The Nature of Life (by JulieS)

The door creaked slowly open and he wondered if he was early. It looked like the man he was due to meet wasn’t here yet. As he stiffly walked inside, he lamented the fact that there wasn’t enough moonlight to make things easier to see. He held out his hands to make sure he didn’t bump into anything.

When he had first received the note to meet here, he was ecstatic. Finally the man had seen reason. After all these months his former benefactor needed his help and he was already savouring the taste of what that would bring. Now all he had to do was wait.

A few minutes later he began to have doubts. His benefactor was usually very punctual and it worried him slightly that the man was late. It was getting darker and he didn’t like it. He would give the man another ten minutes to show up.

Suddenly a light appeared and he smiled. At last his man had come. Now he would get everything he had been hoping for. “It’s ’bout time you showed up. I was…” The words froze on his lips as he watched the other man raise the lantern to his face.

The other man grinned as he slowly pointed a gun at the old man. “Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand. Blood and revenge are hammering in my head.”*

“I…I don’t understand.”

“You will very soon. Very soon.”

Sheriff Clem Foster stared at the men who were seated and standing in front of him in the great room of the Ponderosa’s ranch house. There were a lot questions that needed to be answered. He hoped that at least one person in the room knew those answers. Clem took a deep breath and continued, “What I want to know is why Mitch Hawkins was in that particular line shack on the Ponderosa?”

Hoss frowned. “Maybe he stopped there overnight on his way back to town. It’s the closest one to Virginia City.”

“That may be right but Mitch Hawkins hardly ever left town. So why was he here on the Ponderosa?” Clem scanned the room once more.

“That’s a question I would like an answer to as well,” Ben said solemnly.

“Yeah you’re right Clem. Come to think of it, from what I’ve heard, Mitch Hawkins wasn’t one to venture out of town too often.”

“Exactly the point I was getting at Joe. I know Mitch came here for a reason.” Clem fixed his eyes onto one particular man. “And I think that reason had something to do with you.”

The man who held Clem’s attention sighed. “I suppose you’ve heard that I’ve met with Hawkins on a number of occasions.”

“That’s right Adam. I’ve had information from a number of witnesses saying exactly that. You used to meet with Hawkins on a regular basis and then all of a sudden it stopped.”

Adam nodded once as he calmly looked at the sheriff. “Yes, I put an end to it.”

Ben watched silently as Adam answered. He could remember when he had told Adam about the time Hawkins had approached him in Virginia City. Outwardly Adam had made not too much of a fuss but deep down Ben knew that his son hadn’t liked what Hawkins had done. Although he was completely certain that Adam didn’t kill Hawkins, Ben couldn’t help but wonder if his oldest son knew more then he was letting on.

Silence reigned for a few minutes while Clem assessed the situation. He couldn’t tell what the man seated opposite him in the blue chair was thinking. It had become obvious that Adam Cartwright had no intention of giving anything away. He decided it was time to reveal his prime piece of evidence.

“I think there’s something you should know before we go any further.” Clem reached into his pocket. “When we searched Hawkins’ room we found this.”

Clem handed a piece of paper to Adam and stepped back. When he had finished reading it Adam slumped slightly. “Surely you must know that I didn’t write this.”

“What is it?” Joe asked curiously as he moved from his position behind the settee.

Adam turned his head slowly to look at Joe. “It’s supposedly a note I wrote saying that I wanted to see Hawkins at the line shack.”

Ben stood up. He didn’t like the direction that this line of questioning was headed in. “Surely Clem you don’t think Adam had anything to do with this?”

“I don’t know Ben.” Clem moved closer to Adam. “I’m sorry but until we find evidence to the contrary I’m arresting you for the murder of Mitch Hawkins.”

At breakfast the next morning the mood was sombre. Joe picked at his food while he tried to come up with a plan to help Adam out of the fix he was in. The most important thing to do was find out who wanted Hawkins dead and why. “Hey Hoss. How much do you know about Hawkins?”

Hoss finished the mouthful of food he had been eating before he answered. “I know that he turned up here a few years ago but that’s ‘bout it. I didn’t talk to him that much on account of the fact that he was too drunk most of the time to make any sense.”

Ben placed down his fork. “Hopefully we’ll know more about Hawkins later on this morning when we go and see Adam.” He took one last drink of coffee and got up. “It’s time we were going. Candy.”

Candy directed his gaze to his boss. He could see that Mr. Cartwright was worried and it didn’t sit well with him. “Yes sir?”

“We’ll been gone for a few days. If you have any problems don’t hesitate in sending someone to come and get one of us.” Ben smiled weakly at his foreman.

“Don’t worry Mr. Cartwright. I’ll take care of the Ponderosa. You just make sure that Adam’s found innocent.” Candy paused for a moment as he rose from the table. He grinned slightly. “Hoss you better make sure that Joe here doesn’t get into anything that he shouldn’t.”

“I intend to Candy,” Hoss said as he made his way over to the sideboard.

Joe frowned. “What’s that suppose to mean?”

“You well and truly know what that means Joe. I aim to make sure that we don’t get into any trouble.”

Rubbing the back of his neck, Joe smiled sheepishly. “Look you have nothing to worry about. I’m lot older and wiser than I use to be.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Candy said with a slight hint of humour in his voice.

As he walked past Candy, Joe patted his friend on the shoulder. “Thanks for the vote of confidence. If I ever need a reference I’ll make sure I won’t come to you.”

