Sunny, With a Chance of Rain (by MissJudy)

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Summary:   A stage crash has killed everyone on board…including Adam Cartwright. While Paul Martin has made a “best guess ID” of the “remains,” and even though Adam’s most personal possessions were found in the wreckage, Ben refuses to believe it is Adam. Hoss and Joe begin a journey of discovery with their father as a mystery develops that includes another man in black, attempts at blackmail and the eventual acceptance of what seems ovious – that Adam is gone. It becomes the story of two families facing the loss of a child and a woman whose care of a deathly ill stranger may restore one of these families to completeness.

Rated: T  WC  45,000

Story Notes:

I wrote this as writer’s challenge piece a few years ago. Since it was written, we have lost the man who was the inspiration for Adam. Losing him was like losing a piece of my heart and I still mourn the loss.

 

I’ll alert you to the fact that there are sad scenes in this story. But I think you will appreciate those parts too. I rewrote one particular scene as a tribute to Pernell Roberts, as well as Adam.

 

 

There are links to the songs that I’ve used within the story, at the end. Scroll down if you’d like to hear them while reading. The versions I’ve linked to have special meaning to the story or the man who inspired it.

 

 

Thanks: This story was the first that I ever allowed another person to read and critique, and thank Sandspur for being my first, and always, Beta reader. She is a kind a generous woman who teaches as she critiques. I have learned so much from her!

 

Many thanks to any of you who choose to continue on and read this story.

 

Sunny, With a Chance of Rain

 

Prologue: Even Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

 

The retching started again, making him desperately try to eject what might be lingering in his empty stomach, while intestinal cramps clawed at his insides like a suffocating vine attaching itself to everything under his skin. “How long can this go on,” he moaned, trying to make sense of what was happening.

 

His left arm dragged along uselessly encased in its ragged black sleeve, creating shockwaves of pain. He inched along the ground, pushing with leg muscles that felt like jelly, and pulled with what little strength was left in his good arm. His clothing was wet and he was so cold that he couldn’t stop shivering; further hampering his progress. And adding to his misery was the agony of pain in every part of his body that still worked.

 

Although he was aware of all these things, he couldn’t conceptualize what it was he should do about any of it.

 

Had a coat, he thought. Where is it? Looking around he remembered again that there was nothing there: No coat, no horse, no gun…no anything. It felt as if he’d been dropped on this spot by some avenging bird after it had picked away at his carcass and found nothing left of interest. He kept asking himself the same question: “Why?”

 

He found some comfort in the thought that maybe he was in the midst of a nightmare and would awaken. But another excruciating cramp ripped through his body making it all too clear that this was not a dream. He cried out, “To you I call, O Lord my rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help.”*

A gentle breeze rustled the early blooming branches of the trees overhead as the sound of his plea settled to the earth in silence. All other sounds of nature ceased as well, as if to honor the death it would soon witness.

 

Waiting

 

Ben sat behind his massive desk absently caressing the deep patina of the wood. This sturdy piece of furniture had become a symbol for the man himself: Strong, aged with a glow of polish and hard use, and unmoving when all around it seemed to change. Those who asked about it usually assumed it was one solid piece. Adam, who had helped Ben choose it and get it home, would tell the tale of putting wheels under it and pulling it home with a four-hitch of horses. He took great relish in completing the story with, “We got it to this spot, set it down and built the house around it.” If a person didn’t know Adam well enough to notice the upturn of his right brow and the slight bow in his lips while speaking, they believed the story to be true and would admire the desk in amazement. As Adam was not one to ruin the effect of his illusion, he would never admit to his ruse.

 

In reality, the desk was three pieces consisting of the large, one-piece top and two pedestals containing the drawers. It was a formidable piece of furniture, but it could be moved quite easily, if need be. Ben always imagined that it was like his family—separate parts that supported the weight of the Ponderosa: Stronger together than they would be as individual pieces.

 

While Ben’s purpose this day was to add receipts into the ranch’s ledger, he was having trouble concentrating as his feet tapped a rhythm of impatience on the wood floor. His eldest was already two days late returning from an extended time away keeping Ben uneasy, even if not exactly worried.

 

Adam had spent the winter months working with Frankie, a friend from college. Frankie’s San Francisco engineering firm had invited Adam to participate in formulating a groundbreaking proposal for California’s capital city. After enduring several floods that nearly wiped out the embarcadero and waterfront buildings, the Sacramento city fathers committed their resources to redesigning the area to prevent the routine devastation experienced when the American and Sacramento Rivers crested after heavy rains or melt-offs in the Sierras. Frankie’s company proposed a plan that would actually bury the first story of all the buildings along the riverfront, effectively raising the ground level of the city by more than twelve feet. This would require all businesses to relocate their entrances to the second floor, and meant all the roads and sidewalks in the area had to be re-laid. It was an engineering nightmare while also being a once-in-a-lifetime challenge that Adam couldn’t wait to get his hands on.

 

Ben’s pencil took over the release of nervous energy by tapping on the blotter as he recalled his hardheadedness that had almost forced Adam to leave the Ponderosa for Frankie’s firm when his son had first returned from college. Leaning back, he laughed to himself about the evening Adam sat across from him at this same desk presenting his very reasoned plan that Hoss and Joe could handle the work on the ranch for a few months, leaving him free to get away. He’d been so serious that Ben had felt compelled to put up a good act while Adam made his case. But the truth was that he had known that Adam would go from the moment he received the invitation. Ben felt that if he had put up any real resistance to this brief absence he risked losing Adam for good. Of course he had worried that Adam might not want to return after getting the taste of a different lifestyle, but it was too big an opportunity to keep his son from experiencing. He had subsequently breathed much easier after receiving Adam’s telegram confirming his arrival home on the Tuesday stage in the first week of April.

 

Unfortunately spring weather often held up the eastbound stages and Ben figured a late snow or rain had turned the roads to the consistency of oatmeal or made the creeks impassable, causing Adam’s delay. Ben’s impatient state today was fueled by his desire to see his son again and hear about the project he had been reading about in the San Francisco Chronicle. Adam’s name had been mentioned in several articles as being one of the young engineers working out the feasibility of the project for Sacramento. Ben was bursting with pride over Adam’s accomplishments, but had practical reasons for wanting his son home too. Before he had gone away, Adam and Ben had laid some groundwork of their own for future projects and updates on the ranch. Ben was now getting anxious to come to a final decision on which ones to tackle, and wanted Adam’s input before moving forward.

 

Refocusing on his ledger, Ben began to work at his figures and was actually making progress when his head shot to attention at the sound of horses entering the yard. Clearing the books and papers from his desk first, Ben made it to the door in time to see Roy Coffee dismounting.

 

Could Anything Be Worse

 

“Ah, Roy, good to see you. What brings you out this way?” Making his way over to Roy with his hand extended for a welcoming shake, Ben noticed that Sport was standing on the other side of the Sheriff’s horse. “Oh, good! You rode out with Adam.” Wearing a confused expression, he added, “Where did he go off to already?”

 

“Ben,” Roy began, “Adam’s not here.”

 

“Well, I can see that.” Ben laughed as he slapped Roy’s shoulder and shook his hand. “Hoss and Little Joe will be in for lunch soon, so of course you’ll stay and celebrate Adam’s return.” Ben’s questioning look returned as he asked again, “Where did Adam go?”

 

“Ben,” Roy began again. “Adam isn’t home. I just brought his horse to the ranch.”

 

Ben’s face and shoulders dropped. “We left Adam’s horse at the livery so he could get home. He was due in Tuesday, but since he didn’t arrive, we figured it would be easier to just leave Sport in town to use whenever he got in. It’s not a problem, we’ll ride into town tomorrow in case he makes it then.”

 

“Ben…” Roy tried again.

 

“Wait a minute; you still haven’t said why you came all the way out here.”

 

“Ben…”

 

“Well never mind, you will still stay and have lunch and can tell us all about it then.” Ben turned and began walking toward the house.

 

“Ben!” Roy finally commanded. “Let’s stop the verbal two-step so I can tell you why I’m here.”

 

“Well?” Ben laughed, stopping in his tracks and turned again toward Roy.

 

“Ben, Adam is not coming home.”

 

“What are you talking about, Roy? Is there a problem that’s delaying him longer?” Ben’s voice intoned the concern that his body language was beginning to show as well. Hands on his hips, he stared Roy down with the same determination he would use to face a gunfighter.

 

“Ben,” Roy tried again and had to stop as his voice broke.

 

“Roy, suppose you just say what you need to say.”

 

As Roy was about to speak, Hoss and Joe rode into the yard and called a greeting to Roy. Spotting his oldest brother’s horse, Joe began hollering. “Adam! Hey Adam, get out here you old coyote!”

 

“Quiet boys,” Ben ordered more harshly than he intended. “Roy has come out with news of Adam. It seems he’s not arrived in Virginia City yet.”

 

“Let’s all go into the house, so as I can tell you what’s happened,” Roy suggested. Looks and shrugs were exchanged between Hoss and Joe as they followed the two older men inside.

 

Hop Sing was told to hold lunch until they were finished and once everyone was seated, Roy began laying out the news he had come to give them. “Ben, boys,” he said as he nodded to each of them, “It grieves my heart to say this, but the Tuesday stage that Adam was on went off the canyon road and rolled down an embankment. The Nelsons spotted the wreck at the bottom of the ravine about 6 miles outside Virginia City on their way to town late yesterday. I got some men together right away and we rode out to the site. There was a lot to take care of and we brought back what we could, but it took all night, and this is the soonest I could get here.” Roy paused for a moment, unable to say the words that he knew would tear this family to bits. “I’m sorry, Ben; there were no survivors.”

 

Ben rose in silence, walked over and leaned his arm on the massive hearth. “I want to see my son. Where is he?”

 

They took the bodies over to Doc Martin’s for identification, but Ben, there’s something else you need to know.”

 

Little Joe spoke up, his voiced husky with grief, “What do we need to know, Roy? You already told us what we need to know. Could anything be worse than hearing that Adam is dead?”

 

“Boys, this ain’t easy for me either and I feel just cold inside having to tell you these things. But I’ve got to tell you the truth about it…the coach rolled repeatedly, which alone was enough to kill those poor souls, but …”

 

“But what,” Hoss said with a cold, hard edge.

 

“But since they weren’t found for almost two days, they attracted the wild animals that roam those canyons.”

 

“What does that mean?” Ben queried softly.

 

“It means that making a positive identification based on the body is going to be impossible. They are unrecognizable.” The worst of it was out, and Roy finally relaxed his jaw and took a deep breath before he continued. “Doc Martin is waiting for us to come and make an ID based on personal belongings.”

 

Roy rose and moved toward the door, suggesting they head out as soon as possible. He had been through so many emotions over the last 24 hours that his spirit felt as dead as the bodies he had delivered to Paul Martin. Being a sheriff garnered its share of respect if a lawman was worthy of it, and Roy was good at his job. His best days were those that brought moments of satisfaction. But days like today—when he delivered the worst of news to the best of people—were the ones that he could easily walk away from without a look back.

 

The three Cartwright men rose in silence and followed, stopping only to retrieve the hats, coats and guns that were always by the door. Hoss finally spoke. “I’ll tell Hop Sing what’s going on. Guess none of us have much of an appetite right now.”

 

Hoss exited the side door of the house after speaking to their cook and joined his father and brother as they mounted their horses and solemnly turned them toward Virginia City

.

A Man of Habit

 

“Paul, I want to see my son,” Ben demanded as the Cartwright family walked into the doctor’s office.

 

“No you don’t Ben. You don’t want to remember Adam that way. It was nearly more than I could handle.”

 

“But how can I be sure if I don’t see him?

 

“You wouldn’t know for sure even if you did see him, Ben,” Paul offered with profound sadness.

 

“Then how do you know it’s him? Did you see the scar above his lip, or find any of the other things that made him—Adam?” Ben’s voice had taken on an almost panicked tone, yet it was tinged with such devastation that those in the room could feel as much as hear what he said.

 

Roy led Ben to a chair, and along with Paul began to tell him what evidence pointed toward it being Adam’s body in the wreckage. Hoss and Little Joe hovered nearby, giving their father room to breathe and sort through what the others were saying.

 

Paul seemed confident enough as he began, “Here are the facts Ben. Adam was the only male passenger listed on the leg from Sacramento to Virginia City and there was only one male body recovered other than the stage driver. That body is consistent with Adam’s general appearance. He had dark hair, and as much as I’d like to say I found things that didn’t point to Adam…” Paul had to sit down at this point. His shoulders slumped with the weariness and sadness he felt, and he looked away a few moments to compose himself before completing his description, “As I was saying, I could neither find confirming nor refutable evidence that it was Adam, because… the body was too…” Paul hoped Ben was getting the picture. How could he voice the truth that would surely haunt his dreams for nights to come? How did he tell a parent that their child had been so badly ravaged by the accident and feeding frenzy of hungry wild animals that there was little left to identify? The truth was that Paul couldn’t, and he simply concluded, “Overall, the man is a match for Adam.”

 

“They might have picked up another passenger on the way,” Hoss interjected. “They often find people waiting at the way stations and don’t add them to the roster until they reach the next city.”

 

“That’s a possibility, Hoss, but the only luggage on the stage belonged to the woman passenger and Adam,” Roy answered, before directing his attention back to Paul. “Doc, please show us the personal effects from the body.”

 

Paul brought out a few things; boots, a belt, and black pants and shirt, both shredded and stained dark with blood. Showing Ben the shirt, Paul pointed to the tag asking, “Isn’t that your laundry mark? I think Hop Sing uses a version of your brand to mark clothes he brings into his cousin’s laundry here in town, right?” After a moment to let this fact register, Paul added, “The pants have the same mark, Ben.”

 

Ben simply nodded his agreement as he examined the shirt tag, but then said more hopefully, “I don’t recall Adam having boots like those.”

 

Roy spoke up again. “I didn’t want to go through Adam’s bag, Ben, but had to do it. I think maybe he bought those work boots in Sacramento, since he had the ones he usually wore in his satchel.”

 

Little Joe was the next to make a suggestion. “Is that all there was, Roy?”

 

Roy produced a cloth bag from behind Paul’s desk. “We also found these items at the site, but they weren’t on the body.” He continued sadly, “I think you’ll recognize them.”

 

Joe walked across the room, opened the bag and felt his heart meet his boot tops as he withdrew Adam’s yellow coat, wallet, and finally his gun—still holstered. “Why wasn’t he wearing these things?” he asked of no one in particular.

 

Hoss moved over to Joe, also realizing that these were his older brother’s possessions. “Shucks, Joe, ya know Adam. He usually took his gun belt off and laid it on his lap when he tried to get comfortable on the stage. Same with his coat: I can see him rolling it up behind him to make his back feel better. Adam was a man of habit, Joe, and those were his ways.”

 

“I don’t think it’s Adam.”

 

All eyes in the room turned to watch as Ben walked to the table with Adam’s earthly goods and picked up the yellow coat. “I don’t think it’s Adam,” he repeated. “I would feel my son’s death—and I feel nothing. It just can’t be him.” Ben laid the coat on the table, walked out the door and sat down on Paul’s steps, sheltering his aching head in his hands.

 

News of the stagecoach crash had spread like wildfire through Virginia City with everyone already seeming to know that one of the victims was Adam Cartwright. Those who saw Ben sitting there, looking as if his world had just collapsed, would soon be spreading the word that “Yep, it was Ben Cartwright’s boy alright.”

 

The door to Paul’s office opened quietly and Hoss exited and sat next to his father.

 

“So, you’re the one who drew the short straw and had to come out and tell me to be reasonable?” Ben asked his middle son without raising his head.

 

“Naw, Pa. It ain’t like that at all. I just don’t want you sitting out here alone. Pa…” Hoss faltered. “Pa, I can see as how this is hard to accept. I don’t want it to be Adam either! But so far, there’s more says it was him than that it weren’t.”

 

Ben raised his head, looking directly into his son’s eyes. “I don’t care how convincing the evidence is. Until I can make sure, I refuse to believe that that body in there is his!”

 

Hoss laid his arm across his father’s back. “Awright, Pa. If you need more proof, then we’ll find it. Maybe we need to ride with Roy to the crash site and see if there’s something that he and them fellers missed. Maybe we’ll all be able to rest easier then; one way or t’other.”

 

Getting Warm

 

Was he dreaming? He was warm and he heard the sound of a woman’s voice humming as she washed dishes. Something about the clink of plates and silverware brought comfort even as he lay there without the strength to open his eyes or speak. And the smell of food! At first the aroma made his mouth water, but without warning, he was seized by a stomach cramp so powerful it caused him to curl into a ball in an attempt to control the pain. He could hear the woman’s soothing voice saying to breathe deeply; the pain would pass. He felt hands rubbing his shoulders and then easing him onto his back again as the cramping dissipated. A cool cloth patted the sweat from his face and neck and was left on his forehead as he heard the voice telling him it would get better and for him to rest. He tried to lift his head, but it was like an anvil attached to his neck and the effort left him so exhausted that he relaxed in the warmth, and drifted toward the darkness again.

 

When The Heart Ain’t Bein’ Truthful

 

Ben leaned on his saddle horn while inspecting the side of the road where the stagecoach had plunged into the canyon. Turning his attention to his sons, he asked, “Little Joe, you and Hoss rode farther up the road; what do you think happened?”

 

“I’d say the coach was running without the driver.” Pointing down the road, he continued, “The tracks sway back and forth across the road for miles.” Drawing everyone’s attention to spot Ben had noted, he continued, “Then the wheels just catch the soft dirt at the side there. Once that happened it went over and there was no way the horses could pull it back up.” After allowing the others to picture what was happening moments before his brother died, Joe concluded sadly, “The weight of the coach just pulled everything over with it. I can’t see that happening if someone had control.”

 

Hoss removed his hat and scratched his head while adding, “I agree with Joe. There’s no signs showin’ damage to an axle and them tracks run true with no sign of a wheel bein’ damaged or missin’. That coach was weavin’ a tight pattern so I’d say it was travelin’ fast and there ain’t a sign that the wheel brake was ever applied to help slow the durned thing. Like Joe says, them horses and coach, well they was just all over the place until they left the road for good. It leaves me truly puzzled.”

 

Ben looked to Roy. “What do you make of it?”

 

“I came to the same conclusions as your boys, Ben. I wired the Wells Fargo office in San Francisco about the accident, and they confirmed that there was no gold or money being transported. We found the mail still inside the coach and even Adam’s wallet held a good amount of cash, so there’s no evidence that they were being run down by thieves. I had to get the bodies back to town yesterday, but intend on riding to Goat Springs to ask a few questions. Maybe Toby can shed some light on what might have gone wrong or know something that happened before they set out.”

 

“Do you think Wells Fargo will send investigators?” Ben asked with interest.

 

“No. We recovered what we could; the coach is a total loss and the horses’ carcasses were taken away already so there’s no reason to come out. I figure they’ll attribute it some act of God and just put a new stage on the route.”

 

“I suppose we should go down and take a closer look,” Ben sighed as he dismounted Buck, tied him to a bush and headed down the steep slope.

 

The others followed, each dreading what they might find, while simultaneously fearing they would learn nothing more than they already knew.

 

After touring the scene, Roy pointed out, “There’s no evidence that anyone else came or left here exceptin’ for us yesterday. There’s nothing to show anything but that the coach came over the side and rolled down here with the passengers and possessions ending up scattered nearby.”

 

Ben dropped to one knee at the spot Roy indicated Adam had been found. Reaching out, he put his hand to the ground in a reverent gesture. The boys noted that as Ben’s arm came up, it wiped across his eyes and it broke their hearts; their exchanged look indicating that neither knew what to say.

 

“So, Ben, are you able to accept that it was Adam now that you’ve come here?” asked Roy with real concern for his friend.

 

“You will think I’m crazy,” Ben responded as he looked up at the three of them, “But while I feel the misery of death here, I don’t feel my son’s death.”

 

Little Joe went to his father as he rose, imploring him, “Pa, there were three people on the stage. One of them was Adam. Three people have been found, one wearing Adam’s clothes and surrounded by Adam’s personal things. How much clearer can it be? I know this is hard, Pa, but it’s just going to be harder if you keep denying it.” Tears began to cascade from Joe’s eyes, prompting Ben to reach out for his grieving son.

 

“Joseph,” Ben soothed and looked at Hoss as well, “I know it’s hard for you to understand, but this family has been through so much together, that when I think of any of you, I can feel you in here.” Ben brought his hand to his chest as he continued, “It may sound foolish, but it’s real to me. I usually feel when you boys are in trouble well before I know it. All I know is that I’m standing here where Adam supposedly died, and the connection is still there. I accept that the evidence points to Adam being dead, but my heart tells me something else.”

 

Hoss was unable to meet Ben’s eyes, so he stared at the ground while bringing up the issue weighing most heavily in his mind. “I think we can understand your doubts, Pa, but we got some unfinished business. That body, whether it’s Adam or not, has got to be laid to rest, and it don’t seem right to put it off any longer.” After a pause, he raised his head, looking directly at his father as he added, “Pa, sometimes a heart can play miserable tricks on the mind. If we want somethin’ to be real or true, I reckon our minds can convince us it’s so because our heart ain’t bein’ truthful.”

 

Watching his friends struggle with this tragedy, Roy suggested, “Suppose we go back to town and make arrangements for the burials. We don’t have to put a name on the grave just yet and can move the remains to the Ponderosa should we get evidence that proves to Ben that it’s Adam. Then we’ll head out and ask some questions to help put this to rest.” Roy scuffed his boot in the dirt, creating a dust cloud around his feet. He thought this pretty descriptive of the cloud he felt in his mind, admitting to the others, “There’s a big part of me that wants to prove this wasn’t Adam, although my gut tells me otherwise. But we can take this a little further to be sure.”

 

The men made their way back up the hill and mounted up. Hoss and Little Joe hung back as they rode and began to talk in hushed voices.

 

Hoss was the first to say it. “Joe, do you think Pa is right? That it ain’t Adam, I mean?”

 

“I don’t know what to think right now Hoss, but I do know Pa, so anything is possible. Personally, even though it makes me sadder than I’ve ever been, I think our brother is dead.”

 

“Me too, Joe…me too.”

 

Small Victories

 

This time he willed his eyes to open even though his head remained nailed to the pillow. Except for the throbbing in his shoulder and the dull ache everywhere else, he felt pretty comfortable. You can do it, he urged himself. That’s right, one eye open. Yes! And now the other one. His eyes were shut more quickly than he’d gotten them open, as the dazzling sunshine blinded him. Damn, he thought to himself, let’s try that again a little more slowly. This time he opened them gradually, adjusting to the brightness, until at last he could see that he was off to the side of a large room.

 

There seemed to be no one there and for a moment he felt a cold panic slip under the warm covers with him. He calmed himself by remembering the voice he had heard the last time he awoke. And he knew he’d heard the same voice talking to him, encouraging him to wake up, to take sips of liquids and calling him, what was it? Oh yeah, “Sonny.” Turning his head he could see that he was in the main room of a house, modest in its furnishings, but comfortable looking. There was an overstuffed chair near the fireplace where the man of the house probably sat and a smaller straight back upholstered chair for the wife. The room was neat, cozy and smelled of lavender and fresh baked bread. A try at raising his head was rewarded with an inch or two of space forming between it and the pillow. “Ah,” he spoke softly. “Small victories.”

 

There was a rush of fresh air as the door opened and a tall, middle-aged woman shoved through carrying a basket of clean clothes. He noted her blond hair was pulled back and clipped away from her face, but flowed loose down her back, uncharacteristic of the buns and topknot styles that older women used. She was humming again. This time the tune was familiar. Amazing Grace? He thought. Yes, that’s it, Amazing Grace. I love that song; except for the time I sang it at a funeral for—someone. He tried to remember whose funeral it was: feeling it was someone he knew well. But the memory would not gel and he moved past it.

 

“You have a lovely voice,” he offered quietly.

 

Her progress toward the kitchen table was halted abruptly as she swung around to look at the open eyes of her patient. “Praise God! You’re alive!” she cried as she dropped the basket and rushed to grab a chair, pulling it to the side of his bed.

 

“You weren’t expecting me to be?” he asked in shock. “I mean…you were expecting me to die?”

 

“Oh, Sonny, I wasn’t expecting much from you when I found you. Fact is, I brought you home so as I could bury you rightly when you passed.”

 

The man looked at the warm, comforting eyes of the woman next to him. She was in a gingham dress that pulled in around a slim waist and nice shape for a woman her age. Her skin was colored with the glow of early spring and she smelled like fresh air and sunshine. Looking into her eyes he asked with some hope, “Ma’am, could you explain what you meant when you said you found me?”

 

“Oh, dear me.” The woman struggled to explain. “Maybe we need to start from the beginning. How’s that sound? But wait, lets get some broth into you while you’re awake. You need nourishment or you won’t stay alive long.” The woman walked quickly to the kitchen area, grabbed a cup and ladled in a rich brown broth. She laughed heartily as she resumed her thoughts. “Now wait, that didn’t come out right, did it?” She laughed again as she sat and supported the young man’s head a bit to sip the broth. “I don’t mean you’re gonna die now.” Her cheeks turned red as she continued to raise the cup to his lips until the broth was gone. “How was that?”

 

His stomach lurched at first, but settled again as the broth began to warm and fill his emptiness. “It’s very good. Thank you,” he breathed as he settled his head back down onto the pillow. “Could you tell me now how I came to be here?”

