan skin as a gesture of comfort as well as to make sure he felt no heat of fever. Then Ben’s hand moved back to rest on the top of Joe’s head. He peered into Joe’s eyes, noting that they seemed to be focusing properly. Nevertheless, Ben asked, “Can you see me, Joe?”

Turning his head slightly, Joe nodded to his father. “I can see you, Pa.”

“Move your arms and legs for me,” Ben ordered his son.

Obediently, Joe moved his limbs under the covers, bunching the blankets a bit. “I’m fine, Pa, really,” Joe added. “Everything works.”

Ben stroked his son’s head a bit, then sat back in the chair. He sniffed a little and quickly brushed a knuckle under his eye. “You gave us quite a scare, Joe. You’ve been unconscious for a long time.”

“Sorry, Pa,” Joe replied in a tired voice. “I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“I always worry about my sons,” answered Ben softly. Then he cleared his throat and said in a stern voice,

“However, you, Joseph, are going to make me old before my time.” Joe gave his father a small smile, knowing the admonition wasn’t meant to be taken seriously.

“How are you really feeling?” Adam asked his brother, trying to keep the intense relief he was experiencing out of his voice.

“My head hurts and I’m thirsty,” replied Joe, turning to look at the end of the bed.

Quickly, Ben reached to the small bedside table and grabbed the glass sitting on it. He poured some water from a small pitcher into the glass and handed it to Joe.

“Thanks,” said Joe gratefully as he took the glass. He took several rather large gulps of water, then began sipping. As he drank, Joe looked around. He had no idea how he managed to get to his bedroom at the Ponderosa, or even why his head hurt so much. He saw the rings of fatigue and unshaven bristles of hair on his father’s face, and concluded he must have been unconscious for more than a day. Even his brother Adam’s face looked more sober than usual, a sure sign of worry.

Handing the now empty glass back to his Pa, Joe pushed back against the pillows which supported his head. He suddenly felt very tired and a bit dizzy. Slowly his eyes began to close.

“Wake up, Joe,” Ben said quickly. He shook his youngest son a bit. “You’ve got to stay awake.”

“Why?” asked Joe drowsily.

“Because you’ve been unconscious for three days,” explained Adam. “The doctor said once you woke up, you had to stay awake for at least an hour.” Joe was a bit surprised at the length of time he had been asleep, but not totally shocked. He had already figured out his time in that black void and foggy dreamland had been rather lengthy.

“My head hurts,” Joe complained. “What did I hit it on?”

“That statue of Aphrodite,” Adam answered. “I left in the grass by accident, and when Peterson knocked you over, you hit your head on it.” Suddenly, he grinned. “It figures you’d be brought down by the goddess of love.”

“I always fall for the pretty ladies,” agreed Joe. He winced and put his hand to the side of his head. “She sure packs a wallop.”

“The doctor left some powders for your headache,” Ben said quickly. “I’ll get them.” As he stood up, Ben added, “I’ll let Hoss know you’re awake. He’s been in here most of the past three days. I only convinced him to go to bed a few hours ago.” He turned and walked toward the doorway. As Ben passed his oldest son, he said in a low voice, “Keep him talking.” Adam nodded.

For a moment, Adam studied the pale figure in the bed. Joe’s eyes seemed clear but the lids were beginning to droop. “Do you remember what happened?” Adam asked his brother, calling Joe’s attention back to him.

Biting his lip a bit, Joe thought about his last clear memory. “I remember showing the tools to Peterson,” he said slowly. “After that, nothing.” He decided not to talk about his strange dreams and the odd images that had populated them. His brothers already thought Joe was a bit crazy sometimes; he didn’t need to give them additional ammunition to use against him. “Did I miss anything?”

“Not much,” admitted Adam. “Peterson grabbed your leg; that’s when you fell and hit your head. After that, it was a matter of getting you bandaged up and heading for home.”

Joe winced again as another wave of pain seemed to rattle around in his head. He took a deep breath, then looked up at his oldest brother. “What happened to Peterson and Jones?”

