Joe stretched his aching leg, he’d been doing some exercises but he still
couldn’t put any weight on it and any liberties Doc had warned him it was
still likely to break open and put him back where he started. He hated feeling
so useless and Adam seeing the look smiled wryly. “I shouldn’t worry Little
Joe, you might just find that you have more than your share to handle.”
Joe looked puzzled but it was Ben who said, “I take it you have been giving the matter some thought?”
“Enforced Pa, When I went into town for the money Jim Fair caught me, Schussler has made arrangements for the pipe to be made, now contracts have to be settled. He was assuming that I’d be going to San Francisco to handle it.”
Ben whistled softly and topped up his brandy glass. “Believe it or not I had completely forgotten the pipe.”
“Just to add to our problems, word is that feed and water are both scarce further north, been a drought.”
Ben had picked that up and he nodded, “Let’s make a list of the jobs to be done and then decide what has to be left.”
Adam pulled a pad over but he was only doodling. Ben met his youngest son’s
eye and laughed “I think your brother has already decided Joe and is just
wondering how we’ll take our allocated jobs.”
Adam grinned but said defensively, “Not really Pa, but there aren’t that many jobs and I can only see one way to cover everything.”
“Well, we have the usual everyday running of the ranch, the mine, the winter feed etc. other than that we have three lumber contracts, the railroads and the mines; two deliveries, cattle and horses; and this pipe contract which must be finalised soon.”
“There’s that new contract for the railroad and the shipping to be arranged.”
Ben reminded him
“That’s in San Francisco too, I was combining it with the pipe contract.”
“Fair enough.” Ben sighed heavily looking at the list that he’d made. “Now if you can tell me how to handle all that I’ll be very grateful.”
“Maybe I can.” Adam grinned, knowing that his suggestion was going to come as a surprise to his father and brother. “It’ll be ten days or so before the herd has to move out. I think, if you can manage without me until then, I can get the railroad contract completed and everything marked up in detail for the mine contracts. Then Johnny can be left to cope if you can get out every four or five days Pa.”
“That’s reasonable but although José can handle the trail branding, with drought....”
“I know and anyway the horse delivery will have to go with the cattle. I’ll handle the drive myself, it’s been a few years but I don’t imagine I’ve forgotten how.”
Ben frowned “I thought you’d want to go to San Francisco.”
“I’ve already told Jim Fair that there’s no way that I can manage it. I suggest that Joe comes with me and the herd as far as Reno and then catches the train to San Francisco.”
Joe stared open-mouthed at his brother and said, almost in horror, “I’m no lawyer.”
Adam laughed at his brother and father, “Think about it for a moment, it’s the only way. I did warn you little brother, more than your share, but you can do it.”
Ben wasn’t at all sure his youngest son was fit enough and although Joe liked the idea of getting back to San Francisco, he wasn’t sure he could cope.
Adam sat back and relaxed now he’d broached the subject. “There are three of us fit enough to do some work and I am not overlooking the fact that Joe is nowhere near fit. Two of the three jobs involve riding, physical effort and there is no way to combine any two of the three. I can see Joe onto the train myself and have Will meet him in San Francisco. We can trust Will and Laura to look after him and Joe can hire a cab to carry him around.”
Joe glared at his brother “I am here in case you’ve forgotten! I’m not worried about my leg, but I am worried about the job.”
Adam grinned “I wasn’t proposing you handle it alone Joe. The point is there are plenty of lawyers around but only four Cartwrights. We’re the major stockholders in the pipe project and own the land and water rights. That contract needs one of us present. After all it’s only a few years since we had to rely on other lawyers. What I suggest is that I draw up the preliminary contracts, brief Joe very thoroughly where he can give and where he can’t, what tricks may be tried and tell him the names of three lawyers, any of whom he can rely on.”
Ben looked at his youngest son “Well Joseph?”
Joe hesitated but then he smiled, “If you two can trust me to do it, under those circumstances I’ll go along. As Adam says it’s about the only way.”
Adam grinned lazily, “You’ll manage just fine little brother. I’ll try and raise old Johnny Rey. He carried me along in San Francisco when I was a lot younger and greener than you.”
Ben thought that was a good idea. Rey, now nearly seventy, had handled all the Ponderosa legal business in California at one time and was a good friend. Now basically retired he had lost none of his sharpness and would ensure that the contracts were watertight. Joe was familiar with the name but couldn’t remember the man. Adam laughed “You may have troubles, he always treats me as not quite full grown and he knows you. Used to come to the Ponderosa quite often but it must be fifteen years since he visited. He’ll reminisce on your escapades as a kid, but he won’t let you put a foot wrong.”
Joe sighed “Just what I need.”
“I shouldn’t worry, he’s a nice old boy. I usually manage to drop in when I’m in San Francisco.”
Ben looked over at Carole “What do you think?”
“Whichever way you arrange things Adam is going to be away from home. He may well be back sooner from the cattle drive than Joe will be from San Francisco.”
Ben said “Will you be alright on your own at home?”
“Of course. Anyway Kam Su is there and with the kids I have plenty to get on with. Everything has quietened down now the Indians have left.” Adam moved over and put his arm round her, “Get the next few weeks over and things will calm down and I’ll have more time.”
Ben could only accept his sons’ opinion it was the only way but he suggested that Adam take his wife on home now. He knew that Adam was going to be very pushed over the next two weeks, with the lumber and the pipe contract but he knew just how capable his eldest son was.
Over the next few days as the herd was branded Adam worked up at the lumber camp full time. It wasn’t easy to do as he’d promised and he was pushing hard. He worked far into the night himself, snatching an hour when he could to draw up the contracts and notes that Joe would need. He was managing on four hours sleep a night if he was lucky. Even so by the time he had marked up in detail for the mine contracts, to cover five weeks work while he was away, he was a day later than he’d intended returning to the house. He had sent word to Carole when the delay became inevitable but even so he was worried about it. He had planned on a clear day at home to see his family, brief Joe and get everything ready for the drive. Now he’d be lucky to get home by dark and with a million things to check the evening would be gone. Needing an early start he wouldn’t even see his children except while they slept and he would be away for at least five weeks. Still it couldn’t be helped and as he rode home Adam went over and over all the things that needed doing. He would have liked to check the supplies and remuda himself, but he knew that he could trust José and his father to have done that job correctly.
Ben had considered holding the herd back an extra day when he learnt that Adam would be delayed but all the reports he’d been getting pointed to a difficult drive and they had contracts to meet with delivery deadlines. He talked it over with José instead and although José didn’t hide the fact that he was glad Adam was going along, that he didn’t want the responsibility of the herd on a dry drive, he was equally clear when he said that he could handle the first day or so, close to the Ponderosa. Ben accepted his offer to move the herd out alone and let Adam and Joe bring the second chuck wagon on to catch them up. It would make it easier for Joe too, not tied to the slow pace of the herd, which especially in the first days not broken to the trail and leaving their home range was inevitably very slow.
Adam went straight to the main house to deliver the mass of papers from the lumber camp and arrange for his brother to come over to be briefed. The children would already be in bed so there was little point in rushing home; he tried to hide his near exhaustion, not wanting to worry his father, with only limited success. When Ben saw his eldest son he was very glad that he’d arranged for José to start the herd out, even if he was unsure how Adam would take it. At least his son wouldn’t have to deal with the early problems of breaking the herd from their home range and José was very capable.
Hoss was up and around although any attempt to do much more than sit and go to bed early sent his temperature soaring. He took one look at his brother and went to pour him a brandy, Adam took it gratefully, but he forestalled any questions by asking how Hoss felt. Hoss was very restless, feeling so weak and useless with so much to be done, but he assured Adam that he was very much better.
Adam could see his impatience at his own weakness but he didn’t really
have time to talk and he let it go, just telling his brother to take it
easy. Then he went over to the desk to join his father. He got out the papers
“I think it’s mainly self evident just a few things I ought to run over.”
“It can wait until the morning”
“Pa! The herd goes out in the morning.”
“I know, but you don’t go with it.”
Adam lost his temper, he didn’t have time to waste on side issues and they’d settled this once, “We’ve been all through this. It’s the only way, José can’t be left to handle so much.”
Ben recognised the note of anger which just confirmed how tired his son was, losing his temper over a trifle. He put his hand out and gripped Adam’s arm “I wasn’t suggesting it Adam. From what I’ve been able to find out it’s going to be even worse than we feared. You are going to have all too many problems but you are going to at least start out rested. José can move the herd out and handle it for a day or two, he’s quite happy to do that. Get two decent nights sleep, see your family and you’ll be fitter and better able to cope.”
Adam hesitated seeing the sense of it and Ben took the papers from him “Go home to Carole. Tomorrow we’ll go over everything and you can brief Joe.”
“I am a bit tired.” Adam admitted and Hoss wandered over to join them “You’re also a liar Adam. Go on home before you fall asleep on your feet.”
Adam grinned, anger forgotten, “José knows?”
“He knows, he’ll expect you when he sees you, but he’s got everything under control for the next two or three days.”
Adam accepted it then and went out to Blackie, eager to see his wife. He had a light supper and with Carole was in bed very early, glad to have the chance to hold his wife tight. Marie was sleeping through and despite his early night Adam didn’t stir as the twins bounced in soon after six. Carole slipped out taking all the children with her and it was nearly eight before Adam came down. He played with the twins while he ate and Carole chatted telling him what had been happening in his absence. Adam knew that he had to go over to his father’s but for a while he sat with Marie on his lap and the twins chattering at him, just forgetting all problems and enjoying his family. Marie was a beautiful baby her hair already quite long and she was just sitting up and taking an interest, much to her brothers’ delight. They were surprisingly gentle with their baby sister considering how they bullied each other. After an hour Adam pulled himself away with an effort and was just about to go and get his coat when he heard horses and looking out saw all three of his family getting down from the surrey. Ben had realised that Adam would want to see as much of his children as he could before leaving again and had packed up all that was relevant, leaving Jess in charge at the main house.
Adam was delighted and he looked so much more relaxed that Ben gave up worrying. Adam went over the notes from the lumber camp rapidly and then went through the pipe contract he’d prepared with both Joe and his father. They worked hard for nearly two hours and then Joe took everything off to reread on his own, before he asked any more questions, wanting to get it straight in his own mind. Most of the legal language he was familiar with, after a lifetime of dealing with contracts, even if he’d not been left to draw them up himself before. He was very determined that he wouldn’t let his family down.
Ben had collected telegraphic reports on conditions along the trail and
he passed them all onto Adam. The only thing he’d been able to do was to
ensure that sufficient extra cattle were taken along to cover the seemingly
inevitable losses. There was little they could do on the horse delivery
but Ben had had five extra horses broken and added to the fifty they were
contracted to deliver. Hopefully the horse herd would stand up to conditions
better. Adam read the telegraphs sombrely and then pushed the lot away.
“Let’s forget it all for the moment have some lunch.”
Hoss had been playing with the twins and despite Carole’s protests he had overdone it, straining the barely healed wound which was aching fiercely. He hated being able to do so little when all his family were so busy although he tried to hide it and his pain. He wasn’t very successful particularly as he wasn’t hungry.
After the meal, glad that noone had commented Hoss sat back with coffee, lost in his own thoughts, none of which were very pleasant. Adam reread the telegrams while Ben studied the lumber plans; Joe was still going over the pipe contract. As Adam put down his telegrams and looked over at Hoss, Ben looked up. He could read Adam’s thought very easily, “He’ll be alright, just hates not being able to help when we’re busy.”
“I know Pa but maybe he can. I think I’ll have a chat Hoss knows the route a darned sight better than I do, maybe he can give me some advice.”
Ben grinned knowing it would please Hoss and anyway Adam was right it could prove useful “Good idea.”
Adam went over and sat down by his big brother “Are you awake?”
“Sure, just thinking.”
“Which means you’re in the right mood. Come into the study where we won’t disturb Pa or Joe. I want to pick your brains.”
“I want some advice, it’s eight years or so since I took the drive, you
know it much better.”
