by Lyn Robinson
Ben watched his eldest son move stiffly up the stairs taking his new daughter with him to join his wife. Adam took two legal queries upstairs to work on and did at least seem rather more with it than he had been the previous day although still looking weak and exhausted. Ben poured more coffee and was thinking about his stubborn son and his impossible suggestion to cope with the drive, when Joe and Nita came down. Joe wasn’t surprised to hear that Adam had been up twice more to the baby and was still refusing to sleep during the day, determined not to worry Carole. Joe hadn’t slept much either and his father let him have his breakfast in peace. Joe was just finishing when Sue and Hoss arrived. Sue had insisted that Hoss take a tablet and he’d slept heavily for seven hours, only to waken with a nightmare of Sue dying in childbirth while he struggled through a herd of cattle trying to reach her side, knowing that she would live if he could only get to her. The nightmare had largely undermined the good effects of the sleep he’d had and Hoss looked tired, worried and upset.
Ben collected fresh coffee and joined his sons in Adam’s study, where Joe was filling Hoss in on the stubborn baby and Adam’s broken night. Hoss sighed and sank down in a chair staring unseeingly at the fire. Ben pulled up another chair “This morning Adam sat by, let her yell until she gave way and let me feed her. Took over half an hour, obstinate little madam.”
Joe grinned “That’s great Pa. Do it a few times and maybe she’ll stop yelling for him.”
“Nice idea Joe. He wanted to be sure she would give in eventually, but the trouble is I don’t think he can do it again. It took all his will power this morning, each time she cried it was as though someone had hit him.”
“Then what Pa?” Hoss asked knowing that his brother couldn’t carry on the way he had.
“I’m not sure. Adam has his own solution. I guess you’d better both hear it.” Ben frowned, still unsure how to dissuade his eldest son.
Upstairs Carole was awake and as she had her breakfast Adam told her what he intended doing. He had checked and discovered that it was Saturday, three days to catch up on his sleep and get fit enough to cope. Carole knew just how badly he had been hurt and even though she didn’t fully realise the long anxious hours she could see how tired he was. At first she protested but as Adam put forward the other possibilities Carole fell quiet. She studied her husband’s face, seeing the pain and weakness but also the determination and the fear for his brothers. Noone knew better than she Adam’s love and feeling of responsibility for his family, every single member of it. Weak or not the only way he was going to gain peace was by doing as he wanted. To Adam’s surprise and delight she stopped her protest and instead asked “Who else goes with you, apart from José?”
“Stevens and I’d like John Wilson and Chris Santee and most important I want Jess along.”
“All good men and two close friends. If Jess and José are there to help you and Kirk on the wagon like before, then I’ll try and help you to persuade Pa. Anne and I will be fine and you can manage.”
Adam blinked hard, so weak that her understanding threatened his control
and for a moment he held her close, so very grateful for his wife’s support.
Despite his aches and pains Adam felt more like himself than he had for
a long time and he was even able to get on reasonably fast compared to the
last few days.
In the study Ben had poured out more coffee while Hoss ad Joe met each other’s eye, puzzled by their father’s attitude. Ben sat down again. “Adam’s solution, which he insists is the only practical one, is that he should take the drive north.”
“What!” exploded Joe, “It’s impossible!”
“My reaction precisely Joseph. Adam doesn’t see it that way. By the way he says he’s been back to the west shore. How did he cope Hoss?”
“Just about. He was exhausted by the time we got there but Jess reckoned he was better on the way back. We tried to stop him Pa but Carole said that he needed to go. Too many nightmares. But it ain’t relevant now. He wouldn’t be fit even without nearly three weeks with hardly any sleep. What he needs is a week in bed. Even with good conditions trail driving is exhausting.”
Ben smiled at his irate big son, “We all know that Hoss, including Adam, but you know how stubborn he is.”
“A democracy. Three of us here, we outvote him.” Joe insisted.
“It’s not that simple Joe and you know it. We’ve never worked that way.”
“We have to stop him Pa.” Joe got to his feet, “Either of us can take the herd.”
“You want to leave Nita?”
“You know I don’t anymore than Hoss wants to leave Sue but one of us has to, at least we’re fit.”
“I could go or at least take over from Hoss in ten days or so, once we’ve sorted things out here.”
Hoss shook his head. “No Pa, no more practical than Adam going. It’s my job, always has been, and you need Joe here. Sue will be fine and I’ll be back before the baby is due, first babies are usually late.”
Joe met his father’s eye, with the baby due on the 29th October, and the delivery date the 20th which they couldn’t beat by much, Hoss was cutting it very close. “Maybe we could do as Pa said. Get things straightened out here but then I’ll take over. Nita’s not due until three weeks after Sue.”
Ben had seen the obstinate look on his eldest son’s face “What about Adam?”
“It’s just not practical, anyway Carole and the baby still need him.”
“Are you going to tell him that Joe? I couldn’t. The baby still seems so tiny and weak to me, but I can’t let him see my doubts. Can you?”
Joe went over to the window, he knew Adam’s belief in her survival and Sue agreed, with them he could be confident but sometimes as he looked at the little baby, like his father he had doubts. He couldn’t let Adam see, aware how much peace Adam had gained from his belief before. “You know I can’t Pa but I can tell him that physically he just isn’t up to it.”
“You can try Joseph but do you think he’ll listen?”
“You sound as though you agree with him.” Joe protested.
“No I agree with you, but I saw how stubborn he looked when he told me what he intended. He claims that he’ll get more rest on the drive away from the baby than he will here, unable to resist her need of him.”
Hoss went and poured a brandy, “I’m going same as always and I’ll tell Adam. Do you really think I’d let him push himself when he’s exhausted, on the verge of collapse, just because I might have a few nightmares? You know as well as I do that’s the only real reason he intends going.” Hoss drained his brandy and walked out to go and find his brother. Joe looked at his father “Do you think Hoss will dissuade him?”
“I don’t know. Your eldest brother is very stubborn and he’s never yet given in to bodily weakness.”
“He couldn’t do it Pa. He’ll collapse, he can hardly even focus.”
“He says that he can catch up on his sleep in the next couple of days and that he can cope.”
Joe frowned, sure that two days wasn’t enough and even if Carole hadn’t had the baby Adam wouldn’t have been fit enough after the fire, but he dropped the subject at least until he found out how successful Hoss had been and turned back to work.
Hoss went up to Carole’s room, and as she had the baby he said “Adam I want to talk to you.”
Adam looked up and seeing the expression on his brother’s face he didn’t need telling why Hoss wanted him. He smiled and to Carole he looked more himself than he had in weeks. “Tell you what Hoss I wouldn’t mind some fresh air. Saddle up for me and we’ll ride up to the Lake.”
“I’m not sure.”
“Come on Hoss, don’t fuss, you can spare half an hour.”
Hoss wasn’t worried about the time, just unsure that his brother was well enough to ride.
Carole said “Go get someone to saddle up Adam. I want a word with Hoss.”
Adam willingly agreed and Hoss sat down in the chair his brother had just vacated. He frowned at Carole, “He ain’t up to riding Carole.”
“Just up to the Lake Hoss and you’ll be with him. He’ll be fine.”
Hoss looked at her suspiciously, not wanting to upset her but.... “Do you know what he’s planning?”
Carole grinned “Of course. I think I probably knew before he did. He wants to take the herd out on Tuesday.”
“He’s not well enough. He’s only had the minimum of sleep in the last few weeks and you know how badly he was burnt.”
Carole reached out and took Hoss’ hand, “Don’t you think I know him Hoss? For a while I admit everything was happening a long way off and it was enough that he was there, but not now. I know he tried to hide it from me but he’s weak and exhausted. More himself today than he has been, but he needs a week in bed only he won’t take it.”
“Maybe but that’s a long way from trail driving.”
“I admit he’s not well enough but he’ll cope and with Jess and José both with him he’ll be fussed over even more than you and Joe would dare to do.”
“You supporting him Carole? I took him to the west shore for you against my better judgment but I won’t let him do this.”
“Because he was having nightmares.”
“Yeah and maybe you were right then.”
“He needs rest more than anything Hoss and he won’t get it here. This little madam has him right under her thumb and if you go with the herd he’ll fret about you and Sue all the time you’re away. With a strong crew to carry him he’ll get more rest on the drive.”
“Maybe if’n he was fit but he ain’t. It’s my job and I’ll do it, like I always have.”
“Hoss you know what you mean to him. Don’t you think he knows how scared and worried you are? I don’t believe it’s necessary but I know that doesn’t help. When he’s been in the same state before he’s always relied so much on you and Joe. Don’t you think he wants to repay all those favours?”
“There ain’t no need. I know you back him whenever you can Carole and I respect you for it, but this time you ain’t talking me round. There’s no way he’s well enough. Even without the lack of sleep over the last weeks those burns may be healed but they’re still tender and his muscles ain’t been used. He’s had no chance to recover his strength let alone build up any stamina. For once he’s gonna see sense.”
Carole had seldom seen her big brother-in-law so firm and it was obvious that she wasn’t going to budge him this time. She sighed “Alright Hoss you argue it out with Adam, but I still think it’s the most practical solution.”
Hoss went down and followed Adam out to the stable where the horses were ready. He helped his brother into the saddle without comment and led the way out at a walk, still unsure that Adam was even fit enough to go to the lake. They rode in silence for while and then Hoss looked across at his brother, “I don’t know what you do to Carole, She knows you’re not fit and yet she agrees, even tried to persuade me. I know you’re mad but she’s usually sensible.”
Adam laughed “Hoss there’s no need to look so indignant.”
“There’s every reason.” Hoss sighed but didn’t press it until they reached the Lake, Adam swung down unaided and although his knees felt weak he managed to hide it, tying Blackie up and walked slowly up to the point. He forgot for a moment why he’d brought his brother up there and he knelt down by the tiny grave where his daughter lay. She had never lived and for all too long he’d been so scared that Anne was going to join her. He stared down at the grave, no longer visible but marked by the headstone and then he buried his face in his hands. Hoss knelt down by his brother and put an arm round him. Adam said very slowly “I was so scared she’d give up on me and I’d have another daughter to bury up here.” Adam shivered uncontrollably and then he turned to his brother and rested his aching head on Hoss’ shoulder.
