Seance (by Belle)

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Summary:  Ben is away, and the boys decide to enjoy a night on the town.  An evening of harmless entertainment turns into a race to save Joe’s life.

(10,292 words) Rating:  T

 

Seance

Adam knew better.  He had certainly been taught better.  A cautious man avoided this sort of outright chicanery.  A spiritual man rejected these activities as superstitious and impious.  However, a curious man in a town better known for dance hall girls than Shakespearean troupes had to take his entertainment where he could find it.  Moreover, it was his responsibility to ride herd over his younger brothers—that was a long standing obligation.

Thus, the Cartwright boys found themselves in the darkened banquet room of the Palace Hotel with a whole lot of other cautious, spiritual, and curious Virginia City residents.  Grouped around tables set along the perimeter of the room, men and women waited in nervous anticipation for the spiritualist in the center of the room to begin communing with the spirits of their beloved dead.

All in all, Adam was hoping for a nice diversion.  Pa wouldn’t approve, of course, but a séance was harmless.  Besides what Pa didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.

XXXXXXXXXX

Originally, the plan had been merely to pick up some supplies and the mail.  Those errands didn’t require the participation of all three brothers; but their father wouldn’t be home for a few more days, and for once everything from herds to horses seemed to be running smoothly.  The circumstances seemed to call for a little recreation, or at least a little relaxation.  A few beers maybe, a little poker perhaps, and then the boys would be back on the road to the Ponderosa.

They had barely tied the horses to the hitching rail before all three men adjourned to their various pastimes-with promises to meet before sundown to return home.    None of them shared his intentions with his brothers-and certainly questions wouldn’t have been well received.  Even so, Adam prided himself on being able to discern his brothers’ activities from their demeanors.  Actually, Adam figured that anyone with even limited powers of observation and the ability to add simple numbers correctly could figure his brothers out.

Eyeing Hoss over the supplies they were tying down to the buckboard, Adam took note of his cheerful face and relaxed attitude.  It wouldn’t do to ask outright, but Adam figured a little beating around the bush might flush out the answer.

“So . . . did you enjoy the afternoon?”  Adam strived to make his voice sound ever so nonchalant as he fussed around the wagon.  A quick look in his brother’s direction gave him the clue he needed.  Hoss’s ears and cheeks were rosy pink.

“Pretty?”  Adam prodded.

“Nosy, ain’t ya?” Hoss replied. Although his tone was slightly grumpy, Adam could see that Hoss was fighting to hide a small grin.

“Call it one of my charming quirks.”  Adam gave the rope a final tug and tucked the canvas neatly around the bundles.

“Yeah, well save some of that ‘charm’ for little brother.  I expect him any time now that the two of us have finished loading the supplies,” Hoss grouched.

Adam looked up and gestured to the latecomer heading their direction.

“As always, Joe, your timing is impeccable,” Adam called out.   “Work’s over, and it’s time to go home.”

Joe favored his brothers with a brilliant smile.  Adam’s eldest brother instincts kicked in at the sight.

Uh-oh,  when the kid turns on the charm for mere brothers, it’s time to check your wallet.

Trailed by a man Adam would initially describe as non-descript, Joe threw his arms around his smirking, eye-rolling brothers’ shoulders and gaily announced,

“Fellas, I have an idea.”

XXXXXXXXXXX

A séance.  Joe wanted them all to attend a séance that evening at the Palace Hotel.

“This here’s Solomon Hardy.”  Joe introduced the man to his brothers.  “Me and him have been playin’ poker, and he was tellin’ me all about this stuff.”

The man at Joe’s side was someone Adam had never seen.   Although bigger than Joe, the stranger was not a large man.  The fellow’s stringy brown hair was overdue for a cut and strayed over his watery blue eyes.  He wore a suit that had shiny patches at elbows and knees, and the straggly beard decorating his jaw added to the impression of a man who had known better times.  The hand he offered to Adam and Hoss as introduction was relatively soft without the calluses and scars so often associated with hard physical work. For Adam, the most surprising aspect was the man’s age-he appeared to be at least ten years older than Little Joe.  Why would a grown man be hanging around an eighteen-year old kid like Joe?

“Little Joe,” Hoss stated, “I ain’t interested in that mumbo jumbo.  If you want to waste an evening in town, I can think of better ways.”

“Solomon says the lady is real good looking, and that she speaks to folks’ dead relatives and such.”  Joe tended to simply ignore objections.

Adam wasn’t at all sure his youngest brother realized that séances and spiritualists were just elaborate ways to divide gullible folks from their money.

“Joe, you do know that séances are pure humbug, don’t you?”

“Adam, for a smart man, you sure ain’t very curious!  How can you decide something is a humbug if you haven’t seen it for yourself?  Solomon says that loads of people believe in this stuff, and there must be something to it.”

Adam smirked at his gullible little brother.  “Joe, the fact that ‘loads of people’ believe something doesn’t make it true.”

“Well,” Little Joe said, “I know a thing or two that’s true.  If we go on home now, we’ll eat whatever one of us scrounges up from the kitchen since Hop Sing ain’t there.  Hoss and I will play checkers by the fire.  You’ll read a book.  Heck, we’ll probably go to bed early.”

“So?”

“So . . . we can do that any night. Dang it, we do that every night when Pa’s home.  If you two love that routine so much, we can do it tomorrow night.  Tonight, let’s do somethin’ different.

Hoss and Adam exchanged amused expressions.  The kid had it pegged.  When had they become so boring and predictable?  The summer night air beckoned, sweet and warm, carrying tantalizing aromas from a nearby café and the tinkling sounds of a saloon’s piano.  There was no booming, affectionate parental voice urging them homeward.

Tomorrow was a good time to hop back onto the straight and narrow path.  Tonight, well, tonight was a good time for just a little foolishness.

XXXXXXXXXX

Adam’s skepticism was borne out by the ‘donations’ requested for the evening’s event.  When the red-haired young man at the door suggested that five dollars each was a suitable and expected amount, Hoss balked and almost abandoned the enterprise.

“Five dollars will buy an awful lotta beer,” he muttered.  When Joe reached into a surprisingly fat wallet and paid for everyone, including Solomon, Hoss shrugged and gave in.

“Where did you get all that money?” Adam asked Joe.

“It’s my lucky night! What can I say?  The poker game didn’t go so well for Solomon, though, did it?”  Joe crowed.  Solomon merely shrugged helplessly and offered a weak smile.  Adam shook his head at the absurdity of this luckless drifter gambling his poke and tagging along to a séance.

Soon they were seated at one of the tables pushed against the walls of the banquet hall.  Feeble light emanated from the few oil lamps placed around the room.  The room filled quickly with the nicely dressed men and women who could afford the entrance fee.  The crowd was mainly silent; the quiet was broken intermittently by nervous giggles from the ladies and the sounds of gentlemen clearing their throats and shifting uneasily in their chairs.  The gloom and lack of conversation added to the crowd’s anticipation.

