SUMMARY: Adam does things for a reason. When he takes on corruption in San Francisco, he may find he has tackled too much for not a good enough reason, but his brothers get involved too. However one of them may not survive the fight to take down a corrupt villain.
Rating: T Word Count: 15,115
For a Reason
Walking carefully through the brush to the river, Hoss marveled once more at how well his older brother seemed to be able to see in the dark. It wasn’t only that he walked like a big cat but that sometimes he seemed to have other attributes of that animal too. He preferred solitude far more than most men and headed off to be alone when he was hurt. Hoss guessed that was what the situation was at that moment. He was hurting and probably thinking too. There was a lot riding on what Adam decided so Hoss wanted to be part of that process. He found him sitting on a log on the riverbank with the water flowing fast in front of him.
“You thinking of following Joe’s advice and trying to cross that?”
“Not here. We would likely lose a lot of our herd trying to cross here.”
“But you might cross it further downstream?”
“I’m considering it.”
“Why would ya do it? ‘Cause you’re feeling guilty? Listen, you shouldn’t take everything Joe says so serious like. He didn’t mean it when he said it was your fault that Pa got hurt or that you did it on purpose so you could boss the drive. He only said those things ’cause he knew it would get you mad. You know he does that on purpose sometimes. It weren’t your fault Pa got hurt. You do know that, dontcha?”
Bending down, Adam rubbed his neck before he looked up at Hoss who couldn’t see his expression in the darkness but guessed he would see the pained look there if he could see.
“There was no way you could know Pa was there when you drove those cattle out of that brush. Nobody coulda known it.”
“But when I did see him and tried to move the cattle away, I didn’t do a very good job. That steer went after him, and with his pants still around his knees, he couldn’t run. I mean we know he tried or he wouldn’t have been gored in the back of the leg like he was.”
“Pa shoulda know better than ta do his business in the open like that during a roundup. Anybody but a greenhorn woulda known better.”
“Maybe, but he would have been all right except for me and my lack of skill.” Adam was thinking too that if he had been concentrating on his job and not thinking of other things, he might have been better prepared to deal with the unexpected as well. He didn’t want to bring that up though because he didn’t want to discuss those thoughts with Hoss yet.
“It was an accident. No one can move fifty cows and expect every one of them to go exactly where you want.”
“There are others besides Joe who seem to think otherwise. You didn’t hear a chorus of no when he made that accusation, did you?”
“I think you’re reading that wrong. They don’t want to get into the middle of it when it’s two brothers having a disagreement. If you had accused Joe of something, I reckon they woulda been just as quiet. Ifn I was one of them, I’d likely do the same. They can’t win in a situation like this. Joe’s their friend, and you’re their boss.” Hoss sat down next to Adam. “Fact of the matter is, Joe is bad worried about Pa, and he wants you to be more like Pa than you can be.”
“What am I supposed to do? Tuck him into his bedroll at night?”
“Don’t get all snippy with me. I’m here trying to help ya. Nah, now what he wants is some sort of comfort. Maybe you could, you know, put a hand on his shoulder or pat him on the back. Let him know you care with a word or a touch now and then.”
“You think that will work if I reject his advice and do it my way instead?”
It was Hoss’ turn to drop his head and rub his neck. “Nope. Sorry, but then he’d like as not be too angry and upset to notice.” Looking up at the stars then, Hoss sighed before looking at Adam. “So I guess we know the decision you’ve made.”
“Yeah, and it could probably be the wrong one too and I’m going to get an earful from Pa about this if it is. I can only hope it doesn’t go too badly. If it turns into a disaster, I won’t be stopping in Sacramento at the stockyards. I’ll keep on going until I’m far enough away so I can’t hear Pa blow his stack.”
“How far away do you suppose that is?”
By then, Hoss was grinning. It seemed things were going to work out after all. Adam was going to find a way to cross that river and take the shorter route to Sacramento. It would mean more risks, but if they got their herd to Sacramento before the other herds, they were likely to get a much higher price than the men driving the other herds on the way there. The winter had been one of the mildest anyone could remember so every ranch had a significant surplus of cattle to sell. Once that supply hit the market, prices were going to drop fast.
“Maybe far enough that I won’t be coming back.”
“Now don’t be talking like that. It’s bad enough we got two of you moping around here. You don’t need to be making me unhappy too.”
“I haven’t been moping about here.”
“Shur seems like moping about to me. Seems like you think on what you’re missing more than on what you got. It makes you kind of ornery to think about the world that way.”
“That’s not what I do. I think about what I wanted to do and see what I’m doing, and there’s an awful big gap between the two. What bothers me the most is that I don’t see a way to resolve this without hurting someone or myself.”
“I don’t know why ya cain’t be happy with all ya got.”
Quiet for a time, Adam stood and Hoss thought they were done talking, but Adam spoke softly instead with the challenge gone from his voice. “You want to marry and have children, don’t you? It’s one of your fondest dreams.”
“Yeah. What has that got to do with this?”
“What if you were told you could never have that dream that you hold so dear? What if you would have to live your life without a wife and without children? How would that make you feel? Would you consider then changing your circumstances if that meant there was a chance you could change that outcome?”
Without waiting for any answers, Adam simply turned and walked back to camp to talk with Joe to settle their disagreement and hopefully work out a plan for the next few days. Hoss watched his retreating back and thought about that last challenge and finally understood why Adam was unhappy. If you had a core desire and felt you might have to live your whole life without ever getting any part of it, there was no possible way to feel fulfilled and be truly happy. He guessed at that moment that at some point, Adam was going to leave. It was the only solution for him unless there were some significant even extreme changes in the Ponderosa and how it was run. That wasn’t likely so there was only one option left to his older brother. Hearing Joe’s loud voice, Hoss decided he was needed to help mediate the conversation and headed in the direction Adam had gone.
As Adam had walked carefully back to the camp, he had time to think and the injury to his father was foremost in his mind. He remembered that morning clearly as it began with one of those minor disagreements with his father that seemed to be happening more frequently in the past year. None of them ever seemed to be significant in retrospect and he had regretted each one, yet the next time, he had bulled right into it. As soon as his father challenged him, his stubbornness made him want to win or maybe it was his competitiveness. At his age, he wasn’t content to take orders and wanted to do more on his own. He chafed under his father’s authority. That morning, he was almost ready to make the decision to leave when he had pushed some cattle out from the brush only to see his father’s surprised look. Moving as quickly as he could, Adam had turned the cows away and back toward the brush but one had decided returning to the herd was preferable to bounding through scrub brush and veered away and unfortunately rushed right into his father who was struggling to tug his pants up. Ben Cartwright had been embarrassed, angry, and in pain.
“What in tarnation were you doing driving cattle at me like that?”
“I was bringing cattle back to the herd. I had no idea you would be in the middle of an open area like that.”
“You didn’t check.”
Knowing there was no way to win that argument either, he had helped his father back to the camp where Joe had been as upset as his father had been. Hoss had understood and tried to get Joe to calm down. Joe had said he accepted that after Hoss explained what had happened, but remarks made since then clearly showed he wasn’t entirely forgiving of his oldest brother for what had happened. Ben had to be taken to a nearby town and then put on a stage. He planned to meet them at the stockyards. Adam took over as boss of the drive and Hoss assumed Adam’s role as ramrod. Joe continued in his job of handling the horses and assigning them to the men.
Things went fairly well at first even with some slight bickering between Adam and Joe. That changed when they hit a few days of storms with torrential downpours. Dealing with being wet and having to plod though mud much of the time put everyone on edge. Then it got worse. They got to a small river that they usually followed through canyons and then down the slopes into California and hit a major snag in their plans. Already swollen by snowmelt caused by the mild weather, the rain had made the river rise to a dangerous level. The three brothers rode up to the bank of the river and halted.
“Well, older brother, now how about some of your famous planning?”
