Summary: The story continues with the characters of the Garden Party and begins with Adam and Joe at odds, but that doesn’t last as they adjust to the needs of each other and then have to rely on each other to survive in a difficult situation. They will need their family and others to escape their predicament and return home.
rating = T WC = 24,120
Wearing a Frown
Leaning back in his chair by his desk, Ben Cartwright frowned as he thought about that morning’s conversation with his youngest son. He had thought that when Adam got his own ranch, things would settle down on the Ponderosa. Joe got more responsibility and Adam had his independence. Both men were able to make decisions and direct important projects, but somehow they were still at odds on occasion. Joe thought that Adam should be helping more on the Ponderosa and Adam’s priority was his ranch, Whispering Pines.
“What kind of name for a ranch is that, anyway, Whispering Pines? It sounds more like some play by one of those writers he likes than a ranch in the west.”
“Joseph, it is a perfectly fine name for a ranch and it gives them a brand that is nearly impossible for rustlers to run. We might even think about altering our brand the way we’ve been losing stock this year. Lately we’ve seen losses that are threatening our bottom line.”
“Pa, I know, but no matter what we do, we can’t seem to track them down. They seem to take only a few at a time from each ranch so they don’t leave enough tracks for us to follow them. Their tracks are mixed in with so many other tracks it’s impossible to ever find anything. With Hoss tracking, we should have been able to come up with something, but we got nothing. Now if Adam would come over and bring Morgan and Mason, we might be able to get somewhere.”
“Have you asked him?”
“Well, I wanted to, but we kinda got into another argument yesterday when I saw him.”
Ben had sighed deeply. It was nothing new. It seemed that whenever Adam and Joe got near each other, they found something about which to argue. He knew he had to ask, but he was beginning to feel like he was dealing with school age boys instead of his adult sons. “What was it this time?”
Sitting on the corner of his father’s desk, Joe had stared at the floor and remembered that encounter in town. He had not wanted it to go so badly and wondered too why each time he saw Adam, it seemed that his temper flared and made the conversation between them become angry. He had been in town to send a few messages and deposit a bank draft. He had been feeling good about things and saw Adam stop at the dressmaker’s shop. He smiled as he saw Adam climb out of the carriage and help Irae step down. Adam reached into the carriage for Lake and leaned down to place his son into his wife’s arms kissing her as he did so. Joe felt a pang of jealousy then seeing his oldest brother so happy with his family. Adam was wearing a yellow shirt because Irae had tired of the all black attire and had made some yellow and red shirts for Adam to wear. Now he stood out even more when he arrived in town with his half-Paiute wife and new son, Lake, drawing even more attention to them. Some people were openly friendly and waved, but there were still some who were hostile or a bit unfriendly because the eldest of the Cartwright sons had spurned the other eligible ladies of Virginia City to marry a woman that many considered beneath him. It irritated the whole family that people still thought like that, but they couldn’t change what was in people’s hearts and minds. They loved Irae and Lake so that was all that mattered. Once Adam came out of the dress shop, Joe called to him and Adam smiled and walked across the street to join him at the telegraph office.
“Hey, Adam, what you doing in town? I thought you said you were too busy on your ranch to do anything?” Joe’s mixed feelings about Adam were clear in his question even if he wasn’t completely aware of it.
The challenge in the greeting wasn’t lost on Adam, but he did his best to ignore it. “Even a busy rancher needs supplies and Irae wanted to get some things done while I got supplies and ran errands. I could ask the same of you but I assume because you’re at the telegraph office that you have messages to send. I do too.”
“Yeah, Pa put me in charge of that big Army contract. I have to have fifty horses ready by the end of the month. It’s a big opportunity but a big chance to ruin things too if I fail. I could sure use your help and Morgan and Mason too this month as much as you can help me.”
“I’ll do what I can, Joe, but we’re right in the middle of some big projects too. We need to get things done so that we can work through the winter to finish things off. By next spring, we want to advertise that we have an indoor show ring for our horses so that people know that they can come regardless of the weather. We also want to have the guest quarters set up so that we don’t have to house strangers in our home. It’s too far from town to necessarily expect people to traipse back and forth in bad weather especially, but we don’t want them in the house and the bunkhouse isn’t appropriate. It’s close enough to accommodate guests for the Ponderosa as well if needed.”
“What is it exactly?”
“It’s a two-bedroom bungalow with a separate parlor for each bedroom and a shared water closet.”
“No, we would expect to prepare meals for them in our house. But you gave me a great idea for a small improvement to my plan. We should probably put in a small cabinet for items like a coffee pot, teapot, and then the things they would need for tea and coffee. There’s plenty of room for that in the parlor and there’s already a small stove there as well as a fireplace in the bedroom. Or there will be once we finish framing them up and get the roof on and the walls on. So far it’s just the floor and some of the framing. Most of the work was on finishing up the stable expansion and the show ring so that we could finish the interior work on that this winter.”
“I thought Pa wanted you to build some hay barns for us too.”
“Yes, that’s the next project. Those go up fast so as soon as the bungalow is framed up and roofed, we’ll head out to the pastures and frame up the hay barns and get a roof on them. Once the hay is inside, we’ll put the walls up. Most of the end walls will be removable so that it will be easier to fill the barns each fall. Drive the hay wagons in, empty them and drive out the other end. There won’t be a floor so that makes them rather easy to build. No cornerstones to set and no leveling for the floor.”
“There are big piles of lumber just sitting in the pastures right now.”
“Good, then the men delivered just as they said they would. I was up at our lumber mill a few weeks ago and they said they were right on schedule.”
For some reason, it irritated Joe that Adam seemed to have everything under control in his realm of responsibility because Joe was feeling a bit frazzled in his. He had rustlers to find, a challenging contract to complete, and still had all the other duties on the Ponderosa to complete. Some days he didn’t know where he would find the time to complete all the jobs that seemed to be piling up. He thought Adam should be doing more to help because he was one of the three brothers who stood to inherit the Ponderosa but Adam seemed to be mostly focused on his ranch that he got through his marriage to Irae.
“You know we’re having a problem with rustlers too. We could use your help and Morgan and Mason too to help track them down.”
“Joe, I told you that I don’t have any spare time right now. Maybe in a few weeks I can help.”
“In a few weeks, they could have a few hundred more Ponderosa cattle but that doesn’t matter to you, does it. You only seem to care about your ranch. Our ranch doesn’t seem to matter to you any more.”
With his lips pursed tightly and his eyebrows drawing together, it was clear to anyone that Adam was doing his best to hold his temper. “Joe, I am doing what I agreed to do on the Ponderosa. I am managing the timber and lumber operations, the investments, and and helping with the cattle, contracts, and other things as Pa asks me to help. He asked for the hay barns and I’m doing that. He didn’t ask for anything more. Now if you want more help, you should probably talk with Pa about that and see what you should do. Have you hired more men?”
“Yeah, I did. I hired two men who said you let them go for no reason. They said you didn’t like their attitude and let them go for that. I need men who can break horses and they have experience doing that.”
“You hired Trace Griffin and Davis Burke?”
With a nod, Joe agreed but explained too. “I’ve played cards with them. They don’t cheat at cards and they’re friendly with everyone. They’ve worked on a lot of ranches in the area breaking horses. They’re hard workers and know what they’re doing. It’s not a job that keeps you working on a ranch for long, but nobody seems to have a bad word to say about them except you.”
“Joe, they were places they weren’t supposed to be too often. It was suspicious behavior and they never had a good explanation. I could let it go once and then twice but it was nearly every day. I let them go at the end of the week. I didn’t need that kind of aggravation. I wondered what they were up to, and I still don’t know. If you decide to keep them on, just watch them. There’s something going on with those two and you need to keep an eye on them.”
“I’m not going to be like you. You’re always so suspicious of everyone especially anyone younger than you who likes to have some fun. I trust them until they give me a reason not to. Just walking around is not enough reason not to trust a man. Jeez, Adam, you’re getting to be an old woman.”
That was enough for Adam who turned and walked away without saying another word. He had tried to talk to Joe in a reasonable manner, but lately he couldn’t say anything without somehow irritating his younger brother. He knew he tended to talk to Joe like a father would but he had tried to curb that as much as he could. He also knew he was sarcastic and tried to hold back on that. He wasn’t entirely successful on either one, but he didn’t think he had been too overbearing or too sarcastic to warrant the negative reaction he was getting from his youngest brother. He was ready to explode and knew that the two of them were getting close to one of their epic arguments that were likely to get physical.
Joe had repeated most of his conversation with Adam for his father without the insults, but Ben knew his impulsive hot-tempered youngest son well. He had a very good idea why Adam would have walked away like that. He sighed and wondered if he should ride over to Adam’s ranch to have a talk with him and try to smooth things over. After lunch would likely be a good time. He could use the excuse that he wanted to see the progress Adam had made on his new show ring and stable as well as the planned bungalow, and he never missed a chance to see his grandson either. Walking around would give him time to talk with his eldest son and perhaps find a way to smooth things over. He didn’t know why Joe was so on edge but he suspected he knew that he was partly responsible for it, but Adam was being targeted instead. He wasn’t sure why, but perhaps they could talk about that too.
As Ben rode near Adam’s place, he could see his eldest son working and the way he was swinging a hammer showed his mood as well as anything could. Ben rode up to the porch where Irae was rocking Lake who had fallen asleep and tied his horse to one of the decorative posts that Adam had put there.
Speaking very softly so as not to wake her son, Irae addressed Ben who walked up the porch steps to see his grandson. “I’m glad you’re here. Perhaps you can calm Adam down before he hurts himself. He’s been like that ever since we were in town. I didn’t have to ask him who he was talking to. Just the way he acted let me know that he was talking with Joe again. There is no one who can get under his skin like that except Joe. I don’t know what is going on with those two, but if something doesn’t change soon, there’s going to be a fight.”
“I’ll do what I can. I suspected as much after what Joe told me. I’ll go see if he’ll give me a tour of the new stable and show ring. That should help.”
“Could you hold the door open for me? I want to get Lake in for his nap.” Ben held the door for Irae who pushed up on her toes to give him a quick kiss on the cheek for luck. He smiled at her as she turned to go into the house. He loved her as a daughter. He had some reservations when Adam first started courting her, but she was so good for his son that he had long ago decided that there was no one better for Adam than Irae. She had looked a bit pale lately and he hoped that the tension between Adam and Joe wasn’t causing her any distress. He turned to walk to the bungalow site where Adam was hard at work and hadn’t even noted his arrival.
“It’s looks like you’re making a lot of changes around here.”
Surprised, Adam nearly hit himself with the hammer but held up in time. He turned to see his father, and it was clear that his mood hadn’t improved much since he had left Joe outside the telegraph office that morning. “I thought Joe said that everyone on the Ponderosa was too busy to do anything else.”
“He may have overstated his case a bit. He’s feeling a bit overwhelmed with everything he has to do right now. That’s my fault. But I don’t know how else to hand off responsibility to him other than to hand it off to him. He wanted it, but that Army contract came at a bad time. We already had a lot to do, and then this problem with rustlers is the worst we’ve had in years. They’re a clever bunch taking only a few at a time so they’re extremely hard to track.”
“It shouldn’t be that hard. Maybe I could come over tomorrow morning and we could map out where they’ve been taking the cattle. We could probably figure out the pattern. Once we do that, it makes the tracking a lot easier because it narrows down the possibilities.”
“You could have suggested that to Joe.”
“Pa, it’s so hard for me to talk with Joe. He throws things at me that make me angry so that I don’t even want to talk reasonably with him. I know I should so you don’t have to look at me like that, but we’ve got a long history of this. When he starts off a conversation with one of those loaded comments, it gets my back up, and it usually doesn’t go well right from there.”
“And sometimes you start with something to get his back up.”
“Yes, I admit it, but I’m usually trying to be funny in my way. Most men don’t react the way Joe does, and I’ve tried to curb it with him, but I admit I’m not always so successful with that. But if you’re the one who loaded the work on him, why is he always so ready to take his frustration out on me?” Even as Adam voiced the question, he knew the answer. “I’ve always been kind of like a second father to him whether he liked it or not. I’ve been the one to help him out of jams and give him advice or ideas when he needed them. Now when he needs me the most, I’m telling him I’m too busy.”
Ben shook his head, and Adam at first wondered if his father was going to disagree with him. “When I rode over here, I was hoping we could discuss that issue and perhaps come up with some ideas, but you are a very smart man. I think you just explained the whole thing. Now if you could come up with a solution, I could sleep a whole lot better tonight.”
