Summary: Joe’s daughter is saved by a young Indian, who isn’t being just a good Samaritan… In the turmoil of happenings, discoveries are made which greatly surprise all characters.
Rating : definitely PG, Words: 8250
The Brandsters have included this author in our project: Preserving Their Legacy. To preserve the legacy of the author, we have decided to give their work a home in the Bonanza Brand Fanfiction Library. The author will always be the owner of this work of fanfiction, and should they wish us to remove their story, we will.
Author’s Note: Everything was born out of one photo and one story. The said story is “Shadow on the Mountain” by Jenny Guttridge, and my story bases on hers. Who does not intend to read her story first, can take advantage of the really short summary below, which I hope to be sufficient to understand what is being spoken about. As to the photo, it comes from the Shirley Temple Theatre performance “Hiawatha” and can be found on the Internet. However, if you see it before you read the story, you might have half of it spoiled, I’m afraid.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Jenny Guttridge’s story, I only base my story on hers, no infringement intended. Bonanza and the Cartwrights belong to David Dortort; Sarah, Benji and Josh come from the movie Bonanza: The Return and I have no rights whatsoever to them, nor do I claim to have any. The rest is completely mine.
Before the story happened (LONG before) – the promised synopsis: Adam and Joe are taken captive by the Shoshone Indians, who live in awful conditions and keep slaves. Joe is injured, and Adam is forced to work. Eventually, they manage to escape, but Adam gets seriously injured and all hold him dead. He comes back to his family, however, and recovers – that’s the background, briefly. As I have mentioned before, it is not my story, which I state with regret, and which is proven by the author’s rich style, language and knowledge on the reality there and then.
While reading the above-mentioned story, I focused on the moment when Adam falls. After seeing the photo, I began pondering on a dangerously productive subject: “What if…” – … Adam had not come back.
Now, to the story itself, eventually.
Son of Nobody
They have escaped the fire and the bandits, but now where should they go? There were five of them: Mrs Mogus, an elderly lady, who found the effort already too much for her; Sam, a cowboy, whose surname was known to few, and never really in use; young Allen, the son of Mrs Mogus; his sister Cassie; and their friend Sarah Cartwright. They had intended to make a trip in the nice afternoon, but soon the pleasant aura turned abruptly into a terrifying chaos. Sarah hoped for her father and uncle to find them, as the escaping five have entered grounds unknown to them. The thick woods provided cover from the hunter’s eye, but also shelter for many dangers.
They heard horses galloping. There was one way – to the woods. The path provided an open view for the bandits. No one cared about keeping together now; escaping danger was the only thing important. They fell among the leaves to take cover there. Brutally halted, the horses reared; their riders, already dismounted, searched for their prey among the trees. They must have seen them… Sarah felt a brutal force grab and lift her bodily from the ground – a man – he held her by the arms – then suddenly there was a strange hollow sound, he fell – she staggered, but the vice on her arm didn’t let her fall; an Indian, the one who had hit the bandit, held her arm in an iron grip. He pulled her to the path, the horse, mounted it himself, hauled her upon its back and they dashed off. The bandit hunters now became the prey, she glimpsed a few more Indians, faces fierce, mounted, going after the white men. Her Indian saviour urged the horse to a gallop and soon they had left the chaos of terror and pursuit behind them.
They stopped briefly to see the fleeing bandits, less and less visible now; then they only stopped in the camp. A poor camp it was – worn-out tepees and shabby Indians. The man pulled her down from the horse and pushed her towards one of the tents. Inside, he pushed her to the ground and indicated that she stay there, then went out. Sarah caught the sound of voices outside. Voices of Indians; she didn’t understand the language.
The man came back with a bowl of water; he wet his hand, rubbed her cheek slightly before he withdrew his hand back. She was probably supposed to wash. When she began to, he nodded and went out again. When he came back this time, he put something on the ground, then gave her a bowl, obviously containing what appeared to be a rather unappetising meal, and a kind of mug filled with water. He sat a bit further and began eating his meal, while gazing at her. Sarah let her eyes fall, escaping his importunate gaze, and began eating, though without much appetite; she knew, however, that the escape from the bandits had quite exhausted her. She thought about the Mogus’ – maybe the Indians saved them, too, or maybe they escaped and were coming home now? She glanced at the covered entry and asked, “What’s with the others? Those who were with me?”
She wanted to get up, but with a quick gesture the man indicated that she stay where she was. He didn’t answer her question. She wondered if he understood English, that maybe she should ask again – he suddenly got up, repeated the gesture: Stay. – and left the tent. Not knowing what was going on, weary from the recent events, having quenched her thirst and satisfied her hunger, she lay down for a moment to rest, hoping the man wouldn’t mind.
When she woke up, someone was bending over her. The man. It seemed to be evening, she noted absently, before shifting with growing anxiety.
One can bend over somebody in many different ways. She didn’t like his way, his gaze, the way he seemed to appraise her. With a sudden feeling of dread she pushed him away; her hand met hard muscles and harder, sharp bones. He was as thin as everybody else she’d seen in the camp. But it was something else that caused her to blush suddenly. Strange, she thought, and in the back of her mind she realised how illogical and unfitting the thought was – but strange how a bared chest covered with hair seemed to be more naked than a smooth one; her fingers had met soft but clearly obvious hair on his chest. She suddenly realised that every Indian she had ever seen had a SMOOTH and BARE chest.
