Revelations (by BluewindFarm)

Synopsis:   When a man rescues one of Ben Cartwright’s sons not once, but twice; the stranger brings huge implications for the family. Will it bring them together or tear them apart?

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western, prequel
Rating: PG for mild language, violence, and mild adult situations.
Word Count:  60,100


 

Author’s Note:  An alternate reality set shortly before the series began. 

 

Revelation… Chapter 1 – San Francisco Confusion

The first officer stood erect as he watched the men under his command eagerly run down the gangplank that took them from the sailing vessel named Wanderer II out onto the pier and ultimately the streets of San Francisco, California. The ship gracefully rose and fell as the tide moved around it and its berth. The ship had looked majestic with its sails billowing in the breeze as she sailed into the harbor, but now, with all sails furled and tied to the yardarms, it looked like a skeleton reaching for the sky with dozens of rope ladders hanging like cobwebs and swaying in rhythm with its movement.

The growing city of San Francisco owed its reputation as a bustling port town to the harbor full of naval and merchant vessels, alike. The man standing on the starboard side deck surveyed the other vessels alongside the Wanderer and smiled as his men mingled with others from the various ships, enjoying their first taste of liberty in months. Before disembarking, each man received the warning of the increased dangers at night, and told to travel in groups of no less than three to prevent from being ‘Shanghaied’.

“You’re not joining the men, Number One?” the captain asked as he came to stand beside his first officer.

“I will later, right now, we need to complete our log entries as well as I need to write letters regarding the two men we lost coming around Cape Horn.” The first officer subconsciously shivered at the harrowing memories during the days the ship and all hands battled the ocean and the sky, wrestling themselves from being consigned to a watery tomb provided by Poseidon.

Standing side by side, the two men weren’t so different, other than their ages. Both men measured in height at six foot, one and their physiques were much the same build; the only difference being the fringe of grey that peppered the captain’s dark hair. The eyes of both men were dark to where some would claim they were ‘brooding eyes’, and their skin was darkly tanned and weathered borne from the years of standing on the deck of a ship and facing the elements.

“Your previous captain, Morgan Sheppard, commended your eloquence within your duty to notify the next of kin of the passing of their loved one.”

“That’s what a college education can do for a man,” the first officer tartly replied. It was a tedious task, but he knew it to be necessary and deserving more than the ‘I regret to inform you of the death of your son / husband. His sacrifice was not in vain,’ as the first captain he served under had written in the letters of notification.

“Engineering and English Literature, if I remember correctly, and Masters in both,” the captain stated as he pulled out an ornately decorated pipe and prepared to light it as the two men continued to casually speak to each other. “An odd combination for someone bound for the sea…”

“It’s in my blood.”

“College or the sea,” teased the captain as he inhaled deeply from his pipe and slowly exhaled, feeling more relaxed than he had in months.

“The sea, as my grandfather told me, I’m the first of my family to go to college and it made him so proud when I graduated second in my class.”

“Aye, I’d heard good things regarding your grandfather, he being a merchant marine and all; and I was right pleased when the Admiral recommended you as my first officer for this voyage. Hopefully the blow this ship sailed through hasn’t put you off making your final decision to return to sea? We need good men like you.”

The captain’s inquiry was more than informal, Admiral Dahlgren had previously informed him that the man taking over the role as his first officer for this voyage was up for his own command, but had not accepted the commission. From what the captain learned, though the sea was in the man’s blood, he had a strong desire to settle down, maybe take a wife and raise a family. The Admiralty had carefully considered all prospects before choosing Captain Johann-Sebastian Addison as the man’s captain; he was the man the United States Navy expected to convince this first officer to accept the destiny those in Washington saw him fulfilling.

On several occasions, nature or conflict had forced the first officer to accept a temporary promotion to acting captain when the commander of their ship was incapacitated or had been lost at sea. The reports from the ships’ seconds and the ships’ surgeons from the vessels on which he had served heaped high praises on the man for his composure and skillfulness in seeing one ship through a storm and the other through an attack by pirates. His official records indicated that twice the promotion to captain had been conferred, promising him command of the latest and fastest sailing vessel, but twice he had declined.

“I know the Admiral has informed you of my wish to retire from the service. This land out here, it’s wild and untamed… I’m told that my father had a dream to head west. He left the sea…”

“I don’t remember mention of your father,” Captain Addison quietly stated.

“Wasn’t your father a composer or something?” the first officer teasingly asked, redirecting the conversation. The humor of the situation twinkled in his eyes.

“Oh, I should have remembered that in addition to your majors at college, you also minored in music composition and theory. And no… I was ‘not’ named after my father… My mother favored the music written by Johann-Sebastian Bach, and it is for him that I am named.”

“I wouldn’t let those of society hear you say that Bach ‘wrote’ music, he was and is considered a great ‘composer’,” again the first officer couldn’t keep his mirth from showing on his face.

“If only I could have been the first born son… Unfortunately that honor and name went to my oldest brother, Gerhard Eichmann Addison, III.”

“Not sure that I’d like that moniker myself,” mused the first officer.

“Oh, and Adam Stoddard Cartwright is any better?” the captain teased back.

“My grandfather told me that my mother named me Adam, and I’m told my father insisted that my middle name honor her father, my grandfather.” Knowing his captain would ultimately ask the question directly, Adam continued, “My father died during his travels west, I don’t know that much about him, other than before their marriage he served as the first officer for my grandfather on one of his merchant vessels.”

“How did he die?” Captain Addison asked.

“I’m told it was a senseless death… He was traveling west. I heard it was an Indian attack that could have been prevented.”

“How old were you? When he died?”

“I’m not exactly sure when he died. I was almost eleven when a friend of my grandfather’s stopped by and I overheard them talking.” Adam remembered his early childhood… As a young child, he hadn’t thought anything about his grandfather and a nanny raising him; that is until he started school and realized his friends had mothers and fathers. When he asked his grandfather about his parents, the man was too choked up to speak other than to say that his mother had died shortly after giving birth to him. But when he pressed his grandfather about his father, the man became aggrieved and couldn’t answer the young boy’s question. Adam was a perceptive child, even at six, and not wishing to upset his grandfather any more, he never asked again.

Adam remember, he was almost eleven when a man who was a friend of his grandfather stopped by, and late one night he overheard them talking and mentioned the boy’s father. Adam eagerly listened, knowing that what he did was wrong, but still… this was his father they were speaking about.

“It’s a shame about Ben’s death,” the man stated as he accepted a brandy from Abel Stoddard.

“What do you mean?” Abel asked as he set the decanter to the sideboard and returned to sit in an overstuffed chair in front of the fire.

“Well… I was traveling several months back and encountered some people and we got to talking about where we’d been and who we knew… Turns out they were on a wagon train some years before with a man named Ben Cartwright, he and his new wife… A foreigner she was…”

“Are you sure it was Ben?”

“Aye, he mentioned ‘this’ Ben spoke of the child he’d left behind, and specifically remembered him mentioning your name.”

“Then it was the boy’s father…” Abel sank back in his chair. He knew it had been an exceedingly long time since he’d received any correspondence from Ben… But in the harsh territory the man was traveling to… Abel knew from his years at sea how easy it was for letters to be lost.

“I wouldn’t call Ben Cartwright the boy’s father, not after he abandoned the child with you,” the man spat out venomously.

Adam allowed the tears to fall. His father… He had a step-mother… He grieved that his father had left him and went on with his life; but now they were dead.

“He didn’t abandon the child!” Abel defended his son-in-law, “We both agreed it would be best to leave the boy here, until Ben settled and could send for him.”

“For all intent and purposes he did abandon the child… Turns out the entire family was killed during an Indian attack at a place called Ash Hollow. Ben, his wife, and I think they mentioned something about a child… The man didn’t recall much more about what happened, it being so long ago.”

“Then it was for the best that Ben left my grandson here. My God… to sit here and think that Adam could have been killed during an Indian attack; it sends shivers down my spine.”

*****

The captain saw his first officer’s eyes soften as if he were remembering something. He gave the man a few minutes to remember. When it appeared that Adam was returning to the present he asked, “But what’s drawing you to this land, now?” With pipe in hand, the captain moved his arm to indicate the expanse beyond the city in front of them. “You’ve been to sea for the past six years, worked your way up the ranks… You’re destined for captaincy… Why deny yourself what you’ve worked so hard to attain?”

“I don’t know… Maybe the land is in my blood too.” The first officer allowed his eyes to focus as he thought of the dreams his father might have held. “I guess more importantly, I want to see what drew my father to want to travel out here, across the country and into this new territory… What pulled him…” He stiffened as his thoughts turned to ‘what might have been’. “If he had been content to stay in Boston, maybe open a ships’ chandler store… Would he not have been on that wagon train and been killed by the indigenous population? I want to know this land and maybe… through this land I’ll come to understand my father and why he left me.”

“When you grew older… You never asked your …”

“It didn’t seem important then… But lately…” Adam gave an exasperated huff that indicated he really didn’t know why he felt compelled to make this voyage to the Pacific Ocean side of the country and to set out to find out what drew his father west, and to his death.

“When are you planning to leave my company? The Admiral stated you have four month’s leave due you.”

“In the morning…” Lieutenant Adam Cartwright stated, standing with his arms behind his back. He had slowly come to a position of at ease, just a step down from attention, as he sensed the conversation shift towards duty.

“And after your four-month leave?”

“I’ll know better at the end of my leave. Right now… I can’t say one way or the other. All I know is that I have to do this.”

“Then come, I’m sure Cook will have a proper supper for us in my cabin. We can complete our log entries and you can write those letters that neither of us are fond of writing.”

“Yes sir.”

*****

That night, after packing all his belongings into the trunk at the foot of his bunk, Adam Cartwright pulled out the music box that was carefully wrapped to prevent any damage during his travels. When he had left for college, his grandfather had given it to him and explained it belonged to his mother. As he lay on his bunk and opened the lid and pulled out his most precious possession, a daguerreotype of his mother and father on their wedding day. The couple faced the camera but the love they had for each other was evident in their smiles.

Many times as a child he had asked his grandfather to tell him stories about his parents and each time he saw the hurt in the elder man’s eyes… in time he stopped asking. It grieved him to know his mother had died minutes after his birth having suffered complications from a fall shortly before. He felt it was quite possible that there would not have been a way to change his mother’s fate, but as for his father… Could a dream really mean that much to a man… willing to give up all he knew in order to seek that which he didn’t?

As he grew up and excelled in school, his grandfather encouraged him to attend college and the two of them chose Harvard. The summer before his senior year, Adam had the opportunity to travel with a friend from Boston, Massachusetts to Charleston, South Carolina. During their voyage they traveled by sea and as the days passed, the sailing stories Grandfather Stoddard had told Adam came to life and Adam could see himself standing at the helm of a mighty ship.

Prior to graduating, Adam petitioned the Navy for admission. After receiving his academic achievement records, the Navy immediately commissioned Adam as an ensign and assigned him to sea. The grandson of Abel Stoddard rose quickly through the ranks with those he surpassed bearing no grudge or antagonism towards his rise. No one else put in the untold hours to learn his responsibilities or prove his merit.

Lightly rubbing his finger over the picture of his parents he wondered, ‘Would you both be proud to know that I followed father to sea? What would you think about my following your trip west, father?’

“Enter,” Adam spoke aloud as he heard the quiet knock on his cabin door; he rose to a sitting position on his bunk.

Kenny, the sixteen year old assigned as his cabin boy opened the door and entered. Many people, including Adam, thought the boy was much younger than his actual age due to his fair hair and skin, and the overabundance of freckles that littered across his cheeks and nose.

“Mister Cartwright, I…”

“Yes Kenny,” Adam encouraged when the boy’s voice faltered.

“I heard you were going on leave and not returning with us…”

“That’s right; I’m taking my leave in the morning.”

“I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate all you’ve done for me… helping me with my studies. Captain Addison stated you’d also put in a word about my application for Annapolis…”

“I have. You deserve the opportunity, but once you’ve been accepted it will be up to you to remain. My name won’t mean a thing if you mess up.”

“I promise you sir; I’ll make you proud that you recommended me.”

“No, you make your father proud that you attained what he always dreamed you’d become… an officer.”

“I will sir, and thank you.”

“You’re welcome Kenny. Now, off to bed, it’s late.” Adam saw his cabin boy to and out the door of his quarters.

“Good night Mister Cartwright.”

Closing the door, Adam turned down the lantern anchored to the wall and made his way back to his bunk. Sitting down to remove his boots and uniform, Adam thought, ‘Yes, I guess a dream can be worth all that… to leave all you know in order to find something you don’t. I followed a dream by going to college… Now, I’m following your dream… in order to learn more about you, father.’

*****

Adam Cartwright inquired of the harbormaster about a boarding house he might recommend for the few days it would take him to provision himself for his trip to the new territories of Utah and Nevada. As he walked up the stepping stones along the well-manicured lawn to the front porch of the tidy home, he removed his hat and placed it under his arm. A few moments later, after three brisk knocks on the door, it opened to reveal a somewhat ample-sized woman with a smile that shown through to her eyes.

“May I help you?” the woman asked.

“If you are Mrs. Roehl, the harbormaster recommended your place as lodging for the next three nights.

“Yes, I’m Mrs. Roehl, please come in, mister…” she left her sentencing hanging, hoping the sailor would offer his last name.

“Cartwright… Lieutenant Adam Cartwright, formerly First Officer of the naval ship The Wanderer II.”

“Please come in Mr. Cartwright, I do happen to have two rooms available… I’ll show you upstairs and you can choose which you prefer.”

“If you have one facing east, I would appreciate it…”

“Oh, an early riser…” the woman spoke.

“Yes ma’am.”

Both rooms faced the east and Adam chose the room on the corner, the room having windows in two of the walls.

“The harbormaster should be forwarding my trunk later today…”

“That’s no problem. I have officers room with me on a regular basis, though right now… you’re the only one.” The woman was curious about the man and inquired, “So are you waiting for your next assignment?”

“No ma’am. I’m taking leave from the service and going to do some exploring.”

“Don’t tell me you’re one of those gold-seeking fools,” the woman spoke before she had a chance to think about the audacity of her statement.

“No ma’am… Just a traveler who’s wanting to spend some time on the land and experience its beauty.”

“Ah… a romantic.” Seeing the crimson invade Adam’s cheeks, she apologized, “I’m sorry I made you blush, but most men don’t come here for the beauty of the land, they come for the adventure and the chance to strike it rich.”

“I’ve had my fill of adventure; we came around Cape Horn. I’m ready to have stable land under my feet for a while.”

The woman returned Adam to the first floor landing and answered his questions about a reputable livery and mercantile.

“I do recommend that you change out of your naval uniform and into regular clothes, they’ll overcharge you for anything you decide to purchase if you go in dressed as you are. Oh… I don’t mean to imply that they’ll sell you poor quality beasts or provisions, it’s just that these men will be more apt to charge a higher profit with you being an officer, as you being paid better than your subordinates or those coming west to seek their fortune.”

“Thank you for your advice. Now… can you recommend a clothes shop where I might find clothing… so I may appear to be seeking my fortune?” Adam asked as he graciously accepted the woman’s advice.

*****

An hour later, the civilian Adam Cartwright stepped from the clothing store wearing the latest attire for those traveling across the land. His uniform was properly folded in one of several packages to be delivered to the boarding house.

He made his purchases at the General Store for provisions and asked that they be delivered to Mrs. Roehl’s boarding house, as well. Next he stopped at the recommended livery, only to find the owner was Mr. Roehl. Having sufficiently convinced the owner that he did have an eye for horses and passed over the first three saddle horses shown, Adam selected a tall, sturdy chestnut gelding with three white stockings and a white blaze as his saddle horse. He also chose a rather large-boned horse, obvious one with some draft in its lineage as his packhorse; he steadfastly refused the notion of taking a mule as a pack animal.

After paying for the animals and their feed and board for the next few days, Adam headed to the saddler shop where he spent a good thirty minutes discussing the merits of the different styles of saddles and finding one that felt comfortable to his seat and had the length of stirrup leathers required for his long legs. He paid the manager for the saddle and pad, cinch, and bridle, as well as a harness for his packhorse and asked for them to be delivered to the Top of the Nob Livery by eight o’clock the following morning.

*****

From the dining room in one of the more upscale restaurants in town, Adam watched as the night watchman began lighting the lamps that lined the street. Taking that as his cue to return to the boarding house in order to prevent himself from being Shanghaied, as he had warned his men against traveling alone.  Adam picked up his new hat from one of the other seats around the table where he sat and pulled out sufficient coinage to pay his bill and leave a generous tip.

As he walked along, he took note of the architectural styles of the various buildings that lined both sides of the street, but still kept an eye out for possible trouble. The first hint of trouble came from hearing scuffling and grunting as he passed an alleyway. In the shadows he saw a group of men appear to be beating an unfortunate fellow, at least three to one odds.

“Not quite fair,” Adam mumbled as he decided to even the odds a little bit.

The man nearest to Adam felt a firm hand grab his collar from behind and he struggled to quickly regain his balance. With a quick right hook and a fast left upper jab, Adam saw the man sink to the ground as he slid down the side of the building providing the darkness to cover their attack.

Taking a moment to decide which of the two remaining men he planned to take on next, Adam had to admire the spunk of the man in not giving up the fight against the two remaining men, even though he was receiving more blows than he was delivering.

The largest of the two remaining was about to deliver a staggering blow with a piece of wood he had picked up from the ground when he felt a crushing pressure on his wrist and his arm being twisted against its natural angles. “I wouldn’t do that,” the man heard hissed in his ear. “If I were you, I’d take my friends and leave. I’m sure by now one of the constables has been alerted to this little exhibition…”

Adam was about to release the man’s wrist when a body slammed into his back and knocked him to the ground. As he reached for his service pistol and struggled to push the weight off his back to regain his feet, he heard the sound of a gun being fired followed by chips from the cobble stones striking his face.

“Let’s get out of here!” one of the attackers yelled as the sound of police whistles pierced the air.

Adam grunted as he presumed it to be one of the attackers who had crashed against him pushed himself up in order to run away.

Allowing his service pistol to settle back into the holster around his waist, Adam sat up. Briefly evaluating if he had suffered any damage, Adam watched as the three men ran to the other end of the alley and split up to run in different directions. His attention was drawn to the moans emanating from the victim who lay partly sprawled on the ground, yet leaning against the wall of the building.

Rising to his feet, Adam approached the man and inquired, “Are you okay?”

Slowly shaking his head and struggling to open his eyes the man answered, “Maybe come morning…”

Adam stretched an arm down to give the man a hand and helped him stand, if what the man was doing could be considered standing. To Adam he appeared to wobble on his feet and swayed from side to side.

“You got a place to say the night?” Adam asked.

“Huh? I…”

“HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!” was yelled from the opening of the alley.

“It’s alright officer, the men who were attacking this man ran out the other end of the alley,” Adam informed and pointed the way the men had run.

“Is what this man saying right?” the officer asked the young man Adam had helped to his feet.

“Yeah, something like that. The others were bigger than him…” the man staggered and fell into Adam’s supporting arms.

The three were talking when another officer came to the scene, “Donaldson, there’s been a murder over on Biltmore. If these two are okay, leave them. We’re needed elsewhere.”

“I’ll see that he gets home,” Adam stated and watched the two officers leave at a quick jog. Addressing the man he was supporting, he asked, “So… where is home?”

“Not here,” the man answered and promptly passed out.

Leaning his head backwards and rolling his closed eyes, Adam slowly shook his head side to side after he returned his head to its normal bearing and thought, ‘How do I get myself into this… I’ve warned my men about going out alone… And here I throw myself into the middle of it.’ Talking to his new, yet unconscious friend, Adam hefted the light-weight man over his shoulder and returned to Mrs. Roehl’s boarding house. “Well, let’s get you somewhere that you can sleep it off.”

It pleased Adam to no end when neither Mrs. nor Mr. Roehl came to the foyer and inquired about the man slung over his shoulder as he proceeded up the stairs and to his room. The man was slowly returning to consciousness as Adam dropped him to the bed and turned to light the lantern on the small table.

First he removed his own jacket and hat before he began to tend to the man he’d brought, for lack of a better description, home. Using the light provided by the lamp, Adam took a good look at the man and was astounded to realize that he couldn’t be much older than Kenny. Though he was built with more substance, the person lying in his bed was probably still an adolescent in Adam’s estimation.

He pulled off the youth’s well worn boots and set them on the floor at the end of the bed. Next he unbuttoned the torn dark colored shirt; revealing what come morning he would have colorful bruises along his ribs that would nicely match the black eyes he would no doubt have, too. Sitting the boy up, he removed the youth’s shirt and draped it over the back of a chair that sat in front of a rolled-top desk after laying the young man back down on the bed.

“Easy there,” Adam spoke in an effort to calm the youth as he began moving about.

“Pa?” the boy asked.

“Sorry, I’m not your… pa.”

“Huurt-t,” the boy slurred the word as he spoke and moved his arms to wrap around his ribs.

“Yes, I’m sure you are hurting.” Adam gently felt along the ribs and regretted that he now would have to advise his hosts of the situation. “You’ve got a couple of busted ribs from what I can feel. Just lie still and I’ll see about locating a doctor for you.”

“Pa,” the boy said again.

“Where do you live?”

“Not… here,” he again answered.

“How do I get word to your ‘pa’?”

“Hoss…” the boy stated before he slipped unconscious.

It amused Adam that the foremost things the boy thought about were his pa and his horse.

Adam filled the bowl on the nightstand with water from the pitcher and with the towel he began to clean the dirt and blood off his young charge’s face. When he felt he had done all he could, he stepped from the room and went to the parlor where he inquired about a doctor and explained what happened.

“No doubt you saved that boy from being Shanghaied,” Mrs. Roehl stated. “Doc Dandridge lives about six blocks away from here, Ronnie would a gone, but he was called back to the livery. I’ll go fetch the doctor.”

“No ma’am, I wouldn’t feel right about you going out this late in the evening, especially unescorted. I’m pretty sure I can find the doctor’s residence if you’ll give me directions and his address.”

With address in hand and Mrs. Roehl watching the boy, Adam left the boarding house in search of the doctor.

*****

As Adam walked along the streets and was close to approaching the restaurant where he had just ate. He was thinking of the names of the streets he would pass, when he saw a rather large man wearing a light colored, tall hat with a rounded crown approaching him and could hear the man mumbling, “If I ever get my hands on him… I’m gonna wring his neck… He’s gonna rue the day he was ever born.”

The man looked up and called out, “Hey mister!” as Adam stopped in his tracks. “Have ya seen a young man about here, he’d be wearin’ tan pants and a dark shirt with a black cowboy hat?”

Leary that this man could be part of the Shanghai attempt Adam answered, “I’m sorry, but I’m fresh off a ship and haven’t really paid attention to anything other than to find the boarding house where I’m staying.”

“Oh, okay. Sorry to bother ya,” the large man apologized, tipped his hat and walked away.

The man continued to walk away, looking left and right in each alley he passed, Adam exhaled deeply, thankful the big man wasn’t after him. Fifteen minutes later, Adam was knocking on the front door of an impressive three story house and explained to the butler who answered the door the reason for his calling.

*****

Within an hour of leaving the boarding house, Adam returned with Doctor Dandridge to find the young man still unconscious. The physician set to work to examine his patient and to tend to his injuries.

“This man can thank his lucky stars that you were there, Mr. Cartwright,” Doc Dandridge replied as he packed away his instruments and supplies.

“Two broken ribs, a concussion, and a myriad of bruises and abrasions; I’ll leave some laudanum to give to him when he wakes. He’s going to need it for a few days. Keep him flat on his back tomorrow and see how he handles sitting up the day after. I’ll be back to check on him then, but if he gets worse, don’t hesitate to send for me.”

Mrs. Roehl left the room to escort the doctor from her home; she returned shortly with a tray upon which she’d placed a slice of apple pie and a cup of coffee for her boarder.

“How’s he doing?” Mrs. Roehl asked as she set the tray on the dresser.

“Still out,” commented Adam as he placed the refreshed, damp cloth on the young man’s forehead.

“I brought you a piece of pie and some coffee. Did he have any identification on him?”

“I haven’t even thought to look, but I doubt it. If they weren’t attempting to Shanghai him, they probably at the very least stole his wallet,” Adam answered as he picked up the young man’s pants and saw the back pockets empty. He looked to his host with a curious expression as he hung the pants over the back of the chair where previously he’d placed the boy’s shirt.

“I’ve raised three sons and I know how to strip a young man out of his clothes,” the woman smiled at the pleasant memories. “Though like most young men, he’ll probably be mortified in the morning when he realizes he should a worn drawers or longjohns under his pants.”

Adam hid the grin on his face as he sipped from his cup of coffee.

*****

Having fallen asleep on the chaise lounge in the room he had rented, Adam woke at hearing the young man in his bed moaning.

“Ohhhhh,” the boy moaned as he pulled the dried compress from his forehead.

“Good morning,” Adam spoke as he walked over and placed his hand upon the boy’s forehead, pleased there remained no fever. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“Uh… Fine,” he answered causing Adam to smile. “Who are you?” the boy asked.

“Your rescuer it would seem,” Adam teased.

“My rescuer… Oh… I think I’m gonna be sick,” the boy moaned.

Adam quickly reached for the basin and held it off the side of the bed as the boy wretched out the bile that remained in his empty stomach. Once the convulsions passed and the boy lay back, Adam set the bowl aside and poured water into a cup, and handed it to him.

“Here, rinse your mouth out and spit back into the cup.”

A few moments later, Adam handed a wet wash cloth to the lad and watched has he wiped his face, especially around his mouth and nose.

“Feel better?”

“Yeah, Hey… Uh… Thanks for last night… Saving my hide.”

“You’re welcome; it’s something I would have done for any of my men.”

“Your men? You a cattle boss or something?”

“Let’s just say I’m in between jobs right now.”

“Oh… Okay,” the boy said as he attempted to sit up and moaned as the room spun.

“Doc said flat on your back today. Tomorrow we can see how you do sitting up.”

“I’ll be fine,” the boy answered.

“You will be if you follow orders. Now, how do we notify your family that you’re temporarily incapacitated…”

“I ain’t drunk!” the boy retorted, starting to sit up and quickly laid back down.

“I didn’t say you were. I only meant, how do we notify your family about what happened to you last night and that the doctor has left instructions that need to be followed… If you’re going to return to being ‘fine’ as you say.” Adam smiled, how many young sailors, out to prove themselves, had he hauled back to the ship after a night on the town over the years?

“Uh, I was staying with my brother at the Huntington Hotel and sorta snuck out..”

“Snuck out?! Didn’t your brother warn you about being Shanghaied?”

“Well, I thought it would be alright, I wasn’t going anywhere near the wharf…”

“And just where were you going?” Adam asked.

“To Chinatown, I wanted to get a gift for Hop Sing.”

“HopSing, you have an oriental for a girlfriend?”

“No!” the boy embarrassedly exclaimed. “He’s our housekeeper and cook.”

“Oh,” Adam stated as if he understood it all.

“Can I ask you a favor? Can you get word to my brother and let him know where I am? I’m sure by now he’s worried sick about me.”

“Sure… Are you up to writing a note that I can take to the Huntington Hotel?”

“Yeah, if you got paper and pencil. I only hope Hoss ain’t wired Pa that I’m missing.”

“Last night you mentioned home isn’t here…when I asked you where you lived. Where is home?”

“Virginia City, Nevada… The Ponderosa — It’s the ranch my Pa owns, and me and my brother work with him and the men running it.”

“What kind of a ranch is it,” Adam asked.

“We got lots of cattle and horses… Hoss handles the cattle operation and Pa’s letting me work the horses, only Pete’s in charge… making sure I learn it right. Pa takes care of overseeing the mines and the timber operations, but he’s got managers that do the day to day running of ‘em.”

“Sounds like a pretty big spread… if I’m using the correct vernacular…”

“Ver-what?”

“Vernacular… Or maybe lingo would be a better fitting word.”

“Then why didn’t you just say that?”

“Sorry,” Adam absently replied as he took the folded sheet of paper from the boy and placed it in his inner vest pocket. “So if you live in Nevada, what are you and your brother doing in San Francisco?”

“We delivered a herd of four hundred head of cattle to Sacramento and then another seventy-five head to The Pisedreo,” the boy mumbled the last word and winced.

“You mean The Presidio,” Adam corrected.

“Yeah, that’s it. I could never say it even before I got this headache. By the way, my name’s Joe… Joe Cartwright.” Even laid out flat on the bed he remembered enough of his manners to extend his right hand.

“Sorry, what did you say?” Adam asked, a little more than slightly shocked.

“My name… I said my name’s Joe Cartwright.”

“Cartwright, is that a fairly popular name where you come from?” Adam asked.

“Not that I know of. There’s just the three of us out here, Pa’s got family back east somewhere.”

Remembering his own manners, Adam accepted Joe’s handshake and introduced himself, “I’m Adam… Adam Stoddard.”

“Pleased to meet you and, again, thanks for everything. Uh, you won’t forget to get that note to my ‘BIG’ brother?” Joe over enunciated the word big.

Hearing the emphasis, Adam asked, “Just how big?”

“Oh, at least six foot, three and two hundred, fifty pounds. Ya can’t miss ‘em, wears a big ten gallon hat. It’s the only hat he can wear that don’t make him look ugly.”

Remembering the man from the night before, Adam hesitated to ask, “This brother of yours… Uh… Would your brother want to wring your neck?”

“Always,” Joe answered. “But he don’t mean it, he just says that when he’s worried that I done gone and got myself into something that I can’t get myself out of.”

“Like last night?”

“Yeah… like last night,” Joe replied.

*****

Through fog-shrouded streets, Adam made his way to the Huntington Hotel. As he approached the building, he realized the young man he had rescued had to be more than just an ordinary cowpoke in order to spend the night at such a luxurious establishment.

He walked across the marble-floored lobby to the front desk, “Excuse me,” Adam asked of the small man, wearing wire-rimmed glasses standing behind the counter, “Would Hoss Cartwright still be registered as a guest at this hotel?”

“Yes he is. Do you have business with him?”

“I have a note that needs to be given to him,” answered Adam.

“A note?” queried the man.

“Yes, from his brother.”

The man behind the counter raised his right hand and snapped his fingers, and promptly three burly men appeared to surround Adam, as the clerk called out, “He said he has a note from Mr. Cartwright’s brother.” The man backed around the corner and out of sight.

“Yes?” Adam asked as he turned to look at the three men. Slowly he raised his arms to prove he didn’t want any trouble once he saw a gun pulled and a badge pinned to the shirt of one of the men upon opening his jacket.

“You’re one of the kidnappers?” the officer asked.

“I am not… a kidnapper.”

“Then what’s this note about?” one of the other officers inquire as he pulled the folded sheet of paper from Adam’s inside vest pocket.

“I rescued Joe Cartwright last night from a beating. He asked that I bring that note to his brother… Hoss. If you don’t believe me, you can read the note for yourself.”

The officer handed the note to a fourth officer who approached the group, a man wearing sergeant’s stripes.

“Sarge, he claims he’s not one of the kidnappers,” the first police officer stated.

“And I’ll also clarify he has not been kidnapped. But… I do believe that there was an attempt last evening. I’ll take you to him myself after I see that his brother receives his note.”

The group looked up when the large man barreled down the staircase demanding, “Where’s my brother! I swear if you’ve harmed him in any way! I’ll pound ya into the ground.”

“Mr. Cartwright, your brother is…” Adam hesitated at the menacing stature of the man. Joe wasn’t all right, but he was a far sight better than he could have been, “Your brother is in my room at the boarding house… He encountered some trouble last night.”

“What kinda trouble?” the man’s attitude changed from one of a rageful worry, to one of plain worry.

“Either there was an attempt to Shanghai him or he was overmatched in an attempt to rob him,” Adam replied and went on to explain, “He suffered a couple of broken ribs as well as a concussion.”

“Where’s the nearest doctor?” question Hoss.

“He’s already been seen by a doctor who bound his ribs, ordered he stay flat on his back today, and hopefully tomorrow will be able to tolerate sitting up.”

“Stay flat on his back?” an increased worry crept into Hoss’ voice. “He don’t stay anything! Where is he?”

“Mr. Cartwright, this man might be giving you this elaborate tale in an effort to apprehend you, as well as your brother…” the sergeant spoke.

“Now why would I do that?” Adam balefully inquired.

“Mr. Cartwright senior is a wealthy man. Why with both of his sons kidnapped and held for ransom, a kidnapper could ask for anything…”

“Well, as I have stated before, I am not, nor have I ever been, a kidnapper. You may accompany me as I take Mr. Cartwright to Mrs. Roehl’s boarding house for their reunion.”

“Mrs. Roehl? You’re staying at Mrs. Roehl’s?”

“Yes, for last night and possibly for the next two nights.”

“Yer a soldier then?” asked one of the other police officers. “She only takes in high-ranking officers.”

“I am a naval officer…” Adam heard one of the other police officers state, ‘He ain’t no soldier, he’s a sailor,’ before he continued, “I was the first officer on the Wandered II, and am currently on an extended leave.”

“You have papers to prove this?” the sergeant inquired.

“My papers are at the boarding house and the Wanderer II isn’t scheduled to leave harbor until tomorrow, you may contact my former captain, Captain Addison. I’m sure he’ll vouch for me.”

“Be sure we’ll check into everything mister…”

Adam remembered he hadn’t been forthright earlier in telling his own name after hearing Joe’s last name… He didn’t know why he didn’t properly identify himself… It’s just that something niggled in the back of his subconsciousness… But now… He had officers of the law inquiring as to his identity.

“Cartwright… Adam Stoddard Cartwright.”

The large man harrumphed and laughed, “Well, don’t that beat all… Not a common name like Smith or Jones, but a name’s a name. Oh, in case ya ain’t figured it out… I’m Hoss Cartwright. Sergeant, I’d really like for this fella to… Hey… didn’t we meet last night? I asked ya about seein’ Little Joe.”

“Guilty as charged… only if I had known you were his brother…”

“Ah shucks, I guess as mad as I was last night I wouldn’t a told myself anything about Little Joe, either.”

“Little Joe?” Adam inquired.

“Well, he’s my younger brother… and compared to me he’s little,” Hoss explained.

Adam didn’t know why but all of us sudden he jovially slipped, “Compared to you, I’m little.” His words set the large man to laughing again.

“Come on, get me to my little brother.”

As the two men left the hotel lobby making their way through the crowd that had gathered around them, Sergeant Sanders dismissed his men after giving orders that two of the men were to escort the captain of the Wanderer II to Mrs. Roehl’s boarding house. With business returning to normal at the hotel, the Sergeant followed after the two Mr. Cartwrights and listened as the larger of the two men commented that maybe the other man was some long lost cousin of theirs.

“We know Pa has a brother named John, and if I remember… doggonnit… we got a cousin named… uh…” The man’s expression indicated his struggle to remember, before he snapped his fingers and exclaimed, “William… Will, that’s it. We got a cousin named Will. You got a cousin named Will?”

“I don’t really know. I was raised by my grandfather after my parents died when I was a child.”

“Oh… Sorry to hear that… You losin’ your parents and all. Well… me and Little Joe, we know what it’s like ta lose a ma. I never got to know my ma, but Pa tells me stories about her.”

“You never knew your ma? But…” And then the reasoning dawned on Adam. “Your father remarried.”

“Yeah, and Marie was a pretty woman. My ma was too, Pa has pictures of all three a his wives and they were all real pretty,” Hoss answered. “He’s got all three of their pictures on his desk at home.”

“Three?” slipped out before Adam realized he’d asked. Having been raised in polite society in Boston he knew the question was impolite, especially to ask of a person he’d just met.

