Adam looked skyward from his precarious position on a roof beam of the house he was building. The sky, clear and blue, showed clouds out on the western horizon. He hoped the weather would hold out just a few days longer. He wanted to have the house framed in before the weekend. He knew he needed to spend more time with Laura. But the work, the lack of sleep, the time that this project had taken from them will be worth the secrecy when she sees where heís been all this time.
The sound of a buggy caught him off guard. His right foot slipped as he looked up, squinting into the sun. Will....with Laura! He turned his back, as though by hiding his face they will think him a stranger and move on, a foolish impulsive thought. His right foot slipped off the beam. He threw his body sideways to compensate, but overly so, and flailed helplessly through the air to the ground.
"Oh my God!" Laura whispered as Adam fell.
"Hyah! Come on!" Will shouted. He rode them down to the construction and they jumped out. Donít let him be dead, Will prayed silently. This accident was his fault, all his fault. Adam was doing this for Laura, and now heís not only stolen Laura, but he may have...."We better not try to move him," Will said, leaning down.
"Maybe youíre right." Laura knelt at Adamís head, her hand hesitating. "That might hurt him even more. You better go for a doctor."
Still alive. Will jumped in the buggy. He was still alive.
Ben wiped his mouth with a slightly soiled red-checkered napkin and pushed away from the dinner table. Hop Sing truly outdid himself on that lunch. Perhaps in his secretive way he was telling Ben his vacation was due. He always worked extra hard to put Ben in a good mood just before asking for time off to visit his family in San Francisco.
Hoss and Joe should be finishing that fencing, if they had enough lumber. Ben decided to swing their way and check their lumber supply before going on to the sawmill. He could always have Stan and a few of the boys haul down whatever else they needed, and finish up the job today, tomorrow at the latest. In only another week or so a herd was going to have to be rounded up and tallied before the fall cattle drive. Adam was putting a bit of extra strain on them with his own requests for lumber, but for a good cause, Ben reminded himself, a very good cause.
Just before Ben reached the door, a red-faced, breathless Will burst in.
"Ben! Adamís been hurt! We need to get the buckboard out to him right away. And send someone for the doctor."
"What? Slow down, Will, tell me whatís going on?"
"He fell off the house. The roof. I was going to go for the doctor, but maybe we better bring him back here while someone else runs to Virginia City for the doctor, to save time."
"Off the roof?" Ben turned, nerves taut. "Hop Sing! Run to Virginia City and bring Dr. Evans back! Hurry! Adamís been hurt!" Ben heard the soft-shoed thudding of the houseservant reacting to the demand. "Come on, weíll get it loaded with supplies to move him. You did sayÖheís still alive?"
"He was when I left Laura with him."
As Will drove the buckboard over lumpy ground and around narrow curved trails, Ben hoped that moving Adam wasnít going to make him worse. But Will was right, they couldnít leave him out there for the five or more hours getting a doctor was going to take.
Going back to the ranch with Adam stretched prone in the back was slow as Will took care to avoid bumps and sharp turns. Adam had been conscious when they arrived, Laura a calm and soothing presence. But when they moved him into the buckboard using a hard board stretcher, he shuddered violently and passed out.
Ben sat in the back to keep Adam from pitching. His nerves were seized with fear. Suppose they made him worse? Suppose he doesnít make the trip back alive? His face was pale and sweating, every few minutes he stirred lightly and groaned. He denied hurting at all just before they moved him. He was hurting plenty. Hurting was a good sign, Ben reassured himself. Heart wrenching to listen to, but....a good sign.
Laura and Will sat in front, stiff, staring straight, exchanging no words. They had been riding together when they came upon Adam building the house, and according to Will, their presence startled Adam. They probably blamed themselves for the accident. He would need to remind himself to tread carefully around the subject of why they were there. Adamís future wife did not need guilt like this to carry into their marriage.
Hop Sing was not back yet with the doctor. When they settled Adam into his room upstairs Ben discovered they had only been gone 1-1/2 hours. Ben had thought at first to use the guest room, but realized once he got Adam settled he wouldnít move him again, and Adam would feel more comfortable in his own room. There would be quite a time yet before a doctor could be expected, and thatís if Hop Sing finds him right away. With one doctor to every 100 miles, the search would likely take all night, but Hop Sing would take whatever time was needed to bring the doctor back.
He sent Will downstairs after Adam was settled. Laura sat down in the chair next to the bed. She seemed close to tears when she looked up at him.
"Iím so sorry, Ben. If Will and I hadnít stumbled upon him like that---"
"Please, donít blame yourself. I warned Adam about keeping secrets from you."
She touched Adamís hand. "He is so sweet. He was building a house for us. I donít deserve him. I...." she fled out of the room.
Ben waited to see if she would control herself and return, but her footsteps hurried down the stairs. Already the guilt emerged. Sheíll get over it, sheíll have to. Everything will fall into place, Ben felt, watching the slow rise and fall of Adamís chest. They deserved a home of their own, the three of them, even though Adam will be sorely missed when he leaves the Ponderosa. Thatís if he leaves the Ponderosa at all, now.
Adam was awake, eyes blinking against the pain etched on his face. Ben took out a handkerchief and wiped Adamís forehead dry. "Youíll be all right, son. Just rest. The doctorís coming."
"Pa," he shifted slightly and a heavy sigh escaped. "You were right. Secrets....spoil surprise. Surprise comes withÖthe thoughtÖ."
"Quiet now. Donít talk or worry over whatís past. Try to sleep."
"Tell her....itís all right...." He drifted off again.
Ben wiped his sonís forehead again, and walked to the window. Life can change so quickly. Hoss and Joe probably wondered where he was right now. He looked over at the bed where Adam was lying so still. The ice Ben put under him numbed the back pain, the whiskey helping him sleep. They had weathered so many storms together, he and Adam. Adam had the will of many and refused to stay down long. Because of Adamís cool thinking, Ben escaped the hangmanís noose when his life was being held in trade for Farmer Perkins. Adamís logic saved Hoss from two unhappy marriages. He accidentally shot Joe once, but stayed cool and kept Joe alive.
Now he was shortly to be married, and except for this, would have had a house for his new wife and daughter. Laura will see that he recovers quickly. She had that way about her. Why were Will and Laura looking for him? Or did they find him by accident? Will knew that Adam was involved in a project, and surmised the project had to do with Laura. Shouldnít he have kept Laura away? Laura said they Ďstumbled upon himí, but the explanation had a hollow ring.
He heard the clicking of hooves and saw the doctorís buggy pull into the yard. With a heavy sigh of relief he turned back to his son. "Itís going to be fine now, Adam. Just fine." His son stirred lightly and was still again.
Hop Sing shuffled into the room. "Doctor, he hard man to find."
Ben held out his hand to Dr. Evans. "Doctor, thank you so much for coming. My son took a fall. Heís hurt his back, or his chest," Ben felt his stomach turned over, "or worse."
Dr. Evans nodded, and pulled back Adamís covers. "Has he been awake at all?"
"I need to see the extent of damage. Weíll need to undress him, carefully now."
Ben and Hop Sing did as instructed. Ben felt a tide of alarm rush through him when the movements didnít seem to wake his son. The doctor checked his ribs carefully. "Hmm, a couple ribs feel
cracked, nothing serious." He ran a hand down Adamís back, peering close at the bruising without moving him. "Hop Sing, more ice please."
