Centennial – #7 (by Puchi Ann)

Summary:  Part seven of a seven-part series.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  17,600

 

 

Chapter Thirty-eight

Adam had just lowered the lid of the large trunk and was reaching for the latch when Joe called out, “Hey, wait!  Got room for one more thing?”

Perturbed by his brother’s perennial procrastination, Adam glanced toward the bedroom door, through which Joe was hurrying toward him.  “You do believe in waiting ‘til the last minute, don’t you, kid?” he grunted.  “It had better be something small.”

“It is,” Joe said, handing his brother the morocco-bound copy of Ivanhoe, “and, yeah, I know it’s the last minute, but I was figuring to take it with me on the train, but then I decided I didn’t want to read it again this soon.”

“All right,” Adam said, slipping the book inside the trunk and closing the lid quickly, “but that had better be the last of it, little brother, ‘cause this thing is bulging at the joints now.”

“Yeah, we sure bought a lot, didn’t we?” Joe chuckled.  With Adam’s help he’d stretched his pennies further than he’d thought possible, and the trunk was packed with souvenirs and gifts for both himself and folks back home.  Adam, of course, had stuffed in a similar array of his own gifts and souvenirs, until one more item might really have been the straw that broke the backs of whoever had to lift it.

“We sure did,” Adam agreed as he locked the trunk.  “There!  That’s ready for shipment now.  He stood up and made his way to the settee.  “Come here, Joe,” he requested, patting the seat beside him.  When his brother settled next to him, he continued, “I’m going out for a while, to arrange for this trunk to be picked up and shipped home so we won’t have to worry about it on the train.  Are you sure there’s nothing in there you’ll need on the trip?”

“Adam, of course, I am,” Joe replied with strained patience.  His older brother’s admonitions on that subject had been, in his view, excessive already and downright annoying.

“Good.  You can finish packing your carpetbag while I’m gone, but don’t lift it, understood?”

Another admonition Joe had already heard more times than he could count.  “Yes, sir.  No lifting, though I don’t see why.  I’ll all better now.”

“Close to it,” Adam agreed, “but you do as I say—and to answer your next inevitable question, because I say so, that’s why.”

Joe rolled his eyes.  Another thing he couldn’t count was the number of times he’d heard his older brother employ that tried and true answer, and he’d never yet been able to come up with an argument to counter that one stubborn statement.

Adam patted his shoulder.  “There, there, little fellow.  Big brother will relent and send you on an errand while he’s gone.”

Joe skewed a suspicious glance toward his brother.  “Errand?  Where?”

Adam’s lips twitched as he replied, “Shantyville.”  Then he laughed aloud at the surprised expression on Joe’s face and explained further.  “I’m going downtown, to close out our bank account and run a couple of errands.  Why don’t you take that hamper Hop Sing sent and pack it full of whatever you think we might like to nibble on the train?  I know how hard it is for you to make it from breakfast to dinner without an extra snack or seven.”

Joe scowled.  “Very funny.  I’ll be happy to run the errand for you, if you’re sure that hamper won’t be too heavy for your poor, weak little brother.”

“If it starts feeling heavy, quit putting things in it,” Adam suggested practically, as he handed his brother some folded bills, “but buy some extra sausage, if you can, for that other brother of ours.”

Joe grinned.  “Yeah, he’ll like that.  Too bad the pie won’t keep a week.  He’d like that even better!”

“We’ll consume some in his honor,” Adam replied, standing up.  “Wait ‘til Wells, Fargo picks up the trunk before you leave.  Unless you dawdle, you’ll be back before me, and I would advise you to lie down for a while.  We have a long, hard trip ahead of us, Joe, and it would be best if you began it well rested.”

Joe poked his tongue at the closed door to the suite after Adam departed.  “‘It would be best if you began it well rested,’” he mimicked the advice he’d heard more than once already.  Honestly!  Here it was, five weeks since he’d had that operation—well, it would be tomorrow—and Adam was still treating him like some kind of weakling, barely able to heft a picnic hamper.  After the men from Wells, Fargo had taken possession of the trunk, Joe left for Shantyville, determined to pack that hamper to its utmost capacity and engage in a little fun along the way.

Joe made his way from food stall to food stall, stopping here and there to play a game of chance, ending up just better than even by the time his hamper was brim full of sausage, caramels, peanuts, polished apples, cupcakes and two slices of raisin pie, all the pastry he thought the two of them could eat before it went stale.  After that, he had another try at the shooting gallery, winning a few more Centennial souvenirs, and headed back to the hotel.

When he realized that Adam still hadn’t returned, a crafty smile curved Joe’s lips.  There was one more thing he’d like to do, over at the Exposition grounds, an experience Adam had denied him and one curiosity—contrariness, Adam would have said—demanded he seek out.  While they’d been shopping the last two days, a special exhibit had arrived at the Centennial, and both afternoons he and Adam had relaxed on the lawn near the lake just north of Machinery Hall to watch it being set up.  As the twenty-one boxes were opened and the pieces put together, Adam had explained that this was only part of a statue being presented to America as a gift from France, to commemorate the country’s one-hundredth birthday.  When it was assembled, the forearm, wrist and hand holding aloft a giant, flaming torch, towered thirty feet above them.  “On completion,” Adam had told him, “the statue will stand on an island in New York harbor.  They’re taking donations here for its pedestal.”

Learning that there were stairs inside, leading up to the base of the torch, Little Joe had begged to climb up, but Adam had pointedly refused.  “You don’t need to be climbing that many stairs,” he’d insisted and had dragged a protesting Joe away.  But Adam wasn’t here to stop him now, and Joe had the price of an entrance ticket in his pocket, as well as the fifty cents he’d need for admittance to the stairway.  Pausing on the hotel porch, he craned his neck both ways, and seeing no sign of Brother Hen, he skittered across Elm Avenue, paid for a ticket and went through the turnstile of the Centennial one last time.

When he saw the long line of people waiting to ascend Lady Liberty’s arm, however, Joe almost gave up the notion of a climb.  There was no shelter from the scorching sun, and this long a wait almost insured that Adam would return to the hotel before he could get back.  A mischievous grin twisted Joe’s mouth.  Adam had already provided him with an alibi when he’d said that Joe would be back before him “unless you dawdle.”  That he had dawdled would be perfectly believable and lightly excused.  Joe tipped his straw hat to give his nose more protection from the sun and gazed up at the dark brown, almost black, arm of copper and tried to judge how tall the entire statue would be.

He’d been standing in line about half an hour and still was about twenty feet from the head of the line when iron fingers gripped his upper arm and Joe felt himself hauled out of the line.  Angered, he looked up, ready to lambaste the stranger who had treated him with such indignity—and found himself staring directly into the snapping ebony eyes of his elder brother.  “A-Adam, wh-what are you doing here?”

“What am I doing here?” Adam exploded.  “What are you doing here?”

Joe winced.  Talking himself out of this one would be hard, but he had to try.  “Uh, Adam, I-I can explain.”

“Uh-huh,” Adam muttered, stepping back and folding his arms.  “All right, little brother; give it your best shot.”

Joe gulped.  The dawdling excuse wouldn’t work now, and having counted on that one, he had to scramble for another alternative.

“Well, it’s—uh—like this, Adam.  I filled that hamper, just like you said, and took it to the room and you weren’t back yet—and then I thought of something else we really ought to put in it—for Hoss, that is—some—uh—popcorn balls.  Yeah, that’s it; I had the money, so I came on over here for some of those special red, white and blue popcorn balls.”

“For Hoss,” Adam said dryly.

“Yeah!”  Joe’s momentary hope that Adam was buying this cock-and-bull yarn evaporated under his older brother’s stern and skeptical gaze.

Adam stretched a long arm toward the ticket booth at the head of the line in which Joe had been standing.  “And you mistook that for a popcorn stand, did you?” he demanded tersely.

Joe quirked half a grin, which faded quickly when Adam continued to glower at him.  “It don’t wash, do it?”

“No, it ‘don’t,’” Adam drawled.

“Doesn’t, I meant ‘doesn’t,’” Joe corrected himself quickly.

Adam’s mouth worked from side to side.  “I’m not interested in your grammar.”

Joe cringed.  Adam not interested in grammar—bad sign.  He shrugged sheepishly.  “Okay, you caught me.  Guess there ain’t no sense tryin’ to deny I was gonna climb up that gal’s arm.”

“After I said no,” Adam accused.

“Aw, doggone it, Adam!” Joe protested.  “You had no call to say no.  I’m just about back to normal and—”

“That you are!” Adam snorted.  “Lying, sneaking out, disobeying—yeah, I’d call that back to normal, all right!”

“Aw, come on, Adam!”  Joe’s eyes suddenly narrowed.  “Hey, wait just a doggone minute.  Maybe all that’s true, but you ain’t exactly where you said you’d be, either.  You’re supposed to be downtown, so just what were you sneakin’ over here for, huh?”  Trying to copy Adam’s stance, he folded his arms and scowled severely at his older brother.  “Give it your best shot, older brother.”

As a crimson flush crept up his neck, Adam licked his lips.  He could, of course, simply stand on status and tell Joe that he didn’t have to answer to his baby brother, but a response like that would only take them back to the belligerent antagonism that had so long marked their relationship.  Adam didn’t want that, but neither was he prepared to tell Joe that he had snuck over to the Centennial to pick up an extra Christmas gift for his youngest brother without his knowledge.  That wasn’t the full truth, anyway; otherwise, he’d have been in the Main Exhibition Hall, instead of here by the lake.   He had wanted to go up that arm himself, to examine the engineering from the inside, and had thought this afternoon presented the perfect opportunity to do so without tempting Joe to make a climb that might prove too rigorous for him.  “Okay, you caught me,” he sighed.  “I’m after the same thing you are.”

Joe rested a conciliatory hand on his brother’s shoulder.  “Let’s go up together then, Adam.”

Adam shook his head, in defeat, rather than denial.  “Joe, it’s a thirty- to thirty-five-foot climb,” he argued weakly.

Joe’s grip tightened.  “I can do it, Adam!  And if I’m tired afterwards, I’ll just go back to the hotel and lie down.”

“Oh, you’re gonna do that anyway!” Adam declared.

“Yes, sir, whatever you say, sir.”  Joe aimed his most submissive smile at his older brother, as always the picture of cooperation once he was sure of getting his own way.

Adam shook his head and led the way to the back of the line, where they endured a wait of forty-five minutes under a sweltering sun.  As he had predicted, Joe found the steady climbing difficult, and they had to pause to rest twice on the way up the stairs.  Adam took advantage of those breaks to give the statue’s inner structure closer scrutiny.  They finally reached the top and walked to the edge of the torch to look out over the roofs below them.  “Well, was it worth it?” Adam asked, resting his hand against Joe’s back to feel for himself how hard the kid was breathing.

Winded, Joe only smiled at first.  Then, taking a deep breath, he admitted, “Sawyer’s Observatory had a better view, but once this lady stands at her full height in New York harbor, I’ll bet you could see clear to Lake Tahoe.”