Sitting quietly for a time, Adam had only one idea. “We’re going to have to head north and take that route down through the meadows there. There’ll be plenty of grass to fatten them up so even if we don’t get there first, they’ll be in good shape. It’s a longer route but we won’t lose our herd to drowning and broken legs.”
“We’re supposed to get there first. Pa expects us there ahead of the other herds.” Joe was upset and couldn’t believe Adam would give up so easily.
“Joe, Pa didn’t know about this.”
“How do you know he didn’t know? He might have guessed it with the weather we’ve been having. He couldn’t tell us when he got hurt. He was in too much pain.” Joe was playing the guilt card.
“It doesn’t matter. The stream is too high. We’d lose half the herd and put the men at risk trying to cross it.”
“Then don’t cross here. We know this stream gets shallower further down where it gets wider. We could stretch the herd out and go slow until we get that far and then cross.”
“But we would still have problems the rest of the way with the river running this high. We don’t know what it looks like further down and there could still be higher water coming. It’s very narrow on this side. We risk having some injuries.”
“Aw, c’mon, now you’re looking for problems that aren’t even here.”
“It’s part of my job to anticipate trouble.”
What Adam hadn’t anticipated was Joe trying to enlist the men to support his side of the argument. It hadn’t worked but put the whole drive in jeopardy by showing the men that the brothers were divided in their ideas. Joe wasn’t going to come over to his side and there was no middle ground. As far as Adam could see, the only way to go was to follow Joe’s plan and hope for the best and do the best he could do with it. That was what he intended to say as soon as he walked into the camp. He saw Joe there with his back to him and walked up to him.
“Joe, I’d like to talk with you.”
“I’ve had enough of your talking. As boss, you’re an arrogant know-it-all. Pa should have put me in charge. All the men know it. You haven’t got the guts to take on the challenge that Pa left you. What you don’t have are any words for me.” Joe stood with his arms crossed and defiant.
“I can think of many words for you but jackass will do. I came to tell you we’ll follow the river to where it’s shallow enough and cross it. Now you can go out and ride nighthawk duty until you cool down.”
As Adam stalked away leaving Joe speechless, Hoss emerged from the tree line. Before Joe could do or say anything more, Hoss put a restraining hand on Joe’s shoulder preventing him from following Adam.
“Ya got your orders, little brother. I suggest you follow ’em. As ramrod, I’m in charge of who works this drive. Ya wouldn’t want me sending ya home, now would ya?”
Little Joe looked around at Hoss and was about to say that his brother would never do that, but the look on Hoss’ face said he would. He knew he had messed up rather badly again because he had let his emotions and his competitiveness with his oldest brother get out of hand. He simply nodded and moved to where the horses were picketed. After he rode out, Hoss walked to where Adam was. He stopped only to pick up two cups of coffee on the way for he knew they had some talking and some planning to do. The drovers who had witnessed it all went back to their talking and card playing. None of them envied Adam his position in this family.
In the morning, Joe was contrite and apologized asking Adam what he could do to help the drive go better. Adam had looked a bit apprehensive when Joe approached and noticeably relaxed with that opening.
“Grab some breakfast and get back here. Hoss and I were just going to start planning all of that out.”
“Yeah, I’m thinking that splitting the herd up makes some sense so we don’t rush too fast and overgraze what little grass is on this side. Once we get ’em on the other side we can move slower until all the groups are together again.”
“It sounds like a good plan.”
“Adam’s not so sure of it.”
“Why?” But almost as he said it, Joe knew. Adam would take one third, Hoss would take another, and Adam didn’t want to put him in charge of the third afraid of what he might do. He was ready for that though. He knew how to get around Adam almost as well as he could get around their father. “I’m guessing Adam is taking the first group.” He glanced over at Hoss. “You’ll take the second group. Why don’t you put me and Charley in charge of the third group together. He can advise me and if he doesn’t like how I’m doing it, he gets to do it his way.”
Outmaneuvered, Adam knew he had to accept it. Hoss grinned at him as he nodded to his youngest brother.
“Remember, Joe, if anything goes wrong, it’s not only me you’ll be answering to.”
Joe gulped a bit at that reminder that Ben Cartwright was going to be waiting for them up ahead. There would have to be a complete accounting for any problems that occurred. Luckily for Joe, things went smoothly for the first herd crossing. Adam took the first group out and two days down the canyons and valleys, they forded the river with no losses. Hoss got there a day later and crossed with the same result. He caught up to Adam who had only moved a short distance letting the cattle graze on the lush grass in the broad meadows on the opposite side.
“Joe is less than a day behind me. He’s got the smallest group so they’re moving a mite faster than we did. You want to head on back there and see how he does on the river crossing? He’s gonna be proud as a peacock riding across there with his herd.”
“Yeah, I’d like to check the river levels. You saw those storm clouds yesterday as well as I did.”
“I was jest glad they passed over us.”
“If it rained up in those hills, the river could be higher by later today.”
“I hadn’t really thought about that. ‘Cause they passed us by, I figured we had nothing to worry about. I suppose we don’t ifn we didn’t hafta cross that river.”
After putting some men in charge, the two brothers rode back to the river crossing to wait for Joe. They didn’t have to wait, but they did have to worry. Joe was at the crossing when they got there, but Adam was correct in assuming the river might rise. It was already higher than it had been when Hoss brought his part of the herd across. Adam wanted to tell Joe to stay on his side but knew his little brother wouldn’t do that. Instead he encouraged him to come over as fast as possible. He got an angry response from Joe.
“Don’t you think I’m trying? These cows don’t want to go into the water.”
All Hoss and Adam could do was watch and hope. Finally Joe and his drovers forced some cattle into the river and the others began to follow. Joe rode with the first set of drovers but halted about half way across to encourage the others to keep the herd moving. On shore, Adam suddenly looked upstream because he thought he heard something.
“Hoss, you hear that?”
“What? I can’t hardly hear nothing except for them cows bellering and the river making all that noise.”
“It sounds like a dull roar and worse. Hoss, it’s getting louder.”
Then in a near panic, Adam rode to the river bank where he could see the cattle milling about on the bank with some heading across and fighting the current. Joe and several drovers were in the river trying to get them to head directly across to act as leaders for the others. On the far bank, the other drovers were trying to get the recalcitrant cattle to move into the river to follow the first who had gone. Adam pulled up on the bank and yelled to get Joe’s attention first. When he got it, he made his statement simple to understand.
“Get out of the river. Flash flood coming.”
Adam yelled it over and over to Joe and the other men to make sure they all heard it over the bellowing of the cattle and the increasing noise of the river. The other drovers immediately rode for the bank ignoring the cattle, which were left on their own. Joe hesitated but Adam entreated him to ride fast toward him. Hoss barked out the same plea. Finally he did and rode hard for the riverbank. Adam stayed there waiting even as the sound of the flash flood became unmistakable as it neared. As Joe rode up the bank, Adam turned his horse and the two rode together following the others even as the flash flood began to tear at the river bank behind them undercutting and then collapsing the section where Adam had waited for his youngest brother.
As quickly as it had appeared, the flash flood was over except of course for what it left in its wake. There was thick mud with lots of gravel and even some boulders in it, tangled masses of brush and timber, and the carcasses of cattle there and downstream for quite a long way. The men began to gather up the surviving cattle and did a count. They had lost about fifty head to the flash flood. Another dozen had been lost due to injuries from the hard trek down to this crossing. Some had been lost too in the heavy brush in side canyons bringing their total losses to seventy-five. Hoss whistled when he heard that number.
“Pa’s not gonna like hearing that. We started with over five hundred and now we got just over four hundred. Even with the highest price, we aren’t going to do any better than anybody else.”
Joe offered to accept responsibility. “I can tell Pa it was my idea to come this way.”
“No. I was in charge and it was my decision so I’ll accept what comes. I knew there were risks. I rolled the dice and lost.
Regretting his earlier statement and how it would make his older brother feel, Hoss tried a more conciliatory approach. “Adam, we should still get a decent price for ’em. It won’t be any worse than going the slow way around. Pa will understand.” Hoss was hoping that was true, but he knew their father had been counting on a good cash flow from this sale to fund some big projects on the ranch. He guessed they were all in for a tongue lashing when they got to the stockyards.
