SUMMARY: Joe comes up with a scheme to solve Hoss’ romantic troubles and acquires a treasure map too, but the schemes about Adam have the most significant consequences. Edited in more material to the last chapter.
rating = T word count = 15,925
There was a fire burning in his belly. Off on the side actually, but it was enough to make him ache badly. How he wished the fire was from swigging down a whisky too fast, but sadly it wasn’t. Instead, it was a small amount of lead, but by the pain it caused, he was thinking it felt more like about five pounds of hot lead had been poured into his side. Thanking the Lord that the man was such a bad shot, he still had to worry about blood loss, being stranded with no weapon and no horse many miles from home, and that he had no water and no food. Other than that, things were just fine. At that moment, he might have chuckled at his own mocking thoughts except he knew it would hurt too much so he refrained. However he did have to do that in his mind as he thought about how innocently this whole mess had begun. Falling asleep could mean his death so thinking was a good way to keep focused as he struggled to move although he had to take frequent breaks. Deciding to relive all that had happened as well as he could from his memories and all that had been told to him, he thought he could write the story in his mind. Again he almost chuckled because, as usual, anything like this had to start with Joe.
They had been working in the hot sun for hours and needed a break. Joe may have suggested it, but he had been as willing. Letting the sun defeat you wasn’t a smart idea especially as they had several more days of work to do before they could head home. He regretted telling his father that they ought to move these two miles of fence line. Unfortunately for him, his father had wholeheartedly agreed and immediately put him in charge of doing it and sending Joe with him.
“Adam, thank you. I never thought you would say yes to a little swimming instead of working all day.”
“Joe, it’s Sunday. We’ve been working for five days straight. Do you suppose Pa and Hoss have been and are working today?” That got a grin. “The only reason we were was so that we could head home sooner, but no matter what we do today, we’ve still got at least three days work left. Right?”
Joe’s shoulders had sagged at that. “Right.”
“Well, by my calculations, we should arrive home now about Friday afternoon. Now I would think we should be able to expect that we get Friday night and Saturday in town to do some celebrating of a job well done and do some relaxing too.”
“Older brother, there are some times that I do like the way you think.”
“Well, yeah, because other times you’re a snarly old bear.”
And Joe had run then toward the camp they had made ducking away from Adam’s playful swipe. Spending a couple of pleasant hours in a small pond splashing around getting cool and clean, both men were refreshed that night and sat talking late into the evening. The most serious topic of discussion had been their brother Hoss and his romantic woes or actually his lack of romantic woes. He could hardly have woes as he didn’t have any romances lately at all. Any woman he had approached had rebuffed him leaving him down and unwilling to even try again.
“Adam, you know a lot of women who are older than me.”
At that point, Adam felt the hair on the back of his neck stand out as if there was lightning in the area. Somehow he knew Joe was about to strike.
“I was thinking that all the women I know are about my age or younger.”
“Why is this important?”
“If we’re going to find someone for Hoss, she shouldn’t be too young. I don’t know any ladies of the right age, but you do. You should be the one to match him up with a lady.”
“When did we go from discussing our brother’s sad state to matchmaking?”
“Now, come one, Adam, it’s the logical next step for a brother to take.”
“Logical? I don’t see that logic has anything to do with it.”
“Of course, it does. I just explained it all to you. Do you want me to do it all again? If you want, I can, you know. You said we had three more days up here, and then almost two days riding back in the wagon. Heck, I could probably explain it to you at least a couple dozen times. Maybe more.”
The threat worked. Rather than be bombarded with whining pleas to help their brother until he was ready to throttle him, he decided to find a more graceful way to end it.
“All right. If I find someone whom I think may be a good match for Hoss, I will introduce them. But that’s it, Joe. I’m not doing anything more.”
“That should be all it takes. We can let nature take its course then. You do the choosing and nature will take over.”
Although Adam grumbled and growled about that, he was actually pleased to have his younger brother have that kind of confidence in him. Enough had happened to him in the past year to shake his belief in his abilities. To have his brother so sure he could do it did make him feel better. It was almost as good as when his father had so heartily endorsed his plan for the fencing although he wished he could have had more say in who and when it was going to be moved. He briefly entertained the idea that Joe and his father were working together to improve his confidence and Hoss’ mood at the same time but dismissed it as preposterous. There was some doubt even though he didn’t think his father could be roped into one of Joe’s schemes, but then again, he had been once more.
For the next three days, Adam and Joe worked well together with Joe unusually willing to follow Adam’s directions. Adam assumed it was because he had agreed to Joe’s plan and because Joe was looking forward to that time in town if they got done with their work by the end of the day on Wednesday as Adam had thought they could. Things worked out well and they headed for home on Thursday morning. Adam kept waiting for something to go wrong but nothing did. Joe looked at him several times on Thursday evening and then Friday morning as he frowned looking into the distance.
“Is there something wrong that I’m missing?”
“What? Oh, no, there’s nothing wrong.”
“Then why do you keep looking around like we’re being followed or there’s going to be an ambush any time now?”
“I don’t know. For days now, I’ve had this feeling that something wrong is going to happen, and I don’t know what it is. I can’t tell you what it is because I’ve seen nothing wrong. I keep looking around thinking I’m going to finally recognize what the problem is, and I can’t.”
An hour later, Joe sighed deeply and Adam had to ask him what was wrong.
“Nothing, but now you got me spooked. I keep looking around for something to be wrong, and I can’t see a darn thing that isn’t right.”
“Yeah, me too. I guess we keep our eyes open and if we get home with nothing happening, we give it up to being cooped up with each other for almost two weeks.”
“Yeah, maybe that’s it. We need a couple of drinks and pretty ladies sitting on our laps.”
“Now, you’re talking. Let’s get this team moving.”
“Don’t look that happy when we roll this wagon into the yard at home.”
“Why not? Pa will be glad we’re not at each other’s throats.”
“Remember, we’re supposed to be tired and in need of relaxation and fun so he’ll have no problem telling us that going to town and staying is no problem.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s good thinking. Boy, I’m glad you’re my brother some times.”
“Some times? And be careful what you say. It’s a long run to get home.”
“Oh, yeah, well, I guess all the time. Yeah, that’s it. All the time.”
“Good answer, little brother. You do think fast when the need arises.” Adam smirked a little as he looked at Joe. “Hold that sneer too. It’ll be perfect for when we drive the wagon into the yard.”
When they got back to the house, Ben was at first a bit worried. But when Adam took his things into the house to take a bath, Joe was able to reassure his father.
“He was a lot like his old self out there, Pa. We even went swimming on Sunday. Then we talked sitting around the campfire. It was great. It was the old Adam again.”
“I guess you and Hoss were right. He needed something to do that he thought up, and you were right that I needed to endorse whatever idea he had next. I’m just glad he didn’t want to do something outrageous. However moving all those miles of fencing was quite a big job.”
“It was, Pa, but I gotta say when we got done, and I looked it all over, it does make a lot more sense. It’s going to be a lot easier to work those pastures with the fences where they are now and moving the cattle from one to the other.”
“Easier, but will it save time?”
“It should save quite a bit of time. We won’t have to do it in small bunches. We can take the whole herd down at once. There’s room now.”
“Yeah. Adam had a great idea. It wasn’t only a good to get him feeling good about himself again. It helped the ranch out too.”
Then Ben felt good about trusting his sons’ judgment, all three of them.
“Say, Pa, Adam wondered if maybe we could go to town tonight to relax and celebrate a little.”
“You just got back. Maybe you could go to town tomorrow.”
“We were thinking we’d go tonight and stay through tomorrow.”
Because Joe had such a hopeful look, Ben had to smile. “Of course you can do that. Maybe Hoss would like to join you.”
“Where is Hoss?”
“He’s working with the men in the south pastures. He may not get back in time to go with you today, but he certainly will want to join you tomorrow. He’s missed you two.”
“We missed him too. Seemed odd with the two of us and no Hoss. Oh, Pa, on that other matter we talked about and you said Adam wouldn’t do it. He said he would.”
“No! He said he would?”
“Yup. He said as soon as he finds someone he thinks Hoss would like and that might match up with him, he said he’d introduce them to each other. You know how Adam is when he gets an idea like that. I figure he’ll probably start looking tonight.”
“How did you get him to agree to do that?”
“I have my ways.”
Joe grinned and Ben could be sure that he had put some of his wily ways to work on his brother. Joe had ways of pressuring his brothers though that left them less than pleased. Sometimes that led to not so pleasant retaliation.
“Yes. You do have your ways. I’m sure you put some pressure on your brother. I can only hope that you won’t end up paying a price for that. You know Adam seldom likes to lose. He tends to find a way to even the score.”