Hoss stared at his brother and, seeing Adam was serious, he grinned, “Sure anything I can tell you.”
Adam collected coffee and followed his big brother in and pulled out the detailed map of the route, which he would be taking. Hoss had seen the reports as they arrived and it was several years since he had had to contend with similar conditions, not since the year that Adam was in Boston before he met Carole. Even compared to that Hoss thought the current position sounded worse. As he found he could really help Hoss brightened up and for over two hours the brothers went over the route in detail, Adam making notes as Hoss warned him of changes he would find, waterholes and their respective reliability and places to beware of flash floods. Under his brother’s skilful questioning Hoss was surprised just how much detail he could remember and he knew that it would help Adam. Glad to be of use he cheered up immeasurably and both were surprised how fast the time went and how long they had been talking as Carole brought in fresh coffee.
Adam answered Joe’s question after coffee and then the others went on home leaving Adam to a quiet evening with his wife before he had to leave. Ben promised to have the chuck wagon and Joe ready to leave early in the morning and Adam would see them then. Carole knew just how difficult a task Adam was taking on. She had sensed the undercurrent of worry in all the men, but there was nothing that she could do except send him off as relaxed as possible. Although it would be tiring and there was always a risk with cattle and rivers the job shouldn’t prove too physically dangerous.
Adam was ready early, having taken his leave of all his family and as they drove the wagon after the herd Joe had plenty of time to go over everything once more. He was still uneasy and scared of letting something through, letting his family down. He knew that Rey was expecting him and Adam had given him a long explanatory letter for the old lawyer but the final responsibility remained his. At length Joe came to the conclusion that they had covered all foreseeable contingencies and he was as prepared as he was likely to be, for the rest it was in the lap of the gods and he put the papers away.
Adam was deep in thought and Joe lost himself for a few minutes in pleasurable anticipation of seeing Nita again. He had already written to her telling her of his visit and he knew that she would be in San Francisco throughout. She had written telling him of her alarm at rumours of the Indian raid and his cousin’s kindness but now suddenly Joe began to feel uneasy wondering how Will had taken her intrusion. He got on very much better with his cousin than he had at first but he had never been as close to Will as Adam was. He often felt the difference in age between himself and Will, almost as though they were a different generation, something he was never aware of with Adam, although there wasn’t much between the two older men. He hesitantly asked, “Have you heard from Will lately?"
Adam frowned, wondering what was behind the question. “Of course. He’s meeting you, you know that.”
“That wasn’t what I was wondering.”
“Well spit it out little brother. I can’t always read your mind.”
Joe grinned, “You could fool me at times! It’s just that Nita went round, stayed the night, when she heard about the Indian attack. She was upset, rumour said massacre. I wondered if Will minded.”
Adam laughed, “Relax. From what Laura said when she was here, she and Nita have got quite friendly, Anyway according to Will she was far from the only one. He reckoned half Frisco was badgering him for news, on the ground that he’s a Cartwright and must know. He sent me a heartfelt plea to keep out of the headlines, so that he can get on with his own business. That fight with Tony Enders caught Frisco headlines too. I don’t know whether Will told you.”
Joe grinned, “Oh yes. He subjected me to a rigorous inquisition to find out exactly what had happened.”
Adam just laughed “Well I should prepare yourself for another one, but if anyone is unpopular it won’t be Nita. It will be us for getting into yet more trouble as he put it.”
Joe nodded and then, not looking at his brother, he asked, “You made it sound all very logical when you sorted out the jobs. Did you know I wanted to get back to San Francisco?”
“To be honest Joe I wasn’t sure. It was logical, the only way in fact. I thought if you didn’t want to see her, you’d be very busy and if you did you could easily take some extra days. I really wasn’t trying to interfere.”
“I wish you’d got to know her.”
“Why should it matter? Do you remember what I said about Carole and you quoted back at me once?”
“That you were glad we approved, but wouldn’t have given a damn if we hadn’t.”
“That’s it. That’s the way it has to be.”
“I know. I shall be glad to see her again, see if she’s what she seems. I feel as though I’ve got to know her so much better through her letters. It’s not her that worries me; it’s how she’d react to the ranch. To Virginia City. It’s not exactly what she’s grown up with.”
“She’s still probably closer to it than Carole was.”
Joe thought about that for a moment and then grinned broadly, “You know I never thought about that!”
“Anyway if you see her, you’ll have plenty of time to talk, because that
leg is not up to dancing."
Joe rubbed it slowly knowing that his brother was right, but he couldn’t resist the comment, “I remember someone who insisted on dancing when he could barely stand."
“That was different, it was my wedding day.” Adam protested. “Anyway I didn’t risk breaking open any wound.”
Joe was only teasing and as Adam caught his brother’s eye he relaxed, “You just make sure you don’t overdo it or Will and Laura will be stuck with you all winter.”
“Mmm the idea has attractions.”
Adam punched his brother and they both laughed. By late afternoon the wagon
had caught up with the herd and Adam passed over the reins, mounting Blackie
and going to check with José. Thus far there were no unexpected problems
and both the cattle and the smaller horse herd had settled into a reasonable
routine for so early in the drive. José insisted that he could handle
things perfectly well while Adam took his brother to catch the train and
Adam accepted his word. Their foreman had handled the whole drive for them
on occasion and Adam was relying on his familiarity with the route to augment
Hoss’ comments and his own distinctly vague memories.
Once Adam had Joe settled on the train to San Francisco in the early hours of the morning, he gave his brother one last warning to take it easy. Joe was more worried about Adam knowing just how difficult the drive was likely to prove. There was nothing he could say to help so he said goodbye with a casual “Good luck and look after yourself.” But as he watched Adam striding down the platform, knowing that he was already forgotten with Adam eager to get back to the drive, Joe said a quiet prayer for his brother’s safety and success over the next weeks.
Joe tried to doze without much success, as his leg was throbbing in time
to the train, so he was very relieved as they pulled into the station in
San Francisco. Before he had even finished collecting his things together
Will had spotted him and joined his young cousin on the train. Will insisted
on carrying all his things and as Joe was still dependent on a stick, not
daring to put all his weight on his injured leg, he was grateful. Still
as Will truthfully said Joe looked a lot better than he had expected. He
had been surprised to get Ben’s letter saying how they were arranging things
and asking him to look after Joe. He could see the logic, but if Joe couldn’t
walk unaided, he was surprised that his Uncle had let Joe come on such a
mission. Seeing Joe he realised that his cousin wasn’t really ill in himself,
a little weak maybe but reasonably fit, it was just his leg.
When they reached Will’s home, Joe was glad to stretch his leg out on a footstool and sit back with a drink. Then he had to try and answer all Will and Laura’s questions about the raid. Once Laura was sure that Hoss was well on the way to recovery and that Adam was fine, she busied herself getting some food, while Will got every last detail he could extract from his cousin.
Laura had warned Will not to mention Nita until Joe did, unsure what he wanted to do. She hadn’t mentioned Joe’s visit to the young girl and since Nita had found out she had been kept very busy by her father’s insistence on her attention at society functions and hadn’t been round to see Laura. Joe settled back with fresh coffee “According to Adam we’re in the doghouse wasting your time trying to keep all of San Francisco up to date with our doings.”
“I never said that.” Will protested.
Joe laughed, “I was only kidding but I did want to thank you for looking after one person for me. Nita wrote that she ran here for reassurance after hearing rumours of a massacre.”
“She’s a nice girl Joe, she was very welcome. She’s usually a frequent visitor but I haven’t seen her for a week or two. Laura?”
Laura shook her head “Neither have I but she was bemoaning the number of
events her father was insisting she attend. Some political bigwigs in town
from Washington, still they go back in a couple of days.”
Joe rubbed his leg, “Would you mind if I saw her here? I’m hardly able to join her on early morning rides this time.”
“Of course not you idiot, You ought to know by now, make yourself at home.”
After dinner Laura insisted on changing the dressing and bandage that he still needed on his leg and seeing the angry wound barely healed, they could see why Joe didn’t dare trust his weight on it. Although sore and very red, it wasn’t actually inflamed as Laura feared at first sight and Joe assured her Doc said that it was perfectly healthy, just taking its time healing deep in the torn muscles, inevitably.
The next morning Joe got a cab and went to see Rey and made various arrangements for meetings starting after lunch. Then with a couple of hours to spare he got a cab to Leland Stanford’s house. He was in luck, the only one home was Nita. She had known that Joe was due in San Francisco either the previous day or today and had stayed home deliberately. Having obeyed her father’s orders all the time the politicians were there, she considered she had done her duty. Now she had every intention of spending every free hour Joe had with him, if that was what he wanted, as she hoped.
At first as Joe limped into the sitting room announced by the butler, both were very self-conscious. They hadn't known each other very long and it was months since they'd met. Months in which they had steadily become more outspoken in their letters as they got to know each other better. Nita didn’t want to frighten Joe away, but seeing him limping and remembering her fear at the rumours, she couldn’t hide the love and fear in her eyes however much she tried to school her features. Joe had seen that expression before and it confirmed what he had come to believe that she loved him very much. She was more beautiful even than he remembered, her expression so much softer now than it often had been when they first met. As they stood looking at each other, not certain what to say, Joe was surprised by the strength of feeling, the upsurge of joy and tenderness in him. Something he hadn’t felt since Marie died and in that moment he knew what he wanted. He put out his hand and as she clasped it Joe drew her to him and held her very tight, As she lifted her face he kissed her, gently at first and then with real passion. Nita couldn’t help responding and when Joe let her go she was shaken by the strength of her feelings. Joe sat down heavily and for a moment his voice was hoarse with emotion “You are so beautiful, even more than I remembered.” Nita came and sat down by him, worried about his leg seeing signs of weakness and pain in his face and for a moment forgetting everything else. Once Joe had reassured her that he was fine, healing well and nothing to worry about, Nita had herself back under control and asked how long he had. She was pleased to hear that he would be in San Francisco for at least three weeks and depending on how things went, maybe considerably longer and that, for today, he had two hours before his first meeting. Nita slipped out to order lunch for them and they started to talk, The time fled past and they had barely scratched the surface, so Nita promised to ride over to Will’s house the following morning and see him. By then Joe hoped to have more idea of his likely schedule and they could arrange to meet. When it was time to go Joe held her close to him, forgetting everything else but her response, until with an effort Nita pulled herself away. The cab was waiting and he would be late.
In the cab Joe made a physical effort to collect his thoughts and forget Nita for the moment. It was hard, but the trust his family had put in him had to be earnt and slowly his mind swung to the details of his coming meeting. By the time he limped in to join Harvey Schussler, Joe’s attention was fully on the job and he even looked older than the excited boy who had hurried out to get in the cab.
The meeting was long and involved as Joe had to demonstrate to Rey, Schussler and the others involved that he knew what he was talking about and was really in a position to represent the Cartwrights in the detailed negotiations. With Adam’s careful briefing and the time he’d spent since reading and re-reading the contracts and the notes, Joe had everything at his fingertips and the older men were all suitably impressed seeing a strong resemblance between the brothers. Joe relaxed as he found them willing to accept him in his brother’s stead without any hesitation, even though they had obviously been surprised initially to hear.
Over the next fortnight Joe found that he needed to keep his wits about him while he was working. There was no time to let his thoughts wander to Nita, but on the other hand nothing was tried that Adam hadn’t already warned him against and Rey was always ready too. After the first few days he found it easier, sure in his own mind that he could cope, but he found it very tiring. Rather boring but the sheer concentration needed was exhausting. He hadn’t realised before why his father or Adam sometimes came back from protracted negotiations so bad tempered. Now he apologised mentally to them, knowing how drained they must have been, especially Adam who had all the detailed lawyer’s work to do as well. Occasionally he found himself snapping at Will or Laura especially if the twins were still up when he got home, too young to understand that their Uncle was too tired to be bothered. Still on the whole he remained remarkably good tempered, provided he had half an hour to unwind and the hours he spent with Nita more than made up for the tedium of the meetings. She usually managed to join him first thing in the morning and once Laura had laughed their doubts down, regularly had breakfast with him. Thereafter Nita tailored her day to fit in with Joe. If he was free for lunch she would join him otherwise she got on with her usual routine. Often Joe had unavoidable meetings in the evening but when he was free Nita joined him either at concerts or in a quiet evening at home. His leg wasn’t up to dancing and he was too tired to feel sociable. She hadn’t hidden from her father just how much time she was spending with Joe and Leland Stanford still disapproved.
