A Journey To Death (by Krystyna)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  16,700


They had been traveling for over an hour without either having said a word to the other. They had acknowledged each other upon boarding the stagecoach, he had tipped his hat and muttered something in his deep voice, and she had nodded her head and said nothing at all.

Since then he had sat in his corner with his black hat covering his face and she had sat in her corner, surveying the landscape as they drove hurriedly onwards to their journey’s end. They had not addressed each other nor looked at each other in an almost subconscious acknowledgment of his masculinity and her vulnerability as a young woman traveling on her own. When her sighs became so audible that he began to count them and anticipate the next to come, Adam Cartwright decided that he would not be sane by the end of the journey if it were to continue thus; he removed his black hat and looked at her.

She was neat. Her brown hair was tucked neatly under a modest hat and her Spencer jacket was the same color as her skirt, and neat. Her black boots that peeked beneath the hem of her skirt indicated small feet and her gloved hands, folded demurely in her lap, were equally dainty and small.

“I’m Adam Cartwright, how do you do?” he extended his hand and gave her his most charming smile.

She was young, about 18 years of age. Her large eyes were overlarge for her oval face and made her look frail and timid, but her mouth was wide and generous, made for smiles and laughter. She extended her hand and smiled in return, revealing white teeth with a gap in between the two in front.

“Jane Waumsley from Boston,” she replied, “I’m visiting family in Virginia City. Do you live there?”

“Just outside of the town, on the Ponderosa. It’s a ranch,” he smiled, “So, you’re from Boston? Well, you’ll see a big difference between Boston and Virginia City. A beautiful place like Boston, over 200 years old with all those colleges, museums and old buildings…” He sighed at the memory of the great metropolis and looked at her. “No wonder you were sighing. This place must look very bleak and barren in comparison to where you come from. I hope you won’t be too disappointed in our town.”

She smiled and shrugged, “I don’t think I shall be. My aunt loves it there, so I am sure I shall also. Have you lived in Boston, Mr. Cartwright?” and her eyes twinkled somewhat as she looked at the earnest, handsome face of the young man seated opposite her.

“I was born there, Miss Waumsley.” He smiled and looked at her again, his eyes twinkling just as hers had done, “But you’re not a Bostonian, are you? In fact …”

“I AM a Bostonian,” she said with a laugh in her voice, “but not from your Boston, Mr. Cartwright. I was teasing you just a little and wondered how long I could keep up the pretence before my accent gave me away.”

“So if you are English, how can you be a Bostonian? Are you ‘Mrs.’ Waumsley, and married into Boston society?” he narrowed his eyes and smiled at her, teasing her in turn.

“No, no …” She shook her head. “No, Mr. Cartwright, I am not married. I have not even seen the Boston of which you are so proud with its lovely colleges and architecture. No, I was born and bred in another Boston, in the county of Lincolnshire in England.”

“And you are homesick?”

“How could you tell?”

“Your sighs. You were sighing at almost four minute intervals.” Adam pointed out with his dark eyebrows raised questioningly upon his brow.

“Well, Mr. Cartwright, I couldn’t help but feel sad at heart and I mean no disrespect for the grandeur of this country, but oh, my home – it’s so different from here. I know Lincolnshire doesn’t have many hills, until you reach the Wolds, of course, then it is soft and swelling, rippling gently up and down in sweet curves of green meadowland. I miss the green and the gold of the corn in the fields. My home is on the outskirts of the town of Boston, and it is not a large place, but it is hundreds of years older than the Boston of which you are so proud. There was even a small settlement there when William the Conqueror made the first census in his Doomsday book in 1067. My home is close to the River Witham which wends its way to the small harbor there. Close by is a big mill and because the land thereabouts is so flat, people often call it Little Holland because the Dutch have so many windmills, you know.”

“I know, I have seen pictures of them in books,” Adam smiled.

“Sometimes the fields are blood red with poppies. You can’t know how lovely it is to turn a corner and see a golden field suffused with the red of poppies. Nearby to us is the church. They call it the Boston Stump because the villagers were too poor when it was built to pay for a steeple. It was partly built and then came to an abrupt stop. It is hundreds of years old, you know?”

She looked earnestly into his face and he smiled and nodded. She took another deep breath and looked again at the view from the window as they swept past the high mesas and the wide plateau. “I lived with my father who was the teacher at the college there, and my mother. Our cottage has a thatched roof and timbered walls and now the door would have roses and honeysuckle tumbling around it. There would be lavender and rosemary growing close by, to bring in sweet smells into the hallways as we pass by.”

“It will still be there when you return,” he said quietly, looking at the intense look on her little face and she turned to him and the smile was gone and changed to a pensive look.

“I know, but…,” She frowned and resumed her gaze through the window. “I have almost forgotten how it looks all ready. How could I do that? How could I forget somewhere I love that much so quickly?” She sighed again.

He leaned back in his seat and watched her. Neat and demure, dainty and neat.

*****

“Miss Jane from Boston, England, if I’m not mistaken?”

The young woman raised her head and smiled as she recognized the young man who had addressed her and who was, even now, removing his black hat.

“Good morning, Mr. Cartwright. It’s always a pleasure to meet you.”

Adam smiled and the smile reached his dark eyes and made them sparkle. He had not seen Jane for some weeks and had assumed that she had left town and resumed her travels. He mentioned such to her and was rewarded with a slight lift to her eyebrows (finely arched, one might add) and sighed,

“I left here two weeks ago but had to return. There were problems with transport.”

“Really, I had always thought that the…”

“No, I mean, because of your War.”

“MY war?” Adam’s smile was a little terse and even though he knew full well exactly what war she was alluding to, he left the question hanging in the air between them. She nodded and sighed again,

“I meant – the Civil War. I have relatives in Virginia and they are involved in different factions and oh, it is just horrible, horrible.”

“All war is, as you rightly say, horrible,” Adam replied quietly and he slowed his steps to keep pace with her own, “Civil War particularly so.”

“But why? Why this needless, heartless, cruelty? What is there to be achieved when there is so much to be lost? How can you men go out there and kill one another with so much relish? It breaks my heart to think of mothers, and wives, and sweethearts, who will lose the men they love to glorify war.”

Adam pursed his lips and stared ahead of him. Then he sighed in his turn and nodded, slipping his hat upon his dark head as he did so. “If I recall rightly, it was not so long ago that your country had a similar little skirmish of your own?” He glanced sideways at her and gave her a lopsided grin.

“True enough, Mr. Cartwright,” Jane from England laughed, a quiet restrained laugh and she looked up at him, “That was when all that consisted of the United States of America were a few colonies that we owned, along with the other European factors of course.”

“True enough,” he repeated her words with a smile, “although that is a fact we don’t particularly enjoy remembering.” He gave a low chuckle and his eyes twinkled if for no other reason than that he enjoyed having an opportunity to talk about just such a subject with her.

“Well, of course you would not, would you? After all, look at all the blood shed and loss of lives that eventually led to?” Jane’s face slipped into a sad faraway look and she stopped walking, and looked at the mountain range ahead of her, “How strange to be talking like this, and not far from here men are killing each other – and for what?”

“Principles? Rights? Freedoms?”

“Just over two hundred years ago England and Scotland went to war for much the same reason. One faction wanted freedom from a King who believed in the Divine Right to Rule and the other faction wanted to keep him on the throne and continue with what life they had because of their belief that he was their rightful King. What happened? Families were torn apart in grief and misery, homes and lands owned for generations taken from them and given to complete strangers. Distrust, prejudice, murder. And a Scots King betrayed by his own people and beheaded.”

“That was over two hundred years ago -,” Adam said quietly, as though she needed the reminder.

“So what? One hundred, two hundred? What does it matter? Does anyone learn from it? Less than a hundred years ago, the French went and did exactly the same and for what? They said the same as you – they wanted liberte, fraternite and equalite? Have they got it?”

Adam opened his mouth, then clamped it shut again. It was interesting to see this demure little miss getting so fired up about matters that deeply concerned him. Jane frowned and looked at him with her eyes smoldering,

“In England they killed a king, established a new order, and less than two decades later, re-established the old order and set up the king’s son as

ruler. In a century or two, Mr. Cartwright, Americans will look back on this Civil War that is tearing this great nation apart, and they will think of their losses and…,”

“…perhaps have learned to live at peace with one another?”

They shared a smile. Her eyes twinkled and she laughed. Once again they resumed their stroll together along the side walk,

“The odd thing is, Mr. Cartwright, the relatives I was going to visit in Virginia were sent there as a result of ‘our’ Civil War. Oliver Cromwell, the Protector of England, Scotland and Wales, who had lopped off King Charles’ head, sent my ancestors over to Virginia in chains. They were traitors to the new regime and he had to work out his sentence on a plantation there. After a while, the new King was established, my ancestor was given the plantation as his own, and his family has prospered there ever since.”

“Until now?”

“Well, yes, until now and it is all full circle again, isn’t it? In war, who gains? Most lose.” Her voice trailed away and then she looked at her companion who was strolling silently by her side, “Mr. Cartwright, it won’t affect you at all, will it? You or your family?”

Adam Cartwright looked straight ahead of him and at the mountains that formed a backdrop to the town’s main street. He could see Cochise nodding in the sun, and he felt a shiver trickle down his spine,

“I pray to God, Miss Jane, that it will not. Believe me, the last thing I would want…” He paused and turned, and looked down at her. “Tell me, Miss Jane, there must be more pleasant things we can talk about on such a pleasant day as this? Do you like poetry? I believe John Milton was an English poet at the time of your Civil War…,” his voice trailed away; it seemed the subject was not so willing to go away after all.

