Synopsis: Joe is summoned to the Ponderosa for a matter pertaining to an inheritance. Curiously, the letter and recent events in his life reveal his dissatisfaction, and thrust him on a journey of discovery. This story is an AU, diverging from canon.
Word Count: 16,980
“Sheriff, this just came over the wire.” Ten-year-old, freckle-faced Horace handed the slip of paper to the lawman.
Roy Coffee fished out a nickel from his pocket and handed it to the boy. Opening the folded piece of paper while walking to his desk, he read the brief note.
Heir on his way. /stop/
“Finally.” Roy leaned back in his chair, a smile of satisfaction appeared while interlaced fingers rested across his stomach.
After weeks on the road by stage-coaches and finally a wagon, his journey was at an end. In the yard, he’d been met by a man who opened the door to show him inside the massive log home. The building stood within the mighty pines for which the boy who’d driven him from Virginia City said it had been named. Images flickered and disappeared from his mind, just like the flames that danced within the stone hearth central to the room. He didn’t know what he’d expected, but to find a functioning ranch and the furnishings not covered in dust cloths was not at the top of his list.
Looking to the staircase, a feeling that he expected to see three men walking down the steps, each one smiling at his arrival surprised him. And that startled him most of all.
Setting his top hat on the sideboard behind the door, the twenty year old man removed his gloves before unbuttoning his waistcoat. Inhaling the odor of a pot roast cooking, he followed the smell to find an Oriental man hurrying about the kitchen, evidently preparing the evening meal.
“What you want?” startled, the man turned, kitchen knife held defensively in hand. He stared, focusing on the brown hair that curled over the man’s collar and the green eyes.
“The man in the yard said I should ask for a Hopsing?”
“You find Hop Sing. What you want?”
“To introduce myself,” he hesitantly replied, and pointed to the cutlery held none too subtly. A small smile appeared when the other occupant realized how it must look; he quickly lowered his hand, setting the knife on the butcher block next to the vegetables set out.
Wiping his hands on the apron tied around his waist, he stepped forward. “I am Hop Sing. I cook, I clean, I take care of Mista Cartwright’s Ponderosa.”
“My name is Joseph deMarigny. I received a letter from a Hiram Woods stating something about requiring my attendance at the Ponderosa. He indicated it was quite urgent. I came as soon as I could.”
Curiously, Hop Sing bent his neck left and right, taking a good look at the green-eyed, curly haired, young man standing in front of him. “You Lit’le Joe?”
“I don’t know about Little Joe, but my name is Joseph.”
“It be long time.” The cook stepped closer and smiled. “I help Missy Cartwright take care of you before accident. I help fatha and brothas take care of you before…”
Joseph interrupted, “You must have me confused with someone else; I’ve never been here before and I have no father or brothers.”
“No now, but before.” He returned to his butcher block. “You need haircut!”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that before,” he gave a laugh.
The giggle was reminiscent of old times. “Room, top of stairs, first door on right. Hop Sing no have time for boy who come early.”
“I’m sorry, but no one was at the stage to greet me and when I asked, the liveryman had his son drive me out. I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“Upstairs. Chop, chop. Clean up. Supper ready later. Sheriff, doctor, and lawyer suppose to bring you. No time. Go!” He pointed out of his domain.
Entering the upstairs room, the young man studied the few possessions within; although he cringed at the portrait of an Indian hanging on the far wall. Across the room, he picked up a small picture frame from the table next to the bed, he gazed at the woman pictured within.
“That be your mother, Marie.”
Turning, he saw the same man he’d met in the yard motioning another man carrying his bags to set them just inside the doorway. With a tip of his hat, the man left the two alone.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t see how that’s possible. My mother died giving birth to me in New Orleans.”
“You’re Little Joe Cartwright.”
“My name is Joseph deMarigny.”
“No. That might be what you were told, but you were born here on this ranch.”
“Why is it that you and the cook think you know me?”
“Hop Sing and I worked for Mr. Cartwright for a long time. We both hired on shortly after he brought Marie back with him. It was about that time this ranch started making a name for itself.” Extending his hand, “I’m Charlie Yeagle, ranch foreman.”
“And when might I have the pleasure to meet Mr. Cartwright?”
“Doc Martin was supposed to meet you in town and bring you out here. He, Sheriff Coffee, and Hiram Woods were going to tell you the rest once you got here. It’s not my place to say.” With a cavalier attitude, he turned to leave, “Might as well make yourself at home.”
Alone, he thought on all that had transpired before he’d headed west.
His heart had reacted to the excitement of his actions; he’d saved the life of a child and received praise for what he had done. His step had a little more bounce; that is until his grandmother questioned the condition of his attire.
He sat in the conservatory of his grandmother’s home, still agitated over the argument. She’d called him impudent and his actions vulgar; all for risking his own life to save that of a worthless street urchin. He remembered his words before he left her sitting room and slammed the door closed.
‘The boy wasn’t worthless, not to his father!’ he’d argued before abruptly turning away and heading to the conservatory. He wished he’d had a father as caring as the little boy’s father.
On his way home from church, he’d seen a small child in ragged clothes chasing after a ball into the street. Surprised at his own quick reaction, he’d run and scooped up the child just before the coach would have struck him down. Instead, the shoulder of the lead horse careened against his back, thrusting the pair of them aside. Falling, the young man cradled the child protectively in his arms so his weight didn’t harm the boy when they hit the ground.
A nearby constable was soon on the scene ordering people to step back and shouting for everyone to quiet down. Dreading what he would find as he rolled the body over, he was surprised to see lively green eyes opening when the man finally uncurled himself from around the child.
“Are you all right, sir?” The lawman knelt where the two lay.
Attention turned to the trembling child in his arms, “Are you okay?”
“I want my papa.” Tiny fisted hands latched on to his jacket while tears streaked the boy’s face.
“Joey!” a man shouted, forcing his way through the ever-growing crowd. “Let me pass. That’s my son!”
With the steadying hands of the officer, he stood up with the child still in his arms, “There, there. You’re all right. I bet that’s your Papa coming now.” He turned so the child could see the man pushing people aside, still calling, “Joey!”
A smile graced his face as he watched the touching scene. The boy wrapped his arms and legs around his father, who wore a knit cap and seaman’s pea jacket. The father placed kisses upon the top of the child’s head.
The wild thumping of the man’s heart settled with his son in his arms, “Thank you sir. I can’t thank you enough for saving my son’s life.”
“It was nothing. Anyone would have,” he’d answered.
“But it was you. Thank you, just the same.” Joey’s father extended a dirt-covered hand. They shook hands before father and son left the scene.
“The man was right.” The officer said from behind him, attempting to brush off the dirt from his clothing. “You were the only one who acted. I tried, but was too far away.” Looking around, the lawman noticed the crowd dispersing. “Others were closer, but you were the only one who felt that child was worth the effort. You best get back home; your grandmother will be quite upset when she sees the state of your clothing. Go on now.”
As he began to walk away, the young man hesitated when the officer called his name, “Regardless of what Madame says when you return home, you did good!”
He’d never spoken against his grandmother in such a manner before. But things had been different, ever since ‘the letter’ arrived. It had been delivered to him through a friend; someone his grandmother had loathed as beneath his station. He knew his grandmother had her quirks, but those quirks didn’t stop him from continuing their friendship.
His grandmother had been the only family he’d known; his life was New Orleans. But now, through a distant relative he knew nothing about, it appeared he had a vested interest in a valuable piece of property in Nevada. The letter had ended by stating that matters pertaining to said inheritance required his personal attention. He thought about his life, how he had everything he could ever want or need. So why this news drew his curiosity was… curious.
Maybe it was all the times he’d spent in discussions with his friend; inevitably, their talks would turn to the wide-open west. He surmised the stories were tall tales involving the rugged men it took to tame the land, where neighbors looked after each other and cared about that which surrounded them. His friend spoke of the thrill of sitting on a wild horse, willing it to accept the rider on its back as its master. He related vivid recollections of driving a herd containing hundreds of cattle across the landscape, never sure whether something would happen in the next moment to set off a stampede. Perhaps that was what inspired him to consider leaving – the thrilling possibilities.
A life of leisure and wealth had been all he’d known, but the thrill of that moment changed him. He’d turned down several invitations to the most sought after soirees and cotillions, ones he always looked forward to attending. He’d come to realize the simpering young ladies who tittered behind laced fans or gloved hands were shallow and insincere, in his opinion.
After a night spent with his friend drinking that Mexican rotgut, he packed his bags and left a note for his grandmother informing her he was heading to Paris. He explained he felt he needed to strike out on his own, maybe finding his roots would settle the uneasiness that so recently consumed him.
“That should please her. She’s all about honor and the code. I’ll be long gone by the time she realizes I never left America. Who knows, maybe I’ll become a cowboy.”
She’d waited for several days after he’d left thinking he was sulking over their argument. But as each day passed and parents of his friends reported no sign of the boy, she thought maybe he had been serious about heading to Europe. Her worry grew to where she felt compelled to take action.
All noise stopped the moment the grand dame stepped into the gambling establishment, making as straight a line as possible to the sweeping staircase, up the steps, across the balcony, and to the doorway marked, “Proprietor”.
“What do you mean he’s gone?!” From behind the desk central to the room, Eduard D’Arcy stood to his feet with such force; the chair fell backwards to the floor.
Hiding her guilt for waiting so long, she stated, “He left a note that he was going to Paris.”
“He’s never been there. Why would he go there?” Eduard walked around his desk to stand in front of his visitor.
“He was not himself, Monsieur.”
“Madame deMarigny, why?!” Violently he grabbed her wrist, turning her arm.
Tears sprang from her eyes, “He’d not been himself ever since he saved the life of that wretched street urchin. He argued something about the child not being worthless to his father. This is what he left.”
Releasing his grip, he muttered, “Forgive me. I’m just so worried about the boy.” Eduard accepted the proffered note and read it. “To find the man who was his father and make him pay for his mother’s death?”
“I knew the news would grieve you.” She held her abused wrist to her breast. “You have given so much for the boy by allowing me to raise him as my own grandchild. I understand how the loss of your cousin affected you. It still pains me the death of my own son, so many years ago.”
“My dear, it should not have happened.” Eduard returned to being a gentleman once more. “Who could have foreseen your son leaving his home for the wilderness, of all places? Had Jean stayed, I’m sure he would have eventually provided you with the grandchild you were so long denied. As for Joseph, he flourished under your instruction and love.”
“I do not understand why he would take such a journey.”