 

“Let’s see. I think we should stick with the short version of it all for now.” Rising, she took the cup to the kitchen area and returned to sit next to the anxious looking man in the bed. “I was on my way home from Virginia City three days ago—that would have been Thursday—when I decided to stop for water from the mountain stream that flows so sweet this time of year. I grabbed a bucket and headed over that way. You almost caused my heart to stop when I moved away some pine boughs at the edge of the water and found you layin’ there under them. You were a sight! Shoulder was dislocated and you looked like you’d been in a brawl; there was so many bruises. And worst of all was that you were just mightily sick. I truly thought you were dead since you were so pale white sickly lookin’ and cold to the touch. But then your eyes opened! I couldn’t leave you there. Figured there was a nice face under all them whiskers and bruises, so I brought you on along even though at the time I thought I’d be putting you in a grave instead of talking to you.”

 

“Who are you? I’d like to thank you by name.” he asked, embarrassed briefly as he remembered the internal agony he had been in and realized that he must have been an awful mess when she found him.

 

“Josie Sullivan’s the name. Been livin’ here about 10 years now and I ain’t never found anything like you before.”

 

Josie laughed in her natural, lively way again, leaving the young man feeling comfortable and somehow safe.

 

When her patient didn’t offer any further information, she asked, “And who might you be?”

 

“I’m…” The young man paused as his brow furrowed and his look went from anxious to confused. “Ma’am, truth is I can’t recall my name, and not much else other than being sick, freezing cold and in pain—and then waking up in this house.”

 

Josie laughed again as she patted the man’s arm. “I don’t mean to be makin’ light of your situation Sonny, but I’ve seen men with far fewer injuries than you got not able to remember much, so it doesn’t surprise me that with that knot on your head and all the other bodily grief you’ve been through, you’re having a problem rememberin’. Just relax. I’ve seen folks come out of it in hours while others never remember. But I’m sure you’ll be fine if you just let it come naturally without pokin’ at it. So how’s this sound for now. I’ve been calling you Sonny so’s I wouldn’t be sayin’ ‘hey you’ all the time and I’ll just keep doing that until you tell me otherwise. Deal?”

 

“Deal.” Sonny’s eyes changed from golden brown to a brooding almost black as he fought the fear that began to rise from his gut. “You’re sure I’ll remember?”

 

Cupping his face in her hands, she looked directly into his eyes. “Nothing is sure Sonny. But I’ve seen it happen. And for those who want to remember, it seems to come back in time. But there are those who have so much to forget that this is like being born again. We’ll have to wait and see what side of the line you stand on.” She stood looking down at him, and finished, “I’m right glad you’re alive and gettin’ better, Sonny. It’s been powerful lonely around here since Hiram passed.”

 

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

 

“How’s about you start calling me Josie? I ain’t used to being called ma’am and it makes me feel old; right older than I actually am.” Josie noted that he smiled at this and then decided to go ahead with the doctoring she had to do. “Well Sonny, this isn’t goin’ to feel too comfy, but we’ve got to get you off your back for a spell. I’ll roll you towards me onto your good shoulder and stick some pillows behind your back. It’ll hurt like h–” She caught herself and blushed, “Well it’ll hurt. Let’s leave it at that.”

 

“Damn it!” he growled as he felt Josie’s strength behind his back lifting him onto his side. “Sorry about that, Josie,” he offered his nurse in clipped breaths, “Just wasn’t expecting that much pain, I guess.”

 

“No worries, Sonny, I’ve heard all the cursin’ the world has to offer in my day.”

 

“Josie, is there anyone else here? You mentioned a Hiram passing, and I’m guessing he was your husband, but what I’m asking is how you got me here? Although after the way you just moved me, I think I already know the answer.”

 

“I’m as strong as a bull, and being built on tall side of feminine, I’ve always been able to do a man’s lifting.” She stood tall and her face took on a faraway look. “You might not know it to see me now, Sonny, but I can be quite a looker when I fix myself up some. Half the men on the Barbary Coast were in love with me when I worked there.” Josie shook her head to clear the memories and then continued, “That’s where Hiram found me; singin’ at a saloon in San Francisco,

 

Josie looked to see if Sonny’s face registered shock or disdain, but found only a smile. “Thank you for that Sonny. Life is a journey, and sometimes that journey drops us on the Barbary Coast with few choices for making a dime to eat on, and sometimes it drops us on the banks of a snowmelt creek. We just have to move forward from where we fall. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of what I had to do in the past, and Hiram accepted me for who he thought I was, not what I was doin’.” Sitting again, Josie continued as her eyes took on a shimmer, “Hiram married me and brought me here, Sonny. Taught me to hunt, fish and run a trap line. He made me drive the wagon, learn how to plow and plant the fields, and ride a horse on a man’s saddle instead of one of those ridiculous leg busting female types. And when Hiram died a couple years back, I just kept doing what he taught me. In that I have pride.”

 

Sonny had regained a state of near pain-free comfort in his new position and offered, “Josie, most people who suffer, do so in the shadow of their own despair. I don’t know all that you’ve gone through, but it sounds like you’ve made the best of your life.”

 

Josie’s face brightened as she rose. “Thank you young man. You certainly put the pink in my cheeks today.” While rearranging his blankets to make sure Sonny was tucked in, Josie recalled what she’d heard a few days earlier in town. “Say, Sonny, I just remembered something.”

 

“What’s…that?” Sonny was drifting away but fought to regain enough focus to hear what Josie had to say.

 

“Well, I found you on my way back from Virginia City. I go there each spring to sell my pelts and pick up supplies, and then pamper myself for a couple of nights in the hotel before headin’ home. While I was there, news was circulatin’ of a stage crash out this way with those aboard being killed. I was in Virginia City the day they brought those poor souls to town. The one death causing the most stir was an Adam Cartwright, the son of a leading citizen of the area. The word of it was spreading fast and the town was in a heavy sorrow over the news. It seems right coarse to say it, but the day I found you, I thought that you could be anyone, exceptin’ this Adam Cartwright.

 

“I guess that makes sense. If I’m still alive, and this Adam is dead, then I can’t be him.”

 

Quiet descended in the room as Josie walked back to retrieve her laundry basket.

 

Sonny’s eyes reopened as he posed a question. “Josie, did you say there was a stage wreck?”

 

“Saw the remains of it on the way home. Looked like it ran off the road and went down into a ravine. I actually pulled my wagon onto the siding so as not to disturb the tracks of the stage. Figured it would be helpful to be able to see the path it took.”

 

“And where did you find me?”

 

“Oh, about 8 or 10 miles further away from there. I have to admit, I wondered if you weren’t on that stage, but the wreck seemed too distant and you were in far too bad a condition to have wandered that far from it. The two tragedies must have been single in nature even though they seem to be a great coincidence. Figured you musta been sick and got throwed from your horse.” She paused and then asked, “You rememberin’ somethin’, Sonny?”

 

Sonny was drifting to sleep as he mumbled, “Seems to me I was on a stage, but don’t know…” His voice trailed off as his lids became too heavy to stay open.

 

Josie busied herself with folding the items she had taken off the line. Setting her heavy iron on the hot stove to heat, she laid out several layers of fabric on the table and prepared to press the fresh sheets and clothing in the basket. Grabbing a pair of black pants from the pile, she dipped her hand into a bowl of water and sprinkled the fabric to help release the wrinkles. With all at the ready she grabbed the hot iron and began pressing. With the pants finished, she turned to check that Sonny was sleeping, and withdrew a black shirt from the basket. She shook her head while examining the strange mark on the collar tag—the same mark that had been in the pants. “Looks like a scrawny pine tree,” she said quietly.

 

Ashes to Ashes, Dust- to- Dust

 

The morning after their ride to the crash site, Little Joe and Hoss were standing in the minister’s office at the church in Virginia City wishing they were anywhere but there.

 

“Let me see if I’ve got this right,” remarked Pastor Davis. “You want me to preside over the burial of three people today, one of the deceased ‘perhaps’ being Adam?”

 

Joe screwed up his face in a smiling grimace and attempted to explain. “You probably heard about the stage wreck earlier in the week. Well, there was a young lady named Nancy Portland on board. She worked at the Virginia City Saloon and was returning from visiting one of the girls who used to work here. From what we know of Nancy, she has no family or at least none nearby to claim her body or bury her. The stage driver was Hank Moss, who has no family that the stage line can find, and the third body may be Adam, but Pa isn’t ready to give up on our brother just yet.”

 

Hoss took over from there, “We know they all deserve a decent service, but right now we just need to lay them to rest and are hopin’ you’ll say a few words over them when we do that. Pa says we’ll have a real funeral for everyone in a few days after we finish investigatin’ what actually happened.” Hoss stood rotating his hat brim through his hands as he always did when nervous or upset; finally finishing his thought. “So, Pastor Davis, do you reckon you can help us out today?”

 

Watching as Joe shuffled from one foot to the other and Hoss worked his hat until Pastor Davis was afraid he’d wear a hole in the felt, the preacher understood what a tough time the brothers were having with this situation. He was aware that the town was in full agreement that the third body found was Adam’s, and no one could figure out why Ben Cartwright was being so hardheaded or hardhearted. “Boys, I respect your family and understand that these are trying times for all of you, so of course I’ll help you out. How soon do you think you can be ready?”

 

Little Joe spoke up again, “Paul released the bodies yesterday and they were taken to the undertaker. Pa took care of arrangements at the cemetery yesterday too and the graves are ready to go. I think we can be ready in about an hour.”

 

Joe and Hoss turned to leave, but Hoss grabbed his brother’s arm to hold him back as he turned again to the minister. With his eyes downcast, Hoss said, “Pastor, I know most people think that Adam is dead, and truly Joe and I lean in that direction ourselves. But dadburnit, Pa is so sure that it ain’t him that we just gotta give him the chance to come to grips with this. He’ll come around and admit his mistake if he’s wrong, but I tell you sure that if he don’t go about this in his own way, he will never rest easy and it would weigh on his mind forever.”

 

Pastor Davis walked forward, putting an arm over each boy’s shoulder. “I have known your father for years, and wouldn’t want him to compromise his nature now. I’ll meet you at the cemetery and will spend my hour praying that you and Ben will find your answers.” As the boys left, the pastor recalled the many times he had stood with this family in times of grief. The Cartwrights had been his earliest and finest supporters—even back when services had been held wherever they could gather chairs on a Sunday morning. His heart broke at the thought of Adam being gone and would always remember the young man’s composure when he sang Amazing Grace at Marie’s service so many years ago. “So great a loss,” he murmured as he walked toward the sanctuary to continue his prayers.

 

An hour later, Ben, Hoss and Joe, along with Roy, Paul and a contingent from the stage office and saloon, stood in the cool spring wind for the obsequies, watching as three pine boxes were lowered into the waiting graves. There was sniffling from the ladies, while the men remained stone cold silent as Reverend Davis sprinkled soil onto the coffins. “Ashes to ashes; dust to dust. I ask God’s blessings on these three souls who found themselves traveling together in life and now in death. Please greet their souls as they join the hosts in heaven. In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection and eternal life, I commit the bodies of Nancy Portland, Hank Moss and the young man to the earth and their souls to God. The Lord bless them and keep them, the Lord make his face to shine upon them and be gracious unto them. The Lord lift up his countenance upon them and give them peace.” Reverend Davis continued with reading the 23rd Psalm and read 1 Timothy 6:6-7 “But Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” The quick service ended and the group was sent on their way.

 

Motioning Ben away from the rest of the group as they dispersed, the pastor said, “Listen Ben, the boys told me that if I did this today, you would arrange for a proper service for these three souls regardless of what you find out. I’m holding you to it.”

 

“I understand, Pastor, and give you my word,” Ben replied sincerely. “Thank you for your help today.”

 

Touching Ben’s shoulder as he turned to leave, Reverend Davis cautioned, “Ben, grief over losing a child cannot be put off indefinitely, no matter how hard we try. I hope you aren’t chasing something that you know is not true just to postpone the pain.”

 

Ben squared himself with the Pastor and trained his steely glare on him. “Thank you for the advice, Pastor, but I know what I’m doing.”

 

“Then God go with you Ben. You know where I am when you need me.” He watched as Ben hurried down the street heading toward the jail where they were meeting up to head to Goat Springs. “Godspeed Ben,” he said quietly as he turned toward the church.

 

Might He Dress in Black, Ma’am?

 

The suction created when Ben entered the jail made the door to the cell area slam shut as everyone around Roy’s desk jumped and turn to see who had come in. Roy waved Ben over. “I’m glad you got here, Ben. There’s someone I think you’ll be interested in meeting.”

 

Hoss and Little Joe moved apart as a young woman turned from Roy’s desk and moved forward. “I’m Carole Ann Baker, Mr. Cartwright. My family owns a small place north of Virginia City and I’ve come here looking for my brother, Jacob.”

 

Ben shook Carole Ann’s hand and looked at her questioningly. “I’m sorry that your brother might be missing, but I don’t understand what this has to do with me.”

 

Little Joe spoke up. “Pa, she was expecting her brother to be on the same stage that Adam was on.”

 

Ben caught his breath as he looked into the hazel eyes of the young woman who might just hold a key to his mystery. Taking her small hands into his, he continued, “Miss Baker, this is interesting news, but there were just two passengers on the stage.”

 

Leaving her hands in Ben’s sturdy grasp, Carole Ann met his stare. “Yes that’s what I’ve heard too, but we both know you have questions Mr. Cartwright, and so do I.”

 

Ben hadn’t heard of any Bakers in the area, but there were plenty of small ranchers who didn’t belong to the Cattleman’s Association. Looking her over, Ben noted that Carole Anne had a pleasant face, was of average height and build, and he guessed that she was in her early twenties. Her hazel eyes and dark wavy hair made her seem familiar to him—almost as if he should know her. Guiding her to one of the chairs in Roy’s office, he indicated that the others should gather round. Still holding her hands, Ben prompted, “Carole Ann, is it? Suppose you tell us a little more about yourself and why you think your brother might have been on that stage.”

 

The young woman felt only sincerity and warmth flowing from the faces of the men who wanted to hear something to confirm their grief or release them from it. “First, I want to extend my condolences to your family. I’ve heard that Mr. Cartwright has doubts about the death and is looking for alternatives as to what might have occurred.” She stopped speaking and looked at Ben to see if he was registering any anger at her comment. When she saw only kindness, she began again. “I don’t think my brother died on that coach since his body wasn’t found, but I fear something else has happened to him—perhaps something connected to the accident.”

 

“Please go on,” Ben encouraged as he leaned forward in interest.

 

“Our place is about eight miles southeast of the Goat Springs station. It’s a small ranch, or maybe a better word is farm since we have a few cows and steers—just enough to keep us in milk and beef. Pa brought us out here from San Francisco about five years ago after my mother was killed in a robbery there and he felt he just couldn’t stay in that crazy city any longer. We’ve all worked hard, yet we’re lucky pa has some means or we would be in dire straits making it on what we raise.” Looking up again, she found the Cartwright family smiling and nodding.

 

“It’s not easy getting started,” explained Ben, “Sometimes it goes better or worse than expected, but always keeps you on your toes. So what brought you to town looking for your brother?”

 

“Jake, as we call him, works for the California Railroad cartel out of San Francisco. He spends months at a time surveying and mapping areas that the company intends to develop. He’s been working in the Truckee Meadows area for the past year and planned to come home to help us with spring planting as he usually does. We received a letter saying that he would make it home this week, probably taking the stage for a portion of his trip as he normally does. When he didn’t get home by Thursday we began to worry and decided to see if he came into Virginia City. I came to town with my brother Ed while my father and youngest brother stayed home. Of course once we got here we heard of the accident.”

 

Wearing a confused expression, Hoss asked, “Miss, I’m not followin’ your story all the way through. What makes you think he was on that stage? There was no one other than one man and Nancy on board, and there was no other luggage.

 

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, tuning pink. “Let me explain better. Working for the railroad, Jake has a pass with the stage lines so he can get around when there’s no train service. He can get on at any station and go as far as he needs to. Jake usually travels light when he comes for a visit—leaving his equipment and personal things at the stage stop where he gets on: retrieving them when he gets back. Usually his clothes are so worn out that he chucks them at the station, wears his best things home and picks up what he needs before heading back. The station keeps his pack mule and if he doesn’t have a long stage trip, he trails Possum behind the stage until he gets a few miles this side of Goat Springs. Then he rides home from there instead of going all the way to Virginia City.

 

“If he had a horse why did he take a stage?” queried Joe.

 

Carole Ann laughed as she explained. “Jake spends so much time alone, that he often rides the stage just to have some company. He normally leaves the stage at the road to our place, but if he’s enjoying himself or he needs to pick up things in town, he’ll ride all the way to Virginia City. We normally wouldn’t have come looking for him, but pa just had a bad feeling about it and wanted us to make sure he was all right.”

 

Ben knew the feeling well and said as much, after which he asked Carole Ann to tell them about her brother.

 

“Jake is a little over six feet tall, I guess, and slender. He has dark, wavy hair and hazel eyes like mine, and a wicked sense of humor. Oh, and he has the exasperating habit of thinking he’s right all the time.”

 

Little Joe laughed, “Sounds like our brother, ma’am. Sure your brother’s name is Jake?”

 

“I’ve heard so much about your brother since we got to town. People say he was intelligent, fearless and had incredible strength of character. I understand he sang beautifully although he didn’t sing often, except at church. You know,” she stopped as her voice caught in an attempt not to cry. After regaining her composure and holding even tighter to Ben’s hands, she continued, “I could say all the same things about Jake. He is intelligent, kind, fearless, and he sings too, although the last time I heard him was when he sang at our mother’s funeral. If he was riding the stage with your son, he would have had a wonderful time.”

 

Hoss looked thoughtful as he asked, “Your Jake didn’t perhaps wear all black clothing did he, miss?”

 

Carole Ann looked confused and then remembered what the townspeople had said about Adam wearing black. “No, he didn’t,” she answered. “Does that help or not?”

 

“Neither, really. I was mostly just curious.” Hoss cast a sidelong glance at his brother who replied without saying a word. The body in the stage was wearing Adam’s black clothing. There was no doubt of that.

 

Ben finally patted Carole’s hands as he released them and looked at Roy with a combination of sadness and impatience. “Miss, there’s no evidence that your brother was on the stage before it crashed, but we were just heading out to Goat Springs to see what was going on when it made its last stop. If you’d like, you and your brother can ride along. But we’re leaving shortly and can’t wait for you. Since you probably came in a wagon, I’d ask that you try to get saddle horses from the livery.”

 

Carole Anne seemed excited for the opportunity. “Ed is over at the mercantile placing an order for some things we need out at the farm. I’ll get him and meet you out front of the livery in less than 30 minutes. Is that good for you?”

 

“We’ll swing by, but if you’re not ready, we will go on without you. I’m not being harsh; we just need to be on our way.”

 

“Thank you Mr. Cartwright. This means a lot to us too. We’ll be ready.” Carole Ann rushed out of the Virginia City Jail, leaving a trail of unanswered questions in her wake.

 

Roy finally spoke up. “Do you think that this Jake may have been the one in the coach, Ben?”

 

“I don’t know what I believe Roy, but I know it’s not something I’d wish on any other family. Still, it does add to the mystery.” Ben looked at Hoss and Joe but couldn’t read what they were thinking. “I have to get to the bank and arrange for the payroll to be ready when Harley comes in for it. You boys take our horses to the livery and see if you can do anything to help the Bakers get set. Roy, we’ll meet you there in twenty minutes.”

 

Welcome Back Sonny

 

This time Josie was humming Sweet Betsy from Pike when Sonny pried his eyes open. He was on his back again and the pain in his shoulder and elsewhere seemed to be throbbing even more than before. Pushing the pain aside, he attempted to stretch but found that even basic lengthening of muscles in his back and legs brought severe pain and cramping. A soft groan escaped his lips bringing Josie to his side.

 

“Oh, Sonny,” she sighed. “Thank God you woke up again. I was startin’ to worry.”

 

“Worried? I’ve only been asleep a few minutes.”

 

Josie gave a low, familiar chuckle as she replied, “Sonny, you fell asleep two days back and I haven’t seen them lovely hazel eyes since. Are you in a lot of pain?”

 

“Stiff, cramping up,” Sonny managed to get out before another cramp took hold in his calf.

 

“I don’t doubt that child. You’ve only had a few spoonfuls of broth that I was able to get into you when your sleep was lighter, and even though I’ve been changing you from your back to side from time to time, it’s not like really moving.” Josie went to the stove to stoke it a bit and set a pot onto the burner. “Sonny, I’m goin’ outside for a minute or two to get something ready. Be back in a tick to get you some food, and then we’re on to bigger things.” Stopping at the door, she looked back and made eye contact: “Stay awake until I get back. We’ll get you to feeling better, but that means I’m gonna push you hard today. You might not like it, but…” Josie couldn’t yet voice the concern that was niggling at her mind concerning the condition of her patient. She just knew that she had to get him moving now, not later! “Please, just stay awake.”

 

Josie disappeared out the door, leaving Sonny to his thoughts. He had been dreaming just before he awoke and was on a stage with two other people. They had been having a good time, talking, laughing and even singing. But then it all went wrong. The coach was weaving on the road and he was flying through the air; landing hard and tumbling while the stage continued on. And then there was nothing until he woke up here. Had Josie said she found him by a creek? I need to fill in the gaps, he thought. His eyes began to get heavy just as Josie came back in the house shaking her finger at him.

 

“I said not to sleep,” she spoke in mock anger. “Now let’s get movin’ so’s you get to feelin’ better.” Moving determinedly, she pulled a chair from the table and flipped it over on the floor next to the bed. After gathering pillows within reach, she slipped her hand behind Sonny’s back and helped him to sit up. The effort brought tears to Sonny’s eyes but he said nothing as Josie reached down and grabbed the chair, placing it upside down into the empty space on the bed and wedged its legs through the slats of the brass headboard. Adding pillows behind him, she eased Sonny onto the angle of the chair’s back creating a comfortable support to let him eat more easily. “Now’s how that?” she asked as she went to get chicken and dumplings from the stove.

 

“Actually, this is very comfortable,” he complemented. “Where did you learn to do that?”

 

“I had to come up with all sorts of ideas to help me out when Hiram took sick. He was too weak to sit up and one day it just popped into my head that the angle of the chair when tipped over, would be a perfect back rest.”

 

“Well done, Josie! It would probably have taken a team of engineers years to come up with such a simple solution.”

 

Josie had disappeared from sight, but Sonny heard a spoon in a pot and she shortly returned with a steaming bowl of food.

 

He took one whiff and retched. “I…um, I’m sorry, Josie. I can’t eat this.”

 

“Just try, Sonny. Just one small bite at a time and you’ll be okay. It’s cooked soft so it’ll go down easy. You have to get some nourishment in you or those muscles will keep cramping.”

 

Sonny noted that the tone of Josie’s voice had taken on an edge–rising in pitch, as she chattered while fussing over him. He thought her actions seemed normal enough but at one point, when he had coughed, she stopped dead in her tracks—staring at him with eyes that went wide open and dark. She shook off whatever thought had crossed her mind, but he saw her shiver before she began moving again. He could only wonder at what caused it, but had no doubt it concerned him. “Are you all right, Josie?

 

“Sure Sonny.” Handing him the bowl of food, she added, “Or at least everything will be better once you get some of this into you.”

 

He retched again at the first bite and would have discontinued his efforts except that the hopeful look frozen on Josie’s face made him resolve to forge on. As his stomach settled, he continued spooning small bites into his mouth and smiled as he realized that each time he swallowed, Josie’s tense posture eased a little more, until she finally relaxed, sat back and exhaled. He figured she didn’t even realize she was holding her breath. “This is good, Josie. I remember this was one of my brother’s favorite meals.”

Josie heard what Sonny said about her cooking, but was more interested in his comment that followed. After bringing a mug of tea to the bed for each of them, she calmly mentioned, “You said your brother enjoyed chicken and dumplings. Are you remembering more now?”

 

“I said that?” he asked incredulously. “I said my brother likes this?

 

“Yes you did. Can you remember your brother?”

 

Taking a sip of the tea, Sonny considered for a moment. “I can’t remember. That thought just passed through my mind like a shadow. It’s there, but I can’t touch it. I can hear him call me ‘older brother’ though. But that’s it.”

 

“It’s enough for now.” Patting his hand, Josie rose and took the bowl to the kitchen. Then with a twinkle in her eye, she turned back and announced, “And now, young man, we’re going for a little trip outside.”

 

An eyebrow rose. “We are?”

 

“Yep. And when you’re out there, you’re going to have a bath.”

 

“I am?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“A bath?”

 

“Mmhmm.”

 

“Outside?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“Now?”

 

“Oh, for cryin’ out loud, Sonny. Yes, now. I’m goin’ out to fill the tub, so finish your tea and get your head ready. I know you’re not in the mood for doin’ this, but I promise you’ll appreciate it when we’re done.”

 

Righteous Indignation

 

It seemed like Josie was gone a long while, but by Sonny’s estimation it wasn’t nearly long enough, since he was dreading the pain he knew was about to rear its ugly head. As she neared the bed he noted that her usually long hair had been pulled up and clipped. Her sleeves were rolled up and a she was wearing a light covering of perspiration that gleamed like frost in early morning sunlight. “Are you sure we should do this today?” he asked once more, hoping to put off the inevitable.

 

Josie made no response except to assume a sly grin and set her frame for action. “We’ve got to get that binding off your arm before we go outside. Hiram used to pull his shoulder out of place at least once a year. Luckily I learned how to pop it back in or you’d have been in sorry shape and a lot more pain. With it settin’ here for the last few days, it should be comin’ along right well.”

 

Sonny was clenching his teeth in dread and as Josie spoke, he began to take stock of himself. His right arm was in a sleeve of the nightshirt he was wearing, but his left arm was bound closely to his chest under the garment. The dislocation explained the throbbing in his shoulder and he wondered at this woman who knew so much about so many things. Stalling, he asked, “Josie, why is it you know so much about healing? You set my shoulder and knew how to bind it and seem to know a lot about what to do for my injuries. Have you had medical training?”

