Summary: What Happened In Between and What Happened Next for the “Honor of Cochise”
Word Count: 8200
We’re almost home and I don’t mind telling you I was stiff and sore. Hard riding through hardscrabble country was not good on my back or other parts I don’t particularly wish to mention. And it was hot. Oh, no, I said that out loud.
“What’s a matter, Adam?” came from Joe as I winced. “Gettin’ old on us?” I gave him a simpering smile. “Can’t take the heat anymore?”
“It just seems hotter this September than last,” was all I said as he started to giggle. I sighed and went back to unsaddling Sport, leaning over to drop my saddle only to find I had a hell of a time standing back up. Fortunately, Joe didn’t see me or I’m sure he would’ve provided me with another aged comment. I really didn’t want to hear the first, let alone another. I just wanted to sit down.
My back aside, my stomach was telling me it was time to eat and I could smell Hop Sing’s stew clear over here. Looking up I saw my brother, Hoss, bending over Pa, trying like the devil to get his hands on the ladle Pa was using to stir our scrumptious meal but Pa wouldn’t budge. He just kept stirring and tasting away, much to the worry of my bigger brother until he finally wrested the ladle from him. It made me smile. That man loves to eat.
“I’m going to fill up the canteens,” I told them and started out thinking we probably should’ve camped closer to water so I wouldn’t have to walk so far in this heat when a distant sound filled the air. It was vague at first, like an echo of something else, and we all peered over the rocks into the brown landscape to see if we could pinpoint where it was coming from. After a few moments, we saw it – two men on horseback riding hell-bent with a group of Indians hot on their tail. Gunfire was exchanged and one man fell, leaving the other to race on and finally pull up his sweat-splattered horse and fall into our arms, telling us Indians were coming. No kidding! We could all see them and they didn’t look happy.
Canteens forgotten, I grabbed my rifle and ran toward Hoss, both of us keeping an eye on the approaching enemy while Pa and Joe took care of the man. He was a cavalry officer, a Captain, covered in dust and grime, telling us his name was Moss Johnson and it was Cochise who was chasing him.
Cochise? What was Cochise doing this far from Arizona territory?
Johnson gave us a fair explanation and I could tell by the look on Pa’s face that he was bound and determined to protect this man. Well, there goes my idea of sitting down anytime soon.
We had nothing to go on but what the Captain told us, but I sure wanted to know why Cochise was chasing him, why he’d left Arizona. Seemed like an awfully dumb thing to do since that meant the government would be chasing them down, parking them back on a reservation and continue destroying their way of life. Johnson must’ve done something horrendous to make Cochise leave his people and chase after him all this way. It made sense . . . but it just didn’t make sense.
Just as that thought drifted through my head, a voice piped up identifying himself as Cochise and he told us what he planned to do – kill Johnson and anyone who protected him. A shiver ran through me. I can only guess what the others felt. My stomach sounded again but this time it had nothing to do with hunger.
It had been far too quiet, the next few hours dragging by, and everyone was on edge. I fingered the canteens, knowing my father and brothers needed water just as much as Johnson. He kept calling out for it like we had a magic spring, and I debated with myself — water wasn’t that far away and, if I hurried and kept low, I knew I could fill at least two canteens before I could be spotted.
Apparently the heat and dehydration had gotten to me because I forgot one of the most important rules when dealing with Indians — they’re like shadows, whether it be the full light of day or the darkest of night — and I thought I could outsmart them. This would go down as one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done, more in line with something Joe might do when he gets riled. Even after all these years, I still can’t believe I did that.
Feeling the familiar handle of my pistol to make sure it was resting free in its holster, I slipped out of camp, crouching near a tree to survey the lay of the land. I should’ve turned back then, but being that I’m pig-headed, continued on to jump into a small gully to hide behind some dead bushes and clumps of scrub. The water just beyond that lone tree sparkled and that’s all I could see. Moving out of the gully, I hesitated briefly near that tree then headed out, moving quickly across an open patch, my goal within my grasp.
Thinking on the sweet water that would soon touch my hands and coat my throat, I failed to see the smoke rising up out of a bush directly in front of me, failed to see it until I felt the bullet slam into me. It knocked me flat — my hat going one way, canteens the other — and all I could think of was how stupid could you be, Cartwright!
I hit the ground hard, dazed and unable to do more than make a feeble attempt at trying to move before my body gave up and I fell back, the sun shining down upon me. So this was how it was going to end — I would either fry under the burning sun or those Indians would come and scalp me.
