Summary: It seems that not one plan that Adam has seems to go the way he intends until he learns to accept that sometimes you follow plans and sometimes random events take you places you never thought you would go.
Word Count: 28,513
Changes In Plans
It was one of those requests that a man couldn’t refuse. His family had needed his help. But he had to wonder if plans ever worked out the way a man expected. By now he should be in a nice warm stage station enjoying as much as anyone could a cup of stage station coffee, but instead he was laying in a ditch with mud and water soaking his pants up to his hips. Worse, there was little to nothing he could do for himself other than to sit there and wait for help. Both his wrists were badly sprained. He had attempted twice already to stand and his damaged wrists and the slippery predicament in which he found himself had defeated him quite easily. Knowing how much teasing he was likely to take when his younger brother saw him like this had motivated him to try, but his limitations were far greater than his will this time. Adam Cartwright was going to have to endure Joe’s teasing and then ask for his help probably even having to say please. He did not look forward to the humiliation.
Only a half hour earlier, he had been warm and secure if uncomfortable aboard a stage bound for Sacramento. The road had been greasy with mud due to recent heavy rains so the ride had been slower than usual. Then on this downslope, the stage had lost a wheel and the stage began careening at a breakneck speed and nearly out of control. Adam had held the door and assisted his more agile younger brother to climb up to assist the driver. All was going well until the stage hit a rock or something in the road tossing Adam like some flotsam into the road and tumbling several times until he lay in the ditch by the side of the road. The stage continued down the grade for how long Adam didn’t know. He hoped it wasn’t too far and that help would arrive soon. It didn’t.
Gradually, Adam was forced to work his way up out of the ditch using his elbows and dragging himself like a snake wriggling from side to side. Once free of the sticky mud, he managed to stand although he was shaking with exhaustion. Cold, hungry, and tired, he began the walk down the mountain in search of the runaway stage getting more worried with each step. because if Joe got the stage to stop, he should have been able to come back by that time.
As Adam walked down the road, he recalled the conversation with his father that had led to him being on that stage.
“I want Joe to learn about buying horses as well as selling them. There’s a sale in Sacramento of some good breeding stock according to reports from the local association. I would go but I have that meeting in Carson City, and I can’t take the chance of missing it.”
“So you want me to give up my hunting trip and take Joe to Sacramento to buy some horses.”
“Not give it up just postpone it.”
“Postpone it again, and for how long this time? In two weeks, we’ve got roundup and then it’s the drive, and then I have commitments with the timber cutting, and oh, hell, you know all that.”
Ignoring the expletive, his father had only praised his skills and his temperament until he had broken down and said yes. Then his father had said as he always did. “Watch out for your brother. Keep him out of trouble.” Adam had agreed as he always did too, but now he was getting worried that he had failed. There was no sign of his brother or the stage. He heard a gunshot and began to run although awkwardly. Coming around a bend, he stopped abruptly. His brother was being disarmed, the driver lay in the road, and the stage lay on its side in the muddy road. There was no sign of the other passengers or the horses. Spotting him, the outlaws turned their rifles in his direction and fired. He dove behind cover and waited. He couldn’t defend himself because no matter how much he tried, he wasn’t going to be able to draw his pistol. He wasn’t sure it would work anyway covered in mud as it was.
“Throw down your weapons and come out.”
“I can’t throw it out. I’m hurt.”
There was a pause. “Put your hands in the air and stand up with your back to us.”
When Adam did that, he worried about what they would do but got instructions instead of a bullet.
“Back up now until we tell you to stop.”
Walking carefully backwards, Adam made his way to where they waited by the stage.
“You’re the one who was hanging out the door helping this one get up on top to help the driver. What happened?”
“The stage hit a rock or something and I got thrown.”
“How are you hurt? I don’t see nothing wrong with you.”
“My hands and wrists are sprained. I can’t use them.”
Apparently once they knew where to look, they could see how he was injured. One of the men was instructed to take his pistol and then he was ordered to stand next to Joe.
“Oh, and you can put your arms down now. Next up, where is the strongbox with all the gold?”
Looking at each other, Adam and Joe were confused. Then realization hit, but neither wanted to be the one to tell these men. When the man demanded they tell him, Adam decided to take the chance before they shot one of them. He knew they might shoot him when he answered the question, but he was still going to protect Joe.
“Gold doesn’t go on the express stage from Virginia City to Sacramento. The gold goes on the express stage from Virginia City to Carson City to the mint there. There’s no gold on this stage.”
“Dammit, Fergus, you told us the wrong stage. We paid that man to loosen that wheel and we got that driver killed, and it ain’t even the right stage. Now we got to kill these others so there ain’t no witnesses.”
“No, no, hold it there. Look, see the driver is still alive. I can see him breathing. Now if he lives, all you have is attempted robbery if you even get caught. It’s going to take a long time for help to get here and word to get to the nearest town. You could be a long way from here by then.”
“What about them other passengers?”
“In the stage, is everybody all right in there?”
“Yeah, the doctor has a broken arm and a bump on the head, but the rest of us are all right.”
The three outlaws were thinking about what to do. Adam only hoped Joe would stay quiet and not jeopardize their chances. He turned to his brother and saw him signaling as if he wanted Adam to help him try to take the three. Adam shook his head as much as he could without being obvious. Joe looked angry, but that was quite a bit better than being dead. Their minds made up, the three outlaws went to their horses, mounted up, and rode away.
“Adam, why didn’t you help me? We could all die up here when it gets cold tonight. We don’t have blankets or any shelter, and those clouds say there’s going to be a storm.”
Holding out his hands for Joe to see, Adam finally got his brother’s attention.
“You would have been on your own. I told them the truth. I’m hurt. I couldn’t handle a gun or do anything else in a fight at least for the next few weeks.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Get the people out of the stage and maybe get the stage upright and see what we can do for the driver. He looks like he got the worst of it.”
Looking at Adam and at his swollen wrists, Joe had to ask the logical question. “How much of that can you do?”
“I’m afraid not much but I’ll do whatever I can. To a great extent though, you’re in charge.”
“I’m going to need you, Adam, to help.”
“I’ll be here for you, Joe, as much as I can. I’m worried though that I may not be much help.”
“You can help right now. I’ve got a bunch of things to do. Which one should I do first? Get the people out of the stage so they can help me?”
“Yes, and see – you’re figuring things out already.”
“Ah, get the doctor out first so the ladies can help him?”
“Good idea. I’m going to check the luggage and look for some clean clothing to use for bandages and slings.”
“Will you be able to open the luggage?”
“Probably not, but I was planning to look in the ones that fell open and are laying back there for a hundred feet or more. I’ll probably need more help to check the ones that are still closed.”
“All right, you do that while I take care of things here?”
, Adam had an ache in his side as well as his damaged wrists from being thrown from the stage. By the time they turned to the stage, the two ladies were helping each other to climb out.
“Ladies, could we ask you not to do that but help the doctor to get out first? He’s going to need more help, and I can’t help Joe with that.”
“Why can’t you help him?”
“I got hurt.”
“All right. What do we do?”
“Help the doctor to stand and then push him up as much as you can when Joe starts to pull him up with the strap we’ll lower.”
Joe was confused again. “Strap?”
“Yes, Joe, the one we stripped from the harness.”
While they worked on that, Adam collected clothing suitable for use as bandaging. It was fairly short work to pull the doctor up and out of the stage and then get the two ladies out as well. Next, they got the driver out of the road and onto some dry ground so the doctor could diagnose his injuries. With his left hand, the doctor pressed and poked gently. The news was bad.
“He has a broken rib that is displaced, and has broken through the skin, and it has to be removed or pulled back into place.”
“Are you telling us he needs surgery?”
“He does. He’s already bleeding inside and if that bone moves more, it will likely do enough damage that he will die.”
“I don’t know how we could set you up to do surgery out here.”
“It’s worse than that. I can’t use my right hand because my arm is broken and needs to be splinted. I’m also seeing double after being knocked around when the stage overturned. One of you has to do the surgery.”
“I can’t. I can’t hold anything in my hands. I can barely feel them.”
“Yes, I saw that. Then the young man will have to do it.”
“He can do it. We will talk him through it. But first, I need this arm splinted, and I think you need your wrists splinted. The ladies can help.”
“There’s a storm on the way too.”
“Then we should hurry. How much time do we have?”
“From the looks of those clouds no more than a few hours.”
“We need to hurry. We’ll tell the others what to do.”
The ladies were agreeable and began gathering the luggage and searching through it for the doctor’s kit and for more clothing that could be used for bandages and sponges. Joe was not at all agreeable to his task, but Adam told him he had to do it as he was the only one who could. With great reluctance, Joe agreed to do as he was instructed. With the doctor’s instruction, the ladies carefully splinted the doctor’s arm and both of Adam’s wrists. Adam thanked both ladies with a genuine sigh of relief because the splints caused the pain to diminish to a dull ache and no more stabbing pains.
Then it was time to work on the driver. The doctor knelt on one side of him and Adam and Joe on the other. The doctor told Joe to grab a scalpel and Joe looked to Adam who pointed with his index finger which protruded from the bandages on his right hand. Joe made the cut too shallow and the doctor told him to cut deeper. When he did, the doctor told him to sponge the cut.
“Joe, he means to use that one of those pads of cloth the ladies have stacked up there and soak up a lot of that blood so you can see what you’re doing.”
“Why didn’t he say that?”
“Because he talks like a doctor. That’s why I’m here: to help when you need me.” Adam had taken the reason their father had sent him with Joe and expanded the meaning of their conversation.
When the doctor told Joe to use a probe to find the broken section of rib, Adam asked what kind of probe. With the doctor’s description, Adam pointed to one in the kit which Joe showed to the doctor who approved. The he had to probe for the broken rib. Then they followed the same procedure using a forceps to grasp the bone.
“Now, that bone has to be carefully pulled back into place. Hopefully no more damage is done.”
“What if I do more damage?”
“He will bleed inside and probably die. Young man, in these conditions, it would be about the same if I did this procedure. You are giving him the best chance he has to live. Be careful and watch him for signs of distress. Even in his state, his body will react to you doing something terribly wrong.”
Looking down at the driver who was biting down on that leather patch, Joe was afraid but worried too about the driver.
“I guess I have to do it.”
There was nothing Joe could do then except follow the instructions. The driver wasn’t objecting because he had heard what the doctor said about dying. He bit down harder on that leather patch though when Joe began prodding. He didn’t bite down long though passing out from the pain soon after, but then it was over. Once the bone was located and pulled into place, there was nothing more in their circumstances that could be done.
“Now use the solution in the white glass bottle to wipe the whole area around the incision. Can you sew?”
“Enough to darn socks and that’s about it.”
“It will have to be enough. The wound needs to be stitched.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Perhaps we have to have one of the ladies do it?”
“I’ll do it. I won’t make a lady do what I can’t.”
Almost unable to hold back his smile at how well the doctor had manipulated his younger brother, Adam stood to try to organize the rest of what they needed. He couldn’t do much himself, but he could try to help in any way possible. As it turned out, the ladies had some ideas about that. They had rigged up some of the harness so that he could help to pull the stage upright. Their plan was that with the three men and the two of them, they should be able to get it on three wheels and then use luggage and other items to prop up the corner where the wheel was missing.
“We walked back as far as we thought it could be and couldn’t find it. We think it went over the side and down the hill.”
“I like your plan, ladies. As soon as Joe finishes with the driver, he and the doctor can help. I assume you have a similar harness for the doctor.”
They did. When all five of them were ready, they were able to pull the coach upright. With no weight onboard, it wasn’t that heavy. Then Joe and the ladies set about propping up the stage to make it stable. When that was done, they got the driver and carefully lifted him inside. The doctor went in with him. Looking in, Joe glanced back at Adam.
“There’s room for the two ladies. We’re going to have to do something else.”
Looking under the coach, Adam made it clear where he thought they would go. They pulled the canvas that had covered the luggage in back and dropped that as a shield making an impromptu lean-to. With the luggage and boxes stacked to prop up the coach, they had a reasonable shelter against the wind and rain if it didn’t storm too hard. In the coach, they pulled down the coverings over the windows and tied them in place. Like the brothers, they had a reasonable shelter if the storm wasn’t too bad.
“Adam, maybe I ought to put some rocks in the stage boot and up in the driver’s area as ballast.” When his brother smiled, Joe got upset. “What’s wrong? Is it because it’s my idea?”
“No, I had no idea you knew what ballast was. Yes, we should do that.”
“You? You can’t lift any rocks.”
“No, but I could carry some if you put them in my arms and if they aren’t too big.”
“Oh, yeah, we could do that.”
After Adam struggled to his knees and then to stand with both wrists splinted, he and Joe headed to the rocky hillside. For the next half hour, the two brothers worked to add weight to the stage so that if the winds were strong, the stage would more likely stay in place. It was a good plan because exposed as it was, the stage did rock when the winds blew hard in the storm, but the ballast helped and it stayed in place. The surgery on the driver helped too because although he moaned a few times, the surgery had been successful and no further damage was done.
The big questions from the passengers was when they could expect a rescue. Joe had to tell them the bad news. He and Adam had discussed it.
“With the lines down, they don’t know the stage left Virginia City. Virginia City doesn’t know we didn’t arrive. Once the lines go back up, they will both know and then a rescue or search party will be sent. Or more likely, as the storm clears, another stage will head out. That’s who we’re likely to see first. We figure they’ll have room for the driver and the doctor. We don’t know how many others will be able to go with them.”
The looks he got made Joe feel bad as if he was responsible for the bad news. He realized how his father and Adam must feel every time they had to deliver bad news. It was a sobering thought that made him appreciate his father and brother more.
The other big problem the stranded group had was that both Adam and Joe were chilled severely by the time the storm ended. Even huddled together under the stage, they had been unable to stay warm. Those in the stage were better protected and were less chilled as the temperature dropped and the winds blew.
“We need a fire.”
“Adam, I know that, but you need to stay here. I can work faster on this without you. I’ll see if one of the ladies can find something more to wrap around you to warm you up. I’ll probably get warmer just looking for wood for a fire.”
A moment later, Joe was back.
“Miss Taylor seemed quite willing to find something more to warm you up although her mother seemed less than enthusiastic about letting her do it. I told the mother she could do it and that was enough for her to tell the daughter to go ahead and help you.”
Joe noticed Adam shivering with the chill. That made him change his tone.
“She will help you, Adam, and I’ll get a fire going as soon as I can.”
“I know, Joe, and thank you. Someone should be up here looking for us soon.”
“Unless the lines are down because of the storm, and they don’t know we’re missing.”
“Damn, I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Did you get banged on the head too?”
Suddenly it dawned on Joe that Adam probably did have injuries other than his wrists and hands. If he had been thrown from the stage hard enough for those injuries, he might have others.
“Where else are you hurt?”
Startled, Adam didn’t have time to cover his surprise that Joe knew.
“It’s why you had trouble standing up yesterday and why you could only carry small rocks. All right, what did you hurt?”
“You already guessed I banged my head.”
“I know, but what else?”
“I don’t know what’s wrong. I’m feeling sick and cold.”
