Living Witness

Part Four of the 'Circle Drawn

Melody Clark  

(several months after the close of Pt II)


          Weeping in a winter's night caused the tear marks to freeze over in the chill.  He scraped his rawhide glove across the evidence.  The one who had been weeping had not been this deep in Ponderosa backcountry, since he'd ridden the property with some surveyors on his father's behalf.  That had been after his brother Joe had died.  And he hadn't been to the Witness Tree since, well, the day he carved his own name into its wood. 

          This night, he was searching for another carved name. 

           "I always knew you must have been Saint Adam," Jamie said to the man behind him, hoping the man hadn't seen the evidence of his tears.  "You never once made the swing?"

           "Like hell I didn't."  The other man leaned against their rig.  He stole a moment to inhale his coffee.  "I made mine, just like you three."

           Jamie looked at him with somewhat genuine if essentially whimsical suspicion.  "Oh, sure.  I reckon you read the Bible too late on Sunday."

           "Not likely.  I waded through the Truckee at highline.  Lost a hundred silver dollars on my way to pay a debt.  Pa almost exploded."

           Jamie winced in sympathy, having been on the receiving end of their father's ire more than a few times.  "Then why isn't your name on here?"

           "It's on there.  Hoss took the trip before I did.  He was always lording over me being taller than I was, so I climbed up higher, under the main branch, just to make a point."

           "Up so high I can't see?  Why don't you just admit you were too durned good to go and leave it at that?"

           Adam grinned, shaking his head.  "All right, enough of that, youngster.  Go up and see for yourself."

           "Okay, I will.".

           Jamie pulled up the tree hasp that had been fitted to their brand-new Christmas tree laden motorcar, and boosted himself to the level of the branch.  Jamie smirked down from his vantagepoint.  "Ain't nothin' up here but birds' nests and woodpecker pits.  Oh, but one of them could spell, though.  A Dam…a dam what?"

           "A damn stupid joke I've heard about a million times.  Speaking of which, you could've taken up a little more room when you carved in your name.  There's a whole half a tree left over here."

           Jamie pouted a little.  "I was kinda high strung in those days."

           "In those days?"

           Adam dodged the pinecone lobbed in his general direction.  He grinned back at him.  "You missed."

           "I wasn't much tryin'." 

           Jamie launched himself to the ground with a decisive thud.  He slapped his gloves together.  There had been nothing to say beyond that, an awkward silence welling up between them.  In a deep wood, silences drifted higher among men than snow amid trees.

           Adam was stirring embers to sustain the warmth, handing Jamie the last of the coffee.   "Here, you drink the rest of Griff's boiled dirt.  You look colder than I feel.  I hear working mines thins a man's blood."

           Jamie grinned sidelong at Adam's attempt to drive conversation.  It was a somewhat forced if well-meaning familial concern.  Jamie was grateful for the effort, and took the hot metal cup to his hand.  He looked up to read the shadows, telling time the rancher’s way.   "I reckon it's gettin' on to five o'clock.  Be dark shortly."

           "I reckon I agree." 

           "Best to take the windy road by the track.  It's a straighter shot going."

           Adam smiled fondly.  "But not coming back," he finished the thought.  "I'll bet there's not a thing Pa taught you that you don't remember.  I wish I could say that."

           "It's all I've got.  Not Pa's mind, but his thoughts.  A poor man looks after the little he has.  I don't have much of Pa, but what I do have, is precious to me."

           Adam nodded.  "I know the feeling."

          "Jamie!  Adam!" a voice fell down on them, from the northern rise.  It was the direction from which they'd recently towed this year’s chosen Christmas tree.  Candy's alarmed voice broke hard like a split ember, loud and sharp in the chill.  He was closing a good distance with a genuine urgency. 

           "Something you two had better see," he said, holding out a shank of conifer.   It had been newly claimed off a Ponderosa, the blue flesh pine that gave the spread its name.  He tossed the branch toward the Cartwright men. 

           Adam caught it.  The hazy webbing to the needles' fist was one thing, but when the older man peeled bark away from branch, all of them could clearly see the deep, gray rot in the wood.

           "This came from our stands?" Adam asked sharply.

           Candy nodded.  "And it's not the only one up there.  Just from what I could see, there's a good two-acre of trouble.  One this way, one the other."

           Adam was looking to Jamie.  "Like I said, there's not a thing Pa told you, you don't remember.  You recall anything about this?"

           “Might be pine beetles, but there would be signs of drying,” Jamie said.  “That’s hard to tell in winter.  I’d have to look at them to tell.”

           Candy shook his head quickly.  “Naw, I saw pine beetles aplenty with your Pa.  This isn’t from them.”

           "Could be core sickness," Jamie said.  "Comes from the seedlings, nurtured into the roots as it develops.  The trees bud badly.  The Ponderosa's never had it, though." 

           "Looks like we've got it now.  How does sheltered timberland contract it?"

           Jamie shook his head.  "It doesn't.  Weak sprouts grow after deforestation.  Sometimes it'll come of a hard rain after a bad fire.  These days, it comes from business and overproduction.  Our trees have good soil, strong roots.  But every so often, Pa said, it just happens."