Adam laughed.  “I think that’s a slight exaggeration, but it will be quite a view.”  His arm slipped around his brother’s waist.  “Maybe we’ll see it someday, Joe.”

Joe grinned back.  “Maybe we will, Adam; maybe we just will.”

After giving Joe ample time to catch his breath, the two brothers descended.  Adam stopped at the booth below long enough to make a donation to the raising of the statue, and then he and Joe moved toward the exit, pausing at the fountain designed by Bartholdi, who was also the sculptor of the statue they’d just climbed.  “Maybe I should go in and get those popcorn balls for Hoss,” Joe suggested, pointing toward Machinery Hall.  “He really would like them.”

“You get back to the room and lie down,” Adam ordered.  “I’ll get the popcorn.”

“Okay,” Joe agreed willingly.  “I am kind of tired.”

“Can you make it back alone?” Adam asked, lifting Joe’s chin to force the boy to meet his eyes.

“Sure.  I’m fine, Adam, just tired,” Joe insisted.  “Don’t worry so.”

“Okay.  Off with you.”  Adam waved his brother toward the exit, but he stayed by the fountain, watching, until Joe was out of sight.  Then he moved toward the Main Exhibition Hall.  He could find those popcorn balls just as easily in there, along with the Christmas gift he’d decided on for Joe, one of those gaucho hats from the Argentine Republic.  The little peacock had displayed an appreciation for a wide array of headgear of late, so Adam was sure he’d made the right choice.  He had no difficulty sneaking the bandbox into the hotel suite, for Joe was sound asleep when he came in.

As evening shadows lengthened, the Cartwright brothers took one last ride down the Schuylkill River for a final taste of catfish and coffee at the Falls of the Wissahickon.  Returning, they both retired early, for the train that would take them toward home would leave at eight o’clock the next morning.

*****

“No, take the window seat,” Adam urged when his younger brother started to sit next to the aisle.

“Thanks,” Joe said, moving over with a smile.  He couldn’t help reflecting on how differently the trip west was starting out from the way their journey east had begun.  Though Joe considered himself fully recovered, Adam had continued to show him every consideration, and Joe had decided to give up feeling insulted by the extra attention and to just relax and enjoy it.

“Do you want your book before I put up your bag?” Adam inquired after stowing his own carpetbag in the overhead storage area.

“Maybe this afternoon,” Joe said.  Yesterday evening Adam had presented him with a new copy of Moby Dick, its binding identical to that of Ivanhoe, but Joe wanted to save the book for later, when he grew tired of gazing out the window.  After all, he had a week’s travel ahead of him and, therefore, plenty of time to read.

For the time being, however, he was content to watch the scenery slide by, even though, in the beginning, the sights were familiar ones: the broad curve of the Schuylkill River, the water falling over the dam at the Fairmount Water Works, the snow-white marble columns of Girard College and, as the tracks curved west, the Centennial Exposition, whose broad avenues had become as well-known to him as the streets of Virginia City.

Twenty miles from Philadelphia they passed through Paoli, descending a hill into a pastoral limestone valley.  Traveling along its southern boundary for another twenty miles, Joe smiled at the high, timber-rich hills on either side of the two-mile-wide valley and thought of the pine-covered hills of home.  Hundreds of farms, rich with golden grain, tawny-tasseled corn and verdant timothy and clover lined the tracks through the fertile valley of Chester County.  Occasionally, Adam would point out a spot of historic significance, such as the crossing of Brandywine Creek, near where Cornwallis had defeated Washington.

The train soon passed through Downington and then a number of small towns, stopping for water at Parkesburg, forty-five miles from Philadelphia.  “Mind if I stretch my legs?” Joe asked.

Adam looked up from that morning’s edition of Philadelphia’s Public Ledger.  “Just don’t get left,” he teased.

Joe rolled his eyes, stood up and moved past Adam into the aisle.  Knowing that the train wouldn’t be here long, he kept the distinctive Tuscan red and cream cars of the Pennsylvania line in sight as he moved down the platform.  There weren’t many sights to see here—a large hotel, some machine shops, a few residences and stores further back from the tracks—but it was mostly air and exercise Joe wanted.  He knew it was much too early in the journey to be this restless, but every mile was taking him closer to home, closer to Pa, and he couldn’t restrain the anticipation that bubbled up inside whenever he pictured that best-loved of all faces.

Hearing the train whistle, Joe hurried back onto the train and scrambled over Adam’s long legs into his seat again as the wheels started turning.  The tracks ran into Lancaster County and passed through an opening in a hill to begin its descent into another valley.  “Mostly German settlers here,” Adam commented as the train rumbled through Lancaster itself, with its anthracite furnaces, cotton factories and locomotive works.

Joe nodded, although the information had little personal meaning to him.  As the train stopped briefly in Middletown, at the mouth of the Susquehanna River, however, Adam said something that made his brother’s ears prick up.  “Just nine miles to Harrisburg.  We’ll be getting off there.”

“Why?” Joe demanded.  “You’re not gonna drag this trip out the way you did the one from New Haven to New York, are you?  We’ll never get home!”

“Relax,” Adam said, brushing his hand through Joe’s chestnut curls.  “Just this one side trip.  We’ll leave Harrisburg tomorrow, and I promise we’ll travel steadily after that, except for a brief layover in Chicago.”

“Well, okay,” Joe muttered, still slightly disgruntled, “but what’s in Harrisburg?”

“Not a thing,” Adam chuckled.

“Adam!”

“We’re not staying in Harrisburg,” Adam explained with another conciliatory tousle of those tempting curls.  “We’ll just eat dinner there and then transfer to another railroad—to Gettysburg.”

Joe drew in a sharp rush of air and let it out slowly.  “Adam, are you sure?” he asked softly.  “I mean, you don’t have to do that, if it’s just for me.”

“It’s for both of us,” Adam said, his hand sliding down to Joe’s shoulder.  “I need to be there again, Joe, to turn the memories loose and leave them there to rest—and I need you by my side while I do that.  Will you help me, little brother?”

Joe choked back the lump rising in his throat.  “You know I will, Adam.”

The Pennsylvania Central rolled into Harrisburg just past noon, and the Cartwright brothers disembarked, with Adam taking charge of the two carpetbags and Joe handling the hamper, whose contents thus far remained intact.  After inquiring of the station master the name and location of a good hotel, Adam led the way to the Jones House, which had been described to him as centrally located and well ordered.  Eschewing luxury for an overnight stay, he checked into a single room with two beds; then he and Joe headed downstairs to dinner.

After a satisfactory meal, the two Cartwrights boarded the Northern Central Railroad and traveled about forty miles to Hanover Junction, where another transfer was required.  After a layover of an hour, another train took them the final thirty miles to Gettysburg, but each turn of the wheels along the metal rails seemed to bring an added line of tension to Adam’s brow.  Little Joe longed to reach out, to take part of the load, but he didn’t know how.  His older brother seemed to be steeling himself for the onslaught of painful memories, and Joe didn’t dare intrude.

Leaving the train, Adam went immediately to a nearby livery to rent a buggy, for though the battlefield wasn’t far from town, he was still concerned—perhaps needlessly, he conceded—about overtiring his younger brother.  He drove south, down the Taneytown Road for about two miles, where he reined in the horses and turned to Joe.  “Think you could make it up that ridge?” he asked, pointing to the rising eminence just to the west.

“Of course,” Joe scoffed.  “It’s just a little hill.”

“Yeah,” Adam muttered as he stepped down and moved around to help Joe down.

Discerning that intent, Joe quickly jumped from the buggy, an action that earned him a glowering rebuke from his older brother.  Adam took him firmly by the elbow, and together they climbed the slope to its top.  Gazing down at the farmland below, Adam gasped at the unexpected serenity of the pastoral scene.  While he knew that the images that haunted him were phantoms, he had almost expected to top that rise and see the fields below still strewn with bloated bodies as they had been those three horrendous days in July of 1863.  But all traces of the battle were gone; the countryside was beautiful again, beautiful and at peace.

“I wasn’t here the first day,” he said softly, gazing at the ridge on the other side of the valley, whose dark woods had once sheltered an opposing army.  “Our regiment was among the last to leave the Rappahannock River, and we were taking our time, moving along leisurely, never dreaming that a battle had already started up ahead.  When we found out, we hurried forward, took our assigned position on this ridge and worked ‘til about midnight, throwing up entrenchments from whatever rocks and wood we could find, mostly fence rails—and then the waiting began, the long, weary waiting.”

Adam halted and closed his eyes, as if trying to shut out the memories rushing toward him.  Only when a strong, young hand came to rest on his shoulder was he able to open his eyes and continue.  “Waiting—we spent most of our time waiting, it seemed, the whole nine months I was enlisted.  You’d have thought we’d be used to it by then, but somehow this waiting seemed harder than all that had gone before it.  We knew Robert E. Lee was out there, with the whole Confederate Army of Virginia, but we didn’t dare attack.  We had the high ground, and we’d learned at Fredericksburg just how important that was.  So we waited for him to come to us.  That was General Meade’s plan, at least, but one man changed all that, one man who wouldn’t obey orders.”

Joe held his breath, from the gravity in his brother’s voice, fearful for a moment that Adam was going to say that he had been that man, but Adam almost immediately said, “General Sickles.  He had his reasons, I suppose, for leaving his position, but that one mistake set the stage for the horror that followed.  Sickles’ men got too far in front, and when the Confederates finally attacked about four o’clock that afternoon, those soldiers were alone down in that wheat field, outnumbered two to one, and they were being mowed down like grain before an relentless scythe.  Someone had to help them, and my division was elected.”

A shudder passed through his body, and the hand on his shoulder tightened, in an attempt to transfuse the strength of the younger into the older brother.  His somber attitude momentarily lightened by recognition of the reversal of their normal roles, Adam turned toward Joe and smiled briefly, but his face grew grim as he took a deep breath and again began to speak.  “It was the hardest fighting I ever endured, down there in that field of ripening wheat—golden grain, soon dappled with crimson.  “Do you know what it’s like, Joe, to have minié balls hurtling toward you by the hundreds, with nothing to stop them but slim stalks of wheat?”

“No,” Joe whispered.  “How’d you ever come through it, Adam?”

Adam shrugged.  “Pa would say ‘by the grace of God,’ and I don’t have a better answer, though I know that some who died deserved life as much or more than me.”  He glanced at his brother.  “I honestly don’t know, Joe.  It was mass confusion down there—smoke from gunfire so thick you couldn’t see, roar of the fusillade so loud you couldn’t hear, bodies falling all around me, bullets flying from every direction, men running pell-mell to the rear.”

“But you didn’t run,” Joe said confidently.

