Part Three: A Trade for Compassion
Word had finally come. A young white man who appeared to be in his early twenties had been taken into custody by the US Army. The description had roughly matched, the telegram advised, yet asked for more information in order to make a positive identification.
Ben Cartwright's positive identification would be made first hand. In person. Even as he and his two sons had packed for the trip south, he repeatedly told himself that it had to be Joseph. It simply had to be. The winter just passing had been one of waiting for just such a telegram and he was sure. His sons might not be, but he was.
A fool's errand, Adam said to himself as he rolled his blankets around a change of clothes. The telegram could have been answered with a fuller description of Joe. A letter to the Army fort down in the Arizona Territory would have been wiser, but his father had glared at him then reminded him of his own rescue. What if he'd only written a letter to the commander of the fort where Adam had gone with the Modocs? How would Adam've felt? No, they - or at the very least, Ben alone - would go there, would see for himself. Fearing the worst, yet keeping it hidden within, Adam had said he would go as well. Hoss had made no comment at all; he'd just gone to his room to pack.
Two long weeks of pushing down the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, camping out most of the time, other times sleeping in shabby hotels had passed. Now they rode tiredly into Fort Grant. The early spring rains that had kept them miserable company for the last few days continued. It dripped down hat brims and rolled across slumped shoulders. Adam shifted uneasily in the saddle as they walked their horses into the gray, muddy parade ground that late afternoon.
As they pulled up at the hitching post, a motion off to one side caught Adam's attention for a brief moment. It was a knot of three soldiers, dressed in oilskins. He caught a glimpse of something at their feet, something flesh-colored that seemed to disappear beneath a drenching of water from a bucket one of them lifted and poured. One of them said something that the others found humourous and they laughed and nudged whatever it was at their feet. Adam's thought was that it was a poor dog to be treated as such, but then followed his father into the office of the base commander without further thought.
"My name is Ben Cartwright. These are my sons, Adam and Hoss. I sent a telegram to Captain Walters," Ben began, removing his hat, letting the raindrops fall to the floor with a grimace.
The orderly there offered them a drink of hot coffee then abruptly went through the door at the back of the room, closing it behind him firmly.
"Might as well warm up a bit," Hoss allowed and poured coffee for himself and the others from the pot on the round bellied stove. The heat from the stove made the windows white with steam and the three men found themselves shrugging out of their rainslickers as they waited.
Halfway through their cups, the rear door opened and the orderly preceded a thickset man into the room. With them both came the smell of food cooking, hot tallow candles, and a faint whiff of alcohol.
The other man left his uniform jacket opened, his paunchy stomach hanging loosely over his belt. The shoulder boards on that blue jacket showed him to be a captain, even if one was slightly cockeyed. Tall heels on his black boots lifted him to about six feet in height, but Adam doubted he would have made the mark without them. He swiped at his greying mutton-chop whiskers then ran his palms down his jacket sides before extending the right one.
"Mister Cartwright, I'm Captain Walters. Pleased to meet you."
Ben's head nodded and he shook the captain's hand after setting his cup of coffee aside. "These are my two sons." He introduced Adam and Hoss and the captain made it a point to shake their hands as well then directed them all into his office.
"Carter," he bellowed just before he closed the door. "Get our guests some brandy to take the chill off the day."
Taking the chairs he indicated, the three Cartwrights sat, opening their jackets as the warmth of the room reached them. The captain took up his place behind the massive walnut desk and folded his hands over his stomach.
"I am sorry that you've taken this trip for nothing. I really don't think this young buck is your son, Mister Cartwright," the officer began, his tone trying to be conciliatory.
"What makes you say that, Captain Walters? Your telegram said -" Ben had begun but the other man cut him short.
"I know what the telegram said but that was on first glance at the boy. Believe me, the fuss you've made this past fall and winter has put every post commander on diligent watch for...." As his words trailed off, Walters leaned onto his desktop. "Like I said, now that I've had the time to watch him, I don't think he's your boy at all."
"Why don't we get a look at him and see for ourselves, Captain?" offered Adam. Though he remained calm and even-toned, something about the whole scenario was beginning to make his skin crawl.
Walters sighed and looked away. He opened his mouth to speak but closed it when the orderly brought in a bottle of brandy and four glasses. "Tell Benson I want to see him, please."
"What makes you think this ain't our brother?" Hoss drained his glass swiftly then traded looks with Adam. Like Adam, he felt something wasn't right but couldn't put a finger on it.
"For one thing, the boy doesn't appear to understand any English. We've tried everything we know, but he just looks at us. Cold little bastard, he is too. Tried to escape a couple of times. My guess is that he was taken when he was very young. The Utes and the Apache both do that. Take very young, white children and raise them like they were their own. Sometimes it's to replace children they've lost, but who knows with a damn redskin?"
"Then you know he's white?" Ben's question chased the captain's words, not answering the question but posing one of his own.
"He's white all right. Sometimes, a half breed will have eyes his color. A green but not quite a green green. No, it's more than his eyes. It was his hair. Brown, curly, thick. That's what we spotted first off. Long, though. But even a breed can have that, too."
"Then what was it?" Ben pushed, hoping that something the soldier said would suddenly make him sure, one way or the other.
"One of the marks on him. It's the mark they put on slaves, Mister Cartwright. Utes and Apaches both take slaves...of whites. Not of each other. You put those three things together and you've got a white boy but one who's more Injun than white. You've made a long trip for nothing, gentlemen. This boy, this young man, has been with the heathens long enough to be one of them. Not the months your son has been missing." Yet something about the way the soldiers spoke made Adam doubt he was telling the whole truth.
A tap at the door was followed by it opening to admit one of the men Adam recognized from the group outside. Here, he snapped to attention and barked out "Captain wanted to see me, sir?"
"Lieutenant Benson, this is Mister Cartwright and his sons. They're here to take a look at our prisoner. They think he may be one of theirs." Walters tilted his chair back as he explained.
A word had snagged Adam's attention and he repeated it. "Prisoner?"
"Yes, sir!" Benson barked again as he turned to face Adam.
Adam rose from his seat and set aside his empty brandy glass. "Prisoner?" he repeated. "What has this young man done to be considered a prisoner?"
"There were circumstances surrounding his capture that could be considered -"
"Lieutenant! That's enough for now. You were directed to prepare for our guests earlier. Are those preparations complete?"
"Yes, sir! As best as we were able but that buck, he's a mean one."
With a wave of his hand, Walters silenced his subordinate. "Then get it over with. Mister Cartwright, if you'll go with the lieutenant, you'll see for yourself that this isn't your son."
Stepping back into the rainy dismal afternoon was somehow refreshing, considering the overheated confines the Cartwrights left behind them. As he tugged on the brim of his damp hat, Ben took a cleansing breath then followed the lieutenant off the porch and down into the mud.
"You know, I ain't usually a body to snap judge anyone, but that captain made my skin crawl, Pa." Adam agreed with Hoss as they slogged across the parade ground. Ahead of them sat a squat building, stoutly built without windows but with a solid door. At that door a miserable looking private stood, a rifle held before him as he obviously stood guard.
"Open the door, private!" Benson shouted when they were still some distance away. As it was, when the three Cartwrights got to the door, it was open. Beyond it lay darkness and a thick stench that made them think of what remained following a butchering: the tang of coppery blood and putrid, dung-filled entrails.
Adam saw the lantern hanging beside the door and, without a word, demanded a match to light it. When the wick caught fire and he'd lowered the globe, he held it high over his father's shoulder. There in the back of the single room, a body lay, back towards them, in rotting straw and puddles of what had once been rain water.
"Careful, sir. Let me go drag him out here. He respects me, I think, but only because I'm stronger than he is." Benson pushed by the others and made his way towards the body.
Just before Benson's bulk filled his line of sight, Adam saw the body move. An arm, rail-thin, raised up as though to fend off a blow, the jangle of manacles and chain muted. On the back he'd glimpsed, Adam knew he'd seen the welts of a whipping. The stripes were vivid red even in the faint lantern light.
"Get on your feet, you miserable excuse for a human being!" roared the lieutenant and reaching down, seized hold of the chains that ran to a ring embedded in the wall. I t jerked the body upright to its knees but still it faced the wall, head down. "Come take a look, sir, but I warn you, this bastard will try just about anything to get away, so watch how close you get."
With the damp rotting straw squishing beneath their boots and the lantern held high, the Cartwrights made their way cautiously towards the lieutenant and his captive. When they were nearly there, the soldier said something they didn't understand then grabbed a handful of hair and jerked the captive's head up, cruelly pulling it backwards until the chain around his throat was taut to the wall.
The battered face that looked back at them was that of Joseph Cartwright.
Before he could form a thought, the lieutenant was himself slammed into the wall by the biggest Cartwright son. "Unlock them chains," he was ordered but could only reply that the captain held those keys. With a snarl, he was hurled towards the door. "Get 'em now!"
Over and over, all Ben Cartwright could say was his son's name. Holding him felt like holding a corpse, so cold, damp, and lifeless was his body. Yet Ben held him close to his chest. When the light came close, he glanced up into Hoss' pained face and saw his middle son stripping off his rainslicker to cover his brother's body.
When the lieutenant returned, Adam whirled on him, demanding the keys.
"Captain Walters says," he began but when the dark-hatted Cartwright son pushed him into the open yard, he raised his hands as if to fight.
"I don't care what that son of a bitch says. I want the keys to those chains and I want them now or so help me God..." he left the threat dangling as the lieutenant stumbled over his own feet getting away. Hearing a noise behind him, Adam turned and pounced on the hapless private. "That's my brother in there and I want him freed now. Understand that?"
"I can't allow that, Cartwright," spoke up the captain from behind him.
His shout tight with red-hot anger, Adam demanded to know why and, pushing the sentry away, turned his vehemence onto the superior officer. He was to the point that he would have struck the man but he held back.
"We're holding him prisoner. He fired on my troops. It's as simple as that." Subconsciously, the captain hefted the keys he held in his fist even as he glared into the oldest Cartwright son's dark eyes. It wasn't a move he would make a second time since Adam balled up a fist and hit the captain square on the chin then took the keys from his fingers as he sprawled in the mud.
His own hands trembled with the cold as he tried one after another in the padlock that joined the manacles to the wall chain but finally Adam had it open. As his father held his brother, Adam brushed Joe's wet hair from the side of his neck and used another key to open the iron collar. It fell with a thud to moldy damp straw. Down at his brother's ankles, his hand shook so badly that Hoss took the keys away and unlocked the cuffs. Sitting back on his haunches, Adam wiped a hand across his mouth and was surprised to find himself looking directly into his father's eyes.