“Young men, these days it is not easy to know what is in their minds. It is possible that he wishes nothing more than to ‘sow wild oats’. My apologies for my vulgarity.” Escorting the woman back to the front door of his establishment, “I will see what can be done from here. Maybe he has not yet sailed. Please, you’ll let me know if you heard further word from Joseph?”
“I shall. And thank you Eduard.”
Delicately raising her hand to his lips, he placed a kiss and bid her farewell.
Eduard returned to his office, walked to the sideboard and poured himself a glass of Woodford’s bourbon, before taking several gulps. “You heard?”
“So what?” Walking with an unsteady gait, a man who had been in the office before Madame deMarigny’s arrival came out from behind a corner room partition.
“He takes it in his mind to tell the Madame he seeks to find his roots? For what, the code?” Eduard spat.
“He was raised by the code, as were you. You’ve fought duels before.”
“Yes, but only when I’ve been guaranteed the outcome,” Eduard countered, he had no fear of divulging his past, even though the man wore the badge of a police inspector.
“How noble of you; the honor of the code and all.” His voice held mockery. “Still, it makes no sense why the Madame opened her home to the boy.”
Eduard answered, “Because she needed an heir. She needed a grandson to continue the name deMarigny. She was never told the child was Marie’s.”
“She does have a grandson. Have you forgotten? Marie’s child was Jean’s.”
“No I haven’t forgotten.” Anger flashed in his eyes. “Because Giles played his part to perfection, he ensured the Madame would never accept the child as Jean’s.”
Taking a seat in front of the desk, “I cannot believe Madame deMarigny never questioned your part in tarnishing the name of your own flesh and blood.”
“Everyone knows of the bitter blood between the deVrys and the deMarignys. She believed the lies, all of them.” Eduard went to pour himself another glass of bourbon. Before retaking his seat, he offered the glass in his other hand to the inspector.
Taking the filled glass, lifting it to just below his nose, he inhaled the fragrant ambrosia. “But still you were the one behind the orchestration of Marie’s indiscretion.”
“Of course I was! And as her only living male relative, it was only natural that I became Marie’s benefactor. No one knew of my involvement.”
“Except Marius.” The man stood, and limped over to the window that overlooked the main street. He moved the curtain to glance outside.
“And Marius is long dead.”
“There is the American.”
“But he no longer…” Eduard startled by a thought, “Could Joseph have gone to search for his real father?”
“No! Dr. Green had the boy convinced that he had no family, other than Madame deMarigny. It took him forever to get through to the boy that he had no family.”
“Then where?” Eduard slammed the glass, shattering it on the desktop. “Why? Why now?”
Striding across the room to stand in front of the police inspector, “I expect you to use your contacts to confirm his travel across the Atlantic. If he has not left the shores, you know what to do.”
“Eduard, you had your revenge over a decade ago.” He turned to look back out the window. “What would it hurt to allow the boy to live his life? There is nothing you can do to bring back Marie.”
“Have you forgotten that it was because of that boy’s father that you walk with a limp and your career stagnated?” Sitting down at his desk, Eduard slammed his fist against the wooden surface.
Charles Leduque walked away from the window, and half-rested the hip of his bad leg on the desk. Staring Eduard in the eyes, he lowered his voice to speak. “No. Nor have I forgotten how it was the same American who stole Marie from ever gracing your bed.”
“That family will continue to suffer as long as I draw breath.” Eduard’s words and posture reflected the bitterness of his promise.
“Then explain to me why the boy continues to live a life of privilege.”
“Because, he is the son of my beloved Marie.”
After airing out his clothing and placing them in either the bureau or hanging in the closet, Joseph proceeded down the staircase.
The large dining table drew his attention; two settings were placed on one side, another at the end closest to the great room, and one final set opposite the two.
“Why not set places on all four sides?” Joseph asked as the house servant set an empty platter in the middle of the table.
“Head of table for Mista Cartwright.”
“Then shouldn’t there be five places set?”
“Mr. Cartwright not home, not be home for long time.”
“I don’t understand…”
“Not my business to tell.”
Exasperated at the non-answers to his questions, Joseph walked around the great room, admiring the weapons chained and locked along the gun rack between the fireplace and the stairs. Soon, his attention was drawn to the map hanging within the alcove. Impressed at the magnitude of his possible inheritance, he turned and spotted the silver picture frames set on the desk.
“Those Mr. Cartwright’s wives.” Standing beside the pot-bellied stove, Hop Sing had quietly observed the young man.
“He’s a Mormon?”
“No. Three wives, three different times.” Hop Sing walked around the desk to stand next to Joseph. He pointed. “Missy Marie, she only Mrs. Cartwright I meet.”
“And the others?”
“Missy Elizabeth, she wife numba one, she die in Boston.” He pointed. “Missy Inger, she killed in place called Ash Hollow.”
Hop Sing was about to say more when they turned at hearing the front door open.
“Hop Sing!” shouted Roy Coffee.
“No need yell, I hear.”
Removing his hat, “Liam stated the stage already arrived. We encountered Truman on his way back to town, said he left Little Joe here.”
“I’m not ‘Little Joe’, but I am here.” He stepped farther into the great room.
“My God,” Paul gasped.
“Her splitting image,” Hiram acknowledged.
“I get coffee.” Pointing a finger and thrusting it into Joseph’s chest, “You listen. You listen good.”
Standing next to the round table with the crystal decanters, Joseph poured himself a glass of sherry and started the conversation. “You seem to have me at a disadvantage, or maybe have confused me with someone else.” He took a small sip and made a motion to offer a drink to the others.
“I’ll agree that we have you at a disadvantage, but there’s no confusion,” Hiram offered. “You are Joseph Francis Cartwright.”
“My last name is deMarigny.”
“First off, I think we need to introduce ourselves,” Paul offered. With their names and occupations given, the men settled onto the furniture around the room, the physician continued, “Son, I helped deliver you and believe me, your last name is Cartwright.”
Hiram stated, “I’ve kept in contact with people back in New Orleans and Madame deMarigny never had your last name changed, at least not through the courts.”
Sitting forward in the chair, “Just what makes you so sure I’m this Little Joe?”
“As a physician, I tended to every bump, bruise, cut, and broken bone while you lived here. To prove my point, if as you say you’re not Little Joe, then how do you explain the fact that I know of a scar you possess on your right cheek.”
Joe ran his left hand across his smooth cheek. “Then you must be blind, because I have no scars on my face, no matter how minute.”
“Not that cheek, son. Your right buttock. It’s about an inch and a half or so,” Paul held his index and thumb so far apart, “in length.”
“Anyone could have obtained that information from my family physician.”
“You fell out of the tree behind the barn across the yard. You were just shy of ten. You were waiting for your family to return from a cattle drive down to Kingman Arizona, fulfilling a contract for the army. I was the one who sutured you up.”
“Gentlemen, this is preposterous.” Joe stood. “I’ve never been here before.”
“Joseph, if I may call you that,” the lawman spoke for the first time since sitting down. After receiving a nod, “When we came in, you were in Ben’s office area. I presume you saw the pictures on the desk,” Joe nodded, “let me show ya another one.”
Roy walked to the desk, opened the middle drawer, and pulled out another frame.
“This one was taken shortly after Adam returned home from Boston. Ben was so proud of all three of you boys.”
Taking the picture in hand, Joseph sat down hard. The fingers on his left hand traced the face of the small child sitting on the man’s lap. Incredulously, “That boy could be my twin.”
“That boy is you.” Roy indicated, “That’s your brother Adam, and your brother Eric.” It had been decided they would not use Hoss’ nickname, they wanted to see if Joe would remember.
“That’s your pa, Ben Cartwright.”
“How can this picture be?”
“You see the proof yourself, son. That’s the same fireplace as in this room.” Roy offered a comforting hand on the young man’s shoulder.
Looking to the three men, “Grand-mère told me I had no family. My mother was sent to the Americas because…”
“Go on,” Paul encouraged.
“A family friend abused her father’s trust and forced himself upon her. Two doors down from his bedroom, in the middle of the night, the friend raped my mother. The only good thing that came from that night was that my grandfather found satisfaction in killing the man.”
“And what of the rest of your family?”
“My grandfather died later from wounds suffered during the duel. I know what I am, a bastard, and even worse, an orphaned bastard. But my grand-mère loved my mother enough to raise me and give me everything I could ever want. More importantly, she gave me her name.”
“Joseph, your mother was never raped. She and Ben fell in love, married, returned to the Ponderosa, and about eight months later you made an earlier than expected appearance. Less than five years later, Marie died in a riding accident out in the front yard.” Roy pointed towards the yard. “After that, Ben, your middle brother, and even Hop Sing helped raise you.”
“What of this Adam? Did he not help to raise the boy?”
“He would have helped raise you. Only, he left for Harvard shortly after your father returned. Adam wanted to postpone after Marie’s death, but Ben insisted that if he didn’t go, then he’d always find some excuse in order not to go,” Hiram offered.
“Not that I believe you, but if what you’re saying is true and I am your ‘Little Joe’, how did I end up in New Orleans?”
“When your family failed to return from a cattle drive, we tried to keep you here,” Paul offered.
“But Madame deMarigny filed a legal petition and the courts agreed that it would be better if you were raised somewhere more civilized. See, when Adam returned from college, Ben signed a legal document that had your older brother named as a legal guardian of you and Eric, in case something ever happened. It was just an unfortunate set of events that Adam disappeared at the same time as Ben. The courts granted her guardianship feeling she could offer you more than we could,” Hiram explained. “None of us were married, and this territory was still seen as barbaric by those of the east.”
“She is my grandmother…” Joseph became angry at seeing the three men shake their heads. He cringed at the brief image that appeared in his mind and just as quickly vanished.
“Biologically, she is no relation to you. Her only son was your mother’s first husband,” Paul spoke. “Jean deMarigny was killed in a freak accident saving Ben’s life. Ben promised to take word of his death to the new widow. They met and fell in love, much to Madame deMarigny’s chagrin.”
Growing flustered, “What you’re saying doesn’t make any sense. She raised me. She loved me.”
“She stole you from what is rightfully yours!” Roy stood to his feet shouting.
“And just what is rightfully mine?!” Joe stood to his feet, shouting back.
Hiram calmly stated, “This, everything within a thousand square miles.”
“If this is mine, then what of Mr. Cartwright and his two sons?”
“We don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Joe’s white-knuckled fists rested on his hips.
“As we said earlier, they failed to return home. We’ve fought Madame deMarigny at every turn to prevent her from having them legally declared dead.