Appreciating neither of those choices, I decided it wasn’t proper to just give up. I had to do something. So with one last final push, I managed to pull my shoulder from the rocky ground and roll onto my side. The problem. . . I rolled onto my left side and the agony that tore through me, moved through my gut and up through my chest with persistent accuracy, ending with a blinding show of lights in my head. I cried out, I’m sure, and rode that wave of pain right into the dark that dropped upon me like a ton of bricks, leaving me with a wisp of a thought as I flopped back onto the dirt of how sorry I was Pa would have to live with the fact that he had a stupid son who seemed to have forgotten everything he’d ever learned in the space of a second.
Sound was the first thing that returned, vaguely echoing back from somewhere else. Gunshots I could identify, and they were coming from where I didn’t know and going too I had no idea, but I was pretty sure I was the target. It was then I felt a hand on my arm.
What are you doing?
You’re going to be shot!
Of course those words were in my head because I couldn’t get anything to work. I didn’t want to have someone else’s death on my head, especially my brother’s, ‘cause this had to be Hoss. He could lift anything and he’d carted me around a time or two. My death was bad enough. I couldn’t be the reason Hoss followed after me.
Leave me be!
But there was nothing I could do but listen to my own screams of pain in my head as I was lifted and moved, then just as quickly found myself lying flat on the ground again. The jostling around seemed to bring me closer to consciousness, however, for I managed to peek through my lashes to see Pa bending over me, concern and fear all over his face. Well, I’d put it there and I was mad at myself and would’ve apologized immediately if I could’ve gotten anything else out besides a long and loud piercing groan.
“It’s all right, son,” came from Pa.
No, it’s not!
“Everything’s going to be all right.”
Man, that hurt! I must’ve been gut shot. Oh, I knew what that meant — I was going to die a slow horrible death unless they could get me out of here and home to Paul Martin, and I knew that wasn’t possible, what with Cochise camped out a stone’s throw away just waiting for another stupid action.
Damn! I so wanted to see the world and now that was out of the question. Of course, I suppose a specter could see more of the world than an earth-bound soul but I wasn’t really ready to test that theory. Not yet anyway. I planned on hanging on as long as I could ‘cause I didn’t want to worry my father and brothers. Although, if I thought on it, I’d already done that. . . done that in spades.
Pa gave me comforting words as he pulled open my shirt, trying not to grimace at the sight as ‘sorry’ sat on the tip of my tongue. I almost had the word, almost had all the letters gathered and ready to state to the world when he pressed down to still the rapid flow of blood escaping, and an excruciating wall of red hot pain tossed the word to the side. My eyes shot open and latched onto Pa’s and I had a vague idea that I could use the pain to stay awake. I could help. I knew I could, even just laying here on the ground.
Give me a rifle!
I’ll defend everyone to the end!
But it was a false hope and I could feel my body already betraying me as Pa’s face began to waver. There was no way I could put out any sort of intelligible words, let alone hold a rifle, and found myself wrapping a hand about Pa’s ankle as another spasm shot through me and I cried out again into the darkness that was slowly surrounding me.
“Hold on, son,” came his garbled voice as I sank lower into the depths, barely feeling my other hand being squeezed. I tried to return it but everything was going and scrambling after it was useless. “Adam?” was the last thing I heard for awhile as his gentle voice dispersed before me.
After that awareness kept fading in and out, words floated around my head and once in awhile, I had the wherewithal to open my eyes to see worried faces and feel gentle hands upon me. Once, I seem to remember cool water rolling into my mouth and reveled in its wetness for I was so thirsty, had been since we first arrived.
How had they gotten water?
I hope none of them had been hurt!
Once, voices came to me and I knew Hoss was mad ‘cause his words and tone were measured and deep. I so wanted to see who was getting the butt end of my big brother’s anger but again I was just aimlessly wandering on a sea of pain and alternating numbness where everything was just gray and thick. It was so very easy to fall back into it and let everything slide away, let it keep the pain at bay for as long as possible.
I don’t recommend taking this route just to sit down.
It seemed to last forever, that gummy feeling when you sleep too long, when all of a sudden gone were the gentle touches to be replaced with rough hands, and I cried out at the sudden sharp pain that rocketed through my gut, forcing me to open dry eyes. Hoss was there above me, serving someone with an intense glare; I felt my hand being clutched and moved a lazy glance over to see Joe, noting the worry on his face as he too stared intently at someone else. Deciding I’d better know to whom they were throwing daggers, I peered over, noting a stranger dressed in Army blue and wondered if this was the same man who’d run pell-mell into our camp just yest . . . or whenever that happened.
“I’m sorry,” the stranger said when he noticed me watching him. “I’m going to have to probe for the bullet and it’s going to hurt. I’ve given you a shot of morphine but it may take a moment to kick in.”
