The Best Medicine (by Diana)

Summary:  Adam must take desperate measures to get Joe out of his depression.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  G
Word Count:  8785


“Well?” asked Adam, looking up from his seat behind the desk, where he was working on a new timber contract.  His dark eyes, set in a sombre, handsome face, were watching his younger, larger brother Hoss, who was coming down the stairs with a supper tray in his hands, his tread heavy and his shoulders slumped.

“Cain’t get him to eat nothin’,” Hoss replied, shaking his head miserably.  He looked across at Adam, to emphasise his concern.  “Joe ain’t done nothin’ but pick at his food in almost three days.”

Adam rose, and walked thoughtfully towards the sofa in front of the huge fireplace that dominated the room.  Before he sat down he poured a cup of coffee for himself and one for Hoss.  He could hear, from the kitchen, their Chinese housekeeper, Hop Sing, launching into an agitated tirade as Hoss handed him the untouched meal. He thought about his youngest brother, and what had brought on his black depression.

The previous week, their father Ben had come home from San Francisco with a painting.  It was not just any painting, but a street scene of New Orleans that included in it the very spot where he had first set eyes on Marie, who was to become his third wife and Joe’s mother.  She had died tragically when Joe was still a child, and her passing had left an indelible scar on her son that even the passing of the years could not soften.

Before deciding where to hang it, Ben had left the picture propped on the arms of a chair, so that he could get better acquainted with the composition.  It was still there when he left three days ago, for a trip to Genoa to meet some cattle buyers.  Adam had decided that it would be safer for the picture to be in Ben’s room but, before he could move it, Hoss and Joe had got into some horse-play, which had ended dramatically when Joe had charged at Hoss, who side-stepped, and Joe finished his rush by careering into the precious canvas, tearing it beyond repair.  Joe had also broken his arm, and despite Doc Martin’s assurances that there was no need for him to remain confined to bed, the young man had not stirred from the seclusion of his room.

When Hoss escaped from the oriental fury in the kitchen and lowered his large frame into the leather armchair, Adam handed him the coffee and sighed.  “Well, give him time; you know how he is with anything to do with Marie.  Even at fourteen, he still misses her.”  Adam shook his head in wonder; how easily Joe’s sadness at the loss of his mother could be reawakened.

Hoss became impatient with his elder brother’s off-hand attitude.  “And jest how long are we s’posed to give him?”

Adam shrugged and looked thoughtful.  “Pa’ll be home in the morning; perhaps he’ll be able to do something.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Hoss was far from certain. “He’ll be upset about the picture as well,” he reminded his brother.

“You know Pa,” Adam said with a thin smile, thinking that some of Ben’s anger would be directed at him. “He’ll be mad at first, but when he realises the effect that little accident has had on Joe, he’ll be more worried about him than any painting.”

Adam went upstairs, and returned to report that Joe seemed to be asleep.  The two brothers sat, their conversation punctuated with thoughtful silences, until it was time for bed.  Adam announced that he was going to check on Joe before turning in, hoping to be able to talk to him.  But he knew that if Hoss could not get Joe to cheer up, then he stood little chance; those two were emotionally very close, and shared a mischievousness that would have them cooking up all sorts of trouble.  While Adam loved his brothers, his natural reticence set him apart from them, as did his age, six years older than Hoss and twelve years removed from Joe.  He knew it was his responsibility, as the eldest, to care for them, and that Pa would not be happy with him when he discovered what had happened, and the effect it was still having on his treasured youngest son.

Adam knocked quietly on Joe’s door and, when he received no reply, he opened it enough to peer into the room.  Joe was lying on his back, his plaster encased arm thrown across his stomach, the other behind his head as he stared out of the window.  The lamp was turned down, casting a light that was subdued, reflecting the mood of the room’s occupant.

“Hi, buddy, can I get you anything?” Adam asked quietly.  Looking at Joe he saw that the young man, whose body was slim by nature, had lost weight and the habitually sparkling eyes were dull,

Joe did not move as Adam went to the window and pulled the curtains closed, shutting out the darkness.

“Don’t do that,” said a quiet voice from the bed.

When he had opened the curtains again, Adam turned.  “You like them open, huh?”

Joe nodded slowly.  “I want to see the stars.”

Adam turned back to look at the inky black sky sparkling with pinpoints of light.  “They sure are beautiful.”

“There’s one of them, “Joe said softly, “that’s brighter than all the others.” He paused and Adam held his breath. His brother needed to talk about his troubles, perhaps this was the start. Joe sighed, and continued.  “I look at that star and think that perhaps it’s Mama looking down at me, watching me.”

Adam found, and recognised, the star that Joe was talking about, and he thought that that was the difference between them; when he looked at that bright light, all he saw was the planet Jupiter. He moved to sit on the side of the bed. “If she can see you, she must be very proud. Her little boy has grown into a fine young man.”

Joe looked at his brother, and for a fleeting moment there was a brightness in his eyes because Adam rarely praised him. His eldest brother took it for granted that good work and making an effort was a reward in itself. Joe wondered if Adam was being sarcastic, but he did not see anything in the brown eyes except concern.

“She wouldn’t be proud of me now. I destroyed Pa’s picture. It meant so much to him,” Joe stifled a sob, “and to me.”