“Well, for a minute, it was a close call on whether Pa was going to bring them in or just strangle them with his bare hands,” Adam answered with a wry smile. “I can’t remember when I’ve seen Pa that upset and angry. He finally decided to let Hoss tie them on their horses and bring them with us. We turned them over to the sheriff. They’re going to be charged with assault, attempted robbery, attempted kidnapping, and whatever else Sheriff Coffee can think of. They’ll be seeing the inside of a jail for a long time.”

Nodding a bit, Joe said, “Good. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I figure it must have been their fault.” He cocked his head a bit. “What happened to the…what we found.”

“I brought it back with us,” replied Adam. “I’m not sure what we should do with it, but it didn’t seem right just to leave it behind.”

“Even the statue?”

“Even the statue,” Adam replied. His smile widened. “We’ll have to clean some blood stains off of it, but it’s was too nice a piece to just forget about.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t let a little thing like my bleeding all over it prevent you from keeping such a nice statue,” said Joe ironically. He yawned a bit. “Boy, could I use some sleep.”

“Sleep? You’ve been sleeping for three days,” Adam stated. He thought quickly, trying to come up with a topic that would keep Joe talking. “Tell me, Joe. If the treasure had been gold, what would you have done with it.”

Walking down the hall with Hoss, Ben heard his youngest son’s voice drifting out of the bedroom. He became concerned, wondering if Joe had become disoriented, because the words he heard seemed to be describing a Christmas party, complete with presents.

************

When Joe descended the stairs for dinner ten days after he regained consciousness, his elation at being able to leave his bedroom was echoed throughout the Ponderosa. The first few days after he woke up, Joe had only nominally complained about staying in bed. In truth, during those days, his head hurt, and he felt dizzy and nauseous. But once over those symptoms, he began his campaign to get out of bed. The battle of wills between Joe and both this father and doctor caused a clash that upset the entire household.

Joe complained, begged, and even tried deception to win the right to get dressed, but to no avail. Twice he was caught trying to get up – once by Hoss who pushed back into the bed and threatened to sit on him if he tried again, and once by Hop Sing who retaliated by hiding all of Joe’s clothes.

A wide smile had broken out on Joe’s face on the fourth day when the doctor had removed the bandage from around his head and declared it could stay off for good. The smile had turned into a frown, however, when Joe reached up to feel the wound and realized a chunk of his hair had been shaved away. “It’ll grow back,” the doctor had assured him with a chuckle.

Joe had been cheered on the fifth day when the doctor had agreed he could sit up in a chair, but his exhilaration had been dampened when the doctor had added that the time in the chair would be limited to one hour sessions. Almost immediately, Joe began to devise plans to lengthen the time, but his schemes were thwarted by his father, brothers and Hop Sing. By then, the four men had organized a “Joe watch” among themselves, despite the disruptions that caused to their normal day. When the time Joe was allowed to sit up was lengthened, so was the amount of time his family spent with him. Their excuse was that each one was trying to entertain Joe during his convalescence, but he wasn’t fooled. Joe noted his father and brothers checking the clock in his room frequently, and abruptly ordering him to bed when the specified time allowed in the chair had expired.

When the doctor finally agreed that Joe could get dressed and join the family for dinner that evening, a collective sigh of relief was almost audible throughout the house. The doctor hadn’t admitted to anyone but himself that he couldn’t have kept Joe in his room any longer anyway, even if he wanted to. Instead, he merely told Ben that Joe seemed to have recovered completely but suggested the other Cartwrights keep an eye on him, just in case.

At dinner, Joe was careful to eat heartily and act as normal as possible. He knew without looking that his father and brothers were watching him like hawks, ready to whisk him back to the dreaded bed at the first sign of any distress. So Joe asked about his father about the ranch, kidded Hoss on his appetite, and disagreed with Adam on whether a new Army contract for horses was possible, while at the same time cleaning his plate of food. He had a hard time hiding a grin as the faces around the table gradually relaxed and lost their watchful expressions.