“When I tell him, I don’t think he’s going to care why it happened only that it did.”
“Maybe you could make it easier by not going in with that look on your face like you expect trouble. Sometimes your temper makes his temper that much worse. The two of you are like two firebrands at times.”
“I can try, Hoss, but it’s not easy.”
“I know, but one of you has to give.”
When Adam winced at that, Hoss could guess what he was thinking. Despite that both his father and older brother had faults that contributed to disagreements, it was usually Adam who had to back down in a confrontation. Hoss had the feeling that wasn’t going to happen this time.
In Sacramento, Ben Cartwright got word that a herd was approaching. The first herd in was an exciting time at the stockyards as it began the big season and stimulated the economy of the region too. Fully expecting that first one to be the Ponderosa herd, Ben decided to try walking without his crutches for the first time since he had been allowed out of bed and use the cane he had been given. It was going to be a triumphant moment for him and his sons so he wanted to look his best. As the herd began to come in, he stood proudly and watched his sons bringing in the Ponderosa cattle. As he expected, the cattle looked good. Joe grinned as he saw him and Hoss waved. Adam headed directly to where they were doing the counting of the herd coming in and stayed there until every cow was accounted for. Ben stood with Hoss and Joe and waited for Adam to come over with a final count and a price so they could go out and celebrate. Ben was surprised with the somewhat grim look Adam had when he finally approached. Hoss and Joe lost their smiles too.
“We got the price you wanted, Pa.”
“Wonderful. And how many cows did you bring in?”
“Four hundred and twenty-one.”
At first, Ben thought he must have misunderstood, but Adam’s sober almost guilty look said it was true. It was confirmed by the nervous behavior of Hoss and Joe who looked to him clearly worried about what he was going to say or do.
“No. I lost most of them in a river crossing. There was a flash flood.”
“What were you doing crossing a river when there was a possibility of the river flooding? I thought you knew better than that. I put you in charge because I thought you could handle the responsibility.”
Left unsaid was that by the losses Adam had shown he wasn’t responsible and didn’t know any better. Ben’s stance and look said there was no point in arguing with him there in public. Without a word, Adam turned to go back to get the paperwork completed for the sale. His father took it as an insult that his son had not answered him. But like Adam, he would not air out his complaints in public, and instead sputtered out an invitation to come to his hotel room. Hoss and Joe dutifully followed him as he left. Many hours later, they were still waiting and Adam had not arrived. Hoss and Joe left to find him. He was in a saloon with the men. Although Joe expected he might be drinking, Hoss knew that the bottle on the table probably had been tapped by the hands and not Adam. The two younger brothers sat by their older sibling who was staring straight ahead and said nothing at first.
“Pa expected you to come up to his room.” Even as Hoss said it, he knew Adam already knew that.
Adam shrugged but said nothing.
“You just left us up there to take all the complaints.” Joe was upset with his oldest brother.
“You didn’t have to stay. You left now.”
“To find you.” Joe was irritated as much at himself as he was at Adam. He knew he had let his father vent his anger and had not insisted his father listen to an explanation.
“You wanted me to be there to take the heat and explain it all to Pa as usual. How much did you tell him?” He looked from Hoss to Joe and knew. “Not much I guess.” Pausing to take a small sip of his drink, Adam thought about what he had to say. “I didn’t want to go up there because of what I might say if I got angry. Pa was already angry and I know he’s stewing in that anger now. Nothing is going to be gained by the two of us butting heads one more time.”
Hoss nodded. “You seemed angry too when you saw Pa.”
“I was. I anticipated what he was likely to say and I guess I was already angry knowing how he would likely react. Even being ready for it didn’t help or maybe it made it worse. Yeah, my temper got hot so the best thing for me to do was walk away. I’ve been doing that a lot in the past year.”
“Getting angry or walking away?”
“Both, Hoss; I’ve been doing far too much of both.”
Flicking two fingers at a saloon girl, Adam got two more glasses and poured for his brothers. Pushing a glass toward each of them, he raised his to them. The three were quiet for a short time until Joe looked at Adam.
“You planning to walk away from all of us then?”
“For such a young one, you are very perceptive. I wouldn’t call it walking away though. I’d say I’m cutting loose. You showed you could run a cattle drive. You would have made the same decision I made with the same results. There’s nothing I do that the two of you can’t do.”
Hoss wanted to argue with that and there were things that Adam probably did better, but he knew they could learn to do those things better. With practice and effort, they could do what needed to be done. Adam had put in his blood, sweat, and tears and now wanted his freedom. Hoss couldn’t say no. Joe though wasn’t so sure.
“What’s it going to do to Pa if you leave?”
“Pa left his family. He’ll understand. I think he knows it’s coming. By the way I’ve been acting, he knows I’m unhappy.” Adam saw Joe’s look. “Yeah, I admit that some of the trouble was because of me and my moods and that I was probably too touchy about things. But Joe, that’s exactly why it’s time for me to do this. The atmosphere in the family will be better with me gone, and you know that too.”
“But where would you go and what would you do?”
“Joe, if I had those answers, I’d be gone already.”
“Will you go fight?”
“I’ve thought about it, but at this point, no, I think that by the time I would get there, it would nearly be over. Even though you won’t like hearing it, the Confederacy is defeated. They won’t accept it yet, but Union forces are advancing from the and from the north and have it blockaded. The Union controls the Mississippi too. It’s a nasty war of attrition now and the north has so much more than the south that there is no possible way for them to win.”
Knowing that Adam’s assessment was correct, Joe was bitter. “You don’t want to go take part in the victory?”
“It’s not much of a victory with all the losses. The only good thing is that slavery is no more, but I fear that there will be turmoil for the rest of our lives because of this war.”
“Maybe you ought to go help them fix things.”
“If one man could make much of a difference, I’d consider it, but you know that one man can’t change what’s in the heart and mind of even one other so how could anyone even think to try to change so many. It’s going to take a long time and it will start when they think it’s important to teach something different to their children.”
“So what are your other choices?”
“The world, really, but without a plan, I need to stick closer to home for a while. I’ve thought about San Francisco for a time. I could work there. I know enough people to get work easily enough and I could handle any Ponderosa business if Pa still wanted me to do that.”
“It sounds like you’ve made up your mind.”
“Until I started talking, I hadn’t realized I had, but you’re right.”
“You finally admitted I was right about something, but I wish it wasn’t about this.”
“You’re going to miss me?”
“Of course I am, you big lug.” Almost overcome with emotion at that point, Joe had a difficult time saying anything more.
In the lull, Adam looked to Hoss. “You’re quiet.”
“Figured it was about time you and Joe cleared some things up and you got things said needed to be said. I kinda guessed it was coming too, but it was still a shock to hear it. I ain’t never lived without you in my life or knowing you was gonna be back. This time, that ain’t so certain, is it?”
Shrugging, Adam had no answer for his brothers. He wasn’t sure either. “I can promise I will come back some day, but I can’t tell you when that will be.”
“Five years or ten years? Do we get any kind of timeline?” Joe wanted a concrete answer.
“I can’t tell you, Joe. I already told you that I haven’t finished planning or deciding yet what I’m going to do. I can hardly give you a timeline when I don’t know what I’ll be doing.”
“This is going to be real hard on Pa.”
Adam didn’t answer his youngest brother. They had been through that already, and there was no better answer to offer. Hoss did have a more practical concern.
“When ya gonna tell Pa?”
“At breakfast tomorrow. I’ll tell him I’m not traveling home with you. I’m heading to San Francisco to check things out.”
“Ya gonna come back to the Ponderosa at all?”
“Depends on what I find out when I get to the city. If I can make arrangements to work and find a place to stay, I won’t be coming home. It will likely only mean more harsh words with Pa anyway.”
“Aw, Pa will wish you well once he understands.”