“Yeah, Pa was married, before he met my ma. He was real sad when she died. I can still see it in his eyes when he looks at her picture. Guess that’s why he came west, to get away from the memories. But if he hadn’t a come, he’d a never met my ma and I’d a never been born.” The man’s tone was upbeat and happy, he didn’t think on the bad thoughts surrounding the prospect that he’d have never been born, he was just happy that about the way things worked out.

“Doesn’t he look sad when he looks at the pictures of your mothers?” Adam inquired. He had no idea why he was so curious about this family, maybe it was the serene way the big man walking next to him faced the facts of life that motivated Adam to ask.

“Sure he does, but not in the same way… See when Pa looks at Inger’s, that’s my ma, or Marie’s pictures, he looks sad and then he smiles and looks to Little Joe and me. It’s like he can accept their deaths because they live on in us. But with his first wife…” Hoss stopped speaking, he was beginning to feel that he had revealed a little too much of their family history to this stranger.

“How much younger is Joe, than you?” Again Adam couldn’t help but ask the question.

“He’s almost six and a half years younger than I am. I was five when Pa went to New Orleans and left me with Hop Sing.”

“Joe mentioned your cook and housekeeper.”

“Oh he’s more than that, why Hop Sing’s practically a member of the family. He helped Marie take care a Joe when he was a little shank, and after Marie was killed… Oh… She got throwed from her horse when Joe was five, he kinda took over helping to raise both a us so Pa could focus on runnin’ the ranch and all.”

“Your father never remarried?”

“Na, not that there haven’t been women who’d want to become the next Mrs. Cartwright, just that Pa… Well, we got each other and that’s all we need.”

“Well, here we are,” Adam stated as he turned to walk the stepping stones to the front of Mrs. Roehl’s boarding house. “Sergeant, Joe Cartwright is upstairs in the front room on that corner of the house,” Adam pointed to the window above.

As they stepped to the front porch, from the open window all three men heard Mrs. Roehl’s alarmed voice pleading with someone, “Please, you can’t get up! The doctor said you have to stay in bed!”

“Lady, he lied to one of us about his name! He’s probably the boss of those men who tried to Shanghai me last night. Now give me my pants!”

“That’s Little Joe,” exclaimed Hoss as he headed for the door. Inside, he took a moment to find the staircase and ran up and into the hallway. Gathering his bearings, Hoss waited to hear Joe’s voice again and was immediately moving in the direction of the guest room.

“GIVE ME MY PANTS!” Joe hollered.

Hoss entered the room to see his youngest brother heavily leaning against the bedpost, with his left arm wrapped tight around it and his right arm holding on to the sheet wrapped around his waist.

“JOSEPH! Goll darn you!”

“HOSS!” squealed Little Joe, who let go of the post and tried to take a step towards his big brother. By the second step, the adolescent let go of both the post and the sheet as the spinning sensation he’d been experiencing turned his vision black and he passed out and fell to the floor.

Hoss grimaced as his brother thudded to the floor. “Now see what ya done?” he lovingly stated as he gathered the sheet in one hand and draped it over the unconscious body of his brother and easily lifted him to return him to the bed. “I’m sorry about that Mrs. Roehl, ya seein’ him in his birthday suit and all.” Hoss blushed as he spoke.

“She raised three sons,” Adam answered as he entered the room.

Once Hoss had Joe settled in the bed and properly covered, he turned to the woman. “I’m sorry about his yellin’ at ya, he knows better than to be that disrespectful of his elders. I’ll see that he apologizes to you when he’s feelin’ better.”

“That won’t be necessary, but I can understand his concerns. We were talking about you… Mr. Cartwright, only the boy said you told him your name was Stoddard…”

Hearing what he considered new developments in the disappearance of Joseph Cartwright, the sergeant made his presence within the room known, “Using an alias? Guess you didn’t expect Mr. Cartwright to have contacted the police so soon…” The man’s hand was slowly moving to the weapon holstered at his side.

“I didn’t use an alias, and I’ve not lied about my identity. I’ll admit it surprised me when the boy told me his last name… As Mr. Cartwright,” Adam motioned to Hoss, “indicated earlier, our surname is not quite common. Sergeant, my papers are in the top bureau drawer. My name is Adam Stoddard Cartwright. And again I’ll confirm that I am NOT a kidnapper.” As they watched the sergeant carefully approach the bureau and open the top drawer they turned to see Adam pinching the bridge of his nose and gently shake his head.

“Are you alright, Mr. Cartwright?” Mrs. Roehl inquired.

“Just a headache, ma’am.”

The sergeant turned around and in his hands he held and opened a leather expanding portfolio, “These papers all look official and in order. I’m sorry Mr. Cartwright for doubting you, but you have to understand my position.”

“I do sir, I do.”

Their attention was drawn to the youth lying on the bed when he started to moan and raised his hand to his head and moments later it dropped to his side.

“Little Joe,” Hoss quietly called as he sat on the edge of the bed. “Come on Shortshanks, ya gotta wake up.”

“Don’t wanna,” mumbled Joe.

“I know you don’t wanna, but if’n you don’t, I’m gonna send for the doctor.”

“I’m fine…” Joe answered, eyes still closed.

“Maybe you should send for him anyway,” suggested Adam. “The doctor wanted him flat on his back today.”

“I just heard my husband come in; I’ll send him to bring Doctor Dandridge back.” With that Mrs. Roehl left the room. A few minutes later Mrs. Roehl return with another police officer and a man dressed in a military uniform. “Sergeant, these men are here to see you?”

“Captain Addison,” Adam stood to attention as his former captain in the room.

“Mr. Cartwright, this officer has expressed some doubt as to your identify?”

“Not anymore,” stated the sergeant. “Mr. Cartwright, if you’ll not be pressing charges…” the man was speaking to Hoss.

“Charges?” Captain Addison queried.

“It’s a long story, sir,” Adam offered as an explanation.

“No… He done took care a Joe and kept him from bein’ Shanghaied; I won’t be pressin’ no charges agin him.”

“That means our work here is done.” Both police officers took their leave by bidding everyone a good day.

“Captain, I’m sorry that you were drawn into this mess,” Adam walked to stand in front of his former superior officer.

“Shanghai attempt?” the captain asked. It amused him how his former first officer could get into the darnedest trouble at times, none of his own doing except for his tenacity to help those in need; a trait that bode well and made his superiors take note of him. “The little one there?”

“I ain’t little,” the youth, with his eyes still closed, called out.

“Yeah you are,” Hoss answered. “How ya feelin’ Little Joe?”

“Like Pa told us about in his stories… when he was on the deck of those ships… riding the waves up and down and back up again during a storm.” Pitifully Joe cried, “Make it stop Hoss,” as he turned to his side and curled up, he moved his hands to his head in an effort stop the pain.

Hoss was slow to react when his brother’s body began convulsing again, but a hand put a basin on his lap and Joe made good use of it. As Hoss set the bowl to the side, the same hand put a cup of water into his hands and a few moments later exchanged it for a damp washcloth.

Adam watched over the siblings as the big man gently and lovingly tended to his brother.

“Thanks, Hoss,” Joe whispered. “Did… did you wire Pa?”

“I was gettin’ ready to when I met this fella at the hotel.”

Joe barely opened his eyes to see Hoss point to the man who had rescued him the night before and tended to him earlier. “Don’t trust him… He lied about his name… “

“Nah, we know all about that little brother. He didn’t exactly lie, he just didn’t say his full name to ya,” explained Hoss.

“But he told me this morning he was between jobs…”

“Don’t worry nothing about that, just be thankful he was there to save your scrawny hide.”

“Why’d he lie?”

“I done told ya he didn’t lie; he ain’t never met anyone with the same last name a him. Little brother, I’d like ya to meet Adam Stoddard Cartwright.”

The lines on Joe’s forehead indicated he was doubtful of what Hoss was saying and also struggling to see properly. “Why didn’t he say so…”

“If he were a long lost cousin or somethin’ I don’t blame him for not wantin’ the likes of you to be part a his family,” teased Hoss.

“He don’t know me…”

“And for that he can count his own blessin’s. Sides, he’s a military officer and probably has better breedin’ than us yahoo’s.” Hoss replaced the damp wash cloth to Joe’s forehead.

“Who you callin’ a yahoo?” Joe asked, a little bit of fight coming into his voice.

“Us little brother, just us.”

Adam Cartwright leaned against the doorframe and watched the interaction between the two brothers; it brought a small smile to his face.

From the doorway Doctor Dandridge made his presence known, “Guess I should have expected it would have been you young fellow. What have you gone and done this time?”

“He tried to get out of bed, and collapse to the floor,” Adam answered as he moved to allow the doctor to enter the room.

“Lost consciousness?” the doctor inquired.

“For about five minutes,” Adam replied.

“And the big fellow?”

“His brother.”

The physician walked around to the other side of the bed. “Now let me see what you’ve done to yourself, young man.” He raised Joe’s wrist and pulled out his pocket watch; the room quietly waited. “Strong pulse.” Next he pulled out his stethoscope and placed it to Joe’s chest, “Steady and regular. How do your ribs feel?”

“Fine,” answered Joe.

Hoss glared.

“Any headache?”

“I’m fine.”

“Nauseous?”

“I’m fine.”

“Joe, you mind your manners and answer the doctor. Ya just got through pukin’ your guts out.”

“I see,” replied the physician who couldn’t keep a smile from his lips as he pulled out another instrument and a small candle from his black bag. After lighting the candle, he held the instrument in front of his patient’s eyes and he moved near and away, to peer into Joe’s eyes.

“I take it he’s suffered dizzy spells?”

“Hanging onto the bedpost for dear life when I arrived,” Hoss answered.

“That’s to be expected. As I said last night… flat on your back until tomorrow,” he looked straight at his patient and then blew out the candle, “and then we’ll see how you manage sitting up.” Turning to the man sitting on the edge of the bed, the physician stated, “He’s suffered a concussion and each person’s body handles the trauma differently, but everything he’s experienced is normal for the diagnosis. Give him a few more days and he’ll back to normal.” The physician packed away his tools and closed his Gladstone bag.

“Thank ya Doc,” Hoss breathed a sigh of relief. “What am I gonna do with ya Joe?”

“Get me outa here and back to the hotel,” suggested Joe, who immediately cowered back into his bed when he saw the look that appeared on his brother’s face.

*****

The day was turning to night when Joe again voiced his complaint about lying in bed; he wanted to go back to the Huntington Hotel with Hoss.

“Now Joe, the doc done told ya ya cain’t get up until tomorrow anyhow,” Hoss answered and pushed Joe down firmly upon the bed.

“But this is that fella’s room,” Joe complained.

“Mrs. Roehl gave him one of her other guestrooms for the night,” Hoss answered. “And you’re to stay in this bed until I return in the mornin’.” Hoss glared at his younger brother to prove he meant business.

“But I can walk…” Joe pleaded.

“No you can’t.”

“I can too…” Joe answered back.

“Okay, say you can walk, whatcha gonna wear?”

Turning his head slightly sideways Joe saw the chair where his clothes had been earlier was empty.

Hoss continued to tease his little brother, “Ya gonna go out wearing your birthday suit around town?”

Joe cowered at the thought of appearing naked or even in a sheet out on the street. It had been humiliating earlier in the day when he tried to get out of bed and found himself naked. He tried to stand up to walk to where his clothes were when the lady came in; he hurriedly grabbed the sheet from the bed and wrapped it around his waist.

He became even more alarmed when the woman claimed he had been helped to her home by Mr. Cartwright and Joe didn’t remember his brother finding him, and when his memory cleared a little more, he remembered the other man and was now worried that he had been kidnapped. The kidnapper having told him one name and the woman another name; that was all the proof Joe needed to know he was still in danger. He’d read of such situations in one of the dime store novels he’d purchase every now and then.

“Shucks little brother, just do as the doctor says… Gonna be bad enough tellin’ Pa what happened to ya.”

Joe appeared mortified at the thought of what his pa would say upon hearing what happened and tried to change the subject, “Hoss?”

“Yeah Joe?”

“Kinda funny finding someone out here who has the same last name as us… don’t ya think?” Joe queried.

“Yeah, it shore is different. I wonder what Pa’d say if we told him we met this fella.”

“Why don’t we offer him to come with us…” Joe asked.

“And why’d he wanna do that?” Hoss asked. “He probably gotta return to his ship.”

“Well, Mrs. Roehl told me a little while ago, when you stepped out that he was on leave and was going to go exploring Utah and Nevada… We can help show him the way… And maybe if he stays with us long enough, he’d meet Pa… I mean if he is a long lost cousin… Pa knows more about the family than we do… He’d want to meet him.”

“Ya got a point there, little brother. I’ll ask Adam, but ONLY if you promise to stay in bed until the doctor arrives tomorrow.”

“Okay Hoss.”

*****

Hoss entered the parlor and was greeted by Adam, standing to his feet, “How’s he doing?”

“Ornery, wants to get out of bed.”

“Does he usually get into this sort of trouble?”

“He don’t get into trouble, ‘xactly. He’s just cain’t sit still… He’s constantly on the go. But this… Mister, if you hadn’t come along when you done… I coulda lost my little brother and I’m beholdin’ to ya.”

“As I told Joe this morning, it’s something I would have done for any of my men,” Adam answered, trying to brush off the gratitude the man felt.

“Still, I feel like I owe ya somethin’. Adam, Joe said Mrs. Roehl told him you were on leave… and was wantin’ to go explorin’ Utah and Nevada…”

“Yes, that was my plan,” Adam stated as he prepared to make a cup of coffee for the large man and refresh his own cup.

“Well, seein’ as how Joe’s gonna be a little… Uh… Well he ain’t gonna be much help with me gettin’ back home… I already paid off our drovers and those who are Ponderosa hands already left to take the remuda back… But we got our own personal horses that we ride that we need to get back home, and Joe ain’t gonna be able to handle his two… what with his ribs busted and all.”

Adam handed the cup of coffee to Hoss and motioned for him to sit down in one of the winged-back chairs.

“Well… what say you come along with us and help me with the horses?” Hoss looked expectantly towards his new friend and quickly added, “I’m sure Pa would want to give ya a reward or somethin’ for what ya done for Joe, and we’d pay ya for your help gettin’ the horses home…”

“That won’t be necessary. Since I was already heading that way, I wouldn’t mind the company.”

“Well, I don’t feel right havin’ you help us out with the horses us not payin’ ya…”

“Maybe you’ll consider a barter…” suggested Adam.

“A barter?” Hoss asked and took a drink of his coffee.

“Well, I am new to the territory… how about I hire you and your brother to act as my guides… at least as far as Virginia City. I think that’s where Joe said your ranch was.”

“Adam, ya got yourself a barter.” Hoss stood and approached the man, extending his hand to confirm the deal. “I think I’d best get back to the hotel… You send for me if Little Joe causes you any grief tonight?”

“I’ll keep an eye on him like he’s my own little brother,” Adam answered and stood to follow the large man out the front door; stopping on the porch.

“Ah, ya ain’t gotta do that,” Hoss answered and slapped the man upon his back. “But if ya think about maybe hogtyin’ him to that bed, ya got my permission.”

Leaving the boarding house, Hoss smiled, he was confident that this man could handle Joseph Francis Cartwright as good as he or their pa could.

 

Revelation… Chapter 2 – It Was Supposed to be a Simple Trip Home

The sun was just beginning to peek over the town of San Francisco when Hoss entered the boarding house and smelled bread baking and sausage frying; he inhaled deeply. Mrs. Roehl came from the kitchen and asked, “Have you had your breakfast this morning?”

Hoss removed his hat and answered, “No ma’am, and what you’re fixin’ sure smells deelishus.”

“I’m fixing a tray for you and your brother, and the other Mr. Cartwright, if that’s alright with you, Mr. Cartwright?”

“Ma’am, you’re talkin’ too many Mr. Cartwrights, why doncha just call me Hoss; most folks do. Do ya mind if I go on up?” he indicated up the staircase.

“No, help yourself.”

“Oh… Do ya know if he behaved himself last night?” Hoss queried.

“Didn’t hear a peep out of him all night; I think the medicine might have had something to do with that, though.”

Hoss headed up the stairs and saw Adam exiting from his room to the hallway, “Mornin’ Adam.”

“Good Morning Hoss… And to answer before you ask, he behaved himself last night… I slipped a dose of laudanum into his water. Even though he kept saying he was fine, I could see in his face and his way of moving that he wasn’t.”

“Ya shore know my little brother, and I only wish I’da told ya about slippin’ him the laudanum,” Hoss grinned as he headed towards the room where his little brother slept.

Quietly opening the door, Hoss disbelievingly shook his head slowly from side to side at seeing his little brother all sprawled out on the bed, the covers twisted around him. The large man lowered himself to the edge of the bed and felt his brother’s forehead; pleased to feel his skin temperature normal.

“Hey Shortshanks,” Hoss called as he gently shook his brother’s shoulder. “Time to wake up.”

“No more… Don’t wanna go to school,” Joe mumbled, turned over and pulled the pillow over his head.

“No you don’t have to go to school no more, Pa let you finish two months ago. But I want you awake so we can see how you’re doin’.”

“I’m doing fine…” Joe said as he reached for the pillow Hoss removed from his head and cried, “Hoss…” his voice rising in pitch.

“Now Shortshanks!”

Opening his eyes, Joe rolled to his back and looked at the two men standing in his room.

“How do you feel this mornin’? Any headache?” Hoss asked.

“No,” Joe’s answer was clipped.

“How about your ribs?”

“Fine.”

“If you ain’t the orneriest little cuss, little brother. Now Mrs. Roehl’s gonna be bring up a tray with breakfast for all of us and I think it would be a good thing if’n you were dressed.”

Lifting the covers, Joe squealed, “Hey! Where’re my clothes?!”

“Your pants are right here,” Adam stated pointing to the chair. “But I think it would be for the best if we see how you do sitting up before we think about letting you get dressed.”

“I don’t need another ‘older’ brother here,” Joe shot back and glared at the man.

“Mind your manners,” admonished Hoss as he jabbed Joe in the chest. “If it weren’t for him you’d be a heck of a lot worse off.”

“Maybe I should be thankful I was an only child,” Adam teased with a smile that shown in his eyes.

Hoss helped Joe slowly sit up while Adam plumped up and stuffed the pillows behind the boy’s back.

“Well?” Hoss asked.

“Got light headed there for a moment,” Joe stated as he slowly breathed out the breath he’d held.

“And now?” Hoss asked again, trying to figure out just how his little brother really was.

“Better, much better.”

“You’re awake,” Mrs. Roehl stated as she entered with clothing draped across her forearm. “This shirt belongs to my Timothy, he left it here a few weeks back for me to mend, I think it should fit you. I’m laundering and mending yours.”

“Thank ya, Ma’am. That’s real thoughtful of ya,” Hoss accepted the shirt.

“Oh, and there’s a pair of fresh drawers for him too,” Mrs. Roehl stated as she turned to leave the room. “I’ll give you a few minutes to get him dressed and I’ll bring up your breakfast.”

“Drawers?” Joe disdainfully asked. “I don’t wear drawers!”

“Yeah, and she knows it too,” Hoss spoke and laughed at the mortified expression upon Joe’s face.

“A fella should always wear clean drawers or at least clean long-john bottoms,” Adam stated and raised his eyebrows in laughter.

“Do ya need my help?” Hoss asked.

“No I don’t need your help,” Joe defensively answered. “I been dressing myself…”

“Yep and just like when you’s a little tike, ya keep forgettin’ to put everythin’ on,” Hoss harrumphed in laughter.

Joe scowled and accepted the shirt and drawers from Hoss and his pants from Adam. Under the covers, Joe finagled his legs into the drawers before throwing back the covers; his actions caused the two men to begin howling earnestly with laughter.

“Fine, just fine. Laugh all you want. There’s an old saying that he who laughs best, laughs last.”

“Actually, my grandfather would quote, ‘He who laughs last, thinks slowest,’” which set Hoss off into another howling laugh.

*****

After finishing eating their breakfast, the three Cartwrights bided their time while waiting for the doctor to discuss their upcoming trip to Virginia City.

“Hey, you got a gun?” inquired Joe.

“I do. Its standard military issue for naval officers.” Adam stood and walked to his dresser where he pulled out the holstered weapon. Removing the pistol from its leather case, Adam checked to make sure the weapon was still unloaded before handing it to Hoss.

“Kinda old school… for out here,” Hoss stated as he looked over the Colt cap and ball pistol. “Ain’tcha got a revolver?”

“Never found the need to have a revolver…” Adam answered.

“You ain’t a man out here if you don’t have a revolver,” Joe answered.

“This little peashooter won’t help you none if we encounter robbers out on the trail, seein’ as they’ll probably have revolvers as well,” acknowledged Hoss.

“This is all I have,” Adam stated.

“Well, as me bein’ your ‘guide’, I’d say once the doc’s been here to see Joe that we head out and find you a proper weapon.”

“Yeah, Hoss, we’ll take him to that shop where Pa…”

“Joseph, you are stayin’ right here. If ya want to be able to head home, you’re gonna get as rested as much as ya can.”

“Hoss…” pleaded Joe.

“There’s no arguin’. It’s gonna be rough enough on ya sittin’ in the saddle with those ribs bandaged…”

“Hey, did you ask Adam about coming along with us?” Joe excitedly inquired.

“I sure did… Ain’tcha been payin’ attention? He agreed. Though I still think he’s gettin’ the better end of the barter,” Hoss announced.

“How’s that?” Joe asked as he looked questioningly to his brother.

“Well, he’s gettin’ free guide service, and I still have ta put up with ya on the way home cause he rescued ya,” teased Hoss.

“Hardy, har, har… You wouldn’t feel that way when ya have to tell Pa ya lost me,” Joe announced and stuck out his tongue.

“I didn’t lose ya, you snuck out,” Hoss boldly stated. “And let that thought sober ya because Pa’s gonna find out about it.” Hoss poked Joe in the chest.

“You didn’t wire him?!” Joe asked with alarm.

“No, but he’s gonna know somethin’s up when he sees ya and gives ya a hug.”

*****

Doctor Dandridge had been and gone from the boarding house, stating that if they took it easy on the way home and rested frequently throughout the day, he saw no problem why Joe couldn’t travel.

“But one word of warning, keep it at a walk or at a lope. Trotting might be too rough on the boy, jostling him and all. And for God’s sake don’t let him go galloping!”

Joe scowled at the physician while Adam and Hoss nodded.

*****

That evening, the brothers and their new friend made arrangements to leave early the following morning. Joe asked if they’d purchased the revolver for Adam and begged to see it; he whistled as Adam pulled out the black leather holster and his new revolver – a Colt .45.

*****

Adam had already retired to his room, and it was just the brothers, “Joe, you get some shuteye and we’ll head on home in the mornin’. I’ll wire Pa tonight and let him know we’re on our way back.”

“You gonna tell him about Adam?”

“Nah, don’t see why…”

“But if he’s a long lost cousin…”

“He may and he may not…”

With more perception than most people would give the youngster credit for, Joe asked, “You think that maybe there was a fight in the family and Adam’s from the black sheep side?”

“What gives you that idea, Joe?”

“I don’t know. It’s just that we ain’t never met anyone else with our last name, and Pa don’t talk about his family that much…”

“Well, Pa’s lost three wives, and I think that’s heartache enough in addition to him leavin’ his family behind to come out here to follow his dream.”

“But still…”

“Nah, Pa will meet him soon enough. You get to sleep and I’ll get Cochise as well as Warrior and Skeeter ready for ya in the mornin’.”

“Night Hoss.”

“Night Joe.”

*****

Hoss and Adam met up at the Top of the Nob Livery before the sun was up and prepared the eight horses for travel. Having arrived at the boarding house, they tied the animals to the railing in front before proceeding inside.

While Hoss made his way upstairs to help his brother get ready, Adam spoke with Mr. and Mrs. Roehl.

“While I’m gone, I’d like to leave my trunk here, and when I get settled I’d like for you to ship it to me. There should be enough money in this envelope to reimburse you for your efforts and for shipping it.”

“We’ll keep it safe, don’t you worry, young man,” Mr. Roehl spoke after pulling a pipe from his lips and placing the envelope in an inner pocked of his vest.

The three looked up as the brothers slowly made their way down the stairs; Hoss hovering over Joe while the younger of the two protested against the ‘baby treatment’.

*****

Once they were in their saddles, they turned their horses and slowly made their way eastward from San Francisco heading to Virginia City.

“Hey Adam… You being a sailor and all… How’d you pick out such a good horse?” Joe asked as they rode.

“My grandfather and I had horses in Boston; though it has been a few years since I’ve sat one for as long as I probably am going to be while on leave.”

“Yeah, another reason to take it easy,” Hoss laughed. “Don’t need two invalids out here.”

Joe scowled at his brother and asked, “Ya named him?” upon looking over Adam’s horse; a leggy chestnut with an excellent barrel chest and shoulders, and stout legs. He was impressed with the horse’s conformation and the fact that a seaman selected him.

“Well, he is a flashy horse… I was thinking on calling him Sport.” With that the horse began tossing its head up and down.

“You might want to reprimand him against doing that,” Joe offered. “They start and don’t learn its wrong, it can become mighty irritating.”

“What’s irritatin’, little brother, is you offerin’ advice when none’s been asked of ya,” Hoss jabbed.

“I’m just saying what Pete’s been telling me as he’s overseeing me working the horses,” boasted Joe. He was proud that their father had agreed that with his natural affinity for horses it only made sense for Joe to learn that part of the Ponderosa, from bottom to the top.

“So what did you name your mount?” Adam asked, looking at the somewhat smaller pinto the young man rode.

Joe spoke up, “This one… is Cochise.” Joe gave the gelding he rode a firm and loving pat on the neck and slightly grimaced as he leaned forward. “This one,” pointing to his dun colored horse that Adam led, “is Skeeter. And the skewbald is Warrior. Hoss is riding Chubs, while his other two horses are Nomad and Wanderer.”

“Say, didn’t I hear you mention to one of those policemen back at the hotel that your ship was the Wanderer?” Hoss asked.

“Actually, it was the Wanderer II; it was named after a merchant ship that went down in a fierce storm in the Atlantic about five years before this vessel was commissioned.”

“Seems kinda funny they’d name a military ship after a civilian ship,” Hoss answered.

“Well, when the ship went down, it was under the control of the navy. They needed a vessel that could get into a certain port inconspicuously. Unfortunately, the ship sank when it struck a reef that was unmarked on the charts.”

“Did she lose all hands?” Joe inquired. He remembered the stories their father had told them of his years at sea.

“Not all. But about half, a mixture of civilian and military died when she broke deep.”

“Sorry to hear about that,” Joe mumbled. He quieted because he could see how the loss of any life at sea upset their traveling companion.

The riders spent the next few hours in relative silence before coming to a location where Hoss felt would make a good spot to stop for lunch, and to rest the horses and the riders.

“I don’t need to stop,” Joe called.

“You may not, but I sure do,” Adam answered as he stiffly stepped from the saddle and grimaced a little. “I’m beginning to feel some muscles that I didn’t remember I had.”

Stepping down from Chubs, Hoss pulled a bottle from his saddle bag and walked over to hand it to Adam.

“Hey, I thought Pa said no liquor, especially on our way home?” Joe complained.

“It’s not liquor,” Adam stated and smiled, having turned the bottle over in his hands and read the label, ‘Mexican Mustang / Liniment / Lyon Mfg. Co / New York.’

*****

By the time the three men stopped to make camp for the night, Adam was really looking forward to liberally applying the liniment. As Joe and Hoss set out to make camp and began to cook their meal, Adam stepped outside their camp and relished the relief the tonic inflicted on his aching buttocks and thighs.

Joe lowered himself to the ground and laid on his side, head propped up by his hand, watching Hoss stir the pot of beans. His eyes began to water as Adam walked near him, “You are sleeping downwind?” he asked.

“Hadn’t thought on it,” Adam stated as he sat at an angle to Joe and Hoss and leaned back against a tree.

“That stuff’s pretty potent,” Hoss stated and smiled as Adam stretched out his long legs.

“I can tell. Wish I had some of this stuff after the latest blow we went through,” Adam shivered at the memory.

“Blow?” Joe queried, and feeling some discomfort in his ribs from the way he was laying on the ground, rolled to his back. Interlocking his fingers behind his head he intently listened as Adam described the storm they encountered as they rounded Cape Horn. Adam painted a vivid picture of hours at the helm, legs stiffened and braced against the heaving desk as the roiling waters acted as a bascule, driving the ship high and dropping her into the hollows between the waves. He told of the hours holding onto the wheel, the aches in his muscles and joints from the cold waves driven over the bow and the wind blowing. By the time the storm was over, the men on deck needed help from the others to get below deck and into their berths.

“Luckily we had a physician and an old mate who knew how to massage feeling back into overwrought limbs.”

The camaraderie continued as they ate supper, Adam continued to enthrall Joe with tales from his years at sea while Hoss thought on the other aspects – the loss of life as well as the heartache from being separated from loved ones for so long.

“Ain’t ya got a gal pinin’ for ya?” Hoss asked.

“There was a girl once, before I decided to join the Navy…”

“Bet she left you because of all those stories about a sailor having a girl in every port?” teased Joe.

“Joseph!” Hoss growled. “You know that ain’t polite and it ain’t non o your business.”

“You’re the one who asked…” Joe squealed.

“It’s okay… She ended up marrying someone else that I knew. The day I was ready to ask her if she’d wait for me to graduate college before I proposed to her… Let’s just say she wasn’t the girl I thought she was; too self centered and absorbed in what society could do for her. Glad I didn’t make it down the aisle with her. Had I not decided then and there that she wasn’t for me… being married to her might have driven me to the sea.”

Hoss didn’t know what to think, until he saw the somber expression on Adam’s face change to indicate he couldn’t keep the serious look on his face and broke out into a smile. With that, Hoss joined Adam in a belly laugh and Joe started with his cackling laugh and quite soon grabbed at his ribs, begging Hoss and Adam to stop.

The distress in his little brother’s voice sobered Hoss readily.

“He always cackle like that?” Adam inquired and his laughter eased.

“Pretty much,” Hoss answered and then knelt by his brother, “You okay Shorthanks?”

“Yeah, I’m okay,” answered Joe, using his left hand he rubbed his ribs.

“You settle into your bedroll and get some sleep,” Hoss stated as he stood up and walked to his own bedroll.

*****

In an effort to spare the horses from being overused on their journey, the men had swapped out which horse they rode among the eight they had, on a daily basis. All three had been pleased that the horse chosen as a pack animal was also good under saddle and bore Hoss’ weight with ease. Adam never inquired about riding Cochise or Chubs, he knew that a man’s primary horse was only ridden by its rider. They prepared to set out for their fourth day together; Hoss on Wanderer, Adam on Skeeter, and Joe on Warrior.

“How much farther is it to Virginia City?” inquired Adam as he settled into the saddle.

“Well…” began Hoss, “If’n it were just Joe and me and him not being injured, we’d probably be home sometime early day after tomorrow, as it is, I’d say we got two and a half more days to get home.”

“Can’t wait to sleep in my own bed,” Joe stated as he settled into his saddle.

“I can’t wait to eat one of Hop Sing’s meals.”

“That good?” Adam asked.

“You’d think you’d died and gone ta heaven after eatin’ one of Hop Sing’s meals,” answered Hoss, who licked his lips at the thought.

While riding, Joe told stories of the Ponderosa as well as the meals Hop Sing prepared.

“Little brother… you hush up about Hop Sing’s cookin’… It’s makin’ me feel plum puny just thinkin’ how long it’s been since I’ve ate one of his meals.”

Joe couldn’t help himself, he began teasing his brother even more by describing the succulent pot roasts and steaks, the tender chicken breasts, and of course the desserts.

Hoss finally had enough, pulled off his hat and swatted it towards his brother. Joe easily encouraged Warrior to sidestep the impending hat heading his way.

“You do enjoy taking your life in your own hands… don’t you?” Adam jovially asked.

“It’s what little brothers are for,” answered Joe with a broad smile.

“It’s his lot in life to make my life miserable…” answered Hoss, unable to keep the grin off his face.

*****

Their companionable silence was broke before they stopped for lunch when Adam commented on Warrior’s behavior, “He seems to be a little high strung.”

“I done told him he shoulda left that one at home,” Hoss agreed.

“He did good this trip,” Joe defended and petted the neck of the animal, “he just needs a few more miles under his belt… a little more experience. He’s settled down a lot since we headed out from home.”

“Maybe you should think about gelding him,” suggested Adam.

“Why? I think he’d make an excellent stud… And Pete agrees with me,” answered Joe.

“The final decision will be Pa’s,” spoke Hoss.

“I can’t believe you actually brought a stallion on a cattle drive…” Adam stated. He’d heard tales of how cattle on long drives could be set off into a stampede at the littlest thing, and a stallion wasn’t exactly a little thing.

“Normally we don’t, but he’s different. He don’t normally act like a stallion,” Joe answered, yet he felt the stallion tensing.

“There’s usually and then there’s now. Joe you best…”

Hoss didn’t get the chance to complete the rest of his sentence as the horse Joe rode let out an ear-piercing scream, began blowing hard and snorting through his nose; pawing the ground in a display of his agitation.

“Joe!” Adam called as he heard the sound of another horse screaming and the stallion ignored his rider’s efforts and charged the riders who broke from the thick of trees about a hundred yards to the left of them, all with their guns drawn.

While Joe struggled to regain control of the animal he’d not heard the rifle fire over the scream of his own horse; his brain and body were focused solely on staying in the saddle forcing everything surrounding him to be momentarily blocked out. Realization came to Joe that at the speed the horse was galloping the situation was becoming more dangerous by the second; the repercussions of his horse slamming into or choosing to fight one of the other horses placed him grave peril. And then there was the fact that he realized the riders were firing at them.

Kicking his feet from the stirrups, Joe took the only option he felt open to him, he tried to make his body go limp as he gave himself to gravity and it pulled at him, slamming him hard into the ground. Time seemed to stop as he felt the impact and rolled without any control over his body’s movement. When time resumed its normal flow, Joe was only too aware of how difficult it was to breathe, his ribs ached and fire tore at his chest. He failed in his efforts to take deep breaths and only managed to slip in small amounts of air as his vision swirled and ultimately went black.

Hoss and Adam dropped the leads to the other horses as they raced to reach Joe, guns drawn and firing at those who fired upon them. Both horses obeyed and slid to a halt as the two men jumped from their saddles and ran the final five yards to where Joe had fallen.

Of the four riders who originally charged out from the woods, only two remained upright, on their horses, and still firing. The first man struck by one of their bullets laid ominously still, red crimson soaking through his shirt and his neck bent at an odd angle to his body. Another man, severely limping and blindly firing backwards, was attempting to run back into the woods. A bullet from Adam’s revolver struck the man, entering his chest from under his arm as the man turned to fire – it was the last time the man would do anything.

The remaining riders, their numbers reduced by half, wheeled their horses for the woods; one man taking a pot-luck shot into his thigh, the other man escaped unscathed.

*****

Adam continued to fire as Hoss dropped his revolver and knelt beside his little brother, turned him over from lying face down, and gathered him into his big arms, “Joe? Joe?” Hoss pleaded. “Come on Joe? Don’t do this to me…” He saw the red seeping from his brother’s chest and staining the shirt the boy wore.

“How is he?” Adam asked. He’d returned his revolver to his holster before addressing the distraught man.

“He’s bleedin’ Adam… They shot him… in the chest…” tears choked Hoss’ voice.

“May I help?” Adam sincerely asked, not sure the big man would approve of his taking charge of helping the unconscious youth.

Hoss nodded and slightly relaxed his hold on his brother so this man could hopefully help him.

Adam gave no thought to the shirt Joe wore; it was ruined, a lost cause, several tears resulting from the tumble he’d taken as well as the bullet hole and the growing red stain. He wasted no time in unbuttoning the shirt; he needed to assess how much damage the bullet wound inflicted. With both hands he ripped open the front of the shirt, buttons popping off and striking him and the boy’s brother. He pulled the shirt open to examine the wound.

