SUMMARY: One man faces execution for a crime he didn’t commit, another suffers a terrible beating, and Proud Mary is at the center of the controversy but can’t help. The whole family will have to work together to untangle the mystery, but the question is whether it will be in time to prevent tragedy. That depends on how much Adam can remember.
Rating = T Word count = 4632
Walking up to the door of the Ponderosa, Roy felt guilt as well as sorrow for what had happened. He was there to visit Adam to see how he was doing but also to deliver the news of the events of that day. William Darnell had been hanged as scheduled at the territorial prison with no reprieve from the governor nor any talk of a commutation of his sentence. Most people went about their business as they had before the news thinking a murderer had gotten a suitable punishment. Roy wasn’t one of those people, and he guessed the Cartwrights weren’t either. Hoss answered the door after a short time.
“Come on in, Roy. Doc is upstairs with Adam so we all just come down to get some coffee to wait to hear what he has to say. You want to wait with us?”
“I’d like that, Hoss. I’ve some news to share too.”
So, Roy told them about Darnell and about the latest in the saga of who was ahead in the struggle to control the mines in Virginia City. There were many who stood to gain or lose big in that contest so it was of intent interest to men like the Cartwrights who had some significant investments in mining.
“Yes, now that the man Darnell was accused of murdering is gone, that faction is losing ground fast. Seems like they’ll be out of the picture soon, and Darnell’s group too hasn’t got a chance. That leaves only the two biggest ones left to fight over control. The smaller groups have to choose sides so the major issue for them is trying to guess who the likely winner will be so they can be on the winning side.”
“Rather lucky for them that Darnell killed Whittaker, wasn’t it? Maybe it wasn’t luck.”
“Joseph, we had enough talk like that during the trial with Adam trying to stir things up. Look where that got him. That could be why he’s up there in that bed now with the doctor having to tell us if he’ll recover.”
That hit a little close to the truth, and Roy hoped the discussion wouldn’t continue in that direction. It didn’t.
“I thought Doc Martin said that all the bruising to his, uh, privates showed it was probably someone mad about him messing with a woman. He said he’s seen it before with jealous husbands or lovers doing that to someone.”
“Yes, he did, Hoss, but we don’t know if that’s true. It could be that was done to stop Adam from riding home. You saw the shape he was in when he got here. It’s amazing he managed to get home at all. No, whoever did it meant for him to be left out there in the snow and to die. Dragged off the road and beaten, we never would have found him.”
It was time for Roy to speak up. “Has he said anything about the attack? Has he said anything that would give me a clue to start investigating?”
All three dropped their heads. Ben spoke softly.
“He doesn’t remember much about that whole week or so. He doesn’t remember riding home much less anything about the attack. I know he went to town every day that week, yet he doesn’t remember doing that. So, he doesn’t have any idea why he would have done that either.”
“Will his memory come back?”
“He has his memory.” Doctor Martin was coming down the steps. “He has no other memory loss other than the events of the attack and the time frame before it. That’s not unusual in a traumatic brain injury such as he has received. I was asking him questions now about many other things, and there is no other memory impairment. All appears normal. He should recover fully by everything I can tell.”
“He has no memory of that week or of the beating?” Roy had to be sure. Without Adam’s memory, it was unlikely anyone would ever be apprehended for the vicious attack.
“He may remember bits and pieces as time passes, but he is unlikely to ever remember things in a coherent memory. Quite likely, after what has happened, he may want to forget what little he does eventually remember. The bits and pieces most likely won’t fit together very well and will remind him of the worst aspects of what happened to him.”
“Maybe he can remember enough to identify them.” Joe was hopeful. More than anything he wanted the men who had done it to be punished.
“Joe, he probably won’t be able to remember that. He was hit repeatedly on the head and in the face making his eyes swell nearly closed. Most likely he never saw them well. It was at night. He was probably dazed by the blows to his head, and his vision was impaired.”
“Joseph! There is no reason to subject the doctor to such language.”
“It’s all right, Ben. When I examine Adam, I feel like saying it too. He’s going to be all right, but he’s hurting very much, and there’s not much I can do to help him.”
