The Medicine Man by Lyn Robinson
Hoss had a large timber crew out at the end of the new flumes. Working out on the range, a long way from town he had formed the habit of splitting the crew into two and sending half to town every Friday for the weekend. He had done it as usual the weekend after Will and Laura left and had sent a couple of extra men along as they had collected minor injuries during the week and he wanted Doc to check them over. Others had gone along to collect stores and there were only eighteen men left at the camp, including Hoss himself. Not that Hoss was worried, it was still a sizeable force and he wasn’t anticipating any trouble. He hadn’t forgotten the warning about Indian trouble and had ensured that noone strayed too far afield alone, but they hadn’t seen any sign of Indians and he was inclined to put it down as a false alarm.
Since his gang was depleted Hoss left most of the men at the camp hauling
in the cut timber from the area close by, where they had been working all
week and sending it down the flume. He took five men with him to clear trail
and mark up in detail for the following week’s work. It was his regular
routine and he was more concerned with the lie of the land, the awkward
gullies to be bypassed and scrub needing to be cut back, than he was with
any thought of trouble. They were about a mile and a half from the camp
when Hoss got the feeling that something was wrong, reinforced when Chub
whinnied softly, just as aware of strangers as his master. Hoss signed the
other men to stop and keep quiet and he studied the surrounding area. Everything
was too quiet, not a bird singing, nothing; for a moment Hoss wondered if
he was being a fool panicking over nothing. Then the instinct, which warned
him of danger, became just too strong to be ignored and he decided it was
better to be safe than sorry. Noone would be better pleased if he did prove
to be over reacting but for now he considered his options. He didn’t know
the area nearly as well as some parts of the Ponderosa, but having spent
time there with Joe in the spring he knew it well enough. Ahead there was
a narrow entrance to a broad canyon, a perfect spot for an ambush but equally
behind them was another ambush spot and without knowing why, Hoss was sure
that was already blocked. To the right was rough swampy ground, no place
to make a stand and if they were heavily outnumbered it could prove fatal.
Hoss made up his mind and led the way to the left, pushing through thick
timber and up into a small canyon. The sides of the canyon were steep and
Hoss knew it was a trap, but it was defendable and he relied on help coming.
At first the men with him didn’t understand but then as the Indians realised that their prey wasn’t walking into the trap, they broke cover and with loud war whoops sent a volley of arrows after the six men. Hoss held back to cover his mean and as they broke through into the canyon, he yelled at them to take position on either side. He got under cover himself just in time as with a better view and less trees the Indians could aim more accurately. Two horses were already down and the others, apart from Chub, were fear crazed and had raced to the far end of the canyon. Hoss called Chub into cover behind him and the big black gelding stood trembling slightly, an arrow sticking out of his saddle.
One man had been hit, an arrow through the top of his left arm and Hoss dealt with it as best he could. He pushed the arrow through and managed to get a rough bandage on, it was through the muscle and hadn’t touched the bone, but even so it was a nasty wound. The men were close to panic, they were lumberjacks, not Indian fighters and none of them had faced Indians before. They would have run but there was nowhere to run to and Hoss, recognising the panic, gave each man specific tasks to do to strengthen their defences, sure that they would be better with something to do. Then Hoss sat back and tried to see just what he had got himself into. There wasn’t much room for manoeuvre, he could hope to hold them off from where he was for a while, but in time they would get men up on the canyon rim. Then the only tenable position was a small overhang cave near the far end of the canyon. Hoss knew that he couldn’t get the horses into the cave and it would end up being a trap, probably a grave for the men, only defendable as long as the ammunition lasted. It was just possible that they could sneak away on foot in the dark, but Hoss knew that sunset was a long way off and even in the dark the Indians would be waiting. Whatever happened there was no way he could hope to get away on horseback, he couldn’t leave any of the men and already three horses were gone. Hoss had already realised that their best chance was someone coming to their rescue, he’d come to that conclusion before leading the men into this trap. The twelve men left at camp were very much like the ones with him, brave enough if led but not Indian fighters. Hoss knew that he needed his brothers to pull him out, not realising that they were already on their way and aware how far it was to the house, he decided it was worth a try. Hoss hastily scribbled a note outlining his situation and then tied it to Chub’s saddle and told the horse to go home. At first Chubby whinnied uneasily but it was well trained and when Hoss repeated the order the black gelding began trotting down the canyon. An arrow changed the trot to a gallop but unlike the others it didn’t stop at the far end and began climbing the steep slope. The Indians could see that it was riderless and paid it little attention once it was out of range. Hoss watched tensely as his horse made the rim; it neighed once and then set off at a lope in the direction of the house. It was very little but all that Hoss could do, now they had to hang on long enough for rescue to reach them or else make it so expensive that the Indians gave up. At least with rumours of trouble every man was carrying extra ammunition. Hoss sent the injured man and one other back to the cave, with orders to collect the canteens and rifles from the horses which had fled and get them into the cave. When necessary he hoped the pair would be able to help give them covering fire when they too were driven to retreat back to the cave. So far the Indians had made no real attack, they too were exploring the lie of the land and only desultory shots had been fired.
Rumour had been right about one thing, more than one tribe was involved. Hoss had seen Apache, both Chiricahua and Mimbreno; Kiowa; Shoshone and Bannock as well as a few arrows that he didn’t know and one that looked like Paiute, although he hoped he was wrong. Hoss had no idea of numbers but whatever had roused them up he was sure that it was nothing he, or the men with him, had done. He was just the unfortunate nearest target and there was little he could do but wait for help and pray that he’d still be alive by the time his brothers came to rescue him, never doubting that they would.
Back at the main camp the shooting had been heard and the men had gathered
nervously together. Hoss was out working and Johnny had gone to town so
there was noone to lead them. Eventually a tall strong Swede Sven Christiansund,
who had worked for the Cartwrights for nearly ten years, took charge. He
had been very well treated by all the Cartwrights and, several years ago,
Hoss had got between him and a cougar, when he was too scared to move. Hoss
had killed the animal and shrugged off any thanks but Sven hadn’t forgotten.
Now Hoss was almost certainly in trouble and he reminded the men of the
many things they had to thank their boss for. The reason so many of them
kept returning to work for the Cartwrights, whose attitude was so different
from most logging bosses, even if they did have weird ideas about planting
trees, as well as cutting them down. Now Hoss needed their help, were they
going to sit back and do nothing? Hoss had always been popular with the
men and many of them could remember small acts of kindness, odd help that
most bosses didn’t bother to give, long forgotten by Hoss but they remembered.
Slowly the men began collecting guns and ammunition and mounting up they
rode out, keeping very close together, wanting to help but not really knowing
how. Out of their depth, not one of the men really knew anything about Indians
and none of them had had to fight Indians before, the only ones they knew
were friendly and worked along side them on the ranch.
They were lucky, although they rode straight into trouble; the Indians were busy watching for a break from the opposite direction. The Indians were almost as surprised to see the lumberjacks as they were to see the Indians. Both sides took cover and there was a lot of firing for a few minutes. The Indians were all using arrows and the lumberjacks found the silent weapons terrifying. Three of them were hit, luckily none of them were seriously hurt but it was enough and the men fell back on the timber camp, still not sure where Hoss and the others had got to.
Scared and confused the men fell back to the comforting familiarity of their camp and did what they could for the wounded. They had been back for about half an hour when Adam and Joe rode in. They had headed out early and made good time, both slightly on edge and worried about Hoss, even if neither of them would say anything. Once Adam thought he heard gunfire but it wasn’t until they were nearly at the camp that both brothers heard very distinct shots. This time there was no possible doubt and automatically both of them loosened their guns. Joe bit his lip “Looks as though a warning is a bit unnecessary.”
Adam led the way forward rather more slowly, very alert for trouble although the shooting was still some way ahead. In ten more minutes the brothers rode into the camp. They were immediately surrounded by the relieved lumberjacks, so glad to see someone to take control that they were all talking at once. Adam had to shout at them for silence. Then he picked out Sven and asked him what had happened. Sven didn’t really know but he was able to tell Adam where Hoss had gone, how many men were with him and the Indians they had contacted. Adam looked round, “Where are Johnny and the rest of the men?”
“Gone to town. Mr Hoss he gives us a long weekend every fortnight.”
“Of course. I’d forgotten.” Adam finally dismounted and joined Joe who poured out two coffees.
“What do we do Adam?”
“Send for reinforcements for a start. We don’t know what we have to deal with.” Adam went over to two of the wounded men. Neither was seriously hurt and assured Adam that they could still ride fast so he told them to head back to the main house. They were to send everyone there out to help and get Kirk to go and tell José to send help too. Adam assured then that the trail was clear, he and Joe hadn’t seen any trouble. They set off immediately, promising to make good time, glad to be able to get away from the Indians but determined to get help back to their friends. Both were men that Adam knew and he was sure that he could rely on them. The third injured man had a wound in his leg and Adam told him to rest for now, he would stay with them they wouldn’t be riding fast.
Once the two men were on their way, he returned to Joe and together they sketched a quick map of the immediate area. Sven was able to show them where he had come against the Indians and where Hoss had been intending to work that day. Joe knew the area rather better than Adam and he filled his brother in on the terrain. Adam frowned as he took in what he’d been told. Joe fell back onto the habit of a lifetime and looked at his eldest brother as though he had all the answers, a way to get the big man, who meant so much to both of them, safely back to the house. When Adam didn’t say anything Joe pushed “What do you think he’ll have done?”
Adam bit his lip “I’m not sure Joe. It depends how far they’d got before Hoss realised something was wrong. He won’t have gone into the swamp, not with five men. He’ll make a stand either in this small canyon or somewhere up here in the main one.” He indicated on the map where he meant, but Joe shivered scared for his big brother, “Either one will be a trap.”
“Maybe but he might be able to defend it, he knows there are men here, maybe a rescue.”
Joe looked round but he couldn’t say what he thought with the man so close. Adam could read his expression clearly and he could only agree with his brother, Hoss must have known that leaderless the men couldn’t rescue him however much they wanted to help. He sighed, “Hoss may not have had any choice little brother.”
“So what do we do? Just wait for help.” Joe was close to losing his temper, scared for Hoss.
Adam gripped his arm “Take it easy Joe, you won’t help any of them by losing control. Hoss is alright so far I’m sure of it. He couldn’t be dead or even badly hurt without us knowing.”
Joe nodded and slowly Adam felt him relax, only then did Adam suggest “We can’t do much until we find out exactly what the situation is. Looks as though that’s our job Little Joe. Leave the horses here and move forward very carefully on foot.”
“Just us I think. We know the woods and how to move quietly. Game?”
“You know I am.”
“Right.” Adam got to his feet, “The rest of you stay here, keep a close eye out and have your guns and ammunition handy at all times. Fill all the water bottles and each keep one with you. One of you pack up medical supplies, if we move in we may need them. Wait until we come back and don't get jumpy and shoot us.”
Now that someone was giving orders again the men were much calmer and promised
to do exactly what Adam wanted. Adam took two canteens, jerky and extra
ammo and seeing that Joe equipped himself similarly and then the brothers
set out. At first they made good time along the trail but after about half
a mile, Adam slipped into the woods not wanting to be seen. Joe came alongside
him and very quietly asked “Do we stick together or separate, cover more
Adam shook his head “We stick tight little brother, may need to cover our backs. We’re taking quite enough risks anyway, be foolhardy to go alone. Any way if you’re right about the lie of the land there are only two possible spots for Hoss to have made a stand and he’s done that much.” Even as Adam spoke the guns started up again as the Indians made their first real assault on the canyon. Adam listened carefully for a minute “Almost certainly that small canyon, right direction and it doesn’t sound too far away. Come on while they‘re busy.”
Both brothers were good woodsmen and could move very quietly when they
had to and now they used every trick they knew, not knowing how many Indians
were out there. Adam led the way and although at times Joe felt like yelling
at his brother to hurry, he knew that Adam was doing the only possible thing.
It wouldn’t help anyone if they put their own heads in the same noose Hoss’
Hoss was ready when the Indians attacked, he had organised the three men with him and they had built themselves a pair of barricades, out from either side of the canyon, narrowing the entrance. Hoss had split his men and had two on the far side and kept the most jittery man with him. He had given all the men strict orders, so that each man had his gun and his rifle fully loaded and spare ammunition close by to reload. He had made them see the necessity of not all emptying their guns at once so each in turn was to fire and then his partner take over while he reloaded. When the Indians attacked Hoss did the most damage but the others were all reasonable shots, however it was Hoss’ cool commands to the men, who was to fire and who to reload, which kept a steady fire and threw off the first massed assault.
Having found out that it wasn’t going to be an easy task, the Indians fell back and for the next quarter of an hour they made tentative moves, first trying to edge round the walls and then trying an attack on horseback. When the four men inflicted heavy losses especially among the horse the Indians withdrew temporarily.
Safe behind their barricades none of the men were hit and the other three were delighted to see the Indians withdraw. Hoss just reloaded his guns “That was just a trial assault, they’ll be back and it won’t be long before they start sending people up on the rim and then we’ll have to move. This is a long way from over.” The respite however short was welcome and Hoss ordered his men to eat and have a drink while they could, but he rationed the water. There was no way to know how long it would take before a rescue could be organised.
Hoss had heard the burst of firing earlier and guessed that the other timber men had come to investigate and been repulsed at the first canyon, where he had guessed that they were cut off. At first his men had been excited and then furious as the firing ceased and nothing happened. Hoss did his best to reassure them, at least word would be going back to the main ranch about their predicament and by evening his brothers with up to 200 men could be there. Hoss wasn’t quite so sanguine knowing just how long it took to collect together any large contingent of Ponderosa hands but he wanted his brothers to know what was happening, he had great faith in their ability to find someway to help.
Hoss had no way of knowing just how close Adam and Joe were but at that moment they weren’t in a position to help anyone. As the firing ceased both brothers assumed the assault had been repulsed. The volume of gunfire had been too regular right up to the end for the assault to have succeeded. For some reason the Indians seemed to be using bows and arrows and spears only, although many would have guns. Adam guessed that the medicine man, who had roused them up, was preaching a return to the old ways, but whatever the reason he was glad of it. As Adam edged forward he saw his first Indians, two Apaches looking over towards the canyon where the fighting was going on. Adam signalled Joe and they slipped sideways into the cover of some bushes. The brothers had moved just in time as something had obviously alerted one brave and he had turned and studied the ground behind him for fully five minutes. The brothers knelt still, hardly daring to breathe, until the brave seemed to relax and turned back to the canyon. With the brave already alerted it was obviously impossible to move on and when Joe pointed sideways Adam nodded. Very, very slowly they edged their way deeper into the brush and up to the rim of the canyon, until Joe stopped dead, staring in fascinated horror. Adam moved up next to his brother and then he saw what was terrifying Joe. Below them in the first narrow canyon, where Sven and the others had hit trouble, was a large and varied crowd of Indians. Adam picked out several tribes but it was the sheer number of braves that scared him. The Indians were dotted all over the hillsides, the more important chiefs and war-leaders talking down in the canyon where most of the horses were being kept. Adam estimated that he could see maybe 200 Indians with about double that number of horses and he couldn’t even see the ones involved in the attack. Even if he could muster every man on the Ponderosa, which he knew wasn’t even vaguely possible in the time, they’d still be outnumbered two or three to one. He touched Joe’s arm and jerked his head back, with so many patrols and scouts out, they were even more vulnerable than he had expected. As they took refuge in some deep brush Adam could see the horror in his brother’s eyes. He knew it was none of it for their own less than comfortable position but all for the kind-hearted loveable big brother who was out there somewhere trapped.
Joe’s whisper was hardly louder than a breath “We can’t go back we still haven’t found him.”
Adam gripped his brother’s arm “I know. I wasn’t suggesting it, but we sure as hell can’t go through that lot.” He picked up a stick and sketched out a plan again. “Is there anything to stop us going across this mesa and down to the canyon from the top?”
Joe shrugged, “I don’t know”
“No sidecanyons apart from the one we think Hoss is in?”
“I don’t remember any but it’s so overgrown, there could be.”
“Have to take a chance on it, I don’t think we have any choice.”
“Pretty exposed up there.”
“Plenty of scrub and less Indians. Come on but keep low.” Twice more the brothers lay flat and still as they saw Indians worked their way much more openly in the same direction and they could guess that the Indians wanted to fire down into the canyon if Hoss had succeeded in holding them off at the entrance. Gradually as the cover improved they made better time and eventually got into position at the head of the canyon where trees grew right up to the edge of the rim. There had been some sporadic firing for some time as Hoss made life uncomfortable for those Indians unwary enough to show their heads over the canyon rim, leaving his men to watch the entrance and to discourage any movement there.
Adam and Joe both gave a sigh of relief as they saw their big brother at least so far apparently unharmed. Adam examined the canyon swiftly and then went to move back. Joe gripped his arm and leaning close to his brother, as there were Indians within fifty feet of them, he breathed “We can’t leave him there.”
Adam wasn’t in a position to argue and just said “We won’t but back now.”
Joe hated moving away from Hoss but even he could see that there were better places to discuss the problems and he followed Adam as he eased carefully back. When they had withdrawn about a quarter of a mile Joe stopped again “What are we going to do? Hoss can’t hold them of for long, when they get enough men on that rim, it’ll be completely untenable.”
“You and I alone on that rim wouldn’t make much difference Joe. We would be overrun in a very few minutes and without a leader the men won’t be able to do anything. Hoss knows the position as well as you and I. He’s got a fall back position, overhang, two thirds of the way along the canyon. I’d guess it’s a cave. Do you know it?”
Joe nodded slowly, “Yeah, we slept there one night when it was pouring. Single cave not very deep, narrow entrance.”
“So Hoss could defend it for sometime?”
“As long as he’s okay for ammo. I guess so, I’d forgotten.”
“Hoss hadn’t. I spotted a rifle there already, so we have a little time. Let’s skirt well west and cut back into the timber camp that way. Probably quicker in the long run.”
Joe agreed and the brothers set out for the timber camp as fast as they dared. The increase in speed was very nearly their undoing. Joe was leading when he came out into a small clearing at almost exactly the same moment as an Indian appeared from the other side. The two men were both equally surprised, but as Joe went for his gun he hesitated knowing a shot could bring many more Indians. Before he could do anything the Indian threw his spear. Joe tried to throw himself out of the way but felt the spear hit him. Adam barely had time to feel fear for his brother before he was moving and as the Indian let go of the spear Adam took three strides across the clearing and was on the Indian almost before the brave was aware more than one white man was there. Adam grabbed the Indian round the throat not daring to risk him calling for help and the Indian pulled out a knife. Adam didn’t dare to let go of his throat and squirmed sideways trying to get away from the knife. Joe could only lie still and watch the two men struggling almost in slow motion, he saw blood but he couldn’t be sure whose. It seemed to last forever to Joe although it couldn’t have been much over a minute. Adam had his work cut out, the Indian was smaller but strong and agile and he was armed, while Adam not only had to win but he had to stop the brave making any noise. Adam was actually relieved when the Indian committed himself to a stab with the knife, he felt it catch in his side but knew it wasn’t a dangerous wound. While the man was intent on that Adam was able to get the right pressure and he both felt and heard the man’s neck break and the body went limp under him. For a few seconds Adam could only kneel and try to get his breath back. Then he pulled the knife out of his side, It had sliced through between two ribs, banging hard against one, but all Adam cared about for now was stopping the blood. He pulled off his bandanna and padded it against the wound pulling his shirt tight across it and hoped that it would clot. Then he half crawled and half scrambled over to his brother who was still lying where he had fallen. The spear had caught Joe in the calf and pinioned him to the ground. Adam took one look and gripped Joe’s hand for a moment knowing he was going to hurt his brother but he had no choice. Adam concentrated on what he had to do, relying on his brother to somehow keep quiet, He broke the spear feeling Joe shudder as the pain flared through his body and then Adam dug carefully around with the Indian’s knife to free the end of the spear from the ground. Once he had done that he was able to move Joe’s leg, get hold of the spear and pull it through. Joe bit his lip and shut his eyes, concentrating all his will power on not making a sound as his brother’s movements seemed to tear his leg apart. Adam hastily took off Joe’s neckerchief and using the knife slashed off some of his shirt and made a rough bandage. That done Adam picked up his brother and without a word settled into a swift walk, desperate to put some distance between them and the dead Indian. Every step seemed to tear at his side and before they’d gone a quarter of a mile he felt the blood running again. He pushed on a little further and then stopped in some thick scrub. They’d been crossing hard rock and he was fairly confident that they hadn't left a trail and so far there was no sound of the alarm being raised. There was time to rest for a few minutes and try to make more efficient bandages before they started leaving a blood trail.
As Adam put his brother down, Joe spoke for the first time since they had seen the Indian. “How bad is your side?”
“Rib stopped it going deep. Need a better bandage so does that leg. Can’t afford a blood trail.” Adam was having a job to catch his breath and for a minute both brothers just rested and had a drink of water. Then Joe pulled off his jacket and his shirt and helped Adam to do the same. He could see the cut was deep and really needed stitches but there was nothing he could do about that and just cut up Adam’s shirt and padded part of it over the sodden bandanna and bandaged the pad over the wound as tightly as he could. Adam caught his breath sharply as Joe pulled the bandage tight but as his brother looked anxiously at him Adam forced a smile “Thanks Joe that feels easier.”
Joe knew his brother was lying, but he didn’t bother saying anything, just leaning forward to look at the mess of his left calf. Adam gripped his arm “I’m so sorry I hurt you.”
“You had to get the spear out.” Joe cut up his own shirt. “Here your turn to do the honours. Tie it tight.” When that was done Adam looked round carefully “I think we’re back behind them.”
Joe sighed, “I thought that just as we ran into one! Anyway we don’t have much choice, it’s over a mile to the camp going direct and that’s quite far enough for me.”
Adam helped Joe up but when he was going to lift him Joe shook his head. “You can’t carry me that far, not with a hole in your side, I can walk. I’ve walked a lot further with a bullet in my leg and no help.”
“Not much choice. If I can’t make it I’ll hide up until you can bring Cochise, but someone still has to get Hoss out. You’re the one who said the men need a leader.”
Adam didn’t bother to argue any further and just drew Joe’s arm round his shoulders and putting his own arm round Joe’s waist he helped his brother limp on. They were still keeping in cover and leaving as little trail as they could but heading back to the timber camp. There had been several outbursts of firing and they were scared for Hoss but neither felt up to discussing it. It would still be quite a while before they could bring help and even then it was difficult to see how to be effective.
At the timber camp the men were getting jumpier by the minute, the brothers had been gone a long time and might be dead for all they knew. Noone had come near the camp yet but that didn’t mean that a horde of Indians might not appear any minute, having dealt with Hoss and his men and looking for new prey. It would still be at least two hours before they could hope for any help from the ranch. Sven argued that the brothers knew that too and would be taking their time to check out exactly what was happening, knowing that they couldn’t move in yet. For now they were safest behind the solid barricades at the camp, where help would come.