“Move your arm Hoss… please,” Adam stated as he ripped a sleeve from the ruined shirt to use as wadding to help stop the bleeding. Returning his attention to the boy, he ran his fingers along the length of the bullet wound and was pleased that his fingers couldn’t penetrate into the boy’s body.

“He’s gonna be okay, Hoss.”

“He’s gotta be okay…” Hoss stated.

Placing a hand to the big man’s shoulder, he waited until Hoss looked at him before repeated, “He’s going to be okay… It’s just a bad flesh wound…”

“Flesh wound?” Hoss repeated.

“If we were close to a town I’d say he could do with stitches… The bullet left a fairly deep and lengthy furrow, but that’s it…”

“He’s gonna be okay?” Hoss fluctuated between tears of worry and tears of happiness.

“I believe he will. But I want to check his ribs again.”

“Do you think he punctured a lung?” Hoss worriedly asked.

“He’s not bleeding from his mouth or nose, so I think that’s a good indication so far that he didn’t… But still, he could have suffered more broken ribs when he landed,” advised Adam as he continued to work on the unconscious youth. “Damn, I wish I knew where we were, that there was a nearby town.”

From years of helping to temporarily patch up sailors on the various ships on which he’d served, Adam knew what to do to stabilize the rib cage in order to prevent further damage, but the fact that Joe had suffered an injury to the area beforehand, really worried the man.

“We’re a few hours ride from the town of Pines,” Hoss stated. “I think they got a doctor…”

“Tell you what… let’s move him over to the trees and out of the sun. When he comes around, we’ll make the decision to get him to town…” With Hoss carrying his little brother by his shoulders and Adam carrying the boy by his knees, the two men made their way to the shade and laid the unconscious youth on the ground.

“I don’t know what I’da done if’n you hadn’t been with us…” Hoss offered, “I’m beholdin’ to ya.” Hoss appeared lost; he knew that he should offer his hand to the man, but this man, this stranger… just a few short days prior had helped him so much already that he was afraid that offering his hand wouldn’t properly express his feelings.

“You can be beholding to me later, right now were still not out of this yet,” Adam answered as he looked around, their horses and two of the horses ridden by their attackers were milling about, yet Warrior was nowhere to be seen. Adam’s attention was drawn to the two men lying sprawled on the ground; he walked over to one of the men, pulled the bandana from the man’s face, placed his fingertips at the pulse points, and waited. He repeated the process with the second man.

“They dead?” Hoss asked as he came up behind Adam.

“Yes.”

Pulling the bandana down from the second man’s face Adam asked, “You know him?”

“He’s one a the drovers we hired before we headed out, him and…”

“He’s not one of your regular hands?” Adam asked as Hoss walked away from him and the dead man; to look at the other man’s face and said, “Him too. Nah, we hired them two just for this drive…”

“I don’t mean to pry, but it’s evident that these two probably set out to ambush you for the money you received from the herds you delivered.”

“They wasted their lives then… I didn’t want to carry it all and neither did Joe, even though they were a bank draft. Joe suggested we send it to Pa; I mailed the bank drafts home before we left San Francisco.” Looking between the two dead men, “What should we do with their bodies?”

“Probably should take them to Pines, turn them over to the law.” Rising to his feet, Adam continued, “Well, I’ll go round up the horses, you should get back to Joe… for when he wakes.”

*****

The bodies of the two dead men were covered and draped over their horses by the time Joe woke; startling to sit up and grabbed his ribs.

“Easy there, Joe,” Adam stated as he was nearest.

“Ow!” Joe exclaimed and clinched his fists. “That hurts.”

“I should say so!” Hoss barked. “Dagnabbit Joe! Ya done scared a lifetime off me!” Hoss’ gruffness was only because he’d been terrified for his brother.

“What happened?” Joe asked as he looked to the two men.

“Your horse had ideas other than minding you,” answered Adam.

“Hey, where’s my clothes?” Joe asked when he realized he wasn’t wearing his shirt, and lifted the cover to make sure he hadn’t been stripped fully, again. He exhaled when he saw he still wore his pants.

“Ya ruined your shirt fallin’ from your horse and gettin’ shot,” Hoss explained as he held out a cup of coffee to his brother.

“SHOT?!” yelped Joe.

“Just a deep graze, thankfully,” Adam stated as he reached towards the young man in an effort to calm him. “Take it easy or you’ll likely break it open again and start bleeding.”

“I’m shot?” Joe pulled at his shirt tied around his chest, he began rapidly breathing.

Adam restrained his hands. “Joe listen to me, take deep breaths.”

“I’m shot!” Joe exclaimed his eyes wide with fright. Adam and Hoss heard the panic in his voice.

Holding both the boy’s hands in one hand and cupping his other hand under the boy’s chin, Adam forced Joe to look at him. “Joe, look at me, take a deep breath and hold it.” As an example, Adam took a deep breath and held it. After a slow count of five he exhaled. “Again.” Adam repeated the breathing exercise several more times until Joe sufficiently calmed. “You okay buddy?” Adam asked.

Hoss was thankful for Adam’s help, he didn’t know if he’d of been able to do all that Adam was doing had the man not been present.

Joe nodded, unable to trust his voice.

“You were shot, but it’s just a flesh wound, but it is deep… So, you’ll need to keep still, that way you won’t break it open.”

“I’ll be okay?” Joe plaintively asked and looked to his brother.

Having set the cup of coffee aside, Hoss sat down beside Joe and wrapped his big arms around his slim brother and tried hard to keep his own tears from falling. “You’re gonna be okay little brother. You’re gonna be okay.” Joe reached up and grabbed hold of his bothers arms; his head inclined towards his brother’s chest, his breath catching as he tried to stop crying.

*****

Night had fallen over the camp and Adam had to smile at his companions; the big man was worried about his sibling, openly carrying the hurt he felt regarding what had happened.

“May I ask you something?” Adam asked as Hoss sat on his bedroll, close to his brother.

“Sure…”

“I don’t mean for this to sound condescending, but does he always act before he thinks?”

Hoss’ face blanked before the start of a smile turned into a full smile and the man laughed.

“That’s my baby brother, has ever since he learned to crawl. Would drive his momma crazy; he’d see somethin’ or want to do somethin’ and off he’d go. Thanks.”

“For what?” Adam asked.

“For makin’ me smile and feel better.  Just rememberin’ him and all the shenanigans he’s pulled. I’ll just add this one to the list.” Changing the subject Hoss asked, “So what do you plan to do when we get to Virginia City?”

“Not exactly sure. I’ll probably use it as a base of operations; I’ll send for my trunk and start exploring.”

“All by yourself? Don’tcha think that’s kind a dangerous…. I mean, you’re not of the land, you bein’ a sailor and all…”

“My father had a dream and set out on his own, he was a sailor too.” Adam felt that his father’s decision to head west on his own was as sound as his own.

“Hey, I got to thinkin’, I’m due some vacation time, maybe Pa would let me show you around…”

“Pa’ll have you doing my chores,” Joe spoke from within his bedroll.

“You’re awake again?” Hoss turned his attention to his brother. “How do you feel?”

“Better, but…”

“But what Joseph?!” Hoss demanded.

“That first step sure was a doozy,” Joe giggled.

Hoss picked up his big hat and swatted at his brother. “Don’t you ever do that again!”

“No worse than coming off a bronc,” Jose answered as he sat up.

Adam left his bedroll and fixed a cup of coffee for Joe.

“Thanks,” Joe gratefully accepted the brew and sipped from the cup.

“Are you hungry, Shortshanks?”

“Yeah, I feel like I could eat you,” Joe giggled again.

“Good to see your spirits weren’t bruised,” Adam stated as he sat before the fire and stirred the pot of beans. After fixing a plate, he walked over and handed it to the boy.

Joe took a bite and asked in surprise, “Hey, what’s this in with the beans?” He’d forked something and held it up to examine.

“I got a rabbit, Adam told me about addin’ some of the cooked meat to the beans, said it would be better for you that way.”

“Taste’s good… better than plain beans any day.”

With Joe occupied eating, Hoss returned to the topic of discussion, “So, whata ya think about me showin’ you around?”

“I’m not sure your father would appreciate you taking time off on account of me…” Adam answered. “Though I wouldn’t mind learning about this country, that’s why I’m here.”

“Why don’t we hire you on?” asked Joe. “I mean that way, Hoss or I wouldn’t exactly be taking time away from our work, and you’d still get shown around…”

“Joe, Adam’s got a job,” Hoss offered.

“Actually, right now I don’t,” Adam answered. “I’m on leave. Do you think your father would hire me on?”

“I don’t know, you’re pretty green, but not as bad as a tin horn,” answered Hoss with a little teasing in his tone of voice.

“Hey, I rescued him, twice… That’s got to count for something?” Adam jested back.

Joe let out a cackle and grabbed his ribs, Hoff guffed and the last vestiges of his worry disappeared.

*****

Morning had already broken over the camp before Joe woke to find Hoss and Adam moving about, making preparations to head out. After they’d ate breakfast and cleaned up their camp, they helped Joe to his feet and towards the horses.

“Hey… Where’s Warrior?”

“I’m sorry Joe, he done took off yesterday,” Hoss answered.

“I looked for him, but between the gunfire and taking care of you, too much time had lapsed,” Adam answered.

“That means my saddle… Well, I can ride Cochise…”

“No you ain’t,” barked Hoss. “You’re gonna ride in front a me until we get to Pines.”

“I’ve ridden Cochise bareback tons of times…” Joe argued.

“Not with those ribs and that bullet graze. You’re gonna sit in front of me and that’s the last of it.”

“Here,” Adam handed Joe one of his shirts, “This should fit you better than one of Hoss’.”

Within ten minutes, they were organized; Joe and Hoss rode the packhorse, who’d had several days without being ridden, while Adam rode his horse Sport. During the morning, Adam had rigged up a system for the horses they were going to lead, including the two with the dead bodies draped over them.

*****

Entering Pines, the riders drew stares from the citizens of the town, including the sheriff.

“You mind explaining yourselves?” the man asked, leaving no doubt he expected an answer.

The three saw a burly man step from the boardwalk on an interception course. The man stood at least six foot, two, and was well fleshed with muscle. His black hat matched the black of his handlebar mustache that accentuated his features.

“Sheriff, we’ll explain everythin’, if you’ll allow your doctor ta look at my brother first… He got shot yesterday when these two varmints,” Hoss pointed his thumb over his shoulder, “and two others ambushed us.”

Joe had swallowed his pride long before they entered the town and allowed the pain from his injuries to show through his slumped posture and the grimace he couldn’t keep from his face at each step the horse took.

“Shot, you say?”

“Yes sir, we had no choice but to return fire. It was a pure case of self defense,” Adam offered.

*****

Hoss slipped from the horse and extended his arms to help his brother down from the saddle. Joe grunted with pain as his feet his hit the ground, almost causing his knees to buckle.

“I gotcha little brother,” Hoss stated as he assisted Joe across the boardwalk and into the doctor’s office.

*****

In the waiting room, the sheriff appeared and asked if there was an update on the young man.

“Not yet, Doc’s still in there with him,” Hoss worriedly answered.

The sheriff then redirected his questioning to those concerning the two bodies he’d already presented to the town’s undertaker. When the big man identified himself as Hoss Cartwright, the sheriff took note; he’d heard the name and the reputation of the family from over in Virginia City was strong.

“You one of those Ponderosa Cartwrights?”

“Yes, sir. Our pa owns the ranch,” Hoss answered.

“And you…”

“The name’s Adam Cartwright, but I’m not related. Just happen to have the same surname.”

“And you’re riding with them because?” there Sheriff asked.

“Because I didn’t heed my own advice in San Francisco and ended up preventing the boy in there from being Shanghaied. And I was heading this general vicinity, so when they offered to be my guides… I agreed.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, just unfortunate it’s under these circumstances. My name’s Gordon Turkle, and as you can tell by my badge, I’m the sheriff here in Pines. You care to tell me the rest of the story? You said there were four who ambushed you?”

The sheriff diligently listened and took notes for his report as Adam and Hoss alternately told their tale. When they’d concluded he asked, “You know who the other two might be?”

Adam shook his head no, as Hoss answered, “Not a clue.”

“One was shot… I think I struck him in the thigh,” Adam offered.

“Well, not a whole lot to go on, but I thank you for your time and the information. I hope your brother recovers…”

“Thanks,” replied Hoss as the sheriff left the waiting room.

*****

Hoss continued to watch between the clock and the closed door as the time slowly passed. Half an hour later, Joe slept on the examination table, having been sedated so the doctor could stitch the bullet graze and manipulate his broken ribs back into position and bind the young man’s torso. The door opened and the doctor stepped into the waiting room in his clinic.

“Doc?” Hoss asked as he stood, inadvertently dropping his hat at his feet. “How’s Joe?”

“He’ll sleep the rest of the night. He’s one lucky young man.” Turning to Adam he stated, “I presume you’re the one who bound his ribs?”

“This time, but they were broken before we left San Francisco.”

“Well, if you hadn’t followed up by doing what you did, he’d of punctured a lung for sure.” Turning to Hoss he said, “And for you insisting that he ride in front of you, that kept him from doing any more damage to the ribs while getting him here. That was very smart on your part. I’ve seen too many drovers ride in…” The man quieted as the memories were quite unpleasant.

“Can I see him?” Hoss plaintively asked.

“For a moment… He won’t know you’re there. I sedated him so I could deeply clean and suture the bullet wound. I’ll let you see him for a few minutes and then you and your friend should go get a room at the hotel and grab a good meal.”

Adam called to Hoss as the large man walked to the door, “I’ll go get us two rooms at the hotel…”

“Thanks, Adam.”

*****

From a block away the doctor saw the large man and his companion sitting on the bench in front of his clinic, the clock in the center of town began to strike six o’clock that morning. Hoss stood up and offered to take the tray bearing the boy’s breakfast.

“How is he?” Hoss asked.

“I’m sure he’s quite hungry. He hadn’t started to rouse when I examined him earlier.” The doctor answered as he opened the door and proceeded to the room where Joe lay. “You’ll be happy to know there’s no sign of infection.”

Joe was beginning to wake and his eyes brightened when Hoss walked into the room carrying the tray. “I hope you got something on there for me, I’m starved.”

“This is compliments of the doctor,” answered Adam as Hoss set the tray aside and helped his brother sit up in bed, before placing the tray on Joe’s lap.

As Joe ate the three casually chatted about everything that happened. Joe saw the doctor first, “Hey Doc?”

“Good morning,” the doctor answered.

“When can I go home?” Joe asked.

“Well… How do you feel?”

“I feel fine,” answered Joe.

“You always answer ‘you’re fine’, Shortshanks,” teased Hoss.

“I didn’t feel fine yesterday,” Joe answered indignantly.

“No, you sure didn’t. But tell the truth, if Pa were standing here…”

“Hands on his hips?” Joe queried.

“Hands on his hips,” Hoss confirmed.

“And having ‘that’ look on his face?”

“Yes, having ‘that’ look on his face…”

“I’d tell him I’ll take it real easy just to make sure I continue to be fine.” Joe gave Hoss his best ‘I’ll behave’ expression and neither Hoss nor Adam could keep a straight face.

“Well, if you promise me to take it easy, you can head on home today. I’ll send a note to your physician explaining my diagnosis and what I’ve done.”

“Well, if we’re going to head out, we need to purchase someone a saddle,” Adam suggested.

“Hank Highfield is a good leatherworker and he has several saddles in his shop. Generally he does custom orders, but I’m sure he might have some traded in saddles to fit the boy. Hank’s two doors the other side of the livery,” the doctor answered.

“I guess that Warrior took off with my saddle bags too?” Joe asked.

“And your clothes. I’ll run by the mercantile and see if they have some new clothes for you little brother,” Hoss stated as he patted Joe on the thigh.

“Hey, if they got black or a dark navy shirt…”

“You’ll get what they got,” answered Hoss.

*****

As Adam and Hoss left the medical clinic they encountered the sheriff.

“I hoped to see you this morning. I sent a wire out to some of the towns around here to be on the lookout for someone with a gunshot wound to the leg. So far nothing… And as for the two men, neither had identification on them; not sure anything will come of sending their descriptions out.”

“Well, you’ve tried, Sheriff. That’s all you can do,” Adam stated.

*****

An hour later, the doctor was satisfied that between the two men, his young patient would arrive safely home. He and the sheriff waved goodbye to the men as they turned their horses from town.

 

Revelation… Chapter 3 – What’s the Worst that Could Happen?

The remainder of their trip to Virginia City was uneventful. As they entered town that late afternoon, Hoss pointed out the International House Hotel farther down the main street to Adam.

“We’ll give ya a couple a days to settle in and get your land legs back,” Hoss stated. “And talk to Pa about maybe hirin’ ya. Even if ya don’t work out as a ranch hand, I’m sure Pa would love to talk to ya about the time ya spent at sea…”

“Okay, oh, and by the way… So I don’t cause too much trouble for you, I’m going to check into the hotel using my middle name; I’ll register as Adam Stoddard.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Joe announced. Even though they had taken it slow and easy, the toll the trip had taken on his body was quite evident.

“I want too, it’ll be easier that way, at least it’ll keep people from being too curious about another Cartwright here about and causing your father untold grief, people are bound to speculate.”

“Would you change your name if our name was Carter or Williams?” Joe wouldn’t let it drop.

“Probably not, but it’s my decision.”

“Come on Joe, he’s got that same way a tellin’ people to drop it as Pa has, and you know you cain’t beat Pa. Sides, Pa’s gonna have my hide when I get ya home anyhow.” Waving goodbye to Adam, Hoss voiced, “Why couldn’t I have an older brother to take care of all the trouble you get in to?”

“I’d trade places with you in a heartbeat to be the oldest,” Joe offered and tried to sound more jovial than he felt.

“Fine older brother, then guide your pony over there and step right on in to Doc Martin’s and let him check you out.”

“You coming with me?” Joe asked.

“I think you’re old enough to go on your own, sides I want to see if any of the hands are in town and have one of them take the horses back to the ranch.” Hoss saw the last of the sparkle leave Joe’s eyes and knew there was more to Joe’s request than appeared on the surface. “All right, let me help ya get down and inside. It’ll take Doc a while to examine you and re-wrap those ribs. And I’m sure he’ll want to thoroughly examine them stitches.”

“Thanks, Hoss.”

*****

Adam Stoddard had dropped his gear within his hotel room and was just leaving the establishment when he saw two men riding from town leading Skeeter, Wanderer, and Nomad. Stepping from the boardwalk, he pulled the reins for his two horses from around the hitching rail and led the animals to the livery. Once the animals were in their stalls, from his youthful and adolescent days in Boston, Adam knew well enough about thoroughly grooming his horses before turning in for the night. Half an hour later, Adam saw a stout man running his buckskin horse through the middle of the street, with little consideration given to others his actions threatened to run down. His eyes followed the man as he pulled his horse to a stop in front of the physician’s office.

“Must be Hoss and Joe’s… Pa.”

Using the word to express the relationship from a son to his father was foreign to Adam. Even though his grandfather had raised him, most of his friends used ‘father’ or ‘dad’ as a way of addressing their paternal parent. He continued to walk back to the hotel and accepted a seat at one of the tables in the dining room. Once he’d placed his order, he saw a distinguished man enter the hotel lobby and stop at the front counter. The man turned around when the manager pointed towards the dining room, Adam saw he was wearing the badge of a sheriff on his vest.

“Evening,” the sheriff greeted as he stopped across the table from Adam. “I’m Sheriff Roy Coffee.”

“Good evening. I’m Adam Stoddard.”

“You rode in with Hoss and Little Joe Cartwright?”

“You mean it’s not just his family who calls him Little Joe?” Adam grinned. He wasn’t too certain how well that went over with the young man he’d accompanied back from San Francisco.

“Anybody who’s a friend of the family does. Are you a friend?”

“I guess you could call me that. I met Joe, and Hoss, in San Francisco and seeing as how I was planning to travel in this general direction, they agreed to be my guides.”

“Them two, your guides? You musta been pretty desperate to get here.”

“No, not desperate, just allowing them to repay a favor,” Adam offered. “If you’d like, please… have a seat and we can talk more comfortably. Give the people around here a little less to gossip about. They’re probably already having a field day with Hoss taking Joe to the doctor’s.”

Roy pulled out a chair and sat down; he motioned for Edith, the waitress, to bring him a cup of coffee.

“Speaking of Joe and the doctor, those two don’t exactly go together. You know what happened?” Roy asked.

“Why don’t you ask them?”

“I will, once their Pa is satisfied that Joe’s no worse for wear. Now… will you answer my question?”

Accepting a refill for his own cup of coffee Adam proceeded to tell the lawman of his first encounter with Joe, and later his encounter with Hoss, only at that time he didn’t realize the big man was related to the smaller man. He told of the events with the San Francisco police fearing he was a kidnapper, but later with Joe to corroborate, they left him alone. Next, Adam told of the attack and the shooting of Joe and their stay in Pines.

“SHOT?!” exclaimed Roy and the quickly quieted and looked around to see who might be listening.

“It was a serious flesh wound, took several stitches to properly close, but that’s all. And he also reinjured his ribs when he fell from his horse.”

“Fell from his horse?” Roy laughed. “That’s even more words that don’t naturally go together… Joe’s a natural, has been since the first day his Pa put him up on a horse. Even after seeing his momma thrown and killed… He’s never been scared a day in his life when it comes to horses.”

“I kinda get that feeling too. Sheriff… Coffee. Look, I’m not meaning any trouble, just wanting to look around the territory and get to know what drew my father to travel out here.”

“You got family here abouts?”

“No… They… He was killed on his travels west. My late grandfather raised me from an infant.” Adam hesitated, the reasons for his travels were his own, but he had already told Hoss and Joe more than he normally would have. He thought it funny now that he looked back on the past week. And if this lawman was a much a friend to the Cartwrights as it appeared, he knew he had better give a little more information to satisfy the man’s instincts. “Not exactly sure why but… ever since before I set sail around Cape Horn, I’ve had, as Hoss would say, a hankerin’ to explore the land; give up the sea for a while.”

“You a sailor?” Roy inquired.

“On leave… Using some of my long-earned vacation time; being single and having no family, my time’s accumulated.”

“Well… If you need any help, just ask around for me.”

Adam nodded and offered his thanks.

Roy stood from the table, flipped a couple of coins onto the checkered cloth and left the room. A few minutes later, the waitress delivered a plate with Adam’s supper, piping hot.

*****

Adam returned to his hotel room, and pulled out the small journal he kept separate from his logs as a naval officer. He wasn’t as faithful in his writings as he should be as his grandfather had always encouraged, but as he sat there, he remembered one night when he was much younger and he wrote of what happened at school and what happened when he returned home.

“Grandfather?” eleven year old Adam asked of Abel Stoddard.

“Yes, Adam.”

“I know you’re upset about my actions at school today,” Adam replied as he stood ramrod straight directly in front the man who had raised him his whole life.

“Would you like to tell me what the fight was about?”

“Would I like to… No. But I know your question did not intend to ask my preference,” the boy answered. It took all of Abel Stoddard’s control not to smile at his young grandson. “Radolph called me a bastard… Said I wasn’t fit to go to school with him or his friends.”

“Do you know why you fought Randolph?”

“Because of what he called me. I’m not,” Adam’s anger showed. “I had two parents and they were married and they loved each other, and because of their love, I was born.”

“So, if you know that, then why did you start the fight?” Abel leaned back in his overstuffed chair, hands and fingers folded to give the impression of a church steeple and roof.

“Randolph said you made up the story of about my father so that you could protect your daughter’s reputation. He said my mother…” the young boy hesitated, he knew if he used the word Randolph had used, it would earn him his mouth being washing out with lye soap.

“What else did he say?”

“He said she was free with her favors to any sailor who came to port.”

“Do you know what he implied?”

“Yes sir, and that’s why I punched him.” Adam’s fisted hand punched into his open hand to show he still was mad.

“And do you know the punishment for fighting?”

“Yes sir, I’ve been expelled from school for a week.”

“And…”

“I believe you’re going to have a little ‘necessary talk’ with me that doesn’t involve any talking.”

“You do know how much it upsets me to have to punish you…”

“Yes sir, I know and I’m sorry that you have to punish me.”

“Are you sorry that you fought Randolph?”

“No sir. I fought for my mother’s honor and the memory of my father.”

“Very well, drop them and bend over.”

After ten hard swats with his hand, Abel Stoddard told his grandson to get dressed and go to his room until Adelaide called him for supper.

“Yes sir,” Adam answered. He’d accepted his punishment without tears or crying out. He knew before he threw the first punch that his actions would not be approved by his grandfather, but for the love he held for his parents, he saw no other recourse.

That night at supper the discussion continued, only it was Adam who wanted to know more.

“Grandfather, why would Randolph say that about my mother?”

“I don’t know, especially since his father once sought your mother’s hand…” Abel answered.

“Huh?”

“Your mother and Jonathan grew up together, though his parents were from a more influential family… I could tell as they began their youthful years that he carried more than just a boyhood crush on Elizabeth.”

“What happened?”

“I hired on a new first officer, a young man who had come up through the ranks of the merchant fleet… He was highly respected… and then I brought him home for supper after a long journey. After we ate and talked of the voyage I could tell Elizabeth had feelings for the young man. Each time, before I left to set sail, Elizabeth would always ask me to be sure to bring Mr. Cartwright home…

“I don’t exactly remember but after one voyage, your father was detained at the harbor master’s… I arrived home to find Elizabeth and Jonathan arguing, I could hear it before I opened the door.”

“That loud, huh?”

Abel nodded. “Jonathan had informed Elizabeth that he was going to ask for my permission to ask her to marry him…”

“But I thought…”

“Don’t interrupt…”

“Yes sir,”

“Your mother argued that she was not in love with Jonathan, that they had only been friends and at no time had she ever given any thought to marrying him. It left the man broken-hearted, but I loved my daughter and I could not nor would I bless such a union.”

“Did Pa ever know?”

“That was between him and your mother, but later that night, after supper, your father asked me if I would give my blessing for him to ask for my daughter’s hand in marriage.”

“Wow!” Adam stated as he sat listening. “But that still doesn’t explain why Randolph said those things about my mother…”

“We may never know… Just you remember that your parents loved each other and loved you.”

“Even though my father left me here…” Adam whispered.

“Adam…”

“I guess it’s a good thing he did, otherwise…”

“Otherwise what, son?” Abel tenderly inquired.

Young Adam couldn’t stop his tears from falling and he walked over to his grandfather, sat on his lap and wrapped his arms around the old man’s neck, “Otherwise, I’d of died too.”

“Oh Adam… How…”

“I heard you and Mr. Pryce…”

Abel wrapped his arms tighter around his grandson and cried, “I didn’t know how to tell you…”

“I miss him, Grandfather…”

“I know you do, but I’m thankful he loved you enough to leave you here.”

*****

Hoss heard the boot steps  sounding on the boardwalk and quickly stood to his feet, instinctively he knew who those boots belonged to.

“Hoss?!” Ben called as he entered the doctor’s office. “I saw Murphy and Crawley on the way into town. They said you had Little Joe here. What happened to Joseph?”

“I’m okay Pa,” Joe stated as he stepped through the opening door from the examination room while buttoning his shirt.

Worried, Ben approached his youngest, carefully evaluating his son’s face and movements.

“We experienced some trouble coming home; two of the men we hired to help us drive the herd joined up with two others and tried to rob us,” Joe answered, pulling himself up straighter in an attempt to allay his father’s fears.

“Hoss?”

“Pa, it coulda been a lot worse, but the good news is that Joe’s gonna be alright. Right Doc?” Hoss added quickly when he saw Doctor Martin step into the waiting area and walked to his friend.

“Ben, his ribs will take a few weeks to thoroughly heal, and Joe knows that until they are FULLY HEALED he’s not to ride a bronc or do anything that would aggravate his condition. As for the bullet wound…”

“Bullet?!” Ben gasped and narrowed the distance between him and his youngest son.

“It’s only a graze, a deep graze, but a graze none the less. He’s kept it clean so far and as long as he keeps it clean, I don’t think you need to worry about any infection. Probably in a week he can come back and I’ll remove the stitches.”

“Joseph, are you okay?” Ben worriedly asked.

“I’m fine, Pa… honest.”

“What of those who ambushed you?” Ben asked.

“I’d like to know that too…” added Sheriff Roy Coffee as he entered the room.

“Two of them were killed and we took their bodies to Pines and left them with Sheriff Turkle,” Hoss explained.

“And the other two?” Roy asked.

“They got away… Between seeing Joe go down and…”

“And what?” Ben urged.

“Well, Joe done lost Warrior…” Hoss explained.

“And my saddle. Pa, he was doing so good too. All the way to Sacramento and on to the Persidio.”

“The Presidio,” Ben corrected.

Joe took no heed of the correction, “Warrior was really good, he did everything I asked of him,” Joe pleaded when he recognized the expression on his Pa’s face that stated he had warned Joe that something would happen if he were to insist on taking the stallion on the trail. “Pa, I don’t know what set him off… The three of us were riding along…”

“The three of you…” Ben answered, confused as to who else rode with his sons, all their other hands had already returned to the Ponderosa.

“That’s another thing Pa, but I think Joe should finish his story,” Hoss made sure the subject stayed on Joe.

“Joseph, go on…” Ben stated as he rested his hip against Doc Martin’s desk.

“Ben, I think Little Joe should sit down. He’s fairly exhausted from his injuries and the return home,” Doc Martin stated as he guided Joe to a chair.

“We were just riding along, and Warrior started getting a little agitated… He wouldn’t listen to me… Next thing I know, he’s bolting, with me still in the saddle, and then these four riders come racing out of the trees, shooting. I felt the situation getting really dangerous and I sort of ‘fell’ from Warrior. I figured it would be better to do that, than to stay in the saddle and worry about getting between him and one of the other horses, whichever one he was so angry about.” Joe became remorseful at the loss of a promising horse as well as his gear and saddlebags. “I’m really sorry Pa. I thought he was up to the task… He did such a good job up to that point.”

Knowing the situation could have been totally prevented, had Joe listened to him, Ben realized that Joe would be beating himself up over the loss far longer than Ben could. “Son, what matters is that you’re going to be okay.” Ben looked to Paul who nodded in agreement.

“Ben, I suggest you take these two to the hotel for a good meal, and then take this one,” Paul stood behind Joe and placed both hands on the boy’s shoulders and gave him a gentle squeeze, “straight home and put him to bed.”

“Maybe we can introduce Adam to Pa,” Hoss stated as he fell in beside his brother to walk to the hotel.

“Who’s this Adam?” Ben asked.

“Ben, I met him earlier and I think you’ll find his story mighty interesting, at least where these two are involved,” Sheriff Coffee answered.

“Pa… since he was plannin’ to travel this way… We kinda asked him to come along…”

“Why do I get the feeling there’s an ‘and’ coming,” Ben stated.

“Well, he’s on leave, and wantin’ to see the territory. And Joe done told him about the Ponderosa. I thought maybe we could hire him on and show him around…”

“What kind of experience does he have that we could use on the ranch?” Ben asked as he looked from one son to the other.

“Well, he’s good with horses, even though he’s spent the past six years at sea,” Joe offered, he prayed Hoss wouldn’t say that they really owed it to Adam since he’d saved Joe’s life, twice.

“At sea? And just what was he doing at sea?”

“He’s a lieutenant in the navy. His ship laid over in San Francisco before he took his leave. Pa, they sailed around Cape Horn. Did you ever sail around the Horn,” Hoss asked.

“I’ve heard plenty of ‘ands’, but I’ve yet to hear the real reason behind this sudden impulse to hire a tin horn.”

“Pa, he ain’t a tin horn,” Hoss answered. “He was the first officer on… Joe what was the name of his ship?”

“The Wanderer II, said it was named after a merchant ship that was lost a number of years back. Pa… you served on a ship named the Wanderer, didn’t you?”

“That was a long, long time ago, son. Well, I know the two of you will get around to telling me what I want to know… eventually, and to try to force it out of you… you’ll just keep changing the subject.”

The three Cartwrights entered the hotel and the two youngest were disappointed when they didn’t see Adam in the restaurant.

“Maybe he already turned in for the night,” suggested Ben.

“Or maybe he’s at the Bucket of Blood,” Joe offered.

“And if he is, YOU young man, are not going anywhere near that saloon, nor are you Hoss. We’re going to follow Paul’s orders… to the letter. Once this Adam has settled into town, maybe Friday evening you can invite him to join us for supper. I presume that your ‘complete story’ can wait until then…”

Hoss and Joe exchanged looks of relief at receiving a reprieve from any further interrogation. Both brothers were thankful for the turn of events, yet Joe knew his stay of execution was only temporary.

*****

As supper concluded, Ben regretfully mentioned the money for the cattle.

“I’m thankful both of you boys are alright, or at least will be alright.” He looked to Joe. “I just wish we hadn’t lost that money. We could really use it to pay for the new machinery we’re going to need to get the Pannington Mine in operation.”

“Pa, we didn’t lose the money,” Hoss stated.

“You didn’t? But you said…”

“I said we were attacked and thought it was because of the money, but I didn’t say they got the money…”

“Is it still in your saddle bag?” Ben inquired, worried that the money was where anyone could get it out on the street.

“No… Shortshanks and I didn’t want to carry that much money, even if it were a bank draft. Ain’t you got the mail, Pa?”

“I was coming into town to pick up the mail when Crawley told me about Joe… I never made it to the post office… Why do you ask, son?”

“I suggested we mail the bank drafts to you before we left San Francisco,” Joe offered.

“You mailed… You suggested? Son, that was right smart thinking on your part,” Ben congratulated his youngest, whose chest swelled until he felt the tug of the stitches and the restraint of the bandage around his ribs.

*****

Adam Stoddard enjoyed strolling around Virginia City the following morning and compared the growing boomtown to the various ports he had visited over the years, as well as his hometown. Change the miners for wharf laborers or cowboys for sailors and there really wasn’t much difference… other than the smell; he missed the unique smell that was the sea. Ultimately the men were drawn to the saloons of an evening to commiserate their lives or to play poker and get rousing drunk in their fun.

In the time since he’d left San Francisco he came to realize how different his life was from those who lived in the ever-growing frontier towns, just like Virginia City. He felt as though his life had a purpose for as long as he could remember, he had been destined as a leader, but here… the majority of the people he passed, seem to just… exist.

Growing up in Boston there had been churches or synagogues of the various faiths, but this town only had one church. Many of the stores in Boston were specialized for men, women, or children, or for the different occupations of life, sailors, laborers, the elite of society, and then there were the pantry stores full of food stock. But here, one store tried to be everything to everybody.

By mid-afternoon he had chosen a vacant table in the Bucket of Blood and was casually enjoying sipping a beer, watching a few men sitting around one of the other tables playing a friendly game of poker. He listened as the men bantered about the weather, cattle, or the latest gossip. Adam smiled; some men were just as good at dragging out the latest ‘travesty’ as any woman.

Interspersed within the conversation he also heard the men talk about the Cartwrights and what might have happened to the youngest boy, this time. The men happily joked about some of the more memorable tomfoolery that Little Joe had found himself immersed within.

“But you gotta admit, Old Man Cartwright raised him and his brother right. Ain’t no doubt about it. When it really comes down to helping those in need, you can count on the Cartwrights to step in to help, all they have to do is hear about something and they’re there, offering a hand.”

“Handouts… their throw-offs is more like it,” another snidely replied.

“Not throw-offs, maybe the fact the little one ain’t never gonna be as big as his brother, so anything Hoss outgrows they give to others. But it don’t bother them about getting dirt under their fingernails or on their clothes, they’re right there in the thick of it.”