Hoss held him close, forgetting about the future “Easy Adam easy now”
“Oh God if she’d died. I feared we’d never.... Never again Hoss never, I won’t risk Carole again, never.” His voice broke on a sob and Hoss held him as close and warm as he could said, “Give way Adam, its long past time.”
It was the last thing that Adam had intended but that tiny grave undermined the control he’d kept up for so long and the compassion in Hoss’ voice proved the last straw. He sobbed out the tensions and fears of the last weeks on his brother’s shoulder, glad of Hoss’ warm strength. It was nearly half an hour before he lifted his head although he’d been quiet for a long time, “I didn’t mean to do this.”
“You needed it, have done for days and now you need your bed.”
Adam could barely keep his eyes open as he relaxed, “I thought you wanted to talk.”
“Later brother. Come on bed and you’ll use my house, have your sleep out undisturbed by children or anything else.”
“She’ll understand, she knows you’re tired out.” Hoss helped his brother back to his feet and over to Blackie. He rode very close to Adam keeping the pace slow as Adam dozed off again. When they reached his own house, Hoss helped Adam down and ignoring all arguments picked his brother up and carried him into a guestroom. He pulled Adam’s boots off and ordered him “Go to sleep.”
Adam couldn’t fight it any longer and stretching out on his face he was asleep almost instantly. Hoss stood staring down at him for five minutes before he could pull himself away. As Adam relaxed his exhaustion was more marked, but the unnatural tension which had been so obvious worrying Hoss over the last weeks had finally disappeared. Maybe his brother would finally get the rest he needed. Hoss went to find his wife; he didn’t want to leave Adam alone in the house in case he wanted something. Once he had Sue headed home Hoss went back to join his father and Joe. They looked up, the question obvious but Hoss just shrugged. “We never got round to talking about the herd. Went up to the lake and that tiny grave proved the last straw. He finally broke down and now he’s fast asleep over my house. Sue’s gonna stay with him.”
“Well done.” said his father, “It’s what he needs more than anything.”
“He’s got Carole persuaded it’s a good idea. I tried to dissuade her but I don’t want to worry her.”
Ben shrugged “We have two clear days before the herd goes out, apart from today. We might just as well wait until Adam wakes up and then we can argue it out. With luck that will be quite a while.”
Hoss nodded, “Yeah. Well I ought to get up to the sawmill. I’ll be back later, unless you want me for something?”
Ben shook his head and watched his son ride out. Joe joined him over by the window. “I ought to go Pa, It’s gonna be very close to Sue’s time.”
“After Marie, do you really think Hoss will let you? It’s usually his job and he must know whatever fears he has you share them, with all too many painful memories.”
“I thought I’d buried them but since Carole....”
“Inevitable Joseph but Nita will be fine, she’s nothing like Marie. I do understand how you feel, I lived through it twice. Hoss understands too, I think he’s more likely to let Adam go than you.”
Joe sighed “Just nightmares, but I can’t control them. I had all sorts of arguments when Adam got into a state. He reckoned they helped but they don’t even make any sense now.”
“I told you Joe inevitable, especially with Carole’s near scrape.”
“Hoss is as scared as I am, more than I expected.”
“Adam always said that he would be when it was his own wife.”
Joe outlined the state that Hoss had got into, long before Carole went into labour. Ben wasn’t particularly surprised, he’d always known just how self conscious his middle son was, comparing himself to his handsome brothers. As Joe remembered how tense Hoss had been, he turned to his father, “You can’t let Hoss go Pa.”
Ben smiled ruefully “Do you realise what you’re saying Joseph? You don’t want Hoss to go, you won‘t let me go and you know he’ll never stand aside and let you go. He’s spent most of his life trying to protect his little brother and after Marie there’s noway he’ll agree. You’re coming round to Adam’s only practical solution.”
“Only it isn’t!” Joe began pacing up and down, thinking round in circles, trying to find an answer he could accept. The most reasonable one seemed to be to split it with him taking over from Hoss, much as he hated being away and maybe he could persuade Hoss to accept that. In the end he settled down and tried to bury his worries in the never ending paperwork.
Ben had been up to talk to Carole who was delighted to hear that her husband had finally given in and was catching up on his sleep, but she also took the opportunity to try and persuade Ben to Adam’s point of view. Ben listened to her and then very gently he said, “I know why he wants to go, he’s always tried to protect his brothers but he really isn’t well enough.”
“All he has to do is stay on his horse. The men won’t let him lift a finger and he really will get more rest than he will here.”
“You may be right but I doubt he could do that much.”
“He went to the west shore a couple of days after you left. He’s as strong as he was then, maybe even better. With the herd along it will never be such a long ride. I can’t say I like it Pa but he will cope. You let Joe and Hoss force the pass to Sacramento when Joe’s leg was barely healed just to buy their brother peace of mind. Don’t you see, just the knowledge that he’s helping them will give him all the strength he needs.”
Ben frowned, “You’re a powerful advocate for him young lady.”
“Because I know he needs to go and because I trust José and Jess. If he takes Stevens, John Wilson and Chris Santee as well as Pio and especially Kirk, he will have a very capable crew.”
“I don’t know.”
“Please Pa. Jess and José will look after him, you know how much he means to them, to say nothing of Kirk.”
“His brothers won’t agree.”
“If you give Adam your support then you can talk Joe and Hoss round.”
“We’ll see how he is when he wakes up. For now you ought to have a doze too, you’re looking tired. I’ll take my granddaughter.”
“Hardly pretty yet.”
“No, but mighty stubborn.”
Ben found Nita downstairs with the other children and she willingly took Anne for him, leaving him free to work with his youngest son. Slowly the impossible was becoming acceptable and, although Adam’s solution still seemed far fetched, Ben wasn’t so sure that he could or even would stop his son.
Adam slept all day and it was nearly eight when he awoke, with a severe headache after sleeping very deeply. For a moment he was rather bemused wondering where he was. Slowly he recognised the room in his brother’s house and he remembered what had happened, so he pulled on his boots and went downstairs. Sue had heard him moving around and came over to greet him “Do you want some coffee?”
“Yes please. What’s the time Sue?”
“Nearly eight. Longest sleep you’ve had in some time.”
“I know but I feel a derned sight worse for it. I’ve a splitting headache.” Adam relaxed with the coffee Sue brought, hoping his head would soon clear. Gradually it dawned on him that Sue was considering him very disapprovingly and he smiled “My big brother has been talking hasn’t he? You’re looking very nurse in charge.”
“Adam you can’t be serious about going on the drive.”
“Oh but I am.”
“You’ll kill yourself!”
“Nonsense I’m tough.” Adam went serious as he realised that Sue was really upset. “Look Sue I really am alright. Help me persuade Hoss that I can cope.”
“I’ll do no such thing because you can’t.”
Adam sighed, “I can and I think I need to get away Sue, just as much as Hoss needs to stay here. I don’t know if you need him but I am very sure that he needs you.”
“And Carole needs you.”
“You know what Carole means to me Sue, I’ve done all I can for her and for the baby. These last weeks they have been the only real thing in my world. Now they can cope without me. If I stay I’ll carry on as I have fighting everything for them, going to Anne each time she cries. I can’t help myself Sue, it’s got instinctive. I’m on the way before I even really wake up and she’s playing on it. I don’t think I can carry on much longer. I hadn’t even realised until yesterday, nothing was real except Carole and the baby.” Adam shut his eyes for a moment, his head aching fiercely. “I’m sorry Sue but I’ve got to get away.” The plea cane out a lot more heartfelt than Adam had intended. At first he had only thought of going to help his bothers and it wasn’t until he’d thought it through that he realised he needed to break Anne’s dependence on him before they both drowned in it. Not until now as he tried to put it into words was he sure just how much it meant. He buried his face in his hands and Sue put her arms round him. Just for a moment he had looked very like his brother and she reacted as she would have done to comfort Hoss. For a second she was aghast at her own temerity, but Adam had learnt to love the tall redhead in her own right and he was grateful for her comfort and relaxed against her. For a minute they sat in silence and then Adam lifted his head, “Will you help me Sue? You’re the only one Hoss might listen to and accept it from.”
Sue frowned, it went against every tenet of nursing. Adam was weak, ill and exhausted. He needed a long convalescence not a hard drive, but she had seen him go against the rules too often and prove that it was right for him. She also knew the strains he was under while he remained at the house. Slowly she smiled “You’re obstinate, pigheaded and a fool but I guess you’ll cope, I’ll back you Adam. You’ve proved us all wrong over Anne and maybe you’ll do it again. Maybe you would be better for getting away.”
Adam kissed her cheek, “My brothers both did me proud. Thank you sister.” He finished his coffee and his head felt easier just because he had her support. He decided to go and get Carole settled for the night and then argue it out with his father and brothers.
Carole was pleased to see him and thought he looked better for his long sleep but to placate her and retain her blessing on his trip Adam had to promise to go back to bed, if necessary with a tablet, once he’d eaten. He still had a lot of sleep to make up. Once she was tucked up Adam removed his dozing daughter. She had been fretful without him but Carole wasn’t telling him that. Now safe in her father’s arms she slept soundly. Adam went down and found himself hungrier than he’d expected. He saw Sue take her big husband off and guessed that she was fulfilling her bargain. Joe was restless, waiting impatiently for Adam to finish eating before he could raise the subject close to his heart. Whatever they decided Joe wanted it settled before he went to bed that night. Once he knew maybe he could come to terms with the prospect, but the uncertainty was the worst of all worlds.
Adam caught his father’s eye as Joe paced around like a caged lion and he smiled. He poured out coffee and then got to his feet, “Come on then Joe let’s go in the study and you can have your say before you burst.”
Hoss followed Adam in, with his arm round Sue, incomprehension, disbelief and outrage fighting for expression on his face, not altogether to his brother’s surprise. Adam sat down at the desk, still more comfortable with something to lean on, unable to relax back, his scars still too tender. “Go on Joe.”