Adam put a hand on Joe’s arm and squeezed it gently. “Joe, one thing I always loved about your Mama was that she understood. She knew that no one is perfect, that sometimes things go wrong, through no fault of our own, and she never blamed any of us for accidents.  And that’s what this was, an accident. You have to accept that, and get over it.”

“Why?” Joe’s lips thinned in anger.  “Because you tell me to? You say that Mama would understand; why can’t you?”

“I understand that my little brother is starving himself to death because of something that he should be trying to put behind him, instead of lying here feeling sorry for himself.” Adam took a deep breath; getting mad at Joe wasn’t going to help. He spoke more gently.  “Are you frightened of what Pa’ll say when he finds out?”

“Guess that’s part of it,” Joe admitted.

Adam stood, and after tucking in the blankets and smoothing the creases from their woolly softness, he reassured Joe.  “Don’t worry about Pa. I’ll explain to him what happened. It was partly my fault for not moving it.”  Adam hoped that he might take some of the burden from his brother’s shoulders.

But Joe was not listening; he had gone back to staring out of the window.

*****

Hoss and Adam were sitting at the dining table finishing their breakfast, when Ben arrived home.  Adam hurriedly explained to him what had happened, both to the picture and to Joe. Ben immediately went upstairs, but returned a few minutes later deep in thought.

Adam was waiting for him.  “Well?”

“I see what you mean. He hardly said a word, just stared out the window.”  Ben squared his shoulders. “Well, he can’t go on like this; we have to do something.”

“We’ve tried,” Adam shrugged. “Even Hoss can’t cheer him up, and you know what those two are like; they set each other off.”  Adam looked down at his feet, and then up into his father’s worried eyes. “Pa, I’m sorry. I know I should have moved that picture before anything like this could happen, but they were just too quick for me.”

Ben put a hand on Adam’s shoulder.  “No, I shouldn’t have left it there. It wasn’t your fault.”

Adam nodded gratefully. “Well, I’ve gotta go into town. Is there anything you need while I’m there?”

“Not unless you can find a cure for your brother,” Ben said seriously.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Adam rode into Virginia City, called at the Bank and Cass’ General Store, and was going to visit the saloon for a beer before heading home, when he ran into Paul Martin.

“How’s that brother of yours? Any better?” the doctor enquired.

“Not good, Paul; he’s still lying in bed and we can’t get him to eat. Isn’t there something that you can give him to bring him out of this?”

“I don’t have a magic potion, if that’s what you mean.”

“Yeah, I guess it was too much to hope for,” Adam sighed.

“He just needs something to cheer him up. Once he starts to come out of it, you’ll be surprised how quickly he recovers. He’s not naturally morose; it’s against his nature. You just have to find the key.”

“Thanks, Paul, we’ll keep looking.” The two men shook hands and parted.  Adam turned towards the saloon, but then decided that he needed to think, and the noisy bar was not the place. Instead, he made his way to the International House hotel situated on the opposite side of the street, and sat in the restaurant, at a table by a window that gave him a view of the people passing by outside.

He watched the street, his mind wandering as he tried to conjure up a solution to the problem of his brother, until the waitress placed a cup of coffee in front of him. Adam thanked her absently and sat stirring the piping hot drink, staring into the dark liquid, but he did not see the coffee. It was his brother’s face that stared back at him from the black surface, and, as Adam watched, in his imagination Joe faded away to nothing as he mourned what he had done.

“Mind if I sit down?”

Adam was startled out of his thoughts, and it took him a moment to register that the man who had spoken was Roy Coffee, the town’s elderly sheriff, and one of his oldest friends.

“No, please,” Adam replied, indicating the only other chair at the table.

Roy gestured to the waitress to bring him a coffee, then turned back to Adam.  “Paul tells me that Joe’s been up to mischief again.”

Adam thought that ‘mischief’ hardly conveyed what had happened, but he nodded. “Yeah, broke his arm horsing around with Hoss.”

“Sorry to hear that.” Roy paused while a cup of coffee was placed in front of him, then continued. “But I expect he’ll soon be out and about again; you can’t keep that boy down for long.”  Adam did not immediately reply, and when Roy studied his face he could see a deeper concern than was warranted by a simple broken limb.  “D’you want to tell me about it?”

Still stirring his coffee absently, Adam looked up. “We can’t get him out of his room. He hasn’t stirred from his bed since the accident.” He told Roy what had happened. “He’s so broken up about the picture that he just lies there, going over and over it in his mind; how he destroyed a link to his mother.”

“I see,” said Roy, his genuine concern for the family colouring his words.  “So what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. Hoss has tried to snap him out of it. You know how those two are, always kidding each other, and if he can’t do it, I don’t know what will.”

The two men sat in silence, considering the problem as they gazed out of the window at the sunlit street. A group of children rushed past the window, laughing and shouting, startling a smile from them both, and Roy turned to Adam.

“That’s what Joe needs. Laughter’s the best medicine there is.”

Adam grunted and gave Roy a lop-sided grin. “Yeah, perhaps I’ll ask Paul for a bottle of it before I head home.”

Roy drained his cup and stood.  “Well, if there’s anything I can do, let me know.”

Adam raised a hand in farewell. “Thanks Roy, I will.”

