Word Count: 10,000
Ben Cartwright drew his fob watch out of his vest pocket as he stepped out of the barbershop. Smiling to himself, he noticed that his haircut had taken just 15 minutes. There was plenty of time for him to collect the documents from his bank manager and leave for his appointment in Carson City. Negotiations for the lumber deal were to be finalized today with the signing of the contracts. Satisfied that all would proceed according to his meticulous plans, he strode confidently across the street to the Virginia City bank.
In the barbershop behind him, a man stooped down and picked up a lock of gray hair; quickly, he pushed it into his pocket before settling himself in the chair.
After saying his farewell to Ben, the barber turned back to his next customer. “What’ll it be, mister?”
After seeing his two reluctant brothers were safely in the school yard, 17-year-old Adam Cartwright led the horses down the street to the blacksmith.
Before leaving earlier this morning, Ben had instructed his eldest son regarding his extra chores.
“Adam, I’ll need you to see that your brothers get to school on time today. I’ve had three notes this week from Miss Collins informing me of their tardiness, and I don’t want to see any more.” Ben glared at his 10 and 5-year-old sons across the breakfast table. Hoss found his empty plate very interesting, while Joe grinned at his father, blissfully unaware of his annoyance.
Adam thought for a moment before answering his father, a frown on his forehead. “Okay, Pa. Seeing as how I’ll be in town already, I’ll take those horses that need re-shoeing with us and that’ll save me another trip.”
“Good idea, son.” Ben smiled confidently at Adam, knowing that once he’d set him a task, he could be trusted to see it through. Ruefully, he hoped his other sons would grow up to be the same, but he had grave doubts. He chuckled to himself. He already knew that was not going to be. The boys’ mothers were so different; why shouldn’t their sons be different?
In the months since Marie’s death, Ben had relied on Adam more each day. Adam’s decision to defer his departure for college in Boston had eased his family’s sorrow and, without his help in those earlier months, the Ponderosa would have been lost to debt. Had he told Adam that? How important his eldest son was to him? How cherished his presence was on the ranch, to remind him every day of his love for Elizabeth?
Ben’s own inability to cope with the grief of losing a third wife had devastated him. Only the strength and determination of his eldest son had seen them through those dark desperate days. Besides raising Hoss and Joe, Adam had managed all the business deals Ben had arranged, ensuring the continued financial success of the ranch. Now, his grief slowly diminishing with time, Ben had begun to regain a normal life with his sons. He would never forget the debt of love and gratitude he owed his eldest.
He broke out of his reverie, picked up his napkin and wiped his mouth as he gazed lovingly at his three fine boys. Each different physically, due to his mother’s influence, yet each strong in his love for his brothers and father.
“If you boys are finished breakfast, I don’t see why you can’t get started on your chores. Hoss.”
Hoss peeked at his father from under his eyebrows as he hunched himself down in his chair. “Yes, Pa?”
“When you’ve finished your chores, I want you to hitch up the buggy for school. That way you can’t be tempted to go off riding in the hills. And don’t slouch, boy.”
No, Pa. I mean, yes, Pa,” sighed Hoss as he wriggled in his chair to his full height.
The reason for the notes from school came from Hoss’ enjoyment of the land rather than school lessons. Already he’d figured out that he was never going to be the scholar his older brother was and saw no sense in learning anything other than the basic reading, writing and arithmetic. Unfortunately, his father and teacher had other ideas. While at school, Adam had tried to help Hoss as much as possible, but when he’d left, Hoss had had to endure the lessons alone. Also, the teasing from the other students due to his supposed lack of gray matter had increased unmercifully in the playground. Hoss couldn’t wait each afternoon for lessons to finish so that he could leave the dreaded classroom to enjoy the fresh air of the mountains.
Adam sensed Hoss’ reluctance to discuss school with their father and decided to change the subject, if he could.
“Pa? Is it all right if I stay in town after I’ve got the horses done? I’d like to see my friends for a while, if that’s okay with you. I haven’t had a chance to see Ross for a few weeks and I know he’s working at the Mercantile in the mornings. It won’t be for long.”
Adam rushed his last sentence, in the hope of convincing his father. His dark brown eyes held his father’s steady gaze as he waited for the reply.
Ben knew how hard Adam had worked during the spring roundup and how much he missed his best friend. Hoss and Joe weren’t enough company for him at times – and too much at others. A nod of his head was enough to send a bright smile across Adam’s face.
“Thanks, Pa.” Adam pushed himself from the table and headed towards the front door. Ben noticed, as usual, that his napkin was placed neatly beside his plate.
“Come on, you two; if I’m to get you to school on time, we’d better get started on those chores.” Grinning, he led his younger brothers out of the door and across to the barn, where the stalls needed mucking out. At least with the three of them, the chores would be quicker, even though Joe was more of a hindrance than a help most of the time.
Ben finished sipping the last of his coffee, his mind now on the business transaction of the day.
“Hop Sing, could you come in here, please?” he called over his shoulder as he began to button up his coat for the ride into town.
Immediately, he was met with a flurry of Cantonese as their cook came out of the kitchen, his hands covered in flour. “Yes, Mista Ben?”
“I’m going into town early and then onto Carson City. I should be back in time for supper, but, if I’m late, will you have the boys start without me? I don’t see any reason for a delay, but you never know.”
He’d been anxious all week about the contract, and now that the day was here, he was just as concerned. There had been plenty of time and effort spent in securing it and he wanted it signed and sealed today without any complications.
“Adam is to take the boys to school and then stay in town for a while. Will you make sure they’re okay until I’m back?”
“Yes, Mista Ben. Adam good number one son; he make sure Hoss and Little Joe go to school. You no need wolly about that.”
“Yes, I know he will, Hop Sing. I’m about ready now, so I’ll say goodbye to the boys and be on my way.”
