Summary: What if you lost nine years of your most recent memory and it never came back? What if you had memories that could hurt people if you got them back so they wanted you dead? But you don’t remember who those people are or what it is that they fear you will remember?
Word Count: 20,409
So many regrets tormented him. So many things had been left unsaid over the years. Now this had happened. How could he ever forgive himself if he never got to make amends? He stared at the figure in the bed and reached once more for that hand and held the cold fingers in his warm ones. Now here, a long way from home, it was the two of them, and perhaps only one of them was going home. How could he go there and face the family to tell them that it was his fault? Closing his eyes, he prayed. Over the years, he had let his faith grow weaker as had many of the beliefs and habits of his childhood.
Now he had raced back to his faith with conviction knowing he needed it and feeling guilty about that too. Staring at his brother in that bed fighting to stay on this side of heaven, he wondered if he had his faith yet. He had heard him call out to God and his Lord during the surgery when he wasn’t screaming in pain or cursing those who held him down or the doctor cutting into him. Thankfully it had been relatively short even if it had felt like an eternity. He sat and contemplated why terrible things seemed always to take so long and wondrous things were gone in an instant long before you wanted them to end and before you could savor all the sweetness of that moment. The pain of awful things however seemed to linger as that shooting and surgery did now haunting his thoughts so much that he couldn’t sleep or even think clearly. He called upon God with prayers over and over hoping to ease his pain and to bring his brother back to him and to his family.
Sending Candy to take the herd the rest of the way to the stockyards and to negotiate the sale was perhaps not going to sit well with his father, but at the moment, it was the least of his concerns. When he wasn’t worrying or praying, he was reliving that fateful error. One little slip had led to this.
Shocked to see Adam in town, he had guessed correctly that he was working undercover. Sending the men to get the supplies and telling them they could get a beer when they were done, he had worked his way around town until he was not far from where he had seen Adam. Of course, he wasn’t there by the time he got to that spot. That didn’t surprise him either. What did surprise him was the hand that snaked out from behind some crates and pulled him into the alley.
“Are you crazy?”
“Is that any way to say hello?”
“You must have known I was working of you wouldn’t have snuck around like you did to see me.”
“Yeah, I snuck around so nobody would figure it out.”
“Except you’re not very good at sneaking around. Joe, there are some men who want to kill me.”
“You have evidence against them?”
“I am the evidence against them. I have to get out of this town somehow without them seeing me, but it’s difficult. I have to bring some other information to the proper authorities too. They’re coming at me from both sides now. I was going to slip out tonight, but now that one group has seen you, they may try to use you to get to me.”
“Why? I mean how would they know anything about me?”
“They know a lot about me, and you’re not very good about sneaking around. They most likely spotted you. If they didn’t, the others might have.”
“Hey, I thought I did a good job.”
“You did, for an amateur. Now, do you have men in town with you?”
“Yes, three of them. They’re probably in the saloon by now.”
“You get to the saloon and tell them the basics of the story. Then you hightail it out of town. I assume you came in for supplies?”
“Yeah. We did.”
“Then, as normally as you can, but keeping a good lookout, take your supplies and get back to the herd as fast as you can.”
“How did you know we had a herd?”
“You’re wearing chaps, and you smell like about five hundred head. You’re dusty, and your boots are dirty. It wasn’t difficult to guess.”
“What are you going to do?”
“They’ll be paying attention to you. I’m going to use the diversion to try to follow you out to the herd. If I’m successful, I’ll meet up with you in a few days. I don’t want to do it too soon. I’m guessing they’ll be watching.”
“What are you mixed up in?”
“Something big enough that the men involved sent some killers after me.”
“Why didn’t you go to the law here?”
“They’ve got enough money that I don’t know who they’ve bought. I don’t know any more who I can trust.”
“You’re scaring me.”
“Good, because I’m already scared. These men are dangerous. Being afraid of them makes me careful enough to stay alive. Now, you clear on what you have to do?”
“Adam, I’d like to help you.”
“You are helping me by doing as I ask. Now leave here and act as normal as possible as you walk to the saloon.”
“It’s not normal for me to be in an alley.”
“Walk out buttoning up the last button on your pants. That’s pretty normal for a cowboy.”
After agreeing to do that and grinning, Joe left the alley and headed directly to the saloon. Just as he got there, he looked back to the alley to see if everything looked all right. It was a crucial error. The men watching took it as a sign of where to look. As Joe entered the saloon and quickly briefed his men on what he had learned and what they needed to do, the killers converged on the alley blocking both ends and entering the livery stable that had a back door to that alley. Adam never saw Joe look back as he was cautiously heading down the alley in the shadows prepared to go to the livery to get his horse to make a run for it. He never made it. The first shot missed but as he turned to fire, he was exposed to the second gunman who took more careful aim. Even as Adam pinned the first man down with accurate shots, he was hit in the right arm by a shot from the second. It disarmed him. They might have fired a kill shot to finish the job except four men raced into the alley with guns drawn. Knowing more might follow, they escaped through the livery stable.
The three men tried to ride out of town casually, but that was probably their major mistake. Joe told the sheriff that three or four men had ambushed his brother who worked for the Treasury Department. He said they would probably be trying to leave town. Now almost everyone else in town was headed toward the shooting or was there already. Three men leaving were rather obvious. When the sheriff hailed them, they began shooting and wounded the sheriff drawing the ire of townspeople who pursued them firing rifles and killing two outright and fatally wounding the third.
“Adam, they got them.”
“Well, I’m not fond of the method, but at least it worked. Would you mind another hand on the drive but one who can’t do much as he’ll be one-armed for a few weeks?”
“Well, I suppose we could find something for you to do.”
The grin belied his words though. It had been a long time since Adam had been home. Joe was looking forward to catching up on what he had been doing. After a short visit to the doctor’s office, they five rode back to the herd with the wagonload of supplies. When they got there, there were a few who remembered Adam and greeted him and one whose angry glare went unnoticed until he got his rifle and fired it into Adam’s back slamming him into a wheel of the chuckwagon. His head hit the wheel hard laying him out. Other hands grabbed the man and disarmed him even as Joe rushed to his brother turning him over fearing for his life. Candy was beside him and checked for a heartbeat.
“He’s alive, Joe. But we better get him back to that town and the doctor as fast as we can.”
Standing, Joe looked to the man who had shot his brother and all he could do was ask a plaintive ‘why’.
“He was with my wife. I found the letter he wrote her. It was all the proof I needed. They was together. My boy ain’t my boy. It’s his. They was together before we was married, and he was with her after we was married. He left, but I swore to my wife if he ever came back, I’d kill him.”
Speechless, Joe didn’t know what to say. Instead, he directed the men to put Adam in a wagon and they turned around to take him to town. There the doctor was sympathetic but not hopeful.
“It’s very serious and he has a head wound too. It’s going to make the surgery more complicated.”
“I can’t give him ether. He’ll have to have the surgery without anesthesia. You and your men will have to hold him down. Even with the head injury, he’ll move when he feels the pain from the surgery.”
There had been other surgeries where Joe had helped hold men down as they tried to thrash against the pain of what was being done to them. He had even helped with his own family members in such situations. However, none was as difficult as this hearing his brother cry out in his agony and feeling that he was responsible for it. He didn’t know how he was ever going to explain all of this to his family but knew he had to find a way.
Unable to rest because he knew the letter Jess had used as his reason for shooting Adam, he composed a simple letter to his family. There wasn’t a telegraph in the small town. He was lucky they had a doctor. Hoping that his father and Hoss were home from their trip to Denver, he gave them the basic information so that they would know how important it was that they come as quickly as they could.
There was a major problem with that letter that Jess had claimed was the reason he shot Adam and Joe had to tell that to his family. Adam had never written that letter. He had. Adam wasn’t the father of Jess’ son, but he knew he might be. There was no way to know. The boy had brown hair and brown eyes, but so did his mother. Carrie had never told him that Jess had found that letter. For that matter, he hadn’t even known she had kept it. He would have thought she would have burned the incriminating document long ago. He had hours to think as he sat by Adam’s side and remembered how it had all happened. It was only months before Adam left. Carrie was married to Jess only a short time at that point. Jess worked for them, and he and Adam didn’t get along because Adam had dated Carrie although nothing had come of it because the two didn’t hit it off romantically. They remained friendly though, and it seemed that Jess was jealous thinking that somehow there was still something going on between them. There wasn’t.
During that time, Joe was thrown in the breaking corrals just before a cattle drive. Too injured to walk, he was confined to bed for at least two weeks according to the doctor. Ben had to go on the drive because Joe couldn’t. Jess was going too so Carrie was hired to help take care of Joe nursing him at first and then doing the cooking, cleaning, and laundry as he became more able to do things. They grew very close during that time and gave in to their feelings once. It was only once, but when Carrie found out she was with child, she wasn’t sure if Jess or Joe was the father. After Carrie sent a note to Joe with that information and asking to meet, Joe wrote a letter to her saying that he did love her but that she was married and there could never be anything between them. He told her that God meant the child for her and her husband. He had signed it with only a C hoping that if anyone else ever read that letter, they wouldn’t know who had sent it. Apparently Jess had assumed that Adam had sent the letter and then left. He had waited for him to return to take his revenge. Now the whole story would have to be told in this little town in California. Jess would have to pay the penalty for what he had done. Hopefully, Adam would be there to see justice done. That was the prayer that Joe said over and over again.
Four days later, Ben and Hoss stepped off the stage in the little town. The driver pointed to the hotel and told them the only restaurant in town was next door to the hotel. He pointed across the street and said the best saloon was there because they didn’t water their drinks, but that there were several others further down the street if they wanted cheaper prices. Looking around, both men ignored what he said. Ben had only one interest.
“Where’s the doctor’s office?”
“You sick? You never said nothing about being sick.”
“I’m not sick. I need to find the doctor’s office.”
The driver scratched his head and pointed the opposite way down the street. “His office is in the front part of his house. You’ll see the sign out front if ya walk that way a piece.”
Grabbing their bags, the two men headed off at a fast pace in that direction. It didn’t take long to find the doctor’s home and office. Ben pulled open the small gate in the unpainted picket fence and walked up to the porch. The house was in good repair but could have used some paint too. There were two men on the porch who stood and looked like they were ready to block their access.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Ben Cartwright, if it’s any of your business. I’m here to see my son.”
The man looked Ben over as if evaluating his statement and looked to the other man who nodded.
“He fits the description we’ve been given. The other one must be his brother Hoss or Eric.”
“That’s right, I am, ifn you’re talkin’ ’bout my brother Adam. We’re here ta see ‘im.”
The second man stepped to the door and opened it so Ben and Hoss could enter. Inside, it was quiet, but soon Joe was in the front office. With lack of sleep and not eating, he looked terrible. Bloodshot eyes, sunken cheeks, and downy stubble made him look like he should be a patient instead of Adam.
“He’s in here.”