Joe gulped then and had a bit of a sickly smiled as his father chuckled. It always felt good to remind his sons that he was a bit wiser than they were.
“Pa, this time, I don’t think he minded too much. He wants to help Hoss as much as we do.”
Even though Ben was still a bit skeptical, Joe’s prediction turned out to be reasonably accurate it seemed. As soon as Adam and Joe got to the saloon and had a drink, two saloon girls were right there with the two Cartwrights. However, one of the two didn’t seem to be as enthusiastic about being a saloon girl as most. She immediately had Adam’s attention. Joe grinned thinking there probably wasn’t a better way to get Adam’s attention than that. He guessed she was either amazingly lucky or had asked around about how best to approach the usually least approachable Cartwright son. He left Adam at the table deep in conversation with the lady seated on his lap as he had a pretty lady on his arm and fun on his mind. As long as Adam was well occupied, he had nothing to worry about and plenty to celebrate.
At first happy with the lady’s looks and her willingness to be friendly and attentive, Adam began to question her as soon as he found out she wasn’t happy in her job. Her soft brown eyes had glistened a bit with his concern and his heart had gone out to her. Her light brown hair with curls breaking free of the pins she had used to try to control it made her look young and vulnerable. The desire to protect her grew stronger by the minute.
“So, Martha, do you like to cook or sew?”
“I love to cook, but sewing is something I’m very good at doing.”
“I know a seamstress in town. Maybe she would be willing to take you on and you could get out of here.”
“Would you do that for me?”
“I’d be happy to do that for you. Why don’t you go get us two more drinks and we can talk more.”
“That sounds wonderful.”
More and more, Adam was getting an idea. When she got back with the beer for him and the house whisky they had for the saloon girls, he had some questions to see if she was suitable for Hoss. “Do you like animals, I mean not only cats and dogs, but deer and rabbits and such?”
“I love animals. They’re so cute. I love to look at them.”
“How about the country? Would you rather live in town or in the country if you had the choice?”
“Oh, I’m a country girl at heart. Living in town like this is only because I have to. What I would love is to live on a ranch with animals. I would love to be able to ride a horse whenever I wanted to.”
“So you like to ride too?”
“Yes, I would love to ride. Going for rides would be great.”
“You sound like the perfect lady for a rancher.”
“Maybe I am.”
“Tomorrow, I’m planning to sleep a bit late, but then I’m having an early lunch with my brothers. Would you like to join us and then we could go over to that shop and I could introduce you? I think my brothers especially Hoss are going to like you very much.”
“Yes, he’s a big man with a big heart that’s been broken too many times lately.”
“What about your heart, cowboy?”
The very last thing Adam wanted to talk about with anyone was how he felt so he was less than candid. “My heart is fine.”
“The rest of you is mighty fine too.”
“Wait until you see my brother, Hoss. Now there is one impressive man. I think you’ll like him. The two of you like many of the same things.”
“Well, then, I guess the three of us have a lot in common.”
Not sure what she meant by that and affected by the beer he had been drinking on an empty stomach, Adam simply nodded unaware of how his agreement made Martha feel. He gave her the name of the restaurant and a time to meet them. When Adam excused himself about an hour later because he needed to take care of business and then knew he needed to get some sleep, Martha decided she should head on home. There weren’t many customers left in the saloon and most were already occupied playing poker or another game. At one point, Joe looked around and asked her if she knew where Adam had gone. She told him before she left. When she got back to her rented place, she told her roommate all about her evening and how well it had gone. Joe headed to the hotel about that time to make sure that Adam had actually gotten there. He had, but by then, it was already so late that Joe decided to head up to his room to get some sleep too.
In the morning, Joe was still sleeping at ten when Adam shook his shoulder to wake him telling him they had an early lunch and he needed to be cleaned up for that. When he questioned why he needed to be cleaned up for a lunch with Hoss, Adam told him about Martha.
“You wanted me to find a lady to introduce to Hoss. I did.”
“I thought you would do better than finding him a saloon girl. He could probably have done that himself.”
“After today, she may not be a saloon girl. She only took that job recently because she needed the money to support herself. She told me her brother had been taking care of things for her but he died.”
“So what is she going to do?”
“I thought I would see if Mary Lynn would take her on as a seamstress. She says she’s very good at sewing.”
“Well, that’s a start. What else did you find out?”
“She loves to cook. She apparently loves animals and not only cats and dogs but loves looking at all sorts of animals, which she calls ‘cute’. Although she has to live in town, she would prefer to live in the country. She likes to ride and would like a horse so she could go riding more.”
“Wow, you found out a lot. Now if you could have made a woman for Hoss, she would be the one, I think. She’s a bit shorter than I thought would be right for Hoss, but she’s darn shapely in all the right places. She’s pretty enough, but she won’t turn every head in town so we won’t have to worry about him being jealous. She sounds like she knew exactly what you were looking for.”
For the first time, Adam had a little doubt about Martha. Her answers had been perfect. He wondered how he had been so lucky or if she had answered the way she thought he wanted her to answer. When he mentioned that to Joe later before they left for lunch, Joe frowned.
“There you go being suspicious and ornery again. Listen, not every woman is like Laura. Some can be straightforward and honest. Maybe she’s as open and honest as Hoss is about everything. If you had asked him those questions, you would have gotten similar answers except he likes to eat instead of cook.”
The reference to Laura had irritated Adam, but he let that pass. The rest of what Joe had said was logical, but he still had that uneasy feeling. It persisted when they met Hoss and then headed to the restaurant for lunch and to meet Martha. When Martha joined them, Hoss was suitably impressed. Joe began with a litany of all the things Adam had told him about her, which made Hoss all the more interested. At the table, Joe took the seat next to Adam so that Hoss got to sit across from them beside Martha. She was cordial to Hoss but didn’t seem to warm to him. After lunch, Adam suggested that Hoss walk with them to Mary Lynn’s shop as Hoss knew her better than Adam did. The two were about the same age.
“Aw, Adam, I don’t need ta go ta no dress shop.”
“Well, Martha does.”
“Then I guess I do too.”
When they got to the shop, Mary Lynn was busy as usual. The energetic woman was stacking bolts of cloth on shelves when they entered. A short woman, she was struggling with the task. Hoss immediately went to her assistance and followed her directions finishing the task quickly. She watched and tucked some of her unruly curls back into place as well as she could. Blushing slightly as she thanked Hoss for his help, she turned to the other two to ask how she could help them. Adam inclined his head toward Hoss so he could speak for them.
“Miss Mary Lynn, Miss Martha here shur could use a respectable job and she knows how ta sew real well, she says. We was wondering ifn you could try her out here in your shop?”
“I certainly could. I always have more work than I can do as you clearly saw. Right now I have an order for dresses for several weddings and a christening gown.” Looking at Martha, she had only a few questions. “Have you done fittings? Can you do fine work such as pearls and sequins?”
“I’ve never done a formal fitting, but I’ve done them informally. I have done sequins but never any pearls. I’m afraid that was out of my budget range.”
“Frankly mine too for personal wear, but I have customers who can afford them. Well, I certainly would like to have you try working here. If we can work together, it would be a great relief to me. I’ve had trouble finding suitable help. Oh, I have a few girls who come in and do some basic things, but the fancy work is where I need help the most.”
“That would be perfect.” Martha was smiling broadly and looked at Adam to see his reaction noting he was looking at Hoss.
“Thank you, Mary Lynn. We’ll be making an order for the Ponderosa again real soon. You let us know when ya got time ta be makin’ some new shirts for us, ya hear?”
“You put that order in any time, Hoss. You know I like doing business with you and your family.”
“We’ll leave you two ladies to get acquainted then. Joe and I haven’t seen Hoss in a couple of weeks so we’re going to spend some time together talking today.”
Both ladies were surprised by that, but Mary Lynn was the one who asked clearly concerned about Hoss.
“No, ma’am, wasn’t no problem. I was at home doing the work of three. Meanwhile my two brothers was gallivantin’ up in the hills supposedly moving fence lines, but with these two, you never know.”
Looking suitably affronted, Joe and Adam looked in shock at each other. Adam was the first to respond. “Joe, we talked about each of us buying our large brother a beer, but now I don’t know if that was such a good idea.”
“You’re right, Adam, as usual.”
As Adam grinned, Hoss was quick to make amends. “Now, brothers, you know I was only joshing ya. You two is the most hard workingest brothers a man could have. Plus the most generous too especially when it comes to buying the brother you missed so much a couple of cold beers. Now you wouldn’t want to deny yourselves that, wouldja?”
