A Better Man (by BettyHT)

Summary:  A story to try to answer questions left unanswered in The Crucible, it begins with Adam’s attempt to leave Kane’s camp at night.  The first part is a WHIB and then it will be a WHN when Adam is rescued and has to answer some questions to himself and to his family trying to understand what happened and make sense of it.  rating – T    WC = 13,659

A Better Man

Chapter 1

Sure that Kane was asleep, Adam had stealthily taken his rifle and a canteen. He had not gotten far before he was surprised by Kane and forced at gunpoint back to the camp. Kane had sneered at him and questioned whether he still thought he was the better man. It had galled Adam to be tied with the cords that had been used on the mule. The stench of the dead animal still wafted across the camp. They could have eaten the animal, but at rifle point, Kane had refused to let him butcher the animal for the meat. Instead they had meager amounts of beans that required they use the precious water they had left. Then Kane stood there and poured out the sand from the canteen.

“We ran out of the last of the water and food today. ”

The words had been so shocking that Adam had nothing to say. How could the man be so blasé about words that meant they both would die here in this hellhole? Kane loved his games though so Adam wondered what this next game must be. Kane was clean-shaved every morning. Adam knew there was some way that he was doing that but had no idea how he managed it. Kane had given Adam part of a broken razor blade. It was far too small to be a weapon, but with some seepage in the cave, Adam was able to scrape away most of his beard each day. He couldn’t get a close shave without hurting himself though so he knew he must look as scruffy as any desert rat. He used some of the seepage to wet his face for that and each day wiped away as much of the grime as his filthy clothing would allow. He smelled awful and found his own stench nearly unbearable. He had scraped out depressions in the rock at the base of each place where the water seeped out of the rocks inside the cave. He didn’t know if Kane knew that, but it was the only water he would have now, and it wasn’t nearly enough. He knew he was already dehydrated, and probably had three days or less to live in this heat. He hardly sweated at all as his skin was hot and dry most of the time. The only relief was at night, and now he would be hard pressed to get any sleep at all in this position. He looked up to see Kane watching him.

“Thinking about killing me?”

“No, I’m wondering what stupid game you’re playing now.”

“I don’t play games, Mr. Cartwright. This is life. You may not recognize it because everything has always been done for you. Now you have to do things for yourself and you don’t know how.”

Such a ridiculous line of conversation didn’t deserve a response. Adam had already proved to the man that he knew how to work. Kane knew that Adam had callouses on his hands from hard work, muscles from hard work, and when Adam’s shirt had torn open, he had seen scars Adam had from injuries incurred defending himself and his family. None of that had made any difference in the man’s opinions. He was so enveloped in self-pity and jealousy that he could not see reality. Dropping his chin against his chest, Adam closed his eyes and attempted to sleep. He couldn’t. He was cold. His muscles cramped, and his mind would not let him rest. He kept coming back to the question of what game Kane was playing. Then a second question started to nag at him. He wondered what he should do the next day for he was surely going to die. Therefore, the question for him was actually in black and white. He could stay here until he died in captivity being used as a beast of burden and worked as a slave, or he could walk out of camp the next morning. Kane would likely shoot him in the back if he did, but then he would die a free man. Neither option was a good one. Adam began to weigh the pluses and minuses of each one.

If he left, it would be on his own terms. He would be free and a man. His life would be short. However, it would be meaningless. His family would never know how his life ended. His body would never be found. If his family was still looking for him, he would have given them three less days to find him and rescue him. It went against his principles to give up on life. So it came down to the other option. If he stayed, he had to contend with Kane and his taunting and his abuse. Adam had no doubt that the abuse would now get worse. He had been hit a few times, but now he expected that would occur more often. Whenever his back was turned, there would be an opportunity for Kane to strike him. No matter how hard he tried to avoid it, there would be times when Kane was behind him. Sometimes Kane was stealthy too and came up behind him while he was working. Adam had learned to set traps to make that more difficult. However bound as he was now, Kane could strike him at will. So far, he had not been struck in the head and none of the blows had done serious damage but that could change. But if he could tolerate the abuse, he could give his family three more days to find him. He could have three more days of life. Where there was life, there was hope. Wasn’t there? He saw the first signs of dawn then and would have cried except he was too dehydrated for tears. All that came were a few wrenching breaths from deep within him.

From his bedroll, Kane had observed Adam since he had been tied to the post of the lean-to. He could almost imagine the man’s thoughts. He had expected him to break long before this. He thought that when he untied him, he would run at the first chance. Having tied him like that though, he knew Adam’s leg muscles wouldn’t cooperate. He would make him pay for the attempt though. He would make him pay dearly for trying to run again. He smiled in anticipation of teaching this man another lesson in humility that he thought he needed to learn. He waited until the first rays of the sun came over the mountains and then moved toward Adam and untied his hands but not before he slammed the butt of the rifle into his shoulder to wake him.

“Wake up, Cartwright, you lazy good-for-nothing. First you show you’re not trustworthy by trying to run off, and now you show how lazy you are by trying to sleep when there’s work to be done. Now I’ll untie your hands and you untie your feet. Don’t try to run or I’ll have to punish you for that. Last night you got off easy, but that won’t happen again. Now get into the mine and get to work.”

Those words infuriated Adam as they were meant to do. He stood too fast and his leg muscles protested with cramps. He fell which was exactly what Kane had expected and wanted. He moved in and kicked Adam in the back of his thighs sending him face forward into the sand. A well placed kick then had Adam balled up and writhing in pain. He saw Kane’s boots then as the man stood in front of him.

“You’ll learn to obey orders without questioning them. Like any animal, brute force seems to be the only thing you understand. Gelding you might have helped, but it’s probably too late for that to do any good.”

The boots left then stomping away, and slowly Adam regained his senses as the pain subsided. He was able to get to his knees and then was about to stand when Kane emerged from the mine. He walked back to the lean-to and sat at the table in the shade. He gestured toward the mine entrance and Adam slowly made his way there. He walked inside finding some relief from the heat inside the cave. He went to where he had made depressions to collect water from the seepage in the mine and found that Kane had urinated into them. He went from one to another and each one was fouled. He dropped to his knees in frustration and anger. He did want to kill him then. His minute supply of water was gone. He would have no more for hours at least. Once more, he was ready to give up but found that he couldn’t. He went to each depression and filled it with dirt and painstakingly scraped the foul mud out until each depression was as clean as he could make it. Then he moved to the far end of the mine and laid down on his back. He rested there for at least an hour doing nothing. He smiled as he thought about it. What was Kane going to do about it? Kill him? He started laughing then and couldn’t stop. The whole situation was becoming so ludicrous that no one would ever believe it. He was in hell and it was so absurdly crazy and awful, that is was funny. He laughed hysterically until he began to cry. Finally exhausted, he lay on his side and fell asleep. He would not wake for several hours. His body was weakening even if his will to survive was still strong, and his spirit was as yet unbroken.