“With the price of silver up, it’s very hard to hire any workers. I’ll see what I can do. If I can get a few men to help with construction, then Morgan and Mason can help Joe and probably help with tracking those rustlers too. That should help with his workload and his mood.”
“Yes, it should. Thank you. Now, how about a tour of that show ring and your stable expansion? I know it’s not done, but I’d like to see how you managed to frame it in without putting any support poles down into the floor. Hoss says it’s all done with beams up above and according to him it’s ‘real purty’ too.”
Now that brought a smile and Adam was more than willing to show off his handiwork and his intricate ceiling above the show ring.
An hour later, Ben was riding home, and Irae walked out to the bungalow as Adam returned to work. She walked up to Adam and wrapped her arms around his waist from behind. He turned to her and she was pleased at how relaxed he was as he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her.
“You must have had a good talk with your father.”
“Yes, I think I understand better what’s going on with Joe. I’ll head over there tomorrow morning and see if I can try to smooth things over. I’ll need to ride to town again tomorrow to see if I can hire a few men. If I can’t, I may need to ride to Carson City the day after that.”
So Adam explained the whole conversation he had had with his father and the solution they had talked about. She agreed that it was probably the best idea. That evening, Adam was in a more relaxed mood, and when they were getting into bed, Irae asked him if he thought they should have another child.
“It’s rather soon, isn’t it? Lake is just starting to hang onto furniture and stand up. I’d like him to be walking and doing a few things for himself before we think about having another child.”
“Oh, so you don’t want another child now.”
“Not just now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to stop practicing.”
With no resistance and a lot of cooperation with his idea, Adam reached for her then in the bed and showed her that he adored her as much as he always had as she mirrored the same, and the two fell asleep as they did most nights wrapped in each other’s arms after making love. In the morning, Adam saddled up his horse to ride to the Ponderosa, hugged and kissed his wife and son, and rode away with a wave. Irae smiled as she watched him. Her mother turned from putting some of the breakfast items away.
“When are you going to tell him?’
“Tonight. I was going to tell him last night, but it wasn’t a good time. If he works things out about Joe, he’ll be in a better mood and that will be a better time to tell him.”
“You have to tell him. You don’t want him to figure it out and realize you knew and hadn’t told him.”
“I know mother, I know. I will tell him, but he isn’t in favor of the idea.”
“He may not be in favor, but he was part of the process. He’ll understand. Things like this happen no matter how carefully a man and a woman may be. Now, smile. You can tell him tonight. You feed Lake early and I’ll take him in my room so that you and Adam can have a romantic dinner with just the two of you. He’ll know then that you want to talk to him about something.”
“He should be back by lunchtime. He said he would probably be making a trip to town after he got back from the Ponderosa. I’ll tell him then that I’m making a special dinner for the two of us.”
“Good. Now, I’m going to go do some sewing unless you have something you want me to do.”
“Could you watch Lake while I go see if I can find enough raspberries for a small pie. Adam does like berry pie.”
“Yes, I can certainly do that. Lake and I can play with his new blocks for a bit while you gather what you need. He’s starting to get the hang of holding them but all he wants to do is chew on them or drop them so I can pick them up. Although he does like to knock them over when I stack them. Adam taught him that. Take your time. We’ll have some fun while you plan your dinner.”
While Irae was busy with her preparations, Adam had a nice conversation on the Ponderosa with his brothers and father. Joe apologized for his confrontational attitude and for what he had said the day before in town.
“Adam, I was way out of line with what I said. I was unfair. I was feeling overwhelmed with what I had to do and I took it out on you. That was very unfair.”
Joe did suggest that perhaps Trace and Davis had only been curious about working on a new place especially one where so many new things were being built, and Adam did admit that was a possibility letting Joe save some face with that compromise. Hoss and Joe agreed to keep an eye on the two as new hands who had not proven that they were trustworthy. As far as Ben was concerned, that issue was resolved as far as it needed to be. The four men sat down with a map then and found that most of the stock they had lost was along the eastern and northern boundary lines. That made sense if the stock was being taken north toward Reno and then across into California. Joe was surprised.
“Adam, I never would have thought of doing this. When we put it all on the map, it makes a lot of sense. Now we know exactly where to look. There are only about a half dozen ways they could be taking those cows off the ranch without being seen. We need some good trackers to check out those six places and sooner than later, we’re going to find a trail and get after them. We don’t know how many they are though because they’ve been hitting a lot of ranches. We may need a posse.”
Ben asked Adam to talk to Roy about that when he went to town to try to hire some men. Joe asked about that.
“Yes, it may not work out, but I will try to hire some men to help with the construction projects. If I can find some, I’ll be able to spare Morgan and Mason to help with the tracking. I’m heading to Virginia City today to see if there are any men available but with the mines hiring, that may not work out. I’ll give Carson City a try before I give up though.”
“Adam, some of the homesteaders might be looking for work ifn they got their crops in or ifn they got enough help on their farm to get the crop in without ’em. Some of ’em got boys old enough to hire out too. You might have better luck there than in town.”
“You’re right, Hoss. Maybe I ought to try there first. Those homesteaders aren’t afraid of some hard work and a dollar a day for wages with room and board might look very good to them. I’m afraid that the workers I might get in town who haven’t been hired at the mines would be the bottom of the barrel. But with the homesteaders, I could get some very good workers. Most of them won’t hire out to the mines.”
“Good, then we have a plan. Joe, are you feeling better about everything now?”
“Yes, Pa, I am. And Adam, thank you. I should have asked for your help in a lot nicer way, and I am grateful that you came over here to find a way to help me out even though I let you know I was in over my head only by making you mad.”
“Joe, don’t worry about it. We’re brothers. We take care of each other. Now, I told Irae I’d be home for lunch so I best be going. Hoss, you got a minute?”
Hoss walked out with Adam as Ben and Joe bent over the map and began to discuss how to plan the work schedule to try to find where the rustlers might hit them next. Hoss had a fair idea of what Adam was going to say.
“You don’t think it was curiosity at all with them two jaspers, do ya?”
“No, I don’t. Hoss, there was something going on with those two. Keep a real close eye on them. Somehow, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if our rustlers and Trace and Davis knew each other very well.”
Hoss whistled and looked at Adam with a questioning look. “That bad?”
“They’ve worked every ranch in the area, and those rustlers seem to know how to get into every ranch in the area without being seen and get out just the same way. Seems they’ve got inside information. It makes too much sense not to consider the possibility. Just keep a close eye on them.”
“Will do, older brother. I trust your gut. You be careful, now. Ifn they think you might be onto them, they might think you could be a problem for them.”
“I’ll tell Roy what I told you if I go to town today. I haven’t told anyone else, but I’ll be keeping my eyes wide open too.”
Riding out, Adam never saw the two men watching from the side of the bunkhouse. They had heard enough to know they needed to watch him. They waited for Hoss to go back inside and then mounted up to follow Adam at a distance wondering where he was going. He went home to tell Irae where he was going. The two waited in the trees near Adam’s home because they saw his horse tied near his house instead of being stabled. It was clear he wasn’t done with riding for the day. Inside the house, Adam was talking with his wife who shared her ideas of what Adam had learned.
“I agree with Hoss. You should trust your gut feeling. Those men are probably part of the gang who have been rustling cattle. I was glad when you fired them and I wish they weren’t on the Ponderosa. It’s too close.”
Noticing the pie cooling on the counter and the tablecloth and fine china on next to it, Adam smiled as all thoughts of rustlers and untrustworthy hands disappeared. “Are we having a special dinner tonight?” He moved close to his wife and looked around realizing that Lake wasn’t in his customary spot for lunch either. He wrapped his arms around Irae and pulled her close nuzzling her neck.
“Adam, yes, we’re having a special dinner later, but right now, you need to let me serve you lunch so you can do your errands and I can prepare that dinner.”
Refusing to be discouraged, Adam leaned down and kissed her very sensuously knowing she wouldn’t be able to resist him. She couldn’t but after a few minutes, she pushed against his chest.
“Adam, Mama could walk in here at any minute with Lake. He had his lunch but she’ll bring him in here to see you before he goes down for his nap. Now behave yourself.”
“I am behaving myself. You’re still fully clothed.”
He grinned that lecherous but wholly charming grin of his and she had to laugh. He sat at the table then, which was lucky because Martha walked in with Lake and the tablecloth hid what would have been all too obvious otherwise. Adam took Lake and hugged him. Lake did his usual which was to hold Adam’s cheeks in his hands and kiss his father’s nose. Adam always made a silly face when he did that and Lake dissolved into giggles. They played that game for several minutes until the little boy was nearly exhausted by the laughter. Martha took him back then and he waved as he went up the stairs with his grandmother rubbing his eyes because he was so tired.
“He must have had a busy morning playing. He looks very tired.”
“Yes, Mama played with him all morning so that I could bake a pie and fix some of your favorite foods. I wanted to fix a special dinner for you. I haven’t done that in a while.”
“Sweetheart, I’m looking forward to that very much. I may not have to go into town. Hoss suggested that I ride on over to some of the homesteaders to see if any of them want to hire on for the short term. I can probably get some workers here by tomorrow. And I settled everything with Joe so it’s all good on that front too. We can talk about all of it at dinner tonight. Now, I am hungry and then I need to get going if I’m going to be back in time to clean up for that special dinner you’re preparing.”
Soon, Irae had lunch on the table and asked Adam to at least give her a quick summary of what had happened on the Ponderosa. He did and then he finished eating, gave her a quick hug and a kiss, and headed out the door. The last time Irae saw Adam, he turned and waved at her. She smiled and watched him until he was out of sight. Then she walked back inside to finish her preparations for dinner and to think about how she was going to tell him her news. Six hours later, she was still waiting but getting scared. She finally went to her mother and told her that she was heading over to the Ponderosa to get help.
“Irae, Adam is probably just late. You shouldn’t ride out when he’ll probably be riding up soon and wondering why you’re not here.”
“Mama, you take care of Lake, and I’ll let the men know to keep watch. I’ll ask Morgan or Mason to come with me. Something is very wrong. You don’t know how anxious Adam was to get back once I told him that we were going to have dinner with just the two of us. He wouldn’t be late. Something has happened. I need to go get help for him. Mama, say a prayer or two or three. I think that Adam needs those prayers now. Please.”
Very quickly, Irae went to her room and changed from her nice dress into a riding outfit before going to the bunkhouse to talk with the men. When she told them, she could tell that they were worried too. Mason said he would come with her, and Morgan went up to the house to sit on the front porch in case her mother needed anything. The other men said they would keep a watch for anything unusual and one said he would ride toward the homesteaders in the low country to see if Adam had been delayed by anything ordinary although none of them thought that was what had happened. Mason and Irae headed to the Ponderosa to report that Adam was missing. When they got there, the Cartwrights were sitting down to dinner. Irae rushed into the house and told the whole story to Ben and Adam’s brothers who like the men on Whispering Pines did not believe that any ordinary delay was keeping Adam away from home. Hoss and Joe immediately went to saddle up to head out to look for their brother. Mason went with them as did Irae despite Ben’s objections. They only had a very short time to look before darkness ended their efforts. Hoss told his father that he would stay at Adam’s house if they didn’t find him and start searching again the next morning. Joe returned after dark to tell his father that the search had been fruitless. No one got much sleep that night.
Miles away, Adam was asleep but it wasn’t a restful sleep. He had a head injury that caused him to be in a semiconscious state. Naked, he was cold and shivering, but unable to do anything about that. He was hypothermic by morning adding to his ills. He had headed toward the homesteaders settlement the previous early afternoon but saw two men driving four head of cattle which was odd. He had followed them at a distance suspecting that they were two of the rustlers. Once he determined where they were taking the cattle, he intended to retrace his tracks and report their position to his father and brothers. He never had a chance. He heard rifles cocked and was ordered to dismount and to unbuckle his gun belt. He did, and the last thing he remembered was hearing footsteps coming up behind him. He had been hit in the head with a rifle butt. Then he had been slung over his saddle and taken to the canyon where the cattle were being held.
The rustlers kept the cattle in a canyon that was well camouflaged until they had about fifty. The men who watched over the canyon changed the brands as the other six men brought the cattle in. When they had fifty, four of them drove them north and then west to California while the other four continued to rustle small numbers. When the other four returned, they would begin changing the brands with a running iron and bringing in more until they again had about fifty repeating the process. They had done this about six times already never keeping a large enough herd to be noticed and never taking more than four cows from any ranch at one time. There was a small spring in the canyon as well as an old prospector’s mine shack that backed up against a sheer rock wall.
