Summary: Joe travels to San Francisco. He is dreading seeing Edward again, but nothing turns out quite the way he expects.
Word Count: 11,227
“Look, Joe, the decision is yours, but do you really think Georgia will understand when she discovers that you were in San Francisco and didn’t visit her?” Ben asked.
“I know what you’re saying, Pa,” Joe admitted, wretchedly. His head was down, a sure sign of distress. Ben reached out and rested one big, warm hand on Joe’s shoulder and rubbed his thumb in a circle on Joe’s back. “But how can I face her after what Edward did to me? She doesn’t know, Pa!”
“And neither do we, for certain, Joe,” Ben reminded him. “We have no proof that Edward shot you.” He sighed as he looked at the troubled young face before him. “Joe, I know this will be hard on you, but Georgia has been your friend for a long time. Are you suddenly going to drop her just like that?”
“No,” Joe mumbled. He looked up at Ben with a glimmer of tears showing in his green eyes. “But how do I face her? And how do I face him?”
“Didn’t you tell me that Georgia is expecting a child?” Ben asked. Blinking back the tears, Joe nodded. “Well, that gives you a very good excuse not to stay with them, wouldn’t you say? And if you made the decision to travel by stage for the return journey, we could book it in advance and there you have another excuse.”
“I can manage the hotel,” Joe admitted. “But Mr. Robertson asked that I not ride his horse all the way to Frisco.”
“Ah,” Ben murmured. He didn’t approve of outright lying, and so wouldn’t encourage Joe to tell even a white lie about his means of transport. Mr. Robertson had bought a stallion from Joe when he had been in the area on business the previous week. Part of the price of the stallion had been delivery in San Francisco by Joe, and no one was to ride the horse. The man apparently had a horse breeding spread to the south of San Francisco and wanted this stallion to improve his stock.
“I don’t need to stay more than one night,” Joe mused. “And it is getting quite late in the season. Lingering might not be the best idea.”
“That’s quite true,” Ben nodded, but it wasn’t the greatest excuse, especially given how well Georgia knew Joe. Cold weather had never bothered him in his life. “The decision, of course, is yours, Joe. I can’t make it for you.”
“And if you could, I’d probably choose to do the exact opposite, anyway,” Joe smiled.
“I have no doubt,” Ben agreed. He waited to hear what Joe would decide to do, but with another sigh, Joe headed up to his room to begin packing for his journey. Ben realized that it was entirely possible that Joe wouldn’t come to a final decision until he reached his destination.
It was a thorny problem, Ben thought, as he sat down to read a book. The contact between Joe and Georgia had naturally cooled after Georgia’s marriage and with her hectic schedule of concerts. But it was also compounded by the fact that the Cartwrights, Joe and Adam especially, were certain that a couple of attempts on Joe’s life had been made by the man that Georgia eventually married, Edward Duras. They had no concrete proof; only suspicions. But Edward had been jealous of Joe and Georgia’s bond of friendship that stretched back over most of their lives and he’d made no attempt to conceal this from Joe.
Ben always worried about his sons when they were away from home, but this time, he knew, he would worry even more.
When morning came and Joe set off, Ben was none the wiser as to what Joe had decided. However, he made an effort to wave his son off with a smile before he and his other two sons, Adam and Hoss, went back in to finish their breakfast in a more leisurely fashion. For all his uncertainty about the journey’s end, Joe was in his usual impatient hurry to get going and had barely swallowed a mouthful of food.
“What d’ya think Joe’ll do, Pa?” Hoss asked.
“I really don’t know, Hoss,” Ben replied, for if there was one constant in the world, it was that trying to predict what Joe would do in any given situation was almost impossible!
“I don’t really think its Joe we have to worry about,” Adam mused. “It’s Edward. What if he’s ‘stirred up for Envy and Revenge’?” His tone implied that he meant this as a joke.
Glaring at Adam, Ben snapped, “I don’t think that’s funny!”
“Sorry, Pa,” Adam replied contritely.
“Is that a quote from somethin’?” Hoss asked.
“Yes, from Paradise Lost,” Adam answered, absently. He was looking at Ben, trying to gauge how much he had annoyed his father. Quite a lot seemed to be the answer. Ben, if anything, looked more worried than he had been before. “Come on, Hoss, let’s go and get started,” Adam suggested. He felt guilty for giving Ben something more to worry about.
Ben barely noticed them leaving.
There was no particular rush for Joe to get the horse to San Francisco. In a way, Joe wanted to get the journey over so he could confront his demons and get back home again. On the other hand, he dreaded meeting with Georgia and Edward. Never before had Joe not wanted to meet with his childhood friend, but her last visit to Virginia City had almost cost him his life, although he was sure she was totally unaware of who had shot him. Again, Joe reminded himself that he didn’t know for sure that Edward had shot him. He was no more convinced after this reminder than he ever had been before.
Joe and Georgia had been friends all through school and many people had been surprised to learn that, despite her success as a singer, she wasn’t going to marry Joe. They seemed the ideal couple, both charismatic and good-looking. But there had never been a hint of romance between them, although each loved the other dearly. On her visit to Virginia City, to sing for the first time before her home town, Georgia had announced her engagement to her manager, Edward Duras, a man almost old enough to be her father and as unlikely a mate as could be envisioned for the vibrant Georgia.
Having been introduced to Edward, Joe discovered at once that the man did not like him, and as the days went on, their relationship deteriorated. Joe had been attacked and knocked unconscious in the alley beside the theatre on Georgia’s opening night. He had been lucky not to be badly injured. Then, while out riding a horse that Georgia had bought from him for Edward, someone had shot Joe. The bullet had killed the horse and Joe had lain, bleeding, on the grass for several hours before his worried family came looking for him. Joe had become convinced, from something Edward said, that Edward had shot him. Joe had been very weak for a long time and when Georgia’s wedding date had arrived, Joe was still on crutches and not well enough to attend. He had not seen Georgia since the day after the shooting.
The warm and regular correspondence they had shared had also suffered since the shooting. Georgia seemed to be aware that her husband wasn’t too happy at her continued deep ties to Joe, yet she cherished the friendship too much to give up. The letters had been fewer for a while, as she had many concerts planned all over the country, but now that her pregnancy was showing, she wasn’t performing any more and the letters had increased in frequency. Joe wondered if she could sense the hesitation in his writing. He was always careful to write letters that could be shared with Edward if she so wished, and that made writing them even harder.
This kind of situation was a complete anathema to Joe, who preferred to get everything out in the open and take action. Most of the time, he didn’t brood about it too much, as there was enough going on at the ranch to keep his mind occupied. But now, alone on the trail with just his horses, Joe had plenty of time to think and his thoughts didn’t make comfortable companions.
Although Joe didn’t really think Edward would make another attempt on his life, a small part of his sub-conscious was making him feel very uneasy. There was no doubt in Joe’s mind that Edward had shot him, despite the lack of concrete evidence. How was he going to act as though there was nothing between them?
This was the question that haunted him as he rode towards the city by the sea.