Ben heard a sniffle as Hop Sing ran out the room. "Doctor, why doesnít he awaken?"
Dr. Evans checked his head. "No head trauma." He checked Adamís heart and pulse rate. "Seems strong enough. Means no internal bleeding. But the extent of bruising and swelling means there could be more damage to the back than weíd care to see. To the nervous system as well."
"More damage....Iím sorry we moved him, but I didnít want him laying out there...."
"He had to be moved soon as late at any rate. Iím sure you did the best you could."
Ben placed his cool palm on Adamís warm forehead. "Son, wake up. The doctorís here, he needs to talk to you."
"Hmmm, yeahÖ" Adam winced, but didnít open his eyes.
Dr. Evans put a hand on Benís arm. "You took a bit of a spill, son."
"Oh. Iím fineÖback to work....tomorrow." He picked his head off the pillow as though getting ready to stand, but winced and laid back down. "Or..."
Dr. Evans sat on the bed and instructed Ben to help him turn Adam on his side, ever so carefully. "Knowing you, Adam, not long at all," Dr. Evans said with a wink. "Iím going to touch parts of your back and you tell me when you feel any pain. Okay?" After a pause to catch his breath, Adam nodded. As the doctor touched each part, Adam lay quiet as though expecting the doctor to get started. Evans straightened up. "Adam," he said gently, "did you feel me touching any part of your lower back?"
Dr. Evans uncovered Adamís feet. "All right, I want you to wiggle your left foot."
Ben was startled. "Adam, what in the world---"
"Thereís no feeling there."
"Did you try your right one?" When Adam gritted his teeth in frustration, Dr. Evans nodded. "Adam, can you move your arms, your fingers?"
Finally Adam opened his eyes, and slowly clasped his hands together. Benís breath caught in his throat as he understood the implications.
"Well, I would venture to say that until your back has time to heal, youíre going to take life easy, young man." He gently eased Adam into a more comfortable position and covered him up, examination, as far as he could go, completed.
Ben pulled Dr. Evans to the window, an eye on Adam drifting back to sleep, and lowered his voice. "Doctor, he...will get better, wonít he? Itís not permanent?"
"Itís too soon to tell. Once the swelling is gone down, Ben, weíll know more. But right now Iíd say heís paralyzed. Iíll let you know when to begin exercises to keep those muscles from weakening."
Ben felt his own nerves shaking, but Adam lay calm. His eyes were closed but Ben could see by his brow that he heard. Ben squeezed his hand briefly. "Adam, did you hear him?"
"Ben, I need a few minutes more with him." Dr. Evans guided Ben to the door. "I think Adam would be more comfortable without an audience. Even...." he added quickly, "his father."
Laura and Will watched as Ben walked down the stairs. "What does the doctor say?" Will asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
Ben faced them. "He says thereís serious damage to his back muscles and nerve system."
"Ben?" Willís voice caught in his throat, yet his question was clear.
"The doctor didnít know. But I do know. Heíll recover. And heíll walk."
"Heís going to need constant looking after. Youíll have to make room for Peggy and me." Laura looked up at the stairs.
"Weíll have room. Will, Will, Iím going to need youíre help too. I know you were planning to leave for San Francisco but...weíre going to be a bit short handed."
Will nodded. "San Francisco can wait."
"Thank you, Will." Ben looked down at the floor, as though about to add something, but as though there were no words yet, he turned and walked back up the stairs.
Laura found herself suddenly alone in the huge house she once pictured as being constantly full of noise and laughter. She sat back on the settee. Was she being punished? Adam loved her. He was building her a house! And now that house could have ruined his life - she could have ruined his life. "No!" She pounded her fist on her lap. "I wonít let him be crippled. I wonít!"
The front door opened and Hoss and Joe strode in.
"Laura, what happened?" Joe stormed over to her. "Adamís hurt?"
She turned away. "He fell. His back....the doctorís up there."
Joe turned her around. "How bad?"
"His legs...he canít feel them...he canít move them."
Joe and Hoss left her visibly shaken at uttering the words aloud and bounded up the stairs. She couldnít watch them. When they find out itís her fault, sheíll never be able to look at either of them again. As she could barely look into Benís eyes now. She could tell Ben sensed there was more to the story of the fall. She hoped heíd never ask. What on earth could she say?
Hoss and Joe exchanged glances before opening Adamís door. They could hear voices inside.
"Do you think we should just walk in?" Hoss asked.
Joe shook his head and rapped lightly. The voices stopped, and as he held his breath heard footsteps, slow, uncertain. Finally the door opened, and his pa, looking considerably worn, stood facing them. "Pa, can we see him?"
Ben didnít answer right away. Whenever one of them was hurt the others always gave their strength to aid in healing. But this time the whole feeling of pain was different.
"A few minutes." Ben stepped aside. The doctor was writing notes and Adam seemed asleep.
As they walked hesitantly to his bedside Adamís eyes squinted open.
"Shirking your chores again? Just because Iím not there to keep you in line?"
"Hah! Joeís a mite tired of doing your work." Hossís smile faded. "How you doing, Adam?"
"Iíll be fine once Iím out there busting horses again."
The doctor looked up sharply. Hoss could tell what that look meant. Even if Adam did walk again, busting horses was definitely out of the question. Adamís smile faded and he sank back into the bed, looking small and tired, sensing their thoughts.
"Oh-ho, Adam, you ainít knowing when you got a good thing. If you got a good excuse not to go setting yourself on one of them blowhard mustangs, why, dadgumit, you oughta take it."
"Just sleep life away, thatís all, huh? Just....."
Hoss caught a glimpse of his País face, and realized that maybe, this time, there was no right thing to say. "Aw, dadburnit, Adam, you know I----."
"There are other things to do, other places to go." Adamís eyes were sharp, his face pinched. "I donít need to be a rancher, live my life on a horse. There are cities, and books and...." he closed his eyes.
"All right, letís leave him be awhile." Ben herded them back out of the room and shut the door.
Joe found his own lack of words frustrating. Heíd never seen such helpless despair, even when Adam tried to make light of pain. "Hoss, whatís going on? That wasnít like Adam. He sounded.... beaten."
"He looks normal, almost, yet....."
"And there ainít a thing we can do to help. Not one dadblasted thing."
"Hoss, do you think we should tell Pa what happened to the Hendersons?"
Hoss looked back at the door. " I reckon thereíll be time later."
"Yeah, but Hoss, he might want to know about the posse vigilantes going after those Indians."
"You think he could leave now?" Hoss walked down the stairs. "All weíd be doing is giving him another fret. The vigilantes will just....do what they do."
"Well, one of us should go," Joe said over his shoulder as they reached the bottom of the stairs. "I know Iíd be more good out there than here."
"Yeah." Hoss looked back up the stairs and sighed. "But I reckon weíll wait just a bit, before telling Pa that we....we have something to do."
Laura stood in front of them. "How is he?"
"Not as good as he could be, Miss Dayton. I think you oughta prod him about a honeymoon so he stops dawdling." Hoss nudged Joe. "Come on, letís tend our horses."
"Yeah. Hey, donít worry, Laura, Adam will be back on his feet in no time."
Laura barely heard Joeís words or the front door as they walked back outside. Honeymoon. She took a deep breath. She had to forget about Will and go through with the wedding plans. She climbed the stairs slowly, steeling her mind and her heart for the inevitable.
