SUMMARY: A pinecone expansion that grew exponentially, this story follows Adam on a journey where he takes action to support his convictions but ends up finding out his father was mostly correct in his assessment of the War.
rating = T word count = 16,590
A Confederacy of Dunces Series:
A Confederacy of Dunces
Sitting in his comfortable leather chair, Ben Cartwright was anything except relaxed with the latest editions of the newspaper in his hands and on his lap. The news from the east was disturbing and he had told his sons the gist of what he had read. Since the election of Lincoln, southern states had been declaring their secession from the Union and confiscating federal property within their boundaries. Of course, President Lincoln and the Congress did not recognize such actions as legitimate and were forced to take a stand. Lincoln was sending supplies to a fort in Charleston harbor. Many wondered if he would fight his way in to supply Fort Sumter. If he did, he would likely trigger a military conflict.
“Well, the South has to defend itself!”
As expected, Little Joe spoke up to argue the position of the South. Ben wasn’t at all sure his youngest son fully understood the whole history of what had led to this moment in history. It was more likely that his emotional attachment to the memory of his mother and her southern roots drove his fervent commitment. Looking at Adam, Ben wanted to tell him not to say anything but knew that wasn’t reasonable. He would have to hope that instead Adam could be more diplomatic than he tended to be with his youngest brother on this topic. He hoped to help lead him that way with his own comment.
“Perhaps our leaders when confronted with the possible lethal possibilities of a confrontation may finally realize it’s time to work out a true compromise here.”
“I wouldn’t put much faith in our leaders, Pa. The same men who have shown an abundant ability to be hypocritical, greedy, cruel, oppressive, envious, ambitious, and angry aren’t likely to suddenly develop the qualities of statesmen. As for compromise, how can you do that with freedom? No, I’m afraid it is Swift’s confederacy of dunces with no possible solution other than a military one.”
The words were hardly out of Adam’s mouth before Little Joe launched himself at his older brother and the brouhaha was on. It took Hoss and Ben to pull Joe away and end the hostilities. Ben was incensed.
“How dare you fight in this house!”
“He insulted the Confederacy!”
Wiping blood from his lip, Adam was still furious about being attacked. “I didn’t. I was careful not to insult your precious South.”
“I heard you. Don’t lie about it.”
Frowning because Joe was so sincere, Ben knew. “Adam, he didn’t understand your Swift reference. He thought you meant the Confederacy not politicians in general.”
Now Little Joe was confused. “What?”
“Jonathan Swift didn’t think much of political leaders and made many critical comments about them. I was using one of his comments and applying it to the leaders we have now who have made such a colossal mess of things.”
“Oh, sorry. I guess I agree with you on that one. Kind of funny to think of politicians in dunce hats.”
There were so many exchanges about the War like that one. After a time, Ben couldn’t distinguish one from another. There was one thing that did start to stand out for him though. His youngest son although he spoke up for the South, never spoke of fighting for them. His wish was that the War had never occurred and wished for it to be over soon. As the War dragged on, he mentioned on a number of occasions that he hoped his beloved New Orleans could survive without significant damage because he would like to visit there when the fighting was over.
However, Adam talked of how men had a duty to fight against injustice. Of course, the greatest injustice in the history of the country was what was done to people who were not white. Ben counseled that he could do more to help the Indians than he could to help to free the slaves. He told him that the War was going to leave hundreds of thousands of broken men and many more broken families with loved ones who would never come home. Yet to Adam, it was a moral issue. The family was at least reassured when Adam never actually said he was going or wanted to go join the Union Army. So he had them all fooled when he said he wanted to follow his dreams, to travel, to see the world on a sailing vessel as his father did, to find fulfillment by building buildings to leave a mark on the world. Yes, he did want all those things, but first he wanted to fulfill a higher moral purpose that he couldn’t do by building fences or chasing cattle around pastures. He headed east to sign up in the Union Army to fight for the republic and against slavery.
As an older man, when he showed up to serve, he got many questions. However, after he showed his skill with a horse and they found he had attended college, he had a commission and a position quickly. The Army of the Potomac was woefully short on men who could ride well and handle horses. Unfortunately, Adam did not have experience so he sought out some noncommissioned officers to brief him on what he should know. That effort surprised other officers who thought he didn’t know how an officer was supposed to act but immediately earned him respect among the lower ranks. He didn’t have much in the way of training or a chance to learn before he got his orders for his first campaign. General Meade was leading the Army of the Potomac across the Rapidan River to advance on Lee’s headquarters at Richmond. Apparently General Grant meant to take the fight directly to the Army of Northern Virginia. After meeting with the officers and getting the orders, Adam went to his lieutenants, sergeants, and corporals to organize their departure.
“Sir, I gotta say, I don’t like this.”
“Speak freely, sergeant. You know you can talk to me.”
“When I was younger, I traveled some, and I’ve seen the country down here. I remember it, and unless a miracle has happened, we’re going to travel through some rough country.”
“But this is Virginia. Isn’t it settled?”
“Mostly, but you’d likely be surprised to find how much wilderness is left. Folks used to call some of where we’re going just that. Probably they still do. We’re not gonna be able to keep in close order. You won’t likely be able to see one end of the company from the other.”
“That sets us up for ambush and sniper attack.”
Relieved that Adam understood that but surprised too, Sergeant Miller must have let it show. Adam had to smile despite the sober conversation.
“Sergeant, I may not have experience in large formation battle, but I have fought in battle in the west against various small groups. Small scale tactics are familiar to me.”
It was reassuring to know too that Adam had been under fire before. It wasn’t unusual for new officers to bolt in their first battle especially when long-range sharpshooters preferred officers as their targets. He had hesitated to tell Adam that not wanting to make him skittish but decided he needed to know mostly because of the terrain they would be crossing and the likelihood of such snipers.
“This keeps getting better and better.”
Sleep that night was slow to arrive. As Adam lay on his cot, he reconsidered his plan. He had written a dozen letters and left them with a friend who had been leaving on a world tour. The letters were to be mailed to the Ponderosa from various places to give his family the impression that he was fulfilling his dreams of travel. Even his father who had probably suspected an ulterior motive in Adam leaving so suddenly should be fooled by his subterfuge. If he died in the War, they would not know nor have to suffer any pain from his decision. If he lived, he could go ahead and do what those letters said he was doing. Despite the callousness of it all, he still thought it the best way of handling what he was doing.
In the morning, he drank some bitter coffee and ate a hot breakfast, which he guessed might be his last for a while if his sergeant’s description of the area was correct. His lieutenants joined him and none of them talked as they watched the men pack to go leaving behind their playing cards, dice, and other items they didn’t want shipped home with their personal effects if they should be killed. Many exchanged letters with others that would be sent by friends should they be killed and unable to post their last letter. Those letters would never be sent if the soldiers lived but returned to their owners. All of those things were packed away only to be retrieved when and if they returned from battle. One of the lieutenants asked Adam if there was anything he wanted sent home. Adam knew what he meant.
“No, I’ve made arrangements already, thank you.”
With the organization Adam had put in place, the packing and preparation for departure was orderly and they were ready to go early. When the command to move out came down, his company was the first to head out. It got attention and earned them the lead for several days. They were one of the first to cross the Rapidan and then were the first unit to come under brutal fire from Confederate forces hidden in the dense growth of trees. Adam saw a third of his men cut down in the first volleys and took a grazing wound in his thigh. He kept in the lead of his company despite that injury doing his best to rally them.
“Use the trees. Get behind a tree and use it for cover.”
Unfortunately for Adam, giving such orders and rallying the troops didn’t allow him to follow his own advice. Another minie ball hit his left side nearly unseating him even though it wasn’t a direct hit. Unable to neither raise his left arm nor use it effectively because of that injury, he used his right to guide his horse because his right leg was similarly useless. When the call to retreat came that first day, he nearly made it back except a shot caught him in the lower back above his pelvis. Weakened by blood loss and in pain from the two previous wounds, he lost his seat and rolled down an embankment to the edge of a stream that fed the river. In shock from the last shot, he lost consciousness. When he woke much later, the pain was enough to immobilize him and the cold water had numbed his feet too. At least he assumed it was the cool water.
When dawn came, he heard men walking near him and talking. From what he could hear, they thought he was dead and left him where he lay. With no desire to end up in a Confederate prisoner of war camp, he lay as still as he could to reinforce their opinion of his condition. As the fog thickened that morning, he tried to move and found it nearly impossible to do except to fall further into the stream and the mud at the edge of it. Knowing he was making his situation worse, he stopped trying and concentrated on keeping his head above water. Finally, on his back and staring into the murky air above him unable to see anything, he had time to reflect on the decisions he had made.
“Pa, I really messed up this time. I wanted to help, and all I managed to do was get myself into a terrible mess. If I die here, the only thing on my grave will that a Union captain died here or perhaps only that I am dead.”