           Adam slammed his hand against the night, as if at an unseen enemy.  "I don't believe in coincidence.  Could North Callendar be poisoning our trees?"

           Jamie shrugged.  "He'd be the first one I'd suspect, but I don't see how.  This isn't a sick tree from poison; it's a sick tree from its roots.  It takes years to develop."

           "What do we do to stop it?"

           "Quarantine the stand.  Make certain the root stock stays where it is, that it doesn't migrate."

           "And how do we do that?"

           Jamie shook his head again, having to turn away to walk a length across before he could force himself to say the word.  "Clearcut."

           Adam winced, looking away.  "No.  Damn.  I'd hate like hell to do that."

           "Maybe there's some way I don't know about."

           Adam was clearly struck by another thought, waiting long before he gave it voice.  "One acre that side and one the other, Candy?  Well, that puts the Witness Tree in the middle.  It's healthy as a tree can be, even with Jamie carvin' all over it."

           Jamie smirked at him.  "It's right fine," he said.  “May be because of that.”

           "I kinda doubt that.  Tell us then, what would cause one tree to die and another to stand?"

           "I don't know. Might hit one kinda tree, not another.  I don't have Pa's brains, only his thoughts.  I remember whenever he didn't know something about the land, he'd go up to talk to the Washoe people."

           Adam nodded.  "That's what I was thinking.  Walker Watu Incline.  He's the Medicine Man of the Incline Washoe."

           "Pa mentioned him.  I never met him."

           "First light, I think we ought to take a trip up to the Truckee to see him.  He keeps his people's memory of the land."

           Jamie grinned teasingly, having just been invited on an official Ponderosa trip.  "Truckee, huh?  You best leave your silver dollars at home," Jamie said, grinning.

           "Yeah, and I'm driving the buckboard."

           Jamie flinched a little, the words having hit a sore spot.  "Well, I guess I had that comin'."



          Men and boys look upon a sunrise with different eyes, he now knew.  Jamie at last could tell the difference, as Hoss had promised he would one day.   Before a long-ago business trip, Jamie had pestered Hoss and Joe mercilessly to take him along.  It was to be a Cartwright Business trip, which would allow him to truly fulfill his role as annoying kid brother, although that wasn’t the way Jamie saw things at the time.  The day they left, he'd risen with the summer chickens in hopes the two men might surrender and just let him go along, even though he knew their Pa would have snatched them both bald-headed if they had. 

           One particular morning, after Jamie had pestered them the whole, cold hour from sunup to the hour for their departure, Joe grinned at Hoss and took out a coin to toss. 

           "Call it," he said.

           Hoss called Heads.  Joe won.  Hoss climbed down from the wagon and grabbed a handful of red-haired little brother.

           "Listen here, Jamie, you only want to go because you know you can't," Hoss said, looking sympathetically down into wounded young eyes.  "These business trips get long and cold and miserable.  Right about now I'd give the better part o’ Sunday to go back and crawl into bed like you’re fixin’ to do right now.  One of these days, it'll be your time to go on business trips.  Right now, it's Joe's and mine.  You think we're lucky, but the day'll come when you'll know just who the lucky one really was.  And you'll think back and be glad I made you turn right around and go on home."

           "Okay, Hoss," the boy Jamie had said, boots shuffling at the unjust earth beneath him.  "But I doubt I'll ever think it's all that lucky."

           "Oh, you will.  I know you will, 'cause was a time I was you, and Adam was the one who was telling me.   I didn't believe him neither.  And Joe didn't believe either one of us."

           Many years later, Jamie tied up the last of the rig; smiled at the memory.  The vision of the home he loved, its warm light glowing, triggered a silent chuckle from within.

           He climbed onto the buckboard, took up the bridle.  He whispered upward to an unseen presence.  "When you're right, Hoss, you're right."

           The sound of other footsteps on frozen ground came around beside him.  "Thinking about a warm home on cold mornings, I reckon," Adam said.

           "I expect so," Jamie said, shaking his head.   "Yeah, Hoss said he didn't believe you either."

           "Naw.  And I didn't believe Pa.  I reckon our boys will think we're pert crazy, too, when their time comes around." 

           Jamie struggled for a smile.  "You think bein' a kid is never gonna end when you're their age."

           Adam mumbled a soft agreement, climbing up on the buckboard bench.  "And then you look back and wish you'd counted every hour that you had."

           Jamie's sought for smile faded.  He looked upward again, because if he'd considered the house before them, it might have brought him again to tears. 

           "Better get a move on," he said.  "Since somebody didn't want to take the motorcar."

           Adam nodded, staring with clear intention at the man sitting with the reins.  The older man opened his hand to receive them.

           Jamie scowled.  "That was a long time ago.  I've driven hundreds of buckboards just fine since then."

           "I don't care about that.  But like I used to say to Joe, you can drive just as soon as you're older than I am."

           Jamie relinquished the reins to the older man.  He scooted over to the passenger end of the perch.  "Okay, just don't go driving through muddy rivers."



          "This is s'posed to be We Wish You a Merry Christmas.  But am I readin' that right?  I can't be," Griff said, squinting at the Christmas song sheets before him.  "How are we supposed to sing somethin' we can't read?"