“It’s time for the doctor to take a look at you.”
“Could you build up that fire first? I don’t want to take off anything right now. I’m too cold.”
At that point, Joe got worried. Adam never complained or almost never complained. When he did, it was a warning that something was seriously wrong. Joe opened the coach door again to tell the doctor what he had learned.
“It sounds like some kind of head injury. He shouldn’t have been moving around so much. He should lay back now and get warmed up.”
“Miss Taylor and I are going to work on that. I’ll let you know when he’s ready for you.”
By that time, the young lady was working her way under the stage to where Adam lay back against some luggage. She scooted over to him and noted the stubble as well as the pale countenance.
“Which side hurts?” She had to give him credit in that he hid his surprise well and answered honestly.
“Right. I landed on my right side although it’s not too bad.”
“Thank you for telling me.”
Moving to his left side, she opened his coat to check his temperature. He was chilled instead of having a fever. It made her job easier. She leaned in next to him and snuggled close.
“What are you doing?”
“You’re so cold no amount of clothing is going to help. I’m going to warm you up the old-fashioned way by snuggling next to you and giving you my warmth. If you object, say something now.”
He said nothing until after she had managed to slip partially inside his coat and wrap herself around him. The warmth of her body was an immediate comfort. He closed his eyes and relaxed into her warmth but did have one question.
“You’re an angel. Could I know your name at least?”
“Rose Mary Taylor.”
“Pleased to meet you, Rose Mary Taylor. I’m Adam Cartwright, and I am at your command.”
“Then be quiet and let me warm you up.”
By the time Joe got back with wood for a fire, Adam was no longer shaking with chills. Rose Mary was concerned though. Adam was so cold, she was getting chilled as much as he was being warmed. She told Joe who asked the doctor about it.
“He’s in shock most likely. Get him laying down, keep him still, and wrapped as warmly as you can. Get that fire going as soon as possible. I wish I could say warm broth, but I know that’s out of the question right now.”
“Why would he be in shock?”
“Most likely he is injured more seriously than he appeared. Sometimes pain doesn’t affect someone in a crisis but shows up later. I saw it in the War when men were shot and sometimes didn’t realize it at first. There’s probably nothing I can do for him out here.”
“Except get him warm and making him rest.”
“Yes, and you can do that. If the injury isn’t too serious, that may be all that is needed. That could be what he needs to heal.”
“If he doesn’t?”
“It could get worse, and if it gets bad enough, there may be nothing that could be done.”
“All right, you must suspect what’s wrong. Tell me.”
“By the description, I think he has a concussion but he may still be bleeding. It can heal if it is not too serious, but he needs very much to rest.”
“And carrying rocks yesterday was probably the worst possible thing for him to do. Damn, with that, I probably made him worse.”
“You didn’t do it. He did it. He most likely didn’t know how much he was hurt either. Now though, he shouldn’t do anything except rest.”
With that news, Joe was quiet. All the responsibility had settled on his shoulders, and now, he had to order Adam to rest and let him handle things. He dreaded doing it because he had never done anything like it and didn’t know how to do it. Backing out of and away from the coach, he closed the door, and prepared to do battle with Adam. It turned out differently than he expected. He laid down the law to Adam ordering him to stay where he was and rest.
“All right, Joe. You’re in charge.”
“All right? No argument?”
“No argument. I don’t want to make things any harder for you. I know how tough it must be for you already.”
“All right then. I’m going to go look for the driver’s water bottle. It has to be close, and we need it. If I can find anything else useful, I’ll let you know.”
“Thank you, Joe.”
Moving backwards and standing up again, Joe thought Adam had been remarkably agreeable. He didn’t know if it was because Adam understood so well how the mantle of responsibility weighed on a man or if he was enjoying the company of Miss Taylor so much. He did look rather pleased to be there with her. He had a temporary pang of jealousy. Of course, with those splints on, there wasn’t much of anything Adam was going to be able to do. Forcing himself to stop thinking about it, Joe focused on the next task he had and began retracing the route of the stage trying to determine the most likely place the water bottle could have fallen. He knew it was a leather wrapped metal bottle so it was going to blend into the terrain. It took almost a half hour of searching, but he found it. He brought it back and began issuing a water ration to each person. No one got much but everyone got some.
Then he had a second issue. Adam indicated he needed to move.
“Adam, the doc said you needed to rest.”
“I am, and I will, but there are necessary things that must be done.”
“Oh.” Then Joe realized why it was going to be an even bigger problem than he first realized. Not only was Adam supposed to rest because of his possible head injury, he had both wrists splinted. Someone was going to have to help him.
“Joe, I would rather it was you than anyone else here.”
“The doctor could help.”
“He can barely take care of things for himself with one hand. Listen, if you get things open, I think I can do the rest. Then I’ll need help closing up.”
“Ah, Joe, I couldn’t help overhearing. There’s a bucket on the back of the stage.”
It took a moment for Joe to understand what she was suggesting. Then he knew what he had to do. Telling Adam to hold still, he backed out from under the wagon. Rose Mary had already retrieved the bucket that had been tied to the back of the coach and was still there. Thanking her, Joe took the bucket and went back under the coach. He was able to help Adam without having him move much and still followed the doctor’s instructions. When he was done, he went to the coach to find out if the same method would work with the driver and got bad news from the doctor who with Margaret Taylor’s assistance was caring for the driver.
“He’s in a coma, Joe. He may not make it.”
“Did I hurt him with what I did?”
“No, I don’t think it’s that. The wound is still looking good with no drainage. I think he has other injuries inside and they are taking a toll on him. His breathing has become labored and shallow, and he is becoming very pale. He must be bleeding inside from some other injuries. There is nothing we can do about that out here or perhaps anywhere.”
The doctor saw how disheartened Joe was.
“You gave him time to fight the other injuries with what you did. If you had not stopped the bleeding from that broken rib, he would be gone already. He still has a chance because of you. I’m hoping someone soon realizes we’re missing.”
“I hope so too. I’m worried about my brother too.”
“Is he getting worse?”
“I don’t know.”
“All right. You need to check him. Look at his side for any signs of bruising showing front or back. Check to see if there is tenderness or if there is any swelling. He needs to tell you if the pain in his head has increased at all. Determine if there is any fever developing. Then tell me what you found out. Ask him if he feels dizzy or sick.”
It was almost too much to remember, but once Joe got to where Adam lay, he went through the list in his mind. Then he told Adam he had to check some things. He started with the fever placing his cold hand on Adam’s forehead which seemed very warm to him.
“You seem hot.”
“You seem cold. I don’t think I have a fever.”
Rose Mary took over that part then touching Adam’s forehead, cheek, and ear and then her own. “He seems to be about the same as me. I don’t think he has a fever.”
“All right. Good. The doc said to check your sides and back to see if there was bruising.”
“You want me to open my shirt? I was just getting warmed up.”
“It won’t take long if you cooperate.”
Reluctantly, Adam agreed but he couldn’t unbutton his shirt with the splints on. Rose Mary started to do it for him, but Adam asked if she would let Joe do it.
“It’s all right, Adam. She can do it.”
“No, Joe, I want you to do it.”
“All right, I’ll do it.”
When Joe saw Rose Mary smile as she left, he had a sudden insight into why Adam wanted him to unbutton his shirt instead of her. Grinning then, Joe moved closer and began to unbutton the shirt while talking as if he was Rose Mary admiring Adam’s broad chest.
“If I smack you with these splints on, it’s going to hurt.”
“Oh, remember it’s going to hurt both of us.”
Grinning still, Joe opened Adam’s shirt and was dismayed to see bruising. The teasing stopped as he saw his brother’s right side was multicolored. He touched the area but Adam said it wasn’t tender until Joe pushed hard.
“The doctor told you to come down here and hurt me?”
“No, I was supposed to check to see if it was swollen and tender.”
“Joe, it’s not swollen. It’s only tender because I got bruised when I landed there when I got thrown from the stage. I put out my arms and hurt my wrists and then landed on my right side. Then I flipped up and over a few times banging my head too for good measure. It hurts when someone takes their big cold hand and pushes on it. Now what does the good doctor suspect besides damaged ribs?”
Knowing he needed to be honest, Joe told Adam what he knew. “He wants to be sure you haven’t hurt anything inside. He said if it isn’t too bad, rest and not doing anything should help it heal. He’s afraid too that you still have bleeding in your head. Are you feeling sick or dizzy?”
“I was but if I lay back and don’t do anything, I’m all right. I suppose carrying rocks would make it worse. That fits because I felt pretty awful after we did that. Don’t worry. I won’t push to do anything.” Adam thought then about why Joe was talking to the doctor and why the doctor wanted Joe to check him over. “Why is the doctor so concerned?”
“I was worried about you and asked him a bunch of things.”
“Listen, I don’t think it’s too bad. Like you saw, nothing is tender and swollen. I’m all right if I rest. That means it’s not that serious.”
“Yeah, thank you, Adam.”
Mustering up a smile he didn’t feel inside, Adam tried to reassure Joe that he would be all right. When Joe left to go talk to the doctor again, Adam stared at the bottom of the stage. He knew he should probably try to stay awake. With the headache he had and as tired as he was, he couldn’t resist, and when his eyes closed, he wasn’t aware of anything.
When Joe gave his report to the doctor, he was reassured that Adam would probably be fine but should remain still and rest. Rose Mary’s mother decided her daughter had done enough when Joe said his brother had warmed up. It was quiet then for Adam which Joe thought was all right believing it would make it easier for his brother to get some sleep.
Searching for more wood for a fire, Joe found some soaked bark and other brush and brought that back too. He made a second fire quite a distance from the first. When asked why, he said it was going to be a signal fire. He planned to make it as smoky as possible with all the wet material thinking that it might make someone come looking to see why there was so much smoke. Even if they didn’t know the stage was missing, they would want to know why there was so much smoke up on the mountain.
The strategy worked too. An Army patrol several miles away saw the smoke and decided to investigate. Much as Joe and the others had guessed, no one was yet aware that the stage was missing because the telegraph lines were down too. The assumption was that the stage was delayed at a station or had never left because of the impending storm. That would have been the usual result if it had not been for the outlaws’ interference.
As the sun went down, Joe checked on Adam and found him sound asleep. Then he checked with the doctor and got bad news. The driver had died. His body was removed from the stage and put off to the side. They had nothing to wrap him in so Joe piled rocks around his body as the Taylors and the doctor settled in for what they thought was another night on the stage. As Joe added more fuel to the fires and the last light faded, there was the sound of a number of horses. Getting his gun, Joe knew it was futile if the outlaws had returned. His relief as seeing an Army patrol was immense.
“What’s happened here?”
“Lieutenant, you don’t know how glad we are to see you. The stage got held up, and we’ve had a pretty rough time.”
“I’ll need all the details later for my report. Right now, what can we do to help?”
It seemed everyone cried out immediately for water. Canteens were offered, and Joe took one and headed to the stage to give some to his brother.
Crawling in under the stage, Joe couldn’t help smiling. Finally things were going better and he wasn’t in charge anymore. He could let the Army lieutenant make the decisions and take the responsibility until Adam was ready again to issue some orders. How he wished he could have his bossy older brother back again even though he hadn’t known until then how much he missed him. Thinking Adam was sleeping, he called to him softly and touched his upper arm. Then he talked louder and pressed more. No matter what he did though, Adam did not wake. Panicking a little, he shook his brother and still Adam did not wake. Backing out of the space, he called for the doctor.
“Doc, come quick. Adam’s in a coma.”
The doctor rushed over as quickly as he could in his condition and with the help of the Taylors. He asked if two of the soldiers could please slide Adam out from under the stage.
“Carefully pull him out. I don’t think you can hurt him if you’re careful.”
Another soldier brought a blanket, and soon they had Adam stretched out on the blanket for the doctor’s examination. Adam moaned as the doctor examined him and his eyes fluttered as the doctor tried to get him to talk. Then the doctor had one of the soldiers hold Adam in a sitting position and the doctor asked Rose Mary Taylor to give Adam sips of water. He took the small sips and swallowed. The doctor smiled.
“Joe, he isn’t in a coma. He is exhausted, dehydrated, and in some shock. He is trying to respond but is too weak to do so. If he was in a coma, he couldn’t drink and swallow as he just did.”
“So, he won’t die?”
“No, I don’t think so, but he is weak, and needs to be warmed up.” Turning to the lieutenant, the doctor had some specific questions. “Do you have a tent and a stove by any chance? Can you get a hospital wagon to transport him?”
“Of all that, sir, I have a tent. I’m sure within a day, we could get a wagon here and outfit it as comfortably as possible but the closest hospital wagon would be at Fort Churchill and the road is not in any condition to get that here.”
“If we could get this man in a tent on a cot and warm rocks to put there with him, that would be best. He is much too cold at this point.”
Joe felt guilty for not checking on his brother to make sure he stayed warm enough. He looked so forlorn, the doctor mentioned that he could help warm his brother by rubbing his hands and feet once he was in the tent.
The next morning, there were additional men there to help. The stage line had finally realized a stage was missing and sent out a search party. They found the missing wheel and repaired the stage so it could continue on its journey at least until it could be replaced by another coach. The driver’s body was wrapped in a blanket and packed out on a horse. None of the passengers could bear the thought of him on the stage. Adam couldn’t go directly back home so he went with Joe ahead and then made connections to return home alone although that was quite a conversation before it was settled.
“Joe, you can do this by yourself, and I need time to rest.”
“You can rest in Sacramento.”
“How much real rest will I get there?”
The brothers went back and forth on that as well as on the business to be conducted in Sacramento.
“Joe, you can do it without me. You never needed me on this trip. This was Pa being overly careful with you.”
Seeing how Joe reacted to that, Adam was quick to add more.
“I guess working with you almost every day, I have more confidence in your abilities especially in regard to horses. Pa is in the house. He doesn’t know how much you’re doing. He’s probably thinking things haven’t changed so much from when he was working with us and you were still a kid.”
“You call me that.”
“I know. I’m sorry if it bothers you, but it’s only a habit. It doesn’t mean anything. I’ve been calling you kid for fifteen years or more. It’s difficult to stop.”
“I wish you would.”
“I’ll try. Will you let me go home and rest?”
So Adam headed home to a father not happy with how the brothers had worked things out. He had told Adam to go with Joe, and despite all that had happened, he thought they should have stayed together. It didn’t help his mood at all when Joe returned successful in his efforts at the auction. His comments hurt his youngest when he attributed some of the success to the luck of a first-time buyer.
“Next time, they’ll be ready for you. You won’t do so well then when they know you.”
The blow to Joe’s confidence was about equal to his conclusion that his father liked Adam a whole lot better than he liked his youngest son. Unfortunately, Joe didn’t express those thoughts directly but instead did all he could to try to win his father’s approval while doing what he could at the same time to get even with Adam for what he saw as an unfair situation. That it wasn’t even true and that Adam never contributed to anything like that never made a difference to the emotional young man.
