SUMMARY: While attempting to fix a mistake that Joe made, Adam makes one far worse and with greater consequences for his future. Eventually his family will be drawn into it too and with lessons learned, they will face the problems.
Rating = T Word count = 24,418
The sentence was pronounced. He heard it but somehow it didn’t register at first. It was only when he was in the cell and that door clanged shut behind him that the words began to penetrate. Even the trip in the prison wagon hadn’t truly made him believe the words could be true. Traveling through the desert for days looking at the saguaro and brush through bars while dust got everywhere, he should have accepted it. He was being treated like a package not a man.
“Death by hanging. In twenty-one days. When the hangman gets back.”
There it was. The remainder of his life could now be counted off. Adam Cartwright knew that most people never knew when the end was coming. It came upon them unaware and unable to make preparations. Here he knew and he was as unable to make any preparations as anyone else. Standing there in the prison cell for probably fifteen minutes, he finally sat on the cot that was there. It was surprisingly clean and comfortable. Yuma Prison apparently was humane enough to the condemned. Only a month earlier, he had been riding free on the Ponderosa breathing clean fresh air and thinking about perhaps leaving to travel or to seek his future in some other place and some other endeavor.
Then the message had arrived which had changed everything. Joe had made a serious mistake. Someone had to answer for it. With Joe planning his wedding and looking to a bright future, Adam didn’t think it fair to send him to Arizona to perhaps ruin it all. Hoss of course was the heart and soul of the family. Ill equipped to deal with a sensitive issue such as the mess that had been created, he might have only made it worse. The family would have suffered horribly at his loss. There was no consideration at all in thinking about sending his father so the only one left was him. After all, he was the one to whom the message had been delivered, more or less, because he had picked up the letter in town and had been the first and then the only one to read it. Robles would have assumed he would tell Joe and the family. He didn’t. Instead, he told his family it was time for him to go to seek his future. Their reactions were pretty much what he expected.
“Son, can’t you give it some time? Talk it over with us? There could be a way for us to change things here so you could be happier staying.”
“Pa, it isn’t that I’m so unhappy here. It’s that there are so many things I want to see and to do that I can’t do here. I’ll come back. I promise. When I’ve satisfied myself that I’ve done what I need to do, I’ll come home.”
Ben Cartwright had been satisfied with his eldest son’s promise but not so his youngest brother who had multiple complaints about him leaving.
“How can you be so selfish? You do this to Pa? You walk out just before my wedding? You leave Hoss and me with all the work and not even a sorry for that?”
Fighting the urge to explain the actual reason for his departure, Adam simply repeated what he had said already. Joe snarled at that and repeated his assertion that Adam was only concerned with himself. Joe stomped away from him as Hoss walked up to stand beside him.
“You sure got him riled up this time.”
“I didn’t mean to do that.”
“I suppose you have a challenge for me too.”
“Nope, I figure you got something important to do. I wish you’d tell me what it was, but I guess you think there’s a reason I shouldn’t know. I’ve always trusted you. Ain’t about to change that now.”
Glancing up at the snow-covered peaks in the distance, Adam was going to answer when Hoss interrupted.
“Don’t say it. You ain’t a good liar. You ain’t never been and probably never will be. I have to tell ya something before you leave. It may help you in what you got to do. Whenever you’re gonna tell a lie, you always look up like ya just did. When you’re thinking hard on something, you always put your head down. Sometimes you tug on an ear, or rub your neck, or do something like that. There’s no pattern I can tell. But when you’re gonna lie, it’s a pattern. You look up and stare off at something. It’s like you’re putting that lie together out of thin air up there.”
Frowning more and more as Hoss talked, Adam wanted to disagree with him, but he knew how observant Hoss was. He knew it was true if Hoss said it. It could be useful to him in what he had to do too.
“Thank you. It could help.”
“You gonna hang around for Joe’s wedding.”
“Can’t? Dang, I wish you’d tell me what’s wrong.”
“Hopefully nothing that I can’t fix. Like I told Pa, I’ll be back when I’ve done the things I need to do and want to do. I promise.”
Getting a hint from that, Hoss had a question. “This got something to do with Joe’s trip to Arizona and them horses he brung home? He was so proud to have won them on a bet. Made me uneasy when he said it. Most men would be pretty hot to lose that much in a bet to a young man like Joe. Then to bring home a lady to marry too, well, that made me wonder too how she wasn’t already promised to somebody.”
When Adam said nothing, Hoss had an idea of where he was going and what he was likely to be doing.
“Awful hot in Arizona this time of year and only gonna get hotter, dontcha think?”
“Yeah, probably true.”
“Lots of dangerous critters in the desert down there and hard to see ’em with all the cover they got.”
“Yes, it’s a place where you have to be exceedingly careful.”
“Ifn you’re not, somebody has to come to your rescue or you could be in a lot of trouble, right?”
“Yes, a lot of trouble.”
“I guess ifn I was in trouble down there, you’d be the one I’d want to help me out.”
Squeezing Adam’s shoulder, Hoss held back the tears he wanted to shed. Except for those years Adam was in college, he had never been without his brother. In those college years, he was sure Adam was coming back. He wasn’t so sure this time. He had that ugly feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Adam, my gut feeling is that you need to have one of us with you.”
“Sorry, Hoss, but I can’t go with your gut feeling this time.”
Sitting in that cell thinking about his short future, Adam regretted not trusting Hoss’ famous gut feelings. He had thought he had settled things with Robles. Although his initial greeting had been hostile, Adam had brought enough money to show his intent to rectify the situation. He was gracious in his apology to the man who had been wronged. There had been some smiles when he left. However he was uneasy as he rode away because there had been no hospitality offered. Usually a meal or drinks at least would have been customary to show that there were no ill feelings. The lack of them could be an indication that his peacemaking was not entirely successful. Not sure of how to proceed nor at all sure what Robles might do next, he watched his backtrail but saw no pursuit of any kind even though he stopped several times and watched carefully for any sign.
However he woke up the next morning with blood on his hands, a dead man in his room, and the sheriff’s pistol at his temple. When he got to court for his trial, it didn’t take the jury long to convict him. It didn’t matter that the dead man looked like he’d been pulled from a grave nor that that there was no blood on the body. Adam had no money and wasn’t allowed to communicate with his family because he couldn’t pay for the telegram or even enough to post a letter. One of the sheriff’s deputies acted as his lawyer because of course, he had no money for a lawyer either. He asked what had happened to his wallet and that earned him a beating for defying the sheriff. The judge was told that he tried to escape. Confined with a ball and chains, it was ludicrous, but he wasn’t about to say anything different and get another beating. The judge had little choice in the matter when the jury came in with the unanimous verdict that he was guilty. The sentence was automatic.
As he sat in his cell awaiting the prison wagon that was to take him to Yuma Prison where he would be held until his execution, he had a visitor.
“You thought money and pretty words would correct the wrong done to me? He stole my future away. He took my Angelina and has married her. He took my horses and failed to pay me the money owed. He tricked me into a bet that I could not win so that he would not have to pay for my horses. You gave me the money back, but he took what was valuable to me when he played his game on me to make me look foolish and worse when he took her with him. He took my honor. I will take something of value to him. I take you from him in the most final way that he cannot change to repay his debt to me.”
Adam could sit and curse his own overconfidence and arrogance that he could rescue his little brother by his actions alone. He was going to pay a heavy price for those personality characteristics. The only consolation he had was that by the way Robles talked, he felt the debt of honor was repaid and didn’t seem to have any plans to try to exact any more revenge on Joe and Angelina. It was some comfort if not much to know his death had some meaning.
At least that jail cell had a window that let in some air. The prison wagon was open on all sides too. But sitting in Yuma prison in the Dark Cell because he had been identified as a prisoner who has tried to escape from jail, there was no outside light. It was dim during the day and pitch black at night. He was chained like an animal too to a ring embedded in the floor. Other than that, he was treated decently. The bed was comfortable and the food was all right.
On the third day he was there, the warden visited and stood at the end of the cot staring at him for a moment before speaking. As Adam sat silently, the warden had a statement to make and then asked a question.
“The guards have said you are very cooperative and give them no trouble at all. Yet we were told you are uncooperative and tried to escape. Did you try to escape?”
Staring at the club carried by the guard who stood at the warden’s side, Adam did not answer. The warden could see the fading bruises and abrasions that still showed on Adam’s face, hands, and forearms. He asked the guard if Adam had those when he entered Yuma. The guard said that he did.
“No one will hurt you here because we don’t like the answer to a question as long as you speak respectfully. Now, did you try to escape from the jail in Los Robles?”
“No, I asked what had happened to my wallet and my money. I wanted to send a telegram to my family. I would have liked to hire a lawyer to defend me too.”
Frowning, the warden was quiet for a short time. What he said next was disheartening but at least told Adam he wouldn’t die without a friend.
“I am sorry for what happened to you. Getting in trouble with the Robles family leads to some terrible outcomes. What did you do to upset them so?”
“I came to pay off a debt owed by my brother. They didn’t think money was enough.”
“Ah, their damned sense of honor. It is way out of proportion to anything that makes sense. Well, you seem an educated man. Can you read well?” Adam nodded. “We try to educate the men we have here. The hope is to send them back into the world better equipped to succeed in it so they do not return here. Would you be willing to help us teach reading?”
Adam had a rather sardonic laugh to that. “I’m going to hang in twelve days and you want me to teach reading to other prisoners?”
“What else are you going to do here? Wouldn’t you like to have something to do to help keep your mind from what will happen? It is the best I can do for you. I wish I could do more, but my hands are tied. The law only allows so much.”
Dropping his head to consider the offer, Adam was reminded of what Hoss had told him. He smiled and looked up. The warden thought it amazing that a man in such a situation could smile but the man before him seemed to be so different from the men he usually met that he didn’t have a good frame of reference.
“I’ll teach reading to the other men. When do I start this new and short career?”
“Immediately if you are willing. I will have you transferred to a regular cell. I’m afraid the accommodations aren’t that much better. It will be hot. Also, there are cases of consumption here. We do our best to confine them to one wing when they are identified, but as with all men, they often do not complain until they feel quite terrible and cough so much the guards notice.”
“I don’t think I have to worry about catching a disease.”
The gallows humor was in fact apropos. Adam began teaching that day. When the men found out he was a condemned prisoner, they immediately trusted him and knew he wasn’t a spy planted by the warden. They had reason to be concerned about that. They were using the class as a place to meet to plan an escape. Adam found out the details within a few days of teaching. The warden apparently visited the classes every Saturday. There were no classes on Sunday. The plan was to take the warden prisoner and use him and his guard as shields to force their way out of the walls. They planned to take the warden with them as a hostage with the threat that they would kill him if pursued. However among themselves, they made it clear they were going to kill him as soon as they were out of sight of the prison because a hostage was only going to slow them down. Because Adam faced execution, they assumed he was going to cooperate in their plan and included him in the planning.
If Adam informed the warden of what the group was planning, he knew his life was going to be even shorter than the week he had left by that Saturday. Instead, he worked out a plan. He made sure he was the one assigned to take the guard’s gun. When asked why, he asked who there was an expert shot and said he was. He asked who had more to lose and who else had killed and would kill again without hesitation. They agreed to his request.
The plan worked exactly as designed except when they got outside the walls to the stable and the men began to mount up to ride away. It was then that Adam put his gun to the leader’s head and ordered him to release the warden.
“Are you crazy? He’s gonna stretch your neck in a week.”
“He’s doing his job. It’s not something that ought to get him killed.”
“We need him to get away.”
“You’re not leaving.” Looking at the other men, Adam made a decision. “Go now, or go back inside. He’s not going with you.”
Hesitating only a moment, the other men rode off. Unarmed and without any protection or supplies, they had little chance of successfully escaping. The leader snarled at Adam who kept the pistol aimed at his head. It was there that the guards found them only minutes later. The warden shouted for them not to shoot Adam who immediately dropped the pistol and raised his hands.
In the warden’s office later, Adam sat with his head up but his shoulders slumped. The warden came into the office and sat at his desk.
“They’re tracking them down. Why didn’t you tell me about it before it happened?”
“If I did and had no proof, you couldn’t do much and they would have killed me.”
“If I put you back out there now, they’ll kill you.”
“It’s only a week early. I’ve had some time to think about that. I guess it seems more fitting than hanging.”
“I bet you liked reading stories of King Arthur.”
Frowning at him, Adam had nothing more to say, but the warden did.
“I was very upset at first, but I’ve had time to think about it. You planned this all out. You set it all up to work out just as it did. I saw how cool you were during the whole thing. I don’t think they saw it. They were all too excited, too wrapped up in what they were doing.”
The warden had to smile a little too as all Adam did was shrug in accepting his assessment of the situation. He was a proud man but not excessively so. He took satisfaction in what he had done.