In the small canyon Hoss had managed to keep his position for much longer than he’d dared hope. It was nearly an hour after Adam and Joe left the rim before he had to accept that they couldn’t stay where they were any longer. The Indians had finally got enough braves up on the rim so that they could use one or two to draw his fire while others sent arrows down on them. It was time to retreat to the cave but he had to get the men there safely. Hoss opted to keep the steadiest of the men Jackson with him and told the other two, one from the far barricade and the one who had been backing him, to make a run for the cave. He yelled at the two already there to give covering fire, taking the far rim, while he covered the rim above the cave himself, leaving Jackson to discourage anyone coming into the canyon. At Hoss signalled the two men made a break for the cave. It wasn’t far down the canyon but it didn’t take the Indians long to realise what was happening and despite all the other four could do a hail of arrows rained down into the canyon. Brady, who had been with Hoss, put his head down and ran. He was hit in the thigh just before he reached the cave but with willing hands ready to pull him in he made it into the temporary security of the cave. The other man Merkle had come across to Hoss before making the run so that he wouldn’t have to cross the canyon, even so halfway along he hesitated and almost stopped, wanting to return to the sanctuary of the barricade where he had been safe for hours. Hoss bellowed at him to get to the cave but it was too late. The slight hesitation and the stationary target were more than enough for one Indian marksman and Merkle fell with an arrow in his chest. In plain view that arrow was quickly joined by several more as the Indians took their first victim beyond any hope.
Hoss swore impotently at everyone and everything, which had set off this latest trouble. He and his family had proved many times over that it was quite possible to live at peace with the Indians and yet to many a promise to an Indian meant nothing and the only good Indian was a dead one. It was small wonder that trouble erupted, unfortunately as usual it was the innocent who suffered. There wasn’t time to wait having tasted first blood the Indians grew more audacious and Hoss yelled to Jackson to move, that he would cover. Jackson had learnt his lesson from the dead man and he ran straight for the cave, faster than he had ever moved in his life, ignoring everything else, zigzagging as he went, to fall breathless just inside the cave but untouched. Without even waiting to get his breath back Jackson grabbed his rifle and with the other three tried to cover Hoss. Hoss was only too well aware that he would have no cover to protect him from the rim above him so he kept as close to the side of the canyon as he could to make the shot as difficult as he could. The big man moved as quickly as he dared on the rough ground and very nearly made it. To get into the cave he had to come out round some large fallen rocks and as he did so an arrow took him in the back. He was knocked flat but Jackson darted out and with his help Hoss was able to pull himself into cover. They were all in the cave, now all they could do was defend it for as long as possible and pray for rescue.
There was no time to do anything for the wounded as the cave was under attack. Hoss got Jackson to help him sit up and then all of them were busy shooting to hold off the horde of Indians who poured into the canyon. For a moment even Hoss lost all hope as he saw the sheer number of Indians, even if his brothers knew exactly what was happening which seemed unlikely, Hoss couldn’t see how they could help. This needed the army and the nearest fort was too far away. After his first flash of despair Hoss had no time to think as the Indians launched their attack on the cave. Every shot he fired sent pain flaring through his body but Hoss ignored both the pain and the red spots dancing in front of his eyes. He couldn’t focus properly but with so many Indians that didn’t matter much, it was difficult to miss. None of the men had any real idea how long the attack lasted but eventually with one last whoop the Indians withdrew, veering away en masse, carrying their dead and wounded with them, and for a moment complete quiet descended on the canyon.
“What now?” asked Jackson
Hoss stared out along the canyon “They’ve learnt we gotta new defensive position. They’ll talk about it for a bit, probably try another assault, some of those who haven’t attacked yet will talk themselves into it. We can handle it and then they’ll get down to some serious talk, no more frontal assault, least not till dark. Maybe come up with some trick to try. Main thing is we’ve bought time.”
“Time for what?” asked Brady nursing the wound in his thigh.
“My brothers will know about this by now I’m sure. Adam and Joe will come up with something.”
Brady shook his head “Look I know your brother’s real clever but its gonna take more than brains or a fast gun to dislodge that lot. Did you see how many there were?”
Hoss had no answer and changed the subject “First off let’s do what we can to get comfortable. Jackson can you get that arrow pushed through and bandaged up?”
Jackson nodded and moving over to Brady he set to work. It didn’t take long but after one scream of pain Brady passed out. Once he had done what he could and bandaged up the damaged leg, Jackson came over to Hoss. “Best let me have a look. I ain’t no expert but about now I’m the best there is.”
Hoss rested his aching head on his arm on a small ledge in the rock. “I don’t reckon you can get this one out and you sure as hell can’t push it through.”
Jackson broke the long end of the arrow off and began cutting the big man’s clothing away from the wound. The arrow had ranged downward as it hit, aimed from the rim above him and that had undoubtedly saved Hoss’ life, but it was an ugly wound. The arrow had ripped down through his shoulder muscles and was embedded deep by the left shoulder blade. Hoss knew pretty well what had happened but he asked Jackson to explain what he could see. Jackson did so and added hesitantly “It’ll need cutting out Hoss. I don’t know....”
“Probably dirty. Longer it says in the more risk of infection.”
Hoss smiled ruefully, “Right now I’d settle fer staying alive long enough fer that to be a problem. You ain’t got the proper tools and I’d lose too much blood, can’t risk it. Get a bandage round it, try and stop the bleeding. Adam can get Doc to see to it, he’s had more practise.”
“If I pad it and bandage it tight enough to stop the bleeding, its gonna press on that arrow, hurt like hell.”
“Don’t talk about it, just do it. I need my wits about me for the next few hours, can’t be flat out.” Hoss pulled off his belt and bit down on the leather as Jackson tried to do as he was bid. Hesitant unused to handling such injuries and trying to avoid hurting the big man, he cost Hoss considerably more pain than if he had just got on with the job; but Hoss bit down hard and endured. He knew that Jackson was doing his best, the only man there to show any initiative. Hoss was hard pressed to hold onto his senses and his whole body felt as though it was on fire, his left arm totally useless but at least his right arm obeyed him so he could still shoot. Finally Jackson had finished and he stood back. For a moment Hoss could only stay still and wait for the sharp bursts of agony to die down, not daring to move for the moment, nor trusting his voice. The sweat was pouring off him and he was as white as a sheet, close to shock only he didn’t realise it. By sheer will power Hoss gained control of himself and slowly the worst agony subsided slightly and Hoss raised his head “Thanks Jackson, feels better.”
Jackson couldn’t answer him but damping a cloth he wiped Hoss’ face and then gave him a drink. Slowly Hoss great strength came to his aid and he sat up and took stock. He had four men left, two of whom, like himself, were wounded. They had water although not much food and a reasonable supply of ammunition. He got Jackson to check that all the guns were loaded and ready and then stared out along the canyon. For a moment there was not an Indian in sight but Hoss knew full well that if any of them put a foot outside the cave they would be showered with arrows. He had tried to be cheerful for the men but he couldn’t really imagine how his brothers could help and he was scared that they would lose their lives in heir inevitable attempt to save him. For the moment all he could do was to wait and pray.
If Hoss was worried about his brothers they were equally worried about him or at least Adam was. Joe had little time to think about anything except making the next step. At first knowing that Adam was hurt too he had done his best not to lean too heavily on his brother, but gradually weakened with pain and the effort of walking he couldn’t help it. Twice Adam tried to persuade Joe to be carried but although Joe was rapidly slipping into a world where the only real thing was pain, he was still sufficiently in control to refuse that. Although they hadn’t seen anymore Indians since the one he’d had to kill Adam wasn’t leaving Joe yet. It would take him too long to get back with Cochise and if the body had been found there would be men on their trail. Joe wasn’t even thinking about Indians, his useless left leg trailed between them and despite Adam’s efforts to support his brother every few steps Joe’s leg caught on a rock or the rough ground and the pain slashed through his body. Joe was all too aware of the pain but equally aware of the need to keep quiet and somehow he bit back the moans. Adam could feel his brother’s pain as sometimes Joe unknowingly gripped his brother’s shoulder very tight for a moment until the pain eased.
It seemed to take forever to cover the distance to the timber camp but after about an hour, Adam had changed course and he was able to watch their back trail. After ten minutes with no sign of anything, he stopped by a large bush. “Far enough Little Joe. You rest behind this, keep your gun out and ready. I’ll be back in less than ten minutes with Cochise.”
Joe licked his lips “I’ll be .... okay.”
“Sure you will little brother but I think you’ve walked far enough. No
sign of anyone following but try and stay alert.”
Joe nodded “Sure” and he let his breath out in a long sigh as Adam helped him to sit down and he could take the weight off his injured leg. Adam gently ruffled his hair “I’ll be as quick as I can.”
Joe forced a smile and then watched worriedly as Adam broke into a run as he headed back for the camp. Adam ignored the stabbing pain with each stride and settled into a steady lope, heading straight for the timber camp. He was determined to at least get one brother back to the limited safety of the camp. His arrival at the cap a few minutes later caused utter consternation, Adam hadn’t realised how he looked the remnants of his shirt bloodstained round his ribs, white and drawn with pain and worry and even worse on his own. He didn’t spare time for explanations just tightening the girths and then swinging onto Blackie, “Be back in a few minutes got to fetch Joe.”
Then he was on his way again. He had only just left the camp when he heard a single shot ring out from the direction where he had left Joe. It sounded alarmingly loud with nothing else happening at the moment and Adam pushed Blackie on at an almost suicidal pace over the rough ground. It only took him a couple of minutes to reach his brother, but scared for Joe it seemed an eternity. Adam dismounted as he reached the bush, there was no sign of any Indians but he had his gun out ready, leaving the horses with the order to stand, Adam ran round the bush. Joe was still sitting where Adam had left him but Joe had his gun out and was sitting up tensely looking around, with a dead Indian just beyond him. Joe was looking round scared more Indians would appear and he was very glad to see his brother. The dead Indian had a knife in his hand and Adam quickly checked to see if he was really dead, although more than half his attention was on his brother, scanning Joe scared he had been injured again. Joe swallowed hard “I had no choice Adam.”
“No, what I feared, someone following our trail. Seems to have been alone but let’s get out of here.” Adam lent down and picked up his brother, ignoring both Joe’s protests and the pain in his side. He moved round to the horses and with a muttered apology helped his brother onto Cochise. Joe bit his lip and gripped hold of the saddle horn as his injured leg knocked against his pinto’s side, but by the time Adam had swung up on Blackie, Joe had straightened up and picked up his reins. Adam glanced round but there was no sign of any further threat for now and he tried to reassure his brother “Not far Joe.”
“Don’t worry about me, I can make it.”
Adam nodded and keeping close to Joe headed back to the lumber camp, wondering
what he could do to help Hoss, In his absence to fetch Joe help had arrived,
more than Adam could have expected in his wildest dreams. When the brothers
rode in, Adam instinctively drew his gun, wondering what the hell was going
on, with people and horses milling around. Then recognising Jess and José
standing over with Sven, Adam thrust his gun back in the holster and grinned
at his brother, “Looks like the cavalry had arrived although God knows how
José got here so fast.”
The brothers had been noticed and were surrounded but as the men pushed too close, Adam ordered "Take it easy, let us through.”
José came forward and pushed people away, allowing Adam room to
dismount and then between them they lifted Joe down. Jess fetched some brandy
and passed it to Adam. “What the hell’s happened Adam? How bad are you two
Adam took the brandy and gratefully took a swig, before passing the bottle to Joe, “Here, it’ll help a bit.”
Joe was just glad to sit still for a moment but Adam pulled himself together, aware that both Joe’s leg and his own side were bleeding again. “Jess get a medical pack. José, how did you get here so fast? I was hoping Jess might be here soon but there can’t have been that many at the house.”
José explained “We found Hoss’ horse, running loose and he’d tied a message on the saddle, explaining where he was and why. Pure luck one of my vaquero’s saw it, brought it in, I’ve left two men with the herd, just to watch and report if anything happens, everyone else is here. We came by the sawmill and Jack Catfish has brought all but one of his gang. I sent word to Jess but from what he said the two guys from here had already reached him.”
Jess rejoined them and he nodded “I sent Brodie into town to warn them, then sent off messages to José and Jack. The two wounded men and Kirk both moved over to join Pio at your house Adam. It left the main house unguarded but I thought Carole and the kids were more important.”
“Thanks Jess you were right, I shouldn’t think one man could do much good anyway, How many are there?”
“Just over a hundred we reckoned, too many in town, it is Saturday.”
“Far more than I expected José.” Adam looked round recognising most of the men, all well armed and many of them more likely to show initiative than the lumber gang. For the first time he felt hope that he might be able to pull his brother out. “Okay for a start let’s see how good you two are at doctoring. José will you get a fresh bandage on Joe’s leg, he got a spear through it. Jess will you give me a hand.”
While the two men worked, disinfecting the wounds and re-bandaging the
wounds, Adam explained in a low voice just how big a problem they had. He
didn’t want panic spreading through the men and for now kept the details
to his two close friends. Sven dug up a couple of clean shirts and Adam
slipped one on an then straightened up, his side did feel easier even though
the alcohol used to clean it had brought tears of pain to his eyes. Joe
hadn’t been able to hold back a moan as José cleaned his leg. He
was lying back, eyes closed, virtually unconscious, hearing the others talking
as though from a long way away, none of the words making any sense.
Adam stared down at him for a moment, not knowing how best to get Joe home to safety, unsure Joe could ride even with his leg heavily padded and bandaged. Still it was all they could do for now and he warned José to pad it well.
Then seeing Jack Catfish Adam went over to join him and speaking very quietly said, “Jack There’s no need for any of you to get involved in this. There are a lot more men available than I expected, I’m sorry to say that there are some Paiutes amongst the gathering of tribes.”
“Mixed tribes, Apaches, Shoshone, Bannock, Kiowa, even I think Comanche and a few I didn’t know.”
Adam shook his head “I don’t know Jack. Many. Several hundred at least, all braves, no squaws or children. Biggest war party I have ever seen.”
“We stay. Mixed tribes, some false God. We have seen it before. In this it is not Paiute against white man, it is an army against the Ponderosa. We have good life here. Hoss is my good friend. You never treat us as different as lesser men. Hoss would not think it. We are equal, we fight equally.”
Adam could only offer his hand and grip Jack Catfish’s in thanks. Then he called all the men together and asked for their attention. Ever since he had see Hoss and the cave where he was sure his brother would make his last stand, Adam had been thinking round and round trying to find a way to pull his brother and the other men out. From Joe he knew that the cave although defendable didn’t go very far back and there was no access to it, other than the obvious front entrance. The canyon only had two possible exits and the easy one was held by the massed horde of Indians, so it was obviously out of the question. However hard Adam thought he kept coming back to one possible move. With more men available maybe it was possible, but Adam didn’t need telling that it was very dangerous and could lead to the deaths of many more men than the six he hoped to save.
Adam didn’t hide that from the men as he explained briefly where Hoss and the others were holed up. Then he said, “Far as I can see we have one choice. We move up in force and take over the rim. The one thing in our favour is the wind down in that canyon. I think I can light a fire across it and the wind will blow the flames down towards the entrance. There’s plenty of scrub, thickest near the entrance to the canyon. With the fire and sufficient firepower on the rim the Indians should be too busy to interfere. The sides of the canyon are steep but a man on foot can climb them, especially with ropes to help. We pull the men out and then retreat back to the house. With luck they’ll think twice before tackling such a large group. Any questions?”
Sven frowned, “ How about the fire? We just leave it? It’s all very dry you could destroy a lot of trees.”
“I know that Sven. Risk it, I’ll very willingly lose trees if it saves lives.” Adam looked round at the crowd of men and smiled faintly “One more thing. Each and every one of you signed onto the Ponderosa as a working hand. We don’t expect more and noone will hold it against you if you want to back out. You are not paid to fight Indians. My brother is down there, so I have to go but anyone else is free to ride out now, go back to the house. We are better armed, for some reason they are only using arrows and spears, but even now we are outnumbered at least two to one.” Adam waited and there was a moments dead silence and then one of the older cowboys who worked with José spat noisily, “Guess the only difference if Hoss weren’t down there, we’d have three Cartwrights leading us in. If it were me I’d expect my mates to lend a hand, guess I have to do the same.”
There were several grunts of agreement and Adam watched as the men all picked up guns and checked ammunition before mounting up. José said, “As Hoss was without his horse, we brought half a dozen spares.”
“Good José, glad someone was thinking.”
“What about Little Joe?”
“He ought to go back to the house with a couple of the men, but I’m not sure I can make him.”
“He can’t ride Adam.” José protested.
“He was doing a pretty good job of walking a while back and with Hoss down there....” Adam shook his head and moved over to his brother.
Joe was sitting up almost light headed with the pain but ready for an argument. Just as Adam came up Joe’s attention was distracted as he spotted a strange but not unknown figure and called out “Stevens.”
The man turned and came over. He was a stranger to Adam but Joe obviously knew him. “Joe Cartwright. You have a habit of getting in trouble each time we meet.”
Joe held out his hand “It’s been a long time. Welcome back to the Ponderosa. Timed it well for another fight.”
“I hear I missed some.”
“It happens. Adam this is Stevens, he worked for us for a while when you were in Europe, top hand and good fighter.”
“José hired me, I’ve done some travelling but not yet found a better spread, heard you were expanding.”
“Help me up, still riding the pinto.” Joe glared at Adam just daring his brother to argue, but Adam grinned slightly and coming up the other side to Stevens helped his brother over to Cochise, Joe lent on the horse for a moment and said defiantly, “I’m coming.”
Adam smiled, “Who said that you weren’t? But like everyone else you’ll take my orders, Once you are up on Cochise, stay put whatever happens and don’t expose yourself unnecessarily, I want you ready to pull us out. Okay?”
Adam looked round for José and said “Stick close to Joe, call me if.... “ he broke off momentarily and then straightening his shoulders he forced himself to sound confident, “He’ll make out too damned stubborn to give in.” Then he turned to the other man, “Joe said Stevens right?”
Stevens nodded and Adam went on. “Stay on the other side of him, make sure noone jolts that leg or he will pass out, it’s a mess.”
Then Adam led the way out, back the way he and Joe had come back. Once the compact force was on the move, Adam told José exactly where to go and told Joe they were heading for the far end of the canyon. Then he took Jess and four men and moved forward ahead of the main force on the same path. He didn’t really need to explain what they had to do and each man drew out a knife. Adam had picked his men well and knew each was a lot more effective with a knife than he was. For a while they didn’t contact any Indians and then firing started out again in the canyon. Adam said, “Right let’s move in fast while that noise is covering us.”
The small group pushed on knowing that the others would do the same and in the next couple of minutes they dealt with four Indians either scouts or moving up to reinforce the rim. Adam didn’t want to kill unnecessarily and where possible he knocked the braves out and left them knowing by the time they were able to take an active part again he would have to be long gone.
They reached the rim to see the canton full of Indians mainly on horseback whirling around trying to get a clear shot at the defenders in their cave. Adam knew that he’d never get a better chance and sending Jess one way, he took two men and on foot they worked their way along the rim, dealing with the Indians. Occasionally there was some noise but with all the whoops from down below it was drowned out. In fact once their quarry had taken refuge in the cave, the marksmen on the rim could no longer get a shot at them and the chiefs had called most of them down just leaving a token few to raise the alarm in the event of rescue attempts. Adam found just four Indians before he reached the sheer cliffs above the entrance to the canyon. From there he could see down into the massed tribes in the main canyon and one of the men with him said, “I don’t count so good but that’s more like ten to one then two to one.”
Adam frowned, “More than Joe and I saw. Still as long as we keep them out of the canyon they won’t bother us.”
“And on the way back?”
“Whatever we do we have that to face. How long do you reckon it’ll be before they run out of ammunition in the cave? Then this lot will be looking for new quarry.”
“I sure hope that Roy Coffee gets the army of their butts in a hurry.”
Adam seconded that thought but leaving the two men to keep watch he hurried back to the main party who were just arriving but keeping back in the trees, They didn’t dare make a move until the Indians abandoned this assault and regrouped, hopefully outside in the main canyon.
In the small cave Hoss was beginning to wonder if that was ever going to happen and although their stock of ammunition wasn’t alarmingly low yet, another couple of assaults like this one and they would have run out. He did his best to stop the men blazing away at everything but it was difficult. Hoss himself picked his targets with care, only firing at those who got too close. He had an added incentive as every time he fired red-hot knives of pain spread through his body from his wound. He had no idea if the assault had been going on for ten minutes or an hour, time just seemed to stand still, he felt as though he had been in the cave shooting at Indians wheeling out of the dust all his life. Then just as suddenly as the first assault it was all over and everything was quiet. Hoss put his gun down and lent his head against the rock, everything was swirling round him and he couldn’t help trembling. The pain threatened to engulf him, but with a great effort of will Hoss got control of himself and sat up.
By some miracle with all the arrows bouncing off the walls of the cave none of them had been touched. Hoss checked the stocks of ammunition and assured the scared men that they could hang on for a while yet, but he knew one more massed assault would take them perilously close to running out. He forced a grin, “Help will be here anytime and anyway we’re making it mighty expensive for those Indians, could be they’ve had enough.”
Slowly as the worst of the pain eased Hoss sat up a little straighter and to his own surprise, he was suddenly sure that help would be there very soon. He only had limited vision down the canyon and there was no sign of help, but he was sure that his brothers were somewhere close at hand. His certainty seemed to comfort the other four and they calmed down slightly, but in some ways the waiting between attacks was harder to take than the actual fighting. Every slight movement of the brush in the wind was an Indian creeping in to attack them, every noise a potential menace.
Up on the rim the Ponderosa hands had taken complete control. Those Indians who were still alive had been bound and gagged and now Adam was splitting his men up. He would go down alone to set the fire but he needed half a dozen men to help get the besieged men out, sure that at least some were likely to be injured. Joe told him that he could trust Stevens and José backed that judgement so he sent Stevens with twenty-five men to the far rim overlooking the main canyon. José with an equal number headed up on the near side. Once the fire was lit their job was to try and stop the Indians breaking through too fast and to sow confusion, try to prevent a movement up to the rim to cut them off. The lie of the land was in their favour. The only trails leading up on the mesa were quite a long way from the main canyon. A few more men were spread out round the rim to watch for any odd Indians who might sneak through and to cover those down in the canyon. Adam left Joe in charge of ten men with long ropes to help pull the men up the steep canyon side. There was only one place where it was practicable to climb the wall, where Chub had clambered out and with ropes to help, Adam hoped even injured men would be able to make it. He left several of the steadiest men with Joe, especially Jack Catfish, who was as agile a climber as anyone, if someone did hit trouble.
Adam looked at Jess, he seemed to be asking his friend to risk a lot, but he needed help he could trust. “Soon as I get the fire lit, will you bring the men to the cave?”
