Summary: Part fifteen of The Cherry Tree Saga
Word Count: 4400
The Cherry Tree Saga
Part 15 — Conclusion
The Carson City Gang was finally dead.
Lighting the lamps as darkness fell, all the family gathered in the Ponderosa were all beginning to despair. The Carson City Gang were all dead but there was no celebration by the Cartwrights at their demise. The final battle had taken a heavy toll on the family in physical and emotional wounds.
Alerted by young Casey Newkirk, the sheriff and Doc Martin arrived to tend to them. Joe and Ben had been carried upstairs.
“Adam, Kate wait in the other room,” Doctor Martin instructed, opening his bag, “Give me room to work on your brother. Then I will see to Ben.”
There was no way Kate could bear going down stairs to the remnants of their ordeal with out getting physically sick. She only wanted to stay close to Adam with his arms protectively around her. They both could hear the noise of friends downstairs moving things around and Clem ordering the hands to take the bodies out to the barn, glass being swept up and the grand father clock being righted. They heard loud shouts as their friend and the hands tried to put the house in some semblance of order.
“I never put the chickens in the oven for dinner,” Kate said to no one in particular as she sat next to Adam. It was crazy how the most ridiculous things came to someone’s mind after surviving a crisis. There certainly was not going to be a birthday dinner honoring Ben tonight or any night soon.
Adam looked at her quizzically “Chickens?” He wrapped his arms tightly around his wife and she rested her head on his chest and started to sob.
Kate tried very hard not to listen to the noise from down stairs and just clung on to her husband. Each time Adam got up to check on Joe or his father, Nancy Foster appeared from the shadows and sat with her arms around Kate. Despite everyone reminding her that she was finally safe, Kate was trembling like a willow leaf in a windstorm.
“Where is Sam?” Kate asked.
“I sent him with the boys over to Newkirk’s for a while with Casey. He’ll be back in a few hours, as soon as… as soon as the downstairs is better. We’ll bring him up here to you through the back stairs. Maybe by then Doc Martin will know more about Joe. “Nancy was totally at a loss for what to do for her friend.
”Katie, you have to eat something or perhaps you should go lay down. Let me make you some tea,” Nancy offered. Kate shook her head, refusing everything that was offered. Kate had just killed a man. She could not get the image out of her mind. Al Striker lying dead by her hand.
“Nancy, I shot him,” she whispered.
“Kate, you had no choice. He would have killed all of you and taken Sammy. You saved Adam. You had no choice but to do what you did.”
In his brother’s room, Adam watched anxiously as the doctor examined Joe, noting with concern the frown on the doctor’s face.
“He’s not too good Adam,” Paul Martin said somberly as he finished his examination. “He’s lost a lot of blood. I’m going to have to get that buckshot out of him. I don’t think it’s hit anything vital but I’ll need help with him. You go tend to your father and send my wife and Hays or someone in here to give me a hand. You just take care of your Pa and Kate. Once Joe is settled I can see to Ben.” Adam nodded mutely. They couldn’t let Joe die.
Adam and Kate waited fearfully; the Doctor had been with Joe for nearly two hours. Then he tended to the bullet wound in Ben’s leg.
Nancy sat with her arm around Kate each time Adam left the room. “Ben is fine and Joe’s still with us.” the Doctor said, seeing the fear on their faces, “but he’s not too good I’m afraid. We got the buckshot out of him, but he’s sustained massive blood loss and his body is still in shock. His hand is badly broken too. I’m more worried about his head than anything else. They pounded him pretty bad. All we can do now is wait and hope that he’s strong enough to pull through”
Kate had refused to lie down until she knew how Joe was doing. Can we see him?” Kate asked, her voice cracking with emotion. She clung to Adam’s strong hand, too frightened to let go for a minute.
Paul nodded “On one condition Katie, that as soon as you see to Joe, you go lay down your self.”
She hesitated for a minute and finally agreed.
Joe’s bruised face was barely visible. He had thrown his left arm over his eyes. His injured right hand was bandaged and propped up on a pillow. His head was also bandaged and the covers pulled up high over his body. Fear laid heavy in Adam’s heart, his brother was so pale, so still. Adam was reminded of a much younger Joe looking just as pitiful when Ramsey Lowell beat him years and years before.