“Going somewhere, son?” Ben asked, as Adam came down the stairs with saddlebags in his hands.
“I’m going after Joe,” Adam replied. “I’ve been thinking about him all day, and I don’t think he should be alone. Frankly, Pa, I’m worried.”
“So am I,” Ben admitted.
Adam gave him a sideways look. “Do you want to go after him?” In his concern for his brother, it hadn’t occurred to Adam that Ben might have made plans to go and in that case, Adam would be needed to stay at home to keep the ranch running.
“Yes, I do,” Ben replied, honestly and Adam hitched his bags over his shoulder and started to turn around to take them back upstairs. Ben frowned, wondering where Adam was going and then realization struck him and he put his hand onto his oldest son’s arm. Adam turned, an enquiring look on his face. “I can’t go,” Ben explained. “I have to meet with Mr. Stevenson at the bank tomorrow and it’s a meeting I just can’t miss.” Ben met Adam’s eyes; they both had the same color of brown eyes, as had Adam’s mother, Elizabeth. “Please go, son. It’ll put my mind at rest.”
“Ya ain’t goin’ without me!” Hoss declared as he came down the stairs with his saddlebags on his shoulder.
Amused, Ben and Adam exchanged another glance. “As if I would try to stop you,” Ben rebuked Hoss mildly. He didn’t say that in all honesty, he wouldn’t have even tried to stop either of them going. He just wished he could go with them. Joe might be an adult, but there were times when everyone needed a little support and help and this was one of them, Ben thought. “Thank you both.”
“Ya don’ need ta thank us, Pa,” Hoss mumbled, looking embarrassed. “Joe’s our brother. He can be a right pest sometimes, but we’re used ta him.”
“Yes,” Ben agreed. “Indeed we are used to him.”
Although they were setting off 24 hours behind their brother, both Adam and Hoss were certain that they would be able to catch up with him before he arrived in San Francisco. For a start, they weren’t leading a horse, which inevitably slowed you down. And added to that, they had more motivation to catch up with Joe than he had to actually arrive in San Francisco.
They weren’t wrong. Three days down the trail, they caught up with Joe as dusk fell. Joe had already made camp, and as they rode up, his voice rang out in challenge. “Who’s there?” he called.
Grinning at each other, Adam and Hoss nodded. “Jist a couple a drifters who want ta share yer fire, Shortshanks,” Hoss replied.
“Hoss?” Joe lowered his gun and clicked the safety back on, but didn’t put it back in his holster, just in case Hoss was there under some sort duress. He frowned as his brothers rode into the firelight. “What are you doing here?” he asked, suspiciously.
“Well, there wasn’t much to do at home,” Adam hedged, “and we fancied a trip to San Francisco. Besides, someone has to keep you out of trouble on the Barbary Coast.”
“Keep me out of trouble?” Joe retorted indignantly. “This isn’t a pleasure trip, you know!” He slammed his gun back into its holster with unnecessary force as Adam and Hoss dismounted. He sat down pointedly as his brothers tended to their horses and tethered them by Cochise and the stallion.
The silence seemed suffocating and Adam sighed. He knew how touchy Joe could be, but he’d not expected him to go off at the mention of the Barbary Coast. If anything, Adam had been sure that Joe would find the reference amusing. It showed his oldest brother how much thinking Joe had been doing while he’d been on his own and how troubled Joe was by the whole situation.
“Look, Joe that bit about the Barbary Coast was a joke,” Adam offered, hoping that his and Hoss’ presence would help Joe. “I know this isn’t a pleasure trip for you this time.”
“I know it was, Adam, and I’m sorry for jumping at you,” Joe replied. “I guess I’m more uptight than I thought, and I’m glad you guys are here.”
Beaming at Joe, Hoss asked, “What’s fer supper?”
“Supper?” Joe echoed. “I haven’t got enough food to feed you two, as well!”
Sighing, Adam and Hoss exchanged looks. “Good thing we came prepared,” Adam remarked and brought out the extra supplies that Hop Sing had given them. The boys pooled their resources and soon had some ham and grits on the fire.
“You don’t look like you’ve been eating much,” Adam commented neutrally as he packed the rest of the food away. “No appetite?”
“Not much,” Joe admitted. He gave Adam a lop-sided grin. “I guess I’ve been doing what I accuse you of doing too much – thinking.”
“Huh,” Hoss grunted. “Both o’ ya ain’t got the brains you was born with sometimes.”
“Oh?” Adam asked, as he and Joe exchanged amused looks. “How do you figure that out?”
“Ya both know too much thinkin’ on one subject ain’t gonna git ya anywheres, yet ya both still do it!” Hoss shook his head. “Seems ta me ya ain’t as smart as ya think if’n ya still don’ git that.”
After a moment to work this through, Adam smiled. “Hoss, I do believe you’re right!” he declared.
“I know I’m right,” Hoss replied. “I’m smart, see? I’m the Cartwright with the common sense.”
“You’re also the Cartwright in charge of the supper,” Joe reminded him. “And I think its burning!”
With a yelp, Hoss jumped up and dashed over to the fire. After a second, he turned an indignant face to Joe. “It ain’t burnin’ at all!” he cried. “Joe, when I git ma hands on ya, I’m gonna pound ya!”
As Joe leapt to his feet and darted out of reach, he called, “You might be the Cartwright with common sense, but you’re still the most gullible.”
“I ain’t the one who’s goin’ hungry tonight!” Hoss retorted.
Helping himself calmly from the frying pan, Adam thought that perhaps Hoss might be wrong there. If his younger brothers kept playing long enough, he might just emulate Hoss that night and eat everything. He had made good progress before Hoss and Joe noticed and abandoned their mock enmity to get their share of supper.
Having Adam and Hoss along did help Joe to enjoy his journey more. He couldn’t help but think of what was ahead, despite Hoss’ good advice, but he wasn’t dwelling on it any more, and his appetite improved and he slept better.
For their part, Adam and Hoss did their best to keep Joe’s mind occupied and were pleased to see Joe become more relaxed. Even though Joe was an adult and old enough to take care of himself, it was second nature for all the Cartwrights to look out for each other and none of them had been comfortable that Joe was facing a potentially dangerous situation alone. Hoss and Adam were more relaxed, too, they discovered. It was a good time for them all.
The night before they arrived in San Francisco, they were lounging around the fire, having eaten and feeling replete, sipping at scalding hot coffee. “What are the arrangements for Mr. Robertson collecting his horse?” Adam asked.
“I’ve to take it to the Plaza hotel stables and one of his men will collect it there on his weekly run for supplies,” Joe replied. “I thought I might as well just stay there, too. That way, I can keep an eye on the stallion until the man appears to collect it.”
“Good thinking,” Adam approved. Joe hid a smile in his cup. He knew that Adam couldn’t help taking charge, but he had clearly forgotten that Joe had originally planned to make this trip alone.
“Thanks,” Joe muttered and exchanged an amused glance with Hoss.
“Ya reckon we’re gonna have one o’ them earthquakes when we’re in town?” Hoss asked, slightly anxiously.