As often happened, Adam was furious with how his father handled the situation. In his mind, their father was unwilling to accept that his sons could make logical decisions on ranch business independent of their father. It seemed when they did, they got an unreasonable response from him as if he was afraid to let go of even a small amount of his authority. There was truth to that, but from Ben’s perspective, he worried perhaps more subconsciously than consciously that he was no longer needed, a relic of the past, and worked always to show he was still the head of the family and in charge of the ranch. It was a situation that was destined to create serious rifts in the family.
A crisis that summer went a long way toward resolving some of the issues between the brothers at least, but again Adam paid the price for it. After the terrible event, Adam was getting medical attention as Joe was venting to Hoss.
“Adam must hate me. I know he knows it isn’t really my fault, but because of it, he could have died out there.”
Pacing the hall and forced to endure Adam’s moans and agony laced complaints to the doctor about the wounds on his back and neck, Ben overheard his youngest son’s statement to Hoss. He knew that Little Joe had no idea he could hear him and likely would never have said anything like it if he knew his father could hear. He had always put a stop to such comments whenever he heard them when the boys were younger. It seemed though that anyone could open up to Hoss.
Ben had overheard Hoss and Adam talk when they were younger and guessed they still probably thought about this same topic. But emotional and impulsive, Little Joe had needed his father’s guiding hand far more than his independent oldest son or his cautious middle son. Out in that fire, it had hurt in that situation to look into Adam’s eyes and worry though that the idea Joe had might linger there too. At least he thought he saw a hint of that fear there. But Joe was dazed and had to be helped out. Even injured, Adam could follow on his own even if far too slowly. Ben would have to come back for him if he could or send someone. The forest fire was dangerously close. Ben had no real choice in what he had to do.
Pulling up Little Joe and getting his son’s arm over his shoulder, Ben gave what he hoped was an encouraging and loving look to Adam before helping Joe walk toward where Buck was tethered. The smoke hid Adam from view almost as soon as Ben turned to leave with Joe. Struggling to breathe with the burden of mostly carrying Joe and unable to see the obstacles on the ground, Ben moved as rapidly as he could but feared it wasn’t fast enough. Stumbling and nearly falling several times, he had to slow his pace. If he got hurt, there would be three lives lost. There were tears in his eyes not only from the smoke when he finally saw Buck. As he and Little Joe got to his horse, he yelled at his son to grab the pommel. Carefully, he boosted his smallest son up into the saddle.
“Go. When you see someone, tell them to come this way. Adam and I need help. I’ll go get him and bring him here.”
Pointing back toward where they had come, Joe shook his head and wished he hadn’t. He still managed to register his objection. “Pa, you can’t go back. You won’t even be able to find him in there.”
Joe didn’t want to leave then, but Ben insisted. As soon as he could, Ben turned to go back to where he had last seen his eldest son. A wall of smoke and flames greeted him. Without a pause, he walked into it to find Adam whose smile when he reached him said he knew his father would return to help him. Ben smiled too. There was no more fear that the lesson had not been accepted long ago.
“Son, you can do this. I’ll lead you out and you can lean on me as much as you need to do that.”
Offering a shoulder on which Adam could lean, Ben turned to go toward where Joe would hopefully have sent help by the time they got out of the trees. The greater danger was that those trees might be burning if the fire crowned and spread more rapidly. The smoke was thicker and embers rained down on them. Ben knew that Adam was getting hit with most of those burning embers because leaning on his father put him in an awkward position and vulnerable to being hit. Several must have injured him seriously because Ben felt Adam’s hand tighten its grip on his shoulder. Each time, he had to pause as his son stiffened in reaction.
“Adam, we have to hurry. Please, son, I know it’s awful, but only another hundred feet or so, and we will have help.”
Praying that he had spoken the truth, Ben could have kissed the worried men waiting for them in the clearing. There were few words spoken, but Ben understood their concern. With the danger of the fire crowning, their avenue of escape was narrowing. There was no time to assess Adam’s injuries or offer him any relief. It was a terrible ordeal for Adam to endure getting away from the fire and then home. It wasn’t over though. The makeshift bandages they applied stuck to the burnt skin. Now Doctor Martin was in there with Hop Sing using whatever means they could to remove the remnants of the bandages causing as little damage and pain as possible. According to what Doctor Paul Martin had told Ben, it was far easier to avoid the damage than to prevent the pain. Based on Adam’s reaction, that was likely only too true. The only good news was the prognosis which was excellent once they cleaned up the debris from the burns that were all shallow.
Trying the ignore the sounds coming from Adam’s room, Ben listened to what Hoss was saying to Little Joe and then his youngest son’s response. He often lectured his sons about eavesdropping, but in this case, he had done nothing to create the opportunity. He felt justified in listening or was at least able to rationalize it away.
“Pa didn’t help you because he likes you best. He helped you because you couldn’t get out of there on your own the way you was hurt. Adam could move even if it was a mite too slow. By helping you, Pa knew there was a chance to save both of you. If he helped Adam first, then he was gonna be minus one son because he knew you couldn’t make it. He could have just said goodbye if he didn’t help you first.”
“You didn’t see him, Hoss. He pulled me up and smiled.”
Ben shook his head. It was just like Little Joe to misinterpret something like that. Then he got called into Adam’s room to help and heard no more of the other conversation. However at some point in the next week, Hoss must have conveyed the content of it to Adam. Little Joe had been avoiding Adam, but Adam made a request that Little Joe bring him his dinner and eat with him. Ben endorsed the idea before Little Joe had a chance to think of an excuse. The young man walked up the stairs as if going to an execution. An hour later, it was if a transformation had occurred.
“Now Little Joe, what happened over dinner?”
“Adam set me straight on a few things. Pa, I gotta ask you. Did you take me out of there because you had more confidence in Adam?”
“That’s what Adam said. At first, I didn’t like hearing that, but he said any one of us wouldn’t be so capable if we got hurt in the head. Then he said something else while we were talking that I think was the most important. It seemed kind of funny when he first said it, but now I think maybe it answers a lot. Are we all really your favorite sons?”
“That’s exactly right.” Ben smiled. “And my oldest favorite son is still one of the smartest men I know, and my second oldest favorite son is just about as wise as he is smart.”
“What about me, Pa?”
“You learn well from your brothers.”
Upstairs, Adam smiled hearing Hoss’ big belly laugh. He guessed that Little Joe had said something funny that he had not intended to be funny to get a response like that. Whatever it was, Hoss would tell him later. At least he hoped so because for a short time it would take his mind off these itchy burns that were healing. There were times he wished his father didn’t have so much confidence in him, but not this time because his little brother was alive because of it. Maybe, just maybe, the two brothers understood each other better as a result of it too. He could hope for that as well. They certainly did start having more ease of talking with one another. A conversation after the fall cattle drive was one such exchange.
Reclining on the bank of a small stream beside his three sons, Ben Cartwright relaxed and stared up at the white puffy clouds in the velvety blue sky. The cattle had been delivered and money was already deposited in their account. The men had been paid and undoubtedly were celebrating in town before heading back to the Ponderosa. It had been his suggestion that they find a place to rest and spend some time together. Although tired and probably tempted to act like the drovers on their payroll, they had agreed to their father’s request.
“It’s a been a long hot trip to California this time, boys. I never expected a small fall drive to be so difficult and so hot. It certainly feels good to have a chance to rest and be cool. You know, I can’t remember the last time we rested on the bank of a stream and watched the clouds. I think it was about the time Joe was eight or nine, and we talked about the clouds and what each one could be.”
“Yeah, Joe used to have all sorts of ideas ’bout what clouds looked like. They was always Injuns and bears and mountain lions and stallions and such as that. What d’ya see now, little brother?”
“Hmm, looks like a voluptuous woman up there doesn’t it. I mean look at the size of those clouds, would you?”
“Pa, I’m only talking about clouds.”
“Don’t give me that innocent look. We all know to what you were referring.”
“I dunno, Pa. I think I kin see ’em too. After six weeks without seeing a woman, I guess clouds will do.”
“Don’t remind me.”
“Ha ha, Pa. You still got it, huh?”
“Yes, Hoss. There may be snow on the roof, but that doesn’t mean the stove has gone out.”
“Then take a look at that one Joe noticed. Looks like a muffin stuffed in each side of her.”
“That one reminds me of …” Joe’s grin said he was about to tease his big brother.
“Now, Joe, you watch what you say. Anything foul word comes out about any gals I ever been sparking, you gonna get a soaking in this creek.”
Looking over at Adam, Joe pointed before speaking. “What about Adam, Hoss? It looks like he’s gone to sleep.” I don’t know when he got to be such a wimp.”
“Nah, he ain’t a wimp. I guess it’s more ’cause he’s jest gotten a mite old and needs to sleep more.”
Joe waited for a sharp response to that one but there was nothing. “You sure? Maybe he’s lost interest in women.”
Hoss shrugged surprised that Adam didn’t respond to their comments. “Maybe.” He thought that ought to get a rise out of him. It didn’t.
“Guess he’s not interested in looking at all the women in the clouds even.”.
Hoss shrugged surprised that Adam didn’t respond to even those more pointed comments. “It shur does.”
“Guess he’s not interested in looking at the women in the clouds.”
That comment surprised their father who had been waiting for Adam to respond but now wanted to know more about Hoss’ impressions of the clouds. Shifting his gaze from his oldest to his middle son, he asked “Now you two are seeing more than one woman up there?”
Hoss was grinning. “Shur, Pa. There’s gotta be more than one. There’s four of us here, ain’t there?”
Shaking his head, Joe reclined again and pointed at the clouds. “Hoss, I don’t think we have to have one for Adam. He’s sleeping.”
Snapping his fingers, Hoss agreed. “Oh, yeah, that’s right, Joe. Definitely don’t need no cloud ladies for the one who’s sleeping.”
“I’m not sleeping.” It was stated softly but clearly, and it was meant to be heard with that deep resonant tone that said more than anything that he was tiring of the constant jibes.
As Joe wisely stayed quiet, Hoss turned to his older brother and had to ask. “What are ya doin’ then, older brother? Like Joe said, it looked like you was sleeping. Course maybe it did look like you was having a nice dream too with that hint of a smile ya had there.”
Calmly as was his usual manner, Adam answered. “It wasn’t a dream exactly, but it was more like a vision. You see, I saw those clouds and they made me think about being on a ship sailing softly through the waves. Rocking back and forth so nicely and the clean ocean breezes whisking away the smell of cattle so even breathing is something to be enjoyed again. I was thinking too of heading down to a cabin to work out all the kinks from six weeks of being in the saddle too with only you and a bunch of smelly drovers for company.”
That was enough to get Joe involved again. “Geez, Adam, we’re talking about women, and you’re thinking about sailing ships and getting into a bunk on a ship. Hoss, I wonder what is wrong with our older brother sometimes. Doesn’t he ever think about women like we do?”
“I thought he did, Joe. I dunno.”
“Oh, I think about women.”
“Son, would you care to enlighten us?”
“Sure, Pa, she’s in cabin ten. I was about to head down there when I was rudely interrupted. I have a vivid image in my mind, which I would like to continue to enjoy without interruption. You boys can keep plugging away at your clouds.”
Hoss and Ben looked at each other and nodded. As Joe giggled, they were more serious. There were many gentle or subtle hints like this conversation that led them to believe Adam was going to leave the Ponderosa. At Christmas, they got more confirmation of their thoughts on that.
With a Bible open on his knee, Ben Cartwright read the Christmas story. It was a tradition in the family that started the first winter in this house. There weren’t many neighbors then so they were always alone in the winter. There was a necessity to provide their own entertainment and reading stories was a big part of what they did when the boys were younger. The tradition had continued and this was one that was read every year. When the sons were younger, the story their father read was the real beginning of Christmas. It meant the decorating was done, and the celebration had started. The next step was to enjoy some warm drink next to the fire and then it was off to bed to await Christmas morning and the opening of gifts when chores were done of course. Now though, the story was more a time of quiet contemplation. When Ben read the words describing Joseph and Mary and their journey to register, the words ‘was with child’ struck a chord with each of his sons. Without any discussion, each of them thought back to their own mothers and what they must have been thinking as they neared the day when each awaited the birth of their first child and in each case, their only child.
Leaning back in the blue chair with his elbows resting on the armrests and his hands in a steeple under his chin, Adam thought that his mother likely was afraid and hopeful when she was with child. Like any mother in that situation, she would have worried about taking her baby on the planned cross-country journey into the wilderness. He had been told though she was aware of her medically fragile condition, she had decided on bearing a child anyway. Knowing the risks would not have made it any easier to face them, and she faced them alone because she had not told her husband what her doctor had said to her. In addition, she and his father had already discussed heading west. Although she would have been excited too to follow the dream she shared with her husband, she must have had concerns about it too. She must have hoped they could reach for that vision they had of a home where the tall trees touched the sky, but would have wondered about the rigors of doing it with an infant and with her condition. He was proud to have had such a brave mother, but wished she could have been stronger. He smiled as he looked over at Hoss staring into the fireplace wondering if he too was thinking of his mother, their mother in many ways.
With his fingers laced together behind his head as he rested comfortably against the end of the settee, Hoss considered how brave his mother was to take on that journey west carrying one child and accepting the responsibility of caring for another. Over the years, he had heard many comments from his father about the admirable qualities of his mother, but from Adam, he had learned about the kind, sweet, and strong woman who had been his brother’s mother for a short time. He told him how she sang songs to him and he didn’t understand the words, but he heard the love. The stories of how she had softened his father’s heart and made him a better man as well as a better father made Inger into a woman big enough to be the mother of man Hoss’ size. Those stories had made his mother come alive for him if only in his dreams, but he knew he would have loved her as much as he could tell Adam had loved her. The way Adam’s voice softened as he spoke of her and his eyes glistened sometimes let Hoss know how much he still carried love in his heart for Inger. She must have been a very special woman to make Adam still carry such love for her even though he had been so young and knew her for only such a tragically short time. Hoss knew the feeling of wanting to nurture the young for he yearned to do the same and assumed he had gotten that from her. Looking to his left, Hoss thought that Little Joe looked somewhat worried though and wondered why his little brother could have that look on Christmas Eve.
Of course, Little Joe was remembering some things he had heard when he was much younger, and it made him wonder now as it did then if his parents had wanted a girl when his mother was with child. The thought haunted him at times like these because he worried that his father was disappointed that he had arrived instead of a girl. After all, his father already had two sons when Marie was with child. There were comments his brothers made sometimes about the curls he had when he was young and how pretty he was as a little boy under Marie’s care. It bothered him, and he wondered once more if his parents had wanted a girl. He had never asked his father about it because he found the subject much too embarrassing to ever discuss with anyone. One of these days, he thought perhaps he should if he ever had a quiet time with his father and absolutely no chance that his brothers could ever hear any of it. One way or the other, he needed to put the doubts to rest and know the answer to the question that troubled him whenever there were times like these to think about family so much.
