dense pinewoods filtered the sunshine and scattered the beams onto the forest
floor. The dark earth, covered in a layer of browning needles, left a tangy odor
in the air. Adam Cartwright loved this place. He sat on a boulder overlooking a
clear-running stream. It had been a haven for him since his adolescence. It was
not that the rest of his family wasn't aware of its existence. It was more that
they respected it as a place Adam needed to be every once in a while. A place to
relax and think----or not to think. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
He closed his book and remembered well the first time he found this refuge.
only a child when it's convenient for you!" shouted fifteen- year- old Adam
Cartwright. He had never spoken to his father this way. Not only because it was
disrespectful but because he honestly loved and admired the man. He stood as
tall as he could. The growth spurt that would soon push him just past his
father's height had not yet started. Tears of rage and frustration stood ready
to spill over and his hands were balled into tight fists.
Cartwright was more surprised than angry. He had seen the sparks of rebellion
before in his adolescent son but never had they been displayed so blatantly.
This was his eldest. The boy who had been at his side every step of the way from
the beginning. But right now, he seemed more stranger than kin.
you care to repeat that, young man?" Ben's voice was deceptively quiet;
always a warning of more to come.
know what I mean Pa." Adam was still filled with anger. "When there
are cattle to herd or fences to mend or Hoss and Joe to look after, than I'm a
man but when I want to do something, than I'm a boy again. I do my share and
more!" Suddenly his tone softened. His voice and eyes asked for nothing
more than understanding. "All I want is some time alone, to think--- or not
to think but I get to decide."
why do you believe that going off hunting by yourself for a week makes you a
man?" Ben responded, still agitated. Until now, he had not noticed his two
younger sons sitting at the top of the stairs. Both boys were obviously
distressed by the harsh words exchanged between their father and older brother.
Joe sat huddled in Hoss' lap.
saw them at the same time. Leaving his father, he swiftly mounted the stairs.
Joe reached out and Adam lifted him into his arms. He sat down next to Hoss and
the three brothers spoke in soft whispers. Ben could see that his two youngest
seemed soothed by whatever their older brother was saying. Funny, he thought,
sometimes he acts just like a second parent to those two. The realization of
what he had just thought struck hard. Just like a second parent---just like a
second adult. How could I have been so blind! He climbed the stairs to join his
what we said now---three days hunting, than back home." Ben stood next to
his already mounted son. "Be careful." He squeezed his son's leg.
will sir. I promise." Adam looked over at Joe and Hoss and waved. Hoss
smiled and waved back. Joe buried his head in his middle brother's side. He
wasn't old enough to understand what "three days" meant. All he knew
was that his cherished older brother was riding away.
days of freedom let him wander at will and he began to see the Ponderosa not
just as land that supported their financial interests but as a trust. The
natural beauty and resources of the land needed to be protected and the
Cartwright family stood by that trust. It was during this first outing by
himself that he came across the beautiful little glade.
smile that was tugging at the corner of his mouth now became whole. Lord, had it
really been thirteen years? At twenty-eight, Adam felt sure of himself and his
place on the ranch but these little pieces of solitude served to strengthen him.
He walked to Sport's side. "Come on old man. Time to head out."
He scratched his mount behind the ear and Sport responded by leaning into Adam's
hand. "Doesn't matter how old I get, Pa'll still worry."
tacking up and breaking camp, Adam headed toward home at a leisurely pace. The
only thing he heard was the tune in his head and the soft tread of Sport's hoof
beats. Their quiet trip home came to an abrupt halt when the sound of a distant
blast rent the quiet morning air.
pulled up and waited. He needed something more that would help him identify and
place the sound. Nothing came. He thought the muffled blast had come from the
direction of some low foothills in the northern section of the ranch. He turned
Sport and headed that way.
they climbed into the rockier terrain, Adam noted a cloud of dust in the
distance. It seemed to be settling back to earth. Not knowing what he would find
ahead, Adam removed the leather tie that kept his gun in place. He urged Sport
slowly forward. Further on, he saw the clear water of the stream that he had
been following, had turned a milky brown. It was filled with branches and other
debris. Adam sat still in the saddle, his right hand on his gun. Someone had
dynamited the stream at its headwaters. He knew whoever had done this was
probably looking for gold. The only outward sign of the anger that boiled within
him was a tightening of the muscles around his mouth and eyes. Part of him
wanted to find the intruders now but his innate common sense took over, knowing
that it could be dangerous or more likely, futile.
shook his head, impatient to be on the move again. Adam took another look around
but saw nothing that looked out of place. Nothing if you didn't count a stream
that was now forever diverted from its original course, he thought. His rational
mind knew that the stream's new path would clear again and that there would
still be plenty of water for the cattle below. But part of him sensed that it
wasn't over. Gold seduced a man's mind and once captured, rarely ever let go.
all I know Pa.'" Adam had arrived home and went straight to his father. He
stood still in the middle of the great room while his father paced in front of
dare they!" Ben bellowed. "They come onto our land and destroy it---
all for gold." His face was becoming increasingly red as his anger
just calm down Pa before you hurt yourself. Let me take Hoss and we'll go see if
we can pick up their tracks." Adam tried to keep his voice quiet and
composed, hoping it would relax his father. "You can let Roy know what's
knew his father would want to join them. But he also knew Ben was supposed to
meet Joe outside of Reno to look at some horses. "Pa, just go meet Joe like
you planned. Hoss and I will have a look around and you can join us when you get
don't know Adam. I don't like you two riding into those hills alone." Ben
had stopped pacing and his tone softened to concern.
