Restoring the Heart of the Ponderosa – Pt I (by BluewindFarm)

Synopsis: Circumstances bitter Adam’s homecoming, setting him and his family on a personal quest to restore the heart of the Ponderosa. This story is AU, it diverges from canon as we know it.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western, prequel
Rating: TWord Count:  45,525


 

Introduction:

In keeping to the timeline of characters, this story is set before Roy Coffee came to Virginia City and was sworn in as sheriff; Ray Teal didn’t join the cast as Sheriff Roy Coffee until the second season. So, I’ve chosen Morgan Woodward’s character of Sheriff Biggs (Death at Dawn) to be the lawman, though he was never given a first name in the episode, I’ve chosen Vernon. As for the doctor, there were various actors who portrayed Dr. Paul Martin, as well as other physicians who treated the Cartwrights during the early seasons, so I have decided that Paul Martin will be the doctor in Virginia City during the time frame of my story.

There are references to a subject of a sensitive manner; however, no such acts occur within this story.

 

 

Chapter 1: Present Day

The horses and wagons kicked up a veil of dust that coated everyone and everything that followed until the cloud had nothing to fall upon except the barren land they left behind. A column of soldiers riding two by two led a procession of nine covered wagons across the desert, before moving into the foothills of the East Range. The civilian wagons bore testament to the ferocity of the attack they had survived; torn canvasses and holes in the wood from where arrows had struck and been removed. A few wagons were a mix-match of horses as the dead were replaced from wagons that could no longer continue. The people within the wagons rode in a state of semi-shock; from the attack, from their losses, and from their fears to go forward. But the Major insisted the only way out of their predicament was to go forward, to Mill City.

The canvas of the first covered wagon bore the insignia of the U.S. Army above two crossed sabers. A soldier sat high on the bench seat of the wagon and held the reins that guided the four-horse team as it rattled along the arid ground. Following the Army wagon were the wagons of settlers who had survived the latest attack by a mixed group of Indians, comprised of Paiute and Shoshone warriors. Every wagon contained wounded, minor or serious as well as those who escaped unscathed, as they headed out into the darkest part of the night. As the sun had set the night before, the dead had been quickly buried and prayed over. Orders had passed to soldier and civilian alike to prepare to leave the scene as soon as possible in an effort to avoid the bands of Indians who traveled the land, wreaking havoc whenever they encountered those who they claimed trespassed across their land.

The Army patrols had been dispatched deep into the territory in an effort to re-establish a peace treaty that had somehow, somewhere been broken; much to the chagrin of the United States government. Too many people had hopes riding on the military’s ability to restore the peace; stagecoach companies, supply line companies, freight haulers, settlers, and politicians too; many lives as well as the country’s westward expansion depended on restoring the fragile peace. The soldiers of this particular patrol were looking for a band of Indians raiding settlements and killing the inhabitants; however, the civilian who accompanied them was only looking for one person.

*****

Eighteen hours has elapsed since Adam Cartwright and the soldiers he was accompanying had stumbled upon the ten-unit wagon train under attack. Now, inside the army wagon and shaded from the morning sun, twenty-five year old Adam sat with his arms wrapped around the male youth who lay in his lap. The unconscious boy wore no shirt and only deerskin breeches and moccasins, showing his thin, tanned, dirt-crusted, and abused torso. During his first encounter with the youth, Adam knew, somehow he knew that this boy was the one he sought. This boy, who hours before had appeared so distressed when he had turned around, now… he lay so quiet. So uncharacteristically like the youngest brother who he remembered from before he had left home to attend Harvard. The boy who would eventually recover from the untimely death of his mother, the boy who never knew a stranger and greeted everyone with a bright smile, the boy who was constantly on the go, wide-eyed, and happy. His youngest brother, who the last time he saw him was just a few months shy of his sixth birthday.

And now… seven years since the last time he’d seen his brother or held him in his arms, he was riding in the back of an army wagon, hoping to get to the nearest town and a doctor to have the boy’s head wound treated.

“Pa will be thrilled to see you, to hug you. And don’t forget Hoss, if he can get you away from Pa, he’s liable to hug you and never let you go,” Adam whispered as he held the boy tight. “You need to wake up, Joe? How’d you get here? What happened two years ago?”

 

Chapter 2: The Past

The trip for his return home from Harvard would be faster than his trip east. Five years before Adam had spent considerable time at sea as a passenger upon a sailing schooner as she gracefully slipped through the waters of the Pacific Ocean towards the Isthmus of Panama. Once the ship docked, he then travel by stagecoach until he reached the Atlantic Ocean, where once again passage was booked on a sailing vessel, this time heading north to Boston. Though he traveled a less dangerous route than the overland stage of the American West, it was still fraught with its own troubles against Mother Nature. However, the dangers provided by the sea was nothing compared to the Indian attacks that had plagued the overland routes of travel at that time.

*****

The passenger train in which he currently rode passed through various towns and cities as he made his way from Boston, Massachusetts to St. Louis, Missouri via Chicago, Illinois.

As he transferred from one train to another making his way home, twenty-three year old Adam Cartwright reflected upon the very different trip he was experiencing compared to the one made by he and his father, so many years before. On their original westward trip, progress faltered when provisions ran low and necessity forced his father to take menial jobs to earn money or to stop to take care of his sick child. There were times when inclement weather blocked their travel for months. But never had the man given up on the promise he had made to his late wife, he would fulfill their dream of finding a location out west to build a home and raise the boy.

It was during one of the forced stops for supplies, he also had to tend to his ailing son and without planning to, the man met a lovely Swedish woman, fell in love, and soon married. The new addition to the small family didn’t discourage the dream, she embraced the opportunity. Happily, the small family headed west and along the way a second son was born and a short time later, his wife was dead; tragically killed in a retaliatory Indian attack. Had their guide only given himself up in the first place, life could have been so much different. With his wife buried at Ash Hollow, the man and his two sons continued west.

With his sons at his side, the man found the location to conclude their travels and to fulfill the dream; they broke ground and built a small cabin that would suffice until they could build the home of their dreams. In order to realize his dream, the man trapped and hunted rabbits, raccoons, and beavers for furs and pelts. The money from the sales went to purchase the first few head of cattle and to pay for the use of a bull in order to breed the heifers that weren’t intended to be slaughtered for food. When old and wise enough, the boys hunted and trapped rabbits and other small critters, for food and for pelts. As the man’s dream took hold, so did those who would prey upon his livestock. And so the father expanded his hunts to include coyotes, wolves, and the occasional mountain lion in order to protect his family and his livestock; their pelts also brought a good price when traded.

He held a deep understanding of what it meant to have a steward ship of the land, and for that reason, the man and the land prospered and grew; when he could afford it, he purchased additional acreage. As they worked the land, they only took what was necessary and when it came to the trees cut for their homestead, they transplanted the seedlings they had grown for every tree they harvested.

*****

A number of years had passed since their arrival, and with the ranch house nearing completion and pelts prepared for trade, fate would have the man travel to New Orleans to notify Marie deMarigny of the death of her husband, his best friend. He had not planned to become involved in the struggles of strangers, but a man without honor is not a man. And so he helped defend the woman after he realized the wrong inflicted upon the young widow; and in defending her honor, they fell in love. The woman longed to leave the home which held so much heartache and bitterness, to begin anew. They were married before they left the city and slowly traveled the route to the land that was becoming known as The Ponderosa. Shortly upon their return to his home, they found out she was with child.

Earlier than expected, another son made his way into the world, and the land and the family continued to flourish. That is until that fateful day when a horse stumbled as the rider happily raced it into the yard. He buried his wife on the promontory overlooking the jewel his land bordered, Lake Tahoe.

The boys continued to grow, as did the Ponderosa and soon there were only two sons on the land as the eldest traveled east to realize his dream of furthering his education. It had been difficult, with little formalized schooling while traveling via wagon, and then no real school in the township where they built their home. But, with the help of tutors the young man had passed the entrance exam and been accepted as a student to the prestigious college of Harvard. He promised to return home after attaining his dream of furthering his education; planning to use what he learned to further build a bigger and better Ponderosa.

*****

His dream achieved, he looked forward to returning to the Ponderosa… his family and his home stood at the center of an enterprise growing in size and complexity, and the son was returning as a Harvard graduate with Master’s Degrees in Engineering and Architecture.

****

Currently, the oldest son was enjoying the speed and convenience afforded him via this method of travel – the train. As he sat back and watched the scenery pass outside the window of the passenger car, he wondered about his family, especially his brothers. He knew they had grown and changed during his five-year absence, his father had made sure Adam kept abreast of most anything and everything the boys did from the day Adam left home.

Hoss had been out of school for the past three years and working alongside their father and the ranch hands on the cattle and lumber side of the business. Ben had realized early on that Hoss would never be the scholar like his older brother and the boy had a real affinity in working with the animals, especially when they were injured or ill. His size helped him handle the man-size jobs that would be performed by a still growing young man.

As for Joseph, according to letters received, he had become a highly temperamental youth, eager to throw the first punch, but always claimed some sort of provocation or that he had to, in self-defense or defense of others. Adam mused at remembering the letters where Ben declared that Joseph was again on restrictions for being too close to the horses that were being broke to saddle or because of said fights.

‘I wonder how gray Pa’s hair has turned while I’ve been gone. It was really starting to gray after Joe learned to walk,’ Adam thought to himself as he smiled at the memory.

*****

During the years of his absence, as settlers pushed into the western territories, so did the Army. With the various treaties signed, hostilities had subsided and travel by coach was safer than it had been five years previous. From St. Louis to Sacramento, CA, Adam Cartwright planned to travel via the Overland Stage. The longest portion of his journey lay ahead of him, and the one he had not looked forward to due to the discomforts of riding inside the cramped confines and the lack of readily available conveniences. However, this was the fastest route home and he was eager to return to his family.

As his graduation neared, Adam had explored all his options of returning home, he could have stopped in Henderson, Nevada and waited for a supply run heading towards Carson City, but the fastest route was to take the southern stage route through to Sacramento, California and take a smaller stage that ran between Sacramento and Virginia City. He couldn’t believe it when his father had written that they had signed a cattle contract with the Army and their delivery date was close to Adam’s projected arrival in Sacramento. So, it was decided that Adam would wait for his family or vice-versa, depending on who arrived first.

As the coach bounced along the rutted and pitted trails, he wondered about the other changes to the growing and prospering ranch that his father described in his monthly letters to his son. Most of all, Adam pondered about the change of name from Mormon Station to Virginia City; how had that affected the town? He tried to envision what the town might look like, with all the new stores and hotels, and other establishments that ultimately came with the westward expansion. His father had informed him that much had changed and been built in his absence. The biggest change, after the change of name, was the town’s hiring of a lawman, Vernon Biggs. The new sheriff was a practical man who accepted no nonsense and wanted to see that the city amounted to something more than just another rowdy cow town that eventually would fade away as a ghost town.

*****

Mile after mile and day after day, the passengers endured the discomforts of being jarred by the bench seats as the stage traveled along the paths that crisscrossed the land while making their way west. Every forty to fifty miles they would stop at a way station for a change of horses and a quick bite to eat, if the facility was set up for more than a change of horses. Otherwise the passengers only had long enough to stretch their legs and use the outhouse facilities before they were on their way again. Meals at each stop varied, as did the conveniences and the people who lived and worked at the stations.

As each day began to fade to night, the driver would push his team to reach their next stop before the sun set. The passengers mentally pushed the horses on, encouraging them to speed across the land in order to benefit from sitting upon something not moving or to lie in what would hopefully be a comfortable bed or bunk. On more than one occasion, Adam had made due with sleeping in the hayloft of the horse barn in order to escape the snores from a few of his male passengers. During each nightly stopover at a way station, men and women were assigned to sleep in separate rooms regardless of whether they were married or not. Sometimes, due to delays earlier in the day, their last stop before night fell was only at a relay station; strictly a change of horses with no overnight accommodations. Once the horses were changed, the driver pushed on through the night in an effort to reach the next station where they could lie down to sleep.

*****

The stage portion of the trip home was only supposed to last for fifteen grueling days, but with breakdowns or passengers staying over and not continuing with their original coach, a passenger or two was occasionally bumped. And, since Adam was not traveling with any companion or traveling on business, more times than not, he was the passenger who volunteered to wait until the next stage or was bumped as declared by the station manager.

*****

After nearly three weeks of sitting within the cramped confines of the coach, or being stranded to wait for the next stage, once Sacramento, California came into sight, no one within was more relieved. When the stage finally halted in front of the Imperial Hotel in the center of Sacramento, the oldest Cartwright son waited for his fellow passengers to disembark. He was eager to reunite with his family, but he didn’t want their reunion to be in front of these strangers or to possibly block his traveling companions from their own reunions. As he waited within, on the street side of the coach, he looked out one of the windows and thought he recognized his father, but couldn’t be sure with so many people milling around. When he finally rose from his seat and stepped out, he heard, “There he is, Pa!” Upon stepping to the boardwalk, back slaps, handshakes, and ultimately bear hugs went back and forth among the three Cartwright men before they finally acknowledged the driver who was waiting to hand down Adam’s luggage and valise. The driver and his shotgun were eager to be on their way to the relay station on the outskirts of town in order to change horses. The depot clerk and another man had already pulled Adam’s trunk from the boot of the coach and set it on the boardwalk.

“Good to see you son,” Ben stated, torn between longing for the young man who had left their home five years before and the mature man who stood in front of him.

“Good to see you too, Pa,” Adam answered, the pitch of his voice rose as Hoss picked him up from behind and squeezed him into a hug. “What has Hop Sing been feeding you Hoss?”

When he turned around, it surprised Adam to realize that his seventeen-year-old brother stood tall enough to look him in the eye, and outweighed him by at least fifty pounds.

“What hasn’t that college been feedin’ ya? Why ya ain’t nothin’ but skin and bones there older brother,” teased Hoss. “Welcome home.”

“It will be good to be home. I take it you were successful in convincing Joe to stay with Hop Sing?” Adam asked, redirecting his conversation to their father.

“He weren’t happy about it, but I think he understood why,” Hoss offered.

The oldest Cartwright son felt a little guilty for his youngest brother’s absence, but their father had been adamant that Joe was to await their return at home. Adam’s scheduled return closely coincided with the delivery date of a herd of cattle to the U.S. Army outside Sacramento. Even though the youngest Cartwright had been ‘holding the cut’ for a year now, his father knew a cattle drive was no place for a youngster of soon to be eleven. Ben had written of his desire to keep Joe safe at home in the last letter Adam had received before he left Boston, and his grandfather, to return to the Ponderosa.

Upon hearing Adam inquire about Joe, Ben remembered back…

It had been a few trying weeks in dealing with the youngest and most temperamental of his sons after Joe learned he would not be participating in the cattle drive to Sacramento. The boy incessantly pleaded with them to allow him to participate, at times his emotions would throw him into a temper tantrum in an effort to get his point across, and for that reason, Ben had withheld the good news that they would also be meeting with Adam to bring him home. He knew Adam’s return would give Joe more ammunition to use against them in order to be allowed to go on the journey. But, Ben knew once Joe saw Adam, all would ultimately be forgiven and so he took solace in the ‘lie of omission’ towards his son. There was also the fact that Joe was still of age where he was required to go to school, and their brief summer break would not begin until the end of July.

However, the week before they were to leave, Ben realized the reunion between his oldest and youngest needed to be at home, and not for the reasons he believed; yes, he wanted his youngest safe, but there was another more serious reason. As he did every night, Ben visited his youngest, to bid him pleasant dreams and to kiss him upon his brow; he paused at the slightly opened door when he heard Joe talking. Ben was surprised not to see Hoss sitting on Joe’s bed or in the chair beside it. Looking farther into the room, he finally saw his youngest son. Joe sat cross-legged on the seat at one of the windowsills, and in his hands he held what Ben knew to be his mother’s picture. It pained him to overhear what Joe had to say.

“Momma, we got another letter from Adam today… Pa read it to Hoss and me after supper. In it, he was talking about graduating soon and how he was second in his class at Harvard. Don’t know why he was talking about the weather, I don’t see what the temperature has to do with studying; he said he was getting degrees in engineering and archy-something. Pa said he would be real happy to see Adam’s dip…di-blo… Anyway, Hoss said it was a certificate to show he studied hard. He talked about leaving Boston and his Grandfather, how he would be sad, but at the same time, he looked forward to coming home.

“Pa and Hoss seemed real happy to read what he wrote, they always do…” Joe’s tone of voice changed to a sadder one, “Hoss said something about not being able to wait until Adam got here, that he couldn’t wait to have him be part of the family again… Later, when we were doing our chores I asked Hoss what he meant, and he kinda looked at me real funny… he told me to quit joshing him. Said he was excited to have our brother come home and I should be too. I tried to explain to him, but I only made Hoss… Hoss got all upset and told me it weren’t funny, that Adam was our brother and that’s all there was to it. Momma, I don’t remember Adam… I only remember Hoss being my brother. Do you remember him, Momma?

“I’d ask Pa about Adam, but… Momma, I know we get letters from him, and Pa and Hoss say he’s my brother… but I don’t wanna get a tanning. Pa tanned me good when I forgot to give him that note from my teacher last month. I can’t think how hard he’d tan me for forgetting about a brother…”

Ben decided he needed to address his young son; he quietly knocked upon the door before pushing it the rest of the way open.

“Joseph, are you ready for bed?”

“Almost,” Joe answered as he hung his legs from the windowsill.

“I thought I heard you talking, where’s Hoss?” Ben casually asked.

“He’s already in bed… I was talking to Momma,” Joe stated as he hurriedly jumped from his window seat and placed his mother’s picture back upon the nightstand next to his bed before he prepared to crawl beneath the covers.

“Did you have a good talk?” Ben asked as he held the covers up for Joe to slip underneath.

“Kinda,” Joe replied as he snuggled into the covers, however, he didn’t lie down on his bed.

“By the look on your face, I’d say, you didn’t get everything resolved,” Ben stated as he eased himself on the edge of the bed.

Unable to meet his father’s eye, Joe looked at his hands in his lap.

“Why don’t you tell me what’s troubling you, son.”

“It ain’t nothing…” Joe replied and shrugged his shoulders.

“I think it is something. You were real quiet when you came in from doing your chores tonight… Did you and Hoss have an argument?”

“Not really,” mumbled Joe.

“Is it about Adam?” Ben decided to broach the subject of his oldest son instead of waiting for Joe to decide he wanted to talk about him.

Joe immediately looked into his father’s face. “Hoss said he’s excited for Adam to come home and be a part of the family.”

“He is… and I am too. And I’m sure that Adam is looking forward to coming home.”

“Then he’ll be in the bedroom next to mine?” Joe asked.

“You know that’s Adam’s room.”

“And he’ll be Hoss’ brother?”

“And yours too,” Ben answered and smiled.

“You and Hoss remember him?” Joe quietly asked, his eyes falling back to look at his hands.

“And you don’t,” Ben sorrowfully stated, he didn’t question.

Shaking his head slightly, Joe answered, “I know you read letters from him, and I know that’s his room, and I know you and Hoss talk all the time about him… But, Pa I don’t wanna get a tanning.”

“Joseph, I’m not going to give you a tanning,” Ben lovingly answered as he reached forward and lifted his son’s chin.

Guilt ridden, Joe stated, “I don’t remember him. I mean, I see the picture of the four of us on your desk, but… he’s just a picture or words in a letter. How am I supposed to act around him?”

“The same as you do for Hoss and myself.”

“But he’s got a college edge-ee-kay-shun…” Joe answered.

“That’s ‘ed-u-ca-tion’. But he’s still your brother.” Ben knew he needed to say more, and hoped what he said would make sense to his son, “Joseph, I’m not saying that getting reacquainted with your brother will be easy, why don’t you plan to start out by thinking of him as a new friend and see where it goes from there. I’m sure once you two really get to know each other that you’ll start to remember things you did together, before he left for college. Besides, he doesn’t know you!”

“Huh?!” Joe’s voice pitched an octave in surprise.

Poking his young son in the stomach elicited a giggle, Ben answered, “He only knows you as the five-year old soon to be six-year old child you were before he left to go to college. Why, just last week you were telling me you were practically grown… He doesn’t know you as the ten-year old that you are.”

“I’ll be eleven this fall…” Joe sat up straighter.

“Yes. So… you and Adam are sort of in the same boat… You’ll both have to work to remember and to get to know each other, again.”

“Will Hoss and Adam have to do the same work?”

“A little bit. Now, why don’t you lie down and go to sleep…”

“Pa, when is Adam coming home?”

“It won’t be for some time yet, Joe.”

“Okay. Goodnight, Pa. I love you,” Joe stated as he lay down and pulled the covers up to his shoulders and turned to his side.

“Sweet dreams, Little Joe. And I love you too.” Ben stood, leaned over his son, and kissed his temple.

Pulling the door closed as he stepped to the hallway, Ben elevated his eyes and said a quiet prayer, “Lord, please forgive me for the small lie I just told my son.” Ben turned to walk down the hall towards his own bedroom when his middle son’s door opened, “Pa?”

“Yes, Hoss?” Ben answered as he approached.

“Do ya got a minute? I need ta tell ya somethin’.”

Ben entered Hoss’ room, his son already changed into his nightshirt. From the looks of the covers, his son had already tried to go to bed, but couldn’t fall asleep.

“Ya might wanna have a seat Pa, this might take a few minutes,” Hoss stated as he backed up towards his bed.

“Are you in some kind of trouble?”

“Na, I ain’t in no trouble, it’s just… Well… I wanna talk ta ya about Joe. We was in the barn doin’ our chores tonight and he got ta askin’ me about Adam, and… I don’t think I handled the situation to good.”

“What happened?” Ben asked as he sat in the chair by Hoss’ desk. Based on his conversation with his youngest, he knew what Hoss was about to say, but he wanted to hear things from his middle son’s perspective.

“Pa, he asked me what I meant about Adam comin’ home and bein’ a family again. I thought he was joshin’ me. And well… he kinda said he didn’t know Adam, and I got mad at him. Told him it weren’t funny and he should be happy Adam was comin’ home, that I was gonna be real happy to have my brother back. But the more I got to figurin’… Pa, Adam’s been gone for about five years, and Joe bein’ almost eleven, he’s been gone almost half a Joe’s life… What if he really don’t remember him?”

Ben closed his eyes and gave thanks that his sons cared for each other. “I’ve spoken with Joe; I overheard him talking to his mother’s picture, earlier…”

“And?” Hoss quietly asked.

“You’re right. Joe knows about Adam, his letters, his picture, his bedroom, and that they’re brothers, but he doesn’t remember Adam…the things they did together or things we did as a family. I suggested that once he meets Adam, that he first starts out thinking of Adam as a friend and hopefully that will lead him to remembering Adam as his brother.”

“I’m sorry, Pa…”

“Hoss, there’s no reason for you to be sorry. I guess I should have thought about it myself. You and I have strong memories about Adam, but the twelve years age difference between the two of them… and Joe’s young age when Adam left… Things will work out, I’m sure of it.”

“Are we still not gonna tell Joe that Adam will be comin’ home with us after the cattle drive?”

“In light of him not remembering, I don’t want to put any more pressure on the boy. I did tell Joe it would be some time before Adam came home, though.”

“Thanks, Pa. Guess I’ll turn in.”

Ben stood from the chair, bid his son goodnight, blew out the lantern, and closed the door behind him as he headed for his own bedroom. After changing into his bedclothes, Ben wondered how he could not have foreseen the reality he’d stumbled upon that night, as he slipped between the covers of his own bed.

*****

As his attention returned to the present, Ben vowed that he would take Adam aside shortly before they arrived at the ranch to explain the situation involving Joe and his lack of ‘remembering’; Ben didn’t want to tarnish his oldest son’s homecoming any sooner than necessary.

*****

Once Adam’s luggage was collected, the family made plans to head to the hotel where Ben had already reserved a suite for their use.

“Pa, if you don’t mind, I need to find the telegraph office. I’d like to wire Grandfather that I’ve arrived home safely,” Adam stated as he collected his valise.

“I’m sure Abel would appreciate that. Please, let him know I said, ‘Hello’.”

Adam nodded while Hoss ambled on to the hotel, toting Adam’s luggage, his trunk would be delivered later. Before the stage’s arrival, Ben had made arrangements for Adam’s trunk to be delivered to their room by workers from the stage line.

*****

As they shared their first evening meal together, Adam fell into old times with his father, as if he’d not been gone for five years; the conversation flowed effortlessly in both directions. It only took a few hours once he stepped off the stage to truly reconnect with his middle brother, getting accustomed to the fact that this brother was almost a man grown was unnerving, but not difficult. In fact, Adam appreciated the maturity Hoss displayed as they discussed the changes to the ranch that had occurred during his absence, and he appreciated all the work his brother did alongside their father and the ranch hands. As they talked of the Ponderosa, Adam mentally made modifications to the designs he had planned to incorporate into the running of the ranch.

Hoss asked a lot of questions regarding Harvard and the time Adam spent in Boston. He remembered a few stories from some of Adam’s letter that he wanted more detail than what would be written down. And so as Adam recounted the stories and the little particulars, here and there, the family laughed and enjoyed their time together.

*****

Unknowing exactly when Adam’s stage would arrive, Ben had planned to spend several days in Sacramento as a reward for Hoss after all his hard work and added on a few more as a respite for Adam before the last leg of their trip home. Ben was also looking forward to a few days of relaxing as they had just spent two long weeks rounding up cattle and another week pushing them on the trail to the U.S. Army post outside of Sacramento. He knew they should have hired on more men to accommodate the size of the herd they were pushing, but there just weren’t enough men willing to hire on as drovers in the growing town of Virginia City.

Ben and Hoss pulled extra duty in riding night watch over the herd, allowing the drovers a few extra hours of sleep to make up for the shortage of manpower. But the drovers’ extra sleep at night did nothing to alleviate the hours in the saddle during the day and the extra work each man assumed on the short-staffed drive. As a bonus, Ben allowed their hands a few extra days of relaxation in Sacramento before he expected them to return to the Ponderosa.

*****

As they were waiting for dessert to be served, Adam expressed his apologies at having caused his family to wait several extra days for his arrival.

“We didn’t have to wait any extras days, brother. We got held up tryin’ ta cross a few rivers between here and home. We only got here yesterday ourselves, but we still got the herd here before the penalty clause woulda kicked in. And believe it or not, the army wouldn’t take possession of the herd until they’d examined each an’ every one of them this mornin’; last night the hands weren’t too pleased to find out they couldn’t go celebratin’ until today.”

“Sorry to hear about your problems. We experienced several breakdowns as well as one time I volunteered to take the next stage and a couple other times the station manager informed me that my seat was on the next westbound stage.”

“Regardless, you’re here, son.” Ben stated with a smile of gratitude that his oldest had finally been safely returned.

