Just Another Friday
Lily of the West

The usual disclaimer:The Cartwrights and other Bonanza characters belong to D. Dortort; I just let them out of their stables and took them for a little gallop in the fields. This story was written for pure enjoyment and does not intend to infringe on anybody’s copyright.

I’m grateful to everybody who read it, pointed out typos and had suggestions for improvement. Thanks to Becky for kicking out the lindwurm. A big warm thanks to Gwynne Logan, who took the time to do a detailed edit of the text. She had many thoughtful comments, fearlessly rounded up all those stray commas and gently pointed out that gerunds are not my friends. And sorry about the prairie oysters (wink wink).


Just Another Friday

  A Bonanza story by Lily of the West


July 2003
* * *

Everybody needs a bucket. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do for a living; whether you are rich or poor, old or young, honest or crooked, whether you live in a mansion or in a shack – chances are you own a bucket. Chances are also that you don’t pay much attention to your bucket, unless, of course, you need it for some task or other. And even then, if you’re like most people, your mind is likely to be occupied by more important things…..

* * *

Virginia City, Friday, April 26, 1860

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~  


~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

In a booming mining town like Virginia City, hardware of any kind was always in short supply. It had been less than a year since the discovery of a silver lode of unequaled proportions had made the Comstock the most exciting place to be in all the Western territories. All across the continent, men of any age and ability had dropped whatever they were doing and flocked to the mountains of western Utah territory to pull their fortune from the earth. 

Most of them arrived without a clue about how to work a claim, and few had had the brilliant foresight to bring any equipment. Soon, a good shovel could cost more than a good mule, and men had been known to bash each other’s skulls in with the very pickaxes they were fighting over.

So when on this cool spring morning the owner of Baxter mercantile hung a sign in the window that read:

New hardware in:
shovels, pans, pickaxes,
sturdy tin buckets with lids, 
only 90 cents a piece

a line of customers was soon forming outside. There was the usual assortment of grizzled miners and claim owners eager to replace broken shovels and lost pickaxes, but among them was also Horace Hunneker, the owner of the new saloon that was scheduled to open its doors that evening with a much-awaited celebration. Horace needed buckets for various house-cleaning tasks to get the place ready for the public. There was Hank Allenby, the elderly bank clerk, who had some house cleaning of his own to do, and even Emma Martin, the doctor’s wife – as even a surgeon has need of a bucket occasionally…

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Sitting on the seat of the buckboard, Ben Cartwright sighed, as he always did when coming into town these days. Their once sleepy frontier trading post seemed to be undergoing a frightening metamorphosis. On every trip they took, there were new A-frame shacks, more wagonloads of wide-eyed newcomers, more stacks of loose timber lining the roadsides, and the fuzzy cover of canvas tents had crawled further up the surrounding hills like a fungus. With the many trampling hooves and feet, the mud grew ever deeper.

Thousands had come in the fall of ’59 and had been caught by the snows of November. Helter-skelter, up and down the hills and valleys, they squatted through that first winter under tarps made from old burlap sacks and in boxes rigged from moldy scrap wood; some subsisted like gophers in holes they had dug into the hillsides. Many didn’t live through the brutal winter, and the melt waters of spring had carried their rotting bodies from the hills to deposit them on the outskirts of town. There was hunger, despair and lawlessness, and Ben had heard whispered stories telling of those who lived only because they ate those who didn’t.

And then spring had come. The Washoe Zephyrs swept from the hills to blow away the rickety dwellings along with the musty smell of breakup. It wasn’t uncommon to see a frayed sail of sewn-together feed sacks, some poor devil’s home for the last three months, lift into the air and fly away like some great prehistoric bird. The mud was drying, the mines were open, and the building of Virginia City had begun.

A constant hammering filled the air, and Ben felt the thump – thump of the stamp mills vibrate in his belly like an animal heartbeat. He was sure that if he were to lie on the ground and put his ear to the earth, he would be able to hear the pounding of rock hammers and pickaxes hundreds of feet underneath. 

In the last two months, Virginia City had grown by several hotels, a few gambling halls, and even – God help them all – a brothel or two, inhabited by painted females with bad teeth who had followed on the heels of the silver strike to stake their own kind of a claim. They sashayed down the town’s wooden boardwalks in broad daylight, winking at young boys and threadbare old sourdoughs alike – in a gold rush town, you never knew by a man’s looks if he didn’t carry a fortune in his rags.

“Watch that hole, Joe,” Ben advised his youngest son, who was holding the reins next to him on the buckboard seat. Ben was secretly pleased at the expert way Joe steered the team of roans around the hip-deep mud hole - the boy was getting to be quite a horseman. That is, as long as he could keep his attention on his team instead of the many roadside distractions.

Just how a father was supposed to keep a wild-hearted seventeen-year-old boy out of trouble in a place like this was a topic Ben discussed nightly with his Maker.Born and raised in the wilderness, Little Joe’s only glimpse of city life had been a rare trip to Frisco or Sacramento, during which either Ben or his oldest brother Adam had kept an eyeball on him at all times. And now, all the sin and temptation of civilization had landed right smack in the middle of their own backyard. To Joe, it was as if the earth had opened up to reveal a whole new world underneath, full of strange sounds and sights and forbidden things.

Trying to keep his youngest completely isolated from the havoc of town, Ben knew, would only brighten the attraction. Best to let him have it in small doses. Ben made a point of taking Joe along on his weekly supply trips, where he could have him right there next to him on the buckboard seat, within instant reach of a restraining arm.

As they drove down the street towards the mercantile, Joe’s head was snapping this way and that in an attempt to keep up with the many attractions rolling by, like that of a puppy trying to snatch mosquitoes out of the air. Over by the corner, a purple-robed hooker was just now lifting her skirts to display her legs to a group of potential customers. Joe’s eyes popped wide open.

“Pa! Pa, did you see that?”

“No, Joseph, I didn’t, and neither did you. Watch the road.”

“Yes, Pa. Sorry, Sir.” 

Ben wasn’t nearly as worried about Hoss and Adam. His middle son Hoss showed little interest in the reckless pace of town life and preferred the quiet of the mountains and the work with his animals. Adam had left for college in Boston when he had been Joe’s age, and Ben had always known, with a twinge of regret, that whatever sin could tempt his eldest son’s restless heart had already found him there. The mayhem of Virginia City hardly held any new promises for Adam.

They pulled up in front of Baxter Mercantile just as the last of the long row of customers dispersed. 

“Morning, Mr. Baxter,” Ben greeted after stepping through the open door. “Good business today, huh?”

“Got new hardware in; you know how that goes. Reckon you’ll want the usual order? I got it all stacked for you in the corner over there, Mr. Cartwright. Kinda figured you’d show up, it being Friday.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you. My son will load it in the buckboard,” he said pointedly with a glance at Joe, who seemed more interested in the collection of silver-studded gun belts in the window. Ben cleared his throat. “Joseph!”

Joe jumped. “Yes, Pa!” Ben nodded towards the pile of boxes and sacks of cornmeal and flourin the corner. “Oh! Sure, Pa!” He heaved a sack onto his shoulder and carried it outside.

“Mr. Cartwright,” Baxter began, “I hear that Chinaman of yours…”

“His name is Hop Sing,” Ben said patiently.

“Of course. Hop Sing. I understand he keeps chickens. Well, it just so happens that I got a new kind of chicken feed in, all the way from Kansas Territory. Some kind of wild grain as grows only on real buffalo dung out in the prairies. Has to be hand-picked by virgin Cheyenne squaws. Amazing stuff. Miss Hampton says her hens lay twice the eggs since she put’em on it.”

“Is that so?” Ben said without interest. He watched as Joe came back in, grinning eagerly at his father as he gathered up too many boxes at once and dropped two of them on the way out. Ben smiled to himself. The only time the boy showed this kind of enthusiasm for a boring task was when he had a mind to ask for something in return. Ben had a pretty good idea what that would be.

“Uh, Mr. Cartwright, I was saying…”

“Yes, I heard, Mr. Baxter. I’ll take a look at the stuff.”

Baxter heaved an open burlap sack onto the counter and Ben ran his fingers through the contents. “Well, that looks like ordinary barley and molasses to me.”

“Not at all, Mr. Cartwright! This here’s a real rare kind of grain, and the only souls in the whole world what knows where to find it are vir…”

“Virgin Cheyenne squaws, of course. Thanks, but I think we have enough chicken feed.”

Baxter was about to try again when Little Joe sidled up to the counter next to Ben, rubbing his hands. “All done, Pa!” He grinned amiably. “All done and stacked. Stacked it real good and tied it down, too, so it won’t shift, just the way you like it. Anything else I can do for you, Pa?” 

Ben raised a mild eyebrow at his son. “Well, son, I’m surprised and pleased at your eagerness. Let’s see…when have you last had a haircut?”

Joe’s whole face kind of sat down at this, and then, with a valiant effort, picked itself up again. “Sure, Pa…if you really think I should…I’d be delighted, absolutely thrilled…”


“…tickled, in fact. And you’re right. It’s been three weeks, almost forever …”

“Joe, don’t push it,” Ben said sternly and watched his son shrink an inch or so under his stare. Enjoying himself immensely, he gave Joe a conciliatory pat on the shoulder. ”I think that haircut can wait for another day, son. Why don’t you simply tell me what’s on your mind?”

“Oh. Well.” Joe took a deep breath. “Pa, everybody’s been talking about…you know. I was hoping I could…just for a minute…”

“You want to check out the new saloon.”

Joe’s eyebrows rose hopefully.

“And what do you plan on doing there?”

“Just have a look, Pa. They’re getting ready for the big opening party tonight. It’s supposed to be real fancy, you know: silk tablecloths and chandeliers and dancing gir…I mean, ladies…,” he finished lamely and bit his lip.

“I see. You just want to have a brief look before the opening and have a beer or two.”

“That’s right, Pa!” Joe said brightly, recognizing the trap too late. “Oh no, Pa, no beer. No way. Not this early in the day, I wouldn’t…”

Ben held up a hand to stop the flow of words. “Joe, listen carefully. I have to go and see Doc Martin about the sick ranch hands. That’ll take about twenty minutes. You may go and visit the saloon in the meantime if you promise me not to have any beer or whiskey.”

Joe blinked at him, surprised. He hadn’t hoped for it to be this easy. “I promise, Pa.,” he said earnestly. “No beer, no whiskey.”

“All right, off you go then. Take the buckboard with you. I’ll meet you at the saloon when I’m done at the Doc’s.” 

“Thanks, Pa!” Joe bounced away and Ben looked after him fondly. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. He trusted his young son with wild horses and hundreds of head of cattle and would place his life in his hands out in the mountains. But the perils of town were a different matter. Joe had had so little experience with them. Oh well, Ben mused, the boy was almost a grown man now, and a father would have to let go, one leap of faith at a time. 

“Uh…Mr. Cartwright?” Baxter had walked around the corner and appeared at Ben’s side. “While you were talking to your boy – a fine boy heis, Mr. Cartwright – I thought some more about that chicken feed…”

“Mr. Baxter, I believe I said…”

“Sure, Mr. Cartwright, but I decided to give you a free sample, ‘cause you and your family is just about our best customers.” He handed Ben a tin bucket with a wooden handle and a tightly fitted lid. “I put some of that feed in there for you, and you’ll see if them chickens don’t lay two eggs apiece all next week.” He paused and shuffled his feet. “That’ll just be three dollars for the bucket. Real hard to come by in this town, nice buckets are.”

Ben felt an impulse to pour the chicken grain over Baxter’s head, but he just fixed him with a glare instead. “If I am not mistaken, Mr. Baxter, these buckets were only ninety cents a half hour ago”. He nodded at the handwritten sign in the window.

Baxter smiled smoothly. “Well, Mr. Cartwright, a half hour ago there was a lot more of them.”

Ben heaved a sigh. When would this man learn that he couldn’t swindle a Cartwright? “I have a better idea, Mr. Baxter. Why don’t I take the feed, and if our chickens indeed lay two eggs apiece all next week, I’ll buy all the grain you have and pay you double price for it next time I’m in town. And if they don’t, I’ll simply bring back your bucket. How is that?”

Baxter withered under Ben’s black-eyed stare and mumbled his agreement.

“Goodbye then, Mr. Baxter,” Ben tipped his hat, stepped outside and turned his steps towards Doc Martin’s house. 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Buzzing with anticipation, Joe parked the team in front of the new saloon, sprang up the boardwalk to the swinging doors and peeked inside. The place looked magnificent. Rows of Chinese paper lanterns and garlands were strung this way and that from the ceiling. Posters advertising meerschaum pipes and exotic liquors decorated the walls. There were a dozen or so tables, each covered with a crisp white tablecloth. Woven drapes and Indian blankets were hung from the balustrade, and a brand new piano of shining dark wood sat in the corner. Even the brass spittoons were polished to a dazzle, reflecting the gaudy colors from the Chinese lanterns. Joe’s heart leapt with excitement at all the majesty of it. This place sure promised to be a notch above the town’s usual dirt floor booze tents filled with rough-hewn characters. He wondered if the dancing girls were housed in the upstairs rooms behind the balustrade.

“Young Cartwright! We’re not opening til four, but come on in anyways and feast yer eyes!” The proprietor, Horace Hunneker, was polishing glasses behind the bar. Horace was a middle-aged, lanky fellow, a former trading post owner, who had poured all his savings and dreams into his new establishment. When he saw Joe’s face at the doors, he waved him over to the bar. 

“Ain’t she a beauty,” he continued, waving his arm around the room, when Joe had bellied up to the smooth mahogany of the bar, “we sure got her dressed up for her big night.”

Following Horace’s gaze towards the back of the room, Joe noticed a disheveled, bearded man who was going from table to table with a tin bucket in his hand. At each table, he reached into the bucket and pulled out what looked like a small bouquet of little white flowers – spring daisies – and arranged them carefully in a shot glass on the tablecloth.

Seeing Joe’s smile, Horace tilted his head towards the figure and lowered his voice. “Ol’ Oscar been in my employ all day, helping me fancy the place up. Had him pick flowers in Hampton’s meadow by the crick. Guess I’m in the mood for charity on this fine day.”

Joe had heard all about Oscar. He was one of many out-of-luck miners who had gotten in with the wrong partner and lost everything on some dubious claim swindle. It had cracked him, people said. Now poor Oscar was reduced to working odd jobs around town to earn his booze. He was a short, hunched-over fellow of indeterminate age, dressed in rags, with messy gray hair and a chest-long frizzy beard that still carried information on what he had eaten last week. It was a well-known fact that Oscar didn’t smell so good because he probably hadn’t bathed since the days of the old trading post. But he had a sweet temper, even more so when he was liquored up, and he took just about any job without complaint and generally made an honest attempt at getting it done. Most people were fond enough of him and tried to indulge him by letting him paint barns or pick up horse manure in exchange for a few shots of whiskey and a meal; the only challenge was to keep him sober for long enough to complete the job. Apparently even such a demeaning task as picking flowers in Hampton’s meadow was not beneath him. Picking flowers, Joe thought sadly, just wasn’t a proper job for a man.

After decorating the last table, Oscar straightened up and called out towards the bar. “How’s them flowers look, Mr. Hunneker?”

“Just fine. You done a right good job, Oscar,” Horace replied with a wink towards Joe. “Come on over here and have a drink with us.”

Oscar’s face lit up at this, and he shuffled across the room. He nodded courteously at Joe, set the flower bucket on the floor and planted his elbows on the bar. He looked at Horace with the expression of a dog about to be fed.

Horace set a couple of bottles and shot glasses on the counter. “What’s it gonna be, Oscar? We got bourbon, rum, brandy, Russian vodka, whiskey, schnapps from Austria…”

“Plain ol’ whiskey’s fine, Mr. Hunneker. Ain’t got no stomach for that foreign stuff.”

“Suit yourself, Oscar,” Horace smiled. He poured Oscar a whiskey and then picked up a bottle of Austrian schnapps. “How ‘bout it, young Cartwright? Join me for a schnapps? Marvelous stuff, imported from Vienna. We’re going for some real international flavor these days, you know. Don’t worry now, it’s on the house.”

Joe hesitated while he pondered this dilemma for a moment. Was schnapps the same as whiskey? He could, of course, ask Horace, but if the answer was yes, he’d be stuck. On the other hand, as long as he didn’t ask, he couldn’t be expected to know, and having a schnapps would, at worst, be an innocent errorand not a broken promise to his Pa. 

“Sure, I’ll take one,” he drawled, trying to sound like a man of experience. Horace poured him a shot, and Joe took a careful sip. The stuff burned like acid down into his stomach, leaving a trail of heat, and he had to bite his lip to keep from coughing, which solicited a sly smile from Horace.

“Anyways. There’ll be only the best in this place.” Horace gestured his shot glass at the festooned room.“Schnapps from Austria, crystal from Paris, girls from N’Orleans. All ordered by mail and imported.” He frowned thoughtfully. “All that’s missing is a proper name for the place.”

Joe straightened up. “You can order girls? From New Orleans?” 

“You can order anything - if you got connections.” Horace aimed another wink at Joe.

“Are the girls…?”Joe’s eyes wandered up the stairs to the rooms on the first floor.

“Yep, they sure are. Sleeping now, they got a busy night coming.”

Joe made a mental note to look into the matter later. He took another swig from his shot glass and held it out to Horace for a refill. “What you mean, all that’s missing is a proper name? You sayin’ you open in less than five hours and don’t know what to name the place yet?”

Horace shook his head, and his expression sagged while he absently filled Joe’s glass. “Just haven’t found the right name yet. Been thinking about it day and night for weeks.” He reached behind the bar and dragged forth a long carved board painted a brilliant white. “It’s the name board for above the doors,” he explained sadly. ”Trouble is, I ain’t got anything to put on it yet.” He cocked his head and dreamily stared into the air above Joe’s hat. “You see, this ain’t gonna be your typical cowpoke watering hole. This place is gonna have class, and international flair. The name’s gotta reflect that. If you got any suggestions… I’m getting pretty desperate at this point.”

“The Golden Spur.” Oscar intoned longingly while he chased a dim memory of a classy girl in a classy place somewhere else, long ago, both of whom he had frequented in better days.

“Nah, too common. Got one of those in every town from here to Kansas.”

“How about the ‘Rearing Bronco’?” Joe suggested cheerfully and sipped. His brain was beginning to swim just a little bit.

Horace shook his head. “Too cowboy. It’s gotta be a mining name, for a mining town. And it’s gotta have originality. Nobility. Class.” His gaze wandered towards the ceiling while his fingers lovingly stroked the smooth wood of the bar. ”It’s gotta ring like a clarion call across the mountains to lure all the weary and thirsty souls from their toils in the silver mines…”

“The Silver Trumpet?” croaked Oscar and held out his empty glass.

Horace looked at him in surprise and poured him another whiskey. “That ain’t bad. Leastways, the silver part. Dunno about trumpet, though. Who needs a trumpet? It’s gotta be something that speaks to a miner’s heart.”

Oscar didn’t have to think about that one too long. “The Silver Shovel? The Silver Pan? The Silver Bucket?”

Horace frowned. “Hm. Something kinda vulgar about ‘bucket’, ain’t there?”

“Not iffen it’s filled with silver,” Oscar said with feeling. He closed his eyes and imagined it. ”Silver. Beautiful silver. Bucket loads of it. Beautiful buckets full o’ silver. The Bucket o’ Silver.” He opened his lids and looked at Horace with blue-eyed sincerity. “Sure speaks to my miner’s heart.”

“The Bucket of Silver” Joe repeated slowly. “It’s got the originality part. I ain’t sure about the other, though…”

“Sounds right noble to my ears,” Oscar nodded wistfully. “Got real class.” 

“I don’t know…” Horace began.

“Think about it, Mr. Hunneker,” Joe reasoned, feeling the schnapps encourage his logic, “You don’t want it to be too noble. I mean, most of your customers are likely gonna be plain, simple, not-so-noble folk like Oscar here.” When he saw a slow frown gather on Oscar’s brow, he added quickly “And myself.”

Horace didn’t seem convinced. “I still think ‘bucket’ is a bit too…earthy.”

“Well, that’s what us miners is, Mr. Hunneker. We’s earthy.” Oscar mused wisely. He gestured loosely at the decorated room. “You got plenty o’ noble in the place. You kinda need the bucket to keep yer feet on the ground, iffen ye know what I means.”

“Noble and earthy,” Joe nodded his approval.

“Hmm. The ‘Bucket of Silver’.“ Horace said the name out several times, rolled it around his tongue, and then he rowed his arms in the air and roared it into the room, letting it fill the empty spaces. “Hah! On second thought, it does kinda grow on you,” he concluded happily. 

For a second, he stood there, thinking. Then, with sudden resolve, he slapped his palm onto the smooth mahogany of the bar. “Gentlemen, the ‘Bucket of Silver’ it shall be!” He pointed an enterprising finger at Oscar. “Oscar, I’m full of ideas now. I sure could use your help tonight at the opening, if you wanna stick around. Let me see those flowers.”

Oscar lifted the bucket of flowers onto the bar and removed the lid. It was still more than half full of blossoms. Horace lovingly ran his fingers through the daisies. “Oscar, here’s what we’re gonna do. We’ll have an official naming ceremony tonight, after everyone has mingled a little. When I give you the signal, you’ll take this here bucket and go up there,” he pointed at the balustrade on the first floor, ”and when I unveil the name” –here he pointed at the white board behind the bar- “you throw handfuls of them pretty white flowers into the crowd below. It’ll be just like it’s raining silver. Bucket loads of silver. What do you say?” 

Joe bobbed his head approvingly. “That’s plumb brilliant, Mr. Hunneker.”

Oscar’s enthusiasm was a little more subdued. “I suppose it’s gonna be right purdy,” he frowned. He had hoped to be done with flowers and was about to point out that this was a job better suited to one of the girls, when he remembered all the free whiskey he would have the privilege of sampling if he played along. 

“I know I can rely on you, Oscar,” Horace said generously and placed the lid firmly back on the bucket. “You keep an eye on these here flowers and keep the lid on, so’s they won’t dry out.” He handed the bucket back to Oscar, who pushed it down the bar a ways to get it out of the way.

Horace’s eyes wandered dreamily up to the balustrade. “It’s gonna be a glorious night,” he intoned, and then he filled their glasses again, whiskey and schnapps, pouring himself one of the latter. He lifted his in a solemn salute. “Gentlemen: To the ‘Bucket of Silver’, the finest establishment in the Comstock!”

