Summary: A diary stirs up ghosts long buried.
“Go forth on your path, as it exists only through your walking.” ~ Saint Augustin ~It was the sound of a rider approaching the yard that led Joe to wearily drag himself up from the settee. He didn’t expect Hoss back from Carson City yet, though he wouldn’t have been surprised if his brother had come home early, considering the date. Joe sighed and opened the door. Tomorrow would be their father’s birthday, and Joe already felt an uneasy stirring deep inside, felt the waves of pain wash over him that had not yet subsided. The rider wasn’t Hoss. In fact, Joe didn’t think it was anyone he was familiar with. The newcomer rode a horse that was obviously borrowed from one of the livery stables in town, judging from the haggard look of the nag, but Joe’s experienced eye took in the relaxed stance of the young man who approached with an approving glance. It was easy to see that the boy, for after a quick look at his face, Joe didn’t think he was one day over twenty, was a natural rider, and Joe wondered whether he might be looking for work. Sure enough, after seizing up the ranch house and the man awaiting him in front, the younger man reined in his horse and politely touched his hat. “I’m looking for Mister Cartwright,” he said. The voice was deep and surprisingly gentle for someone so young, but Joe thought he also detected a hint of an accent he couldn’t immediately place. He nodded.
“I’m Joe Cartwright.”
The other bowed his head in response and dismounted. Pulling something out of his saddlebags, he approached Joe.
“I have been asked to deliver this to Ben Cartwright,” he said, handing over the parcel. “It would be nice if he were able to look into it at once, so that I could take a message back to town should he want to reply.”
Joe took a deep breath and willed his body to relax.
“My father died some months ago.” His voice suddenly sounded hoarse even to his own ears, and he cleared his throat, glancing up in time to catch a thoughtful dark blue gaze directed at him. For a moment he thought that he had seen something flicker over the young, handsome face and immediately grew suspicious. However, when the man answered, it was with genuine sympathy.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Suddenly embarrassed by the other’s open display of regret, Joe’s gaze dropped to the small, battered package in his hands. Curiosity sparked, he turned it over, taking a close look at the handwriting on the wrapping. The script was unknown to him, yet the address was correct, written soberly, precisely. ‘Cartwright’ it stated clearly on tired brown paper, and Joe looked up in confusion when he couldn’t make out a sender.
“Where’s it from?”
The young man shrugged. “I was just asked to deliver it,” he said, meeting Joe’s glance straight on. But then he took off his hat, revealing a shock of dark auburn hair, and took a deep breath.
“With regard to the loss you suffered … ,” for a second he hesitated and Joe was sure that the man opposite him would have liked to rake a hand through the unruly curls before his compassionate glance sought out Joe again,” perhaps it should be you who opens it.”
The back of Joe’s neck tingled with anticipation at the words, but the face that was watching him was as guileless as Lake Tahoe. Years of experience in dealing with ranchers, lawyers and business men had taught Joe to read people, but he had a hard time judging the young man in front of him. He was sure now that the other held something back; the prickling in his spine, which had helped him survive uncounted barroom brawls, told him so. And yet, looking into those dark eyes that, seen up close without the shadow of the hat, seemed even more startling, he knew that everything he had been told had been the truth. He decided to give the younger man the benefit of doubt.
“All right, I’ll take a look.” He cast a quick look around, then glanced back towards his visitor, just as the other spoke up again.
“Sir, if you don’t mind, I could wait right here on the porch.”
If Joe was surprised at the request, it didn’t show on his face. He nodded his agreement, then pointed towards the chairs.
“It may take some time. Just make yourself comfortable … I hope you’re up to waiting.”
Joe waited until he had seen the affirming nod, then turned and went inside. When he made to close the door, the young man was still standing where he had left him, his gaze on the powerful mountains in the distance.
Joe smiled amused. “City boy,” he murmured, and shut the door.
Still wondering why his visitor confused him as he did, Joe went over to the alcove and reached for a knife. It took him a long time to open the meticulous row of sailor’s knots, but finally the last fell away and impatiently he pulled at the heavy paper. A layer of oilcloth protected whatever was inside, and when Joe had gotten rid of the wrapping, a book fell into his hands.