“Yes, but how long will it take for him to understand. Damage could be done before he gets there.”
Silence greeted that statement because even Joe knew how his father could blow his stack when the unexpected upset his plans especially when one of his sons didn’t do what he wanted him to do. This was so far from what Ben expected from his first-born that Joe knew as well as Hoss that Ben might understand but that wouldn’t necessarily make him react well to the news. It didn’t. Adam made his announcement at breakfast. Ben exploded in anger and Adam walked away despite his father’s demands that he return and explain himself. Out of frustration, Ben finally sat and exhaled before making an exclamation.
“What is wrong with that boy?”
Their father’s reaction and that question told Hoss and Joe as much as they needed to know to understand why Adam had made the decision he had nor did they fault him for walking away. For the first time, Joe saw things from Adam’s point-of-view. What he saw, he didn’t like.
“Pa, why didn’t you talk to Adam?”
“I tried to. He walked away like he usually does. I can’t have a conversation with his back.”
“Pa, yellin’ ain’t talkin’ neither.”
“I wasn’t yelling. I was shocked that he would make such a drastic decision without discussing it with me. Then he walked off.”
“Pa, I know you’re hurting, and I know you was disappointed in what happened with the drive, but you didn’t listen to Joe or me ’bout that neither. We all done our best. Things happen. It coulda happened ifn you’d been there too. You always told me to keep control of my temper ’cause with my size, I could hurt people real bad. I think mostly I done that. Maybe you oughta think on getting control of your temper too ’cause with your position, you kin hurt people real bad too. You done it too much and too often to your own family especially to Adam. I know he coulda handled how he talked with you better’n he did, but that don’t mean you did all right neither. I’m gonna go talk to ‘im before he leaves. You better do the same and you know the reasons why.”
Stunned by Hoss’ speech not only because his middle son rarely ever spoke to him like that but mostly because of what Hoss had said, Ben had nothing to say as Hoss walked away. When he finally got his voice, Hoss was out of sight. Joe waited for a response. When his father said nothing, he stood. That did make his father look at him.
“Can you believe how your brothers spoke to me this morning?”
“Yes, and I’m going to go find them. I want to make sure that everything is all right between me and them before Adam leaves. I think you know what you need to do too.”
Then Joe walked away from the table as well leaving his father sitting alone. Slowly Ben rose and walked out of the dining room to follow his sons. His steps were slow as he wasn’t at all sure of himself and he wasn’t certain what he should say to Adam but knew it was going to be something different than anything he had ever said before. He found them in the lobby as Adam was coming down the steps with Hoss and Joe met them at the bottom. The look he got from Adam was a strange combination of apprehensive and challenging while both Hoss and Joe looked both worried and hopeful. Ben muttered to himself that both Elizabeth and Inger would have been quite unhappy with him at that moment. In fact, probably Marie would have had a few words for him too. Wondering how he had forgotten all they had tried to teach him about being a parent, he smiled to let his sons know there would be no harsh words. All three sons waited for him at the foot of the stairs.
“I know I’ve made quite a mess of things. I could blame my injury or my worries about the ranch, but I’m afraid that’s not it. I simply haven’t done as good a job being a father as I should have done. I started to act as more of a boss than a father. I failed you, son, and I apologize for that. I know though that it won’t be enough to change your mind nor should it. Adam, you need to go out there and find what the world has to offer and find what you can do. I hope you’ll come back to us when you’re ready. Know that I will be open to your ideas when you return to your home.”
Surprised, Adam opened up a bit. “I plan to live in San Francisco and work there. I have no concrete plans and want a chance to explore my options. If you want, I could take care of any Ponderosa business you have there.”
“That would be wonderful, son. You will write and let us know how things are going, won’t you?”
“I will. Thank you, Pa. This is a better way for me to go than I had anticipated.”
“It’s how it should be. Once you’re settled, let us know what you would like and we can ship some of your things to you.”
“Thank you. I’ll do that.”
With some handshakes then, Adam left to make his way to the dock on the river for a ticket downriver. After he left, Hoss and Joe turned to their father. Hoss was the first to speak.
“Pa, that was a real surprise.”
“I surprised myself in a way. I guess I knew it was coming, but I was trying to deny it until it smacked me in the face. He really was leaving, and you two let me know I better do a better job of it or I was risking losing him perhaps forever. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. I didn’t want to make that one.”
Joe stared at the door. “You think he’ll ever come back?”
“You know your brother, Joe. When he’s ready, he’ll be back. He does things for a reason, so hopefully, someday, he’ll have a reason to come home.”
“Maybe he’ll be a big success in San Francisco so he won’t have to go any further away.”
“Hoss, we can hope that is true.”
Although Ben doubted that would be the case, he could hope Hoss was correct. Only a few months later after a severe problem with the mines, he wrote to Adam asking for advice on how to deal with flooding. Adam said he would bring some nitroglycerin to them. It turned out to be more of a problem than they expected, but it was good to work with Adam again and to show him that his father could treat him as a man deserving of respect for his ideas and opinions. Ben thought he had made good progress with his son. Adam wrote him a letter soon after that and it made Ben hopeful that Adam might consider returning. However, there were forces at work that were going to change all of that.
Working for a friend’s construction firm, Adam found his architectural and engineering skills returned and then developed quickly. There were many building projects in the city from new docks to new houses and mansions to new large edifices for offices or even some manufacturing. With an eye for precision and a talent in math, Adam became the one to look over plans to try to spot problems before construction began or to correct problems encountered during construction. His friend walked into Adam’s office eight months after Adam began working for the firm.
“You’ve earned a raise and a bigger office.”
“I’d say it was overdue, but after your little sojourn with the explosives, I wasn’t sure you were going to stay. I thought you might head home.”
“Not yet. There are still things I want to do.”
“Good. I could use your help. We’re bidding on some bigger projects. With you here, we should be able to handle the work.”
“Thank you, Tom. Your confidence in me is appreciated.”
“Not as much as I appreciate what you’ve done for my firm. You keep this up, and I might have to offer you a partnership.” Seeing Adam’s surprise, he amended his statement. “A junior partnership. I wouldn’t want to make you think you were in charge or anything like that.” Tom laughed then and walked out to his office after telling Adam where to move his things.
Later, looking out the window of his new large office, Adam could see the bay with the ships coming in at high tide. His smile faded as he thought about what he had said to Tom. The one thing he still wanted to do was travel. Tom wasn’t going to like hearing that, but Adam wasn’t quite ready to go yet either. He would work for Tom for a year or two probably and build up a tidy sum so he could travel with no financial worries and without selling his investments. It seemed a prudent plan.
Two days later, he was laying in the hospital looking out the window there wondering how he had made such a mess of things. In the jail, he knew what had been wrong. After spending so much time at his desk, and then enjoying the evenings in the theater and restaurants as well as relaxing with fine books, his muscle tone was far less than it had been and even his reflexes had slowed. Although he was outnumbered and that would have been a severe disadvantage regardless, he had been unable to do any decent defense and suffered much more than he would have otherwise before the guard arrived and saved his life. Of course, he doubted they had come any faster than a slow walk considering what he stood accused of doing. It had been an elaborate yet simple set-up for which he had fallen so easily. He still berated himself for that too wondering how he could have been duped so easily when the supposedly distraught father had come to his door. Bernard Northam was a well known investor in construction projects in the city and state.
“Adam, I know we have only known each other a few months, but I think you are a man of integrity and honor.”
Oh, he had known how to appeal to Adam hitting him with the things that mattered to him more than almost anything. Then he made an appeal to his heart.
“My daughter who is only seventeen is being besieged by a man of great influence and power in this city. He wants to marry her, and he will have her if I don’t do something.”
“How can I help?”
“I know this is going to sound outrageous, but please hear me out. I want you to marry her.”
“Adam, please, listen. If you marry her, she cannot marry him. Then I would ask you to travel with her to Stockton. I have family there. She could stay with them.”
“I cannot marry a seventeen-year-old girl I don’t even know.”