"Laura! Come on in." Ben pulled her to Adamís side.
Adam was propped up a little and reached easily for her hand.
"I hope he hasnít been a difficult patient, doctor."
Dr. Evans looked up briefly from his notes. "Not at all."
"You might say Iím a model prisoner," Adam said with a wink.
"Well," she squeezed his hand in return. "Youíre keeping your spirits up. Iím glad." Adamís eyes narrowed. Laura sat quickly, gently, and kissed him. "I was downstairs dying that you hated me for causing you to fall. Oh Adam, please tell me you forgive me."
"Laura, this wasnít anyoneís fault. Except," he looked briefly at Ben, "mine for being so secretive."
"I love what you tried to do. Do you think....we could hire some men to finish it up? Perhaps that will encourage you to get on your feet faster."
"He canít be encouraged at all until we get the swelling down in his back muscles." Dr. Evans got to his feet. "Ben, why donít you and I help Hop Sing get more ice for his back. We can leave these two alone for awhile."
Laura watched Benís back as he followed the doctor out. When she turned back she wiped at her eyes. "Adam, Iím so sorry. I know your father blames me---"
"Now, he does no such thing."
"If we hadnít come along when we did----"
"Why did you?"
Laura involuntarily took a step back. "Why....did we?"
"Something important brought you out. No one knew where I was, except Pa."
"We...we heard a pounding, and wanted to see who...what it was. I...thought I was going to come across some new neighbors and instead....we found you."
"Ah..." Adam caressed her small cool hand with his two large callused ones. "I apologize for whatís been going through my mind since I saw you with Will. I know I left you alone a lot to work on that house and you spent a lot of time with Will. I cursed my foul luck for missing our engagement party, and when I tried to give you the ring you were hesitant. Laura, when I saw you with him....." Adam cleared his throat. "I started to think I had thrown us away for something so unimportant----"
Laura gently touched his hands to her lips and gently sat next to him on the bed. "Adam, donít. Itís as I told you, thatís all."
Laura stood outside the door as the doctor and Ben shut themselves back inside the room. Lying felt so easy, so natural, and Adam interpreted her trembling as a natural reaction to his condition. When she reached the bottom of the stairs she saw Peggy sitting glumly next to Will on the settee. Will was talking low to her, but Peggy wasnít allowing herself to be cheered up. When she saw her mother she jumped to her feet and ran to her.
"Mama! How is Uncle Adam? Can I go see him? Will he be coming down soon?"
"Settle down, young lady. Adamís had a bad fall, and is not up to your antics right now. Perhaps later." She caught Willís eye. He had questions, too, questions she couldnít answer. "Why donít you go ask Hop Sing if you can help him make some donuts. Tell him....tell him theyíre just the things to cheer Adam up. And then you can take him one. How does that sound?"
"Yes, mama." She left the room.
Laura took a deep trembling breath and sat in the settee.
Will, after a pause, sat next to her. "Laura, this isnít the best place to talk."
"Thereís....nothing to talk about."
"Nothing? You canít mean that. Laura...."
"Adam needs me, and weíre to be married." She could meet his hurt-filled eyes only briefly. "Will, thatís the way it has to be."
Will got to his feet. He stared at her but she did not look up. He strode for the door.
Benís pounding feet down the stairs stopped Will from leaving.
"Will, Iím glad to see youíre still here. Laura, youíve been a great comfort to Adam, his spirits have picked up already. Will, tomorrow is tallying, can you handle it? I donít know if you ever have before...."
"No problem, Ben. Just tell me where and give me something to write on."
"Thank you." Ben looked impatiently around the room. "Now if only Hoss and Joe would stick aroundÖ."
"I think theyíre in the barn. Iíll get them."
After Will left Ben collapsed onto the settee next to Laura. "This is the hard part, trying to think straight, keep things running even when I feel like shutting everything else away." He placed a concerned hand on Lauraís shoulder. "Donít worry, Laura, Adam will recover. Itís just a matter of time. At least thereís no internal bleeding. His lifeís not in danger."
"Ben," Laura turned to him, her hands rubbing nervously together. "You donít blame me, do you? I donít know what possessed us to go riding down by him like that."
"Well, itís probably not the wisest decision you could have made, but certainly understandable. If Adam had told you about the house, none of this would have happened. We all make bad choices from time to time." When Laura only sighed he took her hands. "Is there something else? Laura, you know you can talk to me. If youíre changing your mind about marrying----"
Laura jerked her hands away. "No, Ben! Donít even think such a thing." She crossed the fire, rubbing her arms as though cold. "I love Adam."
Ben smiled. "I know you do." He turned as the front door opened behind him.
"Pa!" Joe hesitated and Hoss knocked into him, sending him awkwardly sailing toward Ben on the settee before catching himself again. "Hoss, you overgrown ox. Why donít you watch yourself?"
"I was watching myself," Hoss said with a sheepish grin. "I just wasnít watching you."
"Boys," Ben nodded briefly at Laura before turning back to them.
Laura recognized the gesture. "Excuse me, Iím going to see if Peggy is causing any mischief with your poor unsuspecting cook."
Ben watched her leave. "Boys, weíve got to start roundup tomorrow to have the herd ready to drive. Now the drovers are all scheduled, but weíre short handed on the tallying. Iíve got Will agreed to stay on, so that will help."
"Pa, Will done told us." Hoss shoved his fingers in his pockets and looked at the floor as he walked to his father. "Pa, Joe and I are thinking maybe a couple of the drovers could be paid some wages to help with the roundup in me and Joeís place."
"Why? What for?"
"Because....thereís something we gotta do."
Ben looked surprised and chuckled. "Boys, I appreciate the offer, and Iím sure Adam would too, but I think his house can wait at least until he can be out there supervising you. If you were to get one beam out of place, why....."
"That ainít it, Pa."
"Youíre not offering to...." He looked at Joe. "Can you be a little clearer than your brother?"
"Thereís trouble brewing in town, Pa. They say the Hendersons have been murdered by a band of Indians on the run from the Cavalry, Bannocks maybe or even---."
Hoss interrupted Joeís need for detail. "A posse of vigilantes is getting together in town to run them down and kill them. Pa, me and Joe think we oughta ride along with them."
Ben crossed his arms and turned back to the fire. "No. We have enough trouble."
Hoss and Joe exchanged glances. "But Pa, you never---." Joe started.
"I need you boys here. So does Adam. Chances are whichever tribe might be responsible, they are long gone and the posse will come up empty. So let it go."
Hoss frowned. "Pa, I know youíre worried about Adam. But him getting better doesnít depend on you or me but on him. The Hendersons, Pa, were good friends of ours."
"Hoss, your brother may never walk again! Heís going to need us here when that thought sinks in. He needs daily exercising of his legs so they donít weaken. Mostly, he needs reassurance that heís not losing Laura or his entire future. Hoss, the Hendersons are dead. We canít bring them back." He strode up the stairs without a backward glance.
"Well, Hoss, what now?"
Hoss shrugged his big shoulders. "Letís go see if Hop Sing is making lunch. Iím hungry."