“Ice packs and cool cloths then?”
“That’s about it. The one good thing about the weather is you at least have the option of ice packs to ease the pain and swelling. Remember though not too close to the eyes. Still just the cloths soaked in ice water there.”
After Doctor Martin left with Roy offering to ride back with him, Ben went up to Adam’s room to take a turn caring for him as Joe went to do chores, and Hoss headed to bed. They were sleeping in shifts so they could care for Adam around the clock as well as get everything else done. When Ben stepped into the room, the sight of Adam’s face reminded him again of finding him that night on the porch. He had heard him ride in and still cringed with the memory of his anger at him. Every night, Adam had been going to town and refused to explain why. Clearly he wasn’t getting enough sleep and his work suffered, which his brothers complained about daily. Ben tried to get him to give an accounting of what he was doing and got nothing. Then that night, he had been especially late. When Ben looked out the window, he had seen him slide from his horse and had thought he had been drinking. Twenty minutes later, Hoss came down the stairs.
“Pa, I’m going out to see what’s wrong with Adam.”
“Nothing’s wrong. He’s probably been drinking.”
“I don’t think so. Sport’s just standing in the yard, and there’s no sign of Adam. He never drinks that much.”
Worried then, Ben had followed Hoss out the door and they had found him at the edge of the porch. He must have staggered that far before falling. The snow had cushioned his impact so there had been no noise. When Hoss rolled him over, both of them had gasped seeing his face. If they hadn’t recognized his clothing, they might not have known it was him with the swollen, bruised, and bloody flesh. When they undressed him inside, they found terrible bruising to his chest, back, and privates as well as lumps on the back of his head. He had been battered probably with clubs not fists. While Joe and another rider headed to town to summon help, Hoss and Ben did their best with Hop Sing to clean up Adam and make him as comfortable as they could.
“Pa, how’d he ever manage to get home?”
“I don’t know. Why did I ever think he’d been drinking and left him lay out in the snow?”
“There was no way to know anything was wrong.”
“Only when I looked out the window and saw Sport standing there. No matter what shape he’s in, he always takes care of him. I knew it had to be really bad.”
Although Ben would have to carry that guilt, he could do many things to help his son now. He asked if Adam wanted any water or anything to eat. They asked often because usually the answer was no, but Paul wanted them to get Adam to eat or drink as often as they could.
“How about a spoonful of water then and a bite of a biscuit?”
Adam knew that was coming and agreed. There was a little sugar in the water which made it go down a bit easier, and Hop Sing had made the biscuits small and tender. Adam asked for a second spoonful of water after the biscuit. Then he wanted to sleep. Ben replaced the cool cloths and ice packs before sitting back to read while Adam did his best to sleep. While Adam struggled to be comfortable enough to sleep, Ben tried to ignore the fitful movements and uneven breathing. It was about an hour later that he realized Adam’s breathing had achieved a regular rhythm and knew his son had finally slipped into a deep sleep most likely brought on by exhaustion. He slept that way for about four hours until bad dreams disturbed him. Ben thought the only thing to do was wake him before he hurt himself by thrashing around.
“No need to be sorry, son. It’s understandable that you would have bad dreams after what happened. Have they helped you remember anything?”
“Nothing new. I remember being hit so much. I hear voices. There’s one voice in particular that told me I was going to die. That one I hear in every dream. But there’s no face and it’s not someone I know.”
“Doctor Martin said it would probably be like this. He said those fragments of memory you have are likely all you will ever have about that attack.”
“I guess I’m going to have to learn how to forget then.”
Things went like that for a week until Doctor Martin’s next visit. “I have someone who’s willing to stay here and work for you caring for Adam this winter. She’s done some nursing for me in the past so I know she can handle the work.”
“With the weather as it is, she could be here for months without a chance to get back to town more than a few times. I mean we would do our best, Paul, but with the weather, there’s always the chance we could be snowbound here even well past the time that Adam needs any care.”
“I know, but she doesn’t mind. In fact, she would probably prefer not being in town much.”
That made Ben and his sons curious as well as a bit suspicious of whom Paul was recommending.
