Under Mesmer’s* Spell (by Patina)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  7121


Gladstone the Marvelous and his lovely assistant, Arabella, were performing in Virginia City. Their magic act included a demonstration in the new science discovered by Mesmer. The Cartwrights, along with many of their fellow citizens, turned out for the show.

Joe, Hoss, and many of the other men in the audience couldn’t help but admire the lovely Arabella. Her long legs, creamy skin, bouncy curls, and large blue eyes were jump-starting numerous fantasies. Arabella, though, only had eyes for one man in the audience.

Releasing pigeons from his hat, Gladstone had to work hard to quiet the audience. “The lovely Arabella and I will now demonstrate the curious science discovered by Mesmer. That distinguished scholar discovered that the mind has some curious abilities. A subject can be placed in a trance and suggestions can be made to him. The subject will do what has been suggested completely unaware of what they’re doing.” Skeptical groans arose from the audience and Gladstone gestured for quiet. “When brought out of the trance, the subject has no recollection of what has transpired.” Again there was noise from the audience. “Will any of you gentlemen volunteer to experience the wonders revealed by Mesmer?”

Heads swiveled as people looked around to see who would volunteer. At a nod from Gladstone, Arabella descended from the stage and cast her eye around for someone to bring up for the experiment. Boldly, she sauntered over to Roy Coffee and extended her hand with a smile. Roy turned bright red while people applauded, whistled, and cheered. Giving in to peer pressure, Roy allowed himself to be escorted to the stage and sat on a stool.

Gladstone dramatically pulled a gold watch from the pocket of his coat and held it up for the audience to see. “I shall use this simple timepiece to place this fine gentleman into a trance. Before I do so, would you please inspect this to verify that it is a mere watch, Sheriff?”

“I’d be glad to,” replied Roy.

Gladstone handed the watch to Roy and the sheriff carefully looked it over. Opening it up, he noted that there nothing unusual about it. After he gave it back to Gladstone, the magician announced, “Not every subject enters into the trance at the same rate, so patience everyone. And absolute quiet.”

Arabella stepped aside and Gladstone stood so the audience could view his actions with the watch and Roy’s response. The magician began to gently swing the watch back and forth. “Carefully follow the watch as it travels before your eyes, back and forth, forth and back. Note the glints of light shining from its surface as it makes its progress back and forth.” The audience was leaning forward in their seats, waiting to see if the sheriff would fall into a trance. “You feel your eyes becoming heavy, as if they are weighted by sleep.” Roy’s eyes closed as the magician continued to murmur. “I shall count to ten. When I reach ten, you will be in a trance and ready to do my bidding.” The audience held their collective breath during the countdown; reaching ten, Gladstone paused for dramatic effect.

In a whisper, Gladstone instructed Roy to open his eyes and stand; a gasp arose as he did. “Balance on one foot and recite the alphabet.” Another gasp arose as Roy obeyed. Finishing the recitation, Roy was asked, “Do you know the song ‘Listen to the Mockingbird’?”

“Yes,” the sheriff replied.

“Please sing it for us.”

Everyone knew Roy couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but they were surprised when he sang a beautiful rendition of the tune, complete with whistles imitating the mockingbird. Thunderous applause broke out when he finished.

“Take a bow, sir.”

As the applause died down, Gladstone told Roy to sit on the stool. “I shall now count to ten; when I reach ten, I shall snap my fingers. When you hear the snap, you will awake. However, you will remember nothing of what you’ve done on this stage.” The audience collectively leaned forward in anticipation. Upon hearing the snap, Roy looked around, slightly confused by the applause. “Thank you, Sheriff. Arabella will escort you back to your seat.”

Arabella cast her eye around the audience for the next volunteer. She gave a sideways glance through her lashes to the man who had so intrigued her but didn’t look as if he’d be a willing volunteer. In order to be close to him, she went to his row and reached towards him but not to him. A cheer rose up and several men whistled at her choice. Joe was only too eager to go up on stage and prove that he was immune to Gladstone’s abilities.

As Joe got seated, Gladstone asked, “What’s your name, good sir?”

“Joe, Joe Cartwright.”

“Aaahhh. . .one of the famous Cartwrights. Are you ready, young sir, to experience Mesmer’s science?”

Joe giggled and replied, “That stuff won’t work on me.” Several in the audience laughed and Adam rolled his eyes.