“Look we all know what you suggested to Pa about the drive. Thanks for the thought brother and both Hoss and I appreciate it, but it’s not possible. You are not well enough, so let’s decide how we can do it.”
Adam asked mildly “Don’t you think I’m the best judge of what I can and can’t do?”
“No!” Joe answered bluntly, “The worst. We all know how strong your will power is and we’ve all thanked God for it on occasion but you will collapse. A hard drive is the last thing you need. It’s not fair on you or Carole and it’s not fair on the men especially José.”
Ben nodded in agreement but Adam wouldn’t let it go “Look I know the men and I’m asking for the very best to go with me, a crew that we’ve never bettered. They’ll carry me. I know I’m asking a lot, but don’t you believe José and Jess, Stevens too will very willingly help?”
Despite his determination to prevent Adam going, Joe couldn’t help remembering Stevens offer of help, out of character for that strange independent man and he wouldn’t argue on that point. Both Jess and José would do anything for his brother. Joe admitted as much but concentrated on his brother’s physical weakness. They all knew how hard physically a drive was, even when conditions were good, regardless of anything else the unused muscles and tender scar tissue couldn’t cope, Adam would make himself ill.
Adam let his brother talk himself out. All his objections and then asked, “How about the advantages Joe?”
“There aren’t any for you, all the advantages are for Hoss and me.”
“That’s not true Joe. Just how much rest do you think I’ve had this last week?”
“We all know that Adam but ....”
Adam interrupted “No Joe. What makes you think it’ll be any better over the next weeks? It’s going to take time to get her onto even three hourly feeds, let alone through the night, I can’t resist her cries. Between you maybe you can get enough rest, but not if I’m around. She’s stubborn but she has to be broken from her dependence on me.”
“Do like you did this morning when Pa fed her.”
Adam said very simply “I can’t.” He rubbed his aching eyes and squeezed the bridge of his nose. “It was hard enough once when I had to know the answer. I’m not made of granite, I can’t do it again. I have to get away.”
Joe already knew that Carole was supporting her husband but not getting
anywhere he looked round to his father and brother for support. He’d never
got very far in out arguing Adam but sometimes the three of them together
could make an impression. After Hoss’ initial reaction he was surprised
that Hoss was so quiet. Hoss frowned as Joe caught his eye, confused and
unsure Hoss sighed “I don’t know Joe.”
Joe couldn’t understand his big brother’s change of attitude but Ben caught the look of gratitude that Adam gave Sue and he moved forward to sit on the desk, “Sue you’re the nurse. What do you think of Adam’s plan?”
She smiled “By all the rules Adam should be in bed and stay there for a week, but then Carole should have lost the baby and I don’t think there are any rules about burns like those. Somehow the rules don’t apply. I think Adam is right, he has to break Anne’s dependence on him and maybe the only way is to get right away.”
Joe turned and looked over to Hoss but his brother just shrugged, He trusted his wife’s judgement even though it went against his own instincts. Joe was furious and he began “Do you.....” Only to bite back the accusation that Sue was biased because she wanted to keep her husband with her. Nita moved closer to Joe seeing the fury he couldn’t hide. Despite his anger Joe knew he’d come close to being very unfair to Sue and that held him quiet for a minute. Nita had also seen the gratitude with which Adam listened to Sue and realised something of the depth of his need o go on the drive, so to Joe’s horror she added her voice to Sue’s, Adam should be allowed to do what he wanted. Joe pulled away from her in surprise, aghast at what he’d heard.
Ben, unsure in his own mind, hadn’t spoken yet but remembering how Joe had said they ought to outvote Adam and said ruefully “You were the one who said it was a democracy Joe. Way I see it Adam has four votes with one undecided.”
“Come on Pa, I know the girls all mean well, he’s always been too derned persuasive but they have no concept of the rough conditions on a drive, soaking wet half the time, never any comfort, no beds, rough food, long hours and more worryingly trouble coming out of nowhere. Slow reactions can get you killed. It’s not just a young man’s job but it needs a fit men or it may not be just your own life you’re risking.”
The rest of the family fell quiet at Joe’s impassioned outburst. Ben half convinced by Adam’s insistence was almost swayed back by Joe’s legitimate comments. Adam could read his family like a book. Hoss would go along with Sue, his father half convinced but Joe wouldn’t listen to Sue or his own wife, neither of them understood what a drive meant. Somehow he had to convince his brother. Adam got to his feet, “Come on Joe, I want some fresh air and we’d better talk.”
Joe wasn’t getting any support anyway, but although he knew what his brother was going to try and do, he agreed. They went over to the corral fence and stared up at the mountains, leaning on the fence side by side. Joe wasn’t cross anymore and he smiled ruefully at his elder brother, “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to, you madman. You’ve always been able to make the wildest ideas appear logical and reasonable, but not this time.”
Adam grinned but then he went very serious, “Joe, you’re right, the girls don’t know what a drive involves but I do.”
“You’re not fit.”
“I know that too, though I’m not as bad as you seem to think.”
“Look even without considering all the sleep you’ve missed, there’s too much tender scar tissue, too many unused muscles.”
“The first week of the drive is always fairly quiet with plenty of men to keep the cows in line, José can cope and I‘ll soon get back into condition.”
“Don’t be stupid Adam it may take months. You need rest and comfort, cold hard ground, wet clothes and bad food will hardly help your scars.”
Adam put his arm round his little brother, “I know you mean well Joe you’d do anything to help me, often have. This time just let me have my own way.”
“So you can push yourself into collapse to save Hoss and me a few nightmares!”
“You’ll have all too many anyway Joe. Don’t you think I know how you feel,
but at least you won’t be unreachable if anything happens, or live with
the fear that you might be.”
Joe turned to face his brother, “You see, you just want to help us. I can’t accept it, not this time, you’re not well enough.”
“No Joe.” Adam said quietly but decisively, “I don’t deny I first thought of going because of you two. It’s only since then that I’ve realised just how much I need to go.”
Joe didn’t interrupt as Adam came to a stop for a minute. Adam lent more heavily on his brother, “You’re right of course Joe. Drives are hard and uncomfortable and I’m not going to enjoy that much, but I can cope. What I can’t do is carry on here. That baby has drained me Joe, she’s taken all I’ve got to give. I’ve got to get away. I can’t help myself I have to go to her. It was alright until Pa came back I wasn’t really aware of my aches and pains but I can’t get back to that, I must get away.” Adam swallowed hard, so very tired again and, like Sue, Joe couldn’t resist the heartfelt plea, Adam wasn’t that good an actor, whatever the arguments against him going, still as strong as ever, Adam needed to, not just for his brothers, but for himself.
Joe sighed heavily, “Alright brother have your own way but right now its bed for you. Come on you slept at Hoss’ all day, let’s at least try separation, use our guest room. And you’ll take a tablet.”
“You mean it Joe?”
“You’ve already talked the rest of the family round. I’ll warn Jess and José tomorrow, provided you sleep tonight.”
“Thank you little brother.” Adam relaxed and was glad of his brother’s support and help into bed. As he settled he tried again to say thank you for understanding but the drug took effect and he was asleep before he could really explain. Only then did Joe go back to admit his defeat to the rest of his family. Hoss had been surprised to find his father had almost come round and when Joe had to accept it because he recognised Adam’s need, Hoss felt easier and tired he let his father bully him into an early night. Ben promised to wake him later to look after the baby. Hoss went up with Sue and although still worried about her he felt as though a great weight had been lifted from him. Whatever happened he would be close at hand to cope, not miles away unable to get home, not even knowing what was happening. In time he knew he’d start worrying about his brother as well, but for now he just wanted to sleep.
Ben sent Joe and Nita home and settled back to clear a few routine details, hoping he was doing the right thing in letting Adam go, his son was still so weak. He found it hard to work and wasn’t sorry when Anne woke up. She was stubborn and it was well over an hour before she accepted the bottle and settles, Ben dozed next to her hoping that she’d soon begin to accept them.
Joe had been talking with Nita for a while and he was just on his way to bed when he heard his brother tossing around very restlessly. The drug was strong enough to keep him asleep but he was still aware of the baby’s distress. Very restless he’d already hurt his left hand and Joe stayed by him for an hour trying to calm him down without much success but at least holding him still It was very obvious what was upsetting him despite the distance between the houses but at last as Anne settled so did Adam, Joe left the doors open and went to bed, only to be woken again less than two hours later, Again it was more than an hour before Adam settled and he was soaked with sweat, Joe changed the sheets and blanket before crawling back to bed. Nita was awake and Joe was glad of the comfort of her arms but he was too tense to settle and he was waiting for the next disturbance. This time Adam woke up as the drug slackened its grip and he was sitting up in bed fighting the urge to go to his daughter. Joe didn’t need any long explanations, “Come on Adam, calm down and have some coffee, a drink. She’s alright, Hoss is with her.”
“I want to go over.”
“No Adam. She’s alright, Hoss can cope. You have a drink.”
Adam let himself be bullied into Joe’s study and sipped the brandy his brother poured him but he was only really aware of Anne’s distress, not even hearing Joe’s words. Joe put a coat round him as it was cold but it wasn’t until the baby settled finally that Adam looked up aware of Joe’s presence, “You look whacked little brother, go back to bed, I’m alright now.”
“You come too.”
“Alright but I’m not tired, spent most of the last twenty hours asleep.” Joe didn’t think he’d got much benefit from it but he wasn’t surprised when he heard Adam getting dressed a little later. For a time Adam sat quietly staring out of the window but when next he felt Anne call he didn’t fight it. As he came out on the landing Joe out his head out and Adam smiled ruefully “I’m going home Joe quieten her down. I told you I can’t resist.”
“I’ll see you later brother.” Joe went back to bed. He’d fought hard against Adam’s idea for the drive and even when he had given way it had been against his better judgement. Now seeing the pull the baby had, even at this distance and with Adam in a drugged sleep, he finally came to accept that Adam did need to get away, for his own sake.
Hoss was furious as Adam came in but he passed the baby over. Now that his brother was up and dressed there was little point in arguing. Adam took the baby, who instantly settled to feed and then meeting his brother’s eye, “I was awake anyway. Is there any coffee?”