Guilt weighed heavily on him. Anyone who knew him knew he had that characteristic of taking blame for terrible events as if he could make the march of history go in another direction solely by his efforts. In this case, his logic was that his diligence with his new command had been the direct cause of his men being the first in the sights of those Confederate rifles and their deadly minie balls. Had he not made so many changes in the company procedures to introduce efficiency, his company would have had no more chance of being first than any other company. The factor of an inexperienced officer in charge might even have put them to the rear. Therefore, he held himself directly responsible for the deaths of those men he had seen fall in battle before he too was felled by those sharpshooters. There was limited time though for introspection and assignment of guilt.
The sounds of battle reached him about noon. It seemed the two forces were quite a distance away with the Union side probably looking for an alternate route to try to get by the Confederate forces. While Adam was still conscious and aware, fire broke out in The Wilderness. As the smoke got thicker and flames began to approach, Adam wondered if there would even be a body to find. He pushed himself further into the water and mud and hoped it would be enough. He spent two more days trying to survive until he was so exhausted that he could no longer remain awake. Saying prayers and hoping for a rescue was all he had left. Remembering the line he had used in describing those who had caused this war, he added his name to the list of dunces. Then, closing his eyes, he surrendered his fate to the other dunces.
First troops from various Confederate commands had come through taking provisions and making themselves at home on the property. Now Doctor Benjamin Dillard and Georgia Rae had Union soldiers doing the same. However, after that first unit foraged by taking their horses and their supply of hams and canned peaches, they had learned to hide most of what they had keeping out only a small portion. They couldn’t hide horses so they had none any more. Georgia Rae and her father were in a small skiff coming back from where they hid provisions and where they had been hiding since the battle had begun near their home. They had fled when troops approached. After three days, the Union forces withdrew so they had packed up to go home hoping they still had a home and that the Union troops had not burned it to the ground in an act of revenge before retreating. As they turned to paddle up a small stream that would take them to their property, Georgia Rae spotted a man at the water’s edge left behind by his comrades.
“Father, a man is in the water there.”
“It’s a body or they would have taken him with them.”
“No, look, he has color. He’s not gray.”
“He’ll be gray soon. We can’t get involved.”
“Father, you’re a doctor. You can’t let a wounded man die if you can help him.”
“Daughter, he looks beyond help.”
“You must be godlike then to be able to tell from this distance and through the mud that covers him.” Georgia sat with a pout in the front of the skiff.
Doctor Benjamin Dillard looked at his daughter and shook his head. She was so much like her mother. Almost none would ever guess that her mother was ‘yaller’ by southern standards. She had been his housekeeper to all outsiders. Inside the walls of his home, she was his common law wife and lover. They could never let anyone know, and when she bore a child, some frowned upon it, but she wasn’t the only colored woman who bore a white man’s child. It was the sort of thing that was not talked about. Most often, it was the result of rape, but in a few cases as with him and Beulah, it had been love. When she died from the rigors of childbirth, the light went out of his life, but he still had Georgia Rae. Again to outsiders, she was his ward, but the two of them knew he was her father. They talked sometimes of what the future would bring for her. Benjamin suggested that perhaps they should go west or to Canada where no one would know her parentage. It was a topic of many conversations but no conclusions had been reached before the War made any such conversation an exercise only. Now they had a practical issue to argue, and again, as usual, Georgia Rae won.
“If we get him into the skiff, we can walk beside it and push him up the stream to our property. The water isn’t that cold.”
“Georgia Rae, you are going to be the death of me yet.”
“Father, it’s May. The water is fine.”
Grumbling nearly all the time, Benjamin helped Georgia lift the wounded man into the skiff and get him to their property. Getting him to their house, undressed, bathed, and onto a table for surgery was far more taxing than Georgia had anticipated. Her father was at least satisfied to see her exhaustion when Adam finally was on his examining table and ready for surgery. However, he was also terribly worried about the man with three bullet wounds.
“Daughter of mine, I’m going to need your help. The wound in his leg simply needs to be cleaned and dressed. I have to stitch the one in his side. It’s the one in his back that worries me. The bullet is still in there.”
“You’ll have to take it out then, right?”
“I think I can take out most of it.”
“Most of it?”
“It’s flattened out and split. I can get most of it, but some of it is pressing on the vertebrae. I don’t want to operate too closely to that. I’m not good enough a surgeon to do that. If I didn’t kill him outright, I most assuredly would paralyze him.”
“What will happen if you leave some of the bullet in there?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he’ll be in a lot of pain. Maybe he’ll have some paralysis. Maybe there’ll be nothing worrisome. We have to see if he wakes up, and then we will know because I don’t have the skill to clean up the damage from what I could see of that wound already.”
“Let’s do what we can then, and later he can go to another doctor to get the rest of what he needs done.”
“There’s not another doctor around here who could do the surgery he needs.”
“Well, we can save his life at least, can’t we?”
“I think so, but he may not be happy we did so. He looks to be a man who was in command not only of other men but in command of his life too. He may find he will have to rely on others, and that might not sit well with him.”
“Or he might not. He deserves the chance, doesn’t he?”
“Girl, sometimes I wonder which of us took that Hippocratic oath.” Benjamin paused only for a moment to collect his thoughts. “Now we get to work. He was easy to work with other than being a heavy load for the two of us because we weren’t doing anything too painful that would bring him out of the stupor he’s in. When we start poking at those wounds, it will be another matter. He may react to that pain, and even as weak as he may be, that could be a strong reaction.”
With Georgia cleaning the wound in Adam’s thigh, there was little reaction from him. Benjamin noted that and wondered at the cause. Handing a carbolic acid solution to his daughter to irrigate the wound, he watched for a minute and saw no reaction from Adam when she poured the liquid into the torn flesh. He had expected some pain reaction even from a patient as weak and unresponsive as Adam had been. It was a bad sign as far as a prognosis for his patient.
When Benjamin began to probe the wound in Adam’s side, he got a strong reaction although clearly his patient was too weak to fight back much. He used some cloths to tie Adam’s arms securely to the table on each side. Then he was able to clean the wound in his side and stitch it closed. By then Georgia had finished with the wound in his thigh and had bandaged it wrapping a soft wrap around Adam’s leg to hold the bandage in place.
“Now the difficult one. I’ll untie his arms, and we need to turn him over. I’ll see what can be done about that bullet in his back.”
“Is all this moving hurting him?”
“Possibly or even probably, but we don’t have a choice. We didn’t have any strong men to put him on a stretcher to bring him here nor do we have any men to carefully lift and turn him now.”
The wound in the back was every bit as awful as Benjamin had thought. The flesh was puffy and red around the open wound that was relatively shallow. He guessed that the bullet might have grazed the pelvic bone. Otherwise it would likely have made a larger hole and killed the man outright. Shot from a distance and hitting bone first, it had lost some velocity but had still done considerable damage. Because Adam had been lying on his back, his thick wool uniform had pressed on the wound preventing mud and water from infiltrating the tissue. That was the only good news. Working patiently, Benjamin probed gently and removed as much of the bullet as he thought he could without doing further damage. He guessed that he had about three fourths of the lead out by the time he was done. He guessed it was probably one of the smaller rounds at about one ounce. It was still a formidable amount of lead to hit a man, and Benjamin considered that this one was extraordinarily lucky to have survived being wounded three times. However the lack of response to pain in his thigh was a bad sign for his future physical abilities.
For three days, concern about whether their patient would be partially paralyzed was not much of a concern when fever struck him and made all other considerations moot. All they could do was to try to keep him cool and try to get him to drink. There was a strange interlude that made that easier after one day though. Their local minister visited having heard they were sheltering a soldier. He was concerned about the risk they were taking.
“Reverend, if anyone thinks we’re sheltering a soldier, they’re welcome to look at the man. You should come in to see him yourself. Perhaps a few of your prayers could do him more good now than anything I’ve done.”
In such situations, Georgia Rae knew to stay in the background and remain deferential. She kept her eyes down and was as properly polite as anyone of her social station was expected to be. The minister hardly paid any attention to her. That was a welcome relief because many men who came to the house stared at her in open desire seeing her physical attributes no matter how much she tried to hide them with modest clothing.
When the minister got to the surgery room where Adam still rested on a cot, he clearly understood why the doctor could not turn the Union soldier away. Adam was obviously gravely wounded.
“Benjamin, will he die?”
“I don’t know.” Benjamin took Adam’s hand then to check his pulse and temperature.
“We’re doing what we can to save his life. I don’t know what will happen to the man.”
“Benjamin, I will assure anyone in town who asks that you are only doing the Christian thing in trying to save a life. I can see you are not harboring a soldier but doing your sworn duty as a doctor.”
“Did he say something?”
“I think he called me ‘Pa’ or something like it. It’s the first he’s said anything. Of course, he’s out of his head with fever. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.”