Narrowing eyes at the man, I watched him pick up something and lean over me. I felt his touch, felt the pressure.
Aren’t you going to WAIT!
I didn’t need any more pain, thank you very much, than what had already taken up residence in my body and I tried to get my mouth to work. I must’ve moved some ‘cause Hoss was suddenly leaning over me, placing a large hand on my shoulder.
“It’ll be all right.”
I can still feel him!
Apparently, none of that came out into the air, for Hoss just smiled down at me then stuffed something soft into my mouth.
“Here ya go, big brother,” he said, the sound of his voice thick and warped, “in case ya need ta bite down.”
My thoughts were slow and my ears were taking longer to process what everyone was saying because before I knew it, I was very thankful for whatever was in my mouth, because without it I’d have bitten right through my lip. Fortunately, fate intervened and I blacked out moments later, which I completely recommend at a time like this. The last thing remembered were Hoss and Joe’s hands in mine. It was like a tether keeping me in this one place and for that I was grateful.
The next thing I knew the sun seemed to be in a different position and the surrounding landscape was bouncing by.
Where’d the wagon come from?
Time had little or no meaning at that point; I could’ve been asleep for a month and never known it but for the presence of the soldier sitting quietly next to me. It was then I noticed arms encircling me, keeping me propped up. It had to be Pa. I’d been in this position a time or two before and would recognize my father’s loving embrace anywhere. I must’ve moved or made some sort of sound for I felt him shift behind me then soft words came at me.
“We’re on our way home, son,” he said in that soothing voice of his which always makes me feel good no matter how awful I really feel. “We should be there by nightfall and you can rest in your own bed instead of the hard ground.”
My own bed. That sounded nice.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
How do I feel? Well, I feel a little loopy. That must be the morphine ‘cause I can only feel a little pain that stabs at me at the most inopportune time and not much of anything else. I may have said fine, which is my stock answer, but I’m not sure. He didn’t seem to mind.
“It’ll be all right. You just rest now. Close your eyes and the next thing you know we’ll be home.”
I’m in my 30’s and having my father tell me to close my eyes would normally be met with a laugh, but this time, I couldn’t think of anything better and let them slide shut as the rolling of the wagon lulled me back to sleep where I dreamed of Hoss yelling at people and Joe with extremely long hair, both dressed up like Indians. I’ve no idea what any of it meant and didn’t really want to know.
It was as Pa said – I was in my own bed – but this time what woke me wasn’t the bouncing of a wagon or Hoss yelling at someone but an incredible raw torture arcing through my entire body like fire to make me howl at its intensity. I was sure I was being torn in two, laid open right here in my own bed to end my days as two halves and not a whole. And above all that I felt rancid bile moving rapidly up my throat and knew I didn’t have enough energy to stop it. And so up it came into a ready bowl there to catch it as it flew.
God, that hurts! Don’t ever do that when you have a stomach wound. It’s like the world is exploding and it’s all inside your own body.
“Ahhhhh!” came out of me as my fingers clutched onto the nearest someone for dear life.
“Ssh, ssh. It’s all right,” I heard my father say as another wave of nausea claimed me.
“. . . hurts . . ,” I stuttered as I finished, curling into myself, feeling a full body sweat take me over as Pa held on tightly.
“I know,” came a new voice, Paul Martin’s voice, pushing a feeling of hopefulness through me.
He’ll fix me.
It was then I realized Paul was the one I had a death grip on and pried open gooey eyes to look at him. He smiled at me and patted my shoulder.
“That Army doctor did a fine job of retrieving the bullet,” he explained, “but I’m guessing he missed some tears inside. That’s what’s causing all the pain and nausea.” I tried to follow the meaning of his words but it took everything I had not to scream out in one long continuous yowl. “I’m going to have to operate again, fix what he missed. Feel up to it?” he asked with an expectant look on his face.
“No,” was the first thing out of my mouth, the word erupting on a gasp as I rode the latest wave of pain that scorched through me along with another bout of nausea. But as I rolled back into Pa’s arms, I saw his pallid face filled with worry and fear. I guess it all came down to how much I trusted Paul. I already knew that answer. “Yesssss.” I sounded like a snake, hissing out the word on an escaping breath, taking notice that the pain appeared to be ebbing . . . at least for the moment.
Paul nodded and peeled my hand from his leg as Pa grabbed it in his own, as my respite was short lived and another wave consumed me. Trying to keep everything inside was impossible and tears streamed down my face. This was all my fault. I had no one to blame but myself and the misery I was currently going through was testament to my own stupidity.
“. . . sorry . . . Pa . . ,” I croaked between great gulps of air, finally able to speak that word aloud, that word I’d been trying to express since this all began.