Outside, Adam stood by the corral with Buck saddled and ready for his father. He was softly rubbing the horse’s cheek, his face close, almost touching the muzzle. So intent was he on the horse that he didn’t hear Ben approaching.
Ben stood to one side watching his son. Adam’s fondness of horses wasn’t as deep as Hoss’, but he appreciated a fine animal when he saw one and he adored his father’s buckskin. Adam slid quietly to the horse’s side, running his hand along the neck and withers as he did so. He reached the saddle and threw the stirrup across the seat, once more checking the cinch. Smiling at his thoroughness, Ben cleared his throat gently. Even though the sound was soft, it startled Adam, making him jump.
“Thoughtful of you to get Buck ready for me, son. I’ll be gone all day, but should be back in time for supper, so I’ve told Hop Sing to have it ready at the usual time,” he said as he took the reins from Adam’s hand.
“That’s okay, Pa. Little Joe helped me, well, sort of,” Adam said with a lopsided grin. Joe’s help with the horse had consisted of pulling the saddle down on top of him and making Adam rescue him. “I hope everything goes well today in Carson City like you planned. I’ll make sure all their chores and homework are done by the time you get back tonight. Don’t worry about a thing.”
“Son, I don’t know what I’d do without you to help me. I know it was a difficult choice for you to defer your college entrance, but I’m happy that you did.”
As he spoke, Ben put his arm across Adam’s shoulders and held him close. There hadn’t been much physical contact between them for some while and Ben regretted the time he had had to spend away from his sons at work. Adam had been given two years’ grace on his college deferral. With almost one year gone, Ben had very little time left to spend with him and he wanted all of them to make the best of that time. The four years Adam would spend away at college would change his son into a man. The world was changing for all of them and there were moments when Ben wished time would stand still so that he could savor his young sons. As it was, he noticed that Adam’s eyes were now level with his own and there was a sadness in them, too, which Ben regretted. Life hadn’t been easy for his eldest son.
Embarrassed by the affection but enjoying the hug, Adam shrugged and stepped back from his father’s arms, giving him a shy smile as he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and hoping that he hadn’t seen his tears. “You’d better get going, Pa. Don’t want you to be late.”
Ben swung easily into the saddle, then, as an afterthought, he reached down and ruffled Adam’s jet-black hair.
With a mocking gesture and his face serious, Ben saluted his son. “Yes, sir, Mr. Cartwright, whatever you say, sir.”
Adam continued to watch his father until he finally slipped out of sight. Then he spun around on his toes and headed into the barn, where he found his younger brothers lying in the clean hay, staring up at the loft. Joe was imitating Hoss’ actions by chewing on a piece of straw while lying with his arms folded under his head.
“All right, you two, it’s time to get to school,” Adam said as he began to saddle his horse.
“Don’t wanna go to school.”
“Me neither,” added Joe. Although he enjoyed school, he preferred to stay at home and play with his brothers on the ranch. There was more to do here than at school. Sometimes Hop Sing would let him help in the kitchen with the cooking, which was always fun, as he got to lick the spoons and bowls.
“Pa said I was to make sure you go and on time and you are, even if I have to tie you up and throw you in the buggy myself. “
“Yeah? Well, you ain’t gonna make me go if’n I don’t wanna go,” answered back Hoss as he watched his older brother get angrier. Although there was seven years between them, Hoss was heavier than Adam. He didn’t want to fight Adam, but if that meant not going to school, then he’d do it.
Adam leant back against the stall, folded his arms across his chest and slowly shook his head.
“Hoss, I know you don’t want to go, but Pa said you have to. Go to school, if only to keep an eye on Joe. I’ve noticed some of the older kids have been picking on the little ones and Joe in particular. He’s the smallest and I need you to take care of him for me. Will you do that, please?” Adam knew the only reason Hoss would go to school would be to watch over his little brother. There was no other way of appealing to him – and what he had seen happening in the school yard was a good enough reason to convince Hoss. Adam flopped down between his brothers in the sweet hay and put his arms around both of them. Together they could defeat anything, or anyone, that threatened them.
After a few minutes of silence, Hoss nodded. “Aw, all right, I’ll go. You know I hate school, Adam, I really do.”
Deeply engrossed in watching the blacksmith at work on the horses, Adam didn’t notice the boy until he tugged on his shirtsleeve.
He turned as the boy called him again and he instantly recognized him as one of Hop Sing’s relatives.
“Hello, Wan Lee, what is it?” grinned Adam and he was rewarded with a smile. He was pleased with himself that he remembered the boy’s name. Hop Sing had so many relatives living in Virginia City now that sometimes it was difficult to remember all their names.
“A man gave me this and told me to give it to you and no one else,” said the boy as he held out an envelope to Adam.
“What man?” asked Adam, as he took the grubby item. His name was scrawled in pencil on the outside.
“Don’t know. He came to me while I was helping my father and asked me if I knew you. When I said I did, he gave me a penny and told me to give you this.” Wan Lee pointed to the hand in which Adam held the message.
“Thanks, Wan Lee. I’ll tell Hop Sing I saw you today – and say ‘hello’ to your father for me.”
Adam leant against the hitching rail where his horses were tied and opened the envelope with his finger. Inside he found two items, the first a crookedly folded sheet of paper and the second a lock of gray hair. His eyes ran over the words on the paper:
“You should recognize this hair. Do exactly as I say, or you’ll never see your father alive again.
Read this, then go straight to Virginia City Bank. You are to rob it of $50,000. Don’t cover your face. I shall be watching. Everyone is to know who commits the robbery.
Take the money home and wait there for further instructions.
Tell no one about this note or I shall kill your father.”
Adam felt the blood drain from his face and he reached out to grab hold of the hitching rail. The fingers holding the note began to tremble and his knees felt like giving way under him. His father had been kidnapped – and he was to rob the bank to pay for the ransom! If he didn’t do as he was instructed, his father would be killed – and if he followed the instructions, he himself would be sent to prison! Either way, thought Adam, his father would be hurt. He recalled his father’s words from that morning: “Son, I don’t know what I’d do without you to help me.”