She pushed him away more strongly, when he bent closer than before, but he seemed not to notice it at all, took her in his arms, and she felt his warm breath on her face.
He felt her tensing muscles stiffen in his arms, and gazed into her eyes. For an infinitely long moment he just gazed. In her eyes he saw anxiety, fear, terror growing into panic, the closer he was, the longer he held her, the longer he gazed – from so close – at her face.
She didn’t know why he drew back eventually – but he didn’t leave. He sat, all the time gazing at her. Unable to move under his gaze, still paralysed by fear, she tried with a strong effort of will to still her heart that banged in her chest like a scared bird in a cage. He had to see it, had to notice the skin twitching with the rhythm of the banging that was tearing her chest apart, right where he was looking, that spot, he had to see it, he had to!…
He saw the skin on her chest twitch under the fabric of her dress in the rhythm of a quickly beating heart – beating so quickly that it had to come from the fear that was in her eyes. He didn’t want her to fear him. He didn’t want her so much as to force her. She was pretty; but he’d rather she wanted it. With time she could be convinced. If he wanted her for a night, he’d have her. If for longer, he could give her enough time for her to trust him.
At last he got up. She followed his slim – too slim – figure with her eyes; he wrapped himself in a blanket and lay down not far from her. She startled with fear when he put his hand on her shoulder. But he stayed where he was, and touched her in no other fashion.
When she was sure he was asleep, she felt the sob rise to her throat again. Just one little sigh, one little… Her shoulders trembled briefly, and the sigh suddenly broke out into an uncontrolled sob. Something moved quickly at her side with a quick, startled movement – his head jerked up and he gazed at her, suddenly awake. He made as though he wanted to move closer but he stayed where he was; she turned her back to him abruptly, curling up in an instinctive reaction, closing herself into a world of fear and despair. He wasn’t saving her, he had taken her away for himself!
She heard him move; after a moment the blanket rested on her shoulders. The man touched her hair in a soft gesture – she curled up further – then he withdrew to the deeper shadows in the tent. He stayed there, at least until her own crying lulled her to sleep.
When she woke up, he was still in the same place; he still slept. In the morning light from the top opening of the tepee she could observe him more accurately than before, having now calmed down slightly. He was handsome, looked close to her age; yet she estimated him to be elder. He looked boyish in his sleep. He was not an Indian.
Despite the tangled mane of jet-black hair, he didn’t look like a Shoshone; his face was carved in soft lines, his nose shapely and straight, his eyes delicately set. He could be a half-breed; on his fairly distinct cheekbones there glittered a touch of wilderness. His hair shone almost blue in the morning sun, but lay in soft, silky curves on his shoulders, whereas all the Indians she’d seen had thick, heavy and very straight hair.
His eyes suddenly opened and she felt his burning gaze bore into her. His eyes were dark and wild; all of a sudden he seemed more… ‘Indian’. He noticed her observing him, sat up, and his eyes became gentler. He was half-naked, and he did have dark waves of chesthair. He let her look for a moment; then he got up, gestured for her to stay, and he left. He came back with water and meal for both of them, just like the previous day. She accepted the meal hesitatingly, but he seemed not to notice that, or chose not to notice. He sat opposite her and silently ate. The meal finished, Sarah put the bowl aside and, after a second of hesitation, asked softly, “What is your name?”
He looked at her surprised; he probably hadn’t expected her to talk to him. After a moment he said briefly, “Shekele.”
“Is that your name?” she wanted to make sure. He nodded, observing her.
She let her eyes fall, playing with the hem of her dress. “Shekele,” she repeated his name. “I know you are a man of honour, and you won’t hurt me.”
She stole a glance at him; he listened with a frown, but seemed interested rather than angry.
“I miss my family,” she said. “I know you can help me get back to them. You can lead me so that I never find the way back or betray the location of your camp. I just want to get back to them.”
She glanced at him again; this time the frown was deepening into an angry cloud. He stood, watching her thoughtfully, and a bit angrily. His eyes were stubborn; maybe he didn’t want to let her go. He left the tent.
She got up, just so as to stretch her legs, and took a few steps. Outside the tent she heard the sounds of the camp’s life, children, men, women. Was she to be his squaw? Had she been saved, or kidnapped? Should she escape – but where? How? From the middle of the camp? In broad daylight? She peeked out, pulling slightly away the fragment of hide covering the entry. She saw a loosely spread group of people; one of them, an elder man with cruel eyes, glanced suddenly at her tent – despite the distance she could see the lust in his eyes. She backed inside quickly, letting the hide fall back into place. She couldn’t go out alone; maybe just now she was safer with Shekele than without him. He hadn’t hurt her, though he could have. She could try escaping at night or when alone with him, best outside the camp.
He came back after a longer time; he gestured her to stand and follow him. She felt the eyes of the others, especially the importunate, lustful, hungry ones of one of them; she raised her head higher, straightening her back, and felt Shekele look at her. He turned to look, then took her by the arm and pulled her slightly so that she should follow him. The other threw him a hateful look, but kept his eyes busy elsewhere. He had marked his territory, she thought of Shekele. The same sense of ownership was in the eyes of a cowboy who on the dance floor took one of the prettier girls by the arm and thereby informed his rivals she would dance with him and no one else.
