By Jules

Chapter Six – Questions Without Answers

Author Notes: This story deals with Joe’s wanting to be seen as grown up and able to make decisions on his own about his future. Understandably his family are a little concerned at how Joe plans to deal with his idea of responsibility.

Ben Cartwright has always taught his sons certain values that made them into the proud men they are today. Someone from Ben’s past wanting to seek revenge plans to take all of those values and the special bond forged between Ben and Joe and tear them apart.

I hope you enjoy the next chapter of this saga:

how the end of the last chapter:

Bonnie had given Seline the barest of outlines at to Joe’s mental state, saying that Joe didn’t remember who he was. Seline had scoffed at it being a stunt and had strode into the room, prepared to give the young Cartwright a lesson after his escape attempt.

Joe opened his eyes again, still squinting at the harshness of the light and swallowing hard to cope with the relentless pain in his head. He couldn’t put any coherent thought together that would give him any kind of explanation to his current situation.

Seline came and stood by the bed, fully prepared to be a sceptic and to make Cartwright reveal that he was faking the symptoms that Bonnie had explained.

“Come now, Joseph, you don’t expect me to believe this little performance do you?” Seline asked.

Joe had started a little at the voice, not hearing anybody approaching. He had tried to focus on the face talking to him, but it held no familiarity either. He couldn’t put a name to the well-dressed gentlemen at all, or how he came to know him.

“Who are you?” Joe asked, closing his eyes again briefly. He was tiring quickly and didn’t wish to deal with the pain and confusion any longer. He wanted the darkness to come and take him again so he didn’t have to ask questions that seemed to have no answer.

A resounding slap could be heard as Seline slapped Joe across the face without warning. Joe had yelped at the slap and looked back at the man with shock and surprise, but still no idea as to the reason for being struck.

“I promise you more of the same if you wish to play these foolish games, Joseph,” Seline said in a cold voice.

“Who is Joseph?” he asked not realising the man had been talking about himself. He didn’t really care at the moment, he just didn’t want to deal with any of it while the pain was so bad.

Seline had raised his hand in frustration, ready to deliver the second blow, but held his hand in mid-air as he watched the young man close his eyes and fall back to sleep. He still thought the stunt a ploy, but something in Joe’s eyes as he had rubbed at the redness on his cheek, made him stop and think a little.

There had been a look of uncertainty and one of fear. Surely the boy could remember his own name?

now the page turns and the story continues ….

Seline sat at the table, drink poured, but left untouched as he tried to go over what he had just seen in the other room.

On the face of it, Joe Cartwright appeared to be playing an elaborate game of charades. But there was a small part of him that thought perhaps the young man was not merely acting. Bonnie had clearly thought something more serious wrong with him, and that had been evident in her actions and clearly written on her face.

Seline remembered the conversation he had held with Bonnie about getting a new doctor to examine Cartwright when they arrived in New Orleans. It looked like it was time to make such arrangements, but in addition to examining the physical wounds inflicted, making a diagnosis on any long-term effects of the blows he had sustained.

Seline called Yeager, Edwards and Bonnie together to tell them of the decisions he had made about how to move Cartwright from the train once they reached New Orleans.

“We will wait for the other passengers to get off,” Seline instructed them, still seated at the table. “Once the coast is clear and there aren’t so many witnesses, we will move young Mr Cartwright to the steam boat. Everything there is in order.”

“But I thought you were going to get a doctor to look at him,” Bonnie blurted out.

“Calm yourself, my dear,” Seline said, giving her a sly smile. “I will arrange for a doctor to examine Joseph once we reach the boat. I considered the idea of a hotel in town, but I want to use his apparent lack of memory to my advantage.”

“How so?” Edwards asked, feeling like he was getting a little lost in the conversation.

“If he truly has a lapse in his memory of people and surroundings, then the first place he needs to become familiar with is the place is the boat. After all, this whole scheme revolves around the idea of taking him away from Ben Cartwright and the Ponderosa. To get him to believe that he has been raised somewhere else all his life,” Seline explained.

“The fallacy has to be as real as possible if this is going to work. Joseph has to believe that we are the ones who care about him. That we are his friends and that this is where he truly belongs,” Seline continued.

Edwards and Yeager had placed themselves at opposite ends of the train on the platform. Both casually standing and analyzing the surroundings and watching the faces of the passengers disembarking.

There seemed to be two porters who were currently run off their feet, fetching luggage for passengers. Edwards could hear one of them being berated by one impatient woman, saying that he was taking too long to carry her baggage. The fellow was doing the best he could, but by the high tone of the obnoxious woman’s voice, she wouldn’t have agreed with his assessment.

Looking away from that scene, Edwards noted that Yeager was signalling him, indicating that the commotion on the platform was the ideal time to be moving Joe Cartwright.

Although there were still a number of people in plain sight, most appeared to be pre-occupied with someone else or their own affairs to be taking particular note of anything that may seem out of the ordinary.

Edwards and Yeager appeared together before Seline, giving their candid report of the commotion and chaos that was on the platform at this time. Seline did agree that it did appear to be a good opportunity to remove the Cartwright boy and bundle him into a taxi towards the docks.

“Bonnie, you go and fetch us a taxi and make sure its waiting right outside the entrance to the railway station,” Seline ordered. “Yeager you give me a hand to stand him upright. He is still unconscious, but between us we should be able to disguise that enough until we reach the taxi.”

“Edwards you grab the baggage and put it up on top of the taxi,” Seline told the man.

Reluctantly, Bonnie rose from her bedside vigil, and made her way towards the door of the train. She took the one piece of luggage belonging to her, for two reasons. One so that she would not look out of place amidst the other passengers on the platform, and secondly, because she did want any of these men having access to the few items that were personal to her.

With Bonnie out of the room, and Edwards gathering the few pieces of luggage, Seline drew back the sheet that had been lightly covering Joe Cartwright, and tried to assess the best way to approach moving him.

“Is he going to wake up once we start moving him?” Yeager asked, the very question that was running through Seline’s mind.

“I don’t think so,” Seline said, trying to sound convincing, but not exactly sure himself. “He looks to be fairly out of it for the time being. Lets just get him off the bed and to the door. We can make it up as we go.”

Seline and were grateful for the fact that Bonnie seemed to think a little ahead of them and had dressed Joe in a shirt and trousers before she left, preparing for the intended move from the train. At least they didn’t have to do any of that.

Didn’t he have his own hat back in San Francisco?” Marchant asked, remembering vaguely seeing one on the boy at some point. The man brushed aside any further thoughts, knowing that time was not on their side. For now Seline would have to use his own hat to hide Joe’s face as he had done when boarding the train.

“Take him underneath the arm on your side and let’s lift him into a sitting position first,” Seline instructed Yeager.

Joe remained unresponsive during this process, his head leaning back a little due to him remaining unconscious. It was when Yeager and Seline lifted him to an upright stance on his feet that the fog in his mind began to clear slightly, and the first signs of conscious emerged.

At first the only response was a deep low groan from the base of his throat as his body was pulled upwards. Yeager and Seline were both surprised by the sound, looking intently at the young man’s face for any further movement.

“Let’s hurry, we may not have much time to spare,” Seline commented, unsure of how close the young man was from awareness of what was happening to him.

Yeager and Seline managed to manoeuvre and guide Joe awkwardly through the carriage’s narrow passage way towards the door. The hat was placed somewhat haphazardly on his head, but there was few attempts made to adjust it into a more suitable position due to it being too big. Seline pulled the brim down as much as he dared without causing it to fall from the young man’s curly head.

A final glimpse towards the platform to make sure that they drew no unnecessary attention to themselves from Edwards. Joe was lifted down to the platform, held upright on both sides from Seline and Yeager.

If enquiries were made, the story was to be that the young man was still suffering from an injury that needed attending by a doctor. Although not strictly a lie, they hoped they would not have to elaborate further to anyone who became too curious.

Joe had made several more moans, perhaps as a result of his body’s protests at being moved, but Seline was pleased to see that the level of unconsciousness did not improve to any great degree during their cautious walk towards the taxi.

Although his feet were touching the ground, it was by the support of Seline and Yeager on either side that held Joe upright and prevented him from collapsing entirely.

One woman had looked their way in concern, probably in motherly concern at seeing such a young man having to be physically escorted. But a charming smile from Seline ensured that she made no comment and no attempt to approach him to extend her assistance.

Bonnie was nervously pacing back and forth beside a taxi, just as she had been instructed. She tried to remove her emotions from the situations and not show any deliberate concerns about the manner in which he was being transported.

The taxi driver had only taken an interest upon seeing his intended passengers and noting that one needed a great deal of assistance.

“He not being sick now is he?” the driver asked, his accent strong.

“No,” Seline replied curtly, clearly getting impatient. “My assistant will tell you where we need to go. And please don’t stop to look at the scenery,” he added, signalling for

Edwards to climb up alongside the driver to give directions.

Within a few minutes, Seline, Bonnie and Yeager had bundled the mostly unconscious Joe Cartwright into the taxi and were slowly making their way towards the paddle steamer that had been made ready.

Bonnie kept a close eye on Joe Cartwright’s breathing and temperature signs during the journey, noting that his shirt was beginning to stick to his skin. She reached over and felt his brow in concern, Joe moaning at the sudden touch, and leaning into the fresh coolness that his body felt.

“His temperature is up a little again,” Bonnie remarked to Seline. “Probably only from moving him from the train so quickly,” she reasoned. She hoped that was all it was.

The journey to the boat was only a short one, but Seline seemed uneasy through it all, wondering if he had taken care of everything enough to cover up what he was attempting to do. It was the number of people at the train station that bothered him the most.

Bonnie was startled by the grandeur of the paddle steamer as she followed Edwards and Yeager, carrying Joe Cartwright to one of the rooms on-board. The furnishings were very luxurious and the fittings stylish. The interior of the rooms would have rivalled that of any of the fine hotels in the area.

Seline had clearly gone to a lot of trouble and expense to set up this elaborate hoax and until this moment, perhaps Bonnie had truly not understood how much he was prepared to gamble to see his desired outcome.

Edwards and Yeager were suitably impressed also by their surroundings, but neither make any comment as they laid Cartwright on the large bedspread. Seline had specifically picked this room for the young man. Being central to a lot of other areas of the boat, it should be fairly easy to track his movements during his captivity.

“Help her to get him settled into bed. I am going to find the doctor to look him over,” Seline stated.

Bonnie would have rather not have the two men in the room, but did not wish to voice any objections, knowing that Seline may not take so kindly to her petty reasons.

Once Seline had departed the boat, she had used them to help take off his boots, trousers and sweat soaked shirt, but had then told them she could handle the rest of his care on her own.

Edwards and Yeager did not push the matter and left her to tend to the young man until the doctor returned.

Bonnie found most of the items she needed within a short space of time, and went about bathing Joe’s chest in tepid water. She wanted to wash his sweaty body before dressing him a fresh shirt, but also relieve the fever that had flared from being moved from the train.

As she bathed him, Bonnie looked at his young face, and wondered what Seline had in store for this young man. She had yet to learn anything about him. He looked to be someone who enjoyed life, and no doubt could use his handsome face to make friends and go places.

Her train of thought about Joe Cartwright was cut abruptly short as Seline re-entered the room, this time with a doctor carrying a bag containing the tools of his trade.

Bonnie stood up and moved the basin of water away to allow the doctor access to his patient. The doctor was tall and thin, very different in appearance to the doctor that she had seen in San Francisco. His face was devoid of emotion and his features unreadable.

Placing his bag on a nearby table, he began to examine the unconscious man. He did not speak as he lifted the closed eyelids. His mannerisms were very practised and accurate, but looked too clinical and unfriendly to Bonnie’s eyes.

The doctor had barely enough time to do the basic checks on Joe, when Seline began demanding to know how the patient was.

“Can you give me an accurate prognosis of his condition?” Seline asked, pacing nervously back and forth, knowing that the outcome of his entire plan was in the balance.

The thin doctor, leaned over his patient and lifted an eyelid once more, ignoring the pressure to be quicker in his assessment. The pupil inside reacted sluggishly to the small amount of invading light. He allowed the eye to close before moving his attention to the young man’s head. He could immediately see the tell tale signs from the fresh injury sustained. There was an amount of bruising, but perhaps fortunately for the patient, no open gash as had occurred like the first time.

“There is some bruising here,” the doctor pointed out, voicing his observations to Seline. “It is not as bad as the previous blow that you can see here. But that doesn’t mean that the impact will be any less. Considering that the first blow was quite severe in itself and you mentioned about the bouts of dizziness and nausea that Miss Bonnie witnessed.”

During his examination, Joe showed no signs of waking, or reacting to any of the doctor’s probing of his injuries.

“When is he going to wake up?” Seline asked, his tone of voice revealing his growing agitation.

“There is no way to tell. That is individual with every patient. Some I have known recover with little evidence of their injury at all. Then there are some that awaken, but their personalities are completely changed from who they were before. They find themselves unable to relate to family and friends as they did before,” the doctor explained.

“I don’t want to know about every other patient you have ever seen,” Seline declared with impatience and frustration. “I want to know about this young man.”

The doctor was becoming increasing annoyed with Seline’s stand over tactics, and was not about to be intimidated, “Then there are those few patients that never wake up,” he said with emphasis.