Outside the mine, sitting at his table and munching on dried strips of mule meat, Kane heard him. He had not realized how close to breaking Adam was. He thought perhaps he would be ready to kill him within a day or two. Both of their hells would soon be over. Kane was fairly sure that Adam would soon be ready to kill him. Because he was a decent man, he knew that Adam would not be able to live with himself once he had done that, but he wouldn’t have to live long with the knowledge that Kane had forced him to kill. The desert would kill him soon enough. Kane thought he should probably be sure to hide the rest of this mule jerky though. He had made it well out of sight of Adam who had no idea that Kane had done it while he had been working away in the mine. Kane had led him to believe that the mule had rotted away and been ravaged by scavengers without realizing that Kane had been one of the scavengers. It had been difficult to keep the damn birds and the beasts away from the meat drying in the sun, but he had managed to salvage enough of it to keep himself strong. The lack of water though was a problem even for him. He had only two canteens left. One was buried for an emergency and the other he sipped from very sparingly. Adam was going to get none. Dehydration was going to help drive him to the desperation that Kane needed him to have to make him kill because Kane lacked the ability to kill himself. He had tried but found over and over again that he could not do it. He railed on Adam for lack of perseverance and fortitude, but he knew he lacked these things in himself and hated the strength he saw in the man he was tormenting. His only consolation was that it would soon be over. He would be dead at Adam’ s hand within two days, three at the most. He was sure of it. He would be right. Adam would be wrong, and he would die knowing that Kane had proved himself the better man. Kane smiled in appreciation of his own cleverness.

 

Chapter 2

When Adam awoke, he was cold, and that surprised him at first. He hadn’t been cold in so long. But he hadn’t been working and he had been lying on the stone floor. He was dehydrated and exhausted. The combination made him cold. By the angle of the light coming into the mine tunnel, he guessed it was already afternoon. He would go outside into the sun to get warm but then Kane would be haranguing him endlessly. The sun would warm him but also probably take what little energy he had left. He decided to do some work that he could do to help himself. He hollowed out more depressions to collect water at places where water seeped in even the tiniest trickles that he had thought too little to bother with originally. Now those drops were too precious to ignore. He lay down and lapped up the water that had collected in the depressions that he had cleaned out that morning. He probably got no more than a few ounces but at least his tongue no longer stuck to the roof of his mouth. Then he worked out a plan for how he might prevent Kane from soiling his water supply the next morning or at least he made it difficult for him to do it. It took most of the afternoon to cut pieces of wood to protect each of the depressions in the rock that he had made. Satisfied with his work, as it neared sundown, he went out to deal with Kane because it was the only way he could get the blanket that he needed to sleep because otherwise he would be too cold to sleep. Kane greeted him as soon as he exited the mine. He was sitting at the exit with the rifle propped over his knee.

“What am I going to do with you, Mr. Cartwright? You proved yourself to be untrustworthy, and despite my discipline of you this morning for your laziness, your sloth was most evident today. Tomorrow you will have a chance to redeem yourself, but you will need to work very hard to do so.”

“I have been working very hard for you. I fulfilled my bargain and you did not keep your agreement with me. You are the one who should be redeeming himself. Where is your honor?”

“My honor is in showing you how to be a gentleman instead of an animal, but you have not shown the slightest inclination in that regard. Perhaps tomorrow you will be more inclined to try to make a step up. Now I’m tired and need to sleep. You interrupted my rest last night, so it’s time to tie you again. Sit at that post and tie your feet together as you did last night.”

Moving reluctantly to the post, Adam sat on the low stool and pulled the smelly red blanket around his shoulders. It was still warmed by the heat of the day and felt good as it transferred its warmth to his sore shoulders and back. Despite all his discomfort, he had to smile just a little at the small comfort it gave him. Kane however was dismayed by the smile for it meant that Adam wasn’t as beaten down as he had hoped. It meant that there was still too much spirit left inside of the man. Kane’s great fear at this point was that Adam might physically collapse before his spirit was broken. If that happened, he would not kill Kane. That meant that Kane would die broken and defeated with nothing to show for his life. He wanted this last victory. He felt he had to have it. He had to destroy Adam, had to prove he was the better man in order to feel vindicated, to feel that his life had meant something. In a moment of mental clarity, he wondered if that meant that he was mentally unbalanced by his quest for riches that had consumed him but dismissed the thought almost as soon as he had it. He had these rational thoughts on occasion. He did as he always did when that happened. He ignored them. The last man who had been in this camp had broken long before this Cartwright, but he had killed himself instead of killing Kane. He was determined that he would not make that mistake again. This time he made sure that his actions would make Cartwright hate him enough to direct his anger into wanting to kill him. He hoped it would be very soon. He thought that his actions tonight and the next morning might be enough to propel the man to action. As Adam put his hands behind the pole to be tied, Kane smiled. The next step was an important one. When he finished tying his hands, he pulled the blanket away.

“You get the blanket when you work. You didn’t work today, so you don’t get the blanket.”

Jerking forward, Adam would have stood if he could. He was furious. He spit the next words out. “Who’s the animal now? You wouldn’t treat a dog the way you treat me. You give me no food and no water. You obviously have some source of both that you’re not sharing. You took away the only source of water that I had and did it in the most foul way. You sat out here today and did nothing. You’re the lazy one. You emulate the worst of men in human history who sat and watched human misery and did nothing to alleviate it. You are a vile and despicable man.”

In a calm voice that infuriated Adam even more, Kane spoke to Adam with the rifle trained on Adam’s chest as if he were a wild beast who might yet escape. “You have another trait of the beast. You cannot control yourself. You need to be restrained and trained like any wild and dangerous brute. That is why you must be tied and guarded like any savage and unpredictable animal.”

“On the Ponderosa, we treat our animals far better than you have treated me.”

“Oh, I’m sure you have convinced yourself of that. The self-righteous conceited well-born always do that to justify the breaks they have. Just as you have. But you’ll get none of that here. Here, you’ll have to earn what you get, and you haven’t earned much. Now, if you would be so kind as to be quiet, I need to get some sleep. Having to guard you against your excesses of behavior has exhausted me. I need some sleep, and it is cold tonight. I want the warmth and comfort of my bedroll which I have earned.”

Leaving Adam to seethe in frustration and fury, Kane smirked in darkness and laid his rifle beside his bedroll. Kane rather dramatically checked the cylinder of his pistol and the barrel to make sure they were clear and working smoothly before replacing the pistol in his holster and laying back and pulling the blanket over his shoulders. He could almost feel the heat of Adam’s glare on his back and felt almost a bit of regret that Adam would not sleep and would likely spend a very uncomfortable night shivering in the cold desert air. It was worse than that for Adam was so angry and frustrated that he continually worked at the ropes trying to free himself until his wrists were bloody, but it was to no avail. The ropes were too tight and strong. In the early light of dawn, Kane found the knot still damp with blood and again felt a momentary pang of regret that lasted only as long as it took for Adam to sneer and lambast him for his behavior.

“I suppose you rested well after doing nothing yesterday and will be well rested for your day of sitting in the shade once more.”

“You have a lack of respect in your tone of voice and manner of speaking that needs to be rectified. If you work today, you will get to use the blanket tonight.”

“I don’t know that it will matter much. Without water, I probably only have a day or two to live at this rate.”