There had been an earthquake on May 29th that year, and it had been felt in all of California and Nevada. It was the first time any of the Cartwrights had experienced an earthquake and although it hadn’t caused any damage, the horses and cattle had been frightened. Luckily, nobody had been injured.
“I hope not,” Joe replied, apprehensively. It had been horribly disconcerting to feel the ground moving beneath his feet like that, even though it only lasted a few seconds.
“That San Francisco paper that Pa gits, the Morning Call, says there’s bin lots o’ earthquakes this year,” Hoss reported. “There’s bin 13 this year already!”
“Unlucky for some,” Joe commented.
“There’s no way to tell,” Adam replied, calmly. “We can’t predict earthquakes, Hoss. But if there have been that many this year, you wouldn’t think there were many more to come, now would you?” He gave Hoss a warning look. No way did he want this conversation going any further. Joe was becoming tense again as they neared the city and the last thing Adam wanted was Joe’s over-active imagination conjuring dreams of earthquakes.
They were soon asleep, but Joe’s dreams, although not nightmares, were uneasy all night as he thought he felt the earth moving beneath him.
They arrived in San Francisco about mid-morning the next day. While Joe and Hoss took the horses round to the stables, Adam went in and booked them in. They were given a suite, which suited Adam, as he could then make sure Joe was up each morning at a reasonable time and if they wanted to eat privately, they could.
It was a relief for all of them to soak off the trail dust and after lunch, Joe announced he was going to see Georgia.
“We’ll come with you,” Adam declared.
“I’m not a little kid,” Joe retorted. “I can walk about San Francisco without getting lost, you know!”
“I know that,” Adam soothed. “But I’d feel much happier if we were there when you meet Edward. After all, we’re pretty sure that he tried to kill you the last time you met.” Adam kept his tone mild, but there was no hiding the fact that he was concerned for Joe.
“I’m sorry,” Joe replied, ducking his head.
“Yeah, it ain’t that we don’ trust ya,” Hoss agreed. Then he frowned. “Well, we don’, when it comes ta ya goin’ ta the Barbary Coast, but…” He stopped talking as his older and younger brothers burst out laughing. “What did I say?” he demanded, which just made them laugh all the more.
As they left the dining room, the hotel manager approached Joe. “Mr. Cartwright, Mr. Robertson’s foreman is here to collect the horse.”
“Good timing,” Adam commented, as Joe went across to talk to a cowboy who stood at the desk. A letter was handed over and Joe signaled to his brothers that he would be back shortly, and headed off to the stable with the man. Adam and Hoss took seats in the foyer, content to watch the world go by until Joe returned. An uneasy suspicion crossed Hoss’ mind, and he was about to voice it to Adam when Joe reappeared.
“I thought perhaps ya’d sneak out the back way,” Hoss commented as they left the hotel.
“Thanks a bunch!” Joe retorted, but he couldn’t control the wry smile that crossed his lips. “I did think about it,” he confessed, “but I didn’t want Adam mad at me our first night here!”
Grabbing Joe by the back of the neck, Adam gave him a slight shake. “And I’d guess you didn’t want Pa hearing about it after we got home, either,” he chided.
“That, too,” Joe admitted, shrugging off Adam’s hand.
There was tension oozing from every pore of Joe’s body by the time they located Georgia and Edward’s house on Russian Hill. “Pretty fancy,” Hoss whistled in dismayed admiration.
“Sure is,” agreed Joe, in a voice not noticeably less awe-stuck. He hadn’t been expecting anything quite as grand.
“Well, at least it’s not a mansion on Nob Hill,” Adam reminded them, trying to cheer them up. “They wouldn’t let you two in the gates there, dressed like that!”
“What’s wrong with the way we’re dressed?” Joe demanded, too up-tight to remember that Adam was dressed very similarly.
“You look like cowboys,” Adam replied, dryly and the hint of a smile crept over Joe’s face.
“I am a cowboy,” he returned and taking a deep breath, went up the path and rang the doorbell. It clanged hollowly inside.
The maid who answered the door clearly thought that these three cowboys had no business being on the doorstep at all, never mind that they weren’t in Nob Hill. Joe didn’t let her condescending manner disconcert him and asked politely for Georgia, giving his name. A few moments later, they were being admitted.
Georgia’s home was the very epitome of Victorian chic, having the very latest designs in everything. As he handed his hat over to the maid, Joe allowed his eyes to roam over the furniture and knick-knacks and could see no evidence of Georgia’s taste anywhere. However, he had to admit that it had been more than a year since he had last seen her, and he had never seen her home except when she lived with her parents in Virginia City. It was entirely possible that some of the ‘surface glamour’, to quote Georgia herself, had rubbed off onto her tastes.
They were shown into a sitting room, and there was Georgia, sitting in front of the fire. She got laboriously to her feet as the Cartwrights came in and Joe was surprised to see just how pregnant Georgia was. “Joe!” she cried, and there was a wealth of information in her tone. She sounded surprised, delighted and not a little down.
“Georgie!” Joe had always called her that and although Edward, Georgia’s husband, didn’t approve, he couldn’t help himself. He hugged her, feeling Georgia cling to him for an instant. “Sit down.”
But first, Georgia hugged both Adam and Hoss and ordered coffee brought for them. Then she sat down and sighed heavily. “It’s so good to see you all,” she told them, smiling brightly. It didn’t hide how tired she looked.
“Is Edward not here?” Adam asked, his tone the enquiring neutrality of an old friend asking for information.
“No, he’s at the theatre, supervising rehearsals for a new show,” Georgia replied. “He’ll be home later; I’m not quite sure when. It depends on how it goes.”
“How are you feeling?” Joe asked. Usually, he wouldn’t ask a woman in a ‘delicate condition’ any personal questions, but he had never felt constrained with Georgia. “When is the baby due?”
“Now,” Georgia replied. She smiled. “I’m a little bit fed up of waiting, to be honest. I’m a bit scared, but I so want it to be over. I hate being fat!” She laughed. “What are you doing in town? Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”
“I didn’t have a lot of warning myself,” Joe smiled. “And then these two talked Pa into believing that I’m not to be trusted alone.”
“Quite right!” nodded Georgia, with a straight face. “I don’t trust you either!”
While his brothers choked into their coffee at this sally, Joe explained why he was in town. Conversation soon turned to memories and the time flew past before they knew it. It seemed to Joe that Georgia was lonely and he put himself out to take her mind off whatever woes she had. He knew that she wouldn’t talk about them in front of Adam and Hoss.
The living room door opening alerted them to the fact they had out-stayed their welcome. Joe turned to see who it was, laughter lighting his face, and he met Edward’s cold grey gaze with a sense of shock. He was on his feet before he was aware of standing and the color and laughter drained out of his face as though someone had turned on a tap somewhere. “Edward!” he exclaimed.
