Kick Like a Mule  
Gwynne Logan
July, 2002

A seriously injured Adam must deal with the urgent need to get the ranch ready for winter, and try to solve a domestic mystery while coping with insistent pain that immobilizes and distracts him.


    It was a pure accident – one of those things that happen sometimes on a working ranch no matter how much care and caution is taken.

     There was a load of fence posts to bring in from the hickory grove above the area they called Blue Rock Canyon.  Two men from the timber crew had been out there all week cutting and shaping.  The posts were sawn, trimmed and sized.  All that remained was to bring them in to dry on racks under cover for the winter.  They would be ready for the inevitable spring repairs after the snows melted and the rains softened the ground.

    Adam led out the wheel team of mules from the barn.  Smoke and Shadow by name, they were big, stout and still young – glossy black with creamy beige noses and long, alert ears.  They were the first pair of a four-in-hand hitch he was harnessing to the lumber wagon.  Their pulling gear shone with polished leather and brass studs.  He crossed the yard between them with a hand on each bridle.  They snuffled and pranced a little, excited by the nip of fall in the air and the activity around them.  They eyed the high, solid lumber wagon suspiciously and balked momentarily when Adam positioned them to back along the tongue. 

    Adam took a moment to pat their stout necks and speak softly but firmly to them.  “Come on you lop eared offspring of the orneriest jack we ever had on the place.  Don’t get uppity with me; back your butts on in there.  Back.  Back.”  Steadied by the familiar, friendly tone and accustomed command, they yielded to the pressure on their bits and backed into place.

    Adam moved to the rear of the near mule, running a hand along his back and flank as he went so the animal would know where he was and not be startled.  He was leaning in to hook the wheeler’s trace chains to the singletree when Hoss called to him.  “Adam, looka here what Stretch just found.”  He paused and straightened to look in his brother’s direction.  It probably saved his life. 

    Over at the barn a new hand, a city fellow recently come to the Territory and hired for a few days work to get the place ready for cold weather, replaced damaged or rotting boards and packed cracks with thick mud and moss.  He discovered a gray, papery mass wedged close up under the overhang of the barn roof.  Ignorant of its nature, he found a heavy rake and hit it hard to dislodge it.   A swarm of angry wasps erupted from their ruined home and scattered across the yard like bullets.

    Violently attacking any and everything in sight, one stung the near mule viciously on the rump, and the animal lashed out with both iron shod hind hooves.  Had Adam been bending over they would have connected with his head.  As it was, they slammed into his right hip and thigh, lifted him from the ground and threw him into the solid oak wagon body.  He dropped in a motionless heap; the team shook themselves violently and trotted off to the barn with traces dragging.  Unmoving on the ground and half under the wagon, Adam was ignored by the wasps. 

    Confusion reigned in the ranch yard.  Hoss saw his brother go down and shouted with alarm.  Wranglers scattered in all directions, and one young hand jumped in the horse trough and submerged after being stung three times.  Horses bucked and broke their ties to gallop for the shelter of the trees.  The cowboys flailed their arms and waved their hats wildly.  The wasps finally took themselves off to seek out a safer lodging, and Hoss, with his father’s help, got Adam up and inside.

    They put him on the sofa.   Hop Sing brought cold cloths, and Joe held a jar of smelling salts close under his nose.  He came awake with a cough, a deep groan and a strangled curse, struggling to roll off of his injured side.  He looked up at the worried faces of his family gathered around him and would have laughed at their harried expressions if he hadn’t hurt so much.  His right hip and thigh throbbed with every heartbeat.  The pain was acute and relentless, much like a deep burn, and his left shoulder ached where he had hit the wagon.  A thin stream of blood trickled from a graze on his cheek.

    Reinforced with a large shot of strong brandy and his father’s steadying hand on his shoulder, he let them cut away the torn and muddied leg of his britches to reveal the damage beneath.  The flesh was crushed and torn, the two hoof prints deeply indented.  Already swollen and beginning to discolor it almost seemed to pulse with pain. 

    Ben’s eyes widened in shock.  Adam registered his expression.  “That bad, Pa?” he asked through clenched teeth.   

    “It’s nasty, son.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse bruise or one that colored up so fast.  I know you don’t much want to, but I think you’d better try to move your leg.”   

Adam understood the need to know if anything was broken; the only way to find out was to try to move the limb.  Ben gripped both his boy’s hands hard and held his eyes in a gaze that poured strength and caring into his soul.  Adam sucked in one deep breath and flexed his knee and hip.  It was agony, but it moved, and there was no feel or sound of bone grating on shattered bone.  He fell back with a grunt, and nodded at his father. 

    Hop Sing knelt beside him and bathed the injury with warm water and carbolic soap, picking out shreds of black fabric and imbedded pebbles while Adam ground his teeth and panted hard. 

    “I want to see if I can stand,” Adam told them when the doctoring was done. 

    “Son, you should rest now,” his father told him.  “Leave that for tomorrow.”

    “I have to know.  There’s that trip to Sacramento coming up.”  Ben argued, but Adam insisted.  He laboriously pulled himself erect on Hoss’s rock solid arm and carefully shifted weight to the damaged limb.  It collapsed.  His head swam and his vision faded to a narrow tunnel.   Hoss eased him back down onto the cushions.  The bruise ran deep to the bone, and it would be a while before the pain lessened enough that he could bear weight on it.   Reluctant, but grateful, he let Hoss carry him to his room. 

    He stubbornly refused the opium based drug that would have given him haunting and disturbing dreams as well as relief and spent a night memorable for its misery as a result.

    Adam was awake when Ben came in – awake but unmoving.  The sun had just crawled up out of the low fog to the east and seemed to pause to gather strength before clawing its way over the snowy Sierras and on to California.

    “Morning, Pa,” Adam said quietly.  “Though it doesn’t seem to have a lot to recommend it.”  He glanced out the window at the cottony swirl of the slowly dissolving ground fog. 

    Indifferent to the weather, Ben saw only that Adam hadn’t shifted from the position he had been settled in hours earlier.  The covers were barely disturbed.  His bruised hip must be acutely painful to so immobilize this usually active and restless son.

    “Good morning,” his father replied and bent to build up the fire from the embers left in the fireplace.  He put on splinters of fat, pine kindling and watched as the blue and amber flames sprouted from them.  They snapped and crackled merrily like a flock of cackling crows.  When they were burning well, he added some larger pieces and a small log and left it to catch.

    “How do you feel this morning?” he said, turning toward the bed.

    “Stiff as a boiled shirt.”  Ben watched as his son found a wry grin to go along with his words.

    Ben bent to touch his face and found it a little warm.  Adam turned his head away.  “I’m all right, Pa, just sore.  Ben was about to argue differently when Hop Sing entered the room.  His felt-soled slippers made almost no sound.