When the dinner was finished, the Cartwrights moved to the living room. As the men settled in various chairs with coffee, Joe decided he could finally bring up the subject of the treasure hunt.

“So, Adam,” Joe asked casually, “are you going to tell us what you read in that journal?” He laughed at the startled expression on his oldest brother’s face. “I figure must have finished reading it by now.

“I was curious about what was in it,” admitted Adam, a bit guiltily.

“Did explain about the treasure?” pressed Joe. When Adam nodded, Joe continued, “Well, then tell us what it said. We just as nosy as you are.”

Glancing at his father and Hoss, Adam could see the interest on their faces. He took a deep breath and began his story.

“Anthony Papagora was born in Greece, but moved to America with his father and brother when he was about eight, not long after his mother died. He writes about his memories of the ancient temples and fine statues he saw before he left, and said his father filled the time during the long sea voyage by telling Anthony and his brother all the tales and myths of ancient Greece. By the time the family arrived in San Francisco, Anthony knew by heart the stories of Hercules, the Greek gods, and all the other legends of his homeland. His journal says he was fascinated by those legends and kept begging his father to repeat the stories as he was growing up.”

“Anthony’s father started a small shipping business in San Francisco,” continued Adam. “When he was old enough, Anthony became the business agent for the company. Basically, that meant he would meet with clients to work out the details of their transactions, and try to drum up new business. He started visiting the homes of wealthy clients in San Francisco and other cities, both on a business and a social basis. That’s when he began noticing the number of Greek artifacts that were displayed in many of these homes.”

“How did those folks get them?” asked Hoss with a frown.

“Some were brought back as souvenirs from trips to Europe, and others simply purchased from importers,” Adam explained. “America is a young country, and we don’t have much in the way of relics. It became very fashionable for people to acquire and display items from ancient cultures. I remember when I was in Boston, people were eager to show artifacts from places like Greece, Italy and Egypt.”

“Yeah, I guess hanging an Indian war bonnet on the wall wouldn’t be very fashionable,” commented Joe wryly.

“Anyway, the more Anthony saw these pieces, the more he became convinced that it was wrong for people to be stealing them from his homeland,” Adam continued. “He resented the fact that what he considered to be important heirlooms of Greek culture were being acquired by these wealthy people and displayed in America as knickknacks and decorations.”

“So he began to buy them back,” Ben guessed.

“No,” replied Adam, shaking his head. “He began stealing them.”

“Stealing them!” exclaimed Joe. “Why?”

“Well, Anthony didn’t have the money to buy more than a few pieces, even if the owners were willing to sell them,” Adam explained. “Besides, in his mind, it wasn’t really stealing. He felt he was just acquiring things that ought to be returned to their rightful place in Greece.”

“Wasn’t he afraid of getting caught?” asked Hoss.

“He was very clever,” admitted Adam. “He only took small items, things that he could easily slip into a coat pocket, for example. And he never took anything that was made out of a precious metal such as gold or silver. He was sure that the police wouldn’t spend a lot of time and effort looking for a small marble statue or a pewter goblet.”

“He’s right there,” Joe said. “I can’t picture Sheriff Coffee organizing a posse to search for someone who took a pewter cup.”

“But didn’t the owners wonder about the thefts and suspect him?” asked Ben.

“Anthony made sure he never took more than one thing from any house, and he also spread the thefts out over time, sometimes going months before taking another piece. He’d continue to return to the houses for social or business reasons, so no one ever suspected him. Anthony wrote in his journal that some people never even realized the piece was missing, which reinforced his feeling that he was doing the right thing in rescuing artifacts which were considered mere trinkets by their owners.”

“But how did this stuff end up in the middle of nowhere in Nevada?” asked Hoss in a puzzled tone of voice. “And why did he write those crazy directions?”