Ben smiled at little as he watched the interchange between Joe and Candy. Going up to Candy after Joe had continued on, he held out his hand. “Thanks. I know the ranch will be in safe hands while we’re gone.”

Taking his employer’s hand, Candy shook it. “Like I said Mr. Cartwright, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

After he let go of Candy’s hand Ben joined his two sons at the sideboard. Placing a hand each on their shoulders, he nodded. “Boys let’s go get your brother out of jail.”

Adam surveyed his surroundings. The cot against the wall had been comfortable but he would have preferred to be in his own bed. There was no one in the cell next to him. In fact if it weren’t for the occasional bit of noise coming from the other side of the door that lead into the sheriff’s office he could swear that he was all alone.

He ran his hand through his hair as his thoughts turned to why he was currently taking up residence in the Virginia City jail. Going over to the cot he sat down, leant back against the wall and closed his eyes. He had to go through everything piece by piece. The answer to this whole mystery lay somewhere in the past and he was determined to find it.

A few minutes later, Adam heard the adjoining door open. As he opened his eyes, he could see his two brothers enter the room. Getting up off the cot, he slowly moved over to them and placed his hands on the bars. “Joe. Hoss.”

“Adam,” Hoss said solemnly. “How are things?”

“Things are okay. Where’s Pa?”

“Pa’s just over at Hiram Wood’s office. He should be here at any time.” Joe hesitantly looked over at Hoss. “Adam…Hoss and I have been talking. We’ve decided that we can’t sit around and wait for justice to take it course.”

Hoss nodded. “Yeah. We want to help get you out of here. We’re goin’ to go round town and see what we can dig up.”

“Look you two I don’t want you making things worse then they already are.” Adam sighed heavily. “I’m quite content to wait for justice to take it course.”

Joe gazed sceptically at his oldest brother. “So you say but we know you. The first chance you get you’d be out looking for whoever done this.”

“Yup and besides if it were one of us in there…”

Adam half-smiled. “I know. You’re both right. I’d be out there trying to find out as much as I could but I can’t.” He paused. “What do you intend to do?”

“We intend to try and find out as much as we can about Mitch Hawkins.” Before he continued, Joe studied his brother. Adam hadn’t put up much of an argument against them helping him out and that surprised him a little. Guess big brother was becoming soft in his old age. At that thought Joe chuckled.

At the sound of Joe’s chuckle, Adam raised an eyebrow. “Alright what’s so funny?”

“I was just thinking that you were becoming a little soft in your old age,” Joe said non-chalantly.

“Come to think of it, Joe’s right.” Hoss grinned. He could tell that Adam was slightly worried. It would do some good to lighten the mood. “You use to put up a bigger fight than you did today.”

Moving his eyes from one brother to the other, Adam smirked. “Maybe I am.”

“Maybe you are what?”

“Pa.” Adam stared at his father. “How did things go at Hiram’s?”

Ben moved closer to the bars as he spoke. “I’ve told Hiram the particulars of your case and unless some more evidence turns up…” He placed his hand on top of Adam’s right hand. “It doesn’t look good son.”

Joe nodded once. “Then it’s more important then ever that we find out as much as we can about Mitch.”

“And the sooner we get started the better.” Hoss stuck his arm through the bars and patted Adam on the back. “Don’t worry. We’re bound to find somethin’. C’mon Joe.”

Removing his hand from atop of Adam’s, Ben looked warily at his other sons. “What are you two planning to do?”

After a quick shrug of his shoulders, Joe smiled innocently. “Just some detective work Pa.”

At that point, Clem walked in. “What’s this I hear about detective work?”

“Hoss and I are just going to see if we can find out anything about Mitch Hawkins.” Joe then stuck his arm through the bars and patted Adam on the back. “See you when we get back.”

As Hoss and Joe walked past Clem, he placed his hand on Joe’s shoulder. “I don’t like it but I know nothing I say is going to change your minds. Just make sure what happened the last time around doesn’t happen this time around.”

“C’mon Clem you still can’t be sore about that,” Joe said as he scratched the back of his neck.

“No but I still remember.” The sheriff rubbed his nose.

“Don’t worry Clem. I’ll make sure Joe stays out of trouble,” Hoss said as he grabbed his younger brother’s arm. The two of them then made their way out as quickly as possible.

Adam shook his head and he looked questionably at his father. “What was that all about?”

Ben grinned. “It’s a long, sad story…”

Joe quickly scanned the room as he walked in through the swinging doors. He could see that Hoss hadn’t arrived so he made his way up to the bar. “Hey Sam.”

Sam Melville acknowledged Joe and finished with the customer he had been tending. Turning his attention to Joe, he smiled. “What will it be today?”

“A beer.” Joe folded his arms and rested them on the bar. “You haven’t seen Hoss have you?”

“Not today.” Sam said as he filled a glass with beer. He then placed in on the counter in front of Joe. “Heard about your brother Adam.”

“Yeah it seems everybody has.” Joe stood up straighter and grabbed his beer. After he took a drink, he placed it back on the counter. “Say maybe can help me.”

“Help you? Yeah sure why not.” Sam leant on the bar. “What do you want to know?”

Before he spoke, Joe took another sip of beer. “What can you tell me about Mitch Hawkins? I know that this was one of the places he visited regularly.”

“Not much. He came here and drank. Even drank with Adam on a couple of occasions.” Sam looked down the bar and could see that another customer wanted his attention. “Sorry Joe. Wish I could help you more.”