“No, no, I haven’t explained it all. You would only marry her in name until you get to Stockton. There you would have the marriage annulled. She would live with my relatives and you would return here unencumbered and I would be forever in your debt. You know what Jeremiah Redmond is like and the stories there are about him and what he does to women. I cannot even think what he would do to my daughter.”
Adam had heard stories of the man for years and how he used his power and wealth to cover his tracks so he had never been prosecuted for any offense. It was believed that he was the money behind much of the corruption in the police force in the city. He was also one of the major competitors to the business for which Adam worked.
“When would we have to do this?”
“Tonight. He’s got men out looking for her now. The only defense we have is to say that she is married. He cannot marry a married woman.”
“Or girl.” Against all the reservations he had, Adam couldn’t say no. “All right. I’ll do it. I suppose a couple of days to rescue a girl from Redmond is worth losing a couple of days pay and angering my employer.”
“Thank you. She’s in my carriage. I’ll bring her here to you and I’ll leave.”
“Yes, they’re looking for our carriage. I’ll continue to drive around and they’ll follow me. You can use your carriage to go to a minister and get this done.”
“Ah, yes, that does seem prudent.”
In a very short time, Adam was introduced to the girl who carried a small valise. He packed one too, and after her father left, he escorted her out back and they took his carriage out. Soon, they were on their way to the minister’s home where Adam explained the situation. Elise hardly spoke at all except to tell the minister that everything Adam said was true and she wanted to do as he said which was what her father had advised her to do too. The minister was reluctant to participate in what was a sham, but was persuaded to do so by the unusual circumstances. The ceremony was quick and efficient with the minister’s wife as the official witness. She had heard the whole story as well and gave sympathetic looks to the girl the whole time and thanked Adam for being a savior for a young girl’s virtue. Then Adam and the girl left to head to the ticket office to buy fare for the trip to Stockton. It was there that the whole thing exploded in Adam’s face. As he walked up to the ticket office with the girl, her father yelled out.
“There he is. That’s the man who took her.”
Police emerged from hiding and grabbed Adam slamming him against the wall of the building and pounding him into submission as he struggled against them trying to explain. They weren’t interested in any explanation. He heard them but wasn’t allowed to say anything.
“She’s fourteen years old and he took her and married her. That’s against the law. That’s kidnapping and a female has to be fifteen to marry. I never gave my permission. I want him locked up, the degenerate beast.” Bernard Northam’s voice was that of an aggrieved father. Elise ran to his side as if saved.
With a policeman’s foot on his back and possible cracked ribs among other injuries, Adam lay there stunned hearing what was said and trying to piece together what had happened. Even in his shocked state, he was able to understand it. He had been set up and had fallen for it completely. His only witness was the minister, and he hoped he couldn’t be corrupted. Shackled and dragged to a paddy wagon, Adam learned that any attempt to communicate was met with brutality so he had to accept his fate at that point and hope that at police headquarters someone would listen to reason. They didn’t. He was booked and thrown into a cell with several other men. Already injured, things got worse when his jailers informed the other men that he was there for abusing a fourteen-year-old girl. They were no more willing to listen to an explanation than the police who had arrested him. He got that severe beating which put him in the hospital. It was there that his friends finally found him, got a statement from his minister and got him a lawyer. The shackles that bound him to the bed were removed the next day. Charges were dropped. Finally, three days after being asked to be a savior for a young girl, Tom visited him in the hospital.
“Well, you’ve really done it this time, my friend.”
“The charges were dropped.”
“Yes, luckily your minister is above reproach and the judge could see that there was never going to be a conviction with your testimony and the minister’s as well as his wife’s. Adam, there’s going to be a cloud of doubt over you though.”
Closing his eyes, Adam lay back. He guessed what was coming and was correct. He was no longer employed.
“I’m sorry, but no one is going to want to do business with us if you’re in my employ. It’s a terrible injustice, but there’s nothing to be gained by all of us going down in flames with you.”
“You know why they did it, don’t you?”
At least Tom had the good grace to look embarrassed by that. Adam was a great resource for Tom’s firm and made him more competitive with Redmond. By removing Adam, Tom’s business went back to being more ordinary and less of a threat. Tom wouldn’t get those new lucrative contracts which would go by default then to one of Redmond’s firms. Everything went back to the status quo except Adam’s life was in ruins as far as his future in San Francisco.
“It’s not so bad for you. You could always go home. You and your family have an empire.”
With his stomach lurching, Adam didn’t want to say what he was thinking in response to that. Instead he simply nodded dismissing Tom. He had found that his friendship with the man was too shallow to be meaningful. At least he had taken care of the legal problem. The rest Adam would have to handle himself.
Two days later when Adam proved to the doctor that he could walk, he was allowed to leave the hospital. He took a ride to his home, packed the essentials, and left the rest. With one stop at his lawyer’s office to make arrangements for his property to be sold and any money to be deposited and to pay any fees, he took his leave and headed out of the city. Those assigned to watch him reported back to their bosses that he was gone. At that point, he was forgotten.
A short distance from the city, Adam found a small place to rent. He needed a place to live while he recuperated and regained his strength. He needed to research too and prepare a plan. Some neighbors wondered about the quiet dark-haired man who limped quite a lot when he arrived. They wondered more at the sounds of gunfire that occurred regularly there in the afternoons as he seemed to have a great deal of interest in firearms. However other than that, he was not a problem and made no trouble. He did do quite a bit of business at the local store buying clothing, supplies, and food. About ten weeks after his arrival, he was gone. No one saw him leave.
Redmond Construction was always hiring. A tall, dark-haired lean muscled man approached the offices and asked about a job. With a slouch hat, long hair, and a thick beard, his story that he had given up on the gold fields fit.
“You got any experience building?”
“I did a lot of it before.”
“Let me see your hands.”
Putting his hands out, Adam turned them so show the calluses he had gotten chopping wood and doing various other chores he had pushed himself to do to build up his muscles. He was more fit and lean than he had been since his early twenties.
“I’ll put you on a crew and you can show the foreman what you can do. You’ll start at the basic pay and if the foreman says you got enough skills, we’ll raise it up to whatever level he says.”
“You can start right now. We’re always short of workers. Head on over to that tall skeleton of a building you see there and tell the man you see at the table down below that you been hired.”
So began Adam’s career at Redmond Construction. He worked for his wages. But whenever he could, he took notes, he sketched, he drew plans, and kept all the records he could. At night, he drew more sketches and wrote more notes from everything he could remember from that day that he had been unable to write down or draw at the time. He filled many notebooks with diagrams and notes to show the fraud being perpetrated by Redmond Construction. What he didn’t have was proof of who was ordering it. At this point, the foremen and construction supervisors were the only ones whose names appeared in his reports. He needed to get to their records to find who was giving them the orders to substitute materials and change specifications. When it happened on government projects, he knew he had the best evidence to bring Redmond down but he still needed to tie him to the fraud.
The best evidence Adam got was the one that exposed him to the greatest risk. On Sundays for several weeks, he broke into the construction office and went through their records being careful not to disturb anything. Everything was carefully put back in place. If they ever suspected someone had been there, he knew the next time he came, there would be a reception he wouldn’t enjoy. Apparently he managed to get the records at least implicating Redmond without arousing suspicion. However he had no smoking gun. If that evidence existed, he didn’t have access to it.
There was one thing Adam thought he might try to smoke out those who were helping Redmond. Breaking up his voluminous evidence into three large packages, he had it shipped to three different city officials but not before laboriously making copies of everything. Then he notified the state attorney’s office of what he had done. The state’s attorney asked to meet with him. After secreting the material, Adam did meet with that official. He didn’t trust anyone at this point but found that this was one man who could be trusted.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Mister Cartwright. We’ve been interested in going after Redmond for years but were never able to get anything on him much less a witness.”
“I never agreed to be a witness.”
“I know, but from what you’ve already done, I think you would. Now, I contacted all three men you told me about, and two of them claim they never received anything from you. The third man is here and is willing to work with us if you’re willing to meet with him.”