“I am the one that hired you, doctor!” Seline said, his anger now becoming apparent.

“Yes, and I doubt that you could find another one in New Orleans who would be willing to carry out what you have asked of me. You have instructed me to tend to this patient and give you my diagnosis as to his recovery and the length of time it may take. I have given you that as best I can. It is too early to see what other effects of the injuries he may have until he wakes up and I am able to speak to him,” the doctor replied, calmly but in a stern tone of voice.

Seline now turned towards the back of the room, “Bonnie, get over here so this over priced quack can tell you what you need to do to keep Cartwright alive until he wakes up.”

Edward and Yeager both flinched and were just as surprised as Bonnie about the ferocity of Seline’s tone of voice. The girl timidly walked closer towards the bed, not wanting to cause the man’s anger to turn upon her.

The doctor ignored Seline’s outburst, but instead turned his attention to speaking to the girl whom was placed in charge of the young man’s medical care. “For now, and over the next few days, you had better keep a close eye on him for any signs of waking up.”

Bonnie nodded her head, but did not interrupt the doctor’s instructions.

“When he does wake,” he began, making sure that Seline was listing to his statement as well, subtly letting the man know that he thought young Cartwright would regain consciousness at some stage. “Be sure and note any increase in his temperature. If his fever continues to rise and develop more, you might need to add using ice and keep using damp cloths to bath him with cooler water.”

“What do I do if his temperature becomes too high?” Bonnie asked, worried that she would not be able to cope with such a situation if the young man’s health declined.

“I will be here regularly to begin with, at least over the coming week. If any fever is going to occur, it should show up during that time. If his temperature gets too high, then we may have to fully submerse him in a bath of cold water, but that is a rather drastic measure to take, and it may do more harm than good. His body could go into shock, unable to cope with the extremes of heat and cold,” the doctor replied.

“Should he be given food or any drink when he does wake?” Bonnie enquired.

“Keep his water intake going as much as possible now, especially if his temperature does start to go up. When he wakes he probably won’t be interested in eating very much, but a light broth could be given, with a little extra salt.”

“There isn’t much you can do physically for his head wound. It is bruising mostly, though the extent of any internal damage is yet to be seen. No doubt you might find he experiences some bouts of sever dizziness and nausea as he did in San Francisco. He might develop bad headaches as a result of the blows that were inflicted. I will give you some mild pain powders when this happens, but for the moment I do not want him taking any sedative until I am convinced that there are no complications with his injuries,” the doctor informed Bonnie.

“Alright, that should be enough for now. You said yourself that you will be back tomorrow, so she should be able to keep him alive until then. He isn’t a baby and I don’t intend wrapping him up in cotton wool. I need him awake for when Ben Cartwright gets here and can see for himself that his beloved youngest son no longer has any loyalty towards him,” Seline interrupted, cutting the doctor’s visit to as short as possible.

“Don’t forget my fee when I come back tomorrow,” the doctor remarked. “A little higher than you would like to pay I suspect, but you get what you pay for in this world nowadays.”

“You will get paid doctor,” Seline said curtly, though he had a good mind to shoot the doctor and be done with it. The doctor in San Francisco had not been as nearly so condescending and he had met an untimely fate.

Bonnie could see that now would not be a good time to cross Seline’s path. She would hold her tongue and do as she had been told, and look after the Joseph Cartwright.

“Edward, Yeager, come with me, we have some things to discuss,” Seline snarled. His tone of voice certainly left no doubt, and he did not wait to see if they hesitated or not before following him to another part of the paddle boat.

Bonnie looked down at her patient after everyone had left, and wondered how best to help him apart from seeing to his medical needs. They needed for him to wake to be able to assess how he felt.

Preparing a basin of water, and testing the temperature with her fingertips before sitting beside the bed, the young woman dabbed a soft cloth into the water and then as gently as she dared, began to gently touch it to Joe’s face.

She hoped it would do two things, one, help bring him back towards consciousness, and secondly, it would clean the area directly surrounding his head wound that was bruised and swollen. She didn’t dare put any pressure into her actions, but softly washed away the dried blood stains that were present.

After a few minutes, Bonnie was rewarded for her efforts with a low moan from Joe. She stopped her actions, waiting to see if the young man was trying waking up or only in protest about the pain from his wound that she had been carefully trying to clean.

Joe eyelids fluttered a number of times, indicating that he was trying to wake, but finding it difficult. Silently she was urging him to wake so that she could try and determine how badly he had been affected by the second blow to his head.

The young man lifted his hand to his temple, as though trying to show where he was feeling the most pain. His movements were somewhat slow and cumbersome, but Bonnie thought this might be a symptom of the head injury or due to his prolonged period of unconsciousness.

The hand lost its momentum, but rather than returning to his side, it came to rest on his chest. Bonnie looked at the door to the room, hoping that Seline or one of the other men were not about to walk into the room and see what she was intending on doing.

Bonnie lifted the young man’s hand and began massaging the fingertips and joints between her own to try and induced a more alert response.

Joe felt like he was swimming against a never ending tide of black that seemed to surround him on all sides. For a brief moment the black mass seemed to clear a little and he thought he saw a strange and distant light before him. He didn’t know where the light led to and he really didn’t know if he wanted to go towards it.

“Come on now, I know you can here me,” Bonnie said softly. “Can you open your eyes for me?”

The fluttering of his eyelids continued, but she could now see that he was making a more determined effort to open his eyes at hearing a voice beside him.

“I know you can do it,” she encouraged.

The young man finally managed to open his eyes a little, and glance back at the person speaking to her. But what frightened her the most was the lack of reaction that she saw in his lovely green eyes.

His brow began turning into a frown, and although she put it down to the pain he was experiencing from his injury, a small part of her could see the confusion in his gaze.

Joe tried to move his head from side to side, as though trying to clear the image before him and make more sense of what he was seeing. This only resulted in the headache that was present, reigniting with vengeance. So much so that he moaned deep and low in his throat at the sudden wave that assaulted him.

He closed his eyes again briefly, waiting for the spasm of pain to abate to a more tolerable level. It did not ease much, but he willed himself to open his eyes again and make more sense of his surroundings.

“Here, let me get you a drink of water,” Bonnie said, a little unsure about she should be doing. She retrieved a small glass of water and helped the young man to sit up enough to drink from the glass. He didn’t offer any word of thanks, but his eyes remained on her, even as she crossed the room to refill the glass from the pitcher.

Bonnie knew that Seline would want to know the minute he was awake, but part of her wanted to allow him time to adjust in his new environment before he was subjected to Seline’s presence.

She looked about the room and wondered what to do next. Part of her chastising herself for falling apart slightly, knowing that she had been in much more difficult circumstances before and able to display strength. She didn’t know why this time was different, or why this young man’s well-being seemed to be a high priority for her.

“You must be hungry?” Bonnie asked, knowing that he had not eaten any full meals for a few days. She had been able to feed him some nourishing broth before leaving San Francisco, but that would not have sustained him until now.

Bonnie was waiting for him to answer, but instead he only gave a small nod in answer to her question. She was glad that at least they had found common ground.

She was fortunate enough to have some food ready a short time ago. Bonnie had tried to adhere to the doctor’s suggestions and requested the light broth with extra salt. It had quickly cooled away from the paddle-boat’s kitchen, but it was still warm enough for her patient.

Bonnie helped Joe sit upright a little more before seating herself on the chair again, ready to spoon the soup to him. Placing some on the spoon, she held it close to his mouth, waiting for him to sip at the liquid.

“It is good,” Bonnie said, trying to reassure him, but noting that he made no attempt at opening his mouth. She was surprised when he lifted his own hand, trying to take the utensil from her hand.

“Are you sure you are strong enough to do it on your own?” Bonnie asked. He did not answer, but persisted in trying to handle the spoon. “Alright, here you are.”

The young man took the spoon, spilling some of the contents, but shakily drawing the spoon to his mouth and drinking the small amount of soup that remained. Still he never said a word, and his gaze was still focused on the young woman helping him.

For the next few minutes, Bonnie held the plate for the young man who took a few mouthfuls of the soup, spilling a little each time due to the unsteadiness of his hand. At one point he had tried to hold the plate too, but a stern look from her and a forceful hold on the bowl and he had unsuccessful in getting her to let go.

Part of Bonnie was pleased that he was showing such a stubborn streak after waking from a serious head injury. But she could see that his body was far from healed and that he would still need a good deal of rest and good food to see him well on the road to recovery.

After the sixth spoonful, the young man’s hand trembled from fatigue and he allowed the spoon to sink back into the soup. Bonnie offered to help him some more if he was still hungry, but he had turned his head away, indicating that he would not let her feed him.

Bonnie got up and put the bowl to one side briefly, before helping him to lay down once more in the bed. His eyes grew tired and began to droop. With a heavy sigh and a wince from the pain in his head, he allowed his eyes to close and faded off to sleep.

Bonnie knew that Seline would want to know about Joe waking and eating a little, but decided against it. The young man had been coherent enough to be stubborn about his eating, but still weak from his injuries and the past week of tiring travel.

She could tell Seline the next time he woke. The doctor would be back tomorrow. For the moment, she had enough compassion to allow him to sleep undisturbed.

For the next few hours, Bonnie kept her constant vigil beside the young Cartwright’s bedside. At times she found herself dozing in the chair due to the tiredness she was feeling, but she didn’t dare ask one of the other men to take her place.

She had pondered what the next few days might hold in store for their young patient and themselves as Seline carefully put his plans into place. She would be rewarded almost immediately though, as Seline now came into the room.

“Not awake yet?” the man said, seeing for himself that Joe was sleeping on the bed.

“No, but his condition has not deteriorated any since this morning, which is a good thing,” Bonnie commented.

“A fortunate thing indeed,” Seline responded, though there was no feeling in his words. “I wish to speak to you and the men together for a time. There needs to be cohesion to our story for when Mr Cartwright does regain consciousness and when he begins to ask questions.”

“But the doctor said not to leave him on his own, especially with his head injury,” Bonnie said, hoping that she didn’t have to hear what the man was planning against Ben Cartwright.

“The young man seems comfortable enough to me,” Seline remarked, barely turning his head to see if his statement were correct.

“I shall not waste much of your time, but I need for you to be able to regurgitate some of the background information that I have drawn up about how he comes to be here and his connection to this boat.”

Bonnie could see that Seline had no intention of leaving her out of these necessary discussions, and taking a look at her patient and noting that his sleep seemed peaceful enough for now. She reluctantly went towards the door, intending to follow her employer. Somehow she would have to put on a convincing mask and be a involved in this colourful charade.

Bonnie watched as Seline closed the door behind her, and then deliberately allowed her to see him locking the door from the outside. Joe Cartwright was to remain his prisoner and he was not about to take any risks.

It was about half an hour after Bonnie had left the room, and late in the afternoon, when the young man began to show signs of waking.

The world was coming back to Joe very slowly. He couldn’t tell if he was still asleep or awake, somewhere in between he guessed. On that higher plateau between consciousness and being unaware of one’s surroundings.

He tried to let the gray veil lift a little before trying to think any more. His head felt as though it was stuffed with cotton wool and everything around him felt incredibly heavy. He was still trying to figure out where he was and why and why the hell he hurt so bad.

Try and think of simple things first he pointed out to himself. First, ‘what is your name?’ His mind was totally blank. Inwardly he frowned and tried to concentrate harder on remembering something so easy as his o his head at any moment.

‘Where are you?’ asking the second question. Again no answer came, only more confusion and anxiety. When he forced himself to take a breath and think of where he last remembered, all he could see was a bright light.

I don’t know who I am,” he said out loud to himself and immediately snapped open his eyes to look around at where he was. The panic in him started to rise to the surface again as he fought to keep control of his fear.

I don’t know who I am,” he repeated, allowing his eyes to settle on the room be found himself laying in. There was no-one else in the room, and there was no recognition or familiarity of his surroundings.

Joe tried desperately to think of who he was but still, the answer didn’t come and his head now began to throb from the efforts of remembering. He put a hand up to the area where he thought the pain was coming from, and winced, withdrawing his fingers as he felt where he had been struck.

As Joe opened his eyes a little more, he could hear voices talking to him. They spoke to him, but he did not understand their words, the sounds reminding him of people talking while he used to swim underwater.

Joe forced his body upright on the bed and lowered his legs over the bed, preparing for his feet to touch the floor. He kept telling himself that if got up and began walking around, he might be able to clear the cloudiness of his head and remember who he was and where he was.

With his back turned towards the door, and his concentration centred on the dizziness that was assaulting his sense of balance. The room pitched to and fro and he had to swallow many times to keep from vomiting. His legs were visibly trembling and, much to his chagrin, the dizziness began to get worse, threatening to betray his body and send him back into the oblivion he had just awoken from.

From behind…..

“What in the world are you doing out of bed!” came a thunderous cry from behind startling Joe badly. He grappled for the edge of the bed clothes and was barely able to keep from spilling onto the fall.

Because his back was towards the people in the doorway, Joe did not see Bonnie whisper to Seline.

“Remember what you said….,” Bonnie warned.

A grimace seemed to work its way across Seline’s face briefly. His look of disdain obvious to the girl, but quickly replaced by that of someone with concern for the young man’s welfare.

The elaborate charade that Seline had to carefully laid out and put together, was about to be tested.