“Yeah thanks Sam.” Joe sighed as he watched the barkeep leave. He slowly began to drink the rest of his beer. For the last four hours he had tried to find out as much as he could about Mitch Hawkins. What he found wasn’t helpful. Everyone said pretty much the same things – that Hawkins drank with whomever was buying. Hopefully Hoss had come with up something more substantial.

At that moment Hoss walked into The Silver Dollar. He quickly spotted Joe and headed straight to him. Tapping Joe on the shoulder, he smiled. “How did it go?”

“Not too good.” Joe motioned to Sam and ordered two more beers. After they got their beers, Hoss and Joe went to a nearby vacant table and seated themselves.

Hoss took a long drink of beer. “Ahh…just what I needed.”

“What did you find out?” Joe said as he leant back in his chair.

“I found out that Mitch Hawkins lived in Nevada City before comin’ here.”

Joe’s eyes shot wide opened and he leant forward. “That’s great. Anything else?”

“Nah, that’s about it.” Hoss took another mouthful of beer. “It looks like that’s all we’ve got.”

“Yep sure does.” Joe looked thoughtful for a minute. “There’s only one thing to do now.”

Finishing off his beer, Hoss nodded. “I was plannin’ to leave after I told you. You can tell Pa and Adam.”

“I will…and while you’re gone I’ll keep looking around here. Never know something might turn up.” Joe leant over and placed his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Have a good trip.”

“Thanks.” Hoss got up and as he walked past Joe he patted his brother on the shoulder.

As he watched Hoss leave, Joe smiled a little. At last there was some good news to give to his father and Adam. He finished off his beer and immediately made his way to the sheriff’s office.

Adam looked down at the meal he was eating. It was palatable but again he lamented that he’d rather be at home or at least in one of Virginia City’s restaurants enjoying a good lunch instead of this stew. He stirred the food around with his fork and frowned.

“At least you could pretend that you like it.”

A quick look of surprise came upon Adam’s face. Rapidly he schooled his features before he raised his head to address his latest visitor. “What are you doing here?”

Jane Talbot smiled. “I could ask you the same question.”

Setting his plate down, Adam rose up off the cot and made his way to the front of the cell. “Why did you come here?”

“I came here because I thought you might need my help.” Jane took a breath. “After all I do know something about investigating a murder.”

“You help me?” Adam raised an eyebrow. “I thought you didn’t like me all that much.”

“I never said I didn’t like you and besides…” Jane raised her head so that she could look him straight in the face. “I know that you’re innocent.”

Adam studied the woman who stood in front of him. She was dressed in dark green and white day dress. Her brown hair was braided in it usual style. As his eyes moved slowly to her face, he could see that she was waiting for him to speak. Going up to the bars as close as he could, he smiled a little. “How do you know that I’m innocent?”

Boldly taking a step closer to the cell, Jane reached through the bars and took Adam’s right hand. “I know.”

The way she gazed at him told Adam that indeed she did know and he was pleased. There was no use denying that was something between them. It had been there ever since that first day in the Lending Library when she unceremoniously hit him on the head with that book. Slowly he lifted his spare hand and touched her lightly on the side of the face.

Jane moved as close as she could to the bars in response to Adam’s touch. She placed her left hand lightly on his chest as he trailed his fingers slowly and surely down the side of her face to her chin. With his fingers resting under her chin, he slowly began to caress her lower lip with the upper part of his thumb. It was at that precise moment that Joe walked in.

Joe in his eagerness to tell Adam what Hoss had found walked straight in without warning. He was flabbergasted by what he saw. There was his brother Adam and some girl standing as close as they could to each other. He snorted. Trust his brother to keep his love life a secret from the rest of family. Joe could also see that Adam was displeased at the unexpected interruption. As the couple drew apart, the smile that started to form on Joe’s face froze as the woman turned around.

“Joe.” Adam stared at his brother questionably. “I assume you have met Miss Talbot before today?”

“Yep. Sure I have.” Joe tipped his hat. “Miss Talbot.”

“Mr. Cartwright.” Jane nodded her head demurely. She turned to look at Adam and then back again at Joe. “Before you ask, the reason I came today was to offer your family some assistance.”

Assistance, Joe thought sceptically, it certainly looked like she had offered a lot more than that just now. To make matters worse, Adam hadn’t turned it down either. He wondered how much his brother really knew about the woman. “How could you possibly help?”

Adam glared briefly at Joe. He didn’t like the tone of voice his brother had just used now. It sounded like Joe was annoyed with Jane. Something was definitely amiss but that would have to wait. There were other more important things to worry about. “Miss Talbot if I have your permission?”

Jane glanced at Adam. “You have.” She too, had noticed the angry tone in Joe’s voice and she had an idea as to why. He was Candy’s best friend. No doubt Joe probably knew what had been going on for the last few months. As she sucked on her bottom lip, she frowned slightly.

Before he began to speak again, Adam noticed the slight frown that had appeared on Jane’s face. Now he was certain that both Joe and Jane knew something that he didn’t. Once again he decided that it would have to wait until later, as he averted his attention to Joe. “Miss Talbot used to work for the Pinkerton Detective Agency.”

At the mention of the famous detective agency, Joe blinked twice as he casually pointed to Jane. “You were a detective?”

“Yes I was.” Jane paused. “I have worked on a couple of murder cases in the past and I thought that I could help.”

Not knowing if it was a good idea or not, Joe began to take stock. Jane Talbot’s help and experience would be invaluable that was for certain. With Hoss gone, Adam would need all the help he could get here in Virginia City. What worried him the most was that he was now in the middle of a situation that could only go from bad to worse. Maybe working with Jane would give him the opportunity to question her about her relationship with Candy. “Okay I accept your offer.”

