Summary: Raine was just the beginning of the storm.
Word Count: 8480
Ben sent Little Joe into Virginia City for a hair cut. It wasn’t the first time and wouldn’t be the last. Joe was proud of his good looks and kept himself well groomed but he still preferred his hair on the long side – an inclination his father disapproved of. Yes, Joseph had to be gently harassed in order to achieve results whether it was taking his feet off the furniture, sleeping in late or keeping his hair neat and trim.
Usually Ben sent Hoss or Adam along with him to make sure the barber was instructed as to just how short Joe’s hair should be. Unfortunately, Hoss was at an auction in Placerville and was unavailable to escort his little brother into town. Adam too was detained, but in his case, there was more to tell. He and Joe had been on the outs of late. The Civil War raged in the east and was a constant sore spot between the two. Adam sided with the North and Joe was sympathetic to the South. Little Joe’s angst was more toward his older brother’s arrogance than to the conflict itself. Whenever Adam exercised his superior attitude, Joe was always ready to challenge him.
Ben ordered Adam to the west section of the Ponderosa to mend fences for a couple of days and Joe was to stay at the house for a cooling off period. Quite frankly, Ben was becoming weary of the consent friction between his oldest and youngest sons. He was fearful of the falling out that had occurred with them in the past. The brothers battled viciously about the issue several times before actually coming to blows. When Adam returned home, Ben planned to have a serious talk with both of them. Enough was enough.
For the moment though, things were peaceful as Joe loped into town. He hitched his horse Cochise to the post outside the Bucket of Blood Saloon. He gave his steed a grateful pat on the neck before he walked inside. He decided to partake in a cold beer before his cropping.
While at the bar, he chatted with acquaintances and fought the urge to sit in on a poker game. He knew he was walking on thin ice with his father and didn’t want to add fuel to the fire. Ben expected Joe to go to town, get his haircut and be home before supper – no if’s and’s or but’s. So, Joe gulped down his ale and plopped the empty mug on the bar. Take it easy Sam,” he said as he wiped his upper lip of foam with his sleeve.
“You leavin’ already, Little Joe?” The bartender asked. “You just got here.”
“Yep.” Joe shrugged. “Gotta go.”
“Whatsa matter… your Pa ground ya?” Sam quipped loud enough for the patrons to hear and respond with mocking chuckles.
“Something like that,” he replied taking the heckling uncharacteristically in stride.
“Have you been a bad boy Joe?” Sam taunted.
“I try to be, Sam, I try to be.” Joe smiled deviously, then turned and left the saloon.
As he sauntered toward the barbershop he tipped his hat and winked at yet more acquaintances. There weren’t too many strangers on the streets of Virginia City. Everyone was familiar with everyone else – or so he thought. Just before he reached his destination, a lovely lady who walked toward him took him aback. As a matter of fact, she stopped him in his tracks. She was a new face in town and a pretty one at that. “Good afternoon, Miss,” he said as she passed him by.
“Hello,” she replied sweetly and continued on her way.
“Wait a minute,” Joe retorted as he reached out to stop her.
“Yes?” she said with slight distain.
“Are you new in town?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Well, I’m Joe Cartwright,” he blurted, flustered by the young woman’s beauty.
“That’s nice,” she rebuffed flirtatiously.
“And your name would be…?” Joe probed with a devastating grin.
“My name would be my business, Master Cartwright.”
“Well, how am I supposed to come calling if I don’t know your name?”
“Come calling? Why, I don’t even know you.”
“You’ll want to know me though, Miss.”
“Oh? Aren’t we the confident one.”
“Yes ma’am.” Joe pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows trying his best to appear dapper.
She couldn’t help but smile at his blatant charm and she turned away from her admirer shyly. She started to walk away hoping Joe would continue his pursuit. He did. They walked slowly, side-by-side.
“Come on now,” Joe urged playfully. “If you don’t tell me your name, I’ll just have to give you one.”
“Hmmm. Is that so?” She stopped to face him. “What name would you give me?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe Harry or Fred.”
“HARRY OR FRED!” she protested.
“So you better tell me your name or…”
“Raine?” Joe replied quizzically. “That’s an unusual name.”
“Not to me.”
“So, can I call on you sometime… Raine?”
“Yes you may, Joe Cartwright.”
“There’s a dance Saturday night at the Yeager’s barn. May I ask to be your escort for the evening?” he invited, bowing slightly.
“Yes you may, kind sir. I’d love to.”
“Alright then, where do you live?”
“Actually, I’m at the International Hotel until I find a place. I just got into town not twenty minutes ago.”
“I’ll pick you up in the lobby around six on Saturday then?”
“I’ll be waiting.” She raised her gloved hand and seemingly tickled the air before she turned and continued onward.
“Have a nice day.” Joe waved as he stood still to admire her movement. He let out a quiet, high-pitched yip, and then continued on to the barbershop.
When Joe returned home that night, his father was glad to see Joe’s hair precisely cut around his ears and above his collar. He also noticed that his son was in a better frame of mind than when he left that morning. He wasn’t sure what brought on this sudden cheery outlook, but he wasn’t about to spoil it by asking. Ben just accepted it happily and he and Joe spent a pleasant week together.
Joe managed to get into town to visit his new sweetheart too. He simply couldn’t stay away. They went out to dinner and on a picnic or two to get acquainted. He certainly was smitten with Raine. They parted Friday night with their first kiss and reassurances of their plans for the dance the next night.