We got him through that and we’ll get Joe through this, he thought to himself. Joe is a fighter.
Dr. Martin took Adam by the arm and almost forcibly pulled him and Katie from the room. “Now you go sit with your wife. I’ll tend to Joe and make sure you take care of Kate too. Kate needs you and no one else needs you as much as she does at this point.”
Adam followed along, but he turned his head for a last look back at his brother.
Finally Adam forced Katie to drink some brandy and she fell asleep in his arms. He carried her like a child into another bedroom and tucked her into the bed. Nancy sat near her and shooed Adam out of the room. “You go see to Ben and the others.”
Ben had fallen asleep from the painkillers Paul had given him. Refusing to stay any more at the Newkirk’s, Sam had made such a fuss that Hays was forced to him back to Adam. Hays carried the distraught boy up the back stairs and handed him over to his father.
Sam’s face was all red and tear streaked from crying, “ I wanted to be here, Pa. I want to see you and everyone and they wouldn’t let me.” He sobbed and threw himself into Adam’s arms.
Adam sat in the corner of Ben’s room with Sam in his lap until the boy settled down and finally fell asleep.
It was after midnight. Adam went downstairs to see what was going on. Kate and Sam were sleeping in Sammy’s room. The house was quiet and still. The only sound was the ticking of the grandfather clock. The worst of the gory mess had been cleared away. He wearily sat down on the bottom step and stared at the chaos around him. Hays Newkirk and Roy Coffee sat exhausted on the settee. A flickering fire was burning in hearth.
The hands had rolled up all the rugs and the furniture had been moved around. He knew the bodies had been moved into the barn. All the broken glass and china had been swept up and the gore mopped up as best they could.
Hays walked across the room to Adam. “Where does this go? I aint never seen this gun before. It has your father’s initials on it but there is no open space in the gun cabinet” Hays asked holding out the shotgun that Daniel Lowell had stolen years before.
Adam Cartwright’s eyes opened wide and he was shocked “Hays, where did you find this?” It was the shotgun that he and his brother had bought for his father’s birthday nearly two decades earlier.
”It was downstairs on the floor. Over here.” He pointed to where Cy was killed.” It’s the gun they used on Joe and they killed one of the fellers with.”
“Hays, you’ll never believe where this came from.” Adam said examining the shotgun that Hays handed him. “You will never believe it,” he whispered.
The Evening of the Twenty-fourth
Adam stood in the doorway of his father’s darkened room and realized that hidden in the shadows was his son. Sam was sitting on a chair pulled up next to Ben’s bed. The child was holding Ben’s hand as he lay under the covers “I’m watching Grandpa for the doctor. He went down stairs for a minute to get coffee.” Sam remembered the times his mother and Ben had made him feel better by staying near when he slept and now he was doing the same for his grandfather.
“You’re doing a good job Sam. I’m proud of how brave you have been.”
Sam smiled at his father. “Thanks Pa.”
It was 6p.m and around him the house was still. Ben had slept almost twenty-four hours straight. When he finally awoke, Sam was sitting holding his hand. “Grandpa, are you ok.”
Ben nodded. Sam handed him a glass of water. Ben took a sip and suddenly all that had happened in the last day rushed back into his consciousness ”
The rancher saw his oldest son leaning against the doorway “Pa? How are you?” Adam softly asked.
“Never mind me. How is Kate? And Joe?” He sat up in his bed and slowly swung his bandaged leg to the floor.
“Hey, the doctor said you need to stay off that leg.”
Ben managed to persuade Adam to help him into Joe’s room to see his son. Sam stood up and moved close to Adam and together they helped Ben down the hall. Adam assisted his father into Joe’s room and lowered him carefully into the over stuffed chair near the bed.
In the soft glow of the lamplight Ben watched his youngest son, lying so still in the bed.
Gently touching Joe’s brow, Ben was concerned to find that his head was very warm. Fear lay heavy in Ben’s heart. His son was so pale, so still. He heard footsteps at the door and looked over his shoulder at Paul Martin coming into the room. He was carrying two cups of coffee and handed one to Adam. He saw Ben sitting near Joseph and said, “Guess you won’t listen if I said you should still be in bed, Ben. So I won’t even bother.”