*****

Once they had finished their dinner at the hotel, all three Cartwrights headed for the saloon where Ben and Hoss knew their hands would be celebrating. Adam enjoyed seeing and talking with several of the hands who he remembered from before he’d left for college; he enjoyed sharing a beer with all of them as he listened to some of them boasting of the outrageous shenanigans of his youngest brother.

*****

A day of sightseeing and inspecting some of the livestock that were scheduled for auction later in the week reminded Adam how much he was looking forward to returning to being a cattleman now that he had fulfilled his dream of furthering his education. Later, he and his family relaxed around the hotel room for a second evening.

Hoss had already bid them goodnight in an effort to give his Pa and Adam a little private time together. Having waited long enough, Adam stated, “Pa, I know our stay in Sacramento is a bonus for all the hard work Hoss has done, as well as to give me some time without being jostled about in a stage… but if you don’t mind, I’d really like to go home. If I were to be real honest, I miss my little brother.”

“Me too,” Hoss sheepishly stated; stepping from one of the bedrooms off the main suite.

“You want to go home too, son?” Ben asked as he looked to his middle son, clad in only a nightshirt and socks.

“Pa, I know ya wanted me to have some fun, and I have had fun seein’ the sights and eatin’ in them fancy restaurants yesterday and taday, but… I know Joe’s probably a poutin’ at home. And keepin’ Adam from him just don’t seem fair. And I miss him too. ‘Sides the quicker we get Adam home, the sooner Joe will remember him.”

“If you’re sure…” Ben watched as both Hoss and Adam nodded, “I’ll tell the hands we’re heading home in the morning, but they can spend one more day here before heading home.”

“Isn’t it a little late to schedule a ride on the stage in the morning?” asked Adam.

“Ain’t no stage for another two days, sides we ain’t goin’ home that way, brother.”

“We’re not? Then how?” Adam’s curiosity rose.

“Ya know Pa, for him being a college edge-e-cated fella, he don’t know a whole lot…” Hoss teased and ducked from the pillow Adam had picked up from the settee and threw his direction.

“Adam,” Ben spoke, as if having to explain something to a very young child, “we have horses in the remuda. Do you remember what a remuda is…” Seeing Adam’s deadpan expression, Ben laughed and continued, intending to jokingly admonish his son, “And don’t give me anything about it being so long since you’ve sat in a saddle, I know for a fact that you made weekly excursions on horseback when the weather allowed.” Ben raised his eyebrows before he stated, “Abel wrote me in his letters.”

Acquiescing, Adam stated, “Just as long as I’m the first one who gets to soak in that big tub in the bathhouse Hoss said you added on to the house. A nice… long… hot… bath.”

Adam stood to bid his father goodnight as he and his brother retired to the same bedroom.

 

Chapter 3: The Shattering

The following morning, with arrangements made for Adam’s trunk to be taken to the chuck wagon where their cook would deliver it back to the Ponderosa, the Cartwrights headed towards the livery. As they entered the building, Adam realized that his father had brought his favorite mount, Beauty. Taking a few moments to examine his horse, running his hands over the animal’s body and legs, Adam whispered, “Thanks, Pa, Hoss.” As the Cartwrights saddled their horses, Adam commented, “Beauty appears to be in good flesh… Who’s been keeping him in condition?”

“Joe’s been doing most of it, I’m just too heavy,” commented Hoss as he hefted his saddle onto the back of his mount, Chubbs.

“Joe? But he’s…”

Ben interrupted Adam, “He’s only worked the horse for the past year or so, and only under close supervision by myself, Hoss, or Charlie. I know how your horse can be and to leave Joe to his own devices with Beauty would be ensuring business for Paul.” Ben slipped the bridle on Buck. “At first I was leery of letting him ride Beauty, but Charlie insisted that Joe’s a natural when it comes to riding. He also told me that he had personally promised Joe a trip to the wood shed should he ever find out that Joe had not followed the rules we set down in order to allow him to ride your horse.”

The men led their horses from the livery, mounted, and rode out of Sacramento.

*****

As he rode beside his brother, Adam enjoyed the leisurely pace set by their father, giving him time to admire the scenery he’d missed experiencing for the past five years.

Though it had taken them seven days to deliver the herd, it would be a much quicker trip home without being encumbered by the cattle. Ben figured they’d make it home in three and a half days, even allowing a slower trip to compensate for Adam’s absence from being in the saddle for prolonged periods of time.

They’d been on the trail for an hour when Adam halted his horse and spoke, “Hoss, can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Hoss replied as he stopped alongside his brother.

Adam crossed his arm over the saddle horn and leaned forward before he spoke, “Last night, you said something… about getting home and Joe remembering me…”

Ben turned his horse, Buck, and answered, “Son, I didn’t want to upset you this soon. I was going to tell you when we were closer to home. But…” Ben faltered in his explanation. “It has been a little more than five years since you’ve been home, and Joe…”

“Adam, ya gotta understand that’s a long time for our little brother. Now don’t get flustered at Pa for not tellin’ ya in a letter, Pa and me didn’t figure it out until a few weeks ago… an’ by then yous already on yer way home.”

“What happened?” Adam asked after taking a deep breath.

“I overheard your brother talking with his mother… her picture that is, and… he stated that he didn’t remember you. Adam, he knows you’re his brother, he knows your picture and I read your letters aloud, but… In the time you’ve been away…”

“He’s forgotten me?” queried Adam, not willing to admit how disheartening it was to hear the news.

“Not forgotten you, exactly, but he doesn’t remember the things you did with him. He’s had other life experiences that have pushed those memories to the back of his mind,” explained Ben.

“I guess I shouldn’t expect him to jump up in my arms once we get home,” Adam forlornly stated. In all the years he’d been gone, he’d not given any thought to things being different upon his return home. His own memories of his time with Joe were as bright as if they had happened the day before.

Ben allowed Adam to his thoughts.

Adam remembered the long hours that Marie had laid in labor as the newest Cartwright had decided not to wait until his expected due date. Joseph Francis Cartwright had made his way into the world just before midnight on Halloween, almost a month premature. Images of holding his newest brother in his arms, and then the pride he took when he helped the youth take his first faltering steps which years later led to the boy riding his pony for the first time.

Adam saddened as he remembered the nights with broken sleep as the young boy grieved the loss of his mother and suffered nightmares that couldn’t be calmed until he was snuggled in his brother’s arms. The nightmares lasted for weeks and finally subsided upon Ben’s return home, having taken time away from the Ponderosa and his sons to come to terms with the grief of losing his third wife.

After Adam cleared his throat, indicating he was once again in the present, Ben continued, “I talked with him, and suggested the two of you start out as friends. I also told him that you didn’t really know him either. You don’t know the young man he’s becoming.”

Hoss snickered, which changed to a cough when he saw his father look at him.

“If what the hands said last night were true, maybe I don’t want to know this brother of mine,” Adam jested, trying to lighten the mood.

“Adam,” Ben scolded.

“I’m sorry, Pa. I was only joking.” Adam lowered his eyes, not sure how to proceed.

Accepting his son’s sincerity, Ben continued, “I’m sure in time he’ll start remembering all the good things the two of you did once you start interacting together.”

Adam didn’t how exactly how to handle the news he just heard; he had looked forward to picking up his life with both his brothers where it had left off when he departed for college. It only took a few hours to reconnect with Hoss and laugh about old times, but to know that Joe didn’t remember those ‘old times’…

“Anyway, older brother… Joe mighta been thinkin’ while Pa an’ me been gone and he mighta remembered ya by now, and if he does, ya gotta be prepared ta tangle with a wildcat. That boy’s done grown while ya been gone. Now he’s still on the plumb-puny side, but he ain’t the little scamp ya mighta remember.”

“Compared to you, who isn’t on the plumb-puny side?” teased Adam.

“I’m just a growin’ boy who appreciates the good food that Hop Sing fixes us,” boasted Hoss as he rubbed his stomach. “I done lost a few pounds while we been on the trail.”

“I’m sure you have, son,” teased Ben, enjoying the camaraderie.

*****

Three days out from Sacramento and after three nights camping under the tapestry of the Sierra night time sky, the majesty of the Ponderosa came into sight. Several hours later, all three men recognized something was sorely wrong as they halted their horses and looked down into the valley to view the main ranch house. Without words among them, they put their heels to their horses’ flanks and raced towards the smoke that lazily rose into the sky and flowed on the currents of the breeze. As they entered the yard, each man could smell the acrid odor of burned lumber, hay, and straw; the sight of the smoldering main barn stopped them in their tracks.

“What happened?” Hoss was the first to ask as he, his father, and brother stepped from their mounts.

Without giving voice to his thoughts, Adam begged, ‘Please don’t let this be an accident cause by Little Joe.’

Ben was the first to approach the charred remains, shaking his head.

“We can rebuild it Pa,” Adam stated as he moved to stand behind his father and placed his right hand on the man’s left shoulder. “We can build one, even better.”

“Thank you, son,” Ben stated, patted his son’s hand and turned to approach the house.

“Where is everyone?” Hoss asked as he fell in line behind his family.

“Joe!” Ben called out as he stepped to the wooden porch. “Joseph! We’re home and have a surprise for you!”

Ben pushed open the door and stepped inside; surprised his youngest was not yelling and bounding down the steps to greet them. He was actually glad his oldest sons had wanted to travel home sooner, thus allowing Adam to return on a weekend, when Joe would not be in school. As much as the youth had pleaded his case to go on the cattle drive, Ben could only imagine how much grief his youngest son would give him in order to get out of going to school the next day.

“Hey shortshanks, where ya hidin’?” Hoss hollered as he entered the great room, removed his hat and hung it on the pegs behind the door.

“Ben?” Doctor Paul Martin stated as he came around the corner from the dining area and stopped.

“My God… How bad was Joe injured?” Seeing their family friend and physician standing there startled Ben, he felt his stomach drop.

“I’m sorry Ben,” Paul stated.

Ben trembled.

“Tell us what happened,” Adam ordered, removing his hat as he came to stand beside his father.

“I’m sorry this isn’t the welcome home you were expecting, Adam,” Paul used as an answer.

“Where’s Joe? What’s happened to Joe?” Ben demanded as he took a step forward.

“Ben!” Sheriff Vernon Biggs called from outside the door as he made his way to the front entrance of the ranch house. “I thought I heard horses, but…”

“But what, Vern?” Ben asked as he turned to watch the approaching lawman.

“I thought you might have been the posse returning…”

“Why’d the posse be returnin’? Why’re you here, Sheriff?” Hoss asked, getting the feeling he was not going to like the lawman’s answer.

“There just isn’t any other way to say it other than come right out and say, the Ponderosa was attacked yesterday, we don’t know exactly who done it, other than what little information Charlie was able to tell us before the doctor operated. He said he heard whooping and hollering and rifle shots, then he took an arrow in the shoulder. He told me that he and Little Joe were in the barn when it all started and he yelled for your boy to get to the cellar and bar himself in.”

“If he went to the cellar, where is he?” Adam stoically asked.

When neither the lawman nor the doctor would answer, panic continued to build in the pit of Ben’s stomach, he demanded, “Where’s Joe?! Vern?! Paul?!” He looked from one man to the other and back again.

“We don’t know. Whoever it was, it appears they took him.” Biggs stopped to gather his thoughts. “The men who survived searched everywhere they could think of… Moss came to town to get me, told me what he found when he and the men returned from the range, and I formed a posse and brought the doc. From the footprints, it appears that Joe tried to make it to the cellar. We found his tracks and there’s no other explanation than they took him with them when they took the supplies from your cellar.”

“Be DAMNED the supplies! WHERE’S MY SON?!” demanded Ben as he took a step forward and grabbed the front of the sheriff’s vest.

“We don’t know,” Biggs frankly answered, accepting the honest anger the father directed towards him.

“Why aren’t you out with the posse?!” Adam bluntly asked, forcing his way between his father and the sheriff.

“Because the soldiers stopped us last night, I had to come back… But I sent a few of the men back out earlier this morning to where we were stopped, just to see if they could find anything.”

“Ben, Vern’s done all he could within the confines the army placed on him. I’ve been here all night, tending to the wounded,” Paul Martin added.

“The Army?! What does the Army have to do with this?” demanded Adam.

“How many wounded and how bad?” asked Hoss at the same time Adam was questioning about the Army.

Paul answered, “Two men killed outright, their bodies were transported to the undertaker’s last night. Charlie took an arrow to the shoulder and must have struck his head on something as he fell; he also has suffered a severe concussion. We’re just lucky he was making as much sense as he was to tell us what happened. Pete took two bullets, one to the back of his shoulder and another to his leg, while Jose took a bullet to his side. I operated on all three, and Charlie’s been running a fever, it finally broke about an hour ago. They’ll all recover, given time and rest.”

“And the other men?” Hoss inquired.

“George and Keegan were killed. I’m sorry, Ben, they were already dead when I arrived,” Paul answered. “It’s unfortunate that from what Pete said, they finished work early and returned to the bunk house. Otherwise, it would have only been Charlie, Joe, and Moss here when it happened.”

Sheriff Biggs continued with the story, “There weren’t that many hands here, but I left two to stand as guard and took the others with me on the posse. We had to come back after the army stopped us. After dark, the McCloud brothers offered to light out after them soldier boys to see if they could find Little Joe. There wasn’t anything they could do until this morning, so I told ‘em to wait until first light.”

“Where’s Hop Sing?” Hoss asked; he was worried for his little brother, but Hop Sing had become a member of the family, too.

“He was in town, getting supplies… He’s been in the bunk house helping to tend to Pete and Jose, Charlie’s in the guest room down here.” Paul pointed to the room the other side of the wall. Seeing the expression on the elder Cartwright’s face, Paul continued, “Ben, Hop Sing’s torn up about this. Little Joe was originally supposed to go to town with him, but at the last minute the boy decided he wanted to stay home. The man’s regretting that he didn’t make the boy go with him, said something about the boy saying he was remembering Adam…”

“Wait a minute, why weren’t Little Joe in school?” Hoss asked. “Yesterday was a school day.”

“The teacher was out sick, hadn’t been feeling too good the day before. He came to see me and I said he needed to get plenty of rest, so he canceled school until Monday,” Paul answered.

“Has there been any kind of ransom demand?” Adam asked.

“Ransom?” Sheriff Biggs asked.

“They kidnapped my younger brother,” Adam bitterly stated. “Pa’s building an empire here, what other reason would anyone have for taking Little Joe?!”

“I can’t say,” acknowledged Sheriff Biggs.

“Vern, you said the army was here and stopped you. Why? Why was the army here?” Ben asked. “What aren’t you telling me?!”

Adam spoke before the lawman could answer, “You said… you couldn’t say, not that you didn’t know… you know something. Tell us!”

“Ben, the Ponderosa isn’t the first place to have been hit. But it was the first ranch in this area to have them attack… and in broad daylight.”

“What are you talkin’ about, Sheriff?” asked Hoss.

“Who did this, Sheriff?!” Adam’s tone indicated he wasn’t comfortable with the words or the actions of the sheriff. From what he understood, these raiders hadn’t only struck the Ponderosa, others had been at risk. Even with his college education, Adam couldn’t put the whole picture together; with other ranches under attack there is no way his father would have driven a herd to Sacramento, nor would he have allowed the men to have some down time, and then leisurely ridden home. If there had been trouble in the vicinity, the hands at the ranch would not have been as unprepared as it appeared they had been. Something did not add up.

“Son, I don’t know you, but I’m the sheriff and I do believe I’m due your respect.”

“My name is Adam Cartwright, Sheriff,” Adam stepped close to the lawman before he continued, “As for respect, you’ll get my respect once you’ve earned it. Now just who does the army think took my brother, if it wasn’t for a ransom demand, then why?!”

“Adam,” Ben interrupted by placing his hand on Adam’s upper arm and tried to pull him away from the lawman, “he’s my son.”

“He’s my brother!” Adam shouted without taking his eyes from the lawman.

“Then let me handle this,” Ben’s voice pleaded.

“WHO?!” Adam demanded, not being distracted from the lawman.

When the lawman didn’t speak up right away Hoss spoke, “You said Charlie was shot with an arrow, and the others with bullets. Who goes around usin’ both? You’re mixin’ white men and Indians…”

“The Army thinks it was a band of comancheros,” Biggs answered.

“Comancheros? Here?” Hoss asked, unbelieving.

“Biggs you know as well as I do that the comanchero are down in the New Mexico territory and the Texas panhandle. They’ve never been this far north,” Ben voiced his disbelief. “How could the army possibly think they’d be here?”

“They’ve been following a rogue band of riders, Mexican, Indian, white, even a few blacks from what they said. The men who were leading them were wearing faded army uniforms…” Biggs answered.

“Then call them what they truly are, marauders,” Adam ordered. “I’ll ask you again, why is the Army after them?! Why weren’t we warned?!”

“Ben…” Biggs expression indicated he didn’t want to say what he knew, but the eldest son kept pressing the issue. “Ben, you know the telegraph line has been down for some time due to that fire. It’s taken the company a long time to replace all the poles and restring the wire. They only got it reconnected to Virginia City while you were gone. There was no way for us to know. ‘Sides, the Army’s been slowly making their way into this territory for months following the… marauders, they’ve been on their tail the whole time; maybe they didn’t have the time to send out wires.”

“That’s no excuse,” Adam inserted, “We should have been notified. Pa and Hoss just delivered a herd to the fort outside of Sacramento, why wasn’t anything said to them there?!”

“It’s possible California wasn’t warned because they weren’t in their territory,” suggested Biggs.

“The Ponderosa is as close to California as you can get without being in California. That’s no excuse!” Adam declared.

Ignoring the oldest Cartwright son, the lawman continued, “This particular patrol was originally out of Texas and has been following this group from there, into northern New Mexico and now here. Unfortunately, they always appear to be a day behind them. Until yesterday, this is the closest they’ve come to getting them, the Army showed up last evening…”

“I don’t understand, why didn’t the Army send out dispatches…” a pained Ben stated.

“They’ve been following them, trying to stop ‘em, or kill ‘em… Ben, there’s more to it than just stealing food and supplies…”

“That’s obvious by the fact that they’ve kidnapped my youngest brother,” declared Adam.

“It’s possible that this group…” Biggs stumbled over his words. “From what I found out from a sergeant, while in Texas and New Mexico, they’ve taken women and children from other ranches to sell down below the border or to certain establishments in San Francisco…” It pained the man to admit.

“What establishments you talkin’ about, Sheriff?” Hoss innocently asked.

“Slavery,” answered Adam in a cold tone.

“But Joe ain’t a negro,” Hoss replied. “Why would one of these establishments want Joe?”

Adam hated to be the one to tarnish his middle brother’s innocence, but he knew of no other way. “Hoss, there’s more than one kind of slavery and it disgusts me to say, but there are those who would use young boys… places along the Barbary Coast, in San Francisco and other denizens in larger cities…” Adam continued after seeing the look of not understanding on his brother’s face. “Crime bosses prostitute young boys.”

“But what would women want of a boy like Joe?” Hoss innocently asked.

“It’s not women… I’ve a friend who investigated and wrote an exposé for the newspaper while I was in Boston, there are men who… they relieve their sexual needs by using young boys… they’re perverse.”

“My God,” breathed Ben.

“But the Sheriff said he could be sold in Mexico?” Hoss asked, still horrified at what Adam said, but hoping there was another alternative.

“We don’t know that’s how he’s being sold in San Francisco. He could be sold as a cabin boy to some ship’s captain.” Biggs saw the look of horror upon Ben’s face and tried to diminish the revulsion behind the possibilities of why the boy had been taken. “In Mexico he’d be sold into slavery to some of the larger rancheros or possibly be sold to some mine as cheap labor, someone small enough who wouldn’t necessarily attract attention or someone small enough to get into areas to set blasting charges,” Biggs answered.

“Throw away labor… Cheap and expendable,” Adam’s words held venom. “Use the child until there’s nothing left to use and replace them with another.”

“And these men… ” Ben closed his eyes… his balance wavered. “Marie… please forgive me,” he whispered.

Adam grabbed hold of one of Ben’s arms; nodded his head to indicate for Hoss to take the other arm as they guided their father farther into the great room and sat him into his burgundy leather chair.

Adam turned away from his grief-stricken father and proceeded to walk to the round table near the staircase. As he pulled the glass stopper from the decanter, Adam paused a moment, briefly looked the room over and thought on how some things never change and others, change in such an unbelievable manner.

 

Chapter 4: The Offering of a Life

Adam set the decanter back to the table before he turned around, absent mindedly swirling the amber liquid within the glass. As he looked around and took note of everything and everyone in the room, he averted his eyes when he came to his father. He looked up upon hearing the soft padding of footsteps coming through the dining area; it appalled him to see the expression worn by Hop Sing. The man slowly placed one foot in front of the other, indicating his approached was made with great trepidation.

Adam thought if his father had aged ten years since walking through the doorway, Hop Sing had aged… He didn’t know how to evaluate the man’s age; he hadn’t seen the family’s beloved major domo in five years. Had Joe’s growing up aged the man, or was it compounded by the events of the past twenty-four hours that put the age onto the man’s face? He’d never known how old the man was and he knew that most adults of Chinese descent appeared younger than their actual age.

Hop Sing cautiously stopped beside the chair which failed to comfort the family’s patriarch. His head bowed in unworthiness, shoulders slumped, his back hunched, leaning forward, his hands nervously clasped in front, slightly visible between the gap where the cuffs of his long sleeves touched together.

The servant spoke solemnly to his employer, in his stilted English, “Mr. Cartwright, this unworthy servant beg forgiveness. I bring shame to home. I pack and leave before nightfall.”

“Leave?” a startled Hoss queried as he stepped towards the smaller man. “Why ya wanta leave?”

“No want leave, must. Not worthy to stay,” answered the humbled servant, not willing to look to any of the men standing in the room.

“No Hop Sing,” stated Adam, having walked over and stopped next to his father to whom he handed the glass of brandy. “You are a part of this family.”

“No, I not worthy of family… not worthy of me to stay.”

“Hop Sing, did you help those men to take Little Joe?” asked Adam as he stepped around his father’s chair. From his peripheral vision he saw the doctor encouraging his father to drink the brandy.

“NO!” Hop Sing declared in anger as he looked up, hands separated and clinched into fists. “I love Lit’le Joe like own son!”

“Then why do you feel unworthy of staying?” Adam knew what the man’s answer would be; he had experienced the special relationship between his grandfather and some of his employees at the ships’ chandler shop while he had been back east. They would do anything for the man they had served under out upon the Atlantic… even give their life to protect the one who meant so much to them. One man had done just that during an attempted robbery of the shop.

“Honorable fatha ask I watch over numba three son, I fail.”

“Hop Sing,” Ben stated as the brandy worked its magic in restoring his sense of self. “When you went to town, who was watching over Little Joe?”

Guiltily, Hop Sing heard accusation in Ben’s question and voiced, “Charlie say he watch Lit’le Joe while I go get supplies.” His head humbly bowed again.

“Then I should fire Charlie for allowing those men to take my son.”

“No! Charlie try protect boy, tell boy run to cellar.”

“Then why should I fire you? You weren’t even here. You temporarily transferred your responsibilities for my son to my ranch foreman, a man I trust as implicitly as I trust you.”

“I no understand…” Hop Sing stated as he looked beseechingly to his employer.

“Pa means that he trusts you, your loyalty. Had you been here, Pa knows you would have fought those marauders to keep Joe safe, just as Charlie and the others tried. If it came to it, you would have given your life to keep Joe safe,” answered Adam.

“I die for Joe… I give you my life… It is yours,” Hop Sing stated as he wondered how his life would be forfeited. He bowed deeper in shame.

“I will not accept your life, Hop Sing… Your life is yours to live, whether here or elsewhere, that is your decision. That has always been your choice. But what I would ask is, if you decide to stay, that you continue to watch over my home, my sons. You are a part of our family and when we bring Joe home, he would be quite upset to find you not here,” stated Ben as he tried to explain so the man would understand. “Will you stay, and watch over my family?”

“I stay for Joe…” answered Hop Sing after looking to each man he served.

“Won’t ya stay for me?” Hoss pleadingly asked as Hop Sing looked at him.

“And for me?” Adam inquired, not as emotionally as Hoss had asked. As he watched the Oriental man nod, he was thankful that his father had been able to express the words that had failed him.

“I stay for family,” declared Hop Sing, knowing that he owed this family more than they could ever understand.

In his eyes, by not being there to protect the life of the youngest Cartwright he had committed an egregious act that should have at least cost him his employment, or at most, his life. Even though the eldest Cartwright spoke kind words, Hop Sing couldn’t understand how the man could not order the forfeiture of his life. In his homeland he had witnessed servants lose their jobs and some their lives, as ordered by the prefectures or the magistrates when one of their children they were responsible to care for had suffered a slight injury. Hop Sing worried that maybe his employer would not be so noble should injury or harm fall upon his youngest. He accepted the kind words knowing that his life could still be forfeit once the boy was found. Until that time, the faithful Oriental promised himself that he would work harder and longer in an effort to restore the trust he knew he had lost, whether his employer would admit it or not.

“Good man.” Ben took a deep breath. “As for the time being, would you continue to help Paul take care of the men?”

“Yes, I help honorable Doctor Martin. Later, I cook supper for family.”

Quietly the man left the room and returned to the kitchen where he had been preparing food for the wounded men.

 

Chapter 5: Getting Organized

Doctor Martin had quietly waited beside where Ben sat and decided now was the time to continue his evaluation of his friend; he tried to reach for the man’s wrist.

“I’m fine Paul,” declared Ben, pulling his arm from the doctor’s grasp as he sat straighter in his chair. “Now, what more do you know that you’ve not told us?” Ben directed his question to Sheriff Biggs.

As the lawman spoke with his father, Adam made his way upstairs.

*****

Stepping into his old bedroom, Adam was taken back that everything was as he remembered the last time he had been within the room… nothing had been moved. He knew that Hop Sing had been in the room recently, there wasn’t a speck of dust upon any surface and he could tell that his bed had been freshly made for his impending return. His thoughts drifted back to his final night at home and how he tried to console his youngest brother, he tried to convince Joe that he would return once he had learned all he could while at Harvard.

“Are ya gonna go away like Momma?” five year old Little Joe asked as he hid behind the partly opened door, hesitant to fully enter his oldest brother’s room. The light from the lamp in the room showed the fears upon the child’s face.

Adam saw the boy’s tear-stained face and lower lip quivering. He laid down his book and held out his arms, encouraging the boy to enter the room. He lifted the blankets so the child could snuggle under the covers with him. Once the bedsheets covered both of them Adam replied, “Joe I’m only going away to college, but I promise you, I’ll return.”

“But Momma promised me she’d come home,” Joe sniffled.

“When did she promise you she’d come home?”

“When she put me down for a nap, I didn’t want to sleep. Adam… You not going away because I made Momma die, are ya?”