Adam ran his hands across his face in despair and to clear the sweat from his eyes. He had no choice; it was that simple: his future for his father’s life. Whoever held his father prisoner wanted him in jail. Who? And better still, why?
“Morning, Adam. What brings you into town so early today? Not up to any mischief, I hope?” joked Sheriff Roy Coffee.
Adam jumped, nearly dropping the letter as the voice spoke very close to him.
Roy’s smile slipped as he saw a look of fear slide across the young face, then, just as quickly, it was gone. Adam bit his lip nervously as he hastily stuffed the envelope and its contents into his coat pocket. Roy saw the envelope and hand slip into the pocket but waited, figuring Adam would tell him what was it was about if he wanted to.
“Nothing, sheriff, just some chores for Pa, that’s all. I’ll be on my way home soon.”
Adam couldn’t meet the older man’s gaze and kept his eyes fixed firmly on the toes of his boots. He wanted desperately to tell Roy about the note, but knew he couldn’t, not with the possibility of whoever had kidnapped his father watching his every move. He would do nothing to jeopardize his father’s safe return.
Studying the boy closely, Roy felt he was being evasive, as only Adam could be, but he couldn’t imagine why. He knew he was hiding something, because only when he was nervous would he call him “sheriff.” They’d known each other for years and normally spoke to each other on a first name basis.
When Roy saw his good friend next, he’d let him know about this unusual conversation with Adam. Maybe Ben could find out what he was hiding. He decided not to press the young man for the time being. “All right, Adam. Mind you say ‘hello’ to your Pa for me, next time you see him.”
Adam’s troubled dark eyes flickered up to meet Roy’s for a moment. “Sure,” came the solemn reply.
Frowning, the sheriff smoothed his mustache with his fingers in an unconscious gesture. The longer he observed Adam, the more perplexed he was.
“May I go now?”
“Nothin’ stopping you, Adam.”
Adam turned away from the sheriff, feeling his eyes bore into his back as he spoke to the blacksmith. “Can you hold the horses for a while? I’ve got some more errands for Pa I need to do. I’ll take my horse, though,” he said as he unhitched Sport, all the while avoiding Roy and his questioning stare.
“Not a problem, Adam, I’ve plenty of room. Business is a might slow this time of day.”
“Thanks. I won’t be long.”
As Adam casually mounted his horse, he nodded to the sheriff, who remained standing in the same spot, his arms folded across his chest.
“Sheriff.” Adam nudged his horse into a trot down the street, towards his father’s bank.
Miles away in Carson City, a happy Ben Cartwright stood up from the large desk and shook hands with each of the men standing in front of him. Firmly gripped in his left hand was the precious contract. The deal was done and he was inwardly overjoyed with his success. His attention to the small details of the contract had paid off handsomely. With this deal, the financial security of the ranch was sealed for the coming winter and spring. Once the timber was cut and safely on its way, there would be a chance to sit back and enjoy some time with his sons.
“Why don’t you stay and join us for supper, Ben?” asked Simon Johnson, the lawyer who had witnessed the signatures. “I don’t get to see you often, not since Marie passed away. Margaret would be pleased if I brought you home with me. You know, she’s expecting you to agree.” He continued smiling as he and Ben put on their hats and coats.
Ben smiled, too, at the thought of the excellent company and conversation. “I’d like to, but not this visit. I promised the boys I’d try and be home in time for supper. Give my best to Margaret and tell her I’ll come over soon and bring the boys with me.”
Simon shrugged his shoulders and grimaced. His wife would be disappointed, but she, too, was fond of Ben’s sons and knew how much they meant to him. “Fine, Ben, I’ll hold you to that promise.”
“Until next time, Simon.” The two friends shook hands warmly as they left the building.
Adam reined in his horse in front of the bank and sat staring anxiously at the open doorway. Inside he could see at least five people, plus the two clerks employed by George Bishop, the bank manager. As he hunched over, he recognized everyone in the bank and knew they would recognize him. Was this what the kidnapper wanted? For him to be identified, without any doubt, as the robber?
Fearfully, he dismounted and tied the reins loosely to the hitching rail. Taking a number of breaths to steady himself, he checked that his gun would slide free of its holster without any problem and took a quick look around him.
Adam waited until a man left the building before he purposefully walked up the six steps and entered the bank. He turned around and shut the door behind him. The bell tinkled loudly in the room above him as he drew his gun. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a hold up!” he shouted, the gun never wavering from its target – the bank manager, who was standing beside his clerks.
“Adam Cartwright, what’s the meaning of this?” demanded Mr. Bishop. “If this is a joke, it’s not very funny at all.”
“Mr. Bishop, I’m sorry, but it’s no joke. I’ve come to rob the bank.” Adam directed the gun towards the safe. “If you please, the safe door. The sooner I’m done, the sooner I’ll light out of here and no one will be hurt. The rest of you, including Hew and Randolph, can move slowly into that corner by the office. I don’t want to use this gun on anyone, but I will if I’m forced to. Mr. Bishop, I need you to put $50,000 into a bag for me, as quickly as you can.”
“$50,000? Why that precise amount?”
“Just do it, please, before someone comes in. I need that amount of money, nothing more, and I’ll be outta here.” Adam’s eyes flickered between the manager and the group of people. He could feel drips of sweat running between his fingers onto the gun, the butt threatening to slide from his grip. Nervously he flexed the fingers, but not his trigger finger. Mrs. Butterworth gasped in terror at the movement of his hand and her hands flew to her face. Adam wanted to reassure her of his intention not to harm anyone, but he held his silence, for to say something would break his determination to go through with his task. He couldn’t let anything stand in his way of helping secure his father’s release. If he had to shoot, he hoped that he would shoot accurately enough to only cause a flesh wound.