          Candy groaned in surrender at last, putting down the dried berries he'd been stringing onto thread for Sarah.  He leaned over the sheet from behind. "What can't you read?"

          "The two words there." 

          Candy shook his head up at him.  "Figgy.  Pudding."

          "That’s what I thought.  What in three miles to Sunday is that?" Griff said asked.

          "Do I look like a man who’d know?"

          "Well, it's in English, ain't it?  It's a Christmas song."

          "It's an old-timey Christmas song, from across the water.  Where most of our people come from.  Words have changed some.  You know what a fig is, right?  You got an idea about pudding.  Okay, put the two together, you'll come out nearly right."

          "I can't figure a body putting figs in a decent puddin'."

          "Yeah, well, up in Boston they put clams in soup.  Somebody somewhere always doin' somethin' that seems strange to somebody else.  Like sittin' brayin' on about Christmas carols, when there is Christmas lace to be done before Sarah comes down and strings us up instead of the berries."

          "Where is she?"

          "Up puttin' Jamie's boys to bed, I expect."

          Griff stared up the Ponderosa stairs for a moment.  "Gonna be tough on the little ones, with their pa gone again."

          Candy nodded, squinting at the line as he strung on a petulant berry.  "Gonna be tougher on their pa out there in the cold.  I hope they made it to Incline by dark."

          "You reckon?"

          "With Adam driving, they might have a chance.  With Jamie driving, they'd have got their last Tuesday."

          Sarah Cartwright looked more like her father Joe with every year, especially when she worried in silence.  Candy had been too busy at hurriedly stringing dried berries to notice the young woman stream quiet as light down the stairs.  She moved like a distracted shadow beside the temporary bench where the two men worked.  She sank onto the edge of a nearby chair.

          She was deeply staring into her thoughts.

          "Sarah," Griff said first.  "Somethin' wrong?"

          "Does Jamie seem ill to you?"

          "Not hardly.  He worked rings around Candy and me yesterday.  'Course he is a whole lot younger than Candy here."

          "I don't see heather nesting in your brow either," Candy traded back.  But he thought a minute and he nodded.  Not that Candy was in a position to say all he knew.  "There's something to what you say, though.  Adam spotted it not longer after Jamie come home.  Why you ask?"

          "I was hearing the boys say their prayers, and David just asked God to take special care of his father's lungs."

          Griff looked like he was shot with sudden concern.  "Candy - "

          Candy nodded reluctantly.  "Yeah, the black lung.  Jamie gets winded too easy for a man his age and he barely has an extra ounce of flesh on him.  He has that cough that sparks up now and again."

          Sarah's eyes had moistened, her lips pursed together.  "Candy, you don't think - "

          "Don't go getting the wiggly chins."  He yanked his fresh handkerchief out of his pocket, handing it to her.  "Nobody's dyin'.  Long as he takes care of himself.  Most miners don't die of the black lung.  Most live out their years and die of something old people get."

          "Well, yeah," Griff said, his own worries spilling out of his mouth, "but it gets hard for them to breathe and they can’t walk  - "

          "Why, thank you, Mr. King," Candy said, stopping the berry stringing in surrender.  "You want to go chase the chickens now and be a real asset to the peace and stability of the family?"

          Griff realized, shrugged a little.  "Sorry, I was kinda worried myself."

          Sarah smiled sadly.  "It's all right, Griff, I knew an elderly miner when I was a child.  He had silicosis.  I know what happens.  That just means Uncle Jamie will have to move home permanently.  We'll keep him safe at home with us.  In Virginia City, he can have the best doctors.  It just makes sense is all.  The boys can go to the new Ben Cartwright public school in town."

          "That's not gonna be easy," Griff said.  "Jamie's pretty darned independent, given everything.  He's got this thing about pullin' his own weight, always has."

          "That's just silly.  He's family."  Sarah lifted her chin.  "And given all that, did I make it sound as though I was going to give him a choice?"

          Griff pulled his head back a little, like a turtle wondering if he should jerk back into his shell.  He looked over at Candy, whose own eyes were wide with nothing short of awe at Joe Cartwright's righteous outrage, reflected in his daughter.  It felled tall oaks, even in the form of a graceful young woman.

          Concerned for the possible repercussions of sloth, Candy grabbed the dry berry bowl and string, pitching some to his partner in the project.  "Just string berries, Griff.  Just string berries."


Incline Village

          The tramway rose from flat Paiute country up the swayback ridge of the Washoe birthright.  The silvermen skybridge from Watu Waka to Tahoe had turned a long, bad ridge crossing into a few unsure minutes in a creaky old crate.   At winter, Truckee's people joined their brother Paiutes in the warmer flatlands.  It was there that the Cartwrights would meet them.

          Walker lived in his own square house, as the rounders called them.  It was pitched up, padded down with mud and hay, and then swaddled in deadfall from the forest.  White blooms of cold smoke from the chimney, wilted on the first breath of day.  It was only a tenth of a mile away.

          But Jamie had asked to stop a moment, suggesting he heard something rip on the wheel.   He had leapt down, and busied himself to the rear of the wagon, hoping the invisible hands at his throat would ease their attack.  But then the storm shook loose, bursting through him - a thunder of cough pounding his body like a ship in a hateful squall. Trying to cough out and fighting to breathe in and never quite doing either one. 