“Well, don’t we look purdy,” Hoss commented as he watched his little brother come down the stairs into the living room still primping. “You smell purdy too, Joe.”
“Thank you, brother, thank you.”
Hoss had returned that morning and was glad to hear there was a dance to attend that evening. He and Ben waited patiently for Joe to get ready. Adam too had arrived home, but decided to go into town for a quick shave and haircut himself, after his week on the range.
“Can we go now?” Ben asked with a crocked smirk, glancing down at his pocket watch.
“Sure Pa.” Joe replied unaware of his tardiness. “Where’s Adam? Isn’t he coming with us?”
“He’s gone ahead. He said he’d meet us there.”
“Okay. Well, come on let’s go!” Joe proclaimed anxiously. “What are we waiting for? The evening’s wasting away.”
Ben and Hoss looked at one another and smiled. Shaking their heads, they followed Joe out the front door.
Joe parted from his father and brother and picked up Raine at the hotel. She looked radiant in a robin’s egg blue dress that matched her periwinkle eyes. Her raven hair was swept up into a wave, tucked with a blue ribbon. Joe crocked his arm for her to take and they walked leisurely to the dance, just outside town. When they arrived, the party was in full swing and the couple wasted no time in taking the dance floor.
Ben and Hoss watched them from beside the punch bowl and made small talk with several friends. It was now clear to Ben what had brought on Joe’s giddy mood. He had to admit, the distraction from his sibling rivalry was welcome.
Raine seemed quite taken with her suitor until a man wearing a black hat entered the fete. She watched him remove it and check it at the door. She couldn’t help but notice him. He was dark and handsome and walked with a great deal of confidence and grace. Raine was immediately thunderstruck by him.
But, she continued to dance with Joe – the entire night, in fact. All the while she tried to hide the fact that she couldn’t take her eyes off the mystery man. He danced with many ladies throughout the evening. Raine watched him chat with his friends and eat from the generous buffet. Finally, he decided to take a break and when he walked outside for a breath of air, Raine excused herself from Joe’s company and followed him into the Nevada night. She found him leaning against a post at the far end of the barn looking toward the stars.
“Beautiful aren’t they?” she remarked.
“Yes. They certainly are.”
“I’m new in town. I’m Raine.”
“Welcome to Virginia City, Raine. I’m Adam.”
They exchanged a polite handshake.
“I have to admit, Adam, I noticed you the moment you stepped into the room.”
“Yes, you’re quite… something.”
“Yes… you are.”
“Well, we Cartwrights have a reputation for being quite something, I suppose.”
“Cartwright?” Raine responded sharply.
“You sure don’t look like your brothers.”
“Well, we come in three different sizes – small, medium and extra large,” Adam quipped.
“If you’re referring to yourself as medium, I beg to differ.”
“Oh, you do, do you?”
“Yes, I do.”
Raine pulled closer to Adam and he turned to face her.
“Didn’t I see you dancing with Joe earlier?” Adam asked cautiously.
“I’m afraid Joseph is a little bit young for me. I prefer an older, more mature man.”
“And, I assume that means me.”
“You assume correctly, sir.”
She moved closer to him. Her breasts touched his chest and they locked eyes. Sparks flew and they felt as if fireworks were bursting above them.
“I’m quite cold Adam,” Raine murmured – her lips inches from his.
Adam opened his jacket and wrapped her inside it as if enveloping a letter. With heartbeats accelerated, their lips met sending a wave of excitement through them both.
“Well, Little Joe,” Ben remarked as his son joined him at the punch bowl, “I see you’ve found yourself a lovely lady.”
“Yes sir,” Joe answered brightly.
“You’ll have to introduce us later.”
“I intend to, Pa.”
Joe scanned the dance floor and its perimeter to try and pick Raine out of the crowd, but he couldn’t see her.
“If you’re looking for your friend, I saw her go outside for some air a while ago.”
“You’re welcome, son. Have a good time.”
“Oh, I will.”
Joe grabbed two glasses of punch and walked out of the barn to search for Raine. Ben watched him exit and couldn’t help but feel relief. Joe’s preoccupation with his new girlfriend seemed to be just the ticket out of his domestic problems with he and Adam. He smiled with pride at his boy and wondered if it wasn’t too good to be true.
There were several couples enjoying the cool evening air and they milled about the courtyard. Several young men stood around a small campfire smoking and joking. Joe tried to adjust his vision to the darkness and scoured the grounds for her. Then he noticed Adam on the far side of the barn in a passionate embrace with someone. But, Joe couldn’t quite make out with whom. He walked closer to try and see the figure in the shadows. Raine’s blue dress was unmistakable and Joe dropped the glasses of punch. They shattered when they hit the ground. “ADAM!” he shouted with fury.
His sudden bark made Raine and Adam part. She pulled herself out of Adam’s arms and stepped back. She bowed her head shamefully and held her fingers to her lips, as if trying to erase her indiscretions. Adam straightened his stance and squared himself for yet another confrontation. Joe marched up to his brother and stared at him coldly. His jade green eyes had turned black as coal. “Just what do you think you’re doing Adam?” he demanded – his voice trembling with ire.
“What do you mean, Joe?”
“That’s my girl!” Joe said pointing to her.
“Well, I didn’t know she was your girl.”
