Summary: An epilogue to the episode.
Word Count: 2415
As Hoss and their father went into the house, Joe looked at Adam. Tears stood in the younger man’s eyes and Adam clasped Joe’s shoulder in unspoken sympathy. Hoss was returned to them, but they both felt sorry for the couple leaving their property. Neither was quite sure what to say to the other. Joe opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He sighed.
“I know,” Adam muttered. He sighed, too. “I don’t know what to say, but I feel I ought to say something. I wonder why we aren’t turning cartwheels in delight.”
“We both feel sorry for Mrs. Vandervoort?” Joe suggested.
“Could be,” Adam nodded. “Let’s go and join Hoss for breakfast.”
The only person who had a normal appetite that morning was Hoss. From time to time, he would cast a look at the various members of his family, a puzzled frown on his face. He knew something was wrong – he just didn’t know what.
For his part, Ben was as perplexed as his sons as to why he wasn’t cock-a-hoop over Hoss recovering his memory. It was the thing he had wanted more than anything and yet, although he was glad that Hoss was better – more than glad – he couldn’t quite find it in his heart to rejoice. And as Hop Sing cleared the table, he suddenly knew why.
He still had to tell Hoss what had happened.
“Come and sit down, son,” he urged Hoss, gesturing towards the sofa.
Frowning again, Hoss did as he was asked without comment. Ben sat down on the coffee table, while Adam and Joe hovered helplessly in the background. “What’s wrong, Pa?” Hoss asked.
Wringing his hands, Ben wasn’t sure where to start. “Do you know what day it is?” he asked.
“’Course I do!” Hoss replied, half-smiling. “Why, it’s Thursday.”
Ben fervently hoped that Joe’s wince had been visible only to him and that only Adam had heard it. But he couldn’t afford to look at Joe now. Hoss was the one who needed his attention. “Hoss, it’s Sunday,” he corrected gently.
“Sunday?” The frown was back. “Pa, I don’ unnerstand. How can it be Sunday?”
“Do you remember going to buy some horses?” Ben prompted.
“Sure,” Hoss assured him, but he sounded slightly doubtful now. “Joe weren’t feelin’ too good, so I went instead.” Hoss looked at Joe, who nodded.
“On your way home, you were attacked and robbed,” Ben explained, his hand resting on Hoss’ leg. “You were missing. I went looking for you and I eventually found you thanks to a Doctor Hickman. He told me…” Ben faltered, glanced quickly at Joe and Adam and forced himself to go on. “He told me you had amnesia, due to a blow on the head. You didn’t remember me, Hoss.”
“Pa… no…” Hoss protested, stunned by the news. “I… I…”
“The Vandervoorts found you,” Ben went on, knowing that Hoss had to hear it all at once. “They called you Hendrick, after their dead son. You were going to live with them in Michigan, in the Dutch community.”
A vague memory flickered and failed to catch. Hoss glanced involuntarily over his shoulder. “Them folks? But she said…”
“Yes,” Ben agreed. “She told you that they had stopped for directions. But that wasn’t true, Hoss. You see…” Ben stopped and drew in a calming breath. “You regained your memory when your mother’s picture got knocked over.”
“I… I almost hit you,” Hoss remembered, horror in his voice. “I was angry – I wanted you to pick it up…” His voice trailed off and his frown deepened.
“We don’t know exactly what happened to you, Hoss,” Ben went on as steadily as he could manage. This was horribly difficult. “But I found your campsite. It was a mess. Your hat was all trampled and the picture of your mother that you usually carry was lying on the ground, the glass broken. That’s when we knew for sure that you were in trouble.”
“Pa, stop!” Hoss cried, jumping to his feet and hurrying away from his family. Joe made a move towards him, but Adam stopped his younger brother. Hoss had just had a lot of information to absorb – he needed time to assimilate it all. In running to the other side of the room, Hoss was trying to run away from the information he had just been given, not his family. Hoss probably didn’t know that – all he knew was that he had to get away just for a moment.
Silence reigned in the room for several minutes while Hoss stood with his back to the family. The tension in the room could have been cut with a knife. Joe was visibly quivering and Adam placed his hand on Joe’s shoulder again.