They left the ladies chuckling as they headed to the saloon. There, Joe grinned at Adam as Hoss gushed about Martha. Then he looked at the two of them.
“Is either of you two interested in Martha? I know you saw her first, and I know I ain’t got a chance with her ifn one of you goes after her.”
“She’s all yours, brother. Adam checked her all out for you and found out all that stuff about her. We decided she would be perfect for you and that’s why we invited her to lunch so the two of you could meet. We figured too that you wouldn’t be crazy telling Pa you were interested in a saloon girl so we thought a job with Mary Lynn would be better.”
Adam’s eyebrows rose a bit more with each we in Joe’s statements, but he didn’t contradict any of it thinking it was going over well with Hoss so there was no need to muddy the waters. However he did think at some point, he ought to have a talk with Joe.
Seeing that look on Adam, Joe grinned but on the inside. He was having fun, and then he had even more fun as he and Hoss got in a friendly poker game with Adam watching. The stakes were small so no one got too serious, but one man was losing almost every hand. Finally it seemed he was going to go out because he ran out of table stakes, but pulled an old leather from his pocket.
“I didn’t want to do this, but I need that stake. It’s my treasure map. It shows where a mine is that’s full of gold left by miners who got bushwhacked, but the bushwhackers took this here map and then lost it when they got chased down by a posse.”
“How did you get it then?” Joe was skeptical.
“I was trading with some Paiute who found it and didn’t know what it was. But I been doing my research, and I talked to some who know. They recognized the names on the bottom what signed it.”
Suddenly both Joe and Hoss were interested and staring at the map the man had left half folded on the table. Rolling his eyes, Adam leaned back with his arms folded. He would have said something, but the man offering the map as part of the table stakes was such a bad poker player, he wasn’t going to win anyway. It went about as Adam predicted. The man had two pair with aces high. Joe beat him with a full house and pulled in the pot.
“Damn, now I ain’t got nothing. I can’t even afford my next meal.”
Feeling generous now that he thought he was going to be rich with a gold mine, Joe pushed twenty dollars toward the man. “Here, that ought to keep you going for awhile.”
Sitting and watching still, Adam thought the man could use some of the money for lessons on playing poker if he planned to do it often. The man was a poor loser though.
“I don’t need your charity.”
“It’s not charity. I figure the map was worth more than the table stakes you lost so I’m offering extra for it.”
“It’s worth more than twenty too.”
At that point, Hoss intervened to let the man know he needed to back off. “Mister, you did lose it fair and square. Now my little brother is being generous wit ya. Ya oughta be thankful and jest scoot on outta here.”
After the crabby man left, Joe used some of his winnings to buy a bottle and the three brothers sat at a table celebrating Joe’s good fortune. Joe offered to let his brothers be partners if they would accompany him to the mine’s location on the map. Adam declined, but Hoss accepted.
“Hey, I don’t want to do all the work while the two of you go on a wild goose chase.”
As Joe bristled with that, Hoss was conciliatory. “Now, Adam, when we get back with all that gold, we kin hire somebody to do your chores for ya. Right, Joe?”
“Right!” Joe brightened again at the thought of being independently wealthy.
“And what happens if you come back without a fortune in gold?”
Offended once more, Joe had an answer. “If we come back without finding that fortune, we’ll do your chores for a few days, and you can go do whatever you want to do without a care in the world.”
“But I’m doing the work for both of you, and you two would only have to do the chores for me.”
“All right, we’ll do your chores for a full week. Does that make you feel better about it?”
“Yeah, that sounds about right. There’s an acting company coming to Carson next week. I’d like to be there for their performances.”
Leaning back in his chair, Joe put a foot up on the table. “It’s settled then. We’re heading out to get our gold. You tell Pa where we went.”
Adam’s eyes got big and he shook his head. “Oh, no, why do I have to tell Pa?”
Joe looked smug then. “Because if we tell him, then he won’t let us go, and you’ll miss your week in Carson and all those plays you want to go see.”
Boxed in by an unusually logical Joe, all Adam could do was to agree. He didn’t like it especially being the one to tell their father, but it did make sense. At least it did when he’d been drinking. The next morning when he woke up and remembered he had to meet his father at the church and explain why his brothers weren’t there, he wished he hadn’t agreed with Joe. Ben’s face got redder and redder and those eyebrows lowered dangerously as Adam explained where his brothers had gone and why.
“They what? And you didn’t stop them? What has gotten into my sons? Have they all gone crazy?”
For that morning at least, Adam knew he was going to have to endure his father’s rants. But he had made a serious error in judgment and knew he was going to have to endure more.
“And who is going to do all the work while your brothers are traipsing off around the country looking for some fictional mine?”
When he told his father he was going to cover for his brothers, he meant to soothe him but too late realized he had also told him that in effect he had endorsed his brothers’ plan and made it feasible.
The thundering voice indicated the heat of Ben’s anger and Adam was the only one there as a target for it. “So it’s because of you that they’re gone!”
Right about that moment, Adam knew his father was going to make him pay for that. He guessed that every dirty job his father had been thinking about having someone do was going to be assigned the next morning. They were. He was knee deep in muck for two days cleaning up mud holes and filthy messes until he wasn’t at all sure he could wash it all off with a simple bath. Hop Sing made him strip and rinse by the horse trough the second day saying that he didn’t want any more of that filth in his washroom. His boots were probably going to have to be replaced, and he was exhausted. His father relented a little on Wednesday and only required him to work the entire day in the heat at the forge and then chop wood. He had no energy left to even complain to his brothers when they finally rode in looking as dejected as he felt weary. Clearly he had been right about the map, but he didn’t feel any joy in that. He simply felt tired. Dropping the axe, he headed to the washroom.
“It’s all yours now. You talk to Pa. I’m taking a bath and then heading to bed.”
Frowning, Hoss looked up at the sun still hours away from setting. “Ain’t ya gonna have dinner with us?”
“I’m too tired to eat.”
“We were hoping you might help us talk with Pa.” The pleading in Joe’s voice was obvious.
That made Adam pause at the door of the washroom. “I’ve had quite enough of Pa’s talking since you two left. I don’t think I can listen to him talk about the two of you and your crazy quest any more. You’re on your own now. I paid my dues. I’m leaving tomorrow morning hopefully before Pa wakes up.” Adam was going to turn to go into the washroom, but turned back for one last statement. “Do not tell him that.”
While Hoss and Joe were busy with their father, Martha finished at the dress shop and returned to her rented quarters. When she entered, she smiled at her brother who was resting on the bed. Their plan hadn’t worked as well as they had hoped, but it wasn’t going too badly. Mary Lynn was a wealth of information, and Martha was finding out a great deal about the Cartwrights especially Adam. What surprised her most was that he had asked her about cooking, animals, and riding. When she talked to Mary Lynn about it, the seamstress had said it sounded like Adam was trying to match her with Hoss.
It was at that point that Martha realized her mistake. She hadn’t learned enough about Adam before setting her sights on him. So when she answered the questions he asked, she thought they were the answers he wanted, and they were, but not for him. It was going to take some doing on her part to fix that, but she already had ideas about how to do that.
Another problem had been getting close to him at church. She and her brother had gotten the brothers out of the way with that treasure map. However she hadn’t expected his father to be right there by his side and so intense in his conversation with his son that he distracted Adam from noticing her.
“So how goes the job with the little seamstress?”
“She’s actually a very pleasant woman, and very prone to answering any question. I’ve found out a great deal of information, and it’s not laced with personal invective as what we got from Laura. I wish we had come here first and gotten more information.” Martha and her brother had met Laura and Will in California. In casual conversation, they had learned about the Cartwrights, their wealth, and about how Laura had broken Adam’s heart. Suspecting that Adam would be vulnerable based on what they had gleaned from Laura’s version of events and about Adam, they had made their plan. However now they were seeing the fallacy of building their plan on incomplete or biased information.
“Yes, we should have made that map for a mine further away. I saw his brothers ride through town today. They’re back already.”
“Hmm, well, I wonder what Adam will do next.”
“You need to see him soon before that big man starts nosing around. If you don’t get your hooks into Adam, this plan will fall apart.”
“It’s almost Friday night. I’ll send a note to him asking him to meet me. I’ll tell him that I need advice. Based on his reaction to me last Friday, he can’t resist a woman who needs help. That must be what drew him to Laura in the first place. I can’t see what else would have attracted a man like that to her. He certainly wasn’t what I expected based on what she told me.”
“No, he certainly isn’t. When I saw him with his brothers in the saloon and saw you with him, I thought we had miscalculated. I still think we did, but you’re right. We need to adjust our plan and this can still work.”