“Do you like poetry, Mr. Cartwright?”

He looked down at her oval face and wide open dark eyes. How earnest she was, how young and vulnerable and eager for new experiences. He smiled and nodded. “I especially like reading poetry by the side of the lake on the Ponderosa, on a sunny day like today, with a pretty girl to keep me company.”

He smiled and looked at her again, and raised one eyebrow questioningly and she laughed, a good hearty laugh that brought a chuckle rumbling from deep within himself.

“Even better with a picnic hamper,” she said, stepping now into the road in order to cross over to her aunt’s home.

“And some bottles of wine cooling in the water of the lake,” Adam added, taking her elbow as though she needed his help to reach the other side.

“It sounds delightful.”

“Tomorrow afternoon?”

She smiled, it was pleasant, the touch of his hand on her arm, the strength she could feel through his fingers, and she liked the dark eyes, his ability to laugh so easily, to care enough so soon. She nodded. “Providing it doesn’t rain.”

“Oh, Miss Jane, it won’t rain. I’ve ordered the sun to shine.” Adam laughed, raised his hat and left her at the gate of her aunt’s garden.

She watched him walk away and listened to the tune he was whistling. He looked pleased with himself and smugly, as she pushed open the gate, she felt quite pleased as well.

*****

“Well, Miss Jane?” Adam Cartwright turned to the young woman sitting by his side, “How does that view compare with anything you have in Lincolnshire, England?”

Miss Jane from Boston sat by his side looking as neat and tidy as she had all those weeks ago when they had first met on the stagecoach to Virginia City. Tidy and neat she may still be apart from the sun burn at the tip of her nose. She smiled slowly and turned large eyes towards him,

“Lincolnshire’s flat and you can see for miles. So different from here,” she sighed and clasped her purse against her as though the pain of being unable to find the right words to describe all she felt was too much, “Look at those mountains and all those trees? Everything smells so clean and fresh, and how high the grass grows here.” She glanced up and watched as wild geese flew in v formation across the blue sky, “Everything here is wonderful. Breathtakingly wonderful.”

“And are you going to stay?”

His voice was deep and the words softly spoken. She looked at him, and the brown eyes looked down into her own and she turned away. How small she looked in the reflection of those eyes. How small and how prissy. She wondered yet again for what reason he had come to take her for this picnic. A cool breeze was blowing now and she was mindful of how strong the sun was and how bronzed his skin due to the seasons of riding out in all weathers. She put a hand to her bonnet and pulled it a little lower to shield her face and protect her from any more sun burn.

“I leave for England in a few weeks time. The ship leaves New York…,” she paused and looked at him again, “I don’t want to go.”

The words were out of her mouth spontaneously, and she blushed, and lowered her eyes and shook her head. “I should not have said that, of course. I have to go home; there’s no point, no reason, for me to stay here.”

He only took her hand in his and held it loosely in his own. Overhead the sun slipped behind a small cloud. He kissed her lips, gently. Miss Jane from Boston, England, wondered if one kiss would be a good enough reason to stay in Virginia City, Nevada, and beneath his lips a small smile hovered.

*****

Summer trickled away with one day after another as full of sunshine as the next. Jane noted the days slipping nearer and nearer to the day when she would have to leave and return to New York. She was thinking of the long journey by ship from New York to Liverpool when she came to an abrupt halt. Her mind was made up. She had reached her decision and could only hope that it would transpire to have been the correct one.

With a strange sense of calm in her heart, she walked out of her Aunt’s house and stopped at the gate to watch as the townspeople began their day’s toils. Her heart beat a strange tattoo at the sight of a tall darkly clad young man on his big chestnut colored horse. Unaware of her surveillance, Adam Cartwright dismounted outside the Bank and entered the building.

“Good morning, Mr. Cartwright.”

Adam’s eyes widened at the sight of her as she stood there, leaning against the supporting post of the Bank’s verandah. He took a deep breath and smiled, then touched the brim of his hat politely. “Good morning, Miss Jane.”

She laughed and leaned towards him, her hand touched his arm and she looked up at him with her dark long lashed eyes. “Why are you so formal, Mr. Cartwright?”

“Why are you so polite, Miss Jane?”

They shared a smile, and together turned and walked towards Mrs. Snelling’s house. Adam carefully placed the wallet, containing a thick wad of currency, into the inner pocket of his jacket and looked down at her. She was just tall enough to reach his shoulder.

“Jane, I have to go to Genoa on business for Pa.” He pursed his lips in a way that was becoming more and more familiar to her, “It’s a beautiful day and a shame to waste it, don’t you think?”

“On a business trip to Genoa? Certainly.”

“How about if I hire a buggy from Orville, and we get a picnic hamper and stop off somewhere? I could get you back here before sunset.” Adam glanced up at the sun, and then at her. “It’s only just past 9 a.m. now. What do you say?”

“I say that it’s a brilliant idea, Adam. I’ll just go and tell Aunt and collect a shawl. I’ll be waiting here for you by half past the hour.”

Adam nodded, suddenly feeling as shy as a schoolboy as he took her hand and raised it gallantly to his lips. She laughed and pulled her hand away to run into the house.

Whistling in a low tone, Adam strolled back to where Sport had been tethered and led him in the direction of the livery stable. Close by, a young couple watched him cross the road before they moved away to mount the horses that had been nodding patiently over the water trough. No one would remember their presence, although she was beautiful and he was handsome. Certainly, Adam Cartwright gave them no particular attention at all as they galloped past him as though he was of no interest to them whatsoever.

The sun shone from a clear blue sky with barely a cloud to smudge the blueness. The breeze was warm enough just to be pleasantly refreshing. Birds sang from the trees and the smell of wild violets drifted through the soft breeze.

The evenly matched pair of horses had skipped out at a fine pace. Trotting in perfect symmetry and keeping their heads high, their manes and tails flowing with the motion of their movements as they trotted along the track to Genoa.

Adam had a strong wrist and held the reins in perfect control, knowing from experience that the horses would yield obediently to the messages he sent them through the reins. A little to the left, to the right, straight ahead – on they would prance.

She sat beside him with her arm linked through his and her eyes scanning the view. They had eaten their picnic by the lake earlier than usual, and she had never seen the lake looking so blue as it reflected the sky so shamelessly. Now, as they trotted smartly onwards towards Genoa, a soft smile touched her lips as she reflected on the perfect morning she had spent with him. A soft sigh accompanied the smile and the pressure of her hand upon his arm brought a smile to his lips,

“Happy?” Adam turned to look at her, his dark eyes lingering on her face and she smiled and nodded.

“It’s been a lovely morning, Adam”

“I’m glad…” His words were cut short as a gun shot broke the peace they had so enjoyed together. He gave a slight gasp, whether or pain or surprise one could not say. His body slumped forward and the reins slipped from his hands.

As blood blossomed like a scarlet rose upon his white shirt, Jane gave a scream. She saw the reins slip from his nerveless fingers. The horses tossed their heads, lost their means of direction, became confused. Another shot spat forth sending a splinter of wood from the side of the buggy. With no further ado, the two horses plunged forwards in a headlong dash for freedom from the lumbering vehicle they were pulling behind them. As Jane grappled to gain control of the reins, so Adam’s body slumped lower. Jane leaned over him in an effort to seize the reins and her hand touched his back and the blood was warm to her fingers.

Another shot. Wood splintered from the side of the buggy as the bullet sliced through it as neatly as a knife through cheese. The horses sped on, spittle foaming at their mouths as they fought against the bits. Once again Jane leaned forwards across Adam’s inert body in an attempt to grasp hold of the reins.

Her fingers gripped one at last but the horses were beyond any control now. Sweat was beginning to appear like a white lather upon their gleaming coats. As she struggled to reach the other rein, Adam’s body slid forwards with the momentum of the buggy so that both reins fell from her reach.

Another shot and then another. There was a scream and Jane knew that it came from her, but it was swallowed up by the sound of the vehicle keeling over and crashing against the boulders. She felt a pain, momentary and sharp. Then there was nothing, nothing at all.

Time ticked away. The two bodies were sprawled upon the track, amongst the boulders. The breeze drifted by and the silken shawl lifted and danced before falling upon the dust. Splatters of blood gleamed like the heads of poppies here and there amongst the stones and blades of grass.

Someone touched her shoulder. She could feel a hand upon her body. She was drifting away on some flight of memory that took her many, many miles away.

Green grass was waving in the lawn that was stretched out before her and the sun shone upon the gravel path. Flowers had never blossomed so colorful as these that girdled the garden. Birds were trilling in the trees. There was the sound of the school bell ringing and children’s voices were chattering and laughing as they passed the gate of their house and called to her.

“Come on, Jane, you’ll be late for school.”

“Hurry up, Jane.”

Her mother smiled and touched her cheek. “Get along, dear, and when you get home there’ll be your favorite pie for tea.”

“Oh, strawberry rhubarb pie, mummy?”

“With cream.” Her mother’s brown eyes twinkled down at her and she lowered the bowl where the red mass of strawberries and rhubarb were being crushed and mixed together.

Jane felt her lips parting in a smile and then freezing in horror as the red mass spread out wider and wider and became the memory of the blood stain on Adam Cartwright’s shirt.