His eyes straining in the darkness and his muscles tense, Hoss was particularly uncomfortable.  He had just been distracted by movement at the front of the room when he felt something tickle the back of his neck.   The resulting crash when his chair hit the floor was followed by a not-so-quiet exclamation—“Dadburn your ornery hide, Little Joe!”  Appreciative laughter filled the room then slowly faded away as the spectators became aware of the woman seated alone in their midst.  It was quite an entrance.

XXXXXXXXXX

It was the same red-haired young man who had solicited their donations that now introduced himself as Lucas, the associate of the renowned spiritualist, Eugenia Hobbes, whom it was his pleasure to present.

Stunning, Adam thought, as he studied the woman.  Her maturity was evident in the fine lines around her blue eyes and the silver strands twined through the blond hair coiled attractively at the nape of her neck. The filmy white dress emphasized rather than concealed a figure that might have graced a woman decades younger.  Seated at a skirted table in the middle of the room, Miss Hobbes was the portrait of genteel elegance and authority.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Lucas spoke with a rich, deep voice that carried throughout the space, “Miss Hobbes requires both your silence and concentration while she ascertains the willingness of the spirits present to communicate.”

Soft gasps were heard as the realization rippled through the audience.  The spirits were already present?

Adam stole a glance at his brothers.  Joe was mesmerized by the woman; knowing his brother, Adam presumed that the kid found Miss Hobbes’s appearance more than worthy of intense concentration.  On the other hand, Hoss was regarding the spectacle with a worried frown.

The lovely Miss Hobbes was sitting with eyes closed, breathing deeply.  Every now and then she flinched and shivered as though receiving glancing touches from unseen forces.  She opened her eyes slowly and gesturing regally to the crowd, announced,

“Many spirits are present with us tonight.”  Eugenia’s voice was musical . . . enchanting.  It was a voice that promised comfort, hope, and answers to questions if one dared to ask.

Adam nearly snorted in disgust.  How corny! Surely she could do better than that.  Before he could whisper his complaint to Hoss, loud knocks reverberated around the room.  Adam swung his attention to Eugenia Hobbes, who sat motionless, seemingly indifferent to the noise.  Standing behind her chair in full view of the audience, Lucas remained still as well.

I know there’s a trick here, but I can’t see it.   Adam considered various possibilities of wires, strings, and accomplices, but nothing was evident.  The noise rose to a disturbing crescendo before dwindling down to nothing—leaving the audience, including his brothers, shaken by the experience.

“Skeptics are also here tonight.” Eugenia’s tone was faintly amused and definitely challenging.  “Yet, the spirits are willing to be put to the test.”    Her serene gaze swept the room, seeming to consider the possibilities.  Meeting Lucas’s  eyes, they traded smiles before she nodded at him.

“Of course,” she purred.  “We’ll need a volunteer.”

As soon as he saw Lucas heading their direction, Adam knew who would be approached.

“Miss Hobbes would like you to join her.  Are you willing?”  Lucas was staring at his youngest brother.

Joe looked nervously at his brothers –should he?  In response, Adam shrugged and threw his hands up with a why not?  Hoss didn’t look a bit happy with the situation, but he gave his brother an encouraging wink.   Joe rose from the table and followed Lucas to the front of the room.  By the time Joe reached the lovely Eugenia, he had regained his composure as well as his charm.  The brothers watched Joe smile and briefly press the lady’s hand to his lips before taking a seat.

Adam could see that some mixture of excitement, fear, and skepticism touched every face in the room—with the exception of Solomon Hardy.  In contrast, the drifter’s face held no sign of fear or surprise.  Instead, he looked very much like someone who had just won a sizeable wager.

XXXXXXXXXX

Supplied with ink, paper, and envelopes, Joe had been invited to write the names of three deceased loved ones on separate sheets of paper and then to seal the sheets in separate envelopes. Joe had complied, crooking his arm around the paper to shield his work, all the while keeping a wary eye on Eugenia and Lucas, although neither of them attempted to peer at the sheets.  When all three envelopes were sealed and fanned out on the table, Joe sat back in the chair, arms crossed over his chest, waiting to see what would come next.

Hoss whispered to Adam, “Wanna bet which names are in those envelopes?”

Adam shook his head in reply.  Too easy.   Anyone who knew the kid could guess which three names were inscribed.  Joe had lost more than his share of loved ones.

“Now, my dear,” Eugenia was speaking to Joe again.  “This time, write down who that person was to you.”

The audience sat quietly, watching Joe repeat the process.  When he finished, he was invited to return to his seat in the audience.  Eugenia resumed the pose that indicated a trance.  She stretched out her hands with fingers spread and palms toward the table as if warming her hands above a fire.  One of the sealed envelopes appeared to separate from the group and rose to meet her questing fingers.  As she held the item lovingly, a single loud rap echoed around the room.  Nodding, she gave the envelope to Lucas, who handed it to the gentlemen closest to him.

Eugenia turned to find Joe among the audience.  “Marie,” she announced.

Lucas gestured for the gentleman holding the envelope to open it.  The man hesitated a moment before affirming,   “This here says, ‘Marie.’”

A commanding gesture from Eugenia halted the growing murmur from the audience.  Again, she held her hands over the envelopes, and again an envelope rose to meet her waiting hands.  When she announced, “Mother,” and a knock echoed around the room as if in assent-it seemed to merely confirm the audience’s foregone conclusion that the letter in the envelope would agree.

“Marie, are you here now?”  A single loud knock was heard nearly before Eugenia finished speaking.

“Do you have a message?”  Another single knock.  “Will you speak with us now?”  Two knocks this time were followed by prolonged silence.

“Ah, well, perhaps another time.”  Miss Hobbes reclined, nearly fainting, in her chair.  Her exertions seemed to have caused the lady considerable fatigue.

Appreciative applause and excited chatter filled the room. A few individuals rose to approach Eugenia—they needed no further demonstration and were intent on contacting their own departed loved ones.

Lucas took his place between Eugenia and the crowd.   “The seance has concluded.  Miss Hobbes will be available by appointment tomorrow to speak with individuals desiring her intercession with the spirit realm.  I will return to make those arrangements after I attend to Miss Hobbes.”  Giving his employer his arm, Lucas led Eugenia out of the banquet hall.

“Well, little brother, that was quite a show.  How about a beer before we head home?”  Hoss’s cheerful voice was a tad shaky.  He patted his brother’s back and tried to get a look at the boy’s face in the dim light.  Joe’s head was down and his brothers could see that he was swallowing hard.  Joe glanced at Hoss and gave him a quick nod, apparently not yet trusting himself to speak.

Let’s get out of here,” Adam suggested.  He led the way to the exit followed closely by Hoss, Joe, and Solomon. When they reached the relative quiet of the street, Solomon and Joe exchanged a few words before the drifter headed to his boarding house.

“I’ll meet you at the Silver Dollar in a few minutes,” Joe said.  Before his brothers could object, Joe turned and disappeared back into the Palace Hotel.

“Alrighty then,” Adam muttered.  Giving Hoss’s stomach a back-handed swat, Adam strode toward the saloon.

“The boy sure does like an older woman, don’t he?”  Hoss hadn’t moved, forcing Adam to circle back to him.

