What’s Right? (by EPM)

Summary: Adam risks his life in trying to follow his father’s teaching in doing right, but others have ulterior motives that thrust the Cartwrights into the middle of a fight they can’t afford to lose.

Rating:  K+  (11,510 words)

What’s Right?

“My son is dead.  That was what you wanted, wasn’t it?”  Ben Cartwright held his head a little higher as he spoke to the group of riders in front of his home. His eyes were narrowed and hard but they also held an immense sadness. “Now get off my land. Leave us to mourn in peace.”

 

“How do we know he’s really dead, Cartwright? Maybe you’re lying. You’d say anything to protect that kid of yours, even if he is a murderer.” Hoss and Joe stepped forward; one to the right, one to the left of their father.

 

“Maybe you’d like to see what your bullets did to him, Simmons. Would you care to know how he suffered before he died?” Ben shuddered at the sound of his own words.

 

“No Ben, we don’t need to see him and nobody here is gonna bother you any longer.” Roy Coffee had trouble looking into the eyes of his oldest friend as he spoke. “We’ll be leaving now.” The sheriff gave the group a look that left no room for argument. They turned and rode away; away from a family now torn apart by shock and pain and unanswered questions.

 

Hoss and Joe each took an arm of their distraught father and led him back into the house. Ben sat down heavily in the stuffed chair beside the bed where his oldest son lay unmoving. Putting his head into his hands, he could only wonder how all of this had happened. Was it really only a few days ago that Virginia City’s sheriff had come to tell him his eldest was recognized as part of a group who attacked a small settlement near the Paiute’s camp?

 

**********

 

That morning had started as any other. It was important to Ben that he see his sons at breakfast. Not only to discuss the day’s work but also to enjoy the easy, comfortable relationship they shared; a relationship that had only deepened through the years. So different, these sons of mine he thought. Certainly different in looks and temperament but not in their sense of right and wrong nor in their loyalty to each other and the land they loved.

 

“Pa, I’m riding out to the Paiute’s camp this morning. I’m worried they may not have enough supplies to see them through the winter.” The welfare of their Indian neighbors had always been important to Adam. He valued their history and culture and respected them most of all for the way they loved and honored the land. Adam had always seen both sides of the conflict between the Indians and the white man and it often had made him unpopular with those who wanted all Indians to simply disappear. His own feelings on the subject were not always clear, even to himself. He knew the land his family owned had once belonged to the people who lived on it long before the white man came to “settle it”. Should they be there at all? But if they weren’t, that only meant other whites would own it. That certainly wouldn’t solve any of the problems. At least his family tried to understand their Indian neighbors and help whenever they could. There were no simple answers.

 

“I’ll be back before supper,” he said, suddenly smiling at his younger, larger brother. “Hoss, you will save some for me?”

 

“Just be on time, older brother, or I may not be able to promise anything,” said Hoss, popping the last of the bacon into his mouth. Joe just laughed and Ben smiled at the friendly exchange between his sons. No, nothing seemed different about that morning.

 

**********

 

It was around noon when Ben decided to ride out to meet Hoss and Joe. He wanted to see for himself how much grass was left for the herd in the East Meadow. Just as he was about to enter the barn, he heard the sound of a single rider coming toward the house. “Roy, what are you doing way out here? I’m glad to see you. Please, get down and come on in,” greeted Ben.

 

Sheriff Roy Coffee hesitated. The two men had been close friends for years. Now he was here to tell Ben his oldest son was seen riding with a group of Paiutes who attacked the tiny settlement of Gold Creek and killed several of its inhabitants.

 

“Ben, I’ve got some bad news for you and I want you to just listen until I’m finished.” He told the story of a band of Paiutes who rode into Gold Creek and without warning or provocation, killed several miners. A survivor reached Virginia City looking for help for those who remained alive at the camp. “There weren’t many left, Ben, and those that were agreed that your boy was among the raiders. Is Adam here?” the sheriff asked his voice now taking on a more detached tone.

 

“No, he’s not and how could you even think Adam would be a part of something so appalling.” Ben’s anger was not hidden by the quiet, cool tone of his voice.

 

“Now Ben, I didn’t say he was; I said, he was identified by some of the surviving miners and I want to talk to him as soon as he gets home. I’m doing my job and Adam would be the first one to see that so you have him come on in.”

 

Straightening his shoulders, Ben looked at the sheriff and said, “We’ll come in— together.” Without saying another word he turned and walked toward the house.

 

**********

 

Hoss and Joe returned from their day of mending fence. They were hot and tired and definitely ready for something to eat. As they entered the house, Hoss called out, “Adam, you’d better be in here ’cause I’m ready to eat my supper and yours and part of Little Joe’s, if he don’t eat it quick enough.” Ben stopped staring at the papers on his desk and called out quietly, “He’s not here, son; your brother’s not here.”

 

“I told him to be on time or no promises,” said Hoss moving with Joe toward their father’s office. They both stopped short after seeing the worried look on their father’s face.

 

“What is it, Pa?” Joe asked. Ben told them of Roy’s visit and the accusations against their brother.

 

“But it just don’t make no sense. Adam would never take part in something like that and Roy knows it.” Hoss was both confused and angry at what was being said about his older brother. “Of all people, not Adam,” Hoss said shaking his head.

 

“Just who’s saying this, Pa?” Joe’s anger was evident in his tone and the flash of his eyes.

 

“I told you, Roy said it was the surviving miner’s from Gold Creek.” Ben spoke sharply than softened his tone as he saw both boys wince. “All we can do now is wait for your brother to come home; then we’ll know what really happened”.

 

They sat at the table in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. The only sound was from Hop Sing’s slippers as he served dinner. Knowing their anger and growing fear, Hop Sing did not scold them for not eating. He too was worried for the oldest son. After dinner, Ben tried to read the paper while Hoss and Joe took up their regular game of checkers. None of them could concentrate. They were too busy thinking about what Roy had said and listening, hoping for the sound of hoofbeats. None came. “Go to bed, boys. You’ve had a long day”

 

“You should try to sleep too Pa; worrying ain’t gonna help Adam or you. He’ll be home soon.” Hoss didn’t know if he said this to make himself feel better or to try and convince his father and brother that things were going to be ok. “Come on Joe, let’s try and get some sleep. Good night Pa.”

 

“Please Pa, come up stairs,” Joe pleaded.

 

After a distracted wave, Ben said, “Good night, boys. Don’t worry, I’ll be up in a little while.”

 

***********

 

Ben awoke to the sound of someone in the kitchen. He had not gone to bed but instead fell into a fitful sleep in the same place he was the night before. Hoping it was his missing son making those sounds, he made his way to the kitchen. “Oh, Hop Sing, I thought you were Adam.”

 

“Have not seen boy since yesterday morning. Where Mista Adam go?”