“I’m getting to that,” answered Adam in a calm voice. “Once Anthony had what he thought was a number of important items, he contacted the Greek consul in San Francisco. His pretense was that he had the opportunity to acquire some artifacts and wanted to know how the Greek government would go about returning them to Greece. Imagine his shock when Anthony learned the Greeks didn’t particularly care whether they were returned or not.”

“Didn’t care?” Joe said. “Why not?”

“According to the journal, the consul told Anthony that there were thousands of these small pieces spread throughout Greece,” explained Adam. “They already had warehouses full of them, more than they could ever display or study. The government preferred to emphasize the preservation of large items, such as temples or life-size statues. As for the other items, well, if someone wanted to sell them and make a little money, that was fine with the Greeks.” Adam looked up to the ceiling for a moment, trying to recall something. “The journal said the consul indicated that there were goat herders using 1,000 year old pots to collect their milk, and if these people could improve their lives by selling their milking pots, why shouldn’t they?”

“He must have been terribly disappointed by the Greek government’s reaction,” commented Ben.

“It gets worse,” Adam said. “Anthony went to his father to complain about the Greeks’ attitude toward what he considered important pieces of his heritage. His father merely laughed at the idea of returning these pieces to Greece. When Anthony insisted they were part of history, his father said something like ‘you can’t eat history’ and told his son that selling such artifacts was a long tradition in Greece. He told his son that it was foolish to even think of trying to return artifacts to Greece, that the idea was ludicrous. When Anthony told his father he had a number of pieces that he thought should be returned to their homeland, his father got suspicious and asked where he had acquired them. Evidently, Anthony gave his father some vague explanation, but he could tell it wasn’t satisfactory. His father began lecturing Anthony on the foolishness of getting into trouble just for some antiques that no one care about. Then he told Anthony what must have been the most devastating information that Anthony could hear: that his father had funded the family’s move to America and the start of their business by selling artifacts to wealthy visitors.”

“So the life he enjoyed was the result of the very thing he was trying to prevent,” Ben said, shaking his head. “That was devastating news.”

“Yeah, but that still don’t explain how those things got out here,” insisted Hoss.

“The entries in the journal got very bizarre after that,” Adam said. “I think Anthony must have gone a little crazy at that point. Think about it. He risks everything – his reputation at the very least, and jail or worse if he’s caught – for what he thinks is an important cause. Only then, he finds out that no one else cares about his cause. He’s laughed at and called a fool. Worse, his own father had built their lives on what Anthony considered tainted money.”

“It would probably drive me to drink,” agreed Joe.

“You don’t need any excuses to drink, little brother,” Hoss chided. “All it takes is for you is to get within ten feet of a saloon.” He laughed at the scowl that crossed Joe’s face.

“As near as I could tell from what he had written, Anthony decided everyone was wrong, that the artifacts had to be returned to their homeland, ” continued Adam. “He also starts writing about conspiracies against him, about how people are out to stop him from doing his important work. The entries are very confusing. At some point, though, Anthony devised this grand scheme. He was going to steal as many artifacts as he could. Then he was going to return to Greece and force the government to acknowledge righteousness of his cause, as well as to accept the pieces back. He wrote about envisioning a triumphant return, and people in the streets cheering him for bringing parts of their history back to them.”

“That doesn’t seem very likely,” said Ben, frowning.

“No, it doesn’t,” agreed Adam. “But he seemed to think so. Anyway, Anthony decided to hide the pieces that he had acquired from what he termed his enemies so that they would be safe while he continued to acquire artifacts. He decided hiding them in the wilderness would keep them safe. He knew about the first meadow from an old fur trader who liked to tell stories about his younger days trapping in the mountains. Anthony got the old trader to show him how to find it on a map. Once he got to the first meadow, Anthony looked for an even safer place to hide his treasures. He must have explored those mountains for a long time, looking for just the right place.”

“Why’d he write those crazy directions?” asked Hoss. “And why did he leave the journal?”