“Thank you. You saved my life. I’m sure of that. Now, there’s one thing I can try to do for you. I can see about getting your sentence commuted.”
“How will that help? I’d have to go out there.” Pointing outside to the prison yard, Adam pulled a finger across his throat. “. . . and my life won’t be that long.”
“I have another idea for how you can serve out that time. For now, the only place I can put you is back into the Dark Cell. You’ll have to hope my plan works or we know what happens in a week.”
“I hope you see fit to share that plan with me soon.”
“As soon as I can, sir.”
With a slight smile, Adam had to admit to himself that he enjoyed that respect in the man’s words and tone. Escorted back to the Dark Cell, he wasn’t chained as he had expected to be. Instead, he was left with a small lantern and a book to read. He knew it must belong to the warden. It certainly wasn’t in the prison book supply. It was a well-worn copy of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur which Adam always enjoyed rereading. It kept him busy for a few days until he got a visit from the warden on Wednesday. He had been getting nervous that nothing was going to change and the execution would take place as scheduled. However, when the cell door was unlocked, Adam saw that the warden had another man with him. They had a proposition. There truly was no choice for Adam. He had to say yes.
“Your sentence will be commuted to fifteen years. You will work for the U.S. Marshal’s Service. They have checked you out and accept that you are a man they can trust. You will not be a marshal as you are a felon under the law serving out your time. However you will be paid enough to cover expenses. Any bounties you earn are yours to keep. You will use an assumed name and you are not allowed to contact your family directly. We will help you contact them indirectly.”
“You told them you were going to be doing some other things? We can have letters delivered from other places so it appears that is where you are. Meanwhile you will be here working undercover or at the side of the marshal, however he sees fit. Now you need a new identity, but looking at you, I assume it wouldn’t take long for you to have facial hair. Let your hair grow longer and wear other clothing. No one here knows you well enough to recognize you if you do those things.”
The man with the warden introduced himself. “I’m Marshal Dave Anders. I work this territory without much help usually. The warden says you’re good at planning and cool under pressure. You’re going to need those qualities. First off you should know this commutation comes with a condition. The governor isn’t so sure of what he’s doing.”
“What’s the condition? I’m rather sure I’m not going to like it, but under the circumstances, I hardly think I have the option of refusing your offer.”
“If you fail to fulfill your obligations at any point in the next fifteen years, the original sentence is reinstated.”
Swallowing hard, Adam stared first at one man and then the other. “So I’m to put my life on the line, but if I cross the line, it’s the gallows?”
The warden responded first. “I’m sorry. It’s the best deal we could get for you.”
“I suppose I could hope that another governor might be appointed before the fifteen years are up who might be more willing to be lenient or maybe Arizona Territory will be a state.”
“I wouldn’t count on either of those. I think you have to obey orders and do your best.”
I’m going to put you to the test right away. My first investigation is the Robles family in Los Robles. I’ve had some complaints.”
“That could be difficult. They are the ones who got me put here.”
“I know. One of the complaints was from the judge in your case. He thought they set you up. He’s dead now.”
“They killed him?”
“Maybe. Up to me to find out.”
“What name will you use?”
“I guess the name of where I was born into this new life.”
“Call me Yuma.”
“One last thing, Yuma. All your records down here are being expunged. If your family ever comes looking for you here, it will be like you were never in Arizona as far as the justice system is concerned. There will be no record of your arrest, trial, conviction, or incarceration. All of it will be gone except for what is sealed in the governor’s office. No one will be able to tell them anything or if they do, there will be no evidence to back it up. There will be a record of a prisoner who calls himself Yuma who escaped the prison and was never caught.”
Though he had little cause to grin these days, he did at that comment. Adam spent a few more days in the cell. On Saturday, a mock execution was held and a ‘body’ was buried in an unmarked grave outside the walls of the prison. Anyone who was checking for Robles would think that all had happened as it was expected to occur.
Instead, the next day, a man with five days growth of beard wearing rather nondescript clothing rode out from the prison with the U.S. Marshal. They headed in the opposite direction of Los Robles camping that night far from any community or ranch watching to see if there was any pursuit or anyone curious about them. No one followed them or checked up on them. The following day, they began a wide circuit that would eventually take them into Los Robles. First though they had a few weeks of tracking down an escapee from the prison and returning him. Then they got sidetracked when some renegades made some trouble. It was a six weeks after leaving the prison together before they could turn any attention to Los Robles.
On the Ponderosa, Hoss had been in a sad state for some time. Ben knew his son missed his older brother and tried to talk to him about it one day when Hoss was working on repairing some harness in the stable.
“Hoss, I miss Adam terribly too, but we both knew he was going to go at some point. He had a wanderlust that I understand very well. He’s too much like me. The world was calling to him to show him what it had.”
“Well, yeah, maybe that was part of it.”
“Maybe that was part of it? Hoss, do you know more than what Adam told us about his leaving?”
“It ain’t exactly knowing, Pa. I kinda think he was up to more than just what he said he was doing.”
“Now why would you say that?”
“Well, you ain’t gonna like hearing this.”
“Maybe I’m not going to like hearing it, but I want to hear it anyway. You’ve gone this far which means you want to tell me.”
“It has to do with Joe.”
Hoss saw the look his father had and it was the one he had anticipated.
Ben began to explain much as Hoss thought he would and he got to Joe as Hoss thought too. “Now Adam didn’t leave because of Joe. I know they have had their disagreements over the years, but they were getting along better and gradually working out those prickly issues between them.”
That gave Hoss the opening he needed. “Maybe so, but Joe’s got a way of doing things sometimes without thinking it all the way through. You know maybe that there could be things that might happen because of what he did, but he don’t see it coming. He gets so all fired excited about how good he done, he never does see that maybe there’s a dark side too.”
“You know, Adam left so I thought I wouldn’t have to have to talk to a son in riddles any more. Could you spit it out?”
“You’re already upset, and I ain’t even told you nothing too bad yet.”
“Tell me. I won’t be upset with you.” He saw Hoss’ skeptical look. “I promise.”
“All right, but you need to keep that promise in mind. Well, Joe went down to Arizona with some money to buy some horses. He came back with the horses, the money, and with Angelina.” Ben shrugged and smiled because it was all good so far. He was proud of Joe and all that he had accomplished. “Well, Pa, you’re a pretty reasonable man, but how would you feel if somebody kinda hoodwinked you into a deal so that they got a passel of horses from ya and ended up not paying a cent for ’em? Now you don’t need to answer that ’cause we both know the answer. Anyway, some of them folks down there in Arizona ain’t likely to act so civilized as you ifn it happened to them. Remember, some of them got that hot Spanish blood in ’em. Well besides that, how could a beautiful lady like Angelina not be promised to somebody already in that little town? You know how she says Joe ‘saved’ her and such. He didn’t want to tell us the details and we ain’t never wanted to make her tell us. We figured it was her right to keep her past in the past. But maybe there’s something there we oughta be knowing. Maybe Joe did wrong by someone’s thinking by getting her away from a ‘im who wanted to marry up with her. What if that was the same man who lost out on the deal for the horses?”
“Hoss, that is a great deal of conjecture without a bit of fact to back up anything.”
“I know, and I know Adam wouldn’t go off on any wild goose chase, so I been thinking he musta known something somehow.”
“He was in town the day before he told us he had to leave.”
“Maybe he found out something in town and that’s why he thought he had to go. Pa, even if we thought he might leave some day, it was still rather sudden, and it wasn’t like Adam to go and not wait for Joe’s wedding. He’s watched out for that boy his whole life. He woulda been here for that wedding if he thought he could. There had to be a reason why he was gone instead.”
Joe had heard the last part of the conversation as he neared the stable. “Yeah, he’s too damn selfish. That could be it, couldn’t it?”
“Now, Joe, you’re only saying that ’cause you still got a mad on over Adam missing your wedding. Me and Pa been discussing why he mighta done that. I think maybe it’s time you and me talked about it too.”
So Hoss repeated his entire theory about what he thought Adam might be doing and why. When he finished, Joe looked far more skeptical than Ben had.
“So you’re saying that Adam went down there to pay for those horses even though we already own them, and to apologize to whoever is still upset over me marrying Angelina? That’s crazy. Besides, no one should apologize to anyone for me taking Angelina away from there. That man was cruel to her. Her life would have been a hell. Saving her from him doesn’t require any kind of apology. He’s lucky I didn’t do anything more to him. She didn’t want any more trouble so she snuck away and went with us when we drove the horses out. She dressed like a man for three days on the trail so anybody watching us would think she was a boy. That’s not unusual, and it did work perfectly. I don’t think he even knew where she went.”
“Hoss, Joe makes some good points too. Until we know more, we’ll have to accept that Adam is where he said he was going.”
That was how the matter stood until the next time Hoss was in town. Making a few inquiries, he didn’t get anything of interest until he mentioned what he was doing while talking to the owner of the general store.
“So, anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing today, but no one seems to remember anything out of the ordinary for Adam that day.”
“Yeah, I remember that day. Adam picked up that new shirt he had ordered. He wanted a nice clean crisp white one to wear for Joe’s wedding. Then when I was wrapping it up in paper, he read a letter. He was real quiet when he finished reading it and almost left without his new shirt. I remember because I had to call him back to take his shirt with him.”
“Thank you. You’re the only one who remembers him doing anything that day. You remember where he went after he left your store?”
“I think he headed to the bank if I recall correctly.”
At the bank, no one at the counter seemed to know anything so Hoss asked to speak to the bank manager. He seemed quite nervous and finally blurted out one thing that helped Hoss understand what had happened.
“Adam talked to me but said if any of the family asked I wasn’t to divulge the content of our conversation. I’m sorry, Hoss, but I have to honor the wishes of an investor especially one with such extensive holdings.”
“That’s all right, Harvey. I understand.”
Hoss did understand too. Adam had gone from reading the letter to talking to the bank manager about his investments and swearing him to secrecy. Hoss guessed that he had cashed in some of them to get the money to pay for those horses and probably at a premium price so as not to add an insult to an already serious breach of honor. He knew he still didn’t have any evidence that would hold up to scrutiny, but he was building up a logical argument. If his father and brother wouldn’t listen, he was planning to head to Los Robles by himself. He had a terrible feeling in his gut and it wouldn’t go away.
When Hoss got home, he went into Adam’s room. Knowing how organized his brother was, he suspected that letter was in there somewhere. He stood and surveyed the room for perhaps fifteen minutes until his eyes rested on a book of drawings of buildings in Spain. Clearly Adam had been looking at that recently. Hoss picked it up and paged through it until he found the letter neatly tucked into the back cover. When he read it, it confirmed in his mind all that he had suspected.
That evening at dinner, Hoss explained what he found out that day and what he thought Adam had done and why he had done it. He was as succinct as possible and as diplomatic as he could be with Angelina at the table. Still she paled as she listened to his tale and saw the letter in his hand.
“No, Senor Robles will kill him. Maybe not directly, but he will find a way. As he says in the letter, he will get his revenge. He believes in an eye for an eye. I am lost to him so he will take one from here. I am so sorry. I did not think he would know I was with you.”
“I guess, my dear, that when my son defied him and took those horses over their wager, he guessed that he was the only one brave enough to let you go with him. Are you so sure that he would kill over such a thing?”
“He has killed for less, Mister Cartwright. I had no idea I would put your family in such peril. Oh, I should not say he will kill. He has others kill for him. He is dangerous because he is like, I don’t know, the Satan who sends his minions to do his bidding.”
Sitting in shock, Joe put an arm around Angelina’s shoulders. He had fallen in love with her quickly and had been overjoyed when she had run away and asked him to help her. It had been only days before he was thinking he wanted to marry her and a week before he asked her. Now suddenly he was aware of the ramifications of the decisions the two of them had made.
“Angelina, sweetheart, when you ran away, would he have hurt anyone because of that? What about any family you had there?”
“My parents are gone. I lived with my cousins who aren’t really my cousins but who were willing to take me in and raise me when my parents got the fever and died. No, I think he knew I did that on my own without any help.”
Joe turned his thoughts and attention to Adam then. “Pa, do you think Adam knows that Robles is this dangerous?”
“I doubt it. Did you, until now?”
“We have to go help him, Pa. I got a gut feeling he’s in trouble down there.”
“We’ll go, Hoss. You and I will head out at first light. Joe, you get to be in charge of everything while we’re gone.”
“Pa, I should go with you. It’s all because of me.”
“Perhaps, but having you there could make things worse. Once Robles sees you, who knows how he will react.”
“I could hang back. You know, hang onto the horses and let you and Hoss go see him directly.”
“I don’t think I could leave you alone in that kind of place.”
“We could take one more man with us.”
“Pa, you know that might be a good idea anyway. Having four seems like it might be a good precaution.”