“The ‘Bucket of Silver’,” they repeated, and all three clinked their glasses together and drank. 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

In the meantime, while Joe sipped schnapps at the future ‘Bucket of Silver’, Ben dropped by the place of his old friend, Doctor Paul Martin. The door was open, and after knocking and calling into the house, Ben took a step inside, where the familiar muffled smell of sickness greeted him. Ben often wondered if Paul and his wife even noticed it anymore.

Emma Martin came out of the darkened surgery room, carrying a basin with what appeared to be bloodied water. “Oh, good morning, Ben. No emergency, I hope?”

“Hello, Emma. No, not at all. But I’d like to talk to Paul, if he’s got a moment.”

Suddenly, a hoarse voice ranted out of the darkness of the surgery room. “That you, Martin? You git back in here, you brute, I still got one good hand to strangle you with!”

“Good Lord,” Ben winced, troubled. “Bad case?”

“Very bad.” Emma shrugged sadly and nodded towards the back door. “Paul’s in the garden, Ben. Just go on through.”

Ben walked through the narrow hallway and stepped out into the Martin’s modest fenced garden. The garden was not very well kempt; shaggy wild rose bushes had conquered the fence, and weeds ran rampant. This was in stark contrast to the doctor’s meticulous nature, and probably, Ben reflected, spoke of how little time Paul and Emma had these days for activities other than caring for patients. Smiling, Ben paused a moment to admire the rare and peaceful sight of Paul Martin, gardener. The good doctor was busy digging a deep hole in the middle of the vegetable patch. Next to the hole sat one of the new tin buckets from the mercantile; identical to the one Ben was carrying. 

Paul jumped when he heard someone approach and whirled around. “Ben! You startled me. Good to see you.” He leaned on his spade and wiped his rolled-up sleeve across his face. “What can I do for you?”

“Hello, Paul.” Ben set his bucket down next to Paul’s. “What have you got in here? Planting potatoes?” He lifted the lid off Paul’s bucket and instantly regretted it; at the sight that greeted him, he expelled a strangled cry and recoiled in horror.

“I’m sorry, Ben, I should have warned you. It’s Edgar Jericho. Got hurt in a mine accident. I had to amputate his right arm today.”

Ben shuddered. “Lord, that’s terrible. The poor man.” He stared at the object in the bucket in morbid fascination. He noted how badly squashed the tissue was just above the elbow, and the straight, clean cut through the bicep where the arm had been separated. Ben suddenly realized with horror that he had shaken that same hand not three days ago when Jericho had come to the Ponderosa to buy some chicken eggs from Hop Sing. He fumbled to replace the lid and fought back nausea. 

“My God, Paul, and you just…you just bury it in your garden? That’s…”

“That’s what, Ben? Repulsive? Sickening? If you’ve got a better idea, let me know.” Ben was startled by the sudden edge in his friend’s voice. “Let’s see. Shall I throw it to the stray dogs so they can fight over it in the streets? Or should I drop it out on the trails and hope no one stumbles across it? Or maybe I can chop it up and burn it in my stove, so that the good citizens of Virginia City sniff the air in the streets and say ‘Wonder what Mrs. Martin is cooking for dinner’?”

Ben saw now that his friend looked a bit disheveled and out of sorts, not at all his usual spotless self. For as long as Ben had known Paul Martin, the doctor had been a bastion of composure in moments of chaos. How many times had Ben himself, sitting by the bed of a sick or injured son, been kept on this side of sanity by Paul’s reassuring calm? He had never really considered that there might be a time when Paul took off his professional face and dealt with the debris of his trade, both the emotional kind and the kind that was now in that bucket. 

“Sorry, Ben, I was rude,” Paul was saying now, and as if he had read Ben’s mind, he smiled a little and continued, ”you caught me a bit off guard here. I bet you never wondered about some of the less glamorous tasks of a physician, did you?” He jammed the spade into the loose earth, pulled up one of the lidded buckets and heavily sat on it. 

Sensing that his friend wanted to open up, Ben carefully sat on the other bucket – he was pretty sure it wasn’t the one containing the ghastly object.

Paul ran his fingers through his messy hair and rubbed his tired eyes with the palms of his hands. “Ben, when I was a young man, twenty-five years ago, I apprenticed under the old Dr. Belford in St. Louis. And one day, after a particularly nasty double leg amputation, during which the patient…suffered more than any creature should ever be made to suffer, Old Belford took me to the saloon and bought me a couple of shots of whiskey, and when we were both drunk, he said to me, ‘Paul, we’re butchers. Surgery is a barbaric, cruel trade. But you must never, never harden your heart to the suffering you inflict. You must never allow yourself to become insensitive to human pain. If you do, you will cease to be a good human being. And a good doctor.’ ”

“Paul, you’re the best doctor I’ve ever known.”

“I try to be a good doctor, Ben. But today I was a butcher. I had to saw the arm off of a father of five children, and I couldn’t even put him under, because he has a nasty head wound too, and I was afraid if I knocked him out he would never wake up again. Well, he’s awake now, and he screams obscenities at me every time I enter the house.” 

“Surely he’s delirious and doesn’t know what he’s saying.”

“Of course. They never do. Lord, but I hate amputations. I seem to be doing one every week these days. Those mines just aren’t safe, and I can hardly keep up with the amount of injuries. Human life has become cheap around here, Ben.” He smiled gratefully at his friend. “Thanks for lending an ear. And you haven’t even told me why you’re here. The boys all right?”

“Just fine. But we have a couple of sick ranch hands. Fever, sore throat. Wonder if you could come out and have a look.”

“Any vomiting?”

"Not that I know of.”

“Hm. I’ll come later today. Probably just that spring cold that’s been going around. Just give them lots to drink and keep them in bed.” He got up and grabbed his spade. “Now excuse me, Ben. I gotta make this deep. Can’t have the dogs dig it up.” 

“Then I’ll see you later, Paul.” Ben stood and nodded at his friend. He turned and walked away and was about to re-enter the house, when Paul came running up behind him, carrying one of the lidded buckets.

“Don’t forget this, Ben. What’s in there, anyways?”

Ben shrugged. “Some fancy kind of chicken feed Baxter tried to canoodle me into buying.”

“I see. And Ben, one last word… I’d appreciate if you don’t talk about what you saw here today.” He waved lamely at his vegetable garden. “No need for the whole town to know why my carrots grow so well.”

Ben left Paul’s house and wandered down the town’s wooden boardwalks, weaving his way around the bustle of passers-by, lost in thought. Try as he would, he could not shake the sight of what he had seen in that bucket, nor that tormented voice from the darkness of the surgery room. The Jerichos were recent newcomers to the Comstock. Like Ben had done twenty years ago, they had come all the way from the east in a covered wagon, and like him, they had arrived in this valley filled with that same stubborn pride and capacity for endurance that was born somewhere in the biting winds and brutal winters of the prairies. Their dream of owning their own farm was crushed when they realized their modest savings were not sufficient to buy any good land, and so Edgar had taken up work in one of the mines that sprang up all around Virginia City, setting up his family in the dilapidated shack provided by the mining company. Three days ago, Jericho had come to the Ponderosa to buy chicken eggs for his children, because, Ben knew, he could not afford meat for them. When Ben had wanted to give the eggs and a side of beef as gifts, Edgar Jericho had bristled as if it was an insult to be offered charity, and so Ben had reluctantly accepted the smallest amount of money Jericho was willing to pay. 

What would the Jerichos do now? Crippled as he was, Edgar’s days as a miner were over. He might still be able to work a farm with the help of his wife and his two oldest sons, but how would he earn the money for the land now?

Ben had walked a good five minutes before he realized he had paid no attention to where he was going. He stopped and closed his eyes against the image invading his mind: Edgar Jericho’s right hand, the knuckles callused and dirt-encrusted from ripping through the earth beneath Virginia City, dropping a few coins into his own hand, then shaking it, and then the ghostly white fingers curled against the rim of a tin bucket…Ben shuddered. There had to be some way to help the Jerichos. He looked around. He was near the end of C Street, and the bank was on the other side. An idea came to him right there and then. 

Yes, he knew what he wanted to do. He was about to direct his steps across the street, when he remembered something else. He’d almost forgotten about Joe! The bank would have to wait a moment; first, he had to collect his offspring from the new saloon.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Ben bellied through the saloon’s swinging doors to the sight of three men, his son one of them, convivially grouped around several half-empty bottles of what was most certainly not lemonade.


At that great volcanic boom, Joe’s knees dipped, and he had to hold on to the bar rail as he turned around to face his end. Ben covered the distance in three strides, set his bucket on the floor by one of the tables and grabbed both Joe and one of the offending bottles around the neck. “Schnapps!” He read off the label. “Boy, have you been drinking this?”

Horace and Oscar were watching in slack-jawed fascination; Oscar’s glass was frozen halfway to his mouth. 

“Uh…Pa. You said no whiskey, no beer.” Joe managed meekly. “It…it ain’t the same as whiskey. Or is it?” When his father’s grip tightened painfully around the scruff of his neck, he heard himself answer his own question. “Um. Then again, maybe it is, after all. Isn’t it? Sort of?”

“Are you drunk, boy?” Ben thundered.

“Uh, Mr. Cartwright,” Horace ventured carefully, “he’s only had a smidgen, there ain’t no harm in it. It’s a fine import from Austria; would you like a taste? It’s on the house.”

“I ain’t drunk, Pa, honest,” Joe ventured in a small voice. “I stopped just short of….of getting drunk. Honest.”

To Joe’s surprise, Ben released his neck and heaved a mighty sigh. “I sure could use one. Make it a double, Mr. Hunneker.” He drummed his fingers on the bar and watched Horace fill up the glass, then downed it in one round swill. Setting the glass down, he sighed again and closed his eyes. 

Joe watched with a mix of interest and concern. He knew that his father was a man who could hold his liquor ever since his sailing days, but it wasn’t often that Ben drank so…athletically…in front of his sons, and certainly never before noon. Something was definitely bothering his old man. ”Pa?” he nudged cautiously. 

“Never you mind, son.” Ben turned towards Joe, his dark brows drawing together like thunderclouds. “Joseph, I have business at the bank to see to and have decided to stay in town until the celebration tonight. You will drive the buckboard home, unload the supplies and ask your brother Adam if he has any chores for you to do for the rest of the day. You then may ride back into town with your brothers tonight for the saloon opening. If I hear from Adam tonight that you have not asked him for any chores, you’ve got another thing coming, young man.”

Joe felt the urge to roll his eyes, but he restrained himself. Boy, Pa was really mad. There went what was supposed to be his afternoon off. No fishing today, then. Things weren’t at all going the way he had hoped. And to have his bossy older brother appointed as his watchdog was a humiliation he hadn’t suffered in years.

“And Joseph. No more detours, no more stops. Straight home.” 


Horace had watched the exchange quietly, and now spoke up excitedly, “Mr. Cartwright, I sure am delighted to hear that you and your boys will be present tonight. It’ll be the finest party this here town has ever seen.”

“I don’t doubt it, Mr. Hunneker.” Ben commented wearily. He thanked Horace for the schnapps and followed his son out into the street, where he waved Joe off before directing his steps towards the bank. Suddenly he turned around and stepped up to the buckboard just before Joe steered the team down the street.

“Joe, don’t forget that bucket I brought – give it to Hop Sing when you get home. I left it inside by the bar.” He gave Joe a quick smile and a brisk clap on the thigh and ambled down the street. 

Joe, shaking his head at his old man’s forgetfulness, hopped back inside the saloon. Oscar and Horace had gone into the back room, but Joe saw the lidded bucket sitting on top of the bar. He grabbed it, briefly wondering what exotic spice or seasoning Hop Sing might have ordered this time. But his thoughts were elsewhere, and with a pained sigh, he glanced once more towards the upstairs rooms, imagining the sleeping wonders they contained, before turning towards home to report for duty to Sergeant Adam. 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Hank Allenby, the elderly bank clerk, greeted Ben from behind the counter. “Howdy, Ben, I was just about to close up. Already locked the money in the safe. We’re closing early today for the saloon celebration. Just about the whole town’ll be there. What do you need?”

“Tell me, Hank, does the Jericho family have an account here?”

Hank gave him an odd look. Like everyone in town, he had heard of the cave-in at the mine. “Now, Ben, you know such things are confidential.”

Smiling, Ben raised his eyebrows. “Of course. But let’s say I needed to transfer some money from our account to theirs, could you help me with that?”

Hank nodded approvingly. “If you put it that way, I probably can. How much you thinking about?” And the warm sheen in his eyes betrayed that he had a pretty good idea what Ben was doing.

Ben thought hard about how much money he could afford to give. In early spring, after the losses of winter and before the first timber sales and cattle drives had brought in money, cash flow was always a bit of a problem on the Ponderosa. He would have to justify this to his sons, who, after all, co-owned the ranch. But he knew, without a doubt in his heart, that they would approve. He briefly closed his eyes against the ever-present image of the mangled arm in the bucket. 

“Let’s say a thousand dollars.”

“That’s right decent of you. You know, Ben, the Jerichos is proud folks,” Hank reminded him of the real problem. “They won’t take it if it’s just for pity’s sake.”

Ben saw the dilemma. If Jericho wouldn’t accept a few eggs, how could he make him accept a thousand dollars without losing face? He shook his head sadly. He’d been a bit naïve about this, he realized. Probably what he had seen in Paul’s garden had stirred him up more than he cared to admit.

"I’m a sentimental old fool, Hank. But I’d sure like to help somehow.”

“Tell you what, Ben: why don’t you think it over til Monday? The Jerichos won’t need it before then, and we’ll be closed, anyways. You’ll figure something. It sure is decent of you.”

“You’re right. I’ll talk it over with the boys. We’ll think of something by Monday.”

Hank saw him out, and after Ben had left, he locked the door behind him and hung the ‘Closed’ sign in the window. 

Hank popped his knuckles and allowed himself a satisfied yawn. Another week gone by of guarding the hard-earned dollars of Virginia City’s good people. Another week of work well done. And as was his habit on every Friday after closing, he got out a bucket of water and a cloth and began to wipe the week’s dust off his counter. After all, a respectable bank has to look sparkling clean on a Monday morning.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Rubbing his tired eyes, Paul Martin stepped back out into his garden. He had been repeatedly interrupted in his grisly task by his patient’s attempts to flee his house. This last time, the poor delirious man had made it almost out the front door, when Paul had heard Emma call for him. Finally, he had reluctantly given the man a sedative and sat by his bedside until he had drifted into a tortured sleep. 

Now Paul took up the spade again, and after a few hearty thrusts, declared himself satisfied with the depth of the hole. Ready to put this unpleasant task finally behind him, he grabbed the bucket, and with one movement, pulled off the lid and turned over the contents into the hole.

For a long while, he stood anchored to the spot and stared in utter befuddlement at that which had come out of the bucket and was now filling up the bottom of the hole. Then, with a slow, shaky movement, he grabbed his head with both hands.

“Damn,” he muttered to himself. “Chicken feed!”

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Across the street from the bank, Marge and Clifford Johnson sat on the seat of the rickety covered wagon that carried all their belongings. Their haggard, one-eyed horse, ears floppy and lower lip drooping, was dozing in his harness. Marge was dozing, too, stretched out on the narrow seat with her broad thighs draped over her husband’s lap and her face hidden under her shapeless felt hat. Clifford looked uncomfortable; after all, his wife’s powerful legs probably weighed almost as much as he did, but he dared not move for fear of earning another smack on the head.

Anyone who saw the two sitting there on their moldy old Conestoga with its torn canvas cover ravaged by mildew, would assume that they were among the many newcomers who had bravely crossed the continent on one of the pioneer trails. They couldn’t be more wrong. Marge, in fact, had been born in a trapper’s cabin right here in the Sierras, back when there had been only Piutes, bears, and a few hardy mountain men with their Indian wives, like her Pa. All her life, Marge had watched the pioneers arrive, then the 49ers, then the Comstock miners. She had listened with a yearning heart to their tales of the eastern cities from which many of them had come: tales of ball rooms, of ladies in silk brocade gowns, tall ships at anchor, streets lit with lamps at night, of opera houses and music halls and good manners and polite conversation; things, in other words, that were as far removed from Marge’s world as a walk on the moon. 

Then one day, Marge, ever a woman of action, decided that she had enough of dust and snow and scorpions and pickaxes. Let all those dreamy-eyed fools heading west in their covered wagons have them. Marge Johnson was going the other way. She was going east. She acquired a run-down Conestoga wagon which had crossed the continent at least once before, and picked up a horse and a husband somewhere along the way to help her run the wretched thing. 

And then she turned her eyes towards the east. Marge’s grasp of geography was rudimentary, but she figured it was better than her dimwit of a husband’s, who couldn’t find his own butt with both hands in broad daylight. Marge assumed that if only she managed to get to Reno and from there across the great Utah desert, the East with its wonders would be right there somewhere. And since the Miner’s spring dance, there was the name of one place in particular that resonated in her mind: 


More than anything she had ever wanted in her thirty-two years of hard life, Marge Johnson wanted to go to Boston. 

And maybe, he would be there…

…She had found him at the Miner’s spring dance a few weeks ago. Marge, not invited but unstoppable, had cut the tangles out of her hair with her hunting knife, donned her only dress, slipped in by the back door and prowled the dance floor. 

And there he was, sitting on a lavender couch,sipping his wine, momentarily alone, because his female company had taken a trip to the facilities. Tall, dark, and subtle, dressed in a smart white shirt and string tie, he was the most beautiful thing Marge had ever seen. Never shy, she had swaggered over and plopped down next to him. 

‘You from somewheres aroun’ here, dahling?’ she had asked and wriggled close enough to feel the warmth off his thigh against hers. She remembered to smile keeping her upper lip down to hide her missing front tooth. He had wriggled the other way and laughed nervously – that’s when she first saw those dimples – and spilled some wine on his lap and told her that well, no, actually, technically speaking, he was really from Boston.

‘Boston!’ she had exclaimed knowingly and edged even closer, ‘that out towards Californee, ain’t it?’. She had him wedged now between her ample seat and the armrest. His hand – what a strong, well-groomed gentleman’s hand – was fidgeting with his face, and his eyes were bouncing around the room. Aah, Margie Johnson, she told herself, you can’t be that ugly if you can still make a handsome man get all twitchy. And she had leaned in a bit and smelled his aftershave and explained that she wasn’t really all that married, because that no-good little squirt of a husband of hers, all one-hundred-twenty pounds of him, wasn’t taking proper care of her, as a husband should. He could have been a miner, or a farmer or a homesteader, but he was just too darn limp and stoopid, and no matter how many times she popped him on the skull, she couldn’t beat an ounce of ambition into him. 

Then Marge had taken the wine glass from his hand and emptied it in one draught. ‘Don’t you worry none about Ol’ Cliffer, honeypuss ’, she had cooed, and leaned towards the handsome face.

‘Why, Ma’am’, he had uttered, sweating now, ‘you’re a regular Lady….’ …something or other, she couldn’t remember exactly what kind of a lady he had called her, but what did it matter? That dashing young gentleman from Boston with the dark eyes and the dimples was the only man who had ever called her a lady in all of her life. Ever. And before she had recovered from the shock, he had jumped up and run off, never to be seen again, leaving her sitting there on the lavender couchholding his wine glass. She placed a hand on the spot where he had been sitting, still warm from the heat of his butt, and murmured, ‘Boston!’

….“Boston,” Marge mumbled dreamily under her felt hat.


“Shut yer mouth, Cliffer.”

“But Margie, he left.”

Marge grunted and opened one eye to squint towards the bank. The tall, silver haired man, who had entered the bank minutes before, was stepping out into the street. Behind him, she saw the skinny old clerk hang a ‘Closed’ sign in the window. Money, Marge had found out recently, was an unfortunate necessity when one was traveling. This is why she had come to Virginia City today: Marge Johnson was going to make a withdrawal.

She sat up and gave her husband an ungentle nudge. “You ready?“

Clifford Johnson rubbed his sweating palms on his pant legs. “I’m telling ye, Margie, it ain’t right. ‘Thou shalt not steal’, it says.”

“Don’t you go relijus on me again, Cliffer. Jus’ do as I say.”

She lumbered off the wagon’s seat, stuck her .45 army colt and a length of rope between her breasts and splashed with long strides through the mud across the street. Clifford hastily scrambled behind. When she stepped onto the boardwalk on the other side, Marge grabbed her husband by the arm and steered him in front of the window next to the door. She quickly moved against the wall where she couldn’t be seen from inside the bank. “What’s he doin’? He gotta gun?” she hissed.

Clifford peeked through the window. “He’s cleanin’ up some. Wipin’ the counter.”

“Ain’t that cute. Do yer thing, Cliffer, like we practiced. Don’t ye mess it up, now.”

Clifford knocked politely on the window.

“Geez, Cliffer.” Marge rolled her eyes impatiently. “Old fart’s deaf, most like.”

Clifford licked his lips nervously and rapped his knuckles smartly against the glass. After a minute, Hank Allenby’s face appeared in the window. 

“ ’Scuse me, Sir,” Clifford called, removing his hat, “my dear sister left her purse here this mornin’…I come ta pick it up.”

Hank’s face vanished and re-appeared a minute later. “I can’t find it, mister. Where’d she leave it?”

“Well, it’s over by the…behind…” he pointed through the window. “It’s kinda hard ta show…maybe iffen ye’ll let me in…”

They heard the old man grunt something and fumble with a key chain, and a moment later the door opened. Immediately, Marge shoved Clifford out of the way and pressed inside. 

Hank Allenby’s day took a turn for the worse when he saw a hulking six-foot figure advance on him, and before he could utter a sound, a gun was in his face and a large calloused hand snatched the cloth from his nerveless fingers. “No more wipin’, grampa, open the safe.”

Marge grabbed the old clerk by the nape, dragged him behind the counter and pushed his face brutally into the safe door, pressing the gun to his temple with her other hand. “You open this, or you gonna wipe up your own brains.”

Clifford had followed pale-faced and looked on in horror. “Margie, you cain’t do a thing like that! ‘Thou shalt not…”

“Shet up, Cliffer, or I blow your brains out first, jus’ to prove to this here ol’ fool that I can do it.”