“Yeah, Old Man Cartwright don’t let neither of them slack, either. They pull their weight, even though that little one ain’t got much weight behind him.” The men around the table snickered at the comment. “But you find anyone else here who’ll says they put out more than Joe Cartwright and I’ll show you a bold-faced liar. He always puts out one hundred and twenty percent; gotta show everyone he’s just as good as his brother and his pa, even as short and scrawny as he is.”

Picking up the mug, Adam drank the last of his beer before he tossed a few more coins on the table top and left. His way of carrying himself set him apart from most travelers who passed through town, and the men around the table took note of his bearings.

“Bet you that man’s been in the army,” one of the men commented. “An officer I bet.”

“Yeah? Ain’t that the man who came in with the Cartwright boys yesterday?”

“Do tell,” another encouraged and so the men continued talking of anything and everything.

*****

Adam walked to the telegraph office where he sent a wire back to the Roehl’s in San Francisco.

“Have settled in Virginia City, Nevada. Please forward trunk at earliest convenience, care of the International House Hotel.

Thank you,

Adam”

*****

Adam strolled along the main street and tipped the brim of his hat at passing several young women carrying brown paper packages tied with cotton strings. He continued on until he passed a young couple looking into the window of the jewelry and watch shop.

“That’s the one,” the young man said as he wrapped his arm around the woman’s shoulder and pointed into the window.

The woman squealed in delight.

*****

At reaching the livery, Adam saddled Sport and headed out, telling the liveryman he’d be back in a few hours. As he rode, Adam was even more impressed with the dramatic scenery, the tall pine trees, the expanse of land, and ultimately he came to the shores of Lake Tahoe. Stepping down, Adam remembered back to Joe’s comment about a girl in every port and his mind wondered to MaryBeth.  Taking a seat and lying back into the rich green grass overlooking the lake, he felt awash with nature as the gentle breeze blew across his face. He smiled as he remembered their many outings in and around Boston, the dances, the dinners, and the one fateful trip where they visited Old Harbor.

Adam had been nervous all day long and it extended to their carriage ride that evening.

“Did you know, during the Siege of Boston, at the start of the American Revolution ‘Castle William’ served as the main base of military operations for the British?” Adam asked as he attempted to make small talk. “The leaders of the Massachusetts royal administration took refuge there with their families, as did some prominent loyalists. After the March 17, 1776 British Evacuation of Boston, Castle William was destroyed a few days later on March 20, 1776. The fort that currently stands out there today, helped protect Boston from British attack during the War of 1812.”

“Adam, this is all well and good, but I did not agree to go out with you this evening for a history lesson.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bore you.” Adam hadn’t heard her use that disparaging tone of voice before and halted the horse he was driving having arrived at their destination for a picnic.

“Adam, you never bore me, but there are better things we can do other than drone on about the past,” though her tone of voice was lighter, he still heard the undercurrent.

“But MaryBeth, the past is important…” Adam assisted MaryBeth down from the carriage.

“I thought we were going to talk about our future…” MaryBeth stated as she accepted the blanket Adam produced from behind the seat in the carriage and pulled out the picnic basket.

“Our future…” Adam gulped, he hoped that later he would have the courage to continue.

“Yes, I think it’s about time we seriously started talking about our future… We’ve been seeing each other regularly for some time now…”

“But I still have one final year of college to finish… This current year ends in two weeks, and…” Adam stated, wanting a few more moments as he tried to summon up the courage.

“College. Hmpf… Adam you know papa would give you a job in his newspaper shop… As good a writer as you are… Who needs to finish college?”

“I don’t wish to be a writer or a newspaperman…” Adam stated as he sat down and allowed MaryBeth to set out the food.

“Well, we can talk about that later, you don’t have to decide today…” MaryBeth answered.

As they ate, the two chatted about what they had done since their last outing, the week before. When they were finished eating, Adam walked out to the water’s edge. A few moments later, he sensed MaryBeth at his side, her left arm wrapped around his back while her right hand began to toy with the buttons on the front of his shirt. Adam inhaled deeply as the sea breeze blew into his face, and in response to his body’s reaction to MaryBeth’s proximity. His left hand was in his pocket, hoping to gain courage just by holding the item he had slipped inside before he left his home. He closed his eyes as MaryBeth’s fingers made their way through the open buttons and began to play with the dark hair upon his chest. Adam removed his hand from his pocket and reached for her hand, pulled it out from his shirt, raising it to his lips, he kissed her delicate fingers.

“Adam, about us…”

“MaryBeth, that’s not lady-like.” Adam stated.

“I want you… Adam, if we continue on this way, I’m bound to be an old spinster…”

“Old spinster…” Adam laughed. “You’re only nineteen, you’ve your whole life ahead of you.”

“And what of you, Adam?”

“Me, at twenty-one… I want to finish college, and set to practice what I’ve learned… Did you know that Castle Island over there is also the site of a monument to Donald McKay, the builder of the famous clipper ships Flying Cloud and Sovereign of the Seas? The monument faces across Boston Harbor towards East Boston, where McKay built his ships.”

“I don’t care about ships or clouds or seas… Adam, I want you,” MaryBeth turned to face Adam, pressing her body against his and she felt his reaction.

“But if they’re important to me?” Adam asked as he tried to step back.

“I thought I was important to you…” MaryBeth pouted… Again she pressed into Adam and reached for more buttons on his shirt.

“MaryBeth, this is not proper…” Adam stated. His grandfather had long ago had the talk with him about his responsibilities towards women and how he was expected to act and the possible consequences should he not control himself.

“Proper? We’ve been going together for six months, two of my friends are already betrothed and they’ve only been courted for three months,” MaryBeth stated adamantly.

“I’ve no intention to get married until after I graduate.”

“Adam Stoddard Cartwright are you trifling with my affections? Are you saying that I’m not good enough for you… You would rather continue at Harvard when you could have me and all the money my papa would give to us…? Adam, you’d want for nothing… Please, ask papa for my hand in marriage.”

“I don’t want to live off your family. When I marry, I intend to provide for my wife…”

“You and your self-righteous, preconceived…” Anger tinged MaryBeth’s voice. “You could never provide for me like papa can…”

“Then why are you so demanding that I propose…”Adam indignantly asked.

“If you don’t propose, then I’ll get Bert Toleme to propose, he’ll marry me,” taunted MaryBeth, just to gage Adam’s reaction.

“For what, your father’s money?” spat Adam as he stepped back and tried to turn away, but stopped at MaryBeth’s movement.

“That among other assets,” MaryBeth pressed her hands to her well-endowed breasts and lifted them. “Please Adam,” MaryBeth coyly approached, her fingers twisting the buttons on the front of her shirt. “We could be good together, all our friends say that we’re a perfect match.”

“Why are we a perfect match…?”

“With my good looks, papa’s money, and a man like you on my arm… We’d be invited to one ball after another, and who knows… eventually, papa could make a run for the state senate or even the United States Congress… He’d have a position for you within his office. Adam, by marrying me you could become one of society’s elite…”

By the time MaryBeth stood in front of Adam, her blouse gaped open revealing the creamy pale skin of the top of her breasts. Adam didn’t want to, but he couldn’t help as his eyes drew down to the inviting view. She began to pull at the string that tied the front of her camisole closed.

“And what does someone like you of society’s elite see in a commoner like me?” demanded Adam as he refused to accept MaryBeth into his arms.

He fought his body’s reaction to the sight and stimulation of her proximity. Her perfume mixed with the spring blossoms. In his core, he wanted desperately to take her assets into his hands and then…

His mind wandered to the images of his and Ashley Benton’s first time at Miss Amelia’s Gentlemen’s Club and all that Eve had taught him, and shared with him whenever he returned.  That had been the beginning of this current year at college.

Just three nights previous, he had informed Eve that that night would be their last night together. The ring in his pocket spoke of his promise, a promise of his intentions to ask MaryBeth to marry him once he was through with college.  It was with his and MaryBeth’s future in mind that he thought it best to no longer visit Miss Amelia’s.

Adam’s attention was returned to the present as MaryBeth tugged at his shirt, pulling it from his pants. He was unprepared for her advances; and now… her warm breath, her proximity, her urgency… He’d not seen this amorous side of the young woman he’d been seeing and wanting to court.

“We can have fun together… You’re not such a bore, unless you talk of Harvard or sea stuff…”

By the time MaryBeth finished speaking Adam saw there wasn’t much of her ‘assets’ left to the imagination. She had completely unbuttoned her shirt, pulled the front of her blouse out from the waist of her skirt and allowed it drape open The strings to the front of her camisole hung loosely and the opening was pulled as wide as she could to reveal as much as herself without being totally indecent. He knew what lay hidden just below the edge of the material of her camisole which exposed the roundness and fullness of her breasts.

Her own body was reacting to the proximity of the man she knew could satisfy her desires that hungered deep within. Yes, she could do well in society by marrying Bert Toleme, after all, he was of society. She didn’t want to be the ‘plus one’ and not the focus of all attention…his family was more prominent than her own. However, with Adam as her husband, she felt she could parade him around and make all her friends jealous because of whom their parents chose as their spouses to marry. She had heard rumors surrounding Adam’s visits to the gentlemen’s club. She thought on Bert Toleme and remembered he was such an animal when it came to taking her to bed, it was all about him; he knew nothing of satisfying the pleasures a woman sought. No, she had to force Adam into marrying her if he wouldn’t ask of his own accord.

“And just what am I supposed to talk about?!” Adam demanded, fully back in control of his body and his emotions.

“Anything but Harvard or that other nonsense…” MaryBeth reached for Adam’s shirt.

“That, nonsense, as you so call it, is important to me. My father and my…” Adam pulled her hands from his shirt and pushed them away.

“Who cares about your father, we’re talking about our future…” MaryBeth implored.

“I’m sorry MaryBeth, but I just don’t see a future between the two of us.”

The sting remained long after her hand slapped the left side of his face. Adam watched as MaryBeth ran towards the carriage. Once on the seat, she made herself decent before reaching for the reins to the horse and setting it out at a fast trot. Adam fingered the promise ring in his pocket and began the long walk home.

Five days later the society page announced the official engagement of MaryBeth Winslow to Bert Toleme. That night, Eve welcomed him back to the gentlemen’s club and told Amelia she was spoken for the night.

Adam smiled as he became thankful that MaryBeth had shown her true colors; and Bert… His promising career as an attorney went nowhere. He became the laughing stock of their social circles as he tagged along behind his wife, like a little puppy, doing her bidding, and drinking to excess. It was that summer Adam had accompanied his roommate to Charleston, South Carolina where Adam stood as Ashley Benton’s best man at his wedding.

From a world of heartache he experienced that night, Adam now realized that it has all been a blessing. Had he given into MaryBeth, married her and gave up his final year at Havard, he would never have gone to sea and become the man he was today.

*****

“I’m gonna kill them,” Virgil Cashel stated while pacing in front of the camp fire, bottle of whiskey in his hand.

“Settle down Virg, ain’t gonna do you any good wearing yourself out like a caged cat,” Henry Collingwood answered as he returned his attention to the deep wound that penetraged his right thigh.

Both men showed the years hadn’t been kind to them, their clothes were beginning to show wear and their weathered faces belied the actual youth of their mid-twenty years of age.

“It weren’t your brother those bastards killed,” Virg sneered.

“No, and I’m sorry Caleb was killed, he shoulda known better than to charge out like he did.”

“He was just a kid!”

“Kid or no kid, you were the one who sent him on that cattle drive with the Cartwrights.”

“Yeah, the kid knew his way around cattle. All he had to do was stay behind us and he’d of been alright.” Virgil began to feel a little bit guilty, “Dang his hide, I told him to forget about that horse… We’s after the money they got for them beeves…”

“At least you know he got a proper burial in Pines,” Henry stated in an effort to calm his friend.

“Still… they hadn’t aughta killed him,” Virgil stated as he finally sat down.

“Whatcha gonna do about it?”

“Like I said, I’m gonna kill ‘em.”

“You, kill a Cartwright… You do that and the whole territory will be after us,” Henry advised.

“I don’t care… But I’ll make them care… I’ll make them pay for killing my kid brother.”

“And how are you planning to do that?”

“First, by taking the kid… He’ll probably be the easiest to get. Giving him a little taste of what Caleb got.”

“You go after Joe? You’re crazy,” Henry responded. “Just how do you plan to get close to him? Walk up to the door and ask for a job?”

“No… He’ll come to us,” Virgil answered.

“He’ll come to us… And just why is he going to do that?”

“Because we got his horse and his gear… All we have to do is keep an eye on the PON-DE-RO-SA and make sure he sees us when that ape of his big brother ain’t around. Hearing how hotheaded he is, he’s sure to come after us…”

Virgil settled down, thrilled with the first step of his planned revenged.

*****

Adam was walking the main street of Virginia City when he heard his name called and turned to see Hoss Cartwright riding towards him, a big smile on his face.

“Good Afternoon, Hoss,” greeted Adam.

“Afternoon. Hey ya got plans for supper? Hop Sing’s plannin’ on fixin’ steak and taters tonight, thought you might like to come and meet pa? Joe and I think we got him to where he’ll hire ya on…”

“Gee, let me check my appointment book, I’m kinda real busy,” teased Adam.

“Oh, I didn’t think about that… Maybe next week,” offered Hoss.

“Man, I’m just teasing you. All I’ve done is walk the town and a little scouting around the immediate vicinity.”

“Then you’ll come?” Hoss’ eyes lit.

“Sure, what time do you want me to arrive?”

“Well, if your calendar isn’t too full,” Hoss teased back, “How about now?”

“Let me go to the livery and get Sport.”

“Sure, I’ll meet you there just as soon as I get the mail. Pa’s real anxious about that bank check. It ain’t arrived yet.”

*****

As the two men rode to the Ponderosa, Hoss kept patting his chest. Adam didn’t know how the big man could ride with his shirt practically buttoned all the way to his neck and wear the leather vest he wore. The warmth of the day had forced Adam to ride with his shirt halfway unbuttoned.

“I take it the letter arrived?” Adam deduced.

“Yeah, how’d you know?”

“You keep patting yourself as you’ve done every couple of minutes is a dead give-away.”

“Oh.” Hoss quickly lowered his hand as he was about to make sure the enveloped was still in the inner pocket of his vest, again.

“So, I’ve been listening to people in town talk, and your father is thought of rather highly.”

“Sure, Pa gives back to the community, just as he gives back to the land. See that stand of trees over there?” Adam looked where Hoss pointed, “We harvested a good many trees within that stand last spring and pa insisted we replant for every tree we cut down. He calls it being a good steward of the land. He don’t allow us to take every tree either.”

“Not many business men would care enough to do that,” Adam acknowledged.

“Pa ain’t a businessman, not exactly. He cares about the land and wants to make sure it remains beautiful for future generations.”

Adam looked around and saw other indications of the way they cared for the land.

“How much farther is it until we reach the Ponderosa?”

“We’ve been riding on it for about forty-five minutes. We still got a couple a miles to go until we reach the main house. You’ll want to… uh… button up before we meet Pa. You wanta make a good impression, don’tcha.”

“Sure I do. I had planned to ask you to stop so I could ‘button up’ and put on my string tie when we got closer to your home.”

*****

“Hey Henry!” Virg called from the rock overlooking the road to the main house of the Ponderosa.

“What Virg?”

“Come here.”

Henry climbed from where he was resting to see what had interested his companion.

“Look down there.” Virgil pointed down the hill. “Ain’t that the older Cartwright and that other fella that was riding with them?”

“Sure looks like it,” Henry answered.

Virgil slowly positioned his rifle and bore the sight down on the two unwary riders. Using the end of the barrel of the rifle Virg followed their route until he felt they were in range. Next to him, he sensed Henry preparing his rifle.

Two rifle reports sounded as one as both men fired. Virg greedily smiled when the smaller man flew backwards from the saddle and the larger man hung precariously to his saddle, ever so slowly slipping to the ground.

“We got ‘em Virg!” Henry exclaimed. “We got ‘em!”

“Who would have thought this wouldn’t be as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, but it was. Now we just have to get that scrawny one.”

The two men made their way from their vantage point and returned to Virginia City.

*****

His hand still fisted around the reins of his horse, two quick tugs and the horse stepped closer. Reaching for the stirrup, Hoss pulled himself up to stand and looked around, where he saw Adam laying sprawled on the ground. Though he wanted to help his new friend, as he took a step the blinding pain in his head felt to explode and prevented him from doing any more than raising his hand to his temple and massaged it in an effort to minimize the throbbing. He pulled away his hand when he felt the moisture and looked down to see blood on his fingers.

Hoss looked towards Adam one more time and saw the red spreading across the opening of the man’s white shirt and knew he had to do something. This was the man who twice had saved his little brother’s life… Pressing on, he fought off the dizziness compounded by nausea and walked to where Adam lie. Not seeing Sport, Hoss wondered how he was going to get the man home when he was shoved from behind; he’d forgot he still had Chubs’ reins in hand.

Petting the velvety muzzle of the animal, Hoss felt somewhat comforted that they had transportation. Though Adam was not a large man, and yet not nearly as small as Joe, Hoss’ wound caused him to expend a great effort to lift the unconscious man and lay him across the saddle. Once that was accomplished, Hoss clung to the saddle and breathed heavily, wondering if he’d be able to pull himself into the saddle, if not, he knew there was no way he’d be able to walk the rest of the distance home.

*****

“Hey Boss!” Crawley yelled as he rode into the yard of the main ranch house. His employer and youngest son were checking Buck’s hind limb at the hitching rail at the side of the yard. “I found this horse loose not too far from here. He ain’t got your brand…”

Both Cartwrights looked up and walked over to where their hand still sat in the saddle, holding onto the reins of a chestnut horse with three white stockings.

“Pa, that’s Adam’s horse,” Joe stated, walking around the animal, looking it over. His heart dropped when he recognized the darkening red splattered on the horse and saddle. “Pa, there’s blood.” He looked around when he heard the soft sounds of another horse and someone weakly calling, “Pa.”

“Pa!” Joe began running at seeing his brother. “It’s Hoss!”

Ben arrived a moment behind Joe, “Hoss?”

“Been shot,” breathed Hoss. “Adam’s bad, gotta get Doc.” Hoss teetered in the saddle, the bullet wound caused his head to pound as if being struck by a sledgehammer.

“Crawley!” yelled Ben.

“Ya want me to go for the doc?” the hand offered.

“No! Joe you go, get Doc.” Calling out to his hand, “Get some of the other men to help me get them into the house.”

“I can help, Pa,” Joe pleaded, his eyes bulged out at seeing the blood streaming down his brother’s face.

Ben didn’t think on the tone of voice he used, he just ordered his son, “You’ll do as you’re told and go get the doctor! That’s how you’ll help!”

With tears slipping down his face, Joe ran into the barn, hurriedly saddled his horse, and raced from the barn in the direction of Virginia City, and the doctor.

*****

Crawley returned from the bunkhouse with two other men. Carefully they lowered Adam from the horse and two of them carried the prone form towards the house where a vociferous Hop Sing opened the door, demanding to know what was happening. His words died on his lips, he opened the door wide and led the way upstairs to one of the guest rooms. Ben and Crawley assisted Hoss from Chubs and led the man, as he faltered in his stride, into the house.

Ben helped Hoss into his bed and proceeded to try to undress him with little success. Hoss kept batting away his father’s hands as the man tried to unbutton his shirt. “Pa, ya gotta help Adam.”

“Hop Sing is taking care of him. Now just lie back and let me…”

“No Pa, we owe it to him…” Hoss mumbled as he lay backwards on the bed.

Ben gave up trying to unbutton Hoss’ shirt, he didn’t know why he was so focused on unbuttoning his son’s blood spattered shirt to make him comfortable; Hoss had been deeply wounded across his temple. So Ben changed tactics and decided to clean the wound to determine the depth of the injury. Carrying the pitcher and basin from the stand and placing them on the table next to the bed, Ben poured water and wet the towel.

“Pa, I’ll be alright… I feel better just lyin’ down. Please… You gotta go take care of Adam. He saved Joe’s life.”

Ben hesitated mid-movement, “What?”

“We was gonna tell ya tonight, after ya met him. He saved Joe from bein’ Shanghaied in San Francisco, and he was the one who really helped save Joe’s life when Warrior bolted and headed straight towards those varmints who were tryin’ to rob us. He knew what to do and did it to help Joe. Please Pa, go help him.”

Ben was torn, he wanted to tend to his son, but now he felt a stronger obligation to the stranger his sons called friend.

Entering the room, Ben saw that Hop Sing had already removed the man’s shirt and was applying pressure to stop the bleeding.

“Bad Mr. Cartwright… Wound verry bad,” Hop Sing spoke in his stilted English.

“Is the bullet still in him?” Ben asked.

“No blood on back of shirt, only front. Get water… more towels…” Hop Sing felt guilty for telling his employer what to do.

Ben moved about the room, collecting the items they needed to treat this man. As he returned to the bed, he set the pitcher and basin, and several towels on the nightstand.

“Let me see how bad it is Hop Sing,” Ben waited for Hop Sing to step aside.

“I know what honorable doctor need, I boil water, get more cloths, I be ready… You keep pressure.”

“Good Hop Sing. Oh Hop Sing, until Paul gets here, would you help check in on Hoss. He took a deep crease across his temple,” Ben informed.

Reverently bowing, Hop Sing left the room and set to work preparing for Doctor Martin’s arrival.

*****

Over an hour and a half had lapsed from the time Little Joe rode out of the yard until the sounds of running horses approaching was heard in the house. The front door crashed off the credenza as Joe race into the house, heading for the steps and his brother’s room.

Seeing his brother lying motionless and ever so pale, Joe tentatively called out “Hoss?” at entering the room and seeing no one else there. Joe gripped the door frame to steady himself as he feared the worse that he hadn’t been fast enough and Hoss had died. Joe closed his eyes to shut out the vision of his brother lying there, alone.

“Shortshanks?” Hoss breathily whispered.

“Hoss? You’re alive?” Joe took a tentative step inside.

“Yeah, though with this headache, I sorta wish I wasn’t.”

“Don’t say that!” Joe quietly exclaimed. “Don’t ever wish that!”

Joe sat down on the side of the bed and began to tend to his brother, cleaning the blood from the side of his face and refreshing the bloody cloth that covered the wound.

“Joe, let me see Hoss,” Paul stated as he entered the room.

“Nah Doc, I’ll be okay as long as I lie here. Ya gotta go help Adam… They shot him in the chest. He’s in the guest room next to Pa’s.”

“You sure you’ll be okay?” Paul stated as he picked up his Gladstone bag and waited for a reply.

“Joe here’ll see that I stay put until you’re a done with Adam.”

“Okay, Joe… You’ll be okay with Hoss?”

“Yeah, I’ll take care of him.”

Doc Martin left the brothers and proceeded across the hallway and into the guest room indicated.

“Ben, how’s my patient?”

“It doesn’t look too good… I just hope that this man is lucky and that the trajectory missed anything vital.”

“Well, let me in there.”

“Mr. Doctor, I bring water and bandages.” Hop Sing set the items on the desk near the bed.

“Thank you Hop Sing, if you’ll assist me? I was just sending Ben to be with his boys.”

“Hop Sing help.”

*****

Ben returned to Hoss’ room and waited just outside the opened door, he could tell from the hitch in Joe’s shoulders that he was upset; he couldn’t hear everything that Hoss was saying, but he knew he needed to allow Hoss to help his brother.

“He wouldn’t let me help you Hoss… He yelled at me…”

Blindly reaching for Joe’s hand, Hoss found it and began to reassuringly squeeze. “Joe, Pa was upset. I’m sure he didn’t really mean to yell at ya.”

“I coulda helped you to bed…”

“Little brother, you did better than that. You got the doc here in time. We both know that you and Cochise are the fastest two when it comes to racing. Why else would Pa a sent you to town? Ain’t no one else coulda got Doc here as fast as you did.”

“I just hope it was fast enough,” Joe dejectedly answered.

“Joseph,” Ben called as he stepped into the room, “I’m sorry I yelled at you earlier, I didn’t realize what I was saying or how it came across to you.”

“That’s okay, Pa. Hoss explained it to me.” Joe accepted his father’s apology yet he still felt bad, that he had somehow let his brother down.

“Would you also tell me about why you needed rescuing in San Francisco?” Ben inquired.

“You told him?” Joe asked, his voice indicated his nervousness.

“I had to… He was tryin’ ta help me when Adam needed him more. I had to tell him why he needed to help Adam.”

“Pa’ll probably never let me go on another cattle drive…” Joe mumbled without realizing he’d spoken aloud.

“I doubt that, but you will be kept under closer watch in the future…” Ben stated as he pulled a chair closer to Hoss’ bed, Ben stated, “Why don’t the two of you tell me all there is to know about this… Adam.”

“Well… he saved my life Pa.” Joe continued to tell of his thinking it would be okay to go to China town and get something for Hops Sing’s upcoming birthday. “I wasn’t going anywhere near the wharf, so I really didn’t think getting Shanghaied would be a problem.”

“Even if they weren’t gonna Shanghai ya, little brother, they sure worked you over pretty good.”

“Yeah, I know. It wasn’t exactly fair there being three of them and only one a me,” Joe answered.

“Okay, he saved your life, twice and I’m grateful. But how do you know this wasn’t all a set up?” Ben asked.

“You think he’s one of the outlaws and they shot him? Cain’t be true Pa… We met Captain Addison and he vouched for him. See Adam was his first officer on The Wanderer II.”

“I don’t know… Merchant sailors…” Ben had forgotten that previously the boys had told him their friend was an officer in the United States Navy.

“He’s not a merchant sailor, Pa. He’s a Lieutenant… Lieutenant Adam Stoddard Cartwright,” Joe slipped out, without remembering how it had alarmed him to hear the man had the same last name.

“What did you say his name was?” Ben asked; his face blanched.

“Adam Stoddard Cartwright, least that’s what he was goin’ to use; didn’t want to cause us any trouble. Ain’t it funny Pa, findin’ someone in San Francisco that has our last name?” Hoss asked and turned his head slightly when he heard Joe squeal, “Pa?”

“Adam Stoddard Cartwright?” Ben grabbed for the bedpost and practically fell as he stumbled across the floor; he hung onto the doorframe as he made his way out of the room.

“Pa?” the boys called in unison.

Hearing the name slammed memories; old, painful memories.  Ben fumbled his way into the room where Doctor Martin performed surgery and called Paul’s name.

“Ben, get out of here!” ordered Paul, not looking up from his patient.

“Please, Mr. Cartwright, stay with boys. We come tell when operation done.”  It surprised Hop Sing how easy it was to turn the man around and get him into the hallway and close the door behind him.

*****

Ben had no recollection on how he came to sit behind his desk in his office area of the great room on the first floor, nor how Elizabeth’s picture ended up held to his chest. All he knew was the brandy tasted strong in his mouth and the tumbler in his hand was only a quarter of the way full.

“Elizabeth… Is it possible? After all these years…? But Jonathan said he and Abel died…”

Setting the tumbler to the desk, Ben took his first wife’s picture in both hands and continued to stare at it. Longingly he ran the fingertips of his right hand over the smiling image, and felt no comfort from the cold glass that protected the picture.

The room in which he sat had darkened as day turned to night, when he finally became aware of Doc Martin kneeling beside him, a worried expression on his face.

“Ben? Are you with us?” Paul inquired.

Coming out of the daze, Ben looked over and saw the physician, and his youngest son standing behind the man.

“Pa?” Joe asked.

“Yes,” answered Ben. Slightly shaking the haze from his vision, Ben sat up straighter in his chair. “How is he?”

“Hoss is gonna be fine. Keep him flat on his back until the headache goes away and then allow him to sit up for small increments at a time. I’ll take the stitches out in about ten days.”

“And A… Adam?” Ben hesitantly asked.

“It’s going to be a long night with that man. Thankfully his sternum deflected the bullet slightly, but I believe it still came to lie too close to his lung, and the aorta. Not sure how …” Paul shook his head. “It was touch and go for a while, one wrong move on my part, and I could very well have caused his death.”

“May I see him?” Ben’s voice quavered.

“Hoss? Of course,” Paul answered yet he sensed something wasn’t right with his friend.

“Paul, he’s Adam…” Ben answered, hoping his friend would understand.

“Joe told me his name was Adam when we were riding here.”

“No, he’s Adam… There can’t be two Adam Stoddard Cartwrights… can there?” Ben’s mind was rampant with emotions that twisted around until he feared he would lose his sanity.

“Adam… Stoddard… Cartwright?” Paul repeated and looked up to Joe who still stood behind him.

“That what he said his name was…” Joe answered, confused. “What’s the big deal? So, he’s got the same last name as us.”

Paul poured Ben a half glass of brandy and insisted the man drink it.

“Joe, I think this is something you need to allow your father to tell you, when he’s capable.”

“What’s wrong with Pa?!” Joe demanded, now worried for his father.

“Joe, go up to Hoss’ room,” Ben stated. “I’ll be there in a few minutes…”

Joe wanted to argue but the look on Paul’s face was enough of a warning to tell him to obey his father’s wish.

The two men watched the youth slowly make his way up the first part of the staircase, stop on the middle landing and look at them, before proceeding to the top and down the hallway. The door to Hoss’ room closed before the two men looked at each other.

“Are you sure Ben?” He finally understood what Ben was trying to say.

“I…I don’t know. All I know is his name and he’s a sailor… He saved Joe’s life, not once but twice…”

“Does he know?” Paul looked up to the ceiling, as if he could see through the lumber and plaster and know for certain.

“The boys said he came west to find out what drew his father out here to his death… Paul, if Jonathan was wrong, all those years ago… Is it possible… If this Adam… was out here seeking to find out the cause of his father’s death, and I am his father… Could Jonathan have lied to Abel too?”

“For what purpose?” Paul struggled to understand the complexity of the entire situation. If these two men were truly related, what good would have come by their mutual friend having informed each of the other’s untimely death?

“I don’t know…” Looking his friend earnestly in the face Ben reached for him and stated, “You have to save his life. I have to know… If he is Adam… my Adam… I can’t lose him now.”

“I’ll do my best, but nothing is guaranteed. I’m not God.”

Slowly Ben stood to his feet and made his way to the staircase.

“Would you like for me to be there when you tell Hoss and Little Joe?”

Ben nodded and waited for his friend to join him for the walk up the stairs.

*****

Joe sat on the bed and explained to Hoss what had happened downstairs.

“Hoss, I ain’t never seen him like that before… He looked… lost… confused… I’d almost say he looked devastated.”

“Ya think… Hey brother, get my vest.”

“What for?”

“The letter arrived. I bet Pa thinks that money done got stolen by whoever shot us.”

Joe picked the vest up from the floor, “Your blood’s all over it.” Joe walked back to the bed carrying the garment.

“I was shot,” Hoss answered, painting a picture of the obvious.

He waited while Joe pulled the envelope out from the inner pocket, “It’s here Hoss, your handwriting and it’s not been opened.”

“Whew! Pa’ll be happy to hear I didn’t lose it.”

Joe turned at the waist when he heard the door to Hoss’ room open and watched as his father and the doctor entered.

“Boys, I need to talk to you.”

“Sure Pa,” Hoss answered. “Joe give Pa the envelope.”

“Envelope?” Ben queried, his mind wasn’t exactly focused.

“It’s the money Pa. The bank drafts,” Hoss announced.

“Oh,” Ben absently accepted the envelope from his youngest and set it aside.

“Pa, what’s wrong?” Joe asked as he looked from his father to the doctor and back.

Ben sat in the chair next to his son’s bed, close to where his youngest sat.

“Boys, there’s something you both need to know… And I’m not exactly sure where to begin…”

“Are we in trouble?” Joe asked.

“Trouble? No… no you’re not in trouble, but this does involve both of you, actually all of us. And I’m not sure how you’re going to react…”

The brothers looked to each other, worried and curious at the same time. Neither had ever seen their father this distracted and so unsure of himself and what he was saying.

“Why don’t you just tell us and don’t worry about how we’re gonna react until you’re through tellin’ us… I mean, it cain’t be bad news…” Hoss stated.

“Well…” Ben took a deep breath and looked to Paul Martin for encouragement. “You both know I was married before I met Inger?”

“Sure Pa, her picture’s on your desk by the pictures of Hoss’ ma and my ma,” Joe answered.

“Well, Elizabeth and I had a son…”

The news surprised both the brothers.

“After Elizabeth died, at first, I thought I could make a life for the boy and myself in Boston, but in time, my dream pulled at me so much that it became a distraction…”

“What happened to the boy?” Hoss asked.

“See, my father-in-law thought it would be best if I were to come out here and get settled before sending for the boy…”

“What?” Joe asked unbelieving his father would leave a son behind.

“I wrote Abel about marrying Hoss’ ma and he wrote back that once I was truly settled that he’d see about bringing the boy out west to join us.”

“But Ma died in the Indian attack,” Hoss completed.

“Yes, and it was difficult enough raising you on my own, even with the help from some of the other women in the wagon train…”

“But you finally settled here,” Joe stated. “And then you went to New Orleans and met my ma. Didn’t you send for him?”

“Yes, I did, and I thought that maybe Abel might reconsider and come stay with us. I wrote and asked him to meet me in New Orleans; he and I could get reacquainted and I could meet my son and learn to become his father.

“But there was no wire or any word from Abel when I checked into my hotel. That night, I ran into an old friend from Boston, he told me that Abel… and my son died of influenza the previous winter.”

“You mean we had a brother we didn’t know about?” Hoss asked.

Ben heard the longing in his voice for what could have been and now knew could never be.

“I never saw any reason to tell you boys, Hoss, you weren’t old enough to understand, and Joe… I met your mother a few days later. What good would it have done to tell you… so long after the fact.”

“But why now Pa?” Joe asked. “It doesn’t matter that we had another brother, you said he died before I was ever born.”

“That’s what I thought… what I was told.”

Ben turned and looked to his friend, resting his hip upon the desk in Hoss’ bedroom.

“Boys, what your father is trying to say, is that earlier, when you told him Adam’s full name, it shocked your father.”

“How come?” Joe asked, he hadn’t connected the two events.

“Pa?” Hoss struggled to sit up and groaned as the room began to spin.

“Lie down Hoss, please… Maybe now’s not the right time,” Ben stated as he covered Hoss with the sheet.

“Ben, they have a right to know, now. Especially if he doesn’t make it.”

“You mean he’s not dead?” Joe finally put the pieces together. “He’s coming here? How’d he find out about us? When’s he supposed to get here? Is he coming by stage? What’s he like?”

“Easy Joe. There is a chance that your father was misinformed all those years ago,” Paul stated as he stood and walked to stand next to Ben. “We don’t know anything for certain.”

“Boys, Elizabeth’s maiden name was Stoddard…” Ben hoped that would explain it all.

“Adam Stoddard Cartwright… Then he doesn’t just happen to have the same last name as us…” Hoss quietly spoke.

“You mean…” Pointing his hand towards the door, Joe stated, “That’s our…?”

“There’s every reason for me to believe he may be… your brother,” Ben answered.

“NO!” yelled Joe. “I have a brother! He ain’t my brother!” Joe bolted from Hoss’ bed, oblivious to the fact that he jostled the bed and caused Hoss to grimace. Joe tore open the door, ran down the hallway, down the stairs, across the floor of the great room and out the front door, slamming it behind him.

“I didn’t think Joe would react that way,” Paul stated.

“It’s a shock to him… I should have told you boys this years ago…” Ben stated as he placed a hand to Hoss’ shoulder. Hoss felt his father’s grief.

“Paul, how’s he doing? Do you really think Adam gonna make it?” Hoss asked.

“It’s like I told you and Joe earlier, when I stitched you up. He’s so bad off…I don’t know. I’ll say again, the human body just isn’t meant to take the trauma he’s experienced. I’ll give him every chance I can to survive. I’m planning to stay here the night to keep an eye on him. Ben, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go back to Adam’s room and check on him.”