“Paul, who is this woman you are recommending to care for my son?”
“Proud Mary?” Joe and Hoss said it almost in unison like a chorus.
“Now, she’s qualified, needs the job, and would be willing to work here in the winter. Do you have any better ideas?”
“Well, I suppose. I mean, other than the notoriety of what happened to her husband and the way she carried herself around town before that happened, I have nothing against her.”
“She expected to be one of the leading ladies of the town. She wanted to make a difference, so yes, she crusaded for a hospital in town, and she pushed for improvements in the policing of the town, and she was tireless in demanding reform. For that, some decided she was too proud. But, she is intelligent, capable, and a very nice lady. I think you are lucky she needs a job.”
“Very well, Paul. Make the arrangements.”
“Why don’t you plan to pick her up at my office tomorrow. I’ll talk to her when I get back to town today. You’ll have a reprieve from the round the clock care by tomorrow night.”
Although they had some misgivings, all three had to admit they looked forward to that. Ben decided that he ought to be the one to go meet Mary and escort her to the Ponderosa. For safety sake, Joe rode with him. It was getting cold outside, and traveling alone was not a good idea. After what had happened to Adam, they needed to be more cautious. While they were gone, Hoss was in charge of Adam and in charge of getting the room next door ready for Mary. He kept practicing saying Mrs, Darnell because he didn’t want to slip and say Proud Mary by accident. When Adam heard him saying her name though, he asked why, and Hoss told him of the new arrangement.
Although normally Adam wouldn’t be happy learning he was getting a full-time nurse, he was glad his family was getting a reprieve from full-time care of him. It made him feel guilty and shamed him to have his father and brother feeding him. Having Mary there would make the time pass much more pleasantly and he hoped he could be some comfort to her. With the way his family refused to talk about what had happened to William, he knew. They could try to shield him but his mind was still working.
Hoss saw the hint of a smile, the first since he had arrived home in such a sorry state. “Now there’s some of the old Adam coming through. You’re thinking it’s not gonna be so bad having a lady waiting on you, is it?”
Although Adam would have liked to shrug and perhaps say something, any of that would have hurt. He simply smiled a little more.
Hoss grinned in response. “Yeah, ’bout what I thought.”
When Ben met Mary Darnell in town though, he wasn’t so sure it was a good idea. She seemed to be melancholy, and although she had good cause, he was didn’t think it was a good idea for someone in her state to be around Adam. Paul was persuasive though.
“She and Adam have been friends a long time. He was friends with her husband too. I know Adam didn’t think William was guilty. That will go a long way to making her feel better in Adam’s company, and she has every reason to want Adam to do well. She needs this job, and there isn’t anyone else in town at the moment who is willing or able to hire her.”
Later Ben would wonder a bit about how Paul was so sure that Adam thought William wasn’t guilty of murder and why Mary would have such positive feelings about Adam, but at the time he was more concerned about Mary’s state of mind. Nothing seemed that important once he saw how well Adam responded to Mary’s presence. Then he realized that Adam probably didn’t remember the outcome of the trial or what had happened to William while he had been in that bed. He whispered that to Mary at one point, and she quickly reassured him.
“Thank you for your concern, but Paul told me about the same before I accepted the job. I will handle it. Adam is my friend and William was his friend too. I feel somewhat responsible for the condition he is in. I certainly wouldn’t want to do anything to increase his discomfort.”
Ben was thoroughly mystified by her feeling responsible but began to get some idea of what Adam may have been involved in doing that had led to his injuries. It would explain Roy’s tight-lipped responses when asked about investigating what had happened and might explain what Paul had said as well. He would have to wait until the next time he saw Roy, but he planned to ask him some pointed questions next time they met.
When they had arrived at the house, Mary had gone directly to Adam’s room and talked with him quite openly putting him at ease. Ben was grateful to hear her speak so honestly with his son.
“Doctor Martin briefly told me of your condition and what he wants me to do. He also told me the things you would of course prefer your father or brothers to assist you. If you have any concerns about your care, you tell me. You know me. You can tell me anything, and I will do my best to accommodate your needs, but don’t you go getting your moods all dark like you’re apt to do sometimes. There’s enough of that going around.”