Clearly upset that her husband was going and yet knowing he needed to go, Angelina had silent tears. Joe took her by the hand and led her to their room so they could talk and he could find out as much as he could about the man they would have to face. He had known only of the man’s cruelty to women. Now he found how he was cruel to everyone and ruled the town with fear. No one dared defy him. Enough men had done so and died to keep anyone else from even considering it. Joe was even more worried about Adam after she told him some stories.
“He said his first wife died in a riding accident, but she had broken bones all over and her face was smashed beyond recognition. If it was a riding accident, it must have been a herd of horses. Her father was so upset that he proclaimed it a murder. They found him hanging in his stable the next morning. It was declared that he killed himself because he was so upset at his daughter’s death yet there were bruises all over him too. The rest of the family left in the night. He took their ranch as his.”
“And my brother went to face him alone.”
“Joe, I am so afraid for you and your family to go.”
“We’ll be careful.”
“It may not be enough.”
“It has to be. Listen, Pa will plan out what we’re going to do. He won’t leave anything to chance.”
The next morning, the four men headed south. A hard week of travel brought them to Los Robles where they took two rooms. The next day, Hoss and Ben headed out to call on Robles to see what he had to say about Adam if anything. They had found his name on the hotel register so they knew he had been in the town as they suspected.
“Senor Cartwright, to what do I owe the honor of this visit?”
Surprised at the warmth of the greeting, Ben explained that Adam was missing and asked about his visit to the ranch.
“Oh, he was here and such a gracious gentleman he is. He wanted to pay for the horses so that there would be no hurt feelings and we could do business again in the future. He paid handsomely too. We laughed a bit about your youngest son and his way of living. It is always so with the young ones, no?”
Ben had to admit it sounded like something that could have happened. However he did broach the more delicate subject of Angelina and whether the rancher had gotten over his anger at that.
“I must say that when I wrote that letter, I had only found out where she had gone. You must know I was quite upset. I should have waited to calm down and would not have said anything about it. A mature man like myself should know better than to consider marrying such an immature one like that who would run away like a child. Better she marries one like herself, no?”
Not quite willing to concede that argument, Ben didn’t want to insult their host either as the conversation seemed to be going well. He only nodded.
“Do you know where my son Adam may have gone after leaving Los Robles? According to the people at the hotel, he stayed one night and then left. No one seems to know anything else. Perhaps he said something to you while you talked here?”
“I’m sorry. I do not know where he could have gone. I hope nothing terrible has happened to him. Arizona is a dangerous place. Many awful things can happen to a man alone.”
Hoss caught the tone change in the man’s voice. Ben did too. Robles had information about Adam but wasn’t saying it. Something had happened to Adam. They were going to have to keep digging. If they weren’t in the middle of such a hostile situation, Hoss would have liked to shake the man a bit until he told them what he knew. However that was not an option.
“Well, we’ll head back to town then and keep going. We need to find him.”
As Ben and Hoss rode away, Robles turned to one of his men. “Have them followed. Find out where they are going and if there are others with them. I may have more revenge. It is good for my soul.” He laughed then, and it wasn’t a pleasant sound.
“Pa, did you notice that he didn’t never offer us even a glass of water. He never told us to come inside out of the sun. That’s mighty peculiar kind of hospitality unless he’s really holding onto that grudge, ain’t it?”
“Hoss, I’m very afraid for your brother now if he walked into that viper’s den alone.”
In town, Joe and their hand Cal who had volunteered to help were relieved to finally see Ben and Hoss return. They hurried to them to find out if they had learned anything.
“No, we didn’t learn anything specific, but both Hoss and I think he knows something and isn’t telling us.”
“And what he knows is bad. We could tell by the way he was talking. Something bad has happened to Adam.”
“We could tell he was holding back but at the same time that he was glad of whatever happened.”
“I’d liked to have put my hands around his neck and choked the truth outta him, but there were too many men with guns to hardly even think about it.” Hoss was clearly both disappointed and frustrated.
Joe explained then what had been their experience in town. “We’ve tried talking to a few people here in town. After yesterday, they’ve clammed up even more. The most we get out of anyone is that we should leave and about as fast as we can. Then they move off like being anywhere near us is dangerous.”
“Yeah, I been telling Joe I think we’re being followed around too. It seems there’s always movement behind us except if we stop and then anybody behind us is leaning up against something or sitting on something.”
“We should probably go. We need help we’re not going to get here. The Army or a marshal’s office is probably our best bet, and I don’t know which one of those is closer. Let’s just head to Wickenburg. We can find out there what our best option is.”
“Me and Pa figure with some hard riding, we kin be there tomorrow. There’s a road and a couple little towns on the way. Maybe calling them towns is giving ’em too much credit, but it’ll be a place to get some food and take breaks and maybe spend tonight ifn we get far enough.”
“Let’s go. If our oldest brother left here, that’s probably the direction he went too.”
Hoss looked surprised. “Why do ya think that?”
“It’s the way to where more people are. Any other direction is into wilder areas. If he was in trouble, it makes sense he would head to where there were more people.”
So for the wrong reasons, the four men headed out in the general direction Adam had gone. They weren’t going to be any closer to finding him though, and they were going to be in grave danger themselves. They were not giving enough attention to the warnings some in town had been brave enough to give them. When Robles men reported back to him that Joe was with his father and brother, he was livid with the hatred he felt for that young man.
“How dare they bring him here? It is another insult to me. They will pay now. That makes the decision easy for me. Get the men together and arrange for plenty of ammunition and supplies for them. They have some hunting to do. I want them to bring back some of his hair to prove to me that they finished the job.”
“What of the other three?”
“Killed, wounded, stranded, I don’t care. Make them pay a price, but I don’t care what it is. For the one though, he must die. Get him away from the others and kill him.”
Nothing happened that night although Ben and the others were nervous. They had the feeling all afternoon and into the night that they were being watched although they never spotted anyone. The next morning, Hoss and Cal checked behind them and found nothing. They headed out and kept a watch for anyone following. What they should have been doing was watching for a threat ahead of them. Robles men had gotten there early and set up an ambush. Joe would have been killed in the first volley except he saw the flash of sunlight on metal up on the hillside and warned the others. They turned back to ride away and rifle fire followed them. Only Joe was hit. He had been in the lead so was the closest to the shooters. No matter how much Ben and the others wanted to stop to help him, they couldn’t with a much larger and well-armed force chasing them.
Unexpectedly, there was gunfire from the side with two men firing on their pursuers. Some of Robles men doggedly stayed on Joe’s trail but others veered off to take cover and fire on the men who were firing on them. Ben, Hoss, and Cal had little choice but to take cover with the men who seemed to be on their side. However one of them rode off chasing after those who were in pursuit of Joe. That happened so fast the other Robles men didn’t react quickly enough to fire on him before he was out of range. When Ben and the others got to the rock cover, Marshal Dave Anders introduced himself as Ben did the same and introduced Hoss and Cal.
“That was my youngest son they were still chasing. He’s wounded.”
“Yuma will do his best to help him.”
“Yuma is the man who rode out?”
“He is. He works for me.”
Not much more was said. They were too busy. The pitched battle between the two sides continued for the rest of the day with each side trying to get to better firing positions only to be countered by deadly fire from the other side. When two more men showed up to help Ben’s side, the Robles men tried to withdraw. It put them in a vulnerable position and Ben saw it as did the marshal. They quickly moved to take advantage of the situation. Soon there were six men arrested. One was so severely wounded that he would likely die. The others had minor wounds.
Cal looked at Ben. “Mister Cartwright, these are the two men who warned us to get out of Los Robles.”
Marshal Anders answered for his men. “Those two also work for me. This is Parley and Dack. They were trying to save your hides by warning you. They were working undercover for me there. Well, they can’t do that any more.”
“I’m glad they can’t ’cause it meant they saved our bacon out here, but what about my brother. Can we go help him now?”
“It’s almost nightfall. We wouldn’t find him, and we don’t know where the rest of this group is now. We need to set up a defensive camp and hope we can do something by morning.”
Many miles away, in the growing dusk, the Robles men lost track of Joe. He was wounded more severely and should have been easy to take, but there was a man harassing them with gunfire and he was deadly. They had to move slowly and carefully in their pursuit of Joe or die trying. So they moved slowly and then set up a camp.
Hearing commands in a voice he had obeyed uncountable times before, Joe did as he was told. The man told him to go into some cover so the went. When the voice said he had to be quiet, he was quiet. When the voice said, to hang on, he held on. When the voice said that he needed to bite down on the cloth, he did that too. When he was told to lie still, he did. But Joe was in so much pain, and nothing seemed to help that. He asked for the impossible, and somehow, he got it.
“Mama, please sing me some songs. You always sing me some songs when I’m sick.”
In almost a whisper, Joe heard those French lullabies. He calmed and imagined he must be in heaven. At one point, he thought perhaps it was raining as he felt the drops on his face, but they were salty.
“Don’t cry, Mama. I’m going to be all right. Papa and Hoss are out there. They’ll help me. We’re looking for Adam.”
The next morning, Cal and Parley took the Robles men to Wickenburg except for the man who had died during the night. Marshal Anders went with Ben, Hoss, and Cal to find Joe. When Hoss tracked them to Joe, the wounded young man told a fantastic story that only Marshal Anders fully understood and he wasn’t talking. Ben and Hoss thought Joe was hallucinating because of his fever and blood loss.
“I think Mama was here or someone just like her. She sang lullabies to me and took care of me. She held me to keep me warm. She even cried because I was hurt.”
Ben was noncommittal. “I’m glad you had someone who could care for you when you were hurt. There were men chasing you. Do you know what happened to them?”
Before Joe could answer, Hoss called them over to something he had found. It was an arrow on the ground made from four pistols. They pointed across about a hundred yards. They headed over to that area and found four men tied and gagged. Hoss grinned and the others smiled looking at the men waiting for them because those men had no idea that one man would attack them. He had caught them by surprise taking first one man who was on guard duty and then waiting for the other who came to relieve him. He woke the other two with some laughter and had them at a distinct disadvantage. Now all trussed up and gagged, they were ready to be taken to the jail. Ben wasn’t optimistic that they would talk. Marshal Anders agreed.
“Likely they won’t tell us any more than the other group did. We’ve hurt Robles though by taking some of his hired guns away from him. It’s a start.”
Ben questioned Anders then about Adam. Anders lied. Ben knew he was lying but couldn’t determine why he wouldn’t tell what he knew. He hoped to get more answers in Wickenburg. In an uneasy mood, the men traveled together to that town. Anders wondered where Adam, or Yuma, had gone. He suspected that Robles was going to get a visitor, and he could only hope that whatever Yuma had planned, it wasn’t going to mean that Anders would have to hunt him down next.
In Los Robles, the townspeople were treated to a spectacle none of them could have imagined in their wildest speculation. An unkempt man with a bushy black beard and curly black hair brought Robles to town trussed up like a common criminal. He untied him and dumped him in the street. It was then that people noticed that Robles was still armed. The man who brought him backed away down the street about twenty paces making his intent clear. Robles had no choice. He looked around but none of his men were there to help him. All he could do was make threats and hope someone would come to his aid.
“You people need to take care of this man or you will pay. My men will make you pay. I will make you pay.”
Not a single person stepped forward to help. The sheriff came out of his office to see what the commotion was. When Robles saw him, he smiled.
“Sheriff, arrest this man. He took me from my home. He brought me here. Arrest him. It is your job.”
The sheriff looked from Robles to Yuma and back again. He pulled the star from his shirt and dropped it in the dirt. Robles was furious with him and let him know it.
“You will go to hell. I will see that you die slowly.”
Robles was desperate, but his threats had no meaning because he was alone. No one was going to help him. It was one man against another, and he didn’t match up well in that kind of situation. He turned back to the bearded man who hardly spoke except to give him orders.
“What do you want? I have money. I can pay you whatever you want. I can give you a job. You can be sheriff and run this town if you want. You could have whatever you want here. No one could stand against you. It could be everything you want.”
For the first time since the man had put a gun up against his temple that morning in his bedroom, Robles heard his voice spoken normally. He had heard him whisper and occasionally bark out commands but nothing more until this moment. His blood ran cold at the sound because he recognized who it was.
“You took what I wanted. It’s gone now and you can’t give it back to me.”
“It cannot be. You’re dead!”
“Clearly you’re wrong on that score, but I don’t have much more than a dead man has. Soon you will know what I mean. Now you have a chance you didn’t give me. Draw and maybe you can live.”
Robles was trapped. If he ran, the people there would know that he was a coward and would never fear him again. Fear was all he had to keep the people in his control. It was all he ever had since he was a child. His older brothers had been his father’s favorites and stood to inherit the rancho. So he did what he could to make them fear him. They had good moral character. He did not and used that. If he could not have love, he would have the rest of what his father had to give. In the end, he had them killed. Robles had never killed anyone. He had ordered or paid others to do it. Now he was being forced to be the one to try to kill. Fear drove him as he had used it to drive others. If he didn’t kill this man, he would lose everything. Worse, he might go to prison. To him, that would be even worse than death. He practiced often with his pistol so he thought he had a good chance.