Gesturing behind him, Joe backed up leading them into a darkened room. As they got used to the dim light, they saw Adam resting on a bed with a white sheet covering him. So pale that he blended far too well with the sheets, it was clear he hadn’t been in the sun much recently. He also had lost a lot of blood and suffered from shock and pain.
“He hasn’t woken up yet. It’s been over four days now and he’s still like this. Doc doesn’t know if he’ll ever wake up.”
Joe’s voice sounded defeated. Ben moved to Adam’s side and took his hand in his hand. He felt those long fingers and realized how cold they were.
“He’s so cold. Why isn’t he covered with more than a sheet?”
“The doctor’s wife is bringing warm blankets. We just finished bathing him and changing the sheets.”
As if on cue, a middle-aged woman walked in with her arms full of blankets. Looking surprised to see three men instead of one, she looked to Joe.
“It’s my father and brother; our father and brother. We can take those.”
Quickly, the three men had the blankets spread out over Adam and tucked in around him. The room was warm with the stove in the corner, but still Adam was cold. The doctor’s wife soon returned with a cup half filled with tea.
“I think your father and brother can help you with this.”
Joe nodded as she left. He handed the cup to his father. “He drinks even if he doesn’t wake all the way. I’ll show you how we get him in position, and then you can hold it up to his lips so he can drink. Hoss, can you grab that towel on the table there. He dribbles a little every time.”
Getting on the bed, Joe maneuvered himself so that he could support Adam’s head without putting pressure on the bandage that was there. Carefully he slid his arm around his brother’s chest and then moved him into a semi-sitting position. When he stopped, Ben moved in and held the cup to Adam’s lips.
“Sometimes, you have to pinch his nose to make him open his mouth. Don’t worry. The doctor said it doesn’t hurt him. It only makes him do what’s necessary.”
That worked and when he felt the warm tea in his mouth, he swallowed. Getting the next few mouthfuls in was easier as he seemed to react to the cup being placed at his lips. When it was gone, Joe lowered him to his pillow. He had whimpered a little as he was raised and again as he was lowered. Sighing, Joe looked to his father and brother.
“It’s all my fault.”
“Son, it wasn’t your fault. In your letter, you said Jess Cavanaugh shot him for revenge. Surely that couldn’t be your fault although I have no idea what kind of revenge Jess could have wanted.”
“Except it is my fault, Pa. Listen, I didn’t tell you everything in the letter, but I told the sheriff here because he had to know. He told Jess, and Jess tried to kill himself when he found out. He feels terrible and he’ll feel a lot worse if Adam doesn’t get better.”
“The truth, Joe. What you talkin’ ’bout anyhow? We figured Jess was maybe still mad at Adam about things that happened on the ranch years ago. Everybody knows how Jess can hold a grudge. Never thought he’d backshoot somebody for anything though.”
“Maybe because he thought he had a reason big enough to shoot somebody except he shot the wrong person.”
Ben got very quiet. “Joe, what is the secret you aren’t telling us?”
Not wanting to look his father in the eye or face his brother when he said it, Joe looked down and spoke softly as he made his confession. “Jess thought Adam and Carrie had an affair. He thought that maybe his son Michael wasn’t his and instead maybe he was Adam’s son. He found a letter from a man to Carrie and he thought that man was Adam. It wasn’t. Pa, you think you know me well, but you don’t know me.”
The look on Ben’s face showed the horror he felt. He feared what Joe would say next. Hoss was confused wondering why
“I’ve been hiding something shameful for years. The letter was from me. I was the one who had the affair with Carrie.”
Ben could say no more, but Joe looked up and could read his expression. All the disappointment in his eyes and the shock that a son would commit such an act were there much as Joe had expected they would be. He only hoped that forgiveness would be there too eventually.
“It was only the one time, and we felt awful about it. We had some wine one night. It was when I got hurt that time and she was hired to take care of me. We were alone there for four weeks. It was a long time, and we talked and we got real close, and it happened. It never should have happened. It was wrong. It never happened ever again, but when she was with child, she didn’t know if it was mine or if it was Jess’ baby. She sent me a note. I sent her a letter telling her that there was no future for us. I said I loved her, but she was married and that was it. The baby was sent to them by God. It didn’t matter who the father was, and the odds were it was Jess anyway. She kept the letter for some reason. Jess must have found it. I don’t know when.”
Leaning back in the chair where he sat, Ben could only sigh. After a moment, he looked at Joe. “And there was no warning? He shot Adam with no warning?”
“There was nothing. He was there, and he got his rifle and he shot him. No one had a chance to stop him. That’s when he said that he had found the letter and knew Adam had an affair with his wife. It was then that I knew what had happened. In one horrible moment, I knew what I had done. I signed that letter with a C so that if anyone found it, they wouldn’t know who sent it. I wasn’t thinking about her and Adam having been together at one time and thinking that Jess might assume that C was for Cartwright but think it was Adam.”
“And the sheriff knows all this?”
“Yes, and he told Jess. He figured he had a right to know the whole truth. Then he notified Carrie that Jess is in jail here charged with attempted murder.”
“Is she coming here?”
“I don’t know. Jess is handcuffed to the cot in his cell now after he tried to kill himself. The sheriff really doesn’t know what to do with him.”
At that point, Adam began to moan and Ben was concerned.
“Are we disturbing him?”
“I don’t think so. The doc said to talk to him to try to bring him around. I didn’t think talking here would be a problem. Maybe he heard your voice. Why don’t you talk to him? He hasn’t come around to my voice.”
The doctor came in the room as Joe was speaking.
“On the contrary, young man, I’ve told you that he is responding more to you. It’s that you want a miracle recovery, and I’ve told you that is unlikely. Your brother is going to come out of this slowly if he does. He has pressure on his brain as well as great weakness from the blood loss and the shock of his wounds.” Turning to Ben, the doctor put out his hand. “I presume you’re the man’s father.” Ben shook his hand. “Now, it will be even better. The three of you can take turns with him. I’ve tried to convince your son here to get some rest, but he has kept a vigil by his brother’s side.”
“One more question: who are those men outside?”
“They’re Treasury Department agents, Pa. They’re here to protect Adam. He was supposed to be a witness against a criminal conspiracy. They knew he would be in danger but never expected this.”
“He’s still in danger?”
“He knows things that he can testify to in court to put some powerful people away for a long time.”
“This is a nightmare.”
Hoss put a hand on his father’s shoulder. “Pa, first we gotta get Adam well again. Then we kin worry ’bout that other shenanigans.”
Turning to the doctor, Ben wanted to know more about Adam’s injuries.
“He has that wound in his back from the rifle shot. You already know about that. It is the major cause of the blood loss, pain, and shock. However, he had already lost some blood from the wound in his arm that day. The bleeding in his brain is probably not that much, but it’s an enclosed space. Even a relatively small amount can cause a serious problem. Bouncing around in the back of a wagon as they rushed him here certainly contributed.”
“Pa, we didn’t know. He was bleeding so much we figured we needed to get him to the doctor.”
“It’s all right, Joe. You didn’t know.”
“I’ve tried to tell him. If they didn’t bring him here, he likely would have died of blood loss and infection. There really was no other choice. Sometimes there is a bad choice and then another choice not quite as bad. This was one of those situations. But now back to the pertinent point. You should try talking to him and trying to get him to open his eyes.”
So Ben did as did Hoss. They got some blinking but nothing more. Disappointed, they were dejected, but again the doctor told them it was progress. Over and over, he told them to keep trying. Later that night, as Ben and Hoss were giving Adam fluids, he slowly opened his eyes to slits. They weren’t even sure they were open until Ben moved slowly to the side and Adam’s eyes followed him. The doctor was called in and got some responses from Adam by asking questions and having him squeeze his father’s hand to answer. Ben noted how weak Adam’s grip was but at least he could move his hand. Physically, the doctor could find nothing wrong with his reflexes other than they were weak and somewhat slow.
“But that’ll git better, right, Doc?”
“Hoss, I hope so, but there are no guarantees with a head injury. We can only wait to see how he is as he recovers.”
That put a bit of a damper on their spirits, but slowly over the next few days, Adam’s recovery seemed to be well in hand. As his head injury healed, the doctor allowed more light in the room and allowed Adam to sit up in bed. He needed help with everything he did especially if he had to stand because he couldn’t balance at all. He couldn’t sit up without being propped up on pillows or being held by someone. Meals were difficult because he wanted to feed himself, but like a baby, wanting to do it and doing it were quite different situations. On the first day that he let them open the curtains and let sunlight in the room, Adam squinted a bit at first.
“Should I close the curtains, son?”
“No, Pa, it’s just been so long it takes some getting used to.”
Looking around at his family, Adam frowned a bit. It seemed that his father looked much older than he remembered. Hoss was certainly larger, but Joe was the most changed of all. He guessed his father could look that way as a result of worry and lack of sleep. Being overtired can make someone look older. Hoss looking bigger could be because he was standing while Adam was sitting in bed looking up. However, the change in Joe was more dramatic and without a rational cause as far as he could tell.
“Joe, what happened to your hair? I swear, in this light, it looks like there’s a lot of grey there.”
Frowning, Joe looked to their father and to Hoss who were both frowning too before he looked back to Adam. “It’s been getting gray for years now.”
“Aw, c’mon. If it was getting gray, I would have seen that.”
Surprised by that, Ben stepped closer and had a question. “Son, do you remember what you were doing when you got hurt?”
“No, not really. I guess that I’m not at home so we must be on a cattle drive. Was it rustlers? At least you all look like you’ve been traveling around a lot.”
“Adam, what year do you think it is?”
“Pa, I got hurt, but I ought to know what year it is. I know all of you, right? It’s 1860.”
When no one said anything to that, Adam got worried. He didn’t know what was wrong but did know it was serious by the looks they had and he thought Hoss had tears in his eyes. Ben turned to Joe and told him to get the doctor. When he came in, he looked to Ben and the others.
“There’s nothing I can do. Joe told me what the problem is. It happens sometimes with head injuries. It may come back. It may not. It may partially come back. You can only wait to see what happens as he heals completely.”
“What’s going on?”
Turning to his patient, the doctor spoke softly. “Adam, I’m going to tell you something that is upsetting. I know you well enough by now to know I have to tell you or you’ll be even more upset with not knowing. You told your family that it is 1860. I have to tell you that isn’t the case. The year is actually much later.”
“How much later?”
“Adam, you seem to have lost some memory. That may be temporary so I don’t want you to get too upset.”
“You need to tell me. What year is it?”
“It’s 1869. You’ve lost all your recent memory.”
Silence greeted that as Adam was in shock trying to comprehend what the doctor had said. He had lost about one-fourth of his life and had nothing, no memory and no connection to anything that had happened during that time.
Not only was Adam upset, but the men guarding him didn’t know what to do. They sent the information to their bosses who decided that Adam didn’t need to be guarded any longer. Ben objected.
“The men who want him dead don’t know he lost his memory. They may still want him dead because he may get his memory back.”