“Anthony was convinced that there was an army of enemies out to get him,” replied Adam. “He decided to write the directions to his treasure and send them to his brother, in case anything happened to him. He also left the journal behind so that his brother would understand what he had done and why. Anthony put the directions in a kind of code, using references which he knew his brother would understand but wouldn’t make sense to almost anyone else. He thought that would prevent the artifacts from falling into the hands of his so-called enemies.”

“But he never got the chance to send the directions,” Joe said, the course of events suddenly clear to him. “He must have been returning from hiding his treasure when he was attacked by Indians. The story Pete told us was that Jim Bridger found him almost dead from an arrow wound. He gave the paper to Bridger right before he died, insisting that Bridger find his treasure so it wouldn’t be lost forever. Only Bridger couldn’t understand the directions, so he didn’t do anything about it.”

“That’s my guess,” agreed Adam. “That paper got passed around but no one could understand it. So the artifacts stayed hidden.”

“Until you came along and were smart enough to figure it out,” Hoss complimented his brother.

“With a little luck and Pa’s help,” said Adam with a shrug, downplaying his ability to understand the directions.

“This Anthony fellow” continued Hoss, “He must have thought these things were more important than any jewels and such, which is why he called ‘more valuable than gold’.” He shook his head. “It’s kind of sad. He took all those things thinking that he could return them to their home and instead, they were almost lost forever.”

The four men sat silent for several minutes, each lost in their own thoughts of Anthony Papagora and his mad quest to restore what he considered the heritage of his homeland to Greece.

“What are we going to do now?” Joe asked, finally breaking the silence.

“I don’t know,” admitted Ben. “There’s probably no way to tell who owned those pieces, not after all these years. And I’m not sure we can even contact his family. I don’t remember a Papagora shipping company in San Francisco.”

“My thought is that we ask the Territorial Enterprise to run a story about the artifacts,” suggested Adam.

“Maybe someone will recognize one of the pieces or Anthony Papagora’s name and contact us.”

“That’s a good idea,” Ben agreed. “At the very least, it would be nice to let his family know what happened to him. They must have been wondering about him for a long time.”

“Yeah, and it also will let people know we didn’t find any fortune in gold,” added Joe. “That should discourage anyone from trying to take our ‘treasure’ away from us.”

“Why, Joe, ain’t you up to wrestling with a few outlaws?” asked Hoss innocently.

“I’ve done my wrestling, thank you,” Joe replied. “It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that I could take on Peterson without any problems, but a little marble statue almost did me in.”

“Keep working on it, Joe,” said Hoss with a grin. “We’ll let you have another crack at it. I bet you can outwrestle that statue at least two falls out of three.”

***********

“Hey, Pa, the troops are back!” announced Joe as he marched through the front door of the Ponderosa ranch house. He stopped a few feet inside the house, making room for his brothers to follow him in, and started unbuckling his gun belt. Adam and Hoss stopped next to Joe and began doing the same.

As he descended the stairs to the room below, Ben said, “Well, you boys are home early. Everything go all right?” His eyes briefly scanned Adam, then Hoss, and finally Joe. His visual inspection of his youngest son was much longer than his look at the other two. Ben knew that in the six weeks since the accident, Joe had showed no ill effects, but checking on him had become a habit with Ben. He saw a vibrant young man, gently jostling his brothers as the three young men moved to put rolled gun belts on the bureau by the door and hang hats on the pegs on the wall. For what seemed the hundredth time, Ben told himself that Joe was just fine and he should stop worrying about him, but it was a habit that he found difficult to break.

“Everything went fine, “ said Adam, who was the first to emerge from the knot of moving arms and bodies by the door. “The Army accepted all the horses and paid in gold, like they said they would.” He tossed a small pouch to Ben. “There’s $500 in gold pieces; 20 horses at $25 a head.”

“Good, good,” replied Ben, nodding in satisfaction. The clinking of the gold pieces in the pouch reminded him briefly Joe’s deception of Peterson in the meadow, but he quickly and firmly pushed that thought aside. “We’ll deposit this in the bank tomorrow.”

