SUMMARY: A sequel to A Confederacy of Dunces, this story is about Adam settling into life back on the Ponderosa and adjusting to his limitations. A man from Joe’s past shows up though with a plot that involves all the Cartwrights and complicates everything.
Rating = T Word count = 11,208
A Confederacy of Dunces Series:
All the Lies I Tell Myself
(I’ve borrowed a character from the episode The Legacy and some plot items)
After swigging down most of a cold beer, Joe Cartwright put his feet up on the empty chair at the table and waited for his brothers. Gingerly lowering himself into a chair, Adam was careful because of his damaged back as he always was now. Carefully settling in, he leaned forward on the table and picked up his beer as Hoss cautiously settled his weight in the other chair while picking up his beer and gulping most of it down. Hoss had just returned from a trip by wagon to California to pick up his fiancé and her belongings. It had left him with a ‘mite sore behind’ as he put it. Joe sighed deeply and expressed the frustration he had been feeling.
“I can’t wait for this baby to be born so my life can get back to normal.”
The beer Adam had sipped nearly came out his nose. Snorting a bit, he got his brothers’ attention and both wondered at his reaction.
“There’s not going to be anything ‘normal’ about having a baby in the house.”
Hoss was skeptical. “Aw, it ain’t like you got any ta anything ’bout that.”
“I remember when you were born. There wasn’t any kind of normal then so there really wasn’t a change when you were suddenly there. Every day was different anyway. Then we lost Ma and it was very different. But when Joe was born, that changed normal for a very long time.”
“Aw, c’mon. I was only a little baby. How could I change things?”
“Well, for one, none of us slept through the night for about six months. You woke up at least twice a night for about that long with a cry that was about as loud as a screech owl and just as irritating.”
“Well, of course, I know babies cry for their mama at night.”
“That’s not all. There’s that constant smell in the house from wet diapers and from diapers that were wet and worse.”
“I suppose that could get to be a problem.” Joe was starting to look worried. “I thought I wouldn’t have to be all that concerned about a baby in the house. I guess I thought the mother would handle all that stuff.”
“Oh, Joe, mostly they do, but every now and then, they hand that baby to you. It seems to happen most often just after the baby has eaten. Then you have to hold them and their mother goes off to take care of all sorts of other things telling you the baby will be fine because of course just feeding him or her. Until they spit up all over your clean shirt.”
“It’s a new husband’s and new father’s worst curse. That special problem all men have.”
Joe frowned and leaned in close to hear better as Hoss did the same with his marriage looming.
“It’s the marriage lie. I know what I’m doing.”
“And all the other lies I tell myself.”
While the brothers relaxed and had their conversation in town, another was being had on the Ponderosa as Georgia Rae Dillard was questioning Ben about Adam. She had thought that their relationship would be progressing, but instead it seemed to be going nowhere.
“I’m sure you have talked with him. Have I done something wrong?”
“Yes, I’ve talked with him, and it’s nothing you’ve done.” Ben recalled that conversation when Adam had said that ‘Yes, he wanted her, but he didn’t know if he wanted her.’ Ben had been confused until Adam explained he had not been with a woman in six years and wondered if it was love with Georgia or if it was that she had nursed him and then supported him all that time. “He’s not sure of himself.”
“Has he always been this way? I mean, he thinks and thinks until he thinks something to death. When my father invited him to come with us to St. Louis, I could see he was thinking about that even though it was the best offer he was going to get by far.”
“You are the best for him too. He’ll get there. It’s that he’s always had this desire or need to avoid mistakes.”
“Do you think I’m a mistake for Adam?”
“Not at all, and I’m sorry if I gave you that impression. No, he wants to somehow know in advance that he’s making the right decision and things will work out for the best.”
“No one can do that.”
“He keeps trying. He had a hard life when he was young. I blame myself for it, but it has made him a strong man in many ways. Unfortunately there are some characteristics of being strong that rub other people the wrong way.”
“Joe said he used to be rather arrogant.”
“Yes, Joe saw it that way and some others did too. Sometimes there may have been a bit of jealousy involved in that assessment. For Adam, I think it was so much self-confidence and sometimes too much. He thought he could do it all. He thought he was smart enough and talented enough to tackle anything. I guess he’s found how fate can throw things at you that you can’t defeat. Finding out he needed other people has made him nicer.”
“Yes, when he was our patient, there were times when he was exasperating. I could see he was trying, but he could be a terrible patient.”
“Yes, I remember that. He hated being coddled. He was impatient with the healing process. You and your father had your hands full, I’m sure. I am so grateful for all that you did. You saved him and brought him back to us.”
“Father wants to get back to St. Louis and his teaching. I don’t know if I should go with him.”
“Perhaps you should bring that up with Adam.”
Ben had a small smile when he said it and Georgia understood. She answered his with one of her own and agreed.
In town, the brothers’ conversation had turned to practical matters as Hoss asked about the search for an office and house for Adam in or near town. Neither had been successful.
“Older brother here has some set ideas about where he wants to be. Unfortunately it’s where everyone wants to be so the prices are too high.”
“Ya gonna get a place big enough for both you and Georgia?” Hoss saw the frown and knew what it meant. “Aw, ya ain’t worrying on that like a dog chewing a bone down to the last, are ya? Ya need to just go with how ya feel about her. It’s clear enough to the rest of us. Don’t know why you can’t be sure.”
“There’s not that much I’m sure of these days.” Adam kept looking toward where a large group of miners were congregated to one side in the saloon.
“How can you do surgery if you’re not sure of yourself?” Seeing where Adam was looking, Joe had another question. “And why do you keep staring over at those men? Is there somebody there you recognize or something?”
“Surgery is the one place I feel like I usually know what I’m doing. It’s something that can be studied and mapped out. You may have to act quickly, but you mostly know where things are and what you have to do. Life isn’t like that.” Looking over at the men again, Adam frowned. “It sounds like someone over there is in pain.”
