Summary: It’s been two years since the events that almost saw two of the Cartwrights hung for a crime they didn’t commit.
Rating: T (6,550 words)
People call me Lassiter. It’s not my own name, of course, but somehow people started to know me and call me by that name. It’s actually the name of the place I hail from, Lassiter in Kansas. It’s got so that should I be asked my name I just say Lassiter. It seems to fit comfortably enough and satisfies the curious.
It’s an odd thing riding through a town that I had visited before, two years to the date – 25th April. I can remember it because Miss Sally Brynes had the date circled in red on her calandar and because of the scaffold that had been built in town. I can remember it also because I came in search of a man and I killed him.
Now after two years I’ve returned. During those two years I’ve ridden into many towns like this one; some are booming and some are dying. Some were one horse towns and others were nothing short of flea ridden dumps that I rode through barely noticing they existed. I’ve been to Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and California. I even made it back to Kansas. I guess I found most of my men now and my father’s gun has quite a few notches on its handle as a result.
When a man rides through a town he’s already ridden through he gets to looking out for things he had noticed before, for instance, I looked for Byrnes café but it was a Gentleman’s Outfitters now. I guess Miss Sally couldn’t face life here after what happened although I can’t see that the men she nearly got killed would have borne her any grudge.
Gil’s Saloon was still a saloon and still spilling out drunkards, but it was called The Bucket of Blood now. Guess, somehow, that’s fitting. One sight I don’t see, and glad to notice the omission, is the scaffold with the two nooses, just opposite Miss Sal’s café. That’s where I shot Hawkins and some of his men. I don’t regret that shooting. I don‘t regret any of them. They were all lying, cheating cowards every one of them.
Talking of which, I notice now how busy the town is on this 25th April. It was like a ghost town last time. I wonder how a town could face up to being so yellow in refusing to save two good men from false charges. They knew the men they were condemning to death, knew them and had taken from them, taken their kindness and generosity and thrown it back in their faces. I guess the Cartwright’s are some special kind of breed because I sure wouldn’t be feeling so kindly about these townsfolk, not when remembering the feel of that rope round my neck and how close it came to being the death of me. No, I guess I ain’t the forgiving kind. I wonder how those townsfolk went to their church on the Sunday after the near hanging and how any of them could look those Cartwright’s in the face.
I noticed a young man wearing a green jacket standing by a black and white horse. He kinda stares at me and I glance over at him and realise he looks familiar but can’t place why. I keep on riding and when I glance over my shoulder I see him still looking. But he isn’t the man I’m looking for so I look away and head for the saloon. A big man steps out and pushes his hat back from his brow. He doesn’t pay me no heed but I remember him now. Then that reminds me of the young man in the green jacket and recall to mind the two comedians who were going to have a little revolution at their Pa and brother’s necktie party.
I wonder now had I not been around and Miss Sally had not run out to admit to her lies, how it would have gone that evening. Would the Cartwrights have been hanged? I couldn’t see the little revolution that had been planned being very successful. I doubt if any one of them would have come out of it alive.
I dismount and tether up the horse to the hitching rail. I don’t intend to be staying long. Last time I took him into the livery stables and got him fed up with oats. Perhaps if I find my man fast enough I’ll treat him to some more before I ride out of here. I could do with a good meal and bath too. As I walk into the saloon I can smell my own sweat, and it isn’t something I particularly want to smell.
There are a few men lounging around the place. Two men playing cards, an intense game by the looks of it, but they don’t look up as I pass. A woman looks over at me and then turns away. I’ve seen too many of her kind, most of them have good hearts and are well intentioned, they have to earn money but had I a sister I wouldn’t want this to be her kind of work. A cowboy is leaning against the counter and nursing a glass of whiskey; he looks at me and narrows his eyes a little. I don’t know him but I don’t deny the fact that he could know me. I’ve passed through so many towns and seen only the men I’ve been looking for but I know many eyes have noticed my passing.