“Well, you never know what could happen now, do you, Mr. Cartwright?”

With a frown, Adam stood slowly letting his cramped muscles gradually loosen. He had learned a painful lesson the morning before and didn’t want to repeat it. Kane smirked and Adam wanted to hit him but refrained. Instead he walked with as much dignity as he could muster on stiff legs and with a sore back. He went into the mine and drank the few ounces of water that had collected overnight. Then he went to the spot that Kane had said was the place where the vein of gold was hiding. It was where he had shored up the walls and ceiling as well as he could. He had to drill the holes for the dynamite just a bit deeper and then he could blast. He had to chip away more of the rock before he could do it though so that was the morning’s work. He worked slowly and deliberately and knew that his strength was deserting him. He had not felt that weak for a very long time. He carried out several loads of rocks, and each time , he was mocked by Kane. When he carried out the fourth small load which was the most that he could manage, he fell.

“Are you still so sure of yourself, Mr. Cartwright? Don’t you want to kill me yet?”

With his head down in weary exhaustion, Adam didn’t have the strength to respond to the taunt. He wanted to lay there and close his eyes and never open them again. Then he heard three shots. He was at first shocked and then his heart knew. His father and brothers hadn’t given up. They were still looking for him. He struggled to his feet and ran as well as he could toward the rocks at the edge of the camp. If only he could get to higher ground, then perhaps he could yell or wave his arms and maybe they could hear him or see him. Hope surged through him once more. As he climbed desperately, Kane grabbed him and jerked him backwards. Without any strength left to fight him, he fell backwards and his head hit the hard packed sand. It stunned him and he lay there dazed and unable to respond. He heard almost as if in a dream the calls of his father.

“Adam. Adam. Adam.” His name was called loudly and evenly spaced out.

Then another and even louder voice called his name. “Adam.” That was Hoss. He heard through but couldn’t respond. Those calls would haunt him for days and in his dreams and daydreams. He wanted so much to answer.

Kane knelt beside Adam and listened to the calls. For the first time, he felt remorse for what he was doing. This man had a family who loved him. They were searching for him and wanted him back with them. It wasn’t just Adam who was going to be lost by this. Those men who were out there searching were going to lose too. Kane felt some guilt for that. He knew that he shouldn’t be doing what he was doing but no longer saw another way to end the drama that he had started. If he called out to those men, he would end his days in prison, or even worse, he might be placed in an institution. He could not endure either of those. He nodded a bit then. He believed that sacrifices had to be made. In his mind, the loss of one life or two lives here should not make that much difference in the world. No one would miss him. He couldn’t see that the loss of Adam Cartwright could make much difference in the future of the world so to his mind, it really didn’t matter what happened here in the desert. He rationalized away his momentary remorse and waited for Adam to awaken. It took quite some time. Finally it was nearly nighttime so Kane simply pulled the red smelly blanket across Adam and left him there where he had fallen. If Adam awakened and killed him, then the drama had reached its resolution. If he didn’t, then he soon would. The climax of the drama was nearing. Kane could feel it.

 

Chapter 3

For most of the next morning, Adam chiseled holes into the wall of the mine. By early afternoon, he set charges. He was amazed that with everything that had happened, Kane trusted him with dynamite. Then he realized as he was setting the charges that Kane probably wanted him to build a bomb or find a way to use the dynamite to kill him. Adam wouldn’t do it. When he lost his temper with Kane, he had momentary lapses when he wanted to kill the man for what he was doing, but his innate nature reasserted itself each time and stopped him from acting on those impulses. He would not be driven to kill. He told himself over and over that he would not let Kane win, and then berated himself for letting Kane pull him into the game. It was not a game. He would not let himself think of this as a game. It was his life, and Kane was taking it away from him day-by-day for some crazy motive that Adam was beginning to suspect was a desire to die by Adam’s hand. Well Adam was just as determined that it wasn’t going to work. He would likely die out here, but he was resolute in his determination to stick to his principles and beliefs no matter how badly he was treated and how physically weak he became.

As he worked, he nearly cried when he remembered hearing his father’s voice calling his name and realizing that was probably the last time he would hear it. He had heard Hoss’ voice one time too. He could vaguely recall hearing those voices as he lay there unable to respond too stunned to move and then he had passed into unconsciousness from shock, from injury, and from exhaustion compounded by dehydration. When he awoke that morning, he was surprised to find the blanket over him. It had helped him stay warm during the night and he had slept soundly for probably fourteen hours or so. He was still tired and weak. He was guessing that he hadn’t had a proper meal now in about a week. He hadn’t had a full ration of water in four days. There were times when he thought he saw Kane in the mine and he wasn’t there. There were times when he thought heard voices and turned and no one was there. These hallucinations were becoming more frequent and more real. It was especially distressing to Adam with his rational and logical nature to realize that his physical body was robbing him of his mental abilities and sanity. He didn’t know what he would do if he lost those and that frightened him. He might do what Kane wanted without even knowing that he was doing it.

While he still had the ability to work out a solution, he decided that today was the last day. He would blast this hole and that was it. It would be the gold that Kane claimed was here or it would expose the sham that he had orchestrated for his crazy game. One way or the other, Adam was walking out of this camp when he was done. If Kane killed him, then it was on Kane’s head. If he didn’t, then the desert would kill him. His family was out there somewhere. It was improbable that they were close enough for a rescue, but he would not stay in this camp for another night. He hammered harder then and the holes were finished. He stuffed the dynamite into the holes the way he had been taught to do it setting the primer cord just so and making sure the caps were properly positioned. When all was ready, he took the matches and lit the primer cord before rushing to the mine entrance and praying as he ran that he would not trip nor fall. In his mind, he was a bit amused at himself wanting to be sure to live at that moment when he fully expected to die within a day or two. When he exited the mine, he saw Kane sitting under the lean-to at his table as he usually was and relaxing in the shade. Adam took cover just before the blasts sent dust billowing from the mine entrance.

“Now let’s see what you got in that stinking pit!”

First with a rebellious stance and then with as cocky a strut as he could manage under the circumstances, Adam moved back into the mine. He cleared rock away for an hour and found only more rock. There was nothing but more rock where he had blasted. His shoring had held but it was for no good purpose. He had labored for weeks to build shoring to blast rock away that had been shielding only more rock.

Outside, Kane knew the moment had arrived. He took the cartridges out of the pistol and loaded the rifle. He took the cylinder out of the pistol and threw it in one direction and the rest of the pistol in another. The rifle was now fully loaded. He would engage Cartwright in the last game, a game in which he fully expected to lose and die. Then Cartwright could walk off into the desert knowing that Kane was the better man. Kane smirked then as he thought about how Cartwright would be wracked with self-loathing and self-recrimination even as his body succumbed to the desert as it leached the spirit out of him even as the moisture his body needed evaporated from him and the heat beat him down into the sand. He had thought he would feel a greater sense of triumph at this moment but all he did feel was a sense of relief that it was finally almost over. He would be released from the miserable failure of existence that his life had become. He almost cringed when he saw Adam emerge from the mine.

“Rocks, just rocks. There’s no gold in that mine.”