Rising also, Adam coolly surveyed the man before him. The last time they had met had been over Joe’s sickbed and he had come to believe that Edward had tried to murder Joe. Seeing him now, in this setting, it seemed an absurd thought. Edward was over 40, balding and plump. He didn’t look like anyone’s idea of a murderer. “A pleasure to meet you again,” Adam said, holding his hand out.
Manners took over and Edward shook Adam’s hand. He ignored Hoss totally and gave Joe a very unfriendly look. “What are you doing here, Cartwright?” he asked.
“Visiting,” Joe replied, bristling slightly. Adam put a calming hand on Joe’s arm.
Sensing the tension, but not understanding it, Georgia looked concerned. “The boys were delivering a horse here, darling, and came to see me.”
“You mustn’t tire yourself, Georgia,” Edward scolded, going over to her and taking her hand possessively. He shot a glance at Joe.
Knowing a dismissal when he heard it, Joe was going to stay, but Adam took the initiative. Georgia didn’t need to be upset by a quarrel between Joe and Edward when her time was so near and Joe was more shaken by the encounter than he realized. “Yes, it’s been a long trip and a long day. It’s been lovely seeing you again, Georgia. Take care of yourself now. We’re staying at the Plaza if you have any news for us.” He grinned at her.
Rising carefully, Georgia went over to kiss Joe goodbye. Hoss noticed Edward’s eyes narrow as she did so. “Be good,” Joe told her. “And be careful. We’ll come to see you before we leave.”
“Oh!” Georgia cried. “When are you going? Not at once!”
“Not straight away, but it’s the end of October and we don’t want to get caught here by early snow,” Joe reminded her.
“You’d better come visit again,” Georgia scolded him. “We have lots to catch up on.”
“Come on, Joe, let’s go,” Adam urged. Joe took the hint, released Georgia and they left.
“Why did you make us leave?” Joe demanded of Adam as they walked back to the hotel.
“Because Georgia doesn’t need a scene,” Adam replied. “She’s due to have that baby at any time, Joe. Women don’t need added stress at this time. And a fight between you and Edward is exactly what she never needs to see.”
“I guess,” Joe admitted, miserably.
“He sure was givin’ ya some hard looks,” Hoss noted.
“But there’s nothing between us but friendship!” Joe cried, passionately. “Why can’t he see that?”
“I don’t know,” Adam admitted. “But I think any man, and that includes myself, Joe, would be uneasy about their wife having a close relationship with a man who is not any kind of relative. Especially when that man is young, good looking and comes from a rich family.” He held his hand up to stop Joe’s protests. “Joe, I’m not accusing you of anything. For heaven’s sake, I know there’s nothing between you. I’m just pointing out how it looks from Edward’s side. He seems to have some insecurities and you just exacerbate them. Make them worse,” he added, as he saw Hoss frowning.
“What can I do?” Joe asked. “Give up seeing Georgia?” He looked downright miserable, Adam thought and drew Joe closer to him, putting his arm briefly around his youngest brother’s shoulders.
“No, I’m not saying that at all,” Adam denied. “That wouldn’t be good for either you or Georgia. I’m afraid I don’t know what the answer is, buddy. But be careful not to rile Edward, whatever else you do. And remember one thing; we’re not staying long.”
“I’ll remember,” Joe replied, but he still looked miserable. Adam wished he had a definitive answer to give Joe, but he didn’t.
Despite his unhappiness, Joe slept well that night. By habit, they woke early and Adam urged them to go down for breakfast so they could get out and moving before the city got too busy. They had, as a matter of course, wired Ben of their safe arrival the day before and they were all keen to see if there was a reply to their telegram. Adam wanted to visit the bookstores.
But their plans were forgotten as they ate their breakfast. At 7.53 am on the 21st of October, 1868, a massive earthquake struck San Francisco. One moment, the Cartwrights were having their breakfast in companionable near silence, the next, the whole room was shaking.
Startled, they looked about as the few people in the dining room began screaming. The hotel shook violently, and crockery smashed all around. The Cartwrights clung to the table, although they all knew that this would avail them naught if the building should collapse.
It seemed that the quake went on forever, leaving the brothers shaken and nauseous. In fact, it lasted for a minute. A few people tried to escape the building, but found it impossible to keep their footing as the shaking continued. The Cartwrights didn’t even attempt to stand.
And then it stopped. Just like that, as suddenly as it had started. “Everyone out!” called one of the waiters and everyone hurried to the exits.
Out in Washington Street, where the Plaza stood, the damage was surprisingly minor for such a bad earthquake. The shop directly opposite the hotel, which seemed to be a perfumer’s, had all its windows smashed, as did a drug store further along the street. The hotel, although shaken, was not visibly damaged.
“The horses!” Hoss exclaimed and turned towards the stables.
“Georgia!” Joe cried and turned in the other direction.
Caught in the middle, Adam reached out both arms and caught his brothers. “Wait a minute!” he ordered. “We’ve got to stay together!”
All around them, there was a fine haze, caused by the dust and smoke. The sun struggled to shine through, although the weather had been very mild for the time of year, with warm, clear days preceding that day. People shouted and cried and everywhere came the groans of unsafe buildings.
“Adam, I’ve got to go to Georgia,” Joe pleaded, urgently. “Yes, check up on the horses and then come after me, but I can’t wait. What if something has happened up there? I’ve got to know! She might be…you know…” Joe couldn’t finish the sentence, but neither Adam nor Hoss required him to. They both knew what he was thinking.
The last thing Adam wanted was Joe alone in San Francisco after an earthquake like they’d just experienced. But he couldn’t say no to either of his brothers. “All right, you go to Georgia’s and we’ll come after you as soon as we can,” he agreed. “But, Joe, be careful!”
“I will be,” Joe assured him. He touched both brothers on the shoulders before he disappeared off into the crowds and gloom.
“Let’s check the horses,” Adam suggested, when Joe was out of sight, and they made their way round to the stable.
It was a nightmare journey for Joe. Here and there, buildings had collapsed into the streets and there were people milling about everywhere, some of them only half-dressed. Everywhere Joe looked, he saw stunned faces, many people crying, others calling to friends and relatives. But Joe didn’t stop. He was consumed with worry about his friend and his one goal was to get to her home as quickly as possible. He was hampered in this, in that the earthquake had changed the way everything looked, but he persevered and found his way to Russian Hill.
The walk, which had taken about 15 minutes the previous evening, had taken Joe over an hour. Many of the houses were damaged, and when Joe reached Georgia’s home, he could see that the chimney had fallen into the garden. There was no sign of fire, for which Joe was thankful. He had encountered a few burning buildings as he made his way across town.
The front door stood ajar, too buckled to shut. Joe heaved it aside. “Georgie?” he called. “Georgie, are you all right?”
“Joe?” came the teary reply and Joe followed the sound into the living room. Georgia was lying on the sofa, but it was obvious that she was in extreme discomfort.
“Thank goodness you’re safe!” Joe exclaimed and hurried over to kneel by her side and take her hand. “Where’s Edward?” he asked.
Georgia’s grip tightened on Joe’s hand and he fought the urge to withdraw it. “Georgie? What is it? What’s wrong?”