Whimpering under Marge’s iron grip, Hank dialed the combination with trembling fingers. As soon as the door popped open, Marge hauled him into a corner behind the counter and kicked his feet out from under him. Hank collapsed in a heap, and the next thing he knew, his captor pulled a rope from her bosom, accidentally ripping her shirt open in the process, and then he had the surreal experience of staring at a pair of floppy, dangling breasts while being gagged with his wiping cloth and having his feet tied. He was jerked around brutally, and his hands were bound and tied to his feet behind his back. His old joints screamed at the treatment, and Hank moaned with the pain. “Shet up, grampa, if ye wanna live.” Marge hissed savagely. “You gettin’ the money, Cliffer?” she called over her shoulder.

Clifford was indeed working on it. Enthralled by the sight of more riches than he had ever seen, he had temporarily forgotten his scruples, and had loaded his arms with wads of dollar bills. It was at this precise moment that Clifford Johnson became aware of a flaw in their carefully drafted plan. He turned towards his wife, his face a blank. “Margie, you brung anythin’ to carry it in?”

Growling, Marge advanced on him dangerously, her head lowered. “Jimminy Christ! Cliffer Johnson, if you ain’t the stoopidest runt I ever married.” She gave him a cuff on the head, causing him to whimper and drop the money. Marge looked around, saw the bucket on the counter, and with a quick movement, emptied the slosh water on the floor. “Here, you idjit.” She thrust it into Clifford’s hands and gave him another cuff, just to make sure. She spotted the lid lying behind the counter and kicked it towards Clifford’s feet. “An’ be sure to keep the damn lid on when we walk outta here.”

Clifford dutifully proceeded to pack as many dollar wads into the bucket as he could fit, and he threw in a couple of gold bars to top it off. He looked at Marge, then at the safe. “That’s about it, Margie…”

Marge stood by the window, nervously checking the activity in the street. “We gotta git, Cliffer. We walk outta here with our arms fulla dough one o’ them fools out there might get to thinkin’.” Clifford joined her at the window, and Marge lifted the lid off the bucket and studied the contents. “Plenty. Oughta get us to Boston easy. And iffen it don’t, there’s more banks along the way. How’s grampa?” She carefully replaced the lid.

“Out cold, Margie. Ye scaired him right outta his wits.” 

“Ain’t that cute. Less go, Cliffer.” And she strode confidently out of the door and across the muddy street. Clifford scurried at her heels, bucket in hand. They climbed onto their wagon, and Clifford set the bucket firmly between his feet. “Don’ worry, Margie, I’ll keep a real good eye on this here bucket!” he said loyally.

“You better,” Marge snorted and took up the reins.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Ben Cartwright closed his eyes and savored the first bite of his lamb chops. After his visit to the bank, he had stopped for an early lunch at the hotel, and to his delight had discovered that lamb chops were now a staple on the menu. Maybe the advance of civilization wasn’t such a worrying thing after all if it brought about some culinary pleasures such as this. His secret fondness for lamb chops was not something he wished to be universally known; after all, cattle barons and sheepherders were generally expected to rip each other’s throats out rather than to savor each other’s goods. But, oh well. After the events of the morning he felt he deserved a little guilty pleasure.

“Ben! Thank god!” Ben looked up startled to see an overheated Doc Martin charge straight towards him through the room. He was still in his shirtsleeves, with his garden’s dirt on his fingers and smeared across his forehead, as if he had rubbed there a lot. Not at all the way Doc Martin usually presented himself at the table. “Ben, where’s the arm?”


“The arm, Edgar Jericho’s blooming arm! You walked off with it!”

Ben stared at him blankly. “Slow down, Paul. I did what?”

Paul closed his eyes and propped his hands on the tablecloth, leaving dirty finger marks. He forced himself to speak slowly. “I gave you the wrong bucket, Ben. Your chicken grain is now residing in my carrot patch. Now where’s that arm?”

Ben frowned. “Oh no. I gave it to Joe. He’s on his way to the ranch and…”

“The ranch! I gotta go!” He turned on his heel. 

Ben stood. “Wait, Paul, why don’t you leave it alone. We’ll…we’ll dispose of it at the Ponderosa. Don’t worry about it.”

Paul shook his head at him, appalled. “Ben, you don’t understand. I can’t have my severed limbs riding around the landscape. It’s unprofessional! They’re my responsibility. Just finish your lunch; I’ll go after Little Joe.” And with that, he rushed out of the restaurant.

Ben sat heavily back on his chair and stared at his crisp, bleeding cut of lamb chop. Somehow it didn’t look nearly as appetizing anymore. He shook his head and listlessly continued his lunch.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

About a hundred yards into her trip to Boston, Marge hauled on the reins and smacked her lips. She looked at Clifford, an odd expression on her face. “Cliffer, ye ol’ rat, you done well in that there bank,” she said generously out of the side of her mouth and petted him on the top of the head.

Clifford froze and held his breath. Marge’s rare benevolent moods were always very fragile and couldn’t be trusted.

“Gonna be a long ride to Boston,” Marge continued philosophically. “Kinda feel like getting’ watered up a tad afore we go.” She nodded her chin at the new saloon across the street.

“Margie, that’s a real fine idea,” said Cliffer carefully.

Marge hopped from the wagon. ”Less have us a whiskey, Cliffer”. She pointed her finger at him. “You better take that bucket with ya an’ glue yer eyeballs to it!”

Ignoring the ‘closed’ sign on the swinging doors, they entered the new saloon and stood in the door for a second, overwhelmed by the splendor of the decorations. Marge whistled through the gap left by her missing front tooth. “Whaddaya say ta that, Cliffer. Like we was already in Boston!”

They moved towards the bar and looked around. Nobody was there. Marge called, but got no answer. She couldn’t know that Horace had taken Oscar to his home to get him cleaned up for his big role during the evening celebration. Not that Marge cared if anyone was there. The whiskey was there, and that’s all that mattered to her. She pulled Clifford behind the bar, found a bottle and some glasses and poured generously. 

Clifford set the bucket down and frowned. “Margie, it ain’t right to jus’ take. Thou shal…”

“Shet up, Cliffer, nobody ain’t takin’ nothing.” She shoved one of the glasses into his hand, fished a coin from her pocket and threw it onto the bar. “We’s honest folk, Cliffer,” she stated grandly. “We pay for what we take.”

Marge emptied her glass and turned it upside down on the bar. “Git, Cliffer, Boston’s waitin’,” she ordered and marched off, and Cliffer hastily swallowed his whiskey, set his glass down next to hers and ran after his wife.

When he scrambled up to the seat, Marge, reins already in hand, narrowed her eyes at him. “Cliffer, where’s the dough?”

Clifford’s face fell.

“You fergot the bucket in there, didn’t ya! You ain’t got no more sense than a newborn puppy, ya stoopid little runt. You sit tight; I get it myself.”

She cuffed him on the head and stomped back across the street and into the saloon. Looking around, she saw the lidded tin bucket sit under one of the nearby tables. Jus’ like Cliffer to drop the thing halfway to the bar, she thought. She should have known better than to let him have the bucket. She carried it back to their wagon, climbed the seat and set the bucket securely between her feet. Scowling at Clifford, she gave him one more good whack to the side of the head. Clifford shrunk into his seat and thought it wise to say nothing. So much for Marge’s good mood.

“Here I come, Boston!” Marge sang out and flapped the reins. The horse opened his only eye and trudged wearily forward.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~


~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

For once in his young life, Joe Cartwright was driving the buckboard at a safe, leisurely pace. Actually, he was in no hurry to get home to report that his older brother had been appointed his chore master. No doubt Adam would greet that news with an acerbic comment and that annoying eyebrow of his, and then would go about abusing his power by assigning Joe every single task off his list of most-hated chores.

Ahead was the grassy ridge from where he would get the first sight of his home: a magnificent view of the stately ranch house nestled between tall, venerable pines swaying elegantly in the wind, a view he always looked forward to when coming from town - well, maybe not today. While the horses climbed laboriously up the steep path to the ridge crest, Joe longingly eyed the soft grass speckled with wildflowers. He was wondering whether he shouldn’t forget all about Adam and chores and instead stretch out for a pleasant midday snooze in the sunshine, when he heard the frantic hoof beats behind him.

He turned to see a rider on a fat bay horse charge up the hill. The animal was blowing like a steamship, and its rider flopped pitifully up and down in the saddle. Joe recognized Doc Martin, and his eyebrows drew together in concern. The good doctor was a famously unskilled rider, and there were few emergencies dire enough to get him up on a galloping horse. Joe had a brief troubling vision of his brothers in a heap on the ground, their heads cracked open, and his heart skipped a beat.

“Joe!” Paul called out and yanked his horse to a halt next to the buckboard. He had lost a stirrup and had slid to one side of the saddle, hanging on to the saddle horn like a drowning man, and Joe looked politely away while the doctor took a second to rearrange himself into a more dignified position. “Joe!” he said again, gasping for air.

“Is it Hoss or Adam?” Joe asked anxiously, but Paul shook his head. 

“No, no, I’m after you.” He dismounted clumsily, which was just as well, because his overweight mare was wheezing loudly and looked ready to drop to her knees.

“What did I do?” Joe wondered if he had somehow managed to get on Paul’s bad side, too.

“You did nothing, son, nothing at all.” Paul bent over and braced his hands on his knees, still trying to catch his breath. “Lord Jesus, I’m getting too old for this.” He straightened up and looked at Joe. “No need to look guilty, son, I’m the one who bungled things up.” He proceeded to explain about the bucket switch and just what he believed Joe was carrying home in the lidded tin bucket in his wagon. 

Joe blanched. “Oh! Please, Doc, take it. Just…take it away. It’s all yours.”

Paul grunted and lifted the tin bucket from the buckboard. He removed the lid to peek inside and gasped. “What the…what the hell is this, Joe?” 

Joe craned his neck to get a careful look, only to yelp in surprise when he found that the bucket was filled with tiny white flowers, sadly wilted in the midday heat. “Oh no,” he managed after a second, when it dawned on him what had happened. “This ain’t good. I musta grabbed the wrong bucket! I was…I guess I was distracted!” Girls, Joseph! You were thinking about saloon girls, he heard his father’s voice boom inside his head.

After listening to Joe’s stuttered explanation, Doc Martin rubbed a hand over his tired eyes. “You’re telling me that Edgar Jericho’s severed arm now sits in a bucket in the new saloon?” He stopped rubbing and stared at Joe through the fingers of his hand. 

Joe shrugged apologetically. 

“This clearly ain’t my day.” Paul moaned and turned to his horse, which stood panting, her nose drooping almost to the ground. “Sorry, Mathilda, it’s back to town.” He climbed aboard, his right foot fishing in vain for the other stirrup, yanked her around with the reins and dug his heels into her flanks. Mathilda squealed in protest like a stuck pig and trotted off down the hill, her nose high in the air and her plump belly swaying precariously from side to side.

Joe sat for a while, then shook his head vigorously as if to clear it from all he had heard in the last five minutes. He dumped the wilted flowers and threw the bucket back onto the buckboard. Wincing, he imagined Oscar’s and Mr. Hunneker’s faces when Paul barged into the saloon and informed them what had happened to their flowers. Gosh, hopefully they didn’t find the arm before Paul did. Poor Oscar would probably have to go through the indignity of picking daisies all over again, right there in Hampton’s meadow in plain sight and broad daylight. Joe sighed. How did he ever manage to cause so much trouble for everyone, even without trying?

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

On the front porch of the Ponderosa ranch house, the unsuspecting target of Marge Johnson’s fantasies lazed in a chair, enjoying a moment’s rest along with a cup of pitch black coffee. Adam Cartwright stretched his long legs as far from him as they would go and closed his eyes under the brim of his black hat. He and Hoss had spent the morning out with the spring branding crew, roping, herding, throwing, and wielding the smoldering branding irons. The stench of burnt flesh still permeated Adam’s clothes, mingling unflatteringly with that of the coffee and his own sweat. Branding was just about Adam’s least favorite job. It was tedious, monotonous, and low-down dirty. 

Hoss hated branding, too, for the simple reason that he detested inflicting pain on any animal; even worse, because spring branding was also the time they castrated the yearling bulls. After the youngsters were roped and thrown, an experienced cutter would come in with a sharp little knife, grab the bull’s cojones and roll the egg-sized orbs out between thumb and forefinger. Two small cuts through the scrotum, a squeeze with the fist, and they would flop out and roll into the dust, joining scores of others which already littered the ground around the branding site like large discarded marbles.

Poor Hoss, Adam mused with a fond smile as he recalled how his big brother had flinched every time another pair of orphaned marbles bumped into the others already on the ground. Hoss flat-out refused to do the job – Nope, Adam, there’s things a man jus’ won’t do -and after all those years they had finally given up trying to convince him of its necessity. Joe was all thumbs when it came to knives near delicate body parts, and so the job of overseeing castration and teaching the art to new hands naturally fell to older brother. Takes a man with an engineering degree, Adam thought sourly. He estimated that he had unmanned about forty-five young bulls that morning. For a moment, he amused himself with the thought that if hell was a branding pit run by dismarbled yearlings, Adam Cartwright was earmarked to spend purgatory a few ounces lighter. 

Hoss and Adam had ridden home at noon dragging a young steer with their ropes whose fate that day was worse than being deprived of a few body parts; it was going to be slaughtered. Hop Sing had informed them that their meat supply was low and had spent the morning re-packing the root cellar with fresh ice he had hacked from a still-frozen mountain lake.

Their Chinese cook had greeted them, axe in hand and clad in his blood-stained butcher’s apron, and had ordered Hoss to drag the steer into the hay barn, where he had already spread a canvas tarp and set up various wide wooden tubs to catch the blood and meat. When Adam had tried to follow, Hop Sing had shoved him towards the porch and announced, “Hop Sing no need number one son. Go drink coffee. Only need number two son, he big strong. Too many Cartlight get in way!” Adam had shrugged and thrown his hands up - fine with him. He was happy to take a break and keep from getting his clothes bloody. Now nestled comfortably in his chair with his coffee balanced on one thigh, he gleefully listened to the sounds of the sorrowful scene unfolding in the barn.

"Ready? Mista Hoss throw down steer and tie legs.” The little Chinese’s commanding voice was surprisingly powerful. This was his show. 

There was a scuffle, a grunt from Hoss, and a pitiful bellow from the steer, then a loud thump. 

“Good good. Make tight knots. Now Mista Hoss grab head and hold over tub!”

Another grunt from Hoss, followed by the sound of a wooden tub being dragged a small distance, along with a strangled moan, which Adam was pretty sure came from the animal and not his brother. “Gee, Hop Sing, I don’t wanna hurt the poor critter none.”

“How gonna kill critter without hurt! You grab head, I chop. Gimme axe.” 

“Aaw, mebbe we shouldna…”

“Mista Hoss wanna eat rabbit food?”

“Nah, Hop Sing, that ain’t fair. How come Adam ain’t doin’ this? He likes his beef as much as I do...he jus’ don’t wanna get his hands dirty.” Adam allowed himself a private little grin at this. 

“Mista Adam too puny to hold steer!”- Adam’s grin died on his lips – “Only Mista Hoss strong enough.”

“Cain’t we jus’ shoot the poor critter, like we usually do?”

“Mista Hoss wanna get fresh blood for horrible awful blood sausage?”

“Well, sure, but…”

“Then must chop neck. Gimme axe! Hold neck over tub and be quiet.”

There was some mumbling, and then a shifting, shuffling and grunting, as of some kind of wrestling match. Another soulful bellow arose, which was brutally cut off by a chopping sound and a martial grunt from Hop Sing. A strangled gurgling, then, into the silence:

“Dadblame you, Hop Sing, you done plum killed him!”

“No complain! Hold neck over tub! Not waste blood. Let all blood out into tub.” He made a gagging sound in his throat and ranted, “barbaric, disgusting, cannibal German sausage. Chinese people no eat blood. Chinese people civilized two thousand year!”

Aaaah, blood sausage, Adam mused, the reason for poor Hop Sing’s exasperation. A week ago, Adam himself would have crinkled his educated nose at the idea of eatingboiled blood squeezed into a piece of intestine. But then his father had invited the Kreutzers to a dinner party, a German couple who had recently opened a butcher’s shop in Virginia City. The Kreutzers had brought a sampling of their best sausages, and during an evening filled with laughter, good food and charming intercultural misunderstandings, the Cartwright family had been introduced to the high art of making ‘blutwurst’……

…… It had always been a Ponderosa tradition to invite newcomers to the area over to dinner. The Cartwrights were among the wealthiest and oldest residents in the Comstock, and Ben laid great emphasis on the importance of cultivating good relations with his neighbors. The couple, decked out in their Sunday finest, arrived in their squeaky buggy pulled by an elderly, well fed mule. Hannelore and Heinrich Kreutzer were an earthy, middle-aged couple from Westphalia who had immigrated to America and found their way to the Comstock over the pioneer trails. They had brought with them their homeland’s centuries-old traditions of sausage making, ‘Wurstmachen’, and had opened “Hanne’s Wurst Shoppe,” which soon became phenomenally popular, particularly among the poor hardscrabble miners who couldn’t afford the pricey cuts of meat sold at the town’s hotels. The Kreutzers, it was known, could take any parts of an animal carcass, even those that a half-starved hermit would hesitate to throw to his dog, and mix in some spices and secret little odds and ends and turn out the most delicious sausages imaginable. It was sheer magic. “Jus’ eat’em and enjoy’em, and better don’ ask what went in’em,” was the wisdom among the miners. 

To Hop Sing’s blistering annoyance, Frau Kreutzer cheerfully pushed his pork roast down the table to make room for her platter of sausages. “Good good good!” She declared and smacked her lips in demonstration. “Good wurst from ze pig and ze cow and ze wild stag.” She grabbed Hoss, who was sitting next to her, by the bicep with her large, fattish hand and cooed, “Oooh, strong strong! Big strong cowboy need much good strong wurst. In Westphalia, ze young mens grow big and strong from Mama’s good wurst.” Next she grabbed Joe’s bicep on her other side. “Ach, too skinny! Too little!” She stuck an end of liverwurst in his face. “Aaaaa” she commanded, and Joe, startled, reflexively opened his mouth. “Eat eat! Is good for making arms strong!” She pushed the piece inside his mouth and thumped him good-naturedly on the shoulder. “Is good?”

“Hmm” Joe managed, chewing busily.

Frau Kreutzer giggled with delight. “Yes, is very good, very good. But try zis, zis is most good wurst!” She handed out pieces of a thick, dark red variety and nodded enthusiastically at their chewing faces. “Good, yes?”

“That sure’s the best durn sausage I ever had, Mrs. Kreutzer,” commented Hoss sincerely. 

Adam’s eyebrows rose appreciatively. The sausage was rich, deft and spicy, quite unlike any other he had ever tasted. “Very good indeed.” He eyed his remaining piece with interest. It was made of a dark red ground mass speckled with chunks of fat and meat. “How is it made, Mrs. Kreutzer?”

“Ah! Zat is ze Blutwurst! Is made from ze good Blut!” 

“From blood?” Joe scowled at his piece of sausage suspiciously.

“Yes yes, blood! When you kill ze pig or ze cow, you collect ze blood!” She sliced her finger across her neck with a deft cutting motion and supplied an appropriate sound. “Urrgh!” She held her cupped hands under her neck. “Collect ze blood. Is much too good to waste!”

“Well, that’s fascinating, Mrs. Kreutzer. And what do you do with the blood then?” Adam inquired and flashed a wicked eyebrow towards Joe, whose face had gone slack and who was beginning to look just a little bit green.

“Oh, you put in ozzer parts from ze pig or ze cow. Ze meat, and maybe some milk, and some, how do you say, from ze Zunge. Baaaaah!” She stuck her tongue out at them, causing them to exchange puzzled, bemused glances. “Zunge. Heinrich, was heisst denn Zunge?”

Heinrich, who was as skinny as his wife was fat and as taciturn as she was bubbly, translated laconically, “tongue.”

“Tongue! Wonderful! Yes, from ze cow tongue. Very tasty. And maybe, if ze cow was a boy, you can put ze Eier, no?”

Hoss blushed and stopped chewing at this. “You don’t mean…”

“Yes, I mean ze Eier, eggs, is how you say in English, no? Ze cow eggs.” She squeezed her fist around an imagined object and made two tell tale little cutting movements with her other hand that told Adam that she was a master at The Art. 

Hop Sing had appeared with a tray of lemon cream pudding in hand and stood frozen behind Ben, listening with an expression of utter disgust on his face. Adam was having a grand old time by now. He set his elbows on the table and attempted to hide a smirk behind his folded hands. “Um, Mrs. Kreutzer, the blood sausage we just ate didn’t happen to contain any, ah, ‘cow eggs’, did it?”

“No no, zis one is very simple. Just blood and ze tongue and some onions and Speck, how do you say?.”

“Fat,” grunted Heinrich and eyed the pudding Hop Sing had just placed in front of him.

“Yes yes, fat from ze Hinterteil.” Frau Kreutzer lifted her plentiful buttocks from the chair, turned them towards the table and thumped them with her hand for emphasis. “Zis part. Ze Hintern. Oh, zis is ze pudding for dessert? How wonderful!” she sang out and placed her Hinterteil back on the chair, taking a bowl of pudding from Hop Sing, who glared at her with unabashed hostility.

“Oh, you mean fat from the rump! You take some rump fat,” a delighted Hoss exclaimed, catching on. 

“Yes, fat from ze rump. And zen you put all in here.” She pointed at her ample belly.

“You eat it,” guessed Ben.

“No no no, not yet. First you put it all in here, in ze Darm. Ze Darm, how do you say? From ze belly. Of ze dead cow. To cook in.” And when their faces remained blank, she turned towards her husband. “Heinrich, wie sagt man Darm?”

“Gut.” Heinrich sighed and spooned pudding into his mouth.

“Yes, in ze gut. You take ze gut from ze cow and push out ze cow poop and put in ze blood and some salt and spice and tongue and cow eggs and fat from ze Hintern and boil for two hours in ze big pot and zen hang in ze smoke room for two day and you get ze good blutwurst.”

There was a lengthy silence, interrupted only by Hop Sing’s dark Cantonese mutterings from the kitchen. Hoss reached for another piece of sausage and grinned happily at his family. “Shucks, Pa, we sure done wasted a lot of good vittles every time we slaughter a steer. Who woulda thunk you could take all that blood and all them other parts and make such good sausage.” He crinkled his nose a little. “Though I ain’t terrible sure about them cow eggs…think I’d rather have me sausage without them, iffen ye know what I mean.”