Frowning, Joe took a closer look. Bound simply in dark blue leather, the edges of the little book were frayed and worn, the leather made soft with handling. Joe turned it to look at the spine, but no inscription gave away what was inside. Opening it at random, Joe recoiled when his eyes fell on the script. Adam.
My mind and feet are numb, my body weary. I have remembered today that it is so much easier to just plunge forward without stopping, without taking a break, craving the next bend and horizon; hopes and spirits are high, yearning, searching, content with every new view. I understand now how you could do it, day after day, week after week.
There was no exhaustion as long as one could walk. The exhaustion was what filled your mind with despair when you had to be still, to take a break, to feed your child – me. That was when the exhaustion crept up your spine and let you doubt yourself and your abilities.
I realized today that it is much harder to have the courage to turn back and re-step the way you have come, even though your mind cries out not to, even though it cries that there is something better, something more beautiful, beyond the next mile. But turning back means to face what you have tried to leave behind; it means to face yourself.
I am happy that you walked forward.
I am happy that you stopped when you did.
I hope you let me turn back and face my fears.
Exhaling softly, Joe let the diary sink onto his thighs. He knew that entry by heart.
It had cost him all the energy he had, but when he had looked through his father’s possessions after his death, he had come upon a box of letters from Adam, all carefully stacked. Some of them he had known, had remembered his father reading them to Hoss and him. Others had been unfamiliar in their wording, some Joe was sure he had never seen before. That particular letter had been among the last Adam had sent home. Joe still remembered the pensive joy in his father’s eyes, remembered the thoughtful glances Ben had been giving the evidence that his absent son was still alive. Joe knew that after reading the letter he had harboured hopes of Adam coming home, had seen the words on the paper as the messengers of an arrival to come.
But then the letters had stopped, and the son never arrived.
Joe cast a quick glance outside, but the young man sat motionless on the porch, still gazing into the distance. Abruptly shaking his head, Joe took a deep sigh and lowered his eyes onto the next page.
It is strange that as I walk forward, I realize that today is the first day where my mind is empty as I take step after step – devoid, perhaps for the first time, of any conscious thought, and I let the empty landscape do its magic and fill me with a harmony I never knew existed.
And yet, there is a sadness in me I can only just grasp. Perhaps it is because I know that I’ll never walk this way again, probably never find it even if I tried. After today, all the wonders and miracles of this path will be forever lost to me, will exist only in my memory.
Did the first settlers ever think of that? Did they ever let the melancholy influence them?
Probably not. Not everyone is as soft-headed as I feel right now. Don’t laugh, Joe, you’d feel the same.
How have you felt, Pa?
Have you ever been sorry to walk every road just once, knowing that part of your life would be over with the next two steps you’d take? Or did you always know that what you’d finally gain was worth any view anywhere else? Any drop of sweat, any sore feet and aching muscles?
My mourning is little, though. I know what awaits me.
Shaken to the core of his being, Joe blinked, then let a tentative grin spread out on his face. The feelings that washed over him while reading were hard to describe. Already now he felt drained from the emotions that threatened to drown him, threatened to take him apart, bit by bit. Being able to read his brother’s thoughts black on yellowish paper like that was like a gem to him. Like his father and brother, he had accepted a long time ago that his oldest brother had died on his travels, seeking new horizons, satisfying an insatiable thirst for knowledge. The realization had come slowly, creeping into their minds when the years failed to bring letters from his brother, but at one time everyone had known. Their mourning had been quiet, their grief as black as velvet. The thought that even apart from Adam his family had been foremost on his mind gave Joe just a little solace.
The bone in my thigh aches. Before long it will make me limp.
If Joe were here, he’d tease me, saying I was getting old. What would he think if I agreed?
I can still walk; I know I’ll walk on until my leg gives way. What then, I wonder? Will the pain disappear with a bit of rest? I don’t like to think of the alternative.
If the weather holds, I may reach a settlement on my way.
Perhaps I can make it.
Joe held his breath until the feeling of suffocating slowly ebbed away. His mind was in a turmoil, and for a second the innocent letters blurred before his eyes. Stars were already dancing at the edges of his vision, but he forced himself to take a deep breath before he completely lost control.