She screamed again, and then there was nothing as darkness gathered her away into oblivion once more.

Adam Cartwright felt rough hands pulling him up, but he felt too weak to resist, and sounds seemed muffled and faraway. He heard a woman laugh and wondered what it was that Jane could find so amusing at a time like this. Surely she could see that he was dying?

The hands released him and he fell forwards once again, slumped like a dead mound of flesh in the road with only the dust settling down upon him as the horses and riders galloped hastily away.

*****

He opened his eyes. The sky was still blue and somewhere the larks were still singing. Yet it felt as though invisible chains were binding him securely to the earth. He had no strength to do more than raise his head and glanced about him, before sinking back gratefully onto the hard packed road. He closed his eyes again.

What had happened to Jane? Jane from England who had smiled at him and said she was so happy? Where was she now?

It took all his strength to force open his eyes and scan the area before weakness forced them to close once more. But he had seen movement, the soft gentle movement of the silk shawl she had worn and was now drifting too and fro in the breeze. He sighed deeply and drifted back into unconsciousness comforted by the thought that she was near at hand.

*****

“What is it, Charley?”

The girl’s voice was high pitched as she ran towards her brother. He was standing with a group of men who were talking quietly together, their voices a deep rumble. Katya elbowed her way through the crowd of arms and legs and found herself looking down upon the bodies of two people.

One of the men was brushing dust from the knees of his trousers. He had knelt by the side of the young woman and was brushing the dust away as though that were the most important thing to do now.

“Bury her,” his voice was brusque and deep, cold in its uncaring.

“What?” Charley cried, pushing away Katya’s restraining hand, “Just like that? You don’t even know who she is? Don’t you care that you’re bundling her away like rubbish?”

“Care?” The old man spun round at him, and his eyes blazed. “Of course I care. I am wondering what kind of country this is that a lovely young girl could be killed and left like this for wild animals to come and tear to pieces. I am wondering what kind of people would so cruelly hurt her and leave her so? I am caring about what will happen to us if people come and find us here! Do you think they will care enough to let us go on our way in peace? They stole from the young man, there is nothing there to tell us who he – who they – are, nothing at all.”

“But whatever people say about us, that is not the important thing right now.” Another man, the father of the two youngsters, said the words quietly. An old man stepped forward; he put a gnarled hand on the younger man’s shoulder and shook his head. The dark eyes were somber as they looked down at the two bodies,

“Look, this is the right thing to do. We are already trespassing on the land of the rich landowners here. He is well known for chasing away squatters. What do you think he would do to us, finding us here, like this?” He spread out his hands towards the bodies, in an expressive gesture of hopelessness.

“Not only that,” another said quietly, “we have our sheep here, and this is cattle country. They would kill our sheep. They would accuse us of killing this people.” He swept his hand in a gesture to encompass the couple sprawled like broken dolls upon the highway. “They would put us in chains and lead us like dogs to their jails.”

“I’ve never heard them giving Romanies a fair trial,” the old man muttered, chewing his moustache anxiously.

“What is happening here?”

Silence fell upon the small gathering and they parted to let the old woman walk between them. In her distinctive dress and the gold jewelry that girded her waist, throat and wrists, that dripped from her ears and head-dress there was no doubting that this was the Matriarch of the small band of Romanies passing through the Ponderosa. She walked with the aid of an ivory and gold carved stick, but her posture was that of a much younger woman.

Now she stood and looked down at the bodies of the young man and woman. Juan Carlos, the father of Charles and Katya, stepped forward. “The girl is dead. Paul says she should be buried here in case they accuse us of killing her. They have been robbed of their belongings. Who is to know who they are?”

“And is he also dead?” she pointed to the body of the young man with her cane, the kohl painted eyes half closed in contemplation.

“No, he is alive. Shot in the back and has lost a lot of blood. There is a head wound also.”

“Then bury her with dignity. Pray over her. Take him to my caravan. Juan Carlos?”

“Si, Maria?”

“When you have seen to her, make sure any sign of their being here is removed. Then, bring the sheep and let them graze here for a while. Make sure that they wander far and wide here. I do not want anyone to see evidence of these people having been here.”

“Why is that, grandmother?” Charles asked, his black eyes staring incredulously at the old woman.

“Because we cannot disguise that we have been here and we move slowly. People may come and accuse us of trespassing on their land, which is true. But we do not want them to come and accuse us of knowing about this.” Maria frowned, her old face was lined and weary, but the dark eyes were fiery with anger. “That such cruelty can be done to such a lovely girl. But these people here in these lands, they act first, shoot first, accuse too quickly.”

She placed a wrinkled age spotted hand upon the boy’s dark head and then smiled at her grand-daughter, Katya. Then she shook her head and turned away, leaving the men to carry out her commands. Ahead of her four men were bearing Adam’s body towards her caravan. Drops of blood, vermillion bright upon the grass and rocks, dripped from the wound. As she passed she brushed the drops with her stick so that they splattered into many droplets and were lost in the stones and dust and grass roots.

“He’ll know, grandmother, he’ll know about us and bring the people here,” Katya whispered.

“That crack on the head will have addled his wits enough for him to believe anything we tell him. I doubt if he will even be able to remember his own name.”

“What if he is one of those Cartwrights who own the land we have camped on?” Charles asked, very shrewdly.

“Then we have the advantage over them. They come looking for him and we say, how providential that we should be traveling on this land and find him and take him in. We cared for him in his time of need.” Maria smiled, and looked at the two children. “It will be good, you will see.”

An hour passed slowly by, and when Adam opened his eyes again, he saw the fringes of a pretty silk shawl drifting too and fro in the breeze from a small window. He could not understand about the window, why it should be there, but he found comfort for some reason in seeing the fringes of the shawl gently swaying in the breeze.

A mile away the flock of sheep began to move away from the grazing ground to which they had been taken. Their sharp little hooves moved here and there and covered the ground all about them. No one would have know that only a few hours before, there had been a young couple driving in a buggy, happy together, listening to the larks singing under a blue sky.

*****

The movement of the caravan on its journey to Genoa was much like the swaying of a ship. Adam slept in the box bed dreaming that he was at sea, with the white sails billowing overhead against a blue sky and turquoise waters. Waves lapped gently at the sides of the ship and seagulls swept the skies like white blazes of light.

As comforting as the dream happened to be, Adam felt the dull thud of pain in his back and the rhythmic pain in his head. His eyelids fluttered open and he forced himself to look about him. There was something he needed to see, or was it, someone?

The gaily painted interior of the caravan with its neatly tucked away treasures behind glass doors and upon dainty shelves were far removed from the ships cabin he had half expected. His mind did a jump back and he shook his head and rubbed his face with his hands. This was not like home either. So, where was he?

He swung his legs over the side of the bed and leaned forwards to push himself up onto his feet.

“Get back into the bed,” a soft voice demanded and a hand on his shoulder pushed him back against the pillows.

It was strange. He did not want to resist that firm touch. He had, in fact, found it reassuring and comforting. It was not Pa’s voice nor Paul’s. He sighed and opened his eyes again.

Had he slipped back into sleep unnoticed? Time had passed since he had received the command to get back into bed. The painted interior was now gloomy and cast in shadows. A small lamp glowed above him; shadows flickered weirdly here and there, cast about by the flames of a great fire burning close outside. He could jus glimpse the flames through the window.

The window? The scarf? Had not a scarf floated there some while back? He touched his brow and felt bandages rough to his touch. He could feel bandages around his upper body. He closed his eyes again and rubbed his brow as though the action would bring back to his mind the memory of where he was, and why.

He had ridden into town early on a warm pleasant day. Jane had walked to him and they had talked. What had they talked about? The effort to recall the conversation made his head reel. He could recall only part of it. He had decided to combine business with pleasure and instead of riding to Genoa on his own, he would get a buggy and go with Jane. They would picnic en route. He knew a particularly lovely spot. It would be no trouble and Pa would not mind as it would make no difference to his time away from the ranch.

What happened next? He had to think and remember because…

“Drink this.”

The words cut through his thoughts. A strong arm snaked around him and carefully raised him to a sitting position. He drank what he had been given dutifully. It smelt familiar, like the herbal drinks HopSing would brew when they were ill.

“You are doing well. Sleep now.”

“Where am I? Who are you?”

He knew his words were slurred for his mouth felt numb and his tongue too large. He could see a dark face looking down at him with big bold black eyes. Indian? Pauite? His mind beggared the questions but received no satisfactory answers.

He allowed his mind to drift back to where he was with Jane. Such a pleasure few hours riding side by side, talking and laughing. She was easy to talk with, and her love and knowledge of poetry and literature were a match to his own. They had lunch, a lingering sweet time together before resuming the journey. He drove the horses and she had sat by his side, her arm slipped through his, and her shawl drifting in the breeze.

He saw in his mind’s eye the gaudily colored shawl floating in the air, wound around her shoulders on the dusty ground, by a window.

“JANE. JANE.”

The sound of his voice calling her name filled his head. Panic made his heart thud in protest against its cage of bone. He pushed back the covers from the bed, and then fell back upon them as unconsciousness swirled him down into the hidden black depths of nothingness except for the few seconds of the sound of her name echoing – echoing…

*****

The moon was a silver disc hanging in a blue black velvet sky. Pale and luminescent it seemed a suitable backdrop to the small group of people gathered around the camp fire. Several brightly decorated caravans in the Romany style formed a circle around the camp site. Horses were hobbled near by and cropped the sparse grass. Dogs lolled by the fire, some dozed and others sat by their masters with bright alert eyes.