“How’s Joe, Paul?” Ben asked worriedly. He looked at the doctor with concern.
“He’s bad, Ben, bad as I’ve ever seen.” Doc Martin said looking at Joe lying in the bed. It’s not the even the shotgun wound that worries me. The other fellow got the worst of it. I got that cleaned out. I’m not so concerned about that as much his head. He’s been beaten over the head pretty badly and being unconscious this long is not a good sign. It’s been more than a day. That and all the blood he lost. It’s really serious. I hope none of this is permanent.”
The Morning of the Twenty-fifth
Hays handed him the tray of food and sat down in the chair next to him. Ben poked around at the eggs and took a small bite of the toast. “You better eat some more of that Ben or the Doc will holler. I see he made you get back into bed.”
Ben took a few more bites and put down the fork. Hays quietly took the tray away from Ben and put it on the nightstand. “How about the coffee?”
Ben shook his head and leaned back on the pillows.
“You would think that seeing these fellas dead would make me feel better.” Hays said to Ben. “Make both of us feel better for loosing our boys. It don’t though”
“It won’t bring them back Hays. Hoss and Dean are still dead and nothing won’t ever bring them back,” Ben answered sadly. “Nothing.”
“Just more dead men.” Hays looked down at his boots. “We both have seen more than our share of dead men over the years, Ben. How’s Joe doing?”
”Holding his own.”
“ He’ll be ok, Ben. He’s from strong stock and has your hard head. Well, I’m gonna let you rest now, Ben. We tried to fix up down stairs best we could.”
”Thanks, Hays. Tell everyone we appreciate what they have all done for us.”
“It’s the least we could do for you. Not much of a birthday Ben.”
Ben smiled and shook his head. “As long as Kate and the boys pull through that will be gift enough for me.”
Pa“ Joe moaned reaching over his head. Where was his father? Ramsey Lowell was chasing him across the schoolhouse and he was trying to get away. “Let me go.” Joe tried to pull away from the strong hands that were holding him down.
Clouds were everywhere. Pink fluffy fragrant clouds and he was surrounded by them …No, they weren’t cloud they were blossoms. Hundreds of swirling cherry pink blossoms. “Don’t worry Cartwright boys don’t break so easily…how did he get up so high in the sky? Joe was so high up and tall. Pa was lifting high up in the air to touch the pink cherry blossoms. Pink snow! Spinning and swirling and whirling and tilting around him until his stomach was dropping and twisting frighteningly.
“Ben, Be careful that he doesn’t knock you over.” Kate warned. “Be careful not to let him hurt your leg.”
“This is the most alert I have seen him all week.” Adam said.
“Don’t worry Katie, Cartwrights don’t break so easily.” Paul Martin added.
Pink blossoms floated all about in a dizzying spiral. One petal landed on his nose and tickled.
Joe tried to swat it away and he couldn’t move his hands.
“Lay still Joe’ Ben told him. “Adam hang tight onto his arm and let the doc change the bandages on that hand.”
Something poked him painfully in his side and Joe tried to touch it and push it away but couldn’t. It must have been the branch of the cherry tree.
“Joe you have to hold still and let the doctor change the dressings.” Kate told him. Why was Kate up in the tree with him?
”Hang onto his hand Adam,” Doc Martin directed. “I’m almost done. It’s healing nicely.”
His brother Adam said from somewhere far below, far away. Joe squirmed in his father’s strong arms trying to see his father, trying to see his face and see Adam and Doc Martin.
What was Kate doing up the cherry tree with him? Something cold and wet wiped his face. He shivered. Joe tried to swat it away and it kept tickling him. “At least he is cleaned up a bit. I’m almost done. Looks like he is finally coming around,” Doctor Martin said from somewhere far away.
“Good.” Adam sighed with relief.
Joe slowly came into consciousness and he tried to remember what had happened. He opened his eyes and looked around. His vision was blurry and he blinked trying to clear his eyes. Ben suddenly appeared and hovered at his side. There were other people near him but he couldn’t really see their faces.
