Lost Brother (by Doreen)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  18,200


It was early evening in late June and a warm breeze danced the waltz around the Ponderosa pines while the smell of honeysuckle permeated along the verandah of the Cartwright ranch. With dinner only a few minutes away, the two occupants in the large sitting room sat quietly, each intently reading. After a long day amongst a bawling herd of cattle, they both appreciated the tranquility and peace that now settled around them, the comfortable silence a welcome respite for both father and son.

Ben and Hoss looked up in unison as they heard the sound of familiar footsteps carefully making their way along the upstairs landing and down the stairs. Joe came into view, concentrating hard as he adjusted the thin black tie around his neck and smoothed out his crisp white shirt. He looked up as Hoss let out a whistle.

“Well, don’t you look as pretty as a picture,” Hoss cried. “Didn’t need to dress up just for us, though!”

Joe walked over, his dark hair slicked and brushed back. “Thank you, brother,” Joe replied with a broad smile on his face, “but this isn’t for your benefit. I always try to look my best for the citizens of Virginia City.”

“You’re going into town again?” quizzed Hoss, “What’s so dadburn special about that place? Seems like you’ve been going there an awful lot over the past weeks, Joe. You got yourself a gal?”

Giving his big brother a mischievous look, Joe didn’t answer him as he checked his appearance in the mirror hung on the wall.

Ben stared hard, a questioning look on his face.

His youngest son, just turned 21 years old, had returned two days early from a business trip to a ranch in the far north of Nevada, owned by Josh Bannan, an old friend of the Cartwrights. The trip, supposedly for a full week, had gone well. Joe had been given sole responsibility to check over and buy at least two dozen brood mares to introduce to the ever-growing quality herd of horses that was building up on the ranch. Casting his young but knowledgeable eye over the stock, Joe had known quality when he saw it. So without the need to give it much consideration, he had chosen the horses and concluded the deal with a shake of the hand, leaving with the promise the horses would be delivered to the Ponderosa within a few weeks.

The young man had then returned to the ranch in a euphoric mood — relieved to have carried out his task well and pleased to show his father and brothers that he too could be relied on when it came to business dealings on the Ponderosa.

“Are you really going into town, Joe?” asked Ben. “I thought as you had been away we could have dinner and a long chat about those horses you purchased.”

Joe turned to Ben, giving him an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, Pa. I had really hoped to go out tonight. After all, it’s been five days away from a cold beer in Virginia City! You do understand, don’t you?” he asked, as his handsome face looked down on his father.

With a deep sigh, Ben nodded, unwilling to spoil his youngest son’s night out, even though he had looked forward to an evening of conversation and laughter that always seemed to happen when Joe and Hoss were together.

“We’ll talk tomorrow, Pa. Promise,” said Joe, as he gave his father an affectionate squeeze on the shoulder. “At least you have Hoss here and Adam to keep you company.” He looked around the large room.

“Talking of whom, where is he?” asked Joe, suddenly realizing since his return an hour before, he had been so busy taking a bath and dressing for his night out that he had totally failed to notice the absence of his eldest brother.

“Adam is staying over in town today, Joe. Met up with an old friend from Boston so he decided to stay and talk over old times,” answered Hoss, as he began sniffing the air. “What is that smell?” he asked, puckering up his nose as he followed the direction of the aroma. He looked over at Joe. “Is that you, Joe? You must have doused a bottle of that there cologne on by the stink its making,” Hoss remarked.

Shaking his head, Joe gave his brother a pitiful look. “You’re just jealous, Hoss. This cologne will send the ladies wild with desire.”

“More like send them wild with nausea, little brother,” replied Hoss, as he held his nose and moved over to the dining table. Joe gave him a playful whack on the backside then made his way to the credenza by the front door.

“Have a good time, Joe. Maybe you will bump into Adam in town and join up with him and his friend,” said Ben, following his son to the door and picking up Joe’s hat as his son put on his coat.

Joe shook his head and chuckled as he took his stetson and banged it firmly on his head, raising an eyebrow in disbelief. “I don’t think spending an evening with brother Adam while he reminisces with an old college friend is what I had in mind for my night out, Pa.”

Ben smiled as Joe opened the door. “No, I guess it isn’t, son,” he said with a grin, and after giving his son a loving pat on the back, closed the door as Joe disappeared into the dark night.

Ben returned to the dining table and sat down with Hoss, just as Hop Sing began to bring out the warmed dinner plates. “Only two tonight, Hop Sing,” he said in a despondent voice.

With a barrage of Chinese, the cook returned to the kitchen, ranting and raving about the lack of Cartwrights to enjoy his well-prepared food.

“Guess he’s not too pleased Adam and Joe aren’t around either,” said Ben as he looked over at his middle son.

Hoss nodded in agreement. “Never mind, Pa. Means we get to eat seconds!” said Hoss, ever positive, grinning widely.

Ben chuckled and nodded. “Sure does, son, sure does,” he replied, as a delicious aroma of stew and dumplings wafted in from the kitchen.

Hoss smiled as he began to break open a bread roll, then looked thoughtfully at his father, his tone becoming more serious. “You reckon Joe has found himself a gal, Pa? He’s had that daydreaming look on his face over the past few weeks, and seems to have been going to Virginia City an awful lot lately.”

Shaking his head as he poured a glass of water, Ben gave a sigh. “I have no idea, son. Seems your brother keeps his own counsel more and more these days.” Ben noticed a downcast look on his son’s face. “Hoss?” pressed Ben, “Something wrong?”

Shrugging his shoulders, Hoss gave his father a sad looking smile. “Oh it’s nothing real important, Pa,” he responded. “It’s just at one time, when we were younger. Little Joe would tell me everything that was going on in that brain of his. But nowadays, well, seems my little brother has grown up so fast, he don’t need me around anymore to share his secrets with. And I guess I miss that. Miss it a lot.”

Ben nodded both in agreement and sympathy. Both he and Adam had also noticed a change in his youngest who seemed to be more detached and not willing to confide in his family of late.

“It would appear,” remarked Ben, “Little Joe the boy is now well and truly lost to us. Now we have Joe the man, and we will just have to accept the change in him.”

Hoss nodded in agreement at what Ben had said, and as Hop Sing entered, both father and son sat back in eager anticipation of the delicious meal put before them,

*****

Joe whistled quietly as he rode steadily towards Virginia City, a slight sense of remorse about the small white lie he had told Ben and Hoss playing on his mind.

‘Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive’ he thought, shaking his head ruefully as he recalled a saying from one of Adam’s favorite authors.

About a mile from town, a narrow track appeared winding its way towards a large imposing house built many years before by one of the first silver barons of Nevada. Anderson Mansion stood alone on a small hillock, noticeable for miles around, its white walls always visible to those who passed on the main road. It was always known locally as Nevada’s ‘White House’, and from a small child, Joe had viewed it from afar with curiosity, always hoping to view the plush interior but never seeing past its large impressive front door. However, recent events had given him the opportunity to realize his dream. As Joe came to the end of the lane, he stopped, glancing behind him as if wary of being followed. Taking a deep breath, he turned Cochise from the direction of Virginia City and quickly cantered up towards the house, his heart beating fast in anticipation of the evening that lay ahead.

The house had been empty for a while, until two months earlier when it had been rented out to a notorious actress by the name of Rosemary Palmer. Well known in the theatres of New York and San Francisco, she was a beautiful woman in her early thirties who had decided to have a rest from her busy schedule and take a while to recuperate around the busy metropolis that was Virginia City.

When first arriving on the stage coach with just her personal male secretary for company, she had caught the eye of Joe Cartwright, who had been only too willing to assist the beautiful woman and her sole employee. Although he was several years her junior, Rosemary had been immediately drawn to the young man, welcoming his attention. She had immediately sensed her visit to Virginia City would be far from the boring rest she had expected.

From first arriving, Rosemary made it a policy to never venture into town, as she was unwilling to face both her adoring and critical public. So instead, she sat around the house during the day, reading scripts sent for her perusal, painting, and writing letters to her family and friends. However, the nights were a different matter!

From their first meeting, Joe had become a welcome evening visitor to the glamorous femme fatale. But, with her reputation to uphold and realizing the need for discretion from the onset in such a close knit community, she had requested Joe to keep their relationship quiet from his family and friends. This Joe had been happy to do, knowing only too well how his father would disapprove.

Miss Rosemary Palmer was well known for her raunchy performances on stage which had been the cause of much debate, causing controversy wherever she performed. Joe also knew the age difference would attract comment and displeasure, so he willingly allowed himself to be drawn into a world of half-truths and discreet meetings. All of which added to the excitement and romance as the older woman and young man began a clandestine love affair.

So, for the past two months, the youngest Cartwright would arrive on many occasions as darkness fell. Rosemary’s loyal secretary, a discreet man who was also her personal cook and bodyguard, was allowed the evening off to visit Virginia City, and Joe would stay until the early hours or even the following morning. With Cochise hidden behind the house in a small stable, at no time did anyone guess of the secret liaison between the risqué actress and the youngest son of the largest ranch owner in Nevada.

Their affair grew more passionate and intense, and Rosemary thrived on the attentive and loving Joe, knowing full well he was losing his heart to her. But she was, in truth, a heartless and vain individual. Although deeply fond of Joe, she still looked forward with relish to the time when she would cast him aside, just as she had done over the years on countless occasions to her many other suitors. To Rosemary, it was all an act and a game, made the more exciting as she seduced her conquest and he succumbed to her wily charms.

Then Joe had departed for a week on ranch business, leaving Rosemary alone and feeling very bored and frustrated.

Joe rode up to the house, its white walls still visible in the darkening gloom of evening. He had missed Rosemary over the past five days, her smiling face never far from his thoughts. He was captivated and enthralled by the older woman, and knew he had fallen in love. It was not an unfamiliar emotion to Joe. Since turning 17 years old, Joe had lost his heart a few times, but not with the intensity that now consumed him. As he recollected their nights of passion, he felt sure and confident she was of the same mind.

He pulled up Cochise, noticing the house was in darkness save for one upstairs room that had the glow of a lamp shining behind its curtains. Joe knew the room well. It was the main bedroom and he inwardly smiled, aware his early arrival would be a pleasant surprise for the beautiful woman within its walls.

Dismounting, he was about to lead his horse around the back to the stable when he heard laughter; the familiar sweet pitched laughter of his lover. He frowned, looking up at the large French window that opened up onto a balcony where another voice could be heard, deep and muffled, but definitely male. His heart missed a beat and his stomach suddenly churned in despair. There was more laughter, and then an ominous silence as the light suddenly went out. Joe stood transfixed, unable to believe it. He had only been away five days, and the woman to whom he had lost his heart had found another man!