Finishing the story, Ben looked across at Adam who seemed deep in thought and knew that Elizabeth would be so proud of their son. The two were so alike in many ways with their serious nature but with a smile that could dazzle when it was used. Adam had gotten that dimple from her too, and with the ladies, he knew how to use it. Ben’s gaze shifted to Hoss, and he was certain that Inger would be happy to have such a kind and gentle son. Somehow, Eric had grown into his nickname so that no one ever thought it odd but probably because it fit in that he was a big man with a big heart. When Ben’s eyes came to rest on Little Joe, he almost smiled. His thought was so different whenever he looked at his youngest son. As he often did, he raised a thought to heaven and to his third wife. “Thank the Lord that we had a boy, Marie. I don’t know how I would ever have raised a daughter when I already had two rough and tumble older sons. A third son was exactly what I needed and wanted.” Then Ben did smile for Little Joe was as spirited as his mother so it was as if she had never left.
He had all his wives with him because he had his three sons, and Christmas was that time for him to give thanks for the best gifts he had ever been given. Now if they would only each find a wife so they could be as lucky as he was. He kept teasing them about it, but what he wanted most of all was for them to have the joy he had. Each year, it was his Christmas wish for each of his sons. Perhaps one year, it would come true.
As Ben Cartwright leaned back into his chair and sipped his brandy on Christmas Eve staring into the fire, he reflected on what Mary must have felt those hundreds of years ago giving birth to a son in a manger. It was such an awesome responsibility as any child was, but hers was so much more. She must have shuddered not only at facing the physical demands of childbirth but knowing she would nurture Him until she would have to let Him go out into the world to face whatever fate had in store for Him. Ben knew he had it much better in that he had been able to create this home for his sons where they could live their lives, raise their own families, and never have to go out into the unknown and the dangers that were lurking there. Of course, so far, none had started a family, but he had hopes that soon that would change.
Watching Adam stare into that same fire, Ben’s calm contentment slipped away as quickly as thoughts of Mary did. Instead the same kind of fears Mary had carried in her heart were in his because he sensed that his eldest son would soon be leaving too. Oh, he wanted to deny it, and usually he did, but he saw the same signs in his son that he had experienced as a younger man. The longing to see what had not been seen, to do what had not been done, and to find what had not been found were pulling at him. It didn’t matter if others had done those things because he had not and the heart was driving this desire not his mind. Ben’s thoughts turned from wishing his son would find a wife to hoping he would stay safe on his travels and find the happiness he was seeking. Hoping he would find a wife and settle down on the Ponderosa was a fantasy so he had to give that up. Adam was going to leave. He knew that.
His younger sons were not going to accept this because they had no such pull factors within them. The best and only way he could help his first born was to help clear the way for his departure.
“Did I ever tell you boys about the Christmas I spent in Bermuda?”
When Ben finished his story to the delight of his younger sons, he saw the look in Adam’s eyes that said he understood that his father knew and accepted his decision. The small crooked smile and the slight squeeze of his shoulder when Adam stood and made his way across the room and then up the stairs confirmed it for his father. He had taught his eldest son too well to be independent and self-reliant. He was going to lose him. Sadly, he was well aware Christmas was going to be a time for tears in his eyes forevermore unless he came back someday.
When Adam finally decided to voice his decision, the family was anticipating it. There had been a couple of months to get ready for it. Spring would see all the usual changes and one unusual one. The family would have to learn to function with one less member.
“Where will you go, son?”
“I’ve had offers of work, but first I want to satisfy my curiosity about the world. I thought I would sign on and work my way around the world. I want to see the Sandwich Islands and perhaps China or Australia. From there, I would work my way to England and France.”
“You might find Ireland suits you too.”
“Thank you, Pa.”
Both knew it was for more than the suggestion. Ben’s help in smoothing the way with Adam’s brothers made his departure far easier on all of them. Hoss made him promise to return, and Joe could hardly talk.
“You will write, won’t you?”
“I will when I can, but Joe, I plan to be aboard ship for at least a year. It will be difficult to keep in touch. Once I’m in England or settled some place, then it will be better.”
“Well, you better write when you can, or Hoss and me will track you down. He can track anybody anywhere. You remember that.”
“I’ll remember everything and everyone. Never doubt that.”
The next day, Adam was on his way to the city by the Bay where he had signed on as a working passenger on the Endeavor, a clipper ship plying the trade between the Sandwich Islands, Central America, and California. He didn’t know enough about sailing a ship to be a crew member, and he didn’t want to start as the lowest of the crew. As a working passenger, he would have menial tasks but still have some respect paid to him by the sailors on board as he learned the skills he would need to eventually find a ship that would take him as a crew member. Advised that being shanghaied in the Sandwich Islands was a strong possibility, Adam stayed with the ship he first signed on and traveled with them to Nicaragua. Before they headed back to San Francisco, the captain found him a berth on a ship headed to Australia and offered some advice.
“You’ll be better off going that way. I think you lack the experience yet to try the China trade. Give yourself a little more time before you take the risk of those treacherous routes. Maybe you won’t even go there once you hear more of the stories. The routes back and forth to Australia aren’t so bad. Of course, if you ever want to sail with me again, I’ll have a spot for you. I’ll get that letter posted to your family when we reach San Francisco too.”
“Thank you, captain. May you have fair winds and following seas.”
“Well, we’re full to the gunwales and need to get underway. I want to give a wide berth to the weather that’s coming in.”
“Weather coming in?”
“It’s that time of year that we start seeing the big storms down this way. We need to get north before it gets here. The winds and such point to a storm on the way. Good luck to you.”
When Adam got to the ship he intended to take to Australia, they were far less concerned.
“These storms come in and head north. We’ll take a southerly tack and get away from it right quick. We are going to be shoving off soon though so shake a leg and drop your things in your quarters. You won’t have room to swing a cat in there so I hope you didn’t bring much.”
“Only this small bag.”
“It’s all right. This man will show you where to stow it and then what work needs to get done before we sail.”
Adam had sent a short letter from the Sandwich Islands informing his family of his decision to stay with the first ship he had worked on. He told them he was headed toward Nicaragua. They got that letter and soon after got news of the huge storm that had battered Mexico and southern California. Ben was reading the article in the Territorial Enterprise when he came across the names of ships believed lost in the storm especially those with no known survivors. There in stark black and white heading the list was the Endeavor. Adam didn’t know the ship sank and that his letter never reached his family. Their best information they had was that he was on that ship and that the ship sank in the storm. It would be over a year before they knew anything different when he made his way to England and wrote a letter about his adventures. Receiving that letter was almost as big a shock to Ben as the initial news that made him believe he had lost his son forever. The letters came a little more regularly except when he took some months to visit France. Then there were a couple more when he was in England again, and then the letters stopped. Nothing more was heard. Adam had no way of knowing that his English friends had not forwarded his letters and thrown them away instead. Later he would remember some comment about how he had gone to work with those Irish dogs. They owned the company too which employed him even while he worked on projects in Ireland. The lack of communication was on them but he didn’t know about that until he returned home and that was years later.
As his father predicted, Adam enjoyed his time in Ireland, and although he missed his family, he found another family in time. It started near the end of the first project Adam had on the isle. The crowd in the pub on Saturday night was relaxed. For the first time in untold months, many men had enough money to buy a few pints without feeling guilty that they were depriving their families of necessities. The regular employment provided by the American who had arrived with a construction project and an unusual willingness to hire local labor at a fair wage had been a welcome surprise and a boon to the whole area. Although he was there to do a project for the hated English overlords, he was also helping them to take some of their overlord’s money. With a grin, he had told them it was a two-edged sword to work on the project, and he had defied them to come up with a reason to say no. The English would get their buildings and the Irish workers wouldn’t sabotage them. They’d show them the Irish could do great work. However, he had warned them to save money too as the project would end, and then they would have to find a way to continue the prosperity without the additional infusion of funds. Now that time had come.
“Adam, it be time ye learned some good Irish songs. Ye sing well, lad, but enough of these American songs and Frenchie melodies ye learned in yer travels.”
“Ay, Danny boy, now what would you have me singing?”
“Yer trying lad, but ye needs a bit a work on sounding Irish now. You keep spending time with that pretty lass though, and ye might get there.”
The night had gone by quickly with singing and good cheer. That is, it did until the last song that they sang of a young man who had gone to sea, and when he came home, his father had died. The son said goodbye to a grave. That hit Adam hard. He hadn’t ever truly believed such a thing could happen to him, but after so many years gone from home and actually losing contact because he had moved about so much, he knew it could be true. With no recent news from home, he didn’t know what had happened with his family for the last several years.
After spending almost a year in Australia before sailing for England, he had ended up in Ireland after becoming reacquainted with several members of the English aristocracy. They knew of his talents and guessed he wouldn’t mind living among the Irish for a year. Most English architects and engineers balked at that idea. Adam had accepted the commission easily because he was intrigued by the possibility of learning about a new land as well as the chance to use his skills. He lost some standing with his English friends for doing so, but he wasn’t planning to spend his life in England anyway.
Throwing himself into the work, Adam had found time to write a few letters to his family but had not heard back from them with no way of knowing if they had gotten any of his letters. He worried how his lack of correspondence might have affected his relationship with his family too. That night in the pub, he decided what he had to do.
“Danny boy, you have been a good friend. You have taught me a lot, but there’s something I need to do.” Adam drained the rest of his drink and set it down resolutely.
“What is that ye mean ta do?”
With a sigh, Adam put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I’m planning to go home when this project is completed.”
Danny was shocked that Adam could make such a decision so quickly. “What of Grainne? She won’t leave her father. He needs her.”
“I have a father too.”
In a land where family was everything, the men around them understood but knew too about broken hearts. Those men near them had heard the exchange. They expected there were going to be two of those broken hearts soon in their town. The romance had developed with unusual speed, but anyone who saw them together knew the feelings were mutual.
There were no broken hearts, but there were a series of compromises as once again Adam found he had to change his plans. He accepted another commission. It made the locals uproariously happy as the local economy had never been better. Grainne’s father consented to him courting her thinking perhaps he could be convinced to stay in Ireland. When he insisted he wanted to go to America with her as his bride, her father then insisted the wedding must happen in Ireland. With everything her father demanded for the wedding, there was another change in plans as Adam ended up accepting another commission so the letter he sent to his family was open-ended as to when he would be coming home.
When Joe picked up the mail in town and saw Adam’s familiar writing on the envelope, he frowned and nearly forgot about all the other errands he was supposed to complete while he was there. Distracted by the letter and needing time to think about what to do, he didn’t even stop at the saloon or stop in to check with Roy on how things were going. When he arrived home with a frown and nothing to say, his father knew something important had happened. It didn’t take long to find out by asking if there had been any mail.
“It’s a letter from Adam.”
Opening the letter at his desk with both Hoss and Joe leaning over to read with him, all were curious. Adam was coming home. It sounded like he meant to stay too. When they read further, their joy was muted. The only qualifier Adam added was one that worried their father although none said anything about it. He said he was coming home as soon as he settled some personal business and finished a project to which he was committed. Unfortunately, those were the kinds of things with Adam that sometimes led him to forsake promises to his family or at least to delay them for a long time. Joe’s face showed what he thought of those two things Adam said he had to do. His initial response deepened. Jamie said some encouraging words.
“Jamie, you don’t know him. You only heard the good things Hoss and Pa tell you.”
“Joe, Adam made a promise and he keeps his promises. You know that.”
Joe couldn’t hold back at that point.
“Maybe he does, but he never puts a time limit on when he will.”
“Joe, you know now that ain’t fair. He always does the best he can.”
“Hoss, one letter in over five years? You think that’s the best he can do?”
Nothing much more was said even though on occasion, one of them might muse aloud to the others wondering when Adam might be planning to show up. With all that had been happening, there was so much to worry about, waiting for the prodigal son to return wasn’t as important as one might have thought.
The wedding in Ireland was a rip-roaring event, but Adam wasn’t free to take his bride to America. He still had a project to complete, and there still was the concern over Grainne’s father. Finally as the end of the project neared, Adam made a suggestion.
“Grainne, he should come with us.”
Hugs and kisses followed as clearly it was exactly what she had been hoping he would say.
“If you wanted it so much, why didn’t you say so?”
“I wanted you to want it.”
“I’m not so sure how much I want it as I see it as the best thing to do. I’ll go talk to him.”
“Be sure to tell him it’s the best way to enjoy his time as a grandfather.”
Almost out the door, Adam stood unmoving and then slowly turned to his wife who was grinning at him. She nodded. He grabbed her and kissed her and then asked her if that was all right.
“Of course, silly. I’m a strong Irish lass. I can take a good hug and a kiss and a whole lot more. Now, go on. Go talk to Da.”
It turned out not to be as simple as they thought. Her father agreed with some grumbling, but he had been hoping to be asked, so the grumbling was only to keep up appearances. No, Adam’s project met some delays because of weather, and then the biggest snag of all was delivered by the doctor.
“She can’t travel that far in her condition.”
“Women have traveled all over while with child. I would like our baby to be born in Nevada.”
“Yes, women have travelled all over while with child, but your babies need to be born here.”
“Yes, there’s two in there, and so often, they come early anyway. I don’t want her doing anything to make that even more likely or even earlier.”
One more change in plans became necessary. A year after he said he was coming home, Adam and his family boarded a ship to take them on the first leg of the journey.
Walking along the deck, Adam was full of anticipation. He had thought the trip across the Atlantic was going to be a dull one, but the note had said to meet him in Cabin 10. He had a good idea who the woman in Cabin 10 would be. In fact, he knew who it would be as he had recognized that handwriting and the perfume on the note had been unmistakable. With a few things to do first, he had a difficult time keeping his mind focused on the business at hand as it drifted to what he knew awaited him in that cabin. When it was time, he had to force himself not to run or the more gossip provoking hopping and skipping to get there. A knock on the door and he opened it without waiting for it to be answered. It wouldn’t have been anyway as she already was lounging in the bed waiting for him.
“Well, hello again, cowboy. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Grinning with the dimples showing, he could do little else except admire the view. The hint of her perfume hung in the air, but it was clear she was wearing nothing else by the clothing strewn on the chair and ottoman in the cabin. His clothing quickly joined hers as he joined her under that thing sheet. Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her to him which wasn’t difficult in the small space.
“I had a daydream once of a woman in Cabin 10. Here it is come true. Grainne, you have the best ideas. I love you.”
There wasn’t much need to talk for an hour as they found other enjoyable activities. They lay there then as the ship moved through the seas and they relaxed more than they had probably for months. He did have one question though when they finally were able to rest comfortably.
“I thought you said there were no open cabins.”
“Someone didn’t show. The purser came to me as soon as we left port. I took it because it was right next door, but I knew the babies would have to be with you last night. When they’re sleeping next door, we have this cabin. The cabins are too small for all of us so I’m sharing with your father. We can’t do anything in that cabin because we never know when he would come in.”
“But we have our own cabin now.”
“I think you have to spend the nights with the babies as we had planned.”
“Hmm, but every afternoon, we can have our trysts here with each other. I like it. It feels like we’re doing something quite wicked though.”
“If your father knew, I’m not sure what he would say.”
“Sweetheart, I think he would like his own cabin. You stay in this one, but you’re probably right about me staying with the babies at night. This is a good arrangement. Maybe we can continue it when we get to New York. We still have a whole continent to travel to get to the Ponderosa.”
“Yes, this is very nice. Wait a moment. You said ‘every afternoon’ didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did.”