Yuma saw the change in him as he thought it through. The change in posture, the tilt of the head moving down, and more importantly, the hand moving toward the butt of his pistol. He didn’t plan to give Yuma any warning. It didn’t matter though. He had been in enough fights to know. He drew as Robles drew and shot him before he managed to level his pistol for a shot. Robles gun discharged harmlessly into the dirt of the street as the man fell backwards with red blossoming on his chest. There was silence for a time as the shock of what had happened affected everyone there.
Yuma walked over to the sheriff, picked up the badge from the dirt, and handed it to him. “Write up what happened as your last official act.” Looking around at the people assembled there, he had a request. “I’ll need a few witnesses.”
After only a moment, several men stepped forward even as wives protested. The men said though that it was time they showed some courage, and with Robles dead, it wasn’t as big a step as it would have been only a short time earlier. After the sheriff wrote out and signed the statement and it was witnessed, Adam arrested the sheriff.
“I’ll take you with me to Wickenburg. It will be up to the marshal there what to do. He may decide that you can have amnesty for talking or you may have to stand trial. Someone has to account for the judge’s death.”
“I had nothing to do with that.”
“You can tell Marshal Anders. Now put on some of your handcuffs, and we’ll get your horse and go. We can be there in two days.”
After getting some supplies, Yuma headed out with the sheriff and a packhorse. He left it to the townspeople to take care of Robles. When he left town, the body was gone. It was no longer his concern. He pushed hard to get as far along the road as he could that day so that if there were some of Robles’ men who had more than a financial loyalty, it would be put to the test. No one followed them. The next morning though, he met Marshal Anders and the other two men who worked for him. Dave was unhappy.
“Where have you been?”
“I think you know.” Yuma pulled the statement from his pocket and handed it to Dave. “It’s all there and properly witnessed. This is the sheriff who wrote it, but also the sheriff who was doing the dirty work for Robles. I think he’s got some talking to do. I told him you would decide what would happen to him next.”
Quickly reading the document, Dave looked up at the sheriff. “You wrote this?” The man nodded. “It’s accurate?” The man nodded again. “I won’t let him hurt you if you disagree. Do you still stand by your statement?” The man simply said that he stood by it. Looking at Yuma, it was clear that Dave was troubled by what had happened. Yet the results stood.
“You would have wanted him questioned. I brought him in for questioning. I questioned him in the street. He threatened me. He threatened the sheriff. He tried to bribe me. None of that worked. He went for his gun. I shot him. Case closed.”
“How am I ever going to put that in an official report and make it sound legitimate?”
“I can help you write it. I’m good at writing things.”
Shaking his head, Dave had to smile a little. “I bet you are. Now, you can take the sheriff to Phoenix.”
“I had hoped to take him to Wickenburg. I assume that’s where the others are.”
“They are, and that’s why I want you to take the sheriff to Phoenix. I’m sorry, but you know the rules. It’s not your fault, but you’re close to crossing that line. I don’t want that to happen.”
“I had to help him.”
“I know. It’s not in the official report.”
“How is Joe?”
“Telling his father and brother some strange stories.”
“Yeah, he’s told them how his mother came to him and sang lullabies to him in French. He says she held him all night long to keep him warm and he felt her tears on his face when she started crying because he was hurt and she couldn’t help him more. He said she kept saying how sorry she was. He kept saying it wasn’t her fault. He did say her voice sounded a lot like his brother Adam’s voice. He said she held him to keep him warm because they couldn’t have a fire. The men chasing them were too close. Then in the morning, she wrapped him in blankets and said the others would find him soon. She had some business to take care of. They talked about Adam being missing and how they couldn’t see how they would ever find him. But other than that, he’s doing well. Most likely, they’ll be traveling home in a few days.”
The sheriff felt he had an opening. “I know who this man is. I’m going to be asking some questions of my own when I get to Phoenix if you don’t let me go.”
Yuma and Dave silently regarded each other for a time. One of the other two men had a suggestion.
“Maybe Yuma should take him directly down to the prison for questioning. A judge could go there for the trial. No one at the trial will let him talk about Yuma because it won’t have anything to do with his case. Most likely he’ll be convicted and then he can just stay there. He won’t be able to go into the yard with the other men because they’ll kill him so he’ll have to spend his sentence in the Dark Cell. He won’t be able to tell anyone anything there. By the time he gets out, it won’t matter.”
Dave grinned. “Dack, those are the most words I have ever heard you string together, and they all make sense. I guess you saved up all your words for when you were needed. Thank you. I think we have a plan.”
Parley agreed and offered to help transport the sheriff to Yuma Prison.
Yuma piped in with a description of the Dark Cell. “Yes, it’s dim during the day and dark as pitch at night. Not much to do there and no one to see or talk with. That’s a great place for him.”
“Listen, I can keep my mouth shut. We can make a deal. Honest, I can play along with any deal you want to make.”
“What kind of deal did you have in mind?”
“I can tell you all the people who worked for Robles and what they did. I can tell you who bought stolen goods from him and who killed for him. I can tell you what politicians took bribes. I know all his dirty secrets. And I won’t say a word about Yuma. I promise.”
“Now that does sound more promising.” Dave looked over at Yuma and back at the sheriff. “You have noticed that I don’t have complete control over what that man does. You’ll keep that in mind, won’t you?”
“I will. Believe me, after what I’ve seen, I will.”
So Dack and Yuma escorted the sheriff to Phoenix where he gave a full accounting of all the crimes Robles had committed and everyone who had helped him do so. In return, the sheriff was granted a pardon. That meant he accepted responsibility for his actions but was not going to be punished. A few others who also had not directly been involved in any murders were given the same option. Through that, evidence built against those more seriously implicated in criminal activities and many were soon arrested in their offices, in their lush homes and estates, and a few in government offices.
It was after the questioning was completed that Yuma met an old friend in Phoenix, one he had never expected to see again especially not in Phoenix. He and Dack went to get a drink and dinner. Sitting in a saloon enjoying the drink, Yuma was approached by a beautiful woman about his age. She leaned down and kissed him soundly. He knew whom it was immediately but tried not to show that.
“Lady, do you make a habit of that?”
“I try not to, but I knew it was you. You can wear a hat or a beard or anything else you want, when a man buys a lady a dress, and then helps her take it off, well a lady never forgets that man.”
Looking over at Dack, Yuma smiled. “Dack, let me introduce you to Anne. Anne, this is Dack. We’re traveling together these days when I’m not with Dave or Parley.”
“Yuma, I can see you probably want some time with the lady. I’m heading on up to our room. I guess I’ll see you later.”
Anne waited until Dack was out of earshot. “Yuma? Now who’s playing some game?”
“I can assure you it’s no game, and for my safety and my future, I would appreciate it if you would call me Yuma. It’s an easy name to remember.”
“That’s an odd request, but I can honor it at least until I hear the rest of that story.”
“Maybe we can pass the time instead by you explaining how you ended up in Phoenix?”
“Well, as that is partly due to you, I guess perhaps you should hear the story.”
“Me? What did I do?”
“Nothing, absolutely nothing, and that was exactly the problem. I couldn’t accept that, and I had to leave to get away from that.”
Staring at her for a moment, Yuma was surprised. “You thought I would come back?”
“Thought, no, that would be too optimistic. Hoped, yes, and isn’t that what dreams are made of? Until of course you realize your dream is based on false hope, and it all falls apart. I dreamed about you coming back. I think those dreams seemed so real sometimes I thought you really had come back except you weren’t there. After enough time goes by, you realize they are just dreams. Then you have to face reality. I couldn’t stay there with all the reminders of how foolish I had been. I decided to try to start over. I heard of this place and decided I should try to make my future here.”
“Did you buy the place?”
“I did. I’m doing all right now, financially at least.”
“I’m glad about that.”
“You don’t seem to be doing nearly as well.”
“We’re not talking about me. I made a mistake. It cost me. That’s all I’m saying.”
“You’re not going to bring trouble here, are you?”
“No, not in the usual sense at least.”
“You’re not wanted, are you?”
“No, I’m not wanted.” And Yuma thought about how that might be taken in more ways than one.
“You seem very hurt. Would you like to talk? We could go to my place. It’s quiet there and no one could overhear whatever it is you want to say. And I want to be clear so that you understand, talking is all I’m offering. Of course, maybe a cup of coffee could be in the mix. I make good coffee.”
“Yes, you do.”
An hour later, Yuma was resting in Anne’s bed having made love to her for only the second time ever. It had happened so suddenly he could hardly remember the steps involved. They had walked together amiably and talked about Phoenix and how it had grown so quickly. Then they were at her place and stepped inside the door. He couldn’t help himself as she pulled her shawl away; he reached out and brushed his hand across her bare shoulder and then down her arm. She stood without moving and let him do that waiting for him to do more wanting it more than she had known she did. He didn’t do any more which made her turn to him. She touched his cheek and then let her hand trail down his neck and across his chest and then lower remembering how he had looked the one time she had seen him without his clothing. Stepping closer, she wrapped her arms around him and spoke softly but with strong emotion.
“Damn, there’s no denying it, is there?”
Anne turned her face up to his so he could capture her lips in a passionate kiss. Then he began to undress her slowly and deliberately as he had done the first time they had made love removing an item of clothing and kissing the skin exposed by the removed garment before moving on to the next item. By the time he removed his own clothing and slid into bed with her, she was ready to make love with him. After so long without anyone for either of them, it was intense. Exhausted physically and emotionally when it was over, they said little but held each other tightly.
Until Yuma had held a wounded Joe, he had not realized how much he craved the touch of another person. Now he had that and didn’t want it to stop. At the same time, he didn’t know how he could continue a relationship with all that hung over his head. It hurt that he felt he couldn’t tell her the truth either. He guessed that she would be upset if he didn’t answer her questions. She was.
“I don’t understand how you can be that way. I trusted you enough to take you into my home and into my bed. I showed you that you’re still in my heart, but you won’t tell me what kind of trouble you’re in?”
“I can’t. There are limits on what I can do and that would be crossing the line. I can’t do it. If you trust me as you say you do, then you need to trust me on that. My life depends on that.”
“I don’t know if I can do that. It requires a big leap of faith.”
“I should probably go. I should let you decide if you want me to come back or stay away. It’s up to you.”
Sliding out of the bed, Yuma dressed and all the while hoped Anne might say that he should stay. Silence was all he heard though. When he was finished, he leaned down to kiss her and tasted the tears.
“I am sorry. I’ve told you the truth as far as I can tell it. Please don’t tell anyone anything more about me. My life hangs in the balance.”
With that, he left. When he got to the room he had taken with Dack, he found the other man not there. Dack came in right behind him though, and Yuma knew he had been followed. That made him angry, but under the circumstances, there was nothing he could do about it. His life was not his own for almost fifteen years. He seriously doubted now that he was going to make that time without crossing the lines that had been set for him. He had already pushed the limits hard in Los Robles, but after what had been done to Joe, he wasn’t going to let Robles hurt anyone else. Justice had to be served so he went about it in the best way he could see. If only he could have heard Marshal Dave Anders talking to his supervisors and other marshals with all them applauding that action wishing they could do the same.
“Dang, this is one of the best ideas we ever had.”
“Yeah, he won’t break the law, but he’ll sure as hell do what needs to be done.”
“Yes, it’s good to have him on our side because he can do things we can’t do as sworn officers of the law.”
Dave’s supervisor had one caution. “Be careful that you never give him an order to take an action like he did in Los Robles. If he does it on his own, then no court is going to have a problem with it. If he acts on your command though, he becomes an agent of this office and has to operate within our rules and restrictions. All of our regulations would apply equally to him then.”
When Dave saw Yuma and Dack, he had to act in accordance with the role he had to play. He went to see Anne after hearing about Yuma meeting a woman he had known from his life in Nevada. He questioned Anne thoroughly to be sure that Yuma had not divulged anything about what had happened in Arizona and that she had not told anyone anything about his past. Once satisfied with those answers, he left. Anne knew then that Yuma had told her the complete truth as far as he could tell her. A U.S. Marshal had made that quite clear. She went to find him but ended up having to leave him a note instead. He was gone on a job and didn’t return for a week. When he got back and read the note, he still wondered if there was a possibility of a future but decided to let Anne make the call. He went to see her. He stood at her door hat in hand wondering what his reception would be.
“Is this what it will be like? You’ll mysteriously be gone and then show up at my door?”
“I’m sorry. I know it’s impossible. I won’t bother you again.” Putting his hat back on, Yuma turned to leave.
“Stop. I didn’t say you had to go. I only wanted to know if this is what it will be like.”
“It’s not going to be easy, is it?”
“No, it would be damned difficult. You would be foolish to get involved with me.”