Ben smiled at the wonderful sound of his son’s voice. He was thankful to see Joe watching him, his green eyes were bright and he appeared aware of his surroundings.
Joseph.” Ben touched his face. Gently touching Joe’s brow, Ben was relieved to find that his fever had diminished.
”Pa, are you ok?” Joe looked up at his father.
Ben nodded smiling. Joe knew who he was. That was a good sign, an extremely good sign. “I’m fine.” He smiled. Joe was finally awake.
“Happy Birthday Pa.” Joe realized there were other people in the room. Adam, Kate. Someone else. Doc Martin. He must have been hurt. Maybe he fell out of the cherry tree. Joe tried to sit up but his head hurt too much when he moved.
Ben grinned and put his arms around his son. “Joe you missed a bit of time.”
”What are you talking about Pa? What day is it?”
If he stared hard at his father’s face, the room seemed not to lurch around so much. There was no tree there. He was in his own bed in his own room. His father was standing looking down at him, smiling.
”Son, you’ve been in an out for almost a week now.”
”A week? “ Joe started to choke and cough. Adam’s strong arms helped him sit up and Kate helped him take a sip of water. He could see a bit clearer, but his head hurt like a son of a bitch.
“A week. Last I remember was…” Joe tried to think.” Striker, Pa what happened? I remember Striker being in the house and shooting and someone carried me up here. Was it Adam?” His brother patted his uninjured left hand. Joe grabbed his brother’s hand and held tight to it. That helped keep things less wobbly. He stared at his father and held firmly to Adam’s hand. The room seemed to hold still for a bit but the light hurt his eyes. He closed his eyes for a minute.
“Joe, try to stay awake” Adam pleaded.
He opened his eyes again. “How long have I been out, Pa?” Joe asked again.
Ben smiled. “You have been in and out for almost a week, son. What else do you remember?
Joe shook his head and sunk back on the pillow. The room wasn’t spinning but his side hurt and his head pounded. He was terribly tired. He started to close his eyes.
“Joe, not yet. Try to stay awake another minute.” Adam couldn’t resist. He picked up the unloaded shotgun that Roy Coffee had stood in the corner of Joe’s room earlier in the week.
“No Adam. Not that” Kate said. “Let him rest.”
Adam ignored her. He desperately needed for Joe to talk to him some more. All week long he feared that he had lost his brother. Adam worried that even if Joseph did regain consciousness, his mind would not work properly. Now Adam needed Joe to stay conscious for a few more minutes. Adam wanted his brother to stay awake and demonstrate that he was going to be all right. Adam desperately needed to know for himself that his little brother was going to be all right, that his brain was working and that the Carson City Gang had not beaten him senseless.
“Joe, do you remember this shot gun?” He held it close to his brother’s face so that Joe could examine it. Joe’s right hand was bandaged and propped up on the stack of pillows next to him. With his strong left hand, Joe slowly ran his fingers over the stock. He continued to study the rifle, tracing his finger almost absently over the highly polished stock. Inset into the stock was a decoration of a buffalo herd and as an engraved pattern on the barrel. The shotgun adorned with the initials BC in the design.
Joe’s eyelids fluttered. He squinted as he struggled to keep his green eyes focused. “This? Its the birthday shotgun we got Pa. Adam I told you it would show up.” He whispered hoarsely. A smile flickered for an instant across his battered face. Joe sank exhausted back to the pillow and closed his eyes.
It wasn’t long before the steady rise and fall of his bandaged chest signaled that Joe was finally asleep. Throughout those long minutes, Ben and Adam had sat silent, both lost in thought.
Kate tucked the blankets around Joseph and turned to Sam. “I think it is time for both of us to get to sleep. Uncle Joe has enough people here to keep him company.” She leaned over and kissed Adam and Ben and walked down the hall with her son.
Paul Martin followed “I’ll just see myself out. I’ll be back tomorrow to check on him. But I think the worst is over now. Just let him rest. And Ben, you stay off your feet too.”
Adam and Ben sat quietly, relieved that Joe was finally improving. Finally Adam broke the silence.
“We almost lost him, didn’t we?” he whispered, still not looking away from his brother’s battered form.
Ben nodded. “If Kate hadn’t…” his voice dropped off.