One of the men answered. “It won’t matter if he gets his memory back. No jury is going to accept that kind of testimony. He can’t remember and then he can. It won’t work. No, they said they’ll be dropping the charges and the case. The men who wanted him dead will know there’s no reason to come after him.” Then the guards left.
“Boys, stay alert. I don’t have the confidence that they do. Someone could still be planning harm to Adam. I won’t feel confident about his safety until he’s home.”
“Pa, what about the rest of it?”
“Hoss, I don’t know. We’ll have to see how he is when his wounds have healed.”
The doctor told them they could take Adam home if they traveled slowly enough. He didn’t want him bouncing around on a stage. Ben hired a carriage to take them to a town further north where they could take the train. It was going to be expensive, but he wanted to get Adam home. The doctor also warned them not to try to tell Adam everything that had happened in the previous nine years.
“Tell him things he needs to know as he needs to know them. If people he knew died, for example, don’t tell him all those names at once. Tell him as appropriate. The emotional toll of learning too much too soon could be a major problem emotionally but have a mental and a physical impact too. We know so little about how to handle situations like this. It’s best to proceed cautiously.”
Joe looked at Ben. “Pa, we better start talking about Jamie then. He’s part of the family now and Adam is going to be in the same house with him. He needs to know about him first.”
“Yes, I guess we can talk about that on the ride. We can discuss what else we need to tell him.”
“Be careful that he doesn’t overhear you. His physical skills are slow, and from what you’ve told me, far less than what you expected, but his mental capacity seems quite good. You don’t want to have him catch a bit of conversation and get curious.”
“Doctor, how can he remember so much so well, but he can’t remember anything from the last nine years?” Joe was skeptical that it was only the injury that caused the problem.
“Different parts of the brain control different things. It’s the same as his difficulty standing and walking but he can see clearly. His right side shows some weakness but the left side seems more normal. I can’t give you a reason for any of those that is any better than I can tell you for the memory lapse. As the blood clot in his brain dissolves, and it will, and as his brain heals, some or all of these things will improve or they will not. I can’t predict that accurately either.”
“So, Doc, he could always be like he is, I mean, slow, and needing help ta do things? Adam ain’t gonna like that.”
“I can’t tell you, Hoss. It’s a matter for time and healing. I hope he can make a full recovery, but I have to say, there’s a strong chance his memory will be permanently affected even if physically he recovers completely. I saw some like this in the War.”
On their journey home, some of what Hoss predicted began to show itself as Adam was frustrated with his inability to do even the simplest tasks as easily and quickly as he had done them in the past. Fumbling to button his shirt, he nearly tore the buttons off rather than ask for help. He did throw his fork across the room at dinner the first evening in the room they had. Ben had hoped that having dinner in their room would be easier and it was in some ways. However, Adam was unable to spear the small pieces of food on his plate. It probably hadn’t helped that he had been unable to maneuver his knife and fork to cut his meat in manageable pieces so his father had cut up his meat for him. Then when he tried to use his right hand to angle the fork to get a piece of that meat to eat, he couldn’t do it.
Hoss walked over to pick up the fork, washed it in the basin on the dresser, and then returned to the table. Pressing the fork into Adam’s left hand, he gave him simple instructions. “Try your left hand.” He stared into Adam’s defiant eyes then until his older brother nodded if ever so slightly.
From that point on, Adam used his left hand for most tasks. He didn’t like it, but it was clear to him too that his right side was still impaired. Nothing more was said about it. They all knew what the doctor had said was true. It didn’t seem that Adam’s mental abilities except for memory were affected. He understood even if he didn’t like the conclusions he was forced to face.
Once they were on the train, Ben decided it was time to tell him the one piece of news that couldn’t wait until they arrived at home. It wouldn’t be fair to him and it wouldn’t be fair to Jamie either. He told him the story of how he had brought an orphan home and how that boy had become so important to him that he had adopted him into the family. When he told Adam how old Jamie was though, the memory problem resurfaced.
“I’ve got another younger brother and he’s almost the same age as Joe. I bet they can get into some real shenanigans together.”
“Adam, you’ve forgotten that Joe is older than you remember. He’s as much older than Jamie as you are to him. Joe is the older brother to Jamie as you were to Joe.”
There were more discussions about Jamie before they arrived at the Ponderosa so that Adam would be ready for the reunion. It went well enough, but the relationship was a bit strained for a couple of days until Hop Sing was gone for a few days. Jamie had kitchen duty that first morning. All had watched Adam struggle to eat again as he was frustrated with only being able to use his left hand with utensils. When everyone else had excused themselves and Adam sat with a cup of coffee in front of him, Jamie came back out with a piece of ham cut in eight small pieces. He put it in front of Adam who looked at him as if challenging him.
“You need to practice and this is the best time. No one’s looking. I’ll go back in the kitchen to do my work, and you can try to get your right hand to work at getting food to your mouth. I’ve got clean up duty so I’ll sweep up the floor including anything you happen to drop.”
In the kitchen, Jamie heard the grunts of frustration from his oldest brother. When he heard no more, he went out and found all the ham missing from the plate.
“How many did you get in your mouth?”
With a scowl, it looked at first like Adam wasn’t going to answer. Finally, he said it. “Two.”
Jamie went into the kitchen and returned with his old school slate and wrote a two at the top. “At lunch, you can try again and see if you can do better.” He said nothing more about it and returned to the kitchen leaving Adam at the table. When he came back out to sweep the floor, Adam was sitting on the settee and staring into the fireplace. At lunch though, Adam again nursed his coffee until everyone else left. He looked at Jamie and nodded. They continued the practice for each breakfast and lunch for three days. On the fourth morning, Adam picked up his fork with his right hand at breakfast and managed to eat with it. It was laborious and he dropped a couple of items, but it was significant progress. Ben, Hoss, and Joe couldn’t help staring on occasion until Adam smiled and Jamie grinned.
“Pa, medical school might be a possibility for Jamie. He’s a natural and smart too.”
Jamie grinned even more as the others frowned and looked at each other. Finally Ben had to ask and Jamie explained when Adam told him to go ahead and tell everyone what he had done. When he finished, Adam concluded that apparently he needed to practice each and every skill until he got better. Ben reminded him though that the doctors had restricted his physical activities for a few more weeks because they thought he needed more time for his brain to heal and the blood clots there to dissolve.
“We need to wait on some activities until the doctors feel that you’re ready, but perhaps working with your right hand and right arm on things will keep you busy for a time.”
So Adam began trying to write, to play guitar, and to do various other activities with his right hand and arm. Mostly at first they didn’t go well, but after a week, there was progress. Clearly it was going to take some time, but at least it looked like there was a chance that there might be a full recovery at least physically. Adam’s mood improved significantly with that, and Hoss and Joe weren’t hovering as much which helped too. Never one to be coddled, Adam much preferred being pushed to being pampered so Jamie’s approach had worked well even if it had surprised him. After little more than a week of being home, things were settling into a routine.
Sitting at his desk and working on the ledgers occasionally stealing a glance at Adam who read by the fireplace, Ben thought he was finally able to relax a bit. It seemed that slowly Adam was recovering physically so that worry was easing. He and Jamie were getting along so that was another concern that had lessened. It seemed that there was less tension between Jamie and Adam than between Adam and his other two brothers who often expected him to remember things and he didn’t. With Jamie, there was little expectation that he would know anything about him so they simply talked and asked questions as needed. A few days earlier, Jamie had given Adam a book to read and in the front was a note Adam had written to Jamie the year earlier telling him that he had enjoyed the book and hoped Jamie would also.
“I did too, so I’m guessing you’re going to like it all over again.”
“That’s one good thing about all this. There are all sorts of new books out that I haven’t read.”
The two had chuckled over that which thoroughly confused Hoss and Joe. They thought Adam would be upset by such a thing and were surprised when he wasn’t. Ben tried to explain it to them.
“Jamie and Adam had a lot of similar experiences as boys. They understand each other in some ways better than most. They know a lot of bad things can happen so you get used to that and celebrate the good when you get it.”
Although Ben knew there were still more issues to be faced, none seemed to be pressing at the moment. However his quiet reverie was interrupted.
“Pa, you’ll never guess who I met in town. They’ve come for a visit. They heard about Adam.”
Not wanting to wait any longer or listen to any more of Joe’s explanation, Laura pushed her way past him and smiled at Ben. “Yes, I thought we should be here in Adam’s time of need.”
With no more introduction than that, Laura walked to where Adam stood up next to his chair. He still moved slowly and deliberately having found too often that he was embarrassed by what happened when he moved without planning and too fast. She wrapped an arm around him and kissed him clearly surprising him.
“Well, Adam, aren’t you going to say anything?”
“Ma’am, I guess we must know each other, but you have me at a disadvantage.”
“Ma’am? Is that any way to talk to me after we were once betrothed?”
“Betrothed? Why aren’t we married then?” Adam asked in all innocence having no memory of Laura, Will, or what had happened those years ago. He looked over at his family who seemed so ill at ease with the situation and had no idea what was wrong. He thought he recognized the man standing next to his father. “Cousin Will?”
“Yes. Good to see you again, Adam.”
“Yes, it’s been a very long time, hasn’t it? I think the last time I saw you, I was coming back from college. Now that would be eighteen years ago, wouldn’t it?”
“Ah, well, we did see each other more recently than that.”
Clearly upset, Laura put her hands on her hips and stared at the men. “What is going on here? We heard that Adam had an injury and was incapacitated, but he looks fine. However he talks like he’s crazy.”
Before anything more could be said, Peggy came into the house with Hoss. “Adam!” She launched herself at Adam when she saw him standing and not in a sick-bed as she had been led to believe he would be. Quite a bit older now than the last time she had seen him, she still loved him and wrapped her arms around him as he stood looking at his father and brothers wondering who she was.
It was time for Ben to take charge. “Hoss, I think perhaps you and Adam might go to the kitchen for a cup of coffee.”
However Laura wasn’t ready to concede anything. “I would like Adam to explain what is going on here first.”
“Laura, this is my home. Adam and Hoss will be getting a cup of coffee, and if you have any questions, I will explain. Now sit down and be quiet.”
Peggy released her hold on Adam who walked slowly to the kitchen with Hoss who was alert to be sure that the situation hadn’t aggravated anything enough to cause him difficulty walking. When both were out of sight, Ben turned to Laura and Will.
“You should have contacted us first if you had questions. This is a difficult time for all of us especially Adam. He is recovering from a serious head injury, and as you should have been able to tell, his memory has been damaged.” Laura was going to speak, but Ben put up his hand to stop her. “We don’t know if he will recover his memory and his physical abilities at this point. It has only been a short time that he has been home here. It will be weeks at least before we get an idea if he will remember all that he has forgotten.”
“He forgot me?”
“He’s lost about the last nine years of his memory. Anyone he met or anything he did during that time is gone. He has no memory of people, places, things from those years.”
“Perhaps my being here will help him remember.”