Joe vaguely felt hands trying to help him stand, and with his legs still trembling slightly and his confusion growing, he found himself laying back on the bed.

“Are you alright, Joseph?” Seline asked, his voice seemingly full of concern.

Seline had released his hold on the young man once the bed was underneath him.

Joe could hear a voice talking to him, and he lifted his head in response.

“You have had a nasty blow to the head, Joe. You need to rest until the doctor says you have healed enough to get out of bed,” Seline commented, noting the confusion on the young man’s face, and doubting if any of what he was saying was being taken in.

“W-who…..,” Joe began, his voice barely audible, and his thoughts not coherent enough to complete the sentence.

Seline didn’t know whether the young man was asking about his own name or not.

“Your name is Joseph. Joseph Dubois. Do you remember?” Seline asked, inwardly smiling at the reaction Ben Cartwright would have at his son’s sudden change of surname.

Joe didn’t respond right away, and Seline was about to ask the question a second time, when the young man shook his head in a negative answer. Anybody not paying attention would have missed the action entirely.

Watching from the side of the bed, Bonnie couldn’t help but notice the apprehension on Joe’s face and the lack of recognition of his own christian name, even after being prompted.

“It doesn’t matter for now, Joseph. The most important thing now is to get you better and then we can work on you remembering who you are,” Seline said, playing his role to perfection.

“Bonnie will get you a little more comfortable and then get you something to eat, and then we can get the doctor to take another look at you.” Seline commented, moving towards the door and preparing to leave the room.

Joe turned his head towards the young woman, but he didn’t remember who she was either. Her expression was one of sympathy towards him and she gave him a small smile.

Seline was about to close the door behind him, when he decided it was best to plant the seed of doubt earlier, rather than later.

“By the way, Joseph. I know it is difficult for you to remember who you are, but we will take good care of you, son.” Seline left before any questions formed on the boy’s lips.

Joe’s brow furrow at the mention of the word ‘son’, but he didn’t know he fully comprehended what was being said to him. Was the man who left the room his father? Why couldn’t he remember who he was. Why couldn’t he remember who these people were?

His stomach growled, telling him that the idea of a meal was a good one. Bonnie went to prepare a tray for him, promising to be back in a few minutes.

During her brief absence Joe leaned back against the pillow and closed his eyes, a combination of the pain from his head and the frustration of not knowing who he or anybody else was.

Once the train pulled out of the station, Adam and Hoss found themselves in a similar position to the one they had been when travelling on the stage coach. Their father was worried and desperate for news about his youngest son.

Neither of them could think of the right words to say, but knew they would be there to support their father and help in anyway they could. They were worried about their brother Joe and what could be happening to him when they always seemed to be a step behind his movements.

The train had pulled out of the station, and fortunately for the Cartwright family, it was a little less crowded than when Seline and his party had travelled on it.

Ben sat with opposite his sons, so that he was not facing any of the other few remaining passengers. Adam watched his father’s facial expressions, noticing the tightening of his grip on the brim of Joe’s hat.

The hat had been discovered at the train station on pure chance, but Ben held onto it, somehow seeking to reconnect with Joseph. It wasn’t until Ben turned it over, examining it more closely that he found a darkened stain on the inside.

“Adam, Hoss, look at this!” Ben exclaimed, showing them the upturned hat, and pointing to the stain. All three drawing the same conclusion that the stain was most likely blood. It was a dark rusty colour, again the much lighter material inside.

The stain was dry, so there was no real way of knowing how long it had been there. Ben was convinced it had not been there when Joe had left the Ponderosa.

“What do you think, Pa?” Hoss asked cautiously. “You think that Little Joe is laying hurt somewhere?”

“I don’t know, Hoss. There are too many possibilities. It has only been by luck that we are even on this train to begin with. Joe’s hat was at the train station, but anything else that might have happened is pure speculation.”

“Do you think we should ask the conductor if he remembers seeing Joe at all?” Adam suggested.

“I don’t know, but I guess it is worth a try. We have no other clues apart from this train?” Ben said, his voice sounding dejected.

“Conductor!” Adam said to a man approaching the part of the carriage where they were sitting. He was wearing a navy blue uniform and wore a hat that identified him as part of the staff aboard the train.

“Can I help you, Sir?” the man asked. “Do you have your tickets please?”

Adam handed over the three tickets that had been purchased, the conductor looking at them and then back at the Cartwrights, seemingly satisfied.

“I was wondering if you could tell me, you see we are looking for my son and we have reason to believe that he may have travelled on this very train before,” Ben interjected before Adam could speak.

With the conductor standing in front of them, none of them noticed a middle-aged lady sitting on the opposite aisle, being able to hear the conversation that was taking place.

“Is he travelling here on the train with you today, Sirs?” the conductor asked, looking for another younger passenger he may have missed for ticket inspection.

“No, you don’t understand,” Hoss stated. “Joe ain’t here with us today. But we think he might have been on this train a couple of days ago?”

“He is not with you here?” the conductor remarked, appearing more confused.

“My name is Ben. Ben Cartwright. These two men are my son’s Adam and Hoss. We are on this train looking for my youngest son Joseph.”

“How do you know he was on this train?” the conductor asked. By now Adam and Hoss had deemed the man to be a slow learner, hampering their need for information that might help find Joe.

“You see, we found his hat at the ticket office back at the train station,” Ben continued the story.

“Excuse me gentlemen,” a voice said from behind the conductor. The man turned, enabling the Cartwright’s to see the middle-aged woman who was addressing them.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt and of course I didn’t mean to overhear what was being said, but I couldn’t help but notice you said something about a young man named Joseph.”

The fact that the woman called Joe by his name caught the Cartwright’s attention immediately. Ben turned to face her and was keenly listening to anything she might have to say.

The woman was well-dressed Ben wanted to be sure that he didn’t scare away the one witness who claimed to have seen his missing son recently.

“My name is Benjamin Cartwright, ma’am. I am from Nevada territory, travelling with my two son’s Hoss and Adam,” the Patriarch said as he respectfully removed his own hat and introduced his sons to the woman.

“My name is Mrs Estella Ruby Martha Hopkins. My husband is a very important man you know. Stewart Hopkins, perhaps you have heard of him?” the woman commented with pride in her voice.

“My apologies, but I am relatively new to this area,” Ben replied. The woman seemed a little perturbed that her husband’s importance had not been noticed, and most of all her own name.

“Can you start at the beginning please, ma’am,” Adam asked, hoping their might be further clues about confirming who had taken Joe and where they had taken him to.

The woman appeared happy enough to oblige and seemed to take particular pride in telling the men how unjustly she had been dealt with by the young porter a few days before:

“Well, you know it all started with that young man at the train station,” the woman began.

“You mean the porter at the ticket office, ma’am?” Hoss interrupted, trying to put a face to people the woman was mentioning.

“That young man needs a good talking to. The only thing he had eyes for on the morning I spoke to him, was for the pretty young woman in another compartment,” Mrs Hopkins scoffed.

“Can you describe the young woman, ma’am,” Adam asked, hoping for more clues. He and Ben exchanged glances when the woman began to describe the same woman that had been described in San Francisco in the stage coach by the young police officer.

“More than a coincidence, wouldn’t you say, Pa,” Hoss remarked. Ben nodded his head in agreement, but continued to listen to Mrs Hopkins story.

“I had asked for a seat in the upper-class carriage. They have sleeping quarters you know,” the woman explained, her voice changing to note the unsatisfactory treatment she had received. “But that ticket man refused to note my husband’s status and told me that the entire compartment had already been booked out.”

“The whole compartment?” Ben asked, his curiosity quirked, thinking that this could mean quite a number of people.

“Well, I didn’t see anyone at all, he told me that they were already aboard. Sounded all very suspicious to me. I even told him that I was going to make a complaint to the Station Master,” Mrs Hopkins answered. “And I will too,” she added, as though just remembering what she had said to Harvey Reynolds that day.

“Did you see a young man, possibly wearing a hat that looked like this?” Ben probed, holding out Joe’s hat for the woman to inspect.

The woman looked briefly at it, but took a disinterest in such things. She began commenting to the woman sitting next to her about a new subject of conversation, “You know that young people today just don’t show enough respect.”

“Please ma’am, my youngest son Joseph is missing, and we are desperately seeking information about him,” Ben pleaded, his voice showing his exasperation at the woman’s self-interest and focus on what she had witnessed.

The woman stopped in mid-sentence, looking at Ben for a moment, and noting the genuineness of his face. She noted there were signs of weary on the gentleman’s face, her high and mighty attitude softening as she gauged the man was seeking information about a missing family member.

Adam could see that Ben’s words struck a cord, and tried to encourage the woman further, thinking a little of the truth would help the cause. “We have reason to believe that something has happened to my younger brother. He might be travelling with those who would want to hurt him.”

“Oh dear!” the woman exclaimed, placing a hand over her mouth.

Ben and Adam exchanged brief glances, not knowing if revealing their suspicions about Joe’s kidnapping would hamper their efforts further, but Ben nodded slightly towards his eldest son in reassurance that the right methods were being employed.

“I apologize to you all, I didn’t know the matter was so urgent. I do remember that a young man stumbled into the carriage we were sitting in that day. At first I thought he must entered by mistake, but he barely walked to the first row of seats before I could see blood running down his face,” Estella said, pausing to think if she had noted anything else on the day.

“There was another man behind him, because I remember chastising him harshly about not watching someone who was injured enough on the train,” the woman continued.

“Did you see how the blood came to be on his face?” Adam asked grimly, the fresh information about Joe being injured bringing no comfort to his family.

“No, but he seemed to be off-balance, and had tried to take hold of the seat to stop himself from falling. He did fall on his knees, and I that is when those other men burst through the door and helped him up,” Mrs Hopkins recalled.

“The man admitted that the young man had injured himself a few days before and that they were travelling to New Orleans for some medical treatment.”

“Do you remember how many of them there were, ma’am?” Hoss asked. The information about New Orleans matched the destination of the train they were on.

“Possibly three. I can’t remember what they all looked like, but the first one…,” Mrs Hopkins replied, remembering what features she could. By the end of her description, Ben Cartwright was in no doubt that the man who had been on the train with his son was Marchant Seline.

“There was his father and two other men that helped the young man up,” Estella stated.”

“His father!” Ben said, the words barely able to get the words out. He could feel the anger in him rising, barely suppressed by his overall concern that Joe had been injured. He could almost feel physical pain in his heart, the result that someone else would claim Joseph as their son.

Ben and Joe’s relationship ran deeper than any river, and was etched in stone. A sacred bond that was built on trust and love and that should never be broken.

Ben now stood up, caught up in his own thoughts at such an outrageous statement. That Seline had recklessly taken Joseph in the first place from the people who loved him was bad enough. What he couldn’t believe or stomach in any format was that Seline would have the audacity to call Joseph his son.

“Are you all right, Pa,” Adam asked, seeing that Ben was disturbed by this piece of news. It didn’t sit well on Hoss or himself either that someone would deliberately tell such devastating lies.

According to the woman’s statement, Joe was injured, probably concussed by the symptoms she had described. Seline had taken advantage of that at a time when Joe was more vulnerable, and would not have comprehended what was being said.

Estella could see Ben’s distress, having no idea that the man’s idle words at the time of her chastising him would not have been truthful. If she had known the young man was in danger or in the wrong company, perhaps she could have done more to help him.

“The man that was with him,” she began, he did say the young man’s name. She was trying to remember how the man had pronounced the surname. It was one she had not heard often.

“He said his name was Joseph…,” she told them, still mulling over the surname.

“Joseph….?” Ben prompted, knowing at least that the Christian name was right. This was the first real breakthrough they had had since San Francisco and any details might help find him.

“Cartwright?” Adam suggested, hoping for his Pa’s sake that Seline had used his brother’s real name.

“No…. is started with D…..,” Mrs Hopkins remarked, her brow furrowing as she tried to pull the name from her memory.

“D?” Hoss commented, confused that Cartwright name had not been used.

Adam and Hoss looked at their father as he opened his mouth to speak. He sighed audibly, as though he wished he didn’t know the correct answer. But somehow they could see the pain on his face that said he did indeed know.

Dubois,” Ben said, his voice barely above a whisper. He looked down at Joe’s hat once more, as though trying to stem the flood of memories from coming back.

Mrs Hopkins answered a little too enthusiastically at the correct name, “Yes, that was it.” Her smile quickly faded as she realized that she had unknowingly caused pain again to this family.

Adam drew a hand down his face, knowing that a whole new can of worms had just been opened up. Hoss couldn’t help but ball his fists in anger, wanting to strike out at something.

Not only had their brother been kidnapped. They were now on their way by train to a city that held a lot of memories for their father, good and bad. Now they were being told that as a final insult to their father and the memory of Marie, that Joe had been given the name of his mother.

The Cartwright family had suspected that Seline must have been using standover tactics to force Joe to come with them. They had already come to the conclusion and were forced to admit that he was probably using even stronger methods.

Hoss now asked the question that Adam and Ben were both thinking. “How come Joe didn’t say anything about his name being different. Or about Seline being his Pa?”

“It does sound odd, Hoss,” Ben admitted. “But I don’t have any real answer now. He has been hurt, and maybe he didn’t hear Seline using his mother’s name or telling Mrs Hopkins that Joe was his son.”