 

“Ha,” she laughed heartily. “I’ve had training all right! The kind you get by having to do and figure things out.” Her eyes took on a sad glow as she spoke. “Hiram always said I was a ‘watcher.’ He said I watched and learned faster than anyone he’d ever known and I reckon that’s exactly what I do. Some of what I know I learned by watchin’ other folks do, some I’ve figured out on my own. You get lots of time out here to ponder. I don’t know if there’s scientific-like proof of what I know, but I know things.”

 

“Like what?” he continued to stall, but she either didn’t notice or did but was willing to talk first.

 

Sitting on the edge of the bed Josie began to share. “A lot I just learned by watching nature—the changes that happen before and during the seasons, what things animals do at what times, how to watch the moon and stars to know the month’s passing. But some of it’s harder—like figurin’ out when people need help and what to do about it when they do. It’s just feeling your way through and learning to read the signs surely as you’d read a book. Some human things I learned by dealing with people, both good and bad—seein’ what drives them—or makes them strike out in anger or fear. And when Hiram took ill, I learned more about the human body than I ever figured to know.”

 

“If it’s not too private, may I ask what happened with Hiram?”

 

“Sonny, it ain’t private at all. Some ways, it was the finest time of my life because I learned to take care of so much and figured God was getting’ me ready for what was to come.” Josie took a breath and remembered. “Hiram came in from the field one day, just all worn out. He looked peaked and weary, and slept in the middle of the day: which he never did. The sickness took his strength in months and before long couldn’t do much for himself. I learned fast that he couldn’t stay in one spot too long or he’d get into big trouble. When he moved around some, he felt better and was more alert too. But he soon turned yellow like goldenrod and there was nothing to do but watch him go.”

 

She met Sonny’s eyes with hers and while they were laden with sadness, there were no tears.

 

“I’m sorry,” he spoke sincerely.

 

“No need to be sorry, Sonny. That was a hard time, but Hiram and me, we talked it out when he knew he wasn’t getting better. In the time he had, he made sure I was ready to go it alone or be prepared to leave. I chose to go it alone; at least for a time. I ain’t one to look back and will always love Hiram for all he done for me. But he’s gone now and I can’t stay mired in grief.”

 

While Sonny was still smiling as he considered his nurse-philosopher, Josie stood, laid the covers back to his waist and began to pull the nightshirt from her patient. Along with the other things Sonny was just becoming aware of, he now realized that the shirt was the only clothing he had on and a crimson stain began to crawl from his neck to his ears. “Josie!” he cried out. “Wait…wait a minute!”

 

“What, are you in pain?”

 

“No. Yes, but wait, I’ve got nothing on under this!”

 

“That’s true,” she chuckled. “Now come on, raise your arm so’s I can get you freed up and out there before the bath water gets cold!”

 

The blush deepened from crimson to purple as he complied, leaning forward so Josie could unwind the bandages releasing his arm from his chest. Even as he dreaded what would come next, he had to admit it felt good to have his arm free.

 

“I don’t want you movin’ that arm of yours too much while we’re jostling around or you’ll undo the good’s been done. Now swing them legs out from under the covers and over the side here and we’ll get you standin’.”

 

“But Josie,” he hedged, “I’ve got nothing on. Could we at least get a pair of pants on or something?” There was that laugh again. She wasn’t going to make this easy for him and he knew it.

 

“Pants! We’d just have to shed them after a few steps. But here, this will make you feel more comfortable.” Josie loosened the blanket from the bed and wrapped it around his waist, holding it together at his side. “We’ll wrap it around better once you stand. Now get movin’.”

 

Sonny swung his legs our from under the sheet as directed and noticed the large areas of yellowing bruises that seemed to start at his feet and move upward, pretty much covering his body. He used his good arm to push up as Josie kept him covered as best she could. “Aha!” he proclaimed as he stood to his full six feet and then grabbed onto Josie as his world began to spin.

 

“Hold on son, it’ll pass. Just be still.”

 

He grabbed onto the blanket’s edge with the hand from his bad arm, as he pleaded, “Josie, please get this around me better.”

 

“Don’t go shyin’ on me now Sonny. You’ve trusted me so far. I only got two hands here and they’re both holdin’ you up at the moment,” Then added with a mischievous tone, “I promise I won’t peek – although I’ve been tendin’ to ya while you been here, so it ain’t like I don’t know what’s there. Now take a step. That’s right, now another..”

 

He was walking…while at the same time holding on for dear life to the blanket.

 

She watched him in amusement as he kept a death grip on the edges of his covering. “It ain’t like I’m not acquainted with what’s under that blanket, Sonny. You got the same parts as every other man, except I think Hiram would have given his eye teeth to have the ‘equipment’ God bestowed on you.”

 

“Josie!” he hissed.

 

“Come to think of it, there probably ain’t a man alive who wouldn’t trade for what you’ve got.”

 

“Josie, stop it,” he spat. “That’s enough.”

 

By this time they had inched across the house, while fortunately not tripping on the blanket, and were on the porch where the bathtub stood ready. Josie said triumphantly, “Now, see where all that righteous indignation got you Sonny? I doubt you even remembered how bad you was hurtin’ while you was so busy defendin’ your honor.”

 

She was right. He had been so upset by her comments that he forgot how much it hurt to move. Gritting his teeth with the newly remembered pain, he said, “Josie, you are a dangerous woman…but I think I like dangerous women.” He added with a smirk, “Now please help me into the tub or I’m going back to bed—with or without this blanket.”

 

Even though she had been full of vinegar while walking him to the tub, she was now very discreet in assisting him into it in such a way that he remained covered enough to preserve his modesty. However, he should have known better than to think she’d let him have the last word. After settling him into the deep water, she told him to holler if he needed anything and then grabbed a pitcher of cooler water, dumped it in on his head and said, “That’ll teach you to get smart with your elders.”

 

He sighed with pleasure as he sank ­­­­­down into the steaming hot water. Josie had added soap chips that made the water silky and opaque, scenting it with chamomile, and creating a soothing luxury he hadn’t expected. He moved his sore shoulder, only to be reminded again of why he wasn’t supposed to do that. But in doing so he was able to assess that it worked and for that he was grateful. He voiced a silent prayer of thanks for being taken in by Josie Sullivan instead of lying dead at the side of a creek. He might not remember a lot, but he had hope that his life would return to what it had been, and that he’d lived a life worth returning to.

 

Looking around, he noted the outside of the house—a sturdy board and mortar construction with a large front porch shielded by the overhang of the roof. There was a small barn facing the house with a side addition he figured to house chickens. He heard, but couldn’t see a cow. “Moo,” he said aloud, and laughed. Now why did he find that funny? The look of the house, or at least the way the yard was set up along with the sound of livestock made him feel at home and he wondered at that. It was a nice sturdy little spread and he had no doubt it was built with the sweat of Josie and Hiram Sullivan.

 

Turning again to the house, he noted his face reflecting in the window glass. “Hello Stranger,” he said quietly, while thinking, how odd to see the visage of one’s own face and not know who you are. He stared intently at the features but still could find nothing familiar. He had dark wavy hair that almost looked curly with the steam of the bath water, and dark eyes. “Hey, Josie,” he hollered. “Might you still have Hiram’s razor, and scissors? Maybe I’d recognize myself without this beard.”

 

Josie appeared at the door. “I do have a razor, but you’ll not be touching your skin with it. Along with all your other injuries, it looked like you plowed a furrow with that face of yours. You would regret mightily tearing into that shock of whisker growth with a blade of any kind at this time. Just use that cloth to soak your face and you’ll feel much better. Besides, you look good with a beard.” She turned to leave but looked over her shoulder to add a thought. “You got some silver streaks growin’ in that beard Sonny. I don’t wonder if your pa might have white hair.”

 

Sonny was so relaxed at this point that he offhandedly threw out a, ”Yes he does. Very silver, in fact.”

 

“Sonny?”

 

His eyes sprang open for a moment as he sat up and concentrated but then settled back into the tub again. “Sorry, Josie. Just another of those shadow images that crosses my mind. Nothing real or permanent yet.”

 

“Don’t worry. It will come in its time.” Josie went back inside, and as she continued sweeping and changing bed linens, she sang, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…”

 

The man in her tub began to sing along this time, the words coming to his memory from someplace deep and unknown. “…That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.” It came to mind that those words were very accurate in his case.

 

The singing in the house came nearer as Josie stuck her head out the door again. “Hey Sonny! You been holding out on me. You sing like an angel. Let’s do the second verse together.”

 

A Visit to Goat Springs

 

Ben finished at the bank, then met his boys, the Bakers, and Roy at the livery and headed out on the 25-mile trip to Goat Springs. While still moving slowly through town, Hoss and Little Joe were able to find out from Edward that Jake was the oldest of the Baker children. Ed came next, then Carole Ann and there was a younger brother at home named Silas.

 

Edward told them, “My brother studied engineering in school for a short time but finally just learned surveying by apprenticing with pa. When we moved out here, Jake took over pa’s job with the railroads. He comes home now and again, but thinks he’s the king of the mountain when he does.” The Cartwrights could tell this last thought was said in humor, not resentment. “Older brother knows a lot about everything and isn’t afraid to tell you about it either.”

 

“Older brothers ain’t easy, that’s for sure,” Hoss offered with a sad smile of remembrance. “But what makes it even worse is that Little Joe and me hardly ever get the better of Adam. Once in a while we’ll get lucky and best him, but it don’t happen near often enough.”

 

“You must be sick with grief,” offered Ed. “I know it’s felt like I have a 10 pound rock in my stomach ever since we got to the city and heard about the accident. We were sure glad to hear it wasn’t Jake that died.” He flushed as he finished the sentence realizing the gaff he’d made. “I’m so sorry. I don’t mean we were glad that it was your brother, just that it wasn’t ours.”

 

Hoss and Joe exchanged a look of understanding, with Joe finally speaking. “No need to explain, Ed. We’d be thinking the same thing if it was the other way around.”

 

“I have a question if I could ask?”

 

“Ask away,” responded Hoss.

 

“Why is your pa so certain that it wasn’t your brother on the stage? I mean, the whole town is talking about it and they think he’s losing his mind or something. I guess I just wonder who he thinks it was?”

 

Again the Cartwright brothers exchanged a glance, knowing what they wouldn’t say out loud: that it was likely Pa was thinking the body on the stage could have been Jake’s. But Hoss said instead, “You’d have to know our pa like we do, Ed. The man has a sense about this and we’ll have to let him solve it in his own way. We don’t care what the town thinks.”

 

The pace of the group sped to a gallop at the edge of town, effectively ending all conversation.

 

***

 

Toby’s chair was propped back on two legs, leaning against the station porch when the six riders pulled to a stop. He had to squint with great concentration as he identified most of the group coming up his steps. “Sheriff Coffee, Ben, boys,” he said as he tipped his hat in greeting. “’Spected you’d be out this way ‘ventually. Come on in out of the sun and we’ll talk a bit.”

 

Once inside, Toby was introduced to the Bakers, and Roy began questioning him while Ben stood by looking impatient.

 

“You know about the crash, right, Toby?”

 

“Well a course I do, Sheriff,” he answered indignantly. “Said I was ‘specting you, didn’t I? Rode out there a couple days back to see fer myself after hearing about it from some passing travelers. So sad.” Then, as if realizing who was there, he turned solemnly toward Ben to say, “I am rightly sorry for yer family, Mr. Cartwright. Yer boy Adam was one of the best—kind, helpful, always lent a hand when he came through. Reckon I’ll miss him somethin’ awful. And to have this happen when he was so close to home. It’s a down right shame.” Toby extracted a well-used handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his eyes; finally blowing his nose.

 

Ben offered, “Thank you Toby, but tell us what you remember at the time the stage passed through here. That will be most helpful.”

 

“Truthfully, there ain’t a whole lot to tell. The stage got in early in the morning just past dawn—pretty much on time for once, considering the time of year and all.”

 

“Toby, please, just the facts,” prodded Ben.

 

“Yeah, right. Well, we went about changing out the team for the stretch into Virginia City but I noticed none of them was looking right—kind of greenish around the eyes and sick like. Adam said they stopped at Roseville last night for supper and a short rest for the driver, and then at Reno the girl startin’ to feeling poorly. By the time they was an hour or so out from here, they all began to feel on the queasy side. That poor child Nancy, from the saloon in Virginia City, was sick somethin’ awful. She was tossin’ her stomach and cramping fierce while they was here and I suggested that they stay on to care for her. But they wanted to sprint for the city so’s they could get to a doctor. Adam said he ‘spected that they would all be goin’ through what Nancy was and they was gonna need help. In some respects, I wasn’t surprised that there was an accident.” Toby got teary eyed again as he finished. “Hank Moss was as good a Jehu as they come, but iffen he got as sick as that poor girl did, there ain’t no way he coulda controlled that team.”

 

Hoss questioned, “Did they have any idea what was causin’ this sickness? It just seems odd that they all had it at the same time.”

 

Toby took on a knowing look as he explained. “I been sending along messages with the drivers as they pass by telling them to contact the stage folks about the station at Roseville. I seen others coming through sick lately—never as bad as this group—but feelin’ poorly. I don’t serve much food here, but what I do I keep simple so’s it stays good. But I think the feller that took over at Roseville a month or so back, well, I think he’s serving them spoilt food from time to time. That’s jest my opinion, though, and the line ain’t done nothin’ about it yet.”

 

Roy clarified, “So, Toby, you think these folks had food poisoning and that might have contributed to the accident?”

 

“If that means bad food made them sicker ‘n a dog, and they couldn’t handle the coach fer it, then yep, that’s what I’m sayin.”

 

Carole Ann had been listening intently until this point but now interjected her questions. “Toby, do you know my brother Jacob—Jake—Baker? He rides the stage often. I’m wondering if he was on that stage as well?”

 

“Well, a course he was,” Toby responded as though everyone should have known that. “He was on it when it left, but I figured he would take off a little on down the line like he usually does, ma’am. And since I only heared of Adam being found dead, figured he must have done that, even though he had mentioned staying on the stage to see the doc too. Figered he started to feel better and went his own way.”

 

The ticking of the mantel clock made the only sound until Toby broke the silence by asking, “Why you asking about Jake, miss? Don’t tell me he didn’t make it home either.”

 

“No…no he didn’t.” Carole’s voice shattered with fear as she turned to bury her face in her brother’s shoulder.

 

Edward walked her over to a bed and sat down while Ben continued to ask questions. “Toby is there anything else that happened while they were still here? Anything at all that was different or sticks in your mind?”

 

Toby scratched at his beard as he was prone to do when pondering a question. “Well there was one kinda funny thing as I think on it. As I say, Miss Nancy was the sickest of the bunch and had throwed up in the coach, pretty much soaking Mr. Jake as he tried to help her. So his clothes was perty darn ripe smellin’, if you know what I mean. Adam and Jake were getting’ on perty good—seemed like a buddin’ friendship—but then why not, them being so much alike and all. They was like two peas in a pod, working to get things organized to head out: neither of them feeling right, but pushin’ on just the same.”

 

“Toby, the clothes. What about the clothes?” prodded Ben again, trying to keep the old-timer on track.

 

“Oh yeah, that. Well, Jake travels light and didn’t have a change of clothes along, so Adam crawls uptop the stage, and grabs a set of his own for Jake to wear. Said it was—how’d he put it—an investment in a more pleasant ride. Funny thing was, once Jake had on Adam’s clothes, them two coulda been twins—well maybe not twins ‘cuz Jake’s a little thinner and has a beard and all, but related anyway.” Toby began to laugh a wheezy sort of sound and then caught himself and apologized. “I don’t suppose you’re findin’ this all that funny, Mr. Cartwright. I’m sorry iffen I offended ya.”

 

“No offense taken, Toby. You’ve answered one question, but given us several more.”

 

The Cartwrights and Sheriff Coffee stepped onto the porch of Toby’s station. Roy was the first to speak in hushed tones so the Bakers wouldn’t overhear. “So Ben, I don’t suppose you’re any more likely now to say that Adam was the one on that stage, are you?”

 

“You heard what Toby said, Roy. The two men look alike, and Jake was wearing Adam’s things. Why couldn’t it just have easily been Jake in the crash as Adam?’

 

“Following your logic, I have no reason to say it wasn’t Jake, but I have one very big question.”

 

“Well?”

 

“If it was Jake on the stage, then where’s Adam? It’s more likely that Jake took off for home and something happened to him on the way. In fact, although I hate to say it, it’s more likely that both men have perished rather than one or the other.

 

The Cartwright boys just nodded their heads and looked at their father who was pale and shaken. Ben finally spoke. “Let’s get the Bakers and go with them to their homestead and see if Jake ever made it home. Maybe that will settle it once and for all.”

 

Roy shook his head with sadness. “I hope you all find what it is you’re lookin’ for but I have a town to run and I best be getting back. You can let me know what you find out. We’ll ride together until you turn off for the Bakers.”

 

Carole Anne and Ed readily agreed to the plan and the group headed out again, turning back to holler their thanks to Toby. At the cutoff for the Bakers, Roy bid them farewell and said he’d see them in town when they got there.

 

Little Joe was the first to notice the single set of horse tracks along the road leading to the Baker homestead. “There,” he pointed. “Looks like Toby may have been right. Maybe Jake did leave for home here.”

 

The next hours to the house brought hope to the Bakers, even though the tracks were lost in an outcropping a few miles from where they started. Carole Ann attributed it to her brother’s nature to always look for the uncharted way to get anywhere. Those same hours brought a growing dread in the other members of the party.

 

Giving Back

 

When Josie came back to check on her charge, Sonny had his head back, catching the rays of the sun making their way onto the porch. “Comfortable?” she asked.

 

“Mmm, yes.” Opening his eyes he smiled at the woman who had straddled a short backed stool near the tub. “Josie, why are you doing this for me?”

 

“What? You mean getting you in this tub? Figured you needed somethin’ to help ease the stiffness and cramping.” Then, with a wicked smile, followed by her low, knowing chuckle, she added, “Or maybe I just wondered how much indignation you could handle before you forgot I was a woman and popped me in the jaw.”

 

Sonny’s smile turned to a one sided grin as he pressed, “You are a wicked woman, Josie…but seriously, you live alone and didn’t know who I was or what was wrong with me. You thought I was about to die so it would have been a whole lot safer to leave me where you found me rather than to bring me here.” He paused, turning his earlier shade of crimson as he continued, “Josie, I can’t imagine what condition I was in, but it had to have been bad. I know how sick I was.” Another pause. “I just can’t imagine anyone doing what you must have done for me. It leaves me wondering why.”

 

In response, Josie grabbed a jar and a bucket of clean hot water she’d brought out, telling him to sit forward. “Let me give you a hand washing your hair. It’s got to be hard with one only good arm.”

 

“Josie, please. I need to know.”

 

Pouring water over Sonny’s head she began to talk. “I guess you need the longer version of my life to understand why I did it.” Lathering up her hands she began scrubbing Sonny’s hair. “I grew up on the east coast of this country.” A knowing laugh escaped. “Ma said we were descended from those pilgrims that first landed, but I always said that if we were, then we were the ones who took a left turn off the boat while everyone else took a right.” Her tone turned serious again. “We lived in Boston, in a poorer part of town. But we had a decent life ‘cause Ma did cleanin’ for the rich folks and pa worked when he could find it. I got some schoolin’ and ma made sure I could read, write and do figures well enough to earn a livin’ if I had to.”

 

Grabbing the jar again Josie poured clean water over Sonny’s head. “I never married ‘cause my folks took sick just as I got to be a woman. I was their only child, so I took care of them and did some clerking to make ends meet. Pa died first and ma after a while longer, which left me wonderin’ what to do with my life.”

 

Josie’s eyes darkened as she dried his hair with a towel. “One day a friend showed me a paper telling of ‘opportunities in the West.’ I was in my thirties already and considered an old maid where I lived, so I was interested in what it had to say about them lookin’ for women to come to San Francisco to work in the ‘shops’ and be wives for all the men folk coming in from the ships and gold mines. Seemed there were lots of men there but not so many women. I looked good for my age and figured a man in need of a wife where there weren’t many to choose from, would be glad to have me no matter how long I’d been around.”

 

Finished with Sonny’s hair, Josie rested her arms on the back of the stool and continued, her voice reflecting a sadness that tore at Sonny’s heart. “I decided to go… and we was on that ship forever, but finally made it to California. Then we found out what we was really there for. They didn’t want wives or shopkeepers—they wanted saloon girls: Girls to sell whiskey and girls to pleasure the men. We tried to leave but were told we ‘owed’ them for our passage and had to work it off or they’d put us in prison for our debts. They said that if we thought the saloon was bad, we should get a gander at the prisons.”

 

Sonny remained quiet, letting the story unfold.

 

“I was as miserable as all the rest of them girls, but had always been known for my happy heart, as some called it, and decided I wasn’t goin’ to let these people take that from me. I’m not saying it wasn’t horrible! I’d never been with a man and that was no way to be introduced to one, let me tell you. But I prayed, and worked the saloon the best I could and wouldn’t you know it, my boss heard me singin’ one day and decided I could sing in the bar instead of hustlin’ drinks all the time. He found out I could read and do numbers too and let me help with his bookkeeping and such.”

 

Sitting up straighter, Josie added, “Oh, Sonny, I’m not implying that my life was rosy after that ‘cause they would have sucked the soul right outta me if they coulda. They did with most of the girls and I watched as the light went out of their eyes and they walked through life like livin’ dead. But I made up my mind to keep the sun shinin’ in my life. It was somethin’ an old sea captain said to me before I left Boston made me think that way.” Josie looked as if she was remembering a sacred time and just sat for a moment.

 

“Anyway, I saw what killed the other girls faster than anything was the drinkin’, so I avoided that like the plague. Had a deal with the bartender: he charged the men for whiskey, but gave me tea in my shot glass. The owners didn’t mind as long as I stayed ‘friendly’ with the customers and kept the money comin’ in. I got up in the mornin’ and walked to mass at a church not too far from the harbor: Course I didn’t take Communion ‘cause I didn’t think I was worthy of that with what I was doin’.  But people said I always had the glow of the sun in my cheeks and I did ‘cause I got outside every chance I could. Sonny, I tried to get others to come with me, but they believed that they deserved their life and couldn’t have it any better. It was like you said earlier; they lived in shadows of despair. Things meant to live in the sun and air die fast when kept in the dark, and because of it, death was a frequent caller. It broke my heart to see it happen but all I could do was keep paddling to stay afloat.” Josie leaned sideways so she could read Sonny’s face hoping to see his reaction as she asked. “So what do you think of me now?”

 

“You don’t sound like you came from Boston,” was all he said. He turned toward her and smiled.

 

“That’s it!?” she laughed. “I tell you that I was a member of the oldest profession on earth and you’re a worryin’ about my accent? Did you hear anything I said?”

 

Reaching up with his good arm, he took her hand. “Josie, I’ve heard everything you’ve said and my opinion of you is still the same. You took what life gave you and made it the best you could. You are the bravest and kindest woman I have ever known.”

 

Josie guided his hand back into the water and gave him a playful slap on the head. “That’s because I’m the only woman you can remember knowin’ so that ain’t saying much. And as far as what I sound like, living in the west I just kind of took on the speaking patterns of everyone who came through the bars, and then living with Hiram, I took on his way of talkin’ too. He was from the south and drawled so easy that I just did the same, I guess. Sometimes I’m ashamed at how casual my speakin’ has become. I knew better once.”

 

“Well? What’s keeping you from changing? Hiram’s gone now. You can speak however you want to. And while this is all interesting, you still haven’t told me why you helped me.”

 

The Echo of Anxiety

 

“Are you getting chilly?” Josie asked as she stood. “That water must be getting cool by now.”

 

“Not really, Josie. I’m actually very warm.”

 

Josie’s head snapped to attention at Sonny’s words. She dipped her hand into the bath and shivered at how cool it had become: Yet he was comfortable. Brushing Sonny’s forehead brought her heart to a standstill. It was hot: very hot.

 

Grabbing towels and a sheet, Josie set to getting Sonny moving. “Come on you lazy dog. Time to go back inside.” She made sure he was wrapped warmly and modestly before starting the trip inside. His movements were more fluid for the soak in the tub and he seemed in good spirits except that Josie could feel the heat from his skin radiating through the layers of fabric covering him. In addition, the cough that had been a simple hacking during the night now started to sound like the echo of a hound’s bark and was coming more frequently. Josie quickly bound up his arm again and slipped a fresh nightshirt over his head.

 

“We need to have you eat something quick and then get you back to bed.”

 

“I’m really not hungry, Josie; just tired. Maybe after I sleep I can eat more?”

 

Josie thought about it for a moment and had an idea. “While you eat, I’ll tell you why I brought you home. Alright?”

 

“You drive a hard bargain, Josie Sullivan. But maybe just some of your broth with the story? I don’t think I could handle anything else.”

 

After making sure that Sonny was actually sipping the broth, she began where she left off. “As I was saying, my life got better, but you understand it wasn’t great by any means. Even with singing and doing other work, it was still a saloon and I was still someone’s property. Then one night, Hiram came in. We talked a little that night and he kept comin’ in after that. Finally, the management told him he couldn’t talk to me because I wasn’t creatin’ enough income with him taking all my time. So one night he brokered for me—paid them $100, and while we was there in that back room reserved for ‘pleasurin’ he got down on his knee and proposed. We snuck away that night and he brought me here. Said he knew what they was doin’ at those places and it wasn’t right to keep a girl like me as much as a prisoner. Sonny, Hiram didn’t know nothin’ about me, but he took a chance and saved me.”

 

“And so you saved me? Is that is? A repayment for a kindness shown to you?”

 

“Maybe. Keep sippin’, young man’,” she interjected. “But it was more than that. I do feel that Hiram saved me, but I’ve been feeling lately he saved me for a purpose: Like I was gonna be asked to do something in return…” A pause hung in the air until Josie said, “If I tell you more, you’re goin’ to think I’m crazy Sonny, so we’ll leave it at my doing somethin’ nice for another human bein’ because someone did nice for me.”