Because Adam could ruin the whole operation, he was in that old prospector’s shack. He was naked because the men had decided to try a bit of subterfuge. Trace and Davis had heard Adam mention that he might be going to Carson City. They had one of their men dress in Adam’s clothing and ride his horse to Carson City. Late that night, the man would put Adam’s horse in the livery stable and check into a hotel under Adam’s name. He would undress in the room leaving Adam’s clothing, change back into his clothing, and slip out the back way riding his own horse that he had led to Carson City. All the tracks leading to the canyon had been painstakingly brushed out and a new set of tracks had been made that led to Carson City. Anyone trying to track Adam would only find tracks to Carson City and would have to assume he went there. None of them wanted to kill Adam, and as soon as they got more cattle, they decided that this would be the last of their rustling in the area. They would leave with the biggest herd yet and never come back. Trace and Davis were using false names so no one would ever be able to find them, but just in case, they didn’t want a murder change dogging them. The plan was that Adam would be able to escape after they left. None of them realized how bad his condition was nor that he would be able to identify them once he recovered if he did. He had recognized the two men he had been following, and he had recognized Trace’s voice when he had told him to halt and Davis’ voice when he told him to dismount and to drop his gunbelt. It would do them little good to run. Adam would never let them go after they had kidnapped him. His sense of justice would make him pursue them until they faced a court of law. Trace and Davis knew that much. They began to discuss it on the way back to the Ponderosa.
“Trace, he’s naked and knocked out. He could be dead by morning. The others think he’ll be fine because he’s in that shack, but there’s no heat. He’s gonna be really cold and there’s nothing in there to help him keep warm.”
“It’ll be best for us if he never wakes up. He never liked us and if he wakes up and gets out of there, he’ll be coming after us. I know it.”
“Maybe we should tell the others to take the cattle they got and head on out. They can keep the money for these last ones. We got plenty from the rest. We can stay and break horses for Joe. If the rustling stops and we’re still here, nobody is gonna think we’re part of it. We’ll be in the clear.”
“What about Adam Cartwright?”
“Men disappear all the time out here. Accidents happen, and men aren’t ever found. We leave him in that shack when he dies. Nobody is ever gonna find him. There won’t be no vultures circling cause they won’t even know he’s there. We could even go in there and pile a bunch of dirt on him. That would cover up the smell. No one would ever think to look for him there.”
“You’re a right smart one, but what ifn he don’t die?”
“Then I think we might have to help him along in that direction.”
“The others won’t go along with that. They’re always saying they don’t want a murder charge hanging over ’em. They say they can do prison time but they don’t want to swing.”
“Well, we ever get arrested, we’re gonna swing, so it don’t matter, does it. They get to looking through their wanted posters, they may find the ones from Kansas and the ones from Texas. We’ll hang for sure if they find those. We need to make sure he dies. We can find a way to make it happen so that the others don’t get all riled up about it. Make it seem all accidental like and all.”
The two of them were already in the bunkhouse when Irae came to the Ponderosa to tell the family that Adam was missing. They had feigned ignorance when the other hands started asking if anyone knew why Hoss and Joe had ridden out so suddenly when it would be dark soon, and then again later when Joe rode back in when it was already dark. They make all the proper sympathetic comments when they were told later that Adam was missing, and that there would be a search for him beginning at dawn. It was only when it was time to climb into their bunks that they were able to share a conspiratorial wink and smile.
Opening his eyes, Adam wondered if he was blind. He couldn’t see anything, but he didn’t know if it was day or night either. He tried to remember what the last thing was that he had been doing but thinking was very difficult. It seemed that he was in a fog as far as thinking was concerned. It was a swirling fog too as his thoughts seemed not to be able to follow any kind of normal progression but floated in and out of his mind seemingly in no recognizable pattern. He remembered at one point that he was supposed to have a romantic dinner with his wife and he smiled but then remembered that he was angry with Joe but then wasn’t angry. He remembered following two men but then there were two men behind him. He remembered being dressed but it certainly felt like he wasn’t dressed because he was cold and the floor was very uncomfortable. He felt rough, dry boards beneath his face and shoulder as well as dry, gritty dust that invaded his nose and mouth as he tried to breathe making that more difficult. When he coughed, the pressure in his head seemed to expand several fold so he tried not to cough. Several times when he tried to move to find a more comfortable position and to get his mouth away from the dust, the pain in his head speared through his skull like lightning making his body jerk with the agony of it exacerbating the pounding in his head until he was briefly unconscious again. He forgot that each time though and did it several more times until he passed out completely in utter exhaustion before the dawn would have let him know that he wasn’t blind.
On the Ponderosa, Ben couldn’t sleep and dressed again to go downstairs at about three in the morning. He had some coffee because Hop Sing was already up too or had never gone to sleep. He was packing food for the men who were going to be out searching assuming that none of them would be back until late unless they found Adam. A short time later, Joe was downstairs as well having coffee too.
“I’ll go out and get the horses ready. As soon as there’s any light, we can all ride over to Adam’s place to get organized. I know Hoss will have a plan. We only tracked him a short distance last night. He headed toward the homesteaders’ places but then he turned to the northwest. Something must have gotten his attention and made him turn that way, but it there were too many trees and shadows for us to follow those tracks with the light we had so we had to turn back. We can go that far without much light though and then as soon as Hoss can see, he and Morgan and Mason can lead us on.”
“Good idea. See if any of the men are awake and get some volunteers to go with us. With the hands on Adam’s place, we only need about six more. We can send the rest of the men out to do their regular work. Joe, I know this could create a problem with that Army contract.”
“I know, Pa, but it doesn’t matter. That’s my brother out there. That’s all that’s important right now. Don’t worry. I know what matters.”
With a nod acknowledging that Joe was right, Ben wrapped an arm around Joe for a brief hug before releasing him to do what he needed to do. An hour later, they headed out toward Adam’s place. When they got there, Hoss was ready to go as Joe had predicted. Grim faced, the group headed out at a fast pace as Irae stood on the porch with her mother. Her eyes were red but her stance was strong. Adam would have wanted her to stay strong so she was, but it was one of the hardest things she had ever done waiting there when all she wanted to do was ride with the men who were searching for him. Once the men got to the spot where Hoss and Joe had been forced to break off their search the night before, they had to wait until there was enough light for the trackers to see the sign clearly enough. Then slowly they began advancing. Several hours later after painstakingly following Adam’s tracks through pine needles and over shale and other very difficult terrain for tracking, they found tracks heading clearly toward Carson City. It was such a clear and easy to follow trail that Hoss sat back in the saddle, pushed his hat back on his head, and thought for a while. Ben and Joe rode up beside him.
“What’s wrong, son. Did you lose the tracks?”
“No, Pa, they just got too easy and wrong. They been heading to the northwest and all of a sudden they’re heading due northeast by east straight toward Carson City. Them earlier tracks were made by a man traveling slow and easy like he was being real cautious and careful. These tracks were made by a man traveling like he needs to get somewhere in a hurry. There’s something real wrong here. I’m just trying to figure out what it is and what I missed. Morgan and Mason are riding round about here trying to see what else might be around here that might shed some light on this.”
“You think somebody faked these tracks? But to do that, they would have to have Adam’s horse.”
Hoss nodded and pursed his lips before responding to his father. Ben and Joe got the message. Anything they found now wasn’t going to be all right. Adam had not had an accident or some ordinary trouble while traveling. There were other people involved and they had done something to him. They could only hope now that Adam was still alive and could be rescued. Behind him, Joe heard some snickers. Turning, he wasn’t surprised to find that it was Trace and Davis. He had been surprised when they had volunteered to be part of the search party. He had accepted their help partly because he thought it would be easier to keep an eye on them. Now that Adam was missing, he wished he had taken Adam’s advice about them a lot more seriously. He knew he should have.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, it’s just that your older brother always seemed like such a smart one and he must a walked right into something here, dontcha think?”
Joe dismissed them with a wave of his hand as Mason and Morgan rode back. Mason had news but it wasn’t good.
“If there were any tracks, they’re been brushed out very well. There are tracks here, but of cattle and other horses crisscrossing again and again. It could take days of searching to find one set of tracks through there if they still exist and that’s if there’s no rain and no strong winds.”
The men sat and thought for a while. Ben told two of Adam’s men to follow the tracks that went in the direction of Carson City to see if they could find out anything there and report back by that night if they could. Then he sent the rest of the men back to the ranches as he stayed with his sons and Morgan and Mason to try to find Adam’s tracks among the many tracks. They didn’t want to have too many riders looking because it would be too many chances that they might ride over the tracks instead of finding them. Joe took the most eastern section to search and Ben took the most western section leaving the three best trackers to take the middle sections which were the most likely to be where Adam’s tracks would be found. They began the painstaking search that they knew might bring them back the next day and the next.
As Joe rode, he started noticing the tracks of small groups of cattle with one or two riders. He got suspicious about that and wondered if that was what Adam had spotted. He began to follow one of those trails slowly and didn’t notice that Trace and Davis had circled around and were coming up behind him.
“Damn, he’s spotted the same thing his older brother did.”
“Naw, Adam spotted Dobie and Eric. He’s got his nose to the ground like he’s following tracks.”
“It’s the same damn thing, dummy. He’s onto us. We’ll track him down like we did his brother. He’s gonna have to end up in the same place. Those damn Cartwrights are sure making a mess of this for us.”
“They sure are.”
Unaware he had been detected, Joe worked his way close enough to the canyon to see the cattle that were penned there. He saw four men there and correctly guessed they were the rustlers. He guessed too that they probably were responsible for Adam’s disappearance. It was too much of a coincidence that they were so close to where Adam’s tracks were lost. He carefully began to back away so that he could ride back to where the others were searching to get their help. Much like Adam, he next heard rifles being cocked and was ordered from his horse. He recognized the voices and turned instead.
“I should have known it was you two. Adam warned me about you and I defended you. What did you do with him?”
“He’s alive, but because of you, that could change. Ride straight ahead now that you’ve seen us. That changes everything.”
The men in the camp were surprised and angry to see Trace and Davis ride in with Joe in front of them. Joe was pulled from his horse and disarmed. Then he was roughly dragged to the shack and shoved inside. He stumbled across the room tripping over a body. He fell to the floor and cried out hoping against hope that Adam wasn’t dead.
“Adam, oh, Adam.” He felt for a pulse in the darkness once he located his arm and couldn’t feel one. Adam was so cold. He moved up and felt for a pulse at the neck and thought he could detect a slight one but again Adam was so cold it was hard to tell. He felt Adam’s forehead and there was no fever but when he felt around his head, his hand came away sticky and he knew it had to be blood. He went to the door and pounded on it and yelled until finally someone was on the other side telling him to shut up.
“I’ll shut up when you give me a blanket, some clothes, water, and a lantern. My brother could die if you don’t give me those. You want a murder charge hanging over your head? My father will never rest until you’re hanging if you let him die.”
There was no response for several minutes and then a gruff voice told him to step back across the room. “Now talk so I know where you are.” Joe did. “Now have the other one talk.”
“He can’t. He’s unconscious.”
The door opened very slowly letting in light. A man poked a rifle in to the opening until he could see Adam laying in the middle of the floor where he had been thrown the night before and hadn’t moved.
“Damn, I didn’t know they hit him that hard. All right, we got what you wanted. Don’t move and I’ll set it all inside the door.” After everything was set inside the door, the door was pulled shut and barred once more. There were no windows in the primitive shack so except for the lantern light, it was dark. Joe quickly got the clothing and started to get Adam dressed. Getting clothing on a cold and stiff man was a daunting task however and took longer than he thought it would. Next he wrapped the blanket around his brother. Then once that was done, he held the canteen to Adam’s lips and tried to get him to take a sip. The water dribbled down his chin. The hypothermia had made him nonresponsive. Joe knew then that he had to warm him somehow and did the only thing he knew to do. He wrapped himself in the blanket with Adam and rubbed his back and arms as he held him. Slowly, he felt Adam getting warmer. He thanked God above that the day was reasonably warm. Realizing that the lantern was throwing some heat, Joe reached for that and placed it behind Adam so that the heat would warm his back somewhat. It was all that he had. Joe was never so relieved in his life as when he felt Adam stir a bit in his arms.
“No, you’ll have to settle for me this time, older brother, but I’m really glad you’re waking up. You had me really scared.”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Saving your life. You were awful cold when I got here.”
“I’m still cold.”
“Yeah, well, I am too now but you’re not as cold as you were. We’re still in a mess, but Hoss and Pa are out there looking for you, so hopefully they’ll be here before too long.”
“Why aren’t they looking for you?”