Adam and Hoss agreed that this sounded the most plausible situation, given that Joe was bleeding at the time. He may have been only semi-conscious and not thinking straight. Knowing their brother as well as they did, he would not have welcomed the casual use of his mother’s name.

Within his family and close circle of friends, it was quite a well known secret, but Joe’s memories of his mother and everything about her were treasured. There were many times that he could barely speak about her without feeling a sense of grief and loss, even from when he was very small. And even now many years later, that devotion to her memory only grew stronger and had never wavered.

“Thank you for your help, Mrs Hopkins,” Ben said, not being able to think straight for the revelations that he had just been told. “You have been most helpful.”

Mrs Hopkins reached over and briefly took Ben’s hand in her own, seeing his pain and wanting to offer what words of comfort she could, “I hope you find your son soon.”

Ben and his two sons retreated back to their own seats on the train, heavy with thoughts about what took place on the train that day and what might be happening to Joe now.

Ben knew of Seline’s affections for Marie, and that they had both known each other in New Orleans before she came to Nevada. He couldn’t help but think what irreparable damage Seline could do with false words about her or her family.

“Please help me find our boy, Marie,” Ben prayed silently as he resumed his own seat.

Over the next several hours, Ben Cartwright occupied a seat closest to the window of the train, his thoughts drawn outside and many miles away.

The information that they had learned over the past few days tumbled around in his head, swirling around in his mind. He lost track of time itself as he tried to focus on putting the pieces of Joseph’s disappearance together.

As the train continued along its journey towards New Orleans, Ben couldn’t help but be wrapped up in a cloak of perpetual anguish over what might be happening to Joe.

By now, he, Adam and Hoss had learned a lot of valuable clues and useful information, but Ben let out an audible sigh upon the stark reality that they were still no closer to finding and reaching his missing son.

When they left the Ponderosa and Virginia City, he had held onto the hope that they were perhaps only a short distance away from Seline and his devilish plans. Then they had discovered about his obsession in watching Joe over many years. And that was very unsettling in itself.

What kind of a man watches another man’s son, only to be plotting away at how to steal him away, causing nothing but heartache for all involved. Ben’s expression on his face turned to a frown, realising that he and his boys had no idea at this point in time that Joe was even aware what was happening to him.

Constable Hunter had been a witness to the fact about Little Joe having a head injury when he was taken by Seline from San Francisco. Evidence suggested that Marchant had killed a doctor who had been brought in to take care of Joe, in cold blood, with little regard for the man’s life.

They had seen for themselves how ruthless Seline was prepared to be to obtain his objectives. Ben gave a silent prayer and reminded himself that they had to be grateful for small mercies. From all accounts, Joe was still alive. He would take that small sliver of hope and hold onto it tightly.

Mrs Hopkins had confirmed for him just a short while ago that Joe was still suffering by mentioning that she had seen fresh blood on his face before he had been taken away by Seline’s men.

For Ben, despite the many hours of torturous, monotonous travel ahead of him and his boys, the time was filled with a sense of worry and anguish and of a helplessness that was almost tangible. He wanted so much to find Joe and bring him home to where he belonged, but so far, Seline had been the ultimate orchestrator and was always a few steps ahead of them.

Ben couldn’t help but try and work out the mysterious and dark man that called himself Marchant Seline.

Yes there was history between them concerning Jean, Marie’s first husband. But the patriarch had never considered the threats that she had received from the man to evolve into desperate hatred and strong revenge. Marie was gone, yes, but there wasn’t anything neither he nor anyone else could have done to prevent the tragic accident all those years ago. If Ben had been able to find a way to turn back the hands of time, he would have done so…willingly.

Ben recalled the words that he had spoken to Hoss and Adam on the first stage, explaining about Seline and his encroachment into their lives. He needed to understand what drove the man to such acts, like kidnapping Joseph and manipulating those around him. Someone looking at all the clues could rightly assume that the latest events were caused as an intended act of revenge. However, the lengths to which this elaborate hoax was being taken suggested an even darker side to Seline’s personality than any of them ever dared to contemplate.

Marie had been fearful of him once, and had reluctantly spoken to Ben of such feelings, when she felt she couldn’t hide it from her new family any more. It had taken a lot of courage on her part after a long battle of silent torment for her to do so and she had proven herself to be a very strong-willed person. Her spirit and sense of adventure had drawn Ben to her like a moth to a flame, even on that first day they had crossed paths.

Whilst dwelling on past memories as a way to pass the time as the train rolled along the long track towards New Orleans, Ben hoped they may prove to be the very key in helping find Joe. Instead of being one step behind, anticipate Seline’s next move and prevent it. With an uncomfortable and unforgiving stiff seat, Ben drifted deeper into his own thoughts, knowing in his own heart that he was still some distance from finding Joe and retrieving him safely.

Ben had known bad men before during his life, and had known bad men before that had done terrible crimes. He had seen vindictiveness and wickedness at its very core, where some men’s answer to a problem was a hand on their sidearm before asking a question. But never to the level that Seline seemed to have stalked his prey, or the preparation he was willing to employ in getting back at Ben. Cold and calculating. In some towns the value of a person’s life was not very high.

From where he is currently sitting, Ben didn’t notice the crease in Adam’s forehead become a little deeper with light anxiety and concern for the closed off stiffness of his father’s back. Hoss’s face was a mixture of tenseness and apprehensiveness, his body posture fidgety and barely able to keep still. His larger frame is brimming with the questions he wants to ask, but for now he holds back.

The ultimate goal that Seline wanted to achieve was obvious to a certain extent. His almost tangible need for revenge for the losing Marie to someone he considered well beneath his class, and her intention to start a lifestyle that he clearly didn’t approve of. It was like a cold hard slap to his face and his ego that needed to be publicly avenged.

The amount of planning and cunning that was being employed to achieve this was being revealed every day with each different stop they made and with each accidental clue or deliberate footprint left to be followed.

Putting aside the man’s personal vendetta against him, Ben found his thoughts coagulating together in search of what else his old nemesis intended to achieve. If Seline was hell-bent on tearing down Joe’s individual traits and retraining any kind of power or authority over the young man, than the man didn’t know Joe’s personality very much at all. Or the strength and courage of his mother that became intertwined with him since the day he had been born.

Whilst Ben might be able to guess or use his detailed knowledge of his son to determine what Seline’s next move would be, but up until now, the evidence had clearly shown a set trail to follow. Manipulation has certainly played a large part as well, and the chorus of people involved in Joe’s disappearance seemed to be growing with each new clue they stumbled across.

The next destination, New Orleans brought with it a whole array of new possibilities of mystery and danger. With the people and the largeness of the city, and the vast differences in culture and ethnicity. A labyrinth of vibe and activity where one could easily entice themselves with the aromas of restaurants, to the gaiety of festivals. Or on the other side of the coin, become lost in shipping docks and wharfs and encounter folk who were not so welcoming of strangers. Where making a living was a hard day’s work for little reward except a meagre existence.

Joe wasn’t naïve and Ben had always ensured that all of his boys understood how fortunate they were to have a successful ranch and live in a warm and loving home. With plenty of good food and clothes to wear. But Joe had perhaps been the more privileged of the three brothers and had not endured the harsher times that Adam and Hoss grown up in.

With wanting to find fault in his son at this hour, Ben knew that Joe could be lured into doing some things by a pretty face, or for the chance to join a game of poker at the local Saloon. Alcohol was abundant in many places and cheap enough to make a good man forget about his obligations for a time. Is this what Seline hoped to achieve by bringing the young man to such a city?

Seline had the advantage of knowing that one of Joe’s great weaknesses, and a long time held curiosity that stemmed from wanting to know more about his mother, Marie. Her family’s origins and how she had grown up. To a young boy, her city sounded thrilling and adventurous. Out of desperation to keep her memory alive in his mind, he often fought so hard to hold onto every shred about her because he had been too young to remember much more than a few cherished moments

Perhaps this long term obsession about Marie and Joe that Seline carried out now caused his own sanity to become unstable. His motives unclear except for the need to make sure that Joe was separated from his family.

Without knowing, perhaps they as a family had set up the perfect opportunity for Seline to strike like he now has. Allowing their over-protectiveness of Joe to work in his favour and cause him to pull away from them and seek out new horizons.

Shifting around on the uncomfortable bench style seat, Ben began thinking back to the conversation that he and Joe had shared that day after the Saloon. Or the argument Ben thought a little more ruefully, recalling each and every word that had shouted or spoken to each other.

Hindsight would say that dragging his son away from his friends from the saloon might have been a little hasty. That maybe he should have waited until Joe was home and spoken calmly to him about he felt about what he saw as brash behaviour.

Joe, you were supposed to load the supplies, collect the mail and then get a haircut,” Ben said using a softer tone, hoping it would help cool Joe’s temper “Instead I find you hours later inside a saloon, drinking beer and having young ladies hanging off your arm like trophies.”

At nineteen, Joe was still young enough to be wanting to try and find his place, not only within the family, but the world in general, and prove himself more and more every day. Didn’t he understand that he had nothing left to prove to his family?

In Ben’s eyes, his youngest son had already been through so much adversity and been forced to endure too many soul destroying times during the last few years, and suffered more than any one person should have to. And that just made this whole scenario harder to bear from a distance and not being there in person when his son needed him the most. That more torment and heartache could be happening right now, when Joseph had already experienced way too much of both in life.

The whole idea of breaking the horses for the army had been Joe’s idea from the start. Something separate from Adam and Hoss on the ranch, and something he was good at, but wanting to gain as much independence as he could.

Going back over the events they were aware of that had happened so far since leaving on the drive to San Francisco, Ben had to admit that his son’s judgment about the right number of horses to break and how to do it was without fault. That Joe had taken all the correct precautions for the long journey and had even handled men like Douglas on the trail as good as any seasoned leader from what they had learned.

Joe had pleaded with his father and Adam about trying to let him experience life for himself and wanting to do the right thing.

Past and present events that seemed to have very little if any connection at all, were now swirling around and becoming entangled together to put Joe in mortal danger from predators like Marchant Seline.

What Ben wouldn’t give now just to have Joe safe and at home, chastising Hoss from trying to take too long at an innocent game of checkers.

Standing up to stretch his aching back, Ben moved to other side of the train, seating himself closer to Adam to Hoss. “Boys, we need to talk about a plan of action once this train arrives in New Orleans. With the confirmation that Joe is hurt, it will be up to us to find him. We cannot let Seline keep leading us around, keeping us were he can keep watch.”

“What do want to do, Pa?” Hoss sat up a little straighter in his own seat, seeing a glint of the Ben Cartwright that he knew people of Virginia City looked up to.

This was a father who wanted to protect one of his own cubs more than anything else, even if that child deemed themselves almost fully grown. This was the determination that normally saw any of his sons sit up and take notice immediately and not want to question the reasons why.

“This is what I want you and Adam to do…..”

Back aboard the Steam-Boat:

With fresh pain blossoming at the base of his neck, Joe rubbed with the palm of his left hand, trying to massage it away so he could think straight.

The young woman who had been in his room a few minutes ago had promised to return. The man who had been present had left again, leaving more questions than answers as his words continued to echo in his mind; ‘Your name is Joseph. Joseph Dubois. Do you remember?’

The trouble was that he still didn’t remember, any more than he did when he first awoke. There was no way of knowing if this was all some strange and weird dream.

The man claimed to know him, and called him by name. No that wasn’t quite right, told him his name. Said that he was his father. And why would the man do that if he wasn’t? He had been afraid of the man at first, the stinging slap to his face a reminder. But this time when the man had entered the room, his mood had changed and he had mentioned something about him being hurt, sounding concerned.

Continually rolling the name around in his head, Joseph Dubios….Dubois…. or even saying it out loud, didn’t mean anything to him.

The hurt part he could definitely agree with at the moment, leaning forward to try and relieve the non-stop headache, wincing out loud at the discomfort. He was sure his brain was clashing against at least one side of his skull.

Dragging his legs over the side of the bed in an attempt to stand up to see if it would help, he was startled by the door opening. The young woman who had been in the room earlier was holding a covered tray.

Bonnie was balancing the tray over her forearm and turning the door knob with the other hand, but gasped in surprise at seeing the young man trying to get up off the bed. She had no way of getting to him I time to stop him hitting the floor if he suddenly fell.

“You really shouldn’t be doing that a lot just yet,” Bonnie admonished softly, settling the tray on a nearby bedside table.

“I just want the pain to stop,” Joe declared hotly, grabbing onto his head with both hands, the room spinning a little.

Bonnie placed a restraining hand on his shoulder, noting that there was still some heat from his fever present, “Just take it a little slow,” she urged, watching as he bent at the waist and flopped inelegantly onto the bed. He was now seated and in no danger of falling onto the floor, but he was still too pale for her liking and his pain was very evident.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so gruff,” came the whispered apology as he lowered his hands and lifted his head up towards her.

For a brief moment, Bonnie held a breath at the vulnerable figure young man who was gazing back at her, silently asking for her held with his green eyes and heavy lashes. His mussed hair completed the look and she could feel her insides all but melting at wanting to help him.

“Take it much slower moving about and you won’t feel so dizzy,” she lightly chastised, putting on a harder exterior. She reminded herself that she was here simply because Seline and Doctor told her to take care of him.