Adam nodded once. “Good. Now I take it you have some news.”

“Yeah. I came by to let you know that Hoss has gone to Nevada City. He found out that Hawkins lived there before he came here.”

“That’s a start. I expect you plan to continue to keep searching here?” Adam already knew the answer but he wanted to hear it all the same.

Joe half-smiled. “You know I will.” He gazed intently at Adam for a few seconds. As soon as he had the chance he would have to ask Adam about his intentions towards Miss Talbot. He would probably also have to tell his brother about Candy. All he could tell at this point that either his brother or his best friend was going to get hurt badly and it didn’t bode well with him.

As he gazed up at the building he was walking towards, Joe grinned. He reckoned that there would be some people who would be surprised to see him enter the Lending Library. He chuckled as he had no intention of getting any books today. He was on a mission to see Jane Talbot and to ask if she had found out anything that could help Adam.

It had been three days since he had agreed to let Jane help him to find Hawkins’ murderer. As circumstances would have it, Adam was still sitting in jail. The circuit judge had been delayed in Carson City and wasn’t due for couple of days. He shook his head at the thought that a town as big as this one should have at least one judge in permanent residence. Rumour was that would soon become a reality but it wasn’t soon enough as far as he was concerned.

Upon entering the library, Joe removed his hat and quickly scanned the room. He could see a few clients but they were at the opposite end of the building away from the counter where Jane Talbot stood. As he walked towards her, he knew that he would – no needed to ask her about what he had seen the other day. He wanted to know what kind of woman would string one fellow along whilst she accepted the advances of another.

Jane nodded cordially to Joe as he came closer. She knew the reason for his visit. What she had found out wasn’t much but hopefully it would help set Adam free. “Good morning, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Miss Talbot.” Joe placed his hat on the counter. “Found anything that can help Adam?”

“Yes I have. It’s not much.” Jane paused. “I found out that the rent for the room where Mitch Hawkins resided was occasionally paid for by a couple of bartenders from the saloons where he frequented the most.”

“Really? Do you know their names?”

“The two that helped Mitch out the most was Sam Melville from The Silver Dollar and Ed Bishop, who works at the Red Dog.”

Joe cringed a little at the mention of the Red Dog. The memory of what had happened to him there was still a little fresh. “That’s great.” After a short pause he continued, “How did you manage to find this out?”

“I was talking to the owner of the boarding house where Hawkins lived. Mr. Richards comes in here quite a lot. It wasn’t hard to get the information out of him.” Jane half-smiled.

“I suppose it wasn’t for a woman of your talents,” Joe replied slowly.

Taken slightly aback by what Joe had said, Jane glared at the youngest Cartwright. “Care to tell me what you meant by that remark?”

“You know exactly what I mean.” Joe looked around to make sure no-one was near enough to listen. When he was satisfied that nobody could hear him, he leant forward. “When do you plan to tell Candy about you and Adam?”

Jane lowered her head. “I don’t know,” she said softly. “What happened between Adam and me was rather sudden.”

“All this time you’ve been giving Candy the impression that he has a chance with you and then when my brother shows an interest…”

“It’s not like that,” Jane grated out rapidly. “I like Candy a lot and I value his friendship.”

“That may be true but somewhere along the line you gave my friend just cause to believe that you wanted more than just friendship.” Joe placed his hand on the counter. “You know what you have to do.”

Lifting her head, Jane looked sadly at Joe. “I know I’ve made a mess of this. At the beginning I thought that it would best to stay away from Adam. I’ve been hurt by men like your brother in the past and I was adamant that it wasn’t going to happen again. I suppose that’s why I encouraged Candy. He’s so different from Adam. I decided that he was the safer prospect.”

Joe felt a little sorry for the woman who stood in front of him. Still that didn’t excuse her from what she had done whether it was intentional or not. “Okay. Against my better judgement, for the time being I’m not going to say a word to Candy about you and Adam. You know you have to tell him as soon as possible.”

“Yes I know.” Jane briefly closed her eyes. “I’m sorry you got caught in the middle of this.”

After a moment, Joe grabbed his hat. “I’m sorry too.” He then turned and walked out.

Ben stared worriedly at Adam. He could see that his eldest son wanted be out there trying to find who wanted Hawkins dead. “Look, both Joe and Hoss are doing all they can.”

“Yeah I know that Pa but…” Adam threw his hands in the air, as he abruptly stood up. “But I’ve had enough of sitting around here and doing nothing.”

“Adam.” Ben smiled warmly. “It’s going to work out just fine.”

Upon seeing his father’s smile, Adam snorted briefly. “I guess I’ve got no choice, have I?”

“No you haven’t.” Ben knew that even though Adam wouldn’t admit it, his oldest son still needed someone to tell him that everything would be alright in the end. Seeing that Adam had acknowledged what he had said, Ben quickly glanced behind his shoulder. “No sign of your brother yet?”

“I haven’t seen him since yesterday.” Adam walked up closer to his father. “Thanks.”

“Thanks for what?” Ben smiled knowingly.

“For just being here.” Adam smiled. His father had patiently listened to him vent out his frustrations over the last few days and then calmly give him the re-assurance he needed. This time in jail had started to get on his nerves. At one point he had even began to doubt if he would ever see his home again.

The door that led to the office opened. Ben whirled around and grinned widely as Joe entered. “I hope you’ve got some news for us.”