He clenched his fists as his whole world seemed to crash down on him and his happiness crumbled away, leaving him with a feeling of total misery and rejection. Suddenly his volatile temper arose, and with a flash of rage, Joe rushed towards the back door, intent on confronting Rosemary and her male companion, without thought of the consequences or embarrassment it would cause.

But before he reached it, Joe stopped in astonishment. The man’s horse was tied by the back door and it looked over as Joe appeared around the corner. Recognizing him, it whinnied as Joe stared uncomprehending, unable to think clear as his heart broke in an instant. The woman he loved was with another man, but not just any man. He had been betrayed by his own brother, Adam!

Feeling sick, and his mind confused, Joe stepped back, and in a daze, returned to Cochise, pressing his face into the horse’s soft neck as he felt tears filling his eyes. Swallowing hard, he mounted, giving the darkened window a final glance. With a feeling of utter desolation, he turned Cochise and galloped off into the dark night.

*****

Cochise wandered steadily for hours, his rider not knowing or caring where he was. All Joe could think was how stupid he felt, how gullible he had been, how foolish he was. He thought with a start: would Rosemary have told Adam about their secret meetings? Had they laughed and joked together about this naïve young man who had been taken in so easily by the experienced seductress? The once proud and confident Joe felt humiliated beyond measure, more so that his oldest brother, the man he had looked up to all his life, was now the cause of all his distress.

Wearily he returned to the ranch in the early hours, leading Cochise into the stable, then quietly entering the house, relieved to find he was alone in the large downstairs room. Feeling the need for solace, he eagerly opened a bottle of brandy, and sat dejectedly in front of the dying embers of the fire. There he stayed on the settee, sipping drink after drink, hardly tasting the liquid as the brandy took effect on his dispirited body yet the pain in his heart continued unceasingly. All he could think about, over and over again, was the sound of Rosemary, laughing, and the sight of Sport by her back door. It wasn’t so much the fact Rosemary had changed her affection that tore at him, but the thought that it was with Adam she had found new excitement and entertainment. Eventually weariness overcame him and he fell asleep where he lay.

“Joe. Joe! Joseph!” Ben’s insistent voice roused the young Cartwright from his slumber. Joe opened his bleary eyes, looking around in confusion. He was lying on the settee, his shirt crumpled and his hair disheveled. There was an unpleasant taste in his mouth and beside him, on the coffee table, was a near-empty bottle of brandy and a glass lay upturned on the wooden floor.

Joe sat up but too quickly. The painful throbbing in his head made him close his eyes as he slumped back down.

“Really Joseph, is it too much trouble to go to your own bed?” Ben said, his voice showing annoyance, as he picked up the fallen glass and returned the brandy bottle to the sideboard.

Joe sat up again, slumping awkwardly as he placed his feet on the floor. “I’m sorry, Pa. Got in late and didn’t want to disturb anyone,” he said, drawing his fingers through his hair.

“And the brandy, Joe? Didn’t you have enough drink in town without resorting to finishing most of my best brandy?”

Joe looked up through glazed eyes at the imposing figure of Ben staring down with disapproval on his son. So that was the reason for his thumping headache he mused!

“Guess I didn’t realize I was drinking so much,” Joe replied, shakily rising from the couch. He began to make for the stairs, but suddenly the room began to spin and he clutched his fathers arm tightly, steadying himself, while his head throbbed incessantly. Ben stood still, giving Joe a minute to find his feet.

“Really Joe, was there any need to drink quite so much?” Ben asked sympathetically, beginning to feel a little sorry for his worse-for-wear son.

Joe looked at his father, blinking hard to focus, as the events of the previous evening flooded back and he shook his head gently.

“Sorry Pa. I didn’t mean to; it’s just…….well….something happened…….I just needed a drink.”

“Something happened, Joe? Something serious?” asked Ben, concern flooding his face.

“No, Pa,” replied Joe miserably, as he removed his hand from Ben’s arm and began to make his way to the stairs. “Nothing serious. Just something I need to sort out in my own way.” Feeling a little weak in the knees, he began to slowly make his way up the stairs, pulling himself on the banister. “Don’t you worry, Pa. I’ll sort it out,” he murmured as he disappearing around the corner.

Entering his room, Joe collapsed onto his bed as a shooting pain shot through his head and nausea swept over him. Fighting back tears that threatened, he gazed up at the ceiling for a while, his self-inflicted hangover adding to his misery and unhappiness. Thinking hard in a confused state, he eventually sat up and tearing off his shirt, threw it with disgust onto the floor, then buried his head in his hands, self-pity and anger welling up inside him.

Downstairs Ben stood for a minute, shaking his head in bewilderment as the sound of Joe’s bedroom door shutting echoed down the stairs. Whatever had happened between last night and this morning was a mystery, but Ben knew Joe would only open up when he was good and ready. With a deep sigh, he turned and made his way to the dining table just as the front door opened, and a familiar figure wandered in.

“Morning, Pa,” called Adam as he hung up his hat and gunbelt. “Hope there’s fresh coffee in the pot. Sure need one.”

Ben smiled over at his eldest, glad to see him returned so early in the day. “Good to see you, son.” he replied, pouring out two cups of coffee as Adam made his way to the table and sat down by his father’s right side. A familiar pounding on floorboards was then heard as Hoss steadily walked downstairs, giving his brother a welcoming toothy grin.

“Why, if it isn’t elder brother, returned nice and early to help with the chores at last,” Hoss cried, hauling his big frame onto the dining chair opposite Adam.

Adam smiled over, acknowledging the friendly banter of his big brother.

Hop Sing appeared placing the dishes of bacon and eggs in the middle of the table, and giving Adam a friendly smile. “Good to see Number One Son. You eat!” he cried, as he disappeared quickly into the kitchen.

“No problem on that score,” said Adam as he tucked into the food in front of him.

Ben looked at Adam, smiling gently. “You enjoyed your reunion then, Adam? Plenty to talk about with your old college friend? Why didn’t you bring him here to visit?”

Adam looked over, almost sheepishly. “Well Pa, truth is, well….he was a she!”

Ben raised his eyebrows and Hoss looked over. Adam could see he had the undivided attention of his family and he continued. “You know the actress who has been living up at the ‘White House’ for the past couple of months?”

“Anderson Mansion?” asked Ben.

Adam nodded, “Well, a few days ago she came into town for the very first time and I bumped into her.”

“You met the actress?” said Hoss, his eyes growing wide. He had heard all the gossip about this legend who was staying so close, but was never seen.

Adam nodded. “At first I didn’t realize, but then I recognized her. She was the sister of one of my close friends from college. Name was Rosemary Voigt then. We actually went out for a few months, and I remember how she was intent on working on the stage. Eventually we parted and she left for New York. However, I never realized she and Rosemary Palmer were the very same person.”

“Did she know you, Adam, after all these years?” asked Hoss, absorbing every word closely.

“Once I had introduced myself, she remembered me very well,” said Adam, with a knowing smile. “I offered to take her for a ride up to the lake, so yesterday we had a picnic on the north shore.”

“What’s she been doing with herself then, holed up in that big houses all these months?” asked a curious Hoss.

“I asked her that myself, Hoss. Seems she spends most of the days reading and painting.”

Hoss stuffed a mouthful of bacon into his mouth then looked back over at his brother. “What else you talk about Adam?”

Deliberately taking his time, Adam poured himself another cup of coffee, keen to draw out his story for the benefit of his father and brother. He took a sip, then replacing his cup shrugged and rolled his eyes. “Well, she asked what I was doing, if I was married, where I lived. She seemed genuinely interested when I told her about the Ponderosa. Asked lots of questions about the ranch, Pa, you and Joe.”

A big beam appeared on the face of Hoss as he digested both his breakfast and Adam’s words. “To think, Rosemary Palmer knows all about me,” he said, his chest puffing out like a peacock!

“When I asked her what she did for amusement during the long evenings, she just laughed and said she had a…er … special friend who called round.”

“You mean she’s been ……..well…… you know, Adam?” said Hoss quietly, his face beginning to redden with embarrassment.

Adam laughed at his brother’s glowing face and nodded his head in understanding.

“From knowing her from years ago, and also her present reputation, I guess she has been…….entertaining!” he chuckled.

Ben took hold of his napkin and pretended to wipe his mouth so as to hide the amused expression that formed as Hoss’ face blushed even deeper.

Hoss swallowed hard as he looked thoughtfully at Adam. “Wonder who it is?”

“I have no idea, Hoss. I did ask, but she just shook her head, very definitely, so I didn’t probe any further after that. Anyway, once we arrived back from the ride, she invited me to the house for dinner. Her secretary can certainly cook! We had a pleasant evening, recalling and reminiscing about all those years ago in Boston. Then she told me about her time on the stage. Some of those stories ….. well. they would make your hair stand on end. At least, what hair you have left big brother!” laughed Adam as he saw the expression of astonishment growing on Hoss’ face.

“We got on real well,” Adam continued with a grin, “And…… just lets say I didn’t need to return to my hotel room last night!” He winked over towards his brother who stared, opened mouthed, hardly believing what he was hearing.

“You…. and ……her?” he said, hesitatingly, nervously glancing out of the corner of his eye at Ben, wondering what he would be thinking of his son’s liaison.

Adam too glanced over at his father, wondering if he was about to comment, but Ben said nothing. His son was far too old to be given instruction on how to live his life, especially with the likes of Rosemary Palmer! So, trying hard to hide the smile that was forming, Ben looked down at his breakfast, studying it with feigned interest.

Hoss looked away from his father then shook his head with amazement. “I tell you, brother Adam! You never fail to amaze me,” he said as he resumed his breakfast, his face slowly returning to its normal color. “You seeing her again, Adam?” he asked moments later, more than keen to hear more tales.

Adam smiled but shook his head ruefully. “Only to say goodbye when she catches the stage this afternoon. She received a wire yesterday offering her a lucrative deal in Europe so was going to be busy packing today and heading back to San Francisco. Needs to catch the steamer early next month.”

“Wow! You and Rosemary Palmer! Who’d of thought it,” said Hoss, shaking his head as he poured out another cup of coffee.

From upstairs came the sound of a banging door and Adam looked up surprised. “Joe back? Thought he was away till tomorrow.”

Ben nodded. “He finished the deal early. Got back yesterday, but judging by the state of him this morning, I reckon he wishes he hadn’t gone to Virginia City last night!”

Adam and Hoss looked over at the emerging figure, wondering what their father was implying. It was soon evident what he meant. Changed into his working clothes, his face still pale and his head constantly throbbing, Joe stared down at the floor as he made his way slowly down the stairs, his whole body stature shouting ‘hangover!’

As he reached the bottom step, he looked up towards the dining table and immediately saw Adam looking over at him, with a bemused expression on his face. He stood for a moment, silent, staring directly at his elder brother. Now was the moment of truth. Did Adam know about his secret liaison of the past weeks? Was he laughing at him now?