As though having heard her thoughts in the tepee, Shekele brought her out of the camp. They walked for some time, she thought the way went down; nearby she could hear a river or a stream.
“Where are we going?”
When he didn’t answer, she stopped so abruptly that he staggered backwards briefly.
“Where are we going?” she repeated. She couldn’t believe her eyes when he smiled slightly, shaking his head. She thought she had seen dimples in his lean cheeks. Shekele pulled her gently to follow him; after some more minutes, maybe up to half an hour, they stood on the slope of a hill, adorned by a small waterfall; the water from the stream fell down to the hill’s foot from a small scarp nearby, sprinkling rainbow into the air.
Sarah looked at Shekele, who was visibly waiting for her reaction and seemed pleased with something.
“It’s beautiful here,” she said. This must have been what he had been waiting for, for he pulled her arm gently to direct her down the slope. Her foot slipped suddenly, making her lose balance; Shekele noticed it too late, and the ground was moist and slippery…
She lay stunned for a moment. Shekele shifted gently; he was heavy. He raised himself on his arms to get up, but fell awkwardly back on her. He threw her an apologetic look and turned to see what had trapped his leg. He jerked several times; then Sarah moaned involuntarily when he hit her shoulder with his. He froze, then glanced at her arm, grabbed the cloth and tore it away. She hissed when he examined the scrape, but she glanced at it herself out of curiosity. Some bigger splinters, strange that it would hurt so. He impatiently wiped away the blood that was dripping from his cut cheek onto her dress and face, and bent down to attend to the splinters; she felt his lips touch her skin as he caught the biggest splinter with his teeth, then he was still, and suddenly pulled. She gave a small sound of pain despite gritted teeth, but nodded at him to continue. She wasn’t a soft townie, after all, and had grown up on a ranch, where no one paid particular attention to such minor everyday incidents. He caught the next splinter gently, squeezing the skin slightly to get the top further out, and pulled again. This time she was quiet; he gave her a look of approval, before returning to her shoulder.
Shekele jerked his head and upper body up to see the caller; there was a shot, he jerked strangely – she saw a bloodied hole in his chest – then he fell heavily on her; she felt strangely faint…
There was her father’s face over her, and something lifted the limp weight that had been crushing her to the ground. She sat up with difficulty in the midst of a world that began waltzing slowly on the sight of the bloodstain spread on her dress.
“Father,” she relaxed slightly, but then looked at Shekele. “Is he…?”
“He’s alive,” she heard her uncle. Hoss, her father’s brother, was examining the wound. “It bleeds heavily,” he noted.
“We must stop the bleeding,” she reacted to that. Noticing her father’s surprise, she suddenly realised what they might have seen and how they might have understood it. “He saved me from the bandits,” she said quickly. “I slipped up on the slope… we fell. I’m fine. I think his leg was caught, he couldn’t get up… then he saw the splinters in my arm, got some out…”
“How far are we from their camp?” asked Hoss, pressing a cloth to the wound and scanning the young man’s leg, trapped in a tangle of broken branches.
“About an hour on foot, maybe less,” supposed Sarah, mentally counting the time.
“He can bleed to death before they find him,” observed Hoss. “Shall we take him to a doctor?”
Joe, Sarah’s father, thoughtfully assessed the situation; his daughter’s revelations surprised him, and he regretted his action now deeply, but he had been taught not to lose too much time in making a decision.
“We can’t stay here,” he said, stating the obvious. “I agree he could bleed to death. Do they know where you had gone?”
“I doubt it,” Sarah shrugged.
“We’re taking him.”
Hoss dressed the wound as well as he could, though provisionally, and lifted the limp form in his arms. “Both bullets went in closer to the shoulder than to the lung,” he said. “The bleeding is the greatest danger now. There is a doctor with the soldiers, he can take care of him.”
“Soldiers?” Sarah got up, having overcome the first shock. “Two bullets?”
“We both shot,” said Joe gloomily, heading for where their horses stood. “Let’s go, I want to leave the Shoshones behind, I’ve seen enough of them in my life.”
Hoss’ face clouded at that, too, but he kept silent. The horse went into a trot; Hoss gently held the unconscious form in his arms, and Sarah watched them worriedly.
“He’s supposed to treat an Indian?” the captain couldn’t believe his ears.
“Yes,” Hoss informed him calmly. He was taller and at least twice as broad as the officer, who instinctively stepped back, faced with an image of a slowly waking cyclone.
“It’s not an Indian,” observed the doctor matter-of-factly, examining the wounded one already. “Are the bullets in?”
Joe bent mutely to the young man’s face; his larger brother’s shadow rested on his shoulders.
“Excuse me,” the doctor’s voice woke them from their intent and stunned observation. The man watched them with interest, and having got their attention, he passed them a bottle and a cloth. “I’d rather put him to sleep, he might wake up during the surgery, and I’d like to do it as quickly as possible as I understand that the Shoshones won’t be too happy.”
“I’ll do that,” Hoss took the things with a strange expression. Joe made place for him, but couldn’t tear his eyes from that face, last seen so many, many years ago, belonging to his long… and if he hadn’t died?