Except Adam did think he knew. The white haired man with the gentle touch named Benjamin was his father as far as he could tell in his fevered state. He did what he could to cooperate with the man when he came to give him something to drink even though the pain of trying to lift his head was enormous. But for this man, he would do anything he could so he did it. Doing that is what probably saved his life for the fluids allowed his body to fight off the infection enough to defeat the fever. On the third day after the surgery, Benjamin thought he detected a slight decrease in the fever. Certainly his patient seemed less agitated and he hoped that was a good sign and not an omen of the end drawing near. By the next morning, it was clear that the fever had broken and his patient was recovering from that at least. The wounds looked less red and puffy when he and Georgia changed the bandages. For the first time, Adam opened his eyes too with some recognition of his circumstances.
“Where am I?”
Before Benjamin could answer, there was the sound of horses outside and a loud knocking on the door and then entry by men in boots. Benjamin barely had time to stand before soldiers were in the room and escorted him and Georgia outside. There the soldiers presented them almost as prisoners to the officer who appeared to be in charge.
“They’ve got one of ours inside sir. They’ve got him tied to a bed.”
“If you send in a doctor, you will see he is only tied for his own safety. The man is gravely wounded and any fall or too much movement could be devastating to him.”
The officer turned and had another officer see to it. Soon he was outside with the doctor’s report. “Doctor says the man is telling the truth. He’s one of our officers but he is badly wounded. Seems they took good care of him though.”
“I’m a doctor. It’s what I do.”
The officer in charge looked down at him. “Do you take care of the Rebel wounded too?”
“I haven’t made a habit of it, no, but if a wounded man came here, I would not turn him away.”
“You’re honest, anyway. Do you know the man’s name?”
“There was a paper in his pocket but it was impossible to read. He’s got captain’s bars though. He’s been here three days and it was only just before you arrived that he regained his senses. We hadn’t had time to ask him any questions.”
The Union doctor emerged from the house then. “It’s a Captain Adam Cartwright, sir. One of the men recognized him. He is gravely wounded. Moving him would likely kill him as we are heading through some rough terrain. We could send word for a hospital wagon to come pick him up later.”
“Sir, he could stay here until he’s more fit for travel. He still has part of a bullet in his back that I could not remove.”
“They’ve taken good care of him so far. I see no reason not to let them continue.”
“Very well. Find one of my clerks and have him write out an order giving this farm protection from foraging. Give a copy to the good doctor. They are to be given due consideration for medical supplies as needed.” Turning to Benjamin, the officer asked if he needed anything to care for his patient.
“I’ve used up the morphine I had on hand.”
“The doctor will see that you have supplies of anything you need. And doctor, if any more of our soldiers need care, you will care for them. Is that understood?”
The implied threat was there, and Benjamin understood. He and Georgia now had the protection of the Union Army, but it would be swiftly withdrawn if they made a false step.
“Understood, and thank you.”
A short time later, the column of cavalry had left. Georgia turned to her father.
“Why did you agree to everything he said?”
“Survival, my dear. I think you know all about that already. Now let’s go see how our Adam is doing.”
When they got inside, Adam was sleeping. They busied themselves putting away their supplies and relishing the relief of knowing the Union Army at least would not be pillaging their farm again. From the looks of what had been happening, the Confederates wouldn’t do it again either. It was unlikely they would ever be this far north again. For Benjamin and Georgia, the War was over. They looked down at the man they had rescued and knew that for him, the struggle was going to continue for a long time.
*Note: In the South, high yellow, yellow, yaller, or yeller, was a term used to describe persons classified by birth as black but who had a high percentage of white ancestry and were light-skinned and often as light as most whites. It was because of the one-drop rule. Any black ancestry made one black. Someone could be one-eighth or one-sixteenth black, but his or her legal status was black. The term ‘passing’ was used when light-skinned ‘blacks’ chose to live as whites by moving someplace where no one knew of that black ancestor.
When Adam awoke again, it was dark. He thought back to what he could remember and none of it made sense to him. Recalling that he was in the Union Army and had been in a battle and wounded, he didn’t understand how his father had been there to care for him. Somehow, he knew something was confused in his mind but didn’t know what it was. He was in a house somewhere and not an Army hospital nor any kind of official place nor was he at home. The pain when he tried to even lift his head told him that the part about being wounded was correct but that was the only memory that seemed to be accurate. He couldn’t be sure about any of the others. He tried to raise his arms and groaned realizing they were tied which told him he must be a prisoner. The fear he had when he had fallen from his horse had been that he would end up in a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp and now it appeared that was where he was headed. There had been stories of what happened in those camps. As a wounded man, he guessed he wouldn’t last long. The door opened and he expected to see a soldier, but a beautiful young woman was there instead. Even with her hair tousled from sleep and dressed in an old tattered robe, he appreciated the special sight as she walked in carrying a small lamp.
“You must be an angel sent from above. I certainly never expected to see such a vision this night.”
“Ah, my father has told me of Irish poets and lecherous men. Which of those are you?”
He smiled and the dimple melted her heart. The grin was so genuine and open, she knew this man’s heart even if she knew nothing more about him.
“Perhaps a little of both, but mostly, I think I’m in a dream.”
“Yes, none of this can be real. I must be dreaming.”
“Why do you think it a dream?”
“I’m wounded and remember that, and I’m tied so I must be a prisoner, but no jailer could look like you. I must be hallucinating.”
“It’s no hallucination, and you shouldn’t be wasting your strength jabbering away like a jaybird. Georgia, get him some broth, please.” Benjamin had come in the room after hearing voices. He lit the lamp next to Adam’s bed and untied the cloth cords tying Adam to the bed. “I assume you’re aware enough now of the pain to know you shouldn’t move much and especially not to try to get out of this bed though it may be uncomfortable for you.”
Not having noticed the hard bed before, Adam did note it then wondering why it was so. His look communicated as much.
“I didn’t want to move you and risk hurting you more after surgery. You’re still on the table where I do my surgery. We’ve added pillows for your head and put padding under your legs. It was about all we could do for you.”
“I thought my father was here.”
“You called me ‘Pa’ when you were out of your head with the fever. You did do as I asked once you thought that was who I was so I didn’t argue with you about it.”
Seeing the man’s nearly white hair and bushy dark eyebrows, Adam knew that he had mistaken him for his father. When Georgia returned with the broth and called him Benjamin, it all made more sense.
“My father’s name is Benjamin too.”
“Ah, that probably explains your confusion then. You heard the name and assumed it was your father. Many a wounded man has called out for his mother. I guess you preferred your father.”
“I never knew my mother. She died when I was born.”
“You too. Georgia’s mother suffered the same fate.”
Adam noted the sad look Benjamin had then and how he looked so forlornly at Georgia when he said it. Georgia looked quite a bit like Benjamin too so he had to ask.
“Is Georgia your daughter?”
“Now why would you ask a fool question like that?”
Benjamin snapped so harshly at the innocent question that Adam was shocked. He knew there had to be much more to that story but chose not to say anything in response. He did what he did so well and masked any reaction as if there had not been an angry retort. Seeing Georgia do the same, he was convinced she was Benjamin’s daughter and wondered why he wouldn’t simply acknowledge what was so clearly true. The topic didn’t come up again for a month. Benjamin ended the awkward silence with some introductions.
“I’m Doctor Benjamin Dillard. This is Georgia Rae.”
“I’m Captain Adam Cartwright.”
“Your soldiers were here and told us your name. They gave us permission to treat you and keep you here because of your serious wounds.”
Georgia launched into a brief account of how he had been found and brought to the Dillard home. Benjamin told him about his care but avoided specifics in talking about Adam’s injuries and the surgeries he had endured. That settled some of the questions Adam had, but there was a more significant issue that dominated his thoughts by the next day and for the weeks that followed.
That became apparent by the next morning when Adam awakened and was more aware of his situation. He had slept well after hearing what had happened to him. As he took inventory of himself, he knew he couldn’t feel much in his legs although he could move them slightly. He could move his toes too. Every single movement though was at great price causing pain in his lower back that felt as if someone were stabbing him. He got too ambitious at one point trying to see if he could lift his leg and screamed as the pain was suddenly overwhelming. The shock of it was more than he could have imagined. Benjamin and Georgia rushed into the surgery expecting some horrible calamity had befallen him and found him gripping the side of the table, clenching his teeth, and moaning.
Unable to speak for several minutes, Adam made them wait in anxious silence. Finally he moaned his answer.
“Tried to move my leg.”
Benjamin grimaced for it was what he had feared. The bullet was too close to the spine and likely swelling and perhaps damage were interfering with Adam’s ability to move. There was nothing to be done. He knew Adam would ask and he did.
“What’s wrong with me?”
“The bullet that hit your back ended up near your spine. Some of it is still there.”
“Take it out.”
“I can’t, and I don’t know of a doctor who could without costing you a great deal.”
“A great deal?”
“Your ability to walk and to feel anything below the waist and to feel anything there if you know what I mean. You will have much pain this way, but you already know you can move your legs. It means you will probably be able to walk although perhaps you will need a cane or crutches to assist you. You will be able most likely to control your bodily functions. If anyone tries to remove that bullet and does any more damage, you will likely lose those abilities.”