Stanford had enquired in detail why Joe was in San Francisco and learnt of the pipe project but it didn’t impinge on his own business and he couldn’t interfere. He wasn’t even sure why he disliked Joe so much, several people had noticed the two together and commented on Joe’s eligibility. The fact that everyone else considered the possible match as much better than the one his eldest daughter had made, just annoyed him more. He told himself that he was only thinking of Nita, she could have no conception of the roughness and hardships she would have to endure in Nevada. His point was proved for him, Joe was limping around having narrowly missed death in an Indian raid. If he’d been truthful to himself, he might have realised that he wanted to influence Nita’s husband as he had never been able to influence her. Most rich young men were in their father’s shadow, used to doing what they were told and easily manipulated by a prospective father-in-law. The Cartwright boys were different, Stanford knew Adam and shouldn’t have been so surprised at Joe, but he had been. This, the youngest of them, was a man like his brother, when Stanford had only heard of the debonair flirt.
If Stanford was uneasy how Nita would react to Nevada, Little Joe was far more concerned. He had considered Adam’s point that it had been equally strange for Carole but there was a distinct difference. Carole had made the decision to go into the wild part of the country all on her own, looking for something new, long before she met Adam. If she hadn’t been the sort to adapt, she wouldn’t have made that decision. If Nita made it Joe knew it would be because she was in love with him and he didn’t want her to make it without some idea of what was involved. He had told her exactly what had happened in the Indian raid, trying to make her understand that it was still a very wild land, where anything could happen and all too frequently did, but he wasn’t sure that she really understood. For the time being he had shelved the problem, with enough to do coping with the ranch business. He was just enjoying Nita’s company as they got to know each other better; rejoicing that the girl he had seen in fleeting glimpses on his last visit, and never in company, now seemed to dominate most of the time.
If Joe had his problems in San Francisco Adam was beset with them out on the trail. The telegraphed reports had been all too accurate and food and water were both scarce. With José’s help and the notes he’d made of Hoss’ memories Adam was able to cut down the amount of scouting to a minimum. Even so he spent all too many hours when the herds were resting overnight, visiting possible destinations for the next day’s drive, trying to decide which was the least disastrous. Too often with only limited water available the herds had to be split into small groups and watered separately to avoid turning all the available water into a muddy mess and on occasion he had to get the men busy with spades digging for water. He had no choice but to push hard and tempers were getting very frayed. Adam was working longer hours than anyone with scouting as well and José did all he could to keep things calm. The cattle with insufficient water were restless, although so far Adam had found enough of both water and feed to prevent losses. Even the condition of the animals was only slightly affected, but that had only been achieved by moving the herd slowly and already the crew was showing signs of the strain. The horse herd was standing up to the conditions better as Adam sent it ahead each day to await him wherever he planned to stop. That way the horses got the best of the feed before the cattle arrived. He only sent two men with the fifty odd horses and they had to work hard but even so men vied for a chance to go, get away from the dust thrown up by the cattle for a while. Even at the head of the drive the dust was bad and for those riding drag it was almost impossible.
They had made about a third of the drive when late in the evening all the herd were on their feet moving around restlessly. José had half the men up riding around trying to calm them down, but he was very relieved to see Adam arrive back from his normal evening scouting trip. Adam was back earlier than usual sensing trouble. An electric storm was building up and he could feel the electricity in the air, knowing all too well what it would do to cattle. José rode over to join him as he saw Adam ride in, “Don’t know if we can hold them.”
“Move the camp and wagons further up the hill out of the way. Get the horse herd and remuda round the far side; maybe if the cattle do go we can stop them getting infected. Hurry up José you shouldn’t have had to wait for me to make such obvious moves.”
José opened his mouth to protest, it had only reached them in the last half-hour, moving south just ahead of Adam and he had at once moved to get extra men out. However he could see his old friend’s near exhaustion in the way he sat his horse and José kept his mouth shut with an effort, heading off to do as he was told.
Adam moved round seeing each of the cowboys personally, if they ran as seemed all too likely, then he at least wanted to ensure that they headed in the right direction. The cattle weren’t likely to go west up steep slopes and so he placed most of the men to the south and east of the herd, knowing that they would break in the easiest direction, which would be north. When José got back Adam explained what he was doing but his foreman was very sombre, “Rough country, we could end up with broken legs. It’s flatter to the east.”
“Yeah and they can spread out to kingdom come! Could cost us two, three days or even more and with this drought, how many head will that cost? I don’t want a stampede at all but if we can’t avoid one, lets at least use it.”
“You’re the boss Adam.”
“You don’t agree?”
“It’s a gamble, could get quite a pile up in some of those gullies. Hard
on the men too.”
“I’ve already told the men, noone is expected to take risks, their own lives or their horses. If the cattle go we just try and hold them in line north and wait until they run it out.” It was all Adam could do; he had a deadline, which at their current pace already looked more than a little difficult to meet.
For an hour the men held the herd but as balls of fire seemed to form on
the cattle’s horns, they became increasingly panicky. Adam had everyone
up now; four men with the horses and the rest round the cattle. If the worst
happened, the horse herders and the wagons had orders to follow on as soon
as they could. Adam was sure that a stampede was inevitable, it just needed
something to spark it off and he waited tensely for that something to happen.
When it came it was at least in about the right place for him, a sheet of
lightning hit just to the south-east of the herd and as though at a signal
all five thousand cattle seemed to break into motion simultaneously. At
they veered slightly eastwards but the hands with yells and firing their guns prevented that and the herd headed out to the north, running madly, There was nothing anyone could do until the first madness left them and Adam settled down to riding along the edge of the herd, far enough away for safety but drawing and staying level with the leaders, who were at least going in the direction that he wanted.
It didn’t take him long to accept the justice of José’s fears, the land was very broken and even here at the front he saw one or two steers go down. These were the strongest, the front runners and he didn’t dare think of the possible carnage towards the back of the herd. There wasn’t any time to worry about it, as he had to concentrate on ensuring that his own horse didn’t lose its footing. He wasn’t riding Blackie but a roan from the remuda and, although it was a trained cowpony, he wasn’t too sure of its surefootedness. Slowly after several miles the leaders began to slow down and hesitate. Adam didn’t dare try and turn them in; the ground was too rough. Yelling to indistinct figures that he could see behind them and on the far side of the herd, he ordered them to keep the herd moving, another two or three miles where there was room to hold them. He could see that his orders were being obeyed and as the herd at the front moved on, more under control, he turned and headed back to pass on his orders there and to try and get some idea of the chaos that was inevitable.
In the dark it was difficult to be sure of anything but the long line of march was becoming even more strung out than usual. Adam could still make it out stretching ahead of him when he heard a horse whinnying in pain and terror between him and the herd. He went at once to investigate and soon saw the dark mass of a horse lying on the ground. Adam dismounted and went over scared for the unknown rider. At first in the dark he couldn’t see the rider but he could feel the shattered bones in the forelegs of the animal. Hoping the cattle were too worn to react to a sudden noise, he drew his gun and pressing it hard against the horse’s skin to muffle the noise, he put it out of its misery. As he did so he had a vivid picture of Sport’s trusting eyes as he had to do the same to his old friend the previous year. The cattle didn’t appear to notice the shot but, to Adam’s relief, the horse’s rider reacted and he heard a voice saying rather weakly “Over here. I’m over here.”
Adam headed over towards it and almost at once saw a figure lying on the ground just a little way from the horse and, despite the poor light, he had recognized José even before he even knelt down. “Easy José everything is going to be alright. Where are you hurt?”
“Adam.” José recognized his friend’s voice with great relief but he felt ashamed, he’d made things even more difficult for his old friend and he tried to say how sorry he was. Adam shushed him gently, taking hold of his friend’s hand. “Don’t be silly José we’ll manage. Where are you hurt and how badly? That’s far more important than some cattle.”
“My left leg and I think I’ve cracked some ribs. She put her feet down a hole.”
“I know. There was nothing to be done for her. Now hold still I’ll try to hurt as little as I can.” Adam’s whole concentration was in his fingertips as unable to see clearly, he tried to feel the extent of the damage. He could feel blood on José’s left leg and the sharp edges of broken bones in his lower leg. He felt cracked ribs but no rough edges there and none of the rigidity or pain, which indicated internal injuries. In all the confusion Adam wasn’t even sure where the wagons would be but the night was very cold and José was suffering from shock. Travelling with the chuck-wagons all their bedrolls were on the wagon so he had no blankets and the best he could do was to take off his own thick lumberjack coat and his jacket and get them onto the smaller man over his own clothes. Then came the problem of moving him, Adam gently felt the broken leg again but he was sure it wasn’t a simple fracture. The bones didn’t appear to have actually broken the skin but he could feel fragments. The blood seemed to have come from grazes and he wasn’t worried about that. Somehow he had to get José somewhere he could at least see what he was doing and with both their neckerchiefs and pieces cut from his shirt Adam tied the leg to his and José’s rifles, the best he could do for a splint for the moment. José tried to hide the pain it cost him but he couldn’t quite restrain a groan and tried to apologise.
“It doesn’t matter. I know how much it hurts but I’m afraid you’re going to have to ride at least a little way. With all these cattle milling about I daren’t leave you while I find a wagon. Soon as we do I’ll get you more comfortable.”
“Damn the herd, it can look after itself. I’ve plenty more cattle but there’s
only one José.” Adam lifted the tall vaquero up onto his horse, at
least José was only Joe’s build and reasonably manageable, but even
so he couldn’t help hurting his leg. José cried out in pain but bit
it off quickly and Adam steadied him in the saddle. The roan was strong
and the quicker they reached help the better so Adam swung up behind José.
He took the reins in his left hand and steadied José against him,
setting out at a walk to find the wagons. He hadn’t gone very far when he
saw another horseman and called him over. The man Gary was full of questions
but Adam told him to hold them until later, to go and find the wagons and
then tell them to follow him and come back to tell Adam where they were.
Gary went of at a run and Adam feeling José shiver, held him a little
closer. “Easy now hold on, it won’t be long now.”
José was barely managing to hold onto his senses, the pain in his leg knifing through his body, but once remembering the raid he muttered, “Never did see how Joe made that ride home, let alone stopping us going off half-cocked. Now I know that it was impossible.”
“Easy José you’re doing just fine too, just like Joe. Not long now.” Adam was very relieved ten minutes later to see Gary ride up and a few minutes later the two wagons looked out of the dark. As soon as he spotted them he told Gary to tell them to hold up and get a fire going and some hot coffee, anything to help counteract the deathly cold he could still feel emanating from José’s whole body.
At least with light and medical supplies Adam was able to get some painkiller
into his old friend and examine the injuries. The bone in his leg was beyond
Adam’s ability to set but he could at least fashion more effective splints
to prevent any more damage being done. He wrapped José’s ribs and
anointed the worst of his bruises, cleaned up the grazes and then got him
wrapped up warmly in the supply wagon, with hot drinks to counteract the
cold of shock. Adam moved quickly to do all he could with help from Kirk,
who was driving the chuck-wagon, acting cook for the drive. Kirk could see
he was deep in thought and didn’t fuss at his boss, just doing what he could
to help. José with a chance to lie still had relaxed and was only
Adam didn’t need a map, he had the whole area imprinted in his brain and he tried to work out the nearest doctor, but the only one he could be sure of was the Doc in Fallon, some miles behind them. At least he knew the Doctor there; he owed Hoss’ life to him and could trust him to do everything possible for his friend. He knew José could end up with a bad limp, maybe needing a stick for life, unless he got expert help and quickly. His mind made up he ordered Kirk and Gary to clear anything they needed for the next couple of days, the wagon would be going back to Fallon. Adam was torn, he wanted to go with his old friend but he knew that he had a responsibility for the herd too, which was spread all over the countryside at the moment. It would be impossible to do anything until daylight and Adam was tempted to at least start with José, but Kirk knew him very well. “You’re needed here Adam. José is my friend too, do you want me to drive him in?”