“Hi Joe!” Adam called “You look a bit worse for wear. Must have had a good night!”

Joe remained still, maintaining eye contact with Adam. “What do you mean by that?” he asked in a raised voice.

Adam shrugged his shoulders. “Well, you don’t look too good from where I’m sitting! I guess you’ve got one heck of a hangover, right?” he asked, trying hard not to laugh at the forlorn figure standing in front of him.

“What if I have? What’s it to you?” snapped Joe, his voice hard as steel as he moved towards the table, his fists clenched.

Ben shot a look of disapproval at his son. “Joe, there’s not need to talk like that to your brother! Just sit down and have some breakfast.”

Joe sat without a word, the motion causing him to wince in pain as his head continued to throb, his family aware of the obvious discomfort he was feeling

With his eyes cold and accusing, he stared over at Adam, then poured himself a coffee and sat in silence, drinking and waiting.

Ben looked over, noticing the dark looks that passed from youngest to eldest. “If you’re feeling this bad, Joseph, I suggest you delay breaking in those half dozen horses left over from last week til your head clears.”

“Don’t you worry about me, Pa! I can do my job! It’s not as if I haven’t had a hangover before,” responded Joe sarcastically, fighting hard to keep his temper under control.

Ben gave Joe an angry look and was about to admonish him, but thought better of it, eager for a quiet beginning to the day. Knowing all too well the mood Joe was in, he was keen to avoid any unnecessary confrontation with his youngest at such an early hour.

Joe continued to sit in silence, his inner demon willing Adam to say just one word, give him one sly glance. It would be all the excuse he needed to connect his fist with his brother’s chin, regardless of the furor it would certainly cause! To his unhappy, illogical mind, it was the only way he figured he could prove himself again to be the man he was, and not the wreck he had felt the previous evening.

Breakfast progressed, Joe sipping his coffee while Ben, Adam and Hoss ate their fill and exchanged silent glances, each well aware of the simmering volcano that sat just feet from each of them. Eventually, his plate empty, Hoss turned his head and looked at Joe, eager to cheer up his little brother.

“Hey Joe, you just listen to what old Adam has been up to. Visiting with that there actress, Rosemary Palmer, no less!” he said, a deep chuckle emanating from his throat, “Sure is a dark horse, our elder brother, ain’t he?”

Joe visibly stiffened then slammed down his coffee, spilling some onto the clean table cloth. “What Adam does is of no interest to me!” he retorted, a hurt expression shooting across his face as he abruptly rose from the table, pushing his chair back so violently it scraped and fell over towards the sideboard.

“Joseph! Will you please mind your manners! Sit back down!” yelled Ben, shocked and dismayed at his behavior.

Standing at the end of the table, still staring darkly at Adam, Joe could feel his body shaking with anger. “No thanks, Pa. Don’t reckon I like the company round here at the moment!” With that, he turned heel, quickly making for the door and buckling on his gunbelt.

“Joseph!” Ben yelled, “Get back here this instant!”

Grabbing his coat and hat, Joe opened the door ignoring his father and slammed it shut behind him.

Ben, Adam and Hoss sat stunned, unable to comprehend Joe’s sudden uncharacteristic behavior. “Must be one hell of a hangover! Wonder what’s got into him?” said Hoss quietly, shaking his head.

“I can see I need to have a long talk with that young man!” cried Ben in exasperation.

Adam sat quietly, a frown on his face, feeling slightly hurt by the stinging words and angry look thrown his way by Joe. Something had gotten into his little brother, but for the life of him he couldn’t think what.

*****

A few hours later after spending the morning doing the accounts, Adam made his way back to Virginia City to say farewell to Rosemary. As he left the ranch, he saw the familiar figure of Cochise in the distance by the corral. He could hear the yelling of the wranglers and the neighing of horses, so he was aware Joe would be in the midst of breaking in the remainder promised for the Army. Not the best way to clear a thick head, thought Adam, but then his little brother never did things the easy way

He was tempted to go over and see how Joe and his hangover were, see if he had quieted down, but decided to leave it for a few more hours. The mood Joe had been in that morning he was best left alone. Turning away, he kicked Sport into a gentle canter, and as the sounds grew dimmer his mind once again concentrated on Rosemary.

She was quite a woman, and certainly lived up to all that had been said about her. But for all her charm, wit, and beauty, Adam sensed she was really a lonely woman, never allowing herself to commit her feelings to one man. She enjoyed the constant adoration of her audience, and was truly married to the theatre.

As he arrived in town, the stage was just pulling in. Adam could see Rosemary and her entourage of one waiting at the depot, a small crowd staring with curiosity at the famous actress, who was about to leave their midst.

Dismounting, Adam went over to her, and she smiled sweetly as he took her hand and gently kissed it.

“Thank you for coming to say goodbye, Adam,” she said, “I wanted to thank you for your wonderful company over the past couple of days. And, of course, last night!”

Adam nodded. “My pleasure,” he said, staring at her as her eyes flittered up and down the street. “You looking for anyone in particular, Rosemary?” he asked with a slight grin.

“Oh, no. Not really, Adam. Just hoped I could say goodbye to a ….special friend.”

Adam raised his eyebrows in feigned surprise. “Oh, that special friend,” he said teasing.

Rosemary looked closely at Adam and gave a sly smile but said nothing. The bags were loaded and Adam assisted Rosemary into the coach, she and her employee the only passengers that day.

“I am so glad to have seen you again, Adam. It was certainly a lovely surprise, bumping into you the other day. It never occurred to me you were one of the famous Cartwrights of Virginia City until I met you.”

“A truly fortuitous meeting then, Rosemary,” responded Adam, as the driver climbed on board and took the reins. “I hope you have a wonderful time in Europe.”

“Oh I will, Adam, I will,” she said as Adam stepped back onto the sidewalk. “Please do me a small favor, Adam,” she asked, as a malicious smile appeared on her face.

Adam nodded. “Of course, what can I do Rosemary?”

“Give my love to your brother Joe, and say goodbye for me!”

With that the driver yelled and the coach moved off, leaving a perplexed and confused Adam Cartwright staring after it. Joe? Why would she want to say goodbye to Joe? How did she know him?

Suddenly, like a bolt of lightening, her words hit him. “Just hoped to say goodbye to a …special friend.”

Adam leaned back on the stage depot door stunned, the truth slowly dawning on him. Joe! Everything fell into place. The disappearance of his brother most evenings to Virginia City over the past weeks, the late arrival home, the secretive and reflective look on his face. A look that usually meant there was a female involved!

Then this morning! Adam closed his eyes feeling sick in the pit of his stomach as he recollected the events of a few hours ago. The way Joe had stared at him followed by those hurtful words directed towards his elder brother. Adam swore under his breath. His little brother had known all too well where Adam was last night!

That damn woman!

With a deep feeling of trepidation, he remounted Sport and returned the way he had just come, wondering how and what to say. With every mile that passed, Adam grew more and more nervous, the eloquent and much read man for once at a loss for words. What could he say? Sorry just seemed so inadequate!

As he neared the bend in the road about a mile from the corral, he saw the dust cloud of a fast approaching horse. As the rider drew closer he could see it was Tom, one of the ranch hands, who slowed down as he neared Adam.

“Adam!” he yelled, out of breath, “Joe’s had a bad fall. I’m gonna get the Doc.” With that, he spurred his horse on, leaving Adam alone on the road.

Quickly Adam moved towards the corral where he could see a crowd of men surrounding a figure lying prone on the ground. As he jumped off Sport and ran towards Joe, he noticed his father was already by his brother’s side, gently stroking his son’s hair. Joe was moaning, blood gently streaming from a deep cut on the back of his head, and on his forehead a large bruise had begun to form.

Someone handed Ben a canteen of water, and he began to gently bathe his son’s face, washing away the grime and dirt, and trying to stem the flow of blood from the gaping wound.

“How is he, Pa?” said Adam, standing behind his father.

Ben looked up quickly and shook his head. “Looks bad, Adam. Seems the horse kicked him hard on the head. Hoss is bringing the wagon to get him back to the house and Tom has gone for the Doc. I knew he should have waited to do this when his head was clearer!”

Adam nodded, as he looked down his brother’s body, checking there were no broken bones. All seemed well, his legs and arms undamaged by the heavy fall. The cool, soothing water stirred Joe, who slowly opened his eyes, trying hard to focus on the faces that looked down at him. Eventually he recognized the fuzzy outline of his father. “Pa,” he whispered. “My head hurts something bad.”

“Just take it easy, Joe. You’ve had a bad fall and been badly kicked,” said Ben, continuing to wipe his son’s face.

Joe gave a nod of understanding and then closed his eyes again as he tried hard to fight off the feeling of nausea. The bruised forehead began to swell noticeably and Ben and Adam swapped glances as they stared down. Then Joe’s eyes reopened and he looked past his father onto the worried face of Adam. His dark green eyes focused as the two brothers stared at each other, no words passing between them.

“Adam,” Joe broke the silence in a weak and pained voice as he beckoned his brother to come closer. Ben stood up, moving slightly to allow Adam to kneel closer to Joe.

“Joe?” Adam took hold of Joe’s hand and squeezed it affectionately.

“Adam,” Joe repeated, as he pulled his hand from his brother’s grasp. His voice was barely above a whisper as he continued to stare unforgivingly at his brother. “I hate you!” With a final look of contempt, Joe closed his eyes and passed into unconsciousness.

Ben was unaware of the words passed between his two sons, but could see Adam had turned noticeably pale and his face looked shocked and hurt. Slowly Adam stood up, staring down at Joe, the impact of what his brother had said stopping him cold. Ben was about to question him when suddenly Hoss appeared in a cloud of dust as he pulled the galloping team of horses to a halt. Ben’s attention then reverted back to his youngest as Joe was carefully carried over and placed in the wagon and then slowly transported back to the ranch.

Adam walked over to his horse and stood for a moment, his head resting on his saddle as he fought hard to keep his composure. His thoughts were filled with the vision of his little brother, lying badly injured, possibly dying! A brother who had just said three little words that hurt him more than anything else in his life.

Biting hard on his lip, Adam sighed deeply then mounted Sport and quickly followed the wagon as it made its way back to the ranch house.

*****

Joe still lay in a coma-like state after four days. The bump on his head had grown larger as the colored bruise extended to cover his forehead. The deep cut on the back of his head was stitched together by Dr Martin, but not before it had bled extensively, leaving Joe’s face deathly white.

It was a worrying and tiring time for all the family, the doctor driving over each day to check Joe’s stitches, with no way of knowing how long he would lay unconscious. All Paul could do was place cold compresses on his patient’s swollen forehead and give reassuring smiles to Ben who sat continually by Joe’s side.