“No.”  There was no pride in Adam’s voice as he said the word, however, and something more akin to regret as he continued.  “No, I fought, fired my rifle ‘til I ran out of ammunition, and then fixed the bayonet, as our brigade commander ordered, and just kept going.”  He scrubbed his hand along his jaw.  “I’d never done that before, always considered myself too civilized to ram a blade into a man, but we were all a little uncivilized that afternoon.”  He gave a short, harsh laugh.  “You’ll never know how many times I wanted to rip that fool epee out of your hands when I’d catch you playing with it.”

“As I recall, you did a few times,” Joe said softly, quirking a half-smile.

Face taut, Adam nodded.  “And as I recall, I usually ended up getting a lecture from Pa about who the father in the family was, but Pa just didn’t understand and I couldn’t bring myself to tell him.  Every time I saw you stabbing the air with that monkey pick, I felt sick to my stomach, just the way I’d felt each time I thrust my bayonet into the unresisting flesh of another human being.”

Joe touched his head to his brother’s upper arm.  “Adam, don’t,” he pleaded urgently.

“You wanted to know what it was like, remember?” Adam accused bitterly.  “Did you think it was grand and glorious adventures I was keeping from you, boy?”

“No.  I—I don’t know.  I don’t know what I thought, Adam,” Joe floundered, taking a step back.  “I’m sorry I pestered you to death about it, but I just didn’t think it was as bad as that.  Don’t go on.  I hate seein’ you hurt like this, Adam.  We shouldn’t have come.”

Adam gazed out over the former battlefield.  “No, I’m glad we did.  Look at it, Joe, that green field down there, that fruitful peach orchard off to the south.  That’s the way it looked that morning when the sun painted rosy tips on the waving wheat.  By the time we left it that evening, the crops were trampled flat, the stalks of grain tinged a ghastlier red, and there would be no harvest that year except the one that lay rotting across that ruined field.  All that night we heard the groans and cries for help, wounded men screaming for a drink of water in the sultry summer heat that not even darkness cooled down much.  I got to as many as I could, but it was impossible in the darkness to help many, especially with snipers from both sides shooting at anything that moved, so all night long we listened to those cries of anguish.  Even after I mustered out and returned to Yale, I could hear them in my dreams—my men, out there . . . dying.”

“Adam, don’t.  Please.”  An earnest plea.

He turned to see Joe, tears shimmering in the expressive eyes, and instantly became the older brother again, anxious to comfort the younger, and in doing so found comfort himself.  “But look, Joe,” he urged, his right arm coming around his brother’s trim waist.  He swept his other arm down toward the fertile pastureland.  “The nightmare is over: the day did dawn again; the fields were planted anew; the peach trees blossomed once more.  There’s life again in this place, not just the death I remember.  The land is whole again—and so, I think, am I.”

Joe looked down at the field and then up into his brother’s eyes, and a smile trembled on his lips.  “I’m glad, Adam,” he said simply, “but I thought you said you didn’t do much fighting here.  Sounds to me like you did.”

“You mean when we were discussing Rothermel’s painting?” Adam asked.  “That depicts the assault on the third day, and what I said was that the main thrust didn’t come toward my regiment.  General Pickett aimed his charge toward that grove over there”—he pointed to a small cluster of trees just north of where they were standing—“but, of course, we fought that day, too—not as hard as the day before, when we were in the thick of it, but, ironically, the third day is the one I was wounded.”  He glanced at Joe.  “I suppose Pa kept that from you, too.”

“Like everything,” Joe grunted.

“Joe, you were six,” Adam said, obviously considering that reason irrefutable.

Joe didn’t argue this time.  “You ready to go?” he asked.

Adam nodded.  “I’d like to stop by the National Cemetery; then we’ll head back to town.”

Joe accepted Adam’s assistance as they moved down the ridge, back to the buggy, and even, for Adam’s sake, let his older brother hand him up into the vehicle.  Then Adam turned the buggy around and headed back up the Taneytown Road toward the cemetery.  They halted outside the arched stone entrance, inscribed with the names of the eighteen states that had fought at Gettysburg.  Leaving the buggy, they walked down the manicured path to the very center of the graveyard, where a tall marble monument stood in the midst of concentric circles of small, flat headstones.

“It didn’t look like this when I was here before,” Adam said softly.  “We spent the Fourth of July that year burying the bodies where they fell, mostly in shallow graves.”

“Some celebration,” Joe murmured sympathetically.

Adam ran his palm across his brother’s shoulder blades.  “Yeah, but I guess just living through the battle was celebration enough for most of us.  More people died here than in any battle of the Civil War, Joe—around fifty-three thousand, from both sides—and we didn’t have time to give them a proper burial, just scooped out a shallow grave and covered them as best we could.  The first rain washed the earth away, and arms and legs started sticking up, like some grim crop planted haphazardly wherever the seed fell.  Later, the hogs got at the bodies and”—he broke off, and for a moment his eyes glazed over, his shoulders slumped and his hand fell to his side.

Joe slipped his hand into that of his older brother.  “You saw that?”

Licking his lower lip, Adam nodded.  “When I came for the dedication, the work of digging up the bodies and reburying them in the cemetery was only about a third done.  Up here on the hill it didn’t look so bad, but down there”—he turned to gaze toward the lowland where he had once fought in a field of golden grain—“you could still see the half-covered bodies.  I tried not to look, but”—again words failed him.

Joe squeezed his hand.  “I understand.  It’s the kind of thing that pulls at you ‘til you have to look.”

“Yeah.”  A whisper, barely audible.

Joe deliberately turned his brother back toward the concentric circles of headstones.  “They’re at peace now, Adam, in the prettiest spot I’ve ever seen for a final resting place—except the one where my mother’s buried.”

Adam smiled softly.  “Nothing could be as fine as that, but it is nice, isn’t it?”

“It sure is.  You wanna look for anyone in particular?”

Adam glanced back at his brother.  “Yeah, I think I’d like to say a final farewell to my men.”

The search was a brief one, for the soldiers from each state were buried together, and Connecticut’s section was located in the innermost circle, where the Cartwright brothers began.  Adam, with Joe close behind him, moved from stone to stone, searching for familiar names.  From time to time, he would pause for a moment to gaze solemnly at a stone with “27th Connecticut” written on it and then move on.  When he came to one headstone, however, his knees buckled and he collapsed to the ground.  From that reverent position, he reached out to touch the cool, gray stone.

Joe squatted at his side and read the name silently.  “One of your men?”

Blinking back tears, Adam nodded, and he stroked the gravestone as if the man lying beneath it could feel his tender touch.  “One of the best.”  He looked up, scarcely seeing the cottony clouds floating in a clear, blue sky above the shiny green canopy of the trees.  “To me, that’s the most tragic part of that awful struggle.  We didn’t lose the worst among us, Joe; we lost the best, the bravest and brightest.  This boy, so artistic, so talented; you might have seen his work at Memorial Hall had he lived.”  The tears broke through the barrier of his blinking eyelids and began to spill down his face as he whispered through quivering lips.  “Inventors, teachers, future statesmen, the ones who would have made the greatest impact on the world—that’s what we lost, Joe, what we stole from each other, for this was a war, not with some foreign foe, but between brothers.”   He swiped the tears from his cheeks, but once the dam was broken, there seemed to be no stemming the long-restrained flood.  His back began to heave, as sobs were wrenched from his throat and poured out into the quiet air of the graveyard.

Joe reached out and, pulling Adam into his arms, began to rock him back and forth, as if his older brother were a small child.  “It’s all right, Adam,” he whispered again and again.  “It’s all right.”  Then, recalling words that had been spoken by the man now sobbing in his arms to a child who had just lost his mother, he murmured, “Let it out, Adam; let it all out.”  And throwing himself into his brother’s embrace, Adam did.

The storm passed, the sobbing slowed, and the tears trickled to a stop.  Adam looked up into the surprisingly gentle face of his younger brother.  “Thank you,” he whispered.

Not sure what to say, Joe just nodded and helped his brother to his feet.  “Time to go,” he suggested.  “Wouldn’t want to miss our train.”

“There’s time,” Adam said, “but I’m ready to leave.”  Walking back toward the gateway, he paused at the monument to Liberty at the cemetery’s center.  “This stands where Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address.”

“Yes,” Adam replied, his awe almost as great.  “Edward Everett, one of the finest orators in the country, was the main speaker that day, and he gave a wonderful speech, full of historic significance and inspiration.  Two hours of stirring words from a silver tongue, but it couldn’t compare with the impact Lincoln achieved in just two minutes.”

“We had to learn it in school,” Joe said.  He flashed a quick grin at his brother.  “One of the few times I didn’t mind doing memory work.”  Gazing up at the monument, his face grew sober, and he began to quote softly, “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  His eyes dropped to the battlefield spreading out to the south, and though he’d never seen it except through his brother’s eyes, he seemed to visualize the armies of blue and gray clashing against one another.  “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”

Joe turned back toward the concentric circles of headstones, and as he felt his brother’s arm come supportively around him, he went on, sensing that for both of them it was a moment of healing.  “But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living”—he smiled up, gratefully, at the man who had lived through the struggle and then his gaze rested on the three thousand or so sleeping beneath the sod—“and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here.”

He took his brother’s hand and held it, making the final words a pledge.  “It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

“Amen,” Adam murmured, feeling his chest swell.  He looked out over the graves of his fallen comrades and then back to the emotive face of one for whom they had fought.  “I was wrong, you know,” he said softly, his eyes focused on his brother.  “We didn’t lose all our best.”

Joe looked steadfastly into his brother’s face.  “No, we didn’t.  The best, the very best man on that field, is still here.”

Adam chuckled, touched by the sentiment, but amused by Joe’s typical excess.  “Come on, little brother.  Time for a cup of coffee before our train pulls in.”

“And maybe a piece of pie?” Joe hinted with a grin as they walked out of the cemetery.

Adam laughed.  “Are you sure you’re not Hoss?”

The joke carried no sting at all this time.  “Yeah, big brother, I’m sure.  He don’t eat as much as me.”

Adam clapped the younger boy on the back.  “I’m beginning to believe it!”

*****

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

Little Joe dug into Hop Sing’s picnic hamper for a link of sausage and an apple.  Since the west-bound train of the Pennsylvania Railroad hadn’t left Harrisburg until noon, he had awakened quite late and, having eaten a late breakfast, he had insisted that he wasn’t hungry when Adam suggested that they eat before boarding.  True to form, he had become ravenous the minute the wheels started to roll.

Sitting once again at the window of the railcar, Joe nibbled on the end of the sausage and watched the crazy-quilt patchwork of green and red beyond the river, as fields of growing crops alternated irregularly with the bare red shale of those already harvested.  At the far side of the cultivated fields, mountains of sandstone framed the pastoral panorama.

“Is there enough in that basket to hold you ‘til Altoona?” Adam teased.  “I believe that’s where we stop for supper.”“Very funny,” Joe snorted.  “This is all I’m eating ‘til then.”

“No, no, eat up, little brother,” Adam urged playfully.  “Fill up now and spare my pocketbook the price of another meal.”