“Mary, I’m sorry about happened with William. No one wants to talk about it.”
“I know. They don’t want to upset you. But you must have guessed by me being here what happened.”
“Yes, and because no one would tell me what happened.”
The two of them were quiet then. Ben assumed they would talk about it at some point but was glad they didn’t pursue it right away. Adam was in pain physically and Mary emotionally and neither needed any more torment. They could offer comfort to each other by being together. He knew how friends could do that simply by being there and understood Paul was treating two patients with his plan. It wouldn’t be for long anyway as Adam would only need help for a couple of weeks. That was the expectation.
Everything went better than Ben had anticipated. Having Mary there made Adam a more compliant patient. That was a near miracle according to Joe while Ben and Hoss attributed it to Adam having someone else with whom to converse and someone he probably felt he had to help too. He certainly didn’t want to add to her troubles by being unpleasant. Mary didn’t want to talk about the trial and what had happened after the conviction, so Adam had to hold his questions. Clearly he had no memory of what had happened nor what he had been doing.
Bit by bit, Ben and Adam’s brothers found out that he had been working with Roy who also suspected that William had been wrongly accused. Adam had been investigating and had uncovered some information but unfortunately had been injured before he had completed digging into that and telling Roy the details. Someone must have found out and that was why Adam had been beaten and left for dead. The attack on Adam further confirmed Roy’s suspicions, but he had no proof. He had done what he could to try to get a reprieve for William or at least a brief delay so he could investigate more but without any information, he had been unsuccessful.
A week after Mary arrived, she asked Adam if he thought he could manage walking to the porch.
“It’s a beautiful day, and although there are clouds, it’s only enough to keep the sun from being too bright. I think getting out of the house will help you in your recovery. It’s warm for this time of year. I think with coats and maybe a blanket over your legs, you will be quite comfortable.”
“I’d like to do that.”
Sensing how hesitant Adam was especially because his balance was still so poor, Mary summoned Hoss. He used his usual good-natured common sense to get his older brother up and moving.
“Cain’t let you tumble down the stairs. I’m plumb tired of doin’ your chores and mine too. Pa’s got us doing your work too by working extra-long days, so don’t you worry none. I ain’t gonna let you hurt yourself.”
With ease, Hoss helped Adam down the stairs, across the great room, and then outside to the porch after they got bundled up in their coats. Mary met them on the porch and said that Hop Sing would soon be there with refreshments. Hoss wished he could stay, but was all smiles when Hop Sing handed him a napkin wrapped bundle when the cook arrived with large cups of coffee and cookies for Adam and Mary.
“It was Missy Mary idea. She say you need cookies too because you help her and Mister Adam. I put donuts left from breakfast in there too.”
Hoss was all smiles then and thanked Hop sing profusely and Mary too.
Just before Hoss left, Adam noticed a new hand. “Who’s the new man?”
“Name’s Ringo. We hired him right after you got hurt. Now that was a bit of luck. He’s not the best hand, but with most everyone else taking jobs in the mines, we were lucky to get anyone at all who was willing to work. We’ve got him doing most of the work around here and that frees up those who ride better to work with the cattle.”
“He doesn’t ride well?”
“Nope. He rides like a city feller. Don’t know nothing ’bout cutting and herding. But he’s a hard worker so we give him a list every day, and it all gets done.”
As Hoss headed to Chubb, he greeted Ringo and the two talked for a time. Hoss laughed a bit at something Ringo said and snatched his bundle of treats out of the man’s reach making Ringo laugh too. Then Hoss got in the saddle, and with a wave to all, rode out to join Joe in the pastures where they were making sure the herd was set for the winter.
After Hoss left, Mary and Adam spent time talking and then played checkers. While they were busy with that game, Ringo began working at splitting kindling. They paid little attention to him as they were engrossed in their game except Mary noticed Adam glancing to the side occasionally as if to check on the man. After a time, Adam noticed it was quiet and looked around to see that Ringo was nowhere to be seen. Agitated, he mentioned that to his father who came out to see how he and Mary were doing.