“Well, I was sorta looking for you too, so they don’t know I’m missing yet. I’m going to wrap the blanket around you now, and get up. All right?”
Adam nodded and immediately regretted it. Joe saw the grimace. “I’ll just tell you what to do from now on and you do it. Don’t shake your head. Once I get up, I’m going to try to get you up against the wall there so you can drink some water. Don’t shake your head. I’ll go as slowly as I can.” A short time later, Joe had Adam up against the wall of the shack. It had not taken long because the shack was only probably ten by ten. Once Adam was there, Joe asked if the move had been all right.
“All right with most of me, but my stomach is objecting strenuously.”
“Then we’ll sit quietly for a while and let your stomach get some rest. I’ll tell you what I know about what’s going on.”
Miles away, the six rustlers were in a panic mode. Trace and Davis were not ready to face the gallows and had a plan. “We ride back to the Ponderosa. When Joe doesn’t come back, we quit because we’re horse breakers and there won’t be any work for us if he isn’t there. We can say there’s too much trouble and we’re heading out. The four of you take those cattle you got and head north to Reno and over to California like you always done.”
“What about your cut?”
“We got enough. Getting out with our hides is more important. If you take care of those two Cartwrights who can identify us, that will be payment enough.”
“Trace, we ain’t gonna kill ’em. None of us is wanted for murder and we don’t aim to have that now.”
Davis had an idea. “That crew up on the Black River building that trestle couldn’t get enough crew. They took on a chain gang to put in the supports down in the riverbed. How about you drop these two off and say they got six months hard time to work off?”
“Aw, Davis, one look at those two, and they’re gonna know they ain’t convicts.”
“Rough ’em up some and trade clothes with ’em. Adam already has some of your clothes, right Dobie? Give him your old boots too. Get Joe to wear some of your older clothes, Frank. You two are about the same size. Don’t let ’em wash, and after a few days on the trail, some stubble and some dirt, they could pass. Sure they’ll claim they aren’t cons, but by the time the whole thing gets sorted out, we’ll all be long gone.”
“Dobie, it could work. They don’t know our names, just Trace and Davis and them ain’t their real names anyway. If we get enough time, we all get away free and clear. All we gotta do is get going right now. We gotta get as far away as fast as we can. They’ll never catch us ifn we move out fast and hard. By the time they find this place, we’ll be two or three days ahead of them. Even with the cattle, they won’t find us. If they do, we leave the cattle and just ride hard.”
“All right, let’s do it. Good luck to you two. We’re not likely to see you again. We’re heading to California to stay probably.”
As Dobie, Eric, Frank, and Nate got busy with breaking down the camp and packing up, Trace and Davis rode back to the Ponderosa by a long circuitous route so that they wouldn’t be spotted by anyone. Once back in the bunkhouse, they could finally relax. They planned to quit the next morning and head south. Once the men in the camp were ready to push the cattle, they opened the shack and forced Joe to change clothes and then forced Adam to mount up with help and then Joe too. Joe had protested.
“Adam can’t ride. He can’t even sit up by himself.”
“Well you can help him then, or we can put a bullet in his head and put him out of his misery. Which would you prefer?”
Standing in anger only a moment, Joe was unwilling to test their resolve. He bent down and pulled Adam’s arm around his shoulder. “Adam, you heard that, I hope. I have to get you on that horse. Come on now, older brother. I know how stubborn you can be so use some of that now and fight the weakness. Help me get you up on that horse.” Struggling, Joe did manage to get Adam in the saddle and helped secure his foot in the stirrups. He noted how Adam gripped the pommel with both hands and leaned forward trying desperately to keep his seat. Joe wondered how he was ever going to be able to stay in the saddle as they rode for hours probably. It was difficult but somehow they managed. Often he had to reach out to steady Adam or grab him to keep him from falling, but finally it was too dark for the men to keep moving so they called a halt for the night. Joe and Adam were ordered from their horses and told to sit on either side of a small tree where the men intended to tie them.
“Listen, Adam’s not going anywhere. Tie me, but let him sleep in a blanket please. If you take one look at him, you can see that he’s in no shape to do anything. Please, just let him sleep.”
The rustlers relented somewhat tying only Adam’s hands and letting Joe wrap a blanket around him. Adam leaned back and closed his eyes falling asleep almost immediately. Joe sat against the tree then and was tied to it. In the morning, Adam was able to drink a little water but refused food. He was too sick yet to eat anything. He did manage to stay in the saddle all day, but Joe noted that he was extremely pale. That night he tried to eat some beans but threw them up after about an hour. He drank more water after that and then slept soundly again with his hands tied. Joe would have tried to escape the mostly inept outlaws, but he was fairly certain that they would kill Adam if he did. He couldn’t escape with Adam because he was simply too ill to run. Joe didn’t know where they were taking them, and any questions were met with laughter, but they didn’t seem to want to do them any harm. He could only hope that their father and brother were following them and would rescue them soon. On the third night, it seemed that Adam was getting weaker so Joe insisted that he try to eat something.
“Joe, I’ll throw it up. If I eat beans, they’ll come right back up. If they had some stew or something like that, I might be able to keep that down, but the smell of the beans makes me want to throw up.”
“Maybe they’ll let me try to catch some fish in the stream. They would probably like fish too.”
“It’s worth a shot.”
Carefully watched, Joe was allowed to catch some fish. Then the men were happy though to share the fish for dinner. Joe smiled to see Adam able to eat some of the fish although he would have been happier if he had been able to eat more. The routine was much the same for the next two days, but the day after that it changed. The herd was headed due north for a day before being stopped. The men became more gruff and businesslike where they had been becoming a bit friendlier.
“Whatever they planned to do with us, Joe, is about to happen.”
“Yeah, I kind of got that feeling too that something was going to happen. You don’t think they’re going to kill us, do you?”
“No, if they planned that, they had many chances long before now. No, Trace and Davis must have given them some other idea.”
“Why do you think it was Trace and Davis who came up with the plan?”
“Have you seen anything from this crew that makes you think they could plan their way out of a box canyon? No, whatever is going to happen was planned by Davis or Trace and it was before we left. These men are going to do it unless we can talk them out of it, but we need to know what it is before it happens.”
“How are we going to do that?”
“We aren’t going to do that. You are. I can barely see straight yet. If I turn my head too fast, the world starts spinning around. Bouncing around in this saddle all day every day has been about the worst thing I could have done. No, I can’t do it. But maybe you could find out what their plan is.”
“You still seeing two of everything.”
“No, as long as I keep one eye closed.”
“Very funny.” But Joe was somewhat relieved knowing that if Adam was regaining his sense of humor, and if he was able to have a conversation like this, then he was starting to feel better. Joe was worried thou about what kind of ordeal faced them next. He knew Adam didn’t have any reserve of strength to draw on because he had eaten almost nothing for nearly a week. If he had been home, he would likely be nearly recovered by now, but riding every day all day and sleeping on the ground at night had drained his energy and made it difficult for his head injury to heal. Joe did his best to find out what was happening but to no avail. The men only made some laughing references to a snaggle-toothed woman and otherwise were rather grim about their plans. Joe had the feeling that they somewhat regretted what they were about to do, but had no other ideas. He told Adam that, but they couldn’t come up with an alternative because they didn’t know what they were facing. The next day, the herd was slowed as only two men moved them at a snail’s pace and the two others told Adam and Joe to start riding due north along the Black River. Suddenly Joe had a dark premonition. He had heard about the problems getting crew to build the railroad trestle across the Black River Gorge.
“You’re not taking us to the Black River Gorge to work, are you?” There was no answer. “You know, we could forget all about everything you’ve done. Rustling, I mean. My father could pay off all the other ranchers. You have to know that his two sons are worth it to him. He would pay that much to get us back. C’mon guys, think about it.”
“Sorry, Joe, but it ain’t worth the risk of spending our lives in prison. We got money now and our freedom. We aim to keep both. You’ll get out of here in a short time. The way you two can talk, you’ll talk your way out of here. You know you will.”
“But my brother is hurt. This is no place for him. He might not make it.”
“He’ll be fine with you looking out for him. It worked out fine so far.”
And Joe knew that was his only option and Adam’s too. He looked over at Adam and saw him resigned to the same fate. They were going to be working on a chain gang in some of the harshest terrain possible with winter approaching. Their odds of surviving this ordeal had just gotten much worse.
Back home, the situation had grown desperate. Adam’s tracks had never been found, and then his horse and clothing had been found in Carson City greatly confusing the situation for a time. When Joe went missing, they began a search for his tracks that led them to the rustlers’ hideaway more than a day later. His tracks were obliterated by the herd being driven away, and it was more than a day later before intense searching found Cochise’s tracks along the route of the rustled herd. It was a grim Ben who stood looking after the tracks of the herd that had been driven away.
“They’ve got a big head start on us, probably at least two days, and perhaps as much as three days. But we’re going to catch them and get Joseph back and find out what happened to Adam. I’ll ride day and night if I have to.”
Hoss nodded and mounted up. Morgan and Mason and the six men who had been helping silently did the same. Ben sent one man back to tell Irae and the others what they had found and what they planned to do. Then he led the other eight out on a mission. As Dobie and Eric led Adam and Joe north to Black River Gorge across rocky slopes, Frank and Nate continued to move the herd slowly toward California hoping that the other two would be back soon and before there was any trouble from the weather or from pursuit. This was the weakest point in their plan and it made the two men very nervous and with good reason. That night as they made camp, they built a big campfire because they were nervous. It was a beacon to the men pursuing them.
“There they are. We’ve got ’em!”
Hoss had spotted the campfire and called back to the men following his lead. He paused as they rode up behind him.
“Pa, how do you want to do this?”
“Let’s go in on foot. We’ll ride in close enough so that we can all walk in and surprise them. Watch out for Joe and maybe for Adam if they have him too. We’ll take them by surprise. If they resist, you know what to do, but be damn sure you don’t hurt my sons.”
Because Frank and Nate were so on edge, they were hyper-vigilant and heard twigs snapping. They drew their pistols and called out. The surprise was lost when they saw one of the men approaching the camp and fired. IN the shooting that followed, both Frank and Nate were shot. Nate was killed instantly, but Frank was wounded. Ben rushed into the camp as soon as the shooting stopped. It was clear that there were no other men there. He grabbed Frank’s lapels and pulled him up.
“Where’s my son? Where’s Joe Cartwright?”
With bloody spittle on his lips, Frank sneered. “Aren’t you even worried about the other one?”
“Adam? You know where Adam is too? Where is he?”
“Where he wishes he wasn’t by now.”
And those were the last words ever spoken by Frank Bowen. He died in Ben’s hands. Ben dropped him and looked at the blood on his hands imagining that it was his sons’ blood. He dropped his head in utter dejection. Hoss walked over and put a hand on his father’s shoulder.
“We’ll keep looking, Pa. We’ll keep looking.”
“Where, Hoss? Where will we keep looking?”
Doing the best that they could do, Ben and Hoss backtracked with Morgan and Mason for a week of extensive looking and never found where Dobie and Eric had left with Adam and Joe. Ben had sent the extra men to round up the rustled cattle and take them back to their rightful owners and to tell Irae what they had not found but that they were still looking. After more than a week, they were forced to return home to a despondent Irae with no news of her husband. Ben and Hoss felt about the same over the loss of both Adam and Joe. Ben put up a substantial reward for any information that would lead to the rescue or return of either or both sons but nothing was heard for months. By the time that he got news of where Adam and Joe were, he would put every means at his disposal into action but it would take some time before he could do that. Meanwhile, Dobie and Eric had emerged from the mountains to find two fresh graves and signs of the herd being driven back to Nevada. They headed to Wyoming to disappear fearing Ben Cartwright’s wrath if he ever connected them with his sons’ disappearance not realizing that they would have been forgiven if they would have gone to him with news of how his sons could have been saved.
At Black River Gorge, Adam and Joe protested from the moment they arrived that they were not criminals but as Davis had scripted for Dobie, he told the people in charge there that the two had been caught impersonating Adam and Joe Cartwright repeatedly. He told them that they had a one-year sentence at hard labor for fraud. Desperate for workers, there wasn’t much incentive to listen to the two men try to explain their side of the story. They were threatened with punishment if they didn’t shut up. Adam told Joe to back off. Joe was defiant, but Adam cautioned him.
“Joe, we’re new here. Let’s get the lay of the land first. I’m not sure I can take too much trouble yet.”
Joe understood the implied message. “All right. We’ll be quiet. It doesn’t mean we accept what they told you. Just remember that.”