Joe smiled smugly.  “Not a chance.”  By the time the train had crossed Little Buffalo Creek over a five-span stone aqueduct, he’d finished his light lunch, and when the train pulled into Newport, where the tributary emptied into the mouth of the Juniata River, Joe had decided that the scenery, while still lovely, wasn’t changing much from one mile to the next.  “Can I have my book, please?” he asked his brother.  He would have hopped up to get it himself, except that Adam was still strictly forbidding him to do any lifting.

“You may, yes,” Adam said.  Standing up, he took Joe’s carpetbag down from its overhead storage, removed his copy of Moby Dick and returned the bag.

Joe opened the book, which he had started the previous night after supper, and began to read, glancing out the window from time to time to make sure he wasn’t missing anything of interest.  Sometime later the light through the open window abruptly dimmed, and Joe instinctively looked up to investigate the cause.

“It’s just a passage between two mountains, called the Long Narrows,” Adam said, shutting his own book.  “It only lasts a few miles, but you shouldn’t try to read in this low light.”

Joe shrugged and closed Moby Dick.  “How far you figure we’ve come?”

Adam chuckled.  “Fifty-five to sixty miles, I’d guess.  Long way to go yet.”

“I know that,” Joe snorted with a toss of his curly head.  “Still almost a week from home.” “I meant to Altoona,” Adam said dryly, and Joe supplied him with the groan he had expected and angled for.

Exiting from the Long Narrows, they came into Lewistown at the west end.  “Nice country around here,” Adam commented as the train rattled through a fertile valley, “and the home of an old friend of yours.”

“Mine?”  Joe looked perplexed.  “I don’t have any friends back east.” “Remember Logan?” Adam asked with a smile.  He could well remember how entranced his younger brother had been with stories of the Mingo chief.  Like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Logan’s appeal to the white man for mercy for his people had been words the youngster willingly memorized.

Joe smiled, too, in nostalgic recollection.  “Yeah, I remember him.  This is his land, huh?”

“And a fine one, as I said.  Lots of caves full of stalactites to explore and streams jumping with trout.”

“Umm, sounds good,” Joe murmured dreamily.  “Any chance of getting some trout at Altoona?”

“Good possibility.”

The river made a horseshoe bend, and at its western side the rails crossed the Juniata over a bridge seventy feet above the water and then entered a gap in a mountain almost bare of vegetation, covered, instead, with massive gray boulders.  The tracks followed the course of the river for many miles until, leaving its deep gorge, they entered Tuckahoe Valley to run almost dead center through fifteen miles with rich limestone land on the southern side and clay soil to the north.  “Coal country,” Adam said, pointing toward the nearby Allegheny Mountains. “Next stop, Altoona.”

“Hey, great!” Joe cried.  “Sure hope they have some fresh mountain trout fried up.”

The supper stop was a short one, but in the time allotted by the railroad, both brothers managed to gobble down crispy, crumb-coated trout, fried to golden perfection, with corn on the cob, slathered with melted butter, savorily seasoned greens and a tall glass of iced tea. Leaving Altoona, the rails began to ascend the Allegheny Mountains, and until daylight started to fade, Adam and Joe enjoyed the scenic splendor of the type of country they loved best.

Catching Joe yawning, Adam suggested that they have their berths made up and turn in.

Darkness and motion having made him quite groggy, Joe agreed, and soon both brothers were snoring softly as the wheels continued to roll through the Pennsylvania countryside.  Around ten o’clock Adam roused briefly and made a trip down to the water closet at the end of the car.  Peering out the window beside a vacant seat, he noticed the gaslights of a large city and realized they were passing through Pittsburgh, technically the terminus of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  Their sleeping car, however, would continue through to Chicago, though it would be past noon of the next day before it arrived in that hub, where they’d need to transfer to another rail line.

“Does it not meet with your approval?” Adam inquired with an arched eyebrow.  He had just set the carpetbags inside their suite at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Chicago and looked up to find a perturbed frown on his young brother’s face.

“You didn’t have to rent us the most expensive room in the place,” Joe grunted.  “We could’ve shared a room, like we did at Harrisburg.  We’re just here overnight.”

Adam shrugged.  “So I want one more night of luxury before I resign myself to a Pullman berth for five days.  What’s that to you?  It’s my money.”

“I know why you did it!” Joe snapped.  “The three-dollar rooms are upstairs, and you don’t want me climbing.  Well, I got news for you, big brother.  My bed at home is upstairs, so I’m gonna have to climb those just a few days from now!”

Arms folded, Adam leaned back against the nearest wall and regarded his younger brother with mild amusement.  “Oh, I don’t know.  I could probably persuade Hoss to carry his poor, weak baby brother up those stairs.”

“Adam,” Joe growled in slow warning.

Adam laughed.  “All right, all right, guilty as charged.  You are sturdier than I thought you might be when I telegraphed from Philadelphia for this reservation, but I didn’t rent a first-floor room just to spare your feeble limbs.  I want a long, lazy soak in a tub tonight, and this room provides that, as well as a private water closet.  Don’t even try telling me you don’t appreciate that convenience.”

Ill temper fading away, Joe smiled.  “No, and that long, lazy soak sounds good, too.  Okay, older brother, one more night of luxury.”

“Do you want a late dinner or an early supper?” Adam inquired.  The train had reached Chicago at one o’clock that afternoon, and it was now half-past that hour, later than they generally ate the midday meal.

“Early supper, I guess,” Joe said, throwing himself down on the plush settee, upholstered in dark brown brocade with narrow olive-green stripes.  “I ate some stuff on the train.”

Adam nodded.  “That’s what I figured.  Stretch out and relax awhile, then, kid.  I’m gonna do the same, and in an hour or so, I’ll take you down to see the stockyards, if you’re interested.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard they’re some kind of sight,” Joe said, lying down.  Within minutes he had nodded off, but Adam wasn’t there to see it, for he was also asleep, sprawled on the top of the bed in his room.

Refreshed by a half-hour’s nap, Adam came out of his room to chuckle at the sight of his still-slumbering brother.  From the sweet smile on Joe’s face, it was obvious his dreams were pleasant ones, and Adam hated to wake him.  It was necessary, however, if they were to make the planned excursion without putting their supper too late.  Since they had to be up early to catch the morning train to Omaha, Adam would be insisting that they retire early, and that left little enough time for a bit of sightseeing, supper and that long, lazy soak they both wanted.

Not pleased at first to desert the lovely redhead he’d been kissing in his dreams, Joe rebounded quickly when reminded of the trip to the Union Stockyards.  Half an hour from the center of Chicago, the stockyards were a veritable city built for cattle, complete with streets, sewers and gaslights.  The “city” had its own bank and exchange, telegraph and post offices and a newspaper, as well as a hotel for drovers and cattle owners.  The place was immense: fifteen hundred open pens, heavily fenced with double plank; one hundred acres of pens for cattle, all floored with three-inch planks; and eight hundred covered sheds for sheep and hogs.  “And I thought the Ponderosa raised a lot of beef!” Joe cried as he and Adam stood gazing out over the herds that seemed to extend to the horizon.  “I’ve never seen so many steers in one place before.”

“Yeah, it’s quite a place,” Adam agreed, “but you never know, Joe; some of those cattle out there just might carry the Ponderosa brand.”

Joe grinned.  Though he knew the Ponderosa shipped cattle east, he didn’t think it likely at this time of year that any stock with a pine tree burned into their rumps were roaming around in those open pens.  Still, it was a pleasant image and one that made him all the more nostalgic about seeing that brand again soon.

Returning to the six-story Grand Pacific, the Cartwright brothers freshened up.  Watching his younger brother comb out his shaggy locks, Adam shook his head.  “You need a haircut in the worst way.”

“Can’t,” Joe tossed back.  “No barber shops open on Sunday.”

“Oh, and I can see how torn up you are about that!” Adam hooted.  “Pa’s likely to start spouting his Mississippi-riverboat-gambler speech when he gets a gander at you, though, buddy.”

Joe caressed the curls framing his ears.  “Yeah, I reckon, but let’s not cross that bridge ‘til we come to it, okay, older brother?”

“Okay,” Adam agreed. “Now, will you quit preening in front of that mirror?  I’m famished.”

Joe gave his reflection a good squint and decided to quit tampering with perfection.  He laid down the comb and walked with Adam across the lobby to the hotel’s magnificent dining room, a well-lighted hall decorated with stunning frescoes and gilding.  As they ate with relish the superb meal, Adam observed that it was a good thing they were only spending one night here.  “A week of this would be enough to ruin a man’s digestion for life!”

Laughingly, Joe agreed, but he continued to pack away food as though trying to ruin his digestion in a single night.  “Food’s great, all right.  Is that why you wanted to lay over in Chicago?  I mean, we could’ve gone straight on today, couldn’t we?”

“We could have,” Adam answered, “but only the morning train to Omaha carries sleeping cars, and since the trip takes twenty-one and a half hours . . .”

“Oh.  Good thinking,” Joe said, pushing back his plate.  “Now, what should we have for dessert?”

Adam simply rolled his eyes.

*****

“A Pullman palace?”  Joe almost squealed with delight when his brother directed him into the parlor car at the extreme rear of the train that would be their home until they reached Ogden.  “Aw, Adam, you didn’t have to do that.  It’s awful expensive.”

“Didn’t have to, wanted to.  It’ll be a more restful journey this way, something we can both use,” Adam replied, hanging his hat on the hook on the wall and taking one of the two cushioned armchairs.  “Besides, I figure Pa won’t mind shelling out an extra seventeen dollars for his baby son’s comfort, though I expect to pay for my own.”

“Seventeen?  That much?”  Joe whistled.

“Including the silver palace car from Ogden to Reno, yes,” Adam answered.  “We’re going in style all the way, little brother.”

Joe hung up his hat, plopped down in the comfortable armchair across from Adam and gazed around the enclosed apartment with satisfaction.  Except for a narrow passage, their parlor extended the width of the railcar and was as elegantly appointed as any of the hotel rooms at which they’d stayed during their trip.  French plate mirrors hung on walls ornamented by woodwork of polished black walnut, and thick Axminster carpet covered the floor.  A gas chandelier hung from the ceiling, to provide light at any hour, and the furniture was ornately carved of solid black walnut and upholstered in royal purple velvet plush.  In addition to the two armchairs near the outside windows, a long sofa sat against the opposite wall, and above it were windows looking out on the corridor.  They couldn’t have been more comfortable in the great room at the Ponderosa.  “Style is right,” Joe murmured and then smiled at Adam.  “Thanks, brother.”

“My pleasure.  Incidentally, the sofa’s yours, anytime you want it.”

“After dinner, maybe,” Joe said.  “Where is the dinner stop, anyway?”

Adam laughed.  “I thought I just fed you!”

Joe grinned.  “Just planning ahead.”

“Ah, admirable, I’m sure.  I don’t really know where the train stops for dinner, Joe, but it doesn’t affect us.  This is a hotel car; we just order dinner whenever we’re hungry.”

Leaning back into the armchair, Joe gave a long, contented sigh.  “If you gotta travel, this is the way.”