After the sheriff had gone, Adam sat for a while, considering his words.  What could he, or Hoss, do that would make Joe laugh?  He stared out of the window, and slowly an idea formed in his mind.  Adam frowned; would it have the desired effect, and would he, himself, have the courage to carry through something that went totally against his nature?

He rose slowly from the table, and went out of the hotel heading for Clarissa Cunningham’s house.  Mrs. Cunningham was a skilled seamstress who made shirts for Adam, usually black ones though occasionally, red.  When he told her what he required, she could not quite believe it.  “Are you sure?”

Adam nodded.  “I really need it as soon as you can manage, this morning if possible.”

“My dear man, have you any idea how long it takes just to sew a seam?”  Clarissa looked at Adam over the glasses that were perched on the end of her nose.

“But it’s only got to be worn once. It won’t need to hold together for long.”  Adam looked at her hopefully.

“Well, I have the material,” she said, thinking out loud, “and if I just tack the seams rather than sew them…”  She nodded. “I will need to make a few adjustments to your usual measurements, but if you give me two hours, I should be able to run up something that I think will fit the bill.”  She thought about how she would make it in the time, and added, “But don’t go doing anything strenuous with it or it won’t take the strain.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” he assured her.  “I do have a few other calls to make, so that will be just fine.”

Clarissa went to find the cloth she would need, and Adam let himself out of the front door, turning up the street in the direction of the General Store.  As he entered, he looked round and spotted Cass’ pretty, fair-haired daughter Sally, crouched down behind one of the glass topped counters.  She looked up.

“Oh, hello again.  Did you forget something?”

As Adam explained what he needed from her, and why, Sally smiled and immediately agreed.  She disappeared into the back of the store and upstairs to her bedroom, returning after a few minutes with the items Adam had requested, and put them in a small bag.

“Here you are.  Don’t worry about returning them; I have more.”

“Thanks, Sally,” Adam said, as he took them from her.

“You sure you don’t want any help with those?” Sally offered, laughing. “You aren’t exactly experienced in using them.”

“I think I’ll manage,” Adam said hurriedly, backing towards the door, determined that there would be no witnesses to what he had in mind.

A visit to Elmer Button’s hat shop elicited more raised eyebrows, but eventually Adam found what he required and made his way back slowly so Mrs. Cunningham’s house. When Clarissa had finished, Adam asked her if he could have some odd scraps of material, and she was happy to let him take the off-cuts from some dresses that she was making. Once everything was wrapped securely, he was ready to head home.

Tying all his purchases, and Sally’s gift, securely to his saddle, Adam rode swiftly back to the Ponderosa.  He settled his horse in the barn, where he also concealed the parcels, before going into the house to check that he and Joe would be alone.  Adam knew that he had a reputation for being serious, intelligent and somewhat sombre, and he would have to put up with teasing from his family and friends if ever news of his actions got out. He heard voices from the kitchen and headed that way, only to meet Hoss coming out with a large sandwich in his hand.

“Oh…Hoss,” Adam said uncertainly and thinking quickly. “Could you take Hop Sing into town this afternoon?  Mr. Cass has some new…um…canned fruit that he would like him to approve.”

“Well, sure, if Pa don’t mind me not finishing that fencing.”

“No,” said Adam, “this is more important.  Pa’ll understand.” He hoped that, indeed, Ben would understand enough to forgive his eldest son’s deception.

“We’ll go right now; gotta get Hop Sing back in time for supper,” Hoss laughed, as he headed back towards the kitchen. Adam perched on the edge of the sofa, waiting until he heard the wagon pull out of the yard. He rose and went into the kitchen to check that it was deserted, and having assured himself that the house was empty, he retrieved the packages from the barn, then returned and ran up the stairs. After a quick visit to Hoss’ room to borrow items to complete his plan, he retreated to his own room.

*****

Joe was lying in bed half asleep, when he became conscious of footsteps outside his door. His heart sank; he did not want to talk to anyone, least of all his father or brothers. Had it been the soft tread of Hop Sing’s slippered feet he had heard, he would not have minded so much; the little Chinaman seemed to understand his feelings. Joe felt that his family’s sympathy was tinged with impatience, that they thought he should cast aside his misery at what he had done, as one would cast aside an old coat.

But it was the sound of booted feet that approached, and Joe turned away from the door as it opened, in an effort to discourage whoever might be coming to his room from talking to him.

“Hello, brother.” Joe recognised Adam’s voice, but did not move. “I’ve come to give you a bath.”

Joe heard the rattle from the handle of a pail and turned his head, about to tell Adam that the last thing he felt like was a bath. What he saw made his eyes open wide and his words died, unspoken. He was certain that he had heard his eldest brother’s voice, but the apparition that stood in the doorway was about as far removed from his image of Adam as it could get. Joe looked at the figure, starting at the black boots, then took in the baggy trousers, several sizes too big and looking suspiciously like Hoss’, and supported by wide red braces. His eyes travelled on, to the voluminous shirt that was covered in swirling patterns coloured red and yellow and blue and just about every other colour he could put a name to, and to top it all off a high, black opera hat, with a long grey and white feather protruding from the band.