“Well, yes.  We knew that.  Miss Hobbes is certainly alluring.”

“Is that what you call it—alluring?  I don’t get it.”  Hoss was watching the hotel entrance clearly waiting for Joe to reappear.

Please.  Hoss may be shy, but he’s not oblivious.  “Yeah, that’s what I would call it.  Why?  What don’t you get?”  Adam was curious to hear his brother’s reaction.  The response he received made him blink in surprise.

“I’d call it somethin’ else—unclean, maybe.  There’s somethin’ seriously wrong with those two folks in there.”

XXXXXXXXXX

Eugenia brushed the hair away from her lovely face.  She touched the fine lines tracing the corners of her eyes, but the mirror confirmed her belief in her attractiveness.  Satisfied, she turned to watch Lucas study the appointment book.

At his invitation, she joined him on the settee.   Lucas leaned in to show Eugenia the book.

“We have three personal consultations booked for tomorrow.  All of them very eager, very hopeful.”  He reached for her hand, pressing it to his lips as he spoke.  Her other hand he placed gently in his lap.  He stifled a moan in response to her touch.

“Very good,” she cooed.  “And . . . ?”

“And . . . ,” Lucas whispered, “Joe Cartwright has asked if you would join him for supper tomorrow.”  The book was long forgotten.  His fingers tugged at the neckline of her dress, and he bent his head over her mouth.  “Will he do?”

“Oh, yes,” Eugenia breathed, “He’ll do nicely.”

XXXXXXXXXX

During the ride home that night, Joe was alternately uncommunicative and combative.  When Joe announced that he had invited Miss Hobbes to join him for dinner, Hoss had immediately tried to talk him out of it.  Naturally, opposition made Joe more determined.  When Hoss had appealed to Adam for support, both brothers were surprised at Adam’s mild response.  In fact, Joe forgot to argue when Adam merely suggested he make an early night of the date since they still had a lot to do before Pa returned.  The three brothers made it home without much more discussion and went immediately to their own rooms.

Before Adam was settled into his bed, Hoss was knocking on his door.  He slipped inside and perched on Adam’s desk chair.

“Why didn’t you back me up about Miss Hobbes?  What’s Pa gonna say when he finds out we let him take up with another woman?” Hoss demanded.

“What would happen if we laid down the law and insisted that Joe avoid her?”

Hoss stood and paced around a bit before replying.  “I reckon he would hightail it into town at first light and try to see her—just to show us he could if he wanted to.”

“Exactly, and knowing our little brother, he’d probably propose to her over brunch.”

Hoss stopped pacing to glare at his smirking brother.  “You don’t need to be such a smart-aleck.  I don’t like her, not one little bit.  I think she could cause a lot of trouble.”

“You’re making too much of this,” Adam soothed. “ At best, Joe will have a nice little romantic interlude.  At worst, she’ll relieve him of a few dollars—which he would probably lose playing poker anyway.  Pa isn’t here to forbid him; let’s try a little restraint instead.”

XXXXXXXXXX

Over breakfast, Adam mulled over the list of projects that needed to be completed before their father returned in a couple of days.  The list included branding, wagon repair, searching for strays, and of course, dealing with Joe’s lack of impulse control.  Although to be honest, Adam figured he himself was partially to blame for the latest issue.  After all, he had given in to the whole séance idea.

Despite his midnight conversation with Hoss, Adam still believed he was right.  Forbidding Joe to do something was like throwing kerosene on a fire.  However, Adam had always given Hoss a lot of credit for both common sense and intuition.  If Hoss thought that Miss Hobbes might be trouble, that possibility deserved some attention.

Taking his dishes to the kitchen, Adam considered his options.  He could sit tight and attend to his chores; he certainly had plenty to keep him busy.  Or he could go into town alone and poke around a little bit.  Adam sighed as he rinsed out his cup.  He was fooling himself; sitting tight was not going to be an option.

XXXXXXXXXXX

Adam’s first stop in town was the Palace Hotel.  It was a pleasure to sit down to a hot meal, and it was fortuitous Lucas was sitting at a nearby table holding court with a bevy of matrons.

“Is there any explanation for what Miss Hobbes is able to accomplish?” one of the ladies begged to know.

“Those of us closest to the manifestations have some theories, of course,” Lucas opined as he dabbed his lips with a napkin.  “We believe there is an infinitesimal influence of sympathy between mind and matter, which permeates all beings and pervades all the delicate niches of human intelligence.  This sympathetic influence working upon the affined intelligence of an affinity, coagulates itself into a corporeity, approximating closely to the adumbration of mortality in its highest admensuration, at last acuminating in an acumination.”

Adam watched as the ladies accepted the explanation as if it were chiseled on sacred stones, nodding to each other and murmuring, “Just so!” and “Of course, it is so obvious.”

This fellow is good.  I’m surprised he didn’t throw in ‘Abracadabra’ for good measure.  Adam had been certain all along the séance business was a con, but to witness Lucas’s deft handling of these ladies was disturbing.  Some of his feelings must have been evident because Lucas took notice of Adam and addressed a remark in his direction.

“Friend, these are lofty matters.  Don’t be discouraged if enlightenment seems unobtainable.”  Lucas sneered.

Lucas’s obnoxious manner made Adam’s blood boil.  However, now was not the time for ‘enlightenment.’  Instead, Adam inclined his head graciously to the ladies and departed.

“Oh, dear,” one of the ladies said, “I think you may have insulted Mr. Cartwright.”

“Mr. Cartwright, you say?  I certainly meant no insult.  Perhaps you can tell me how to approach the gentleman in order to make the proper apologies.”  Lucas was pleased to discover that sometimes it required no bait at all to hook plenty of fish.

XXXXXXXXXX

A brisk walk toward the sheriff’s office helped diminish some of Adam’s aggravation.  Perhaps Roy had some information on the rascals.  Wouldn’t it be nice to turn up a warrant or two?

Before he could reach the sheriff, Adam was distracted by the sight of Solomon Hardy entering the telegraph office.  Odd, drifters don’t normally have business that requires sending telegrams.   Adam decided to have a talk with the man who had talked his baby brother into this séance business in the first place. When Hardy left the telegraph office, he found Adam Cartwright falling in step beside him.

“Solomon,” Adam flashed his own version of the famous Cartwright smile, “would you like to join me for a beer?”

“Well, sure, Adam.”  Solomon didn’t look very enthusiastic, but he obediently trailed Adam into the Silver Dollar and accepted a beer.

After allowing a few minutes to savor their drinks and make inconsequential conversation, Adam moved the discussion in a more interesting direction.

“You know,” Adam drawled, “I don’t think I ever heard what brought you to Virginia City.”

Solomon took his time answering.  “Well, you know, I reckon I’m just like everyone else.  I came to seek my fame and fortune.” He ended his declaration with an ingratiating smile.

“How are you doing with that so far?”  Adam questioned.

“I hold body and soul together.”  For just a moment, Solomon’s face was crafty rather than obsequious.

“Sure, sure . . .  I can see that. “  Adam turned around, lounging against the bar.  “So, what do you do, exactly?”