 

Ben walked over to the window and gazed out toward the hill’s that surrounded the Paiute’s home. “A better question might be where is he now?” said Ben quietly.

 

Hop Sing shook his head, mumbling something in his native language. He began his morning ritual of fixing breakfast for his “family”. The familiar tasks calmed him until he started to set the table — set for three, set for four? Hesitating, he felt an overpowering sense of sadness settle over him. He returned to the security of his kitchen, a tear sliding down his cheek.

 

“We’ll head out as soon as we eat and pack some supplies. Joseph, please ask Hop Sing to get enough food together. Hoss, please get the horses ready and pack a couple extra blankets. I’m going to get Adam’s heavier jacket.”

 

Ben went upstairs and entered his son’s room. There hanging neatly over the back of a chair was Adam’s coat. As Ben picked it up, a strangled sob rose up from deep within him. He hugged the coat close to his chest and bent his face to touch it. “Oh God, where is my son? Where is my boy?” He sat on the edge of the bed and rocked back and forth, burying his face in his beloved firstborn’s coat.

 

**********

 

The sound of several horses arriving brought Ben back to the present. He made his way down the stairs, Adam’s coat still held tightly to his chest. The sight of a group of heavily armed men startled him. Joe and Hoss walked from the barn, tied the horses and came to their father’s side.

 

“What is this, Roy?” Ben’s look changed from startled to wary.

 

The sheriff spoke to Ben as if it were only the two of them. “I wanted you to know Ben that a group has been formed by the Miners’ Association to ride out to the Paiute’s camp. I’m here to see that everything remains within the law. I see your getting ready to head out too so I take it Adam’s not home yet.”

 

Ben shook his head.

 

“Let’s go!” A new voice made them both turn around. John Simmons, foreman of Gold Creek’s only mine, continued. “I don’t know why we came out here in the first place. Adam Cartwright has always taken the part of them Indians and now he’s stepped over the line. I say we don’t treat him any different than any other murderer.”

 

Joe jumped forward. He pulled Simmons out of his saddle before anyone else could move.” My brother’s no murderer,” he yelled. He hit the surprised foreman on the jaw and sent him flying.

 

“Joseph, stop that immediately.” Ben pulled him away from Simmons. Hoss stepped in and took over holding his brother back. Roy moved between the two combatants.

 

“Get on your horse, Simmons, and keep your mouth shut and Joe, you need to simmer down before that temper of yours gets you into real trouble.” Roy turned toward Ben again. “Ben, I didn’t come here to cause trouble, only to let you know what was going on. If I find Adam, I’ll have to bring him in; you know that. But at least he’ll be safe in jail until all this gets straightened out.”

 

Ben’s only words sounded a warning to the whole group. “Don’t let anything happen to my son!”

 

***********

 

The three Cartwrights rode toward the Indian village. Ben knew that Roy would go to Gold Creek first, trying to piece together what had happened.

Things seemed peaceful enough as they approached. All three knew the chance they were taking if indeed the Paiutes had raided the gold camp

but they were willing to take that chance to find their son and brother. Ben looked at his boys. “No matter what happens, don’t use your guns unless you have no choice.” All eyes were on them as they rode to the teepee that Ben knew to be the chief’s.

 

“Get down, Ben Cartwright. Do you come today because of what happened at the white man’s diggings?” The Paiute chief had known Ben since he arrived upon the land so many years ago, he and his two young sons. He had watched this man as he sweated and toiled to make a home for them. Beside him always was his firstborn. The young raven-haired boy worked as hard as any man. This family came as other whites had come but they seemed to love and cherish the land as his people did. The passage of time created a respect between the Cartwrights and the Paiute people.

 

“Great Chief of the Paiute Nation, please tell me what you know of the attack on the gold camp. I have only heard of what happened from men who say it was the Paiute who attacked Gold Creek. I want to know what the Chief of the Paiutes has to say.” Ben desperately wanted to ask about Adam but he thought it better to wait to hear what the chief had to say first.

 

“Ben Cartwright, you have always been a friend to my people. It is with great sadness that I tell you what happened. My young braves are angry at the diggers from the gold camp. They come to Paiute land for the rocks that shine. They do not go when we ask. I tell the young men to wait until we talk to the white man’s law but they are angry and will not listen.” The chief’s eyes were now bright with tears and he made no move to hide them.

 

“Your son came to our village yesterday to offer supplies for the cold times. He saw and heard the angry braves.” At the mention of his son’s name, Ben’s body stiffened. Joe and Hoss looked at each other but did not move. “Your boy spoke to them of what would happen if there was bloodshed. He told them he would ride with them if they let him speak to the diggers. After much talk, my braves agree. They ride to the gold camp together.”

 

Taking a deep breath, the old Indian continued. “Much later, they return. Only, they do not return as they left. Their number is smaller and others have many bleeding wounds” Ben felt his heart rate increase as his fear escalated. “Your son is with them, tied and bound to his horse. The young ones say he betrayed them. Led them into a trap of many men and guns.”

 

“Please tell me, was my son injured?” Ben held his breath waiting for an answer.

 

“Your son had no wounds but his heart was heavy. He cannot make the braves believe he had no part in the ambush of my people.”

 

Ben looked into his friend’s eyes. Both men had been scared with the pain of loss and each recognized it in the other. “Do you know where my son is now?”

 

“Yes Ben Cartwright; my young braves have taken him to the mountains. They know the whites will be coming soon.

 

“Tell me where he is,” Ben pleaded. “I will do everything I can to help your people but I must find my son.”

 

“Why should I tell you where he is—will you take your son and go home or will you tell the white man’s law where my braves hide?”

 

“I look only to take my son home, no more,” promised Ben.

 

“I believe you as I believe your son would not betray my people. Hurry, Ben Cartwright; they will not be kind to him.” The chief told the three men where Adam was. And after thanking him, Ben, Hoss and Joe rode hard toward the hills.

 

***********

 

The area they approached was foothills and forest. The tall rock formations offered cover for anyone who wished to keep from being seen. Ben signaled for Hoss and Joe to stop. “Listen to me. I believe your brother is still alive but I will not sacrifice the two of you to find out for sure. I want you to wait here while I go find him. If I can, I’ll bring him back with me.” Ben spoke softly but his tone left no room for discussion. Still, the boys tried.

 

“Pa, please let us come with you. We can’t just wait here while you walk into that camp,” said Hoss.

 

Joe’s response mirrored the passion that always existed for him, just underneath every thought, every decision. “No Pa, Adam’s been there for us all our lives–it’s our turn now!”

 

Ben narrowed his eyes and stared at Joe. “That’s right, he has! Would he ever forgive me for letting you two walk into something that could get you both killed? No, we will do it my way. I’ll be back. Now stay here.”