Joe tried to nod his acknowledgement, but closed his eyes and rode out the pain as best he could, letting his hands fall idly in his lap. Having his eyes closed, forced his other senses to take stock of his surroundings, and what assaulted him now were delicious smells wafting from the covered tray beside him.

Bonnie looked to where he was drawn, “I think if you eat a little of this, you will feel much better. Sit back and I will help you.”

Reluctantly, Joe forced himself to sit back against the headboard of the bed, pausing briefly at the pain that flared intently for a moment. He opened his eyes as he felt the tray placed over his legs, and was greeted with an assortment of aromas as the fabric cover was peeled away.

“I didn’t know what you would like, so I made a few light things for you. You can try something else later when you feel a little more like yourself,” Bonnie informed him, tucking the cover into the front of his shirt.

Joe glanced up at her remark ‘feel a little more like yourself’ but didn’t comment further. He had no idea how he should to be feeling or just who he was supposed to be, but left if unspoken.

Looking down at the platter before him, Joe went from plate to bowl, naming for himself just what each one was, to prove to himself that he at least knew what foods she wanted him to eat. Bonnie took it one step further though at seeing his hesitance in eating, and pointing to each, named each for his benefit.

“Lightly buttered toast with a touch of cinnamon. Just a little. And a soft-boiled egg. Freshly squeezed orange juice, I thought it might be a bit too much for strong coffee just yet.”

Joe picked up one corner of toast in readiness to put it in his mouth, noticing that this appeared to please the woman greatly.

“You eat just as much as you can, and I will be right back with your clothes for the day. Mr …I mean, your father wanted you to join him as soon as you were awake.” And with that she exited the room, thinking she had enough time and thinking that he would be able to manage feeding himself for a few minutes.

Joe watched out the door as the last swish of the woman’s heavy blue skirts signalled that she had left the room, putting the piece of toast back on the plate uneaten. Although his sense of smell wanted him to at least taste a few morsels of food, his queasy unsettling of his stomach disagreed with those intentions.

Picking up the glass of juice, he sipped at the tangy liquid, the coolness wetting the back of his throat. A little bitter, but not too much, and he managed to drink quarter of the contents before putting it back on the white saucer. The next test was to prod the yellow top of the soft egg with the prongs of a fork, watching the gooey centre rush out through the incision. That made his stomach lurch a little more in forewarning.

A turn of the doorknob, and Joe quickly picked up the corner of toast and took a bite as the woman returned with an armful of clothes and other items. Joe went to slide the tray aside as if wanting to help, “No need, you need to finish that breakfast,” Bonnie interjected, looking down at the plate as she neared the bed and looking with dismay at the mostly full plate.

“That won’t do at all, Joseph. You need to eat a little more and then get into these clothes that I have laid out here,” Bonnie asserted, seeing out of the corner of her eye that his attention was now on what she was doing rather than eating.

“I have had enough,” Joe informed her, hoping she would not press him into eating more. He didn’t want this stomach rebelling on him as well as the pounding head.

With interest though, he watched as the woman laid out a pair of dark coloured trousers, a tan coloured long-sleeved shirt, and a coat. Black shoes were placed beside the assemble.

“Are those for me?” the young man found himself asking before he realised he had spoken his thoughts out loud.

“Well, I don’t see anybody else in this room that would be wanting clothes, now do you?” Bonnie said with a small laugh. She could see the confusion on his face and more questions mirrored in his eyes.

“Do I wear clothes like that?” he blurted out, looking down at the clumsy attire he had on and not even knowing they belonged to him. Clothes were a necessity of course, but not knowing who you are meant you didn’t know what you would normally wear either.

“Headache still bothering you, is it?” the woman asked as she saw his concentration on the clothes increase. She really wanted him to eat more before facing Seline, but it didn’t look like she was going to be successful with that task just yet. His colour was still too pale and he looked like he could do with a few more pounds on his lithe frame.

Joe looked up at her question, pausing as if to assess and then nodded, regretting as he did so with a wince. The headache had grown a little less noticeable, but not much.

Moving too quickly was still proving to be a bad thing to do. Once again on the edge of the bed, he did as she suggested and bided his time before attempting to stand. The second time around and he was able to pull himself up, one hand still hovering over the edge of the bed in case his legs betrayed him.

“I can give you something for your pain a little later, but right now we have to get you into these clothes so you can meet with your father.

Joe walked cautiously took a few steps around the bed, hand still remaining close if needed, making his way to stand in front of the pants and coat. He looked at the woman who stood ready to help him and didn’t recall what she had said her name was.

“What was your name?” he asked, slightly embarrassed that he didn’t remember if she had told him.

The woman looked back him and answered, “Bonnie,” with a quiet voice. Joe didn’t recognize the slight sad tone of her voice for the guilt it caused her, but gave her a shy smile in return.

Turning away from Bonnie and taking a closer inspection of the clothes she had chosen for him, he reached out and picked up the pants, giving them a critique. The fabric was softer than it looked, and they felt nice to the touch. The colour was very dark.

“I can help you if you still feel unsteady,” Bonnie offered, reaching out to help him remove the simple trousers and loose shirt he was wearing.

A little nervous and startled, Joe took a step back, away from her, “Um, no thank you, I think I can manage.”

Bonnie wasn’t convinced but could see him turning an interesting shade of blush at her prying hands, but against her better judgment, gave him the privacy he was asking for.

“I will be right outside the door if you need me. Let me know when you are done, so I can make sure it all fits properly.”

Joe sighed audibly in relief when the woman left, thankful she was giving him a little space. He could see that she didn’t really want to leave the room, fearing he was still dizzy when standing. He couldn’t argue with that assessment as his headache peaked sharply once more, but he was determined that he could at least dress himself, even if he didn’t remember his own name.

Deciding to start with the soft trousers in his hand, Joe undid the front of the pair he was wearing and carefully pulled out one leg at a time. By the time he had taken them off, he was using one hand to lean heavily on the bed covers. It appeared that just getting undressed was requiring more strength than he would have thought necessary today.

Slowly sliding on the pair of dark pants, he was surprised at how well they fit. The fabric was just as soft and they laced up at the front. He didn’t know how Bonnie knew what would fit him. Maybe she was just guessing or perhaps she was a seamstress. On the whole, the choice met with his approval, the fabric allowing movement but was neither restrictive or cumbersome.

Pausing for a few moments, he then picked up the shirt that lay on the bed. The fabric was white in colour, but felt as though it had a rougher texture to it.

Once he tucked it in, he looked down at himself. Neat and tidy perhaps. He wanted to walk across the other side of the room to the mirror, but it was only small as he recalled and he wouldn’t be able to fully see himself to make judgment.

A soft knock at the door made him look up too quickly, and regret it as he winced out loud at the spike of pain that protested profusely. The young woman who had taking care of him, entered.

“Sorry, I wanted to give you more time, but Mr… your father is getting rather restless and waiting to speak to you,” Bonnie apologized. “My you are starting to look more like your old self again,” she praised, but the lie was like a bad after taste.

Joe felt a little awkward under the woman’s gaze, “You really mean that? That I look like me?”

The genuineness of the question made Bonnie pause before answering, seeing that the young man was trying to find any shred of the person others thought himself to be.

“You look fine,” she muttered, not wanting to plant ideas into his head any more than Seline required of her. “Put those shoes on that I left for you so we don’t keep your father waiting too much longer.”

“A stickler for being on time is he?” Joe queried as did as requested and put on the black shoes. They felt a little too big, but he didn’t want to sound like he was complaining too much.

“You could say that,” she answered, not wanting to elaborate any further.

Joe looked back towards the bed frowning slightly.

“Everything alright?”

Joe seem to be lost in his own thoughts for a moment, and startled at her voice, “No, I just feel like something is missing.”


“Like I have forgotten to put something else on that I would normally wear,” Joe explained.

“Like what? You have your clothes and shoes?”

“That’s just it, I don’t know, and I can’t put my finger right on it. But just a feeling.”

“I think its all just been a bit much with your head injury, and you are not thinking straight quite enough yet,” the woman responded.

“You think that is all it is?” Joe asked, clearly not convinced and a little uncertain as to why she didn’t want to hear about what he might be feeling or remembering, if that is what it was.

“I do, come on, lets go. A little gentle exercise and some fresh air out of this room will do you the world of good,” Bonnie replied, taking a hold of his upper arm and pulling him towards the corridor.

Finding himself in the corridor, Joe couldn’t sense any familiarity with this place any more than he had with anything else yet. If this was where he was used to living, one would think that it was an automatic instinct which direction to walk in to where he wanted to go. But sadly it wasn’t. There was a sense of vulnerability that he was trying

harder to quash, but also a growing sense of frustration.

The pain in his head had only decreased a little, and ebbed with each decision he tried to determine for himself, but failed to make on his own.

“This way,” Bonnie ushered.

Whether he approved or agreed or not, Joe found himself being pulled to the right. “Slow down a little,” he begged, putting a hand to his head as pain flared again. The walls were panelled on either side and painted white. At various intervals, a decorative lamp was positioned to provide some lighting. Though with the limited glow that they provided it wasn’t easy to gauge what time of day it was.

Joe had no idea of how far they had to walk, or even which room he was being taken to, his headache was beginning to protest more and more. Another corridor intersected, and upon turning to the left, he gasped out loud to see what he thought was water. The fact that he could see anything at all meant that it was still daytime. The passage of time had been swept away with the rest of his memory.

“Is that water out there?” trying to pull away from the woman’s grip on his arm to stop and take a longer look. But Bonnie didn’t answer his question. In the back of his mind, his off-balance shuffle was becoming more noticeable, but he couldn’t attribute it all to his unsteadiness.

Just where was he that he could see water? After waking in that room he hadn’t gotten much of a sense where he was. He tried listening for familiar sounds or smells that would help him identify but a sharp tug on his arm almost had him stumbling to the floor. Could the gentle slope of the floor under his feet mean he was on a boat? Was that a secret she was deliberately keeping from him?

“Where are we going? he asked, “Wait, I can’t go as fast as you,” he snapped, hoping the woman would stop tugging on him like some lost puppy that she was trying to keep a hold of.

Before he could ask about the water again, up ahead, he could see a door. Upon hearing footsteps approaching, the two of them were greeted by a large man holding it open for them to enter.

“Good afternoon, Mr Dubois,” the man greeted Joe.

The tugging on his arm became more insistent and the grip tightened, as he turned his head to try and take a closer look at the man that had opened the door.

The headache was preventing him from thinking straight, but there was definitely a brief flicker of recognition. By the time he had frowned in concentration though, it speck had disappeared, and the man’s face became a stranger once more.

“Joseph!” was called loudly from across the room, startling the younger man as he turned to see who was angry with him.

Seline forced the volume of his voice to drop after the short outburst, reminding him of how he was supposed to be portraying himself. As a someone who was worried about his son’s health. Walking over to a serving tray, he began to make himself a drink with ice to calm his nerves. He hadn’t realised how much effort he had to put into to just appear nice. It certainly wasn’t all everybody lead you to believe he silently thought to himself.

Rather than addressing the man, Joe found his attention draw to the opulence of the room and the expensive furnishing and fittings that adorned the large expanse. There were a number of large timber credenzas spaced evenly throughout the room. Each displaying crystal glassware or silver goblets and ornaments. There was a large polished grandfather clock standing proudly to his left. The large brass pendulum swinging back and forth in typical hypnotising fashion.

“You can come a little closer, Joseph,” Seline invited, seeing the reluctance not only on the young man’s face, but in his body language and nervous stance.

Joseph obliged by taking a step forward, but the self-confidence that could normally be associated with Joe Cartwright was very obviously lacking. The figure standing in place now, was unsure of his place and much too quiet for his charm to be noted.

“Thank you for the clothes, they fit just fine,” Joe uttered cautiously, looking over at Bonnie as though wanting her to give him prompts about what to say.

The woman had crossed to the living area of the room and was seated on a long striped settee and didn’t see his silent unspoken pleas.

“No need to thank me, Joseph. They are your clothes after all. Not what you would wear at night when working of course, but I have seen you wear them often enough after hours,” Seline answered, his tone of voice sounding like the comment was of annoyance. “You have had a trying time, I am sure, but you are back with us now.”

Joe didn’t know how to respond, as though he had only been away for a few days and now returning to his normal routine. But for him, everything was as far from normal as it could be, and he didn’t know how he was going to voice that so that these people understood.

If this man was his father, one would think that even with memory loss, the man’s face would be familiar to him. But it wasn’t. When he looked towards the man at the door, he had felt something stirring, like he was sure they had met somewhere before. But with the man who was his father, there was something entirely else. No familiarity or recognition, or feeling like they had met. It was as if he was masked from Joe mind by a thick black cloud. Concealed and mysterious.

“Bonnie tells me that you have eaten today, so you should be feeling well again soon,” Seline mentioned casually, walking around the table and seating himself on a single thickly padded armchair in the living area. “I must say, this it isn’t like you to be this standoffish.”

The off-hand remark rolled off Joe, forcing himself to push the frustration once more, “I don’t know what to tell you,” he admitted truthfully, thinking that honesty might be the best choice for the moment. “I don’t remember coming here or anything else,” clenching his fists a little too tightly and releasing them when his fingernails began to dig into the palm of his hands.

“Come on in and let’s talk shall we?” Seline gestured with his hand, sporting a false welcoming smile. “Edwards, get Joseph a drink of iced water, he looks like he could use it right at the moment.”

