One Candle (by Cheaux)

Summary:   A tragic event in Virginia City sends shock waves across the globe and spurs Adam to return home to find the truth.  A What Happened Instead for the episode, “Five Candles” written by Ken Trevey.  It is not necessary to have seen the episode to follow or understand this story.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count: 16,000


 

Part 1

London – 31 December 1869

Adam Cartwright settled into his wingback leather armchair beside a roaring fire secure in the knowledge that all was right in his world.  Though he did not care for tobacco, he wore a black cashmere smoking jacket that suited him fine.  A Christmas gift from his father, it was the perfect attire in which to spend the start of the New Year in pursuit of his favorite pastime—reading.  Moreover, thanks to his brothers, the library shelves in his new house now held an assortment of books as colorful as they were diverse.

Since he was a young boy Hoss tended to judge a book by its cover—the more vibrant and ornate the binding, the better the content to his way of thinking—a practice which often led to Adam being gifted with such interesting titles as The Art of Manliness, The Ornithology of Australia or Peter Parley’s Geography for Beginners.  Joe on the other hand had developed an eclectic taste in literature over the years.  For a kid whose singular passion was dime novels, his adult choice of authors was now vast and impressive—from Tolstoy to Alcott, Jules Verne to Alexandre Dumas, Hawthorne to Balzac.

The kid.  In actuality, it had been a long time since Joe was a child; in his mind’s eye, however, Joe would be forever young.  Thus, it was with a start that he realized he was now older than his father had been when Joe was born.  How the years had flown since he left the Ponderosa to see the world!  Like his father, he had traveled, experienced untold adventures, and counted friends on nearly every continent.  But now he was home and home was best.

*****

The crate from Nevada arrived a few days before Christmas.  Adam had allowed his valet to place the wrapped Christmas gifts under the tree in the parlor, and disperse the personal and household items to the appropriate nooks and cubbies, but forbade the unpacking of books until this evening.  It was Harrison’s first time in service to an American.  Although dubious, he accepted his employer’s explanation that the task was a savored ritual for he was nothing if not respectful of tradition—no matter how uncommon.

Adam indeed took great pleasure in removing the wrappings that cushioned each volume, categorizing and placing each book almost reverently on the appropriate shelf.   When all was finished, he ran his hand along the spines stopping here and there to linger on a particular title recollecting the times he had read the story to his younger brothers, their eyes wide with wonder over the adventures of King Arthur, Ulysses, or the Arabian Knights.  For weeks later Hoss and the Little Joe would re-enact scenes, jumping over furniture, building forts or castles with hay bales, and generally driving their father to distraction with their antics.  Pa would scold them and wag a finger at Adam, but wrapped the reprimand in a warm smile and delivered it with kindness.

“What’s this?” Adam inquired when Harrison placed a neatly folded stack of paper at the corner of his desk.

“Newspaper, sir, used to wrap the books.  Even old news is often welcome when one is far from home, especially at the holidays.  I thought you might enjoy reading these at your leisure before I put them in the rubbish bin.”

“Thank you, that’s very thoughtful.  Will you be going out in this evening, Harrison?” he added as an afterthought.

“Going out, sir?”

“To celebrate.  New Year’s Eve?”

“Oh, no, sir!” The man seemed genuinely affronted that Adam would think he would desert his post.

“No need to stay, Harrison.  I’m looking forward to a quiet evening.”

“Yes, sir. Very good, sir.  I’ll see that nothing disturbs you.”

That was not what Adam meant, but he gave up.  Speaking the same language did not guarantee comprehension.

*****

After supper, Adam returned to the library to savor the quietness of his house, the scent of burning yew logs, and the orderly display of cherished pictures and small mementos from his travels.  He looked again at the pleasing sight of walls filled with his books—both old and new—flanking the heavily draped window that shut out the cold and damp fog pervasive in London at this time of year.

In his hands, he held an autographed first edition of Bleak House, the perfect book in which to immerse himself on such a night.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city.  Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds. 

 

The soft thud of the front door closing brought Adam back to the present and he waited for an explanation.  When none was immediately forthcoming, he made inquiry.

“Who was it, Harrison?”

“A messenger, sir, from Berry Bros.”  A few minutes passed before the manservant entered the room silently and placed a polished rosewood box on the antique Georgian desk. “I’ve taken the liberty of removing the wrappings.”

Adam raised an eyebrow.

“The fog, sir,” Harrison replied to the unspoken question, “made the package rather sodden.”

“Yes, of course.  The fog.  Thank you.”

“Will there be anything else, sir?”

“No, I think not.  Good night.”

“Good night, sir.”

As the paneled pocket doors of the library closed, Adam resumed reading, or rather, his eyes returned to the page but no leafs were turned.  He remained that way for some time until the lure of the mysterious wooden box superseded the predictability of his nightly routine.

Berry Bros. was the finest purveyor of wine and spirits in London.  Who had sent the box was an intriguing question given his relatively recent arrival in the city.  With a sigh, he bookmarked his place and crossed to the desk.  The bottle inside the box was encased in a dark burgundy velvet bag embossed with the Berry Bros. coat of arms.  He set it aside to look for a card but there was none.   Perhaps the sender’s name and address were on the wrappings Harrison discarded.  He would have to ask him in the morning.

Adam returned the bottle to the box and in doing so noticed again the carefully pressed newspapers on the corner of the desk.   No longer interested in reading Bleak House, he decided Harrison had the right idea.  It would be amusing to catch up with local events and the Territorial Enterprise was certainly a source of entertainment, if not news, especially the often witty and irreverent articles by Dan DeQuille.

Mostly the pages contained advertisements, business, and social news.  The Mercantile was a having a sale.  Osborne’s was moving to South C Street.  The Consumer Price Index continued to drop reaching its lowest levels since 1850.  Unfortunately, that also meant that stocks were down.  Mrs. Walter Grayson was delivered of triplets (her husband fainted).  McHenry’s livery burned down, causing a panic among the owners of neighboring establishments along E Street who feared sparks from the fire would ignite their property.  Luckily, Engine Company No. 4 was across the street and they quickly extinguished the conflagration.  Arson was suspected, but no arrests had been made.  As he turned the page, the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.

Rising quickly, Adam swept aside the heavy brocade curtains to check the window latches were secure.  No draft accounted for the sudden chill.  After adding a log to the fire, he returned to his desk.  The shrouded windows, the blazing fire did nothing to warm him or quell the bile that was rising from his stomach to his throat as he re-read the banner headline that had shook him to the core.

BEN CARTWRIGHT BURIED ALIVE!

 

It’s only words on paper . . . innocent and powerless!  Adam told himself.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Okay, now.  Read.  It’s only words on paper . . .  

 

An Exclusive Interview with Ben Cartwright
as told to Dan DeQuille

Virginia City, Nevada – The Territorial Enterprise continues its series Buried Alive! featuring exclusive interviews with survivors of the Storey County Courthouse collapse on October 19.  In Part II, Ben Cartwright, owner of the Ponderosa Ranch, shares his perspective of events.

 

Survivor!   Only now could Adam truly breathe deeply.  He poured a brandy and swallowed it in one gulp, then poured another and focused on the pages before him.

 

DD:  You were in the basement record vault for over 16 hours.  Did you have any idea about the extraordinary efforts going on to rescue you?

BC:   Not at first.  We yelled but no one heard us.  Then we started banging on the stovepipe and eventually someone answered.

DD:   How long did it take for air to reach you?

BC:   I’m not sure.  Someone above asked if we were willing to risk having a pipe pounded through the debris to carry the air hose.  Soon after, we started breathing easier.

DD:   Did you know it was your son Joe who was on that pipe?  Or that Hoss was working the compressor?

BC:   No.  Communications were sketchy and my Morse Code skills are pretty rusty. Toby—the man on trial—kept us informed as long as he could.

DD:  Could you explain?

BC:  The tremors continued and debris was falling all around us.  We had to take cover from time to time because we were certain the whole building was going to collapse. When communications were cut off, the airflow also stopped.

DD:  When was that?

BC:  Right after Pike had confessed his complicity in the murder of Wilderson and told us Arch Tremayne was responsible.

DD:  Did you have any idea it was Tremayne on the receiving end of those communications?

BC:  No.  No we didn’t.

DD:  Were you aware when the compressor stopped working?

BC:  Of course.  The air became thick again and we lost hope—all of us except Toby.  I guess that’s what working underground for ten years does to a man.

DD:  Did you know Bristol Toby before that day?

BC:  No.  Initially, I thought he was just another hot-tempered miner headed for the gallows.  It was when I learned he’d been a sailor that my feelings began to change.

DD:  You must have been relieved to learn he was not a murderer.

BC:  I was.  Desperate situations often bring out the best—and the worst—in people.  Under pressure, Jonathan Pike showed his true stripes.

DD:  How do you mean?

BC:  Pike was a poor excuse for a man.  Peacock–that’s what Toby kept calling him.  Pike lied to save himself . . . a lie that would have put Toby on the short end of a rope.  I’m not so sure I could have been as forgiving as Toby was in the end.

DD:  You mentioned adversity brings out the best in people.  That was certainly true of Banty Williams, wasn’t it?

BC:  Yes.  I didn’t know the man, but my son Hoss did and he believed in him when no one else did.  And Joseph believed in Hoss, so together . . . believing worked a miracle.

DD:  Banty insisted there was another way into the basement via a coal chute, is that correct?

BC:  Yes.

DD:  And your son Joe was the first one to reach you?

BC:  Yes.  After hours of waiting, we had all but given up hope.  When Joe burst through the wall and into my arms, I was stunned though I suppose I should not have been surprised.  My youngest son is like a dog with a bone when it comes to overcoming impossible odds.  He never gives up.

DD:  What happened then?

BC:  Callie was first up and she sent down a rope for the injured deputy.  Pike and Toby were next.  As soon as Joe and I got the deputy out I was right behind.  I didn’t think I would make it, but strong arms pulled me from the incline and helped me find my footing.