”Hadn’t shot Striker,” Adam finished for his father. Ben frowned at the memory of the shoot out. He wearily leaned back into the chair. Adam pulled his chair closer to his father so that they were almost touching. They both faced the bed and watched Joe sleeping.
“If Kate hadn’t killed Striker, we all would have been dead. All of us, Adam. Even you.”
“It won’t bring Hoss back, Pa. I really thought that seeing all those men dead would have made me feel better. Like it would put an end to it for me. If the Carson City Gang was dead then it would all be finished and every thing would go back to normal, like it was before.”
”It doesn’t ever go back, son. It just is more death. Hoss is gone and he will never be back. Dean Newkirk will never see that new baby of his either. Did you really think that more men dying would make you happy, Adam? That killing someone would bring your brother back? Look what all this has done to your wife? And to Sammy.” Ben put his arm around Adam’s shoulder and pulled him closer. “Look what this forced Katie to do. She had to shoot a man down to save all of us. She had to kill Sam’s father.”
“All we can do is have faith that there is reason behind it all. But right now, I can’t see much of that,” Adam said grimly.
Letting his hand come to rest on his son’s shoulder, Ben considered his next words carefully. “Sometimes, son, whether we want to or not, there are things that happen. And we have no control over them. We have to play the hand we are dealt and some times it is not the cards we want.”
“I just wanted them all dead, Pa. I really thought it would make me feel different. Happy or relieved or something, but different. Somehow better. I don’t feel better.”
“Adam, it is not a balancing scale. One life for another, son”
Adam stood up and looked at Joe sleeping quietly and smoothed the blanket around him. He adjusted the pillow holding up his brother’s bandaged hand. “Look what they did to Joe. I really wanted all them dead.”
“So did I, son. But not that it would change what happened to Hoss. I just didn’t wanted them to hurt anyone else. Those men were crazed cold-blooded killers. But that doesn’t mean we had to become what they were.”
“Pa, Clem thinks the one who tried to save Joe was Daniel Lowell.”
Ben was silent for a minute remembering the curly haired young man putting himself between Joseph and the business end of the shotgun. “Daniel Lowell?”
Adam nodded. “I thought it would make a difference when I knew every one of them was dead. That I could control how I felt by all of them being in their graves.”
“No, Adam, we can’t control our feelings. And we can’t control our lives to the degree that you could promise me that Joseph, or you or Katie and Sam will be here tomorrow. But I pray you will always be well and that you and I can do our best to keep all of us safe. That is all we can do.”
”Long ago, when I asked Kate if she wanted to travel the world with me, she said that she just wanted to stay here in Virginia City and was just glad that nothing was going on. Katie said she would be glad that things just stayed the same for a while. Pa, now I know what she meant. Just having things stay the same for a while. Just be quiet and calm for a little bit.”
“Do you think, now things will be the same for awhile? Now that the Carson City Gang is gone.“
“Not quite Pa. But I can promise you that I will try to keep any change we face to be handled together, as a family. Not just by me making a choice for all of us. And I pray that the changes will only be for the good.”
His chest swelling with love for his family, Ben answered, “That is all a person can ever ask. Maybe things will just stay the same for a while. And only good changes. Like finally building that new house for you and Kate and Sam. And maybe a few more grandchildren for me.”
Adam looked at his father and tried to smile. His father wanted more grandchildren. Won’t he be surprised?
Adam knew he had to tell his father what he had learned about Hoss. “Pa. I was going to talk with Joe about all this… before I told you. But I don’t think he has the strength to be thinking too hard on anything for a while. Not until he is feeling a lot better. You need to know about this now though.”
Ben looked at his eldest son in confusion. What was Adam talking about?
“I did discuss this with Paul and Roy so I’m not deciding on this alone. And I spoke to Kate.” Adam struggled with what he had to say.” Kate thinks you ought to know all about this right now and not wait any longer. We all thought I should tell you now.”
His father raised his eyebrows.
Adam smiled and continued on. “But I truly think it is a change for the good, Pa.” Reached into his pocket. “This will surely be a surprise, Pa. But I think it truly will be a change for the good.”
Adam took out the letter from Levi Victor and handed it to his father.