“That sounds good. I’m not working now. I’ll have plenty of energy. Even if we don’t, spending time together, the two of us, without the children interrupting, so we can talk or do anything will be wonderful.”
“You are so sweet. ”
Grainne snuggled up to kiss him again. She never tired of his kisses. The man was so gentle when he was with her even when he was passionate.
“It’s going to be so different living in America. But I understand that you want us and the children to get to know your father and your brothers before any more time passes and for them to get to know us. It’s been too long that the family has been apart. It’s time to have the Cartwrights all together again.”
“Thank you, Grainne, for understanding how important this is. When I left and for a number of years, I didn’t know that it would be so important to me to return. Thank you for being willing to go along with this change in our life. You are the best wife a man could have. You are sweet yet strong. Kind and loving, but you still have that wicked sense of humor. My life is so much richer for having you in it.”
The trip was mostly uneventful except Grainne wanted to ride on a stagecoach so they took the last leg of the trip on one despite Adam’s objections. Her father told him he gave into her too much. That was repeated several times when the coach had trouble with a wheel. Adam got out to help and the driver told him he was going to ruin his fancy clothes.
“I got some regular clothes in my bag. Why don’t you go in back of the stage and put them on. It’s likely we’re gonna get a bunch of grease on us before we’re done with this. You ever greased a wheel before?”
Grainne and the babies, her father, and one other passenger sat in the shade while Adam and the driver fixed the wheel. As predicted, they got quite a bit of grease on them, but not as much as they might have because Adam had in fact greased a number of wheels in the past. The driver thanked him and set a step for the passengers to get back into the stage.
“Sorry, I can’t give you a hand up folks, but you can see why.”
Once the passengers were settled in, Adam looked in.
“I’ll keep these clothes on until I can get cleaned up. I’ll ride up by the driver too so I don’t get grease on anyone else.”
In town to get supplies, Joe Cartwright could hardly believe what he was seeing when the stage rolled in. It was late as usual so that wasn’t at all surprising. But sitting up next to the driver was his oldest brother looking like he must have spent his last two bits and needed to work his way home. He didn’t even have the courtesy to wash as his hands were so dirty Joe could see them from well down the street. His shirt was stained and the pants weren’t even long enough for him. Shaking his head in disgust, Joe figured he had a duty to at least greet him, but his anger grew with every step. He saw how Adam was dressed and drew an erroneous conclusion.
“So you ran out of money and came back to live off the family again. Well, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Things aren’t going so well, but I wouldn’t expect you to care. You didn’t bother to let us know for a year that you didn’t drown when the Endeavor went down. You let Pa hurt and then shocked him with a letter saying oh, by the way, I’m alive and having a great time. Then no more letters until you say you’re coming home, but well that was over a year ago and like usual, we had to wait on you doing things your way. You didn’t even respond with condolences or anything when we let you know about Hoss dying. I would have thought that would have gotten you to care. You know where the ranch is. I’ve got work to do.”
As Joe stalked off, he never saw the stricken look of his oldest brother who had suddenly heard of Hoss’ death. Shocked by the ferocious verbal assault, Adam had been unprepared for any news like that. He had been about to ask why the letters he sent had never gotten to them when Joe had let loose the words that left him speechless. Grainne got off the stage with one baby as her father stepped out with the other. Sheriff Roy Coffee came up to them having heard Joe’s lambasting of his brother.
“Adam, I’m sorry that happened.”
“Roy, it’s true?”
“I’m sorry. Yes, it’s true.”
“Floods and a wagon got caught. Was a family in it and Hoss tried to help. Joe was there too. I think he feels a lot of guilt that he didn’t save his brother. They were working to get the family to safety when a wall of water came washing down and took Hoss and the other man with it. We never found them.”
“Maybe I ought to take a room in town if the reception is going to be like that on the ranch.”
“Adam, you know your brother. You go on out to your home. Your father is waiting for you. I know he is. You go out there and get it all straight with them.”
Then Adam realized he needed to introduce his family. He did that and said he would rent a carriage to take them out to the Ponderosa. Roy offered to help pay for it.
“No, Roy, I can afford it. Contrary to how I look, I am not destitute. The stage needed a wheel fixed, and I helped. The driver offered me clothing to wear so I wouldn’t get my fancy clothes dirty. I should clean up before I go out to the ranch.”
“You can do that in my office if you like.”
While Adam cleaned up, Joe rode home and considered what he had done. By the time he reached the ranchhouse, he told his father that Adam was in town and would be out to the ranch when he could. Ben had a lot of questions, but Joe had no answers. When he said he had greeted Adam but they had not talked, Ben had a fairly good idea of how that had gone.
“Joe, maybe you could hold back until we find out from Adam what happened. There could be logical explanations.”
“You don’t believe that any more than I do.”
“I’m willing to give my son the benefit of the doubt. Are you so willing to find him guilty of everything you suspect without even listening to him?”
“I guess when you put it that way, it doesn’t sound very fair.”
“All right, then let’s get these supplies put away. I’ll send Jamie out to help you. And Joe, don’t try to sway his opinions before he has a chance to evaluate the information for himself.”
Over a year after that letter from Adam arrived, Ben walked from the house when he heard a carriage arrive and nearly fainted when he saw his eldest son climb down from the seat. Although he had gotten that letter telling him of his son’s decision to return, he had found it hard to believe especially as Adam had said he still had that business to conclude and a project to finish. When Joe said he was in town, he still had found it hard to believe he was really here.
“Howdy, Pa, I finally made it. This is Grainne, and this is . . .”
Before he could finish, the older man with him stepped from the carriage. “I kin speak for me-self. I’m Grainne’s da, and the stubborn girl dragged me from me warm home, she did, ta follow this arrogant lad. Come to America with us, she said. I want to marry him, she said. Live on a ranch in the mountains where the tall trees touch the sky, she said.”
All Ben could think to do was shake the man’s hand and invite him inside for a drink.
“Now, that’s a right fine gentleman, ye are. D’ya know, yer son hardly let me stop to have a bit of refreshment the whole way here. In a hurry, he was. Saw a few likely looking establishments in town, we did, but no, he wasn’t for stopping off even a minute, was he. All business he is. Now, you, have the right of it and know how a man of my years ought to be accorded.”
By then, Jamie there to greet his brother and meet Grainne. The whole group walked into the house together with Ben locking an arm around his son’s shoulders as if to make sure he wouldn’t ever leave again.
“Are you happy, son?”
“Pa, she makes me feel like I’m at the end of a rainbow, and now that I’m home, I thought I would have that proverbial pot of gold too. But, Pa, such terrible news.”
“I have a lot to tell you too. So much has happened since you left. Come on in. You have to meet Alice.”
From the barn, Joe watched the whole scene. He was surprised because Adam was dressed in fine clothing instead of the workman’s clothing he had seen him wearing when he got off the stage. He also had a wife, babies, and a father-in-law with him. He had rented a nice large carriage and there was quite a bit of luggage in the back of it. Joe was already having to re-evaluate his opinions and conclusions. He steeled himself for going in the house and making an apology. It was going to be short. There were still things he held against his brother and wouldn’t apologize for those words. The idea of apologizing at all was difficult to accept though so Joe took his time with his tasks and missed the first parts of the conversation inside as some of what bothered him was finally explained away.
At first, all the talk was centered on Grainne, her father, and of course, the babies. Adam explained how the unexpected twins made travel impossible. He also told them that he had written to say they were delayed and didn’t understand why the letters were not delivered.
“You got one. I don’t know why you didn’t get the others.”
Grainne’s father interrupted. “Now, you can all start calling me Danny. All me friends do, and I see as you are all my friends now that I’ve been invited into your house and shared your fine brandy. I got a question for my new son here. Adam, I posted that letter for you that your family says they got. Now how did you post the other letters that somehow went missing?”
With his jaw tightening and his eyes taking on that glare that let them know how angry he was getting, Adam stared at Danny. Grainne said she could use some help with the babies.
“Da, could you carry one and I the other and we’ll go up to the grand room we get to use while we’re here?”
“Me darling daughter, they be too young to understand the words your husband is about to use. Although I do suppose the tone and temper could upset them. Yes, I’ll be going with you.”
Waiting until he heard the bedroom door close upstairs, Adam turned to his family. “Da realized it before I did. He’s had more experience with English class hatred and how far it can go. They didn’t like that I was working so well with the Irish men. I paid them more than the English overlords thought necessary. I had my budget and used it the way I thought it should be used. I paid a fair wage. They couldn’t do anything about that as long as I brought the projects in within the budget limits. I did, and the projects were good too. But they had to make me pay. They couldn’t take money so they got even in the worst petty way they could, didn’t they.”
“They didn’t send your letters.”
“And I suppose if you sent any to me, those were not forwarded to me either. The address I gave to you was my office.” Adam paused. Tears were in his eyes. “Pa, the news I got in town today from Joe. I didn’t know. Roy told me what happened. He said you never found him.”
“No, we didn’t.”
By then, Ben and Jamie had tears in their eyes too. Adam turned to Alice next.
“I am sorry too that I did not congratulate you on your wedding. I have been remiss in a lot of things, but I hope you know now that it was not entirely of my own doing.”
“Thank you. I hope you and your wife can give me a few hints on what to expect over the next few months.”
“Yes, Joe and I are going to have a baby too.”
“Well, congratulations on that. At least I’m here for that news.”
“You going to stay that long?” Joe had walked in to hear Adam congratulate Alice.
Ben was upset, but it was Alice who went to Joe and insisted they go back outside for a moment. Adam watched them go and then looked to his father and to Jamie.
“Looks like he got the right one. Now, one last set of congratulations are in order. Jamie, welcome to the family, and Pa, congratulations on being a father again.”
“Thank you. You and Jamie have a lot in common. I think you will find your conversations interesting.”
“I hope so. Now, I didn’t get any details, but there’s trouble here?”
Alice hung her head then so Adam knew somehow the trouble must revolve around her. Ben started laying out the details as succinctly as he could so as not to drag out the discomfort she was feeling.
“Alice’s brother was a troubled man who got himself into some major debt. The men he owed came after him and demanded payment. He didn’t have it of course but they told him to get it from his sister because she was marrying a Cartwright. We refused to cooperate. They came after us with a series of court filings claiming that as the sister who owned property with John Harper, she owned his debt as well. Of course, once she married Joe, they claimed he now owned the debt. So far, the courts have not agreed, but they keep trying and the legal costs to defend it are adding up.”
“There must be something more.”
“There is. Our cash income is down, a long way down.” At that point, Ben’s voice broke and he needed a moment before continuing. “When we lost Hoss, we decided to forego the annual cattle drive. That’s our biggest money maker of the year, but if we put off all the big projects until next year, it wasn’t necessary. We had already spent quite a bit of money on a house for Joe and Alice though.”
Adam frowned in confusion for to him it had seemed Joe and Alice were living in the main house.
“I can see that surprised you. The men who want the money went to that house and demanded payment. They got impatient. They threatened Alice and John who was staying there. They shot into the house and set fire to the house. Alice got out the back without being seen. John wasn’t so lucky. That was just before we lost Hoss, and the badgering in court hasn’t stopped either.”
“Why aren’t these men in jail? You have a witness.”
“They have alibis. What jury would believe one woman when two men say those men were with them? They’re spreading all sorts of stories as to what happened instead of the true story.”
“Tell him the worst thing they did.”
Ben dropped his head unwilling it seemed to say the last part. So Joe stepped in.
“They claim to have Hoss alive and will return him for fifty-thousand dollars.”
Adam stared at Joe.
“Is it possible?”
“Is what possible? Are you saying you think I didn’t see Hoss carried away by a flash flood? Do you think I’m lying about that?”
“Of course not, but unless that river got a lot deeper and wider since I left, you should have found him afterwards. I know you would have looked everywhere so where did he go?”
“It’s an awful big area. Anything could have happened.”
The doubts that Ben and Joe had at the time resurfaced though with Adam’s skepticism over the version of the story that was widely accepted. His view of it did make more sense even if they had no way of understanding how it could be true.
“Joe, could you and I take a ride out that way tomorrow?”
“Oh, so after no letters for years, all of a sudden you have this big interest in the family?”
“Joseph, if you had come in the house earlier instead of avoiding being with your brother, this would have all been explained to you.”
“I didn’t need to hear any excuses.”
“Some things never change, do they? I’m going upstairs. It’s been a long and difficult day. I’ll see you all in the morning.”
As Ben and Jamie bid Adam a good evening, Joe just waved. Then it was time for the two to fill Joe in on what he had missed causing him to feel embarrassed. He tried to use the excuse of his emotional upheaval, but Ben reminded him that is was much worse for Adam who had only found out that day about Hoss.
That night, Adam cried into his wife’s embrace. In the morning, he had an idea and hoped his father would not object. He didn’t. So he went ahead and asked Joe again.
“Will you ride with me to where Hoss was lost and look around? Something doesn’t feel right about this.”
“Adam, I have to apologize for so many things.”
“Joe, let’s move forward and let go of the negative things. All right?”
“Can I go with you too?”
Jamie looked eager, but Adam looked to his father. Ben shrugged and turned to the youngest.
“You will have to do everything Adam tells you. You will accept that if he tells you something it has the same authority as if it came from me.”
“Yes, sir, I can do that.”
Joe snickered, and Jamie objected. Ben called a halt to that.
“I would like the two of you to do your best to show your older brother that you can all work together with no ill will. Is that clear?”
Both agreed, but there was a small dispute almost as soon as they got to the area. Adam stopped his horse to look at the ground, and Jamie went to ride ahead. Adam halted him, but Jamie wanted to go on anyway.
“You can stop right there or go home. Your choice.”
“All I was doing was riding up ahead to the river.”
“Discussion wasn’t one of your choices.”
“What’s the problem with me riding to the river or asking you why that is a problem?”
“I recall you were given instructions. You’re not following them so you can go home.”
“You can’t tell me to go home.”
“Jamie, he’s right. You’re not doing what you told Pa you would do.”
Conceding to Joe, Jamie rode back to halt next to Joe.
“Well, I’m not going home.”
“If you don’t change your attitude, you’re likely to find yourself tied over that saddle and sent home in an uncomfortable position.”
“He wouldn’t dare do that.”
“He might, and if he did, I would help him. You’re being a pain in the ass. I don’t know why because you’re not impressing anyone acting this way.”
“Well, he’s not impressing me either.”
“He’s not trying to impress you.”
“What’s he doing anyway?”
“Next to Hoss, he’s the best tracker I’ve ever known. He’s spotted something he’s trying to figure out.”
Waiting until he got the signal, Joe moved up to stop next to Adam.
“You said people came out here to help look for Hoss. You were willing to offer a reward but friends helped out and you didn’t need to do that. Has it rained since that day he was lost?”
Both Joe and Jamie heard the crack in Adam’s voice at that last part but said nothing about it.
“Not a drop.”
“There are tracks of two horses here that go off in a different direction and appear to be going downstream but faster by taking the higher route. They’re not cooperating in the search but setting out on their own to search. Now why would they do that?”
“There’s really no reason I can think of for them to do that.”