    “I take care, now,” he said as he shouldered Ben politely but firmly to one side and placed a tray on the bedside table.  He hung a soft wool blanket over the back of a chair and drew it close to the renewed fire. 

    He stepped to the bedside.  “Mista Adam, you keep still few minutes.”

    “Been pretty still all night…probably shatter like a sheet of thin ice if I tried to move.”   Hop Sing merely nodded as he carefully folded back the blanket and sheet to reveal the injured leg elevated on a pillow.  He quickly spread towels and soaked free the light dressing, stained and spotted with blood and leaking fluids.  If possible, the bruised and mashed area looked worse that it had the previous night.  Swollen and lividly purple it was shot through with streaks of red and drops of yellow serum.  Adam glanced down once then closed his eyes and turned away. 

    Unaffected, the little Oriental bathed the whole area in warm salt water.  It stung, and Adam hissed through clamped teeth.

    “Betta soon,” Hop Sing told him.  He patted it dry and lifted a covered dish to reveal a warm plaster of crushed comfrey and yarrow root wet with witch hazel and wrapped in old, soft linen.  He applied it to the bruised area and bandaged it firmly in place.  He ran his hand down the leg and felt the foot.  “Too cold,” he said.

    “Like ice,” Adam confirmed.  Hop Sing brought the blanket he had hung before the fire and tucked to over Adam’s legs and feet before pulling up the covers again.  The big man signed as the soothing warmth soaked in.

    Not quite finished, Hop Sing uncovered a thick mug of rich broth and a chunk of coarse brown bread to soak in it. 

    “I’m not really hungry,” Adam told him, but then sniffed appreciatively as the aroma of chicken touched with rosemary reached him.

    “You eat or I feed,” Hop Sing said without inflection.  Adam reached out slowly and took the cup, broke off a corner of the bread and soaked it in the broth.  Ten minutes later he had consumed it all.  Nodding once in satisfaction, Hop Sing gathered his things and padded away as quietly as he had come. 

    “Amazing,” Ben shook his head and moved back into Adam’s line of sight.  “Do you want something to read, son?”

    Adam worked his sore shoulder and yawned.  “No thanks, Pa.  Think maybe I’ll doze for a while.”  His eyes, heavy with fatigue, were already blinking owlishly.

    Ben patted his shoulder and settled the pillows more comfortably under his head.  “You go to sleep, son.  Rest is the best thing for you.”

    “Um. . .”

    Ben looked at his sleeping boy and smiled.  Such simple, homely things: a soothing poultice, some fragrant broth, a warm blanket.  For the hundredth, or perhaps the thousandth, time he thanked all the watchful Chinese gods for the presence of one small, unassuming, yellow-skinned Cartwright. 

    “It seems I have no choice but to go in your place,” Ben told his son that evening.  “Dr. Martin was quite insistent that you stay off that leg for now, and those contracts have to be finalized and signed.”

    “I don’t know why you had to bother the doctor.  I’ve been kicked before.”  Adam slid his half eaten supper tray onto the bedside table and tried to work his way back down in the bed.  The fresh poultice Hop Sing has put on earlier helped with the pain, but sitting, even against a heap of pillows, put extra pressure on his hip, and it wasn’t welcome. 

    Ben saw his problem and hastened to help.  “You’ve caught a hoof now and then, but nothing like this.  I wanted to be sure we were doing everything possible, and I’m glad I sent for him.  Remember, son, Paul said there was some chance of a partial fracture.  The bone might be cracked, but not displaced.  The kind of pain you’re having suggests it.  Once the bruising starts to clear he can tell more.   If you stay quiet and eat well, any break can knit pretty quickly.  But if you start putting weight and stress on your limb, the bone could snap.  Then you would be in for a long, painful siege.   I can go to Sacramento with an easier mind if you promise me to control your impatience and wait this out.  Have the cold packs he suggested helped?”

    “Yeah, the ice helps, but I don’t think I’ll be forkin’ any broncs for a while.”  Flat on his back once again, Adam breathed a sign of relief and turned his mind to the business at hand.  “I’ve made out a detailed projection of the amount of timber to be cut weekly, a schedule for the sawmill and an itemized cost breakdown.  It shows clearly the price we have to get to make a decent profit.  You need to confirm once again with Hay Valentine that he will be able to haul the finished lumber to Sacramento to meet Haas & Levy’s building schedule.  It’s all in that olive-colored, Italian leather folder in the desk.  Go over it and see if you have any questions.  I’ll be right here.”  He chuckled dryly and gestured along his immobile body.  Hoss had cleverly fashioned a cradle of barrel hoops and thin lath strips that kept the weight and roughness of the bed linens from his injured leg.  Despite the odd, tented look of the bedding, it had greatly increased his comfort. 

    It didn’t require a father’s intimate knowledge to see that Adam was tired.  Ben banked the fire, saw that there was fresh water within reach, smoothed the covers and asked, “Let me give you a little something to make it easier to sleep, son.” 

    Adam mulled it over.  The huge bruise ached, burned, throbbed and sent sudden twinges of intense pain shooting through his hip constantly.  If he could get six, maybe even eight, hours of sleep – even drugged sleep, it might ease a little, and he’d be better prepared to make it through another day without lashing out at someone who only wanted to help him.  “Alright, Pa, but don’t be surprised if I wake the house with one of those dreams. 

    Ben mixed a dose of the powders Paul had left, and Adam drank it down swiftly, trying hard not to let it touch his tongue.  He shivered at its bitterness.  “Gaah, that’s awful.”  He let his head rest against the pillows and closed his eyes.  If the damned stuff would only work fast. 

    Ben said a soft good night and turned out the lamp.  The maligned potion did its work; the pain eased gradually; sleep came, and at some point, Adam dreamed.  This time he found himself in a vast and cavernous room of cold gray marble lit by impossibly high crystal chandeliers and floor to ceiling windows hung with somber drapes of satin so deeply crimson they were almost black.  He was standing in the center of a gleaming mahogany table of proportions so huge it would have seated all of King Arthur’s knights and the rest of the court as well.  Around it stood in solemn conclave a ring of sober and silent mules.  Their muzzles were grizzled with age and their sad brown eyes stared at him accusingly.  He felt a chill creeping over him and looked down.  He wore only a loin cloth and an elaborate harness of gleaming black leather straps decorated with flashing silver conchos and tiny bells.   Adam moved toward the edge of the table, intent on climbing down.

    “Stand, two legged weakling,” the big mule with one drooping ear bugled from the head of the table.  “You will be judged.” 

    “Judged? Judged for what?” 

    “For creating  a noble breed only to enslave them, for a life of hard work and short feed, for a thousand insulting jokes about ‘stubborn mules’.  If you could never know mate or offspring, and could only expect to be shot and probably eaten when you grew too old and feeble for work, would it not make you ‘stubborn’ human?”