Of all the things I do in life, I don’t ever want to purposefully worry my father. He’s got enough to worry about with Joe, whose hair-trigger temper has gotten him into more trouble throughout the years. I closed my eyes against the anxiety on his face then heard his deep voice close to my ear.
“Whatever are you sorry for, son?” he asked quietly. Looking at him, I was uncertain how he could ask a question like that when evidence of what I was sorry for was staring him in the face.
“. . . this . . ,” was all I could muster as I cringed again at another spasm starting up and held on tighter. I was sure I was going to break his hand but he kept in there, kept hanging on just like he always did.
“Ssh, now, son,” came the answer as he ran a hand through my hair to rest on my cheek.
“I shouldn’t have . . . shouldn’t’ve gone . . .”
“I’d be the first to tell you that I never expected that of you, but there’s nothing to be sorry for. I trust that Paul will set you right. You’re going to be fine. Okay?”
I looked at him, looked at the man I’d loved all my life, the one who’d never lied to me and always took care of me no matter what. I nodded. I really just wanted a hug, which was odd. I hadn’t needed nor really wanted one in years, but just then, as he looked at me with love pouring over me, I just wanted a hug.
I must’ve said something – I don’t remember – because the next thing I knew he’d wrapped me up in his arms and I held on. So lost in that hug, I never felt Paul give me a shot nor realized the pain was slowly leeching away. Of course, I never remembered falling asleep either. I only remembered that hug.
Being lost in the infinite void of sleep can be tormenting.
Why can’t I wake up?
How long have I been asleep?
Did I die?
You get caught up, unable to escape back to reality and merely have to endure. And that’s where I found myself because I simply wasn’t strong enough to do much else. And into this void where I floated were vague references to voices, and with voices came words but I couldn’t understand them. Oh, once in awhile what sounded like a word would seep through, but mostly it was just noise that batted about my head making it ache.
I don’t even know how long it lasted — I’d lost track of time again — but it seemed as if an eternity passed before the noise began to subside and I could hear more plainly, even though I wasn’t actually awake. I could recognize their voices now – Pa, Hoss, Joe, Hop Sing and Paul. . . I even remember hearing Roy at one point and they talked of all sorts of things – our history, our life together out here in the wilderness, their love for me and each other. It was quite calming even though I was still racked with constant ripples of pain that came up one side and down the other. It was something I couldn’t get away from and had to settle with trying to avoid if possible. When that didn’t work, I clenched my jaw and waited for it to come like a crouching tiger I’d seen in a book one time, waiting to pounce on the pain as it raised its barbed head. I didn’t have much luck in the beginning but then I got sneaky (Joe would’ve been proud) and pretended I was asleep then grabbed it and shook it until it faltered and, eventually, became manageable.
Again, I had no idea how long that lasted, that perpetual fight against the monster inside me, but it wore me out, and when that happened, I found I could finally relax some and sleep, a deep healing sleep without dreams, without that sharp edged flame that had so consumed my life of late. It was heaven and I took full advantage of it. When I recognized Hoss’ voice asking me if I was ‘gonna sleep forever’, it occurred to me that I should at least make an effort to prove him wrong and forced open heavy lids.
“Well, lookee there,” Hoss said with a huge smile on his face, his hand wrapped about mine, squeezing the dickens out of it. “I didn’t think ya was gonna sleep forever. I knew ya’d wanna wake up ‘cause the leaves should be a-changin’ soon and ya know how much ya like that.”
Did he say leaves?
I furrowed my brow and opened my mouth.
“What was that, big brother?” Hoss said, leaning in a bit closer.
“. . . leaves . . ?” I finally forced out, my voice betraying the weakness that ran through me.
Hoss frowned a bit then seemed to let it go. “Yep. They’s startin’ over on Dawson’s Ridge and there’s a definite chill in the air. Ya know what that means. Autumn’s a-comin’. Ya gotta get back on yer feet so’s you and me can go on our annual turkey hunt.”
My God! How long have I been in bed?
“. . . how . . . how long?”
Hoss had to lean in even closer just to hear me. I was so hoping that our annual turkey expedition wasn’t around the corner because I didn’t think I’d be sitting up any time soon, let alone stalking a turkey through the woods.
“How long ya been in bed? Or how long ‘til the turkey hunt?”
“. . . both . . .”
“Well, let’s see,” he said tapping his chin. “We got ya home, and then about four days after that ya took a turn and Paul had ta go back in. Ya’ve been in and out since then, and that was a little over two weeks now. October’s just next week, and ya know autumn usually gets tucked in there closer ta November. Ya’ll be up and ornery as ever afore then.”