With a large grin and a smirk combined, Hoss looked at Joe and then back at Adam. “Now see here, older brother, I kin lay out a plan for ya. See, Joe’s married and his wife is gonna have a baby right soon now. I’m gonna be married up in a week and we’re gonna be having a baby too. So, you jest go tell Georgia that you wants to marry up with her and you two might have babies or not, but you shur could have fun trying. Now what lady could resist ya telling her that?”
Pushing his chair back, Adam stood as quickly as he was able and walked to where the men were suddenly highly agitated and crowded around in a circle. Hoss looked at Joe as if to ask if he had said something so inappropriate that it would make their brother bolt like that. However Adam seemed to want to get into the circle of miners which although odd was also probably important so Hoss and Joe went to help. It didn’t take Hoss long to clear the path Adam had been unable to manage. With a simple thank you, Adam moved into the center of the group of miners who were huddled around a man gasping for air.
“What happened to him?”
“We don’t know. He sudden up and fell over like this.”
“No, what happened to him today? Why was he gasping for air earlier or groaning or whatever he was doing?”
“We was working and he took a fall. Said he hurt his side some but kept on working. Said he had a hard time breathing but when he was checked over, they couldn’t find a broken rib or nothing.”
“Get him up on a table and open his jacket and shirt.”
“Listen, who are you to be giving orders?”
“Our older brother is a surgeon and maybe the last chance your friend has. Now let’s do as he says.”
Soon two tables were pushed together and the man laid over them and his chest laid bare. Adam examined him and noted his lips turning slightly bluish.
“I need about a foot of thin tubing, a sharp knife, and some whisky, and as fast as you can get them to me.”
Some were going to question the whisky but a hard stare from Hoss and Joe and the items were fetched. Adam grabbed the whisky and poured it over the man’s chest and over his own hands. He looked at the knives offered and chose a thin blade that looked sharp. He told Joe to pour whisky over the tubing too noting that the length was about right.
“Step back, please. Could someone hold a lamp up over this for me?”
Hoss stepped in to hold a lamp as Adam directed as Joe kept the crowd back as they wanted to get in close to watch. That is, they wanted to be close to the action until Adam cut a hole in the side of the man’s chest and then began feeding the tube into the hole. That made a number of them turn away. It worked and the man’s right lung inflated again allowing him to breathe reasonably well. There was a cheer, but Adam cautioned them.
“He’s in grave danger yet. His other lung is still collapsed, and I made a hole in his side in less than ideal conditions. We need to get him over to Doctor Martin’s office.”
“The Doc’s gone. We woulda took him there ourselves to see ifn the Doc was there. We brought him here thinking some whisky would ease the pain.”
“Well, we still need to get him over there.”
As some men moved in to lift him, Adam stopped them.
“No, he needs to be moved on a flat stretcher preferably something hard and level like a door.”
While that was being located, Hoss and Joe asked Adam if he was up to taking care of the man.
“I have to. Paul isn’t in town.”
“You’ve had a long day. One of us will stay here with you to help. The other will go get you some help.”
“Don’t you dare get Georgia and Benjamin.”
“All right, but I’ll get you some help.”
Hours later, a weary Adam didn’t know how he could manage to care for his patient through the night when Hoss returned with Georgia. He wasn’t so tired that he couldn’t complain though.
“I told you not to do that.”
“You said not to bring Georgia and Benjamin back. I only brought Georgia, so that’s different than what you said.”
“You’re as bad as Joe sometimes.”
Georgia said little but moved to the patient and waited for Adam to explain. He did and then did the only smart thing at that point. He lay down on the second bed in the room and closed his eyes. After asking if Georgia needed anything, Hoss left to get a room and some sleep too, and Joe went with him. By morning, Doctor Paul Martin returned to his office to find Adam sleeping there and Georgia caring for a patient. Soon there were some miners there, and then Hoss and Joe arrived too as Adam was explaining to Paul what he had done. The miners wanted to interject their version of events, but Paul held up his hands for silence and escorted everyone from where the patient was sleeping.
“Adam, do you want me to take over care of your patient?”
“I’d appreciate that, Paul. I don’t have a house or an office in town yet. I was looking again yesterday, but I couldn’t find what I wanted at a reasonable price.”
“You could build what you wanted.”
“I don’t want to wait that long, and with my back, I don’t want to get too involved in building anything yet either.”
“I can understand that. Now, anything else you think I need to know about my patient?”
“He may need more surgery. At this point, I don’t know what caused the air to leak and collapse his lungs. I can’t find any obvious cause. I’ve kept him laying flat and his breathing has been reasonably normal. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of a broken rib or any sign of a puncture wound.”
“Why were you looking for a broken rib?”
“The other miners said he took a fall and his side hurt.”
Nodding, Paul looked to the miners who agreed that was what had happened.
“I’ve had that a few times here in the mines. Men working hard rock can get a traumatic injury, which can cause a lung collapse. It may have been partial on one or both sides but without treatment, it got worse. Luckily you were there to treat him. He would likely have died otherwise.”
After getting all sorts of offers of drinks from the miners that he declined, Adam said he was going home. He needed some good sleep after a long day and some hard work. He and Georgia rode in the carriage with Hoss driving them. Soon the two were asleep in the back as Hoss drove slowly letting them have their rest. Joe was home long before the three and had briefed the family on the situation well before they got there.
As the three had left town, there were men watching them go. One turned to a man dressed far better than the others and asked what he thought was the most important question.
“We still gonna do it?”
The man in the suit and bowler hat frowned and nearly spat out the words.
“We are. The only difference is now you’re going to bring the cripple along too. Nothing is going to stop me from getting my revenge on Joe Cartwright and taking his birthright for myself. I can’t do that if there’s still another brother there to claim it.”
As the five men walked away and the well-dressed man returned to the hotel, Sheriff Roy Coffee watched them and wondered what was going on. They had been in town a week and met occasionally and seemed to have a strong interest in his friends, the Cartwrights. The one who seemed to have money was vaguely familiar, but the four or five others with whom he met regularly seemed like they had never been in town before asking around for directions among all the other questions they had when they first arrived. He decided to assign at least one deputy to watch the group at least to see where they went and what they did.