“You saw me dancing with her, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Adam replied calmly. “But, that doesn’t make her your property.”
By now the escalating argument was drawing a crowd with Raine looking on intently. The prospect of men fighting over her was thrilling to her. Dark clouds began to swirl in the skies and distant rumbles of thunder sounded ominously.
“I’ll ask you again. And, I want a straight answer this time.” Joe seethed. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
“Joe…” Adam sighed dismissively, “…grow up.”
The blow to Adam’s jaw was lightning fast and devastating. It made his knees buckle but he managed to stay on his feet. Even though he was seeing stars, Adam’s reaction was swift and forceful. He threw an upper cut into Joe’s ribs that knocked most of the wind from Joe’s lungs. As he bent over, Adam belted him on the back of the neck, sending Joe into the dirt. More people gathered around.
“Now, that’s enough, Joe,” Adam warned as he stood over his brother with a pointed finger. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
But, Joe was on his feet before Adam finished his threat and he ploughed into his brother wrestling him to the ground. The pair struggled for the upper hand, letting periodic punches fly. The battle was fierce. Most of the women took refuge from the fight in the barn and some alerted Ben and Hoss of the fracas. The men stayed outside to place bets.
Neither Adam nor Joe seemed to be able to out do the other. The match was even until Joe got his left fist free and let it fly against Adam’s right eye. It tore his brow open and blood gushed from the wound. The sight of it angered Adam to the point of rage and he too drew blood from Joe’s nose with his next blow. Again, the brother’s grabbed one another throwing each other to the ground where Ben and Hoss finally stepped in.
“STOP IT!” Ben commanded. “STOP IT RIGHT THIS INSTANT!”
Hoss had picked up Joe by the collar and held him at bay but Ben was not able to control Adam allowing him to get in one more punch.
“I SAID STOP IT! ADAM… JOE… THAT’S ENOUGH!”
Heaving out of breath, they stared at each other with wrath. Ben stood between them with his arms outstretched. “What’s this all about? What’s the matter with both of you?”
“He was kissing Raine!” Joe roared.
“She came after me, Pa. If Joe isn’t man enough for her then that’s not my fault,” Adam jabbed hurtfully.
His insult sent Joe into another fit of rage and he tried desperately to release himself from Hoss’ powerful grasp. Ben pushed both hands against Joe’s chest to hold him back as Adam pulled out his handkerchief to wipe the blood from his face.
“JOSEPH… CALM DOWN.” Ben tried again.
When both of his sons had gained a semblance of control and the crowd dispersed, Ben took a deep breath. He battled to keep his own temper from erupting. “I want both of you to ride home and I don’t want to hear another word out of either of you, is that understood?”
“BUT PA, ADAM…”
“NOT… another word Joseph,” Ben said raising his forefinger in Joe’s face.
Joe finally stopped but continued his dagger gaze toward Adam. Blood oozed from his nose and his bottom lip was split.
“NOW!” Ben ordered. “I’m disgusted with both of you. You’re both acting like children.”
Hoss tentatively let Joe go, but stayed on guard just in case he decided to charge again. He steered Joe to his horse and they galloped off into the darkness toward the Ponderosa. Lightning flashed overhead making them appear and disappear on the horizon.
“You too,” Ben growled at his remaining son.
Adam leered at his father, but obeyed just the same. He slowly walked back into the barn and got his hat. He put it on and tipped it at Raine who had watched the entire episode unfold in front of her. Adam got on Sport and trotted away leaving Ben alone. He turned toward Raine. “I hope you’re satisfied, young lady.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Cartwright. I didn’t know they were brothers.”
“You stay away from my boys, you hear?”
“Their grown men. If either one of them shows up on my doorstep, I’ll not turn them away,” Raine replied wickedly.
Ben had no response. She was right. They were grown men. And, he realized he could no longer control their private lives. But, he would have that serious talk he had planned. He had to. The harmony his family he once shared seemed to be hitting one sour note after another. It frightened him.
Frustrated and still angry with disappointment, he retrieved his hat and tried to appear somewhat refined to the crowd that had just seen his boys beat each other silly. He tried not to show his embarrassment as he too mounted his horse and rode home. A thunderclap snapped through the night like a bullwhip. His horse spooked into a flustered canter and Ben faded into the black.
Joe was slumped in the corner of the settee back at the ranch as he awaited his father’s arrival. He seemed to simmer, stewing in his own juices as he stared at his boots – anything to avoid Adam who sat across the room at the dinner table. He’d gotten a basin of cold water and a cloth to tend to his eye. Joe, on the other hand, continued to bleed and when Hoss attempted to give aid he was brushed aside dismissively. Hoss gave up and went to bed, but not before telling both of his brothers to behave.
The front door opened slowly and Ben entered the house just as rain began to fall. He did not receive any recognition from either of his boys that he’d arrived at all. Adam continued to dab at his wound and Joe continued to stare at his boots. Ben removed his hat and calmly hung it up by the door. He shoved his hands in his pants pockets and reluctantly walked into the middle of the living room. “Boys,” he said gently. “We need to talk.”
“Nothing to talk about,” Joe grumbled defensively.
“Please, Joe,” Ben begged. “We have to learn to get along. We’re family.”
“Well, talk to him. He started it.” Joe flicked his chin toward his brother.