As Ben walked across the living room toward the den and the small safe behind his desk in the room, Hoss called after him. “That going to be enough to expand the saw mill?”

“It helps,” replied Ben over his shoulder, as he continued walking.

“You’re sure working us hard enough, Pa,” grumbled Joe but with good nature as he walked toward the sofa by the fireplace. He flopped on the stuffed piece of furniture with a sigh.

“I hardly think rounding up and breaking a few extra wild horses is going to kill us,” commented Adam dryly as he walked to the blue chair near the bottom of the stairs and sat down. “The Army was pretty eager to get the horses once Pa let them know we had extra remounts available.”

“Yeah, what about the thirty head of cattle I had to round up and deliver to Carson City last week?” Joe continued.

“You make it sound like you drove a whole herd to Kansas City by yourself,” said Hoss, sitting down on the sofa next to Joe. “As I recall, you volunteered for that job. And somehow you got delayed and had to spend an extra day in Carson City.”

“Well, things happen,” Joe replied, grinning. “Besides, since Pa wouldn’t let me break any of those horses, I’d rather deliver cattle to Carson City than cart that lumber into Virginia City. How many trips did you make, anyhow?”

“I lost count after four,” admitted Hoss. “I think I delivered enough lumber to shore up every mine in Virginia City twice.”

“Now, boys, you know what we agreed,” Ben chided his sons mildly as he walked to the living room to join them. “With some extra work and maybe a small loan from the bank, we can expand the sawmill and still make those improvements in the stock.” He didn’t add that the story in the journal had reminded him of the importance of not simply dismissing an idea that one of his son’s believed in, whether it was a practical one like the sawmill, or an unrealistic one like finding a treasure. The journal was a warning of the possible dire consequences that could occur when a father ignored his son’s hopes and ambitions.

“I know, Pa,” said Joe, grinning. “I’m just complaining because I don’t have anything else to do right now.”

Before Ben could retort that he could think of plenty for Joe to do, his attention was distracted by a sharp rap on the front door. Ben walked to the door, thinking it a bit odd that someone would be visiting this late in the day. He pulled open the door and looked out.

A tall man in a fawn suit and top hat stood on the porch. The stranger’s clothes had a look of wealth and class – well cut, stylish, and made of fine material. His black string tie matched the inky color of the vest he was wearing beneath the coat, and the highly polished boots on his feet. A trace of gray was visible in the thick black hair which jutted out from under the tall hat.

“Mr. Cartwright?” asked the stranger. When Ben nodded, the man continued. “I apologize for stopping by without any warning but I was eager to meet you as soon as possible. My name is George Papagora.”

“Yes?” replied Ben, a bit puzzled. Then the significance of the stranger’s name hit him. “Yes,” he said again, this time a statement rather than a question. “Mr. Papagora, please come in.”

The two men walked from the door toward the fireplace, while three faces watched them with open interest. Ben escorted the stranger to his favorite red chair by the fire and invited him to sit. He introduced his sons to their visitor, then announced to them, “Boys, this is Mr. George Papagora.”

Immediately, the three younger Cartwrights jumped to their feet. “Any relation to Anthony Papagora?” asked Joe in an eager voice.

“Yes, Anthony is – or rather, was – my older brother,” Papagora replied.

“Then you’ve heard the story about the journal and the satchel we found,” stated Adam, a bit of excitement also evident in his voice.

“I just heard about it a few hours ago,” admitted Papagora. “I’m in Virginia City on business, and when I checked into the hotel, the clerk recognized my name. He mentioned the article that was in the Virginia City newspaper a few weeks ago about a man with the same last name. He got a copy of the article for me, and when I read it, I had to come out to see you right away. You see, my brother Anthony disappeared almost fifteen years ago. This is the first time in all those years that I’ve had any indication of what happened to him.”

The Cartwrights resumed their seats, with Adam moving to sit on the ledge in front of the fireplace so that his father could have the more comfortable blue chair. “The article in the paper pretty well summarized what we know,” stated Adam.