Hoss fetched some and as it was still very early, he went back to bed on Adam’s insistence. Once she was sleeping Adam moved round to his desk and with at least some sleep he was thinking clearer than he had in weeks and began to clear some of the legal queries and contract problems which had arisen. The routine of work eased his head and he was looking more nearly himself than he had for a long time when the others came down to breakfast. Sue had left Hoss asleep, not too surprised to find Adam back.
Joe was over early, not having succeeded in getting back to sleep and he proposed riding up to the branding corrals to check how things were going and to warn the men what was planned. Before he went he told his father very briefly just what he’d seen overnight and his growing conviction that, as usual, Adam was right and needed to get away. Ben wasn’t surprised but he was very glad that Joe had come round; maybe it would stop his youngest son blaming himself and worrying too much while his brother was away. In any case the last thing Adam needed at the moment was a running argument.
Adam hesitated, not sure whether to join Joe, knowing he ought to get out
and about in the next two days, but there was a pile of legal work that
he wanted to clear before he left. In the end knowing the outrage his idea
was going to provoke, particularly with Jess, he opted for a quiet morning
to let the steam burn itself out and then he’d ride up the following day.
Joe found the final group for branding passing through the makeshift corral. José was up on schedule and had everything well under control. Seeing Joe he left the cattle and joined his friend for coffee. Joe had seen Jess to and called him over. While they waited Joe said “Biggest herd yet, but the conditions are good according to all the reports.”
José looked over at the huge herd, scared of the responsibility, knowing how valuable the big herd was, not only in monetary terms but to the good name of the Ponderosa. He knew just what the situation was at the house and didn’t see how any of the Cartwrights could come with him but the sheer size of the job terrified him. “I’ll do my best Joe.”
Joe could see the other man’s uncertainty and smiled “Heck we know that José, darned good it is too, but it’s not fair on you with a herd this size.”
“None of you free to go I realise that but you haven’t made it clear just which of the men will be going.”
“To be honest old friend I don’t know if I’m easing your problems or adding to them. You’ll still have to deal with the day to day running at least to begin with, but the ultimate responsibility won’t be yours. Adam is coming along.”
Joe stared at him in disbelief, “You can’t be serious!”
“Oh I am. I know all the arguments against it José but he’ll cope
and he needs to get away.”
Jess came over to join them, “Who needs to get away?”
Joe poured him coffee and handed it over before answering him. “Adam. He’ll head the drive.”
Jess met José’s eye but the tall vaquero just shrugged. It was his boss’ decision, he might not approve but as always he would go along. Jess had seen more immediately than anyone just how badly Adam had been hurt on the west shore and he was the only one of the hands to have seen anything of Adam in the last weeks as he moved through the days far beyond exhaustion, pushed to the limit. He glared at Joe in a fury “You can’t let him Joe, there ain’t no way he’s well enough.”
“Easy Jess, you can’t say anything I haven’t. I know how badly he was hurt and how much it cost him to hold onto Carole and your goddaughter. Firstly noone has ever succeeded in changing his mind when he’s set on something and in this he has Carole’s support. She’s about the only one who comes close to budging him and secondly although my initial reaction was the same as yours, I’ve come round to believing it’s for the best.”
“You just don’t want to leave your wife while she’s pregnant.” Jess said
José was outraged, it was probably true but hardly fair to Joe who did a lot to help his brothers and anyway Jess had seen, just as he had, how hard Joe had taken the death of his first wife.
Joe, remembering how he’d nearly turned on Sue, was a lot calmer than José
expected and even grinned, “Of course not, neither does Hoss, but if that
was the only reason for Adam going we’d fight even harder to stop him, just
because it would be too selfish not to.”
José said hesitantly “We could manage alone.”
“Adam needs to go José. I know its asking a lot especially of you
two. I’m asking you to look after my brother as well as the herd. At home
whatever we do the baby wakes him every two hours or less. He even slept
at my house last night but it made no difference. She only really settles
for him, but he can’t keep on carrying her, its draining his strength, more
than the drive will. I wasn’t sure until last night, even though I drugged
him and there was no way he could hear her, he was so restless I thought
he’d hurt his back. He needs to get away and this is the only way he can
square it with his conscience.” Joe sipped his coffee having said far more
then he intended but he felt they had a right to know, “You understand it’s
for you two only. Not many people will understand what that baby means to
Jess frowned searching Joe’s face, worried for his old friend but noone knew Adam better than his brothers and he read Joe’s conviction that it was for the best. Solemnly he offered his hand, “I’ll look after your brother Joe.”
Joe shook his hand “Thank you Jess.”
José grinned “Me too and we’ll get the herd through.”
“The only way I can help is to give you the best crew I can. Apart from you two and Pio, take Stevens, John Wilson, Santee, Red and Hank with of course Kirk for the wagon. Fill it out with whoever you like, as many as you think you’ll need with a few spare. For once we’re not short of men.”
José laughed softly “All good men Joe, with that crew I can manage anything.”
“We’re all very grateful. I know he’s not well enough and he’ll be bound to worry about what’s happening at home. Don’t nag him too much, take it from an expert it don’t work, but keep an eye on him for me.”
“You know we will.” José promised.
“That’s the only reason I’m going along, that and his need to get away. Carole too. She backed him on condition you two were along.”
“Don’t worry Joe we’ll protect him.”
“There’s no real way to say thanks.”
“Hell Joe it ain’t necessary.” Jess added, “Adam saved my life and many of the others. Little enough to repay him.”
Joe nodded. “I’d better be getting back, work piling up and you have it all under control here. I think Adam will be out tomorrow to settle the details.” As he walked over to Cochise he saw Stevens and called him over. Stevens frowned, “What’s up?”
“A while ago you offered your help. I’d like to ask it now.”
“You’re going on this drive. Next to José you know cattle better than anyone.”
“That’s my job, nothing special.”
“My brother is heading the drive. He’ll need every bit of help he can get. Normally we do the scouting ourselves but I don’t want him to. Will you take that responsibility and help Jess and José from overdoing it.”
At first Stevens assumed Joe meant that Hoss was going but the worry on his face belied that assumption. “You mean Adam’s going?” he asked in near disbelief.
Joe nodded. “The reasons don’t matter, they are enough to make me accept it but he’s not fit so I’m asking for your help.”
“You have it and so does he. Stubborn as they come but between us we’ll carry him and bring him home in one piece.”
“Thank you Stevens. You may find it necessary to stop Jess fussing too much, he means well but it seldom answers with my obstinate brother.”
“I’ll cope. I’m glad you asked.” Joe smiled at the tall cowboy and having enlisted the help of three very different, but very capable, men he felt a little easier about his brother going along.
Despite his broken night, having slept the previous day and maybe because he’d broken down, released some of the tension, Adam felt better and he was much more efficient than he’d been in a long time. He managed a considerable pile of work as he sat by Carole and she was pleased to see it. He was reading rapidly through complex documents in a way he hadn’t recently, obviously much more himself.
That night Adam refused to take drugs and insisted that he would deal with Anne. He had a slight argument with his family but after Joe’s story of the previous night they gave way and let him do as he wanted. With the baby asleep on the bed next to him he fed her faster and got back to sleep sooner.
Adam rode out early the next morning and both his brothers fought the temptation to go with him. From the next day he would be in charge of a large herd and even though several men would be doing all they could to help he would still be responsible. Although both stayed home neither of them could settle. Ben laughed at them Adam wasn’t going very far and if they were this bad when he would be home for lunch what were they going to be like tomorrow when he headed of for a month? Joe at least had the grace to look sheepish and he settled to work but Hoss couldn’t. Even with Joe’s turnabout he couldn’t help worrying, feeling guilty that his brother was just going to save him having to leave Sue.
Adam wasn’t sorry to reach the camp, he was a little stiff, but he swung down tying Blackie up. Jess hurried over, “Come and have some coffee.” Adam nodded, ignoring the anxious looks Jess gave him, “Where’s José?”
‘I’ll get Pio to go fetch him, just sit down.”
“Don’t fuss Jess.”
Jess bit back the anxious questions, although Adam looked very tired he was more in control than he had been the last few times Jess had seen him. He couldn’t resist just telling his friend that he was mad but Adam just grinned, “The herd’s more restful than your Goddaughter. I never did get round to thanking you for acting Jess and she’ll be around to pester you.”
“You know how glad I am about that Adam. I still don’t know if I’m very suitable.”
“You’re my friend.” For Adam that settled the subject, “Did Joe set you onto me?”
“We promised to keep and eye on you, stop you overdoing it, if we could!”
“I’m not going to try very much at first. Joe’s lined up Stevens to scout and I’ll leave José in charge, excess baggage.”
José rode up then and Adam reverted to business. José was
surprised but pleased to find that Adam was his efficient self, although
looking tired and stiff he wasn’t as bad as José had expected. It
didn’t take long to settle details of men, the remuda and supplies that
were needed, everything would be ready in time for them to leave the following
morning. Jess suggested they take along some pillows as Hoss had to the
west shore to give Adam some minimal comfort but Adam flatly refused to
consider it. That had been weeks ago his back was healed now and although
he might take it easy to start with as he was tired he needed no special
consideration. Jess wasn’t convinced he could see the bad scars on Adam’s
hand, which he was still hardly using but he couldn’t push it when Adam
was so dogmatic.
Adam said that he would check with Kirk and have him meet the herd on the holding grounds at the edge of the ranch that evening. Adam promised to be out early and they would move out on schedule. Jess offered to ride back with him but Adam brusquely refused the offer, he was perfectly alright and he swung up on Blackie unaided. He rode down to the main house where Kirk was getting the two wagons loaded. Kirk had heard on the grapevine that Adam was taking the drive and he was more outspoken than anyone else, even Joe. He took advantage of his privileged position on the ranch and the long years he’d known Adam to tell him what a fool he was. Adam knew it was a waste of time trying to stop Kirk and let him have his say. Then he grinned, “Right Kirk you’ve got it off your chest. I have my reasons for coming and I don’t want to hear anymore about it. You’ll be along to make sure I behave.”