If you say so, because right now I was having a hard time breathing, let alone thinking. “. . . two weeks,” was all I could say. It seemed like yesterday I was doing a dumb thing. Two weeks. That could be a lifetime.
I must’ve had that look I get when I worry, the one where Joe tells me if I keep it up my face might just stay that way, because I felt Hoss touch my arm the way he does to give comfort.
“Don’t ya fret now. Two weeks or three weeks or even a month don’t matter none as long as ya get better. ‘Sides everyone’ll be so jealous that they missed this great event.” There go my brows again. “Ya opened yer eyes and I was the one ta see it,” he explained with a wide smile on his happy face. I attempted one of my own, wondering how I’d been so blessed with such a wonderful brother. And then I remembered something else, something about Hoss.
“. . . you . . .” I began slowly wincing slightly at a small jagged pain. “. . . you were . . . mad.” I guess I wasn’t being very clear since his smile changed to a questioning look. I tried again. “. . . heard your . . . voice.”
A frown appeared immediately followed by a scowl. “That Captain Johnson riled me,” came his terse answer.
“How?” I really wanted to know, even though I wasn’t sure I’d remember it later. Actually, I needed to know.
“He killed them Indians, Adam. Cochise’s people,” he began, looking down at the bedspread. “He poisoned them and seemed ta think it was all right since they was just Indians. Both Joe and I wanted ta give ‘im up but Pa wouldn’t let us. Said we had ta protect ‘im all the while you was layin’ there bleedin’ ta death. It rankled.”
Poisoned? Well, I was going to have to ask again once my head cleared up because that just didn’t sound right. Why would a US Army officer poison Indians? I mean did he have orders to do that? Didn’t seem right to me.
“Adam? Ya still with me? Adam?”
“. . . hmm . . ?” I mumbled then blinked a few times, my brother’s friendly face fading in and out in front of me.
“Never ya mind. Get some more sleep. I’m sure somebody’ll be here when ya open them purty eyes again.” He smiled at me then as I fell into sleep.
And he was right. Each time when I woke, someone was there, didn’t matter what time of day or night. It gave me comfort to know I was so loved. It’s not that I didn’t know it before; it’s just nice to see it put into action every so often. I still felt bad, though. I’d put those worried faces into place, added a bit of heartache to my family that didn’t need it. But they never made me feel bad about it — always uplifting in their tone and manner. God, I love ‘em with all my heart. I hope they know that. I should just tell them.
Maybe after a nap.
Dreams are great things, for it’s a nice easy way to forget, to float in the infinite darkness without a care in the world, having great adventures or sweet silences. Of course, if you have nightmares, well, I’d rather be anywhere else. My nightmares, when I have them, are usually doozies, and when I’m medicated, they get worse. And this one took the prize, with a rampaging Hoss strangling Johnson as Indians fell down in death throes about them.
And it was into this that Hop Sing strode, trying desperately to wake me up, and, despite the fact that I still didn’t have enough strength to raise a finger, I practically threw him across the room with me going right along with him. Both of us ended up on the floor in a heap, with me puking and bleeding all over him. It was a mess, and if I’d been more aware, I would’ve been properly embarrassed but Hop Sing didn’t seem to mind.
Of course, Hop Sing never seems to mind. Oh, sure, he gets upset if we start missing his meals and threatens to go back to China quite a few times during the year, but he never gets further than the yard before someone runs after him and begs him to stay. I’ve seen him smile more than once as he headed back to his domain while we all promised him whatever he wanted. I love that man. He’s like a second father to me and we’d be lost without him.
But now he might be having second thoughts about tending me since we’re both laying in puke and blood and none of it’s his . . . well, except for that split lip I gave him when my head hit his face. And I’m sure he’ll have a black eye, too.
“. . . sorry,” I whispered as he tried to roll me off him. I couldn’t help and he gave up. Fortunately, we both heard hasty footfalls in the hall, then three gasps, one right after the other, as the door shot open. If I’d been feeling better, I would’ve laughed. Instead, I just echoed Hop Sing’s reaction and grinned.
“What the devil?!” I heard Pa say.
“Come on, older brother,” Hoss softly said, carefully easing me off Hop Sing, his foot slipping (in what I didn’t want to know) and down he went with me in his lap. The jarring didn’t do me any good and I let out a startled yelp and fell back against him. “Sorry, Adam,” he said over and over until I managed to pat his hand.
“. . . s-okay. Don’t . . . worry.” I opened exhausted eyes and centered them on Pa as he knelt before me, a hint of a smile crossing his anxious face.
“You’re a mess, young man,” he informed me, like I didn’t already know that.
“He have nightmare,” Hop Sing explained as Joe helped him to his feet. “I try to wake. Drop me to floor.”