“A summary, yes,” agreed Papagora. “But the article mentioned a journal. I suspect that the journal provided you with a lot more details. I would be grateful if you would tell me everything you could.”

Adam glanced toward his father, who nodded at him encouragingly. Taking a deep breath, Adam once more launched into the saga of Anthony Papagora.

Listening intently, George Papagora sat silently as Adam recounted the tale. Once or twice, he interrupted with a question, but for the most part, Papagora just listened. He barely acknowledged the tray of coffee and cups that Hoss brought from the kitchen after quietly slipping out of the room. Papagora took the cup of coffee offered to him and sipped it, but his expression showed that he was merely being polite. His attention was focused on Adam.

“That’s all we know,” said Adam with a trace of regret as he finished the story. “We assume what your brother wrote in the journal was true, at least from his perspective. What happened to him is really based on stories we’ve heard, but it fits with what’s in the journal.”

“I agree,” said Papagora with a nod. He sat still for a moment, as if trying to make sense of Adam’s story. “It all fits together, now that I think back.”

“We would have contacted you about your brother but we didn’t know how to reach you,” Ben apologized. “We couldn’t find any trace of Papagora shipping business in San Francisco.”

“Yes, well, I sold the shipping business when my father died eight years ago,” explained Papagora in a somewhat distracted voice. “I only stayed with the firm for my father’s sake. After Anthony disappeared, I felt I couldn’t abandon him too. When my father died, though, I got out of the shipping business. I’m in banking and investments now. I came to Virginia City to check out some mining interests we’re considering.”

“It’s a shame that your father died without knowing what happened to his son,” said Ben in a sympathetic voice.

“Perhaps it was a blessing,” replied Papagora. “My father always believed that Anthony returned to Greece. I never did understand why he thought that. Maybe it was kinder that he believed his son was in Greece, working on his dream to restore the ancient pieces to their rightful place, rather than knowing Anthony died almost alone in the wilderness.”

“Then you didn’t know anything about this scheme of his?” asked Joe.

“No, I didn’t,” Papagora answered. “I knew something was wrong. Anthony had been acting secretive and, well, frankly a bit strange for quite awhile. But I had no idea what caused his odd behavior. Then one day, he just disappeared. I wanted to contact the police and try a number of things to see if we could find him. But my father always refused, saying Anthony knew what he was doing. Now I understand why my father didn’t want him pursued. He suspected Anthony was stealing artifacts, and was afraid that Anthony would be caught with the stolen items and sent to jail.” He sighed. “Anthony always was a romantic. Father filled his head with tales of the ancient glories of Greece, and Anthony dreamed of reliving those times. When we were boys, he used to make up stories about how he would have fought in the Trojan War or battled with the gods. I thought they were just stories, but now it appears Anthony really believed he could do heroic deeds that would restore Greece to its glory.”

“I’m sorry it took so long for you to find out what happened to your brother,” said Joe. “But no one could figure out the directions on that paper he left until Adam and Pa got a look at it.”

“I’m not sure I would have been able to figure it out myself,” admitted Papagora. “Anthony was much more versed on Greek legends than I am.” He looked at Ben. “What did you do with the artifacts you found?”

“We still have them,” answered Ben. “Frankly, we didn’t know what to do with them.”

“I’d like to buy them from you, along with the journal,” Papagora said.

“You can’t buy them,” stated Ben firmly. Seeing the startled look on Papagora’s face, he added with a smile. “You may have them at no cost. They’re not ours; we can’t sell what we don’t really own.”

“But you found them,” protested Papagora. “You found the treasure so it belongs to you.”

“We found them,” agreed Ben, “but we look at it more as recovering lost pieces of someone’s history – your brother’s history, as well as that of the Greek people. You don’t sell history. Right, boys?” He looked around and saw three heads nodding in agreement.

“I’ll get the satchel,” offered Adam, getting to his feet. He walked to the stairs and quickly climbed them.