Kirk knew him too well to push further and allowed Adam to settle to the detailed business and it didn’t take long to finish up. Adam went stiffly back to Blackie, more tired than he wanted his family to know. He decided to take a few minutes break up by the Lake. No one knew how long he would be so they shouldn’t be worried. He sat at the point staring out over the Lake, more tired than he’d expected, wondering if all the rest were right and he’d taken on more than he could cope with. It was an effort to get back on his feet and he was so stiff it was hard to mount up but as he walked Blackie back to the house he managed to hide his tiredness. He walked in demanding food and all of them emerged from where they were busy to see if it was an act but Adam only had eyes for his wife.
Carole had been determined to send him off with his mind at ease about her and the baby and she had persuaded Sue to help her downstairs. She was sitting by the fire with Anne on her lap. Adam hurried over to kneel by her, unsure if she was strong enough to leave her bed yet, but she looked fine and smiled content to have him back. Delighted to see her up and around Adam forgot his tiredness and it wasn’t an act. He was more light hearted than he had been since she went into labour. It made everything seem better just to have her downstairs and the three older children were delighted. Adam basically ignored the rest of the work, everything was under control and between them Ben and Joe could cope, calling in legal help if necessary as they had done before he qualified. Adam just relaxed with his family and gained more strength from them than he could ever explain, so much that it showed and no-one disputed his right to tend Anne for one last night.
Ben had promised to send telegrams updating Adam on progress at home; they would be awaiting collection at each town along his route, the schedule well known. Not wanting to cause a row Ben omitted to tell Adam that Joe had arranged for José to send them word on his condition at each stop and to send word if he couldn’t cope. One of his brothers would immediately go and take over despite Adam’s arguments. Ben relied on his foreman’s good sense, knowing that his son would refuse to ask for help, it was the only way that he would go along.
The next morning Adam took his leave of his family. He held Carole very close, hating to leave her when she was so weak and with the baby so tiny, but knowing that she understood and putting his trust in his family to look after them for him. Ben rode out to the herd with his son, but beyond telling Adam to take it very easy Ben didn’t nag for which Adam was very grateful.
The herd was already slowly on the move, the wagon and remuda barely in sight. Ben offered his hand, “I’ll see you in a month, be very careful and I’ll look after Carole and the children.”
“I know that Pa. I hope I’ll be back before Sue or Nita….”
“You are already doing a lot to help them Adam and I’ve had plenty of practice looking after them, so don’t worry about your brothers.”
“Sure Pa and we’ll get the herd through on schedule”
“Just do your best and don’t push too hard. The main thing I want is you back safe, having recovered your strength.”
“I’ll be fine Pa; you just keep Hoss and Joe sane.” Adam smiled at his father and then kicked Blackie on to the head of the herd. José cut over seeing Ben and promised to keep a close eye on Adam and send word if he needed help, but between them they could cope. Ben had a lot of faith in his foreman and despite the fears he couldn’t hide he sat Buck watching the herd slowly move out and he felt a surge of pride. This was the real part of the Ponderosa, even more than the lumber. These cattle good quality showing the years of care he’d put into breeding. For his sons maybe the breed horses were their favourite but for Ben it was the cattle and he rode home more at peace than he could ever have dreamt.
Joe had buried himself in work and Hoss had headed up to the lumber camp, both still feeling guilty at letting Adam go. They reacted the same way, wanting to be so busy that they didn’t have time to think. Ben understood and let Joe take some papers home with him to work on after dinner. He went straight to bed himself, leaving Sue to settle Carole and cope with Anne until two when she would call him. She could sleep in the next morning. The baby seemed to miss her father and was restless but as though accepting he wasn’t around Anne made less protest when others tried to feed her.
Adam let José cope with Stevens and Jess’ help that first day, just riding slowly alongside the herd until mid-afternoon and then catching up with Kirk at the overnight camping ground. Despite doing nothing he was very stiff and tired, his clothes chaffing more on the tender skin on his back than he’d expected. He was having a job to focus and looked very pale and drawn but Kirk didn’t lecture just getting coffee. When Jess rode in to find Adam, obviously exhausted just picking at his food he’d have dearly loved to tell Adam not to be a fool just go back home. However he'd given his word not to fuss and so he collected his own food and tried to persuade Adam to eat. Failing in that he suggested Adam make up a bed in the supply wagon and get some rest. Adam wouldn’t, he’d sleep on the ground like everyone else but he did admit to being tired and he took his bedroll off into the woods just behind the wagon, wanting to be on his own, in case he was disturbed by nightmares.
Jess passed the word to try and keep the noise down a bit; as Adam was very popular and they all knew he wasn’t fit the noise became very muted. Most of them had been surprised that he was along, knowing how badly hurt he’d been. Jess left him for a while and then took his own bedroll close to his friend. Adam was sleeping tired out but he was very restless on the hard ground, unable to get comfortable. Jess dozed restlessly several times Adam was murmuring incoherently and he went to his friend, not understanding and not really able to help Jess could only hold Adam still in case he hurt himself. Once the noise got so much that it woke Kirk who came to investigate. Jess was glad to see the old beaten up cowboy. “What do we do? He can’t go on like this.”
“Just a nightmare, it’ll pass.”
“He shouldn’t be along”
“Mighty stubborn, like his Pa, he’ll cope.” The two men watching Adam didn’t
realise but as Anne finally accepted the bottle Adam relaxed and slipped
into a quiet sleep. Kirk brusquely told Jess to take his bedroll and move
back to the fire, he would keep an eye on Adam. Jess hesitated but Kirk
said, "Won’t help him none if’n you’re exhausted tomorrow, go on."
By morning Adam looked drawn and tired and he had to push down his food but he ignored the anxious questions from Jess and José and swung up on Blackie, ordering the men to get the remuda moved out.
That set the pattern for the next week, apart from outline orders Adam
left things to José, accepting Stevens decisions on camp ground without
question. Knowing the route so well he was able to outline the possibilities
for the scout each morning. The only argument he had was on the third day
when he suspected, quite rightly, that José and Stevens were arranging
a short drive not because the cattle needed it but because they thought
he was tired. He got his own way and he was so cross, which obviously took
so much out of him, that they didn't try it again. Adam had driven herds
over this route too often to be fooled. Adam found it hard to sit by and
watch as the men pushed the herd across rivers but he remembered Joe’s legitimate
fear that by slow reactions he would risk not only his own but other people’s
lives. Adam felt embarrassed at not doing his share and he was surprised
and touched by the way the men took it, not just his close friends. All
of them knew he wasn’t fit, the scars on his hand a visible proof if it
was needed and all long time Ponderosa hands they knew how often the Cartwright
took the very worst jobs, risking their lives for their men. Indeed Adam
had been hurt in just such an attempt and not only Jess and John Wilson
For the first few days it was taking Adam all his time to stay with the herd, weaker than he’d hoped. The weeks tending Anne had sapped his strength more even than he’d realised and the short rides exhausted him a lot more than the ride to the west shore, even if his back didn’t hurt as much. Slowly as he got further away from the house and he was less aware of Anne and began sleeping rather better, that led to him eating better and slowly the days didn’t tire him as much. It was no longer a test of will power to get up in the morning and even more to saddle and mount Blackie. For the first time he began to occasionally move a cow back into line and even joined in the talk around the fire. That night a week out for the first time he didn’t take his bedroll away from the camp the minute he’d forced down some food but settled with fresh coffee to chat lazily with Pio and two of the vaqueros. José met Jess’ gaze and grinned “A little better I think.”
“Sleeping better. I don’t know why you’re grinning, I reckon our problems are just about to start. Now he’s that much stronger.”
Adam was just grateful to have got through the day without ending up exhausted, even stretching out near the wagon. His back was still sore but it was bearable even if he rested on it and for almost the first time he believed Doc that eventually the scar tissue would harden and he’d be able to forget. He never mentioned his family but, with little to do as José coped easily, he had all too much time to think and he was glad that the next day someone would collect word from Fallon for him. Adam was up early and although he knew it would be lunchtime before he could expect to hear, he was impatient and he wasn’t in a very good temper. He couldn’t face food and when Jess tried to force him, he just relieved Adam’s temper as Adam swore at him. It was most unusual and maybe only a close friend would have received the blasting Adam gave Jess as he told him to mind his own business. José joined Jess as he escaped, “They say it’s a good sign when invalids get fractious.”
Adam couldn’t just sit around and wait, so ignoring José’s protests he took close control of the drive and pushed them hard all morning. He pushed himself even harder despite everything that Jess and José said trying to get him to take it easy. Kirk had already pulled up and was preparing lunch when the store wagon returned from Fallon. Adam seeing it galloped over. Pio had collected the telegram for him, at the same time sending one home and he knew what Adam wanted. He had the envelope ready to hand to him as Adam came up. It was in an envelope and Pio had no idea what it said. Adam took the envelope and dismounted going over to the fire, staring at the envelope. His hard work that morning was taking its toll and he felt suddenly exhausted. Although he had been waiting for news, he felt scared to open the envelope in case it was bad news. Jess watched for a moment but then seeing the increased tension he went over to Adam, despite the bawling out he’d had that morning. He touched Adam’s shoulder “You alright?”
“Yes, I ….” Adam bit his lip, not realising how pale and drawn he looked. “Jess I can’t open it, will you please?”
“Of course” Jess took the advantage from Adam’s shaking hand, only just realising how worried Adam was about his family, especially his baby daughter. He quickly scanned it and grinned, “Everyone is fine. Anne putting on weight, no alarms.” He offered the telegram back to Adam but his friend was trembling too much to read it and Jess put his arm round his friend and gently forced him to sit down on a nearby log before reading it out to Adam. Adam buried his face in his hands, not wanting anyone to see his near loss of control. Kirk brought coffee over and although a teetotaller himself he had on Ben’s orders brought a supply of brandy along and he put a hefty slug in Adam’s coffee. Jess touched his friend’s arm “Drink it please Adam.”
Adam took the coffee and slowly relaxed, thankful for the good news and
he reread the telegram himself. He had to force himself to eat but slowly
regained control and although he largely left things to José that
afternoon he rode along reasonably relaxed. After an early night he looked
better the next morning and although he took more control of the drive,
he didn’t push as hard as he had that morning and coped reasonably well.