Joe embraced his daughter and asked in a tense, hoarse voice, “He’s… Shoshone?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “He doesn’t look like one,” she admitted. “But he lives with them.”
“And…” he hesitated. “And have you seen… another… white man there?”
“No,” she shook her head. “Why?”
Joe bit his lip; his expression told her clearly that something had shaken him greatly.
“Do you remember… a photo… such an old photo…” he gazed at Shekele as though enchanted; the young man jerked his head in reaction to the suffocating smell of ether, but calmed down in a moment and lay limp while the doctor searched for the bullets with professional calm. “… a photo of your uncle… A…” he stammered, “Adam?…”
With some effort she recalled a foggy memory of a somewhat blurry, smiling face of a dark clad man. That much she remembered; he died before her parents had even met. “I’m not sure…” she said thoughtfully. Gazing at Shekele’s sleeping face, she recalled something. “Is he…?” she indicated the young man with her eyes.
Joe searched his pockets nervously, at last finding a small flat metal box; out of it he took out a photo. “That’s your uncle.”
Sarah was mutely looking at the face so similar to Shekele’s, just that the man was smiling, and his features were softer. “That’s my uncle,” she repeated eventually.
“We thought the Shoshones had killed him,” said her father in an absent voice.
“You thought the Shoshones had killed him,” she echoed again. Only after a moment did she understand what had been said. “I’ve seen only Indians,” she whispered. “Just Indians.”
“I saw him fall,” her father talked as though to himself. “He had an arrow in his back. Then we couldn’t find him anymore. The Indians were gone, and so was he. All because he came back for me. And I left him.”
“I left him, too,” said Hoss quietly, helping the doctor dress the wound. “I was just as sure we’d never see him again. If you want someone to blame, then blame us all, or accept at last that it was nobody’s fault. We’ve searched for him.”
“I take it it’s family,” noted the doctor quietly, finishing with the dressing.
“Yes – nephew.” Hoss stroked the young man’s pale cheek lovingly. “Let’s go.”
Sarah started and raised her head. In the hotel room there was nobody but her and Shekele, who was still unconscious, the third day now. She had been resting her head on his shoulder while watching over him; she must have fallen asleep like that. She stood to work out the kinks from the uncomfortable position. On the table, supported by the little vase, stood the photo of her uncle, Adam; she gazed at the photograph again. He was a handsome man, and his son had inherited much of his attractiveness. Shekele. She wondered if he had any non-Indian name. It was still hard to look upon him as so close a cousin. She recalled how he had held her in his arms that evening, but she quickly dismissed the unpleasant memories; she’d rather remember his smile over the waterfall.
She turned, surprised, at the sound of her name. Shekele’s voice was weak and hoarse, but his eyes were clear.
She stroked his cheek with a smile. “It’s so good that you woke up at last. We’ve all been so worried.”
He gazed at her questioningly, unsure of his surroundings and of who the “all” were who had been “so worried”. He gratefully accepted a sip of water, and even Sarah’s help, when he couldn’t raise his head enough to drink.
“You’ve been unconscious for over two days,” she informed his, seeing how weak he was. “You’ve lost a lot of blood.”
He studied her as though waiting to hear more. So she sat on the bed and told him of how he had been injured, how the doctor had treated him and how they brought him here. Then she stood, went to the table and brought the photo.
He stared at it wide-eyed, mute.
“Shekele,” she spoke softly. “On the photo… that’s my uncle.”
The burning daggers of his eyes bored into her wildly, then after a moment returned to the photograph.
“He disappeared… Shoshones took him,” she said quietly. He almost sat up at that, but was too weak and fell heavily back on the pillows. She bit her lip nervously. “You shouldn’t move.”
He gazed at her wildly for a moment, then closed his eyes, fighting for composure. Once calmer, he opened his eyes that urged her to continue. She reached for another photograph. An older man seated, and around him stood three adult but much younger men.
“This is my father,” she pointed. “This is Uncle Hoss. Uncle Adam… was the eldest.” She sighed involuntarily. Then she indicated the older man in the middle. “This is Grandpa. Mine… and yours.”
His eyelids slipped close again, this time due to weariness. Outside, steps could be heard, and after a moment Sarah’s father and uncle came in. She rose to her feet, and Shekele opened his eyes and gazed at the two men, changed since the time the photo had been taken, yet still recognisable as the men in it.
“The Shoshones took Father and… Uncle Adam captive,” said Sarah. “Father will tell you the rest.”
Joe quickly took the place Sarah had occupied, and Hoss squatted by the bed. “Hello there, boy.”
The ‘boy’ regarded them in a rather hostile manner, glanced at the photo, then stared with burning eyes at the girl’s father. “Talk,” he demanded briefly, hoarsely.
Joe, for the first time with emotion rather that despairing pain, recalled the events of the long gone time. He talked about his injury, the efforts of his beloved elder brother to save him, his brother’s return after getting to the ‘white’ territory, about the fight, then eventually about the terrible sight of their brother falling with an arrow in his back while they looked – helpless; he spoke about the search and the lack of any trace of both Indians and their brother.
When Joe finished, Hoss reached for the glass of water and raised Shekele’s head; the young man was fighting sleep with less and less success. He drank thirstily, then his eyelids drooped sleepily.