“Unless they want to find Hoss first.”
“Are you thinking they did find him and that offer might be legitimate?”
“I haven’t made that leap of faith yet, but it is looking more possible. Let’s follow these tracks to see where they go.” Looking at Jamie, Adam frowned. “Didn’t I send you home for not following the rules?”
“I’m sorry. I’ll do what I’m told.”
“You better or I’ll gag you and tie you to that saddle like a sack of grain. Am I clear enough for you now?”
“I said I was sorry.”
Joe intervened then.
“Jamie, go home. You aren’t ready for this yet.”
Furious, Jamie turned and rode toward home not yet realizing that when he got home, he would have to explain to his father why he was back. Adam looked at Joe who looked a bit sheepish. He nodded as the two understood that Joe now knew what Adam had faced many times when Joe was younger. Joe pointed ahead for Adam to continue on. About two hours later, they had found enough information with Adam tracking to guess that two men had found Hoss. Whether he was alive at the time was impossible to know.
“The drag marks show he couldn’t walk, but that could mean anything.”
“Can you follow the tracks further?”
“I can try. It’s harder up here because it’s grass and rocks. Neither one holds much promise for tracks. It was easier by the river because of the flood. The tracks in the mud and soft wet soil hardened and are preserved. I don’t know what I can find in the meadows and over the ridges here.”
“We have to try, don’t we?”
“Yes, we have to try.”
The two brothers spent a frustrating couple of hours trying to find some sign of where those two men had gone with their brother. All Adam got was a direction before he could find nothing more. What Joe noticed was their father riding along the river and hailed him. When he got to them, both were curious why he had come out to see them.
“When Jamie came home and finally admitted why he was there, I realized you must have found something. I don’t care what it is. I needed to know.”
After the brothers explained what they had found and what they thought might have happened, Ben offered a different way of proceeding.
“I agree with Adam. I don’t think anyone could find tracks through here after so much time. However, there aren’t that many places here where someone could take a man. We could go to each one and search or at least observe to see if anything looks suspicious.”
“Probably about a dozen places within a reasonable ride.”
“It’s going to take days to check them all.”
“We’ll bring more men and start tomorrow.”
That night, Jamie felt uneasy around Adam and knew he had to apologize. He finally worked up the courage to do so.
“I’m sorry for how I acted out there today. I only wish you had told me what you were doing.”
“I accept your apology but not your excuse.”
“You sure don’t make it easy on anybody.”
“So you wanted me to interrupt my thinking and my concentration in trying to find Hoss so I could satisfy your curiosity?”
“Well, you make it sound pretty bad when you say it like that.”
“What was Joe doing?”
Jamie got his mad look on then because he was defeated and had to accept it.
“Listen, I was never easy on my brothers when they were your age. I wanted them to learn to do things the best way. Now if you don’t want me to treat you like a brother, I can do that. I can pussyfoot around you like you’re some pampered guest in the house, but don’t call on me then to back you up as a Cartwright. That’s not who we are. So what are you because I need to know so I know how to act around you? And let me tell you a guest in the house would not have been allowed to be with me and my brother this morning.”
“But I’m your brother too.”
“Then you need to start acting like one. Trust me. When I say something, I mean it.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have acted like I did out there.”
“We’re going to start a search tomorrow. Whomever you’re with, you need to follow instructions exactly or you’ll be sent home the way I warned you.”
“Yes, sir, I understand.”
“I’m Adam. Sir is reserved for our father.”
“You are old enough to be my father though so it kinda slipped out.”
Joe fell off the settee laughing and Ben nearly spit out his coffee. Adam nodded in appreciation. Grainne had a smile too. Now that was the kind of thing a brother would say.
That night, Adam and Grainne had a great deal of talking to do. She knew her father wouldn’t like that Adam was going off on this quest so soon after their arrival. He suggested she remind him that their commitment to family extended to his family too. She had to agree that kind of argument would be one he would have a difficult time countering. Then he told her about Hop Sing and how she could get along with him. Warning her that the kitchen was his kingdom, he suggested ways in which she could help that the cook would most appreciate and that would get his help for her too. She could tell how much Adam cared for the family friend and promised to do her best to be his friend too. Down in the great room, a similar discussion occurred between Ben and Danny over glasses of brandy as the two fathers bonded.
Maps and plans were completed. Men were recruited to help in the search. Supplies were collected. The great search for Hoss began in the morning. All of them knew it might be an exercise in futility, but any hope that they could find the big man had to be explored to the fullest. Three groups were set up with Joe, Adam, and Ben each going with a different group. In a surprise, Jamie elected to go with Adam.
“No one else will make me toe the line like he does, and I know one mistake could be terrible so that’s why I picked him. I may want to kill myself or him after these two or three days though.”
There was more laughter, but then it was serious business as the groups headed out along roughly parallel lines to their first destinations. Ben had approved Jamie’s decision but cautioned him to follow all instructions. He also told Adam that Jamie had seen these men in town so he could likely aid in identification if they did see any of the three main participants. As they rode, they talked with Jamie doing most of the talking because when he was nervous, he talked. Adam was learning quite a lot from the oratory so he didn’t say anything to discourage him. It was when he talked about the men who had been demanding the money that Adam got a bit of a shock. He had heard the names Sloan and Hanley and thought they were the ones in charge. But Jamie’s perspective was quite different.
“Yeah, if Alice’s brother hadn’t been gambling with that devil man, Damion, none of this would ever have happened. Sometimes we wonder if they didn’t get him to gamble with them and then cheat to get him in that big debt just so they could come after us, you know. Lots of people knew Joe was sweet on Alice. They could have used that to set this all up. Does that make sense to you?”
“What? Oh, yeah, I guess it does. It certainly does.”
“It does? Whoa, when I tell Pa and Joe that, they’re going to be impressed. You’re the smartest in the family. Everybody says that. If you think my idea makes sense, well, then that’s the best anybody could say about it.”
“Uh, Jamie, we’re getting close to that first homestead, aren’t we?”
“Yeah, you can see the smoke coming up from their chimney.”
“Then maybe if you know something about them, you could tell me so I have a better understanding of how to approach them.”
Of course, Adam had been briefed on all the contacts he was going to make on this day, but he needed to distract Jamie from the line of conversation about Damion. Adam knew something about him that apparently the rest of the family did not. There was going to have to be a discussion about him that he guessed his father wasn’t going to like at all. First order of business was to conduct this search.
The first two days yielded nothing except finding some people barely surviving and leaving some food with them. Adam and his group thought they could probably hunt enough to manage and the hungry people they saw made them unwilling to move on without helping them somehow. On the third and last day of their search, as they rode out in the morning, Jamie had a question.
“Adam, why is it that everyone we’ve seen is poor?”
“They come up here looking for gold or hoping to make a farm not understanding that neither of those is going to work. The odds of finding enough gold to make a decent living are stacked against them. The amount of land you need out here to make a homestead work at all is so different from what they imagine that they’re completely unprepared for reality.”
“How did you and Pa make it work then?”
“We took what the land offered. We trapped and did what we could to make money. We used the money to add as much land as we could. We didn’t waste time looking for gold or any quick schemes. Pa hired out sometimes too, and I did too. Any extra money was a help. We learned to make a lot of the things we needed and made extra to sell.”
“Pa hired you out? Wasn’t that kind of scary?”
“A little but it was an adventure too and I learned so much. He hired me out to a blacksmith. That way I learned how to do a lot of that or at least enough that I could practice and learn how to do more. There wasn’t a blacksmith anywhere on the Washoe so when I could do that, it saved us money and some people came to us for horse shoes so that brought in more money until Eagle Station got big enough for its own blacksmith.”
“Would you teach me how to do some of that?”
“I don’t know how long we’ll be here, but I’ll get you started.”
There was a long pause then because Adam almost said Hoss could teach him too, and Jamie guessed that might be what led to the silence. He stayed quiet too for a time. Then he let his oldest brother know he felt it too.
“We’re going to find him, Adam. Somehow you being back has brought that hope alive again.”
About that time, there was a furious signal from the men up ahead of them for them to halt and be quiet. Dismounting, Adam and Jamie waited and one of the men walked back to talk to them. There’s two men riding only about a half mile ahead of us. They look familiar. We didn’t want to get too close and spook them.”
“Anything odd about two men riding up here that made you stop?”
“They’re leading a pack-horse, but they’re dressed like city folk.”
“What’s this last place we’re supposed to check?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never been this far. On the map, your father marked it as the Sullivan place but it’s got a question mark by it. Could be he thinks they moved or sold it.”
“If they just moved, it would be a good place to hide someone. Who’s the best here at sneaking around?”
“I don’t know but from what Hoss used to say, I’d guess it’d be you. He said you could sneak up on a man as good as any Paiute he ever knew. You still think you can?”
“I probably can but not as good as the Paiute watching us from the trees to the north.”
“Keep your hands off your weapons. Now, we’re not far from their lands, and the Paiute have reason to worry about a group of men with weapons getting close to their land especially when they’re not herding cattle or doing anything else. I’m going to go talk with them if they’ll let me. You all settle down and relax.”
“Relax with Paiute hiding in the trees?”
“Yes, if they were a threat, they wouldn’t be hiding in the trees, and you wouldn’t be standing here talking with me.”
“How long have you known they were watching us?”
“Since last night.”
“That’s why you had us put a guard on the horses. I thought you were just being too careful.”
“You meant to say you thought I was being a jackass, but that’s all right. I didn’t want to spook you and take away a good night’s sleep. But now we may need their help so I had to tell you so I could go talk with them. What have we got left to offer in trade?”
With an extra blanket, a jackknife, and a package of sugar, Adam took off his pistol and headed toward where he was sure there were Paiute. When he got there, at first there was nothing. He knew they had to be watching.
“Yaa uu pesa petuhoo!”
“Unless one of you speaks some English, I don’t think we’re going to be able to say much more than that hello and welcome.”
“We speak some English. You speak a little Numu?”
“A little, but this will go so much faster if I don’t have to try to remember it now. It has been many years since I last spoke any.”
“You have been gone?”
“I have. I’m Adam Cartwright. I look for my brother who was lost while I was away.”‘ “You follow the two foolish ones?”
“Yes. Can you tell me about them?”
“They have another man in a cabin. They leave him there for days. He is taken out with a sack over his head and a rope around his neck like a dog. He is a big man but hurt.”
“He limps and leans on the wall of that cabin so he does not fall.”
“I think he may be my brother. Will you help us get him free. I have a few gifts here, but I promise more.”
“We cannot shoot white people. We will hang for that.”
“No, I do not want you to do that. I would ask you to go in and take their horses away.”
“Can we keep them?”
Adam hadn’t thought about that and had to consider the request which was reasonable. He offered a compromise.
“How about if you keep two of them, and we get one for my brother to ride? Then you come to the Ponderosa and get one more horse and maybe two cows for food.”
“Five horses and ten cows.”
“Two horses and five cows.”
“That is fair. When do you want us to do this?”
“I will get my men as close as we need to be to see what is happening. When you see us on the hill looking over the cabin, you pick your time and move in to take the horses. They will have to notice and will need to chase after the horses. That will be our moment to get to the cabin to protect my brother.”
“The hill is too far. One of you should be closer when we take the horses.”
“I guess I will be testing how well I can walk quietly through the trees.”
“You will make the horses make noise so do not move too quickly until we have them.”
“That’s a good plan. They’ll come out then when they hear the horses.”
There was nothing more to say. They quietly bid each other farewell, and Adam went back to tell the others the plan. They padded anything noisy on their horses and rode as far as they thought they could without alerting the two they were following. Then they tied off the horses and took their weapons with them leaving Jamie to guard the horses. Jamie almost objected but saw Adam’s look and the stern looks of the others. It was no time to object. He agreed to his role. Adam took off everything that was light in color and rubbed dirt on his face and hands. He was ready. The men headed to the top of the hill to wait. It wasn’t long.
The Paiute had moved faster and were waiting for the white men to be in position. They gave Adam some time to move down the hill and then he saw the horses moving away and began to move faster toward the cabin. Sensing him and hearing his movement, the horses neighed. That brought one of the two men from inside and his yell brought the other. They drew their weapons and chased after the Paiute who had their horses. Adam sprinted for the open cabin door as the men on the hill began their descent. Too late for them, Sloan and Hanley realized their mistake. Adam raced into the cabin closing the door even as shots hit the thick planks. From the trees, shots were fired at Sloan and Hanley who had nowhere to hide. By now, they knew they were dead men either way so they chose to fight it out. The gun battle didn’t last long.
Inside the cabin, there was a lantern and the fire in the fireplace had been started. On a cot, a man was laying in filthy blankets and even filthier clothing with a sack over his head. He had chains on his wrists and a chain from one ankle to a ring bolted into the chimney. Adam thought he had never seen a more wonderful sight. As soon as the shooting stopped and he knew they were safe, he moved closer to pull off the hood. Hoss reared up to attack him.
“Hoss, it’s me. Hoss.”
Hoss froze and Adam gently reached up to untie the sack and pull it from his brother’s head. Blinking in the light, Hoss stared at Adam. His first words were astonishing to his brother.
“We thought you were dead.”
Unable to help himself, Adam laughed and then wrapped his arms around Hoss and cried. He could feel Hoss trembling probably from weakness as well as shock and the emotional trauma.
“You can sit. We’re going to make things better.”
There was knocking at the door then, and wiping tears from his eyes, Adam opened the door. Jamie rushed in and threw his arms around Hoss too as soon as he saw him and could get to him.
Although Hoss was weak, sick, and injured, he hadn’t felt so good in a long time. Curious too, he asked what had happened as Adam came back to remove the chains.
“Today, I got some Paiute to use their skills to get in here to take their horses so they would chase them. When they did, I rushed the cabin with the other men giving me covering fire. I locked myself in here so those two couldn’t get back in and use you as a hostage.”
“But how did you get home, and how did you know where to find me?”
“There’s a lot to tell, but we have to get some things done first. We’re going to have a lot of time to talk from the looks of things. Jamie, you’re in charge in here. Get some broth cooking as soon as you can and don’t let Hoss talk you into anything else yet. I’m going outside to make arrangements about Sloan and Hanley getting buried and about getting word to Pa and Joe as fast as we can.”
A short time later, Adam was back inside with more sacks of food. He noted how much better Hoss already looked because Jamie had helped him clean up some. Adam had brought in a bucket of water to supplement what Jamie already had in his canteen. He located a large metal basin in a cupboard and filled it with water.
“Hoss, I don’t have much soap but I have some. Why don’t you take off your clothes and I’ll wash them as well as I can. We’ll strip those blankets off that bed and put clean ones on there. You can wrap up in blankets until your clothes dry. They’ll still be a bit ragged but probably feel and smell a whole lot better.”
“Adam, I’d like to go home.”
“I figured that. I told the men to head on back to locate a wagon we can use and to let Pa and Joe know we found you. You don’t have boots, and I could tell before that you had trouble standing. Riding for three days isn’t going to work. The last place we checked had an old wagon so maybe we can use that. I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to wait to see what Pa and Joe can work out.”