“Odd jobs, mostly.  Things people want doing that they can’t seem to manage for themselves,” Solomon said.

Adam had the distinct impression Solomon had given him the truth, but the drifter sure hadn’t given him anything useful.  The silence stretched out between them.  Finally, Solomon sipped the last of his beer and held his hand out to Adam.

“Thanks, friend, I appreciate the company.  If you don’t mind, I’d better be movin’ on.”  Solomon tipped his hat and was out the door.  Adam watched him cross the street in the direction of the livery stables before finishing his own beer.

Well, friend, my baby brother had better not be one of your odd jobs.

XXXXXXXXXX

Adam nearly stumbled over the Widow Hawkins as he left the sheriff’s office.   Unfortunately, there had been no outstanding warrants for Miss Hobbes and her insufferable associate.  I might as well head home.  Adam absently patted the lady’s arm and began to tip his hat in farewell when he realized his opportunity.

“Mrs. Hawkins, it’s been so long since we’ve seen each other.  I wonder if you have time for a visit?”

XXXXXXXXXX

“That’s all I’m tryin’ to say, Little Joe.”

Joe made a real effort to keep his temper.  He and Hoss had spent the day branding; they were tired and grimy.  To make it all that much worse, Hoss had spent the day trying to talk him out of going into town and meeting Miss Hobbes for supper.  Joe couldn’t quite figure out what had gotten Hoss so worked up.  His brother was the most easy-going man you could ever want to meet.  He usually gave people the benefit of the doubt long past the time most folks would have called the sheriff.  Today, Hoss was showing a real prejudice against someone he knew nothing about—and being a big nuisance about it besides.

Joe threw up a hand to get Hoss to stop talking.

“Look, it’s just supper and conversation.  That’s all . . . probably,” Joe winked and elbowed his brother’s ribs.

“As if  . . . conversation . . . with that woman weren’t bad enough,” Hoss hadn’t even smiled at his brother’s sass.  “Look, boy, you don’t believe any of that stuff she did last night was real, do ya?  Every bit of it was some sort of trick.”

“Hoss,” Joe sighed.  “She’s interesting.  I like interesting people, especially interesting women.  Nothin’ bad is goin’ to happen.  She ain’t gonna summon any ghosts to snatch me away.  She ain’t gonna swindle me out of a fortune ‘cause I ain’t got a fortune.  Stop worryin’.  We need to get home so I can clean up for the evening.”

Hoss looked so upset, Joe relented a little and looped an arm around his shoulder.  “Hoss, I promise that if anything happens, I give you permission to say ‘I told you so.’”

XXXXXXXXXX

Adam sipped his tea and reached for one of the cookies Clementine set before him.  Better jump in now before she starts another story about her darling Harry.

“We didn’t see you at the séance last night,” Adam said.

“Oh, my!  You were there? And your brothers?”  When Adam nodded, Clementine fairly cackled with glee.  “Now, I would have thought a clever boy like you knows better.  Still, I suppose Eugenia gave everyone a good show?”

“You know her?”  This was more than he’d hoped for.

“Well, I knew her when she a just a slip of a girl, a bit older than Little Joe, I’d say.  Ah, she learned from the best.”

“What do you mean?”  Adam asked.

“When I knew Eugenia she was assisting John Henry Anderson at the New Strand Theater in London.  Now, that man could put on a show!  He was a master of illusions—none of this spiritualist tripe for him.  Anderson sent her packing after about a year.  He had no choice, really, the girl was soaked in scandal.  I can’t say I was sorry to see her leave.  Eugenia was the most heartless girl I’ve ever known.”  Clementine’s expressive face was a mask of distaste.

“Well, I suppose many young girls could be described as heartless . . .” Adam began.  Clementine cut him off.

“I don’t mean she broke hearts although she certainly did.  I mean she didn’t have a heart.  Eugenia was strange . . . amoral.  I remember shortly before she left the Strand, the stage manager’s daughter was beside herself over a litter of kittens that had gone missing.  They were found eventually inside a prop trunk, smothered, I suppose.  Eugenia admitted doing it and claimed the animals were underfoot.  She didn’t give them another thought, and she was surprised anyone would object.”  Clementine noted Adam’s reaction to the tale.  The man looked a little sick. She leaned forward and patted his hand.

“Dearie, if I were you, I’d keep myself and anyone I loved far away from Eugenia Hobbes.”

XXXXXXXXXX

Lucas closed the door after the final consultation of the day.  Eugenia’s eyes sparkled with triumph.  Their donation box overflowed with cash and the valuable tokens guaranteed to ensure Eugenia’s communication  with the next world.  Eugenia hummed a happy little tune to herself while she gave half her attention to Lucas’s story.

“ . . .  as we surmised,  he comes from wealth.  The Cartwrights, in fact, are very prominent people in the territory.  The boy himself is barely eighteen and has something of a romantic obsession with his mother’s memory.    The ladies were very forthcoming regarding details about the poor, departed Marie.  More to our purposes, Little Joe, as he is known, has shown himself inclined to dalliances with older women.”  Eugenia’s eyebrows shot up as she smiled in amusement.  She signaled for Lucas to continue.

“It seems that the family is very close, and the father’s affection for the young man is legendary.  I predict that this will be a quite lucrative encounter.”

XXXXXXXXXX

It never failed: when Adam was trying to avoid his brothers, he saw them at every turn; when he wanted one of them, it couldn’t be done.  Adam had been hoping to get home before Joe left for town, or at least, see him on the road.  Instead, Joe was long gone by the time Adam stepped through the front door.

On the other hand, Hoss was waiting for him and eager to learn what his investigation revealed.  After hearing Adam’s story, Hoss was also eager to hit the trail into town and drag Little Joe back home.

“Hoss, just stop,” Adam placed a restraining hand on his middle brother’s arm. “We really don’t have any evidence about this woman.  We just think it looks suspicious.  Joe wouldn’t come home without a fight, and that would probably make things worse.”

“Well, I reckon I wouldn’t have no problem handlin’ him no matter how hard he fought.” Hoss finished buckling his gun belt and began to tie his holster down.

“Please?”  Adam let his hand drop and kept a steady gaze.  Hoss was the first to break eye contact in surrender.  Pounding his fist on the sideboard, he made his displeasure known.

“Fine. I won’t go after him tonight.  But tomorrow, you and I go into town and have a talk with this female and that no-account ‘associate’ of hers. Got it?”

“Agreed, Hoss.”

XXXXXXXXXX

There was nothing like a nice ride on a summer’s day—especially when the destination was a beautiful woman.  Little Joe was sincerely looking forward to supper with Miss Hobbes, and he wasn’t a bit shaken up by that séance stuff from the night before.  Really, he knew it all had to be a bunch of tricks. It had sounded eerie at the time, of course, and it had just surprised him to hear Miss Hobbes call out his mother’s name.  Those knocks were kinda spooky, of course.  But, Joe was sure there was some logical explanation.  Joe was also certain he was just the fellow who could weasel the truth out of the lady.