Could it be true?
Sick to his stomach, Joe turned the page. The black script, so familiar, sprang back at him like a whip lash and Joe squeezed his eyes tight shut when the pain rolled in waves through his body. It was true. Adam was alive. Had been alive all those years, had been alive even when his letters stopped, when his father had slowly fallen apart with uncertainty and shattered hopes.
Recoiling, Joe slammed the diary onto the table. His chest was heaving with the strength it took him to overcome the shock, and he got up and moved towards the sherry counter on the sideboard. One gulp, then another, and his hands were still shaking so badly that he could hardly hold the glass. His eyes darted wildly across the room and again fell on the small book where it lay waiting on the table like a rattlesnake ready to strike. He became aware of a sharp pain shooting up his arms and consciously unclenched his fists.
Adam was alive.
For an eternity Joe stared absent-mindedly at the sherry glass in his hand while thought after thought, memory after memory raced through his mind. And then, all of a sudden, a sunbeam fell on the potent liquid and made it gleam in a warm golden brown. He regarded it silently until finally a reluctant smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. His brother was alive.
Slowly he dared to breathe again. He felt strangely torn; the heart in his chest was still beating so wildly that he feared it would burst apart, while his mind tried to adjust to the new idea. His brother was alive.
The diary was still where he had left it.
Quickly glancing outside to where the boy was sitting, Joe’s eyes darted back to the precious treasure on the table, filled with his brother’s heart and blood. A warm glow was spreading in his chest at the thought, and while he knew he needed time to get used to it, he welcomed it with the very core of his being. His brother was alive. Joy, pure joy flooded through him, setting his soul on fire.
In three steps he had crossed over to the alcove and taken up the worn book again. Softly he stroked the cover, imagining long slender fingers touching it as he did now, and a pleasant shiver ran down his spine at the image.
Unable to contain himself any longer, he opened the diary at random to see his brother’s distinctive hand again, then frowned when the words on the page, sober and matter-of-fact, registered in his mind.
The cold is getting to me. My hand is stiff, the cold settling deep in the broken bones that have not yet healed. The joints hurt, making writing difficult. The little heat from the fire hardly warms the room. I need to get accustomed to using the peat cut here – wood is too expensive to burn. It is strange for me who grew up in forests too vast to cross in one week. Sometimes I miss the smell of trees, but I gained wide horizons and the sound of the waves.
Still, I’m thinking about moving into town for the winter – the distances are too long to pass safely; I don’t want to be cut off for months. Neighbours have told me not to worry, but when I have to be cold and wet, I prefer to be with other people to suffer alongside. Sordid me. My decision stands. I hope they go along with me.
If Joe had been confused before, the short entry didn’t help to set his mind at ease. Adam’s words and thoughts were clearly legible on the paper in front of him, and he suddenly realized with unusual clarity that no matter how hard it had been for him to accept the notion of his brother’s death, he had already welcomed him back to the land of the living. Here he was, black on white, his thoughts as alive as his mind ever had been, making his presence known in the living room as if he had been physically existent. Adam’s words affected Joe more than he would ever have thought possible, and impatiently he turned a few pages, suddenly craving to learn as much about his brother as he could in little time.
The headache is getting worse.
The cold is affecting me worse then I thought possible; it seems I underestimated the dampness rising from the sea that creeps into clothes and bones and leaves a man shivering for hours.
I walked along the ridge today again, looking for more evidence of snares, but found none. I wish people who are starving would just come to the front door, asking, instead of …
In two days I have to go to E. to deliver the blue prints. I hate to leave them with this unresolved issue, but I know it is essential that I go. I want to see it done, too.
Joe shook his head. You have gotten old, brother, he thought, then realized with a jolt of shock that Adam had been only forty when he had written it. For a second, Adam’s features flashed up in his mind, the way he had last seen him over 20 years ago. A powerful frame with hard muscles to line arms and legs, the inquisitive eyes burning his soul with their sharp light. Joe sighed. He had often wondered whether his brother had changed, how life had changed him, but it seemed he would never know. The diary he held in his hands didn’t satisfy him; there were too many things Adam left unsaid. In his writings he had bared his soul, and the thought of Adam vulnerable and open to read as the words that were crawling over the page left Joe with a hollow feeling in his stomach. His brother had never been easy to read, had carefully kept his distance and independence from all of them. To see his thoughts like this made Joe uncomfortable, as if he were somehow violating Adam’s privacy.