“No, the doctors have assured us that he needs to heal first. Maybe in time familiar people and things will help him remember, but right now, he is still healing.”
Will stood. “Then we should go.”
“I’m afraid that is for the best at this time, Will. I’m sorry you came this far for nothing.”
“It wasn’t for nothing. I got to look my cousin in the eye and not see pain there that I caused. If nothing else, at least, he has less pain for the memories he’s lost.”
Laura didn’t want to touch that subject and waved her farewell as she proceeded out of the house with Peggy. In the kitchen, Hoss and Adam could see them get in the carriage to leave.
“I was really going to marry her at one time?”
“But Will married her instead?”
“Yup, he did.”
Quiet for a short time, Adam smiled. “Dodged a bullet there, didn’t I?”
“Ya shur did.”
“Going to tell me the details some day?”
“Only if ya ask.”
“Might be better if I didn’t?”
“You know I’m curious now.”
“Curious about what?” Ben had come into the kitchen with Joe and Jamie right behind him.
“I found out I almost married her and now Hoss tells me that I would rather not know why I didn’t. That of course makes me want to know.”
“Nope, Adam, you do not want to know.” Joe made it clear where he stood on the subject.
“Adam, it’s probably best to drop the subject. It wasn’t a pleasant time for you.”
“Pa, I know there are bad memories as well as good ones that I’ve lost. How can it hurt to tell me what happened to me in my life?”
“Pa, why not tell him? You all told me about it. It would probably sound about the same to him as it did to me since neither of us were there at the time, well, you know what I mean.”
Jamie figured someone ought to tell him but was surprised when Adam asked him to do it then.
“Yes, why don’t you tell me what they told you? I would guess they told you a rather sanitized version of whatever happened.”
“Leaving out all the more unpleasant details. Now, tell me what they told you.”
With a rather apologetic look at their father, Jamie agreed. “You started helping out Laura when her husband got killed. You really liked her daughter and kinda felt responsible for both of them after a while. You wanted a family and asked Laura to marry you. She said yes. But when you were building a house for the two of you, she took up with your cousin Will behind your back. You fell off the house and hurt your back so Laura was going to stay with you. But then you told Will to take her and that was that.”
“Thank you, Jamie. That doesn’t seem too bad except for Will and Laura. I can see why Will looked a bit nervous when he came into the house today. But why was Laura that way? She acted as if she was in charge but then she got kind of whiny too.”
“That’s how she was, older brother. She could be all needy and whiny and then turn around and try to be all sneaky and working things her way. It was like you could never do nothing right by her. That gal is a plumb silly ninny.”
Frowning for a moment, Adam looked to his father. “Pa, why would you think I would be upset to know I avoided marrying her? It seems like a good thing.”
“Ah, well, it seemed that you were very interested in getting married. It was another disappointment.”
“So there were others?”
“You know Will did say something that I hadn’t thought about. He said at least you had less pain for the memories you lost. Yes, there were some unpleasant things that happened, and you were unhappy.”
“What did I do?”
“Adam, you left. After a few years of that, you left and made a life away from the Ponderosa.”
That was perhaps the most shocking thing that anyone had yet told Adam. When he was thirty, he hadn’t seriously considered leaving the ranch. The thought had occurred to him, of course, but he hadn’t actually thought he would do it. Four years later, he was planning to leave, but all that had happened in those years was gone.
“I left? What did I do?”
“We’re not too sure. You traveled at first, but then you took a job with the Treasury Department, and from that point on, we never really knew what you were doing.”
They didn’t need to point out to him that they didn’t know who to ask either.
Over the next few weeks, Ben as well as Adam’s brothers found that they were telling him about Laura and Will as well as other stories a number of times. He seemed to forget that he had ever been told some of the stories. Doctor Martin told them that was to be expected but that repetition might actually help his real memories emerge. That too started to happen as Adam began to ask some questions about things.
“Do we have any windmills on the Ponderosa?”
At dinner one evening, that question caught everyone by surprise. Ben looked at his son and recalled the argument they had over those many years earlier.
“Do you remember windmills?”
“I think I remember building one, but I can’t remember where it was. It was hot, dry, and dusty though.”
So they were able to tell him how Hoss had begun helping a family with a well that had turned into a family project to drill a well and put up a windmill. Little things like that were giving them hope that Adam would recover his memories. However most of his memories were somewhat vague and from many years earlier. There were no memories of anything recent no matter how hard he tried to think of something. Although Ben was disappointed, Paul put it in a better perspective for him.
“When you first got that letter from Joe, you thought Adam wouldn’t live. Then the next prognosis was that he might not walk or talk or even remember anything from the past nine years. Now he’s recovering physically and it looks like there won’t be any permanent loss of his skills or abilities even though it will take some time and practice for him to return to where he was. His memory, although somewhat impaired, is returning. It’s as close to a miracle as you’re going to get. Things could have turned out so much worse than they have.”
“He is remembering some things from his past, but sometimes he can’t seem to remember what we told him yesterday or even this morning.”
“That can be a problem with head injuries. All I can say is to give that time too. I know you find it frustrating, but consider how difficult this is for Adam. He’s managing as well as he can.”
“He doesn’t remember how he got hurt.”
“I doubt he ever will. Usually that memory is gone from patients who suffered a severe head injury. It’s like the brain never got that memory in place probably because of the violent damage being done to it.”
“So, we wait to see how much he’ll improve and how much he’ll remember.”
“Yes, unless there’s someone who shows up from his time away from here who could help him remember those years, you’re doing all you can for him. Now there may be memories he doesn’t want to remember. Unless you think he needs to know, there’s no need to bring up things that will be painful for him. He may remember on his own but don’t push him to remember. He has enough on his plate right now.”
Someone else with enough on his plate was Joe. Outside he was chopping wood rather furiously as Hoss and Candy worked on repairing a wagon wheel and Jamie tried to help Joe without getting in the way of flying wood. After Jamie complained for about the fifth time and Joe snapped at him again, Candy asked Hoss rather loudly what the problem was.
“Well, near as I kin figure, Joe wants ta be mad at Adam for leaving and not coming back and such, but he cain’t ’cause Adam cain’t remember leaving much less why he left. Joe’s feeling guilty too for being the reason Adam cain’t remember those things even though Adam told him he don’t hold it against him. Joe says he cain’t forgive him ifn he don’t rightly remember what happened to make him lose his memory and Doc says he ain’t likely to ever remember what happened when he got himself hurt.”
“Hmm, so Joe’s mad because he can’t be mad the way he wants to be mad, and he’s mad because he can’t be forgiven because he won’t accept that he has been unless Adam remembers why he’s forgiven so then he’ll remember the rest and Joe can be mad at him for all those other things he wants to be mad about except Adam won’t ever remember it?”
At that point, Jamie stopped working and stared at Hoss and Candy. “Wait a minute, that sounds crazy if I understood even half of what you said.”
“Yup.” It was in unison that time.
Throwing down the axe, Joe stood with his hands on his hips. “I’m right here. You don’t have to talk about me like I can’t hear.”
“Oh, I know’d you could hear me. I was hopin’ ya would hear me. Joe, don’t it sound the least bit crazy to you too?”
“Sounds a bit that way to me.” Adam had walked out onto the porch having heard some of the conversation from inside. When Joe turned to him, he held out his hands. “What is it you want from me, Joe? Do you want to take a poke at me that bad?”
“No, I don’t want to hurt you.” Seeing his brother standing there dressed in his old clothing and looking like he had many years earlier except for being older of course, Joe realized in a burst of clarity what he wanted. “I want my brother back. I want the brother I knew.”
“Joe, I want that too. I’m trying as hard as I can.”
“I know you are. I’m sorry for being so impatient. It’s just that I’ve lost so much.”
“You know, everyone has been telling me stories of my past trying to jog my memories. What I’m not hearing are your stories. I think I’m missing something big from you, Joe. What happened that I should know?”
Asked so innocently, Adam had no idea what he had done. Joe blanched and then walked away without saying a word. Although he wanted to be angry, Candy shrugged when he looked at Adam noting the confusion he showed so clearly.
“I’ll go with Joe. I guess it’s time the rest of you told Adam about some of the bad stuff that happened while he was gone. I guess we all wish we could forget it too.”
It was a difficult afternoon. Candy talked to Joe who was upset that he had reacted the way he had. Candy assured him that anyone would have done that if they were surprised the way he had been surprised.
“And it’s another reason for you to be mad at him.”
“I can’t be mad at him. It’s not his fault.”
“Then who are you mad at because it’s darn clear you’re mad at somebody.”
Pausing to stare into the distance, Joe took his time to try to find a way to say it that would make sense. “He’s my oldest brother. When I was younger, I always resented that he was in charge, that he knew more, that he gave the orders. But I counted on him to do all that too. One of the reasons I was upset with him for leaving was the hole he left here. Either Pa was going to have to do a lot more or I was. So I had to step up. Pa said that he and Adam had talked about that before he left. Adam figured I could take his place doing what he had been doing.”
“But you didn’t want to even if you resented him for doing it.”
“Yeah, I know it doesn’t make complete sense. But anyway, I want my brother back. I want to shake him and tell him to remember and be what he was.”
Unable to hold back the smirk, Candy stared at Joe who finally had to smile.
“All right, I know that sounds stupid, but it’s how I feel. It’s so frustrating to see him like this.”
“And you feeling responsible for it?”
Joe nodded because that was at the root of his frustration. If only Adam would recover more, he could let go of some of the guilt he felt for what he had done because no matter what anyone said, he felt responsible.
“Listen, you’ve told us what you did. Any one of us might have done that same thing. We’re not trained to do things in secret. Besides, they might have found Adam anyway. He knew they were following him. He knew he was taking a chance by contacting you. Maybe this is really his fault for contacting you in the first place. If he hadn’t, then you couldn’t have done anything to give him away. As for Jess shooting him, that is on Jess and on Carrie for letting Jess believe in a lie.”
Frowning, Joe looked at Candy for a time. “Maybe what you’re really saying is what Pa has been trying to drill into my head since he found out what happened. It was no one’s fault except the men who did it.”
“Now if you could accept that, it would sure make things go a lot better around here.”
“I can try. I’ll do my best.”
“Of course you will. You’re a Cartwright.”
When they got back to the house, they found Hoss and Jamie with Adam at the gun cabinet. They were looking over pistols and trying to decide which one to have Adam use for some target practice. Joe reached into the drawer and took out a Colt handing it to Adam.
“Use this one. It’s well suited to how you shoot.”
“I don’t remember how I shoot.”
“Don’t think about it. Just do it. It’s not a memory. It’s a skill. I think you’re not likely to have much trouble with this.”
The five men trooped out to an area far behind the house where it wasn’t likely that a stray shot would cause any problems. Despite Joe’s encouragement, they all still wanted to take adequate precautions. Jamie had grabbed some cans and bottles from the barrel next to the kitchen and set them on an old fence line that had been used for this purpose for years.
