Summary: This is a missing scene for My Brother’s Keeper. What happened from the time Ben arrived home with eyes blazing and gun drawn, to the next morning when he and Adam appear quite calm, despite Adam’s horrific, days-long ordeal of caring for his brother?
Rating: K WC = 1498
The Long Night
Since receiving the telegram from Hoss that Joe had been shot, I pushed Buck to his limits to get home from Placerville. Once I was well onto the Ponderosa I slowed my pace a little to give the horse some respite. After camping that first night we rode carefully over the rocky terrain, getting ever nearer to home.
Dear Lord, keep Joe safe. Don’t let my son die. These words became my mantra as I rode. Hoss had only said that Joe had been shot and that I needed to come home. Oh, Hoss, couldn’t you have told me more? Who shot him, how bad is it? Of course it must be bad if Hoss needed me at home. I tried to recall what Joe had been doing. Oh yes, he and Adam had gone looking for the wolf that had been ravaging our newborn calves. They had headed off toward Montpelier gorge. The next day was when I had gotten word of a contract offer for beef in Placerville. I rode out immediately, leaving Hoss in charge of the ranch. That was how many days ago? Since getting the telegram everything melded into one time frame.
Loud shooting yanked me from my anxious thoughts. Buck shied, then leapt forward, prepared to run. I pulled tight on the reins, controlling my mount until I could determine the direction of the shots. Three more loud cracks rang out. “The Ponderosa! Come on Buck.” I didn’t need to kick Buck into action, the horse was more than ready. His powerful legs ate up the remaining ground to reach the house.
All was silent as I dismounted behind the barn and walked into the yard, my gun drawn. No one was around so I tied Buck to the rail and headed to the front door. My blood went cold when I saw all the bullet marks on the wooden door. Swinging the door open my black eyes quickly scanned the messy room. An older man and young girl faced me. Once I determined they were not a threat, I tried to figure out what had happened and where my sons were.
Puzzled, I called out, “Joseph?” Silence. “JOSEPH!!”
“He’s up here, Pa!” Adam’s voice sounded strained, weak.
I ran across the room and mounted the stairs rapidly. Entering Joe’s room I froze. Adam, disheveled and unshaven, was attempting to give Joe some medicine. Seemingly satisfied his brother had had enough he placed the bottle on the night table and took a cloth to wipe away the sweat from Joe’s face. I quickly shed my hat and coat and moved to stand beside Adam.
“What…what happened? Adam?” When I looked at my eldest son I was struck by the guilt and pain in the hazel eyes. My son was near collapse from exhaustion. “Adam, sit down before you fall down.”
“Pa, no…I have to…”
“I’m here son. I can care for Joe now. Sit down and tell me what happened?” I had no clue where Hoss was but decided I’d deal with that later. Adam needed my full attention right now.
Adam sat and let his head sink into his hands while I checked on Joe. His skin was hot and he moaned from any touching. I glanced at the bandage and stole a look under to find a bad wound but not as red as I expected. Satisfied for the moment that Joe was resting I turned my attention back to Adam.
Pulling up another chair I sat and rested a hand on Adam’s knee. “Son, tell me what happened? Who shot Joe? What happened downstairs?”
Adam rubbed his face and looked blankly toward Joe. “I shot him,” he whispered.
Did I hear him right? “What did you say?”
Adam exploded out of the chair and moved to the window. “I shot him, okay? I shot my own brother!” Adam placed his hands on the cool glass and leaned his forehead against it. “I aimed at the wolf. I never stopped to think where Joe could be. I pulled the trigger and Joe fell from the shadows. The wolf was right there and attacked him.” He leaned harder against the glass. “Oh Pa, what have I done?”
Chills ran through me as I listened to Adam’s story. At first I couldn’t believe what my son was telling me but now it made more sense. It was an accident, horrifying yes, but an accident nonetheless. Knowing Adam I knew he wouldn’t take it that way. He took his care for his family seriously and this, well who knew what it was doing to Adam inside.
I slowly moved to stand by my son. I place a hand gently on Adam’s shoulder and squeezed it as I spoke. “Son, I can’t begin to understand what you must be feeling, but you’ve got to understand, it was an accident. You’re not to blame for this.”
Adam spun around knocking my hand off. “No Pa! I should have known he’d be there. I should have looked for him or called to him. But all I could think about was that damned wolf we’d been tracking for days.” Adam turned his head and looked at Joe then back at me. “Funny thing.” There was no mirth in his cold voice. “Joe wouldn’t give up on the animal. I tried to get him to head home but he had to have one more try, one more try…” Adam gasped. I could see the stress had been almost too much for him.
Adam rubbed his face again. I saw the mask going into place so I moved quickly before it locked the pain inside forever. “Adam, son?” I pulled Adam close and wrapped my arms around him. I felt Adam tense up and resist but I continued to embrace him. After a few moments I could feel him began to relax. Then the pain and guilt came flooding out in sobs and broken words. “I didn’t mean it, Pa. He’s got to know that. I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to shoot him…. The doctor didn’t come for hours…The men took the medicine that we needed…. If he dies I’ll never forgive myself, never.”
Just as I felt Adam was letting it all go, Joe moaned and began to shift around. Instantly, Adam was by his side, wiping him down with a damp cloth and talking quietly, gently to him. As I watched, I realized this ritual must have been repeated over and over since it all began. Adam had never left Joe’s side. He won’t until Joe recovers. Adam’s voice seemed to soothe Joe because he settled down quickly. When Adam straightened his back, I noticed the full out exhaustion in my son. He needed to sleep, but how was I going to convince him to do so?
I cleared my throat. “Son, Adam? Go get some sleep. I’ll stay here with Joe.”
Adam started to protest, but I could see the fight was nearly gone from him. He merely nodded, spoke quietly to Joe about returning soon, then left the room. I pulled the chair closer, took Joe’s hand in mine and began my vigil, for both my sons.
Somewhere in the distance I heard the clock strike five-thirty and noticed the morning light beginning to brighten the room. I rubbed my eyes and stretched the kinks from my body. Joe was resting easily though still rather warm. The young girl came to sit with him so I went downstairs to make some coffee. Noticing Adam on the settee, sound asleep, I crossed the room quietly. I found Hoss in the kitchen. He told me he was taking the outlaws to town as soon as he finished eating some leftover biscuits and drinking his coffee. I joined him with some coffee then I went out to help him. When I returned to the living room Adam was just waking up. That was when the young girl called down to say Joe was awake and asking for Adam.
Adam tore up the stairs two at a time. By the time I got to Joe’s room, Joe was smiling at Adam then he saw me and grinned even more. As I checked for fever, Joe kept talking. “Pa, Adam really clobbered him. He really clobbered that wolf. He’s not gonna…he’s not gonna touch our cattle anymore.”
Joe’s forehead felt cool to my hand. “I think his fever’s broken.”
“Is he going to be all right?” Adam asked quietly, tentatively.
“Well, I’m no doctor, but I think he’ll be all right.” I felt so relieved. Stealing a glance at Adam I saw a small smile peek out as Joe continued to smile at him. Yes indeed, everyone was going to be all right.
Other Stories by this Author
- Being Hoss (by AC1830)
- The Witness Tree (by AC1830)
- The Light Inside (by AC1830)
- Lo, I Am With You (by AC1830)
- Cartwright Confessions (by AC1830)