Ben lifted his eyebrows, tilted his head and smiled into his napkin. Of course Hoss would appreciate this. Hoss, who didn’t like killing animals unless absolutely necessary, and who always insisted that no usable part of a killed animal be wasted. And Adam, with his curiosity about other cultures and their tastes, and whose long fingers were now snatching the very last piece of blutwurst from the tray, beating Hoss’ hand by a second. Joe just looked nauseous and stared at his lemon cream pudding as if it were made of pus. As for himself, Ben remembered tasting all manner of unspeakable things in exotic ports while traveling the seven seas as a sailor. Now, in his land-locked maturity, he preferred to stick with his roast beef. “Well, Hoss,” he said and laid his napkin on the table, “next time we slaughter a steer, maybe you and Adam can make sure all that good blood doesn’t get wasted. Why don’t you collect it and have Mrs. Kreutzer here make you some nice sausage.”

“Oh Mr. Cartwright, zat is wonderful! Yes, you bring ze blood, Mr. Hoss, and we learn you how to make ze good wurst, no? You bring ze tongue, too, no? And ze fat, and we have milk and salt and onions and ze spices. You come to our shop, and we make wurst!”……

…….And so, here they were, collecting steer blood to make blutwurst. Hoss was just now coming out of the barn with his face, pants and shirt front splattered in blood. He threw Adam, who sat watching him from the porch, a dirty look and pointed an outraged finger at his older brother. “You better wipe that grin off, Adam, or you ain’t gonna see a crumb o’ that sausage.”

Adam was about to give some kind of acid retort when they heard their younger brother clatter into the yard with the buckboard. Joe pulled up the team in front of the hitching post, jumped down from the seat, took one long look at Hoss in his bloody clothes and another one at Adam seated comfortably on the porch. “Howdy brothers. Let me guess. Hoss is doing all the dirty work and older brother here is giving directions from his throne. Did I get it right?”

“Ye hit the nail on the head, little brother.” Hoss clapped Joe on the back and surveyed the load of supplies in the buckboard. “Hey, Joe, mind if I take that there bucket?” 

“Huh? Sure, go ahead,” answered Joe distractedly. Hoss grabbed the empty bucket out of the buggy and disappeared back into the barn. 

Ten minutes later, after Adam had helped Joe unload the supplies, the two were sitting on the porch again, sharing some sandwiches they had quickly whipped up for lunch, setting aside a stack for Hoss as well. At Adam’s prodding, Joe had explained that Ben had stayed in town until the party at the saloon that night, but from the way his brother chewed on the inside of his cheek, Adam guessed that he hadn’t heard everything there was to hear. 

“Did Pa talk to Paul about the sick hands?” he asked Joe, just to start somewhere.

“What? Yeah, he did, but Paul’s probably not coming out today. He ain’t exactly in the best of moods.”

“Really? Why’s that?” Adam couldn’t remember if he’d ever seen Paul Martin in a bad mood before. 

“Huh? Oh, he lost an arm.” Joe mumbled through a mouthful of sandwich.

There was a clanging noise when Adam’s tin coffee cup slipped from his grip and hit the ground. “He lost an arm? My God!”

“Yeah, kinda funny, ain’t it?” Joe looked up, grinning, to see his older brother stare at him in abject horror. “No wait, Adam, you got it all wrong. Not his own arm. Somebody else’s. Miner Jericho’s, actually, poor man. And then Paul thought that Pa had wandered off with it. Only Pa’d given it to me, so that’s why Paul followed me up the trail, but I only had Pa’s chicken feed, except it weren’t chicken feed either, just Oscar’s daisies.”

Adam blinked his eyes at all this and shook his head a little. He rubbed his forehead, sighed and used his patient voice. “Just tell me in plain simple English, did anything happen to either Paul or Pa?”

Joe thought about this for a second. “Nope, they’re fine. But Miner Jericho isn’t, poor man.” He gave a brief account of the cave-in and Edgar Jericho’s injuries, as far as Doc Martin had explained them to him. 

Adam listened quietly. “That’s terrible,” he said softly. “There’s just too many accidents in those mines. It’s that rickety shoring they use.” They sat in silence for a while, each lost in his own thoughts.

After a minute, Adam looked up and studied his little brother from above his roast beef sandwich. Joe was still chewing on his cheek. “Anything else you wanna tell me?”

“Huh? Nope.”

Adam took a guess. “Pa give you any errands?” In fact, he thought, it wouldn’t be a normal day if Joe wasn’t in some sort of trouble by now. After all, it was already past noon. “Any chores you’re supposed to do?” From the sudden green flash in Joe’s eye he figured that he had hit near the mark. He put his sandwich on the table, crossed his arms in front of his chest and smiled sweetly. “All right, younger brother, what did you do this time? Chase a pretty skirt? Run the team so fast you scared the daylights out of Pa? Sneak some gut rot in one of the booze tents?”

“Why don’t you shut up, Adam!” came the violent reply.

“Aah, that’s it then. Pa caught you drinkin’, didn’t he?”

Joe sank his teeth into his sandwich but said nothing.

“I see,” commented Adam, watching him. He added softly, not without sympathy, “there goes your fishin’ trip, huh?”

“I’m still allowed to go to the party tonight,” Joe shot out and winced when he realized he had just sounded like a twelve year old. 

Adam tipped his chair back, balancing it on two legs and crossed his hands behind his head. “Uh huh. You’re allowed if…?”

Joe silently picked at his sandwich for a long while. “If I ask you for a list of chores,” he finally said miserably. “Dang, Adam.”

Adam let his chair back down and leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Well, now, that wasn’t too painful, was it?” he said mildly, though he felt a pang of anger at his father. What the heck does Pa think I am, my brother’s jailor? The kid’s seventeen years old, for Pete’s sake. Adam had secretly hoped for a quiet afternoon of reading and kissed that notion goodbye. He sighed. “Tell you what, Joe. Why don’t you and I help Hop Sing finish butchering that steer, and then we’ll call it a day and go to town early. We’ll take our fishing poles and stop at Calf Creek on the way in. What do you say?”

Surprised, Joe smiled at him gratefully. “Hey, that sounds great, Adam.” Every now and then, he had to admit, his older brother did show some promise after all.

Hoss joined them from the barn, carrying the tin bucket, now filled with steer blood, in one hand. He scowled at his brothers. “Iffen you ain’t sittin’ too pretty out here, Hop Sing wonders if he could bother you two ladies to help him cut up the rest o’ that steer. I’m gonna go to town and get this blood to Mrs. Kreutzer’s shop.” His face lit up a bit when he saw the stack of sandwiches on the table. “Aaw, are those fer me?” He set down the bucket, rubbed his bloodstained hands on his pants, and reached for his sandwiches.

Adam leaned over, lifted the lid and eyed the interior of the bucket carefully. It was filled to about two-thirds with blood and chunky pieces of tissue. “That’s very nice, Hoss. What’s all that floatin’ around in there?”

“Jes’ the tongue, and some rump fat, like Mrs. Kreutzer said.” Hoss answered, chewing.

Joe sat staring oddly at the bucket and then at the last bit of his sandwich. Adam saw it and smiled. “The tongue, uh huh. And how about the eyeballs, Hoss? Pity to waste the eyeballs, don’t you think?”

Hoss stopped chewing and thought about it earnestly. “Nah, Adam, Mrs. Kreutzer never said anything about no eyeballs.” Joe looked a bit unwell as he put his remaining lunch on the table and pushed it away.

Adam looked thoughtful. “How about some eggs then? You sure we shouldn’t have any ‘cow eggs’ in there? I know a place out by the branding pits where about a hundred of them are just lying around.”

Joe couldn’t help giggle at this.

Hoss screwed up his face. “I ain’t eatin’ no cow eggs, Adam. You want any in your sausage, you go ahead and get’em yerself, and next time you can hold the steer while Hop Sing chops his neck off. But you just don’t wanna get all that blood on you, do ye.”

Adam’s eyebrows rose in mock offence. He looked down the front of his black shirt and made a show of pointing at a tiny stain. “And what do you think this is? Guess who turned about fifty bulls into steers this morning. There. And here,” he pointed, finding more bloodstains. 

“Ye got my sympathy, older brother,” Hoss commented grouchily and rose from his chair. He looked down at his ruined pants. “Excuse me, ladies. I better change outta these bloody clothes before I get to town. Reckon I’ll see ya’ll at that party tonight.” He trudged off into the house.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Paul Martin slipped ungracefully from the saddle, gave Mathilda a consoling pat on the neck and stiffly walked up to the swinging doors. He stuck his head inside and called, but when no one answered, he entered and looked around. Well now, they sure got the place fancied up. He smiled crookedly. Fancy or not, as far as he was concerned, it was just another watering hole and would generate the usual injuries and maladies associated with such places: busted heads, black eyes, knife wounds in the back and alcoholic stupors that he would treat with Doc Martin’s special hangover elixir made of black coffee, lemon juice and a generous dose of laudanum.

As the only doctor in town, he remembered with a pang of annoyance, he was considered a prominent citizen, and Hunneker would no doubt be disappointed if he didn’t attend his long-awaited party. Well, maybe for courtesy’s sake he’d stick his head in, shake some hands and smile his approval before going home and preparing his operating room for the casualties which were no doubt to follow. But then again, he thought wistfully, maybe this is my lucky day, and there’ll be no more mayhem and no more mutilations, and I can just bury that ridiculous arm and spend a quiet evening with Emma. He sighed. He couldn’t remember the last time he and Emma had had an uninterrupted evening all to themselves. The moment they sat down by the fire place and put their feet up to share some good wine and good memories, the women of Virginia City would burst open to give birth to twins, their husbands would bury axes in their shins and their sons and daughters would swallow bottles of horse liniment and stick shotgun slugs up their noses. Poor Emma. Sometimes I wonder why the woman still hangs out with me. Well, I guess I know why. She loves me.

Paul steered along the bar and around the tables, looking for the tin bucket, and finally found it sitting on the ground behind the bar. Thank God, that’s over with. He pulled the bucket into a shaft of light from one of the windows and opened the lid.

“What in the name of….!” Flabbergasted, he reached inside to pull out, of all things, a wad of bills. A thick wad. They were twenty-dollar-bills, and there were a lot of them. Puzzled, Paul tilted the bucket towards the light. Lots of wads and even a glint of gold among them. There must be thousands of dollars here.

“What kind of a bird-brained fool leaves a bucket full of money sitting unattended in a saloon!” he wondered aloud. 

People in this town were just careless! They were careless with money and careless with human lives, and ever since the discovery of that blasted silver lode had turned the place into a madhouse, nothing seemed to have any real value any more; nothing except silver. Fortunes were made one day and squandered the next, and it wasn’t unheard of for a poor drunken fool of a miner to stuff a whole year’s worth of earnings down some whore’s corset on a reckless Saturday night. And why shouldn’t he? He’s just as likely to die in a cave-in on Monday morning, the poor sot.

Paul stood up and looked around the empty saloon. “Anyone here?” he called, and when no answer came, he walked towards the back, opened the door to the kitchen and called inside. Still no answer. Oh well, why should he care? Probably just some fool who had turned his claim’s profits into hard cash, which he planned to throw around at the party tonight. Most likely gone off to get cleaned up at the barber’s to be presentable to the ladies, and forgot to take his bucket. Probably already drunk. Paul snorted. What’s it to me? I’m here to find an arm, not to worry about other people’s money. Talking of which, where is that cursed arm anyways?

Taking his hat off, Paul scratched his receding hairline and realized he’d run out of places to look. So what? He was exhausted, cranky, and his buttocks smarted from the abuse they had taken in Mathilda’s saddle. Poor Mathilda, probably has her own set of saddle sores. She isn’t used to being ridden, either. With a sigh, he decided to let the matter go. He’d already wasted more than enough time on it. If anyone found an errant human arm crawling around the Comstock, no doubt he’d hear about it sooner or later. He placed the bucket back behind the bar where he found it, went outside, untied Mathilda and led the tired mare down the road. “No more riding for either of us today, old girl,” he told her. Time to go home, care for his patient and kiss his wife. And have her put some baby powder on my saddle blisters. 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~


~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Hoss steered the team down muddy C Street and frowned at the busy traffic. This town sure was picking up speed. As much as he enjoyed meeting new folks like the Kreutzers, he had to admit he yearned for the days of the sleepy old trading postwhere each face you met was that of an old friend calling you by name and greeting you with a smile. This new Virginia City was a town full of strange faces, and too few of them wore a smile. Hoss pulled up the buckboard in front of the livery, lifted his bucket off the back and began to unhitch the horses.

Most people would think nothing of leaving the horses waiting in harness all day long, but Hoss expected it would be late night before he and Pa rode the buckboard back from the party, and he liked to think that the animals had a warm stall and some hay in the seven or eight hours until then. He led them each into a stall and began to gather some hay for them. He didn’t really look forward to that party, at least not like Little Joe, who’d been twitterin’ about dancing girls and piano music and chandeliers for a week. Then again, it might be swell enough, good for a few beers and an opportunity to meet some of the new residents of Virginia City. Especially if some of them were female. But the whole town was invited to this one, and Hoss assumed that it would be too crowded, too loudand probably too high-falutin’ fancy to be any real fun.

Taking a few handfuls of hay, he gave the horses a brief rubdown and offered each some kind words and a lump of sugar from his pocket. Well, he’d check out that dadblamed party after visiting with the Kreutzers. Really, he preferred smaller, quieter gatherings where a man could dance with a shy girl to some simple fiddle music and then sit her down at a quiet table and bring her some home-cooked food and talk to her. Oh well. 

Carrying his bucket, Hoss strolled down the wooden boardwalk towards Hanne’s Wurst Shoppe. Just as he passed the new saloon, he heard someone call his name.

“Mr. Cartwright, how good to see you!” A cheerful Horace Hunneker came from the other direction, closely followed by a short, bearded man in a suit. “Can I invite you to a drink? Your father and brother have already dropped in this morning. It’ll be a fine party tonight; I sure hope your family will honor us by attending.” He gave his companion a friendly pat on the back and steered him towards Hoss. “You know Oscar here, I’m sure. He’ll be a big help at the party tonight, won’t you, Oscar?”

Hoss almost hadn’t recognized the old town drunk. Horace had apparently bought him a clean shirt and a suit and had somehow accomplished what the whole town had failed to do for years: get Oscar to take a bath, cut his matted hair and shave off his beard. Hoss realized with a little sadness that Oscar was actually a lot younger than he had always assumed. Although life’s disappointments had carved deep, bitter lines around his mouth and eyes, now that his face was fully revealed he looked like a man in his mid thirties. Not much older than Adam. Cruel how life cuts some people down. “ ‘Course I know’im,” Hoss smiled warmly down at him. “My, lookee-here, Oscar, don’t you look spiffy today.” Oscar awkwardly shuffled his feet and blushed a little.

Horace insisted that Hoss come inside for a minute to look at the place. Hoss wasn’t really interested, but he understood that the man was spilling over with pride and excitement and needed to show off a bit. Horace led him all around, and Hoss fingered the tablecloths, marveled at the softness of the silk, admired the crystal lamps and ran his hands approvingly along the dark, exotic wood of the bar. When Horace invited him to have a drink, he politely declined. “Nah, thanks, Mr. Hunneker, maybe later at the party. I gotta get this here bucket to the Kreutzer’s shop.” He looked around. “Now where did I put that bucket down anyways?”

“ ‘Tis right here, Mr. Cartwright.” Oscar shuffled forth from behind the bar, carrying the bucket, and gave it to Hoss. With a few more words of congratulations, Hoss tipped his hat and continued towards the Kreutzer’s house.

Mr. Hoss! How wonderful! And you bring ze blood, no?” Frau Kreutzer greeted him at the door with her typical exuberance. She took the bucket from his hand, took it to the wurst kitchen and opened a small trap door in the floor which led to the root cellar. She disappeared down the stairs into the tiny chamber to deposit the bucket. After climbing back up, she took Hoss’ arm to pull him down the hallway towards the living room. “Ze blood will stay good and fresh in ze cellar. Later, we make blutwurst. First, you must be hungry, no? Ach, such a long road from your ranch. We have much good food; you must eat before we work, no? We have good Pfannekuchen, how do you say? Flapjacks, I sink, wiz blueberry jam, and apple cake for dessert, and good German bread and much good wurst, of course, many kinds of wurst….”.

Hoss smiled with delight. “Shucks, I sure could eat a bite or two, Mrs. Kreutzer.” 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The two brothers rode peacefully side-by-side towards Virginia City. They were dressed smartly in their fine white linen shirts with black string ties around their necks; although, upon close inspection one might have discovered a few, small, greenish grass stains on their backs and elbows. Their horses, given long reins, strode along at a loose-jointed walk, blowing contentedly, necks stretched low and forward. Adam had closed his eyes and hooked a leg across the saddle horn, enjoying the warm afternoon sun on his back. 

Bending down deep from the saddle, Joe plucked up a long stalk of grass and stuck it between his lips. He and Adam had spent two pleasant hours fishing and talking while lounging in the warm grass on the banks of Calf Creek. When it was time to go, they had hidden their fishing poles, strung their fish on a line and hung them in the cold water to be picked up on their way home tonight.

Joe glanced over at his brother and smiled. Adam had really come through for him. It had been a while since Joe had so enjoyed his big brother’s company. He noticed with some amusement that Adam was actually dozing in the saddle, his head nodding further towards his chest with each stride of his horse. With his right leg flung over the horn like that, Joe thought he looked like one of the ladies he had seen riding side-saddle in San Francisco. It struck him as an asinine way to sit a horse, but Adam did it often and seemed to think it was comfortable. Joe made a mental note to gang up with Hoss to give Adam a side-saddle for his 30th birthday. Yeah, that’ll go over real well.He chuckled quietly at the image, when he noticed Adam begin a slow slide forward and down into the arms of sleep. Just when Joe was sure he would topple off his horse, Adam’s body jerked awake, the muscles contracting as they remembered where they were, and he caught his weight in the left stirrup and sat up straight. “Whoa!” he called out, startled, and opened his eyes wide to see his little brother grin at him insolently.

Joe pulled the grass stalk from his mouth. “You doin’ okay there, grandpa? Think you’re gonna make it to town, or shall I tie you to the saddle?”

Adam took the bait gracefully. “Give an old man a break, Joe. At my age, you gotta take your naps when you can.”

They both laughed softly at the joke. After a while, Joe spoke again. “Uh…by the way...I just wanna say thanks, Adam.”

Adam lifted a surprised eyebrow. “For what, Joe?”

“For being fair this afternoon. I thought you were gonna be a real pest about it. I would have bet you were gonna run me ragged chopping wood or cleaning saddles or something.”

Adam was quiet for a few paces before stealing a reproachful glance at his brother. “Believe it or not, Joe, I was seventeen once.”

Joe tried for a moment to imagine a seventeen year old Adam being chewed out by Pa and failed. “Yeah, but I bet you never got into trouble. Not like I get.”

Adam just snorted softly at this but said nothing.

“And you didn’t have an annoying older brother Pa could throw at you.”

“I had worse, Joe. I had two baby brothers he’d throw at me when I was in trouble.”

Joe was surprised to detect the hint of an edge in his brother’s voice. He mulled over what Adam had just said while studying him from the side. Of course, he had plenty of memories of himself and Hoss being left in the care of a moody, scowling big brother when they were small. It had never occurred to him that the punishment might have been Adam’s rather than theirs. “Bet you hated that,” he offered.

Adam tilted his head as if to think about it. “Nah. Only if it meant I missed out on taking a pretty girl to a picnic.” He flashed a lopsided grin towards Joe. “Or on going fishing.” 

The afternoon sun was rolling lazily towards the western Sierra peaks, when their trail passed the junction to the road leading north towards Reno, a few miles west of Virginia City. A small dark speck appeared on the track far ahead, and by and by, they could make out the shape of a horse-drawn covered wagon. It seemed to be in some kind of trouble; the horse didn’t look right, and it wasn’t moving. As they drew closer, Joe could make out how rickety the wagon looked; the canvas cover was tattered, and now he saw that the horse had sunk to its front knees in apparent exhaustion. No wonder, Joe thought, a wagon that size should be pulled by at least two horses. Two shabby figures were standing next to the wagon, a very large one and a very small one. Just then the large figure took a short run at the horse and brutally kicked the animal in the belly. Joe uttered a strangled grunt as if he himself had been kicked. “Argh! Adam, did you…”

“I saw it, Joe,” Adam answered calmly, but the grim line of his mouth betrayed what he thought about such treatment. He reached over to pat Joe on the thigh. “Just hold your temper, little brother, and maybe we can help.”

As they reached the wagon, Joe realized that the large figure was indeed a woman, dressed in wide leather pants and a dirty wool shirt, and her big, angular face scrutinized them with an expression of sheer hostility. Adam tipped his hat and spoke with cold politeness. “Good afternoon, Ma’am. Can we be of help?” 

She looked up at him through narrowed eyes. “You gotta horse to sell?” she growled, swinging another kick at the worn-out animal’s belly. This time, even Adam flinched.

Joe had never seen a sorrier horse; its knees were bloodyfrom what Joe assumed were repeated falls on the stony road, and the poor creature was blowing and puffing with its nose planted on the ground. The gelding’s bones were sticking out, and he only had one eye, which was closed. Joe thought he might have been a gray once, but he obviously hadn’t been groomed in so long that his mangy coat had taken on the dull brown of Sierra mud.

Adam took a slow breath and spoke calmly. ”Look, Ma’am, I don’t think kicking that animal will…”

The woman suddenly took a long step forward and grabbed Sport’s reins. “I know you, purty boy!” she interrupted gruffly. 

Joe watched with some unease how this buffalo of a woman skewered his older brother with a stare as if she intended to eat him. He wondered briefly if she might be a witch trying to put a hex on Adam, before remembering that he didn’t really believe in such things. A strange change went over her chunky face. The scowl slowly gave way to a slack expression of wonder and finally to an unflattering smile that displayed her mossy teeth.

“Whaddaya say! If this ain’t honeypuss himself.” She cooed huskily.

Adam’s eyebrows rose a fraction. “Ma’am?” 

“It’s you, sugar. From the couch.”

“Couch?” repeated a puzzled Adam. He cleared his throat. “Um…remind me, please, Ma’am?”