To his complete surprise Jess shook his head, “Red can do that Hoss can’t miss his flaming hair, might think I’m an Indian.”
Adam nodded “Okay stay with Joe.”
“Don’t be daft Adam I’m coming with you.”
“Too dangerous, don’t be a fool.”
“You’re doing it.”
“Hoss is my brother, it’s different.”
“I’m coming Adam, better chance for two of us working out from both walls. Much more chance of the fire taking hold right across before the Indians spot it.”
Adam frowned but he knew that Jess was right and he nodded “Got matches?”
Jess nodded and Adam went over to Joe and gripped his hand. “If we can’t
get back you’ll have to pull the men out keep them close.”
“I’ll pull you out.” Joe insisted his voice threatening to break on him and Adam smiled reassuringly “Sure but if things do go wrong, you must leave us. Don’t get everyone killed. Hard I know but don’t let anyone else down into the canyon.”
Joe bit his lip, but ashen faced he nodded, “If... I’ll look after Carole and the kids. Tell Pa we did all we....”
“Easy Joe. Odds aren’t that bad but you must have the strength to pull out. No massacres. Our responsibility.” Adam gestured at the men. Joe lent down and hugged his brother “I know.”
Adam smiled “You’re strong enough Joe. It’ll be alright.”
Joe couldn’t force a smile and he had a lump in his throat as for a moment he held Adam tight and then he let his brother go, “God be with you Adam.”
He sat on Cochise, not moving unaware even of the pain in his leg as he watched his brother slowly slip over the side of the canyon with Jess beside him. Joe prayed wordlessly for his brothers and for all the other men. As soon as they reached the bottom Adam and Jess split each going along one wall of the canyon as carefully as they could, not knowing if there were any Indians lurking in the side canyon, maybe injured but no less deadly. However they couldn’t afford too much time, at the moment conditions were as favourable as they could hope for, but the situation could change any moment and they didn’t dare wait foe another assault or there might not be anything left to rescue.
In fact neither man saw anything, Adam skirted round near the cave and fought against the temptation to go in and at least find out if Hoss was alive or dead, but there would be noise and he didn’t dare risk it, perhaps start another assault. Adam hadn’t said anything even to Joe but for the last hour he had had a feeling of disaster, an almost tangible cold lump in his stomach. He’d tried to tell himself that it was just nerves and Joe’s pain but in his heart he was sure that Hoss as hurt, if not already dead. He couldn’t summon up any certainty that his brother was still alive but he had to carry on and act as if he was sure everything would be alright. Someone was still alive; that much was evident the shooting had continued too strongly until the Indians retreated. Adam could see that at least one man hadn’t made it but he skirted the body. They could come back later but he wasn’t risking any man’s life to collect a corpse. He knew that would be hard to stick to if Hoss was dead and he prayed that he would have the strength to do it. Then as he reached the barricade where he’d seen his brother he almost stopped breathing as he searched the area for Hoss. There was no sign and Adam relaxed fractionally, it looked as though Hoss had at least made the cave.
He looked across the canyon and saw Jess in position. Jess was awaiting his signal and Adam pulled out some matches and nodded. At first as the two men set small fires close together, the grass barely seemed to catch, hardly any smoke showing. Adam was glad to see his estimate of wind direction down in the canyon was right but he was close to Jess before the fires near the edges began to flare noticeably. The two men lit several bunches near the centre and then Adam said “Thanks I did need help, lets get to the cave.”
Bent double they ran back to the canyon wall and along it to the cave. The Indians had just realised something was happening and were trying to investigate but Stevens and José had their men pouring fire down into the entrance. Both were well aware of the way to handle such things and had half their men firing while the others reloaded and kept up a continuous barrage. Adam was only dimly aware of the firing concentrating on his own job.
In the cave Jackson was the first to realise that something was happening. He stared down the canyon for a moment or two and as the fire flared up he said, “Jesus Christ, they’re gonna burn us out!”
Hoss said tiredly “They can’t the wind is in the wrong direction,” Then as the sense of what he had said penetrated he clumsily moved forward to stare out. Seeing the fire he murmured “It could be help.” The other men all pressed forward eagerly but it was Hoss who first picked out a figure near the fire “That’s Adam.”
The men raised a cheer but Hoss said, “Shut up, we ain’t out of this yet.”
Red and his men appeared at the cave entrance just then and Hoss firmly sat on all temptation to talk.” Come on move. Red you’ll have to carry Brady.”
“How about you?”
“I’ll make it.” Hoss grimaced but with help made it to his feet to stand
swaying, gritting his teeth against the pain. Then Adam and Jess pushed
their way in and Adam told the men to move it, He took one look at his big
brother and moved close to him, knowing just how long it would take to carry
Hoss over the rough ground. There were times when Hoss’ sheer size was a
Adam spoke almost brusquely, “Come on big brother, lean on me you can make it.”
There was nothing anyone else could do as Hoss couldn’t bear any touch on his left side and Adam left Jess to cover him and he concentrated all his efforts on supporting his brother. He took as much of Hoss weight as he could, guiding him over the rough land and all the time talking to Hoss half bullying, half cajoling him to make one more effort. Hoss' legs didn't seem to belong to him and everything kept spinning, threatening to go dark but he held on, his brother's presence the one clear thing in his world of pain. Hoss did his very best to do as Adam asked. He made it most of the way but then his legs buckled. Adam somehow managed to get his huge brother over his shoulder and aware of Jess steadying him, he half walked, half staggered to the ropes.
Jess gripped his arm “You can’t carry him up.”
“Kill... him...if .. we pull ...up.”
“Take a chance, let me tie it. You and I go either side, take most of his weight. It’s the only way Adam. You can’t do it.”
Adam was already trembling from his efforts, blood pouring down his side and he knew Jess was right, Between them they roped Hoss up, avoiding his injured back as best they could. Just once he screamed and then seemed to lapse into complete unconsciousness. Everyone else was up and Jack Catfish had Hank and Red hold the other two ropes while he took the two ropes attached to Hoss. He guessed what Adam and Jess were trying to do and stood ready to help. Joe could only sit and watch, scared how badly Hoss was hurt, praying that Adam hadn’t done too much harm in carrying their big brother and watching the wall of flames. He was scared that the Indians would break through before the three men were out of the canyon. Hoss was only aware of pain, not quite unconscious but unable to help himself.
For Joe it seemed to take forever and Adam and Jess weren’t much better off as they struggled to climb the steep slope of the canyon, steadying Hoss as they did so and stopping him getting any worse hurt. Adam knew that he couldn’t have managed it alone, as it was by the time they reached the top he was trembling. He was grateful for the helping hands, without which he couldn’t have made it over the rim.
He stood for a few seconds breathing deeply but there wasn’t time to stop yet and he called to Red to get a horse for Hoss. Then he fired the return signal for Stevens and José to withdraw. Two shots close together and then a single shot, He repeated the signal and saw some of the closer men begin to pull back. Hoping that the signal had been picked up at the other end of the canyon. Adam concentrated his efforts on lifting Hoss into the saddle. There was no way to do it without hurting the big man but with Red and Sven helping Adam, finally managed it. It had the effect of bringing Hoss round and as Adam roped his brother into the saddle Hoss lifted his head
“I knew you’d come.”
“Easy Hoss we’re not out of the wood yet. I can’t help you just now we have to ride.”
“I know. I’ll make out.”
“Don’t try and talk now, save your strength. We’ll manage, I’ve over a hundred men here, just you hold on.”
Adam finished roping Hoss and said “Jess, Sven keep an eye on him for me please.” He moved over to Joe and gripped his hand “Hoss will make it. Try not to worry, I’ll get you both to Doc.”
Joe forced a grin “I’m okay, don’t worry.” Adam nodded and then to his
relief saw José ride in and he could see Stevens approaching, He
mounted up and arranged his men, with the injured men in the middle. Desperately
worried about his brothers, he couldn’t stay close to them, he had wider
responsibilities. He told Red and Sven to stay either side of Hoss to hold
him in the saddle if necessary and asked Stevens and Jack Catfish to do
the same for Joe. Adam sent Jess and José out to the front having
told José exactly which route he wanted to take home. Adam was going
to avoid the main trail and cut up near the Lake, hoping that it would give
them adequate cover all the way. Adam stayed at the back sure that was the
most likely place for an attack. Every man was on the alert, so far they
had had the benefit of surprise and apart from a few scratches had escaped
without injury but now they were the ones vulnerable to a surprise attack,
For a moment as the men began moving out at the very slow walk, which was all the wounded could manage, Adam just felt a great sense of relief. He had extricated his brother without losing anyone and they were on their way home. He had pulled the bandage tighter round his ribs but for the moment he wasn’t even aware of the pain. The bleeding seemed to have stopped again and that was all he cared about.
Slowly as he relaxed a little and stopped trembling after all his exertions,
he began to think more clearly. He got Jackson to hold back a minute and
riding close he asked just how badly Hoss was hurt. Jackson told him of
the arrow still embedded in Hoss’ back and the ugly wound he had tried to
bandage. He warned Adam that his brother had lost a lot of blood, he wasn’t
at all sure that Hoss could stay on a horse, even roped as he was. Adam
forced himself to sound optimistic
“Don’t underestimate him, he’s as strong as he’s big.” Despite his confident words he was seriously worried as Jackson moved forward again into the pack of men.
Adam knew that at the pace they were moving it would be at least twelve hours and probably considerably longer before he could get them home. He wasn’t at all sure Joe could stay in the saddle that long, let alone Hoss and there was one other man with an injured thigh who was equally doubtful. He toyed with the idea of splitting his force but any rearguard action would have to hold on for too long with the rest moving so slowly. Adam knew that it would take a little while for the Indians to discover they’d been duped and to regroup but then he dreaded what would happen.
He doubted that they would risk a straight assault on his column, there were too many men with him and that could be costly. He was scared that in the long hours before they could reach the safety of the house, he could lose all too many men to arrows from the deep bush where they couldn’t retaliate. At the back of his mind was the even more terrifying thought that the Indians might bypass the column entirely and go attack the houses, but word had been sent to town a long time back and he prayed that Carole and his children were well guarded by now. A lot of Ponderosa hands had been in town, apart from whatever help friends in town could send. Either way there was nothing he could do about it and he tried to push the thought away. It was just possible that Hoss and his men had inflicted such damage with whatever José and Stevens had done, that the Indians would retreat to lick their wounds. However it was far more likely that they would be out for revenge and Adam knew he had no right to risk the men’s lives on a slim possibility.
Eventually Adam decided that it was time he found out exactly what had been happening and he got one of the men to go and fetch José for him. José pulled up alongside a couple of minutes later and considered his old friend with concern, “You okay Adam? You look all in.”
“No I’m fine, just a cut.”
“I saw it remember? It needs stitching, not trying to carry Hoss around.”
“I didn’t have much choice. Anyway I didn’t call you back to discuss my state of health. What happened back at the canyon?”
“Well it was all pretty confused. We were trying to stop them breaking through the fire; they were trying to put it out. Milling around, taken by surprise.”
“How many did you reckon?”
José shrugged “Impossible to tell, maybe five hundred or so, maybe more, I don’t know what damage we did. It was all too chaotic, but one thing I am sure of, we hit a big one. Medicine man by his clothes. He went down as though he was pole-axed and the way some of the chiefs were wailing over him I reckon he was dead. Don’t know whether it helps or makes matters worse.”
Adam thought about that for a minute and then shook his head “Could go either way. If he’s really important it might buy us a little time while they reorganise. With all the different tribes involved who knows.”
“We’re sitting targets for snipers.”
“I know that José but even if Joe and Hoss could manage faster, we’re a long way from home. We can’t outrun them and by running we might just buy more trouble, This way I hope they might respect us enough to keep clear.”
“Don’t have no choice anyways. None of us would leave the wounded, not just because they’re your brothers. We know in like pass they wouldn’t leave us.”
Adam gave his old friend a half smile and then asked “Take over from Stevens for a minute and ask him to drop back for a word. Then, when he’s back next to Joe, get back to the lead. Keep your eyes skinned and send me word if you spot anything.”
José nodded “Will do but you be careful, you’re the prime targets back here.”
Stevens could only confirm what José had said. He too had seen the medicine man fall but more knowledgeable about Indians, he insisted that the chiefs of most of the tribes were bewailing his death. While he couldn’t be sure Stevens put forward his own view that the dead man was the original cause of the tribal gathering and got his just desserts. Adam sent Stevens back and considered what he had been told. There was no way to be sure but Adam recognised the other man’s wide experience and knew Stevens wouldn’t have spoken lightly. Even if he was right it still left things just as open. The Indians could move in, intent on revenge, or leaderless they might withdraw. Adam prayed that if the medicine man was dead and some of the real hotheads were also dead or injured, as they would have been in the forefront of the attack, the rest might not push so hard and sanity might begin to prevail.
At least with the need for extreme vigilance behind him and the worry about what the Indians would do next, Adam had little time to worry about how his brothers were making out. It was about an hour after they left the canyon before Adam spotted some Indians following them. He couldn’t be sure of numbers because they were keeping their distance from the white men, just watching, A few minutes later two of the men with him also spotted their company and drew their guns. Adam quickly ordered, “No shooting unless they move first. All the time they are just following us they aren’t doing any harm and we don’t want to start more trouble.”
Adam had taken care to keep the steadiest men with him, mainly vaqueros from José’s gang. They nodded, accepting the sense of the order, although not re-holstering their guns. Adam didn’t mind the show of force; it might help the Indians to keep their distance. For a while they all moved on slowly with no change in their relative positions; Adam had been able to get the occasional better look at those following and the most forward were both Paiutes, one vaguely familiar to him. With them there appeared to be some Apaches and he assumed that the Paiutes were acting as guides on their own territory, Adam had known the Paiutes all his life, many like Jack Catfish were close friends. Jim Willy found as a baby by Ben had been brought up as part of his family. The Cartwrights had always lived on good terms with the local Indians and Adam weighed the chances of cashing in on that now. If they would just allow him to talk maybe he could arrange a truce. Adam knew that the chances were slight but he also knew that it couldn’t be very long before the group behind was augmented and someone started to try his aim, as José had said they were sitting targets for snipers.
Before he did anything Adam decided to see if Jack Catfish could identify the two Paiutes, tell him something about them. He would need help from at least one of them if he was to be taken to talk to the men who mattered. There had been no change for some time and telling the men with him to yell if anything happened, Adam moved forward. At least he could take the chance to see how his brothers were making out, very worried about both of them. Even before he reached them he could hear their voices. Hoss was muttering in delirium while Joe was doing all he could to calm his brother down. Adam pulled up close to them, seeing the pain and fear etched in Joe’s eyes, his little brother weak and in pain with each step that Cochise made, was still much more concerned about their big-hearted brother. Adam gripped Joe’s arm, “Take it easy, he’s still got an arrow stuck in his shoulder muscle, it would be a miracle is he wasn’t feverish. Hoss is strong, he’ll make out.”
“Can’t you get it out, wait just a little while?”
“I daren’t Joe. It’s not the time; it’s the blood he’s bound to lose. Sounds deep and we have to get him home.”
“How much can he take?” Joe asked almost in despair.
Adam forced a smile “As much as you can. You made it home last fall and this isn’t as bad.” He felt his brother relax fractionally and turned his attention to Hoss. His voice seemed to have registered on Hoss who was asking for him, desperately trying to assure his brother that despite the wound in his back he hadn’t been running away. Adam smiled grimly as the sense penetrated and signalling Jack Catfish to move aside, pulled Blackie in close to Hoss’ mount. He took his brother’s hand firmly in his, feeling the cold of it despite his brother burning up. Keeping his voice calm, Adam said, “Hoss I’m here. Listen to me. Easy now, We know what happened. Of course you didn’t run, You wouldn’t know how. Everything is going to be fine. Try and take it easy. We’re on our way home.” Adam repeated the same thing over twice more until he felt Hoss relax fractionally and return the grip on his hand. Hoss muttered “Adam.”
“I’m right here and so is Joe, he’ll stay with you and I’ll get us all home safely. I promise.”
“I didn’t run.”
“Easy Hoss you did very well. Don’t talk. Just hold on big brother and we’ll get you home to your own bed. Make you more comfortable.” Adam gave Hoss a drink of brandy and then passed the flask to Joe. Joe went to push it away but Adam insisted, “I can’t stay here Joe, much as I want to, I have to keep an eye on things. It’s up to you to help him. Take a drink it’ll help a little.”
Joe gave way, knowing how weak he was and grateful for anything which might ease the pain in his leg.
Adam had about made up his mind, although he had no intention of worrying his brother more by telling him. He bit his lip considering his youngest brother, knowing just what a burden he might be placing on him. Joe stared at him trying to read the strange expression on his brother’s face, “Is anything wrong Adam?” Even as he said it he knew that it sounded a stupid question but Adam seemed to understand and he smiled at his brother, “No Joseph. Just remember if anything should happen, all these men, no massacres.”
Joe realised that Adam was reminding him of what he had said back at the canyon, he licked his lips, “Trouble?”
“Nothing yet. We’re being watched, have been for more than an hour, that’s all. Take it easy Joe and take care of Hoss for me.” Adam gripped his brother’s hand for a moment as Joe nodded “I’ll be back in a bit.” Then he worked his way back to the rear, taking Jack Catfish with him and asking Jackson to help Hoss instead. It wasn’t until he was out of sight that Joe realised his brother had called him Joseph. It was the first time he could remember Adam doing so, although their father did quite often, but not his brothers. Unsure what it meant Joe stared back but he couldn’t see Adam and all he could do was what Adam had asked and try to help Hoss.
Adam was quiet for a moment as he took up his position at the back again. If things went wrong then he knew just what he was asking of his little brother; just how much strength and will power, at a time when Joe was hurt and worried. Even so of all the men there, his younger brother was the only one Adam could trust to have that strength.
Jack Catfish waited patiently for Adam to start and eventually Adam said, “Do you recognise any of those following us?”
“Two of my tribe, Red Deer and Porico. He married my brother’s child, you know him as White Horse.”
Adam nodded “I thought he was familiar and the Kiowa?”
“Their chief Se-tain-te, White Bear. He has much anger at white men. He was in your prison for more than two years.”
“Porico would listen to me, would he speak for me?”
“What are you suggesting?”
“I’d like to talk, try and arrange a truce before anyone else gets killed. They have many wounded too. Do you think there’s any chance?”
Jack didn’t answer at once but then very slowly he said, “Maybe, but much better chance they’ll kill you.”
“How long before someone makes a wrong move, or a young buck decides to taste blood. Such an easy shot from the trees. I'm risking one life on the certainty that if I don't a lot more than one of these men won’t make it back to the ranch. The whole lot are back there now and on both sides of us, you know that as well as I do.”
“We respect courage, maybe with your name they will listen. The Cartwrights have been straight with the Paiute and the Apache. We will try.”
“Just me Jack.”
Jack shook his head. “No if you go, I come. They are my people, as are you. You speak a little Paiute, but no Cheyenne or Kiowa and how much Apache?”
“A few words.”
“They have gone back to the old weapons, maybe the old tongues too, With me you have more chance of reaching men, who matter, who might listen.”
“I don’t know how to say thank you.”
“It is my life and the life of my kin, you are trying to save, as well as your brothers and the other men. Why should I not help? Will you tell the others?”
Adam shook his head and indicated the men with them. “Just these four. No sense in worrying Joe, he’s not well enough and I don’t want anyone else going off half-cocked, We’ll just stop and wait.” Jack nodded and Adam spoke briefly to the four men. “I’m going to try and parley with the chiefs, arrange a truce. You keep guard. Anything starts get José back to take charge and pass on my order. Noone under any circumstances is to follow me. Joe is in charge overall, get home as best you can.”
They all thought that he was mad, but he was the boss and they couldn’t argue, just promising to do their best. Then Adam pulled Blackie up and sat motionless in the middle of the path. He held his hand high in the sign of peace and had placed a white cloth over Blackie’s mane and then he could only wait. Jack was just behind him but neither man spoke. Adam was all too aware of the Indians slipping into the woods around him as the main party drew away and his back tingled, knowing an arrow could hit it at any moment. He was careful not to allow any sign to show staring straight ahead impassively, maybe his only chance was to display raw courage and earn their respect. Slowly the Indians moved in, surrounding the two horses before finally coming out into the open. Only then did Adam acknowledge them and in Paiute he greeted Porico and said that he wished to talk to the chiefs of the assembled tribes.
Porico hesitated and Jack intervened “My brother’s son, you know me. We mean no harm. You know the Cartwrights; their word can be trusted. I pledge my word on it.”
Se-tain-te stepped forward “No white man can be trusted.” And he spat full
in Adam’s face. Adam didn’t move or show anything but staring straight at
the chief, still in Paiute he said “I know you Se-tain-te, you have reason
to distrust the white man. I do not speak your tongue and I do not know
the Kiowa, the great tribe of which you are chief. But I do know the Paiute
who hunt this land.” He gestured at all the surrounding mountains “And I
do know the Apache. I owe my life to their great chief Cochise and the faith
he placed in my father’s word. I wish to talk. I believe that the Paiute
and the Apache will agree that the Cartwrights have earnt that right.”
Se-tain-te studied him; he showed no sign of fear and was fluent in the Indian tongue. He looked round at the Paiutes all of whom knew Adam and seeing agreement there he signed, “Come.”
Adam breathed a sigh of relief but took care not to show any reaction. At least he wasn’t going to be killed out of hand and maybe if he got the chance to put his case, reason would prevail. He followed Se-tain-te back along the path. Several Indians hurried ahead and ten minutes later Adam was led into a clearing where some two dozen chiefs were gathered. He dismounted and his gun was taken, Adam made no comment but as hands grabbed at him he shrugged them off and moved forward to stand in front of the chiefs, his hand up in the peace sign again. “I wish to talk before more men die.”
For a moment there was no answer and then one of the Apache sub-chiefs said, “In our councils the right to speak has to be earnt, let the white man take the test of courage.”
Jack moved next to Adam but Adam knew enough apache to understand and before Jack could speak he replied in the same language, "My family the Cartwrights have earnt that right. Cochise listens to my father Ben Cartwright. But I will undergo the test if you require it.”
Jack gripped his arm and whispered “You can’t, not with a hole in your side.”
Adam didn’t answer, he didn’t see that he had any choice and he just ignored Jack, He studied the assembled chiefs. More important Indians than he had ever seen together, only one of whom he knew. He had to make his claim to speak and as the chiefs stared at him he looked at the Paiute chief, “Winnemucca, you know me and my father. We work this land, our land and the Paiutes are free to hunt and trap as they always have. We have long lived in peace. In the cold we bring food, buy your women’s beadwork and blankets. Your men work with white men on our land and we treat then equally, We have no fight with the Indians.”
Winnemucca said, “Many have died.”
“My brother was attacked, on our land, with no warning, We just helped him, he was defending himself. You know Hoss as well as I do, he has no fight with any Indians. The fight was your choice.”