          Slowly, the storm inside subsided.  Could have been a moment.  Could have been a day.  It was always hard to tell.   He took a breath, to find he was holding steady to a nearby tree.

          Adam was holding up the other side.  "Sounds like I should have made you stay back home."

          Jamie scowled.  "You couldn't have made me stay," he said, forcing the first few words out.  "Not even if you'd hogtied me to the barn.  And you know that well enough."

          "Well, we'd have just seen about that, wouldn't we?"

          "Yeah, I expect we would have seen about that."

          Adam shook his head, as if to acknowledge their stalemate.  "Why in the whole world 'round do you have to be so durned pig-headed?"

          "Same back to you.  And then some."  Jamie dabbed at his mouth, at his brow. 

He continued some faint, further pretense about the wheel, and then he climbed back on to the buckboard so they might make the slow ascent into Incline Village.



          He was an old man now, an old man with rabbit pelt in his hands.  He was working the hide in short, arthritic jerks against a flowing pump of water, when he noticed the shape of the shadow across his hands.  His knotted fingers relaxed their struggle, as if by the pull of the shadow's eclipse. 

          "Adam?" said the man in the voice of one more accustomed to talking to himself. 

          Walker was still tall as the house; his black hair now white as the ash that burned low in clay pot stoves.  His black olive eyes were huge, not believing their own vision.  They beheld Adam, clapping his face in both his large hands. 

          "Edoham!" he said again, clapping his large hands around his old friend's face.  "Do-`hi-tsu? Do-`hi-tsu "

          "O-de-si.  O-de-sa," Adam answered, grinning at an old friend.  "Ni-na?"

          Walker's gaze moved past Adam, to the other man.   The old man pattered forward, focusing his yellow-clouded eyes on this other, new face.  The old man's smile dawned like an unexpected sunrise.  Walker glanced once at Adam.  "To-tsu-hwa?  Tsa-du-da no-qui-si a-tsu-tsa?  Jamie?"

          Adam chuckled, nodding.  He pounded his own chest, smiling thoughtfully, proudly.  "Tso-s-da-nv-tli."

          "Yuh, yuh."  He looked from Adam over to Jamie, studying the younger man's eyes for something behind them.  Finally, he nodded his assurances.  "Tsa da-nv-tli."

          "But don't tell him I said that," Adam said, grinning, seeing the spreading confusing and half-concern on Jamie's face, who clearly didn't understand a word they had just exchanged.

          "Said what?" Jamie asked, unsure.  "What'd you say?"

          Walker Incline answered.  "I told my old friend Adam that I know who you are.  Your father spoke of you to me many times."

          The youngest man smiled politely, trying to cover up for his momentary pique.    "Yes, sir, I know…Pa told me about you, too.  Glad to meet you finally."   Jamie nodded toward the other Cartwright.  "Adam tell you about our problem back on the spread?"

          The old man cackled out a laugh.  "He talks too quickly, this one."

          Adam stifled the return of his grin.  "You have no idea."

          Jamie shot him a hurt expression, and then masked it quickly with indignation.  "Well, at least I was talking stuff everyone would understand…"



          Jamie followed the two men somewhere, fighting to listen to their barter of words. They spoke the occasional spatter of Washoe, trading English pleasantries about seeing Walker Incline's medicine lodge.   It was new; it was the best of its kind in all the Incline knoll settlements.  Okay, so Jamie knew there were customs to keep, but patience had never been his strong suit.  He listened, walking. And he knew he should follow Adam's lead, as he would have Hoss or Joe.  So he bootstrapped his impatience about the purpose for their visit with trust in the older Cartwright's wisdom.   

          The old man slowed at a smaller shelter tented with bark and plantsilk mats banded tightly together.   He peeled aside the door to usher his guests inside. 

          Another man, sitting in a corner, grunted at them,  "Do-i-s-di-hi-na?  Walker, I thought you weren't treating the silvermine-" 

          "Ge ya ga-go!" Walker growled back at him.  "Don't teach lessons you haven't learned.  These are the Cartwrights.  We have business.  You'll go now.  I hear your wife is calling you."

           The slightly darker-haired and younger man arose from his corner.  He stubbed out his tobacco smoke with the bearfat candle.   "Ah, good news, my wife has found more work for me."   He clapped his older brother on the shoulder as he left.  "Thank you for saving me from sloth."

           Walker laughed in his wake.  "That was my brother Willy Ayepi Incline.  Every family has a long story.  He is ours."

           Jamie, who was undoubtedly the Cartwrights' own "long story", remained near the door.  He watched the other men navigate the room.  They discussed a small chiseled effigy in memory rock, a pewter stalking totem with a story all its own, some other objects gathered and won.  Jamie recalled this was a Washoe custom.  Showing objects gathered, as if giving the friend newly reacquainted a window on the later episodes in the Indian's life.  Jamie could only catch snippets of it. 

           Once the two men had orbited the room, the older man grabbed a chair from the side and placed it at the center of the lodge.  The old man slapped its seat, then quite unexpectedly (to Jamie) beckoned to him. 

           "Here.  Jamie.  Sit.  And tell me of this matter you have brought."