“You tol’ me you was from Boston!” The mossy smile disappeared and Marge’s thick brows drew together. “And then you spilled yer drink an’ took off like a raccoon with his tail on fire.” 

“I did?” Adam looked woefully bewildered. But then his brow slowly furrowed in distant recognition as he located the memory. “Oh no. I think I did,” he murmured, and Joe thought he detected a rare hint of fear in his brother’s voice. 

Having observed the whole scene quietly, Joe was trying to make up his mind whether he should be concerned or amused at the idea that his older brother had some kind of history with this dreadful woman. He coaxed Cochise to step sideways, until his and Adam's knees were almost touching. “Hey, brother,” he needled as he leaned over a little, “don’t you wanna introduce me to your lady friend?” For which he earned a scalding glare from Adam, telling him that amusement had been the wrong reaction altogether. 

Marge squinted at Joe as if noticing him for the first time. “Looks like ye got a runt of yer own ta drag around,” she told Adam.

“Indeed,” Adam grunted and gestured loosely at Joe. “Meet my little brother.” He dismounted and motioned to Joe to do the same. “Now excuse us,” he said stiffly to Marge, “we’ll get your horse back on his feet, and then we’ll be on our way.” 

This was easier said than done. The gelding had sunk all the way to the ground and flopped onto his side, and no amount of prodding, coaxing, and sweet-talking could convince him to get up. Marge glowered at the brothers, hands on her hips, as they began to gently peel the unhappy creature out of its harness.

She stepped up to Adam, who was undoing the straps from the horse’s head gear, and poked a dirty finger into his back. “So why ain’t you in Boston? What you doin’ here, anyways, purty boy?”

Adam sucked in a breath and stood up straight to face her. Head to head, she was almost as tall as he was.“Ma’am, I live here,” he stated with admirable composure.

“Then you lied.” She snarled at him, poking the finger into his chest now. “You ain’t no gentleman, either. You lied. You ain’t from Boston no more’n Cliffer here is from China!”

Adam sighed wearily and crouched down next to Joe, who was carefully pulling straps from under the horse’s belly. “Ma’am, if it makes any difference at this point, I AM from China.” He shook his head and drew a hand over his eyes. “I mean, from Boston.”

Standing in the background, Clifford had watched the whole scene with a slowly darkening expression on his face. He now stepped forward, deep hatred in his eyes as he pointed a shaking finger at Adam. “You!” he hissed. “You the one she’s sweet on!”

“Git, Cliffer,” Marge snapped nastily. She turned back towards Adam, who was lifting the breast harness off the horse’s neck while Joe gently supported its head. “You said I was a lady. You lied about that, too?” she asked darkly.

Adam visibly shuddered. “I must have.” Joe looked at him with a funny expression, but said nothing. Adam stood and threw the moldy harness aside.

Clifford was still advancing slowly, still pointing at Adam; his voice deepening. “She’s sweet on ye. Been twitterin’ about ye for weeks an’ weeks. Ain’t been the same since she met ye.” 

“I’m flattered,” commented Adam dryly. 

Clifford stepped up until he was toe to toe with Adam, the top of his head level with the taller man’s chin. His pale blue eyes measured Adam with utter contempt. “What’s he got that I ain’t?” 

“Hell, Cliffer,” groaned Marge. She squeezed her bulky form between the two men, clamped a meaty paw on her husband’s chest and bodily shoved him backwards. “I said git, squirt!” Frowning darkly, she studied him for a second, thinking. She turned to look at Adam, then back at Clifford, and her eyes grew hard. “I’m done with ye, Cliffer,” she said brutally. “I’m turnin’ ye out. Git yer junk and flutter.” 

Clifford’s eyes widened in shock. “No, Margie! Ye cain’t do that to me. You’s ma wife! You cain’t do that, not after all I done fer ye.”

“You ain’t done nuthin’ fer me, you skunk, ‘cept eat my food and spray relijin at me. I said FLUTTER!” 

The little man looked as though he was going to cry, but Marge just grabbed him by the arm, shoved him into the wagon and climbed in after him. A moment later, things began to fly out of a hole in the wagon’s canvas: clothes, a rusty old shaving kit, a bedroll, a book…

“No, Margie, that’s ma bible!”

“How do ya know what it is, skunk? You cain’t read a word.”

Exchanging embarrassed glances, the brothers continued to tend to the horse. Once freed from the prison of its harness, the animal let Adam and Joe coax it into a sitting position. It sat and rested for a while, and then, with Adam gently pulling on its head and Joe pushing on the rump, it got shakily to its feet. Adam petted the scrawny neck and glanced gloomily at the wagon, which shook with Marge’s ranting and stomping, punctuated by Clifford’s meek pleas for mercy. “Joe,” he said with dignity, “I’d like to get out of here.” 

“So would I, Adam, but what about this horse? You wanna leave it with them? Might as well shoot it!”

Adam shook his head sadly and was about to give a reply when Marge hopped out of the front of the wagon. Standing with her hands on her hips, she slowly took in the harness on the ground, the trembling gelding, his bleeding knees, and then her eyes wandered over to where Cochise and Sport were dozing peacefully in the sunshine.

“Oh no, you won’t.” said Adam and Joe in simultaneous alarm.

Marge waved a dismissive hand at them. “I’ll pay ye. I got dough.” She barked over her shoulder, “Cliffer, bring that bucket.”

“I ain’t doin’ nothin’ you say ever agin,” came Clifford’s weepy voice from where he was gathering his scattered things out of the grass. 

“You bring me that bucket or YOU be wearin’ that harness and pullin’ this wagon.” Joe didn’t doubt she meant it, either. “Ma’am,” he said firmly, “our horses are not for sale.”

Marge ignored him. “The dough, Cliffer! Pronto!” 

A grumbling Clifford came scurrying with the bucket and set it down in front of Marge. “Open it and get out some cash,” Marge ordered.

“Sorry, Ma’am,” Adam tried again, patiently. “my brother already told you, we’re not selling…”

“Shut up, pretty boy.” Marge snapped at him, and, to Cliffer, “I said open it, idjit.” 

Muttering ominously, Clifford lifted the lid off, reached into the bucket and effectively shook hands with Edgar Jericho’s severed right arm. 

There was a silence. For a brief moment, all four of them stared into the bucket, united in utter stupefaction. And then,

“YIEEEEEAAAAH!” It was Clifford. He recoiled as if he had been shot out of a cannon, taking Edgar’s arm with him and flinging it in a wide arc into the grass. He then collapsed on the ground and sobbed and babbled uncontrollably. “Oh Lord, please, I repent!” he jabbered madly and raised his hands to the sky, “She made me do it, Lord, I ain’t never meant ta steal, I ain’t no thief, never been afore I met her! I know you’se angry, Lord. Don’t strike me down, I repent, I repent!”

Marge moved threateningly towards Clifford. She spoke in a low rumble like an advancing earthquake. “Cliffer Johnson, you dim-witted, worthless sonova liquored-up whore, where did you get that thing, and WHAT DID YOU DO WITH MY MONEY!”

Kneeling on the ground, Clifford turned his face to her. An odd light was growing in his eyes. He opened his mouth as if to give an answer, then closed it again and listened to the voices in his head instead. Enlightenment was coming at him hard and fast now. He squeezed his eyes shut, shook his head in wonder, and when he opened them again, he stared at Marge as if seeing her for the first time in his life. He climbed to his feet, and his voice dropped to a calm monotone. There was a mad fire in his eyes. “I ain’t done nuthin’ to yer dough, Margie. Don’ ye see? God took it. He took it to punish you, and now,” he motioned at the severed limb lying in the grass, “and now His Hand is pointing at you. At YOU, Margie Johnson!” he screeched and sprang into the wagon. Marge moved to follow him, but in a second, Clifford reappeared; her army colt was sticking from the front of his pants and an ancient, sawed-off shotgun quivered in his hands. 

Adam nudged Joe with his elbow. “That’s our signal, brother,” he said quietly, and very slowly, the two began to back off towards their horses. 

Marge was livid. “Cliffer, gimme them guns or I’m gonna…”

Clifford Johnson pulled himself to his full modest height, swung the gun towards Marge’s bosom and, maybe for the first time in his life, looked his wife squarely in the face. “Yer gonna do nuthin’, Margie. ‘Cept repent. You an’ your lover boy there.” 

Marge, her hands squarely on her hips, snorted in contempt. “Cliffer, I’m gonna thrash yer skinny butt!”

But Clifford’s face remained rock-hard as he raised the gun to point at Marge’s head. “I’m tellin’ ye, Margie, somepin’ popped. Somepin’ come undone. I ain’t the man I was ten minutes ago. YOU!” he suddenly yelled, “Where do you think yer goin’!” Adam froze with his foot in Sport’s stirrup. Joe had already swung up onto Cochise. “Git over here, now!” A shot roared out, the bullet kicking up dust inches from Sport’s left front hoof. The gelding shied, and Adam soothed him and then carefully turned around, his hands raised. “Take it easy now, Cliffer.”

Clifford stuck the smoking army colt back in his pants and motioned to the brothers to drop their gun belts to the ground. He then planted himself in front of Adam, leveling the shotgun at him. “You gonna repent, too, boy. This is all because o’ you.” His voice rose to a high-pitched drone. “Thou shalt not desire another man’s wife!” 

“Oh please.” Adam briefly closed his eyes.

“Ye’re in cahoots with my wife, Mister!” Clifford accused goggle-eyed, stabbing the shotgun barrel at Adam’s belly like a bayonet. 

“Now look here, Cliffer…” Adam began reasonably as he lifted his hands higher and took a step back. 

“The name’s Clifford! That’s Cliff-ford fer you, Mister!”

“Cliff-ford.” Adam repeated peaceably and inclined his head. 

But Clifford was far from being appeased. He was on a roll now. For the first time in his life, people had to pay attention to him. “‘Tis all because of you!” He spat at Adam. “She weren’t so bad before, but ever since she run into you, she been yabberin’ on and on ‘bout goin’ ta Boston and wearin’ fancy dresses and bein’ a lady, and she been getting’ meaner n’ meaner every day. She stole that money from the bank all on accounta yer pretty face! Now God is mad at youse two, REAL mad.” He fell silent and chewed his lip for a second, thinking about something. Then, he added resolutely, “And so am I. I’m takin’ ye in. We’re all goin’ ta the sheriff.”

“The hell we are!” barked Marge and made a move to launch herself at her husband. But Clifford ripped the army colt out of his pants and swung towards her with surprising speed. The shot blew Marge’s felt hat off and stopped her in her tracks. For a second, there was real fear in her eyes, then she crossed her arms in front of her chest and growled sarcastically, “ain’t you quite the shot, Cliffer.”

Clifford replaced the six-shooter and lifted the shotgun with both hands again. He looked at his wife and said ominously, “I missed, Margie.”

Adam decided that he rather agreed with the idea of bringing Marge to the sheriff and briefly wondered why two men who were in such perfect accord needed to have a gun between them. He didn’t think it wise to try to explain this to Clifford. The man had obviously sprung a leak. If he could only keep things from blowing up, Adam reflected, they could all be safe at the sheriff’s in no time. 

From his horse’s back, Joe laid his left hand on the handle of his colt and sought his brother’s eyes. But Adam gave a small shake of his head and a tiny motion of one of his upraised hands told Joe to dismount. Joe frowned his disapproval then grudgingly obeyed.

Motioning with the shotgun, Clifford steered Adam right next to Marge and glowered at his two captives. “Ain’t ye two cute together. You, boy!” he called over his shoulder at Joe, “git over here where I can see ya. Bring yer horse and hitch it up, or I’ll blow yer buddy and his sweetheart here ta Kingdom come.” 

Joe didn’t move a muscle. The thought of strapping Cochise into that flee bitten harness so appalled him that he temporarily forgot to worry about his brother’s predicament. “It’s all right, Joe,” Adam said soothingly, “bring Sport.” He didn’t like the way Clifford’s finger was massaging the trigger. “Look, Cliff…ah, Cliff-ford, that’s a saddle horse. He’s never pulled a wagon.”

“Cain’t be that hard. Ya’ll got five minutes ta learn’im.” 

Adam sighed. Staring into the wide, flaring barrel of the sawed-off shotgun, he tried not to think about what it had been loaded with. No doubt Clifford didn’t even have to bother aiming that thing; if it went off, Adam was pretty sure, he’d hit Marge and himself and every living thing within fifty yards. “Joe,” he called out calmly to his brother, who was holding Sport by the reins, “start hitching him up.”

“Adam, have you gone completely…”

“Do as I say, Joe. Now,” said Adam sharply. Joe shook his head in defeat and began to unsaddle his brother’s horse. 

Clifford had backed up a few paces to a position from where he could observe Joe as well as his two captives. Never a woman to surrender control, Marge chose this moment to take things back into her own hands. She shuffled companionably against Adam’s side, planted one paddle-like hand around his waist and the other on his shoulder and leaned in so closely that he could feel her hot breath in his ear. The earth hath bubbles….He stiffened and sucked in some air. “Look, dahling,” she whispered, “all’s forgot iffen ye help me put ol’ Cliffer here outta his misery. Cain’t be that hard, reckonin’ as he’s kinda dim and runty. When I say ‘NOW’, you grab the gun, an’ I grab’im by the neck, whaddaya say?”

Adam firmly removed the hand from his waist and took a step aside. “Why didn’t I think of that myself,” he quipped. He could feel his skin crawl where she had touched him.

His sarcasm lost on her, Marge smiled broadly, forgetting to hide her missing front tooth, and clapped him on the back. “Don’ ye worry, honeypuss. Margie’s gonna take care o’ things.”

Cliffer grimaced and waved the gun barrel at them. “Stop yer cooin’ and fondlin’, ye two!” he growled. Adam just rolled his eyes.

Joe had to do some cooing and fondling of his own to keep Sport under control. When he pulled the heavy breast piece of the harness over the horse’s head, Sport laid his ears back and threw his head up in protest. The couple’s emaciated gelding had wandered off to sample the grass by the side of the road, and now paused to watch the unfolding scene with interest. Sport danced nervously and ran circles around Joe, who was trying to adjust the back straps while holding the reins with his other hand, all the while talking soothingly to the nervous sorrel. Adam watched unhappily, alternately flinching and frowning, and exhaled carefully when Joe finally managed to back the horse up against the wagon and hitch him to it. Sport snorted in protest, gave a little buck and planted both rear hooves soundly against the unfamiliar object attached to his butt, splitting the wagon’s head board with an explosive crack. “This is gonna be fun,” commented Adam.

When Clifford saw that the horse was hitched up he hissed, “Now git in the wagon, you two!” making a sweeping movement with the gun.

At this point, Joe was at a loss as to what he should do. He couldn’t just leave his older brother at the mercy of this train wreck of a couple. Naturally, the logical thing would be to ride to get the sheriff, but it appeared that they were going to the sheriff anyways. And older brother seemed to be willing enough to just go with the flow and not tempt fate. Under the circumstances, Joe thought it best to hang around and keep an eye on Adam. “Uh…sir?” he cautiously addressed Clifford, “shall I get in the wagon, too?” 

“Don’t care nothin’ ‘bout what ye do, boy,” Clifford answered, never taking his eyes off Marge and Adam. “I said git in the wagon.”

Marge squinted at Adam from the side. “How ‘bout NOW, sugar?”

Adam, with his hands high in the air, cautiously cleared his throat. “Ma’am, since your husband does seem a bit… unbalanced and has his finger on the trigger of a very ugly gun, may I suggest we comply with his request.”

“You nuts? You wanna go to the sheriff?” Marge growled. 

“As a matter of fact, I do.”

Marge made a vulgar noise and narrowed her eyes at Adam. “You yeller, purty boy? I’m tellin’ ye right now, purty or not, I ain’t goin’ for yeller.”

“I’m real yeller.” Adam assured her sincerely. And then he suddenly grabbed Marge by the arms and with iron strength hauled her off to the wagon, swept her off her feet and loaded her into the back. Marge protested loudly and pounded his chest with her fists, but she was no match for his muscle. Adam found a length of rope in the wagon and began to tightly tie her hands and feet. Watching in fascination, Clifford followed, pointing his gun.

“Traitor!” she hollered at Adam, “Swine! Coward! I thought you was a gentleman, but you’se just a yeller-bellied, filthy little…hmpfff.” Adam had taken off his string tie and shoved it unceremoniously into her mouth, gagging her. He straightened up, his lips a tight line. “There goes a perfectly good tie,” he lamented. Then he turned towards his brother, who was watching with a grin on his face. “Joe, better collect all this junk and put it in the wagon,” he motioned at the bucket, the arm, which was still lying where Clifford had flung it and was now buzzing with flies, their scattered gun belts and Sport’s saddle and gear. “We’re going to town.”

Joe’s face brightened. Things sure looked a whole lot better now that older brother appeared to be in charge again. He winced as he nudged the arm back into the bucket with his boot, noticing that it was beginning to smell rather nastily. How on earth did Edgar’s arm end up in the possession of these people anyways? And then all this talk about stolen money! And just what was it with Adam and that woman? Well, maybe there’d be some answers at the sheriff’s. The afternoon sure had taken an interesting twist, Joe mused as he deposited the bucket right next to Marge’s face to let her enjoy the sickly odor. Marge was lying on her side in the back of the wagon, grunting and struggling, but trussed up so tightly that she couldn’t move an inch. 

Adam climbed onto the seat and took up the reins, speaking softly to Sport, who had begun to prance nervously in anticipation. He turned to look at Clifford, who still stood gawking with his shotgun pointed at him and asked conversationally, “you coming, Cliffer?” And when Clifford didn’t move, he reminded him, “we’re taking your lovely wife to the sheriff, remember? It was your idea.”

“Fine,” grunted Clifford and snapped out of it. He climbed up on the seat next to Adam and eyed his rival suspiciously. “Sure hope this ain’t no trick,” he commented and laid the gun across his knees, finger on the trigger and barrel pointing at Adam’s ribs, just to make sure.

Sighing wearily, Adam flicked the reins, and Sport took a mighty lunge forward, bucked and kicked out with his hind legs. “Whoa boy. Whoa boy,” Adam soothed. He pulled on the reins and managed to coax the sorrel around until the wagon faced towards Virginia City. “All right, boy, nice and steady now,” and he carefully gave his horse a bit more rein. Sport pranced, threw his head, and exploded forward into a flat-out gallop, causing the wagon’s rotten wood to groan in protest.

At a slower pace, Joe followed on Cochise. He had put a rope around the skinny gray’s neck and was gently leading him along. The animal already looked a bit more cheerful and trotted valiantly beside the pinto, limping slightly. “Wait til my brother Hoss gets his hands on you,” Joe told him kindly, “you’ll be fat and pretty and your coat’ll be shiny like a new silver dollar in no time.” Joe looked worriedly down the road to see the wagon waver wildly from side to side, stop dead in the middle of the road and start up again with a lunge. Drifting to his ear were his brother’s cries of “Whoa,” and “Easy, boy” in between Sport’s furious squeals and the splintering of moldy wood. Virginia City was only three miles away, but Joe wasn’t all that sure they’d make it. One rear wheel, he had noticed, wobbled forebodingly.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

At the desk in his office, Roy Coffee was shuffling through the latest stack of ‘Wanted’ fliers and shook his head. He’d have to request funds to hire more deputies. The stack sure was getting larger and larger every day. Gold and silver seemed to have that effect on the human character. Since the mines had opened, tempers were more volatile, morale had become negotiable, and guns were sitting more loosely in their holsters. 

There was a commotion outside. A horse was whinnying and snorting, there were several explosive cracks as of wooden boards bursting, and a deep voice was calling urgently, “whoa, whoa, easy now, boy, we’re here”.

Roy had just decided he should investigate, when the door busted open, and Adam Cartwright walked in with a woman in his arms, just like a groom carrying his bride over the threshold. Except that she was gagged and bound, and that she looked a bit more robust than the type Adam normally took a liking to. Right behind him was a wild-eyed little man pointing a trembling shotgun at Adam’s back. Closing out the procession was Little Joe Cartwright, looking a little sheepish and uncharacteristically passive. 

Roy stood. “Well now, this I gotta hear.”

Adam bodily deposited his twitching cargo in the nearest chair and turned towards Clifford. “Cliffer, this is Sheriff Coffee. Why don’t you put that gun down now and say your piece.”

“Come on, son, gimme that gun,” Roy said softly and pulled the rusty old barrel from Clifford’s unresisting hands, then reached for the army colt and laid both weapons aside. Clifford stared at Roy’s face, then at his badge, then back at his face. In the presence of such overwhelming authority, the little man lost all composure. Shaking violently, he collapsed on a stool and began to cry. “It’s she who done it, Sheriff,” he sobbed. “I ain’t never stole nuthin’ in my life before. I ain’t no thief!”

Roy parked a hip on his desk and listened patiently to Clifford’s jumbled ramblings, interrupted by quoted commandments, hysterical bouts of crying and repeated requests to be allowed to see the priest to make his confession. Adam, sitting next to Joe on a bench with his elbows on his knees, supplied the occasional laconic comment. Joe fumblingly explained about the missing arm. Marge made animal noises through Adam’s string tie, momentarily ignored by all of them. After a while, Roy held up a hand and frowned at Clifford. “Jus’ a minute, son. You tellin’ me the bank’s been robbed?”

“Yessir, Mister Sheriff.” Clifford sputtered tearfully.

“That’s the first I hear about it,” Roy commented with an air of annoyance. He called his deputy in from the back room and dispatched him to the bank to look after matters there, adding under his breath,“swing by the church and bring Father Storvolt for this poor feller, will ya?” then he turned again towards Clifford. “All right, son. If your wife here robbed the bank, I guess the next question I gotta ask is where’s the money?”

Clifford stared at him wide-eyed and gestured out the door towards the wagon. “It’s in the bucket, Sheriff. She made me put it in there. ‘Cept it ain’t in the bucket no more. No Sir! The Lord took it away. ‘Cause we done wrong. ‘Thou shalt not steal’, He said, and we stole. God took the money. I done told her all the time, Sheriff, but she won’ pay no mind.” 

“God took the money, son?” Roy repeated gently.


Roy nodded sympathetically. “Well, son, that may be so, but unfortunately I can’t go out there and arrest God, now can I?”

Joe and Adam exchanged an uneasy glance. They knew that deceptively mild-mannered tone of voice.