Once the bag was full, the bank manager turned to Adam and thrust it towards him. Anger showed clearly on his face and in his eyes as Adam grabbed the bag, clutching it to his chest.
“Thank you, Mr. Bishop, and I apologize to everyone about this,” Adam said sincerely, looking directly into every face as he backed towards the door. “Please don’t do anything until you hear me ride off. That way no one will get hurt.”
“You’ll pay for this, Adam Cartwright, you and your father,” snarled the bank manager.
“Me…yes, Mr. Bishop, but I hope not my Pa.”
George Bishop and the bank customers stared in bewilderment at the expression of self-loathing on Adam’s young face as he spoke his final words.
Adam felt the doorknob behind him. He shifted the bag under his arm and opened the door. Slamming it shut behind him, he jumped down the steps and threw himself into the saddle. With a hard kick, his horse bolted up the street, straight past a worried Sheriff Coffee.
Coffee’s eyes followed the retreating figure up the street, while behind him he heard people beginning to shout.
“Someone find the sheriff! Adam Cartwright just robbed the bank!”
Roy groaned out loud, as he realized what Adam had been up to.
Ben was whistling a tune to himself as he rode into Virginia City. He stopped outside his bank and tied his horse to the railing. Stepping around his mount, he searched inside his saddlebag for the contract. Once he’d found it, he purposefully walked into the bank, a broad smile on his face. George Bishop would also be pleased to see the document, because it would mean more income to meet the Ponderosa loans he held. After he’d visited the bank manager, he thought, he deserved a cold beer before going home and telling the boys the good news.
“You’ve got a nerve coming in here, Ben Cartwright, considering what’s happened!” Mr. Bishop’s sarcastic voice rang out. “Need more money already, do you?”
Ben stopped. He was stunned by the words and the reactions he saw on the faces of the other people in the bank. What had happened while he was in Carson City? “What are you talking about, George? What’s going on? I don’t need any more money. I’ve got the contract signed right here.” He held up the document for the bank manager to see.
Mr. Bishop was astounded by Ben’s comments. He honestly didn’t know what Adam had done. “Umm, Ben, you’d better come into my office. Your boy Adam’s in trouble, serious trouble.”
“What’s Adam got to do with this? What do you mean by needing more money?” asked Ben as he followed the bank manager into his office. He waited impatiently while the door was closed.
“Take a seat, Ben, you’re going to need it,” suggested George Bishop as he eased himself into his own.
“I don’t want a seat; I want an explanation!” shouted Ben. The bank manager grimaced at his tone of voice.
“There’s no easy way to put this, Ben. Your son, Adam, robbed the bank this morning. He stole $50,000. Roy Coffee has a posse out looking for him now.”
“What? Adam robbed the bank…you…today…while I was in Carson City?! I don’t believe you! He wouldn’t do such a thing! You’ve got to be mistaken. It must have been someone else who looked like Adam.”
“I’m sorry, Ben, there’s no mistake. He came in with his gun drawn and demanded the money. Nothing on his face to disguise him and there were six other witnesses to confirm that it was him. He even apologized for robbing us.”
There was a look of total disbelief on Ben’s face, as he stood dumbfounded in the middle of the office, shaking his head. “Have they found him yet?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you should go to the sheriff’s office and see if he’s there.”
“Yes, yes, of course.”
Ben turned around slowly and opened the door. He looked back at George Bishop, regret showing clearly on his face. “I’m sorry this has happened, George. I don’t know why he’s done it, but I’ll get the money back for you.”
“Thank you, Ben.”
George Bishop’s parting words were of little comfort as, dazed, Ben walked out of the bank. He was unaware of the stares and whispers as he led his horse down the main street to the jail.
Adam leapt off his horse and ran into the house, carrying the bag of money. He slid to a halt in the living room in front of his father’s favorite chair and threw the money onto the table. For the time being, he’d eluded the posse, but somehow he knew Roy would be coming for him soon. This was the only place he could run to and Roy knew it.
With his heart pounding loudly in his chest, Adam leaned his head against the cool rock of the fireplace wall. He wrapped his arms tightly around his stomach. Now that he was in the relative safety of his home, the shock of what he’d done hit him. He felt his body grow cold as a sweat swept across him and he gulped hard to stop himself from being sick.
“You home early for supper, Mista Adam. You no have Hoss and Little Joe with you?”
Startled by the voice, Adam spun around to face Hop Sing. His face was white and he couldn’t stop shaking. He’d forgotten all about collecting his brothers from school. He couldn’t go into town now and get them. He sat down guiltily in the big blue chair and put his head in his hands.
“Why you forget them? You go get them before Mista Ben come home and not find them here. He be velly angly with you.”
Lifting his head to face Hop Sing, Adam ran his hands through his hair and shook his head. “He’s already going to be angry with me, Hop Sing, once he finds out what I’ve done. I just hope he understands why I did it.”
Hop Sing moved closer to Adam. He could see how frightened the boy was. Something terribly wrong had happened for him to forget to bring his brothers home from school. What did he mean by “hope he understands why I did it?”
Before Hop Sing could speak, a loud voice called out from outside the front door.
“Come on out, Adam, I have the house surrounded. I don’t want to see you or anyone else in there get hurt.”
Slowly, Adam stood up from his chair and unbuckled his gun belt. He threw it on the table beside the moneybag and raised his hands.
“Well, that didn’t take Roy long did it, Hop Sing?” Adam smiled ruefully and dragged his feet to the door. He turned to face the Chinese cook. “Looks like I’m going to be busy for a while. Can you go fetch Little Joe and Hoss for me, please?”
Hop Sing nodded and watched as Adam opened the door, raised his hands high and stepped outside.
“Roy, the money’s inside on the table, along with my gun. I won’t fight or make a run for it. Only Hop Sing’s inside, no one else.”