“Yes, he’s still hurting from his loss. Mary Lynn has told me enough about that. Apparently everyone in town knows. So, I have to help fill that hole in his heart and he’ll marry me.”
“And once you get with child, we get rid of him and the babe becomes owner of a significant part of the Ponderosa. What do you think that’s worth?”
“Listen, Laura told us that Ben Cartwright is desperate for a grandchild. With the loss of a son, he’ll be begging us for that kid. I think we should be able to get a settlement for say fifty thousand dollars.”
Malcolm whistled at that. “We could live well for a long time on that.”
“Invested properly, we could be rich and stay rich.”
“Do you think we could get more than that?”
“Well, I was hoping for clothes, jewels, and such before my husband has a fatal accident. So it will add up to more of course. I’ll automatically get his bank accounts and investments. By Mary Lynn’s estimation that could be almost that much too.”
“Is she interested in him too?”
“No, she seems interested in his brother, Hoss, the one it seems Adam wants to set me up with. It looked like that might be a problem, but I assured her I wasn’t interested in Hoss. I told her Adam was the one who set my heart afire.”
“What did she say to that?”
“She thought it was quite romantic.”
“Some people are so easy to fool. Now, how fast can you work this plan on Cartwright? I don’t have that much money, and sitting in this room day after day is getting tiresome.”
“If you can put on one of your disguises, you can take my note out to the Ponderosa. That will get you out of the room and maybe they’ll give you some money for your trouble too. Take care of two problems with one thing.”
“I don’t like doing it for the pittance they’ll pay, but at this point, every dollar is important so I will. Don’t expect me to do many more of these errands though. It’s too demeaning.”
“Not much longer, Malcolm, and you will be living the good life again. You know, you could find a wealthy widow to marry and bring another fortune into the family.”
“I will not be beholden to a woman for my future.”
Of course he ignored that he was depending on his sister, but she didn’t remind him of that either. Instead, she sat at the small table in her rented place and penned a note to Adam asking to see him and hinting rather broadly that she was in need of his sage advice. Malcolm read it over when she finished.
“You were pretty bold in your claims here. Did you state too much, do you think?”
“No, I got the impression that he liked things laid out clearly and concisely. I tried to do that and still show how vulnerable I am.”
Malcolm tried not to snicker at that and failed. Martha couldn’t help herself and joined him in a healthy release of tension via a long chuckle fest. When they finished and wiped away their tears, Martha told Malcolm it was time to go. Malcolm donned a disguise and headed to the Ponderosa with a note for Adam. When he rode in, Hoss and Joe were working on a wagon. He asked to see Adam.
“Adam ain’t here. He headed over ta Carson City fur a week. Kin I help ya, mister?”
“Lady asked me ta bring this here note out for him. I was hoping for a dollar for my troubles. She said he was likely to pay.”
Hoss shrugged but Joe dug in his pocket and pulled out a dollar and handed it to the man for the note. As the man pocketed the dollar and then wheeled his horse to ride out, Joe stood watching him and frowning.
“What’s wrong, Joe?”
“Well, he seemed familiar to me. The voice especially seemed like one I’ve heard before but he didn’t look familiar.”
“Now how could somebody be familiar and not look familiar?”
Pursing his lips, Joe thought about that only briefly. “There’s only one way. His hands were very clean and the nails were nice. I saw that when he handed me the note. He didn’t look like he worked. He looked more like he played cards for a living.” Joe snapped his fingers then and grinned. “That’s who it was. It was that poker player who lost that treasure map to us. I knew he was familiar.”
“That’s probably why he wore stuff to hide who he was. He didn’t want us to know who he was. He shur never woulda got a dollar for bringing that note ifn we’d a known who he was.”
“No, and I have to wonder now if he’s up to something more.”
“What’s the note say?”
“It’s for Adam.”
“Joe, it’s a folded piece of paper, and I know you are gonna read it so you might as well read it now so I know too what’s in it.”
Shrugging, Joe opened the note. He pursed his lips. “Adam isn’t going to like that we read his note, and you’re not going to like what’s in here.”
“It’s from Martha and she wants to see Adam. She says she needs to talk with him and wants to see him. There’s nothing about you.”
“Dang. I knew it was never gonna work. They always pick you or Adam and not me.”
“Hoss, think of it this way. If she’s hanging around with that guy who was here, what kind of woman is she anyway? Let Adam have her.”
“Yeah, let Adam have her.” Then Hoss frowned. “Uh, Joe, Adam ain’t done nothing to deserve that. Maybe we oughta ride on over ta Carson City when we get a chance and warn him about her as best we can.”
“After he left us with all this work to do?”
“Joe he took the heat for us from Pa when we up and left to look for that gold mine. Weren’t his fault it wasn’t there, and he done our work while we was gone which was the deal.”
“Yeah, and Pa even said he was sorry for the jobs he gave him. Said he lost his temper a bit over everything and took it out on Adam.” Joe nodded and then smiled. “We could tell Pa we’re going over there to help out Adam, and how that could help even things up a bit. We’ll tell him the truth this time. That might help.”
“We gonna tell him we read Adam’s note?”
Biting his lip for a bit, Joe shrugged. “I guess we have to tell him that. I’ll come up with a way to make that not sound so bad. I mean Adam is going to be gone for a week. We had to know if he needed to know what was in that note before he comes back. And it wasn’t in an envelope so it wasn’t a secret. Right, that’s how we’ll have to tell Pa.”
“Of course, it’s we. We’re in this together, like always.”
Despite Joe’s confidence in his logic, Ben wasn’t pleased that they had read Adam’s note regardless of circumstances. However, he felt the opposite about the rest and gave his blessing to them going to Carson City on Friday night to return on Saturday morning. Adam was quite surprised to see them and even more surprised to find out why they were there.
“What do you think she’s up to, Adam?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been a little suspicious of her since that first night I met her. The more I thought about it, the more I thought she answered my questions the way she thought I wanted her to answer.”
Hoss didn’t understand why that was important but after some deliberation, Joe thought he did.
“She thought you were asking to see if she liked the things you liked, but you were asking if she liked the things Hoss liked. So you thought she would be a good match for Hoss, but she thought she had answered the way you wanted and she would stand a chance with you.”
Hoss was even more confused after that. Adam smiled.
“Hoss she tried to trick me. She wanted me to think she liked what I liked.”
“But you was asking what I liked.” Then Hoss nodded. “Oh, I get it now. She’s a sneaky one if that’s what she was doing.”
“Now about that guy who lost the treasure map being the same one who brought out her note?” Joe wondered at that connection.
“Maybe the treasure map was to get the two of you out of the way for a while. Who knew Pa was going to react the way he did and keep me literally knee deep in muck for several days.”
Hoss snapped his fingers. “Dang, that’s right. Monday was our normal day for going in to pick up supplies and the mail woulda been in. You would have been in town all day ifn we hadn’t done what we did.”
“Yeah, Hoss and I had to do that on Thursday when you left. Pa was grumbling about how we were running low on supplies especially on pipe tobacco. We didn’t dare remind him that it was his fault.”
“So what do we do now?”
“How about the three of us go have a big steak dinner, then we go to the theatre and see that new play?”
Hoss and Joe groaned.
“There are ladies in tights with their hair cascading down their backs to their waists.”
“Why didn’t you say so right away, older brother? Lead the way to dinner. Hoss and I are famished and can’t wait to get to that play.”
At the restaurant, the three brothers were enjoying their dinner when Martha entered. She spotted them right away and her brilliant smile faded away. Adam saw her first and took her note from his vest pocket and waved it at her. For good measure, Joe took the treasure map from his coat pocket and waved that too. She knew they knew too much. Her plot to marry Adam, have his baby, remove him, and inherit his share was in shambles. Turning without saying a word, she left the restaurant hearing their raucous laughter in her wake. Furious she went back to her carriage and drove to her hotel. Malcolm was waiting in her room shocked not only at her early return but at her emotional state.
“They know. I don’t know how they know, but they have figured out enough. The three of them are together in the restaurant and they waved my note and your map at me. Then they laughed at me.”
“I guess we need a new plan.”
“I have one in mind already.”
Martha detailed what she wanted done. It was a fairly simple plan although quite dangerous at two points. It meant the gallows if they failed, but both had become desperate and thought the risk was worth the reward. Nothing mattered to them any more except getting the money.
The following Thursday, Adam was riding home after a pleasant week. Refreshed and invigorated, he was ready to take on more work at home. He needed these breaks to keep himself emotionally and mentally balanced. As he rode, his mind was on the possibility of asking his father about taking some longer trips away in the future. The Ponderosa was his home, but other places were calling. If he didn’t begin to satisfy that wanderlust in his spirit, he feared that eventually he would want to leave altogether because the ranch he loved so much would come to feel like a prison holding him in. Sport knew the way home so he didn’t have to worry about the trail, but he should have been watching for other dangers and wasn’t.