By the time Joe had arrived at the Palace Hotel, he was feeling quite confident.  He gave a tug to his suit coat and brushed his sleeves off before entering the lobby.  Joe had been expecting to inquire at the front desk so he was a bit put off when Lucas met him in the lobby and escorted him upstairs.  This is odd.

Lucas opened the door to the hotel suite and gestured Joe inside.  A table set for two awaited him.  His dinner guest had not yet appeared.  The prospect of a very private evening was a little unsettling.

 Pa would have my head if he saw this.  Joe’s worries vanished when he glimpsed his dinner partner.  Eugenia glided across the room extending her hand which he gladly pressed to his lips.  The blond hair that had been elegantly coiffed the night before was now brushed out and lay in golden waves across her shoulders.  The dress, made of some sheer fabric Little Joe couldn’t begin to name, was constructed in such a way that stopped just short of being scandalous.  As Joe helped Eugenia to her chair, he noticed that she nodded at Lucas, who apparently took this as a dismissal.  The small part of Joe’s mind that remained rational started sending out little warning signals—Boy, you are being set up.

“You must think me very forward,” Eugenia murmured as she filled his glass with champagne.

Lord, yes.  “I find you very charming, Miss Hobbes,” Joe responded smoothly.

“As you already know, I am quite sensitive to emanations from the spirit world.”  She paused to smile and traced a pattern on the back of his hand with a cool finger tip. “I find I am also quite sensitive to those who have a similar affinity for the mystical.”  Eugenia immediately noticed his confusion.  She leaned in close to whisper conspiratorially, “I can see you share my sympathy with the spirit world; indeed, I detect the presence of a familiar, loving spirit within your aura.”  Eugenia made her declaration triumphantly as if she were laying a great gift at his feet.

“I see,” Joe lied.  He didn’t understand what she was talking about, but he knew he was enjoying her touch.  Joe could feel himself wanting to lose control of the situation; gently, he withdrew his hand and moved his chair a few inches away.  It wasn’t the first time Little Joe Cartwright had found himself the target of seduction.  He’d learned the hard way that when the attempt was this fast and obvious, it rarely boded well.

Eugenia was perplexed and just a little miffed by his response to her overtures.  Well, he’s just a timid boy.  She leaned back in her own chair and suggested they commence dinner.

XXXXXXXXXX

Lucas paced his room, pausing frequently to listen at the door separating the adjoining rooms.  He could barely discern the murmur of conversation.  He thrust his shaking hands deep into his pockets.  Lucas hated this part—it tore him up to know what had to happen between Eugenia and the boy.

More worrisome was the feeling the con was about to go bad.  This felt too much like a repeat of the last disaster. Eugenia was besotted with the Cartwright kid.  She was too eager, too arrogant.  If they weren’t very careful, there’d be no money and no boy.

Damn, it’s hot in here.  Lucas worked a finger around his collar for some relief and strode over to the window jerking it wide open.  He stood there for a moment, letting the night breeze soothe his irritation.  Idly, he scanned the street for a few minutes.  Plenty of people, mainly miners, were milling around. Before resuming his pacing,  Lucas watched a couple of cowboys step around a scraggly-haired drifter sitting on the sidewalk across from the hotel with apparently nothing better to do than take up space.

XXXXXXXXXX

Joe would never admit it out loud, but seeing Adam waiting up for him was more welcome than exasperating.  His brother was seated by the fireplace in his favorite chair with a book in his lap.  He watched silently as Joe hung his hat and placed the coiled gun belt on the sideboard.  Adam gestured to the settee, and Joe accepted the invitation.

“Enjoy yourself?” Adam didn’t see any reason to beat around the bush.

Joe merely shrugged in response.  The kid reclined against the back of the settee, stretching his feet out onto the table.  The two brothers watched the fire without speaking further.  Wait him out; he wouldn’t be sitting here if he didn’t want to talk.  Adam’s patience was soon rewarded.

“Adam,” Joe said, “do you think spirits want to communicate with the folks they left behind? I mean, Pa always talks about how our mothers watch over us and stuff.”

Don’t mess this up, old man.  Adam chose his words carefully. “Joe, I don’t know exactly.  I think Pa is reminding us that although our mothers aren’t with us physically, their influence and love for us is ever present and eternal.  I think he means that it’s possible they intercede on our behalf when we’re troubled or in trouble.  What do you think?

“I think what you said sounds about right.”

“Are you disappointed?” Adam asked.

Joe shrugged again in response.

“I have to tell you, I can’t really see Marie communicating with knocks and floating envelopes. Can you?”  When Joe grinned, Adam pressed on.  “Now, if you’d gotten a knock on the head, or something had been thrown across the room, then maybe . . .” Adam was pleased Joe didn’t take offense at the joke.  Is there more?  Joe cleared his throat and looked a little uncomfortable. 

“She . . . Eugenia . . . Miss Hobbes sorta threw herself at me tonight.”  Joe kept his eyes on the floor.

“I can’t say I’m surprised.  Did you ‘catch’ her?”  Please, say no. Please, say no.

“I couldn’t . . . I didn’t want to . . . something just felt really strange.”  Adam exhaled in relief.  However, Joe continued to speak. “She was kinda upset.  She wants me to go back tomorrow night for some sort of private consultation with the spirit world.  I think I’m gonna do it, you know, I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”

“You don’t owe her anything, Joe.”

“I know, but I said I would.  And after tomorrow night, I’m through with her.  Okay?”  This time, Adam responded with a shrug.  Joe gave him a small smile and headed upstairs.

So much for harmless entertainment.

XXXXXXXXXX

Brothers were so incredibly annoying.  Joe knew good and well he didn’t need or want anyone hanging around him while he spent yet another evening in town.  He planned on visiting Eugenia one more time, sitting through her spirit stuff in his usual state of confusion, and then easing on out of there.  But Hoss, in particular, was being pig-headed, and just to shut both of them up, Joe gave in.  In a bit of a role reversal, Adam had played peacemaker.

“You wrap up your relationship with the charming Miss Hobbes, and then we can have dinner and a few beers before getting a good night’s sleep at the International Hotel.” Adam had cajoled. “Think how much Pa will appreciate seeing all of us meet his stage tomorrow morning.”

Standing in the lobby of the Palace, Joe was regretting he had been so intent on going through with this meeting.  Nevertheless, he headed up the stairs.  Naturally, the ever-present Lucas answered the door and ushered him into the room.

The drawn curtains concealed the lingering rays of the evening’s sunset, effectively shrouding the room in an eerie gloom.  Two straight chairs were placed facing each other in the center of the room.  Eugenia awaited him, posed serenely in front of the fireplace.  As soon as Joe entered the room, she hurried toward him, catching his hands while placing a lingering kiss on each cheek.

“Joseph, what a night we have chosen!   An unheralded alignment of celestial objects should manifest in a powerful intersection between the earthly and spiritual realms.”  Casting aside propriety, Eugenia drew Little Joe in a warm embrace and whispered in his ear, “All questions shall be answered.”

Little Joe assumed that he should appear to be the picture of excited anticipation for this event, whatever it was.  So he did his best to look enthusiastic instead of looking for a quick exit.