Life on the Ponderosa settled into a routine of sorts. Ben and Laura learned the exercises that Dr. Evans prescribed to keep Adamís leg muscles strong. Hoss and Joe jovially gripped about the extra chores and teased their brother that if he stayed down too long, they might find the Ponderosa running smoothly without his help. Twice Ben forced the truth out of them about things that had gone wrong to give them all a chuckle.
Ben found that most times Adamís spirits were good. But there were times he caught Adam looking at Laura with his jaw clenched. The times he was in the room with them they didnít exchange many words. He never once heard them discuss wedding plans, but they probably agreed he needed to be recovered first. Adam would be more insistent about this than Laura, and indeed showed impatience at times with lack of progress. The swelling in his back lessened daily but his legs remained numb.
Over a week after the incident Adam still showed no sign of getting any feeling back in his legs. When Ben heard a furtive knock at the door he turned the exercises over to Joe and went downstairs. Charlie Mills stood at his door and behind him still mounted were six men Ben mostly recognized by sight, a few by name and one a close acquaintance, Val Saldino.
"Charlie, would you like to step in a minute?" Ben waited, but none of the riders made a move to alight.
"No, Ben, this will only take a moment, if you would step out here."
Ben noticed an amazing amount of weaponry, two or three rifles per saddle, and holstered guns. "This a posse? Or a vigilante?"
"Ben, weíre after those Indians that killed the Hendersons! Didnít ya hear about it?"
"Oh yes, thatís right, Iím sorry. Since my sonís accident, I...."
"Yeah, sorry to hear about Adam. But we need your help, Ben. Can you pack some gear and come out with us?"
"Now?" Ben looked up at the second floor of the house, sensing a presence in the window. "No. As much as the Hendersons meant to me as neighbors and friends, I canít leave right now. You have enough here----."
"Ben, word is them Indians is hiding out on the Ponderosa. We donít know every nook and cranny to dig into, like you do. We could be digginí for the better part of a month, the way those savages are when they hide. With you along----"
Ben held up a hand. "You do not have my permission to search the Ponderosa. And do not condemn men as savages without all the facts."
"What? Are you telling me youíd rather hide those savages that killed your friends?"
"I said you do not have my permission to search on my land unless you have either me, one of my boys or Sheriff Coffee along. I donít like the sound of any of this. Get Roy Coffee along with you and weíll talk. Until then, take your posse and search elsewhere."
Charlie exchanged glances with the one man Ben did not know. He nodded at Ben curtly and mounted. "Weíll get Coffee. Good day, Ben."
As Ben watched them ride off he realized he was going to have to send someone to town tomorrow to make sure theyíve talked to Roy. He got the distinct feeling they werenít going to leave the Ponderosa at all. Savages, indeed.
He glanced up at Adamís room. Could his son have gotten to the window to look out? Ben ran inside and took the stairs two at a time. He couldnít tell him about this. This would frustrate his son, who always saw the Indiansí side of an issue.
Ben burst into the room to see Laura bending over Adam - sitting in a chair next to the window.
"Adam! Laura, how did you...."
Adamís head was back and his eyes were closed. He did not appear comfortable.
"Heís been getting into a chair for awhile every day for three days now, Ben. Sits up longer each time."
"Who was that in the yard, Pa?"
Ben went to the window as though he couldnít remember, and looked out into the now empty yard. "Are you sure youíre up to sitting in a chair, Adam?"
"Itís easier today than yesterday. What did they want? I didnít think Iíd ever see Stan on the Ponderosa again."
"Oh, thatís right. Heís the one we had to fire because of the murder of...Adam, the Hendersons were killed last week. By a band of Crow Indians, I guess they were. Thatís the story."
"Joe told me no one knows why the Crows are out of their territory or why they would kill the Hendersons. They might not have done it, Pa."
"Itís not our concern right now, son."
"What is our concern, huh? Me? Getting me to walk again? Is that all thatís important anymore?"
Ben exchanged glances with Laura as Adam, his anger without a proper release, looked back out the window.
"Iíll go....see about lunch." Laura kissed Adamís cheek lightly. He squeezed her hand and she left the room.
Ben stared at the door a moment before turning back. "Adam, Hoss and Joe...and Will...are out with the cattle right now, along with all our hands and Hop Sing. You need me here, Laura canít help you by herself. Another few weeks and youíll be fine, Iím sure."
"They want you to ride with them?"
"They think the Crows are hiding on the Ponderosa, yes. I told them they didnít have the right to search without Roy or one of us along. They said theyíd get Roy."
"Hmmm. Letís see if they do. Men like that---."
"I know." Ben cleared his throat and sat on the bed. "Adam, is everything all right between you and Laura?"
Pain flashed through his eyes. "Pa....help me out of this, will you?" Adam used pride and a steady determination with strong arms to move awkwardly from the chair back into the bed, and only needed help getting his legs back up.
"If youíre feeling ready, Iíll bring in that wheelchair the boys fixed up before they left."
"Yeah. I need to get out of this room. Iíll get used to sitting up."
"Hoss and Joe are due back tomorrow. Weíll bring it in then."
"Yes." Ben watched but his sonís face betrayed no emotion. "Did you and Laura set a date?"
"No." He laughed suddenly. "She gave me three weeks to be able to hold her on my lap again and if I canít, the engagementís off. I guess thatís incentive enough."
"Sheís been a great help to you."
"I donít know what Iíd do without her." Adam put his head back on the pillow. "Pa, I need to rest a bit."
"Yes, you do." Ben patted Adamís knee but his son didnít react to the touch. He went to the door.
"Bring that wheelchair in tomorrow."
Ben closed the door with a smile.
Downstairs Laura was playing checkers with Peggy. When Peggy saw Ben she jumped up, knocking the checkers sideways to the floor. "Mr. Cartwright, can Uncle Adam get up yet?"
"Peggy, I already explained to you---."
"Itís all right, Laura." Ben crouched down to the blonde nine-year-old with the hopeful smile. "Adam is getting better every day. Tomorrow weíll bring the wheelchair in for him."
"Mr. Cartwright, was Adam really building a house for my mama and me when he fell?"
Ben noticed Laura stiffen. "Yes, itís true. He slipped. Just an accident, he shouldnít have kept the house a secret from you and your mother."
"I wish I could do nice things for Uncle Adam like heís always doing for us."
"Just having you around is enough for Adam. Iíll tell you what though, he might like some of Hop Singís flowers in a vase in his window."
"Ok, Mr. Cartwright!" She ran to the door.
Laura got to her feet and watched Peggy, painfully aware that Ben was watching her.
"Laura, come here and sit on the settee with me."
"Ben, Adam is getting better, isnít he?"
"I think so. But Laura, I want you to be honest with me, and yourself. There is a chance he wonít. Will you be able to live with him the way he is?"
"Ben, donít talk that way. You donít think I can leave him like this, do you?"
"But will you be able to live with him like this? If your love isnít strong enough---."
"Ben, I am ready to spend the rest of my life making Adamís life happier and more comfortable, if heíll let me."
"Thatís the girl. Sometimes this old man just needs a little reassuring. Well," he stood. "I need some fresh air, how about you?"
"No, Iíve got to bring him his lunch."
Ben patted her shoulder and walked toward the door. When he looked back Laura was still sitting, staring at the fire.