          Jamie looked at the other two, and the one chair.  He shifted his focus to Adam, as if for direction.  Adam nodded. 

           The younger man withdrew from his shoulder satchel a bagged branch, and a handful of bark.   "I've got the samples here, you'll see the signs of - "

           "First, you sit.  Then we talk."

           Jamie looked again to Adam.  Again, Adam nodded, gesturing to the chair.

           The younger man surrendered gladly to the seat, but then rose up with a second thought.  "I, I feel rude sitting when you're standing."

          "We are not talking, you are," Walker said, as if that made all the sense in the world.  "So you must sit."

           Jamie sat, feeling disrespectful and thoughtless, and clearly not understanding what the heck was going on.  Finally, Walker accepted the tree samples from his hand.

           The old man considered them carefully.  He pinched something from a needle, then sifted it over his thumb.  "Most unusual.  It does have the appearance of root rot.  But as you've told Adam, the Ponderosa has never suffered from it."

           "Yeah.  I know.  But it looks like it."

           "It does indeed.   But when you have good soil, not much can go wrong that can't be put right.  It may appear very bad, but usually it's not as bad as it seems.   You were right all along, Jamie.  You should have more faith in your ability to remember your father's teachings.  This is not root rot."

           "Then what is it?"

          The old man pinched some of the discoloration from the needle, touching it to his tongue.  He savored it a moment.  "I would say one part road paint, three parts Irish groats for coloring and texture.  And a healthy dose of concern among your family."

           Understanding fell on him slowly, but surely.   The sudden appearance of root rot.   Adam’s not knowing what it was.  Adam’s somewhat top-heavy compliments for his knowledge of their Pa’s wisdom.   The Washoe words traded.  Adam's concern on the trail.  Walker, I thought you weren't treating the silvermine…

           "I've been bushwhacked," Jamie said, shaking his head in understanding.  He looked up at Adam who was a vision of a thousand apologies but not a single regret.  "You tricked me."

           "Yeah, I tricked you," the older Cartwright confessed.  "But Walker Incline knows black lung.  The miners up here get it, too.  Get it worse than Montana miners.  He's had more cures than a thousand specialists."

           "You couldn't have just asked me to go?"

           "Would you have come?"

           Finally, Jamie gave a look of surrender.  "Okay, prob'ly not.  And I appreciate that you came all this way for my sake.  But I can't stick around here to get treated.  The sulfur treatments are hard and long.  I’ve seen them.  You get worse before you get better.   I'm not gonna be a burden to anyone.  I might never recover and I got two boys to raise for as long as I can raise them for certain."

           "There is no need," Walker said.  He tapped the younger man's face, pinching the skin to whiten it for signs of yellow flesh, of liver dysfunction.  Last, he rested a cup against Jamie's chest and his ear against the bottom of the cup.  A smile suggested Walker heard something he wanted to hear.  "No liver trouble, no rales in the lung, no breath rattle.  No black lung.  You were misdiagnosed."

           "But the doctor back at the mine is a regular medical doctor and - "

           Walker's eyes twinkled with gentle rebuke.  "So am I.  A regular medical doctor.  I have the magic paper on my wall and everything.  And I've heard more black lungs than he has.  You don't have it - black lung.  You have miner's cough, no doubt from too much hard work, too much raising two boys by yourself, and from being away from your roots, from what your brother has told me.  You might say you have root rot."  He was writing something on a paper.  He handed it to him.  "You'll notice my not-too-subtle comparison to the trees.  Get this physic syrup from the apothecary in Virginia City.  It will soothe and heal your breathing passages until you're well." 

           Jamie fought to understand, staring at the paper pinched between the fingers of a hand. 

           "You mean I'm not dying?"  he said.

           "We are all dying, young Jamie," Walker replied, grinning.  "But you're going at the usual rate for a man your age."



          "You know it just now dawned upon me it's the morning to Christmas Eve," Jamie said, as Adam came around to the buckboard perch.  They had both reached the point now where their conversations were like those of all men in the same family; one conversation giving way to another, no matter the hours divided by time.  No need for even casual formalities.  "Funny the way it sneaks up on you when you grow up."

          Adam chuckled.  "That's because we're the ones playing Santy Claus."

          "I expect."

          Adam climbed again to the driver's side.  "It'll be good having young ones around again.  Doesn't quite seem Christmas without children around."

          "I reckon."

          "You look pensive today."

          Jamie shrugged.  "Just thinkin'."

          "About anything in particular?"

          He shrugged again.  "I got used to the idea of not living a long time.  Now I got a lot more years to think about.  Thanks to you.  Well, at least it’s thanks to you that I know I got 'em."

          "That's what family is for, I hear."

          Jamie flicked a grin at him.  "I guess….  Which makes me wonder…  You think we'd fight?"

          “You’d think we’d fight if what?”

          Jamie looked around at him, as if determining whether it was the time for discussing the topic in his head.   He laughed uncertainly, somewhat like he had as a boy, and lifted his hazel stare as if tracking hidden clouds.   ‘You think we’d fight if I came home.”

          Adam was taken aback, but it hadn’t been a negative reaction at all, rather the reverse.  “Probably.  Hoss, Joe and I used to fight like a pack of wolf pups.   And on the trips I did make home, I don’t much recall a brotherly tranquility between you and Joe.”

