Ben let his horse wander through the trees at its own speed. He was home, after all, after two long weeks of negotiating and banquets and meeting people who might turn out useful to know for the Ponderosa. Now, he just let his mind wander, enjoying the sun warming his skin and the fragrance of the pine trees all around him.


Suddenly a scream pierced his ears, a scream so high-pitched that it made the hair on his body stand on end. He shivered. Wild-eyed he looked around, trying to locate the direction, when he heard it again. And this time he was sure. It was definitely a woman screaming.


He urged the horse on. The sounds had been coming from the stream, not too far off and he just hoped he got there in time before –whatever it was- happened. Fear made him grip the reins tightly, and, as if Buck had gauged his mood, he, too, rushed through the bushes and undergrowth at high speed.


Then Ben heard it. Male voices, low like rumbling stones underwater, were coming directly from the direction where he suspected the woman. His heart leaped, and he angrily kicked Buck forward. Damn it. He had thought that at least on Ponderosa land one might be safe – at least a bit safer than anywhere else. Now he knew he was wrong.


When he approached the river, he drew his weapon. Whoever was behind the bushes trying to rape the woman wouldn’t take too kindly to any kind of interference. Slowly and careful not to make a sound, he went forward.


Just when he was about to jump forward, it happened. And it happened all at once. The bushes parted, leaves were torn from the twigs as the woman ran through. She didn’t look left or right, just ran, trying to hold up her clothes with one hand while other wildly shoved aside whatever got in her way.


Ben took a deep breath, and then he plunged through the undergrowth, gun drawn.


It was seconds until he realised what –or whom- he was staring at.


Standing in front of him were his sons, stark naked, holding their hats where they weren’t supposed to be.


For a moment he just stared, gun forgotten in his hand.


Then Adam cleared his throat.


“Hi Pa”, he said. “Fancy a bath?”




The end