The fire was built up high so that the gaily painted sides of the Romany caravans seemed to come alive with the movement of the flames. A dark featured young man began to play some music on a fiddle, which prompted another to follow along with his flute. Within minutes the camp had become the focal point of the people, as they jostled in to the fire to enjoy its warmth and the music.

Katya twirled rhythmically to the music. Her bare feet sent dust devils swirling about her toes. Between her hands she held the fringed scarf which she used to emphasize the movements of her dance. With the flare of the flames, the colors of the scarf danced in tune to the music of the girl’s body.

Adam Cartwright sighed and turned his head towards the window. He opened his eyes and was once again confronted with a view that was both unexpected and confusing. He allowed his eyes to familiarize him to the interior of the room in which he was resting and once again he tried to put all the fragments of the day’s memories into some semblance of order.

A door opened and an old woman stepped towards him. He half closed his eyes to watch her without her realizing that he had come to his senses. Her long gray braids and lean wrinkled features indicated her years, but the bright alert eyes that came to rest upon his face belied her age. She leaned forward and slipped her arm beneath his shoulders and raised him up, so that her body formed a cradle upon which he rested. Some syrupy liquid was put to his lips and he involuntarily swallowed.

“You are stronger all ready,” Maria said quietly, “that is good.”

“I’m obviously in your debt,” Adam replied slowly, “but, but where exactly am I and who are you?”

She surveyed him with her big bright eyes and a slight frown deepened the creases in her brow. “It doesn’t matter who I am. Tell me who you are and what happened to you?”

She withdrew her arm slowly, lowering him back down upon the pillows. Adam sighed and raised a hand to his brow. He closed his eyes in an attempt to find the words to answer her questions but the drugs in the drink were having their effect. His head seemed to be filling with cotton wool and his limbs were numb and tingling. It seemed as though he were drifting away.

“Adam – I’m Adam Cartwright. I had to go to Genoa on business for Pa. I took Jane.”

His mouth seemed to go numb. He opened his eyes to look up and saw her face wavering, floating, coming nearer, drifting further.

“I took Jane,” he whispered and then he was back in the comfort of the blackness which closed in upon him as securely as a womb.

*****

“I’m not happy with all this, mother,” Juan Carlos muttered, looking down at the sleeping man who appeared as content as a baby in a cradle tucked up for a good nights sleep.

“What exactly are you not happy with this time, Juan?”

She was sitting by the window watching the girl dancing by the fire, swirling like a dervish and resembling a flame herself. Her son drew nearer and sat down by her side.

“Adam Cartwright is the eldest son of the landowner of the Ponderosa. This girl, this Jane, he keep referring to could be his wife, or sweetheart. What will happen to us if he finds out that we found her and buried her as though she were just rubbish found on the trail.”

“And what would happen if he thought we had killed her?”

She paused to see what he would say but Juan Carlos remained silent. She leaned forward and her black eyes pierced his own as she stared steadily into them.

“Have you forgotten how the crowd hanged your father and uncle only a few years ago, because the people thought they had stolen some horses? Have you forgotten the number of times we have had to face abuse, and worse, as we traveled this land? This may be a better land for us than our native Portugal, but the people still despise us, fear us. They would never believe that we only found this couple on the road. They would say that we had killed the girl for some base purposes of our own, and kept the man alive to safeguard our passage across the Ponderosa.”

“No,” Juan Carlos shook his head doubtfully, “I don’t agree. From all I have heard of this Ben Cartwright, he is a fair and just man. I think, mother, that we have made a grave error in the way we treated the girl, and we shall pay the cost.”

“Then what would you have had us do? Take the dead girl and this young man into Genoa and have the people there burn our homes over our heads? That is what they would do, you know? It has happened to our people enough times, Juan Carlos, to know for sure that they would never accept what we told them.”

“So what are we going to tell them about this young man? Or do you intend to keep him drugged until he has no memory even of his own identity and pass him off as one of our own?”

Maria leaned back and frowned again. Her wizened old lips slipped into a small smile and her black eyes danced mischievously. “Ah yes, he is a handsome young man, is he not? I had noticed that, and he certainly could pass as one of us without much difficulty.”

She turned as there was some movement from the bed. Once she was sure that the young man slept on, she returned to Juan Carlos and reached out to take hold of his hand. “We shall leave him in Genoa. Peter shall take him to the doctor there and explain that we found him on the roadside. That is all anyone need know about our involvement here. We shall drive on and no one need ever know that we had ever been here.”

“You think so?” Juan Carlos sneered, “What about our tracks that will leave a fine trail behind us – and our sheep, what about them?”

“They served their purpose. They obscured the tracks of the vehicle the couple were traveling in and no one need even think that we were involved. The only wrong we have done is to trespass on this Cartwright’s land with our caravans and our sheep.”

Maria stood up, clutching the cane between the fingers of both hands she leaned heavily upon it and looked earnestly at her son. “Juan Carlos, one day you will be leader of these people. Be wise, my son; keep a steady head upon your shoulders, for their sakes as well as your own.”

Again Juan Carlos allowed a scowl to darken his face. Then he sighed and turned to leave the old woman. He closed the door of the caravan behind him and stared up at the cold silver moon. What kind of leader would he be when Maria was dead, he wondered. Then he walked briskly back to his own caravan, remembering that in the morning they would reach Genoa and be rid of the responsibility to the sick man being tended within his mother’s van.

*****

Hoss Cartwright stretched out his long legs towards the fire and folded his arms behind his head. He watched the flames spark up the chimney and turned his head when he noticed his father sitting down in the red chair opposite him.

“Guess Adam won’t be back tonight,” Hoss muttered, “seeing as how he took Jane to Genoa with him.”

Ben cast a dark brooding look over at his second son and momentarily his dark brows lifted into a frown. “Jane? Do I know this Jane?”

“Not personally,” Joe volunteered as he steered his way around the settee and plonked himself on the chair opposite his father, “Jane’s from England. Adam seems to like her.”

“She reads poetry and likes the things he seems to like,” Hoss added, looking at his nails with a nonchalance that did him credit.

“He’s never mentioned her to me,” Ben said, allowing a note of peevishness to creep into his voice, “And you say he’s taken her to Genoa?”

“Yeah,” Hoss and Joe said in unison.

“And how did you come to know about this?”

“When I was in town,” Joe offered the information glibly, his hazel eyes twinkling with mischief, “I saw Sport in the livery stable and asked Orville what was going on and he said that Adam had been and hired the best buggy and team for the day. Adam told him that he would sure they were back by nightfall.”

“Humph” Ben snorted down his nose and began to search for his pipe and tobacco pouch.

“Then I met Jane’s Aunt,” Joe continued, noticing with some glee how his father’s eyes darkened, “That’s Mrs. Snelling, Pa. Her husband …”

“I know the Snellings,” Ben said grumpily, “Didn’t know they had anyone called Jane staying with them.”

“Jane’s Mrs. Snelling’s niece,” Hoss explained slowly as though pitying his father for his lack of information.

“Mrs. Snelling told me that her niece Jane had gone back for her shawl and bonnet as she was going to spend the day with Adam. Bless me, Pa, if I didn’t see wedding bells in that lady’s eyes.”

Ben said nothing but sucked the stem of his pipe with an aggression that indicated that his temper was shortening by the second. He glared over at them both, and scowled. “So long as he gets the business dealt with in Genoa. I can hardly blame him if he chose to take along a pleasant traveling companion.”

Hoss nodded and pursed his lips. He gazed up at the ceiling innocently. Joe flashed his brother a wicked grin and snatched an apple from the fruit bowl. He polished it briskly against his shirt. “Guess older brother won’t be home now before breakfast,” he drawled and bit into the fruit lustily.

*****

“You have to give it to him.”

The boy sat in the grass, twisting some string into a cat’s cradle while the girl sprawled out in the grass, her long bare legs brown from the sun and as knock-kneed as a young colt. It was a wonder that she could dance so magically as she had the previous evening. She sighed long and miserably,

“It’s just about the prettiest thing I have ever had, Charley.”

“But it ain’t your’n. It belonged to that lady…” he dropped his voice in respect and a slight shiver crept along his spine. “And if’n that guy was married to her or summat, he has a right to it.”

“Yeah and if he knows we had the shawl then he would know that we had seen her. He would want to know what we had done to her and that would mean…” She paused and sat up, clutching the silk scarf to her thin chest, “It would mean crossing the line.”

“What’re you talking about, crossing what line?” Charley demanded scornfully.

“The line grandma drew when she had us bury that girl and said we weren’t to let on to no one about her. If’n we let him know then we’d be crossing the line. We’d be putting ourselves against Gran and our people.”

Charley stared at her and his face, smudged with smuts of dust and a hastily eaten breakfast, went pale. He lowered his head and pulled up some more blades of grass. “I guess you’re right, Katya, but it don’t feel right. If’n you know what I mean?”

“I know,” Katya sidled over to him, sitting close enough so that she could whisper in his ear. “Charley, I think Grandma was wrong.”

The boy said nothing to that, but lowered his head. He stared at the gaily colored scarf and with his forefinger stroked the silken fringes. “Best keep it then, but don’t let him see, Katya, otherwise we’ll all be in trouble.”

She smiled, her almond shaped eyes sparkled like a cats and with a little laugh she tossed the scarf into the air. The sun gleamed on it as it caught the breeze and the tasseled fringes danced momentarily in the air.