Adam half-smiled, the beat up old cowboy had, over the years, made a place for himself, doing exactly what he wanted and when necessary speaking his mind, but noone was more loyal. Kirk had pointed out his duty, as so often in the past, but at the same time there was noone he’d rather entrust his friend to and he knew that José would trust in Kirk. “Okay Kirk. You’re right I have to stay with the herd. Take him into Fallon, Doc’s house is on the outskirts, you can’t miss it. He’s the one who saved Hoss’ life when he had blood poisoning just after I got married. Send word to Pa once Doc has had a look. If José will be fit to travel quickly, Pa can arrange for someone to collect him. If, as I fear, it will be a long job, Doc will be able to arrange nursing.” Adam handed over plenty of money, “Make sure he goes short of nothing, if necessary I’ll come back through Fallon or get Pio to.”
“Don’t worry about José. I’ll make sure he gets the best of care, you bother your head about the herd.”
“Maybe if I’d taken his advice, let the herd go east on the flat land José wouldn’t have been hurt.”
“And the way they were running it’d have taken you a week on the flat land to round ‘em up. They’d have spread to hell and beyond. You did what you had to; drives are risky, accidents happen. He won’t blame you.”
“No I know that, but tell him how sorry I am.”
“I don’t guess I really need to do that Adam, but I will anyhow.”
“Thanks Kirk. I know he’s in good hands, guess I’d better try and find out how much damage has been done elsewhere.”
“I’ll get started, be back as soon as I can.”
By the time dawn broke Adam had the main herd collected near a small river.
They were all milling around restlessly but with water there he had no fear
of them running again. Everyone had been upset to hear of José’s
injury, but at least it was the only one. Adam had given the ramrod’s job
to Pio Gomez, who had taken the job for José on the drive at least
Adam left the men to get breakfast but having had coffee he didn’t wait for food, riding back to assess the damage. He found quite a number of cattle with broken legs and where necessary shot the animals, but in fact the losses weren’t nearly as bad as he had feared. In all he had lost some thirty animals with an unknown number of stragglers. Adam knew that he could count himself lucky not to have lost ten times the number and when he reached the site where they had camped the night before Adam turned and headed back again over the eight miles or so that they had run.
He knew that what he wanted to do wouldn’t be at all popular, but he was very uneasy about the valley where the herd was drawn up. The storm had brought no rain where they were, just thunder and lightning, but Adam knew that didn’t mean rain hadn’t fallen back in the hills. He remembered Hoss warning him of flash floods and one of the rivers that had featured particularly in that warning was the one the cattle were camped by. Adam drove in some twenty stragglers with him but he knew that there were others lurking in the gullies.
By the time he reached the herd, what little water had been in the stream had been drunk by the thirsty cattle and certainly the last threat possible seemed that of flood. Men horses and cattle were all tired and at first they all looked blankly at Adam as he told them to saddle up and head the herd up, they were moving out. Pio was the first to find his voice “Adam, the cattle are tired, we lose many in the scrub back there. Why not rest them, let us collect the strays.”
“Four men to stay for that Pio. We’ll only travel slowly as you say the herd is tired. They can catch up tonight.”
Adam was too tired to face the barrage of questions and near ridicule that he knew his real reasons would bring and just ignored the question. “We move out in ten minutes. Get the wagon loaded. Start the horses out now. Once we’re moving I’ll scout ahead.” He ordered four men back to check for strays, all they could find that day, the rest would have to be abandoned. He spared time to grab a cup of coffee and a plate of food while he changes his saddle from the roan to his own black stallion.
The cattle were unwilling to move on and it took nearly an hour before the herd was walking slowly on north. Adam waited with the herd until the drag had left the valley and then he rode on ahead looking for a safe bedding site not too far ahead, knowing he’d be lucky if the herd made much distance that day. He didn’t want them to lose too much condition and the stampede had already taken too much out of them. Adam was worried having lost his most experienced man. José was the one who knew the trail and although Pio would do his best he didn’t have the same authority over the men and it would be increasingly difficult for Adam to leave the herd for any length of time. Some eight miles on he reached one of the bedding sites that he had been considering for that night but it suffered from the same problem, the possibility of flash flood. Adam had to move on another two miles to a low plateau, the grass was coarse but at least there was feed for the hungry herd. Adam knew that he was asking a great deal from his men, to divide the cattle, water them and then move them on two miles but he had no intention of risking everything by staying in a flood area. The river he’d crossed was already up slightly, so at least there was plenty of water.
His mind made up Adam turned back and got the horse herd and wagon moving ahead and then started pushing the cattle faster even though it led to the line of march lengthening. He was too tired to explain his reasons and the drovers were all cross and irritable, moaning at his plans after a sleepless night. All of them were long time Ponderosa hands and were loyal, so they did as they were ordered. Even so many were wishing that Hoss was in charge as usual, that Adam might be clever and good with a gun, but he’d forgotten how to drive cattle. It was madness to push on when they had stampeded and run so far over night.
The cattle were loath to leave the water and feed by the river and it was very hard work to push them the extra two miles. Adam saw the first few into the bedding site and then returned to help at the river, pushing both tired men and cattle. At times when his orders were queried he fell back on an inventive line of swearing to get his own way. Something he seldom did now but too tired to be bothered doing anything else, knowing that was what the men understood. Although he pushed as hard as he could it was still nearly dark before the drag was settled and the bone weary men could collapse around the fire. Adam changed horses and rode night herd himself while the men ate. The herd was too tired to move and, with feed available and well watered, it was more a question of watching out for wolves or coyotes than worrying about the herd. The men he had left looking for strays hadn’t reappeared despite his orders, but Adam was too tired to really care.
It was nearly two hours later the Pio rode over to join him, one of the four left behind had just ridden in and wanted to see him. Adam nodded “Take over Pio. I’ll have you relieved in an hour and you can get some sleep, it’s been quite a day.”
“I’m alright Señor Adam, you haven’t even eaten yet.”
Adam yawned widely and then rode back to find Red sitting by the fire trying to dry out and drinking coffee, all the rest of the hands talking excitedly by him. Adam sighed “Okay. What’s happened now?”
Red jumped up but Adam waved him back “Sit down finish your coffee and then explain.”
He grabbed some coffee but shook his head at the offer of food; he was too tired to be bothered. Red said, “We checked the scrub like you said, collected over sixty head and I don’t reckon we missed too many. Then we headed on to where the herd stopped running. Hell Adam how did you know?”
“Explain Red. I’m too tired for guessing games.”
“Well that valley ain’t there no more, it’s a great river rushing through.There weren’t no way to get the cattle over, so we had a talk, and the upshot was I came on over to tell you. Found another torrent too, one still rising couple of miles back. How you got the herd over it puzzles me some.”
“It wasn’t up when we crossed.”
“Damn lucky you did.”
Adam smiled lazily, “Not luck Red, good briefing. Hoss warned me about flash floods in both those valleys, even told me about this place. So all of you who have been cursing me all day, wishing my brother was here, can add him to your list.”
One of the hands said, “Why didn’t you explain?”
“Would you have believed me? We didn’t see any rain. Anyway I didn’t have time, most of you have been along this trail with Hoss, you could have seen the risk.”
“We didn’t, never gave it a thought.” He laughed “Guess that’s why you’re the boss.”
“Bosses have to make decisions, sometimes unpopular ones and give orders, I’ll add another one now, get some rest, we still have a long way to go.” With that Adam turned back to Red “Includes you. By morning those floods will be near enough subsided, go back and when you can do it safely, push then on through. Take enough grub to carry you three, four days, and with a small bunch you should be able to catch us up, Kirk should be on his way back with the other wagon soon, he may join you.”
“Leave you short-handed here with José and four of us out.”
“Yeah. Tomorrow, once the herd’s moving, I’ll ride into town and see if I can find a few extra hands.”
Adam got up stiffly and saddled a fresh horse, he’d asked a lot of the men and they had responded magnificently, he wouldn’t ask more. He went out to find Pio and told him to go and get some rest. Pio queried it, his boss needed some sleep too but Adam just smiled “All under control. I want you to take over for a while tomorrow so go and get some rest now.”
Pio was too tired to carry on arguing and assuming Adam had arranged a rota for nightherds even though as ramrod now it was usually his job, he went back and settled down. Adam rode quietly round the herd, Normally he would have at least two nightherds, probably three or four if the herd was restless but tonight exhausted even a storm wouldn’t stir them. He was quite glad for a chance to be alone, free from the continual detailed problems, and able to think. With José gone the pressure on him was increased but that just had to be accepted, Adam was more concerned with getting the herd through in sufficiently good condition to meet the terms of the contract, without losing the Ponderosa’s reputation. He’d in fact gained time rather than lost it with the stampede and the immediate area at least had water available. If the same rains were draining down further north the grass would have grown by the time the herd arrived. Provided he could take it easy over the last week, letting the herd graze as they went, then much of the lost weight would be replaced. The loss in the stampede wasn’t great, but it was too large a proportion of his extra cattle for comfort, and Adam was very uneasy. He thought round in circles most of the night but there was nothing he could do but push on as hard as he could for now and hope to find better conditions and the time to exploit them further north.
As the first trace of dawn appeared the wind got up and Adam rode up a small knoll and checked the way ahead as far as he could see. He slipped his hat off and let the wind blow round his hair and bare head, hoping it would wake him up. He knew he had another busy day ahead. After five minutes he felt a little better and rode back down to the chuck wagon and woke up one of the hands to take over round the herd. The cook was just stirring, but Adam told him not to rush, everyone had earned their sleep, a late start wouldn’t hurt for once. He told the cook that he was going to scout ahead for a stopping place for that evening and to tell Pio to get the herd moving north if he wasn’t back.
Hoss’ comments bore fruit again and Adam found the small canyon, which
his brother usually used. Well watered and with better feed than elsewhere
it was just big enough to take the herd overnight, but thirteen miles on,
it meant a longer drive than he had hoped and Adam headed back at top speed
to ensure the herd was on its way. Pio already had them moving out and over
a mile from the bed site when Adam rode back but told Adam that cook had
kept some breakfast for him. Adam was glad of coffee but he was really too
tired for food. Wanting to avoid comment he forced something down and then,
changing horses yet again, he rode out to join Pio.
Pio had discovered that until dawn none of the men had ridden herd and he queried it with Adam. Adam shrugged “I had some planning to do, think as easily in the saddle, so why keep anyone else up? They were all up the night before.”
“So were you Señor Adam and with José hurt you are even more important. I cannot handle the drive. We are long term friends no?”
“Of course Pio. Don’t worry I’ll be careful and I won’t overdo it, okay”
Pio nodded slowly but he was unconvinced. Adam went on “You know that canyon Hoss uses to overnight, about twelve miles north and slightly west of here?”
“I know it. I can get the herd there tonight, maybe a little late but that I can do.”
“Fine. I should be back anyway by mid-afternoon, but you never know. I’m going into town, try and rustle up a few extra hands; we’re all getting pushed. Just to help out on the drive.”
Pio smiled and promised that he could cope and Adam, sure of his competence under direct orders, set out for the nearest town. It took him about an hour and a half to get to town and at first as he looked round the sleepy little town, so unlike the hustle of Virginia City, he wondered if he was wasting his time. However like many similar small towns it depended almost entirely on the local farms and ranches and with the busy summer season about finished, many of those were beginning to slim down their work force to winter levels. Adam headed for the local saloon and despite the early hour he was tired enough to be grateful for a brandy. He allowed himself five minutes to sip the drink and relax before enquiring if there were any local hands likely to want three or four weeks work. The bartender said that it was a mite early for the men to be in but he reckoned he knew five maybe six men who would be interested. When Adam made it clear he was prepared to pay for any help that he received, the bartender sent one of the local kids to collect the men.