“So I’m staying to help?”
Jamie had expected to be sent back with the men to deliver the messages. When Adam looked at him with a frown, he thought maybe he had spoken too soon.
“Why wouldn’t you stay? He’s your brother too.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, I better keep watch on that broth.”
Then it was Hoss’ turn to wonder at what was happening.
“Adam, I got so many questions.”
“Yes, and we have a lot of questions too, but we have a lot of time to talk. I’m going out to see how the men are doing burying those two and I’ll bring in the rest of the supplies. Then, I’ll start explaining things. Meanwhile, do your best to get those clothes off.”
The one thing that Hoss wasn’t was sleepy. He drank broth and then asked for something more substantial. Bit by bit, he heard Adam’s story and why they had not heard from him in years. Then he heard all the good news.
“So what are their names?”
“Lana Elizabeth and Aaron Conroy. Conroy is actually Grainne’s father’s name but he never liked it because people called him Connie so he tells people his name is Danny. Elizabeth is my mother’s name. We gave the twins ties to both sides of the family.”
“Why did you bring Danny with you, or rather why did he want to come with you?”
“There are several reasons. Grainne felt an obligation to her father. One way to get her to be willing to come here was to have him come along. The other is that Ireland isn’t such a good place to live for the Irish with how the English treat them. He knows his daughter and grandchildren will have a better life here, and so will he.”
“What are you going to do here? You’re not likely to come back to the ranch, are you?”
“I hadn’t planned on that, but now I don’t know. Hoss, every time in my life that I think I have a plan, there’s a change in plans. Now it looks like the Ponderosa is in trouble financially. The money I have that I thought to use to start up a business and build a home down by the Bay may not be the best use of it. Maybe I need to help hold onto the ranch for the family.”
“Is there any way to do both?”
“I’m thinking about that. First we need to get Damion and his debt obligation cleared up.”
Hoss saw the dark look Adam had about that and wondered why he was so upset.
“Is there something you’re not saying about that?”
Adam looked at Jamie before looking back at Hoss wondering how much he should say. Hoss got the message and had an answer.
“Jamie’s seen a lot in his life. You got some hard things to say, he can handle hearing it. He knows to keep things to himself when there’s a need too.”
“Will works with Damion. They’re friends. When Jamie mentioned his name as we were riding, I nearly fell out of the saddle. It’s too much of a coincidence, Hoss. I need to go have a talk with Will.”
“Not by yourself, you don’t. You’ll like as not beat him to death. Listen, Joe should go with you.”
“Oh, and you’re worried about me keeping my temper.”
“Yeah, you take Candy along too. He could hold the two of you back. I’d say I’d go, but I’m still busted up some from rolling down that river. I need Doc to take a look at my leg.”
“All right, tell us about that. You heard my story, but we don’t know yours.”
“I don’t know everything because I was barely knowing what was happening when these two found me. I guess there was a search going on for me and some money was offered for finding me. Well, they were after the money but thought they could get more by holding my body for a bigger ransom. Then they found me alive and figured if they could keep me, they would use me for leverage for an even bigger payout. First they figured to get the fifty thousand but they weren’t going to turn me over that easy. They were gonna make Pa pay and pay until the ranch was bankrupt and then use the money to buy it.”
“And they would get it for a fraction of what it was worth.”
“Yeah, and then they were going to sell off the timber, the mining rights, and everything and then sell what was left as a ranch. They would have a fortune.”
“They would probably have killed you.”
“Yeah, I figured as much. They only gave me as much to eat as I needed to stay alive. I was getting pretty weak. Speaking of which, you got any more taters in that sack or biscuits?”
After Hoss had more to eat, Jamie had a question.
“Hoss, was Damion ever here? Because they kidnapped you so if he was part of it, he could be arrested and that debt could be erased, couldn’t it? I mean if it was all part of a conspiracy, then it isn’t a real debt, is it?”
Adam and Hoss looked at each other and nodded.
“Hoss had a sack on his head so he would not be able to tell who was here, but you suggest a good avenue of approach to this dilemma.”
“Don’t worry, Jamie, you’ll get used to him talking like that. It means he’s thinking and coming up with a plan.”
“That’s right. Officially, Sloan and Hanley are not dead and are not buried outside. They’re in our custody. Cousin Will is going to tell us what else we need to know. Then the pressure will be on Damion. Charges will be filed for conspiracy. My guess is that he will cut and run or come here to eliminate the witnesses. In either case, we have him.”
“Adam, that’s a dangerous game.”
“It’s no game. But you should probably be getting some rest.”
“Adam, I got a real big favor to ask. I know it ain’t going to seem smart, but it’s how I feel. I want to sleep outside. I been locked up in here for months, and I need to feel free.”
By the time Ben and Joe arrived late the next day, Hoss was feeling somewhat better with good food, clean clothing although it was ragged, and the supportive company of his brothers. There were tears and laughter and hugs until Adam suggested it was time to let Hoss sit down again. Food was served and Hoss’ tale was told again.
“Son, we’ll have a wagon here by tomorrow. We rode hard because I had to see you with my own eyes. I couldn’t believe what the men told us.”
Then Ben looked at Adam.
“Two horses and five cows?”
“Pa, there wasn’t one of us could get through that meadow and up to those horses like the Paiute could. It was the best plan I could think of.”
“Teasing, son. Good to have you back and planning again.”
“Uh, Pa, Adam has another plan. You ain’t likely going to like hearing all he has to say, but please listen to the end.”
Hoss was correct in his assessment, but Ben did listen to the end. Although he questioned whether Adam could be correct in his conclusion that Will was somehow involved, he did agree it was worthwhile for Adam and Joe to go talk with him. As soon as they got Hoss home, that would be the next order of business.
Actually the next order of business was explaining everything to Grainne and Danny and trying to get them to understand. It was much like the first conversations he had with her when he asked her to go to America with him. There were many why questions because she always wanted to understand his motives for what he was doing. In the process, Adam often discovered more about what he was doing than he had thought about before he made the decision. It worked the same this time. By the time he had explained all that he thought, she had a question left.
“Are you sure you aren’t hoping he’s guilty of something so you can punish him for the wrong he did to you and the betrayal he did really to your whole family? He didn’t show gratitude for all that was done for him. He took advantage instead. And maybe it wouldn’t bother you too much either to have Laura humiliated by having chosen the criminal over you?”
Sighing in exasperation, Adam stared at his wife.
“I hope you haven’t shared that with anyone else.”
“Da is the one who asked me. I think there may be others wondering the same thing. You told me everything about that so I would understand if people said anything or if they should visit so I think I understand the situation well enough to think there may be some truth in that.”
Although Adam hated to admit it and hearing her say those words had been difficult, he knew his thoughts had gone in that direction more than once. However, he still held to the principle of the plan and told her so but did confess lapses in which what she had said crossed his mind.
“Good. You’re being honest with yourself and with me, and you’re trying to do the right thing. It’s all anyone can ask of you. Now, what about after this is all done?”
“I wish I knew. I know we had plans, but the ranch is in financial trouble.”
She halted him there.
“And we should use the money you have to save the ranch first. We can always find a way for you to start your own business. Your family’s legacy should be preserved. Our children should have the chance to be part of this if they choose.”
Wrapping his right arm around Grainne, Adam touched her face gently with his left hand and kissed her.
“You are the most wonderful wife a man could have.”
“We have some time before the babies wake up and want to be fed.”
“Does it seem like they sleep more here?”
“Yes, I think they do. It’s so quiet and peaceful. But I’m not interested in sleep now.”
Grainne began unbuttoning Adam’s shirt.
“I know, but I like it when you get impatient like this.”
She had known what he was doing and played along. He kept her life exciting. A few days later, Will got a dose of excitement he wasn’t expecting when Adam walked into his office with Joe right behind him.
“I thought you were dead.”
“Is that what you told your partner, Damion?”
At least Will didn’t try to fake his innocence in what had happened. Although he was afraid of Adam, he told the truth.
“He is not my partner, but I know what he did to John Harper getting him deeply in debt. At the time, I didn’t know why. He did that to a number of men cheating at cards to get them in debt so he could force them to do some job for him. I had no idea what job he wanted John to do and I didn’t know there was any connection between John and the family. I know Damion was more than usually friendly to me and we had drinks at the club quite often. Yes, I talked about the family. Yes, I mentioned that you had not been heard from in so long that the family thought you might have died or at least were never coming back. I told him that you were the suspicious one who was skeptical of any stranger who got near anyone in the family.”
Joe stepped forward then.
“Did you tell him that I was going to marry Alice Harper?”
“I did. Joe, I had no idea what he was going to do with the information. It was only when he began to ask some specific questions about the Ponderosa that I got worried that he was plotting, and then I heard about Hoss. I thought he might have had something to do with that until I heard how it happened. The next things I heard were about John being killed and how Damion was dragging your family into court over John’s debt to him.”
“And you knew what he was doing and never thought to come warn your uncle or your cousins or tell them what you knew?”
Will stood silent then.
“I was protecting my family. People who oppose Damion disappear or family members disappear. There never are any charges because there is never a body or evidence of a crime. But we all know what happened.”
“You’re going back with Joe. I’ll go take care of Laura, Peggy, and Lil. I assume Damion isn’t that familiar with me. I should be able to move relatively freely at this point. You and Joe should be able to get out of here if you move fast. He won’t be expecting it, and his two main henchmen are out of service.”
“Mister Hanley and Sloan?”
“Adam, you sure about this? I don’t like splitting up.”
“Joe, do you see a better way to do this?”
“All right, but don’t get yourself killed. I just got you back, and I don’t want to lose you again.”
“Joe, once you get to Sacramento, don’t take the obvious routes back home. By then, he may have sent messages ahead to set men up to intercept you. I’m going to try to do the unexpected as well so he won’t have any idea where I’m going with Will’s family.”
“Adam, I never told Laura any of this.”
Looking as disgusted as he felt, Adam shook his head and turned to Joe.
“He left all the dirty work to us. Get him out of here before my worst impulses start pushing me to do something I really shouldn’t. Go out the back. Don’t go back to the hotel for your luggage. Buy what you need on the way. I’ll message the hotel to ship our luggage home.”
“It could get expensive.”
“I’ll cover it. Go.”
Looking out the front windows of Will’s office, Adam saw two men who appeared to have no purpose except to look around. He assumed they were watching the office after seeing Joe go in. He looked around for a place to conceal himself and found what he wanted in a narrow utility closet with a small desk near it. He pulled his belt off and looped it around one leg of the desk and under the door of the utility closet. It wouldn’t matter if the desk tipped. It would still work the way he wanted. He went to the office door and opened it wide after opening the back door wide. Then he hurried into the utility closet, pulled the door closed, and tugged on the belt pulling the desk up to the door of the closet making it appear that no one could be inside. The two men couldn’t contain their curiosity for long. They came to the office, knocked on the open door, and then entered rushing through to the back when they realized there was probably no one inside. Adam heard them talking and knew their plan.
“Maybe they went to Will’s house.”
“Or they went back to the hotel with Will. We can’t let them do that. He told us to keep them under control. We better go collect them then so we can do that.”
“You get some of the men together to go check things out at Will’s house. I’ll get some and go to the hotel and take charge of our unwanted guests. Then we’ll see how far the boss wants us to go in getting rid of these two. He gets a bit squeamish about killing members of the family or even talking about it. He may have no choice now if they figured out as much as it looks like they did already. They’re too smart for their own good.”
It was about what he expected. He had only a short time to get there before they did. After pushing the door open and shoving the desk aside, Adam went outside and hailed a large carriage. He gave the address for Will’s house. When he got there, he told the man to wait and rushed to the door. As expected, Laura was shocked to see him.
“There is no time for explanations. Your life is at risk. Where’s Peggy?”
“Up in her room.”
“Let’s get her and grab some basics. And I mean basics. You have five minutes.”
“Adam, I’m not leaving with you. This is ridiculous.”
“Will is on his way out of town with Joe. If you don’t come with me, you, Peggy, and Lil may be kidnapped, and then who knows. Four minutes.”
Adam grabbed Laura’s arm and propelled her toward the stairs. She couldn’t resist and by this time, Peggy had heard the commotion. Adam repeated the instructions to her. She complied willingly. Soon, Peggy was ready to go, and Adam went to get Laura who was standing in her room with nothing packed. Adam took a pillowcase from a bed-pillow, stuffed things from Laura’s bureau into it until is was full, and then turned and took her arm to pull her with him. She began to move more willingly once she was outside and Peggy called from the carriage. Once inside the carriage, Adam asked for Lil’s address. He yelled that up to the driver and the whole scene was played out at Lil’s house although she responded more like Peggy although with a few questions. Adam answered because he thought they had more time at Lil’s house.
“Now, I do think we need to go. It will take them longer to figure out they may need to come here, but they will, and the sooner we get going, the better.”
“Where are we going?”
“Not to the Ponderosa?”
“I don’t have the army it would take to protect you on the way.”
“I think it’s the way they would least expect us to go. From there, I can take the south trail around the lake and get back home.”
“Where is there?”
“I happen to know a sheep rancher.”
Laura was aghast. “Adam, you’re putting us on a sheep ranch?”
He rolled his eyes and Lil laughed. She knew that any sheep rancher Adam knew and considered for a refuge would be a wonderful place to be. She trusted Adam. She knew why Adam had let Laura go. It had been well illustrated by that one short exchange. Adam looked like a man confident again and despite the circumstances, he looked happy. To Lil, it looked like that haunted look was gone.
“Are you married, Adam?”
That got a grin so she knew the answer before he told her.
“Yes, her name is Grainne. We got married in Ireland, and we have twins, Lana and Aaron. They’re at the Ponderosa with Grainne’s father Danny.”
“You seem very happy.”
Once again, Adam was taken aback at how others could make him realize what he should have known. He was happy even with all the turmoil.
“Well, I’m not. I would like you to tell me all about this and why we had to run away like we did something wrong.”
“Once we’re in our own carriage, we can talk more.”
The hired carriage brought them to a livery stable where Adam bargained for a carriage and two horses. Once all the luggage was transferred, he paid the driver and then gave him extra to tell anyone who asked that he had taken them east where they had been hailed by some people who had a carriage and that was all he knew. Lil mentioned that the man might lie, but Adam said he could but he doubted the man would remember the address of the livery stable as he had to repeat it to him twice to get him to find it. Finally in their own carriage, they heard the whole story of why they had to flee. They heard more too about the sheep ranch they were going to see. When Don Luis and Margarita saw Adam, they were all smiles and wanted him to stay but he declined.
“However, I have a very large favor to ask. I need you to hide these people if you could. Some nasty people are after them. It should only be for a week or two. I can’t take the time to tell you the whole story, but Lil can. She’s a good story teller and knows the whole sorry tale now.”
“Adam, we would be pleased to do so for the man who brought us together. There is a small guest house that Margarita’s father uses when he visits. Would that be sufficient?”
Adam looked to Lil who smiled.
“That would be perfect. Could I trade the carriage and those two horses for one horse to ride to the Ponderosa?”
“We will do that. Margarita will help you select one while I get the servants to prepare the guest house.”