The door closed slowly behind the physician as he left the room, leaving father and son alone.

“You best go find Little Joe,” Hoss whispered.

“He’s probably already on his way to town,” Ben stated, defeat voiced in his words. Ben stood and retired from Hoss’ room, he was so emotionally overwrought that he didn’t know what to do. Could the man lying in the bed next to his bedroom really be his son? Why? How? After all these years? His mind returned to the one comfort he could find when he became melancholy on the anniversary of Elizabeth’s death and Adam’s birth, he locked himself in his bedroom.

*****

The grandfather clock downstairs had struck one in the morning when Doc Martin exited the kitchen with a fresh cup of coffee in his hands as Joe entered the house. Doc worried if Joe had done anything irrational, like going into town and getting drunk. He knew Ben had granted the young man permission to drink, as long as he or Hoss accompanied Joe… But then he remembered that after the slamming door earlier in the evening, he had not heard any horse running from the yard and Joe’s hat and gun belt were still present when he crossed the great room a few minutes earlier.

“Joe?” Paul quietly spoke as Joe started to walk across the floor.

“Is he gonna live?” Joe asked, not turning to look at the man standing behind him.

“He’s still alive now…”

Joe looked up the staircase and slowly allowed his gaze to return downstairs and settling on the dying fire in the great hearth.

“Would you like to sit down and talk?” Paul inquired.

That was all Joe needed; he walked to sit down on the settee, the fingers of his hands interlaced, both hands between his knees, shoulders hunched over, head down.

Paul set the cup of coffee on the wooden table and took a seat next to Joe.

“Doc, I don’t know exactly how to feel.”

“That’s understandable.”

“One moment I’m angry that Pa left Adam behind and wonder if he’d of given us away if we’d had a grandfather. And then I’m angry Pa never told us about our brother and learning he died. Then I’m happy to know I have another brother, but then I think that by being happy to have a new brother, I’m being disloyal to Hoss. And Hoss is lying upstairs with a bullet wound to his scalp, but he’s gonna be okay. And I get thinking it might be okay having two brothers, but as bad as you said Adam was… I don’t want him as a brother if he’s gonna die. I already have a brother… I don’t need another one that’s gonna leave us just as we find out who he is…”

But just as Paul thought he should say something, Joe continued, “I just get to wondering if he really was part of the attempt to Shanghai me, only he didn’t know we were related. And maybe that was just a rouse in order for him to follow us here and maybe hurt Pa, or steal from us. Maybe his friends turned on him… Or was that part of the plan to make sure it looked like he was a victim too, only they shot him worse than they were supposed to.”

“Joe, that’s a lot of thinking racing around in your head.”

“Tell me about it,” Joe sarcastically answered. “Why’d Pa have to tell us? I mean if he dies, what difference would it have made?”

“Joe, I believe your father was thinking of it differently, what if Adam lives, it would make a huge difference to this family.”

“I’d still be the youngest…”

“Yes, I feel unless Ben remarries and has another child, you’re bound to remain the youngest.”

“Unless there’s another Cartwright out there already that we don’t know about…”

“Joseph, you know your father better than that. He believes in the sanctity of marriage…”

“He left Hoss and me after Momma died…”

“And do you really think that he’d take to another woman as much as he grieved over your mother’s death?”

“Is that why he’s never remarried, because he’s lost three wives?”

“I can’t answer that. Maybe there aren’t any women this far west who he feels measure up to the standards your mothers set as Mrs. Benjamin Cartwright.”

*****

Ben had lain on his bed for hours, mourning the loss of Elizabeth and seeking guidance, if this stranger in his house was really his son… He heard the boot steps upon the wooden porch and the jiggle of the handle as the door downstairs opened and closed. As Ben climbed from his bed he prayed the sounds were from his youngest son returning to the house. Having inserted his feet into his slippers, Ben quietly made his way to the staircase and as he reached for the banister, he recognized the voices… he listened.

With his position concealed from view from below, Ben clearly heard the conversation occurring. Ben was at a loss at how he would have answered his son had it been him sitting there and not Paul Martin. The roiling emotions his son spoke of showed an air of maturity he had not acknowledged his youngest son having yet attained. As the conversation continued, this newly recognized maturity also revealed the confusion his son’s age didn’t allow him to understand. While listening, he heard Joe confessing his hurt and as the conversation neared its end, he heard the little boy returning as Joe struggled to understand their lives were possibly forever changed.

*****

“Joseph, I’m sorry,” Ben stated as he stepped to the floor of the great room. “I’m so sorry…”

“Pa,” Joe looked to his father, but his shoulders still slumped, “What if he dies… He saved my life…”

“Would you like to join me while I sit with him? I think that… I think that we should be there, and if he is your brother…”

“What about Hoss? How would he feel in the morning, neither of us with him…”

“Would you prefer to stay with Hoss?” Paul asked.

Joe nodded and averted his face from his father who had come to sit beside him on the settee, opposite from Paul.

“Joe, I can’t ask for you to accept him and feel towards him as you do the brother you’ve known all your life. All I can do is ask for you to accept the possibility that he might be your brother, and if God…” Ben’s voiced failed him.

“Do you mind if I stay with Hoss?” Joe was torn, it was one thing to talk to their family physician about the man upstairs and the possibilities and his fears… but with his father sitting next to him, his emotions jumbled and threatened to overwhelm him as they had earlier. He wanted to seek out his sanctuary, the only other person who could really comfort him when he was scared his father wouldn’t understand.

“No. You’re right; one of us should stay with Hoss… Keep an eye on him… Can you do that? Can you help me by helping Hoss?”

“I can…” Turning to address the doctor who still sat next to him, “You’ll do everything you can to help Adam?”

“I’ll do my best, but I can’t promise that he’ll recover…”

“I understand.”

For the second time in less than twelve hours the two men watched Joe Cartwright climb the stairs, pause on the middle landing before continuing the rest of the way up the stairs and into his brother’s room.

*****

With the closure of the door barely perceptible, Paul asked of Ben, “How much did you hear?”

“I heard it all… Paul, if he is Adam?”

“Your lives will never be the same.”

“Was I wrong in not telling the boys about Adam…”

“I can’t tell you that Ben… I actually agree with your first assessment, why tell them about a brother they never knew… would never know…”

“But they knew about Elizabeth… Inger… What right did I have to withhold from them the truth that they had another brother?”

“Ben… I think the first thing we need to do is to ensure that young man upstairs recovers, then, and only then, will I allow you to ask him the questions you need to ask.”

“So, who am I until he’s recovered? Am I to be Mr. Cartwright to him? Surely he’s heard my name in town…”

“We don’t know that… The way people refer to you… I think only Roy and I regularly call you Ben… Others call you Mr. Cartwright, old man Cartwright, Ponderosa Cartwright, Fool Cartwright, shall I go on…”

“I get the point…” Ben admitted. “Still…”

“Ben, let him guide the conversation… Once he’s awake and coherent, I’m sure you’ll know how to proceed. Right now… I think I best see to my patient and hope my stand-in for Hoss gets some sleep too. I prescribe the same for you…”

“You’ll come for me if he wakes and is coherent?” Ben asked and stood from the settee with Paul following him up the staircase. Ben paused at the guestroom door.

“I promise Ben, if he wakes and his coherent longer than it takes me to assess his mental faculties, I’ll come get you.”

“Thank you.”

Ben continued farther down the hall and into his bedroom before Paul entered the guestroom.

*****

As the first vestiges of dawn broke over the Ponderosa, Hop Sing was already busy in the kitchen mixing the ingredients for the biscuits he planned to make for breakfast for the Cartwright family. Upstairs the physician was busy trying to bring down the fever his patient had developed. Frustrated for his failure to prevent the expected complication, the doctor strove harder to keep the temperature from rising any further than it already had. Leaving his patient alone for a few minutes, Doc Martin took the back staircase to the kitchen to inquire of Hop Sing if there was any ice in storage in the cold cellar.

“Boy bad?” Hop Sing asked and received a nod from the doctor. “I get, I bring to room.”

“Thank you Hop Sing. I’ll need as much as you can put in that large bowl you use for punch.”

The ever-faithful servant nodded and disappeared quietly from the kitchen; and just as quietly, Doc Martin returned to his most critical patient.

*****

Ben entered the bedroom to see his friend placing ice strategically along the sheet that covered the body of the man who might be his son.

“Paul?”

“I’m trying to get his fever down,” Paul answered, not looking up from his task.

“How bad is it?”

“High enough, I really don’t want it going any higher.”

“Can I help?”

“If you wouldn’t mind, rewetting the rag over his forehead and grabbing another and wiping his face, neck, and his chest, above the bandage.”

“Is it being caused by an infection?” Ben worriedly asked.

“I can’t tell yet. It only started a few hours ago, but it rose fast.”

“Will you have to operate again?”

“I pray not… Ben, as I said yesterday, it’s a miracle I didn’t kill him trying to extract the bullet.”

“But if the bullet took fabric from his shirt into the wound…” Ben voiced his concern, but kept his fear to himself. This man could die before he had the opportunity to confirm he was his son.

“Shirt have no bullet hole,” Hop Sing stated as he entered the room carrying another bowl of ice for the doctor’s use.

“But he was shot…” Ben acknowledged in confusion.

“Man wear shirt, no button top buttons,” Hop Sing stated. “I wash shirt, most blood gone. Wash again, make clean, almost new.”

“Thank heavens for small favors,” Paul stated as Hop Sing left the room. “Let’s just pray this fever is his body’s reaction to the trauma.”

The next time the door opened Hop Sing carried a tray bearing breakfast for his employer and the doctor.

“You eat or you get sick. I no have time for more sick people.”

Before Hop Sing returned, the tray was full of empty plates and the men felt better for having ate such a good meal.

“Doctor, Lit’le Joe ask you come see Hoss,” Hop Sing stated as he entered the room

“Has Hoss taken a turn for the worse?” Ben asked as he started to rise from the chair next to the bed Adam slept in.

“Joe no say,” Hop Sing answered as he left.

“Ben, please… stay here and keep an eye on Adam… I don’t want him left alone, if I can help it.”

Paul entered Hoss’ bedroom to see the large man sitting up in his bed and Joe removing his breakfast tray from his lap.

“Joe? Hop Sing said you wanted me to see Hoss?”

“I was looking at his wound and I don’t like how it looks,” Joe answered.

“I’m fine,” Hoss announced as he pushed Joe’s hand away.

“That’s generally Joe’s line,” Paul teased.

“I want to know how Adam is,” Hoss stated.

“He’s still unconscious. Now… let me look at your wound.”

Without any fuss, Hoss settled into his bed and allowed the doctor to re-examine where the bullet had struck him.

“Joe, you were right. There is a little bit of infection causing it to look inflamed. Let me get some alcohol. We’ll clean the wound again and put an ointment on it to help with the healing.”

“Told ya,” Joe stated as Doc left the room.

Fifteen minutes later, with the wound treated and a clean dressing wrapped around Hoss’ head, Doc sat in the chair and waited.

Joe was the first one to speak, “Is he any better than he was last night?”

“I’m afraid not. He’s developed a fever.”

“How?” Hoss asked.

“I’m only hoping that it’s only reactionary. Hop Sing stated his shirt didn’t have a bullet hole in it…”

“Huh?!” Joe slipped out in surprise.

“It were hot out and Adam mentioned that he’d button up his shirt and put on his string tie when we got closer to the house,” Hoss explained.

“Oh,” Joe answered.

“Boys, if that’s all. I really need to get back to my patient.”

“Doc,” Hoss hesitated, “How’s Pa? I mean, he ain’t been in here this mornin’…”

“I told Pa I’d take care of you,” Joe answered.

“Boys, if this man is your brother, it’s hit Ben pretty hard. You have to realize, he’s thought Adam dead all these years and it wasn’t easy leaving him behind with Abel when he set out.”

“Cain’t we wire him, and ask?” Joe innocently asked.

“Joe, Adam done said his grandfather passed away, don’tcha remember that…”

“Guess I forgot,” Joe slumped his shoulders.

“Joe, we both know you meant well. We all want to know the truth. Oh… did you boys ever mention your Pa’s name to Adam?”

The brothers looked to each other, “I don’t think so… we always called him Pa,” Joe finally answered.

“Okay, don’t worry about it. Hoss, why don’t you continue to sit up for a while and if you feel like it, as long as there is no headache, see how you feel about walking. Just to your window and back to bed. You can do it as often as you want, as long as you don’t feel a headache or lightheaded.”

“Sure,” Hoss stated. “Hey Joe, would you go see if Hop Sing has any more biscuits and honey.”

“You just ate!”

“I know, but if I’m gonna do some walkin’ I need to get my energy up.”

*****

Throughout the day, Paul and Ben replenished the ice that melted as it cooled Adam’s body, as the sun slipped past the horizon Paul heard Adam’s teeth start to chatter.

“Ben, help me pull the sheet off him and dry him down,” Paul stated as Ben re-entered the room carrying a tray bearing a fresh pot of coffee and two cups.

“What’s wrong?” Ben asked as he set the tray aside and helped the physician.

“I think his fever’s broke. This ice needs to come off him and we need to dry him down and put a blanket on him to warm him up.”

*****

As the two men tended to their patient, Hoss and Joe were slowly making their way down the staircase.

“I don’t know about his Joe,” Hoss stated. “Doc only said he wanted me to walk to the window and back.”

“Well, do you have a headache? Are you feeling lightheaded?”

“No,” answered Hoss.

“Are you hungry?”

“You know I am…”

“Then why are you complaining. Hop Sing left earlier today to spend the evening with the elders in town, and we’re both going stir crazy sitting in your room…”

By the time Hoss sat at the table he was feeling good about being up and about, “But if Doc or Pa come down on me about sittin’ here, I’m blamin’ you.”

Joe entered the kitchen and dished up a bowl of stew Hop Sing had said would be warming on the stove.

*****

Images, voices, and memories intertwined in the darkness that claimed Adam Cartwright. His brain tried to put everything into logical order but the pain he felt kept everything confused. The incessant chattering that previously had only been in the background now pulled him away from the comfort and closer to the pain from where he wanted to retreat.

“Come on Adam… Open your eyes,” Paul Martin encouraged. When his patient first showed signs of regaining consciousness Paul had asked Ben to stand away from the bed and let him address his patient.

Slowly and intermittently, Adam’s eyelashes fluttered before his eyelids opened a small crack.

“That’s it, man. Wake up… You can do it…”

Adam’s eyes were open and glassy looking, but with each passing moment Paul recognized that the man’s clarity was returning.

“I’m Doctor Paul Martin, can you understand what I’m saying?”

Struggling to talk, Adam tried to say, “You’re a doctor,” but it came out dry and scratchy, and barely coherent.

“Here, drink some of this,” Ben stated as he offered a glass of water to the man.

Adam turned his head towards the new voice in the room and stared, yet slowly drank the water from the glass that was held to his lips as the man helped raise his head to drink. When half the glass was empty, Ben pulled it away and asked, “Better?”

Taking a deep swallow, Adam asked, “Did I die? Am I in heaven?” as he continued to look at the man who gave him the water.

“Why would you ask that?” Ben inquired.

“Father… You look older… Is my mother here?” Adam inquired.

“Adam…” Ben whispered; the impact of the words spoken overwhelmed him.

As his eyes drifted closed, Adam began to ask, “Is Grandfather…”

“Ben…” Paul’s voice was just short of a hiss. “I asked you to stand aside, to let me talk to him.”

“Paul… How did he recognize me…”

“Ben, do you think it’s possible that he could have seen a picture of you with his mother? Were there any photographs taken of you and Elizabeth?”

“Our wedding day…” Ben answered.

Carefully evaluating his friend, Paul guided Ben to sit down in the chair. “Ben, we can’t be one hundred percent sure who he thought he was seeing.”

“He said I looked older.”

“He may not have really seen you…” Paul tried to get Ben to understand that when a person regains consciousness from such a critical injury what they remembered shouldn’t be trusted.

“Isn’t that proof enough that this is Adam?!” Ben refused to concede.

“I don’t know Ben. I know how much you want this to be Adam…” Looking back to his patient, Paul stated, “Let me examine him for a moment and then I think it would be best if the two of us go downstairs and get something to eat.”

“You said earlier you didn’t want him left alone…”

“I think he’s past the crisis, and since he has woke…”

Taking a few minutes to listen to the man’s heart and lungs through his stethoscope, Paul was pleased with what he heard.

“I think we can leave him alone long enough so we can go get something to eat.”

*****

Ben stopped on the mid landing when he heard voices coming from the dining room area.

“Hoss, what are you doing down here?” Ben demanded to know as he watched Hoss pull an empty spoon from his mouth.

With his eye’s bugged out and trying to hurriedly swallow so he could answer, all Hoss could do was point to his younger brother.

“He managed coming down the stairs okay, Pa. He said he didn’t have any headache or dizziness. And we were going stir crazy up there,” Joe answered as he stood and ultimately walked into the kitchen

“’Sides, I was hungry and this stew Hop Sing cooked is what my belly was cravin’.”

Ben and Paul made their way across the great room and took seats at the table and gratefully accepted the bowls of stew Joe placed in front of them; returning a few moments later with more coffee.

“How’s Adam?” Hoss asked.

“His fever broke a few minutes ago and he briefly regained consciousness.”

“Did he say anything?” Joe queried.

“He spoke, but not enough to confirm anything,” Paul stated, his expression dared Ben to say anything different. “He fell back asleep before I could ask him any questions.”

*****

Another twenty-four hours would pass before Adam showed any signs of regaining consciousness, and during that time, Joe’s emotions twisted, flipped upside down and right-side-up, and turned inside and out. The moment he’d come to an understanding another idea or thought would send him on another tangent that made no sense. It seemed his conversation with the good doctor was long forgotten. As he entered the house from tending to the horses in the barn, he heard his father call his name from the dining area of their home.

“What?!” Joe retorted, not paying any heed to the tone of voice he used to answer his father as he continued to move to the staircase.

Understanding they were all under undue stress, Ben chose to ignore his youngest’s tone, “Supper’s almost ready.”

“I’m not hungry,” Joe stated as he placed his foot on the first step.

“I think you should try to eat something,” Ben said as he tried to entice his son to join him.

“Why?”

“Why what?” Ben replied.

“Why do you care if I should eat something,” Joe answered, not turning to look at his father, but stopped on the first step.

“Because you’re my son,” Ben answered, standing from the table and began to walk towards Joe.

“Oh, so now I’m your son,” Joe’s anger forced from him.

“You’ve always been my son.”

“So you say!”

“And just what’s that supposed to mean?!” Ben’s tone revealed his anger at his son’s words.

Joseph resumed his trek upstairs and only made it as far as the middle landing before Ben demanded an answer.

“JOSEPH! Stop right now! I don’t understand your attitude young man!”

“It doesn’t matter, you got your precious Adam… Your first born… What do you care about your second born or your third born for that matter.”

“JOE!” Hoss called out as he came from the kitchen to hear his brother’s declaration.

“It’s true! He doesn’t give a damn about the two of us any more… All he’s cared about for the past twenty-four hours is Adam. Adam… I wish I’d never met the man.”

“Joe ya cain’t mean that. If it weren’t for Adam…”

“I’d be dead or Shanghaied and right now, that seems a hell of a lot better than living in this house!” With that, Joe ran the rest of the way up the stairs and into his bedroom.

Ben began to follow his son up the stairs, but Hoss prevented him from going any farther, “Pa, let me handle him.”

“No, something’s bothering him… I think this is just a cry for help and if you were to go up instead of me… it would set him off even more. But I appreciate your offering, son.”

“Ah Pa, you know he don’t mean what he says half the time…”

“He may not mean it, but right now something’s pushing him to think it. I’ve barely spent any time with the two of you since Adam arrived…”

“Adam needs you more than we do…” Hoss answered.

“Even if he isn’t your brother?”

“Pa,” Hoss considered carefully how to say what he wanted to say, “I don’t think there’s any doubt that Adam is our brother. I made a comment to Joe, when we’s comin’ back, that Adam had the same way as you in gettin’ his point across that the discussion was over. Ya know, the way you make us understand your word is final…? ‘Sides, who else but family would attempt to save Joe’s ornery hide, twice.”

“Thanks a lot, Hoss,” Joe sarcastically retorted as he quickly made his way down the staircase with his saddlebags slung over his shoulder and evidently stuffed full.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Ben demanded.

“Away from here,” Joe answered, brushing his way past Ben and Hoss.

“Oh no you don’t,” Hoss stated as he grabbed Joe by the arm and reacted to the move he knew was coming. From years of having to get the upper hand in dealing with his emotional brother, Hoss knew a left hook was about to come his way and he was ready to grab Joe’s flying wrist and take him down a peg or two.

“LET GO OF ME!” screamed Joe, he hadn’t realized he’d crossed the line and Hoss wasn’t going to let him free; his vision tinged red with anger and animosity.

“Not until you come to your senses,” Hoss replied and gripped Joe tighter.

“You’re hurting me, Hoss!” In the past Joe would have casually thrown those words at his brother, knowing how sensitive the big man was, but this time, he meant them as he grimaced.

“Not nearly as much as your attitude’s hurting Pa,” Hoss replied.

“Well, he deserves it!” Joe yelled, not thinking, just reacting to the emotions that had full control of his body and forced his common sense to evaporate; his responses were compounded by his fear of being unable to break free. “Damn it Hoss, let me go!”

Joe hadn’t finished his demand and didn’t have time to react between Hoss letting go his hold on his brother and the backhanded slap he hurled with enough force that it sent Joe crashing into the credenza, at the same time Hoss yelled out, “DON’T YOU EVER!”

Upstairs, Paul had started to the staircase to tell Ben that Adam was waking again, but hearing the argument from the first floor; his understanding of the dynamics of this family forced him into greater urgency.

“HOSS!” Ben and Paul yelled at the same time.

Standing over his younger brother, shoulders and chest heaving, finger pointing out from a fisted hand, Hoss threatened his brother, “Don’t you ever say that to Pa, ever again! You show him the respect he’s due.”

Joe lay partly sprawled on the floor and partly sprawled against the credenza; dazed, eyes unfocused, buzzing in his ear, his vision fading. Hoss had turned his back to his brother and headed for the stairs when the darkness finally claimed full possession of Joe Cartwright.

Paul Martin sidestepped the big man as he made his way towards the smallest Cartwright. Ben was about to pick up the boy to cradle him in his arms when Paul warned him against moving his son.

“Let me examine him before you move him,” Paul advised. “I’ve never seen Hoss that angered before and… I don’t even think he recognized the force with which he hit Joe.”

“Paul, what have I done?” pleaded Ben.

“Ben, I’m sorry, but right now, I don’t have time for you…” All the while as he spoke, the doctor continued to examine Little Joe to make sure he’d suffered no broken bones or irreparable injuries. His exasperation showed through when he told Ben, “Please, just go upstairs and sit with Adam… I came to tell you he was regaining consciousness when I heard the argument.”

“He’s waking?”

“He was before I came downstairs.”

“But Joe needs me…”

“Then damn it Ben, make up your mind which is more important to you!”

“They all are!” an angered Ben retorted.

“Then drop the pity-party and help me get Joe to the settee.”

“He’s okay to move?” Ben asked.

“For now, but I’m sure he’s going to have one hum-dinger of a headache when he finally wakes.”

“As long as we’re together… as a family.”

*****

A faint yellow light from the lowly wicked lantern slipped between the cracks of Adam’s eyelids as Hoss sat in the chair next to the bed, watching as the man moved around as he woke up. When he felt weight shift the bed, Adam turned his head and tried to see who was there. With his eyes refusing to focus, Adam quietly stated, “Father?”

“Nah, I ain’t Pa, Adam. You take it easy and don’t move around. Doc don’t need ya bustin’ open them stitches.”

“Stitches? What happened?” Adam groggily asked.

“We was ambushed two days ago.”

“Ambushed? Is Joe alright? Did he get hurt again?” Adam struggled to keep his eyes open, but he did remember the big man sitting on his bed, and the man’s brother.

“Nah, he weren’t with us. Don’t ya remember I was bringin’ ya home to the Ponderosa to meet our Pa and maybe ask for a job…”

“Already have a job… in the Navy.”

“Yeah, but you’re on leave. You wanted to explore the territory…”

*****

The whole situation frustrated and angered Ben, with the possibility that his oldest son had returned from the dead, his two sons who had grown up on the Ponderosa were now set to tear each other apart. Ben couldn’t believe how muddled his life had become in just a few short days.

Once Joe was comfortably transferred to the settee, Ben took the damp towel offered by Hop Sing and placed it across Joe’s forehead and waited. Twenty minutes passed before Joe showed the first signs of waking up and groaned as the sharp pain poked at the back of his skull.

Opening his eyes, Joe saw his father worriedly looking at him and realized there was also a keen disappointment on his father’s face. Turning his head to the left he saw Doc Martin sitting on the table, his hand moving towards Joe.

“Joe, how many fingers am I holding up?” Paul asked.

“Not enough,” Joe answered.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Ben asked, unbelieving Joe was getting ready to begin round two.

“If you’re gonna tan me, you need to have all five, not just two fingers up.” Looking to his father, Joe spoke, “Pa, I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately. I’m all jumbled up inside. I don’t know how to feel, how to react, what to say, do… I feel so… lost,” tears slipped from the corners of Joe’s eyes.

“Do you want to talk about it now?”

“I’ll leave you two alone,” Paul stated as he rose to stand up.

“No, please Doc… You helped me understand the other night… But there’s just so much more and I…”

“What, Joe?” Ben lovingly asked.

“Maybe he can help me help you understand why I felt like I did…”

“Did?” Paul inquired about the past-tense use of the word.

“I’m still confused, but I’m not angry any more… and I think that’s why I felt like I did… Like Pa didn’t care about us anymore, because of Adam.”

“Joseph, I could never stop caring about you or Hoss. You’re my sons…”

“I know that, and I knew that… I guess it was just seeing that you didn’t come in to check on Hoss…”

“You were doing a fine job and I didn’t want you to think I didn’t trust you to take care of him…”

“But you sent me away…”

“When did I send you away?” a perplexed Ben asked.

“When he came home shot. I wanted to help, but you sent me away.”

“Joseph, Joseph, Joseph… You have the fastest horse and you’re the fastest rider on the ranch. Why wouldn’t I send you to get Paul? As for your helping me with your brother, Joe, you know as well as I do that Hoss is no match for you, even when he’s only teasing in wrestling with you, you can’t get out from under him. And you thought you could help carry him inside? What if he’d fallen on you?”

“Yeah, he’d likely flatten me like a hotcake,” laughed Joe, his senses having reclaimed their rightful place. “Pa, if Adam is your son… And our brother… Will he stay? Will he be a part of our family?”

“I can’t answer that question. First, as Paul pointed out, he needs to recover from his wound. But in the long run… the choice and the decision is his.”

“I kinda thought you’d say something like that.”

Paul had a question to ask, and he felt now was the right time, “Joe, are you still feeling confused?”

“A little, but not as much as before, I guess Hoss pounded some sense into me… Where is he?” Joe answered, worried about his brother not being there, hovering over him.

“He was pretty angry when he went upstairs,” Paul replied.

“Would you help me up, so I can apologize to him too?”

The two men helped the younger man to stand and assisted him as he walked up the stairs. When they reached the top, they heard voices coming from the guest room.

*****

Giving it another attempt, Adam tried to open his eyes and had better luck this time.

“There was another man… Maybe it was a dream… I dreamed I died and my father was here… waiting for me… Only… I don’t remember him having such grey hair.”

“That weren’t no dream and ya didn’t die. Came near close to it, accordin’ to Doc Martin.”

“Was he your father?”

“Yep, and everyone of them grey hairs was given to him by Little Joe. Adam, you said your Pa died years ago…” Hoss continued the conversation.

Adam struggled to try to sit up, the pain he experienced forced him to inhale deeply, but that caused him pain too.

“Now don’t you go tryin’ ta sit up. We can talk just as good with you lyin’ down.”

When the pain finally disappeared, Adam looked to his friend. “Why do you ask about my father?”

“Because we think he’s our Pa too,” Hoss bluntly answered.

“That can’t be… My father probably died before you were born, and definitely, before Joe was born. Hey, can I have some water?”

“Oh, sure.” Hoss stepped to the dresser and poured Adam a glass of water. He returned to the bed, helped raise the man’s head, and held the glass for him to drink. When Adam nodded his head, Hoss gently lowered it to the bed and set the glass aside. “I’ll leave it right here in case you get thirsty again.”

“Thanks.”

“Adam, what if you weren’t told the truth about your Pa dyin’?”

“I don’t follow you….”

“Do you remember what all was said about when your Pa died?”

“Pretty much.”

“Let me asked you this… Your Pa had a new wife and a new child, and I’m bettin’ you were told they all were killed by Indians at Ash Hollow…”

“I can’t remember where, but I do remember my grandfather’s friend mentioning he had remarried and there was a child.”

“Was your grandpa’s friend named Jonathan Pryce?”

“Hoss, how…?” Adam tried to sit up again, but quickly refrained.

“Because Mr. Jonathan Pryce was a friend of Pa’s too. He sorta met Pa in New Orleans, seventeen, eighteen years ago and done told Pa that you and Abel Stoddard died of influenza the winter before… Pa said he got no reply to the wires he sent, askin’…”

“Hoss, I’m still a little fuzzy here, but if I understand what you’re trying to say…”

“What he’s trying to say is that I believe… we believe that you’re my son and a brother to these two,” Ben stated as he entered the guest room. Ben didn’t enter the room alone; he’d wrapped a strong arm around Little Joe’s waist, helping to support his youngest as he guided him to the chair by the bed. They were followed by Paul Martin.

“Shortshanks, you okay?” Hoss asked as he saw the still slightly dazed look upon his brother’s face.

“Guess I deserved that,” Joe remorsefully answered as he rubbed the back of his head and neck. “I already apologized to Pa downstairs… I’m sorry Hoss, I didn’t mean to hurt you or Pa. I just didn’t know what to do, or say, or anything. Everything was all twisted up inside a me and like that fizzy water in a bottle, it all came exploding out when it got shook too far.”

“Are you okay?” Hoss asked, now concerned that he had really hurt his brother.

“He will be. Once this little reunion in over, I want him in bed… And then I want to examine my first patient.”

As his two sons were making amends, Ben walked around to the opposite side of the bed, all the while Adam watched him.

“I don’t know what to say,” Adam stated while trying to stifle a yawn. “Hoss seems to think you’re my father.”

“It is possible… You said you didn’t remember me with grey hair…”

“Picture… Parents…” Adam was losing the battle with his body’s desire to sleep so he could heal.

“And I can’t really think there would be two men named Adam Stoddard Cartwright. Adam, is your birthday…”

Adam raised his hand to his head, pinching the bridge of his nose while he closed his eyes.

“Ben, it’s too much, too soon,” Paul interrupted. “My patient needs his rest. There will be time to discuss this when Adam can think fully and not be impeded by the medications I’ve given him or from the pain he must be experiencing. Please, why don’t you take Joe to his room and put him to bed.”

Before Paul finished speaking, Adam’s arm had slipped down and he’d fallen asleep. While the other Cartwrights left the room, Paul examined Adam’s vital signs, listened to his heart and lungs one more time, and continued to be pleased with the results.

“You must be related to Ben and his boys, you’ve got as strong a constitution as any one of them,” Paul said aloud to himself. “And only a Cartwright can cause this much friction within this family.”

“Then it true?” Hop Sing asked as he brought fresh towels into the room.

“It would appear so…”

*****

Under his own power, Joe made it to the hallway before his legs gave out and buckled. Hoss was close behind, catching his brother under his armpits before he fell to the floor.

“Joe? Shortshanks? What’s wrong?” Hoss begged.

Placing a hand on his large son’s shoulder Ben stated, “Hoss, get him to his bed and we’ll talk.”

“Pa?” Hoss asked as he lifted his sibling and carried him to his room.

Ben lifted his chin to indicate Hoss should do as instructed. Taking a deep breath, holding it, and slowly releasing it, Ben followed his boys to Joe’s room.

With great care, Hoss lowered Joe to his bed and stepped aside as Ben neared the bed. Once on top of the cover, Joe grabbed the sides of the bed in hopes of stopping his room from spinning.

“Shortshanks?” Hoss asked upon seeing his brother’s distressed face.

“Sick,” Joe managed to speak as Ben reached for the basin and strategically positioned the bowl.

“Hoss, get me a damp washcloth would you, please?” Ben asked a few minutes later as he set the basin to the floor and sat on the edge of the bed.

Moments later, Hoss handed the cloth to his father who proceeded to wipe his youngest son’s face.

“Pa, what’s wrong with Joe?”

“Hoss, we know you didn’t mean it, but… I’ve told you time and time again you have to consider everything you do when it comes to your strength and losing control of your emotions.”

“I lost control of my emotions, first, Pa,” Joe tried to explain, not trusting to open his eyes.

“And I’ve warned you time and time again about your emotions too.”

“Pa, I just backhanded him… What he said… He had no right…” Hoss defended.

“Yes, I agree that he had no right, but do you realize how hard you struck him? Do you even remember where you were standing when you backhanded him and the force it took for him to end up against the credenza?”

Guilt flickered into Hoss as he looked to his hands and grief settled on him. “I… coulda… Pa, how bad did I hurt him?”

“He was unconscious for about twenty minutes, Paul thinks he suffered a concussion.”

“Pa, I’m sorry… Joe, ya gotta know I didn’t mean to hurt ya…”

“Yeah, you did… Only I know I deserved it…” answered Joe.

“Can I get you anything?” Hoss asked as he worriedly stood over his brother’s bed.

“Yeah, some of those powders Doc’s always trying to cram…”

“Joseph!” warned Ben.

“…get me to swallow,” Joe finished answering.

Once he’d fixed a glass of the headache powders and given it to Joe to drink, Hoss sat on the other side of the bed and asked, “Joe, why was ya sayin’ all those things downstairs?”

“I don’t know…” Joe replied, settling into his pillows because of the way he began to feel uncomfortable with his brother’s question.

“Hoss, Joe told me downstairs that he felt that I no longer cared about the two of you because I didn’t come into your room to check on you. He thought I only cared about Adam.”

“That cain’t be farther from the truth… Joe, Pa came in lots a times, when you was sleepin’. We talked about how good a care you were givin’ me and he told me how Adam was a doin’.”

Joe slipped even deeper into his pillows at the revelation.

“Guess I shoulda talked to you.”

“No guessin’ about it little brother.”

“Can I leave you two together?” Ben asked of his sons.

“Sure Pa, I bet Paul would really appreciate it if you were to get some sleep…” Hoss encouraged.

“I’m about done in… Ever since the two of you returned from that cattle drive and told me about the ambush; it’s a wonder I’ve not been the one to lose all reasoning,” Ben acknowledged. “If Paul needs me… or if you…”

“We’ll tell him you’re being a good patient and taking a nap,” teased Hoss.

“And I know you’re here for us too, Pa…” Joe replied.

Ben shut the door as he exited the bedroom and allowed the two brothers time to heal the rift that had settled over them, all for a lack of failure to communicate.

*****

Throughout the next several days, Adam continued to wake at regular intervals to find one of the Cartwrights or Hop Sing in the room with him. It had been some time since he remembered seeing the doctor in the room with him. Each inquired of him about how he was feeling; if he experienced any pain.

He remembered the conversation from when he first truly regained consciousness and the revelation the big man had made about their fathers being one in the same. As he lay in bed, he felt conflicted, was it even remotely possible that here was his father who all these years he had believed dead…? Being a man who kept his feelings to himself, it was difficult trying to reconcile his mind-set while the Cartwrights openly voiced their mixture of attitudes, Ben anxious, Hoss accepting, and Joe… mercurial – one moment happy to have another brother, the next, angry he had been lied to.