    Adam was at a total loss.  There was much truth in what the old one said, but mules were work animals, raised and trained for their strength, sure-footedness and intelligence.  They could survive on scant graze that would starve a horse. “But, mules have been bred from jackass stallions and horse mares since Biblical times,” he replied.  “You are needed and have contributed much to the growth of civilization.  Your good sense is legendary.  You are treated well on the Ponderosa.  Why am I here?  What do you want?” 

“Justice,” was the reply.  You will be cursed and beaten, worked and starved as we have been.”  Adam heard a rumbling and from the mist-shrouded corners of the endless room, emerged a line of carts and wagons: from the most primitive two-wheeled affair to the latest Conestoga and gleaming stagecoach.   He felt the hair on his neck rise and a chill shook him. 

    A long bullwhip appeared in the impossible, clumsy hands that replaced the front hooves of his judge.  It sprang out with a sharp crack and lashed Adam’s right flank.  It blazed with pain, and he could feel a warm trickle of blood flow down his leg.  “Wait!  I have never beaten you.  I only pop the whip so the sound will encourage you.  Only a brute beats a defenseless animal.  Will no one here speak for me?”

    “He says truth;” the thin whinny came from Adam’s left.  He turned to see a big mule with old scars, white and hairless across his rump.  “This man took me from the drover who was beating me to death because I could not pull his overfilled cart.  He knocked the smelly creature down and threw bits of metal at him.  He brought me to his barn and gave me clean hay and fresh grain.  He treated my cuts and let me rest on good grass until I was well and strong again.  He should not be whipped.” 

    “The feed here is good and the water fresh,” said a rotund mule near the head of the table.  “We are not overloaded” said a short but stout pack mule.  “There are warm stalls in winter with thick straw,” brayed another.  “Our harness is clean and soft, padded where it rubs.” 

    The chief mule drove his hind hoof against the marble floor twice, and the other voices fell silent.  “Our kind has suffered,” he snorted.  “Someone must pay!”  He pounded the loaded handle of his whip on the table.  “Bring the cart; he must pull it.”  A crude Mexican cart with two huge wooden wheels was dragged out.  Adam saw it was loaded to the top with heavy logs. 

    “Not fair!  I never hurt you,” he cried.  The cart rumbled closer, looming over him.  He attempted to move away.  His leg where the whip had touched it had turned to stone; he couldn’t move.  He strained with all his power, trying to force his reluctant body to move.  His breath came in great gasps and sweat streamed down his throat and trickled among the hairs of his chest.  The whip lashed out again, wrapped itself around his leg in a coil of fire.  His sore shoulder was being wrenched from its socket. 

    “Adam!  Adam, wake up.”  A hard hand shook his shoulder, and Adam struck out blindly.  His wrist was caught in a firm grip.  “It’s a dream, just a dream.  You’re safe.  Here at home in your own bed.  Ol’ Hoss won’t let nothin’ bad happen.  I heard you call out; you’re all hot. ”

    Adam’s eyes flew open, and he came fully awake.   His leg was on fire; his heart raced, hammering against its cage of ribs; his breath came in great gasps; he was drenched in sweat.  “Ah . . . ah . . . God!”

    Hoss bent over him, his face rumpled with worry in the dim lamplight.  “What is it, brother; does your leg hurt terribl’ bad?”

    Hoss, God bless him.  Every muscle went limp, and Adam sagged against his pillows.  The covers were too heavy; he was soaked in perspiration, and his leg burned.  “Ice,” he muttered.  “Damned opium . . . always does this.  So hot.  Ice, Hoss, ice, please.” 

    Hoss released his grip on his brother and put the back of his hand to Adam’s forehead.  “You’re a little warm, but I don’t think it’s fever.  The wind’s changed.  It’s coming up strong from the south.  The whole house feels like an oven, and you got a pile of blankets on ya.”  He began to peel them away with care.  “Pa gave you one of them powders, didn’t he?” 

    Hoss’s room was next to his brother’s, and it wasn’t the first time he’d crawled out of bed in his nightshirt to pull him from an opium induced dream.  “Yeah, thanks.  I should know better.  Crazy dream . . . talkin’ mules judging me . . . couldn’t move.” 

    “Well, I reckon I can guess why you’d be dreamin’ ‘bout mules.”

    The door opened and Hop Sing glided silently into the room with a candle in one hand and a large basin in the other.  He was clad in bright, eye searing, yellow silk pajamas thick with brocade.  “I take care now, Mr. Hoss.  You go back to sleep.”  Hoss yawned until his jaw cracked and moved away from the bed to settle in Adam’s old rocker. 

    “You go right ahead, Hop Sing.  I won’t git in your way, but I think I’ll set with Adam for a while yet.”   The little Oriental nodded and turned to Adam. 

    “Hot wind make you sweat, burn sore place.  I fix.”  He peeled away the remaining covers and sponged Adam’s face and upper body with cool water that smelled of mint and lemon.  It was delightfully soothing and refreshing.  When he uncovered the leg, the bandage was soaked with a variety of fluids as the massive injury wept and shed dead cells.  Hop Sing cleaned it slowly and carefully with a feather light touch and spread it with a salve that numbed and cooled.  When it was re-bandaged, he took a well wrapped ice pack from the basin and placed it beside Adam’s hip and thigh.  “Not put ice on leg . . . too heavy,” he said.  “Put leg on ice.”  Adam turned with difficulty until the wound rested lightly against the chilled pack.  Hop Sing gave Adam thin, cool herbal tea to drink and replaced the damp sheet with a fresh one.  When he had done all he could, he bent slightly from the waist and asked, “Betta now?” 

    “Much better, Hop Sing, much better.  I don’t know how you knew, but I’m somehow not surprised you did.  Thank you.”   Hop Sing bowed again and slipped away; a spot of glowing yellow in the pitch dark hall.

    Hoss moved the rocker closer to the bed.  “Go on back to sleep if you can, Adam.  I’ll be here for a while.  Sing out if you need anything.  I got an idea for tomorrow that I think may help you.” 

    Hoss would say no more, and Adam lacked the energy to pry it out of him.  Cool and as comfortable as he had been since Smoke kicked him, he gradually drifted back into a peaceful sleep.

    Hoss was long gone about his morning chores, and Adam was just debating whether he should finish off his breakfast with a last bite of toast thickly spread with fresh strawberry preserves or a final swallow of coffee when his father tapped on the door, came on in and looked at Adam questioningly. 

    “Morning, son.  Hoss tells me you had a pretty rough night.  I was planning to take the morning stage for Sacramento, but I can wire ahead and put off that meeting if you need me.”  

    Leave it to his tender hearted brother to make things sound worse than they were.  “No, sir, you go right on ahead.  It was just one of those fool dreams that Doc’s powders bring on, that and the change in the weather.  Thanks to Hop Sing and Hoss, I got some good sleep early this morning; I feel a lot better.”   He did his very best to look alert and healthy.   “We need to go ahead with those contracts and arrangements as soon as possible – get a good start before winter closes in on us.  I’ll be up and around in no time.” 