Pulling the watch from his pocket, Gladstone said, “Observe the watch’s travels, young sir. Follow it steadily with your eyes to make sure it does not deviate from its path back and forth, forth and back. Note how it swings in the movement of a perfect pendulum.” Noting the look on Joe’s face as he followed the watch, Gladstone said “Your eyelids are becoming heavy. They feel as if they are being lowered as window shades.” As Gladstone continued murmuring, Joe’s eyes closed. “When I count to five, you will enter a trance and do my bidding. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

Gladstone counted to five and commanded Joe to open his eyes. “Rise, young sir. You shall try to lift the stool but you will find that it is too heavy.” Several in the audience shook their heads in disbelief; Joe may be the smallest of the Cartwrights but he was more than a match for a stool. “Try with all of your might to lift the stool.”

Obediently, Joe turned to the stool and tried to lift it. Guffaws broke out from the audience as Joe turned red and grunted with effort.

Arabella stole a glance at the man who held her fascination. His arms were crossed over his chest and he wore a half smile on his face. She turned her attention back to Joe and his struggle with the stool; she smiled at Gladstone’s back while listening to the audience’s laughter. Tapping the magician on the shoulder, she mouthed, “Time’s almost up” when he turned to her. He responded with slight nod of his own.

“Cease your struggle,” Gladstone commanded and Joe stopped trying to hoist the stool. “Now, lift it over your head with one hand.” Doing as told, Joe lifted the stool to applause, whistles, and cheers. “Set the stool down and sit upon it. Now, close your eyes. I will count to five. At five, you will open your eyes and remember nothing of what has happened on this stage.”

At the count of five, Joe opened his eyes and looked around. Arabella took his hand and helped him stand. “Take a bow, young sir.” Applause rang in Joe’s ears as she led him from the stage.

Arabella took the opportunity to extend her hand to the man who had appeared so skeptical. His arms remained crossed over his chest and he raised an eyebrow at her. Joe and Hoss prodded their older brother and tried to make him stand; Ben laughed at his sons trying to force Adam to take part in the performance. Finally bowing to pressure from his brothers and fellow citizens, he took her hand and allowed her to lead him to the stage.

“Have a seat on the stool, good Sir. What is your name?”

“Adam Cartwright.”

“I’ve noticed you’ve appeared to be in doubt during my demonstrations. Perhaps you’ll be a believer soon?”

“You can try, but I don’t believe in the power of subliminal suggestion.”

“Ain’t no way you can make ol’ Adam do anythin’ he doesn’t want to,” yelled out Hoss. Several guffaws in the audience could be heard. Adam turned a shade of pink at that. Arabella watched intently, waiting to see if he could be put under.

Holding up his watch, Gladstone said, “Follow the timepiece’s progress back and forth, forth and back. Note how the light gleams from it. You feel as if you want to sleep.”

Adam crossed his arms over his chest and replied, “No, I don’t.” Several snickers could be heard.

“Carefully observe the watch’s swinging. Your eyes are compelled to follow it.” Adam took that opportunity to roll his eyes and sigh loudly. More snickering came from the audience. Becoming frustrated, Gladstone whispered, “Won’t you at least cooperate?”

“No,” Adam whispered back.

With a frown, Gladstone jammed the watch into his coat pocket and said, “There are some who appear immune to the wonders of this science. This gentleman is such a one. Please, sir, return to your seat.” Not wanting to end his show looking to be a buffoon, Gladstone whispered instructions to Arabella.

“I must have complete silence for my finale, good citizens of Virginia City. Arabella and I shall disappear before your very eyes. I shall do the proper incantations and vanish from this very stage.”

Everyone waited in complete silence while Gladstone began chanting. Adam sat with his arms across his chest. Still chanting, the magician raised his eyes and lifted his arms over his head; Arabella adopted a praying posture. With a crescendo, Gladstone rapidly lowered his arms and a loud boom shook the theater and smoke billowed from the stage. As the smoke began to clear, gasps arose from the audience as they saw they empty stage. The sound of applause, cheers, and whistling almost rivaled the noise created by the explosion.

As Ben and his sons stood to leave, Adam said, “I’m going to apologize to Gladstone.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it, son. He probably has one in every audience.”

Hoss and Joe snickered. “We could’ve saved him the trouble if he’d asked us,” said Joe.

Adam headed backstage anyway. Behind the curtain, he saw Arabella talking to a man holding the magician’s cape.

Seeing the object of her fascination, she smiled at Adam and walked over. Now maybe she’d have a chance to talk with him.

“I came to apologize for bringing the demonstration to an end.”

With a flirtatious laugh, she replied, “Not everyone can be put into the trance. And some people take longer than others.” Noting that his gaze was focused on her décolletage, she blushed and cleared her throat.

Adam turned pink and said, “I’m sorry. I was just admiring your pendant. It’s quite unusual.”