Se-tain-te spoke, “You say you know Cochise.”
Adam shook his head, “No, my father Ben Cartwright knows Cochise. I owe the great chief my life. He allowed a doctor to be brought to save my life.”
There was a buzz of talk as the Apaches checked with those who knew Cochise and were able to confirm that what Adam said was true. Then the Paiutes confirmed the freedom they were given on the Ponderosa and the help always given when times were hard. For a moment Adam felt a surge of hope, they were going to listen to him, without forcing him to undergo a test of courage. That hope quickly faded as the same sub-chief re-iterated his demand that Adam undergo the trial. Adam hid his feelings, “I have agreed.”
The chiefs nodded and two of the Apaches moved over to start stripping of his coat and shirt, while two others set up a cross. Adam had heard of the test and knew one man who had survived, but he knew it could be done two ways either with the victim strapped to the cross upright or head down. Either way a number of braves would ride at him and use a switch and he could expect to have permanently scarred back. He just hoped he was not held upside down, because to pass he would have to walk away at the end and the way he felt at the moment upside down he would more than likely pass out. Still he could survive and if he could arrange a truce a few scars were a small penalty to pay. Jack knew that it was useless to protest but he was worried about his friend knowing just how much Adam had already had taken out of him that day. The Apaches hesitated when they saw the bandage round Adam’s ribs and looked over at the chiefs. The two senior Apache chiefs stood up and came over and stood in front of Adam. “You are willing to undergo the test of courage?” one asked, in English for the first time.
“You know what it entails?”
“I do.” The man who had been talking gripped the bandage and ripped it off in one movement. Adam had been expecting it and he stood impassively, with the blood flowing down his side again. The chief stared at him and then looked over at the other chiefs as though to confirm his own opinion. His mind made up the man ordered the two braves away “We will talk. I think you have already passed the test of courage.”
Adam hid his relief and solemnly nodded, “That is good. I do not wish to see more dead, my men or yours.”
He was invited to sit down with the chiefs, but he was still under attack by several of the chiefs, who didn’t wish to talk and blamed him for the death of the medicine man and many other braves. Adam wasn’t prepared to be pushed, he knew that his only chance was to keep the respect of these men. Se-tain-te was the main spokesman against him and he asked why they should listen when Adam had already killed so many.
Adam stayed with the Paiute language, just occasionally asking Jack for a word. He hadn’t used it much of recent years but when he was younger he had used it a lot and was reasonable fluent, He addressed his answer to Winnemucca. “My family owns this land. We have lived here many summers. My brother now a grown man was born here. The Paiutes and the Cartwrights have lived in peace; there is a welcome on the Ponderosa. You know Hoss my brother. He was working in peace on our land, when without warning he was attacked. He defended himself and I, with our men, came to his aid. Would you do less for a brother? I have injured and dead as do the tribes. Let us make a truce now before more die for no reason. I have no argument with the Indians and Winnemucca, you have none with the Ponderosa.”
There was silence for a moment and the Apache sub-chief, who had asked for the test of courage demanded, “What of Chalipun lying dead with a broken neck and his brother Niote who failed to return?”
Adam guessed that must be the pair that had followed him and Joe. “My brother Joe and I scouted alone to find where our brother was, what was happening. Chalipun found us, speared Joe through the leg and we fought. He had a knife, I my bare hands.” Involuntarily one hand went to his side but Adam made no comment and continued “Another Niote probably, found Joe alone and injured while I was fetching our horses, he tried to use his spear, Joe used his gun, If we fight there are casualties.”
Se-tain-te spat at him, “You killed the Shaman, whose name must not be spoken.”
Adam knew that that was the crux of the problem, not only did it give him
an opportunity it was his biggest problem and he decided the only way to
proceed was to meet it head on. “For so many great chiefs to gather he must
have claimed powerful medicine. Yet that medicine was unable to even save
his own life. How many of your braves will it kill too?”
There was silence for fully five minutes and Adam sat impassively, knowing that despite their apparent attitude of ignoring him, he was under close scrutiny. Finally Se-tain-te said, “We have many braves.”
Adam nodded, “I have seen. More than my men but we are better armed and already another hundred men will have gathered at the house, also my men, and word has gone to town and to the soldiers. You can kill many, but so will we. For what?”
At that the Indians began to talk together, checking with Winnemucca and the other Paiutes how truthful Adam was, the Paiute relationship with the ranch. Then the senior Apache chief, again reverting to English, said, “What do you offer instead?”
“A truce, sanctuary on my land for all, until the injured are fit to travel. Food, blankets and medicine.”
“Will not be allowed to bother you here on the Ponderosa, as long as there is peace. And I shall do my best to have them allow you to go in peace to your own lands.”
“If you fail?”
For the first time Adam allowed a faint smile to flicker across his face, “The Ponderosa is large, its boundaries are wide and the Indians are good woodsmen.” There was no way the army could prevent them slipping away, certainly not without help from the Ponderosa. They knew it and Adam made it clear that he knew it too.
“For a start, let me send Jack Catfish to my men. They can bring cattle to you. I will lead you to a campsite with all you need.”
“Many horses were killed.”
“We both lost horses. I would not offer the proud Apache charity. I do not see any braves riding double.” Adam was prepared to go a long way to buy peace but there was no point in letting himself be pushed, that might lose him all he appeared to have won so far.Se-tain-te broke in “In return what?”
“A truce, peace on my land, a chance to tend the wounded, no more of my men killed.”
The Indians lent forward and talked rapidly. For the first time Adam risked a glance at Jack. What he saw reassured him, Jack thought that they had won. It was close and only the reputation that Ben had built up over so many years, first with the Paiutes and then with the Apache, swung it Adam’s way, that and his own demeanour. The Apache chief came over and handed Adam back his gun, “It shall be as you say.”
Se-tain-te came forward “I warn you white man if you break your word I
will personally kill you very slowly.”
Adam smiled; more relaxed now, “I do not break my word. I speak true. Let the Kiowa learn not all white men speak with forked tongues.” Then he turned to Jack, “Get back to the others, stop them going off half cocked. Tell Joe to head straight home, send on runners to Carole and spread the word of this truce. Tell José to gather twenty head, good fat ones, and bring them at once with three men. Tell him I will lead to that campsite in the meadow where Elkoro camped. José will know. Tell my brothers I’m fine and that I will be back as soon as I can."
Jack put out his hand and gripped Adam’s “It will be done.”
Adam held it tight “Thanks Jack.”
As Jack rode out Se-tain-te came forward again “Elkoro?”
“My father arranged for his band to come in peacefully, several summers back.”
“I have known Elkoro, he talked of a man and his son, a very large man, who risked their lives to warn him of a trap and help him defeat it.”
“My brother Hoss, the one we rescued. It was a long time ago.”
“I did not know their names. Maybe Adam Cartwright your word does have
It was just a fluke but Adam relaxed slightly, knowing he had disarmed one of his most outspoken critics. Then Porico came over and plastered Adam’s side with a mess of foul smelling leaves before tying a bandage round his ribs. Adam submitted without protest and with no sign of the pain it cost him, at least it stopped the bleeding. Then he pulled his shirt and coat back on. With a promise of a truce he was able to think about his brothers. He was desperately worried about Hoss and to a lesser extent about Joe, knowing just how much he was asking of his youngest brother.
At first Adam’s absence went unnoticed but about half and hour after he left, the chiefs called back all their men, just leaving an odd scout to track the white men. It didn’t take Jess and José long to notice the difference and worried about what it might mean they decided to drop back and talk it over with Adam. At first not seeing him they assumed he was checking something but José had a word with his men and learnt of Adam’s decision to try and talk. He told Jess whose immediate reaction was “The fool! Now we’ll have to go rescue him.”
“He left orders, under no circumstances was anyone to follow him. We’re to go on home.”
Jess protested vehemently “No way. You know what they could be doing to him; he killed their medicine man. He’s your friend too José.”
José felt much the same and he was very tempted, but he insisted that they at least go and speak to Joe. Jess was impatient, “He’s badly hurt, taking all his time to stay in the saddle. Why worry him?”
“Because now with Adam gone and Hoss delirious, Joe is the only Cartwright here and he’s the boss. He’s no kid anymore. Adam may be our friend but he’s Joe’s brother.”
Jess was sure he knew Joe’s reaction and agreed, although insisting that Joe shouldn’t go with them, they might need to move fast.
Joe was increasingly worried about Hoss, who had slumped forward over his horse’s neck, seemingly virtually unconscious. There was nothing that Joe could do to help and they were still a very long way away from the house. Joe was totally unsure if his big brother could make it, well as he knew Hoss’ strength. His own leg was on fire and he was almost light-headed with fever but that all seemed to be happening a long way away and he found he could ignore it; he was sure that he could manage until they got home.
As Jess and José pulled up by him Joe looked from one to the other and knew that something was wrong. He licked his dry lips “What’s happened?”
José hesitated, his young friend looked so ill that he didn’t want to add to his problems, but it was too late, Joe knew that something was wrong. “Adam’s gone to try and talk to the Indians. Jack Catfish is with him.”
Joe shut his eyes and for a moment the men round him thought he was going to pass out and José gripped his arm “Easy Joe. We’ll go back and pull him out, take twenty men. Don’t worry.”
Joe sat up with an expression on his face that none of them had ever seen before. For the first time they could see the old man that he would one day become. Joe said, “No.”
Both Jess and José assumed that he wanted to go too and Jess said “You’re not fit enough Joe but Adam’s our friend. We’ll pull him out.”
Little Joe wanted to let them, send help to the brother, who meant so much to him, but he had given Adam his word and Adam had trusted in his strength to see that their men made it home. Joe knew now why his brother had unconsciously called him ‘Joseph’ and he wouldn’t let Adam down. “I said no. No-one goes back, Adam went of his own freewill, his decision, maybe he’ll get them to talk. Interfere and you might just sign his death warrant.”
Jess was very angry now “If they don’t wanna talk, you know what they’ll be doing to him. He’s my friend and I’m not leaving him.”
Joe drew his gun and levelled it at Jess, “Two lives. There are more than a hundred here, you risk getting them all killed.”
“You won’t shoot me.”
“I will if I have to but I won’t need to. I’ll have you bound and gagged, taken on home tied across your horse if I have to. Noone is going after Adam.”
Jess would have gone for Joe at that but Stevens moved forward, ”I’ll do the job for him, you’d better believe it.”
José hesitated and then seeing the anguish on Joe’s face he said,
“Adam did leave word that noone was to follow under any circumstances.”
Joe was grateful for that confirmation but it didn’t really help. He was acting as he was because of Adam’s request anyway. He forced Jess to meet his eye “Do I have your word Jess or do I have to have you tied up?”
Jess fought against it but José said, “I won’t go against Joe.” And without support Jess knew he couldn’t do anything, so very begrudgingly he said, “You have my word. I hope you know what you’re doing."
“I’m doing what I have to, I can only trust Adam’s judgement. He thought there was a chance or he wouldn’t have gone. You know what he means to me, but I have no choice.”
Jess could visualise all too clearly the tortures Adam could well be undergoing and over the last year his friend had come to mean a great deal to him so he said bitterly “I hope that’s some consolation when we find his mutilated corpse.”
Joe swayed bodily at the words, as though at a blow, but he wouldn’t change his mind and José pulled Jess away before he could say any more. Joe’s too vivid imagination was at work and every particle of his being urged him to go back and help his brother. He knew all the men would follow him, but he had given his word. Very white, for the moment not even aware of Hoss, he was close to collapse when a slow drawl broke through to him as Stevens said, “Joe Cartwright, you’ve changed quite a bit while I’ve been away. Seems to me you’re a lot like your Pa now and maybe that elder brother of yours.”
Joe sat up and looked at him, “I take that as a compliment.”
“Meant it as one. Right decision, hard but right.”
Joe relaxed fractionally and turned his attention back to Hoss, he had also given Adam his word to look after their big brother. The next hour and a half was about the longest that Joe ever spent, as they wended their way home, so very slowly. Desperately worried about both his brothers, one suffering maybe dying in front of him and the other alone in the hands of Indians, who a few short hours earlier had been on the rampage. Remembering the past Joe knew that even if they were eventually willing to talk they might well insist on Adam passing their brutal test of courage and his brother was already hurt. Weak and in pain Joe would have given a lot to slide into the darkness which threatened to engulf him and pass out like Hoss, not come round until it was all settled, but he had too many responsibilities and he wouldn’t give in. He tortured himself trying to think how he could tell Carole and his father, admit that Adam was dead and that he hadn’t lifted a finger to save him. A thousand times on the point of changing his decision only to hear his brother’s voice saying ‘No massacres’ or ‘You’ll have the strength’ and most frequently just that eloquent ‘Joseph’.
There was no trouble and gradually they got closer to home but there was still a long way to go when Jack Catfish caught them up. He had been relieved not to run across a rescue party; not having as much faith as Adam in Joe’s ability to do nothing when the eldest brother he loved was in trouble. There had been no sign of anyone leaving the main party and as he rode up it’s strength looked the same. The four men who had seen him ride off with Adam all looked at him as though he was a ghost but Jack just asked, “Who knows that Adam left?”
Jack said, “Its alright Adam has negotiated a truce.” And then he pushed his way through to Joe guessing the state he must be in. Word spread very quickly and Jess and José joined them just as Jack reached Joe’s side. Joe had seen Jack and searched rapidly for sign of his brother but there wasn’t any. Jack didn’t leave him wondering, as soon as he got close he called out “It’s alright Adam’s fine. We have a truce.”
Joe took in the words and the grin on Jack’s face confirmed the meaning and for a moment he swayed close to passing out with relief, Jess steadied him “I’m so sorry Joe. You were right and I was wrong.”
Joe hardly aware of what was said, he just knew that Jess cared deeply too and was as relieved as he was. He brushed his hand across his eyes, fighting against breaking down. It was one thing in the privacy of his own home with maybe his family but he couldn’t do it here, not even with close friends. Slowly he got a grip on himself and accepted the drink of brandy José offered. Jack rapidly passed on Adam’s orders and Joe directed the men to head straight home, Then he bit his lip, scared to ask but needing to know. “Did they, I mean sometimes they insist on a test before they’ll talk?”
“The apache test of courage?” queried Jack.
Joe nodded and Jack smiled reassuringly, “I told you he’s fine. There was some talk of it and Adam agreed to do so. They stripped him to the waist, pulled off that bandage. The Apache chief looked at the hole in his side and decided if he was prepared to undergo the test with that in him, he’d already passed.”
Joe sagged in the saddle with relief, he hadn’t dared to believe Adam stood a chance and yet his brother had pulled it off. He told José to get the cattle and take them to Adam, and seeing the look in Jess’ eyes sent him along as well. Then he sent riders to town and to Carole at the house, he had to prevent more trouble and make sure Hoss’ bed was ready for him and Doc there. Once all the orders were given and he had checked on Hoss again, Joe had a job to hold onto his senses. He wasn’t really aware of the next hour, staying in the saddle out of habit and sheer willpower. Hoss was burning up moaning occasionally but his pulse was still strong, albeit rather fast.
Adam with nothing more to do but lead the Indians to the campsite, had all too much time to worry about his brothers. Relaxing slightly he wasn’t quite as efficient at hiding his feeling and
Porico pulled up by him. “You are worried? We keep our word.”
Adam smiled faintly “I know that Porico, Its just my brothers, both are hurt, one very badly. I cannot even be sure that Hoss still lives.”
“You wish to be with them?”
“Of course, but I gave my word, I will settle the camp site and then maybe....” Adam slipped back into reverie and Porico didn’t intrude again but he did go and have a word with Winnemucca.
It was several hours later before José, Jess and two others rode in with the twenty cattle Adam had promised. The Indians were pleased to see the cattle but the four men were brought in front of the chiefs and Adam was kept away, gently but firmly. Even so Jess and José both managed to catch his eye and he smiled at them and they could see that he was still wearing his gun so they were reasonably relaxed. Both spoke a few words of Paiute but they were addressed in English,
“Your men accept the truce?”
José answered for them “We do we obey our boss. Word has been sent to town and to our other men.”
The apache chief said, “We need a guide to the campsite. Would one of you remain in his place?” he gestured at Adam, but to his surprise all four men volunteered. He looked from one to another, “You trust the Indians?”
Jess answered for them all, “We trust Adam Cartwright, He sent word there was a truce. He wouldn’t ask us to come here or to stay if it was unsafe and he is needed elsewhere.”
“His brothers are injured, everyone uneasy. He can calm them best.”
The chiefs turned away and went into a private discussion. They were impressed
by the trust Adam obviously evoked in his men and so far he had done exactly
what he had promised. Winnemucca spoke up for him, the Cartwrights had earnt
the Paiute’s trust over many years and now out of the hypnotic influence
of the medicine man he wanted peace and trusted them again.
They turned back to the four cowboys and for the first time Adam was allowed over to join them. Jess and José both gripped his hand momentarily, glad to see their old friend safe. Adam asked anxiously, “Hoss, Joe?”
Jess said “Hoss is no worse, he’s passed out, still feverish but his pulse is good and strong. Joe’s fine, sore and worried about you but fine since Jack got back. You’ll be able to see for yourself soon.”
Adam frowned not understanding but before he could ask for an explanation the chiefs came over and Se-tain-te asked, “Where is this camp site?”
“South below the lake, maybe three or four miles.”
Winnemucca came forward, “The meadow where you grazed the young horses this spring?”
Adam nodded and Winnemucca nodded approvingly, “It is good.” Then to Adam’s surprise Blackie was led forward. He looked from one chief to another “I said I would lead you to the campsite, gave my word.”
“You are released from it Adam Cartwright, your men are willing to take your place."
Adam looked at the four men, gratitude tinged with horror all too evident.
“I didn’t know.”
Se-tain-te stepped forward “It will not be necessary, the willingness is enough. They trust you. We have trusted and will continue to do so. You will send blankets and food as you promised. Winnemucca can lead us to the campsite.”
The men’s four horses were brought and Adam told them to mount up. He stood by Blackie for a moment and then swung aboard. “I will return as soon as I have arranged things. You have my word there is sanctuary here on the Ponderosa.”
Adam kept his back straight with an effort as they rode out but the strain and loss of blood was catching up on him and, now he no longer needed to keep up a front for the Indians, he felt very weak. He was desperately hot and everything began spinning round him, going grey. He didn’t realise that he was swaying in the saddle, neither was he aware of Jess and José moving close on either side of him. Jess caught Blackie’s reins and pulled him up while José steadied Adam. Neither of them had anything stronger than water but José got his canteen and forced Adam to drink some. Adam hadn’t quite lost hold of his senses but he couldn’t stop trembling as reaction set in. José gripped his arm “Come on Adam get down and rest just for a few minutes.”
Adam raised his head and taking the canteen drank greedily, “No I’m alright, let’s get home.” By sheer willpower he threw off the weakness and straightened up, breathing deeply, “I must get to Hoss and Joe.”
José met Jess eye but Jess just shrugged, they couldn’t do anything, both knew how stubborn Adam was and he wasn’t seriously hurt. Adam took back the reins and set Blackie off at a lope to intercept his brothers.
At the house Carole hadn’t been particularly worried at the two brothers going off to warn Hoss. She had been in the area for several years and there hadn’t been any Indian trouble. She knew the local Paiutes as friends, It was several hours before she really got worried as Jess sent extra help and the wounded men told her the little they knew. Scared themselves they sent her close to panic for a moment but slowly she calmed down, realising that these men had been out of their depth and scared. Her family was far more experienced in dealing with Indians and with all three brothers together and so many men to help them they would cope. All she could do was wait for news but she began collecting medical supplies and rolling bandages, scared that there would be more injured men. Two hours later Johnny rode in with over eighty hands who had been in town and others were following. Some were suffering from hangovers but the news had sobered them all up. Dan was with them and he was able to tell Carole that a volunteer force would be out from town shortly and Roy had already notified the army. The men were eager to hurry out and join Adam but Carole decided that it would be safer to keep them at the house until they had word. Her husband had a lot of men with him and these men didn’t know what they might ride into. She ordered them to set guards round the two houses and wait for word. If Adam needed reinforcements he would send for them. At first they were hesitant at taking orders from a woman but she was insistent and with Johnny and Dan backing her they did as she said. Then she could only wait, busying herself with the children who were restless feeling the tension in all the adults. Carole did the best she could to keep panic at bay grateful for Dan’s calm presence, he was an old friend. The afternoon went by so very slowly but it wasn’t until the children were in bed that the next message arrived from Adam to tell of the truce. Carole stood silently listening as the man rather hesitantly explained the truce and Adam’s orders. As he came to a stop Carole asked, “How many injured?”
“Not many, not serious, Hoss and Joe are both ....” he broke off not knowing
what to say.
Dan put his arm round her shoulders feeling her shudder, but Carole knew what Adam would want and straightened her shoulders “How long before they get here?”
“Three maybe four hours, maybe longer. They can’t go faster than walking pace.”
Carole nodded, she couldn’t learn any details about Hoss’ or Joe’s injuries or just where her husband was but against all odds Adam had arranged a truce and she would try to ensure that noone broke it. She began to collect things, “Dan send someone for Doc. It’ll be easier to have Hoss in his own bed, he’s too big to be comfortable anywhere else. I’ll move the children over to the main house.”
In the dark Adam heard the slow moving cavalcade before he saw them and he kicked on, eager to get to his brothers. At least they didn’t have very far to go to get to the house. Joe had been doing his best all day to keep his word and look after Hoss but the long painful ride was taking its toll and he was barely managing to hang onto his senses. The hands trusted Adam’s word that there was a truce and were all doing what little they could for the brothers, but everyone was relieved to see Adam ride up,
They made way for him at once and he was alongside Joe, before Jack Catfish’s news that his eldest brother had returned really penetrated Joe’s numb brain. Adam could see the exhaustion, pain and strain written all over Joe’s face even in the dim light of the moon, but as Joe saw him relief flared, and for the moment he felt better. Adam pulled in close and for a moment he held his brother tight but they still had to get home and he didn’t want Joe breaking down, so when he spoke it was very matter of fact. “You’ve done a good job Joe, not far now.” Adam felt Hoss’ pulse, his brother was much more feverish than when he had left and he was out cold. Still at least that way he wasn’t aware of the pain and the big man’s pulse was strong. Adam straightened up “He’ll do I think, get that arrow out soon now. Carole will have Doc there. Be home in less than an hour.”
Joe said, “You okay?”