    Ben drew a chair up and sat down close beside his son where he could see his face clearly.  “I don’t need to be protected, son.  I’d feel a lot better about going if you would tell me the plain truth.”  He caught Adam gaze and held it steadily, his silver brows drawn together in concern. 

    Adam sighed very softly and let his thick-lashed eyelids slide closed for just a moment.  Smudged half-circles of fatigue accented the hazel eyes, brown now in the half-light of his room, as he looked again at his father.  “There’s still a fair amount of pain, Pa, but it’s easing slowly.   I don’t have any fever, and Hop Sing says there’s no infection showing.  It’s hell trying to move much or put any pressure on this hip joint, but Dr. Martin said that was to be expected.  Seems it’s mostly a matter of time; each day should be a little better than the last.  I wish you’d go ahead and make that stage.” 

    Ben nodded several times slowly as he absorbed this information.  “All right, Adam, I know you wouldn’t mislead me on something this important.  I’ll go.”  Ben hesitated, scrubbed a hand across his newly shaven face and then went on.   “I’d like to leave you in charge; things sometimes tend to get muddled when one of your brothers starts to boss the other one around.  You seem able to keep them focused.” 

    “Not always, Pa.”  Adam grinned, thinking of the time recently his brothers had managed to misinterpret a thoughtlessly worded instruction ‘to head on home with the goods’ – meaning half a wagon load of unused fencing supplies.  They had diverted to town and returned home shortly before dawn smelling of good whisky and cheap perfume with several bolts of cloth piled in the wagon.  They claimed they had only gone to pick up the ‘goods’ he wanted. 

    “Well, they get one over on me too, occasionally,” Ben said.  “My main concern is that it may be too much for you.  I don’t want you worrying yourself to death over things, or getting up before you should.  All I want you to do is outline what needs to be done and make them check in with you regularly with progress reports.  Do you feel up to it?” 

    “Sure, Pa.  They won’t let me down while I’m laid up, and I can sic Hop Sing on them if they get out of hand.”  Adam felt confident he could handle it, even from his bed.  He could depend on Hoss absolutely, and Joe, while sometimes thoughtless, popped in half a dozen times a day to see if he needed anything.  It always seemed to worry Joe when he was hurt or sick.  Under some of his brash foolishness he had a caring heart. 

    “Very well, then,” his father told him.  “I’ll make things completely clear to those two and get old Charlie to drive me in to meet the stage.”

    “You have all the papers?  Found that folder okay and didn’t have any trouble following my notes?” 

    “I have it all, son, and your notes are a model of succinct organization as always.  Don’t worry; I’ll muddle through the negotiations somehow.”  Ben chuckled and reach out to muss his boy’s thick, dark hair. 

    Adam couldn’t restrain a smile.  His father had been hammering out deals before he was born.  “Sorry, sir,” he said.  “Please give them my apologies for not being able to attend the meetings.”

    “I’ll make your excuses.  You just concentrate on getting that leg healed up.”  Ben extended his hand, and the two men shook with a strong, lingering grip. 

    “Safe trip, Pa,” Adam said as his father paused and looked back from the door.  Ben nodded and then was gone.  His good boots thudded softly on his way down the stairs, and his voice drifted back up, a very firm tone, as he spoke with Joe and Hoss. 

    Adam relaxed against the pillows and wished for something warm and soft to sooth the insistent ache in the very bones of his hip and thigh.  He had no sooner heard the buckboard carrying his father leave than Hop Sing let himself in and packed heated and flannel-wrapped bags of flax seed along the painful area.   There were times when he wondered if the man read minds. 


    Midmorning found Adam restless and uncomfortable.  His back ached from lying on it constantly.  He longed to sit up if only for a few minutes.  His hip would ache, but it would be a change from his back.  Trying to pull up from flat to sitting was another matter.  He discovered it couldn’t be done without the help of the hip and thigh muscles, and they seized hard, paralyzing him with pain every time he attempted it.  He was seriously considering calling for help when the quiet of the house was interrupted by the slam of the front door and his brothers’ voices lifted in argument. 

    “What are you doing, Joe?  Hold your end up!”

    A heavy thump echoed through the house.

    “This won’t work, ya big galoot!  You’re half a foot taller than I am.  If you think I’m going up last, you’re crazy!

    “It ain’t that heavy, Joe.” 

    “That’s what you think.  All the weight falls back on me!”

    “Okay, alright, we’ll change places.”

    More thuds as something solid was set down.  A tremendous racket followed as it apparently slid back down the steps to the tune of yelps and shouts.  

    “What are you two doing,” Adam shouted.

    Silence was sudden and complete.  Adam counted slowly to 30.


    “Nothin’, Adam.”  Hoss’ voice was almost timid.  “We’ll be right there.” 

    The sounds indicated that the pair were carefully resuming their burden and this time made steady progress up the stairs.  Footsteps continued down the hall, and Joe’s head appeared in Adam’s doorway. 

    “Brought you something.”

    “A herd of buffalo?” Adam asked innocently. 

    Joe was rudely shoved forward from the rear.  “Get this thing on in there Joe.  I can’t stand here all day holding it up.”  Hoss’ patience was wearing thin.

    Joe picked up his end, and they carried the contraption into the room.  It looked like a huge letter H with the tops of the vertical sides sawn off a little above the cross bar.  It was constructed of solid posts set in a heavy base.  They carried it to the foot of the bed and walked up on either side, setting it so the cross bar passed from one side of the bed to the other well above Adam’s chest. 

    “There!”  Hoss set his hands on his hips and leaned back to admire his creation.  “That should do the trick.  Try it, Adam.  I can hoist or lower the bar for ya.” 

    Adam saw that the cross bar was rounded and sanded smooth.  He reached for it, and his hand closed over the warm wood.  It fitted solid and comfortable into his grasp.  “A little higher, I think.”

    Hoss lifted the bar from the horseshoe in which it rested and moved it to the one above it.  Joe did the same on Adam’s right.  Adam caught the bar and pulled.  His arms were strong, corded with the long muscles of hard work, and, although his left shoulder was still a bit sore, he easily pulled himself into a sitting position.  His leg slid along without any effort and minimal pain.  Hoss stacked pillows behind his brother, and Adam eased himself comfortably against them.

    “This is what you had in mind last night, isn’t it?  Hoss ducked his head and nodded.  “And you helped to build it didn’t you, Joe?” 

    “Been sawing and hammering all morning.”  Joe’s grin matched the twinkle in his eyes. 

    “I saw you was havin’ trouble shiftin ‘round in the bed, and I thought this would help,” Hoss said.  “And, soon as you’re getting around again, we can get it out of your way.” 