Ben stood on the porch watching Peggy carefully picking flowers of different colors into a bouquet. He would have to tell Laura not to let Peggy wander too far from the ranch as long as the Crows were hiding on the Ponderosa. He wished he could do something. He didnít want a band of renegades looking to make trouble near his family. Most times he found any Indian could be reasoned with. But renegades in a hot temper were most often stopped only by bullets. He felt a vague sort of relief that Adam wasnít able to go out and hunt for them himself. He tended to put himself between angry men as though only a few well-chosen words were all he needed. Sometimes settling disputes takes a lot more.
"Mr. Cartwright? Howís this?" Peggy shoved a fistful of flowers up at him.
"Oh, that looks just right." He glanced off into the thicket beyond the shed. "Come on, letís get you....I mean them, inside."
The next day became quite the occasion, when Dr. Evans stopped in shortly after Joe and Hoss brought in the wheelchair. They had already built a ramp and once Dr. Evans checked Adamís progress, they wheeled him outside.
Adam breathed deep. "Ah, yes. I almost forgot how the lake smelled."
"Yup, Adam, youíre doing good. Wonít be long now at all until you get stuck pushing those cows down this mountain."
"Hah! Whatís the matter, Hoss, you miss me?"
"Sure," Joe laughed, "every time he gets a face full of dust, he says, sure wish Adam was here!"
Adam looked up, his laughter fading when he saw Will come out of the barn. Will paused a moment before coming forward.
"Adam! Good to see you out again."
"Joe, Hoss, how about checking that loose board on the ramp."
"Loose board?" Joe looked at Adam, and back at Hoss. "What loose board? Thereís no....." but Hoss grabbed his arm and pulled him to the porch.
Adam turned back to Will and extended his hand. Will gave his back and they shook, Willís dubious smile spreading wide. "Will, I want to apologize."
"I hate to admit that for awhile I blamed you for my fall. That was foolish."
"Not so foolish as you think. I blamed myself as well."
"Well, I want you to stop right now. Understand?" Adam winked at him.
"Adam!" Peggy ran out of the barn. "Look what me and Uncle Will found. A ball! Will you play ball with me, Adam?"
"You bet weíll play ball, little rascal. Right after lunch. I think Hop Singís about ready to feed us. Is that right, Hoss?"
Hoss perked up. "He sure Ďnuf better be!" They laughed as they followed Peggy inside.
Adam sat on the porch in his wheelchair, alone. Hoss and Joe rode out to pay the hands for the drive. Peggy was helping Hop Sing with supper. He didnít know where Laura was. He didnít care where she was. He left Will in the barn preparing to ride to San Francisco. All the talking didnít make a bit of difference, he was going to leave Laura anyway.
There would be no marriage now. She swore to stay with Adam until he walked, those were her words. He wasnít sure he could look at her again, at the pity in her eyes, the guilt that was holding her to him. Not love. She never felt love. Gratitude perhaps, for his help after her husband died. He wasnít sure if he ever felt love for her, because he wasnít feeling any love now. She fell for Will so easily, when she was supposed to be planning a wedding!
Now Will thinks heís being noble, giving her up. Noble.
He stared into the yard, at where they played ball just that afternoon. His back was throbbing from the effort, but they had fun, the three of them. Only a short time later he caught Will and Laura talking, kissing in the barn.
Heíd never known a deceitful woman, one who could hide her true feelings so well. That she chose Will over him was hard enough. That she was able to lie to him so completely was even worse. He wanted Will to take her. He didnít want her here anymore.
He told her to go to him, told her to marry him, that he understood, that he didnít need her, but she believed she and Will had no future together. He was close to saying that they had no future together either, but she ran off on him.
Adam squeezed his eyes shut, concentrating. There was only one thing left to do, to salvage what little bit of pride theyíve left him. He clamped both hands on his knees and forced the strength of his will down into his toes. He remembered the exercises and forced memory of the feeling the exercises stimulated down into his legs. He had some motion, feeling was returning, but he hadnít shared this with anyone. Until he was sure himself, he didnít want to get anyone elseís hopes up.
As though filling their parts in the performance Pa came out and forced the awful truth from Adam. Will came to give his farewells, and Pa called Laura outside to say good-bye to Will. None of them guessed how his legs were throbbing.
Laura watched Will walk away from her, forcing Adam to watch their sacrifice of love and life so she can stay with him and pity him in her guilt-stricken way. Even though he wasnít sure he was ready to stand he didnít know of a better time to try. He only had to be sure he concentrated hard, harder and know this was the right thing at the right time in the right way to get his own life back, without her. His arms were strong, pushing him up out of the chair and his back throbbed miserably but he used the pain to force strength back down into his legs, standing on the pain caused more by her than his back....
Laura turned. Adam stood in front of her.
"Adam! Oh, Adam!" She reached out to hold on to him, but he stopped her.
"Iím all right. Now you go to him. You see, I donít need you."
"Oh, Adam." She leaned forward carefully and kissed his cheek, in much the same way as she has since the accident. "Thank you."
And she ran off, out of his life.
Ben followed Adam back inside the house, close but not touching, ready to catch him in case he staggered. Adam leaned against the settee a moment, then crossed to the stairs. He was slow, wobbly, but Ben could see he wasnít about to sit again. Not yet.
"Adam, that was....I am....that was...."
"I couldnít let her stay here. Not pitying me, and loving someone else. I couldnít allow that." He took a step up cautiously. "There was nothing noble about it."
Ben grimaced as Adam slowly climbed the stairs. He couldnít remember a time Adam ever admitted how much he was hurting, as he did just now. Without allowing Adam to hear him, he went to the bottom of the stairs to watch him finish his slow climb. He still had some healing to do.
Ben went back to the settee and wept.
Breakfast the next morning was unusually quiet. Ben continually glanced at the empty chair across from him. He hoped Adam would be down to join them, but Adam insisted Hop Sing bring his meal to his room as usual since the accident. When Ben had looked in on him earlier Adam walked slowly, pacing, from one end of the room to the other, not willing for company.
"Pa. I heard gunshots late last night," Hoss said, bringing him back to the breakfast table.
"Must be. Want I should ride to town for Sheriff Coffee after chow?"
"Boys, I think this might be a good time for the three of us to join the hunt. Once we help find the Indians and get this whole thing settled, weíll get our land back again."
Joe looked up at the stairs. "But Adam----."
"Adam can use this time to be alone. I think thatís what he wants right now."
"I ainít used to the notion myself. How could Laura run off that way with Will, Pa?"
"Thatís not for us to say, Hoss. I suspect Adam will come to terms with that question in his own time, and his own way. And maybe heíll share his answers with us."
Joe shook his head. "This is harder on him than the loss of his legs was."
Adam heard the silence in the house from his room and took the steps down one at a time. The house was empty. Even Hop Sing wasnít making his usual after breakfast noise in the kitchen, which could mean he was out running errands. Adam walked to the desk and picked up the photograph of his mother. Sometimes happiness happens, even for brief moments in time. His pa found it three times. He couldnít even handle it once. He saw a note laying open, in his fatherís hurried handwriting.
"Adam, weíve packed and rode off to help find the Crows and make sure their side is understood. Weíll probably be gone for several days. Take care of yourself. Hop Sing will make sure you have everything you need. Donít push yourself too hard, and weíll see you when we get back. Pa."
"Donít push myself. Huh." He looked around at the empty house. Only yesterday Hop Sing chased Peggy trying to get his last egg back. When Hop Sing finally caught up to her she had such a case of the giggles, especially after Hop Sing dropped the egg as soon as he got it from her, that she needed ten minutes to calm back down again.