As new arrivals, Adam and Joe were at the bottom of the pecking order and got the dirtiest job which was standing in cold water in the river helping to set support posts for the trestle. They were sent out to work for the last few hours of the first day they arrived in the camp as Dobie and Eric rode off thinking their problems were over. According to the men in that crew, they lost at least one man a week to death or injury because of the dangers of the job. Adam was still weak from his injury and from not eating well on the trip to the work site so Joe was especially worried about him. He tried to make sure Adam was always positioned so that he wouldn’t get washed into the strong river current. Joe was fairly certain that in Adam’s condition, he wouldn’t survive the rapids that they could see a short distance down the river. Luckily the river wasn’t as cold as they expected it to be. The men said that it had rained quite a bit recently and that had made the water less cold because it wasn’t just spring water and snow melt from the high peaks. They told the two that it could get a lot colder than it was, and they hoped to have the last of the supports in before the weather turned colder.
“Prison wagons won’t be here for two months or more.”
“Two months?” Joe was shocked.
“Yep, they come about every three months with full loads of supplies and new men, and takes out the men who finished their time, or at least the ones who are still alive who finished their time. They don’t seem too concerned about the ones who die up here. Nobody seems too concerned about that.”
“Don’t any inspections ever take place up here?” Adam had gotten very interested when he had heard that last part of the man’s statement.
“Inspections? Now why would they want to inspect something that brings in so much money to so many people?” The man looked at Adam very carefully then. “Mister you got yourself a worried look there. Why you wearing such a frown on you? You don’t need to worry none about anybody but yourself up here. Gonna take a mighty big heap of worrying just to keep yourself alive here for a year.”
“I don’t plan to be here for a year.”
“Course not. I forgot. A year up here is supposed to be two years off your time, so if you got a year to serve, you only got to do six months.”
“No, I don’t plan to do six months either.”
“How you plan to get outta here? The river is too damn dangerous, and these mountains eat you alive ifn the Injuns didn’t kill ya first.”
With a slight smile, Adam looked at Joe who nodded. The two brothers would work something out together.
Of course, that was just the first day and a lot of confidence and optimism. The first week of hard work from sunup to sundown took away quite a lot of that bravado from Adam. The only good news was that deep in the gorge, the sun didn’t give them enough light to work until it cleared the mountains and it set rather early too so their work day was shorter than it would have been anywhere else. They did get all the rest they needed and plenty of time for their clothing to dry each night. The barracks had been made from solid pine so they were at least warm enough too although the bunks had no mattresses so the men gathered pine needles as they could. There was a stove in the center of each barracks and the men scrounged for wood too so that they could warm their barracks as well. There was a large mess hall and the food was cooked by a woman with one tooth that protruded almost straight from her top gum. The men called her the snaggle-toothed woman. She snarled at the men as she dumped a large ladle of food into a bowl for each of them. As Adam received his bowl of food the first night in camp, he looked directly at her and smiled.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
The woman was so startled, she almost dropped her ladle. Then she caught herself and began serving the rest of the men in line continuing her harangue at them to keep moving their ugly faces along. Once the men were served though, Joe surreptitiously watched her for a while. Fairly often, she was looking over to where Adam was sitting.
“Adam, I think you made a friend.”
“Joe, it wouldn’t hurt for you to make a friend there too.”
“Adam, she may be the ugliest woman I’ve ever seen.”
“Joe, she’s the most beautiful woman in this camp, and she could be invaluable to us. Go on over and ask her for a cup of water and sweet talk her a little.”
“Older brother, I don’t know what you’ve got going in that head of yours. I hope it’s not because your brains got addled from being hit. I’ll go do what you said, but you better have a darn good reason for it that you can explain later.”
Smiling a little to himself, Adam could picture Joe using that shy grin and those puppy dog eyes that worked so well with their father and some of the young ladies of Virginia City. He knew the cook wouldn’t stand a chance. He was correct. Joe was back with a cup of water and an extra helping of stew for Adam who turned around to smiled and wave at the cook giving her a thumbs up. He finished the extra stew that turned out to have extra meat in it that she must have purposefully put in that cup for him. He took his bowl and the cup to drop off for washing and made sure to walk by the cook to thank her putting his hand on her hairy forearm when he did so pressing it ever so lightly. One of the guards yelled at him when he did that and he apologized saying that he was sorry he wouldn’t be able to do that any more but he would be able to at least say hello and smile at her when he came through the meal line. She nodded and Adam moved along as ordered. He was shoved through the door for his trouble but that only earned him a bit of sympathy from the cook that he endured that for being kind to her. She was his first ally.
“So what’s your plan?” As soon as Joe was able to talk with Adam away from the other men, he wanted to know what kind of ideas he had for getting them out of this mess they were in. “You must be feeling a lot better too.”
“I am feeling better. It’s like a fog lifted. I’m seeing better and thinking more clearly. I don’t have a specific plan yet, but I know we’re not getting out of here on our own. We need help, and the best help we have is Pa and Hoss, but somehow we have to get word to them so they can help us. I’m fairly sure they have no idea that we’re here.”
“Hoss could track us here.”
“Joe, my head was foggy as was my vision, but I could see the rocky soil and the cattle. It would be extremely difficult to track anyone in those conditions and the shale we crossed on the way up here would make tracking almost impossible. It would have taken a miracle for Hoss or anyone to have spotted our trail in this direction. They would never have expected us to go this way either. They would have been looking for tracks going east or west most likely.”
“You’re right. I wish you weren’t, but it makes sense. All right, who else do we make friends with and why?”
“We want to see who we can make friends with who might be leaving this camp or who could send word with someone leaving this camp. If we can get someone to go to Pa, you know he would pay to get the information, and then he would use it to get us out of here.”
“Well, why don’t we just tell everyone who’s leaving until one of them goes to Pa?”
“Because if one of them goes to the wrong people, we’re dead.”
Leaning back against the wall behind the bunk, Joe blew out his breath. “Oh, yeah. I guess I kinda forgot about that. So we have to be very careful who we ask to go see Pa. That could take a while then.”
“Yes, it could. We need to be careful if we want to get out of here alive.”
As Adam and Joe tried to work out a way to get their whereabouts known to their father, Ben was working on his end to find information too. Roy had gotten wanted posters that showed that Trace Griffin and Davis Burke were wanted in other states for murder under other names and had put out additional wanted posters on them for the disappearance of Joe Cartwright and Adam Cartwright with Ben offering a substantial reward if they were brought to Virginia City alive. He was hoping that someone would bring one or both of them in alive. If they could be convinced to give information to the authorities in Nevada, they could be offered a chance at a prison term in that state instead of the gallows in another state. It was the best deal they could get and the only deal that Roy and Ben could offer them if Adam and Joe were still alive which Ben had to believe. Each day he rode over to talk with Irae and her mother and to visit with Lake. He wanted to let them know that they were part of the family no matter what happened. Hoss tried to get over there as much as he could too but taking over his brothers’ responsibilities had him working twelve hours a day on most days. He didn’t mind that too much though because he wanted his father to concentrate on finding his brothers.
Down on the river, Adam began organizing the work crew so that they were in less danger when setting the support posts. When the men saw the advantages of his method, they quickly agreed to follow his orders. Seeing a new order to the work, the foreman of the construction crew headed down the hill wondering why the crew was changing the work system. When he got there and started asking questions, the men sent him to talk with Adam.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing? I ought to have you locked in the hot box for a week for interfering. That’s what we do with troublemakers around here.”
“I’m not trying to make trouble. I’m trying to avoid it.”
“You’ll call me ‘boss’ or you’ll be in more trouble.”
“Boss, I only thought a little organization might get the work done faster. Isn’t that what you want?”
“I want you to follow orders.”
By then, work had stopped entirely as the men had all paused to watch the altercation. That had drawn the attention of guards, the camp commandant, and construction supervisors who all converged at the work site at the riverbank. The commandant demanded to know what was going on, and the foreman blamed Adam for a work stoppage. Joe spoke in his defense.
“Adam didn’t stop the work. He did by interfering. We were working just fine until he made us stop.”
“You shut up, and don’t speak again unless you want to be punished. I know you’re a new arrival, but you need to learn the rules here. You can learn them easy or hard. It’s up to you.” Turning to Adam, the commandant, had another question. “Why did you stop working?”
Doing his best to keep a sneer out of his voice, Adam answered. “Boss, I’ve worked on construction in these mountains before. I was only trying to help by organizing the work to make it go faster. He stopped me because he didn’t like that for some reason.”
Somewhat confused, the commandant turned to the foreman. “Why did you do that?”
“He had six men working at a job. That’s not a way to work faster.”
That however got the supervisors’ attention. One of them told Adam to get one of his crews to show them what they had been doing. He turned to the men and Joe led one of them to pick up a large timber support beam and carry it into the river with the tools they needed to set it into place. They lifted it into the position, and as Adam had instructed them, tied it off to the supports already there. Then they dug the hole it needed and eased it down into the hole slowly as the rocks were replaced until the support was solidly in position. One of the supervisors showed his watch to the others. One of the others used a pencil and his notepad to do some calculations. They smiled. One of them called out to the commandant.
“Have that man continue to run the crews as he just did. We’ll find other work for Mr. Francis. You only need post a guard here to see that these men continue to work and don’t run off. That man there will have these supports done and save us weeks of time with his method.”
And save lives in the process was Adam’s thought, but he knew the men who were making money from this project had no concern with that. The men working on these crews cared though. He had just made more friends. He hoped that at least some of them could eventually be trusted enough to go to his father and let him know that he and Joe were here. Now besides surviving, he and Joe needed to find out more about these men so they knew who to trust and especially which ones would be leaving the camp in two or three months when the prison wagon arrived. Adam was feeling stronger and more confident, but the only plan he had was to get information to his father. He wished he could come up with something more, but he and Joe could think of nothing else.
The only other thing that Adam and Joe did was to make a contingency plan in case they had to escape into the mountains surrounding the Gorge. They knew that there was always the chance that if the people running the camp found out that they were, in fact, Adam and Joe Cartwright, the fear of what an investigation might reveal could lead to them choosing to dispose of the two men who could cause such an investigation to occur. If that happened, they hoped to have at least the chance to escape. The mountains here were some of the most inhospitable they could be forced to endure but if necessary they had the survival skills to make the effort. They did their best to come up with the few items that they might be able to take with them if it happened and secreted those things in the forest when they were out scrounging for firewood. They had bits of metal, cloth, paper, and string and other items then had managed to scavenge from items in the camp that had been discarded or misplaced. Adam had even managed to get a fork and spoon out of the mess hall unseen by anyone. Joe found a broken knife blade that had been discarded as trash. They collected everything that might be useful.
It all came to a climax about a month and a half later. Adam and Joe were very hopeful as they saw the prison wagons arrive with new prisoners for the work crews and supplies for the mess hall. What they saw next shocked them though. Bill Enders stepped down from the prison wagon and looked around. He didn’t recognize Adam and Joe standing in the crowd of prisoners. They both had a few months growth of beard and Adam was considerably thinner than he had been the last time Bill had seen him. The next morning, the wagons would leave with the convicts who were being released. Two of them had promised to head directly to the Ponderosa to talk with Ben Cartwright. Unfortunately, Adam and Joe no longer had that much time. Bill had every reason to want Adam dead, and he would recognize him sooner or later. That night in the barracks, Adam and Joe had a very serious conversation.
“Joe, tomorrow, after breakfast, we have to make a break for it.”
“Why after breakfast?”
“It may be the last meal we have in a long time, and I’m hoping that our friend will let us slip out through her kitchen so that no one knows we’re missing for a while. There’ll be a lot of commotion with the wagons and the men who are leaving. In the confusion, I’m hoping that it takes some time before they notice we’re gone and then get some men organized to come after us. I get the feeling that they may not be too good at tracking men. They don’t have dogs so if we can get far enough fast enough, maybe we can get away.”
“How much of a head start do you think we’re going to have?”
“Probably fifteen or twenty minutes.”
“That’s not much.”
“No, it isn’t, and Joe, you might have to make one of the toughest decisions of your life today. It could be for me too. Joe, if they get one of us, the other one has to keep going.”
“No, Adam, I didn’t save your life to let you behind.”
“Joe, if you come back for me, they’ll kill us both. Same thing happens if I come back for you. Joe, if they have both of us, they’ll kill us both.”
“So it’s all right if they kill one of us?”
“If they have one of us, I think they’ll be afraid to kill one. They’ll be afraid of what the other one will tell the authorities if he gets out alive. It could get rough for the one held, but he should make it.”
“That’s an awful big gamble, Adam.”
“It is, but it’s all we have.”
“People say I’m the gambler in the family, but you’re the one who likes to bet all you’ve got.”