Ben took a deep breath and sat on the edge of the leather chair. The rain now pelted the windows – its frantic beat matched the heightened emotions of the three men.
“Adam?” Ben called for him to join them. “Come over and sit down please.”
Adam took his time, but eventually did come around the back of the settee and take a seat in the blue velvet chair at the bottom of the stairs. He rested his elbows on its arms and held his clasped hands to his mouth. He too stared at the floor. The atmosphere in the house was daunting. The tension was thick and it felt as if Joe would blow at any second. The storm outside raged, but it was mild compared to the hurricane that seemed to swirl in the Ponderosa ranch house.
“Let’s discuss this like gentlemen, shall we,” Ben began. “Now, I know that you are quite interested in this new young lady, Joseph, but, Adam has been away and wasn’t aware that you were courting her.”
“He saw me with her at the dance… he knew.”
“I knew nothing of the kind!” Adam defended strongly.
“You’re a liar,” Joe blasted, finally making eye contact with his brother.
“Joe,” Adam said with controlled angst. “If I don’t start getting some respect from you, that nose of yours isn’t the only thing that I’m going break!”
“Boys, boys,” Ben beseeched. “This is getting us nowhere.”
“Well, it’s high time Joe grew up, Pa,” Adam declared impatiently. “He’s worse than a baby who’s lost his soother.”
“ADAM, I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!” Joe blared.
“THAT’S IT! THAT’S ENOUGH!” Ben exploded, standing to lay down the law. “As long as you boys live in this house, you will get along and act like adults.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell him, Pa. Joe’s got to start being a man instead of a spoiled little brat.”
“And you, Adam,” Ben turned to face his son, “need to be more sensitive to your brother’s feelings and opinions.”
“That’s right,” Joe barked, reinforcing his father’s comment.
“Stop it! Stop it!” Ben sounded exasperated. He paused and released a loud exhale to help regain his composure. “Joseph, go clean yourself up and we’ll continue this conversation in the morning when we’ve all calmed down.”
Joe did not move from his position seemingly waiting for more encouragement to leave.
“I said go,” Ben urged as he retook his seat in disgust.
Begrudgingly, Joe got up from the sofa and took the long way around to stay as far away from Adam as he possibly could. He noisily plodded up the stairs, marched down the upper hall to his room and slammed his bedroom door behind him.
Adam leaned back in his chair and lowered his head. His throbbing head made him wince and he pressed his middle finger against the gash over his eye and checked for more blood. After peering at his father from under his swollen brow, he broke the silence. “I’m sorry, Pa. I really didn’t know Raine was his girl.”
“Unfortunately, Adam, there’s more to this whole mess than simple jealousy.”
“If it wasn’t this episode with Raine, it would be something else to set you two off. If it’s not a woman, it’s the War. I’ll not have the falling out we had with Judge Terry and Fredrick Kyle. I’m tired, Adam. I’m tired of the constant bickering between the two of you. It has to stop and you are going to have to lead the way. You’re older. If you’d just swallow that stubborn pride of yours, Joe will follow.”
“Well, I’m tired too, Pa,” Adam said vehemently. Now it was he who stood to make his point. “I’m tired of always giving in to him, simply because he’s the youngest.”
“Adam,” Ben beseeched.
“No. I’m sorry, Pa. He has to learn to control his temper and his accusations. He over-reacts to everything. He’s gives thought to nothing.”
“But, that’s the way he is. You know that. He’s been like that since he was a boy.”
“Well, as far as I’m concerned, he still is a boy.”
“Alright, alright. I don’t want to discuss it any further.”
“Well, there is something I need to discuss with you.” Adam sighed nervously. He placed his foot on the hearth and leaned his forearm over his thigh. “I’ve come to a decision. It’s a decision that is going to upset you. And, I don’t want you to think that what happened tonight has anything to do with what I’m about to tell you.”
“Oh?” Ben sounded guarded and alarmed at the same time. He looked at Adam sideways. “And just what would that be?”
Adam exhaled through his nose seemingly drumming up the courage to confess his decision to his father. A flash of lightning illuminated his face.
“Well?” Ben probed. “What is it, son? What is this big decision?”
“Well Pa, I’ve decided to… well, I’ve decided to enlist,” Adam fumbled.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I’m going east to join the fight,” Adam confirmed.
“Over my dead body you’re going east to join the fight,” Ben responded forcefully.
“I can’t ignore it any longer. I have to do what my conscience is telling me.”
“And, just when exactly did you come to this… ludicrous revelation?” Ben tried to stay under control.
“Well, I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, Pa. But, I made my decision last week – up at the line shack.”
“I won’t allow it.” Ben commanded boldly.
“What do you mean ‘you won’t allow it’?” Adam retorted, surprised at his father’s pretentious tone. “I’m not a child! I’m a grown man, Pa, and I’ll do as I please. I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t stop me.”
“Adam… I’m begging you. Please don’t go. It is not our fight.”
“IT IS OUR FIGHT! It’s my fight!” Adam implored intolerantly.
“No. Please, Adam. Please. So many men have died already. Thousands of men.” Ben rose and drew close to his son. He placed his hands on Adam’s shoulders and looked at him squarely. His eyes held an intensity so piercing it made Adam look away. “I need you. We need you.”
“I can’t help that, Pa. Hoss and Joe can handle things while I’m away.” Adam lowered his head again. “I’ll be gone by morning.”