“I know. I’ve known for some time.”

“Then why?”

Even weeks later, Adam would have trouble remembering the rest of that conversation. He remembered Kane once again saying that he had breaks.

“I never had the breaks you had.”

“You wouldn’t know what to do with them if you had them.”

There was more but he knew that the kill-or-be killed game that Kane had wanted him to play had offended him on some deep level that infuriated him beyond his ability to explain. When he had realized that Kane had held back food and water torturing him when they could both have been rescued, he had exploded in fury. He had attacked Kane then and nearly killed him as Kane had wanted all along. He knew then that was what the man had wanted. He had wanted to drive Adam to the point where he would lose all sense of decency and kill Kane. It had almost worked. He had his hands around the man’s throat and was strangling the life out of him when those words had stopped him.

In a choking barely intelligible voice, Kane croaked out his victory chant. “I win. I win.”

Unable to accept that, Adam had released Kane in shock at what he had almost done. He had found it almost unbelievable that he had done what he had done. He smashed the rifle, grabbed the food and water, and ran to the desert to escape Kane and the fate that Kane had tried to make him accept except Kane had taunted him saying that he was doing exactly what those two outlaws had done to him and that Kane had still won. He had to go back. He couldn’t leave him there to die no matter what he had done. His principles, his basic decency, and everything his father had ever taught him wouldn’t let him do it. He trudged back to the camp. It took him some time, but the poles from the shoring of the mine, the dirty tarp and ropes from the lean-to, and the ropes from the mule made a decent travois. He looked at the meager supplies of food and water and had an extremely difficult decision to make. If he gave any water to Kane, he would not have enough to survive pulling the man through the desert and they would both die. If he drank the water, he could have a chance albeit a slim one of pulling that travois out of the desert. Kane had been drinking water until that day. Adam decided that he would have to try to survive three days without water, and Adam would drink what was in the canteen and try to get the two of them out of the desert. He smiled grimly at the prospect which wasn’t at all optimistic before he lifted the harness for the travois.

With his plan made, he slept then until it was dark, and began the trek out. He walked all night and most of the next day until it was too hot. He rested then in the shade of some large rocks and ate some of the food. He waited there until late afternoon when he began the trek again. He did that again the second day. On the third day, he didn’t stop because he had run out of water and because he was no longer thinking rationally nor able to form any cohesive thought about anything. He simply walked because he had been walking. If he had been sitting, he would have continued sitting.

“Adam. Adam. Adam.”

Over and over again, he heard his father’s voice. He wished he could hear again in reality instead of just in his mind. He heard Hoss too. “Adam.” He wondered why he didn’t hear Joe. He remembered that he was supposed to meet Joe at Signal Rock in three days. Joe was probably really angry with him for being late. He laughed when he thought about that. He was so late this time that it made up for every time Joe had been late and then some. He laughed again. He laughed too much and started to lose the harness for the travois. He stumbled then and began to fall to his knees. He knew he shouldn’t. He knew he would never be able to get up again if he fell. He didn’t want to die out here. He wanted so much to live but it was so hard. He didn’t hear his father’s voice nor even realize he was there until he was grabbed and held for a moment. He felt hands holding him up and then he collapsed. He didn’t have to be strong any more. He didn’t have to keep fighting. He could let his father and his brothers hold him up. They didn’t though. They let him fall and caught him. He heard Joe then as he held the canteen to his lips. He heard Hoss’ voice and he heard his father’s voice. It was too much. He was so joyful that he started laughing and he tried to explain but it all came out so jumbled and then he started crying and couldn’t stop. He didn’t know what was wrong with him but he felt his father’s arms wrap around him and that made the crying worse. He heard Hoss say he had been dragging a dead man and he couldn’t stop crying then. It was all so awful. He didn’t know how he would ever explain this to his family. He didn’t know how he could ever get them to understand.

For what seemed like hours but was more likely fifteen minutes, Adam was held and given water until he finally was able to stop crying long enough to be moved to shade. Hoss buried the man on the travois who likely had been dead for a day or two already. Joe went to get more water and was back within a few hours. They cooked up a light broth and waited for it to cool before getting Adam to eat it. He was ravenous at first but only had a spoonful before claiming he had enough. Ben insisted that he have another and then another, but then that was all he would have. As the night went on, every fifteen minutes or so, Ben insisted that Adam have water or more of the broth. He knew that dehydration effects were the most dangerous at this point and that Adam was not yet safe from them. They had to get as much fluid into him as they could. They continued that through the night until about midnight when Adam fell into a sleep so deep that he could not be roused. Ben told Hoss and Joe that they would let him sleep for three or four hours before they would try to wake him again. When they did, they began the whole routine again. At dawn, Joe left to go rent a wagon because it was clear that Adam would not be able to ride any distance. Hoss and Ben stayed with him to care for him and protect him. Joe headed to the livery stable where Cochise was recovering hoping not only to get a wagon but also to get Cochise and as many other supplies as he could. If he was successful, they would be able to head directly to the Ponderosa.

 

Chapter 4

Sitting by Adam’s side in the shade of a small tree, Hoss addressed his father as Adam slept. “You know how he is. He needs a bath and clean clothes. He’ll feel more like his own self then.”

“We don’t have enough water to bathe him. When he wakes, I want to wash those abrasions on his wrists. Someone had him tied. Those are infected and have to be washed and bandaged. I want to do it when we can explain to him what we’re doing. I would have done it yesterday, but it was impossible to talk with him. He was out of his mind with the heat and everything that had happened to him. Causing him any more pain was out of the question. I’m hoping when he wakes up this time, that we can talk to him and that he’ll understand what we’re saying. I pray that my son will look back at me out of those eyes and not the desperate man I saw yesterday.”

“I know. I can see that my brother went through some kind of hell out there like Joe said. Somebody held him against his will and forced him to work. I can see that. His hands is all blistered and calloused like he worked like a slave from sunup to sundown. He looks like he lost twenty pounds or more too. He must not a been fed much. Pa, I just don’t know what makes a man do what they done to him. You reckon he escaped somehow with that other man?”

“I don’t know, Hoss. The other man was in considerably better condition.”

“Well, except for being dead.”

“No, I mean he didn’t have the wounds on his wrists, and his clothing was cleaner and not torn like Adam’s. He didn’t have the blisters on his hands either. I saw that when you pulled him from the travois while I was holding Adam. He looked to be in better condition like he hadn’t been working like Adam had been.”

“Yeah, I saw that before I buried him. I looked him over to see what killed him and there was no sign of nothing. There was nothing on him to say who he was neither. None of it makes no sense, does it? Wonder why was Adam trying to drag him outta that desert?”

“Only Adam can explain it. We’ll have to wait for him to give us the answers to our questions.”

On the bedroll beneath the tree, Adam was listening to them talk. Ben saw the furrow between his son’s eyebrows deepen. He drew his finger across his throat to signal Hoss to cut that conversation short and inclined his head toward Adam. Hoss looked over and apparently saw the same sign that his father had seen which now included a slight frown.