“What happened to you on your way that a little dampness leaves you exhausted?” Joe mumbled under his breath, his eyes already scanning the next page. Absently he wondered who “they” and “E.” were, but he was too curious to just read on. Quickly he jumped another few pages in the hopes of perhaps getting some more answers to the millions of questions flowing through his head.
The wind has turned, I can feel it in my bones. Where just this afternoon there has been sun burning my unsuspecting skin, I now feel the cold of autumn creeping into my blood, making me shiver. It is early this year, and already I fear the winter. It will be hard to see friends suffer, and the families of friends. I hope we are provided for, but January will bring truth. I pray we will be safe.
Am I too anxious, anticipating a Sierran winter? My childhood has taught me well, fear of snow is forever branded on my mind. The tiny voice, warning, is always with me, the white fear ever-present.
I shouldn’t wake them up. The fire has burned down.
There it was again.
Joe furrowed his brows as he looked up, but the words he had just read were still too deeply imprinted on his mind so that he wouldn’t have noticed anything else going on around him. The more he read, the more confusing the thoughts in his mind became. Then his eyes fell on the date and he realized that Adam’s diary entries were even more erratic than the few letters he had written home before they had stopped. Joe wondered what had made him write what he had. Had his brother just used what little time he had, writing something down when his time allowed it? Did he choose to note down the thoughts that were important to him? The short paragraphs did seem to recount unimportant, everyday issues, but Joe had the disconcerting feeling that they were more than that. Especially knowing his brother, he felt that he had yet to figure out the underlying pattern that connected all of them.
Bewildering they certainly were, all of them, nagging the back of Joe’s mind, and for a second he spared a prayer, thankful that they had been well provided for over the last years. The house had been warm and the food plenty, and even the accidents and emergencies they had to expect had kept to a minimum. They had been lucky, he guessed. Adam’s diary, though, provoked long-buried memories of his childhood; memories and shreds of discussions he had listened to, half-covered in darkness, when the distressed voices of his father and brother spoke of trouble to come. He had silently crept back into his bed on those nights, but the sound of his family’s voices, distressed and upset, had stayed with him for days.
He never had to go to bed hungry, though he knew that some winters, food had been tight. Adam had had to, though. Joe remembered the stories his father had been telling on long winter evenings, just as he remembered going out to Adam who was splitting wood and naïvely offering a bit of bread to him, trying to make up for the meals his brother had missed. Adam’s grin had been an uncomfortable one, and he had put aside the axe and set Joe on his knee, telling him not to worry and that he was fine, telling Joe he needn’t worry because the times had changed.
‘And have they changed for you, brother?’ Joe squinted his eyes at the diminutive script, feeling all too well the apprehension and worry behind the words. To him it seemed that Adam had left his home to seek even more hardship, and he wondered how different the diary entries would have been if Adam had stayed.
Then Joe’s eyes fell on the “they” again, and not for the first time he wondered what else his brother had failed to mention.
Four men drowned in the storm of last night. I fear for their families. We will work together to help them over the winter, but in the spring it will be the oldest son’s responsibility to see that they survive.
I feel for them. I know what lies ahead of them. Before long, the burden heaved onto their shoulders could break their spirit.
I hope they will make it.
The water is a light azure. It is hard to believe that the souls of those men should be staring at me from the merciless depths.
Thank God my own families are safe.
Joe let the diary sink down onto his lap and took a deep breath. His mind was reeling, and it wasn’t from the small script of the book that made his eyes burn. Feeling suddenly sick to his stomach, Joe rose quickly and poured another sherry, then perched down on the edge of the settee with the glass and looked over to the diary where he had left it on the table.
Was it betrayal he felt? He wasn’t sure. The small paragraph, not longer than the others, blameless ink on a yellowish page, held truths Joe didn’t want to face. The words were innocent enough, the contents behind them made Joe stagger. Despite himself he felt anger growing inside of him. It was anger directed at Adam for not telling him how he felt, for not telling him the things he should have known about his brother’s childhood, and for being gone when Joe would have needed him the most. A very small part of Joe’s mind despised himself for being angry at his father as well, but foremost was Adam.