“Yeah.  Sorry I deprived you of this on the way out, kid,” Adam said.

Joe sat up straight and looked directly into his brother’s eyes.  “Adam, you got nothing to apologize for.  It was your money, and you had every right to be frugal with it.  I’m gonna take a lesson from your book and see if I can’t do better with mine.”

“Sure, kid.”  Adam smiled; he’d believe it when he saw it.

Five hours down the track, the cars of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad crossed the Mississippi River at Clinton, Iowa, and Little Joe declared that he was hungry.

“I figured I’d be hearing that soon,” Adam chuckled.  “The menu’s on the table.  Order whatever you like.”

After perusing the menu for a while, Joe announced, “I want the porterhouse steak with stewed new potatoes and green peas.”

“Why don’t you have mushrooms with your steak?” Adam suggested.  “I know you like them, and it’s only twenty-five cents extra.”

“Okay,” Joe agreed quickly.  Since it was only the added expense that had kept him from ordering the steak that way, he yielded readily to the encouragement.  “What are you having?”

“The steak sounds good, but I had beef last night,” Adam said.  “I think I’ll have the mutton chops with tomato sauce, corn on the cob and the peas, with some good Boston brown bread.  I presume you want the French loaf?”

Joe grinned.  “That’s good presuming.”

After dinner Joe read for a short while and then stretched out on the sofa for a brief nap.  Around six he and Adam enjoyed a light supper of Welsh rarebit, since neither had exercised enough to work up a large appetite.  About eight o’clock a gray-uniformed porter answered Adam’s summons and turned both sofa and armchairs into beds after pulling the legs of the table together, so it would disappear into a corner.  From one of the hinged shelves above the cabin, which could also serve as beds for a larger party, the porter took fresh linen, pillows and thick, colorful blankets.

Dressed in his nightshirt, Little Joe took his toothbrush and powder and moved toward the closet door, where Adam had told him he would find a washbasin.

“Better knock first,” Adam advised.  “We share that with the next stateroom.  You wouldn’t want to walk in on some lady unannounced.”

Joe grinned over his shoulder.  “Well, I might.”

“She’s probably sixty-two and takes her teeth out at night,” Adam snorted.  “Do as I say, you lecherous scamp.”

Looking properly awed at the prospect of meeting such an apparition, Joe obediently rapped on the door and, hearing no response, opened it to attend to his personal hygiene.  Adam followed, and soon both brothers were asleep.

*****

The train crossed a bridge over the Missouri River, from Council Bluff into Omaha, just about the time Adam and Joe were ordering breakfast Tuesday morning.  Though they were switching rail lines here, the Pullman palace car would simply be detached from one train and hooked onto the end of the other, so there was no need for the brothers to transfer their belongings.

Knowing that, Joe was surprised to see Adam head for the exit as soon as he’d given the porter their orders.  “Where you going?”

“I’m just getting a newspaper.  Take it easy,” Adam said as he disappeared out the door.

When he returned, Joe gave him an annoyed look.  “I could have done that.”

“You did it all the way east; I’ll take over going west,” Adam answered easily.

Joe shook his head, clearly annoyed.  “Adam, you don’t have to keep trying to make up for everything you think you did wrong the first time around.  I’m not an invalid.  A little exercise might even be good for me.”

Adam tapped the paper against his brother’s arm.  “Okay, buddy.  You can stretch your legs and get the paper tomorrow morning.  We’ll take turns.”

“You got a deal, brother,” Joe said with a smile.

Cheese omelettes, with sides of ham and fried potatoes, arrived just then, along with steaming cups of coffee, and Adam waited until the porter had left before he spoke.  “There is still one thing I’d like to make up for, though,” he said as the Union Pacific train pulled out of the depot, headed west.

Stirring sugar into his coffee, Joe looked up.  “Yeah?  What’s that?”

“On the way out you were asking about my first trip west, with Pa and Inger, and I cut you off pretty short,” Adam explained, slicing his ham.  “If you’re still interested, I’d like to share some of those memories with you while we travel.”

Joe laid the spoon down and smiled across the table.  “Oh, yeah, I’d like that, Adam.  It would really make the miles go faster.  We’re just about where you started, right?”

“A bit north, actually.”

“I remember, from St. Joe.”

Adam grinned.  “Saint . . . Joseph . . . somehow, those words still don’t seem to fit together.”

“Aw, hush.”  Recalling how he and Adam had traded the same teasing barbs in the Main Exhibition Hall, Joe giggled.  “Like I told you before, nobody ever heard of a Saint Adam, either!”

Adam chuckled and reached across the table to give his brother’s arm a couple of light pats.  “Nope, neither one of us is a saint, just a couple of mere mortals, trying to muddle our way through life as best we can, maybe learning a little bit along the way.”

Swallowing a bite of egg, Joe said, “I feel like I’ve learned a lot on this trip.”

“Didn’t I tell you that you would?”

Joe waved a chunk of ham, speared on the tines of his fork, toward his brother’s nose.  “There you go, actin’ unsaintly again!  I didn’t mean just that kind of learning.”

Adam looked up and smiled into his brother’s eyes.  “I know what you meant.  I learned a lot, too, Joe.”  After tucking away a few bites of his breakfast, he began, “We won’t be traveling quite the same route we did back then.  The railroad follows the old Mormon Trail on the north side of the Platte, while we followed the south shore.”

“So you were just across the river from here,” Joe commented, popping a forkful of fried potatoes into his mouth.

Adam sliced off another bite of ham.  “No, we started further down the Missouri, remember, and came up toward the Platte at an angle.  The trails weren’t in sight of each other for about the first two hundred and fifty miles.  I’ll let you know when you can see where we were.”

“Thanks,” Joe said.  “May seem silly to you, but I kind of feel like it’s part of my story, too, a part I don’t know nothin’ about.”

Taking a sip of coffee, Adam peered over the rim of his cup.  “You evidently ‘don’t know nothin’ about’ proper grammar, either.”

Joe put his fork down and stuck out his lower lip in playful petulance.  “I’ve been sick, Adam; I shouldn’t have to worry about verbs and such.”

Adam put his head back and laughed.  “Yes, and you know exactly when to claim that and when to conveniently forget, don’t you?  Not too frail to run after a newspaper, but still feeling much too poorly to mind your sentence structure.”

“Yeah!”  Joe had to laugh at his own inconsistency.

“Well, I guess I’d better start at the beginning of ‘your story.’  There wasn’t any bridge across the Missouri back then, and we waited in line for hours for our turn at the ferry.”  Over breakfast and the ensuing miles, Adam shared his memories of the wagon train, talking not only about the terrain and how it had changed over the years, but also relating some amusing incidents of how Pa had struggled to learn the ways of the trail.  Joe leaned forward, eager-eared, scarcely crediting the words he heard, for it was almost impossible for him to imagine that his father had ever been unfamiliar with trail life and the ways of livestock.

Although less than fifty miles from Omaha, the train made its dinner stop for regular passengers at Frémont, but neither Adam nor Joe wanted to eat again that soon.  Riding in a hotel car had definite advantages, Joe decided, and meals served when you wanted them and eating at leisure, instead of choking the food down in twenty to thirty minutes, rated high on his list of those advantages.

The supper stop was at Grand Island, and the Cartwright brothers put in their orders just before getting off the train to stretch their legs.  “Okay, little buddy.  Look across the river,” Adam instructed, draping an arm across Joe’s shoulders.  “See that bluff across the way?”

Joe peered across the placid waters of the broad, but shallow Platte.  “Uh-huh.”

“That’s where I first saw the Platte River, from up there.”

Awed, Joe stared at the high bluff.  “You came down that in a wagon?”

Adam chuckled.  “Yes, and it was far from the roughest part of the road, kid.”

“What was the roughest?” Joe asked.

Adam shrugged uncertainly.  “I’ll have to give that some thought.  We’d better get back aboard.  Our meal will probably be ready soon.”

“Hope so,” Joe said.  “I’m feeling pretty hungry, believe it or not.”

“Oh, I believe it!” Adam laughed.  “Eat hearty, though, little brother.  You’ve still got a pound or two to gain back, and Pa’s sure to notice.”

Walking back toward the train, Joe groaned.  “Oh, I’m in for more coddling when I get home, aren’t I?”

Adam guffawed as he helped Joe mount the steep train steps.  “Oh, you can count on that!  Pa, Hoss, Hop Sing, Doc Martin—they’re all gonna have their fingers in that pie.”

On the railcar’s end platform, Joe spun around, genuine alarm flaring in his eyes.  “Adam, you gotta protect me!”

Adam grinned broadly.  “Unh-uh.  I’m not going anywhere near that!  Besides, I think you could still do with a little mollycoddling.  I know you think you’re ‘all better,’ but you’ve got a ways to go before you’re ready to tackle regular ranch work, buddy, much less busting broncs.”

“Wish I’d ordered dessert,” Joe muttered, feeling his flat stomach, apparently searching for the requisite amount of padding that would keep Pa from fretting.

“You still can,” Adam chuckled as they walked down the narrow corridor.

As their supper was being served, the train pulled away from Grand Island, and the prairie widened out, unrestricted now by the tall bluffs that had bordered the track thus far.  A couple of hours after finishing the meal, they pulled into Fort Kearny.  “Aw, it’s too dark to see anything,” Joe said, disappointed.

“From what I hear, there’s not much left to see,” Adam said.  “I’ve got some good memories of that place, though.”

“Tell me about them,” Joe demanded.

Adam gave his brother a close look.  “You must be tired.  Why don’t I have the porter make up our beds?  Then I’ll share my memories as a bedtime story.”

Joe giggled.  “Like when I was a kid?”

Adam tweaked his nose.  “What do you mean, ‘when you were a kid’?  You’re still a kid!”

As soon as their beds were made up, both brothers crawled under the covers and as they lay there, facing each other, Adam began to talk about his first visit to an Army fort.  He talked until he sensed that his words were drowning in a great silence and realized that Joe was asleep.  Sometime during the night, they were both awakened by loud, rumbling thunder, and Joe came across the room and clambered up on Adam’s bed to peer out the window at the crashing bolts of lightning that lit up the prairie from horizon to horizon.  Watching the electrical storm together sparked still more memories, which Adam shared as they knelt side by side.

*****

Breakfast came late for the regular passengers, but when the train stopped at Sidney for that purpose, the Cartwright brothers were already more than half-finished with their first meal of the day.  Little Joe wiped his mouth and set the napkin aside as the wheels slowed.

“Where you going?” Adam asked, seeing his brother push his chair back.

“To get a newspaper, of course,” Joe responded.

“No, you finish your breakfast,” Adam urged.

Joe shook his head, disgusted by the protective attitude.  “Adam, you said we’d take turns.”

“And we will,” Adam replied, lifting his coffee cup.  “I think they only publish a weekly here, so let’s wait ‘til Cheyenne to get a paper.  I promise I won’t fight you for the privilege.”