On the Ponderosa, Joe offered to help Hoss put the carriage away so Adam and Georgia could go to the house to get some rest. In the house, Benjamin greeted his daughter and told her Hop Sing had saved some breakfast for her and Adam. Adam declined though saying he was more tired than hungry and went directly upstairs to his room. A short time later, Georgia was there and knocked on the door. Stripped down to only his trousers, he wasn’t going to answer at first, but she opened the door a crack and said unless he was naked, she was coming in.
“All right. I guess you have seen me in less.”
“You’re right about that although it was six years ago. Now, father wants to head back to St. Louis. He wants an answer from me on whether I’m going back with him or not.”
Adam was silent and Georgia turned to leave until two words stopped her.
Slowly she turned back and tried to understand what he was telling her by those words.
“Because last night, when Hoss brought you to town, I was upset because I told him specifically not to do that.”
“Not exactly a ringing endorsement.”
“Georgia, let me finish. I was upset, and at the same time, I was as happy as I could think of being. Seeing you and knowing you would be by my side through whatever happened was not only a relief but made me feel good. I’ve tried to tell myself through the years that I could do whatever I set out to do. It’s one of many lies I guess I’ve told myself. I can’t do it all. I need you.”
“As what? Your nurse, your friend, your lover, your wife?”
“As my everything.”
“Are you proposing to me?”
“I think you did, but never mind that. Yes, if that is what it takes, I am proposing to you. I don’t want you to go, not for a day.”
“Yes, I will. Now I need to go tell my father I won’t be leaving.”
“First, we need to seal our proposal with a kiss.”
“It better be a short one. With you half-dressed and the way you kiss, we might end up in the same situation Hoss is in.”
“You’re safe. I’m too tired, I think.”
Actually, he wasn’t too tired, but he did break the kiss and tell Georgia to go tell her father. She wanted to know if she could tell anyone else. Adam said to tell anyone she wanted to tell because he was going to sleep. He woke up a few hours later to Georgia wrapped in a blanket and sleeping by his side. Although he knew his father would think it inappropriate, he rather liked having her there and lay there for a time watching her until she stirred. Then he kissed her to wake her.
Already late for dinner, Adam told her to look the other way so he could dress. Then she straightened her clothing and hair so that she would be presentable and the two began the trek to the dining table where their fathers waited with the rest of the family. It was apparent that the two of them napping together in one bed was already known. Hoss looked over at Adam.
“Sorry, but I went to wake you for dinner, and only found one room occupied. I said something before I realized how bad that was gonna sound.”
“It’s all right. We were napping. It was about the same as a bundling bed. I didn’t know she was there until I woke up. We won’t make a habit of it, until we’re married, of course.”
“And when will that be? I don’t mean to pressure you too much, Adam, but I do wish to get back to St. Louis, and I would like to know my daughter is settled before I go.”
“You wouldn’t consider staying here?”
“I did consider it, but this isn’t the life for me. Now, do you have an answer to my question?”
Hoss interjected an option at that point. “We’re getting married on Saturday. We could make it a double wedding.”
“That’s awful soon, Hoss.”
Ben made his feelings known at that point. “Considering where you took your nap, it doesn’t seem like such a stretch of propriety to get married on Saturday.”
When Benjamin agreed that as the father of the bride, it seemed reasonable to him too, Adam looked at Georgia. She shrugged. It wasn’t what she had envisioned, but nothing was happening the way she had envisioned it so she couldn’t think of a reason to say no.
“I guess they’re right. There will be less time to be nervous about it this way.”
Reaching over and taking her hand, Adam smiled. “You’re not afraid of marrying me, are you?”
“Listen, everyone here knows you quite well, so they’ll understand. I’d be crazy not to be a little worried about getting married to you. I love you though, so I’m marrying you no matter what happens.”
Hoss and Joe started to chuckle even as Ben and Benjamin were shocked by the outspokenness of the young woman. Adam seemed to take it in good humor though after knowing her for six years. Benjamin looked to Ben.
“I raised her and yet I have never gotten used to how unladylike she can be. I hope that she hasn’t offended you. Adam is very tolerant, and I only hope that you can be too.”
After dinner, Hoss and Joe headed out to the stable to do some chores while Adam took a walk with Georgia. It was a short walk as he was still feeling tired from the exertions the surgery and care of the miner in town. The nap had helped but wasn’t enough rest yet. As he and Georgia turned to go back to the house, a man with a pistol confronted them. Two more came up behind them.
“What do you want? I have to tell you I don’t have anything of value on me.”
“Shut up and come with us. She can go with no harm if you don’t give us no trouble.”
“I don’t want to go if you take Adam.”
“Georgia, go in the house.”
Adam said the words forcefully leaving no room for her to argue with him. She heard the iron in his voice and heeded him. He was grateful too that she said nothing more although he knew she wanted to say quite a bit probably. Once she was safely around the corner, Adam had to say what he was thinking.
“She’ll tell my family what’s happened.”
“We’re counting on that, cripple. Your papa ought to be out here right soon. We already got the other two. Once he comes out, we’ll have the full hand and we can get going.”
Anticipating that Adam might yell out now that he knew he was bait, they wrapped a filthy bandana around his mouth effectively silencing him. His hands were tied and he was pushed to the ground. Cursing silently, Adam knew those men had read his physical limitations correctly. They knew he couldn’t get up. As expected too, Ben came out of the house by the back door with a rifle in hand only to be quickly stripped of it and taken with Adam to a wagon where Hoss and Joe were already trussed up. Ben was tied like them with his wrists bound behind him and then those were linked to his ankles that were tied tightly together. For Adam, they simply kept his wrists bound behind him and kept him gagged letting him sit at the end of the wagon while the other members of his family lay in the bed of the wagon.
After a fast trip down the road, Ben, Hoss, and Joe were put on horses and Adam was put in a carriage. The wagon was driven away. Although their legs were free, their arms were still bound behind them and their horses were led. They watched as the tracks were brushed away where they had left the road. None of them knew yet where they were going or why. The ride that night was slow, but the next day, they continued riding and at a faster pace picking up fresh horses that had been stowed away for them. That night, they stopped and rested. Still no one was saying anything. All they allowed the Cartwrights was the chance to take care of necessary business and that was with guns trained on the heads of the other two to stop the one who was untied from trying anything. They got water but no food.