Joe took a sip of the sherry, then raked a hand through his hair. Surprised he realized that what he felt was a large part envy and laughed tentatively, deeply shaken. Of course he knew that people tended to be more open in their diaries, but seeing Adam’s naked thoughts on the page made him long for the intimacy they had once shared, an intimacy that Adam had denied him when he had left.
And then there was the mention of “families”. Joe was sure now that Adam had married, even if he never bothered to tell his father and brothers of the fact. He was certain that if his brother had been standing in front of him, he would have shouted at him, demanding to know whether Adam really cared for any of them. How could he have been sure that his family was safe when he never even bothered to find out? Joe sighed impatiently, but even without his wanting to he felt his eyes drawn back onto the page.
It has been the right decision.
Whatever others may think, whatever you may think, however much it may hurt you perhaps, I know it has been the right decision.
This spot of no man’s land is an uncut diamond, wild, untamed, hard; and while ours is all of that, and more, this ancient land is different, is a piece of myself that I have found on the other side of the ocean where I expected it the least – but it captured me; and here I will stay.
Somewhere inside me I guess I have always known that I needed my native land, my soul’s salvation, as much as I do worldly things, like books and music. But here, everything sings out to me and is welcoming me home, me, the stranger, the wanderer, the one who always longed for the unknown land.
The grass dances as I write.
It is a peaceful land, Pa. I have found what I have been searching for.
People are singing ancient melodies in front of peat fires. It is a hard life, bone-breaking and sad, but the fire is burning inside of them. They are proud people, stubborn people. The connection is there, undeniably.
I have a mountain. I have the ocean, and the wind.
Life is hard but I know I can work.
I have found my native land.
I have found my soul mate.
The wanderer is gone.
Be happy for me, Pa.
But Pa can’t be happy for you, Joe thought angrily. He died, wondering what had become of his oldest son, his beloved companion and heir, and Hoss and I were never really able to fill the gap. He died while you were out there, seeking your dream, and wondering what he had done wrong to drive you away.
Furiously, Joe rose. He had always needed to move when he wanted to think, the years hadn’t changed that. Unbidden memories stirred in his mind, of his brothers and father teasing him when he couldn’t keep still, but crossly he pushed them away. Those times were long gone, and the past wasn’t going to help him sort out his feelings.
The truth was, he didn’t know what to feel. Here it was, a sign of life of a brother he had thought had been lost to him forever, and with whose loss he had dealt long ago. Knowing now that brother had been alive all those years, had led a life of his own, without ever trying to contact his family, upset Joe more that he had ever thought possible.
Irritably he stared at the diary where he had slammed it onto the table. Not for the first time he wondered why Adam had sent it now, then remembered the young man who had delivered the package and who still waited for an answer. Joe stole another quick look at the offending object, then took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down. Perhaps he would get some answers outside.
The boy was still sitting on the porch where Joe had last seen him. Leaning back against one of the porch railings, he gazed quietly at the mountains that were visible in the brilliantly blue distance, his face tranquil and serene. Joe thought he had to change his assessment of the other one’s age, though; the lines of shoulder and legs suggested more years than he had assumed at first sight. And then, within the next seconds, Joe felt as if he looked back in time and almost choked with the realization. Suddenly he saw a powerful neck and shoulders, long slender fingers held loosely, saw a deep breath move a chest that was wide and capacious. He just stared and his mouth went dry while he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.
Then the young man turned, alerted by an intake of breath behind him, and whatever he was seeing in Joe’s face made him get to his feet in a hurry.
“Are you all right, sir?” he asked gently, and Joe desperately tried to wet his palate. He waved the other down, then sat beside him and tried to escape the inquisitive gaze that watched his every move.
Finally he lifted his own eyes.
“You’re his son, aren’t you?” he asked quietly. Opposite him, a corner of a full-lipped mouth quivered shortly, and the dark head bowed gently in a gesture of acknowledgement that sent white-hot sparks of pain through Joe’s body in its familiarity.