 

After a coughing fit, Sonny looked at Josie over the rim of her blue stoneware cup, raised his eyebrow and said with a smirk, “You stop talking, I stop drinking.”

 

“Okay, okay. Anything to get food into you!” A deep breath brought resolve as Josie said what she feared to say aloud. “I didn’t just find you. I was told to find you. I was driving along and those danged horses just stopped. So I’m sitting there trying to get those fool animals to move when I hear this voice in my head saying. ‘Help him.’ Now I’ve been talking to God for years, but never expected he’d talk back. So I say, ‘Help who?” Josie gave a mighty laugh at the memory but quickly returned to seriousness. “But no one answered so I got down from the wagon and started walking toward the creek, and I still couldn’t see anything. So I say again, ‘Who am I looking for Lord?’ and I kid you not, I heard you by my feet. I was standing beside you and didn’t even know it. So you see Sonny, I didn’t so much find you as was led to you.”

 

After letting that sink in for a moment, Josie continued, “I had a few questions for the Almighty about then, asking him why I was supposed to help you just to watch you die; sayin’ that I never had such good luck with trustin’ what I didn’t know, and that I wouldn’t know what to say to you if you did wake up. But suddenly everything fell into place in my mind and I just did what my heart told me to. I argued a long time with God but he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

 

“In other words, you found me under a burning bush?”

 

Josie slapped her knee, “Now, how is it you know the story of Exodus, but not your own name. I did think that same exact thing Sonny, but it makes me feel right better to have you say the same.”

 

“Maybe you’re just being trained to listen, Josie. There may still be some Israelites you’ll have to rescue from the Egyptians.”

 

“Maybe so, Sonny, maybe so.” What she didn’t say was that if her next mission turned out as pleasant as this one was going so far, she would be happy. Josie Sullivan was in love with the stranger she’d named Sonny. It wasn’t a romantic love, but she loved him as a mother would a son, or with a love that two close friends would share. However, she also knew that this very special person was undoubtedly missed something awful by someone, somewhere. What she couldn’t figure out was why he couldn’t remember more. She hoped he would start recalling soon so she could get him back to where he had come from, because as things stood, she wasn’t sure which direction she should head even if he was well enough to travel. Rising abruptly, she declared, “It’s time for you to get to bed and see if you don’t remember more with some sleep.”

 

Sonny rose from the table with Josie’s help and walked with her to the bed. He was now far stiffer than he was some minutes earlier and the trip included two stops for coughing that wracked his body. As she helped him get comfortable she noted again how hot he was becoming. “You doin’ okay Sonny?”

 

He looked at her with eyes reflecting a glassy shine. “Sure, fine. I’ve been getting a miserable headache, but otherwise I’m okay.” Pausing while he nestled more comfortably into the clean sheets he continued, “I’m not sure what made you look for me Josie, but I’m thankful that you did.” He wore a wry grin as he finished, “I’m assuming that you would have mentioned it if I had a large stash of cash in my pockets, which means there’s no way to pay you. So you are truly doing this from the goodness of your heart, or because God would have struck you down if you hadn’t.” At this he started to laugh but had to stop to catch his breath.

 

Sonny was asleep before Josie had the table cleared. Outside on the porch cleaning up the bath, her nerves began to jangle as she heard the coughing start again, even as he slept.

 

Father to Father

 

The group that separated from Roy outside Goat Springs arrived at the Baker farm towards evening to a greeting from the youngest brother, Silas. Matthew Baker soon exited the house and hurried toward his children. “Have you any news of Jacob?” The silver haired man stood waiting for good news with eyes that spoke of his secret fears.

 

Edward was the first to speak, indicating their fellow travelers, “Pa, these are the Cartwrights.” His father, remembering his manners, shook hands with Ben, Hoss and Little Joe as his son introduced them. “They’ve come with us to see if Jake made it home. But I’m guessing he’s not here.”

 

“No, he has not come home.” A look of sadness washed the older man’s face before he spoke again, “Forgive me. I’m forgetting all hospitality. Please come inside so we can find out what this is about.”

 

Moving their horses to the hitching rail, Hoss and Joe noted the layout of the ranch. Joe spoke quietly to his older brother. “Kinda looks like the Ponderosa but on a smaller scale, doesn’t it?” Hoss nodded his agreement as he noted the placement of the house to the barn. The house had a similar look and shape as theirs but without the second story.

 

After everyone was settled comfortably and served coffee, Carole Ann gave her father and youngest brother the facts of what they had found so far, including how just one body was discovered at the crash: presumed to be Adam Cartwright. She also explained that Ben was not as convinced as others and was out looking for evidence to make the identification conclusive. She ended with the only information she had on her brother. “Papa, we know Jake left the way station on that stage and we found tracks leading from the stage toward our homestead, but lost all sign of them along the way.”

 

Matthew Baker expressed his sorrow for both families as this news began to register in his weary mind. “Oh, my,” he stammered, “You should know that Jake’s horse made it home two days ago, but obviously he was not on it. We assumed it had gotten loose from the stage and wandered here on its own, but now it would seem that he lost Jake along the way.” A quiet lingered in the air until Matthew concluded, “Maybe Jake got this same sickness as the others, and was unable to ride. He must be somewhere along the route home.”

 

Edward explained, “Papa, that could be true, but we made a pretty thorough search on the way here and didn’t find him.”

 

“Then we’ll go look more!” Matthew thundered. “If my son is out there, we will find him.”

 

No one wanted to voice the obvious that it had been over a week since the accident and if Jake had been as sick as everyone else, he probably wouldn’t have survived that long on his own.

 

Ben rose from his chair and walked over to a shelf holding a number of pictures. Picking up a group photo, he asked, “Is this Jake? The one with a beard, next to you, Matthew?”

 

Matthew joined Ben to see which picture he was holding. “Yes, that’s him. He didn’t usually have a beard but would let it grow when working in the field. I think it made him look older, but he said it was too hard to shave when roughing it. We had this taken last fall when we met him in Sacramento to celebrate his birthday.”

 

“Toby, from the way station, said that our sons resembled each other and I can see what he meant. He is thinner than Adam but they do and have a similar ‘look’ for lack of a better word.”

 

Overhearing what the two fathers were talking about, Hoss and Joe joined them to inspect the photo. They both agreed with their pa’s assessment. There was something in the way Jake was standing; something so hauntingly familiar as to make them hold their breath for a moment before releasing it in a sigh.

 

The two families shared dinner while they became better acquainted. Hoss was grateful for a home-cooked meal and voiced his opinion that there was “nothin’ better than chicken and dumplins.” Edward agreed, thanking his father for having made his favorite. As the families ate, they made plans for the next day. Hoss and Joe decided that they would assist Edward in searching the stretch of road between the stage route and their homestead more thoroughly since their well honed tracking skills would help to find any sign of where Jake might have gone or gotten separated from his horse. Matthew, Silas and Carole were heading the opposite direction to see if anything new had turned up in Virginia City, as well as to return the horses they’d rented and pick up their wagon. Ben decided he would ride along with them to Virginia City before heading out to the Ponderosa. He hadn’t even thought about the business of the ranch since the day Roy set his world spinning, and needed to get back to insure that all was well.

 

As Matthew walked his guests outside, he commented to Ben, “I’m sure you’ve found the same thing, Mr. Cartwright; that as parents, we’re always just a word away from being brought to our knees. We think that all is well, and then we hear that our child is ill, late returning, missing, or…worse, and we fall to our knees in anguish and prayer. I’m not sure how this latest trial will end, but I know I will be on my knees again tonight.”

 

Ben grasped the man’s shoulder and simply said, “I know. I’ve been there a lot lately myself.”

 

Silas accompanied the Cartwrights to the barn to get them settled in for the night. As they passed a penned area, the cows standing by the hay bin began crying out. “Oh, moo yourself,” he yelled back to them. “I’ll get to you when I finish here.”

 

“You talk to cows a lot, Silas?” teased Hoss.

 

A grin overtook Silas and then faded. “I guess I’ve always had a way with our animals. Jake teased me that I spoke the language of ‘moo’ to these guys, and he couldn’t figure out which perplexed him more; me talking it or them answering.”

 

Hoss gave Silas a jab in the shoulder. “That’s a good memory of your brother Silas. Don’t ever let that one go.”

 

Beware of Unsigned Notes

 

After a brief stop in town to speak with Roy and introduce him to Matthew Baker, Ben headed home to the Ponderosa. The Bakers quickly realized that there was no Jake or any news of him in town, so they picked up their wagon and headed home to see what the other group might have found. The two families made no further plans except that Ben agreed to send word about when the memorial service for Adam would be held. For their part, the Bakers would send word in the event that Jake was found. It was now into the second week since Adam had failed to return home and Ben felt every day of it in his weariness.

 

Ben rode into the yard of the Ponderosa late in the day and was overwhelmed by gratitude at being home, while also feeling the unnatural silence of the usually bustling ranch. The hands seemed to be doing a good job keeping things going, and he figured they would keep their distance now unless he sought them out. He knew they were all aware of what had happened, and had seen a few of the men repairing a fence along the road, but while they had tipped their hats in greeting, they hadn’t called out or come over. Ben was well aware that most of the men he hired were loners or drifters. Many had lives filled with sorrow and loss. They didn’t share personal information easily or often, but would understand what Ben was experiencing, and his need to be alone.

 

While unsaddling Buck, Ben was startled by the swat of a tail from the horse behind him. He didn’t have to look; he knew the only other horse in the barn was Sport. After brushing Buck and getting him fed and stabled, Ben approached Sport to stroke his face and scratch the area behind his ears. He spoke soothingly, “I know big boy, I miss him too.” The chestnut turned his head to nuzzle Ben and focused his big brown eyes on the father of his master. After all Ben had been through, this simple gesture was what caused the man to break down while leaning over the big horse’s back. Sport stood quietly, reaching his head back now and then to touch Ben and nicker.

 

When Ben’s grief had finally eased, he made his way to the house in a stupor, heading directly to the sanctuary of his room. This house, the home that had always seemed to welcome him, seemed empty and foreign as he viewed it through the haze of exhaustion, and he gratefully collapsed in his bed.

 

Hop Sing materialized at the house during the night, seeming to have a sixth sense at the comings and goings of his family. He called out as Ben came down the steps looking like a shadow of himself, “Mr. Cartwright, I find this on door when I arrive. Addressed to you.” Hop Sing hurried to the stairs to hand Ben the folded note he had found stuck under the knocker.

 

Ben sat on the steps, opened the crumpled paper and began to read. “Who would do this?” he spat as he looked up at Hop Sing with a dazed look.

 

“You need help? I go get doctor? Sheriff?” inquired the concerned cook.

 

“Thank you, no, Hop Sing, but I’ll be going into town soon.”

 

It’s Greek To Me

 

Josie spent a restless night listening to the coughing, knowing in her heart that the sickness, the injuries and spending nights in the cold had weakened Sonny far more than she thought at first. Just as with her parents and later Hiram, they had not died of the diseases that wasted them, but rather succumbed to the condition called pneumonia. She knew it attacked the lungs of those who were already ill or seriously injured, effectively suffocating them in the end. Sonny already had the fever and cough, and his breathing was becoming more shallow and raspy. Having been through this before she knew he would get worse until he would be raw inside with it and in so much pain with the coughing that he would pray to die. All she could do now was force as much nourishment into him she could, keep him moving as long as possible…and pray. She hoped that since Sonny was younger and stronger than the others she had seen die from this, he could recover. “Why would you have me help him and grow to love him if you were going to take him away, God,” she ranted at her Creator through clenched teeth. “Please, please, show me what to do.”

 

Sonny awoke soon after in a fit of coughing, but seemed in good spirits. Josie had been up and moving around for a while, humming a sacred song she had heard the nuns sing at the church she attended when in San Francisco. The beauty of its melody had always haunted her even though she knew neither the title of the song nor the words.

 

Panis Angelicus,” Sonny called to her between coughs.

 

“What are you talking about, Sonny?” she asked coming closer to the bed, almost afraid to look at him for fear of what she’d see. But it seemed as though the fever had lifted a bit and his skin tone was more normal than flushed as it had been. Laying her hand on his forehead quickly dispelled that hope.

 

“The song you’re humming is called Panis Angelicus.”**

 

“Oh, is it now? And just how do you know that.”

 

“I’ve heard it sung before. It’s from a mass by St. Thomas Aquinas, I think.”

 

“Sonny, you never fail to amaze me with that knowledge you have rolling around in that brain of yours. I heard the nuns singing it in San Francisco and always thought it was the most beautiful song ever.” Then she chuckled, “Though what they was singin’ about was Greek to me because I couldn’t understand a word of it.”

 

“It’s Latin.”

 

“What?”

 

“It’s not Greek, it’s Latin.”

 

“Very funny! I suppose you know Latin.”

 

“Actually, I think I do, or at least some.” Coughing interrupted his thoughts. As he breathed more normally, he asked, “Would you like to know the words?”

 

“Will I like them or just feel stupid?” asked Josie with a smile.

 

“Sit down, I’ll sing it for you.” Josie pulled a chair over and listened as he sang softly. For those moments, there was no coughing and she sat mesmerized.

 

“Panis Angelicus, fit panis hominum;

Dat panis coelicus figures terminum;

O res mirabilis!

Manducat dominum.

Pauper, pauper, servus et humilis.”

 

With the song finished, the coughing restarted, while Josie continued to stare at him in awe. “It’s so beautiful, but how on earth do you know something like that?” she wondered aloud. After a moment she added, “You know though, what made it even more beautiful was that they sang it in a kind of round, where one group started and the next came in a little later. It always brought tears to my eyes.”

 

More coughing was followed by, “It’s a strophe, not a round..”

 

“What?”

 

The word for the way they sang it is a strophe. It’s a song that’s sung by two sections of a choir that sing to each other—almost like an echo.”

 

Josie sat up straight, looking again at the young man before her and asked again. “How is it that you know these things? I’ve never known anyone like you before. I suppose you know what the song means too.” She smiled as she continued. “Although I always wonder if I should ask that question, because something that wonderful probably translates into something ordinary, instead of something sacred like how it sounds.”

 

“Trust me Josie, it’s as sacred as it sounds.” He paused to catch his breath. It means, ‘the angelic bread becomes the bread of men. The heavenly bread ends all prefigurations; what wonder! Consumes the Lord a poor and humble servant.’” Sonny paused to let it sink in. “Do you understand what that means Josie?”

 

“Seems like it’s talking about how Christ became man—the bread of life like scripture says and ended all the questions and sacrifices and such from the Old Testament; and what a wondrous thing that even a poor and humble person, like me, can know this and have him in their hearts.” After giving her explanation, she began to blush saying shyly, “But I don’t suppose that’s even close.”

 

Sonny captured her eyes with his, “Don’t underestimate yourself Josie Sullivan. I couldn’t have said it better.”

 

Her cheeks continued to glow in shades of golden pink as she tried to get him moving. “Suppose we get you up for a while?”

 

“Suppose we don’t, and let me get my bearings a bit more before we go anywhere,” he replied with a raised eyebrow and slanted smile. “I want to talk about some things first.”

 

“Well be quick about it, then. The day is flying by.”

 

Stretching to see the clock on the mantel, he laughed, “Josie it’s only 5:30 in the morning and it’s still dark out. We’ve got a little time. Besides, you’ll be glad to know that I’ve remembered some things!”

 

Josie had gone to the kitchen but quickly returned to her chair of vigilance carrying tea with honey to help his cough. “Tell me, and hurry up!”

 

The tea eased the tickle at the back of his throat and allowed him to speak more easily. “I know I was on that stage, Josie. I can see it, but not everything. There were three of us: Two men and a young woman, all heading for Virginia City. I suppose if this Adam you talked about was one, then I was the other. The name Adam sounds familiar, and my name may be James. We were all getting sick—maybe from the food we had the night before—but the girl was the worst. She just lay there whimpering in pain and we were trying to get to a doctor. Adam and I were not as sick, but we could tell the driver was getting worse. He wasn’t controlling the team and we decided that one of us would tend to the girl while the other went uptop to help the driver. I went out on the side of the coach and then remembered we were trailing a horse behind us: I think it was mine. Anyway, the poor thing was in a panic, tossing his head and crying out in fright as the coach lurched from one side of the road to the other. Since the driver wasn’t controlling them, the stage team was picking up speed even as they lost their bearing, and I realized I’d have to get the horse free or it would end up stumbling and getting dragged. I crawled toward the back of the coach, pulled out my pocketknife and cut the horse loose. The rest is more of a blur. I think I dropped my knife and tried to grab it as it fell. At that moment I started to get dizzy, lost my handhold just as the coach lurched again, and was flying over the side of the road before I realized I was even falling. Must have landed on my face and shoulder but rolled on and on until I passed out. That was all I remembered until I woke later, sick, cold and lost. Couldn’t remember what had happened or how I got there. The last thing I remember before waking up here was the awful pain in my stomach and shoulder, and crawling under a bunch of branches, thinking it would give me some shelter until I felt better and could sort things out. Next thing, I woke up here with you.”

 

It took a moment for Josie to realize he had finished, having been so caught up in his telling. “Sonny you are lucky to be alive at all. Not many men could live through a full speed fall from a coach.” After running the story through her mind again, she asked, “So would you like me to start calling you James?”

 

“Not yet Josie. That’s not right. But I’ll tell you if it falls into place for sure.

 

“Now, the question you said you had can wait for a bit while you move around and we get some food into you.” Josie rose, noticing the first rays of sunlight breaking through the eastern windows. It was a bright golden light; the sort that sailors would rejoice in, not the red refracted rays of sunlight coming back from the unseen storm clouds in the west, foretelling a bad day of sailing ahead. But even in this warm and golden light, and in spite of her life’s mantra on living in the sun, Josie felt the clouds gathering in her home. She feared this storm would take away the life she had saved and wash away her hard won sense of peace forever. But there was nothing to do but keep using the time she had left to put some distance between herself and the rain.

 

When Something’s Too Good To Be True

 

Passing through Virginia City on their way back from tracking Jake, Hoss and Joe spotted Buck tied up outside the bank. They decided to stop, hoping they’d find Ben and get him to buy lunch before heading for home. The two boys were deep in conversation as they approached the doorway of the bank and ran head on into Ben who was looking down as he slipped a packet of money into a leather pouch.

 

“Pa!” cried Joe as he grabbed Ben by his shoulders to steady him. “Where are you headed in such a hurry?”

 

Ben smiled as he registered the fact that his boys had made it back safely, and with a quickly spoken, “Come with me,” following a jerk of his head to indicate which direction to head, he led them to Daisy’s Restaurant a few doors away. Once seated, he became very animated, encouraging Hoss to order lunch. “You must be starving son,” he commented as he grasped his shoulder, giving him another affectionate pat as he released him. “I’m so glad to see you both. Let’s order something and then you can fill me in on what you found.”

 

Hoss found Joe’s eye across the table as Ben turned to call the waitress. Joe’s eye widened as he raised his shoulders with an unspoken, “I don’t know what’s wrong with him either.”

 

After orders were placed, Ben clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “So you’re home. What did you find out there?”

 

Hoss was the first to answer as he caught Joe out of the corner of his eye, still shrugging with a questioning expression. “As you probably guessed, there was no sign a’tall of Jake anywhere on that road and we combed the area as best we could. When we got back to the main road for the second time, Ed told us to head home. He was gonna set back for his house following the tracks once more as far as he could. Said he’d probably make one more run with his pa once he got back if he didn’t find anything.”

 

Little Joe didn’t want to burst the bubble of his father’s good mood, but had to say it, “It would seem that neither Adam nor Jake are going to make it home, Pa.”

 

Ben took on a conspiratorial look as he motioned his sons to move in closer for some private information. Laying a piece of paper on the table, he told them, “This arrived at the house early today.”

 

Joe and Hoss read: “Your son got hurt in the stage crash but is still alive and will stay that way if you give us $10,000 for our trouble. Get the money. Will contact you tomorrow.”

 

The look on the faces of the two sons registered shock and pain. Neither of them could believe that their pa was taking this seriously. Joe was shuffling his silverware and rearranging the salt and pepper shakers on the table to release his nervousness, as Hoss reached over and rested his hand on his father’s arm while speaking gently, “Pa, you can’t think this is real?”

 

“And just why not?  You found no evidence of Jake because it’s now obvious that Jake died in the crash while someone found Adam shortly afterward. Maybe Adam got thrown clear of the stage as it went down. These people know we have money and we’ll pay to get him back safe and sound.”

 

Hoss continued soothingly, “Pa, you know better than this. Everyone in these parts knows that the Cartwrights have money and no one would have to hold Adam to get it. All they need do is bring him on home and you’d pay them whatever they wanted. Pa, I just don’t think you’re considerin’ this with a clear mind.”

 

Ben pulled his arm away from Hoss while the anger in his face burned from his eyes through to his clenched jaw, continuing on to his balled fists and ramrod stiff posture. He spoke quietly so the other patrons wouldn’t hear. “Don’t you tell me what I should or shouldn’t believe, young man. What you say about people knowing I’d pay anything extends to this situation as well. Suppose they think I wouldn’t pay enough and they just want to insure I’ll give them what they want. They’re horrible people for doing it this way, but they have my son and I WILL get him back with your help or without it!” Ben stood and stormed toward the door of the restaurant.

 

It took a few moments for the two brothers to realize what had happened before they could say anything. Finally Joe erupted, “Hoss, we gotta do something.”

 

“You got that right, little brother. But what?”

 

As he walked to the door Ben realized that there was unfinished business back at the table. Retracing his steps, he pulled at his sons’ sleeves so they could hear him as he whispered tersely, “Don’t you two even think of doing anything to ruin this! I will handle it in my own way whether you agree or not. You both have thought Adam was dead from the beginning and I know this isn’t going to change your minds, but let me do this without your judgment.” He let go of their shirts and bade his final parting. “I’ll see you at home later. And remember what I said.”

 

After Ben exited the building, Hoss shook his head sadly, “He’s running on pure grief, Joe. And I don’t like this one bit, but I suppose we gotta see it through. If we stop it and it was true, I’m not sure whether he’d hate us or himself more.”

 

Joe nodded his agreement. As the scene in the restaurant came to a close, their meals were delivered by an overly cheerful waitress who, on noting their somber faces, laid their plates down and scurried away. Though their appetites had vanished with Ben’s announcement and warning, their stomachs were still empty and they were in no hurry to get home and so lingered over their meals in silence.

 

The Difference Between an O and a U

 

“What no trip to the porch today?” Sonny teased.

 

Josie managed to get her patient to drink some tea and eat oatmeal, even getting him to take a short walk around the room before he faded. She was giving him honey for the cough, which seemed to help, but despite the successful meal and exercise, she was still nervous.

 

“Josie, come and talk for a bit, will you please?”

 

Returning to her seat by the bed she asked if he needed anything.

 

As if sensing that time for conversation was running short, Sonny abruptly asked, “Josie, what happened to your son?”

 

“I don’t have any children, Sonny.”

 

“Oh.” He looked at her with a questioning expression and continued, “I just assumed that since you’ve been calling me Sonny, it might be because you once had a child you called by that name.”

 

“Nope, I was near forty when I married Hiram and while it’s not impossible to have children at that age, we weren’t blessed to have any. How about you, Sonny? Are you remembering a wife or children?”

 

In deep concentration, the young man said, “I don’t feel that I was married. There’s a sense of family, but not of my family—my wife or my children—just a family around me.” He thought more and added, “I’m pretty sure I’m single. But why did you call me Sonny then?”

 

Josie began to laugh. “I think we have a spelling problem my friend. Here all along I’ve been callin’ you Sunny—like the sunshine, and you’ve been hearin’ Sonny—like my kin.”

 

“Sunny?” he asked incredulously. “Why? I haven’t known myself very long yet, but hardly see myself as being sunny.”

 

After waiting for his cough to quiet, Josie explained, “Remember how I told you that there was a person who once said something that made a real difference in my life? Well, that’s where it comes from.”

 

“I don’t understand. Please explain,” he ordered as he began coughing again.

 

“When I was still in Boston and trying to decide whether I should come out west, I would walk to the harbor and watch the ships. They looked so big, yet seemed so frail, that I was almost too afraid to think of sailing on one.” At this point, she winked at Sunny and as an aside, said, “You will notice I’m improving my speech. Thanks to you I’m trying to find those ‘g’s at the end of words from time to time.”

 

“I’ve noticed,” he complimented. “Now please continue before I fall asleep and never know how I came to be Sunny.”

 

“Well, one day, I was sitting there on a bench and this older gent sat down next to me. His first words were that it was a beautiful sunny day and while I agreed, I said I thought there was a chance of rain. He patted my hand and told me to just enjoy the sunshine and not worry about the clouds or rain that may or may not come round. As a ship’s captain before he retired, he said he’d spent so much of his life preparing for storms that he forgot how to live when the weather was fair. Turns out he had gone through some hard times. As he got older he lost his commission and it was so hard on him that he ended up hurting people badly and betraying their trust. In a short amount of time he lost his ship, his pride and his family. But here’s the thing, Sunny, he said he’d been to hell and back and through it had learned to appreciate life again and to never take a beautiful day for granted. After talking about my plans a bit, he advised me that if I thought I could make it in the West I should go for it. He said nothing was ever gained by wishing you had done something and that the only way to know how things will turn out is to try. When so many things in his life were taken away, he learned to appreciate the wonderful life he had lived and still had if he appreciated it no matter what the weather.

 

His parting words advised me to keep my face to the sun and my back to the clouds and worry about rain only when I was actually getting wet. I hung onto those words like a life ring those first years, Sunny. I even wrote a song about it that I sang in the saloon to remind myself that living in the sunshine has nothing to do with the weather. I called it Sunny, With a Chance of Rain.”