DD:  What happened then, Mr. Cartwright?

BC:  The ground shook. I turned to reach for Joe but all that came out of the chute was a cloud of dust and dirt.  Moments later the upper floors caved in one by one and the building imploded.

DD:  What do you remember most about that moment?

BC:  I don’t remember how I got out of that alley.  Hoss most likely carried me, or Candy, or both of them.  The next thing I knew I was sitting on the boardwalk across the street and Doc Hill was fussing over my ankle.  I do remember the sun was warm on my face and a breeze that blew the dust away in soft little puffs leaving nothing but silence hanging over the street like a pall.  I gradually became aware of people talking . . . saying the odds were zero that anyone could have survived the collapse.

DD:  Where was Joe?

BC:  He . . . he was . . . buried . . . .

DD:  Mr. Cartwright?

BC:  I’m sorry.  Did I mention Joe has made a career out of overcoming impossible odds?  I have to hold on to that thought.  I have to.

 

It’s only words on paper . . . it’s only words on paper.  Adam kept telling himself this over and over until he could think things through logically.

The article was Part II.  He had to find Part I, or more importantly, Part III to find out what had happened to his brother.  With bravado he did not feel, Adam picked up the rest of the stack and began sorting the pages in date order to disambiguate the story.   Damnation!  Why couldn’t they have used a complete paper when packing the books?   He tossed aside any page dating back more than six months.  Skimming the remaining articles, Adam was able to put together a rough sequence of events though there were gaps—a murder, a trial, perjury, exoneration and in the middle of all that, the courthouse collapsed.  It was a quote from Doc Hill that again caused his heart to skip a beat.

“I didn’t think it was a good idea for Joe to find his Pa’s body in the rubble.  It never occurred to me that it would be Ben who would find Joe.”

 

It would be Ben who would find Joe . . . find Joe . . . find Joe.  

The words leapt off the page and into Adam’s throat.  He stood abruptly and bolted out the front door into the dense fog that threatened to suffocate him.

Blocks later Adam came to his senses.  Joe had to be alive or Pa would have cabled.  The papers were months old.  He would have told me.  Feeling foolish, Adam turned and retraced his steps home, but if it hadn’t been for the lantern Harrison was swinging in street when he approached, he would have missed the house entirely.

“Sir?  Are you all right?  I heard noises and found the door wide open.”

“Yes.  I’m fine, Harrison.  Just some disturbing news; I needed air.”

“Would you care for some tea then, sir?”  Harrison asked as he closed and locked the front door.  “To ward off the chill?”

“No, thank you.  I’m fine.  You can return to your quarters.  I’m sorry I disturbed you.”

“May I suggest a brandy, sir?  You really don’t look well, if I may say so.”

“No, I . . . yes . . . all right tea then . . . tea would fine.”

“Excellent, sir.  I shall be but a minute.”

Like Hop Sing who always seemed to have hot coffee ready at a moment’s notice, Harrison returned almost immediately with a pot of tea, a plate of scones with jam, and a crock of clotted cream.  Adam found he was actually hungry and devoured the scones at once.  Feeling calmer, he poured a second cup of tea and turned his attention once again to the newspapers.

His father had mentioned a Banty Williams.  Adam searched up and down each column of every page until he found a first-person account by Bertrand Williams.

I ain’t always been a drunk. Time was when folks looked up to me.  Not actual like, a course, being short as I am, but respecting me.  I helped build this here courthouse.  Always did think it was a mistake raising it over a mine, but who was I to say so?  Hell, half—probably more ’n half—of Virginia City is built over shafts.  Them tunnels is honeycombed all over the Comstock.

Yep.  I was too small and lightweight to work in the mines, but I was built just fine fer masonry and roofing work. Had me a right steady job constructing a lot a building’s after the fire of ’65. You can find my brickwork in more than a dozen structures around town.  I marked them special you see and placed them down low, not to hide them, but so as I could show my little boys and sissy their Pa’s work.  Theys was right proud, too.  My Erma as well.  That was afore the sickness done took them.  All of them.   After that . . . well, there weren’t much reason to build things anymore.  Guess that’s when I started drinking.

But seeing how those Cartwright boys cared about their pa reminded me how much family can mean to a man.  So I got sober and stayed that way ‘cause Hoss needed me, especially after I told him there was a coal chute leading into the basement.  Sure, I know it sounds like the ramblings of a fool . . . who ever heard of coal in Virginia City? . . . but it ain’t.  And Hoss

 

The paper was torn but the story continued on the reverse side although it was obvious several paragraphs were missing.

Sober, I was ashamed of the part I played in trying to hang Toby.  Turned out he were innocent after all.  I felt right bad about that.  It were thinking about Pike and Tremayne now in jail that got me to thinking about that cell in the basement.  It’s made a iron and iron don’t fall apart.  Twist mebbe or bend, but not come apart.

Hoss always treated me decent.  Always had a kind word to say, a cuppa coffee or a meal to offer when I needed it.  It ain’t right his little brother being trapped down there.

 

Once again the last words of the article cut to the quick.  Joe was trapped; at least he was 10 weeks ago.  Where is he now?

 *****

On Sunday morning Harrison produced the box wrappings as requested but the only return address to be found belonged to Berry Bros., 3 St. James’s Street, London.

The next 24 hours were spent, both figuratively and literally, in a fog.  A nether sky of fog.  Wandering through the streets of London, Adam marveled anew at the brilliance of Dickens’ prose.

*****

“May I be of assistance?” the Berry Bros. clerk asked Monday morning when he unlocked the door.

“Yes.  My name is Adam Cartwright.  I live at No. 7 Charlton House Terrace.  A package was delivered to my home on Friday evening.  I need to know who sent it.”

“Was there something wrong with the package, sir?”

“No.  Nothing wrong.  I need to know who sent it.”

“We would of course replace any defective merchan—”

“—Look, there was no damage.  I just need to know who ordered the delivery.”

“The card would have had that information, sir, if the giver had desired to—”

“—There was no card.”

“Are you quite sure, sir?  We always include a card.”

“Where is your manager?”

“I am quite capable of—”

With one swift move, Adam grabbed the hapless clerk by the lapels lifting him off the floor and pulling him to within an inch of his face.   In a deep staccato voice, he growled, “Either get me the information or get me your manager.  I don’t much care which, but you will. Assist me.  Now!”

“Yes-s-sir,” the clerk croaked.  “Right away, s-sir!”

Adam made it to the corner before he stopped and braced himself against a lamp post.  With a trembling hand he turned over the embossed card to look at the name of the sender.   Cartwright.   That’s all?? No first name?  No initial?

“Mr. Cartwright?”

When he looked up, a distinguished looking gentleman in a morning coat extended his gloved hand.

“I’m Adam Cartwright.”

“Henry Berry, sir,” the gentleman said as he shook Adam’s hand.  “I am one of the owners of Berry Bros.  I am dreadfully sorry for the breach in protocol.   Since 1698 we have offered an unsurpassed level of customer service.  I assure you, the employee responsible will be terminated immediately.”

“That is not necessary or required Mr. Berry.  It is I who must apologize for my behavior.  I was upset, but I have the information I came for.  There is no need for disciplinary action.”

“You do not understand, Mr. Cartwright.  The reason there was no gift card included with your delivery was because we were instructed to replace it with a letter.”

“A letter?”

“Yes, sir.  A letter inadvertently—but inexcusably—omitted from the package delivered on Friday.   The mistake was only just discovered this morning by our shipping manager, but not soon enough to inform our store clerks in the event of enquiry.”

The sealed envelope proferred by Mr. Berry was addressed in his father’s unmistakable script.  Adam resisted the urge to rip it open until he arrived at home, but the gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach began to swell with each step he took.  He found his pace quickening until he was running the last few blocks to Charlton Terrace.

 

25 November 69

My Dearest Adam,

By the time you receive this letter, Christmas will have passed and a new decade begun. 1870! It hardly seems possible, however, I have only to look at Hoss’s balding pate and Joe’s greying hair to remind me that time is passing much too quickly.

Dinner today was a quiet affair with just your brothers, Hop Sing and Candy at the table, but we are together and that is all that matters.  Your presence, son, was sorely missed as it is at every meal, but especially on this Thanksgiving Day.  Nevertheless, we are grateful for so many blessings, chief among them the miracle of Banty Williams.

I trust you received the Christmas presents we shipped along with your household goods. This last minute gift was Joe’s idea, though I confess I am at a loss as to why he insisted it must be delivered with all due haste.

You are now shaking your head, no doubt mentally berating your old father for indulging his youngest yet again.  I think, however, that when you understand the circumstances, you will forgive my extravagance in granting his request.

Last month, explosions in the shafts of the Golconda Mine undermined the structure of the courthouse causing it to collapse.  I was in the records vault with others when the tremblers started. Before we could escape, all exits were blocked. Long story short, Banty Williams was responsible for saving us.

I twisted an ankle and Joe broke a few ribs but is mending.  Hop Sing has been fussing over “his” Little Joe, cooking all his favorite meals which, as you well remember, do not necessarily coincide with Hoss’s favorites.  That Hoss has not complained tells you how guilty he still feels for leaving all the excavation work to Joe and Candy, even though Joe has repeatedly told Hoss—rightly so—he did the most important work of all . . . believing in Banty when no one else would listen.  Suffice it to say Hoss did listen and we are here today—all of us—because of them both.

Hoss and Joe send their regards and hope you are pleased with the books they selected this year.

With deepest affection and best wishes for the New Year,

Your Loving Father,

Ben Cartwright

P.S.  Joseph says to tell you his New Year’s wish is in the bag.

 

Leave it to his father to sugarcoat events by reducing days of torment to a few words.  Bemused, yet perplexed, Adam sat back in the chair, steepled fingertips pressing against his lips.  Although it was very like his father to acquiesce to Joe’s whims when the kid was younger, it was incongruous that he do so now.  His brother was solvent—finally—and had the business acumen to accomplish whatever he wished without aid.  Why didn’t Joe make arrangements for the shipment himself?  What else is Pa sugarcoating?