Lieutenant Adam Cartwright couldn’t wait for Paul Martin to declare him well enough to travel; he needed to get away from the Ponderosa in order to think, so he could come to some kind of an understanding.

He barely heard the sound as the door opened to reveal Hop Sing entering, carrying a pitcher of fresh water and clean towels.

“Good Morning Hop Sing,” Adam quietly called after the man had set his load aside.

“Good Morning, Mr. Adam,” Hop Sing replied and bowed deeply.

“What time is it?”

“Be breakfast in one hour,” Hop Sing answered. “You feel okay? Need I get Mr. Cartwright?”

“No Hop Sing, I’m actually feeling much better this morning. Can’t wait to get out of this bed.”

“You no do until honored doctor say you can.” Hop Sing waited by the bed, “I get you something?”

“Answers…”

“You ask Mr. Cartwright questions, he give good answers, answers you seek.”

“I’m not so sure about that…” Adam resigned in response.

“You not know if you no ask. Mr. Cartwright good man, good father. You be good son?”

“That remains to be seen…” Adam slightly teased back.

“You no be bad son… Lit’le Joe need good role model. Hoss good, you be better.”

“Are you that convinced that I’m… the long lost prodigal son returned?”

“Not prodigal son… You make good life on boats… You long lost son and brother returned. You need them, they need you. You think on that.”

Hop Sing opened the curtains and raised the window to let the morning sun and fresh air into the room.

“I’ll need proof…”

“Proof in front of face.” Adam saw that the oriental had picked up and held something leather in his hands and held it out to him. “Picture inside, same… younger, but same.”

Adam opened his leather portfolio and pulled out his two most cherished possessions that he could keep close to him, a photograph of his grandfather and the photograph of his parents on their wedding day.

As Adam was able to spend more time awake, he asked for the Cartwrights to give him some privacy, he wanted time to think.

*****

It had been over a week since Doctor Paul Martin had left the Ponderosa, confident that all his patients would recover. The bullet graze across Hoss’ temple had healed leaving only a faint trace of a scar, Little Joe’s dizzy spells and headaches had faded after a sound night’s sleep; his wounds from his previous injuries well on their way to being healed. And Adam… Paul was thankful that the man had survived a wound that could just as easily have proved fatal.

Halting his buggy in the main yard, Paul was greeted by Ben as the front door to the massive home opened.

“How’s my last patient?” Paul greeted as he pulled his Gladstone bag from the seat.

“I think he’s anxious to leave the Ponderosa,” answered Ben.

“Have you spoken anymore about being your son?”

“I’ve tried, but he puts me off. I can tell it’s a struggle for him. I can see so much of Abel in his mannerisms. Paul, I know he’s my son… There’s no court of law or anyone else who can convince me otherwise.”

“I trust you Ben, but you need to allow Adam to come to that realization and you have to consider that he may not wish to embrace you as his father. Ben, think of it from his perspective… for a long time he’s thought you dead.”

“And I him…” Ben indignantly replied.

“Yes, but you were an adult. He was a child; he probably wasn’t even in his teens yet when he learned of your supposed death. With Abel as his guardian and only family he knew, he’s made what I presume is a good life in the Navy. As much as you want to embrace him, you have to be just as willing to let him go. He’s a grown man…”

Ben was speechless, for the past ten days, he’d thought so much about how to include Adam as a member of the family. He hadn’t given any thought that Adam may not wish to be a part of their lives.

“Right now, I’m going to go up and examine my patient…”

“I’ll come with you,” offered Ben.

“Ben, I know what all this means to you, but… I’m going to have to ask you to stay down here… He’s not Hoss or Little Joe. Give him time…”

Ben finally agreed and remained outside in the yard while Doctor Martin entered their home.

*****

“Good afternoon, Adam,” Paul greeted as he entered the room and saw the man sitting up with multiple pillows propped behind him, reading the Territorial Enterprise.

“Good afternoon, doctor. I guess I lost track of time…”

“That’s understandable. How are you feeling? Any pains, aches, fever?”

“The muscles across my chest ache and the only pain I feel is when the Cartwrights are in the room. I can see how much my being here is distressing the family,” Adam replied as he folded the newspaper to set it aside.

“Adam, it’s not you being here that’s distressing the family, it’s the possibility of what you represent. They’re good people and they’re trying to show you that if you want to, they’ll accept you as a member of their family. No questions asked.”

“Really? That’s all they seem to want to do is ask questions…” Adam answered, “And I don’t have all the answers they seek.”

“And I’m sure you have questions too, only…”

“I’m too stubborn to ask them? Is that what you were going to say?”

“You sure fit the Cartwright mould… But enough of that. Would you open your shirt? If the wound looks healed enough, I’ll remove the stitches today and allow you to begin getting out of bed.”

“When may I return to town?”

“I don’t want you riding a horse…”

“How about in your buggy? I did hear you arrive in a buggy, didn’t I?” Adam inquired.

“You’re really that anxious to get away from here?”

“I just need time alone and being alone in this room isn’t exactly the same.”

“I understand. I’ll let Ben know you’ll be returning to town with me.”

“Thank you.”

*****

Ben stood in front of his desk as he watched the doctor assist Adam as he made his way down the steps. He wanted one last effort to try to convince his son to stay.

“Adam, may I show you one last item before you leave?”

Looking first to the doctor, Adam nodded.

Bend picked up one of the three filigree framed pictures from his desk.

“I would ask that you take a look at the woman in this picture and tell me truthfully if this is a picture of your mother…”

Adam felt the tension headache begin, yet he refrained from pinching the bridge of his nose. He hesitated before he looked to the picture held in front of him, and that act alone surprised him. He would have thought he’d have quickly looked at the picture and just as quickly dismissed the notion that his man could be his father. But… when he looked at the picture, the smile, the eyes, the face, they were the same as the pictures he remembered from his years of living in his grandfather’s house. The woman was the same as the one in his portfolio.

“I need time…” Adam answered. “Can we go now?”

Paul helped Adam across the floor, out the door, and into his buggy.

With a heavy heart, Ben set Elizabeth’s portrait back to his desk, walked over to his leather chair and collapsed. It was in the same repose that Hoss and Little Joe returned to the house to find Hop Sing trying to convince Ben to drink a glass of brandy.

Ben looked up into the concerned faces of his sons and said, “I lost him again…” Ben batted away the glass Hop Sing offered, told the others he wasn’t hungry, and went upstairs to his room where he spent the rest of the night.

*****

Upon returning to the International House, Adam inquired about the delivery of his trunk as well as if he had received any wires.

“I’m sorry, but we haven’t received anything for you Mr. Stoddard,” the clerk answered.

“Do you have anything for a Lieutenant Cartwright, Lieutenant Adam Stoddard Cartwright?”

“Cartwright… You related to Ben and his boys?”

“Please, just answer my question,” Adam tiredly replied.

“Uh, yes, I do have some wires that came to the attention of Lieutenant Cartwright and we do have a trunk.”

“I’ll take my wires and if you’ll have my trunk delivered to my room. Thank you.”

Adam took the key and his wires from the clerk and proceeded up the staircase and to his room.

“Cartwright? He’s a Cartwright?” the clerk voiced.

“Who’s a Cartwright?” asked the slender, yet shapely woman who came from the bar adjoining the International House lobby.

“That man… He checked in here two weeks ago as Adam Stoddard. Ain’t seen hide nor hair of him for better’n ten days and now he says his name is Adam Stoddard Cartwright.”

“Is he as good looking as Little Joe?” the woman wistfully inquired.

“And just how am I supposed to know? Callie, get back to earning your keep. The boss pays you good wages to entertain the customers.”

*****

Adam tossed his hat and jacket upon the chair in the room before he walked over and lay on the bed. With the wires in his hands, he scanned the return address in an effort to determine which might be important. One wire immediately caught his eye as it bore the return address of the United States Navy.

Lieutenant Adam Stoddard Cartwright
c/o International House Hotel
Virginia City, Nevada

Lieutenant Cartwright, it pleases me to advise that your name has been selected as one of three finalists to command the U.S. Navy’s latest steam sloop of war. The U.S.S. Pawnee is slated for completion in April 1860 and will be fully commissioned by June, and it would be with great honor that I could confer her captaincy upon you.

Adam, this is a once in a life-time opportunity for you. Please do not give it up.

Respectfully,

Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren

*****

Adam had left the Ponderosa two days previous and still the tension existed within the house and Hoss worried for his younger brother.

Joe sat on the edge of Hoss’ bed, careful not to talk so loud that their father might hear. “Hoss… Did you know anything about us having a brother? I mean…”

“No Joe, I didn’t know anything until Pa told the both of us, when Doc was operating on Adam.”

“If you hadn’t made it… I can’t believe Pa let Doc operate on him first.”

“Now hold it right there Joe, he was worse off than I was. Sides, I don’t think Pa had a choice, Doc was the one who made the decision.”

“Decision or not, when I think of whoever shot you down in cold blood…” Joe involuntarily shivered.

“Do as Roy says, leave it to the law.”

“And if I can’t?”

“Why can’t you? Joe, you don’t even know who it was that shot us…” Hoss knew he was on the right track when Joe used the word can’t instead of don’t. “You just gonna go and shoot any stranger you see? That’s cold hearted revenge and you’d hurt Pa worse than he feels right now.”

“How so?” Joe asked, his language and body posture returned to that of an adolescent.

“Pa’s hurtin’ because for more years than you’ve been alive, he’s had another son that he had been told was dead. A son he loved as much as he loved us…”

“Why didn’t he tell us about Adam?”

“Why tell us about a brother we’d never get a chance to know?” Hoss counter asked.

“He’s got Elizabeth’s picture on his desk… He coulda had a picture of Adam or at least told us about him, even if he was dead. Like he’s got our momma’s pictures.”

“Joe, we were so young, what would you have really understood. It was bad enough after your momma died.”

Joe quietly remembered the days and weeks he clung to Hoss after Ben had left the ranch in order to come to terms with the grief of losing a third wife in death.

“You think Pa locked his grief away in his heart to spare us?” Joe inquired.

“It makes a lot of sense, when you look at it that way. Still, ya hadn’t aught a told him you didn’t want him as a brother.”

“I was just mad, mad that he would just up and leave. I didn’t really mean it…”

”But he doesn’t know that…”

Joe felt even guiltier.

****

While the boys spoke in Hoss’ room, Ben made plans of his own for the following morning. Ben rode to town with a part if his past tucked into his saddle bags. He entered the International House and inquired if Adam Stoddard or Adam Cartwright was still registered.

He knocked on the third floor hotel room door and waited. It only took a few moments for him to hear, “Enter.”

With the confidence he didn’t feel, Ben entered the room.

“Adam, I have no excuse for the past, only that, at the time, I thought what I did was right. I’m sorry.” Ben opened his saddle bags and pulled out the items he had brought with him. “I pray that maybe these will explain better than I can. I can’t keep my emotions from muddling what I want to say. These are yours; I want you to have them.”

Adam stood from where he sat to face the man and watched him place several books on the table in the middle of his hotel room and then… the man turned and left. He wasn’t sure how much time had lapsed when he finally moved from where he’d stood before the window; he fingered the leather bound books and picked one up. Opening it to where it was bookmarked, he saw the precise script at the top of the page bearing the date of his birth.

Elizabeth, while you are upstairs with the doctor, it is with heartfelt joy and worry that I sit within the parlor of the house we share with your father. You have brought a joy into my life that I had not known existed, and now, that joy is about to be expanded upon. Will our baby be a daughter with your smile and warmth or will we have a son? I pray God will reflect within him your eyes and wisdom. Yet, I worry… The fall you took several weeks ago weighs heavily on my mind as does the words of warning from the doctor… The hours have passed and day has turned to night and still you struggle to bring a new life into the world… our world.

Continuing to read, Adam knew that time had elapsed between the two entries.

Elizabeth, you gave me a son…and named him Adam. But the worry I felt was only a harbinger of the dread I now feel… How do I face life without you? How do I raise your son, alone? The doctor brought Adelaide Callahan over this morning; she’ll be your son’s nanny; that should be you holding your son… not a stranger. Adam looks more natural in her arms as she took him from the room where he lay in the bassinet we purchased; more so than he does in my arms.

We had dreams; it was supposed to be the three of us… I know I promised you I would fulfill my dream of heading west, but I can’t. Daily I make the trip to the cemetery and talk to you… How can I leave you?

Adam continued to read the journal and began to understand the grief this man had suffered after his wife’s death, most of the entries were written to Elizabeth regarding the dreams that were now unfulfilled, words of a husband longing for what he lost. Words that expressed the awkwardness of holding the child and seeing that God had answered one of his prayers, the baby’s eyes were as his mother’s, though in time they changed from the blue all babies seemed to be born with to a deep brown. But as with his mother, the boy looked as if through his eyes he was peering in to one’s soul.

The hour was approaching midnight when he came to an entry around six months after his birth.

Elizabeth, our dream still pulls at me; I’ve tried to bury it, but it hurts so much to stay here by the sea… when as we’d laid together we dreamed of the wide open land and the expanse of blue sky above us; the image pulls so strong at me. I tried to explain it to Abel tonight… He was there when you made me promise, yet tonight he argued against my leaving… He argued that it was a death sentence for both me and your son….

Your son… For some reason I see him as your son, not our son… I do love him, but he was your last gift to me, and through him I still cling to you… through him… through Adam. Can I really take our son out into the wilds of the new frontier? Would it be selfish of me to take Adam, as young as he is, into the unknown? And what of Adelaide? Would she see it as an adventure or would she be terrified at the prospect?

Adelaide has been a Godsend and after the death of both her husband, an accident on the wharf, and her daughter due to an illness, she moved into our home. Can I expose her and Adam to the dangers of traveling so far with our son being just an infant still?

Elizabeth, tonight I shall sleep and consider the words that Abel said. I know you would understand my desire to fulfill my promise, but you must understand in my current condition I am a threat to our son. My dream pulls at me so much that I am a danger to myself as well as to Adam. Not that I would do anything to intentionally harm our son, but that today I wasn’t focused and just walking across the street with Adam in my arms, I was almost struck down by a hansom cab. Maybe Abel is right, that I should go and find our dream, and once settled then I can send for the boy…Our Adam. Abel stated that he will provide for Adam; ensure our son has a proper education as we dreamed of on those cold Boston winter nights as I felt him moving within your body. I have much to think on…

Adam ensconced himself within his hotel room for several days, only taking time to order an occasional meal from room service and barely sleeping. He came to the entries where Ben wrote of meeting Inger and unbelievably fell in love with the Swedish woman. He wrote of working for the man McWorter and how he realized the man was scheming to steal the store away from Inger, with her brother as fool in allowing it to happen in the hopes that his sister would marry McWorter. Ben’s words expressed the doubt he held within himself that he could truly love another and not betray the memory of his first love. But he couldn’t deny his heart. Before they wed, he wrote of telling Inger of Adam and how excited she was to know that she was already a mother, and the plans they made to bring Adam into their life.

As Adam turned the page of the journal, a small sheet of stationery fell out. Picking it up and opening it, he immediately recognized the precise script of his grandfather.

Benjamin,

It is good to hear of your wedding, now many months past. I write this letter in hope it reaches you at the next destination of your journey. I tell you that Adam is growing into a fine young man that you can be proud of, he has started school and his teacher gives him high praise for his eagerness to learn. He is so much like Elizabeth in that fact.

As for his schooling, I can’t keep the boy in books, he reads so far in advance of others his age. He has a curious mind and asks all sorts of questions of those he meets, he seems drawn to building things, and yet… I see the gleam in his eyes when I take him down to the wharf to watch the tall ships sail into the harbor. Will he follow us eventually to a life at sea? I do not know, but here… He is thriving in his life in Boston and I share with him each of your letters so he knows that you think of him often.

As for your request, it is generous, but at this time I must decline. For the same reasons you accepted prior to your departure from Boston, I must also reiterate, the journey is too dangerous and you are not settled. Once you and Inger have arrived and made a home for yourselves, I will consider bringing the boy to you myself, but not until that time. I know my words will upset you, but it is for the boy that I must force myself to make this decision.

Abel Stoddard

Sitting in the wing-backed chair in front of the window, with the sun beginning to paint the morning sky, Adam fell asleep reading of Ben finding out that Inger was carrying his child, and of his grief for having left his son behind, but he kept Adam in his heart. Adam read of the trials in crossing the country via wagon and came to an entry where Inger was injured and Ben wrote of his fears that she might have lost the child. Numerous journal entries later, Adam read of Eric’s birth and shortly thereafter he read of Inger’s death at Ash Hollow and Ben’s grief at having now lost two wives.

Inger, like Elizabeth, you gave me a son, and as your brother Gunnar suggested, maybe I will call him Hoss, he certainly is growing big enough. But… he is so different than his brother Adam. Adam, my son from Elizabeth… My heart breaks as I think of him so far away, but how would I manage raising two boys without the aid and love of my wife. My heart is doubly torn as I have received Abel’s latest letter. What kind of a father am I, if I were to tear Adam away from the only life he has known…? He has such a bright future with Abel, and I don’t even know if my final destination has a school… Inger, with your loss, my dream of a new land and a family seems tarnished… It doesn’t burn as bright.

Know this, there is nothing around Ash Hollow but barren land, and yet here is where you will lie, forever. This is not the dream we came to believe in; I cannot stop here. And still, I am torn to think of settling here. But if I did, I would be that much closer to being reunited with Adam. I pray God will give me guidance on what to do. Without you… I am lost.

A new day dawned before Ben wrote in his journal.

Inger I felt your presence last night, as well as that of Elizabeth; I am thankful that God allowed you to help me, I came to a decision … This is not the land we dreamed about, I will continue to head west, with Eric. Mrs. Morganson has agreed to watch over Eric during the days while I’m driving our team or when I hunt for food. I will find our home where both my sons can be reunited and we can be a family.

The following morning Adam pulled out a different journal to begin reading.

Inger, Hoss turned five yesterday, and still I think of Adam. It has been almost a year since I’ve heard any news from Abel concerning him. I know that the mail service is as hazardous as our journey west to settle here at Mormon Station. There is no army close and the settlers in the area are forced to rely upon each other. Several of the families have given up and moved on to California or returned east. But this land, it is as Elizabeth and I originally dream, and the dream that you accepted and eagerly looked forward to sharing. The land tests a man and yet it is as beautiful as I dreamed it would be; as beautiful as the two loves of my life. Our little Hoss isn’t so little, the newcomers who see him when we go to town think he’s twice his age due to his size; it must be his Swedish heritage. I dare say one day he will stand taller than me.

Another entry read,

It is with much grief that I put pen to paper to write that I had to bury a good friend of mine today, Jean deMarigny was as a brother to me and before he died within my arms he asked that I travel to New Orleans to inform his wife of his death. I didn’t even know he was married. I guess I can combine the trip into one of commerce to trade many of the pelts I have accumulated through the past three seasons… But New Orleans is so far… But Jean was as a brother…

I think I’ll write one more letter to Abel, Adam would be nearing eleven and I believe I am settled enough that hopefully by the time I arrive in New Orleans Abel will have received the letter and agreed to travel to the port city with Adam. It’s about time we were a family.

The next entries were of Ben’s experiences as he traveled to New Orleans. Adam began reading the entry from Ben’s first full day in the port city and was shocked to discover what his father had written. Here was the proof, the truth that Hoss had mentioned to him earlier.

How do I write what is in my heart. I am so far from Boston and can’t believe that of all people I would encounter Jonathan Pryce. I remember the times he attempted to court Elizabeth before she finally told him her heart was already promised to another – me. But the news Jonathan bore to me was just as devastating to me as Elizabeth’s rejection must have been to him. The news explains why I’ve not heard from Abel, he and the child both died from influenza this past winter. It’s been almost a year since Adam died… and I didn’t know. Jonathan experienced a loss too, he lost his beloved wife, Corrine. That was why he was in New Orleans, to escape her ever present memories.

Though it had been years since Jonathan and I had seen each other, our own miseries (mine new, his month’s old) prevented us from wanting to spend any more time together.

My son, My Adam, I can’t believe that you are dead. I hope that your mother, my Elizabeth, was there to greet you as you entered into His Heavenly Kingdom. Know that I truly believe one day we will all be reunited…until then my son.

Adam set the journal down and felt at a loss. Through his father’s journals he came to understand his life had been impacted by the primary love of his father and grandfather to see him safe. The decisions both men made had the same basic desire, neither man had wanted any harm to befall him; and… “I have lived a good life.”

The one who had truly harmed him was Jonathan Pryce, a friend of his grandfather. The man who had told Abel that Ben and his wife had been killed in an Indian raid. This man was the same Jonathan Pryce who had told Ben that Adam and Abel were dead. As he looked at the photograph of his parents on their wedding day one last time, Adam realized why the man had lied. He wanted to hurt Ben as much as Elizabeth had hurt him by rejecting his love in favor of a life with Benjamin Cartwright.

*****

Several days had passed before Ben’s entries resumed within his journal, but the passion and flourish of his previous writings were missing. There was no life left to the man, only the transactions to sell the pelts and finally to find Jean deMarigny’s widow.

Ben wrote of the audacity of the woman he encountered on the street and how she boldly rode her horse and encouraged it to rear. The lack of fear she showed as the animal rose high within the air and returned to the ground.

The next day he wrote of meeting Madame deMarigny, Jean’s mother, and how he felt the woman was arrogant and held her station in life over everyone else. Included within the journal were the events surrounding Ben’s meeting with Eduard D’Arcy as well as Marius Angerville. While meeting with various friends and acquaintances of Marie, he uncovered the decades old deception underlying the estrangement between her and Jean. Ben wrote of confronting those in New Orleans responsible for the ruse, and his efforts to prove Marie an honorable woman. Adam read of the subsequent death of Marius and Ben’s duel with Eduard. Ben wrote of how blind he was over the past few weeks, he hadn’t realized that he was falling in love with Jean’s widow. He wrote of his guilt in with how people would interpret his actions as taking advantage of the young distraught woman. But after Marius’ death and as he held the woman in his arms, he realized that he did truly love her and she him.

God, I know our love must be right or else you would not have allowed this to happen. Have you brought the two of us together to heal our hurts, mine for the loss of my son Adam and Marie for the loss of her husband and the loss of a dear friend?

Once I have settled all my obligations in New Orleans, I will take Marie as my wife, a mother for my son Hoss, and we will live our lives together outside Mormon Flats.

Ben’s journals continued, but Adam wondered about when they had moved to Virginia City and established the Ponderosa. Ultimately, Ben wrote of how the populace decided against the town’s name and decided they wanted to be something bigger, better, and not erroneously tied to a religion and thus, Virginia City was born.

It had been over a week since Adam was pronounced sufficiently healed to return to town, and five days since he’d began reading Ben’s journals. A peace settled over Adam, yes he was thankful for the life and opportunities provided by Abel, and he could now be happy with the knowledge that he had a father and two brothers… A brief pall cast over him as he remembered the conversation he’d held with Hoss regarding the troubles Little Joe got himself into… Mere moments passed, when Adam smiled and thought, ‘that’s little brothers for you.’ He looked forward to really getting to know Hoss and Joe, not just as Cartwrights, but as brothers; and so he continued to read Ben’s journals.

*****

Having sufficiently fulfilled his curiosity through the journals, Adam didn’t know exactly what he planned, but he hoped all would be well by the time the day was over. As he walked down the staircase he smiled when he saw Hoss Cartwright sitting in one of the chairs in the lobby.

“Good morning, Hoss,” Adam greeted.

“Good morning, Adam,” Hoss replied nervously replied as he stood to his feet.

“What brings you to town?”

“I thought that… Well, I got this feelin’ that Joe’s gone and done somethin’ stupid,” Hoss shuffled his feet at the discomfort his was feeling.

“Again?” Adam asked.

“Yeah, again. He don’t mean it… But when he gets a notion…”

“He just reacts. What’s he done now?” Adam laughingly asked.

“One of the men was out ridin’ fence with Joe this mornin’, and they spotted two strangers.”

“Joe thought they might be the ones who ambushed us?” Adam asked. For some reason he knew the strangers weren’t ‘just’ strangers and if anyone were to ask him how he knew, he wouldn’t have been able to give them any fitting answer, just that he knew.

“He recognized Warrior,” answered Hoss. “Adam, if it was Warrior, these are the men who ambushed us…”

“… on our way back from San Francisco. How long ago?”

“Early this mornin’. Thought you’d like to come with us.”

“Can I ask why?” Adam had left the Ponderosa without any kind of a commitment to the family. When he left he didn’t honestly know how he felt, except for the confusion.

“You’re our brother, aren’t you?” Hoss stated the fact plain and simple. “Pa’s over with Roy, says we cain’t exactly get a posse together because they ain’t done nothin’ wrong… in his town… But… if they are who we think they are…”

“Let me get Sport…” Adam answered as he placed his hat upon his head and hurried across the lobby; his heart knew where he should be.

As he followed the man, a tinge of embarrassment appeared on Hoss’ face when he said, “I got him already saddled out front.”

“You knew I’d agree to come?” Adam asked, slightly bewildered. It was going to take some getting used to the fact he had a family and it appeared they knew him better than he knew them.

“Ya already done saved his hide twice before…” Hoss stated.

“So, what’s a third time?” Adam concluded with a hint of amusement which turned serious when he remembered the reason why they were standing together.

The two brothers exited the hotel; leading their horses they hurried towards the Sheriff’s Office and saw their father standing with the sheriff and two of their ranch hands. Both ranch hands were alternately taking turns telling Roy of following the path Joe took and finding him in a whole lot of trouble.

Ben looked at Adam standing next to Hoss; he dared not ask the question he wanted to.

“Let’s go save our baby brother’s scrawny hide,” suggested Adam as a large, serious smile appeared on his face.

“Yes, let’s go save his scrawny hide so Pa can tan it good,” Hoss guffed as he slapped Adam on the back, causing the man to slightly wince at the force of the impact. Though the gunshot wound to his chest was thoroughly healed, he wasn’t prepared for the new wound that festered in his heart, worry for a sibling.

“Are you sure you’re up to this, Adam?” Ben asked.

“Yeah, it’s about time I accepted that I have a family. I lived a good life with my grandfather and now… Once we rescue Little Joe we can talk about what happens next.”

 

Revelation… Chapter 4 – Could it Get Any Worse?

“Joe? Joe?!” Murphy hollered and followed as Joe ran away from where they had been working to repair the broken fence towards the tree line where Cochise was tethered in the shade. “What’s wrong?! We gotta finish fixing this fence!”

“That’s my horse!”

“I know Cochise is your horse,” Murphy called back, concerned about his employer’s youngest son; it was still early in the morning so the heat of the day and the sun couldn’t be affecting him.

“Those two strangers…” Joe pointed towards two riders who Murphy could barely make out against the background of the hills. “Warrior! One’s riding my horse…” Joe swung into the saddle and gave chase.

“JOE!” Murphy yelled as he took a moment to tighten the cinch for his saddle before reaching for the reins. By the time the ranch hand climbed into the saddle Joe and the two men were racing farther away. Murphy turned his horse and followed after them.

*****

Earlier that morning, Virgil Cashel and Henry Collingwood followed the two riders as they left the front yard of the massive ranch house, they’d waited for better than two weeks to see a small rider on a pinto head out alone.

Keeping an eye on the two riders as they rode side by side was easy as they casually made their way towards the south pasture. Once it was obvious where the two were heading, Virgil and Henry urged their horses ahead so they could spring the trap they had planned. Within their saddlebags were leather gloves and wire cutters. All they had to do now was wait and the riders didn’t fail them.

“You sure about this, Virg?”

“I’m sure. We ride close enough for him to see his horse, and he’s ours.”

“What of the other?”

“Forget him; it’s the kid we want.”

“But if he comes after us too…?”

“Then use your gun, but I WANT THAT KID!”

*****

Sixteen-year old Joseph Cartwright urged Cochise forward as he gave chase to the two riders he had spotted in the distance. The fact that two strangers were so far into Ponderosa territory and away from any roads didn’t enter into the young man’s reasoning, all he knew was he recognized his horse and wanted it back.

“Come on, Cooch,” encouraged Joe as he laid as low as he could along his horse’s neck, the saddle horn pressing into his belly.

Joe sat up in the saddle as the terrain changed and he needed to help guide his horse through the field of boulders and clumps of tall grass. The land grew barren by the time the riders disappeared around a bend and Joe felt he could urge his horse on again. As he passed the rise of boulders, Joe looked over his shoulder as a memory of a comment made by Hoss flickered into his mind, ‘Make sure they ain’t waiting behind ya when you round a blind bend.’ Unfortunately, before he could face forward again, the rope stretched across the pass at chest level swept him from Cochise’s back. The air was driven from his lungs as his body slammed into the ground and his vision faded in and out before it returned to normal.

Slowly, Joe rose to his feet and looked around, trying to regain his senses. When he finally succeeded, two riders stood over him with one holding the reins to Cochise and an unholstered weapon.

*****

Having witnessed the two strangers capturing Little Joe, Murphy raced his horse towards the main house of the Ponderosa and was thrilled when he met Crawley and Albert on the road.

“Crawley!” Murphy yelled.

“What’s up?” Crawley called back, bringing his horse to a halt.

“Ya gotta get word… to Mr. Cartwright! Little Joe… spotted two riders… said one of them… was riding… Warrior!” Murphy called back out of breath.

“What? Where is he?”

“He went after them! They got ‘em… Knocked him off his horse.”

“Fool kid… Albert go warn Mr. Ben, tell him Little Joe’s in trouble. We’re gonna go get Roy!”

*****

“HE WHAT?!” Ben yelled after listening to Albert tell them what Murphy had relayed.

Hoss Cartwright had stood right beside his pa and listened to what Albert had to say and dread grew in the pit of his stomach. “Pa, Joe’s in trouble… If those men had Warrior… They’s gotta be the ones who ambushed us when we’s on our way back from San Francisco…”

“Hoss, could they also be the men who ambushed you and Adam…?”

“Pa? If they are who you think they are, Joe’s in real danger. We gotta get Roy and a posse.”

“Get mounted!”

*****

Virgil Cashel sat upon his horse, his revolver casually held within his hand.

“Look what we got here, Henry. Looks like the young pup fell offa his horse.”

“Get off my horse!” Joe seethed.

“Your horse? Why, your horse is right here.” With the gun in his hand, Virg pointed towards Cochise.

“The horse you’re sitting on is my horse, and I bet that’s my saddle too. I want my horse.”

“Gee Henry… We come all this way… after finding this nice horse wandering loose… and this pup don’t even thank us kindly for rescuing it.”

“He wouldn’t have needed rescuing if you hadn’t…” Realization hit Joe like a lightning bolt. If these men had Warrior, then they were probably the ones who had originally ambushed them, and it made very good sense that these men were possibly the ones who had ambushed Hoss and Adam. “Why you lousy, no good…”

Virgil stepped down from his horse, “Joseph… You don’t mind me calling you Joseph, do you? See, you and your brother and that other fella, ya just shouldn’t a done what you did.”

“What did we do? You attacked us!” spat Joe.

“You killed my little brother and now you’re going to pay.” Virgil slipped his revolver into his holster as he turned to pull his lariat from his saddle. Joe bolted from a standstill towards the man in hopes of catching him unaware, forgetting about his partner who still held a gun on him. Warrior reared up, when he saw Joe give him the cue, and frightened the horse Henry was riding. Henry startled and before he could regain control of his horse, his finger squeezed the trigger, discharging the weapon directly at Joe.

“Why’d ya go and do that?!” demanded Virgil upon seeing Joe lying face down in the dirt, blood spreading across the back of his shirt.

“I didn’t mean it… But… You wanted him dead anyway… What’s it matter?” Henry replied as he stepped from his horse and knelt by the prone figure.

“I wanted him to suffer… I wanted to be the one making him suffer!”

“Well, you can still do that… Don’t look like he’s dead.”

After Henry rolled Joe over to his back, both men saw their target’s chest rise and fall.

*****

A small posse with three Cartwrights, two of their ranch hands, and Roy Coffee left Virginia City heading to where Murphy had last seen the youngest Cartwright.

*****

The posse halted short of where Murphy pointed, allowing Hoss to walk over to the scene to examine the area without contamination from all the other horses and riders.

“Looks like a fella came off his horse…” Hoss announced. Bending down he picked up a pearl handled revolver. “I think its Joe’s,” and slipped the revolver into the waist of his pants.

“What else do you see, son?” Ben called over, anxiously sitting upon Buck. It took all his inner resolve not to jump down from his horse and race over to Hoss.

“Three horses over here, one set a boots here… Looks like one of the riders stepped down, and then this fella took off towards him. He fell… Pa, there’s blood here…”

Ben could no longer sit in the saddle; he jumped down and ran to where Hoss knelt.

Grievously Hoss told his father. “This fella landed here, the other man got down from his horse and knelt here,” pointing to the knee and toe impressions in the dirt, “He rolled him over and that’s the blood. I guess from here, they picked him up…”

Slowly, Roy, Adam and the others approached as Ben and Hoss walked farther away from them.

“Hoss, which direction did they head?” Roy asked.

“Southwest. They headed southwest from here,” Hoss answered.

“Was it Joe who was shot?” Adam asked.

“It looks that way. If it were Joe doing the shootin’…” Hoss left his sentence unfinished. He didn’t know exactly what would have happened next, had Joe been the shooter. But he was also torn to realize the ‘fella’ he had so casually made reference to was his baby brother.

The posse set off at a slower pace in order to give their horses time to recover from their exertions to get from town to where Joe was ambushed, but they were following the tracks.

“How can you be so sure?” Adam inquired as he rode next to Hoss who was always looking down at the trail.

“How can I be so sure of what?” Hoss replied.

“That we’re following your brother’s trail. That these tracks aren’t someone else’s…”

“First off… He’s OUR brother. Secondly, two of these horses wear shoes that got notches. Whenever Joe’s horses are re-shod, we specially notch the shoes so we can always tell his horses’ prints from any other horse.” Seeing the expression on Adam’s face, Hoss told him why. “When Joe was eleven, he ran away and was missing for a couple a days… Once we found him, Pa decided that there had to be some way of tracking him, should he run away again or if anything were to happen to him on his way home from school. That’s when Pa came up with the idea of notching the shoes. Especially since Pa was livid, we found Joe having the time of his life camping out in one of the caves…” Hoss abruptly halted Chubs.

“What is it Hoss?” Ben asked as he barely avoided riding Buck into the back of his son’s horse.

“The caves… Dadblasted, the caves Pa!”

Adam had watched Hoss’ demeanor change from one of worry to one of excitement.

“The caves…” Ben answered.

“When Joe ran away…. I was tellin’ Adam about Joe runnin’ away and how we can tell Joe’s horses from anyone else’s horse… The caves!”

Ben was still confused as Hoss urged Chubs into a run; the others were slow to react, but they ultimately urged their horses on in order to follow Hoss.

*****

Boulders interspersed through a large stand of Ponderosa pines that stretched towards the heavens blocked the flat land the posse had been riding across. The posse had no choice but to follow Hoss and dismounted their horses just before he entered the thick stand of trees.

“We walk from here,” Hoss stated as Ben and the others joined him.

“Hoss, what about the caves…?” Ben asked reaching out and taking hold of his son’s arm.

“Who ever took Joe had to take him somewhere… Right?” He paused, giving Ben time to agree with him. “They wouldn’t take him to any of our line shacks, us and the hands are in and out of them all the time… But the caves… Don’tcha see Pa, they probably found the caves and I’m sure that’s where they done took Joe. Don’tcha remember when Joe done run away and we found him in the caves?” The whole time he explained, Hoss walked in the direction of the caves. “See Pa? That’s either Cochise’s or Warrior’s prints, and there’s another.”

“You’re right Hoss,” Ben stated, having made their way through the dense forest as it opened to reveal the prints and just beyond the caves Hoss remembered.

The posse rushed back into the tree line when they heard voices coming from one of the caves.