Startled at his brother’s question, Adam sat forward and sternly looked into Joe’s eyes, “Joe you didn’t make your Momma die.”

“I did too… “ Joe sniffled deeply.

“Joe, Marie’s horse tripped, she was hurt so bad when they fell that God didn’t want her to suffer, so he called her to heaven.”

Wiping his sleeve under his runny nose, Little Joe replied, “God wouldn’ta had to call her to heaven had I kept my promise.”

“Joe…” Adam was concerned for his little brother and needed to know what secret his brother was keeping. “Joe why don’t you tell me about the promise you and Marie made that day.”

“I didn’t wanna take my nap… I heard Momma say she was going to town to see Doctor Paul, he always gives me candy when I go there. I wanted to go with Momma…”

This was the first time Adam had heard anything of where Marie had been before returning home that fateful day.

“Momma said she’d bring me some candy if I promised to go to sleep and take my nap. I wanted the candy… an’ I told Momma, ‘I promise.’ And she promised she’d be home when I woke an’ when I woke, she’d have some candy for me…”

Sobs began to wrack the young boy’s body as he poured out his heart to his brother.

Adam had difficulties in understanding as his brother talked and continued to cry, but he heard enough, “I didn’t … sleep. I broke my promise …. Momma died … … ‘cause I was bad.”

Wrapping his arms tighter around his brother and pulling the boy to his lap Adam stated, “Joe, your not taking your nap had nothing to do with your mother’s death. It just happened, and it would have happened whether you had been asleep or not.”

Joe held tight to Adam’s nightshirt. “But the preacher…” *inhale* “he said bad things happen…” *inhale* “when people aren’t good.” *Sniffle* “I was bad, so Momma died.”

“No, Joe. No, no, no. You are not bad, believe me. At times you are trying, but you are not bad. You did not cause your mother’s death. Joe… look at me.”

Adam waited until Joe calmed down enough and would look at him.

“I want you to know, that I will come home. Whether you take a nap or not, whether you’re a good boy for Pa and Hoss or whether you misbehave… I will return. Have I ever lied to you?”

Joe shook his head.

“Would you like to sleep in here with me tonight?”

Joe nodded. Adam leaned back to lie down and pulled his brother with him. Adam felt bad for his sibling, he couldn’t believe that the little boy had held this memory in secret, “No wonder he had such horrible nightmares, I can’t believe he never said anything to anyone…” Adam thought to himself as he cuddled his brother.

He reached over to turn down the lamp; however, sleep eluded the eldest Cartwright son for the longest time as he worried if he should tell their father of the boy’s secret. As the light of morning broke into Adam’s room, he woke to find his brother missing and he began to panic until Hop Sing entered his room bearing a tray with a small coffee pot and a cup.

“Fatha take brotha to room earlier, he no wake… sleep like angel.”

“Thank you Hop Sing.”

With all the activity of packing for the trip to town, Adam forgot to talk to his father about his conversation with his youngest brother.

*****

Looking up and realizing how he hadn’t moved since he’d entered his room, Adam sensed his larger brother behind him and said, “I’m riding into town to send wires, if the telegraph is back up like Biggs said, and organize some posters.”

“What do ya want me ta do?” Hoss asked.

Hoss watched as Adam changed out of his traveling clothes and dressed in his dark blue work jeans, red button-up work shirt, and black vest. After pulling on his well-worn work boots, he stood from the wooden chair, and walked across the floor, he knelt in front of the armoire in his room. From the locked box built into the bottom, he pulled out his revolver, gun belt, and several boxes of ammunition.

“Stay here with Pa,” Adam finally answered his brother as he stood up.

“I wanta go with ya,” Hoss declared.

“No, you need to stay here with Pa.”

“But Adam… you’ve been gone from here for five years. You don’t know the territory or the people anymore. Ya can’t go on your own.”

“Hoss, I can’t just sit here and do nothing. Look, like I said, I’m only going to town to get word out that Joe’s been kidnapped.”

“Are ya comin’ back?”

“I’ll be back as soon as I send the wire and arrange for posters to be drawn and shipped out.”

“Adam, as long as the weather holds, I can trail after them.” Hoss wanted to, no, he needed to go after his little brother.

“Who?”

“The McCloud brothers… Biggs said they’re following ‘em. Adam, I’ve been working with them, ever since before I got outta school, they’ve been teachin’ me about trackin’. I think we can catch up with Wren and Orlando. If we do that, then we can find Joe before anythin’ happens to ‘em.”

“Hoss I’m going to town, but I’ll be back tonight,” Adam stated as he finished fastening his holster around his waist.

“You’re not gonna go lookin’ for Joe?” Hoss asked in surprise.

“We’re gonna go lookin’ for Joe, as you so eloquently say, but first, I need to get word out about Joe’s abduction, and then…tonight, we’ll go over the map so I can have a better idea of what’s happened around the territory while I’ve been away.”

“When do we ride out then?” Hoss took comfort in the fact that he knew that he would be leaving with his oldest brother when he finally did ride out to look for their brother.

“Before first light; have everything ready before I return, pack horse, provisions…”

“I’ll be ready.”

“Ammunition and a couple of spare rifles for both of us, too.”

“Sure Adam, if you think they’re needed.”

“I do.” Before leaving his room, Adam asked, “You’re sure you can follow their trail?”

“Shucks Adam, I bet you anythin’ that Wren and Orlando left a trail for me to follow onced I got home.”

“I hope you’re right. Try to take it easy little brother; it’s going to be a while before we get to sleep in our own beds again.”

“Adam…” Hoss prepared to leave his brother’s room, he stopped at the doorway, and looked back into the room that had been vacant for too many years, “Them places, do they really do that to little boys?”

Adam nodded as he picked up his jacket from his bed.

“I’m sorry your welcome home weren’t all you’d hoped ita be.”

“Me too… Don’t worry, we’ll find Joe.” Adam lifted and resettled his revolver in his holster and followed Hoss from the room.

 

Chapter 6: Spreading the Word

Adam rode into Virginia City, ignoring the changes that he had thought about after reading his father’s letters. He only had one thing on his mind, hoping the telegraph office was still located where he remembered.

Tying Beauty in front of the building, Adam entered to find an older, bespectacled man standing behind the counter.

“Can I help ya, young fella?” the man inquired.

“If the telegraph is back up, I need to send a wire to all the nearby towns,” Adam answered as he began writing the wire.

‘$1,000 Reward for Return of 10-year old Joseph Cartwright – KIDNAPPED.’

“Adam? Adam Cartwright? I don’t believe it. Welcome home, son,” the man greeted as he finally recognized the man standing at the counter.

Without acknowledgement, Adam handed the sheet of paper to the man.

The telegrapher read the note, his face fell from the heartfelt greeting to one of disbelief. “You’re serious… This why Sheriff Biggs went to the Ponderosa?”

Adam nodded, “If you know Joe well enough, could you add a description?” Adam ruefully inquired.

“Sure, I know your little brother. I can work with Oliver Pratt over at the Territorial Enterprise to publish this in the newspaper too.”

“Thanks,” offered Adam as he turned to leave the office.

“Tell your Pa and Hoss, we’ll be praying for Little Joe’s safe return.”

*****

Standing on the boardwalk, Adam turned and re-entered the telegraph office.

“I’d like for you to also send the wire to the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Denver. They can help get the word out to their agency in San Francisco and other locations, possibly any Army fort.”

“Adam, I’ll do anything you ask, but why not wait for a ransom demand?”

“Biggs and the Army feel Joe was taken by men who weren’t looking for a ransom. Just get those messages sent and put the cost on the Ponderosa’s account.”

“Will do, Adam.”

The man turned, walked to his desk, sat down in his chair, and began tapping out the messages to any and all the towns, he didn’t care how long it took or how far the message went, he was going to do all he could to see that he passed the word of Joe Cartwright’s abduction.

*****

The more he thought about it, the more it didn’t make sense that those men would take Joe without a ransom demand. If they needed money, there was plenty for the asking when it came to the prosperity behind the Ponderosa. Why take the boy only to sell him? Maybe the marauders had no real knowledge of the homestead or the family.

“God, why couldn’t this have been a simple kidnapping for ransom?” Adam asked as he turned his horse for home.

*****

Ben had had enough of listening as Sheriff Biggs tried to re-explain what he had learned from the soldiers. He grew angry at the lawman’s insistence that he leave it to the army to return his son; especially in light of the fate his son faced. He finally held up both hands and pushed past the lawman and the physician. He quickly mounted his horse and raced away from the homestead.

After twenty minutes of fast riding and foolhardiness for not paying attention to the ground his horse was covering, Ben found himself on his knees facing the stark tombstone of the last woman he had loved and lost.

“Marie…” Ben pleaded as he collapsed in anguish at the suffering his youngest son had to be experiencing. “I can’t lose him… I can’t lose my… our son.”

Grief enveloped him as he regretted leaving his son home in an effort to protect him; in his desire to protect his son, he’d left him to a future worse than anything that could have happened during a weeklong cattle drive.

Having heard his eldest mention San Francisco, he remembered the times they’d driven a herd to the city and how he’d warned his drovers about Shanghai attempts. But now, San Francisco held a different kind of terror, fears for those too young to protect themselves from some of the worst of mankind – those whose sexual appetite was deviate to God’s teachings.

During his years at sea, he’d heard horror tales from other ships where cabin boys as well as smaller men we prayed upon by larger crewmen; months at sea without a woman in sight drove some men beyond reason. Ben Cartwright couldn’t understand how such a thing could happen within a city the size of San Francisco where houses of ill-repute were more common than the churches.

As a father, he almost prayed that his son’s fate rested in Mexico, in the dank mines; best his son’s life end quickly in a blasting mishap or a cave-in rather than suffer untold miseries as some man’s play thing, if they weren’t able to locate him.

‘God forgive me for thinking such thoughts,’ Ben prayed as he clasped his hands together and bowed his head.

The leaves in the trees surrounding the hallowed location rustled as a gentle breeze blew across the cape where Marie Cartwright’s grave overlooked the quiet of Lake Tahoe. The widower’s cheek grew warm as if the love of his life were caressing his face, seeking to comfort him. Taking strength, Ben spoke, “I’ll bring him home. I’ll find him, no matter how long it takes. Thank you, my love.”

Ben returned to the Ponderosa, invigorated with plans on what he was going to do; the Army be damned!

 

Chapter 7: The Search

The sun had yet to rise when three Cartwrights made their way to the back barn where their hired hands stabled their horses. Ben had bid Paul Martin goodbye, telling him that he’d compensate the doctor for all his expenses in treating the men in his employ. The night before, he’d requested Sheriff Biggs to convey the same message to the undertaker, seeing to it that the men who had lost their lives in defense of his home were properly taken care of in their final rest.

There was no argument between the brothers that this hunt would be too much for their father, both sons knew they would need his guidance as the search progressed. Their only fear would be his reaction when they came upon the men who’d dare to take their family member. Individually they each wondered who would be the first to claim foul and seek retribution for the suffering of the youngest member of their family.

With their own mounts well laden for a long expedition and packhorses loaded with provisions as well as ammunition, the Cartwrights set out to follow the trail that Hoss knew the McCloud brothers would lay for him to follow.

*****

Three days had passed when Hoss held up his arm, motioning for his father and brother to hold up. Hoss positioned Chubbs deeper into the tree line in an effort to hide from the sound of approaching horses. Ben quickly followed suit with his mount and packhorse. Adam hurriedly found himself praying that neither Beauty nor his packhorse had been seen as he’d hesitated to see who might be approaching.

From the shadows of the forest they watched as a small army patrol moved along the trail, all three gasped when they saw the bedraggled condition of several young women who sat in the back of a wagon in the middle of the column.

Hoss was the first to speak once the patrol was out of sight, “They must have caught up with ‘em.”

“Not all of them, Joe wasn’t in that wagon,” Adam answered. “Anyway, that was too small of a patrol to be the detachment that Biggs told us about.”

“We keep following the original trail. Hoss find Wren and Orlando,” Ben instructed as he kneed his own horse and pulled one of the packhorses out of the woods and onto the trail.

*****

By the end of a week, Hoss had managed to trail the McCloud brothers into Fresno, California where they booked rooms with an adjoining suite at the Fresno House Hotel.

As they settled in and waited for the brothers to make their presence known, Adam was first to broach the subject, “I guess we can be thankful that their trail headed south.”

“How so?” Hoss asked as he pulled off his boots.

“I hate to admit it, but I actually prayed that those marauders would head south and not west. I know it might have been easier to find Joe in San Francisco, but I can’t bear to imagine what he might have gone through until we could find him. At least heading south, for the time being, he’s safer…” Adam admitted.

“Adam,” Ben softly spoke. “You’re not the only one who wished the trail to head south. God forgive me, but if we can’t find your brother, I’d rather he lose his life in a mining accident rather than spend one minute as some…” Ben couldn’t bring himself to speak the word.

“We’ll find him, Pa,” Hoss offered as he stretched back on the settee within the room.

*****

The McCloud brothers entered the hotel restaurant where the maître’d escorted them to the Cartwrights’ table. The men didn’t stand on the pleasantries of shaking hands; they sat down and ate in relative silence after the older McCloud brother indicated it would be best to talk business in the privacy of their hotel room.

Adam had been surprised to see the two men who entered the dining room, looking left to right, he couldn’t tell the two men apart… twins. He’d had a friend at college who’d had younger twin sisters, but he’d never interacted with the girls, they were about as old as his youngest brother, so it was strange to actually meet these two. The McCloud brothers were blonde haired with deep blue eyes, and stood almost as tall as Hoss, yet were as skinny as the poles that held up the telegraph wires. Though their clothes spoke of life on the range, they were neat and as clean as they could be, under the circumstances.

Adam remembered once when his friend Arnold’s family had come to visit, he’d seen the two girls dressed identically and wondered how anyone could ever tell them apart. Now, with his second experience with twins, he was pleased to see these two dressed differently than the other. Throughout the dinner, he participated in the idle conversations, but at the same time, he carefully observed the two, trying to figure out how it was that Hoss knew which brother was which.

*****

As they entered the suite, Wren walked across the common room towards the window, slowly looked out over the street before pulling the blind closed. He turned and crossed his arms over his chest, indicating that Orlando was the one who would be talking.

Hoss felt at ease with the two McCloud brothers, but was surprised when he recognized the fact that Adam was wary of them. The brothers had joined the Ponderosa the year after Adam left for college, so he could understand a little of his brother’s discomfort; he didn’t know the men like Hoss knew them. Hoss knew at times the brother’s relationship could be volatile, one minute bickering to where an outside would fear their disagreement would come to fisticuffs, but if someone stepped across the line to pick on one, their argument would stop and they would staunchly defend their brother. He’d witnessed the two of them laughing and joshing with each other as if there was never a care in the world. Between them, they could get the job done with very little talking, they just knew what the other was going to do and what they needed to do to get the job done. He understood both held deep respect for the other and embraced their deep brotherly love. He could understand that because that’s how he wanted things to be between him and his brothers, well… maybe not the bickering.

“Mr. Cartwright, I guess we should come right out and tell ya that we ain’t seen hide nor hair of Joe yet. We did encounter a patrol who were taking a few women back to where they came from,” Orlando stated.

“We saw them as we’s a followin’ your trail,” Hoss stated.

“One thing I do know, these men are only a small part of a larger organization,” Orlando stated.

“Marauders aren’t an organization,” Adam blatantly stated as he handed the oldest McCloud brother a glass of brandy.

“I agree, but these marauders are too small to have this large of a contingent of soldiers after them. I think the ones who struck the Ponderosa were an offshoot branch, on their way to meet up with a larger body of marauders. There are possibly a lot of smaller groups performing raids at various locations.”

“How do you know this? Are you sure?” Ben inquired.

“Mr. Cartwright,” Wren straightened up from leaning against the wall, listening to his older brother, and began to speak. “We’ve been listening hard when we’ve been fortunate enough to enter a town. Liquor loosens a few tongues but not enough to spill the whole story.”

“Where’re the men who took Joe?” Hoss asked.

“They ain’t here, least not now. We’ve high-tailed it after them, but it’s like they and the army are always one step ahead of us,” Orlando answered.

“Then you don’t know for sure that they’ve been here,” Adam spat, the fact that he had to rely on the clothes the men wore to identify which brother was speaking unnerved him. He knew this inability was only part of the reason for his unease, but something else pulled at him…

“No, they wouldn’t come into a town this size with the law well established; but there are others, in the saloons, who are talking about them. They’re possibly working for some revolution down in Mexico. They’re pillaging ranches and homesteads, taking whatever and whoever they can. It’s thought their intent is to sell their plunder down in Mexico and use the money to purchase weapons and ammunition. But then this could all be a shell game, a ruse… they have no intention of going into Mexico, at least not for some revolution.”

‘Shell game, that’s it,” Adam thought and held in his laugh. One day, Adam had observed a friend at college trying to figure out under which shell the pea was hidden. Though the game was a friendly game between dorm mates, it took a while before Adam saw the pattern of the game and was able to properly determine which shell held the pea. And so he continued to watch and figure out the pattern of these two brothers.

“Seems to me you’ve heard a lot for just sitting around in a few saloons,” Ben emphatically stated.

“Not just saloons, but the Sheriff here is a cousin of ours, on our mom’s side a the family,” Wren spoke. “We didn’t know it until we got ourselves into a little bit of trouble this morning. We told Cousin Jacob why we were here and he filled us in on the rest.”

Orlando continued, “He’s warned us that things could explode this side of the border. If the patrol gets it just right…”

“If’n the army gets it just right then Joe’s safe,” declared Hoss as he sat forward on the settee, eager for a little bit of good news.

“No, if this patrol gets it just right, there won’t be any survivors. Mr. Cartwright, from what Sheriff Habaeger says; this patrol has been out of communication for some time. They’re not reporting back…” Orlando stated.

“Meaning they’re not checking in for new orders,” Wren interrupted.

“It seems that they’re hell-bent for leather on stopping this gang regardless of those caught up in the outcome. Those unfortunate to be captives of the marauders are likely to be considered collateral damage,” Orlando lowered his head as he spoke. “Those four women were lucky.”

“How can the army…” Hoss started to ask.

“It ain’t the army, exactly… It’s the major who’s leading them. He’s refusing to go into any town in chance that his orders might have changed or been modified,” Wren answered.

“Have they?” Adam asked.

Wren answered, “Cousin Jacob can’t say, no one knows exactly where the patrol is, only hearsay.”

“And the Army isn’t eager to air out their dirty laundry to let any town know they possibly have a rogue patrol out there.” Orlando changed the subject back, “Those women you saw on the trail, were what… four of them?”

Ben nodded as he remembered the scene.

“Four who lived. There were five others who didn’t; we found them huddled together where they died.” Wren added in disgust, “They just left them there.”

“Could the marauders have killed them?” Hoss asked, appalled that this could have happened.

“They were killed due to canon fire, we saw the impact craters. Major Albert Weldon only cares about stopping the marauders, period,” Orlando stated. “He doesn’t have to report back on the status of the captives, according to his way a thinking, once a woman’s been taken by these men, they’re as good as dead anyway. He thinks he’s doing the families a favor in not having to deal with the aftermath of a woman being taken by their kind.”

“That can’t be true…” Hoss stated, at a loss to believe what he had heard.

“I wish it weren’t, Hoss. From all the reports we’ve heard, some straight from men who’ve previously served under this major… He doesn’t care how, as long as his mission is accomplished,” Orlando added.

“So,” interrupted Adam, having finally felt comfortable with the two brothers, “how do we proceed from here?”

“We keep looking,” answered Ben.

“Where Pa? The army’s been after them for months… how’re we supposed to find them?” inquired Hoss.

“We talk to the people who won’t talk to the army,” Adam answered. He looked to one of the twins, “And Orlando knows exactly who I mean.”

The man nodded.

*****

As Adam and Hoss settled into their beds for the night, Hoss quietly spoke, “Ya know, ya can trust Orlando and Wren.”

“I know,” Adam answered as he pulled the bedcover to his chest.

“Ya seemed kinda wary of ‘em at supper and once we got to our rooms,” Hoss continued.

“I was… I’ve never had any real dealings with identical twins… You seemed so at ease and accepting of them… It struck me strange that I couldn’t tell who was who… I had to look at their clothes each time I wanted to talk to remember which name to use.”

“Shucks Adam, I’ve known Wren and Orlando for over four years… it was fun in the beginning playing tricks on Joe with the two of them, we’re kinda like…”

“Three peas in a pod,” teased Adam.

“Yeah… I like that. If ya want, I can tell ya how I tell ‘em apart.”

“Not necessary, I figured it out… finally.”

“So you’re okay with them helpin’ us find Little Joe?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine with them helping us find our brother. Get some sleep; we’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”

*****

For a month the McCloud brothers continued to lead the Cartwrights in their endeavor to trail after the marauders. The physical trail had long grown cold and several times they had encountered Army patrols who warned them to turn back. Another time they encountered the remains of a battle with no survivors found among the bodies of the marauders and victims alike. Each time they stopped in a town, they heard the aftermath of another raid, homesteads burned, men murdered while women, children, and anything of value were taken… and still no Little Joe.

*****

Occasionally they were forced to stop their travels to replenish their supplies or to have their horses reshod, but the next day they were on the trail again.

*****

Knowing they wouldn’t receive any help from the Army, they steered clear of any forts or posts in a town. The Cartwrights and the McClouds focused their attention on the saloons. But they selected the saloons to visit with care. They knew within the walls of the higher-class saloons men would gather together as the community leaders demanded protection from the local officer of the law or yelling for help from the government; arguing that the army should be sent in to deal with those responsible.

It was the lower-class saloons that the Cartwrights and McClouds frequented in an effort to learn any information that would lead them to find Joseph Francis Cartwright and return him to the folds of his family. Within the confines of these establishments the smell of unkempt men mixed with cheap whiskey, watered down beer, cigars, and cigarettes. It was enough to roil the stomach of those who prided themselves upon their appearance and hygiene, but now… They forwent their own habits in order to fit in, to be able to hear without alerting the others of the need to keep quiet.

*****

As their search continued, summer had long given way to autumn and winter was threatening.

Their travels led them from one town to another along the American border with Mexico. Within each town they visited, they didn’t know whether or not to be disappointed when they could find no proof the marauders had left the country or were planning to any time soon. It pained the men to know that there was nothing they could do until they knew for certain where the marauders were heading. All they could do was follow.

The longer they listened at the various saloons the direction of their quest was supported as the men overheard portions of enough conversations to indicate they were still on the right trail. As far south as they were, they didn’t have to worry about snowfall as they did in the Sierras; however, they did stop to purchase warmer coats and gloves for the impending colder weather as they traveled along the combined lower Rocky Mountain and lower Sierra Mountain ranges.

 

Chapter 8: A Major Setback

Dusk was falling as the group rode single file through the arroyo, hoping to find a suitable location to make camp for the night. The others wheeled their mounts around when they heard a horse scream, followed by the report of a rifle. Hoss, being next to last in line, was the first to see Beauty rearing and flailing sideways, as Adam futilely struggled to control his panicked mount. The chestnut horse didn’t have the strength to prevent its collapse; suffering death spasms as it struck the ground.

“Put a bullet in its brain!” Orlando yelled, having been in the middle of the line of riders. Seeing Hoss running to his brother, Orlando pulled his revolver as he jumped from his saddle and ran to the rear of the line.

Hoss had jumped from Chubbs and ran to his brother, “Adam!” he hollered.

Lifting his brother from the ground, he failed to realize his brother’s leg was trapped under his horse. Beauty was still thrashing around, becoming a danger to each man who attempted to rescue the trapped rider; a single bullet fired was enough to end the horse’s suffering.

“Careful, Hoss,” Ben called as he neared his sons. “Wren, Orlando, help me get Adam out from under his horse!” Ben’s concentration was distracted from his son when he heard Orlando yell, “WREN! Get back here!”

“He’s unconscious, Pa,” Hoss called, pulling Ben’s attention back to his injured son.

“Just hold him!” hissed Ben as he worked with Orlando to pull the dead horse from Adam’s leg.

Realizing the two of them didn’t have the strength to move the horse, Orlando ran to the saddle horses, grabbed his lariat and tied it to the saddle horn. Next, he pulled the lariat from Chubbs and again, tied it around the horn on the horse’s saddle. As he ran back to the Cartwrights, two lariats played out behind him. Working quickly, he tied one line around the front pasterns and the second line he tied round the rear pasterns of the dead horse.

(NOTE: Pasterns are the part of the horse’s leg between the fetlock [ankle] and the hoof.)

“There ain’t any other way to do this, and I’m sorry for any further injury this causes Adam,” Orlando stated as he placed a hand upon his employer’s shoulder.

“Just get it off my son!” Ben replied, acknowledging there wasn’t anything else they could do.

Wary of getting tangled in the ropes, Orlando cautiously made his way back to Chubbs and grabbed the reins before he mounted his own horse.

“Ready?” Orlando called out, looking back over his shoulder.

“Do it!” Hoss hollered.

“Yaw!” Orlando yelled as he put his heels to his horse and swatted his hat at Chubbs’ rump to get the horses moving. Shod hooves scrambled over the hard-pack ground and the saddles creaked as they pulled the rope taunt against dead weight. Slowly they inched forward, pulling their burden from its victim.

Hoss held tight as Adam was pulled along the ground as the horse’s weight dragged him.

“Easy there Adam, I got ya,” Hoss whispered in his brother’s ear, and held tight.

“Pull him out!” Ben shouted as Adam’s leg was fully exposed.

“Whoa,” Orlando called, bringing both horses to a halt.

Hoss pulled his brother to safety, sat back on his heels, with his arms wrapped around his brother’s chest. From deep within his brother, Hoss heard and felt the painful moan, but the darkness didn’t relinquish its hold on the man.

Ben scrambled over the dead horse to reach his son. Carefully he placed two fingers at the pulse point under his son’s jaw as he had been shown by Paul Martin. His breath exhaled in a rush at finding the strong beat. Next, Ben turned his attention to examining his son, checking for broken bones; he cringed at finding his son’s lower left leg broken. The worried father felt relieved when his examination did not reveal any broken ribs and that his left arm was unharmed. As he proceeded up his son’s body, he found his eldest’s left shoulder dislocated. The final injury he ascertained was a growing lump above his left ear.

“How far’s the nearest town?” Ben asked as he looked to the remaining McCloud brother.

“We’re not too far from Yuma,” Orlando stated as he handed over his canteen to Ben.

“Who was shooting at us, Pa?” Hoss asked. “Why’d they shoot Adam’s horse out from under him?”

“I don’t know,” Ben replied.