Adam nodded, “Fine, the luck is still with us.” Then staying between his brothers Adam led the way on home, just occasionally encouraging Joe who was on the verge of collapse. Every man gave a sigh of relief as the house came into sight and there was plenty of willing hands to help the wounded to the bunkhouse and to carry Hoss and Joe to their rooms. Adam made no attempt to help just giving his orders, then leaving José to sort things out with all the men in the yard, he asked Jess to see to the wounded. Only one man was seriously hurt and like Joe the weapon had been removed, Hoss had to come first. Adam had seen Doc and promised that as soon as his brothers were seen to Doc would be out to the bunkhouse. Then he hurried over to join Carole and Doc, Carole could see how close he was to collapse himself and determined not to make it worse, tried to hide the strain of the last hours and not to fuss at him. He was on his feet so he would be fine. Adam put his arm round her and pulled her close for a moment, giving her a kiss but then he turned to Doc. “Hoss has an arrow in the back since early this morning. We haven’t dared to try and cut it out, just tried to stop the bleeding, he’s been unconscious for hours, running a high fever.”
Doc nodded, “Don’t worry too much I’ll see to him. You ought to rest.”
Adam shook his head “Later I’ll be up in a minute.”
“No need I can get plenty of help.”
“He’s my brother. Just let me have a word with Roy. Carole will you stay
with Joe, he got a spear through his calf, it’s a mess, agony to ride and
he’s done so well, I’ll explain later but....”
Carole kissed him seeing the exhaustion and confusion. “I’ll look after Joe darling, don’t worry.” Loath though she was to leave her husband she knew that helping his brother would help him more than anything else she could do.
Adam went over to Roy and told him exactly what terms he had promised the Indians. He gave his opinion that he didn’t think there would be any more trouble and asked Roy to get back in touch with the military and make it very clear what the terms were and that he was sticking by his word to the last detail. Roy could see how close he was to collapse and didn’t ask any questions, promising to go back to town and do exactly as Adam asked. Adam added one further request, asking him to send a telegram to his father in Sacramento, knowing how quickly rumours spread. Adam just wanted his father told that all of his sons were at home, a truce arranged with no long-term damage, details to follow. Roy promised to get that off as soon as he got to town and Adam stared up at Hoss’ room for a moment praying that he was right about the long-term effects of the day. Then with an effort he pulled himself together and went out to find Johnny. He was worried about the fire that he had set and asked Johnny to take some men and check it out, put it out if he could. There were plenty of men milling around and Adam told over fifty to get spades and blankets and go with Johnny. He warned them to keep close watch in case any odd renegades didn’t agree with the chiefs’ decisions. He was loath to ask anyone else to go out again but Jack Catfish offered and Adam gratefully accepted. He left Jack to collect food, blankets and medicine and take them out to the campsite as he had promised, telling Jack to say that he would be out the following morning to see if there was anything else needed. Then he stood for a moment hesitating wondering if he had forgotten anything, but nothing came to mind and so he slowly made his way up to Hoss, every step an effort.
By the time he reached Hoss’ room Doc had soaked and eased away the bandage to show the ugly wound in his back, the arrow with its potentially lethal complement of dirt and cloth still lying in him. It had gone in pointing down, tearing its way through the muscle to finish embedded deep by the shoulder blade. Adam bit his lip, it was the first time he’d seen the wound and it was even uglier than he’d feared. Doc pushed him gently into a chair “We’ll need help to hold him Adam, I daren't risk ether, not sure what else is wrong. You were right not to try it before you got home, I’ll have to cut deep.”
Hoss is strong, as long as we get it clean, no infection he’ll be okay." Doc made himself sound more positive then he was, sure that Adam couldn’t take much more either. As Adam made no attempt to get help, Doc went out and called to Dan to find a couple of men to help. Dan came up himself with José; both men frowned worriedly as they saw the wound. Hop Sing had everything ready for Doc and he gave them his orders to hold the big man. Dan went to hold his shoulder but Adam moved forward and took that most critical job himself, telling Dan to go to the other side. He was white and drawn but all the men knew him too well to object.
Doc couldn’t hurry as he carefully probed to loosen the arrow embedded deep in muscle, doing his best to cut off the bleeding blood vessels as he worked. Hop Sing passed him what he need and Adam held his brother, thanking God that Hoss remained unconscious. Hop Sing sponged the blood away with the cloths that he had boiled, so that Doc could see what he was doing. Several times the big man’s body went rigid and he moaned as the pain caught him, even in the depths of his unconsciousness. Doc was completely absorbed in his job but the other three men had divided attention, all ready to move if Adam collapsed, which seemed inevitable. Eventually Doc was able to lift out the arrows and Hop Sing swabbed out the ugly wound again; Adam hoarsely asked “How much longer?”
“I must make sure it’s clean. He’s standing up to it well. Hold him."
Doc probed carefully pulling out tiny fragments of cloth, a splinter of wood, while Hop Sing fought to keep it clear enough for him to see. Adam was very worried at the blood his brother was losing but eventually Doc was satisfied. He tied off two more small blood vessels and then swabbed the wound out with disinfectant, Hoss screamed and it took all four of them to hold him still but then Doc only had the final tidying up to do. He left the wound slightly open at the base to drain and at Adam’s anxious look he explained, “Its deep we don’t want any infection. Let it begin healing and provided it stays healthy, I’ll finish up in a few days, it’s safer.”
Doc padded the wound well and then with help from Dan and José he cleared the messy sheets and wrapped Hoss up warmly. The big man was still very feverish. Adam sat by his brother, wiping his face and renewing cold compresses and didn’t speak until the others had finished. Then he looked up art Doc “Will he make it?”
Doc smiled “He’s going to be very sore for a while won’t be able to use that arm for a couple of months, but no sign of shock. He’s taken it all very well, he’s strong, he’ll be fine. Now who’s next?”
“Joe. He got a spear through his calf.”
“How about you?”
“Just a cut, no problem.” Adam pulled away and went to his youngest brother. Joe had heard Hoss’ scream and despite Carole’s attempts to reassure him, Adam could see the effect they had had on his brother. He went and sat down on the bed “Easy Joe. It’s done. The arrow is out, wound cleaned. Doc says he’ll be okay, no permanent damage.”
Joe stared at his brother seeking reassurance and Adam forced a smile and pout his arm round Joe. “The big moose is going to have a very uncomfortable few weeks but he’s strong and he’ll be fine.”
As the surge of relief hit him Joe was close to passing out and he lent against his brother for a minute, relying on his strength. Doc came in with Hop Sing and José and with Carole’s help carefully undid the bloody bandages round Joe’s calf. Even though they soaked them, it hurt badly and at one pang more severe than the rest, Joe passed out, much to everyone’s relief. At least this wound was clean but as he studied it Doc looked up, “Joe never fails to amaze me, I don’t know how he rode so far with this, and remained conscious.”
Adam’s voice was hoarse as he asked, “How bad is it?”
“He’ll need to stay off it completely for a while, let the muscles knit properly, but it’ll be okay.” It wasn’t easy for Doc to sow the muscles up to ensure the wound healed properly and he didn’t dare rush it but by the end he was more concerned about Adam than his actual patient. Joe was soaked in sweat and running a slight fever, but Adam was showing symptoms of delayed shock. Once Joe’s leg was bandaged, Doc turned to the eldest Cartwright brother. “Come on Adam, Carole and José can get him wrapped up warmly. I want a look at you.”
“No. I’m fine, there’s men in the bunkhouse who need you.” Doc ignored that looking over at Carole “I’ll see to Adam, if you look after Joe.”
She nodded and Doc, ignoring Adam’s protests led him through to his old room. Carole had put the children in the spare room opposite so it was empty. Doc insisted “Come on get undressed.”
“I’m fine, just a cut, it can wait.”
Doc felt his pulse and the clammy forehead, “Your brothers aren’t in shock Adam but you’re close to it. Come on be sensible for once. Whose blood is that all over your pants?”
“I don’t know, mine I guess at least in part. It broke open a couple of times.”
Doc made no comment either at that or at the mess the Indians had plastered over the wound. He helped Adam strip, cleaned and stitched the wound and bandaged him up, But when Adam tried to get up, he was pushed firmly back onto the bed and Doc collected his nightshirt and insisted he put it on. Adam did so, protesting weakly that he had to go to his brothers, Even to himself his protests lacked strength as Doc floated in front of him, his voice alternately booming and fading as Doc told him to settle down and get some sleep. Doc insisted that there were plenty of people to look after his brothers. That way he would be fit enough to help in the morning when they would need him more. Adam tried to say that he had to talk to Carole, reassure her, but Doc insisted that he would do that and she would be a lot less worried if he would rest. As Doc pulled the covers round him, nature finally had its way and Adam found his eyes wouldn’t stay open and he slipped into sleep, Carole came in a couple of minutes later as Doc washed up “How is he?”
“Exhausted. He’s been under a strain, worried about his brothers. It’s just a cut but he’s lost some blood, nothing serious. He’ll sleep off the worst by morning. No need to worry.”
Carole couldn’t help it, with all three brothers lying in bed hurt and
Ben away, Indians camped out on the ranch and more men hurt in the bunkhouse.
She didn’t know what to do next and after a long day, most of it so scared
for her family, she was very tired. Doc could see that and said
“You get some rest too Carole, let Hop Sing and Kam Su watch Hoss and Joe. There’s nothing that can’t wait until the morning, I’ll check the men in the bunkhouse.”
Carole knew he was right and after once more checking the two younger brothers and her own children she slipped in next to Adam. She could feel the cold coming from his body and snuggled close hoping her presence would warm and calm him. Slowly he did seem to settle more easily and she dozed off too. In fact Adam slept like a log for about four hours but the underlying worry about his brothers woke him once the worst of his exhaustion had passed. He slipped out without disturbing Carole, feeling much better for some sleep and back in control even if he was still sore and tired. As soon as he had some clothes on he went in to check on Joe, but his little brother was fast asleep. Kam Su was sitting by the bed “He been sleeping very peaceful Mister Adam.”
Adam gently felt his brother’s forehead but Joe’s fever had already dropped off with the chance to lie quietly in his own bed. Adam tucked him up more closely and then he went across the corridor to his big brother. Hoss was still lying on his face but unlike Joe he was very feverish and Hop Sing was trying to hold him still. Adam moved closer and took hold of Hoss’ hand, placing his other hand across Hoss’ forehead and slowly as he talked to his brother Hoss began to rest more easily. He finally stopped muttering and lay still before eventually saying “Adam” and opening his eyes. Adam told Hop Sing to pour out a dose of laudanum and once Hoss had had a drink of water he fed his brother the drug. “Rest easy Hoss. You’re home in your own bed. All cleaned up. All you have to do is rest and recover.”
For a moment he thought Hoss was going to slip back into sleep but then he felt the big man tense “The Indians?” asked Hoss in sudden alarm as he remembered what had happened.
Adam smiled gently stroking his brother’s hair back from his forehead “We have a truce, no problem I promise. I’ll be a bit busy but someone will be here all day. If you want me just ask. You try and rest, I’ll be in later.”
Hoss stared up at his brother, too weak to ask all the questions he wanted
to but finding reassurance in Adam’s eyes and slowly he slipped back into
sleep. He was still very feverish but Adam knew it would be a miracle if
he wasn’t and he had seen Hoss very much worse so he left him with Hop Sing.
Although he insisted that Hop Sing promise to call him at the first change.
Adam went down and got himself some coffee, lacing it with brandy, unable to face food yet. Then he headed down to the bunkhouse worried about the other injured men. Jess and José were both up but most of the men were asleep. They were disgusted to see Adam up and around so soon but he did look better and they didn't waste time trying to nag him knowing it never worked. They quickly reassured him that none of the injured men were seriously hurt and all were resting easily. Jack Catfish came over then to join them “Have you eaten yet Adam?”
“Not yet. I’ll get something later.” That was a mistake, with the three of them ganging up on him Adam found himself sitting down at table with fresh coffee while Jess cooked some food and Jack filled him in on the way the Indians were settling down. He had only been back a few minutes but he was able to assure Adam that it was all very peaceful, Adam frowned at the plate piled high that Jess put down in front of him, “I can’t manage all that!”
“You’ll darn well try. You lost too much blood yesterday and missed too many meals. We know you Adam, you won’t rest today, even if you do belong in bed, at least eat.”
Adam shook his head and laughed “I don’t win, all my family is sleeping and you start ganging up on me.” Still touched by his friends’ concern he managed more than he expected. As he finished he heard horses coming in and pushing his plate away he went over to the door, He was surprised to see Johnny back so soon and alarm flared. He hurried over but Johnny was grinning,
“No problem Adam.”
Adam sighed with relief and then got Johnny in for a full report. Johnny could only assume the Indians had dealt with the fire before realising that their quarry had escaped, The fire had never left the small side canyon and was already out apart from a few smouldering pockets near the walls when he’d arrived. It had taken long to ensure it was out safely. They had brought back the body of the one casualty the ranch had sustained. The Indians had already removed their dead and all Johnny had found were some dead horses, which he had dealt with. Adam was very much relieved by Johnny’s news. He’d had to take the risk but the fire could have damaged vast areas of virgin forest. Still weak he was surprised how hard the relief hit him and poured a second brandy as he tried to decide what to do first.
Jess alarmed by his sudden pallor, took his arm and forced him to sit down “Will you take it easy, tell us what you want us to do and we’ll handle things.”
Adam frowned “I don’t know Jess, I can’t seem to think straight for the minute. José you’ll need to get back to the gather and we still have a lumber contract to complete. Need to scout around see if it’s safe first. Maybe later Jess you’d take some men, I’ll make out a list go over the map. I must get out to the Indian camp, make sure they don’t feel ignored. I wish I knew what the army reaction is. I’ve a feeling I’m not going to be too popular, better keep enough men here to make them listen.”
Jess and José looked at each other in horror and José said “You feeling okay Adam? You suggesting that we take on the United States Army now?”
Adam smiled at their horrified faces “Not quite, just make them hesitate before they try to overrule me. I’ve given my word and I won’t let anyone break it or we could still all end up dead.”
He poured more coffee and slowly got control, his brain beginning to work and he started issuing detailed instructions. By the time Carole came down with the baby ten minutes later, he looked much more himself, There was a lot of work at this time of the year and some of it at least had to continue, contract dates still needed to be met. Still the work had been going fairly smoothly and with everything ahead of schedule Adam knew he had some breathing space. He needed to disperse the men as soon as he was sure it was safe, the ranch wasn't designed to have so many at the main house, all three bunkhouses were full to overflowing and still men had to camp under the trees. The other major problem was nursing his brothers; both Hop Sing and Kam Su had to get some rest they had been up all night. Carole couldn’t manage three young children and both brothers and Adam knew he had to get out to the Indian camp. He didn’t dare forfeit any portion of the trust they had placed in him; it had been much closer than he would ever admit. It might be safe enough to leave Joe’s door open and let his brother call if he needed anything, but Hoss would need someone with him full time for the foreseeable future. There weren’t many people Adam would trust his brother to, or whose attentions Hoss would be willing to accept. Adam had every intention of sitting with his brother over night but he had wider responsibilities at the moment. In the end he called Pio Gomez in and asked him to stay with Hoss and call Carole if his brother stirred. Adam was hoping that the drug he had given Hoss would keep him quiet, at least until he’d been out to the Indian camp and got back.
As he came out of Hoss’ room having sent Hop Sing to get some rest he heard Joe’s voice and went across to him. Little Joe had struggled up against his pillows, although it had made the room swim around him. Ignoring his own aches and pains he was only concerned about his brothers and he was very relieved to see Adam come in. Adam sent Kam Su to fetch Joe some food and coffee and then told him to get some rest. He straightened his brother’s bed and then sat down next to him. Not needing the question he talked as he worked, “Hoss is resting fairly easily, feverish of course but he’s been much worse. He woke up for a few minutes and I gave him some laudanum and he’s been resting better since.”
“I’ll sit with him.”
Adam smiled “Tomorrow I’ll accept that offer willingly, I’ll get the wheelchair out so you can rest that leg; but only if you stay in bed and get as much rest as you can today.”
“Liar Little Joe. You try anything and your temperature is going to soar. I can’t cope with both of you. By rights you should stay in bed for the next week but I’m going to have to ask your help. Like I did yesterday. I’m sorry for the burden I put on you Joe. It was hard enough on you to make that ride, let alone having the strength to keep the men under control. Jess told me what he said, he’s very sorry now, but he’d have got us all killed. That was why I had to leave it to you. You were the only one I could trust to have the strength to leave me, Thanks Joe, you did marvellously well.”
Joe gripped his brother’s hand “I just did as you asked, trusted big brother like always. You’re the one who pulled us out.”
“Not really I just cashed in on Pa’s fair treatment of all Indians over nearly thirty years. If he hadn’t made the Cartwright name a name to respect I’d have had no chance. I’ll go out and see them in a minute, make sure they don’t think I’ve forgotten them. I’ll leave your door open. Carole is here, just yell if you want anything.”
“She can’t cope alone with Hoss and the children. Let me get up.”
“No Joe it was one thing after another yesterday and that’s a bad wound. At least for one day you must rest Pio is with Hoss and with any luck I’ll be back before he stirs, Doc was coming back later anyway.”
“How about you? You lost a lot of blood carrying the pair of us around and that parley....” Joe broke off knowing the strain his brother must have been under but not able to put it into words.
Adam smiled, “I feel much better for a rest and Jess, José and Jack ganged up on me and presented me with the biggest breakfast you’ve ever seen, I doubt Hoss could have managed it but they were most insistent. Don’t fret about me little brother, just rest and then I’ll have one less thing to worry about. Once I’ve seen the Indians and reorganised the crews I’ll take it easy.”
“The lumber camp?”
“Johnny has already been up, our fire is out and Jess is going to take
some men and check its all safe before I send the men back. It can wait
for a couple of days; we’re ahead of schedule. Pa will be back soon.”
Joe was surprised and knew that his brother must be feeling weaker than he was admitting, but with that problem shelved he knew Adam would cope and promised to stay quietly in bed for the day and not worry him.
Adam left Carole to help Joe finish up his tray and played with the twins for ten minutes as he tried to think what else he had to cover. Then he called Kirk over and asked him to saddle Blackie and before he got Jess started on their check around the lumber camp. Work couldn’t be restarted until Adam was sure the men wouldn’t be at risk from some headstrong brave. He’d left Jess to pick his own men and wasn’t surprised to see Stevens amongst them. He walked over to them before they left, warning them to take it slow and easy, work in pairs and cover each other’s backs. They were all volunteers, experienced woodsmen and Adam thanked them for taking the job on. Stevens hung back as the others left and he stopped by Adam “Your young brother has grown into quite a man since I left. Did a fine job yesterday.”
Adam smiled “Thanks, I heard. I knew he would that’s why I risked it.”
“We have only just met Adam Cartwright, you believe in trusting your brother’s judgement, I’m grateful.”
“No need anymore Stevens, you proved yesterday, that he was right. You can trust Jess too. Help him the others are willing but less experienced than you two, he’s a bit impulsive but a good man.”
“If you say so I’ll believe you, I can see where your brother got his strength,”
Stevens spurred out after the others leaving Adam rather touched and amused
at this strange man. Still Joe obviously thought highly of him and he was
certainly a man who knew how to handle himself.
Jack Catfish wanted to go with Adam, knowing how close to collapse his old friend had been the previous day but Adam insisted that he get some rest. He needed to get back to the sawmill the following day that at least had to keep running. Adam mounted up stiffly, his side was beginning to throb again but he had to ignore it, by far the fittest and someone had to see to things. He was far more worried about the army reaction than he had let on but Doc had promised to come out that afternoon and with luck he’d have news. He’d also promised to send a more detailed telegram to Ben but Adam wasn’t at all sure when his father would be able to get back. He had been determined not to alarm his father too much and they couldn’t just drop the business that had taken Ben to Sacramento in the first place. Adam tried to push his fears to the back of his mind and concentrated on the Indians, The campsite wasn’t very far from the house and he soon arrived.
All the Indians moved out as he rode in, but they left a path for him and
stood in silence as Adam walked Blackie forward. He only dismounted when
he saw Winnemucca. Only the Paiute chief and Se-tain-te bothered to come
over to him, the others just acknowledging his arrival with a grave nod
as though they had never doubted it. Adam checked that all the things that
he had promised had arrived and enquired if there was anything else that
they needed, Jack had done a good job and the Indians were well satisfied.
They refused Adam’s offer of getting Doc to come out, their own medicine
men could handle it. Adam had seen a few squaws around and he was sure they
would keep their word. He broached the subject of talks with the army very
tentatively but Se-tain-te was vehement, he would not. Adam said, “I gave
you my word you would be safe here. If the army wish to talk I will pass
on their offer and talks will be at my house. You will be free to come or
not as you wish, I will not allow them to come out to this camp.”
Se-tain-te nodded “it is good, Two, three days my men will be fit to travel and we will leave.”
“However long is needed, as long as we have peace, you are welcome on the Ponderosa.” There was little more to do and with a promise to return the following day Adam rode out. He was conscious of the irony in the situation, yesterday he’d been close to death, today accepted they virtually ignored him.
He took his time on the journey home, not wanting to overtax his strength and he was grateful for a few minutes alone to try and relax, before facing the next batch of problems, which would inevitably be awaiting him. It was a good job he did so, for as he rode in he saw half a dozen troopers sitting on their horses in the yard. He hurried in to find Kirk waiting to take Blackie
“Roy Coffee is inside with some Captain.”
“Get Johnny and some of the men out and visible. If any of this lot try to leave the yard, stop them tactfully and call me.”
Kirk nodded “Don’t need your help with those young whipper-snappers but
Adam grinned at the beat-up little old cowboy as he led Blackie off and then he went inside. Carole was there with Roy and a man of much his own age, very neat in army uniform. Carole got to her feet with relief, she had been making polite conversation for ten minutes denying knowing where the Indians were but assuring them Adam wouldn’t be very long and it had been an uphill struggle. Adam was more interested in Roy’s reaction and he hardly needed his old friend’s grimace to know that he had trouble. This man would go by the book and very little that he had agreed fitted into that category. Adam hid his feelings and smiled as he acknowledged the introduction to Captain Martin and welcomed him to the Ponderosa.
He asked Carole to fetch coffee and then said, “Get someone to see the troopers have some and they can water their horses.”
Martin said, “That won’t be necessary, we shall be leaving directly.”
Adam shook his head, “I don’t think so. We have to talk.”
Carole went to do as Adam asked and Roy wanting Adam to know what was happening said, “Dan will be out later with General Latimer. He’s arriving with a full troop later this morning, Captain Martin has come ahead to get the facts.”
“Does Dan know I don’t want the troop out here?” Adam asked low-voiced, as Carole enquired if the Captain wanted more coffee. Roy nodded “He’ll do his best and Doc but they can’t order a General around. Careful Adam, he’s an Indian hater as well as an army man with a capital ‘A’ if you know what I mean.”
Adam sighed “Just what I need!” but he hid his feelings as he rejoined
the Captain by the fire. Carole excused herself to go and see to the children
and the two men faced each other mutually antagonistic before a word was
spoken, although both tried to hide it. Roy stood over by the window and
Captain Martin said, “I’m sure you are busy, injured men to take care of, so I shan’t disturb you. If you could just give me some indication of the number of hostiles, any tribes you are sure of and where they are. My men and I will do a quiet reconnaissance.”