“Adam, what do you think?” Hoss whispered, pointing towards the men.

“Everything happened so fast… and it’s been over three weeks… I don’t know. They could be the ones…” Adam answered.

“Well, Roy?” Ben asked, “How do you suggest we proceed?”

“First we need to make sure they have Little Joe and they’re not just a couple of hapless travelers,” suggested Roy.

“And just how would hapless travelers have both Cochise and Warrior?” hissed Hoss as he pointed to the horses tethered on the far side of the caves, just inside the tree line that butted up against the exterior of the cave.

“I suggest we steal their horses away and tie them with ours,” Adam stated.

“Good idea,” voiced Roy. “Crawley, you and Murphy, make your way quiet like and take their horses back to ours. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring all the horses to just in side of this stand of trees, be a lot closer. But keep ‘em quiet.”

“Will do,” Murphy answered as he and Crawley made their way through the trees to get the three horses.

“Then what?” Adam asked.

“We wait… We wait until we make sure they positively have Little Joe,” answered Roy.

“And in the mean time? He could be bleeding to death,” Adam fervently replied. “We need to get in there so we can rescue him.”

“You sure must be a Cartwright, just as hardheaded and as stubborn. Look, the sun will be setting soon; there ain’t no moon due out tonight…” explained Roy.

“Yeah, Adam, that’s right. In the dark, we can slip into the cave and rescue Joe,” Hoss happily agreed with the plan.

“What if Joe’s not in there?” worried Ben.

“Pa, then we back track and find where they left him…” Hoss voiced and his shoulders fell as he realized the implication of what he just said; the men may have left his brother because he was already dead. And in his rush to get to the caves, he took a shortcut and his brother’s body was out there abandoned.

“Hoss,” Adam placed his hand upon the large man’s shoulder, “Keep the faith. He’s a Cartwright… He’s a fighter.”

*****

The sun had set and the dark blanket of night settle across the land as Adam and Hoss, followed by Ben and Roy traversed the span of land to the opening of the cave. With guns drawn, Adam and Hoss entered while Ben and Roy waited.

Inside, they crouched along the walls as they followed the natural hewn tunnel and walked farther into the darkness and shortly the back of the cave began to glow.

Adam looked over to where he hoped Hoss would be on the opposite wall and held his index finger in front of his mouth to indicate quiet. He barely made out Hoss nodding in response. Simultaneously, they inched their way forward and were startled to hear the sounds of a fight. It took a moment for the scene to register; the big man held Joe by the front of the shirt and punched him hard against the jaw, forcing his head to snap sideways. Both men rushed forward, holstering their weapons as they entered the mêlée. Another punch to the jaw rattled Joe’s head before the newcomers drew his assailant’s attention. Hoss took on the larger man who had been throwing punches at his little brother while Adam ran after the man who had stood to the side, watching.

Virgil Cashel threw punch for punch with Hoss Cartwright, but his punches weren’t as effective as Hoss’ and soon, the man who almost matched the middle Cartwright brother in size found himself too weak to continue. Barely able to raise his hands to indicate he was giving up; the man stumbled backwards until the wall stopped him and he slid to the ground in defeat.

Adam Cartwright ran after Henry Collingwood as the man made his way to the front of the cave in an effort to escape. Henry pulled his revolver and fired blindly into the dark before facing forward as the opening loomed in front of him. Henry made it out of the tunnel when he felt weight slam into him and then the sensation of falling and abruptly stopping as he hit the ground and the weight immediately landed upon him.

An exhausted Joe Cartwright stood on his feet which were wide apart, his knees bent towards each other, arms hanging from his shoulders, his torso tilted forward, and heavily breathing. From years of watching his older brother in bar room brawls, Joe felt comforted that his brother was there to protect him. Not having any strength to walk away, Joe collapsed and lay on the ground, watching the fight.

*****

With his foe down for the count, Hoss turned his attention to his little brother, “Shortshanks?” as he knelt next to Joe.

“Hoss?” Joe pitifully cried, his arms wrapped around his middle.

“Where ya hurt?” the big man asked as he gently pulled his brother into his arms.

“I want Pa,” Joe answered.

“I know ya do, and I’ll take ya to him,” Hoss replied. “But first I gotta know, where ya shot?”

In barely a whisper Joe said, “Back left shoulder.”

“And I take it the big fella over there usin’ ya as a punchin’ bag hit you in the stomach as well as your pretty face…”

“Ribs too… Pa, I want Pa,” Joe’s voice silenced and he went limp in Hoss’ arms and his brother tenderly lifted him from the ground in order to carry him to their pa.

*****

“Where’s my son?!” hissed Ben Cartwright as he reached for the man’s arm and twisted it behind the man’s back. “Where’s my son?!”

Unable to properly breathe for having the breath knocked out of him when Ben landed on him, Henry barely managed to say, “Inside.”

“Get a torch!” Ben yelled as he twisted the man’s arm harder and only released the pressure when he heard the man cry out in agony.

A few moments later, after cuffing his prisoner, Roy put together a makeshift torch and the two men cautiously entered the cave. Following the tunnel, Ben knelt down when they came to the prone figure of a man lying on the ground; he emitted a desolate gasp when he recognized the clothing. Ben exhaled in relief when he heard Adam groan.

“Adam? …Son?” Ben quietly called out.

“Oh… What happened?

“You tell us…” Roy suggested.

“I tripped and thought I heard a gunshot.”

“We heard it too. Did he hit you? Are you wounded?” Roy asked.

“Only my pride,” Adam mumbled as he sat up.

Ben and Roy stared at the man who began rubbing his temple.

“When I tripped I must have rolled my ankle and fell into the wall. Guess I knocked myself out.”

“What about Joe and Hoss?” inquired Ben.

*****

“We’re here Pa,” Hoss answered carrying his little brother in his arms. “One of them is back there, waiting for you Roy.”

“Joseph?!“ breathed Ben as he stood and rushed to his other sons.

“Ben, I’ll let you take care of your boys, sounds like I have another prisoner to take care of.”

“He’s just sleepin’ Pa. He talked to me for a few moments… They was beatin’ him up back there, he tried Pa… He really tried.”

“But the blood, was he shot?” worried Ben.

“The back of his shoulder. It’s stopped, but the bullet is still in him,” replied Hoss, his brother still in his arms.

The four Cartwrights waited where they were as the tunnel darkened when Roy, with the torch, made his way to the back of the cave. A few minutes later, the tunnel brightened indicating Roy’s return with his prisoner.

In front of the cave, Roy pushed his prisoner over next to the man’s partner; Crawley stood over the man as he sat defeated.

“Ben, do you mind if your hands help me get these two to town?” Roy asked.

“Huh, oh, no, no,” Ben distractedly answered.

Behind them, Roy and the Ponderosa hands were seeing that the prisoners were settled upon their horses, hands tied to the saddle horns.

“Adam? Thanks, for helpin’ me rescue Joe,” Hoss stated.

“Didn’t need rescuing, was doing just fine,” the older Cartwrights heard from their family member they thought was asleep.

“You’re welcome. How is Joe?” Adam asked, ignoring the youngest Cartwright’s declaration.

“Needs the doc,” Hoss answered.

“I’m fine…” Joe answered.

“No you’re not. You’ve been shot and the bullet is still in there,” Ben worriedly stated.

“That and I can feel ya gettin’ warm Shortshanks,” Hoss announced.

“I’ll take him on Buck,” Ben stated as Murphy brought the Cartwright horses into the opening. “Hoss hand him up to me.”

“Here, first wrap him in my jacket,” Adam offered as he felt the chill of the night settling around them.

As fast as they dared travel during the middle of the night, the Cartwrights made their way home with their wounded after Roy announced that once in town he would see that Crawley or Murphy told Paul Martin he was again needed at the Ponderosa.

“Don’t forget to bring Warrior back!” Joe weakly shouted before they separated.

Joe fell into an uneasy sleep and kept calling out for his Pa or Hoss, but what surprised Ben the most was hearing his youngest calling out for Adam.

“We’re all right here, Joseph,” Ben announced as he hugged his son closer and kissed him upon the top of his head. “We’re all right here.”

Once they reached home, Hop Sing quickly opened the front door having waited for hours for the family to return. The lanterns lit the porch and the great room as the two oldest brothers followed their father who carried Joe inside, and to Joe’s bedroom. Once the ever faithful servant had been informed of Joe’s condition, he set about making arrangements for items the revered doctor would need; towels, lanterns, hot water…

*****

Dawn’s first light graced the Ponderosa as Little Joe Cartwright began to rouse from the ether the doctor had used prior to surgery. Adam waited with a basin in hand while Hoss dampened a hand towel. Ben sat on the edge of the bed and encouraged his son to wake. In the background, Hop Sing and Paul Martin waited.

“Gotta stay…” Joe mumbled. “Cain’t go… Don’t let him…”

Adam and Hoss looked to each other, wondering what Joe was worrying about.

“Come on Joe, wake up. You’re not going anywhere for the time being,” Ben announced.

“Pa… Please…” Joe mumbled.

“I’m right here son. Open your eyes… come on son.”

Joe’s eyelids began flickering before they gradually opened.

“What…” was as far as Joe got before his body began to react to the last vestiges of the ether in his system.

Like a well-oiled machine, the basin was there, comforting hands rubbed circles upon his back, and when he could finally lie back down, a cool compress cleaned his face, before another hand placed a glass of water to his mouth with instructions to swish and spit.

Fifteen minutes had passed before Joe reopened his eyes to the relief of his family. He smiled as his father’s face came into focus and he turned his head to the right to see Hoss happily grinning. When he looked past his brother, he saw Adam standing there.

“What happened to you?” Joe asked upon seeing the colorful bruise upon Adam’s temple.

“Tripped and fell…”

“Hurt bad?” Joe inquired.

“Nah, just a bump compared to your injury,” replied Adam.

“That’s a Yankee granite head for you,” teased Joe.

“Joseph,” admonished Ben as he shook his head from side to side.

“Why’re you here?” Joe asked as he looked back to his new brother.

“Rescuing you, it would seem…”

“Why?” Joe persisted.

“I was once told ‘third times a charm’ and thought that maybe if I rescued you one more time, I’d never have to rescue you again.”

“You didn’t rescue me, Hoss did,” Joe announced.

“Okay, okay, I’m happy to see Joe still has his faculties about him,” Paul Martin stated. “I prescribe the next three days ‘in bed’, and by Sunday you should be able to be up and walking about. But NO, and I mean, NO horseback riding or anything remotely resembling horseback riding or breaking until I return in a week’s time to check out your wound. And once your stitches are removed, it will probably be another ten days before I allow you in the saddle. DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?”

“Yeah,” Joe answered.

“He will follow your instructions,” Ben declared. “If not, I’d be happy to take him on a little necessary trip.”

“I’m too old for that,” Joe stated as his eyes began to droop and soon was sound asleep.

Paul placed the tips of his fingers to the pulse location at Joe’s neck and confirmed, “He’s just asleep. It’s what his body needs. I dare say he’ll sleep until supper time.”

“I fix light meal for Lit’le Joe, easy on body.”

“That’s fine, you know what to do my good man,” Paul announced as he packed up the last of his instruments and prepared to leave. “Keep an eye on him, but I think he should be okay.”

“Yeah, but will we?” Hoss snickered.

*****

The Cartwrights saw the doctor to the great room of their home when Hoss was stunned to hear Adam inquire if the physician would mind if he’d mind some company for the ride back to town.

“Adam? Ya leavin’?” Hoss asked.

“Adam, I’ll wait for you in my buggy…” Paul stated.

“Sure Doc.” Turning back to Hoss Adam stated, “Yeah…”

Ben placed a hand on his large son’s shoulder, “We talked last night while you were sleeping. Don’t worry, at least until Adam receives new orders, he’s going to be staying around, explore the territory as he originally planned.”

“You stayin’ in Virginia City?” Hoss asked.

“Nope,” Adam answered.

Hoss’ eyes brightened, “Ya mean you’re gonna be stayin’ here in the bunkhouse? Pa hired ya?”

“No and no,” answered Adam, enjoying teasing his middle brother.

“Then where? You renting a house nearby?” Hoss was at a loss.

“Try upstairs.”

“Hoss, you think I’d have one of my sons living here as a ranch hand?” Ben teased.

Hoss couldn’t help from answering, “It might be good for Little Joe if ya did.”

“I agree with that,” laughed Adam. “I’ll be back in time for supper. I need to send a few wires, make arrangements… freshen up and change…”

“You plannin’ to move in tonight?” Hoss hopefully asked.

“Not yet, I’ll spend my days here, but for the time being, I’d like to keep my room at the hotel.”

“Oh, guess that would be a good idea,” Hoss shoved his hands into the front pockets of his pants, “that way you’s gonna have someplace else to go when Joe starts complainin’.”

Ben smiled as Hoss turned and walked to his older brother and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, as they walked out of the house, Ben heard Hoss begin to tell Adam all about their little brother.

 

Revelation… Chapter 5 – Coming Together

Joe had yet to reawake before Adam returned to the ranch and took a seat on the settee.

“I’ve sent a telegram to Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren informing him of my desire to resign my commission,” Adam stated as he accepted a cup of coffee from Hop Sing. “Thank you.”

“Number One son, no longer number one son,” Hop Sing announced as he looked from Hoss to Adam.

“Shucks, don’t bother me none to be the middle son. Adam here’s Pa’s number one son,” Hoss bragged.

“Hoss, I …” Ben began.

“Pa, it’s true, Adam was your first born, whether he grew up with us or not, that fact cain’t be changed,” Hoss offered with a huge smile that shown upon his whole self.

Ben loved the genial temperament of his, now, middle son.

“Adam, the boys briefly said you were offered your own command?”

“I have been,” Adam pulled the wire he had received when he had first returned to town after recovering from his own wounds; and handed it to Ben.

“You must be mighty pleased to know your superiors think that highly of you,” Ben continued without reading the wire.

“I had a job to do, and I did it to the best of my abilities. It’s my choice whether I accept the U.S.S. Pawnee or not; I only hope Dahlgren accepts my resignation…”

“Why wouldn’t he?” Hoss inquired.

“Good men with leadership qualities are hard to come by son,” Ben announced. “How long have you served?”

“Since I graduated Harvard, six years ago,” Adam answered.

“Abel sent you to Harvard?” Ben was impressed.

“With what he could afford, the rest… I earned while going to school and took out student loans. The good news is that with what I was paid as a naval officer and the proceeds from the sale of Grandfather’s estate, I was able to pay off my school loans in short order.”

“When did Abel pass on? Had he been sick long?” Ben inquired.

“Grandfather passed away four years ago. He died in his sleep, the doctor said his heart just… stopped; I was home on a brief leave while the ship I was serving aboard was dry-docked for two weeks. I know he would have been pleased to know Mr. Pryce was wrong.”

“Bet Joe’s gonna be pleased to know that you’re askin’ to resign…” Hoss stated as he refilled his coffee cup.

“Boys, until Adam knows for sure… I think this should be kept among us. Hoss, you’re able to understand and accept that Adam has a duty beyond the family. And you know how Joe is… and I don’t want to disappoint him any more than necessary if Adam has to return to the sea.”

“But…”

“Hoss, our father is right. At least until Joe is better recovered, right now, his moods are mercurial…”

“Mackerel?” Hoss asked.

“No, mercurial,” Adam enunciated. “It means his temper and emotions bounce all over the place, and quickly at that.”

“Then why didn’t ya just say that?” Hoss wanted to know.

“Sorry, too long in the navy, I guess,” Adam gave as an explanation. “Any way, I think our father doesn’t want to have Joe’s hopes raised that I’ll be able to stay around, only to receive orders for my return to sea.”

*****

It had been a week since Paul Martin visited the Ponderosa; he was more than thankful that Joe Cartwright’s injuries had not precipitated multiple visits to the ranch in order to tend to him. He stopped the buggy in the front yard and exited the conveyance.

Upon entering the great room, he took note the ease with which Hoss and Adam relaxed in front of the fireplace, enjoying a game of checkers. The two men looked up and greeted him.

Hoss stated, “He’s in one of those moods,” as he thumbed up the staircase.

“Thank you,” Paul stated and knew right away how this visit was going to go.

*****

After examining Joe, Paul asked Ben to bring him to town in three days in order for him to remove the stitches in Joe’s shoulder.

“Oh, and Joe, I want you to start getting out of bed for a few hours each day… Okay?”

“Okay,” replied Joe.

*****

During his convalescence, Joe’s injuries forced him to remain in bed, but Hoss regularly visited with him first thing of a morning and spent several hours with him of an evening. Ben had declared that he would not be allowed out of his bed until approved by Doc Martin. Joe didn’t complain, his ribs being bruised so shortly after suffering broken ribs and the discomfort he felt each time he moved his shoulder had prevented him from wanting to get out of bed any sooner.

As Adam had previously stated, he spent the vast majority of his days on the Ponderosa riding out with Hoss, to see the land and to meet the men who worked for their father. He would spend his early evenings with the family, eating supper, before he returned to the International House and began to put his affairs in order.

“I’m proud of you, son,” Abel Stoddard had said as Adam stood before him in his cap and gown. “Who would have thought the first of our family to go to college and graduate second in your class on top of it all?”

“I have you to thank for that, Grandfather,” Adam stated as he held his diploma in his hands.

“I had nothing to do with that, you did it yourself… You studied and you learned and you remembered…”

“But you gave me the home… and the books… and the inspiration…”

“It’s what your parents would have wanted for you. I’m sure they’re both in heaven smiling down on you,” Abel spoke as tears formed in his eyes at the memory of his daughter and her husband.

“They’re smiling down on us, Grandfather… It will always be on us.”

The two men left the campus and decided to walk to the home they shared.

“So what next…?” Abel asked as he strode, his hands clasped behind his back as if here were still at the helm of one of his ships.

“Annapolis… I’ve already submitted my application and it’s been accepted,” Adam smiled.

“So, you’re going to follow your grandfather to the sea…”

“And my father. I can’t think of two better men whose footsteps to follow…” Adam answered.

“Grandfather, I followed my father’s footsteps and I found him. And I found two brothers,” Adam stated as he finished writing in his journal. Before he closed his journal, he held a wire that had been personally dispatched to him in his hand, and slipped it into his journal.

*****

Friday afternoon, Ben delivered his youngest to Doctor Martin’s clinic and told him that he’d be back; he needed to drop off a list of supplies for Hop Sing at the Mercantile before they had lunch at the International House.

*****

Joe occasionally twitched as Paul snipped each stitch and pulled the thread out.

“Looks good Joe, but I still want you wearing that sling for at least another week. Give the muscle time to thoroughly heal.”

“Ah Doc…” complained Joe.

“Do you want it to be two weeks?”

“No,” sulked Joe.

“Good. Look at it this way, at least you won’t be asked to help load or unload the buckboard.”

“Ha, ha,” Joe sourly answered.

Placing his hat upon his head, Joe stepped from the boardwalk, and when he didn’t see either his father or Hoss by the buckboard, he decided to go to the hotel.

*****

As Adam came down the steps from his third floor room at the International House Hotel, he saw Joe Cartwright standing in the lobby, one moment his face was happy, the next his anger was reflected; causing Adam to contemplate the differences among the three half-brothers. He smiled at the calming affect Hoss hand on those around him; whereas Joe’s emotions were tempered by those around him and what he perceived as right or wrong; his ever changing temper was difficult to keep pace with. Adam watched him uncomfortably shift his arm in the sling; his emotions weren’t the only thing irritating his youngest brother.

“You’re checking out?” Joe asked, seeing Adam walk down the staircase with his valise in hand.

“Yes,” Adam replied.

“Well… Hoss and I been talking about you…” Adam waited “and what Pa said. You really are our brother?”

“It would appear so,” Adam casually answered.

“Are you mad at Pa for leaving you?”

“I think that’s between him and me.”

“Are you gonna talk to him?”

“Joe, this is all new… to all of us, and right now… I think it’s best if we just let the dust settle… Give ourselves time to figure out where we stand.”

“We stand together!” Joe declared. “If you’re a Cartwright, then damn it…”

“Joseph!” called out Roy Coffee as he entered the hotel and strode direct to Little Joe and grabbed him by the arm, avoiding the boy’s left arm that was still in a sling. “This is between Ben and Adam. I’m sure your pa warned you against doing what you’re doing.”

“I’m not doing anything! I’m just trying to…”

“Stick your nose where it doesn’t belong,” voiced Roy.

“Doesn’t belong?!” retorted Joe at the audacity of the lawman for saying he had no business in trying to convince his brother to stay. “He’s…”

“Now, lower your voice. You don’t need to cause a scene. People are already talking,” Roy spoke quietly.

“Who cares about those nosey-bodies anyway?!” Joe demanded, insulted at the sheriff’s intrusion.

Adam watched in detached fascination as the lawman tried to simmer the hot-headed youth down.

“I do. I want a nice, quiet, peaceful town.”

“But?!” squealed Joe.

“No buts about it, unless you want yours tanned. You might be sixteen and think yourself too old, and maybe rightly so, but I can always throw you in jail.”

“You wouldn’t!” dared Joe.

“Wouldn’t I?” Roy didn’t bluff.

Joe angrily walked out the front door of the hotel and down to the buckboard, parked in front of the mercantile where he was supposed to be waiting for his father.

Adam offered his thanks to the sheriff and attempted to leave the lobby when Doctor Martin made his presence known, “You know, you mean a lot to Ben?” Paul had heard the gossip that Adam had received an official letter, and since Ben hadn’t said anything to him, he was damn sure going to let this man know the harm that would come to the family if he just up and left.

“Doctor, it was my decision,” Adam replied.

“Do you know that every year, he and I have supper together on one specific day each year? Oh we eat together throughout the year, but we always have supper on this one particular day. We started it the year after Marie died.”

“And that matters to me how?” Adam casually asked, he knew the man meant well, but having someone seemingly pry into his personal life was annoying to the man.

“I believe the day is your birthday — May 18th. He spoke of the infant he left behind and the young boy you’d grown up to be via the letters from your grandfather, and he told me of how he found out you’d died.”

“I didn’t die.”

“He knows that now… But you, as a sailor, have to realize that mail service can be sporadic… Letters get misdirected, ships get wrecked or attacked and cargo lost. Change ships to stage coaches… You get the idea. He received no word to deny your death, so he took it as gospel. Why would a friend of his lie to him?”

“Doctor, as I told Joe, I need time to figure out where I fit in… I’ve had no family since my grandfather passed away four years ago… And now, I find I have a family… A father and two brothers… I didn’t come west looking for them.”

“No, but you came west for some reason…”

“Touché Doctor, I came west to find out what drew my father here, and to his supposed death. I just never imagined I’d find he was alive and had another family.”

“He doesn’t have another family, he has your family. You’ve already acknowledged that you have a father and two brothers.” Patting the man on the shoulder, Doc Martin turned to leave, “Just think on it. Joe’s already proven he wants you as part of his family, and that’s huge for the boy, he’s the toughest critic you’ll ever meet.”

“He seemed pretty angry…”

“That’s Joe, emotions run high and low and everywhere in between. He’s angry now, because he feels you’ve not accepted what you know in your heart to be true. You are a Cartwright, one of Ben Cartwright’s sons… And what happened in the past is the past… Think on your future, son. You’re needed here.” Paul grew frustrated at the cavalier attitude of Ben’s oldest.

“Doc?” Adam called as the man walked away. “You know, both of you could have saved yourselves a lot of talking in trying to convince me…”

“Oh?” Paul was heartbroken, feeling that all his words were for naught.

Adam pointed up the stairs to the two porters carrying his truck down the steps, “You can take it to the Cartwright buckboard. I believe it’s parked in front of the Mercantile,” Adam informed the men as they set it down and breathed heavily.

“You’re staying?” Roy and Paul voiced together.

“I’ve been allowed to resign my commission.”

The two friends watched the young man walk out the door and head towards the Cartwright buckboard.

Leaning back against the bench seat of the buckboard with his arms somewhat folded across his chest, Joe saw Adam approach and was not going to apologize for earlier. He figured Adam was on his way to the stage station and he sulkily asked, “What do you want?” as Adam stopped beside the buckboard.

“Only a chance to let the dust settle… if you’ll give us a chance,” Adam replied as a hint of a smile appeared upon his face.

Perplexed, Joe sat up and looked at this new brother of his.

“Joseph,” Ben called as he stepped from the store. “Would you mind?”

“Mind? Mind what?” Joe pleaded, lost in confusion between the words Adam spoke and what his father was asking of him. A few moments later he felt the buckboard lurch and turned to see two men hefting a trunk to the back of the vehicle.

“We have lunch reservations… or are you going to sit there and sulk all day,” Ben answered. “Good afternoon, Adam.”

“Father, do you need help loading the buckboard?” Adam asked as he handed coins to both porters to thank them for their assistance.

‘Father?’ Joe sarcastically mouthed.

“No, Tom will see that our provisions are loaded while the family is having lunch; that is after your trunk in settled.” Ben watched the varying expressions upon the face of his youngest as the boy tried to work through what was happening.

“Joseph, are you going to just sit there…? Or are you going to join us?” Ben again asked.

“Us?”

“Yes, your brothers and me,” Ben answered, his eyebrows raised.

“You’re staying?” Joe pleadingly asked as he looked to Adam.

“Joseph, out on the street is not the place to discuss this,” Ben announced. “Now come on, get down.”

“If he’s not going to stay, then…”

“I’m staying. Lunch is for me to tell you and Hoss the news, officially, and for the town to see us as a family,” Adam stated.

“Oh…?” Joe grinned and accepted Adam’s hand to help steady him as he stepped down from the buckboard, “You know… what I said when you first left the Ponderosa… about not needing you as a brother?”

“Joseph!” blasted Ben.

“No, let him finish. I’d really like to hear what he has to say.”

Adam stepped back, crossed his arms, and looked long and hard at his youngest brother.

Taking a moment to gather his courage, Joe swallowed hard before he spoke. “Well… It’s like this… I don’t really need another brother.” Joe emphasized the word need. “But it might be kinda nice to have you as a brother, someone else to get me outta the trouble I always seem to find myself in.”

“Dagnabbit, I think I’m gonna like having you as a brother there, older brother! I’ve known him all his life and I ain’t nary once been able to get him to admit that he gets himself into trouble,” exclaimed Hoss as he came from the mercantile with a small bag full of candy in his hand and looked from one brother to the other.

“I didn’t say I get myself into trouble,” claimed Joe.

“I think your words implied, the trouble you find yourself in,” stated Adam, a grin beamed across his face.

“See Hoss, at least old Adam here listens to me.”

“That’s only because he cain’t get a word in edgewise,” Hoss laughingly retorted.

Ben stood back and watched his three sons banter back and forth as they headed to the International House.

“So Ben, you going to join them?” Paul asked as he and Roy joined the proud father on the boardwalk. All three watched the shenanigans of the three Cartwright brothers as they horsed around like they had always been together.

“Guess I should ask the town council to build onto the jail,” teased Roy. “I have a feeling that between those three, I’m going to have plenty of company come Friday or Saturday nights.”

“They’re not that bad, Roy,” Ben stated.

“Not separately, but together…” Roy replied.

“You two care to join us?” Ben asked.

“No, you need to be seen around town as a family, not with us meddling in,” Paul answered.

With the words yelled, “Hey Pa! You coming?!” by their oldest brother, Joe and Hoss broke into laughter and began pushing their older brother around, only to have Adam turn the tables on Joe who found himself hoisted up and almost being dumped in the water trough.

“Adam! Put your brother down… ON THE GROUND!” Ben yelled as his face reddened. “Be careful of his shoulder!”

 

Revelation… Chapter 6 – It Should Have Been Smooth Sailing

Winter was beginning to hint it was coming early to those of Storey County as the sun rose later in the morning and set earlier of an evening. And for the end of October, a crisp chill hung in the air throughout the days. Several months had passed since Adam had joined the family and together, the four Cartwrights, had made a successful cattle drive to Sacramento, California; they had just returned home the previous day.

Ben woke early and it no longer surprised him to find Adam already awake and sitting at the table, as was his habit, a cup of steaming coffee in his hand. It no longer seemed new to see Adam sitting there; it felt like his son had always been at his side.

“I see you’re up early… Thought that after the cattle drive you’d sleep in…” Ben stated as he sat down and accepted a cup of coffee from Hop Sing.

“Years of living in the east, must be my internal chronometer waking me when it’s still dark here.”

“You’ll get used to the time difference. Give it time.”

Hoss was next to join the family for breakfast.

“Smells good. Hey older brother, still plan on stayin’?” teased Hoss.

“I don’t know… If Joe pulls any more pranks on me…”

Joe finally managed to make his way down to breakfast, shirt buttoned askew, belt not fastened, though it did appear that he had attempted to tame his hair. Still yawning, he sat down in his chair at the table and began to serve himself some scrambled eggs.

Adam began to tease him, “I would think that someone of your age…”

“I don’t need you telling me what to do!” a wide awake retorted Joe as he stood up, causing his chair to clatter backwards. “I don’t need you harping on me!”

“JOSEPH!” bellowed Ben.

“ME?! Tell him he’s got no call to be bossing me around!”

“He’s not bossing you around. Adam was making an observation… the same one I’ve been trying to get through to you about being punctual and properly dressed for breakfast. If you had been on time, he would have no reason to say anything.”

Joe mumbled under his breath as he righted his chair and sat back down, infuriated that his father was taking Adam’s side.

“Ow! What’s that for?” Joe exclaimed as Hop Sing smacked him on the back side of his head.

“You make too much noise. You mind manners,” Hope Sing answered.

Joe replied, “Bùshì nǐ tài” (Not you too) and all the gusto left him.

“Xīnzhì lǐyí,” (Mind manners) Hop Sing stated and smiled.

Adam sat back, watching and listening to the words exchanged, he felt slightly disheartened when he saw the fire go out of Joe’s eyes.

“Joe, I didn’t mean to upset you by my comment,” Adam offered as an apology.

“May I be excused? I’m not hungry.” Joe stood up and left the table without waiting for a response from his father. For one of the few times in his life he didn’t slam the front door as he exited.

“Joe?!” Hoss called after him and began to rise from his seat to follow his brother.

“No, let me. I’m the one who’s upset the boy. Let me talk with him.”

“Adam, Hoss, sit down… please.” When both his eldest son’s returned to their seats, Ben began to speak. “Hoss, you’ve known Joe all your life and you know very well how he flies off the handle at the slightest provocation.”

“Pa, he cain’t help it…” Hoss defended.

“He can, and he will.”

“Father… I can’t say that I exactly understand all that the boy is going through… but for so long it was just the two of them and now… I believe he feels threatened by my presence… that I’m stealing you away from him. And as for this weekend…”

“Pa, I still feel it’s mean of you… you know,” Hoss stated as a smile appeared on his face. “But this is the best prank to get back at that little rascal.”

“I know,” Ben agreed.

“Father…”

“And that’s another thing, older brother; if you want to fit in better ya just cain’t go around continuin’ to call Pa, Father.”

Adam arched an eyebrow, and began again, “Pa,” Hoss snickered, “Hoss is right. This party you’re planning for Saturday… You really should tell Joe it’s for his birthday and not a welcome home party for me.”

“No he shouldn’t. If Joe knew he’d be preenin’ around here like one o those… uh… birds with the fancy tails that fan out and look like eyes.”

“You mean peacocks?” Adam offered.

“Yeah, that’s the bird.”

Adam smiled at the comparison, “But I don’t feel right about it. Look at his reaction this morning. All I wanted to do was banter about his impending birthday and he flew off the handle.”

“That’s Joe for ya,” Hoss stated as he pushed another bite of pancakes into his mouth.

Looking to Ben, Adam continued, “I guess I should have corrected your misinterpretation of my comment, it wasn’t about Joe’s lateness to the table, or his state of dress. Maybe if I had stated my words differently, the whole blow up could have been avoided.”

Adam wondered whether he had made the right choice when he was given the chance to resign his commission. He was eager to learn about his family and just the thought of a father and brothers… But now, he’d made numerous mistakes during the cattle drive that Hoss or Joe had to correct and there were just too many times where he’d made a comment to Joe and the boy had taken it wrong.

“I guess we’re all ‘jumping to conclusions’ lately,” Ben stated. “It’s just gonna take us a while to get used to the newness of your being here. Maybe I should tell Joe the truth about Saturday’s party.”

“It might go a long ways to unruffling that peacock’s feathers,” Hoss snickered.

“By the way, did I hear right earlier? Joe understands and speaks Cantonese?” Adam asked.

“Huh?” Hoss looked up from his now empty plate.

“He and Hop Sing had an exchange…”

“Lit’le Joe know language, Hop Sing teach when boy,” admitted Hop Sing as he brought fresh coffee to the table. “We talk when he feel no one listen to him.”

“No one listens to him?” Hoss asked.

“Lit’le Joe not know how to feel… We talk many nights, after family sleep.”

“The boy should know his family cares about him,” Adam offered.

“He no boy, he young man. You do well remember,” warned Hop Sing.

As Hop Sing left to take the dirty dishes to the kitchen, Ben admitted, “You know, I never really paid attention when Joe and Hop Sing would get to whispering… He really knows the language?”

“From what Hop Sing said, it sounds like Shortshanks been keepin’ secrets.”

“I think maybe the b… young man is entitled to his secrets. Even more so, now that there’s another older brother to make him feel even younger…” Adam added.

“That’s it!” Hoss called out in surprise. “He’s upset cause he thinks people will think he’s been put down a notch…”

“Pa,” Adam stated and looked to Hoss to make sure he’d heard him, “I would like to be the one to tell Joe about Saturday. Maybe it will soften the tension… Joe’s been feeling of late.”

“I really wanted to surprise him with this birthday party… How could I have missed it all? How did I miss how difficult your addition to our family has been on him?”

“You have to remember, the whole dynamics of your family has changed, I don’t think that Joe’s the only one who’s been feeling out of sorts. I’ll admit that I don’t know how I would feel or behave had I been raised here and found out later that I had a brother I didn’t know about. Let me go talk to him, maybe I can smooth his feathers without divulging the truth.”

Ben nodded.

*****

Adam entered the barn and called for Joe.

“What do you want Adam?” Joe dejectedly answered.

“I came to apologize. Joe, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get your father upset with you so early in the morning.”

“That’s alright, as you heard, it ain’t nothing new…”

“Joe, how do you really feel about me being here?” Adam bluntly asked.

“Okay… I guess.”

“Back in town that day when we had lunch, you were pretty angry when you thought I wasn’t going to stay.”

“Yeah, because I knew Pa would miss you…”

“And you?”

“I don’t know…”

“But now you feel different,” Adam stated.

“Sorta…”

“Why?”

Joe shrugged his shoulders.

“You think that maybe I’m just another person to tell you what to do?”

“That’s the truth.” Joe spoke, not realizing he’d said it aloud.

“Joe, I am older than you, and I only have good intentions of making sure you finish growing up to be someone our Pa can be proud of…”

“Like you?”

“No, not like me. Like you. Your father is already proud of the man you’re becoming and all you do around the Ponderosa… I just want to make sure the things you do don’t get you into trouble.”

“Hoss has been trying that for years…”

“So I guess he’s not been doing too good of a job,” Adam decided to change tactics.

“Hey, you’ve no right to say that!” declared Joe.

“No? Don’t you remember how we first met?” Adam asked, eyebrows arched.

“Oh…”

“Joe, let’s make a deal. I’ll try to help you keep out of trouble, but you also have to promise to help keep me out of trouble.”

“And just how am I supposed to do that?” Joe asked sarcastically.