“. . . sorry,” I whispered again, suddenly lightheaded. Must be because I’m bleeding (I can feel its hot wetness oozing toward my nether regions) or the fact that this is the first time I’ve been upright in three weeks. I must’ve had a look, that look you get before you throw up, because Pa jumped out of the way as I let loose again to decorate the floor once more.
God, that still hurts!
Now I really was a mess. Why can’t I just pass out and wake up nice and clean? No, that would be too easy, so instead I got to experience the rolling waves of knife-wielding pain my retching caused as it moved up and down my side, then across my stomach and back again. I felt like I was going to puke again but there wasn’t anything left and quickly thought of something else until the sensation passed.
“He’s shiverin’ somethin’ awful, Pa,” I heard Hoss say as my eyes closed and my head fell against his shoulder. I didn’t even have the energy to pretend to help as they stripped and cleaned me up.
I may not have had the strength to help but my mind was clearing up and it occurred to me that I hadn’t thrown up since Paul told me the Army doctor had missed something. Could it be the same thing? Did Paul miss something? No, Paul took his time.
Maybe it was the constant pain then, a pain that was always there, whether buried in the background or not. Of course, tossing myself off the bed couldn’t have helped. Stitches ripped, insides flung about . . . I just didn’t have the capacity for worrying at this time; it simply took too much effort and there was nothing to be done anyway except sit there and take it.
“Adam?” came Pa’s voice as if floating on a breeze. I’d almost fallen asleep leaning against Hoss and didn’t even know it. This was becoming tedious. Trying to focus, I saw him smile at me, that kind, soft smile he gives us when one of us is sick. “Feel like taking another crack at going to bed?”
Nodding, because that was about all I could do at that moment, Pa lifted me up and Hoss pushed from behind, both of them maneuvering me onto the side of the bed. Joe slipped a clean nightshirt over my head just as a harsh stab lanced through me making me double over, Pa holding on so I wouldn’t have a close encounter with the floor again. My hand moved straight to my wound and the blood collected on my bandages and I sighed.
“You boys go get cleaned up for supper,” Pa informed my brothers as Hop Sing neared with clean bandages and a bowl of warm water. “I’ll take care of him. Go on.”
“Ya sure, Pa?” Hoss asked, worry plastered across his face as Pa slipped in behind me to lean against the headboard, pulling me close.
“I’m sure. Go ahead. I’ll be down after he’s settled.” I watched my brothers leave, watched them as they hesitated at the door, their vacancy filled with Hop Sing’s face.
“We change dressing,” Hop Sing smiled. I grimaced at his fat lip and bruising face then again as Pa pulled off the current bloodied bandage and quickly inspected my wound for damage, Hop Sing cleaning my hand.
“You sure know how to ding yourself up,” Pa said under a breath. I gave him a low chuckle then tensed up as he carefully cleaned the wound, tsking me as he worked. “I see some pulled stitches. No telling what’s going on inside.” I took the gentle chastising with nary a comment. That should’ve raised a brow or two.
“He no feel good,” Hop Sing filled in as he looked toward Pa. “Or he singe ear with words.”
“You’re right.” A hand clamped itself over my forehead. “He’s a bit warm but he’s been pretty active this evening.”
I hate it when they talk about me when I’m in the room but I still remained silent storing up whatever energy I could . . . for what I didn’t know but I was sure I could come up with something.
“I make tea. Settle stomach.”
Hop Sing hurried out and Pa finished tying off the new bandages by himself. He then poured some bad tasting medicine into a spoon and plopped it into my mouth before I could resist, then rested me against him, leaning his cheek against my head. When I’m sick or hurt or just plain tired, I really like it when he does that. It makes me feel as if nothing in the world can harm me.
“You really scared me out there, you know,” he began in a low voice. “Going for water. What a fool thing to do. I’d expect that from Joe but not from my level-headed boy. And then he goes and carries you back. And to think that that Captain Johnson wasn’t even worth it.”
Joe carried me back?
With those scrawny arms?
But then I remembered what Hoss told me. “Did he . . .” I began, noticing the medicine was already starting to take effect as the pain began to ebb slightly. Being that was a bonus, the alternate came in the form of making it harder to get my question out. But I’ve always been determined, and I’d been saving my energy. “Did he really . . . poison . . . those Indians?” I felt him stiffen behind me.
“Yes, he did. He asked them to come for a peace talk and Cochise brought his people – men, women and children – and he poisoned them.”
“Why?” I asked, appalled that an Army officer would stoop so low.
“Because he had orders,” Pa spat. “Orders that he couldn’t see were wrong and so killed all those unsuspecting people. It was disgraceful.”