“Why would she wish to declare them dead?” Joseph queried, looking from man to man to man.
“To prevent you from ever finding out about the Ponderosa,” Hiram ultimately answered.
“Still, it makes no sense. If they’re not here, how does this place still manage? There are workers outside, the cattle and everything else. Someone needs to be in charge.”
“Ben gave me power of attorney before leaving on the drive, just in case anything came up during his absence. Long before he disappeared, he’d hired a top notch crew and they are the ones who keep the ranch running,” Hiram answered. “I negotiate the contracts and work with all the individual bosses that oversee the various operations. It’s the workers here to have kept your father’s dream alive.”
“And they’ve been gone for how long? Weeks, months?”
“Almost eleven years,” Paul answered. “Joseph, the Ponderosa is the legacy your father wanted you to have.”
“Then why am I just now learning about it?”
“Because you’ve finally reached your majority. Son, we tried everything we knew to keep in touch, but Madame deMarigny stymied us at every turn,” Roy answered. “The only way we knew anything about you was from a Pinkerton man we hired to keep tabs on you as you grew up.”
“A Pinkerton.” Sarcasm dripped from Joe’s voice.
“Do you remember Rodney Parker?” Roy inquired.
“I had a teacher named Mr. Parker.”
“Tall, slender man, blonde hair with a big bushy mustache?”
Joe nodded, “But I’ve been out of school for years.”
“There was another, a younger man. He always reported to Rodney, but we never knew who he was. The man said he had a vested interest in anything that happened to you, and Rodney said he knew him well enough to trust him.”
Another image and feeling trickled the first fear of doubt for his own past, “Why didn’t Rodney tell me?” Joe slipped back into the chair he had vacated earlier.
“We felt it better to keep tabs on you this way rather than risk Madame deMarigny finding out our efforts and taking you overseas,” Roy replied. “Rodney had been a teacher before becoming a Pinkerton man. So it was easy to slip him into your life.”
Hiram continued, “Eventually, we decided to wait until you turned twenty-one before trying to contact you one last time. It was Rodney who forwarded our letter to you, through the other man.”
“It doesn’t make any sense. Why would grand-mère keep this a secret from me?”
Roy offered his two bits, “Because she didn’t approve of Marie. She felt your mother stole away her son. It could be she just wanted you to replace her dead son or call it revenge.” Roy looked to the other men before proceeding. “From what we know, she was upset at Ben’s interference in rescuing Marie from the life she felt suited the woman. Before they met, your mother worked in a gambling establishment owned by her cousin, Eduard D’Arcy.”
“He always insisted I call him Uncle Eduard. I never cared for him. He gave me the shivers.” Joseph sat deep into the chair. “I presume there’s more to this story?”
“Are you willing to listen with an open mind?” Hiram asked.
“I came all this way.”
Three hours later Joe’s head ached, even after eating the best meal he’d eaten in a long time, the events relayed to him by the three men who were his father’s best friends left little doubt they were telling the truth.
“You do believe us?” Roy asked as they returned to the great room.
“It’s too incredible not to. But, why don’t I remember being here?”
“Joseph, you were a ten year old child. You’d just lost your entire family. And from what I could ascertain from associates in New Orleans, Madame deMarigny spared no expense when it came to you. Including specialists.”
“Doctor Green,” Joseph whispered. “I remember him telling me I’d been sick for a long time and that during my fever, I’d made up the family. He told grand-mère that to make up for seeing my friends with their families, I’d made up a fictitious family. Though I never understood why I never made up memories of a mother. I guess I accepted grand-mère’s story about my mother.”
“You didn’t make them up. They were real,” Paul sat on the low table in front of Joseph and laid a sympathetic hand on Joe’s knee. “You knew your mother for such a short period of time.”
Confusion etched the young man’s face while he struggled to accept all that had been told. The men in the room gave him time to contemplate all he’d been told.
Roy answered, “Your brother, Eric. It’s a nickname Adam gave him when he was a baby. It came from his Uncle Gunnar. It means big, friendly man.”
“I need some time alone.” Joseph stood, turned away from the men and slowly climbed the staircase.
The three men smiled; their patience paid off – Ben’s last heir was finally on the Ponderosa.
“Well,” Roy stood to his feet. “I think I best get back to town.”
“I need to head home too,” Hiram added. “Paul, you coming?”
“No, that’s why I drove my buggy separate, I probably should spend the night. If he’s anything like he was as a child he might need my services tonight.”
“Joseph Francis deMarigny or Joseph Francis Cartwright . . . which one am I?” He sat in the deep leather chair, swirling a glass of cognac in his left hand.
“You are who you are. Name is only how you are known, it is not who you are,” Hop Sing stood next to the closed guest room door off the side of the dining room.
Joe looked over the arm of the chair. “Please come in. I’d like to talk to you.”
Hop Sing entered the great room, taking care as he sat on the edge of the settee.
“You said you helped raise me.”
He nodded. “You were the heart of the Ponderosa. Family doted on you.”
“The others said they didn’t return from a cattle drive.”
“Army say there trouble with Mescalero and Comanchero, bad time.” Hop Sing lowered his head in regret and respect.
“Were their bodies ever found?”
A head shaking ‘no’ was his answer.
“Do you believe they are dead?”
“As long as you live, they will live in you.”
“Hop Sing, that’s not what I meant.” Joe drank the last of his liquor. “There has to be another reason why everyone kept the Ponderosa running, it couldn’t be just in case I decided I wanted to live here.”
“Reason is faith… hope. Where there is hope, there is faith to believe.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re exasperating?”
“Fatha many times.” Standing, the family friend retreated to his sleeping quarters, stopping the at guest room door. “If I may humbly ask, why did you come?”
Joseph looked to the man; his tone was mild and held the same hint of curiosity he had felt after reading the letter notifying him of his inheritance.
“Hop Sing, what is ‘Wǒ ài nǐ’?”
“It Chinese. It means, I love you.” Hop Sing turned the corner.
Surprised at having an early morning visitor, Roy looked up from the paperwork on his desk when the door to the office opened.
“Can I help ya?”
“I’m looking for Sheriff Roy Coffee.”
“That’d be me. Something I can do for you?” Roy stood, his eyes observing the city slicker closing the door.
“You can tell me if Joseph Cartwright arrived safely.”
“And just who might you be? And why’d you want to know?”
The man slipped a hand into his jacket pocket, pulling out an envelope. “I believe everything is explained within this letter of introduction.”
Roy read the contents, “So you’re the one Rodney had keeping an eye on Little Joe.”
The man removed his hat and nodded.
“You know it wasn’t really necessary to follow him out here. Rodney wired us he was on the way and we’ve kept tabs on him through the stage company ever since he left New Orleans.”
The confident man who had entered the office appeared to shrink in poise, nervously twirling his hat about his hands. Moments passed as Roy waited; the man looked in deep thought.
“There’s more to the story than even Rodney knew. I wasn’t just keeping an eye on your target. See, Clay Stafford was the name I was given when I was adopted as an infant. My parents told me about it when they felt I was old enough to understand. I knew Rodney from my stint in the army. Once I mustered out, he convinced me to join the Pinkertons. After my adopted parents died, I grew curious about my birth family; didn’t think it would hurt to look into my own past.”
“Did ya find what you were looking for?”
“More than I bargained for. Found out your target and I have the same mother. Joe deMarigny, or Cartwright as you call him, is my half-brother.”
Roy doubted how Madame deMarigny would allow their friendship to occur. “And Madame deMarigny approved of your friendship with the boy?”
“She let it be known how she felt about me, that I was beneath their station. But Joe’s an easy man to like, and he is a little bit of a rogue when he wants to be. He’s not afraid to go against what is acceptable. To him, what his grandmother didn’t know… But I can keep secrets too, she didn’t know the truth. And I never told him of our relationship, either.”
“If what you say is true, then you were rightfully Madame deMarigny’s grandson. It doesn’t make sense she would give you up only to go after a child who had no blood relation to her.” Roy walked back to his desk and rested his hip, letter still in hand.
“She got rid of me to spite Marie. She believed the lies that my mother was unfaithful to my father, and so, in her eyes there was no way I could be her grandson. And there was the DeVry, deMarigny feud. Jean, my father, had left for parts unknown, and there was no one but Marie for the woman to hate for daring to marry her son.”
“Still, she coulda looked for you.”
“To her, I wasn’t a deMarigny. You probably think she took Joe to strike back at Ben Cartwright for rescuing Marie.”
“That’s what we figured.”
“She really had nothing to do with it. Oh it’s all been done in her name, but Eduard D’Arcy is behind it all.”
“I think I remember Ben saying his name, he was some kind of relation to Marie. So, how’d you find out about Joe?”
“Turns out young Joseph isn’t the only one who has friends of his parents who kept an eye on him.”
“Why? I mean, if he is your brother, you’ve stuck by him for what, five years? For what?”
“Sheriff, at first it was an assignment. Overtime, I came to genuinely consider him a friend. But after learning we were brothers and knowing the Madame…” Clay shook his head. “Then there’s also what I’ve learned over the past three months, if it doesn’t pan out, I can continue my friendship with Joe, but I don’t want anything to do with Madame deMarigny.”
“And just what have you learned?”
“The Cartwrights are being held in a Mexican prison.”
Roy walked around his desk, pulled open the bottom drawer and extracted a bottle and two glasses.
That morning, Charlie Yeagle found the Ponderosa heir standing in the middle of the yard.
“Morning, young fella.”
“How’d you sleep last night?” Charlie noted the bloodshot eyes.
“I tossed and turned. Charlie, can I ask you something?” Joe was surprised at his own familiarity with the hand, but it seemed natural. When the man nodded, “Was there ever a furry black and white pony here?”
“Sure, that was Patches. He was your first mount. Ben bought him from a breeder in San Francisco. You two were quite the pair racing all over the yard and out on the Ponderosa riding between your brothers.”
“Before I came out west, the only horses I remember were all sleek and elegant, and solid colored. But last night, I had a dream.”
“He and the other old-timers are out with the weanling herd; keeps ‘em young, and they keep the youngsters in line.”
“I’m beginning to think I am your ‘Little Joe’.”
“I know you are. You’re the one who needs convincing.” The two walked into the barn, “When we heard you were coming, I thought this fella might suit your fancy. You do remember how to ride?”
“Yes, sir, I remember. Sometimes it was the only way to get away from grand-mère.” Approaching the stabled black and white pinto, he asked, “What’s his name?”
“You always said you were going to name your horse, Cochise.”