It was only when he looked at the face beneath the hat that Joe was convinced that this was, indeed, his brother. And even then he had to look twice. The smiling face was pale, almost white, unlike Adam’s usual dark complexion, with red spots on each cheek, and red lines drawn from the corners of his mouth, emphasising the smile. It was not until Joe saw the eyes that he knew for sure what he was seeing; they were brown and intent – and loving.

Joe noticed that Adam held a pail in his hands, which he raised to indicate that he had water ready for a bath. As his brother advanced towards him, Joe was recovering his speech enough to tell him that he didn’t want a bath, but suddenly Adam tripped and the contents of the pail were thrown towards him.

“Hey, look out…!” Joe had time to shout crossly to his clumsy brother, but too late, as he saw the water coming towards him in a shower. He was startled when he realised that it wasn’t water that was raining down on him, but hundreds of tiny, brightly coloured pieces of material. The surprise and relief he felt at not getting soaked was in stark contrast to his anger of a moment before, and it forced a nervous giggle from his throat.

Before Joe had time to recover, Adam reached round the door and picked up his guitar, which he had left in the passage. He started to strum the instrument as he stood on a chair, sat down on the back of it, and launched into song.

 

Yankee Doodle came to town

Riding on a pony;

Stuck a feather in his cap

And called it macaroni.

 

Adam fingered the feather in his hat, and continued.

Yankee Doodle, keep it up

Yankee Doodle dandy

Mind the music and the step

And with the girls be handy.

By the time Adam was half way through the first verse, Joe was laughing uncontrollably. The sight of his Yankee-born brother, with his face covered in make-up, and dressed in motley, was enough to cause hilarity.  But when matched to the song he sang, the picture he painted was so ridiculous that Joe was soon panting to get his breath.

As he finished the chorus and saw Joe’s reaction, Adam was laughing too much to continue. He put down the guitar, and carefully overbalanced backwards. He prayed that he had the movement right, and that he was not about to break his neck, as he hit the floor, rolled onto his feet, spread his arms wide and bowed in acknowledgement of Joe’s applause.

“Oh Adam, that’s…that’s…oh my goodness…I can’t…”  Joe was speechless.

Adam stood and looked at his little brother, whose tears ran down his cheeks as he tried to control his mirth.

Suddenly Joe stopped laughing, but the smile did not leave his face as he realised what Adam had done, and why, and what it must have cost him.  His reticent, controlled, and reserved brother had made a fool of himself, just to bring him out of his depression. They stared at each other for a full minute, not moving, and then Joe threw off the blankets and jumped out of bed and into his brother’s arms. Adam was taken aback by the move, but he hugged Joe close.

“Thanks Adam.” Joe buried his head in Adam’s shoulder, and his words were muffled by the folds of the oversize shirt. “I know how difficult that must have been for you.”

Adam smiled as he pushed Joe slowly away, until he was holding him at arm’s length.  “If it makes you feel better, then it was worth it.” He looked sternly into Joe’s eyes to emphasise what he was about to say, and spaced his words carefully.  “But if you ever tell anyone that you saw me dressed like this, I will personally take you out to the barn and show you the error of your ways.”

Joe’s smile faded as he tried to assure Adam that he could be trusted. “I promise, no one will ever know.” He hugged his brother once more. “But I’ll never forget.”

Adam cleared his throat. Joe would never know, but he was fighting hard against the tears that threatened.

“Would you do something else for me?” Joe asked. Adam raised an eyebrow in question, and Joe could not resist a smile as he looked again at his brother’s painted face. “I’m starving…”

Adam wanted to get out of the costume, but Joe put on his most beguiling smile, and Adam could not resist. “I sent Hop Sing into town with Hoss, but I expect that I can rustle up something for you. Come on.”

He pushed Joe gently in front of him, and together they made their way downstairs. Joe hurried on ahead to the dining table and sat down, ready for whatever his brother, who was never at his best in the kitchen, managed to prepare. Adam, descending more slowly, had just reached the bottom stair, when the door opened, and he watched in horror as his father entered.

Ben stood, rooted to the spot as he looked at the figure facing him.  “A…Adam…?” he asked uncertainly.

“Oh…hi, Pa.” Adam smiled nervously, waiting for his father’s reaction.

Ben approached slowly, wondering if he was dreaming, or hallucinating.  He held out his hand and swept it downwards. “Don’t you think that…this…might frighten the cows?”

Adam smiled, embarrassed at his father having seen him dressed so. “Yeah, I thought that perhaps we could get them rounded up faster, if we could just persuade the hands…”

Ben became aware that there was another person in the room, and he turned to see Joe standing by the dining table, a broad smile on his face. Suddenly Ben understood.  He turned back to Adam.  “I don’t think that the hands are quite ready for this, do you?”

“Maybe not.” Adam started to climb back up the stairs. “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll go and change.”

Ben nodded, and Adam hurried up into his room. He had just finished washing off the remains of Sally Cass’ make-up, when he heard a quiet knock on the door, which opened to reveal his father standing there.

Ben crossed the room and stood in front of Adam, seeing him once again dressed in his black clothing. He looked into the eyes of his quiet son and remembered what he had done for his brother. He put a hand on Adam’s arm.  “Don’t,” he said quietly.  When Adam raised his eyebrows for an explanation, Ben continued, “Don’t change, ever.”