“Are we on a boat?” Joe queried, wanting to get the most pressing question out of his aching head. He moved closer to the middle of the room, still looking back at the man standing near the door. The man speaking had just called him Edwards’ but that meant nothing to him.

“You hear that, Bonnie?” Seline laughed, as though Joe was asking something very simple, “Joseph wants to know if he is on a boat?” but the laughter soon stopped as he young man neared, his face very open with expression and his desperation to know visible to all.

Joe stood down the opposite end of the long striped settee, not too sure if he was over-stepping the mark by sitting down before he was told to. Something about the man seated in the armchair made him appear a stern person who expected the rules to be followed. The fine clothes and furnishings of the room seemed to demand good manners and etiquette.

“Sit down, Joseph, before you fall down,” Seline said calmly and firmly.

The sentence was barely out when Joe looked up sharply at Seline, a memory triggered. The feeling of deja vu was very strong.

“Take a seat, you look a little pale still after your ordeal,” Seline remarked, giving Edwards a small wave of his hand to indicate that he may need to help him make it to the settee, but then quickly waving him back when it was clear that the words had struck a chord.

Joe silently very relieved to be able to conceal how rubbery his legs had felt crossing the short distance from the door to his current position. Somehow he surmised that the other man sensed he wasn’t feeling the best yet. The familiarity of having a conversation with this man had not diminished, but he tried his best to quash any emotional response until he could think more clearly for himself.

Edwards arrived with the iced water in a tumbler, handing it to him. The man looked as though he wanted to say something. “Let me know if you want any more, Mr Dubios.”

“Thank you,” but it was the Mr Dubios’ that caught his attention the most. Did the man really address like that all the time?

“This is indeed a boat, a Paddle Steam-Boat to be more precise, and it is your home and mine and has been for quite some time,” Seline proclaimed.

“As I told you earlier in your room, your name is Joseph Dubois, and I am your father. The young woman seated there is Bonnie, and the man by the door is Edwards, both have worked for us satisfactorily for years.”

The information reached his ears, but Joe had trouble keeping it all straight. He did remember the man telling him that his name was Joseph earlier in the day. The surname he didn’t quite recall, but he couldn’t say to the contrary for now. He didn’t know Edwards and he didn’t know what it was that either of these two people did aboard the boat, even though it was suggested that he should know.

“You have been recovering from a head injury,” Seline informed. Joe reacted by feeling for the area and wincing at the pain he felt and the swelling he could detect underneath his fingertips. The whole feeling of deja vu had just multiplied again.

“The doctor has informed me that you need to rest, and in a few days, you should have no memory lapses and no further headaches.”

“Really, I should know who I am again!” Joe exclaimed, grasping onto that concept with hope. “The headaches are really bad.”

“The doctor will arrive again tomorrow morning and examine you. He advised that you may experience bouts of tiredness, dizziness and headaches. They are all to be expected with such a nasty head injury as you have sustained.”

“What time is it now?” Joe grimaced, thinking that he was going to be experiencing the pain for quite some time. The doctor must have already examined him at some point according to what he was being told.

“Three o’clock in the afternoon. Plenty of time for us to talk a little more and then perhaps a look around the boat to help you recover your memory,” Seline suggested, sipping at his drink almost constantly to keep himself in a relaxed mood.

“Do you really think that will help?”

“Yes, I do. I have seen it happen before with folks who had lost their memory. Show them some familiar places or things they do everyday and they begin to remember on their own.

Joe couldn’t help but look a little sceptical at the theory, but kept any comments to himself.

“I can see you are not ready to accept my diagnosis just yet. Ask anything you like and I will do my best to answer all your questions, Joseph.”

Deciding to take on that challenge, “Alright, I’ll admit it, I don’t remember any of this at all,” Joe freely admitting, the emotion flowing through him, making him stand up. He quickly regretted it though, as dizziness briefly assailed him for getting up too quickly.

Bonnie stood up, ready to steady the young man if that was required, but Seline quelled any attempt she made with a curt wave of his hand.

“Please stay seated, for your own sake. Any conversation we are going to have can be done sitting down,” Seline chastised.

Joe gave a glare of disapproval at being treated like and ill-trained child. “I find myself at a distinct disadvantage, when everybody seems to know the answers before I even know what questions to ask.”

“From the beginning, because I seemed to have missed a few pages,” Joe retorted back as frustration at the man’s casual attitude began to multiply

“Perhaps we can find a little more recent common ground than that. You came to talk to me a few days ago about a few matters regarding your mother.”

“My mother?” Joe repeated in a soft voice. Had he really been talking about her only a few days ago? Strange as he couldn’t even conjure a mental image of such a person in his mind, no matter how hard he tried.

Seline smirked inwardly at the nerve he had struck with the subject matter. Enough to rattle the younger man when he was trying to gather some self-confidence. “There are no secrets being kept here from you, Joseph. Where do you want to start?”

Joe felt at a distinct disadvantage, noticing an attentive audience as he looked about the room. He almost wanted to have Seline send the other people out of the room, but he pushed down that thought. Thinking to himself that if he wanted to find out if this man was speaking the truth, then perhaps watching those around him would provide that more so.

“Do you remember your mother, Joseph?” Seline asked, this tone of voice deliberately softer.

Joe glared back at the man’s question, “You already know full well that I don’t. Otherwise I wouldn’t even be here.”

Without even realising he was, Joe ran his hand across his forehead in a soothing motion, knowing that the tension in the room was only exacerbating his headache. He still felt on the edge of dizziness, and didn’t know if a bombardment of information would help him or merely confuse him further.

Seline could see the pain etched on the young face, and the desperation in wanting to grab a hold of anything tangible to who or what he was. Marchant need only to widen his web of intrigue and mystery further, and the young man would be firmly under his control. He began to push just that little bit more.

“I am sure lots of people before must have commented on how much you resemble your mother,” the remark sounding partly like a confirmation and also like a question.

“Well since I cannot even recognize my own face in the mirror, I have nothing to base that on.”

“But there is more of Marie in you then just appearance. Her spirit burns strong within you. Your mother was a little wilful at times and didn’t take kindly to being chastised.”

“Wilful? You make it sound as if that was a bad thing?” Joe countered, not enjoying tagged with such an exact description.

“You misunderstand. Your mother for the time that I knew her, was a gentle person and a loving woman. She was generous and kind,” Seline began to divulge. “But after a time things began to change…” leaving a heavy silence at the end.

“What sort of things changed?” Joe asked, leaning forward more and finding himself drawn into the man’s words.

“Your mother, she was from a wealthy family with a very reputable background. She met a man, who took a fancy to her and filled her head with stories of travelling and tales of what else she could experience outside of New Orleans. Someone who came into town and offered her dreams. Wanted to take her away from city life and offer her vast countryside and meadows of flowers.”

“Didn’t you try and stop this man if he was trying to trick her?” Joe blurted out, his temper beginning to rise.

“Yes, I did, even going so far as confront the man myself.”

“What did he say, what did you do?”

“Joseph, I am a man of peace and I don’t believe in violence, so I tried to keep them apart. I tried to keep your mother safe and persuade her that she had a family here with you and me and that she was needed in our lives,” Seline explained. “But all that I did was in vain. Despite my wishes, Marie went riding with this man one day…”

Despite the weakness he was still experiencing, Joe found that he was too restless and couldn’t remain seated, abruptly standing and forced to hold onto the arm of the settee.

The sudden rush of blood away from his head caused his headache to throb relentlessly.

“All of this news may be too much to hear at once. We can continue when you are feeling a little stronger?”

“No…!” Joe blurted out, now standing behind the settee, and digging his fingers into the striped fabric as he tried to gain control over the dizziness washing over him.

Frustrated and in obvious pain to all those in the room, but refusing to let his current weakness to thwart the chance of finding out more.

“Hmph!” Seline uttered in mild disgust, “this stubborn streak is a most unbecoming trait from your mother, Joseph.”

Seline inwardly kicked himself for allowing his own snide attitude to creep into the persona he was attempting to play.

Joe gave an indignant almost demanding glare, daring the man to name his perceived faults and weaknesses, but Seline quickly caught his mistake and changed his tone to a much softer one, of regret and remorse.

“Forgive my unusually gruff exterior, Joseph, you don’t understand. It was that part of Marie that caused her to pull away from our marriage and wanting to spend time in less attractive company.”

Joe’s dropped his eyes to the floor, feeling a little humbled and embarrassed at having behaved in such a way to a man who was merely trying to help him understand better.

The right words to ask the most important question that he wanted to know the answer to still eluded him. What had happened to his mother?

An opportunity had just presented itself that Marchant Seline had been looking for. The seed to plant in the young man’s mind as to what had happened. To coerce a series of events and their outcomes that were presented in a fashion that allowed the real truth to be masked, painted and moulded to his advantage.

“Your mother went riding that day, she was a very experienced rider. Marie must have been distracted by the charms and false hopes of the man who was accompanying her,” Seline made sure that he had the young man’s full attention before completing the tragic story.

“Her horse was startled and Marie was thrown. Witnesses on the day say that there was nothing that anybody could do. She was killed instantly.”

Joe gasped out loud, a low moan rolling from deep down as he sucked in a deep breath through his mouth, as all other noise and senses within the room around him stopped suddenly. His knees threatening to betray and buckle from under him, and although he opened his mouth to speak, no sound escaped his lips. It was if someone was gripping him by the throat and slowly squeezing.

Joe flinched briefly as he felt someone touching his arm. Looking up in confusion to see Bonnie standing next to him beside, and having a firm but gentle hold of his upper arm. The sound of footsteps to his right, and Seline stood nearby.

“I am truly sorry that you had to hear such dreadful news from me. Even after all this time, I know how painful it is to think of her taken from me.”

“You were only a small boy of five when it happened, and you are not at fault or to blame.”

“Are you certain you should not be sitting down?” came the worried question from Bonnie. “You are very pale and I can feel your arm trembling even now.”

Joe briefly shook his head, knowing that she was concerned for his health, but still trying to come to terms with what he had just been told, barely able to speak with the emotions than currently swirling inside of him.

“Come now, Joseph, you are still recovering, and this has no doubt been a very bad shock for you. Once you have rested, I assure you, we will talk further and you can ask any questions you may have.”

Joe could feel his body begin to agree with the symptoms they were describing, reluctantly, he found himself being lead towards the door. He wanted to say more, demand more, ask more, but the headache was now echoing loudly and he winced out loud at the sharpness of the pain now assailing him.

“Who?” was the single word that he asked, but Seline guessing that he had really meant to ask, ‘Who was the man with my mother when she died?’

“I am not sure you are ready to hear his name now, but his name was Benjamin Cartwright,” Seline replied, watching very intently for the reaction that such a name might cause to the young man. It may even trigger his memory.

Joe stopped walking, running the name over and over in his head. But the disappointment on his face at the lack of recognition only making Marchant Seline smile inwardly like a cheshire cat, as he followed behind Bonnie and coercing the younger man back to his room to rest.

Later that day, Joe would not remember whether he had walked the entire distance back down the corridor or not. At one point he thought he could feel his body shivering. The flicker of the lights made him deliberately drop his head and squint away from their harsh glow.

Someone’s soft voice echoed in his ear, “You can sit down on the bed now.”

“Just relax and lay back,” the voice chided gently, feeling his legs being raised onto the bed, and his shoes being removed.

Joe didn’t appear to notice Seline standing just inside the doorway, holding a glass in his hand. He watched as Bonnie gently guided the confused and hurting young man to sit on the edge of the bed.

Bonnie saw the glass in his hand, turning her head away with guilt as she saw Seline remove a small packet of powder from the pocket of his waistcoat, and dissolve a small amount of white powder into the water. She had done the same thing to Joe’s food back in San Francisco, and her face burning with shame.

Tiredness began crashing over him in great waves. Joe felt a cold glass pressed into his hand and then lifted to his mouth. The liquid tasting odd, and having a distinctive after taste as it swished around in his mouth before swallowing.

“It is just water,” the voice urged as he found himself taking another mouthful. Wanting to protest that the drink wasn’t water, he wasn’t sure if the liquid would stay in his stomach. The glass was pushed towards his lips again, but he turned his face away, shaking his head slightly in refusal, but instantly regretting such a movement as pain assaulted him again.

Joe did not feel the softness of the fabric that his head was resting on. The only thought on his mind at present, was escaping the torment of his pounding headache.

Grabbing at the bed clothes with clenched fists, Joe tried to raise his upper body, frustrated with feeling so weak and restless.

“Oh no you don’t, just sleep,” Bonnie admonished mildly, noting that she didn’t have to use any additional force to prevent Joe from getting off the bed.

Whether he heard her words or not she couldn’t be sure, the young man fighting sleep. Rubbing her hand gently down his arms, she was attempting to relax his body enough to allow the laced drink to do its work.

“No, I don’t want to…s-sleep,” came the slurred response. But soon all control was taken away from him as his eyelids fluttered closed and his breathing slowed and deepened. One final brief attempt to open his eyes failed again and he was asleep.

Seline was satisified that his young captive would remain still for the next few hours. The sedative he had administered would see to that. The man had wanted to embed his charade about Marie’s past and reinforce Joe’s new identity, but clearly the head injury was proving a little more troublesome than he had envisaged.