Adam sat in the wingback by the fire and picked up the book he had been reading. He turned to his marked page, but the words ran together. He put the book back down and closed his eyes. The house he worked on was still out there, a skeleton of the love he thought they shared. He even had a tree picked out for a treehouse for his little girl. She was gone now, too. They had picked her up at school, and had her write a farewell letter to him. Even though the thought was painful, he would have preferred a hug.
Now he may as well tear the house framework down. He got to his feet. No - torch the framework, and today was as good a day as any.
He got as far as the barn when he realized he wasnít going to be able to saddle the horse. He could ride the buckboard out, but hitching the wagon up was even harder than saddling. The house would have to wait. It might be easier to look at a week from now.
On the second day of being alone Adam thought he might go mad. He had no physical problems moving around inside the house or barn but saw Laura and Peggyís faces in his mind every minute, whether he was polishing rifles, varnishing wood, waxing saddles or just pacing. He was more tired than he could ever remember being, and yet he felt if he didnít get off the Ponderosa for awhile, heíd be worse off than if he pushed too hard.
After lunch he decided to see if he could split wood, but couldnít raise the ax more than waist high. He wandered over to the corral and called his horse. He patted the bay, anxious to be out riding again.
"Sorry, boy, I know youíre getting tired of being cooped up as much as me. But if I canít lift an ax, picture me with your saddle, eh?" Adam covered his eyes with a hand briefly, as emotion welled up again. In such a short time to lose so much. He had a hard time stroking his horse, for want of more. "Damn!" He turned and strode to the house, ignored the throbbing in his back.
He had just reached the porch when he heard the pounding of horse hooves. His horse heard them too and reared, prancing inside the corral. The man who rode in was slumped over, an Indian arrow out his back. Adam went over to him and tried to ease him out of the saddle, but the man was near death and fell like a rock to the ground.
"Can you tell me who did this?"
"Posse hunt....tell them...I found....Crow...."
"Where? Where did you find them?"
"Up byÖcrescent rockÖ" the manís head fell back as he exhaled one final time.
Adam stood. Providence delivered him a horse, already saddled. He took the reins of the gentle animal, the saddle was large and well padded. He pulled the horse to the hitching rail and tied it. Not even an hour later he was back at the horseís side with a saddle bag, bedroll and enough food for two daysí ride. Hop Sing followed him out, clucking like a mother hen.
"Now, Hop Sing, stop fussing, you know you canít stop me if I got my mind made up." He picked up his left foot to put in the stirrup and grimaced, fighting not to show the pain. He got his left foot in the stirrup and stood, but his right leg wouldnít raise up over the saddle, no matter how determined he was.
"Adam need help?" Hop Sing grabbed his leg and gently raised him up the few inches he needed. Adam settled gratefully into the saddle.
"Hop Sing, you amaze me."
"Mr. Adam drive Hop Sing nuts too. Not want you to leave, but you even worse if you stay."
"You are a born philosopher, Hop Sing. Hyah!"
Hop Sing watched Adam ride out of the yard. "I need to be, when your Pa fire me."
Adam knew where he was headed, but sometimes the trail eluded him. For a while he thought he was on the trail the dead miner was on, but wishful thinking wasnít as strong as clear knowledge. If he was right, the Indians could be hiding near Taylor Creek, where what some of the drovers called Crescent Rock was found. Pa and the posse likely headed east, or they would have found the miner first. Or the miner could have been part of the posse. Which might, or might not, have given the Indians reason to shoot. He may be dealing with real bad natives this time, with practically no defense except one gun and a slow moving hand.
He felt his confidence grow as night drew close and he met no obstacles to his ride. Another few miles and he would be off the Ponderosa, heading to California. He expected to find the Indians holed up soon. He squinted. Ahead on the path a tree had fallen, blocking his way. In this part of the mountain there was no way to walk the horse around it. Jumping the horse over would be risky because of the protruding branches. He was going to have to alight and chop off those branches.
"Pa, do you think we could be going in the wrong direction?" Joe asked. With his father and brother he waited behind the posse as they checked out another blind draw.
"Most likely, Joe, but try telling them that. At least weíve satisfied their curiosity by showing them corners they missed before. We should be able to convince them to give up the chase in another day or so."
"Hah!" Hoss nodded over at them. "Did you see Stanís face when I says Indians a lot of times have more brains than most other people? He ainít giving up till theyíre dead. Or he is."
"I wish weíd find Ďem, Pa. I donít like seeing men like this digging through our land."
"I know. Come on, looks like theyíre moving again."
Adam blinked hard. He sensed people standing over him, but his eyes didnít focus. When he realized that the night and not poor vision blinded him, that he was flat on his back on the ground, he tried to roll to his side but couldnít. He felt paralyzed.
A long feathered stick jabbed his chest. The Crow. Adam tried again but a sharp pain caught him by surprise and he groaned. Two Indians grabbed his arms and pulled him up. They put him on his horse and led him away. He tried to watch where they were taking him but was overwhelmed with exhaustion. As he nodded off in the saddle despite the throbbing in his back, the idea occurred to him that they might be holding him in exchange for their safe escape. At least he no longer felt useless.
When he awoke again he heard voices talking around him. He rolled on his side and looked over in the direction of the voices. Around a campfire six men and four women sat, one elder woman doing most of the talking, several others at times glancing his way. He blinked heavily and tried to sit. His back hurt, and though he could feel his legs, he didnít think theyíd support even a strong attempt to stand. With a grunt he sat, and watched as the people around the campfire grew silent looking at him. One man walked over to him.
Adam listened to the Crow tongue, finding little similarity to the Indian language he was used to. But he could follow the hand gestures. "No, I donít think I better. Not yet." When the Indian frowned, Adam tried again, using sign language. "Back hurt. Legs hard to move. Need rest." He realized confessing all of this meant a good chance they would kill him.
The Crow looked back over his shoulder and shook his head a the others. When he looked back at Adam his expression softened a little. He was not a handsome man but his eyes were bright and intelligent, and his paint accentuating his cheekbones made him look more fierce than his eyes betrayed, a warm, kind brown.
"Why are you here?" While crippled in bed Adam wondered why they were on the run on the Ponderosa. There was likely a very good reason.
The Crow knelt down and surprised Adam with English. "Chased. Soldiers make us bad land, no hunt, no water. We run. They shoot, we shoot. They kill, we kill."
Adam nodded. "Same story as all the others. But there are other ways to handle them. You have an agent. Have you tried standing ground and working it out?"
"We stand ground. Wife shot dead when pick up a small stone. She intend no harm. Now dead."
The Indian eyed him suspiciously. "You with Army? You deserve to die like they do."
"No. I came to help. You plan to stay here?"
"Good land. Fight here. No more running."
Live here? Adam couldnít get his bearings from his position on the ground. He didnít get out to this section of the Ponderosa much but from the look of the trees and the sound of a waterfall not too far away, they were across into California, off Cartwright land.