My, God. How could that be true?
I’d want him dead, too.
“I wished you were awake so I could talk with you, so you could help me make my decision.”
“. . . you . . . fine . . .” It was muffled, my response, for my tongue felt like it was three times bigger than it had been just a few moments before. And I was feeling much warmer now that I was wrapped in my father’s arms causing my eyes to slip shut on me. Oh, Hop Sing better get here quick or I won’t be awake to drink his tea and he’s going to be mad.
“Your brothers were all for handing him over but I wouldn’t let them. I’ve not seen Hoss that upset in a long time.”
“Have tea,” came Hop Sing’s voice, the nearness of it startling me awake. “Drink. Feel better.”
I meant to lift my hand, thought I had, but Pa grabbed the mug and held it to my mouth. I sipped at it and felt the magic work as it moved through me, keeping my roiling stomach in its place and making it even harder to stay awake. I only managed a few more sips before the overpowering urge to sleep took me.
“Save for later,” drifted over me as if from a great distance intermixed with Pa’s heartbeat close to my ear, and in a last moment of lucidity, was extremely thankful I hadn’t been awake when all that fuss with Captain Johnson was going on. I’m afraid I might’ve disappointed my father.
I might’ve sided with my brothers.
“What are you doing?” I asked Joe as he rummaged through my books. He stopped in mid-reach and didn’t say anything. “I can see you, Joe.”
“You’re supposed to be asleep,” he admonished without turning around. “So you don’t actually see me.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop the laugh and was immediately sorry. Clutching at my side, Joe was suddenly there holding onto me. “Sorry I made you laugh,” he said as I began to relax and he eased me back onto my pillows.
“It’s good . . . to laugh. It reminds me of times when . . . when everything didn’t hurt,” I said as my racing heart slowed.
He sat on the edge of the bed and stared at me. “How’re you feeling? Any better?”
“Some,” came my answer as I rubbed my eyes. “I actually sat up today without puking or falling out of bed.” Fortunately, that hadn’t happened again for over a week. I was definitely on the mend. It was just so damn slow! “At this rate, I should be on my feet by the early 1900’s.” Joe chuckled and moved to the chair by the bed, resting a found book on his lap. “What do you have there?”
His eyes dropped and he gave me a small smile. “Sitting here watching you sleep is really boring so I thought I’d take up reading.”
“What about your dime novels?”
“Oh, those . . . well, I don’t have any new ones and I thought I’d just borrow one of yours. You always said I could, as long as I took care of them.”
“Of course, Joe. I was just curious which one you were taking.”
I smiled. That had always been Joe’s favorite as a kid.
“So tell me,” I began looking directly at him. “Do I need to lose weight?” The question caught him off guard.
“Well, I hear tell you picked me up and carried me back to camp. Thought you were too scrawny for that.”
“Scrawny?!” I smiled at his indignant look. “I should’ve just left ya there, let you make your own way back with all those Indians shooting. Insults me after I save his hide.”
“Now he thanks me. Did he then? No. Too busy moaning and groaning and worrying everybody.” My smile slowly faltered as I thought back on how stupid it was and how I’d put not only myself but my little brother’s life in danger as well. Joe quickly grabbed my hand. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat, brother,” he told me and knew he meant it. I squeezed back and smiled.
“I hope to repay the favor someday.”
“I’ll hold you to it,” he gave me. “I, ah, I wanted to ask you something.”
He looked at me, those piercing green eyes boring into me. “Ah, you know about what Johnson did right?”
“Yes,” I answered, my own face wearing a look of disgust.
“Well, do you think Pa should’ve handed Johnson over to Cochise? Hoss and I wanted too but he wouldn’t let us. Something about never being able to sleep peacefully again if we did.”
“You probably wouldn’t have slept very well once Cochise got done with him.”
“But he deserved it. What he did. . .” I saw him shiver. “Horrible.”
I thought on it. Cochise had welcomed Johnson to his tribe with his offering of food and was willing to hear him out, and Johnson betrayed him. I knew how I would feel if that happened to my family. No law would keep me from hunting down those bastards and they’d have to shoot me to stop me. But Cochise wanted to listen – that was a step in the right direction and Johnson destroyed what could’ve been.
How had Pa gotten Cochise to listen after that? I grinned inwardly. Pa used the same tactic on him he used on us. Persistence.
“I think Pa did the right thing, Joe, but. . .” I trailed off, having lost his attention as he looked away. I squeezed his hand and he looked back. “But it would’ve been difficult for me not to turn him over.” Attention regained as Joe’s face registered his surprise.
“You? You would’ve turned him over?”