“The baby,” Georgia panted. “It’s coming.”
Panic rampaged through Joe’s body for a second, but he forced himself to take deep breaths. Joe knew nothing about birthing babies, but he had delivered more than one cow and horse in his time and reasoned that if necessary, he could do the same for Georgia, if he had to.
“We’ve got to get you to a hospital,” he told her. “Where’s Edward?” He started to rise, to look for Edward, but Georgia clutched his hand even tighter.
“Don’t leave me!” she begged.
“I won’t leave you,” Joe promised, kneeling by her once more. He lifted his free hand to stroke her hair in the familiar gesture that his father used so often with him.
“What are you doing?” snapped a voice and Joe glanced up to see Edward in the doorway. He rose instinctively.
“I’m trying to help!” Joe snapped back. “What do you think I’m doing?”
“Get away from my wife, Cartwright!” Edward warned. “I won’t miss this time.”
The color drained from Joe’s face and he let Georgia’s hand drop. But he wasn’t the only person stunned by this statement. Struggling to a sitting position, Georgia gaped at Edward. “You ‘won’t miss this time’,” she quoted. “What do you mean? Edward?”
“I hoped you’d bleed to death out there, Cartwright, just like that stupid horse did,” Edward told him, oblivious of his wife. “I didn’t have the chance to finish you off, but I thought that you would stay away from Georgia for good. But it didn’t work, did it? So I am going to kill you this time!”
Terrified, unable to believe what she was hearing, Georgia scrambled to her feet. “You?” she whispered. “You…shot…Joe? Why? Edward, for the love of God, why?”
“Because you’re mine!” Edward shouted. Spittle gathered at the corners of his mouth. “Mine, do you hear? Not his! Never his! Why did your friend have to be so young? So handsome? How could I believe you loved me when I saw you with him?”
“But Joe’s like my brother!” Georgia protested. She caught her breath as another contraction started.
“But he’s not your brother!” Edward yelled. “Look at you! Even now, with my child inside you, you’re leaning on him!”
It was true, Joe realized. Georgia was leaning on him as she struggled to remain standing through the contraction. But Edward was making no attempt to come over. “I was closest,” Joe pointed out, trying to keep his own temper under control.
The sane voice of reason was not the one Edward was heeding that day. Finding Joe there with Georgia as she went into labor was just the last straw for Edward. He had been able to put Joe out of his mind as the months went on, and there was no sign of the handsome young cowboy arriving in town. To find him in Edward’s own home the previous evening, even if he was chaperoned by his brothers, was the final straw. Envy and jealousy ignited into hatred.
Whirling, Edward dragged open the drawer of a bureau and pulled out a gun. He pointed it at Joe, and clicked the safety catch off. Georgia let out a ragged scream.
“I’m going to kill you, Cartwright,” Edward stated, with a sudden calmness that was terrifying.
And at that moment, 9.33.am, the second strong earthquake struck.
On their way to Georgia’s house, Adam and Hoss were unprepared for the second quake. As it struck, people around them began to scream in panic, and Adam dragged Hoss into the door way of a building. It was another strong shock and both Cartwright sons were knocked off their feet. Luckily, the building they had been using for shelter did not come down.
“Are you all right?” Adam gasped, as the shaking subsided. He could feel himself trembling; if the earth was not stable, what in this life was?
“Yeah,” Hoss grunted as he pushed himself to his feet. Reaching down a large hand, he helped Adam up. “Are you?”
“Fine,” Adam assured him. They glanced around. “Come on, let’s hurry. The second quake will have brought down what the first one only damaged.”
“D’ya think Joe’s all right?” Hoss panted anxiously as they fought their way through the debris and dust towards Russian Hill.
“I hope so,” Adam replied. He looked at Hoss to confirm that his brother was feeling the same sense of panic that he was. They had been very lucky with the first quake, as the Plaza hotel had sustained no damage and the horses, although naturally upset, were not injured. Whether they could still claim the same now, Adam didn’t know, but that was the least of his worries. He wished he had never let Joe go off on his own. If they were together, they would know if everything was all right.
It didn’t take them long to reach what was left of Russian Hill. People were standing in the streets, and many of the houses were badly damaged. Here and there, the odd one had collapsed completely. And to Adam and Hoss’ horror, one of the collapsed homes was the one they were seeking!
Edward was sitting dazedly on the lawn. He had a head wound, which was bleeding down his face and his clothes were torn and dusty. He looked dazedly at Adam and Hoss before a strange expression crossed his face and was gone in an instant. Adam instantly feared the worst.
“Where’s Joe?” he demanded, kneeling by Edward.
“What?” Edward mumbled.
“Joe!” Adam repeated, fighting the urge to shake Edward. “Where is Joe? Where is Georgia?”
At his wife’s name, Edward crumpled, curling up into a ball. “Dead,” he croaked. “Both dead! The house fell down and I looked for them, but they didn’t answer my shouts. They must be dead.”
Glancing up at Hoss, Adam saw his own shock and horror mirrored on his younger brother’s face. “We gotta look fer ‘em,” Hoss declared and straightened.
With a groan of pain, Edward keeled over to lie on his side. Adam felt for his pulse and was relieved to find it, banging away strongly, if erratically. “We can’t leave Edward,” Adam told Hoss, frustration clear in his voice. “He might have a fractured skull.”
Although Hoss didn’t say the word ‘good’, it was written clearly on his face. “I guess not,” he agreed, reluctantly.
From his position on the grass in feigned unconsciousness, Edward almost smiled. He had no idea if Joe and Georgia were alive or not, and all he cared about right then was making these two Cartwrights concentrate on him. The house had collapsed in on where his wife and her friend had been standing, and Edward reasoned that the longer it took for anyone to search for them, the more chance there was of them dying. Now that Georgia knew what he had tried to do to Joe, he knew that his marriage was over. Rather than lose Georgia’s beauty and talent to another man, Edward would prefer that she was dead. So he lay completely still and awaited developments.
“Look!” Adam exclaimed, and pointed down the street. A wagon had just appeared out of the gloom. “We can get whoever that is to take Edward to hospital. You stay here!” Adam jumped to his feet and hurried over to flag down the wagon driver. Within moments, he had handed over enough cash that the man was willing to take Edward to the hospital, since that was where he was heading anyway.
As he felt himself lifted into the air, Edward opened his eyes to protest. But neither Cartwright was interested in his protests. “We’ll find them, don’t worry,” Hoss assured him as the wagon rumbled off down the street. With Edward taken care of, Hoss glanced at Adam. “Come on, let’s find Joe.”
As the rumbling filled the air, Joe realized that Georgia’s house was coming down around their ears. With the chimney already gone, there was no stability there and the upper floor came crashing down onto the ground floor, while the outer walls fell into the garden.
Instinctively, Joe threw himself over Georgia, protecting her with his body, but as tons of masonry fell around him, Georgia panicked, twisting away from Joe as she sought to run towards the front door. Reaching for her, Joe remembered no more as something struck a glancing blow on his head and he tumbled into darkness.