Joe smiled as he greeted his father and brother. “I do have some new information.” As he approached the cell he began to study Adam intently. He wanted to see his brother’s reaction to what he was going to say. Joe then proceeded to tell the other two men what Jane had told him.

Adam calmly listened as Joe spoke. Part of him wished that Jane, herself had come. She hadn’t visited him once since that day. He was nearly one hundred percent certain that she felt the same way he did and yet she had chosen to stay away. Something was definitely wrong and he had no doubt that Joe knew what it was.

After Joe had finished, Ben nodded firmly. “Good. Hopefully Hoss will be able to tell us some more when he gets back.”

“Any idea when that will be?”

“I don’t know Joe.” Ben moved his eyes from one son to another. “I think I’ll go over to the telegraph office right now to see if anything’s come in.” He then made his way out of the cell area.

A few minutes passed before Joe turned to face Adam. “I want to know what your intentions towards Jane Talbot are?”

Adam cocked an eyebrow. Nothing like getting straight to the point. “My intentions are none of your business,” he said sternly. “What happens between Jane and me is between the lady and myself.”

“Now that’s where you’re wrong brother.” A look of irritation appeared on Joe’s face. “There are others involved.”

As he moved away from the front of the cell, Adam frowned. “I take it you know something that I don’t.”

“I do.”

“Since I know she isn’t your type.” Adam paused as he sat down on the cot and leant against the back wall. “Care to tell me?”

Joe gripped the bars. “That’s part of the problem. I don’t know if I should or not.” He lowered his head. “I’m caught in the middle of this and I don’t like having to choose.”

“To choose what?” Adam’s brow knitted. “If I knew then maybe I could do something to help you out.”

Taking a deep breath, Joe could see that Adam had a point. His brother would most definitely want to know where he stood with Miss Talbot. “Alright but what’s said here stays here.”

“You have my word.”

Letting go of the bars, Joe began to pace. “For some time now another person I know has been seeing Miss Talbot. He’s quite taken with her.” Joe stopped. “I think you should know that Jane hasn’t exactly been discouraging him.”

While Joe had been talking, Adam had remained passive. He didn’t want his brother to know that was being said had unsettled him. Systematically going through all of the people Joe would feel torn between, one name came to the front. It made perfect sense. In order to help make his brother feel better, Adam spoke quietly. “Alright Joe, I’ll ask Jane about her relationship with Candy.”

A small sigh of relief escaped from Joe’s mouth. It didn’t surprise him one bit that Adam had worked out who the man was. “Thanks.” He turned to leave.

“So where are you off to now?”

Joe glanced over his shoulder. “I thought I might do some more checking around the saloons. Never know what might turn up.” With that he left his brother, whose thoughts had now turned to what he would do in regards to Jane Talbot.

“Joe? Joe?”

Slowly Joe shook his head in an effort to clear it. His initial reaction was to get rid of whoever was calling out his name. When he tried to lift his arm to brush the person away, he found that he couldn’t. As he opened his eyes he could see that he was in some dimly lit room. Quickly he looked from left to right and assessed that he was bound by the feet and hands to a pole. He just wished his head would stop aching.


There was that voice again. Joe raised his head and scanned his surroundings. Over near the wall that was directly in front of him was Jane Talbot. She was seated on a chair and obviously in the same predicament as he was. “How long was I out for?”

Jane shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. There was still a fair bit of light when they brought you in.”

“What about you?”

“I was taken this morning, not long after I had seen you. I had just regained consciousness when you turned up. As you can see they tied me to this chair.” She proceeded to show Joe as best she could her problem.

Joe smiled a little. “At least they gave you a chair. A few more hours of standing here and it will be more than my head that will be aching.” He then started to twist his hands in an effort to free them.

After a few moments of silence, Jane spoke up. “How did they get you?”

“Some kid came up to me outside the Bucket of Blood, saying he had a message from you. He told me that you wanted to meet me at the back of the livery stable.”

“I got a similar message. It was probably the same boy.” Jane sighed. “It seems Melville had no problem in finding some poor child to help him out.”

“Melville?” Joe frowned. “Sam Melville. The bartender at The Silver Dollar?”

“The one and the same. I saw him when they brought you in here.” Jane paused for a second as she remembered the suggestive look that Melville had given her. “We must have been getting close to the truth to make him do something like this.”

“Yep.” Joe’s thoughts then turned to the possible ways to get out of this mess. “You said they. Any idea on exactly how many?”

Jane sighed again. It was plain to see that Joe Cartwright had already started to work out a plan of escape. “I’ve only seen Melville and the man he’s got helping him. Haven’t seen any others. What do you have in mind?”

“The first thing that comes to mind is to see if this post will budge.” Joe then promptly tried to see if it would.

As Joe attempted to move the post, Jane cast her eyes up towards the top of the post. “Umm…I don’t think you should do that. From what I can see it looks like that post supports one of the beams that’s holding up a large part of the roof.”

Joe glanced upwards. She was right. The roof could come down on top them. He felt like cursing but refrained from doing so. “These old shacks were never built to last.”

For the next few minutes, the two prisoners bandied ideas back and forth between themselves. Each idea was refuted by one for some reason or another. As the light slowly disappeared, a new plan began to form in Joe’s mind. It was the only one that might work. He smiled as he told Jane.

“Do you think it will work?” she asked apprehensively.

“Yeah sure it will.” Joe stared at the door. “All we have to do is wait until Melville and his friend come back.”