Leading him to one of the chairs, she seated herself opposite Little Joe. As soon as Joe settled himself into the other chair, Eugenia accepted a heavy, polished board from Lucas.  Indicating to Joe that they had to be seated close enough to touch each other, Eugenia placed the board across their laps.  Painted upon the board’s slick surface were a few words and the letters of the alphabet.  Lucas handed Eugenia a heart-shaped contrivance before stepping back into some concealing shadows.

“The spirits are not confined to communicating with knocks.  In fact, with this planchette, you can communicate with your familiar spirit and receive direct answers to your questions.”  As Eugenia predicted, Joe looked just a little hopeful.

“Of course, we must completely concentrate our minds upon this matter at hand.  Let no other topic spoil the focus, Joseph. Be serious and respectful.  If you approach this with a frivolous spirit, you will naturally get undeveloped influences around you.”  She watched in amusement as Joe painfully swallowed.

“Well, we wouldn’t want no undeveloped influences . . .” Joe’s feeble joke caused Eugenia to frown severely at him, and his strained humor died in his throat.

“Now, my dear, put your fingers here upon this tiny table, but do not press.  The object must be allowed to move freely.  When the spirit is ready, we will be able to communicate.  When that happens, it is best only one of us speaks.”

After placing his fingers upon the little contraption, Eugenia placed her own hand lightly upon his.  They waited, scarcely seeming to breathe, when suddenly the little table seemed to come to life under Joe’s fingertips.  He looked excitedly at Eugenia.  She nodded to him and spoke,

“Is anyone there?”

As soon as the words left her lips, Little Joe sensed movement in the planchette, and the item seemed to skip across the board to arrive, trembling before the letter “M.”  It paused briefly and moved quickly to “a” and “m” and “a” again.

Joe had promised his brothers he would be logical about all of this. He’d assured them he knew it was all trickery.  But that was before—right now all he wanted was to communicate with his mama.

XXXXXXXXXX

He was so very close to becoming hers.  Every question asked and answered made him more accepting.  Eugenia scrutinized Joe’s expressive face.  His green eyes glistened with tears.  The hand she balanced lightly on his wrist detected a rapid pulse.  Eugenia herself was becoming a bit undone with excitement.  Desire clawed at her insides.  She would enjoy him soon, and he would serve and worship her until she decided to sell him back to his pathetic family. Unable to wait another moment, Eugenia raised a trembling hand to caress his cheek.

Startled, Joe looked up from the board. Eugenia stroked the hair around his ear before running her hand across his shoulder and down his arm.  He flinched away from her, and she caught his wrist in an iron grip.

“Dearest,” she whispered.  “There’s no need to be confined to the tedium of this method.  You have only to ask me; I can give you any answers you seek.”  Joe narrowed his eyes in suspicion.

“Your mother . . . your mother speaks with me, as well.  She has a task for you, darling.  You need to be with me . . . learn from me.”

“What are you talking about?”  Joe voice rose and he tried to pull away from her.  The board between them clattered to the floor.

“Hush, beloved.  We can leave tonight without argument or trouble from those who lack understanding in these matters.”

“My mother wants me to leave my home and family to be with you?”  Joe pried Eugenia’s fingers from his wrist.  He glared at her.  “You’re a liar. I don’t know what kind of tricks you’re pulling, but my mother would never, ever, tell me to leave home and go with you.”  Joe sprang from the chair.  “You’re nothing but a swindler.  What’s the real plan, Miss Hobbes?  Get me away from my family and then demand money?  You’re right to leave town tonight.  Sheriff Coffee is goin’ to be mighty interested in what I have to tell him.”

How dare he!  Then the arrogant young fool compounded his insult by turning his back on her. Snatching the stout polished board from the floor, she raised it high and brought it down on the back of Joe’s head with all the strength she could muster.  The blow brought him to his knees giving her the opportunity to strike him again.  Joe lay unmoving at her feet, blood flowing profusely from the wounds.

Before she could strike again, Lucas caught and held her until her breathing slowed and she stopped struggling.

Shaking herself loose from his grip, Eugenia Hobbes straightened her clothes and smoothed her hair.  Regarding the figure on the floor with distaste, she lifted her skirts and stepped around him daintily.

“Lucas, take care of this would you? You know how I detest disorder.”

XXXXXXXXXX

Lucas tugged fiercely at the ropes tying Little Joe’s hands –pleased when the unconscious boy moaned in pain.  He had been afraid something like this would happen; he’d seen it coming.  Eugenia was out of control, and Lucas would have to save them if he could.

Grabbing the kid’s hair, Lucas turned the young face to the lamp light.  Cartwright’s complexion was gray and his pulse was weak.  Those blows to the head should have killed him outright.   As it was, he wasn’t likely to last long.  Gathering the kid up, Lucas tucked him into the hiding place.  He stepped back allowing Eugenia to check his work.

She crouched beside Little Joe:  stroking his face, touching his lips, playing with his hair.  Leaning over the still form, she pressed her own cheek against his and kissed the closed eyelids.  Her mouth hovered over his and they shared a soft shallow breath.

Eugenia unwound a length of silk.  Tying it firmly across Joe’s mouth, she whispered her farewell.

“Give my regards to your mother.”

XXXXXXXXXX

“Hours, Adam. It’s been hours.”  Hoss’s nervous fingers drummed on the table surface. “The ornery runt has gotten himself tangled up with that female.”

Adam’s finger traced the damp rim of his beer glass.  No point in arguing with the obvious.  I really don’t want to go charging over there and interrupt something private. A large hand clamped around his bicep and pulled him to his feet.

“We’re goin’ to get him,” growled Hoss.  Throwing a few coins on the table, Adam nodded to his brother and adjusted his hat.  Folks don’t give Hoss nearly enough credit for his leadership ability.

A few minutes later, they were standing in the corridor outside of Miss Hobbes’s room.  The lady herself answered their knock.

“Ma’am,” Hoss said, “We don’t want to be a bother, but we’ve come to fetch our brother.”  When she responded merely with uplifted eyebrows, he continued.  “We’re here for Little Joe.  The front desk clerk didn’t see him leave yet, so, just let him know his brothers are here.”

“Mr. Cartwright, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but your brother left hours ago,” Eugenia stated.

“Ma’am, no one has seen him leave here; go tell him to come on. We’re waiting.” Hoss planted a large foot between the door and the casing, preventing Eugenia from shutting them out.

“Whether someone has seen him is hardly my concern.  Look for yourselves.”  Eugenia opened the door wide—no one but Lucas greeted them.  Showing an uncharacteristic lack of manners, Hoss stepped into the room uninvited with Adam on his heels.  They saw no sign of their youngest brother.

“Satisfied?”  Eugenia sneered.  “I’m hardly in the habit of keeping young men underfoot.”  With a regal sweep of her arm, she showed the men to the door and closed it firmly behind them.

XXXXXXXXXX

Solomon Hardy watched the Cartwright brothers hustle out of the Palace Hotel. They conferred briefly before splitting up to head in opposite directions.  He had a pretty fair idea what was on their minds.  He’d seen Little Joe enter, and he had yet to see the kid reappear.