Distraught and with a feeling of impotence, Ben wiped the sweat from his son’s body and washed the blood stained hair, all the time talking quietly to the still young man who was oblivious to the gentle and loving touch of his father. His worried eyes continually scanned his son’s pale face, praying for a visible sign from Joe of awareness with his surroundings. Ben only allowed himself the luxury of a few hours fitful sleep in his own bed on the strict understanding Adam or Hoss would tell him of any minute change in Joe’s condition

Though feeling continually exhausted through all his dedicated caring, Ben still noticed something was deeply troubling his eldest son. Adam, the solid, dependable and private man usually kept his feelings and thoughts to himself, but for once he seemed increasingly pensive and edgy and his deep brown eyes uncharacteristically moistened.

Recalling Adam’s strange reaction at the corral and with the deep intuitive nature of a loving and concerned father, Ben forced himself downstairs in the early afternoon to sit with Adam, leaving Hoss to watch over the still unconscious Joe. Adam was staring into nothing, his thoughts far away as his coffee grew cold in its cup. Ben gave a cough. “Want to talk about it, son?” he asked quietly as he sat down in his chair.

Adam looked up quickly towards Ben, shaken from his reverie. “Pa?”

“Something is bothering you, Adam, isn’t it? Want to tell me?”

Adam sighed deeply and nodded his head, placing his cup on the table then sinking back wearily into his chair. “It’s a bit…..well…..awkward, Pa. Heaven knows we’ve got enough to worry about at the moment,” he said with a note of reluctance in his voice.

“Just get it off your chest, son,” said Ben in a soft kindly voice.

Adam stood up and walked to the hearth, looking into the empty grate. He slowly turned to look at his father. “You remember I told you about Rosemary Palmer, Pa?”

Ben was silent for a moment, thoughtful. “Yes, I remember,” he said finally, returning his son’s gaze.

“Do you remember I said she had a ‘special friend’ who she entertained in the evenings?”

“Yes, I remember. What’s this about?” asked Ben bemused.

Adam looked over his father’s head towards the stairs. “The day she left on the stage, I found something out,” he said as he walked over to the settee and sat down. “It was Joe!”

“What was Joe?” asked Ben, totally confused.

“Joe was her special friend! He must have been seeing her for weeks without telling anyone.”

Ben’s eyes widened. His youngest son and that woman! He shook his head in disbelief. Sometimes he wondered if he knew his youngest son at all! Still seeing a pained look on Adam’s face, Ben gave him a reassuring squeeze on his knee. “You weren’t to know, Adam. None of us knew! That brother of yours has become very tight lipped lately so don’t upset yourself too much!”

“But Pa, don’t you see? Joe was obviously totally smitten with Rosemary and then turned up that night and saw I was with her. That’s why he was so mad the other morning! His own brother with the woman he had fallen in love with!”

Ben took a deep breath and slowly nodded his head. “Of course! Now I understand,” he said slowly, remembering back to the breakfast confrontation of four days ago. “I can see now why he was in such a foul mood! But you know your brother, always wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s still young. He’ll get over it, just give him time.”

An uneasiness settled for a moment as Adam continued to look downcast and thoughtful.

Ben leaned forward slightly. “Is there something else, Adam?” he asked.

Adam nodded, looking down at the floor unable to meet his father’s gaze. Ben noticed his sad expression so he moved over onto the settee, putting his arm around Adam’s shoulder as if giving his son the strength to go on. Hesitating for a moment Adam finally looked up.

“In the corral, Pa, when Joe was laying waiting for the wagon. I didn’t even have a chance to say sorry, to explain, before he told me he hated me,” Adam paused, pained to say the words again.

As he felt a slight tremor from the body next to him, Ben viewed the hurt expression on Adam’s face. Ben shook his head in sorrow. “I see now why you’re so upset, Adam. I really can! But, in the heat of the moment, Joe always tends to fly off the handle, say the wrong thing. I am sure he didn’t even know what he was saying.” Ben gave a tight smile, trying to reassure his son.

“But to say I hate you! Do you know how that feels, Pa, knowing those could be your brother’s last words?” cried Adam, a note of panic in his voice. “What if he doesn’t come round? What if he….?”

“Your brother is going to recover!” said Ben with splendid certainty, cutting off his son’s sentence in a calm and determined voice. “Whatever the reason, Joe would never hate you. You must know that! It’s just not in his nature. The pair of you have a special brotherly bond and a loving relationship that runs deep. Though Joe feels hurt now, it won’t come between you for long. Give him time. If…..once he comes round, you and he can sort out this misunderstanding. I’m sure of it! Time has a wonderful habit of healing all wounds, especially broken hearts!”

Adam visibly relaxed at his father’s words. “Thanks, Pa. Guess I just needed to hear you say that,” he said giving Ben a thankful smile.

Ben viewed his son sympathetically. “You okay now?” he asked, rubbing his son’s neck affectionately. Adam nodded in silence, stretching out his long legs as he leaned back on the settee and closed his eyes.

“I had better relieve Hoss for a while,” said Ben as he stood up and stared at his son for a few seconds. With a slight sigh he turned and walked towards the stairs, inwardly whispering “Joe will recover!” repeatedly, as he disappeared around the corner of the landing.

Left alone once more, a much comforted but still slightly uneasy Adam reopened his eyes and stared again into the large fireplace. Minutes later Hoss made his way downstairs, stretching his arms as he noted the sad and thoughtful face of his brother who continued to sit on the settee. As he sunk down into the comfortable leather armchair Hoss rested his head back and closed his eyes, strain and worry etched on his tired face.

Adam’s thoughts returned to Joe. How he wished he could turn back the clock. What he wouldn’t do to have that day back again and have the chance to refuse Rosemary’s invitation. For a moment, his eyes glazed over with memories of happier days spent with his youngest brother, then the painful feeling of guilt swept back over him, and his stomach churned. “Hoss, I need to tell you something,” said Adam suddenly, his voice trembling slightly.

“About time!” murmured Hoss without even opening his eyes.

“About time?” echoed Adam, a quizzical look appearing on his face as he raised an eyebrow and stared over at his brother.

“I mean,” said Hoss thoughtfully, “I’ve noticed there has been something niggling you for days. Just been waiting for you to let it out in your own time!” Hoss opened his eyes and eyed Adam, a slight grin appearing on his face.

“Guess I can’t fool anyone round here,” commented Adam, returning his gaze with a flicker of a smile. “Seems both my father and brother can read me like a book!”

Hoss noticed the smile did not extend to Adam’s eyes as he scratched his stubbly chin. “It’s been as plain as day you’ve been a little more distracted than usual, so come on, brother. What’s so terrible that’s gotten you in such a state?” There was suddenly a look in Adam’s eyes that Hoss hadn’t quite expected. A combined look of guilt and pain he had never seen before on his brother’s face and it unnerved him.

“Well Hoss,” said Adam, surprising himself with the note of bitterness in his voice, “I have managed to do something really stupid, and it involves Joe.”

*****

Two days later Adam and Hoss rode into town at Ben’s insistence to pay bills, order supplies and have a well-deserved beer. Ben felt the change of scenery would do them good, away from the worrying sight of their unconscious brother. While he waited for the doctor who was due to pay a visit that day, Ben settled himself down by his son’s bedside and began to read aloud the latest novel from Charles Dickens.

It was during that morning Joe Cartwright finally began to regain consciousness. Occasionally opening his eyes for a few moments, he was unable to focus clearly but was aware of someone sat by his side. He could hear a familiar voice and though at first he could not make sense of what was being said, the reassuring sound of his father’s voice was enough to bring him back into the world of the living.

Ben noticed out of the corner of his eye that his son was slowly beginning to awaken, and putting down the book, he held onto Joe’s hand as his son finally looked at his father.

“Welcome back, Joe,” smiled Ben, as Joe rubbed his eyes, still feeling a slight pain that throbbed from the back of his skull over his head.

Joe looked over questioningly at Ben. “What happened, Pa?” he asked in a weak voice, a puzzled expression on his face.

“You were kicked while breaking in a horse, Joe,” Ben said. “It’s been over a week now.”

Footsteps were suddenly heard on the landing and Doctor Paul Martin walked in, smiling as he saw his patient stare up towards him and give him a look of recognition. “Hop Sing let me in, Ben, and not a moment too soon!” he remarked walking over to the bed and placing his bag on the floor. “Looks like you’re back with us Joe,” he said as he looked down on his patient, and proceeded to take his pulse. A few moments later he gave a quick smile as he nodded happily. “Nothing wrong with your heart, Joe. Now, how many fingers can you see?” he asked holding out a tightly clenched fist.

Joe responded quickly in a whisper, “Is this a trick question doc, ‘cause I don’t see any?”

Paul chuckled softly, “Looks like everything is okay there. Nothing wrong with your eyesight,” he said as he gently checked the stitches on the back of Joe’s head.

“My head hurts,” said Joe as he stared up at the doctor.

Paul nodded, looking closely into Joe’s eyes and feeling the bump that was still visible on his forehead. Nodding with satisfaction, he looked over at Ben who was sitting with a worried frown on his face. “I will give you some powders to take away the pain, Joe. Once all the swelling has gone down, you should feel a lot better.”

Paul completed his examination giving both father and son a reassuring smile. Ben breathed a sigh of relief and Joe gazed past his father as the summer sunshine flooded warmth into the bedroom.

“I don’t understand, Pa,” he said in a weak voice. “It’s the middle of December! After all that snow we’ve been having, why is it so warm now?”

Paul and Ben exchanged a mystified look.

“Looks like you’ve suffered a bit of memory loss. Joe. It’s July!” replied the doctor as he looked down at his confused patient. Still puzzled Joe looked over at Ben for confirmation. Ben nodded as he replied.

“Paul’s right, Joe. It’s now July. You really can’t remember anything since last winter?”

Shaking his head Joe furrowed his brow. It was as if a dark void filled his brain as he tried hard to piece together the missing months but nothing came through.

“Don’t worry too much Joe,” said the doctor kindly. “This kind of thing is quite common with head injuries. Sometimes people forget everything from their past. Losing six months is a small price to pay as long as you are going to be well again!”

His young patient still looked dubious as he glanced between the two men.

“Your forgotten memory might come back to you sometime, Joe,” said the doctor solicitously. “The slightest little thing may trigger it back, or maybe you will never recover it. Don’t push yourself too hard to remember or you may have extremely painful headaches that could do further damage. Just get plenty of rest, and concentrate on getting better.”

Joe nodded, a thoughtful expression on his face as his gaze fixed on the doctor. “So I may never remember?” he asked again, mulling over what had been said. Paul gave a nod of the head, and Joe with a resigned sigh looked over at his father.

“Hope I haven’t missed too much excitement then?” Joe joked weakly, coughing and flinching with the pain of a sore and dry throat.