Taking hold of the chain on either side of the pendant, she tightened it and let it go slack; when she did this, the disk rotated. Inset on both sides, was a small piece of mirrored glass; the light reflected off of the glass and the pendant as it turned.

Arabella’s voice sounded like a distant buzz in Adam’s ears. He was intrigued by the motion of the pendant over her creamy skin. The manner in which it spun seemed to defy the laws of physics. It was such a delicate piece of craftsmanship, too.

The sound of Joe’s voice caught Adam’s attention. “What?”

“Pa sent me. He said it’s time we were leaving.”

Arabella gave Joe a sweet smile and said, “Your brother and I were just having a nice chat about Mesmer and his science.” Turning to Adam, she said, “You will be meeting me for lunch tomorrow as you promised so we can discuss this further, won’t you?”

A slight look of confusion crossed Adam’s face for a brief second. He couldn’t remember discussing lunch plans with her, but he must have. “What time shall I call at the International House?”

“Shall we say one o’clock?”

“I’ll meet you then. Good night.”

“I enjoyed the show, Miss Arabella,” said Joe, hoping for a chance to flirt with her.

“Wasn’t Pa ready to leave?” asked Adam as he took his brother’s elbow. Adam tipped his hat to Arabella in a gesture of farewell.

Exiting the theater, Adam went to the buggy and got in. “What were you doin’ back there, Adam?” asked Hoss.

“I was only backstage for a few minutes. Since when are you and Joe in a hurry to leave town on a Friday night?”

Hoss traded a look with Pa and said, “You were back there for a good twenty minutes. Pa sent Joe in to fetch you. We thought mebbe you’d disappeared like Mr. Gladstone.”

“You know how tongue-tied older brother gets around pretty girls. It took him that long to ask her out for lunch tomorrow.” Both Joe and Hoss giggled.

“Lunch, eh?” asked Ben with a raised eyebrow.

Adam had crossed his arms across his chest and defensively said, “Yes, lunch, to discuss Mesmer and his science.”

“Only you could ask a pretty girl to lunch to talk about science,” said Joe with a snort.

Ben had to work hard to stifle a guffaw. Adam sounded irritated by his brothers teasing, so Ben said, “I’m sure your brother will find other fascinating subjects to discuss with Miss. . . Miss…does she have another name?”

“Watson, Arabella Watson.”

“I’m sure your brother and Miss Watson will discuss more than science. They might even discuss you, Little Joe.”

Hoss guffawed as Joe said, “Why me? I only went backstage to get him.”

Between laughs, Hoss said, “You should’ve seen yourself tryin’ to lift that stool, Lil Joe. The more you struggled with it, the redder your face got.”

Even Adam had to laugh at the way Hoss was needling their younger brother. Joe would certainly never believe that he had provided weeks of gossip among Virginia City’s young ladies with his trance-induced performance. At least the topic was likely to keep his brothers occupied for the rest of the trip home. Yet he also wondered when he had invited Arabella to lunch; he couldn’t remember asking for her company.

The next morning, Adam was getting ready for his trip into town when Joe came in his room. “Come to give me advice about making conversation with pretty girls?” he asked with a touch of sarcasm.

Sitting down on the bed, Joe asked, “Did I really do those things Hoss said I did?”

Giving his brother a half-smirk, he replied, “Somehow I don’t think you’ll be a topic of discussion during lunch.”

“Well, just in case. . . “

With a wink, Adam said, “Don’t worry, Joe. I’ll put in a good word for you if your name does come up.” He then headed for the stairs.

“Check the mail while you’re in town,” requested Ben as Adam passed through the room.

“Yes, sir,” replied Adam.

Hoss came out to the barn while he was saddling Sport. “Hey there, Adam.”

Adam sighed and looked over at his brother, expecting to be teased in some way.

“Could you find out somethin’ for me?”

“What would that be?”

“How that magician made himself and Miss Arabella disappear.”

“That was just an illusion, Hoss. There wasn’t anything magical about that.”

“But how did he do it? One second they were on the stage and the next they were gone.”

“The explosion and smoke were diversions so no one would see them leave the stage.”

“Would you ask anyway?”

“All right. I’ll ask if we talk about the show.”

“Thanks, Adam. See you later.”

Adam nodded at Hoss, re-checked the cinch, and led Sport out of the barn. On the way into town, he wondered just what he and Arabella would talk about over lunch. She was a very pretty woman, not out-right beautiful, but certainly eye-catching. Maybe his lack of “cooperation” during the performance had been an embarrassment for Gladstone. Maybe the magician wasn’t used to having a subject on stage that didn’t go into the trance. Whatever the case, Adam decided to just enjoy the company of a pretty lady on a pretty day.