“Yes, it’s a sad state of affairs, but at least we have one. Now the other two are under investigation by my office. Each one apparently thought he was the only one to get the evidence and could bury it.” Looking at Adam and how relaxed he seemed, the state’s attorney smiled. “I bet you made copies, didn’t you?”
“I have to know. Is this revenge?”
“It’s justice. It’s time the scales were balanced.”
“Fair enough, and that’s a good reason to do it.”
“I try to do things for a good reason.”
With that settled, the two men proceeded to an office to meet the third man interested in taking down Redmond. They all knew it was unlikely that they could put the man in jail, but they could hurt him financially and break his hold on the construction industry in the city and hopefully his influence over city government and the police force. That would be enough if they could do it.
“We can’t ask you to get anything else. From now on, we would need a search warrant because you’re now an agent of the government.”
“I’m not working for you.”
“Legally, you are. You are now cooperating with us so any evidence you now collect is technically at our direction. We can use everything you have up to this point without any worry because we didn’t know you were collecting it. Anything else will need a judge to sign off, and frankly, I don’t trust any judge here that much. As it is, as soon as we file some of this, your life will be in danger. Do you have any plans for how we can keep you safe?”
“I had thought to go back to the little place I had outside the city, but at this point, they might be able to find me there.”
“You can stay with me. With the work I do here, I have guards on my home. It’s the only way I feel my wife and family will be safe.”
“Will me being there put them at greater risk?”
“We’ve done it before. They know the drill. At least I don’t have any small children.”
Luckily, the fraud case moved quickly through the system. Redmond’s competitors swooped in like vultures when they saw that he was going to be taken down. With cooperation all around and the amount of evidence Adam had accumulated, the prosecutors were able to turn several men with promises of light sentences or immunity from prosecution. One who testified was Bernard Northam who got immunity for testimony and by paying some hefty fines for infractions. While on the stand, the prosecutor got him to admit the scheme to ruin Adam with a false accusation in order to take a competitor out of the way. He admitted that was only one of the ways that he and Redmond worked together to make sure no other businesses got the best contracts in the city.
By the end of the trial, Redmond Construction was found guilty of numerous charges of fraud, contracts were invalidated, and there were recommendations that charges be brought against Redmond himself. All of it had happened so fast that Redmond had not been prepared to act. With the conclusion of the trial and the verdicts, that changed. Adam got the first of the bad news only the next morning when he was awakened by his host.
“We need to move you. I plan to take a vacation out of the city with my family too.”
“Northam, his wife, and his daughter were killed last night. Their home burned to the ground with all of them inside. The servants escaped but the family could be heard screaming. In the aftermath, they found chains and shackles around the charred remains of their bodies. Someone made sure they couldn’t escape before they fired the house. It’s a warning to all of us.”
“But nothing happened here?”
“We have guards here, but we have to travel in the city to do anything. We’re vulnerable in any number of ways.”
“How can we even leave then?”
“This house has a tunnel to the house next door. We will go there and my family will be smuggled out in their carriage while my carriage acts as a decoy going to the federal building with guards.”
“What about me?”
“You dress in your black clothing, and tonight, slip away. We’ll have a horse and supplies for you at this address. It’s only a few blocks away from here. I’ll show you how to leave the house next door without being seen. Here’s where I’ll be soon. We can talk there about our case against Redmond.”
“We won’t have much of a case if he eliminates witnesses. It will scare the rest.”
“I know. We will likely have to be satisfied with what we’ve done so far. I’m afraid that may be it. Corruption is so deep, sometimes all we can do is remove the worst of it and accept that we have to live with the rest.”
“Then there’s not much reason for me to come see you. It only puts both of us at greater risk. I can’t do any more damage to him.”
“I hope that’s enough to keep you safe, but it wasn’t enough to help Northam. I’m afraid he will want to make both of us examples as well to show what happens what happens when you oppose him. It’s the only way he can reclaim his position or try to do that.”
“Will he be successful? Is everything we did for nothing?”
“I don’t think his competitors will let him, but he’s ruthless. He’ll do anything to try.”
“They’ll have to use the same means to stop him then.”
“We won’t be safe until the vipers turn on one another.”
“That’s about it.”
That night, Adam slipped away in the darkness. He hid in shrubbery when he saw men stealthily approaching the house he had only recently vacated. Once they were out of sight, he continued to where a horse had been left for him and led that horse for a time before mounting up to ride away. He headed south thinking it was unlikely they would expect him to go in that direction. He wasn’t going to go to the Ponderosa and draw these killers there. Instead, he’d disappear long enough that they wouldn’t care any more. Other than that, he had no plans and had some thinking to do.
As Adam rode out of town, two men rode after him and a third returned to get orders now that they knew the direction he was going. They knew simply shooting him wouldn’t satisfy their employer. It would be something more spectacular or memorable as what they had done to the Northam family. They would keep him under surveillance until they were told what to do.
Not sure if he had gotten away unobserved, Adam rode through the night and into the next day until the next evening. Breaks were to rest his horse and make sure he wasn’t worn out, but he pushed himself until he had put as many miles between him and the city as he could. By the time he stopped, his horse could only manage a fast walk and he was thoroughly exhausted. He found a secluded spot to camp, watered and groomed his horse, and then after eating some cold provisions, he rolled himself into his blanket and fell into a troubled sleep.
Waking in the morning, Adam was uneasy feeling as if he was being watched although he never saw anyone. He packed up his camp quickly and headed out. Watching for signs of pursuit all day, he didn’t realize his watchers were to the side and ahead of him. Late that day, he rode right into their ambush. When the men rode out in front of him, he wheeled his horse only to find men had ridden out behind him. To the side were boulders. He was trapped.
“I don’t have much money with me.” He pulled out his wallet and tossed it toward the men who had blocked his way.
“We don’t care, but thank you for what you have.”
One man picked up the wallet Adam tossed toward the men holding guns on him after they ordered him to dismount.
“Take off your gun belt with your left hand.”
Once he complied with that, he was ordered to take off his hat, coat, vest, and boots.
“Empty your pockets.”
At that point, Adam wasn’t too worried yet. They were being very thorough for robbers, but he thought if they planned to kill him, they would have done it already. They tied his hands behind his back, and he continued to believe he wasn’t going to be killed. There were some small ranches and farms in the vicinity. He would have a chance even with his hands tied, but then his blood ran cold when he heard the next statement.
“Mister Redmond wants you to suffer before you die.”
The nature of the men there were revealed by the smiles they had when they saw the look on Adam’s face because of that statement. He had been caught by surprised and it showed. They enjoyed the moment. Clearly torture was something the four men enjoyed.
“We only gotta wait until the two in charge get here. Should be soon enough. Our job was to get you ready. They’ll be sure to bring the news to Redmond that the job was done right.”
While they waited, the men forced Adam to walk to a large boulder and stand against it. They found more comfortable places to sit and talked about who would get what in splitting up his possessions. One man, Gil, agreed not to take any of the money and took both the hat and gun belt. In a short time, they had made their choices. Then they sat in the shade for another hour until horses were heard. They went on alert until they identified the riders as the two men for whom they had been waiting.
“The prosecutor got away. Redmond wants to be sure Cartwright doesn’t. He said one in the belly out here where he can’t get any help should do the trick. He’ll take a long time dying with no chance of making it. He said he remembers from his days in the Army that a man there took more than three days to die from that and was begging the others to shoot him before it was over.”
It was difficult for Adam to believe that men could be so callous. He had known men who had killed. Some had killed for greed and some out of jealousy. Some had been cold-blooded killers who did it for a living. He had never met men who seemed to enjoy it though and looked forward to inflicting pain and suffering. He had known when he had chosen this path that he was risking his life, but somehow, he had hoped his luck would hold. Now sweat ran down his back even as he felt chilled. These men were going to shoot him after making him wait for the action, and they were going to stand there and enjoy it. All he could think was that he wasn’t going to give them any more pleasure than they could get by the awful act.