The following day, their destination was in sight. They knew it was where they were going by the comments made by their captors. It was an abandoned Army post. It was small and not in good repair. When they got there, it was clear that some preparations had been made. They were shoved into the small one room stockade. There was a shiny new lock on the door. With no windows except the one in the door, it was hot inside with no chance they could get out. They were allowed to untie each other once they were inside. Still there was no food, and no water was provided in the stockade.
“Dadburnit, Pa, what you think is going on?”
“I don’t know. I don’t recognize any of these men, and I have no idea why they would bring us here.”
“What do you think they did with Adam?”
“Joe, I wish I knew that too.”
“They treated him better than us.”
“Only because they weren’t afraid of him. They knew his physical limits.”
Knowing that was true, Joe had nothing more to say. Exhausted, he sat down. That was all any of them could do. They could only sit on the floor of their cell and wait for answers.
Later that day, the carriage arrived. The men pulled a bruised and bleeding Adam from the back seat of the carriage and dragged him to the stockade shoving him inside before slamming the cell door shut again.
“My Lord, son, what happened to you?”
“It’s not too bad. Whatever they have planned for us doesn’t entail killing us yet if I understood their leader out there correctly. That’s what he said to the men who were beating on me.”
“But why were they beating on you?”
“One of them asked how I got to be a cripple as a doctor. I told him I was a soldier before I was a doctor. They asked which side and I said the Union. Apparently that was the wrong answer. Whoever these men are, their sympathies lie with the other side. They didn’t like knowing I had shot and killed Confederates.”
Dabbing away at the cuts with his handkerchief, Ben was trying to help, but Hoss pulled his hand away.
“Pa, ya ain’t doing no good. Why don’t ya let Adam be?”
Ben agreed and sat back. The men were quiet for a time until Joe asked the question they were all considering.
“So they mean to kill us. Why?”
No one had an answer.
“And if they’re going to kill us, why bring us here, and why keep us alive? The longer we’re alive, the greater the chance someone could find us.”
“Adam, I seen them brush out the tracks. They’d need a real good tracker to find our trail and the best ones is in this here room.”
They tried to get some rest, but even that was ended when they heard someone arrive late in the afternoon. He walked over to the stockade where one of the men held up a lantern to show the Cartwrights laying about on the floor.
“Well, Joe Cartwright, we meet again.”
“Do I know you?”
“You should. You ruined my life. I knew I shouldn’t have kept that damn rifle. I broke it down and hid the parts in my pack. Those other two never knew I had your papa’s rifle with the big silver C on it. It was nice and just perfect for me.”
“Chapin; you’re Billy Chapin.”
“I am. I’m poor Billy Chapin because of you. I should have inherited a huge ranch and the power that went with it. However, my father, the honorable Colonel Chapin, up and died on me while I was in prison. By the time I got out, the vultures had been there and there was nothing left for me to inherit. My birthright was completely gone. What hadn’t been sold for next to nothing to pay taxes was sold as abandoned property because I wasn’t there to claim it. Nobody thought to give me some time seeing as how your word had gotten me sent back to prison. The second time, the judge wasn’t so forgiving either. He gave me ten years and that warden made sure I served every damn minute of those ten years too.”
“It was because of what you did not because of me.”
“It was you. Without you, I’d still have a family and a ranch that was mine. Now I have nothing. So I’m going to take your ranch.”
“You can’t just kill people and take their property. No one will accept that. It will be challenged.”
“Not as likely as you may think. I have deals pending with railroads and mining interests. They are very interested in the resources of the Ponderosa. They’ll help me fight any court challenge, and they’re big enough to win.”
“Then why are we still alive?”
“Oh, that’s a little indulgence of mine. I suffered in prison locked up all that time. I wanted to give you a taste of that. I lost my family too while I was locked up. You’re going to lose yours because I’m gonna kill all of them right before your eyes, and then I’ll hang you.”
It was all said without any emotional tones making it even more chilling to hear. Billy turned to walk back to warm quarters and food leaving the Cartwrights to their unfurnished cell that was likely to get quite cold before morning. The four men in the cell sat back down quiet with their thoughts for a time.
When the guard outside the door walked away, Hoss quietly asked the question he had urgently wanted to ask.
“Did you see it? I mean, did you see the code in the trees?”
Joe was confused. “Code in the trees?”
“Yeah, the trees off behind the outer buildings. Someone was flashing a light in a rhythm. Looked to be that Morse code, I think. I cain’t read those. Pa or Adam, you see that?”
“I saw it but couldn’t read it.”
With his head down, it was clear Adam hadn’t even been looking. “Sorry.”
“It’s all right. It means somebody is out there though. We gotta be ready whenever they come in here to bust us loose.”
Adam was fatalistic. “Hard to be ready locked in a cell or worse, with out hands tied if they take us out of here.” Then he got quiet and they all knew he was thinking of a plan.
“What do you have in mind, son?”
“Not entirely sure yet what I’m going to do, but when I do it, don’t interfere. I think I may play a little scam on them to get in a position to take care of some of those ropes. If I get a chance and they’re sending another message from the trees, I’ll try to read it.”
In the trees, Sheriff Roy Coffee looked at Candy and asked the crucial question. “Do you think they read the message?”
“Clem said he thought only Adam could read Morse code. I didn’t see him at that little window in the stockade so no, they probably didn’t. If he sees Adam, he’ll try sending it again. Of course, if they saw it, they probably at least know there are friendlies out here.”
“I wish Jamie could get back here with reinforcements before dark.”
“You know that won’t happen. There’s not enough time.”
“It’ll be a cold camp for us, but it’s got to be a lot worse for our friends in that stockade.”
It was much worse with no blankets and nothing soft on which to rest weary bodies. Hoss suggested the best method would be for him to wrap his arms around Adam and for Ben to wrap his around Joe. Then Hoss said he and his father could lean back against one another for more heat. They did that and it seemed to help.