Clem sat quietly as he observed the two men seated in the corner. The younger one was seated on a stool with his hand resting on his chin contemplating the next move he would make. Every now and then the older man would glance at the clock and then to the front door. He would then turn his attention back to the chess board with a worried look on his face. This made Clem feel a little sorry for the older man. He wished he could help his friend but the law was the law and it had to be followed no matter what.

Adam shifted his gaze slowly from the chess board to his father. He decided to lighten the mood a little. “Pa…you know Joe. He’s probably stopped to have a couple of drinks along the way.”

“Maybe you’re right.” Ben leant back in the chair he was seated in. “I left that note in his room hours ago. I was hoping he would have been back there or even here by now.”

“Don’t worry about it. Joe’s a big boy he can look after himself.” Adam moved one of his knights. “Your move.”

Ben glanced down at the board. Originally the plan had been to come and keep Adam company while they waited for Joe. Clem had reluctantly allowed Adam out of his cell when Ben gave his word that he had no intention of helping his oldest son escape. He sighed heavily. It wasn’t just Joe’s tardiness that worried him – it was this whole situation. Adam was in jail for a murder, Ben was certain that he didn’t do. Hoss was still away and they hadn’t heard a word from him. Now Joe was who knows where. He felt like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“Pa.” Adam stared at his father for a moment. He then got up and moved the stool closer to his father. Although he wasn’t one to show too much affection, Adam could see that Ben needed some. Placing his hand on his father’s shoulder, he smiled warmly. “It’ll be okay Pa. We’ll find a way of this.”

As he placed his hand on top of Adam’s, Ben smiled back in return. “Thanks son.”

The front door suddenly opened. Ben and Adam both quickly looked to see who had come in. Upon seeing who it was, both men got up and went over to greet the man.

“Hoss!” Ben said as he grabbed his middle son’s arms and gave them an affectionate squeeze.

“Boy are we glad to see you.” Adam grinned as he patted his brother on the back.

“It’s good to be back.” Hoss smiled at his brother and father. “Though I don’t know if you’re gonna like what I’ve got to say.” He then proceeded to tell them what he had found out.

As he rubbed the bridge of his nose, Adam sighed. “That’s just great. We find out that there’s someone here in town who wanted Hawkins dead but we have no idea who it is.”

Clem shook his head sadly. “Tom Gibson’s son could be any one of a number of men in this town. There are quite a few that fit that description and age group.”

Hoss frowned. “Well this one’s the only one who’s got revenge on his mind. What gets me if I knew someone swindled Pa out his fortune, I would have a hard time hidin’ it.”

“Some people are just better at hiding how they really feel.” Adam smiled a little at the irony of what he just said. “I guess we’ve got some more work ahead of us.”

“Yes we do.” Ben took a deep breath. Now all they had to do was wait for Joe.

As they continued to discuss the possible ways of finding out who was Gibson’s son, the front door slammed opened. All four men turned to see another man dragging a boy about the age of ten, inside.

“C’mon git in here,” the man said angrily. “You’re gonna tell the sheriff everythin’.”

“Pa…I done nothin’ wrong. Honest,” the boy pleaded as his father continued to bring him in.

Clem walked over to the two of them. “George. What can I do for you?”

George Osgood quickly glanced at the sheriff and then around the room. He nodded firmly when he saw who else was there. “Good thing you Cartwrights are here. What my boy’s got to say will be mighty interestin’ to you.” He then shoved his son in front of him and placed both of his hands firmly on the boy’s shoulders.

Ben, Adam and Hoss just glanced at each other in mild confusion. They returned their attention to Osgood and his son.

Osgood fixed his eyes on Clem. “Now sheriff, I’m a God-fearin’ man. I earn every dollar I get through hard work, so I don’t cotton onto gettin’ my money through dishonest means.”

“But Pa, I didn’t…”

“Shush boy.” George’s face held a scowl as he looked down to the upturned face of his son. “I thought I was doin’ right by my kids until today. Then my boy Theodore here comes home with five dollars for just deliverin’ some messages.”

“I don’t see that there’s anything wrong with that,” Clem said cautiously.

“No I didn’t think so either.” The scowl on his face disappeared, as George slowly nodded. “When I got the boy to finally tell me where he got it from, I could see that somethin’ wasn’t right about the whole thing. Where in the heck would a bartender get that sort of money to throw around anyway?”

Ben frowned. He still had no idea why Osgood was glad that he and his son were here. “Look George, I still don’t see why this concerns us.”

“You will Mr. Cartwright.” George glanced down at his son. “Tell them what you told me.”

Theodore gulped as he stared apprehensively at the Cartwrights. “I was told to give one message to Miss Talbot over at the Lending Library and the other one to Joe Cartwright.” He turned his face upwards to look at his father. “See Pa…I done told you that I did as I was told and he paid me for it.”

Adam took a slow, deep breath. He didn’t like the way this was going. “What did you tell them Theodore?”

“I had to tell them that…” The boy’s face showed his apparent confusion. “I told Miss Talbot this morning that Joe Cartwright wanted to meet her out back of the livery stable. Then this afternoon, I had to tell Joe the same thing…only that it was Miss Talbot who wanted to meet him.”

Clem went to stand in front of the boy, who gazed at him with a little fear on his face. “Son, tell me who gave you the money to deliver those messages?”

“Mr. Melville gave me the five dollars. It was more money than I ever seen in my whole life.” Theodore paused. “You’re not gonna put me in jail are you sheriff?”

Shaking his head, Clem smiled a little. “No. I think I’ll leave your punishment up to your father. This Mr. Melville, is he the one who’s a bartender at The Silver Dollar?”