Adam re-read the letter several times and each time his eyes focused on one sentence.

“His New Year’s wish is in the bag.”

He put down the letter and lifted the bag from the box.  Carefully he undid the cord and pulled the bottle from the velvet wrapper to read the label.

 

VORS Amontillado 30 year old

 

*****

Part 2

From the ridge, the house looked the same.  As usual, a candle burned in the study window to light the way for wayfaring strangers . . . or wayward sons.  The main chimney was smoking and the smell of pine was pervasive.  Although the yard was white with snow, there were freshly shoveled paths from house to barn, bunkhouse and corral.

A blast of icy wind reminded Adam it was getting late.  He slapped the reins on the carriage horse’s back and clicked his teeth to move the animal forward.  By the time he entered the yard, it was near dark. Evidently, the bells on the horses tack were audible because the front door opened as soon as he pulled up.  A man about thirty years of age with a lopsided grin and an easy manner emerged from the house.

“Howdy.  You looking for directions or someone in particular?”

Under his beard, the corner of Adam’s mouth twitched in amusement.  Wary but polite; this cowboy gives away nothing.  Adam climbed out of the carriage, pulled a glove off and extended a hand. “Are you by any chance Candy?”

“That’s what they call me.”

“I’m Adam.  Adam Cartwright.”

“Well, I’ll be hornswoggled!  You do exist!” Candy returned the handshake.  “I was beginning to think you were a figment of your family’s imagination . . . straighter than a Ponderosa Pine, wiser than an owl, ornerier than a mule on locoweed.”

“Let me guess,” Adam laughed.  “Pa says I’m morally straight, Hoss thinks I’m wise, and Joe thinks I’m crazy—or ornery—I’m not sure which is the greater insult.”

“Something like that.  Brrr,” Candy said, changing the subject.  “It’s cold out here.  Go on in and make yourself comfortable.  I’ll settle your horse and rig.”

Adam liked the way Candy handled himself with a supposed stranger and would be sure to mention it to his father.  Inside, he removed his hat and coat and hung them in the usual spot.  The other pegs were empty and there were no side arms on the credenza so he figured everyone must be out, a fact he was glad of for it gave him time to take in his surroundings without being smothered.

In his mind, a few items were out of place but he figured only he would notice, frozen in time as his memory was.  The same blanket hung over the bannister and he idly wondered who currently had custody of the dreadful Indian portrait that everyone abhorred but his father refused to give away.  Sadly, Marie’s Oriental rug was gone; he would have to ask about that.   When he reached the desk, he immediately picked up the silver frames that held pictures of his mother, Inger, and Marie.  The daguerreotypes were a little faded but comforting nonetheless.

He skimmed the bookshelf to see what held his father’s interest of late and then noticed a new gun with a distinctively checkered walnut stock mounted on the wall behind the desk.  It was a derringer target pistol with an Indian headdress engraved on the trigger guard bow.  Adam carefully removed it and felt the weight in his hand before siting the firearm, humming in appreciation at the workmanship.  After returning the gun to its mount, he took a seat in the worn leather desk chair and—through habit—opened the desk drawer that held the ranch’s books.  The current year’s ledger was in a hand he did not recognize and his brow wrinkled in puzzlement.  The last few pages of the 1869 ledger were in the same script, but earlier months were mostly in Joe’s undisciplined scrawl.  Only occasional entries were in his father’s hand.

When heavy footfalls on the porch alerted him to Hoss’s arrival, he closed the books and rose from the desk just as the big man entered the house in a rush.

“Adam!  Hot diggity!  It really is you!   I couldn’t believe it when Candy told me you were here.  Why didn’t you let us know you were comin’?”

“I didn’t know myself.  It’s good to see you Hoss.  You haven’t changed a bit . . . Except there’s more of you!” Adam swatted Hoss’s stomach with the back of his hand.

“And there’s less of you,” Hoss said, rubbing Adam’s balding head.  “Or was it you needed to move that fuzz you call hair to your face to hide that smirk?”

“Why, you . . .” The brothers fell into a warm and heartfelt embrace that ended with the familiar clap on the back just as Candy walked in with Adam’s bags.

“Just leave them there, Candy, I’ll take them up to my room later assuming I still have one, that is.”

“You know you do, Adam.  ‘Course, we done shipped nearly everything to you so there’s not much in it, but it’s still yours.  Always will be.”

“Thanks, Hoss.  That means a lot.   So, where are Pa and Joe?”

Candy answered, “They’re not here.”

“I can see that,” Adam said, gesturing toward the hat rack. “When will they be back?  I’m starving and I don’t smell any dinner cooking.  Don’t tell me Hop Sing has another sick cousin he’s tending to?”

Hoss looked at Candy and then toed the rug.

“Hoss?”

“Pa and Joe are in California.”

“California?  For how long?”

Hoss shrugged.  “Dunno exactly.”

Adam looked from Hoss to Candy—who met his gaze head on he noted—and back to Hoss who was still staring at the floor, hands buried deep in his pockets.  “Hoss, what’s going on?”

“Looks like you boys got some talkin’ to do,” Candy said as he turned toward the kitchen.  “I’ll cook. Nothing fancy, but it’ll do.”

Hoss grabbed his arm as he walked past.  “Not so fast.  You’re part of this.”

“Then let’s all go in the kitchen so I can get the grub started.  Adam’s come a long way and he’s hungry.  Am I right?”

“Right you are,” Adam replied.  “I’ll bring the whiskey.”  Something tells me we’re going to need it.

By unspoken agreement, the three made small talk during meal preparation and consumption.  As they discussed overall ranch operations, herd movements, the price of cattle, the sale of horses, and timber negotiations with the railroad, a weight lifted from Adam’s shoulders that he had not realized he was carrying.  Impressed with Candy’s knowledge, he said so.

“Can’t take the credit, Adam.  I carry out orders, don’t make ‘em.”

“Well, I’m sure Pa takes what you have to say under advisement.”

“He listens to Hoss and Joe, not me.”

“Aw, come on, Candy, you know that’s not true,” said Hoss.  “Anyway, it’s mostly Joe Pa consults with when it comes to business stuff.  I take care of the stock.”

“Not an inconsequential role, Hoss, considering the Ponderosa’s assets rest primarily with stock,” Adam said.

“Nope.  And I guess it’s time I did just that.”  Hoss got up from the table to retrieve his hat and sheepskin coat.

“I’ll help,” Adam called after him.

“And I’ll let ya,” Hoss replied as he disappeared into the great room.  Returning to the kitchen he added, “Candy, you dish up that pie Miz Hawkins sent out and we’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.  Comin’, Adam?”

“Right behind you, Hoss.  Just let me get my coat.”  After Hoss shut the door, Adam added, “How long has he been like this, Candy?”

“Like what?”

Adam pointed to the barely touched steak on Hoss’s plate.  “He hardly spoke during dinner and it’s not because he was stuffing his face.”

“You’ve got a lot to catch up on.”  Candy shrugged.  “I’ll put the coffee on.”

*****

Out in the barn the brothers fell into a comfortable rhythm as the years slipped away.  Here nothing had changed, Adam noted.  The feed was where it was supposed to be, the tack hung on the same hooks, curry combs, brushes, and hoof picks in the same buckets.   Sport appeared glad to see him or maybe he was just happy to have the extra carrots Adam had thought to grab from the vegetable bin.  Although fond of the animal, Adam did not have the intensely personal relationship with the chestnut gelding that Joe had with his paint Cochise.

The fact that Cochise was in his stall and not with Joe was not a good sign.

*****

“Does the collapse of the courthouse have anything to do with why Pa and Joe are in California?” Adam asked point blank when they were back in the kitchen and eating pie.

“How’d you know about that?” Hoss asked, surprised.

“The crate was packed with newspaper.  I saw the interview with Pa . . . and a couple other articles . . . enough to figure out Joe was in the basement when the courthouse collapsed.”

“Dagnabit.  Never meant for you to find out that way, Adam.  Pa was gonna write you.”

“He did but his letter was, shall we say, vague.  What happened Hoss?  The truth and all of it.  Let’s start with why Pa was in the basement.”

“That’s where the records vault was.   He was looking through old deeds to find out who owns Yankee Meadows.”

“Yankee Meadows?  That worthless strip of land?”

“Not so worthless anymore now that construction has started on Sutro’s Tunnel,” Candy said.

Adam raised an eyebrow, but decided to table any questions he might have had until later as Hoss continued.  “I didn’t know he was down there.  When Banty come runnin’ in the saloon shoutin’ about a cave-in at the courthouse, I went right over and helped a few folks out.  They was stragglers after the trial recessed for lunch.”

“That was the Wilderson trial, right?”

“Yeah.  We thought we had accounted for everyone ‘til Roy told me his deputy took a prisoner down to the holding cell and asked me to go check.  The stairs to the basement were blocked and the floor was sinkin’.”

Candy picked up the story from there.  “Joe and I walked into the saloon just as Arch Tremayne—he was the man in charge—said your pa was in the basement.   Joe was angry . . . demanded to know why something wasn’t being done.  Some men volunteered to help and we started clearing debris away from the stairwell as fast as we could until Tremayne stopped us.”

“Why?” asked Adam.

“Said there was too much debris in the center of the room and that we needed to clear that first real slow and careful like before the whole floor caved in and killed everyone down below.  Well, that put the fear of God in all of us.  We started tiptoeing and formed a chain to remove the wreckage to the street.”

“Where were you, Hoss?”

“Out in the street stacking the wreckage.  Tremayne was afraid the support beams was gone and said I was too big and heavy to work inside the building.  I tell ya, Adam, I felt helpless and it ain’t a feelin’ I’m used to.”

Hoss got up from the table to fetch the coffee pot.  Without asking, Adam added a healthy slug of whiskey to each mug.

“Much as I hate to say it, Hoss, he was right.  The first priority would be to lighten the load.”