“I’m afraid you don’t quite understand Captain. I have a truce with the Indians. At my invitation they are camped on Ponderosa land under my protection. I’m perfectly willing to tell you who and how many Indians there are, but they are not really hostiles now.”
“The army will be a judge of that.”
Adam got to his feet, “Not on the Ponderosa! If General Latimer wishes to talk to the chiefs, my house is open to him and I will pass on his invitation and try to persuade the chiefs to come but I will not compel them. Neither will I allow any army officers near the camp. I have given the Indians my word on that.”
Captain Martin was outraged “You don’t allow or forbid the United States army. I’ll declare martial law, place you under arrest.”
Roy moved forward but Adam put his hand up “Take it easy Roy. I can understand how you feel Captain, I have a great respect for the army and I wouldn’t normally attempt to overrule you but circumstances are not normal. I have somewhere around 600 Indians camped on my range. At the moment peaceably but yesterday they weren’t. Both my brothers are up stairs injured as are too many of my men. We are outnumbered at least three to one, but we have a truce. That depends on my word and I’m not about to start more fighting by breaking it.”
The Captain didn’t appear to have heard a word that Adam had said and reiterated his threat to proclaim martial law. Adam went over to the window and pulled back the curtain, “I don’t really think you are in the position to enforce that threat captain.”
Martin stared at all the Ponderosa hands, all ostentatiously wearing their guns chatting casually with his few troopers, He turned to Adam in impotent fury, “You’re asking for real trouble Cartwright.”
Adam smiled “I’m a lawyer. I’ll fight that in the highest courts in the land if necessary. For now I am concerned that we don’t ask for any more trouble with the Indians. I’m responsible for over two hundred men apart from my family and I am not about to see them massacred.”
Roy looked very worried but he couldn’t interfere, he knew Adam was doing
what he had to and could only hope that the General would have a more realistic
conception of what was happening.
They didn’t have too long to wait as the two men stared at each other in silence, Adam seemingly unmoved and Martin glaring, they heard horses riding in. Roy looked out and then grinned at Adam “Its General Latimer and Dan and they’re on their own."
Adam relaxed slightly, if the troop had been left in town and Dan had prevailed
that far, maybe the General would listen to him. He went to the door and
welcomed the General, but Dan excused himself to go and talk to the hands,
get their story of the previous day’s events. While sociable enough on the
way out the General had made it clear enough that he had no intention of
talking in front of the reporter.
Adam poured out coffee and then excused himself for a minute, allowing Martin time to report to his superior officer before he burst a blood vessel. The General hadn’t wasted his time on the ride out and from Dan he had learnt a little of Adam’s reputation and the Cartwrights in general. Not long out of Washington with a special mandate to negotiate with the Indians he had, even there, heard of the Cartwrights and the Ponderosa. He was intrigued by the difference in the land as they approached the ranch and by the comfortable but impressive ranchhouse. He listened in silence to the impassioned outburst from Martin; at the audacity of this man, who dared to try and dictate to the US army, convinced that he was overestimating the number of hostiles and panicking unnecessarily.
General Latimer hadn’t noticed much sign of panic, either in Adam or the men outside, surprisingly few if there really were so many Indians. Adam came back and invited them to sit down in comfort by the fire. He smiled at the General “I hope you won’t arrest me before I explain. We are really not setting out to oppose the army.”
Martin grunted “We have to consider wider issues. They’ll camp here, kill settlers down the valley.”
Adam shook his head “I have their word. A truce, any killing anywhere and my protection is a thing of the past. They know that.”
“Can’t trust an Indian’s word.” Martin insisted.
Adam got to his feet and leant on the mantelpiece, looking very severe even if he didn’t realise it “Captain, I think I have more reason to trust an Indian’s word than most of them do to trust ours.”
For a moment Adam lost his temper and angrily he said, “I have always found all races and creeds have their fair share of good men and evil, of civilised men and savages. There are many Indians I both like and respect, who are welcome in our home and some white men I only entertain under protest.”
Roy said warningly “Easy Adam.”
Adam recognised the justice of the warning but he wasn’t withdrawing any word of what he’d said. He moved over and poured himself a drink, offering it to the others but they all shook their heads. “I accept that you have wider problems but as long as I keep my word the truce will hold and that guarantees the safety of both those on the Ponderosa and those close at hand.”
General Latimer sighed, “I’d like to think that you are right Mr Cartwright and I’m sure some of the Indians will keep their word. However I feel that the outcome might have been different if White Bear had been present for instance. Our information is that he is somewhere close with the Kiowa renegades.”
Adam frowned “You mean Satanta?”
“Yes that’s his Indian name, he’s a killer.”
“His name is actually Se-tain-te and he was present, I spoke with him this morning. He is most insistent on the army staying away but he has agreed to the truce and I believe will return in peace to his own lands.”
The General was honestly surprised at the Kiowa chief’s agreement and Adam said “Perhaps it would be best if I briefly outlined the events yesterday and the agreement that I reached with the Indians.” The General nodded, he’d heard various stories but he had no way of knowing how exaggerated they were, He was sure that this man would understate rather than exaggerate. Adam sat down and very briefly outlined how he’d taken out the warning and why. Just what they had found and the successful rescue and then his own decision to try and talk. He had outlined the discussions and had just reached José and Jess arrival with the cattle when there was a sudden scream of agony from upstairs. Adam was taking the stairs three at a time before the older men could even move. He knew that it was Hoss who had cried out had hurried to his brother’s room. Hoss restless had been threshing around and although Pio had tried to hold him still he didn’t have the strength to hold the big man and Hoss had turned over on his back. With his weight pressing on the open wound, the pain had brought him fully awake and he had cut off the scream but he couldn’t lift himself and relieve the pain, suddenly so weak. Pio was trying to help him rather ineffectually and as Adam opened the door he saw Carole coming. Ignoring everyone Adam went to his brother, it was obvious what was wrong and Adam carefully lifted Hoss and with Pio’s help turned his brother back on his side and pushed pillows to support him, Adam poured out some laudanum and fed the drug to his brother. Hoss’ eyes were glazed with pain and he had no voice as he tried to tell his brother that he was okay. Adam wiped his forehead “Easy Hoss, it’s alright just try and relax.” He had a quick look at the wound, which was bleeding slightly, but even as he cleaned it, the bleeding stopped. He looked up and met Carole’s anxious eyes. “No harm done. Go and reassure Joe and then get me some more pillows. We’ll make sure that he can’t do it again. Tell Joe I’ll be over in a minute.”
Carole nodded and then Adam moved back round to sit by Hoss “Sorry old
son, I’ll make sure it can’t happen again, Your back is a mess at the minute
but you will be fine, understand.”
He felt the slight pressure on his hand and Hoss seemed to rest easier. Adam sent Pio for some broth and while Hoss was awake he spoon fed his brother and talked reassuringly to him until the drug took effect and Hoss slipped back into an uneasy sleep. Adam put on a fresh cold compress on Hoss’ forehead, as he was still very feverish. Pio tried to apologise but Adam said “Forget it Pio, he’s just too big for you. Stay with him while I see Joe and I’ll get you some help, Until the fever breaks he is going to be very restless.”
Adam had to spare a couple of minutes for Joe first and found his little brother very worried, even though Carole had done her best to reassure him. Adam was able to assure Joe that no real harm was done and he thought that he had prevented a repetition, but there was no way to deny that their brother was weak and in pain. Joe did his best to hide his own pain and worries but it wasn’t easy. He was very feverish again himself but determined not to worry Adam, who despite his best efforts was pale and drawn, looking harassed. Adam forced a smile, “I have to go. Got the army here, a General no less, I’ll be back up as soon as I’m free, try and get some sleep.”
“I don’t think so, just a lot of questions. I’ll fill you in later.”
“Don’t worry about me.” Joe forced a grin and even though Adam could see the effort behind it he had to accept it for the moment. Carole came to the door “Hop Sing is up again, he has the twins and Marie is asleep. I’ll look after your brothers.”
Adam kissed her and went back down. In his absence the General had been enquiring the sheriff’s opinion of Adam, he’d learnt nothing new and Martin still looked disbelieving. As Adam reappeared they returned to the fire. Adam poured himself a brandy and offered it again but none else joined him. Then he said “Roy would you mind finding Johnny for me, ask him to give Pio a hand. Hoss is too heavy for Pio and he’s very restless.”
Roy nodded and Adam went back to the fire and gave all his attention to the army men. “I’m sorry to leave you so abruptly, my brother was badly hurt.”
“No apology needed. Is he alright?”
“He will be I’m sure, thank you General. Feverish and he’d banged his wound.”
General Latimer hesitated but he wanted to know “Do you realise just how lucky you were that they didn't kill you out of hand. Especially with Satanta there.” Adam frowned "Not lucky, a calculated risk, based on my father's reputation with the Indians. For nearly thirty years we have lived here and over those years he has built up a reputation with the Indians by keeping his word. That reputation earnt me the chance to speak and maybe one day I shall need to use it again, which is why I will not break my word.”
Captain Martin laughed “It’s not your choice. Blind luck. Leave Indians to those who know them.”
Adam was so cross that he went deathly pale although he didn’t realise it but he bit back the hasty words, the last thing he needed was a full-scale row with the army. Roy and Dan had come back in with Johnny and both Roy and Dan moved forward. Dan took Adam’s arm and gently forced him into the nearest chair and got his friend another brandy, while Roy faced Martin “Captain you are impertinent. Adam has known this land and the Indians all his life. Probably noone knows them better. At the cost of one dead and a handful of injured he rescued his men from over 500 hostiles and arranged a peace truce, which we in town rely on. I didn’t see the army here protecting us, as all too often that was left to the Ponderosa and we don’t intend to let you ruin it for some weird military glory. You seem to forget that you are here to protect us, Adam’s done just that, so why in hell’s name are you fighting him? His brothers are upstairs seriously hurt and Adam himself belongs in bed, stop needling him.”
The General had been scared for a moment that the tall cowboy would collapse and he asked, “Is he seriously hurt?”
Roy shook his head “No, thank God, just lost too much blood and I can assure you that Adam knew just how big a risk he was taking. He was under one hell of a strain. Could you have stood still and waited to be surrounded by men who had been trying to kill you a few hours earlier on the chance of a truce?”
Adam straightened up “Shut up Roy. I don’t want any hero’s medals I just want the army to back my word, A few Indians have already gone home, a few squaws appeared. Provided we don’t provoke them it’s over. The medicine man is dead and within days the tribes will disperse.”
“We could capture all of them.” Martin insisted.
Adam sighed, “Don’t be a fool Captain. I know I’m not a soldier but I can count! There are over 600 Indians camped only miles from here, Its rough country and with the men you have you couldn’t catch more than a fraction. The Paiute know this land almost as well as I do and they can guide the others. I will not be party to breaking my word and you’ll get no help from anyone here.”
Roy said, “I should take of my badge first but with a lot of others I would stop your troop moving onto the Ponderosa. We would rather depend on Adam’s word.”
Adam was surprised by very grateful for his friend’s outspoken support. The General was worried but he tried to calm the ruffled feathers. He didn’t get Adam to budge an inch but as he heard more details of the truce and the lie of the land, he came to realise that without help from the Ponderosa he couldn’t move effectively. That if he did make a move he might easily be responsible for a great many deaths. Unwillingly he decided that he had no choice but to back Adam. Although like Martin he didn’t like civilians dictating to the army. He finally sighed heavily and asked, “If the chiefs won’t talk here, you’re saying I just do nothing?”
Adam nodded tiredly, “I know it’s not easy to do nothing but it’s what I agreed.”
“Suppose someone is killed, off the Ponderosa?”
“I told you, if they break their word that negates mine, but they won’t.”
“Alright you win. Provided there are no more incidents we’ll wait in Virginia City and make no move. Is that what you want?”
Adam nodded but Captain Martin moved convulsively to object, only the years of discipline keeping him quiet. General Latimer frowned at him, “I don’t like it or the way you’ve taken over but I’ll go along. I can see you have had no choice and maybe your presence here is our best guarantee that it might work.”
Adam was so relieved that he was getting his own way that for a moment he couldn’t find his voice, feeling desperately weak and tired. Then he said, “I’m sorry, I have a great deal of respect for the army, but I had to act. We could all have been dead before you could reach us. They trust me and I have to keep that trust.”
General Latimer ordered Martin to go and collect his men and when he’d gone, the General went over to Adam and offered his hand. “You make it difficult for army men trained to fight Indians but I think everyone round here should be grateful that such a brave man was in charge.” Adam couldn’t think of any answer and just shook the General’s hand. A minute or two later he had pulled himself together and thanked the man for his support, albeit grudgingly given. He stood on the porch watching the troopers leave, well aware that in Martin he had made an implacable enemy but all the time the General was in charge that wouldn’t matter. Anyway he hoped that the Indians would be gone within the week.
As they disappeared from sight he turned to go in, but swayed and needed Dan’s help to go in. he sank down in the chair by the fire, feeling tired and weak. Dan got him a brandy but Adam pushed it away, “I’ll be drunk and that won’t help anything, Get me some coffee if you would. I’ll be fine if I can just have ten minutes to get my thoughts together.” It wasn’t until he relaxed that Adam realised just how tense and worried he had been about the army reaction, made worse by Captain Martin’s reaction. Still there was too much to do for him to give in and after five minutes he made a firm effort to get control of himself and by sheer willpower pushed his exhaustion away and sat up straighter. Dan was well used to his friend’s power of endurance but even so he was surprised when ten minutes later Adam moved over to the desk and began working through the most important queries. Adam knew that had to be done before he could go to his brothers and he concentrated hard. Slowly he began to think more clearly and for the first time he faced the thought that neither of his brothers were going to be mobile at least for the next month or so and even then they wouldn’t be up to any heavy work. The work of the ranch still had to continue and that included business in both Sacramento and San Francisco. There was nothing that he could do about the latter, but if his father could be persuaded to finish off in Sacramento before coming home that would save a week later on. It increased the pressure on him in the short term but Adam discounted that, he’d cope as he always did. He pushed his papers to one side and looked up at Dan “Are you going back to town?”
“I suppose you won’t tell me what happened from your point of view?”
Adam smiled “No Dan, too much being made of it all anyway.”
Dan grunted but he had learnt enough from the other hands, especially Jack Catfish and he was used to Adam, “Okay then I might as well head back. What do you want me to do?”
“Send a telegram to Pa in Sacramento, I want to catch him before he heads home.”
“Of course I will. What do you want to say?”
Adam began writing it out, first in plain language and then in their private telegraphic code. He made it as clear as he could what injuries had been suffered both by Joe and Hoss, although minimising the seriousness of the injuries, not wanting to worry his father. He confirmed the truce and the army backing of it and emphasised that he had everything under control and that the business in Sacramento should be finished before Ben returned. He pointed out how difficult it would be to get back with both Hoss and Joe immobile for a while. He finished up by promising that if his father did stay he would send daily reports.
It was a long telegram by the time Adam had finished, but Dan promised
to get it off at once. He might not have been so obliging if he’d realised
that Adam was trying to dissuade his father from returning. Adam saw Dan
off and asked Kam Su, who’d reappeared, to get him some food while he went
back upstairs to check on his brothers. Hoss was still asleep, his temperature
about the same, but Joe was very restless. Joe was wondering when their
father would be back, worried about his eldest brother who despite his best
efforts looked very tried and drawn. Adam had no intention of telling either
his brother or his wife, just what he had done, at least until morning,
and just said that he’d sent several telegrams.
In Sacramento Ben had been involved in a long business meeting when rumours first started to spread about Indian trouble. Roy had to alert the forts and nearby towns when he first heard from Adam, just after lunch the previous day. Although Sacramento was unlikely to be threatened the telegraph wires were humming and with the meagre information they provided rumours spread rapidly. After a working lunch Ben and his associates worked through the afternoon and had a light meal provided in the early evening, so for a long time Ben was unaware of the rumours. Even so he found himself thinking about his sons, much more than he did normally in such company, not really worried, just conscious of them. One of the men with him had been making snide comments about his brother setting up as a lawyer and the obvious jealousy and dislike he showed contrasted strongly with Ben’s sons. Ben sitting eating, almost oblivious of the general conversation thought of his three sons and their close friendship with each other, their pride in each other. He was very grateful not to have to face jealousy between them, only once had he been scared of it and Joe had amply proved that his angry outburst hadn’t meant anything, just words to cover his own confusion. Eventually with a wrench Ben brought his thought back to the present and got on with the contract negotiations. The men worked through until nearly ten and then adjourned to complete their business the following morning.
It had been a very long session and Ben was too tense to sleep so he slowly went down to the saloon for a drink to unwind. Soon after they came out his business associates heard stories of the massacre on the Ponderosa, All of them had known Ben for years but none were close friends. They were agreed that Ben ought to be told gently, but while each man considered another could do the job better Ben was finding out for himself.
Ben had made his way to the bar and stood waiting for the bartender to come to that end, vaguely aware of the two cowboys talking next to him. He wasn’t really listening until he heard the name of his ranch. One was dubious at heading to Reno the following day as planned, if hordes of Indians were on the rampage. The other said “They’re well south of Reno. The Ponderosa is near Virginia City not Reno.”
“Yeah but its gonna take more than Adam Cartwright’s fast gun to stop a thousand Indians, especially now they’ve tasted blood. Once they’ve finished with the Ponderosa, who knows where they’ll head next. Me, I’m for keeping the Sierra’s between us, until the army chase ‘em out.”
Ben licked his dry lips and held onto the bar, “Excuse me I couldn’t help overhearing. I know the Ponderosa, is there trouble?”
The men turned to him, “Where you been all day mister? There’s been a massacre; over a thousand Indians hit a lumber gang or something. The Cartwrights were moving against them from what we heard. I know it’s a big spread but they don’t stand a chance.” He broke off “Hey Mister are you alright?”
Ben had gone deathly pale holding onto the bar for support, knowing the rumours before he left, scared for his sons. Overtired anyway, he was close to shock and the cowboys yelled for the bartender to bring a drink. The man Stoney knew Ben from many visits over the years and he hurried over “Whatever’s wrong Mr Cartwright? Can I get you a drink?”
The cowboys looked at each other in dawning realisation and one asked,
“What did you call him?”
Stoney frowned, “He’s Ben Cartwright. I didn’t know he was in Sacramento.”
“We just told him about the massacre, didn’t realise”
Ben could hear voices as though they were far in the distance and he couldn’t respond to them. One of the cowboys pulled up a chair and Ben sank down into it willingly enough and when he was offered a glass of brandy he downed it rapidly and tried to get a grip on himself. The warmth of the spirit helped and he straightened up, “I’m alright. How much is rumour and how much is fact?”
Stoney shrugged, “Who knows by now? Certainly soon after lunch the sheriff in Virginia City alerted all towns and asked for army assistance after word from the Ponderosa. There’d been fighting, injured men took word to the ranch from what I heard. The rest, who knows, the wires have been humming, how accurate is anyone’s guess.”
Ben slowly got to his feet “Thank you. I think I’ll try and contact someone in Virginia City.”
“You okay Mister. We didn’t know. Come with you, if you need a hand.”
Ben shook his head, “No I’m okay now. No way you could have known. I’m grateful for you telling me, at least now I can try and find out the facts.” He went down to the telegraph office and sent wires to Roy, Dan, Doc, Fair and Mackay. Beth was away and he couldn’t trust anyone else to be straight with him. He waited for news but the first three were all out at the Ponderosa and as it happened Fair and Mackay were in a business meeting and unaware of what was going on and the telegraph office couldn’t find them. Ben hung around for a while, but as no answer was forthcoming and he needed a drink, he left a young man to bring any answers and went back to the saloon. He soon discovered that the story he’d heard was mild compared to some of the rumours around. Many people recognized him but none were close friends and the expression on his face was enough to keep everyone else away.
Ben sat in the saloon toying with a brandy but even that didn’t really help, aware of his sons and trying almost be sheer will power to break down the distance between them and learn what had happened. Desperately worried, he hung onto one thought; he didn’t feel any of them were dead. Whether it was wishful thinking or what he wasn’t sure, but he hung onto the thought with the desperate strength of a drowning man, Before midnight three of his closer business associates, including two he had spent the day with, had plucked up their courage and come to join him. They felt a certain responsibility as Ben looked as though he might collapse at any moment. Ben accepted their conventional murmurs of sympathy, largely in silence and they talked quietly together, leaving him to his thoughts. Ben was sure that his sons would send word as soon as they could, they wouldn’t leave him to worry and if, a thought he hardly dare allow himself, if they were all hurt, one of his old friends would contact him now that they knew where he was. He refused to admit, even to himself, the possibility that any of his sons could be dead let alone all.
Ben wasn’t the only one sitting scared, praying for news. Word had spread to San Francisco too and Will had come home early from work to be with his wife. He too sent telegrams to Virginia City to Dan and Roy asking for news and had paid for a special delivery of any answers to his house. Very well aware of hoe exaggerated rumours got, it still seemed evident that something had happened on the Ponderosa. During the evening, husband and wife sat in silence all speculation done, they could only wait and pray. When the doorbell rang Will was on his feet instantly, hoping it was news but instead it was Nita Stanford. She was obviously dressed for a ball but as white as a sheet, and scared she was going to collapse Will hurried her in to the fire. They had already had a very worried Meg round and promised to let her know as soon as they heard anything definite. Laura came forward and held Nita’s hands, they were so cold that she chafed them in her own, “Easy Nita, easy. Will get her a drink.”
Nita hadn’t heard anything before going out and had actually been at the
ball where everyone was talking of the massacre. At first just casually
she had enquired of one partner what had happened. It had taken a little
persuasion to get him to talk, as he insisted it wasn’t a suitable topic
for a young lady. She laughed at him she wasn’t a fainting violet and eventually
he had given way. She had heard most of the story before he named the Ponderosa.
She had gone very quiet as she listened, telling herself that there was
more than one ranch near Virginia City, but as she heard the name she went
very white and lent heavily on him for support. He was scared of this white
fainting girl and got her over to a chair and then offered to go and find
her stepmother. That was the last thing that Nita wanted and pulling herself
together, she assured him that she was fine. The only way to get rid of
him was to ask for a drink and as soon as he’d gone to get it, Nita slipped
to the cloakroom, got her cape and left. She was oblivious of her ball dress
and her evening shoes as she hurried through the streets to Will’s house.
She was very cold by the time she reached the house, so scared for Joe;
the rumours spoke of a massacre as though everyone on the Ponderosa was
dead. She could only think of getting to Will and Laura, who might know
what was actually happening.
As Will handed her a drink, she pushed it away but sat up straighter, “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have come, I have no right but I had to know.” She wasn’t particularly coherent and Laura just put an arm round her shoulder “I’m sorry we don’t know anything yet. Will has sent of a telegram asking for details.”
Nita bit her finger “Are they alive? I’m sorry you don’t know. I shouldn’t have come.”