“Well, it’s too late for that so I must be a damned fool. Come on in. We can have a short time together before I have to go to the saloon. You can go with me if you wish.” She stepped back into her house inviting him to follow.
“I’d like that.”
“Maybe afterwards, I can get a bath for you. You look like you could use one, and the sheets on my bed are clean.”
The invitation was there. Yuma accepted. “Thank you. I would like that.” With a devilish grin, he had a suggestion. “Perhaps by then, you would like to join me.”
Shaking her head, she closed the door and moved into his arms. “You are irresistible, you know. When you grin at me like that, I get weak in the knees.”
“I like the sound of that. Perhaps I can pick you up then and carry you to your bed.”
“Later, cowboy, you still need that bath.”
So the patrons at Anne’s Silver Place got used to Yuma being there on occasion. It was clear that he had a proprietary interest in Anne. When her belly got so large she couldn’t hide it under a wrap dress any longer, everyone knew whom the father of that baby was. Dave was amused though that a man who faced down killers and went up against outlaws when he was outnumbered seemed so afraid of a baby being born. Yuma never explained the reason, but he did buy a couple of rounds of drinks at the saloon when both baby and mother were doing fine after the long childbirth. It was incongruous too to see such a strong man sitting in a rocking chair and singing lullabies to a baby he held gently in his arms.
Although Yuma wasn’t around as much as most fathers were, he was a proud father and a doting one when he was there. With the money he brought in from bounties and rewards, Anne was able to hire a manager for her saloon and spend most of her time at home with their son. Yuma and Anne had an unusual relationship in some ways, but it was a good one from what anyone could tell. They were not married but that wasn’t so peculiar on the frontier. What was different from the norm was the reason, but only Yuma and Anne knew it. He asked her to marry him when they were first together and again when she was with child and once more after their son was born. Each time, she gave him the same answer, which made him hold off on asking her that question again.
“I’ll marry you when you can give me and our son a proper name.”
Yuma knew she didn’t want to use any name other than the one he had been given by his father. Because that was off limits for him, they were not married. Other than that, their domestic life was much like many others.
For more than four years, everything seemed to be working out well until Yuma disappeared. Dave wanted to take Dack and Parley and search for him, but they had a large silver shipment to guard. The worry was that somehow the disappearance was tied to an effort to waylay that shipment. The three men didn’t know what they would do if Yuma showed up on the other side. They couldn’t believe he would, but didn’t know what to make of the timing of his disappearance just before the shipment was to be made. There were only four people who knew the route the silver shipment was going to take because they had mapped it out carefully. The four of course were Dave, Dack, Parley, and Yuma. It was too late to change the route. The planning had been superb, and the shipment was made without incident.
Then the search was on for Yuma. When they found him, they thought he was dead. He was suspended from a small tree and blood stained his clothing and his hair and beard. His heartbeat was barely discernible. Cutting the ropes that bound him, they lowered him to the ground as Dack and Parley worked on cutting the ropes from his wrists. That was a difficult task because his hands had swollen so badly.
Dack went to town to get a wagon while Dave tried to get Yuma to drink some water. It only dribbled from his lips. Yuma’s boots were gone and his feet were burned and cut. He had burns, bruises, cuts, and abrasions all over his body. From the looks of his lower legs, his hands, and his chest area, he probably had broken bones too. Based on what they could see, he had been tortured. Dan voiced what the others were thinking.
“I bet they tried to get the route of the silver wagon, and Yuma didn’t give it to them. So those damn bastards left him here to die a slow death. It was by luck that we spotted him at all. If it wasn’t for that scarf Anne gave him, we never woulda found him.”
Anne had given him a powder blue scarf to wear around his neck. The torn and bloody remains of it had been waving in a bush. It had been caught there by some thorns and was like a beacon drawing them to where he was. Down in a small valley, he would not likely have been seen otherwise in the thousands of miles of Sonoran Desert.
Getting a wagon out there to transport him was difficult enough. Driving it back without doing more damage was even more of a challenge. Moans told them that he was at least alive but made them feel guilty for inflicting more pain on a man who had already suffered so much and was likely to suffer more. That prediction proved true when the doctor treated him binding his ribs and splinting his lower legs and forearms to set broken bones. Luckily the doctor said none of the broken bones were displaced. It was one of the benefits of having been suspended. However his hands were damaged and the doctor wasn’t sure if they would fully recover. He found a head injury too as well as the many more superficial injuries that had contributed to blood loss and overall weakness. How much internal damage had been done was only a guess but certainly bruised kidneys were a possibility with the severe bruising about the trunk of his body. The beating he had taken had been severe. The one place not badly damaged was his face, which supported their theory that he had been questioned but had not talked.
Tubes and a funnel for feeding and water, urinals, lots of bandages and bedding, and hardly a moment to do anything except care for an injured Yuma had Anne exhausted within a few days. Her friends did what they could to help mostly in caring for their little boy, but Dave came to her to ask what she would do.
“I don’t know. He’s not even fully conscious yet except for very brief moments, and the doctor says it could be months and months before he can take care of himself. The doctor doesn’t even know if he will recover fully.”
“Can you afford to hire someone to help?”
“I have to. I can’t manage this by myself. I’ll sell the saloon if I have to.”
“Anne, I think you have to. He only gets paid if he’s working, and he can’t earn any bounties or rewards either. Have you thought of going to his family?”
“He has forbidden me from contacting his family or even talking about them? I’m surprised you even brought that up. I thought it was off limits.”
“It was, but I’ve talked to the governor. I told him that Yuma can’t fulfill his deal through no fault of his own. He nearly gave his life in service though and that should count for something. He has been released from his obligation. He has an almost full pardon. There is only one condition left.”
Ignoring for the moment that he even needed a pardon, Anne had to ask. “What’s the condition?”
“He has to come back here when and if he’s able and identify the men who did this and help us apprehend them. Then he will be free and clear of any obligation.”
“What if he’s never able?”
“Then he can’t.”
“Why does he need a pardon?”
“When he’s able to talk, he’s now free to tell you and his family the story.”
Dave didn’t tell her the whole story of his conversation with the governor. He wasn’t likely to ever tell anyone that. If he ever told Adam, it might create more trouble than any of them could handle. Dave wasn’t at all sure how Adam would react. The governor had been adamant that he didn’t go back on a deal and no one went back on a deal with him. Dave reminded him that the deal was secret so there were only four people who knew about it. When the governor still wouldn’t budge, he had laid the hammer down on him.
‘I know you have had the information to clear Adam since we brought those men in from Los Robles almost five years ago. I wondered why you didn’t do it and then realized it suited your purposes to have him working for you and obligated to you. Well, he’s paid plenty for the favor you did. You release him now or I go to the authorities with what I know about your conduct.’
The governor had ranted and gotten red-faced with anger, but he knew when it was time to fold a hand. He gave in, but he wanted the men who had beaten Adam. Because Adam was the only one who could identify them and testify against them, he needed to come back. Dave had accepted that condition because he expected Adam would probably want to do it anyway if he could. So he told Anne the basic elements of the story and left out the context. Anne was processing what he did tell her though.
“There’s so much to do, and he still cringes away from any contact, anyone even saying his name.”
“With what they did to him, I’m not surprised. I’ve dealt with a few who’ve been taken before and it can be a while before they recover, and none that I rescued had ever been tortured. He’s a strong man though, and he’s faced a lot already in his life. I think he’ll come out of this all right when he’s had enough time. As for anything else, we’ll all help you get done what needs to be done. There’s an end in sight to all of this, Anne.”
Dave wrapped his arms around her as she cried then releasing some of the tension and stress of not only that week but of the years since Yuma had come back into her life. Dave took a turn as caregiver so that Anne could go to her saloon to see if there was interest by her manager in purchasing it. There was and they began that process. She went to her neighbors and began to spread the word that her house was also for sale. Then she went to get her son who was staying with a neighbor for the day and explained to the neighbor too what was going to happen. Mostly she talked in general terms about how they were going to go to Yuma’s family without explaining where that was or who they were.
That night, she sat by the bed and waited for Adam to open his eyes. When he did, she called him Adam. He blinked and looked almost surprised. Anne realized he hadn’t cringed as he did when she called him Yuma. She leaned forward and called him Adam again and got almost a small smile from him.
“Adam, we’re going home. Dave said we can go home. We can go to the Ponderosa.”
He looked at her as if he wondered if she could be a dream.
“It’s true. Because of what happened, the governor has given you permission to go home. Dave will help us get there.”
His eyes glistened with tears before he slipped back into sleep too exhausted to be able to talk, but this time he slept with his face more relaxed instead of being twisted in a grimace. The pain woke Adam about dawn. The medication to alleviate his suffering had worn off and it seemed he hurt everywhere. However he didn’t want the pain medication right away. It made his brain foggy and he couldn’t think. Nightmares assailed him and there was so much fodder for those. Men yelling his name and hitting him over and over and calling out that same question in his face until all he could concentrate on was the pain. The last thing he remembered was seeing one of them take a rifle and turn it before swinging it at him. The blinding pain from that had erased all the other pain for a time. Then he had heard his name again and more pain as he was handled, bounced around, poked, prodded, and restrained. He had expected to be tied up when he woke. Slowly he had realized those restraints were bandages and splints but they covered much of his body seeming to do nothing to help him escape the agony of his many wounds and injuries.
However, Yuma could swear Anne had said they could go home. It wasn’t a nightmare so he needed to know if it was a dream. She had called him Adam too. It was far less jarring than Yuma. It made him feel warm and loved. At first, he thought he was alone, but as the light in the room increased, he realized Anne was in the rocking chair next to the bed. He couldn’t reach for her and didn’t know if he could talk. He tried and got a guttural sound that wasn’t any word anyone would know. When he tried again with about the same result, Anne stirred and then opened her eyes. Seeing how light it was, she was dismayed.
“Oh, no, I didn’t give you your medication.”
Hurriedly, she poured some into the nursing bottle and moved it to his lips. Adam refused to open his lips. He didn’t want it yet.
“Adam, you should take this.”
When he still refused to open his lips, she sat back. He was staring at her intently and she guessed that he wanted something. Struggling to speak, he finally got out the word he wanted. It was all he could manage.
Guessing what he wanted to know, she repeated what she had told him that night. “Yes, we can go home. Dave told me that the governor has granted you a conditional pardon so we can go home, to the Ponderosa. I’m going to sell the saloon and our house here. We’ll go home so you can heal. We’ll be with family. Dave said he will help us get there.”
Adam smiled gently and nodded ever so slightly.
“Now will you take your medication?”
Opening his mouth, he showed his willingness to cooperate. He swallowed the medication and gradually it took away the worst of the terrible aches throughout his body. Before he fell back asleep, Anne helped him drink and do what he needed to do. She sponged his face and wiped any areas of him that weren’t bandaged or splinted. Knowing their son wanted so badly to see Adam, she decided that now was that time. Pulling a sheet and blanket up to his chin, she went to get Matthew. The problem was that once he was there, he didn’t want to leave. The next time Adam awakened, Matthew was sitting in that rocking chair paging through a picture book. He grinned when he saw his father open his eyes. Then he called for his mother.
“I stayed in the chair like you said.”
“Very good, Matthew. Now, I need to help your father with a few things. You can go play until we’re done.”
“No, I help too.”
Looking down at Adam, Anne shook her head. “He is definitely your son. Oh well, he’s bound to see this sooner or later.” She took the blanket and sheet in her hand. “Matthew, I’m going to pull this back. Now, it’s going to look very bad because your father is hurt very bad. I want you to remember the doctor said all of this is going to get better. Are you sure you’re ready to see this?”
Matthew nodded, and Anne pulled back the bedding. Matthew stared and got pale. He didn’t say anything and he didn’t leave.
“Are you going to be all right?”
“That’s a lot of bandages.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Papa’s not wearing drawers.”
“No, he isn’t. When someone is hurt like this, they don’t wear them. He can’t get up and around so it is too difficult to wear clothing.”
“If he can’t get up then how does he, you know?”
“I’ll show you. He probably needs to do that now.”
Amazingly once it was a matter of asking questions and getting them answered, Matthew watched the procedures of Adam’s care with almost a clinical detachment and interest. No doubt he was memorizing everything because he seldom forgot anything. Later, he had more questions, which was reassuring to Anne because it meant that he hadn’t been negatively affected at all.
It took over a week to finalize the sale of the saloon and find a buyer for the house. Anne let both go at a reasonable price, which helped her sell them. She guessed money was not going to be a serious issue in their future. She purchased a wagon and had it outfitted for a comfortable ride. Some of her better things and Adam’s books were packed in crates to be shipped to Virginia City. The rest of her belongings as well as Adam’s and Matthew’s were loaded into the bed of the wagon with two cots above their belongings. Supplies were packed in crates hung on the sides and back. The trip would likely take about two to three weeks so there was no need for extensive supplies and they could stop in towns along the way to resupply as needed. Anne did not send any message to the Ponderosa because any cryptic message wouldn’t say enough and she didn’t know enough to send a letter explaining in detail. Adam wasn’t strong enough yet for an extended conversation to tell her what had happened to put him in this predicament.