“Cochise, a brave warrior.”
“Yep, that’s what you always said.” Charlie smiled and left the barn whistling.
Joe relished the time grooming his new horse, running his hands and the brushes over the coat and down the legs, eventually picking out the hooves. Back in New Orleans, he’d bribed the stable master into showing him how to take care of his own horse, his grandmother’s words that manual labor was beneath their station thrown to the wind. Murmuring soft words of no consequence, he lost track of time as memories swirled of a young boy and two older boys laughing, playing, riding their horses, and fishing.
“Good morning, Joseph,” Paul called from the doorway.
Standing to the back of the horse, Joseph returned the greeting and asked, “Is it possible to lose one’s mind?”
“How so?” Paul asked, walking farther into the building. “Joseph…”
“Please, I’m not Joseph.” The sure, confident young man of the day before had disappeared.
“Then who are you?” Paul’s heart plummeted.
“I’m Joe, or if you prefer, I’m Little Joe. I’m remembering little pieces here and there. I asked Hop Sing a question last night and he told me what I said was Chinese. I asked Charlie about my first horse and then I told him what Cochise stood for. I’ve been here less than twenty-four hours and there are so many memories . . . This place feels more like home than New Orleans ever did. It feels like heaven.”
”That’s how Ben described the land; his piece of heaven on Earth.”
“What’s next? If I really am Little Joe Cartwright, what do I do next?”
“You can accompany me down to Mexico to see if my sources are correct,” was answered by the man entering the doorway.
“Clay! What are you doing here?!” Joe excitedly greeted his friend. “And what’s with this, you look like…” Joe’s eyes looked up and down the clothing his friend wore; they were nothing like the clothes the two had worn while in New Orleans. Before accompanying Roy to the Ponderosa, Clay had changed clothes in order to not draw attention to himself.
“Like you should.” Looking to the other gentleman in the barn, “You tell him everything?”
“You knew?” Joe queried.
“Enough to keep an eye on you and help an old Army buddy out after you graduated from school.”
Crestfallen, Joe asked, “Then I was just an assignment?”
“No, you really were, and I hope still are, my friend.”
Life returned to Joe’s eyes, “So what’s in Mexico, besides more of that pulque and pretty senoritas?” Joe wrapped an arm across Clay’s shoulders and began to lead him to the house.
“Three Cartwrights being held prisoner.” Clay sensed Joe pulling away.
Shocked, Joe stopped; with faint hope he asked, “My father and brothers?”
“Come on into the house, I’m sure Hop Sing can fix us some breakfast and we can talk.”
Paul looked to Roy, “Who is he, and is he serious?”
“His name is Clay Stafford. I read his letter of introduction from Rodney myself. And as for being serious about what’s in Mexico, that’s what he’s going to find out.”
“But prison, all this time?”
“Would make sense why no one found anything.”
Curious about what happened after he’d left, Roy inquired, “How’d Joe do overnight?”
“From what I heard, not too bad; but not bad enough to need my services.”
“Not really nightmares, more like rude awakenings. Based on his actions so far this morning, I get the impression he’s been remembering more from before he was taken away.”
“I hope he eventually remembers everything.”
“How do you think Ben’s gonna react when he finds out what happened?”
“I’d rather not be anywhere close to the Ponderosa when that happens.” Looking to the still open front door, Roy offered, “Come on, Hop Sing’s breakfast smells good and I left town before I ate.”
They had fled for their lives, heading south to get away from the Comancheros, only to be captured a week later. They thought salvation was imminent when they recognized the leader. The two older men stared at each other before Ben spoke, “Gunnar? Gunnar Borgstrom?”
The man in Mexican styled clothing, wearing a sleep skin vest, a big sombrero, and carrying a lance, spoke with a distinctly Swedish accent as he slid from his black horse, “I am Gunnar.” Looking to the man clothed in dust-covered black, he asked, ”Little Adam?”
“I’m not so little anymore, Uncle Gunnar.” Adam struggled against those who restrained him.
“And you?” he walked over to the largest of the three.
“I’m Hoss Cartwright.”
“Big friendly man, eh?” Without warning, his right fist flashed across Hoss’ chin.
Once the Comancheros released Hoss, tit for tat, the two fought. Blow after blow was exchanged between the two evenly matched men. The group howled in their twisted sense of humor as they encouraged the two combatants. Ben and Adam encouraged Hoss on as best they could. The two fought, giving everything they had to overpower the other. Eventually, both gave into their exhaustion, lying on the ground with chests heaving.
“Brother Gunnar?” Ben had pleaded as Gunnar gained his feet.
“I am no brother to you! You are the one responsible for me losing everything!” Gunnar declared. “If not for you, I would be rich!”
Ben remembered their time in Illinois. “What you tried was wrong. She didn’t love McWorter.”
“It didn’t matter. A woman belongs to her husband, it says so in the bible.”
“What of love?”
“Love? What is there to truly love but money? McWorter wanted the store! He was going to pay me a fortune; I could have gone anywhere, done anything!”
“The store belonged Inger.”
“And I was her brother!”
For a man who had just fought his own nephew to a draw, Gunnar was extremely agile and fast. Ben’s head snapped sideways when Gunnar’s fist connected; years of anger packed behind the punch.
“Uncle Gunnar! NO!” Adam screamed out while two men struggled to restrain him from breaking free to reach his family.
Turning, he held up his hand and pointed; his words clipped in agitation. “To me, you are not family. My family died when I learned of Inger’s death.” His eyes strayed from Adam’s face, down his taunt arms to his fisted hands and back again. “You may have grown up. You may think you can take me. But you are not man enough to outsmart or outfight me or my men.” Shouting orders to his followers, he turned. “Tie them up and put them in the wagons!” Turning to Vaca, he added, “They should make us a tidy profit. Maybe enough we retire from raiding? Eh?” Shouting again, “We head south!”
Captain Estefani Rodriguez looked out over the prison yard as the guards supervised the change of shifts working in the mine. He’d been such a fool all those years ago. He should have known better than to gamble in a house that was not his own. His over-confidence and greed was the beginning of his downfall. He hadn’t realized at the time, but the game had been rigged from the moment he had sat down at the table. The owner knew of the Rodriguez family and the reason behind their wealth. One last turn of the cards and he’d lost control over the mine on his family’s estancia to an American even more avaricious.
It was nothing to conscript peons and American cowboys into the mines, but when a band of Comancheros brought forth three strong Americans they had captured in the desert, he contacted the new owner. He provided every detail he learned about the captives. He’d expected an immediate response demanding their release. He feared involvement by the American army should he force them to labor. The reply he received was shocking, “Keep them and make them suffer.” He’d paid the Comancheros five hundred American dollars apiece for the three, and added an extra one hundred to never have to deal with the rogues again.
“For over ten years, his orders were that these men suffer. Does he not realize that I lose productivity every time a worker is injured? Is it not enough that I must punish them for their disobedience? Were I to even consider harming the father, I would lose what little control I have over the others?”
From where he stood he thought on all that had begun to go wrong so many years before.
“Is it not enough that they mine his silver? For too long I have kept them here at his demands. He allows me to live as master over all yet I am as much a slave as the prisoners. I wish they had never been brought to me.” Turning his back to the window, “I wish I’d never stepped foot in New Orleans. Eduard D’Arcy is insane.”
“So where do we begin?” Joe asked after Clay explained all he knew of the three American prisoners being held in Mexico.
“First we return to Virginia City and purchase you some new clothes.”
“What’s wrong…” Joe looked down to the frilly shirt he slipped into after waking. He’d left the top three buttons unfastened; something he would never have contemplated had he still been in his grandmother’s home. ‘But if all this is true, she’s not my grandmother.’ Joe kept to himself. “I guess I do stick out like a sore thumb.”
“Worse.” Clay laughed at Joe’s express before drinking from the coffee cup recently filled by Hop Sing. “From our time in New Orleans, I know you can shoot. Did you bring your weapons?”
“My epees and my dueling pistols are in my trunk, as well as the revolver you gave me for my last birthday. But my trunk has yet to arrive.”
“An epee won’t do you any good where we’re going, neither will your pistols; you’ll need more than one shot if this rescue is to succeed. Don’t worry, we’ll add a new revolver and a holster to our list. You can pay me back later.”
“Joe has an account at the General Mercantile,” Paul offered. “Hiram set it up yesterday before we rode out.”
“That’s good to know. Thank you doctor.” Clay nodded to the man.
“What if I notify the Army?” Roy suggested. “They can be a big help,”
“How? They have no authority south of the Rio Grande,” Clay stated.
“Who else are you taking?” Paul asked.
“No one,” Joe answered.
“Joe, the men who work the Ponderosa would do anything for your Pa.”
“Sheriff, they work for my father. Not me. They don’t know me from… Adam.” Joe half-heartedly grinned at his unintended pun. “I won’t risk their lives on a possible fool’s errand.”
“I wouldn’t consider rescuing your family a fool’s errand,” Paul retorted.
“Doctor, I agree. But even Clay’s contact isn’t one hundred percent sure they are my family.”
Two days later, Clay and Joe left the Ponderosa yard riding two non-descript horses without any brand. An hour behind them Charlie Yeagle pulled out driving a wagon loaded with cooking supplies, provisions, and most of the rifles and ammunition from the Cartwrights’ private collection.
“You watch after them boys,” Roy stated, raising his hand to the man on the high bench seat.
“I’ll do my best.” Charlie rein slapped the team forward.
The large man growled, forcing the guard to step backwards through the entryway, even though he held a rifle on the pair.
“You lay a hand on him one more time and I swear, I’ll break your neck like a toothpick.”
A second guard closed the metal door, twisting the key in the lock. The two uniformed men stared though the metal bars.
“You okay Pa?” He knelt next to his father, his concern evident.
“I will be son. Don’t fret. Why don’t you lie down and try to get some sleep?”
“I can’t. You need to see a doctor.”
“Let it go, Hoss, let it go. I won’t have you suffer another whipping, not on my account.”
“Pa I’d take a hundred whippin’s to spare you any more sufferin’.”
Once in the confines of the mines, the guards removed the shackles attached to their ankles. With pickaxes or shovels, the prisoners moved deeper into the depths of the silver mine. For hours they toiled, striking and digging, lengthening the tunnel in their nightly quest for silver. The deeper they worked, the thinner the air they breathed. The damp air cooled their sweat-covered bodies.
Years of eating meager rations took a toll on a man’s body. They were fed enough to ensure they could work, but once their shift was completed, they were too exhausted to do anything other than sleep.