Roy sent Joe outside to bring him the bucket in question. He removed the lid and examined the grisly evidence unflinchingly, chewing thoughtfully on his mustache. “Son,” he said after a while, “you tellin’ me you put the money into this here bucket?”

“Yessir!” said Clifford, nodding gravely. “I’m the one as took it from the safe. With these here guilty hands.” He held up his hands and stared at them with disgust. 

“But it ain’t there, now,” Roy observed mildly. “Instead, we got an arm misplaced by Doc Martin. Ain’t that right, Joe?”

“Me? Oh. Uh…that’s about right, I guess. Sheriff.”

“You got anythin’ to add to that, Adam?”

“Not a thing, Roy.” Adam sat slouched on the bench with his hat on his knee, his mood fast deteriorating. This was all so ridiculous. He decided there and then that it was about time to untangle himself from this crazy affair. He rose resolutely to his feet and slipped his hat on his head. “If you’ll excuse us now, Roy. Joe and I have to…”

“Sit down, son.” Adam, startled by the snap in Roy’s voice, sat promptly. Roy slowly placed the lid back on the bucket, stood with his arms folded in front of his chest and watched all three of them squirm under his gaze. Suddenly, he slammed his fist on the desk and thundered, “I had just about enough bull outta you boys to last me till I retire! For the last time, WHERE IS THAT MONEY!”

The door opened, and Jim the deputy returned. He steered a pale and shaky Hank Allenby to the chair behind Roy’s desk. Father Storvolt, tall and lanky son of Norwegian immigrants, followed, looking quite serene in his spotless black frock. “Never been robbed,” Hank muttered to no one in particular, “twelve thousand dollars. Thirty-seven years I’ve been a bank clerk and never been robbed.” When he saw Marge glowering at him from the corner, he jumped to his feet and pointed. “She! She! She!” was all he managed. 

Roy had Jim untie Marge and remove her gag, resulting in such a squall of obscenities, most of them directed at Adam, that even Roy’s seasoned ears couldn’t take it. He had Jim haul her off to a cell where she banged around and raged for a while before gradually calming down from sheer exhaustion. Clifford made a sobbing apology to Hank and started babbling incoherently at the priest. 

“What’s the poor fellow on about, Sheriff?” asked Father Storvolt kindly.

“I can’t quite make it out, Father.,” Roy said wearily. “Somethin’ about the Finger of God pointin’ at him. Out of a bucket, no less.”

“A bucket!” Father Storvolt nodded appreciably. “The Lord has mysterious ways.” 

“Does he ever. Well, Father, I’m gonna put this poor soul in a nice quiet cell and leave’im in your capable hands then. See if you can calm him down, would ya? I gotta go ‘round town to find twelve thousand dollars.”

“Sheriff, you throw’im in here, I’ll be doin’ a murder,” came Marge’s hoarse voice matter-of-factly from her cell.

Roy patted Clifford’s shoulder reassuringly as he led him away. “Don’ ye worry, son, I’ll put ye in the cell farthest away from hers.”

Adam and Joe exchanged another glance and decided they were no longer needed. Just as they were about to file out the door, Roy’s voice stopped them in their tracks. “Just a minute, boys.” He nailed the brothers with a stern glance. “Well, I still got no clear idea what’s been happenin’ here, but I can tell ye this: whatever it is, I’d be real disappointed to hear that you Cartwrights had anythin’ to do with it.”

“Come on, Roy,” said Adam, slightly annoyed, “you don’t honestly believe that we get ourselves tangled in a bank robbery, do you?”

Roy didn’t waver. “Adam, sometimes these days I jus’ don’t know what to believe any more. Things in this town ain’t what they used to be. At any rate, son, you at least seem to have gotten yerself tangled with that… female somehow.” He pressed his knuckles into his hips and fixed his eyes on Adam’s. “Now I’d like ta know…jus’ what IS the nature of your acquaintance with that woman?”

Joe looked from Roy to Adam and piped in, “Yeah, Adam. I’d kinda like to know, too.”

Adam stared at them. His face clouded in anger, his mouth opened and closed a few times like that of a fish thrown on dry land, before he bellowed, “ACQUAIN…..” He took a deep breath, forcing his voice back down. “I am NOT acquainted with that…that sidewinder.” 

“She seemed to think ye are,” commented Roy calmly, waiting.

“Yep,” nodded Joe. “She said you called her a lady and told her ‘bout Boston and…” He was silenced by a murderous glare from Adam.

“All right then.” Adam ducked his head and pressed his lips together, working hard to control his rising temper. “All right,” he heaved a suffering sigh and rubbed his fingers across his forehead, “the nature of my acquaintance with that…harpy… is that she practically sat on my lap and sucked onto me like a leech at the miner’s dance, and the only way I could get rid of her was to pry her off me and…and…,” he chewed on his lip, finding it a difficult thing to admit.

“Hightail it outta there?” proffered Roy.

“Run for your life?” added Joe, his eyebrows rising in sympathy.

Adam nodded meekly, his anger gone. “Forgot all about Jenny Sue. Poor thing came back from the outhouse to find me gone. Went back later to apologize, but she’d found comfort in the arms of Jon Colville …she ain’t spoken to me since.” He made a sour face, clearly troubled by the memory. Joe looked at him compassionately. 

Roy nodded thoughtfully. “Well, son, I don’t blame ye much for runnin’.” He pulled himself up a little and nailed Adam with another stern glance. “Now, to wrap this up. I’ve always put a lot of trust in a Cartwright’s word. So. Do I have you boys’ word that you don’t know nothin’ about this money?”

“Of course we don’t,”said Adam indignantly. Joe just nodded earnestly.

“All right then, boys, enjoy your evening.” 

Adam inclined his head courteously and stepped out the door, followed by Joe. They collected their belongings from the wagon and unhitched Sport. The gelding delivered a vicious parting kick at the hated object, causing the wagon to rock back. With a sickening scrunching sound, the rear wheel popped off, the whole contraption landed hard on its axle and broke into several pieces, spilling the Johnson’s belongings into the mud of the street. “Good boy,” Adam muttered darkly and petted Sport’s neck.

Joe thought it best to tread lightly until his brother’s mood had recovered. But as they led the three horses towards the new saloon, he couldn’t suppress his curiosity about one thing.

“Umm, Adam?”


"Did you really call that awful woman a ‘lady’?”

Uh huh,” came the muffled response from under the black hat. “Called her a ‘regular Lady Macbeth’.” 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~


~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Adam and Joe pushed through the swinging doors to find the saloon packed with people. Gentle piano music tinkled above the subdued murmur of the guests. People were dressed in their finest, sitting at the silk-clad tables sipping champagne or just standing around marveling at the decorations. More like an opera premiere than a saloon opening, thought Adam wryly. Hoss didn’t appear to be here yet, but Adam saw his father cutting a path through the crowd towards them.

“Hello, boys.” Ben, champagne glass in hand, greeted them with a smile and put a forearm on each son’s shoulder. He pointed a disapproving eyebrow at Adam’s throat when he noticed the absence of a tie. Adam saw it and smiled crookedly. “Long story, Pa.” 

Ben raised the other eyebrow. “Is it a good one, son?”

“It is, Pa, believe me. Later.”

“I look forward to it. Well, boys, what are you standing around for? Go and enjoy yourselves.” As Joe slipped past him to join the crowd, Ben laid a friendly but heavy hand on his youngest son’s shoulder and bent down to speak a single word in his ear. “Lemonade.”

Joe’s face went sour, but Adam just laughed. “Come on, little brother, I’ll join you for a lemonade, but after that you’re on your own.”

Leaning backwards against the bar and sipping their lemonades, the two brothers observed the party guests milling about. Joe nodded a greeting to Oscar, who was perched on a bar stool behind the bar, but Oscar just stared at him glassily and swayed a little, like a pine tree in a gentle breeze. Many of the town’s prominences were there - mine owners, ranchers, the mayor and his wife - chatting and twirling their watch chains and nodding in appreciation at the splendor of the place. Ben was going around to shake hands and clap shoulders, and his deep full voice could be heard above the general murmur. Dressed magnificently in ruffled shirt and a dark blue velvet suit, Horace Hunneker zoomed from table to table like a hummingbird visiting flowers. He bobbed and bowed, gestured at the decorations and straightened wrinkled tablecloths.

At the far end of the bar, closest to the doors, was a huddle of miners. They were the poor simple souls who worked the dirt beneath the city: hunched, calloused and looking terribly out of place in their scuffed boots and frayed, freshly laundered best shirts. Most of them were young fellows, hardly old enough to grow a beard, and yet they had the look of trodden middle age about them. They were shuffling their feet and exchanged quick glances as if trying to remember why they were there. Adam was reminded of the forlorn, worried look of a small herd of yearling bulls rounded up for castration.

Joe, nursing his lemonade, glanced at his brother from the side. “Adam?”


“So what do you think?” 

“About what, Joe?” Adam swirled his lemonade in his glass and looked at it without interest.

“Well. About this party,” said Joe, a little annoyed. “Do you think it’s a good party?”

Adam chuckled. He thought it had all the sparkle of those annual faculty balls he remembered at Harvard. “Joe, I’ve been to funerals that were more fun than this.”

The piano player had launched into a sharp little polka, maybe in the hopes of livening things up a bit, and there were actually one or two couples dancing, but the majority of guests clearly had no idea what to do with that kind of music. The miners huddled even closer together and frowned at their feet.

“I don’t know,” observed Joe astutely, “something’s definitely missing here.”

Just then, as if in answer to Joe’s comment, Horace called for everyone’s attention and announced a performance by the dancing girls. Joe straightened up a little too quickly, which earned him a grin and an eyebrow from Adam, and so he made a show of assuming a more casual pose. The doors on the top floor opened, and in a rustle of silk and velvet, four women in billowing wine red dresses flowed down the stairs. They were young and lovely, and when they had reached the bottom of the stairs and swept past the bar, the dark eyes of a Mexican girl met Joe’s. They exchanged a quick smile, and then the girls were dancing: a tame little can-can number accompanied by the piano; nothing too rowdy, lifting their skirts barely past the ankles. The whole thing had an awfully rehearsed look about it. The guests clapped politely when it over but without enthusiasm.

“I don’t know…” began Joe again, shaking his head.

Adam emptied his lemonade with one draught and set the glass on the bar. “Well, little brother, I’m gonna mingle. I’ll give it half an hour, and if things don’t pick up a bit, I’m outta here.” He shrugged lazily. “Who knows, sometimes it just takes a little bang or something to break the ice.” With that, he sauntered off towards the punch bowl, where the dancing girls were gathered to get watered up after their exercise. 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

After several hours of good food and good conversation, Hoss sat back in his chair in the Kreutzer’s drawing room and stifled a yawn. “Mrs. Kreutzer, I ain’t eaten this well since…heck, I don’t reckon I’ve ever eaten this well in my life. Or this much,” he added, laughing heartily. He glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner. “Shucks, it’s near six o’clock. Guess we better get a start on that sausage.”

“Oh yes, yes! We almost forgot, no? Must not let ze blood stand too long; it will clump. Come, come!” and she was already bustling off towards the wurst kitchen. 

The wurst kitchen was a small, cool room smelling of blood, spices and raw meat. Wooden tubs, sievesand jars filled with salt and spices were neatly stacked along the walls, and against one side stood a large hearth with a huge iron kettle on top. Frau Kreutzer instructed Hoss to retrieve the bucket from the root cellar and then busied herself with starting a fire under the hearth. “Oh, we have many fine sings to put in your blutwurst, Mr. Hoss! Some fine pig cheeks from ze Hellers, zey slaughtered zis morning, and kidney and heart and spices, many spices. And we have good strong gut and ox stomach to put it all inside!” She pulled a large wooden tub into the middle of the room. “First, you must salt ze blood and stir good, and maybe, if is clumpy, you must put it in ze sieve, no? Now,” she encouraged Hoss, gesturing at the bucket in his hands, then at the tub at their feet. “Let’s see all zat beautiful blood!”

Hoss grabbed the bucket, pulled off the lid and moved to pour out the contents. A thick wad of twenty-dollar bills emerged and flopped into the tub with a soft thump, followed by another, and another. They stared in total puzzlement, then there was a clatter when the bucket dropped from Hoss’ limp fingers. 

“What in…! I ain’t…” Hoss grabbed one of the money packets and examined it as if he had never seen a twenty-dollar bill in his life before, turning it over and over in his large hands. He stood straight, composed himself, and scratched the sparsely vegetated top of his head. “Mrs. Kreutzer, right now ye can jus’ run me thru with one o’ yer hairpins. This sure wants explainin’.”

Frau Kreutzer’s eyebrows rose and she looked from the money to Hoss in amazement. “Donnerwetter,” she managed good-naturedly, “zis has not come out of your steer, no?”

“Shucks, but where DID it come from?” 

“Zis is very much money,” Frau Kreutzer observed while pulling more bundles of dollar bills out of the bucket. “Much much money.” She looked at him drolly. “Mr. Hoss, zis is not your money, no?”

Hoss was furiously trying to think. He concentrated on mentally retracing his steps ever since he had started at the Ponderosa this afternoon, tried to remember when and where he had taken his eyes off the bucket. There had been many times, he realized; at the ranch, when getting the buckboard ready, on the trail while stepping out to take a leak, at the livery…

“Who will keep all zis money in a bucket!” Frau Kreutzer mused and shook her head in wonder. “In Germany, buckets are for cleaning and for milk and getting water and collecting berries in ze forest…” she still found it difficult to get used to some of the stranger customs of her adopted country.

Hoss shook his head vigorously, as if to clear it, and made his decision. “Well, Mrs. Kreutzer, jus’ now I can’t think for the life o’ me where this money come from, but I reckon I better get it to the Sheriff. There’s been some kinda mix-up; that much is sure, and some poor feller is gonna be mighty sore over missin’ all this cash.”

Hoss stuffed the money back in the bucket, put the lid on, mumbled a sheepish apology at his hostess and walked off towards the Sheriff’s office. Frau Kreutzer looked after him from her doorstep, smiling affectionately, but shaking her head in puzzlement. “Amerikaner,” she shrugged and closed the door.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Sheriff Roy Coffee put on his hat and his gunbelt and sighed. After interviewing his captives one more time, enduring Marge’s venom and Cliffer’s wide-eyed gibberish, he had come to the conclusion that those two had truly no idea where the missing money had got to. Roy didn’t have the faintest notion how to go about finding the twelve thousand dollars and not much hope he ever would find them. But, try he must; that was his job. Oughta ask fer a raise at the next city council meetin’, he pondered as he stepped out of his office door onto the boardwalk – and almost bumped into Hoss Cartwright. 

“Hoss,” Roy said kindly and tipped his hat. He noted with interest that Hoss was carrying a bucket, identical to the one containing that awful limb, which, Roy reminded himself now, he better get back to Doc Martin’s before it fouled up his office. Frowning, he fixed his eyes on Hoss’ bucket.

“Roy,” Hoss was saying, laughing nervously. “Ya not gonna believe what I…”

“Say, what you got in that there bucket, Hoss?” Roy asked curiously. And before Hoss had time to answer, the Sheriff lifted the lid off the bucket and peeked inside.

Hoss chuckled nervously. “Funny you’d ask, Roy. I just now come to see ye about that.” 

Roy scrutinized the bucket’s cargo for a long moment, chewing his mustache, then shifted a thoughtful gaze to Hoss’ face. “Ain’t that somethin’,” he commented slowly.

“Sure is, ain’t it.” Hoss agreed and ran a hand through the money. “Sure looks like a lotta dough to me.” 

“I’d say. Pretty close to twelve thousand dollar, I reckon.”

“Twelve thousand? How’d you count that so fast?” Hoss looked up to see Roy staring at him intently out of narrowed eyes. 

“I didn’t count,” Roy explained patiently. “I know because that’s how much got taken from the bank this morning.” He continued to stare.

“From the bank! The bank’s been robbed? I’ll be dadblamed!” Hoss exclaimed. Becoming aware of a glint in Roy’s steel-blue glare, he shifted his feet. “Now Roy…you…you lookin’ at me kinda funny there…”

“Am I,” said Roy, unperturbed. 

“Yeah, well. Wish you wouldn’t.” To his dismay, Hoss felt himself blush. “You makin’ me kinda uneasy-like.”

“That so! And why would that be?”

Hoss’ ears were glowing now. “Now wait jus’ a minute, Roy! You ain’t thinkin’…naw, you can’t be thinkin’ that!”

“And why can’t I be thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?”Roy asked kindly and took a step towards Hoss.

“C’mon, Roy,” Hoss stammered, backing up a step. “You known us dang near forever. You know no Cartwright would ever…nah, you can’t be thinkin’….”

“No Cartwright would ever what?” Roy said and tilted his head as if listening for a rare bird to sing. He took another step forward.

Hoss backed up, bumping squarely into the hitching post. “Rob…rob the bank. Shucks, Roy, you can’t honestly believe we’d…” 

“Hoss, some days, I don’t know what to believe any more in this town. Jus’ a half hour ago, your brothers gave me their word that no Cartwright knew nothin’ about that bank robbery. And now, against my own better judgment, I got me a Cartwright carryin’ around the money!” 

Hoss felt an acute pang of anger at this. “Come now, Roy! There’s gotta be some explanation how I got this here money.”

Roy put his hands on his hips and thrust his chin forward. “I’m listenin’.”

Hoss screwed up his face in an effort to think and remember, but it was no use. Under Roy’s wilting stare and his own rising anger, he found he couldn’t think straight. “Doggonit, Roy! All I know is I musta got the wrong bucket somehow. Coulda been at the livery. Heck, mebbe someone slipped me this here bucket ta get me in trouble!” He frowned darkly with a sudden suspicion. Hadn’t he left it on the porch with Adam and Joe while he changed into clean clothes? Oh, those brothers of his – could it be? “Nah,” he shook his head. His brothers wouldn’t get mixed up in a bank robbery. Or could it all be some big fat joke they had concocted somehow? “Nah, not Adam. He wouldn’t be joshin’ around with that much money,” he mused aloud while Roy observed him carefully. Joe, then? “Heck, no. He couldn’t get twelve bucks together to safe his fanny.” Never mind twelve thousand. Hoss finally shook his head. ”Blame it, Roy, it jus’ ain’t comin’ to me right this minute. I’m sure if I had some quiet time to think about it….”

”Quiet time?” said Roy and placed a heavy hand on Hoss’ arm, “I can help ya with that.” He placed his other hand on Hoss’ shoulder and gently steered him through the door into the office. 

“Roy,” Hoss said, alarmed, “you ain’t gonna…”

“I’m gonna, Hoss.” Roy said with finality. He maneuvered the big man into the cell next to Marge’s, who squinted poison at them from her bunk. “See that you do your thinkin’, Hoss.,” he said and gave him a consoling pat on the back before locking him in. “Frankly, I’m pretty sure ya done nothin’ wrong, and I’d liketa see you outta here soon’s possible.” He jabbed a thumb at the badge on his shirt. “Meanwhile, I gotta do my duty. Reckon you appreciate that.” With that, he turned on his heel and went back into his office. 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Joe was on his third lemonade, watching the party sullenly from the bar. This sure was the dullest crowd he’d ever seen. There seemed to be a lamentable absence of people his own age – except for the herd of young miners, but they weren’t having any more fun than he did.All the fancily dressed prominences were at least Adam’s age, or, heaven forbid, even older. None of the girls he liked were there; maybe their parents had figured that a saloon opening wasn’t a suitable place for their daughters. To make matters worse, the dark-eyed dancing girl who had caught his eye was engaged in an intense conversation over by the punch bowl – with none other than his older brother Adam. Joe’s lips curled sourly as Adam poured her another glass of punch and dimpled down at her charmingly, talking all the time, making her alternately blush and giggle. Impressing her with his Spanish, most like. Yeah, rub it in, Adam. Figgers. Where ever did he pick up all that Spanish anyways? Hardly in Boston! Joe groaned and turned to face the wall, resting his elbows on the bar. Come on, big brother, why don’t ya find one of them stuffed shirts to talk business with? With longing, Joe scanned the collection of exotic liquor bottles lining the shelf behind the bar. Ridiculous, being stuck here drinking lemonade like a toddler. Undignified. Wonder where Hoss is. Got enough sense to stay away, I reckon. He eyed his lemonade glass, then set it down, disgusted. “I’m outta here,” he said to no one, grabbed his hat and made his way towards the doors. Just as he was about to slip outside into the darkness, Horace’s voice rang out.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please, may I have your attention…” The crowd quieted down, and Joe turned to see Horace standing near the punch bowl, right below the banister. In his hands was a long object with a linen cloth draped over it – with newly awakening interest Joe recognized the name board, meant to officially announce the ‘Bucket of Silver’. That naming ceremony – all right, I gotta see this. His eyes drifted expectantly towards the lone figure swaying on the stool in the shadows behind the bar.

Oscar, sweating in his new suit, had spent most of the party planted on that same stool, where he had taken a liking to that Austrian schnapps after all. He had also made the acquaintance of Russian vodka, Caribbean rum and several brands of Irish whiskey. Enjoying himself greatly, he imagined he was the captain of a pirate vessel raiding the treasures of the world’s harbor taverns, but after sailing out from the port of Rum City for the fifth time, his ship encountered heavy seas, and Oscar found his perch on the quarter deck becoming more and more precarious, forcing him to retire below decks.

From across the room, Joe observed with some concern how Oscar unceremoniously toppled off his bar stool. 

Horace had waved over the two people standing closest to him – Adam and the Mexican girl – to hold up either end of the cloth covered name board. The two exchanged a wry glance behind his back and smiled self-consciously while Horace launched into a passionate speech, singing the praise of his grand establishment and this fabulous town. He mentioned the words ‘class’, ‘international’, and ‘elegance’ and spoke of his hope for this fine saloon to become a place where people of world as well as poor simple folk from the hills would find reprieve and refreshment from their weary travels, and so on and so on. The guests sighed and shifted, and several found their eyelids drooping. Joe wondered if Horace was even aware that no one seemed to share his enthusiasm. Adam, Joe noticed with glee, looked increasingly uncomfortable. Older brother had begun to carefully peek around, obviously hoping to be able to pass his end of the board on to some other poor soul.