There didn’t seem to be anything Joe could say. All conscious thought wiped from his mind, he struggled to bring the tiny bit that was left into some kind of order, noting with desperate hilarity the absurdity of it all. He opened his mouth to speak, abruptly swallowed what he was going to say and asked the first thing that came to his mind.
“What are you doing here?”
Warm, sensitive eyes regarded him thoughtfully, and Joe felt a shiver run down his spine, despite the fact that the other had to be his junior by more than twenty years.
“I wanted to see where my father grew up.”
Whatever Joe had expected to hear, this wasn’t it, and he felt his temper, only so shortly laid to rest, flare up again.
“Not to visit us?” Joe thought he had seen a spark strike in the bottomless eyes, but when the young man, whose name he didn’t even know, he realized suddenly, lifted his eyes, every hint of an emotion had been carefully wiped away.
“I know my father and you didn’t part on best terms,” he said cautiously, and Joe winced inwardly when he remembered the arguments that had marked the last year his brother had been home. He felt a flush colour his cheeks and cast down his eyes, but the young man next to him didn’t seem to notice; his eyes were studying the pines in the yard and the mountains rising beyond.
“I didn’t know how I would be received; and I didn’t expect anything.”
Joe thought privately that Adam would have warned his son, then realized with another jolt of shock that he still didn’t know anything about his brother, nor about this strange visitor. There was no denying that it was indeed Adam’s son. The hair and eyes might have been of a different colour, but Joe would have recognized the gestures anywhere in the world.
“What’s your name?” he asked abruptly. The finely arched brows rose in surprise, but the young man replied nonetheless.
“Alick,” he said, for the first time allowing a hint of a Scottish accent to show in his deep, resonant voice. For some reason, Joe thought the question amused him, even if he didn’t know why that would be.
Again the young man gazed thoughtfully at Joe before he answered. “No, of course not.” His gaze returned to the peaks in the distance, successfully preventing Joe from asking anything else.
“My father sometimes told me about those mountains,” he said softly under his breath. “He said they were more powerful than ours at home, but less enchanted.” Alick chuckled quietly, his eyes shining with memories and something Joe couldn’t define. The mentioning of his brother had sent his heart fluttering again, and despite himself he felt an all too familiar irritation rise inside of him, an irritation he had thought died twenty years ago.
“Is that why he never came back? Why he never wrote?”
His outburst had been low and quickly quenched, but the sharp eyes that suddenly bore into him could have been his brother’s. For a second they just stared at each other, then Alick dropped his gaze and squared his shoulders.
“I can understand now why he left,” he said evenly.
To his eternal surprise, the short remark irritated Joe even more.
“So you do? Then you can understand how my father felt, suddenly bereft of his oldest son when he would have needed him? How we felt, losing our brother?” Joe tried very much to keep his seat when, despite the time that had elapsed, all he wanted to do was jump up and shake his brother for leaving them.
“I can understand.” Again the deep blue eyes watched Joe thoughtfully, and he almost would have squirmed in his seat, wishing the dark gaze wasn’t quite as disconcerting. “He must have felt how my father felt, when he lost your trust.”
Joe felt like an icy fist had punched him in the stomach. With blood-red clarity he suddenly remembered a scene in the yard, when he had confronted Adam over a decision concerning a war that had torn the country. His brother had been pale then, and reluctant to answer Joe’s request, but his voice had told Joe that he wouldn’t change his mind.
Joe looked at Alick, but instead of the blue eyes, he saw intent golden ones and heard with dreadful finality the words that had been among the last his brother had ever said to him: “I would give my life for you, Joe, but I won’t give up my convictions.”
Joe didn’t realize that he had spoken aloud until he heard his nephew’s soft voice and felt a slight touch, warm and reassuring, on his shoulder.
“No, he wouldn’t have.” For the first time, Alick smiled at Joe, and the sight was like a kick in the stomach. “It wasn’t your fault he left.”
“Wasn’t it, though?” Joe’s voice held a touch of sarcasm that was hard to mistake. “He never came back …he didn’t even bother to write.” Joe raked a hand through his hair, desperately trying to calm down, but to his surprise Alick seemed quite unimpressed with his outburst.