The man had stopped Adam had a narrow point in the trail to home. He must have scouted it out well. There was a boulder-strewn slope to the left and a brushy sharp drop-off to the right. Adam could wheel his horse to ride back but the man already had his gun out, and then Adam heard another rider approaching behind him cutting off that option entirely.
“Drop your pistol!”
After dropping his pistol, he decided to be honest. “I don’t have much money on me. I spent most of it in Carson City.” It didn’t seem to make any difference to the man who looked familiar.
“Get down off that horse and walk over to your right.”
When the second rider got there and it was Martha, he knew. “You’re the bad poker player with the treasure map.”
“Yes, it doesn’t matter what you figure out. Back up.”
But suddenly Adam knew. They meant to kill him. He didn’t know why. Deciding to try to survive even if the odds were terrible, he turned and dove into the brush on the steep slope hoping to get there before the man could fire. He almost made it. The pain in his side let him know he had failed. He yelped in pain when his head hit a thick root and then groaned with the pain from the gunshot wound before he passed out lying face down in the brush.
All they could see from above were the soles of his boots and that he wasn’t moving.
“Is he dead?” Martha had little experience in such things and didn’t know how to tell.
“I don’t know. I planned to shoot him in the heart and then the head and throw him over the side. Then I would have known. I know I hit him but I don’t know how bad it is. He’s not moving so it must have been pretty bad.”
“Shoot him again.”
“Where? In the bottom of his feet? That’s not going to do much good, and the gunshots will draw attention. One gunshot will probably make people think someone is hunting. A couple more could make someone want to come looking.”
“We can’t leave him there for them to find him.”
“How are they going to find him? We can only see him because we know where he went over the side and we’re standing right here. We’ll brush out the tracks around here and no one will know to look over the side until it’s much too late. We’ll have our money by then and be gone.”
“All right. I have the note. Let’s put it on the horse and do that brushing thing you said.”
Malcolm brushed out all the visible footprints and mounted up on his horse from a small boulder so there was no sign that anyone had walked in that area. Then he rode leading Sport as Martha trailed him. They released Sport a short distance from the Ponderosa ranch house from high on a hill so they could see the horse get back. The ransom note was safely attached to the saddle. It told the family where to put the fifty thousand dollars by the next day if they wanted the eldest son back. Then they headed back to town to wait. If anyone suspected they were in on the kidnapping, they would be seen in town so they couldn’t be part of it. They had smiled often thinking about how clever they were.
Sitting at the dining table for lunch, the Cartwrights had been anticipating Adam’s return. When they heard a horse in the yard, all three smiled and waited for Adam to make his grand entrance wondering what kind of things he would have to say to each of them. It was bound to be some kind of smart comment because he had all week to think of something and then the ride back to make sure it was going to be funny. He always made a grand entrance on his return and stirred things up much to his father’s amusement and his brothers’ mock dismay. However when so much time passed that they knew he must have been able to put Sport in the stable, Hoss went to look to see what was keeping him.
“Pa, Joe, come here. Look at this.”
Thrusting the ransom note at his father and brother, Hoss’ face was contorted with worry and fear.
“I knew something was wrong. I done told ya at breakfast that my gut said something was wrong. When I heard that horse come in, I thought I mebbe was wrong but now I know I wasn’t.”
“Let’s go look for him.”
“Joseph, where would we look, and it says here, we’re being watched and any attempt to find Adam means that they will kill him.”
“So what do we do? Give them fifty thousand dollars and trust them that they won’t kill him?”
“No, we have Hop Sing go get a couple of the trusted hands into the kitchen and we go there and talk this over.”
Immediately Hoss went to the kitchen but Hop Sing was already heading out the door. Soon, their foreman and his most trusted man were in the kitchen. Ben explained the situation to them.
“Mister Cartwright, I think we ought to let Sheriff Coffee know.”
“Yes, but none of us can go tell him. After lunch, when the men go off to do their work, have one of them circle around and go into town from another direction. He can tell Roy about this.”
“I’ll do it, boss. If it’s who you think it is, they don’t know who we are. We’ll get things set up the way you said long before anybody gets out there.”
“Thank you. I’ll be going into the bank to get the money. Tell the basic part of the story to the men but not our plan. I want them to keep an eye out for anything unusual. We need to get a clue as to where they’re holding Adam. If they get the money or even if they don’t, he’s the main witness against them, and his life is in grave danger.”
“I understand. I’ll take care of that.”
“Pa, Adam was coming back from Carson City. Mebbe a couple of the men could retrace that route ta see ifn there’s any kind of clue along that way.”
“Good idea, Hoss.”
As Ben turned to look at his foreman, the man was already nodding. He would do that too. Then all they could do was take care of Sport and saddle up Buck. Ben rode for town and the bank where he told them what he wanted. They said it would take until the next morning for them to get that kind of cash together. Ben said he would be back and headed home. He and his sons spent a nearly sleepless night unable to do anything else to help Adam.
On the mountain slope, Adam got some rest but no sleep. Periodically, he expended effort to get himself up off that steep slope without sliding down further. He had a thick root near his head and one by his feet. He used those as anchors. Gradually, he managed to turn himself so that his feet were on the other root and his hands were on the upper root. That had taken him hours to do.
While doing small movements, he had heard riders pass by and had tried to call out but had managed only small groans, which they had not heard. If they had stopped, they would have heard him, but there was no reason for them to stop at that point. Using what little strength he had left, he began to pull himself up using that root until it was at his midsection and he couldn’t use it any more.
Then it was a matter of slithering a few inches at a time until he was up the slope. By then, the sun had fallen and the temperature with it. He was sweat soaked, had lost blood, and became severely chilled. Even with his slow and foggy thinking, he knew if he let himself sleep, he would probably die. His only option was to keep moving. It would keep him warmer and keep him alive. He set his sights on the trees down the steep road. If he got to them, he hoped he could build a fire. With matches and shells in his pocket as well as a pocketknife, he had a chance. He had no water, no food, and no weapon though so the chance was a slim one, and he had to hope no predator was drawn to the smell of blood.
The two Ponderosa hands who had ridden by him earlier would have found him on a return ride, but they thought that perhaps he had taken a different route back and tried an alternate route to return to the ranch. They reported back that they had found no sign of the missing Cartwright.
On the road, Adam worked his way down the hill painful foot by painful foot until he reached the line of trees. The going got slower then as he dragged himself through the grass to where a large boulder overhang offered some protection. Next to it, a tree had fallen some time earlier and was dry and broken. Adam almost smiled that finally something had gone his way. Even in his weakened state, he was able to pull three of the dry branches near him. He picked up twigs that were lying about and piled them up. Using his pocketknife, he pried open two shells and poured the gunpowder on the small amount of kindling he had. He could barely keep his eyes open any longer and needed that fire desperately. Lighting a match, he put it to his little fire starter and then pulled the three branches in over the flames. They caught and he had a nice blaze. If he could stay awake, he could push the rest of the branches into the fire. However even if he didn’t do that, the fire was warming him, and the light of dawn was showing. Soon the sun would help warm him again too. It was his last conscious thought for many hours.
On the Ponderosa, Ben was up and dressed waiting for the time when he could ride to town for the money. His foreman wasn’t back yet so they didn’t have word on how Roy was handling the preparations. Joe and Hoss had wanted to go check on things, but Ben had forbidden them even leaving the house.
“We can’t do anything that looks in the least suspicious. Your brother’s life could depend on that.”
“But, Pa, we cain’t trust them no good kidnappers!”
“No, we can’t, but we can trust Roy and our men. We have to trust them.”
“When do we get to do something?”
“Tonight, Joe, after dark. We’ll get to do something then. Remember we talked about this. They’re most likely to pick up the ransom under cover of darkness. Our whole plan depends on us being right about that. It’s our best chance to catch them and find out where they’re keeping Adam.”
At the bank, the president tried to get Ben to talk. “Ben, I know this must be some kind of trouble you’re in. I want to help. I know Roy would help too if he knew. Please tell me what I can do.”
“Thank you, but I’m doing all I can do right now. I know your heart and that you mean well, but trust me. I know what I’m doing here. As I asked, don’t tell anyone what I’ve got with me.”
“I won’t, Ben. I’ll honor your confidentiality. I only hope and pray it works out as well as you hope it does.”
“Any prayers would be welcomed. Thank you.”