“The pistol I gave you has a light pull.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be careful so I don’t shoot myself in the foot.”
“I was more worried about the rest of us.”
Smiling broadly, Adam didn’t have a smart comment for that because more than anything that kind of remark let him know that he and Joe were on their way back to a healthy relationship. Hoss knew it too and put a hand on each brother’s shoulder. When Adam began to load the pistol with the shells Joe handed to him, Jamie whispered to Hoss.
“Are they mad at each other?”
“But they’re being so, well, you know, kind of poking at each other.”
“Yep, it’s how they always was. They’re a lot alike that way. Sparring with each other like that kinda clears things up between ’em. It can git irritating when they overdo it, but kind of entertaining when it’s like they’re being now.”
“So it’s all right to laugh?”
“Snicker would be more like it. Join on in ifn ya got a mind to. I figure Candy will when he gets a chance.”
On his first try, Adam hit four of the six cans Jamie had put up. Hoss whistled and Candy had his first comment.
“Not bad for an old man, I guess. A little slow though. What would you do if they were moving or shooting back?”
“Duck for cover. Probably behind you.”
The others snickered as Candy acknowledged the comeback. Then Adam tried shooting faster and hit only two.
“Guess I do need to practice.”
Hoss was supportive. “Your right side ain’t quite what it was yet. You keep practicing though and it’ll come back.”
Noticing that Jamie was hanging his head though, Adam asked what was wrong.
“Well, when I got here in the family, I heard all these stories about you and all the things you could do. I got the feeling that you could do just about anything maybe even walk on water. Now I guess I need to get me some waterproof boots instead.”
There was silence for a few seconds until Adam threw back his head and laughed. The others joined in as Jamie was actually a little embarrassed. Adam put a hand on his shoulder.
“Pa sure knows how to pick them. Little brother, that was a good one.”
As Adam walked back to the house then with Joe and Candy discussing the pistol and where he ought to buy a rig to wear, Hoss walked with Jamie.
“Hoss, it’s funny, but I really feel like I belong now.”
“Cause Adam called you ‘little brother’ back there?”
“Yeah, it’s like when you’re putting a puzzle together and you push in that last piece.”
“I know what you mean. I kinda almost got tears in my eyes when I heard him say it. It was so natural like too. He meant it like he said it. He thinks of you as his little brother now.”
When they walked into the yard in front of the house though, there was another problem to be faced. Carrie Cavanaugh was there with Michael and wanted to talk with Joe. Adam and Candy didn’t know what to say to that, but Hoss quickly intervened.
“Carrie, why don’t you go on into the house. Candy and Jamie can entertain Michael while the rest of the family talks over why you’re here.”
That was a signal to Joe to escort Carrie into the house. She had hoped to speak privately with Joe thinking she could get further with him but knew now she would have to deal with the whole family. She had her argument well rehearsed but didn’t know if it would work against Ben Cartwright. She never expected the opposition she got from Adam.
“I suppose you heard that Jess hanged himself in his cell before the trial. He used his blanket and leaned against the bars until he died. If they had checked on him, they could have saved him. He didn’t want to live and admit everything in court about how he tried to murder the wrong man for being with me when it was Joe instead who fathered his son not him.”
“Whoa, wait a minute there.” Adam put up a hand. “You expect us to believe that Michael is Joe’s son. He doesn’t look at all like Joe because I remember what Joe looked like as a boy. Your boy looks a lot like Jess, and he’s got the same build. What kind of game are you trying to play here?”
Looking around the room, Adam got a good idea of what Carrie might have hoped to accomplish. Joe looked terribly guilt ridden and their father looked almost hopeful that he might have a grandson. Adam realized that their father might be willing to accept her story for that reason. So Adam looked at Hoss who nodded.
“Adam’s right. That boy don’t look none like Joe. We’re wondering why you’re here.”
“I thought you would want to do the right thing.” Carrie knew how poor that sounded after what Adam and Hoss had said. It had been what she had planned to say though and she had nothing else.
“So you thought you would try to make us believe Joe was the father and then get us to pay? Let me ask you this. Did you tell Jess that another man was the father? Did you tell him over the last few years enough lies that he thought he wasn’t the father and he was ready to believe another man was the father? And is that why you kept the letter and let him find it?” Seeing her reaction, Adam knew he was hitting very close to the truth if not hitting it dead center so he continued. “Did you think one of us would kill him for you?”
Carrie put her hand to her mouth then. “No, God, no. I never thought that. I thought he would leave me and I would be able to come here and get your support. I never thought I would be treated so terribly.”
“Miss Carrie, maybe it’s ’cause my brother Adam here got shot by Jess and coulda died. He still ain’t back to his old self completely yet. And your husband is dead. His family has to live with that and with how he died after what he done. All of that is on you, ma’am. I cain’t see as how you think we kin treat you any more terrible like than you done been acting yourself.”
“So you won’t help me?”
Ben stepped up then. “It depends on what you’re asking. We do have sympathy for your situation even if you brought it on yourself. However we will not let you drag any other member of our family into your troubles.”
“Could you help me get a job in another town then? All I hear here is talk about me and about Michael.”
No one repeated that she was the reason there was talk about Michael. Ben agreed that they could help her with that if she would return to town and prepare to move. He said he would send a representative of the Ponderosa to help her.
“Not one of the family?”
“I think not.”
“All right. I’ll go now.” At the door, she paused. “I guess I should say thank you.” Then she left.
Joe watched as the door closed and then turned to his family. “I don’t know how I ever thought I loved her. She is one cold-hearted woman.”
“Do you think Candy would accept the responsibility of helping her move to Carson City and getting her a job there. I have some contacts for him.”
“Yes, Pa, I think he can handle it. She won’t be able to fool him.”
“To be safe, Joe, talk to him about her before he goes. I don’t want him hurt by her. Enough men have been hurt by her.”
Everyone in the room thought mostly about Michael and what he would be like as he grew up. Living with such a manipulative and dishonest woman could make it difficult for him to be a good man. Ben suggested they might talk to a few people in Carson City that they knew well who could try to look out for the boy and try to steer him in the right direction. It was all they could do.
After Carrie left with Michael, Joe looked at Adam sitting in the chair by the fireplace and sat down on the settee next to him. When Adam looked over at him, he guessed that Adam was remembering more.
“Thank you for what you did. I was feeling so guilty ever since I heard what Jess did, I almost thought maybe I should marry her so I could raise Michael as my son. It never dawned on me that she could have been manipulating things like she must have. I can see now why you were so good in your job. You saw right through her and didn’t let her off the hook at all.”
“I was cruel.”
“You were honest, and you did what needed to be done. It’s what you always did. Adam, don’t feel bad about it. It had to be done. A lot more people would have been hurt if she wasn’t stopped.”
Hoss moved over and sat next to Joe. “Yeah, older brother, I was right proud of the way you stepped in and saved our younger brother here from possibly making another mistake. She was gonna try using guilt to push him.”
“I guessed that was why she wanted to talk to him alone.”
“Yeah, I figured that too after it was done, but you figured it out sooner. I’m glad you was here to do that.”
With his elbows in his knees, Adam leaned forward and rested his chin on his folded hands. It was such a reminder of how Adam had often looked in the past when he was troubled that they all nodded as Ben stepped forward and put a hand on Adam’s shoulder.
“Son, it’s for the best. There was no better way to do things.”
Looking up at his father, Adam acknowledged the support and agreed. “Thanks, Pa.”
“I get the feeling that you’re remembering more now.”
“Yes and no because I am, but it’s all shadows. I can’t clearly picture anything, but I get this feeling that there’s something that I ought to be worrying about except I don’t know what it is.”
“You were going to testify against some men. That’s probably it.”
“Yes, I guess so.” Except Adam knew that wasn’t it. Someone had warned him about something else except he didn’t know who it was or what he needed to fear. All he got was a sense of dread and that the person warning him was scared for him and for her. That surprised him. He knew then that it was a woman who had given him the warning, yet none of the people Joe had mentioned had been female. All the agents with whom he had spoken were male. Somewhere out there was a female agent or perhaps a contact or even a double agent who had given him a warning. He wished he knew more, but his memory was not cooperating. What he knew was that when he heard Carrie talk, he had been reminded of that person, but again, he didn’t know why he had made that connection. He wished he knew who to contact to get more information, but he didn’t know that either. All he could do was wait and hope more of his memory returned.
To try to get Adam’s mind off what had happened and back on a more positive note, Hoss suggested that they might go into town the next day to pick out a pistol rig for him to wear. Joe and Jamie wanted to be there too but Ben suggested that perhaps someone ought to stay on the ranch to get some work done. Because Hoss had suggested it, Ben said he should be the one to go with Adam on his first time venturing to town. Adam surprised his father though by asking if Joe could come with them too. Unable to deny his son something like that, Ben agreed even if he wondered why. Joe and Hoss had the same question but didn’t ask it until the three of them were on the way to town the next day.
“Because I have this feeling that I’m supposed to be worried about something, and Joe is the only one who was there when there were men following me. If anyone is going to recognize someone from there, he would.”
“But the men following you got killed.”
“Maybe, but we don’t know if there was someone else or someone there for another reason. I only want you to pay attention to see if there’s anyone around who looks at all like they might have been there.”
“You’re really worried about this, aren’t you?”
“Joe, I can remember being warned about someone or something, but I can’t remember the warning and I can’t remember who gave it to me. I only know I took it seriously so there must have been some danger, and I don’t know if it’s gone or not. You also said that you thought it was three or four men who ambushed me, but there were only three who left town. What if there was a fourth who hid out instead of leaving?”
“Now you’re making me worried.”
“Good, being worried will make you safer because you’ll be more careful and more alert.”
“You’re starting to sound like the Adam I talked with before you got shot. You said something almost exactly like that to me then.”
“I guess I should have listened better myself.” He saw the look Joe got then. “Except no one could have been ready for Jess Cavanaugh. No one knew how Carrie was poisoning his mind. She had no idea, I guess, what she was doing and how he would react. She took away his pride and his manhood. He felt he had to do something to get them back, but he chose a damn poor way to do it.”
“Now Michael doesn’t have a father.”
“With the way Carrie put those thoughts in Jess’ head, I’m guessing he never really did. I bet Jess never looked at that boy without wondering who his father was and all the time it was his son. It had to affect how he treated the boy.”
“You never said why you didn’t stick with Carrie.”
“I wish I could remember, but like a lot of things like that, I have no memory at all of being with her. I’ve heard the stories now of Laura and of Regina and others. I have to say that Regina intrigues me, but I still have no memories of her either. I can’t remember Howard or any of those others I tried to befriend either. Paul seems to think that I don’t want to remember so I won’t. Maybe it’s for the best. I can go forward with a clean slate.”
“Mebbe there’s people who want ta kill ya and you’re not remembering them neither ’cause ya don’t like the memory. That could be awful dangerous.” Hoss was worried too.