When it happened, it was as bad as he had anticipated or maybe a bit worse. One of the men walked up to him and pushed a pistol into his belly as two others held his arms so he couldn’t attempt to twist away. He did pull slightly to the left but the bullet entered like a searing hot blow that took his breath away and robbed him of all conscious thought. He wasn’t aware that they had released his arms until he felt the dust in his mouth and realized he had fallen on his face. The pain was nearly unbearable made even worse with each attempt he made to breathe. He wanted to reach around and put his hands to the wound, but they were securely tied. He could only lay there helpless and bleed into the dirt. There were satisfied murmurings from the men that the job was done and some disappointment that he didn’t scream or moan in agony and flop around. Mounting up, one of them bid him goodbye and laughed, but the others simply rode off.
After they were gone, Adam lay there gasping in shallow breaths for air as the pain throbbed in his belly, and he felt weak and nauseated. He knew he had very little chance of survival, but he had to remain conscious and he had to stand. His will to live was still strong and even logic and the truth of his situation wasn’t enough to defeat it. With survival in mind, he slowly began to move to try to get his knees under him and then hopefully to be able to get to his feet. With as much care as he could manage, he moved slowly so he would not make the pain so unbearable that he would pass out. If he did, he knew he would lose what little chance he had left. It took him an hour to get to his knees and another lengthy time to get to his feet. Even then, he had to lean on the boulder so he didn’t fall. So weak that his vision was already affected, he struggled to walk as far as the road hoping that someone would come by. He had no idea how much traffic there was on that road, but his only hope for survival was if someone came by within a short time. When he heard the sound of sheep, he nearly cried. Instead, he did all that he could do to remain upright so he would be seen. Leaning on a boulder, he waited and hoped that whoever came would be merciful.
When Martha Lewis drove her small wagon around the bend in the road following her small herd of sheep being driven by her hired hand and her dog, she was as shocked as they were by the man leaning against a large boulder near the road. His hands were behind his back and the boulder was stained with blood presumably his. She pulled her shotgun from beneath the seat.
“Bring your hands out where I can see them.”
Instead, the man had a slight smile and then fell face first into the dirt. She could see his hands were tied. Stowing the weapon, she climbed down and hurried toward him as Dom did the same.
“Senora, he is badly injured.”
“No, Dom, he’s shot. Someone tried to kill this man. They may have succeeded. He’s in bad shape. Help me get him into the wagon. If we bend his legs, he’ll fit. I’ll take him to the house. He might have a chance.”
Once Dom got the sheep to the pasture, he rushed to the house and found his employer had managed to get the stranger into the house. She had him laying on the floor by the fireplace in her main room and she was cleaning the area of the wound.
“It went through him. He’s lost so much blood that he’s cold. Would you get more wood for the fire, please?”
As Dom built up the fire, Martha packed the wounds front and back and then wrapped a bandage around Adam. When she finished, she leaned back and looked at Dom who had a question.
“Will he live?”
“I don’t know. It might take a miracle. He needs doctors, hospitals, and probably a lot more but all of that is two days away. I don’t think he’d survive that trip. If he bleeds any more, that would probably be it.”
“Not yet, but the odds are that is what will kill him.” Looking down at Adam and touching his cheek gently, Martha was sorrowful. “At least he won’t die alone. He’s a handsome one. It’s a terrible waste.”
The wounded man was a mystery to her. She had to strip his shirt away to care for him and noted that it was made very well from very good material. When she pulled his pants from him, she discovered that the same. He lay on an ordinary pallet of blankets by the fireplace in her home, but she guessed he was probably more used to a bed in much finer accommodations. However when she looked at his hands, she saw calluses that showed he was no stranger to physical labor. It was a puzzle and she had no way to put the pieces together for a long time. She did worry that he would die without giving her a name and a family somewhere would worry and fret not knowing what happened to him. There was little she could do about that other than what she had already done. Bathing his face with a cool cloth, she felt the heat and knew he was already developing a fever. Slipping a hand under the blanket that covered him, she touched his stomach and he didn’t react to her touch. So far at least it didn’t seem that there was any terrible problem there. She prayed it would stay that way.
The next day, Martha was surprised when Adam opened his fevered eyes and looked at her with awareness when she pulled back the blanket to check his bandages. She was able to give him some fluid and wondered if that was good for him or not. He was terribly thirsty though so she continued to give him fluids for the next couple of days. She hadn’t alerted anyone that she had found him. She didn’t know his name or why he was shot. He was unable to speak to her to tell her anything except he was able to say his first name clearly enough for her to understand it that first morning. He was too weak to say anything more but Martha was glad that he was willing to tell her his name because he clearly didn’t want to hide anything. She thought her belief that he was the unfortunate victim of robbers was probably correct. She had no idea why his hands were tied until he was there a couple of days. It was then that he told her more of the story and gave her the reason he was shot as well as his full name. When he could, he talked to her. She wrote down the things he said so she wouldn’t forget anything. At that point, she didn’t know what to do because she was afraid of what men who did such a thing to Adam would do if they found out that he was still alive. Her time though was fully occupied with his care. There was no time to do anything else.
On the Ponderosa, they had been worried when they received Adam’s initial letter when he had been forced out of his job by scandal. He had told them he was going to do something about it to get justice, and his father was sure that meant he was going after Redmond. With no way to contact Adam though, they had to wait for further letters. Finally, they got more information when Adam surfaced with all the evidence against Redmond Construction. He sent another couple of letters during the trial.
Then suddenly there was nothing until they received a letter from the prosecutor who had worked with Adam telling them that the information he had received was dire and that the story was that Adam had been shot and left for dead. There was very little information, but Hoss and Joe thought it was enough to pursue. They couldn’t sit at home and wait but headed to California to see what they could find out. Using any contacts they had and talking to the authorities, they could only confirm what they had been told. The story in the city was that Adam had been shot in the belly and left to die slowly and alone somewhere outside of the city. It was chilling and gut-wrenching for the brothers to hear that news. They wanted to be able to check out that story but had no idea where to look until they headed to a pub to get a drink. Sitting silently and musing about their loss, both were startled to see a man enter the place wearing a hat that looked a lot like the one Adam had worn. When he leaned on the bar, took a sip of beer, and pushed back his coat to take out a handkerchief to wipe the foam from his mustache, both brothers stood and moved toward him.
“Mister, where’d you get that gun and belt?”
“None of your business.”
“My little brother asked you real nice. I ain’t gonna be so nice ifn you don’t answer him and real fast.”
“It’s mine and none of your business.”
“I warned ya.”
An hour later in police headquarters, the battered man admitted the two items belonged to Adam Cartwright. He claimed someone had given them to him. Further threats from Hoss made him admit he was there when Adam was shot. The police wanted details of who did the shooting, but Hoss and Joe wanted only to know where it happened. They got the location and left trusting the police to deal with the situation. With all the publicity this case had gotten, they guessed they wouldn’t be able to cover any of this up. Hoping their information was accurate, the two brothers headed out of the city. A day and a half of riding and another half day of searching and talking to farmers and ranchers led them to Martha Lewis’ door. They identified themselves.
“Some of your neighbors said you found our brother and took him in.”
“Yes, I found Adam badly wounded and I took care of him. I’ll take you to him.”
Three months later, Redmond fled his house with two of his most trusted lieutenants. None of them knew what had happened. As they hid near the harbor and waited for the ship that would take them from the city, they discussed what had happened.
“We’ve only got a few more men left. Once Gil started spilling his guts after Cartwright’s brothers worked him over, things started to go downhill. It seemed that one after another of our men turned on us.”
“I still don’t understand it. No matter how much we paid them, every one of them turned yellow and squealed like a pig. Damn, you can’t trust anyone any more.” Redmond looked out to see if the men they had set to guard them were still there. He could see them in the darkness and was relieved that at least those men hadn’t deserted him. “Listen, with you two and the few men we’ve still got left out there, we can make a comeback.”