If Adam had been eager for word from home his family had been waiting equally tensely for word about him. José had been told to add the code word for urgent so that the telegram would be sent straight out to the house and he could legitimately give an encouraging report on Adam’s progress. He was surviving the drive considerably better that José at least had dared to hope. José didn’t realise just how worried Adam was about his family, all of them but especially his tiny daughter still so very vulnerable.
During the first week Adam was away both his brothers had thrown themselves into work as an antidote to the blame they felt in letting him go. The fervour of his pleas that he needed to go had faded and even Joe could only remember, as he settled in a warm bed next to his wife, that Adam was sleeping on the cold ground to save him a few nightmares. Ben largely let them get on with it and they had his full agreement that none of the girls was going to overtire themselves tending a fretful baby during the night. Anne thoroughly disapproved of her father’s absence and she was going to make sure that everyone in her vicinity knew about it. Even during the day with her mother she was a misery and at night she was even worse. With a steady stream of queries from town as the business community picked itself up Ben and Joe were kept busy, leaving Hoss to finish up the lumber contracts and the hay cutting with storage of winter feed. The work of the ranch was well up on schedule despite the upheavals during the year and the weather was reasonably cooperative. Hoss ensured that he got home each night even if it meant long rides, Joe needed help and Ben was too busy to miss his sleep, still a little short on stamina. Hoss had taken to going to bed early and taking over from Joe around two in the morning. Joe slept in a little usually appearing around eight. In fact Hoss was on the receiving end of the worst of Anne’s tantrums but he just marvelled that such a tiny baby could so clearly have a will of her own, a real little character, obstinate but in her own way beguiling. As he fed her and walked the study with her Hoss spent hours daydreaming about his own child, due so soon now, the child he had never expected to have.
Both brothers were short on sleep and still troubled by nightmares but the tension grew much worse as the herd should be approaching Fallon. Ben was by far the calmest and when Joe began looking for a messenger he gently chided his son. It would be at least noon the following day before they could expect to hear anything. José was not that pushed for time and would take it fairly easy, both to conserve the condition of the herd and for Adam’s sake, Joe admitted the sense of that but he couldn’t hide his fears for his brother.
The next day Hoss showed a marked reluctance to leave the house. He was
due to go up to the sawmill but by lunchtime was still checking over figures.
Ben didn’t bother him and for once Joe was too concerned himself to tease
his big brother. Carole seemed unconcerned, she was up and around although
still taking it easy. At least she felt much better and was very glad to
see more of her children, The twins were off playing on their own much of
the time but Marie had really missed her mother and she at least was flatteringly
pleased to have her around. Carole was far more worried about Adam than
she allowed to show. She had given him her full support but she knew him
too well to miss how weak and tired he had been. When the messenger arrived
from town all of them followed Ben into the study as he opened the telegram.
Hoss hovered close to Carole, just in case but as Ben quickly scanned the
telegram he grinned broadly. José hadn’t stinted on detail and assured
them that Adam was looking better, eating well and beginning to sleep much
better. He was being sensible not attempting too much, although doing a
little more now and that between them they would ensure he survived without
too much trouble. Ben had José’s promise not to send glowing reports
just to ease his mind but to stick to the facts and they all knew their
foreman would do exactly that. Carole sat down in a chair feeling suddenly
weak and asked Hoss to pour her a small brandy but she was smiling. Ben
grinned at his sons, “Now maybe you two will stop fussing and we can get
some work done around here!”
Neither of them rose to the bait knowing that their father had been equally worried but Hoss soon rode out and Joe found he got noticeably faster for having news.
Adam found the drive north of Fallon filled with too many memories. The last time he’d brought the herd an electric storm had caused a stampede and José had broken his leg. Conditions were very much better this time and the weather was totally different but he couldn’t help feeling tense and more than a little bad tempered. Even without a stampede the ground was very rough and they made slow progress, showing just how lucky he had been not to lose more in the stampede. In addition there were clouds gathering over the mountains to their west and Adam was uneasy. José didn’t seem to notice them but as he rode along Adam found his eye drawn back to the clouds almost against his will. That night they camped about halfway along the stampede path. It wasn’t an ideal campsite and the cattle were without water but it was too far to push them onto the river, the ground too rough in the growing dark. Adam could only pick at his food and despite Jess’ protests he threw most of it away but he couldn’t settle. For once he had forgotten about his daughter and his family, wrapped up in the job he had taken on. Apart from two years ago he hadn’t taken the drive for years, not since Hoss reached maturity but for many years in his late teens and early twenties it had been his job every autumn. The experience and knowledge of the country that he had built up then was still with him and it all combined to warn him of trouble, so that he couldn’t rest.
Adam sat by the fire, not talking, the expression on his face enough to warn the men not to bother him. He was lost in his own thoughts, staring into his cup of coffee, not drinking it, almost forgetting he was holding it. Both Jess and José tried to persuade him to get some rest but without success, he didn’t even seem to hear them and when Jess pushed it Adam, not unkindly but firmly told him to go and rest himself, he would settle later. Jess had got to know Adam very well over the last years and knew when it was a waste of time pressing him. He caught Jose’s eyes but José just shrugged they might as well get some sleep when Adam looked that stubborn it was a waste of time. Adam smiled wryly as the two men settled down, he must look better or neither of them would have given way so easily. He knew that Stevens had been out scouting ahead but he couldn’t help worrying about those clouds. Flash floods were always a danger in the nest two river valleys. Eventually Adam went over to the horse line and saddled a roan mare that he knew well, she was very surefooted. Chris Santee on night-herd came over to investigate on hearing the noise. He was one of the few who had seen the extent of Adam’s injuries and had learnt how bad it was from John Wilson. He was outspoken in his condemnation of Adam’s proposed ride, forgetting for a moment that this was his boss. He was even threatening to wake José but Adam just reminded him who was in overall charge of the drive and then grinned “José couldn’t stop me anyway so let him sleep. I won’t be long.”
Santee was worried at his own temerity and he bit his lip anxiously but Adam saw and as he mounted he said “Don’t worry Chris I know it was kindly meant.”
Adam took it fairly slowly on the rough ground but he cut up into the hills wanting to see what conditions were like further west. By midnight he was deep in the hills and with cloud covering what little moon there was he walked the mare. The last thing he wanted was to have to walk back with an injured horse. It was long time since he’d been in the hills in that area but with a good sense of direction he found what he was looking for. The feeder streams up on the high mesa which in twelve to eighteen hours would be sending their waters down to the rivers which the cattle cross. The dry valleys could disappear in floods too deep for cattle.
Without adequate light it wasn’t easy for Adam to tell what he wanted to know but he lit a bundle of twigs as a torch and saw enough. The water was discoloured, just beginning to run higher with a little debris. Adam rode on north to check some of the other streams, He found much the same there and although it wasn’t conclusive, the streams could go down again without causing trouble, Adam wasn’t taking that risk. His mind made up Adam turned the mare and made his way slowly back to camp. He had to concentrate on the terrain at first but for the last three miles he trusted to the mare’s surefootedness while he tried to sort out in his own mind just what needed doing.
Time was at a premium and he intended moving out the herd as soon as there was any light at all. It was nearly four by the time he got back to the herd to find Santee pacing around anxiously, although he had been relieved on duty. He hadn’t woken Jess or José although he had been very tempted, for which Adam was very grateful. Santee didn’t try any more lectures, just providing his boss with fresh coffee. Adam sat down grateful for it, tense and overtired, he made a deliberate effort to relax, knowing there was a long tiring day ahead of all of them. For nearly half an hour he sat lost in thought and it was a real effort to get to his feet but slowly Adam stretched and then went over to wake Kirk. The grizzled old cowboy woke swiftly, assuming it was trouble but everything seemed peaceful, the herd quiet. He frowned looking at Adam “What’s up?”
“Maybe nothing, but I’m not taking any chances.”
“You look beat son, what you been doing?”
“Don’t fuss Kirk. We have two rivers to get across today, with signs of flash flood imminent and I for one won’t settle until we’re safe on the far side of them, sooner the better. I want an early start, first light. Get breakfast and get packed up before that and I want each man to have saddle rations, no noon stop today.”
Kirk frowned, he knew the drive route as well as anyone an it would be a very long day, twelve or thirteen miles with two river crossings, the first three miles very rough and it didn’t improve much between the rivers. He couldn’t do anything about the terrain but Adam already looked tired and he tried to persuade his boss to get some rest for an hour at least. Adam shook his head, he had to check the herd, get the remuda separated. They would keep a change of mounts for everyone with them but the rest of the remuda could go on ahead. In fact he was much too tense to settle and was glad of something to do.
By the time he got back Kirk had all the men up and was serving breakfast, warning the disgruntled men to come and get it, even if they weren’t hungry. It was going to be a long time until their next hot meal. As each man got his food he was given jerky and biscuits to carry him through until the evening. José had been surprised but Kirk explained Adam’s fears.
When he saw Adam come back José collected food for both of them and went over to join Adam. He knew the risk of flash floods in the next two valleys but it didn’t seem very imminent, the weather had been good and he thought Adam was worrying unnecessarily. Adam wasn’t really hungry but, seeing the concern on his old friend’s face and seeing Jess coming over, he made the attempt, knowing there would be uproar if he didn’t. José queried his orders as tactfully as he could. Stevens hadn’t seen any sign of trouble at the river when he’d scouted ahead and the weather had been good.
Adam shrugged, “There isn’t yet José but good chance there will
be. Heavy clouds over the mountains yesterday.”
“I know and maybe I’m running scared but I am not prepared to take a chance.”
Jess had been talking to Santee, “Just where have you been overnight Adam?”
José looked questioningly at Jess who went on “He waited until we were settled, then rode out for more than five hours.”
José exploded, “You’re a bloody fool Adam! You’re not fit enough for such escapades. Suppose you’d had an accident? What are we supposed to tell your family?”
“I just wanted to see if there was any basis for my fears.”
“Either of us could have checked for you, or Stevens, we’re all fit.”
“I know I only had to ask but I couldn’t settle, needed to see for myself. It is my herd.”