 

************

 

It was late afternoon as Ben began his assent into the hills. The wind was picking up and dark clouds began to come in from the North. A storm, he thought. Well, maybe the wind and rain would help distract the Paiutes while he searched for his son. The sound of voices came from a distance. He crept forward, inching his way slowly. He found himself on a high ledge. It overlooked a clearing surrounded by trees and boulders on the edge of the forest. The storm arrived in earnest. The rain began to fall heavily, making it hard for Ben to see. Shielding his eyes, he saw someone tied to a large pine tree. The man’s arms were stretched above his head; his wrists bound to the branches above him. His head rested on his chest. Lightning lit the sky. Ben held back a strangled cry as he recognized his son. “Oh Adam, what have they done to you?”

 

Suddenly, he heard a noise from behind him. He turned, gun in hand. “Joseph, Hoss, I thought I told you to stay where you were.” Ben’s anger and fear were evident.

 

“We just couldn’t, Pa. It wasn’t fair of you to ask —we need to be here,” Hoss said, looking into his father’s eyes.

 

“I’m sorry, son; of course you’re right. You should be here.”

 

Just then, Joe saw Adam. “Oh God, no—Adam!” He started to rise and move toward his helpless brother. Hoss pulled him to the ground and held him down. “No Joe, you’ll only get yourself killed and most likely him too. You can’t just go running down there.”

 

Joe stopped fighting against his brother’s grasp. Sounding desperate, Joe asked, “What are we going to do, Pa?” The storm continued to intensify.

 

A voice rose above the noise of the storm. The Paiutes looked beyond the boulders that surrounded their camp to the forest beyond. Roy Coffee came out from behind the cover of the trees and walked forward. His hands were held in a sign of peace. Ben and his sons could see that Roy was talking to the young braves but they could not hear what was being said. Suddenly, gunfire erupted from the tree line. A Paiute warrior fell. Roy turned and shouted for the firing to stop. The Indian nearest him brought his rifle stock down on the sheriff’s head. Roy dropped immediately. Ben looked

at Adam. His heart jumped when he saw his boy look up. Before the Cartwright’s could get to him, the leathers that bound his wrists to the tree were cut. Two warriors were dragging him forward. Adam stumbled but caught himself. He began trying to run with the Indians as they retreated into the thick forest. Ben, Joe and Hoss started down the rocky outcropping. The hale of gunfire continued. A flash of lightning seemed to split the sky. The bright light illuminated the scene before them. They watched helplessly as Adam fell, face down, onto the forest floor; blood already spreading across the back of his tan shirt. His captures did not stop.

 

As Ben and his sons made their way down from the rocky ledge, the gunfire ceased. The men who had fired on the Paiutes moved out of the trees. They walked to the side of the downed sheriff. Roy had begun to moan and was trying to stand. Adam’s family ran to where they had seen him fall. They stopped abruptly when they realized he was no longer there. They spread out in different directions, thinking that maybe he had tried to reach cover. Each returned to the spot where they had last seen him, all looking defeated. Ben knelt down beside the grass that was still bent from the weight of his son’s body. He watched as the rain washed the red stains into the earth. The storm was beginning to move on.

 

*************

 

 

It was getting dark and there were few signs of the retreating band of Indians. The rain had taken care of that. Cold and exhausted, the Cartwright men headed home to the Ponderosa. They knew they had no chance of finding Adam in the dark. They would try to eat and sleep and start their search in the morning. Before they left, ugly words had been exchanged with the miners. Each of them had wanted to take their frustrations out on the man who fired first. No one knew or would tell who that might have been.

John Simmons felt no regret for what had happened to Adam Cartwright. “Act like an Indian, you’ll be treated as one,” he said. Before a fight broke out, the sheriff herded the miners in one direction while Ben took his boys in another. Angry as Ben was, he knew that it wouldn’t do Adam or his other sons any good to get into a confrontation now. They needed to concentrate on one thing only, finding Adam.

 

**********

 

Hop Sing met them as they entered the house. “Mista Adam?” he asked. Ben told him what had happened. He shook his head and turned toward the kitchen. “I get suppa ready.” They ate in silence.

 

After dinner, they settled in front of the fire. Hoss’ gazed toward Adam’s faded blue chair. He looked away and put his head in his hands. Joe moved behind him, putting a hand on his shoulder.

 

“We should try to sleep now, boys. Sunrise will come soon enough.” Wearily, Ben got to his feet.

 

The sound of hoof beats, muffled in the soft mud, broke the silence. They all started for the door at once. Hop Sing too had heard and came into the living room. As quickly as the hoof beats came, they started to retreat. Puzzled, Ben opened the door. The moon had finally come out as the storm clouds passed. Its cold light illuminated a man lying face down in the dirt of the front yard. Ben knew before he was able to move that this was his missing son.

 

Hoss reached his brother first. His large hands hovered over Adam’s body as if he didn’t know what to do. He stared down at the tan shirt, now almost completely soaked with blood. His father reached out and took his son into his arms. No sound; no movement came from the injured man. Ben held him tightly against his chest, rocking him as he had done when Adam was a small child. “It’s alright, son. You’re home. We’ll take care of you now.” Joe and Hoss exchanged glances. Neither was convinced their brother was still alive.

 

“Pa—Pa, let’s get him into the house,” Joe urged. Hoss took his brother out of father’s arms, lifted him and carried him inside.

 

With great care, Hoss entered Adam’s room and put him gently down on his bed. They could see the rise and fall of Adam’s chest in a rapid, shallow pattern. Ben knew Adam had been shot in the back, but he didn’t know what other injuries his son might have suffered. Working together, the men removed the injured man’s boots and clothes. Ben gasped from the horror of what he saw before him. As he looked over the body of his naked son, he knew that Adam had been terribly abused long before he had been shot. Both Joe and Hoss took an involuntary step backward when they saw what had been done to their brother. Joe turned and went to the window, suddenly needing to pull in some fresh, cool air. Hoss closed his eyes and tightly clenched his fists.

 

Ben knew he couldn’t give in to his own feelings, not now. He had to help his son. “Joseph, I want you to go get Doctor Martin, but listen to me; don’t let anyone see you and tell Paul not to let anyone know he’s coming out here. Is that clear?”

 

“Yeah, Pa— no one will know.” Joe stepped to Adam’s bedside, put a hand on his brother’s chest and whispered, “Stay with us, Adam; please stay with us.” Then he was gone.

 

Hop Sing entered with hot water and towels. If the little man was shocked by what he saw, he gave no indication.

 

“Help me turn him over,” directed Ben. Hoss helped his father than pulled a blanket up to his brother’s waist. Hop Sing and Ben washed away the blood so they could see what lay beneath. One bullet had entered just above the right shoulder blade and a second entered his lower ribs on the left side. Neither bullet had an exit wound but both areas had stopped bleeding. Ben was afraid to wash them for fear that they might start again. He put clean bandages over the ragged holes. When they turned him back over, Adam uttered a faint moan.