"We need to get him out of here, boys," came Ben's whisper, so strained it hurt just to hear it.
Hoss moved closer and said, "Let me, Pa."
He pushed back from the warmth of his father's chest and, for the first time in what seemed a lifetime, Joe could see his father's face, just there above him. He wanted to burrow like a small helpless child there in his father's strong arms and would have except for a voice off to one side, the lieutenant's, demanding that they step away from him. The rumble in his father's chest and the tightening of the grip around him told Joe that his father was not about to comply with the other man's order. Still, though, he made himself push away and with the help of his brother Hoss, he stood. Swaying, but he stood on his own.
"No," Joe said, his voice rusty with lack of use. "I'm walkin' out of here. You want me, you'll find me but, like I told you, I'll be waitin' for you." He would have said more but a strangling cough staggered him and he would have fallen if not for Hoss' hands holding him up.
"Whatever it is my brother is being held prisoner for doesn't merit being kept like an animal. There's a town right outside this fort. When you get a court, a trial date and a judge, you'll find him - and us- right out there. Now get out of our way," was Adam's demand and Benson wisely moved aside to let them pass, nearly upsetting the lantern where it sat forgotten.
"Here, Short Shanks, let me help you," once again Hoss offered and went to pick Joe up and carry him but was stopped short by the same brother.
"No. I'm walking out of here. I told that son of a bitch when he threw me in here, when he shackled me like a dog, that I would walk out of here and I intend to." To underscore his determination, Joe pulled his borrowed rainslicker tighter, hoping it covered his trembling resolve.
Ben had no idea where his son's strength came from that cold, wet afternoon to walk the fifty feet or so that took them out the gate, but he did. He stayed close, a hand gently placed in the center of his son's shivering back. Behind them, he heard Adam and Hoss coming with the horses but he didn't look back. Step by slow step, Joe went, defiance personified to the watching soldiers until he cleared the gate. Only then did he turn and, with a fragile smile that broke even as it came, put out a hand and asked for help.
"The only doctor in town is the Army one and I'm betting you don't want him anywhere close to Joe. You want Hoss or me to-" As Adam offered, he saw his father shake his head. "Okay; I guessed that, so I went down to the mercantile and bought out their supply of bandages and alcohol. You want me to help you?" Again, the silver head shook and the deep brown eyes looked away. "Pa?" With his softest voice and touch, Adam covered his father's hand with his own. "You need to let us help." When the silence settled heavily between them again, he begged. "Please?"
The first thing Joe wanted made his oldest brother smile. A bath. That was followed by a bed warmed by the management's own hot water bottles on threat of dire consequences from Hoss. Then had come the difficult part. The manacles and shackles had rubbed his flesh raw beneath them; the conditions of his jail had infected them. As his family worked to clean and bandage his wrists and ankles, Joe didn't make a sound. Just looking at the welts on his son's back made Ben cringe yet he knew he had to touch them to cleanse them with the stinging alcohol. Several split even as he did so. Still, Joe only groaned deep in his throat. When it was over, he slept.
In the dark of the night, Ben arose, going to check once more on Joseph. His prayers were answered, he knew; his sons had come back to him. Yet, as he opened the door quietly, he had to make sure.
A motion in the darkness caught his attention and Ben's first thought was that the Army had come to steal his son back in the middle of the night. A glance shot at Joe showed him to be awake and faintly smiling.
"It's okay, Pa," he said then said a few strange sounding words.
From the darkest corner of the room one shadow separated itself from the others. It coalesced into an old man, hunched over by great age and greater cares. He wore a mix of clothing, some of Indian design, other pieces showing it had once belonged to the white man. In his hands he held a battered hat yet in his iron gray hair was a single dark feather. The man's bronze face was dominated by a large nose and cragged by deep wrinkles. But from within those wrinkles, a pair of dark, bright eyes twinkled. When he spoke, it was softly but even then the timber was full and resonating.
"Ben Cartwright, this is Nana We-so-taka. Nana, Ben Cartwright."
The old Indian put out his hand and, across the foot of the bed, shook hands with the white man.
"Son, I think this needs an explanation." Ben was surprised that the Indian smiled, showing a wide place where there were only gums in the man's mouth.
"Nana is an Apache."
Nana smiled hugely again and thumbed his chest proudly then spoke a few words to Joe that made him smile.
"He says he is the Apache, now." This Joe chased with more words Ben didn't understand but they made the old Indian chuckle.
"Joseph, an explanation, please. Your father is waiting," Nana urged, and in as good an English as any one of Ben's own children was capable of.
"Yes, Pa. He speaks very good English. Corrected me a time or two, too. I told him that Miss Jones would have - well, never mind. Nana, you explain to Pa what you're doing here. I mean besides telling me that Yellow Bird has had her baby."
At this, Ben raised a brow in the thin moonlight. "Is this something we need to discuss, son?"
"Yellow Bird is his grand-daughter. Oh, no, I get what you mean. No, Pa, she was married to his grandson and she was pregnant when he was killed. The child she carried is the last of Nana's bloodline. Now Nana has another boy to raise. I'm glad to hear that, Nana. I was afraid it was going to be a girl and you would be forced to spoil her."
Nana snorted then, settling himself cross-legged at the foot of the bed, chuckled. "Your father thought you had not been an honorable young man so it is good that we both know better. But he wants to know why I am here. Shall I tell him or will you? Ah, you are not feeling well tonight, I see. I shall tell him. I think I should start by explaining about the rendezvous. When the Ute, the Bannocks, the Shoshoni, the Modocs and the Paiutes all gathered together last summer, I was not there. Apache were not invited nor would we have gone so far from our homes. But the Shoshoni, Modocs and Paiutes are all enemies of my people so we needed to know what they were doing. We sent a spy among them. He was an old friend of mine who had lived for a time with the Utes, and their cousins, the Paiutes...."
Into the night, the old man spoke, his cultured tones and skillful storytelling weaving pictures that Ben found both entrancing for their beauty and repulsive for the horror and torment they spoke of for his son. Still, he listened. Long after Joseph had fallen back asleep, he listened. Even when he heard Hoss and Adam join him, wary but respectfully silent, he listened. And when the dawn broke over the gray landscape of a early spring desert and the old man disappeared out the window, Ben remained beside the bed, listening still to the old man's story....
The spy they had sent to the gathering of the northern tribes was called Sha-tooka. He was an old man who had spent many winters with the Paiute as a child. He spoke the words and knew many of the elders, their families and the ways they lived by. Sha-tooka was accepted simply because he posed no threat to anyone since they saw him as only a mind-touched fool, a child's mind in a man's body. It was a part he played well. When the young braves had first brought in their captives, Sha-tooka had seen them and knew that their very existence was a danger to one and all present in the narrow valley. When the decision had come to torture them to death, Sha-tooka had spoken against it, saying it would bring bad things to those who participated. But because he was viewed as simpleminded, he was ignored. He had forced himself to watch the youngest white man that night, to hear him scream in pain, to smell the blood and fear in the same breath. When the man had fallen and no longer risen, Sha-tooka had hurried to his side, allowing the flowing robe he wore to fall across the younger man's chest. It hid the fact that the man still lived. Sha-tooka began to dance crazily above and about the body and when he could no longer shout outrageous things to the sky, he fell in a heap on top of the still silent body. The elders of the tribes had laughed and when he'd begged them for the body, they had let him have it. He dragged it away by an arm, shouting that he was a mighty warrior and that he would feast upon the heart of his enemy. In truth, he pulled the body to a narrow ravine where he hid it for the remainder of the time the tribes were there.
He gave the unconscious man water, forcing it between clenched teeth, praying he would not choke on it. At nights, when it grew cold, he covered the other's body with his own. He washed the body, straightened the broken limbs and held them still with stolen items from the camp. Sha-tooka used his limited healing knowledge and gave the young white man something others would not have: the possibility of life.
Word of the white man's army being nearby came and the tribes hastily scattered. Sha-tooka stayed and waited, hoping the blue coats would venture close enough that they would find his patient. The blue coats came nowhere near and Sha-tooka was faced with a dilemma. He could easily leave and make his way back to the south where friends awaited his report. Or he could stay and die a long, slow death of starvation and exposure with the white man. Or, and this he finally decided to do, he could rig a travois and take the injured man with him. Traveling would be slow and time consuming. If the army caught him, he was sure that he would die before they would ask what he was doing. He had looked down at the battered body and remembered the night it had been tortured. He recalled that throughout the ordeal the young man had shown bravery and courage. The words he had screamed into the night sky, Sha-tooka had understood some of them. One was the white's word for the Great Spirit, God, and the white man had been asking for His help.
"If your Great Spirit can't help you, I guess it is up to me," Sha-tooka mumbled then went about building a travois.
Sha-tooka traveled at night, making his way over the flat desert floor by the light of the moon. As he walked, towing his burden behind him, he talked to himself, the plant-life and the land itself. When his patient regained his senses, Sha-tooka spoke to him, too, but the young man didn't seem to understand what he was saying. It didn't stop Sha-tooka. He kept right on talking. And walking.
Near the end of the moon cycle, they reached the muddy confluence of two wild rivers. Here Sha-tooka set up his camp. He used one of the nearby caves for shelter and when a passing brave of the Utes stopped by, he asked him to take a message to the first Apache village. Carefully worded, the message made no mention that Sha-tooka had not come home alone, just that he would wait until Nana or the others came.
His charge was now recovering and was learning a few basic words. One leg that had been twisted cruelly still gave the young man trouble when he tried to walk for any distance. The other marks that attested to his bravery that terrible night were healing. Yet the young one struggled with a recurring fever and Sha-tooka knew of only one way to heal him completely.
He set about building and as he did, talked constantly to the other. With simple words and gestures, he showed him what he was doing. He was building a sweat-lodge, he said again and again. With scavenged wood from the rivers' banks, he made a frame then took a long walk into the desert for sage brush. Sha-tooka showed his charge how to weave the brush in and about the frame, pushing each handful of it down until they formed a nearly impenetrable wall. The young one learned quickly. When the walls were done, the old man now began to gather fire wood but this he did carefully, choosing only that which was dry and would burn with little smoke. Then, he waited.