Swift Foot was called back to the fire and in Crow language another argument ensued. Several were in favor of killing him, while others saw the logic of keeping him alive - for whatever purpose. Swift Foot ordered that Adam be fed and made comfortable for the night. One particularly fierce one helped Adam to his feet and sharply called out. Two young Indian girls lead him to a peaceful corner to stretch out for the night. As he laid out, a woman came up behind him and sat him up, offering him a soupy mix and he realized he was hungry. When he finished they helped him to the waterfall to wash up. He surveyed his surroundings from a new position and discovered he was in a valley of the Sierras not far into California, a prime piece of land the Crow wonít be able to hold on to any more than their land in Wyoming.
Adam lay unable to sleep, unable to get comfortable. His body was tired but not his mind. If Pa and his brothers were home, Hop Sing will tell them that Adam seemed fine, and that a man had died in their yard. Hop Sing will tell them his direction. He hoped Pa would realize not to come this way with the posse. And then there was the Cavalry, gun-happy soldiers who could show up any day now. Adam hoped to have his familyís help here, but knew he would have to be ready to stand with the Crow alone. He may be their only hope now.
In the morning Adam realized how little food these people had to live on. Several of the men left early to hunt, and the remainder of them shared bits of eatable fruits and beans found in the wild. That morning he had a small piece of dried meat. He saw no one else eat anything.
"You do not seem like other white men," Swift Foot said finally, after Adam finished eating.
"All men are different in their own way."
"Why white man say one thing, do another?"
"This new, wide country makes men greedy. They see open land, take it any way they can."
"We befriended white men. Showed them how to live on the land, how to take care of earth and tress. They tell us we not good enough for own land."
"Not all white men are like that. You must find land to claim as your own, as other whites are doing. Stop running, stop killing and stake a claim, right here. Lay down your weapons, and show them that you will not fight, but you will not move. I will stand with you. If they shoot, they kill us, and they will be blamed. I promise you."
"You, Adam Cartwright, be killed with us?"
"I believe that if we stand unarmed, we will win. I believe this enough to stand with you."
Swift Foot took his words back to council. Adam listened but could make no words out. When they finished talking, Swift Foot came back, wordless, an angry scowl creasing his face. He pulled Adam to his feet and took him back to his leanto. Swift Foot called two women over, one a young women from the night before whose touch was soothing. In her presence he gratefully couldnít see Lauraís face. The women laid him on his belly on a cool bed of sand and removed his shirt.
"What is your name?" he asked of her as she rubbed a cool wet mixture on his back. She didnít answer but hummed in a low, sensual way as she massaged his back. He found the pleasure drifting him into a light slumber, until she abruptly stopped, jarring him back awake. She offered him a cup of odd tasting water, and gave him roots of some plant to chew on. They were helping him to heal, he suddenly realized, so that he could make his stand with them.
Lauraís deception made him wonder if there was such a thing as trust anymore. Believing in someone was easy if you had a reason to trust them. Laura never developed that trust in him to understand his absence meant something important to him, to both of them. If she had that trust, she would never have let Will come between them.
A young boy brought a leather skin that had been tanning on sticks over the fire. He laid the tanning skin on Adamís back, making Adam flinch under the unexpected heat before realizing how good it felt. The boy sat by Adamís head and stuck his finger into a pasty herb mix. He held this mix next to Adamís mouth. Adam looked up at the boy, no older than Peggy, who seemed so seriously intent on having Adam suck the mix off his finger. The mix tasted vaguely of pine needles. Gradually with the odd taste trickling down his throat and the warmth on his back, the throbbing subsided, and he felt comfortably drowsy. The boy remained at Adamís side, whittling a stick that seemed to take the shape of an arrow. Adam remembered braiding a bridal for Peggy....
He felt he had slept, and he and the boy conversed in his dream. When he awoke the boy was still there, fastening the arrowhead to the tip. Adam sat up to face him. He tried communicating with his halting generic Indian tongue but the boy wasnít as adaptable as his elders. Adam pointed at the whittling and indicated bow and arrow. The boy nodded, explaining in his own words the significance of what he was doing.
"Good." Adam touched the arrow shaft and nodded.
The boy eyed him. "Good?"
"Arrow." Adam ran his finger down the length of the shaft. "Arrow. Good arrow." He motioned shooting a bow and then getting hit in the chest with the arrow and falling backward in death, without actually falling.
The boy laughed, nodding. "Arrow good..." and he described in sign what he would shoot, ending with his own version of being hit by an arrow. They laughed together.
The boy got to his feet and pulled Adam up. He motioned Adam forward. Adam didnít know where they were going, but he was ready to make a stand whenever they said. Even against his Pa, if he continued to ride with the posse.
"Hop Sing!" Ben slapped his hat against his leg. "You canít stand there telling me you let Adam ride out of here."
"Adam unhappy since Miss Laura leave. He stay here another minute, drive Hop Sing away."
"But confound it, Hop Sing, he wasnít healed yet. You oughta seen that." Hoss stared down at the ramp they built for their brother only a little over a week ago.
"Man sometime need more than rest to heal. Man need to take his mind to happier place. He go swim in Tahoe, good for him. He go sit in woods, good for him."
"He go hunt for Indians, bad for him!" Little Joe turned to stare off at the trail leading away from the house. "Pa! He couldnít have gone far! His horse is still here."
"He not take his horse. Take dead manís horse." Hop Sing clamped his hand over his mouth.
Ben grabbed his shirt before he could get far. "Hold on, Hop Sing. What arenít you telling us?"
"Mr. Adam no want you worry. Think you stay away more days. I see him need to do this."
"All right, Hop Sing, we wonít blame you for not stopping him. We know how hardheaded he is. Just tell us what direction he went."
"The posseís gone on ahead. Dadgumit, Hop Sing, we gotta go after him." Hossís uncommon impatience made him sound like an enraged bull. "Where did he ride off to?"
"He ride northwestern trail."
As the three Cartwrights mounted up again, Little Joe put a hand out to Ben. "Pa, thatís the posseís direction."
"We told them weíd be following along. But weíll ride faster. Come on!"
In the next two days Adam felt his back pain lessening. The young lady he called Little Deer became his personal friend. Though he did not allow himself any fanciful thoughts of her, their friendship without words was a healing elixir. The boy he called Night Owl became so attached to him, Adam wondered if he would be able to leave the boy behind when he went home. He only hoped the tribe would lay down their weapons and make a stand when the time comes. Swift Foot did not bring up the subject again, though they talked many times about other things.
At the midday campfire Adam sat with the council, Night Owl by his side. They would be hard pressed to leave now, with everything they brought with them fixed into a more permanent settlement. They were staking their very lives to this spot, which soon would be put to the test.
"Have you thought more of standing this ground you call home, laying your weapons at your feet?"
"Adam Cartwright weapon on horse. Willing to use on White Man?"
Adam frowned. "It may come to that. But it doesnít have to. I will stand with you, but if we put our weapons down they will not shoot."
"I believe it." Adam saw dubious faces. "I do not want to risk your lives. But I believe it will work." He looked at Night Owlís bright eyes staring up at him. "I will stand any way you choose."
The first sound of horse hooves came as the Indians were stripping the hide off an elk. Swift Foot heard the rumbling first. He stood listening intently. Adam was playing a game of pinecone toss with Night Owl, feeling better than he had in a long time, when he realized the men in camp were distressed and moving. They were gathering knives, arrows, the few guns they had, and forming a line across the eastern section of camp. One elder gathered the women and children and pushed them to safety in the lodges.