As he surfaced, Joe could feel nothing. The earth had settled once more, but Joe no longer believed that the earthquakes were over. After a time, he moved slightly and realized that he was in a small open area, surrounded by debris. “Georgie?” he croaked and the dust rose in clouds around him and Joe began to cough.
From somewhere nearby, Joe heard a faint sound and he tried to suppress his cough until he had it pin-pointed. Sure it was Georgia he heard, he moved cautiously forward, feeling his way through the darkness until he was able to move a bit of rubble and a little light broke through.
Sure enough, Joe could see the edge of Georgia’s skirt and as he crawled nearer, he saw that she was conscious, and although covered in scratches, didn’t appear to be badly injured. But the bad news was that her labor had obviously progressed.
“Georgie.” Joe made his way over to her.
“Joe, you’re bleeding,” Georgia gasped. She peered more closely at him in the dim light. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Joe replied, becoming aware of a splitting headache. But given that he house had collapsed around them, he was surprised that either of them was alive. “How are you?”
“The baby’s coming,” Georgia panted. “The contractions are much closer together.” With that, she gasped and flailed for Joe’s hand. He caught it and sat helplessly while she went with the pain. There was nothing he could do.
When the contraction was over, Joe pushed Georgia’s hair back from her hot forehead. “We’ve got to get out of here,” he told her. “You rest, and I’ll dig. You need a doctor.”
“Don’t leave me,” Georgia begged. “Joe, I’m afraid.”
“I’ll be right here,” Joe assured her. He kissed her dirty cheek. “You just rest.”
Moving a little bit away, Joe began to carefully move the rubble.
It was hard going. Each bit of rubble seemed to be resting on another piece and Joe almost brought catastrophe down on both of them a few times. By then, Joe’s hands were cut and bleeding, but he didn’t stop. Georgia needed a doctor.
Even though he was forced to stop to hold Georgia’s hand when she had contractions, Joe realized quite quickly that they were buried quite deeply. He didn’t dare shout for help, as when he had tried it, everything round them had creaked ominously and Joe didn’t want to risk somehow bringing it all down on top of them. So he continued to dig in almost compete silence.
And then suddenly, he heard the voices he most wanted to hear in the world – Adam and Hoss! “Joe! Joe, can you hear us?”
“Here!” Joe bellowed, uncaring of the creaking now. “Adam! Hoss! We’re here!” He turned to Georgia. “Do you hear, Georgie? We’ll be safe soon.”
But Georgia was indifferent. “Joe,” she gasped. “The baby’s coming… right now!”
“Oh lord!” Joe exclaimed, at a loss. There was no doubt though; Georgia was pushing.
Common sense reasserting itself, Joe began to make what preparations he could. Pulling off his jacket, he threw it aside and stripped off his shirt, which was relatively clean. With it prepared to take the baby, he slid his jacket back on and helped Georgia get comfortable. A few moments later, he saw the baby’s head appear and less than a minute after that, a baby girl slid into his waiting hands.
A loud, indignant wail filled the air and Georgia lifted her head. “What is it?” she panted.
“A girl,” Joe told her, wrapping the infant carefully. He had no way to deal with the cord, so he just left it alone. He handed the baby to Georgia, who looked down at the splotched and dirty child and began to cry. Then her body convulsed again and the afterbirth was expelled. “Congratulations, Mama,” Joe whispered.
There couldn’t have been a worse place for a baby to enter the world, but Georgia looked radiant, despite the circumstances. She looked at her child with wonder and love and Joe blinked back tears. He had never seen anything like it.
Suddenly, panicked shouting from outside brought Joe back to reality, and he hastily answered Hoss’ frantic calls, assuring them they were just fine. He resumed digging with even more fervor than before. It was more imperative that they get out of there quickly.
At last, Hoss broke through and he and Joe grinned at one another in relief. The fresh air pouring into the space showed Joe just how foul the air had become. “Take Georgia and the baby first,” Joe told Hoss. “You need to get her to the hospital.”
“Baby?” Hoss echoed, but Joe had already turned away from the hole and was helping Georgia to her feet.
To say Adam and Hoss were surprised was an understatement. The new baby was passed out to Hoss first and he beheld the small child with a sense of wonder. “Hello there, cutie pie,” he cooed, before handing the baby to Adam while he lifted Georgia from the ruins of her home. “The baby’s lovely, Georgia,” Hoss told her, as he carried her across the grass to a clear spot. Adam followed and handed her the baby.
“I’ll help Joe,” Adam told Hoss. “You keep an eye on her.” He could see how exhausted and shaken Georgia was and he didn’t want her fainting now that she was out.
Hurrying back over, Adam called, “All right, Joe, you next.”
“Show you a new baby and you forget all about me,” Joe grumbled. In truth, he felt dreadful now that there was someone else around he could lean on, and he wasn’t sure he would be able to stand without help. His head was spinning.
As Joe stretched out his hand to Adam, the third earthquake struck. It was 10.30 am.
Georgia let out a piercing scream. The baby, startled, began to wail loudly. From all around came the now familiar cries of fright as the people of San Francisco faced up to one of the worst days they had ever had.
“Joe!” Adam cried as the rubble, precariously perched to begin with, collapsed in on itself once more. Joe vanished soundlessly from sight.
As the rumbling stopped, Hoss regained his feet and sprinted across the grass to pull Adam to his feet. “Are ya all right?” he demanded anxiously.
“Yes,” Adam muttered, wiping his face. “But Joe…”
Hoss needed no more urging. He attacked the pile of rubble once more, flinging huge chunks aside. But his pace soon slowed as the digging became more demanding. As Adam looked up, he realized that many of the men of the neighborhood had come to join them and the women had taken charge of Georgia and the baby. That was one less thing for Adam to worry about. All his attention could now be focused on Joe.
“Someone in here?” asked a man.
“Our brother,” Adam replied.
Nodding, the man began to organize others to bring shovel, ropes, anything that might be of some use and they all began to work.
How long he had lain in darkness, Joe didn’t know. He tried to move and pain shot through his body. Something was pinning his left arm and shoulder to the rubble underneath him, and the pain it caused was excruciating. Joe tried to reach over with his right hand and push whatever it was off his arm, but he couldn’t twist far enough round.
Sinking back in defeat, Joe became aware of the oddly shaped pieces of debris that were poking into him all over. Sharp shards of what he assumed was glass dug into his flesh all over, and his chest, bare where his jacket was open, felt scraped and raw. His head ached even more than before, but Joe found that he could move his legs without pain. It was the only good thing he could find about his situation.
Drawing in a deep breath to shout, Joe instead began to cough. The coughing stirred up more and more dust, which he drew in with every breath and it made him cough more. When he finally had the cough under control, Joe was exhausted.
Resting his head on his hand, Joe became aware of the blood that was drying on his face. He vaguely recalled that Georgia had said his head was bleeding before, but he hadn’t paid her much heed. Now, he wondered if this was the same injury or another. It didn’t seem to matter. Joe felt incredibly sleepy and his eyes dipped shut.