The young boy nodded enthusiastically, “Yep. I meet him once before when he bought Pa home one night.”

“Alright then. Thank you for telling us Theodore.” Clem moved his eyes to the boy’s father. “Thanks George for bringing your boy in. It’s helped us a great deal.”

Ben went over to thank Osgood. As he watched them the two of them leave he felt no better. It was fairly obvious what had occurred. He had another son in trouble. “I guess it’s up to us to find out where Melville is keeping Joe and Miss Talbot.”

“Someone should go over to The Silver Dollar and see what they can find out.”

“I’ll go,” Hoss said as he quickly moved towards the door. He turned briefly back to face his father. “Don’t worry Pa. I’ll be careful.” Before Ben could say a word Hoss left.

Adam ran his hand through his hair in frustration. He wanted to get out of here. Two people he cared for very deeply were missing and he couldn’t go out to look for them. The last thing he wanted to do was to sit here in jail and wait. “Clem I want to help.”

“You know I can’t let you do that Adam.” Clem paused for a moment. “You’re still under arrest for Hawkins’ murder. Until we find out for sure who did it, I can’t let you go wandering the streets of Virginia City.”

“I’ll give you my word that I won’t try to do anything.” Adam rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I need to be out there where I’ll do the most good and not in here.” He flung his arm back towards the cell as he spoke.

“C’mon Clem,” Ben said in a slightly pleading tone. “You need all the help you can get. You’re short-handed as it is.”

Seeing that he was up against a formidable duo Clem relented. “Okay. I’ll let you come with us on the condition that if you take one step out of line, I’ll haul you straight back here.”

“That’s all I ask. Thanks Clem.” Adam held out his hand as he stepped up to the sheriff. They shook hands to confirm the deal. The three of them then went about trying to work out the possible places where Joe and Jane could be as they waited for Hoss to return.

Hoss yawned. It had been a long day and it didn’t look like it was going to end soon. For the last hour they had waited across the street from The Silver Dollar. To Hoss it seemed a bit odd that Melville was going about his usual business while he kept Joe and Miss Talbot hidden away. He slowly gazed at his companions who stood to his right and left. His eyes eventually rested on his older brother who was rubbing the bridge of his nose. “It shouldn’t be much longer.”

“You said that thirty minutes ago.” Adam sighed heavily. “Didn’t it occur to you to ask what time Melville was finishing up tonight?”

Seeing that Adam was a little agitated, Hoss smiled apologetically. “Sorry. I just saw him there and I didn’t bother hangin’ around just in case he got suspicious.”

Deep down Adam knew Hoss had done the right thing. If Melville had seen Hoss it could have resulted in the bartender taking drastic measures to ensure that Joe and Jane disappeared for good. He snorted briefly as he thought about his situation. Once again he had found a woman he had begun to care about very deeply. As in the past, circumstances had arisen that could tear them apart before they even got started. Sensing that he was being watched, Adam glanced up to see his father giving him a concerned look.

Ben stared at his oldest son. He could see that Adam was worried. Going over to him, Ben placed his hand on his son’s right shoulder and squeezed it lightly. “It’s going to be fine.”

Adam half-smiled. “Yeah.” He placed his left hand on the top of his father’s.

A sudden movement from Hoss broke the moment. “Pa. Adam. Looks like Melville’s on the move,” he whispered.

Clem half-turned to face the men to his right. “Yeah he is. Now don’t forget I’m in charge. We’re going to take this slow and easy.”

The three Cartwright men nodded. With Clem leading the way, they began to follow the bartender at a discrete distance.

“See I told you it would work.”

Jane stared at the man lying on the floor. “Yes you did.” She raised her head to look at Joe. “How did you know it would?”

Joe smiled grimly. “What man can resist a woman in need?”

Knowing exactly what Joe hinted at, Jane lowered her head. “You still don’t approve of what’s happened between me and your brother.”

“You’re right. I don’t approve.” Joe quickly looked around the shack. “But now’s not the time to get into it. Melville could be back at any minute and we’ve got to be ready for him.”

“Yes now is not the time,” Jane said softly as she raised her head. “I suppose we should get him out of sight.”

Looking down at the fallen man, Joe nodded. “Yep. Hand me that rope.”

After she had picked up the rope that had been discarded by the unconscious man when he had untied her, Jane watched as Joe dragged him into a corner of the room. The position was perfect as he couldn’t be seen by anybody who entered. She handed Joe the rope and patiently waited for the man to be tied up.

When he had finished Joe looked around the shack. Parts of the room were dimly lit by the moon but it was still hard to see. “Good thing he was gullible enough to believe you or we’d be still tied up.”

Folding her arms, Jane frowned. She had started to get a little bit fed up with the way Joe was treating her. While she was at Pinkerton’s she had learnt a few things about how to entice men. It was something she never enjoyed doing but was useful when needed – like today. Joe was right – it was the only way open to them. She had promised Melville’s accomplice a lot in her efforts to get Joe and herself untied.

The silence continued as Joe went around picking up the discarded pieces of rope. They would need them again in order to catch Melville. He glanced at Jane, who now stared at the floor. When Melville’s friend had come in, he had to pretend that he was still unconscious. Even though he couldn’t see anything, he most definitely could hear. Joe couldn’t help but wonder as he waited for his chance, if Jane had use the same techniques on Adam and Candy.