With that, Ben took the packed saddlebags and exited the bank. Across the street, Malcolm sat on a chair outside the mercantile and watched him ride out of town. Roy watched Malcolm. He was perplexed because based on what he knew, he was sure that somehow this man was involved in the kidnapping yet he and that woman he was with were both in town and neither showed any signs of leaving. They’d been in town all night too. He’d had deputies watching them even as Clem was out setting up a trap they hoped to spring on the kidnappers. However, now he wondered if there were others involved in this plot. As he headed back to his office, he began to think of why they might be in town and the only conclusion he drew left him far more worried than he had been when he thought they had accomplices.
An hour later, Ben rode out into a valley near the Ponderosa and found Adam’s black leather valise. With tears in his eyes, he packed the money from the saddlebags into it and set it back down where he had found it. Then he mounted up on Buck and rode to his home to wait. Up in the trees and in camouflaged positions in the valley, unseen eyes watched his movements.
In town, Malcolm had an early dinner and then went to the rented quarters to wait. When Martha finished at the dress shop, she joined him there and worked on her sewing project. She didn’t eat.
“You should eat something. You have some hard work to do tonight.”
“If I ate, I would only retch it up. I’ve never done anything like this.”
“Stomach in knots and feeling like it’s all a flutter?”
“Yes, it’s a terrible feeling.”
“I feel like that all the time when I wear my disguises and try things. You’ll get used to it.”
“I don’t think so. After tonight, I never want to do anything like this again, and we won’t have to. We’ll have lots of money.”
“Less than we would have had with the other plan. We might have to do this kind of thing one more time to some other rich son.”
“Malcolm, I can’t.”
“Let’s finish this one and then we can talk about it. We won’t have to do it for quite a while regardless. It was very gratifying to see old man Cartwright carrying all that money out of the bank and knowing it would be ours soon.”
That thought at least made Martha smile. “You’ve got the horses for us to leave?”
“Yes, but I’m not sure that’s the best idea. I think we ought to stay for a few days at least. You know, to show it couldn’t have been us. We can stash that money some place and get it in a few days. A few days shouldn’t make much of a difference, should it?”
“No, I suppose not. We could leave Monday or Tuesday then.”
“Good. That’s the plan then. I’ll scout out a good place to hide the money when we ride out there tonight.”
Martha held up her project then. There was a black jacket which matched black tights and a black hood that covered her head and face except for holes for her eyes and for breathing. “They’ll be watching, I’m sure, but they’ll never see me in this. I do know how to sneak around.”
When it became dark, Martha and Malcolm slipped from their quarters and headed to their horses hidden in some trees on the edge of town. Roy and a deputy were waiting there and watched them following far behind them so they wouldn’t be detected. They knew where they were going.
Ben and his younger sons were headed there too but also stopped a distance away. They had to trust the four men hidden in that valley since the night before. They were using some Apache methods of camouflage one of them had learned while working for the Army in Arizona. No one inexperienced in western combat was going to see them. Two had brush attached to them and each one was actually in a tree. The other two were in depressions in the ground and covered with mats of vegetation that matched the grasses in the valley. They had water and food with them.
A short distance from the valley by a narrow defile, Malcolm stopped and held the reins for both horses as Martha began her stealthy walk to get the money. No one saw Martha leave the rocks and begin to walk down the valley toward the money. However two of the watchers saw her when she got there as their eyes had been accustomed to watching in the dark for many hours by then. When she picked up the valise to walk away with it, a shot was fired. Soon there were eight bonfires burning in the valley as camouflaged primer cord was lit that set off small charges of gunpowder in small caches of tinder inside wood stacked in natural looking windfalls. The fires illuminated things very well and the four men were there with their guns drawn advancing on Martha. Malcolm heard the commotion and saw the firelight. He rushed forward with his rifle and fired at the men hitting one of them even as the others returned fire. Ben and his sons as well as Roy and his deputy were soon there. A wounded Malcolm was dragged down to where Martha was unmasked and held by Clem and his men. Ben stalked toward them.
“Where is my son?”
Malcolm began to laugh as Martha looked horrified. “Dear sister, I shot one of their men. I’m going to hang anyway. We may as well tell them.”
“No, Malcolm, don’t. What about me?”
“My dear, you didn’t do it. Besides, they would never hang a woman. You’re going to prison though regardless so what matter that they know.”
“Know what? What have you done with Adam Cartwright?” Except his tone and the nature of his question let everyone know that Roy suspected what they had done.
“Roy, you don’t think they did, do you? I mean, that is cold-blooded even for these two. They wouldn’t, would they?” Ben’s voice was pleading as his mind struggled with what he knew was probably true.
“Why not? What did he mean to us? I shot him and pushed him over a cliff.”
It wasn’t quite the truth but close enough and shocked the men there into silence for a moment at the cold hard nature of what the man had said. Hoss started forward raising his hands toward Malcolm’s throat. Clem and several deputies stopped him.
Roy stepped between Hoss and Malcolm. “Hoss, your Pa needs you now. He doesn’t need you in jail.”
Looking at his stricken father then being comforted by Joe who had tears on his face, Hoss nodded. “You kin let me go. I won’t kill him. I want to, but I won’t. I’ll be there when they hang him though. You better believe it. I don’t like to see men hang, but I’ll be there for his.”
“No, a father can’t bury a son. It isn’t right.” Ben sagged in Joe’s arms.
Roy moved to his friend. “Ben, I’m terrible sorry. I’ll take these two in and we’ll find out where they did it. I’m so sorry.”
Hoss and Joe had to help Ben walk to his horse and mount up. The men there could say nothing. Despite what Malcolm thought, the man he had shot was only wounded and not dead. The other men helped the wounded man to his horse and the whole group proceeded to town as the Cartwrights headed home. Roy told them he would bring the money back to the bank for them.
Despite Roy’s pledge, Malcolm and Martha refused to say anything more especially after they were put in jail cells. At home on the Ponderosa that morning, the family talked about how they might find Adam’s body. Ben was determined that they had to do that, and his sons were in full agreement. It was about all Ben had said before he lapsed into silence. They heard a knock on the door and Hop Sing answered it. It was their foreman.
“Sir, I know how bad you must feel, but you said to tell you if any of the men saw anything unusual. Well, this morning, a couple of the men came back to say they saw puffs of smoke along that route to Carson City. You want us to go take another look that way?”
Sitting in his red leather chair with his head down and cradled in his hands, Ben didn’t respond at all. He didn’t even act as if he heard. He had been like that ever since he had gotten home and told his sons to go find Adam. They said they would as soon as Roy sent word as to where to look. Then he had refused to talk, to eat or drink, or to get some sleep. Hoss looked at Joe over their father’s head.
“Hoss, you go check it out. It’s probably nothing, but Adam is likely up there somewhere.” At that point, Joe’s voice broke and Hoss nodded knowing what Joe was likely to say next. He couldn’t bear the thought of finding his brother’s body, and he didn’t want their father to have to do it either.
“I’ll do it, Joe. You keep trying to get Pa to eat or drink something.”
Saddling up Chubb for the ride, Hoss got tears in his eyes seeing Sport in the next stall and thinking he would never see his older brother mount up on that ornery horse and ride out looking so natural on top of that animal he loved so much. On a whim, he saddled Sport too. If he did find Adam, he wanted to bring him home on Sport. Riding on the trail toward Carson City leading Sport, he almost felt like it was a normal day except it was the worst day of his life that he could remember. He knew now how his father must have felt each time he had lost a wife. There was a hollow feeling inside of him and the rest of him felt numb. Somehow things didn’t seem real yet they seemed too real. He wanted to go to sleep and wake up to find it had all been a terrible nightmare only he knew it wasn’t. As he rode, he didn’t see any smoke nor did he smell any. About the time he thought it was all a wild goose chase, Sport became troublesome pulling to get away and refusing to come along easy like.
“Ya darn ornery beast. This ain’t no time to be acting this way. Dontcha know I feel awful enough?”
Nothing he said or did seemed to make a difference. He stopped and tried to talk in a soothing tone to the horse, but he only became more agitated and more recalcitrant tugging at the lead rope and trying to break free. When he unexpectedly reared up and back, Hoss lost his hold on the lead rope and Sport broke away running back up the road and then into a grassy area.
“Ya dang fool horse. Ya had enough ta eat when ya was in the stable. Ifn ya was so dadblamed hungry, ya coulda eaten there.”
Hoss followed on Chubb intent on retrieving Sport and probably returning home, but what he saw shocked him into immobility. Then he rushed to his brother’s side as Sport stood there and snorted. The remnants of a campfire were beside Adam with chunks of moss laying on it. Apparently Adam must have dropped the moss into the campfire to send up smoke signals and overdid it putting out the fire. Hoss reached down to place a hand on his brother’s chest and felt the faint heartbeat. He also found that he was cold, much too cold. Without a bedroll or blanket to help him, Hoss had only one choice. He stripped off his shirt and vest and pulled those around Adam to warm him at least a little. Then he lifted him and carried him to Sport.