“Yeah, that is a concern, but I can’t force myself to remember, and there’s no one stepping up to offer me any clues.”
Under the circumstances, Ben agreed that Hoss and Joe should accompany Adam to town even when Jamie complained that he was the only one who had to stay home and work. The others only smirked and went to get the carriage ready. In town, there were a number of people who came up to them. Some Adam remembered because he had known them longer than nine years. Others had been more recent acquaintances and he needed help from Hoss and Joe. Both did their best to be discreet and say the person’s name in greeting so Adam could do the same without appearing to have forgotten them even though he had. Because of his recent injuries, Adam could be a bit reticent in his conversation and was. People were understanding. As they walked through town, there were a few others they encountered who gave Adam some strange looks. Hoss and Joe both noticed it even though Adam missed it.
“Joe, did you see that. Those two kinda looked at Adam like they expected he was gonna know ’em and when he didn’t, they looked at each other and made a look that was, I don’t know, but they kinda smiled nasty like.”
“Yes, I saw it too. I wonder what that was about.”
“Joe, did you recognize either of them? I mean, do you think you saw either of them before today?”
“No, Adam, sorry, but I never laid eyes on either of them before.”
“Well, maybe someone then who likes seeing a Cartwright brought down a notch.” Except Adam didn’t believe that and had a funny itchy feeling on his back the rest of the time they were in town.
They passed a couple a short time later who both politely nodded at Adam and his brothers. The woman had a slight smile as they passed. Hoss and Joe both looked back in appreciation after they walked by.
“Hoss, why is it that all the best looking women are always taken before we see them?”
“I don’t know, Joe. Maybe we gotta get to town more often.”
As Adam smirked, his brothers frowned.
“What’s wrong with Hoss’ idea?”
“All you have to do is let them know you’re ready to get married, and you’ll have pretty women lined up around the block. If all you want is a pretty face, that’s not that hard to get. What’s hard to find is beauty inside, the kind of beauty that’s still there after you’ve been married thirty years.”
There wasn’t much to say to that. They were quiet for a short time.
“You know, Hoss, that bump on the head may have helped. Instead of some sarcastic comment, he actually said something smart there.”
“Yeah, but now ifn he could help us find some of them women with that beauty inside, now that would be even better.”
“Hoss, he can’t even go to town by himself yet. I don’t think he’s going to be bringing any pretty women home any time soon.”
“Maybe the next time, but Pa is going to be expecting us soon. You know he’s probably already on the porch smoking his pipe and wondering where we are.”
“Yup, Adam’s right. We oughta get going, Joe.”
They got the carriage with the supplies packed in back at the general store and Hoss mounted up on Chubb. They had taken the carriage because Adam wasn’t sure he was up to that much riding yet having only taken some short rides at home. He leaned back and relaxed as Joe took the reins. They rode out of town at a good pace and an hour later, two men on a ridge were frustrated seeing them.
“I can’t get a shot at him with that one driving and the other one riding next to the carriage like that.”
“You ride ahead a couple of miles and set up for a rifle shot. I’ll hang back with them and when I figure you’re in position, I’ll ride down behind them and start shooting. They’ll most likely go for cover which means he’ll be getting out of that carriage. You should get a chance at a clean shot then. He’ll try to keep the carriage and the horses between him and me but that will leave a clear field of fire for you.”
“That’s a good plan. Give me twenty minutes and then do it.”
When the trap was sprung, it almost worked as they expected except Adam went to the side of the carriage next to the horses who shielded him. The assassin in the rocks waited for him to back away from there and saw him slowly doing that. He sighted in on his target as the three brothers concentrated their fire on the one man firing furiously at them. Without warning, there was a shot behind them. Both Adam and Joe whirled around to see a rifle clatter to the road and then a man roll down bouncing from one rock to land next to the rifle. A figure up above waved an all clear. They didn’t know who it was but there seemed to be no threat there. Joe looked at Adam.
“Seems to be.”
“Cover me. I’m going to get around to the side and help out Hoss with the other one.”
Giving covering fire, Adam kept glancing behind him too to see if there was any additional threat showing there. Nothing happened. Then there was some shooting behind them before he heard Joe shout that it was all over. He and Hoss walked to where they heard their younger brother. They found him standing over a dead man.
“I had the drop on him and told him to give up. He tried to take me instead. I had to shoot him.”
“Joe, you had no choice. He made you do it.” Adam did his best to console his brother. He may have lost some of his memory, but he still knew how hard it was to take a life even in self-defense.
“It’s one of those men who looked at you funny in town, Adam. The ones me and Joe thought mighta had some nasty thoughts ’bout you.”
“I guess you were right. The other one is probably the one back there in the road.”
“Who was that up on the hill who shot him though?”
Adam shrugged. “Let’s go find out.”
By the time they got back to where the other assassin lay dead, there were two people there, a man and a woman. When they turned, they recognized them as the couple they had seen in town. Both looked directly at Adam. She spoke first.
“Our bosses didn’t think the syndicate would come after you. We thought they would. I’m glad we came to help out. Jeffrey got him before he could get you.”
“Who are they?”
“You’re the one who knows.”
“Except I don’t.”
“You really have lost your memory.”
“At least some of it.” Adam paused not sure of how to ask the next question. “You saved my life. I’d like to thank you properly, but I have to ask you something first. Who are you?”
When Hoss described the moment to his father later, he said it was as if her face froze with a slight smile in place but her eyes lost their twinkle. She must have been told Adam had lost his memory but somehow the impact of that had not truly hit her until that moment. She rather mechanically introduced herself as Margaret and her colleague as Jeffrey. There were no last names. Jeffrey said he would take the bodies back to town and make a report to the sheriff. He suggested Margaret go with the Cartwrights. She agreed.
At the house, Ben was indeed waiting on the porch relieved to see his sons home safely and quite surprised to see a woman with them. He was shocked to find out what had happened and quite grateful to Margaret for what she had done. Hoss and Joe told most of the story as Adam was quiet. For the rest of the day, Adam stayed relatively quiet even as Margaret began to talk about some of what he had done for the Treasury Department. None of it was triggering any memory although he knew it might take time. It seemed that hints that he got took time to trigger memories to return, and even when they did, the memories were incomplete. He wanted so much to remember this obviously intelligent and capable woman, but could not.
After dinner, Adam said he needed to take a walk. Hoss would have preferred Margaret’s company but knew his brother could use his support so he excused himself too. Joe did the same for similar reasons. That left Ben to talk with Margaret. He had been mostly silent while she had talked letting Hoss, Jamie, and Joe do most of the questioning. They were insatiably curious about Adam’s life away from the Ponderosa so there had been many questions leaving Ben and Adam free to listen and observe. Ben had noted the intensity of Adam’s gaze whenever he looked at Margaret and doubted that Adam was even aware of it. He was having a physical reaction to her even though he couldn’t consciously remember her. Ben had noted her reactions to Adam as well and caught the unmistakable signs of her emotional ties to his son. When she sat down, she cast one look at the closed door and then stared into the fireplace. Ben smiled noting the similarity to what his son would have done in such a situation. When Jamie headed up to his room to do some reading, Ben and Margaret had a chance to talk.
“Do you have any questions for me, Mister Cartwright?”
“Only one that I’m not sure I should ask.”
“What is that?”
“I hurts, doesn’t it, to love him and he doesn’t know it.”
A sharp intake of breath was the only indication Ben had that he had hit the truth. He waited giving her time to decide to be honest or to hide her feelings. She decided to be forthright.
“He never knew.”
“Maybe you should tell him.”
“It was a difficult situation before, and now it’s even more so. He doesn’t even remember me so I know he doesn’t love me.”
“Perhaps if you told him your feelings and gave him a chance to remember, it could be that he might. Or stay here and give him a chance that way. Do you love him enough to try?”
“I would like to stay here. I think he’s still in danger, and I think I can help keep him safe. To be honest, I think we have someone from the syndicate in our ranks. I don’t know who it is, but no one should have known where Adam was or even where he is now.”
“I would be pleased to have you as a guest here.”
Any further conversation was ended when Joe came in. “Adam would like to talk with you if you have time.”
When Margaret went out to the porch, Hoss bid her goodnight and went inside. Margaret was concerned though about the situation.
“Adam, it isn’t safe for you to be out here like this with this lantern lighting you up.”
Leaning over, Adam turned the lantern down until there was no light from it plunging the porch into darkness with only shadows from moonlight showing where the furniture was. Dressed in black, he was nearly invisible. Margaret was wearing a navy blue blouse and riding skirt so she was nearly as invisible. Up on the hill, a man swore and put his rifle down. First the big man had been in the way almost the entire time blocking a clean shot, and now he couldn’t see his target. He stood and took his rifle with him passing the body of the man he had killed an hour earlier. Deciding to dispose of him so he wouldn’t be found in that spot, he rolled him into his bedroll and then dragged him to where he had tied his horse. Securing him to the saddle, he walked that horse and his for a half mile so that no one would hear anything. Then he rode slowly away unwilling to take a chance on having an accident. He guessed he wouldn’t get any sleep this night, but it was likely going to take a few days to set up a new plan so he thought he would have plenty of time to get some rest.
On the porch, Adam sat in a chair not trusting himself with Margaret. His mind said he didn’t know her, but his instincts were to go to her. She leaned on a porch support and waited for him to talk.
“I want to remember you. Everything tells me I should know you. Yet, I don’t have a single memory of you. It’s as if I have shut out the whole memory of my career away from the Ponderosa.”
“Have you remembered anything of the years you lost?”
“Yes, I’ve remembered some things, good things, but the memories are incomplete and somewhat hazy. My family has told me stories about other things that happened, but it has done nothing to bring back any other memories. I don’t even know how long I worked for the Treasury Department.”
“Almost five years. The last three years, you were working mostly undercover. I was your contact.”
“We saw each other a lot then?”
“Yes, my cover was as a saloon girl and you were my favorite. When you came to town, everyone knew we would spend all of our time together.”
Although he was curious about how close they were, he wasn’t ready to discuss that yet. “What role did Jeffrey play?”
“He was a gambler. He liked to walk me home at night when you weren’t in town any more. People made assumptions about that, but it gave me the perfect opportunity to tell him everything you told me. With everyone gossiping about the three of us, no one thought to look any deeper. It was a great cover.”
“Somebody told the syndicate who you were. I’m afraid it’s someone in our ranks. Now they may have informed on me and Jeffrey too. For that matter, I wonder where Jeffrey is. He should have been here by now.”
“Maybe it got late and he decided to stay in town.”
“Maybe.” Clearly though Margaret was worried.
“We can’t do anything about it until morning. We should go inside. Watch for that step right behind you.”
Standing, Adam moved quickly to her side taking her arm and putting his hand on her back to guide her. The touch was electric for both of them and made Margaret more bold than she might have been otherwise.
“Your father said I should tell you something so you could evaluate it. I wasn’t sure I should say something, but being out here in the dark, it’s easier to think about saying it.”