No ones particularly interested in a stranger, not in a town where strangers outnumber the locals. The barman looks over and I ask for a whiskey which he pours out and hands to me. He doesn’t look the talkative type of man. All the same he picks up a glass and starts to polish it up with a cloth, all the time looking away from me and staring across the room at the stairs. I glance in the mirror to see who or what was so interesting and see two men walking down the stairs. They join the two men playing cards and for a moment the four heads lean inwards in a huddle where there’s a deal of muttering and mumbling before they sit back in their chairs.
The barman puts down the glass and picks up another,
“Anyone here you know comes from Lassiter in Kansas?” I ask him and he frowns, looks thoughtful and then shakes his head,
“Lots of folks pass through here, Mister. They hail from all over the world, but I don’t recall anyone coming from Lassiter. Any reason why I should? Friend of yours or kin?”
“Niether.” I swallow my drink and look at my reflection in the mirror. “This used to be Gil’s Place if I recall rightly?”
“What happened to Gil?”
“Got shot asking too many questions.” the barman said gruffly although I could see his eyes were twinkling so it was obviously his attempt at humour.
“What happened to Miss Sally Byrnes who owned the café awhile back?”
He pursed his lips and shook his head,
“I only have been here six months myself, Mister. I never knew a Miss Sally Byrnes. There was a café here some time back but it was before my time.”
I nodded and was about to walk away when a man stepped in beside me. He was tall and thin, not unattractive except for the fact that he had eyes that looked in the wrong direction. Kind of made me nervous. You know what I mean when you look at a guy and one eye seems to be looking back but the other eye seems to be looking over your shoulder.
“You sure ask a lot of questions, stranger.”
I stepped back a pace or two. This man had the foulest breath I’ve ever smelt. My horse smells better than him. I shrug,
“None that concerns you, Mister.”
“True enough.” he agreed pleasantly and nodded. He beckoned the barkeep to get him a whiskey, “You were asking about Sally Byrnes?”
“Any reason why?”
“Ain’t none of your concern, Mister, but as you’re asking I’ll tell you. I was passing through here two years back when I had a meal at her place. It was the day they were going to hang Ben Cartwright and his son, Adam.”
“Uh-huh, I heard tell about that,” Foul Breath replied with a nod of the head, “I wasn’t in town myself but I heard. Seems Miss Sally changed her mind about her statement and went and told the Sheriff. Seems some guy she was with came out with guns blazing and shot several men.”
The barkeep put the glass of whisky on the counter and looked at me as if to see if I wanted a refill, but I shook my head. Foul Breath slugged his whiskey back so fast I doubt if it touched the sides of his gullet. He smacked his lips and put the glass down.
“Miss Sally married not long after that and left town. She sold up her place and went with her husband over to Placerville.”
I nodded. That was kind of a good news and bad news situation for me. I was mighty pleased to learn that she had married and was happy. It was just that somehow she had stuck in my mind these past two years and I had some kind of vague hope that she would remember me fondly enough to get better acquainted.
I glanced in the mirror and noticed that no one had moved or seemed particularly interested in anything that had been said at the counter. I tipped my hat to the barkeep and thanked Foul Breath for his help. I walked to the batwings just as they opened and the two Cartwrights I had seen earlier stepped inside.
The younger, smaller one looked at me and narrowed his eyes,
“Don’t we know you from someplace?” he asked.
I’m surprised in a way that this young whippersnapper was still alive. He was kind of full of electric nervous energy. I recall the time I bumped into him at the livery stables and he would have gladly taken a swing at me had it not been for his brother holding him back. Of course the situation then was fraught, but it struck me that he had a temper like quicksilver and if there was trouble to be found then he would be in it, up to his neck.
“I’ve been here before,” I said slowly, looking at them both closely, and wondering if they would recall the circumstances or would even want to, it hadn’t been the best of times for them after all.
“Yeah, I recall when too,” the other Cartwright said.