***The End***

Return to Diana’s homepage

“Well?” asked Adam, looking up from his seat behind the desk, where he was working on a new timber contract.  His dark eyes, set in a sombre, handsome face, were watching his younger, larger brother Hoss, who was coming down the stairs with a supper tray in his hands, his tread heavy and his shoulders slumped.

“Cain’t get him to eat nothin’,” Hoss replied, shaking his head miserably.  He looked across at Adam, to emphasise his concern.  “Joe ain’t done nothin’ but pick at his food in almost three days.”

Adam rose, and walked thoughtfully towards the sofa in front of the huge fireplace that dominated the room.  Before he sat down he poured a cup of coffee for himself and one for Hoss.  He could hear, from the kitchen, their Chinese housekeeper, Hop Sing, launching into an agitated tirade as Hoss handed him the untouched meal. He thought about his youngest brother, and what had brought on his black depression.

The previous week, their father Ben had come home from San Francisco with a painting.  It was not just any painting, but a street scene of New Orleans that included in it the very spot where he had first set eyes on Marie, who was to become his third wife and Joe’s mother.  She had died tragically when Joe was still a child, and her passing had left an indelible scar on her son that even the passing of the years could not soften.

Before deciding where to hang it, Ben had left the picture propped on the arms of a chair, so that he could get better acquainted with the composition.  It was still there when he left three days ago, for a trip to Genoa to meet some cattle buyers.  Adam had decided that it would be safer for the picture to be in Ben’s room but, before he could move it, Hoss and Joe had got into some horse-play, which had ended dramatically when Joe had charged at Hoss, who side-stepped, and Joe finished his rush by careering into the precious canvas, tearing it beyond repair.  Joe had also broken his arm, and despite Doc Martin’s assurances that there was no need for him to remain confined to bed, the young man had not stirred from the seclusion of his room.

When Hoss escaped from the oriental fury in the kitchen and lowered his large frame into the leather armchair, Adam handed him the coffee and sighed.  “Well, give him time; you know how he is with anything to do with Marie.  Even at fourteen, he still misses her.”  Adam shook his head in wonder; how easily Joe’s sadness at the loss of his mother could be reawakened.

Hoss became impatient with his elder brother’s off-hand attitude.  “And jest how long are we s’posed to give him?”

Adam shrugged and looked thoughtful.  “Pa’ll be home in the morning; perhaps he’ll be able to do something.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Hoss was far from certain. “He’ll be upset about the picture as well,” he reminded his brother.

“You know Pa,” Adam said with a thin smile, thinking that some of Ben’s anger would be directed at him. “He’ll be mad at first, but when he realises the effect that little accident has had on Joe, he’ll be more worried about him than any painting.”

Adam went upstairs, and returned to report that Joe seemed to be asleep.  The two brothers sat, their conversation punctuated with thoughtful silences, until it was time for bed.  Adam announced that he was going to check on Joe before turning in, hoping to be able to talk to him.  But he knew that if Hoss could not get Joe to cheer up, then he stood little chance; those two were emotionally very close, and shared a mischievousness that would have them cooking up all sorts of trouble.  While Adam loved his brothers, his natural reticence set him apart from them, as did his age, six years older than Hoss and twelve years removed from Joe.  He knew it was his responsibility, as the eldest, to care for them, and that Pa would not be happy with him when he discovered what had happened, and the effect it was still having on his treasured youngest son.

Adam knocked quietly on Joe’s door and, when he received no reply, he opened it enough to peer into the room.  Joe was lying on his back, his plaster encased arm thrown across his stomach, the other behind his head as he stared out of the window.  The lamp was turned down, casting a light that was subdued, reflecting the mood of the room’s occupant.

“Hi, buddy, can I get you anything?” Adam asked quietly.  Looking at Joe he saw that the young man, whose body was slim by nature, had lost weight and the habitually sparkling eyes were dull,

Joe did not move as Adam went to the window and pulled the curtains closed, shutting out the darkness.

“Don’t do that,” said a quiet voice from the bed.

When he had opened the curtains again, Adam turned.  “You like them open, huh?”

Joe nodded slowly.  “I want to see the stars.”

Adam turned back to look at the inky black sky sparkling with pinpoints of light.  “They sure are beautiful.”

“There’s one of them, “Joe said softly, “that’s brighter than all the others.” He paused and Adam held his breath. His brother needed to talk about his troubles, perhaps this was the start. Joe sighed, and continued.  “I look at that star and think that perhaps it’s Mama looking down at me, watching me.”

Adam found, and recognised, the star that Joe was talking about, and he thought that that was the difference between them; when he looked at that bright light, all he saw was the planet Jupiter. He moved to sit on the side of the bed. “If she can see you, she must be very proud. Her little boy has grown into a fine young man.”

Joe looked at his brother, and for a fleeting moment there was a brightness in his eyes because Adam rarely praised him. His eldest brother took it for granted that good work and making an effort was a reward in itself. Joe wondered if Adam was being sarcastic, but he did not see anything in the brown eyes except concern.

“She wouldn’t be proud of me now. I destroyed Pa’s picture. It meant so much to him,” Joe stifled a sob, “and to me.”