Will patted her shoulder “You are very welcome Nita, we know Joe matters to you. Equally you matter to my cousin and he’d want us to help as much as we can.”
Nita buried her face in her hands, it was a long time since she’d seen Joe and yet her love for him had steadily grown, now Will who had seen him very recently accepted that Joe cared a little for her, but maybe it was too late. Thinking of Joe and remembering the strength she had sensed in him, she took deep breaths determined not to let him down. She sat up “I’m alright. I’m sorry to make such a fuss but I only just heard.”
Laura poured coffee, glad to see the young girl back in control and Nita sipped it gratefully. Will said, “We haven’t heard anything definite, It’s obvious there has been some sort of fight but how many Indians and how serious I can’t find out. I’ll be surprised if they have accurate information in Virginia city yet. There were rumours while we were there and all placed up in the north west of the ranch. That fits in with the rumour, which says a lumber camp was attacked. My cousin Hoss was in charge up there. He’d been warned and would have been taking precautions. Try not to worry too much, rumours always exaggerate. The Ponderosa is pretty effective at looking after its own.”
Nita nodded, “I’ll try I’m sorry it was just a shock, I had to come, you were the only ones who might know.”
Will smiled, “Of course you had to come. I’ve sent asking for news but I have no idea when it will arrive. Do you want me to take you home?”
“No I don’t want to be a bother.”
“Is your father there?” asked Laura.
“No he’s away, just my step-mother, or at least she’s at the ball.”
Laura could feel the tension in the younger girl and was sure she shouldn’t be left alone with a woman, who disliked her. “Would you like to stay here with us until we hear? Will can go along to the ball and give your stepmother a message. She knows that you spend quite a bit of time with us so she shouldn’t worry,”
Nita wanted nothing better than to stay close to the only source of news, but she has no claim on them. Will reading her answer on her face began pulling on his boots. “Laura can find you some night clothes and we can pick up some more suitable day clothes for you in the morning.”
“I can’t intrude on ....”
“Nonsense.” Laura said briskly “We’re all worried, let’s at least have some company while we wait. Mind you I’ll still bet all four of them are fine they get into all too many scrapes but they are very adept at wriggling out again.”
Nita relaxed a little at that and let Laura mother her and bully her into bed with some hot milk dosed with laudanum. Laura sat with her until she slept, glad of something to do to pass the time herself.
In Sacramento Ben thought time had stopped completely. He seemed to have been sitting in the saloon forever waiting for news. It was just after 1.00 a.m. when Roy got back to Virginia City with confirmation of the truce. The whole town was in uproar, scared of an attack and everyone wanted to know the news, just how many Indians and how many had they killed. At first Roy found it hard to make them believe that there was only one death and a few injured and it took him more than twenty minutes to push his way through to the telegraph office. There the clerk told him he had a telegram from Ben but Roy knew what it would be asking. Before he got in touch with the military again, he fulfilled his promise to Adam and sent word to Ben in Sacramento.
Just after 1.30 the youngster Ben had left in the telegraph office pushed his way into the saloon. Ben had been seemingly unaware of all outside influences for more than an hour but well before the boy reached him, he was on his feet moving forward to get the telegram. It was short and to the point “Adam asked me send word. All safe at house, truce arranged. No long term damage. Don’t worry. Further details later. Roy Coffee”
Ben read it twice, at least all his sons were alive and he had his eldest son’s word that there would be no lasting effects, almost more than he dared hope. He had been more scared than he could ever remember and as he took in the words, for the first time in many years, he just passed out, everything going black, he just crumpled to the floor. There were many willing hands to break his fall and loosen his collar, but Ben was out cold. One of the men picked up the telegram and read it out starting off another buzz of speculation. Meantime Ben’s business associates arranged for him to be carried over to the hotel and taken to his room. There he was laid on the bed but as his pulse was good and strong the men decided against bothering the Doc and just left him to sleep. They did at least pull off his boots and pulled up the covers. They left the telegram by his bed. As they walked down the corridor one commented that the telegram had avoided saying a lot, maybe until they had details on the damage they ought to avoid signing a contract with the Ponderosa. The other man laughed, “Its not until next year, Adam is still around and as long as he is, no disrespect to the others, but while he is, I’ll sign and not worry.”
“I suppose you’re right and anyway Ben will probably hurry home before he signs anything.”
That would undoubtedly have been true, but thoroughly overtired and scared Ben slipped from his faint into a deep sleep and it was lunchtime before he woke again. For a moment he couldn’t understand why he was fully dressed and then as memory seeped in, he sat up in a sudden panic, scared for his sons. He reached out for Roy’s telegram only to find another one resting on it. This one was from Doc and has come about dawn. It amplified Roy’s news, telling Ben that both Hoss and Joe were hurt but no bones broken or vital parts touched, They would be fine. There were five other men with similar nasty but not serious injuries and about a dozen minor injuries, one dead and the truce accomplished and holding. Ben relaxed slightly. Neither of his sons sounded too bad and Adam was alright and would take care of his brothers. He knew he could trust Adam and Carole. Ben got up and washed and began packing, determined to have lunch, cancel all his appointments and start home. He should be there the following evening and be able to see for himself. He was sitting over coffee after lunch when Adam’s long telegram in code reached him.
Ben undid it slowly but as he saw the code, he knew it was from Adam and
he carefully translated it. There was much fuller information for which
he was very grateful but as he came to his son’s suggestion that he should
stay and complete his business his immediate reaction was that he couldn’t,
he had to see for himself. Then years of working with his eldest son, trusting
Adam’s judgement gave him second thoughts. Ben ordered a brandy and reread
the telegram and considered what Adam said about his brother’s injuries
and what work still had to be covered for the rest of the year. Slowly he
came to see the force of Adam’s arguments, it would be virtually impossible
to get back to Sacramento in time to complete the contract if he left now.
It was going to be hard enough anyway if Joe and Hoss were both immobilised
or effectively so, for the rest of the summer. Commonsense said that Adam
was right and he knew that Adam wouldn’t even have asked him to consider
it if either of his brothers were critically ill. He could trust Adam to
take care of them and the ranch but that didn’t prevent every fibre of his
being aching to be with them, It was a real effort to accede to Adam’s request.
He walked down to the telegraph office and sent word to his eldest son,
agreeing with his proposal, but reminding Adam that he needed regular news.
Then he went to rearrange his business meetings to get through as fast as
he could. Everyone was surprised that he was staying but Ben just said that
things weren’t as serious as he’d at first feared and that he might not
be able to get back for quite a while. He had everyone’s sympathy, and more
importantly their co-operation in rearranging meetings, and he hoped to
finish up in three days and be able to head home.
In San Francisco it had been early morning before Will’s telegram bore fruit, Roy had sent word as soon as he found it but he had been busy notifying the army and ensuring that no-one locally went off half-cocked and broke the truce.
The telegram reached Will’s house as he was trying to force down some breakfast. He and Laura had been to bed but neither of them had done more than doze restlessly. Nita had slept for six hours but then she got up and was staring out of the window. She could see Joe’s face, no longer even surprised that this man whom she had seen for such a short time, had come to mean everything to her; so that she had not even thought of her pride, running headlong to find out what had happened. When she heard movements she had put on the wrapper Laura had lent her and gone in search of coffee, As there was no news none of them wanted to talk and only Will was attempting to eat. As the door went he dropped his knife and fork and ran to it, ripping open the telegram as the boy stood surprised at the dollar he’d been given, Will read it rapidly and gave a sigh of relief as he went back to the women “No massacre, they’re okay.”
Laura sobbed with relief, the tears streaming down her face but Nita, although very pale hardly daring to believe, asked, “What happened?”
“About 600 Indians attacked Hoss and the lumber crew. Adam and Joe and the rest of the men pulled them out and somehow Adam arranged a truce. Some injuries, seems Hoss had a wound in his shoulder, Joe’s got a hole in his leg but not serious. Roy says they’ll all be fine.”
Nita bit her lip as she heard that Joe was hurt but Will smiled, “Don’t worry about it, my cousins are tough. Joe’s survived much worse. I can remember he walked five miles in the snow with a bullet in his leg and a bloody great hole, to bring us word his brother was in danger. He was back on his feet in less than a month and he will be this time too I’m sure.”
Nita buried her face in her hands but then after a minute she straightened up “I must go home. I can’t impose on you any longer. You’ve been very kind. I had no right, no claim on you or Joe.”
Laura wiped her eyes and put her arms round Nita “Stop it don’t be silly. You are very welcome here and as soon as we have more details we’ll let you know. I know you care for Joe and from what I saw he cares for you too, Whether anything comes of it is your business but caring earns you any rights you need round here.”
At that Nita did give way and sobbed out her relief on Laura’s shoulder. Will left them alone and went up to get dressed. Later he’d learn more details, for now he was content his family and the one place, which meant anything to him, had survived.
At the Ponderosa Adam had cleared everything that couldn’t wait, spent some time with Joe and managed to get a little more food down Hoss but by six he was exhausted and it was a real effort to force down some food. Carole was delighted when he said he was going to bed, but when he told her to call him at midnight he nearly had a mutiny on his hands. “Don’t be a stubborn fool, you need your rest. It’s only will power keeping you on your feet. Leave it to someone else.”
Adam pulled her onto his lap “Who? I’m trusting you for the next six hours
but you need sleep, you have the children too. If it was just Joe I would,
but Hoss is too big and too weak, he needs help.”
Carole sighed but she kissed him “Not much point in wasting time arguing, get to bed, you have my word I’ll call you.”
Adam held her close for a moment “God bless you darling.”
Then he went up to bed, too tired to even bother undressing and was asleep almost instantly. Carole sat with Hoss all evening but by the time she was due to call Adam she was actually grateful. She couldn’t hold Hoss any longer, his fever was very much higher and he was moaning in pain, fairly continually. Despite all her efforts she couldn’t stop him catching his back or his arm. Adam was awake almost instantly as she came in, feeling better for some sleep. He read the expression on her face without trouble, “Hoss is worse?”
“He’s very restless, fever up.”
“Take it easy love, it would be a miracle is he wasn’t. I expected it, You leave my big brother to me, get some sleep.”
“No darling. I’ll need your help tomorrow and the children will need you, You get some sleep or my daughter will be going hungry.”
Carole laughed “No, I’m an efficient cow.” But she had to admit she was tired. She knew that Adam was talking sense, he knew, none better, how to cope with his brothers and it would still be a while before they could hope to have Ben back to help. So she kissed Adam and headed for bed leaving him to go to his brothers.
Adam went to Joe’s room first, when he went to bed Joe had been quite feverish but now he was sleeping peacefully and his temperature had dropped again. Adam left the door into the corridor open, but he wasn’t worried about Joe, his little brother has some blood to make up and he was still weak from the pain but provided Joe stayed off his leg it wasn’t serious. Hoss was another matter and as Adam slipped into the chair by the bed he wondered if he ought to have glossed over the injury so much to his father, whether there was still some source of infection. He replaced the cold compress and held his big brother still, talking quietly to him, He had seen Hoss worse, for instance when he’d had blood poisoning soon after his wedding but his brother was weakening rapidly and in obvious pain.
Adam was stronger than Carole and he ignored the pain in his side as he held his brother still. Hoss was muttering indistinguishably and Adam talked quietly to him. At first Hoss didn’t realise but slowly either his brother’s voice or the familiar firm touch of his strong hands penetrated and he murmured “Adam."
Adam changed the cold compress and sponged his brother down, “I’m right
here Hoss, don’t worry everything is going to be fine.” For a while Hoss
rested easier but his fever continued to mount although he was too weak
to be so restless and Adam could hold him more easily. Adam had succumbed
to his fears and checked the wound but it all looked perfectly healthy.
He continued to fight the fever with seemingly little effect and when Carole
came in to find him after Marie’s early feed, she found Adam wrapping his
brother up after sponging him down yet again.
Hoss was in a coma now, no longer restless but still burning up. Adam looked exhausted again but he held Carole close seeing her fear, “Its alright sweetheart, his pulse is still good and strong. The big moose can take it and it’ll break soon I expect.” Adam tried to sound confident and knowing his big brother’s strength he almost half-believed his own words. He got a quick snack and started the days work while Carole stayed with Hoss and then as Joe awoke Adam took him up a meal, he insisted that Joe eat before attempting to get up. Then leaving Joe to eat he went to find the wheelchair. Despite his brother’s words the previous day Joe was very surprised to be allowed out of bed without a long argument. He knew that he was still very weak but he was eager to help, Adam came back in with the wheelchair and then tried to prepare Joe before taking him over to Hoss, knowing how worried Joe was bound to be. He did his best to reassure Joe, Hoss was still strong and Doc had expected it. At least now that Hoss was lying quiet, Joe could manage to nurse him with Hop Sing’s help for a couple of hours, Adam had to get back to the Indian camp and ensure there hadn’t been any trouble and check if they needed anything.
The morning went past very fast as he tried to clear the work and sort out the multitude of problems, getting the crews back to normal work. Johnny had taken the lumber crew back out and Adam promised to get out and mark up, get the work started as soon as he could. At least for once there was plenty of money in the safe so he didn't have to try to fit in a visit to town but he knew that he ought to get up to the mine and start men cutting the hay crop. However work would have to await his personal presence until Hoss was better. Apart from two hours going over to the Indian camp Adam refused to leave the house. He had sent Joe back to bed for a couple of hours after lunch having seen his brother’s temperature rise, promising if Joe would get some sleep he could return to Hoss later. Adam left Hoss in Carole’s care and spared half an hour for his sons, thanking Kam Su for looking after them so well.
Adam was finding it increasingly difficult to hang onto his certainty that Hiss was going to be alright and several times he was on the verge of sending for Doc again. Only the knowledge that there was nothing that Doc could do even if he was there prevented him. He’d seen both his brothers worse but as the hours slowly passed still without the fever breaking Adam, weak and tired, found it hard not to panic. He was feeling very guilty about his telegram to his father knowing that Ben would be arriving anytime if he hadn’t sent it. If Hoss should die he knew that he’d never forgive himself for keeping his father away and he felt his father would never forgive him either. He still hadn’t told anyone what he’d done knowing they would hit the roof and so far he hadn’t heard either Joe or Carole speculating about Ben’s probable arrival.
The fever was taking its toll and Hoss was very weak, his pulse slightly erratic by late afternoon. Joe was slightly feverish himself but flatly refused to go and rest. Adam was so tired and drawn himself, feeling increasingly guilty that he knew he wasn’t on very firm grounds and let Joe do as he wanted. Carole divided her time between the three brothers and her children. Jess was back taking notes and making what decisions he could as Adam had given up all attempt to control the work, needing to stay with his big brother. Carole brought up two trays and despite protests bullied both Joe and Adam into eating something, although neither of them could empty their plates. As she took the plates away Joe said, “You sent word to Pa didn’t you? I’d have thought he’d have been here before now.”
Adam didn’t answer but bent over Hoss wiping his brother’s face and then feeling his brother’s forehead gently, he turned to Joe unable to find the words and not really needing to. Joe saw it on Adam’s face and pressing closer to the bed he felt Hoss’ forehead, damp with sweat but cool the fever broken. He grinned broadly “We’ve done it.” Seeing his eldest brother looked close to collapse, Joe wheeled himself out onto the landing and called down to Carole “Its broken, bring up the brandy we’ve earnt a drink.”
She ran upstairs bringing the decanter and three glasses. By the time she came in Adam had himself back under control and he was busy wiping down his big brother. Carole brought dry sheets and blankets and a fresh nightshirt, Joe forced Adam to have a drink before he changed the bed and Adam was glad of the spirit as he lifted his big brother. He felt it pull badly on his already aching side, but he could ignore everything now that he was sure that Hoss would recover.
Half an hour later with Hoss wrapped up warmly and Joe tucked up in bed and already asleep, Adam left Hop Sing to keep an eye on them and went back downstairs with Carole. Jess had a sheaf of notes but he insisted that none of them were urgent and told his friend in no uncertain terms that he belonged in bed like his brothers. Adam smiled lazily Jess had changed a lot in the last couple of years, he could still remember how hesitant Jess had been at one time even coming into the house. Now he was quite at home and even tried to bully his friend, but this time he wasn’t going to win and Adam just put out his hand for the papers. Not arguing but just taking it for granted that he would be obeyed, He went and sat down by the fire and began to look through them, noting down his decisions, Jess tried again, “It can wait until tomorrow.”
Adam shook his head, most of his attention on the queries “No I must ride up to the lumber camp, get it started again, now Hoss is recovering.”
Carole knew her stubborn husband too well to protest even though she was well aware that he wasn’t fit enough “All the more reason for going to bed and getting a good night’s sleep. Pa’s bound to be back, he’ll cope with those.”
Adam deliberately buried his nose deeper in the paperwork as he said casually “Pa won’t be back for a few days, he has to finish up in Sacramento first.”
Jess’ and Carole’s reactions were identical and simultaneous as both said “What!” and came over to him. They had both assumed that Ben was on his way back and now were horrified to hear that he wasn’t. Adam tried to ignore them but Carole took the paper from his hand “I want an explanation. We’d all taken it for granted that Pa was on his way.”
Adam sat back seeing the anger clear in her eyes “I’m sorry love, I should have told you. I sent Dan in with a long telegram for Pa yesterday, telling him exactly what was wrong with Hoss and Joe and they would both be fine. I said I could cope and that he ought to finish up before he came home.”
“You fool, you’re almost out on your feet and the one person who could really help, you tell to stay away.”
“Easy darling. I was being sensible really.”
Jess snorted “Not from where I’m standing.”
“Okay so I’m more pushed for a day or so, if necessary things have to slide a bit. If Pa had rushed back he’d be here tonight I guess but then at some stage he’d have had to fit in another trip to Sacramento or I would. Joe isn’t going to be able to travel far or do any hard work with that leg for probably three months and you’ve seen how weak Hoss is. For the rest of this year’s work, there’s Pa and I as far as I can see. There’s the cattle drive, horses to be delivered and the lumber contract and at least one trip to Frisco, all of which have to be covered. We are going to be very pushed anyway without wasting a week on a trip to Sacramento.”
Carole sat down heavily next to him “That’s all very well but you’re not fit now.”
“Even if Pa was home tonight, he’d only be handling things from the house instead you two will have to keep an eye on my brothers and make notes like today. It will make very little difference to me, in fact you’re the ones who will really be affected.”
Carole was sure that there was a fault in the logic somewhere but she couldn’t find it and sighing she got to her feet, “I give up. Finish those and get to bed.”
She went over to the door with Jess, “He has the whip hand, the longer we argue, the longer before he rests.”
“He ought to have someone with him, it’s a long way.”
“I’ll work on it.” Carole assured him “But I will need your help here.”
“You’re a good friend Jess, thanks for all you’ve done.” Carole watched Jess cross the yard, she had grown fond of the cowboy, watched him gradually come out of his shell and accept extra responsibility. A sort of second foreman with José handling the cows and Jess the more general problems at the ranch. The Cartwrights were lucky in their men, a luck they earnt.
She went back upstairs to send Hop Sing to go and rest so that he could spell her after Marie’s night feed and sat half dozing by Hoss, who was resting much more easily, About three hours later Adam came up and looked in on his brother. He was exhausted and he didn’t argue with her plans for the night, knowing he had to get some rest and sure that Hoss wouldn’t stir until morning. He spared time to have a wash and then slipped into bed. For a few minutes he remembered the guilt that he had felt that afternoon, but he was too tired to worry and quickly slipped into sleep.
Adam was up at dawn and collecting his things, not sure he would be able to get home that night. Carole was still asleep and he slipped out quietly and went in to see Hoss, His brother was still asleep and Hop Sing said that he hadn’t moved all night. Adam felt Hoss’ pulse, it was much slower and stronger and his brother looked much better, his colour better and looking less drawn. As he went out into the corridor he heard Joe and went into his brother, who was sitting up in bed. Joe was pleased to see Adam looked rested but knew better than to comment. He asked about Hoss and Adam was able to reassure Joe and told his brother that once he’d had breakfast he’d get Joe dressed and he could sit with Hoss. He added that he had to go out to the lumber camp and get it started and Joe looked worried “Are you up to it. It’s a long ride.”
“I’m fine, had a good night’s sleep and anyway little choice.”
“Is Pa back yet?”
Adam sat down on the bed, knowing there was likely to be an explosion and
reminded Joe that Carole and the kids were still asleep and then explained
what he had done. Joe kept his voice down but he didn’t mince his words,
as he told Adam exactly what he thought of his brother’s high-handed action.
Adam hadn’t expected anything else and listened in silence, Joe knew that
his eldest brother was nowhere fit himself and yet he’d wilfully prolonged
the time for which he had to cope virtually single-handed. Joe said “Suppose
Hoss....” and then he broke off abruptly, seeing the pain and self-blame
on Adam’s face, Adam finished it for him “Suppose Hoss had died, Pa not
here, because I told him Hoss would be fine, Don’t you think I thought of
that yesterday? I could never have forgiven myself and I’m sure Pa wouldn’t
forgive me either.”
Joe reached out to grip his brother’s arm “Hoss is going to be fine, He’s never been as ill as he was at Fallon. You could only accept what Doc said, he assured us Hoss would be okay I heard him.”
“Adam shook his head “I’m lucky but it wasn’t my decision. I shouldn’t have forced it on Pa, I realised that yesterday.” Adam couldn’t meet his brother’s gaze but Joe needed to try and help and said, “You were only trying to be practical. You couldn’t know he’d be worse. Anyway it’s between us and Carole so forget it.”
“No I have to tell Pa when he does come home. Maybe he won’t ever be able to trust my judgement so much again.”
Joe sat right forward and put his arm round his brother “You meant it for the best. Anyway Doc was right Hoss is going to be fine, so it will work out that way.”
Adam lent against his brother for a minute and then smiled ruefully “Five minutes ago you were roundly abusing me, now you say its all for the best.”
“It would have been the most practical answer but for one thing, you are nowhere near fit. You got a hole in your side and lost too much blood, to say nothing of the strain you were under one way and another. It’s now that you need help and it I’m not to land you with two complete invalids, there’s all too little I can do.”
Adam turned to face his brother “You’ve already done a lot Joe, thanks for not blaming me. I’ll cope.”
“Of course I don’t, neither will Hoss or Pa, so stop blaming yourself. Having done it you have all too many other problems.”
“They won’t go away by sitting here chatting, so I’ll go and get some food.” Adam went downstairs, much more relaxed with his brother’s support. Once Joe was dressed Hoss had woken up and Adam spent time to feed him and reassure his big brother that everything was fine before leaving Joe to cope.
Under Carole’s insistent pressure, which he warned her sounded all too like nagging, Adam had surrendered and agreed to take someone along with him, just in case. Apart from anything else he would be carrying a fair amount of money to pay the hands. Most of his close friends amongst the hands were already busy and anyway he didn’t want anyone fussing at him, so he decided to take Red. Red was an amiable and trustworthy cowboy who had been with them a long time, but wouldn’t think of protesting, just doing whatever the boss said. Carole would rather that someone more likely to stop him overdoing things had gone along, but she was doubtful if even Jess or José would really have any effect and had to be content with what she’d got.