“So pain is the price I’ll pay for function.”
“There is morphine. It will help you get through the day, and in time, the pain will be less.”
“But it won’t go away.”
“I don’t see how that will be possible as long as that bullet remains where it is. Healing will help, but scar tissue will possibly grow around it and cause more pressure.”
“Not a pleasant future that you’re describing.”
“You have your hands and your eyes are good. Your mind is still sharp. Many in this War have been left with far less. You can go home to your family and still be a productive member of the community.”
“My family has a ranch and does timber and mining operations.”
There was nothing to say to that. Benjamin wasn’t going to spout some empty platitudes. Adam knew what his future held as well as anyone. For two weeks, they developed a routine that allowed them to get things done more efficiently. Adam tried to be a better patient than he had ever been, but depression was his constant companion. He fought it as well as he could, but knowing he would have to leave this safe haven at some point and venture into the world alone and with severe handicaps was a more daunting prospect than any he had faced in his life. Georgia asked him why he didn’t call on his family for help.
“There are several reasons. One is that I wasn’t honest with them when I left. They don’t know that I came to fight in the War. I didn’t want them to worry, or that was my excuse for my dishonesty. Actually, I think I may have been trying to make it easier on myself so I didn’t have to try to explain it, justify it, and make them understand.”
“You felt you had a duty to end slavery.”
Frowning, Adam stared at her wondering how she could know and state it so succinctly. She smiled.
“I understand it all better than you could ever know.”
“You often say things like that. What am I missing?”
“Benjamin wouldn’t want me to tell you.”
“It would be dangerous for me and for him for anyone to find out.”
The mystery of it was getting more curious for Adam who wanted to know the answers. The more he thought about it though, the more he began to wonder if he knew the answer. If it was the answer, he guessed he should keep it to himself if secrecy was that important to them.
“Besides the fact that you lied which you could ask them to forgive you for, why won’t you ask your family for help? Everything you’ve said about them says that they are a forgiving and loving kind of family.”
“People in the west are expected to pull their weight, do their part. What could I do? A morphine-addicted pain-riddled half-a-man is not much use on a ranch or working in timber operations or in a mine.”
“Well, if that is all you think of yourself, then perhaps you shouldn’t contact them. You need to get a better idea of what a man is before you go asking them what you can do on that ranch.”
When Georgia said that, Adam was angry, but later as he thought about it, he realized she was correct. He had to think about what he could do and not think about what he couldn’t do. He knew though that he wasn’t going back to Nevada. There simply wasn’t anything he could see himself doing on the Ponderosa. He didn’t want to tell his family what a mess he had made of things either. When he was being most honest with himself, he had to admit that he didn’t want to see the pity in their eyes when they looked at him struggling to walk and grimacing in pain frequently because no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t help himself.
Gradually, Adam managed to struggle around the house and to get to the table for meals. At that point, all of them knew it was getting close to the time when they would have to find a way to send him back north to whatever fate awaited him there. The best he could hope for was that the War Department might have something he could do even with his disability. Otherwise, they would muster him out as they had with so many others. He would qualify for a pension, but it wouldn’t be much even with a captain’s rank. Although it would pay basic expenses, he would not have much of a life trying to live on that alone and payments were seldom regular and might take a year or more to process by the latest information anyone could get. Adam knew that from the scuttlebutt in camp.
A lot changed for all of them when a Union patrol brought another severely wounded officer to the Dillard home hoping Benjamin could save him.
After examining the wounded officer, Benjamin had little hope to offer. The bullet was deep and would require strong and steady hands. Never one with strong surgical skills, age and arthritis had taken a toll too. He addressed the young officer who had been there with the original patrol that knew he had saved Captain Cartwright.
“Sir, I’m a country doctor, and what this man needs is a skilled surgeon.”
“Doc, we’re a long way from any major unit. We got sent out scouting and ran into some Rebs trying to sneak through our lines. They put up a heck of a fight. If we hafta take him all the way back, it’s a death sentence. We know you might not be able to get that bullet out and save him, but you’re the only chance he’s got.”
“I’ll try then. Is there anyone among you who has assisted in any surgery, ever removed a bullet, or done anything like that?”
When no one answered, Adam did.
“I took out a bullet once. It was ugly but I managed.”
“At least I know you’re not squeamish. You can help. I’m going to need whatever help I can get. Georgia, get the man a stool so he can sit at the table across from me. You men, help get his clothing from him. We need to clean him up as much as we can and then drape clean sheets around him.”
Once the man was prepared for the surgery, Benjamin told Adam to sit across from him and lean forward to take the pressure off his back. Adam found that it was much less painful to sit that way and he could see well too. As Benjamin opened the wound further, he explained to Adam what he was doing with each step and had him help by placing wads of padding to keep the bleeding from obscuring his work.
“Now the hard part. I can’t see the bullet, and I have to probe for it. Listen carefully. If you hear metal on metal, that’s the bullet and then I can put in a forceps and pull it out.”
“Won’t that do more damage? I mean putting a metal probe in there.”
“It could. That’s what worries me the most. Now the lung is there to the right and the liver is down there on the left. In between is the diaphragm. Somehow that bullet missed his ribs and lodged in that tissue in there somewhere. I don’t see any dark blood oozing out so I don’t think it nicked the liver. He’s having a tough time breathing so there’s probably some damage to the diaphragm, but not the lungs, I hope.”
“How deep do you think it is?”
“Perhaps four inches, maybe only three.”
“Why don’t you probe with your fingers? There would be less chance of damaging anything, wouldn’t there?”
“Maybe with your fingers, but I can’t feel that well with mine. They’re not long enough anyway.”
Georgia was assisting as a nurse handing instruments to Benjamin and pads of cloth to Adam. She simply addressed her father by name as a question. He looked at her as she inclined her head toward Adam.
“I could hold up the model and you could tell him what to do.”
Pausing for a long minute, Benjamin nodded. “It might work.”
Busy keeping the blood flow staunched, Adam had not seen the exchange but only heard the words.
“You’re going to probe for the bullet with your fingers and I’m going to tell you what to do.”
“I’m not a doctor.”
“No, but you’re exactly what this man needs at this moment. Now look at the model Georgia is holding. Where she is pointing is where the bullet went in. Push your finger in there and feel for the liver. Come on now, man, we don’t have all day for you to decide.” Adam did as he was told. “There now, move your finger up until you feel resistance. Then back down and move over a half inch and then up again.”
On the third try, Adam felt a hard lump. “I feel the bullet, I think.”
“If it’s a hard item, that’s what it is. There is no damage to a rib, so the only thing left is the bullet. Now ease a second finger down next to that first one and try to squeeze that bullet between them. Go slow now. It will be slippery. You don’t want to lose it now and make it go somewhere else and have to search for it again.”
Georgia moved in to wipe the sweat from Adam’s face especially by his eyes as Benjamin told him to pause. Then he began to pull again and after a long patient effort, he pulled the bullet free. Blood still poured from the wound but as Benjamin watched, none of it was bright red and none was dark red.
“The liver is fine and no major blood vessel is damaged. He may live yet. All right, now I’ll do the rest.”
The officer lived. Over the next few months, many other soldiers from both sides were brought to the Dillard home as news of the successful surgeries spread. Benjamin was the surgeon of record, but in most surgeries, he did the preliminary work and the closing guiding Adam in the intricate work. Adam’s skill level grew rapidly with all the work and instruction he was getting. Eventually word of his work got to the medical command that arrived to question what he was doing.
“Doctor Dillard, he’s not a doctor.”
“No, he isn’t. He doesn’t pretend to be one either. He doesn’t treat the patients, doesn’t tend to them, doesn’t diagnose nor dispense medicine. He’s a surgeon and one of the best I have ever seen in my life. He has the mind of an architect and an engineer of the human body with hands that are skilled and steady. He may choose at some point to study medicine, but at this point, he is a surgeon.”
“This is highly irregular.”
“In the next surgery, I want you to observe. Then tell me if you want him to stop operating on the men brought here to what amounts to a field hospital. We have perhaps the best record anywhere of saving lives of men wounded on the battlefield. Hospital trains deliver men here on a regular basis who need surgery. I know you know that. Observe him in surgery and see why.”
“It’s why we’re here.”
After that observation, Captain Cartwright was designated an Army surgeon but not a doctor and given the right to operate on men wounded in battle. It was a highly unusual move, but a significant one for Adam making him feel that at least for the duration of the War, he had purpose. That changed in April of 1865 of course with the end of the War and then Lincoln’s assassination. Once more, Adam didn’t know what would come next.
“Come with us, Adam. We’re going to move west. I have a chance to practice in St. Louis and to teach there. You could work with me and study medicine too.”
“And you can watch over me.”
“Yes, there is that. I do care about what happens to you. Do you have a better offer?”
Saying nothing because there was nothing to say, Adam thought about the situation. He guessed there was another reason for the move and thought it was about time they trusted him enough to be honest about it.