Traveling overland with the horse he chose with Margarita’s help, Adam took a long time to get home, but he suspected roads and transportation lines were being watched. He hoped Joe and Will had managed to evade Damion’s minions. The man’s organization was bigger and probably trying to take more properties than the Ponderosa.
When Adam finally arrived a full two days after Joe and Will got to the ranch, Grainne ran into his arms and burst into tears. He held her until the sobbing stopped.
“I’m sorry, but I was so worried.”
“I was being careful. I had to get back here to you and the twins.”
“At first, it wasn’t too bad. Hoss has been telling me all sorts of stories, and he holds one of the babies when I take care of the other. He’s been a godsend.”
“I thought he would want to be out and about now that he’s free.”
At that point, Adam heard Hoss’ voice in response.
“Dang Doc has me laid up for six weeks at least he said. Can’t get around anywhere with these dang crutches.”
Ben filled in the missing information. “He has a vertical fracture in his left leg. That’s why it still hurts after months. Every time he stood on it and tried to walk, he opened it up again. It couldn’t heal. Same problem with his right knee. It was badly sprained and needs a chance to rest. Paul said he has to have that splint on his leg for at least six weeks and stay on the crutches at least that long but perhaps two weeks after the splints come off.
Will was getting impatient. “Where’s my family?”
“I have a right to know where they are.”
“A right, but not the courage to be trusted with vital information.”
It was a harsh criticism, but there wasn’t much Will could say in opposition to it. He had come to the Ponderosa with one purpose, but Adam was making it exceedingly difficult to accomplish. Before he could say more, Ben filled Adam in on what had happened.
“The word is out that Hoss has been found so we had to admit that Sloan and Hanley are in our custody. Candy and two men are at the cabin to see who shows up. We assume it will be Damion. With Will’s testimony, if he shows up, it will be evidence in support of the conspiracy charge which then brings him in on the kidnapping charge. That will be the end of Mister Damion and his claim against us. As part of a criminal conspiracy, it is not legitimate. That will be a help in getting us out of some of our troubles.”
Will had to acknowledge how the whole conspiracy had blown up. “Adam, having you back has certainly made a difference.”
“I can’t take the credit for this. Jamie is the one who got the ball rolling by pointing out that we needed to get Damion at the cabin. So I thought one way to do that was suggesting we act as if Sloan and Hanley were still alive.”
“Sloan and Hanley are dead?”
“Yes. You didn’t know that? It was what I thought to do after Jamie made his suggestion. It was how to lure Damion to the cabin. He has to get rid of them or free them. That was my part. From that point on, it became a group effort working out all the details. You can’t stand against us when we stand together.”
“Yes, I knew that. I guess I thought with you gone and Hoss gone, it would turn out differently.”
That night, Grainne questioned Adam about that statement by Will because she thought he had sounded almost disappointed when he said it. They talked a bit more about that and other comments made by Will, and then made up for the time Adam had been gone.
A day later, Candy and the two hands were back to report that Damion had come to the cabin. Now the only way he knew about it was if he was part of the conspiracy so it was time to have him charged. He had gotten away, but he would be arrested and face trial. Adam, Will, Hoss, Ben, Candy, and possibly Joe would testify. Somehow Damion had enough money to post bail. That made all of them nervous. Ben had a plan.
“We’ll set a guard on the house. The rest of us will get rooms in town. I don’t want to get ambushed on the way to the trial.”
Joe and Candy quickly volunteered to share a room. Before Adam could say anything, Hoss said he would bunk in with his father. Adam looked at Will.
“I guess that leaves us sharing a room. You all right with that?”
“We’re both married now. I don’t see a problem.”
In town, the six men had dinner together and then retired to their rooms. They didn’t want to make it easy for Damion or anyone he hired to get to them. After returning from the washroom, Will turned down the lamp in their room, and a man came in the window. Adam went for his pistol. Shots were fired, and Will turned up the lamp. Damion lay on the floor with a wound in his chest. Adam knelt by his side.
“Why did you try it? You never had a chance against two of us.”
“I didn’t have a chance either way. I wanted to get the double-crosser. It was all his idea; all his plan.”
That was the last that Damion said. He died from the bullet Adam had put in his chest. The door opened and Ben, Joe, and Candy came in with guns drawn but put them down when they saw Damion dead on the floor. Will leveled his pistol at them.
“Drop your pistols now and move away from the door.”
Adam dropped his pistol but began to move toward Will.
“Stay where you are. I have something I’ve needed to do for a very long time.”
“Adam, no, it’s not worth getting shot.”
“Pa, he won’t shoot me.”
“Oh, Adam, you’re wrong about that.”
Will raised his pistol and Adam kept advancing so he pulled the trigger, and again, and again. Adam hit him knocking him back into the wall.
“I emptied the pistol when you were in the washroom.”
Leaning down, Adam pulled Will up so he could hit him again.
“You ungrateful bastard.”
Will tried to defend himself, but Adam’s rage wasn’t to be denied.
Every blow was punctuated with expletives.
“You lying son-of-a-bitch.”
Ben would have liked to say something about the swearing but didn’t dare. If not for the intensity of what they were witnessing, that might have been funny to the others. Finally, Ben pulled Adam away from Will as Hoss clomped into the room on his crutches.
“Dang, did I miss all the good stuff?”
“Your older brother used your cousin as a punching bag. Remind me never to make him mad, would you.”
“Candy, I done told you that about him. Nobody should ever make him mad.”
“Now what’s going on here?” Sheriff Coffee had arrived and was going to hear quite a story as he saw Damion’s body on the floor, Will bloodied and leaning on the wall nearly crying from the pain of the beating he had taken, and Adam standing there with bloodied knuckles, red-faced, and short of breath. Ben took over telling the whole of what they knew. The part Roy found most interesting was why Adam got suspicious of Will.
“Grainne mentioned to me how Will seemed so disappointed that I was back and Hoss was alive so the conspiracy didn’t work. Then he was shocked that Sloan and Hanley were dead like it bothered him. His association with Damion for all these years, his gambling, and too many things weren’t adding up in his favor. So, I made sure there were no bullets in his gun. Pa figured Damion didn’t have a chance at trial so he would try something before the trial. We set this up to draw him out against the five of us.”
“So now I guess I got to arrest Will Cartwright and charge him with what Damion was charged with. It’s going to be a real show stopper.”
“Adam, we should get Laura and Peggy here. No matter what happens, they should be here.”
“You’re right, Pa. I’ll send a telegram to them in the morning.”
“This kind of news should be delivered in person.”
“Pa, I am not going to get involved in Laura’s concerns. I’ve done what I’m going to do. I left her with Don Luis and Margarita and rode off in the late afternoon so I wouldn’t have to spend any more time with her than necessary. She used me once to help her through a difficult time. That’s it, and I can’t do that to Peggy either to make her think somehow I’ll be in her life again.”
“I’ll go then. When we get Hoss back to the ranch in the morning, I’ll pack a bag and be back to take the afternoon stage.”
That was the plan, but Danny suggested he would go with Ben. He would get to see more of the country and might be able to help somehow.
“I feel like I’m useless around here. Let me go with you and at least break up the monotony. And don’t you boys look at me like that. I can talk good when I choose to. I read books.”
Joe chimed in. “Pa, you oughta take him along. It might help to have reinforcements talking with Laura and her aunt.”
Remembering the two ladies, Ben had to agree it wouldn’t hurt. He left with Danny. A week later he was back without Danny and news that the trial would go on without Laura there to support her husband.
“She asked me if there was any chance he was innocent or not as guilty as we thought. I had to be honest with her. She’s divorcing him and will use it to claim all the property in her name. She will likely start using her maiden name too.”
“Mister Cartwright, where’s my father?”
“Now you have to start calling me something other than Mister Cartwright.”
“I suppose Papa, but where’s my Da?”
“Thank you, Grainne. He thought Laura and her aunt needed some help and shouldn’t travel alone. I think he’s taken a liking to Lil. She certainly seems to have taken a liking to him. So anyway, Lil hired him as their driver, handyman, and all-purpose protector at least for the time being, I guess. Don’t worry that he’ll be too far away. Laura said they have a large mortgage on the house so she’ll have to sell it. Lil will sell hers and the whole bunch will move someplace cheaper to live.
“Is this Lil a good woman? I mean my Da has his faults, but he’s a good man. I wouldn’t want him taken in by a woman of less than, uh, well, you know what I mean.”
Ben smiled. “Lil is a manipulative woman who sets out to get her way, but she wouldn’t hurt a fly. She only wants to help and she wants those she cares about to be happy. Seeing that she likes your father so much, I wasn’t worried at all.”
Grainne seemed relieved by that and somewhat more relieved that she wouldn’t have to have her father around all the time. Ben continued his story of Laura and her family.
“Peggy wanted to come back to Virginia City, but that would be too difficult. Lil suggested someplace like Carson City with more opportunities and where they would not be known. But Laura said she’ll need to continue working and knows that there are some job opportunities with the railroad at Lake’s Crossing. The railroad station is open now and they changed the name of the town to Reno. She’s going to ask her employer to transfer her there.”
Adam was relieved it wasn’t Carson City because he was thinking of a new plan for the future which included possibly a business venture there, but he was surprised that Laura had been working.
“Yes, Will was short on cash all the time. Apparently he got money but gambled away money too so she needed to work to keep a steady income to support them. It’s another reason she’s not too unhappy cutting herself loose from him.”
“So he was going to try to drive the Ponderosa into bankruptcy and then try to buy it through men like Damion. Then they would sell it off in pieces and pocket a fortune. That was the plan?”
“Yes, but now he will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.”
“If he doesn’t hang. People died because of what he did. Alice’s brother is dead because of what he did.” Joe was bitter as he could be expected to be considering the cost to him and Alice of what Will had done.
Adam was concerned about more practical issues. “Pa, the judge could sentence him to the gallows because people died due to his involvement in crimes.”
After all the testimony from the family and Candy, that is what the judge did too. Alice and Joe thought it appropriate, and Ben wouldn’t speak on Will’s behalf because of them. Grainne asked Adam if he thought Laura would be upset.
“I don’t think so. I think she knew he was involved in something bad. When I told her she had to pack and leave, she was distraught but didn’t argue about it. Laura not arguing was a sign to me that she knew. She must have been expecting trouble. She didn’t even argue about where I was taking them. Oh, she made a disparaging remark, but that was it.”
“One remark don’t sound like Laura. I remember that ninny complaining and whining to you all the time about everything.”
“You’re right, Hoss. That’s what was so unusual.”
They were all glad that Laura was settling into a new life, but also glad it was far enough away to keep her out of their lives. If only that was true of Will. They got the news the next morning that he had tricked a deputy and gotten out of jail. Shots had been fired as he fled and by all accounts wounded him. Nothing stopped him though so he was at large.
“Ben, he’s your nephew so I thought we should tell you. We know he’s wounded and think it might be serious, but we couldn’t find him. We lost the blood trail down the road a ways. Without that, there was no way to track him. He was supposed to be taken to the prison today for the hanging in two days.”
“I was going to see him. I guess I won’t now. Any idea how badly he might be wounded?”
“We think it might have been up high cause he bent over and stayed that way. Seemed like a lot of blood at first too. He probably stuffed something over the wound to stop the blood from leaking out so much, but it was bad enough I don’t think he could have stopped it from bleeding at all.”
“Thank you for letting us know.”
“Wish I could bring you better news.”
“That news is not as important as what has happened. We have had some wonderful news this past month. Adam came home. Hoss came home. We have Grainne in the family now, and I have two grandchildren, and soon to be one more.”
Ben looked over at Alice and Joe who had made their announcement to the family. Roy was like family so they didn’t mind him knowing.
That night, as they were preparing to go to bed, they heard the wind banging the barn door. It was open. Adam looked at Joe and Hoss who nodded. Hoss got his crutches and went through the kitchen to the bunkhouse. Joe got his pistol and left the house by the back door of the kitchen. Then Adam took his pistol and lit a lantern.
“Be so careful, my love.” Grainne was worried even if precautions were being taken.
“That’s what I’m doing.”
As a backup, Ben got a rifle and headed to his desk area after turning down most of the lamps. He looked at Adam and told him it was time. Adam opened the door and headed toward the barn. When he got to the open door, he reached for it and heard a familiar voice.
“Hello, cousin. Come on in. Bring the lantern and carry it in your right hand up real high.”
Once Adam was in the barn, Will told him to reach across with his left hand and drop his pistol to the ground.
“There, that’s better. You see, I got away, but I took some lead with me. I think they hit something real important because I can’t get the bleeding to stop. At first, I thought I would come here and get help to get away. But now I know I can’t do that. So, I’m going to hell, and because of that beating you gave me, cousin, I thought I’d take you with me.”
Will cocked his pistol but never fired. Candy had been alerted by Hoss and was in the darkness behind Will. He and Joe both fired before Will could level his pistol at Adam. Joe was at the open door and had stepped in behind Adam shielded by the larger man and the glare of the lantern. Candy had come in the back door of the barn. Will never had a chance, but unfortunately he managed to fire once and hit Adam who dropped to a knee. After shooting Will, Joe rushed forward and grabbed the lantern from Adam before he could drop it.
“Where are you hit?”
“In my leg.”
Sheriff Coffee and Doctor Martin had to be summoned again. Two weeks later before dinner, Hoss and Adam took a short stroll around the yard with their canes in hand.
“What are your plans now?”
“We’ll stay here until next spring at least so we can all get to know each other well. I want Pa to have time with his grandchildren. This time before Joe and Alice have theirs will be the most important. I’d like Pa and Alice especially to get to spend time with Grainne and get to know her too.”
“What I would like to do is start up a construction company. I would design and build houses and other buildings. Then expand from there if possible. It would mean moving, but we wouldn’t want to move too far away. I’ve been thinking Carson City. You never know how plans could change though. I feel I’ve been making plans for years but ending up like I was meandering around from one thing to the next as if there is no plan to any of it at all. I started out thinking I might visit China but went to Australia because it wasn’t as risky. Thought I could get work there but found they weren’t too fond of the idea of hiring an American to build buildings for them. Thought I would head home from Ireland after that first project, but then there was Grainne. I had all those plans that were never fulfilled, yet, I’m here with you looking back, and there’s a lot of good that happened without any plan to it at all.”
“Ain’t that the truth?” Pausing in thought for a short time, Hoss had a question. “They really got those weird animals in Australia? I mean the stories of a duck with fur that lays eggs and swims like a fish, and a big animal with a pouch for a tummy for its babies to ride in?”
“Those are real. There were many unusual things about Australia, but I found the same rotten things there that are everywhere. It’s why we’re here. The bad stuff happens everywhere, but here we have those who will help protect us, and we can help those we love no matter what changes in our plans or theirs happen.”
“Yeah, sometimes we’re just like a feather in the wind.”
“Or a cork bobbing down the Truckee.”
“Or a pea caught in a wash of gravy rolling down a pile of mashed potatoes.”
“You must be getting hungry.”
“How did you guess?”
Laughing, the two hobbled off to the house where the family waited hoping for more stories from the two best story tellers in the family.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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