The other grew impatient, a sure sign that his body was healing. He tried arguing with Sha-tooka but it only made Sha-tooka laugh since the words he had mastered were not ones of logic and coercion. He was certain that if the leg had healed as well as the rest of him the young one would have walked away. Sha-tooka was glad it hadn't healed well since if his young one walked off, he would have to follow him and rescue him again. That was the way of the young, that bull-headedness, no matter what color his skin.
Then came the day that Nana and his small band joined Sha-tooka at the confluence of the two rivers. At first, his patient was wary, clearly afraid, and Sha-tooka tried to console him and convince him that they meant no harm. Yet, it was in his best interest to stay quiet and, finally, Sha-tooka got through to him. It was either that or when the four braves dispersed to take the news to other parts of their world. Left behind was Nana, his old wife Rayana, his grand-daughter Delsea-ya and the other old ones of the clan. Sha-tooka felt the fear seep out of the white man like sap from a cut tree. To celebrate, he gave him a special drink.
With the drink within him making him sleepy and relaxed, they carried him into the small sweat lodge. Nana and Sha-tooka removed the last of his white clothing and laid him on the sacred blanket. With the rising sage-scented steam making his body gleam with sweat, the two old men sang holy songs over him. Every once in a while, they would use the sharpened blade of elk horn and scrape the ugly sweat from his body. Finally, when his pores ran clean, Nana said that it was time and between them carried the semi-conscious young man to the river and plunged him into the cold water. He arose between them, sputtering and shaking the cold water from his face. Laughing at his white man's words of surprise, they helped him to the bank where Rayana wrapped him in a blanket of skins.
As he sat trying to dry his body, Nana approached him and squatting before him, patted him on the head. Rayana said something teasing to her old husband and he smiled back at her then shook his head no. Sha-tooka shouted something and they all laughed, even the shivering white man before them.
So it was that Ama-socha, meaning Old Child, was born into the Apache tribe, and became the son of Sha-tooka..
When Nana and his people had come to the confluence of the rivers, it had been the month of falling stars. It was called that because of the meteor showers, the ones the white man called the Leonides, racing across the late summer skies. Because of the location straddling the well-used trail of many tribes, the decision to move on was made quickly. One of the things Sha-tooka had told them about was that the white soldiers seemed to be increasing in number and who knew when they would find this camp?
All of the small clan drew together one evening, their meal of fish finished. For a while, they watched the stars, their silence making them one with the night sky. Then, slowly, Nana began to speak. He told of the old days when the Apache people were free to come and go as they pleased, like the stars above them. He spoke of rich hunting days when the elk, deer and bear were as plentiful as the stars as well. Now, and he took a deep breath, it was not the same. The white man had come and would continue to come no matter what the Apache did. Even when they fled into their mountain refuges, the white man followed them. And there was nothing there for the white man; there was no food he would eat, and no place for his cattle to graze. Only that strange yellow rock that he seemed to prize above all others.
"You, Ama-soucha, do you prize the yellow rock?" Nana asked, his Apache words understood by the white man.
"No." The shaggy head shook as he said the word first in English and then in Apache. Then he looked to his hands, held loosely before him as he sat on the edge of the river, and would say no more.
"Tomorrow, we will begin preparations to go higher into the mountains. There we will stay the winter," Nana announced. All about him was the palpable feeling of dread.
Delsea-ya, her hand pressed over her belly and the child within it, gave voice when no other did. "But, Grandfather, to go into the mountains in the winter is not done. It is not wise."
Nana's hand slashing down showed his frustration. "It is because it is not done that we must do it. This the white soldiers will not expect us to do. Don't worry. We will travel slow. As we go, we will gather what we will need for the winter. The men will follow us. The other clans will gather with us and we will have a time without the fear of the white man and his greed."
One by one, they drifted off to their sleeping places until only Nana and Ama-soucha remained. Nana sat beside him and in a motion another father far away would recognize, put his arm about the young man's shoulders.
"You are quiet," Nana said and in the moonlight, saw the smile come to the other's face for he had spoken in English.
"You speak English?"
Nana chuckled and gave the neck he grasped a gentle shake. "Of course I do. Now, tell me, why are you so quiet? Usually on a night like tonight you would be laughing and teasing like a child."
"You asked me if I prized the yellow rock - gold. No, I don't but I do prize something else just as valuable. Home, Nana. You are going into the mountains for the winter. Let me go home." The words tumbled out quickly as though a dam had broken.
"There is something you prize more than that, Ama-soucha. And that is why you cannot go home yet. You have heard Sha-tooka, my oldest friend, talk of how he saved your life; how he covered your body with his own to save it and then to keep it warm as you healed. Do you not value your life above all else? If not, Sha-tooka certainly does and I would not want to tell him that he did all that in vain."
"All right, yes, I value my life, but still-"
Once again Nana chuckled. "You owe Sha-tooka a debt then."
"No, it is true. You must repay that debt, Ama-soucha, and then you may go home."
"How? How can you repay someone for saving your life? It's impossible."
"You repay by helping to save other lives. Look around you. What do you see?" Nana gave him a few heartbeats then he went on. "You see old men, and old women, a pregnant girl and that is it. If it were not for our horses, we could travel no more than a few of the white man's miles a day. The mountains are far, even with the horses. And we must eat on the way and gather for the winter. You would have Delsea-ya have her child under those conditions? Even you, when you were reborn in the river, we wrapped you in a warm blanket and gave nourishing food to."
"If I help you get to the mountains, then will you let me go?"
The old Indian closed his eyes for a moment before he answered. "Yes, then you may go." The words, so simple and softly spoken, reminded him of another time and place when another young man had asked permission to go and he'd allowed it. That young man, his last son, had never returned.
They traveled slowly. Because of the season, hunting was plentiful. Several times they stopped and dried meat, gathered wild berries and herbs. Gradually, the packs on the horses grew full. The people carried about themselves an atmosphere of tranquility and hope. Yet, as the packs grew fat, the hope of the messenger braves returning grew thin.
The young man they called Ama-soucha grew stronger with each passing day. Rayana had presented him with a razor to scrape away any facial hair he might have grown but even she saw how seldom he needed it. Delsea-ya made a beaded band to hold his lengthening hair out of his eyes as he helped them gather herbs and fire wood. Sha-tooka was proud of his adopted son and his easy ways with both the people and the horse. His leg still made him limp sometimes but it didn't matter when he rode. Yes, the young white man from the Nevada mountains known as Joseph Cartwright, youngest son of prominent rancher Ben Cartwright, was disappearing into the lean, well-muscled and bronzed Apache called Ama-soucha.
It was a good thing that he grew stronger because the day came when the little clan of elders met with another Apache clan. Nana alone went into their midst and spoke with them. They spoke well into the afternoon and both tribes made camp for the night, well apart from one another. Delsea-ya explained to Ama-soucha. They were not Mimbres. They were Apache, yes, but not of the same blood. They were the feared Chiricahua who could kill so quietly that their foe would not know they were there until he lay dying.
The sun was well down when Nana returned to camp and called his people together. In a low voice, he told them. Their messengers, sent out weeks ago, would not be returning. Their foe, the Paiute had captured one and killed him. Another had simply disappeared into the desert. The third and fourth had been captured by the white man and died rather than reveal the whereabouts of the tribe. As the fate of each brave was spoken, an old woman or old man would turn from the group, tears in their eyes and walk into the night to grieve.
Finally, only Nana and his small family stood with Sha-tooka and Ama-soucha. "Now," the head man croaked and placed a hand to Ama-soucha's shoulder, "you are even more important to us. We need your strength, your small ability with the bow, to see us into the mountains."
How could a man, be he white or red, turn his back on old ones so desperately in need? Neither Joseph Cartwright nor Ama-soucha.
The cold in the mountains that winter was bitter, sharp and unrelenting. Before the longest night, two of the old ones had died. The number of Nana's tribe now stood at eleven. Despite their age, the old men helped with the hunting and with Ama-soucha's help, they ate well enough to survive. The gathered herbs and berries were carefully doled out, making an otherwise grave situation a little easier to bear.
Throughout the long winter, Ama-socha improved his Apache language skills and listened with relish to the stories told around the fires. These were stories his white up-bringing could understand. They were of the same gallantry and heroism of Sir Walter Scott; of sly tricksters like Coyote whose legerdemain was on par with Shakespearean characters. They explained much of the world of these people. Legends of how the world began would be interlaced with a story of a mother's love for her child and Ama-socha understood why they felt about the Earth as they did.
"What do you see?" Sha-tooka asked him one cold afternoon as they stood on the highest mountain crest.
Ama-socha shook his head and looked away but his Indian father would not be put off. Finally, he pointed north where a clear blue sky and bright sunlight showed ridge after ridge of mountains. "If I could walk this ridge-line far enough and long enough, I would be back at my home. My name would be Joe Cartwright again."
Sha-tooka tilted his head and stuck out his lower lip as he followed the mountain ridge with his eyes the way Ama-socha pointed his finger. "Then walk it."
Again the old Apache looked into the younger man's face, his own a question mark of wrinkles and bright eyes. "Yes, you can. Your leg is healed now."
Leaning down, Ama-socha picked up the hindquarters of a deer they had shot and handed Sha-tooka the bow he had used to do it with. "No, I can't." He began to walk down the slope towards where the village lay nestled in the snow.
"Because for right here and now, my name is Ama-socha and I am an Apache taking care of my tribe, my clan, my family."
At daybreak, Ama-socha stretched and sniffed the air. Rayana was already making something that smelled delicious and he thought about rolling out from beneath his sleeping robes and having some of it. Then a long, low rumbling sound came to his ears and his first thought was that of an avalanche. Frozen, he listened and the sound came closer. Suddenly a woman screamed and the word, her last, was not about snow.
It was "soldier".
Quickly, he pulled on his mocassins and shrugged into his deer-hide jacket. In one smooth movement he was to the entryway of his teepee and looking out on sheer pandemonium.
It was the US Army all right. In the melee, counting was impossible but there seemed to be four or five bluecoats for every Apache. The Army, on horse-back, rode into the camp, pistols blazing. When they ran out of bullets, bayonets became the killing tools. Some simply used their horses to run the elderly down, crushing frail bodies beneath churning hooves.
He tore his eyes from the horrific scene before him and reached for his bow and quiver of arrows. With an arrow notched into the string, he stepped out into the fray. The arrow went wide, missing its mark of a blue chest but it got the soldier's attention and he shouted something lost in the screams of horses and people.
His arrow had missed because at his shoulder, pulling on him, was Nana.