This big man was to be respected, not for his strength, which no doubt was prodigal, but for some kind of gentleness within him. I had noticed it first when we had been in Miss Sal’s café and the younger lad had been all het up, but this big guy he spoke to Miss Sal real kind and gentle. With all that was going on in his head about his Pa and brother about to die, he could still apologise for his younger brother’s temper. There was something else I remember now, when I asked him if he was accusing Miss Sally of lying and he said ‘No, just that perhaps she hadn’t seen things quite rightly’. I liked him then for that, I really did.
“Of course,” the younger man’s face broke into a smile and he put out his hand to shake mine, “You came to help my Pa and brother, Adam. You’re the guy who was looking for the men who hanged your Pa.”
I squared my shoulders at that remark. He was right of course and it had been me who had told them, but hearing it said like that stung me somewhat. He faltered a little then, unsure as to why I hadn’t taken his hand to be shaken, so I took hold of it and shook it. He wouldn’t have realised he had done any hurt, I could see that clear enough.
“You look a mite skinnier than last time we saw you,” the big man said and he grinned, which made the blue eyes twinkle, and he extended his hand which I shook warmly, “Hoss Cartwright, this here is my brother, Little Joe.”
“Joe Cartwright.” the youngster said quickly and darted a look of reproach at his brother who only grinned wider.
“How about coming over to the restaurant with us? I’m about starved here, could do with something to eat to shore up my insides and Joe here needs some ballast before he blows away.”
“Thank you,” I nodded, realised how hungry I was and how pleasant it would be to share some time with them.
“So?” Hoss Cartwright pushed open the batwings and stepped outside into the sunlight, “What actually do we call you, Mister?”
“Lassiter.” I replied and although I could see them both considering this I didn’t feel inclined to say anymore on the subject.
There was a lot going on in this town. Chinese, cowboys, prosperous looking business men, miners, down and outs, all teemed around and about us. Again I found myself comparing it to my last visit in town. I wondered where they had all been then when the scaffold had been built and two good men were about to die.
The Cartwrights led me to the restaurant which was at the back of the big hotel. I did feel that there was every likelihood of my being refused entry; I knew I didn’t look clean and I certainly didn’t smell it. My consolation was that Hoss Cartwright smelt just as bad and I couldn’t see anyone trying to throw him out.
People there looked up, acknowledged the Cartwright boys, but paid me no attention. There was no reason why they should have done, but as always I gave them all a close scrutiny. I knew my man was here in this town and even during this pleasant interlude was not going to miss the opportunity of finding him.
The meal was pleasant enough but I guess I made the Cartwrights edgy by looking constantly at the door every time someone came into the restaurant. They insisted on paying the bill, for which I was grateful, and when they asked me if I would care to go with them to their ranch I didn’t hesitate over long. Pretty soon the three of us were riding down the main street out of town and into the country.
No doubt about it they certainly had a beautiful piece of land, and the scenes around Lake Tahoe were breathtaking. I’d always been a rather introspective kind of man, and the last few years had given me few people to talk to, so I wasn’t the best conversationalist on the trip. I listened to the two brother’s banter, and for a while allowed myself to drift back to when I was a kid and would ride along with my father or brother. My father was an easy going man who made conversation flow, and he and my brother would banter like the Cartwrights were now doing. I liked it, it did kind of go over my head but allowed me to indulge in memories and thoughts of one thing or another.
I wanted to meet up with Ben Cartwright and his eldest son again. The brief time I had seen them had made a big impression on me. The way he had addressed me during that interview in the jail, him behind bars facing death, so calm and dignified, really made a big impression on me. I recall thinking also about Adam Cartwright. My first sight of him had been his lounging on the cell bunk listening as his father read from the bible. You know, that gave me a lot to think about because I don’t know many young men would sit calmly by their father’s side like that knowing that any moment they were going to be hanged for a crime they didn’t commit. I know that I would have been demanding my freedom, shaking the bars, threatening hell and damnation on anyone who dared to force me up that scaffold. I truly, truly respected him for that because – well, because like his father, he was dignified in the face of death.