“Where is Ringo?”
“I don’t know. Why are you concerned?”
“I recognized his voice, Pa.”
What Adam hadn’t mentioned to Mary was that he had recognized Ringo’s voice when the man spoke to Hoss. He didn’t recognize Ringo’s face, but he would forever remember that voice. It had been in his ear the night he was beaten. The words had been more chilling than the air. He had heard what they planned for him and then he had been beaten senseless and left on the ground. They had never expected him to be able to get on his horse and ride home. He couldn’t remember doing that but knew he had. That voice though had sent chills through him once more. The only good thing was that it made him freeze, ironic as that was, and made it easier to act as if he was unaffected. Now that man was missing, and Adam worried about what might happen next. Ringo’s words had been proven wrong Adam wondered if he would try to correct that failure.
“This is what you get for sticking your nose where it don’t belong. Now it’s gonna be frozen like the rest of you. They might not find you ’til spring with the weather the way it’s been.”
With a sickly feeling, Adam continued to look around for Ringo. Ben made a few cursory glances before turning back to Adam. He could see how worried his son was.
“Adam, why is it so important?” Suddenly Ben had a ghastly premonition. “Is it the voice of the man who had you beaten?”
There was no chance to answer as a bullet hit the post next to where Adam was sitting. Ben pushed Adam’s chair back and toppled it even as Mary jumped up and ran for the house. Pulling Adam then, Ben got him behind the main support post for the porch knowing that they had other hands nearby who would come to their assistance as soon as they could. It didn’t take long, and Ben’s prediction to himself was fulfilled.
“What happened, Mister Cartwright?”
“Someone shot at us. I think it might have been the new man, Ringo. Whoever it was, the shots came from there.” Ben pointed at the place in the trees where the shots had originated. If it was Ringo, these men would overtake him. He couldn’t ride well enough to elude them.
One of the men must have gone to alert Hoss and Joe because they arrived at the house about the same time as the other men brought Ringo back. He wasn’t in the best condition. The men explained that he had resisted their efforts. Ringo was going to argue when Ben said he shouldn’t as that could be a cause for the men to teach him some manners. Ben was still upset that the man had tried to kill them and asked him about that rather forcefully. Ringo never got a chance to answer because Adam was once again seated on the porch next to Mary who had come back out with Hop Sing who was alerted by all the noise.
“He’s one of the men who beat me and left me to die. I didn’t recognize him, but I heard his voice when he told me they were leaving me to die, and the beating started at his order.”
Exercising all of his willpower, Ben didn’t order the men to exact justice directly then. Instead he had some questions. “Who are you working for? Why beat Adam? What did you hope to gain?”
“What kind of deal are you offering?”
“Deal? You talk, and I won’t let my other sons do to you what they want to do.”
Ringo looked at Hoss and Joe who appeared to be angry enough to kill him. It was no act after hearing that this was the man who had tried to murder their brother. Ringo told the whole story of how he had been hired to arrange for men to kill Whittaker and put the blame on Darnell. It was all so his employers could get two larger investment groups out of the way so they could buy into the best deals on the Comstock, raise the prices, and then sell to whomever won the contest to control the mines in Virginia City.
“So, it was all about greed? It was murder for money.”
“I never killed anyone.”
“You tried to kill my son.”
“He got in the way. He would have messed up everything. Besides, we didn’t kill him.”
“You tried because he would have saved an innocent man’s life.”
Turning to Hoss and Joe, Ben asked if they would take Ringo to town to tell the sheriff the whole sordid story. After that, Ben tried to console Mary. “I hope that helped in some small way.”
“It did in that people will know that William was innocent. They’ll have to live with it. I can walk with my head held high again, and if they say Proud Mary, well then, I am. I’m proud that I have friends like the Cartwrights who stand up for the truth and for justice no matter what the consequences. I’m proud to say my husband didn’t do anything wrong, and all those people who were so self-righteous have to live with their guilt because they can never say that.”
Taking her hand, Adam smiled. “Thank you, Proud Mary. It is a pleasure being your friend.”
Author’s Note: A Bonanza Trailriders challenge based on Proud Mary,
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