“What is it?”
“I love you.”
With that, Margaret walked ahead into the house while Adam stood still as a statue not moving for a full minute as thoughts whirled about in his head with no discernible pattern or plan. The door was still open and he moved ahead when he heard his father call his name.
“Yes, Pa, I’m coming.”
Inside, Margaret announced that it had been a long day and she was tired so Ben directed Joe to show her to a room. She had the basic necessities with her in her saddlebags and planned to get her other things from the hotel the next day. Still worried about Jeffrey, she knew Adam was correct that they couldn’t do anything about that until it was light again. She correctly assumed that Ben had taken some precautions to keep them all safe. He mentioned that as she walked up the stairs.
“I’ve set guards up outside. No one will get near us tonight, at least not without making a lot of noise.”
“I had Adam turn down the lantern on the porch. No need to outline anyone coming out of the house.”
Ben had never thought of it that way. “I thought lanterns would let us see anyone approaching.”
“That’s a good idea, but put the lanterns out away from the house. Keep the guards in the dark by the house. They can see but not be seen. Close the shutters on the house for the same reason.”
Seeing Adam nodding, Ben could see the logic of all of that. “Hoss, could you see to that please?”
When Hoss and Joe returned, they noted that Adam was staring into the fireplace. Both looked at their father who shrugged. Adam hadn’t said a word. Hoss touched him on the shoulder.
“Uh, yeah, I guess. Thank you both for what you did today.”
“Aw, shucks, we didn’t do that much. That gal did the hard part.”
Looking up, Adam frowned in concentration. “Yeah, she’s quite a woman.”
“Do you remember her now, son?”
“No, Pa, not a bit. I wish I did though. No, I think I’ll go to bed. Maybe some sleep will help.”
Except the way he looked, they all wondered if he would sleep well at all. He looked troubled. Once they heard a door close upstairs, Hoss and Joe looked at their father.
“She shur seems like the right kind of gal for ole Adam.”
“Pa, maybe Hoss and I ought to pay a lot of attention to Margaret and try to make him jealous. You know, get him to make a move.”
“You’ll do nothing of the sort. This is all complicated enough without any of your famous schemes.”
While Joe looked disappointed, Hoss looked worried. “Pa, do you think there’s still somebody out there who wants Adam dead?”
“Hoss, someone hired those two men who tried it today. There’s more going on here than trying to stop Adam from testifying at a trial. Somehow he knows something or did know something that they are very worried he’s going to tell someone.”
“But ifn he cain’t remember nothing, how are we ever gonna know who that is?”
“We won’t until he’s forced to come for Adam directly. He will. He’s shown how important this is by what he’s done already. If I was a betting man, I’d say he’s going to make his move soon. We need to keep Adam safe and he’ll have to come for him.”
“We cain’t trust nobody, can we?”
“Only those we know or who have proved themselves.”
“You figure we kin trust Margaret then?”
“If she wanted Adam dead, he’d be dead already. Yes, I think we can trust her on that score.”
The next day, Margaret went to town to get her things and found that Jeffrey had not been in his room. After alerting Sheriff Roy Coffee, she took his things too and rode back to the Ponderosa. No one had seen him in town after he had brought in the bodies and made his report to Roy. Her guess was that he had done some scouting around before heading to the house, and she worried that he had run into some trouble. However she didn’t know the area so she was going to have to rely on Adam’s family for some help on that score. Hoss agreed to look around, and he and Jamie rode out after she told them what she suspected. They came back in looking grim several hours later. Margaret feared the worst.
“Ma’am, we didn’t find him, but we found signs that there was trouble. Up on the hill up yonder, we found what looks to be blood stains and it looks like a body got dragged to a horse. Looks like somebody was laying down with a rifle pointed at the house here too.”
“How could you know that?”
At that point, Adam explained. “By where the indentations are for the elbows. You can tell if someone was sighting a rifle.”
“Yup, and he moved a small log there too.”
“To steady the barrel.”
“Musta been planning a long range shot.”
“Yup. Sure looked that way.”
“Good thing we turned down that lantern.”
Doing her best to get her emotions under control, Margaret had to know more. “All right, I understand that now. But what about the body you said was dragged? Where was it dragged?”
“To a horse is all we kin be sure of. We tracked the two horses to the river. It’s running high since those storms up in the mountains a few days back. Sure looks like one of the horses was lighter after that. We figure the body got dumped in the river.”
Margaret didn’t ask how they knew that because she could recognize their expertise at this point. Accepting what they said though meant accepting that Jeffrey was probably dead. It hurt. They had worked together for several years, and he was one of the few she felt she could absolutely trust.
“Adam, they’re raising the stakes. Whatever it is that you know, or knew, it has to be very important. It has to be more than what you could testify to at trial because none of that would be admissible now.”
“I don’t understand why he can’t testify if he remembers.”
Speaking in soft tones, Adam answered. “Jamie, if you were on a jury, and a witness said something like I knew it, but I forgot it, and now I think I remember it again, would you believe them?”
“No, probably not especially if it meant somebody would hang or go to prison.”
“That’s why my testimony is no good. I’d have to admit that if I ever do remember what I once knew.” Turning to everyone else though, Adam shook his head. “I wish I could remember something because whatever it is it has nothing to do with putting the syndicate leaders in prison. If it was that, they know what I might remember is worthless. It has to be something else. I wish I knew what it was.”
A few days later, Adam got a shipment and hoped he might get some hints from the contents. His belongings from his home in California had been shipped to him by his former employer. There wasn’t much there except clothing, a few mementoes of California and other places he had traveled, his drafting and drawing kits, and his journals. He was most anxious to read his old journals. He found them fascinating almost like reading a novel. There was nothing in there that was about his secretive job of course, but he was hoping for hints that might make him remember something about it. There was nothing that triggered any memories of his work. There were increasing mentions of Margaret and the last one was telling as he quoted Lord Byron.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
There was his lament after that entry that he had spoken to himself and to God but never to her. Following that, there were no more so he must have been away and working until the fateful day he met Joe in that little town in California. He didn’t learn anything about his work, but he had learned that he had been falling in love with Margaret and so wished he could remember at least that. He did know that he had apparently never spoken to her of his feelings so she was probably unaware of how he felt. He knew how she felt though because she had told him. Now he had to decide what to do about that.
On Sunday, the family decided to attend church services, but Adam thought it would be too risky for him to go. He and Margaret stayed at the Ponderosa with a couple of men keeping guard outside. There had been no sign of any intruders on the ranch so there was no reason to expect that there was any greater danger on Sunday morning than there had been at any other time. When Ben and his sons walked out of the church, Roy was there to greet them and to introduce them to three other men.
“Ben, this here is Robert Miller, he and these here other two men are from the Treasury Department. Miller, here, is, or was Adam’s boss. He give all the orders for what Adam was doing.”
“Yes, Mister Cartwright, and I feel terrible about what’s happened. We have it on good authority that the syndicate may have sent an assassin to try to kill Adam one more time. I have these two men with me to provide additional security for him.”
“Thank you, Mister Miller, but my sons and I can provide very good security on the Ponderosa. In fact, we have one of your other former employees helping us.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that. Who is helping you?”
“Margaret.” At that point, Ben realized he didn’t know her last name. It was a bit embarrassing but Miller seemed to know who it was.
“Yes, she was a capable assistant, but she’s a woman after all. We have men here now who know the job. We would like to talk with Adam to see what he has remembered.”
“Frankly, sir, he has remembered nothing. He has tried, but he can’t. So there is no point in questioning him.”
“I’m afraid I have to insist on seeing him. It’s my job, and I have a witness warrant for him. I don’t want to serve it, but I will if I have to do so.”
“Why that’s ridiculous. He can’t testify to anything.”
“That is up to me, sir.”
“I guess you’re going to have to talk to him then. Very well, you can follow us.”
Exasperated, Ben turned to walk to his horse with his sons following along. As soon as they were far enough away not to be overheard, Joe whispered so they could hear but no one else could.
“Pa, that’s the fourth man.”
“When Adam got ambushed in California, and I said it was three or four. I was sure there were at least three but I thought there was a fourth. Well there was. It was him. He was there too. Now he’s here. Pa, if he comes out to the ranch, it’s for only one reason: he wants to kill Adam.”
“Aw, c’mon, Joe, that’s Adam’s boss. How could he be the one who was trying to kill him too? That just don’t make sense.”
“Doesn’t it? Adam told me that he wasn’t safe. He said they were coming at him from both sides, and he didn’t know whom he could trust. He said he had evidence but he also said he had information. That’s why he wanted to travel with the cattle drive. There he knew he could be safe.” Joe hung his head briefly. “If only Jess hadn’t done what he did.”
“Joe, we need to get going, but when we get to the ranch, you and Hoss need to be ready to protect Adam. Jamie, you ride ahead when we get close and you warn Adam and Margaret. Now, let’s get going. They’re wondering why we’re taking so long.”
Indeed the three men were concerned and when Jamie started to ride ahead, the three drew weapons and ordered Ben and the others to halt disarming them. Then two rode fast after Jamie leaving one to guard the other four. It wasn’t enough with ranch hands wondering what was going on when they saw Jamie riding hard with two men riding behind him. They rode back to see why the others weren’t with Jamie and found them being held at gunpoint by one man. He was quickly overcome by the hands.
“We have to get to the house fast. Jamie and Adam are in danger.”
As fast as anyone could, they turned to ride as Ben and his sons mounted up to follow. It was already too late as gunfire could be heard.
At the ranch, Adam and Margaret had been at the stable looking over some of the horses when Jamie rode into the yard and up to the house. They stepped out and called his name. Whirling about as he was about to run into the house, he yelled at them.
“You need to run for cover. There are men coming who want to kill you.”
Horses could be heard coming in hard.
“Jamie, get in Hop Sing’s hiding place and don’t come out until Pa calls you.” Adam turned then and grabbed Margaret. “Megs, we’ve got to get to cover too.” He pushed her ahead of him into the stable and barred the door. “Let’s get in the loft. There’s a lot of hay up there right now. It’s cover and protection. It may buy us the time we need.”
Without a question, Margaret did as he ordered. In a situation like this, trust could mean the difference between living and dying. Hesitation could be fatal. Right behind her, Adam pushed her into the front of the loft near where there was a door. He whispered to her as he pulled hay in behind them to shield them from view.
“If necessary, we can fire at them from up here. We’ll be able to hear what happens out there”
Indeed they did hear. Someone from the bunkhouse challenged the two men who had ridden in after they heard Jamie’s shout and Adam’s answer. The two men had responded with gunfire so there was a gun battle after that. It continued for several minutes until they heard more horses and then heard Ben’s booming voice ordering men to put down their weapons or be killed. Smiling at Margaret, Adam stood and offered her his hand. She took it and stood brushing hay from her clothing. In only a couple of minutes, they were able to climb down the ladder, open the stable doors, and reassure Ben and the others that they were all right. Ben’s most pressing concern then was his youngest son.
