Summary: Adam helps a friend whose spouse was wrongly convicted and executed.
Word Count: 2385
On a break from their work, Joe asked Adam about their house guest. “Does it bother you what people are saying? I mean, her husband was hanged for murder, and now she’s staying here as your guest.”
“People will always talk, and in this case, it’s rubbish. William Darnell didn’t kill anyone. He was set up. Mary probably isn’t safe either until this whole business about who gets to own those mining rights is settled.”
“If she’s not safe, then neither are you. You’re the executor of his will. That puts you in charge of his share of the mining rights for now.”
“I am well aware of that.” Pausing, Adam thought about how much he wanted to admit to his younger brother. He decided on full disclosure. “There are times I feel like I have a target on my back.”
“What are you doing about it?”
“Not a lot I can do. Roy is looking into things as much as he can. We have our lawyer checking things.”
“So Pa knows.”
“Yes, that’s why I keep getting sent to work with you or Hoss. He thinks I need to be protected.”
“I think you ought to take a lot more precautions than you are. We can’t watch out for you all the time. If someone is determined, there’s not much just one protector can do.”
“Joe, I can’t live my life scared of every shadow.”
Those words proved to be wrong. Adam went to take care of business that evening and didn’t return to the house. After a half hour, his father and brothers were concerned and Hoss stepped out to call his name. There was no answer. A general search found nothing. A manhunt began.
In a dense thicket where he had been thrown, Adam heard noises and prayed for rescue believing that his family had to be searching. Feeling blood flowing from his nose and from scrapes and abrasions, he guessed he might be a target for coyotes or worse. Although as he thought about it, there wasn’t much worse than the coyotes and what they would do to him in his present state. Because he was unable to fight back, they would go for the soft spots first. Adam had seen enough of what they could do to calves and cows to know what that would be like. He did his best to remain conscious hoping to make some sounds if the searchers got close enough to find him. Trying to yell had only caused nearly unbearable pain, but he thought a few words calling out to them when they were closer might be possible. As it turned out, he was unconscious soon after, but it didn’t matter.
It was Adam’s good fortune that one of their hands had recently gotten a dog and was training him to track and hunt. He found Adam’s trail in the dark. With the dog’s keen sense of smell, the searchers found him in that thicket where no one would have been able to see him easily even in daylight.
“Where is he? I can’t see him.”
“He’s in there, Mister Cartwright. That dog can smell where a bear farted in the woods yesterday. He found him. We only got to find somebody to crawl in there and pull him out. You can see where they pushed him in and such, but pulling him out the same way is likely gonna cause some serious damage. Somebody needs to pull him out more careful like.”
Hoss responded first to that suggestion. “We could go back to the house and get tools to clear away some of this brush.”
The discussion was brief though as Ben was too worried to allow any alternative to immediate rescue.
“He’s not responding to us so we have to assume he’s badly hurt. We can’t take the time to go back for anything. We need to get him out of there. Who’s willing to get some cuts and scrapes to go in through the opening that’s there?”
Without hesitation, Joe volunteered for the task taking a lantern with him. As he advanced into the thick brush, Ben and the others could see glimpses of Adam. Joe set the lantern on the ground wedging it between a couple of thick branches. Then he got his arms around Adam and began to pull him out of the thicket. The others did what they could to open the way. It was a major concern to Joe that his brother already felt so cold. Even with only the lantern’s light, he could tell that Adam had been battered. As he got him nearly out, other hands were there to help him.
“He’s badly beaten, Pa. We’re going to need Hoss and somebody to carry him.”
Hoss noticed how cold Adam was when he went to pick him up. When he asked for help, several men handed over coats to wrap around Adam. Their warmth helped to ward off most of the chill for the injured man by the time they got him to the house.
With lanterns, they had seen the extent of the damage and that his hands were unbruised. He had not been able to defend himself. If he had been left there until the next day, exposure added to his injuries might have caused his death. Whoever had done it had probably intended that he die.
When Adam awoke later, he confirmed that theory. Most of the beating had taken place from behind and from the side, so Adam’s face was mostly untouched. He could speak easily.
“I heard them talking. They said they couldn’t shoot or leave a blood trail because it would be too obvious, too easy to find me or they might be heard. They thought if they beat me and hid me away in that brush, you might not find me right away and it would give them more time to get away.”
Hoss was angry. “If we didn’t have that dog, they woulda likely been right too. You got any idea who they was cause the other part is right? We can’t find no trace of them. The dog kept going around in circles when we tried to track them. I reckon there was too many tracks to follow.””
“No, it was dark, and they came up behind me knocking me down. They never gave me a chance to see them. I heard the voices though. If I ever hear them again, I’ll know them.”
Dolly had volunteered to take over nursing duties until Adam was out of bed. “I’m glad to be here to help you, but I’m afraid I may be the cause of you being hurt. I feel so guilty.”
“Dolly, it isn’t your fault. None of this is your fault. There are still some people trying to control those mining rights. They are the ones responsible.”
Away from Adam, Ben, Hoss, and Joe had more serious concerns. Ben expressed them first.