Slowly, Hoss turned. His face was chalk-white and Ben resolved to get Doc Martin out to the ranch as soon as possible to check his son over. Hoss had been badly injured a few days before – perhaps he should still be in bed – perhaps he had over-taxed himself lifting the heavy furniture into the Vandervoorts’ wagon. Ben wanted nothing more than to rush to his son’s side, but he forced himself to remain still, awaiting a cue from Hoss.
“There was… was two men,” Hoss stuttered. “They wanted the money. I gave them it, but… one o’ them… one o’ them found Mama’s picture.” Tears stood in Hoss’ eyes. “He… he threw it down an’… an’ the glass broke. I tol’ him ta… ta pick it up…” Hoss swallowed, looking beseechingly at Ben. “Pa, I was angry at him. I… I wanted ta hurt him…” The big man buried his face in his hands. “Oh, Pa!” he sobbed.
In an instant, Ben was at Hoss’ side, his hands on his son’s shoulders, drawing the bigger man towards him, offering what comfort he could. “Of course you were angry, Hoss,” he soothed. “They were doing you wrong. Anger is natural in that situation.”
“But I wanted ta hurt him!” Hoss cried, as though Ben wasn’t listening. “An’ that was wrong!”
“Wanting to hurt him and actually hurting him are two different things,” Ben reminded Hoss, his heart aching for the man he held in his hands. “I know you, Hoss. I don’t think you would have hurt him if you had got hold of him.” He wondered if this was why Hoss had had such a strong reaction to the suggestion that they might know who he was. “Come and sit down,” Ben suggested. “Joe, get Hoss some water, please.”
As Joe bounded into the kitchen, relieved to have something concrete to do, Hoss stumbled over to the sofa and sank into it as though exhausted. Ben could well understand that his son could feel that way. He certainly did.
Slowly sipping the water, color began to trickle back into Hoss’ face. The tension in the room had ebbed slightly and Joe sat down on the arm of the sofa, next to Hoss. He looked as though he wanted to say something, but he remained silent, following Hoss’ lead.
“I don’ unnerstand,” Hoss admitted at last. His voice was hoarse with unshed tears. “How come I didn’ know I was home? How come I didn’ know ya right off?”
“I don’t know,” Ben replied. “None of us really understand the way the human brain works. We don’t really know why someone can lose their memory. Doctor Hickman told me that sometimes, memories come back when something familiar is seen, or something happens. Other times, amnesiacs never regain their memories and no one knows why.”
“I see.” Hoss nodded slowly, clearly thinking deeply about what Ben had told him. “How did the… the Vandervoorts know who I was?” he asked.
This was the bit Ben had been dreading. He didn’t know how Hoss was going to react to what he was about to learn. “I went to their farm to ask if you had been seen. Mrs. Vandervoort said no. I then contacted Dr Hickman, who told me about you being with the Vandervoorts. We confronted them and discovered that they were going to take you to Michigan. I persuaded them to stop here for the night to allow you the chance to see your home in the hope that that would jog your memory.”
“And if it didn’?” Hoss enquired, frowning hard.
“Doc Hickman had advised me that pushing too hard might do you more harm than good,” Ben went on, evading the question for the moment. “So I couldn’t come right out and tell you. I offered, but you grew distressed, so I didn’t push you.”
“Tell me, Pa,” Hoss commanded, his voice getting louder. “What were you gonna do if’n my memory didn’ come back?”
Swallowing, Ben told Hoss the truth, the truth that would have been the hardest thing he had ever had to do. “I would have let you go with the Vandervoorts,” he answered as steadily as he could.
“How could ya?” Hoss cried, leaping to his feet. “How could ya let me go without sayin’ anythin’?” He pushed past Adam, almost knocking over his older brother, and charged out of the house.
“Hoss!” Ben shouted, his despairing cry not slowing down his son’s pace at all. He started to follow Hoss, but Joe stopped him.
“Let me, Pa,” he offered quietly. “Let me talk to him.”
“Joe…” Ben sank down onto the table again. “All right, son. All right.”