From the corner of his eye the colors spun before him. Adam Cartwright paused for a fraction of a second, wondering why it seemed so significant a sight. He heard as though from a long way away the sound of children laughing. Then a firm hand was in his back, firm but gentle, helping him onto a buckboard.

“Peter, don’t take long,” Maria cautioned the old man. “Get back quickly as possible.” Now she turned to the young man who sat, hunched over in pain, on the hard wooden seat, “Take care, Mr. Cartwright; I hope you recover quickly from your injuries.”

Adam took the proffered hand. It was gnarled and brown and golden bangles around her wrinkled wrist jangled down her thin arm. He took a deep breath and nodded his thanks. Peter gave a flick of the reins, the horses lunged forwards, and hugging his arms across his chest to ease the pain, Adam closed his eyes, praying that the journey would be quick.

*****

Ben Cartwright gave a snort of anger that made both his sons step back a pace from him, glance at one another warily, and wait for the explosion. It was not long in coming.

“He never got there,” Ben waved the cable in front of them. “Jefferson sent this cable complaining that Adam never got there to sign the contract. Do you realize what this means? It means he preferred the company of a woman ….” He paused as though his thoughts were running too far ahead for their own good. He bit down on his bottom lip and with a growl made for the door to the street.

In the light of the early morning sun, he once again read through the cable and then passed it on to Hoss who read it and passed it on to Joe. Joe did not bother to read it, but stared ahead and down the street. Olaf Johannson was bringing a pair of lathered up horses down the road towards the livery stable. The remains of what was once a fine polished wooden buggy trailed as debris behind them.

Joe gave Hoss a light tap on the chest and having gained his brother’s attention, he indicated the sight with a nod of his head,

“Pa.” Hoss tapped his father on the shoulder and Ben turned to observe him. His face was still tight in a bad tempered scowl. “Pa, look …”

People were stopping, turning, pointing, and running up to Olaf as he dragged the horses and their shattered trophy along the road. Seeing Ben and his sons on the board walk opposite, Olaf stopped and called over to them,

“Mr. Cartwright, I sure am sorry, sir.”

“Sorry? What do you mean?” Ben looked at the craggy face and then over at the laboring horses, somehow what he saw conveyed nothing to him. Hoss gave his father a slight nudge,

“Pa, Adam took Miss Jane for a buggy ride to Genoa yesterday.”

“Seems he didn’t get there. Something must have happened to them on the way, Pa,” Joe said, very softly, with a slight tremor in his voice.

Now the enormity of what had taken place swept over Ben. His eyes took in the wreckage of the buggy, the laboring horses, the worried look on Olaf’s face. He felt his heart tighten, squeezed so tight that he could hardly breathe to ask the question. “Did you find – was Adam and the girl – any sign of them?”

“No, Mr. Cartwright,” Orville, the livery stable owner was standing by their side now, watching as Olaf took the animals to their stalls, “The horses were on their way home of their own accord. I dunno whereabouts the accident took place, sir. It could be anywheres along the road to where they were going.”

Anywhere. Ben stared bleakly ahead. From a distance he heard the babble of voices as people gathered around. But, nothing that was being said made any sense.

*****

Hoss Cartwright drank the water from the canteen in huge gulps. No doubt about it the weather was scorching hot and he could feel the perspiration breaking out through the pores of his skin even as he sat there in the saddle. He could see Joe wiping a bandana round the back of his neck and around his face. Finally he stopped drinking and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He slowly screwed on the stopped to the canteen and heaved a sigh. “Pa ain’t gonna be too pleased when we tell him we ain’t found nuthin’,” he muttered.

“Well, I ain’t so pleased myself, Hoss. We should have found some trace of them somewheres.” Joe flexed his shoulders to ease the tension that had crept into his back. “It’s just like some stupid game of hide and seek.”

“Yeah, and somehow I got the feelin’ that we ain’t gonna find nuthin’ to put a smile back on Pa’s face either,” Hoss sighed again, and slung the canteen around the pommel of his saddle. “Best start lookin’ agin.”

*****

Doctor Grahame was a good doctor. He had initially been puzzled when the old man had knocked on his door and hand signaled that he had a patient for him. It had taken him a few minutes to realize the stranger was mute and that the man in the wagon was about to fall off the bench seat. It soon became obvious that the old man had no intention of hanging around once he had passed on his responsibility to the doctor. Calling to his assistant for help, Grahame had managed to get Adam into the surgery by which time Peter had already disappeared from view.

*****

“Anythin?” Ben asked quietly.

Joe and Hoss looked at one another. It was now well past noon and the search had been unremitting. Their rendezvous at the camp had seen the gathering of over twenty men who had willingly joined in the search for the missing couple. Most came out of respect for Adam and his family, and others for their concern for the girl. Joe shook his head,

“We found where they had turned off for a picnic and then rejoined the track,” Joe glanced at the others who were looking at one another and whispering amongst themselves. A ranched named Tom Brodie stepped forward. “There were a lot of sign enroute to Genoa. Looked like wagons had gone by with sheep and dogs. If your boy went on to Genoa, his tracks would have been hidden by those others.”

“Well, we know he didn’t get to Genoa,” Ben sighed, remembering the terse comments in Rutherford’s cable, “I found where there was some wreckage of the buggy but it was on the road to Virginia City. Whatever happened to them must have been closer to town than to any other place.”

“But, Pa, they stopped off for a picnic closer to Genoa,” Hoss said quietly. “Ain’t it possible he got there but didn’t go and see about the business, and…” Hoss stopped, he took off his hat and wiped his brow. So much thinking and so much worrying was confusing. It seemed every suggestion he could think off, and every idea others brought up, just led to more questions and more speculation.

“We’d best fan out more widely,” Ben suggested. “Let’s finish our meal and drink here and then divide up and try again.”

“Pa?”

“Yes, Joe?” Ben’s dark eyes lingered on the anxious face of his youngest son. There was no doubt that both his sons were eating their hearts out with anxiety about this disappearance for it showed in their wide eyes and pale features. “What is it, son?”

“I was thinking…perhaps Adam did get to Genoa. How about if Hoss and I ride on to town there and just check it out.”

“That’s alright, but be careful.”

Joe nodded and turned smartly to where Cochise was grazing. He jerked his head in the direction of Genoa, and within minutes he and Hoss were galloping away from the campsite.

*****

Juan Carlos paused at the graveside of the girl he had buried only the previous day. Or was it weeks ago now? He bowed his head and put his hands together in prayer. Would the Gracious God of all mercies forgive him for what he had done and for what he was about to do?

He picked up the spade and struck deeply into the soil. The words of his mother rang in his ears even as he hauled up the first clod. He could never return now to the people. He was betraying them, forsaking her; a traitor and disobedient to their will, her will.

“Whatever you choose to do, it will not be with my blessing. I curse you.” Maria spat the words at him and Juan Carlos blanched and wilted. Then gained strength from somewhere to reply to her.

“I have to take her back to her people, Mother. It is not good, what we have done. We should have taken Mr. Cartwright back to his father, not to Genoa.”

“You say I am a bad leader?”

“I’m not saying that, but you are old, bitter and afraid.”

“Yes, I am afraid. Afraid for my people and for what these will do if they find out what we have done,” her black eyes widened and the thick black kohl around her eyelids made her look wild and like a madwoman. Once again her son wilted and without looking at her again he turned towards the door,

“I shall take my cha’vee with me. I shall not mention to anyone what we had done,” Juan Carlos closed the door behind him and heard her shriek –

“You and your cha’vee are Romany no more!”

*****

Ben glanced up from the flames of the fire at the sound of horses approaching. Deep in his heart he uttered a prayer that someone had good news about Adam and Jane. Mr. Snelling put down his mug of coffee and joined Ben’s side, waiting with the same apprehension, fear and hope for his niece mingling within his breast.

Roy Coffee saw them and forced his back to stay ramrod stiff. It was a hard thing to do, to have to tell his friend what had to be said.

“Roy, have you any news?” Ben asked, stepping forward as Roy dismounted.

“Ben, I’m sorry. I received a cable from the sheriff in Douglas, 12 miles from here. A man was shot this morning in a duel. He had a wallet on him – it was Adam’s. I’m sorry.”

Ben stepped back, unable to speak, unable to think. Mr. Snelling however, stepped forwards and clutched at Roy’s arm. “Jane? What about Jane?” he demanded, but all he received was a shake of the head.

*****

Adam Cartwright opened his eyes slowly. The drone that ebbed and flowed was now an irritation he could no longer ignore. He found himself straining his ears to hear it, as though, despite its irritating quality, it was also essential to life. There was no other sound but the constant drone that buzzed around and around and then drifted away and away.

His eyes saw the dark shape on the window blind. Small and minute in comparison to the immensity of his own body. As he watched the fly turned and zzzzzziped towards him, angled in, flattened out, skimmed across his face and buzzzed onto the jacket hanging on the door.

He closed his eyes again. He had to think about where he was and how he had arrived here. Most importantly of all, he had to remember where Jane was when he had seen her last.

Nothing could be more annoying than a persistent fly which seemed to find the heat of ones body the best place to be in all the world. When it landed on Adam’s face and began to stroll across the young man’s sweating brow, it was instinctive to raise a hand to brush it away. As he did so, the door opened.

“Ah, you are awake. How are you feeling?”