They finished the meal and were sitting in the armchairs by the window when the train wheels again began to turn.  Adam started once more to reminisce about his journey west.  “We’re traveling south of the old emigrant trail now,” he told Joe.  “Before dinner we’ll pass near some of the major landmarks, but I’m not sure you’ll be able to see them from the train.  Chimney Rock, for instance.  That was an important one to me, as a kid.”

“Why?” Joe asked.

Adam shrugged.  “Oh, I don’t know.  Pa had loaned me his guidebook, and for some reason that stood out as a place I wanted to see.  Then when we got there, I was almost too sick to care.  Cholera had hit our wagon train, and we’d lost several good people:  Stefán Zuebner’s father, Clyde and Nelly’s youngest boy and my good friend, Johnny Payne.  Hit just about every family.”

“Ours, too,” Joe murmured.

“Yeah, but just me,” Adam said.  “Pa and Inger somehow managed to escape it, though I’ll never know how.  She spent so much time helping the sick that it’s a wonder she didn’t come down with it.  A good thing, though, ‘cause she didn’t need that on top of being ‘great with child,’ as the Good Book puts it—and I do mean ‘great with child.’  Pa thought sure she was going to have twins!”

Joe laughed.  “Hoss always was big, huh?  I mean, I don’t remember him being any other way, so it’s hard for me to picture him as a baby.”

“Oh, he never was,” Adam affirmed with dry humor.  “He was born half-grown—and I’m not exaggerating much.”

They had left the prairie during the night, and now, as the train began to climb, the terrain was broken, with rough bluffs on either side and stunted pines along the tops.  The grade grew steeper as they went up the divide between Lodge Pole and Crow creeks, and still it continued to climb.  Sixty miles to the southwest, snow-capped Long’s Peak appeared, and soon the train began to pass through the snow sheds that protected the tracks during harsh mountain winters.  Disliking the blackness of the tunnels, Joe curled up on the sofa, shut his eyes and slept a little.

The train stopped at Cheyenne, and Joe got off to get a copy of the Cheyenne Daily Sun.  He and Adam turned in their dinner orders, and while they waited for the food to be served, Adam read through most of the important news of the day.  After dinner Joe took his turn with the paper and was still reading it when the train passed through Sherman, the highest point on the line.  Adam got another chance to look at the Dale Creek Bridge, this time from the opposite perspective, and soon the road turned left to reveal a beautiful vista.

Laramie was the supper stop, and the Cartwright brothers chose to eat about the same time as the other passengers, although their meal was more leisurely and they continued eating after the train left the depot.  Both of them read for a short while after supper, but noticing that his younger brother was beginning to yawn, Adam slipped out to request that the porter make their beds early.  Both of them had lost sleep the night before, because of the rainstorm, and both were ready to turn in as soon as their beds were prepared.  Here in the mountains, the nights were chilly, but the porter had thoughtfully provided extra blankets, so both Adam and Joe slept snugly through the night.

*****

The train erupted from a narrow gorge into a valley at Green River, and regular passengers scurried off to grab a bite of breakfast.  Having already finished theirs, the Cartwright brothers strolled toward an overlook with a good view of the river.  “You remember asking me what the hardest part of the trip west was?” Adam asked as he gazed down into the water.

“Yeah, but I figured you forgot,” Joe said.

“No, just couldn’t decide,” Adam admitted, “but this might be it.”  He nodded toward the curving stream.  “One of the hardest parts ended here at Green River.  We knew we had fallen behind schedule because of the cholera and other problems, and the men decided the best way to make up some of that time was to take the Sublette Cutoff, more than fifty miles of dry, hot desert, not a drop of water except what was in our barrels, and that had to be rationed out to make it last.  We walked all night to spare the animals the heat of the day, and I whined like a baby the whole time, even pouting because Hoss got to ride in the wagon, while I had to walk.”

“What were you . . . six . . . seven?”

“Seven.”

“Deserts are hard on grown men, Adam, much less a little kid.  You’re too hard on yourself.”  Joe moved in front of Adam and forced his attention.  “You’re almost always too hard on yourself.”

Adam smiled.  “Another lesson I need to learn from my kid brother?”

Joe gave him a saucy grin.  “You asking me to be your mentor?”

Adam laughed, shaking his head.  “In taking life easy?  Oh, you would be the expert in that department!”

“Hey!  I do my share,” Joe declared stoutly.

“Yes, you do,” Adam conceded, adding with a naughty wink, “Sometimes you have to be prodded to do it, but one way or another, you do your share.”

Joe scowled and gave his brother a punch on the arm.  “Something else you need to work on, Adam, is how to give a compliment that isn’t backhanded.”

Feeling Joe had a point and wanting to keep the peace, Adam nodded.  “Yeah, I should work on that.”

Seeing other passengers making their way back to the train, the brothers hurried to take their place in the parlor car, and the wheels rolled west once more.  They’d been traveling about three hours when a rap came at the door, and the porter entered, a broad smile on his dark face.  “We be makin’ good time, sirs, so de conductor say we can stop and let any what wants have some of de soda water here’bouts.  Step off and have you’self some, young gen’muns.  It be good for them what’s ailin’.”

“I ain’t ailin’,” Joe muttered testily with a hard look at his brother, who, he suspected, had at some time given the porter that excuse, when asking for the beds to be made up early, for instance.

Adam flicked a hand toward Joe to silence any further rudeness and thanked the porter for the information.  “Come on, Joe.  Ailing or not, you’ll enjoy the water,” he suggested when the man in the gray uniform had departed.

“I ain’t ailin’,” Joe insisted.

“All right.  Point carried.  Come taste the water, and I’ll share another story with you,” Adam offered.

Susceptible as always to simple bribery, Joe followed his brother out and walked to a spring at the base of a bluff near the tracks.  Quaffing the effervescent water, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.  “Okay, not bad.  Now, what’s the story?” he demanded.

Adam gave the boy’s neck a rough caress.  “This just reminded me of when our wagon train stopped near here and Inger mixed lemon essence with the soda water.  Not even Hop Sing’s best lemonade ever tasted as good as that.”

Having just tasted the water, Joe wrinkled his nose.  “You have got to be kidding.”

Adam laughed.  “No, I mean it.  His is better, of course, because the water’s better back home, but when you think about the day-in, day-out boredom of salt pork and beans, you can understand what a treat that bubbly lemonade was.  If you come right down to it, Joe, that may have been the toughest part of the whole trip, just doing the same things day after day and eating the same foods over and over again.”

Joe smiled.  “Sure can’t say that about this trip.  We’ve done something different every day—and the food!  I think you took me to every kind of restaurant there was, Adam.”

Arm about his brother’s shoulder, Adam walked back toward the train.  “I promised you a good time, didn’t I?”

“And you delivered, big brother, better than I ever dreamed you would.”

When they entered their parlor car, they found the porter inside, lighting the gas lamps of the chandelier.  “I’se seen how de young gen’muns likes to read,” the black man explained, “and wid all de snow sheds up ahead, I thought you’d be needin’ mo’ light.”

“Thank you for your thoughtfulness,” Adam said, slipping his hand into his pocket.

The porter waved the coin aside.  “Oh, no, sir.  You’s been more dan gen’rous already.  No, sir, ain’t no need t’do mo’.”

“Now, you told me you had a boy you were trying to put through college,” Adam said, pressing the coin into the man’s cream-colored palm.  “You take that for him.”

The man beamed his gratitude and nodded.  “Thank you, sir, and if dere be anyt’ing else I can do for yo’ comfort, you jest ask me, hear?”

“I hear, and I will.”

Picking up his copy of Moby Dick, Joe stretched full-length on the sofa.  “How’d you find out about his boy?” he asked.

“Well, I’ve got to talk to someone while you snooze the afternoons away, don’t I?” Adam chuckled.  “It just came up yesterday afternoon, and, of course, you know how interested I am in seeing young men pursue higher education.”

Joe responded by firing a sofa cushion at his brother’s head.  That laughing face made such a perfect target.  An hour later, coming to the end of a chapter, Joe closed his book.  “Adam, it doesn’t cost you extra if we don’t eat on the train, does it?”

Adam looked up from the newspaper he had purchased in Green River.  “No, we pay for each meal separately.  What are you getting at?”

“I was just remembering how good the food was at that hotel in Evanston and wondering if we could eat there, instead,” Joe said, licking his lips as though the taste still lingered on them.

Adam folded the paper and set it on the table.  “Sure we can.  Having a hotel car is for our convenience, not our confinement.  I’d like that myself, and since the train stops a full thirty minutes there, we won’t be rushed.”

Eyes shining, Joe smiled.  “Thanks, Adam.”

“None needed.  Like I said, I’ll enjoy the change, too.”

The train pulled into Evanston, and Joe bounced up from the sofa, obviously set to make a dash for the Mountain Trout Hotel.  Adam, back against the door to the parlor car, grabbed him by both shoulders.  “Walk,” he said.

Arms akimbo, a disgruntled Joe stared at his brother.  “When are you gonna stop playing Brother Hen?” he demanded.

Adam arched an eyebrow.  “Oh, you’ve got about a day and a half more to put up with it.”  Seeing Joe’s face brighten, he added with his best Cheshire-cat smile, “Then you can start putting up with the hovering wings of Papa Hen.”

Knowing it was all too true, Joe collapsed against his brother’s chest.  “I give up; just carry me to the food.”

Adam laughed as he opened the door and with a slap against Joe’s back pushed him through it.  The two brothers walked to the Mountain Trout Hotel, where they saw Chinese waiters again, for the first time since they’d eaten here last.  “I don’t know whether to order the speckled trout or the antelope steak,” Joe muttered, tapping his index finger against his cheek.  “The trout was sure good last time, but I’d like to try that antelope.”

“Order it then,” Adam instructed.  “I’ll get the trout, and we’ll divide the plates any way you please.  Deal?”

Joe straightened up in his chair and grinned.  “Deal!  Sometimes, Brother Hen, your wings ain’t such a bad thing to hover under.”

“Wouldn’t that qualify as a backhanded compliment?” Adam teased.

After an enjoyable meal they re-boarded the train and ascended a beautiful valley into the next station, the first within the Territory of Utah.  Leaving Wasatch on a rapid downgrade, they entered the most exhilarating scenery on the entire line, and though both boys normally read or napped during the afternoon, neither could tear his eyes from the rough majesty of EchoCanyon.  With so many eye-grabbing attractions—unique rock formations, snow-capped mountains, narrow canyons and a rushing river—the hours passed quickly, and before the Cartwright brothers realized it, the Union Pacific had arrived at its terminus.

“Time to switch trains, I guess,” Joe said as they pulled into Ogden.  “Do they have Pullmans on the Central Pacific?”

Gathering their loose items to place in the carpetbags, Adam said, “No, but their silver palace cars are supposed to be just as comfortable.  It’s not a hotel car, however, so we will have to hop to get our meals with the regular passengers.  Sorry about that, kid.”

“Oh, Adam, don’t apologize,” Joe pleaded.  He took a bolstering swallow and suggested, “It’s just one more day.  If you didn’t want to go to the expense of a silver palace . . .”