“What will you do with the artifacts?” Ben asked Papagora.

“Well, first, I’ll try to find the owners – the people Anthony stole them from,” Papagora answered. “I doubt if I’ll be very successful, but I at least have to try.” He looked into the fire for a minute, thinking hard about something. “I think I would like to open a museum, a place where people can come and look at pieces which represent the ancient culture and glories of Greece.” He nodded to himself, as if confirming a thought. “Yes, a museum. Any unclaimed artifacts in the satchel will be the start. And I’ll begin looking right away for other items I can add to it.” Smiling at Ben, he added. “I’ll begin buying artifacts, not stealing them. I’m a wealthy man, Mr. Cartwright, and I can’t think of a better way to spend my money.”

“Here’s the satchel,” announced Adam as he descended the stairs. He carried the black bag, now cleaned of the dirt that had clung to it for so long. “The journal is inside.”

“Thank you,” said Papagora, getting to his feet. He took the satchel from Adam.

“There’s one thing I would like as a reward,” Joe said suddenly. His father, brothers, and George Papagora looked at him in surprise. “I’d like to keep the paper with the directions on it. Sort of a souvenir of our great treasure hunt.”

“And a reminder that hunting for treasure rarely brings the rewards you think you’ll find,” added Ben. He grinned, along with Adam and Hoss, as Joe acknowledged the truth of that statement with an sheepish look.

“Of course you may have the paper,” said Papagora. “Is it in the satchel?” After noting Adam’s nod, Papagora opened the bag. He pulled out the paper, which was sitting on the top of all the other items in the case, and handed it to Joe. Under the paper was the journal. Papagora ran his hand over the leather folder slowly, almost lovingly. Then, with a determined air, he shut the bag.

“Thank you, gentlemen, for your kindness,” stated Papagora. “You’ve restored my brother to me. I appreciate that more than I can say.”

“I hope you’ll invite us to see your museum when it’s opened,” Hoss said. “I would really like to take a look at those things again some time.”

“Of course,” agreed Papagora, with a smile. “You all have lifetime invitations to visit the Anthony Papagora Museum of Greek Culture.”

“You know, I think your brother would have liked that,” remarked Joe.

“I know he would have,” stated Papagora.

After an exchange of addresses and a round of handshakes, Papagora and the satchel of artifacts left the house. Ben and his sons stood silently as they watched the door close behind him.

“Well, there goes our treasure,” said Hoss, a bit sadly.

“We didn’t find any gold,” Adam added, “but you have to admit it was an interesting experience.”

“I hope you boys have learned something from this,” Ben stated in his best lecturing tone.

“I learned one thing,” said Joe in a serious voice. “To appreciate the things you already have, including family.”

“And I learned that the ancient legends and past glories are nice to know about, but it’s the future that is really important,” added Adam.

“What about you, Hoss?” Ben asked, looking at his middle son.

“Well, Pa,” said Hoss solemnly, “I learned that there ain’t no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” Then an impish smile crossed his face. “But it sure is a lot of fun to go looking for it.”

Adam and Joe hooted with laughter as a frown crossed Ben’s face.

Ben watched as his sons walked back and sat down on the chairs near the fireplace, laughing and kidding each other as they settled in. No one had asked Ben what he had learned, but he knew what the answer would have been. It wasn’t really a new lesson, just the reinforcement of something he had known for a long time. Ben Cartwright understood that he already had his treasure. He had the greatest treasure of all – his sons.

*****End*****

 

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Author: SusanG

The Bonanza universe lost an ardent fan when Susan Grote passed away unexpectedly on March 2, 2017.   The news caught her family, friends, and fellow writers and readers by surprise as she had not been ill. Susan was a fierce supporter of Bonanza fan fiction, helping many to take their first literary steps.  She never failed to offer support and encouragement to all writers, regardless of fandom. Her family has graciously granted Brand permission to post her stories in our Library so that readers may continue to enjoy them.

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