The doctor was somewhat concerned about the length of the trip and told Anne to be sure to take it easy warning her that if Adam got sick, it could have dire consequences. She knew Adam was weak and thin, but she hoped that knowing he was going home would energize him and help him have more of an appetite. The night before they were to leave, Adam asked Anne a question and she had a different answer than she had given him when he had asked that question other times. He asked her to marry him. It wasn’t easy for him to talk yet, but he managed that because it was important to him.
“Not here. There will be too many questions, but I think in the first town we get to.”
“Good. I like that plan. I do love you.”
“I know. I love you too, Adam Cartwright. It feels so good to say that.”
“Feels good to hear it too. Family will be surprised.”
“Oh, I think that is putting things mildly, but once you explain everything, I hope they’re not too upset.” Anne wished she hadn’t said that. She saw the worry lines that Adam had and knew he was beginning to think about his reception when he got to his home. He had weeks to worry about it too with not much else he could do. She decided it was time to teach Matthew how to play checkers. That turned out to be one of the wisest things she did in preparing for their journey. Matthew sat on one cot in the wagon with the board, as Adam lay propped up on the other. He told Matthew how to move his pieces and Matthew moved both black and white pieces. Incredibly as they traveled, it got harder and harder for Adam to win the games which took longer each time as well. It occupied so much time that Adam had far less time to worry about what would happen when he arrived at his home.
That happened right on schedule three weeks after leaving Phoenix. There were no delays, and Adam and Anne were married in the first town that had a justice of the peace. Dave, Parley, and Dack served as witnesses and celebrated with them. Once they were out of Arizona, only Dave continued on with them helping to drive the wagon and do anything needed. He drove the wagon into the yard at the Ponderosa. Ben and Hoss came down off the porch where they were having lunch.
Hoss greeted him first. “Can we help ya, mister? Seems like ya mighta made a wrong turn somewhere.”
Anne wasn’t sure what to say so Dave answered.
“Nope, not if this is the Ponderosa.”
Ben wondered what he could want. “It is. May I ask what your business is here, sir?”
“Brought somebody home for ya.” Dave jumped down and went around to the back of the wagon and pulled open the canvas that had been partially closed. Ben and Hoss looked in to see a bearded, longhaired thin man propped up in a cot with a young boy sitting across from him.
“Hello, Pa, Hoss.”
It didn’t look much like him, but the voice was unmistakable.
“Pa, I’m home. It’s a long story.”
Standing beside Dave, Anne was still silent as was Matthew in the wagon.
“Anne is my wife, and this is my son, Matthew.”
Anne found her voice then. “He’s too weak to walk, Mister Cartwright. If you would, could someone carry that cot to the house or wherever you want us to stay.”
Ben heard the uncertainty in her voice and knew his silence because of the shock was the cause of it. “Of course we’ll get him in the house. Hoss, can you get a couple of men to carry that cot? Is Matthew able to walk?”
“Yes, of course. He just doesn’t want to leave his father’s side.”
Anne got Matthew out of the wagon and Hoss got some men to carry Adam’s cot into the house setting it up right next to the settee. Joe came down the stairs because of all the commotion and stopped almost in mid-step as he realized who was on the cot.
“It shur is him, little brother.”
“I thought the letter said he was heading to France again.”
At that point, Dave thought it might be time to introduce himself. “I’m U.S. Marshal Dave Anders. Adam has a story to tell, but he’s a bit weak. I can help with it if he wants.”
When Adam nodded, Dave would have continued except Anne asked if there was some drawing paper or other items that could keep Matthew busy while the adults talked. Once he was busy at the dining table, the others turned their attention back to Dave.
“The letters you have been receiving were written by Adam at my direction as part of a deal that was made in Arizona to spare Adam from hanging. Then they were sent by the marshal’s service from the appropriate city so that you thought he was somewhere else. He has been in Arizona for almost five years now working with me.”
Shocked and confused, Ben as well as Hoss and Joe wanted answers. Slowly the story was told, and for the first time Anne heard it too.
“I went to Los Robles to settle the debt with Robles after he threatened Joe’s life. I paid a premium price for the horses he got and I apologized profusely. I had hoped it might be enough. It wasn’t. I woke up the next morning with a dead man in my room and the sheriff pointing a pistol at my head.”
“Why didn’t you contact us? We would have helped you.”
“They took my money and refused to let me contact anyone. When you’re being set up for a crime you didn’t commit, they aren’t exactly cooperative. I ended up in Yuma Prison awaiting execution only about a week later. The only favor the judge gave me was he put the execution date three weeks after the trial. I guess he hoped a miracle of justice would happen.”
Adam’s voice was getting noticeably weaker. Dave decided it was time to let him rest a bit.
“I guess I can take over here. Adam helped stop some inmates from killing the warden during a prison escape. He refused to go with the escapees and protected the warden’s life. The warden went to the governor after contacting me to see if I would accept an idea he had. The deal was worked out that Adam would get a pardon if he served fifteen years of a reduced sentence by working with me. We couldn’t put him back in the prison population. They would have killed him.”
“The letters?” Ben didn’t like the fake letters and wanted to know why the family had been tricked.
“The governor didn’t want your family to rescue your son from his predicament. He made it a condition of Adam getting the deal that he have no contact with his family and that he use an assumed name. He was known as Yuma for the last five years.”
Joe snapped his fingers. “I’ve heard of him. Hey, that must be you too. There’s a dime novel called Yuma and the Marshal.”
Adam rolled his eyes and Dave sighed. It was clear that they weren’t happy being the subjects of a dime novel.
“Anne met Adam in Phoenix. They’ve been together for almost the whole four years which is now actually almost five years.”
Looking at Adam, Joe nodded. “That was you in the desert. You saved me and sang lullabies to me to keep me quiet. You held me to keep me warm.”
“Yes, no matter what, you’re my brother. I had to help you.”
“Then why did you leave me all alone?”
“I knew Hoss would find you, and those four men were going to find us as soon as it got light. The only chance we had was for me to attack them. I did a Sam Houston on them. Four against one so I attacked. They never expected it so even though they had a guard, he wasn’t paying good attention. Then I got the one who came to relieve him. Getting the two who were sleeping was easy after that.”
“But why didn’t you come back to me then?”
“Remember the deal I made? If I broke the deal, the original sentence was reinstated. I wasn’t to have any contact with my family. I knew they might excuse rescuing you, but sitting around waiting for Pa and Hoss was going to be too much. I did come back and check on you and I didn’t leave you until I saw them getting close. I laid out an arrow to where the four gunmen were tied and rode off once I was sure Hoss would find you. Besides, I had something else that needed to be done.”
“What else? Pa and Hoss and the others took care of the rest of those men.”
“Robles. I took care of him.”
“What did you do, son?” Ben was a bit worried at that point.
“I went to his house and two mornings later, I brought him to town and dropped him off in the middle of the street, armed. I told him to draw whenever he was ready. He did. He lost. Then I arrested the sheriff.”
It was all so typical Adam that Joe and Hoss began laughing. Ben shook his head. He looked at his son and didn’t know quite what to say. Finally he looked at Anne.
“Welcome to the family, my dear. I hope he hasn’t been too much of burden.”
“Hey, I’m right here.”
“I know. That’s why I said it. We’ll get your room ready. I’d say you could use the room down here, but I think Matthew should have a room next to yours. I’ll be sure to have Hop Sing send up lots of hot water for shaving. Dave, you’re welcome to use the guest room down here.”
Hoss and Joe snickered too at the comment about shaving. Adam actually did like the idea even with the heavy handed way his father pushed the idea. Putting Yuma in his past was something he was in a hurry to do. Anne had to do the shaving though as his hands couldn’t hold the blade.
Dave stayed a few more days, and there were a few more stories to tell until everyone felt they understood what had happened. Adam apologized for being so arrogant and overconfident to think he could handle Robles on his own and not telling his family what he was doing. He admitted that if he had been more willing to talk it over and if he had accepted Hoss’ offer of help, none of what happened to him might have happened. Hoss noted though that it might have happened to both of them or worse things might have happened. It was over, and that was what was most important. Adam didn’t want to tell them yet that he had to go back at some point. Anne knew that but also wisely kept quiet about it.
The first order of business after getting Adam settled in a room upstairs was to notify Doctor Paul Martin that his services were needed once more on the Ponderosa. When Paul arrived and saw Ben, Hoss, and Joe, he was momentarily confused. Ben pointed up the stairs.
“Adam is back, and he very much needs to see you.”
After that, Paul was a regular visitor monitoring Adam’s progress and doing his best to keep his patient from becoming too impatient. Adam’s hands were what frustrated him the most. The nerve and muscle damage was slowly healing, but Paul warned him over and over not to rush to do too much. Two weeks after Adam returned, the splints came off his forearms and his lower legs. His muscles had wasted so he needed to work on rebuilding those. Paul had him start with walking only very short distances and avoiding any attempt at the stairs for a week. His balance wasn’t good and with his hands, he couldn’t use a cane effectively so he needed someone with him at all times when he wasn’t sitting or laying down.
One week after the splints came off and Adam got his first trip downstairs, Anne suggested a bath and Adam enthusiastically agreed. He wanted to feel clean again and it would help his muscles as well as help clean away all the skin residue left after those splints had been there so long. While everyone was having lunch and Adam was lounging in the bath, Anne was intrigued by their conversation at the table.
“I thought it woulda happened by now.”
“It kinda has only not as bad as what we expected.”
“Boys, it’s understandable. We’d all probably be like that if it was one of us.”
“But Pa, that’s it. He ain’t quite like that yet. We’re waiting on it though.”
Finally Anne had enough and had to know. “All right, what is it about Adam that you are all discussing without telling me?”
“I’m sorry, Anne. We thought you already knew after being married to him for almost five years. In all that time, he must have been a bear at least once when he was recuperating.” Ben had noted how uncomfortable Anne was every time her marriage to Adam was mentioned. He was going to have to have a talk with her about that. He feared what the answer might be if he asked the question.
“He never got shot or seriously hurt. Oh, yes, there is that story of him and the miner who was an outlaw, but after that, no one was seriously injured.”
“The miner who was an outlaw?”
“The story the dime novel was written about was a miner who only had a mine so he could use it as a base of operations and a place to store the things he stole. Adam figured it out. He said there was no way there was gold or silver in that kind of rock. They asked him how he knew that, and of course with his background in mines, he told them in great detail. They got a warrant and searched the place but the miner showed up while they were inside and set a charge at the entrance. Well, Adam told them he didn’t know much about setting charges either and explained how they could get around the area that had been blasted. That miner was very surprised when they came out and arrested him. Adam was hurt some because he was closest to the blast and got hit by some things that were thrown by the blast. That was probably the only injury he had on the job.”
Ben couldn’t control his curiosity any longer. “Anne, you seem to shy away from any mention of your marriage to Adam. Are the two of you actually married? Adam doesn’t seem to want to talk about it either.” He saw how uncomfortable he had made her. “I’m sorry, but it seems that would be a topic the two of you should be happy to discuss. You do seem to love each other.”
Hoss and Joe both waited wondering what she would say. They had both had the same questions as their father but hadn’t wanted to say anything. Anne looked pointedly at Matthew calmly eating his lunch unaware that such an important topic was being broached. Angelina sat beside him with her daughter Patricia on her other side.
“This is something best discussed among adults, and probably this is a question that you should let Adam decide if he wants to answer. Now if you will watch over Matthew, I’ll see how Adam is doing in his bath. I may need some help if he wants to get out.”
What Adam wanted first was for Anne to wash his hair. Then he wanted to get out. Hoss helped, and, like Ben who had helped him into the tub, he was shocked to see how thin Adam had gotten. Seeing him in bed in splints had not quite prepared him for seeing him this way. As Anne helped Adam get dry, Hoss steadied him so he wouldn’t fall. Seeing him starting to shiver, Hoss told Anne to go get a blanket. When she returned, he wrapped it around Adam and helped him sit on a bench.
“You stay there ’til ya feel warm enough again. Then you kin get dressed or wear your robe. I’ll get more firewood for the stove in here.”
For the first time, Hoss actually appreciated how long a recuperation his brother faced. He knew it was going to take him a long time to rebuild his strength once his injuries had fully healed. Then he would have to work on rebuilding his skills, which he would also have lost in the interim. When he finally sat down out by the fireplace, Ben and Joe noticed how somber he looked and asked what was wrong so he voiced those thoughts. Ben had already drawn the same conclusions, but Joe now had to face the truth of his brother’s weakness.