“I know that, Adam.  I just wish you’d been in charge, that’s all.  You woulda been able to calm Joe down.  Get him to act more cautious like without rilin’ him.”

“Me?  Not rile Joe?  When has that ever been true, Hoss?”

“At least you wouldn’t have said stuff like ‘You’re gonna kill your pa.’”

Incredulous, Adam looked to Candy for confirmation.

Candy nodded, then added, “After it was outta his mouth, he was a little more . . . diplomatic, I guess you’d say.  Explained why he wanted stuff done a certain way.”

Hoss snorted, “Yeah.  He was real diplomatic when he told me I killed everyone down there.”

“He did what?”  Adam didn’t know who this Tremayne was, but he was going to enjoy diplomatically ripping him apart when he saw him.

“That was later, Hoss.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

“Sorry,” Hoss said.  “You go on Candy.”

“From what I’ve been told, Joe was kinda willful as a kid.”

“Kind of!” Adam exclaimed.

“Nothing much has changed, Adam.  He may not yell or carry on as much as he did when he was a youngster, but he gives a cold stare that lets ya know he’s gonna do what he durn well pleases come hell or high water.  So even though he backed off for a time, I knew nothing or no one would prevent him from getting to Pa.”

“Hoss is right.  What Tremayne said got through to Joe and he settled down, moved real cautious and we were making progress until he unearthed an arm.  I don’t think he drew a breath until I uncovered enough of the poor devil to identify him.”

“Who was it?” Adam asked.

“Joe Morrissey.  Did you know him?”

“No; the name’s not familiar.”

“You could hear a pin drop as Morrissey was carried out.  All of a sudden, Joe went crazy and started ripping debris away from the wall like a maniac.  We had no idea what was driving him but it turned out in the silence, he had heard someone banging on a stovepipe vented through the wall.”

“The kid always did have ears like an elephant,” Adam chuckled.  “Sorry, Candy.  Go on.”

“Tremayne started sending Morse Code.  We found out there were five people down there, one of whom was injured but we didn’t know who.  They also said there was smoke.”

“Smoke.” Adam repeated.  “The timbers in the shaft must have caught fire from the blasting.”

“Yeah, that’s what we figured and we needed to get air down to them right away.”

“That’s where I could finally help,” Hoss continued.  “While I rounded up a compressor and chopped wood to stoke the fire.  Joe pounded a pipe into the floor to deliver the air line.”

“Unfortunately,” Candy interrupted, “the pounding caused a brick wall to fall right on top of Joe and me.  Of course your little brother said he was fine.”

“Of course,” Adam said. “And I haven’t known you long, Candy, but I have a feeling you said the same thing.”

“Yep,” Hoss said, reaching for the whiskey bottle and pouring another shot into each mug, while Adam added more coffee.  “They’re two peas in a pod all right.”

Ignoring Hoss’s comment, Candy continued, “I finally got the Doc to look at him.  Joe broke one rib and cracked a couple of others and that’s where his willfulness comes in.  The Doc wanted him to stay put but Joe said forget it.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Adam groaned.

Hoss laughed, “Because you know our little brother.  I told you nothing would prevent him from getting to Pa.”

“What happened next?”

“The air was flowing pretty good by then and when Banty come by to tell me about a coal chute into the basement,” Hoss said, “and we went huntin’ for it.  While we were lookin’, that dadburn compressor overheated and blew up and no amount of axle grease would get those pistons workin’ agin.  That’s when Tremayne lit in ta me somethin’ fierce for abandoning my post.  ‘Those folks down there are going to run out of air and they’ll be dead before we can get to them, thanks to you.’  That’s what he said.  Made me feel no bigger than a gnat on an elephant, I can tell you that.”

Adam reached out and put his hand on Hoss’s arm.  “It wasn’t your fault, Hoss.”

“Damn straight it wasn’t!” Candy shouted.  “It was Tremayne!  And he tried to set fire to the courthouse!”

“Whatever for?”

“Turns out he was the one that done murdered Wilderson not Toby and he tried to kill everyone down there so no one would find out.”

“So Roy stopped him?” Adam asked, but when he saw Candy and Hoss exchange looks, he had a feeling . . . “Joe?”

Candy nodded.  “Found Tremayne pouring kerosene on the debris and fought him—”

“—with broken ribs?” Adam asked.

Hoss nodded.  “Then he joined me and Banty in the alley just as we found the coal chute.  He grabbed a shovel and started digging—”

“—with broken ribs.”  Adam shook his head slowly from side to side.

“And then he dove head first into the chute without knowing whether there was a brick wall at the other end.”  Candy paused for effect. “There wasn’t.”

Hoss continued.  “Everyone scrambled out.  Pa said he and Joe carried the deputy to the chute and lifted him into it.”

“—with broken ribs.”

“Dadgummit, Adam!” Hoss jumped up, knocking over his chair, and towered over Adam.  “Stop sayin’ that.  I didn’t know his ribs was broke!  Do you think I woulda let him do that if I coulda stopped him?”

Adam stood and reached out to his brother.  “Hoss, that’s not what I meant.”  But Hoss slapped his hand away.

“Well it sure enough sounded like you meant it.”  Hoss poked two fingers into Adam’s chest.  “You ain’t been here and I done the best I could—”

“—I never said you didn’t—”

“You weren’t here; you didn’t see him.  Candy told you, he was crazy with fear.”

“I know Hoss.  I remember how he got that time when we thought Pa was dead.”

“Well, you weren’t here this time!”

“You keep saying that.  I came didn’t I?”

“Yeah, this time!  Where were you when Joe’s finance was murdered?  Or when Candy and Pa were held hostage in an abandoned mine?

“—are you saying that what happens here when I’m 5,000 miles away is somehow my fault?” Adam drew himself up to his full height and stood toe to toe with Hoss.

“Stop it!” Candy shouted, rising.  He righted Hoss’s chair and commanded, “Sit down!  Both of you.”

When the Cartwright brothers sullenly complied, he remained standing.  “This contest has to end.”

“What contest?” asked Adam, never taking his eyes off Hoss who was glaring back.

“This competition to see who feels guiltiest.   Because no matter who wins . . . you.  Or You.” he pointed at each brother in turn. “Or your Pa . . . no matter how you slice it, Joe is the loser.”

That got the brothers’ attention; their posture changed, eyes widened, jaws unclenched, and both looked a little sheepish.

Adam was first to apologize.  “Sorry, Hoss.”

“Yeah, me, too.  Stuff happens all the time around here.  Suppose it would whether you were here or not.”

Candy said, “Look, Adam, I don’t know you from . . . well, from Adam . . . but I do know Joe and Hoss and I know that if you cut one, the other bleeds.  Those two couldn’t be more different, yet more alike, than if they were twins.  And now that I’ve met you, I’d say triplets is more like it.”

The three men were silent for a moment, each reflecting on the events told.

“So . . . ,” Adam said finally.  “Joe—exhausted, with broken ribs, no food, no water, no air—is in the basement alone, with no discernible way out . . . for how long?”

“Three days,” Candy said.

“Three days.”

“Three days give or take,” Hoss amended.

The silence around the table was oppressive.  Eventually, Adam asked, “How did he get out?”

“Banty,” Hoss said.  “When everyone else gave up, Banty felt there was still a chance he was alive if Joe had taken cover when the floors collapsed.”

“I went past the courthouse on the way out here.  It’s nothing but a pile of rubble.  Where would he have found shelter?  Wait . . . don’t tell me . . .The holding cell.  It’s made of iron.”

“How do you know that, Adam?”

“It was in the Territorial Enterprise.  Banty said, ‘it might twist or bend, but it wouldn’t break.’”

“Your Pa was beside himself with grief.  Sheriff Coffee, miners, engineers, Paul Martin, the Mayor . . . everyone told him it was hopeless,” Candy said.

Adam nodded solemnly, “But Pa wouldn’t believe it.”

Hoss shook his head.  “That’s just it, Adam.  He did believe it.  He believed it and he gave up hope.  I didn’t know what to do.  Didn’t seem likely even a fly coulda survived in that heap a bricks, but Banty believed there was a chance and he was right about the coal chute, so . . . so Candy and me . . . .”  Hoss stood abruptly grabbing the empty coffee pot, but when he reached the pump handle, he let the pot clatter into the sink and stood bent over his hands gripping the edge.

Adam quickly rose and put a reassuring hand on his big brother’s back.

“Dadgumit.  Never have a kerchief when I need it.”

“Here,” Adam said, handing over his own.  While Hoss blew his nose and composed himself, Adam refilled the pot and added coffee from the canister above the stove.  He figured the details could wait until another time so, looking straight at Candy, he mouthed, “Bottom line?”

Candy nodded his understanding.  “With help, Banty tunneled through the rubble and attached chains to the bars.  It took two freight wagons to pull it out.  Joe was inside.  Barely breathin’ but alive.”

“And Banty?”

“Didn’t make it.  Despite the shoring we put in place, when the cage was pulled free, it all collapsed.  There wasn’t anything anyone could do,” Candy said, and for Hoss’s benefit, added, “Banty knew it was a one-way trip going in.  It was his choice.”

“Pa said in his letter he was grateful for ‘the miracle that was Banty Williams.’  Now I understand.”  Adam put the coffee pot to rest on the sideboard.   “Hoss, it wasn’t your fault; not any of it and you have no call to feel guilty.  If you hadn’t listened to Banty, if you hadn’t bucked Roy, we’d be standing in a cemetery now instead of the kitchen.  Pa and Joe are all right because of you.”

“That’s just it, Adam.  He ain’t all right.  He may never be all right again.  And if he ain’t . . . it’ll kill Pa.”

Hoss walked stoop shouldered from the kitchen.

*****

Candy carried Adam’s bags upstairs and deposited them in the correct room, which was somewhat of a surprise to Adam who was following close behind.  But what really baffled him was when Candy entered the bedroom down the hall instead of heading to the bunkhouse.