 

“Adam—Adam, can you hear me?” There was no response. Ben never realized how quickly his hopes could rise, only to fall again. The three men started to clean the battered body once more. Dark bruises, deep purple in color, stood out against the pale skin. Ben looked at his middle son.

 

Hoss ran the damp cloth down his brother’s arm, speaking to him as he did. His voice was soft and soothing. “You know, come November, you and me are due for a little time off. I told you I’m gonna get that big buck we saw last year. Maybe we ought to take Joe with us. What’d you think, big brother?” With silence his only answer, Hoss stopped what he was doing and turned away. Ben left Adam’s bedside to go to his other son. He took Hoss’ shaking body into his arms and held him close. Both of them finally let go of their unshed tears. Quiet sobs were all that could be heard. Hop Sing gently finished washing away the rest of the dried blood. He pulled the covers up over Adam’s chest and left the room, praying to his God as he went.

 

**********

 

Father and son sat close to the bed, one on each side. Ben had left Adam on his back, hoping the pressure would forestall any further bleeding.

 

“Why’d he go with them Paiutes to the gold camp anyway, Pa? Why’d he take that kinda chance?”

 

“I’m not sure Hoss but you know your brother. He’s always fought for what he thought was right, no matter who was involved.”

 

Ben looked back at his gravely injured son and was surprised to see his eyelids flutter. Adam searched for his father’s hand. Looking at him through hooded eyes and squeezing Ben’s hand slightly, he murmured,” I had to, Pa; I had to do it.” Than his hand relaxed in his father’s, he exhaled with a sigh and his head dropped coming to rest on his chest.

 

**********

 

Joe had managed to slip into Virginia City without being noticed. He left his horse tied behind an old shack at the edge of town; Cochise would be recognized too easily out in the open. Quickly and quietly, he made his way to Paul Martin’s house. He entered without knocking. “Doc, doc,” he called.

“Wake up doc, we need you.”

 

Paul, used to late night visitors, reached for his robe and descended the stairs. “Joe, what is it?”

 

“We need you badly, Doc. Adam’s been hurt. He’s lost so much blood. I don’t know why he’s still alive.”

 

“Try to calm down Joe and tell me how he’s hurt.”

 

Joe lost his color as the memory of his brother’s body lying so still came back to him. “He’s been shot in the back and badly beaten. There are bruises all over his body.” Joe swallowed hard.

 

“Ok Joe, sit down while I get ready. You might want to help yourself to a brandy.”

 

“Oh and Doc, nobody can know where you’re going. I’ll explain on the way.”

 

Paul gave him a questioning look, then started to gather the things he thought he’d need.

 

**********

 

Doctor Martin arrived at the ranch with a frightened young man at his side. Before he could get out of the buggy, Joe was in the house.

 

Hoss stood before the glowing fire. He moved quickly toward the stairs and grabbed Joe’s arm. “Stay here with me. Let the Doc and Pa and Hop Sing take care of Adam.” Doctor Martin passed the boys and ascended the stairs.

 

Joe tried to resist. He wanted to see his brother but the look on Hoss’ face made him stop. “What is it? What aren’t you telling me?” Joe’s voice cracked with fear and he started to shake from the cold that spread outward from his heart.

 

Hoss shook his head than looked straight at Joe. “We’re gonna loose him, Joe. There’s no way he can survive what they done to him.”

 

“Don’t say that! Don’t you say that!” Joe shouted as he backed away from his brother. “We aren’t going to loose Adam. How can we? He’s always looked out for both of us and gotten us out of trouble. Pa couldn’t run the ranch without him—look at all he does!” Joe was shaking uncontrollably now. “No, please Hoss—–please. I don’t want my brother to die.” Hoss crossed the room. They held each other and cried for the brother they loved.

 

**********

 

It had taken hours for Paul to do everything he could for the oldest Cartwright boy. He had removed both bullets and repaired the damage they had caused. He watched the bruising on his chest and abdomen closely, praying it would not spread. Adam could not survive any more surgery. Hell, he wasn’t sure the man could survive what he’d done to him already.

 

“Ben—Ben,” Paul called. “Help me put him on his stomach. I want him off his back. I don’t think he’s bleeding inside from the beating but every so often we’ll have to check on that too.” Ben and Hop Sing both moved forward to assist the doctor. Once Adam was positioned the way Dr. Martin wanted him, he asked Hop Sing to stay. “Ben, please come with me. I want to speak with you and the boys together.”

 

The four gathered in front of the fire. “Ben, boys—-I can only say that Adam’s chances to survive are not good. The bullet wounds are severe and the beating he took would have killed most men outright. I wish I could be more hopeful but I can’t lie to you. I’ll stay the night and watch him. If he comes around, I’ll make sure he’s not in too much pain. I wish there were something more I could do for him but there isn’t. Do you have any questions?” They stared at him helplessly. As a doctor, he had delivered this speech on so many occasions, but this time it was personal. He genuinely liked Adam Cartwright and above that, he respected the kind of man he was. This time delivering the speech had hurt.

 

No one said a word as the four men returned to Adam’s room.

 

Ben held Adam’s hand to his lips. “Come on, son, come back to me. There’s so much to do—so much you haven’t done yet. I can’t believe a merciful God would take all of that away from you. I can’t believe he’d take you away from me. Try Adam, please try.”

 

Paul stood beside Hoss and Joe. “It could be a very long night, boys; don’t you want to try and get some rest?”

 

“No doc, we’ll stay here with Pa— with Pa and Adam.”

 

Joe listened to what Hoss said and shook his head in agreement. The long night had just begun.

 

Adam hadn’t moved or made a sound. His father and brothers refused to end their vigil. The sun was just starting to light the colors in the sky when Paul began to check his patient once again. The warmth that heralded an infection was beginning to take hold. As he removed the dressings, the doctor could see the swollen, reddened edges of the two wounds. He knew the bullets had dragged pieces of material and dirt deep into the muscle and bone. Doctor Martin thought to himself, if it’s your time Adam, I hope you never regain consciousness. I know how terribly that would hurt your family but you will be the one to suffer the most. No, if it’s your time, friend, I hope you go in peace. Paul placed clean dressings over the wounds. His hand rested on Adam’s forehead, checking for fever. “Ben, I need to get back to town if we don’t want to arouse any suspicion. You know, as a doctor, I can’t reveal or discuss anything about a case so you don’t have to worry. I’ll try to come back tonight. Try to keep his fever down, change the dressings if they drain, and should he come to, get as much water into him as he’ll drink. I’ve left something for the pain.” Paul was hesitant to remove his hand; feeling something final in the gesture.