“I never saw Adam other than as my strong older brother who always seemed to be in charge. Except for that one time in the desert, I never saw him in even a moment of weakness. Oh, I know he has them like any other person, but he hid them really well. Now he can’t. There’s so much he can’t do right now. That’s got to be very hard.”
“It is. We have to watch for any signs of melancholy. That could be about the worst thing that could happen now.”
“Yeah, he needs something to work for, he needs a goal.”
“I have a goal.”
Leaning on Anne with his arm around her shoulders, Adam was dressed in his robe. He and Anne came out to sit with the rest of the family. Adam looked around for Matthew.
Ben told him that Matthew was on the porch with Angelina and Patricia.
“He asked if he could sit on the porch and draw pictures. I gave him paper and pencils as well as strict orders not to leave the porch and to obey Angelina. He said he would.”
Anne went to check to make sure that order was working. Adam looked around at his family who seemed slightly uncomfortable with the scrutiny. He smiled.
“It’s good to know I can still make you all squirm at least. Yes, I have a goal. I guess it’s time for complete honesty. There were a few things left out of the story I told when I first came home.” Looking at his father, Adam shrugged. “You probably aren’t going to like either one. First of all, there was one condition placed on me getting that release from my fifteen-year sentence. I have to go back to identify the men who attacked me and I have to help apprehend them. I’m the only one who can identify them and testify against them.”
“Adam, you’re in no shape to do that.”
“Exactly and that’s why they released me to go home. I’m to come back when and if I am able.”
No one said anything and the silence nearly roared with the thought Adam wanted to ignore. He looked down at his hands, which were slow to recover from the damage done to them. He still had trouble even holding a fork at the dining table.
“I know I may never be ready. But if I am, that’s my goal. I want justice.”
Anne was back and sitting by his side. She reached over to hold one of his hands guessing that he was going to explain their marriage issue next. She wore no ring, as there had been no opportunity to get one on the trip.
“I asked Anne to marry me almost five years ago. I asked her more than once. She said no each time. She didn’t want to marry Yuma. She didn’t want to marry someone who wasn’t real. She wanted to marry Adam Cartwright. She couldn’t even use my name when we were together. It was too risky as she might slip and use it when someone might hear.”
“So you aren’t married?” Ben wasn’t happy about that.
“We are. When I was finally free to use my name, I asked her again and she agreed. We married before we came here. Please don’t think anything bad about Anne. This was all because of my actions. If I had handled things better, she wouldn’t have been ashamed to marry me.”
“Adam, I was never ashamed. I wanted to be proud to use your name though. And stop blaming yourself. A number of evil men did things to you that you couldn’t prevent. At least you took care of Robles. If I could get my hands around that governor’s throat, I would.”
Surprised by her vehemence, Adam stared at her. She was chagrined because she had not meant to bring up that topic and knew now that he would want a full accounting. Unable to lie to him, she gave him her reason. The rest of the family was just as attentive as she talked.
“When you brought in the sheriff from Los Robles and he talked, and they had all of those men who worked for Robles, and you killed Robles, the authorities must have had enough information to know that you never killed anyone and that you were set up. Why didn’t the governor grant you a complete pardon? In fact, you should have been exonerated. Why didn’t he do that?”
Staring back at her, Adam knew she was correct yet that whole scenario had not occurred to him. So grateful to be alive, he had not considered the motives of those involved. He had trusted them. It meant too that Dave must have known and had not told him. He wondered if any of the men in Arizona with whom he had worked could be trusted.
“I think I need to consult an attorney here about my options. I don’t think I’ll ever be going back to Arizona.”
Looking at Anne, Adam had a question for her. “Why didn’t you ever say any of this when we were there?”
“Considering what they had already done to you, I was afraid of what they might do if you rocked the boat. If you didn’t question it, I wasn’t going to go down that road.”
“You’re quite good at mixing metaphors, but I do understand.”
“You’re welcome, and thank you. I know you’re always looking out for me.” Then he frowned.
“What is it?”
“I guess I need a new goal.”
He grinned which helped lighten the mood. Hoss leaned over to Joe to ask a question.
“What is she good at mixing?”
“I don’t know but she seemed to understand and so did Pa so I just played along like I did too. You should too. It makes you look smarter when you act like you know what Adam’s talking about.”
“Oh, yeah. I’ll do that.”
Joe had another idea though. “Adam, I think you already have a goal. You want justice. I think there’s a governor and maybe a few others you could take on at least a little. You could hire a lawyer and see about getting a settlement from them for what they did to you. You’re pretty good at playing a bluff. Maybe you could make them think you know more than you do. I mean you could act like you have evidence instead of suspicion about what they did.”
Regarding Joe solemnly for a while, Adam finally nodded. “Yes, little brother, maybe you do learn something from those books you read. It’s rather melodramatic, but it could work. I don’t have to lie. I only have to write a letter to them as if I know rather than suspect. I’m sure a lawyer could help me with that.”
“Son, what would you ask for in compensation?”
“I’d like to be exonerated. I don’t want anything that says I committed any kind of offense at all.”
Anne offered a second request. “They should have you officially listed as a U.S. Marshal for the service you gave then working for them since this all happened and risking your life.”
“I guess that would get me some back pay for work that I did too. It wouldn’t be that much, but it’s the principle of it.” Turning to Joe, Adam smiled. “Thank you, Joe. You’re right. I do have a goal. That and getting strong enough to play with my son again, and of course, I’d like to be useful around the ranch too.”
Right on cue, Hop Sing came out with a plate of food. “Mister Adam not eat lunch. Bath good, but need food. Eat.” Then he marched back to the kitchen as if no one dared ever question his orders.
That accounted for more smiles. Then Ben decided to try one more request as long as Adam was being so agreeable.
“We should have a party to celebrate your wedding.”
He knew he had gone too far though by the look he got from his son. Adam wasn’t going to consent to that. However Adam looked at Anne and there was some form of silent communication. Ben had always wondered how Adam and Hoss did it, and now he saw Adam and Anne do it. She nodded and he turned to his father.
“We could do a welcome home party, but nothing about the wedding. We would prefer people assume we’ve been married. The story we’ve told you is for the family alone to know.”
“So we could be celebrating your wedding, but as long as none of the other guests knew that.”
Adam was still apparently quite capable of rolling his eyes. It got the best laugh of the day so far. They picked a date six weeks ahead so that Adam would be stronger and able to take a few hours of a house packed with guests. The plan was that he and Anne would spend most of their time seated and guests could come to see them. That way Adam could conserve his strength and still see many people.
By the time of the party, Adam had managed to buy a ring for Anne too. On one trip to town to confer with his lawyer, he had Hoss stop at a jewelry shop. He spent time there picking out a setting and ordering the ring he wanted. A few days before the party, he was able to pick up the ring and present it to his wife. At the time, she was in his arms in bed after lovemaking. He had intended to present it to her earlier, but the kisses had moved beyond simply kissing so fast, his mind lost focus. He had to admit as much to her as he told her to reach into the bedside table to get a present he had for her.
“I’m sorry. I had a grand romantic gesture all planned, but then we were kissing and soon we were undressing, and all thoughts simply vanished.”
That gave her an idea what the gift probably was.
“Adam, you didn’t have to do this.”
“So you know what it is.”
“I am guessing.”
Opening the drawer, she saw the small box, which confirmed her guess. Untying the ribbon and letting the box fall open, she had the lower portion in her hand with an intricate gold band set with an emerald and a diamond.
“This is too much.”
“No, this is what you should have and now do. I got a preliminary settlement already from the governor. He’s worried about his job. He sent me a share of the property sold when they confiscated all the property from Robles. This way the people of the territory aren’t paying or at least not directly. He said I’ll have the other conditions met as soon as the lawyers can take care of the paperwork.”
“I’m still amazed it went so fast.”
“I am too. But he may have recognized the name of my lawyer. His father is one of the senators from California, and his uncle is well known in political circles.”
“Did you pick him for that reason?”
“It was part of it. Hiram Wood, our family attorney, recommended him. He said he knew his law and he had connections that might prove advantageous.”
“Mister Wood is a clever lawyer too.”
“Yes, he thought I might be playing a dangerous game unless I made it clear that influential people would be made aware of the situation if anything happened to me. Oh, we happened to include that in the letter.”
“Is that legal?”
“It was my letter. I left a detailed letter of all that happened with my lawyer. It is sealed, but I told him that if anything happened to me, that should be duplicated and distributed to people such as his father. Hiram has a copy too and similar instructions. Even if nothing of legal consequence happened to the governor, he would have a lot to answer for politically if anything happened to me.”
“You are a very clever man. Now, I don’t think I properly thanked you for my ring.”
“Hmm, what did you have in mind?”
“Lay back, and I’ll show you.”
She did, and he knew she was very happy with her ring. She was very happy with the party too. He could tell how much by the way she dressed up for it and the way she insisted he dress. Matthew ended up dressed up far more than he liked as well. Adam told him he was lucky though because he didn’t have to sit the entire time because his uncles had volunteered to supervise him so as long as he was with one of them, he could roam. That made him quite happy and got Adam a slap on the arm from his wife.
“Hey, how did you know that arm was healed enough?”
“I didn’t slap it that hard, and besides, after some of the things you’ve been doing, I knew it could take a little tap like that.”
The party went well. There was quite a bit of curiosity about where Adam had been but he answered mostly in generalities and then talked of Anne and Matthew and how glad he was to be back home. There were those who were disappointed he had not married one of their daughters and then there were the ladies who were disappointed he had not married one of them. He greeted everyone in the same good humor, but after a while, it got grating to hear the same thing. Anne leaned near him when they had a break.
“Do you wish you had your pistol to shoot a few of them?”
That got him smiling again. “Maybe a shotgun and shoot a lot of them.” Then he heard something that did make him wish he was armed. A man escorting one of the ladies mentioned something about Arizona but when he said Yuma, Adam went on alert.
“Adam, it’s only a name.”
“No, it is more than that. Please, could you ask Roy to come speak with me?”
Even though the plan had been for Anne to stay with Adam, she could tell it was important to him and did as he requested. Ben came over to see what was wrong.
“I asked Anne to find Roy. I need to speak with him. I’ll explain later.”
When Anne walked casually to where Adam was sitting, she was on the arm of Sheriff Roy Coffee. “Adam, look who I found. I bet the two of you have a lot to talk about. He can sit where I was sitting. I should go see how Matthew is doing.”
Getting the hint, Ben stood so that no one else could get very close for the time being. Adam and Roy had some relative privacy.
“Roy, is there a large silver shipment going out around here soon?”
“Not that I know. Now that is a strange question for you to have your wife bring me over to you to hear.”
“One of the men who tortured me in Arizona to try to get information on a silver shipment is here. I heard him first before I recognized him. It’s the man in the gray jacket with Melanie Bradley. I’m sure he was one of those men. After what they did, I doubt he has reformed and is here for a benevolent purpose. I equally doubt that he is here alone.”
“You sure it’s him?”
“I wasn’t at first, but I’ve been paying attention. He’s cleaned up and acting quite civilized, but it’s him. The last time I saw him he was swinging a rifle butt at my head. Roy, that is a dangerous man.”
“You don’t think he knows who you are.”
“I don’t think so. I look very different, but we’ll take precautions.”
“I’ll be checking into him and seeing what I can find out. You take care now, you hear.”
After all the guests had left, Adam explained it all to his family. Anne and Ben had the same concern as Roy.
“Pa hardly recognized me except for my voice. So I don’t think he knew me the way I look now. Maybe if we ended up spending much time together, he would get an idea.”
“Adam, he might put it together. Some people here know that you were in Arizona. It’s clear that you were injured. If he heard your voice, well, you know how that can work.”
“I told Roy we would take precautions.”
“We will. Joe, could you check in the bunkhouse to see who would be willing to do guard duty for extra pay. One behind the house and one in the loft of the stable I think would do. We’ll keep a lantern on the porch and one in the back garden. We’ll shutter the windows on the first floor at night.”
“We’ll do the usual watching for strangers too. I’ll go with Joe to talk with the men to let them know what we’re worried about. Don’t worry, Adam, we won’t tell ’em any more than they need to know.”
Luckily, Mel Gibbons, the outlaw at the party did feel that he knew Adam from somewhere, but he had been around so much, he guessed he might have run into him in some saloon some place. Other men at the party said Adam did like a poker game now and then and was good at it and liked billiards too. Mel guessed that was probably it and didn’t think much more about it. He was casing out Virginia City as a base of operations for his gang. They planned to hit a special shipment from the mint in Carson City but didn’t want to arrive in the area too soon as a group and draw suspicion. He expected his men to arrive alone or in pairs over the next few days. The plan was to settle into Virginia City for a few weeks so no one would pay them any special attention. Then they could hit the mint shipment out of Carson City and bring it to their places of residence in Virginia City until things cooled down. The idea was that a posse would be chasing a group not looking for men heading to their homes. Once they were in the clear, they planned to ship the gold by rail to California where they thought they could live quite well for a very long time. That was the plan.