As soon as Hoss’s snores echoed through the rafters, Adam ventured into the hallway.   Sure enough, there was light under Candy’s door and he knocked softly.  “You still up?”

“It’s open,” Candy said.  He was stretched out on the bed reading but sat up when Adam entered.  “Pull up a chair.”

A quick glance over the furnishings told Adam the room was Candy’s personal quarters, not the guest room it had been before.  He drew the desk chair toward the bed, sat down backwards with his arms folded across the head rail, and appraised the man before him.

“I assumed Pa and Joe were in California on business.   Why are they really there?”

“Joe damaged his lungs inhaling all of that dust and debris.”

“He knows to breathe shallow in situations like that.”

“Maybe he did while he was buried, but not while we were working.  He was breathin’ crap for a lotta hours . . . before his ribs were cracked and after, both above ground and under according to your Pa.  Doc Martin was afraid of bronchitis or pneumonia if he stayed on the ranch through the winter.”

“Where in California?”

“Monterey.”

“They weren’t on the Ponderosa for Christmas.”

“No.”

“Hoss?”

“Here.  Alone.   I got stuck in Carson when a storm hit.  Didn’t get back to the ranch until the middle of January when the roads cleared.”

“What about Hop Sing?”

“He went with your Pa and Joe.”

“So Hoss was alone for the holidays,” Adam said.

Candy nodded.  “You got here quick enough.  How long did it take?”

“The miracle of modern transportation.  London has steamships leaving every day, ten to twelve days to New York; a week across the continent by railroad; and a new spur direct to Virginia City from Reno.”

“Hard to imagine!”

Adam unfolded himself from the chair and put it back where it belonged.

“Has ranch life changed, Candy,” he yawned, “or does morning still come as early as I remember?”

“Now that you’re citified . . . earlier!”

Adam yawned again.  On his way out he paused in the doorway with his hand against the jamb.  “So . . . who said what?”

“Said?”

“Straight, wise, ornery.  Who said what?”

“Joe,” Candy grinned.

Adam turned around.  “Joe said I was morally straight, wise as an owl and ornery as a mule?”

Candy’s grin widened. “His exact words were ‘rigid, a smart ass, and muleheaded’ . . . I threw in the locoweed for good measure.”

Shaking his head, Adam shut the door and mumbled, “Two peas in a pod . . . indeed!”

 

*****

 

Part 3

When the telegram from Hoss arrived, Ben Cartwright couldn’t believe what he read.  Adam!  Adam was coming to Monterey!   He couldn’t wait to tell Joe who strangely didn’t seem terribly surprised.  Well, never mind!   Hop Sing was as excited as he and said there would be just enough time to prepare some of Adam’s favorite dishes before he journeyed to San Francisco for Chinese New Year.

Ben was up shortly before the sun rose even though the stage was not due until noon.  He was too nervous to sleep or eat and, after a gallon of coffee, too jumpy to remain at the house without driving Hop Sing to distraction so he hitched the buggy and drove to Moss Landing.  As he watched the waterfront workers unload cargo from the schooners, he could almost hear Abel Stoddard shouting orders to his crew to look alive mates! and anchor’s aweigh!   Memories Ben had not recalled in years came flooding back with the tide.  Voyages made. Bittersweet departures. Joyous homecomings.  Elizabeth.  Oh my love!

“Pa?”

Startled, Ben’s vision evaporated and he had to look twice at the man standing before him.

“Adam?”

“Yes.  It’s me.”

“Oh, Adam!  My boy!”  Ben embraced his son fiercely for fear he was dreaming.  Only when Adam gripped his father’s shoulders and pushed back did Ben reluctantly let go.

“Where’s Joe?  I thought he’d be with you,” Adam said.

“He wasn’t up yet.”

“At noon?”

“What?” Ben looked skyward suddenly aware that half the day had vanished.  “I didn’t realize . . . I left at sunup before he was awake.”   Ben held his son’s bearded face in both hands.  “So distinguished with a beard!  You look wonderful.  It’s so good to see you, son.”

“At least you still have your hair, Pa.  You and Joe must be the only Cartwrights who do.   I recall Will was getting a little thin on top the last time I saw him.”

“And as I recall, Abel Stoddard was as bald as a cue ball by the time he was 40, so you can thank the Cartwright side of the family for whatever hair you have left!”  Ben laughed.

“You always said breeding would tell!”  Adam was relieved to see his father’s mood lighten for he had been concerned by what he saw prior to announcing his arrival.

“How did you find me?” Ben asked.

“When the stage rolled past I saw you standing here lost in thought, so I walked back from the depot.  Remembering your sea days were you?”

“You caught me!  Yes, I confess I was reliving the past.  I seem to have a lot of free time lately to indulge those memories.”

Adam sympathized.  For a decisive man of action like his father, sitting idly around Monterey—as beautiful as it was, especially at this time of year—must be difficult if not downright abhorrent.

“How were things at the ranch when you left?” Ben asked.

“Everything is fine. Colder than a witch’s teat, but fine.  I met Candy.  Good man.  I liked him.”

“He’s foreman now.  He is not you, son, but he knows his stuff.  Gets along well with the men and isn’t afraid to call them to task.  What’s more, he holds his own with both Joe and Hoss which is not easy if you remember.”

“I do indeed!  Say, I’m starving. Is there someplace nearby to get a beer or at least a cup of coffee?”

“I’ve had enough coffee to float a whaler but I know a tavern where we can have a drink.  I want to talk to you about Joe before we go up to the house.  Better not eat anything though, or Hop Sing will have my head!”

They had just settled into a booth at the Sailor’s Knot when Ben excused himself to find the outhouse.  After his eyes adjusted to the darkened room, Adam looked around the establishment.  It was definitely a sailor’s haunt; the kind found in any port in any town . . . in any country for that matter.  Old nautical gear hung from the walls and ceiling and the place smelled of wet seaweed and salt brine fish.

A moment after Ben returned to the table the bartender brought two lagers along with two bowls of chowder, a small loaf of bread and a crock of freshly churned butter.  With a conspiratorial wink, Ben tore the loaf apart and handed half to Adam.  “I won’t tell if you won’t.”

Adam laughed.  “It’s good to be back, Pa,” he said, genuinely pleased to be spending time with his father in a place like this.  It reminded him of their days on the road, eating plain but hearty food in small taverns—when they could afford it, that is, which wasn’t often.  It was in such a tavern that Adam learned how to play the guitar from Dieter Gruben—Grubby to his friends—a toothless old man of indeterminate age who smelled of sausage and sauerkraut.  His hands were gnarled and his nails filthy but the sound the strings made when he finger picked resonated deep within Adam’s soul.  He knew from the first chord that being able to make music like that would become as important to him as reading.  By the time they moved on, Adam had learned three chords which the old man assured would allow him to play almost any song there was.

“A place like this makes me wish I had brought my guitar with me.”

Ben’s brow furrowed momentarily then relaxed.  “Grubby!  I haven’t thought of him in years.  You know, I believe I saw a guitar at the house we’re renting.  I’m sure the owners wouldn’t mind.  Joe would love to hear you play and so would I.”

“Speaking of Joe, how is he doing?”  Before Ben could respond, Adam added, “By the way, Hoss and Candy filled me in on the details you left out of your letter.”

“Not well,” Ben admitted, ignoring the admonition.  “His ribs are mending but he tires easily and is frequently short of breath.  Paul said he wouldn’t be able to manage the thin air and that a few weeks at a lower altitude would help.  But it’s been nearly two months now and he isn’t any better.”

“Is he eating?”

“He hasn’t lost weight if that’s what you mean.  But his appetite isn’t what it used to be.”

“Nightmares?”

“No.  None of those, thank God.  He was unconscious most, if not all, of the time he was trapped.”

“But he hasn’t talked about it?”

“Just to apologize for not getting to me sooner.  I think he feels guilty for not doing more to rescue us.”

“Hoss feels the same.”

“Hoss?  Why?  He did everything he could . . . they both did!”

“Hoss doesn’t see it that way and to some extent he blames me for not being there to manage Joe.”

“Is that why you came then?  Because you felt guilty?”

Adam took time to weigh his words carefully, afraid of abrading his father’s already raw feelings.  “I sensed I didn’t have enough knowledge about events or circumstances that had transpired to form an opinion on the best course of action should you ask me.  My maritime career was over, my home had closed escrow, I had no pressing responsibilities or obligations . . . it seemed an opportune time to visit.”

“So . . . this is just a visit then?”  Ben’s disappointment was clear.

“Yes.  But I will do all I can to help while I am here.”

Ben managed a small smile for his son’s sake, but a piece of his heart broke just a little.  “Well . . . let’s go see what your brother’s been up to.”  He threw a few coins on the counter and waved farewell to the innkeeper.  Centering his hat on his head, he squared his shoulders and crossed the threshold into the bright sun that he blamed for the water in his eyes.

*****

Arms crossed, Adam leaned against the archway that led into the dining room watching Joe pick at his breakfast.  He always thought the twelve years between them would dissolve or at least diminish as Joe got older, but since he’d arrived, his brother had avoided being alone with him the same way he did when Adam had first returned from college.   It took months to regain his brother’s trust back then; this time he only had weeks before he would have to return to London.

“Good morning,” he said, taking a seat at the table.  “Where’s Pa?”

“Town,” Joe said as he slid a covered plate across the oilcloth.

“Mmm.  Pancakes.  Who made them?  Please tell me it wasn’t Pa.”

“Mrs. Harvey, next door.”

“Good.  Where’s the syrup?”  There was no reaction so he asked again.  “Joe?  The syrup?” and was rewarded with a finger pointing to the sideboard.

After individually buttering several pancakes, centering them on top of each other just so and artistically drizzling sorghum over the top, Adam cut the stack into precise bite-sized pieces one at a time, swirling each forkful in the pooled syrup exactly three times before placing it in his mouth.

Joe snorted.

“What’s wrong?”

“You are such an old woman.”

“I like routine, I admit it.”