“You don’t talk much, do you, Lassiter?” Hoss Cartwright finally said as we made our way to their ranch and I shook my head,
“No, Hoss, reckon I don’t at that. My father was a real talker as was my brother, but I kind of prefer to listen. Father used to say a man who listened hard learnt most.” I had to smile when I mentioned that, because my Pa was a clever man, but didn’t listen to anyone for five minutes.
* * * * * * * * *
Ben Cartwright welcomes me with a smile and a firm handshake. He was a tall broad man, with a strikingly handsome face for a man of his age. His eyes were still piercingly black and intelligent, and it was obvious from his jaw line that he was not a man to be trifled with by any fool. His son, Adam, shook my hand and his eyes kind of lingered over me, as though he was looking right into my heart and wondering why I was there. I could tell he was a man who liked to get direct to the point in matters. Like the rest of his family he was a handsome man, I could imagine the kind women would flock around like birds to a newly seed sown field.
I took off my hat and followed them into the house. It was impressive and grand, and for a moment I just stood there in the middle of the room, unsure of what to do next. A Chinese man came into the room with a tray of coffee and such like, and Ben indicated that I should sit down and ’make myself comfortable.’ Hoss and Joe certainly did so, while Adam sat in a high backed blue chair that looked barely comfortable.
“So, Mr -” Ben opened the conversation and looked at him sharply, reminding me again that I had not left a name for them last time I was there.
“Ain’t that the name of the place you came from?” Adam Cartwright asked as he took his cup and saucer from his father, and his dark eyes looked at me and dared for me to lie.
“True enough, Lassiter, Kansas.” I replied, “But folk call me Lassiter now, and I don’t mind not correcting ‘em.” I drank some coffee, and had to admit it was just about the best I had ever tasted.
“And have you completed your mission, Lassiter?” Ben asked, “To find the men who had hanged your father?”
I didn’t answer right away after all I had questions of my own I wanted answered. I looked at him right in the eyes,
“So you’re back here in Virginia City looking for a man, are you?” Adam leaned back, “How many more do you have to account for now?”
“Just the one.”
“And when your vendetta is finished with – what will you do with your life then? It’ll feel kind of empty, won’t it? All those years searching for the men, hating them, hunting them down.”
I admit I got hot under the collar a little, his dark eyes on my face, the tension around his mouth, made me feel as though he despised me for what I had been doing. I avoided his face and looked down at the floor, drank some more coffee.
“I don’t think about the future. I made a vow to my Pa and I intend fulfilling it.”
“Didn’t you ever think of going to the law about it?” Joe asked, obviously longing to get his two dimes worth.
“My father was the law. He was the Marshall of that territory but he was stepping on some folks’ toes too much so they decided to get rid of him. That’s the long and short of it.” I spoke fast, my heart beat fast too, but talking about it just reminded me of that day and I don’t like the reminder much.
“I’m sorry,” Ben said quietly, “We must sound rather judgemental and we have no right to judge. It was a terrible ordeal for you -.” he glanced at Joe and Hoss and raised his eyebrows. I reckon he was thinking that had the town succeeded in lynching him and Adam they would have been more understanding of how I felt.
“My Father was a good honest man, and an efficient Marshall. They came, those men, and pulled him out of our home, and then herded us out to watch while they hanged him. My mother, sister, brother and myself. We fought to get to him, and they used the butt of their rifles to quieten us down. My mother – well, it broke her heart and she died not long after we had buried my Pa. I vowed then that I would hunt every man down. I don’t intend to break my vow.”
They said nothing. Perhaps in their mind’s eye they could picture the scene. A screaming woman, a little girl, wringing their hands and begging for Pa’s release, and my brother and myself fighting to reach him. I studied each man’s face throughout that long hour, studied them and knew them for later.
“Tell me, Mr Cartwright, when you came back to town after that attempt to lynch you and Adam, didn’t you feel angry at the injustice of it all? The way they treated you, refusing to sign that petition, to help in any way. People you had helped and respected, how could they sit on a jury and condemn you to death and then hide away like they did. Didn’t you have the utmost contempt for them?”