Ten hours into their shift, Ben tripped and fell, yelling as he landed hard on his left side.
Without thought to his own well-being, Hoss pushed his way past the guard toying with the bullwhip and yelling for the prisoner to get up.
“He cain’t. Can’t ya see he’s hurt.” Kneeling, he reached for his father, turning him to his back. Tears streaked down his grime-covered face at seeing Ben’s pain.
“Get to work!” another guard ordered.
“My Pa cain’t! He needs ta see a doctor.”
“Get to work or you’ll feel my lash.”
“No!” Ben weakly shouted, attempting to rise.
“No son. Return to your work.”
“Pa, ya need a doctor.”
“I’ll be fine son, go.”
Once back in their cell, Ben relished lying on the pallet that served as his bed. As he had many times before, he regretted ever accepting the damned Army contract. As the years passed, he’d been thankful that he had insisted his youngest son stay home. Even though the boy had been holding the cut for almost a year, a cattle drive was no place for a child of ten. Ten… by now Joseph would be… twenty? Twenty-one? The days, weeks, and months ultimately ran together. When he allowed his mind to drift, he wondered who was watching over Joseph, since his two eldest were as trapped as he. He looked up at the rattle from the door.
“What do you care?” Hoss snorted.
“Hoss, not now,” Ben weakly warned.
“He needs a doctor. Workin’ down below in that dank air ain’t good for a man his age. He shouldn’t be workin’ so hard to begin with.”
“What happened?” Adam asked, kneeling beside Ben, placing a hand to the older man’s forehead.
“I don’t have a fever, son. Just tired.” Ben pushed away the hand of his eldest son.
“He tripped. I think he might have busted a rib or two when he landed on the ground.” Grabbing Adam’s arm, Hoss jerked him to stand, his anger extended through his grip. “The guards tried to thrash him to get him movin’.”
“You’re going to have to control that temper of yours.” Adam’s dark eyes steeled into his brother’s blue.
“They ain’t touchin’ Pa again.”
“I’ll see if I can get him transferred.”
“And just how can you do that?” Hoss spat.
“I can ask. That’s the best I can do.”
“You barely get your hands dirty while Pa and I work like slaves, fed hardly enough to keep up our strength.”
“Hoss, if I could be down here with you I would. I hate the fact that I’m up there.”
“Ya hate it so much that you don’t cause no trouble to get sent back to workin’ with us?”
“Hoss, there are things I can’t tell you.”
“Tell me what?” Adam was surprised when Hoss’ grip tightened. He resolved himself to not reveal the pain his brother created.
“If I cause any trouble, or don’t do as they ask, they’d kill you, and Pa.”
“And you think that’s worse than havin’ to watch a proud man like Pa get treated as he has for the past, what… ten years?”
“You’re alive and together. And we have to think of Joe.” Adam finally jerked his arm from his brother’s grasp.
”What good’s that do? You tell me, Adam, what good’s it do thinkin’ of our little brother who’s probably forgotten all about us.” Hoss jabbed his brother in the chest, forcefully enough that Adam had to take a step backwards.
“You can’t think like that.”
“He forgot about you and most everything the two a ya done before you was gone to college. You’d barely been back four months afore we set out on the cattle drive. It’s been too long. Who’s been there to read him letters we never get ta write?”
“I’m sure Hop Sing and Paul are keeping our memories alive.”
“Adam, are you really thinkin’ they’d a let Hop Sing keep Joe?” Hoss shook his head in disbelief. “He’s Chinese.”
“I know he is,” Adam spat back. More calmly he continued, “I know he is, but Paul also has Pa’s power of attorney.”
“Lot a good that does us.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Adam breathily answered. “But, I pray every night that if we’ve been declared dead in absentia, that Paul was able to adopt Little Joe.”
The two heard, “Cartwright!” shouted from outside.
“Listen, I’ll do my best to get the doctor down here to see Pa. I promise.”
“Your promises don’t mean what they once did.”
“I know. I’m sorry, Hoss. I really am.”
Adam left the foul smelling prison cell, leaving his family behind.
Adam lowered his eyes while approaching the man who waited for him. “Captain, I was just seeing to my family. I heard there had been… an incident.”
“Walk with me.” The Captain headed down the long corridor. “I heard it was more than an incident. The guards reported your brother threatened two of them.”
“Only because of how your man was treating our father.”
“I warned you before. This time, your brother will be forced pay the consequences for his actions, again.”
“No!” Adam positioned himself in front of the Captain, compelling him to stop his forward progress.
“No? You would be willing to take the lashing in his place.”
“I think you know the answer to that question.” He prayed he sounded bolder than he felt. “Our father is an old man. He fell. My brother feared he’s broken a few ribs.”
“Then he will be put out of his misery.”
“NO! Captain, he still has worth, value.” Desperation tainted his voice.
“Not if he can’t work.”
“Then let me work in his place. Please. I beg you.” Adam stepped aside.
“And have the three of you together? It is too great a risk.” The Captain resumed his walk towards the hacienda. Adam fell in beside the warden, walking sideways along the path.
“Then take my father to my quarters. He knows mines. He can finish the specifications on the new shaft while I work in his place.”
“Your brother must pay for his insolence.”
“And what of the lost productivity. Your man almost killed him the last time.”
“You will talk to him? Convince him of the error of his ways?”
“And my father?”
“You will take his place.”
“My father will not be harmed? He will be treated by a doctor?”
“You Cartwrights are a stubborn lot.”
‘You have no idea,’ Adam kept to himself.
“Someone must pay the price for this disobedience.”
“Five lashes then.”
Adam resigned himself to accept the punishment, if only to spare his family.
The guards entered the darkened cell; two holding torches aloft while two others pointed rifles at Hoss. The last two entered the cramped quarters carrying a stretcher.
Waking from a restless sleep, Hoss struggled to his feet. “What’re you doin’? Where’re you takin’ my Pa?!”
Adam hurried into the cell, pushing his brother away from the rifles. “Easy big guy. They’re taking Pa to the infirmary.”
“You sure?” Hoss eased his posture, but still kept a wary eye on those who were moving Ben.
Once the room was secure, and Hoss Cartwright contained, Captain Rodriguez entered the room. “Your father will be treated accordingly for however long it takes for the doctor to say he is well enough to return to work. In the meantime, your brother will take your father’s place in the mines.” His eyes followed the still form of Ben Cartwright being carried from the room. “Be thankful that your brother is the man he is, otherwise you would have received the punishment he accepted for your insubordination.”
The remaining guards and the Captain left, taking the light from the torches with them; the door clanged shut.
“What’s he mean you accepted my punishment?” Hoss moved to stand in front of his brother.
“I told you, you have to control your temper.” Adam stepped around his brother and headed to the pallet where Ben had lain.
“That’s not an answer. What’d you do?” A gentler hand turned Adam to face him.
“Miguel has it in for you. Ever since you broke his jaw. I knew if you were to receive a lashing, he’d kill you this time. The Captain charged me with your insubordination, and for that I received five lashes.” Adam’s strength was slowly dissolving.
“Adam, you didn’t.” Hoss’ arm wrapped around his brother and helped lower him to the bedding. “Did the doc treat you?”
“What good would a lashing be if the fire is washed away with a painkiller?”
“How’re you supposed to work?”
“I have two days to recover, and then I return to the mines with you.”
Lying on his left side, Adam struggled to find a comfortable position in which to sleep. The marks across his back burned, even after Hoss had wiped them gently with his ration of water.
Having been flogged once before had not prepared him for the fire or the nightmares that consigned his dreams. The memories were just as dark as the sky out the window; neither offered comfort in the hopes of a brighter day tomorrow.
Before his wrists had been tied to the rings mortared into the wall, he’d been allowed to remove his shirt revealing rippling muscles under his lash-marred skin. The warmth of the room was lost on his body; his skin prickle as the leather lash swished on the floor.
He tried to block out the horrid memories, but older ones surfaced, one over the other.
Hoss had gone down hard that day. During a cave-in, a beam had fallen trapping him as well as Ben deeper in the mine than Adam had been working. Adam scrambled across the pile of rocks and dirt, tearing his way into the mess to rescue his family. Within a few hours, the eldest Cartwright was easily located and pulled to safety. Lanterns held aloft shown on a head wound, further examination revealed broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder. A few prisoners volunteered to carry the unconscious man out into the night time sky and fresh air; while others continued to dig to reach the largest and most-friendly of the family.
Six hours after the collapse, the unconscious body had been located. Two hours later, he’d been extricated by a plan formulated by his brother to stabilize the criss-crossed beams. By the following morning, a doctor had set and treated the broken arm, femur, and bound his ribs.
Sitting on the floor between the two cots where his family slept, he startled when his booted foot was kicked.
“You will rise in my presence.” Captain Estafani Rodriguez, in full military attire stood tall, yet irritated at the American.
Coal dark eyes slowly traveled up to look the man in his face. “I rise to no man; especially to one who doesn’t care about his prisoners.”
“There is a doctor on staff. That is not caring?”
“Not when the need for the doctor could have been prevented.” Wearily, Adam rose to his full height, proud and indignant. “There are ways of protecting the tunnels from collapse.” Angered and blindly exhausted, blood-stained, bandaged hands grabbed the front of the man’s lapels, pushing him across the aisle way, away from his family. “You bastard, you caused this!”
The butt of a rifle collided with his skull, darkening his world. Adam Cartwright fell to the floor.
“Is that all?”
“No, for his first act of insubordination, he will receive five lashes.”
Within an hour of regaining consciousness, positioned against the wall, he couldn’t see the Captain nod. Gritting his teeth and shutting his eyes tightly, the lash struck diagonally, right shoulder to his lower left side. His biceps contracted, lengthening his torso as the pulled himself to the rings as the second lash sliced just below the first. His toes curled and his calves and thighs bulged, bending his knees in response to the third. His back arched at the fourth stroke. Breathing deeply through his nose, he could no longer prevent the agonizing scream that ripped from his throat as the fifth and final lash crossed his back. On the periphery of his vision, he welcomed the expanding darkness, begging it to take him away.
Simultaneously, two guards cut the rawhide tethers binding his wrists. His arms fell freely to his side while his legs buckled. There was no response or grunt when he collapsed to the floor.
“When he awakens, bring him to my office.”
“Not the mines?”
“No, I wish to discuss how an American would prevent tunnels from collapsing.”
The main drive in his life had been to protect his family. He mourned his failure when four months later he’d been forced to watch Hoss being whipped for the very first time in response to a fight; a fight initiated when a guard had aggressively threatened Ben Cartwright.