As he stepped past Adam, Joe caught his older brother’s eye. No words were spoken, but they each knew what the other was going to do. Joe hurried to the door to catch Hoss. Adam sat down beside Ben.
“I did what I thought was best, Adam,” Ben whispered.
“I know that, Pa,” Adam soothed. “And Hoss will come to understand, too. He’s had a bad shock and he isn’t thinking right now – he’s just feeling. Joe will sort him out, don’t worry.”
“I hope so,” Ben sighed and closed his eyes wearily.
“Go away, Joe,” Hoss ordered as he heard the footsteps entering the barn.
“I can’t do that, big brother,” Joe replied. He approached Hoss slowly. Now that he was here, he had no idea what he planned to say.
“I don’ wanna talk!” Hoss snapped.
“Good,” Joe responded. “Then you just listen. Hoss, Pa didn’t want to let you go. He wanted you to stay here, in your home. But he also wanted what was best for you and the best thing seemed to be to let you go with the Vandervoorts. They were the only people you knew, Hoss. You didn’t know who we were.”
He had Hoss’ attention now. “Do you know how hard it was for us?” he asked and his voice cracked with the remembered pain. “We had to pretend that you were nothing to us, because we didn’t know what forcing you to remember would do to you. Pa tried everything he could to jog your memory, but when it seemed that you were never going to remember, he agreed to let you go with the Vandervoorts. Do you know what that decision cost him, Hoss?” Now, the tears escaped Joe’s control. “He was heartbroken. He told Mrs. Vandervoort that even if he had a dozen sons, he would hold you no less dear to him. Hoss, letting you go almost killed Pa.”
“Joe…” Hoss murmured contritely, but Joe ploughed on.
“Adam and I wanted to force you to remember. Pa wouldn’t let us because forcing you could have hurt you. So even though it was hurting us – killing us – to let you go, we had to do it, Hoss. We had to.” Joe ran out of words and turned away, wiping at the betraying tears on his cheeks.
Shaken, Hoss reached out and touched Joe’s shoulder, hesitating only a moment before briefly embracing his younger brother. “I never thought about what you were goin’ through,” he admitted. “I kinda thought this only affected me.”
“How could it?” Joe asked. He looked up into Hoss’ face. “We’re a family, Hoss. What happens to one happens to us all.”
“I gotta apologize,” Hoss muttered. He rubbed a hand over his face. “I jist wasn’ thinkin’. Why didn’ I see Pa was hurtin’?”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself,” Joe scolded lightly. “You did get a shock today, too.” He gave a shaky laugh. “There’s an understatement!” He clapped a hand on Hoss’ shoulder. “Come on, let’s go back inside.”
“How’d ya git so wise?” Hoss wondered aloud as they crossed the yard.
“Natural talent,” Joe jibed back and they were laughing as they entered the house.
Hoss sobered as he caught sight of the despair on Ben’s face that his father couldn’t quite hide in time. “Pa, I’m sorry,” he blurted. “I didn’ mean it. I jist wasn’ thinkin’.”
“It’s all right, son,” Ben replied, the burden that had been weighing down his heart suddenly lifted. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It do ta me,” Hoss mourned. “I didn’ see things from your side. It must a bin real hard fer all o’ ya ta see me an’ me not know ya.”
“It was hard,” Adam replied, his voice steady. “But Pa had to think about what was best for you.” He smiled faintly. “Just like he always does.”
Without knowing quite how it happened, the Cartwrights found themselves sitting in front of the fire, with Adam, Joe and Ben taking turns on filling Hoss in on the days he had lost. Hoss listened avidly, still finding his emotions shaky, but understanding what his father had done, for love of him.
It would be a while before they all came to terms with Hoss’ loss of memory. It was not the kind of thing they could get over in a single day. They all found it difficult to understand Mrs. Vandervoort’s motives, but everyone felt sorry for her. In the end, she had done the right thing for Hoss, regardless of the pain it cost her. In a way, she had done what Ben had been prepared to do and this gave Hoss a bit more insight into the whole situation.
With their mutual love for each other, they were able to work through everything and come to an understanding. But the most important thing of all to the Cartwrights was one simple fact.
Hoss was home.