    “It’s splendid, Hoss, Joe!  Just exactly what I was wishing for before you came in.  I’m truly grateful.”  It was bliss to be off his back.  He suspected that it wouldn’t be long before his hip kicked in, but he could let himself back down when that time came.   He wouldn’t have to constantly bother someone to help him.  Even small acts of independence were balm to his self-sufficient soul. 

    It was quiet at the supper table that night and a little lonely, although Hoss did enjoy not having to fight for seconds.  A long look passed between the brothers.  Hoss nodded, and Joe called to Hop Sing.  “We’re going up to spend a little time with Adam.  Be real fine if you could bring up coffee.”

    “And maybe some of that there blackberry pie I saw you takin’ out of the oven,” Hoss put in.

    Hop Sing’s eyes sparkled.  “Yes.  You go; I bling.”  Hoss and Joe put down their napkins and hurried to the stairs. 

    They found Adam just finishing a bowl of stew thick with tender bits of beef, carrots and potatoes served with buttered corn sticks and a large glass of milk.   Joe raised his eyebrows at the unfamiliar beverage.  “Don’t see you drinkin’ much cow juice.  Something put you off coffee?”

    “Hop Sing says it builds bone.  Seems logical since children need it to grow.  Might as well take advantage just in case this bone is cracked.”  Adam touched the tenting over his thigh.  “How did things go today?  What got done and what still needs doing?” 

    Ben had trained all his sons on how to report completely and in detail.  Hoss was satisfied that the timber crew was making the expected progress on finishing up an order from the Overland Telegraph Co.  for tall, straight, fully trimmed trees to be used as telegraph poles.  Building was proceeding quickly from California east to hook up with existing lines in Salt Lake City.  Repairs to the barn had been finished by a long time Ponderosa hand.  The newcomer who had knocked down the wasps’ nest had decamped without waiting to collect his pay.  They still needed to get wagons up to Blue Rock Canyon and bring in the fence posts. 

    Joe was confident that the new stallion Ben had bought last month had at least six of the mares in foal, but he was worried about getting in the winter’s supply of more than one hundred tons of hay.  It was labor intensive work even with the new horse drawn reaper and recently invented bailing machine they had bought.  Adam agreed and suggest he shift a half dozen men from checking the herds for screw worm and other injuries to helping with the spreading, turning and stacking of the hay.  The cooler weather would reduce the number of screw flies and the spread of infections. 

    Hop Sing interrupted to bring in a tray with a steaming pot of coffee, mugs and one quarter of a blackberry pie for each man.  Conversation stopped while they savored the tender, flaky crust and meltingly sweet and dark berries.   When the last bit of succulent juice had been licked from forks and purple stained lips, Hoss and Joe eased their belts, leaned back, cocked their boots up on the edge of the bed frame and demanded that Adam read to them.    It had been part of every night’s routine when they were boys, but it was rare that they could hold their older brother captive now.  Most nights he was busy with accounts or correspondence and weekends were often filled with social engagements or cards or chess with old friends. 

    Adam gave in graciously and selected a recently acquired volume of Crevecoeur’s essays.  He thought the vivid descriptions of the flora and fauna found by the eighteenth century colonists in the Americans would interest Joe and Hoss, and the insightful view of the American character from the one time ambassador from France he found stimulating and thought provoking.  He read with expression and enthusiasm for half an hour or more using his deep and mellow voice to add feeling to the printed words.  By the time he finished a second essay, his hip was reminding him sharply just how much better it would be to lie flat. 

    “Think that’s about it for tonight, gentlemen,” he told his brothers.  He marked the page with an engraved silver bookmark and closed it.  “You’ve got a full day tomorrow.”  He wasn’t going to tell them to go to bed.  He resented it when his father sent them off to their rest like a pack of seven year olds and wasn’t about to inflict it on his brothers.  If they wanted to stay up it was their choice, but he needed to get his head down and soon.  

    “Ah, come on Adam,” Joe protested.  “This is good stuff.  One more, huh?”

    “Not tonight, Joe.  We can go on tomorrow if you like.”

    Hoss, always sensitive to Adam’s needs and moods, caught Joe’s eye and jerked his head toward the door.  “Thanks for reading.  We ain’t done that in a while.  You have a good night and just bang on the wall if you need anything.”  He herded Joe out the door ahead of him. 

    They had barely gotten to their rooms when Hop Sing slipped in quietly.  He straightened the bedding and helped Adam to settle comfortably after a last cup of chamomile tea sweetened with a little honey.  “You sleep good, Mista Adam,” he told him.  “No worry; Hop Sing make sure everything safe.”   He knew Adam usually made the last round of the homestead before locking up for the night and that he would sleep better with the assurance that it would be done. 

    He gathered the dishes, turned the bedside lamp down and out, and Adam’s quiet “Thanks,” followed him into the hallway. 

    It was a long night with sleep coming only in short snatches.  His leg was hot and heavy, pulsing regularly with burning blasts of agony.  He was awake early and sitting up when Hoss and Joe came in before breakfast.  He confirmed that Joe remembered about putting the extra men on the haying, and told his middle brother to be sure all the waste and trimmed wood from the logging was gathered up to add to the wood pile.  They all knew how important it was to prepare well for winter, and it went quickly.   His brothers trooped down to breakfast, and as soon as they were served, Hop Sing brought in his tray. 

    “Solly, Mista Adam, know you want eggs, but can’t fix . . . somebody take eggs.”  He frowned in disapproval. 

    “That’s quite all right; I like your corncakes fine . . . what did you say, Hop Sing?”  His voice rose.

    “Many hens, few eggs; somebody take,” was the succinct answer.

    “Are you sure?  Maybe some of the hens have just stopped laying.  Has something upset them?  Could be there’s a fox or coyote nosing around?  Or, how about that new rooster; is he doing his job?”

    Hop Sing stood square and stubborn.  “Somebody take.”

    Adam tried reason.  “Why would anybody be stealing eggs?   The cooks for the timber and ranch crews get all the eggs they need delivered from Mrs. McMurray’s Chicken Farm.  We could do the same except you and Pa are partial to the Buff Orpingtons for both meat and eggs, and then there are Joe’s game cocks.  The few hands with families have their own chickens and garden at their cabins.”

    Hop Sing stared out the window and said a few short words in Chinese. 

    Adam knew when he was beaten.  “All right.  Before we start hunting around the place for an egg thief, let’s rule out animals.  Could be a weasel, even a snake, taking eggs.  Send Charlie Youngblood up here.  I’ll have him go over the coop with a fine tooth comb, cover any cracks, screen all openings.  Then we’ll see what happens.”

    Hop Sing grinned from ear to ear and nodded enthusiastically.   Charlie appeared in record time, and Adam explained carefully what was needed.  Charlie was a former wrangler who had gotten too old and crippled to ride the range any more, but he liked the Ponderosa and stayed on to do small chores of all sorts. 