One of the hotel clerks was loudly supervising a couple of men stacking boxes and luggage to be picked up in the morning by the freight wagon.   When the pair came staggering through the door heaving a large trunk between them, the clerk shouted at them to quit complaining and drop it alongside the rest of the luggage.

Hardy made another note in the little book he kept beside him and settled in for the evening.  All the signs were there; Miss Hobbes was about to make an exit, probably with Cartwright.  It was too bad, really.  He was a nice kid.  But what happened to Little Joe wasn’t his concern.  He had a job to do.

XXXXXXXXXX

“Has anyone seen him?”  Adam asked when he caught up with Hoss.  It might be the middle of the night, but the saloons were bustling.  Groups of cowboys and miners shouldered roughly past the brothers on their way to good times.

“No one.”  Hoss was frantic. “I’ve done checked everywhere I could think.  I’m goin’ back to that hotel and make those two tell me where he is.”

“No, let’s find Roy.  He can question them.  Maybe they won’t tell us what happened, but they’ll have to answer him.”

“And what if they don’t?”

“We’re still going to need him,” Adam promised, “because if we don’t get a straight answer, I intend to knock on every door in that hotel and question everyone in the place.”

XXXXXXXXXX

It was so hot.  He must have wrapped himself up with too many blankets because he was sticky with sweat.  He tried to stretch out to untangle the quilt, but he could barely move.  Even that small effort made his head throb unbearably, and his stomach lurched.  He lay still, his breathing shallow, chest heaving.  Can’t someone open a window?  A fellow could suffocate here.  It was just so darn hot.  The air itself felt heavy.  When he breathed, he didn’t feel restored—he felt sicker, sleepier.  Maybe he’d feel better if he slept.  He allowed his head to droop to his chest, breathing nice and slow.  Let the pain seep away.

Try as he might, he couldn’t get comfortable.  He felt gentle pressure against his shoulder and side.  When he carefully turned his head toward the sensation, he caught a whiff of fragrance.  Roses, fresh linen, a trace of pine–it smelled like summer, home, and love.  He shifted toward the comfortable presence, letting his weight settle against it.  He turned his face into the warmth and a little draft of cool air brushed across his nostrils.  He took a deep breath and felt better.  Joe nestled close to the cool trickle and slept.

XXXXXXXXX

They were losing precious time.  It had taken too long to find Roy and too long to explain.  Though they nearly ran back to the hotel, Adam had a sick feeling they might be too late.  Pausing on the hotel’s porch to allow Roy to catch his breath, they didn’t notice the drifter until he was beside them.

“They aren’t there anymore,” Solomon stated.  Somehow he looked different.  He seemed taller, confident, tougher, even.

“What do you know about all of this?” Hoss grabbed the man’s arm and shook him hard.

“Eugenia and Lucas checked out a little while ago.  They sent their luggage down earlier for the freight wagon.  I saw the two of them head down to the livery,” Solomon pointed down the street.

“Why have you been watching these folks?”  Roy asked.

“I’ve been following them since they left Kansas.  Every town—it’s the same con.”  Solomon gestured toward the livery, and the men began moving in that direction.

“I ain’t had any complaints or warrants against them.” Roy asked.

“The séance business is small change.  It’s not interesting enough for Eugenia.  Every now and then, the pair finds something . . . someone . . . more interesting . . . more lucrative.”

“Go on,” Adam had a bad feeling he knew what was coming.

“Eugenia prefers handsome young men.  She uses her considerable talents to enthrall the fellow and draw him away from his family.  To rescue their loved one, the family pays a considerable amount for her to disappear from their lives.  Usually, the young men are left sadder but wiser for the experience.  The families are grateful to have them home and too embarrassed to press charges.

“Usually?”  Hoss said.

“A boy in Kansas didn’t make it back alive.  By the time the body was found, Eugenia and Lucas were long gone.  The family hired me to bring Eugenia to justice.”

“You a Pinkerton?” Roy asked.  Solomon nodded.

“You used Joe!  He was the bait you needed to draw these two out!”  Adam lunged for Hardy, but Roy put himself between them.

“Stop it!  We got to get to those two before they leave town.”  Roy was the voice of reason.  They doubled their speed to the livery.

XXXXXXXXXX

Lucas’s hands shook as he harnessed the team.  It wasn’t something he did often, and his anxiety was making him even more awkward.  It had taken considerable persuasion to convince Eugenia they had to leave.  She had argued, even resorted to tears, and he was forced to be harsh.  Now, she pointedly ignored him.

He figured they had a scant few hours of lead time.  The kid’s family was already looking for him, and there hadn’t been time to properly dispose of the body. He paused to settle himself.  It will be all right.  I’ll take care of her.

“What is the meaning of this?”  Eugenia’s petulant voice rang out.

Biting back an exasperated sigh, Lucas started to answer he was doing the best he could when he realized Eugenia wasn’t addressing him.  She was speaking to the man in black who had stepped through the doorway, gun drawn.

Adam Cartwright moved slowly toward Eugenia followed closely by the drifter Lucas had noticed the night before.  An old man with a tin badge pinned to his vest appeared beside Cartwright.  The old man yelled out,

“You two just back away from the rig.  Keep your hands where we can see them.  I’ve got some questions for you.”

Keeping a wary eye on Eugenia, Lucas took a few steps forward.  If they had any hopes of salvaging this situation, he needed her to remain calm.  Unfortunately, self-control didn’t look to be in the cards tonight.

“You have no right to detain us!  There’s no law preventing travelers from leaving, now is there?” Eugenia sniffed.

“There’s a law against horse stealin’.  Since I don’t see no sign of the livery stable owner, I reckon the sheriff can start with that.”  Lucas was startled by the deep voice behind them.  The largest Cartwright brother must have come in through the back.  The odds were definitely getting worse.

“We’re lookin’ for Little Joe Cartwright.  Do you have any idea where he is?” the sheriff asked.

Eugenia dismissed him with a disdainful wave of her hand.  “I’m sure he’ll turn up.”  At the sight of the brothers’ fury, she graced them with a mocking smile. Then, with a stomp of frustration, she turned to Lucas.

“Lucas, take care of this!  I deplore scenes.”  When Lucas failed to move, much less resolve the situation to her satisfaction, Eugenia took matters into her own hands.  Waving her hands frantically in front of her face, she began to cry and reached into a pocket for her handkerchief.   She withdrew a lace-edged cloth barely concealing a small pistol she pointed it in Adam’s general direction.

“Put it down, Miss, drop that gun right now.”  The livery echoed with shouts.  In answer, Eugenia pouted prettily and pulled the trigger.

Her bullet caught the drifter high on his right arm.  He staggered, the opposite hand gripped around the wound.

Lucas hurled himself forward, wresting the pistol away, and raising it in her defense.  Seeing her look of admiration and approval,  Lucas pointed the little gun right at the crowd of men, and he knew whatever happened next, it was worth it.

When Hoss Cartwright’s bullet tore into his gut, the pain was accompanied by the feeling of deep disappointment that he’d missed his chance.