 

**********

 

Ben heard the sound of riders and lifted his head. He had been leaning on the bed with his forehead touching the back of Adam’s hand. He had spent the night alternating between praying to God, pleading with his son and falling into brief periods of light sleep. Hoss and Joe seemed to have spent their night in the same way. When Paul left, Ben had carefully washed his son with iced water brought up by Hop Sing. He had also brought strong coffee for the three of them. Still, Adam had not moved. Even the fever that was now taking hold of him in earnest had not brought him around. Ben moved to the window and with Hoss and Joe behind him, he turned and went to meet the men who wanted his son dead.

 

Yes, it had only been a few days, he thought to himself as he sat in the stuffed chair next to Adam’s bed. So many unanswered questions. Ben felt a tinge of guilt when he thought of the way Roy had believed him about Adam’s death. But he’d done what he had to for the protection his son and he was prepared to do anything else it took to prove his son innocent. Hop Sing had convinced Joe and Hoss to try to eat breakfast and the two had complied. Ben knew neither of his boys were hungry but they both knew Hop Sing would worry less if they ate. For whatever reason, Ben was grateful.

 

Adam’s soft moan brought Ben out of his reverie. He smoothed the black hair back from his son’s forehead. “Adam, Adam–can you hear me? Try not to move.”

 

“Hot–I’m so hot and thirsty,” he managed to whisper.

 

“It’s ok, boy; try to drink a few sips of water.” Ben tipped his son’s head up and helped him to drink the cool, life-giving liquid. Adam’s whole body shuddered.

 

“Pa, I’m sorry to worry you this way. Please believe me; I tried to stop the fighting.”

 

“It’s going to be ok, son; please don’t talk anymore. You must rest.”

 

Adam was beyond caring about what was good for him—he just wanted to be cool again and for the pain to leave him. “Pa, it hurts. How bad?” He had to push the words out on short bursts of breath.

 

Ben could tell it was costing Adam precious strength to speak. He knew trying to hide things from this son would be impossible. They had been close for so long, shared too much. Taking a deep breath, Ben said, “You’ve been shot in the back and beaten badly. Now you have a little fever. Paul was here all night. He wants us to keep you cool and change the dressings. You need to drink as much as possible.” Adam’s eyes were bright from his rising temperature. They stared back at his father. “Please son, drink the medicine Paul left. It will take away the pain and let you rest.” Adam did as his father asked. In a short time, his eyes became heavy and he knew sleep was near. He wasn’t afraid. He knew his father was there.

 

**********

 

“No, no don’t—don’t fire. Stop! Oh, God!” Adam’s words made little sense to his younger brothers. He was caught up in restless, fever driven dreams. Hoss and Joe had convinced their father he needed to rest while Adam slept. Finally, Ben gave in and went to his room with the promise he would be awakened if Adam’s condition changed.

 

Hoss reached for his brother’s hand. “Easy now, you’re home and nobody can hurt ya. It’s our turn to look after you. Seems about time, don’t ya think?”

 

Adam’s head turned toward the sound of his brother’s voice and he opened his eyes. “Hoss, Joe—stay close.” Once again his eyes closed to the waking world.

 

“We’re here, Adam—we’re here, ” Joe said.

 

**********

 

John Simmons sat in the office of the Faded Glory mine. The tiny camp of Gold Creek was eerily quiet since the attack. If Adam Cartwright really was dead, his troubles were over. Nobody else could identify him as the one who fired on the Paiutes when they rode into camp. Only Cartwright and those savages and nobody would believe them, especially not now. Roy Coffee and the rest of the Miners’ Association accepted Ben Cartwright’s word but he had an uneasy feeling. Not something he could put into words but it was there none the less. He’d find out the truth for himself.

 

**********

 

The three Cartwright men and Hop Sing took turns sitting with their fever-ravaged patient. His condition altered as the hours passed. Sometimes he was awake and lucid. He eagerly drank as much as his father allowed and than slipped back into sleep. Ben hopes soared only to be brought low again when he changed his son’s dressings. The drainage coming from his son’s wounds was fetid and foul and once again, Adam entered the world of delirium.

 

**********

 

Fact fueled by rumor spread the circumstances of Adam Cartwright’s death though out Virginia City and the surrounding territory. Most people were stunned and saddened by his early passing. They expressed great sorrow for Hoss and Joe, knowing how close the brothers were to each other. But they knew that Ben would be the one to suffer the most. Ben’s pride and joy shown for everyone to see when it came to his firstborn. Not that he loved his other sons any less; that couldn’t be further from the truth. But Adam was becoming everything his father had hoped: a man of character and dignity who was educated and shared that knowledge freely with anyone who needed it. He was a man of music and letters, who searched for the meaning beneath the surface. A little too reserved—sometimes not careful enough with his caustic wit. Joe and Hoss had the same potential; they just weren’t ready yet. And so Ben Cartwright built an empire not for his eldest son but with him. Now the heir was dead and so too would be part of his father’s heart.

 

**********

 

Unknown to anyone else, Paul Martin returned to the Ponderosa late the next night. As he entered the front yard, he wondered at what awaited him inside. Had Adam died in peace as he hoped or was he still lingering, battling with the inevitable? Stopping the buggy, he hesitated for a moment than got down and walked to the entrance. Hop Sing had heard the doctor’s arrival and opened the door for him.

 

There, behind one of the pines planted by Ben and Adam, was the shadow of a man outlined on the ground. He stayed away from the light of the moon. When the doctor entered the house, he ventured out of his hiding place. Simmons knew he’d hang if Adam Cartwright were still alive. He had to find out. With only that thought in mind, he crept forward to a window. He saw the elder Cartwright greet the doctor at the bottom of the stairs and usher him quickly upward. Now what, he thought. Wait, wait and be patient he said to himself. You’ll know soon.

 

Paul and Ben entered Adam’s bedroom. Both Hoss and Joe looked up as the men came in. The doctor smiled at them. “Boys, you look exhausted. None of you are going to do Adam any good if you fall over.” He laid a hand on Adam’s forehead; still hot but no worse, he thought. He proceeded to uncover the wounds in his patient’s back. Was there actually some improvement, the edges a little less reddened, a little less swollen? Maybe Hop Sing’s medicinal herbs had helped. Ben told him of Adam’s periods of lucidity followed by delirium. “Well Ben, I never would have believed it, but he’s no worse. Certainly, not out of danger, but no worse. Help me turn him over so I can take a look at those bruises.”

 

Adam gave a soft grunt, as he was turned face up. The deep purple coloring had not spread any further. That pleased Paul but he knew the prolonged fever was sapping Adam’s strength. “We need to get that temperature down and keep trying to get him to drink.” Paul was moved to action by the slight improvement he saw in his patient. “I have to tell you, I never gave him a chance when I left but now—well maybe. Can we get some cool water and towels?” Ben went to the top of the stairs and requested the items from Hop Sing.

 

As Hop Sing hurried to the kitchen, he did not notice the face looking in a window. Hidden half in shadow, Simmons watched as the Cartwright’s diminutive housekeeper walked through the house and up the stairs with things that were needed to care of somebody that was sick. Being patient had paid off. Adam Cartwright was alive! But not for long he thought as he slipped away and melted into the darkness.