 

“So you named me for a song?”

 

“Sort of, kid,” Josie confided. “Truth is I would have named my own child Sunny if God had seen fit to give me one. You was the next best thing, I guess.”

 

“Seems that conversation made a big difference in your life. It’s always interesting to find a pearl of great value when you’re least looking for it.”

 

“It was one of them moments in time when I paid attention to every word the man said. It was as if while he was telling me his story, he was telling me mine as well—a sort of preparation for something I would find out later. The words just hit my heart and stuck there, and are still as fresh as ever all these years later.”

 

Josie’s silence was broken as she remembered, “I saw the old captain again the day I set sail. I was looking over the ship’s rail trying to keep my nerve and not walk back down the plank when I saw him walking with a handsome young man. I hollered and waved and still remember him calling to me as the mates began to drop the ropes, saying to always keep my face to the sun. The captain shared something with the younger man who then smiled and waved as well. Never thought I’d have a sendoff that day, but I did and if I think about it I can still see them both standing there.” Josie stopped to ponder a moment before adding, “Now that I’m telling it, I think that man was a burning bush too.” As Josie looked back at Sunny she realized that had already drifted off before she finished her final thoughts and was sleeping the fidgety, restless sleep of the ill. Rising, she again checked his temperature with the back of her hand and went to get a cool cloth for his forehead.

 

Making Amends

 

When Joe and Hoss finally got home from town, they found their father sitting at his desk; elbows on the blotter, with his forehead leaning against his steepled fingers. He glanced up, but remained silent as they added their hats to the rack. Moving to the alcove, Joe rested his hip on the corner of Ben’s desk while Hoss walked around it to be closer to his father.

 

“Well? Do you have something you need to get off your chests?” inquired Ben in a voice that dared them to ask the question that was undoubtedly gnawing at their minds.

 

“Nah, Pa.” Hoss always seemed to be the sibling spokesman when it came to saying the very personal things needing to be said. He wasn’t sure why that was, but it was a role he’d accepted. “We was just wondering if you were still angry at us.”

 

Ben relaxed, pulling back into his chair while crossing his arms over his chest and lifting a leg to rest it on the far corner of the desk. “I wasn’t so much angry at you two as disappointed. We have a chance to get your brother home and my own sons seemed to be suggesting that we not try it for fear that…what…maybe the townfolk will think me crazy if they find out?”

 

“But Pa,” soothed Joe, “We didn’t say that.”

 

“You didn’t have to. Don’t you think I’ve heard them talking behind my back in town? Don’t you think I know that I’m considered a fool and a horrible father for not laying my son to rest properly?”

 

“Pa, we’ve never given any mind to what people have said about us in the past and we aint gonna start now. You know that. We’re not worried about them, Pa, we’re worried about you.” Hoss, as always was able to put their worry into perspective and take the sting away from a bad situation.

 

“Maybe we should just drop this conversation and move on.”

 

“Sounds good to me,” Little Joe remarked as he jerked his head toward the door when Hoss looked at him, indicating they should get outside. “Listen pa, we’re going to head out and catch up on a couple of chores. Looked like the barn needs a good cleaning and the horses could use a good scrub down. We saw Hop Sing in town so we know you sent him away until this is over. We’ll just grab something if we’re hungry when we come in later.”

 

It was well past nine when the boys finished their time-killing activities and reentered the house. They were in no mood to continue the conversation about their father’s plan to acquiesce to the demands of those who were supposedly “helping” Adam and were relieved to find that he had already gone upstairs. Their father had always been the king of his castle and most times things were done according to his will; most times that will was shaped by common sense and logic. But tonight, his sons felt that those words were lost in a haze of need and grief.

 

Beware of Flying Rocks

 

Hoss and Joe sat at the table while Ben wore a rut in the wood floor between the door and his desk. It was now nearly 8 AM and Ben had been up at least four hours by the boy’s reckoning. They heard his pacing and finally a bump on the door around six, when they had finally gotten up to see if a message regarding the exchange of money for a son had arrived along with that thump.

 

That was two hours ago, and the message delivered by the rock had said to have a wagon and the money ready, as they’d be in touch soon. Ben had refused the boy’s attempts to assist him in getting prepared, so they mostly sat around staring at each other with the frequent exchange of raised eyebrows, shaking heads or shoulder lifts; all indicating their absolute loss as to what to do or how to help.

 

“Remember, you two will stay out of sight if they come personally to get me rather than sending a message,” Ben told his sons for what seemed like the hundredth time.

 

“No problem,” reassured Hoss. “And we won’t follow you either. We got it, Pa. We really got it.”

 

No more than ten minutes later there was a knock that sent all three Cartwrights moving. Hoss and Joe retreated to the downstairs bedroom where they watched from behind the curtains, while Ben prepared himself for whatever was to come.

 

Ben opened the door to a scruffy looking cowboy with worn out clothes and an even more worn out grin. “Mr. Cartwright, I presume,” he sprayed through rotting teeth. “Got the cash?”

 

“Certainly,” Ben replied with as much bravado as he could muster. “But before I give you anything I will want to see my son.”

 

“We ‘spected so. If you’ll follow me with the wagon, we’ll go get him and you can pay us then. By the way, be sure to bring the money.”

 

“You’ll get your money after I see my son.”

 

The boys watched as Ben left the house with the stranger and headed the wagon away from the ranch. Hoss was sure that Little Joe could hear his heart beating as he asked. “Do we follow Pa, even though we said we wouldn’t?”

 

“Of course we follow him,” hissed Joe. “We’re not gonna let them do something to Pa while we hide in this bedroom.”

 

“It’s just not like Pa to go off this way. I just don’t get it.”

 

“Hoss, you’re the one who said it; Pa isn’t thinking anymore. He hasn’t eaten or slept for so long that he’s running on pure emotion, not sense or truth.”

 

Hoss shook his head sorrowfully, “I did notice that Pa is looking thin and even a might frail. His gun belt is tighter by at least two holes and his clothes kinda hang loose on him.”

 

“We’re gonna have to help him Hoss, before it’s too late for all of us. We’ll give them a head start, then follow the tracks.”

 

“Joe?” Hoss offered tentatively. “What if they really do have Adam?”

 

“It would be the happiest moment of my life. Truly it would, Hoss.” Joe produced a half-hearted smile and added, “But you and I both know that ain’t happening today, don’t we?”

 

*****

 

Ben followed the rider onto the lane he knew led to the line shack in the western pasture area. So they’ve been keeping him right under my nose! Even though Ben Cartwright was moving on pure adrenalin and caffeine, he’d still had the wherewithal to hide his money in a pouch secured beneath the buckboard’s seat. He wasn’t about to carry cash on himself if this turned out to be a hoax.

 

After seemingly hours en route, Ben could finally see the form of the line shack take shape in the distance. His heart was beating so rapidly that he was having trouble breathing normally, but his demeanor gave no hint of the excitement raging inside his body and mind. Tonight his firstborn would sleep under his roof and his life would be whole again. Nothing else mattered.

 

The rider and Ben were hailed from the door of the shack by the apparent spokesperson for the group while others emerged from the around the sides of the structure. Ben didn’t recognize any of them and assumed they were drifters who happened upon the crash site soon after it happened. He hoped Adam’s injuries were not life threatening since he figured this groups of miscreants would have a hard time keeping a sick cow alive, much less a sick man.

 

“Welcome Mr. Cartwright. A pleasure to have your company at our humble abode,” spoke the man from the doorway.

 

“Interesting interpretation of facts sir,” replied Ben, “since this is my land and my ‘abode.’ But let’s not argue details. Is my son inside?”

 

“Slow down Mr.” he sneered. “I’ll be seein’ that money before you’ll be seein’ anyone.”

 

“The money is nearby and I’ll tell you where it is as soon as I see my boy.”

 

The man in the door motioned for the rider to bring Ben inside, saying, “Make this quick old man, we got places to be.”

 

Ben felt blind inside until his eyes adjusted to the dusty darkness of the small interior. He could make out the table and the makeshift cupboard with supplies to use if the ranch hands needed shelter. These kidnappers—or whatever they were—had obviously helped themselves to the food stores since the floor was littered with empty cans. As Ben’s eyes moved around the room, he finally found what he was looking for; the shape of a man covered and lying on the lower cot of the bunk. Hurrying over to the form, Ben knelt on one knee to roll Adam over.

 

“Son,” he said quietly as he began to turn him. “Let’s get you ho…”

 

Ben’s words were interrupted when the man that faced him from the bed, flashed a pistol and an evil grin, “Them people in town said you were crazy old man, but we had to see just how crazy.”

 

“What are you talking about? Where’s my son,” Ben shouted at the Satan before him.

 

“There’s no son, you old coot. We just said we had him to make a nice couple-a’ bucks. People said you’d pay anything for that kid and they was right! We shoulda asked for more!”

 

The whole gang was now standing around Ben laughing as the leader asked, “Now about that 10,000 dollars. We’ll be needin’ that anyway.” After searching Ben, the one they all called Haskell yelled, “He aint’ got the cash on him!” Turning Ben towards him, he spat, “Where’s the money old man?”

 

Ben was defeated. He knew he’d let his grief get the better of his mind and at that moment had no will to go on fighting. “You’ll get nothing. Kill me if you want to, but leave me alone and get off my property.”

 

“Well Mr. Cartwright,” Haskell drawled, “It ain’t quite that simple. See, you mighten not be getting’ your one son back ever again, cuz he’s deader n a doornail.” He laughed in an evil, ugly way before continuing, “But iffen you don’t give us the money, we’ll let you live, but make sure you won’t be seeing them other two boys ever again either.”

 

Ben looked like he’d been kicked in the gut as he paled with the stark fact that not only had he failed to look at this situation rationally where he was concerned, he had endangered Hoss and Joe as well. “It’s in the wagon. I’ll get it.”

 

Stepping out into the sun-drenched day, Ben realized for the first time that spring had arrived. He thought how odd it was that the entire world was greening with life, as his own life got more deadly black by the second. The money was nothing—probably a small price for the lesson he’d learned.

 

While being shoved forward by the gun in his back, he heard Joe’s whistling birdcall break the silence. Relief washed over him as he gave thanks that his sons were disobedient as usual. Speaking loudly enough to be heard across the clearing where the boys were hiding, he remarked, “The money is under the wagon. I’ll get it.”

 

Ben ducked under the shelter of the wagon as Hoss yelled out for the armed men to drop their weapons. Joe looked at his brother, shouting, “Now when has that EVER worked?” and began shooting.

 

Two of the gang fell immediately while the others ran for the shelter of the shack. During the commotion Ben slipped deeper into the protection of the wagon. In preparing for the ransom exchange, Ben had placed a rifle and ammunition into an open area above the axel. He may have been in the throes of grief-induced, bad decision-making at the time, but Ben was never caught completely off guard. With rifle in hand he began providing cover so the boys could move up on the shack. Joe went right, while Hoss went left – effectively dividing the occupants’ attention. Meanwhile Ben began to move forward toward the door using a well-placed kick to break the latch. He immediately fell back behind the protection of the jamb and picked off another shooter as he ran out the door. That left only two of the group inside.

 

Knowing they were outnumbered now, Haskell yelled, “Hey we’re comin’ out. Stop shootin’.”

 

Ben roared that they should throw their guns out and put their hands behind their heads as they exited.

 

Hoss and Joe came around the front of the shack to grab Haskell and his remaining man; tying their hands, while Ben checked the interior to make sure it was clear.

 

“Take them to town and turn them over to Sheriff Coffee,” Ben growled toward his sons.

 

Once the boys and the two thieves were mounted, Ben motioned his sons to come near. “You know what to tell Roy. I’m heading home and will send some hands back out here to bury the dead, get the rest of the horses and clean up.” Ben’s body language spoke of defeat so complete that he seemed to have lost his form. “Hoss, after you finish with Roy, go make arrangements with Pastor Davis for Adam’s funeral on Friday. And Joseph, once you get Hoss and these two to town, you ride on out to tell the Bakers of the plans. It’s time we get this finished.”

 

“Pa, what are you gonna do after you get home?” asked Hoss with concern.

 

“I’m going to mourn my son.”

 

What Does it Matter

 

The week dragged on eternally as the funeral details were finalized, and yet the finality of the Friday service made everyone wish the day would never come. The residents of the Ponderosa moved past and around each other while seldom exchanging other than basic conversation. Work continued, meals were eaten, and the Cartwrights slept and rose without acknowledging the grief laying over them like a low floating fog.

 

A knock on the door Thursday afternoon found Edward Baker with the news that his family had arrived in Virginia City for the service and were staying at the International House. Ben invited the Bakers to stay with them, but Edward gave his thanks and apologies for choosing to stay elsewhere. “We know you are in no mood to receive guests at this time,” he explained. “If you all feel anything like we do you want your privacy.”

 

Hoss, Ben and Joe sat briefly with Edward and asked after his family. When the niceties were completed, Ben asked the question each Cartwright wanted to hear answered. “Have you found any further evidence of Jake’s travels the day of the accident? Joe told us there was nothing when he stopped to see you earlier this week, but of course we’re anxious to know if anything else has happened.”

 

“No. Nothing.” Edward shook his head in physical confirmation. “We rode that stretch so many times that we’ve pretty much scoured every inch and there is no evidence that he was ever there. We even went back to see Toby but he had nothing else to offer. I guess our feeling is that because he was ill, Jake got too far off the path and ended up somewhere we’ll never find him.”

 

“And how is your father holding up?” inquired Ben.

 

“About as you’d expect, sir. Not so well, but he is learning to deal with the fact that Jake is not coming home. He notified the railroad now and we’re all going out to San Francisco next month to have a service with relatives who still live there.”

 

Ben shook the young man’s hand as he rose to leave. “Thank you for dropping by, son. We’ll see you tomorrow at the church. Make sure your family knows that there will be lunch at the hotel after the service, and we’ll have time to talk then.”

 

Edward’s dust trail was well settled before any of the men turned to go back inside. It seemed no one wanted to face the empty blue chair, the empty hat peg or the books Adam had left on the shelves awaiting his return. Little Joe decided to head for the barn, while Hoss and Ben moved to the porch area, taking seats at the table there.

 

Clearing his throat, Hoss steeled his nerve to ask the question he knew would be posed many times the following day: A question he felt he needed to know the answer to as well. “Pa, do you believe that it was Adam on that stage? Are you sure?”

 

“What does it matter what I believe, Hoss? Will it make any difference?”

 

“It matters to me, Pa,” Hoss replied tenderly. “I just want to know if you can find some peace now.”

 

“I’ll never have peace about this Hoss. I think you know that. But on the other hand, by not dealing with it, I exposed this family—you and Joe in particular—to what could have been a horrible situation. I need to do this so everyone will leave us alone.”

 

“I’m powerfully sad, Pa, but I figure there’s no other explanation now that we have most of the facts. We can’t keep hopin’ that he’ll come home ‘cause it’s too hard to go forward when you’re still stuck in memories and doubts…” After a moment of quiet Hoss added. “Pa, thank you for asking me to talk tomorrow. I know I ain’t got the prettiest words in this family, but, well, for Adam I’d do anything. I been workin’ on something with Joe that I think he’d like. It’s taken every bit of brain power we got to figure it all out, but it was like he was helpin’ us do it, Pa.”

 

“I know you’ll do a fine job, Hoss. You always looked up to Adam, but he admired you too. He often spoke of your gifts in seeing who needed help and how best to give it. I remember talking once with him when he told me that you helped him see things in himself that even he couldn’t. He loved you very much.”

 

Hoss made a quick swipe at his eyes with his shirt sleeve before saying, “I’m gonna go see what that younger brother of mine is up to.” Hoss moved off toward the barn leaving Ben alone on the porch with his memories and doubts.

 

Sunny, With A Chance of Rain

 

While taking a break outside, Josie noted that spring had arrived. She recognized several varieties of birds that were unseen just days before, and the buds on the trees and bushes were swollen to the point of bursting. There’d been rain during the nights while Sunny had been with her, but most days were sun filled and spectacular with breezes blowing down the Sierras, driving out the dead of winter and leaving freshness in its wake. But this year Josie was not feeling her usual exhilaration at the coming of spring because each passing day took her one-day closer to losing Sunny. She knew that if he recovered, she would have to take him to find his past, while the other option of his leaving was too horrible to consider. As it stood, each of his coughing spells reinforced her feeling that a crisis point was coming sooner than later. As she sat watching and listening to life returning around her, she replayed the conversations she had enjoyed when Sunny was awake when they had spoken of life, love, and happiness. Over the last week she’d made him do some activity to “earn” each conversation and time spent reading or discussing the stories, but the truth was that they both enjoyed the game. Even though she was far behind in her own spring chores, there was not a moment over these days that she regretted. She felt that she should get him to a doctor now instead of treating him here. But it was such a puzzle. He might find help in town, but the trip might kill him.

 

His condition had never been sturdy enough to go through the jostling and miserable ride required to get to Virginia City, and even if they would make it, she knew medicine was unable to help what was plaguing him now. She had taken Hiram to a doctor; same with her parents, and yet in the end there was nothing more to do than what she was already doing.

 

The relentless coughing followed by the breathlessness and wheezing exploded again from inside the house. The few times Sunny woke now she pushed him to drink, and made him sit up and stand—taking at least a few steps each day just to keep him moving. But for the last 24 hours, Sunny lay there; sometimes fighting for each breath and Josie knew each one was laden with pain. Looking up at the cloudless sky, she spoke quietly, “Go ahead God; mock me! I know the rain is out there just over the hills. Bring it on why don’t you! You’re the one that started this bush to blazing, so you gotta be the one that puts the flame out too.”

 

Josie jumped as she heard her name drifting from the house.

 

Standing in the doorway she asked with a drollness she didn’t really feel, “You called?”

 

“Where’ve you been? I’ve been awake for quite some time and was wondering why you weren’t badgering me to do things.”

 

“Just getting’ some fresh air, child. What did you think I was doin’?”

 

Sunny winked at her and took on a conspirital tone as he remarked, “Thought maybe you were lookin’ for some of those g’s you’ve been droppin’ out there all these years. Must be a pile of them somewhere.”

 

“Ya know, Sunny,” Josie remarked in mock seriousness, “I’ve been takin’ care of you for more than three weeks already. I’ve washed your head and your backside and I swear I’ve not noted horns nor a tail, but sure as I live, I’m checking again, ‘cuz they gotta be there somewhere!”

 

Sunny laughed and then remembered why he was looking for her. “Hey Josie! You never sang the song you wrote. Please sing it.”

 

Josie heard the request but remained silent for a moment as she considered her comeback. “You’re just having one of those fever-induced ideas, Sunny,” she laughed. “You don’t really want to hear that old yarn.”

 

Sunny was feeling very hot and laughed inwardly now, thinking about the time a few weeks backs when he would have given anything to be warm while now he just longed to remember what being cold felt like. “You may be right, my dear,” he pronounced in dramatic fashion, “However, I find myself unable to sleep and thought a song—especially if it was a bad one—could perhaps assist me on my quest to find rest.”

 

Moving to the bed, Josie bent and began rubbing the top of Sunny’s head.

 

“What are you doing?” he asked with concern.

 

“Just looking for those horns. Maybe I just missed them earlier.”

 

Sunny caught Josie’s hand with his left one, as his now healed shoulder responded to his will. “Please,” was all he managed to utter before being caught in a paroxysm of coughing.

 

“Okay, you asked for it. But you have to get the full effect.” Looking around, she grabbed the fire poker and laid it over her shoulder, explaining, “I used to sing this while holding a parasol, but this will have to do.” She moved to the center of the room and cleared the chairs and furniture that would get in the way once she started her performance. Returning to the bed, she propped the poker against the foot end and told her patient, “You know there is always a payment required in this house.”

 

“Yes ma’am. I’m well aware of that.” Sunny was surely aware of that as he thought back to each conversation they’d had. Each talk was predicated by some “payment” on his part. He either had to sit, walk, drink or eat in order to partake of the mental stimulation he so craved. Sunny marveled again that this prairie philosopher had him so well pegged that she knew he would do anything to participate in a lively discussion or have her read from some of the “classic” books she had purchased from a peddler. The discussions had indeed been lively as they covered everything from state’s right and slavery of all kinds, to the Bible, and women’s rights. Other times Sunny had simply enjoyed listening to Josie’s peaceful voice reading from the pages of the books she owned but never felt smart enough to read. Of course Josie had continued to marvel at all that he knew and the opinions he held while not knowing the very basics of his own personage. She once told him that he seemed less upset by not knowing who he was than by not being able to use his mind. He had to agree.

 

“So what is the payment today, boss?” he inquired after regaining his composure following another bout of coughing that left him worn out.

 

Josie sadly realized that his strength was lessening by the hour while the fever that had come and gone in past days, now remained high, and the cough continued to wage war in his chest. “Drink at least a cup of tea with honey, ‘honey,’” she laughed. The pot of tea she had brewed earlier was still warm and easily readied. After propping Sunny up on the chair back as she had done before, she handed him the tea and ordered him to drink.

 

“Enough stalling. Let’s hear it.”

 

Josie resumed her place at the center of the room and stood in a coy pose, twirling the poker on her shoulder. For a moment, Josie remembered the hot, dirty saloon where she had been forced to perform while filthy men ogled her and called out their basest desires. Yet as awful as it had been, there had been solace in it as well. Her singing had let her touch others in ways she couldn’t while moving among the half-drunk patrons hustling drinks. But looking at Sunny now, she realized again what those few years had taken from her and wondered anew just what her life was about and whether it could still mean something more.

 

“Anytime now Josie,” he prodded.

 

Blinking several times to pull herself from her trance-like state, she smiled and began with the introductory part of her song:

 

“There is a truth in life, I’ve found,

That what you give comes back around,

So why spend time creatin’ pain,

Forever searching after rain

When overhead the sky is blue

And the whole dang world’s in need of you?”

 

Josie now stepped into the dance of her routine as she spun both herself and the parasol substitute, ending at the front of her stage area. She leaned onto the poker and launched into the main part of the song.

 

“Why not stay sunny, and feel life’s glow,

And send your lovin’ out to all you know.

Why not stay sunny, and share a smile,

With someone who ain’t seen one in a while.”

 

It’s never easy to feel the sun

When you’re too busy being glum.

Try some happiness on for size.

And give your life a big surprise.”

 

Josie continued to dance and twirl, using her arms in gestures to emphasize the lyrics, just as she had in the saloon. At this point she figured that if Sunny was going to think her a fool she didn’t want him to do it half way.

 

“There’ll be those who laugh at you,

And say your brain has come unglued.

They’ll tell you get inside it’s gonna rain,

And all of life is filled with pain.”

 

Josie revved up for the finale.

 

“I’ve been told that I’ll forget

Living in the sun, and yet

I’ve not even one regret

And still ain’t ever gotten wet.

 

So I’ll stay sunny, yes oh so sunny – even if there is a chance of rain.”

Josie finished with a repeat of the chorus line while laying the poker parasol over her shoulder followed by a curtsy.

 

Sunny said nothing, but smiled broadly. Unfortunately Josie was already turning away from him by then.

 

“Not quite Panis Angelicus, huh?” Josie said huskily, turning to keep Sunny from seeing the tears that had gathered. Hastily replacing the poker by the fireplace she exited the house and ran to the barn where she held onto the loft ladder and began to sob. She had never felt foolish or cheap when she sang in San Francisco, but this time, she felt all that and more: things she had never felt before—judgment, doubt and shame. She thought to herself that Sunny wouldn’t understand. He was a man of intelligence with powerful words and thoughts. He would have known how to say what she was trying to without looking foolish doing it. She had learned so much from him in these weeks together and now she felt he would only see her as an uneducated prostitute that fancied herself a songwriter. Stifling her sobs for a moment, she listened carefully for the sound she thought she’d heard. There it was again and this time there was no mistaking it: thunder. Well isn’t that just the icing on the cake. It hadn’t stormed in weeks, but now it was about to throw down thunder and lighting just when she needed the sun more than ever.

 

 

More Than a Fair Weather Friend

 

The tears had stopped but Josie remained fixed to the ladder. She jumped, letting out a small shriek at feeling hands on her shoulders. Turning, she was flummoxed to see Sunny standing there, although his stance was so precarious as to seem like a slow motion fall.

 

“Sunny! How did you get out here?” she questioned as she reached to support him. “Maybe a better question is why did you come out here?”

 

“Don’t ask so many damn questions Josie,” he coughed. “Help me sit down and we’ll take them one at a time. What do you want to know most?”

 

As Josie helped Sunny to sit, he noticed her tears and ran his thumb across her cheek. “What’s this? I thought you didn’t cry,” he teased. “Isn’t one of your song lines about never having gotten wet?”

 

Ignoring that particular comment, Josie demanded, “What are you doing out here?”

 

Sunny’s breathing caused his reply to come in clipped segments. “You left in a hurry… I could tell you were upset….didn’t know why…what’s wrong?”

 

“Oh, Sunny, why would you need to ask that? I made a fool of myself singin’ that stupid song like it meant somethin’.”

 

“Well, didn’t it mean somethin’?”

 

“To me maybe. But not to someone who knows so much about so many things. You know Latin, for cryin’ out loud. What would make me think that my bar song would mean anything to you? I embarrassed myself. That’s all.”

 

“Josie! As a philosopher I’ve grown to like very much….once said, ‘don’t go…shyin’ on me now! You’ve trusted me so far…’ Where’s the fighter…that I first met? Why do you doubt yourself now?

 

There was silence. Sunny began to shiver violently while the barn darkened and chilled when the storm hit. The barn door slammed shut and open with the wind, and rain seemed to be blowing nearly sideways. “Please Josie. Why?”