"Come," he commanded and Ama-socha followed him. With bullets plunking into the snow around them, they climbed the steep mountainside, each helping the other. Below them, Ama-socha saw one after another calvaryman try to force his horse up the slope but it was too steep and covered too deeply by snow.
Once over the ridge, both Apache paused to catch their breath. Nana carried a rifle that had belonged to the tribe and he used it to hold himself erect now. "Come," he ordered again and this time took off through the deep snow to an outcropping of rocks. Here, they met up with Rayana and Delsea-ya.
"Sha-tooka? Where is he?" the young man asked but the women were too frightened, too much in shock to speak.
From below them, the sound of guns firing stopped. It was replaced by an unearthly howl and it drew the attention of the few. In what remained of the small village, the bluecoats were going from body to body, stabbing repeatedly with their bayonets. Then, with roars of animal delight, they would scalp the dead. One old woman they found alive and dragged into the reddened snow, stripped her naked and raped her repeatedly. While she lived, one soldier cut off her breasts.
Sickened, Ama-socha turned from the brutality he saw and with a thickened tongue, asked again if anyone had seen Sha-tooka. Rayana pointed her finger and when he looked, he saw the old man who had saved his life being mutilated. He would have shouted out, screamed for them to stop, but Rayana pulled him back and pulled his head to her shoulder.
"We can't stay here. Soon they will come." Delsea-ya's words were soft yet held a truth in them.
"Ama-socha, help the women. I will break the snow-pack. Hurry."
For the rest of that day and into the night, the quartet struggled in the snow, slipping on cold-deadened feet. By moonrise, they had reached the desert floor but found the going no easier. Without food or shelter, the desert night was as cold as that in the mountains. They huddled together for a while then decided to push on. They stopped again at sunrise and ate the raw flesh of a hapless rabbit and used the liquid squeezed from a cactus to moisten their mouths. Then, once more, Nana led out and expected them to follow. They did.
And so did the US Army.
For two days, Nana and his people were harried by the army. For two days, they made progress further and further south.
"Where are we headed?" Ama-socha asked when they paused to again take moisture from the desert cactus.
"That way, " he pointed south, "there is a river the blue coats must think is haunted because they will not follow us across it. Once over it, we will find others who will help us, feed us."
"How far, Grandfather?" Delsea-ya asked
"We cross it today if we hurry."
On they pushed, relentlessly dog-trotting across the open sand dunes, the women as well as the men. As they neared where the river must be, the land changed, becoming hilly and the soil, rocky. Looking over his shoulder, Nana swore briefly and colorfully in English.
"The bluecoats gain on us. Hurry...."
"From here on, I can't tell you any more. Let him tell you," Nana nodded to the sleeping Joseph and Ben smiled. The old Apache had talked nearly the entire night, telling his story but when it came to telling the end of it, he could not. Or would not? Even as Ben looked back to the foot of the bed, Nana had disappeared like a puff of smoke on the wind.
"That's a hell of a story." Adam's voice took Ben by surprise, coming from a shadowy corner of the room.
"Sure is, but all that don't tell us how Joe come to be in shape he's in now," whispered Hoss, afraid of breaking the spell cast by the Apache's words and his quick disappearance out the window. As Hoss stood looking out that same window, now closed, he caught sight of a hunched shadow that made its way around the corner of the livery stable then was gone from view.
"No, it doesn't," Ben agreed, "and I am afraid that it has everything to do with the charges the Army wants brought against your brother."
"Treason. The crime of betraying one's country by attempting to kill its representatives and overthrow the government. In this case, the government is the United States Army. Do you understand these charges?"
Again, Joe said the single word. "Treason?"
At the foot of his bed stood Captain Walters in full dress uniform. Beside him was another soldier he had introduced as the Provost Marshal. The rain dripped from his hat brim onto the rolled paper he held open in his hand, making the ink run like tears of sadness down the paper.
"Treason, Mister Cartwright. It is only because of your current physical condition that we do not escort you back to the stockade and confine you there until your trial." Walters leaned forward, his hands clutching the iron bedstead spasmodically.
"My son is a civilian, Captain," Ben thundered but it had no impact on the soldier.
"He took up arms against the government. Treason is the charge. There will be an armed guard on this door twenty four hours a day. There will also be one at each door downstairs and another man patrolling front and back of this building. Should you try to escape, you will be shot. Should any member of your family attempt to spirit you away, they also will be shot. Do you understand me?"
"Yes," Joe said, his voice shaking slightly.
"Do you understand the gravity of the charges brought against you?"By now, the captain was on the verge of losing control and he shouted his question.
"Yes," whispered Joe then closed his eyes and ducked his head.
This submissiveness seemed to appease Walters and tugging on his uniform jacket hem, cleared his throat and turned to walk out. Blocking the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest, Hoss Cartwright towered above him.
"That business about the guards on this door goes both ways, Captain." Hoss did not move.
"Same thing about getting shot, too," added Adam, rolling his pistol's chamber down his arm and sighting down the barrel at Walters. "Just in case you or your men decide to come in unannounced. You do understand that, don't you, Captain?"
"Adam! Hoss! Let the captain leave, "ordered their father and the two brothers smiled grimly at one another then let the soldiers pass.
When the room was once again quiet, Ben turned his attention back to Joe. There was something about the way he sat, propped up by the pillows and staring into his hands that bothered Ben. He was about to offer up some lunch when Joe looked up and past him.
"Adam? Is that right? What he said about treason? Is that treason?"
Before he answered, Adam pursed his lips together and thought a moment. Then, "Yes. Treason is taking up arms against the duly appointed government. Why?"
"And the penalty for it? They hang you, right? Or do they line you up before a firing squad?" Oddly, Joe's mouth quirked up on one side in a lopsided smile and he looked at his father standing beside the bed. "Would have been better if you hadn't come, Pa."
Ben sputtered, unsure of what he was hearing. "That's nonsense. How about some lunch instead of this foolish talk?"
"Ain't foolish, is it, Joe?" asked Hoss, seeing his brother as though for the first time as something other than just a survivor, something different, stronger.
Shaking his head, Joe looked into his father's face once more and Ben saw the sadness in his son's eyes. "No....I'm sorry, Pa.....if that's the definition of treason, then, yes, I'm guilty."
In the stunned silence that followed, Joe looked away and the shoulder beneath Ben's hand was no longer rock solid. Adam and Hoss locked gazes but couldn't hold them.
"Adam, Hoss," Ben's breathy voice came softly to them with his plea. "Leave us alone a bit, will you?"
In the adjoining room, Adam dropped into the chair by the window, all of his strength suddenly gone. His brother had to be wrong. There was no way Joe was guilty of treason. He was young; he didn't know what he'd gotten into.
"Yes, he did," explained Hoss and saw Adam jerk, for he had been unaware that he'd spoken aloud. "What that old fella, that Nana, what he told about Joe being reborn. I know what he was talkin' about. I understand it, Adam. And I understand Joe right now."
When Adam only raised a brow in reply, Hoss shoved his hands into his pockets and began to pace about the small room. At first, his words were slow in coming and Adam felt the pain behind them.
"When I came home, it was like I was being reborn. I saw things differently; I had lived another life. It'd been full of hunger, poverty, loss. I'd watched people die because there wasnít enough food to go around. They were the elderly, the very young and sometimes, just the unfortunate who couldnít get to what food there was. It changed me. It made me realize that the world can be a really hard place to live if you arenít big and strong.... or fast...or just plain lucky. Back there, I'd've fought over a dead rat. I would have eaten it raw if I had to've! I slept where I could and when I was allowed to. Sometimes it was just underneath a tree. Other times, the only cover I had was the shirt on my back and I was grateful for just that small amount to shelter me. When I came home, I left that life behind me and came into the one I grew up in. There wasnít hunger, or cold there. I didnít have to worry about where or when the next meal would be. I didnít have to brood about where I could sleep that night to stay warm, and stay alive. There werenít people there who were going to hit me, beat me, make me work just for the right to continue breathing. I was home.
"The first thing I thought I wanted, yes, was a meal. I wouldn't've care what it was, I just wanted to eat. You couldíve made me stand out on the porch in the cold and I wouldnít have cared as long as I could've eaten. It took a while, but I came back to the understanding that I could have all I wanted. That I didnít have to fight for it.
"That was the other thing I found there: people who cared about me. Not just seeing that I got enough to eat but that the other necessities in life were given to me. I had a bed with blankets and pillows. I had warm clothes. More than anything, I had the right to say that I didnít want to do something and not fear I'd get beaten for thinking it, much less saying it. But most importantly, what was given back to me was my dignity. I found I could make my own decisions and follow my own path. And without fretting about it."
For a few long moments, Hoss was silent, standing and looking out the window, lost in another time and place, Adam was sure. Then, his voice trembling, he went on. "It just came to me that all the time I was gone, I was afraid. I was scared. Now I know it seems funny to you, a big fella like me beiní scared but a big man dies the same way a smaller fella does. And when I come home, I didnít have to be scared no more. Thereís a sayiní about a brotherís back is never bare, meaning that as long as heís got family, someone is behind him, a brother is watching out for him. But, and I donít mean no offense to you, big brother, but the hands I wanted feel on my back were País. When he stepped up to me and grabbed hold of me, hugginí me, why it was the best feeliní I ever had. Maybe it goes back to when I was a baby and that same man held onto me. He saw to it that I was fed, that I was warm and, most of all, that I wasnít afraid."
"Now I'm afraid all over again."
The clock on the mantle ticked twice. Behind him, Hoss could feel Adam's presence and then, surprisingly, a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it gently, warmly. "Me too."
"I fell asleep so I don't know where Nana stopped." Joe's nervous fingers picked at the quilt over his legs. He couldn't bring himself to look at his father now and felt ashamed of the tears that dried on his face. Silently, he chastised himself but it had come hard to him, the thought of being put to death.
Ben shifted his weight on the side of the bed, turning so that he could see his son's face. He put his hand over the nervous fingers and felt the cold in them. "You and Nana and the women, you were down at a river, I believe he said. And the soldiers were right behind you."
The pain welled in his chest again and he felt threatened once more by emotion but Joe took a deep breath and thought for a long moment about what to tell his father and how. The warm hand covering his had raised him and, even as he felt the calluses there, he recalled that the first lesson had been about telling the truth.
"We were down by where the Colorado joins the Gila. I figured by what Nana had said that it's the border between us and Mexico. We had just managed to get to the top of the rise and could see the river when I heard horses behind us...."