          Jamie tried to stop the grin, but it was bound to surface.  "You gotta remember, though, I was a boy when Pa took me in.  Hoss and Joe were always my big brothers.   They’ve all been gone years now.  I been on my own awhile longer.  What happens if you and I don't get along?"

          "Then we work things out.  You mighta noticed we've been doing a lot of that lately.  You even talked me into buying the motorcar."

          Jamie's brow creased with his attempt at memory.  "I did?"

          Adam nodded.   "You said those things are dangerous, Adam.  Anything moves that fast, drives on stuff that can blow a body up, ought to not be used.  So I decided it was a good thing to buy right then and there.”

          Jamie smirked back at him.  "Yeah, well, if we had taken the motorcar like I wanted, we'd be at home right now, where it's warm."

          Adam grinned.  "Now that's true, also."  He waited a moment, for the wind to change.  “So, you coming home?”

          Jamie considered the other man's words for a moment.  "I hate to even think of leaving.  But when I’m not at the Ponderosa, I can forget for awhile.  I have another life, my boys.  When I’m at the Ponderosa, I remember…  I see Pa, and Joe and Hoss, everywhere, in everything.   Every room has another memory.  I go through losing 'em all over again."

          Adam smiled sadly in understanding.  He nodded again.   "Yes, I know.  I know full well.  But the thing that misses them is the thing that loves them, too.  When I’m here, I feel comforted in a way I never did all those miles away.  And I'll reckon, you do, too.  Kinda like the fire might not be lit nearby, but it's not that far in the distance either."

          Jamie buttoned his jacket against this very physical chill.  "You talk about me remembering Pa's stories.  Well, maybe you got something from Pa that helps you know that.  I don't know, maybe I know that, too, in my way, but I just miss 'em, Adam.   I just miss 'em.  That's all I know how to do."

          "I miss them, too, Jamie.  It’s like I told you the day you came back, I begrudged you your time with Pa at the end.  Your years with Hoss and Joe, too.  It wasn’t fair of me, but I did.   I’d give every bit of wealth I have in the world, if I could just hear Pa’s voice again.  But I can’t ever do that.  I can’t.  I can find his voice inside of me, though.  And I know that voice is inside of you, too.”

          Jamie smiled, as if he was harboring a secret known only to him.  “You sound like Pa.  A lot.  Especially when you’re angry.”

          “And you don’t?"  He reached into a coat pocket.  “That reminds me, I was going to save this for you till later, because it’s your Christmas present from me.  I expect now’s a better time to give it to you, though.”

          It was a deer hide pouch.  Jamie had seen many of them as a boy.  This type was used mostly by the Paiutes. 

The younger man jiggled it by his ear.  “Not ticking.”

          “Special trigger inside,” Adam said, grinning.  “Explodes on contact.”

          “Yeah, I heard they had those now.”     In it, something Jamie recognized immediately - one portion of a luminous shell casing hammered into a ring of silver.  It was a pendant much like ones Hoss and Joe had both worn.  Adam wore one just like it, too.

           “That’s part of a Pauites brother’s circle,” Adam explained.  “We had it made when we were just boys.  It was to show that we all made up one wheel.  That if we ever broke apart, we’d come back as one.  That there was something stronger holding us together than the anger and hurt that drove us apart.  Hoss was buried with his.  I expect Joe died with his, too.  I know I’ll die with mine.  I wish we could have the circle recast, but without their sections, we just can’t.  So I had a Pauite silversmith make a copy of mine.  That right there is it.  It’s yours for you to keep.”

           Jamie held it, beheld it, as something most precious and rare.  “Thank you…those words don’t hardly say what I mean to… I can’t thank you enough,” he said, his own voice breaking up at the edges.  “Here I told myself I wasn’t gonna cry like I did last time.”

           “I figured that was the last piece of the picture you didn’t have.  I wish I could reach back in time and get you an original one, but that’s the best I can offer.”

           Jamie nodded, a little awkwardly.  His smile was sad, and yet his spirit renewed.  “I never thought to ask.  This seemed special to you three.”

           “We should have made you one a long time ago.”

           The younger man pulled the pendant’s chain slowly and gently over his head.  He considered the medal that hung from it, as if unsure he merited the award.  “Thank you.”

           “No need for that,” he said.  “Lets just get home before Sarah sends a war party after us.”



          Sarah stood before the Christmas tree, barely shielding the crate there with the full splay of her skirt.  Pouting men with opening instruments were being held at bay by fear of her retribution. 

           “First you said we had to wait for Jamie and Adam to come home.  Then you said we had to wait for Christmas Eve,” Griff said.  “Well, they’re home and it’s Christmas Eve.”

           “They haven’t been home for a couple of hours.  It hasn’t been dark but for a few minutes,” Sarah said.  “A.C. and Benj are in the kitchen with the children.  Why don’t you two go join them for a few more minutes?”

            “Dja see who it come from?” Eric asked.

           Sarah reached protectively back toward the crate.  “Yes, I know from whom it came.  He is an old friend of our family’s.  The letter is for Jamie, so the crate is for him.  No one is going to open it until Adam and Jamie come in from the barn.”