“Tell Edwards or Yeager to keep watch on this room at all times. I want to be told when he is awake again,” Seline ordered, turning away and leaving the doorway as soon the instructions were delivered.

Bonnie used the back of her hand to test the young man’s temperature, and frowned a little when she detected heat on his skin. Secure in the knowledge that he would do no more than sleep for now, she left him laying on top of the bed clothes without the need for any additional blankets. She would monitor him carefully and could change this later if his fever showed signs of breaking.

With the train pulling into the New Orleans Station, Ben Cartwright was very grateful for the halt to the slow winding motion of the train. On longer trips such as the one that he, Adam and Hoss had just endured, the hours tended to dull the senses and relax the body a little too much. Rubbing at his right shoulder, hoping to relieve some of the stiffening muscles, the trio of men were confronted to a very different scene to any they were used to seeing closer to home.

Apart from the large crowd on the station platform, the first thing to note was the vast array of aromas, good and bad. Stepping down from the train with their minimal luggage, the Cartwright men found themselves surrounded by strong smells of overly sweet perfume from ladies disembarking from the train.

Then there were the smells of food from local venders who had stationed themselves near the entrances and exits, hoping to tempt those getting on-board or getting off.

A short rotund man with ‘Station Master’ stitched on his navy shirt walked past Adam at one point and looked distastefully at the small oriental man and his small wagon of steaming pots. The aroma of delicious food reminded them that they had not eaten in some hours.

Adam had tried to gain the man’s attention for a few seconds, but all too soon, the man was distracted once again by a foursome of young men who were beginning to hurl punches at each other and cause further disruption to the chaotic crowded platform.

Ben had made it quite clear when back on-board the train before they had pulled up at the station, that the main priority had to be finding Joseph or any clues that might help find him.

On two separate occasions, Hoss found himself being rudely shoved aside as a late passenger tried to hurry their way to the ticketing counter. He had tried to step aside from one robust fellow, only to have a slim man brush past his opposite side, tipping his hat in apology, scuttling away with his tattered brown satchel tucked under one arm.

“Folks sure are in a hurry round these here parts, aren’t they, Pa?”

“Courtesy in this sort of environment is hard to come by these days, Hoss. Let’s just try and keep level heads, but keep to the plan,” Ben responded barely able to hear his son speak with so many conversations going on around them at the one time.

“Reynolds back in San Francisco would be lost in this mixture of people that is for sure,” Adam added, remembering how vacant that platform had been when they arrived.

Towards the entrance of the Railway Station, music could be heard, played by a group of men. Some seated playing, one or two standing, all wearing clothes that had seen much better days. But the melody that could be heard above the crowd was rhythmical and enthusiastic. A beat that encapsulated the working lower-class, welcoming newcomers to the city of New Orleans.

With so many sounds echoing in their ears and so many faces peering back at them, the Cartwrights had to double their efforts in making it to the entrance of the Railway Station and out of the crowd. A large archway stood as a point of reference to steer towards. Upon walking beneath it to the other side, not one of the three was quite prepared for the grand expanse of the city that was New Orleans.

Even within the vicinity of the Railway Station entrance, there were coaches and buggies arriving by the dozen, people climbing into carriages and being helped down from wagons of all shapes and sizes. There were men and horses in great numbers. Many of the men travelling by horseback in the street were dressed in very fine clothing. Top Hats and Tailed-Coats no less. Some of the ladies were also dressed in beautiful dresses adorned with lace and ribbons.

The air outside was damp and warm, with thunderclouds beginning to form and threaten for a storm later in the day. Any breath drawn in almost made strangers to cough and clear their heads. Dust was swirling around from horses, wagon and people carrying on their daily business. The humidity hanging over the city like an unwelcome blanket and causing the dust to stick and settle on clothes and other surfaces. Rain would visit the centre before the end of the week Ben suspected.

Hoss removed his hat, feeling like he was not in the same class of people, but he relaxed when he glanced over at Adam and saw his older brother adjusting to the dramatic change of scenery much better. “So many people all trying to go about their business a might too fast for my tastes, Adam,” Hoss whispered, not wanting anybody nearby to hear of his awkwardness.

Adam had the benefit of being in cities like this before, a lot more than his younger brother, but upon seeing Hoss’s genuine unease, helped to deter any anxieties that his younger sibling had. “Just think of it as being Virginia City on Flap Jack Contest Day.”

Hoss exchanged a dubious look with his brother, and tried to do just that, but the loud shouting of a nearby teamster as yet another wagon pulled up close to the street curb, took away any such similarity. The mention of food though soon had his stomach loudly reminding him that it had been many hours since any of them had eaten.

The chance of any further conversation was over-shadowed by the sight of a Taxi-Driver pulling up behind the wagon team, but coming in at too fast a pace, causing the horses hitched to the wagon to become restless and jerk at the reins.

“What in tarnation!” the man was heard to shout in frustration at the careless disregard for the safety of passengers and animals alike.

The team driver quickly had to pull sharply on the reins to bring the team under control and calm down the nervous horses. The expression on his face was a grim one as he handed the reins of the now settled team to the man who had been seated beside him.

“I am going to give that fellow a good talkin too,” they heard the driver say as he let go of the leather.

“Don’t go causing any trouble, Pete,” the other man urged in warning, but the driver ignored anything said and walked accusingly up to the Taxi Carriage.

“What just do you think you are doing?” the driver spewed angrily at the Taxi Driver, as the passenger disembarking from his buggy, ran through the crowd towards the entrance, muttering about being late and missing his next train.

The sudden raise of voices made many of the people standing nearby stop and stare to see what was going on.

“I was doing my job. You and your wagons have no business being here delivering goods to the main platform in the same place where passengers are getting on and off,” the driver yelled in returned, jumping down from his carriage, and ready to enforce the rules by physical force if the wagon driver needed some more reminding. His thick Irish baroque accent made it more difficult to convey his angry tirade.

“We have just as much right as you,” the teamster driver demanded, though the confidence of his voice faltered a little, and the dropping of his eyes away from the intense gaze of the other man, signalling that perhaps Pete knew what was being said to be true. “You were coming in way to fast and spooked my team!”

“I will more than spook your team, I should be boxing your ears some,” the Taxi-Driver threatened, taking up a boxing stance and putting back the sleeves of his shirt and raising his fists.

A few gasps could be heard coming from the gathered crowd as it was clear that the argue was quickly going to degrade into a physical fight between the two men. The teamster driver backing down none and preparing to give a licking in turn to the Taxi-Driver.

One man was shouting to find one of the local police constables, but none could be seen anywhere near the Railway Station. A few other men seemed quite pleased to see two men taking a more primal approach to sorting out their differences of opinion.

With little warning, the first punch came from the teamster driver, landing squarely on the Taxi-Driver’s shoulder and setting him off balance for a moment. He growled in return and quickly gained firm footing before swinging a meaty arm at the Irish dog. Whilst his arm had strength behind it, his built up emotions caused his aim to go awry and miss the other man by a good inch and a half.

A smirk from the Pete, the wagon driver was short lived as the Taxi-Driver swung again, this time making contact just above the hit. He let out a surprised gasp of air, both hands falling to the struck area. The Taxi-Driver used this to his advantage, grabbing the other man around his middle and toppling them both awkwardly to the ground.

Pete used one of his feet to lunge out at the Taxi-Driver, and was rewarded with a startled yelp as he made painful contact with his opponent’s lower leg.

The crowd surrounding the warring parties began to swell in number, with Ben and his boys finding themselves standing amidst a large group and being jostled about as spectators tried to gain a better vantage point closer to the scuffle.

With both men now faltering on the ground, on one occasion, Ben found himself losing his own balance momentarily, and almost finding himself sprawled on the ground, except for Adam standing directly behind his father and able to use a supporting arm to prevent an embarrassing fall. “Thank you, Adam,” Ben said in gratitude, dusting down his waistcoat.

Hoss had seen his father’s stumble, and now pulled the brim of his hat down firmly, glaring at the two men. Adam had seen the indignation on Hoss’s face, wanting to prevent the fight escalating, “I don’t think we should…,” but his sentence was left unfinished as he watched on with a hidden mixture of pride and admiration.

“Alright, I think you two have just about done enough,” Hoss hollered, grabbing the Taxi-Driver by the scruff of the neck and holding him in place, whilst he grabbed a fist full of Pete’s black hair. “Stand still now,” he warned with a yank and a shake of the pair.

Pete’s hands both came up automatically and as he tried to extradite his locks from the stranger’s hand pulling on it, “Yeow, that hurts. Let go!”

“Hey, I wasn’t finished punching him in the nose yet,” the Taxi-Driver implored, irked that he was being manhandled. “Who ask you to step in, cow-poke?”

The crowd around who had been boisterous a few minutes before, now quietened and turned to look at the large man who had stepped in to stop the fight. Hoss felt the weight of everyone’s stares and swallowed a little as he tried to search for the words to explain himself. A couple of them nodding in agreement with the Taxi-Driver’s question.

“If you two gentlemen are fixing to finish this, then do it somewhere else,” Hoss emphasised, making both of them look at him and then each other.

“Alright, Alright, everyone out of my way. Why are all of you people blocking this area now?” a voice called out and then a whistle blew shrilly and loudly.

A long thin policeman weaved this way through the onlookers and bystanders, getting ready to blow on his whistle again.

“Naw, nothing going on here,” Peter shuffled with his feet, wrenching his hair free and rubbing at the spot, now missing more than a few hairs no doubt, he thought to himself.

But he wasn’t about to draw the law into the problem, surrendering whatever ground he had made on behalf of all the wagon drivers and teamsters.

Despite their argument, the Taxi-Driver appeared to be in complete agreement on this particular point, and wanted to avoid any interference from the police just as much.

“No problems officer, just unloading my wagon,” Pete said as he scurried to the back of his covered wagon and began unloading the boxes and barrels from inside. By starting to unload, he made it clear that he wasn’t about to move his wagon until it was completely empty to everyone, including the Taxi-Driver.

“No idea what you mean, officer, these good people were just flagging me down for my next fare,” the man said cheekily, now taking a hold of Hoss’s collar and trying to drag him closer to his own vehicle.

The crowd had thinned out fairly quickly and the bystanders and witnesses to the fight were now walking away down the street, and deliberately making themselves scarce from any further involvement.

The police officer looking at both men and the Cartwright’s suspiciously and was about to take down more information from all of them, when a woman could be heard calling out to him. Ben and his boys had to keep from laughing when they turned and saw what the young constable was about to become embroiled in.

“Officer, Officer, I demand you act immediately,” came the announcement from none other than Mrs Hopkins from the train. “I will not idly stand by and let this atrocity go unpunished. You must come with me now!”

Hoss tipped his hat as a sign of sympathy at the officer’s puzzled expression. “Almost doesn’t seem fair,” he whispered quietly to Adam as the brothers shared a knowing smile with their father about the long story that he would soon endure.

“Come on now, hurry and all, cannot keep a busy driver like myself waiting you know,” the Taxi demanded, trying to draw attention away from all that had happened as much as possible.

“How do you know we even want a Taxi?” Ben asked, noticing the man’s accent, but not liking the distracted and casual attitude that oozed from him.

“You folks are from out of town I can see, stands to reason you have places to go. I shall get you there. I take all the passengers from the trains I do, so don’t let anybody else tell you differently. I notice everything that goes on around here I do.”

“Notice everything, do you?” Ben parroted back, looking back at Adam and seeing the same questions going unanswered.

“You see all the passengers who come out of here?” Adam asked.

“Most of them, yeah. So what of it?” the driver shrugged his shoulders, knowing that there were times that he arrived late, but now wanting to openly admit it to his possible next fare.

“I haven’t got all day to stand about here, answering your questions I already told you I knew.” The man paused briefly after that statement, thinking that it ma not have come out sounding quite right.

“You can have a fare, and I will even pay you a handsome tip, in turn for some information,” Ben promised.

The man’s eyes lit up at the mention of money, but he urged on the side of caution, “What sort of information are you needing?”

Ben hesitated for a moment, trying to gauge just how much to tell the man about their travels and troubles. “Can you tell me if you saw a young man come out of this station a few days ago? He might have been wearing a green jacket, Ben prodded with vital clues that might help identify Joe’s presence.

Now that the driver had to recall specific people, and despite his grandeur of how much business he had, he found himself concentrating and trying to remember faces or attire.

“There has been so many…,” the man started to say when his expression changed to one of triumph, “Oh you mean those folks that were in too much of a hurry?”

“Too much of a hurry?” Adam questioned, pleased that they might be closer to finding Joe, and noting the sheer relief reflecting on his father’s face at the man’s exuberant response.

“Yes, a few days ago, three or four, I cannot be sure, but there was this young woman, with blond hair, pretty little thing,” he started to explain. The Taxi-Driver almost stopped when he saw the express on Ben’s face change to one of missed chance.

“But with her, there were three other man and this one younger lad they were taking with them. He had on a hat of some description, but it was pulled down too low over his forehead, and I can’t be sure if he was wearing a green jacket or not.”

“It could be Joe,” Ben exclaimed, but knew that the could have been any number of young men arriving at the railway station with a hat.

Adam appeared to have the same unspoken question as his father, “Where did you take them, and why do you remember him in particular?”