Arriving at the International House, Adam realized he was a few minutes early; Arabella, though, was waiting on the settee in the lobby. Wearing a simple floral-patterned dress with her hair falling below her shoulders in gentle waves, she made a lovely addition to the hotel lobby.

“Good afternoon, Miss Watson.”

With a smile, she said, “Please, call me Arabella.”

“All right, but you must call me Adam. Are you ready for lunch?”

“It’s not often we stay in a town long enough to enjoy more than breakfast. Usually, we’re on the road in the morning. Marcus, I mean Mr. Gladstone, wanted to exchange the receipts for a bank draft since we’ll be traveling a ways to our next performance.”

“Where will that be?”

“We have a performance scheduled at Fort Ord on Thursday.”

Turning a light pink, Adam said, “I hope your demonstrations go well.”

She smiled and said, “Mesmer’s science isn’t well understood. Some people are more…”

“Susceptible to suggestion?”

With a laugh, she said, “It seems so. I never know when choosing a volunteer if they’ll go into a trance or not. Sometimes they enter it quickly and others take longer.”

An awkward silence was ended when Adam asked, “How did you and Mr. Gladstone. . .”

“Marcus.”

“You and Marcus meet?”

“Marcus’ wife was his assistant when I saw them perform in St. Louis. I had been traveling with a circus, mending costumes and cleaning props. After the show, I steeled my courage and approached his wife, Leda, about joining them as a sort of apprentice. Leda talked it over with Marcus and they agreed to let me take over the care of the costumes and props as well as the cooking between towns. I learned everything I could from Leda in the hopes of becoming an assistant someday.” With downcast eyes, she said, “But that came too soon. Leda died from consumption six years ago. I’ve been Marcus’ assistant ever since.”

“I’m sorry to bring up such painful memories,” said Adam with a pat to her hand.

With a smile, she asked, “Would you mind showing me around Virginia City?”

“I’m afraid there’s not much to see, but it’d be my pleasure.”

They were strolling on the sidewalk, heading towards the bank, when a man in a cape ran out from behind the bank heading for an alley. Arabella said, “He couldn’t!”

Adam drew his gun and sped in the direction the man had fled. Running down the alley, he saw a flash of cape. Turning the corner, he stopped short at the sight of a man wearing a similar cape lying face-down with a bullet hole in his back. Looking up, he saw the man who had fled the bank. “Hold it!” he ordered. The man seemed to be reaching for something as he turned and Adam assumed it must be a weapon; he fired a shot as a flash of light went up followed by smoke. The man had disappeared!

Arabella dropped to her knees beside the dead man and screamed, “He’s dead!!”

Roy Coffee arrived on the scene to hear Arabella. “What happened here?”

Pointing at Adam, Arabella yelled, “He shot him! He killed Marcus!” Then her eyes rolled upwards and she fainted.

The shouting had attracted attention, and several people now stood in the alley.

“Mike, take the lady over to the doc’s. Adam, ya come with me,” said the sheriff.

“Why? I didn’t kill him.”

“Come along all the same. You can give me a statement.”

Starting to holster his gun, Roy said, “Hand your gun over, Adam.”

“I told you, I didn’t shoot him!” At a look from the sheriff, Adam handed the gun over.

“Pete, get someone ta help ya with the body.” Roy then escorted Adam over to his office.

Going inside, Roy pointed to a chair and Adam sat. Removing his hat, the sheriff said, “Tell me what happened.”

“Miss Watson and I were walking up the street when I saw a man who looked like Gladstone run from behind the bank to the alley. I chased him and saw a body lying in the alley. Then the man I followed disappeared.”

Roy raised a skeptical eyebrow and asked, “When did ya fire that shot?”

“I was shooting at the man who disappeared.”

“Where’d he go?”

“I don’t know! One second he was standing in front of me, the next he was gone.”

“How do ya explain that magician’s body bein’ there with a bullet to the back?”

“He must have been killed earlier and placed there.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, Roy!” Adam was becoming frustrated as he realized that he looked to be the killer. Arabella’s accusations only made him seem guiltier.

“You’ll understand if I put ya in a cell for now?”

With a sigh and a shake of his head, Adam allowed Roy to escort him to the back and to lock him in a cell.

“I’ll send word to yer Pa that yer here.” Roy then left for the doctor’s office.

Arabella was resting on the sofa when Roy entered the office. “How’re ya feelin’, Miss?

“Confused and angry. How could Adam do such a thing? Marcus would never hurt a fly.”

“Did Mr. Gladstone wear that cape even if he wasn’t performin’?”