“It’ll be the death of you.”  Joe stood abruptly and turned to exit the room but the suddenness of his movements made him dizzy and he collapsed against the wall with a thud.   Adam eased him back into the chair, keeping his hand on Joe’s chest, feeling the heartbeat, noting the heavy breathing and closed eyes.

“It’s nothing.  I’m fine,” Joe panted.

“Kid,” Adam said, sitting in the chair next to him but not letting go, “we have not seen each other in a long time, but I’ve known you all your life.  You are far from being ‘fine’ even by your loose definition of the word.  Are you in any pain?”

“No.   You like England?”

Well, that’s typical.  Deflection was always Joe’s first line of defense.  “Yes,” Adam replied.

“What do you like about it?”

“History.  Culture.  Architecture.”

“Where do you live?”

“You know where I live; you sent me a package, remember?”

“I meant what part.  London’s a big place.”

“Near Charing Cross, in the center of London.”

“Did you buy or are you renting?”

“I bought a place.  It’s small, but comfortable.  Harrison is taking care of it while I’m away.”

“Harrison?”

“My man.”

“You have a man?”

“Majordomo.”

“A what?”

“Think of him as an English Hop Sing.”

“Hmmpfh.” Joe opened his eyes and motioned for the coffee cup.

“You want it heated up?”

“No.”  He took small sips, then yawned taking in great gulps of air.  “First or last?”

“First or last what?”

“His name . . . Harrison.  First or last?”

“I have no idea.”

“How very British of you.”

*****

Similar exchanges peppered the next few days.  If asked to describe their encounters, Adam would have said it was like fencing.  Lunge.  Parry.  Riposte.  On one level, he was impressed with his brother’s repartee; on another, Joe’s deft avoidance of any discussion regarding the events of October 19 infuriated him.

The minute Hop Sing left for San Francisco Adam became the fulcrum in the seesaw between his father and brother.  Conversations were with one or the other but not both together.  Joe spent most of his time in the garden or on the verandah staring at the ocean.  His father went into town every day to conduct business by wire and spent evenings writing letters or reading.  They seldom entertained and visitors were rare despite the fact that the Cartwrights had friends in the area.  Not only did Adam begin to wonder why he came, he started thinking about leaving sooner than planned.

That all changed the following day.

“Adam,” Ben called.  “Adam, I need to go to Sacramento to meet a man about a trestle.  It could mean the difference between making ends meet and a good year.  Would you mind seeing Joe gets to the doctor on time?”

“Of course.  Just leave me the address.”

“Joe knows where it is.  And don’t let him twist the doctor’s words.  Dr. Warren is good, but he doesn’t know your brother’s propensity for fudging like Paul Martin does.  Make sure Joe gives complete answers and follows directions.  I’ll be gone five or six days, depending on how negotiations go.”

“Don’t worry, Pa.  Joe and I will survive.”

“Yes . . . well.”  Ben looked as though he were going to say something, but changed his mind.

“What?”

“Despite Joe’s assertions that he’s fine, I’m worried.  He is not recovering as fast as he should have. Paul said a few weeks at sea level and he would be better. It’s been months and he’s the same, if not worse.”

This was the second time his father mentioned Joe’s lack of progress and, as much as Adam would have liked to, he could not disagree. True, Joe retained some color—mostly because he spent his days sitting in the sun—but his skin had a pasty quality and his breathing was shallow; even the smallest exertion winded him.  Still, he had to offer his father some hope.  “From what I’ve read, it can take a long time for lungs to heal.”

“What if he can never come home? The Ponderosa is everything to him.”

Adam forgave the unintended rebuke but it stung nonetheless.  “Even if he couldn’t live in the Sierras, he could still work for the ranch—negotiate contracts, sell cattle, train horses.”

“It would kill him and you know it.  Maybe not literally, but . . .  it would kill his spirit.  It already has,” Ben said sadly.  The passion and zest for living that once defined his son were gone.

“Pa, go to Sacramento, take care of business.  Take as long as you need and then some and relax a little.  You’ve borne the burden of caring for Joe far too long.”

“Now see here,” Ben bristled, “I’ve never felt caring for any of my sons was a burden.”

“I know, Pa, but you’re tired.  If I can see that, so can he and that may be why he’s withdrawn from conversation.  Let me look after him.  I’ll see if I can’t draw him out.”

“Well . . . ,” Ben said uncertainly.

“Let me do this, Pa.  Isn’t that why you sent for me?”

“Sent for you?”  Ben shook his head, his bewilderment plain to see. “You mean the brandy?  All Joe said was that he wanted you to have a bottle to celebrate the New Year in your new house.  I agreed.  He wrote out the instructions for the merchant and I sent along a letter.  Just what did you receive?”

“Just that, Pa.  A bottle and your letter.”

“Then why did you think—”

“—just call it intuition, Pa.  At any rate, I’m here and am more than capable of looking after my kid brother for a few days.”  Adam kept his voice light, but he was now even more certain there was a hidden meaning to his brother’s gift.

“Very well.  I’ll walk into town to catch the stage so you can have the buggy.”

*****

Dr. Edward Warren’s office was efficient.  There were several consultation rooms off the central waiting area and a surgery down the hall.  Diplomas on the wall bore the great seals of Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons as well as Harvard along with a framed citation signed by President Abraham Lincoln that accompanied the Congressional Medal of Honor for Meritorious Service during the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.  Adam whistled softly.  The bloodiest single day of the War.   A moment later, the doctor greeted him and Joe personally with a firm handshake and a no nonsense demeanor.

The examination went much as his father predicted.  Joe’s predilection to prevarication when confronted by a doctor’s probing questions required intervention from the start.  Fortunately, a clearing of the throat and a raised eyebrow on Adam’s part was all that was needed to quell the evasive responses to questions regarding diet, exercise, and sleeping patterns.

When Joe was forthright in admitting he rarely slept through the night and found it difficult to nap during the day, Adam was surprised.  He had seen Joe dozing in the garden, though had to admit it was impossible to tell if his brother was actually sleeping or just closing his eyes against the sun or, more like it, faking sleep to avoid conversation.

What most disturbed him, however, was the way the doctor kept moving the stethoscope back and forth first on one side and then on the other all over Joe’s bare torso starting at a spot above the collarbone, then below, then all around the pectoral and into the armpit, all the while asking Joe to breathe normally.  Then he asked Joe to lean forward and he did the same thing to his back.

“Tell me about your cough.”

“What about it?” Joe asked warily.

“How often?  Dry?  Wet?  Nocturnal?  Day?”

The look on Joe’s face was priceless.  Caught without room to waffle, he was damned if he told the truth; damned if he didn’t.  The doctor waited him out, not giving up an inch of his authority nor wavering in his gaze.

Out maneuvered, Joe closed his eyes and shook his head slightly in resignation.  “All of it.”

“Explain.”

“Talking a lot can make me cough.”

“Dry then?”

“Yes.”

“Does your throat hurt?

“No, it’s more like tickle.”

“What about at night?”

“It’s deeper.  When I lay down mostly.”

“Have you ever coughed up blood?

“A few times; not lately.”

The doctor ran his fingers over Joe’s ribs, feeling each one.  Afterwards, he repeated his exam with the stethoscope, this time asking Joe to cough whenever he moved the chest piece.

When the exam was over, Dr. Warren made notes in his chart for several minutes and then told Joe he could put his shirt back on.

“Well, Doc?”  Joe asked.  “What’s the word?”

“The good news is your ribs are fully mended and you can resume normal activities.”

Joe grinned from ear to ear.  “Do you hear that, Adam?  I can go home!”

“Hold on, Joe, not so fast.  What about it, doctor?  Can my brother return to Virginia City?”

The doctor frowned.  “I’m afraid I have to concur with Dr. Martin’s assessment that returning to the Sierras at this time is out of the question.”

The blood drained from Joe’s face and he stumbled back against the examining table but waved off Adam’s assistance.

“When,” he choked.

The doctor pulled a rubber balloon out of his medical bag and asked Joe to blow it up.

He couldn’t.

“When you can inflate this balloon and three more like it in rapid succession, you can return home.”

Utterly defeated, Joe picked up his hat and walked out of the room.

“Excuse us a moment, doctor,” Adam said, and hurried out into the street after his brother.

“Joseph Francis Cartwright!”

“I can’t do it, Adam,” Joe whispered, the corners of his mouth pulled downward.  “I’ll never be able to go home.”

“The doctor is throwing you a lifeline.  Blow up the balloons and you can go home.”

“And how am I supposed to do that?  I don’t have enough air to blow out a candle.”

“When has Joe Cartwright ever backed away from a challenge?” Adam said forcefully.  “You’ve been at death’s door a dozen times and you’ve always fought back.”

Joe just stared at him, drained—all the fight gone out of him.  “I’m just so tired.”

“It’s not in you to give up, Joe.  You were born fighting for life and, God help me, you’ll continue to fight as long as I’m alive!  I won’t let you give up!  Come on,” Adam said, grabbing Joe’s arm and pulling him back inside where Dr. Warren was waiting.  Instead of the examining room, he ushered the Cartwrights into his office and pointed to chairs while he sat on the edge of his desk.

“I heard what your brother said, Joe, and from reading your medical record, I can see you have grit and courage, so I won’t lie.  It will be a struggle to increase capacity in lungs as damaged as yours, but it is possible if you work hard.”

Like a stone wall, Joe sat immovable and continued to stare at the floor.  When Adam started to say something, the doctor held up his hand to silence him and continued to speak only to Joe.

“You have been favoring your ribs as they mended by breathing shallow and not exerting yourself.  But to improve you’ll have to breathe deep and often and that’s going to hurt like hell because your ribs are not going to expand easily.  That shouldn’t be a surprise to you considering the number of times you’ve broken them before.”

Joe snorted softly but raised his eyes to meet the doctor’s gaze head on.

“Understand that lack of oxygen can cause depression.  Your shallow breathing may be partially responsible for your feelings of despair.  The more oxygen you take in, the better you will feel.   The more you push yourself to the limits, the greater the capacity your lungs will have to inflate just like that balloon.