Having removed the lariats from the dead horse, he wound and replaced them on their rightful saddles. Orlando returned to where the others tended to their family member. As he listened to the fragmented conversation, he heard the father calling out the various injuries suffered; all the while he stood watch, his hand upon his revolver. Ten minutes had passed when he turned, gun drawn having heard pebbles shifting and falling down on them, “Shhhh,” he warned, “Someone’s coming.” He knelt in a crouch, scanning the darkness that had fallen upon them.

“I’m back!” Wren called out upon his return.

“Where the Hell did you go?” Orlando angrily demanded as he stood and returned his revolver to his holster as his brother approached.

“To see if I could find out who was shooting at us,” Wren retorted.

“Real smart thing to do on your own! Did it ever occur to you that there could have been more than one person laying in ambush for us?!”

“Yeah, I did, and I felt it was worth the risk,” Wren hissed back.

“You left us a man down, unguarded! Hell, you could have been shot!” his brother argued back.

“Yeah, so unguarded that they took another shot at ya,” Wren answered sarcastically, knowing no such shot had been fired. “Whoever it was lit out soon after that shot was fire and they saw all of you reacting to the horse going down. They didn’t even wait around to see me scrambling up to their general area.”

“That’s not the point!” yelled Orlando, clearly upset.

“Hey brother, I’m okay. No harm done,” Wren answered; his tone of voice calmer than it had been moments before, he recognized the reason for his brother’s well-founded anger. He placed a hand upon his older brother’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I’m fine. I’m back in one piece without any additional holes.”

“I’m sorry for losing my temper, at ya.” Orlando momentarily averted his eyes.

“It’s understandable, big brother. How’s Adam?” Wren thrust his chin towards where Ben and Hoss tended to the man.

“Not so good. We’re gonna need to make camp here for a little while,” Orlando stated.

“Ain’t much around here,” Wren acknowledged having seen little in the way of anything to build a fire or provide cover.

“Yeah, we’re gonna have to ride on to find material to make a travois; sure ain’t any trees around here that we can use.”

*****

An hour later the McCloud brothers returned to where the Cartwrights had made camp. The brothers found Ben and Hoss had moved the still unconscious Adam away from his dead horse so they could properly tend to his injuries, as well as make allowance for getting him to the travois that was yet to be built. Adam’s legs were tied together, one leg acting as a splint for the broken leg, with strips of material that had once been a shirt and his left arm had been strapped to his torso.

Within fifteen minutes of the travois being built, Adam was carefully placed upon and secured to it. Carefully, the long poles were lifted and tethered to Buck’s stirrups at Ben’s insistence. Hoss felt one of the packhorses could pull the travois, but relented to their father’s need to be close to his son.

Before the group set out for Yuma, Hoss pulled Adam’s canteens and rifle from his saddle. The bedroll had already been removed and placed upon Adam to keep him warm.

“Pa, what about Adam’s saddle?” Hoss asked as he placed Adam’s rifle next to his brother on the travois.

“Not much we can do with it; we don’t have time to swap it out on one of the packhorses. We’ve wasted enough time; I want to get Adam to a doctor. Leave it,” Ben stated as he climbed upon Buck, careful not to jar the poles sticking through his stirrups.

“Here Pa, take Adam’s canteens.”

“Let’s move out,” Ben ordered.

The Cartwrights fell in line for the slow trip to Yuma; Ben riding Buck and constantly looking back towards the travois, while Hoss took the lead ropes to the two packhorses. Orlando McCloud led the procession and Wren rode drag, both having their rifles ready on their laps.

*****

The eastern horizon bore the hints of color indicating morning would soon arrive as the group stopped, having heard moans from their injured member.

“Son,” Ben called as he quickly jumped from the saddle, grabbed a canteen and knelt next to his son. “Adam?”

“Joe…” Adam whispered, his head moving slowly from side to side. “Joe…”

“Adam? Come on son, wake up…” Ben pleaded, gently patting the side of his son’s face.

A louder moan preceded his eyelids twitching.

“That’s it son, open your eyes,” Ben encouraged.

“Don’ wanna,” mumbled Adam as he fought his way from the darkness, but not sure he wanted to leave the safety it provided.

“Adam, you have to.” Ben took encouragement that his son had answered him. “It’s time to wake up, Adam.”

“Don’ wanna go ta school, Pa,” Adam spoke. Upon hearing a laugh, his eyes opened a little, but wouldn’t properly focus. He began to panic when he realized his couldn’t move his arms to pull the blanket up to cover his face as he always tried to do.

Ben became alarmed at Adam’s comment about school and his struggles to free his arms, but he knew he needed to get his son to calm down so he wouldn’t cause additional damage to his injuries and so that he could drink some water.

“Adam, I need you to calm down… Here… please… drink some water,” Ben voiced. “Just rest easy, son. You’re safe.”

Adam relaxed in his struggles as his vision cleared, and he saw his father kneeling beside him.

Gently, the worried father raised his son’s head and held the canteen to his lips. He encouraged his son to sip, pulling it away to make sure his son wasn’t taking too much and could manage what he had drank. He smiled as Adam licked his lips.

“More?” Ben inquired.

Adam nodded his head.

A few more sips later, Adam closed his eyes and said, “Thanks” as Ben pulled away the canteen.

Ben placed the stopper back in the opening and handed it to Hoss.

“Pa?” Adam called as he tried to sit up.

“Lie still son,” Ben stated as he pushed his hand against his son’s chest.

“Ohhhh…” Adam’s eyes opened wide enough and smiled when his vision again focused clearly and he saw his brother looking over their father’s shoulder. “Hey Hoss, what happened? Where are we?”

“We sure ain’t home, nor are you in school,” Hoss happily rejoined.

“School? Hoss what are you talking about?” Adam attempted to look around, but his body protested his movements.

“Ya done told Pa a few moments ago ya didn’t wanna wake up to go to school,” laughed the big man.

“What do you remember, Adam?” Ben inquired; his eyes chastised his middle son.

“Ambush, Beauty…”

“I’m sorry, son. He’s dead.” Ben felt a fleeting moment of peace that his son was lucid enough to remember what happened.

“I know… I felt it. How bad am I injured?” Adam asked, knowing where he hurt and figured he had some broken bones.

“Lower left leg broken, left shoulder dislocated; I stabilized your arm by binding it to your torso…”

“Broken ribs?” Adam asked.

“I couldn’t find any indication they were broken, but that doesn’t mean a few aren’t cracked or at best, bruised. You probably also have a concussion, but only a doctor can confirm that.”

“Based on this headache… I’d say you can add that to the tally.”

“We should be in Yuma by lunch, why don’t you try to sleep,” suggested Ben.

“Sure,” Adam answered, knowing full well that he wouldn’t be able to sleep; riding a travois that bounced along the ground was not conducive to sleeping.

*****

The door to the examination room opened, allowing the middle-aged physician to step into the waiting room.

Doctor Lothario “Laurie” Lewis would have looked Adam in the eye had the two men been able to stand toe to toe. His dark hair was peppered with grey, as was the long handlebar mustache he wore. His green eyes sparkled brighter now that he had good news to greet his patient’s concerned family. Upon originally seeing his patient’s pallid complexion and grimaced face, he feared there was more wrong than what the father had stated shortly after their arrival.

“Mr. Cartwright, your son will recover, but…”

“But what?” Hoss demanded as he stood to his feet.

“It will be some six, seven weeks before his leg is fully healed and the splint can be permanently removed. I couldn’t find any indication of broken ribs, but he will be sore for quite a while based on the colorful bruising on his left side. I’ve reset his shoulder and bound his arm to his torso. That was right smart thinking on your part; it prevented your travels from aggravating the injury.”

“What about internal injuries?” Ben quietly breathed; he’d held the fear unvoiced ever since they had pulled his son from under his horse.

“Your son’s a lucky man. Considering how long ago the accident happened, had he suffered internal injuries, they would have presented themselves during the course of my examination.”

“Can I see my son?” Ben asked.

“He’s asleep. I had to sedate him so that I could set the leg and his shoulder. He’ll be out long enough for you to go to the hotel, bathe, and eat a good meal. I would suggest a nap, but I can see that you would forgo that suggestion.”

“You’d be right on that call,” Hoss eagerly answered back.

“I’ll allow you to see for yourselves that he’s resting comfortably before you tend to your own needs. Oh… I do have one question.” The doctor looked to the pained father and saw some of the tension relax in the man’s posture and facial expressions. “Has your son experienced any reactions to sedation? Nausea? Violence?”

“Adam’s as tough as they come, Doc,” Hoss replied. “Now if it were Joe…”

“Hoss is right, the only effects Adam suffers after being put under is being a little foggy brained and cotton mouthed,” acknowledged Ben.

“That’s common for most patients. I worry when a patient has a history of adverse reactions, it can compromise the patient’s recovery if not monitored closely. I’ll still keep an eye on him, just to make sure.”

“Doctor Lewis, if the family would like to see the patient, I’ve cleaned up the room…” stated a young woman who came from the examination room carrying a bundle of sheets and towels in her arms.

“Thank you Nurse Wainscott.” Turning back to the Cartwrights, “Gentlemen, as I said; long enough to see that he’s resting comfortably, and then you are to take care of yourselves. I don’t want to see either of you back here for at least an hour, two would be even better.”

“Yes, sir, doc. I’ll see that Pa takes care of himself,” Hoss answered.

After making sure that Adam wasn’t in any pain, his family left the doctor’s office and headed down the boardwalk to the hotel.

*****

Feeling much better for having bathed, shaved, and eaten, Ben and Hoss returned to the doctor’s office, two hours after they had left. As they stepped inside, the doctor welcomed them back.

Ben was the first to answer, “I’m sorry Doctor, I can’t remember your name…”

“That’s understandable Mr. Cartwright,” the doctor replied.

“Please, call me Ben. This is my son Hoss and as I said earlier, your patient is my son Adam.”

“My name is Lothario Lewis, but everyone calls me Doc Lewis or Doc Laurie.”

“Ain’t Laurie a gal’s name?” Hoss asked.

“Hoss!” Ben couldn’t believe the insensitivity of his son.

“That’s okay, Ben… Hoss. Yes, Laurie is known as a woman’s name, however, when I was growing up, my younger sisters just couldn’t pronounce Lothario, more often than not they called me Laurie and so the nickname stuck. And I’m sure I was teased just as much for my name as you must have been teased,” Laurie stated as he looked to Hoss, smiling.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right about that. But I had Adam there ta help me understand why the others teased me.”

“And I had an older brother with an even more difficult name than mine, Aloysius, and the girls called him Alli, so I couldn’t feel too bad,” Doc Laurie laughed at his private memory. “Adam’s still resting comfortably, and when I checked on him a few minutes ago he was showing signs of waking up.”

The physician led the men back to the examination room where Adam rested, and as indicated, Ben observed Adam was becoming restless; a sure sign the sedation was wearing off.

Sitting in the chair next to the bed his son laid upon, Ben quietly called his name, encouraging the man to push aside the dark veils that claimed him in sleep.

“Pa?” Adam breathily whispered.

“I’m here son. Take it easy, we’re at the doctor’s.”

“Paul?”

“No son, we’re in Yuma, Doctor Laurie Lewis.”

“Pretty woman?” Adam asked, still fuzzy headed from the anesthesia he had been administered.

“Wake up and find out for yourself, older brother,” Hoss jovially teased.

“Nah, I just wanna sleep,” Adam fumbled to speak.

“Adam, drink some water,” Ben encouraged as he held the glass to his son’s lips after having elevated Adam’s head from the pillow.

“Thanks, Pa,” Adam responded after licking his lips and struggling to open his eyes.

“Welcome back, young man,” Doc Laurie stated as he took Adam’s pulse and placed his right wrist back to the bed.

“You the doc?” Adam inquired.

“In all my feminine glory,” laughed the physician.

“Sorry about that,” Adam was slightly mortified that he had said what he had said. “I normally don’t make such assumptions when meeting people.”

“No harm done, it happens. I’ll blame it on the medication and not you personally. Besides, you weren’t fully awake at the time.” All the while Adam had spoken, the doctor had quietly evaluated his patient and was pleased with his progress in how he was quite coherent and his use of vocabulary improved as he became more aware.

“So, what’s the damage done?” Adam asked.

“Your father said you were awake for a while out on the trail, what do you remember?” Doc Laurie knew what Ben had told Adam and used this as another test of the man’s short-term memory.

“Not that I need to remember, but that I can sort of feel some discomfort…”

“How much pain?” Doc Laurie asked.

“Not a lot, but as for what I remember Pa telling me… I do remember he said my left leg was broken and my shoulder dislocated. I also told him to add my headache to the tally as a sure sign of a concussion.”

Laurie looked to Ben to confirm and was relieved when Ben nodded.

“As your father properly diagnosed your injuries and you remember it quite well…”

“Too well, and not just from remembering… I presume you’re going to tell me to take it easy for a week or two, and take it slowly when I’m finally allowed to use crutches to get around, but that won’t be until after my shoulder has thoroughly healed.”

“I can see all my medical training isn’t needed where this family is concerned,” teased Doc Laurie.

“Years a practice with our own doc back home in Virginia City,” Hoss boasted.

“I feel for your physician,” Laurie deadpanned. “I’ll agree that you do have a mild concussion, but it doesn’t seem to have affected your memory.”

“Are you hungry Adam?” Ben inquired. “Do you think you can eat something?”

“Well, I think we should get the doctor’s opinion, don’t want all his medical training to be for naught,” Adam joked along.

The men stayed with Adam until his injuries insisted that he need some medication to be more comfortable and he began yawning, unable to keep his eyes awake any longer.

“I think you can get by with just laudanum. I know a number of my colleagues feel morphine is a God send to the medical community, but I’ve seen a few patients’ reactions to the drug, so I’ll only use it in the most dire of circumstances.”

Once satisfied his patient was resting comfortably, Doc Laurie turned the lantern in the room down low and followed Ben and Hoss from the room.

Upon the latch quietly catching Ben asked, “How long before we can take him home?”

“Home? What about Little Joe?” Hoss pleaded.

“I’ll talk with Orlando and Wren to see if they’ll continue looking for Joe, but… as much as it pains me to say, we need to get Adam home, where he can recover in peace.”

“Pa, I want to go with the McClouds…”

“No! We’ve searched for three months. God, I never thought we would be gone this long. When Orlando and Wren find any news, you can go to them, but for now… Hoss, Joe’s out there somewhere, but we have a ranch to run. We’ll increase the reward and send out more posters… There’s just nothing we can do… Where else can we look?” Ben knew how his words sounded; he had not given up on finding his son, but he wouldn’t risk his other sons while looking for his youngest.

“Who’s Joe,” Doc Laurie asked.

And for the next hour, Hoss relayed everything that had happened the past three months from Joe’s abduction to their walking through the door with an unconscious Adam.

“Good heavens… I had no idea.” The man had no further comment, what did or could one say to someone in such a situation.

“Doctor, now you’ll understand why I want to get Adam home. Life needs to return to normal, as much as it can,” Ben stated, having stayed quiet while Hoss told their story.

“I’ll insist that Adam stay here for two more days, so I can evaluate that the bones in his leg are properly set and then I’ll help make arrangements for you to purchase a wagon and a team of horses to get him home.”

“Ya ain’t tellin’ us we have to get home by stage?” Hoss asked in surprise.

“No, this way you’ll be able to set your own pace and stop when you want to stop. Besides, I don’t know of any stage run that goes between Yuma and Virginia City, or even Carson City. Once we have the wagon, we’d best see that the back of the wagon is settled deep with straw and a mattress; as well as making sure it has a cover. Hopefully the weather will hold for your return trip home.”

*****

As the two Cartwrights settled into their hotel room for what they thought would be their last night, Hoss asked, “Pa, how long do ya figure it will take us to get home.”

“I figure it will probably take us two weeks. We won’t be as slow as a cattle drive, I figured even giving Adam plenty of time to rest during the day, we can make fifty miles easy. I mean if the stage horses can go that far between way stations pretty much full out at times, we should be able to make fifty miles a day and not wear the horses out.”

“We’ll need to take some food with us… for the team as well as for Buck and Chubbs,” Hoss added as the two wrote out their final needs to get Adam home.

“Feed for the horses…” Ben shook his head, “Hopefully there will be good enough graze along the way. Supplies and food stock for us…” Ben stated.

“What about water, Pa?”

“We’ll have to have barrels mounted and strapped to the sides of the wagon, I won’t set out without water.”

“I’m sure Doc Laurie will give us all the medications and supplies we need to make Adam comfortable,” Hoss added.

“Laudanum, as well as bandages for the splint,” Ben commented.

Hoss sat back from the table where they made their list.

“What is it son?”

“Well, neither of us have ever been this far south before, and to get here…”

“We were following the trail of those marauders,” Ben filled in where Hoss left off.

“I know ya wanna get home, and deep down, I do too. Just wished ita be with Little Joe with us.”

“I do to, Hoss. I do to.”

“Pa, don’t ya think it might be best to hire us a guide to make sure we get home in the quickest amount a time and the safest route?”

“A guide? What for? We…”

“Pa, we’ll be tending to Adam, and taking care of the horses, and worrying about Joe… We need someone who knows this country and won’t get distracted by stuff… Ya understand, don’t ya Pa?”

Taking time to consider what his middle son stated, Ben agreed. As he looked at the list they had written, he knew that it would take more than just a few hours to get everything together, loaded, and ready to head out. He wanted to leave as early in the morning as possible in order to log as much time on the trail as they could before they had to stop for the night.

“We’ll use tomorrow to make all our purchases and I hope we can find someone who’s willing to be a guide for us.”

*****

They had given Doctor Laurie Lewis the two days he’d wanted to keep an eye on his patient, and one additional day to organize the final preparations for their trip and to hire a guide. The night of their arrival, Ben and Hoss had seen that the McCloud brothers had enough money, and supplies on the packhorses, to continue their search for Little Joe.

*****

They were a little apprehensive, but at the same time felt lucky, to find an Army officer being transferred from the Army post outside of Yuma to a newly established fort along the Klamath River in Northern California to act as their guide. The commander of the fort had wanted to send his officer to his new assignment as soon as possible, but the man was challenging his orders.

Hoss accidentally bumped into Captain Yancy Mayhew while in the general store purchasing supplies. The two men began an easy conversation and when Hoss found out the officer was heading north, he asked how well he knew the territory and if he’d mind some company. Hoss explained of their need to get his brother home and that they were unfamiliar with the territory.

“I’ll need some time to think about it,” Captain Mayhew answered and later, watched the large man leave the store.

“Yancy,” called the proprietor as he walked around the counter to where the officer stood. “I know ya want to fight your transfer, but ya know it ain’t gonna do any good. Orders are orders…”

“I know…” Yancy answered.

“That big fella that left here… I think it’d be a good idea for you to guide him and his Pa out of here.”

“I don’t know…”

“Yancy, you ever heard the name Cartwright before?”

“No…”

“Son, listen to me, go with them.” The proprietor turned and walked away.

*****

And so, as dawn broke over Yuma, Hoss and Ben bid goodbye to the good doctor and set out to return Adam home, with Captain Yancy Mayhew as their guide. Ben settled on the wagon seat to drive, while Hoss led Buck and rode Chubbs. Formalities of title and rank were dropped before the sun reached noon on their first day.

*****

Throughout their trip, when Ben grew tired of driving, Hoss would tie both saddle horses to the railing of the wagon, watch his Pa climb into the back, before he would make his way to the bench seat to drive for a while. Occasionally, as the land spread out before them, Captain Mayhew would tie his own mount and packhorse to the back of the wagon and ride on the bench seat with Ben.

The trip was made more enjoyable, if it could be enjoyed, by the fact that Adam was able to participate in the conversations and the men shared their sense of stewardship for the land, as they had found out during their talks as the trip progressed. Each man spoke of what drew them west, what kept them there; however, the Cartwrights never mentioned their search.

*****

As the small group made camp for the night, they were two days out from the Ponderosa; Ben and Hoss had long recognized the landscape days before, but were hesitant to bid goodbye to their guide who had become a friend.

“Ben, I know we’re close enough for you to get home from here without my skills as a guide.”

“That’s true,” Ben humbly answered.

“I probably should head out on my own tomorrow,” Yancy stated.

“Do ya have ta? It’s been fun havin’ someone other than family ta talk to and joke with,” Hoss commented as he sat down beside his older brother near the fire.

“It’s probably none of my business, but just what was it that took you so far south?” the captain asked.

“It’s personal,” Ben answered as he dished beans and smoked ham onto the plate for the officer.

“I’ve heard rumblings of men searching for McComber’s Marauders…”

“That who they are?” Hoss asked as he stopped his fork midway to his mouth.

“Then you ARE the ones,” Yancy validated.

“We don’t know who they are; we never got a straight answer from any soldier we ever met up with. We kind of tried to avoid any dealings with the Army for that matter,” answered Adam as he drank from his cup of coffee.

Yancy calmly spoke, “They’re kind of a sore point with the Army, and especially since Major Albert Wheldon has all but gone AWOL. It’s more like he’s acting on his own without orders.”

Ben listened to what the officer was telling them.

“How can that be?” Hoss asked.

“It’s a long story, but you were smart not to tell the post commander why you were in Yuma.”

“Are you aware of the fact that some of the captives taken by these… McComber’s Marauders end up dead because of this major’s actions?” Adam asked.

“Unfortunately, the Army is… That’s why they’re keeping it so hush.”

“HUSHED! The Army is allowing those marauders to continue their raids without notifying the populace that there is a danger, and the Army has done nothing to curb this major’s actions! As far as I’m concerned the Army is condoning what his man and his patrol are doing!” hollered an enraged Ben.

“It’s not condoning anything, it’s just that the major’s father has political connections and they’re trying to deal with this… internally,” Yancy answered.

“Internally! And in the meantime those marauders go wherever they like, and take whatever they want! INCLUDING MY TEN YEAR OLD SON!” Ben threw his plate down and stormed from the campsite. He had long wondered why there was no official word from the Army about these marauders; now he knew why, and it sickened him.

“Pa?!” Hoss hollered as he ambled out after his father.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know why you were after them, just that you were,” Yancy hung his head. “Listen, I don’t blame you for your anger towards the Army. This should have stopped long ago, before it got so out of… hand.”

“The only reason we’re returning home is that someone shot my horse out from under me. We sent two of our ranch hands to continue the search for our brother.”

“I don’t know how much longer the Army can keep this quiet, I honestly wish there was some way this could get out to the public.”

“Why do you care?” Adam asked as he looked in the direction his father and brother left.

“Because the longer this is allowed to continue, the more the reputation of the Army will be tarnished, the more damage will be done to the credibility civilians like yourself place in us. I’m fourth generation soldier, I’m proud of my family and our history in defending this country… The Army has allowed Wheldon to go rogue long enough, it needs to stop.”

Adam observed Yancy, his seriousness in his beliefs and his willingness to explain himself.

“There is something you can do… Write down everything you know about this Major Albert Wheldon and all that’s happened, as far as the Army is concerned.”

“For what use? It’ll just be covered up…”

“Are you worried about your career?” Adam asked.

“My career be damned! I would have gone public months ago if I knew anyone would believe me; why do you think I’m being transferred away from where McComber’s Marauders were heading?”

“They were heading to Yuma?” Adam rose up from lying against the fallen tree, his temper began to flare. They had been so close, and now…

“Not exactly, but they were close…” Looking to the man who remained, Yancy explained, “I was too vocal in how we could stop Wheldon, my commander was only interested in helping the major stop the marauders and heap laurels upon them both,” Yancy spat on the ground. The reasons behind his words repulsed him.

“Yancy, I don’t know if you know the name Cartwright, but Pa owns the largest spread in the Nevada territory, he has influential friends. You write out all you know, and give us the names of anyone else you know who would be willing to tell us, we’ll see that the truth gets out. Maybe it will help bring my brother home.”

“I don’t know what good it will do, but I’ll do it. If only to see your brother returned.”

*****

Adam had long fallen asleep when Hoss and Ben returned to camp. As they entered camp, the light provided by the fire illuminated the captain furiously writing in a tablet of paper.

“Adam and I had a long conversation after you left… I think we can both be of help to each other. I’ve written out dates, locations, facts, names, etc., and I can get more. I promise.”

“For what?” Ben asked.

“To stop Major Albert Wheldon, and his callous disregard for orders and the Army’s inability to rein him in.” Yancy handed the pages to the elder Cartwright.

“How come?” Hoss asked as he watched his father leaf through the sheets.

“Wheldon has to be stopped and someone has to see that the Army is held accountable for the consequences when they allow an officer to go rogue and they keep quiet about it. An act of omission is still a lie, regardless how small or how large…”

Ben grieved with the statement; his own act of omission had meant that his youngest son didn’t have the proper ammunition in order to mount his own defense as to why he should have been allowed to travel on the cattle drive so many months before. Ben had come to realize that his son could have ridden in the chuck wagon with Cookie, their cook. They could have been together as a family, it wasn’t necessary that the boy work as a drover, though he probably would have believed he could have performed the job.

The following morning, Captain Yancy Mayhew said goodbye to the Cartwrights with the promise they would have more information coming to them from some of his friends in the service who were objecting to his reposting and the reason behind his transfer.

 

Chapter 9: Spiraling Down

Ben, Adam, and Hoss quietly returned to the Ponderosa with heavy hearts; they knew that until Joe was found and returned, their lives would never be the same.

As they crossed their land, they saw their hands working their cattle and the herds were in the pasture land ready for winter’s onslaught. Arriving in the main yard, they were pleased to see the remains of their burned down barn had been cleared away.

“No time for visitors!” yelled Hop Sing as he came from the front door, stopping abruptly when he recognized the man stepping down from the wagon seat. “Mr. Cartwright! You find Joe?!”

Ben turned to their caretaker and shook his head.

“We had an accident, Adam was hurt,” Hoss stated as he dismounted from Chubbs.

“Mr. Adam hurt? How bad?”

“Bad enough that I won’t be working the ranch for a while,” Adam replied as Hoss helped him from the back of the wagon.

“Let me help ya into the house, brother,” Hoss stated as he supported Adam’s weight by wrapping his large arm around his brother’s waist. “We’ll have to see if Doc Martin has a set of crutches ya can use now that you’re home.”

“I want Paul to examine Adam’s shoulder to make sure it can bear his weight and the stress before he uses the crutches,” Ben stated as he waited for his sons’ approach.

“I’ll go into town as soon as I get Adam settled,” Hoss offered.

“No, you’ll send one of the men. You need to rest, too,” Ben stated.

“I go get Charlie, he send man, get honorable doctor,” Hop Sing offered before scurrying across the yard to the bunk house.

Within fifteen minutes, one of the hands had run for the back barn and galloped his horse towards Virginia City. Several other hands, including Charlie, came to take care of the team and the wagon, and to unload the remaining supplies.

*****

Hop Sing was nearing putting their evening meal on the table when the sounds of a carriage could be heard arriving. Ben walked outside to hopefully greet the doctor.