Adam had finished his brandy and was sipping a cold beer when the men started to come in. The first two were older men but they assured Adam that they could put in a full day’s work for the pay. They were eager to put off a little longer the yearly routine of covering work for the winter, sometimes even driving them down the mines. The next three to come in were much younger, in their early twenties, two looked like all the other hands but the third man had two low slung guns on his hips and the swagger that showed he had pretensions as a gunman. Adam got them all beers and saw that all three of the youngsters had the normal calluses on their hands from ranchwork. He checked with the bartender who told him that all three younger men had worked on the old Bar T spread for Jeb Willard, but Jeb had died a few weeks earlier. The ranch had been sold to a neighbouring spread and they had no need for the extra hands. He reckoned that Jeb had said they handled the work fine, even if a bit wild at times.
Adam accepted the report he wasn’t in a position to be particularly choosy and he put his proposition to all five men. He was offering four dollars a day and found and provided they made the contract on time they would share in a bonus with his other men. The wages tied to mine rates in Virginia City were more generous than the men expected and all five accepted. Adam said that he would like to ride out in an hour and that too was acceptable, time to collect their belonging and the men agreed to meet him out front of the saloon. Adam used the time to treat himself to a bath and a shave and felt a little better for it, but still very short of sleep, he wasn’t exactly sociable as he led out. He had given his name as Cartwright and just said that he had a herd and at first the men didn’t realise who they were working for.
The herd had made reasonable progress and only had about four miles to
go when Adam got back. Pio had everything under control and the trail was
clear so having introduced the men and got them to dump their things in
the chuck-wagon Adam left Pio to get them to work while he went to see if
there was any sign of Kirk or the other cattle. He was very anxious to know
how José was, scared that his friend might be crippled for life,
and despite all logic telling him he had had no choice but to direct the
stampede north, feeling guilty and responsible for the accident.
The flash floods had gone down as quickly as they had come up and by the time Adam joined them both the cattle and the wagon had made it across both rivers and were approaching the plateau where Adam had held the herd the previous night. Kirk pulled up as Adam rode up and, despite Adam’s questions, had a good look at his boss before saying anything. Then he didn’t answer them but said, “Still got the bed we made up for José in back. Look like you ought to climb down and get in it before you fall off that mare.”
“I’m alright Kirk. Will you answer me, what did Doc say about José?”
Kirk took full advantage of the leeway he was always allowed and ignoring the edge of anger in Adam’s voice, he went on. “You ain’t alright son, you’re near enough exhausted. I suppose you didn’t settle last night either?”
“Doc will look after him and, with your Pa not here, I have to keep an eye on you. Get some sleep and I’ll drive you onto camp.”
“Kirk will you give me a straight answer.” Adam said crossly and this time even Kirk knew that he couldn’t push too far. “Alright keep your hair on. Doc said that it were a bad break, but he’s got it set. Keeping José there, says he ain’t to travel fer a month, let it start mending and to stay in bed. Weren’t popular, but that Doc he sure has a way about him. Says if José does as he’d told it’ll mend straight, no limp or nothing. Remembered you three boys, even remembered José. He was trying to place him and said to tell you not to worry about him. Said that at least he was of a size to handle.”
“Thank God for that. José, how was he?”
“Sore and tired but more worried about letting you down than anything. I told him we’d cope between us.”
“Taking over as ramrod Kirk?” asked Adam with a grin and the battered old cowboy, who could barely sit a horse since he’d been badly injured in a stampede in the early days of the Ponderosa, glared at him, “Think I couldn’t?”
Adam didn’t see the bent up body, the twisted leg, just the fierce proud look in his eye and he smiled, “No Kirk I’d bet you could but you’ll have to let Pio handle it, you’re too valuable to me where you are.”
“You getting in the back?”
“No thanks I’ll ride on ahead, see the herd settled but we could do with your cooking so if you can catch up I’ll be grateful.”
Adam had a word with Red telling him where to camp that night with the small herd and which route to take over the next two days. He was sending them a more direct route so that they could make up the time. There was sufficient food and water for a small group but not for the main herd. Then he headed back at speed to rejoin the main herd, just in time to get it settled in the canyon.
Adam was totally exhausted and, as soon as he had the herd settled and had reassured Pio and the others as best he could about José, he pulled out his blankets and rolled himself up and was asleep almost instantly. He left orders that he was to be woken when the last night herd shift took over.
The five men he had hired hadn’t realised just who they were working for, and weren’t really worried about it, until one asked out of curiosity what the brand was. It was familiar to him but he couldn’t place it and it was a very unusual one. Red laughed “I thought everyone knew it! It’s the Ponderosa brand.”
The man Wilson whistled softly “Of course. I should have guessed with this
size of herd under a single brand.”
The three youngsters Mike and Ted Lewis and Hank Watson looked at each other. Mike was the youngest, the one wearing two guns and he nodded over at the sleeping man. “He said his name was Cartwright. He own that lot?”
“There’s four of them. Mr Cartwright and his three sons. Adam is the eldest of them, don’t usually handle the drive but Hoss who does got hurt in an Indian raid. You might have heard about it.”
Mike stared at the sleeping man for a minute. Adam didn’t fit his idea of either a wealthy rancher or a gunman, especially at the moment tired out and worried after two sleepless nights and a stampede. “That really Adam Cartwright, the gunman?”
Pio moved over “I shouldn’t let him hear you call him a gunman, he does not like it.”
“He is the fast gun though?” Mike pressed.
Pio nodded slowly “He is very fast and he has a reputation for that amongst
many other things.”
“He was in that fight in Virginia City. Shot the other guy’s gun out of his hand?”
Gary nodded, “Yeah but I shouldn’t ask him about it.”
“Any of you see it?”
None of them had and none had seen Adam draw recently so they couldn’t
satisfy his curiosity as to exactly how fast Adam was. Realising the subject
was unpopular Mike let it drop, at least until he was alone with his brother
and their friend. Although the youngest of the three, Mike had become the
leader because of his prowess with guns. He was very proud of his ability
and sure he could take this guy with an inflated reputation because of the
rich ranch behind him.
Neither of the others had been overly impressed either and accepted his boasts that he could take Adam, whatever his reputation. He emphasised his boast by half an hour’s concentrated practice on his fast draw, under their admiring eyes.
Adam was off early scouting the route for the next two days, feeling very much better for some sleep. There was really only one possible route with the bedding sites that Hoss always used. The feed was scanty but after the storm there was plenty of water available. Adam knew that the next major problem would occur the day after but he was still too tired to be bothered and decided for one day to take it relatively easy. At supper that night Adam exerted himself to find out a little more about the men he had hired. He always tried to get to know Ponderosa hands and these five were just that, even though it was for just a short time. It was useful to know the men’s abilities and as far as he could their strengths and weaknesses. The two older men John Wilson and Chris Santee were both quite forthcoming, grateful for the job, especially at higher pay than they were used to. They had been around working mainly with cattle, although Wilson had done some lumber work regularly when he was younger. They usually had to fill in the winter months with mine work, although neither man liked it, and had worked as a pair for the last five years. The three youngsters were very off hand and Adam didn’t bother to push it, they’d done their work that day and provided they continued to do that he was satisfied.
Kirk had rejoined the main herd and as the three youngsters went off together he came over. He had seen Mike practising his draw and heard from Pio the questions raised the previous evening. “Mind if I speak Adam.”
Adam laughed “You’ve never bothered your head much whether I mind or not Kirk, so why start now? You’re too old to change!”
“Okay. You wanna watch your step with that young one. He fancies himself with a gun, asking about your reputation. Maybe he’s along for a reason.”
“You’re letting your imagination get away from you Kirk. I don’t think they had the faintest idea who I was when they took the job. Worked for a ranch which was sold out from under them when the owner died.”
“Well he knows now, can’t take his eyes off you.”
“No kid is forcing me into anything. Quit worrying all the time he does his job that’s all I’m interested in.” Adam forgot about it almost at once, he’d lived with a reputation for a long time. The next day Adam got the herd started and then handed over to Pio with orders where to camp. Then he scouted ahead, along the two possible routes, the usual lower one and a higher route, over the mesa, that he had used himself in the past. Both routes took about four days before joining up again just before a major river. From what he could see of the northern section it looked easier going and with luck the herd could regain condition. The problem was to get that far. He rode both possible routes but there was little to choose between them and neither could really handle a herd of five thousand head. Hoss had warned him that he could hit trouble at this point and Adam had tentatively planned to split the herd, taking half each way, with José taking the more familiar lower route. Now with José out of it he wasn’t sure what to do but he didn’t really have a lot of choice. He quartered the area, checking ways down from one route to the other and deciding on campsites. It took a long time but at length as it grew dark Adam decided what he wanted to do was just feasible, although it would leave a lot of responsibility on Pio Gomez.
Adam rode in just after Pio had set up camp and handed his tired horse over to Red who was handling the remuda. He walked stiffly over to the fire to pour himself some coffee. Pio was there and Adam joined him and slowly explained what he wanted Pio to do. He promised to check with the lower herd each day and decide on all the camp sites, so in essence it wasn’t very much more than Pio had done that day, but he knew that it was a lot to ask. Pio was unsure, not liking the responsibility, but he knew that if anything went wrong Adam wouldn’t be very far away and anyway wouldn’t blame him for any losses. He knew the route; he’d been along it with Hoss and José several times. Pio licked his lips, "Señor Adam I’m not sure I can do it, but if you believe I can, I am willing to try."
“I’m sorry to have to ask Pio. I know it’s a hell of a responsibility but neither way will support this entire herd. I’ll leave Kirk with you, he’s worth talking to if you’re worried and I’ll get down as often as I can.”
“The horse herd?”
“I’ll take that and split the men best as I can so the most experienced are split between us. I’ll have to have someone I can leave in charge while I come to check with you. Any ideas?”
Pio shrugged and Adam got himself more coffee and looked round at the men. Not for the first time he wished he had done as his father had wanted and brought Jess, or at least Stevens, along too, but he had wanted his father to have men he could rely on, trust with extra responsibility, free to ride out when he was busy. The hands were a good bunch but few were really capable of taking over at all or acting on their own initiative. Adam sighed, but then remembered Jess a couple of years back, he had to admit sometimes if given that responsibility people blossomed under it. He wondered which of the men with him would react in that way.
Adam got himself a meal and ate it, hardly noticing what he was eating,
as he weighed up each man. Eventually deciding there was no real answer,
he opted to take Red and Hank, give one the horse herd and the other the
cattle and leave them only when things were straightforward. He’d leave
Pio the three new youngsters and take the two older men himself, both seemed
steady and were experienced; hopefully they would help to settle down the
rest of the rather excitable Californian vaqueros. Mainly Mexican by birth
and, while very good with cattle, they were likely to fly off at a tangent
without José’s steadying influence and not even Pio Gomez.
After a while he called all the hands together except for Red and Hank, whom he’d already spoken to and then sent out on nightherd. He told them what was planned for the next few days and exactly who would go with each herd and then suggested that they get an early night as it would be hard work in the morning separating the herds. Pio suggested that Adam take his own advice, Adam had intended riding herd but after a long day scouting and the prospect of very little rest over the next few days, he knew that Pio was talking sense and let Pio organise the rota. Too tense to settle yet, Adam pulled out his guitar from the chuckwagon and wandered off into the rocks and sat down to play quietly. Ten minutes later he realised that he wasn’t alone and found most of the hands had gathered to listen.
Kirk was there and he said, “Adam why don’t you come back to the fire where we can all hear.”
“I said early night."
One of the older hands Josh said, “None of us ready to settle yet Boss and you ain’t had your guitar out all trip.”
Adam gave way “Okay if you want but only for half an hour.” Everyone was pleased and sat around the fire tapping or singing alone as Adam played and sang some of the best known songs. Only the Lewis brothers and Watson sat apart, infuriated that this man should be able to do so many things well, trying to put his popularity down to the men sucking up to the boss but finding it hard to resist the music. Adam firmly put his guitar away after half an hour and refused all requests for one more song but he promised to get it out again once the herds had joined up again and then he’d do all the songs they wanted, provided he knew them. The music had relaxed everyone and they settled more easily, the idea of splitting the herd hadn’t been popular and Adam knew that the half-hour had been well spent.