 

**********

 

Dawn saw an uncertain calm spread over the Cartwright home, a calm brought on by a combination of fatigue and relief. There had been a constant battle between the heat of the fever and the cool water. Paul had irrigated the wounds over and over again trying to flush away as much of the infection as possible. Every time Adam awoke, the men were there to encourage the replacement of the fluids his body craved. All had taken their turn to sleep, but each was too restless for the light sleep to help much. The fever began to recede for longer and longer periods.

 

Adam opened his eyes and searched the room. He saw his father looking out the window at the new day. Paul dozed in a rocker tucked into a corner. “Pa—-Pa.” His voice was stronger now and Ben, smiling, turned to face his son. His eyes filled as his looked into the face of his beautiful boy.

 

Adam frowned. “Please don’t worry, Pa—I’m alright.”

 

“Yes, son, I know you are; it’s just that you’ve been so sick and…” Ben stopped to catch his breath.

 

Adam moved his hand off the bed, toward his father. “I’m not going anywhere, Pa. How would you handle those two brothers of mine without me?”

 

Ben stepped forward to grasp his son’s hand. “I couldn’t do it without you. You just remember that!” He smiled and held on tight.

 

“Good morning, Adam. Well you’ve been giving us a good scare!” The doctor had just emerged from his broken sleep. “How about we take a look at you and see how you’re doing?” Paul assessed all the vital parameters that told him Adam Cartwright was indeed doing better. Certainly better than he had ever expected. Just then the door to Adam’s room opened and a sleepy Hoss entered. Right behind him walked Joe with the same exhausted look on his face. “Well gentlemen, the patient’s fever is down and he seems to be breathing easier. But that doesn’t mean you can do anything foolish,” Paul said, turning his gaze toward the bed. Adam’s eyes were half closed already. Just Paul’s exam and talking to his father had tired him out. “I think everyone should leave now. The more sleep he gets, the better.” Adam’s eyes were now closed and his breathing deep and even. With that, Paul ushered everyone from the room.

 

“Ben, I want to speak with Hop Sing before I leave. I’d like to know what herbs he used on Adam’s wounds.” They all went to the great room and stood before the fire. Hop Sing brought coffee for all and announced that breakfast would be ready soon. For the first time in days, Hoss was feeling hungry.

“He still needs to be watched carefully. We’ll let him have a little broth and move on after we see how he does. You can turn him on his back for short periods. His ribs must be giving him a lot of pain. Now, don’t be surprised if his temperature goes back up. I expect that will happen. What he needs most is sleep and I don’t think he feels good enough to give you any trouble about that. I’ll leave right after breakfast and come again tonight, if possible.” The family along with Dr. Martin sat down together for the first time in days. Ben bowed his head and thanked God for the life of his cherished son.

 

**********

 

Hoss and Joe stayed close to home. Ben knew they were both over tired and feared that a costly mistake could be made because of it. He was not about to take a chance with the lives of his other two sons. Ben and Hop Sing took turns at Adam’s bedside. They managed to give him a bath, wash his hair and remove the thick, dark stubble on his face. After his linens and blankets were changed, Adam was exhausted and immediately fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.

 

Much later that day, Adam opened his eyes once again. “Hi, son. Do you think you could manage a little soup?” Adam smiled at his father and said yes. Putting Adam in a semi-sitting position with pillows, Ben slowly fed his son the broth prepared by Hop Sing.

 

The warm liquid felt good to his battered insides just as the cool water had felt good to the fevered outside.

 

“How did I get home?” Adam asked. It occurred to him that he didn’t remember anything after being cut down from the tree by the braves and than falling.

 

“We don’t know who brought you home. By the time we got outside, whoever it was had disappeared. Can you eat anymore?”

 

Adam shook his head no. Neither of them pursued the subject.

 

“Pa, that day with the Paiutes—–I want you to know what happened.”

 

Worried his son would overdo, Ben asked, “Are you sure you’re up to it?”

 

Adam nodded. “When I went to their village to talk about giving them extra supplies for winter, the young men were ready to ride against the gold camp. Apparently, Simmons and his men have been invading the Paiute’s land for a gold vein that runs underground from the Faded Glory. They had been warned to stay off Indian land but the gold apparently was more important than a threat to their lives. By the time I arrived, it was too late to reason with the Paiutes. I couldn’t stop them from going but because they trusted me, I was allowed to ride with them. I asked them to let me speak to the miners. I knew if neither side gave in than both sides would suffer.” Ben gave him a concerned look but remained quiet. “When we reached Gold Creek, the miner’s were waiting. I started to ride toward them when I saw Simmons fire. All hell broke loose and any chance at a peaceful settlement was destroyed.” Adam was having trouble catching his breath and Ben’s concern turned to worry.

 

“Adam please, you can tell me more later. You need to rest.”

 

“Oh Pa, the Paiutes thought I was part of a trap. They will never believe anything I say again.” Ben saw the anguish on his son’s face and the threatening tears. This man who held so much inside could not hide his feelings now. “It’s all so senseless.”

 

Just than, Hoss and Joe walked into the room. Seeing Adam flushed and short of breath again took them both by surprise. They were just beginning to believe that their brother would be well again.

 

“Adam, son, please drink some of the medicine Paul left. You need to rest now.” The younger brothers gave their father a questioning look but Ben silenced them with a shake of his head.

 

His breathing returned to a normal rate and Adam was able to drink the medicine.

 

“Boys, help me turn your brother over on his stomach.” Ben brushed the hair out of Adam’s eyes. “Sleep now. We’ll send for Roy in the morning. You’ll be stronger than.” When Ben was convinced that his boy was asleep, he nodded to Hoss and Joe to follow him outside into the hall.

 

“Is he bad again?” Joe asked in a tight voice.

 

“No son, he told me what happened at the gold camp and it upset him. He just needs to get his strength back. Than he’ll be better able to deal with what’s happened. And I think that goes for all of us; we all need to sleep.”

 

“That includes you, Pa.” Hoss was worried that his father would become sick himself. Ben placed a hand on Hoss’ shoulder.

 

“I know son; I know but I can’t leave him alone yet–it’s just too soon. You two go to bed now.”

 

“No Pa, please let us help. I promise to wake you in four hours. Let me stay with him—please.”

 

With a sigh Ben answered, “Alright son but promise you’ll wake me if —–if he needs me before that.”

 

“I promise Pa and than Joe can relieve you.”

 

Ben hugged both of his sons and once more entered Adam’s room. He moved to the bedside, leaned forward and whispered “Sleep well; I love you.”

 

**********

 

Hoss had checked on both his father and his brother before he settled into the old rocker in the corner of Adam’s room. Both were sleeping. He even went to see if Hop Sing had settled down and found there was no light coming from under his door. The huge ranch house that usually bustled with activity was quiet. He dozed until he heard his brother stir. “Adam, you ok—-you need something?”