“I’m not saying I would’ve, just that I would’ve thought long and hard about it. What Johnson did was reprehensible. Cochise was willing to listen and Johnson took advantage. No wonder neither of us can get along with the other — there’s no trust.”
“Yeah, and I’m afraid it’s always gonna be like that,” Joe answered with a nod. “And it’s a shame, too, ‘cause Cochise is an honorable man. He had us in his hands, Adam, had us dead to rights, and let us go. . . he let Pa go get help. Even after everything Johnson did, he let us go.”
“He’s a good man, Joe.”
“Do you think that’ll do him any good?” Joe asked and I spoke without thinking.
I could already see what was coming. The white man wanted everything and the Indians were in the way. If they couldn’t kill them all, then they’d corral them onto reservations and break them. It was disgraceful and there didn’t seem to be anything any of us could do about it.
“You seem so sure,” Joe said as I nodded.
“And I wish it wasn’t so but I see no other way. There are more Captain Johnson’s out there, in and out of the Army, than Ben Cartwright’s.”
“Maybe we could just do what we can for the Indians around here, continue to help them like we’ve always done.”
“I hope so, at least until they’re railroaded onto a reservation. It’s a shame really. We’re losing so much when we strip their culture from them. They could teach us many things, especially in medicine and how to live off the land, and yet we push it aside as if it doesn’t mean anything. I hope I live to see the day when we finally understand all that we’ve lost and the Indian regains its place in society, but I fear that’ll be far after you and I are gone.”
I felt sad, sad for the loss of a people and their culture, sad for what the world would lose, and sad for all those people who just had nothing but hate for the Indian. I moved to get more comfortable and a flash of fire pierced me and a loud gasp escaped, and suddenly I found Joe literally by my side holding me as I doubled over. The pain slowly passed and I smiled up at him, seeing the worry present and quickly grabbed his arm to feel those muscles.
“Told you I wasn’t scrawny anymore,” he gave me with a smile then helped me to lie back down.
“Must be all those . . . beers you lift every time we go to town,” I said trying to get comfortable.
“I was thinkin’ it was all those girls I lift up onto the sidewalk when the street’s muddy. Can’t seem to stay away from me,” he giggled. I smiled at him then plowed a pillow into his face. “You’re getting slow, little brother.”
He just giggled some more then stuffed the pillow back in my face and stood to leave stopping suddenly near the door. “Hop Sing’s comin’,” came his quick whisper. “Close your eyes. You’re supposed to be taking a nap.” Joe plopped himself back into the chair and opened the book as I partially shut my eyes to keep a look out on the door.
“I hear talking,” Hop Sing whispered loudly.
“I was reading to older brother,” Joe answered.
“He need sleep. Read to self.”
I watched Hop Sing curtly nod his head then quietly leave followed by a Joe giggle. “You got me in trouble,” he whispered and I couldn’t help but laugh then realized my mistake as I had to curl into the wash of burning pain, feeling Joe’s hand on my arm. Suddenly, Hop Sing was there, fading black eye and everything.
“I’m fine,” I said to him as he peered into my sweaty face. “I was just . . . just laughing.”
“What so funny you lying in bed? Little Joe make you laugh? He leave.”
“No, no. I just had a . . . a funny thought that’s all,” I said patting his hand. His face softened and he patted me back. “I’m fine . . . really.”
“You sleep. Sleep best thing. I make nice pudding for dinna. Docta Paul say you can eat that but no meat.”
“Yessir,” I answered starting to feel a bit drowsy despite myself. “Thank you, Hop Sing.”
“For what?” he asked as I smiled up at him.
“For everything,” I answered.
It was the truth. The man was everything to me and I knew my brothers felt the same. I was just so glad he was here. He smiled back and kissed my head. He hadn’t done that since I was a boy and it just felt good.
In fact, despite the flashes of pain I still felt and the dizzy spells and that when I finally managed to find my feet I couldn’t stand up straight, I was feeling better. And the fact that I was truly blessed to have such a wonderful group of people about me didn’t hurt either.
I likened my feelings for my family to those of the Indians and especially Cochise. Here was a man who loved his family, his tribe and would’ve ridden into hell to kill the man who’d destroyed it. He was no different than any of us. I hoped I would get to meet him someday under better circumstances, like I’m actually awake because it would be an honor to shake his hand and to stand in his presence. I’m sure we could all learn a thing or twelve from him if only he was given a chance.
I sighed then and closed my eyes as sleep came at me. A few more weeks of lazing around and I should be on my feet in time for our annual turkey hunt. I may move slowly and be a little bent, but I’d be alive, with no thanks for myself but all the thanks in the world to my little brother and an Indian who trusted my father.
For that, I give a great many thanks over and over again.