“As for the coughing, that’s a tough one.  You’ll need to cough to clear your lungs.  And that is going to hurt as well, because you will feel bruised, like someone has pummeled you from the inside.  The body tries to protect itself from injury by forming a barrier—much like a blister on your heel when your boots are new.  But added fluid around your lungs will make breathing that much harder and cause you to cough more.  And so begins a vicious cycle, but one which will diminish over time if you persist.”

Dr. Warren then turned to Adam.  “You had a question?”

“What else can he do besides breathing deep and walking?”

“Lifting weights.  Swimming.   Singing.  All require breath control.  All will help.  Just don’t overdo.  If he gets light headed, stop.”

“Well?” Adam asked Joe who looked at him long and hard before answering.

“I can do it.”

*****

For three days after the visit to the doctor, Joe slept almost continuously.   Adam made certain there was always food ready when he woke up.  While he ate, the linens were straightened or changed and the bedroom aired out.  But aside from that, Adam kept the blinds drawn and allowed Joe to keep his own schedule, probably the first time in months he’d been able to do so.  Hoss had come up with the strategy for how to take care of Joe years ago.  “Animals eat when they’re hungry, drink when they’re thirsty, sleep when they’re tired.  Let him be Adam.  He’ll be fine.”

On the fourth day, Adam was reading in the garden when Joe appeared, freshly scrubbed and fully dressed carrying two mugs of coffee.

“Still take it black?” Joe asked, placing the mugs on a wrought iron table and taking a seat on the low garden wall.

“Coffee yes.  Tea I take with milk.”

“Another British habit?”

“More the way Harrison fixes it.  I didn’t dare object.”

Joe’s laugh immediately segued into a cough that continued for a full minute.  Adam kept an eye on his brother over the rim of his mug, but otherwise resisted the urge to help and allowed him to quiet down on his own.  When the spasm was over he asked, “You all right?”

Sweat ran down Joe’s face and stained his shirt, but he nodded.  Finally catching his breath he added, “Thanks.  Pa woulda.  Had.  Fit.  Sent for.  Doctor.”

“Just breathe.”

“Kay.”

“Slow.  In through the nose, out through the mouth.  Again . . . Again . . . Again.”

Eventually, Joe let out a long sigh and stretched out along the wall; within seconds, he was asleep.   Although there was a slight breeze off the ocean, the day was warming up and the sun had yet to reach its zenith.  Adam decided it was best to leave him be.   Fifteen minutes later, he was awake again.

“Better?”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s go for a walk.”

Joe’s eyes widened.

“Come on.  Just down that path over there.  We won’t go far and you can sit down whenever you get tired.”  Adam reached down and pulled his brother up with both hands then offered him his elbow, which Joe declined.

Wine bottles, whalebones, and abalone shells bordered the paths meandering through the sheltered garden.  Adam remarked on the variety of flowers and shared the Latin name along with horticulture tips he had picked up in England.  He kept up an endless stream of information, allowing Joe to concentrate on breathing rather than talking.  Before Joe knew it, they had made a complete circle of the garden and were back at the blue gate which gave the house its name.

“There,” Adam said, when Joe sat back on the garden wall.  “That wasn’t so bad was it?”

Joe rolled his eyes but didn’t deny it felt good to be more physically active.  He tilted his head back breathing in the salt air as deep as he dared.

Sitting on the wall beside him facing the house, Adam remarked on the unusual blend of Mexican adobe and New England Colonial styles in its design.  He pointed out the various attributes of each style and wondered about the architect who had integrated them.

Joe said, “A lot of architects live in Monterey.”   When his brother didn’t bite he dropped some names he heard but which meant nothing to him, “David Wright.  Thomas Larkin.”

“Larkin designed this house?”

Joe smiled, pleased he had found something to interest his brother.  “No.  This is The House of the Blue Gate.  I don’t know who built it, but the Soberanes family owns it.  We’re renting while they’re in South America for the winter.  Larkin built The House of Gold, Casa Serrano, and The House of the Four Winds.  I heard he’s also developing a lot of the land around Fisherman’s Wharf.”

“Very descriptive names.  Reminds me of plantation names like Oak Alley, Hickory Grove—”

“—The Ponderosa.”

“I wonder what Pa would say if he heard you comparing The Ponderosa to a plantation.”

Joe laughed.  “Well, he did get the three of us to work for peanuts . . .”

“Maybe you.  I, on the other hand, made a handsome wage!”

“At least I spent mine on living.  You probably still have the first nickel you ever earned.”

“Is that a criticism?”

“No.  It’s an indictment of your lifestyle.”

“Watch it!”

“I mean it, Adam.  You never do anything for fun.  Everything has to have purpose.”

“I’ve travelled the world.”

“Yeah, and you got paid for that.   It was a job!  When—recently—have you done something spontaneous?”

“I came here on a whim—no plans.”

“You came here because of a sense of duty.  You thought you owed it to Pa, or Hoss, or me because of something you read in the paper.  Well things happen here all the time, Adam . . . birth, death, broken hearts, broken bones, fevers . . . it’s called life and it’s messy.”

“Just because I like order doesn’t mean I don’t have a life.”

“You live walled up in a library, in a house joined wall-to-wall with other houses, in a city of three million people!   You say it’s because of the history and culture.  Well, the past is dead and gone and museums are filled with dead people’s stuff.  The theatre is all about watching someone else’s life unfold and books are written about the adventures and passions of another.  You are buried alive, brother.  And the tragedy is you don’t even know it.”

“Immurement.”

“What?”

“Being buried alive; it’s called immurement.  Like a firing squad or hanging, it’s a form of execution practiced in some parts of the world.”

“Okay.  So then what?  You want me to say you’re immured?  Is that it?”

“Let it go, Joe.”

“Why are you here, Adam?”

“I’m here to help you.”

“Help me?  That’s rich.  Help me do what exactly?  You can’t breathe for me, or walk, or swim.”

“Help you face what happened in that basement.”

“The building fell in.  I was trapped.  What difference does it make?  I got out.  End of story.”

“Pa said you haven’t been bothered by nightmares.  Is that true?”

Joe’s nostrils flared; mouth open, he was just short of panting.

“He thinks the reason you haven’t had nightmares is because you were unconscious the whole time you were trapped and have no memory of the event.”

Adam knew he was treading on dangerous ground but continued to press on.  “I think Pa’s wrong.   In the Cask of Amontillado, Fortunato knew his fate.  I think you were very much aware that you were buried alive and were going to slowly suffocate.”

“Stop saying that!”

“What’s more I think every moment since has been a waking nightmare because you are still buried alive . . . buried in guilt—Pa’s, Hoss’s . . . your own.”

“I said shut up!”

“And now you’re trapped in this house suffocating under weight of—not bricks—but 24 hour surveillance by our well-meaning, but totally over protective father to the point you can’t breathe.  Isn’t that why you sent me the Amontillado?  To help you escape?”

Left fist balled, arm cocked, Joe rocked back ready to throw a left hook when suddenly he sank to the ground gasping for air, heart pounding.  He was unaware that Adam was sitting next to him until he felt the warmth of his brother’s hand through his sweat soaked shirt.  Adam rested against the garden wall and stretched his legs out but kept his hand on his brother’s back.  After a minute, Joe leaned into his shoulder just as he had done when he was a kid.  Adam circled his brother with his arms and pulled him close.

“What happened in the basement, Joe?” he whispered.

“I panicked,” Joe responded as if it were an indictment.  “The ground shaking scared the bejesus out of me.  I wanted to get the hell out of there but Pa was still in the chute and the stairwell was blocked.  There was nowhere to go and I panicked.”

“Anyone would have; it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“You wouldn’t have.”

“Don’t be so sure, Joe.  We all experience moments of panic, even Pa.  Could you see anything?”

“There was a lantern.  It was dim . . . but enough for me to spot a table.  I rushed toward it as the floor began to buckle.  When the bottom gave way, I just kept moving, clawing at anything I could reach.  Then the ceiling broke apart and everything fell in . . . just like Tremayne said it . . . would,” he gasped.

“There’s no hurry, Joe.  Catch your breath when you need to, okay?”  When Adam felt him nod, he said, “Keep going.  What happened next?”

“In the light the plaster dust and wood chips looked like snow.  The basement was so thick with it the air was yellow . . . .

“My foot caught in something before I vaulted over the table.  When I reached down to see what it was, my cracked ribs broke.  I think I screamed.  At least I tried to scream.  I opened my mouth but all I did was swallow dust.  I couldn’t breathe . . . .

“My foot was in a picnic basket.  There was wine, chicken . . . Pa’s kerchief.  It smelled of him. I held it over my nose and mouth and breathed shallow . . . like you taught me.  I hurt less that way.  Made me think of Pa . . . .

“It kept snowing.  I couldn’t see the sun for all the snowflakes that swirled in the air.  I kept wishing it would be dark so I could sleep.  There was so much sand in my eyes, I just hoped it was Ole . . . Ole . . . what’s his name?”

“Ole-Luk-Oie,” Adam said, remembering the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale about the sandman Inger had read to him and he to Hoss and Joe in their turn.

“Yeah . . . Oie . . . bringer of sweet dreams . . . not his brother Death . . . on horseback . . . who said I was middlin’ and made me listen to frightful tales . . . .  But that damn lantern never went out.  For all I know, it’s burning still . . . .

“It was cold . . . Reminded me of . . . when we were snowbound together and you read all those frightful tales . . . .  The Tell-Tale Heart, Cask of Amontillado, Murders in the Rue Morgue, and . . . and . . . Pa’s favorite—what was it?

“The Fall of the House of Usher.”

“Yeah, that one.  Now that I’ve been buried alive I don’t . . . wanna read them again . . . .  Or eat chicken . . . .  The wine wasn’t much good either . . . .   Thought if I was to die by . . . by . . . whadya call it?”

“Immurement.”