“You want a drink, Joe?” asked Ben as Joe continued to swallow painfully.

“Please,” muttered Joe in a croaky voice. Ben walked over to the dresser and poured a glass of water, then lifted up Joe’s head while his son sipped the cool liquid. Drinking his fill, Joe sunk back onto the pillow as he felt his stomach rumble. “Any chance of something to eat? My stomach feels mighty empty.”

Doc Martin chuckled. “If my patient is hungry, then he must be on the mend!” he laughed as he picked up his bag and took out the powders for Joe’s pain relief. Placing them on the dresser, he gave his patient a final look. “I’ll get Hop Sing to bring up some of his chicken broth. Could smell it when I got here, so he must have anticipated it was going to be needed,” he added as he made for the door.

Ben rose and wandered up to him. “You really think he will be okay, Paul?” asked the anxious father, glancing back at Joe.

“Yes Ben, Joe will be fine. Probably have a sore head for a while more, though the powders should help. Everything else seems to be functioning as it should. Don’t worry too much about the memory loss. It may come back, it may not. Either way, Joe will be nearly as good as new soon!” Paul chuckled. “That son of yours seems to have more lives than any cat!”

Ben gave a weak grin back. “Yes….yes he does. Just born lucky, I guess. Thank you Paul, once again.”

Paul nodded as Ben gave his old friend a genuinely warm shake of the hand.

“I’ll see myself out Ben,” said Paul as he disappeared down the hall, leaving Ben to turn back into the room. He stood for a moment, gazing down at Joe who had succumbed to weariness and was fast asleep once more.

Shaking his head with relief, Ben returned to his chair to await the arrival of his Chinese cook and the hot broth.

*****

It was early evening when Adam and Hoss returned to the ranch, the wagon filled with supplies and all tasks completed. As they came through the front door, Ben was walking down the stairs carrying the empty soup bowl.

“Hey Pa!” cried Hoss, “Saw the doc in town; he says Joe has come round. How is he?”

A weary looking father smiled and nodded. “He is doing fine, Hoss. Even managed to eat a bowlful of Hop Sing’s soup.”

“Can we go see him?” asked Hoss, eager to see for himself how his brother was.

“He’s fallen asleep, son. Let him rest and you can see him in the morning.”

Adam and Hoss exchanged glances as they unbuckled their gunbelts and Ben continued to the kitchen, re-emerging moments later. As he sat down at the dining table, Adam and Hoss joined him, Adam taking a nervous look towards the stairs.

“Has he said anything, Pa? Anything about me or Rosemary?” Adam asked somberly, as Hop Sing brought in a platter of large juicy steaks and potatoes. The wise old cook had instinctively known the improvement in Joe’s condition would give the other three Cartwrights their appetites back after their worrying week of uncertainty.

As Hoss eyed his dinner once again with delight, he looked over at Adam, noticing his strained looking face. Knowing all too well the guilt Adam had been feeling over the past few days, he gave his brother a sympathetic look.

“Actually Adam, he hasn’t because he can’t,” answered Ben, who proceeded to tell them what had happened when Joe had eventually regained consciousness.

“So you see Adam,” Ben concluded, “Joe thinks it’s still December. Can’t remember anything from the last few months!” said Ben, as he gratefully tucked into a juicy steak and appreciated tasty food for the first time in days.

Adam sat thoughtfully for a moment, enlightenment dawning. “He doesn’t remember Rosemary then? Doesn’t remember anything that happened between her and me?”

“No, son! And I for one am mightily relieved, I can tell you!” answered Ben, his voice showing strain in its tone.

Adam shook his head in disbelief. “I can hardly believe it. Are we going to say anything to him, Pa? What if he asks what’s been happening over the past months?”

Putting down his fork, Ben looked seriously between his two sons. “We will tell Joe what’s happened around the ranch and that’s all. As God is my witness, I am never going to mention to Joe his relationship with that woman, ever! What went on between him and … that…actress is for him to know, and no one else, so let’s just leave it at that! What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him and I for one hope he never remembers!”

With a warning glare, Ben picked up his fork and continued to eat his delicious meal. If God was brought into the conversation, the two brothers knew their father was serious and meant what he said, so nodding in silent agreement they too began to tuck into their dinner.

*****

With a full stomach of hot broth and having taken one of the powders left by the doctor, Joe slept deeply and soundly. However, still not utterly convinced Joe could be left unattended, Ben had been prepared to spend another uncomfortable night by his son’s bedside. But at Adam’s insistence, he was persuaded to have a good night’s sleep in his own comfortable bed, leaving Adam to watch over his brother and sleep in the armchair by the door, a blanket covering him and his head resting on a cushion.

As the first rays of the following morning’s sun drifted in through the bedroom window, Joe eventually stirred. At first he lay with his eyes closed, slightly confused and knowing he was not feeling well but not remembering why. Then slowly the events from yesterday came back to him, fitting together like pieces of a jigsaw, and he cautiously moved his hand to his head to feel the tender but discernibly smaller bump on his forehead. For a few minutes, his mind wandered as over and over he tried to retrieve the missing memories, but to no avail. His head began to throb and he felt stabbing pains behind his eyes as he recalled his last vision before waking up of a white colored landscape, a cold chilling wind and a grey, snow laden sky and nothing else.

As his headache slowly dissipated, he opened his eyes, squinting in the bright light. He was about to look over to the corner chair, half expecting to see his father slouched asleep, when suddenly his bedroom door quietly opened and Ben walked in.

“Morning, son. How’s the head feeling today?” he asked, eying Joe affectionately, relieved to see his son awake.

“Feels a bit fuzzy, Pa,” Joe answered, his eyes fixed on his father as he slowly pushed himself up to a sitting position. Ben poured out a glass of water and mixed another powder then handed his son the glass. Joe swallowed the foul tasting medicine in one long gulp and with a grimace handed back the glass to his father who returned it to the dresser.

The large bulk of Hoss suddenly appeared in the door way, and he gave Joe a friendly smile. “Good to see you’re on the recovery trail Joe. How you feeling? Remembered anything yet?” he asked in a cautious voice as he walked over and gently sat down on the end of the bed.

“Feeling a lot better today, brother,” answered Joe quietly as he returned his gaze through blurred vision, trying hard to ignore the slight pain in the back of his head. “Still can’t recall anything since last winter though.”

Then in the corner of the room awoken by the noise, a figure slowly moved, dropping a blanket onto the floor as he sat up. Ben and Hoss threw Adam a thankful smile as he stood stretching his arms and wiping his eyes, tentatively walked towards the bed.

“Morning Joe,” said Adam softly, as he watched his little brother’s face uneasily.

Joe looked over quickly as he viewed the man and a worried frown appeared. Startled, Joe grabbed his big brother’s arm in alarm. “What is it?” asked Hoss, struck by his brother’s strange look.

Joe gave a slight nod of the head towards Adam. “Who?….What’s he doing in my bedroom?” he asked, hesitatingly, in a half whispered voice.

Ben and Hoss shot Joe a puzzled look. “Adam has just been keeping an eye on you all night Joe. What’s wrong with that?” responded Hoss.

Joe shook his head, clearly confused, and noticed the deep brown eyes were looking at him in a friendly yet slightly nervous way.

“Ad…Adam?” Joe’s eyes narrowed questioningly. “Do I know him?”

Hoss widened his eyes and raised his eyebrows as he began to grin. “Now stop joshing, Joe. It’s too early in the morning.”

Joe was silent for a moment as he saw three pairs of eyes focusing down on him and he swallowed hard as his head began to pound again. “Pa?” Joe raised his voice as he looked up at Ben, his eyes conveying a look of utter perplexity.

“Joe? You really don’t know who Adam is?” asked Ben incredulously, all the while looking directly onto his young son’s bewildered face.

Joe nervously shook his head, wishing he knew more clearly what was going on. He stared over at Adam, noticing how his face suddenly showed sadness and surprise. “I’m sorry, I just don’t know you,” he said, sinking back into his pillow.

For a moment Adam and Hoss stared down on Joe dumbfounded as Ben glanced between his youngest and eldest. “Joe, Adam is your elder brother,” he said quietly.

“Br…brother? How come I can’t remember my own brother Pa!” cried Joe, showing obvious signs of distress.

Shaking his head, Ben shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, Joe. Would seem your memory loss is a little more serious than we thought,” he said, in a worried tone.

“This is crazy, Joe!” cried Hoss in astonishment. “After all the scrapes the pair of you have had together, how can you forget your own brother Adam?”

Joe was silent for a while, blinking hard, forcing himself to remember. His life seemed to flash in front of him from the time before his mother died to the snowy days of the previous December. Events from his past that seemed as clear as day, yet always there was a blurry figure, barely visible, slowly disappearing into a foggy haze, irretrievable once it had gone. Was this Adam, his brother?

Suddenly he felt a stab of pain between his eyes that made him wince. “Damn!” he groaned, burying his face into his hands as he rocked his body and the agonizing throbbing reverberated inside his head. He began to sweat heavily and an anxious family looked on helplessly as they watched Joe in obvious distress until slowly the pain lessened and Joe raised his head, his gaze fixed on the unremembered face.

“I remember so many things, its just there’s some sort of foggy haze around a figure, and then it disappears. Just can’t give it a face or a name. I’m sorry, real sorry, it’s so hard……” Joe stammered, tears forming in his eyes.

“It’s alright Joe…..alright. Just calm down,” said Adam grimly. “Don’t force yourself to try and remember. We’ll have a word with Paul and see what he says is going on. I’m sure he can sort it out.”

For a few moments eldest and youngest stared at each other, then slowly, resignedly, Joe nodded at the man in front of him. The tall, dark haired man with the deep calming voice who seemed to be totally erased from his memory. His lost brother!

*****

On his next visit a couple of days later, Paul followed Ben to Joe’s bedroom and listened with surprise while his patient told him of his precise memory loss. “So you have no memories whatsoever of Adam?” he asked in amazement.

Joe looked over at his father who was stood by the window, then back to the doctor with tears of frustration welling in his eyes. “No!”

Paul shook his head “Seems that bang on the head did more damage than we thought. It’s as though you have some sort of selective amnesia. Certainly not a common phenomena; in fact, I have only heard of a handful of other cases, but those were all……well, anyway it doesn’t apply in this case.”

“But why Adam?” cried Joe, as the doctor checked the stitches on his head. Paul glanced over at Ben who shrugged his shoulders in equal perplexity.

Joe’s voice raised noticeably, a bewildered expression showing on his still pale face. “I can remember my old school friends, every ranch hand who has worked on the Ponderosa, all my friends who I meet up with in Virginia City! Heck, I can even remember the name of every saloon gal I’ve kissed! But not my own brother! It just doesn’t make sense.”