“He’d wear it as a sort of advertisement and so people would recognize him.”

“Did he have business at the bank?”

Dabbing a handkerchief at her eyes, she said, “He was going to exchange the money we made last night for a draft so we wouldn’t be traveling with so much money on us. Marcus always worried about being an easy target for thieves.” A horrified look crossed her face and she said, “You don’t suppose Adam thought he had the money on him?”

“Miss, if anyone didn’t need money, it would be Adam Cartwright. ‘Sides, the Cartwrights ain’t robbers.”

“Then why, Sheriff?” she asked as her shoulders began to shake with crying. “Marcus was such a kind man.”

Paul came in the room and told Roy, “I’m going to have to ask you to stop questioning Miss Arabella. She’s greatly distressed.”

“All right, Doc. Can you stay in town fer a few days, Miss?”

“No,” she sniffled out. “We have a performance scheduled at Fort Ord.”

“Could ya just send a telegram explaining the situation?”

“And disappoint those soldiers? I couldn’t do that, Sheriff.”

“How’re ya gonna do a performance without Mr. Gladstone?”

“I know how to do many of the tricks and Jake, the prop master, can help me with some.”

“Sheriff. . . Miss Arabella needs to rest.”

“All right, all right. You just take it easy, Miss.”

“Thank you, Sheriff,” she sniffled out before dissolving again into sobs.

“Would you at least be able to stay one more night here instead of hittin’ the trail?”

Turning her tear-streaked face to the sheriff, she quietly said, “Yes.”

With a pat to her shoulder, Roy headed for the door.

“Sheriff?”

“Yes, Miss?”

“Would it…would it be all right if…if I saw…Adam?”

“I’d rather you didn’t,” said the doctor, “you’ll only further upset yourself.”

“I’m headin’ out to the Ponderosa to let Adam’s father know what happened. There won’t be anyone there with you.”

“He’s…he’s in a cell…isn’t he?”

“Yes, Miss.”

“Would it…be okay if…Jake saw…to my safety?”

“I suppose that’d be all right.”

“Thank you, Sheriff,” she said with a wan smile.

The office door opened and a young man came in with lines of worry etched on his features. “Can I help you, son?” asked Roy, who’d been heading for the door.

“I’m Jake Brown. I work for Mr. Gladstone?”

“Miss Arabella is restin’ in there, son. She wants to go over to the jail. I don’t mind you takin’ her there, but don’t let her get upset.”

“Yes, sir. I won’t, sir.”

Jake went in to see Arabella as Roy left. She was lying on the couch with a damp cloth on her forehead and holding a handkerchief to her nose. “Miss Arabella? I’ve got the wagon loaded if you’re ready to go.”

Extending a hand, she said, “Oh, Jake! He’s gone! He’s gone!”

Jake patted her hand as he knelt on one knee.  “You rest easy, Miss Arabella. I’ll drive the team real slow so you don’t get jostled.”

“You’re so sweet, Jake.” Arabella sniffled some more as she peeked over the handkerchief at the doctor, who was sitting at his desk. “I promised the sheriff we’d stay until the morning. That way we can have a whole day to travel.”

“Are you sure that’s what you want?”

“Yes,” she said with a sniffle. “Help me sit up.”

“You should be resting,” reminded Paul.

“I…I want to see Adam. I…I…I have to know….why…” She dabbed again at her eyes.

“Don’t let her get upset, young man.”

“No, sir, I won’t.”

Arabella leaned heavily on Jake’s arm as he escorted her to the door and out of the office. Walking slowly to the sheriff’s office, she noted that the cell window faced southwest. Her plan should work perfectly.

Entering the sheriff’s office, she motioned Jake to wait by the desk while she went back to the cell. On her way back there, she pulled her chain and pendant from under her dress so the pendant hung above her bosom. Then she pinched her cheeks to redden them and rubbed her eyes so they would appear swollen.

Adam rose from the bunk when he heard footsteps coming to the cell. The steps were too light to belong to Roy or any members of his family. A look of surprise played across his face to see Arabella.

“I had to come see you, Adam.”

“Why? To accuse me of something else?”

Biting her lower lip, she said, “No.”

“Then what did you come here for? There’s no audience to witness a dramatic escape if that’s what you had in mind.”

She began pulling the chain to set the pendant twirling, catching the sun’s rays on the mirrored glass. “I…I…I can explain what happened.”

Crossing his arms over his chest, he squinted at a flash of light. Whatever she was planning wasn’t going to work; he wasn’t going to let her get away with murder.