It was the Army. By the dust cloud raised, he figured they numbered about twenty. Because of the boulders, they would be forced to either go far to the east or west, or dismount and come through afoot on the narrow trail.
"Give me the rifle and you and the women get to the other side, " Ama-socha demanded and took the old rifle from the chief.
"But there are few bullets. How will you...? Ah, I understand. Yes, your debt to Sha-tooka is paid. It was long before now." Nana smiled, the dusty wrinkles in his face cracking.
"No, my debt to Sha-tooka can't be repaid. Ever. Go. I'll hold them off as long as I can."
"I will see you again," the old one said then scurried away to catch up with the women.
Ama-socha was watching as they began to ford the river, the water a little more than knee high. He smiled, knowing in his heart of hearts that they would make it. He wouldn't, but that didn't seem to matter.
A bullet pinged against the rock beside him and drew him back to his task at hand. He had seven bullets and he had to make them last until Nana and the women were hidden in the trees on the far bank of the wide river.
He jacked the first shell into the chamber and placed the rifle atop a rock then laid behind it. When he caught sight of the first army campaign hat, he aimed slightly to the left of it and let the shot go.
"God damn, Cap'n! Them savages got a gun!" came the wail of a voice thick with a southern drawl.
"That will teach you to be more careful," Ama-soucha thought aloud and then realized he had spoken the words in good Apache. Over his shoulder, he looked for the others. They were not quite half way across the river.
Another shot from below broke a branch over his head and he chuckled. How tall did they think he was? He waited patiently as another shot cleared his head by a good six feet.
There was a flash of dark blue a little further up the trail than where he'd seen the hat and he levered his second shell into position. When the blue showed again, he put the shell about four feet above where he figured the man was. A yelp and curse told him that it had missed its target but that was what he had intended. For good measure, he put the third shell slightly lower.
"That bastard up there can shoot!" came another voice but it was countered by a third, more commanding voice that demanded that they fire.
As he crouched behind his rock, bullets shredded the tree leaves above him and chewed up the dirt beside his barrier. Again, he looked for his friends. They were a bit beyond half way.
"Time for another shot," he chuckled and loaded the fourth shell. This time, he fired blindly and wiggled away from his rock then stood quickly behind the tree there at the top of the rise. Behind him, he could hear the water splashing and Rayana calling for him to join them.
Another volley of shots answered his, this time closer. He thought about trying to make a break for the river but knew it would leave their backs exposed. No, his first plan had been the right one: use the bullets sparingly and give them all the time he could to make their escape. When the soldiers found they had been shooting at a white man, the ensuing panic might give Nana, Rayana, Delsea-ya and her coming baby just that much more time to get away.
With sure, steady fingers, he loaded the fifth shell into the old gun and sighting along its rusty barrel, fired well over the oncoming soldiers. It had the desired affect in that they instinctively ducked.
He didn't wait but loaded shell number six and fired again. A horse whinnied distantly and the soldiers' shouted curses came closer. Somehow, he'd managed to shoot a horse. A barrage of shot surrounded him. One bullet creased his leg, cutting the buckskin trouser leg as neatly as a knife. He didn't spare a glance at the wound, knowing it was superficial.
Now, with his last bullet rammed into the chamber, he waited and watched. On two fronts his attention was held. Just as he saw Nana pushing the women into the trees, the very rocks before him opened up and bullets thunked into his tree and kicked dust up around his feet. This time, when he fired, it was at a target: the hat on the first soldier who raised his head. It went sailing into the brush and the distraction gave him time to fall to earth spreadeagled.
The sound of more shells being jacked into firing position was loud about him as he lay face down in the dirt. The rifle was off to one side, too far from his hand to be considered a danger yet one soldier's boot kicked it further away. A hand grabbed him by the hair and pulled back hard. In that instant, he found himself looking down the barrels of half dozen Spencer repeating rifles.
"My god," the southern voice drawled once more. "He's a white man!"
As they pulled him roughly to his feet, he saw the last of Nana's blanket coat disappear into the far woods.
Why he decided not to speak with them, he didn't know or understand. For some reason, he figured the longer he stayed silent, the farther away his friends would get before his captors went after them. As it was, they seemed fascinated by him and took every means to taunt him. He was searched for another weapon and the man doing it took delight in belittling him. Once again, his face was pushed to the ground and they kicked at him, demanding that he speak. They urinated on him, then, complaining about their own stench, dragged him to the river and threw him in. He thought about trying to escape but the biggest one, a sergeant by his uniform stripes, lassoed him and pulled him back to the shore.
Over and over again that afternoon, they demanded to know who he was. Who had he been traveling with? How long had been with the Apaches? They used rifle butts, stones and, in utter frustration, their fists, to make him open up. It all hardened his resolve and he remained mute.
That night they tied him spreadeagled to stakes pounded into the earth. All of them but the sentry and the captain had turned in by moonrise. He had let his mind and body go numb, trying not to fight the cold. The crunch of boots on stone made him open his eyes.
Squatting beside his head, the captain studied him, using his revolver to move long locks of hair out of the way then stroking it down his jaw.
"I know who you are," the captain whispered hoarsely. "I saw you at the village. Tomorrow, we head back to the fort. If you're smart, you'll try to get away and get yourself shot in the process. Otherwise, it might take you a long time to die."
"I will take you with me," Ama-socha promised, the rich sibilant Apache words flowing smoothly from him just before the captain struck him with the gun.
The next morning he was given water just before he was chained. Because he had killed a horse, he was told, he would not be able to ride.
"I've heard tell that an Apache warrior can run seventy miles in day. That true, boy? What? You still won't say nothin'?" the sergeant baited. "But then, you ain't a real Apache, are you? Think you can keep up with us?"
With a noose around his neck and his hands chained together, he had no choice but to run, to keep up. Luckily, it became old quickly and while he was forced to keep at a steady dog-trot for long stretches of time, the calvary's horses were too exhausted to do more than a shambling walk for most of the day.
They stopped at noon and he was given bread and water. That night, he was shackled hand and foot and staked well away from the warmth of the fire. It didn't matter since the hate growing in him kept him warm and fed his spirit.
On the second day, he fell and the soldiers found a new sport in dragging him behind them. The sand and stones tore at his flesh and he would have gladly died but the captain saw the wish in his eyes and would not allow the new game to continue. Instead, he was yanked to his feet and again ordered to follow.
The afternoon of the third day brought them finally into the shelter of the fort. He was thrown into the stockade but not before others there saw that he was a white man. The lieutenant saw him and recalled a letter from a man in northern Nevada. He studied the new prisoner and decided that it could be the missing Cartwright. So, while his captain rested from his ordeal, the lieutenant went ahead and sent the fateful telegram.
"...and I never spoke a word to them except when I told that one that I would walk out of there. Wasn't his fault he didn't understand Apache, I guess. Probably saved myself from another beating because he couldn't understand me."
"There isn't another one. At least not in this town. Closest town with any size to that might have a lawyer that'll give us the time of day is -" Adam explained once more to no one listening but his father's scowl brought him up short. Since they had been told that the civilian trial for treason would be held here and only here, he'd noticed his father's temper growing shorter. Doubtful that Joe could receive a fair trial in this Army dependent town, telegram after telegram had dashed out, searching for help. But this was the Arizona Territory, not their home state of Nevada. Here they meant nothing. One lawyer only had agreed to serve them but when notified of the charges, quickly multiplied his fees by ten and then would only represent Joe if he pleaded guilty.
The trial would start in two days. And they had literally run out of options, and time. Tempers flared and each man would find something that would hold his gaze away from a family member. All the while, outside their hotel room doors, blue coated calvary men kept silent guard.
"There's still time. Like I said, Joe's fit enough to ride now. I'll take care of that yahoo at the door. Adam, you take the man downstairs and -" Hoss offered only to find himself dealing with his father's wrath once more.
"I will not have my son on the run from the authorities like a common criminal!" Ben roared but having been dealt this hand before, none of his sons even blinked.
"Oh, I suppose it'd look better to have me shot for treason." Joe's sarcasm cut across the room and he alone held his father's eye, contempt clear on his face.
"Enough of that!" spat Ben, barely controlling his anger so that he didn't lash out physically.
With muscles still sore and stiff, Joe gingerly rose from the chair he'd been relaxing in and went to the window. He moved the lace curtain aside and leaned on the sill. His eyes swept the still muddy street below, finally seeing what he sought. For the past week, every time he'd looked out this window, he'd seen him. He doubted anyone else did. At the corner of the livery, an old Indian sat every day, a liquor bottle close at hand. No one paid attention to him, thinking him to be one of the fort's Indian scouts on a binge. Joe knew differently, having caught sight of the old one early one morning. It was Nana. And he was watching.
Absentmindedly, Joe touched the window pane as behind him his brothers stayed in wary silence and his father huffed, annoyed by it all. While with the Apaches, life had been empty of this sort of strife. There had never been any question as to what he would do in his mind. He just knew and did it. Even at the river when he had been taken captive by the soldiers, Joe had been certain of what would happen. He would live or die but either way, Nana and his family would escape to freedom. He'd been sure of it. Now there was no certainty, no assurance in his life.
"Adam, why don't you do it? You can talk your way around just about anything." Hoss' words brought Joe back to the hotel room and he turned in time to see his oldest brother's annoyed expression. From across the room, Joe could feel the answer Adam would give.
Before Adam could speak, Joe did. "Pa, if you don't mind, I need to rest some." It was a lie yet not a lie. It would clear the room, predictably, and as they left him, he called out to his brother, asking him to stay.
With a faint grin on his face now, Adam let Joe know he'd seen through his brother's move. "I'm not sure I can do it the way it needs doing." He paced the floor, his boot heels hollow echoes on the bare wood floor.
"It's you or nobody, brother." Joe twisted in the straight-backed rocker as he sought a comfortable way to sit. "I got faith in you."
Adam snorted playfully and gave his brother's head a gentle smack. Unable to pace now that his attention was captured, he sat on the corner of the bed and studied the slanted rays of struggling rainy sunlight across his boot toes.
"You wanna tell me why you don't think you can represent me? Be my lawyer? What? You afraid I can't - won't- pay you for services rendered?" The mocking, teasing tone his brother used washed over Adam. He smiled into his palm but kept his eyes on the floor.
For a few moments as silence reigned in the room, it was like the past year had never happened. That they were all the same. But they weren't and they knew it. The playful banter might be there yet beneath the surface smouldered something else. Had Hoss hit upon it when he'd spoken of the fear he'd felt? Adam shook his head, unsure that was what it was.