“Rest, boy,” Hoss put the glass away and stroked the young man’s forehead. Shekele turned his head weakly away from the caress, not opening his eyes, and soon his breathing deepened in a deep, healing sleep.
Later, when awake, he would accept meals and water, but say no word; mostly, he slept. He kindly enough tolerated them around, but it was difficult to say what he was thinking. When Joe shyly suggested he might be missing his people, the doctor shook his head.
“Nothing to bother with, if you want him safe and sound.”
At their surprised reaction, he explained, “They plan to find the Shoshones and… you know. Tomorrow they shall evacuate the settlers from nearby, especially from nearby the hills. It’s better you take him to a safe place; where should he be if not with his family.”
“Guess so,” they agreed, both brothers solemn, recalling the last time when the army stood against the Shoshones, and when their brother fell before their eyes, deathly – as they had thought then – injured.
In the morning there was no trace of Shekele. In the stable, a horse was missing.
The young man slid to the ground again. He was stubbornly trying to get up, but the night trip caused his wound to reopen, which in turn made him weaker and brought about dizziness. Around him there hummed the camp, people hurrying to get ready for the journey. He hoped he had managed to warn them in time. They were his tribe and it was his duty to save them. He felt he’d fulfilled his duty.
“I am to help you,” the familiar shadow appeared beside him. Shekele let himself be pulled up, then whispered quietly yet distinctly, “I want to stay behind.”
The other threw him a quick glance and nodded imperceptibly. “I have gathered your things,” he said. “You must let me ride with you, you won’t hold on by yourself.”
Shekele looked deep into the dark eyes of the slave. “No.” He then quietly said, “Only after we stay behind.”
The other glanced at him with disapproval, but said only, “I was worried.”
They quickly managed to detach themselves from the group; Shekele hung down from the horse, barely able to stay on, and his companion, leading the horse, kept watching him with growing concern. In their hurry, Indians soon paid them no attention; eventually, the horse stopped on the empty, lonely path, and Shekele felt a gentle force raise him to a vertical position and something soft and warm support him. He lifted the heavy eyelids with effort, meeting the gaze of his companion, who had already mounted and let Shekele lean into him.
“Where do you want to go?” asked the man.
“In the opposite direction,” Shekele managed a faint smile. “Duty… towards the tribe… has been fulfilled. For what they did to you… I won’t go back. Under the… dressing…” he moved his arm weakly. The other reached where he was told and carefully got out – a photograph.
“This one… and this one,” pointed Shekele weakly. “I want to find them. They were in the city… this way,” he pointed.
His companion gazed at the photo thoughtfully. “Who is that?” he asked eventually, indicating a black clad man standing to the side, his face surprisingly alike Shekele’s.
“They say it’s their brother,” answered the young man in a faint voice, leaning more into his companion and unsuccessfully fighting dizziness. “You must hold me.”
Hoss turned his horse back. There could be no more settlers there, even if they had stayed far behind. No trace of Shekele could be found. In the whipping rain the world grew cold and dark; it was only by accident that the rider had spotted the pale patch under the bush.
Under the anaemic cover of bushes two dark shapes had curled. One of them lay limply in the arms of the other, who tried in vain to protect him with his own body from the downpour, in a helpless, moving parental gesture. The dark shape startled when Hoss kneeled beside them. The man’s dark, burning, watchful eyes scrutinised the gentle face of the white stranger; Hoss smiled reassuringly, pulling off his slicker to cover the lying shape. He recognised Shekele now; the bandage was wet, the wound obviously bleeding again.
“He shouldn’t have moved,” said the other man in a voice hoarse as though from disuse. “He shouldn’t have.”
“Do you have anything with you?”
The man nodded towards the bushes crouched in the darkness. “A horse. Everything is with him.”
“Can you ride?”
A mute nod.
“You will have to give him to me once I’ve mounted,” Hoss pulled the slicker tighter around Shekele. “We need to get him to a doctor. If we ride all night, we can get to the city around morning; maybe faster.”
The man nodded again, lifted Shekele gently and gave him carefully to Hoss who had already mounted; after a second he was at Hoss’ side again, this time on horseback.
Hoss felt alarming warmth radiate from Shekele; the greater was the relief he felt upon spotting the settlers and his brother, and first of all: the wagon. “Put him on the wagon,” he told his companion. “He’ll be shaken around less, and we’ll be able to go faster.”
The man wordlessly followed the instructions, and after a second of hesitation seated himself by the young man’s head. Someone thoughtful covered his bare shoulders with a jacket; no one voiced a protest against his presence nor of him increasing the weight of the wagon. He rested his head against the driver’s seat, for the first time allowing his weariness to surface briefly.
“Shekele?” asked Joe hopefully, seeing his brother bring someone. Hoss nodded.
“He’s feverish,” he said. “The other one is wringing wet, too. Both need to be taken to a doctor.”
“Who’s the other one?” Joe urged his horse into a faster pace.
“Don’t know. Shekele’s nursemaid, for now,” Hoss looked at the wagon, where the dark shape was again bent over the other one.
The doctor pulled the cover over Shekele’s shoulders and smiled. “It’s not too bad. It think he’s going to make it. Where is the other one?”