“Did you hear any names?” Hoss chimed in.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute. I don’t remember much like I told you,” the man answered truthfully, seeing that these men were desperate for information.

“The reason I remember is that the young fellow looked sick and I told them that I wasn’t taking any chance in case he was catching or something. Can’t be too careful these days,” the man added contritely when he admitted how selective he could be of his potential customers.

Adam prodded a little more, confident that a stroke of luck had come their way, “Could he have been injured instead of sick?”

“Could be, I suppose. I didn’t get a real good look at him. Like I said, the hat was pulled down too much, but what I did see of him, he was a might pale and sleeping,” the driver filled in the events after leaving the station with Seline.

“They wanted to go as fast as possible, down to the coast and didn’t want me to stop for anything. That young fellow never woke the whole time, although the young woman seemed a might fussy about him and whispering about needing a doctor. But I don’t listen in on conversations like that.”

“I am sure that you don’t,” Ben replied, shaking the man’s hand but thankful that the man had done just the opposite. “You have helped more than you know,” he added, hope at finding Joe soon once again rekindled and giving him determination to press on.

“But wait, you still owe me a fair and that tip you promised.”

Adam handed over 5 coins to the driver, who briefly looked at them in disgust, knowing that he had not really earned a fair at all, since the people hadn’t even gotten into the Taxi. Grumbling, the man turned and continued to voice a complaint as he walked away from the Cartwright’s, uttering something about not picking up cowboys as passengers in the future.

“Hoss, find a livery stable and see about getting us some horses for a few days,” Ben instructed.

“Adam go with him, but then we need accommodation for us and Joe when we find him. Make it a suite that is large enough for us all. Put everything in my name, I will sort out the bill a little later.”

“What are you going to be doing, Pa?” Hoss asked, not wanting to come outright and admit his apprehension of three of them splitting up in a large city.

“I want to go and check on a place, there is a little tavern on the coast called the ‘Captain’s Nest’,” Ben replied, deliberately avoiding any forthcoming information where he was headed. “I will meet you there in two hours and we can put our heads together and decide what our next move is.”

Despite Seline’s instructions about Edwards and Yeager keeping watch on the room where Joe was sleeping, the two men wandered back towards the gambling lounge of the paddle boat, and starting a round of poker.

A little sharing of the boss’s liquid refreshments, and all thoughts of the young man who they were supposed to be watching fled.

Seline had returned to his own cabin, attending to ‘important matters’ and asked that he not be disturbed for several hours unless absolutely necessary.

Bonnie could be found in the kitchen preparing lunch for all those on-board, taking into account that the young man may not be wanting anything substantial due to his headaches. But if his body was to start healing properly, then the first step needed to be regular good food.

The small galley kitchen and Seline’s cabin were situated on the other side of the paddle-boat, some distance from being from the other sleeping quarters.

Back in the room where Joe was laying, his sleep was beginning to become very restless.

His legs tangling in the bedclothes and his temperature rising with fever. But it was pain that caused Joe to wake and refused to allow him to rest, despite the aid of the sedative in his system. He shifted and groaned as the pain began to grow from different parts of his body, his ribs, back and head.

Joe winced out loud as he willed his body to stop fighting against him and leave him alone. Nausea plagued his stomach, but he swallowed the feeling as the insidious tendrils of pain began to merge together.

With little warning, Joe sat up abruptly in the bed, his head exploding with a fresh onslaught of stabbing pain. He gasped out loud, feeling disoriented and uncertain of his surroundings. He tried to wait for the cloud over his mind to pass, but the headache was intense and brutal.

Forcing his legs over the side of the bed only increased his dizziness, but he was determined to make his weakened body move. His memory didn’t got back far enough to remember a time when he felt well and without pain. Using a shaking hand to grab at the tangled sheets, he tried to pull himself into an awkward standing position, but only remained up for a few seconds before dizziness assailed him once more and had him sitting on the edge of the mattress.

He pulled himself upwards a second time and managed to maintain a bent-over stance still gripping the blanket with his fist. A cold shiver washed over him and his shivered as droplets of sweat ran down the the small of his back.

Who am I!’ he demanded of himself. Frustration driven by the anxiety that he couldn’t hold back and fuelled with pain that he couldn’t overcome, and an emptiness inside his mind that consumed everything else about himself.

Shuffling his feet and feeling the wooden floorboards beneath him, Joe tried to push the dizziness aside and break through the cloudiness of his amnesia.

To prevent himself from losing his balance, he stretched his arms out praying that what little strength he had in his limbs would let him reach the mirrored dresser table on the other side of the room.

Those clouds of darkness refused to answer his unspoken questions as he slowly lifted his head and gazed into the mirrored glass that silently taunted him. He scrubbed a hand down one side of his face seeking something that alluded him. He felt as though he was trapped within some dream that was sewn around him so seamlessly that he couldn’t avoid it. Nor know what was real and what was an illusion.

An empty ceramic bowl and jug were position to one side of the dresser. Using one hand to keep his balance and one to pour the water, he half filled the bowl. After setting the jug down, Joe couldn’t help but look down into the water and frown as he splashed angrily at the image of that stranger’s face before it rippled away.

Compelled to overcome the physical weakness that plagued his body, Joe used his free hand to dip into the water and bring it to his face, savouring its cool temperature. Then in complete contrast due to the confusion in his mind and the fever coursing through him, appeared for a moment to cause the water to burn and sting his face and hand. He told himself that it was all in his mind.

He coughed at the sensation feeling a strong charge of anger build up within him again, shaking his head and keeping his eyes shut tightly as he reached for a cloth to dry his face.

‘Fool!’ he screamed back at the image before him. Eyeing the stranger before him with suspicion and a scowl on his face. The glass mocking him that he was seeing his own reflection.

In his mind, the troubled young man could hear the woman’s voice gently admonishing him, ‘Don’t try so hard to remember.’

He choked, fumbling back a step. Pain. Fear. Confusion. All flooding him with vivid and potent images that he couldn’t put into context or a time frame on. The young woman who had brought him food and clothes. The man telling him about his mother. He felt like a stranger among the very people who claimed themselves to be friends and family.

Struggling with his body and the memories, a single thought struck him like a physical blow and left more questions than it answered. Perhaps the reason he didn’t remember was because it was a self-defence mechanism. That somewhere deep down, he must know that he wanted and needed to protect himself.

Maybe due to the injury he had received, the amnesia had not been a conscious act on his own part, but that his mind has decided that repression was the only good explanation for repressing who he must have been. And that he was better off not knowing who Joseph Dubious had been.

In desperation, wrapping both hands around the frame of the mirror, until he could feel his fingertips hurting and then beginning to go numb. His headache continued to throb mercilessly, intense with heat that needed to escape but had no outlet.

And then an image struck him that didn’t have any meaning. Instead of holding onto a wooden frame, he could feel his fingers curling around a hand-gun. There was nothing familiar about this place. Nothing about the faces or his surroundings and some things that made absolutely no sense at all. He wanted answers. Not questions and subterfuge.

Anger and frustration multiplied exponentially and then exploded all at once as he pushed himself away from the dresser table, and towards the door. Pure adrenaline was the only thing keeping him upright as he pulled at the door knob, struggling with it before shoving it open and stumbling into the corridor.

The long narrow walkway, offered no further clues and with no knowledge of which direction to go, Joe turned right, picking up the pace and began to run from everything. From those unfamiliar faces, the mirror, those images and mostly from himself.

Bonnie had just finished preparing lunch and heading towards the sleeping quarters, when she was astonished to see the young man trying to run down the corridor. Wiping her wet hands, she wondered how on earth he could be on his feet given the drug Seline had given to him only hours earlier.

She quickly followed him, expecting to find him sprawled on the floor within a few metres, but worried about what could have occurred for him to be on his feet when he was less than well.

In the lavishly decorated gambling room, Edwards and Yeager were about to deal out another hand of cards, when the two of them heard someone approach the room. Both had put the cards down, thinking that Seline had come in unannounced and caught them slacking off, but surprised to be met with the figure of Joseph Cartwright, running into the room, with no shoes on his feet and his shirt only partially buttoned.

There was a wild-eyed expression to his face that they didn’t immediately recognize. Yeager could see that he was unsteady on his feet, and in danger of falling to the floor at any moment.

Joe was almost at the end of his strength when his feet crossed the plush carpet, almost coming to a complete stop and bending at the waist to account for the stabbing pain in his head. Two men were seated at a table halfway across the room. They both got up, but only one started to walk towards him.

An odd ringing sound in his ears, made it impossible for Joe to understand what the man was saying, but his sense of danger was raised and he took a few evasive side-ways steps. This only increased the dizziness tenfold and new images began to assail his mind.

When looking at the man, the distinct sound he could make out was one of horses hooves. Just just one horse, but many hooves, and the smell of dust and animals in a large group. Horses… yet another piece of the puzzle that just didn’t fit.

Joe felt his anger rising once more, and even with his confusion, it seemed that it was directed specifically at the man confronting him and coming closer.

He held out his arm as though to ward off any advance from the stranger, “No!” all the time moving further away in the opposite direction.

Edwards could hear the harsh, laboured breathing, but upon trying to get closer, the young man screamed, “No!” again and backed away towards the other side of the room.

At first, it was the sound of hurried feet that broke Marchant Seline’s attention from his current task. But just as he was about to ignore it as one of the men, a shout of pain mixed with anger that drew him from his cabin. It was continued raised voices that drew him to the gambling room and the scene that currently greeted him.

A dishevelled and angry Joe Cartwright standing deliberately away from everybody else, using a table to support himself.

Bonnie followed Seline into the room, dismayed, but not totally surprised at the sight before them all. The young man looked like a caged animal, gripped by fear and pain.

“Will one of you please make him stop all this nonsense,” Seline gruffly ordered.

“Can’t you see, he is scared and in pain,” Bonnie pointed out. “He shouldn’t even be awake,” purposefully reminding him of his deception.

Seline was about to deliver a stern word of warning at her forthrightness, when he paused and took heed of her words, but not before showing his displeasure at her attitude towards him. Especially in front of the other men.

“Joseph, we are here to help you,” Seline tried to soothe.

More unexplained feelings and images assaulted him without warning, and they were different again. A sharp pain from a needle and hurtful words being delivered by a voice with a flat neutral tone. To Joe, a knot of warning began to ball in his stomach, he just couldn’t put his finger on the reason.

When Edwards and Yeager both took a step towards Joe at the same time, instead of pulling away from them, he took a forceful stride forward, pointing an accusing finger at them both, “You were hired by me!”

The sudden outburst leaving him leaning heavily against the table for support once more. He had no idea why he needed to yell that to either of them or what sparked him to feel such animosity towards either man.

The statement had a totally different effect on Edwards and Yeager though, with both of them stopping and exchanging a knowing glance with each other.

Looking over at Seline, they could see that he didn’t know what the young man had shouted out for.

With four people in the room apart from himself, Joe looked back and forth between them all, trying to remember what he knew about each. But despite the brief flashes and images, it was what he didn’t know that stood out in stark contrast.

Joe voiced his barrage of accusations towards all of them, but kept his gaze fixated on the one person who had been taking care of him, Bonnie.

“All of you keep telling me who I am. But I have nothing to base any of that one. I can’t remember any of the things you say that I have done. I don’t know what or who to believe any more.”

“Joe, let us help you,” Bonnie answered softly, seeing the distress in his body and etched on his face.

“You might remember, but I don’t!”

With the last word being emphasised, Joe’s legs would no longer hold him up and he folded into a unceremonious heap to the carpeted floor.

Somewhere in the background he could faintly hear a soft soothing voice talking to him, but could not make out the words. He was too tired, and the pain too great to try and fight his way back up.

This small fleeting amount of comfort began to soak deep into his bones. The soft tones continued but he didn’t try and listen to the words. Only moments ago, he had been praying for a touch or smell, a reaction that would help him remember his life as Joseph Dubois.

Joe surrendered to the soothing silence and blackness that now engulfed his body and mind. The blackness took him away from the images and his pain and cradled him gently in its grasp. All thoughts fled as he lost himself in a haze of nothingness.

Bonnie bent down and gently ran her fingers along he head and neck, detecting the heat and fever still present. Sighing, she looked down into his face and saw that his eyes were closed and his features lax with unconsciousness.

Seline interrupted the silence, “What was all that about?”

Somehow he was thinking that the young man was carrying out some contrived, over-dramatic and elaborate charade.

Bonnie wasn’t about to coddle him into any false sense of accomplishment, “I think we just saw his first few memories of being Joseph Cartwright.”

Marchant Seline’s narrowed his eyes with a piercing gaze levelled at Bonnie, and then his unsuspecting and reluctant prisoner. His carefully set out plans against Ben Cartwright were quickly becoming tangled if not unravelled.

To be continued……….

Author Notes: The distances and places are totally made up as are the various modes of transportation, so please just believe them as they are for the sake of the story.

DUBOIS is the name I have used for Marie’s maiden name. I believe this may not be entirely correct, but now I had used it once, I will have to stick with that for the remainder of the story. It does play a significant part in the story as you will see later.

There are still little clues all the time for future things that will happen or things that have already happened that will be left for Ben and the others further down the storyline.

I don’t want to update for the sake of updating. I want the story to flow well and for readers to be able to follow it with some logic and enjoy reading it.

Please let me know what you think so far.

Thanks for reading