    He twisted his worn hat in his hands.  “I’ll do it, Adam.  Could be some critter like you say, but I was just wonderin’ . . .” he broke off.

    “Yes?” Adam waited patiently.  He dabbed a piece of corncake in the remaining syrup on his plate and forked it up.  Sweet and a little crunchy they had made a satisfying meal along with smoky sausage and hot applesauce. 

    “I seen somebody round the barn and chicken yard a coupla times here lately,” Charlie said.  “Don’t seem he had any business there.” 

    “Oh?”  Adam waited some more, hoping he could lie back down soon.

    “It was Petey.”  Charlie scrubbed his hand over his few strands of graying hair. 

    Petey was a half Indian boy of about twelve,  He was the son of one of the Ponderosa’s top wranglers, John ‘Buckskin’ Lowery and his shy, Shoshone wife, Falling Leaf.  Adam had seen the boy off and on around the place and, while he didn’t know him well, had always thought of him as a good kid.  Lowery was a literate man, who sometimes borrowed books, and Adam had given him some of Joe’s old readers, spellers and arithmetic books so that he could coach Petey at home.

    “Did he go in the chicken house?” Adam asked.

    “No, no, sir, he didn’t; not that I saw.   Just poked around some.”

    Adam pressed his fingertips into his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.  “Let’s give the boy the benefit of the doubt, Charlie.  Maybe he was lonely or bored, looking for something to do.  Fix up the coop and keep your eyes open.  Let me know if you see anything else you think I should know.”

    “I’ll do ‘er, Adam.  Don’t mean the boy no harm.”

    “I understand; thanks, Charlie.”

    Charlie took himself off to his chores.  Hop Sing collected the breakfast tray, and Adam eased himself down taking the strain off his hip.  He stretched and took a text on North American geology from his bedside table that he had long intended to read: a fairly technical treatise written for the serious student, he found it heavy going.  It was hard to focus his attention as he was usually could with his leg nagging him.

    It was something of a relief when Hop Sing came in with a bucket of hot water and an armload of fresh linen and towels.  The little Chinese helped Adam to a refreshing and most welcome all over sponge bath.  It didn’t slip by unnoticed that he had waited until mid-morning when the room was filled with sunshine and warmth.  He had been allowed time to recover from the morning’s activities, and there was no chance of taking a chill. 

    With his charge freshly clad in a clean, newly ironed nightshirt, his favorite in a soft blue, gray and white striped cotton, Hop Sing got down to the business of cleaning and dressing the crushed and bruised injury.  Hop Sing had tended all his boys for many years now, and he found Adam the easiest to help.  He didn’t like being kept to his bed by illness or injury, but he didn’t transfer his irritation to his caregivers either.  He was patient and direct, always grateful for help rendered and willing to ask for the few things he needed.  His natural reticence and toughness often made it difficult to tell just how bad his pain was, but over the years, Hop Sing had learned the subtle signs, and he knew this ghastly injury was both painful and worrying.  If infection set in and spread, this much loved first son could lose his leg. 

    He washed it with a cool, pale green liquid made by boiling a large mass of peppermint leaves hard for ten minutes in a quart of fresh spring water.  It was then cooled and strained and had both antiseptic and anesthetic properties.  Adam grunted and bit down on his lower lip as Hop Sing used soft bits of boiled and sun dried rags to dab away peeling flesh and small clots of blood from the hoof wounds.  No speck of dirt or thread of fabric could be allowed to remain.  The worst done, he bathed the whole area from groin to knee several times in the pungent solution and patted it dry with light touches.  That completed, he spread gel taken from the hearts of mature aloe spears across the wound.  Adam sighed softly as it sealed and soothed.  Hop Sing covered it with a single layer of soft, loose weave cotton and then stepped back to look at his patient.

    “I like change bed, Mista Adam.  You tired too much?  Want me go?”

    “No, no, Hop Sing.  Clean sheets would feel good.  Let’s get it done.” 

    He was swift and deft, and with Adam using the lift bar carefully to shift himself, the soiled linens were stripped away and replaced.  As Hop Sing folded the spread and an extra blanket at the foot of the bed, Adam leaned back gratefully on plump pillows that smelled of hot sun and rosemary, closed his eyes and let Hop Sing shave away the tough, itchy stubble of a three day beard. 

    Hop Sing responded as he always did to Adam’s thanks with a quick bow and an offhand, “Glad help.”  He carried away the dirty linen and returned with a cup of his precious ginseng tea and fresh ginger snaps.  “Drink, rest,” he instructed. 

    Worn out by the morning’s activities and soothed by the warm tea, Adam actually slept for an uninterrupted hour until an unconscious shift brought him wide awake with a stab of pain through his hip.  When it eased, he resumed his geology text and made better progress.


    The shadows where lengthening as the sun dropped behind the western mountains when Adam heard his brothers come in.  Their steps were distinctive, and it wasn’t long before they clumped up the stairs and down the hall.  Joe came through the door first.

    “Hi ya, Adam, how’s it going?”  Joe dismissed the muscles engaged in holding him erect and drop down on his brother’s bed with a solid thump. 

    Adam’s back arched.  “Ah . . .  ah!”

    “Joe!” Hoss thundered.

    Joe sprang up as quickly as he had come down allowing everything to snap back with another jounce.  Adam grunted, and his book slid to the floor. 

    Joe picked it up and stood with a slight flush on his face offering apologies along with the text.  “I’m awful sorry, Adam; I didn’t mean to hurt ya.  I was just glad to see you all shaved and lookin’ better.  Didn’t think about the bed bouncin’.”

    Adam had regained control.  “It’s okay, Joe.  No harm done.  How did your day go?”  He looked at his little brother.  He was sweaty and streaked with field dirt and bits of chaff.  “I see you pitched in with the haying.” 

    “Yeah, we made good time today.  Got the whole south field cut and spread to dry.  If it stays clear and hot like this, we should be able to bale it by the end of the week.  Jack’s crew got fifty bales done up from last weeks cutting and stored in the Rocky Creek hay barn.”

    “Excellent, that’s better than six tons.  Well done, Joe.”  Adam was genuinely pleased.  It was vital to put up as much good hay as possible.  When the snow got too deep for the cattle and horses to paw through to the grass, it would be spread to tide as many animals as possible over until first melt.  Winter feeding prevented big die offs and assured strong spring calves and foals.

    Joe beamed.  He would deny it with his last breath, but Adam’s praise was manna to him.  He looked around for a chair, prepared to sit down and provide his brother with chapter and verse of the day’s work.  Adam short circuited the account. 

    “You’ve put in a heck of a day’s work, Joe.  Why don’t you go have a drink of that good Kentucky bourbon Pa opened before he left, get a hot bath and after supper I’ll read some more if you want me to.” 