To his great delight, Oscar, huddled on the floor behind the bar, found another bottle of schnapps swimming in front of him, and grabbed it before it could float away. He stared at the now-familiar label of the Austrian bottle which showed the picture of a little white flower and the script ‘Edelweiss’. Not that Oscar could read, but the drawing of the flower set off an alarm somewhere in the reptilian core of his brain. Wasn’t there something else he was supposed to do? Something to do with little white flowers. The naming ceremony?! Ah yes, the balustrade! Bucket! He blinked his swimming eyes up and down the counter. There it was, sitting underneath the wine glass cupboard. He managed to grab the handle on the third try and began to lug the bucket up the stairs, zig-zagging between the railing and the wall, taking secret pride in his sense of responsibility. No way was he going to slack off on the job, raging oceans or not. But them flowers sure were a lot heavier than they had been this morning. Dang that foreign booze.

“…A place of class needs a name with class…,” Horace was singing out with feeling. Most of the guests were studying their boots or their fingernails or were counting the Chinese lanterns on the ceiling.

Oscar arrived at the banister on the first floor. He felt a bit dizzy and briefly considered lying down for a spell, but then he dimly made out Horace and two people holding the name board straight below him, and a sense of urgency tugged at his faithful heart. Musn’t let Mr. Hunneker down

“…but it must be a name that also reflects the soul of the earthy miner who is buildingthis fine city…” 

Oscar heaved the heavy bucket up on the banister and held on to the railing with his free hand. Heavy seas, oh my. He reached up to pull the lid off, before quickly grabbing the railing again. Whoo, big wave, there.

Horace’s voice had swelled to a crescendo, “Ladies and gentlemen, fine citizens of Virginia City….” 

Oscar reached up and stuck his arm into the bucket, frowning at the unexpected substance his hand encountered. Kinda wet and sticky

“….I proudly present to you….” Horace grabbed a corner of the cloth covering the board.

Fishing around a bit, Oscar’s hand encountered a large slippery object. He closed his fingers around it and lifted his arm out of the bucket to have a better look at it. His arm came away covered in red slime to the elbow. Oscar stared at it drunkenly for a second before recognition hit him.

With a flourish, Horace pulled off the cloth. “…The Bucket Of Sil…”


The steer tongue slipped from Oscar’s grasp like a bar of soap and sailed across the room to where it would collide with Mayor Jenning’s wife’s thickly powdered forehead, but not before the heavy bucket tipped off the banister and hurtled towards the unsuspecting soul below.

Adam Cartwright, holding the tail end of the name board, had been tallying the wages for the branding crew in his mind, when the hair-raising scream pierced the air right above his head. He just managed to lift his chin a fraction, his eyes darting towards the ceiling, before the top of his skull exploded, and he had the sudden sensation of being pounded into the ground like a fencepost. Then his face was on the floor, and the last thing he saw was blood. Lots of blood, everywhere. Oh my. Dead, then, was all he had time to think.

Oscar was suddenly feeling very seasick. He hung over the railing and stared at the prone body floating in a wave of blood below. “Man overboard,” he managed to sing out before he threw up all that he had inside him. 

After a moment’s frozen silence, all hell broke loose. People shouted, screamed, and jumped to their feet. Mrs. Jennings sank into her husband’s arms in a dead faint, a large patch of steer blood sticking to her forehead. Over by the door, the cluster of miners came abruptly to life. Sudden accidents and mangled bodies was something they had plenty of experience with, and they rushed forward as one to assist the fallen man. 

Like most guests, Ben Cartwright had let his attention wander off during the speech; he never saw the bucket fall; heard only Oscar’s scream and a loud thump and saw a sudden splatter of red. He now elbowed his way through the crowd to stare at the blood-covered body on the floor. Almost immediately, he recognized the shock of black hair, and he felt the bottom drop out of his heart. “Adam, oh God! What happened?” He knelt by his son in the grotesquely large pool of blood and looked up at the stricken faces in utter confusion. “Was he shot? Was there a shot?”

Joe appeared at his side. ”Pa, I saw it,” he said soothingly. “It ain’t his blood, it was…” but he was shoved aside by several of the miners carrying silk cloths which they had ripped off the tables. “Better get this poor feller to the doc,” one of them was saying. With deft, practiced movements, the miners lifted Adam onto a tablecloth, and then four of them grabbed a corner each and began to carry him off. Ben felt strong arms pull him to his feet, then gently steer him after the miners, all the while patting his shoulder consolingly. 

People were coming out of their trance now; everybody spoke at once as they slowly filed out of the saloon to follow the bizarre procession. 

“What in bejeesus just happened?”

“Heck, I didn’t see a durn thing.” 

“Who issit anyways?”

“It’s one of the Cartwright boys. Skull cracked from ear ta ear.”

“Sure ain’t never seen so much blood come out of a man before.”

“Dead, most like.”

“What’s all them chunks floatin’ around in there? Geez, that one looks like…”

“Looks like he bit off his tongue, poor devil.”

Joe stood staring up at the first floor, at Oscar, who had plunked down onto his buttocks, goggling stupidly through the bars of the banister at the chaos below, at the pond of blood on the floor, the blood splatters on the wall, the dented bucket which had rolled against the foot rail of the bar, at Horace, who sat on the stairs with his face buried in his hands. Hoss’ bucket – here? How on earth? What the…should I have known? He shook his head. …Later. Gotta explain to Pa about the blood…. He turned to follow the crowd, when a cheerful voice suddenly spoke from the doors.

“My hat, what a glorious mess!” 

It was man of about thirty with an open, blue-eyed face who had just stepped through the swinging doors. He had a notebook and pencil in his hands. “Here I came to report on the opening party, and from the looks I missed the grand finale, huh? Oh, pardon my manners,” the man said and held out his hand to Joe. “Name’s Clemens, Sam Clemens, but you can call me Josh. Just got into town a day ago. I’ll be writing for your illustrious newspaper...say, is that blood?”

Joe shook the proffered hand. “Joe Cartwright,” he said absentmindedly, gazing worriedly after the convoy that was carrying his knocked-out brother towards the doctor’s house. “Excuse me, Mr…ah…Josh. That’s …that’s my brother over there.” And he hurried off after the miners.

With a smile on his face, Sam Clemens took in the fantastic scene in the now near-empty saloon: the blood-splattered walls and floor, the broken china, the smashed paper lanterns, the silk tablecloths defaced by bright red stains, the man in a dark velvet suit sitting on the staircase, apparently weeping; the name board boldly proclaiming in red paint, ‘Bucket of….’ -but a huge splash of blood was obscuring just what kind of bucket it was supposed to be. 

An idea came to him, and he scribbled something into his notebook. Gazing at what he had written, he shook his head again and smiled. “Hell of a name for a place where food and drink is served.” 

He put his notebook in his pocket and followed the crowd to the doctor’s office. Sam Clemens was already beginning to like this town. No doubt there’d be many wonderful stories here, and after all, that’s what he had hoped to find out west: a few good stories to tell.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Alerted by the commotion in the street, Paul Martin stepped out onto his porch. Even from a hundred yards away, he saw that the man being carried was covered in blood. So much blood that he doubted there was a drop left in his body. Ashen-faced, Ben Cartwright was among the men carrying the body,and then Paul saw the pitch black hair through the caking of blood. For a brief second, the world swam before his eyes, and he found himself gripping the doorpost. “No please,” he groaned. “Not one of Ben’s boys. Not Adam. I can’t, Emma.” 

Emma gently pulled on his arm. “Of course you can. Come inside, love, you must prepare your surgery.”

The crowd surged up and eddied in front of the doctor’s porch as the four miners carried Adam into the house and on into the surgery room. Ben moved to follow, but Paul grabbed him by the shoulders and pressed him into a chair in the hall. “Sit,” he ordered. And turning to Joe, who looked a lot less shaken than his father, he asked gently, “What happened to your brother, son?”

“It ain’t his, Doc,” Joe spluttered excitedly, “leastways, not all of it. I hope, anyways…” he quickly explained what he had seen in the saloon.

“A bucket…full of blood?” Paul asked incredulously. Joe just shrugged. Paul pursed his lips. “Well…let’s have a look then.” He disappeared into the surgery.

After half an hour or so, Paul emerged from the room. An odd expression sat on his face as he thoughtfully dried his hands on a blood-flecked towel. “Well….” He began. 

Ben shot to his feet. “Out with it, Paul! How bad?”

“Hm. He’s got a pretty good concussion. Other than that, all I can find is a three-inch gash in his head, which I stitched.” Paul shook his head slowly. “It’s that thick Cartwright skull, Ben. You should have that patented.”

Ben stared at him. “A concussion? That’s all? But…there was so much blood…”

Paul shrugged. “Apparently, it wasn’t his.”

Joe sighed patiently. “That’s what I’ve been telling you two the whole time.”

Ben ran a hand over his eyes. “Thank God.” Yes, he had absorbed Joe’s rambled explanation about the bucket, but still…the image of his eldest son in a pool of blood was not something he could just file away as irrelevant.

Adam was flat on his back in the bed, his eyes half open. He had been cleaned up somewhat, but dried blood still stuck to his hair and eyebrows and darkened the folds of his ears and the little vertical pain creases above the bridge of his nose. His ruined clothes were in a heap on the floor, and he was wearing a soft cotton nightshirt – probably one of Paul’s, Ben thought warmly as he sat on a chair by the bed.

Paul had shaved a circular patch around the now neatly stitched gash on the top of his patient’s head. Joe, who had followed his father to the bed, was reminded of the monks he had once seen in the Franciscan monastery in Sacramento. Brother Adam, flashed through his mind. He must have made a small sound of amusement because Ben threw him a threatening glance before refocusing his attention on Adam. “Son?” 

“Hello, Pa.” Adam mumbled mushily and frowned a little. “What happened? Did …did Sport shy again?”

“Well…not exactly, son. Don’t you remember?”

Adam blinked at him with one eye. The other had drifted off to some other business. “…’member a lot of blood…”

“It wasn’t yours, Adam,” Ben said gently, petting his shoulder. “Don’t concern yourself. You’ll be just fine.”

“…not concerned.” His errand eye made a valiant attempt to focus on the other person in the room. “That you, Joe?”

“Right here, brother. How ya feelin’?” 

“Nauseous. Tired. Filthy,” Adam answered grumpily.

“Well, that’s to be expected,” said Ben, smiling.

Adam closed his lids and sighed deeply, sinking another inch into the pillows. After a moment, he opened his eyes again and squinted at his father. “Oh hi, Pa…that you? …What happened?”

Ben turned and looked worriedly at Paul, who was leaning in the doorframe. The doctor simply shrugged and tipped a forefinger to his temple. “Concussion, Ben. It’s normal.” He nodded his head towards the hallway and walked out.

Ben gave Adam’s forearm a soft squeeze. “You sleep now, son. I’ll look in on you later. You need anything else for now?”

“…filthy. Kinda like to take a bath…”

“I bet you would. But maybe you better sleep first.” Ben looked through the open door. “And I’d rather not bother Emma and Paul with that. They’ve got enough around their ears tonight. Can it wait till we get you home tomorrow?”

“…huh? …Can who wait…?” Adam’s eyes had slipped shut again. “Ooh…headache,” he stated flatly and drifted off to sleep. 

When Ben and Joe stepped quietly out into the hallway, they were surprised to see Paul talk to Jim, the Sheriff’s deputy. Jim removed his hat and twirled it nervously in his hands when he saw Ben.

“Uh…Sheriff send me over when we heard the ruckus…,” he explained sheepishly, then nodded towards the surgery room. “uh…your other boy all right?”

“I think so,” Ben said tiredly, without conviction. ‘Your other boy’ ? I don’t like the sound of that… “Jim, is there anything you need to tell me?” He suddenly wasn’t at all sure he wanted to hear the answer.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Ben Cartwright, tired, angry, and still sick with worry over his firstborn, marched over to the jail, only to find the Sheriff steadfastly refusing to let his middle son go. Roy insisted that Hoss stay in jail until Marge and Clifford could give a comprehensive confession and the puzzle of the mysteriously disappearing and reappearing money had been solved to the law’s satisfaction.

“Jumpin’ Jehosephats, Roy!” Ben roared. “You can’t honestly believe that Hoss robbed the bank!”

“I already done told Adam:sometimes I don’ know what to believe no more!” Roy shouted back. He sighedand continued in a milder voice, “No, Ben, I don’t believe Hoss robbed the bank. But I can’t let him go jus’ because he’s a Cartwright; you know that, Ben. How’d that look to this town? The fact is, your boy was caught red-handed with the money, and he can’t or won’t give me a coherent explanation of how he got it, and until I figgered out what in Sam Hill’s been goin’ on in this town today, he stays right where he is!” 

“’Scuse me,” a sleepy voice from the cells interrupted, “Ye two mind keepin’ it down a mite? Man’s tryin’ to get some snooze in here.” 

They proceeded to the cells to find Hoss comfortably stretched out on his bunk. “Aw, come on, Pa,” he yawned, “it ain’t that bad. This here bunk’s right comfortable.” He frowned at Ben. “Say, what was all that ruckus out there? I thought I heard people yell Adam’s name.”

Ben hesitated. “Well…your brother’s had a little accident.” When he saw the instant concern in Hoss’ face, he quickly explained the events in the saloon. “I don’t think it’s serious… Paul says he’s got a hard skull.” 

“Yeah, he does, don’t he?” Hoss said happily, then frowned a little. “But even granite can take only so many hits before it cracks. He oughta be more careful where he sticks his noggin. Dadblamed pity about that good blood, too.” He chuckled throatily. “I’m an idiot, Roy. I coulda tol’ you right away, if I’d a done some thinkin’. I musta switched the durn buckets when I was in the saloon…”

In the next cell over, a slow, dry cackle reminded them of Marge’s presence. She sat on her cot in the shadows, hugging her knees, and her eyes flashed at them. “That’s what I figgered, too,” she drawled hoarsely. “Switched the goddam buckets in the saloon, that’s where it all got started. You an’ Cliffer both. You make a cute pair, fat boy.” She looked Hoss up and down and made a rude face. “I been listenin’. So that Adam feller and his runt are yer brothers, huh? Ain’t that cute. And you boys got yerself the dough, huh? Good fer ye.” She spat juicily on the cell floor. “Till I get my hands on ye. Tell honeypuss I won’t be in this hole forever. Tell’im he cain’t run to Boston fast enough to get away from me.”

Hoss turned his face to squint at her vacantly, then raised his eyebrows at his father and Roy. But Ben’s face was a complete blank, and Roy’s was fast clouding over. Hoss turned back to Marge. “Evenin’, Ma’am,” he said politely, “I ain’t got a clue what ye just said, but a good evenin’ to ye anyways.” He tipped his hat and turned his back on her. 

“Hoss,” said Ben slowly, puzzled, still staring at Marge, “are you and your brothers….acquainted with this…this… woman?”

“Aw, Pa, now don’t you get started, too. I ain’t never seen her in my life before.” From the shadows, Marge snorted softly. 

Roy was frowning very darkly now. “I don’t like what I’m hearing here, Hoss. I just ain’t sure ‘bout anything any more.” He shook his head and rubbed his eyes with one hand. “Lemme tell ye what. I’m getting’ awful tired of all this bucket nonsense. I’m gonna get some sleep and sort it all out in the morning.” He turned to leave, but Ben grabbed his sleeve.

“Wait a minute, Roy, you’re not letting Hoss go?”

Roy yanked his sleeve loose. “Heck, no, Ben, I ain’t gonna. Not til I figgered out how he came by that money!” 

“But he just told you!” Ben’s voice rose. “He switched the buckets! Do you doubt his word?” 

“The only thing I ain’t doubtin’ is that if I hear another story about a switched bucket I’m like as not gonna have me a grown-up temper tantrum!” 

Ben was loading a lungful of air for a reply, when Hoss intervened. “Pa, hang on here.” 

Hoss was getting a bit worried about Roy’s degree of exhausted crankiness, knowing that the one thing liable to put the mild-mannered sheriff into a froth was having his authority questioned. In such a state, he wouldn’t be beyond throwing two Cartwrights into jail instead of one. “Pa, you go sit with Adam and don’t ye worry ‘bout me. I’ll be jes’ dandy right here. This bunk’s cozy enough, and I’m sure we’ll get this mess all untangled in the morning.” He flicked a dark glance at the neighboring cell. “Though one might wish the company was better.” 

Marge squatted on her bunk, glowering at them, her foul mood wrapped around her like a blanket. At least she was quiet now. In the cell across the room, Clifford lay deep in an exhausted sleep, whimpering every now and then in his wild dreams. 

“Say, Roy,” Hoss allowed himself a lavish yawn and stretched luxuriously, “would it trouble ye terrible ta get a man another pillow?”

And so, weary and more than ready to put this day behind him, Ben reluctantly agreed to leave Hoss in jail. Roy sure could be cantankerous and had obviously had an unpleasant day. It wasn’t worth fighting about, and Hoss was right: things would untangle themselves in the morning. At Roy’s request, Ben took the bucket with Edgar’s arm which now smelled downright offensive, and wandered back to Paul Martin’s house. He held his disagreeable cargo as far away from him as possible, hoping he wouldn’t run into anybody he’d have to explain this to. Well, since I’m the one who carried it out of Paul’s house, it’s only fair that I’m the one who brings it back.

Hoss arranged his pillows and made himself comfortable on the prison bunk. For a man used to sleeping on the hard Sierra earth, it was downright homely. A bit narrow, though, maybe. He’d have to make a comment to Roy about that. He was just drifting off when a soft sly voice hauled him back to wakefulness. 

“Hey, fat boy.”

Hoss sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Huh?”

Marge was standing at the bars separating their cells. “Bet you real strong, ain’t ye? You got some muscle on ye, I can tell from here.”

Hoss looked at her askance. Her face was half in shadows. She was smiling crookedly, and her tongue was cruising along the inside of her cheek. Hoss shuddered a little. “Muscle?” he said quietly, “you bet I got muscle.

“Thought so. Tell ye what. All’s forgot and forgive iffen ye help me get outta this rat hole.” Her hands ran up and down the bars. “Mebbe we can call that runty Sheriff in here. You can faint and play dead, and when he comes in, ye bust his silly skull. Or mebbe yer even strong enough to bend these here bars, who knows? We be half way to Boston when the sun comes up. Just gimme two minutes with Cliffer there in the last cell, and then we can flutter.”

“Ma’am,” Hoss said valiantly, “if I hear another peep outta you, I’m a-gonna bent some bars awright, but it’s gonna be the ones ‘tween my cell and yours, and then I’ll put you across my knee and give you a right powerful spankin’.” He nodded his head once, for emphasis, and lay back down.

Marge growled a string of poisonous insults and curled up on her bunk. Hoss didn’t hear another sound all night.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

It was eleven in the evening before things had quieted down at the doctor’s house. People kept stopping by to ask about Adam’s condition, but eventually, the crowd had dispersed and migrated back to the saloon. Edgar’s adventurous arm had finally been laid to rest in Paul’s carrot patch. Adam, his head now bandaged, was sleeping soundly, with his worried father sitting on one side of his bed and the doctor on the other.

“You should lie down on the couch and get some sleep, Ben,” Paul was saying quietly. “There’s nothing more you can do here.”

But Ben just shook his head, watching his sleeping son. “He never sleeps this soundly, never. A horse coughs in the barn, and it wakes him up.”

“He had a pretty good bump on the head, Ben. He’s concussed, and he’s exhausted.”

Ben fussed with Adam’s quilt, not listening. “No way he’d sleep through us sitting here, talking. You sure it’s not a skull fracture? There was so much blood…” For the sixth time, he placed gentle fingers on his son’s neck, and his face relaxed a little when he felt a strong rhythmic beat. Paul smiled.

“It’s just a concussion, Ben. He’ll be all right, trust me. It wasn’t his blood.”

Ben looked up, challenging him. “Then why are you sitting here watching him and not in bed? Some of it was.”

“Standard procedure with concussions, especially if the patient has lost consciousness. It was a small gash, and I stitched it. Besides, I have another patient to take care of. Don’t think I could sleep if I tried.”

Ben settled down a little. “How’s Edgar anyways?”

“He’ll recover. Emma’s sitting with him now. Head wound is not as bad as I feared. He’ll have to learn to do things with one arm, of course, but he’ll manage. Got a good strong family to support him. Won’t go back into the mines, I hope.”

Ben nodded, remembering his plan to help the Jerichos get a piece of land. He smiled at Paul. “Sounds like you had a rough day, hm?”

“No harder than any other day.” Paul shrugged and smiled wryly. “Just another Friday in Virginia City, I guess.”

“You look tired, Paul. You should take a day off. Go fishing. You used to like fishing.”

Paul snorted without humor. “And have some poor fool bleed to death because I was off catching trout? Forget it, Ben. Doctors never have a day off.” He studied Ben, who was back to gazing at his son’s gently snoring face. “Nor, it seems, do fathers.” He rose and went to a small cabinet on the wall. After a minute, he returned with a bottle of old brandy, two glasses and a smile on his face. He poured and gave one of the glasses to Ben.

“Thanks, Paul, I could use one.” He lifted his glass and looked at his friend. “To doctors.”

Paul nodded his thanks. “To fathers.”

They clinked glasses across Adam’s sleeping body and drank.

Setting his glass down on his knee, Ben sighed and nodded slowly, then shook his head. “These boys are going to drive me to an early grave. Just take today. One son sick, one in jail…” He interrupted himself and drew his thick brows together. “Now that’s strange.”

“What’s that?”

“For once, it seems, Joseph is the only one not in trouble.” 

Paul laughed softly, then briefly glanced at the clock on the dresser. “Don’t be premature, Ben. Day’s got almost an hour to go.”

Ben’s face took on a sudden look of alarm. He sat up straight. “Oh no, Paul. I just realized something.”

“What’s that, Ben?”

“I actually have no idea where Joe is.” He stared fixedly at the floor for a while, thinking hard. His face softened, then set in a grim expression. “On second thought, I think I do have a pretty good idea where he is.” He glanced worriedly down at Adam.

“It’s all right, Ben. You go ahead and collect your youngest. I’ll stay right here with Adam.” 