Adam had been restrained, arms tied behind his back and then to a ring in the wall, a gag through his mouth muffled his screams to stop the torture. His pleadings were muted under his brother’s screams of agony as fifteen blows crossed his back before he lapsed into unconsciousness.
Even with a bandage wrapped around the guard’s head kept the man’s jaw in place, the man took great pleasure in his trade. Anger swirled in the man’s eyes as he toyed with the whip before he finally sent the lash airborne. The lashing was vicious with little time allowed between each strike.
Adam remembered the agony of his own five lashes, he couldn’t imagine receiving fifteen.
The second time Hoss had been whipped had only been the year before.
“The guards had them working in tunnels that had not been properly shored!” he’d argued.
“I told you that we would install these new shoring timbers as fast as we could, but that I would not stop production until they were ready to be installed.”
“The guard struck a child.”
“Fifteen is old enough to be considered a man. He stole as a man would steal. He was sentenced as a man.”
“Adam, are you so eager to feel the bite of the whip…again?”
“Hoss had his reasons. He could never stand to see someone smaller than him abused, for any reason.”
“Then this time, Miguel will be abusing someone much larger. I cannot let this go unpunished. I will not allow his actions to incite disobedience or rebellion. He will receive fifteen lashes, one for each punch inflicted.”
Weeks had passed as Adam watched the doctor tend to his brother’s torn flesh and battled the infection caused by dirt transferred into the wounds by the lash itself.
When he’d finally healed enough to return to the cells, a different Hoss Cartwright was greeted by his father; a man whose gentle spirit had finally been shattered.
“I’m gonna kill him if it’s the last thing I do,” Hoss mumbled as Ben slipped under Hoss’ shoulder to help him across the floor to the pallet where he could sleep.
Jabs of a rifle to his back propelled Adam to leave his family.
Day broke. Adam bolted awake, an involuntary cry escaped at the sound of the door to their cell opening.
“Rise and shine.”
Their first night out they’d been surprised to hear, “In the camp!” yelled from the darkness.
“Who’s there?” Clay called in response while Joe moved into the darkness.
“Come on in!”
The argument that ensued was epic. Any night-time creatures that might have been close had long since scampered away before anything was resolved. Charlie steadfastly refused to return to the Ponderosa no matter what the younger men threatened. Ultimately, Clay and Joe had no other option than to allow him to remain when the foreman revealed the provisions he brought, and the weapons hidden within a false bottom of the wagon.
After being on the trail for almost a month, the three Americans were finally close to their destination
The friendship the youngest two had developed in New Orleans had matured on the trail. Gone was the carefree boy with time on his hands and cultured looks that turned the heads of women and girls alike. Early on Charlie had suggested that Joe follow Clay’s lead by allowing nature to turn his looks scruffy.
During their journey, Joe listened to everything that Clay and Charlie had to say, and took it to heart. His future depended on it. Joe had been successful in the few towns they had ventured into when needing to purchase additional supplies and to listen for news.
They’d had to hide numerous times to avoid the roving bands of comancheros as well as patrols by the Mexican army. Other instances, they’d stayed longer in various towns, pretending to be saddle bums eager to keep away from the American law. They did what was necessary to prevent the authorities from becoming interested in their actions.
Clay ordered an early stop on what he’d hoped to be their final night; the town was within a day’s ride and they needed to finalize their plans. Not wanting to draw attention to themselves, they agreed to send Charlie on into the nearby town with orders to make contact with Victor Cataldi, one of Clay’s sources, on their behalf. Charlie knew this was it; he’d been allowed to come this far, and now, he was consigned to wait in town for word that it was safe to join them at the prison.
When it was just the two of them, Clay left Joe alone in camp while he went to bathe in a clear waterhole buried deep within the rock formation. He cursed when he re-entered camp; Joe dropped an almost empty bottle of pulque.
“You got any more of that plu… pull… rotgut?” Joe’s words slurred.
“Don’t’ you think you’ve had enough, Joseph?” Clay asked, regretting he’d let slip that he’d brought the bottle. Striding to Joe, he steadied the young man before he fell.
“Not Joseph.” Joe reached to retrieve the bottle Clay had taken from his hand. “Want to drink to forget Joseph.”
“Forget?” Clay pushed him back.
Falling to his bedroll, “Joseph is a lie. Everyone I’ve ever known has lied to me. My whole life is nothing but one big, fat lie.”
“You’ve had bad breaks, but you’re not the only one. Don’t let those liars change who you are.”
“And just who am I? Huh?” Intoxication was clearly talking.
‘Why now of all nights?’ Clay looked skyward. Aloud he spoke, “You are a man of conviction and courage. I think you’re a man your father would be proud to call ‘son’. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have rescued that small boy back in New Orleans, nor would you have taken a chance to travel to the Ponderosa. So what’s a name? People change their names all the time, it doesn’t change who they are.” Kneeling over to where Joe lay sprawled. “Come on buddy, let’s get you under the covers and sleep this off. You’re going to have one hell of a headache tomorrow.”
“Little buddy…” Joe mumbled. “Adam used to call me Little Buddy.” Joe’s words quieted as sleep took possession.
“Kid, before you know it, deMarigny will be just a memory, a bad one, but a memory none the less. Soon, you’ll be Joe Cartwright in the flesh and in heart.”
A gentle kick to his booted feet woke him. “Oh, my head.” A hand went to the head covered in curly hair tousled every which way as it emerged from under his bedroll.
“Here,” Clay handed him a steaming cup of coffee. “There’s plenty where that came from.”
“Why’d you let me drink so much?” Joe took the cup and a sip.
“Let you?” Clay huffed. “I was otherwise indisposed when you procured my bottle of pulque. And when I returned, you were having your own private pity party. Figured it might help you banish your demons. And now that you know how bad they are, you’ll grow stronger because you never want to be that low again.”
“You sound like a big brother.” Joe grinned lop-sidedly.
“Well, you sure ain’t a big sister.” Joe cackled at his joke. Slamming his eyes closed, he reach for his head; rubbing his temples in hopes of alleviating the increased pounding in his skull.
“Cheer up kid. You’ll make it.”
Drinking almost half the cup, “How much longer before we get there?”
“If you think you can sit a saddle, we should meet my contact later today. Charlie should have alerted him that we’re here. Otherwise, we’ll wait outside of town until tomorrow morning. You feel up to some breakfast?”
“Maybe later, when I feel better.”
“Well, before we head out, I strongly suggest you bathe.”
“You’re a bit ripe.”
Joe raised his arms and made a face. “Ripe isn’t the word.”
Tilting his head sideways, “Follow the path around those rocks.”
Clay and Joe met their contact, Victor Cataldi, and followed him about an hour’s ride from town. From where they laid along the edge of the sheer ridge, the sun was setting on the far side of the valley as they looked down to the prison.
“That’s the El Fuego down there.”
“So, how did you find out about the Americans?” Joe asked.
“I have a friend who delivers supplies. One day he happened in during a change of shifts. It is no secret the Federales bring false charges on the peons to force them to work, but he was shocked to find two gringos inside.”
“There’s supposed to be three,” Joe whispered, fearing one of his family was deceased.
“There is. From what I’ve found out, the third is kept up at the main house. He’s the one who made the mines safer for the workers, so Captain Rodriguez can haul out more of his fortune in silver.”
“That would be the eldest son. He studied engineering while at college,” Clay added.
“So, how do we proceed?”
“Believe it or not, Captain Rodriguez wants out.” Victor admitted.
“Wants out? What the hell does that mean?” Joe asked.
“Rumor has it that he lost ownership of the mine years ago. He’s as much a prisoner as his workers.”
“So?” Joe queried.
“I have a small army of rebels who are eager to help end the horror of El Fuego. Rodriguez wishes to take his family back to Spain, he’s agreed to leave one of the gates open for us.”
“It’s a trap!” Joe urgently whispered.
“No, it’s not a trap. He’s desperate to save his family. In exchange, we defeat his guards and rescue the workers, and your Americans.”
“How many men comprise your army?” Clay asked.
“How well armed are your men?”
“Our weapons are old. We appreciate all the weapons that are hidden in Seńor Charlie’s wagon.”
“What of the guards? How many are they?” Clay continued.
“Numbers are on our side,” Joe murmured.
“We strike day after tomorrow, at dawn.”
“Tomorrow is Día de la Independencia. The guards will be suffering hangovers after tomorrow night, making it easier for us to raid the next morning.”
Under the cover of pre-dawn darkness, the small army invaded the prison and easily overpowered the first guards they encountered. That is until they reached the multi-roomed barracks within the compound. A cook’s scream broke the quiet, waking a not so drunk guard.
Seeing furtive figures crouching along the hallway wall, the guard fired, catching one of the intruders in the back. As the man fell, simultaneously he twisted, pulling his pearl handled revolver and firing. He aimed, true center. The guard crumpled to the floor, blood soaked through the white undershirt over his heart. Shouts echoed inside and out, as the gunfire alerted and woke more guards. What had begun as a quiet revolution turned hostile as the guards began to defend the prison.
Two hours later, the last shot was fired. The small army had defeated those better-trained and better-equipped guards.
“Joe?” Clay queried, coming up behind his friend who leaned heavily into the white adobe wall.
“I’ll be alright. Just a crease.” Pulling his hand away from his back to stand up straight, he attempted to wipe away the blood coating his hand.
“Just a crease, my ass.” Grabbing Joe’s wrist, he pulled it away and reached to pull out the shirttail to investigate the damage inflicted. “Stop it. Let me look.”
“All the guards are accounted for.” Another man previously introduce as Avery Ramirez called from the doorway.
“What of the Captain?” Clay called back
“What of the Americans?” Joe winced when Clay continued to poke and prod.
“Our men are going through all the cells.”
“What of the main house?” Clay asked.
“The guards were passed out, drunk. We found an older man in one of the upper rooms within the hacienda. He’s got some broken ribs.”
“I want to see him.”
“You’ll see the doctor first,” Clay argued.
“I want to see him.” Hard-set green eyes bore down on his friend.
“You come all this way to bleed out first? I don’t think so. Let the doc patch you up and then you can see who he is.”
Excitement and adrenaline waned, Joe slipped from Clay’s grasp. “I don’t feel so good.” Sliding down to land on the slate floor, Joe’s blood smeared the wall.
“How long ago were you shot?”
“I don’t remember exactly. May after we breached the barracks, when that cook screamed.” Joe’s voice weakened.