In a sing-song voice, she said, “We made more money in one night here than we have in many other places. I couldn’t let Marcus lose it in poker games and on women. It’s been six years since Leda died and he hasn’t given me a second look. I’ve loved him since they took me in; I could’ve been a good wife to him.” She noticed that Adam was now staring at the pendant. “He’d rather spend his money on cheap saloon girls than share a bed with me.” Adam’s breathing had become very even as he watched the pendant. “I thought that maybe I could love you and make him jealous, but you couldn’t be put in a trance last night during the show. It was then I realized that all my hopes with Marcus were lost.” She paused in her story yet kept the pendant twirling. “Adam, you’re feeling very tired. You’ve never felt this exhausted before. If you understand, yawn.” He yawned as ordered. “You will enter a deep sleep when I count to three. You will remain asleep until you hear the name Mesmer spoken by one who loves you. Yawn if you understand.” Again, he obeyed. “You will remember everything I’ve said. One…two…three.” When she said, “Three,” he dropped to the cell floor like a heavy stone. A smugly satisfied smile was on Arabella’s face as she reentered the office. “Let’s go to the hotel and then you can tell the doctor that I’m resting as ordered.”

“Are you sure we’re doing the right thing?” Jake asked.

“Of course I’m sure. Now take me to the hotel.”

Arabella held her handkerchief over her face and sobbed loudly as she and Jake left the office and headed for the International House. Securing two rooms, he escorted her to one and then went to Paul’s office to let him know she was settled in.

Forty-five minutes later, Roy and the Cartwrights arrived in Virginia City and went to his office. Entering, Roy announced, “Adam? Your pa is here.”

Not hearing an answer, Roy said, “I’ll go tell him you’re here.” Arriving at the cell, he pulled the key from his pocket and yelled, “Ben! Get back here!”

Worried by the sheriff’s tone, Ben and his sons ran to the cell to see Roy turning Adam over. “What happened to him?”

“I don’t know, Ben. One of you boys go get the doc!”

Joe tore through the office as told and Ben dropped to his knees. Cradling his eldest to him, he lightly slapped his son’s face. “Adam? Adam? Can you hear me, Son?” Not getting a response, he tried shaking the limp body in his arms.

Paul ran into the office with Joe on his heels. Taking in the scene in the cell, he said, “Let me examine him.” Unbuttoning his patient’s shirt, he pulled the stethoscope from his bag and pressed it to Adam’s chest; a strong, steady heart beat indicated that he wasn’t in shock. “Let’s get him over to my office where I can examine him more thoroughly.”

“Tell me what’s wrong, Paul,” begged Ben.

“I don’t know yet. His heartbeat is strong and there’s no blood. He could have been drugged or poisoned.” Seeing the look of near panic on Ben’s face, the doctor placed a gentle hand on his friend’s shoulder and gave a slight squeeze. “I didn’t say he was poisoned. Just get him to my office so I can examine him.”

Hoss gently scooped his older brother into his arms and headed for the door. Joe squeezed his father’s arm and said, “He’s going to be all right, Pa.”

With a grim look, Ben replied “I hope so, son.”

People stopped in the street and on the sidewalk at the sight of Hoss carrying Adam to the doctor’s office. Speculation was whispered and looks were exchanged among the Cartwrights’ friends and acquaintances. Joe glared around and placed a strong, comforting hand against his father’s back. His brother had not killed that magician, no matter what that girl had said.

Ben and Joe entered the office as Hoss got Adam settled into the back examination room. With deft fingers, Paul began removing Adam’s clothes to check for wounds, contusions, or any other physical sign of what could be wrong with him. “If you’d like to wait in the outer room, there’s some coffee on the stove.”

Joe tapped Roy’s arm and jerked his head towards the outer room. The two men stepped out of the exam room and Joe asked, “He wasn’t like that when you left?”

“No. He was all right when I came to fetch your pa. Miss Arabella was here and asked me if she could see Adam. I told her she could, if it was all right with the doc. She was powerful upset by what happened earlier.

“That’s my brother in there,” reminded Joe with flaring nostrils. “You know he’s not a murderer.”

“All I have is the evidence. A man was shot in the back and Adam was standing over him with a fired gun. What would you think?”

“There has to be another explanation. Adam wouldn’t shoot a man without a good reason.” Joe took a deep breath to calm down and said, “Where’s Miss Arabella now?”

“I asked her to stay here in town tonight. She’s planning to leave in the morning.”

“I’m going to get the truth from her,” Joe said as he turned for the door.

“Don’t you upset her, Lil Joe,” the sheriff warned as the young man left the office.

Finishing his exam, Paul said, “I can’t find any physical reason for his condition. It’s almost as if he’s asleep.”