The problem with their plan was one they had never anticipated. Previously they had only operated in Arizona so they didn’t think anyone in Nevada would recognize any of them. As long as they didn’t do anything to draw attention to themselves and unwanted scrutiny, the gang thought their plan was foolproof. However, Roy was watching Mel and had his deputies start watching all the men that Mel contacted. Soon Roy had to hire a few extra men. It was clear that this gang was planning something big, but there was no way to determine what it was. Roy sent a wire to Marshal Anders hoping to get a clue. He got one and news. Dave was on his way.
When Dave arrived, he and Roy headed out to the Ponderosa. There were a few things that needed to be cleared up, and they had a plan, which required Adam’s cooperation. Actually, the whole Cartwright clan was going to have to agree to it. When they arrived at the Ponderosa, Dave got a cool reception. He expected that. Once inside, he asked Adam if he could explain.
“Yes, eventually I suspected the governor had information that would clear you. No, I didn’t tell you that. I was afraid of what you would do. I knew what you’d done with Robles. I thought you could end up in a lot worse shape if you did anything. The governor held all the cards. If I told you that and we were wrong, he could renege on the deal and reinstate the death penalty. Or he could hold you to the whole fifteen years. I thought he was going to be agreeable at some point to reducing that. I talked to him about it once and he seemed to indicate that if there was some meritorious act that he could use as justification, he could see reducing the sentence further. So that’s how I decided to play it. When you got hurt, I knew he wouldn’t reinstate the death penalty so I went to him and pushed hard. I got him to reduce your time to that already served. I never expected you to come back unless you wanted to come back so you were free. That’s my story. I’m sorry if you don’t like what I did. I used my best judgment of the situation and acted accordingly. It’s what I always do, and I’m not about to change now.”
“I can accept that, but you didn’t trust me. We’re not going to be friends if you don’t trust me.”
“I do now. I should have then. I don’t trust anyone very easily. It could get me killed.”
Still a bit wary but curious as to why Dave was there with Roy, Adam asked them to sit. “Now why are you here?”
“We’ve got a plan. Your whole family is gonna hafta agree because it could put all of you at some risk, although you got a lot of guns out here to protect any who stay here.” Roy looked at Ben. “It’s mostly Adam who’ll be taking a chance, but Dave and I will be right there. Most likely one of his brothers will be there too.”
Ben was getting a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Where is there, Roy?”
“Well, we know who everybody in this gang is now. I been watching and my deputies have been keeping track of all of them. I’m sure if we were to arrest them, Adam could identify them. Now they assaulted a U.S. Marshal. Dave here could have them charged with that. You know they won’t get more than a year for that most likely. But if we could get a hold of one of them, we could use that to get information from him. Tell him he can do one year but the others are going in for twenty to life for robberies if he’ll testify against them and maybe he’ll even tell us what they got planned.”
“How do you plan to do this, Roy?” Adam was intrigued.
“We watch and wait for one of the youngest ones maybe or one you tell us wasn’t so eager to participate, and then you accidental like run into him, and you kind of react wild like and say something about him being one of the men who attacked you. We arrest him for that, and then we go to work on him. Dave will take him out of town heading supposedly to Arizona but really to a shack where we will be questioning him until we get what we want. We need to scare him good but make the others think he’s only going back to Arizona to face assault charges.”
“That could work.”
“Yes, but Adam that also identifies you as the one they attacked. They could decide to eliminate the risk by getting rid of you.”
“Well, maybe not. You see, we’re only gonna say it’s assault not which assault. They’d hafta make some big jumps in thinking to figure out which assault it was.” Roy didn’t want to give the outlaws too much credit for being geniuses.
“But it is possible.” Ben didn’t give up though.
“Yes, it is possible they would know that it was the assault on Yuma.” Roy had to admit that.
“If they come here to do it, it puts all of you at risk.” Dave was brutally honest, but that was exactly what he needed to do to get their trust.
Hoss looked at his older brother. “Adam, what do you want to do?”
“I think I’d like to do it if you all think you can protect the family here. What do you think I should do?” Adam looked around at his family. He wouldn’t do it without their support. He had learned that lesson. “I won’t do it unless we’re going to do it together.”
“I think you should do it and get this settled.” Hoss was ready to back his older brother.
Joe got a nod from Angelina that she supported his decision. “I’m with Hoss. I’ll help.”
“I am scared about this, but as long as you have everyone helping, I’ll accept you doing this.” Anne reached for his hand.
Ben sighed deeply and nodded. “We’ll do it together.”
They had consensus however reluctantly some were signing on. The plan went into effect the next day. Hoss and Joe saddled their horses and helped Adam saddle his. This would be the longest ride he had taken yet. Ben asked if he was sure he wanted to do that and he only frowned at his father. Cal hitched up the buckboard though. Adam asked what he was doing.
“You helped save my behind down there in the desert. You need my help in town; I want to be there. I figure at any point, you need a ride, I’m going to be there. I was you, I’d want to ride in on my horse too, but after what you gotta do, you could just be a mite tired on the way back. If you are, I’ll be with you and ready to do whatever you need.”
Cal was going to be sleeping in the downstairs guest room as an additional guard. He was a light sleeper and as loyal a hand as anyone could ever hope. Therefore, he had been briefed on the whole operation so he knew what to expect. It was his idea to help out with the wagon.
“Thank you. I hope I don’t need it, but it’s good to know I have a friend waiting to help if need be.” Adam was especially grateful knowing that this would help alleviate Anne’s fears too.
In town, Adam stayed inside the mercantile and watched men pass on the street. He saw several he recognized but all were dangerous men unlikely to break under questioning. Then he saw one he guessed would be a good bet for their purposes.
“There’s one who was mostly a helper. He handed the hot pokers or the clubs to the others to use.”
Leaving the mercantile, Adam walked across the street and turned almost walking into the man.
“You! You’re one of the men who beat me.”
Adam pulled his gun and looked like he was ready to shoot the man who cowered back. Hoss pulled Adam’s gun hand into the air and pulled the gun from his hand too.
“You can’t just up and shoot him. You sure it’s him?”
“Joe, you got him?”
By then, Joe had his gun out and disarmed the other man. Soon he was being marched down the street by the Cartwrights and forced up the steps into the sheriff’s office. One of the hands from the Ponderosa was sitting in a cell at the jail supposedly to be extradited to Arizona. It was how they were going to explain why Dave was there. In a short time, Dave was outside with that man who kept his hat pulled low and his head down. Roy almost chortled as he watched Dave get his two prisoners secured on their horses. They played their scene well talking loud enough for anyone listening to understand what was supposedly happening.
“Dave, this makes your trip more worthwhile, doesn’t it. You get to take two back to Arizona. This thief and now one charged with assault. Maybe you’ll get another bonus.”
“I should get one having to watch two of them, feed two of them, and everything else. I would have brought a deputy if I knew I had to take two back with me.”
Dave headed out of town then with two prisoners on horseback and a packhorse all on a long lead rope. Mel watched from the shaded boardwalk near the International Hotel. One of his men stood near him.
“He wasn’t much help anyway.”
“Especially here. On the trail, he did all the dirty work though. No loss at this point. He knows better than to talk. We’ve got enough friends in Yuma to take care of him if he talks. I’ve told him that often enough. He’ll be out in a year anyway if all they’re charging him with is assault.”
The gang didn’t pay much more attention to the missing member. He wasn’t important to their plans and wouldn’t be missed. They assumed they had been ruthless enough that he wouldn’t talk and that was their only concern with him. In their careers, they had not killed anyone although they had come close with the lawman in Arizona who refused to give them the information they wanted. Mel knew they had lost their tempers there because of their frustration. Their whole plan had been based on getting the time and route from the man who refused to give them anything. They learned after that to find weak men who would give them information for a bribe. It worked much better than trying to force a strong man to tell them anything. They saw Roy talking with Adam briefly and wondered what it was that Adam knew about their man. It didn’t matter much because all of them had broken the law here and there. Obviously something had gone wrong, but no one was looking at them and the marshal had left town so whatever it was, it was over, or so they thought.
Outside of town, Roy’s deputy Clem and another deputy met up with Dave and his two ‘prisoners’ and led them to the cabin that had been designated for their use. There, the man they had taken to question was given his options. He remained silent, and Dave had an inspiration.
“They told you that they had men in Yuma Prison who would kill you if you talked, didn’t they?”
He didn’t deny it even if he didn’t agree with it. The others knew Dave was right. Dave made the man an offer.
“What if we get you time in prison in Nevada instead. It’s not as nice as Yuma, but I’ll have them recommend six months instead of a year if you talk and tell us what you know of their plans here.”
“But then they’ll go to prison here. I won’t be no better off.”
Dave looked at Clem for a solution. Clem frowned and then smiled.
“How about hard labor at a timber camp? They’ll never find him there and he won’t get away either. In fact, he can even earn a legitimate salary there until the six months are up. How about that?”
“What’s the catch? I know there’s a catch. There always is.”
“The man you beat up. His family owns those timber camps. You better not try to run away or he’ll be the one hunting you down. Him and his family.”
“He’ll kill me anyway.”
“No, he won’t. He’s a U.S. Marshal, remember. You have to do something wrong for him to kill you. So, you follow the rules and you get out of this alive and with some money in your pocket that you got legally.”
“All right. I’ll tell you what I know.”
For the next couple of hours, he gave names, dates, places, and anything else he could remember of crimes the gang had committed. He told them of the plan they had to steal from the mint and stash the loot in various residences in Virginia City. When they were done talking to him, Clem told the other two deputies to take him to the Ponderosa and explain that he was going up to the timber camps as a common laborer and to tell the Cartwrights what was going to happen in Carson City. The Ponderosa hand rode with them. Dave stayed at the cabin so no one would see him. At night, he would travel to Carson City to brief the authorities there on what was about to happen. It was Clem’s job to tell Roy.
On the day the gold was to be shipped out of the Carson City mint, Roy, Clem, and some deputies followed the gang members as they slipped away from Virginia City and headed to Carson City. They thought no one saw them go. Adam planned to be there when they were apprehended so he had gone to the stable to saddle up a horse only to find Hoss and Joe there already with three horses ready to go.
“You didn’t think we’d ever let you go off on your own again, didja?”
“Hoss, I wasn’t going to be alone. Roy, Clem, Dave, and a host of others are going to be there.”
“Yeah, and so are we, older brother, so like Hoss says, you’re not going alone.”
When the gang surrounded the wagon carrying the gold from the mint to the railway station, they were surprised when not only the guard, but the driver pulled a gun on them and two more men inside the wagon pulled guns on them too. In fact, he recognized one of the men in the wagon as that pesky Adam Cartwright who seemed to keep showing up.
“You men are outnumbered three to one. You don’t have to die for some gold. Drop your guns.”
Not only did they not drop their guns, but that Adam Cartwright got kind of cheeky with them.
“I think your math is rather bad. Did you go to school at all?”
“Of course, I went to school.”
“Then turn around and count again.”
The sound of a significant number of rifles cocking behind them was disconcerting as was the sound of more men riding in from the other sides. They were soon surrounded by a troop of soldiers and vastly outnumbered.
“Now what were you saying about three to one?”
Mel wanted so much to smash that man in the mouth and then it came to him. The sound of that voice. He had already smashed him in the head once. Then he understood why this had all gone so bad.
“We should have killed you.”
“Too late now. The desert didn’t do the job for you. You’re going to spend the rest of your life in prison.”
That prospect was too awful for Mel to consider. He began to raise his pistol and never even got it level before multiple shots knocked him from his saddle. Several others decided to try to fight too. By the time it was over, half of the gang were dead or wounded and the other six had their arms raised high in the air. It was over. Adam saluted Dave and the others before walking with his brothers to their horses and riding home. He was going to stay there too. Being Adam Cartwright of the Ponderosa was a lot more satisfying thought to him now that he had experienced being Yuma. When he got home, he wrapped his arms around Ann.
“Now where would you like me to build a house?”
“Yes, a nice house that we can spend the rest of our lives in and watch our children grow.”
“Children? How did you know? I was going to tell you when all of this was over.”
“Yes, you said children so I thought you knew.”
“I do now. When?”
“About five months from now would be my best guess.”
Ben grinned and looked at Hoss.
“There now, Adam’s setting a good example finally. Joe is married and has a daughter. When are you planning to follow your brothers’ lead?”
“Now, Pa, there ain’t hardly enough room in the house as it is.”
“Oh, so when Adam finishes his house, you’ll be ready to marry and settle down. Is that it?”
Hoss gulped realizing he’d talked himself into a corner. “I dunno. Maybe it’ll be my turn to take a trip.”
“Oh, no, no more trips for a while. No, we need to settle things here for how we’re going to be organized for the future. Now, what ideas do you have for improving the ranch?”