In the morning, one by one, they were let out to do their business. As they finished, their hands were tied behind their backs and they were marched to the main building. Adam was last and feigned general weakness and nausea. The other three were sitting in chairs for a long time before Adam was brought in. Hoss moved over so Adam could sit next to their father. When he sat down, he leaned his head on his father’s shoulder. None of the men guarding them said anything.
As Ben sat there, he had to fight the shock when he felt Adam’s hand working at the knot on the ropes that held his wrists. With one hand, it took some time but the ropes came loose. Then Adam coughed and moaned and acted as if he was in great pain shifting to lean on Hoss’ shoulder. The same thing happened there.
That morning, Adam had read the Morse code or rather, most of it. The key words were rescue and soon. He wanted to be as ready as they could be. He had turned his hands sideways when they tied him and with the retching sounds he was making, the men guarding him hadn’t looked too closely only wanting to be away from him as soon as possible. That allowed him to slip a hand free of the rope to untie his father and then Hoss. However, he couldn’t do anything about Joe who was this man’s main target. Of course, Billy had said he was going to kill Joe’s family first so perhaps it would work out. When Billy came in the room, he repeated most of what he had said previously. The only new thing was that he said the men had decided they wanted to kill Adam first because he had been in the Union Army. Adam was a bit surprised by that, but when they grabbed him and the ropes were loose and fell from his wrists, there was a slight delay as Billy lambasted the men for not being careful. He had them tie Adam’s wrists again but tightly this time.
“You’re lucky it was this one. He’s half out of his head. If it had been one of the others, we could have had a problem on our hands. Now, how do we do this?”
“Hang him slow. It’s not too messy and they’ll hate it watching him kick and twitch.”
“Jacobs, that’s a great idea. Somebody go outside and get a rope.”
Soon they had a rope inside and were fashioning a noose. Then they tossed the rope up and over one of the beams before pulling Adam beneath the beam. Billy wanted to be the one to place the noose. He did it crowing to Joe about what he was doing. Hoss wanted to go but Ben said to wait a moment. He hoped their help from outside was getting closer. They couldn’t wait much longer though. As Billy tightened the noose and the men began to pull on the rope, Ben and Hoss jumped up and charged. The unexpected assault caught Billy and his men flatfooted because they were so focused on Adam and never expected an assault from Ben and Hoss. They did have many more men who were better rested and had food for the preceding days though. They were going to win except for the men who burst through the door with guns deciding the contest in favor of the Cartwrights. Adam was on the floor choking so he was the first order of business.
“Are all of you all right?” Roy was especially concerned about Adam who was flat on his back with Hoss and Ben kneeling next to him.
“We’re all right, Roy, thanks to you and the men. Adam’s a little banged up. He should be all right for the wedding though.”
“Yeah, he wouldn’t want to miss Hoss’ wedding, now, would he?”
“No, his wedding. He’s getting married on Saturday too. It’s going to be a double wedding as long as he can stand up and say ‘I do’ when the minister asks the question.”
After taking that beating on the way to the old fort and now being choked, Adam wasn’t in the mood for talking. He managed only one question. “Who’s going to drive me home before Georgia comes charging out here?”
“Ah, she won’t be coming. Jamie took care of that. She may be a mite angry though so you will have that to handle when you get back.”
Frowning, Adam had to ask what happened. Roy didn’t want to say so Adam stared directly at Jamie who knew he had to admit what he had done.
“Well, she said she was coming with us and nothing I said would change her mind. So I told her to go ahead and go in the storeroom to get herself a woman’s riding outfit.”
“But there isn’t any clothing in the storeroom.”
“I know that, but Georgia didn’t know that. She went in there and I locked the door and barred it. I told them not to open it until we were gone at least two hours.”
Sitting silent for a short time, Adam began chuckling. “Jamie, I wish I had thought of that with her a few times. However, I have no idea how she is going to react when we get back.”
Hoss helped Adam to his feet and out to the carriage when he declined food. Exhausted, he only wanted to sleep which he could do in the carriage. One of the Ponderosa hands volunteered to drive the carriage back. Looking over at Jamie, Adam grinned when the young man shook his head at any implied offer that he go with Adam. After Adam left, the conversation turned to what should happen to Chapin and the men working with him.
“Well, Ben, we kin charge ’em all with kidnapping the four of you. Then we got the assault on Adam and the attempted murder. Those are all pretty clear. There’s plenty of evidence to show there was a conspiracy to commit all these crimes and that could add a few years to their sentences too. Chapin has been in prison twice before so a judge is likely to give him the maximum sentence for all this.”
“What would be the maximum sentence for what he did to me and my sons?”
“I would think all this would add up to about twenty to thirty years if the judge wanted to give him the maximum for everything.”
“I’m not serving twenty or thirty years because of them.”
“See, boy, it’s not because of them. It’s because of you and what you keep doing. You go to prison because of what you do. You ain’t never learned that. You keep talking like that though because that’s gonna help us convince the judge that you oughta be locked up for the longest time possible.”
“These Cartwrights always get everybody doing things for them. Nobody ever did anything for me.”
“Now that’s where you’re wrong. Your father did too much for you. You never did learn to take responsibility. Now these Cartwrights as you call them are good responsible citizens and we all know it. They’re our friends. That’s why we come out here to help ’em. Any of these boys help you because they liked you? I bet not. I bet you had to pay them to get them to come with you. That’s the real difference between you and them now, ain’t it?”
Joe, Hoss, and Ben walked around and thanked every man who had come to help them promising bonuses to their hands and asking Roy what they could do for the posse members. Roy said a round of drinks at the saloon and a good steak dinner would go a long way to making them happy so Ben told him to put that all on the Ponderosa tab in town.
“There’s no price to put on friendship or no reward big enough for saving our lives, but I do want the men to know we appreciate what they did. We’ve got two weddings on Saturday too. Everyone here is invited. We’ll make room for everyone somehow. After this, they ought to be there.” Ben paused because he had a question he had wondered about since they had first known they had some help out there in the trees.
“Roy, how did you know we were in trouble?”