Adam pulled a face and straightened out his long legs, stared into the fire and thought better than to make an answer, I guess. Ben Cartwright nodded,
“For a start Hawkins had a firm grip on the town at the time. If he was the man responsible for your father’s death then you would understand what a formidable man he was. Most of the jury were handpicked by him and paid by him. The ones that were honest townsfolk were threatened with the kind of threats you would expect from a lowlife like him. The few witnesses that testified, along with Sally, were told what to say by him, facts misinterpreted and twisted, offered as fact. We had only our past reputation to hang onto, but in the end that was not going to be enough.”
“Well, you told me the before, what about the afters?”
He smiled. His dark eyes were sad, and downcast, he too took to studying the rug on the floor for a moment before he looked up at his son, Adam, who sighed, before once again turning away.
“Well, son,” Ben said quietly, softly in that gentle voice I remembered that time when I was at the jail hoping the man in the cell was the man I was looking for, “Adam and I have faced countless dangers during our lifetime, and no doubt we shall face many more. I have no daughters and I no longer have a wife but I can imagine how a father would feel when told what would happen to them if they signed a petition, or made any attempt to help us. I can understand the fear in their hearts that over rode any compassion for us. I do know that most men who had any respect for us were praying on our behalf.”
“Guess their prayers were answered too,” Hoss murmured gruffly, and he looked at me and his blue eyes were wide, innocent. I don’t think there could be a more guileless man on this earth than Hoss Cartwright.
“So when we met our neighbours and associates in town it was not so difficult to face them. On the other hand they found it extremely difficult. They felt ashamed, humbled, apologtic. But -” Ben shrugged, “it doesn’t take long for a new drama to unfold and past memories fade. A good friend understands the weaknesses of their friend, as well as the strengths.”
As I said before, these folk sure were long in forgiveness and mercy. I’d been raised on the Good Book too, but I had taken to heart the scripture in Deuteronomy where it said ’Life for Life.’ So far as I was concerned my Pa’s life and my Ma’s too, was well worth the lives of all the men I had hunted down. I always made sure they knew who I was, and why I was there, and I always gave them the opportunity to draw first. So far I had always been the faster man.
“So your last man is here, in Virginia City. Do you know his name?” Adam asked quietly and he looked at me with his dark eyes and stern face as though he pitied me.
“No. I never knew their names. Just their faces.”
“So what does he look like, this last man of yours?” Joe asked with a wistful expression on his face.
“Well, he was quite young that time I knew him. Sandy coloured hair, blue eyes, tall and thin.”
“Accounts for about a good third of Virginia City’s population” Hoss chuckled and he stood up, put down the cup and saucer, and stretched, “Guess Joe and I had better get along with our chores. Good to have met up with you agin, Lassiter.”
Joe nodded, smiled, and followed after his brother. Niether of them extended their hand to me now. Perhaps I was getting a mite oversensitive.
I didn’t stay much longer. I thanked them for their hospitality, shook their hands and left. I was well aware of the two of them standing on the porch together, father and son, watching me as I rode out of the yard. I wondered what they were thinking about me and for some odd reason it rankled in my mind most of the way back into town.
I headed first for the public baths and freshened up. I had a clean shirt in my saddle bags and was glad to put that on. My other shirt was stiff with dust and sweat. I was more than glad to be rid of it.
Stepping out into the April sun I felt aimless. I wondered whether to approach the sheriff but remembered that he would no doubt recall minding my last visit and may not have taken too kindly to me being a party to a shoot out. I was thinking about that when the sheriff stepped out of his office and walked down the side walk to the saloon. The man was different. However, I still didn’t approach him.
The stage was waiting at the depot. I walked down just for something to do and lounged about for a while. I was thinking to myself that I should be doing something constructive in finding my man when I realised that the passengers were gathering for the stage. The chatter and the noise broke through my thoughts so I walked along to see them out of idle curiosity.
Odd how things fall into place. Like shuffling cards and the one you want just falls right where it should. I looked along the street towards the stage and there he was – the last man.