“I told him to use Hop Sing’s hiding spot and not to come out until he heard your voice. So I guess you better go get him now.”
But Ben didn’t have to do that as Jamie walked from the kitchen. “I could hear you, Pa, even hiding inside that cabinet.”
Wrapping an arm around Jamie’s shoulders, Ben smiled with relief. “I’m glad you listened to Adam.”
“Pa, when he bellows, he’s a lot like you.”
That brought some chuckles from Hoss and Joe who knew exactly what he meant.
Looking at the three men being held at gunpoint, Adam looked to his father. “These are the three who wanted to kill me?”
However, Margaret was more direct. “Hello, boss. Now, I guess we found out what Adam knew that someone didn’t want him to tell anyone.”
Surprised, Adam looked at Margaret. Then Joe added what he knew.
“Adam, this is the fourth man from the ambush. I recognized him as soon as I saw him. He was with the other three who tried to kill you.”
Looking back at Margaret, Adam had to ask. “He’s our boss?”
“Yes, he’s in charge of the regional office. You never met him because you were undercover. I was your contact so you didn’t meet the people who worked in the office. At some point though, you must have found out he was the one in our office who was bribed to work with the syndicate.”
Miller looked angry. “You can’t prove that. He doesn’t even know who I am. Look at him. He’s feeble minded. All of you are telling him what he’s supposed to know. He won’t make a very good witness in court.”
Joe grinned. “But I will.”
Jamie nodded. “Me too.”
“Don’t forget me.” Margaret didn’t want to be left out.
“Then there’s me, Hoss, and all the others who saw you come here to try to find Adam to kill him.” Ben had a healthy smirk. “The trial is going to be here in Virginia City, by the way. If the federal courts or California courts want you, they can have you after you get punished here for what you’ve done in Nevada. We don’t take it very lightly when someone attempts to murder our citizens.”
“Or trespasses on our property.” Joe was ready to add another charge.
“Or creates mayhem. That’s what Sheriff Coffee would call coming in here and shooting up the place, wouldn’t he, Pa?” Hoss was rather proud of his contribution.
It didn’t take long to have the three men tied and deposited in the back of a buckboard where they could be held safely for a trip to town to be turned over to the sheriff. Hoss and Joe went with some of the men to deliver them to make sure nothing went wrong. Adam and Margaret went inside with Ben and Jamie. After lunch, Margaret had a question for Adam.
“Are you remembering anything more?”
“No, I wish I was, but it’s still nothing more than some hazy visions and vague scenes with people I can’t identify. Why do you have that look like you don’t believe me?”
“You called me Megs.”
“I did? When?”
“In the stable when we had to run for our lives.”
Thinking back, Adam nodded. “I remember. I did call you that. Is that important?”
“It’s what you used to call me sometimes. No one else ever called me that.”
“I hope that means I’ll remember more.”
Margaret was disappointed. She had hoped he already did. Ben had the same feeling as he heard their conversation, but he had one consolation that she did not. Adam had lost the bad memories as well as the good ones so in some ways he was happier than he had been when he had left the Ponderosa. Ben hoped that he might stay now and hoped that Margaret might stay too to see if there could be a chance for her and Adam. The news that Roy brought on Thursday made that more likely.
“I know, Ben, that you wanted that Miller tried here in Virginia City, and I did my best to see that was gonna happen.”
“He’s been extradited?”
“Well, not exactly. Ya see, they was here ta do it, and they had all the papers and such, but I wasn’t ready ta let him outta my jail and neither was the judge until we was sure he was really gonna be cooperating as he said he would to them folks.”
“So he promised to talk and they gave him a deal.” Adam was fatalistic.
“That’s about right, but I didn’t trust it and neither did our circuit judge. He said he had to tell it all first before he got out of out jurisdiction. We wanted copies too. So he told it all. He sang like a bird knowing he was gonna be free as one for doing it. He named names and some was a real surprise to them California folks.”
“He swore to it and there were plenty of witnesses?”
Roy gave Adam one of those looks that said he ought to know better. “Of course we got it all done right and proper. Then I opened up the doors and said they was free ta take ‘im. They walked ‘im out in handcuffs to take the stage and from a rooftop, somebody shot him down. He’s dead. We tried but didn’t catch up to him that did it. He got clean away and we don’t even have a description of him.”
“What about Miller’s testimony?” That was Adam’s main concern.
“Judge says it’s all legal and proper and can be used.”
“What about the other two men?”
“They can back up a good part of what Miller said so they’re gonna get a deal too. They’re scared to death, and I got extra deputies watching over them now.”
“Good for you, Roy. I bet they never anticipated that you would have him tell all before you would let him go.” Adam had a broad grin that pleased Roy.
“Now, as for you. They figures them that’s worried might still be worried about you and whether you’re gonna remember any more. They figure you oughta stay low like you been and be real careful like. Maybe keep somebody close at all times especially someone who would recognize a threat to you.”
“I think there’s someone who could do that if she was willing.”
Margaret was quiet throughout the conversation. After Roy left, Adam asked her to walk outside with him. When they were away from the rest of the family and in the shadows on the porch, he asked if she would indeed stay there on the Ponderosa for a while longer.
“One, to do what Roy suggested.”
“One suggests that there’s a two.”
“Yes, more than two actually. Two is that I want to stay here and rebuild the relationship with my family and find a place here to build my life. I can’t do what I was doing before with the loss of memory, but I can build a life here with my family’s help.
“So what’s the third thing then?”
“It may be the most important one of all. I want to find out what is going to happen to the two of us. I’ve read my journals. I admitted to myself if not to you that I was falling in love with you.” Adam paused there because that had been difficult to say and he wasn’t sure how she was going to respond.
She took his hand in hers. “I know how much that cost you. Thank you. If nothing else happens, you gave me that.”
“I wish I could remember writing what I did in those journals. When I read them, they seem familiar and at the same time like reading about someone else. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I know it was true. I know I admire you. I’m attracted to you. If you’re willing, we could see if love can grow despite my lack of memory. If I loved you once for who you are, and if you love me, isn’t it worth a try?”
For a moment, there was silence, and he was afraid she wouldn’t agree to his proposal. Going slow was the only way he could see at this point, but his worst fear was that she would say no. He had heard from his family all the stories of his doomed romances, and if history held, then this would fail too. Almost holding his breath, he waited for her answer. He had asked so many questions about the past he had lost, but this question about the future had the answer that was worth more than all those other answers added together.
“It’s worth a try.”
Taking her hand, he stood close but not too close. He didn’t want to promise more than he felt he could be sure to deliver at this point. “Let’s go inside.” When she walked with him, again close, but not intimately so, he felt they had made progress. “How about a game of chess.”
She thought they were already playing one but agreed. Hours later, they decided to go to bed and resume the game the next morning. When Ben walked down the stairs at dawn, he saw the chessboard waiting for them to return. After examining the board, he shook his head because the gambits they must have used were complex. There were traps waiting to be sprung all over the board. When Adam came down, he stopped at the board and studied it intently. Ben walked over to see what his thoughts were. As he stood at his son’s side, Adam reached out and moved his rook surprising his father but making him smile when he saw what he had done.
“If she takes your rook, it’s checkmate on her. If she doesn’t, you take her queen and it’s check. Her king will have to retreat and block her rook which is as effective as you taking it out of the game. That is a brilliant move.”
“Not so brilliant. It took all night to figure it out.”
“Taking the queen is the most important move you can make.”
Adam was going to say something in agreement when he noted that his father was looking up the stairs. With that enigmatic smile of his, Ben retreated to the dining table without saying anything more. Not sure what to say, Adam studied the board more to make sure he hadn’t missed anything but to buy time too. He had been thinking most of the night instead of sleeping. Sound sleep had only come after the issue of the game and of Margaret had been more settled in his mind than when he first slipped beneath the bedcovers.
When Margaret came down, she looked at the board and grimaced before she tipped over her king. When she got to the table, she sighed deeply as she sat down. “One little mistake and it cost me. I should have moved my knight the opposite way last night. I realized it after I went upstairs. You win.”
When the rest of the family got to the table, the discussion was lively and plans were made for the day for everyone except Adam and Margaret. Ben suggested they take a few days to ride around and become more familiar with everything on the ranch.
“There’s a lot that Margaret hasn’t seen on the ranch yet, and you haven’t seen the changes we’ve made to a number of things.”
“That sounds like a good plan, Pa. I think today, I’d like to start with a tour of the best places on the ranch to show Margaret what we have here. She hasn’t had the luxury of seeing most of it. I thought a trip to the lake especially would be nice. I’ll go saddle up a couple of horses if you’ll let Hop Sing know we’ll need a lunch packed.”
Margaret noticed Hoss and Joe making eyes at each other and Jamie had a small smile. After Ben told Hop Sing to pack a lunch for her and Adam to have a picnic by the lake, Hoss and Joe were openly snickering and even Ben was smiling.
“What’s going on?”
“You’ll have to ask my son that.”
“But I’m asking all of you.” Seeing that Jamie was blushing a bit and thinking he was the most vulnerable to her questioning, she fixed him with a rather stern look. “Jamie, why is going to the lake so funny?”
Jamie looked to Ben for help but got none. Turning back to Margaret, he choked out the best answer he could. “Well, it’s kinda where any of us go when we want some, well, you know, ah, romantic time with a gal, a girl, a woman, oh, you know what I mean.”
Quite well aware of what he meant, she smiled and put a hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “Thank you. That was quite gentlemanly of you, and mature.” She fixed Joe and Hoss with a stern look before turning to leave the house in search of Adam.
Sitting up and looking rather proud of himself, Jamie smirked at Joe and Hoss who looked like they had been slapped. Ben shrugged.
“She’s quite a lady.”
“She shur is, Pa. Adam done found himself a real keeper. Hope he kin find his way to her heart.”
“Oh, I think he has. It didn’t take him long once he had the directions.”
In the stable, Adam finished with the horses and turned to find Margaret watching him. He led the two horses out and handed the reins of one to her. They walked to the house to get the picnic lunch and then began their day of riding although there were a number of stops. A few hours later, they came to the high ridge above the lake. Adam dismounted and waited for Margaret to do the same. After tying off the horses so they wouldn’t stray, he climbed a bit through the trees leading her until they emerged onto a rocky promontory with the lake spread out below them, the mountains in the distance, and the trees to both sides and the slope to the lake below.
“Oh, Adam, it’s the most beautiful spot I’ve ever been.”
“I thought so too the first time I was here. I wanted this to be the spot.”
“Yes, for this.” He reached for her then drawing her close. “May I kiss you?” Her reaction was all he hoped it would be. Pulling her close as she put her arms around him, he kissed her gently but passionately.
“I want to start some new memories beginning with this one. I may never remember the last nine years other than the vague and hazy images I have now, but they don’t matter. What matters now is the future. Do you agree?” She nodded and leaned into his chest. “That’s all the answer I needed.”