Ben appeared stunned as Adam pulled himself out of his father’s desperate grasp. He watched his son ascend the stairs to pack his gear for the long ride east. Words escaped him and all he could feel was despair. His knees weakened and he had to sit. Ben held his face in both of his hands and sighed with grief. Outside was a deluge of rain and within the walls of his home, a flood of sadness swept through like a raging river. A single tear slowly slide down his cheek. He was about to loose a son. The family he loved so dearly was falling apart and Ben was rendered helpless.
A damp grayness seeped through the house like old smoke hanging thick over a bar room. Dawn was disguised by the storm that never let up the entire night. Rain, thunder and lightning echoed through the air as early morning broke. Ben had fallen asleep in the leather chair. He was in the same position he was in the previous night when Adam informed him of his devastating news.
“Pa?” Hoss said softly trying to wake his father gently. “Wake up, Pa.”
Even though Hoss was careful not to startle him, Ben still jumped when he finally opened his eyes. He looked pale and disoriented.
“Pa? Are you all right? You don’t look so good.”
“Adam?” Ben sounded panicked. “Have you seen Adam?”
“No. I ain’t seen him yet,” Hoss answered with puzzlement at his father’s reaction.
“Is he gone?”
“I don’t know, Pa. His door is closed. He’s probably still asleep. It’s pretty early.”
“Check his room.”
“Yes sir,” Hoss said wearily. “I’ll go get him.”
Ben waited anxiously for Hoss to confirm his biggest fear.
“Hey Pa?” Hoss called down from the landing. “His bed ain’t been slept in. Where do you suppose he is?”
“He’s gone. He’s gone,” Ben replied with hopelessness.
“Gone? What do you mean he’s gone?”
“He’s probably just out in the barn, Pa… calm down.” Hoss’ heart began to race with anxiety.
“No. He told me last night.”
“Told you what?”
Hoss was back in the living room facing his father when Joe appeared at the top of the stairs. His lip was twice its normal size and his nose was red and swollen. Below both eyes were two perfectly shaped half-moons the color of eggplant. “What’s going on?” he asked sheepishly.
“Joseph. Come down here.”
Joe did as he was asked and joined the conversation with sincere curiosity and concern. “What is it, Pa? What’s the matter?”
“Adam intends to enlist. He’s left to go fight with the Yankees. He’s gone… I’ve lost him… he’s gone.”
“You mean to tell me, he’s gonna fight in the War out east?” Hoss asked making sure he’d understood correctly.
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you.”
“Why would he leave in the middle of the night and out into that storm?” Hoss said glancing out the window. “He couldn’t get very far. It don’t make no sense.”
“Storm or not. He was bound and determine to go as soon as possible.”
“But, he didn’t even say goodbye, Pa.” Hoss sounded hurt. “I cain’t believe he’d go and not even say goodbye. We might never see him again.”
Hoss wished he’d not commented as his father stared at him with terror. Joe didn’t say a word. The blood rushed from his face. He felt nauseous. The room started to spin and he too had to take a seat. “It’s my fault,” he stated vacantly. “He went because of me, didn’t he, Pa. Because of what happened last night.”
“No, Joe,” Ben said. “He said he’d made his decision last week. That he’d been thinking about it for a long time.”
“Our fight last night didn’t help though… did it,” Joe responded blankly.
“Well, I can’t disagree with you, son,” Ben resolved, placing a comforting hand on Joe’s shoulder.
“I’m going to find him and bring him back,” Joe exclaimed, his speech slightly slurred from his injury.
“I honestly don’t think he’ll come. You know Adam. Once he’s made up that bullheaded mind of his, it’s almost impossible to change.”
“I’ll have to change it. He was right. I’ve been acting like a schoolboy.”
“I think I should go,” Hoss volunteered.
“No. It has to be me,” Joe protested. “It’s because of me he’s gone.”
“None of us is going anywhere until that storm let’s up.”
“But, Pa,” Hoss reasoned, “the storm is the only way we’re gonna catch up to him. If we split up, we can find him and bring him home, even if we have to hog tie ’em.”
Hoss’ logic couldn’t have been more forthright. Ben decided that very moment to begin his search. “Let’s go,” he ordered as if he were at the helm of a ship.
The threesome scrambled around the house for supplies and rain gear and within the half hour had tacked up and set out to find Adam. Their mission was simple – bring him home come hell or high water.
Ben, Joe and Hoss took three separate routes hoping one would lead to Adam. The rain erased any sign of him or his tracks. The storm was relentless and made each of their treks treacherous. But, each man was determined and they plodded on. It soon became clear after several days that Adam was out of reach. There were just too many forks in too many roads as they moved farther and farther east. Adam would be like finding a needle in a haystack.
Ben was the first to return to the Ponderosa. His despair was matched only by his fatigue. After boarding his horse Buck, it took all of his effort to enter the empty house, trudge upstairs and fall into bed. It seemed to be his only comfort. And, even though he was inconsolably upset, he could stay awake no longer. Emotionally and physically drained…Ben finally slept.
The weather was still unsettled the next day when Hoss trotted into the courtyard of the ranch house. His father greeted him but they exchanged no words. They didn’t have to. There was nothing to say. Neither of them was successful in finding Adam and they walked silently into the house.