 

“You’re why,” she finally admitted as she grabbed a blanket from the saddle area and wrapped it tightly around his shoulders. “I guess I feel so much love for you that I wouldn’t ever want to have you embarrassed or disappointed at my simple ways.” She laughed as she realized her profession of love. “Don’t worry child, my love isn’t the flowery or romantic kind. I love you as the son I never had, and as a teacher and a friend. But I’ve got no designs on you.”

 

“So you think I’d judge you?” he managed to question as he shook.

 

“Not so much judge me, as find me ignorant and lacking.” Grabbing his shoulders, Josie brought him to a standing position. “The rain’s passed already. We’ve got to get you inside and warm.”

 

The two friends made their way across the yard in painful slowness with Josie holding her patient up. There were frequent stops to allow Sunny to catch his breath, but they were both satisfied that he actual made it on his own two feet, even if those two feet were bare and muddy, requiring a quick bucket dunking before going in the house.

 

Once settled back into the comfort of his bed he grabbed Josie and ordered, “Sit!”

 

“You need to rest more than talk now,” she soothed.

 

“I can rest for eternity, Josie, but not without telling you my side of the story.”

 

“Don’t talk so foolish, Sunny. You’ll live to be an old man.”

 

Josie’s eyes betrayed her words, but Sunny didn’t have to be told that he was in trouble. “Josie, we both feel a spirit of death hovering over this house. I know I have pneumonia and whether I recover or not is pretty much up to God. You’ve been incredible. I don’t remember any doctoring from my past, but know in my heart that you have done everything that a trained professional would have. And there is nothing about you that’s ignorant or lacking.”

 

Josie thanked him and tried to rise but Sunny held her hands with a strength she didn’t know he had.

 

“Josie, your song…” The coughing, while almost continuous earlier, had eased as Sunny spoke softly and was able to tell this woman what was in his heart.

 

“It wasn’t Panis Angelicus, but then what song is? It was written by a saint for heaven’s sake, and I don’t know any saints. Most of us are sinners just trying to make it through life as best we can. For all its beauty and the wonder of the melody, 99 percent of those who hear it have no clue what Panis Angelicus is about. Many who can sing it in Latin still have no idea what it means. It’s a spiritual experience, but not one that people walk away from knowing a better way to act or how to treat one another.”

 

Catching his breath a bit, Sunny continued, “Now as it comes to you: you were brought up simply, but there’s nothing simple about you. You heard me say the English words of Panis Angelicus just once and figured out in an instant what they meant. Others struggle for years overanalyzing it rather than feeling the words. I can remember the words of a writer named, von Goethe, who said, ‘All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over honestly, till they take root in our own personal experience.’ That’s your life story. You’ve been through some horrible things, but only seem to remember the goodness that surrounded the evil. You met a person once whose words so thoroughly impressed you that you brought them into your life and made them real. The song, Josie… What I heard was how you learned that kindness or evil moves from person to person, creating circles of good or harm. You say that no one should ever tell another person how to live, and encourage us to just look for the good in everyone. And you end with your philosophy that you’ll only know trouble when you start looking for it.”

 

“My song said all that?” Josie was beaming from ear to ear. “Thank you Sunny. In my heart that’s what I hoped it said, but it feels so dang good to hear it voiced by you.”

 

“Josie, some of the people hearing you sing on the Barbary Coast were drunk and really heard nothing.” They both chuckled at the truth of the statement. “But others heard it every time they came in and maybe even sang the parts they could remember later on. It’s not always our fortune to see how we’ve affected others, but I would bet there are many who’ve experienced a Josie-induced epiphany in their lives.”

 

Sunny released Josie’s hands as she embraced him. His arms wrapped around her as he felt a sense of pure, unquestioning love.

 

The embrace was shattered by a fit of coughing that would not be calmed. It continued on until Josie noted blood on the handkerchief he was using. Each series of coughs added to the growing red blotch and Josie’s hope began to darken just as the sky had earlier.

 

“Sunny, we’ve got to get you to town. Maybe a doctor can do something more.”

 

“It’s fine Josie,” he whispered. “I won’t make it to town. I’m just so tired.”

 

“Sunny, please. I’ve been wondering why no one has come looking for someone like you, and can only figure they think you’re already dead or don’t know you’re missing. We’ve got to try to get to Virginia City. Someone there may know who you are. You can’t die without knowing that.”

 

A single tear slid from the corner of Sunny’s eye as he corrected her. “Josie, I don’t know who I was but I know who I am right now, and that’s enough.”

 

“Please don’t say that Sunny. I thank you for it, but somewhere there’s a family who wants—no, needs you back. We’ve got to find them.”

 

“I’ve been with my family in my dreams, Josie,” he whispered. “There are no faces, but I hear laughter and wisdom and authority. I am convinced they will be fine without me because they still have each other.” Sunny’s eyes slipped closed: his face taking on an ethereal quality.

 

Josie dropped to Sunny’s chest, listening for a heartbeat or breathing. Finding both, albeit weak, she sprang into action.

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye

 

Little Joe and Hoss decided they wouldn’t wear black to the funeral. Black was Adam’s color and it never signified sorrow, so they didn’t want to put that onus on it now. The two brothers recalled how they had teased him when he first began the switch to wearing all black about a year earlier. Joe reminded Hoss of the day Adam had calmly responded by saying that he preferred black because it cleaned up so easily. Then he had demonstrated that by simply removing his shirt: which he did, and giving it a good snap, which he also did, the dust “just flies away leaving the shirt looking fresh.” Of course he’d directed the snap and dust cloud it created, directly into their faces to make his point. Adding insult to injury, as they stood coughing and rubbing their eyes, he had pointed out how unsightly their white and beige shirts looked covered in dust. He’d concluded, “There’s no way a bit of simple tidying on your parts can ever make you two presentable.”

 

Joe further recalled that the “discussion” had ended with Joe and Adam on the ground wrestling after Joe remarked, “Come on Adam, we know you just want to look like that preacher friend of yours, Dave Clayton. If you add one of Pa’s starched white collars to yer neck and button up all the way, maybe you can get them ladies at the saloon to take you aside and make their confessions!” Joe laughed again as he remembered the scuffle. “I think Adam had been taking a lot of poking about the same thought when he was in town and he took his frustration out on me. Of course I didn’t think it was all that bad an idea myself and couldn’t understand why it upset him so much.” With further thought he added, “Maybe he was feelin’ protective of Dave more ‘n himself.”

 

Hoss had agreed that was probably true then added, “Our older brother usually looked like he had a coating of dust on those black duds, but he was right; a few slaps and swats to get the dust moving and he was ready.” With a sly grin he added, “It was that darned hat that always did him in though. Remember Joe?”

 

Joe laughed as he recalled, “Yeah that felt Stetson held onto dust like a magnet. I doubt many of the hands knew that Adam carried a brush in his saddlebag when we were on drives to clean that doggone hat up before we went into a town. Course you never caught him doing it because it would have disproved his theory on the wonders of black. But somehow he always managed to sneak away and get it done before we headed out.”

 

The brothers had shared a good laugh, but were overtaken by silence as the happy memories accentuated the loss with the knowledge that “memories” were all they had.

 

In the end they decided to wear white shirts and string ties with their everyday coats, feeling it would seem more like sending Adam off on a trip rather than saying goodbye to him forever.

 

Ben found his sons waiting by the door when he finally made his way downstairs. He too had favored his leather vest over a white shirt rather than his Sunday suit. “Looks like we’re set,” he remarked as he grabbed his hat. “It’s strange,” he remarked randomly, “No one ever found Adam’s hat in the wreckage. Wonder what ever happened to it?”

 

Hoss was the first out the door, while Ben and Joe lingered inside. “I know this is a hard day for you, pa,” the youngest boy offered, “But we’ll be there with you.”

 

Wrapping his arm around Little Joe, Ben thanked him. “This has been hard for all of us, Joseph. Don’t think I’ve forgotten that each of us has lost him.”

 

The two men stepped out into the bright spring day that was warmed by the sun and gentled by a cool breeze. Mounting their horses Ben moved out ahead. Turning back to his sons he said, “Let’s go say goodbye.”

 

Abide With Me

 

Apparently the whole of Virginia City was trying to pack into the church for the service. The standing-room-only crowd flowed out the doors, and even the windows had been opened so people might try to hear the proceedings from outside. The Baker family was already seated when Ben and the boys entered. Both friends and those curious souls who never missed a funeral, proffered nods, salutes and tears as Hoss, Joe and Ben made their way forward. While moved by the outpouring of affection, Ben wholly wished he were anywhere but there. He had wanted more than anything for this service to be at the lake by Marie’s grave—an intimate family affair rather than this large spectacle, but the service was held in town on the advice of Sheriff Coffee and Pastor Davis. Not many people knew about the events associated with the bogus claim that Adam was alive, yet Roy figured there was still plenty of speculation over what had transpired. He felt a public service would show everyone that Ben had come to terms with Adam’s death and could prevent any further attempts to bother the Cartwrights. Pastor Davis agreed with Roy and also felt it would let those in town grieve the loss of a well-respected young man.

 

Reverend Davis rose to begin the service, inviting everyone to sing Abide With Me*** as best they could. He had printed the words on a board placed at the front of the church, explaining that the song was still so new that it wasn’t in the hymnals yet. They were using it today because Adam had purchased the sheet music and sent it to him to add to the church’s hymn library after hearing it during a service in Sacramento just weeks before the accident. He told the group that Adam had written that he thought highly of the song, and so they would sing it now as a tribute for him. The pastor didn’t share all the contents of the note that arrived with the music.

 

Adam had written that the simple beauty of the lyrics had moved him while the melody was simple enough for most vocal ranges to handle. He thought it could be used as an alternative to the standard hymns that were done at funerals, and he had quipped that it might “offer some new life to death.” As Pastor Davis had prepared before the service, he thought again about the note and spoke quietly to the spirit of his friend. “Well, Adam, I guess we’ll see if you were right. But you surely didn’t have to die to prove it. We could have found another way to try it out.”

 

The organist began playing then, and she and the pastor carried the song for the first verse while those present listened.

 

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

 

More voices joined as the second verse began, and by the last stanza the church resounded with voices praising God in the midst of grief:

 

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

 

Moving to the pulpit as the song ended, the pastor read from Isaiah 40:31: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

 

The service then took a turn toward remembrance with Pastor Davis recalling all those whose lives came to an end on that April Tuesday; Nancy Portland, Hank Moss, Adam Cartwright, and Jake Baker. Jake’s name was included after speaking with Matthew Baker to ascertain his position as to Jake’s whereabouts. Matthew had assured the pastor that they believed Jake had died that day as well.

 

The pastor was able to share things he had heard about each of those who had perished. Nancy had many friends in town who were happy to recall her as a sweet woman who always helped a friend, while Hank was remembered for his care and concern for each passenger on his stage. Along with Jake, they were each thought of as wonderful people who were loved and missed by many.

 

With his general thoughts completed, Pastor Davis began to speak about Adam, recalling him as intelligent, faithful, and kind beyond description. Adam had been an inquisitive, attentive child who grew up experiencing the joy of exploration and the sadness of loss, along with the responsibility that came with each. There were things that Adam trusted in most: “God, his father, family, knowledge, truth, love and law. Adam always stood by the principles that each of these added to his life while confronting those things that stood against what he cherished. He found himself at odds with individuals and at times, even the town over matters that tested his resolve in his beliefs, but he always stood true.” The preacher finally noted to laughter from those assembled, that “Adam was not shy about commenting on my sermons; often taking time to challenge me on points of scripture either through hand delivered notes, or ‘discussions’ after the service.” But, the pastor had enjoyed each challenge, saying that they made him a better servant of God; a better scholar of scripture and most importantly, gave him ample opportunity to practice patience. He concluded his remarks by remembering a man of principle and love who would be dearly missed.

 

“Now,” Pastor Davis offered, “We will hear a few words from Adam’s brother, Hoss, who has asked to share his thoughts today.”

 

Hoss moved to the pulpit with knees that were knocking, but was heartened by the sea of faces smiling back at him. Turning to his father, Hoss saw Ben smile and give him a nod of encouragement.

 

With an impish grin, Hoss began: “My older brother Adam once told me that I wasn’t the wordsmith of our family but that I spoke the truth. Since I didn’t know what that meant, he told me I had to go look it up. Adam was like that, ya know. He always said that a mind had to keep challengin’ itself to stay alive. I didn’t know what he meant back when he said it, but figured it out because he showed me. Adam never stopped learning. Joe and I never understood why after he made it through all that schoolin’, he still wanted to spend his spare time readin’. We figured he should’ve learned enough by that time, but he always had his nose in a book. Anyway, I think what Adam was tryin’ to tell me that day was that I didn’t always put words together so purty, but that I made a lot of sense and I should never stop sayin’ what was in my heart. So that’s what I’m gonna try to do today.

 

A quick flick of his handkerchief across his forehead was the only indication that Hoss was having a hard time with his eulogy.

 

“I gotta say it’s hard to believe Adam is gone, and I wasn’t sure what to say about it. I wanted to tell y’all how much he meant to me, but couldn’t figure out where to start or how to speak of his death. Then Joe and I went to Adam’s room, and just like always, he gave us the answer, even though we had to look for it. Goin’ through his books and papers we found a tablet where he had written several quotes about dyin’. We figured they was from books he’d read and while I couldn’t imagine readin’ all them books, much less keepin’ thoughts on ‘em, Adam did. Since he wrote these things down, it made us inclined to think he might like it if we read them now. This was a tough one for me. It took me longer just to ponder on what them lines was saying than most anything I’ve ever done, but I think I got it. I thank Joe for all his help and Miss Jones for helping to make sure I got the names and words right.”

 

While most people think of a church as a place of quiet, there is a constant din of noise throughout a service. People cough, blow their nose and shift positions; children cry, talk and move about while parents try to stop them with loud whispers and hissed threats. There is even the occasional snore during a sermon. But as Hoss looked down to check the notes he’d placed on the podium, he realized that in this packed church, there was complete silence. He looked up, first sending a personal invitation heavenward, then began:

 

“This first thought was written by Mark Twain. You might remember that he and Adam got to know each other pretty fast when Adam’s right hook connected with Sam’s chin.” Heads nodded and looks exchanged as they remembered Samuel Clemens’ stint at the Territorial Enterprise. “He wrote, ‘Whoever has lived long enough to find out what life is, knows how deep a debt of gratitude we owe to Adam, the first great benefactor of the human race. He brought death into this world.’ We figured this must have tickled Adam pretty good since the quote was underlined about six times. Who knows, there may have been a hidden message for our brother in that one. But to us this means that man can’t go on forever and that death is a necessary end to life. All I know is that I wish Adam’s life had continued on a whole lot longer. Pa has always said that we can’t wish to take someone else’s place in death; that it comes as it’s meant to. But Joe and I would have given our life for our brother at any time or place.”

 

Hoss paused for a deep breath and then continued:

 

“Longfellow wrote, ‘When a great man dies, for years the light he leaves behind him, lies on the paths of men.’” Hoss explained. “Adam was the first of us Cartwright boys to come along. Me and Joe, we can never follow in his footsteps ‘cause they wandered places we’ll never be able to go and took paths we won’t never see. But we know we’ll see his light ahead of us on our own paths for our entire lives. It was his nature to make us want to be the best, and his being gone isn’t about to change that.”

 

The church pews were becoming a flicker of red and blue as men pulled handkerchiefs from their pockets, and a flutter of white linen and lace as women pulled theirs from purses or dress sleeves. Most would later claim they had hay fever from the blooming flowers and trees, but there wasn’t a dry eye in the church as Hoss spoke. This was especially odd since some of the pews were occupied by the snide and vengeful who had come to see the holier-than-thou Cartwrights lay their prince to rest. Yet even they were moved by the obvious affection of Hoss and Joe for their brother.

 

Hoss sighed with relief as he realized he was nearing the end of his remarks. “A feller named, Cicero, said, ‘The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.’ You see, if we remember those who have passed, then they ain’t really gone because their life is always just a memory away, and there ain’t no way we’ll ever forget our brother. I’ll end with the quote that Adam had circled in his notes so I ‘spect it was something that struck him soundly. It’s by von Goethe. ‘Death is a commingling of eternity with time; in the death of a good man, eternity is seen lookin’ through time.’ Let me tell y’all, my brother was a very good man and eternity is mighty lucky to have him. I just hope I can live in a way that if Adam is able to see, he’ll be proud.”

 

With one more look upward and a mighty exhaling of his nervousness and sorrow, he returned to his seat with Ben and Joe. Pastor Davis rose to ask Lonny McMahon to sing Amazing Grace. She had worked with Nancy Portland and offered to sing at the memorial service as a tribute to her friend.

 

Hold The Presses!

 

Josie slapped the reins on the horses’ rumps willing them to move faster. She had been awake most of the night fashioning a pallet for Sunny to sleep on during the drive to Virginia City, then pretty much dragged him from the bed to the wagon. It was barely light enough to see the road when she set out with her patient snugly wrapped up in the back. Sunny woke long enough to sip water and help get outside, but fell back into a stupor instantly despite the ruts and rocks jolting the wagon. Josie’s mind ran a constant litany of prayers asking that Sunny make it to town to find help, and those who might know who he was.

 

It was late-morning when the wagon rolled into the empty streets of Virginia City. By Josie’s reckoning it was Friday, not Sunday, yet there was the unmistakable absence of business and people typical of the Sabbath. Finally spotting a disheveled looking man outside a saloon, Josie called to him asking where she might find a doctor’s office.

 

Pointing down the street he told her, “That white house be Doc Martin’s office but ya’ll not find him there.”

 

“Well, might there be another doctor you can direct me to?” Josie asked with increasing anxiety.

 

“Sure, there’s other doctors in town, but ya won’t be finding any of them at home right now.”

 

Almost screeching now, Josie demanded, “What are you talking about. Where is everyone?”

 

“They all be at the funeral of that young’un, Adam Cartwright. He died some weeks back but they’s giving him the funeral today.”

 

Standing to get her bearings Josie finally spotted the line of carriages and horses on the street where she suspected the church must stand. Clicking at her horses, she got them turned and drove in that direction.

 

After securing the reins and checking to make sure Sunny was still breathing, Josie headed toward the church. She was amazed at the numbers of people crowding the steps and doors and had to push her way through to get inside. Josie didn’t want to intrude on this sacred occasion but figured this was where she had to be since the people she needed were here. In squeezing through the throng, she heard whispers noting that the person singing was a friend of the woman killed in the crash. It struck her that this service might be aimed at all those who perished, and began to hope that someone inside would know exactly who was in her wagon.

 

Josie made it to the back of the church just as the young woman finished the last verse of the song. She saw her chance and took it. Walking up the center aisle she asked for the group’s attention. “Please forgive me,” she asked as all eyes took aim on her. “I would never interrupt such proceedings but I need help right now and every doctor in town is here. I have a wagon outside with a young man in the back. I found him three weeks ago and he’s very ill. He didn’t remember anything until a few days back when he recalled being thrown from a stage, even though he was miles away from where that coach went down. He still doesn’t remember anything else.”

 

A collective gasp rose from those assembled. The Cartwrights and Bakers rose, encouraging the woman to speak further.

 

“He was mostly dead when I found him but was recovering slowly until pneumonia set in.”

 

“He doesn’t remember anything?” queried Ben.

 

“He thinks his name might be James.”

 

“Perhaps Jake?” asked Matthew Baker hopefully.

 

“I suppose that could be right. But we’re wasting time. Why don’t we go out and see if he is who you think he might be.”

 

Ben and Matthew rushed from the church, followed closely by Paul Martin and the children of both families. Even the din of many voices speaking at once and the crowd pressing on the wagon didn’t rouse Sunny.

 

Matthew Baker viewed Sunny’s dark hair; now long enough to cover his ears and forehead to his brows. He saw the scruffy beard covering the thin, pale face and declared, “Praise God, its Jacob!”

 

Ben thought back to the family picture he had seen at the Bakers’. He remembered the son that had reminded him of his own, and realized that the man in the wagon was the exact image of Jake. He pulled back from the crowd as Paul pushed forward, barking instructions for Josie to move the wagon to his office. The words Matthew Baker had shared earlier with Ben came rushing back: Sometimes as a parent, you are just a word away from being brought to your knees. For Ben, those words were, “Praise God, its Jacob.” If the man in the wagon was Jacob Baker, then there was no more wondering. The body they had already buried was Adam, and Ben’s search was over.

 

Gathering Hoss and Little Joe, the three Cartwrights returned to the church to avoid the crowd that was now crushing around to see what was happening. Pastor Davis made his way inside as well, remarking, “That was a most interesting ending to the service, Ben.” After a moment he added, “We’ll have to get that crowd moving or they’ll end up back in here. Any ideas as to what we should do?”

 

Ben could actually think more clearly at this moment than at any time since this all began. Knowing was hard, but was definitely better than not knowing. “There’s a lunch being served at the International House; please tell people to go over. We’ll stop later after we deal with this latest news.”

 

Reluctant to leave the family alone, Pastor Davis finally went out to do as requested. As the crowd drifted away in search of free food and drink, the church became very quiet with Ben breaking the silence by saying, “Boys, you did a wonderful job today. And before you ask; I’m fine. At this moment I’m not any sadder than earlier and am actually happy for the Bakers—as you should be.”

 

“We know Pa,” agreed Joe.

 

Hoss asked, “D’ya suppose we could skip the hotel and just go home?”

 

“We have to put in an appearance. But first, I’d like to ride to the cemetery. I think we need to pay our respects.”

 

Final Farewells

 

As he rode up to the cemetery after leaving Paul’s office, Roy could see his three friends standing by the unmarked grave. To his utter surprise, they appeared relaxed; clapping each other on the shoulders as Hoss gave a hearty laugh. Roy made his way to the mound that had not yet settled. “Ben, boys,” he greeted them, tipping his hat. “Just thought I’d ride out here and see what was going on.”

 

Ben answered for the group. “Thanks Roy. There’s something about knowing it’s Adam that brings more peace than anything else. He’s home. We were just recalling some of the suffering our poor Adam endured at the hands of his younger brothers.” All four men stood silently for a moment but then Ben remembered where Roy had come from, and asked, “Roy, you were at Doc Martin’s? How’s the boy doing?”

 

“He hasn’t opened his eyes yet, and is very sick. Paul’s giving him something to ease the pain in his chest, but that medicine can slow his breathing even more, so that’s a problem too. He hopes that Jake is strong enough to survive the pneumonia. Paul’s got the room Jake’s in littered with pans of steaming water. Says it should help his lungs to heal. I had to leave. Being in there was like being in New Orleans on a sticky deep summer’s day.”

 

Hoss inquired, “So does Paul think he’ll live?”

 

“Maybe. As always, time will tell. Right now they’re just hoping he’ll start breathing easier.” Roy paused, remembering something that had struck him earlier, “You know, it is interestin’ to see how much Jake resembles Adam.”

 

Little Joe spoke up, “Jake looked just the same as he did in the picture we saw when we were at the Baker ranch.

 

There was silence as four sets of eyes wandered back to the mound of dirt. There was no doubt that each of the men standing there wished the person in the wagon had been the man who lay buried there.

 

“Oh, Ben, I almost forgot. The Bakers would appreciate you stopping by Paul’s house later. They feel badly about rushing off without saying anything to you.”

 

“We aren’t upset about that, Roy. We’ll stop sometime before they go home, but not just now.” Ben thought a bit and inquired. “Who was that woman who brought him into town? Where did she find Jake?”

 

“That was Josie Sullivan. She owns a small place southwest of Goat Springs. I saw her turnoff both times we rode past, but knew she’d been in Virginia City over the week that everything happened and assumed she wouldn’t have any information. Her spread’s another good five miles in the opposite direction of the way we thought Jake had gone. She found him on her way home early Thursday morning, at the bottom of a ravine near the turnoff to her place. Apparently Jake had climbed outside the coach to aid the driver but fell off after setting his horse loose. Paul says that without her care Jake would have died, and is surprised he survived long enough for her to find him in the first place. From what Josie described, that sickness those people had would have been deadly enough without the crash. I’m just sorry I didn’t go talk to her.”

 

“No need to worry, Roy. We could have all done things differently and it wouldn’t have changed the outcome.”

 

“Thanks Ben. Say, are you going to relocate Adam’s grave to the Ponderosa?”

 

“The boys and I were talking about that and have decided that Adam would want to remain with the people he was with when he died. We’re going to put up a stone to honor all three buried here and then we’ll get a marker to place at the lake for us to remember him by.”

 

“Sounds like a good plan, Ben.”

 

Ben looked toward town and then back at Adam’s grave. For a brief moment, his anguish was visible and he appeared to be at the point of breaking down. Drawing a deep breath, he dropped one knee to the ground near where Adam lay and removed his hat. “Rest easy son.”

 

Hoss and Joe were at his side in an instant, as they voiced their goodbyes to the older brother they had loved and would never forget.

 

Rising stiffly, Ben finally suggested, “Let’s get to the hotel. We could all use something to eat, and then we’ll say our thanks and head home.”

 

It was still some minutes before any of the men standing at the grave were able to walk away. Once mounted, each gave a final tip of his hat to Adam and they headed toward town.

 

Checking on Friends

 

While making his way back to town after delivering his seventh baby in five days, Paul Martin mused, “Ah, the joys of spring.” He had been doctoring long enough to note the correlation between the weddings of the previous June to the number of births come March, April and May of the current year. Of course he didn’t attend every birth in the territory. There were other doctors, and unless the family had money, or a problem developed with the birth, babies were most often helped into the world by other women who had given birth themselves.

 

What Paul feared most was the ghostly white, visibly shaking father that showed up on his doorstep with a plea to “come quick” because a birth was “goin’ badly.” This always meant rushing to a woman in a grave situation, and often being able to save only the mother or child: whichever had the best chance of surviving. Sadly, many times, neither mother nor child survived. The births he had attended these last days ended well, but while this made him happy, it didn’t mean he was less exhausted.