“The other one thinks the boy’s going to make it, too,” laughed Hoss, “so he at last went to take a hot bath.”
Shekele’s companion did not leave the young man’s side until morning, when Shekele’s condition stabilised, and the fever sank; only then did he allow himself a moment of rest and relaxation. The doctor, busy with the wounded one, hadn’t had the possibility to examine him, yet was well aware that Shekele’s faithful shadow had got wet through that night. Even when wet, his hair wasn’t really straight, so he wasn’t an Indian. Maybe a half-breed like Shekele probably was – or white, and they met outside the camp. One could hardly say more of him, only that he was even thinner than Shekele; the pattern of sharp bones on his skin was hardly softened by the hard, iron, stringy muscles. His face had until now been hidden under his long hair.
Now he was relaxing in the tub, as they learned when they peeked into the next room. He couldn’t remember when he had last experienced such an unbelievable pleasure, so he intended to make the most out of every ounce of warmth and every FREE quiet moment.
Sensing someone’s gaze, he opened his drooping eyes and greeted them with a nod. He was older than the doctor had expected, but it was hard to determine the age from the posture alone. His hair was deeply black, skin sunburnt, eyes dark and burning. He didn’t look like a half-breed, so maybe he was white.
The man in the tub watched Hoss’ reaction, his eyes narrowing in attention. The reaction only confirmed Shekele’s words.
“I saw the photo,” he said softly to Hoss. “My SON,” he uttered the word fondly, “my SON told me… I’m sorry, but we don’t really look like brothers.”
Hoss grasped the doorframe to prevent himself from falling, and drank in that voice thirstily. He felt Joe behind him, who suddenly sought the doorway’s support as well. The man watched them with genuine interest, then shifted to the edge of the tub; ripples wrinkled the water’s surface.
“I have lost my memory,” he said simply. “I have been very ill for a long time; maybe after I was injured – I don’t know. My SON says that everything fits… The photo is certainly some kind of proof.”
Deciding to abandon the warmth after all, he shifted, as though he wanted to get out of the tub. Suddenly Joe began enumerating quickly, in a subdued voice, the man’s scars, their location and origin. The man listened to him carefully, motionless, checking the information in his head. Then he slowly rose, wrapped a towel around his hips and came to stand in front of Joe.
“We are not even similar,” he said softly, “but you know so much… I hadn’t seen white people for all those years… no one could have told you, you couldn’t have seen me… these are all old scars… you must have known me…”
Both brothers drank in the sight of him thirstily.
“ What… what is your last name?” he asked suddenly. He digested the answer. “So I have been told… that that was my name… you know even that…”
“Willow told you?” asked Joe all of a sudden. He remembered the young Shoshone who had tried to help them, and at whom his brother had looked so sadly and longingly. If anyone, then she. She must have been Shekele’s mother. “His mother?”
Adam gazed at him seemingly calm, but shaken inside. “You know even that. Yes. She is his mother. Was,” he corrected himself. “That’s why they let him be a member of the tribe.”
He brushed the long, wet hair aside. “I was worried about him. The shot… then he wasn’t back… then suddenly he came back injured,” he stopped. “He came back for me. I hadn’t thought… I was nobody there.”
He leaned against the wall, gazing at the sleeping form in bed. “I was nobody… and he came back for me. He said, for what they’d done to me, he wouldn’t go back to them.”
“Your son,” Hoss voice was huskier than usual. Adam nodded.
“Truly my son,” he said with strange sadness.
“Shekele is a brave young man,” Joe touched Adam’s arm.
“His name is David,” said Adam. “I have christened him myself; Willow let me. Don’t call him Shekele.”
“And what does it mean?” asked Hoss with dawning suspicion.
“‘Shekele’ means: Son of Nobody.”
Adam looked into the mirror in the shop’s interior and glanced at Joe almost apprehensively.
“You look good,” assured him Joe.
Adam smoothed out the collar of his white shirt and gave his reflection another critical look.
“I feel a bit strange,” he admitted. He brushed the hair aside. “I think I need to tie them with something.”
“We’ll cut them.”
He started and turned to Joe. “I won’t recognise myself at all then.”
Joe laughed. “Fine then, we’ll buy something to tie your hair with.”
Adam adjusted the jacket, throwing one last glance at the elegant stranger in the mirror. “I feel silly asking… David doesn’t have such clothes.”
“We’ll buy him some once he can try some on,” Joe patted his arm. “He won’t be getting up too much. Just choose some trousers and a shirt for the trip for him and it will do for now.”
Adam nervously brushed the unruly hair aside, glancing at the clothes that lay on the counter. “I’ll pay you back.”
Joe again patted his shoulder comfortingly. “Brother, even my memory can’t tell me how often you have lent me money and how much of it I didn’t have to pay back.”
“Oh.” Adam still felt strange, but he was still learning about his family, so he accepted the news.
The shopkeeper smiled at them as Joe was paying the bill.
“You look very handsome,” she said to Adam. Half of the city already knew of who that emaciated man with long hair was, and the shop and the barber were the most entrusted sources of new and valuable information. The shopkeeper wasn’t searching for any “wilderness” in him; on the contrary, she was taken in by his charming embarrassment that almost turned into shyness. He smiled in answer as though embarrassed, “You are too kind, Madam.” Little did he know that this one gesture ensured him the whole city’s unanimous opinion of a very charming gentleman.