"Who knows what these men are capable of! You've seen gold fever
I know Pa." He smiled wide enough for the dimples to show. "And your
baby boys will be careful."
raised an eyebrow and looked at his oldest out of the corner of his eye.
"Be sure that you do," he said brusquely.
He walked to Adam's side and put a hand on his shoulder.
took the lead as they ascended into the rocky foothills, looking carefully for
any sign of the intruders who had been on the Cartwright land.
know Adam, I been tell'n people that for years but they just don't seem ta
believe me. Can you imagine that?" Hoss' grinned and his face reddened a
little, even at his own false compliment.
smile faded and he said "more fools they, younger brother, more fools
a pause, Adam's smile returned and he said in his best baritone, "Lay on
Adam, please don't start with them writer fellas. I have a hard enough time
understand'n ya sometimes anyway without you quot'n them," Hoss pleaded.
just laughed and waited for his brother to start the search once more. They
continued on until Hoss stopped abruptly. His gaze was intent upon the ground.
"Sorry Adam, there's just too much rock. I can't see anything more ta
follow." He looked at his brother with disappointment in his eyes.
worry about it Hoss. I'm surprised we got this far." He dismounted and
started to untack Sport. "They'll make a mistake."
we'd better stay the night. Wouldn't get home until almost morn'n anyhow."
Hoss started the same ritual with Chubb. "Hey, maybe we can find ourselves
some trout in that stream."
quickly set up camp and left for the swiftly flowing water. It was late
afternoon and the sun was low on the horizon. "Ya know older brother, we
would probably have more luck if we was in the middle of this old creek. They're
probably hid'n in some of them deep holes out there." Hoss looked at his
it was, Adam thought. That big silly grin he used to give me when he was a kid
and wanted something. Not that Hoss ever asked for much. And when he did, it was
most likely help for some poor benighted creature he had brought home.
"Let's go, younger brother, he said. I've got a taste for trout."
were glad that they always kept hooks and line in their saddlebags.
pair laughed as both remembered some of the shared experiences of their not so
long ago childhood. Neither was prepared for the blast that literally shook the
ground on which they were standing. Their surprise froze them in place. Both
looked upstream to see a wave of muddy brown water filled with remnants of
shoreline trees, come rushing toward them.
shouted above the roar. "Get out Hoss, now!" Trying to move quickly in
deep water was impossible. Without warning, Adam felt the rocks under his feet
disappear and he vanished beneath the surface. He felt his ankle give way as
ligaments separated from bone. The pain tore a silent scream from him but
instead of air, water rushed into his lungs. His mind told him all of this had
taken place in only a few seconds but it seemed forever since he went under.
Suddenly, he was being pulled from the silence beneath the water and thrust
toward the shore. He felt strong hands lift him onto the bank where he coughed
and struggled for air.
back, Adam saw that Hoss was beginning to pull himself out of the water. The
roar became louder as the approaching wave overtook him. A tangle of branches
caught his legs and pulled him back into the now angry current.
heard himself screaming, "No---Hoss no!" Despite the pain of his
injured ankle, he ran along the shoreline and watched as his brother was dragged
down the streambed, still caught in the branches. The same words kept repeating
in his head---no, not Hoss, please no, not Hoss. His brother's head remained
above the water and Adam could see that he was trying to free himself. The
floating nest snagged on an even larger branch and it came to an abrupt halt.
The current began to return to its normal flow. The only evidence of the blast
remaining was the still riled water and the scattered limbs of desecrated trees.
called out. "Hoss-- can you hear me?" There was no answer. He could
see his younger brother; his lower half submerged in the water, his head above,
resting on his arms. He went for his rope and walked into the stream once more.
Swimming out to his brother, he grabbed onto the twisted pile of limbs.
blood ran freely from a gash along the right side of Hoss' head. His eyes were
half-open and he was shivering. Adam asked softly, "hey brother, you with
me?" His heart was pounding from the exertion and fear.
whispered response rose above the sound of the rapids. "I'm here."
Hoss lifted his head. "Where ever here is."
head dropped forward onto his chest and he closed his eyes. The relief at the
sound of his brother's voice left him weak and shaking. But he knew he couldn't
stop. He had to get them both out of the water. He could feel his body
temperature dropping and knew Hoss must be even colder.
quickly dove under the mass of limbs to make sure Hoss wasn't tangled in any of
the branches. Surfacing, he tied the rope to his brother's large frame. "Hoss,
listen to me. I'm going to swim to shore and pull you in. You don't have to do
anything. Just try to relax and don't pull against me."
hear ya, big brother. Go ahead." Hoss tried to focus on Adam's face, but
his vision was blurred and Adam's outline had lost its definition.
on the bank, Adam tied the rope around a large sturdy tree and pulled. His
muscles were stiff from the cold of the water but he worked through the pain.