Adam put a hand on Joe’s arm and squeezed it gently. “Joe, one thing I always loved about your Mama was that she understood. She knew that no one is perfect, that sometimes things go wrong, through no fault of our own, and she never blamed any of us for accidents.  And that’s what this was, an accident. You have to accept that, and get over it.”

“Why?” Joe’s lips thinned in anger.  “Because you tell me to? You say that Mama would understand; why can’t you?”

“I understand that my little brother is starving himself to death because of something that he should be trying to put behind him, instead of lying here feeling sorry for himself.” Adam took a deep breath; getting mad at Joe wasn’t going to help. He spoke more gently.  “Are you frightened of what Pa’ll say when he finds out?”

“Guess that’s part of it,” Joe admitted.

Adam stood, and after tucking in the blankets and smoothing the creases from their woolly softness, he reassured Joe.  “Don’t worry about Pa. I’ll explain to him what happened. It was partly my fault for not moving it.”  Adam hoped that he might take some of the burden from his brother’s shoulders.

But Joe was not listening; he had gone back to staring out of the window.

**********

Hoss and Adam were sitting at the dining table finishing their breakfast, when Ben arrived home.  Adam hurriedly explained to him what had happened, both to the picture and to Joe. Ben immediately went upstairs, but returned a few minutes later deep in thought.

Adam was waiting for him.  “Well?”

“I see what you mean. He hardly said a word, just stared out the window.”  Ben squared his shoulders. “Well, he can’t go on like this; we have to do something.”

“We’ve tried,” Adam shrugged. “Even Hoss can’t cheer him up, and you know what those two are like; they set each other off.”  Adam looked down at his feet, and then up into his father’s worried eyes. “Pa, I’m sorry. I know I should have moved that picture before anything like this could happen, but they were just too quick for me.”

Ben put a hand on Adam’s shoulder.  “No, I shouldn’t have left it there. It wasn’t your fault.”

Adam nodded gratefully. “Well, I’ve gotta go into town. Is there anything you need while I’m there?”

“Not unless you can find a cure for your brother,” Ben said seriously.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Adam rode into Virginia City, called at the Bank and Cass’ General Store, and was going to visit the saloon for a beer before heading home, when he ran into Paul Martin.

“How’s that brother of yours? Any better?” the doctor enquired.

“Not good, Paul; he’s still lying in bed and we can’t get him to eat. Isn’t there something that you can give him to bring him out of this?”

“I don’t have a magic potion, if that’s what you mean.”

“Yeah, I guess it was too much to hope for,” Adam sighed.

“He just needs something to cheer him up. Once he starts to come out of it, you’ll be surprised how quickly he recovers. He’s not naturally morose; it’s against his nature. You just have to find the key.”

“Thanks, Paul, we’ll keep looking.” The two men shook hands and parted.  Adam turned towards the saloon, but then decided that he needed to think, and the noisy bar was not the place. Instead, he made his way to the International House hotel situated on the opposite side of the street, and sat in the restaurant, at a table by a window that gave him a view of the people passing by outside.

He watched the street, his mind wandering as he tried to conjure up a solution to the problem of his brother, until the waitress placed a cup of coffee in front of him. Adam thanked her absently and sat stirring the piping hot drink, staring into the dark liquid, but he did not see the coffee. It was his brother’s face that stared back at him from the black surface, and, as Adam watched, in his imagination Joe faded away to nothing as he mourned what he had done.

“Mind if I sit down?”

Adam was startled out of his thoughts, and it took him a moment to register that the man who had spoken was Roy Coffee, the town’s elderly sheriff, and one of his oldest friends.

“No, please,” Adam replied, indicating the only other chair at the table.

Roy gestured to the waitress to bring him a coffee, then turned back to Adam.  “Paul tells me that Joe’s been up to mischief again.”

Adam thought that ‘mischief’ hardly conveyed what had happened, but he nodded. “Yeah, broke his arm horsing around with Hoss.”

“Sorry to hear that.” Roy paused while a cup of coffee was placed in front of him, then continued. “But I expect he’ll soon be out and about again; you can’t keep that boy down for long.”  Adam did not immediately reply, and when Roy studied his face he could see a deeper concern than was warranted by a simple broken limb.  “D’you want to tell me about it?”

Still stirring his coffee absently, Adam looked up. “We can’t get him out of his room. He hasn’t stirred from his bed since the accident.” He told Roy what had happened. “He’s so broken up about the picture that he just lies there, going over and over it in his mind; how he destroyed a link to his mother.”

“I see,” said Roy, his genuine concern for the family colouring his words.  “So what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. Hoss has tried to snap him out of it. You know how those two are, always kidding each other, and if he can’t do it, I don’t know what will.”

The two men sat in silence, considering the problem as they gazed out of the window at the sunlit street. A group of children rushed past the window, laughing and shouting, startling a smile from them both, and Roy turned to Adam.  “That’s what Joe needs. Laughter’s the best medicine there is.”

Adam grunted and gave Roy a lop-sided grin. “Yeah, perhaps I’ll ask Paul for a bottle of it before I head home.”

Roy drained his cup and stood.  “Well, if there’s anything I can do, let me know.”

Adam raised a hand in farewell. “Thanks Roy, I will.”