José was about to tell him in explicit terms what a fool he was but Jess intervened, “Not much point in nagging José, its done now. What did you find Adam?”
“Small streams back in the hills are well up, discoloured, carrying debris. There’s a chance it will dissipate without causing trouble but its not the sort of chance I want to take. We move as fast as we can. I don’t expect trouble at the first crossing, but there may well be at the second and there’s nowhere to hold a herd this size between them.”
José searched his friend’s face, seeing his tiredness and knowing that it would be a very long day even if Adam was wrong. He knew his friend too well to believe he’d leave things to others if he was worried about time. José had seen just how quickly Adam became exhausted over the first few days of the drive and he couldn’t resist tentatively suggesting that they stay put for a while, see if Adam was right and let the flood subside if necessary, there was enough grass for two or three days if they moved the herd east a little. Adam just glared at him, “We have a delivery date.” and he walked off.
José sighed but he got little sympathy from Jess, “You know he ain’t gonna hold up just because he’s exhausted.”
“Ben said to forget the delivery date, he’d pay penalty money, the only important thing was Adam’s health.”
“Did he suggest how to persuade Adam?”
“Nope.” José grinned, “He was mighty quiet about that. Come on let’s
get the herd moving.”
Adam was pushing harder than most of the men thought sensible, the light was still poor and the ground very rough, but all long time hands they went along. By the time they reached the first river the horse herd was out of sight but at least the light had improved. After a waterless camp the herd was eager to get to the river and José rode up to Adam wanting to slow the cattle but Adam wasn’t about to lose the time that would take. They would funnel the cattle, keep them moving straight across they could drink as they went. He’d done it before and with an excellent crew and not short handed for once he was confident he could do it again. He issued detailed orders and even though José didn’t agree he didn’t waste time arguing. As José left Adam spotted Stevens and cut across to join him wanting to send him up to the next river to bring word of its condition. Stevens accepted that Adam knew the route a lot better than he did and had a feel for the mountains that could only come from experience so he didn’t query his orders. Strangely for that self-contained man he asked one extraneous question “When did you first bring a herd through here?”
Adam grinned “Long time ago. Ramrod for my father twenty years ago. Guess its eighteen years since I bossed my own drive, needed to keep a wary eye out for Indians back then. Got there safely but I have some scars from the return trip, one time the army came to the rescue.”
Stevens stared at him “You ain’t that old.”
“I was 17. Pa had a broken leg, fussed about as much as he did this time. I know the route believe it and I smell trouble. Get going and tell me how bad it is.”
Stevens had gone and Adam concentrated on getting the herd moved through the first crossing. The cattle were loathe to move across, wanting to drink their fill but the pressure from the next arrivals forced them on. Adam sat on a bay gelding wanting to save his reliable stallion for later when things might get very difficult. He stationed the gelding just in the river preventing the cattle from spreading out downstream and he issued orders to the men in the river with him and on the bank using a coiled rope to persuade the cattle to cooperate. Despite the men’s best efforts it seemed to take forever to get the large herd across and Adam was fretting long before the drag came into view. He had already sent half the men on with the cattle already across, keeping them moving north and not, as was more normal, held until the whole herd was across. Although Adam was sure it was necessary it left him short handed and by the time the last of the cattle were over he was soaking wet and tired out, the muscles in his arm and back protesting at the sudden hard usage after months of inactivity. As he came out of the river and kicked the gelding on to check the progress at the head of the herd Adam made an uncomfortable discovery, The scars on his back were gradually hardening off but they quickly made it clear that wet cloth rubbing on them was more than they were prepared to accept mutely. For almost the first time on the drive Adam was painfully aware of his injuries. As there was nothing he could do about it Kirk on his orders had the wagons with the spare clothing well ahead so Adam did the best he could to put it to the back of his mind. The herd hadn’t progressed as far as he’d hoped, they had wasted too much time at the first crossing. He rode up and down the line of march, pushing, cajoling the men and cattle into moving on faster.
It was already past time for the noon break as they slowly made their way north and the cattle used to the routine with a break needed constant attention or small groups wandered off to feed. The men ate in the saddle but they cursed Adam for driving them just because he felt uneasy. The only thing preventing outright mutiny was his own continual effort, working harder than any of the men. He couldn’t hide his growing exhaustion, nor the pain he was in, but when any of them tried to remonstrate with him he shut them up very swiftly. Adam knew himself well enough to know that he could cope until the herd was safely in the campground he’d chosen. Indeed he was the first to spot Stevens returning and react to it. He was already deep in conversation with the scout when Jess and José rode over to join them. Stevens had seen the first signs of the water rising, the discolouration was very evident and some small debris was being washed down so he had come to report to Adam that his fears were justified. Although Stevens was shocked at how pale and drawn his boss was, in evident pain, he made no comment and Adam quickly proved that his brain was as clear as always. He questioned Stevens in great detail, trying to judge how much time they had before the river became impassable. Once he’d elicited all the facts Stevens had, even those he hadn’t consciously noticed Adam made up his mind. He sent Jess to the drag to push as hard as he could, time was at a premium and José to move the head of the herd on as fast as he could. Then he despatched Stevens back to the northern river telling him to check it nearer the mountains and bring word back of conditions there and whether or not the horse herd and wagons were safely across. Then Adam rode round the whole herd speaking to each individual cowboy to push as hard as possible. They were in a race against time with a flood coming down to block their path.
Stevens returned for a second time while the head of the herd was still nearly two miles from the river. It was already well up with some larger debris beginning to appear nearer the mountains but at least the remuda and wagons were safely across. Adam hadn’t expected anything else and it could have been worse, there was still time to get the herd across although it would be tight. He sent Stevens back to help Jess with the drag. They were bound to be the ones most at risk.
For half an hour he checked around, pushing hard moving the herd at a dangerously fast pace on the rough ground and then leaving José to cope he went to look at the river. It was well up and as Adam watched he saw a heavy old tree trunk swirl down the middle of the stream, cutting across in the current to jam against the side close to where he’d have to ford. Adam was back on his own reliable stallion and he pushed Blackie into the water. At first the stallion was unwilling but he did as his master asked and planted each foot firmly as he felt the rush of the current. Adam lassoed the trunk and pulled it clear and then walked Blackie back and forward across the river to check the condition of the bottom. At least that was clear as he remembered but with the current increasing it was going to be touch and go and he was glad to see the first cattle appearing.
There were two major dangers, debris coming downstream and animals getting knocked off their feet and swept away. Adam could only cover things as far as possible and knowing that he was tired, his reactions maybe slowed, he stationed himself on the downstream side. If he couldn’t prevent animals being swept away then a few cattle would drown but if he let a log through, such as the one he had pulled out of the way, then men could die in the ensuing chaos. Leaving José to push the cattle in as orderly as he could, Adam stationed Pio, Santee and Wilson on the upstream side, three men as experienced as any on the drive.
The next hours were a muddle. Adam couldn’t remember anything clearly, time after time he had to rope cattle who were knocked off their feet, twice men working with him were dumped in the water as their mounts lost their feet. Each time Adam moved swiftly to get the men to shore and the horses scrambled out downstream. Blackie remained on his feet but Adam was just as wet as though he had been in the river. Gradually the river rose and as the weaker animals were in the drag it became a nightmare as the crew raced against time to get them over. José sent the bare minimum to guide the herd up to the camp ground, with feed there the wet tired beasts weren’t likely to stray. The rest stayed in the river, much wider now as it broke its banks and so deep in the middle that both cattle and horses had to swim. It seemed to take forever, the last animals were very loathe to enter the ever widening stretch of water. Sometimes they even tried to turn back in the middle, causing chaos as they collided with those behind and the men had to move in to break up the milling herd. Adam always led the way in, not even thinking of the risk to himself and past being aware of the pain both in his back and his left hand.
The last hour was a nightmare for all of them as it got increasingly difficult for any of the animals to keep their feet and the weakest animals faced the worst crossing. Adam kept going somehow not even aware of Jess trying to persuade him to leave the river, although he did take in that he had a strong man next to him reacting swiftly to trouble, Adam had a brittle strength and a strong horse and although close to collapse as long as cattle kept coming he would continue. Half the men were soaked by now having been in the river and with heavy debris doming down the river all of them were scared with both men and horses tired. Most would have liked to leave the river, but seeing their boss fighting in the river hour after hour and knowing that he was by no means fit, noone else could leave.
José finally moved the last few animals into the river and leaving
Stevens to keep them moving he made his way over to Adam, “That’s it Adam,
the last few all in the water.”
Adam didn’t seem to take it in and Jess yelled to Hank to keep an eye on the cattle and moved forward taking Blackie’s reins. Adam looked up at that but it all seemed to be happening a long way off and he made no protest as Jess led the stallion out of the river with José moving up the far side of Adam to ensure he was safe. Adam took the reins back as Blackie stood on the bank and didn’t even hear Jess or José both of whom wanted him to move onto the camp. Adam was only aware of the cattle and men swimming towards him. Stevens was the last to leave the river, everyone across, a few cattle lost but no horses and more importantly no injuries to any of the men. Adam slowly took that in, seeing some of the large debris that his men had damned up, now swirling past and he imagined the chaos that could have cost lives and he shivered, for the first time aware how cold, tired and sore he was. He didn’t want the men to see but he’d pushed his strength well past the limit and he slumped forward nursing his aching left hand. Stevens came up to join them and looked at José in horror.” Get him to camp, he’s had it.”
José nodded “We will but take it easy Stevens, he’s only just given in.”
“His hand’s bleeding.” Stevens commented.
Jess saw the blood, not diluted any longer by the water, which was dripping down Adam’s wrist and he eased the glove off. He found the scar on Adam’s thumb and one on his second finger had broken open, rubbed raw by the lasso rope as Adam ignored his injuries and gone to the aid of anything needing it. Jess looked over at José not sure what to do.
José bit his lip “We can’t do anything here, it’s only just over a mile to the camp. You two take him in and I’ll finish up here, bring the drag in.”
Jess tried to tell Adam what they were doing but it wasn’t penetrating and Stevens said “I’ll take the reins, stick close, he’s barely conscious.”