But before he could slip into sleep, Joe realized that he could hear sounds. Shaking his head, and wincing with the pain it caused him, Joe listened. Yes, he could definitely hear noises. Perhaps they were coming for him! “Help!” he cried. “Adam! Hoss! Help!”
“Help!” The sound filtered faintly through the rubble.
“That’s Joe!” Adam declared, feeling relieved. Joe was alive! “We’re coming, Joe!” Adam shouted. “Just hang on!”
With renewed hope, the rescuers continued digging. At long last, about three quarters of an hour after the third earthquake struck, they broke through and found Joe lying under the rubble. He had slipped into semi-consciousness and it was only as the beam pinning his left arm to the ground was moved that he woke, letting out an involuntary scream of pain.
Anxious in case there was a repeat of the last time they had been in this position, Adam and Hoss between them lifted Joe and carried him out into the fresh air. A cheer went up from the watchers as he was laid carefully on the grass. After the carnage and fear of the morning, Joe’s rescue made everyone feel better. There was still hope, despite the destruction.
After the initial relief, practicalities kicked in again. Supporting Joe’s shoulders while his brother drank gratefully, Adam looked at Hoss. “We’ve got to get Joe and Georgia to a doctor,” he said, quietly.
“I know,” Hoss agreed. “An’ we gotta find out what happened to Edward, too.”
“He admitted it,” Joe mumbled. He wasn’t feeling at all well. The pain in his head made him feel sick and his arm and shoulder were agony. All in all, Joe felt pulped and he was finding it increasingly difficult to stay awake.
“Who admitted it?” Adam asked, frowning. “Joe? He admitted what?”
It wasn’t Joe who answered. “Edward,” Georgia said, almost spitting the name in her anger and horror. “Edward admitted that he shot Joe last year.” Tears spilled down her face. “He pulled a gun and was going to shoot Joe when the earthquake hit.”
“He tol’ us you was both dead,” Hoss muttered, looking at Adam.
“I think that was wishful thinking,” Adam replied. He shook his head. “We can’t worry about Edward right now. We have to get Joe and Georgia to a doctor or a hospital.”
However, others had thought the same thing, and one of the men assured the Cartwrights that someone had gone for a wagon. Thankful that this was one less thing they had to do, Adam and Hoss turned their attention to keeping Joe awake, which was proving harder and harder. Joe had a couple of bad gashes on his head, both of which had bled profusely. The blood loss, combined with the blows to his head, the broken arm and dislocated shoulder and the cuts to Joe’s hands, made the youngest Cartwright feel very ill and Adam was more worried about him than he cared to admit.
But at long last the wagon arrived and the patients were transferred into it. Hoss supported Joe, while Adam kept an eye on Georgia. It took some time for them to reach the nearest hospital, and when they did, it was packed, with patients being seen outside.
“Them poor people,” Hoss murmured.
Their driver shouted for a doctor and one hurried over, hastily assessing Joe and Georgia’s needs. Before long, Georgia was dispatched elsewhere, and Joe was lifted from the wagon and laid on the grass. It seemed an interminable time before the doctor came back, and with help from Adam and Hoss, reduced the fracture and set the shoulder. Medical supplies were scarce, but splints and bandages were found and Joe’s arm was soon immobilized in a sling.
“Have you got somewhere to go?” asked the doctor, as Adam paid him. “He’d be better off indoors. Give him some of this if he needs it, but go easy. With a head injury like that, he really shouldn’t have anything for pain.”
“We’re staying at the Plaza,” Adam explained. “It was all right when we left this morning.”
The doctor gave them an exhausted smile. “Last I heard, it was still all right. I’ll try and come and see you tomorrow. I take it you left your name and details over there?” He pointed to an overworked young lad, who was jotting down everyone’s name and injuries and addresses, to try and make order out of chaos.
“Sure did,” Hoss replied. “Thanks, doc.” He gave Adam a significant look as the doctor left. “Let’s git Joe back to the hotel,” he suggested. “An’ then I got somethin’ ta tell ya.”
It was with overwhelming relief that the Cartwrights reached the Plaza later that day. They were all filthy and exhausted and had their benefactor not returned with the wagon as they were preparing to leave, they might never have got Joe back. He dozed throughout the long trip and barely opened his eyes when Adam roused him.
It was only when Adam began to ease him out of his filthy, torn clothes that Joe opened his eyes and managed to form a question. “How’s Georgie?” he whispered. “And the baby?”
“They’re both fine,” Adam assured him. “They were seen by a doctor and now they’re staying with a midwife until she has time to sort out where to go.”
“Good,” Joe grunted and closed his eyes again as Adam began to wash his face and hands with the cool water that was in the basin in his room. It felt good and despite the pain as Adam cleaned his torn hands, Joe relaxed. Within moments, he had drifted off to sleep. Adam carefully bandaged his hands with the supplies they had brought with them.
“I wired Pa that we was all right,” Hoss told Adam a short time later. They were in their sitting room, with Joe’s bedroom door ajar in case he called out to them. “I didn’ tell him Joe was hurt, ‘cos he’d a wanted ta come.”
“Good,” Adam approved. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been so tired. And he was hungry. “I wonder if there’s any way we could get something to eat.”
“The manager said they can git us some cold stuff,” Hoss volunteered. Adam hid a smile. Trust Hoss to have the food side of things sussed out.
Together, they ate some cold meat and bread, leaving some for Joe, should he feel hungry later. And after that, the day caught up with them both and they fell asleep in the chairs.
Stirring uncomfortably, Adam wondered what had wakened him. He opened his eyes and saw that it was dark outside. He frowned as he realized that he was sleeping in a chair. That wouldn’t do his back any favors! As he gingerly started to straighten, he heard again the soft grunt of pain that had brought him from sleep.
Looking round, Adam saw Joe tottering across the room. Leaping to his feet he hurried over to intercept his youngest brother. “Joe, where are you going?” he asked. “You’re in no fit state to go anywhere.” He didn’t add that Joe had no clothes on.
“Georgia,” Joe replied, distractedly. “I’ve got to make sure she’s safe. Edward might hurt her.”
“He won’t hurt her,” Adam soothed. “She’s quite safe, Joe, I promise.” He gently turned his brother around and helped him back into the bedroom.
“He was going to kill us,” Joe told Adam. “Not just me, but Georgia, too, Adam, I swear he was! You’ve got to keep her safe!”
“She’s safe,” Adam told Joe again, and sat by his brother’s side until Joe was asleep once more.
When he went back into the sitting room, Hoss had lit a lamp. “I meant ta tell ya,” he muttered. “Edward weren’t badly hurt. Jist a scratch. The docs let him go.”
Wordlessly, Adam absorbed Hoss’ information. “Georgia,” he whispered, his eyes cutting towards Joe’s room, wondering if his brother had some sort of psychic connection to her.
“I done made them put down a false address,” Hoss assured him. “Georgia an’ the wee one are safe.”
“Well done!” Adam praised his brother. “Tomorrow, we’ll go to the police about this, and until Edward is caught, we stick close to Joe.”
