The World is the Totality of Facts
A Bonanza fanfiction
Now that haying was finally complete, Adam Cartwright was looking forward to a well-deserved break eagerly anticipating a few long, cool beers in the Silver Dollar Saloon. His back ached slightly from all the bending and lifting, but he was sure that after a few hands of poker, accompanied by one or two light refreshments, he would be feeling a whole lot better.
The saloon doors swung open and Susie peeped out, smiling beguilingly, rustling her short skirts beguilingly and flashing a shapely ankle invitingly. "Hi there cowboy!" she cooed. "We've missed you lately."
Allowing his dimples to show, Adam beamed back happily at her. Good old Susie! This evening was definitely looking up. The spring had returned to his step as he bounded up onto the sidewalk and was just about to enter the saloon, when a firm hand clamped down on his shoulder.
"Evenin' Adam." Sheriff Roy Coffee looked distressed, Adam realised. The older man shifted uneasily from foot to foot and chewed nervously at his moustache.
"Hi, Roy. Fancy joining me for a drink?"
Roy attempted a half-smile, not entirely successfully. "Actually, son, I was wantin' a word with you. In my office, where it's private."
Flinging a regretful smile at Susie and mouthing 'Wait for me!' Adam followed the sheriff along the street.
"Wonder what fool business Joe's got into now," he grouched under his breath. His younger brother had a penchant for trouble, attracting it as readily and seemingly unwittingly as blossom drew bees. It seemed impossible for more than a week to go by without Joe landing in some scrape or other.
Roy sat down and motioned for Adam to do the same. "This aint easy for me," he began, with a grave look on his face, at which point Adam began to get seriously worried. What on earth had Joe done now? Was the boy all right? He leant forward and regarded Roy steadily.
"Just tell me Roy," he said firmly.
"I got a letter from the prison governor over at the State Penitentiary. Seems one of their prisoners made a confession to the priest, just before he was hanged."
"And exactly how does that concern me?" Adam asked, wondering what all this had to do with him. Roy moved uncomfortably in his chair.
"It's about Luther Evans. You 'member him, don't you?"
Adam felt the hard rails of the chair back digging into his spine, anchoring him to reality, to this hot, dry and dusty office where the dust motes circled in giddy circles and the air was suddenly in short supply.
"I remember Luther Evans," Adam said shortly, rubbing clammy hands on his jeans. Yes, of course he did. After all, it was his testimony that had helped to convict Luther and had led directly to his death on the gallows.
Luther Evans was about the same age as Joe, but there the resemblance ended. A pale, studious boy, Luther was educated at home by his father and never socialised with other children. Adam first met the child at an Independence Day picnic and bonfire on the shores of Lake Tahoe.
"Keep an eye on your brother for a moment," Ben pleaded, anxious to spend a little time with his friends. It was all too rare a treat these days. While he loved his sons dearly, sometimes he missed adult company. Ben choked back a smile as Adam took hold of Joe's collar and pulled his brother none too gently to his side.
"Aw Adam!" Joe whined, kicking ineffectually at the sandy soil. "I wanna go see the bonfire!"
"You'll stay right here beside me, so I can make sure you don't get into trouble," Adam said in tones that brooked no argument. Why did Joe always have to make things so difficult?
"That kid's allowed to play by the bonfire – don't see why I can't too!" Joe pouted.
Looking across, Adam saw a child standing far too close to the fire and staring at the flames, as if he was mesmerised by them. A resin-filled branch gave a large pop and then a tongue of fire flared out, missing the boy by inches.
"Look after Joe!" he told Hoss, thrusting the boy into the waiting arms and then racing over to the bonfire.
Luther jumped when Adam pulled him to safety and then looked up at the tall youth with uncomprehending eyes. Seeing his obvious bemusement, Adam tempered his tones.
"It's dangerous to stand so close to the fire," he chided gently. "You could get hurt."
The boy returned his gaze with a steady regard that was rather unnerving in a six-year-old child. "I like fire," he announced firmly and then walked off to join the crowd, gathered around the picnic tables. Adam sighed: he would never understand children in a million years!
It was harvest time before Adam saw Luther again. The hay had been cut and stacked into ricks to dry before being stored for winter and Adam had finally given in to Joe's pleas to be allowed to ride out with his brother to inspect the fields.
"Look! That's Luther!" Joe cried, standing up in his stirrups and pointing to where a figure crouched beside a hayrick. Something struck Adam as wrong – very wrong.
"Stay right here and don't dare move!" he instructed Joe, ignoring the inevitable mumbling protests and raced his horse forward. As he approached, Adam saw with horror that Luther was engrossed in striking two flints off one another.
"What do you think you are doing?" he demanded, vaulting down to the ground. "Don't you know that could start a fire?"
Luther smiled blandly at him. "Of course I do!" he said, in a disconcertingly calm voice. "The action of the flints against one another produces a spark and…"
"… and you could burn this entire field down and then your Pa would have to pay for it!" Adam fumed, grabbing the boy and flinging him up onto his horse. "I'll bet he tans your backside for this!"
Joe saw the look on his brother's face and wisely decided to keep quiet on the journey into town. The journey home was equally silent, until they pulled into the yard of the Ponderosa.
"You stay away from that boy, d'you hear?" Adam said.
Joe nodded meekly. There was something strange about Luther, something he couldn't quite put his finger on, but it made Joe uneasy. For once he was quite happy to obey his brother.
Adam took the letter from Roy Coffee and began to read its contents with a growing sense of disbelief.
"Another man confessed to that arson attack?" he gasped, looking at Roy in the desperate hope he would say this was all an awful mistake. Roy simply sat there, regarding Adam with sympathy, and not saying a word.
Five years before, Adam had given evidence in the trial of Luther Evans for arson and murder. He was an exemplary witness and his calm, objective testimony had enhanced the prosecution case. Luther Evans, barely turned 18, was hanged.
"This other prisoner," Adam scanned the letter quickly, "This Simon Burnett – maybe he was lying?"
Roy's mouth twisted into an approximation of a smile. "He'd nothing to gain from that, Adam. Man was standing right on the scaffold when he confessed. Said he wanted to clear his conscience." The sheriff sniffed contemptuously. "Bit late for that, if you ask me."
"Five years too late," Adam said bitterly. "Five years and a boy's life."
Roy leant forward and placed a hand on Adam's arm. "Two men died in that fire, Adam. It was a miracle it didn't spread and burn down half of Virginia City. You told the trial what you saw, Adam. You can't blame yourself for this."
"Can't I?" Adam jerked his arm away and stalked out of the office. Roy sighed softly. No sense in following Adam now – he'd better ride out to the Ponderosa and speak to Ben Cartwright. Adam was taking this news badly and he would need the support of his family.