Adam slowly sat up. He wondered why everything seemed to be so difficult. This languor, this lethargy. He forced himself to look at the man sitting opposite him now and frowned. “Where am I?”

“In Genoa. I’m Doctor Grahame,” the doctor smiled and stood up, picked up a roll of paper and made a sharp sidelong swipe. A persistent fly disappeared within its folds, a colorful ending of orange, black and red.

“How did I get here?”

“Can’t you remember?”

“No,” Adam shook his head, and rubbed his brow. “It was – there was an old woman. She gave me some medicine and helped me.”

“Well, it was an old man who brought you here. A mute, in fact. Perhaps it was her husband.”

“I was shot!” Adam exclaimed, the ache in his body reminding him of the sharp thud in his back that had sent him spiraling into the black unknown.

“Yes, in the back. No harm to any internal organs, thankfully. The main problem is lack of blood and concussion. You’ve a high fever.”

“I have to get out of here. I have to find her.”

“Her?” Grahame reached out a preventive hand and gently forced his patient back against the mattress, “Young man, you aren’t going anywhere at present.”

“Don’t be so ridiculous,” Adam growled, his dark eyes smoldering with as much energy as he could muster. “I have to get out of here.”

“I can’t possibly allow it,” Grahame said quietly, “You’d never reach the door.”

“Don’t you understand? If they shot me and left me for dead, what have they done to her?”

“Who? What are you talking about?”

Adam reached out and grabbed the doctor by the lapels of his jacket. “Jane, of course. I’m talking about Jane.”

For a second Grahame was frozen to the spot. Then he firmly, but gently, pushed Adam’s hand away.

“I’ll get the sheriff here right away. If anything has happened to this Jane, he’ll find out. But in the meantime, you must promise to stay here; otherwise someone will be on a charge for murder… and it won’t be me.” He made an attempt to smile, a rather feeble one, before leaving the room.

Adam swallowed the lump in his throat and closed his eyes. Now there was silence. Total silence.

*****

Roy Coffee looked at his friend and shook his head thoughtfully. Ben, however, glared fiercely down at the township spread out before him. Douglas was a small town but growing steadily. As Ben turned Buck’s head and urged the big horse forwards, Roy Coffee wondered, yet again, just what news was about to reach them. Bad enough, he thought, that Adam was dead and the cable had been so sparing in details. So sparing, in fact, that the message was even more brutal in its delivery of the death of a fine young man. Even at the thought of it, Roy felt tears prick at his eyelids and fill the back of his throat, making it ache with the despair that he felt. He looked again at Ben, who was, he knew, suffering deeply and yet, for some reason, fighting against accepting the truth – that his eldest son was dead.

“They’ve papers to prove it, Ben,” Roy had said quietly when Ben had said he was going to see the body before he would believe that Adam was dead.

“They prove nothing,” Ben had growled back between clenched teeth. He had fired off a scathing look at his friend, “I’m only glad Joe and Hoss had already left before you got here, Roy.”

“Well, ain’t much they could have done either.”

“Are you coming with me or not?” Ben had barked, and had mounted Buck before Roy had even had the chance to open his mouth.

And that was how it was, so that now, at nearly 4 p.m. they were riding into the main street and heading for the Undertakers, a place that always made Roy’s skin crawl.

*****

Juan Carlos, Charles and Katya sat side by side on the seat of the gaily painted Romany caravan as it swayed down the Main Street of Virginia City. People were stopping and staring. Katya saw them looking at the brightly painted caravan and talking together. She knew, from what her father and grandmother had often told her, that many people had never seen a really authentic Romany caravan before and she wondered what they would think if they knew what was inside it at that moment.

Juan Carlos stopped the caravan outside the Undertakers and clambered down. Charley and Katya were soon by his side and walking across the boardwalk to the door. A woman paused to look at them, her pleasant face initially curious, then anxious. Then her face screwed up into a confused mixture of emotions as she ran across the road, scattering her groceries as she ran,

“What are you doing with Jane’s shawl? Where is she? Where is Jane? What have you done with her?”

Katya felt he woman pulling at the shawl that she had worn around her shoulders. The woman was pulling and tugging and all the time screaming. “Jane, what have you done to Jane?”

*****

The dead man had never been handsome in life. Death had brought nothing to enhance his features but give that stillness that removes the evidence of life’s struggles. There was one evidence of the final struggle that remained forever, and that was the shattered bone where the bullet had penetrated his skull.

Ben looked down at him and stepped back. He had felt weak and sick with fear and trepidation when he had walked through the Undertaker’s door. Now he felt weak with relief. He turned to Roy and then to the Undertaker. “This, thank God, is not my son. This is not Adam Cartwright.”

“Then who is he?” Meldrew, the local sheriff, asked in annoyance, realizing that if the man were not Adam Cartwright, he was left with a dead man and an unpaid bill.

“I’m sorry, I can’t tell you. I’ve never seen the man before,” Ben replied.

“He came into town with a woman, his partner, or wife. She left town though, last night.”

“You said that he was shot in a duel? Perhaps the person who shot him knows more about him. Perhaps you may find more information about him in your wanted posters – he’s in possession of my son’s belongings and name, so whatever happened to Adam, he was responsible. Perhaps he’s done it before to others?”

“Wal, that’s a good idea. Thinking I had a man with a name, I didn’t look – had no reason to think to do so. Guess I’d best be looking for the young woman too; pretty little gal, all blue eyes and blonde hair and as sweet as an angel to look at.”

“Well, it isn’t the young lady we’re looking for, but thanks for your help,” Ben said quietly.

“What will you do now, Ben?” Roy asked as they stood outside the Undertakers with the Sheriff standing on the other side of them.

“Look for my son, and Jane. I’ve wasted hours of daylight as it is,” Ben scowled.

“If you see that gal, the blonde one, let me know, will you?” the sheriff asked. “Being his partner means she’s an accomplice to robbery and possibly, murder.”

Ben nodded. His mind was already trying to think where Adam and Jane could be, and mention of this other woman, well, it was just one girl too many. Why should he be concerned about her? He mounted his horse and accompanied by Roy, rode out of town.

*****

She had been beautiful in life. Now death endowed her with that stillness that brought exquisite dignity to her features that had already been so lovely. Mrs. Snelling wept over her and kissed her brow tenderly before stepping away. She held the shawl between her hands and now, in the little room away from where Jane had been laid out, she brought it to her face and inhaled the sweet aroma of her niece’s perfume that lingered still amongst the folds of silk.

“Thank you for bringing her home,” she said quietly to Juan Carlos, who stood apprehensively in the little room with one hand on each of his children’s shoulders. They stood in front of him, watching the older woman and the two men in the room and wondering if there father would be arrested and taken away.

“We’ve sent for her uncle and the rest of the posse. Of course, it doesn’t explain where Adam has gone, although, hopefully, they may have found him by now.” Paul Martin stopped speaking, when Juan Carlos raised a hand.

“Your friend, Adam Cartwright, is safe in Genoa. My mother took him there because Genoa was nearer, and there was a doctor there.”

“Genoa?” Paul frowned and looked suspiciously at the sallow featured man.

“We did not know what to do with them but during the night, he became conscious and told us who he was. Then we knew that she should be brought to Virginia City. But he was too ill for the journey; we were already much closer to Genoa. For his sake it was better to take him there.”

He had rehearsed the speech all the way to town with Jane’s body in the back of their caravan. How grateful he had been that they had covered her body in that shallow grave with such dignity in their hasty burial. He thanked God that he had been able to bring her home and if these people did not believe what he said, well, he had done his best.

“I can’t thank you enough.” The few words were said with a sob and the tears flowed down the pale cheeks and Juan Carlos stepped back and bowed his head humbly. The old woman looked at Katya and smiled through her tears and held out her hands. “Take this; you looked very pretty in it and Jane will not be needing it anymore.”

They reached out towards one another and their hands, hers so old and Katya’s so young and firm, met together. Their fingers touched amongst the folds of the silk shawl, just very briefly. Then the door opened and they walked away from the dark room with the two candles flickering by the side of the bier where Jane slept her eternal rest.

*****

Adam Cartwright was a strong young man and a determined one. With grim determination now, he struggled from the bed and made his way to the chair where his clothes were hanging. It caused him sufficient pain to bring him out in a cold sweat and force him to sit down, whilst he drew on his pants and shirt. His fingers felt like putty as he struggled to put buttons through holes and the touch of the stiff patch of blood on the back of his shirt made him shiver. He was wondering how he would manage to put on his boots when the door opened.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Grahame demanded. “I’ve not given you permission to leave yet, young man.”

“I need to leave,” dam said quietly, but with a voice that was like steel in his refusal to be compliant. “I’ve been idle for long enough, I have to go and find Jane.”

“Surely she must be safe; otherwise they would have brought her to us, when they brought you here.”

“I’ve been thinking it over and over in my mine and I don’t think she was with me in that caravan.” Adam glanced up and his dark eyes bored into the doctor’s face. “If this is how they left me, then what would they have done to her?”

“It’s too late for you to leave here – it’s not wise to leave, you’re in no condition to ride out of here.”

Adam stood up and looked around for his hat. Once found he picked it up and slipped it over his dark hair, before walking out of the room.

On the sidewalk now he had to lean against the post of the Doctor’s porch, and realized that the doctor had been right. He was weak. Determination was obviously not enough. He wished now that he had not been so hasty in his decision to leave but the die was cast, and inhaling deeply, he walked slowly to the hotel.