Adam headed out for the Indian camp first and already about a quarter of the braves had disappeared. After a short talk to the most important chiefs, he rejoined Red and they headed for the lumber camp. Knowing how much needed doing Adam pushed hard and warning Red that they would be going onto the sawmill later, he settled to work with Johnny. He spent three hours on the detailed marking up with Johnny’s help, grateful for his brother’s clear master plan and then knowing that they had enough work to keep them busy for four or five days, he made up pay packets and collected paperwork to work on at home. Johnny had handled camp for them before when they were pushed, knowing the Cartwrights were always generous if he had to carry extra responsibility. Adam arranged for couriers to bring the paperwork in and then after a quick meal he was ready to move on. Despite his best efforts it was already late in the afternoon and he knew he’d be lucky to reach the sawmill by ten. Red rode alongside not talking, slightly worried by how tired and drawn his boss looked, but not liking to say anything.
When Adam reached the mill Jack Catfish was more outspoken and told Adam just what a fool he was. The lecture didn’t surprise Adam and he barely listened as he made up the pay packets and collected the paperwork, When he told Red to re-saddle the horses, that they were going onto the mine, Jack grabbed his arm “You can’t be serious!”
“I have to get back, It’s a good trail, moonlit night, I’ll sleep up at the mine, get an early start home."
"You trying to kill yourself Adam? I know how close you were to collapse two days ago; not only Hoss and Joe were hurt. Does your father know?”
“He’s still in Sacramento, that’s why I have to get back. I’m okay Jack, takes more than a small cut to knock me out. I’ll be up next week, you just keep things moving here.” Adam gripped his friend’s hand for a moment and then swung up on Blackie and headed out.
By the time he reached the mine, Adam was half dozing in the saddle, trusting Blackie to follow Red’s horse and when they arrived he settled down to sleep at once. It was four hours later that he woke up to the smell of coffee and bacon, He’d forced himself to wake but it was an effort and for the moment he sat quietly drinking coffee, leaving Red to fill the miners in on the facts of the Indian raid. Stuck out in the south of the ranch they’d only heard rumours. Once he’d confirmed it was all over and his brothers recovering Adam was able to finish his business quickly, collect more papers to assess bonuses and again arranging for the paperwork to be delivered to the house and then he could be on his way.
He had two more stops to make, one down in the bottom meadow where the
rich hay crop was due to be cut. He made sure that the crew knew exactly
what he wanted done and paid them and then he could head back to the Indian
camp before going home. Despite his sleep overnight Adam was dozing again
in the saddle and he was nearly in the Indian camp before Red shook his
arm to wake him. Adam sat up straight and grabbed his canteen, wiping his
face and having a long drink “Let’s just check that all’s well here and
then we can go home.”
As he rode in Se-tain-te came over “Adam Cartwright good.” Adam dismounted by the chief and he went on “The Kiowa leave today, my braves are ready. You kept your word. Like the Paiute and the Apache the Kiowa will remember. You may come in peace to my land.”
“Thank you Se-tain-te, you and your people are welcome on these our lands. May the Kiowa find peace and plenty.”
The grave Indian chief nodded and then calling his men he mounted and rode out. Adam watched him go, he’d heard so many stories about Satanta and yet treated fairly, he responded in kind. Adam could only despair at the idiocy of so many of his own race. Ten minutes was sufficient for the remaining courtesies and they were on the last leg.
As he rode in Adam saw Doc’s buggy and he rushed in the last hundred yards, dismounted at the run and leaving Red to care for Blackie, ran into the house, scared for Hoss. As he rushed in Jess stood up but understanding the fear on Adam’s face he said, “Routine visit, Doc said he’d be back today.”
Adam had lost track of time but he relaxed at Jess’ words, “Oh yes of course.” Jess brought him over a brandy “Here you look whacked. He’s with Hoss now.”
Adam sipped the brandy gratefully, giving himself a minute to hide his exhaustion before he went up to join his brothers and get Doc’s report. Doc had stitched up the last of Hoss’ wound, all lovely and healthy, beginning to heal and he was just rebandaging the big man when Adam came in. All of them were pleased to see him back safely even if he did look exhausted despite his best efforts to hide it. Adam kissed his wife and then moved over to Hoss, seeing the pain that Hoss was too weak to hide. Doc’s examination had hurt him badly but although weak and in pain Hoss’ eyes were clear and he wasn’t feverish. Adam gripped his hand gently “You look a bit better Hoss.”
Hoss swallowed hard, red hot knives of pain in his back but he was determined not to worry his brother and anyway Adam was right, at least until Doc had started probing, he had felt better
“Feel it, just tired.”
Adam smiled his brother’s voice was very much stronger and as Doc stood
back he carefully tucked Hoss up. “You get some sleep and then when you
wake up again I’ll come up for a chat.”
Hoss was fighting to keep his eyes open but he knew his eldest brother very well, “You ought to get some sleep too.”
“I will, don’t worry everything’s fine.” Adam glanced over at Carole and she came closer, “I’ll stay with him Marie’s asleep and the twins are in the kitchen.”
Doc pushed Joe’s wheelchair over to his own room and frowned severely at him “I suppose its no use telling you that you ought to be in bed?”
“You said stay off my leg and I am, I’m only sitting with Hoss being very lazy, I get help if he needs anything, he’s too big for me at the best of times.”
“Where’s your father?”
Joe and Adam caught each other’s eye but Joe could see his brother’s exhaustion “Pa had business he couldn’t just drop and as we were all going to be fine he stayed on. He’ll be back in three or four days. Unavoidable but as you can see I have to do what I can to help.” Doc was surprised but sensed that the brothers didn’t want to discuss it. He helped Joe back onto the bed and began undoing the bandage on his leg. It was beginning to heal although it would be a long time before Joe would be able to risk walking on it. Doc didn’t consider it fit enough even for any exercises for the next few days, he warned Joe to retreat to bed if he started running a temperature or he’d have an enforced stay but otherwise Joe was doing fine. Still weak from pain and loss of blood but with good food he was already recovering his strength.
Then Doc turned to Adam “Let’s complete the inspection while I’m here, take your shirt off.”
“Come on Doc, it was only a cut.”
Won’t take me a minute then, I want to see it Adam.”
Adam looked from Doc to his brother but he could see he would have an argument on his hands and he slowly unbuttoned his shirt. Joe looked anxiously at the bandage, wondering if Adam’s reluctance stemmed from breaking open the wound again but he recognised Doc’s handiwork and there was no fresh blood on it, Doc examined the wound in silence and put on a fresh dressing and rebandaged it. He took Adam’s pulse and he was sure that his old friend’s temperature was distinctly low. “How do you feel Adam?”
“A bit tired.”
“Exhausted might be nearer the mark.” Commented Joe.
“Shut up little brother.”
“Any particular sign of weakness?”
Adam smiled, “I don’t particularly feel like carrying a sack of grain or him around, but I’m not going to collapse.”
Joe muttered that his brother had never yet admitted to any weakness, what did the Doc expect but a glare from Adam stopped him provoking his brother too far. Instead he asked outright “Is anything wrong?”
“Probably not but that cut is sowing no sign at all of healing. Its perfectly healthy but hasn’t started to knit together.”
Adam sighed, “Give it a chance it’s only a couple of days. I’m fine and I must get on. Join me for coffee when you’ve finished.” With that he went out and Joe worriedly asked “Is it serious?”
“I don’t think so, he’s weaker than he’ll admit, as you say exhausted. I guess all his energy is needed to keep going, get things organised, none left over to spare on the healing processes. He needs to relax a bit, it’s a pity Ben’s not back,”
“What can I do?”
“Very little if you don’t want to land him with two invalids to look after. Try to stop him lifting you and especially Hoss. It may be as simple as that, each time the cut starts to knit together he lifts one of you, not enough to open the wound but enough to set it back to square one.”
“I’ll try, but he’s so damned stubborn.”
“Enlist Carole’s help. In your father’s absence she’s the most likely to have some effect. Let me go reassure him about you two anyway. Luckily you are all fast healers, I wouldn’t be worried about Adam if I didn’t know how fast he normally heals.”
Adam was relieved to get Doc’s good reports on his brothers and he listened
politely to Doc’s lecture on taking it easy and leaving someone else to
lift his brothers, give his side a chance to heal, but Doc didn’t flatter
himself that it would alter his behaviour one iota.
Ben had been working hard in Sacramento, eager to get finished and anyway the work could push the worries about his sons to the back of his mind. He was finished in three days and with his business contacts all very sympathetic and underestimating him, seeing the anxiety he couldn’t hide, he had both contracts that he wanted on very good terms. The weather was perfect and Ben had no intention of waiting until morning to start home. He packed up, collected his horse and with a sense of relief, headed for home. He had had telegrams every day from Adam and knew that his sons were recovering and the truce had held; but he also knew that with Joe and Hoss immobile his eldest son must be very pushed. With any luck he could be back to help the following evening.
Adam had found it more difficult to cope than he would admit. He managed to hide it from his brothers, if not from Carole. She didn’t nag him, knowing he had little choice, just ensuring he had to help to move Hoss, that he ate properly and keeping the twins out of his hair. Hoss was sufficiently recovered for Adam to agree to leave him alone over night, just keeping the doors open so he could hear if either of his brothers wanted him. It was midnight before he got to bed; even that day after coming back from the mine but even so the work was piling up on him. He was too tired to be as efficient as usual. Joe had insisted on taking over some of the paperwork from the mine and worked quietly as he sat by Hoss but very weak he found even that exhausted him and when he’d finished he had to submit to an early night. Despite his exhaustion when he went to bed Adam was still out of bed before Carole had even taken in that someone was crying out. Adam patted her shoulder “Go back to sleep. Its just Joe, nightmare by the sound of it.”
She was tired out too and slipped back into sleep as Adam went through to his brother’s room. Joe was very restless, back out on the range, trying to stop the hands going after his brother but wanting desperately to let them and trying to tell his father how he’d let his brother die without helping him. Adam sat on the bed and held Joe still, understanding very clearly what Joe was dreaming about. He woke Joe up as gently as he could. Joe stared disbelievingly at him for a moment, still in the throes of his dream. Adam smiled, “Just a dream Joe, it’s alright.”
“It’s okay. Do you want to talk?”
Joe was trembling but he sat up and lent his head against Adam’s shoulder.
“If they hadn’t
talked.... We’d just found....”
Adam could fill the blanks in for himself and he held Joe close “Its alright little brother, they did talk and I’m fine.” Joe slowly relaxed and Adam left him long enough to fetch him a drink. Joe was grateful for that but he had himself back under control and he could see how tired Adam was and insisting that he was fine sent Adam back to bed.
Adam hesitated for a minute but Joe was calmer and he was so very tired that he submitted. He felt as though he’d only just closed his eyes when an hour and a half later, Hoss moaned. Adam was halfway across the corridor before he consciously took in what had woken him. Hoss was restless and Adam spent quarter of an hour with him before Hoss slipped back into sleep. Despite his broken night Adam was back at his desk soon after six and he worked all day part from the time he spent with his brothers. Hoss was a little stronger and would no longer be fobbed off with generalities; he wanted to know exactly what had happened. Adam tried not to worry him but as Hoss learnt of Adam’s parley, he lost all trace of colour even though he had the physical proof that everything had gone well, sitting by him. Adam had already got details of the attack from Jackson but wanting to distract Hoss he asked his brother about it. Hoss slowly told him how he’d sensed trouble, taken cover and defended, waiting sure his brothers would somehow manage to help him. He couldn’t have gone into details even if he’d wanted to, much of it, especially after his wound, was a blur. Gradually his voice got weaker and Adam insisted that he got some more sleep.
Adam had to work hard and although tired out he was still the first to go to his brothers through the night. Habit engrained over the years was too much for Carole to fight, She could always reach the children before Adam stirred but let Hoss moan and Adam was out of bed before he was really awake.
Adam couldn’t get out and round the ranch again until his father got back, he was getting overwhelmed anyway, At least his brothers were recovering and the Indian camp was very much smaller now. He did spare time to go and visit that every day, but now only the Paiutes remained, nursing those braves of the other tribes who weren’t fit to travel. The others had all withdrawn and Adam sent word to that effect to General Latimer.
Adam was finding it ever more difficult to cope, he often found himself shivering even though it wasn’t cold, never far from exhaustion. He hid it as best he could but found it increasingly difficult to force down food and he was keeping going on coffee and brandy, a severe headache not helping his efficiency. He had had telegrams from his father and was expecting Ben back the next day knowing business had been completed the previous day. That was about the only thing enabling him to keep going, Late in the afternoon as he struggled to make sense of the notes Johnny had sent down he heard the door go and cursed, wondering what problem had come up now. He said “I’ll be with you in a minute and finished noting the figures that Johnny had sent which didn’t tie up with what he had expected. Then with a sigh, knowing he couldn’t do anything until he could get up there to see what had happened, he turned to face the next problem, only to see his father, a day before he’d dared hope.
Adam lent back in his chair, too tired to even get up, but he grinned broadly, “Pa, I didn’t expect you until tomorrow.”
Ben moved over to grip his eldest son’s shoulders, scanning his face. He’d
never seen Adam looking more tired eyes bloodshot, his face grey tinged
with exhaustion and despite the grin he could feel the tension in his son.
“I should have come home at once. Your brothers?”
“They are recovering, It seemed a good idea at the time. Maybe I was wrong, for a while I was sure I had been.” Adam broke off, straightened up with an effort. “I’m alright, go see them. Joe is in with Hoss, I’ll finish up here and then we can talk.”
Ben nodded slowly; sure his son was far from alright but equally scared for his other sons. Maybe Carole could tell him what was wrong, either way it wasn’t worth arguing. He went up to find his big son dozing while Joe sat by him in the wheelchair, the account books open on his lap. Joe looked up and as he saw his father Ben could see the heartfelt relief in Joe’s eyes, Joe wheeled himself over, “Thank God Pa, I’ll call Hop Sing to stay with him, he’s only just dozed off.”
Ben went over and stood staring down at Hoss, asleep on his side, supported by pillows, even in his sleep the lines of pain very clear. Joe said no more until Hop Sing arrived and then he said quietly “Pa we need to talk.”
Ben came over and pushed Joe’s chair through to his own room and shut the door. Joe looked tired and had obviously had all too much pain, but of his three sons his youngest looked the fittest. He’d been worried about them, but Adam’s telegram had been reassuring and this was worse than he'd expected. The shock of it showed on his face and Joe recognized it, “I’m okay Pa honest. We all three are gonna be fine.”
“Sore. I won’t be walking at all for at least a couple more weeks, do too much and I start a temperature, so I’ve been being good. Didn’t want to add to Adam’s troubles.”
“He looks terrible.”
“I know. Hoss is weak, he lost a lot of blood, it was an ugly wound but its healing and he’s gradually getting stronger. Adam’s just been doing too much.”
“He has before but I’ve never seen him look like this.”
“He started off unfit this time, just a cut on his side but he lost quite a lot of blood and I don’t think he’s really managed to relax yet. He was under one hell of a strain getting that truce and I think he’s still tense from it. He won’t talk to me or Carole, trying not to worry us but he needs to talk it out, maybe he’ll talk to you. Doc said that first night despite Hoss’ wound and having to cut the arrow out, the only one to show symptoms of shock was Adam. Delayed reaction I guess, shows the strain, I’ve never known him do that before.”
“What does Carole think?”
“She’s been waiting for you, we were furious when we heard he’d told you
to finish up, practical maybe if he’d been fit but....” Joe sighed heavily.
“She’s been marvellous, nursing Hoss, keeping the children away from him,
making notes when she could, bullying him into eating. He’ll be alright
Pa. Get him to talk and pack him off to bed to sleep the clock round preferably
at home where he’s not tempted to go to Hoss. He hasn’t had more than six
hours since the raid and at that always broken, if Hoss stirs or I do. He’s
with us before he’s even awake, habit I guess. Carole says he’s gone before
she even realises.”
Ben relaxed slightly as Joe talked, realising that Joe and Carole had done all they could and that although worried Joe was content now that he was home. “What do you think I should do?”
“Get him to talk. Its what he needs then maybe he’ll sleep properly.”
“And you Joseph?”
“I’m alright, weak and sore, have to leave too much to you two but I’ve been a lot worse. Its just an awkward wound, not terribly bad but crippling.”
Ben gave his son a swift hug “Okay Joe I’m alright now, I think I have a lot to thank you and Carole for that he’s no worse.”
“So little we could do.”
“I know. If Hoss is going to sleep for a while I think I’ll go and try to get Adam to talk.” Joe followed his father out onto the landing to go back to Hoss and saw Carole run into her father’s arms, so grateful to see him back. She had just put the children to bed. Ben held her close “I should have come straight home but Adam omitted to tell me that he was hurt.”
“Not your fault, anyway its just a cut, not serious. It was the strain and so much to do, he’ll be fine now that you’re back.”
Joe nodded “Carole’s right Pa. The cut wasn’t serious but he carried first me and then Hoss, lost blood heavily and I doubt he’s made it up yet.”
“I’ll go talk to him.”
“Please Pa, we’ve both tried but he’s been too busy too tired, trying not to worry us. Its what he needs.”
Ben kissed her forehead “Well I’m back now and I can still occasionally force my eldest son to be sensible, even if he is a father himself.”
Ben went down slowly and watched Adam working over that papers from the lumber camp. Ben got coffee and brandy by the fire and then went over to Adam and took the papers out of his hand. “That can wait, time we talked.”
“Sure Pa I’ll just.....”
“No leave it, now!” Ben firmly led Adam over to the fire and forced him gently down into his favourite blue chair and then handed him coffee. He went over to the door and called Jess over.
“Any messages take them out here, I don’t want to be interrupted for anything, understood?"
Jess grinned, “Sure Mr Cartwright. Good to see you back Adam’s about had it.”
Ben went back to his eldest son, acknowledging the justice of Jess’ words
and sitting down opposite Adam he said, “Right we won’t be disturbed.”
Adam was trying to get his thoughts in order, the main problems he’d been trying to sort out that day, the army’s reaction, Things that his father ought to know but as he began to speak Ben gripped his arm “No Adam, that can all wait, at least until tomorrow. We’ll cope between us. The ranch is intact and for the moment I don’t care about it or even your brothers. Joe is recovering and Hoss will be fine. I’m more concerned about you.”
“I wasn’t hurt, well only a cut.”
“Have you looked in a mirror lately?”
“I’ve been busy.”
“Not the first time, I know you very well Adam and I can’t remember a time you’ve been more tense. You’re making yourself ill. You have to relax get some proper rest and I don’t think you’ll do it until you’ve talked things over.”
Adam rubbed his aching eyes, not sure whether he wanted to talk or where to start. Ben prompted him “How did you first learn Hoss was in trouble?”
Slowly Adam began to fill his father in and after he’d started he couldn’t have stopped even if he’d wanted to. He lent back in the chair staring at the ceiling as he told of their reccy, Joe’s injury, the second dead Indian, the hands arrival and the rescue at the canyon followed by Hoss' collapse. The help he’d had and his decision to try to talk, Jack’s support and his fears at the pressure on Joe. Events in the Indian camp and Joe’s strength in leaving him, His return to his brothers and Doc’s hard work, the quiet acceptance by the Indians, even Se-tain-te, and the clash with the army. He didn’t try to hide how scared he’d been but spoke in almost a monotone, only becoming animated as he told Ben of Joe’s strength and Hoss’ endurance, pride in his brothers so very obvious. He told of his decision to try and make the rest of the summer manageable by persuading his father to finish up in Sacramento and of his subsequent fears for his brother’s life and his self blame with Joe’s effort to dispel it. He spoke of how much support he’d had from both Joe and Carole as well as the hands but even so he had found it almost impossible to cope. Having admitted that Adam buried his face in his hands shivering uncontrollably, so very cold despite the fire, absolutely exhausted.
Ben moved closer to him and put his arm round his son “Easy Adam. It seems to me I have three sons to be very proud of, not that that is anything new. Bed for you right now.” He didn’t think it had penetrated and calling to Kam Su to bring hot bricks, he helped Adam to his feet and led him along to the guestroom furthest from Hoss’ room. Adam seemingly unaware just sat down on the bed without argument but by the time Ben returned with hot bricks, extra blankets and his nightshirt Adam was sitting up more in control. “Pa it’s only seven o’clock!”
“Good you can get twelve hours before breakfast. Into bed with you Adam, I’ll take care of everything and I don’t want to see you until you have at least slept the clock round, longer if you can.”
Ben interrupted “Don’t you trust me Adam? Believe it or not I can take
care of my sons, my ranch, my daughter and my grandchildren. You’ve carried
everyone for days, now it’s my turn.”
Having relaxed as he talked Adam could hardly keep his eyes open and he submitted tamely. Ben tucked his son in, “Get some rest Adam you’ve more than earnt it. You did a superb job there could so easily have been the massacre that rumour credited.”
Adam was asleep almost before his father left the room ands Ben returned to Carole and Joe well pleased “He won’t be joining us for dinner, I thought sleep was more important, I don’t think he’ll stir until morning,”
In fact it was nearly ten before Adam appeared, washed and shaved with clean clothes and starving. He looked at least two hundred percent better for his long sleep much to his family’s relief and was back to his efficient best.
Slowly over the next days Ben learnt more details of the raid and its aftermath from all his sons. Adam seemed himself again and the other two were slowly recovering but with them immobile it was hard to keep everything moving. Adam spent most of his time out either at the lumber camp or elsewhere handling the multitude of problems as best he could, while Ben with some help from Joe and Carole coped with the paperwork. For the moment they were coping from day to day unable to make any long term plans.
After a fortnight Adam and Carole had moved their brood home but they were back over to help celebrate as Hoss left his bed for the first time. It all seemed so much better with the big man downstairs the last of the major effects of the Indian trouble slowly dissipating. For a while the excitement and the ability to sit up at table and eat buoyed Hoss up. He managed a good meal but shortly afterwards he was obviously wilting and very tired he accepted his eldest brother’s help back to bed.
Adam came down smiling; “He was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow but he’s taken no harm. Well on the mend.”
Ben was still frowning and Adam asked, “You’re not still worried about him are you?”
“No it’s not Hoss, he will be fine it’s just the next few weeks. We can’t just carry on managing day by day we are going to have to decide how to handle things, too many jobs to be done and not enough time.”
Adam grinned broadly “We’ll cope we always do and I may know how.”
Ben frowned slightly and then relaxed. The truth was he didn’t care too much, most of the jobs would get done and if something didn’t then it was a small price to pay. He still had all three of his sons and his beloved ranch was intact, for a while that had seemed unlikely but thanks to their strength Adam had been right again, no lasting damage.