The next morning proved just as difficult as he had feared and it was more than three hours before the two herds were moving along their respective routes. Adam had left the two lead steers with Pio’s herd, they come to the front at the beginning of the drive and always set out first. There were always one or two who took the lead in any drive and Adam was betting that amongst the half he took he would find his own leaders. That might cause problems when they recombined but he would deal with them at the time.
Adam couldn’t leave his herd until he had them all up on the mesa, but once they were moving along between two reasonable cliffs he left Red and Hank to keep it moving and hurried back down to rejoin Pio. Having ensured that everything was moving smoothly and that Pio knew where he was to camp for the night, Adam headed back onto the mesa, promising to return once the upper herd was settled for the night.
The top route was rough and it took long hours to reach the campsite but even so Adam cut back to the lower herd. All was well there and he gave Pio detailed orders for the next day. It was dark but he risked riding on to check the route for Pio’s herd and the campsite for the following day. He rode back and left Pio a note on a couple of possible problems and then headed back to his own herd. He could only walk his horse as it was dark and very rough and it took a long time. Adam gave a sigh of relief as he reached the upper camp and he was able to settle down for two hours sleep before the next day’s work. The next three days Adam found more tiring than anything he could remember as he tried to keep both herds moving and always be present if there was likely to be a problem. Things went rather slower than if he had only had one herd to handle but even so Adam was well satisfied, one more day would see the herds combined again and he had had very little loss and no real trouble. He was exhausted but things would be easier once they were combined, to have got the herds and men through intact was an achievement in itself. One he had almost despaired of doing, but so far he had managed at the expense of virtually no sleep.
Adam was well aware that the final day before the herds combined was going to be the most difficult of all. He had vivid memories of the problems of bringing a herd down of the mesa when he used that route before. The lower herd had a relatively short day’s drive to the bedding site, but even they had to cross the river just before reaching the campsite and he wanted to see them through it. That night he made sure that he got some sleep, scouting was less important that ensuring that he had his wits about him the following day. Even so it was well after midnight before he could settle. He delayed the start of the upper herd not wanting them to reach the steep drop until the lower herd was over the river but hurried the horse herd off early. Even with two extra men it was hard to keep the horses moving slowly enough to avoid the risk of injury as they worked their way down the steep drop. The other men were increasingly doubtful that the cattle could be moved down safely and one even went as far as to comment to Adam.
Adam just shrugged the query off, it could be done, he’d done it before. Noone said that it was easy but it was possible. The horses at least made the trip without mishap and once they were over the river Adam left two men with the horses and sent the others two back to the herd while he went to join Pio. He had emphasised the need for an early start and Pio already had the herd within a mile of the river. The cattle sensing water were moving forward fast and Adam moved in quickly to slow them down, taking firm control. Even so the herd was bunched more than he would have liked as the river came into sight.
Every man worked hard to hold the cattle and let them move across slowly, drinking their fill and then moving on, but it was very hard work, although the river wasn’t particularly high. It was very rocky, not giving firm footing to cattle or horse and several times the cattle had to be rescued as they lost their feet and were being swept away. Adam was riding a bay from the remuda and, although strong and willing, several times the horse lost its footing and thrashed around for a moment before regaining it. Adam was a good enough horseman to help the horse stay upright but he cursed it. The remuda was up ahead at the campsite and he couldn’t leave Pio alone to cope even while he changed horses so there was nothing he could do about it. Two thirds of the cattle were across and things were much more orderly and maybe Adam had just relaxed too soon. Whatever the reason the bay slipped on one rock too many and went over sideways. Adam kicked clear of the saddle and swam a few strokes as the horse threshed around righting itself. The horse was unhurt and so was he but as Adam came to his feet, thigh deep, he was soaked through and bitterly cold. Adam waded ashore where Pio helped him up onto the bank one of the others going to collect the bay. Adam wiped his face in disgust “Just what I needed!”
“You’re soaked Adam, ought to change.”
“I don’t need the obvious stated Pio. Unfortunately there’s not very much I can do about it. I haven’t time; my dry clothing such as it is, is with the wagon on the mesa. Never mind it’ll dry on me, come on we still have work to do.”
Pio wanted to protest remembering Adam’s close brush with death due to
pneumonia, but he didn’t know how, aware Adam was already miles away in
thought. Adam swung up onto the wet saddle and sighing headed back into
the river “Well at least I can’t get any wetter!”
Half an hour later the herd was over and leaving Pio to bring them in Adam went on to the remuda to change back to Blackie, wanting his own trustworthy stallion under him for the rough drop down from the mesa. The remuda was close to the chuckwagon and Kirk saw Adam come in soaked. He had no inhibitions about speaking his mind and marched across as Adam was changing his saddle over. “You can’t go out like that, soaking wet!”
“Not much choice Kirk.”
“Hmm.” Kirk frowned and then turned round, much too small himself to help he rooted through the spare clothing and found a shirt which was big enough, not caring whose it was. Then he called Hank over from the horse herd. To Hank's utter amazement Kirk demanded his thick coat and presented him with a blanket "You can wrap that round put your slicker on over it."
“But why?” Hank finally managed to splutter.
“You ain’t going anywhere, herd’s quiet enough you can sit by the fire. He won’t until the other herd is down and he’s soaked.” Kirk gestured over at Adam. “Can’t take him back to his Pa with that pneumonie again. Anyways we need the Boss.”
Hank was already slipping his heavy coat off and he added his jacket to it, he owed the Cartwrights a lot more than that over the years. Kirk grunted as he took the coat and jacket but the look he gave Hank was much more approving than it was normally. He strutted over to Adam, who was about to mount up. “Shuck those wet things I’ll get them dry, put these on.” It wasn’t perfect, Adam still had wet trousers, but it was the best he could do.
Adam, bemused, hesitated and then seeing Hank with a blanket round him he said, “I can’t.”
Hank had followed Kirk over “Sure you can Boss, I ain’t got fleas.”
Adam grinned, “I didn’t mean that!”
“You’ve got work to do, me I aim to sit by the fire, soon as enough are
back to see to the herd.”
Adam gave way and towelled his upper body dry “Alright, thank you very much Hank and you too Kirk.” He got dressed, the coat was a trifle tight but at least it was dry and bitterly cold, he was glad of that and the hot coffee well laced with whisky that Kirk handed him. Even so as he rode out he was shivering, glad of the warmth and strength of the stallion between his legs, slowly drying his saddle and his trousers.
What with one thing and another it had all taken a lot longer than Adam had expected and he was worried that the herd would have reached the steep drop. With water not far ahead and a waterless camp the night before his men might well have real problems holding them back and any shoving on the descent was bound to lead to disaster. Adam’s worst fears seemed to be justified as on reaching the base of the mesa he began passing cattle making their own way to the river, not a hand in sight. Adam had to push his way up against the cattle coming down and it wasn’t the damp cold, which made him shiver as at each stride he expected to be faced with disaster. Much to his surprise and untold relief the cattle seemed to be coming very steadily and as he breasted the rim he saw the two new hands working close to the edge. They were letting the cattle trickle through two or three at a time, while Red had most of the men holding the main herd back letting them through in not much more than single file. Just two men further back holding the main bunch. It was much as he would have arranged it if he’d been there and he commented well done to the men before joining Red. There wasn’t any time for discussion now and Adam took over, issuing orders, letting the most restless cattle through first and sending three men to the base of the cliff to keep the cattle moving steadily towards the river. There was no time to think for the next four hours as he juggled his men, gradually sending more down to help get the cattle over the river to join the other herd. Pio had some of his men helping out and with the cattle so strung out, arriving in not much more than single file there was no real problem at the river. Twice Adam had to haul a cow out of the way on the steep slope when the animal broke a leg an not daring to risk a gunshot he had to cut their throats, but they were the only losses. Eventually the last cow had left the mesa and only Adam and Red were left. They made one final check and then they too made their way down to drive the last few to the river. Each man towed one of the dead cows behind him; they would provide fresh beef for the rest of the drive. For the first time Adam was able to spare time to thank Red for the excellent job in holding the herd and feeding them down gradually. Red was pleased with his Boss’ praise, but a very fair man he emphasised that he wouldn’t have been able to do it without the two new hands. When it became obvious that they were close to the drop and that Adam hadn’t made it back the three men had put their heads together and decided how best to cope until their boss did return. However it had been done Adam was very impressed and relieved. As they drove the last few through the river Red said that he could bring them in and Adam left him to it and rode ahead to the camp. He was more tired that he dared admit even to himself. He was virtually dry now but still very cold and shivering but he tired to ignore it. He would get a warm meal and then he had to scout ahead for the morning before he could think of rest. He wanted a word with the two new men but that would have to wait. He knew that he should be pleased that he had the two herds back together and from all the reports, the worst of the drive was over and somehow they were still on schedule. He would be able to make the deadline without pushing too hard but somehow although immensely relieved; he was just too tired to feel anything more.
Kirk was feeding the men but he left he line of waiting men as Adam came
in and took a plate over to his boss. “You look as though you’ve earned
it. Sit by the fire and get this down you.”
Adam was too tired to protest as Kirk called one of the men over to look after Blackie although he’d normally handle his own horse and he did as he was bid. There was a large rock near the fire and Adam lent back against it, putting the plate down next to him. He closed his aching eyes just for a moment as he tried to decide what else had to be done that evening but that was his undoing. Nature would no longer be gainsaid and he went to sleep, food forgotten. When Kirk and Pio came over twenty minutes later he had slipped down sideways just missing his plate and was fast asleep, snoring slightly.
They backed away not wanting to disturb him but Pio said “We ought to wake him, he’s gonna be awful stiff by morning if he don’t change.”
“Just get a couple of blankets over him and let him be “ Kirk advised. “If’n he’s too tired to eat, he needs sleep more’n anything else. He’s been running himself into the ground ever since José was hurt.”
Pio shrugged but he was uneasy. Kirk went on “Must be more or less dry by now, anyways you wake him and he’ll be off scouting or something.”
Pio couldn’t deny that all too great a possibility and went to fetch Adam’s blankets. The other men were tired too and gathered on the other side of the fire, talking quietly.
Mike Lewis was even less impressed by Adam, after his dunking and his inability
to stay awake, and decided to stir it. He reminded them of Adam’s promise
to get his guitar out but he was taken aback by the reaction it provoked,
each and every one of the Ponderosa hands was furious at his suggestion.
They knew the long hours Adam had been working, even if he hadn’t noticed,
and told him so in no uncertain terms. Pio calmed them down eventually,
by pointing out that if they didn’t shut up they’d be doing exactly as the
kid suggested and waking the Boss. Lewis was amazed that they cared about
Adam but it didn’t make him think any more fondly about Adam.
Pio woke Adam up as soon as Kirk had breakfast on the go, knowing that he would want to scout ahead. Despite his long sleep Adam felt terrible, heavy headed and sneezing as his ducking bore fruit and he had to force food down. It was a real effort to change back into is own clothes and ride out. Luckily over the next few days as his cold got worse the conditions got easier and the drive more or less took care of itself. The route Hoss always used and the campsites his brother used worked well for Adam and with the detailed briefing Hoss had given him he didn’t need to do much scouting.
Adam hadn’t forgotten his promise of a musical evening but sneezing continually, with virtually no voice, the last thing he could do was sing. He wasn’t at all sociable, but the men knew him well enough to leave him alone, they could see he wasn’t well.
Lewis watched him carefully, but not once did he see Adam practice with his gun. He himself put in at least an hour every evening and many of the hands had seen and were impressed. Kirk watched several times and came to the conclusion that the boy was faster than Joe, He had watched Joe getting back into practice earlier in the year, but hadn’t seen Adam draw in a long time. He was still very uneasy about the boy but Adam refused to discuss the subject, even with everything going smoothly he had quite enough immediate problems. With no permanent job Mike Lewis was determined to earn himself a reputation by taking Adam Cartwright. He felt that he was fast enough to be able to disable the older man, not wanting to kill him. That would be enough and with luck would earn him a job using his gun and maybe he could carry his brother and friend along. He didn’t see why Adam should have so much and not even care about the reputation which Mike wanted desperately, it would make him a big man and not just with his brother.