“You seem to forget that I’ve spent all my life in a city and that for the past six years, my life has been on a ship in the Navy. You saw for yourself the mistakes I made during the cattle drive…”

“Ya, but Pa was there and never once did he yell at ya or come down hard on ya,” Joe replied. “He spent most all his time with you and only…”

Joe had slipped out the true reasons for his feelings, but Adam let it pass, he knew in three short days Ben would have all the time in the world to spend on his youngest. So Adam continued with his tactic of encouraging Joe to feel better about himself than he did, “Joe, I have NO idea what I’m doing when it comes to roping, branding, treeing… “

“Treeing… that’s what outlaws do to a town,” Joe snorted.

“See… there… You helped me already.”

“I guess, like I said, it wouldn’t be too bad having you has a brother. I’m sorry too, Adam. I shouldn’t have flown off the handle like that.”

“I’ve been told that’s to be expected. Come on, before Pa comes looking for us.”

The brothers cordially walked back into the house together. Ben looked up questioningly, hoping the surprise was still a surprise and relaxed when Adam’s response indicated it was.

*****

The four Cartwrights sat around the breakfast table Saturday morning, Joe acting as if his seat were too hot to sit upon, he kept looking from one family member to the next, barely eating his food. As the minutes passed, he became almost petulant.

“Adam, I’d like for you to take Joe into town to pick up supplies as well as the mail,” Ben stated as he set his coffee cup to the table and began giving out his orders for the day.

“I thought I could have some time to myself today…” Joe whined.

“Joseph, this is a working ranch and everyone needs to do their share, and just because Adam is now living with us and taking on more responsibilities doesn’t mean that you can neglect yours.”

“I’m not neglecting… I just thought…” he slumped in his chair.

“Sit up and eat your breakfast,” Ben asked.

“I’m not hungry. I’ll go get the wagon hitched.” Joe somberly left the table and didn’t look back.

“We really got him goin’,” Hoss snickered when he heard the door close.

*****

Joe felt crestfallen. In the three days since they had returned home from the cattle drive, all his time had been spent with his newest, oldest brother teaching him the ways of life out on the Ponderosa, working side by side with him. At first he thought he could enjoy having another brother, but after three days of Adam questioning why they did, what they did, the way they did it…

Joe’s response that, “This is the way it’s always been done…” was cordially received by Adam, but then he had to go and make suggestions on everything. And his suggestions didn’t end with Joe, of an evening Joe would watch Adam and his father working together at the desk in the alcove off the great room.

Three days of his chores taking longer than they should have… because of Adam. Three days of Adam questioning this or that; not bothering to breathe in the beauty of the land surrounding them. Three days of Joe not being able to go to town and visit with his friends… because of Adam.

As Saturday dawned Joe knew that things would be different, Hoss would take Adam around while he would be able to spend time on his own. But not once during breakfast had anyone mentioned ‘happy birthday’ to him. He felt even worse than he ever had… mumbling, “It’s just not fair.”

Joe was already sitting on the bench seat of the wagon waiting for Adam to step from the house when he heard the door open and Adam talking, “Yes Hop Sing, I’ll remember to tell your number three cousin to not use so much starch and I’ll make sure your order is complete at the mercantile before we head home.”

Adam’s carefree walk made it appear that he sauntered to the wagon before he climbed up the wheel to take a seat next to his brother. “Drive on, my good man,” Adam teased.

“Pa said you were supposed to take me to town with you, not the other way around,” Joe moodily answered as he refused to pick up the reins to the team.

Thinking to himself, ‘touchy, touchy’, Adam reached for the reins and urged the team forward.

After several failed attempts to entice Joe into a conversation, Adam decided to just ignore him and enjoy the scenery as he drove the matched team into Virginia City.

*****

Adam halted the team in front of the Mercantile and hopped down, “I’ll give the list to Tom why don’t you go fetch the mail.”

“I’m not a dog!” spat Joe as he jumped down on the street side of the wagon and without looking stepped farther into the street and was almost run down by a wagon making its way through town, had he not heard Adam shout “JOE!”

“What?!”

“Damn it boy, you almost were run over,” a panicked Adam stated as he jumped over the wagon traces to get to his brother to make sure he was alright.

“I’m all right!” Joe argued, pushing Adam away from him. “Just leave me alone.” Looking both ways before he proceeded, Joe walked across the street and made it safely to the boardwalk.

By the time Adam stepped back to the boardwalk in front of the Mercantile, he heard, “That was too close,” breathed by Doctor Paul Martin.

“Yeah, too close. I almost couldn’t shout out a warning in time.”

“What’s up with Joe?” Paul asked.

“Upset with the prank that Pa and Hoss are playing on him.”

“You think he’d be happy to find out they’ve planned a surprise party for his birthday…”

“He doesn’t know about it. He’s probably more upset because they haven’t acknowledged his birthday this morning.”

“Oh, and you’re the one who got stuck with him…”

“Actually, the way Joe feels, it’s the other way around.”

“Don’t be too hard on him Adam, he’s a good kid, and he’s gonna make a real fine man someday.”

“I know, but…”

“Are you getting settled in better?” Paul asked, changing the subject.

“Yes, between Hoss and I, and our father… Things are going well… I just wish I could understand Joseph better than I do.”

“Just give him time… He’ll come around.”

“Yeah, and then he’ll be mad again, and then he’ll be happy…” Adam teased.

“That he will, son. Well, I best finish my rounds if I expect to make it to Joe’s birthday party tonight.”

*****

“Hey Joe!” Mitch Devlin called as he saw his friend on the street and hurried over to join him. “I bet you’re really excited about the big shindig tonight at your place, I mean your Pa giving a huge party to welcome Adam into the family.”

“Yeah, whoop-de-do!” Joe replied unenthusiastically.

“Ah come on… It can’t be that bad, I mean… with three brothers, you don’t have to do as much stuff around the place as you did before…”

“Oh yeah? I have to teach older brother how to do stuff, and then listen to him complain about how we do stuff and why we don’t do it some other way. Of a night, Pa and Adam sit together at his desk, going over the books and contracts and discussing stuff. They’ll ask Hoss to join them, but do they ask me? NOOOO. I’m Joseph ‘nobody’ Cartwright, the youngest and forgotten son of Benjamin Cartwright.”

“Ah come on Joe, you know that ain’t true?”

“Ain’t it?” Joe answered snidely. “Do you know what today is?”

“Sure, it’s October 31th, Halloween,” answered Mitch.

“Yeah, and what else is today?”

Mitch thought on the question a moment and shrugged his shoulders.

“My best friend… Seems not only am I the forgotten son of Ben Cartwright, I’m also the forgotten friend. See ya later Mitch.” Joe slipped his hands into his front pockets and retreated dejectedly down the boardwalk.

SallyAnne Mays stepped from the notions store and stopped next to Mitch, “Was that Little Joe?”

“Who?” Mitch answered as his brain went blank having recognized the voice and looked upon the beautiful face of the girl who so infatuated him.

“Mitch Devlin!” Margaret Devlin called from two doors down the boardwalk.

“Coming Ma!” he answered, “Gotta go! Nice seeing you, Miss SallyAnne,” Mitch turned and tripped over his feet, but quickly regained his balance.

*****

Joe was fuming, seems while he went to ‘fetch’ the mail all everyone wanted to talk about was the party later that night at the Ponderosa to welcome Adam home. He was even more humiliated when both Roy Coffee and Paul Martin had called out to him that they’d see him later for Adam’s Welcome Home Party.

“If one more person says anything to me about Adam, I’m gonna…”

“Hey Joe,” Fred Avery, a hand at one of the other outlying ranches called as he stepped from the livery, “Can’t wait to officially meet your brother Adam tonight.”

Fred Avery didn’t even see the left hook that knocked him to the ground, out cold.

Joe had finished his first beer and was starting on his second, and was in no better mood than when he’d entered the saloon. He should have known better than to start mouthing off when he heard the voice behind him demanding to know, “What in tarnation has gotten into you Little Joe? And just what do you think you’re doing in the Bucket o’Blood?” But control was beyond him.

“I’m having a beer. What’s it look like I’m doing?” Joe retorted, still facing the bar.

“Little Joe, you know your pa don’t allow you in here unless he or your brother are with you,” Roy casually explained.

Several of the cowboys at one of the tables started laughing.

“Oh, haven’t you heard, it’s unless he or one of my TWO brothers are with me.” Joe drain a third of the mug when he felt a hand upon his shoulder.

“Then why’re you in here?” Roy asked.

“Because I want to be. Now leave me alone.”

“I cain’t do that Joe, you need to come with me,” Roy humbly replied and began to guide Joe away from the bar.

“Hey, Joe! Ya better go with Roy…” one of the cowboys called out, only to have another pick up and yell, “Yeah, better to be hauled out of here by the law than by your old man.” All the cowboys around the table started laughing and hollering.

Joe slammed his glass on the bar, the beer sloshing up and over the sides and onto Joe’s hand. Ignoring the mess he made, a seething red Joe turned to confront the cowboys. Roy’s hand firmly gripped Joe’s right arm and forcefully pulled him in the opposite direction from his intention, and too late the lawman realized he should have grabbed for Joe’s left arm as a left fist impacted with his jaw, knocking the lawman backwards.

Once free, Joe flung himself towards the still laughing cowboys, but before he could reach his destination, he was bodily picked up and restrained. “LET GO OF ME!”

“Not until you cool down!” Adam hissed into his younger brother’s ear.

“Guess we should have added, better than being hauled away by his brother!” hooted a cowboy, the comment set the others to laughing as they resumed their poker game.

Another retorted, “Ain’t never seen Hoss try to do that to the kid.”

“Yeah, usually Hoss’ hand on the back of his neck settles the kid down.”

Joe continued kicking and struggling trying to break free of his brother who carried him out the swinging doors, all the while the cowboys howled with laughter at the scene. After shaking his head and quickly regaining his senses; Roy followed Adam Cartwright who continued to carry his youngest brother down the boardwalk.

Inside the Sheriff’s Office, Adam dropped Joe, still throwing obscenities as if they were epitaphs, decrying the indignity of being treated as he had. Without any conscious thought, Adam slapped Joe across the face, fisted his hand and pointed at the angered youth who stood in front of him, “You watch your language and show proper respect. And just who the hell do you think you are? You assaulted an officer of the law? Roy could throw you in jail!”

“Who the hell do I think I AM? Who the hell do YOU think YOU ARE?! You, the high and mighty Adam Cartwright, prodigal son of Ben Cartwright, risen from the dead and heralded as the coming of the next messiah!”

Never in his life nor during his career in the Navy had any man or child ever spoken to him with such disrespect. It was only his upbringing by Abel Stoddard and his training in the Navy that prevented him from flattening out his hand and backhanding Joe. Instead, he grabbed the boy by the scruff of his shirt and the back of his pants and forcefully pushed him into the adjoining room and into one of the cells, slamming closed the barred door.

Joe continued to sling curses as good as any sailor Adam had ever heard. Adam stood in front of the cell, arms crossed and waited. Roy Coffee stood in the doorway, trying to keep from snickering. Joe only stopped cursing because he was running out of breath.

“Roy, what are the charges against Joseph?” Adam seriously asked, he’d been told Joe was at the saloon, saw what was getting ready to happen, and tried his best to prevent it. But he had been too late.

“Joseph?! You got no right!” barked Little Joe.

“Well, Fred Avery was in here talking about Joe knocking him out cold down by the livery… And then there’s the little matter of punching me…” Roy cupped his jaw with his right hand and wiggled it from side to side. “The circuit judge is scheduled to stop by Monday… Guess it’ll be up to him…”

When Joe heard ‘circuit judge’ he shut up, yet his anger was still present.

“Pa’s not going to be happy about this, especially considering tonight,” Adam stated.

“Who gives a rat’s ass! It’s your party anyway! You got what you wanted! You came out west and guess what?! ‘Hey Pa… I’m home!’ Well, just go on back home, you and Hoss make such great brothers! And Pa… I… I… I’m sick and tired of it all!”

“Of what Joe,” Adam asked when Joe ran out of breath.

“Of you! Adam this, Adam that, Adam the Magnificent! God, I’m sick to death of hearing nothing other than you, you, you! I used to have a life before you came along!” Joe stomped around in the cell, throwing his hands up in the air, expressing his anger; his words loud, his breath ragged. “My family used to love me!” With those words, Joe fell to the bunk; his posture was one of total defeat. “I can’t compete against you, Adam… You win…” Joe struggled to pull in air to breathe.

“What competition do you think we’re in, Joe?” Adam compassionately asked.

Tears freely flowed down Joe’s face as he shook his head from side to side.

“Roy, open up.”

“You sure Adam?”

“I’m sure. I think this prank went too far and maybe I should have demanded it not be played out,” Adam humbly acknowledged as he stepped into the cell. A few short steps and Adam turned to sit next to his youngest brother, wrapping an arm around his shoulder. Joe had no reaction. Adam worried that the boy’s spirit had been broken, as mercurial as his temper was and as much bravado as he carried about, Adam had not seen this side of his brother.

“I’m sorry Joe…”

Joe sniffled and wiped his running nose with his sleeve. With the heels of his palms he tried to wipe away the tears, but they kept falling. Still his breaths came ragged.

“Joe we’re not in a competition. Our father… Hoss, and even Hop Sing, we all love you. With my being here, it just means that we all have to give more love to go around. It doesn’t mean that you get any less loved.”

“Just leave me alone, Adam.” Joe tried to breathe deep, his breaths continued in a disjointed effort. “Just go on home to your party,” Joe quietly stated. “Go back to Pa and Hoss.”

Joe slipped from Adam’s arm and lay down on the bunk. He closed his eyes in an effort to stop his tears, but the more he tried, the worse he felt, he still couldn’t breathe.

Lowering his head in shame for bringing his youngest brother to such an emotional depression, Adam stated, “Joe, tonight… it’s not my party.”

“Pa’s… giving it… on your behalf…, so… it’s your… party.” Joe sniffled and hiccupped, he tried to draw in another ragged breath before he rolled over to turn his back to his brother; pulled his knees up and hugged his arms across his chest.

“Little Joe,” Roy knelt beside the bunk, “Adam was right in what his said a few minutes ago, we shouldn’t oughta a played this prank on you.”

Joe didn’t respond, tears still fell, he still gasped for breath and hiccupped as he continued to try to stop crying.

“Joe, your pa wanted to surprise you for your birthday tonight. It being a welcome home party for Adam was just a cover story… Everyone in town, and your friends, were in on it. After all the pranks you’ve ever pulled, we all thought it was a good way to get back at you.” Roy stated.

When they still received no reaction from Joe, Adam queried, “Joe? Did you hear Roy?”

The only response was Joe’s body shuddering and his pitifully calling, “Momma.”

Adam went to gently shake his brother but was stopped by Roy.

“Adam, leave him be for a while. You were right, and I’m sorry for my part in what happened to Joe.” Pulling the older brother from the cell, Roy left the door open.

“As much as he pranks everyone and his cocky attitude, I’ve never seen this side of him…”

“I haven’t seen this side of him since… well… since Marie died… And Ben went away.”

“He what? You mean Pa left Hoss and Joe?”

“Adam, have seat…” After Adam sat down, Roy continued as he settled his hip upon his desk. “Your father was distraught, he witnessed Marie’s death, he was the one who bought the horse for her… Though he got to spend more time with her than he did your mother and Hoss’, it just about broke the man. It was six weeks before he returned to the ranch… But in the time he was gone… That vivacious and rambunctious rapscallion I got back there in my cell, withdrew from living. Paul and Rose took the boys in, Joe done nothing but cry the whole time… It got so bad that Hoss was pulled from school for a while because Joe was petrified that Hoss had died too, just like his momma and his papa.”

“Does our father know this?” Adam asked.

“Yes, we told him when he came to the Martin’s to retrieve his sons. Hoss was eager to see him and go home, but when Joe saw Ben… He went all hysterical, screaming he didn’t want to die… He was so distraught and he done something with his breathing…”

“Hyperventilated?”

“Yeah, that’s what I think Doc said, anyway, he ended up passing out and was out for several hours. Paul and Rose finally allowed Ben to leave with the boys… Well let’s just say that it took time for Joe to accept Ben back as his pa. Paul said he was protecting himself.”

“Protecting himself? He was only five, if I remember what I’ve been told.”

“Even a five year old can withdraw into themselves, try not to get attached again in an effort to not get hurt. While Ben was gone, the boy returned to suckling on his thumb and hiding behind Hoss when anyone came near him. Totally uncharacteristic for the child. He continued to do the same for several weeks after they returned home.”

“But today?”

“I think our prank pushed Joe past his limits. Damn, we pushed him back to where he felt Ben had abandoned him. The way he was breathing, I think he done it again.”

“Should I get Paul?”

“Might not be a bad idea,” Roy answered.

Adam returned to the Sheriff’s Office with Paul Martin in tow, and after the doctor had an opportunity to examine his patient, he stated, “He’s just sleeping.”

“Thank God,” breathed Adam.

“Would either of you care to tell me what happened? I smell beer upon his breath and spilled on his shirt sleeve.”

“A prank that we didn’t realize had gone too far and one that shouldn’t have been played,” answered Adam.

“The party?” Paul asked.

Adam nodded. “When can I take him home?”

“Soon as he wakes, but I’d prefer it being his own choice to wake.”

“I’ll go collect the mail and see if Tom’s completed our order at the mercantile… I’ll be back shortly.”

The lawman and the physician watched as Adam left the jail.

*****

An hour and a half later, Joe roused from sleep and upon seeing Adam stretched out in the chair on the other side of the cell he rose and tried to make it out the open cell door.

“About time you woke up,” Adam announced as he sat up straight and pushed his hat up from covering his eyes. “You ready to go home?”

Joe said nothing, just continued walking out the door, through the office, and down the boardwalk. Adam picked up Joe’s hat and followed him.

On their way to the Ponderosa, Joe had affected Adam’s stretched out posture on the bench seat of the wagon, replete with his hat pulled over his eyes. He feigned sleep, but Adam sensed differently. Turning the horses off the main road, Adam pulled them to a halt and stepped down. Pushing his hat from his eyes, Joe looked to see where they were, it hadn’t sounded like home especially since he hadn’t heard the front door open and either Ben, Hoss, or Hop Sing call to them.

“Why’d we stop here?” Joe demanded to know once he recognized where they were.

“I thought we could talk…”

“I don’t want to talk…”

“Not even about your mother?”

“Why’d you bring me here?” Joe asked.

“Roy told me a little about what happened, and…”

“She was killed after being thrown from her horse. There’s nothing more to know.”

“I think there is… Joe, that clearing is important to you, so it’s important to me. I don’t mean to be the overbearing older brother, or maybe I’ve spent too many years as second in command at sea and now I’m second in command to your father… I don’t know how to relate to you as a brother. I just want a chance to know you…” Adam rested his arms on the side of the wagon, looking up at Joe as he spoke. “I’ve come to realize that I don’t really know that much about you other than what you’ve taught me here on the Ponderosa and the things that happened when we came here from San Francisco. Joe, I want to understand how one minute you can have so much bravado, be so aggravating, and the next… someone who needs to be needed. Did you know you called for her when you were in the cell?”

“Take me back, Adam.”

“What’s so wrong with us trying to get to know each other? Where do you want me to take you? Home?”

“It’s not my home any more…”

“Not your home? Joe, from what every one’s told me… You’re more a part of the Ponderosa… than anyone else.” Adam’s exasperation was flaring. “How can it not be your home?”

“Home is where love is, there’s no love there… at least not for me.”

“Joe, come down here… Don’t make me make you.” Adam waited for his brother to comply and follow him farther into the clearing. “Sit down and talk with me… Joe, please tell me about your mother.”

Adam knew he would be cutting it close in getting back to the Ponderosa in time to get ready for Joe’s birthday party, but Adam knew that he needed to take the time; this very well could be the tipping point for his relationship with his youngest brother and he needed to tread lightly. He didn’t want to drive his brother away.

Most of what Joe told Adam were stories he repeated having heard from his father or his brother, sometimes he vaguely remembered a moment. Adam inquired about the time Ben went away after Marie’s death. Joe became introspective for some time before he spoke.

“I thought Pa had died too. And then he came back…”

“What happened when he came back?”

“He wasn’t like he was before.”

“How so?” Adam kept his temper, but it was almost like trying to manually pull a ship’s anchor from the sea floor.

“He didn’t laugh any more…”

“And…”

“He was sad… I tried to make him happy… I did as I was told, when I was told…”

“But I’m sure he returned to being the father you remembered…”

“Yeah,” Joe answered as he pulled a blade of grass from the ground, “It was eleven years ago today.”

“Your birthday?”

Joe nodded.

“What happened?”

“I came downstairs real quiet like, so papa wouldn’t shout at me about running in the house…” Joe’s retelling took on the tone of the six year old he had been. “… He looked up at me and smiled. He motioned for me to come to where he was sitting at the table.”

Adam waited as Joe remembered, allowing the boy to tell the tale in his own time.

“He wished me a happy birthday and lifted me up onto his lap. It surprised me, he hadn’t done that since before momma died. And then he asked me what I wanted for my birthday.”

“What did you tell him?”

“At first I was going to ask for my momma back, but Hop Sing and Doctor Martin had finally explained to me what had happened in a way I could understand that… Momma wasn’t coming back and I couldn’t go to her.”

“What did you ask for instead?”

“I told Papa I just wanted him to love me and always be there for me…”

“And he said?”

“He said he’d always loved me and… he apologized for not being there for me after Momma died. He said it would never happen again.”

Adam inhaled deeply at the repercussions of a six-year old’s birthday request and how it had manifested to bring Joe, and him, to where they were now.

“Joe, Pa does love you… And so do Hoss and I.”

“No one wished me a happy birthday this morning and…” Joe’s breath hitched, “I still had to work. We don’t ever have to work on our birthdays. Pa always gives us the day off.”

“Joe, did you hear what Roy and I said back in the cell…”

Joe looked inquisitively up to his brother who at some time had managed to sidle up next to him and wrap an arm around his shoulder.

“About tonight’s party,” Adam stated.

“I’ll come. I know Pa would want all of us to be there and be happy for you.”

“Joe, Joe, Joe. Yes, Pa is giving a party tonight, but it’s not for me. We needed some way to get you out of the hose so it could be decorated and… I wanted to give you a birthday party. And Pa decided it should be a surprise party, guised as a welcome home party for me.”

“But…”

“Joe, I wish we’d had this talk before… I would have told Pa that under these circumstances it wasn’t a good idea to plan a birthday party for you while telling you it was a welcome home party for me.”

“But why?”

“Joe, after all you went through this summer, the injuries you sustained… For me… you’re my first brother to have a birthday since I arrived at the Ponderosa, and you’ve taught me so much. I wanted to show you how much you’ve come to mean to me. For Pa… he was thankful that you even lived to see this birthday. He loves you so much…”

“He’s not going to… when you tell him what happened in town and that I have to face the circuit judge on Monday…”

“No one’s pressing charges against you. Roy realizes, the same as me, what happened, and he was going to speak with Fred Avery…”

“Still, I caused a scene at the Bucket o’Blood and drank two beers…”

“Only a beer and a half, buddy.”

“But, I punched Sheriff Coffee…”

“You slipped on the beer you spilled and lost your balance, you couldn’t help that your fist hit him while you were trying to regain your footing.”

“You got it all figured out, haven’t you?”

“Parts, the rest will hopefully come to me fast enough to pull this over on Pa.”

“You know he’s gonna say it wouldn’t have happened had I not been in the saloon to begin with… And he’s sure to ask Cosmo if you were with me. I’m only allowed inside if Pa or you or Hoss are with me.”

“Uh, I don’t think I have an answer for that one.”

As they continued to drive home, Joe’s guilt weighed heavily upon him.

“If It would make you feel better, I can charge you, listen to the testimony, evaluate the evidence, and pronounce verdict and sentence,” Adam stated as he urged the horses forward.

“I’m guilty as charged,” Joe announced. “No need to go through the motions of a trial.”

“Okay, then what do you say to spending all your free time during the month of November in town at the Jail.”

“How are you going to explain my spending the nights in jail to Pa?”

“You won’t be under arrest Joe… I suggested to Roy that he might consider accepting your help as a way to ease your conscience.”

“You suggested…”

“I’m kinda getting to know you… and the way you were raised. While you were sleeping, Roy and I talked.”

“Oh, I guess it could be worse…”

“I’m sure he’ll place you on probation by Thanksgiving… for good behavior.”

“Thanks Adam.”

 

Revelation… Chapter 7 – The Truth and a New Beginning

Guests had already begun arriving by the time Adam and Joe maneuvered the wagon to the side door of the kitchen and began to unload their supplies; thankfully, nothing was needed for the night’s party.

Ben heard Hop Sing’s reprimands coming from the kitchen and begged to leave his guests.

Entering the kitchen, Ben saw Adam coming through the door, “It’s about time! Do you realize we expected you home hours ago!”

“Not now Pa! We’ll get everything unloaded and then we’ll slip up the back staircase and quickly get cleaned up and dressed,” announced Adam as he set the box on the counter.

Ben looked up as Joe carried in the next box of supplies and Ben recognized that something had happened to his youngest. “Joseph?”

“Pa, please,” Adam insisted as he guided his father out of the kitchen. “Please return to our guests and beg our forgiveness.”

“What happened?” Ben countered.

“We’ll talk later, right now, your asking questions is delaying our appearance.”

Adam and Joe continued to carry in the supplies and when the last box was set on the counter, Adam placed his hand upon his brother’s shoulder and said, “Let’s go get ready for ‘my’ party. Okay?”

“Yeah,” Joe answered with a half grin.

*****

Adam and Joe appeared from their bedrooms at the same time, wearing matching black pants, white shirts with black string ties.

“Would you like for me to help straighten your tie?” Adam asked.

“Would you?”

A few moments later the brothers stood at the top of the staircase, with Adam resting his hand upon Joe’s shoulder and gave him an encouraging squeeze.

“And here he is,” Ben proudly announced. “The guest of honor… Friends may I present you to my youngest, Joseph Cartwright as he celebrates his seventeenth birthday!”

A large smile spread across Joe’s face upon his father’s introduction, and Adam was pleased to see it spread to his eyes. As expected, he hemmed and hawed, trying to keep up the charade that he thought the party was to welcome Adam to the family and formally introduce the brother to all their friends.

Hoss met his bookend brothers at the bottom of the stair case, grinning like the cat that swallowed the canary, pleased with how they had managed to pull off the surprise party. Joe let out a cackle in appreciation of his family.

“Hey, this cain’t be Shortshanks,” Hoss boldly announced as Joe stood next to him.

“Get outa here,” Joe replied as shoved his largest brother aside.

“I’m serious. Adam, you did bring the right brother home, didn’t ya?” Hoss again would not let the subject drop.

“Considering I only took one brother to town, and he’s the same brother I brought home…” Adam scrunched his brow.

“Yeah, I mean it looks like Joe, and it laughs like Joe…”

“So I must be Joe,” declared Joe as Hoss started circling him.

“Hoss, leave off!” Joe announced as Hoss began touching him.

Hoss placed his hand upon Joe’s head and then moved it to his chest. Not happy with the results, Hoss manhandled Joe to stand in front of him. Not believing what he was seeing, Hoss picked up his little brother and examined his boots.

“Hoss, put your brother down,” Ben stated as the shenanigans continued. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Pa, you remember this summer?”

“And how could I forget?”

“Well, Shortshanks only came up yay high on me,” Hoss held he hands a good deal lower than the top of Joe’s head upon his own chest, “but look at him now. I done swear he’s grown two inches.”

“Hoss!” exclaimed Joe as the girls around the room began giggling.

“Okay, you’ve had your fun. Boys, why not mingle with our guests.”

Adam and Hoss left, but Joe hung back.

“Pa, about this morning, and the other morning… I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better, to be the son you want me to be.”

“Joseph, I only want you to be you. No one else. Now, go spend some time with your friends, they’ve all complained about how mean I was to keep you here working so we could properly organize your party. Go on…”

“Thanks Pa.”

*****

The party had well been underway by the time that Hop Sing opened the front door to admit Sheriff Roy Coffee. Ben broke away from Paul Martin to greet his long time friend.

“Roy? What happened to your jaw?” Ben asked in surprise upon seeing the bruise forming on the right side of the lawman’s jaw.

Joe cringed when he saw the latest guest to arrive.

“Easy there, Joe,” Adam whispered, having made his way to his brother when he saw who stepped into the great room.

“Oh, got into a little bit o’ trouble at the Bucket o’Blood. I got it all worked out, nothing broken.”

“You or the saloon?” Ben teased.

“Both.”

“You mean, there was a fight and there was no damage?” Ben laughed, “Wonders never cease to amaze me.”

“Once the fella got his equi… equi…

“Equilibrium?” Adam offered as he approached the men who stood just inside the door.

“Yeah, that’s it, and he got some much needed sleep, he was fine and I released him to his family.”

Looking to Adam, Ben raised an eyebrow.

“We just happened to be in the vicinity when all the commotion started.”

“In fact, Adam here helped me get the man to the cell so he could sleep it off.”

“Thank you Adam, I’m sure Roy appreciated your assistance. But what of Joe? I don’t like him being exposed to that element.”

“Oh, he had a few choice words to say about the matter, but we talked it over and he understood what happened.”

“Well, I do thank you for helping explain things to Joe. I only let him enter the Bucket when either Hoss or I can be with him… try to steer him away quickly if things look like they’re going to get out of hand.”

“It upset him, but he’ll be fine.”

Adam excused himself when one of the ladies from town came up to chat with him.

*****

Before the end of the evening, Ben and Hoss had presented Joe with a custom tooled, black saddle for Cochise, with a matching bridle and reins.

“Seeing as you was outgrowing the stirrups of your saddle,” teased Hoss.

“But, I… you already bought me a saddle when I lost Warrior.”

“That saddle didn’t fit you much better than your original. And I think Cochise will be mighty happy with the quality of this saddle too,” bragged Hoss.

Adam presented Joe with the newest Winchester repeating rifle and a black leather scabbard to match his new saddle, after receiving permission from their father that the rifle would be acceptable.

*****

The guests had long left, and Joe had headed up to bed leaving the older members of his family downstairs enjoying a bottle of Ben’s finest brandy.

“So, Adam, would you like to tell me the truth behind the partial truth you told when Roy arrived?” Ben asked as he settled back into his leather chair.

Hoss looked up, curiously.

“I’m not sure what you’re implying?” Adam answered.

“Adam, I’ve lived for seventeen years with Joseph Francis Cartwright as my youngest son, and I can tell a partial truth the moment I hear it. You’re supposed to rub off on him, set the example. He’s not supposed to rub off on you.”

If a big man like Eric “Hoss” Gunnar Cartwright could be said to giggle, he did.

“You were late getting home this afternoon and you said we’d talk about it later… It’s later, so talk.”

“Okay, but I won’t break all of Joe’s confidences… I feel I made huge progress in getting to understand why Joe is the way he is.”

“That’s easy older brother,” announced Hoss. “He’s Joe.”

“No, I’m being serious. You’ll remember in the beginning that I didn’t want this to be a surprise party, especially after you said it would be the perfect cover by telling everyone it was a welcome home party for me.”

“I know… But we done it…” Hoss was pleased. “He shore were surprised standin’ up there on the landin’.”

“Not as surprised as you think.”

Ben and Hoss looked to each other.

“We did get into a little trouble this afternoon, and…” Adam breathed deep, held it, and exhaled. “We almost lost him today.”

“What do you mean?” Ben tersely asked.

“He’s bottled up a lot of his feelings towards me and how you’ve welcomed me into the family.”

“But…”

“I think we smoothed over our differences this afternoon, and maybe it was good that things happened the way they did. Father…” Adam looked at Hoss after hearing him clear his throat. “Pa, let’s just say it’s not been easy on him, being the youngest. I’m the newest member of the family and you readily invite me into the discussion concerning the ranch and the various contracts. Joe may be the youngest, but he does have an astute business sense that you’ve not given him a chance to reveal to you.”

“He’s just a…” Ben started to say.

“He’s no longer a boy, no longer a child… He is a young man on his way to becoming a man grown. And we, and I mean WE, can’t continue to treat him as a child one moment and expect him to act like a grownup the next. I can see how confusing the whole situation is for him. And my arrival didn’t help matters.”

“I will not have you talk of leaving! Is that clear?!” Ben shouted.

“I have no intention of leaving… It’s just that, we’re all so much older than Joe that we’ve forgotten what it was like to be his age, his feelings, his insecurities,” Adam concluded. “It hurt him extremely this morning when no one wished him a happy birthday and he still had to ‘work’.”

All three looked up when they heard “Pa?” from the top of the staircase and saw Joe, for the most part, still dressed; though he had removed his string tie and unbuttoned his shirt part way.

“I was the one who punched Sheriff Coffee.”

“What?!”

“Shortshanks?! You slugged Roy?” Hoss asked, his eyes widened.

“Yes, I did. I was mad and upset and… I lost control.”

“YOU LOST CONTROL?! You just lost a lot more than control!” Ben’s face flushed in anger while Hoss shrank away from the verbal explosion. During his outburst he’d sat forward in his chair and firmly gripped the armrests.

“NO!” yelled Adam gaining Ben’s attention. “Joe’s already agreed that when not required to be here, he will ride into town and he will work part time, without pay, for the month of November helping Roy do whatever it is that Roy wants done around the jail. He’s been charged, had a fair trial, accepted his conviction from a jury of his peers, and accepted his sentence. It’s over and it’s done with.”

“I’m his father! How dare you?!” Ben demanded as he swiftly rose to his feet.

“And I’m his brother…” replied Adam as he continued to sit in the blue chair to the side of the fireplace.

“Pa,” pleaded Joe. “Don’t be angry with Adam. I should have talked with you about how I was feeling. I’m sorry. If I had talked, none of this would have happened.”

With one son sitting in shocking disbelief, another son sitting with an authoritative smugness, and his last son standing in front of him looking as if he was getting ready to proceed to the gallows, Ben lost all his bluster and sat down.

*****

Adam was at the breakfast table when Ben entered the dining room.

“You have one amazing son, in your youngest,” Adam stated. “After all he put himself through, after all he perceived and believed… He still has the compassion to love us.”

“Thank you… He is a blessing. About last night, I’m sorry for losing my temper.”

“Apology accepted. You do know that we had planned to keep most all of what he told you last night a secret.”

“I realize that.”

“Pa, if you don’t mind, I’d like to skip church services and spend some more time with Joe. Yesterday was quite traumatic and emotional for him, and well… I still feel there’s so much more about him that I could learn and maybe today can be a little easier on him.”

“I have a better idea. Hop Sing!” Ben called out.

“Yes Mr. Cartwright,” Hop Sing answered upon entering the dining room.

“Would you please make a picnic basket for us today? The family is going on a picnic.” Hop Sing bowed as he turned to leave. “Oh and Hop Sing, you’re invited too.”

Lifting his coffee cup to his lips, Adam raised an eyebrow in askance.

“I think this family, the whole family, will enjoy a day of talking… We all need to get our feelings out into the open, be comfortable in asking any questions that need to be asked. And I promise, I won’t lose my temper when I hear the answers.”

“You heard him, Hoss. We got a witness too,” Joe stated as he and Hoss entered the room at the tail end of the conversation. Joe giggled upon taking his seat.

“Is there something you’d like to reveal now? Joseph?”

“Uh… No Pa.”

“So, what are we going to talk about?” Hoss asked.

“I think I could start by telling you of my growing up years in Boston, going to Harvard, and my tenure in the Navy.”

“I’d like to hear about those exotic islands and the native women,” Joe laughed as he scooped scrambled eggs onto his plate.

“Joseph,” chastised Ben.

“Don’t worry Pa, those exotic islands he’s been reading about are in the Pacific Ocean and I spent all my career, except for my last voyage in the Atlantic.”

“Joseph, sit up straight,” Ben encouraged. “And I guess you’d like to hear more about your mother and my journey west.”

“I would Pa. I really would,” answered Adam as he sat back in his chair and wondered about all the forthcoming revelations…

 

~The End

June, 2013

 

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