Hoss' body floated free and was drawn onto the rocky beach. Adam collapsed next
to his brother.
fine bunch of horses Joe. You did a great job." Ben and Joe rode side by
side, taking the same trail followed earlier by the elder Cartwright boys.
Pa. They should make a great addition to our string of saddle horses, and be
ready just in time for the next roundup." Joe looked around at the
beautiful wild country they had entered. He lost his smile and stared intently
into the hills. "It's hard to believe someone would try to destroy this,
just on the chance that they might find a little gold."
never think of it as a little gold. They know the big strike is in the next
stream, the next mountain." Ben looked into the same hills as his son.
turned and looked at his father. "I guess I still don't understand
Pa," he said.
smiled at his still young son and said, "and I guess I'm glad you don't.
knew his two older boys would start at the stream where Adam had heard the first
blast. From there, he hoped they'd be able to pick up their trail. Ben rode one
side while Joe rode the other.
Pa, over here!" Joe shouted.
tracks of two horses stood out in relief in the soft ground of the stream's
bank. They spent the better part of the day trying to follow tracks that seemed
to disappear into ground layered with broken shale. "Ok Joe, we better look
for a place to bed down for the night. Even if there were some signs, it's
getting too dark see them. We'll catch up with them in the morning." Ben
dismounted and started to unsaddle his horse. He stood still for a moment,
looking over Buck's back, into the shadowed hills beyond. I wonder, he thought
to himself, do they ever get old enough for the worrying to stop?
Answering his own question, he shook his head and smiled--no, never.
woke himself up shaking with cold. For a brief moment, it wasn't clear where he
was or what had happened. Than he saw his brother, shaking with the same cold.
He pulled himself up to his knees, hitting his injured ankle on the
ground as he did. He cried out with the sudden pain and fell forward onto his
bigger brother. Hoss groaned and opened his eyes. Adam pulled away and steadied
himself once more on his knees.
on Hoss. I'll go get some blankets than I'll build up a fire." Hauling
himself upright, Adam knew no matter how much he needed to help his brother; he
wouldn't be able to do it until he did something about his ankle. By the little
light that was left to the day, he forced himself to hobble back to where they
had set up camp. The sweat from the pain forced itself through the cold of
knew that once he put his boot back on, removing it would be impossible.
Grimacing in pain, he pushed it on. He took one of the blankets and cut it into
strips. He began to wind it around his foot and up across his ankle, to the top
of his boot. He pulled the strips of cloth tight hoping it would keep any
movement to a minimum. The firm pressure alleviated some of the discomfort. He
pulled his rifle from its scabbard, emptied it and used it to help himself to a
standing position. Gathering the things that he needed, Adam made his way back
to his brother.
I need to get a blanket under you. I'm going to roll you on your side." On
his knees once again, close to his brother, Adam pushed until he could get the
blanket almost all the way under. He pulled Hoss toward him, reached over and
pulled the blanket the rest of the way through. At least he has something
between him and the cold ground he thought. He layered the rest of the blankets
over the top of his trembling brother.
Adam, that feels better already. You ok?" Hoss asked.
I'm fine. Just hurt my ankle a little bit. Your eyes clear up any?"
you ain't looking quite so blurry, like before. But I got to admit, my head sure
does thump some." He raised his hand and placed it over the gash in his
reached up and took his hand away. "Just leave that alone now. I'll clean
it out after I build a fire." Hoss closed his eyes.
didn't take Adam long to have a strong fire going with a pot of coffee started
and water heating.
He took care of Sport and Chubb and moved back to Hoss. The ache in his
ankle was becoming too much to ignore. He knew he had to sit down soon. He took
some of the heated water, ripped off the tail of his shirt and began to clean
the wound on Hoss' head. After all the blood was gone, he found the wound didn't
look as bad as he originally thought, but it would still need some stitches.
I still purty, Adam?" Hoss asked. A smile lit his pale face.
as handsome as ever." Adam smiled back. "Think you could eat a little
bit? I can turn the beef Hop Sing sent along into a broth."
I can't be feel'in too bad cause that sounds kinda good. Help me sit up,"
managed to prop his bigger brother up against his saddle. After the broth was
cooked up, he handed Hoss a cup and took one for himself. They both sat in
silence, sipping the hot liquid. He was grateful that Hoss had stopped shaking
and that it looked as if he was going to keep down his meager dinner.
be fine to ride in the morning," Hoss said. "Looks like it may be a
little while before we can go after them again." His eyes were starting to
close as he spoke.
not worry about them right now. We need to get you home and have the doc take a
look at your hard head." Adam wasn't sure Hoss had heard anything he said.
His soft snores intruded on the normal sounds of the night.
put more wood on the fire than leaned into his own saddle. His ankle throbbed
and he wished desperately that the pain would just disappear. He wondered how
much sleep he'd get this night. He reloaded his rifle and put it within easy
reach. The events of the day finally caught up with him and despite the pain, he
fell into a light sleep.
awoke to the sound of a gun being cocked next to his ear. His first instinct was
to reach for his rifle but common sense ruled and he froze in place. "Now
that's a good boy---just don't move." Adam couldn't see the owner of the
voice but the man's meaning was more than clear. He looked at Hoss, who was just
beginning to stir.
over there and see to that one," came from the man pointing a gun at Adam's
watched as a man older than both he and Hoss approached his brother. "Leave
him alone," Adam said. The implied treat hung in the air.
what boy?" Adam felt the barrel of the gun touching the side of his head.