“Now, you cantankerous beast, you found him, but next you gotta help me get him home. Stand still while I get him on board. Then I gotta tie him on cause he’s gonna fall right off otherwise.”
Sport was remarkably cooperative under the circumstances as if he knew how important his role was. Hoss decided to give him an apple whenever he wanted one from now on. Then he led Sport slowly over to where Chubb waited. Mounting up, he pulled Sport up next to Chubb and they rode back to the Ponderosa that way. As soon as he thought someone might hear, he fired off three shots. He did so again ten minutes later, and then ten minutes after that. Soon there were riders coming from several directions wondering about the emergency. All were shocked to see the bare-chested Hoss with a trussed up Adam on Sport.
“I need a wagon, a doctor, and someone to tell Pa and Joe as fast as you can. Anybody got a slicker, a duster, or a blanket with ‘im?”
One man had a duster so they used that to wrap around Adam to help warm him, and another man rode on the other side of Adam to prevent him from falling so that they could move faster toward the ranch house until a wagon could meet them. It took almost two hours to get Adam home where Ben and Joe were waiting in shock but hopeful.
One look at Adam told Ben and Joe how dire the situation still was. He was gray and lifeless with no reaction to anything that was done. When Doctor Martin arrived and took over, they had more hope, but his diagnosis confirmed earlier suspicions.
“It’s not too serious a wound and I sewed him up, but he’s already lost a lot of blood. We can’t get any fluids into him until he regains some consciousness, and without fluids, I don’t know if he can make it. Being so cold helped him survive longer, but it’s going to be difficult.”
“What about his head injury?”
“That appears fairly minor, but of course adds to the problem of him not regaining consciousness. I want you to talk to him as much as you can and try to get him to wake. You can put a spoonful of water in his mouth. If it runs out, then don’t try again for at least an hour. If he swallows it, try one more, but don’t overdo it. It could be bad if he chokes or gets any in his lungs.”
Hoss and Joe were terribly worried about their father and talked to the doctor about that too. They wondered what would happen if he did lose Adam now that he thought he had him back again. The told Doctor Martin what Ben had been like when he had come home the previous night.
“Both your father and Adam seem prone to melancholia. Yes, it would be devastating to him to lose him now, but there’s nothing you can do about that. All you can do is pray. Adam is a strong man. Not many would have survived what he did already. We can only hope he’s got enough strength left.”
Paul’s eyes were glistening too. Adam was his friend and he didn’t want to think of losing him and wished he knew of something else he could do for him. Then he did think of something. “There’s a woman in town that works as a nurse for me on occasion when I have someone who needs a lot of care. She worked during the War as a nurse until her husband decided to move the family here to get away from the war. She might have some ideas.”
Later that day, Margaret Davis was there and Hoss and Joe took her to Adam’s room. Ben wasn’t so sure she ought to be there especially when she wanted to pull back the sheets.
“Adam isn’t wearing anything. We took his filthy clothing off and wrapped him in flannel to keep him warm.”
“That don’t matter. I took care of plenty of men in the war. Just keep some flannel over his middle.”
Hoss grinned a bit at her manner but did as she asked even as his father looked dismayed.
“Now he can’t use his muscles and move his body, so the blood he’s got just sits where it is. We’re gonna move things for him and try to get him working on his own again.”
Picking up his right leg, she began to move it up and down and then bent it at the knee and then straightened it. She did that a number of times and then placed the leg back on the bed and massaged the thigh muscles and then the calf muscles and then the foot. There was no reaction from Adam. Looking at Hoss, she told him to do that with Adam’s right arm. She moved around and sat on the bed to do the same routine with Adam’s left leg. Hoss finished with the right arm, and Margaret told him to do the left arm so he moved around the bed to do that asking his father to move out of the way.
“I don’t see that this is doing any good.”
Joe was watching and disagreed. “Pa, Adam is frowning. I know that’s not much, but it is a difference.”
Moving to stand next to Joe and closer to Adam’s right side, Ben could see the slight lines in Adam’s forehead. They had not been there earlier. Margaret and Hoss continued doing the massage as Ben moved to the chair on Adam’s right side and called to him. There was no response. He looked back at the others still feeling helpless. Hop Sing came in with warm towels Margaret had requested, and she told Hoss that they would stop the massage and wrap one towel around each limb. They did that and then pulled the covers back over him.
“Mister Cartwright, see if he’ll take a spoonful of water now.”
Ben tried and it dribbled out of Adam’s mouth.
“Too soon, I guess. All right, in an hour, we’re going to do the whole routine again. Does he feel warmer to you than he did before?”
Putting a hand on Adam’s chest, Ben got a slight smile. “Yes, he does feel slightly warmer.” Looking at his face and seeing the frown lines disappear, Ben knew he had reacted too to what had been done. Looking at Margaret, he nodded in approval. “Thank you. It’s the first hopeful sign we’ve seen.”
“We need to get this room warmer too.”
Joe volunteered to go get more kindling and wood. In an hour, Hoss and Margaret did the massage again. And an hour after that, they did it again. After that third time, Ben spooned water into Adam’s mouth and he swallowed. Joe had to swallow the cheer he was going to do. Adam swallowed several more before Margaret called a halt telling Ben to wait fifteen minutes between offering several spoonfuls.
“He’s too weak. Don’t overtax him. Let’s try for a half a cup in an hour for now. Later, we’ll try for a cup per hour.”
After several hours of that, Margaret told them to have something ready for all that fluid to start coming out. They were ready, but Ben was still embarrassed for his son.
“Pay no never mind to that. He’s unconscious or nearly so. It’s not like he can control it. But it’s a good sign, and now you don’t need me no more. Keep doing what I showed ya, but ya don’t have to lift the legs and arms any more. I think the massage is all you need now and then keep him warm as you can and keep spooning in the liquids. Your Hop Sing can get something more substantial ready for when he opens his eyes.”
“What do we owe you?”
“I usually get paid two dollars a day for my round the clock nursing.”
Ben pressed a twenty-dollar gold piece into her hand. “And how much do you get paid for helping to save a life. You have my eternal gratitude and anything you need, you only need ask. We owe you a huge favor, and you ask whenever you need it.”
“My husband could use a good job.”
“What does he do?”
“Ranch work, farm work, any kind of work.”
“Send him out here. We’ll find a place.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean here. He’s married of course, and we have two children. This is too far from town and us.”
“Hoss, do we have room in the married hands quarters?”
“Shur do, only one married hand here now.”
“You two come out here and talk to Hoss and Joe. If anything can be worked out, they will do it.”
“Thank you so much.”
After Margaret left, Ben sat again at Adam’s side and tried to give him more water. Hoss came back after escorting Margaret out and seeing her on her way, but Joe went to get some sleep.
“Pa, I kin take over for a bit so you kin sleep some.”
“No, you sleep first. When you or Joe are rested, you can spell me.”
“You shur? There’s a lot to do. You gotta be real tired by now.”
“Not too tired now that I know Adam is going to be all right.”
Hoss smiled but a bit uneasily knowing how things could still go badly if Adam had any kind of setback. Ben knew his son was worried, but he wasn’t going to move. He did rest his head a few times on the bed beside his son and got some naptime that way, but he wasn’t leaving his side until he opened those eyes. At least that was the plan, but he was too exhausted when Joe came in hours later. He had to give in and go to his bed. He slept far longer than he intended and it was dusk before he awoke. Scrambling from his bed, he rushed to Adam’s room even though he knew he would have been called if there had been any kind of change. Hoss was there spooning water into Adam’s mouth.
“Hi, Pa. It’s all about the same ‘cept Hop Sing had us give him this sugar water instead of plain water and some tea earlier too. He’s taking quite a bit now without a problem but he ain’t woke up all the way yet.”
Joe walked in then with a tray. “I think he squeezed my hand earlier, but Hoss said I was imagining it.”
“Oh, you know, Pa, we all want it so bad. I went out and gave Sport some apples earlier and told him Adam was gonna be all right too. I think I was trying to convince myself too and make me feel better.”
“I didn’t say nothing.” Joe shrugged.
All three then suddenly whirled to look at the bed. Adam’s eyes were slits but they were open. Ben moved to his son and grabbed his hand. Adam repeated the only word he could manage.
“That’s all right, son. You don’t have to say any more. That’s the most beautiful sound in the world to me right now. Thank God.”