Adam was thinking about what he had heard them say. He didn’t have good answers for their questions and didn’t want to have to explain the whole thing yet until he had more time to think about it. From the start, he had made mistakes in judgment and behavior which were going to be difficult for him to admit. He had been suckered into a deal with Kane that he never should have made. He didn’t notice the warning signs until it was too late. He should have bolted from Kane’s camp when he still had the strength to do so and before Kane expected him to do it. He had made mistake after mistake. He should have lured Kane into the mine and overpowered him when he still had the strength to do it. He wondered if he had been too arrogant, too proud and if that had led him to make the most serious mistakes of all that nearly led to his death. He knew too that he still might die. He knew that despite all the fluids his family had given him, he had not urinated and that was a worrisome thing. His body might have shut down and might not start up again. It was amazing that such a simple thing might make the difference between living and dying but there it was. He would likely know very soon. He had made his mistakes and his choices so the result would be his fault whichever way it went, but he felt bad knowing that if he died, his family would feel guilt. He didn’t know how he could alleviate that, but decided that he had to try. He would do his best to explain enough so that they would know that if he died, it was his own damn fault.

But Adam was weak so he had to try to figure out how to tell the story without making it so complicated that he got into the games that Kane had played with his mind confusing him and implementing his diabolical plan to break his spirit and his will until he killed Kane before perishing himself. It had come very close to working out just as Kane had intended. He thought about it quite a lot and fell asleep again before he had a chance to say anything but not before Hoss and his father had tipped the canteen up to his lips several times and had gotten him to take several more ounces of fluid each time. They knew too that somehow his kidneys and his liver had to be coaxed into functioning once more or he would die.

Around noon, Adam awoke again and Ben tried to coax him to eat some stew but couldn’t. Adam had no appetite. He did drink a little but even that was difficult for him, but he was more than willing to let Hoss strip the filthy clothing from him and burn it. Most of the stench disappeared with the burning clothing. Hoss used the Indian method of bathing in the desert using some of the plants to softly wipe away the grime. Ben had a spare shirt and pants that were too large but at least they gave Adam something clean to wear. Hoss and Ben cleaned Adam’s wrists and hands with some of the water and carefully wrapped them in soft cloth to protect them from dirt and dust. Using the damp cloths, Ben wiped Adam’s face cleaning it thoroughly for the first time in weeks. Doing those things made Adam feel better but he didn’t talk much, and Ben and Hoss felt they shouldn’t press him for explanations. As he rested after they cleaned him up, he felt an urge that he hadn’t felt in days. Hoss helped him stand so that he could try and he had a thin stream of brown that struck the sand. It wasn’t a healthy sign but it was a beginning. After that, Adam was thirsty and did accept a few spoonfuls of stew. Hoss smiled at his father. By that evening, they were sure that Adam would survive. He made two more trips to the bushes before they turned in for the night, and in the middle of the night, he reached out to Hoss once more. By late the next afternoon when Joe arrived with the wagon and supplies, Adam was able to stand by himself and move the short distance to the bushes to relieve himself. He drank often and ate small amounts of food. It wasn’t enough to offset what he had lost, but he was slowly getting used to eating food again. Joe was relieved to see that Adam was alive, but had hoped to see him looking better than he was. He wasn’t talking except to ask for what he needed and found it very difficult to look at any member of his family. Joe like his father and Hoss took that the wrong way.

“He can’t blame us for not finding him sooner. We had no way of knowing he was being held captive by someone. Even if we did, we didn’t know where to look.”

“I suppose so, Joe, but I guess ifn you was the one being held like that and thinkin’ on dying out there and getting all desperate and all, you might wonder where the heck your family was. Ya gotta remember too that he wasn’t all right in the head. He didn’t have enough food and water and he was near worked to death.”

“I know. I feel bad about that, but I can see that Pa is feeling awful bad about how Adam is right now. You think we can leave for home in the morning?”

“I don’t see why not. Adam is up and around some now. He’s eating a little and he can take care of what he needs to take care of. The sooner we can get home now, the better.”

“Well, at least he should be more comfortable now. I brought a keg of water, soap, two towels, some clean clothes, and as much food as I could get. There’s even a thin mattress rolled up in the back.”

“Joe, ya done good. Ya done real good.”

Smiling with the praise, Joe walked to where Adam was sitting silently next to the small fire. Ben stood and greeted Joe happy to see him and relieved that he was back safely. He had not wanted to have to send him out on such a mission so soon after having had to search for one lost son, but he was very pleased that he had completed his task so successfully.

“Thank you, Joe. I heard what you told Hoss about what you were able to get. I’m glad that everything worked out so well.”

Joe raised an eyebrow wondering if his father had heard the earlier part of the exchange because then Adam had likely heard it too. He had forgotten how easily sound carried out in the desert. Ben pursed his lips and nodded slightly and looked at Adam whose head was down as it usually was. Joe sighed knowing that he had said things that had likely hurt his brother. He hadn’t meant to do that. It had only been his frustration that had caused him to vent a bit. He moved toward Adam and went down on one knee.

“Adam, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean those things. It’s just that I’m kind of frustrated. It was a tough few weeks worrying about you and thinking that maybe we would never find you. I tried so hard to find you, and then I had to wire Pa and Hoss to come help me. We tried and tried, but we couldn’t find you. I was so scared about that. Please forgive me for saying anything that might have hurt your feelings. I know none of this was your fault.”

Adam looked up then and Joe was shocked to see that he was crying again. When Adam reached out for Joe, Joe naturally leaned in to hug his older brother. In a raspy voice, Adam choked out his confession. “Oh, Joe, none of this was your fault. I know that. It was all my fault. I made so many mistakes. I was a fool. I never should have shot my mouth off in Eastgate. I never should have left you. I shouldn’t have come out here alone especially with all that money. Then when I got robbed, I walked and walked and finally stumbled into Kane’s camp. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. When he said I could work for three days, and he would give me that mule to use, I should have known it was a trap. When he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain, I should have left. I should have found a way out before it got so bad that I was too weak to fight back. Oh, Joe, I heard Pa calling my name. Then I heard Hoss. I tried to call back. I did, but he knocked me down and then I passed out. When I woke up, it was the next day, and I never heard you calling again. I lost you and I thought I was lost, and it was all my fault. When you found me, I thought it was a dream. I didn’t know it was you, and I was so ashamed of the stupid fool that I had been. How can you stand being around me? I’m such a fool, such a stupid fool.”

Shaking with heart-rending sobs, Adam leaned into Joe and let the pain of the previous weeks out. It was a catharsis that he needed. Joe held him even as he looked to his father for some guidance. He wasn’t sure what he should do. Ben came and knelt beside the two brothers putting his arms around both of them reassuring both that he loved them. He let Joe know that he was doing all that he could do, and let Adam know that he had his father’s love. As Adam’s sobs slowly diminished, Joe let him sit up and back. Then of course he responded as only Joe could.

“Now you got my shirt all wet. I’ll need to put on a clean dry one before we get to the next town. I don’t want any pretty girls to see me in this one.”

Adam did his best to smile but found it was difficult to have any true good humor. Ben let Joe move back a little and Ben moved in to wrap his arm more tightly around his son.