Adam had watched all five new hands, the three youngsters were adequate but no more and he would pay them off as arranged, but the two older men was better than adequate. He hadn’t forgotten Red’s comments, when necessary they had showed initiative. Both were hard workers and willingly to turn their hands to anything and they were very steady, a welcome counterbalance to the volatility of the vaqueros. The Ponderosa could need more men next year with full scale logging on the western shore of Lake Tahoe and he decided it would be foolish to let two good men go, just because they were rather older. Many of the jobs involved communications over the huge distances of the ranch and physical strength wasn’t the only useful quality, One evening seeing them talking quietly he went over and joined them with his coffee. “Never really had a chance to thank you. You both did a fine job up on the mesa, starting the cattle down slow and easy, Red said how much you two helped to plan and carry it out.”
Santee shrugged “Just our job Mr Cartwright. We’ve been around seen it before.”
Adam smiled “The name is Adam. I kinda look for my father when someone says Mr Cartwright. With four of us it’s easier to use our first names. Actually I wanted to talk to you two for exactly that reason, you both have experience and that’s something the Ponderosa always needs.”
Wilson frowned “I don’t quite understand.”
Adam explained, “You signed on for the drive and you’ve done exactly what you promised, a good day’s work for your pay. I wondered if either, or both of you, would consider signing on rather more permanently, coming back with us to the Ponderosa when the drive is over?”
The two men stared at each other, both wondering if they had heard him right, Wilson asked hesitantly, “You offering us a permanent job?”
Adam grinned broadly, “I just did.”
Santee spluttered, “Ranches cut down on hands for the winter, not hire them and we ain’t kids no more.”
“The Ponderosa has never worked that way. Many of our hands do go off over winter but that’s by choice. As for the rest I have plenty of kids, I’d like to add some more experience and we are expanding. Next year will be even busier than this so I could use the extra help. No rush, think about it.”
Santee offered his hand, “Don’t need to Mr Car... I mean Adam. I’d like to. From what I’ve heard it’s a first rate spread to work for.”
Adam shook his hand and Wilson’s as he too accepted, both delighted at the offer. Adam spared half an hour to tell the two men a little about the ranch and the sort of jobs they would be expected to handle. Then he headed out to check the following day’s ride, not realising that it was odd half hours like that which earned his family the loyalty of their hands and that he had just ensured two more.
Adam’s cold was over the worst but he was very tired, the weeks of strain taking their toll, and he was thankful the drive would be over in another week. He had to check sufficiently far ahead so that he could leave Pio to cope and deliver the horse herd the following day. He had a forty mile drive with the horses but they were in very good condition and he was sure they could manage it in one day.
Pio had gained in confidence, handling the lower herd on his own, even though Adam had been there whenever a particular problem arose, and he was quite happy to manage the herd alone again. Adam took four men with him, wanting to keep the horses moving and they got an early start. The stock was of good quality, although not the top blood-stock that Joe and Adam were beginning to breed. Still there was sufficient input from their top stock to improve all the bloodlines on the ranch and Adam was very proud as he watched the horses move out. The horses were still his real favourite of all the ranch activities, although he was handing more and more of the control in that area to his youngest brother. With enough men to handle the herd he was able to forget all the problems of the drive and relax for a while. He rode alongside and began to enjoy himself as they took the horses in. It was a beautiful day and his cold had about cleared up. He still had the five extra horses, but if they weren’t required they could act as spare mounts to take him and his men back to the herd and join the remuda. He was pleased to think that he hadn’t lost a single animal despite the hard drive and they were in good condition. Given a couple of days rest all would uphold the Ponderosa’ s reputation for fine stock.
In the event the man who had contracted for the horses was more than pleased to take the extra five and once he had had a look at the animals, he wanted to sign a contract then and there for twice as many the following year. Adam let his men go for a meal and a drink, giving them enough cash to cover it. They were tired and he told them to take rooms over night and ride back to the herd the following day. He warned them that he would expect them to reach the campsite the following night, but he would be heading back earlier. Then Adam joined the buyer for a decent meal before spending an hour negotiating and then drawing up and signing a contract for the following year. He enjoyed relaxing in comfort and got good terms so he was content as he headed back to herd late that night. Glad to be on his own for a while, with a bank draft in his pocket and no immediate problems, he let Blackie make his own pace. It was the longest break he’d had since leaving the Ponderosa and with the worst of the drive behind him, Adam relaxed and enjoyed it. He reached the camp in the early morning and got three hours sleep before breakfast. Despite his short night Adam felt better than he’d done for weeks, and it was an easy day, so that night he got out his guitar to the men’s delight. For more than two hours he tried to fulfil his promise, playing every song they requested. Finishing up with a quiet but spectacular Spanish flamenco that Pio had heard him play once at a party. The men listened to it in absolute silence and reacted with spontaneous applause at the end, much to Adam’s embarrassment. Only the Lewis brothers didn’t join in, but even they had learnt their lesson and kept their snide comments to themselves.
For two more days the drive went smoothly and Adam gradually caught up
some of his lost sleep. He felt and looked much better but he wouldn’t have
felt so relaxed if he had known what the Lewis brothers were plotting. The
Ponderosa hands weren’t sufficient audience for what they wanted and they
were awaiting their arrival in town to make their move.
Adam rode on ahead to ensure that everything was ready for the delivery and found a rather surprised buyer who hadn’t really expected the delivery date to be met, given both the rumours of trouble on the Ponderosa and the conditions. He was even more surprised and well pleased when Adam took him out to the herd and showed him the cattle, not in as good condition as when they left the Ponderosa, but considering the difficult drive remarkably good and well up to the standard he expected from the Ponderosa. Arrangements were made for the pre-delivery count and Adam joined him for a meal to settle details and write out a contract for the next year.
The following day was hectic as the cattle were counted and driven into pens, but once Adam had all the papers signed, the new contract and the bank draft safely in his pocket with that from the horse herd, he felt as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He had given Pio plenty of money for all the hands to go and have meals, drinks and baths whatever they wanted. He’d found time to draw enough cash to pay their wages and the hefty bonus each man was due, with an additional bonus for Pio and for Red and Hank in gratitude for the added responsibility each had undertaken. Adam went down to the saloon to join the hands and quietly paid them off and then joined them in a drink. All were cheerful with more money than they’d expected but Ted Lewis and Watson had been drinking heavily and egged on the youngster to fulfil some of the brave boasts he’d made.
Mike Lewis had limited himself to one whisky, not wanting to dull the edge of his draw, but he was almost as drunk on the flattery and excitement as they were. He settled his guns more easily and went over to where Adam was sitting talking to Pio. “I’ve got a few things to say to you Mr High n’ Mighty Cartwright.”
Adam pushed his chair back, realising that the trouble Kirk had warned him about was going to materialise. He had no intention of being pushed around but he would avoid trouble if he could. “Noone has stopped you speaking up.” He commented mildly “You’ve got your money, everyone is relaxing, having a good time, why not calm down and join them.”
Lewis glared at him, “You keep those two old men on but you don’t offer us a job. Bloody insult. Scared to have me around, you know I’m faster than you are.”
Adam managed not to laugh but he couldn’t quite hide the smile even though he knew it was infuriating the boy even more. He shook his head in disgust, knowing there was little hope of reason prevailing. “I’m quaking in my shoes of course! Grow up kid, you try for that gun and I’ll take it away from you and wrap it round your ear.”
“Face me like a man.”
Adam shook his head and reached for his beer “I haven’t time to spare for kids trying to earn a reputation. We have no argument. Push too far and I’ll put you over my knee.” Even as he spoke Adam could have kicked himself; he’d maybe pushed the kid too far. He had relaxed at the end of the drive and Mike Lewis reminded him forcibly of an irate Little Joe in his mid-teens. “Look I’m sorry I shouldn’t have....”
It was too late Mike had turned away and gone to his brother and under Adam’s horrified gaze Ted drew his gun and grabbed Pio. “You face my brother or this Mex gets his. I’ve had enough of being ordered around by a goddamned Mex!”
Pio had gone very pale but insisted, “Señor Adam, don’t. He won’t
Watson drew his gun too as the other Ponderosa hands got to their feet and Adam could see that both youngsters were too drunk to be able to rely on any common-sense. He ordered “Sit down everyone. Pio don’t try anything I wouldn’t bet against him pulling that trigger.”
Mike swaggered back “You’ll face me?”
“I don’t want to kill you kid, call it off you have nothing to gain.”
“Those jobs you won’t give us. Get a nice job if I take out Adam Cartwright. You’re supposed to be fast.”
“You’d better believe it."
Mike laughed “Living on your reputation, you don’t even practice. Still I’ll be kind, try not to kill you.”
Adam sighed “Out front. I hope you live to regret it.”
Pio tried once more “Don’t Señor Adam. The boy he is fast. They won’t shoot.”
“Too drunk to be trusted. This way we have the least trouble.”
Kirk came over “Adam, the kid is faster than Joe. He’s right you don’t practice.”
“Trust me Kirk, I’ve always been faster than Joe.” Adam smiled reassuringly at his friends, hoping he wasn’t being unduly optimistic.
Word had quickly spread and the whole town was out to watch this unexpected excitement. Adam stood in the door for a moment cursing Tony Enders and everything which, for the second time in months, had forced him into a gunfight against all his own inclinations. Then he deliberately forced everything from his mind except the job ahead, not wanting to kill the boy. Adam moved out into the street, dim in the lights from the various buildings and saw the kid standing his hands hovering over his guns.
Adam tried once more “Its not too late to pull out Mike. There’s no point to this.”
“Just draw when you’re ready.”
Adam stood deceptively casual and waited. He wasn’t making the first move and for a moment Mike hesitated. He’d drawn so often in practice but never against a man. Then he went for his gun. Adam had already decided he couldn’t do what he’d done to Enders, the light was too uncertain and he risked hurting the kid’s hand badly. As he saw Mike go for his gun Adam moved, knowing before he had the gun out that his speed against Enders hadn’t been a fluke, this was just as smooth. In the dim light noone saw him move and Mike clutched at his shoulder as the bullet went through, his gun barely out of its holster. Adam put his gun away and hurried over to the kid. He pushed Mike’s gun back into its holster and examined the wound. With a sigh of relief he said “You’ll live nothing broken, but don’t go forcing anymore gunfights. You’re not fast enough.”
Lewis stared at him in disbelief, “I didn’t even see you move.”
“For a start you shouldn’t have been watching. I did warn you that I’m fast but I’m no professional, there’s plenty faster. As you said I don’t practice. It’s not an easy way to get a reputation and it’s one you don’t want. I’d love to lose mine, I don’t enjoy getting forced into fights like this.”
“Okay, no harm done, or at least only your shoulder and frankly you deserve that.”
Ted Lewis and Watson had let Pio go and ran over to Mike. Adam got to his feet as they went down by the youngster, both obviously upset. Mike asked "Mr Cartwright why didn't you kill me?"
"Everyone is entitled to one mistake. You three all made one, just make sure you learn from it.”
Ted got to his feet “We encouraged him, it wasn’t his fault.”
“I think all three of you take some share in it but I don’t think Pio will press charges. Let’s all forget it and don’t push him into anymore gunfights. Get him down to the Doctor.”
Ted nodded, “Thank you. You may not believe it but my brother matters to me.”
“Remember it in future.” Adam watched them go and then went back in to the saloon and demanded a brandy, warning everyone he didn’t want to hear anymore about the last few minutes stupidity. It wasn’t so easy for them to drop the subject, none of them had seen such a fast draw before but they avoided it close to Adam and slowly gaiety returned to the saloon. Adam didn’t stay very long and in many ways it was easier once he left. The Ponderosa hands were very proud of their boss and once he’d gone they could show that pride and boast about him to the townsmen.