 

Laughing to himself, Paul thought of how he would certainly need to be present if Hoss Cartwright ever married and had children. In fact all the Cartwright men seemed to favor petite women, which would make the delivery of any children—except possibly Little Joe’s—a real challenge for their wives. He had often thought that Hoss should be looking for a Bessie Sue kind of girl instead of the tiny women he favored. Adam and Ben were both over six feet tall and they too had always favored smallish women. The thought hit Paul like a log plummeting down a flume: Adam would not be marrying or having children, would he? He wondered how many times thoughts like this had struck Ben and the boys already. Grief could be held at bay by concentrating on the tasks at hand: life could be “gotten on” with. But when you were least prepared, unexpected thoughts and memories found their way into your consciousness. Those were the left hooks that left you fighting for purchase while your mind and heart spun in endless waves of hurt.

 

As he cut across the Ponderosa on his way back to town, Paul would have sworn he could smell fresh coffee. Of course it was wishful thinking, but it brought to mind that he should stop to check on the Cartwrights. If such a visit netted him a cup of Hop Sing’s amazing coffee and some homemade bakery, then even better.

 

Ben’s horse stood at the ready in the yard as Doc Martin drove in and secured his carriage. His hand was ready to knock just as the big door swung open revealing the patriarch of the Cartwright clan. “Paul, what a pleasant surprise! I was just coming to see who drove in.”

 

Paul’s cheeks turned pink as he confessed his intentions. “I’m afraid I come here in need of coffee mostly, but also to check on you and the boys.”

 

Hollering for Hop Sing to bring coffee and food, Ben ushered Paul over to his office area, indicating he should sit in a side chair while Ben rounded his desk. “I hope you don’t mind sitting over here. I just have a few last things to put together before I head to town. He shuffled ledgers, books and papers into neater piles as he asked, “So, Paul. How have things been going for Jake Baker?”

 

Before Paul could answer, Hop Sing arrived with a tray of coffee, sandwiches and cookies. “Doctor look tired, hungry. Eat!”

 

“Thank you kindly, Hop Sing.” Paul dove into the food, not remembering when he had last eaten. After finishing a sandwich and washing it down, Paul was finally able to answer Ben’s question. “Truth is, Ben, I haven’t been around my office much since he got there and haven’t ever been around at all when he’s awake. I got a number of things going to make him rest easier, but then the babies started coming and I had to keep running. Luckily Josie was there. I showed her what to do and she’s been taking care of him. I check on him and Josie gives me reports when I’m around.

 

“I heard from Roy that she kept Jake alive at first.”

 

“I’ve never seen anyone with more innate talent for medicine, that’s for sure. She said she brought him to town because she couldn’t do any more for him at her place. Truth is she was doing everything right. I was able to try a few things she wouldn’t have known about, but we’re mostly keeping him comfortable and letting his body heal.”

 

“Has the boy regained consciousness or remembered any more?”

 

Paul shrugged, “Josie told me he is awake at times but not communicating. He has such a raw throat that he can only speak in a whisper and then only a word or two at a time. Unfortunately, I don’t think he recalls anything more.”

 

“So how are the Bakers handling that?

“As you might expect. I can tell they’re disappointed, but they plan to take him home as soon as he can travel. Matthew feels Jake will remember more if he’s around his family in their home.”

 

“Well I’m glad he’s getting better. I worried that Matthew would lose his child twice.”

 

Paul had finished the rest of his lunch by then and asked, “How’s your family doing?”

 

“Fine Paul. We miss Adam more than we thought possible and the sadness is always just at the back of our minds. But we’re making it day by day.” Ben finished stacking his papers and put the more important records in the safe. “In fact I’m heading to town now to meet the boys. They went in earlier to arrange for the stones at the cemetery and lake.”

 

Meeting Ben’s eyes, Paul realized his friend’s comment about being fine was the truth. Roy had told him that Ben started doing better the moment he realized Jake was alive and had to face the fact of Adam’s death. “I’m glad to hear that, Ben. You do look as if a weight has been lifted.” As Paul prepared to leave he proposed, “Say, if you’re ready to leave, why not tie Buck up behind my carriage and we can talk on the way to town. It would certainly help me stay awake.”

 

Ben volunteered to drive so Paul could relax. It was the first opportunity they’d had to talk since the two had been in Paul’s office to identify Adam’s belongings. “It does seem like a lifetime ago since we talked, Ben.” A thought crossed Paul’s mind. “Seeing Jake with that beard makes me wonder if Adam really would have looked like him if he’d had one?”

 

“Toby is the only one who ever saw the two men together, Paul. We found out that Adam gave Jake a set of his clothes when Jake’s were ruined, and Toby said that except for Jake’s beard, the two did resemble each other very much.

 

This new information niggled at a piece of information stored somewhere deep in Paul’s mind. When he had done the autopsies of the three crash victims, he had actually wondered if Adam might have grown a beard while he was away. There was some evidence to suggest that he’d had one, but there wasn’t enough facial tissue remaining to be sure. Paul shuddered as he remembered the day he had to identify Adam’s body, and quickly put the image out of his mind, finally concluding, “I would give anything to have seen those two together.”

 

Ben nodded, unable to voice that there certainly was one of the two men he would give anything to see again.

 

“Say, Roy told me you were going to let Hoss and Joe decide what to put on Adam’s headstone. What’d they come up with?”

 

“After the success they had with the eulogy, they wanted to tackle this as well. I was apprehensive at first, but decided to let them do it. Of course the marker in Virginia City is for all three victims of the crash so will have just names and the fact of their death, but they had a little fun with the one that will be by Marie’s grave.”

 

“So? What did they decide on?”

 

“We’ll drop by your house later and they can tell you! I don’t think Adam would mind a little jab in the ribs from his brothers.

 

Ben bade Paul goodbye once they reached town. “I’m meeting the boys in an hour and we’ll stop by your office after lunch. We promised the Baker’s we’d stop by to meet Jacob and since he’s about ready to travel, this seems like a good time.”

 

As Ben rode away, Paul called after him, “I’ll try to be there, as long as no one decides to deliver in the next hour or two.”

 

Going Home

 

Carole Anne and Josie had put Jake through his paces that morning. He still couldn’t speak more than a few words without exhausting himself and then it was only in whispers. But they made him get dressed in the plaid shirt and jeans the Bakers had bought him, walk a course through Doc Martin’s office, and now had him sitting comfortably in a chair. Carole Anne had always been friendly and encouraging but seemed almost wary today. Jake wasn’t sure what it was about, but suspected it had something to do with getting things organized to leave for the Baker ranch. He wanted desperately to speak to Josie about that and seized his chance when Carole Anne left for the hotel.

 

The young woman had barely exited the door before Jake was motioning Josie over.

 

“What is it, Jake? Do you need something?” Josie asked with concern.

 

“Talk,” was all Jake could say. Josie brought water and he downed almost half the glass before starting again. In a strained whisper, Jake began, “Josie. Can’t go home with them.”

 

“What do you mean, you can’t go home with them? They love you Jake. They’ll take care of you.”

 

“Don’t remember them. AT ALL!” he croaked.

 

“That’s why you need to go with them. You’ll remember when you spend more time together.”

 

“I’m not a child. Don’t want to hurt them…but can’t go.”

 

“But, Jake,” Josie tried to make him see, “They’re your family.”

 

“Maybe, but not to me. Life would be a lie if I go.”

 

“Don’t you remember anything about them, Jake?” asked Josie, hoping to help him regain at least some small memory of these people who loved him.

 

“Nothing. Have ghosts of my family go through my head. These people are nice, but they’re not the ghosts.”

 

Josie tried again. “What things do you remember, Jake?”

 

His eyes looked down and his shoulders slumped forward as he tried to explain. “Respect. I remember respect, but fights and craziness. See myself shaking my head and saying things like, ‘Now what,’ and ‘Not again.’ I remember my father’s voice, strong and commanding, sometimes very loud.”

 

“Well that could be the Bakers. You don’t know them very well yet.”

 

“No. Nice people, but too…”

 

Josie was losing her patience. “Too what, Jacob Baker?”

 

Jake smiled in his most disarming way, “Too serious, Josie Sullivan.”

 

Oddly, it made sense. When people lost their memories, it didn’t seem that they lost their fundamental essence. Jake had been smart, funny, flirtatious, even a bit of a rogue during the time they’d been together. He was serious too, but not in the way the Bakers were serious. Matthew Baker was kind and caring, but almost stiff in his ways. He had thanked her continuously, but hadn’t spent more than a few minutes at a time with Jake. When he did it was only to tell Jake what to do. Carole Anne was sweet and seemed to keep the family together, but she too was very perfunctory in her care. None of the Bakers had hugged Jake, held his hand or made any attempt to connect to him other than with their words.

 

Realizing that Jake made sense, Josie inquired, “And what will you do if you don’t go home with them?”

 

Jake looked up at Josie and said seriously; “Go back with you, if you’ll have me. Can help with the farm until I figure out more, then head out on my own.”

 

Josie knelt by the chair, taking his hands in hers. “I’d be happy as pie to have you come back with me. I have some future plans but those can wait a bit until you remember more. When you recall more about the Bakers, you can go to them.”

 

Sunny whispered, “Thank you.” It was all he could say for now. The talk had taken every ounce of his strength and he dozed off within seconds of leaning back in the chair.

 

Paul walked into his home to Josie shushing him as she led him to the adjoining room to show him Sunny sleeping in the chair. Paul motioned for her to follow him back into his office so they could talk.

 

“He looks pretty good, even if he is tired,” remarked the equally tired doctor.

 

“He’s doing well, but still remembers nothing of the Bakers and has decided not to go with them.”

 

“How’d they handle that news?” inquired a surprised Paul. “That’s what they’ve wanted most since you brought him here.”

 

“They don’t know yet. He’ll tell them when they return. He’s not a child, Doctor, and should be able to choose what’s best for himself.”

 

Paul smiled. “And I suspect what’s best right now is that he stays with you?”

 

“That would be the plan. Just until he either is strong enough to head out, or remembers more.”

 

“Have you mentioned your other plans to him yet, Josie?”

 

“I will soon. I still don’t have it all worked out in my own head and haven’t heard back yet from your friend in San Francisco. Don’t want to jump too fast and regret it.”

 

“You’re probably right about that.” Paul stretched and then remembered, “The Cartwrights are stopping by later to meet Jake and say goodbye. I think you’ll enjoy meeting them.” Josie agreed and left Paul alone as she noted his eyes getting heavy.

 

An Epitaph for a Granite Headed Yankee

 

“So you two got things squared away with Milt at the stone works?” Ben asked as the three Cartwrights met for lunch.

 

“We sure did Pa,” offered Hoss, “And now that he knows how much he’s gotta get on each of them he can start looking for good stones. He’ll let us know when he thinks he’s got somethin’ we’ll like.

 

Joe laughed as he thought about the epitaph he and Hoss had decided on. “Pa, thanks again for letting us do this. We know he was the most serious of us three, but he always enjoyed a good joke, even when it was on him.”

 

“B’sides,” continued Hoss, “It’s likely we’ll be the only ones ever see it, so we might as well smile when we think of our older brother.”

 

They were all still in a good mood as they neared Doc Martins office. They wanted to meet Jake Baker but were sobered by the fact that they had all hoped at one time or another that Jake had been in that coach instead of Adam. They felt remorse over this, but not guilt, because it was human nature to wish for the best outcome for those you love. There was never any harm intended toward the Bakers.

 

Paul jumped as their entry into his office startled him out of his slumber. “So, you get everything taken care of?” he questioned the family as he yawned and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

 

Hoss answered, “Pa finished up at the bank and we met with Milt, so we’re about ready to head home.”

 

“You forgot to tell him we had lunch, Hoss,” teased Joe.

 

“I don’t never forget havin’ lunch, brother,” he laughed. “Just some are more worth rememberin’ than others, and that one was not memorable.”

 

Paul walked them back into the parlor with the intention of getting Josie and Jake for the visit.

 

Jake awoke when he first heard the Cartwrights talking to Paul in his office. “Josie,” he hissed as loudly as he could. “Josie, who just came in?”

 

Josie looked and returned with the information, “I think it’s the Cartwrights. I’ve never met them myself but did see them at the funeral. Why do you ask?”

 

Jake managed to squeak out, “I’m not sure.”

 

At that moment he heard one of the men laugh at the other’s comment about lunch. He also heard a low chuckle from another in the group as the men made their way to the room adjoining the one Jake and Josie were in. Josie was about to say something but Jake motioned for her to stop as he leaned forward hoping to hear better.

 

“So,” Paul finally asked, “What did you decide to put on Adam’s headstone? I’ve been waiting hours to hear.”

 

Hoss and Joe both laughed but then calmed down and let the suspense build.

 

Meanwhile Jake was trying to stand while Josie kept pushing him down. Josie couldn’t understand his agitation and held his shoulders down while he fought to stand. The war of wills came to an end when Jake managed to rise after pushing her hands out of the way. Giving her a scathing, haunted glare, he walked over to stand at the curtain separating the two rooms.

 

“So out with it!” Paul ordered.

 

Little Joe finally explained, “It says, Adam Cartwright: Our Beloved Yankee Granite Headed Brother. We’re also using a quote that Adam had in his notebook, by a man named Dryden. ‘He was exhaled; his great Creator drew his Spirit, as the sun the morning dew.’” Joe began to chuckle and gave Hoss a punch in the shoulder as he remembered their earlier conversation. “Hoss and me were speculating whether Heaven is big enough for all of Adam’s big ideas, or whether they’ll have to add on the Adam Cartwright Wing to hold them all. We figure he’s standing at a desk up there, pencil in hand drawing out the plans for it while giving very specific directions to the rest of the heavenly host on how to build it.”

 

Paul laughed along with the others, but as the finality of it set in, the room became silent. Behind the curtain Jake’s breathing and heart rate were accelerating. It was all beginning to make sense. He knew why Josie’s laugh had made him feel at home, why her gentle, quiet wisdom was so comforting and why he didn’t mind her commanding attitude when she wanted him to do something.

 

Jake pulled the curtain aside and stepped into the room with Josie at his side. She had watched the veil lifting from Sunny’s eyes and knew that a family would soon be mourning the death of their son.

 

Paul saw that they had entered and quickly made introductions. “Jake, Josie, these are the Cartwrights; Ben, Hoss and Little Joe.” Each member of the family nodded with the introduction saying, “Ma’am, Jake.”

 

Josie waited until she was certain of what her intuition was telling her, but glancing at Sunny, she knew. “Gentlemen, we overheard your epitaph and find only one thing wrong with it.”

 

Sunny was now smiling broadly as he understood that Josie knew.

 

Joe looked at the pair with his brow pursed, “And what is the problem as you see it?”

 

This time Sunny whispered as loudly as his voice allowed, “It would be a fine remembrance…if your Yankee granite headed brother was actually dead.”

 

Ben looked outraged as he moved toward Jake, fumbling for words. “I know you’re still ill and having problems remembering things, but why would you say…” But as he spoke, he looked directly at the bearded man in front of him: He was so much thinner that he seemed a different man, but he saw it then: the gold fleck in the greenish-brown eyes, the set of his smile, the lean as he stood there. Reaching forward, Ben gently took his face and touched Jake’s top lip just to the left of center, feeling the fine scar even through the mustache growing there. “Adam?” he breathed softly. “Son.”

 

Adam stepped forward into his father’s arms, laying his head on Ben’s shoulder, whispering, “It’s been a long trip home, Pa.”

 

Hoss and Joe stood there looking at each other, then toward Paul, and finally at Ben and Adam. Paul shrugged, but realizing the boys were frozen in place, he waved them forward to greet their brother.

 

“Adam?” Hoss inquired tentatively as he rubbed his brother’s shoulder. “Pa, are you sure this is Adam? You’re not indulging in wishful thinking again, are you?”

 

Adam turned toward his giant brother, giving him a one sided smile, squeaking, “Shut up and come here, you Missouri Mule!” Adam found himself being lifted into the air as Hoss gave him a bear hug while Joe stood laughing with Ben.

 

Finally turning toward Little Joe, Adam whispered, “So, you have nothing smart to say?”

 

Joe came forward looking Adam over. He turned him around and then caught him with an embarrassed look as Adam teetered with the change of position. Not deterred, he lifted the hair over Adam’s ears, then grabbed his face and stared deeply into his eyes. Holding onto Adam’s shoulders in joy, and fear that his brother would collapse at any second, he turned his head to see the others, and stated with complete calm, “Yes, it’s really him. Dang it all, now I suppose he’s gonna expect us to call him Lazarus!”

 

The laughter that erupted in the room was instantly shut off when the door opened revealing the entire Baker family. Ben and Hoss went to stand with the rest of their family, partly to hold Adam up and partly to stand with him for what was coming.

 

Matthew Baker walked forward, extending his hand. “It’s good to meet you Adam.” He then turned to face Ben as he quietly told those gathered, “We will be heading home. It is now apparent that it was our Jacob on that stage, and just as you were going to do, Mr. Cartwright, we will leave him buried with the other two from the accident. I’ve heard that you are placing a memorial there and would be grateful if you will include Jacob Elvin Baker as one of those remembered. We will place a memorial in San Francisco next to his mother’s.”

 

The Cartwrights stood there unable to speak. Finally Ben was able to overcome his shock to ask, “How did you know?”

 

Carole Anne indicated that they should all take a seat after noting that Adam was having some trouble remaining on his feet. Once settled, she began to tell of their journey to realization.

 

“At first, seeing a bearded man whose story seemed to correspond to events more related to Jacob’s journey than Adam’s, we were able to ignore the things that didn’t seem quite right. Papa was so convinced it was Jacob that he simply refused to consider that it was not him and we believed too.”

 

Hoss was nodding affirmatively as he cut in. “Papa’s tend to do that don’t they?” Smiles circulated around the room as the truth of his statement hit home.

 

Carole Anne continued, “I was convinced at first as well. Certainly he looks like Jacob and since he mostly slept, I didn’t question anything. Josie and I cared for him and the truth be told, there was nothing to make me think that this was not my brother. I didn’t even question it as he began to speak, because Adam’s voice was so hoarse. I have to admit that even seeing him now, my heart tells me this is not Adam Cartwright, but Jacob Baker.”

 

Little Joe was anxious to hear what changed Carole Anne’s mind and encouraged, “So what tipped the scales for you. Did you notice some physical difference that made you question that it was Jake? Like a missing mole or birthmark; something like that?”

 

“No, not really. I didn’t notice anything that should or shouldn’t have been there. It all started yesterday afternoon when it became more certain that Jake, um, Adam, would be all right. When he finally slipped into a restful sleep, Josie and I took some time to really talk. She told me about ‘Sunny’s’ time with her.”

 

Ben now interrupted with a puzzled look. “Wait, now who’s Sonny?”

 

It was Adam who whispered, “It’s what Josie called me when I stayed with her. I couldn’t remember my name, so she gave me one. Sunny. Like my disposition.”

 

A snicker grew to a giggle and finally an all out laugh as Little Joe pondered the name. “Boy she oughtta live with you a while as Adam and then rethink that name. Sunny; my Aunt Petunia!”

 

The giggling continued until Joe noted the glare from Josie. “I think perhaps you don’t know your brother as well as you think you do young man,” was her icy response to the laughter.

 

“Sorry ma’am,” confessed Joe. “Maybe he showed you a side of him that we don’t usually see.”

 

“Or maybe it was the absence of a smart-aleck little brother that accounted for my sunnier disposition,” Adam croaked as he sent Joe a wink.

 

Ben got the story rolling again after the interruption. “Carole Anne, please continue. I’m fascinated to find out what brought about your change of heart.”

 

“It was the things Josie said about Sunny that did it. My brother was smart as a whip and never let you forget it. But he wasn’t brilliant by any means, nor was he well educated. There is no way he would have known the words to a song sung in Latin, much less be able to translate them into English.”

 

“Yup, that’s our Adam,” interjected Hoss as he gave Adam an appreciative nod. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about in specific, ma’am, but I know the floor sags under the weight of the books in his bedroom.”

 

Adam smiled at Hoss as he pressed Carole Anne to continue.

 

“Jake liked to read just like Sunny did, but preferred dime novels to classics. So what Josie said about Sunny wanting her to read from real books and then discuss what they’d read, just didn’t add up to this being Jake. Anyway, today I took a real good look at the man I thought was my brother. It finally hit me that his smile was wrong; the eyes, though familiar, were wrong; and the face without the beard would be wrong as well. I went to tell Papa and my brothers, but they were not surprised. They had been talking about the same misgivings and I merely confirmed them. We decided to go home, knowing that this man being with us would not accomplish the return of his memory. All the love we could give him wouldn’t turn him into Jake.”

 

Matthew Baker continued on from there. “When we heard the laughter as we approached the doctor’s house today, we all knew our thoughts had been confirmed. We prayed before entering, both in thanks for your joy at finding a son, and in sorrow for losing ours.”

 

Ben rose to comfort Matthew. “I truly don’t know what to say.”

 

“Say nothing Mr. Cartwright. It is well with our souls. It seems that Jacob found a good friend in your son before his death. He lived free, as he chose to do, and is at rest now. A father could ask for no more than that.

 

“Indeed,” was all that Ben could reply.

 

Goodbyes were exchanged as the Bakers prepared to leave. Adam still had only sketchy memories of the last days before the accident but promised to visit the family as soon as he remembered more about his time with Jake.

 

Josie’s mind reflected on the events of the last month and realized her time with Sunny was nearing an end. She was astonished at how much better he looked just since remembering and reuniting with his family. It confirmed what she had long suspected: This young man was totally aligned with his family and his protests to the contrary were simply his tortured mind finding peace.

 

“Well!” Ben exclaimed after the Bakers were gone, “Let’s see about getting you home! Maybe Josie will be kind enough to let us use her wagon with the bed in the back.”

 

“No!” Adam squawked in protest. “I’ll sit on the way home, or crawl if I have to, but I’m not leaving here on a bed!”

 

Surprised at the outburst, everyone focused on the now standing man, who was leaning precariously as he tried to catch his breath. It was finally Hoss who answered. “Whatever you say, Adam. Whatever you say. All’s I know though is that you’ll be riding between Josie and Pa ‘cause I ain’t gonna be pickin’ your sorry butt off the ground every 20 feet when you topple out.”

 

Adam gave Hoss a menacing look but agreed to the plan.

 

It was Josie who spoke up then, “Hoss, maybe Sunny will have to sit between two of you. I’m not sure…”

 

“What aren’t you sure of, Ma’am? That yer invited home with us?” Hoss realized that Josie had been pretty much left out of the conversation since the Baker’s had shown up.

 

Ben walked over to the tall woman. “Of course you will join us, that’s if you want to. After all, our ‘sunny’ Adam isn’t well yet, and with Paul gallivanting all over the territory looking for babies to bring into the world, we’ll need someone we can count on.”

 

The backhanded invitation brought a smile to Josie’s face as she accepted. “I’ll get our things together while you get the wagon and horses.” Then looking at Paul, she remarked, “You look terrible Dr. Martin. Go get some sleep. We’ve got this covered.”

 

Paul was more than willing to accept her charge to rest, waving to the Cartwright’s as they disappeared out the door. Speaking then to Adam and Josie, he admitted, “Adam, I honestly had no idea it was you. With the Baker’s identifying you as their son, I wasn’t looking for anything that wouldn’t point to you being Jake. The many injuries you sustained in the fall from the stage were healing well, so I just got you started with treatment for the pneumonia. You and Josie make a good team. You’re a better patient for her than you ever were for me.”

 

“She blackmailed me,” was Adam’s soft reply. “She made me work for everything. You should try it sometimes. Makes a powerful inducement.”

 

Paul promised to stop out in a day or two, and then walked into the room where Josie was gathering her things together. That’s when he saw it lying atop the basket Josie had brought along from home: Adam’s black hat. It had been there all the while, and Paul knew he had walked past it numerous times in the last week without ever really seeing it. He shook his head in amazement and decided he should follow Josie’s orders and rest. His fatigue during Adam’s recovery had prevented him from noticing a vital clue to solve the mystery that had started in this same office a month ago. Paul chuckled to himself as he sat, figuring that maybe this was one oversight the Cartwrights wouldn’t have to hear about, and by the time the rest of the family returned to pick up Adam and Josie, he was sound asleep on the cot Adam had vacated.

 

Outside, Ben pulled Adam up to the buckboard seat while Hoss gave a boost from below. Once settled, a slap of the reins started the horses toward the Ponderosa. Adam remained ramrod straight as they drove through town, but relaxed once they reached the roads of the Ponderosa; eventually drifting off, leaning on Ben’s shoulder. The father looked over Adam’s head at Josie, who immediately understood. She reached over and took the reins from Ben, who was then was free to gather his son to him. With his arms around him, Ben could feel Adam’s heart beating, and it hit him that this was what he had felt in his own heart the entire time that others had tried to convince him to be reasonable. Somewhere deep in his soul, he realized that he had never really accepted Adam’s death, but had let circumstances mask his perceptions. He had let himself be convinced that his intuition was wrong. He quietly vowed, “Never again.”

 

Adam’s head rose as he whispered, “What was that, Pa?”

 

“Nothing, son. Just rest.” He pulled his grown son close, to hold him as he had done with his child many years ago on their journey west.

 

Waking as the wagon came to a stop, Adam saw his home and understood why Josie’s place seemed familiar. Joe and Hoss had gone on ahead of the wagon to let Hop Sing know what had happened, and the Cartwright cook stood at the front door; mouth agape. For once in his life, Hop Sing was speechless as he helped Adam from the wagon, patting and hugging the man he thought was dead. He followed close behind as Hoss and Joe helped Adam to the house and then up the stairs as Josie ordered rest before any further reunion. As the three brothers reached Adam’s room, Hoss muttered, “Uh – oh.”