The second intruder poked at Hoss with his rifle.
sense fled. Adam slapped the gun away form his head and in one movement, turned
and swung blindly at the man threatening them. His fist connected with the man's
jaw and sent him lurching backward. He was about to continue the assault, when
the other gunman shouted, " you best stop or your large friend here gets a
bullet. Your choice."
turned and faced the second attacker and his brother. Hoss was fully awake now.
Standing on one leg, Adam let his shoulders sag and unclenched his fists.
Risking his own life was one thing, but he wouldn't risk his brother's. He had
no warning when the first blow struck him across the back. It staggered him and
he went down on his knees. The second hit the right side of his face, snapping
his head backward.
He fell in a heap, his whole body jolted by the exploding pain.
rose quickly from his bedroll. He swayed, trying to regain his
a haze, Adam could hear and see his brother but most of all he felt the gentle
hands gather him close. For a moment, he just wanted to rest against Hoss' broad
chest but the reality of the situation intruded. "You all right?" Adam
should be me asking you that big brother. Think anything's broken?" He once
again felt the gentle hands as they explored his face than his ribs.
know yet. Need to catch my breath." Adam closed his eyes and concentrated
on making the pain manageable. In his mind, he pushed it out of the way so he
could focus on the situation at hand. Both he and Hoss were hurt, although it
seemed their injuries were not life threatening. Two armed men, probably the
ones who had been dynamiting the streams were desperate enough to attack
them---and what, what did they want?
opened his eyes and saw Hoss' concerned face. "Don't look so serious. I'm
still here," Adam said trying to smile despite the pain in his face.
him up and both of ya go sit by them trees." The man who had hit Adam
pointed toward a thicket of pines.
looked up with a smoldering anger in his eyes. "I'll get him up but don't
you touch him again. Ya hear? Don't ever touch him again."
alright Hoss. Just give me a hand to get up," Adam said, trying to get his
brother's attention away from the gunmen. He knew that it took along time for
Hoss to get angry, unless it had to do with family. And that anger was something
he didn't want to see unleashed. Hoss won't be thinking and not thinking could
get him killed. "Come on brother, I can't seem to do it alone."
there Adam." The anger in Hoss' voice had faded to concern for his
struggling sibling. "Let me help ya."
argument from me," Adam responded. They leaned on each other as they walked
toward the pines.
closely, the first gunman said, "now just sit down and shut up." The
two men started to rummage through the supplies Adam and Hoss had brought for
their trip. "Just
what are you two doing up here?" he asked.
shot the man a look from beneath furrowed eyebrows and said, "We live here,
but I might ask you the same question."
might, smart mouth, but I'm the one with the gun. Why are you tracking us?"
The man was becoming agitated and Adam regretted irritating him.
Winters, look here."
The second man held Adam's rifle in the air, pointing to the silver inlay
on the stock with his initials.
see that." Winters grabbed the rifle from his partner's hands.
if you've seen us and know who we are than you know why we're here and you know
you're on Ponderosa land."
Adam stopped and took a deep breath. "Let me guess, you think by
dynamiting the streams, you'll turn up a strike. Am I correct?" Adam kept
his voice cool but his eyes took in every movement.
boy. And we're gonna keep at it too. Bound to hit it eventually," said
Winters. He liked feeling superior to the Cartwright sons.
Mr. Winters, I wouldn't count on it. Gold can be an elusive mistress. Not to
mention the fact that we'll soon be missed," said Adam.
added, "why don't you just ride out and don't stop until you're clear of
obviously had a short fuse. "Cause there's gold here," he shouted,
"and we're gonna get our share. And there ain't nothin you two are gonna do
about it." He waved the gun around in the air to emphasize his prisoner's
tie these two up. I got to think this out." Winters went to his horse. He
hauled a bottle from his saddlebags and pulled the cork. After taking a long
drink, he wiped his mouth and smiled cruelly at his bound captives. He moved
over to sit on a fallen log.
had tied the two brothers securely and joined his partner for a drink.
"What are we gonna do with these two? We didn't plan on runn'in into
nobody--especially the owner's sons." He voice sounded scared as he reached
for his partner's bottle.
panic, Johnson. They ain't gonna cause any trouble." He glanced at the
Cartwright brothers and laughed. "I think we need to take one with us for a
little insurance. We'll leave the other one here."
got up and stood in front of Adam and Hoss. A look of smug superiority was on
his face. "Now boys, who wants to go for a ride with us?"
spoke first. "Are you really dumb enough to kidnap the son of one of the
biggest ranchers in the territory? Think about it. If you take one of us, my
father will stay on your trail no matter how long it takes. If you leave us and
our land, it'll be over." Adam's eyes didn't move from Winters'.
didn't see the fist that snaked out and drove into his stomach. He just felt the
result as he automatically rocked forward to lessen the effects. He had tried to
tighten his muscles to help absorb the blow, but it had been too late to do any
struggled against his bonds. "I done told ya what would happen if you ever
touched him again." The cold fury in Hoss' voice made the man take a step
backward. "There ain't a place you can hide that I won't look. And when I
find ya, you won't be hitt'in a man who's tied down."