“Welcome home, Ben,” Paul solemnly stated. “Mack told me it you were home, and he only saw Adam and Hoss. I take it you didn’t have any luck finding Little Joe?”

“No, we had to give up the search to get Adam home. Please, come inside.” Ben motioned with is arm for his friend and doctor to enter their home. “Hop Sing should have supper ready in a few minutes, you’ll join us?”

“I’d be happy to, I’ve been on the go all day today. I had just arrived back home when Mack told me Adam had been injured, said he thought he saw his leg in splints?”

“Yes, Adam broke his leg when his horse fell on him after being shot, he also suffered a dislocated shoulder and that’s what I’m most concerned about, has it reset properly to allow him to use crutches to get around?”

“If he’s not in any pain…”

“No, it’s been over a week since he’s felt the need to take any laudanum, even to help him sleep,” Ben answered.

“Then I think his examination can wait until after supper; I’m famished.”

The two men entered the great room, where Paul returned the greetings offered by the oldest brothers.

*****

Hop Sing quietly waited in the background of the downstairs bedroom as the physician completed his examination of Adam. He was not pleased with the reason behind the injuries. Seeing the remains of the fading bruises, over two weeks after the accident, proved just how hard of a fall the oldest son had taken. He knew the man had to be stiff and sore; riding in the back of a wagon for two weeks was not the way to heal the body, nor the mind.

“I’m pleased with how well your shoulder has healed, Adam. And your leg appears to be mending, just let me replace this splint. I’ll also add some additional cotton swaddling in order to make it more comfortable.”

“Thanks,” mumbled Adam.

“How’s your head? Any headaches?” Paul inquired.

“Not related to my fall, but…”

“You’re concerned about Joe,” Paul stated.

“We all are and there’s not a damn thing I can do!” Adam slammed his fist down on the surface of the bed, in expression of his anger.

“You can pray,” Paul answered.

“You know what I mean. Someone shoots my horse out from under me and we have to turn back.”

“You need time to heal. Why don’t you put your mind to work… draft a design for your new barn. You barely returned home from college before you took off after those marauders. I’m sure you had ideas on how to improve the Ponderosa…”

“How can I think of the Ponderosa?!”

“Because Joe was born here,” Paul answered calmly. “Adam, whether the improvements are made in his memory or in anticipation of his return, he’ll be mad at you for sitting here sulking.”

“From what Hoss wrote in some of his letters, Joe could sulk with the best of them. So I’m just doing what my little brother would do,” replied Adam as the frown on his face deepened.

“In that case, tomorrow I expect you to be at the table or your father’s desk… drawing, because Joe’s sulks never lasted through the night. The next day he’d be facing life head on and throwing care to the wind.”

Under hooded eyes Adam couldn’t help but smile at how the doctor had worked him into a checkmate situation, trapped by his own words he conceded that he would live for tomorrow… for Joe.

“I’ll tell Ben that you can start using the crutches, however, for a few weeks I think it would be best that you not attempt the staircase.”

“I make bed for numba one son, here,” Hop Sing spoke up. Both men had forgotten he was present in the room. “I bring school supplies; paper, pencil, ruler from upstairs.”

“Thank you, Hop Sing,” Adam stated and bowed his head in appreciation to the man.

“I’ll also recommend later tonight that you take a nice, long, hot bath. Hop Sing, you have some special herbs and salts to help ease aches and pains…” Doc Martin stated.

“Yes, I have.”

Turning his conversation back to Adam, “Keep your leg elevated. Place a chair next to the tub to prop your leg upon. But for now, rest easy, my friend.”

Doctor Martin snapped shut his Gladstone bag, turned and gave the man’s shoulder a squeeze before he left the room.

*****

A month had passed and as promised, Yancy Mayhew and his friends continued to provide information to the Cartwights. Ben and his older sons diligently read through the reports, compiling data in preparation to give testimony to Congressman Matthew Hardy.

Shortly after their arrival home, Ben had written to the U.S. Army headquarters in Washington, D.C. to make a formal inquiry into the actions of Major Albert Wheldon and to notify the authorities of the man’s callous disregard for human life.

In response, Washington had sent a wire indicating that Congressman Matthew Hardy would be arriving in late December to speak with the Cartwrights and to review the documentation they had accumulated.

*****

A week before Christmas, Hoss drove the buggy into Virginia City as he transported his oldest brother to see Paul Martin, hoping to have the splint removed from Adam’s leg and to make sure the bones had completely healed. As Hoss stepped from the carriage, he was hailed by the telegrapher, who also served as the postmaster, waving a thick envelope. As they waited for the man to approach, most of the people who passed them refrained from wishing season’s greetings to the brothers; too many times they had experienced the acerbic attitudes assumed since their return without the youngest member of their family. The man handed the envelope to Hoss before promptly turning and walking away.

Inside the doctor’s surgery, the brothers waited for Doctor Martin’s return from being called to a home on the other side of town. Whiling away the time, they read the report contained within the envelope.

The report relayed detail after detail, they were shocked when they read the final item included. A report from the Arch Dioceses in California claiming a lone soldier had shown up at a small orphanage outside of San Luis, Arizona, sick with fever. As the nuns tended to him, they listened to his ramblings; worried, they brought the man to the attention of a visiting Cardinal and their own parish priest. Both listened as the soldier became coherent enough to seek confession. He spoke of having been ordered to fire on a group of civilians who had been following their patrol and asking questions about the men the Army patrol was following.

As the man’s health improved, he said he felt relieved for having made his confession; however, he felt that there were others who needed to know what he knew and he wanted the church’s blessing to tell his story. He gave his permission for the priests to waive the sanctity of Confession and confirm what he had said. The man swore and affirmed that he was under no duress to make his confession public and signed the document. Within the written pages, he noted when the attack upon the civilians occurred and described the arroyo where he’d chosen to ambush the riders. He described the men and their horses in great detail. He also identified the command and patrol of which he was a member, and who gave the orders for the ambush. He wrote about more than just the ambush, he wrote of attacks on the marauders and the results, the captives killed. He wrote of soldiers bullied into following orders and of one soldier who had been deliberately killed and the act covered up because the man spoke out against the major. The reports written claimed the soldier had been killed in the line of duty, by the hostiles they were trailing. He wrote of everything he knew since leaving Texas and how their commander avoided any town or fort in order to keep from receiving notification that their original orders were no longer in effect: Find and destroy McComber’s Marauders. Knowing that his words and experiences meant more than receiving forgiveness from God, he knew lives were at risk and wanted the truth to be known. The Cardinal and priest signed the paper as witnesses, including their own observations of the man as he made known the facts. The following morning, the soldier was found hung in his sleeping room; he’d left a suicide note blaming the life he had lived while under the command of one Major Albert Wheldon and referenced his confession letter as exhibit A.

“DAMN THE ARMY!” yelled Adam as he threw his crutch across the room in Doctor Martin’s surgery.

“Glad your splint is coming off today and you won’t be needing that crutch anymore,” Paul stated as he entered his office, having narrowly missed being struck by the projectile.

“I’m sorry, Paul. We receive another report from Yancy Mayhew with corroborating documentation from the Arch Dioceses of California… Damn the Army and their coverup! How many more lives are these marauders and Wheldon’s patrol going to destroy before they’re stopped?! When is it going to stop?”

“I can’t answer those questions. All you can do is present these facts to Congressman Hardy when he arrives here next week.”

“Yeah, Adam, Congressman Hardy will know what to do, how to get this to stop,” Hoss agreed.

“I don’t know what good it will do. What good can a Washington Congressman do all the way out here?”

“Guess you’ll find out once he arrives. Are you ready to get this off?” Paul asked.

“Get it off, Paul. I want this damn thing off my leg!”

Paul set to work without any further conversation; he knew the young man in front of him and what this whole situation had cost him and his family.

*****

Avoiding the main street of Virginia City, under the cover of night, Orlando and Wren McCloud pulled the wagon they were driving to the back of Doctor Martin’s home, two evenings before Christmas. Under the tarp in the back of the wagon was a pine box, five feet long, by two feet wide, by one foot deep. Slowly, the older brother stepped down, proceeded to the back door and knocked. Without hurry he waited for the lantern to be lit and the door opened.

“May I help you?” asked the housekeeper.

“Is Doc Martin home?”

“If you needed the doctor, you should have come to the front door,” the woman gently scolded.

Removing his hat, Orlando stated, “I’m sorry ma’am, but I need to see him without others knowing we’re here.” Orlando half turned so the woman could see, by the pale moon light, the wagon and his brother waiting.

“Mrs. Kincaid, who is it?” Paul Martin inquired as he tied the sash to his robe around his waist.

“If you’d be so kind to tell Doc, Orlando McCloud is…”

“Orlando,” Paul interrupted. Mrs. Kincaid stepped aside. “What are you doing here? Where’s Wren? Is he okay?”

“He’s waiting at the wagon…”

“It’s cold out there, have him come in,” Paul offered.

“Doc, we…” Orlando stumbled with what to say.

“What’s wrong?” Paul asked.

“Can we speak, private like?”

Mrs. Kincaid turned and left the room. She was satisfied there was no medical emergency that would pull the doctor from his home during the night; she returned to her quarters and to sleep.

While Wren waited on the wagon seat, Orlando quietly informed the doctor they had brought home the body of Joe Cartwright.

“My God…” Paul gasped. “This is going to destroy Ben and the boys.” Looking to the man and his haggard appearance, he asked, “Are you sure?”

“There were two survivors, captives. The woman was mentally unstable; the doc said it was from what she suffered.”

“And the other?”

“A young girl, she and a young boy were brought in by the soldiers. The girl suffered a few minor injuries, but the boy was in bad shape. The girl said he tried to shield her and that’s how he came to be hurt. There wasn’t anything the doctor said he could do other than to make the boy comfortable. He died within an hour of arriving at the clinic.

“We spoke with the doctor, explaining who we were and why we were there. He allowed us to talk to the girl. She described the boy and said his name were Joe Carter or something like that.”

“Did you see the body?”

Orlando shook his head no, “Doc said it weren’t pretty, he’d been hurt real bad. Doc, I didn’t know what else to do other than have the undertaker prepare him and then bring him home.”

“You did the right thing, Orlando. Why don’t you and Wren take the coffin over to Mortimer’s and then spend the night at my surgery.” From his pocket, the doctor pulled a key and handed it to the man. “There are rooms in the back with comfortable beds. I don’t have any patients tonight, you’ll be protected from anyone seeing you back in town and asking questions before I can tell Ben what happened.”

“Thanks, Doc,” Orlando answered as he accepted the key and left the house.

 

Chapter 10: The Heart Grows Cold

Paul waited for the shock and grief to set in, but the only emotion to surface was anger. After listening to Paul explain the reason for his visit, Adam screamed, “Damn them!” Storming from the room, he slammed the front door behind him.

The only tears shed slipped down the face of the man silently standing in the dining room, head bowed.

“Orlando and Wren took the coffin with his body to Mortimer’s,” Paul stated.

“I want to see him,” Ben spoke in a voice absent of all emotion.

“Ben, I can’t allow you to see his remains. It’s been over two weeks, and the injuries he suffered… you don’t need that to be your last memory of Joe. Remember him as the bright and vibrant boy he was.”

“I have to be sure…” Ben stated.

“From the descriptions the doctor and the young girl he was trying to protect gave the McClouds, and she said his name was Joe Carter, she could have misheard his last name… Who else could it be? Ben, you and the boys did everything you could. Let him be at peace. The three of you need to accept Joe’s death so you can grieve…”

Hoss remained frozen as he sat on the hearth of the fireplace, his muscles and thoughts encased in anger.

*****

The buzz around Virginia City centered on the impending funeral of the youngest member of the Cartwright family. People spoke of their plans to attend and what they would wear as casually as if it were a Christmas Eve party. As person after person approached the parson, they were offended when he stated the family requested a private service on their land, there would be no witnesses other than those who truly loved the boy. He refrained from using the actual words Ben had yelled, words that expressed the depths of emotions and anger the man felt at having his life shattered and the fodder it would provide the gossips of Virginia City.

*****

Christmas Eve day, Adam and Hoss drove the Ponderosa wagon to town. As they drove along the main street, people stopped what they were doing and watched the scene when the wagon halted in front of the undertaker’s building. Without words, the Cartwright brothers entered the building and moments later carried the coffin and slipped it in the back of their wagon. A colorful blanket was placed over the pine box before the tail gate of the wagon was pinned closed in an effort to stop the gawkers from seeing the reason for their sorrow.

Once he sat high on the bench seat, with his oldest brother next to him, Hoss picked up the reins and slapped the horses to move them out.

*****

A Christmas morning snow threatened the Ponderosa as Reverend Harrison stood before the family and the few who were invited to attend the services for Joseph Francis Cartwright. Besides the ranch hands, the only other person who was allowed to come was Doctor Paul Martin.

Dressed in black, the family stoically stood beside the grave as they paid their last respects to their brother. The words spoken by Reverend Harrison were barely heard as their grief blocked out all thoughts other than what could have been.

Off to the side stood Mortimer and two of his assistants as they waited for those gathered to leave so they could lower the coffin into the ground and shovel the dirt back into the grave.

*****

Four days after their brother was laid to rest, Adam and Hoss drove the ranch carriage to Virginia City to meet the special stage and its passengers. First impressions were very important to Adam Cartwright, he knew how they presented themselves would lay the foundation for how they were perceived by the congressman they were meeting. He had mentally planned out everything they would say and do while these men were their guests.

Unfortunately, Adam’s first impression of the man who introduced himself as Congressman Matthew Hardy was that the man was a pompous fool. A man who enjoyed the privileges afforded him as a member of congress and spent a great deal of time berating others he felt beneath his status; making ridiculous requests followed up by, “I’m a United States Congressman.” It was also apparent that his Congressional privileges certainly included the fact that he never went hungry; the man’s girth was almost as round as he was tall.

Adam had better hopes upon seeing the second man to disembark the stage, his insignia indicated he was high up in the chain of command in the U.S. Army and introduced himself as Lieutenant Brigadier General Norman Simpson.

*****

The return trip to the Ponderosa was spent by pointing out the sights of the land and discussing the people of Virginia City; nothing was said about why the men were there, that conversation would happen later, at home.

*****

The three Cartwrights sat back and waited for their guests to finish reading through everything they had compiled against Major Albert Wheldon. The numerous grunts, groans, and attempts to clear one’s throat grated on the family’s nerves. Twice, Hop Sing had entered the room to refill the coffee pot that sat in the middle of the low wooden table, where pages and pages of testimony were strewn. Only the Cartwrights acknowledged his presence and thanked him.

“That’s quite a wild tale you’ve laid out,” Congressman Hardy stated as he laid the last sheet of paper to the table.

“Tale?” Adam asked in disbelief, but yet as the afternoon progressed he had expected nothing less. “We followed that patrol for three months; we personally saw the aftermath of at least one attack from Major Wheldon’s patrol on the marauders.”

“It is quite fanciful,” the general quietly stated as he too allowed the final page he had read to slip to the table.

“Fanciful?” Hoss incredulously asked. “It ain’t fancy, it’s down right barbaric what he was allowed ta do.”

“Gentlemen, Major Wheldon was following orders, do whatever it took to stop McComber’s Marauders,” Simpson stated.

“Did those order even stop to consider how he would go about stopping them? The cost to innocent lives? Where is the Army’s compassion for the people they are supposed to protect?” Adam had seen out of the corner of his eye his father’s reaction to the two men, and so he chose to speak on behalf of his family.

“From the reports I read, the women who lived were so traumatized it might have been better had they been killed,” Hardy spoke.

“And what of those who weren’t killed, what lives are they living?” Adam asked. “Those reports speak of United States citizens sold into white slavery rings… And the children…” Adam pleaded.

“Those claims are unsubstantiated,” Hardy answered.

“Unsubstantiated? Only because the men, the fathers and husbands, were killed during the raids,” Hoss stated.

“You have no proof here,” the officer stated, he swept his hands above the papers. “It’s all just hearsay.”

“What about the life of my youngest brother?!” Adam asked, knowing they had kept this a secret from the men.

“If your brother rode with McComber, then he gets what he deserves,” Simpson replied.

“HE WAS TEN YEARS OLD! He turned eleven Halloween! He was killed during the final attack that wiped out McComber’s Marauders!” bellowed Ben.

“There is no proof that he was killed by Wheldon’s patrol,” Hardy boasted.

“There’s no proof to say he wasn’t killed by the army,” Adam responded.

“The United States Army does not kill civilians,” Simpson stated as he stood to his feet.

Not allowing the officer to intimidate him, Adam stood and replied, “No they just attack them without any regard and accept it as a casualty of war. Well, we are not at war! There was no declaration of war again these marauders, just orders for them to be stopped. No guidelines given, no orders to check in, to validate that the order still stood.”

“We never rescinded his orders,” Simpson refuted. “There was no need to check in other than to file his reports.”

Adam breathed heavily and stared the man straight in the eye. So angered was he that he didn’t hear the first time his father called his name, until he felt the man’s hand on his arm.

“Gentlemen,” Ben spoke, “It is apparent that we’re not going to get anywhere as you continue to ignore the facts as presented to you.”

“Facts twisted to your point of view,” Hardy belligerently stated as he wallowed in the settee in an effort to stand.

“We did not twist the facts, Congressman. We only asked the respondents to state the facts as they saw them. We did not ask the Arch Dioceses of California to send us their letter or the letter of confession from that officer.” Ben stood proud, but sad. “You were only our first option to see justice done for my youngest child. Since we will not receive justice at your hands, we will be forced to demand the convening of a coroner’s inquest.”

“Be careful what doors you open, Mr. Cartwright. You may find you do not like what stands behind them,” stated Senator Hardy.

“Are you threatening me?” Ben expressed his first hint of animosity.

“No, just trying to inform you what might be at risk to your… Ponderosa,” Hardy stated.

“Gentlemen, the hour grows late and we have a long trip back to town,” offered Adam.

“I thought we were…”

“Come on Matthew. I’m sure the International House in town has rooms to accommodate us.”

With that, Adam drove the carriage as well as their guests to town.

*****

The hour approached midnight before Adam stepped into the house and removed his hat and gunbelt.

“You’re later than I expected,” Ben stated as he sat in his burgundy chair.

“I stopped by to talk to Joe and Marie… I wanted to tell them what was happening.”

“Adam, I know how what I said earlier…”

“You’re ready to give up?” Adam asked in disbelief.

“No, but I am beginning to see where this is going to go. A United States Congressman and a Brigadier General… it’s going to be swept under the rug.”

“Only if we allow it, Pa. I think that Hoss and I realize the coroner’s inquest will be a farce; they’ll only go through the motions… It’s up to us to see what happens afterwards. We have friends Pa, friends who won’t let Little Joe’s death or the deaths of all the others be in vain. We’ll get the word out there. Let them think they have the upper hand and that we’re only small-town nobodies. As written by the English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton, in his Richelieu; or the Conspiracy, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. As long as we can make people think twice… we’ll have won.”

Sagging back into his chair, Ben replied, “I don’t want to win, I just want Joe.”

For the first time since the night Paul Martin had reported the news of Joe’s death, Adam watched his father cry.

*****

The second Monday after New Year’s Day the courthouse of Virginia City was packed full of people, all waiting to witness the Cartwrights take on the United States government.

Hiram Wood represented the Cartwrights as Federal Judge John Gearity had been dispatched from visiting family in California to preside over the case.

For three days, the Cartwrights presented document after document in an effort to get the Army or the Government to admit Major Albert Wheldon exceeded the scope of his orders and that through his actions brought about the death of civilians, namely Joseph Francis Cartwright. Once word leaked out of the trial, several witnesses had made their way to Virginia City to give testimony. Lieutenant Brigadier General Simpson took less than one day to explain the government’s case.

After listening to closing arguments from both sides, Judge Gearity declared the court in recess pending his final decision.

The Cartwrights, Attorney Hiram Wood, Doctor Paul Martin, Sheriff Vernon Biggs, and newspaperman Oliver Pratt sat alone in the dining room of one of the restaurants in town.

“You know the case is going to go against us,” Hiram spoke after the waitress left the room having refilled each man’s coffee cup.

“We expected that from the beginning,” Adam answered.

Vernon and Paul were surprised to hear this statement.

“I’m ready with a full-page expose,” Oliver stated. “I don’t care what strings the Army has pulled to acquit the Major, the people of this territory have a right to know the truth and make their own decisions on whether they agree or not.”

“Pa,” Hoss spoke, “If they do acquit him, what will we do?”

“Let Oliver run his story, and then… we try to get on with living,” Ben replied.

“I tell you one thing, I’m going to review every contract we have with the army to provide beef,” Adam stated.

“The soldiers out here aren’t at fault,” Ben replied.

“No, but the government will probably want to cut their ties with us, once word gets out.”

“Our beef’s the best there is,” Hoss stated.

“Yep, and our contracts have heavy penalty clauses for any cancellations, and you can bet I’m going to make sure every one of them is enforced,” a devilish glint appeared in Adam’s eyes.

*****

Shortly before four o’clock word came through that Judge Gearity had made his decision.

The courthouse was packed full with people to hear Gearity announce his decision.

“After reviewing all the evidence presented and reviewing the law as it relates to the military vs civilian law… No civilian can bring charges against an officer for perceived grievances. However, I took my duty one step further and reviewed Major Wheldon’s actions against the code of conduct for the United States Army. Though innocent lives were lost, the actions of Major Wheldon and his patrol were instrumental in protecting a greater number of lives, lives of countless other civilians had McComber’s Marauders not been stopped.

“This coroner’s inquest finds in the favor of the United States Army, and that they acted in the best interest of the public at large.”

The Cartwrights sat with acceptance, while their friends and neighbors sat in shocked silence.

*****

Later that evening, Congressman Hardy, Lieutenant Brigadier General Simpson, and Judge Gearity sat alone in the restaurant of the International House.

“I’m sure Warren will be happy to find out that you found in favor of his son,” Hardy stated as he raised his glass in toast.

Simpson bragged, “Once word of this case reaches the upper echelon in Washington, I wouldn’t be surprised if you aren’t recalled, and nominated to the United States Supreme Court.”

“Let’s just say that Judge Warren Wheldon owes me a favor, a very… large… favor,” Judge Gearity answered as he raised his glass and sipped the amber liquid contained within.

*****

The following morning, Oliver Pratt printed his front page story regarding the Coroner’s Inquest and the mockery of justice he had witnessed. All the evidence and counter points were printed in whole. In summary, he questioned whether justice could ever be received for those outside of the ‘good old boys club’ in Washington, D.C. and their fellow bedmates, certain members of the United States Army.

As the Territorial Enterprise was being delivered in town and as far as possible, three men mounted their horses in front of the livery.

“Pa, what’ll we do now,” asked Hoss.

“We go home.”

Both sons heard the defeat in their father’s voice, and the coldness began to grow in their own hearts.

*****

Word of their pursuit of justice spread beyond the borders of Virginia City and it did cost the Cartwrights several contracts for providing beef for the Army. But as Adam stated, they demanded payment in full based on the penalty clauses for the breach of each contract. And the Army’s argument against the payment made the news in the Territorial Enterprise, it was only noted in the small print when the government finally relented and made payment.

However, other outposts in the territory and surrounding landscape applauded the Cartwrights for their efforts in trying to bring a known rogue officer to justice, and so… reluctantly they followed their orders from Washington to terminate their contracts with The Ponderosa. The addendum to their orders gave them authorization to negotiate their own contracts with independent cattlemen in the area to secure the best quality beef at the best price possible.

The majority of the commanders knew where to find the best quality and price; so they met with Ben or one of his sons, individually in Virginia City, never on the Ponderosa nor did they mention the Ponderosa during discussions. Every contract was concluded with a firm handshake, they never revealed to Washington the fact that the independent cattlemen were Ben Cartwright and his sons.

When it came time to pay for the delivery of the herds, bank drafts drawn on the government’s cash account had been forwarded to the various financial institutions who would cash the drafts and in turn write another draft to the order of Ben Cartwright.

As for the money from the penalty clauses, Ben and his sons donated it to the towns of Virginia City and Carson City with the stipulation to build better schools and to hire teachers with appropriate credentials.

 

Chapter 11: Life Goes On

Winter finally arrived and proceeded to be bitter upon the Ponderosa; they’d never experienced such record amounts of snow, at least to their way of remembering. Deep in their hearts they knew there had been worse winters, but those winters were always brightened by the enthusiasm of their youngest member.

*****

The first hints of spring found Adam and Hoss out working together repairing many of the fence lines that were damaged during the snows.

“Hey Adam, looky out there!” Hoss called, the first hint of joviality the man had expressed in months.

“Hoss, let’s just get to work,” Adam stated as he continued hammering the nail to hold the wire to the post.

“Adam, look at them horses. Look at that fella there, that chestnut… three stockings and a blaze. Look how proud he looks.”

“So…”

“Adam, ya ain’t replaced Beauty yet. Rammer’s a nice horse, but he ain’t you.”

“What would you have me do?” Adam stood straight and looked at his brother.

“I think we worked hard enough today that we should just take this wagon back, saddle up our horses and head out after that herd. See if we can drive them down to the breaking corrals. There’s gotta be a few good horses in that bunch…”

“I don’t know, we have a lot of work to do after this past winter,” Adam sounded as if he was trying to convince himself to stay.

“Ya know, Pa forgot about one thing when he said, ‘We go home’.”

“What’s that?” Adam asked as he pushed his hat back from his forehead.

“We go on livin’. Adam, I miss shortshanks as much as the two of ya do, but… Tell me honestly, would Joe want us mopin’ around like a schoolboy who just got turned down by the prettiest girl in town for the upcoming dance?”

Adam gave a quick huffing laugh and shook his head from side to side, “No, he’d keep asking the next girl in line until one said yes.”

“And he’d go on livin’ all the while lookin’ to find a gal to say yes.”

“Even at only ten years old he was a charmer,” Adam had to laugh at the image the stories his brother had written about in some of his letters when it came to Little Joe asking a pretty girl to one of the various dances in town.

“Yeah, he shore was. But that’s the point, we gotta keep askin’, keep livin’, keep lookin’ for that brass ring ya once told us about.”

Adam reached down and picked up the bucket containing the nails.

“Whacha you doin’?” Hoss asked.

“I’m going horse wrangling, you coming?”

“You betcha!”

They knew their father would be out at the promontory, so they didn’t worry about upsetting him by quitting work early. Within twenty minutes of arriving home, the team was unharnessed and turned out, and their own mounts saddled.

*****

Four hours later Charlie closed the gates to the breaking corrals and whistled in appreciation at the horses within.

“I didn’t think horse wrangling was on the work schedule for today, boys,” the foreman teased. It did the man good to see the smiles upon the brothers’ faces.

“Nope it weren’t,” Hoss replied as he poured some water from his canteen over his head.