“What’s gotten into you, boy? This will kill your father when he finds out what you’ve done,” questioned the exasperated sheriff as he holstered his gun and followed Adam back into the house.
“It would have killed him if I hadn’t done it,” the young man replied sadly. “No one else is involved in this, only me. Hoss and Little Joe are at school and Hop Sing is just about to go get them, aren’t you, Hop Sing?”
“I go now, Mista Adam. You be okay?”
“Yes, he’ll be okay, Hop Sing,” assured Roy. “Adam, you go sit in that chair while I send the rest of my posse back to Virginia City. I believe you when you say you won’t try to run or fight me. I don’t want to have to hurt you, Adam, but I want some explanations when I get back.” He hurried across to the open door.
“Tay, go round up the men and go back to town. I’ve got Adam and the money and everything is under control. Tell Mr. Bishop at the bank that the money has been recovered, but I’ll have to hold it as evidence until the trial. If you see Ben Cartwright, you send him out here right smartly. He’ll want to know what’s been going on.”
Roy closed the door after Hop Sing and sat opposite Adam on the sofa. He lounged back comfortably and scrutinized him. Adam couldn’t meet the older man’s eyes and stared at the floor instead. He could feel Roy’s eyes boring into him, but he kept silent.
“You gonna tell me now or wait until your Pa comes home? I don’t think your Pa’s going to be in too pleasant a frame of mind when he arrives, don’t you agree?”
“I’m sorry, sheriff, but I had to do it.”
Roy had to lean over to hear his words, because he had spoken so quietly. “That’s not good enough, Adam. Why did you do it?”
Adam glanced at the grandfather clock, the ticking loud in the room. It was 4:30p.m. How could he get his father released if the sheriff was here with him and the money?
“I can’t tell you yet, but I would like to ask you to help me…please.”
“I’ll try, if I can. What is it that you want me to do?”
“I…I want you to go back to Virginia City and leave me and the money here.” Adam lifted his head to face Roy, his eyes pleading with him to understand the request.
“Adam! You know I can’t do that.” Roy shook his head.
“You must, sheriff; it’s the only way I can get Pa back safely.” Adam threw himself out of the chair with such a force that the sheriff was surprised and reached for his gun.
Adam froze, horrified by his reflex action.
“Don’t do that to me, Adam. Now sit back down and tell me everything, from the beginning.”
“I can’t. I can’t tell anyone. If he finds out that you’re here, he’ll kill Pa. The note said so,” cried Adam, frightened for his father.
“Who finds out? What note Adam? Show it to me.”
There was a long hesitation before Adam reached into his pocket and withdrew the envelope and letter. With tears in his eyes, he looked hard at them before handing them to Roy. His hand shook as he held out the paper.
“The lock of hair is in the envelope. Pa said he was getting a haircut before he saw Mr. Bishop and took the contracts to Carson City.”
Quickly, Roy read the note and the frown on his forehead deepened as he realized Adam’s predicament.
“It doesn’t say how or when the money is to be collected,” queried Roy. “You were to wait here for further instructions and to tell no one. When was your father due back from Carson City?”
“I think about supper time. Hop Sing would know, but…”
Roy pushed himself off the sofa and began to pace in front of Adam, his hands clasped behind his back.
“I’ve sent the men back to town, so that problem is taken care of. I can put my horse in the barn and no one will know I’m here. Hopefully, whoever it is isn’t already watching the ranch and doesn’t know I’m here. All I can suggest we do is wait and see what happens.”
Adam nodded, happy to go along with Roy’s suggestions. The weight of the sole responsibility for getting his father back safely had been resting heavily on his young shoulders for long enough.
“What in tarnation were you thinking of, Adam?” demanded Ben, his foot tapping angrily while he waited for his son to answer. He had arrived at the sheriff’s office in time to meet Deputy Tay, then, after learning that Adam had been captured at the Ponderosa, he had called by the school to take Hoss and Little Joe home. He was relieved to find that Adam hadn’t involved his younger brothers in the robbery.
Hoss and Joe had seen that their father was in an angry mood, so they had kept quiet during the journey home. Once at home, Ben had instructed them to do their chores, as well as Adam’s, and not to come inside until they were all finished.
Adam refused to look at his father. He didn’t want to see the anger and disappointment in his eyes; there was enough in his voice.
“Look at me, boy, when I talk to you – and answer my question, now!”
“You,” answered Adam as he fidgeted from one foot to the other, his eyes firmly on his boots. He couldn’t meet his father’s eyes.
“Me? What do you mean me?”
“I was only thinking of you, sir, and Hoss and Little Joe.” Roy and Ben could see Adam was fighting back his tears. He brushed his sleeve across his eyes and chewed on his bottom lip to stop himself from crying. Ben softened his voice, instantly mortified by his son’s answer. It wasn’t what he’d been expecting. He held back his response, because he could see Adam wanted to say more.
Adam fished into his pocket and drew out the envelope. He gave it to his father. “I had no choice. I had to do what the note said. How was I supposed to know it was a hoax?” With his fingers twisting tightly together, Adam’s voice cracked from the strain he’d been under. “It said you’d be killed if I didn’t follow the instructions exactly. If it means going to prison, I can accept that. I’ve done wrong and robbed the bank and I’ll take what I deserve, but I couldn’t let anything happen to you. What would become of Hoss and Joe? They need you more than me.”
There was a commotion at the door as Hoss and Joe came running in from the barn.
“Me and Joe have done the chores Pa, even Adam’s. Is supper ready yet, ‘cos I’m starved?” Hoss was always saying he was starved and tonight was no exception.
Ben gave his two younger sons a brief smile. “How about you two go into the kitchen and ask Hop Sing to let you eat in there? But wash your hands first.”
Joe ran into the kitchen immediately, but Hoss held back, looking at the expressions on the faces of his father, brother and the sheriff. “What’s wrong, Pa? Is Adam in some sort of trouble?” His worried look concerned Ben.
