For Want of a Brother
by J. Rosemary Moss
It was two more days before we could get into Virginia City. We never met the posse--I heard later that they had dispersed after the first storm. So I arrived in town without incident.
Drew proved to be as good as his word. He worked tirelessly on my behalf, and between his influence and the Cartwrights', the judge decided against hanging me. My life sentence was eventually commuted to service in the Union Army. It took some doing, though, and I spent a couple of months in prison while Adam and Drew wrangled with lawyers, judges and Congressmen.
I thought I would serve my time in the western theater of the war--or perhaps even fighting Indians instead of Rebs—but I ended up in the Army of the Potomac. Ben Cartwright, it turned out, was on friendly terms with General Burnside. It seems that Mr. Cartwright had invested heavily in the Illinois Central Railroad (where Burnside was treasurer) and in the Burnside Arms Company.
I got to know Gen. Burnside. I served directly under him, albeit in menial capacities. History has not judged him kindly—with some justification, I reckon, after disastrous military decisions on his part. Well, I suffered from some of those decisions, but I can attest that he was a good man. He just wasn't suited to be a general.
He's infamous for sending his boys up the heights at Fredericksburg. I was acting as his courier in that battle; that's where I took a bullet just below my shoulder. That damned wound festered until there was nothing to be done for it. A doctor amputated my arm--my gun arm. It was the same arm that I had used to shoot Jack Clayton. The irony of that wasn't lost on me. Nor on Drew, I reckon.
I saw both Drew and Adam while I was recovering in a Washington hospital. Drew liked me better after the amputation—once my arm was gone, I think he was able to set aside the guilt he felt for working to save me. He didn't feel as if he had sold out his brother any longer. After all, the help he had given me might have saved my life, but it had left me a cripple.
As for me--well, I understood how Drew felt. And I couldn't bring myself to hold it against him. And I did my best to be philosophical about the arm. Better to be alive with one arm, I figured, than to hang as a whole man.
I saw quite a bit of Adam, of course. He spent every spare moment he could with me. He still tousled my hair, gave me advice and bossed me around--in other words, he kept acting the part of an older brother. And that was fine with me.
I remember one night in particular when Adam visited. I'd been thinking of Joe and Hoss earlier that day and of how they had wanted me to weasel information from older brother. It occurred to me that if I couldn't get that information now--with Adam full of sympathy for my lost arm—then I just wasn't fit to be someone's younger brother.
Course, there was still the issue of Adam's privacy. But how private could the story be? After all, Drew's valet was there and so were all the injured folks. It was probably just hard to explain, that's all. Besides, Joe was right. If I wanted to be a proper younger brother, I couldn't worry about Adam's privacy.
Adam himself provided the opening. He spoke at length of his dealings with Drew. Overall, I think he was happy with the partnership. The two men were well-suited, in some respects--and I suspect that Adam cherished hopes of reforming Drew. Of course, he clashed with Drew just about every day over some business decision or other, but that didn't matter. Some part of Adam had always enjoyed their rivalry.
I grinned up at him from my place on the cot. "I wish you would tell me how you two ever came to be friends—or at least friendly enemies—to begin with," I said. "I figure it all has to do with that stage wreck."
Adam folded his arms across his chest. "I seem to remember telling you that story."
But I shook my head at that. "You told me the facts of it—I don't doubt that," I said. "But you didn't tell me the meat behind them. Can't I have the whole story now?"
"Why do you want it?" Adam returned.
I shrugged—although it was a lopsided, one-shouldered shrug. "I need something to take my mind off this missing arm," I explained.
That was a brutally unfair tactic on my part—I knew it and Adam knew it. Adam rolled his eyes at my ploy, but in the end he decided to humor me.
"All right," he said. "But it will take some time. Just lie back and stop fidgeting with your bandages."
I grinned again. "Yes, sir," I said. Then I put my good arm behind my head and perked up my ears.
I was quite satisfied with my ploy, all told. Joe and Hoss, I reckoned, would be proud.