“I know, Joe, it must be very distressing and confusing” said Paul, gazing down with an equally puzzled expression on his face. “Unfortunately, there is no magic potion I can give you. The brain is so complex, and we are just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to knowing how it works. All I can say is your memory may return, so just let your brothers take care of you and enjoy the rest.”

Joe swore under his breath as his face grew dark. He couldn’t stand being patronized! “For God’s sake! I’ve had two days to think this over yet no one else seems to understand all the implications,” he snapped, his eyes flashing as he stared over at the doctor.

Paul’s eyes widened at the sudden ferocity of Joe’s temper and Ben gave his son a warning glare as he walked over to the side of the bed, pulling up a chair and sitting down, all the time his eyes focused on Joe’s angry face.

“Joe, this is not helping your recovery,” cried Ben quickly, “Just calm down,” he added, giving him a concerned look.

Joe held his father’s stare for a few seconds then visibly shuddered with the tension inside him. Taking a deep swallow he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Hoss loves to eat a very large juicy steak. His favorite color is yellow, he is shy, sensitive, but no man’s fool. He is tolerant of others, loves a good joke, likes to read my dime novels when he thinks no one notices. And I love him unconditionally. That’s my brother Hoss,” Joe stated, opening his eyes and brushing away a stray tear that had fallen onto his cheek.

“But Adam? I don’t know anything about Adam. No likes or dislikes, favorites or hates. Everything about him is lost somewhere up here,” Joe pointed to his head as he looked over at his father for a moment.

“You tell me he is my brother and I should let him take care of me! But it’s like looking at a complete stranger. I don’t know him, have no memories, no feelings towards him…so how do I …can I ….treat him…. love him as a brother?” asked Joe guiltily, suddenly unable to look his father in the eye.

Ben looked on in silence at his son, his eyes showing heartache at what Joe had said.

Paul shook his head, knowing all too well the closeness and love that bound the Cartwrights together, through thick and thin. “I don’t know what to say to you Joe, but I can see what you mean. Feelings of love and respect have to be gained over time and experiences,” There was silence for a moment as the doctor thoughtfully scratched his nose, frowning in sympathy, “You will have to take one day at a time, get to know Adam again. Just don’t push yourself too hard or you could do your brain more damage! Be patient!”

Packing away his bag, Paul looked back down on Joe who shrugged his shoulders and remained silent, upset at the distress he had caused his father. “Is there anything else,” asked the doctor gently, “anything else I can do for you?”

Joe nodded slowly, a glimmer of a smile fleetingly hovering on his face. “You could let me get out of bed. These four walls are beginning to feel mighty constricting!”

With a look of compassion for the young man, Paul gave a quiet chuckle. “Okay Joe. I don’t see any reason for you not to get up and sit downstairs from now on. But,” said Paul now in a serious tone, “you just sit! No trying to do any work or get on that horse of yours. Not for a while anyway.”

As moistened green eyes suddenly lightened up a shade, Paul looked back sternly, pointing a finger, “I mean it, Joe! Take it easy!”

“He will, Paul, I’ll make sure of it,” said Ben, who had listened in a worried silence for the past few minutes. He gave his son another warning glance, both men well aware of Joe’s inability to remain still for long.

As Paul and Ben left the room, Joe was left to sigh deeply in frustration for he had noticed the sudden look of pain in his father’s eyes. Could he force himself to love Adam as he loved his brother Hoss? Was it possible to regain those deep bonding feelings? He shook his head unhappy and confused, his only solace the fact he could now leave the confines of his bedroom.

Ben followed Paul to his buggy, the worried lines on his face still evident to the caring doctor.

“He’s going to be okay, Ben, though I admit not remembering Adam is something I had not envisaged. I mean, I could possibly understand it if he and Adam……” He hesitated shaking his head. “Anyway, as I said, I am sure it may come back to him sometime.”

Ben looked quizzingly at Paul. “What were you going to say Paul? About Adam and Joe?”

Climbing on board his rig, Paul didn’t answer straight away as he looked over towards the sound of horses, and suddenly from behind the barn Adam and Hoss appeared.

They both gave the doctor a friendly wave and dismounted, eager to hear how their little brother was progressing. “How’s Joe doing, Doc?” said Hoss, as he walked over towards the horse and buggy.

“He’s doing fine, Hoss! Going to allow him to get up, but you keep an eye on him. Don’t want him doing too much, and you know that impulsive nature of his!”

Nodding in agreement Hoss gave Adam a concerned look then turned back to the doctor. “What about this added memory loss? Is there a reason for forgetting Adam? Anything we can do to get it back?”

Paul looked down at the three pairs of eyes that stared over at him, giving Adam a look of deep sympathy. “I admit I am puzzled about that, Hoss. Usually this kind of amnesia is caused by direct physical or emotional trauma. Obviously this doesn’t apply in this case,” he said, taking up the reins. “It’s not as if Joe and Adam had been fighting or arguing bitterly lately, is it? And unfortunately there is nothing I can give him to help his memory return. It’s certainly a mystery and I don’t understand it at all.”

With a wave of his hand, Paul moved off, oblivious to the silent glances that passed between the father and his two sons. Looks that showed they did indeed understand.

“That would explain it, wouldn’t it?” said Adam sadly as the three men walked towards the house. Ben glanced over, noticing the look on his son’s face. The sight tore at his heartstrings. They stopped by the bench on the verandah and sat down, enjoying the warm sunshine.

“That morning, Joe was so mad at me, obviously madder than he’s ever been before. Those last words to me must have somehow stuck in his brain, and the trauma from the bang on the head caused him to wipe me from his memory.”

“You reckon Adam?” cried Hoss incredulously, “you really think that’s why?”

Adam nodded. “Got to be the only explanation!” He looked over at Ben, “I should tell him, Pa. Let him know what happened. That might jolt his memory! Better to have him mad than have no memory of me at all,” suggested Adam despondently as Ben began to shake his head.

“I know it’s hurting you, Adam, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. Paul says just wait and hope it comes back to him in his own time. It could do more damage than good otherwise.”

“And if his memory of Adam never returns, Pa?” added Hoss, desperately anxious that the family should return to normal relations.

“Then Joe will just have to get to know his brother once again and make some new memories,” said Ben calmly. “However long it takes!”

“But Pa…” Hoss began, then thought better of it. He was far too sensible to argue with his father knowing what was at stake, and so the three men continued to sit in silence, each taking in the fragrant air of the perfumed lonicera.

*****

Since regaining consciousness and leaving the confines of his bedroom, the familiar brotherly relationship between Hoss and Joe re-established itself with ease, their closeness apparent to all as the games of checkers and the light-hearted banter between them filled the ranch with high pitched laughter during the long warm evenings.

However, try as he might Joe was still unable to piece together the half year just passed or remember the brother lost within the folds of his mind.

During the first week, with his family away each day working with the stock, Joe was left to his own thoughts as he sat alone in the ranch house, and he repeatedly made a conscious effort to remember. But each time, the headaches would start and the painful throbbing would last, sometimes for an hour or more, making him physically sick and exhausted, so eventually, at both the doctors and his family’s insistence, he gave up trying.

Joe also watched Adam closely each evening as his elder brother talked and laughed with Ben and Hoss and saw the bond that drew the three men together. He willed himself to feel the same and accept and treat Adam as the brother he was, but it was no use. Although he chatted with Adam, shared a joke, to Joe, the tall dark-haired man continued to remain as if just a visitor, a stranger who continued to leave Joe feeling uneasy and strangely uncomfortable in his presence. For the whole family’s sake, Joe exchanged pleasantries, kept up a pretence of acceptance, but slowly and without reason, a new emotion slowly began to grow within him. An emotion, that had the rest of the family known, would have torn them apart.

It was now a month since the accident and a creaking noise could be heard repeatedly from the old rocking chair on the verandah as Joe rocked awaiting the now weekly visit of the doctor. The bruise and bump on his forehead had disappeared, and his curly hair hid the small scar on the back of his head completely.

It was another warm summer’s day yet the young man felt gloomy and bored as he sipped cold lemonade and looked out towards the stable. How he looked forward to the moment when he could saddle up Cochise and gallop out in the green meadows of the Ponderosa once again. As he daydreamed a familiar horse and buggy appeared around the side of the barn and Paul Martin waved his hand as he viewed Joe sitting by himself. Joe rose and walked over, taking the reins from the doctor and tying them around the hitching rail.

“Morning Joe,” said Paul, as he climbed down and brushed the dust from his trousers.

Joe gave him a welcoming smile and pointed towards the verandah. “Got some cold lemonade over there, Doc. You want some?” he asked as the two men made their way towards the house. Nodding gratefully, the doctor and Joe sat down and as Joe poured out the lemonade, Paul gave Joe a quick glance.

“You are looking much better Joe. No more headaches?”

Handing the glass over, Joe shook his head and smiled. “Nope! Never felt better,” he said, sipping his drink, “Do tell me I can get back to work, Doc? This inactivity sure bores the hell out of me,” he added, a pleading look in his eyes.

“What about your memory, Joe? Anything come back?”

Joe’s face darkened slightly as he turned his eyes and looked into the distance towards the rising mountains of the majestic Sierra Nevada. He sighed deeply, unconsciously stroking his forehead as he stared into the distance. “No. Nothing at all. Winter and spring are a complete mystery and as for Adam….” his voice trailed to nothing as he shook his head. He looked up at the physician by his side who was staring at him, watching him closely. “Can I tell you something, Doc? In confidence. I’ve just got to talk to someone about this or I’m sure I’ll go mad, but you mustn’t tell Pa…….or Adam,” Joe asked hesitatingly, his eyes now showing a nervousness and misery that made Paul jump slightly with their intensity.

“Of course Joe, you are my patient. Anything told in confidence stays between the two of us,” answered Paul, as Joe fingered his glass, studying it as he rubbed his finger around and around its rim.

Joe swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “Its about Adam…….You remember I told you a while back how it was so hard to suddenly have brotherly feelings towards him? Well, I’ve been watching him, getting to know him, but, try as I might, much as I want to, I……I….” Joe stopped, struggling to get out the words that seemed to stick in his throat. Paul leaned over and gave Joe a reassuring pat on the arm.

“Come on, Joe,” said the doctor kindly, knowing all too well something was deeply upsetting the young Cartwright.

Joe nodded slightly as he placed his empty glass on the table and then stared down at the floor, unable to look the doctor in the eye. “I know he is my brother, and I have tried, I really have tried to find that brotherly love I should have, for everyone’s sake! Pa told me how much Adam loves me and I know I must have felt the same. He is my elder brother after all, and I looked up to him, even though we seemingly had the odd disagreement. But most families do, don’t they?” asked Joe as he continued to stare down.

“Sure they do, Joe, all families argue. It’s human nature,” replied Paul, noticing the unmistakable sad tremor in Joe’s voice.