“Adam, every man on this earth has made mistakes. I know that I have. You can tell us more about what happened when you’re ready to talk about it, but I know my son, and I know that I am proud of him and I love him as much now as I ever did. You survived an ordeal that would have killed most men. You love your family, and you tried to save that man no matter what he did. You need to find a way to forgive yourself for whatever you think it is that you think you did that was wrong. We love you. I love you. Nothing will ever change that. Now, we need to fix ourselves a good meal, and get some rest. Tomorrow, we’re heading toward home.”

 

Chapter 5

Ben’s healing words began the process to bring Adam back to them, but it was a long process. He couldn’t forgive himself so easily. His standards for behavior had been set very high, and he judged other men by them as well. He found himself lacking in many ways and had to evaluate his behavior in each instance to see how he could have acted differently and what the likely results would have been. Finally, he determined that the only true mistake had been splitting up in Eastgate. Had he stayed there with Joe, none of the other mistakes would have occurred. Once he made that decision, the rest of the decisions followed an inexorable path toward near disaster. There didn’t seem to be a way out of the morass once he rode out of town alone. He and Hoss talked about what he had done in Eastgate and determined that they ought to find a better way to carry money in the future. Hoss was the one who provided the most silent support for him being there when he needed someone by his side as he thought or when he needed a hand on his shoulder or simply someone to reach out to touch as he struggled on the trail at night with his dreams and awoke drenched in sweat. Hoss was the one who made sure his bedroll was close enough to Adam so that he could reach out and touch him if he needed it. Adam of course complained a little about the snoring, but they knew he didn’t mind that much because it meant he knew that Hoss was close enough if he needed him.

As they rode home, Adam reclined in the back of the wagon spending much of each afternoon sleeping the first two days. They found a nice spring on the second day which allowed all of them to bathe and shave, but of course Adam was the one who needed it the most. He reclined in the pool for a long time as his father washed his hair and helped him shave. He washed himself, and when he needed to get out, Hoss helped him. Then Hoss and Ben cleaned and bandaged his wrists once more. Before they left, they washed all their clothing too so they had clean clothing for the rest of the trip. It was the third day before Adam climbed up on the seat beside his father and began having some limited conversations about his ordeal explaining bits and pieces of it alternating with long periods of quiet contemplation. Ben had to try to piece together those pieces until he began to understand the situation in which Adam had been ensnared. It made him angry and he wished that somehow he could exact some justice from Kane, but the man was already dead. Kane had gotten his wish, but not in the way he had wanted it. He had failed to force Adam into committing a grievous wrong and dying a broken man, but he had come so very close to achieving his goal that Ben wondered if Adam would ever completely recover from the ordeal. On the fourth night when they were nearing the Ponderosa, it was a question by Hoss that got Adam talking more about what happened.

“Adam, you were the one who done all the work. You were the one who didn’t get enough food and not enough water. You were the one who got hurt. Why were you dragging him through the desert? Seems to me that he should have been pulling you on that travois.”

It was the question that had been troubling Hoss as well as Ben and Joe because it made the least sense of everything that they knew. Adam paused before answering because it opened up the whole convoluted labyrinth of lies in which he had been trapped by Kane. He still didn’t understand all of it, and didn’t know how to explain all of it to his family, but he trusted them and thought that perhaps they could help him to understand it if anyone could. He decided to be straightforward and tell them what he could and hope that they could help him work out the intricacies of the perplexing mess in which he had been trapped.

“You know that he told me that if I worked for him that I could take the mule and we could leave. You know that was a lie. He never intended to let me leave. What he intended was for me to kill him. He kept asking me if I was ready to kill him. He asked me early on if I thought I was a civilized man and if I thought a civilized man could be forced to kill a man. We talked about the murder case in Eastgate. His supposition was that any man could be driven to kill. He tried to do that to me. He did everything he could to try to break me physically and to break my spirit. He came close to doing it too. When I found out that he had water and food that he had hidden away, I was furious. He wanted to play a game over it. He wanted to make it a game of kill or be killed. I’m assuming he thought I would win because I was so desperate for food and water that I would kill to get it. We were supposed to fight over a rifle with the winner shooting the loser. I refused to play. I attacked him and I was strangling him when I realized what I was doing was exactly what he wanted me to do, what he told me he could make me do. He said he won. I knew what he meant. I let him go and smashed that rifle to bits and then I grabbed the water and the food and left.”

That had been so emotionally taxing that Adam had to pause. He dropped his head into his hands and took deep breaths shuddering as he did so. The campfire threw flickering light against him as Ben reached for him grasping his bicep with one hand and massaging his back with the other. After a few moments, Adam sighed and waited for the question he expected.

That confused Joe more that he had been. “If you left, how did you end up with him on that travois?”

“He yelled out that I was no better than those men that left me in the desert to die. He said that he still won. I was still killing him. I went back. When I did, he started laughing and then crying. He collapsed. I was the one who should have been collapsing but he was the one who fell apart. He laid there and said nothing and did nothing. I suppose a doctor might be able to tell you what happened to him. I don’t know. His eyes were open, he was breathing, and everything seemed normal enough, but it was like his mind was gone. He never moved on his own again and never said another word. He never even blinked his eyes again. I figured I would try to pull him out of the desert, and if it worked, doctors could take a look at him. He didn’t make it, but I don’t think he wanted to make it either. Can a person will themselves to die?”

Unable to understand why any living being would want to die when they could live, Hoss asked what he thought to be a logical question. “Why would he want to die? All he had to do was to share the food and water with you and the two of you could a made it out of that desert alive.”

“We could have but that was never what he wanted. Once he said to me that he thought that I was delivered to him. I wondered what he meant, but now I think I know. He wanted me to kill him and in that twisted mind of his, he thought I had been sent to him to do it. All he had to do was force me into the situation so that I would. He also told me once that he had failed before but he wouldn’t fail with me. My guess is that he tried with someone else and it didn’t work. He must have perfected his method and thought he would be able to make me kill him.”

Joe snapped his fingers then getting everyone’s attention. “The man who kept Cochise and had Sport. The man who sold me the wagon and the supplies. He said there was a crazy old desert rat out there. Said he had a partner but the partner up and disappeared sometime in the past year. I bet he killed him. He said the crazy one always had a strange look in his eyes like a wolf sizing you up for dinner. He didn’t like him coming around. Said he hadn’t been there in months though.”

“It makes sense. There were two sets of plates, cups, utensils. Two sets of blankets, bed rolls, canteens. Two chairs for the table. It did seem odd for one prospector to have that out there.”

“Dadburnit, so when it didn’t work, he just give up and laid down to die, but you up and picked him up and tried to drag him on outta there? Why’d you do that?”

“I couldn’t let him turn me into an animal. I had to be true to myself and be a decent man. Hoss, could you let a man die when you had a chance to save him?”

“No, I suppose I couldn’t, but I’d be mighty tempted to try especially if he gave me any reason to.”

“At that point, he didn’t give me any reason to abandon him. He lay there and did nothing. Once he stopped crying, he did nothing at all. I loaded him onto that travois and he never even moved. Maybe he was hurt too much from what I did, but I suppose there’s no way that I can ever know.”