“Hush.  I won’t hear of it,” Adam said, fastening the final carpetbag.  “Now you just run along—make that, walk along—and stretch your legs, sonny, while I get our baggage transferred over, and we’ll meet in front of the Beardsley House for supper.”

Perturbed smile playing on his lips, Joe shook his head, but didn’t argue.  Brother Hen seemed determined not to let him lift a single piece of luggage or anything heavier than a book ‘til they reached the Ponderosa.  Joe sighed.  And then Pa would take over.  Pa.  Just the thought of Pa made the smile soften into one more relaxed and dreamy. Yeah, seeing Pa was worth putting up with a bit of coddling.  He’d just have to fight to make sure that bit didn’t turn into a bunch.

With an hour allotted for the change of rail lines, the Cartwright boys had time for a leisurely supper and still were able to board the train well before the scheduled time of departure.  Joe spent the time looking around the car, noting the differences between this and the Pullman car of the Union Pacific.  The biggest difference was the lack of a parlor car.  Since Adam had gone out of his way to be conversational and entertaining, Joe had enjoyed the privacy of having a car to themselves.  Adam had explained that they might have company at any time, since he hadn’t paid for exclusive use of the parlor, but the train had few first-class passengers on that run.  He had not felt compelled to tell his brother that the thoughtful porter, on learning that Joe had been ill, had made a special effort to see that their car remained private.

Here, on the Central Pacific, it would be different.  Although there were extensive sitting rooms at each end, the Cartwright brothers would be surrounded by other passengers.  The accoutrements of the cars would still be opulent: soft Brussels carpet with floral design, inlaid woodwork, mirrors on the walls, potted ferns and rubber plants.  There was even an organ, and as the train pulled out, a bearded man sat down to play, and several passengers gathered around to sing, Adam joining in for a little while, with Joe as a proud and appreciative audience.

Being advised by the porter that the sleeping car was ready for any who wished to use it, Adam suggested that they turn in as soon as it grew dark outside, and Joe agreed.  Because the scenery had been so grand, he hadn’t taken his accustomed nap that afternoon and was feeling tired.  Together, the brothers passed through the double doors.  After they had both changed into fresh nightshirts, Joe crawled beneath the clean linen and sank into the hair mattress of his lower berth.

Leaving only enough room to get into the berth above Joe, Adam drew the green and crimson curtains, striped with gold, over their silver rods and perched on the edge of Joe’s bed.  “Will you be glad to get home?”

“Oh, yeah,” Joe said, eyes glowing.  “Guess we won’t make it all the way back to the Ponderosa tomorrow, though, will we?”

Adam shook his head.  “No, we don’t reach Reno until 11:30 tomorrow night.  I wired Pa from Ogden that we’d spend the night there and take the V&T to Mill Station the next morning.  I’m sure he’ll be there to meet us, Joe.”

Joe yawned prodigiously.  “Yeah, that’s for the best, I guess.”

Patting his brother’s cheek, Adam chuckled softly.  “Nighty-night, little brother.  See you in the morning.”

Virtually asleep already, Little Joe mumbled an unintelligible reply.

Adam hitched himself up into the upper berth and, drawing his long limbs into the limited space, closed the curtains the rest of the way.  Though the space was a few inches too short and its width only three and a half feet, the mattress was comfortable enough.  Had he been more tired, Adam could have fallen asleep easily.  He wasn’t tired, though, and sleep was slow to come as he reviewed the long journey and all that had happened while he and Joe had been together.

In a way he’d be glad to turn the responsibility for his younger brother back to their father.  It had, at times, been a heavy load, and more than once he had wished his father’s strong shoulder had been available to lean upon.  The time had passed, however, when he really needed that help, and now he felt more as if he were being forced to relinquish something rightfully his.  He could almost hear Pa’s booming voice, reminding him of who was Joe’s father and who was his brother.  But he’s mine now, too, Adam argued, in a very special way.  The bond between us was always there, but it’s tighter now, and I don’t want anyone—not even you, Pa—untightening it.  Though with regret, he realized, of course, that he would have to turn loose and let himself and Joe each take his accustomed place in the family circle.  Remembering the might of that circle, Adam knew he would be able to let go and let Pa and Hoss join hands with Joe once more, for the circle really was stronger when it was unbroken.  He could almost feel that circle closing around him, too, as he drifted to sleep.

*****

Adam pushed aside the floor-length berth curtains and shook his brother’s shoulder.  “Joe?  Joe, wake up.”

“Go ‘way,” Joe muttered, burrowing into his pillow.

“Sorry, buddy,” Adam said, “but we have to get off the train if we want breakfast, remember?”

“Okay, be up in a minute,” came a muffled voice.

Adam gave a sharp pull on Joe’s shoulder and finally saw the green eyes open.  “You’ll get up now!  Come on, Sleeping Beauty, rise and shine.”

Joe sat up, yawning.  “Okay, okay, I’m up.”

“On your feet.  I’m not leaving ‘til I see you headed for the dressing room,” Adam said, half-lifting the sleepy boy from the berth.

“I said, ‘I’m up,’” Joe grunted when his feet hit the carpet.

As his brother began to move toward the end of the car, Adam shook his head and dug into the carpetbag for Joe’s shaving kit and his familiar gray slacks and tan shirt.  Snatching up his own equipment and clothes, already laid out, he followed Joe to the men’s dressing room.

By the time he was shaved and dressed, Joe was feeling much more chipper.  Sitting by the window of the day car, he looked with renewed interest at the buildings of the University of Nevada, on the right just as they reached Elko.  “Our state school doesn’t look like much, next to those back east,” he observed with a trace of deflated pride.

“It’s not really a college, of course,” Adam said, “more like a high school, like the Philadelphia Collegiate we visited.  Maybe someday Nevada will boast a real university.”

“Oh, great,” Joe joked.  “Then you’ll be nagging me all the more to head off to college.”

Adam was tempted to smile, since he considered that Joe would be well beyond college-age by the time this small beginning blossomed into a true institute of higher learning, but he responded seriously, instead.  “No, I may be disappointed in your decision, but I’ve accepted it.  You won’t hear another word on the subject from me.”

Joe smiled his appreciation.  “I am sort of glad you made me look at the real thing, though.  You were right; I had no idea what it was really like.”

Adam nodded once.  “Always best to make an informed decision—about anything.”

“Yeah, one of the lessons I’ve learned from you on this trip, older brother.”  Joe gave Adam’s thigh a light slap.  “Now, ease up.  You’re getting much too sober.”

Adam tweaked Joe’s ear.  “As you say, Professor Levity.  I hear and obey.”

After breakfast Adam sent Joe on ahead to the train.  “I know it’s your turn, but since it’s the last time, I’ll get the paper,” he offered.

“Don’t get left,” Joe teased.

“Oh, I won’t,” Adam said with a smirk.  “Otherwise you’d nod off and snooze all the way to Oakland, and Pa’d have both our hides.”

Adam returned with a copy of the Elko Independent, a misnomer since the newspaper had a decidedly Democratic bias.  It was, however, the only daily in town, the Republican paper coming out but once a week.  The column of news from Virginia Citywas disturbing, for it told of the formation of the Order of Caucasians, whose chief demand appeared to be a prohibition on the hiring of Chinese labor.  The Republican Convention would be meeting in Carson City in less than a week now.  Pa would be there, and Adam felt quite certain that his father would be addressing this issue forcefully.  Good thing I’m getting home, he concluded as he folded the paper.  Pa may need support.

“Anything interesting?” Joe asked, nodding at the paper in his brother’s lap.

“Not really, mostly local news.”  No need to spoil Joe’s homecoming with that piece of unpleasantness, Adam thought.

Easily satisfied, Joe returned to gazing out the window.

Peering past him, Adam observed.  “This stretch of track follows the emigrant trail pretty closely.”

Joe turned to look at him.  “More dry country, hard on kids, huh?”

Adam shrugged.  “Not too bad until we got to the Forty-Mile Desert.  Had to make another dry drive then, like at Sublette’s Cutoff, but I handled myself better the second time.”

“Did a lot of growing up between there and here, did you?” Joe asked with a trace of mocking humor.

“That’s right, a lot,” Adam said sharply, irked by the boy’s taunting tone.  “I’d lost my mother by that time.”

“You mean Hoss’,” Joe corrected.

Adam cast a stern eye on the younger boy.  “I mean mine—my mother Inger, and don’t you forget it.”

Instantly sensing that he’d caused offense without meaning to, Joe ducked his head and said in a hushed voice, “Sorry.”  He glanced up shyly.  “Did—did you feel that way—uh—about . . .”

Adam’s gaze softened.  “Your mother?”

“Yeah.”  Joe gave his lower lip a nibble.  “Did you?”

Adam shook his head, and a look of infinite sorrow flooded his dark eyes.  “No, I never thought of her that way—until it was too late.  She called me ‘mon ami’ because that’s as far as I would let her in.”

Joe’s brow wrinkled as he strained to remember the little French he could recall from his early years.  “My friend?”

Adam nodded, his voice choking as he said, “I thought she was too near my own age to be anything else.  It was only after—after the accident that I realized I had lost more than just a friend, that she really was as much a mother to me as Inger or the woman who had given me life—more, in a way, since I’d had her longer.  I wished then that I could tell her, but it was too late.”

Joe pressed his brother’s hand.  “She knew, Adam; I’d bet anything that she knew.”

Adam licked his lips and nodded slowly.  “Yeah, I think maybe she did; I hope she did.”  Eyes brimming, he looked earnestly at his brother.  “I hope the people I love understand what I feel, even though I find it hard to get the words out.”

Joe squeezed his brother’s hand even more tightly.  “They know, Adam; I promise you they know.”  Embarrassed by the tears he could feel welling up, he turned quickly toward the window.

Grateful for the moment of privacy, Adam dashed away the moisture in his own eyes and, although he’d already read everything of interest in the Elko Independent, he again opened the paper and buried his nose in it.

*****

Smile hidden behind his hand, Adam shook his head as Little Joe stepped across him and started down the aisle—again.  The kid couldn’t possibly have needed to visit the water closet this often, but ever since dinner at Battle Mountain, he’d been out of his seat every thirty minutes, on some such excuse.  Restless, Adam supposed, and getting more so with every mile they put behind them, every mile that brought them closer to home.  Hate to think what he’ll be like tomorrow morning, when Pa’s really waiting to meet him, Adam mused, letting the smile break into a benevolent grin.  Probably have to tie him to the seat.  Pulling out his watch, he checked the time.  Well, if the train ran on schedule—and so far it had—they’d soon be stopping in Humboldt.  Supper at the best restaurant on the line should distract the kid for another half-hour, and Adam had every intention of insisting that he go to bed directly afterwards.  With having to leave the train in the middle of the night, they’d get little enough sleep as it was.  He’d paid for the berth, and he had no scruple against using that financial leverage to get his restless little brother to lie down for a while.