After the sheriff had gone, Adam sat for a while, considering his words.  What could he, or Hoss, do that would make Joe laugh?  He stared out of the window, and slowly an idea formed in his mind.  Adam frowned; would it have the desired effect, and would he, himself, have the courage to carry through something that went totally against his nature?

He rose slowly from the table, and went out of the hotel heading for Clarissa Cunningham’s house.  Mrs. Cunningham was a skilled seamstress who made shirts for Adam, usually black ones though occasionally, red.  When he told her what he required, she could not quite believe it.  “Are you sure?”

Adam nodded.  “I really need it as soon as you can manage, this morning if possible.”

“My dear man, have you any idea how long it takes just to sew a seam?”  Clarissa looked at Adam over the glasses that were perched on the end of her nose.

“But it’s only got to be worn once. It won’t need to hold together for long.”  Adam looked at her hopefully.

“Well, I have the material,” she said, thinking out loud, “and if I just tack the seams rather than sew them…”  She nodded. “I will need to make a few adjustments to your usual measurements, but if you give me two hours, I should be able to run up something that I think will fit the bill.”  She thought about how she would make it in the time, and added, “But don’t go doing anything strenuous with it or it won’t take the strain.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” he assured her.  “I do have a few other calls to make, so that will be just fine.”

Clarissa went to find the cloth she would need, and Adam let himself out of the front door, turning up the street in the direction of the General Store.  As he entered, he looked round and spotted Cass’ pretty, fair-haired daughter Sally, crouched down behind one of the glass topped counters.  She looked up.

“Oh, hello again.  Did you forget something?”

As Adam explained what he needed from her, and why, Sally smiled and immediately agreed.  She disappeared into the back of the store and upstairs to her bedroom, returning after a few minutes with the items Adam had requested, and put them in a small bag.

“Here you are.  Don’t worry about returning them; I have more.”

“Thanks, Sally,” Adam said, as he took them from her.

“You sure you don’t want any help with those?” Sally offered, laughing. “You aren’t exactly experienced in using them.”

“I think I’ll manage,” Adam said hurriedly, backing towards the door, determined that there would be no witnesses to what he had in mind.

A visit to Elmer Button’s hat shop elicited more raised eyebrows, but eventually Adam found what he required and made his way back slowly so Mrs. Cunningham’s house. When Clarissa had finished, Adam asked her if he could have some odd scraps of material, and she was happy to let him take the off-cuts from some dresses that she was making. Once everything was wrapped securely, he was ready to head home.

Tying all his purchases, and Sally’s gift, securely to his saddle, Adam rode swiftly back to the Ponderosa.  He settled his horse in the barn, where he also concealed the parcels, before going into the house to check that he and Joe would be alone.  Adam knew that he had a reputation for being serious, intelligent and somewhat sombre, and he would have to put up with teasing from his family and friends if ever news of his actions got out. He heard voices from the kitchen and headed that way, only to meet Hoss coming out with a large sandwich in his hand.

“Oh…Hoss,” Adam said uncertainly and thinking quickly. “Could you take Hop Sing into town this afternoon?  Mr. Cass has some new…um…canned fruit that he would like him to approve.”

“Well, sure, if Pa don’t mind me not finishing that fencing.”

“No,” said Adam, “this is more important.  Pa’ll understand.” He hoped that, indeed, Ben would understand enough to forgive his eldest son’s deception.

“We’ll go right now; gotta get Hop Sing back in time for supper,” Hoss laughed, as he headed back towards the kitchen. Adam perched on the edge of the sofa, waiting until he heard the wagon pull out of the yard. He rose and went into the kitchen to check that it was deserted, and having assured himself that the house was empty, he retrieved the packages from the barn, then returned and ran up the stairs. After a quick visit to Hoss’ room to borrow items to complete his plan, he retreated to his own room.

**********

Joe was lying in bed half asleep, when he became conscious of footsteps outside his door. His heart sank; he did not want to talk to anyone, least of all his father or brothers. Had it been the soft tread of Hop Sing’s slippered feet he had heard, he would not have minded so much; the little Chinaman seemed to understand his feelings. Joe felt that his family’s sympathy was tinged with impatience, that they thought he should cast aside his misery at what he had done, as one would cast aside an old coat.

But it was the sound of booted feet that approached, and Joe turned away from the door as it opened, in an effort to discourage whoever might be coming to his room from talking to him.

“Hello, brother.” Joe recognised Adam’s voice, but did not move. “I’ve come to give you a bath.”

Joe heard the rattle from the handle of a pail and turned his head, about to tell Adam that the last thing he felt like was a bath. What he saw made his eyes open wide and his words died, unspoken. He was certain that he had heard his eldest brother’s voice, but the apparition that stood in the doorway was about as far removed from his image of Adam as it could get. Joe looked at the figure, starting at the black boots, then took in the baggy trousers, several sizes too big and looking suspiciously like Hoss’, and supported by wide red braces. His eyes travelled on, to the voluminous shirt that was covered in swirling patterns coloured red and yellow and blue and just about every other colour he could put a name to, and to top it all off a high, black opera hat, with a long grey and white feather protruding from the band.