“And it will be a better place for Georgia too.”
“Yes, she will find there are other good men in the world too, and that you aren’t the only one.”
“Surely you must have noticed by now. She spends all of her time as close to you as you will let her.”
“I haven’t encouraged anything.”
“I know that. You wouldn’t be in my house if you had.”
“I’m too old for her and I’m not much of a man any more either for any woman.”
“That should be up to a woman to decide. It is more your mood and demeanor. You have given up. I want her to be happy.”
“I haven’t given up. If I had, I’d take a few extra doses of that morphine and not wake up in the morning.”
“You’ve thought about it then?”
“I’ve thought about it, but I’m no coward. I’ll play the hand that’s been dealt to me even if I don’t like it. We all have burdens that we wish we could put down, don’t we?”
Adam stared at Benjamin until the older man turned away. After a short time, Benjamin had his own question.
“You’ve guessed it then?”
“I guessed a long time ago. I’ve been wondering when you would know you could trust me enough.”
“It’s hard to trust anyone enough. My own brother cut me off when he found out. He has two sons and I haven’t seen them in years. My brother died and I didn’t even know for over a year. His two boys fought in the War. I don’t know if they survived. I sent word to their old address that the farm is theirs if they want it. If not, it will be sold for taxes in five years. They’ll have that long to claim it.”
“You could have sold it.”
“To whom? Who in Virginia has any money to buy land right now? No, best to leave it to them if they’re alive and want it. Otherwise, it’s not worth much anyway. The only real value here is that Beulah is buried here. Georgia and I will take some mementoes. It’s all we can do. In some ways, it’s harder on me than on her. She never knew her mother. I’m sure you understand. You never knew your mother either. Your father would know what I’m feeling.”
“It’s hard too to leave the little you have of a mother especially when you have nothing else.”
“I suppose I hadn’t considered that. She doesn’t have memories to take with her.” Looking back at Adam, Benjamin could see the pain as well as the sadness in those eyes. The mask wasn’t always in place if you were patient and observant. “So, are you coming with us or are you thinking you might be going home?”
“I can’t go home.”
“Then I guess you have your answer.”
It wasn’t quite that easy, but Adam did agree to go with them to St. Louis. It was going west and closer to home, but his family didn’t visit that city and had no contacts there. It was highly unlikely that any word of him being there would ever reach his family. Even if it did, a crippled surgeon with the same name would hardly make them think of the missing eldest son of the Cartwright family.
By the middle of the summer, Adam and the Dillards were established in the city. Some were taken aback to find that the surgeon recommended to them had to sit to perform surgeries and was taking morphine for pain. However his work was exemplary and the rate of survival from his surgeries far surpassed that of other surgeons even though he did many more complex cases than the usual surgeon. Some competitors argued that it was because he didn’t do any medical work other than surgery. Other more friendly sources began to think that perhaps all surgeons should consider functioning that way if it meant that success could be that much greater. Doctors visiting the city over the next few years often found that others recommended that they observe Adam in surgery at least once while they were there. Adam didn’t publish any scholarly articles or any articles for that matter leaving research and writing to other doctors. He did only hands on work and then retired to the Dillard home to study medicine and read the work others had done. Therefore, he was known only in the St. Louis area and to doctors who visited there.
Five years after the War, Doctor Paul Martin of Virginia City, Nevada was invited by a colleague to attend a conference in St. Louis. When he first heard the name, Doctor Adam Cartwright, he thought it an unusual coincidence until he walked into that surgery room to watch the skilled surgeon at work.
During the surgery, Adam didn’t talk concentrating on what he was doing inside the body of his patient. There was great deal of blood and the nurse beside him worked diligently and with great skill to keep that blood from interfering with Adam’s ability to perform the required procedures. Doctor Dillard was assisting as needed especially in providing anesthesia, and he was the one who talked to the three doctors who were there that day to observe.
“This isn’t the surgery we planned for this morning. That surgery will be later today. This poor man took a fall at a construction site and lacerated his spleen among other injuries. Doctor Cartwright is removing the spleen and tying off the blood vessels to stop the bleeding. When he finishes that, he has a couple of displaced ribs that he has to pull back into place. From what we could determine, those are the two things we can do to try to save this man’s life.”
One of the doctors next to Paul had a question. “Don’t patients usually die from a splenectomy?”
“Often that can happen, yes, but without it, this man will bleed to death. His only chance is what is being done for him now. So it’s he will definitely die or he might die. If you had the choice, which one would you take?”
There were no more questions. Paul was amazed at the quiet precision of the surgery techniques and how quickly everything was done. He guessed that the speed of the surgery probably had a lot to do with the success Adam was having with patient mortality. Even though most patients died from a splenectomy, Paul was betting this one was going to live. He could see that the man still had good color despite all that had happened, and once Adam set those ribs and wrapped him, he would be comfortable and would have a good chance of recovery. At the end of the surgery when two men came in to carry the patient off to a bed, the nurse filled a vial with what Paul assumed was morphine but instead of giving it to the patient, she injected it into Adam’s arm. That was a shock. After that, Adam sat with his head down and his elbows resting on the table while others cleaned up the room. Paul slowly approached not knowing how he would be received. Adam addressed him, as he got close.
“Can I count on your discretion in this? I’ve kept my life separate from my family for a long time. I see no reason to change that now.”
“Adam, they would be so proud of you and what you have accomplished.”
“Even after what you just saw?”
“You wouldn’t be the first doctor who fell into that trap. There are ways out of it.”
“Not for me, and I was hooked on it before I ever did anything medical.”
Georgia brought a cane then, and Adam leaned on the table and pushed himself to a standing position. Even with the dose of morphine, he grimaced and fought back a groan not wanting to show that much weakness in front of his old friend. With short shuffling steps, he began the walk to his office and gestured for Paul to follow. When he entered the office, he moved to a large padded chair and settled carefully into it surrendering the cane to Georgia. He thanked her and told her that he would visit with Paul for a time telling her she could stay or if she had things to do, she was free to go. Georgia left and Adam gestured for Paul to go as if to tell him to ask whatever he was going to ask.
“Well, that’s rather wide open, but I assume you would like to know why I’m crippled. My military career was very short. I was given a commission and a company. I was in the first day of what they now call the Battle of the Wilderness. I got shot three times. The Dillards found me and took me to their house. Benjamin fixed two wounds and dug most of a bullet out of my back. Unfortunately part of it is still in there pressing on my spine.”
“You haven’t found anyone to remove it?”
“They all say the same thing. If they try to remove it, there’s a good chance of complete paralysis below the waist. You see, right now there are a few things I can’t do, but I can walk with a cane and stand upright more or less. I can control my bodily functions so I have that much of my dignity left. If I have that surgery, I can lose the pain and give up my independence, my ability to walk, and my dignity as well as most of my privacy. I don’t have a lot left. I’d like to keep it.”
“Surely there must be a surgeon somewhere who can help you.”
“Not that I’ve found yet. I want a guarantee of success. No one will give one.”
“I do all the time. I tell my patients they’re going to be better when I’m done.”
“But you must lose some patients.”
“Never because of my care. Yes, sometimes they develop fevers and infection. I’ve been reading as much as I can about that. But my surgical care has to be excellent or I will quit. Reaching into a person’s body requires that you do the best that can be done. Anything less is sacrilegious.”
“Adam, I want to tell your father that you’re alive. He worries so much about you.”
“No. I lied to him. I have deceived him for too long.”
“Not as much as you may think. He suspected that your leaving was all a subterfuge for you to go serve in the Union Army. Knowing how you felt about slavery, he knew how you struggled with standing by and letting others carry on the fight.”
“He never said anything like that to me.”
“He didn’t want to give any tacit approval to what you might be contemplating. I guess he knew that it wouldn’t take much to get you to volunteer to serve.”
“I don’t know, Paul. I’m no use to anyone there. Why should I go and upset things.”
Knowing what he meant, Paul did his best to try to blunt that argument, but there were also things Adam needed to know. “Joe will understand. He’s older and more mature now. He has had to deal with more than many men have had to face and has learned a lot from those experiences. What you don’t know is that your father adopted another son, a red-haired freckle-faced youngster. Jamie is smart and independent minded, but he needed a home and a family. Your family took him in and eventually decided that it ought to be permanent.”
After saying all of that and seeing the look Adam had, Paul realized his error.
“I guess I’ve been replaced then too. They don’t need me at all.”
“Adam, it wasn’t like that at all. It wasn’t replacing you. Jamie isn’t at all like you.”
“Yeah, I guess Pa went for the new and improved version of a son. It’s not a problem because I can understand why he would want one not at all like me.”
“I know you’re prone to melancholy. I’m aware too that morphine can make that situation worse with some. Is there any time when you’re not using morphine?” Adam’s look of disdain that he would even voice the question was the answer. “You have amazing surgical talent, but your career is going to be short especially if you apply your own standards. Already you barely finished the surgery and needed an injection so you could walk out of the surgery theatre. “What happens next?”