“Damn it Joe, that was over ninety minutes ago. You could have bled out in that time.”
“I stuffed it,” he mumbled, his eyes slipped closed.
“Yeah, a lot of good that did you. Avery, go see if you can find the doc. I’ll get Joe on the kitchen table.”
Victor Cataldi entered the hallway and hurried to his friend when his companion went limp in his arms. “How bad?”
“I don’t know. Can’t find an exit hole, so the bullet’s still in him. Avery went for the doc.” The two positioned an unconscious Joe on the table face down. “How many men did we lose?”
“Not a one. A few bruises and scrapes, others will need stitches from close calls. Five others who didn’t duck fast enough will need bullets removed.”
“What of the prisoners? Were any of them killed?”
“Not that I’m aware of. My men are bringing them all to the plaza.”
“And the Americans?”
“There was still a shift underground. We pray those you seek will be there.”
A tall man, with hair graying at the temples, entered the kitchen, black bag in hand. “I’m the doctor, Alberto Martinez.”
Clay replied, “You sure got here quick.”
“I was on my way out to check my patient when I encountered one of your men. What happened?”
“A revolution,” Victor answered.
Scowling, Clay spoke, directing the doctor to where Joe lay. “This man has a bullet in the back.”
“Let me in there.” He pushed aside the stranger; he ripped away the blood-soaked shirt.
“Come, let the doctor do his work. We will search for the men you seek,” Victor reached for Clay’s arm to lead him from the room, not understanding the concern-painted face of his friend.
“Doctor, there is another man, an older man upstairs. His ribs are bound. I need you to look in on him too,” Clay insisted.
“He’s the patient I was coming to see. I’ll look in on Mr. Cartwright when I’m finished with this one.”
“Which Mr. Cartwright is he?” Clay inquired, resisting Victor’s tugs.
“The father of the other two.”
“Leave me now. I need to operate.”
“Come on Clay.” Victor pulled his friend from the kitchen.
Entering the plaza, Clay was amazed to see the jubilant men, prisoners and rescuers alike.
“El resto de los estadounidenses? Alguien ver dos estadounidenses?” Victor shouted.
“We’re looking for Americans!” Clay repeated. “Americanos.”
“We’re Americans,” called the largest of the last two men to exit the mine, helping to support another man.
“Tell me your names,” Clay demanded as he approached the two.
“Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright and this here’s my brother Adam.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“He took five lashes three days ago. I tried to clean them…”
Clay reached under the man’s other arm, “We’ve got a doctor up at the house. He’s tending to… uh…” Clay wondered just what to say. The size of the two men startled him. He’d expected these stepbrothers to be the same size as Joe. Now he debated whether to tell them that the wounded man was their youngest brother. He decided on the better part of valor; he’d wait until everyone was taken care of then he could tell them the truth. “One of our men needed the doctor, he’s removing a bullet. And after him, the doc was going to check on your father.” He kept quiet the fact that there were others injured, they didn’t need to know all the details, yet.
“Pa’s alright?” Adam whispered.
“I’ll leave that for the doc to tell you.”
Moved from the kitchen table where his surgery had been performed to one of the bunks in the barracks, Joseph deMarigny/Cartwright remained unconscious. The doctor had prayed as he had never prayed before that a patient would not wake while he performed surgery; his original trip was only to check on a patient. He had not been prepared for the aftermath of a revolution, even a small one as it was.
In the main house, Ben Cartwright sat propped up in the bed that had been Adam’s, his ribs freshly bound and a hearty bowl of stew sat on the tray on his lap. Adam Cartwright sat straddling the straight back chair, arms resting across the top rail, grinning at the relief the doctor’s ointment provided to his back. Hoss Cartwright sat at the foot of the bed, happy to be reunited with his father and brother.
Standing next to the window and leaning against the wall, Clay looked at the three men, wondering what they looked like before they had been taken captive. Haggard appearances and ill-kept beards barely hinted at their troubles. He knew his own appearance was not as neat or as tidy as he would prefer, but no one had yet had time to shave, let alone bathe, in the few hours since their rescue.
The family listened as Clay related the events that precipitated their rescue. As he spoke, the one improvement he readily noticed were their eyes, no longer dull, but full of hope. Hoss whistled when Clay finally stopped speaking.
“I still don’t understand how you found out about our incarceration.” Adam queried. His eyes focused on a problem his mind hadn’t acknowledge. Even though his back was free of pain, his posture, using the chair to keep him upright, spoke of more than just exhaustion.
“Just plain dumb luck, you could say,” Clay answered, averting his eyes from Adam’s intense stare. Absent-mindedly, he scratched at his bearded cheek.
“I don’t even know how or where to begin to thank you.” Ben spoke, pushing the empty bowl aside. “We don’t even know your name.”
“Stafford, Clay Stafford. I’m a Pinkerton Man.”
“The Pinkertons knew we were here?” Hoss’s eyebrows rose, he twisted from facing his father to looking at their rescuer.
“Not exactly. My sources… they were working on a different case when they forwarded word to me of Americans possibly being held prisoner.”
“Regardless of how it came about, I thank God the nightmare is over,” Ben stated.
“How long before Pa can travel?” Adam asked the doctor, who had finished examining Ben. The physician was pleased they all had eaten a hardy meal.
“If I had my way, you’d all stay here for two weeks, minimum.”
“We gotta get home, doc!” Hoss declared.
“I want to get as far away from here as possible, as fast as possible,” Adam voiced.
“It’ll take him,” Martinez pointed to Clay, “that long to make arrangements for horses and a wagon.” Turning to close the bag containing his instruments, “If you’ll pardon me, I need to check on my other patients over in the barracks.”
As the physician left the room, Clay answered, “We could leave within a few hours if that’s all it took.”
The three Cartwrights looked to him.
“Your Charlie Yeagle’s back in town with a wagon and team.”
“Charlie… Charlie’s here?” Hoss excitedly asked. “Ya gotta tell us about the Ponderosa.”
“Hoss,” Ben chastised, “That can wait. How many men from the Ponderosa came with you?”
“To answer your question Hoss, he is. Charlie and another fella came with me. My contact, Victor Rodriguez, already had all the men we needed when we arrived.”
“No one else came?” Adam inquired, wondering just what had happened during their absence. He’d picked up on Clay changing words as he spoke and little subconscious movements that indicated their benefactor was not being totally honest. But why? Had the Ponderosa fallen into disrepair or did someone else own it? He kept his thoughts to himself, no need to ruin the atmosphere of hope his family shared.
“We didn’t… um….” Again, how to tell them Joe was over in the barracks, injured. “We didn’t want to risk their lives, unnecessarily.”
“Just who are you?” Adam sat straighter in the chair. “You said Charlie and someone else came; what else haven’t you told us?”
Clay shifted his stance against the wall, clearly uncomfortable with Adam’s direct questioning. He’d heard that Adam had been sharp; why wouldn’t he, being a college graduate and all.
“I am who I said.” Clay pushed away from the wall, standing straight. “My name is Clay Stafford, a former soldier, and I’m a Pinkerton man. And yes, there is more to tell. And you’re probably not going to like what I have to say.”
Adam refused to look away from Clay, waiting for the rest.
“You facilitated our rescue, I don’t’ see how you could say anything…” Ben ventured to say.
“It’s about Joseph.” Clay had their attention.
“What about Shortshanks?” Hoss stood from the bed where Ben rested.
“Who?” Clay replied.
“Tell us about our brother. What about Little Joe?” Adam’s eyes darkened.
The men turned at hearing the door open. “I’m sorry, but one of my patients is most insistent.”
Clay didn’t stop to excuse himself; he walked through the doorway, pulling the door to, but not closed
The brothers looked to their father at hearing the quiet argument in the hallway.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Clay hissed. “You’re supposed to be asleep over in the barracks. How’d you manage to get over here?”
Ignoring the questions, Joe answered, “I have to know.”
“They’re going to be fine. Better than you’ll be if you don’t follow the doctor’s orders.”
“I tried to tell him.” The doctor shrugged his shoulders, and crossed his arms over his chest.
“It appears that taking a bullet out of your back didn’t cure your stubbornness.”
“I’m fine.” Joe leaned heavily against the wall. “Take me in there. I need to know.”
“I haven’t told them you’re here.”
“I’m not sure they won’t kill me when they realize the truth.”
“You can’t keep them from me.”
“I’m not trying to.” Recognizing he had no choice, “Are you ready?”
Joe nodded. “Ever since I received that letter.”
Wrapping an arm around the bare chested Joe’s waist and careful of his wound, he helped his unknowing brother into the room.
Everyone watched while Clay assisted the young man into the room and saw him settled into a chair.
“I cain’t believe ya’s in here talkin’ with us when yer brother’s been shot.” Hoss spoke first. He walked to the bureau and poured a glass of water, handing it to the young man who’d just joined them.
Out of breath from his exertions, Joe answered, “I’m not his brother.”
“You sure look enough alike to be brothers.” Adam replied looking at the two.
Ben stared at the two strangers, their appearances so similar; scruffy, recently grown beards. Their hands spoke of an easy life, not callused or cracked from years working outside. Their postures spoke of pride. But there was something more, a face he’d not seen in a long, long time.
“Unlike you three who are brothers?” Clay voice dripped with sarcasm. He inhaled sharply, that’s not how he’d wanted to reunite the family.
Adam arched his eyebrows. Hoss sat down hard on the bed. Ben stared. The men looked to each other.
Joe nodded, “I remember that.”
“This is what I was trying to tell you,” Clay offered.
“Joseph?” Ben whispered. He looked into the young man’s pain-filled green eyes, the eyes he hadn’t seen in over a decade; a young man, no longer a child. “So like Marie, your eyes.” Looking to their rescuer and remembering what his older sons had said, he looked from one to the other. “And so are yours.”
Unable to answer, Clay returned to lean against the wall, arms crossed. He had not bargained for that. He’d wanted more time to get to know his family before they ever found out about his relationship to Joe.
Thinking the resemblance was uncanny, Ben leaned forward on the bed before questioning Clay further, “Marie said you were dead.”
Clay hung his head. “She didn’t know the truth, sir.” His resolve broke, he walked to stand by the man who could have been his stepfather, had the past been different. He wondered, if he had he been raised as a member of the family would he have been on the cattle drive? How would he have coped?
“Clay?” Joe queried. “I don’t understand.”
The newest brother turned to the youngest, “Rodney knew I had an ulterior motive when it came to keeping an eye on you, he just didn’t know what it was.”