Once again, he bounded to his feet and began to pace the confines of the room. With his hands jammed into his back pockets, he circled the room, pausing to look out the window at the drab town. He finally came to a stop behind Joe and let an arm rest across the back of the rocker.
"No, I don't think I can tell your story, Joe. When Hoss came home, I listened to what he had to say and it made me mad. Those people, Nine Toes and his band, had starved my brother nearly to death."
"I think I'd be pretty mad about it too but what-?"
Interrupting him, Adam swung around the chair and again sat on the bed, this time leaning towards Joe, his hands braced against the chair arms. "But then again, I was mad because those people were starving too and that Jim Bridger was going to use them and their poverty to make money. The Shoshoni were surviving the best way they knew how...and helping Hoss to do the same." He paused, drawing back now and straightening his arms.
"What about you? All you said was that the Modocs took you north and traded you to the soldiers for blankets."
Adam drew a deep breath and leveled a stare at Joe. Joe stared back. There was no menace, no dare, no hostility in it. Just a searching probe that Adam knew he could not deflect.
"Yes," he whispered now, afraid that to tell his story was to change it. "I was taken by the Modocs." For the next hour, he told all that had happened to him. There were times when they laughed, other times when they both grew somber. Throughout the whole, Adam was secretly glad that their father wasn't there to hear it. With Joe, he could let his guard down and talk of things he might have been a bit wary of sharing with his father, particularly when it came to the woman. Yet what he told was only half, the easy half to tell.
There was the other half of his story he longed to tell. The half that spoke of the uncertainty of living with a people not his own. Yet, like the Apache had Joe, the Modocs had accepted him. While there had been times of cold and little to eat, it was nothing compared to what Hoss had endured and Adam would only admit to himself that he wouldn't have survived Hoss' ordeal. In the end, there had been a tremor of betrayal he'd felt when the Modocs had taken him to the fort and traded him for blankets, food and passage to the reservation. Survival, he thought. Yes, you do what you have to in order to survive. Summoning his courage, he told of his own survival in cautious yet blunt terms.
When he finished, he found himself standing and looking out the window and wondering where Captain Jack and his people had gone once they'd left the fort with their winter blankets. Had they returned to their reservation? Had there been plenty for them to eat? Were they still arguing that the whites should be paying them rent for their land? Adam's mouth drew up a tiny bit on one side, remembering the arguments as he once more took his place on the corner of the bed. Even as he smiled, he saw the doubt rightfully come to Joe's eyes.
"That isn't the whole story, Adam," his brother said flatly and there was no denying the truth in his words.
Again, the day turned gray and dismal for Adam and the chill it brought to his bones could not be warmed away. "No, it...you have to understand because....because..." he floundered, searching for words to put to thoughts and emotions that up until that moment he didn't know he had.
"What?" his brother's tone was sharp, cutting, demanding and it sliced at him, wounding him.
"Most of the time I was with the Modocs, I had it pretty easy. I worked but it wasn't nearly as hard as a day on the Ponderosa. I ate as well as the rest of the tribe. Granted, they didn't set out the sumptuous feasts Hop Sing is known for but everyone shared. I had a warm place to sleep every night and I was treated with respect. Still, most of the time, I tried not to think of what had happened to you and Hoss."
There it had come, the admission, the guilt. Yet he couldn't simply leave it laying there between them like a flayed animal, dying. "I was certain you were dead, Joe. We'd listened that night...Hoss, I saw briefly as the gathering broke up so I knew he'd survived. Even so, when I would think about you both - when I would let myself - I'd get mad, angry, but those people...they wouldn't let me stay mad. No, they didn't try to humor me out of it. They just explained again and again that there was nothing to be done about it."
"And you believed them." There was a hint of bitter accusation in the words Joe used that snapped at his brother then fell away, unable to maintain their grip on his soul.
"After a while, yes. Could I have helped you and Hoss? Probably not and it hurts to say that to my brother. If I would have, what would it have changed? Maybe nothing but maybe everything."
"It can change things now. We can't do anything about the past but we can the here and now. It's now that I need you, Adam." Joe's husky whisper hung in the air before them, the need, the desperation making it linger.
He ignored his brother and plunged on as if he hadn't heard him. "Change. We've changed, Joe. I'm not talking about the physical body but within us. Something there has changed. It just came to me that while I was with the Modocs, I wasn't Adam Cartwright. There I didn't have to have all the answers to all the questions. There I was...free...freer than I ever remember being in my life. I was me but I wasn't me. That doesn't make sense when I say it-" He paused and looked into his brother's face but saw that of the Modoc children instead."Some thing took me over and I was happy. Yes, I wanted to come home but at the same time, I wanted to stay. I was at peace with them. I stayed because I wanted to; not because they made me."
"And because of that, you don't think you can help me? Jesus Christ, Adam, am I asking for too much? I guess I am if you're so sure you can't be my lawyer...that you'll let me face a firing squad to keep that peace and happiness you've found."
As if he'd been shot from a cannon, Adam was on his feet and both hands gripped the arms of his brother's chair until his knuckles were white. He let his eyes bore into Joe's, letting him feel the hated anger that had been slowly building within.
"No! Don't say that! I don't want to ever hear you say that again. Do you understand me?" he roared and for emphasis, shook the chair. "I will do the best I can to keep you alive but you have to understand something: All the absolutes in my life are gone. I have learned to let go of some things that I once thought were important. I have found other things to take their place. I'm not so sure about things anymore. Joe, listen to me! I am not the same man I was a year ago. So don't put your trust in me!"
With one hand, Joe pushed him back, then slowly stood. "You may not be the man you once were but you are still my brother. I'm not the same man I was a year ago either, Adam...but I am your brother and I am asking - hell! I'm begging you Ė for your help. You don't have to be sure about anything other than the fact that I did what I had to."
Adam took a deep breath and let himself fall back onto the bed. For a few minutes, he lay on his back, studying the ceiling. When Joe couldn't handle the sudden silence any longer, he dropped back into the chair and grunted so that Adam would recall that he was even in the room. Even so, the older brother only rolled up onto one elbow and glared at the younger.
What was there left to say? Nothing. What was there left for Adam? He sighed as the answer came to him then he smiled, finally sure of one thing. "Now then, you better get some rest while I go make some notes. Things start happening day after tomorrow and I need to be ready for this damn trial. So do you."
He rolled off the bed and lifting his shoulders, headed for the door but there he paused. Turning back, he smiled. "Thanks."
"For reminding me of one absolute that still remains: Family comes first, no matter what."
The morning of the trial dawned clear and bright. For the first time since he'd arrived in the miserable town, Ben Cartwright felt the sun on his face instead of rain. As he stepped confidently towards the saloon where the trial would be held, other people took note of that confidence with which he walked, head held high with an air of assurance. He knew it was an act for within his gut, he could still feel the quiver that had come with the soldiers that morning. They had insisted on taking Joe with them, bound in chains as though they feared he would escape. Hoss, thankfully, had interceded and gone with his brother, leaving Ben and Adam to watch helplessly.
At first, Joe had stood stoic, defiant even as the soldiers snapped the manacles around his wrists. When they began placing the cuffs around his ankles, Ben had caught the fear creep into his son's
eyes and flare there. He'd thought to say something positive to his son but the soldiers were there, in the way, using their rifle butts to move Joe as though he were something that would dirty their hands. With the clank of the chains reverberating down the hall way, they'd left. Hoss, promising to watch out for things, had disappeared with them.
The saloon still smelled like a saloon: stale beer and unwashed bodies competing with sawdust. The murmurings didn't stop when Ben entered the impromptu courtroom. From the corner of his eye, he caught fingers pointed in his direction. Some openly stared. Others sneered. Ignoring them all, he took a chair in the front row.
The hubbub ceased as an older man dressed in a simple frock coat entered the room and took his place behind a table pulled into the center of the room. Twice he hit the table with his fist, demanding silence. When he got it, he cleared his throat noisily.
"District court for the territory of Arizona is now in session. Honorable Judge Winslow Taylor, that's me, presiding.. As is the accused's choice, the verdict will be decided without the benefit of a jury. I shall decide guilt or innocence, depending on the facts and testimony given before me this day. Bring in the prisoner and let's get this done" When he finished his opening speech, he spat loudly into a convenient spittoon then used his sleeve to dry his lips.
Repeatedly that morning, Ben found himself sitting with his eyes closed and a prayer on his lips. The military men were the first witnesses and the picture they painted wasn't pretty. The prosecution attorney produced story after story from them depicting Joseph Cartwright as willfully and knowingly firing at them, his rifle blazing away until they heroically overwhelmed him. Even then, they said, he had fought them until they had to use force to subdue him. Several times, Adam had voiced his objection but the judge had denied it each time.
After the testimony of the last soldier, the judge called a short recess. Taken away still in chains, Joe had gone, all defiance now shattered. Against all common legal practice, Adam was not allowed to go with him. In the pool of silence the three Cartwrights found themselves, none could look the other in the eye.
Whispering, Hoss said it all. "We should've helped him escape. He'd've had a chance then. He ain't got one here."
For the remaining minutes of the recess, Adam Cartwright studied the papers he'd been handed. On them were written the charges against his brother: willful use of deadly force, consorting with a known criminal, aiding and abetting the escape of wanted persons, and on and on. He looked up just once, thinking that he'd heard something out of place in the uproar at the bar. It was just an old Indian trying to beg money from Ben for a bottle. His father gently pushed the old fellow away but Adam saw what others didn't. He smiled for the old one then went back to his reading.
This time as he read the charges, he smiled. He had the questions and knew the answers that would free his brother. Now all he needed was the man to answer them.
The shot glass banging on the table brought the trial back to order. Still on the witness stand would be the sergeant who had ridden Joe and the Apaches down.
Adam rose slowly, hesitantly, his brow creased in thought. "You were present when my brother was taken?" he asked, careful of the words he used.
"Said so earlier." The soldier snapped then smiled, pleased to be the center of attention once more.
"So you saw the rifle he had. Is that correct? And you say that is the only weapon he had?"
"Get on with it, Cartwright!" the judge demanded, pounding his table for emphasis.
Adam grimaced as he lifted the Spencer repeating rifle and sniffed the barrel. "This is the same one? No one has done -"
The sergeant narrowed his eyes and interrupted, "Yes, that's the same gun. Ain't no body done nothin' with it 'cept bring it along to this trial."
"Hmm. Your honor, may I ask you to smell this? It's been recently cleaned. Smell the gun oil?"