“I don’t know, Adam. I looked him over before I buried him. I couldn’t find any reason for him to be dead. I figured he must a been sick or something. Now I’m guessing it must a been that thing you said. He made himself die out there cause he didn’t want to live. It’s a strange thing, ain’t it?”

The whole conversation was sobering, but it was cleansing for Adam. He had thought that he wouldn’t be able to tell his family so much. He had told them far more already than he thought he would ever be able to tell them. They didn’t judge him but tried to understand his predicament. He loved them more than he ever had knowing how they had searched for him and how they had offered him their unquestioning support when he had needed it so desperately. He knew there were some difficult times ahead but had more confidence now that he could lean on them for the help he needed.

If Adam had been in better condition, they could have been home the next day. However, at the pace they were moving, it was going to be at least another full day before they could arrive at their home. It didn’t matter too much to Ben or to Hoss and Joe but Adam was feeling guilty about holding them up. He knew he had kept them away from the ranch and necessary work for weeks already, and Joe had been away for well over a month with the work they had done on the drive down to Eastgate. He knew they were doing all they could to help him, but he began to feel guilty about that too because he was needing so much of their time and their effort. Hoss of course set him straight on that as he moped around in the morning.

“I know how you are, you know. I know that you’re thinking it ain’t right that you’re getting all this attention and that we’re taking the time away from the ranch to help you. I want you to remember what you done for me and what you done for Joe and for Pa whenever we needed your time and your attention. Don’t you be getting all high and mighty thinking you get to do that for us but we don’t get to do right by you when it’s our turn to help.”

Ready to be angry at being chastised by his younger but much larger brother, Adam listened and heard the concern and the love in his words. He dropped his head and nodded. Hoss put a hand on his shoulder.

“Didn’t mean to make ya feel bad. Just wanted you to remember that we’re all in this together. We do for each other, ya hear?”

“I hear you. And thank you.”

“Ya want to try riding for a bit today? That ornery horse of yours would like as not want to gallop on over the hills if ya gave him his head, but we’re heading up a steep grade this morning. He’ll have to behave himself. It’d be a good time to test out your riding for a bit. Take some pressure off Pa too letting him concentrate on driving the wagon up that grade.”

So another step occurred in Adam’s healing as he rode for over an hour that morning before taking his spot beside his father in the wagon once they made it up the grade and had a more level ride for the rest of the day. Hoss and Joe rode behind the wagon and gave each other satisfied looks. Adam seemed more himself that day and they hoped that meant the worst was over.

 

Chapter 6

Very late that afternoon, it was clear that it would be dark before they would reach the ranch house. They could stop at a line shack and continue on the next morning. With a familiar little crooked smile, Adam looked at his father when that suggestion was made.

“I’m not doing anything. I can lay down in the back if I get too tired to sit. If you can do it at your age, I can manage.”

Without turning around, Ben knew that Hoss and Joe were grinning behind him. The gibe about his age was exactly the kind of thing that Adam would have said before all of this happened. He responded as he would have before too.

“I could do this at your age and I can do this at my age. I could do this twenty years from now. You just watch me do this.”

Ben snapped the reins causing Adam to grab the side of the seat to hang on. He kept smiling though. It felt good to do something so normal and have such a normal reaction to it. Ben’s heart rate was probably double though as he did it and Adam grabbed for a handhold. He knew he had to do it but it scared him. Once they were moving and Adam leaned against him, he relaxed. He also slowed the team to a more normal pace and everyone relaxed.

When they reached the ranch house, Hoss was there to help Adam from the wagon and then Ben walked beside him as he walked to the house on his own but a bit unsteadily. They moved into the house and directly to a chair without wiping their boot or brushing any of the trail dust from their clothing. Hop Sing was there to chastise them but he stopped midsentence when he realized Adam’s condition. Then he welcomed Adam home before scurrying off to the kitchen with a promise to be right back. He kept his promise with a cup of tea, and a plate of two biscuits with ham and a fresh baked cookie.

“I bring more soon as I get stove not again. You hungry. I fix lots of food.”

“Hop Sing, thank you. This is just right. I’m very tired. I think I’ll go to bed as soon as I finish this but the rest of the family would certainly appreciate a good meal. They haven’t had anything except beans and bacon for several days now.”

Hop Sing noticed the bandages around Adam’s wrists, the weight loss, that he was wearing Mr. Ben’s clothing, and the haunted look yet about his eyes, but he said nothing. He knew he would find out soon enough. For now, he would accept what Mr. Adam said. He nodded and headed back to the kitchen to fix a good meal for his family.

Savoring every bite of his small sandwiches, Adam ate slowly. He sipped his tea and was eating his cookie when Hoss and Joe came in after tending to the horses. Hoss smelled the scent of ham in the air.

“Hmm, ham. We having ham for dinner?”

“I’m not sure. Hop Sing brought out some small ham sandwiches for Adam. He’s fixing a full dinner for us right now.”

Hop Sing came out then with a second cup of tea for Adam. “This help you sleep. Drink it all. Then you can go up to your bed. I keep your room ready for you return.”

“Hop Sing, you got more of that ham? It shur smells good.”

“No more ham. You get beef stew left over from dinner.” Hoss’ shoulders slumped and Hop Sing couldn’t help himself and grinned. “And fresh pork chops frying up right now with fried apples.”

“Hop Sing, I love you. You know that, dontcha?”

“You funny man. All time foolish. I go cook your dinner now.”

The interchange brought a slight smile to Adam’s face but not the grin that would have been more of a relief to his family. They watched as he finished his meal and quietly bid them good night and slowly climbed the stairs to go to bed. Adam had rarely ever shed any tears and to have him break down sobbing twice in the past week, to have him so weak, and now to have him so devoid of his usual sense of humor was worrisome. When Hop Sing called the three men to dinner in a much more subdued voice than normal, it fit the somber tone of the evening. Hoss was very hungry but found the food didn’t taste as good as he thought it would.

“Pa, what we gonna do now that Adam’s home to help bring the rest of him back here with him?”

“We’ll give him time to heal. He’ll tell us more of what happened to him out there but I think we already know most of it. He’ll come to terms with it in his own way. I’d like Doctor Martin to take a look at him but you know what he’ll say about that. We need supplies so in a couple of days, I’ll head to town and I think I’ll stop in and see Paul and talk to him about what I know and see what he can tell me. Maybe he can shed some light on what we know so far and what we should do. Meanwhile, we shouldn’t expect too much of Adam. Let’s be careful around him and not do anything to upset him.”

When Ben made that trip to town, Paul wasn’t in. He was out seeing to a patient, and Ben didn’t get to see him for another week. By then, Adam was physically stronger but Ben kept him around the house doing light chores and helping with the books and contracts. He was reluctant to let him do anything that took him away from the ranch house. Adam was getting edgy and short with everyone that Ben took as evidence that his recovery was not going well. On his next trip to town, he made a point of tracking down Paul and finally was able to sit down with him for an extended conversation detailing everything that had happened up to the last few days on the ranch and Adam’s sour disposition.