Back in the hotel, Adam’s looks sent the receptionist into a slight shock, which in turn caused Joe to smile victoriously. David was still asleep; Sarah sat with him. She stood up to greet them, then stopped with a stupefied expression. Joe giggled infectiously so that even Adam smiled in his nervous manner.
“Sarah, meet your uncle,” Joe bowed over-graciously by the presentation. “Adam, this is my daughter Sarah.”
The girl smiled gently, overcoming her surprise, and gave her uncle both her hands. “Uncle Hoss told me.”
Adam squeezed her hands in the gentlest manner and his eyes searched for Joe. “I don’t KNOW or REMEMBER?”
“You don’t know,” Joe assured him.
Adam smiled almost shyly, softly touching her hair and dress. “I have seen you in the camp; you had your hair done differently… you wore a different dress.” She nodded. He gently stroked her velvety cheek. “You’re pretty.”
A fiery blush crept onto her face. “You look very handsome as well, Uncle.”
He laughed quietly, feeling his face go strangely warm. “Well, well, now you have embarrassed me. How is David?”
“He hasn’t woken yet,” she glanced at the bed. “But the fever is much lower.”
He approached the bed. Under his father’s hand, the young man stirred and opened his eyes. For a long moment he was just coming to, gazing wide-eyed at his father; then he smiled. In a different situation and different clothes, neatly shaven and relaxed, his father looked downright dignified. Time and rest were to smooth out his tired face further.
“I was worried about you,” said Adam in Shoshone, with reproach in his voice. “You could have killed yourself. What did you come back for?”
David frowned. “Duty… towards the tribe… you…”
“You were not in the condition to ride,” objected his father. “Tribe – fine, but I am nobody.”
“That’s why,” barked the son angrily, nervously catching short, shallow breaths. “I thought she… but then I saw… that the same would happen… that you were like her… ‘till… ‘till…”
“Shhhh,” Adam put his hand on David’s lips. “You are weak. You should not get upset. I was worried – maybe I am not reasonable.”
David nodded; he knew his father gave up mainly due to his condition.
“Remember those people?” he asked more calmly.
“No,” Adam hesitated. “But I think I believe them.”
“Will you stay with them?”
He seemed surprised by the question. “If you stay… I will go where you go, son. All I have is you.”
“The same way here,” David toyed with his father’s fingers. He glanced over Adam’s shoulder. “Or maybe not.”
Adam turned to look at the brothers, who watched them with strange expressions; Hoss held a tray in his arms, and now offered it to them.
“I went to eat something and thought I could bring you something as well,” he said. “This is for you, Joe and David.”
“Help me sit,” said David from the bed. Joe touched Adam’s arm with an uncertain expression.
“Adam… could you talk English?”
The man blinked, thought for a second, and his mouth quirked strangely. “Good, but I shall still use Shoshone for quarrelling with my son.”
David choked and shook his head, but kept silent. Hoss helped him drink some more water, then positioned him comfortably on the pillows and handed the plate to him. “Will you manage by yourself?”
“This one is fine,” David moved his right arm. “I’ll manage.”
“We need to send home a telegram,” said Joe from over his meal. “As soon as David is fit for travel, I’d like us all to go home.”
“How nice of you to ask our opinion,” Adam couldn’t help himself. The brothers looked at him in surprise.
“You’re not going?” “But…” “We thought…” “You have…” – they spoke simultaneously in confusion.
“I think we will go,” he said kindly and returned to his plate. Joe and Hoss exchanged looks, and Joe stated with feigned annoyance, “There you go: smart-alecking again. He hasn’t changed at all.”
Now, Adam and David exchanged looks; the usual old brotherly taunting sounded to them just like a USUAL OLD BROTHERLY taunting. Adam smiled to himself.
Ben Cartwright, the patriarch of the family, was sitting on the porch of the house, impatiently awaiting the expected guests.
“Where are they?” he grumbled, irritated by the waiting.
Barbara, his daughter-in-law, stroked his arm and reminded him, “You know the stagecoach has never been punctual, Dad. Maybe they just got to Virginia City.”
“It would have to be really late,” he growled like a mad old bear, but appreciated her efforts to calm him down. Another woman – Alicia, his other daughter-in-law – came out of the house; three well built young men followed her. Particularly well built was the eldest of them – Josh. He and Sam were Hoss’ sons; Benji was the son of Joe, the younger of the brothers. Joe also had a daughter, Sarah, who was elder than Benji, and who was to come back with her father and her uncle Hoss, and first and foremost – with the long gone and mourned for eldest of the three brothers: Adam.
The telegram had mentioned a surprise, which had the greatest effect on boys – young they were, and they have never known their uncle; he understood. For him, the surprise – shock rather, was the news of his long mourned for son being ALIVE – moreover, he was COMING BACK.
The sounds of a horse galloping stopped his ponderings. One horse – so it wasn’t them. But where could they be, where! The horse is galloping wildly – maybe something had happened…
A pinto rode into the yard at a full gallop, and the triumphant rider halted it in midst of the yard. Joe had never learned to ride slowly.
Now he jumped down from the horse and hurried on the porch. “Hi, all. I am here first,” he caught his breath, “to tell you, for you see, Pa, Adam doesn’t remember.”