*****

Ben paused at the end of the wooden platform and peered out into the night, willing a light to appear in the black expanse.  When none did, he kicked a loose slat and, stuffing his hands in his pockets, turned back toward the depot.  Stepping over the long legs extending into his path, he took his watch from his vest pocket and squinted to read the dial in the faint light coming through the window.  11:20—still ten minutes to go, if the train were on time.  He spun around to face the owner of the long legs.  “See if the train’s still on schedule, would you, son?”

Hoss shuffled uncomfortably on the wooden bench in front of the office.  “Doggone it, Pa, I’m plumb embarrassed to pester them folks again.  Don’t seem like more than fifteen, twenty minutes since I asked, and it was on time then.  Can’t have slowed down much since, and if it has, I reckon it’ll get here when it gets here.”

Ben turned up the collar of his jacket.  Though the temperature had been a typical ninety-five in the shade that August afternoon, it had dropped below sixty with nightfall.  “Hope Joseph thought to unpack his jacket today,” he muttered.

“Probably never crossed his mind,” Hoss said, “not with the weather bein’ so all-fired hot back east, like his letters said.”

Ben spun around to glare at his grinning middle son.  “It’s no laughing matter, young man.”

“Oh, no, certainly not,” Hoss agreed, still grinning.  “Relax, Pa.  The way ole Adam’s been lookin’ after the boy, I reckon he’ll see to it the jacket’s there when he needs it.”

“Yeah.  Yeah, I suppose so.”  Ben scuffed his right boot on the solid wooden planks beneath him and began once more to pace the length of the platform.

Hoss shook his head, gave a mighty yawn and leaned back against the outer wall of the depot.  He was anxious to see his brothers, too, of course, but he wasn’t frettin’ over it like Pa.  They’d get here when they got here, and not a minute sooner, no matter how much pacin’ Pa did.  It was a plumb waste of effort.

Ironically, for all Pa’s impatient peering into the night, it was Hoss who first spotted a light.  “Hey, somethin’ comin,’” he called.

Ben, on his way back from the end of the platform, made the kind of fast spin for which his youngest son was justifiably famous, and he drew a long, relieved breath.  There, on the horizon, was a pinprick of light, coming steadily toward town, and soon the evidence of his ears confirmed that the Central Pacific was arriving in Reno.  The train pulled up to the depot, and passengers began to disembark.

“Hey, look there, Pa!”

On the steps of the end car, Adam turned toward the familiar voice and laughed.  “I should have known.”

“What?” Joe, still on the car’s end platform, asked.

“Brace yourself,” Adam muttered.  “They’re here.”

Joe looked puzzled for a moment; then his face lit up like sunrise on snow-capped mountains.  “Pa?” he squeaked, practically tumbling into his older brother in his eagerness to get down.

“And Hoss.  Just couldn’t wait one more day, I guess,” Adam chuckled.  “Take it easy; these steps are steep.”

Ben finally spotted the slim figure in the green jacket behind the man dressed in black, and a smile burst across his face.  They were home; his boys were home.

“Hey, little brother!” Hoss hollered, charging forward to grab Little Joe up in a giant bear hug that lifted the boy off his feet.

“Easy, easy,” Adam urged.

“Oh, yeah, sorry,” an abashed Hoss mumbled, setting Joe down gingerly.

“No need to be,” Joe declared with a sturdy clap on his brawny brother’s shoulder and a solid glare at Adam.  Then he turned toward the face he had longed for weeks to see.  “Pa,” he said softly and moved into his father’s outstretched arms.

“Joseph,” Ben murmured, a world of love in the single word.  “Oh, Joseph.”  His arms tightened around the boy, and all the anxious worry that had gnawed at him for weeks melted away.

Adam stood back and watched the long embrace.  He’d known, of course, that his father’s first greeting would be for Joe, the boy for whom he felt the greatest concern.  That was only natural, considering how close they’d all come to losing the kid.  It was exactly what Adam had expected to happen tomorrow morning, and it didn’t bother him to wait his turn.  He just stretched a hand toward Hoss and felt warm welcome in that powerful grip.

Ben continued to clasp his youngest to his heart, stroking the chestnut curls dangling about the boy’s ears, whispering his name again and again.  When his lips pressed tenderly against his son’s neck, however, Joe squirmed uncomfortably.  “Pa, there’s folks all around,” the young man hissed in protest.

Ben chuckled.  Folks all around?  Five or six, maybe, down the length of Reno’s pitch-dark main street, but he didn’t want to embarrass his son’s manly dignity.  “Oh, all right.  Let’s have a look at you.”  He held the boy at arms’ length and scrutinized him from head to toe.  “How do you feel, son?” he asked soberly.

Joe plastered on his brightest smile.  “I feel great, Pa, just great!”  Seeing the skeptical arch of his father’s eyebrow, he amended the statement.  “Well, I am kind of sleepy; it’s pretty late, you know.”

“Yes, it is,” his father agreed.  “I rented rooms for all of us at the hotel, so your bed’s ready, son.”

“Yeah, and there’s a right fine spread laid out, too,” Hoss inserted with enthusiasm.

“Just sandwiches,” Ben said in answer to his oldest son’s inquiring look.  “Hoss seemed to think you boys would want a bite to eat before retiring.”

“Is there a bite left?” Adam asked with a significant nod toward his bulky brother.

Hoss feigned insult.  “Well, ‘course, there is.  Come on and have some, fellers.”

“I’ll be along,” Adam said, sensing instinctively that his father would want to speak to him privately.  “You two go ahead.”

“Let me take these, anyway,” Hoss offered, reaching for the two carpetbags Adam held.

“Don’t let him lift anything,” Adam dictated with a nod toward Little Joe, who responded with a roll of his eyes.

“‘Course not,” Hoss said, looking genuinely insulted this time.  Hefting the bags with one hand, he wrapped his other arm around his younger brother.  “Sure did appreciate all them letters you sent me, Shortshanks,” he was saying as he steered Joe down the platform toward the hotel.  “Made me feel like I was right there ‘longside ya.”

A strong hand closed around Adam’s biceps, as his father pulled him into a firm embrace.  It didn’t last as long as the one he’d given Joe, of course.  Ben knew his boys:  Joseph could handle extended physical contact and, in fact, would even have tolerated the kiss, had he been in his own home; with Adam, embraces had always had to be quick, fleeting, never long enough to satisfy a father’s need to pour out his love, but all his eldest could handle, from the time he was a boy.  As they broke apart, Ben nodded at the two boys disappearing into the night.  “How is he, really?” he asked.

“He’s all right,” Adam assured his father.  “He’s tired, needs rest in one place—well, it’s been a long trip.”

Ben risked slipping an arm around his son’s shoulders.  “And a harder one than you realized, setting out?”

Surprisingly, Adam leaned into the embrace.  “I won’t deny it.  I guess I understand you a little better now, Pa, now that I’ve had to shoulder the responsibility a father carries for his sons.”

Ben squeezed the broad shoulders and released them.  “You’ve done that before, of course, though not for such an extended time—nor in such grave circumstances.  I’m proud of how you handled yourself in the emergency, Adam.  I had my doubts, at first, about some of those decisions you were making, but the final result bears out their wisdom.  Thank you for taking care of my boy, son.”

A possessive gleam sparked in the ebony eyes.  “My boy, too, you know.”

Ben arched a dark eyebrow, flecked with a few strands of silver.  “Oh, really?  We may just have to have another discussion about who that boy’s real father is, young man.”

Adam laughed at the familiar—and expected—response.  “Oh, no, I’ll gladly turn that responsibility back to you, but he does belong to me now in a stronger way than he did before.  That’s what I meant.”

Beaming, Ben clapped him on both shoulders.  “Good.  Good.”  Nothing could have pleased him more than to see these two habitual opponents establish a solid bond, and it seemed that they had come through the breakers with their bark not only intact, but fully rigged and ready to run before the wind.

Shoulder to shoulder, they walked down the plank sidewalk, entered the hotel and climbed the stairs to the suite Ben had rented for himself and Joseph, while acquiring a shared room down the hall for Hoss and Adam.  Hoss was alone in the parlor when they entered.  “Joe was mighty tuckered and headed straight to bed,” he told them, adding with obvious disappointment, “Didn’t even want a sandwich, and the youngun could do with some fattenin’ up, you know.”

Lips twitching, Adam nodded as he set the picnic hamper on the table with the rest of the food.  “I know, but, believe me, he’s well on his way to solving that on his own, without any help from you.”

Hoss grinned.  “If you say so, older brother.  Joe said he wanted to see you before he turned in.”

“Okay.”  Adam headed toward the door Hoss had indicated and then turned back to face him.  “There had better still be sandwiches on that table when I get back.”

“Sure thing, older brother,” Hoss promised with a twinkle in his lake-blue eyes as he got up to investigate the contents of the hamper.  “You could do with some fattenin’ up yourself.”

Smiling, Adam turned away and rapped on Joe’s door before entering.  “You wanted to see me?” he asked, closing the door behind him.

Sitting cross-legged on his bed, bare knees poking out beneath his nightshirt, Joe nodded.  “I just wanted to thank you again for all you did for me these last few weeks.”

Adam came to the foot of the bed and leaned against one of its four posts.  “Joe, it’s all been said, no need to say it again.”  He wagged a finger of mock authority at his younger brother.  “You are just looking for an excuse to stay up, young man, and it’s time you were in bed.”  He knew the accusation was untrue, but he sensed an awkwardness in Joe and hoped the playful scolding would put the boy at ease.

It didn’t work.  Joe stood up slowly, fidgeting with the buttons of his nightshirt as he said, “I—I feel like I got to know you a lot better on this trip, Adam.”

“Same here, kid,” Adam said softly.

Joe’s chin began to quiver.  “I feel closer to you than I ever have—and—and I don’t want to lose that, Adam.”

Adam’s heart leaped into his throat, in sympathy with an emotion he, too, shared.  “I don’t want to lose it, either, Joe,” he murmured.  Feeling that he had to be strong, for Joe’s sake, he straightened up.  “I’m sure we’ll have our differences in the future, as we have in the past, but I’m confident that the closeness that began back east came home with us and will be there to bridge whatever differences still lie between us.”

Joe swiftly bridged the few steps that lay between them and impulsively threw his arms around his brother’s torso.

For a moment Adam felt too inhibited to return the embrace; then, slowly, his arms closed around his brother, as he felt the love flowing from Joe’s heart into his own.  Adam shut his eyes, longing for that moment to last forever.

As he had realized the night before, the bond between them had always been there, but Adam knew—and was sure that Joe did, too—that they were no longer merely brothers, but friends now, as well.  As he continued to cling to that moment of perfect understanding, Adam reflected on the discoveries he and Joe had made on their journey, not only about the world around them, but about the hidden depths within each other.  He touched his chin to Joe’s curly head, resting against his chest, and realized that there would be more discoveries for them to share in the years to come. For, when you came right down to it, wasn’t all of life a journey of discovery?

***The End***

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