“Well, first of all, I think I can answer your question about Mr. Kane. No, I don’t think that Adam imagined any of that. I believe it could have happened exactly as he described it to you. In the War, that kind of thing happened to many men. It even happens out here sometimes to men who are caught in a battle with Indians. There’s no name for the condition yet, but men sometimes ended up like that after a fight or a battle. We don’t know why. They’re in a stupor and do not respond at all sometimes. Sometimes they die if they can’t be coaxed to eat and drink. In the situation in which Adam had to contend, it’s not a surprise that the man died. As for Adam and why he’s in such a sour mood, your efforts to treat him so well and protect him are well intentioned but probably not the best method of getting him back to normal. You’re not treating him normally so he can’t feel normal. He needs to be treated like the old Adam to feel like the old Adam. If he’s physically healthy again, you need to trust him and let him do what he did before.”

Ben’s look told Paul all that he needed to know.

“You’re afraid for him. He suffered so much and you’re afraid because you don’t want him to suffer again. Ben, you can tell him that, but don’t let it stop him from living his life. Let him go. You’re hurting him by trying too hard to protect him. He won’t hurt you by fighting you on this after you rescued him. He’s too grateful to do that, but at the same time, he can’t help lashing out at the ties that bind him. Adam has always been very independent. It has gotten him into trouble at times, but he needs that freedom. Give that back to him. Kane took it away from him. If he’s going to heal, he needs that piece of himself back again.”

“So I should send him off to work with Hoss and Joe as if none of this ever happened?”

“Ben, I know that may sound odd to you, but yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Hoss and Joe will watch out for him. You know they will, but they won’t be the mother hen that you are. He’ll be more comfortable working with them and that will let him relax back into his more natural role in the family.”

Ben thanked Paul for the advice and thought about it on the ride home suffering through a rain shower on the way. It was needed but like the advice he had gotten from Paul, it was a bit difficult to take under the circumstances. On the ranch, it was much the same with his three sons. Hoss and Joe had been trying to do some branding which became impossible with the rain. They told the men to keep rounding up cows and calves but then to take a break for the rest of the afternoon until the rain let up. They would try to finish the branding the next day but knew it would be a long hard day. When they rode into the yard of the ranch house, they found that Adam was standing in the shelter of the forge instead of fixing the corral gate and the horse trough. Joe dismounted and immediately began complaining.

“Pa gave you two things to do and you haven’t done one of them?”

“No, he gave me those two things on top of a list of about ten other things that he already had. I haven’t been able to get to most of them because of the rain or because he isn’t back yet with the supplies I need. And who put you in charge of me anyway?”

“Well somebody has to.”

“It isn’t you.” Adam had walked up to Joe and was ready to fight. That much was clear. It seemed equally clear that Joe was in a mood to trade punches if it came down to that.

“Joe, stop it. You know you shouldn’t be talking to Adam like that.”

“Like what? Like a normal person? Why is that, Hoss? You think he can’t talk to me like a man any more?” Adam turned his attention to Hoss who had bent down to wash mud from his hands under the hand pump. “Don’t turn away from me.”

“Don’t talk to me like that. I been giving you lots of room, but I can only be pushed so far.”

“How far? Like this far?”

Adam pushed Hoss who fell halfway into the horse trough under the hand pump. Hoss jumped back up and grabbed Adam and turned him to dunk him in the horse trough just as Ben drove into the yard in the wagon.

“Hoss! Let him go!”

So Hoss let Adam go and he fell halfway into the horse trough getting as wet as Hoss was. Joe began to giggle, and Adam stood up as Hoss stood wondering if he should be worried or if he could laugh. Adam slapped him on the shoulder and began laughing so Hoss laughed in response.

“What in tarnation is going on here?”

Adam answered as Hoss was still releasing some big belly laughs. “Joe started it.”

“Joseph!” Joe turned to his father but saw Adam pick up a clump of mud and prepare to throw it. Joe ducked and Adam’s mudball hit Ben.

“Sorry, Pa. Joe ducked. You see, it is all his fault.”

Ben put his hands on his hips and glared at Adam for just a moment, bent down and picked up a clump of mud, whirled and fired it at Joe shocking his youngest and sending Adam and Hoss into fits of laughter as they leaned on each other releasing some of the tension that had built up over the past week. Then the great mudball fight, that was talked about for many years in the family, was on. By the time it was over, there were grins that showed white teeth but little else that was clean in any of the faces. Hop Sing came out on the porch to tell them not to come anywhere near ‘his’ house in that condition. They laughed and one-by-one stepped into the horse trough to rinse the worst of the mud from their clothing and their bodies and then stripped on the front porch walking into the washroom of the house in their longjohns except for Joe and Adam who weren’t wearing any to take baths. Later that night sitting in front of the fireplace after Hoss and Joe had gone to bed, Adam was staring into the fireplace. Ben put down his newspaper.

“Tomorrow, I thought you could help Hoss and Joe with the branding. Then next week, we have that small drive to Reno. I thought that you and Hoss could handle it because Joe has a horse contract to finish for the Army. When you get back, we need some trees marked up at the timber camp. It won’t take more than a week or so. How does that sound?”

“Sounds good, Pa. Thank you.”

“What were you thinking just now when I interrupted your thoughts?”

“I was thinking about what Kane kept asking me out there. He wanted to know if I thought I was a better man than him. That doesn’t matter though. What I realize is that crucible out there made me face things in myself that I needed to face, and made me forge a new relationship with my family that I know can never be broken no matter where I am. It was a terrible experience, but I’m a better man because of it.”

“You were a good man before, and you’re a good man now. I’m proud of you, son. I’m glad to have you home again.”

“I’m glad to be home, Pa.”

Note:

Catatonia is a condition marked by changes in muscle tone or activity associated with a large number of serious mental and physical illnesses but most often is associated with violent schizophrenia. In catatonic stupor the individual experiences a deficit of motor activity that can render him/her motionless. In catatonic stupor, motor activity may be reduced to zero with the person making no response to any stimuli. Even today, the cause of catatonia is unknown although there are a number of successful treatments. The name of the condition was first used in 1874 although it was described well before that in a number of medical journals and in the United States especially in the treatment of soldiers in the Civil War.

Because of the nature of Kane, it seemed an appropriate condition to ascribe to him to explain his collapse when Adam thwarted his plans.

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6 thoughts on “A Better Man (by BettyHT)”

  1. Your writing is just incredible. The description is so wonderful. You never take a short cut and fill in every detail. Always so intense. Your writing is always worth the read.

    1. Thank you so much. The Crucible was so intense but left so many questions unanswered. It needed a sequel and I did my best to provide one.

  2. Loved the way you eased Adam back into his original life and the intense emotions that followed, this should have been a Crucible sequel and make no mistake!! Thanks for a fantastic read!!

    1. Thank you so much. This was a story I wanted to write for some time and should have written, but I guess waiting helped the ideas develop more. SO many viewers have had questions about The Crucible and have writers have addressed the issues. I’m very glad you liked my effort to answer some of the questions left unanswered by the episode.

    1. Thank you so much. There were questions about that episode that had bugged me for years, and I decided to answer them. I’m glad you liked the results.

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