“What makes you think he’s in trouble, son?” asked Ben and he gave Roy and Adam a questioning look before turning back to Hoss.
“I heared someone at school sayin’ that a Cartwright had done somethin’ bad in town. Seein’ as how the sheriff is here and you and Adam ain’t lookin’ too happy, I sort of figured that it must be Adam. I know Joe and me didn’t do nothin’ wrong. What’s happened? Is Adam going away? To college?”
Ben saw Adam wince at the mention of college, for that was out of the question now.
“Yes, Hoss, Adam is in trouble.” Sadly, Ben looked at his eldest son’s face. Adam met his father’s eyes briefly, then looked away, but not before Ben saw his look of disappointment.
“What’d ya do, Adam?”
“I robbed the bank this morning, while Pa was in Carson City.”
“Yeah? What’d ya do that for?”
“Never mind about that, Hoss. Look at me. Adam is in serious trouble and might go to jail. There’s going to be a trial in town and we’ll all have to go to court. I want you to look after Little Joe and make sure he stays quiet and out of mischief. Will you do that for Adam and me?”
“Will Adam be in Sheriff Coffee’s jail so we can see him?”
“Only until the trial, Hoss,” answered Roy. “He’ll be sent to Nevada State Prison if he’s convicted. That does seem likely, considering how many witnesses there were in the bank at the time he robbed it.”
“Nevada Prison is a long ways a way, isn’t it, Pa?” asked Joe from the kitchen. He was holding a chicken leg in each hand. “I want to see Adam. I don’t want him to go away.” Crying, Joe ran to Adam, wrapping his little arms around his brother’s legs.
“Yes, Joe, a long way away, but not as far as Boston would have been.” Adam reached down and hugged his little brother closely to him. ”I don’t want to go to prison either, Joe, but I don’t think I’ll have much choice. It’ll all depend on the judge.”
“Now, you two both go into the kitchen, please. Adam, Sheriff Coffee and I have a lot to talk about. When you’ve finished supper, I want you both to go to your rooms and play. Hoss, will you make sure Little Joe stays in his room, please?”
Anxiously, Adam watched his father sit down in his chair and begin to make his pipe. “In the morning, I’ll send word to Simon Johnson in Carson City, asking him to be your lawyer and defend you, Adam. He’ll do his best to get the sentence reduced, but there’s not much hope that you’ll avoid prison altogether, is there, Roy?”
“No, Adam, I’ll be honest, there’s too much evidence against you. What with all them witnesses and the fact that I found the money here, in your possession, I can’t see you getting anything less than ten years. If your lawyer puts the circumstances behind your actions as your defense that, together with it being your first offense, might get you a lighter sentence of maybe five years.
“Either way you look at it, life in prison is going to be very difficult for you – and for your family. I’m sorry, Adam. Now that the boys have gone, I want you to go over everything again, starting with how you were given the note. Don’t leave anything out, no matter how small or insignificant you might think it is.”
With his pipe now lit, Ben nodded to his oldest son to begin.
“Adam’s going to prison, isn’t he? He’s going away for a long time and I won’t ever see him again,” sobbed Little Joe into his elder brother’s chest. Hoss sat beside Adam, whose arm was around his shoulders in a comforting grip.
Adam stared over Joe’s head at his father, who was seated opposite him in the jail cell. On the small table between them sat an unfinished game of chess. Adam saw that his father, too, was struggling to hold back his tears. The prosecutor had prepared the case against him so convincingly that he’d seen the look of defeat in his father’s eyes. Over at the courthouse, the jury was going though the formalities; Adam knew they would bring in a guilty verdict. If he was on the jury and in their position, he would too.
Tay, Roy’s deputy, burst into the jail. “Just got word, the jury’s coming back in.”
Roy stood up from his desk, where he’d been attempting to process the paperwork from the case. He hadn’t got very far, for his mind kept wandering to what would await Adam in prison. A lad that young either learned to survive the hard way or died; there was no in-between. Being the son of the richest man in Nevada wouldn’t be of any help to him at all, and, if anything, could make things worse, if that was possible.
The cell keys rattled in his hand as he unlocked the door and swung it wide open.
“It’s time, Adam, Ben.”
“I heard, Roy; just a few more minutes with Adam.”
“It’s all right, Pa. I’m ready, Roy.” Adam gave Joe to Ben and walked out of the cell door to Roy, holding his arms out in front. “You’d better handcuff me. I don’t expect I’ll get any favors while I’m in prison, so I’d better get used to it now.”
“We don’t know for sure that you’ll get a prison sentence, Adam…”
“Come on, Roy, we both heard the evidence. There was nothing much Mr. Johnson could do with the ransom note. I robbed the bank and everyone saw it. I can’t see any way of avoiding prison, so don’t try to be kind to me. I don’t need it.”
With his hands in front of him, Adam walked across to the courthouse, his head held high. He was terrified of what sentence the judge would deliver. Once, with Ben, he’d been to the prison and seen the conditions in which the prisoners lived. The thought of being sent there horrified him. At the courtroom door, he hesitated and was helped into the room by Ben, while Hoss and Joe slipped their hands into his. He gripped each hand in one of his own, comforted by their presence – and by his father’s hands on his shoulders.
His family had just sat down behind him, when the clerk of the court stood up. The jury filed solemnly out of their room, followed by the judge.
“All rise!” called the clerk as the judge settled himself behind the desk.
“Be seated. Has the jury reached a verdict?” asked Judge Whittaker.
The head juryman stood up, holding a piece of paper in his hand. “Yes, we have, Your Honor.”
“The defendant will stand. How say the jury?”
Adam stood to attention. He could feel the sweat trickling down his face and onto his collar, prickling his neck.
The juryman opened the paper and read: “In the case of robbery, we find the defendant guilty as charged.”