Ben frowned. “He doesn’t…” he repeated and stopped. “What do you mean: he doesn’t remember?”
“Adam had lost his memory due to a serious illness,” explained Joe more calmly. “It’s all new for him. I know you want to see him, to hold him, but please remember you can be a complete stranger to him. We should have mentioned something in the telegram… I’m sorry; we were euphoric ourselves, who would remember?”
He embraced his wife and hugged his son and nephews. Barbara had meanwhile stepped out in the yard, hearing horses from far. “They are coming.”
“They can’t hurry, ‘cause the surprise shouldn’t be shaken about too much,” laughed Joe. “They’ll be here in a moment, I’ve left them almost by the house. Is the guest-room free?” he suddenly asked.
“For the surprise?” asked Alicia. Joe nodded.
“I know Adam might want to lie down, and David simply has to. They won’t be crowding together in one room.”
“David?” the boys exchanged looks. The surprise was gaining shape.
They didn’t have to wait too long for that riddle to be solved, for soon a buggy came into the yard. Hoss jumped down from the driver’s seat in a hurry to greet his wife. The man sitting beside him, clad elegantly in a black suit and a white shirt, his long hair tied neatly back, got off in a calmer way, turning to the people in the backseat. He first helped Sarah to get off, then assisted the other passenger.
Seeing the man, Ben rose, then sat down heavily. Joe noticed that and hurried to bring the long awaited guest to meet his father. The guest greeted Barbara with a shy nod and took Alicia’s offered hand, and his eyes sought out Joe.
“I don’t KNOW or REMEMBER?” he asked with disarming honesty.
“You don’t know,” answered Joe. “Neither do you know the children, and the children don’t know you. Boys, this is your uncle. Adam, this is Benji, my younger son; Josh, the eldest here, is Hoss’ son; Sam is Josh’s brother.”
The boys saw a still handsome, elder man with a sunburnt, tired face and eyes burning like two coals, full of inner strength. Adam greeted each of them with a nod, watching them with just as much curiosity. “They are alike you,” he admitted, then turned to look around. “Where is David?”
From behind his back there emerged a shadow of his, or rather a mirror reflection, as it seemed to them at first.
“This is my son, David,” said Adam. “Excuse me, but where can he lie down for a while?”
Upon seeing the ‘surprise’, Ben – as soon as he overcame the shock – changed his opinion on the ‘well builtness’ of the three young men on the porch. Although pale and thin, this young man had broad, manly shoulders, and was taller than Joe. From among the three cousins, only Josh could stand the comparison. David seemed older than them, not a boy anymore. His town cut clothes were belied by the Indian way his hair was braided and adorned. Those who knew his parentage, found the heritage of his Indian ancestors in his features; however, he resembled his father very much. His left arm was supported by a sling; with the right one he had encircled Sarah’s shoulders to help him stand.
“I’ll put him to bed in the guest-room,” Hoss took care of the young man, holding him and helping him to the house.
“I want to stay with him in the same room,” Adam stated. Hoss threw Joe a glance and shrugged his shoulders.
“Then I’ll put him to bed in your room.”
Eventually Adam turned to Ben, who had been watching everything wordlessly all the time.
“Judging by the photo, I take it… you are… my father,” began Adam awkwardly. “I’m sorry for not remembering; I’d really like to, it’s such a beautiful place.”
Ben rose, feeling his legs turn into an overwhelmingly wobbly mass, and without a second thought embraced and held the so longed for son close. “My child.”
After a long, long moment he let go, though not completely, and looked at his son more closely. He saw his age written on the weary face; saw a few silvery threads on the temples; saw the same young eyes and the same smile that he remembered so well, the same strength in the same hazel eyes with gold-green reflexes of light.
Adam didn’t back away from the warm welcome; a father himself, he recognised the reaction, and understood it well. At last free from his father’s hold, he asked cheerfully, “I have to call you something… How did I use to call you?”
Ben wiped the two hot tears running down his face, but to no avail, as more followed, and more, and even more, all as big and hot as his joy felt. “‘Pa’… you used to call me ‘Pa’…”
Adam answered with a gentle smile as full of emotion as the old man’s quiet voice. “May I continue to call you so?”
Ben swallowed another tear and held his son close again. “Yes… child… always… always…”
“Let’s go in,” suggested Adam simply, as though they held an ordinary conversation on an ordinary day about ordinary matters. In the doorway, he gave his son, who was still standing there, a disapproving look, but David met his gaze with a stubborn glare of himself; he’d seen the moving scene and aimed to make sure everything was fine. He greeted his grandfather with a polite enough nod and eventually, paler now than he had been, he allowed himself to be led upstairs to a bed.
Adam looked around curiously and attentively; dining room, fireplace, stairs, there seemed to be the office…“I think I have been here before,” he thoughtfully said.
3 thoughts on “Son of Nobody – by AMG”
I recall the former story and I find this a wonderful ending to that one. I do wish you could go on as we watch Adam settle in to his home.
Wonderful story. I did go back and read the previous one and love the ending you have created. Wish it could go on and on. Thank you ❤️
This is a great story. I read the one where Adam saved Joe from the Indians. I didn’t know Adam had a son with him. thanks