“I had a man watching this bunch since the day before they took ya. He followed ‘im out of town and saw what they did. He alerted your foreman and they followed you to where they put you all on horseback except for Adam. You had men following you the whole way. Problem was that it was only a couple because so many wasn’t at the ranch. We had to send others like Jamie to round up enough help to get you out. Of course, they sent somebody for me and my deputies too.”
“Roy, I haven’t told you often enough how good a job you do as sheriff. Thank you.”
“I got another re-election bid coming up in the spring.”
“You send someone from the Enterprise out to talk to me, and I’ll give them the story and I’ll make sure they know how important you were to getting this settled well.”
On the ride back to the Ponderosa, Ben and Hoss talked about the wedding. Hoss was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough food and drink for all the extra guests his father had invited.
“Hoss, we’ll roast another steer on a spit and you can go to town and get another case to make sure we have enough to drink. Find out from Hop Sing too if he’s going to need another helper. We can hire one more if needed. We’ve still got a couple of days to get this all together.”
Joe had another concern. “Pa, you just invited a bunch of men. There could be a problem when there aren’t that many single women at the dance and party. Once they start drinking, I’m worried what might happen.”
Silent for a time, Ben turned to his sons with a pained expression. “I can think of only one solution. Go ask Clementine Hawkins if she and the ladies boarding at her house would like to attend the weddings on Saturday. That should help the ratio.”
Hoss had to bite back a few comments and only said one thing. “Thank you, Pa. I know what a sacrifice you’re making.”
Joe couldn’t help snickering though. Several times that night and the next morning before they got home, he would say Clementine’s name and then chuckle. That was irritating Ben, but there was little he could do about it. They caught up to Adam a few miles away from the ranch house, and all rode in together. Georgia and Ellen, Hoss’ fiancé, ran from the house with Alice walking more sedately behind them. Hoss got an enthusiastic hug and kiss while Georgia first took a good look at Adam because of the bruises and the rope burn on his neck.
“What happened to you?”
“It’s a long story, but the good news is that there is no serious injury, and we’re getting married on Saturday.”
“Adam, your brother locked me in the storeroom.”
“Yes, I heard.”
“What are you going to do about that?”
“I already did it.”
“What did you do? You didn’t hurt him too much, did you?”
“No, I congratulated him and thanked him. Georgia, if you are ever going to do something so stupid again, I’ll lock you in the storeroom myself.”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“Don’t push me.”
While they were arguing, everyone else quietly retreated into the house. Benjamin greeted them there telling them he didn’t go outside because he guessed Georgia was going to show her temper.
“She’s never even argued usually with Adam in the past. He was always in such pain she didn’t want to add to it. Now that he is getting stronger, she’s getting bolder. However he’s asserting himself too so I rather guessed there would be an argument. Any idea who’s winning?”
Ben shrugged. “It was hard to tell who was winning, but after many years of arguing with my eldest son, I would have to put my money on him. He is the most stubborn man I think I may have ever met. He doesn’t give up.”
“Yes, I noticed that about him. It saved his life.” Benjamin paused and smiled gently. “Georgia thinks she’s a strong woman because she won so many arguments with me, but I could never say no to her. I don’t think that’s going to be the case with Adam or with your family. She’s going to have to get used to hearing ‘no’ now.”
Outside Georgia was learning that lesson as Adam was relentless in telling her what she didn’t know and why her decision to go with the men had been foolhardy. It could have cost him his life. When she heard how close it had been and knew her actions might have delayed the men, she realized Adam might have been hanged in a most horrible fashion slowly strangling in front of his family.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize what I was doing.”
“Yes, and from now on, you need to remember that and take the advice of those who have lived here longer and know more about what life is like here.”
Georgia looked so sad, Adam had to do something about that. Kissing her seemed to be a good idea, and she liked that solution too. Inside the house, Hoss wondered why it was so quiet outside.
“I hope one of ’em didn’t up and leave.”
Quickly before Ben could object, Joe moved to the window by Ben’s desk in the alcove and looked out. Grinning, he came back to sit with the group.
“Pa, there’s nothing to worry about except it’s a good thing that wedding is on Saturday.”
When Adam and Georgia came inside, he sat in the blue chair and she perched demurely on the arm of that chair. It seemed no one wanted to say anything and Joe looked anywhere but at them. With some idea of what had happened, Adam commented.
“So who peaked out the window, Joe or Hoss? I’m betting on Joe.”
“Hey, why is it always me?”
“I don’t know. Why is it always you?”
“Enough! We’re all home safe and reasonably sound. Hop Sing said he’ll have a nice meal soon and we can get back to normal. There is one thing though. We need to consider having a guard here. I don’t want any more surprises.”
The discussion at the table centered on the threats to the family especially with the arrival of children. They all knew that kidnapping would be an issue they might have to face so the idea of guards at night was probably going to be a permanent fixture of the ranch. It was something they probably should have done sooner, but the arrival of more vulnerable members of the family, women and soon children had forced the issue. If the men in the family could be so easily abducted, they worried even more about the others.
The weddings were moved outdoors on Saturday with the large number of guests and weather that proved to be reasonably accommodating. It was warm but a bit windy. Guests had to hang onto anything that might blow over or away, but other than that, the wind made things rather pleasant. The extra guest made for a rousing party too and helped everyone forget all the unpleasantness of the previous week. Most of the guests were astonished to find that there were two weddings instead of one. It meant there was probably going to be many more tongues wagging in town for a few weeks or even months, but Hoss wasn’t troubled by that at all.
“Heck, Adam, you took some of the pressure off me and Ellen. The way I see it, folks are gonna be trying to figure out who the heck you’re marrying and what’s going on that they might plumb forget to check their calendars about the time our baby gets born next spring.”
“You can always hope, but it only takes one to check to ruin that plan.”
Looking dejected, Hoss agreed. “But we’re married now, and we ain’t the first this has happened to.”
“No, in fact, it runs in the family somewhat.”
“Haven’t you ever checked some of the marriage and birth dates in the family Bible? You might find some interesting information if you do. Maybe a certain trip out west has some dates worth checking.”