recovered and hid his fear with a laugh. "Well, big man, we'll see about
that. Yer older brother here is coming along with us and I'd suggest you tell
yer Daddy to back off or I'll put a bullet in him. Johnson, get the horses
ready. Than untie smart mouth and we'll be on our way."
was just recovering his breath but had heard the exchange between Hoss and
Winters. "Hoss---Hoss, listen to me. Just get yourself free and find Pa and
Joe." He winced as he took another breath. "I'll be alright. They
aren't about to let anything happen to me. I'm too valuable to them right
up Cartwright," said Winters as he untied Adam. "Now get on your horse
and don't give me no more trouble. I may want you alive for the time being but
that don't mean I won't beat you til yer barely breathing." He shoved Adam
ankle could barely support his weight and he felt the joint rock with each
unsteady step. He mounted Sport, groaning at the extra stress on the injured
limb. He straightened his shoulders and looked back at his brother. His voice
took on a quiet strength. "Stop them, Hoss.
Do whatever it takes."
watched as Adam disappeared into the heavy morning fog. The blood crept down his
wrists as he continued to battle against the ropes that held him. He kept
thinking what a man like Winters could do to his brother and he fought harder to
and Joe woke up early and broke camp. The morning fog gave way to a clear, sunny
day. Once again they found the tracks of two horses that stayed close to the
widening stream. In the distance, they could see a thin wisp of white smoke as
it rose lazily into the morning sky.
Pa," Joe smiled and said as he pointed at the smoke. "Do you suppose
they have a pot of coffee going?"
smiled back. A sense of relief filled him as he responded, "if I know your
brother Adam, the coffee is on the fire."
eased their horses into a ground-covering canter toward the spot where they
hoped the Cartwright brother's were camped. The sounds of their arrival made
Hoss lift his head and with a frantic cry, he called to his father. "Pa,
cried Ben as he ran toward his helpless son. Joe had reached his brother first
and cut the ropes. Ben saw the gash on his son's head and his torn and bleeding
wrists. "My God boy, what happened to you?"
took him Pa. They took Adam." Hoss' tone was a desperate mixture of fear
was momentarily confused by what Hoss was trying to tell him. He looked around
for his oldest son. Finally the words sunk in and cold fear grabbed at Ben's
gut. "What do you mean somebody took him---who took him?" Ben took a
deep breath, trying to steady himself.
retrieved a canteen from his saddle. Hoss swallowed hard than told his father
and brother everything that had happened. "Than they rode away Pa and they
took him. The last thing Adam said to me was stop them---he said, do whatever it
takes. But if we go after him, they said they'd kill him." Hoss stopped and
looked down. Almost
whispering he said, "they told me to tell ya they'd put a bullet in him if
we followed." Hoss looked at his father, not knowing what else to say.
you take Hoss to the doctor. I'll go after Adam." Joe couldn't stand the
inaction any longer. Every part of him needed to move forward. All he knew was
that both of his older brother's had been abused by two men who thought gold was
more important than a human life and he was angry.
you will not go after anybody. Do you hear me?" Ben's eyes stared into
Joe's. "I have one son under the gun, I'll not have two."
Pa---that's Adam out there. We can't just leave him. You know they won't turn
him loose." The overwhelming fear Joe was feeling showed itself in anger
and impatience. " I can't just stand around and wait while we talk about
what to do. And neither can Adam!"
you listen to me," Ben hissed. "You will wait until we figure out the
safest way to get Adam back. These men won't hesitate to kill your brother. I
want my son back alive and I won't have you getting yourself or him killed
because you went off half-cocked." Ben stopped than added. "Is that
defiance in Joe's eyes burned for another moment before it was replaced by
resignation. "Yeah, I understand."
turned back to Hoss. "Can you ride son?"
I'm ok Pa---really. How we gonna handle this?"
need to have a doctor look at you first," said Ben but before he could
continue, Hoss interrupted him.
you weren't here. These men---especially Winters, they'll hurt him. We got no
choice. We got to go after him." Hoss stood up.
you sure you're alright?" Ben asked once again.
told you Pa," Hoss said in a determined tone, "I'm fine. Adam asked me
to stop them and that's just what I'm gonna do." He went to his horse and
started to tack up. He turned back and faced both his father and younger
brother. "Pa, Adam pulled me out of that stream. If it weren't for him, I'd
be dead. Now I'm gonna return the favor." He turned back to Chubb and
continued. "He was more concerned about what they was doing to the land
than himself, but I tell you Pa, I don't give a damn what they do to the land, I
want my brother back." Hoss mounted and started following track.
was no conversation among the trio of men who rode further into the hill
country. The longer Adam stayed in the saddle, the more his ankle throbbed with
pain. Right now, he'd give anything if he hadn't put his boot back on. Winters
finally stopped beside a swiftly flowing creek that tumbled down among boulders
worn smooth by time.