“I’ll die, and the stone at my head will say I am dead.”
“You should be ashamed of yourself for talking that way. The Adam Cartwright I knew would never talk that way. I don’t know what happened to that man.”
“That man is already dead, and his shell is all that stands in front of you now. If you will excuse me, I need to get some rest. I have another patient in the afternoon, and I need to rest so I can help him.”
Doctor Martin stood, picked up his hat, and headed to the door pausing there to look back. “I really am glad to find that you’re still alive, Adam, but I do wish you would let me tell your family that. They are needlessly suffering, and most doctors try to alleviate suffering wherever they can.”
Those words made sleep even more difficult to achieve for Adam. He put them out of his mind while working, but he only worked a few hours each day. The rest of the time, he did things where those words could and often did intrude. He knew the doctor was correct, so what was holding him back were personal reasons. He truly did not want to face his family with the humiliation of his condition and their knowledge of how badly he had failed. He couldn’t even ride a horse much less do any kind of work on a ranch. With his issues, he couldn’t even climb a set of stairs nor drive a carriage more than a short distance.
As for seeking out a doctor to remove that bullet, Adam had tried that for a year when they had first settled in St. Louis. The answer from each well-respected surgeon had been the same. The surgery would be successful but there likely would be paralysis below the waist with all the attendant problems. All of them were quite confident they could remove the bullet, but because of where it was, moving it was likely to severely damage the spinal cord or create a situation where swelling and scar tissue would do the damage.
For five years, Georgia had not argued with Adam nor questioned his decisions. She did everything she could to help him and support him much as she did with her father. Loving both of these men was a difficult task though, and when she heard Doctor Martin talking to her father and realized what Adam was doing, she decided to intervene.
“Why would you hurt your family especially your father so much? You have this chance at redemption and you spurn it?”
“Chance at redemption?”
“Yes, Doctor Martin can tell your family your story for you. He can explain all of it and let them get used to what you’ve been telling yourself since you left your home. By the time you get there, they’ll be looking forward to seeing you.”
“You don’t know my family.”
“No, but I know you, and you came from that family. Don’t sell them short, Adam. Give them a chance, or is it that you don’t want to give them a chance? Do you prefer being here and leaning on all of us?”
After she stormed out of his office, Adam pulled a sheet of paper from a stack on his desk and wrote a letter to a colleague in England. The man had written to him expressing an interest in how he performed surgeries having heard some things from a friend of his who had met Adam while traveling in America. He answered the man’s questions in the affirmative and told him a convenient time for him to visit. Then he went to talk with Benjamin to tell him what he had done.
It was about two months later that the doctor arrived excited to be in America on a grand adventure and looking forward too to his two-fold purpose in being in St. Louis. For nearly a week, he shadowed Adam during surgeries assisting him after the first day, and then the two of them spent their evenings together talking. On Saturday of that week, Adam refused the morphine that Georgia was going to give him in the morning.
“No morphine? How will you get through the day?”
“Anesthesia, I believe, and then perhaps morphine afterwards. It’s up to Doctor Chatsworth. He’s in charge now.”
“In charge of what?”
“He’s going to take out that bullet.”
“You didn’t tell me.”
“No, because I didn’t want to think about it until it happened. You would have wanted to talk about it.”
“Of course I would have wanted to talk about it. It’s terribly important.”
“Would you have tried to talk me out of it?”
“No, of course not. I know you would have researched this thoroughly and made a rational, logical decision.”
“Then there was no reason to talk except that you would have been nervous about it. By not telling you, you had no reason to be nervous.”
“You are a complete pain in the backside sometimes. You know that?”
“You know, for the first time in six years, I’m hoping that I can still feel that when this is over.”
Limping into the surgery theatre, for the first time, Adam entered as a patient. The men were there to help him on the table after he removed his clothing. Benjamin had insisted that Georgia leave the room for that part of the procedure. Then when Adam was face down on the table and his body was draped with white cloths, Benjamin allowed her to come back into the room. She took a seat as he did, and they watched as two hours went by and Doctor Chatsworth carefully and precisely cut the bullet into minute pieces and removed it.
For Georgia and Benjamin, waiting turned out to be the harder thing to do compared to the two hours of waiting during the surgery, which had been difficult but fascinating too. However waiting for Adam to wake from the anesthesia to see if he could move his legs and was excruciating. There was nothing anyone could do except to wait silently with Doctor Chatsworth and his assistant who both seemed as nervous as everyone else. Despite his moodiness, Adam was well liked in the small hospital and the staff wanted the surgery to be a success. After several hours, Adam began the slow process of waking which wasn’t fast enough for anyone. All of them had to be patient. After so much anesthesia, Adam was quite drowsy and took quite a bit of time to regain awareness. When he did, Doctor Chatsworth took a gentle hold of his right foot and toes.
“Can you feel which foot I’m holding?”
The answer was weak and hoarse but clear enough.
“Now try moving this leg or the toes or whatever you can do.”
The leg twitched a little and the toes moved. Doctor Chatsworth moved to the other leg and asked Adam to do the same before he moved up to grasp Adam’s hand.
“There’s no paralysis. Now, we talked and there could still be problems if scar tissue grows. I did what I could to try to prevent that tissue from pressing on anything vital, but there are no guarantees. However, the worst that will likely happen is some numbness. We talked about that possibility. Adam, most importantly, what is the level of your pain?”
“Not too bad.”
“Do you need morphine?”
“Good. Now, I told you I would keep you on this table and not move you for about twelve hours. Three, almost four, of those hours are gone. You need to stay here for about eight more hours at least. I will make sure someone is always with you. If you could sleep, that would make the time go much faster for you.”
Almost as soon as Adam closed his eyes and slipped into sleep, Georgia and her father were questioning Doctor Chatsworth about taking Adam off morphine. Benjamin was most concerned about how the abrupt withdrawal might affect him.
“It’s not that he has none. I gave him a small amount for the surgery so he wouldn’t move while I was working. Now he has less pain and needs far less. One thing I have noted in my practice is that patients who take the drug for real and quite severe pain can withdraw from it far more easily than those who take it long after the pain has diminished. When I first met Adam, I saw the terrible pain he was in even with strong doses of morphine. I suspected I could get him on a much lower dose quite quickly.”
“What else can you tell us about his condition?”
“I think he will walk again but he may need a cane for as much as a year or two until everything heals completely. I don’t think he will be riding a horse or doing anything like that, but the pain will be considerably less. He should be feeling more like a normal man in all respects.”
“How soon will we know if he can walk without pain like he had before?”
“Georgia, my dear, I will get him up from that table in about eight hours, and we shall find out. Now why don’t you and Benjamin go get some rest? I need to stay here and monitor my patient and keep the compresses on the surgical site. It doesn’t take more than two to accomplish that.”
“Isn’t that a nurse’s job?”
“It is once he leaves the surgery, but my job isn’t done until he leaves that table.”
Eight hours later, the group was reassembled and ready for Adam to take those first steps. Georgia had brought Adam’s cane and Doctor Chatsworth thanked her for that. He and his assistant helped Adam from the table and into a robe as he stood at the table. Then with his cane in hand, Doctor Chatsworth told Adam to try taking a few steps. He did and looked up with a smile.
“Does it hurt?”
“Yes, but it hurts like it ought to hurt with someone who was poking around in my back with a scalpel. There are no horrible pains radiating out. Thank you. You gave me my life back.”
“Remember what I told you about scar tissue. You are not completely out of the proverbial woods yet, but even if some does develop, I don’t believe it will be too bad. Certainly it will be nothing like what afflicted you before. My work is done here, but I’ll set an exercise schedule before I leave. I believe the good people here will see to it that you follow the protocol I set.”
Several voices including Georgia’s could be heard in the affirmative on that, but one made Adam’s head snap up. Coming through the door with Doctor Martin was another Benjamin, one he had not seen in over six years.
“Pa? What are you doing here?”
“It’s good to see you too, son.”
Looking at Doctor Martin, Adam was clearly upset with him. “Paul, I thought you were supposed to keep a confidence.”
“Adam, you’re a doctor. If you had medicine that would help a patient, would you withhold it from him because of the feelings of another?”
Doctor Chatsworth interrupted saying that for his patient’s benefit, the conversation should continue after Adam got in a wheelchair to be taken to his room and put in a bed. “He’s doing well, but he’s not doing well enough to stand here and have a confrontation with anyone.”
“Of course, doctor. I’m sorry.”
By the time they got to Adam’s room, he had accepted the inevitability of the situation. Once he was settled in the bed, he leaned back in to the pillows and reached out a hand for his father’s. He said only a couple of words, but Ben knew his son had made a leap of faith to get to that point.
“I’m sorry. I was such a dunce.”
Adam closed his eyes then and fell asleep once more. This time, he slept more peacefully than he had in probably a decade. When he woke, he was temporarily disoriented with his father at his side, but then smiled. He squeezed Ben’s hand.