Joe nodded. “Adam loves me and I loved Adam. I accept that ‘cause if that’s what Pa says, then it’s the truth. I know he wouldn’t lie to me. But that’s not what’s tearing at my insides, driving me mad! I’ve tried hard to keep it from the family; wouldn’t want them to know what I was truly feeling……” Joe paused for a moment, as if hardly believing himself what he was saying. “For some reason, and, God forgive me for saying this about my own kin, for the life of me the only feeling I seem to have towards Adam is a deep rooted dislike, even……hate! Hear that, Doc? I hate my own brother and I just don’t know why!” He sat up stiffly, a sob clutching at his throat as he braced himself for the doctor’s reaction.

Paul raised an eyebrow as he tapped thoughtfully on the table for a minute. “Hate? That’s quite a strong emotion Joe,” he said, watching Joe’s flushed face, “especially towards Adam. You sure that’s what you mean? You’ve got to remember you’ve just had a very traumatic injury. Maybe some ‘inner demon’ inside your head is just making your emotions feel more intense than usual, because to say you hate your brother, especially a brother you can’t even remember…..well, its just not the Joe Cartwright I know.”

Joe looked over slightly irritated. “I may have had a bang on the head but it ain’t made me simple! I know the feeling of hate, and that’s what I feel.”

Joe stood up quickly and rested on a post, absently picking the leaves of the climbing honeysuckle. “Adam hasn’t done anything to me except show me kindness, sympathy, compassion and a load of patience. And all I can give him back is a feeling of hatred that he obviously doesn’t deserve. Sometimes I see him looking at me in that thoughtful way he does, as if he is staring into my soul and reading my mind and I’m sure he knows what I’m feeling about him. Not that he’s said anything, but, well ……. ” Joe sighed deeply, banging his fist into the post in frustration. “Maybe I should just leave…..take time away from the ranch and Adam.”

As Doc Martin’s eyes widened in shock and horror at what his patient had suggested, Joe saw his doctor’s worried face, and was unable to keep from cracking a smile.

“I’m kidding,” Joe assured him, “Really!”

Paul breathed a sigh of relief and shook his head. “This is such a unique case for me, Joe. I can mend broken bones, stitch up cuts, deliver babies, but when it comes to what happens in the brain, I am at a complete loss.” There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment as Joe sat back down in his rocking chair and leaned back.

“So, for the foreseeable future I’m just stuck with this ‘inner demon’ aren’t I?” Joe said, resignedly, rocking again and tapping his foot on the floor.

The doctor nodded his head sympathetically, then the sound of a lone horse could be heard and Ben suddenly appeared, cantering gently into the yard. Dismounting, he walked over to the verandah and shook Paul’s hand, glancing at the downcast face of Joe. “Everything all right, Paul?” he asked, looking over at his son.

Paul nodded as he too looked at the despondent face of his patient. “Joe seems to be well and truly fit now, Ben. Guess it wouldn’t harm him to get back into the ranch routine again. Might even make him smile a bit more,” he said, as Joe slowly took in his words and a grin appeared on his face.

“You mean I get to ride again?” Joe asked, his eyes wide, the misery of his lost brother momentarily thrown to the back of his mind.

“Yes Joe! Can’t see it doing any harm now,” answered Paul, relieved to see the once familiar smile back on the young man’s face.

With a whoop of delight, Joe began to walk towards the stable, then stopped and looked back at Paul. “Thanks Doc, for everything,” he said, a knowing look passing between the two men. Paul smiled back and Joe turned, disappearing into the stable, happier than he had felt in a long time.

*****

Several weeks had now passed since Joe had resumed normal duties around the ranch. The unwarranted hatred continued to swell up inside him but he tried to hide it, and though the tense situation between eldest and youngest was not ideal, it was accepted by the family as normal until Joe could rediscover his brother once again.

Over the past weeks, Adam too had come to reconcile himself to the fact he was not now in his brother’s memory. It was a painful but understandable truth under the circumstances that Joe would feel pensive and uncomfortable around him and Adam accepted it without complaint. However, although unnoticed by Ben or Hoss, Adam was sure he saw that undeniable look of animosity sometimes when Joe looked at him, and his continuing distant behavior hurt him deeply

Ben and Adam looked over towards the herd of cattle that had spent the summer months grazing on the luscious meadow grass of the Ponderosa. They were now fattened and ready for the ever increasing eastern market, and it would soon be time to send them to the railhead. The strays were being gathered in from the surrounding countryside, and in the distance they could see the familiar sight of a pinto as Joe weaved and dived around the bawling cows. Adam stared hard towards the distant figure of his younger brother, thinking back to the previous week.

Adam had found Joe alone in the barn while his brother was grooming Cochise. Sensing his presence, Joe had still ignored him, steadily brushing in long rhythmic strokes as Adam stood watching for a minute or more.

“I need you to tell me something, Joe, and I want you to be completely honest,” Adam had said finally, noting how Joe visibly stiffened as he slowly turned, his eyes meeting those of his brother.

Joe had nodded, frowning slightly but saying nothing. His head had been aching all day, and he just hadn’t the strength to speak or argue.

“We’ve had a few weeks now to get to know each other again…….Can you find it in your heart to even like me?” Adam had asked, his eyes never leaving Joe’s face.

Joe had swallowed hard, the question coming out of the blue and leaving him slightly unsure as to what to do or say for a moment. However, he’d decided on the simple truth. “No,” he’d replied in a quiet voice, “I can’t.” A guilty expression forming on his face as he’d looked away from the penetrating gaze of his brother. Although not understanding himself the unjustified emotion in his mind, he wanted to say more, but his head was throbbing and the words just wouldn’t come.

“I see,” Adam had replied brusquely, his usual ‘poker face’ showing a deep, resigned sadness and hurt. Without another word, he’d turned heel and disappeared from view leaving Joe to bite his lip and stem the tears of sorrow that threatened to slide down his face.

Much as he’d wanted to run after him and take away the hurtful words, Joe felt as though his boots were made of lead, and he just couldn’t move away from the spot. Gulping away a sob in his throat, and feeling utterly miserable, he’d resumed grooming his horse, his head still aching.

From that moment barely a word had passed between them, each man hardly able to look the other in the eye, the two brothers seemingly at an impasse.

“It’s good to see Joe fully recovered and back in the saddle,” Ben said, pulling out his canteen and handing it over to Adam. Though there had been a thunderstorm the previous night, it had done nothing to cool the day.

Shaken from his daydreaming Adam swallowed the water gratefully, nodding as he handed it back to Ben. “Sure is. Shame his memory hasn’t returned, though,” he said bitterly as Ben took a swig of water, then re-corked his canteen. Ben looked over quickly, noting the tone of his son’s voice. The strained relationship between the two brothers was now beginning to tell on all the family, Ben all too aware there was more to it than Joe just not remembering his brother.

“Maybe Joe not remembering is really a godsend,” said Ben hopefully, unaware of the conversation between the two brothers the week before.

“You think so Pa? I’m not so sure,” replied Adam, his voice showing strain and anguish in its tone. “I still think we should tell him about Rosemary and that day of the accident. If nothing else, it would make me feel a whole lot less guilty.”

Ben stared, his eyes questioning his son’s statement. “Guilty, Adam? Why do you persist in thinking you are guilty of anything? If it hadn’t been you, Rosemary would of probably found someone else that night, and you had no way of knowing Joe had been involved with that……..woman!” Ben practically spat out the words through clenched teeth.

“I know Pa, I know,” reflected Adam, “But I still have a feeling Joe would find it easier to remember me if he knew what had gone on.”

“But at what cost, Adam?” cried Ben, a note of concern in his voice. “For once I truly believe ignorance is bliss! You saw how he suffered so much when he tried to remember. I just can’t risk doing him permanent harm by forcing the truth on him that the woman he loved….. or should I say thought he loved……was unfaithful……….especially as it was with his own brother! Some things are better left unsaid, regardless!”

“I just hope you’re right,” muttered Adam under his breath as the two men turned their horses around and headed back towards the ranch.

Joe pulled Cochise up to a stop and looked over as the two horsemen disappeared into the distance. He recognized his father and Adam and was tempted to race over and accompany them back to the ranch, but he decided against it. After the altercation with Adam in the barn, he felt it better to stay away from his brother as much as possible, for everyone’s sake. He wished he had the company of Hoss, but Chub had gone lame and his big brother was spending most of the day tending to the swollen leg that needed constant attention.

Never before had Joe felt so lonely. His head had ached on and off for the past week, though he had kept it from everyone, and now, feeling hot and his throat dry, the thought of a cool beer and company in the Silver Dollar saloon became an attractive option. With a few days to go before the cattle drive, there was still plenty of time to locate the few stragglers hiding in various gullies and ravines, so Joe, throwing caution to the wind, turned his horse and headed towards Virginia City.

As he neared his destination, he began to notice an acrid smell in the air, and a huge column of smoke could be seen drifting up into the sky. He kicked Cochise on and was suddenly met with the sight of the ‘White House’, its walls now thick with black scorching, its wooden roof gone, and the Virginia City Fire Department wagon slowly pulling away.

Without even thinking, Joe cantered up the narrow lane towards the once imposing building as though it were second nature, shuddering as a sudden feeling of déjà vu hit him. Coming to a halt, he noticed someone he knew well was also looking at the smoldering ruin. “Hi Mitch. What’s happened here?”

Mitch Devlin spun round and smiled. “Hi Joe. Quite a mess ain’t it!” he said walking over to his old friend, “Seems it got struck by lightning during that storm last night. Fire Department couldn’t do a thing to stop it going up in flames. Shame, real shame.”

Joe dismounted and stood with Mitch, staring up at the charred wood, the blackened walls, his eyes slowly making their way to the upstairs where a large window and balcony had once been. Rubbing the back of his head which was aching even more, he studied the blackened window frame intently, screwing his eyes in the bright sunshine. A sudden feeling of familiarity flooded through his mind as the detail of every room became clearly defined.

“Good job no one was living here,” said Mitch as he viewed the stricken building. “Never did get to see inside. Wonder what it was like?” he added.

“It was very ornate, lots of statues and portraits, fancy carpets,” answered Joe without thinking as he continued to stare at the upstairs.

“Really, Joe? Didn’t know you’d been in there?” Mitch gave his friend a questioning look. “Bet the master bedroom was a sight, especially for the likes of that actress who stayed here last spring. What was her name now……”

“Rosemary Palmer,” answered Joe immediately, “and the bedroom was pink with satin sheets on the bed.”

Mitch turned on his friend in amazement. “Now how do you know that, Joe?” he asked, a deep grin appearing on his face. “You’re going to tell me you came calling on Miss Palmer next,” he said with a chuckle as he turned away and walked over to his horse. Mounting, he waved a hand then left, leaving Joe to stare after his friend as he disappeared from view.