Cartwright, get down," Winters said as he dismounted.
dismounted, carefully trying to avoid putting any stress on his ankle. He
started to walk toward a rocky outcropping but finally the unsteady joint gave
way and he fell to the ground. Unable to hide the pain, he held his ankle and
grimaced until he was once more in control. The sweat broke out on his brow and
his color faded to a pasty white. He dragged himself along until he reached a
rock to lean against. Breathing hard he looked at Winters and said, "now
we'll see if we can find some nuggets in this pretty little stream," he
said as he reached into a pack for dynamite and blasting caps. "I wouldn't
stay there Cartwright unless you want us to give you back to yer Daddy in
and Johnson descended into the stream and put the explosives in a place that
would disrupt the natural flow of the creek. Adam pushed himself upright with
the help of the rock he had been leaning against. Using the ledge for support,
he moved away from the area of the blast.
and his partner scrambled out of the water and took cover. The explosion sent
tremors through the ground they stood on. Being that close to the blast caused a
temporary pain in their ears and left them all with a short-lived hearing loss.
coughed out the dust that he had breathed in. His eyes watered and his ears
thundered with the lingering sounds. As the air cleared, he made his way toward
what had once been the shoreline. The blast had uprooted trees and split the
granite giants that had randomly dotted the waterway. Once again, the water ran
brown with mud and debris, following a new path. He wondered if his family had
heard the blast.
Winters, why can't he dig, instead of us doing it?" Johnson said in a voice
more befitting a five-year-old than a grown man.
down there and start digging," Winters growled as he throw a shovel at
you want me to work, you better let me do something about this ankle." Adam
didn't move. He tried not to let his voice give away the pain he felt.
was tempted to strike out at his captive again but he wanted Adam in good enough
shape to work. "Alright Cartwright, go ahead."
sat down and removed the wrappings. He knew the swelling would keep him from
pulling his boot off. Adam looked up at Winters and said, " I need a
was about to protest when Adam continued. "Look, I'm not going to be able
to do anything until I split this boot."
took a hunting knife from the protective cover at his waist and threw it at
Adam's feet. "Hurry it up Cartwright and don't try anything."
wouldn't think of it." The words flowed out of his mouth before Adam
thought about what he was saying; someday I'll think before I speak. He hoped
his snide tone wouldn't anger Winters further. He used the knife to open his
boot to just above his ankle. It instantly relieved some of the pressure from
the swelling. He would have liked to take the boot off completely and put his
foot into the cold water of the creek. But he knew what he wanted made no
Cartwright, leave the knife and start diggin."
Winters sat down and watched as Adam descended into the now drying
streambed. Creatures that once lived in the cold, deep water lay dead or dying
in tiny pools drying inward from the edges. A deep sadness entered Adam's eyes
as he took in the devastation. A silent promise kept echoing in his mind; he'd
stop them, no matter what he had to do. Somehow, he'd stop them.
three Cartwright men lifted their heads; they all knew what it was. They rode
hard toward the sound that conflicted so harshly with the peaceful surroundings.
Hoss slowed Chubb to a walk and watched the ground for more signs. Suddenly,
there they were again, tracks of four shod horses. "Look Pa," he said.
They ain't even trying to cover their tracks. Figured we wouldn't follow them as
long as they had Adam."
horses?" Joe said with a question in his voice.
Joe, they had a packhorse with them," Hoss said. "These tracks are
pretty fresh. If they was blasting a creek again, they gotta be pretty close.
Morgan's Creek, I'll bet they're at Morgan's Creek," he exclaimed.
sons looked at their father, waiting for some direction. Ben hesitated. What if
we catch up with them and can't get to Adam before they hurt him? I'll never
forgive myself, he thought. But what's the alternative? They'll use him as a
hostage, but they'll never let him go. Ben turned in the direction of Morgan's
Creek. God help me make the right decision he implored.
face set, Ben turned back to his sons. "Mount up. We're going to get your
had trouble concentrating. He was exhausted from the combination of no water or
food and the pain. Every time he lifted another shovel full of dirt, his bruised
back and ribs cramped. Finally, he just stopped working, not caring for the
moment what the outcome might be.
and Johnson had been sitting on the stream bank, killing another bottle. Winters
looked at Adam through squinted eyes. "What's your problem Cartwright? Keep
knew he was close to his physical limit and if he didn't stop soon, he'd just
collapse. He also knew that what he was about to say probably wasn't the
smartest thing to do but he said it anyway. With a nonchalance he didn't really
feel, he said "no."
I told you before. I might want you alive but almost dead still counts. The
liquor Winters had consumed just made him meaner and gave him the false courage
he needed to face a man he knew was a superior adversary.
didn't move. He leaned against the shovel, trying to take the weight off his
ankle. He had nothing more to say, so he just stared at his tormentor.
got up, pointing the rifle at his recalcitrant hostage. "Get out of there
Cartwright," he snarled.
the shovel as a crutch, Adam was able to move across the drying streambed and up
the bank. Johnson got up and stood next to Winters.
obeyed and pushed Adam in front of him toward a huge, old pine. He tied Adam
securely, arms bent backward around the rough trunk. He watched as Winters
think you're so much better than us, don't ya. You got all this land and don't
care if anybody else gets their share." Winters moved within striking
distance. Adam tensed. He could smell the alcohol and knew it fueled the man's
let me tell you Cartwright, there's gold here and I don't give a damn if it's on
your land or not. And I don't care how many streams and trees get blown up while
I'm look'in for it." By now, Winters was yelling. His hands were clenched
and he was shaking with rage.