A sound of horse approaching, broke the two people out of their reverie. Joe threw Jane two pieces of rope. She sat back down on the chair and rapidly tied the rope back around her feet and hands. She thought it fortunate that her hands were concealed. Casting a glance over at Joe, who had already tied himself back to the post, she then turned her head to face the door.

Sam Melville pushed the door to the shack slowly opened with his spare hand. He had been disappointed to see that the man he had hired to help him was nowhere to be seen. Good help was such a hard thing to find. More than likely, the man had found the whiskey and had passed out somewhere.

As he lifted the lantern to survey the shack, Melville was pleased to see that his two guests were still tied up. “Good evening Joe. Miss Talbot.”

Joe sneered at the bartender. “Sam! You won’t get away with this.”

“You know Joe you’re probably right.” Melville moved his eyes onto Jane. “I have already done what I wanted to do. If it weren’t for you two, no-one would have been the wiser.”

Jane cautiously watched as Sam moved towards her. She remembered the look he had given her earlier when he had brought Joe in and it made her shudder a little. This time around she wouldn’t need to promise anything. Melville was here to take what he thought was his. She swallowed hard as she gathered the courage she needed.

“You know Miss Talbot,” Melville said as he bent down to whisper in her ear. “A woman like you should have a real man to look after her.”

When he spoke, Jane could smell the alcohol on his breath. Disgust began to fill up inside of her but she rapidly suppressed it. She knew that she had to keep the bartender pre-occupied long enough to give Joe time to act. She whispered seductively in the bartender’s ear. “Well Mr. Melville if you know of one…would you please let me know.”

Slowly Joe bided his time and he watched as Melville placed his hand on Jane’s shoulder. The bartender then began to move his hand gradually down to her breast. Joe grimaced as he watched Jane encourage the bartender. Within seconds the chance Joe had waited for appeared. Getting rid of the ropes that had bound his feet, Joe quickly pounced on the oblivious Melville.

Grabbing Melville by the shoulders, Joe twisted him around and then swiftly punched in the face. The resulting blow made Melville stagger backwards, pushing Jane and the chair she was seated in, onto the floor. Melville quickly regained his balance and lunged towards Joe. The two combatants continued to fight for the next few minutes until Joe succeeded in delivering a blow that made Melville collapse in a heap.

After a quick check to make sure that Melville wasn’t going anywhere, Joe rushed over to help Jane. He could see that she had managed to get herself untangled from the mess of wood and rope she was lying in. Then as he helped her to get up, she glanced behind him. “Joe!”

Joe whirled around just in time to see Melville rush out the door. In an instance, Joe ran after the bartender. Stopping briefly to ascertain the direction the man had gone in, Joe heard a noise. Carefully going around the corner of the shack, Joe was surprised to see Clem and his father holding up lanterns as Hoss held a struggling Melville at bay. He could also see Adam standing to Clem’s left. Relief came over him as he wearily made his way towards the others. “It’s about time you got here.”

Adam went over to Joe. “Sorry we took so long. It looks like you handled it though.”

“Yep I did.” Joe patted Adam on the arm as he continued towards Melville. Upon reaching the man, he grabbed him by the shirt collar. “Ok Melville. Tell the sheriff here what you did.”

“Hawkins got what he was owed.” Melville weakly smiled. “Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand. Blood and revenge are hammering in my head.”*

Clem shook his head, confused at what he had just heard. “Are you telling me that you killed Mitch Hawkins?”

“Yes I killed Mitch Hawkins,” Melville spat out. “He deserved everything he got. I did what I came here to do. The rest doesn’t matter.” Ever since he had realised that he had make a mistake kidnapping Cartwright and Miss Talbot, he knew it was all only a matter of time before he was caught. All the drinking he had done prior to his return to the shack had given him the nerve to take the only woman he had wanted in a long time. Finally the toll of everything came upon him and his whole body slumped.

Hoss sadly regarded at the man he held. It was as though he had nothing else to live for. Sam Melville had obviously been drinking and maybe that’s why he had given up so easily. As to why he had kidnapped Joe and Miss Talbot, they may never know. Perhaps it was a last ditch attempt to cover up what he had done. Joe had given the bartender one heck of a beating. He suddenly realised that Melville had just confessed to killing Hawkins. Hoss excitedly raised his head. “Hey Adam did you hear that?”

Ben frowned when he heard no answer. Lifting the lantern, he scanned the area where they stood. His oldest son was nowhere to be seen. “Adam?”

Joe, who had stepped to his father’s side shortly before Clem had spoken, briefly nodded. He knew where Adam had gone. “I’ll go get him.”

When he had made his way to entrance of the shack, he paused for a moment. Joe knew Adam was inside with Jane. Part of him hoped that his brother had seen reason and decided to confront Jane about Candy. Quietly he moved closer to the doorway and peered in. The sight of Adam passionately kissing Jane was one he did not want to see.

As he made his way back to his father, Joe felt bad. Sure he wanted Adam to find a woman he could love and perhaps marry but not this way. Not at the expense of his best friend. After he had taken one brief glance back to the doorway, Joe sighed heavily as he realised that there was going to be more trouble ahead and he had no way of stopping it.

* William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus (Aaron at II, iii)

Next Story in the The Way Things Are Series:

Unexpected Changes
Out on a Limb
A Time to Decide
The Company We Keep

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3 thoughts on “The Nature of Life (by JulieS)”

  1. Well, you did it again. Intrigue, action and romance. I figured Adam would get into trouble at some point his line of work but what a twist to find out who was the guilty party. Looking forward to the next one to see how the romance turns out.

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