Grateful, Ben rose and squeezed Paul’s shoulder. He took his hat and walked out into the cool night air.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The news that Adam Cartwright was not seriously hurt had miraculously revived the party. In fact, the explosion of blood seemed to have broken the spell of glamour and restraint and had removed all inhibitions from the crowd of miners, who were finally celebrating the way they were used to. From several blocks away, Ben was greeted by a chorus of raucous male voices belting out a rude old drinking song he hadn’t heard since his sailing days. When he entered, he almost didn’t recognize the place. The brocade drapes had been pulled off the banister to soak up the blood; the bar was littered with broken bottles and sticky with spilt whiskey; smashed chairs cluttered the floor; the piano had been tipped over on its side; the piano player was slumped in one corner, smiling serenely, an empty whiskey bottle between his feet, and someone had brought in an old sourdough miner with a fiddle, who stood on one of the tables, tapping the silk tablecloth with his muddy boots and fiddling his heart out. The dancing girls had discarded their cumbersome velvet overdresses and unlaced their corsets, and several of them were swirling around the tables, their faces red and sweaty, their arms wrapped tightly around some lucky fellow’s waist.

Ben found Horace collapsed on a bar stool, nursing a bottle of rum, a vacant expression on his face. “I’m ruined, Mr. Cartwright,” he said meekly. “I dang near killed your boy, and now this.” He made a sloppy sweeping movement with the rum bottle. “Look at them. They’re savages. Brutes. I should have known.” He looked up at Ben, blinking through the fog in front of his eyes. “How’s your boy? He didn’t die, did he?”

Ben had to smile in spite of himself. He pattedHorace’s shoulder reassuringly. “Don’t worry now, Mr. Hunneker, Doc says Adam will be like new in a day or two. He’s got a hard skull, believe me.” 

Hunneker nodded dully, mumbling his relief. “Please, Mr. Cartwright, don’t be angry at Oscar. It were all my fault. Reckon it was all too much for poor Oscar.”

“Nobody’s blaming Oscar, Mr. Hunneker. Talking of whom, where is he anyways?”

“Passed out cold. Up in bed.” He motioned upstairs with the bottle before taking a long, hard swill.

Ben’s heart went out to Horace. Apparently, the poor man believed he was looking at the smoking remains of his life’s dream. Ben didn’t think it was quite that bad. “Look at them, Mr. Hunneker,” he motioned at the rowdy crowd in the saloon, “look closely. What do you see?”

Horace’s voice was a flat monotone. “Demolition. Ruin. Bedlam.”

“Well, that’s not what I see. Now look closely; I see people enjoying themselves. Look at them dancing and laughing. They’re having the best party this town has ever seen.”

Slowly, Horace peeled himself out of his despair and looked up at Ben with new hope in his watery eyes. “You really think so?”

“Trust me, Mr. Hunneker. I know this town. They’ll love this place.” Ben held the despondent man’s shoulders with both hands. “I’m telling you, with a bit of luck, your saloon will still be right here a hundred years from now.”

“That’s right decent of you to say, Mr. Cartwright,” said Horace, a bit doubtfully. But he looked at the scene with renewed interest.

Through his conversation with Horace, Ben had scanned the crowd and decided that Joe was not among them. However, one of the doors to the rooms upstairs was closed. Ben gave Horace a final pat on the back and headed up the stairway. 

After he had learned at the doctor’s house that Adam would be just fine, Joe had hurried back to the saloon to bring the good news to the dark-eyed Mexican girl. She had been genuinely delighted, and together they had celebrated for a while with all the others. They had danced wildly, and it had taken all of Joe’s strength of character to resist the repeated offers of whiskey, rum, beer, schnapps and what-have-you to toast to his brother’s health. No way was he going to get into the same sort of trouble twice in one day. A little while ago, Juana had winked at him and clasped him around the waist to resolutely steer him up the stairs to her room. 

They’d been sitting on her couch together, sharing a bowl of candied apricots they had captured in the kitchen. Now the empty bowl sat at their feet, and they were holding hands and gazing intently into each other’s eyes. Juana didn’t speak much English, so the two young people had tired of trying to make conversation, but her eyes told Joe exactly what she wished him to do next. She was actually a little bit cross-eyed, which had been very endearing from a distance, but at kissing range it proved to be rather distracting. Joe solved the problem by focusing his soulful gaze exclusively on her right eye; her left one seemed to be more interested in the ceiling anyways. Cupping a gentle hand around hernape, Joe was bending slowly towards her waiting lips when there was a sudden hard knock on the door, and a voice rang out that Joe was sure could split the earth beneath his feet.


They froze, their lips an inch apart.

“Joseph, if you’re in there, I expect you downstairs in one minute.” There was a silence, then a clearing of the throat, and the voice continued more quietly, with dignity. “If you’re not in there…ah…you have my sincerest apologies, Ma’am.”

Joe looked at Juana longingly. “I gotta go, sweetheart.”

She smiled understandingly and squeezed his hand. “Adios, bonito.” And planted a soft warm kiss on his lips.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ 


~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The sun was smiling softly through the hazel bush in front of the window when Adam awoke in the morning. His mind was a happy blank. Blissfully, he admired the delicate pattern of sun spots and leaf shadows dancing across the ceiling. Then he shifted a bit, and a violent throb of nausea reminded him of where he was. “Oow…great.” He gently turned onto his side and was confronted with a picture he had seen too many times before: His father, crumpled and stubble-bearded, long limbs draped awkwardly across a too-small canvas chair. He was dozing fitfully, and for a brief sad moment it struck Adam how old and tired he looked. 

Adam carefully cleared his throat and tested his voice. “You know, Pa, you really gotta stop doing this.” It came out a bit croakily. 

“Huh?” Ben’s eyes popped open. “Oh, you’re awake, son.” He peeled off the last cobwebs of sleep and carefully stretched out his legs. “Gotta stop doing what, son?”

“Sleeping in a chair all night every time one of us has a boo boo.”

Ben chuckled softly. “We’ll talk about that again when you have children of your own. Talking of boo boos; how are you feeling?”

Adam grunted. “I’ll know when I try to move.”

The doctor’s house was slowly coming awake now. Low voices were drifting through the door, and they could hear soft footsteps up and down the hallway. 

Adam cocked an eyebrow. “Sounds like Paul’s running a bed and breakfast these days. Guess I’m not the only casualty, huh?”

Ben nodded sadly, remembering. “The Jerichos are here, too. They all spent the night with Edgar in the other room.”

“Oh, I remember. Poor devil.” Adam slowly sat up and leaned against the headboard. He gingerly palpated the bandaged top of his head. “I remember everything now, I think. A locomotive fell on my head, right?”

“Just about, son,” smiled Ben. He proceeded to tell the whole sordid tale: from the falling bucket, to the recovery of the money, to Hoss’ imprisonment. Adam listened attentively; his eyes closed, a slow smile spreading on his face.

When it was over, he blinked his eyes open. “Hm. Poor Hoss.” He had a private little chuckle, imagining his brother wandering through town trying to figure out how he ended up with the loot of a bank robbery. “Pity about the blood, too.” He studied his hands and noticed the caked blood around the fingernails. His smile withered. “Need a bath.” 

Ben observed his son thoughtfully for a while. He took in the pallor under the dried blood stainsbut also the slightly amused curl of the lips and the fresh light in the eyes. All is well. Adam shifted a little under the scrutiny and lifted a peeved eyebrow. Smiling, Ben rose from his chair. “Some breakfast, son?”

“Aah…” Adam’s face sagged. “Let’s not talk about food just yet.” He took a deep breath. “Coffee would be nice, though.” 

Ben returned minutes later carrying a tray with a pot and two coffee cups, and they sat in silence for a while, sipping Emma Martin’s gentle, watery brew. Ben swallowed listlessly. Perfect for sick people, maybe, but I could use something stronger. He could tell from the way Adam was studying his cup that his son was having a similar thought. He cleared his throat. “Adam, if you’re feeling well enough, can I bother you with a problem?”

Adam looked up, surprised. “Sure, Pa, fire away.”

Sighing, Ben set his cup back on the tray. “It’s about the Jerichos. You’ve heard what happened to Edgar…,” he told of his plan to give the Jerichos money to help them buy a piece of land. 

Adam frowned. “A thousand bucks is a lot of money this time of year. Why not just give them some of the land on the far side of Porcupine Creek? We’re not using it, and it’s good farming land. They’re hard-working people; they’ll take good care of it.”

“I thought about that. But they’re also proud people. If we just gave it to them…well, they might accept, now that they’re destitute, but…”

“…but you’d like to preserve their dignity, huh?” Adam finished for him and smiled.

Ben shrugged. “Dignity is a good thing to preserve, son. It’s all some people have.”

For a long time, Adam stared at his coffee cup, turning it slowly in his long fingers. Finally, he placed it carefully on the nightstand, folded his hands in his lap and looked at Ben, the hint of a smile playing around the corners of his mouth. “Well, the way I see it, Edgar’s entitled to the thousand dollars. It’s his reward.”

Ben shifted in his chair. “Reward?” 

“That’s right. You see, Pa, you were so upset about the bank robbery that you put up that thousand dollar reward for whoever brought in the robbers.”

Ben’s eyebrows jumped up his forehead. “I did?”

“You did.” The smile grew, reaching the eyes. “And considering that it was really Edgar Jericho’s, uh, extended arm that, um, caught the robbersor, at least, convinced one of them to catch themselves, it’s logical that the reward has to go to him.”

Ben’s face lit up, but then he frowned and raked a hand over his beard stubble. “But Adam, I did no such thing. It would be a lie.”

“Aw come on now, Pa, of course you wouldn’t lie. You’ll just forget to mention that you didn’t put up the reward until after the crooks were in jail.” He smiled his dimpled innocence at his father. 

Ben slowly shook his head in amazement. It might work, it just might work…He wagged an accusing finger at his son. “Adam, I don’t know where I went wrong with you, boy. But you’re the craftiest fellow I’ve ever known.” 

Laughing softly, Adam closed his eyes and sank back into his pillows. “Hmm. Must’ve been that whack on the head.”

They heard the house’s front door open, then slam, followed by the sound of an approaching stampede. The door flew open and Joe barreled in, waving a copy of the Territorial Enterprise. 

“Adam! Pa! Hey Adam, you’re never gonna believe this!” he yelled excitedly and shoved the paper into Adam’s flinching face.

“Ow, Joe, please…” his brother winced, holding his swirling head with the fingertips of both hands.

“Joseph, there are sick people in this house,” Ben reminded him sternly.

“Sorry, Adam.” Joe, looking a bit contrite, slowed down visibly and sat carefully down on the bed. He studied his brother fondly. “You sure look a whole lot better than you did last night, older brother,” he said warmly. Then he thrust the newspaper forward, his voice picking up speed again. “But you gotta read this. You won’t believe it, Adam! They named the saloon after you!”

Adam blinked. “They did what?”

Ben frowned. “They did WHAT?”

“Look yourself!” Joe pushed the newspaper into his brother’s hands.

Mentally bracing himself for the ‘Adam Cartwright Watering Hole’ or worse, Adam unfolded the paper and read the bold headline stretched across the width of front page: 

Virginia City welcomes the ‘Bucket of Blood’!

Gory, glamorous, grand opening at the new saloon.

- by Josh -

Adam chuckled richly. “Ah, you had me worried there, Joe.” He handed the paper to his father. 

Joe giggled brightly. “It was that new reporter’s idea, I reckon. Good thing he didn’t see Ol’ Oscar throw up on you, or it mighta been called the bucket of pu…”

“Joseph, you will watch your language in another man’s house,” Ben interrupted without taking his eyes from the paper.

“Sorry, Sir.”

Adam looked suddenly alarmed. “Oscar threw up on me?”

“Sure did, Adam,” Joe nodded enthusiastically. “Right after you went down. Just hung over the banister and let go. He didn’t miss, either. Good thing you was out cold.”

Frowning, Adam drew a hand through his sticky hair and then sniffed at it. He looked miserable. “I’d sure like to take a bath.”

There was a knock on the door, and Hoss carefully stuck his head in. When he saw that his family was all there and Adam was awake, he entered the room, grinning broadly, a cloth-covered reed basket in one hand. 

“Hoss! Good morning, son.” Ben laid the paper aside and his frown smoothed into a smile. “I was about to go over there and beat Roy on the head with his jail keys. Did you make a break for it?” 

“No need, Pa,” Hoss laughed. “That Cliffer feller did some more singin’, and ‘tween that and Hank’s statement, Roy was happy to let me go. Said he had to ‘simplify’. Was right contrite about it, too. We had a nice breakfast in the jail together.” He laughed again. “Reckon Ol’ Roy just needed a good night o’ sleep. He sure gets cranky these days. Overworked, probably.” 

He turned towards his older brother. “Morning, Adam, how’s the head?” 

“Sore, thanks.”

“Aaw, sorry ta hear that.” Hoss plunked the basket onto the quilt of the bed. “Lookee here, Adam. Good Mrs. Kreutzer was so unhappy to hear you got hurt she sends you all of this to make you feel better. Here, don’t this smell wonderful?” He pulled a thick end of fragrant blood sausage out of the basket and held it under his brother’s nose.

In a second, Adam’s face went limp and lost all remaining color. “Oh no,” he managed. “Take it away, quick…”

Alarmed, Ben reached for the chamber pot under the bed, but Adam held up a hand. “No need, Pa. I got it.” He swallowed hard and let out a slow breath, before raising reproachful eyes at Hoss.

“Sorry, brother. I didn’t think.” Hoss quickly let the basket disappear under the foot of the bed. “By the way, I run into Hunneker on the way over. He’s awful crushed ‘bout this and sends his apologies. Poor man feels it’s all his fault you got hurt.” Hoss face lit up in a broad smile. “And guess what, Adam. He said by way of makin’ it up to ye, for as long as the ‘Bucket of Blood’ stands, ye’ll always get the first drink on the house.”

Adam’s eyebrows climbed appreciably up his forehead. “Oh? Well, I might have to take up heavy drinking then.” For which he earned a stern frown from his father.

“You’ll do nothing of the sort, son. I’m going to have a talk with Mr. Hunneker about this, be assured.”

“So is ‘The Bucket of Blood’ official now?” asked Adam.

“Not if Hunneker has anything to say about it.” Hoss let out an amused snort. “He says it’s a barbaric name. But everyone else kinda took to it, so I’m bettin’ it’ll stick, whether Hunneker likes it or not.” 

Ben wordlessly handed him the paper, and Hoss read, laughing softly. “Poor Ol’ Horace,” was all he said.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

It was time to think about going home. There were a few more loose ends to tie up, and they left Adam to rest some more and went about town to settle their affairs. Joe and Hoss retrieved the horses from the livery, Joe riding Cochise and leading Sport, and Hoss driving the buckboard with Marge’s skinny gelding tied to the back. 

When Hoss had first seen the animal, he had cursed a rare blue streak at the state it was in and had turned on his heel to march to the jail, muttering something about a spankin’. Joe managed to calm him down by reminding him that he had just spend a night in jail, and that Pa would not be at all pleased if he added another for bodily assault. Hoss chewed on this for a minute while he tenderly stroked the gelding’s flanks. Then he wordlessly pulled a twenty dollar bill from his pocket and pressed it into Joe’s hand.

Joe’s eyebrows rose.

“Joe,” Hoss said while bending down to coax the gelding to lift one of his front hooves. “go to the jail and give that there money to that…that…you know who.” He began to clean the hoof with a pick. “I’d go myself, but there’s no accountin’ of what I’ll do if I ever run into her again. It’s plenty more’n this poor critter’s worth, and I ain’t in a mind to be accused of horse-thievin’.” He released the hoof and ran a hand lightly down a hind leg. The gelding responded by carefully lifting his rear hoof, ears cocked back inquiringly at this large human whose powerful hands touched him with such kindness. 

When Ben returned to the doctor’s house, he brought the Sheriff with him. He and Roy had drafted up a paper announcing the reward for the capture of the bank robbers, careful not to put a date on it. Roy had squirmed a bit, chewing his moustache, and had wondered aloud if he shouldn’t object to such crafty shenanigans, since they didn’t exactly follow proper procedure. But then, seeing as it was for a good cause, he set down his signature to make it official that Edgar Jericho was indeed responsible for capturing the bank robbers. He even agreed to accompany Ben to the doctor’s to bring the good news to the Jerichos.

Edgar’s wife, a small, lean woman with a face prematurely wrinkled by the hard prairie winds, stood in the hallway and looked at them all in turn. She turned and turned the document in her calloused hands. “A thousand dollar?” she asked in a soft voice. 

Roy nodded and smiled kindly. “That’s right, Mrs. Jericho. Mr. Cartwright here…” and he told her the whole ridiculous tale for the second time. Reluctant to play along at first, the kind-hearted Sheriff was really getting into it now, encouraged by the expression of incredulous joy slowly spreading over the woman’s haggard features. He finished with a flourish: “Mrs. Jericho, this whole town sure is mighty proud of your husband!” 

It was decided that the good news should be brought to Edgar. Paul Martin didn’t think it was a good idea, fearing it might be a little too much to absorb for his patient, but he agreed reluctantly, under the condition that they keep it brief and spare Edgar the grisly details for now. They all trooped into the room, where Edgar lay pale and sweaty in a laudanum-induced haze, and grouped around the bed. Mrs. Jericho sat by her husband’s left side and held his hand. Edgar’s head was heavily bandaged, and Ben noted the empty space under the blanket where the right arm should be. He tried not to stare at it. 

“Edgar, my dear,” Mrs. Jericho was softly saying, “There’s good news. You’ve won a big reward , darling, a thousand dollars.” She gently stroked his shoulder. Edgar blinked watery eyes at her. “There’s been… there’s been a robbery, and there’s an reward for bringing in the thieves, and these good people tell me that you…that your …” Edgar’s brow clouded a little, and Paul Martin warningly cleared his throat. Mrs. Jericho sighed. “Oh well, these good people are here to tell you that you’ve won the reward.”

Roy stepped forward. “Now, Mrs. Jericho, don’t you thank us none. Thank your husband. He’s the one who done it,” he said gallantly. He leaned towards Edgar’s confused face and spoke very slowly, “that’s right, Edgar, you done this town a right good turn.”

“It’s wonderful, darling. We can buy some good land now. You’ll never have to go back into the mines.”

“A thousand…” Edgar’s eyes shifted blankly from one face to the next. “I ain’t been outta this here bed since…” his voice drifted off weakly.

Ben reached down and gently squeezed Edgar’s leg. “Don’t worry about the details, Edgar. When you’re feeling better, we’ll have you over for dinner at the ranch, and we’ll tell you the whole story.”

Edgar, his confusion deepening, blinked helplessly at his wife. “A thou…” 

“Shhh, quiet,” she cooed soothingly, stroking his cheek, “it’s all square and proper. You earned it.”

Paul Martin, alarmed by the quickened breathing of his patient, clapped a hand each on Ben’s and Roy’s shoulders. “All right, everybody out, that’s enough.” He ushered them from the room, leaving a happy Mrs. Jericho sitting by her husband’s side. 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ 

Paul Martin stepped up to the Cartwright’s buckboard to wag a finger in his patient’s face. “Adam, no riding till Tuesday at the earliest, and you’re under strict orders to read a good book for the next three days.”

Adam smiled sweetly and gingerly placed his black hat over the bandage. ”I think I can handle that.” He shook the doctor’s hand. “Thanks for everything, Paul. You’ll be sending me the bill, I hope?”

Paul smiled. “I’ll bring it this afternoon when I come out to look at your ranch hands.” 

“Good grief, I forgot all about the sick hands.” Ben rolled his eyes as he climbed up on the buckboard next to Adam. Joe was on Cochise and Hoss on Sport. Pirate, as Hoss had named the one-eyed gelding, was tied to the back of the buckboard with a rope long enough to allow him to sample the vegetation along the road. They would travel slowly for their invalids, mindful of Adam’s sore head and Pirate’s sore knees.

“Stay for dinner tonight?” Ben called after Paul, who had waved his good-bye and was retreating towards the house.

“Only if it’s Hop Sing’s meat loaf!” Paul laughed back and closed the door behind him. 

They slowly made their way to the edge of town, and as he carefully steered the buckboard, Ben thought that Virginia City must have already grown since yesterday. He could have sworn that he saw a handful of canvas tents that had not been there the day before. 

When they reached the end of C Street, Cochise began to prance restlessly and Joe was longingly eyeing the open road ahead. “Come here, son,” Ben called. When Joe rode up to the buckboard, Ben looked at him sternly. “There’ll be no racing and no galloping. Must I remind you that your brother has a headache?”

Joe winced and glanced at Adam, who was sitting very straight with his eyes closed, still looking a bit greenish.

Ben suddenly laughed and slapped Joe’s thigh. “Actually, why don’t you ride on ahead to the ranch and tell Hop Sing to get a hot bath ready. I think your brother would appreciate that.”

Joe yipped in delight and touched his heels to the pinto’s flank. “And tell Hop Sing to prepare meat loaf,” Ben called after him, quite uselessly, as horse and rider were already gone in a puff of dust. Shaking his head, he took up the reins again. 

“Ben, wait!”Ben turned to see Paul jogging down C Street towards the buckboard. He was carrying, of all things, a lidded tin bucket. 

“I think this one’s yours, Ben. It had your chicken grain in it,” he said, catching his breath. He laughed and lifted the lid for Ben to peek inside. “Guaranteed empty this time, Ben. No more surprises.”

Ben waved a hand towards the buckboard. “Thanks, Paul. Throw it in the back, we can use it.” He gently patted Adam’s knee beside him. “After all, you never know when you need another bucket, right son?”

Adam, his eyes still closed, smiled crookedly under his black hat.

* * *

The ‘Bucket of Blood’! What a barbaric, vulgar, repulsive, fabulous, epic name for a place where food and drink is served! And if there is indeed a real story behind how it got its name, be warned, intrepid reader; this ain’t it…

* * *

A few historical notes:

As Ben predicted, the Bucket of Blood saloon stands on C Street in Virginia City to this day. Its founding date is given as 1876, the year it was rebuilt after the great fires that destroyed much of the city. How long the ‘Bucket’ existed before that date is unknown to me. It does appear in the first season of ‘Bonanza’, which is set around the same time as this story.

The real Sam Clemens didn’t come to the real Virginia City until 1862, when he took the job as reporter for the ‘Territorial Enterprise’ after having tried his luck, unsuccessfully, at mining and several other activities. But he too, appears in the first season of ‘Bonanza’, and I have taken the liberty to copy that little historical inaccuracy. 

In general, I have tried to portray Virginia City as it really was during the first year after the silver strike: raucous, muddy, out of control, lawless, frenzied, growing every time you turned around. The clean, orderly streets we see during Bonanza’s later seasons really don’t reflect the reality of a booming mining town.

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