Jess forced a grin, “Hoss and Joe always say he can stay in the saddle even when he’s asleep, let’s hope they’re right.”
Stevens took it slowly, keeping well clear of the herd and Jess stuck very close, very worried as Adam slumped over the saddle horn but his friend moved easily enough with his horse. Even so both men were glad to reach the camp where Kirk had hot food waiting for them. Word had spread and Kirk was waiting as the black stallion walked into camp. Stevens led the way right over to the wagons and then both he and Jess dismounted. They considered the problem of getting Adam down as Kirk joined them. Stevens sighed “Wish Hoss was here, he ain’t exactly a lightweight!”
Jess, with a confidence he was far from feeling, said, “We’ll manage.” He gripped Adam’s arm, “One more effort Adam got to get you down.”
He repeated it twice before recognition filtered into Adam’s eyes and he lifted his head, taking in where he was. For a minute he could only lick dry lips but then he asked “The men? The herd?”
“All safely over. José is bringing in the stragglers, We’ve got to get you down.”
“I’m alright, just tired.” Adam slowly straightened up in the saddle. Every movement was an effort, every muscle protesting and his scarred back felt on fire but with Jess there to steady him he forced himself to dismount and leaning heavily on Jess he let his friend help him into the store wagon. Kirk already had a comfortable bed made up for him inside. Stevens and Kirk followed them, bringing the first aid kit that they carried. All three men were very worried just how seriously their boss had overdone it. Jess took charge and set Kirk to find some dry clothes. The first job had to be to get Adam dry and warm, then they could try and bandage his hand. Adam did his best to cooperate as Jess helped him out of his wet clothes but everything was swimming round him, threatening to turn black and it was taking him all his time to hang onto his senses. Before Jess had finished stripping the wet clothes José came in to join them. He’d not seen the extent of injuries as both Jess and Stevens had and he looked in horror at the bad scars. Stevens recognized the look, “Compared to what it was originally it looks marvellous, not as scarred as I expected.”
The scars were red and had obviously been irritated by the wet clothing but Kirk was practical and told Jess to get him dry and into warm clothes. Adam caught his breath sharply as Jess dried his back. Jess was as gentle as he knew how but with Adam shivering uncontrollably it was hard not to hurt his friend. Kirk poured out a brandy and held it for Adam to drink. Then looking at the other three men he pulled out three more glasses, “Guess you could all do with one.”
Adam felt a little warmer with dry clothes and the brandy and stopped shivering, he tried to tell the others that he was fine, just tired but he wasn’t making much sense. José eased him onto the soft bed that Kirk had prepared and he held Adam’s hand while the old cowboy washed his hand with alcohol to be safe and put on soothing ointment before bandaging it up as efficiently as he could. Kirk was well used to dealing with all too many injuries of various sorts over the years. Adam was just about conscious by the time Kirk had finished and the four men decided wordlessly to leave him to sleep, as he’d already turned down the offer of food. Jess told him to get some sleep but Adam lifted himself up on his elbow, “The herd?”
“All safe.” José reassured him
“Tomorrow need to camp in that canyon, fourteen miles northeast. Needs scouting.”
“I’ll see to that.” Stevens said quietly, “Get some sleep.”
“Thanks. Check for word in town José. Send Wilson and Santee, used to work there, probably have friends. They’ve earnt a break. As have all of you. Done a real good job. Very grateful, hope you know.”
Jess gently pulled up a blanket, “Sure we know Adam. Now will you get some sleep, you’re exhausted.”
“Just a bit tired.” Adam tried to smile but as he relaxed his weakness took over and with the wagon swaying round him he shut his eyes and slipped straight into sleep. Jess tucked him up warmly and then joined the other three outside. All had been touched that weak and exhausted he’d found the energy to thank them and to remember just where Wilson and Santee came from. It was the little things like that which made all the Cartwrights such good bosses and earnt them the loyalty of their men. They were all worried but Jess insisted that Adam would sleep off the worst of it. He had seen more of Adam than any of them over the last years and knew his basic strength. Knowing that Stevens slowly relaxed and went to change and get some food.
When José told John Wilson and Chris Santee about Adam’s orders they didn’t quite know what to say. Both had seen how close to collapse their boss had been on returning to camp. With old friends in town they were both delighted with the orders but José told them to hang on for a minute while he tried to think what to say to Adam’s family. In the end he conceded that Jess was right and there was no point in worrying the family. Either Adam would sleep off his long hard day or they would need to act, because he couldn’t carry on with the drive unless he did recover. In which case they would need to send for one of his brothers and maybe take Adam himself to a doctor. Armed with a non-committal telegram Wilson and Santee didn’t wait to sleep and after a meal they headed for town, They could be there soon after ten, see some friends and be back the next day, José told them where the next camp was and as long as they rejoined the following day at some stage that was good enough.
During the evening several times Jess or José looked in on Adam; both thought he might be running a slight fever but he hadn’t moved from where he’d fallen asleep so they just let him be. Whatever else happened both men were determined that he would have his sleep out and the longer the better. José knew the route to the canyon and it was a straight forward drive so he suggested Jess stay with the store wagon until Adam woke. Kirk would bring the cook wagon but leave food and coffee for them. Kirk had set up camp in a small valley at the rear of the plateau where the herd was held so they should be able to move the herd out fairly quietly and hopefully not disturb the boss. Neither were taking any bets on Adam sleeping through but it was worth a try. They didn’t need any long explanations when they asked the men to be quiet in the morning. Every man had seen how close Adam was to collapse. Even though he’d planned for it Jess sat by the second wagon watching Kirk and the herd vanish from sight with a degree of astonishment. He really hadn’t believed Adam would sleep through, he had so often heard Hoss and Joe moaning about Adam’s built-in alarm, but this time it obviously wasn’t working. Maybe Adam had just relaxed knowing that for now the danger was past and his crew could cope easily. Whatever the reason he slept through until after lunch, nearly eighteen hours Jess had finished eating and was on his second cup of coffee when he heard a stifled moan from behind him. Jess went to investigate and saw Adam gingerly easing himself into a sitting position. Adam would have preferred to be alone but apart from his family there was no one he felt more at ease with than Jess and he accepted his friend’s help to get down from the wagon and sat down on a rock while Jess fetched coffee.
Adam was so stiff and sore as unused muscles protested this sudden hard work, that it was hard to sit up straight and his head was throbbing after too long a deep sleep. Only slowly did he take in the time and the absence of the herd but, although admitting Jess’ argument that he’d hardly eaten the previous day and should be hungry, he just couldn’t face food. Jess refilled his coffee and offered the brandy bottle, That Adam did accept, having a feeling that he would need it and then very slowly he forced himself to do a few exercises to loosen up his stiff muscles. Jess bit his lip as he saw his friend lose what little colour he had but he knew Adam was right he had to loosen up. Knowing that his friend would hate to be overlooked Jess busied himself breaking camp and getting everything stowed away on the supply wagon, ready to move out. Even so he couldn’t miss Adam’s obvious pain and it was all he could do to stop himself protesting that Adam had done enough. Eventually Adam sat still fighting to control his breathing and soaked in sweat. Jess poured a neat brandy and took it over, but first he handed Adam a damp cloth and Adam wiped his face, trying to control the shaking of his hands. He couldn’t help spilling the brandy a little but slowly the spirit steadied him. Adam forced a grin for his friend, seeing the worry on his face, ”I’m okay Jess. Just rather stiff, it’ll soon wear off. Time we made a move, long way to camp.” Adam studied the wagon with distaste, he’d never liked riding in one but there was no choice with all the horses ahead with the herd, “I’ll drive, come on.”
For three hours they made slow progress over the rough ground. At first Adam made the effort to make conversation but slowly he fell silent. It was taking all his time to hide the pain from the scars on his back and from the much older injury to his spine, which reasserted itself when he was tired and had overdone things. Jess could only sit by and watch as Adam lost colour, only the tightened muscles round his mouth telling of his pain, but when Jess offered a drink Adam refused. They weren’t quite halfway when two horsemen approached from town. Jess eased his gun, just in case, but Adam with keener eyesight said, “Wilson and Santee.”
The two men had thoroughly enjoyed their break in town, meeting up with many old cronies and finding themselves the centre of attention. Especially from those of their own age group who were rather jealous that the two men had found a steady niche in a spread like the Ponderosa. When they heard more of the trust and responsibility placed in them, the jealousy turned almost to awe. They had certainly fallen on their feet when Adam rode in to town. Recognising the Ponderosa wagon the two men rode up to join them, with a telegram for Adam. Jess hesitated as his friend took it, wondering if Adam wanted him to open it again. This time having heard only two days earlier Adam was fine and he scanned another reassuring telegram. Joe had exaggerated slightly when he said Anne was going three hours between feeds but she was a lot better which eased the problems for all of them. Adam relaxed having read it and he could get shot of the dammed wagon. “John can I borrow your horse. I need to get back to the herd, you bring the wagon.”
Jess caught Chris’ eye and Chris offered to swap with him. Adam almost angrily protested that he didn’t need a bodyguard but Jess just shrugged “Rough country.”
All three men looked stubborn and realising he couldn’t win Adam conceded defeat, “Alright Jess, you two bring the wagon and thanks.” He kicked on ahead of Jess, still angry, and for a while Jess made no attempt to come up level. Adam would have preferred to be alone but recognising his friend’s concern he realised he was behaving childishly. After quarter of an hour he pulled up and waited for Jess, “Alright display of bad temper over.” Adam sighed, he was thoroughly fed up with feeling unfit unable to do what he normally took for granted without feeling exhausted. Still it wasn’t fair to take it out on his friends, who were only trying to help. Adam took the last two miles slowly and although very tired again the stiffness had eased and he was able to hide just how ill he felt. José was glad to see him, as were the rest and with Kirk bullying him, Adam made a reasonable meal. He dozed off again almost immediately, the herd was safe and the news from home was good.
The next morning although still a little stiff he felt much better and with no real problems for the next week or so he let the drive move along without interference. When they came to the part where Adam had had to split the herd on a previous drive, the conditions were so much better that the lower route would take all of this even larger herd. A straight forward drive for which he was very grateful.