“I guess we have a lot of catching up to do.”
“Perhaps you could start by telling me about the young lady who’s in love with you.”
“Who? Georgia? She’s not in love with me. We’re good friends. She and her father took me in when they found me wounded. They have treated me like family.”
“Son, she stopped by here at least a dozen times. I saw how she looked at you. She doesn’t look at you like you’re her brother.”
“Pa, she’s too young. She’ll find someone else.”
“I’ve been telling myself that for nigh onto five years. The darn girl seems set on wanting to love you.” Benjamin had come into the room. “Halloo, there, my name is Benjamin also. I’m the country doctor who found your son and started him on the path to being a better surgeon than any I’d seen until that English fellow went to work in there on our Adam.”
Any of the commentary or discussion about Georgia was put on hold when she came in the room too. That was frustrating for Adam, but at the same time saved his energy because Georgia took over the storytelling. She filled Ben in on the timeline from when she and her father had found Adam laying in a shallow stream to when they had moved to St. Louis and Adam had begun to perform surgeries and study medicine in earnest.
“So you’re a doctor as well as a surgeon?”
“My medical skills are limited.”
“He means that he spent most of his study time on anatomy, physiology, and various chemistry textbooks. I think he spent the whole of two days in the obstetrics ward here.”
“I’m not interested in delivering babies.”
“That may be so, but if you’re going to set up a practice somewhere, you need to know all the aspects of being a doctor.”
“I could work with someone and do the surgeries.”
“It would have to be a town of some substantial size then.”
Paul Martin chuckled. “Oh, I think I know of a place where that could work. Jamie seems to have an interest in medicine too. It could be a family practice one day if he decides to pursue that interest.”
When Adam frowned slightly at that, Ben knew he needed to explain Jamie and why he was in the family.
“Jamie needed a family very badly. We were there and we were what he needed. It’s been a challenge for all of us having a young man around again. Luckily Joe does remember what it was like and can now apply some of what he learned and help Jamie through those same growing pains.”
“I hope it’s not quite that hard.”
Chuckling, Ben shook his head. “I’m sure you remember those days all too well. No, not nearly that hard. Jamie is a remarkable young man who never had a permanent home until he settled on the Ponderosa. He’s smart and a bit too independent sometimes, which gets him into trouble. He’s probably a bit more like you at that age than Joe. That helps.”
Reversing his thinking and accepting that Jamie needed his family rather than the other way around helped Adam with accepting that situation. He knew he was a bit jealous of Jamie even though it was his own fault he was lonely for his family and his home. When Georgia and Benjamin had to leave to see to other patients, Doctor Martin went with them. It gave Adam and his father a chance to talk more openly with each other.
“Son, why didn’t you come home when you needed us so much or let us know. I would have come to help you.”
“I was ashamed of what I had done. I lied to you.”
“I knew or at least I suspected as much. The letters we received never seemed authentic. They were too mechanical. There was none of the joy and wonder I expected to read when you were seeing some of the things mentioned in there. I did wonder how you managed it, but I doubted you were actually where you said you were. I thought you had gone to join the Union cause. When the War ended, and you didn’t come home or contact us, I thought perhaps I was wrong and you had gone someplace else. I didn’t know where.”
“I had gone to hell by that time.”
“It was that bad?”
“Pa, the pain in that first year was so bad that I couldn’t sleep at night without a dose of morphine. Eventually the pain lessened somewhat and I learned to live with it too.”
“The pain I have now is so much less that I hardly notice it. It’s probably quite a lot if you compared it to having no pain, but it is so much less than I had before, I feel like it’s nothing.”
“Doctor Chatsworth seemed to say it could get worse.”
“A little or it could get better too. There will be healing, which will help, but there could be scar tissue that could cause some discomfort. Pa, it’s tolerable. I can stop using morphine to get through the day. I can act like a man and not a cripple.”
“You’ll still need a cane.”
“Until I heal, but eventually perhaps I won’t need it or not all the time. I’ll be able to drive a carriage and do things I can’t do now.”
“I saw the scar on your side when you put on the robe yesterday. It looks terrible.”
“It could have been. It hurt pretty badly when it happened. Luckily it was a grazing wound cutting across and not through. That one could have been the end of me if it had been a direct hit. Those minie balls were big enough to take down a buffalo. The sharpshooters who were firing at us were shooting from a long distance and uphill. They couldn’t get close to us because of a stand of trees between the two forces. Those things helped.”
Shuddering at the description, Ben asked why the Union forces hadn’t found Adam and taken him with them.
“I fell down an embankment. I’m sure they didn’t see me. It was in the middle of a battle. No one was going to look through the brush for someone who wasn’t even conscious. I must have looked dead anyway. Some Rebels walked by me the next day and kept going. I heard them talking. The next thing I knew was waking up to find Georgia and Benjamin taking care of me. I thought he was you.”
Ben thought it was time to venture into the question he wanted to ask most. “Will you go home now?”
“I guess I should.”
“You’re worried about how your brothers will react, aren’t you?” From Adam’s look, Ben knew he was. “They’ll be fine with it. They will have questions, but the doctor won’t want you traveling right away. Paul and I can go back first and tell much of the story so they understand better what happened.”
“I should speak for myself, Pa. It’s time I told the truth to them.”
“I don’t want you pushing yourself and traveling before you’re healed.”
“I can write.”
By the time Ben left a couple of days later, he carried two thick envelopes and a third thinner one. Hoss and Joe were each getting a full accounting of what Adam had done, and Jamie was getting what amounted to a letter of introduction. Ben had not read any of them, but he assumed Adam had not lost any of his ability to be sensitive and diplomatic when it was needed. Regardless, he would be there to answer questions and discuss things with them. Hopefully by the time Adam arrived on the Ponderosa all the questions would have answers. As Ben traveled, he smiled a few times though wondering if Georgia was getting any answers. There was another situation Adam had to face and Ben had no idea how that was going to be resolved.
In St. Louis, Georgia waited until Adam was home from the hospital, and then she asked him directly. She was tired of waiting too.
“Am I going to Virginia City with you?”
“Don’t you want to stay here and work with your father?”
“It’s not work I’m talking about. I’m talking about you and me.”
“There is no you and me.”
“Why not? I’ve been by your side doing everything I could do to help and to show how much I cared. My father knows. Why don’t you?”
“I’m not right for you.”
“Is it because you know my background? Do you care so much about the color of a person? You wanted to end slavery, but you won’t accept a person for who they are. You see color and not a person’s heart and soul.”
“Georgia, that’s not it.” Adam had gotten angry at that charge, but didn’t want to fight with her. “Yes, I know your background. I know your father had to hide his relationship with your mother and that even here; he can’t let anyone know who she was. That has nothing to do with why I’m not right for you.”
“It can’t be age. Lots of women are with older men.”
Looking away from her and out the window, Adam didn’t want to say what he knew he had to admit. It was the only way to let her down, but it meant telling something that was painful to divulge. No man wanted to say it to anyone and especially not to an attractive, vibrant woman.
“It’s because I couldn’t be a proper husband to you or to any woman. There would be no future to any relationship we started. There would be nothing that would ever develop between us. I couldn’t live like that with anyone. It would be too frustrating to be constantly reminded of failure.”
Georgia had frowned at first but then understood noting that Adam couldn’t even look at her as he explained because it was so hard for him to admit it. She wasn’t going to make him suffer any more. She would cover her own pain too.
“Why don’t you tell me about your home then. Tell me about this ranch where you’ll be living.”
Turning back to her, Adam was grateful for her empathy and the change in topic. They spent quite a bit of time talking about the Ponderosa then and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Eventually Georgia expressed an interest in seeing all of it and suggested she and her father could travel with him to Virginia City when it was time for him to go. Although Adam didn’t want to admit it, the support of having them with him and the chance to extend their time together was tempting. Benjamin basically took the decision from his hands declaring that his daughter had wonderful ideas and he would begin making arrangements immediately.
“It won’t be difficult, Adam. I already had put my practice on hold with your surgery coming up. I have only a few patients currently. We could be ready to go in two or three days. I’ll start making the travel arrangements. You write out what you want to wire your family and I’ll get that sent.”
It took a bit longer than expected, but a week later, luggage was packed and a carriage took them to the train station to begin their journey. They were going to take a day in Denver to rest, as Benjamin wasn’t sure how the train ride was going to affect Adam. It went well though and the stay in Denver was more of a day to see the city than anything else. It had changed dramatically since the last time Adam had seen it. Then the train took them through to Virginia City via trunk lines eventually requiring some hotel stays as they waited to make connections. When they rolled into Virginia City, it too was quite different than Adam remembered.
“It’s more crowded, and the way the buildings have been packed in, if a fire starts, it could be devastating.”
Both Georgia and her father were reminded that Adam’s early training had been as an architect and engineer. That way of thinking had helped him become a skilled surgeon seeing the structure of the body as an organized system. However he still had an eye for building and didn’t like what he saw for how the city had crowded buildings so close with so many made from wood.