           “But I’ll bust if we don’t open it,” Griff said. 

           “I promise you, you will not bust,” Sarah said. 

           “Well, if you don’t, Griff, I’ll help you along,” Candy added, walking into the room to reclaim the leverage bar from the man who might as well be his own kid brother.  “Besides, they’re headed in now.  What’s gotten into you?  You’re worse than the young’uns.”

           “Just excited is all,” Griff said.  “It’s from somebody famous!”

           ‘I don’t care if it’s from the President of the United States.”  Candy surveyed the younger man’s trail-dirty dungarees and old flange shirt, up and down.  “Anyhow, I thought I told you to dress for the Christmas Eve party.”

           Griff straightened his bolo.  “I wore a tie.”

           “Oh, sorry, what was I thinking?”  He handed the leverage bar over to Sarah.  He pointed out the kitchen’s direction to Griff.  “Get in the kitchen.  Eric, that goes for you, too.” 

           At that moment, the front door opened; the two men from the road entered.  In their absence, the room had been dressed up with the tree they had taken down that evening in the old stand, what now seemed to Jamie a longtime ago.  The fine tree had been raised by the hearth, and bedecked in the usual newly strung berries and popcorn, and a few select crystal and metal ornaments from the Boston family branch.  A series of candles around the room had likewise been lit, lending their soft light to the small and shining things.

           Jamie’s face shot full of happiness when he saw the crate’s presence by the tree.  “That can only be one thing.  It got here!”

           “I’ve been barely able to hold the boys off from opening it,” Sarah said, motioning to the kitchen.  “And I don’t mean your little ones.”

           Adam had drawn into the covenant of people, staring down with one hitched eyebrow at the object of conversation.  “What in the world is that?”

           “It’s your Christmas present,” Jamie said. 

           Adam squinted at the shipping address on the crate.  “Good land of glory, you know who this is from?”

           “Of course.  I asked him to send it.”

           Adam shook his head but hard.  “I didn’t but half know he was even still alive.”

           “He’s old, but he’s alive.  I wrote him a letter.   Old Sam always was good for his word.  Don’t know why he sent it in such a big box, though.”

           “I’ll go manage the youngsters,” Sarah said, trading a smile of conspiracy with Jamie.

           “And I’ll be in doing my part,” Candy added.  He handed Jamie the leverage bar he had confiscated.  “I was the keeper of all kinds of secrets this year.”

           Adam handed Jamie the letter attached to the top of the box.  He reached out a hand for the leverage bar, which Jamie passed along.   The younger Cartwright wasn’t sure which sound came louder:  the cracking-open crate or the breached vellum envelope.

           “There’s a book on top,” Adam said.  “And under it…it looks like some kinda leather doctor’s box.” 

           “That’s what it sorta looks like, yeah,” Jamie said, reading over the letter, his smile brightening and widening.  “But that’s not what it is.”

           “What is it then?” Adam asked, laughing.  He looked happy as a kid, but almost as bewildered.

           “Sit down in Pa’s chair,” Jamie said.


           “You’ll see,” Jamie said.  “Sit.”

           Adam gestured his surrender, lowering onto what would always, to both men, be the center of the room.  “All right, I’m sitting.”

           Jamie hefted the leather chest from its container.  It took considerable strength - so much so, Jamie had to nod off Adam from rising to assist.  The younger Cartwright pulled out a long kind of cord, and handed it off to Candy, waiting near the mudshed door.   Candy vanished again, taking one end of the cord with him. 

           “That thing needs the direct current?” Adam asked, his eyes amazed.  They had only had the charge shed for a month, and he hadn’t been able to tell what the hands had needed the danged thing for in the first place.  He was now beginning to see.

             Jamie cleared his throat with a hint of theatre, and read. 

"My dear friend Jamie,

I am in receipt of your letter marked 1 September.  I so prize your letter of condolence for the loss of my dear girl, as I am now deeply saddened to read of your own bereavements.  I am in all other respects most pleased to hear from you.  I wish my aged infirmities allowed me the freedom of travel.  It has been several years since my last sight of Virginia City.  I fear that sight will be my last, as that freak of nature, the Comet Halley, will soon be coming for me, just as it brought me here in its last flight through our skies many years ago. 

Despite my native cynicism, I expect more than not we shall all be together again in time.

You have requested to only borrow the single telegraphonic wire spool, however, I fear it will be of best use with the telegraphone itself.  I have in my possession a newer device than the crude contraption I dragged with me on my last Sierra trip before your good father's passing.  My friend the inventor Mr. Poulson had made a gift of this new model to me, as I now present it to you.  I can barely hear the nearby whistle stop calls these days, I fear.  Beyond that, these devices have no good use, except to record the shadows of that which will pass from us.  I have taken the liberty of transferring the memory we made to the newer device's media.

You will note the new machine beast is merely half the size of a steamer trunk and, when such a trunk carried my dear wife's belongings, nearly a third as heavy! 

I have also inscribed to you and yours a special monographic volume of my literary trifle the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the protagonist of which may seem halfway familiar to you.

My best, as ever, to you my old young friend,

Yours in celebrated jumping frogs,

Sam “

Jamie wiped away a tear.  “Dear, old Mister Clemens.”