“What what was?” Joe again asked.
“As your family already figured out… I’m your brother, too. Only, you and I, we shared the same mother.”
“But I don’t remember you.” Joe looked to those around the room.
“I didn’t grow up out west. As I told you, I was adopted and grew up in New Orleans.”
“How can you be my brother? You’re supposed to be my friend! You lied!” Joe attempted to stand; his hand strayed to his back. A groan slipped out.
“Take it easy little brother,” all three brothers chorused at the same time.
“Please, Joe.” Ben reached forward, patting his hand on the edge of the bed.
With Hoss’ help, Joe settled near his father. “I don’t remember your hair being so gray.”
Ben pulled Joe into a hug; a mixture of happy and sad tears streamed down his face. Pushing Joe back so he could take another look, “You grew up.” He swept his son’s long bangs back from his face. “And you found each other. How?”
“That’s a rather long story,” Clay answered.
“I think we have plenty of time for you to tell us. We’re a long way from home,” Adam stated.
Wiping his eyes dry, Joe looked to his brothers.
“Sir,” Clay interrupted, “if you don’t mind, Joe really needs to get back to bed.”
“I do not.”
“Don’t argue Joseph.”
“Yes sir.” Joe lowered his eyes.
“We can talk later, once the doctor says you’re better,” Ben answered, patting his son’s hand. Yes, a hand that has had an easy life. How has he been raised? What contribution has he made to the Ponderosa? Did he become one of those land barons who never dares work alongside his men?
Joe’s eyes were barely open by the time Hoss had settled him in a bed just down the hall from his family. “You sleep tight, Shortshanks. I’m gonna sit right here and keep watch over ya. I ain’t lettin’ ya outa my sight.” Hoss pulled a chair next to the bed and sat down.
The estancia had quieted several hours earlier. Sitting up and pulling his legs underneath himself, Adam stood. With his father peacefully sleeping, he wanted to slip across the hallway.
Standing beside the bed, Adam paused as he looked down on the sleeping figure. So much time had been lost; the little boy he remembered was gone, replaced by this young man. Reaching to his brother’s forehead, he swept aside the curly bangs.
“I missed so much while away at college and now look at you. You’re grown. Once you get all that scruff and dirt off your face, I wonder how innocent you’ll look.”
“About as good as you, I figure.” Hoss sat up and stretched his arms wide. “Ain’t it somethin’?”
“I can’t believe he’s here. After all these years.” Adam pinched the bridge of his nose. “Our little brother was the one who rescued us.”
“Don’t forget about Clay.” Hoss inhaled deeply. “Do you really believe Clay’s Joe’s brother?”
“When I didn’t know that Joe was Joe, I could see the relationship.”
“They look so much alike, but now…” Adam lowered himself to sit on the bed. “I guess I just want back the little brother I knew.”
“You and me both.” Hoss stretched. “But is Clay really family?”
“Pa believes it.” Adam sat at the head of the bed. “I remember overhearing Marie telling Pa something after Joe was born. She had been pregnant when she was married to Jean, only the baby died of fever a few days later.”
“Who’d tell a new mama her baby died when he didn’t?”
“From what I remember from Jean, and Marie; the deMarigny family is a very old family. They lived by the code, and it’s not uncommon for family feuds to be carried down through generations. I wouldn’t put it past any of them to have been so against Jean and Marie marrying. Jean told us how he’d come home to find another man in bed with his wife. That’s when he left her and came out west.”
“I cain’t believe Mama would do that?”
“She claims she didn’t.” Adam reached over to Hoss. “As I said, people would do things in the name of the code. Marie hated that life. It drove her husband away and she was forced to work for her cousin, Eduard D’Arcy. It’s not a pretty way of life.”
“Don’t sound much like it.”
“Listen, morning comes early. Pa’s sleeping. Why don’t you get some sleep yourself.”
“Okay.” Hoss stood to leave the room, stopped at the door. “Adam?”
Hoss lowered his head and whispered, “I didn’t mean it. What I said the other day.”
“I can’t. I had no business doubting you, sayin’ what I said. Yer my brother, I shoulda trusted ya done what ya needed to ta keep us safe.”
“I know, but it’s good to hear you say it. Go get some sleep.”
The door closed behind him. Adam remained in bed, leaning against the headboard. He took a moment to enjoy stretching his legs out.
“You should get some sleep yourself,” Joe mumbled, only partially awake.
“You’re awake?” Adam moved closer. “You need something for pain?”
“Na, I’m fine.” Green eyes sparkled in the low light provided by the nearby lantern, Joe pushed the cover down. “This is a change.”
“What’s a change?”
“You coming to sleep in my bed.” Wiping his sleepy eyes. “I remember nights, crawling into your bed to sleep.”
“And now I’m sitting here on yours.” Adam gave a brief laugh. “Listen, the doctor will be mad at me if you don’t get back to sleep.”
With that, Joe’s eyes drooped closed.
Doctor Martinez looked at the six clean-shaved and freshly bathed men sitting around the kitchen table. Charlie Yeagle had journeyed to the prison the night before, after the doctor had handed him a letter written by Clay. The strength these men possessed was like none he had ever encountered before. There was no weak link here, each one strengthened the others.
They didn’t acknowledge his presence; they continued to speak of actions needed to ensure the former prisoners were returned to their families. Or what to do if the men wished to continue to work the silver mine.
Adam was the first to notice the physician standing just inside the doorway, shaking his head. “When can we head home?”
“As I said yesterday, if I had my way, it wouldn’t be for another few weeks.”
“No!” Joe exclaimed.
“I would be more inclined to let you travel sooner if I knew you’d follow my instructions to the letter.”
“What’cha talkin’ about?”
“I understand that Mr. Yeagle here has a wagon at his disposal.” The doctor hoped these men would follow his orders, if only to see themselves home faster.
“Brought it from the Ponderosa,” Charlie answered.
“Well, three of you will not be allowed to ride anywhere other than the back of the heavily bedded wagon.” Holding up his hand to prevent their protestation. “Ben, your ribs are healing, but shouldn’t be exposed to bouncing on a horse. Adam, your back muscles won’t be able to sit you upright long enough to get you home if you rode. And Joseph, even though the gunshot wound missed anything vital, your back muscles also were damaged.”
“Okay, so they ride in the wagon,” Clay agreed.
“There’s more. You’ll not be allowed to travel more than four hours at any one time, and only eight hours in any one day. A minimum two hours rest will be observed between the times you do travel. When you stop, Charlie and Clay will examine your wounds, making sure the bandages are still snug and no bleeding has occurred.” He looked directly at Joe.
“I think we can live with that,” Ben stared at his youngest.
“Just wait, there’s more he ain’t said,” Joe mumbled under his breath.
“Adam, the ointment will be administered to your back three times daily, when you wake, during your mid-day break, and when you stop for the night. And Joe, after seven more days, the ointment can be applied to your wound as well. I’d prefer your incision heals first.”
“Wait for it,” Joe whispered.
“As for Hoss, I’ll be sending sleeping powders with him to give to all three of you every night until your own physician has had the opportunity to examine you.”
“Told ya.” Joe leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.
“For the first ten days you will give them the dosage I prescribe, and after than it can be cut back. But believe me, this aid will be necessary.”
“Why give ‘em sleepin’ powders? Won’t they be tired after all our travelin’?”
“Hoss, sometimes when a body is in the beginning stages of healing, exhaustion is apparent, but the body is just too tired. This is why I would prefer you to wait. But learning about this family’s stubbornness, I’m agreeing to let you travel. These are my terms, take it or stay here for two weeks.”
Doctor Martinez looked at each man until they nodded their heads in agreement.
“What about Hoss?” Joe finally asked, trying to divert attention from him, being the last to agree.
“What about me?”
“I’ve seen you limping. And you’re a string bean from what I remember. I mean, in my dreams, you were always big.” Joe held his arms out to demonstrate.
A little of the old Adam answered, “While we were growing up, I never thought I’d see you so svelte.”
“Svelte, I’m all muscle,” Hoss boasted.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t the physician when Hoss’ leg was originally broke. I fear my predecessor didn’t properly set the bones. It is possible that when you get home, you could investigate the possibility of surgery.”
“Surgery?” Hoss sputtered, his eyes showed fear.
“I wouldn’t recommend it anytime soon. But there are doctors in San Francisco who might be able to re-break your leg and properly set it. However, you need to have at least six months of proper nutrition, eating healthy foods – all three of you.” He pointed to Ben, Adam, and Hoss.
“I’m sure Hop Sing can fatten ya up when we get home,” Joe stated.
“Fatten?” Hoss blustered.
“You were always big for your age,” Adam droned.
Joe cackled loudly, stopped short and reached for his back.
Ben laid a comforting hand on his youngest son’s shoulder.
Looking his father in the eye, “I’ll be fine. And I’ll agree to the doctor’s sentence if only to go home.”
The doctor had long left to return to town; satisfied that all his patients were being properly cared for. Charlie, Clay, Hoss and Adam were bedding down the back of the wagon in preparation for returning home. From two chairs on the porch, Ben and Joe watched.
“Sorry for what?” Ben eyed his youngest.
“Forgetting? What did you forget?”
“Like Clay said, it’s a long story.”
Ben grew concerned. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“You do know I’d never judge you for what happened or didn’t happen while we were separated.”
“I know, but… I guess it just seems easier if I were to tell you when we’re back home.”
“Home,” Ben’s eyes softened; an image from long ago came to mind.
Characters used within this story were borrowed from the episodes noted below:
Clay Stafford from The First Born – written by Judy George and George W. George
Eduard D’Arcy from Marie, My Love – written by Anthony Lawrence and Ann Howard Bailey
Gunnar Borgstrom from The Last Viking – written by Anthony Lawrence
Inspector Charles Leduque from The Stranger – written by Oliver Crawford and Leonard Heideman
Madame deMarigny from Marie, My Love – written by Anthony Lawrence and Ann Howard Bailey
Characters referenced within this story were taken from the episodes noted blow:
Elizabeth, Elizabeth, My Love – written by Anthony Lawrence
Inger from Inger, My Love – written by Frank Cleaver, David Dortort, and Anthony Lawrence
Marie, from Marie, My Love – written by Anthony Lawrence and Ann Howard Bailey
Marius d’Angerville – from Marie, My Love – written by Anthony Lawrence and Ann Howard Bailey
McWorter from Inger, My Love – written by Frank Cleaver, David Dortort, and Anthony Lawrence
Vaca from The Last Viking – written by Anthony Lawrence
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