“I take it if you have an office, you would not want it on these crowded streets.”
“No, I think a bit further away would be a better idea.”
There was no more conversation then as Adam saw his family. He wasn’t even aware he was holding his breath until Benjamin patted his back and told him to breathe.
“They’re your family, Adam. There are no worries. Now, let’s go see them.”
He handed Adam his cane and made sure the younger man was steady enough on his feet before the three of them moved to exit the railcar. From the top of the steps, Benjamin watched Adam’s brothers as they got the first view of their older brother in over six years. Adam took the railing in one hand and used the cane in the other to work his way down the steps. Benjamin noted the way both brothers reacted with surprise seeing a brother who was thinner than they remembered with mostly gray hair a little thin on top. However it was the frailty in a forty-year-old man that probably still didn’t fit their memory of their brother at all. He was sure they knew, but knowing from a letter and from your father, and then seeing it were always two different experiences. Both cautiously approached Adam who stopped and smiled almost shyly at them.
“I won’t break if you wouldn’t mind a hug.”
It was another shock to the two to have Adam suggest such a thing, but they only hesitated a moment. Hoss was restrained but Joe showed a bit more enthusiasm until Hoss cautioned him.
“It’s all right, Hoss. I’m fine. As long as there’s no twisting or turning, I’m all right.”
Once introductions were made, they headed to the carriage which they had gotten as close to the platform as they could. The buckboard wagon was there too for their luggage.
“Me and Joe worked to get some new springs on the seats and added padding too. Up front or in back rides about the same. We tested it.”
“Yeah, Pa will drive and you and your guests can have a nice leisurely ride back. Jamie and Hop Sing are at the house working on a getting a welcome home lunch ready for everyone.”
“I had wondered where he was.”
Knowing he was referring to Jamie, Hoss grinned and explained. “He’s a right smart kid. He figured it would be best if the two of you met at the house. Better place to get to know one another.”
At the house, it was clear that the ride had taxed Adam’s strength. He slid from the carriage and leaned on it for support. Already there with the wagon they had taken at a faster pace, Hoss moved in on one side of him and Joe on the other. With ease, they propelled him into the house and deposited him into a comfortable chair almost before he could think to object. By tacit agreement, everyone got busy settling in and expecting Adam to close his eyes for a nap. He did. The day was hot so Hop Sing brought snacks and cold beverages to the porch for everyone leaving Adam to rest in the quiet great room as the family got to know Georgia Rae and Benjamin better. When Adam awoke, he heard the quiet conversation and noted the cane propped against his chair. He stood and smiled when he saw that someone had politely propped open the heavy front door for him.
“I had heard there was going to be a welcome home lunch. I’m starving here.”
“Them’s the best words you coulda spoken, older brother. I’m gonna go tell Hop Sing he kin put the eats on the table.”
After Adam was introduced to Jamie, he got another surprise. He was introduced to Alice, Joe’s wife, who was clearly well along in a pregnancy. He congratulated Joe and welcomed Alice to the family. He smiled at his father and congratulated him on finally getting his wish for a grandchild. Then Adam got another surprise when the foreman of the ranch joined them for lunch. Ben explained that Candy was almost like family and was included in family get-togethers.
“A lot has changed here.”
“But some things never change. Welcome home, son.”
The table was full but they managed to crowd in with everyone enjoying the food and the company. After lunch, Jamie and Adam began talking about medicine with Jamie asking how Adam was trained. So Adam told him about his first surgery leaving his entire family open-mouthed hearing that story for the first time.
“You just reached into a man and pulled out a bullet?”
“No, Joe, Benjamin guided me through a process and Georgia held up a model so I could see where I was. We worked together and found the bullet and then I pulled it out. The man lived. That was the important part. It made me want to do it again.”
Jamie was even more interested. “So you never went to school to be a doctor?”
“No, I’ve gotten my training by working with other doctors.”
Looking at Ben, Jamie had a smug look. “See, I don’t have to go to school. I could just work with Adam and be a doctor.”
“Ah, Jamie, it probably won’t be that simple.”
“Why not? Won’t you help me?”
“Of course I would as much as I can, but states are starting to put in licensing laws. It will likely happen here within a few years and every state will likely have them within five or ten years. Although they will probably still allow doctors to train with other doctors, I doubt they would let you train with me because I never went to a school of medicine. I did most of my training with a doctor who did though. Then I learned at a hospital with a group of doctors who all went to medical schools.”
“Doctor Martin said that doctors come from all over to see you do surgery and learn from you.”
“Some do now, but only after I learned a lot. I’m still learning. Your best bet is to go to school and get that degree, and then we can work together.”
“Good, we’ll have our own doctors here when our wives have babies.”
Georgia chuckled and Benjamin smiled as Adam looked anywhere except at Joe.
“That is one area of medicine that our Adam chose not to learn. He doesn’t want to deliver babies, I believe is how he put it to me.” It was Benjamin’s turn to look smug.
Adam shrugged as his family stared at him. “I guess I could still learn if it’s that important to you.” Then he frowned. “What do you mean ‘wives’ because I’ve only been introduced to one?”
Hoss blushed a little. “There’s a gal I met over in California, and last week, I asked her to marry up with me, and she said yes. She and me are getting hitched in a coupla weeks.”
“Yeah.” Then Hoss blushed more and Adam knew.
“Oh, I guess I better start learning then. How much time do I have, Joe?”
Alice answered for him. “About a month probably.”
“I don’t know. Is there still going to be a room for me here?”
“Now that you bring that up, son. We were wondering if you ever had any ideas on how to expand this house?”
They took a walk to the back garden then to talk about that. Adam suggested that a separate wing might be better than changing the basic structure of the house. Hoss liked that idea. Joe thought that perhaps then he would like a separate house and Adam suggested that the grove of trees not far from the main house would be private but close too for safety and convenience. Adam also proposed adding a small apartment to the end of the bunkhouse for the foreman. It gave them some big changes to consider. When they were done talking, Adam said he was going to sit there for a while and enjoy the view. Georgia asked if wanted to be alone or if she could join him. He slid over on the bench as an answer.
“Where will you live?”
“I’ll need a place in town at least for some of the time. That ride today let me know that I won’t want to make that trip twice a day.”
“You’ll be stronger in time.”
“Yes, but I still don’t want to make that trip twice a day. I thought perhaps I could spend some days in town and some days here.”
They talked for a time about Jamie and about the Ponderosa until it was time for dinner. There was more conversation then about many things. After dinner, Adam wanted to go outside to sit to see the stars.
“I haven’t seen the stars like this in a long time. It’s warm too so it will be nice to sit outside.”
When Georgia volunteered to go with him, no one else said anything about joining him. When they left, Joe had to ask.
“What is going on with the two of them? Are they a couple or not?”
“No one knows, Joe. They don’t even know.” Ben’s strange answer only confused everyone even more.
Outside, Adam walked to the corral fence standing there for a time staring at the night sky before moving to sit on the bench next to the stable. Georgia walked with him and then sat beside him. They were quiet except for Adam naming constellations he could see.
“There are more but I would have to get up again to see them. I’m too tired to do that right now.”
“You don’t want today to end though do you?”
“No, it’s been a magical day. It has been so much better than I thought it could be after what I did. They have forgiven me for being a dunce.”
“There’s one more thing you could do.”
Georgia leaned in to kiss him but Adam pulled back.
“It’s just a kiss. I know that’s all it is. Are you afraid of a kiss?”
Giving in to temptation, Adam slid a hand behind her neck and pulled her close to him. “No.” He kissed her cheeks and brushed his lips across her lips before capturing her lips in a kiss that lasted because he didn’t want it to end. When he was going to pull away, he didn’t because she slipped on small delicate hand inside his shirt caressing his chest as her other hand played with his hair at the back of his neck. He trailed kisses down her neck as she leaned her head back in effect offering herself to him. His hands began to roam as did hers until he abruptly pulled back. Breathing hard, he spoke gently but with regret.
“Georgia, we have to stop.”
“You know why.”
“Adam, that may not be true any more. From what I can tell, you could be a proper husband for a woman. In fact, perhaps quite a proper husband.”
Pulling her hand from him, he gathered her in his arms and held her close. She snuggled into his hug and waited. When he said nothing, she wondered what he was thinking.
“This changes things, doesn’t it?”
“I guess we need to see where this is going now. I hadn’t thought there was any hope. Are you so sure you want to be with a man as old as me?”
“I thought I made that clear enough.”
“What will your father say?”
“He’s not going to be surprised, if that’s what you mean. What will your father say? Will you tell him everything?”
“Yes. He will accept you for who you are, or, well, there isn’t any other choice.”
Arm-in-arm, they walked back to the house to begin a future of possibilities.
Other Stories by this Author
- All the Lies I Tell Myself (by BettyHT)
- Only One Returns (by BettyHT)
- Franklin Was Right (by BettyHT)