It was so intriguing that Hoss had to go look. That wasn’t the kind of thing he had ever looked into before but now he had to know. When he saw the marriage date for his father and Inger and then saw when he was born, he had to smile. Remembering the stories of how big he was at birth, he knew it wasn’t possible that he was born early. If his father ever made another comment about what had happened between him and Ellen, he now had something to say in response. When he went back outside, he walked to where Adam stood with Georgia watching the dancers.
“Thank you, older brother. That’s good information to have.”
“My pleasure. I thought you might like to know.”
After Hoss walked away in search of Ellen, Georgia wanted to know what information Hoss had been thankful to get. Adam told her.
“But your father keeps making comments about how Hoss could have waited and so on.” Then Georgia smiled. “You couldn’t stand it, could you? You wanted Hoss to know that your father shouldn’t be throwing stones when he had done the same thing.” Adam shrugged. “You are a devious man, Adam Cartwright.”
“I believe in fairness.”
“So did the judge apparently in the case of those men. I heard from some people that Billy Chapin got forty years and the others got ten to fifteen.”
“Yes, Roy said he started yelling at the judge and making all sorts of charges about the judiciary and the law. The judge asked the prosecutor if there were any other charges he was going to file. They added in mayhem and a few more. The jury had no problem convicting him on all counts. He’s a danger to society.”
“Not any more. He’ll be an old man before he gets out now if he ever does. The story is that he’s thirty now, so that would make him seventy before he gets released.”
“He could get paroled.”
“Adam, do you really think a man like that is going to get a parole?”
“Not likely and even then he’ll be fifty-five or sixty at least. We’ll have time to be ready for him. Now, enough talking about criminals because this party is about to wrap up. How about us? We haven’t danced. I thought we could ask the musicians to play a slow song for us.”
“Thank you. I would enjoy that. I would like to dance with my husband at my wedding.”
As Adam and Georgia moved to dance to a slow dance, Hoss and Ellen joined them and the guests gathered around to toast the two couples. At the end of the dance, there was a hearty cheer from the throng that signaled the end of the celebration too. Guests began packing up their belongings and saying their farewells. In about an hour, only those who lived on the ranch were still there. Benjamin was leaving to be in town to leave the next day, and Hoss and Ellen were giving him a ride as they were traveling to California to honeymoon and to visit with her relatives now that they were married. Adam and Georgia bid farewell to Benjamin and then retired to the house. Georgia was in tears as Adam sat with her on the settee at the fireplace.
“For the first time in my life, Father won’t be with me.”
“We can go visit him.”
“It won’t be the same.”
“No, it won’t. We’re going to make a new life here together. You don’t regret your decision to do that, do you?”
“It’s not about that. It’s only that I’ll miss him so much.”
Wrapping his arms around her as well as he could, Adam held her as she rested her head on his chest. After about a half-hour, Alice came inside and went upstairs to rest. Joe followed about an hour later, and Ben came in the house with Jamie about that time too. They noticed Adam sitting with Georgia.
“Everything is cleaned up outside. Is everything all right in here?”
“Yes, Pa, Georgia is missing her father. It’s the first time they’ve been separated and she’s sad. She’ll be fine when she’s had some time.”
“Is there anything I can get for you?”
“No, we’re good.”
Ben and Jamie headed up to bed too. After about another half hour, all noise from the kitchen ceased indicating that Hop Sing was done for the night too. Adam watched as the small fire in the fireplace died down and became glowing coals.
“Are you ready to go to bed now? You don’t have to sleep on top of the covers this time.”
“Adam, I’ve never been with a man, at least not that way. You’ll have to tell me what to do.”
“Sweetheart, we’ll go slowly. With my back, we’ll always go slowly so don’t worry. Now, let’s make sure everything is locked up and then we can go up to bed.”
In the bedroom, Adam was as gentle as he had promised taking his time helping his new wife undress and kissing and touching her to let her know she was desired as well as cherished. For Georgia, it was liberating not to be told no and encouraged to explore and touch. She had seen men before but never had she been allowed to enjoy men. Of course, one of the men she had seen was Adam, but she found how different it was seeing a man who needed care and seeing a man who was making love with her. She fell asleep in his arms and couldn’t remember sleeping better for a few hours until she felt a gun barrel pressed against her temple. Opening her eyes in the early dawn light in the room, she saw that there was a gun against Adam’s head too. He was looking at her but couldn’t do anything as the pistol was pressing hard against the side of his face next to his eye.
“Now, quietly, get out of bed and get dressed or I shoot her in the head.”
The pistol was moved so Adam could get up. He slid out of bed and dressed as ordered not taking his eyes from his wife and the gunman he could barely see in the dim light.
“Now go down to that safe and get me money. I want five thousand at least or she dies.”
“We don’t have five thousand in the safe here.”
“How much do you have?”
“With everything we needed to pay out yesterday, we probably have about two thousand on hand.”
“Bring that and no tricks. She’s too pretty to die by getting her head shot off, don’t you think?”
“Who are you?”
“I worked with Chapin, but I was still in town when that posse rode out. I knew it was all over then. I was worried he’d give them my name. He hadn’t yet. I broke him out of jail and took care of that, but he’s going to get blamed for this.” Realizing he had talked too much, the man got impatient. “Hurry up now. Go get that money. I need to get going.”
Noting the knife on the man’s belt, Adam was worried about what he might do next. He had little choice though in what he would do. The money was of no consequence and Georgia was everything to him. Backing from the room, he took his cane and used it to walk. Georgia knew what he was doing, but the gunman didn’t. Ben was likely to hear that unusual sound and come to investigate. She could only hope he didn’t walk in on something and get shot. In a short time, Adam was back with money. He tossed it on the bed and stood with his cane waiting for the man to pick up the money.
“I need that in something. Get a sock or something to stuff that in.”
Walking to his dresser, Adam got a sock and then walked to the bed to stuff the money into it. The man was getting overconfident in his ability to control Adam and let him get closer. As Adam reached out with one hand for the money to stuff it into a sock, he used the other to quickly raise his cane and hit the man hard on the side of the head making him move his gun hand.