*****

Joe and Hoss Cartwright pulled up their horses as the horseman approached them. It was with some relief that they saw the pale glimmer of the sheriff’s star and Joe let the rifle slip back into its scabbard.

The sheriff from Genoa stopped and surveyed them closely, then allowed a small smile to slip over his stern features. “Are you two more of Ben’s boys?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. Hoss and Joe Cartwright,” Hoss replied, extending his hand which the sheriff shook warmly.

“Well, I sure wish I knew Ben’s secret; he’s got himself a fine set of sons, that’s for sure.” He leaned forward and shook Joe’s hand. “Sheriff Davis from Genoa.”

Hoss and Joe looked at one another and then at the sheriff who pushed his hat to the back of his head and jerked a thumb back in the direction from which he had ridden. “Your eldest brother is in town. I came to find his father and family and someone called Jane.”

“Adam’s in town? In Genoa?” Hoss exclaimed. “Hey, Joe, didn’t I tell ya he’d be all right? Didn’t I say?” He slapped his brother in the chest and gave a broad beam of a smile. It had been agony riding all these miles, seeing the day fading away, knowing that if Adam were not in Genoa then all those hours and miles would have been in vain.

“He’s not well. Some odd kinda guy brought him into town in a wagon, but he’d been doctored overnight, before this guy brought him to town. Saved his life, I reckon.” Davis wheeled his horse around, pleased to return home for more domestic reasons than any he would afford Joe or Hoss. “Doc Grahame said that whoever had found him took out the bullet and gave him the treatment that saved his life. He’ll recover with rest and time.”

“But Jane wasn’t with him?” Joe said gently, recalling the sheriff’s words to mind, “You said you had come to find us and Jane?”

“Dadburn it, so I did.”

“Our Pa and a whole passel of folk are out looking for Adam and Jane, sir,” Hoss said quietly. “There won’t be no need for you to go no further, although I guess one of us should. Pa would want to know that Adam is safe.”

Joe sighed, looked over at his brother and nodded.

“Sure was a pleasure to meet you, sir,” Joe extended his hand again and smiled. “Guess I’d better hightail it back along and let Pa know that Adam’s safe.”

“See you soon, Joe.” Hoss gave his younger brother a wave of the hand and urged Chubb alongside the sheriff’s horse.

Joe turned Cochise in the direction from which he and Hoss had come, the track slightly obscured now with the light fading into a pink and golden dusk.

*****

Adam pulled the hotel register towards him and picked up the pen. For a second he stood very still as weakness drifted over him and he felt as though his legs were about to buckle.

“Are you all right, sir?”

He glanced at the hotel clerk and nodded. He dipped the pen into the ink well and turned his attention to the register. The lines wavered slightly, but with teeth clenched he forced the pen to crawl out his name. He had just crossed the t with a bar when his eyes drifted to the name above his own.

For a second or so his brain did not accept what his eyes were telling him.

But then his heart started to thud, and the pulses drummed in his ears, and he could barely breathe. He looked at the name more closely and then looked at the clerk. “Miss Jane Waumsley? When did she book in here?”

“Two hours ago by my estimate, sir.”

“And her room?”

“No. 12 – just up the stairs first door on the right.”

He took the keys to his own room and slowly, painfully, dragged himself up the stairs to the first floor. Jane – alive – in this hotel. All that horror and fear for nothing. She must have managed to turn the buggy round and get here to safety.

Did he love her? The question hammed through his brain in tune to the pulse beat at his throat. No, he had never loved her, but he had enjoyed her company. He had liked her enough to enjoy the romance of time together, reading, sharing thoughts, talking about things most women chose to ignore. No, he would never commit to marrying her anymore than she would have considered marrying him. Yes, it had been a wonderful interlude shared between them, but now he could be grateful that she was alive.

He tapped on the door and heard movement from the other side before the door was pulled open. She looked at him, her brow slightly creased, wondering what a man like him would be doing knocking on a stranger’s hotel door.

He looked at her – and yes, she was beautiful with big blue eyes and blonde hair, but she was not Jane.

*****

Adam had always noticed that when the physical body was screaming in every sinew, and every muscle ached beyond endurance, the mental faculties became sharper than ever. Within the seconds it had taken for her to open the door and look up at him with those long lashed blue eyes, he had taken a note of the fact that she was wearing Jane’s little fob watch on her blue jacket. He could see on the bed a discarded bonnet, the very one that Jane had coyly slipped over her chestnut hair. He could remember the smiling at her as he had tied the bow under her chin only days earlier. His eyes flicked over the bed and back to her in less time that it had taken her to look up and say, “Yes? Who are you?”

“Miss Waumsley?” He slipped off his black hat, and smiled his most charming smile. “I believe you were expecting me?”

She opened her mouth and closed it again while a small frown hovered between her eyes. She now took note of the young man standing before her, and liked, very much, what she was seeing. She returned the smile and, graciously, stepped aside to admit him.

“Etienne sent you?”

Adam inclined his head slowly, stepped into the room and sat down upon the chair that was placed close to the door. His legs were weakening and he could feel the strength draining away. He wondered if he looked as ill as he felt.

“Are you drunk?” ‘Jane’ asked sharply, as the door closed behind her.

“I’ve had a long wait,” Adam said honestly, and looked at her with as much Little Joe winsomeness as he could muster.

“Ah well, I can’t say I blame you. This whole thing is getting to be a nightmare. I’m sorry Etienne isn’t here to meet up with you; he was killed in a gunfight back in Douglas.” She walked over to the window, twitched the curtain back and surveyed the darkening street and then allowed the curtain to fall back into place.

“Really? I didn’t know that.” Adam frowned and surveyed her between narrowed eyes, trying to keep her in focus. “I’ve been here, remember?”

“Yes, of course, I’d forgotten.” ‘Jane’ sighed and walked to the table where a bottle of whiskey and some glasses had been placed courtesy of the hotel management. She glanced over at him and picked up a glass, “Hair of the dog?”

“I don’t see why not,” Adam replied, watching her thoughtfully. He wondered how such a lovely girl — and there was no disputing the fact that she was lovely — could have got so involved in such a sordid matter as the event that was now replaying out in his memory.

He could recall the heat of the day, the hard ground upon which he was sprawled, unable to open his eyes but his ears picking up the sounds of feet approaching them. He had felt hands upon his body, rough hands moving through his pockets and then letting him drop back upon his face on the ground. He could remember a laugh, a woman’s laugh, soft, mocking, sensual … he had wondered why Jane would have been laughing like that at such a time.

There had been no reason for this lovely girl to remember him; after all, he had been just a body, slumped face down on the ground, when they last met.

“Here you are.” She smiled in triumph, and passed over the glass and he wondered what she was looking so pleased about. “I’m sure glad Etienne fixed it that you were here to meet me. Looks like this sad period of my life could be turning out better than I had expected.”

“Sad period of your life?” Adam echoed, “Why’s that?”

“Because I’m in mourning, aren’t I? Or had you forgotten that Etienne was my husband?” She laughed, the same mocking, soft, sensual laugh that he had noted even as he had slipped into the voice of unconsciousness. Briefly she told him about the gunfight that had seen the end of her husband. Such a typical story of a smoky saloon, an accusation of cheating at cards, the inevitable duel. She raised a glass and the fading light from the window shone upon it, it glowed golden.

“What did you say your name is?” Adam asked slowly, looking at her now through a red mist of pain.

“I told you, Jane Waumsley.”

“That’s the name on the register. What’s your real name?”

She paused in the act of putting her glass to her lips and shot a narrow eyed look at him. “Come to that, mister, what’s your name?”

“Adam, Adam Cartwright. Leastways, that’s the name on the register,” he replied with a twisted smile on his lips.

*****

Hoss Cartwright and the sheriff dismounted outside Doctor Grahame’s surgery. Hoss had just tethered his horse to the rail when they heard a shot from the hotel. Just a single shot …in the gathering darkness of the night, it seemed to roll on infinitely.

Hoss knocked lightly on the door of Dr. Grahame’s surgery, yet continued to watch as the sheriff gradually disappeared into the gloom descending upon the town. Every so often he was able to discern the lean shape as it reappeared in the light from various windows lining the street.

Grahame came to the door with his medical bag in hand. His eyebrows rose when he saw the young man, a stranger, on the doorstep and he enquired, rather more brusquely than normal, what it was he wanted from him.

“I came to see my brother, Adam Cartwright,” Hoss replied, taking off his hat and looking anxiously at the doctor who was looking rather absent mindedly back at him, “The sheriff told me that he was here.”

Grahame nodded and relaxed, a smile on his rather pleasant features. “Certainly, young man, he was here, but he left just half an hour since. He said he was going to look for Jane, but I watched him walk over to the hotel.”

“The hotel?” Hoss turned his head back to where he had heard the gun shot and without explanation, turned on his heel and was striding down the street before Grahame had time to say another word.

*****

Adam Cartwright forced himself into a more upright position in the chair. He thought briefly of the fact that the damage caused by the small bullet hole in the wall just above his head would be placed on his bill by the management. He pondered, with a sigh, how on earth he had missed noticing how ‘Jane’ had got hold of the gun. He also wondered, with yet another sigh, why he had not even flinched when she had pointed the gun at him and fired.

She still stood there with her back rigid against the far wall and her eyes staring at him as though she could not believe that she had missed him. The gun was still in her hand and it occurred to Adam that if she did not put the weapon down, she would more than likely shoot herself in the foot as her hand was shaking so much.