“Immure . . . ment.  Roy would have to offer up a better meal.  Guess I’ll have to talk to him about that . . . next time . . . I’m dying . . . in a snowstorm.”

“Next time, kid.”

“Adam.”

“I’m here, Joe.”

“Was for you, ya know.  Not me.”

“What was?”

“Amon . . . lado.  So’s you . . . don’t . . . bury yourself in books.  Kay? . . . Promise.”

“I promise, Joe.   Joe?”

He was asleep again and Adam was content to sit there as long as necessary.  He hoped the telling would be enough to bring Joe closure.  If history were any teacher, just sharing a nightmare would usually eliminate or help diminish the aftereffects.

Dr. Warren said in order to go home, Joe would have to increase lung capacity.  Breathe, cough, sleep.  Walk, swim, sing.

So, stretched out next to his brother, Adam began to formulate a plan.  The next day he sent separate wires to his Pa, Hop Sing, and Hoss asking each to trust him and do as he requested without question for Joe’s sake.

He asked Pa to go home to the Ponderosa after he finished his business in Sacramento, without returning to Monterey, and he promised he would write faithfully about Joe’s progress.

He wished Hop Sing xin nian kuai le and asked him to return to the Ponderosa after enjoying Chinese New Year in San Francisco with his cousins, as Hoss needed him far more than Joe did.

He assured Hoss that he was following his prescription to the T for curing what ailed Joe.

A cable to Harrison in London advised that he would remain in America for some time and let him know he had arranged through his solicitor for the continuation of Harrison’s salary and payment of household expenses.

*****

Adam lay in bed, arms behind his head, staring at the ceiling.  The nocturnal cough from Joe’s room was painful to listen to, but they had an agreement:   as long as there was no blood involved, he would not interfere.   Easier said than done.   Now he understood why Pa had fussed at every gut wrenching cough and why Joe had hidden it from him whenever he was able.

A private consultation with Dr. Warren had prepared Adam for what to expect.  One step forward, two steps back was not out of the realm of possibility.  Progress would be measured in fractions not miles.  But that gave him an idea.

The next day he sent one more telegram—this time to Candy asking him to send a wrangler to Monterey with Sport and Cochise as soon as road conditions would allow but not to say anything to Joe.

*****

“What’s this?” Joe asked when he came down to breakfast later that week and saw the picture frame on the wall.

“It’s a map.”

“Well, I can see that.  What are all the funny marks?”

“Here’s Monterey,” Adam pointed, “and here’s the Ponderosa.  Dr. Warren said you needed to inflate four balloons.   These circles on the road to home represent the balloons.  We’ll use each of these hash marks to record the progress you’ve made toward inflating one balloon, then two, and so forth.”

Joe fixated on the map throughout breakfast.  After Adam finished eating, he cleared the table and washed the dishes, leaving his brother to dry and put away.   When Adam returned to the dining room, he saw Joe had his feet planted firmly in front of the map, his eyes closed, the fingers of his right hand pressed against the final balloon, his left hand over his heart.  It was as if he were taking an oath.  Adam retreated quietly back into the kitchen and then made a noisy entrance.

“How about we . . . .”  He need not have bothered for Joe had already left the room.

“Joe?”

“Outside, Adam,” Joe called from the second floor balcony.  He was checking the weather to see if he needed his jacket.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to go for a walk.”

“In the garden?”

“No.  I thought I’d go down to the wharf.  Maybe buy us some fish for dinner.  Not the same as catchin’ our own, but it’ll have to do.”

Adam opened his mouth to object, but Joe cut him off.

“Uh-uh.  No fussing, you promised.”

“Come here,” Adam walked to the end of the verandah and crooked his finger.  “Take a look,” he said, pointing.  “Nice walk down, but steep climb coming up.”

Joe frowned; he hadn’t thought of that.  Just climbing the stairs to the second floor living areas in this house was a struggle for him, though he did his best to hide that fact.

“Look.  Why don’t you get a head start while I hitch the buggy.  I’ll meet you down at the wharf and we can have lunch at this tavern Pa took me to.   It would be nice to eat out for change, don’t you think?”

Recognizing a compromise when he heard it, Joe swallowed his retort and nodded.

“And wear your jacket.”

“Yes, Pa.”

“Scamp!” Adam said, swatting Joe’s butt as he walked past.  He remained on the balcony and waited for his brother to appear on the steps below.

“Take it easy, Joe.”

A waved hand was the only acknowledgment.

*****

By the time he reached the wharf, Joe was more than a little winded but loathe to admit it, yet he almost cried with relief when he saw his brother waiting for him.  Adam didn’t say a word when it was necessary to lift his brother into the buggy.  Instead, he launched into a spirited monologue about ocean tides and weather patterns, allowing Joe to recover as they slowly made their way towards the Sailor’s Knot.

“So this is where Pa’s been hanging out when he goes to town?” Joe asked.  “He’s been holding out on me.  Been here three months without a beer . . . just ain’t fair.”

“Well, kid,” Adam said as they clinked their steins, “you’ve earned it.  That was quite a trek down here.”

“I won’t argue!”

“That’ll be a first.”

*****

And so a ritual was begun.  During the week, Joe would lift weights, do laps around the garden, walk up and down the steps at the house, all the while breathing deeply.  On Saturday, he would walk down to the wharf where Adam would meet him and they would take a drive, lunch, and walk some more.  As Joe’s stamina improved, Adam taught him sea shanties like “Blow the Man Down” and “What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor”—the one Joe enjoyed the most.  At first, he sang it in his head.  When he could sing it out loud while climbing stairs, Adam said it was time to try inflating a balloon.

“I’m nervous, Adam.  What if all this has been for nothing?”

“Whether or not you are able to inflate the balloon, it hasn’t been for nothing.   You look better, you’re not coughing as much, your stamina has improved.  Besides, that’s why we have the hash marks on the balloon—to measure even the slightest improvement.  Now, just like you used to do when Pa would throw coins in the pond for you to find, take two deep breaths and exhale all the way.  On the third hold it and then blow up the balloon.”

Joe shook his arms and rolled his shoulders and his neck to loosen up.  Balloon in hand, he inhaled and exhaled as instructed and then blew into the balloon.  It was just as difficult as it was in the doctor’s office and he got nowhere.  Angry, he spit it out, “I can’t do it!!”

“Calm down.  You blew too fast.  Now, do it again and do it slow.  Try singing ‘Shenandoah’ in your head as you’re doing it.”

“What?”

“’Shenandoah.’  You know the song.  Sailors use it as a capstan shantey for long pulls.”

Joe closed his eyes, centered himself, and began again.

“Steady.  That’s it.  Deep breath, exhale.   Again.  Deep breath, exhale.  Again.”

Adam put his hands over Joe’s.  “Open your eyes,” he commanded.

Joe opened one eye a slit, then the other, and then both eyes wide.  In his brother’s hands was a big, beautiful, fully inflated balloon.

“I did it!!”

“You did it!!”  The brothers shouted simultaneously, slapping each other on the back and jumping up and down, like five year olds.  Adam let go of the balloon and together they laughed when it made a rude noise and flew a zig zag path around the room as it deflated.

Suddenly the door burst open and a familiar voice filled the room.  “Ya gotta party goin’ on here?”

“Hoss!”  Joe threw his arms—as far as he could anyway—around his big brother’s frame.

“Hoss, good to see you!” said Adam, extending his hand.  “Did you come alone?”

“Nah, I brought someone to see Joe.”

“Someone to see me?”  Joe looked quizzically from one brother to the other.

“He’s waitin’ out front.”

“Go ahead,” said Adam.

The brothers walked out onto the balcony just in time to see Joe and Cochise reunite.

“Hope you don’t mind,” said Hoss.

“No.  The timing was perfect, either way.”

“Either way?”

“I’ll explain later.”

Hoss nodded.  “He looks pretty good.  I didn’t know what to expect after hearin’ Pa tell it.”

“Well, he’s worked hard and made a lot of progress, but it’s a long road, Hoss.”

“Ya think there’s a chance he’ll be home by summer?”

“I honestly don’t know.  There’s a big difference between sea level and 7,000 feet.”

“Pa’s been frettin’ about that.  He found out Sacramento’s elevation is around 50 feet and was thinkin’ of rentin’ a place there if you think Joe’s ready.  It would be closer to home and we could visit easier.  Joe might even be able to help out with the trestle project—you know, supervisin’ like he did with the flume.”

“That’s a good idea, Hoss.  And Placerville is around 2,000 feet.”  Adam went into the dining room and looked at the map.  “If he keeps improving, he could move on up there when the time is right and then on to Carson City at 4,700 feet.  I don’t know why I didn’t think of it.”  Adam found a pencil and wrote the elevations in on each balloon, pleased at the additional motivation the notations would provide for Joe.

Over a glass of brandy following their celebratory dinner, the brothers toasted Joe as he filled in the first balloon on his path home.

Later, as Adam was cleaning up, he found the spent balloon on the floor far from where they had been standing.  Joe’s road home would no doubt zig zag just as wildly, but it was the only option available for the first Cartwright born on the Ponderosa; the one with pine sap in his veins; the one for whom a candle would always burn bright.

***The End***

January 2014

Author Notes:

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

For the record:   Rubber balloons were invented in 1824 and latex balloons were first manufactured in 1847.

A topographical map is used to depict elevation. The earliest detailed surveys in the United States were made by the “Topographical Bureau of the Army,” formed during the War of 1812.

Casa Soberanes—During the 1840s, Rafael Estrada constructed an adobe brick home on a hillside overlooking Monterey Bay. His family lived there until it was sold to the Soberanes family in 1860.  The living areas of the house were on the second floor which featured a balcony running the length of the house.  The house is a blend of Colonial and Spanish architectural elements and was furnished with early New England and China trade pieces mixed in with Mexican folk art.  Casa Soberanes received its nickname—The House of the Blue Gate—from the blue gate at its garden entrance on Pacific Street.  Wine bottles, whalebones, and abalone shells did indeed border paths meandering through the sheltered garden.

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