Hoss too, went straight to bed to recover from his exhausting search. When he finally awoke that evening he joined his father in the living room. The house seemed so empty – so quiet. It was disturbingly uncomfortable. It felt like it did when Ben’s third wife Marie was killed. Grief seemed to linger in every corner of the place.
“Pa?” Hoss said softly.
Ben did not answer. He stared without expression at the flames that floated like moths up the fireplace chimney – his face etched with worry.
“Pa?” Hoss tried again. “You need to eat somethin’, Pa. Come on. I’ll fix us somethin’.”
Again, his father stayed silent. He glanced up at his middle son and managed a weakly pathetic grin.
“Come on, Pa. There’s still hope. Maybe Joe found him.”
“No,” Ben resigned. “Adam’s gone.”
“He’ll be alright,” Hoss encouraged. “You know him. He’s too wily and stubborn to let anything happen to him.”
“But we’ll never see him again, Hoss. We may never know what ever became of him.”
“Sure we will. He’ll be back. You’ll see. Now let’s get somethin’ to eat. You need your strength,” Hoss urged.
Ben struggled to stand. Hoss guided him to the table and then went to the kitchen. He returned with two large, roast beef sandwiches and a pot of coffee. He placed the humble meal in front of his father and took the seat to his right.
“Do you think Joe’ll show up soon?” Hoss wondered aloud and then took a bite.
“He’s my other concern,” Ben confessed. “He may never give up and then I’ll have lost two sons. He may end up in Georgia for all I know.”
“No. Joe wouldn’t leave the Ponderosa Pa. He loves it too much.”
“I don’t know.” Ben shook his head. “Those two boys of mine. How could they be so different?”
“I think you got that wrong, Pa. Their problem is that they’re too much alike.”
Hoss’ comment drew another faint smile from Ben.
“Now, come on. Eat your sandwich,” Hoss said.
“You’re right, son. You never gave me any problems. Why couldn’t Adam and Joe be more like you?”
“Ah, just be glad that there’s only one of me around this place, Pa, or we’d of run out of food a long time ago.”
Wet, tired and hungry, Adam had reached his first goal – the Nevada/Utah border. He’d been riding for five days over rugged terrain and through the worst weather he could remember. He planned to board a train in Salt Lake City. It would take him through Colorado, then Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky and finally into the thick of it – The Virginias and The Carolinas. His trek would be a long and lonely one. Adam prayed for strength as he set up camp.
The Utah landscape was littered with boulders the size of stagecoaches and some were as large as the buildings Adam had seen in San Francisco. As rain began to fall once more, he found a shallow cave amongst the rocks to tuck himself into for the night.
But, even with the welcome shelter, the fire he’d built could not keep up with the plunging temperature. Adam wrapped his blanket around his shoulders, but it was not enough to prevent him from shivering uncontrollably. Even his teeth chattered. Sport and his pack mule seemed comfortable enough though and that gave Adam some sense of assurance.
Again, the storm that had plagued him the whole week, teamed down. Adam wondered if he’d ever be dry again. After his meager meal of beans and jerky, he curled into the fetal position trying desperately to retain any heat he could.
He stared blankly through the curtain of rain and couldn’t help but think about his future – the War. It made his stomach tighten with fear. He’d never felt lonelier. He missed his father and brother’s already. But, his notorious determination was too strong and the next morning he intended to trudge on to Salt Lake. Adam did what Adam said he was going to do… and that was that. Eventually, he did surrender to sleep as the persistent storm continued.
“Mister?” came a strange but comforting voice. “Hey mister?”
Adam opened his eyes to find he was being hunkered over by a young man. His clothes were handmade and old, but clean and in fairly good shape. He couldn’t be more than thirty years old, but his hair was almost white – bleached from the sun. His clear-colored eyes were framed with white crow’s feet that were etched into his tanned skin. He wore no hat and no jacket. He looked like a strong fellow, but one in need of a hearty meal and a good night’s rest. Adam couldn’t help but compare him to a stray dog, not unlike what his brother Hoss was accustomed to bringing home.
“Are you alright, mister?”
“Uhmm, yeah?” Adam said clearing his throat of morning fog.
“Just wonderin’ if you’re sick or somethin’?” the man asked with concern.
“No. No, I’m fine,” Adam said as he sat up and tried to orient himself. “Who are you?”
“My friends call me Smoke.”
“Smoke? How’d you get a nickname like that?”
“Ain’t a nickname. It’s just a name is all.”
“I see,” Adam replied to the man’s simple explanation. “I’ve got some bacon and coffee if you’re interested,” he offered as he sat upright.
“That’s mighty kind of you. I have some bread we can have too.”
“Sounds good,” Adam replied as he pushed himself into a standing position.
Smoke had hitched his rather ancient-looking horse to the same dead branch Adam had tethered Sport to the night before. There was little for the animals to graze, so Adam first tended to them before indulging in breakfast for he and his new friend. His supply mule had only two oat bags but there was plenty of grain to share. Smoke’s mare sure looked like it could use a square meal. Adam laid his blanket out and spread some oats on it for her to eat.
“Much obliged, mister. We appreciate that.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll get them some water too.”
“Sure am glad I run into ya.”
“Me too,” Adam admitted. “It’ll be nice to talk to something with two legs instead of four for a change.”
When they were satisfied that the animals were taken care of, the men relit the fire and prepared their morning meal. The bread Smoke had, added nicely to Adam’s bacon and coffee. The damp and cold still lingered, so the warm breakfast was a treat.