“We decided to take a page from the Joe Cartwright book of life and said to heck with working today. It’ll be there tomorrow.”

“What will be there tomorrow?” Ben asked as he approached the pens.

The brothers looked to each other and Adam knew he had been delegated as spokesman to answer their father.

“The fence.”

“I take it you didn’t complete the work today?” Ben asked.

“Nope,” Adam jovially answered. “Pa, I know we should have, but… Hoss and I were talking; we have to learn to live. What we’ve been doing since Christmas is just… existing. I need to replace Beauty and I think there’s at least one horse, in particular, in this herd that just might be the one.” Taking a deep breath, Adam continued, “I’ve also been dabbling…”

“Dabbling?” Ben asked, surprised his son used such a non-precise word.

“I’ve drafted a design for a new barn, to replace the one we lost…” Adam immediately regretted his choice of words.

“I’ll see the two of you at my desk before Hop Sing sets supper on the table,” Ben announced as he turned from his sons.

“Pa, ya cain’t go on grievin’,” pleaded Hoss.

With understanding, Ben turned; both hands slipped into his front pockets, “Adam, I’ll expect you to bring your design, and Hoss, I want to hear your plans for getting these horses sorted and a count for how many will be worth keeping and how they’ll fit in on the ranch. You have until suppertime boys. Make good use of your time.”

“Pa?” Adam called out.

“Get living boys… I’m…” Ben looked to his feet. “Adam, show me which horse you’re thinking of choosing.” It wasn’t a large smile on the man’s face, but it was a start.

*****

Supper that night was a livelier affair as the men discussed which horses were worth keeping and what modifications they would like to see added to the new barn design.

*****

By the beginning of summer, their ranch hands witnessed Adam Cartwright riding across the range on his new horse he’d named Sport. They were impressed with how dedicated Adam was into training this horse to be an all-around cowpony; cutting and reining came easy to the animal. Had the past not happened, the men wondered how hard it would be for them to win any of the rodeo contests against Adam and his mount.

Adam took pride in seeing that his design for the new barn come to life. With all the Cartwright horses stabled within, the family wondered what it would be like to have one more horse with theirs; the horse that would have belonged to Joe. Their youngest brother’s pony could have been kept with the others, but they just couldn’t face seeing the horse day after day. So, once the snows melted in the meadows, Hoss and Chubbs had led the pony into the meadow where they kept one of their breeding herds of horses and turned him loose. Hoss smiled as the animal kicked and bucked and squealed as he ran to make new friends among the broodmares and the yearlings.

*****

A year had passed since Joe’s abduction. With their youngest brother’s memory forever locked in their hearts, the Cartwrights focused their attention to the Ponderosa. Working from sun up to sun down had a way of pushing their grief from the front of their memories, it never disappeared entirely. Life became easier to bear, as long as they looked at life the same way Little Joe had. In time, they were able to admit to themselves that they had done everything they could to save the life of the boy whose incessant laughter had once brightened their home. But still, they would always wonder what they could have done differently to secure a different outcome.

*****

It was easier to live with themselves and their hands, but, now, in the year since the death of his youngest son, Ben Cartwright had turned into a man that few in town dared approach. When Marie had been alive, the Ponderosa had been known to host lavish Christmas parties; however, the first Christmas after her death had been hard for the family. And then Adam had left for college and Ben didn’t feel like hosting such a merry occasion, not even for his youngest son’s sake. But as the holiday approached for a second time after Adam’s departure, Ben watched his youngest withdraw into himself; the boy rarely smiled or laughed. The only time it seemed the boy smiled was when he was with his pony. It was then that the widower father decided that Christmas needed to be celebrated and the Ponderosa was once again the place to be on Christmas Eve and had been every year until the year that Joe had been abducted and ultimately killed.

*****

Christmas had come and gone, twice, and there was no celebration, no tree, no presents. No donations for those less fortunate in town. There was only one wish those on Ponderosa requested and it remained unfulfilled; and the heartache showed clearly in their actions. Though they tried to live life as Joe would have wanted them to, the men lived only for the Ponderosa and had little to do with the people of Virginia City. When they had to go to town, it became a place to transact business, period. They couldn’t stand the pity upon the people’s faces or how the people had lost their ability to speak with the family.

 

Chapter 12: A Spark of Hope

A second summer returned to the territory, and the Cartwrights accepted their grief as an ever-present fact as life continued on the Ponderosa. More often than not it was a struggle to live life as Joe would have, and so they allowed their grief to remain.

The largest crop of calves populated their land and news of the quality of their horse herds had spread wide and far, but still, it wasn’t enough to replace their loss. And so they worked harder, all for the memory of Little Joe.

*****

As the second anniversary of Joe’s abduction approached, Adam and Hoss remained behind while Ben had departed earlier in the week to negotiate a timber contract in Stockton, California. The night before his departure he’d suffered a restless sleep as he dreaded his impending proximity to San Francisco. He relived the weeks after Joe’s abduction, remembering the potential threat that could have befallen his youngest. After the funeral and as the months passed, he began to wish that maybe his son had been taken to the city instead of heading for Mexico… He knew it was incongruous to trade off one wish for another, especially after the fact. Each time he remembered how his son had died, he’d cringed to think how he’d originally thought it better for his son to die in a mine accident instead of spending anytime being prostituted. But now that his son was a year and a half dead due to the campaign of annihilation by an Army major, he began to rethink his feelings, and became even more bitter.

*****

“What do you have there, Adam?” Hoss asked as he saw his brother step from the post office and slip an envelope into his vest pocket while he put the rest of the mail for the Ponderosa into his saddle bags.

“Nothing…” Adam stated as he stepped from the boardwalk to the hitching rail and untied Sport’s reins.

“Don’t give me that, brother. I saw ya stick a letter in your pocket. Now tell,” Hoss answered in the surly tone of voice that had become his normal when people didn’t give him a proper answer.

“If you have to know… it’s a letter from Gabe Cunningham.”

After thinking a few moments to remember where he’d heard the name, “That fella you went to school with?”

“Yeah, I went to school with him,” Adam answered, his words quieting as he remembered happier times.

“Didn’t ya say he was going into the army after graduatin’? What’s he got to say?” Hoss knew that Adam hadn’t corresponded with a lot of his classmates upon his return home. How could he, when things happened as they had. How does one jovially write to a college friend and say, ‘By the way my brother was murdered by the Army.’?

Adam didn’t answer; he just stood beside his horse, left hand on the crest of his horse’s neck his right hand on the saddle horn.

“Adam?” Hoss called out as he stepped around his brother’s horse, grabbed Adam’s arm and hissed, “What’d he write that’s got you flustered?”

Adam stared across his saddle without acknowledging his brother who stood to his side.

“He said he seen a white child among the Shoshone,” Adam coldly stated.

“So? There’s plenty of white children been taken over the years durin’ them Indian raids.”

“He thought of me after he returned to Mill City.”

“Why’d he do that?” Hoss wanted to know.

“He knows we tried to have Major Wheldon brought up on charges related to Joe’s murder. He wrote me later, offering condolences and saying he agreed with us.”

“So, that was a year and a half ago. Why’s he writin’ now?” Hoss asked.

Adam answered in a guilt-ridden voice, he dropped his chin to his chest, “I have to go.”

“Go?! Where? Explain it ta me! Lately, all we do is work out on the range and do our chores, but then… I don’t like being the only one stayin’ at the house, tryin’ to get Pa through this. I know it’s hard trying to live knowing what we lost. Adam, it’s been two years… how long are we supposed to go on like this…” He grabbed hold of Sport’s reins, enforcing that he wasn’t going to let his brother get by without talking. “Pa still ain’t got over Joe’s death and keepin’ to yourself in your room… It’s almost like ya died too, only ya ain’t dead.”

“Hoss, if I hadn’t come home…”

“What do you mean if you hadn’t come home…” Hoss asked in disbelief.

“Joe…” Adam struggled to explain his feelings, something he wasn’t very good at doing.

“What are you talkin’ about? I don’t understand… Talk to me, brother…”

“If I hadn’t left for college, Joe would never have forgotten me. But I went away, and Joe forgot. If he hadn’t forgotten about me, he would have been with Hop Sing, in town. He wouldn’t have been left alone at the house to be taken. I would have been there to protect him!”

“If you hadn’t left for college, yeah… Joe would have remembered ya, but aren’t ya forgettin’ about the cattle drive? You’d a still been on the cattle drive with us… Pa didn’t want Joe on the drive and riskin’ him gettin’ hurt, so he’d a still been at home.”

“I know Joe would have still been left behind due to his age… But he wouldn’t have wanted to stay home in order to try to remember me! He’d have gone to town with Hop Sing,” Adam pleaded. “God, Hoss! Pa get’s me home two years ago only to lose his youngest son.”

“Adam, that weren’t your fault!”

“But we wouldn’t have spent a few extra days in Sacramento if I hadn’t been away at college.”

“Ya we woulda, because Pa woulda wanted us to relax a little, first time in a long time we’da been able to take any real time off. Whether you were comin’ home from Boston or the three of us on the cattle drive, we still woulda stayed. If you’re gonna blame yourself for that, then why don’t ya blame that teacher for gettin’ sick and closin’ school for the rest of the week. Heck ya, blame the teacher, it’s all his fault. Adam, ain’t no one ta blame but them marauders and the Army for not sendin’ word. Ya cain’t go around thinkin’ like that, I thought you knew that.”

Adam nodded. “What I know and how I feel are two different things.”

“Pa don’t blame ya for what happen, brother. Please don’t go…”

“Hoss, from the moment I returned home until my horse was shot out from under me, we all were out there looking for Joe. We were forced to return home… WITHOUT OUR LITTLE BROTHER!”

“But… Orlando and Wren…”

“The army stopped the marauders and said they were sorry to report there were very few survivors among their captives and a child identified the body of a boy named Joe. The army wiped them out just like the McCloud brothers said they would! We should have kept looking; we took it on faith when the army said he was dead!!” Adam shouted.

“It weren’t just the army. Why were we supposed to keep looking?” Hoss asked in distress.

“We could have prevented those soldiers from wiping them out! We could have maybe saved their captives!”

“Yeah, we could maybe have done that, but then again… maybe we could have been caught up in the mayhem and been victims of that major, too. You almost was. Could be if we kept after them we coulda got off trail and maybe we woulda been too far away to do anythin’. Adam, the boy they found fit Joe’s description. Paul said…” Hoss answered as he shoved his hands into his pant front pockets and started to shuffle his feet; a sure sign that Hoss was depressed. “What we can be thankful for is that Orlando and Wren were there soon enough that they could return his body after the attack. He’s home, but Joe’s dead… He’s buried next to his momma.”

“Hoss… something here,” Adam placed his right hand over his heart, “that won’t let me believe that Joe’s dead. Paul refused to let us see the remains when they brought that coffin home. In my head I know he’s buried next to Marie… But I’ve had a feeling that I just couldn’t shake… I just couldn’t sit in the house and watch Pa in his grief. I’ve tried, I’ve honestly tried and sometimes I’ve succeeded in facing the fact that I can live again. But other times, I’m stuck in a quagmire… I hired men to look for Joe. Pinkertons, bounty hunters, anyone who I felt had a chance to possibly see him. Pa isn’t living anymore; he just goes through the motions… We all are.”

“I know,” Hoss admitted.

“Even though he doesn’t say anything, I know he wishes maybe they had taken Little Joe to San Francisco… God at least he’d still be alive.” Adam couldn’t put to words his revulsion in wishing his baby brother had been sold into a life of child prostitution instead of ending up dead at the hands of the U.S. Army.

“So what now?” Hoss asked.

“He saw a white child…” Adam returned the conversation to the letter in his pocket.

“That Gabe fella said he saw a white child…What’s that go to do with your aleavin’ home?”

“Gabe, uses his engineering degree for the army… He was out surveying for a new fort up in Lander County. They encountered a band of possibly Paiutes or Shoshone Indians… He thought the group was comprised mostly of youths, a small hunting party, boys out to prove themselves. It wasn’t until they returned to town that Gabe remembered about my brother missing… He sent me the letter I picked up this morning.” Adam patted the front of his vest with the letter nestled inside. “He said that there was a youngster with a band of young bucks, tanned like the others, but felt that something wasn’t right, he didn’t look Indian, Gabe saw the boy’s eyes. My God Hoss, all along we were looking in the wrong places for Joe!”

“What do you mean we we’re lookin’ in the wrong places?” Hoss asked. “We followed their trail south…”

“Gabe said… Hoss, they were green. One of the boys had green eyes. Joe wasn’t with the marauders anymore.”

“How’d yer friend get so close and then get away from a huntin’ party?”

“They were children, Hoss. Too young to be considered warriors. Anyway, Gabe wrote the boy appeared to ride the worst horse of the lot and bearing the brunt of the others’ ill-tempers. Well, when the others turned to ride away… this boy, Gabe said it was the dangedest thing, the boy hefted a stick over his head, holding it as if it were a lance, kicked his horse’s flanks, and charged straight at them.”

“Oh Lordy…”

“Gabe ordered the other soldiers he was with to hold their fire, he knows some patrols don’t care if they’re children, but Gabe couldn’t stomach grown men shooting down a child… Sides, what harm could the boy do with only a stick, though he had a bow slung over his shoulders as well as a quiver with arrows…. The boy was within twenty feet when he halted his horse and forced it to rear up. The boy threw his stick at them and then raced his horse away.”

“Sounds like something Joe would a done…” mused Hoss as he remembered some of the shenanigans he and Joe got into while Adam was away at college.

“Hoss, Gabe’s said he’d wait for me in Mill City and then we’d go back into the Shoshone range…”

“Adam, Joe’s buried next to his Momma, this here boy cain’t be Joe. There’s plenty of children who’ve been taken during Indians raids over the years that have green eyes.” Disbelieving that his brother could actually think this boy was Joe, he continued, “If the boy were white and could ride away from them others to throw that sick, why’d he ride back to the other Indians? Why didn’t he ride to them soldiers?”

“I don’t know, maybe he was scared, could be he’s suffered amnesia. Hoss I don’t know. But Gabe said when he got through laughing at the youth’s antics, he thought he saw something carved on the stick, anyway, he picked it up and saw it had a brand whittled onto it.”

“So? Boys carve stuff all the time. I don’t see Indian boys being no different than us.”

“He said it was a pine tree, our brand, the Ponderosa.”

“How can he be so sure it was our brand and not just whittlin’?” Seeing the look on his brother’s face, Hoss continued, “Adam… there’s been Indian uprisin’s out that way. Ya cain’t go,” he pleaded.

“I have to. If there’s even the slightest chance that this is Joe… our Joe. I have to go after him. I have to bring him home, for Pa… for you.”

“What about bringin’ him home for you?” Hoss asked, he was scared for his brother. Had their grief cost Adam his sanity and he was grasping for any chance that his dead brother could be alive?

“I don’t know Joe anymore. It’s been seven years… half his life. It doesn’t matter if he comes home for me… If this isn’t him, I don’t know how much longer I can stay here.”

“Whatcha mean by that?” an angered Hoss demanded.

“If this isn’t Joe, I’ve been thinking about returning to my Grandfather, to Boston.”

“Adam, that would plumb kill Pa if ya did that!” exclaimed Hoss.

“I know, but I can’t go on like this. Hoss, for five years I lived like a civilized person, I didn’t have to wear a gun every day of the week. I didn’t have to worry about Indians or outlaws or marauders. I don’t know that I can continue to live here, knowing what this land did to our family.”

“Adam, it ain’t the land, Joe was born of this land.”

“And I know that he died for this land, but my heart says otherwise. Hoss, I haven’t made up my mind. In my dreams I keep seeing Joe walk through the front door… I’ll keep in touch while I’m gone.”

“What do I tell Pa when he gets back from Stockton?”

“He’ll know. God, he’ll know,” Adam shook his head as he mounted Sport.

*****

The ride home was quiet; Hoss knew there was nothing he could do to change the mind of his oldest brother. Whatever his brother had said he was doing, was done. As they rode, Adam’s thoughts were organizing what he would need to take with him and just how he would try to approach this band of Indians and attempt to retrieve his brother.

Within a half an hour of arriving home, Adam’s saddle bags were stuffed and a packhorse was loaded with provisions, “Watch over him, Hoss. Pa’s gonna need you.”

“He needs both of us.

“No Hoss,” stated Adam as he placed a hand to his larger brother’s shoulder, “he needs Joe. If this is Joe, I’ll do my best to bring him home… You take care.”

“I will. You just watch yourself.”

*****

That night, Hoss sat in his father’s chair and conveyed to Hop Sing why Adam had left and where he was going. He struggled with the idea that if Adam was not successful that he feared he would lose both of his brothers; one to death and the other to Boston.

 

Chapter 13: Meeting with Destiny

“Gabe?” Adam queried as he entered the engineer’s office in Mill City.

The man who, with his shirtsleeves rolled up, pushed back his chair hadn’t changed too much in the two years since their graduation; other than his face, forearms, and hands bore a tan, indicative of the days he’d spent in the sun practicing his profession. Back at Harvard many of their friends had teased the two of them as being the epitome of opposites. Even now, their differences we just as stark; the man’s blonde hair was longer and bore a distinct wave as it curled over his collar compared to Adam’s dark hair and shorter cut. And the reddish-blonde mustache made the officer look younger than his actual age versus Adam’s clean shaved face and serious, more mature appearance. As for their height, Adam stood over six feet tall and his friend, Gabe, was only five foot, eight inches tall. But regardless of their differences, they had become fast friends through the probabilities of learning engineering.

“Adam! You made good time,” Gabe Cunningham stated has he stood and stepped from behind the desk to greet his former college friend.

“Have you any more news?” Adam inquired.

“Same old Adam, get right down to business… I’m sorry. I’d probably be the same way if there was the possibility that this was my little brother.”

“I’m sorry, how have you been?” Adam offered as he removed his hat and extended his hand in greeting.

“Have a seat,” Gabe offered. “We can discuss pleasantries later. As for this tribe…They’re moving around too much. The Colonel sends out a weekly patrol to look for the band of braves, but none have seen the boys. They’ve gotten close to the warriors a few times, but not close enough to stop the raids.”

“Are you sure they’re the ones attacking settlements?” Adam inquired.

“We believe they are, but it’s only the older braves who probably are roving, the camp itself is comprised of their elderly, women, and youths. We frequently find their camps, but not their braves.”

“And your commander’s orders where the camp is concerned?” queried Adam.

“There are those who say we should destroy the camp because the women will ultimately breed more braves, and the young males grow up to be braves, but our commander agrees with Washington where it comes to women and children. So for the time being, the camp is safe, but if we can’t halt the braves, that policy might change.”

The two spent the rest of the afternoon discussing the past two years, including the Coroner’s Inquest.

“Did you keep in touch with Yancy Mayhew after that farce of an inquest?” Gabe asked.

“For a little while, but we lost touch.” With regret Adam stated, “I’m sure that his helping us didn’t bode well for his military career.”

“No, it didn’t. He, and every other soldier that tried to help, knew what would happen once they provided you with the evidence you needed.”

Adam hadn’t known the man but for two weeks as he helped guide them home from Yuma, Arizona. It wasn’t until their final night together that Yancy had broached the subject of why they were so far south, and to see if his hunch was right – were the Cartwrights the men he had heard about who were following McComber’s Marauders, and Major Wheldon.

After his father had stormed from their camp, followed by his brother, Adam had a long talk with the soldier and to some extent; his faith that there were good men in the military was restored. Yancy had kept his promise to keep them informed on everything he knew where the Army and the marauders were concerned. Adam was surprised that the officer’s friends, inside and out of the Army, as well as the Church, sent supporting documentation to help the Cartwrights in their fight against the Army and Washington. But, by the end of the Coroner’s Inquest, Adam knew that his youngest brother’s death meant nothing to anyone outside of Virginia City.

“What did happen?” Adam finally asked.

“Yancy got bounced around from one post to another; I heard that he ultimately resigned his commission. The others… well, they just weren’t worth the trouble for Washington to reprimand. Yancy had clout.”

Shaking his head, Adam said, “That’s a shame, he was a good officer; fourth generation.”

“Yes, he was; however, I think you’ll be pleased to know that he’s going to law school and is doing quite well. He’s also formed some kind of a watch-dog group to keep an eye on Washington and how they assign officers out here. It’s actually a good thing.”

“I wish the results had been different.”

“As far as your brother is concerned, I agree. But with Yancy on the outside, he knows how the Army operates and he’s like a dog on a meat bone when he finds a wrong.”

Refilling their drinks, Gabe continued, “I’m sure you heard about Judge Gearity?”

“Yeah, his nomination to the United States Supreme Court made the paper at home. It’s a shame he died after being thrown from his horse,” Adam’s voice held a hint of sarcasm. Not quite sure how his friend would feel about his comment, he’d refrained from saying what he truly wanted to say.

“Yeah, such a shame,” Gabe agreed with a gentle shake of his head. “Here’s a toast… A toast to United States Supreme Court Nominee Judge John Gearity’s horse…”

Adam raised his glass and smiled cheekily, appreciating the fact that Gabe felt the same way he did.

Eventually, the conversation turned to the ‘youthful ambush’ Gabe and his patrol had encountered. Gabe explained how he kept the stick and handed it to Adam for him to see for himself that it was indeed their brand and not just some happenstance carving.

Their conversation stalled. Adam thought long and hard about what was in his hands. Was he just grasping at anything to avoid the continued heartache? ‘I know Joe is buried next to his mother back on the Ponderosa… So what am I doing here?’

“You don’t seem as happy as I thought you’d be,” Gabe stated, breaking the awkward silence.

“I guess you could say that. The whole time I was riding here, I was so excited that this would be Joe… My heart wants it to be,” Adam looked up from the object in his hands.

“But your mind, your analytical mind, is telling you that you’re wrong.”

Adam nodded. “Am I going crazy?”

“No, no more than I would be if this had happened to my family,” Gabe answered.

“Why is it so hard for me to accept his death? I have for a year and a half… why now?”

“You’d have to tell me… I can’t imagine walking in your boots.”

“Two years ago, I was eagerly looking forward to returning home. Now… I’m thinking of returning to my Grandfather’s in Boston.”

“Ahhh…” Gabe shook his head sympathetically.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Adam asked.

“You don’t really want to go back east. Adam, this is your home. Regardless how many years you and your father spent traveling from Boston to get here, no matter how many years you spent at Harvard…” Pointing to the drawing hanging on the wall, a map of the territory of Nevada, “This is your home.”

“I know this is my home.”

“Your brain wants to head east, but your heart wants to stay here. So, your heart really wants this to be Joe.”

“Why do you think this is Joe? Yes, the carving strongly resembles our brand… It could just be whittling… ”

“That’s for you to find out. Adam, I don’t know why I brought that stick back to Mill City nor do I know why it was that once I was in my quarters I thought of your brother. I hadn’t thought of you and your family for a long time. Maybe this is fate intervening… Hell Adam, you came all this way… You have to know how long the odds are that this could even be plausible. All I know is that I couldn’t get your little brother’s name out of my head until I had posted that letter.”

“So…” Adam asked, “When does the next patrol leave?”

“Tomorrow and we have the Colonel’s permission to ride with Majors Hughes’ patrol.”

“You’re going?” Adam asked in surprise.

“As a courtesy to you, yes. I guess the two skeptics in us will always doubt that this is your brother, but our quixotic side feels otherwise. I’d like to see this through.”

*****

Five days had lapsed since Adam Cartwright and Lieutenant Gabe Cunningham joined the patrol that left Mill City in search of the roving band of braves who were continuing to wreak havoc across the territory, and hopefully to find the band of youths on the off chance that Little Joe was one of them.

As they paused to water their horses and to eat a cold supper, they heard the unmistakable sounds of rifle fire as a scout raced his horse back towards the column.

“Major Hughes, we found them!” the man yelled has he hauled on the reins to stop his horse. They’re just over that rise, only they found a wagon train to attack!”

With little need to order his men to their horses, still he followed protocol and ordered them to mount. Within minutes the troop was racing across the land.

*****

Coming over the rise, the soldiers made their way to the clusters of boulders that dotted the landscape; handing their mounts off to privates who would try to keep them from bolting or from being captured by the Indians.

Adam made his way to cover, taking his rifle and grabbing his saddlebags that contained his ammunition. Above the noise of the attack, the major ordered his men to choose their targets carefully and not to waste ammunition.

As their targets became aware of the wagon train’s unexpected reinforcements, the Indians changed their tactics in order to avoid the new threat while still taking their vengeance against those who invaded their land.

*****

The battle lasted longer than Adam believed possible; all the while, numerous arrows struck too close to his position and the ricochet of bullets sent chards of rocks against him. Several times during the battle he was forced to relocate to find a position that was easier to defend, offered protection, and allowed him to focus on stopping the Indian attack.

As the battle raged beyond the range of his rifle, the eldest Cartwright son pleaded that the Indian boys were back at their settlement and not a part of the slaughter that had swept Adam into its midst. If the boy was his brother, he never wanted him to witness the senseless slaughter of human beings. Knowing he had a duty to perform, Adam left his cover and ran towards another defendable position that was closer to the fight, and began firing his rifle; reloading when the cartridges were spent.

Adam Cartwright was never a man to count the number of men he killed, but he couldn’t believe the duration of the ambush and what it cost in lives lost. The carnage across the landscape in both man and animal was sickening in both sight and smell.

In time, Adam ran out of ammunition for his rifle and reverted to his handgun, requiring him to change positions again as this weapon had a shorter firing range. Carefully Adam fired, not wanting to waste any bullets. With his revolver empty, Adam ducked undercover to reload.

 

Chapter 14 – Compassion, a Bitter Pill to Swallow

Long after the last rifle was fired, and the soldiers and settlers had reclaimed their dead, Adam carried an unconscious youth across the land and into the camp that had hastily been set up to tend to the wounded. As he approached he heard shouts of ‘Kill ‘em!’, ‘Murdering heathen!’, ‘Scalp him and leave him for the buzzards!’ He stoically continued to walk past the civilians, directly to the wagon of the soldiers.

“What do you have there?” asked the soldier in command of the detachment, Major Ronald Hughes.

“He’s white, and if I’m right… he’s my brother,” answered Adam as he lay the boy down near the rear of wagon and knelt over the prone figure. Pulling his saddlebags from his shoulder, Adam reached within, pulled out a shirt and began to rip it into strips to use as bandages.

“Brother? If he looks like that and was with them… he’s no longer your brother. Best thing you can do for your family is to kill the boy and never mention this to them,” stated the major.

“Kill him?!” a shocked Adam asked as he stood lividly to face the officer.

“He’s Indian now,” Major Hughes simply explained.

“No, I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it!” Adam stated, glaring at the man.

“Look at him!” the major ordered as he pointed to the figure on the ground. “What other reason would he have for riding with them? Why else would he be here? He’s Indian!”