“Agreed!” Hoss nodded.
Morning saw an improvement in Joe’s condition. His mind was clearer and he seemed to be in a bit less pain. Still Adam insisted that he stay in bed until the doctor had seen him and Joe acquiesced quietly. His head still throbbed and his hands were very sore.
The San Francisco Morning Call was delivered to their room and while Adam went out to report Edward to the police, Hoss sat and read the pages of news about the earthquake.
“’Yesterday morning San Francisco was visited by the most severe earthquake the city ever experienced. The great shock commenced at 7.53 am and continued nearly one minute, being the longest ever known in this region. The oscillations were from east to west and were very violent.’”
“I sure hope Pa hasn’t heard about this,” Joe muttered.
“I wired him last night,” Hoss replied. “Told him we was all fine.”
“Hoss Cartwright, that’s not true!” Joe admonished him.
“I know it ain’t,” Hoss replied, calmly. “But I didn’ want Pa comin’ ridin’ alone all this way ta see ya, Joe.”
“I see your point,” Joe conceded. He settled back to hear some more of the story.
He was almost asleep when there was a knock on the suite door. “That’ll be the doc,” Hoss observed and went to answer it. Joe yawned.
There was a sudden surprised grunt from Hoss and a body thudded to the floor. Joe had no doubt it was his brother. He sat up, glancing around frantically for his gun, but he couldn’t see it anywhere! The door to his room was flung open and Joe froze as Edward appeared there, a gun in his hand.
“Where’s my wife?” Edward demanded. Gone was the urbane, sophisticated manager of one of the most famous singers in America. In his place stood a man driven mad by envy and set for revenge.
“I don’t know,” Joe replied, which was true. He didn’t know where Georgia was.
Advancing a step or two into the room, Edward glared at Joe. “I want the truth, Cartwright! What have you done with her?”
I haven’t seen Georgia since yesterday!” Joe denied. He risked a glance out of the door, but he couldn’t see Hoss at all. “What have you done to Hoss?”
“That big ape? I knocked him out.” Edward smiled, but it wasn’t a pleasant smile. “I’m going to kill you, Cartwright. I should’ve done it last year.”
“Why?” Joe cried. “Georgia loved you.” And then he realized what he had said, but it was too late. Edward had heard the past tense, too.
“If it hadn’t been for you, she’d love me still!” he shrieked. He brought the gun up and slowly cocked it. Joe sat frozen, knowing that there was nothing he could do to stop this happening.
As Edward pulled the trigger, Joe threw himself to the floor, feeling the bullet creasing along the top of his already sore shoulder. Then there was a shout, and another shot and as Joe tumbled into darkness, he thought he was dead.
The scene that greeted Adam as he arrived back at the hotel room with the doctor almost defied belief. Hoss was sprawled in an untidy heap on the floor of the sitting room and someone was standing in Joe’s room with his back to the door. As Adam recognized Edward, Edward fired his gun and Adam saw Joe falling to the floor, blood blooming along his shoulder. In one swift movement, Adam drew his gun, bellowed his challenge and fired as Edward turned towards this new threat. Adam’s bullet hit Edward in the chest and he went down, too.
For a paralyzing instant, Adam didn’t know which brother to go to first. But the doctor had no such doubts. Ignoring Hoss, who was already beginning to mumble his way back to consciousness, he dashed into the bedroom, bent momentarily over Edward, then turned his attention to Joe. Adam hurried after him.
It was obvious that Edward had, at best, seconds to live. He looked into Adam’s face with undisguised hatred. “I… had…my…revenge,” he whispered and then the light went out of his eyes.
Forgetting him, Adam looked over at Joe. “It’s a flesh wound,” the doctor assured him. “But he sure didn’t need this after yesterday. Do you know that mad man?”
“Yes,” Adam replied, sadly. He turned away to check on Hoss, relieved to know that Joe would be all right and that Edward’s revenge had been blunted.
The middle brother was on his feet holding his head. “Joe?” he asked, fearfully, as a thumping of feet in the corridor outside heralded the arrival of the hotel manager and a policeman.
“He’ll be all right,” Adam assured him as chaos broke out.
“I’ll be fine,” Georgia assured them all. They were sitting together in the Cartwright’s suite and Georgia looked lovely. Grief haunted her eyes, but when she looked at the baby who was sound asleep in the perambulator, her face softened. “I’ll be resuming my singing career as soon as the opera house reopens, and I have money. I’m going to live with one of my friends until I decide where I want to live. You don’t need to worry about me.”
“I can’t help it,” Joe replied. “You’re my friend.” Joe was still pale and wan, but he was recovering quickly and they were planning to set off for home in the morning. It had been a week since the earthquake and Joe was pining for his father and the Ponderosa.
“You worry about yourself,” Georgia chided, “and don’t do too much until that shoulder is better, hear me?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Joe smiled. He rose to his feet to kiss her goodbye. Joe felt a worm of guilt. Could he have done anything differently? Could he and Edward ever have been friends?
As he turned to look at his brothers, Joe felt a sense of relief that they were both all right. And he remembered Edward’s comments about wishing he had killed Joe, and knew that he had done everything he could. It wasn’t his fault. And the burden of guilt fell away. “Let’s go home,” he suggested.
It was a long, slow journey home, for Adam would not let Joe travel for too long each day. He had been annoyed when Joe had baulked at traveling by stage, but when Joe had pointed out that the stage still wasn’t running regularly, Adam had backed down.
It was an anxious Ben Cartwright who awaited his sons’ arrival home. Each day, he wondered if this would be the day the came, and each day, he checked the weather signs, praying that no snow would fall until they were home safe.
And so it was with great relief that he heard the hooves come into the yard late one afternoon, three weeks after the earthquake. Leaping to his feet, Ben hurried to the door and flung it open. And there, riding into the yard, were his sons.
Tears of joy and relief sprang into Ben’s eyes and he blinked them hastily away. He strode out to greet them, his eyes seeking each beloved face before finally settling on his youngest son. Joe still wore his arm in a sling and he looked pale to Ben’s searching gaze. But he wore a dazzling smile. “Hi, Pa!” he called, cheerfully.
“Don’t you ‘hi, pa’ me, young man,” Ben scolded lovingly. “Can you never stay out of trouble, Joe?”
“Doesn’t look like it,” Joe admitted, his smile dimming slightly.
“Are you all right?” Ben asked. He glanced round to include his other two sons in the question.
“We’re fine,” Adam replied, smiling also. “But I think Joe could use a hand getting down off his horse.”
It was a wasted comment, as Ben was already helping Joe. When his son was securely on terra firma again, Ben put his arms round him and hugged him close. Joe eagerly returned the gesture. After a long moment, Ben let go of him, and went to Adam to hug him close for a moment before repeating the gesture with Hoss.
“Welcome home!” he exclaimed.
I am extremely grateful to the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco for their fabulous website and the records of the San Francisco Morning Call, which diligently reported this series of earthquakes on 21st October 1868!