    Joe pulled a few bits of hay from his tangled curls and looked at them thoughtfully.  “Reckon I could use a wash, and that drink sounds good.  See you later, big brother.”  He bounded out of the room.

    Adam grinned and shook his head.  “How ‘bout you, Hoss?  Everything go okay at the timber camp?” 

    The big man sighed, pulled the chair Joe had abandoned up close to the bed and straddled it.  “Timberin’ goin’ jest fine.”  He reached over the chair back to touch his brother’s closely shaved cheek with already well-scrubbed fingers.  He found it cool and normal to the touch.  “Hurt you right smart didn’t he?  I swear sometimes I feel like thumpin’ that boy.” 

    “It’s all right, Hoss.  Joe doesn’t always think before he acts – you know that.  I’ll live.”

    Hoss looked closely at the man in the bed.  Adam’s finely etched features, so different from the full, round face that looked out of his own mirror, were drawn.  He was pale under his tan, and his eyelids were blue veined and heavy with fatigue.  The scrape down his left cheek was scabbed over.

    “You’re plumb wore out, ain’t ya, brother?” he exclaimed.  “Why didn’t ya tell somebody how much that leg was hurtin’ ya?”

    Adam shook his head.  “What for?  It would only worry you and Joe, and you have enough on your hands as it is.  Nothing for it but to wait it out ‘till time and nature do their work.  Doesn’t help to complain about it.”

    Hoss frowned.  “Let me take a look at this thing.”

    “You won’t enjoy it.”

    Hoss lifted the covers from the sheltering cradle and peeled away the light dressing with the tips of two fingers.  He drew a sharp breath.    The leg rested on a pillow covered with thick towels to absorb any drainage.  The imprint of the two hooves was still clear on the thigh: deep indentions of pale, sickly yellow, peeling and sloughing.  The bruising surrounding the center of the kick had spread down as far as the knee and up across the point of the hip, the groin and lower belly.  The colors were amazing: dead black fading to deep purple and red mauve.  The edges were mud brown and saffron yellow.  The thigh was swollen; the skin looked tight and hot. 

    Hoss turned away and drew a long, steadying breath.  “Lordy, Adam!   It hurts just to look at your leg.”

    “I try not to do that.” 

    “We got to do somethin’ to make you more comfortable!”

    “Hop Sing is doing all he can: heat, cold, herbal poultices.  Don’t worry, Hoss; it will heal.  It’s just going to take time. 

    “You gotta have something so ya can rest in the meantime.  I know you’re tougher than a she-bear’s hind tit, Adam, but it ain’t right to leave you hurtin’ day and night.”

    “The dreams, Hoss; I can’t take the dreams.” 

    Hoss stood and thought hard.  Adam sought his lift bar and pulled himself up, pushed the pillows behind him with one hand and eased back with a soft grunt.

    “I know!”  A smile spread across his brother’s face.  “Looka here, Adam; forget them strong powders Doc left; we got laudanum.  You don’t have to take enough to knock you out.  A half teaspoon full in a glass of wine should be enough to take the edge off, then maybe you could fall asleep natural like.” 

    It was tempting, so tempting.  Maybe just once before Hop Sing worked on his leg and again as he turned out the lamp at night . .  .  a few hours out of each day when it wouldn’t be so incessant.   “It might work, Hoss; it might.  Will you . . . ?”

    Hoss was already half way to the door.  “I’ll be right back.  Won’t take me a minute!” 

    Adam, cushioned by laudanum and good red wine, dozed as the sun disappeared behind the Sierras.  The dusky lavender hues of twilight faded to ash grays and black.  A darker shadow separated itself from the motionless ones and slid silently through the hen house door.  The birds stirred restlessly on their perches, fluffing feathers and squawking low complaints.  A hand slid under the hens in the nest boxes and gathered a late laid egg here and another there.  A half dozen went into capacious pockets before, satisfied, the figure peered left and right  from the doorway and then melted back into the night as quietly as it had come. 

    Hop Sing served a hearty supper of steak, fried potatoes and the last of the season’s fresh green beans along with thin-sliced onions, tomatoes and tender, hot rolls.  Hoss rubbed his big hands together in eager anticipation before heaping his plate to overflowing and digging in.  Joe, who had spent the day haying, ran his brother a close second in appetite. 

    Adam found that the short rest  had revived his hunger and was pleased when he examined his tray and saw that Hop Sing had put his string beans in a bowl and chopped his tomatoes and onions so that he could mix them together and drench all with vinegar.   Nobody was sure where he had acquired this odd taste, but it was a favorite of his.  Adam never ate tomatoes without remembering the summer when he was about ten that Hop Sing finally convinced Pa that tomatoes were fit to eat and not the deadly poisonous ornamental that most people believed them to be.  At last he was able to stop sneaking them from the garden border and enjoy them at the table.  Funny though, the taste was never quite as good as those stolen fruits, bitten into dead ripe and hot from the sun, their juice bursting across the tongue both acid and sweet.  He found the tender steak from young beef, well hung, exactly to his taste as well. 

    After the meal, they settled around Adam’s bed to go over the day’s work and discuss plans for the coming day.   With business finished, he read to them for a good hour until his voice began to go hoarse and he was forced to beg off.   Hop Sing made his final check of the night, and Hoss brought more drug laced wine.  It was the most restful night Adam had enjoyed in several days. 

    The morning, however, brought more problems.  His breakfast tray arrived borne by a fuming Hop Sing.   More eggs were missing.  The little Oriental seemed to consider it a personal affront.  “Mista Adam,” he demanded, “must find wicked thief!  Need plenty eggs… make you nice omelet… help leg get well.  Promise Mista Hoss make bread puddin’ with lemon sauce… much eggs go inside.   Wicked person take Hop Sing’s eggs!”  He was literally hopping from foot to foot.  “I catch, I beat with broom!” 

    “Easy, easy.”  Adam suppressed a smile and attempted to soothe his friend and helper.  “We’ll figure it out.  Did Charlie make those repairs I wanted?”

    “Yes, he make.  Put new wire, more boards, fix good.  Eggs still go.  What you do?”

    Tempted to offer to lay them himself if it would earn him a little peace, Adam resisted the urge, pinched the bridge of his nose and thought for a minute.  “You tell Charlie I want him to put a padlock on the chicken house door.  Screw it on solid and give you the key.  You can keep the key where it’s safe.  That should put a stop to any unauthorized assaults on your ladies.” 

    Hop Sing nodded with enthusiasm and rushed out to deliver the orders.   He returned later in the morning to freshen the bed, help Adam clean up and tend his injury.  Adam was deeply grateful for his unobtrusive care, delivered quietly and efficiently with a minimum of fuss.  His touch as he cleaned and dressed the wound was gentle.  The intense pain over the whole bruise had dulled, pulling into the crushed and torn area around the hoof prints, but the deep bone ache lingered.  It was what quieted his instinctive desire to get up and onto his feet again.  The thought of feeling his thigh bone suddenly snap under him was enough to quell any premature urges.