fists caught Adam with muscles tensed but the blows still took their toll. His
face and ribs took most of the punishment. There was nothing he could do but try
and breath between the punches. Finally Winters' ire seemed to cool and he
stopped. He backed away from his victim. He looked down at his bloodied hands, a
smile of triumph on his face. He knew the blood wasn't his. "Still think
you're so much better, Cartwright?"
picked his head up and looked toward the sound. Both his eyes were beginning to
swell, making it hard to see. Blood ran freely from his nose and mouth. He knew
he was at the end of his strength. He felt the sting of something that had
always been so foreign to his nature; helplessness. Helpless to keep the
promised trust and helpless to do anything for himself. But helpless or not, his
pride was still intact and he'd be damned if he'd let this coward see what he
was feeling. He looked into Winters' eyes, smiled and said, "always."
gunman was now infuriated and he drew his sidearm. He held it out straight in
front of him, aiming at Adam's chest. "I'll take my chances with your old
man," he said.
little time to think, Adam smiled at the picture in his head of he and Hoss
standing in the middle of the deep, cold stream; laughing and telling stories.
God, I'll miss him he thought. I'll miss them all. He dropped his head and
waited for the shot that would end his life.
heard the sound of approaching horses. His partner was too intent on ending
Adam's life to hear anything. "Winters, he shouted. Somebody's comin."
looked away from his victim. "Quick", he said. "Get behind those
rocks." They both scrambled for cover.
the shot didn't come, Adam lifted his head. He heard the sound of horses and
knew it must be his family. He turned his head back to Winters and Johnson in
time to see them retrieve some dynamite from the packhorse. He immediately knew
signaled for his sons to spread out. They slowly moved forward, guns drawn. Hoss
was the first one to break into the clearing. Adam watched as his brother
approached and knew he was completely unaware of the two men hiding behind the
spotted his brother, bound to the pine. "Adam," he whispered and
briefly closed his eyes against the site of his battered sibling. His gun
dropped to his side.
warning, Winters stepped out, dynamite in hand, fuse lit.
struggled against his restraints and shouted his brother's name. "Hoss,
Hoss could raise his gun, Winters threw the ignited missile toward the man who
had taunted him. The man he couldn't break. A smile twisted his lips as the
explosion shattered the air.
watched as the scene unfolded in front of him, powerless to stop it. His brother
was now hidden from him behind a cloud of smoke and dust. With an enraged howl
welling out of him, he launched himself at the man he intended on destroying.
and Joe came into the clearing together, just in time to see Winters throw the
explosive. Both fell to the ground.
Momentarily stunned, they gathered their senses and rose to their feet.
ran to Adam. Joe turned to Hoss. He saw Johnson come out of hiding and raise his
gun to fire but Joe was quicker and his bullet was deadly accurate.
watched as his middle brother shook Winters as if he was a rag doll.
told ya," Hoss said, "there ain't no place you could hide that I
wouldn't find ya."
himself into action, Joe tried to pry Hoss' fingers away from the man who was no
longer struggling. "No Hoss, stop. You'll kill him!"
me alone Joe. I wanna kill him," he replied, his voice cold and
emotionless. "He killed Adam."
knew he couldn't come close to matching his brother's strength. There was only
one appeal he could use. " Hoss please, we need to help Adam," he
said, his voice trembled.
still held on to Winters but he had stopped shaking him. He looked at Joe than
over at where Adam now lay on the ground, his father bending over him. He
dropped Winters and went to his injured older brother.
don't know. He's unconscious." The only thing Ben could see was Adam's
beaten body, his chest rising with shallow breaths.
spoke up. "We've got to get him help but the ranch is too far and so is
shook his head as if trying to clear away everything that had happened. How
could they be laughing and happy one minute than suddenly thrust into a
roused. "Joe, ride for the doctor. There's a line shack a couple of miles
south of here. You know the one. Hoss and I will take him there." Ben
looked at Joe. "Be careful son," he said.
a reassuring smile for his father and a gentle squeeze for Hoss' shoulder, Joe
took one last look at his oldest brother and was gone.
I'm afraid to move him onto a horse. Besides, we're all too big to ride double.
We'll have to make a travois." Ben's voice was tight. He had to keep
himself together. Breaking down now wouldn't help his son. Later, there would be
time for that later.
did as his father asked. Ben tied Winters to the same tree that had held his
son. "You can't leave me here Cartwright," Winters moaned. "I
need a doctor. He almost killed me."
my son dies, Mr. Winters, you won't have to worry about "almost," Ben
replied. Winters knew the threat was real.
ready to move him Pa." With the help of his father, Hoss hooked the travois
to Buck. He was a steadier horse and less likely to spook than Adam's much loved
they started to lift in tandem but abruptly stopped when Adam cried out in pain.
"Adam, we need to get you some help and to do that, we have to move you.
I'm sorry son." Ben's voice was strained with guilt and regret as he gently
stroked the side of his boy's face.
opened his eyes and saw his father and middle brother looking at him. He
couldn't smile, his abused face won't allow it but he looked at Hoss and
whispered," lay on Macduff." Blessedly, he passed out.
and Hoss knew the night would be long. Adam never moved nor spoke while they
carried him into the little cabin. They washed the cuts and bruises that covered
his body and removed what remained of his boot. Blood had accumulated in the
soft tissues surrounding his ankle causing them to swell and turn a deep shade
of blue. Hoss raised his foot up on several folded blankets and placed cold, wet
compresses on the injured limb.