Joe began to shake uncontrollably, taking hold of his saddle to steady himself as Mitch’s words haunted him. How did he know? Continuing to look upwards, thoughts and recollections that had been hidden away for so many months suddenly came together in a jumbled rush of sounds, sights and feelings. Christmas; the deep snows of January and February; the first sign of spring in March; Easter in April; then May.

May! In May he met Rosemary Palmer! Joe’s heart skipped a beat as the memory of his former lover flooded over him. He recalled she had never actually said she loved him, and he felt momentarily saddened to think she must have left without a thought for the young man who provided such an entertaining diversion from her boring routine, obviously forgetting him in an instant. But Joe could still see her in his minds eye, laughing, smiling, gazing at him as they laid together after their passionate lovemaking. He thought he’d loved her, had lost his heart to her, but it wasn’t real love. He could see that now. It was just the love of a young man keen to prove his worth as a lover and eager to lose the mantle of inexperience. Realizing his folly, Joe chuckled and smiled softly at his foolishness. What a tale that would be!

Then, as he continued to stare at the blackened shell, he recalled his last evening outside this house. The pit of his stomach suddenly churned as he remembered Rosemary laughing in the upstairs bedroom and a horse tied by the back door. His brother’s horse. Adam! He frowned, the smile on his face frozen as he clenched his fists and screwed his eyes shut. “Oh God,” he groaned. At last he remembered his lost brother!

Joe staggered slightly recalling with such pristine clarity that hung-over morning and the overwhelming desire to connect his fist with Adam’s chin. The sensation of fear as he was thrown through the air and the painful agony as a horse’s hoof connected with his skull made him wince involuntarily. Joe could also see, as though in front of him now, the face of his brother and the look in Adam’s eyes when he had said, ‘I hate you!’ before losing consciousness.

The shock of instantly recalling so many painful details left his whole body shaking as he stepped back, his now opened eyes never leaving the bedroom window. The wound of rejection and humiliation caused by Adam’s actions suddenly opened up once more, tearing at his insides. He shook his head in anger as the memories knitted together. Vaulting onto his horse and with all thoughts of a cold beer forgotten, Joe kicked Cochise into a gallop, his only desire to return to the Ponderosa and confront his brother!

*****

Ben and Adam rested their arms on the top bars of the corral by the barn and looked at the two dozen fine brood mares that milled around, having only arrived the day before. After being branded they would be let out onto the vast open pastures of the Ponderosa to join the ever growing herd of horses that roamed free in the lush green meadows.

Both men, unknowingly, were thinking of Joe and his reaction on their arrival. As the family looked on, he’d happily guided his experienced hands over the legs and chests of the well built animals, nodding with approval at each and every one, impressed by the quality of the horseflesh. When told he had been the one to choose them on his first sole visit to the Bannan ranch many weeks before, his mood had changed slightly. Leaving his father and brothers to look over the new stock, he’d headed off into the house, his head throbbing as he shook his head in bewilderment and murmuring frustrated expletives under his breath at his inability to recall anything from such an important trip.

“Mighty fine animals,” said Ben finally, removing his hat and wiping beads of sweat from his forehead.

“Going to give us some quality stock over the years,” Adam answered. “Pity Joe can’t recall choosing them. It upset him yesterday, more so than he let on, I reckon.”

Ben sighed deeply and nodded in silent agreement. “Phew, this weather is too hot for me today. I’m going in for a cool down and a cold drink,” he remarked as he turned away and headed for the house. Stopping he glanced back at his son who continued to look at the horses. “You joining me, Adam?”

Adam looked over and gave a slight smile, “In a minute, Pa. I’ll just wait for Hoss to finish with Chub.” Ben nodded, then resumed his walk towards the house and soon disappeared through the front door.

Adam returned to gaze into the corral, his mind wandering as he thought hard about his little brother and the gulf that was widening between them. He knew his father had noticed and was worrying about them both, wanting to restore the true brotherly bond they had always shared, but not knowing how. Hoss was in the middle, torn between them both, not wanting to take sides and always trying to bring them together but never succeeding. The whole situation was getting more and more out of hand, with no sure way of sorting itself out. Adam looked up into the sky and cursed the day he had laid eyes on Rosemary Palmer!

Suddenly from behind the barn Joe appeared galloping hard, pulling up Cochise and dismounting within a hairs breath of the corral fencing. Adam jumped over in surprise at the sight of his brother, and was about to admonish him for his reckless riding when he caught the look on Joe’s face. His brother’s eyes were dark as they stared over, his body tense, giving the appearance of a taut spring about to snap.

Clearly, something was troubling him. “Joe? What’s wrong?” asked Adam puzzled, as he looked into angry green eyes. For a few seconds nothing was said, both brothers standing motionless while Joe tussled with his inner demon. Slowly, the slightest of smiles appeared in the corner of his mouth, and before Adam knew what was happening Joe’s fist connected with his brother, sending him down in a heap onto the hard dirt floor, his hat flying in the opposite direction.

Joe stood silently, clenching his fist, as Adam began to rub his bruised chin and looked up in bewilderment following the unprovoked attack. “What the hell was that for?” he yelled angrily, as a drop of blood from his cut lip ran down his hand.

“I’ve remembered everything,” Joe said abruptly, his voice hard as his eyes blazed fire.

“You know me again?” asked Adam incredulously. Joe nodded silently as both brothers held each others gaze with equal coldness for a moment, then Adam fell back on his elbows as the implication of Joe’s statement sunk in. “You’ve also remembered that night at the ‘White House’ haven’t you?” he asked, his anger now tempered with concern. Joe nodded again but the expression in his eyes clearly showed the hurt he still felt.

“I didn’t know Joe. I had no idea about you and Rosemary,” said Adam his voice full of remorse. “It wasn’t until she was leaving town I realized you and her had been together.”

“If I thought for one minute you’d known you would be nursing more than a sore chin,” replied Joe bitterly as he continued to look down on his brother, flexing his fingers subconsciously. “That doesn’t bother me now, though.”

“Then why did you hit me?” asked a confused Adam as he wiped his sleeve across his bloodied mouth.

“I guess it was the voice of my bruised ego wanting its own back. I felt humiliated and a fool that night, Adam,” said Joe, an aggrieved expression still showing on his face. Adam sighed deeply, acknowledging the pain his young brother must have felt and braced himself, waiting for perhaps more of Joe’s volatile temper to become exposed.

A minute passed by yet time seemed to stand still for Joe as his forgotten memories from years past flooded into his head; memories of a loving elder brother who had cared for him, protected him and loved him all his life. As if by magic, his anger slowly evaporated away, leaving a brightness in his eyes that betrayed his true feelings for Adam.

“You okay?” he asked finally with a concerned look, breaking the eerie silence between them.

“I’m fine,” answered Adam momentarily thrown. Joe almost looked and sounded like his little brother again. Had he heard him right?

“Give me your hand, brother,” said Joe simply, as he outstretched his arm. Adam considered for a moment then gripped Joe’s hand and he pulled him up, the two men finally standing inches apart. At long last the brotherly bond was secured.

Resting his back on the corral fence, Joe glanced over to the barn, his heart suddenly heavy with sorrow. “Sometimes it is too easy to lose sight of the people who are truly important in your life. I need to apologize, Adam, for what I said on the morning of my accident, and in the barn last week. I could never hate you, or dislike you. It must have caused you a lot of anguish, and for that I am sorry.”

Joe hesitated for a moment, swallowing hard, “You’re my brother and I love you, you do know that?” he asked, slightly embarrassed at the turn in their conversation.

Realizing his discomfort Adam put out his hand and gave his brother a gentle squeeze on the arm. “I do now, Joe. If I had only known you and her…..if I had known she meant so much to you…” started Adam but Joe shook his head and put his forefinger to his lips.

“Maybe I did love her, in my own way, but it wasn’t lasting love. I know that now,” said Joe. “Besides, she was too old for me, and a little too intelligent for you brother,” he quipped giving Adam his most winning smile as he began to chuckle. Adam too began to chortle, relieved the tension between them was finally ended, and the two men grinned at each other in brotherly companionship.

At that moment Ben came out and walked towards them, noticing the swollen lip on his eldest. “Adam? What’s wrong with your mouth, son?” he asked, as another drop of blood oozed out and dripped down his chin.

Joe gave a slight cough. “Oh, I hit him, Pa,” he confessed as he looked down into the dirt, then bent over and picked up his brother’s hat, dusting it off nonchalantly.

A shadow of a frown appeared on Ben’s face. “You hit your brother! Why, Joe?” he asked, glancing between both sons who were both trying hard to keep straight faces.

Suddenly Joe recalled a line from his father’s favorite hymn, “Oh, he was lost ,Pa,” answered his youngest, a huge grin suddenly appearing on his face as he passed the hat over to his brother who secured it firmly on his head.

“But now am found,” added Adam quickly, both brothers catching each others gaze in mutual understanding. Then they began to laugh, collapsing into fits of giggles as Ben looked on totally bemused until suddenly it dawned on him! The unmistakable look that passed between eldest and youngest meant only one thing. Somehow Joe had finally regained his memory! His lost brother was lost no more!

Hoss walked out of the barn, eager to see why his two brothers, with hardly a word to say to each other, were now laughing hysterically. The sight that hit him produced a huge smile of understanding as the big man watched in amusement. Then the mood of the moment caught hold of both Ben and Hoss and soon all the Cartwright clan were holding their sides as loud contagious laughter filled the air, a sound so sadly missing for far too long.

Later that evening Adam and Joe sat on the verandah, both eager to re-establish their brotherly bond as they chatted amicably, recalling the past and the woman who had come between them. Eventually Joe asked his brother a question that had been haunting him since his memory returned.

“Adam, did Pa know about me and Rosemary?” he asked in a half whisper as he looked behind him. Ben never mentioned anything to do with her, but it still left Joe slightly nervous awaiting his father’s predictable wrath.

Adam laughed as he nodded, “Oh yes little brother, Pa knows all about your …….er……..nights out in Virginia City!”

Joe grimaced. “Guess Pa will be having a quiet word with me then,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders, preparing himself for the talk about morals and the endless chores that would no doubt now come his way.

“Shouldn’t worry too much on that score, Joe. I seem to remember Pa promising to God he would never say a word about her to you, and I aim to remind him and make sure he keeps his word!” he said, giving his brother a knowing wink.

“Really, Adam?” asked Joe thankfully, a gleam of hope appearing in his eyes.

Adam gave a nod of assurance. “That’s what elder brothers are for, Joe! Just don’t let it happen again, at least, not for a while! I don’t think I could take the stress or hold off Pa a second time!” he said and the two brothers began to laugh together again, their voices drifting up towards the twinkling stars above.

***The End***

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