“So he was drugged?” asked Ben.

“Possibly, but I don’t know for sure. We’ll just have to wait for him to wake up and tell us.”

“Can I stay with him?”

“Of course. Hoss, there’s a cot in the store room. Would you bring it in for your father?”

“Sure thing, Doc.”

Looking around for a brief second, Ben noticed that his youngest wasn’t in the room. “Where’s Joseph?”

“Against my advice, he went to see Miss Arabella.”

“He’ll only upset that girl again,” observed Paul as he arranged blankets over Adam.

Returning with the cot, Hoss said, “Adam couldn’t have shot Mr. Gladstone, Roy. It don’t make sense.”

“Until a witness comes forward or if I find some other evidence, Adam is the prime suspect.”

“But he couldn’t have done it,” insisted Hoss.

Arriving at the hotel’s front desk, Joe told Johnny, the clerk, “I need to see Miss Arabella. Which room is she in?”

“C’mon, Joe…you know I’m not supposed to give out room numbers.”

“It’s important, Johnny. If you don’t tell me, I’ll go up there and knock on every door until I find out which room she’s in.”

“You can’t do that! People’ll complain.”

Joe turned to go up the stairs and Johnny realized that he wasn’t making an idle threat. “All right. But if anyone asks, I didn’t tell you.” Joe nodded in reply. “Miss Arabella is in Room 12 and Jake Brown, the fella who got the rooms, is in Number 11.”

“Thanks, Johnny. You’re a pal.” Joe then took the stairs two at a time to Room 12. He knocked on the door, but there was no answer; knocking louder didn’t get a response. Going across the hall, he tried Room 11 and, as before, there was no answer. He tried the knob but the door was locked.

Returning to the lobby, he asked Johnny, “Are you sure they’re in those rooms?”

“Mr. Brown signed for the rooms and then took her upstairs to get settled in. He left and came back a while later and went up. Neither one’s been downstairs.”

“Give me the keys to those rooms,” Joe requested with an outstretched hand.

“I don’t have the keys.”

“Those rooms are locked, Johnny, and they didn’t answer.”

“I told you they didn’t come down here.”

As Joe headed again for the stairs, Johnny asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m getting into those rooms with or without the keys.”

Coming around the desk, Johnny made a grab for Joe but he pushed the clerk away and darted up the stairs. Drawing his gun, he forced open the door to Room 12 only to see it was empty. He then forced open Room 11’s door to find it empty and the window open. If they didn’t go out the front door, they must have gone out the window to sneak out of town.

Joe holstered his gun, ran down the stairs, and headed to Dr. Martin’s office. Bursting in, he quickly looked for the sheriff. “Where’s Roy?” he asked Hoss.

“He went back to his office. What’s wrong?”

“They’re gone! We’ve gotta find ‘em!” Joe then noticed Adam lying on the bed covered in blankets with Pa sitting beside him. “Did Paul find what’s wrong?”

Hoss shook his head. “There’s not a mark on him. We won’t know until he wakes up.”

“I’m going to see Roy. Are you comin’?”

Hoss looked to Pa and Adam and then over to Joe. He was torn between finding Miss Arabella to settle this and staying with Pa just in case.

With a squeeze to Hoss’ arm, Joe left for Roy’s office. He was going to find Arabella and make her say what she did and confess to killing Gladstone.

Roy looked up as the door opened and asked, “Any change?”

“There sure is!”

Roy sighed with relief and got up to go over to the doctor’s.

“That Arabella and her friend left. I checked their rooms at the hotel.”

“She told me she’d stay ‘til morning.”

“Show people,” said Joe with a snort. “Do you know where they were planning to go?”

“Miss Arabella said they had a performance to do at Fort Ord. I’ll send a wire telling ‘em to hold her.”

“Aren’t we gonna go after her?” Joe asked in disbelief.

“Even if we caught up to her, we’ve got no proof that she did anything to Adam or that she killed Gladstone.”

“Well someone did those things and it’s highly coincidental that she’s gone!”

“Don’t go after her, son. Leave it to the law.”

“Then you’d better do something, Roy.”

“Calm down, Lil Joe. I’m worried about Adam too, but there’s nothin’ we can do until the doc finds out what’s wrong with him or he can tell us. Go stay with your pa while I round up some men.”

As the two men left the office, the magician’s wagon came rolling slowly into town. Exchanging confused glances, both men ran to the horses and grabbed the bridles. Jake was half holding onto the reins and blood stained the front of his shirt. Climbing up onto the seat, Joe asked, “Where is she?”

“I had…to do it. She was gonna…shoot me.”