“Joe, I don’t like it, but sometimes, it’s the only hand I’ve got to play.”
With a sudden insight, Joe put a hand on Adam’s shoulder. “You don’t think you can make that run up that mountain, do you?”
“I’ll try, but my life might depend on you running up that mountain.”
“Your leg still hurting?”
Two weeks earlier, there had been a small rockslide where the men had been working, and Adam’s leg had been pinned between two rocks. He had been confined to bed for two days and unable to walk without a crutch for a week. Then of course he had said he was fine, but Joe knew what that meant. Adam always said he was fine unless he couldn’t do something like run up a mountain to save his life. Now Adam shrugged and Joe had his answer. The leg was still hurting some and Adam didn’t trust that it would take the strain of a severe uphill trek. He would try of course because that was the kind of man he was, but he already knew his chances of success were slim.
“Why even try then?”
“They’ll send pursuit, and if I can’t make it, I’ll veer off from the direction that you’re going. They’ll follow me because I’ll be easier to catch giving you a better chance to make it. You take the bundle of things we collected. It’ll be less for me to have to haul up the hill, and you’ll need it if you make it. If you’re still free when it’s dark, and I figure you’ve done it.”
“Adam, you better be here when I get back.”
“Say hi to Pa and tell Irae I miss her every day.”
“I bet you miss her every night too.”
Adam nodded. “She asked me if we could have another child. I told her it was too soon, but now I would like nothing more than to go home and tell her that I would love to have another child, maybe a whole bunch more. I never thought I could need another person in my life like I need her.”
Choked up listening to the raw emotion in Adam’s voice, Joe couldn’t say any more. It wasn’t often that he got to hear Adam express what was in his heart like that. He threw his arms around Adam and hugged him as tightly as he could. He found sleep hard to find that night. In the morning, he tore off part of his blanket and wrapped it around his middle before buttoning up his shirt. One of the other men walked over and handed an extra shirt to Joe.
“I seen you wearing a frown. Figured you could wear this shirt too today. Gets cold on that mountain. You ready to go, you just not your head. The rest of us make a screen for you both.”
Adam and Joe only nodded because both of them were too overcome with emotion to know what to say except a simple thank you.
“You get outta here, I figure we get outta here or at least get treated better. We all win. So good luck to you both.”
With that, the other men trudged out to breakfast as if it was an ordinary morning. Joe put the extra shirt on over his shirt, and he and Adam followed the other men to the mess hall for breakfast. In the mess hall, Adam kept his head down as did Joe. Adam passed some of his meal to Joe getting a sigh from Joe who knew the meaning of the gesture. When the meal was over and the men stood, Adam walked to the cook with Joe behind him. He leaned down to the cook and whispered.
“Can we go out your kitchen door, sweetheart?”
The cook blushed and nodded slightly. The men from Adam’s barracks moved up to block the guards’ view of him and Joe. Adam leaned down and kissed the cook’s cheek before he moved quickly into the kitchen with Joe and out the back door and into the forest behind the building. No one saw them leave as the men dutifully marched out of the building and the men who were leaving joyfully moved toward the wagons as their names were called. As swiftly as they could, Adam and Joe began their flight up the mountainside. Fifteen minutes later as the work crews headed to their sites, their guards noticed their absence and their names were called. Bill Enders whirled around at the names wondering how that could be but was told it was a joke because it was two men who had been impersonating the two Cartwright sons. He laughed and moved on to his work assignment.
Up on the mountain, Adam was doing his best to keep up with Joe, and it wasn’t good enough. Adam was falling behind. Joe kept encouraging him and paused often for Adam to narrow the gap between them, but Adam told him rather harshly a few times to keep going.
“Joe, if you don’t keep running, we’re both going to die on this damn mountain. Now stop worrying about me and keep going. You know what you have to do. We’ve planned this route for weeks looking up at this slope. If they get close, I’ll veer left, and you keep going. The road is to the right and downslope, but don’t head that way until tomorrow so they don’t know where you’re going.”
By the afternoon, Adam could hear the pursuit getting closer and had lost sight of Joe. He turned to the left knowing they were likely going to catch him before darkness allowed him to escape. He was going to do his best to get away but the odds were turning against him. He ran for another two hours until he fell down a short slope and injured his leg again. Then he knew he couldn’t escape. He found a thick stick that he could use and continued to go until rifle shots hit the dirt around him less than a half hour later. Men yelled at him to stop and finally he had to do it. Within minutes he was surrounded and beaten down to the ground before being roughly forced up and then shoved ahead of the men and back down the mountainside to the camp. He was questioned about Joe’s whereabouts and shoved down the steep slope several times when he refused to answer.
Bruised and bloodied but the time he and the guards returned to the camp in the dark, he was put in the hot box that wasn’t so hot but it did mean that he wasn’t going to be able to sleep. It was a coffin shaped box that stood in the center of the compound. There were only enough holes in it for air to let a man breathe. If he had to urinate, he did it on himself in the box. The box smelled like many men had done that before and Adam’s blood and urine added to the stench.
Up on the mountain, Joe snuggled into a shelter of pine boughs and pine needles. He and Adam both knew how to make a survival shelter out of material found in the forest and how to stay warm without a fire. He was fairly certain that Adam had been captured. He had seen him turn to the left and then had not seen him again. The men chasing the two of them had not come much higher than where Adam had turned and had probably assumed that the two of them had stuck together. Of course they had done everything together so it would have been natural for them to assume they would stick together in this. Joe guessed that Adam had probably known that too when he planned this. He had probably planned the whole thing so that Joe could get away.
“Damn him, damn him. Why does he always have to do that?” Only Joe knew why. If Adam had told Joe that he never intended to get away because he knew he couldn’t, then Joe would never have agreed to the plan. Always the realist, Adam had done what needed to be done because he always did. Joe was determined at that point that he was going to rescue his brother just so he could tell him what he thought about all of that. Then he smiled a bit because he knew what Adam would say. He said a prayer for his brother then hoping that he wasn’t suffering too much. With that, he fell asleep knowing he was going to have a difficult few days until he got to someplace where he could get some help. He could only hope it wasn’t too far away. At least the work of the last few months had made him as strong as he had ever been. He was ready for the test.
The next morning, Joe was up early and headed down the mountainside toward the road that he planned to follow out to civilization and help. Up on the mountain, he got over a two hour head start on the camp because he saw the sun much sooner than the camp down in the gorge. He was rather shocked to see the prison wagons headed back toward the camp when he spotted the road. He ducked back behind a tree hoping that they hadn’t seen him and then looked out in shock at the men riding with the wagons. It couldn’t be but it was. There was a full company of Nevada militia and a large group of legitimate prison guards brought to replace the corrupt ones, but there was no mistaking that big man and the one beside him with the silver hair. Joe stood and wanted to scream but instead he began running toward the road and yelled only when he got close enough that he thought they might hear him. Ben and Hoss pulled up and then dismounted running to Joe when they saw him grabbing the bearded and ragged young man in a big hug. Then there were tears, smiles, and lots of touching and backslapping.
“Joe, Joe, it’s so good to see you. Joe, where’s Adam?”
“Pa, he’s still back at the camp. Pa, how did you know? We only got two men to go to tell you yesterday.”
“A cook at the camp sent a message with a man who took some letters out. She sent a letter to her mother who sent the letter to me. Seems she was very taken with Adam and wanted to save him.”
“We’ve got to hurry. Bill Enders is in the camp. If he tells them who Adam really is, then they might kill him. Pa, we gotta hurry.”
“Joe, we need a plan. We had some idea of what we were going to do with information we had from the cook and what we got from the men on these wagons. You can tell us more.” After hearing what Joe had to say, Ben looked at the others. “Now, this is what we’re going to do.” With Hoss, Joe, the militia commander, and the head of the bureau of prisons for Nevada, Ben laid out a plan to take down the criminal conspiracy and save his son. Within minutes, they had the plan well underway.
In the camp, there was near panic. They didn’t know what was happening out on the road or it would have been complete panic. After breakfast, they had gone to pull Adam from the hot box as an example to the other men and to question him about Joe. When he answered them, Bill Enders had been surprised and then amused.
“It is Adam Cartwright. You got the real Adam Cartwright. As I live and breathe, it’s hard to believe and I still can’t believe my ears, but I can’t mistake the voice that put me in prison for life.”
“Enders, are you sure about that?”
“Of course, I’m sure. That must have been his little brother who got away then. No wonder he wouldn’t talk. Those Cartwrights stick together like glue. That young one will have his old man on you if he makes it out of the wilderness.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Get the men to work, and shove him back in the hot box while we talk about it inside.”
As Bill walked off with his work group, he paused by the hot box. “Don’t worry, Adam. If they don’t kill you, I’ll make sure to put you out of your misery. I’ll make sure it’s slow and painful too. You think about that today. You think about that for the next few days while you sit in your own filth and wish you had some water.” With a laugh, Bill walked off to work in the fresh air and with a good breakfast in his belly. For the first time in years, he had something about which to smile.
Inside the office, the construction supervisors and the commandant of the camp discussed what to do.
The supervisors were mainly concerned with covering up the evidence of the corruption especially that which tied the fraud to their bosses. “First of all, we have to get the second set of books out of camp. Pack them up and we’ll send someone out with them today. They can deliver them to our offices in Reno to be delivered to our offices in California. They can decide how to handle this.”
The commandant was more concerned about the witness who could put him in one of the prison camps that he had formerly commanded. “What about Cartwright?”
“If we kill him, there’s going to be hell to pay. His father is too important.”
“Take him back up that mountain and he can have an accident.”
“It’s too late. Too many people saw him brought back here and know he’s in that hot box now. We can’t get away with an accident like that now.”
The commandant told them what had to be done. “There’s only one thing left to do. He’s going to try to escape again and get shot doing it. We’ll have to give him some food and water, and then he’ll try it.”
“What if he won’t?”
With a shake of his head and a roll of his eyes, the commandant looked at the supervisors who were still so naïve in the ways of the real world. “Of course, he won’t. It just has to look like he did so we can shoot him.”
The commandant left the room to set it up. He put two men in position to shoot Adam when he left the mess hall. Next he had two men get Adam out of the hot box and into to the mess hall for a meal. Adam knew something was up but wasn’t sure what it was until they told him to leave the mess hall but the two guards lingered behind. By then, there had been a lot of commotion in the yard. They had heard wagons and yelling and what sounded like many riders coming in. Adam had wondered about it, but the two guards with him had made him sit and eat and hadn’t bothered to check on what was going on outside. What had been going on was Ben arriving to tell the camp leaders that the construction company had sent him because there were undercover agents in the camp. He was supposedly there to find them and bring them with him. They didn’t know he was Ben Cartwright. He made sure to send some of the men to find Bill Enders and make sure he didn’t have a chance to let anyone know what was going on. By the time Adam was ready to leave the mess hall, he saw his father standing in the middle of the camp talking to the camp commandant. Ben had his men in position by then but didn’t know where Adam was. Adam wasn’t sure what was going on but assumed it was good news for him. He wondered where Joe was and if he knew that their father was already here. Adam opened the door to step into the yard and that’s when all hell broke loose. It started simply enough. One man raised a rifle to shoot Adam. Hoss stepped up behind him and put a pistol in his back.
“You shoot him and you’ll be pissing in your bed for the rest of your life ifn you survive this bullet that’s gonna rip right through your backbone and out your belly. Now drop that rifle.”
Fifty yards away, Joe had his pistol up against the other sniper’s skull. “I’ve heard that a bullet in the brain is real bad for your health. Is that what you’ve heard too? Cause if you have, you might want to drop that rifle and raise your hands real high so my finger doesn’t slip accidental like on this trigger.” Dressed in clean civilian clothing, no one had recognized Joe among the men who had arrived in the camp.
Seeing his two men disarmed, the commandant pulled his pistol and fired at Adam who fell back into the mess hall. Ben drew his pistol and shot point blank at the commandant. The man jerked backward and landed on his back. Ben must have hit an artery by the amount of blood spurting through the man’s fingers as the lay there desperately trying to staunch the flow of blood. It was hopeless and no one could help him. Ben took off on a run to the mess hall as his men began disarming the guards all over the camp. Some chose to fight so there was some sporadic gunfire, but they were outgunned and outmaneuvered so most gave up without a fight. Inside the mess hall, it was a different story. Two well-armed guards had one very valuable hostage and planned to bargain their way out with him.
When Ben stepped into the mess hall, he was happy and upset. Happy to see that Adam was alive when he had feared for months and again that morning that his eldest son might be dead. Now however he feared for his son’s life once more. Two guards had pistols out and trained on Adam’s back.