Thinking back to those final moments of the battle, Adam softly spoke, “He had a knife… he held it almost like he was poised to attack me from behind, but when I turned he didn’t.”

“See… Be done with him son,” Major Hughes sorrowfully suggested as he watched conflict wash over the man’s face. “It’s for your own good, as well as your family.”

“I can’t… I won’t! It’s men like you who’re the cause of him being out here!”

“Son, I’m not sure what you’re implying…”

“There was another Army officer who was after a band of marauders, men who had taken my brother when they attacked our home. The officer in charge didn’t care anything about the captives… He felt it was better for the families involved if they were killed along with their abductors. My brother was just a child when he was taken!”

Showing a brief moment of compassion, the Major asked, “How long has he been missing?”

“Two years. He was taken two years ago…, but it’s been seven years since I’ve seen him,” Adam admitted.

“Oh, you’re that Adam Cartwright,” Major Hughes finally put the name with the event.

“Yes, I’m that Adam Cartwright, though I’m the only Adam Cartwright that I know. And I don’t care what you think you know, my brother was taken when he was only ten years old!”

“A child that age, he was still impressionable. If he is your brother, he’s Indian.”

“I won’t believe that!” Adam implored.

“Seven years is a long time, children change as they grow up… You can’t be sure that this is your brother.”

“He could have killed me, he was so close… when I turned around… I reacted… I fired…” guilt encompassed him as he realized he’d fired his weapon on a child… a white child… a child who could be his brother.

“Pitty your bullet only grazed him,” voiced an approaching soldier wearing sergeant’s stripes on his sleeves, as he spat out a wad of chew that barely missed the unconscious youth.

Adam fumed at the sergeant’s actions.

“Major, regardless… whether he is or isn’t my brother, I’m asking for your protection…” Adam reached for the commanding officer’s arm. “His and mine, from those settlers and from the men under your command,” Adam stated, looking the Major dead in the eye. “My brother is not responsible for the circumstances that brought him here. He was taken, by force, from our home two years ago. I will do everything in my powers to bring my baby brother home to our father. Now, will you or will you not provide a safe haven to two white travelers?”

“You can have your safe haven, but you and you alone will tend to that.” The major pointed to the figure on the ground. “I’ll not have any of our dwindling resources spent on it.” The Major felt for the man who had been accompanying his patrol, but… he wouldn’t acknowledge the figure lying at his feet as human.

“Is it too much to ask for you to show a little compassion to a young boy?!” argued Adam.

“Compassion? For an Indian?!” stated one of the civilian leaders of the wagon train who had come to investigate the commotion and to thank the soldiers for their timely arrival.

“HE’S WHITE!” Adam shouted.

“Son…” the officer recognized the situation could get out of hand quickly. He knew the name ‘Cartwright’ was long established and powerful in the territory as proof by the inquest against Major Wheldon a year and a half before. Major Hughes decided to walk a fine line between ‘doing the right thing’ and following his orders. “It appears to have been a long time since that ‘boy’, as you call him, was anything other than Indian. You’ll get your compassion; you’ll get it in the form of a ride in that wagon. If he eats, he’ll eat from your provisions. As for bandages, tear up one of your shirts. That’s the best I can or will do.”

Major Hughes left him alone as he went to tell his captain to pass the word that Cartwright and the Indian were not to be bothered, or helped, by soldiers or by civilians.

*****

Turning around and kneeling to tend to the injured youth, Adam remembered earlier when the soldiers he had been riding with had come across the wagon train under attack and they joined in the fight. The scene was hectic as the settlers tried to defend their position and lives. He and the soldiers had taken cover behind various groupings of boulders strewn across the land to lend their aid. As the battle progressed, Adam had run out of cartridges for his rifle; he only had the bullets in his handgun and the one box of ammunition that remained from his saddlebags he had pulled from Sport before he ran for cover. Moving closer to the scene to accommodate the shorter range of his revolver, Adam took cover behind another cluster of boulders before he began to return fire, again. He didn’t hear the sound of the Indian approaching until he heard a twig snap. Having just finished reloading, he closed the cylinder of his revolver, spun around and instinctively he pulled the trigger at the body looming over him and immediately regretted his actions.

The sun glinted off the blade of the knife the young boy carried, but that wasn’t what Adam noticed. Quelling the moment’s panic over the Indian’s proximity, he became aware of the bright green eyes and what he thought was a look of surprise on the young face that was so young. The tanned complexion contorted into a grimace as the boy mouthed something before he collapsed to the ground.

*****

The eldest Cartwright son cradled the boy in his arms as they sat near the fire. The cool temperatures of the night time desert caused the boy’s body to shiver. Adam had wrapped the adolescent in a blanket in an effort to help keep him warm.

“Adam?” Gabe Cunningham quietly called as he approached the fire.

“Gabe,” Adam acknowledged.

“Is he your brother?”

“From what I remember he looked like, yes. But… I won’t know for sure until he wakes.”

“Here’s some coffee.” Gabe handed Adam the second cup he carried.

“Won’t Hughes be upset about you wasting the Army’s supplies on us?”

“This is from my own stash. I can’t stomach the brew they make, it’s only fit for use as wheel grease,” Gabe said as he sat down. “They’ll finish burying the dead before morning and you need to be ready to head out.”

“I know. I overheard the major.”

Turning his attention to the boy who laid in Adam’s lap, Gabe suggested, “Why don’t you see if he’ll swallow something. Getting him warm from the inside will help.”

“He’s unconscious,” Adam stated.

“Just see if he can swallow; even when someone’s unconscious they can still swallow. That’ll prove his head wound isn’t too serious.”

Adam placed the cup to the boy’s lips and tilted it up with one hand, while he used his other hand to open the boy’s mouth. A few moments later the boy swallowed.

“Not a lot at one time, just little sips,” Gabe stated.

“Thanks, Gabe.”

The lieutenant watched the interaction of his former college friend and the youth he believed to be his brother. He remembered the stories Adam had told of helping to raise both his siblings, especially after his second step-mother had been tragically killed in a riding accident. The man before him had recounted how at seventeen he had been thrust into the role of decision maker on the Ponderosa when their father had disappeared for several months. As the teen had struggled with some of the newer hands to accept him as their boss, he also assumed the role as a father figure for the young child who didn’t understand the concept of death or why his father had left. Gabe wondered what nightmares would be in store for his friend to deal with once they returned home; as had been the case in the brother’s feeling of abandonment by his mother and his father. The letters Adam read from home were typical of a young child, but still… The officer wondered if the brother would harbor resentment that Adam had also left him to pursue his dream of education, if the boy remembered him at all. He almost wished he had followed his father’s footsteps into medicine instead of becoming an engineer; the two before him would prove an interesting case study. He wondered what his father would think upon examining how people react to various stimuli or situations in order to help the patient understand the reasons for what they felt or how they behaved.

Focusing his attention back to his friend, Gabe knew that if this was Adam’s brother, and until the boy was restored to his family, Adam wouldn’t allocate the time to see to his own proper care; all his energies would be devoted to his brother.

In time, Adam settled the boy back to his lap and Gabe chose then to speak, “Now that he’s taken care of, you might want to get one of our corpsmen to take a look at your face.”

“My face?” Adam brought a hand to his face, “Oh, I see what you mean.” He saw the thickened blood on the tips of his fingers where fragments of rock from the bullets ricocheting had marred his face.

“You’d best get it cleaned up to prevent any infection.”

“Would you keep an eye on Joe while I wash up?”

“I don’t mind, as long as you’ll promise to take care of your own needs…”

“I’ll be fine, I need to tend to Joe.”

“Adam, you need to see that you eat properly, that you give into the sleep that’s drawing on your reserves, and tend to your own injuries. It won’t do you or the boy any good if you collapse from sickness or exhaustion.”

“I’ll do that. Thanks for caring.”

“Adam…”

“Gabe.”

“I don’t want you to take what I’m about to say the wrong way, but…”

“Just say it.”

“You know my father is a physician.”

“I remember… But he’s several thousand miles away and can’t help Joe.”

“No, he can’t help Joe, but he can help you… in a fashion. Don’t let your feelings fester. It’s going to be difficult to assimilate the boy back into your lives, if he is your brother… You need to find a confidant… someone you trust who you can talk to, to let off steam.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“No, you won’t. You keep everything closed inside… I saw it when you talked of your family when we were at Harvard. Everything was easygoing, but I know some of the situations were grimmer than you stated. Find someone you can talk to, otherwise you’re going to blow like that steam engine we built as second year students…”

“I remember, we didn’t allow a large enough opening for the release of pressure.”

“You got it, big guy. If you keep your feelings bottled up inside, I do believe this is the situation to cause you to explode.”

*****

As he kept his promise to take care of himself, Adam realized he was injured worse than he first thought. He’d gone to remove his shirt to wash up and found that his shirt stuck to the upper part of his arm; he’d been grazed by a bullet just below his shoulder and didn’t know it.

Using soap and water, he cleaned his face and washed his upper body and arms. Before redressing, he treated the cuts on his face and the bullet wound with some herbs that Hop Sing always insisted they carry in their saddle bags.

*****

The sun of their first dawn together rose at their backs. The distant range of hills they were traveling towards shone with the dull colors of bare ground and rocks, as well as the hues of lush grass inter-mixed with the greens of pine and spruce trees. The man’s body was jarred sideways by the motion of the wagon passing over the rock-strewn and rutted ground. The canvas cover flapped open shining the morning sun on the figure in his lap, highlighting the abuse he had suffered over the years.

Adam knew the soldiers and the settlers were angry with him for doing something ‘Christian’ for someone they considered worse than a heathen… lower than an animal. But, if for only his father’s sake, he was going to do his best to bring his brother home. He didn’t know how, he only knew this was his youngest brother. It wasn’t that he blindly wished the youth to be someone he wasn’t, but that deep in his heart he knew the youth in his arms could only be Joseph Francis Cartwright.

“Pa will be thrilled to see you, to hug you. And don’t forget Hoss, if he can get you away from Pa, he’s liable to hug you and never let you go,” Adam whispered as he held the boy tight. “You need to wake up, Joe? How did you get here? What happened two years ago?”

*****

After several days of travel, word traveled back through the line of travelers that they would not be stopping for a mid-day meal; only a brief stop would be allowed when they came to a stream some miles still ahead. The stop would be long enough to refill their canteens, water barrels, and to allow the horses to drink.

*****

The patrol had stopped, allowing Adam to climb from the back of the wagon carrying two canteens and leading Sport and his packhorse. As he stood at the stream, he heard a woman scream. Running, he stopped short when he saw several men struggling on the ground.

“Get off!” Adam ordered as he pulled the two men from the boy. “How dare you attack a defenseless child?” Through his heightened emotions, Adam had thrown one of the men a good fifteen feet from where he stood.

“I ain’t gonna let no murderous Injun attack my family!” the closer man hollered back as he went to draw his weapon from the holster at his hip.

Before the man could complete his draw, Adam’s gun was in his hand, unwaveringly pointed at the man’s head, the hammer pulled back and Adam’s finger on the trigger.

“Try it,” Adam growled, his eyes were cold and hard.

“What’s going on here?!” demanded Major Hughes having heard the commotion.

“That Injun’s tryin’ ta get away,” one of the attackers called out.

“He’s not trying to get away,” Adam stated as he returned his gun to his holster and went to kneel next to the boy.

“You were supposed to keep an eye on him Cartwright!” Hughes stated.

“He was still unconscious when I left him to go get some water. May I remind you that you yourself said I was autonomous and was not to expect any help from your command?” Adam didn’t look up from his brother as he spoke.

After ordering the civilians to return to their wagons, Hughes inquired, “How is he?”

“I’d feel better if you’d allow your corpsman to examine him.”

“No.”

“For God’s sake! He’s a white child! He’s not even thirteen years old!”

“My husband was a doctor… It’s been years since he’s practiced…” came the voice of an elderly woman as she made her way through the crowd. “I didn’t know the Indian was a child.”

“He’s not an Indian ma’am, he’s my brother,” Adam declared, his eyes dared the major to contradict him.

“Let me get my husband,” the woman offered as she turned away.

“We ride in five minutes,” Major Hughes declared. “As I said for everyone else, go back to your wagons!”

With that, the others returned to their wagons, leaving Adam alone with his brother.

“Adam, if the doctor and his wife have room in their wagon, it might be best for you and the boy to ride with them. Hughes ain’t gonna give you any extra consideration or wait for the doc to look him over.”

“I didn’t expect him too. Would you get my horses from the stream?”

“Sure, and then I’ll wait with you until the doctor’s wagon gets here.”

“Gabe, he is my brother,” Adam stated as he looked to his friend.

“I hope so, Adam. I surely hope his is who you think he is.”

*****

The Doctor Aubrey Abrams’ wagon slowly fell back in line at the end of the column; having pushed the boy’s brother to pick up the reins to the team, bartering examining his patient in exchange for a driver.

The elderly physician saw Adam’s glance at his hands, “They can still handle a team, and as long as surgery isn’t required, they can still perform an examination.”

Alice Abrams pulled the cover over the youth’s shoulders as she settled back and listened to her husband explain his findings to the man driving their wagon.

“He’s very malnourished, has several broken ribs that are probably a few weeks shy of being fully healed. Too many bruises and contusions; as far as the gunshot wound… he’s probably suffered a pretty good concussion. I’ll have Alice cook up some broth to feed him when we stop for the night, but he stays in this wagon.”

“I wouldn’t want him anywhere else… other than home,” Adam answered as he looked over his shoulder to the form sleeping under the blanket.

“Isn’t one of those soldiers a friend of yours?” Alice inquired.

“Yes, Gabe Cunningham, but he’s on special assignment out here as an engineer.”

“What’s an engineer doing out here on patrol?”

“He saw Joe, that’s my brother’s name, some time back with a band of Indian boys and sent me a letter. It’s only as a special favor to me that the colonel allowed him to come with us,” replied Adam.

“How long has your brother been missing?” Aubrey asked.

“Two years.”

“I pray that he’ll be the brother you remember,” Alice offered.

“For my father’s sake, I hope he remembers enough to be able to come back from this.”

“If he was raised anything like you probably were, he’ll come back. You’ve a strong sense of family in you, son,” Aubrey stated as he looked to his wife.

*****

It took longer than their original outward trip, but the patrol finally saw the wagon train through to Mill City before they headed back to look for the renegades who were still wreaking havoc on the white men who traversed and settled the land. Major Hughes received a report that several more homesteads had been ambushed as they escorted the wagon train to town. In the most recent raids, only livestock had been taken and the settlers had been able to defend themselves and their homes.

*****

Adam Cartwright steered the team of horses pulling the wagon to the doctor’s office in Mill City, having followed Lieutenant Gabe Cunningham to the location.

“I have to report back to the colonel, Adam. I hope everything turns out alright for you… and your family.”

Extending his hand to his friend, Adam replied, “Gabe, thank you for everything. Thank you for remembering about Joe.”

“Adam, the only reason I remembered was seeing that stick; even then it took me a while to remember why that whittling was important. Good luck.”

The lieutenant rode his horse away from the covered wagon.

*****

Adam nodded as his friend rode off. He climbed over the seat and dropped into the back of the wagon. After bundling the youth into his arms, Adam stepped into the doctor’s office carrying the boy he knew to be his brother.

Half an hour later he listened as the two doctors conferred, Doctor Willem Benedict greeted Adam and asked to hear the full story surrounding the boy’s situation. The physician listened to the story in full, from abduction to rescue, with a lot in between missing.

“If the marauders abducted him… how did he end up with the Indians?” Doctor Benedict asked as Adam’s story concluded.

“Our brother Hoss asked that same question. I have no idea, other than the fact that some of the marauders who struck the Ponderosa were Indian, but from everything we learned while we were trailing them… they were heading for Mexico.”

“Well, that’s neither here nor there, for now. What matters is the boy is with you.”

“How is he? Will he be okay?” Adam inquired with nervousness.

“Mr. Cartwright, I agree with the assessment made by Doctor Abrams. The boy needs at least a week’s worth of rest and several months’ worth of nourishing food.”

“Why’s he still unconscious?” Adam queried.

“He’s not unconscious; his body needs the rest. Believe me; he’s only sleeping at this time. He’ll probably wake some time later tonight or tomorrow morning. In addition to the visible wounds, the healing ribs, and the concussion, he’s suffering from exhaustion… The body can only take so much before it shuts down.

“Doctor Benedict… he’s not dying?” gasped Adam.

“Mr. Cartwright…”

“Adam…”

“Okay, Adam, call me Willem. No, he’s not dying; he just has very little left in reserves to be awake. I’ve seen other white children after being taken by Indians… Regardless of how your brother came to be with them, his life has not been easy. White children are the lowest of the lows, he’s had to fight for any scrap of food he’s ever ate and as evident by the clothes, they’re discards, I wouldn’t even consider them hand-me downs. The fact that they are so worn, they’re not fit to be worn by someone of pure blood, or even a half-blood; and the Indians loath half-breeds, so I hope you’ll understand some of what this boy has gone through. No one has been looking out for that boy for a long time.”

“I don’t care about that… not now,” Adam stated as the familiar feeling of guilt gnawed at him.

“You’d better. If he is your brother as you believe, forcing him to forget the past two years will be the worst thing you can do for him. He has to come to grips with the fact that he was taken through no fault of his own. He’s been deprived of his family and from love. When he wakes, let him talk, let him get it out of his system, but don’t pressure him. Most importantly, show him an unconditional love. Don’t put strings on your love that he has to be white; he might retain some of his Indian habits for a long time.”

“Can I spend the night with him?”

“Sure, but first, I think even in his present state, he warrants a proper bath. I’ll ask my wife to fill the tub with hot water and we can bathe him.”

‘It’s been a long time since I bathed Joe… Maybe it will bring back some good memories,’ Adam thought to himself.

Half an hour later, with the filthy and tattered pants tossed into the fire, a clean and still sleeping boy was carried into an upstairs bedroom.

“I can ask my wife to bring one of my shirts in to act as a nightshirt for the boy…”

“We can worry about that later,” Adam stated as he finished tucking the boy into bed.

“I’ll inform my wife you’ll be joining us for supper and for breakfast.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Adam added.

“Please, as our guest.”

“Thank you.”

*****

A full moon shone outside the window in front of which Adam sat in an overstuffed chair. He gazed upon the features of the youth sleeping in the bed and imagined the boy as the soon to be six-year old he remembered.

The clock downstairs stuck one o’clock and seemed to rouse the boy from his slumber.

Adam watched as the boy stretched and attempted to snuggle deeper under the covers. Slowly the boys eyes fluttered opened and closed several times before they stayed open and scanned the room, coming to rest on the man who sat in the chair. Showing little fear, the boy attempted to sit up, but in his weakened condition he fell back to the surface.

“Take it easy, I mean you no harm,” Adam stated, making no movement that would frighten the boy. He slowly turned up the lantern on the table next to his chair.

The boy looked at him, raising the blanket to just below his chin.

“Are you hungry?” Adam asked. Seeing the look of confusion upon the boy’s face he made the motion of eating, cupping one hand and then lifting his other hand from the ‘bowl’ to his mouth. The boy nodded.

Adam returned to the room with a bowl of chicken stock broth and held it out to the boy. Slowly the boy lowered the blanket and reached for the bowl. Warily, he watched the man while he drank; a few minutes later he handed the bowl back.

“My name is Adam,” he offered as he took the bowl and set it on the night stand. “Do you want more?” Again Adam made the movements of eating. The boy shook his head. “Probably for the best, wouldn’t want to overstuff you. Might make you sick.”

The boy pulled the blanket up to his chin again.

“Are you cold?” Adam asked, he pointed to the boy then made his body shiver to convey his question. The boy nodded. After retrieving another blanket, Adam laid it over the boy before sitting down on the edge of the bed; the boy cagily moved away.

“I’m not going to hurt you. You’re safe here. Do you have a name?” Adam pointed towards himself and said his name, then he pointed to the boy and raised his eyebrows in question and said, “You?”

The boy turned within himself, trying to recall the words the man spoke. “Fight…” the boy dropped the blanket and raised his balled hands.

“Fight Fists?”

“Figh-y… Fists,” the boy hesitantly answered.

“Fighting Fists.” The boy nodded. “Do you have a white man’s name?” Adam inquired and grew despondent when the boy tilted his head sideways and gave him a blank look. Adam looked around the room, stood, and walked over to retrieve a sheet of paper and pencil from the desk in the corner. He quickly sketched on the piece of paper. He held the page to the boy and asked, “Do you know this sign?”

The boy’s eyes widened as he reached for the paper, and took it in his hands as if it were the most precious possession he owned. “Ome,” the boy said. “Ome ah oss a-um ah-ing,” he continued to repeat and became agitated.

“I’m sorry; I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

“Ome, ah oss a-um ah-ing,” the boy repeated, and pointed at the drawing. The boy grabbed the pencil from Adam and drew another pine tree next to the one drawn by Adam, and then drew five stick figures. When he finished he said, “Ome,” as he pointed to the pine tree. “Ah,” as he pointed to the first figure, followed by A-um and Oss as he pointed to the two middle figures, and then he said “O” as he pointed to the smallest figure and then pointed to himself. To the final figure he said, “Ah-ing.”

Adam startled in realization and breathed deep in an effort to slow his racing heart, he knew what the boy was trying to tell him. The boy was confirming everything that Adam already knew. He held one side of the paper and pointed to each character in return and slowly pronounced, ‘Home, Pa, Adam, Hoss, Little Joe, and Hop Sing.’

“A-um,” the boy questioned as he pointed towards Adam, his expression indicating his curiosity as he then pointed back to the stick figure he’d identified as A-um.

“Yes, I’m Adam. I’m your oldest brother, Adam.”

“Ad-am,” the boy stated and smiled in response to Adam’s smile.

“And you’re Little Joe.”

“Li-tel Joe.”

“Yes, Little Joe. I think you’ve had enough talk for one night. Why don’t you snuggle back under the covers and get some more sleep.” Adam so much wanted to pull the boy into a hug and never let him go, but he knew it might be too soon. So instead, he pulled the cover over Joe’s shoulders before walking over to turn down the lamp in the room. Five minutes passed before the boy’s breathing evened out, indicating he was asleep.

Adam returned to the chair, anxious for the morning sun to rise and for the town to come alive; he wanted to send a wire home as soon as possible.

*****

Through the window, the morning sun shining on Adam’s face combined with the smell of sausage frying woke him. At first he moved quickly to sit up and then he regretted his hasty movement, feeling the stiffness in this back and the crick in his neck from falling asleep in the chair.

The door opened to admit the doctor, “How’s our patient?”

Rubbing his neck, Adam answered, “He woke during the night and I was able to offer him a bowl of broth. He drank it all.”

“Did he say anything?” Willem asked as he stepped to the nightstand and saw the sheet of paper.

“I think we had some ‘meaningful’ dialog around one o’clock. Through this drawing I was able to determine he recognized our brand, the pine tree. He called The Ponderosa home, and then he drew Pa, me, Hoss, himself, and Hop Sing, our cook and housekeeper. He asked if I was Adam.”

“That’s good,” the physician admitted.

“Do you think he’ll wake up again, soon?” Adam asked. “I’d like to get him to eat some more.”

“I think he already is,” Willem smiled as the figure beneath the covers started moving, first a dark, curly-haired head was visible and then two arms as he threw off the covers.

“How are you this morning Joe. Are you hungry?” Adam asked as he rubbed his hand in a circle over his stomach.

“Ungee,” Joe said and nodded his head.

“The word is hungry,” Adam corrected.

“Ungry,” Joe replied.

“Okay, it seems we need to work on the pronunciation of your H’s, but for the time being, if you’re ‘ungry’, we best get you fed.” Adam joked before turning to the doctor and asking, “What food will he be able to eat?”

“I think scrambled eggs will be easy enough on his stomach.”

“Willem?” called a female voice from the hallway. “Is the boy awake?”

“Yes, Lorelei, the boy is awake and ‘ungry’,” Doc smiled.

The boy scrambled to grab the blankets to cover himself as the woman entered the room; he hadn’t paid attention that he’d been stripped down after his arrival at the clinic and bathed before being taken upstairs and put to bed.

“I think these clothes should fit him,” Lorelei stated as she set the garments on the chair. “Marilee Smoller brought them over last night, said her son had outgrown the clothes.”

“If you’ll thank Mrs. Smoller for us,” Adam stated.

“Oh, she’s not a misses, she’s one of the girls from the saloon; Willem takes care of all the ladies and their children. Imagine..” Lorelei tisked, “a woman the rest of the town snubs their noses at is the only one who shows any compassion for this child’s plight.”

“Regardless, will you thank her for me?” Adam walked over to his coat hanging on the back of the door, reached into an inside pocket and pulled out his wallet. “If you’ll give this to her.” He held out several bills, knowing how difficult it was for a saloon girl to work and raise a child.

“Marilee will appreciate this, but believe me, she didn’t do this in the hopes of getting money from you.”

“I know she didn’t,” replied Adam.

“I’ll see that she gets this,” Lorelei stated and left the room.

“I’ll leave you to help your brother to get dressed, we’ll see you downstairs.” Doctor Willem Benedict left the room and closed the door behind him.

“Well, Joe, let’s see about getting you dressed. First, put these on,” Adam tossed over a pair of long john bottoms that had been cut off at the knees. Seeing his brother’s expression, Adam stated, “You put those on and then we’ll get you dressed in pants.”

Looking at both sides of the article of clothing, Joe looked to his brother.

“Put them on, Joe.”

“Ow?” the boy asked trying to remember his language from before.

“The word is ‘how’. Here, this is the front side and this is the back side,” Adam stated as he held the bottoms to his brother’s feet and then indicated for the boy to pull them up.

Next he tossed over a pair of pants that once pulled up were a little too long in the leg and a little too big around the waist.

“Here’s a belt to help keep your pants up, but first, let’s get you in this shirt.”

Once his brother was dressed, Adam reached for the raw-hide moccasin boots that they had not thrown away the night before.

As he leaned over in front of his brother he was surprised for feel Joe’s hand upon his face.

“Itky…” Joe stated as he rubbed his hand over his face, “ooth.”

Standing straight, he saw his reflection in the mirror, “Guess I should take care of my needs next.”

“My face is itchy,” Adam stated as he ran his fingertips over the stubbles of his beard. Next he ran his fingers over his brother’s face, “Your face is smooth.”

“It-chee… Sm…smooth,” Joe imitated.

“That’s right, Joe,” Adam encouraged as he proceeded to prepared to shave his face.

Joe slowly walked over and stood a few feet away from his brother, who stood in front of the shaving stand and mirror. The boy watched, wide eyed, as the water in the bowl turned to lather and then Adam applied the lather to his face. Joe hurriedly reached for Adam’s hand as he lifted a blade to his face.

“Uh-uh,” Joe voiced; his eyes wide with fear.