“He was always a good fellow,” Adam allowed, nodding.  “But I’m stuck for certain for what he’s talking about.”

For his answer, Jamie reached for the large boxed thing.  The younger man seemed to be overlooking an inner memory, before his hand touched the surface.  He flipped a switch, turned a knob, then very softly, a scratching sound blast forth from the sides of the box.

A young voice now consumed by years and grown into the man who stood beside the box, spoke over the contraption, a small rider over a large background sound. ‘Pa?’


‘Yes, sir, right here.  And real loud, so’s it can hear you.’

It can hear?’ a most familiar voice to both men present, said “real loud”.  A voice faded with age, but still imbued with humor.

Jamie’s younger laughter;  ‘Yes, sir, kinda.  Stay right close to that place there. Hi, this is Jamie.  And this is gonna be  Ben Cartwright reading from his favorite Christmas verse from the Bible.  The Holy Bible, sorry.’

‘I expect they know the one, son,” the older voice said, with a gentle laugh.  ‘Well, I feel a mite silly, but here goes…”   A page rustled out of an alcove of time: like a mirror had captured an image and held it frozen forever.   And in the same country, there were shepherds watching over their flocks at night.  ‘And the angel of the Lord came to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were very frightened. Then the angel said, ‘Don't be afraid: for I bring good news of great joy, for all people. Today a Savior was born for you which is Christ the Lord.’

The glad noise ended. 

It had been his father’s voice.  No mistaking it.  A voice Adam Cartwright had known full well he would never hear again.  Never, ever, ever, echoing in the emptiest of places in the human heart.  Even the memory of Pa’s voice had faded over time.   Until this sound touched the memory in his mind and raised it from the dead. 

“That’s Pa’s voice,” Adam said, beyond the limits of other words.  He grasped the arms of the chair, as if anchoring his own emotions to a firmer place.  “That was Pa’s voice.” 

Jamie nodded, struggling with his own reaction to the sound.  “It’s a sound cylinder,” he explained.  “Made on another device.  We made that the last time Mr. Clemens came to town.”

Tears big as Jamie had ever seen formed in Adam’s eyes, cresting them, falling away.   Adam’s eyes were still large with disbelief, as if living witness to nothing less than a miracle.

“That was Pa’s voice,” Adam said again. 

“Would you like to hear it a second -- ”

Adam reached for his arm.  “No, I’d actually like to set with it awhile.  Take it in.  Later, when I’m ready, I’d like to hear it a thousand times, but right now, once is about all I can take.”

“I understand,” Jamie said, gently.  He had not heard his father’s voice in long enough that he had been moved by the recording himself, even if he had known what the device contained.  “I’m just so pleased Mr. Clemens still had it.”

The big tears were copious now, as the older Cartwright fought to wipe them away.  “How can this be?  That was Pa’s voice.  My God, Jamie, our boys can hear his voice, too.  They can hear their grandfather’s voice.”

           “We’ll always have him with us,” Jamie said, smiling.

           Adam laughed in joy, as if the weight of a thousand worlds had been lifted from his shoulders.  He had moved beyond something so painful and profound he had never found words for it before. 

           Adam knew the Truckee Indians held that brothers are messengers from the spirit world to us.  That each brother brought something to the others.  Hoss had come to bring him unconditional acceptance.  Joe had brought him laughter.  And now, he knew Jamie had come bearing their father’s voice.   What he had once, in anger, blamed Jamie for taking, the younger man had restored to him again.  He wondered if his own brother’s path for Jamie had been to give the younger man the story of their mother’s dream, or perhaps to bring him home again.

           “This is the finest Christmas present…the finest thing… I’ve ever received.”

           Jamie shrugged.  “I’m glad.  I’m real glad.  I wanted it to be.  I couldn’t give you back the years, but I thought it might restore the memory of the ones you had.  And speaking of restoring memories, there’s another part of your present, but I doubt you’ll like it as well.  But we best go into the kitchen so we can give my boys the big news, too.”

           “You mean about your getting better?  We already told them.”

           “Naw, not that.  From the looks on their faces when they were riding the…ahem…horses they got from you for Christmas, I expect they’ll be as happy with this news.”

           Adam grinned.  He was pretty sure he knew what it was.  “Just tell me you’re not going back to Montana.”

           “Yeah, well, somebody’s got to keep a watch on you.  Groats in the Ponderosa bark…  I never heard of such a fool notion.”

           “Well, if you hadn’t been so pig-headed…”

           “Oh, and you aren’t?”

           “No, I’m the hot-headed one, you’re the pig-headed one.”

           “Naw, I remember real clearly, you’re the pig-headed brother - “ Jamie stopped himself when he saw the light of pleasant surprise surface on the other man’s face.  “What?”

           “What you just said,” he answered.

           Jamie scrunched up his face in thought.  “What’d I say?”

           “You just said the b word, and you didn’t have to think about it beforehand,” Adam said, grinning ear to ear.

           Jamie smiled, nodding.  “Yeah.  And I even said it in English.  Tso-s-da-nv-tli.  That was real nice.”

           “I knew you knew some of what I said.”  Adam pointed the way to the kitchen.

           “Yeah, but you still got some translating to do.”


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