“Where ya headed?” Smoke asked as he leaned back on his elbow and rested his coffee cup on his abdomen. He stretched out his legs and crossed his ankles.
“East.” was all Adam divulged, concentrating on eating his breakfast.
“Me too. Mind if I tag along with ya a spell.”
“Sure. Be glad of the company.”
“Where ya from?” Smoke continued his interrogation.
“Nevada. Virginia City.”
“I ain’t never been there. Heard about the silver they found.”
“How about you? Where do you call home?” Adam inquired.
“Home? I ain’t got no home. I been roaming since I can remember. I been clear up to Canada and way down to Mexico. Seen a lot of places, met a lot of nice people. A lot of bad ones too.”
“I know what you mean about people.”
“Yeah. That’s why I’m headin’ east. Hear there’s a fracas going on over there. Thought I’d join the army.”
“Oh? Which army do you intend to join?” Adam asked with a sideways glance as the plot thickened.
“Don’t really care. Whichever one has the best food I suppose.”
Smoke casually sipped his coffee and looked out over the red landscape. Adam stopped chewing and slowly lowered his knife and fork, curious as to why a man would go to war just so he could eat. “Well, don’t you care about what you’re fighting for?” he asked.
“But, that doesn’t make any sense. Surely, you can find some other way to eat. Why don’t you find a job?”
“Listen, Adam,” Smoke pointed. “I’ve had my share of jobs. They never kept my belly full enough. And, if I kin git three squares in the army, that’s where I’ll go.”
“But, you could get killed?” Adam retorted, astonished at the man’s reasoning.
“The way I see it, we’re all gonna dead enyhow. Don’t really matter to me if it’s sooner or later.”
“What about you mother? Your father?”
“Never knew ’em. Ain’t got no family. Never did. It’s just me and Cheyenne over there. She’s all I got.”
“Oh,” Adam said as he lowered his head and flipped his food around his plate with his fork.
“What about you? You got a family?” Smoke asked with genuine interest.
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
“Oh yeah? Sisters… brothers?”
“Two brothers and my father. We ah… we have a ranch near Lake Tahoe.” Adam sounded almost ashamed to admit he had so much.
“So, whatcha doin’ out here then? You got more than I’ll ever see in my whole lifetime… long or short. I could tell by your horse you was well healed. Wish I was that lucky.” Smoke shook his head. “Family and a home to boot.”
“Yeah,” Adam said sheepishly.
“You ain’t heading to the same fracas I am, are you?”
“Well, as a matter of fact… I am.” Adam admitted.
“What the heck for? You’re gonna go to war, even though you got a fine enough life of your own back in Nevada… with a nice family and a ranch and everything?”
The way Smoke put it made Adam feel silly.
“Know what I think?” The young man offered.
“No, Smoke. What do you think?”
“I think all this rain has rotted your brain. The only people you should be fighting with are your brothers. Wish I had a brother to fight with. I always wanted a brother,” Smoke mulled. “Or at least…someone.”
Now Adam was feeling down right stupid. It was at that moment that he realized how foolish he’d been. He loved Little Joe no matter how immature he thought he was. The Ponderosa was his home – his past as well as his future. He’d let his father down, and as for Hoss, Adam truly missed the camaraderie he had with him. What had he been thinking? It was at that moment he realized just what he had left behind.
“You gonna eat the rest of that pork belly?” Smoke asked.
“No. You can have it.”
“I can’t repay you, Adam… for all your help I mean.”
“Smoke, you don’t know it, but you’ve paid me more than you’ll ever know.”
“Yes,” Adam said as he stood up to start packing his gear. “You have.”
“Where you goin’?”
“Home, Smoke. I’m going home.”
Adam packed hastily, as if he couldn’t head west fast enough. He tacked up Sport and mounted. When he turned to say thank you to Smoke, there was no sign of him. It was like he’d simply vanished. Adam wondered why he didn’t say good-bye. Somewhat mystified, he reined his horse toward home, gave him a slight nudge to the ribs and began his weeklong trip back to where he belonged… the Ponderosa.
Little Joe returned several days after Hoss. He was angry and bitterly disappointed that he was unsuccessful in finding Adam. But, Ben didn’t care how Joe felt. He was just happy that he’d come home. It was one less thing for him to worry about.
Even though Ben, Joe and Hoss felt as if they’d had a piece of them amputated without Adam there with them, they had a ranch to run. Somberly, they returned to their daily routine. They had to go on. They had to find a way to deal with their loss and sidetrack them from thinking about Adam’s fate. Working the ranch was the only way they knew how. There was branding to do, hay to bail and the constant maintaining and building of fences. All the while, storm clouds remained – ever threatening, always daunting.
Days turned into weeks, and the thought of Adam in battle still plagued them like a swarm of bees. Ben prayed for a letter from Adam – some message that said that he was safe. His biggest fear was that he’d never hear from him again. Even though they were distracted by their chores, under the surface ran a surging spring of uneasiness and fear.
Much of the fencing was down in eastern section of the ranch and Ben, Hoss and Joe worked together digging postholes. The wide valley was lush. As green as a tree frog. Surrounding them were gently slopping foothills covered with tender grasses and clover. Idyllic grazing land for their stock. A small herd of cattle meandered lazily in the distance, seemingly enjoying every morsel the recent rains had produced.