It was only when he looked at the face beneath the hat that Joe was convinced that this was, indeed, his brother. And even then he had to look twice. The smiling face was pale, almost white, unlike Adam’s usual dark complexion, with red spots on each cheek, and red lines drawn from the corners of his mouth, emphasising the smile. It was not until Joe saw the eyes that he knew for sure what he was seeing; they were brown and intent – and loving.

Joe noticed that Adam held a pail in his hands, which he raised to indicate that he had water ready for a bath. As his brother advanced towards him, Joe was recovering his speech enough to tell him that he didn’t want a bath, but suddenly Adam tripped and the contents of the pail were thrown towards him.

“Hey, look out…!” Joe had time to shout crossly to his clumsy brother, but too late, as he saw the water coming towards him in a shower. He was startled when he realised that it wasn’t water that was raining down on him, but hundreds of tiny, brightly coloured pieces of material. The surprise and relief he felt at not getting soaked was in stark contrast to his anger of a moment before, and it forced a nervous giggle from his throat.

Before Joe had time to recover, Adam reached round the door and picked up his guitar, which he had left in the passage. He started to strum the instrument as he stood on a chair, sat down on the back of it, and launched into song.

Yankee Doodle came to town

Riding on a pony;

Stuck a feather in his cap

And called it macaroni.

 

Adam fingered the feather in his hat, and continued.

Yankee Doodle, keep it up

Yankee Doodle dandy

Mind the music and the step

And with the girls be handy.

By the time Adam was half way through the first verse, Joe was laughing uncontrollably. The sight of his Yankee-born brother, with his face covered in make-up, and dressed in motley, was enough to cause hilarity.  But when matched to the song he sang, the picture he painted was so ridiculous that Joe was soon panting to get his breath.

As he finished the chorus and saw Joe’s reaction, Adam was laughing too much to continue. He put down the guitar, and carefully overbalanced backwards. He prayed that he had the movement right, and that he was not about to break his neck, as he hit the floor, rolled onto his feet, spread his arms wide and bowed in acknowledgement of Joe’s applause.

“Oh Adam, that’s…that’s…oh my goodness…I can’t…”  Joe was speechless.

Adam stood and looked at his little brother, whose tears ran down his cheeks as he tried to control his mirth.

Suddenly Joe stopped laughing, but the smile did not leave his face as he realised what Adam had done, and why, and what it must have cost him.  His reticent, controlled, and reserved brother had made a fool of himself, just to bring him out of his depression. They stared at each other for a full minute, not moving, and then Joe threw off the blankets and jumped out of bed and into his brother’s arms. Adam was taken aback by the move, but he hugged Joe close.

“Thanks Adam.” Joe buried his head in Adam’s shoulder, and his words were muffled by the folds of the oversize shirt. “I know how difficult that must have been for you.”

Adam smiled as he pushed Joe slowly away, until he was holding him at arm’s length.  “If it makes you feel better, then it was worth it.” He looked sternly into Joe’s eyes to emphasise what he was about to say, and spaced his words carefully.  “But if you ever tell anyone that you saw me dressed like this, I will personally take you out to the barn and show you the error of your ways.”

Joe’s smile faded as he tried to assure Adam that he could be trusted. “I promise, no one will ever know.” He hugged his brother once more. “But I’ll never forget.”

Adam cleared his throat. Joe would never know, but he was fighting hard against the tears that threatened.

“Would you do something else for me?” Joe asked. Adam raised an eyebrow in question, and Joe could not resist a smile as he looked again at his brother’s painted face. “I’m starving…”

Adam wanted to get out of the costume, but Joe put on his most beguiling smile, and Adam could not resist. “I sent Hop Sing into town with Hoss, but I expect that I can rustle up something for you. Come on.”

He pushed Joe gently in front of him, and together they made their way downstairs. Joe hurried on ahead to the dining table and sat down, ready for whatever his brother, who was never at his best in the kitchen, managed to prepare. Adam, descending more slowly, had just reached the bottom stair, when the door opened, and he watched in horror as his father entered.

Ben stood, rooted to the spot as he looked at the figure facing him.  “A…Adam…?” he asked uncertainly.

“Oh…hi, Pa.” Adam smiled nervously, waiting for his father’s reaction.

Ben approached slowly, wondering if he was dreaming, or hallucinating.  He held out his hand and swept it downwards. “Don’t you think that…this…might frighten the cows?”

Adam smiled, embarrassed at his father having seen him dressed so. “Yeah, I thought that perhaps we could get them rounded up faster, if we could just persuade the hands…”

Ben became aware that there was another person in the room, and he turned to see Joe standing by the dining table, a broad smile on his face. Suddenly Ben understood.  He turned back to Adam.  “I don’t think that the hands are quite ready for this, do you?”

“Maybe not.” Adam started to climb back up the stairs. “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll go and change.”

Ben nodded, and Adam hurried up into his room. He had just finished washing off the remains of Sally Cass’ make-up, when he heard a quiet knock on the door, which opened to reveal his father standing there.

Ben crossed the room and stood in front of Adam, seeing him once again dressed in his black clothing. He looked into the eyes of his quiet son, and remembered what he had done for his brother. He put a hand on Adam’s arm.  “Don’t,” he said quietly.  When Adam raised his eyebrows for an explanation, Ben continued, “Don’t change, ever.”

*****End*****

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.