* * * * * * * * *
Looking into his face I could see his fear. His eyes rounded, sweat broke out upon his brow and upper lip. His colour went dull, like over worked pastry, and his mouth went slack. I’ve seen men look like that before and knew it was because they had recognised me, just as I had recognised them, and that in doing so, they remembered what part they had played in my father’s hanging.
I remember this man very well. He was young at the time. I remember his excitement at being there. The way he pushed against my brother and me to stop us from reaching Pa. I remember him cursing us for making such a racket and telling us to quieten down or he’d put a bullet in us. I remember him saying if we didn’t shut up, the last thing my father would see were his sons being shot dead in front of him. I hated him more than I hated the other men except for Hawkins. It was his hand that had struck me down and his voice the last one I had heard before blacking out. When I had recovered consciousness my father was dead on the ground in my mother’s arms and the cowards had all fled.
“Remember Lassiter in Kansas -” I said and placed my hand on the butt of my gun. The familiar feel of it nestled in my palm and I waited for his reaction.
His lips twitched and he swallowed hard, I saw his Adam’s apple jerk. Then he glanced down as did I for a child was tugging at the leg of his pants,
“Poppa,” she put up her arms to be picked up, a pretty little blonde girl of perhaps two years of age.
He looked over at me as though undecided as to what to do, as though to ask my permission. Did he think I would shoot him with a child in his arms? Was he thinking of using his child as a shield. I kept my eyes on him and kept my face expressionless. A man once said that when he had looked into my face it was so cold and emotionless that he wondered if I actually had a heart.
A woman approached now. She looked anxiously over at me, and then at him. She placed a gloved hand upon his arm and her eyes looked into his face.
“Ray? What’s wrong?” she said quietly, but the street seemed so silent now that her words carried over to me.
She was dark, petite, and pregnant. There was no denying the fact, nor could I deny the fact that she loved this man and saw in my face his death warrant. She clung to his arm just the way my mother had clung to my father’s arm and her eyes looked that terribly hungry longing look that I had seen in my mother’s eyes.
“Ray?” and her voice conveyed all the horror of her fear in that moment. The little girl’s arms folded around her father’s neck and she turned her face towards me, her blue eyes wide and filling now with tears. I wanted to say how my sister had not been much older than her when he had come with his friends. The words however stuck in my throat.
He pushed her hand from his arm, and then looked tenderly down at her. He placed the child in his wife’s arms and then stepped away from the stage coach. He opened his jacket to show he was unarmed.
“Get a gun,” I heard myself say and truth to tell I despised myself for saying them.
“No. Look, Cole, I know why you’re here. I reckon I’ve spent the last eight years of my life waiting for you to ride into my life again.”
“It’s been ten years, nearer eleven.”
“I know that.” he replied softly, “but I served two years in jail because of what happened to your Pa. Didn’t you ever wonder why Hawkins disappeared instead of making the most of your Pa’s death?”
As a matter of fact I had not because I had been busy caring for my dying mother and then overseeing the farm and the welfare of my little sister. I wished he would shut up to be honest but he seemed hell bent on talking some more. He took two more steps forward.
“I went home after what happened, Cole, and I thought about what I had done. I was young, stupid and excited at being asked along. I thought I was doing a man’s kind of job but it wasn’t, it wasn’t what a decent man would do at all, and it sickened me. I went to the nearest sheriff and told him what happened. I stood trial, Cole. I paid my sentence.”
I guess at that point I just froze. I just stared at him and tried to remember how he had been part of it all, but somehow it was fading away and all I could see was his wife wringing her hands and the little girl clinging to her skirts. My Ma had been like that, and my sister. But I felt as though it was all slipping out of my control, slipping away as though it were shreds of dried up parchment caught by the wind and drifting out of reach.
“Cole, I heard what you were doing. When I came out of jail I tried to reach you but when I heard what you were doing I high tailed it outa Kansas. Look, I’m a married man now, I have a family.” Again his Adam’s apple jerked, and two red spots of colour brightened in his cheeks. He was scared stiff. He could see death right in front of his eyes and his only prayer was that his wife and child wouldn’t witness it. I could read that in his face and I got to wondering what my father must have been thinking when they hanged him.