“I don’t see how.”
“I have money stashed away. I’ll have to tap into that.”
“Where is it?”
“Why do you need to know?”
“If we’re going to do this, you can’t go get it yourself. You’re going to have to trust us to get it for you. You’ll have to go into hiding with those men we still have out there.”
“I guess you have a point. All right, as soon as we get on that ship, I’ll write it all out and you two can start retrieving the money. But, only one of you will go at a time. I don’t trust the two of you that much to let both of you out of my sight at the same time.”
“That makes sense. All right, let’s get some rest. That ship isn’t due for a few more hours. It won’t get here until high tide.”
“How do you know that?”
“Oh, my father was a sailor. He told me about things like that.” Later talking to Hoss, he had to let him know how he almost made a mess of things.
“You be careful. I promised Pa I’d watch out for ya. Your disguise is working well enough, but you can’t give away too much or he might guess who you are. We’re awful close to bringing him down completely.”
“After what he did, I find it hard to be that close to him, but if we want to pull the claws from this animal, I have to stick it out. Only a little more time and we’ll have him.”
Hoss nodded and went back to his guard duties as his brother went back to Redmond. That next day as they waited on the ship for the next high tide and for the ship to be properly provisioned, Redmond informed each of his lieutenants where to find one of his stashes of cash. At their next port, they would disembark and get a place for Redmond to hide as the other two took turns retrieving the cash that would be used to defeat his opponents and get revenge on those who had dared to thwart his plans. At least that was what Redmond envisioned. It didn’t work out quite as he planned. After the first man left, the second man pulled a gun and aimed it at his head. Cold dark eyes stared at him with no sign of any emotion.
“Now it’s time for you to face justice.”
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Now that I know where the money is, or at least a good portion of it, there’s no reason to let you keep any freedom. You are going to the authorities and then to prison. Sometimes I would like to think about all the things that will happen to you in prison when all those men you have wronged get a chance to get even with you. It’s the only thing that stops me from blowing your brains out right now. But that would be the easy way out for you.”
Walking behind the desk that he had appropriated in the rented home, Redmond kept his eyes on his man. “What have I ever done to you to make you such an ungrateful rat? And what makes you think that my men outside are going to let you walk away from here if you hurt me or try to take me anywhere?”
The voice was cold and confident. “That big man out there is my brother. One of the other men, the one with the mustache, is my cousin. The others are federal agents. The only men left working for you are men who want to see you in prison or hanging on a gallows.”
“What about Findley? Surely he isn’t one of yours.”
“No, and he’s already under arrest by now.”
For the first time, Redmond began to look unsure of himself. When the door opened and his opponent was slightly distracted, he lunged for a desk drawer and the gun inside of it. There were soon three pistols pointed at him. A coward who didn’t want to die, he couldn’t face humiliation and what faced him in prison either. He tried to aim at the three men, and a single shot dropped him. Holding a hand to his belly, he looked up at the three. Sobbing, he cried out.
“I still don’t know who you are and what you are doing.”
Hoss looked down at him and the wound he had in his abdomen. He looked at Joe. “He’s gut shot. It looks bad. My guess is he won’t live, but he’ll take a long time dying.”
“Now that is poetic justice.”
“Maybe Adam would appreciate it. It shur evens up the scales, don’t it?”
Even in his terrible condition, Redmond got it. He looked at the three men and the way they looked at him and he knew. “You’re those Cartwrights, aren’t you?”
“Yes, and you had our brother murdered. Now it looks like you get to suffer the same fate only no one will mourn your passing. Enjoy your time in hell.”
“Joe, I say we put him in a wagon and haul him back to the city to hand over to the authorities.”
“I need a doctor.” Redmond was whining as he began to realize he was dying but that it would be a long and painful process.
“You picked this town. There’s no doctor here.”
After Will headed back to his home, Hoss and Joe stayed in San Francisco until they got word that Redmond had died. They had given statements as had Will, but the federal agents handled most of what needed to be done. Trials continued and more people went to prison. With heavy hearts, the two brothers returned to the Ponderosa. They had stood over Adam’s grave on Martha Lewis’ ranch and sworn to get justice for him. From that point on, Joe took charge devising a plan to work undercover, enlisting Will to help, and contacting the federal authorities to tell them what he was doing. He didn’t give the federal authorities much choice.
Now that the plan was complete, they sent a telegram to their father as soon as they could so he wouldn’t worry any more. When they arrived at home, it was to a quiet house. About a week later, they got a letter from Martha Lewis who had written down all the things Adam had said to her before he passed. She hadn’t wanted to write until she knew Redmond was no longer a threat.
Dear Cartwright family
Adam talked often or as much as he could. It is with sadness that I tell you that he was conscious much of the time and therefore suffered, but that meant too that he was able to talk to me and let me write down some of his thoughts as he knew his time was near.
“Please let Joe know he can have all my books. Maybe he’ll finally find something worth reading instead of those dime novels.
“I want Hoss to have all my drawing tools and I hope he finds a good use for them. He might find that desk in my room will fit well in his as he doesn’t have one.
“I want my father to take my mother’s music box and keep it until Hoss or Joe gives you a granddaughter and then give it to her when she’s old enough to appreciate it.
“My investments are extensive. Please use them to give the ranch a good fund for a rainy day and to fund any improvements that my brothers wish to do.
“Know that I love you, and if I get to heaven before you, I’ll save you all a place. I’ll put in a good word for any of you who need it.”
Just an aside here. He smiled when he said that last part and said you all would know who he meant. He never lost that smile of his even when he was hurting so bad. I think he knew when I found him that he didn’t likely have much of a chance, but he never gave up hope until there was none. Then he accepted his fate with grace and dignity. He passed quietly at the end having grown very weak with all that had happened. He said he was sorry he never got to go back home, but he said he knew you would understand he would have been there if he could.
I picked out a final resting place for him out by my peach trees. I know Hoss and Joe saw it, but I wanted to tell you a little more about it. He talked about how he wished he had been able to go to sea to travel to see the world. Well, from that spot on a clear day, you can see the ocean in the distance. My brother went off to sea. He writes me letters now and then. When I get one, I go sit there and read it to Adam so he can hear about the travels my brother has. I think it’s a quiet, peaceful place for him. It seemed he was looking for a place where he could find peace.
May God bless and keep you,
And Ben cried because he had lost his first-born son, but he also knew Adam had forgiven him everything. Hoss put a hand on one of his shoulders and Joe put a hand on the other. Ben knew too that Adam lived on in his two younger brothers who had finished their older brother’s battle for truth and justice.
Many years later, when Hoss and Joe had sons and daughters, they brought out a book they made that was only for the Cartwright children. They promised Jamie copies when he had children of his own making the young man blush. Joe had learned quite a lot about writing by reading all those books Adam had left to him. He had started writing after reading the Jules Verne book that Adam had left behind about sailing under the ocean. It got his imagination fired up. After he read a book about King Arthur, he got an idea of how to portray his oldest brother in a book. Unable to draw though, he turned to Hoss for the illustrations. Hoss carved some woodblocks for printing using images from some of Adam’s artwork. Together they had collaborated on the book’s story. Now the book was ready for its intended audience.
When all the family had gotten settled and ready to listen, Joe opened the book and began reading the story of the Black Knight who fought for right and justice. The book had pictures of the Black Knight on a sorrel horse with four white socks. Whenever a picture appeared, joe turned the book for all to see the illustration. At the end of the story, Ben’s eyes were glistening and the children were clamoring for a sequel.
“Hoss, do you think we can make another one?”
“Give us another year or so, and yeah, we kin do it.”
The children were shocked to hear it would take a year, but Hoss said that perhaps their grandfather might have some stories to tell of the Black Knight as a child. Smiling, Ben said he did have stories he could tell. So the Black Knight became the guiding force of young Cartwright children who were told to have a good reason for whatever they did and to remember that truth, justice, and right should guide their lives.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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