 

The room was a disaster with books in piles and heaps on the floor, the desk and even the bed. They’d forgotten that in their efforts to find appropriate readings for the funeral, they had destroyed Adam’s orderly room. On top of that, they’d ordered Hop Sing to stay out in case they needed to find more.

 

Pretty much suspended between his brothers at this point, Adam looked first to Joe, then over at Hoss and finally at the chaos before him. “Am I to believe you two were actually reading?”  Neither of his brothers replied as they struck identical sheepish grins.

 

Josie and Hop Sing moved ahead to clear the books from the bed and turn down the covers. Hop Sing, having found his voice, chattered continuously about Adam’s weight loss, his beard, and his joy at having him back, as he got him settled in.

 

Once comfortable and having allowed his Chinese friend the chance to get all his feelings out, Adam asked to speak to Hoss and Joe privately. His voice was still hoarse, but once alone with them, he managed to croak out, “You know you two are coming in here later to return these books to some semblance of order, right? I’ll tell you where to put each one so I can find them.”

 

Hoss and Joe nodded silently, but as Joe tried to apologize, Adam cut him off. “I heard about the eulogy you two did.” His eyes crinkled as the corners of his mouth turned up. “Carole Anne told ‘Jake’ about the funeral and how moving a tribute you did for your brother: You know, the one with the big ideas?” This reference made Joe and Hoss squirm even as they smiled. “Seriously, thank you both. It must have taken a lot of courage for a Louisiana Hothead and a Missouri Mule to put together something like that. It means…well, I wouldn’t have expected anything like that. I guess you two have the ability to surprise me, even though I had to be dead to find it out.”

 

All three boys sat in silence until Hoss spoke. “Y’all better be quiet and rest now. Iffen that voice of yours gets any worse, you’ll lose it completely and without bein’ able to blow out your feelings with your words, very loudly, I might add, yer head will explode with the effort of keepin’ silent.”

 

As the younger brothers exited, Joe slapped Hoss’s shoulder and added, “Truer words were never spoken.” Turning back toward Adam, Joe got the last word. “See ya later ‘Sunny,’” he drawled. A book within Adam’s reach hit the door as it swung closed. He had tried to utter a particularly nasty curse, but his voice was gone.

 

By evening, Adam joined his family for their first dinner together in several months. His appetite wasn’t good but he managed to eat enough to assuage the cook, who beside himself with joy had made Adam’s favorite foods. Josie watched in silent admiration of the family she was now a part of. One thing she had found once she was in the West was that families were often made up of those who banded together out of necessity as much as blood. The family in this house had four original members but she had no doubt that Hop Sing, Paul Martin, Sheriff Coffee and now Josie Sullivan were counted among the close relatives. How many others were included in their greater family was anyone’s guess, but she figured the number was many.

 

As the meal drew to a close, Adam, using only hand signals, persuaded Hoss and Joe to accompany him outside. Hoss beamed at the prospect and said something to the effect that “He’s been sorely missin’ you, Adam.” Josie wasn’t sure what this meant but figured she’d find out as Ben escorted her to the porch for coffee and a chance to enjoy the coming sunset Ponderosa style. Hoss’s comment soon made sense as the brothers lead a big chestnut horse from the barn.

 

Adam had grabbed an apple from the bowl on the great room table and let the animal crunch at it while he stroked its long white blaze. Josie thought she’d heard Hoss call the horse Sport, but the scene was so endearing that she couldn’t interrupt for clarification. She chuckled inwardly as Hoss and Joe stood within arms reach, trying to act nonchalant, and figured they were there to grab the horse or the master, whichever needed help first.

 

Ben leaned in to speak quietly, “The boys’ horses are as close as we get to having pets on our ranch, Josie. The mutual affection between animal and man here is built on trust, respect and care, not emotion.”

 

Witnessing the scene unfolding before her, she wanted to point out the obvious “emotion” being shared by both animal and man in the yard, but remained silent as Ben continued.

 

“If I’d allowed pets, Hoss would have brought home every stray or wounded critter he came across.” Ben thought about his last comment and laughingly corrected himself. “Actually, Hoss has brought home every stray and wounded critter he came across, but because of our rule, had to rehabilitate them and release them or destroy them if that wasn’t possible.”

 

Josie pursed her lips with a flashback of understanding, but Ben interpreted it as judgment. “I didn’t do that to be cruel, Josie, but to help the boys keep a perspective on life. Things that can be saved should be, and returned to purpose. I have always found the idea of wild creatures being kept caged as pets, repulsive. If we give them aid and they recover, then they can live their lives as God intended. But to keep them as caged playthings, well to me, that is disrespectful.

 

Realizing that her expression was misunderstood, Josie attempted to explain. “Mr. Cartwright, I agree with what you’re saying. In fact, I was just thinking about Adam as you spoke. I brought him home fully expecting that he would die within hours. But instead, he began to recover.”

 

Ben’s face registered a look of sadness. “I had heard that ‘Jake’ was pretty bad off. Have to admit I was wondering why you kept him at your place so long.” He hadn’t meant that statement to sound as harsh as it had and back peddled to avoid hurting Josie’s feelings. “I’m so sorry, that didn’t come out right. What I meant was that Adam still seems so ill and he was gone almost a month. Maybe you should tell me a little more about what happened to him out there? Paul told me that he must have been nearly dead when you found him, but didn’t give any details. He made it sound like you worked a small miracle to keep him alive.”

 

Josie asked Ben to come into the house and once seated there she began to tell him about the near loss of his son. “Mr. Cartwright, I want you to understand that I followed orders from somewhere; first to stop at the place where I found him and then to take care of him. In truth it wasn’t me who worked a miracle, but some force far greater than me.” She shook her head again at the strangeness of it all. I told your son back when I found him that I wasn’t sure which would serve me better; cooking a broth or diggin’ a grave.”

 

Ben smiled, but Josie noticed that he gave an involuntary shiver.

 

“Adam was in terrible shape but the worst of it was that he had the same sickness as those other folks must have had. I don’t know what he went through before I found him, but the man I found was as close to being dead as a body could be and still be breathing. His first two days with me he did nothing but moan while staying curled up in particular agony. Nothing was left inside him, and I couldn’t get him to eat or drink anything either. While that raged, he also contended with injuries from being thrown at full speed from the stage. He was ravaged by sickness, covered with bruises from head to toe, had a bad shoulder, and just for good measure had nearly frozen to death. That’s what I started with Mr. Cartwright. No man should have recovered from that and we can only thank God that he did. In fact, had those other folks not died in the crash, I fear they would still have died from that illness alone.” After thinking a bit, Josie added, “I’d appreciate it if you don’t tell Adam what I’ve just shared with you. He was pretty upset about being in the position he was in and I never told him the full truth about it. Dr. Martin knows because he had to figure out how best to treat him, and now you know so that you understand why I couldn’t bring him in sooner. But I’ll tell Adam only if he wants to know. While his memory has returned, I doubt that he will ever remember much from at least the first week with me and that might be best for now.”

 

Ben relocated from his red leather chair to the sofa where Josie sat. He thanked her again and added, “I’m wondering though at something you said earlier. How does my story of pets on the Ponderosa remind you of this situation?”

 

“Oh, I got off track there,” Josie laughed. “I brought Adam home as a wounded ‘critter.’ He began to recover, and I began to like having him around. When his memory was slow in returning, I think I considered keeping him with me if he’d stay. With Adam so wounded in body and mind, I think he became comfortable with the situation as well. I’m ashamed to admit, I think I considered keeping him rather than returning him to his purpose, as you put it. It made me feel so good to have him around that I forgot what was best for him.”

 

“What changed your mind?”

 

“Adam went from one deadly illness to another, with little rest between. I heard it coming on long before it got bad and began to think a lot while waiting for it to show how strong its venom was. As it worsened, he began to founder. He couldn’t remember his past, was losing his future, and his body and mind were failing because of it. One day he told me he wasn’t going to make it and that it didn’t matter who he’d been, just who he was at that moment. But his eyes told me differently; the haunted look told me he was being untruthful. I knew the only way to ensure his future was to help him find a connection to someone or something besides me. Once we got to Virginia City he believed he belonged with the Bakers, and it helped him fight. But I could see the fear taking over again when he couldn’t resolve his lack of memories or feelings for them. He had decided that he couldn’t go with the Bakers and would return to my ranch to sort things out. That was the plan until you and your boys came into the doctor’s office. You should have seen the light come back into your boy’s eyes. It was surely something to behold. No doubts, no second thoughts: just remembrance and relief.”

 

Ben was thanking Josie again when the three brothers entered the house. “Answer something if you can, Josie,” Ben asked after the boys had moved to their usual perches on the furniture surrounding the hearth. “Why, when he remembered the crash, did Adam think he was Jake instead of himself? Why would his memories be distorted that way?”

 

“I’ve wondered the same thing.” Josie looked toward Adam who shrugged. “Paul says that lost memories are not much understood. I have a theory though: When Adam first arrived, I was convinced he couldn’t be Adam because when I was in town those days before I found him, his death was all anyone talked about. When he first woke up, I told him that a man named Adam Cartwright had died in the crash and his mind accepted it as truth. I figure he rearranged the facts to fit the information he had been given. He even told me once that it didn’t seem quite right, but he didn’t have the right information to put the pieces in place.”

 

Ben nodded at Josie agreeing that it certainly made sense.

 

After a short time of sitting around the fire with the younger brothers recalling some stories about their brother for Josie’s benefit, Adam headed for his room. Although Adam refused their help with getting up the steps, Hoss and Joe each grabbed an arm and practically carried him up. Being more tired than sleepy, Adam decided to direct the reconstruction of his room while his siblings followed his non-verbal orders. The few times he tried to squeak out an order, the two others dissolved into such fits of laughter that he wrote his demands on paper and led them with the deftness of a conductor over his orchestra.

 

When all was returned to order and his workers sent away, Adam relaxed in the returning familiarity of his personal surroundings. Finally viewing his photographs and possessions in their proper places, his old memories began flowing back to him. From the first moment of recall in Paul’s office until now, he had remembered his immediate family, but not much else. He recalled relationships more than events at this point, and hadn’t let on that he couldn’t remember most of stories from the past that his brothers had told about him that evening. While his first sight of the Ponderosa homestead had seemed familiar, it didn’t bring back a rush of recollection. It took great resolve for him to remain patient as details began to repopulate his memory. He had only remembered Hop Sing when he saw him standing there. The layout of the house’s interior came back to him just as he walked through the door, and he was honestly surprised at the various foods served at the evening meal that were supposedly his “favorites” since he had no memory of having any preferences. His laryngitis had given him an easy cover for not participating in the conversations with anything more than nods and smiles.

 

But now the rapid-fire assault of returning memories was overwhelming. Yet he would not stop any of them, letting them wash over his mind and heart. He remembered being in the wagon while traveling endlessly with his father; meeting Inger; Hoss’s birth and Inger’s death. He held these memories for a while before continuing on with arriving in the West; living in lean-tos and cabins until his father began to accumulate property and make a good living. The good years presented next, when there was money and a home, including the addition of a bride and another brother, followed by another death. Another person would have had to stop before it overpowered him, but Adam forged on, remembering his time in Boston reconnecting with his grandfather; studying, making friends and finally returning to the Ponderosa, and the years of ranching as an adult. Along with the memories, he actually felt the physical and emotional pain of the losses he had experienced, the emptiness when he separated from his family for school, his love for Abel Stoddard as well as realizing the deep regret in not knowing his mother. He felt the doubt, fear, joy and anger he had known in his life.

 

These images and recollections kept him company throughout the night and by morning he was pretty well reacquainted with himself. Somewhere in the commingling of hard events with feelings, he even remembered when it was he began to love the wonder of learning while consuming written information and stories like a starving man. He saw how all of this led him to know that he would have to leave his family for better schooling, even though it had almost killed him to tell his father of his intentions.

 

The images of his first romances and love touched his lips giving him way down shivers that brought back memories of other pleasant physical experiences he had forgotten about. His desire to always know the reasons for everything and learn how and why everything worked showed up along with the remembrance of all the crazy stunts his brothers had pulled with, and on him. He grieved as he remembered the truth about the stage crash, seeing Nancy being overcome by the strange illness and Jake still caring for her like a mother hen when he had decided to climb out and help Hank. The time he’d spent with Jake and Nancy had been a delight as they sang and talked like old friends until everything went wrong. Even as he had flown from the stage figuring he was a dead man because of it, he knew that those inside the coach were headed for the same fate.

 

There was a week still missing where he could only remember absolute physical agony. That was the only missing time he chose not to work harder to remember. He’d ask Josie about it some day, but that time was a descent into death and tonight he was rising back to life.

 

Finally, he recalled his time with Josie. He knew that those weeks had been the closest he’d ever come to having his own mother with him and realized he would always want Josie in his life. She had admitted to loving him as a son, and he loved her with his whole heart.

 

Adam didn’t mind not sleeping.  He figured he had slept enough in the last month to last him a very long time.  Smiling, he realized that when he joined his family in the morning, they would be unaware of the transformation that had occurred during the night. But he was whole again and it felt very, very good. That much his family would see.

 

Epilogue

 

Adam’s health improved quickly over the next few days. Josie was aware of the presence of at least one other Cartwright in close proximity whenever he was outside, and continued to wonder at the love these men had for one another. Adam had confided that he appreciated his family’s company as he recovered, but hated the hovering. The one lingering effect of the pneumonia was Adam’s shortness of breath, causing him to stop at intervals; leaning forward with his hands on his knees as he struggled to breathe. Anxious eyes watched these episodes, but Josie had warned his family about running to help, assuring them that it was more upsetting to them than to Adam, and that it would get better soon.

 

Later in his first week home, Adam enlisted Hoss to accompany him to town on a mission. Ben, Joe and Josie watched as they headed out in the carriage with Hoss driving. Adam sat with his feet propped up on the footboard and the rest of his body leaning back into the seat. He sat up to offer a sly grin and tip of his hat to the those watching them leave, then placed the black Stetson over his eyes, crossed his arms across his chest and leaned back for the ride. No reason was given for the departure, but when they returned a few hours later, Josie couldn’t believe her eyes. The bearded face was now clean-shaven and the hair inches shorter. “Oh, my!” was all she could get out as she looked on at the handsome young man who had been hiding under all that hair. “Oh my!” she repeated. “Aren’t you just the prettiest thing?”

 

Of course Josie’s comment was all it took to send Joe into a long-winded laughing jag that left the newly shaven Adam blushing from ear to ear. Hoss, the protector of feelings and hearts, mumbled, “Boy, Adam, they kinda scraped your face good with that shave. It’s already turning red. Come on into the house, I got somthin’ that’ll make your skin feel better, right fast.

 

*****

 

Once Josie felt comfortable with the rest of his family, Adam encouraged her to tell them about her life in San Francisco. Although Josie didn’t share all of her “experiences” on the Barbary Coast, she told them enough about it to explain why she’d named Adam Sunny. This was followed by Joe’s earnest apology for his digs and jabs. “Adam, why didn’t you tell me about the significance of the name instead of letting me make a fool of myself,” whined the youngest.

 

“It wasn’t my story to tell Joe. Besides, you don’t need me to help you make a fool of yourself.” The comment had Adam smirking, while Little Joe’s mouth formed a silent oath.

 

That night, with Adam playing the guitar, they sang Panis Angelicus together. Adam sang the main choir’s part while Josie performed the echo. His voice was recovered just enough to carry a tune if he sang softly, and the combination of the two voices left the others in awe. Sure that his family would receive her song as she intended, Adam asked Josie to singSunny, With a Chance of Rain. She did so without the dance this time, figuring that since the Cartwright’s opinion of her was pretty good, she wouldn’t chance making them think anything different.

 

After Ben commented on the song’s message, Adam asked that Josie tell his father about the experience in Boston that was basis of the song. He wore a knowing smile as he recalled a memory from his first night home. While she began the telling, Adam excused himself and went to his room to retrieve a picture.

 

He made it back down to hear most of the story while leaning on the back of Ben’s chair. He watched as his father listened and when she finished, Ben turned to Adam asking, “You don’t think?”

 

“Yes, I do.” Directing his attention to Josie, Adam held out a picture for her to examine. “I know it’s been years, but might this have been the man you spoke to in Boston?”

 

Josie rose in excitement, as she looked the picture over carefully. “Why, yes! That’s definitely him! I’d recognize that chin and beard anywhere. How is it that you have a picture of him? Is he someone famous?”

 

“Not famous to world, Josie, just famous to my father and me. You talked to a man named Abel Stoddard. You were correct in saying he was a retired sea captain, but more importantly to this story, he was my grandfather. I was the one with him when you saw him the day you sailed. I can remember waving at a lovely woman my Grandfather said he’d met earlier. She was sailing for San Francisco and he said he was praying for her to have sunshine and fair weather through the entire trip.”

 

“Is he still living?” Josie asked hopefully.

 

“He passed a year or so ago,” Ben offered. “I thank you for your story, though. I know he lost so much when Elizabeth died and I left with Adam.” Bowing his head to honor his former captain and father-in-law, Ben continued, “I’m so grateful to hear that he found peace and helped others. Adam sensed that about him too when he was out east, and what you say confirms it for me.”

 

Josie sat down, as she understood the importance of this new knowledge. “Those words in my song: The ones that kept me going those years in San Francisco about things coming round and kindnesses being repaid… They’re true!” Looking up at Ben and Adam’s faces, she saw the realization there as well. Hoss and Joe remained silent as they took in this latest bit of information in an already incredible tale. “You don’t suppose… meeting your grandfather; clinging to his words to make my life better; finding Hiram who brought me here… do you suppose all that kindness was preparation to come back round to me finding and you and getting you back to your family?”

 

Ben’s wisdom took over after Adam sent him a questioning look. “Oh, I doubt that’s all there was to it. The bigger lesson is that you listened to God, Abel and your own heart; you never gave up hope and made life better for others as you moved through life, based on what you thought was the right thing to do. None of this would have happened if you hadn’t made each good choice along the way. We can never outthink or outplan God, so maybe it’s just best to listen and move when he speaks: just as you have done.”

 

“Thank you Ben.” There was silence as each of those in the room contemplated the story that had just been told. Finally, Josie broke the reverie. “I think God’s been speaking a lot again lately. This time I didn’t argue.” Josie asked that the family sit again so that she could let them know of her plans.

 

“I’ll be leaving in two days and want to thank you for a most inspiring journey.” Smiling at Adam, she continued. “Adam once asked me if I was trained in medicine. Doc Martin asked the same, so I thought to make use of that gift. I’ve been talking with Paul ever since I brought Sunny to Virginia City, and he told me about a friend that is trying to set up a clinic on the Barbary Coast. He’s both a minister and a physician who wants to care for the forgotten people who shadow the docks. Paul said that this Jackson Hughes, was looking for a sponsor, and after some correspondence with him, I’ve decided I’m going to be his partner. We’ll also bring in a lawyer to help us file legal action where needed.” Winking at Adam, she concluded, “Guess you could say I’ve been called to get those Israelites out of slavery after all.”

 

“That’s wonderful news!” Adam looked at Ben who gave a silent nod of approval. “Operations like that need lots of capital, Josie. My family will want to contribute.”

 

Josie began laughing so hard she had to stop to catch her breath. “This family is so wonderful, but there’s one small detail I might have forgotten to tell you.”

 

“What small detail, Josie?” Adam asked suspiciously. “What have you got up your sleeve this time?”

 

Every eye in the room was trained on Josie, as she began her explanation. “Sunny, remember you sayin’ how you were surprised I’d take in a stranger without knowing anything about them? Well, I have to admit now that I didn’t tell you everything just in case you weren’t the sweetheart I thought you were.”

 

The family waited expectantly as she finally told them, “You see, Hiram…well how do I say this…he had more money than God! He was one of the first to strike it rich in the California gold rush. He worked his claim for a time until he had so much money he couldn’t possibly spend it. Then he sold the mine and made more money. I can’t even count it all, but its invested and sitting in banks all over California and Nevada. So, I can run this clinic and still live like a queen for many years.”

 

Hoss and Joe had to pull their jaws back in place, while Adam just grinned. “I think I know this answer, but why did you and Hiram live so…modestly?”

 

“Hiram always said we needed to take care of ourselves. Said that he made that money doing an honest day’s labor and anything more than what he needed to live on was a gift, not a reward. He said he knew I would find something to do with that money and when he was dying, he told me to use it when I found it.”

 

“Well, Josie,” remarked Ben in a state of shock. “That’s quite a story. I remember Hiram Sullivan’s name from the goldrush days. He was generous to others even back then but the story circulating was that he had died. No one could believe he would just walk away from all that gold.”

 

Hoss and Joe asked a few more questions about Hiram, but then along with Ben, excused themselves and adjourned to their rooms while Josie and Adam sat talking into the night. She asked Adam to tell her more about his grandfather and she told of her plans for the clinic. With a minister as her partner, she wanted to help people find their way to forgive themselves first so they could forgive those who had harmed them more easily. However, they would still prosecute those who lied, cheated and held people against their will, so it wouldn’t keep happening. The first thing she intended to do was go find the place where she had worked, close it down and have the owners prosecuted for whatever offenses they could make stick.

 

Adam offered to do the revamp of any existing structure they might find or draw up plans for a new building, as a gift to the organization. “What are you calling this place?” he inquired, “The Sunshine House, or maybe Shelter from the Storm?”

 

“Not bad, Sunny. Not bad. You can help us decide when you come to do the blueprints.”

 

One arched brow lifted on Adam’s otherwise calm face. “After this last absence, it better be a while or Pa’s going to want to send along a cavalry detachment to make sure I make it in one piece.”

 

“Don’t worry child, I think Captain Stoddard will take fine care of you should you make the trip.”

 

Adam wrapped his arm around Josie, pulling her close. As she leaned her head on his shoulder, they propped their feet on the table and watched the embers glow in the hearth.

 

The End

 

Of Note:

*Psalm 28:1a, 2a

Music: The words for the two songs I used for inspiration were written in the correct period for this story, although the music for them makes a tight squeeze into the time line. I’ve included links for those who would like to hear them. (If they do not do a direct link, copy the address into your browser. I think you will enjoy them very much.)

**Panis Angelicus – A strophe from the hymn, Sacris Solemnis. Written by St. Thomas Aquinas. Music by Cesar Franck. To hear a performance of this song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJPhnzxd1fs&feature=fvsr

This is an interesting adaptation done by Pavarotti and Sting! I chose this because it is accompanied by guitar, much as Adam would have done in the story.

***Abide With Me – Words by Henry Lyte: Music by William Monk:

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4140759/abide_with_me_religious_spiritual_hymn/

You may want to start the link and come back here for the words. This is sung by Voices of the Valley, a Welsh male chorus, that I thought fitting for Mr. Roberts.      

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;  

the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide. 
When other helpers fail and comforts flee, 
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;

ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory? 
I triumph still, if thou abide with me. 

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes; 
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Timeline: For those who may try to fit a time period into this story, I have it taking place in the spring of 1861. That gives a tight fit for the Sacramento flooding to lure Adam away at the beginning, and is of course prior to the episode, The Ride, where poor Toby gets shot. Adam would have been with his grandfather in Boston about 14 years prior to this which gives him time to see Josie leave, and then allows time for her brief stay in San Francisco and the years in Nevada before finding “Sunny” on her way home. As my son always says, “Mom, suspend your disbelief – and just enjoy it.” J

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

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Author: missjudy

I'm from Southeastern Wisconsin, and have been writing Bonanza fanfic for several years. Adam's my favorite character, but I always to write in a way that will honor the men behind the roles.

11 thoughts on “Sunny, With a Chance of Rain (by MissJudy)

  1. what a lovely story, Josie made a perfect nurse, and a great mother also, It was lovely how you portrayed the love of the Cartwright family. I know this is one story I will reread Thanks again for a brilliant read

    1. Thank you, Chrish. I appreciate your thoughts, and the fact that you may reread it one day. I always do show the love in the Cartwright family. There are fights, disagreements and misunderstandings, but they always find their way back to one another. Thanks again.

  2. Sierra Girl asked about this story and I realized I’d never read it, for some reason. I’m so glad it was brought to my attention–I enjoyed everything about this, from your spot-on characterizations to the deep faith that underpins the plot. There were so many lovely details as well, drawn from both the actual history of the area and the TV show. Clearly a labor of love for you–thank you so much for sharing it with us all!

    1. Thank you so much, SKLamb. I appreciate your thoughtful comments, and you called it – much to my appreciation. My stories are labors of love for the men and characters they portrayed. I’m grateful that you think the characters are true. To me, that is the first and foremost consideration. There are times when they will act outside their usual points of view, but even then the situation must warrant it. And isn’t it wonderful to bring in historic facts to help give the story some sturdy feet! I know you do the same thing. Thank you again. Receiving this was an unexpected blessing, and you should know how much that means to me when life might not always be going as we’d planned, or allow as much time to be creative.

  3. Re-read one more time, you’ve captured all the emotions and denials a family suffers when faced with the unexpected loss of a loved one. A very emotional tribute to the men who portrayed the characters we came to love.

    1. Thanks for the reread, BluewindFarm. I appreciate the time it took to do this, and the wonderful comment you left. I always figured Ben had such a strong connection to Adam (and his other sons) that he would know if they were no longer among the living. I loved giving Hoss a chance to say how much he loved his brother and for the family to work together despite their differences of opinion. Thanks again.

    1. Thank you again, Krys. You will never know what it means to me that you pulled this story to read…especially after reading Transfigurations. These were sagas and I appreciate that you understand the amount of research and then story construction involved. My life has changed a lot in the last few months and writing is my sanctuary. To find reviews of things I’ve done recently or in the past brings me so much joy.
      judy

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