“Poppa?” the child called to him, she was running towards him and his wife cried out
“Jenny, Jenny -”
I looked at them – the man, his wife and the child. I thought to myself how could she think I would harm her little girl and for a moment I saw myself through their eyes. I looked away from them and saw a man clad in black standing close to the stage coach, his hand resting on the butt of his gun, the gunbelt low slung across his hips.
“The law was onto them as well, Cole. After I informed on them, two of the men were shot down by the law. I served two years in jail, Cole.” he was begging me now, wanting me to hear and to take heed of what he was saying. “I met Mary in Genoa, and moved here last year when there was work available for me. Cole, please …”
The man in black had stepped away from the hitching rail, away from the stage coach. He was waiting for me to make my move. I looked at Ray, Mary and Jenny. They had names now, a family, loved and beloved. I nodded,
“I hope all goes well with you and your family for the future, Ray” I heard myself say and I remembered the way Sally looked at me before I had left her behind. Funny that – it occurred to me then that had I kissed her, had she kissed me, perhaps I would have stopped riding and hunting those men. I shook my head and knew that I had resisted doing so because I had known that would have happened. To have pursued her, loved her, been loved, would have prevented me from fulfilling my vow.
I nodded, tipped my hat to them, turned my back and walked away.
* * * * * * *
Adam Cartwright joined me at the counter in the saloon. He didn’t speak but signalled to the barkeep for a bottle of whiskey and two glasses which he carried over to the table. I could have ignored him but I chose not to and so pulled out a chair and sat down opposite him.
“You knew, didn’t you?” I ventured eventually after we had downed two glasses of whiskey each.
“That Ray was your man? Yes, we all four knew.”
“And if I had drawn my gun – ?” I looked at him and saw the dark eyes darken even more and the handsome face became pensive. He toyed awhile with the empty glass before picking up the bottle and refilling his, and mine.
“I wouldn’t have let you shoot him. Ray served his sentence and he did what he could to put matters right. He told us one evening what had happened, when he learned about what had happened two years ago. He always feared that you would come back and not listen to his side of the story. You’ve built up quite a reputation as an Avenger, you know. Shoot first and ask questions after.”
“You think I was wrong to do what I have done?”
“If it had been your father – ?” I didn’t finish the question; there was no point for I knew the answer having knowledge of the man, and the father. I looked down at the glass of whiskey and picked it up, “I would never shoot an unarmed man, Adam.”
“You would have made sure he was not unarmed though, wouldn‘t you?”
I still stared at the glass in my hand and replaced it on the table, untouched. He didn’t speak for a while, but I noticed he didn’t drink that third glass of whiskey either.
“I hear Sally Brynes got married.”
“Yes. She married and moved out of here. She couldn’t feel reconciled to what had nearly happened as a result of her misguided faith in Hawkins.”
“She was a nice girl.”
I picked up the glass then and swallowed it down. I didn’t need him sitting there to remind me that I had thrown away the chance of finding that someone special – like Ray had done. Ray Forsyth had served two years for what had happened to my father but I had been fool enough to place myself under voluntary servitude for nearly eleven.
“What will you do now?”
His voice was like his father’s, deep, kind and concerned. I knew at that moment that Adam Cartwright would have made me a good loyal friend and I appreciated it because I realised now that I had mighty few of them. I shook my head slowly, and looked at the bottle we had been consuming between us, then I raised my eyes to his face and smiled slowly,
“I think I’ll go home.” I said and for the first time in far too long I felt as though my heart had come to life once more.
“That’s a good idea, although you’d be more than welcome to come back with me to the Ponderosa.”
“No.” I shook my head again, “No. Thanks anyway. It’s time to go home now.”
He stood up, shook my hand and left the saloon. He didn’t look back. I didn’t expect him to but I watched him until he disappeared from view. After a while I left the saloon, got my horse and rode out of that town. I knew where I was headed now. There were no more men to hunt down and find anymore.
It was over.
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