Even though he’d been expecting a guilty verdict, Adam felt his legs buckle and only the strong arms of Roy sitting beside him saved him from collapsing to the floor. Behind him, he heard Ben gasp and Hoss and Joe crying.
“Hold on, Adam, it’s nearly over,” whispered Roy.
“I’ve had to deal with my conscience in this matter, as well as the letter of the law,” said the judge. “There is no doubt in my mind or the jury’s that Adam Cartwright did commit the crime of robbery. It is fortunate for him that no one was injured and that the full sum of money was recovered. The fact that he believed his father to be held for ransom, and that if he didn’t do as instructed his father would be murdered, played an important part in his actions. There is also the fact that if his father had been murdered, he and his brothers would have been faced with the difficult situation of how to survive without any parents. In his favor is the fact that this is his first offense. Therefore I pass the following sentence: Adam Cartwright, the maximum term I can sentence you to prison is ten years. However, due to the mitigating circumstances surrounding this case, I have suspended your sentence to a five-year good behavior bond. You will be entrusted to the care of your father and Sheriff Coffee for the length of your sentence. Should there be any transgression on your part, you will be sent immediately to prison to serve out the remainder of your sentence. Is that understood, young man?”
“Adam…” Roy nudged Adam, who was in a daze, to answer the judge.
“Yes…yes, I understand, Your Honor.”
“Very well. Court is adjourned.” The judge banged his gavel on the table.
The courtroom erupted in a sea of voices, but over the top of them Adam could hear an even louder voice.
“NO-O-O-O! He should die, just like my boy did!”
Adam saw a man of approximately his father’s age push his way through the crowd. As he came closer, the man drew his gun and fired at Adam. Roy pushed the young man aside, but it was too late, as he heard him scream in pain and collapse to the floor. Ben and Simon Johnson raced to Adam’s side, while Roy and his deputy wrestled the man to the ground. The gun fired once more before it was ripped from his grip. Tay led the man away to jail as Roy ran back to help Ben and Simon with Adam.
“Adam….son…Someone get the doctor!” cried Ben, as he held his hand to Adam’s shoulder to stem the bleeding. Even though he was pressing hard, the blood continued to seep between his fingers.
“He’s on his way, Ben,” called a voice from the crowd. “He’s also shot Mrs. Forrester in the leg.”
“Roy, what’s going on? Why would he want to shoot Adam? Do you think he’s the one who planned all this?”
“I have no idea, Ben, but as soon as Adam’s been taken care of – and Mrs. Forrester – I’ll go see what our stranger has to say for himself. You might want to be there, too.”
“Pa…Pa…” Hoss tugged on his father’s arm. “That man, the one who shot Adam, he was asking me questions in town the other day about you and Adam.”
Roy knelt beside Hoss and Little Joe and glanced quickly at Ben.
“What did you say, Hoss? He was asking you questions about Adam? When was this?” asked Roy. He’d never thought to ask Hoss or Little Joe if they knew anything about the ransom demand.
“While Adam was in the general store getting the fencing wire Pa wanted. He wanted to know how old Adam was and if Pa’d ever been at sea. I told him Pa was a sailor before Adam was born, back in Boston.”
“Sounds to me like someone from your past, Ben. Did you recognize him?”
Ben shook his head. “No. The face does remind me of someone, but I can’t seem to think who. Where is that doctor?” Ben looked over his shoulder, trying to locate Doc Martin.
Dr. Paul Martin was tending to the injured woman, who had a graze to her leg. He instructed her husband to finish bandaging the wound and take her to his surgery. Then he picked up his bag and hurried to Adam’s side.
“He should be all right, Ben. The wound’s not serious, but I want him in my office straight away so I can get the bullet out. Get a few men together and we’ll carry him there right now.”
Pushing the helping hands aside, Ben lifted Adam into his arms and carried him to the doctor’s surgery. He staggered under Adam’s weight up the short flight of stairs, again refusing all offers of assistance.
While Adam was being seen to, he made Joe and Hoss wait outside the room where the doctor and their brother were. “Boys,” he told them, “Dr. Martin says Adam will be fine. I want you to wait here for me. I’m going to the jail to find out why that man shot your brother.
“If Doc will let you, I’d like you to wait with Adam, so he knows you’re with him when he wakes up. Tell him where I am and that I won’t be long.” Ben reached over and hugged the two boys, kissing each on the forehead before waving goodbye to them.
At the jail, Roy was waiting impatiently for Ben. He knew he was settling Adam in and having Hoss and Little Joe stay with him, but any delay might stop his prisoner from talking. He was relieved when Ben flung the door open, making it slam loudly against the wall.
“Where is he, Roy? I want to speak to him,” growled Ben, his anger flashing violently in his dark eyes.
“Calm down, Ben. I’ll do the talking; you just sit and listen,” Roy said calmly. “Maybe something might come to you as to who he is and why he tried to kill Adam, that’s if he won’t tell us outright. Something tells me he wants revenge and will gloat over what he’s done. I know Paul said that Adam will be okay, but I want you to follow my lead and pretend that he might not survive. Can you do that?”
Ben paced in front of Roy’s desk. This wasn’t what he had planned in the way of interrogating the man, but he could see the sheriff’s reasoning was good. He nodded to him and followed him into the cells.
Upon hearing the footsteps, the prisoner looked up at Ben and smiled maliciously.
“We finally meet, Cartwright. I’ve been waiting a long time for this. How’s your son?”
“It looks like he’s going to die – and if he does, I’ll be charging you with his murder,” said Roy as he placed his hand on Ben’s arm to calm him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ben take a step forward towards the man behind the bars.
“I’m not the least bit worried, sheriff. An eye for an eye, I say,” he replied indifferently.
“Are you going tell me why you’ve done this to my son? Who are you?” demanded Ben heatedly.
“I never wanted to hurt your son, Cartwright; I only ever wanted to hurt you, to make you feel like I’ve felt for the past 19 years.” The man’s bitterness surprised Roy. He could almost reach out and touch the hatred leeching from him.