Adam pulled Night Owl to his feet. "Go to the waterfall and stay hidden. Go!" Night Owl stomped his foot. He indicated bow and arrow and patted his head. He was a boy, but here in the tribe a boy became a man early. Too early. "All right. Come on. But do what I do."
When Adam saw the Indians standing with weapons ready to defend their camp, his legs weakened for a different reason. If Pa was not with the riders, whether posse or army, they were in for a bad time. But however the Indians made their stand, he promised to stand with them. He hoped that his presence with the Indians would keep whites from shooting. If it was posse riding in, his presence as friend and neighbor could be a deterrent. But the sound of the hooves as they drew close was more regimental, and as they came into view his fears were justified.
The Colonel leading Cavalry held up his hand and the horses halted, several officers immediately readying to draw weapons. "Swift Foot, I see youíve given up running. Does this mean youíre ready to turn yourself over to the Government? If so, Iíd advise you to lay down your weapons, before your people get hurt."
"Lay down weapon mean turn in to you, I do not." He looked at Adam. "If my weapon mean people are hurt, I do not. I have staked claim." He saw Adam smile and nodded. "This new Indian land for Crow. Will not leave. Prepared to die."
"Very well, then I suggest you take cover, because we have orders not to leave without taking you in. If you resist, our orders are to fight back."
"Fight back?" Swift Foot looked at his men ready around him. He took a deep breath and placed his weapon on the ground and stood on it. One by one his men followed his example. Adam did the same. Night Owl next to him stiffened, keeping his bow ready. Adam placed a hand on his shoulder, and finally the boy stood on his weapon as well. "You see white friend? He say put weapons down, army will not shoot. Army will leave. We keep land. We stand ground."
Adam crossed his arms. "I suggest you tell whoever gave you orders to move these people out that the only way youíll do it is through a massacre. Do you want that on your conscience? They will not fight, and they will not move. You have no choice but to leave them in peace."
"No choice?" The Colonel alighted and walked to Adam. "They donít need a savior. They need someone to tell them whatís right for them."
"Thatís what Iím doing."
"By giving them this land? Itís not yours to give."
"Itís public land. You took land that used to be theirs. Iíd call it an even trade. Do you want to prove youíre better people by shooting them down? Youíll have to kill me too."
"And who is it I have the pleasure of addressing?"
"My name....doesnít matter. Go back to your Army and tell them that the Indians are living in peace. Itís your recommendation they be left in peace."
The Colonel looked over the tribe. Adam avoided looking down at their weapons, but if the Cavalry decided to start shooting, or a struggle ensues, he would be the first to grab his weapon. "Letís move out, men. Weíll let the General decide if thereís further action to be taken here." The Colonel turned to his horse.
Adam and Swift Foot exchanged expressionless glances. Adam almost allowed himself to relax when they heard the pounding of other horses behind the Cavalry. The seven men of the posse had been reduced to a wild-eyed and grubby five. Adam saw that Val was still among them, and felt a bitter displeasure toward his former friend. They seemed disappointed the Army was there before them.
"Good afternoon, Colonel," Charlie nudged his horse forward. "Iím glad to see ya. This here band of Indians is wanted for murder. I request your help taking them peaceable." He turned and pointed a finger at Adam. "And donít you get in the way, Adam, with any of your fancy talking."
"Talking is better than shooting, or merciless hanging, for murder they may not have committed," Adam said to the Colonel.
The Colonel looked over the Indians, who remained passively standing on their weapons even at the sight of the bedraggled posse. "Any witnesses of the event?"
"Witnesses? You donít need witnesses to know an Indian killing when you see one!" Charlie sat back in his saddle. "We come to take them in."
"All of them?" When Charlie stammered in response, the Colonel raised a hand. "I suggest you take your vigilante group back the way you came. I will take the matter up with your governor. In the meantime," he looked back at the Crow, "they arenít going anywhere." He stepped toward Adam. "I trust you will act as their temporary agent until we can get this matter resolved. I will need to know your name."
"Adam Cartwright, and yes, I will act on their behalf." They shook hands briefly.
The Colonel turned to Swift Foot. "Iíve seen the worst and the best of these people. I prefer the best." He mounted. "Vigilantes, we will follow you. Donít be tempted to come back." He looked back at Swift Foot. "I can guarantee, if you do, you wonít survive to tell about it."
Adam and the tribe watched as the posse and Army slowly moved away. There was quiet discussion among the soldiers and a few livid words expressed by the posse, and they were gone. Adam picked up his rifle, at the same time handing Night Owl his proudly made bow and two arrows. "Good." He patted the boy on the shoulder. "Good."
The boy nodded back. "Good arrow."
"A very good arrow," Adam laughed. "You can use it for hunting."
Swift Foot stood by them as the rest of the tribe went back to cleaning and preparing the elk. "We are happy for today. But tomorrow, they return?"
"I suspect there may come a time when those who killed the Hendersons will have to tell their story. Was it a Crow?"
"Come, sit by fire." They turned to the fire but again heard the pounding of horse hooves coming toward their camp. Swift Foot grabbed his rifle and several others readied their bows.
"Stand with us, Adam Cartwright. The Army say they come back, we kill. Our right."
Adam picked up his rifle and turned to face the approaching riders. As Swift Foot took aim the riders came into view. Adam grabbed his barrel and pointed the weapon to the ground.
"Donít shoot. Itís all right. Itís my family."
"Adam!" Ben jumped down off his buckskin, followed by Joe and Hoss. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, Pa, thanks to Swift Foot. And this is Night Owl, Iím teaching him some English."
"Good arrow," Night Owl said.
Adam put an arm around the boyís shoulders and gestured. "This is my Pa, and my brothers Hoss and Joe. Swift Foot here is ah....the English talker of the tribe."
"Well, Swift Foot," Ben shook his hand. "Iím glad to meet you and see that my son is all right. We saw the Army riding off with the posse, Adam, and werenít sure what to expect when we found you."
"Why donít you sit with us at the campfire, and youíll hear all about it."
Hoss broke the silence as the Cartwrights rode back to the ranch. "Think theyíll get to keep the land, Pa?"
Ben looked over at Adam. "I think that might be up to their new temporary agent. What about it, Adam? What are their odds of staying there?"
Adam looked skyward as the sun dipped down between Ponderosa pines. "Well, since the killing of the Hendersons was in self-defense, they canít be found guilty of murder, not legally, anyway. But the way Iíve seen it, thereís more whites who donít believe in Indian rights, than those who do."
Hoss nodded. "Yup. About what I was afraid of."
"Will and Laura moved to California. She sold the house after all," Joe said off the cuff.
"Joe," Ben warned.
"Itís all right, Pa. I hope they have a good life."
"See, itís like I said, Pa," Joe grinned. "Laura wasnít good enough for older brother here."
"Well, Iíll tell you, younger brother, the day I find someone who is good enough, Iíll be sure to hide her. From you."
"Yeah, you just do that, Adam."
As they laughed, Adam found his mind wandering back to Crow. He wanted to keep them safe from further white attacks. This time staying peaceful worked. But what about next time? In the end, he may find protecting nativesí rights about as easy as keeping a deceitful woman by his side. He pulled out the arrow Night Owl had given him. This was one fight he wasnít going to walk away from so easily.
Felling of the Sons, 2nd edition, is now available at www.ebooksonthe.net, Amazon, Fictionwise and through special order at your favorite bookstore. My email address is email@example.com
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