A muttering washed across the room as the judge did as Adam asked and wrinkled his nose at the scent he also found there.
"And, Sergeant, he had no other weapons, right? I know, you said so earlier. What was he doing?"
"Nuthin'. Just layin' in the dirt. Guess we'd scared him purty good. When we tried to get a hold of him, he come up like a wild animal. A kickin' and clawin', he was. I hit him with m' rifle butt a couple of times and he settled down."
Adam pursed his lips and tapped them with his finger. "And on the way back to the fort, how did he act?"
"Wouldn't talk to no body. Fought us ever chance he got so we chained him."
"Did you give him something to eat? A drink of water, maybe? And you say that you were forced to make him run behind you because there wasn't an extra horse. That true?"
"We didn't have no extra rations but we did give him some water."
A brief smile darted across Adam's face and he told the packed room that he had no other questions except one. "Your men, Sergeant, how big are they?"
"Well, sir, I'm probably the biggest of 'em and I ain't no little thing as you can see." The crowd snickered. "But I guess that Private Carlisle is about the smallest and he's about your size."
He thanked the sergeant then waited for the room to quiet down once more before he called Joe to the stand. Adam made sure that the crowd saw him as he helped his brother to the witness chair, chains rattling. Even as he did so, Adam straightened his shoulders so that he would appear even larger than he actually was. Taking his cue from his brother, Joe seemed to shrink under the helpful hand.
Joe did as was asked, stating his full name and swearing to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.
"Tell me, Joe. Did you fire at that troop of soldiers that morning?"
"I had seven bullets and an old Winchester carbine. Never laid eyes on that Spencer until this morning."
"Answer me, Joe."
"The barrel of the rifle had rusted through in some places and been crudely patched."
"Just answer my question, Joe."
"The lever was busted so I had to put the shells in one at a time."
"Answer me!" Adam shouted, demanding."Did you or did you not fire at those soldiers?"
"Yes," whispered Joe, "but I couldn't have hit 'em even if I wanted to with that gun."
"Why not? I know you're a good shot."
"Not with that gun. Sight was way off to begin with."
"But they were shooting at you, right? Had they been before you took a shot at them?"
"Course they had...there was lead flyin' every direction but I had to save my shells, time things so Nana and them could get out of range."
"Nana? Who is Nana and who are the 'them'?" Adam wanted to cross his fingers and pray that Joe would answer the right way.
"He was the old man who took me in when I was hurt. He and his wife, Rayana and their pregnant granddaughter. Three days before, the soldiers had ridden into their camp...." Slowly, deliberately, Joe told of the massacre of the elderly Indians. It had little outward effect on the whites gathered in that room.
"This tribe of old folks, what sort of weapons did they have?" asked Adam, his voice bold and assertive.
"Just the old Winchester I had when the soldiers found me. When I- we- ran away from the camp, we had nothing but the clothes we were wearing and the rifle. We had no food, no horses, nothing."
Adam let that sink in for a moment then came back more boldly than before. "When the soldiers took you captive, did you fight them?"
"No, I didn't. Would have been foolish to since they were armed, I wasn't and ever' last one of them was bigger than me."
"But when you got to the stockade -"
"They'd had their fun with me. Tried to break me, I guess. One of them, a captain I think he was, told me it would be better for me if I tried to escape since then they would just shoot me and be done with me."
"As it was, the treatment you received at the hands of the Army did not improve when you got to the stockade, did it?"
"No," Joe let his voice drop to just above a whisper. "They fed me food a dog wouldn't touch. Kept me in the dark, without a blanket or any way to keep warm. I was chained, hand and foot, to the wall. If I needed to relieve myself, there was no place other than the corner." A gasp went through the gathering but quickly quieted.
"Son," the judge piped up. "You got proof?"
The prosecution found its voice and called out but the judge held Joe's eye, silencing the protest.
It was Adam, his eyes full of pity, who moved close to his brother and begged silently for permission. Joe dropped his face, unable to meet anyone's glare. Carefully, Adam brushed aside his brother's long hair - hair Joe'd refused to have trimmed because of what it covered - and showed the judge the marks that remained from the iron collar he'd worn in the stockade.
"There are others, your honor. His back, his legs...do you need to see the whip marks as well?" Adam asked so softly that only those in the front rows could hear him. Beneath his hand, Joe's arm quivered.
The judge shook his head slowly, for the first time showing a hint of fairness.
Adam let Joe's hair fall back and hide the healing skin. "One more question, Joe. Were you afraid for your life?"
"Yes," came the shaking quivering answer. "From the time the soldiers began chasing us until the day you and Pa and Hoss came into that hellhole, I was afraid."
Surprisingly, the prosecution had no questions. Or maybe, to Adam's logic, they didn't want to appear to be the bullies they were.
The closing arguments were brief. The prosecution continually hammered away at the idea that Joe had brought this on himself. That he had fired upon the soldiers with the intent of killing them even though it had been proven that the gun brought forth as evidence was clearly a lie. That he had fought the soldiers, trying to escape yet it had been testified to that he was chained and therefore not capable of fleeing.
As Adam Cartwright stood to give his closing argument he could feel the eyes of the packed room following him. He welcomed their close scrutiny, knowing that everything now rested on his shoulders. So that he would not miss any chance, he picked up the paper and read aloud the charges brought against his brother.
"Willful use of deadly force." He paused and let the words flow about the room. "With a rifle in such condition that he had to put the shells in one at a time. The Army said he used this Spencer but if that was the case, why has it been cleaned recently? Never heard of an Indian cleaning his weapon. Any of you?"
He took a deep breath and went on. "Consorting with a known criminal. Anyone here able to tell me who this known criminal is? If it's this terrible leader of the Apaches, what's he look like? To hear tell, he must be seven feet tall and breathes fire. But when they found my brother, they didn't make mention of someone like that, did they? Or is it because they don't know who the Apache leader is? That they don't know what he looks like. Your honor, if you are going to charge a man for consorting with a known criminal, then the criminal needs to be known. Right?"
"Aiding and abetting. Okay, so he was helping an old man and woman and a pregnant girl. Considering what the Army did to him after they caught up to him, wouldn't you help them too? The Army says they were dangerous Apaches. One old man, his wife and a pregnant girl. Dangerous. So dangerous that they chased them for three days across hostile terrain. No, I think they chased them, wanted to kill them because they had witnessed a senseless massacre."
"And lastly and most importantly, treason. He fought against the Army, the powers that be, the duly empowered government here. You saw and heard the sergeant describe his men. To a man, bigger, stronger, better fed and riding horseback, not running for their lives. Imagine yourself being suddenly confronted by this force, these huge men. What would you do? I can see my brother now, wanting to fight them because they were threatening him. But, no, what does he do? And the sergeant collaborated his testimony. When they came upon my brother, he was face down, prone, on the ground. His rusty and near-useless rifle thrown off to one side, out of reach. He had no other weapons. Treason, they call that. I call it begging for survival. And once they had him, it wasn't enough. They humiliated him, beat him, starved him and left him to lie in filth. If you had a dog who you beat regularly and suddenly turned on you one day, what would you do? You would probably shoot him, never realizing you'd brought it on yourself. Is that what this court would do to my brother for defending his own life? That isn't treason. It's self-defense."
The hush in the room was deep, thick, curling about every person there. As Adam looked out over the watchers, he saw the old Indian in the back nod once then slip out the door. He stood, one hand resting now on the table before his brother, unable to guess how his words would be judged. When he heard the chains on Joe's legs clinking, he looked down. They were taking Joe away and for that split second, he feared that the judge had already pronounced him guilty but then the words came to him. A recess while the judge decided.
His father slapped him on the shoulder and Adam saw Hoss' tight smile. The big man was nodding, his hat making circles in his hands before him. He knew what they were saying. Good job. Did what was right. Told 'em. Yet he couldn't imagine that he'd done anything but fail and that failure would cost a man - his own brother - his life. He wanted to scream out that he wasn't guilty of those charges, of treason! All he'd been doing was protecting himself and people he cared for. For that he should pay the ultimate price?
"Adam? Son?" his father's voice, soft and caring, finally caught his attention and he turned to him. "Let's get something to eat. We've got an hour or so, the judge said. Let's make use of it."
The hand on Adam's arm urged him to move and he did, without thought, without purpose. Across the street and into the cafť where they were accorded a table in the back and segregated from the rest of the townspeople making this trial a reason for celebration. The meal, simple fare, was ordered and the three sat in silence until it arrived. His mouth dry, Adam didn't think he could swallow but he did as his father would have wanted him to do and he began to eat.
Across the table from him, Hoss at first had picked up his silverware and prepared himself to eat. Then he stopped, laid the silverware back down and folded his napkin to one side.
"I - I- I can't, Pa," he mumbled and looked away. Adam saw the single tear running down his brother's cheek then falling away into a ray of sunshine.
"Not right now, I can't."
Again, there was silence between the three men that spoke more than words ever could. After a few minutes, with no one bothering to even touch their meals, Hoss spoke once more, his voice the softest and most gentlest that Adam had ever heard.
"I sat there listenin' to those words of yours, Adam, but I was thinkin' of somethin' else. I was thinkin' of being with the Shoshonis. This here meal would have fed the Shoshoni tribe. The whole tribe. One cow could have saved the lot of them. A small herd, and they wouldn't have had to go to that reservation to survive. Makes me sorry about all those times I turned up my nose at something I didn't like when I was a kid. Makes me think twice now about taking a big plate of food, too. The scraps from all these folks' plates would've made a banquet for Nine Toes and his bunch. Yet, when I was on the verge of being able to give 'em what they'd need to survive the winter, Nine Toes and Sissy ride off. I didn't understand it then but I do now."
"Same thing with the Modocs. They were going to the reservation, giving up their way of life. Their life was simple, easy, without all the white man's things like greed, and envy. Their children were the happiest kids I've ever met, Pa. Why? Because they knew they were loved. Not by just their parents but by everyone in the tribe. And those kids, they were bright, eager; they wanted to learn everything but they already knew enough to survive on their own if they needed to. What will happen to them on the reservation? They'll learn all right. They'll learn the white man's ways of lust, greed, sloth, pride, gluttony."
Ben had been listening intently, hearing behind the words of each son the heartache that had been theirs. He could not help them. He knew that. The help they needed was within themselves and only when they were ready, would it come. Just as it was slowly coming to him.