“Hi, Pa. Sorry to be such a bother. I am very glad to see you though. It’s a lot sooner than expected. I guess that Henrietta is the reason why.”
“How did you guess that?”
“No one else here had the connections to get any news out to you. It had to be her. She’s been a good friend to us, Pa. We need to make sure we do something real nice for her. Maybe she could come with us back to the Ponderosa?”
“Adam, if that’s what you want, that’s what we’ll do. She certainly deserves whatever we can do for her. But first we have to get you out of this predicament.”
“Yes, these two want a free pass out of this camp. I’m guessing you don’t want to give them that.”
“No, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
The two guards had been getting impatient listening to father and son talk. With that statement by Ben, they got angry and began shouting. It was exactly what Adam had wanted and Ben had played along seeing the woman coming up slowly behind the three men. Suddenly, she raised a cast iron pan and hit one of the men in the head making a resounding noise as he dropped to the floor. Adam knelt quickly and took his pistol before the other man seemed to realize what had happened. He was going to turn his pistol on Adam when Ben shouted at him to get his attention. Ben had his pistol on the man who then heard Adam cock his pistol. He dropped the pistol in his hand and raised both arms in surrender. Adam turned to Henrietta.
“Do you want to come with us to the Ponderosa, or rather to my ranch, Whispering Pines?”
“You’re married, aren’t you?”
Hoss and Joe stepped through the door just as Henrietta asked that question. Adam answered honestly.
“Yes, I am, and I love my wife very much. We have a little boy, Lake. We could use a cook though. I usually have about eight to ten men working the ranch. You could cook for them. At first, you would have your own room, but eventually, I would build you your own little cottage there.”
“Are those men married?”
“The hands on my ranch?”
“No, your brothers and your father.”
With a grin, Adam answered that one honestly too. “No, they’re not married.”
Hoss and Joe left the room quickly then, but not before Ben told them to take the two guards with them. Hoss grabbed one and threw him over his shoulder and Joe took the other at gunpoint. Ben added an amendment to Adam’s statement. “I am seeing someone though.” That got a raised eyebrow from Adam. He had a few questions to ask about that but it could wait. Meanwhile, Henrietta had another question for Adam.
“I seen you favoring your side. You got some busted up ribs?”
All Ben could think then was oh-oh. As well as anyone, he knew what ‘fine’ meant when Adam said it. “Take your shirt off so we can see.”
“I said I was fine.”
“Yes, and the bruises on your face and arms say otherwise. Now take off your shirt so we can take care of you.”
“Did I mention that I didn’t mind being on my own for a few months and not taking orders from anyone.”
“Oh, and no one gave you orders here?”
“Well, not anyone who treated me like a child.”
About that time, Joe came back in to tell Ben that he was needed outside. Henrietta told him to go and that she could take care of Adam. “I took care of lots of the men here who were hurt more serious than this. I’ll take good care of your son. Don’t you worry none.” Once Ben left the room, Henrietta turned back to Adam. “He only says those things cause he loves you, you know.”
“I know, but if I didn’t talk like that, he would worry even more wondering what was wrong with me.”
Henrietta shook her head. “Men shur got a peculiar way of showing they care. Now you take off your shirt and I’ll bind up them ribs for you. I got hot water in the kitchen. You can clean up some too. You don’t want them cuts and scrapes to get infected. Wouldn’t hurt the smell none either to use a bit of soap.”
Once Henrietta bandaged Adam’s ribs, he slid from the table where had been sitting and walked to the kitchen. She noted the limp. “What’s wrong with your leg.”
“I hurt it a few weeks ago in a rock slide and it hurt again yesterday trying to run up a mountain and then getting pushed back down it.”
“Spending the night in the hot box didn’t help none either. Show me the leg. I can wrap that up too.” Adam shook his head. “I seen plenty of men’s legs. If you’re that shy, I got a blanket you can wrap around yourself. I won’t do nothing to ya that don’t need doing. Now get on in there so we can take care of ya.” Soon Adam was cleaned up with his ribs wrapped and his leg wrapped. He was also wrapped in a blanket and resting comfortably on a cot in the kitchen as Henrietta cooked lunch. She had washed his shirt and pants which were hanging on a line in the back of the kitchen. She told him his family was going to be busy for some time with the mess in this camp so the two of them ought to take care of what they could. She would fix lunch and he could get some rest. He was sleeping soundly when his father came back about an hour later. They didn’t wake him until after lunch. By then, they decided that it would make sense to start back the next day. It was clear that Adam didn’t like that idea much even though he agreed it made sense. They would only travel a few hours before they would have to make camp anyway. They would make better time if he and Joe got a good night’s sleep and were well rested and able to travel the next day. It was unlikely that they were going to be able to set a fast pace traveling anyway with Adam’s damaged ribs and leg. He wouldn’t ask them to go slower, but of necessity, they would. Henrietta was riding with them as well and lacked experience riding for long hours. The result was that it would likely take them several more days than usual to make the trip so what would normally be about a ten day ride was going to take a full two weeks unless they made other arrangements. Ben decided that other arrangements were in order.
Leaving the militia and state officials to sort out the mess, Ben led them as they headed for the nearest town instead of directly home. As they traveled, Adam and Joe noted how their father and Hoss seemed to use any and every excuse to touch them. They got a hand on the shoulder or a hand on the back for almost every conversation with either man. It was as if they had to convince themselves that they really had found them and that they were well. At night, neither Hoss nor Ben would get into their bedroll until they saw that Adam and Joe were resting comfortably, and in the morning, they were up first and did everything telling the two brothers to rest easy until breakfast was ready. Henrietta wasn’t taking any such orders though and got busy making breakfast which turned out to be a good idea for everyone. Hoss especially liked having a professional cook along even if they only spent two days riding.
Arriving in the town late the next day, Ben got rooms for everyone at the hotel and then headed to the stage depot to make travel arrangements and then went to the telegraph office to send messages to let Irae know that Adam was found and safe. He let her know their travel plans too. The next morning they boarded the stage for two days of travel to Reno where they again had rooms for the night before they would board the train for Virginia City. The two-week trip was reduced to five days. As they walked to the hotel from the stage depot, Adam realized how exhausting the ride would have been because he was very tired after two days of riding and two days of being on the stage. He was suddenly energized though when he heard a familiar voice.
“Adam, oh my God, Adam.” Irae came down the steps of the hotel and rushed to her husband much as Ben suspected she might when he sent her a telegram telling her of their travel plans. Adam wrapped his arms around his wife and for a moment, he and Irae were alone in their own world and no one else existed. Anyone who saw them at that moment would know that their love was as deep as any love could be. He kissed her of course with passion but then he held her close and whispered her name over and over like a mantra as if saying her name would mean that she would never be gone from his side again. Finally he leaned back a little as he realized something was different and placed his hand on her stomach.
“Oh, Adam, I’m so sorry. I meant to tell you, and I know you didn’t want another child, but things like this happen, and I was going to tell you.”
“That night, the special dinner, you were going to tell me. Sweetheart, I do want another child. I’ve had a lot of time to think, and I do want this child very much. I am very happy that we’re having another child. I could not be happier about that than I am right now.”
When Adam finished talking, Irae looked at him briefly as if she couldn’t believe he had just said that. After all, he didn’t look entirely like Adam with the beard, and he was so thin, but he had the smile and the eyes and both were so full of love that she knew it was the truth. She kissed him again, and Ben said that perhaps it was time to go into the hotel. Adam nodded, and without letting go of Irae, he walked to the hotel where Ben got keys for rooms and turned to find that Adam and Irae were already gone up to their room. Hoss and Joe grinned at the look Ben had when he looked up the stairs. Hoss whispered something to Joe who snickered so Ben could imagine what he had said. Henrietta rolled her eyes which was an even better indicator of what Hoss had said. Ben told him to mind his manners and then handed a room key to Henrietta who was again surprised to get a nice room to herself. Each time Ben did something nice for her, she was surprised. She kept waiting for these Cartwrights to disappoint her, and they never did. She was beginning to think that they were going to keep those promises they had made to her. If they did, they would be the first men in her life who had. She looked up to heaven and made a quick small prayer that would be true.
The next morning, Adam and Irae missed breakfast and had to rush to get to the train station on time. That led to more snickers from Hoss and Joe who made a rude comment about the whisker burn on Irae’s chin. With Hoss and Joe in hearing distance, Henrietta asked Adam if those comments bothered him.
“Not at all. They’re jealous. Neither of them has a wife so they have to live vicariously through me. Perhaps you could marry one of them so they wouldn’t be so interested in my marriage?”
“I wouldn’t mind especially the young one. He’s cute. I could take being married to him. Maybe I ought to sit with him and get to know him better.”
“That’s a grand idea, Henrietta.” Adam could see Joe cringing and Hoss looking around for some way for the two of them to escape. Ben was amused at his sons’ antics and thought that Hoss and Joe deserved that one.
Adam and Henrietta shared conspiratorial winks and she went to exact some revenge for Adam as he spent more time with Irae and caught up on the time they had been apart. When they arrived in Virginia City, Martha was there with the carriage and Lake who didn’t recognize his father and was clinging to Martha and then went to Irae.
“Adam, that’s enough. Let’s go get this taken care of.” Irae marched her husband to the barber shop and sat with Lake and watched while the barber first trimmed his beard and then wrapped warm damp towels around it to let the beard soak up the moisture before shaving it off. Then he cut Adam’s hair. When the barber finished off the shave and haircut, he turned the chair and Lake clapped his hands at what had seemed to be magic to him. His father had magically appeared from the stranger in the chair. Irae had brought some of Adam’s clothing with her, and although they fit loosely because Adam had lost weight, he now looked more like himself. Lake put out his arms to be held by his father. It was getting late, but it was time to go home. Adam introduced Henrietta to Martha, and the whole group got in the carriage for the ride home. The temperature was dropping and it was clear that the weather was turning. Adam thought about the projects that he had hoped to work on that winter and how things had changed from what he had envisioned three months earlier.
When Adam’s carriage rolled into the yard of his home, he was surprised at many things. One was that his family had followed behind him. The most shocking thing though was that the bungalows were not framed in skeletons as he had left them. They had walls, windows, doors, and roofs just as he had envisioned. He jumped from the carriage and almost forgot to help his wife and the others from the carriage as he stood and stared at the side-by-side bungalow building. He shivered a little in the cold wind until Irae coughed to remind him first of all to help them from the carriage, and then to ask if someone would go to the house to get his coat for him. She had forgotten that he did not have a coat with him.
“Well, Mason and Morgan knew what you wanted done, and Hoss went down to the homesteaders and hired a crew. They worked for about a month to get everything done. Mason and Morgan wouldn’t let them cut any corners. They said when you got back, you would check every corner and every line to make sure it was square and they didn’t want you to be disappointed. The stoves aren’t installed. No one knew how you wanted that done, and of course the finishing work isn’t done.”
First, Adam kissed Irae, and then headed toward Hoss.
“You better not plan on kissing me, older brother, or you’re gonna have a fight on your hands.”
That got a laugh from everyone including Adam who grabbed Hoss in a hug. It was as meaningful as a kiss though because they all knew how Adam preferred not to show affection in public. To do this showed how important this was to him. It showed how much Hoss loved him, but also showed that Hoss had not given up and always expected him to come home. Adam went up to the bungalows then to take a look with Hoss as Henrietta looked around at her new home. She never expected the place to look so nice. The hands came out to greet their boss and welcome him home and their genuine happiness at seeing him reinforced her opinion that he was a genuinely good man. She did have one question.
“Is this where I’m going to be living?”
“No, well, maybe when I get them finished. For now, they’re not done so you’ll have a room in the house. Irae knows that you saved my life so she’ll accept you as part of our household. I’ll build you a cottage of your own unless you want to stay in one of these bungalows. There’s a kitchen attached to the bunkhouse so that’s; where you’ll be working. We can show you that tomorrow.” That drew the men’s interest. “Yes, Henrietta is a professional cook and she’ll be doing all the cooking or at least most of it for you from now on.” There were smiles all around from the men on that one.
“I could get started on that today, Adam.”
“You don’t have to do that, Henrietta.”