Ben reached up to place his hand on the side of Adam’s face as if for reassurance that it was actually him. Adam smiled and his eyes closed. Apparently he couldn’t do both things at once. Joe crossed over to the other side of the bed and leaned in near his older brother.
“Adam, can you see me too?”
Opening his eyes again, Adam tried to focus on Joe but found it difficult at that angle. Ben helped him turn his head. He smiled again with that little half smile as Hoss watched from the end of the bed. Soon Hop Sing was there with broth.
“Need to build up strength now.”
It took weeks for Adam to rebuild that strength. He attended the trial in a wheelchair still too weak to walk. Malcolm and Martha got long jail terms especially Malcolm who got consecutive sentences and was unlikely to ever get out. Margaret’s husband came to work on the Ponderosa and she took over the care of the poultry and gardens taking some of the workload from Hop Sing who was quite happy about that. Her children helped her when they weren’t in school.
As Ben saw how troubled Adam seemed at first as they talked about Martha and Malcolm and what they had done, he didn’t understand the depth of his torment. For the first month probably, he thought it had to do with the ordeal on the mountain and how close he had come to dying. Ben knew how facing one’s own mortality could make a man feel differently about life in general as well as make a man examine his most heartfelt beliefs. However as time went on and Adam still seemed to harbor some kind of smoldering sorrow about the events, Ben thought more about what happened and finally guessed at what he thought might be the root of his son’s general inability to put it all behind him. He remembered well what it had been when Laura had first betrayed his son. There had been months of Adam questioning himself after that. Ben had lost almost as much sleep as his son. Every night was more of the same until the night they talked it out.
Once more as Ben had tried to sleep, he heard that light tread in the hallway and knew which son was walking down those stairs. He had guessed if he waited, in a short time, he would hear the sound of a horse walking slowly from the yard. Too considerate to ride out wildly and wake his family, he would likely wait until he was well away from the house to give his horse free rein to run. Tonight Ben wasn’t going to wait though. It had been going on too long, and it was time for him to stop torturing himself with doubts and recrimination. Standing, he pulled on his robe and slipped his feet into his slippers. With any luck, he would catch up to him before he left the house. He did. He saw the dark shadow sitting on the last steps pulling on his boots and moved to intercept him. Never moving as silently as any of his sons, he must have been heard.
“I’m sorry if I woke you.”
“I was still awake. I’ve heard you leave almost every night. Even if I didn’t, the way you look in the morning would have made me worry enough.”
“I’m sorry about that too.”
“It’s nothing for you to be sorry about. You have been doing too much of that already it seems.” When his son was quiet, Ben continued. He wanted to get this conversation into the crux of the matter instead of dancing around it. “I thought you said you didn’t love her. I thought you said it was better that she went with Will.”
That made Adam drop his head. He wouldn’t lie again to his father. The emotions and thoughts he had were a jumbled mix of love, jealousy, anger, regret, relief, sorrow, and confusion. No matter how much he thought about the situation, he couldn’t find a logical, rational explanation for what had happened. He had helped her, offered her love and security, and treated her with respect and consideration. Her response had been to go behind his back and seek a relationship with another.
Sitting down on the steps above where Adam sat in the darkness, Ben thought carefully before speaking. “Everyone has needs, faults, desires, and wants. When we meet someone, we hope they see the better parts of us.”
“All Laura ever seemed to want to do was change me. She pointed out my faults rather regularly.”
“Yes, and it seemed she made her needs quite obvious so you would hasten to fulfill those for her.” Ben paused not certain Adam would accept him criticizing Laura, but Adam was silent. “I think you remember when I met Inger. It was a tough time for me, but she looked beyond my faults and saw my needs.”
Staring into the darkness, Adam thought about that for a few minutes as Ben waited to hear how he would respond. “But Laura saw my faults and her needs.”
“I think you’ve got it now.”
Drawing the only conclusion there could be, he finished his thoughts. “I loved her, but she didn’t love me. She was too in love with herself.”
“Yes, and I love my nephew, but he can be shallow and that selfish quality is present there too. He thinks of himself first much too often. He’s better prepared to live a life with Laura than you could ever be.”
“Because they’re on a more even footing.”
“Yes. Can we go back to bed now? I’m tired.”
“Thank you, Pa. I may be able to sleep now.”
That had seemed to settle the issue mostly except for some lack of confidence in himself that Adam continued to exhibit for some time. Ben couldn’t forgive Laura for the damage she had done no matter how hard he tried. Now he wondered if he had more he needed to forgive her for doing. Not sure how to broach the subject with his son, he decided to simply lay it all out when they were alone.
“Son, Laura told Martha all about you because she is still probably trying to justify her actions to herself. She’s trying to convince herself that it was all your fault and she is blameless.”
By Adam’s reactions, Ben could see that he had startled his son with those remarks. Adam had been sitting in that favorite chair of his reading, and Ben had walked over to stand next to the chair and put a hand on his shoulder. That shoulder felt as hard as a pine log under his hand at this point. He was committed to this course though so he kept going.
“I think you’re still wondering why Laura would have told Martha so much about you that Martha and her brother could have come up with this plot against you. What Martha admitted in court in order to get a reduced sentence was chilling. Either way, she and her brother intended that you were going to die. Now Laura never had any idea about that. I have no love in my heart for Laura. I still struggle to forgive her for what she did to you, but I do not believe she ever meant to do you any harm. She is simply too self-centered and selfish. Those are her faults. Her talking to Martha was a way for her to try to paint a picture of you as a man who wasn’t worthy of her. She needed to have someone believe that so that she has a reason for turning to Will. That’s why Martha and her brother so underestimated you. Laura’s opinion of you misled them. They had no idea who they were really up against.”
Dropping his head, Adam pinched the bridge of his nose. Never one to discuss personal matters easily, it was even more difficult when he wasn’t the one to open the subject. Blindsided by his father, he still saw the merits of his father’s statements and appreciated his father’s support.
“Thank you. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Once more, you may have given me enough peace of mind to help me sleep at night.”
“I am sorry if I intruded, but I was troubled too.”
“I know, Pa.”
They had left it at that, but Ben noted that Adam seemed to get more of a natural smile after that day. His recovery progressed well and he began to ask more questions about what had happened that day in the valley when Martha and Malcolm had tried to get the ransom. Joe loved telling that part of the story.
“Clem and three men were hidden in the valley. Two of them were in shallow pits covered in weeds and grass all day. Clem said they had bugs crawling all over them and everything. Anyway, they had food and water with them under the coverings. Two were up in trees. They had branches camouflaging their spots and they had food and water too. It was nicer up there because they could move a little so bugs and things weren’t a problem.”
“If they were there all day, how did they, well, you know?”
Hoss had snickered at that. “Not a problem up in the trees, older brother, but you don’t want to know the stories them other two like ta tell.”
Two months after his ordeal, Adam finally felt ready to ride to town with his brothers on a Saturday. Hoss was taking Mary Lynn to the social, and Adam and Joe would be there to dance with any eligible ladies who wanted their company. Joe thought it was funny that Hoss was the one who had a gal after all that had happened. Adam said it was their just reward for trying to interfere.
“Joe, if you ever try to get me to cooperate in one of your schemes again, I have only one word for you.”
“Oh, what’s that? It must be one of these: Great! Definitely! Sure!”
“But why not?”
Hoss may have laughed the longest and hardest at that one.
“Joe, I will never get involved in another one of your plans. It never works out for me. Do I have to remind you about what happened with Abigail Jones? You almost got me married to her.”
“At least you’d be married.” He was glad Adam couldn’t throw a boot while he was riding. “Now, you have to admit, my plan isn’t what got you in trouble with Martha. You had her sitting on your lap long before you thought about setting her up with Hoss.”
Scratching his ear at that one, Adam had to grudgingly admit that Joe was correct. He had been attracted to the woman at first. She had targeted him without Joe being involved at all. “Maybe it’s not such a good idea for me to go to a saloon tonight.”
“Oh, no, older brother. That’s not it at all. You jest gotta be careful who sets on your lap is all. Mebbe let us steer women your way. How about we’ll check ’em out first for ya?”
All he got for that was a frown. When they went to the saloon first for a little refreshment, Adam was the last to enter which made both Joe and Hoss smile. When Adam did enter, he was immediately the center of attention of the saloon girls. He greeted Sally and then Barbara Ann who each slid under an arm and wrapped one around his waist. They ushered him to a table where Sally slid onto his lap and kissed his cheek. Hoss and Joe leaned on the bar as Sam slid a beer to each of them. Hoss slid over a twenty dollar gold piece.
“Thanks, Sam. Looks like you got it all set up just right.”
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