I know you won't sleep but why don't you at least close your eyes for a little
while? I'll watch him." Hoss became more worried as he watched his father
become increasingly restless.
alright son but thank you." How like Hoss to think of everybody but himself
thought Ben. "I can't rest until I know ---." He stopped in
mid-sentence and placed the back of his hand on Adam's forehead than ran his
fingers down one bruised cheekbone. "All for gold. They beat my son and
destroy the land for gold." He knew he'd never understand.
first light found them both keeping the long vigil at Adam's bedside. Hoss got
up and went outside to check on the horses. He breathed deeply of the new
morning air. He had always loved this quietest of times. Unwilling to give in to
his exhaustion, he picked up a bucket and walked to the stream.
welcome sound of hoof beats broke Hoss' reverie. It was Joe. And with him were
the doctor and the Sheriff. Just seeing that help had finally arrived gave him
and Roy entered the line shack while Joe went to greet Hoss. "Any
change," Joe asked.
He hasn't moved since we brought him in." Hoss looked toward the cabin.
"He did wake up when we first tried to move him onto the travois."
Hoss hesitated than continued, struggling to keep his voice from cracking.
"He was quot'n some writer fella; you know how he does." Tears slide
down his face and he made no move to wipe them away. Joe wanted to ask more but
waited for Hoss to offer. They walked to the shack in silence.
examined his patient on the narrow cot that butted against the wall. He asked
Ben what he knew of Adam's injuries and how they had occurred. All the
information fed into his estimate of the young man's condition. The uneven
pupils confirmed what the doctor had suspected. A definite head injury but
whether only a concussion or complicated by a fracture, he did not know.
Finally, he drew the cover up over the still body on the bed.
Martin turned to see distressed faces that stared at him with questioning eyes.
"He has a head injury, Ben. Probably caused when he was forced back against
the tree by the blast. Believe it or not, his other injuries are not as terrible
as they seem." Ben looked doubtful. Paul put a hand on Ben's arm. "I
know. They look awful but it isn't anything that won't heal. He does have some
cracked ribs." Paul moved back to Adam's side and placed a protective hand
on his shoulder. He said softly," I don't know if that happened before or
after the explosion."
drew himself up, straightening his shoulders. "Can we take him home,
Paul?" For some unknown reason, Ben felt that if he could just get his son
home than everything would be alright again. Adam would be surrounded by the
things he loved and by the people who loved him.
slow, sad smile crossed the doctor's lips. "No Ben, not yet. Let's see how
he does tonight and I'll know more in the morning. Right now, I don't want him
to have any extra movement or noise. Just rest."
sat at Adam's bedside while Ben went to make coffee. Hoss and Joe followed the
sheriff outside. Joe had told Roy the entire story, including where he could
find Winters and the body of his partner. "Don't you boys worry about
nothin', I'll take care of this Winters fella. He'll be behind bars in no
Roy," Joe said.
had remained silent during the conversation, until now. "You keep him safe
Roy. Cause if anything happens to Adam, he's mine." He walked back inside.
dropped his head than looked back up at the sheriff. "He'll be ok Roy. He's
just hurtin, is all."
understand Joe. Can't say as I feel much different myself." With that, he
left to pick up his prisoner.
Paul and Joe sat outside on the porch, watching the last light of day fade from
the sky. Hoss sat inside with Adam.
time you need to listen to me older brother," Hoss started. "Now I
ain't about to go through life without you to help me out. I know Pa would
always be there but there's just some things that's easier to talk to a brother
about than a Pa." He watched Adam for a response. The ink-colored lashes
remained still. "And Joe, well Joe's just too young yet. And we both know
he's more likely to steer me into a mess than out of one." Hoss couldn't
help but smile at the thought of his impish younger brother. "Come on now
Adam. You promised Ma you'd always be there for me. You can't break yer word to
her." He stopped and waited once more but there was no response. He sighed
and dropped his head into his hands.
whispered words broke the silence. "I could never deny her anything,
especially a promise to take care of what she loved most." The utterance
coming from Adam had been muted but clear.
by the sound of Adam's voice, Hoss raised his head and stared into the face of
his now conscious sibling. "Welcome back, brother. You were beginning to
I don't remember just what happened after you came into the clearing." Adam
closed his eyes and furrowed his brows. Hoss knew the gesture was one of trying
to keep the pain at bay.
matter now. You just rest. I'll get Pa." Hoss rose. But before he went to
get his family, he took a moment to look up and say thank you.
was glad to finally get away by himself. His recovery was unremarkable but his
over-anxious father had kept him close to home for some time. Not wanting to
upset him further, Adam had indulged his father's
sat on the boulder and looked around. The little glade had been spared, at least
for now. He knew there would be others who sought to cut down the trees or foul
the water or destroy the land, all in the name of money and power and progress.
But at least while he and his family lived, the Ponderosa would be safe.
A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth before he dropped his eyes once again
to the open pages of his book.
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