“They put together a pretty elaborate scheme to get rid of Dolly’s husband. I think they thought they could then move in on her and scare her or trick her into selling the rights they want. Instead, Adam stepped in and made things difficult for them. There’s no elaborate plan now. They’re going to try to kill him. I think they may try to get to Dolly too.”
“Me and Joe can talk to the men about watching for strangers and setting up a guard around the place day and night.”
As it was, Adam felt reasonably well after a week and was willing to take a carriage ride to town with his father. With Hoss’ help, he got down the stairs and out to the carriage. He and Ben wanted to meet with Roy and with their lawyer. That trip didn’t end well either. They had not gone far before they were ambushed. It was their good fortune that sunlight reflected off their assailant’s rifle and gave them warning. Ben veered off the road with the carriage as Adam pulled the rifle from beneath the seat. The exchange of gunfire brought Ponderosa hands riding in on the alert because of what had happened earlier. They had been watching for a threat coming in from the outside and hadn’t expected anyone on the ranch to be a danger.
“What happened, Mister Cartwright?”
“Someone shot at us. I think it might have been the new man, Ringo. At least, from what I could see, the man looked like him. Whoever it was, the shots came from there.”
Ben pointed at the place in the trees where the shots had originated. If it was Ringo, these men would overtake him. He couldn’t ride well enough to elude them. With Adam leaning back in the seat exhausted, Ben decided to take the carriage back to the house. Two of the hands stayed with them as the others set off in pursuit of the shooter. At the house, Ben helped Adam inside where they explained to Dolly and to Hop Sing what had happened. When Ben heard horses in the yard, he went back outside.
One of the men must have gone to alert Hoss and Joe because they arrived at the house about the same time as the other men brought Ringo back. He wasn’t in the best condition. The men explained that he had resisted their efforts. Ringo was going to argue when Ben had something to say to him.
“Don’t say anything. If you do, that could be a cause for the men here to teach you some manners.”
Still upset that the man had tried to kill them, Ben asked him about that rather forcefully. Ringo never got a chance to answer because Adam had walked out with some help from Hop Sing. They were seated on the porch next to Mary who had come back out with them when they were alerted by all the noise.
“He’s one of the men who beat me and left me to die. I didn’t recognize him, but I heard his voice when he told me they were leaving me to die, and the beating started at his order.”
Exercising all of his willpower, Ben didn’t order the men to exact justice directly then. Instead he had some questions. “Who are you working for? Why beat Adam? What did you hope to gain?”
“What kind of deal are you offering?”
“Deal? You talk, and I won’t let my other sons do to you what they want so much to do and what you so much deserve.”
Ringo looked at Hoss and Joe who appeared to be angry enough to kill him. It was no act. After hearing that this was the man who had tried to murder their brother, it was a contest as to which brother was more furious with him. So Ringo told the whole story.
“None of it was my idea. I was hired to arrange for men to kill Whittaker and put the blame on Darnell. It was all so the men who paid me could get two of the larger investment groups out of the way. They wanted to get their mining rights too so they could control the mining on the Comstock and raise the prices. Then they were going to sell to whomever won the contest to control the mines in Virginia City.
“So, it was all about greed? It was murder for money.”
“I never killed anyone.”
“You tried to kill my son.”
“He only got in the way. First he nearly got Darnell off, and then he started helping Dolly. He would have messed up everything. Besides, we didn’t kill him.”
“You tried because he did what he could to save an innocent man’s life and then to protect his widow. You ordered murder. In this state, that’s the same as committing it.”
“But what about the men who told me to order those men to do it and paid me to do that? It’s their fault, and you can’t get them without me.”
“That will be up to the courts. We’ll let the sheriff and the prosecutor talk to the judge. You aren’t going to have any say in the matter.”
Turning to Hoss and Joe, Ben asked if they would take Ringo to town to tell the sheriff the whole sordid story. After that, Ben tried to console Mary. “I hope that helped in some small way.”
“It did in that people will know that William was innocent. They’ll have to live with it. I can walk with my head held high again, and if they say Proud Mary, well then, I am. I’m proud that I have friends like the Cartwrights who stand up for the truth and for justice no matter what the consequences. I’m proud to say my husband didn’t do anything wrong, and all those people who were so self-righteous have to live with their guilt because they can never say that. They convicted an innocent man and killed him.”
Taking her hand, Adam smiled. “Thank you, Proud Mary. It is a pleasure being your friend. I’m so sorry we couldn’t have found out about this sooner.”
“Thank you, Adam. It has been so kind of you letting me live here. Now I can go back to my house and do my best to get on with my life. I’ll still need your help though. I will need to sell those rights and someone will have to advise me on a fair price.”
“If you’re sure you want to sell them, I can do that.”
“I’ll sell, but to one of the interests that wasn’t involved in this mess.”
“Maybe you could sell half to me, and we could have a partnership. I would run the operation, and you would have a steady income. When it was showing a good profit, we could sell to the highest bidder.”
Grateful to have a plan, Mary agreed. Within a year, she had a significant sum on which to live comfortably for the rest of her life. She wouldn’t need it though. An attractive, kind, and intelligent man was courting her.