 

“Help me turn over.” Hoss help his brother move onto his back. He turned his pillow and gave him something to drink. “Thanks for the help. What happened, you pull guard duty tonight?”

 

Hoss smiled. “Yeah, I guess I did—-you ain’t gonna give me any trouble now, are ya?”

 

Adam smiled back. “Who—me? Not me, I haven’t taken you on in years.”

 

“That’s right and a good thing too. Now you settle down and go back to sleep before Pa comes in here and tells me I’m not doing my job.”

 

Adam closed his eyes and in a brief time he was asleep once more.

 

********

 

The only light he saw in the house was a faint glow coming from one window. That had to be Adam Cartwright’s room. Fortunately for him, Simmons saw how easy it would be to get to the roof. Easy to climb and easy enough to put a shot through the window he thought. By the time anybody knows what happened, I’ll be on my way back to the mine. After climbing the great Ponderosa pine that stood next to the porch roof, he stepped lightly onto the surface. Keeping to the right of the window, he was able to creep closer without the chance of being seen. He carefully moved his head to peer inside. Yes, there was the man who had caused him so much trouble and now threatened to expose him to the law. Well, not for long, Indian lover. He drew his gun and brought it into firing position. As he did, he saw the shadow of a man in a chair, half-hidden in the corner of the room. Damn, he thought. I should have known they wouldn’t leave you alone. Your guardian should have put on a gun, he laughed to himself. Too bad for you, Cartwright. He started raise his gun once more.

 

Hoss opened his eyes and searched his brother’s face. He seemed to be a bit restless. Hoping the fever wasn’t on the rise again, Hoss decided to get up and check. He stood and arched his back to push out the kinks. His eyes caught the glint of the moon shinning down on something outside the window. There, outlined in the silver light, was a man pointing a gun at his sleeping, helpless brother. Without his sidearm, Hoss could only think of one thing to do. He lunged to the side of the bed, hugged his sleeping brother to his chest and fell. Just as they hit the floor, a gunshot shattered the window and the bullet plowed into Adam’s pillow. Hoss had been able to keep his brother’s head from hitting the boards, but Adam landed flat on his back and he gave a strangled cry of pain.

 

Hoss used his body to cover his now struggling brother. He waited for the next shot, knowing the gunman’s only target was himself. None came. Joe entered the room first. “Outside Joe, somebody tried to shoot Adam through the window!” he shouted. Ben entered as Joe ran for the stairs.

 

“What happened, Hoss?”

 

“Help me Pa–we got to get him back to bed.”

 

Quickly, they put Adam face down on the bed. Hoss told his father what happened. “I’m sorry Pa—-I hurt him when I pulled him outta bed.” Tears threatened as he looked at the once again open and bleeding wounds.

 

“You aren’t to blame for any of this, son. Look at where the bullet hit the pillow. You saved your brother’s life.”

 

Hoss lost the color in his face when he saw the gaping hole surrounded by powder burns.

 

A shot rang out, startling both men.

 

“Stay with him Pa, I’ll go to Joe.” Hoss ran down the stairs, grabbed his gun and went out the front door.

 

Ben was torn. He wanted to help his two youngest but his oldest needed him as well.

 

“Pa—- what happened?” Adam asked in a voice tight with pain.

 

“Somebody tried to shoot you through the window. Hoss and Joe have gone after him.” Ben placed clean bandages on Adam’s back and pushed as hard as he dared. His son arched his back away from the pressure and cried out but Ben knew he had to hold on. Adam had lost too much blood during this whole ordeal already. How could this be happening to my son again! Ben’s expressions of rage stayed within but they clearly showed on his face and in his eyes. Hop Sing entered. “Please, Hop Sing, get clean towels and hot water.” The little man left, thinking once more that death was trying to enter this house.

 

*********

 

“Joe, Joe— you ok?” Hoss asked.

 

“Yeah, I’m ok but he isn’t.” Joe pointed to the body of a man lying next to a horse.

 

“Who is it anyway?”

 

Joe moved to turn the body over. “Simmons—it’s John Simmons! He gave me no choice, Hoss. He drew his gun but not fast enough.”

 

“But why did he want Adam dead?” Hoss was puzzled. “I know the two of them have tangled in the past about the Indians but I never knew it was this bad.”

 

“We can find out later—we better get back to Pa,” Joe said as he turned and started back to the house.

 

Both men returned to their brother’s room. Ben’s relief was evident as the tension left his shoulders and a small smile creased his face.

 

“The man’s dead, Pa. It was John Simmons.” Did you know he wanted Adam dead?” Joe looked at his father.

 

“Not until your brother and I talked earlier today. I’ll explain later,” Ben said.

 

“I heard a shot—-are Hoss and Joe ok?” Adam’s voice was a whisper once more. Ben had been able to stop the bleeding but the loss had set Adam back.

 

“They’re ok son— both of them are here.”

 

“Adam I’m sorry I hurt you when we fell.” Hoss hung his head. Adam tried to reach for his younger brother but the movement was too much as he grimaced in pain. Hoss understood and knelt down so his brother would not have to lift his head.

 

“Don’t be sorry. Either you moved me out of the way or I’d be dead. Please Hoss, no guilt. I’ll be ok. Just need some rest.” Ben had given Adam some of the pain medicine Paul had left and it was now beginning to take effect. His eyes slowly closed.

 

Hoss cupped his hand and laid it softly on his big brother’s cheek. He whispered, “No, Adam, you’re right—no guilt. You just rest all you want.”

 

Ben watched the exchange between his two oldest. He wasn’t quite sure what had happened in the lives of his three sons to create the bonds that existed but he knew that somehow they gained strength from each other.

 

“Pa, I’ll ride for Doc Martin. What about Simmons?” Joe’s voice held a question.

 

“Get Roy too. It’s over—we need the law to know what happened.” Ben placed a hand on Joe’s shoulder. “Listen Joe, the bleeding has stopped and he’s resting quietly. I don’t want you riding recklessly. Please, son.”

 

“I promise, Pa.” Joe turned and left the room. Once again the room was quiet and the Cartwright men waited.

 

**********

 

“So Roy, that’s the whole story.” Ben, Roy and both the younger Cartwright sons had gathered in front of the fire. Once again, Hop Sing made sure there was plenty of strong coffee for the weary group. “I can only say I’m sorry Roy, for not telling you Adam was alive and here with us. My only excuse is the fear I had that somehow, someone would find out where Adam was and they’d try to take him away. I couldn’t allow that.” Ben’s voice was soft but his meaning was clear.