“Those steers don’t need fencing with all this good feed,” Hoss protested as he wiped his brow of sweat. “They ain’t goin’ no place.”
“Keep digging, son,” Ben chortled, pointing downward with his forefinger. “Keep digging.”
“Well, Joe can finish this one up. I’m takin’ a break.”
“Hey! Wait a moment!” Joe lightly protested. “How come I don’t get to take a break?”
“Cuz, I’m the one doin’ most of the diggin’, that’s why little brother.”
The light moment was welcome as Hoss straightened up and stood by his father who leaned on the post that awaited placement. Ben passed Hoss the canteen and the pair watched Joe labor. He still wore the unmistakable black eyes that a broken nose generated. They were just another reminder of Adam and the fight they’d had three weeks ago.
“You’re doin’ a fine job there, Joe,” Hoss encouraged much to his brother’s good-humored disgust.
After a short chuckle at Joe’s expense, Hoss raised the canteen to his lips when a distant rider distracted him. At first he couldn’t make out who it was and he stopped to try to focus.
“Hey.” Hoss remarked quietly. “Who do you suppose that is Pa?”
Ben barely noticed Hoss’ question and continued to watch Joe shovel the dirt out of the deepening hole. “Hmmm? What?” he said without lifting his head.
“I said. Who is that?”
“Over yonder.” Hoss pointed. “Who do you suppose that is ridin’ this way?”
Ben didn’t even have to look. He knew instantaneously. He knew it was Adam. He closed his eyes in silent thankfulness. His heart jumped and accelerated with cautious excitement.
“It’s Adam!” Hoss shouted. “Hey Joe… look it’s ADAM!”
Joe stopped mid-throw and turned to see the rider that approached. He threw the spade into the mound of dirt he’d created and it stuck. He too dragged his sleeve over his forehead to remove the grim and perspiration.
“ADAM!” Ben called out to him as he got closer and closer. “ADAM! We’re over here!” He waved both arms wildly over his head.
Hoss began to jog toward him wanting to be the first to intercept his brother. But, Joe stayed back, seemingly afraid of Adam’s reaction to him. Ben followed Hoss and as Adam cantered up to them and stopped they literally grabbed him out of the saddle. The threesome embraced each other so strongly they almost lost their balance.
“Welcome home, son,” Ben said, his smile so broad it hurt.
“Glad to be home, Pa.”
“How far’d ya get, Adam?” Hoss inquired. “We went out after ya.”
“I got to the Nevada/Utah border and then turned around.”
“What changed your mind?” Ben asked as they formed a tight huddle.
“Well, let’s just say…I came to my senses.”
Adam’s explanation was rewarded with a firm slap on the back from his father. Ben and Hoss centered Adam between them throwing their arms around his shoulders. Joe watched from several yards away, unsure of what to say or do. Adam saw Joe’s apprehension and gently broke away from his brother and father. They let him go and watched as he walked up to Joe. The two men stood face to face, both seemingly leery of the other.
“How’s the nose?” Adam asked with a slanted grin.
“Fine,” Joe said simply.
“Those black eyes are starting to fade.”
“Yeah,” Joe replied shyly. “Your cut looks better.”
“Yeah. It’s pretty much healed now,” Adam replied as he rubbed the scar.
An avalanche of uneasy silence seemed to thunder through the valley.
“Look… ah, Joe…” Adam tried to quell the awkwardness. “I realize I’ve been an overbearing idiot over this whole thing. I got to Utah and realized you and Hoss and Pa were more important to me than the politics out east and all that, you know. And, well, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have a family and a home until I didn’t have it anymore. I’m sorry Joe. And, I’m sorry about Raine too.”
Joe lowered his head but did not respond to Adam’s speech. Ben and Hoss waited patiently for his reaction to his brother’s peace offering.
“Well, I’m sorry too, Adam,” Joe finally said. “I’ve learned a lot from this whole thing.”
“Oh? Just what is it you’ve learned?”
“I think I learned that life around here is pretty dull without you. And…and that I have to be more patient and a little less temperamental.”
“Really,” Adam replied skeptically.
“And, do you know what else I learned Adam?”
“No. What else, Joe?”
“I also learned that you left your silver plated rifle behind,” Joe smirked deviously. “That rifle’s a whole lot better than mine.”
Adam placed his hands on his hips, narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips in playful frustration. He swung his torso around to look at Hoss and Ben, who stood with their arms crossed being entertained by the banter. They laughed at Joes’ joshing. Adam stuck his tongue in his cheek before turning back toward Joe. “Why you little imp!” he seethed playfully as he stepped toward his little brother ominously.
“Finder’s keepers, Adam,” Joe rationalized as he moved a few steps back, knowing Adam was about to make chase.
“I better find that rifle exactly where I left it you, little crook.”
“Oh, it won’t be hard to find older brother,” Joe teased, “it’s in my bedroom… right beside my bed.”
With that, Joe turned and ran with Adam right on his heels. Ben and Hoss looked on with delight. The feud was finally resolved. Hopefully, it would stay that way. Yes, there would be upsets to come, but never again would the Civil War be mentioned in the Cartwright home. As Adam tackled his little brother in the distance, the sun broke through the clouds. It seemed to place a spotlight on the two men as they wrestled like brothers should. Their laughter echoed through the valley. The fences were mended and the storm that haunted the Cartwrights was now…finally over.