“Oh, I want to, Adam. I’d like to do that.” The idea of cooking for ten single eligible men who smiled at her made her anxious to do the cooking. They didn’t seem to mind at all that she had that tooth sticking straight out. In fact none of these people seemed to mind at all. She knew she could be happy living here. Maybe they had a doctor who could do something about that tooth for her. No one had been able to help her in the little town where she had lived before going to work in the prison camp. She decided to ask Adam when she had a chance to talk to him in private about it. Meanwhile, she asked the men to show her to the kitchen, and they were more than willing to do it. Within a month, Henrietta was Doctor Martin’s patient and he removed the bone spur that protruded from her lower gum and disfigured her looks so much. She had a slight gap in her lower teeth than but it was much less of a problem for her than the protruding white bone had been which most had assumed had been a tooth. She settled into one of the bungalows once Adam had finished it and installed a stove. Martha welcomed the addition of another woman to the ranch and spent quite a lot of time with Henrietta as the two women became good friends.
On Whispering Pines, Adam and Irae settled back into a happy family life and prepared for the birth of their second child. There was only one sour note in the whole family dynamic and that was some lingering resentment that Irae carried against Joe for not firing Trace and Davis when Adam had disputed Joe hiring them. Instead Joe had insisted on keeping them on the payroll, and in her mind, that was why Adam had ended up nearly being killed. Joe asked Adam what he could do about that.
“Adam, I’ve apologized to you several times for that. You’ve forgiven me. Why can’t your wife forgive me?”
“Joe, I’m your brother, and although you may tire of hearing it, I helped raise you. There’s nothing that could ever make me stop loving you. For Irae though, you did something that threatened her husband, and the father of her children, the son she has and the child she is carrying. With a woman, that’s a very powerful thing. She needs to know that you won’t put me in jeopardy again because of pride or some competition you feel you have to have with me. She wants to know that if I tell you something that you’ll accept it and not take it as a challenge.”
Joe’s initial response to the last part of that was to argue and almost immediately he understood what Adam meant. He saw the small smile his brother had and knew that Adam had expected him to react exactly the way he almost had.
“Old habits are hard to break, aren’t they?”
“I guess they are. Adam, I will try though. When I thought you might be dead in that cabin because of what I did, I wanted to take it all back and I knew I couldn’t. Then when I was running up that mountain and saw you falling behind, I wanted to run back to be with you, but I didn’t because I did listen to you and knew you were right. I had to do what you told me to do. Adam, I never want you to be hurt. If I ever act like that much of a jackass again, please remind me of this conversation.”
“Ifn he don’t, I will.” Hoss had walked in on the last part of the conversation and understood what had been discussed by what Joe had said. “Ifn that don’t work, I know right where to plant one of these boots of mine.”
“You know that was between me and Adam.”
“Not when it’s family, it ain’t. It affected all of us. Joe, why you got such a hard time taking advice from Adam sometimes? He listened to us about Thomas when all we had was a gut feeling about the man. He might be dead right now ifn he didn’t, but he knows to trust gut feelings sometimes. He had a gut feeling about those two jaspers that something wasn’t right about how they was acting. He tried to help you.”
“Maybe sometimes I don’t like to be helped.”
“Now right there you was asking for a boot right up your backside.”
“All right. I’ll try to think things through more. Is that better?”
“For the sake of your backside, you better hope so.”
Adam grinned as Joe frowned at Hoss who laughed.
“So will you talk to Irae?”
“I’ll talk to her. I think things will be better now.” And they were.
Four months after Adam’s arrival home, Abey Elizabeth Cartwright made her appearance. Her nickname was Leaf, the translation of her Paiute name although none but those in the family knew that Abey was a Paiute name.
By the time spring rolled around, Roy rode out to give Adam and Joe some news. Trace and Davis had been arrested in Arizona because of the posters that Ben had paid to have printed and the money he had agreed to pay. He asked if they minded if the two men were extradited to Texas to face murder charges instead of to Nevada to face kidnapping, assault, and rustling charges. Neither brother minded at all. Roy had other news for them. Based on information they had given him, he had some very good leads on where Dobie and Eric were but couldn’t be sure. He wondered if the two brothers wanted to pursue the arrest and extradition of the two. Adam and Joe said they would discuss it with Hoss and their father and get back to him. It took some time to come up with an idea. By the time they met with Roy, he gave them a newspaper detailing the capture of Trace and Davis and their extradition to Texas where they were expected to be tried and hanged. It was big news all over the west and was picked up by all the other big newspapers. Roy talked with the Cartwrights and they came up with a plan to identify Dobie and Eric so they could be extradited to Nevada. However not everyone liked the plan especially Irae who expressed her opinion of it one night as she and Adam lay in bed.
“Why do you have to do anything about them? Why can’t you forget about them?”
“Irae, we could have died because of what they did. We can’t let someone do that to us and forget about it. If we did, anyone could do anything to us and think they could get away with it.”
With her head against his chest and listening to his heart beating in his chest, Irae couldn’t bear the thought of him being gone again. “Leaf is still so young and Lake is less than two years old. I don’t want you to be gone again. Every time you’re gone, I worry that you won’t come back.”
“Sweetheart, that could happen any time I walk out that door even if it’s to ride to town to pick up supplies. I’m always careful, but there are dangers in the world no matter where I am. This is no more dangerous than anything else that I do.”
“Adam, make love to me then. Make love to me with everything you’ve got so my mind won’t think about you leaving and when you’re gone, I can remember this night to keep me strong.”
“Now that’s the kind of request I like to get.”
A few weeks later, Dobie and Eric were sitting in an establishment in Oregon sipping beers when the sheriff walked up to their table. He called them by the names they had been using in that town since they had arrived. The two men got a little nervous when Hoss Cartwright and another man walked up behind the sheriff but Hoss hadn’t ever met them so he wouldn’t be able to identify them especially with the beards they now wore. Frank and Nate were dead, and if the newspapers were correct, Trace and Davis were about to be. Dobie and Eric were feeling reasonably optimistic that they would be able to escape justice for what they had done.
“Yes, Sheriff, can we do something for you?”
“Tanner, Brice, these two men claim you kidnapped the brothers of one of them and were involved in a lot of cattle rustling down in Nevada. They got a warrant for a Dobie and an Eric, and it kind of fits your description and it fits about the time you arrived here.”
“Well, Sheriff, that ain’t us. Those ain’t our names.”
The sound of pistols cocking behind them and that velvety and intimidating voice that could belong to no other man made them suddenly wish they had kept on moving instead of settling in the first town that they came to in Oregon.
“Oh, those are your names, and my brother Joe and I are prepared to swear to it in a court of law. Would you like to amend your statement on that score or would you like to settle this with us outside or in the sheriff’s office? It’s up to you. I’m willing to go either way. After losing three months of our lives, we’re committed to seeing this through.”
Dobie and Eric had a sudden change of heart and decided to make a full confession of their deeds. They voluntarily returned to Nevada under Deputy Sheriff Clem Foster’s authority and ended up being sentenced to five years in Nevada State Prison. The three brothers returned home safely to the relief of Ben and Irae.
Everything had worked out except that the Army contract had been lost. Adam and Hoss agreed to help Joe with rounding up some horses and trying to win the next Army contract except one change was made. They decided to round up horses to break and train, and to train the yearling horses from their own stock and then try to see if they could sell them. When Joe heard Adam’s idea, he wondered why they hadn’t been doing it that way all along, but he knew. That’s the way it had always been done, so their father had done it that way. Adam looked at things with a more critical eye and tried to find better ways of doing things. Soon, they had a string of horses ready to sell and customers bidding to do business with them. Their father’s initial skepticism gave way to acceptance and then enthusiasm as the initial outlay was more than offset by increased profits.
Whispering Pines began to operate efficiently too once all the building was completed so that Adam had more time for his family and more time to help on the Ponderosa. Everything was moving along very smoothly. Adam thought he could finally relax a bit and enjoy his life, and Irae was enjoying having Henrietta there to do the cooking for the hands who seemed to enjoy her company as well as her cooking. Martha liked having her there as well. Then one morning about six months after Henrietta arrived at the ranch, she knocked on their door and shocked them.
“Adam, I got some news for ya. Now you and Irae been good to me, so I thought I ought to tell you first. I’m getting married.”
Later, Adam had to admit, he had sat with his mouth open a moment. Irae teased him about it and he had to accept that it had been true. She had recovered from the shock much more quickly than he had and rushed to congratulate their cook.
“I’m so glad for you. We’ll miss you so much. You’re like part of the family now.”
Finally shutting his mouth, Adam opened it again. “Yes, congratulations. We will miss you. I don’t know how we could ever replace you. You’ve been so invaluable here.”
“Well, now I was hoping you’d say that.” That surprised both Adam and Irae into silence. “You see, I’m marrying Morgan. We’d both like to stay on, but we’d like to have a place of our own too. You said once, you’d build me a place. I was wondering if you could add a room to the bunkhouse on the other side of the kitchen so that we would have, you know, privacy from the other men. That way I could still be the cook, and Morgan could still work for you, and still be here with his brother. It ain’t easy being part Paiute and he knows that he’s accepted here and he doesn’t want to leave.”
It was quite a speech, and Henrietta and Morgan had scripted it and practiced it for a couple of days hoping that they had covered all the salient points. It worked perfectly but they need not have worried. Adam and Irae wouldn’t have needed such an elaborate persuasion. They wanted both of them to stay, and a simple request would have gotten the same response. There were big smiles and enthusiastic agreement to the request.
“When are you getting married?”
“I want my mother to be able to see me get married and she has to travel here. That could take a week or more once she gets my letter. So I guess in about two weeks or so. We’ll have to let you know on that once she gets here. Adam, I have another question. My father died when I was little. Do you think your father would be willing to walk me down the aisle? I’d ask you to do it but you ain’t near old enough to be my father.”
“I’m sure my father would be pleased to do it. If you like, I’ll ask him for you. Would you like the wedding party here on the ranch? We could have your mother stay in one of the bungalow rooms. If we’ve got three weeks, we could have a room added to the bunkhouse for you and Morgan by your wedding day, if you don’t mind the smell of new lumber.”
“I don’t mind. I kinda like that smell.”
So, a few weeks later, Adam stood on the porch of his home holding Leaf as Lake sat with Hoss and they watched the party celebrating Henrietta’s wedding to Morgan.
“I think you missed the boat on this one, Hoss. She’s a courageous woman with a great sense of humor who can cook. She saved my life and Joe’s life too. Once Doc took care of her mouth and she got some nice clothes to wear, she’s not too bad looking either.”
“But Adam, she’s got those hairy arms.”
“Well, there is that. She wears dresses that cover them most of the time.”
“There’s places where she couldn’t cover them.”
“That’s true. Morgan doesn’t seem to mind though. Hoss, maybe you ought to marry Bessie Sue. She’s been waiting long enough.”
“Maybe I got my eye on somebody else.”
Turning in surprise toward his big brother, Adam looked at Hoss waiting for more information, but Hoss wasn’t ready to talk yet. There was plenty of time to tell his story, but he wasn’t going to share until he she said yes. “Oh don’t go wearing a frown. It’s a good thing. I just ain’t ready to tell you.”
“Neither is Pa. He’s been hinting at seeing someone for months now but he won’t tell me who it is.”
“Me neither, but he makes a lot of business trips to Carson City, and he always takes his good suit when he goes.”
Cocking his head at Hoss, Adam had that skeptical look, but Hoss nodded. Adam smiled. “That old pirate still has a few tricks up his sleeve, doesn’t he? Now, what about Joe?”
“Adam, you know you said years ago that he wasn’t the marrying kind. It was to get that Villon guy to leave town without getting strung up, but you know, sometimes, I think it’s true. Joe can’t seem to hang onto a gal for more than a month or two and his eyes are looking round for the next one.”
“That could be a bigger problem if he ever got married.”
“That’s what I was thinking.”
“So when are you going to tell me about your lady?”
“When she says yes.”
“So you already asked her?”
Hoss hadn’t meant to let Adam know that much, but then he was glad he had. Adam smiled that big grin he had when he was very pleased. “I’ll keep your secret, and I’ll be praying that she says yes very soon too.”
“Me too, older brother, me too.”
Ben came up to his two sons then and asked for a chance to hold his granddaughter which gave Adam a chance to dance with his wife. He held her close for a slow dance and whispered in her ear. “A few years ago at a garden party, I was an unhappy man thinking that my life was mostly wasted and I could see no way to salvage a future of happiness for myself. Then this dark-haired feisty woman walked into the garden and changed my life forever. I love you.”
“You changed my life too and I can’t imagine how life could be any better than in your arms. I have to admit that sometimes, like at this moment, I can’t wait for the other people to leave because I want to be alone with you.”
“There’s still that big oak tree at the side of the house and the path that winds out behind it. Lake is with Hoss and Pa has Leaf. Let’s take a walk.”
“Now that’s a grand idea. Let’s take a walk.”
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