Adam wanted to get home and find out what was happening, but he was worried about José. The next morning over breakfast Pio joined him and Adam said that he was heading home straight away but the men could stay a few days if they wanted. The men opted for a break back in Virginia City and most of them were ready to return. Adam didn’t want to hang around at their pace. Pio offered to see the men home and collect José on the way, an offer that Adam gratefully accepted.
Free to head out Adam collected Sport and headed out revelling in some time alone with the thought that he was going home to Carole and his kids. He headed straight to Fallon and spent several hours with José, delighted to find him much better. Adam filled José in on the drive and how they had managed without him and then promising that Pio would be there the next day to take him home, Adam left. He had settled up all the bills and had Doc’s reassurance that his friend would make a good recovery. Adam pushed hard on the way and Sport seemed almost as eager to get home as his master.
At the Ponderosa Ben had been very worried to hear about José’s accident, knowing how much more difficult that made his eldest son’s job. Adam had sent word each time he got close to a town and he had telegraphed the complete success of both the horse and cattle drives, but even so Ben was waiting anxiously for his eldest son’s arrival home. On the credit side Hoss was very much stronger and beginning to do more jobs around the ranch. He had insisted that he was quite well enough to go into town, although Ben sent a hand along to drive the buckboard so that it didn’t strain the healing wound. The first time Ben sat at home and worried until Hoss got back but his big son took no harm from the expedition, apart from being rather tired, and he seemed positively delighted to play a useful role again. Ben slowly let him do more even if he did keep a very close watch on his big son. Still with so many jobs still outstanding Ben was glad of his son’s help.
Joe had been delayed slightly longer than he had expected in San Francisco, not that he was sorry to remain with Nita. However he found the protracted negotiations far more trying than he had expected. He had finalised the timber contract with the railroad and arranged the transport needed for that. He had wired his father with a real sense of achievement, which had surprised him, but the pipe contract was still causing problems. At times Joe wasn’t even sure why, but each time he thought it was finally settled some other niggling difficulty came up. Despite all their efforts none of the things they tried had moved outside Adam’s initial briefing and Joe was confident that he would finally sign everything. He was equally sure that that his brother could have settled things in half the time, many of the things they tried to slide past him wouldn’t have been attempted on Adam. Joe knew that he had to earn his reputation as a negotiator in his own right, but at times he seemed to be having to do it the hard way. The hours that he spent with Nita acted as a safety valve. She was bright and she could understand his complaints and give him the sympathy he needed. Joe relaxed with her, feeling as at home with her as he had with Marie and, although in a different way, with Carole. He remembered so clearly his father’s comments when he returned from marking up and no longer fought against falling in love with her. He was still determined not to tell her his feelings in so many words or to ask anything of her until she had had a chance to see for herself what life in Nevada entailed. Joe wasn’t at all sure how to arrange a chance for her to do that, but strangely Leland Stanford gave him the answer.
Joe had finally settled all the details and arranged to sign the contracts in two days time, then the day after that he would be heading home. He had dispensed with a stick but was still limping slightly but he had agreed to escort Nita to a ball, warning her that he would have to strictly limit his dancing. She wasn’t quite ready when Joe came to collect her and he was shown into the sitting room to wait. A minute or two later to his surprise Leland Stanford joined him, “You are a very frequent visitor here.”
“Your daughter and I have become very good friends.”
“Word is that it’s more than that young man.”
“We have said nothing and certainly done nothing to merit your disapproval Sir.”
“I disapprove of the whole idea.” Stanford glared at him “Do you intend to marry her?”
“We haven’t talked of it, not yet. Do I understand that you would disapprove of me as a prospective son-in-law?” Joe raised his eyebrow queryingly. He knew that Stanford disliked him but he had never made it so clear before.
Stanford backtracked; Joe’s principle disadvantage was his ability to treat everyone as equals. He gave respect but ho feeling of superiority, in fact the exact opposite. “It’s not you, it’s where you live. I don’t imagine you’d leave your ranch and my little girl is not used to rough living.”
Joe spoke up hotly in defence of his beloved ranch, “The Ponderosa is hardly a hovel Sir. She would have every comfort.”
Having succeeded in getting him on the defensive for the first time, Stanford relaxed slightly “I know that son, your ranch is famous. Your father entertains some important people but you can’t deny its rough land. You are still limping from an Indian fight. We don’t exactly have that sort of trouble in San Francisco. Whereas in Virginia City they are all too many killings.”
“San Francisco has its share of killings too and its rougher areas. I wouldn’t let Nita go into those anymore than I would let her go unescorted in Virginia City.”
“It’s not what she’s bred to.”
“I realise that Sir. In fact it is the one thing that has stopped me speaking to her.”
“I’m glad you realise. You’ll be going home soon, forget each other pretty quickly.”
“We didn’t before. I agree that Nita must know what is involved before I ask her to commit herself but I won’t just give her up.”
Stanford frowned “I don’t see how she can come to Nevada except as your fiancée and then she is already committed.”
Joe took a deep breath and jumped in “She is close friends with my cousin and his wife. They will be bringing their children to stay at the Ponderosa over Christmas. If you agreed Nita could come with them. She wouldn’t even be living in the same house as me but at my brother’s house half a mile away with Will and Laura. She could see the ranch, the way we live, Virginia City everything, without either of us being committed to anything.
Stanford was quiet for a moment, knowing he’d laid himself wide open and then said “Have you asked her?”
“No Sir I wanted to speak to you first. There will be quite a party over Christmas. John Mills and his wife Meg, who is my sister-in-law’s cousin, will be there too and I believe Edwin Booth and his manager may be coming. There really need not be any comment. If Nita doesn’t like it or can’t fit in, she was just having a holiday break with friends.”
Stanford considered Joe for a long moment but he knew just what reaction he would get from his daughter if he refused. He wasn’t even sure that she would accept his ruling. He liked his own comfort and he hated danger and he couldn’t imagine that his daughter could be that different from him. Rather begrudgingly he allowed that if Joe’s brother sent an invitation and Will and Laura were willing to escort her, he wouldn’t prevent Nita accepting. Although he pointed out that she would have to make her own decision. He hoped in some ways that she would go, maybe learn some sense, either way he was in a corner and had little choice. However he felt about Joe, the Cartwrights were too powerful for even one of the Railway kings to antagonise unnecessarily.
Little Joe had spoken impulsively, he hadn’t really worked out how to get Nita to the Ponderosa and he hadn’t mentioned the subject to Will and Laura, let alone Adam and Carole. Now he had committed all of them without so much as a word with them first. He felt slightly guilty although sure all of them would back him but it had suddenly seemed an obvious solution. Luckily before Stanford could push him any further Nita came down ready to go. She sensed the tension between the men but had the sense not to ask any questions, just letting Joe help her on with her cloak and saying goodnight to her father.
Once they were on their own Nita asked “Did you have an argument with my father?”
“Not an argument. In fact we agreed on the basic problem.”
“You have no idea of what Nevada or the Ponderosa are like.”
“I know enough, you’ve told me so much.”
“It’s not the same as seeing for yourself.”
“Not being a witch that is a little difficult.”
“Maybe not. Your father has agreed that, if you want to, you could come on a visit over Christmas. Will and Laura are coming and they could escort you, stay with my brother Adam as they are.”
Nita was completely taken aback, “Father agreed?”
“Provided Adam sent an invitation and Will and Laura agree. There will be quite a party. Carole’s cousin Meg and her husband are coming too, so your visit needn’t arouse comment.”
“You want me to come?”
“Darling I’ve seen your life and you already know that I can’t and won’t fit into it. You’ve only seen me here in San Francisco, a businessman such as you’re used to, in polite society. This year I’ve spent the best part of three months in San Francisco but that’s unusual. Adam would be here now under normal circumstances. I would be out at the timber camp. This is only a small part of my life, in many ways the least important. I want you to see my ranch, me at home, because I can never leave it, I learnt my lesson years ago. All of us have our roots too deep in the Ponderosa.”
Nita was quiet for a moment. She knew what this invitation meant even though Joe had never told her that he loved her, not yet. She had seen the love grow in him, seen it in his eyes. Now she was sure that he wouldn’t speak until she had seen his ranch, but she still hesitated. “Joe why does it have to be your brother who asks me?”
“If it doesn’t work out darling, it will make it easier for you to pass it off as a casual visit.”
“Why shouldn’t it work?”
“The Ponderosa is very different from anything you’ve known.”
“It’s just that I don’t know Adam. I only met him once and I’ve never met his wife.”
“My brother won’t mind and anyway the houses are only ten minutes walk apart. At Christmas we always spend virtually all the time together anyway, sometimes at one house and sometimes at the other.”
“I’m not sure. He didn’t like me.”
“I hate to say it darling, he barely even noticed you. He was too tired to care about anything, I promise he won’t mind he’d do a lot more than that for me. Anyway if you’re worried ask Laura. She knows Adam better than any other outsider. After all she was engaged to him once.”
Nita sat up in surprise “But she’s married to your cousin!”
Joe had forgotten she wouldn’t know the story but as they were arriving he just said, “I’ll explain later but we’re here.”
Nita hadn’t forgotten but for a while they were busy greeting friends. It wasn’t until after the first waltz that she could get back to it. Joe was limping heavily, his leg was very sore and Nita, anxious about him, helped him to a window seat. Joe pushed off her queries, he was fine and he was glad to change the subject. He told her the story of Adam’s engagement, his accident and the discovery of Laura’s change of heart, He told her how his brother had run off to Europe only to discover that he couldn’t leave the Ponderosa and the long delay before Will and Laura returned to the ranch. By then Adam had found Carole and the four became good friends.
Nita was surprised that the two men had been able to forget but Joe said, “Adam never blamed Will, he blamed himself. He didn’t love Laura not enough, not as he does Carole. He tried to settle for second best, a close friend that he was very fond of, because everything kept going wrong and he wanted children. You should see him at home with his kids, he was meant to be a family man and it was what he always wanted. I think we all learnt from his near mistake, not to settle for second best.”
That seemed to bring them back to dangerous ground and Joe changed the subject, insisting that he was quite well enough to dance again. Nita couldn’t resist the idea of seeing his ranch and even though worried about Adam’s reaction, she told Joe that she would love to come, as they went home.
Two days later Joe had to leave, but knowing she would be following him in a couple of months it wasn't quite so hard to part. He held her very close for a long while before he left and she felt as though she would be able to feel his strong arms round her and his lips on hers all the time, until they met again. She managed to hide her tears until he’d gone, but then in the privacy of her bedroom she gave way to tears. She prayed that next time they met Joe would be able to tell her that he loved her and maybe ask her to marry him. She had wanted to tell him how much she loved him so often but she wouldn’t do it until he spoke. She knew that he was aware of her feelings and wouldn’t make it more difficult for him if he didn’t want her. He had already given her a complete new way of life and she was grateful for that.
Little Joe was very sorry to have to leave her but he was fed up with San Francisco and eager to get home, wanting to know how his brothers were and the rest of the news. He would have preferred to be able to ride home but without a horse he accepted Will’s insistence that he return as he came; by train to Reno and the stagecoach. Joe had every intention of hiring a horse in Reno but didn't bother Will with that.
Joe had tentatively broached the subject of them escorting Nita to the Ponderosa at Christmas. He wasn’t surprised that neither Will nor Laura minded but he was taken aback by the enthusiasm with which the idea was received. Will grinned “Take it easy Joe we’re not really trying to marry you off! It’s just an extra pair of hands to keep the twins amused on the journey, purely selfish motive.”
Joe had got used to Will teasing him about Nita, a grand alliance between
two of the most powerful families in the west and he wasn’t worried, Something
would have been very wrong if the teasing was absent. Will had promised
to write to Nita, an official invitation to join them on the journey, once
Adam had had a chance to send an invitation. Joe knew that he could rely
on his cousin. He tried to thank them got making him so comfortable but
Laura just laughed, he was no trouble, they were always glad to see any
of the Cartwrights. Joe wasn’t rushing his journey home with his leg still
bothering him more than he would admit but he was very glad to be going