Ben stared at the man. “Nineteen years? Nineteen years ago I was serving on The Wanderer, back in Boston. What happened?” He was confused. Something had occurred between him and this man and he couldn’t remember what it was.
The man laughed spitefully at Ben.
“I have no doubt you don’t remember the incident with my son. He was 16 and serving under you. You had him killed.”
“I did what? I didn’t have anyone killed. What are you talking about?”
“Does the name O’Donnell mean anything to you, Cartwright? Shamus O’Donnell – a fair-haired, slightly built lad with blue eyes?”
“Shamus O’Donnell?” Ben paused and ran his hand through his gray hair, remembering something from his past. It was just before he left The Wanderer and started his ship chandler’s business with his father-in-law, Adam’s grandfather.
“I remember. But I didn’t kill your son; he died while trying to save my life. There was an attempted mutiny on board when we were on night watch together. Earlier in the day, Shamus had overheard some men discussing plans to kill the Captain and me. He came and warned me. It was during the fighting later that he stepped in front of me and took a knife in the chest that was meant for me. Didn’t you receive my letter? I sent it to you as soon as we made port in Boston.”
“Don’t try to deceive me. I didn’t receive any such letter. When I didn’t hear from him for so long, I traveled to Boston and had to ask around the docks to find out what had happened to him. What I heard was a very different story to what you’ve just told me,” snapped O’Donnell.
“Did you try to verify the incident in The Wanderer’s Captain’s Log? That would have confirmed that what I’ve just said was true.”
“I asked, but the Captain wouldn’t let me,” he said bitterly. “Said I had no right to read it. I knew then that they were covering for you.”
“Did you speak to Captain Stoddard? He was still in Boston and he would have told you exactly what happened.”
“I didn’t bother Captain Stoddard. I found out all that I needed to know on the docks that day.”
“Why should I lie about something like that?” asked Ben sincerely. “I had no reason to murder your son – or anyone else for that matter. I was leaving the sea after that voyage to begin a new life with my wife, Captain Stoddard’s daughter. Why would I jeopardize my happiness with her by killing Shamus?”
O’Donnell ran to the cell door and grabbed the bars in his hands. Ben could see his knuckles turning white with the pressure. “Your father-in-law was Captain Stoddard?”
“Yes. Why should that be important to you? What does he mean to you? His daughter, Elizabeth, was Adam’s mother.”
O’Donnell’s mocking laugh filled the room. Uncomfortably, Ben and Roy watched the man begin to cry. He slumped down on the bunk and lowered his head. “After all these years…all these years of wanting revenge, hating you, blaming you for Shamus’ death. All these years I’ve blamed one man for my son’s death, only to find out that he’s the one the Captain entrusted with his daughter. What a fool I’ve been.”
“You knew Captain Stoddard, too?” Ben asked gently.
“Yes. During my seafaring days, the Captain was the only man I sailed with. Whenever he changed ship, so did I. When my wife told me she was pregnant with Shamus, I left the sea to be with her and the child, but I always maintained the highest regard for the Captain. When Shamus decided to become a sailor, I contacted him and asked him to get the boy onboard The Wanderer. When I heard that Shamus’d been killed and that you were to blame, I tried to find you. It’s taken me all this time to do that and it was only by chance that I saw a newspaper with your name in it saying that you now lived in Virginia City.”
O’Donnell paused for a moment before looking directly at Ben.
“I came out here to kill you, but when I found out you had a son around the same age as Shamus was, I changed my plans and tried to get him sent to prison. That way, like me with my son, you’d know where he was, but would be parted from him and wouldn’t be able to protect him.
“If I’d known that you were the same man who married Elizabeth, the man that Captain Stoddard trusted with his daughter, I’d never have blamed you for Shamus’ death. I should have spoken to him instead of relying on what was told to me on the docks. I’d have trusted his judgment of character enough to know that you wouldn’t have killed my son. I’m sorry, Cartwright, for what I’ve done to you and your son. I truly hope that he lives. He reminds me so much of the Captain and, in some ways, my own son. If it helps any, I’ll tell the judge the whole story and maybe he’ll reduce Adam’s sentence even more.”
“Thank you – and my son will live. Luckily, the bullet didn’t go deep. The doctor’s removing it as we speak. I think you should know that I want the sheriff to charge you with attempted murder, but I’ll let Adam make the final decision on that, after he’s heard your reasons for what you did to him.”
Ben regarded the man through the bars. He’d changed before his eyes from a man hell-bent on revenge to one full of remorse.
“I treated Shamus as though he was my own son,” continued Ben. “When he saved my life, I cried, for him and you. You would have been proud of him, I know I was.” Tears prickled Ben’s eyes as he remembered the boy’s body sliding into the sea, wrapped in white sailcloth. “I think I may still have my personal journal at home in my old sea chest. I remember writing down a lot about Shamus while he served under me on The Wanderer. You’re welcome to read it…if you think it’ll be of any comfort to you.”
“I’d like to accept your offer, Mr. Cartwright. Shamus never was a regular writer and I’d like to read about him.”
Ben turned away from the man to Roy, a hint of a smile on his face. “I’ll go and see how Adam is. I left Hoss and Little Joe over there to wait for me and, knowing them, they could be in all kinds of mischief. If Adam chooses to go ahead with a charge of attempted murder, I’ll tell you, but I think that after I’ve told him the reasons behind all this, he won’t want to.”
Roy clapped his hand on Ben’s shoulders as they walked to the door. “Give my regards to that oldest son of yours and remind him that I’m always here for him to talk to, if you’re not around to help out. Tell him I’m still waiting on him to finish our chess game and, seeing as how he won’t be working for you for some time because of his wound, I’ll expect him to pay me a visit real soon.”
Ben laughed. Everything had been sorted out in the end and a heavy weight had been lifted off his shoulders.