Lucas lay at Eugenia’s feet, writhing in pain in the growing pool of blood.  When he reached an imploring hand to her, she sank to her knees gracefully, touching his brow.

“Ma . . .?”  She put a soft finger on his lips, shushing him.

“Give my regards to your father.”  She turned away, gathering her skirts to get up.

“No . . .” Lucas whispered, “We tell him together.”  Before the shocked men could react, Lucas fired the final bullet into his mother’s heart.

XXXXXXXXXX

The sound of gunfire had drawn a small crowd to the livery.  Roy sent a couple of the gawkers to find the doctor and the undertaker—in that order.

“What are we gonna do?  We don’t have a clue where to look.”  The fiery determination Hoss had shown throughout the night was gone.

“Let me think,” Adam pleaded.  There was something someone had said.   The poor little things were eventually found dead inside a prop trunk.  Eugenia admitted she had put them in the trunk because they were underfoot.

“The luggage . . . maybe there’s a trunk.  Come on!”  Adam tore out of the livery with Hoss and the sheriff close on his heels.

XXXXXXXXXX

They interrupted the packing up of the freight wagon.  In the gloom of false dawn, they found a heavy trunk with the correct luggage tag.  Gently, the brothers separated it from the rest of the packets.  Grabbing a mallet the sheriff had found, Hoss mumbled a prayer and broke the lock.  Lifting the lid, Hoss’s cry of frustration and grief could be heard up and down the street.

Inside the trunk was an odd assortment of books, household goods, and a blood-stained polished board.

XXXXXXXXXX

Hoss slumped dejectedly against the wagon.  Adam paced frantically.  He wasn’t wrong.  He knew that Eugenia must have hidden Joe.  Think!  She said she wasn’t in the habit of keeping young men underfoot.   He stopped pacing and closed his eyes, picturing the scene upstairs. Adam’s eyes flew open.  He grabbed Hoss’s arm and pulled him toward into the hotel.

“The key!”  Adam shouted at the desk clerk, “Give me the key to Miss Hobbes’s room.”  The desk clerk barely hesitated.  There was a time to argue hotel policy, but that time wasn’t today.

Bounding up the steps, the brothers burst into the room.  Adam’s eye’s swept the interior.  There in the corner—a large double-door armoire.  Even in the dimness of the unlit room, they could see the doors bulged outward slightly.

They could tell that something, please God someone, was leaning against the doors.  The lock slowed them momentarily until Hoss curled his fingers around one door’s edge and with gargantuan effort tore it from its hinges.

Joe nearly fell out of the armoire into Adam’s arms.  He and Hoss gently lowered their brother to the floor and with shaking hands they cut the ropes around his wrists and ankles.  The silk gag was thrown away.  Aghast at the blood covering his brother’s face and neck, Hoss ran to the corridor and yelled for the clerk to get the doc.  When he returned, Joe was on the bed, moaning a little.  Adam was holding on to him, talking some soothing nonsense.

Hoss had to hang onto the footboard for support; he was nearly spent from the effort and emotion of the night.

That was too close, Lord.  I’m grateful.  But that was too close.

Adam looked up just then and winked, “He’s going to be fine.  He’ll have an awful headache, but he’ll be fine.”

Hoss nodded in agreement. He bumped Adam’s shoulder with the back of his hand,

“You know, Pa ain’t never goin’ to leave the three of us home alone again.”

XXXXXXXXXX

Ben arrived soon after the doctor finished tending to Joe.  Shaking his head at the now legendary hardness of the Cartwright skull, Doc Martin confirmed that Joe would survive.  It wasn’t quite the homecoming Ben anticipated, but at least there was cause for celebration and thanksgiving.  Joe had been awake long enough to recognize his father and to sip some water.  Healing would come in time.

Adam and Hoss told him the entire story while he’d fussed over Joseph.  Ben still wasn’t certain he understood what had happened.  Maybe I’ll get a more coherent story from Roy.

Watching his older sons nod off in their chairs, Ben figured it was past time to send them off to get some real sleep.  When he caught Adam looking back at him, he figured he might as well say his piece.

“Adam, I’m so proud of the way you two took care of your brother.   For the life of me, I can’t see how you knew where to look for him.”  Ben paused, “But, son . . . séances?  I thought you knew better.”

 

THE END

My inspiration for the description of the séance, its ghostly effects, and convoluted explanations were inspired by P.T. Barnum’s book, The Humbugs of the World: An Account of Humbugs, Delusions, Impositions, Quackeries, Deceits, and Deceivers Generally, In All Ages which he published in 1868. Everything that was claimed to be supernatural can be explained by parlor tricks, misdirection, and audience gullibility.  Lucas’s explanation of the spirit world to the ladies was paraphrased from a passage in the chapter regarding spiritualism in this book.

Although the Ouija board was patented as a game in 1890, the concept had been used by spiritualists for many years.

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Author: Belle

I have been a fan of Bonanza for as long as I can remember! For me, the Cartwrights represent hope, faith, and triumph over life's adversities. Ben, Adam, Hoss, and Joe are human beings with human flaws; but to me, they are always exceptional human beings. My fan fiction reflects this perspective.

14 thoughts on “Seance (by Belle)

  1. Not sure why it took me so long to find this story, Belle, but it’s delightful–spooky and disturbing, but also very funny! Thank you so much for sharing it with us all!

  2. October is the perfect month to read about spooky things and I remembered this story. You have a gift for character description and settings, Belle. Enjoyed this re-read immensely.

    1. Thanks for thinking of this and reading it again, Cheaux. I appreciate your compliments, and remember well how you helped me through this story as I showed it to you piece by piece!! You’re the best.

  3. This was my 2ond time to read this and I didn’t see a review. I always love brothers’ stories! It was wonderful the way the three of them interacted with each other and especially came together at the end. Wonderful story!

    1. Thank you so much for coming back a second time and letting me know how you felt! This was a fun story to write, and I am glad you enjoyed it.

  4. I enjoyed this change of pace story for the Cartwright brothers, and especially the glimpse into Adam’s thought processes he tries to make sense of what is happening.

  5. I tried not to get caught up in this (only because it was a bad time for me to get involved in anything) but I found myself drawn in and unable to stop reading. The story was riveting, and the characterizations interesting. I particularly like the way you portrayed Little Joe as somewhat more wary than he is usually depicted at this young age, as well as the way he finally knew, for sure, that the woman was naught but a fraud. That was very believable. Nicely done.

    1. Thanks so much for giving the story a look and then sticking with it! I’m glad you found Joe’s character believable. I wanted to show that he was growing up, but even more that he’d benefited from the way he had been raised.

  6. What a fun story, Belle. What else would 3 men decide to do for fun and end up trying to fix the situation before Ben returned home from his trip? Nicely written.

    1. Thanks, jfclover! Yep, only Cartwright men can find themselves in so much trouble this quickly, but then be able to get themselves out.

  7. What an original, fresh story with several surprises. I loved the brothers’ asides which provided comic relief when the situation was tense (I laughed out loud at several of them). Well done, Belle!

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