Moving in to grapple with the man, clearly Adam was no match for him. Instead of running, Georgia tried to help. The man swung once and knocked her across the bed and down onto the floor on the other side of it. That cost him some advantage in fighting Adam who had a bad back but very strong arms. They struggled for control of the pistol even as the man drew the knife from his belt with his other hand. A thunderous shot from the doorway ended that effort as Ben shot the man in the arm. The pain from that weakened his resolve enough that Adam was able to get the pistol from him. By then, Joe was there too with pistol in hand and Jamie stood behind him ready to help as needed. When there was knocking at the door downstairs, Joe and Jamie went to answer it.
“We need to work on getting better guards outside, Pa.”
Handing over the control of the man to his father and brother, Adam went to Georgia and wrapped a blanket around her. She had been cowering on the other side of the bed and it was only then that Ben realized she wasn’t wearing anything.
“How are you?”
“If you hadn’t been knocked across the room, I think I’d take you across my knees right now. Didn’t we have this discussion about you listening to people who know more about living out here? Of all the lies I tell myself, that one may be the worst. I keep telling myself that you will listen to me someday.”
“Don’t yell at me. I was only trying to help.”
Ben interrupted. “I don’t mean to interrupt, except I do, I suppose. Who is this man and what happened? He didn’t touch Georgia at all, did he?”
Joe and Jamie were back with Candy. Hands had heard a gunshot and wondered if they needed help. They all heard the explanation Adam gave of what had happened.
“He put a pistol to her head and he hit her, but other than that, no he didn’t touch her. If he had, I would have killed him already.” The cold tone of Adam’s voice let everyone know he meant that. “He said he was working with Billy Chapin but wasn’t there when the posse went out after him and the others. He said he broke him out of jail and took care of him. I assume that means he killed him to shut him up. When he started admitting so much, I knew he meant to kill us when I gave him the money from the safe.”
“Why didn’t you take the gun from the desk drawer?”
“It wasn’t where I remembered you keeping it, and I didn’t want to leave Georgia here alone too long while I looked for it. He had that knife.”
“Using your cane was a good idea. I wondered what was wrong when I heard that tapping on the floor. When I came out and saw you carrying money into your bedroom, I knew something was terribly wrong. I only had to listen to find out the rest of the problem.”
“What are you going to do with him?”
Georgia grinned. “Lock him in the storeroom. I know he won’t be able to get out of there.” She added one more part. “Of course if you tie him up to make him very uncomfortable, that would be fair too. I believe in fairness.”
Looking at her, Adam sighed before looking at his father. “I suppose it is a good idea.”
Smiling, Ben agreed with him and looked to Joe, Jamie, and Candy who showed their support with broad grins of their own. Joe had to leave then though to go tell Alice what was happening.
The gunman was whining. “What about my arm. You shot me. You have to do something about my arm.”
“Oh, I suppose we could wrap something around it so you don’t bleed to death. You see, I wouldn’t want my bullet to rob Lady Justice of the opportunity to see you hang for your crimes.”
“They won’t hang me. You got no proof I did anything that I gotta hang for.”
The man was turned over to Roy the next day. Roy confirmed that someone had broken Billy out of jail. He was riding out with a posse when Candy and Jamie came in with the man they had captured and who now claimed to know nothing.
“I’m gonna need statements from Adam and from Georgia. That will be enough to convince a jury. Shur would help if we could find the body though.”
“He seemed pretty confident it wouldn’t be found.”
“He must have put it somewhere that it wouldn’t be noticed.”
“Or maybe where it would be noticed.” Jamie had an idea. “You know where they throw out a lot of the waste from butchering cattle and how coyotes and bear and other animals go there to feed. Well, if you wanted to get rid of a body, that might be a place to do it.”
It seemed a reasonable theory, and they had nothing else. The small posse headed that way after Roy told his deputies to take the prisoner and lock him up. They got to the area Jamie had mentioned and there wasn’t much there. Clearly there hadn’t been much butchering lately, but a few coyotes ran off as they rode up. Roy suggested they ought to go see what was in the area where the coyotes had been. They found what was left of Billy Chapin, or at least it looked like it had been him. So much damage had been done to the body, no one could have identified him. However it was his clothing or what was left of it, and the body was his approximate build. The hair looked like his and the boots were his. The area was bloody too.
“Well, we got a body now. That ought to be enough for any jury to convict.”
The area was very bloody. One of the men gave the sheriff another reason why a jury would want to convict.
“Sheriff, he might have been unconscious when the coyotes got to him, but he wasn’t dead. There’s too much blood that spurted out all over here. Dead bodies don’t do that.”
It was an awful end to a bad life. It made for a gruesome story in the paper and then led to a popular hanging as most wanted to see the killer punished. None of the Cartwrights attended anything except the trial when Adam and Georgia were called because their testimony was needed. There was too much going on at home and all were far more welcome than events in town.
Right on time, James Francis Cartwright was born to Joe and Alice with Adam as the attending doctor and Georgia assisting. It was a great relief to Joe and Alice not to have to wait for medical assistance when the delivery got close. They were even happier that Adam found some time to design a home for them a short distance from the main house. Even before the baby was born, work began on that and it was roughed in before James was born and finished before he was a month old.
A wing to be added to the main house was designed for Hoss and Ellen so that Hoss could continue to enjoy Hop Sing’s cooking. That wasn’t the end of changes to the main house. Once Joe and Alice moved out, Adam redesigned the downstairs so that Ben got a larger office and a den and he began using the bedroom down there. That left Adam and Georgia to have the upstairs bedrooms. Jamie was there too but only until he headed off to medical school in St. Louis to study with Benjamin.
Because of Adam’s work in saving the miner’s life, the mining companies established a small clinic for him to use with living quarters in the back. It was rent free so that there would be more good medical care available in town. The plan was for Adam and Georgia to be there from Monday through Friday to care for any serious injuries that occurred to men especially those who needed surgeries. Because surgeries were not required every day, Adam was free to do architectural drawings when he wasn’t working with patients. In spring, Hoss and Ellen welcomed their Priscilla Lynn Cartwright into the world about the time that Georgia told Adam she thought that they were going to be having a baby too. Life wasn’t going to be normal for any of them anytime soon. If they thought so, they were only lying to themselves.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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