“Don’t you think you should put that gun down before you actually do yourself or someone else some harm?” he said in a voice that seemed very far off in his own ears and he wondered if she would have heard him.

She looked down at the gun as though seeing it for the first time and with a shudder threw it upon the bed. Then she shook her head, as though waking from a bad dream and confused at what she was seeing upon opening her eyes.

“Adam Cartwright’s dead,” she whispered and she put her hands to her face and began to cry. “I saw him – dead.”

“I don’t want to disappoint you unduly,” Adam remarked sarcastically, “but I’m definitely alive, no thanks to your husband!” He leaned forward with some difficulty, the wound in his back was painful and he was aware of the discomfort of the bandages, “Perhaps it would be a good idea if you told me exactly what happened, who you are and what has happened to Jane?”

She looked up and nodded in acquiescence. The long lashes were spiked by tears and the merry smile had disappeared leaving the previously red moist lips, pale and dry.

“My name is Lily. I married Etienne two years ago. He was always a dangerous man, but, like so many of his kind, he was exciting. I wanted to get away and do exciting things. He promised me that life would be one long round of fun…” Her voice faded away and with a sigh she stared at the bonnet on the bed, and then, listlessly, picked it up. “It wasn’t fun though. It was always running away from one town or another, always in debt, always in trouble.”

She paused again, and turned her head towards the door at the sound of feet coming towards the room. She looked at Adam, her eyes wide with fear and for a second Adam felt sympathy and pity for her. He even, momentarily, considered a way of helping her until his eyes fell upon the little fob watch on her jacket. He steeled himself and looked coldly into her face.

The door was thrust open and Sheriff Davis, followed by the manager, several guests and Hoss, filled the doorway. The sheriff, gun in hand, paused long enough to stop the flood of people from crowding into the room. He put up a warning hand, and stepped inside, followed by Hoss. The door was firmly closed upon everyone else.

Were Adam to have had any doubts about the love his brother held for him, they would have been dispelled there and then. The joy, delight and pleasure at the sight of his brother fell across Hoss’ face as transparently as the words written on the pages of a book.

“This young lady was just telling me about her exciting life and how she killed Adam Cartwright.” Adam’s words were uttered lifelessly, coldly.

Lily jumped to her feet, her hands covered her face and she shook her head violently too and fro. “No, no, no. It wasn’t like that; I didn’t kill Adam Cartwright. I didn’t kill anyone,” she sobbed.

“You were there when Jane and I were ambushed on the road to Genoa. You took Jane’s watch, her bonnet and her name. You…” He paused when she raised her hand.

“Please, no more, please say no more,” she whispered, sinking back down into the chair she had just vacated. Once again she covered her face with her hands.

“Perhaps you would like to come down to the office and make out a formal statement, miss?” Sheriff Davis’ harsh voice broke into her weeping and she glanced up with a look of fear on her face that smote the tender-hearted Hoss enough to make him glance over at Adam in an appeal for help. But Adam gave a slight shake of the head as the memory of that deep throated excited laugh once again drifted through his head.

“Can’t I explain it here?” she asked, her eyes wide and brimming with tears. She glanced from Adam, who although pale was resolute and cold of feature, to the sheriff who was hard and bleak, mindful only of the law’s business. Then she looked at Hoss, who was looking at her with confused pity and sympathy on her face. Her blue eyes swept over him, and the appeal in her face was so strong that Hoss blushed and looked at the other two men as though ashamed of their coldness.

“At least we could get the little lady a drink of some kind,” Hoss ventured.

Adam threw his brother a disdainful look and then turned to look at the woman. He looked at the bonnet, the fob watch and remembered how happy Jane had been that last time, that last second, they had been together. “No. She gets the same help she gave Jane,” he replied bleakly, and then his brow creased into a frown. “Perhaps she will get more help than Jane had though. She will get justice.”

“Then you’d best come along with me, Miss,” the sheriff gripped her arm and pulled her to her feet, “You can explain everything to me in the office. You had best come with us,” he said to Adam “I’ll need a statement from you as well.”

Adam nodded. He took Hoss’ proffered arm for support and walked slowly behind the sheriff and Lily. He glanced once again at the bonnet, discarded now on the bed and frowned.

Perhaps this pain he was feeling in his heart was because he did love Jane after all. He had always equated love with protection. Some romantic notion of being the white knight in shining armor, and the woman he loved a fair damsel in distress. Jane had never wanted protecting. She had been a strong minded and independent young woman, intelligent and unafraid to speak her mind.

He shivered. She had never needed, nor wanted, protecting until the last moments of her life and he had failed her, failed her utterly. Hoss looked down at him and asked in his gentle caring voice if he were all right. Adam shook his head,

“No,” was the only answer he could give.

*****

It was a building like any other saloon he had entered. Smoky interiors, nicotine stained walls, warm beer. It could have been a saloon in Arizona, Montana or Texas. It bore the brandmarks of a saloon from all those states and many more. As he leaned against the counter and poured out a glass of whiskey, he did not even need to look around the place to know what kind of clientele it had attracted.

Hard-bitten, weary-to-the-bone miners, rough and ready cowboys, slick and smarmy gamblers. The staff would be bored-to-the-back-teeth barkeepers polishing countless glasses, women with too much make-up and dresses cut too low and too short.

He raised the glass to his lips and the smell of the alcohol stung his nostrils and hit the back of his throat before it had even passed his lips. He crooked one dark eyebrow and glanced at his own reflection in the — to be expected — obligatory mirror behind the counter.

“Hey, come and see what’s a-comin’ down the road.”

The yell was shouted through the swing doors and there was the immediate frenzy to be first to get out and see exactly what was coming down the road because anything different meant a relief from the tedium of sitting around in a saloon killing time.

Adam gulped down his whiskey and flipped some money onto the counter before following the crowd that had spilled out onto the sidewalk. He elbowed his way to the front and then watched as three Romany caravans made their way down the centre of the Main Street of Dry Gulch. Instinctively, he straightened up from leaning against a post, and narrowed his eyes.

People were whispering, jostling one another, pointing and talking. But not inclusive of this tall, dark young man who now stepped into the road and waited for the first caravan to stop. He was less than a horse’s head distance when it did so.

An old woman sat on the seat. She was dressed in the flamboyant style of the Romany women with crimson and burgundy and gold spangling her skirts and a high black bodice. Gold dripped from her ears and around the wrinkled throat and jangled upon her wrists and arms. Adam looked up and into the dark eyes with the thick black kohl painted around the lids. For mere seconds they looked at each other and then she nodded.

“It is good to see that you survived, Adam Cartwright.” She smiled, dry lips that stretched across yellowing teeth, some of which were missing.

“I did, thanks to you and your people.” Adam walked towards her and extended his hand. “Are you staying here or just passing through?”

She leaned forward and took his hand in both of hers. She held his hand between her own as though imparting a blessing on him, and then released it. She was tired and stiff from traveling. She knew that if she were to get down from the caravan seat, it would be extremely difficult and very undignified to get back upon it. “Passing through, as always.”

“Then tell me, what is your name? I would like to know the name of the person who saved my life last year?” Adam stepped back and looked up at her.

“I am Maria. That is all you need to know. That is my name, that is who I am.”

“Thank you then, Maria.” Adam took a deep breath and held her eyes with the sudden fire within his own, “And thank you, for what you did for Jane. Her family was very relieved to have her back safely for burial.”

“She was dead when we found you. Had we been any later, you would have been dead also.”

“I know,” Adam twitched a shoulder nervously; it was a sore subject which troubled him even now “You know, the couple who ambushed us saw your wagons coming along the trail. They made for the high bluffs so that they would not have been seen by any of you. If you had not come along, I would have been dead as well. They would have seen to that, for sure.”

“Which means that had we traveled faster, been there sooner, then no one would have died at all,” Maria replied in her thickly accented voice. She looked steadily into his face and saw the deep pain in the dark eyes and felt sadness touch her heart for him, “I am sorry we could not have been sooner, for her, for you.”

Adam twitched his other shoulder and nodded. It had been a year now, but he would never forget Jane. He would never forget Lily either. Lily who was now in a coffin herself for Jane’s death, a death which was not the only one for which she had been responsible. Justice had indeed acted swiftly towards her. Now he would not forget Maria either and he allowed a smile to touch his lips at the way coincidences worked out at times. He had been given an opportunity to meet his benefactor in a strange twist of chance.

A curtain parted behind the old woman and a young girl peeked out. She frowned at Adam before taking her seat beside Maria,

“Grandmother, why are you waiting here? We are already late and Charley will be wondering where we are,” Katya chided her grandmother, before turning her dark eyes to look once again at Adam.

Adam said nothing but raised his hand in salute. If he recognized the silken shawl that was draped so casually around Katya’s young shoulders, he gave no sign thereof. If he remembered how the vivid colors had glowed in the sunlight of that fateful day a year ago, he gave no indication of it. He merely stepped back a few paces and raised his hand.

The gaily painted caravans resumed their journey, swaying along their way with a few bedraggled dogs loping alongside the thin horses. The crowd began to jostle one another in order to get back inside the saloon and out of the way of the dust cloud that rose and settled back down upon the black-clad young man who stood there watching until they swayed out of sight.

Then he also turned and, with a sigh stepped up to the door of a saloon that could have been anywhere It was just that, by chance, it had been that particular saloon on that particular day.

***The End***

Return to Krystyna’s homepage

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.