“My father was happy where he was.” Again Joe felt the thoughtful gaze of the younger man search his features, felt the careful reluctance with which he spoke and only barely refrained from averting his eyes.
“Sometimes … sometimes he told us about his life here…,” Alick’s voice trailed off for a second and Joe could see the memories chasing over the young face. “Not once did he say he regretted the decisions he had made, or that he wanted to go back.”
Contemplating the simple words, Joe’s stomach tightened when he picked up on the phrasing. “He was happy? Is he …?”
For a second, Alick’s startled eyes sent a jolt of fear through Joe, but then the other visibly relaxed and sent him a lopsided grin. Joe exhaled the breath he didn’t know he had been holding.
“He has a bit of trouble moving around. The damp air of the sea gets to his bones …, ” Alick chuckled under his breath and threw Joe a look that sparkled with amusement. “He’s still as stubborn as a rock and as grumpy as ever.”
For some reason, Joe thought, hearing those words from Adam’s son did more to bring back his brother than reading his diary. A calmness settled over him that he hadn’t felt since his father died.
“You aren’t by any chance a minister, are you?” he asked, then realized that his train of thought must have been confusing when he saw Alick’s brows rise.
“A sailor,” he said. He smiled self-consciously when he noticed Joe’s surprised glance, then suddenly got up and turned his back to Joe as he gazed at the blue shadows of the far-away mountains again.
“I’ll stay in Virginia City for another week before I have to go back to San Francisco.”
He glanced over his shoulder, and Joe caught another flash of blue and a grin.
“Perhaps we’ll see each other again.”
Then, before Joe could react, before he even knew what was happening, Alick had put on his hat and mounted, leaving Joe to squint at the cloud of dust that remained in the yard.
Recovering, Joe snorted softly and shook his head. “You are too old for your age, son,” he thought, then grimaced when the impact of his words hit him. There was no denying that Alick was his father’s son. A feeling of utter desertion ran through Joe when he thought of his brother’s ironic comments and free-spirited mind, and wearily he got up and went back inside where Adam’s diary was lying on the table.
There wasn’t much to do. Joe sat down and stared at the book, his mind absolutely and utterly blank, while his overflowing heart tried to make sense of what had just happened.
He didn’t know how long he had sat like that, but suddenly the crash from the door closing reverberated through the house and made him jump. Trying to wipe the last shreds of his musings from his mind, Joe looked up to stare into his brother’s blue eyes for a moment and finally found his voice.
“Hey, welcome back.”
“Must’a been some daydream, huh?” his brother replied good-naturedly, then took off his dusty coat and gun belt and went over to join him on the settee. “Glad ta be back.”
Watching his brother emptying his saddlebags onto the table and coughing at the clouds of dust that rose, Joe noticed the look of intense concentration on Hoss’ face.
“What’s the matter?”
“Did ya see that young fella?” Hoss frowned, then went on, completely unaware of the look Joe sent him.
“I just had the strangest feelin’ when I saw that fella’ ridin’ by…like I should know him, but at the same time, I know I ain’t never seen him before.” Shaking his head, Hoss bowed and grabbed an apple from the bowl. Straightening, he caught Joe staring at him, and quirked an eyebrow.
Joe felt his eyes turn back to the diary on the table, but he didn’t move when his brother bowed to pick it up.
Hoss carefully opened the book and squinted his eyes to read the inscription.
“Alexander Joseph Cartwright,” he said, screwing up his face in confusion while he tried to match a face to the name, but when he turned a few pages, saw the familiar script, Joe heard Hoss’ sharp intake of breath as realization hit him.
“Dadburnit, Joe!” Hoss stared at him, wide-eyed.
Joe looked at his brother, the one who had been by his side all his life, and shrugged.
“A ghost from Scotland, I guess,” he said softly. “Just a ghost.”
But Hoss had already gone, and the door was left open behind him. Joe raised his eyes.
A sunbeam fell on the half-filled glass where it sat on the table and made the fluid gleam in a warm golden brown.
Other Stories by this Author
- Interlude (by Nanuk)
- Shadow (by Nanuk)
- Me (by Nanuk)
- Winter Night (by Nanuk)
- Spirit Thief (by Nanuk)