“What did you have to do, son?”

“She was…gonna…shoot….” Jake then slumped over dead.

Joe went to the back of the wagon and looked inside. Arabella lay in there with a bullet hole in her chest. “Roy! She’s dead!”

Roy led the team over to the livery while Joe ran for Dr. Martin’s. Flying into the office, Joe yelled, “They’re dead! They’re both dead!”

Hoss grabbed his younger brother and said, “Keep your voice down. Who’s dead?”

“Arabella and that Jake fella. They’re both dead. Now we’ll never know what she did to Adam or who killed Gladstone.”

Roy came through the door and asked, “How is he, Paul?”

“No change. It’s as if he’s sleeping, yet he can’t be. I’ve tried getting a response by jabbing him with a pin, but nothing.”

Approaching Ben, Roy placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, Ben, but the only person who could tell us what happened is dead.”

Ben’s only response was a brief nod. All he wanted was for his son to wake up. They would handle the evidence in regard to Gladstone’s death after that.

By morning, Joe was dozing on the cot and Hoss was sitting on the floor with his back supported by the wall. Ben had napped briefly during the night but couldn’t fall into a restful slumber worrying about his oldest boy.

As sunlight began to stream through the window, Joe woke and stretched. “How is he, Pa?”

Ben shook his head and replied, “Just the same.”

Joe nudged Hoss with the toe of his boot and his brother awoke with a start.

“Mornin’ all ready?”

“Are you hungry?” Joe asked his father. Ben shook his head in reply.

“I could use a bite of something,” observed Hoss.

“You can always eat a bite of something,” said Joe. “Too bad Gladstone didn’t put you in a trance and tell you not to eat so much.”

“That memory demonstration sure was somethin’ else.”

“Huh?” asked Joe.

“That demonstration Gladstone did. He said it was a science developed by some fella named Memory.”

“The name was Mesmer, Hoss, not Memory.”

“Are you sure?”

“Would you boys keep it down?” requested an irritated Ben.

“Can’t a man get some sleep around here?”

“That’s enough from all of you,” groused Ben. “If you’re going to get some breakfast… What did you say?”

Adam yawned and said, “I’m trying to sleep.”

“Go get Paul!” Ben said with excitement, expecting Hoss or Joe to obey. “How do you feel?”

“Tired.”

“What happened?”

Adam stretched and said, “Arabella paid me a visit and said that Gladstone didn’t love her and that he kept losing their money in card games.” He yawned and said, “She must have killed him and used me as an alibi.”

Hoss returned with Paul, who examined Adam and listened to his heart. “Are you sure you’re feeling all right?”

“Yeah.”

Joe returned with Roy, who was overjoyed that Adam was okay. Adam was saying, “She told me I’d remain asleep until I heard the name Mesmer from someone who loved me. I guess she figured that she was the only one who could bring me back.”

Hoss looked over to Joe and said, “It sure is a good thing you’ve got a good memory.”

“What?” asked Adam.

“Lil Joe said that name before you woke up.”

Adam flashed a smile at his youngest brother. Roy placed a hand on Joe’s shoulder and said, “She didn’t know the family she was dealing with.”

“Can Adam go home?” asked Ben.

“I don’t see why not. Just take it easy today, all right?”

“What about the murder charge?” Adam asked.

“I’d say that your recent testimony and the deaths of Miss Arabella and that Jake fella prove that you didn’t commit the crime.”

Adam flashed a smile of relief.

As Joe and Hoss got Adam loaded into a rented buggy, Joe said, “Here we thought you were immune to that Mesmer stuff.”

With a wink at Hoss, Adam said, “At least I didn’t do battle with a wooden stool.”

“I didn’t do that!” insisted Joe. Both Hoss and Adam couldn’t resist teasing Joe about his duel with the stool. Adam fell into a natural sleep as his brothers debated what Mesmer’s studies could be used for.

Ben sighed with relief and smiled knowing that Adam was all right. With a chuckle, he thought that he could perhaps find a use for this Mesmer business in getting his sons to do their chores more efficiently and find suitable women to marry.

***The End***

*Author’s note: Franz Mesmer (1734-1815), a physician in Austria, believed that the body’s universal fluids could be controlled to cure patients of disease; the universal fluids could be manipulated by magnets and he experimented with putting patients into trances by using his eyes. His experiments were expanded on by other physicians in the late 1700s and late 1800s. In the 1840s, Dr. James Baird, a Scottish physician used the term “hypnosis” for the first time and put his patients into a trance by having them focus on a shiny object, such as a watch. (ks.essortment.com/hypnosishistory_rcdg.htm)

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