"When it finally dawned on me that you boys were way late in getting home, I was angry. Not at you, but at myself. I ripped up the very countryside looking for a trace of you. I demanded things of people and places and things that were impossible. I tore up, destroyed beyond repair, old friendships. I called in favors older than you, Hoss. Why? Yes, because my sons are dear to me but until now I didn't realize there was another reason. Without you boys, I am alone in the world. All the banquets, all the glittering things of the world, even the Ponderosa herself could not ease that pain of being so suddenly alone."
He inhaled sharply and went on. "Now, as I listen to the two of you talking, I understand something else. The Indians who took each of you had something beyond, and far greater, than the white man. They took you in when you needed help the most; they shared what they had, in their way. And when it mattered the most to you- not them - they helped you get home. Honor, those people have an honor I haven't seen in our own world for a long while. This trial today has proven that fact."
"What about Joe, Pa? What if that judge..." Hoss began but couldn't bring himself to finish.
"We have to pray that he has just a small portion of that same honor," sighed Adam. "Time's up, gentlemen."
As Adam took his place beside Joe, he tried to project confidence. He gave him a tight-lipped smile and would have patted his arm had it not been for the armed guard, bayonet fixed, who would have intervened. I tried he thought and saw Joe nod in understanding. A glance into the back row of spectators and Adam saw the old Indian once more. Over in another corner stood another Indian, taller, and apparently younger, but who kept his white man's hat pulled low. In the other back corner, wrapped in a Mexican serape that he was sure concealed a firearm, Adam figured was a third Apache.
Judge Taylor made his way to his table and this time didn't have to bark for order. With a flip of his coat tails, he sat down.
"Get your brother on his feet, Cartwright," he demanded. When Adam and Joe both were standing, the judge went on. "I've been judge nigh onto thirty years. For a long time, I was the only law down here in the territories. What I said and did brought peace and prosperity to this corner of the world. I've hung many a man. A few women, too. But before I took the jury's decision and did something with it, I took my own and looked at it real hard. Weighed what I knew against what I'd heard. I did the same here as I have for any man. Well, enough of this verbal meanderin'. Joseph Cartwright, on the charges brought against you, I find as follows. On the charge of willful use of deadly force, I find you guilty as charged. On the charges of consorting with and of aiding and abetting a known criminal, I find you guilty as charged. On the charge of treason, I find you..."
With each pronouncement of guilty, Joe's body had reacted. At first, his shoulders and head fell and Adam helped him to remain standing. With the second, Adam felt his brother begin to shake and knew he was crying. With the last, as the charge hung in the air and the verdict still lingered unspoken, Adam's own determination to remain unmoved began to falter. Behind him, he could hear movement and for a brief moment, prayed it was not guns drawn in a desperate attempt to save Joe.
"I find you not guilty."
The room exploded into angry shouts but the judge, banging his shot glass on the table called for order and slowly it was restored.
"I ain't finished yet!" yelled the judge to the now quieted room. "Still got to pass sentence. I took into consideration certain things. Like how you been held by the Army, and such, young man. Seen with my own two eyes that it ain't been exactly pleasant. On the guilty verdict of willful use of deadly force, namely using a gun - no matter which one it was, the old one or this here Spencer- I sentence you to a month in the stockade. As for aiding and abetting a known criminal, that'll get you a month as well. Sentences to run concurrently. From the testimony given here before me, I see that you've spend better than three weeks in the stockade already. Seeings that you aren't in the best of health now, I commute your sentence to time served, young man. I hope that you are well enough to leave here now."
In the uproar that followed, as the Cartwright's made their way through the angry mob only with the assistance of bayoneted soldiers, Adam had one last glimpse of the old Indian. He was slipping away.
Before night fell, the four Cartwrights were forty miles from the fort, headed north for the Nevada line. If there had been enough moonlight, they would have no doubtedly gone further but that night, clouds played tag with the sliver of the moon. Unafraid of Indian attacks, as they made their camp, they posted no guard so it was easy for Nana to join them just as they were about to turn in.
Joe greeted him softly and respectfully and as the others listened, they briefly spoke in Apache until Nana smiled and rested his gnarled old hand on Joe's head and gave it a gentle shaking, clearly a rebuke.
"Nana has been to the other Apache tribes between here and Paiute land. They'll look out for us, make sure the Army won't be following us. All we have to do if we run into trouble is send up a smoke signal. They've marked a trail with plenty of water for the horses."
"Should not take you as long to get home as it did to get here," pronounced the old man, clearly letting them know that they had been watched before and found wanting when it came to choosing trails.
"Thank you." Ben nodded then added, "For everything."
Old Nana smiled in the dim firelight and dipped his head to one side, accepting. Then he turned and would have disappeared back into the desert night but Joe called his name once and joined him.
Adam and Hoss rolled into their blankets but Ben remained, watching the traded words between his son and the Apache. Hands went to shoulders and heads bowed together until finally Ben thought he saw Joe's nod. Then they backed away, no longer touching. Again, Joe nodded at something said and, this time Nana nodded as well. One last time, they touched but this time in parting, the old man's hands sweeping down the younger man's arms. Then Nana was gone, the dark night whisking him away.
"You all right, son?" asked Ben as Joe finally gave up watching and rejoined his father.
"Yeah," was Joe's sigh as again, he looked in the direction Nana had disappeared. "You know what he said? Said that he was giving me back to you. Thought you needed me. And that I needed you."
"Oh?" The rising tone in Ben's voice was nearly ruined by some deep fear that his son would not have needed him. He knew differently, of course, on the level that only loving parents hide deep within their hearts even for their grown children.
Even as Ben watched, a change came over his son as he gracefully sank crossed-legged beside the fire. Joe ran his hand back through his hair, a subconscious move Ben had seen him do repeatedly. It was a clear sign that his son was thinking on something beyond the normal girls and horses. As he was about to say something to prod his son into speaking of what weighed so heavily upon him, Joe looked up sharply, his head twisting to one side as though he'd heard a noise.
Across the glowing coals, Joe caught his father's worried expression and almost smiled. It would have banished that worry, he knew, but he held back. Instead he resettled himself, pulling his blanket closer about his shoulders. But the blanket could not warm away the chill he felt in his heart.
"I'm not afraid," Joe began and, without realizing, echoed his father's thoughts that his son was lost to him. "For a while, yes, I was. God, I was." Even as he softly cursed, he looked away, perhaps hearing something once more in the night.
"It would normal, son," was all Ben could think to bolster the conversation. As he sipped what remained in his cooling coffee cup and stared at his son across its tin lip, all other words failed him. He longed to reach across to him, hold him once more in his arms and tell him that he loved him. But he couldn't, because the man who sat there didn't seem to be the little boy he'd raised.
"No, not while I was with the Apache. There, after I got to understanding them, it was like being...in a family. Sha-tooka was as loving and patient a father as you, Pa. Nana was like a grandfather to me and his wife, Rayana, she used to pester me to eat more because..." There his voice faltered and only then was he able to face his father once again.
"Sounded to me like you needed someone to look after you for a while. I'm glad they did."
"I'm sorry, Pa. I shouldn't have said...."
Again, as the night wind spoke lowly in the surrounding brush, stirring the sand and sweeping the clouds across the moon, Joe's attention was drawn away. This time, though, it was to within himself. "I was afraid among my own kind. Does that make sense? These people down here, they fear the Indian, trusting the Army. I was just the opposite. I had been handed nothing but kindness from the Apache. What did my own people give me? Kickings and beatings. Chains and squalor. Hate and threats."
"They were afraid of you, Joseph. What mankind fears, they find ways to belittle so that they can appear to be bigger. Stronger. More-" Ben would have gone on but Joe snorted derisively.
"I have nothing but contempt for those people," he spat out, edgy.
Ben's brow twitched at his son's tone. "I keep hearing words from you I don't understand. My people, those people. What are you saying, son?"
"That I'm not sure I want... that I can go back...that I can be...." His words drifted down into silence.
"I understand," Ben said softly even though he didn't, couldn't. "Want me to wake your brothers so you can tell them goodbye?" Even saying that brought thickness to his words and made his heart stop beating. Back, he said; he wasn't sure, he said.
"No," Joe whispered. "No, I'm going home, Pa. Back to the Ponderosa because that's home-home. But here, this desert and the Apache...they'll always be a part of me."
His heart began beating again and Ben smiled for his son's benefit. "I'm glad you got that figured out, son. There for a minute I was afraid myself." The smile his son gave him answered that his fears were groundless.
Joe uncrossed his legs, stretching. "I made that decision a long time ago. At the river. When I was ready to trade my life for theirs. What happened after that has just been paying for it. And like Nana said, I realized I needed someone else. Something else." He shook his head then levered himself to his feet and for one last time, his attention was snagged by what Ben could not see or hear.
Then it came. In the near darkness, a coyote howled, the mere sound of it stating boldly that this was his land, his life.
"Home," Joe whispered.
The coyote's long, singular cry faded slowly.
Several historical figures appear within the whole of this story. Captain Jack of the Modocs was real as was the woman. Although we did not give her name, her Americanized name was Mary Williams. She was a Modoc woman married at one time to a white trapper. When the Modoc Wars began in 1872, she returned to her people, using her language skills to help in negotiations. The negotiations failed and in 1873, Captain Jack was forced to surrender in order to survive. He himself was hung. Half of the tribe was sent back to their Klamath, Oregon reservation, the other half sent to Oklahoma.
Nine Toes of the Shoshoni was also real. His fight to keep his people from the reservations resulted in his death as well but there are conflicting accounts as to how it occurred. He and many other Shoshoni had white spouses, captives that had been taken young and raised to replace lost children. The Wind River Reservation honors his struggle as well as thousands of others who only tried to keep what they thought was theirs.
The most interesting of them all was Nana, born a Chiricahua Apache. Although he was in his seventies and suffered from near crippling arthritis, he led a group of forty warriors in the late 1870's on a sweep across their tribal lands of today's New Mexico to rid themselves of the white man's influence. They eluded the Army's hundred plus soldiers completely, seemingly disappearing and reappearing at will. Later, he joined forces with the renown Geronimo. He died at the Fort Sill Indian Reservation in Oklahoma at an advanced age.
Brigadier Canby in Hostage, A Trade for Peace, was real as well. He argued with his superiors concerning the manner in which the Modocs were dealt with and later became the Indian agent for the Klamath Reservation.
All other characters presented are totally fictitious.
If you are interested in learning more about these Indian groups, please email Irish for her list of references and other interesting books and articles used in the writing of these stories.
The Tahoe Ladies
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