“It’s okay Joe. I’m just shaving.” Adam gently removed Joe’s hand from his arm and then slowly applied the razor blade along his face. When finished, Adam wiped the streaks of shaving crème from his face and said, “Finished.”

Joe ran his hand along Adam’s cheeks and said, “Fished.”

“No, fi-nished, means I’m done shaving.”

“Smooth,” Joe stated. He rubbed his hands across his own, smooth face, “Fi-nished?”

“I don’t think you’ll be old enough to shave for a few years, yet,” teased Adam as he folded the razor blade into the handle.

“Finished,” repeated Joe more confidently.

Looking at his brother dressed in clothes too large made Adam realize just how young his brother was. Adam smiled, “We’ll shop for proper fitting clothes and boots later this morning. But first things first,” Adam laughed as Joe grabbed at his belly and frowned as his stomach grumbled, “Let’s get you downstairs and fed.”

With his hand on his youngest brother’s shoulder, the two made their way out the bedroom door; Joe hesitated, peering out the doorway, seeing no one else, he stepped into the hallway. With Adam’s guidance he made it down the stairs and into the kitchen area where the doctor and his wife were waiting for them.

“Welcome, Joe,” Willem stated as he pointed to a chair for Joe to sit upon. “Lorelei has fixed you a breakfast I think will be easy on your stomach and yet will fill you up.”

As Lorelei Benedict set the bowls and platters of food upon the table, Joe watched the others around him as he tried to figure out what to do with the metal things next to the plate in front of him on the table. He vaguely remembered the items and picked up the one with the prongs in his left hand. Having been so long since using them; he gave a valiant attempt as he struggled to get his food from the plate to his mouth.

Adam noticed, but paid no attention of the boy’s struggle, not wanting to embarrass him. He continued to eat his own breakfast and refill his cup of coffee.

“Willem, what time does the telegraph office open? I’d like to send a wire home…”

“Should open around nine o’clock,” answered Willem.

“The stores generally open around the same time, too,” Lorelei stated. “You’ll need proper fitting clothes for the boy.”

“Joe,” Joe stated and smiled as he realized the adults were talking about him.

“Yes, you, Joe,” Adam smiled as the boy lifted the plate in an effort to ask for more.

“I do declare, maybe you had better wait to purchase the clothes… at the rate he’s eating, he’s going to outgrow any clothes you buy him today,” laughed Lorelei as she spooned more eggs upon the boy’s plate. “Are you hungry?”

“H… Hungry,” Joe stated as he used his thumb to push more eggs onto the fork and finally into his mouth.

“Not much longer, Joe,” teased Adam.

When Joe had his fill, Willem stated he wanted to examine his patient one more time before he allowed the brothers to set out on their adventure in Mill City.

*****

With instructions to ‘take it easy’ and to keep an eye out on the boy in case he became the least bit dizzy, Adam set out with Joe; their first stop, the telegraph office.

“I’d like to send a wire to Virginia City, Nevada, if the lines are up,” Adam stated after greeting the telegrapher.

“Sure are, ain’t had any trouble since they rebuilt them after that fire a few years back. Just write out what you wanta send.”

Ben Cartwright
Ponderosa Ranch
Virginia City, Nevada

Will be home within a week /stop

Adam

*****

“Mr. Cartwright!” Adam halted upon hearing his name called. “Mr. Cartwright!”

With a few brown-paper packages in their arms, the Cartwright brothers waited as a woman approached them.

“Mr. Cartwright, my name is Marilee Smoller, and I’d like to thank you for the money Mrs. Benedict said you gave to me. It’s much too much.” The woman reached for her reticule.

Adam looked upon the woman and prevented her from opening her handbag. He found her quite attractive, and his own curiosity aroused as to what would have driven her into this line of employment, but he knew manners forbid such questioning.

“No, what I gave to Lorelei to give to you, I would have given to anyone who helped me when it comes to caring for my little brother.”

“Though from what I’ve heard, not too many people other than the Benedicts have shown the least bit of compassion for your brother.”

“All because of circumstances beyond his control,” Adam vented in disgust, he moved his hand to rest it upon his brother’s shoulder.

“People fear that which they do not know… The people in this town are no different.”

“It’s not just this town… or the west, I’ve witnessed similar in Boston.”

“Do not judge the people; it will only take you down to their level. Mr. Cartwright, I did not expect you to be so gracious when I offered my boy’s clothes.” Blushing slightly, Marilee continued, “I won’t belittle your generosity by trying to return the money. I just wanted you to know that… I thank you for understanding… and accepting.”

“My pleasure,” Adam answered. “Thank you for understanding and accepting.” Adam looked to Joe as he spoke, then looked up and tipped his hat as Marilee Smoller nodded, walked past him, and into the saloon.

 

Chapter 15: The Homecoming

Toby transcribed the taps and clicks coming across the wire. When finished, he jumped up and ran out the door, hollering, “HOSS CARTWRIGHT!”

Hoss turned at hearing his name, searched the people milling along the boardwalk before spotting the telegrapher running towards him, waiving a sheet of paper over his head.

“Hoss, this just came in… It’s from Adam!” the man stated breathlessly as he stopped in front of the big man.

Hoss read the missive, “That’s all, ‘be home within a week’?”

“That’s all, Hoss. I thought you and your Pa would be happy to know he’s coming home.”

‘It’s only gonna be happy if he decides to stay,’ Hoss mumbled to himself. “Uh… thanks Toby. I’ll get this to Pa.”

The telegrapher watched Ben Cartwright’s middle son walk down the boardwalk and slowly climb upon the seat of the wagon loaded with bags of grain and stacked with lumber, rein slapped the team of horses, and proceeded out of town. He shrugged his shoulders and returned to his office.

*****

“Been gone over a month, no word, no nothin’. And all he says is ‘be home in a week’. Well, it’s nice to know he’s alive but once he’s home, he’s gonna rue the fact that he left without any word other than ‘be home in a week’. Well, I’ll let Pa deal with him, but first mornin’, he’s gonna start doin’ all them chores he left for me ta do. By the time I get done with him he’s ain’t gonna have the strength to go back ta Boston,” ranted Hoss as he drove the wagon home.

*****

The wagon halted in front of the barn without any input from the middle Cartwright son who sat unmoving upon the seat, not hearing his father’s words as the man came from the house.

“Hoss”, Ben called again. “What is it son?”

“Pa? I’m sorry… I didn’t hear ya.”

“Son, did something happen in town?”

“Yeah, we got word from Adam…”

Ben watched as Hoss pulled the slip of paper containing the message and handed it to him.

“Be home within a week? What’s that supposed to mean? You never said where he went…”

“Pa… He said you’d know and I… I just couldn’t…” Hoss evaded answering while he stepped down from the wagon.

“Couldn’t what…”

“Let’s go inside.” Once they were inside and Ben sitting in his leather chair, Hoss continued, “You thought he was going after that lumber contract in Salt Lake, but the truth… shucks Pa… He said he never believed that was Joe we buried next to Ma.”

“What?!” Ben startled at the revelation.

“He said that he knew Joe was killed by the Army when they was after those marauders, but his heart wouldn’t believe it. He hired men to continue looking, Pinks, bounty hunters, anyone who would have a chance to find him.”

“They won’t find him… He’s buried next to his mother!” shouted Ben.

“Adam got a letter from a friend who’s in the Army. Said he’d seen a green-eyed, white boy and… the boy had carved our brand on a stick. Adam believed this boy was Joe and went to find him.”

“NO! Joe is dead! I won’t go through this again!” Ben’s heart grew heavy with the memory of the death of the son he considered his baby.

“Pa? But what if it is Joe? What if Adam found him?” Hoss pleaded.

“A father would know… I would know if my son were still alive!” argued Ben.

“But Pa… you’re still grievin’. Maybe your grievin’ ain’t lettin’ you feel the truth,” suggested Hoss. “Maybe my grievin’ ain’t let me feel the truth, either.”

Understanding dawned on both Cartwrights as they agreed to wait and see; and because Adam didn’t mention Joe in his wire leant them to believe the fact that he was coming home alone.

*****

“Adam, you’ll need to take it slow with Joe. He’s not up to this long of a ride,” Willem Benedict stated. “He’ll need plenty of time to rest during the day as well as a good bed to sleep in at night.”

“I can’t promise a bed every night, but when I can, he’ll sleep in a bed. Willem, Lorelei, thank you for all you’ve done for Joe,” Adam sincerely stated as he stood in front of their home and bid them goodbye.

“You’ll let us know when you get home? And keep us informed on how he’s doing?” Lorelei asked.

“I will.” Turning to his brother, he said, “You ready to ride?” Adam patted the seat of the saddle.

Ignoring Adam’s offer of help, Joe grabbed the saddle horn and swung himself into the saddle, which caused Adam to raise his eyebrows. “Doc said to go slowly, Joe.”

“S-low-ly,” Joe repeated and nodded as he fidgeted to place his feet in the stirrups.

“He looks good upon that pinto you bought from Fred Younger, won’t you reconsider riding home. I’d prefer it if you would take the stage.”

“We can ride at a walk and even a slow lope would be easier than a stage.” Seeing the concern on the doctor’s face, Adam added, “When was the last time you rode a stage? I’d prefer not to spend hours being jostled and bounced around in a stage and only stopping when the driver reaches a way station. Besides, I don’t want to expose Joe to people who wouldn’t understand what he’s been through and they’re bound to ask when they see how he might behave and hears that he doesn’t have that great of a grasp on the English language.”

“You don’t have to explain anything to them…” Lorelei pleaded.

“I think this is for the best. I want some one on one time with Joe. I purchased some school books and I hope to help him be able to better communicate with Pa by the time we get home.”

“I understand, I wish you well,” Willem accepted the fact that he couldn’t change the older brother’s intentions.

Adam mounted his horse and took the lead line to the packhorse from their new friend, nodded, and kneed it horse to move. Joe twisted around to look backwards from the saddle and imitated the doctor and his wife as they waved goodbye.

*****

Long before the sun set on their first night alone, the brothers made camp. As Adam took care of the horses, Joe scrambled around picking up twigs and broken limbs to make a fire.

“Joe?!” hollered Adam as he returned to the empty camp, and then felt relief as the boy came through the woods with an armload of firewood.

“Good?” Joe asked.

“You did good, buddy.” Adam smiled.

After cooking a simple meal, eating, and cleaning up. Adam motioned for Joe to come over to him. As his brother sat down, Adam pulled a book from his saddlebags.

“Little brother, I know it’s been a while since you’ve been to school, but I think we should re-introduce you to learning so you can understand what we’re saying, or at least making it so you can speak so that we can understand what you’re trying to say.”

Adam spent an hour instructing Joe from one of several school books he had purchased while in Mill City. Each morning, every time they stopped during the day, and of an evening, Adam worked with his youngest brother to help him relearn what he had forgotten.

*****

Ten days had lapsed since the brothers had left Mill City when they rode into Virginia City as the town was just coming to life for the morning. Adam had given up on working with Joe in reading from one of the books, considering the temper tantrum the boy had thrown the night before. Adam knew the boy was trying and regretted pushing his brother so hard, so he decided to forgo any lesson. He just wanted to get the boy to Doctor Martin; as neither of them had slept during the night, they broke camp several hours before dawn and rode.

They halted in front of a house with a white picket fence as a man exited the home.

“Doctor Martin?”

The man hesitated and looked hard to recognize the man under the growth of whiskers. “Adam? Adam Cartwright? Where’ve you been son?” Paul stepped sideways, seeing a young boy sitting upon the horse behind Adam. “Who do you have there? Who’s your shadow?”

“Paul, I’ve brought Joe home. Do you have a few minutes to examine him before I take him to Pa?”

“Sure, uh… Why don’t you come inside? No sense letting the folks of Virginia City gape at the two of you.”

Once inside, Paul ushered the Cartwrights into the kitchen before he pushed Adam to another room, where he suggested the man head out to clean up for the morning, “You could use a bath and a shave, why don’t you go to the barber shop.”

“I thought you didn’t want the town gaping as us.”

“They’ll only see that you’ve returned. Once you’re back to being yourself, you come back here and I’ll let you know what I find.”

“Paul, Joe’s…”

“He’ll be okay with me.”

“I know he will, but how will he react to my not being here?” Adam asked. “He’s been out there, without us, for two years. He’s been living with a band of Indians, if you can call it living. He’s been neglected, abused…” Adam proceeded to inform Paul of how he had found Joe and the diagnosis from the two previous physicians they had encountered.

Paul answered, “Even before Joe disappeared, it was always difficult to get him to eat. He always looked half starved.”

“But now it’s worse, because he has been half starved. He did good eating while coming home, but he still could use more weight on his body.” Admitted Adam.

“You can’t expect to erase several years of malnutrition in a week, it will take months… But I’ll leave that to Hop Sing. Well, let’s see how he is, shall we?”

Paul led Adam back into the kitchen where Joe had helped himself to a small plate of cookies. The two men stopped in the entryway and stared at the boy, crumbs around his mouth and on his shirt.

“Did you enjoy the cookies?” laughed Paul.

“I was hungry,” Joe slowly spoke, hoping that he had pronounced the words correctly. He knew he had been in the wrong the night before, but he couldn’t help himself when it came to taking out his frustrations on his brother.

“I would say you were, little buddy,” Adam smiled. “Did you leave any for Doctor Martin?”

Joe presented the plate which he had hidden behind his back as he nodded.

“Would you like some milk to go with the rest of those?” Paul asked.

Joe nodded again, and the three sat down at the table and finished off the plate of cookies, with Joe drinking milk while Adam and Paul drank coffee.

“Joe do you remember me?” Paul asked.

“Doctor,” Joe answered.

“Yes, I am a doctor, but do you remember me?”

Joe looked to Adam, not knowing how to answer the man.

“Joe, think back, before you were with the Indians and before you were taken from home, do you remember Doctor Martin?”

Joe shook his head no, “Sorry.”

“No need to be sorry. It might be a good thing since you always tried to hide from me when I came to the Ponderosa.”

“You bad man?” Joe asked.

“No, you just never liked the medicine I gave you at times. You didn’t like my poking and prodding you,” Paul answered.

“You poking and prodding, now?” Joe asked with a worried expression on his face.

“Only if you want me to.” Joe shook his head no. “You already had two other doctors examine you before you arrived here,” Paul used as an enticement to get the boy to agree to his examination.

“Adam stay?” Joe asked.

“Are you scared of the doctor, Joe?” Adam asked.

Joe shook his head, but his posture and expression said otherwise.

“He’s a good man; he was the physician who brought you into the world when your mother went into labor.”

“Momma go?” Joe asked, trying to understand the concept of what Adam said.

“Joe, this type of labor is what we call it when a woman is in the process of giving birth to a baby,” answered Paul. “When your momma gave life to you.”

Joe mouthed, ‘Oh.’ “You know me?” he warily asked.

“Quite well,” Paul answered with a smile. “Would you allow me to examine you while Adam goes to the barber shop to have a shave and a bath?”

“He smell good and come back?” Joe asked.

“Yes, I’m sure he will.” Paul struggled to keep from smiling and laughing at the boy’s question.

“Me bath?” Joe held out his arms above his head and smelled himself. He crinkled his face.

“I think I can heat some water and you can bathe here.”

“Me no go to bar-ber shop?” When Joe was unsure of the word he used, he slowed down his speech and over enunciated the word.

“I think it would be best if you were to bathe here. Let’s let your Pa have a look at you before the rest of the people of Virginia City welcome you home. How’s that? Is that okay with you?”

“Me smell better, see Pa and Hoss?”

“Yes, you’ll smell better before seeing your family.”

Before Adam left, Paul exited the kitchen to seek out his housekeeper, Mrs. Kincaid, and requested that she prepare a bath for the youngster Adam Cartwright had brought to his house.

“Doctor Martin, why did he bring the boy here, instead of to your clinic?” Mrs. Kincaid inquired.

“Because he has every reason to believe this child is his brother and he didn’t want the people of Virginia City to butt in where they didn’t belong, at least not yet.”

“But Joseph was buried over a year and a half ago…”

“I know, but… I won’t positively know until I examine the boy. I pray to God we made a mistake, that’s the kind of mistake I can live with. “

*****

Half an hour later, having been properly bathed and shaved, and having sent a telegram to Willem Benedict in Mill City that they had arrived in Virginia City, Adam returned to Paul Martin’s home and met an agitated Joe in the doorway.

“Come!” Joe shouted as he grabbed Adam’s hand and pulled him down the hallway, shoving his way past Mrs. Kincaid. “Dead!” he pointed into a room that Adam knew was the doctor’s study.

Adam feared somehow Joe had injured the doctor when he said dead; the eldest brother was relieved to see Paul sitting at his desk, head in his hands trying to hide his mirth as Joe came farther into the room.

“Paul, is everything alright?” Adam asked.

“Dead. Why no buried?” Joe, clearly upset, pointed to the object hanging in the corner.

Trying to keep from laughing, Paul answered, “Joe, I’m sorry my skeleton scared you. I have this so that I can explain to people what is wrong when something inside them is broken. Like your ribs… Adam, I was trying to explain to Joe why he was experiencing some discomfort along his ribcage. I expect his ribs should be fully healed in a few more weeks, if he takes it easy.”

“No! I no take itezee. I good.” Joe was beginning to throw a temper tantrum by thinking the doctor was saying he was a thief in taking this itezee thing. “Adam, tell doctor I good, I no take!”

“Joe, it’s like the other two doctors said, you need to rest, to take it easy, so you can get well. That’s what Doctor Martin meant when they say for you to take it easy. He didn’t mean that you were stealing.”

“Smell good? Go home?” Joe asked.

“Paul?” Adam looked past his youngest brother to the doctor.

“I don’t see why you can’t go home now. I know that Ben will want to make sure Joe is okay, why don’t I ride out to the Ponderosa with you…” suggested Paul. “Actually, I’d like it if Joe would ride in my buggy with me.”

“Joe, go get your things together,” Adam stated. Once Joe was out of hearing, Adam asked, “What else?”

“He may need sedating once he gets home… He could possibly remember the day he was taken throwing him into a full-blown emotional tantrum. I’ve seen hints that he’s tired and that could trigger an outburst of epic proportions.”

“I guess I should be thankful he only threw the one last night… and it was small,” Adam stated as he looked to where Joe had gone.

“Also, he’s… what… thirteen?” Doc Martin mused.

“This fall…”

“Then he should be nearing the onset of puberty, which could also add to the magnitude of the temper tantrum. I’ll only sedate him if I feel there’s no other choice.”

*****

“Hoss, there’s nothing we can do until Adam decides to make his presence known,” Ben stated as Hoss played with the food on his plate. “Eat your lunch.”

“But Pa, Adam said, within a week. He shoulda been home three days ago, he said within a week.”

“And where would you go looking for him?”

“I don’t know… I’d start in Mill City like Toby printed at the top of the wire. Something coulda happened to ‘em.” Seeing the frown on his father’s face, Hoss stated, “I just want him home.”

“So do I,” admitted Ben.

Coming from the kitchen into the dining room, Hop Sing announced, “Rider come.”

Ben and Hoss slowly stood from the table and made their way to the front door.

“Hot diggity!” exclaimed Hoss as he ran across the porch after recognizing his brother halting Sport and two other horses at the hitching rail. “Adam! I was worried, thought ya’d be home three days ago.”

“So did I, but I had to take things a little slower than what I originally planned. Is Pa…” Adam’s voice muffled as he stepped down from his horse.

“Paul, what are you doing here?” Ben asked as he saw the physician’s carriage come to a stop. “I’ll have Hop Sing set places for both of you. We were just sitting down for lunch.” Turning to his son, “Adam, I missed you boy.”

“I missed you too, Pa,” Adam admitted as he allowed his father to embrace him in a hug.

“Hoss told me where you were, we’ll talk later… after Paul leaves,” Ben quietly stated, letting his words voice his disapproval of his son’s actions.

“Pa, I think it would be best to talk now…” Adam answered as he turned from his father and went to the far side of Paul’s carriage.

“He fell asleep about fifteen minutes after we left Virginia City,” Paul admitted. “It’s actually a blessing that he did.”

As the two men conversed next to the physician’s carriage, it was the first time that Ben realized there was someone else with Paul.

“Adam, let’s try not to wake him. He really wasn’t up to your trip home,” Paul witnessed Adam’s guilt, “I know you said you took it slow, but he wasn’t ready for it. However, I don’t think it did any lasting harm. He just needs to sleep so his body can recover. Why don’t you carry him up to his bedroom and I’ll inform Ben and Hoss what’s happening.”

Adam bundled the sleeping figure into his arms and carried him across the yard and into the house. To Adam, it felt like old times as he carried his sleeping brother through the house, the boy’s head resting on his shoulder.

“Paul? Who’s that with Adam?” Ben asked as he faced his long-time friend and pointed his arm across his body towards the direction Adam had walked.

“Ben, let’s go inside…” Paul stated as he approached Ben, placing a hand upon the man’s shoulder and guiding him into his home. “Hoss,” Paul acknowledged.

*****

“That can’t be!” exclaimed Ben as he angrily stood to his feet. “You said he was in that coffin… dead! We buried him next to Marie! What kind of a joke are you playing?! How dare you!!” Ben’s tone held disbelief and accusation; his posture radiated his anger as he stood over his friend who sat quietly on the settee.

“I’m not playing any joke.” Paul spoke calmly. “Ben you have to understand the condition of the remains… anyone would have believed they belonged to Joe. There was just too much trauma inflicted upon the body and there were no other reports of boys who resembled Joe… We had eye-witness descriptions of the boy. It was an honest mistake. But that boy upstairs… Adam carried his little brother upstairs; that boy… that boy is Joe.” Paul struggled to convince his friend, “Ben he has the scar… from when he fell out of the tree… that first fall after Adam left for college… I had to put stitches in his… uh… you remember…”

“You mean that time when… when he couldn’t sit down for two weeks?” Hoss asked having been quietly listening. He remembered having to help Hop Sing pull his brother’s pants and long johns off while they waited for the doctor to arrive that day. The young boy laid on his stomach over Hoss’ legs while the larger boy rubbed circles upon his back to comfort his brother. Hop Sing pressed towels against the fleshy part of the backside of the boy’s lower anatomy to stop the flow of blood.

*****

Still struggling to regain his composure and accept what he had been told, Ben slowly led the way upstairs; he took a deep breath before entering the bedroom of his youngest son. He wanted to believe, but couldn’t allow his heart to be hurt yet again.

Pushing the door open, Ben called, “Adam?”

“He’s still asleep, Pa.”

It was evident to the men who entered the room that the youth was totally exhausted because he had not woke as Adam had stripped off the boy’s clothes and placed him into a nightshirt. Hop Sing quietly moved about the room, picking up the soiled articles, his eyes never straying far from the still figure in the bed.

Ben carefully sat down on the edge of the bed and placed his hand over the boy’s heart.

“Joseph?” Ben whispered. “My God, Joseph…” Tears freely flowed down Ben’s face as he gazed upon his sleeping son. Looking to his eldest, he asked, “How? Where?”

“It’s a long story, one that I’ll tell you and Hoss… later.”

“Paul, what’s wrong with him? Will he be okay?” Ben asked as he turned from one son to look at the family’s physician.

“Since Adam found him, I’ve been the third doctor to examine him. He’s suffering from malnutrition and exhaustion, and some long-term abuse. It probably would have been better had Adam delayed his trip to bring him home, BUT I understand why Adam brought him home when he did.”

“Adam?” Hoss called to his brother as he sat on the other side of the bed and took his little brother’s hand into his own. “Is he… Does he remember us?”

“He remembers… he remembers having a family, but you have to understand something…” Adam thought long and hard about how to say what needed to be said, “In the two years he’s been gone he’s lost his grasp on a lot of English. I picked up some school books while in Mill City and I worked with him whenever we stopped… Just don’t get upset with him if he doesn’t speak properly. He got quite frustrated last night with me, but as Paul stated back at his house… he’s exhausted.”

Ignoring what his brother was trying to say, Hoss needed to know more about Joe, “Did he recognize you right away?”

“I think he did… in a way…”

“Paul, he’s been shot! This is a gunshot wound!” declared Ben as he had pushed away his son’s bangs to caress the boy’s face.

“I know… it’s just a graze. He did suffer a concussion due to being shot, Adam said he spent a considerable amount of time unconscious. Aside from all he’s been through, with proper sleep and nourishment, I think the worst is over.”

“Honorable Doctor,” Hop Sing voiced, “I feed boy good food, nourishing food.”

“I know you will, but for the foreseeable future, most of what he should eat needs to be soft food, easily eaten without putting a lot of stress on his stomach. From the condition he is in, he’s not ate regularly nor a lot at any time.”

“I take good care of Lit’le Joe, boy grow healthy, Hop Sing take care of him,” the Oriental stated as he bowed deeply.

“Yes, he will. With all of us looking after him,” Ben stated, tears unashamedly falling down his face.

“I think it would be best to let the boy sleep,” Paul suggested.

“I don’t want to leave him,” Ben announced.

“Ben he’s sleeping, Hop Sing can stay with him. I think you need to hear what Adam has to say. Please, Ben.”

Ben and Hoss followed Adam and Paul down the stairs, took seats and made themselves comfortable.

Adam proceeded to tell his family of how he found Joe, and how it happened that the boy came to be shot. He told of the animosity he encountered while caring for Joe as part of the wagon train. As the afternoon wore on, he told of why he decided to ride for home as they had, and why it took longer than he’d originally thought.

An exhausted Adam looked his father directly in the eye and stated, “I’m sorry Pa, I just reacted… I didn’t know it was Joe until I turned him over. I just saw an Indian with a knife. Pa, you know I wouldn’t have shot him had I known he was Joe.”

It took Ben a while to take in and understand all that Adam had told them. Taking the time to think long and hard, Ben finally spoke, “Son, you had no way of knowing. Had he been an Indian and not your brother, you very well could have been killed; you had to react as you did.”

“I almost killed my brother… I can’t forgive myself Pa… I was out there looking for him… I should have known that he could have been there.”

“And how were you supposed to know that he would be a part of the attack? Do you have the knowledge of foresight? Adam, you found Joe. You brought him home…”

“Brother, it don’t matter how ya found him or that ya accidentally shot him. What matters is ya found him. Maybe God was out there protectin’ him, because I know you wouldn’t a just creased him if he’d a been a real Indian. He’s home… You’re home… We’re a family again and that’s the way were gonna stay.”

“You stay for family,” Hop Sing offered from the top of the stairs, looking directly at Adam.

As the men looked up, they stood when they saw Joseph Francis Cartwright being carefully supported by the ever faithful man. The boy silently mouthed, “Home” as he looked down at the room and people he remembered.

 

Restoring the Heart of the Ponderosa Series:

Part I
Part II

 

Return to Author’s Bonanza Stories Page

Return to WWB Bonanza Library

 

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