 

Roy looked at his friend as he spoke. It’s not that he didn’t understand how Ben felt. He’d have probably done the same thing had he been in that situation but part of him felt Ben should have trusted him more. He wasn’t about to say that; Ben had been though too much already. The sheriff knew that, given time, what he was feeling would disappear. “Well, I wish you had told me, Ben, but under the circumstances; I think I understand. And everything seems to have worked itself out. ”

 

“Thank you, Roy.” Ben walked forward to shake hands with his friend. “Thank you for understanding.”

 

Ben’s eyes kept glancing up the stairs. Paul had asked all of them to leave while he looked at the new damage done to Adam’s wounds. He didn’t want to see the anxious faces looking for answers he wasn’t ready to give. Two hours after he arrived, Paul walked down the stairs to join the apprehensive group below.

 

“Well Ben, as you know he opened both wounds when he fell. I’ve cleaned and re-sutured them. I can’t see anymore damage to his chest or abdomen; there doesn’t seem to be any internal bleeding. His temperature will probably rise again, if not from the infection that’s still there, than from the additional trauma that’s been done.” Paul reached to pour himself a cup of coffee. “He’s asleep now and probably will be for quite some time. With meticulous care, I think he’ll recover. We need to be vigilant for the next few days.”

 

Everyone in the room took a deep breath. Tense muscles started to relax and fatigue started to set in. “We’ll give him all the attention he needs—you know that.” Ben’s voice faltered. His sense of relief mixed with the lack of sleep brought all his emotions to the surface.

 

Paul put a hand on Ben’s shoulder. “I know you will. For tonight, I’m staying here with Adam and I don’t want any arguments. All of you need to sleep and that includes you, Hop Sing. We’ll talk about Adam’s care in the morning.” Paul turned and walked up the stairs.

 

“Well, good night Ben, boys.” Roy put on his hat.

 

“Won’t you stay?” Ben asked?

 

“No, I’m afraid I’d better get back. I’ll send someone for Simmons’ body in the morning. Good night.”

 

Hop Sing had followed Dr. Martin upstairs. He gave the doctor a pillow and blanket for the long night ahead. “Doctor want hot tea?” he asked.

 

“No thank you, Hop Sing. I’ll be fine.”

 

Hop Sing glanced at the sleeping man and smiled. Death had been driven away from this house once more.

 

Hoss and Joe both went to their rooms but Ben needed to see his son once more before he could rest.

 

“I thought I told you to go to bed?” Paul’s tone was firm but he was smiling.

 

“I will Paul, I promise. I just needed to see him.” Ben’s voice was taunt. Tears were near the surface. “God, it was so close. I almost lost him.” He looked at his long-time friend. “Oh, I could go on without him; I’d have to. Hoss and Joe need me and I love them.” He hesitated. “But I wouldn’t want to.” He leaned forward and kissed his sleeping son’s temple. “Sleep well, my son. Good night, Paul, and thank you.”

 

**********

 

Adam’s recovery was prolonged. At first he didn’t care that he had to stay in bed. He really didn’t feel like getting up anyway. But as time passed and he grew stronger, he became restless and short-tempered. The only one who seemed to escape his bad moods was Hop Sing. The weather had turned cold and snow threatened. Finally, Dr. Martin pronounced him well enough for light work. Adam was thrilled to be released from his “prison” and quickly

donned his gunbelt, jacket and hat.

 

“Hold on, son, where do you think you’re going?”

 

“Out—out anywhere. I need some time away, by myself.” Adam’s tone was sharp. He hesitated and walked to his father’s side. In a gentle voice he said, “Pa, its not that I don’t appreciate all you and Hoss and Joe have done for me. I do! It’s just that I need some time to be alone. You understand, don’t you?”

 

“Yes—-yes son, I do but please be careful.” Ben’s manner betrayed his concern.

 

“I will, Pa—-I promise.” With a gait that showed no sign of his past injuries, he walked to the front door, opened it and was gone. Saddling Sport had been more difficult than he would have liked but he managed and soon they were off at a brisk trot. It wasn’t long before Adam needed to bring his horse down to a walk. “Easy boy, we’re both out of shape,” he said, leaning forward and scratching behind Sport’s ears. The horse responded, seeming to understand his master’s needs.

 

**********

 

Keeping a steady pace, Adam climbed toward the foothills. At first, he really had no destination in mind. But with no conscious intent, he found himself headed for the Paiute village. Adam stopped. He tried to think through what he would say to these people. They had once trusted him, but now they saw him as any other white man, someone to be feared and hated.

 

Adam knew his father would be furious with him for coming here but he needed to try and make things right again. While he lay in bed recovering, his thoughts often went back to the last day he was there. Could he have done something different? The question had become a torment he chose not to share with anyone. Tightening his legs, he asked Sport to move forward.

 

The temperature dropped as he climbed higher. He continued, turning up the collar of his coat and pulling his hat down a little further on his brow as he went. It struck him as he entered the village that it seemed unusually quiet. The normal activity of living was missing. Adam directed his horse to the chief’s tent. No one made an attempt to stop him. He dismounted and waited.

 

The chief of the Paiute nation came out. “Adam Cartwright, why do you come here today?”

 

Adam felt his muscles tense but he replied in a calm voice. “I came to speak with you about what happened the last time I was here and after, at the white man’s gold camp.” He waited to see if he would be allowed to speak. The chief’s silence told him to continue. “I rode with your young braves to the diggings, as I said I would. We were met by a group of miners. They were angry, afraid really but they were willing to listen to what I had to say.

 

As I started to speak, a shot was fired and one of your warriors fell.” Adam took a breath. “After that, neither side could be stopped.” Adam searched the chief’s face but found no hint of what he was thinking. “The man who fired that shot is dead. I knew him but I didn’t know he had planned this trap for your people. He wanted a war between the miners and the Indians, hoping you would be driven off. That way, he would be free to dig for the gold on your land.” Adam was beginning to tire and the aching of his injuries returned. “It’s over. Your land is safe.” He shifted his weight from one hip to the other, hoping to find some relief.

 

“Do you think that is true?” The chief spoke at last. “It will never be over until no Paiute lives on this land. More will come who love money and power more than they love the land. My young men still hide. No, Adam Cartwright, it is not over.”

 

Adam found himself leaning against Sport, as he became more uncomfortable. “I hope you are wrong, Great Chief of the Paiute.” He was suddenly very weary. Both men looked at each other seeing the sadness in the other’s eyes. “Please remember us if you need anything. We are still your friends at the Ponderosa.” With that, Adam mounted.

 

“Good bye, Adam Cartwright. I am glad your wounds are better. I was not sure you would live when I brought you home. Ride safely back to the house of your father.” The Paiute chief turned and disappeared.

 

So that’s how I got home Adam thought. Silently he thanked the chief as he urged Sport forward.

 

As he descended from the hills, he saw something in the distance. He couldn’t quite make it out but as he came closer, a smile of recognition lit up his face. His father and brothers had come to bring him home.

 

*****End*****

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

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