    Hoss beat Joe home that evening.  He came almost at once to Adam’s side.  He found his brother sitting up in bed with the ranch account books open on his lap.  Receipts, invoices, bills of sale, promissory notes, annual reports and drafts for regular payments were spread around him on the bed in neatly sorted piles.  His fingertips were ink stained as he recorded the many transactions and worked up totals.  He looked up from the pages.  “Ah, Hoss, good.  I’ll have a deposit ready to go in tomorrow morning, and some instructions for our broker.  I’d like you to take care of it.” 

    “Shore, Adam, just tell me what you want.  Almost supper time,” he added, “can’t you put this stuff away now?  I’ll help ya.”  How long had his brother been sitting on that sore hip plugging away at the books?  The light was fading, and Adam looked tired. 

    “Just a minute.”  Adam dove back into endorsing and posting checks.

    Hoss lit the lamps, closed one window where a cold night breeze was blowing in, drew the drapes and revived the fire from ashes to a cheerful blaze.  By the time these chores were finished, Adam was ready to let him help with putting the various documents into their storage files and bag the deposit along with a letter instructing Mr. Walter Max, their stockbroker, to sell part of their stock in the Mexican and buy heavily in Palmer, Hanscom & Co. Machinery.  They would be providing milling and hoisting gear along with pumps and pipes to several of the new mines.  Their profits should be substantial, Adam explained. 

    “You shouldn’t be trying to do all this, now,” Hoss protested.   “Seems like it could wait a few days.”

    Adam rolled his neck in a circle and stretched his back, sore from crouching over to write in bed.  “I have to do something, Hoss.  I can’t just stare at the ceiling all day.  Speaking of which, I wouldn’t fight if you wanted to help me lie down.”  Hoss was quick to ease out the extra pillows and support Adam as he slid down flat again.  “Uhm… that’s better.”  It was a constant, annoying back and forth.  When he had been up for a few minutes, he wanted down.  A half hour on his back and he wanted to sit up again. 

    “How’d it go today?” Hoss said.   If Adam wanted a full work report from his closest brother, Hoss was equally determined to know what progress Adam was making in his recovery. 

    “Slowly, Hoss.  Very slowly.”

    “Still hurtin’ so much?”

    Adam hesitated.  “The bruised area isn’t as bad, but the bone aches, Hoss – long and deep.  I hate to think it, but I’m afraid Doc’s right about the thigh bone having a crack.”  He paused and then went on, half to himself.   “I don’t want to spend months in splints and traction again.”   A horse had rolled on him and broken his hip when he was just eleven.  It wasn’t a time he remembered with any pleasure. 

    “Then I reckon you know how it’s got to be, Adam.  You’d best stay quiet, keep that leg still and straight and let it heal up.  T’ain’t easy fer you, I know, but you’ll be up and out sooner if you go slow now.” 

    Adam nodded his head in agreement.  Hoss was right, but he was going to be climbing the walls soon.  He could only read so many hours out of the day.  Besides, his concentration was constantly broken by stabs of pain from his leg.  It made it difficult to follow a line of thought, even a simple story.

    “I know, brother.  I’m doing my best.  Now, tell me about your day.  How close are you to finishing up with the telegraph poles?” 

    “All done!”  Hoss couldn’t help a note of pride creeping in.  “Sent the last load off to the delivery site at 3:00 o’clock this afternoon.  Told the crew to take the rest of the day off.” 

    “Well done, Hoss!  I’m mighty proud of you, and I know Pa will be too.  We’re a week ahead of schedule and should realize a nice bonus.  I think you ought to get a piece of it for yourself.” 

    Hoss felt a warm flush of pleasure run through him.  When Adam was truly pleased and happy he could light up a room.  “That’a be awful nice, Adam.  I been puttin’ aside a little each month to order me one of them fancy, silver mounted California saddles.  Good little bonus should about do it.”

    Adam’s right eyebrow slid up in a quizzical look.  “Oh, I know,” Hoss said, “plain feller like me shouldn’t have no use fer a duded up saddle like that, but I thought just fer the Fourth of July parade and such doings . . .,” Hoss trailed off.

    “And maybe for taking a special lady out riding?” Adam asked. 

    Hoss ducked his head and looked away.  “Aw, Adam.  Reckon it’s plumb foolish, huh?”

    “No it isn’t.”  Adam was dead serious.  “If you want a handsome saddle made by a top craftsman, there’s no reason in the world you shouldn’t have one.  Put a fine, silver-trimmed saddle on that big, black gelding you been working with, get you all dressed up – I could lend you my silver brocade vest – and you’d look the equal or better of any man in the Territory.   You’re good to ride the river with any day, Hoss.  Don’t ever think different.” 

    “Aw, heck. . .” 

    His brother was blushing.  It was time to change the subject.  “We need to decide what has to be done next.  Have to get a couple of wagons up to Blue Rock Canyon and bring in those fence posts.  I’d like a count of how many cords of wood we have laid up for the winter.  There’s the house to keep warm, Hop Sing’s cook stove to keep fired, wood for the bunkhouse and family cabins to think about, and there’ll be times we have to heat the equipment shed as well.  We may want to set the crew to cutting firewood for a few days.  Once that’s done, it might be a good idea to start cruising some good hardwood timber.  If Pa gets that Sacramento contract, it would give us a jump on it.”

    “Alright, Adam.  We’ll work it all out after dinner.  I got some chores to do.  Why don’t you close your eyes and rest a spell till Hop Sing brings up your tray?” 

    Adam caught the lift bar with both hands and used it to stretch his shoulders and settle himself more comfortably.  “I might do that.  How ‘bout bringing up my guitar after supper?  See if we feel like making a little music.” 

    “I’ll do that.”  Hoss slipped quietly from the room.  He got downstairs in time to stop Joe from racing up to Adam’s room.  “He needs to take a little rest,” he told his younger brother.  “Spent all afternoon on the books.  Let him sleep a spell if he can.  We’ll see him after supper.” 


    The evening passed quietly, but the next morning was different.  Had he thought about it, Adam would have said it was impossible to stomp down a hallway in thick, felt slippers until Hop Sing managed it.  He arrived literally hopping mad and spouting streams of Chinese clearly not intended for the society of ladies.  There was little Adam could do beyond make soothing gestures and wait.  Eventually, it boiled down to, “Eggs, eggs all gone.  Somebody steal.  I chop to small bits!” 

    “Easy, Hop Sing, slow down; we’ll get to the bottom of this.”  Adam’s voice slid out, low and soothing, like butter across an angry burn.  To give himself a moment to think, Adam caught the bar and pulled up with a grunt.  Hop Sing hastened to retrieve pillows, plump and pile them behind his charge.  Adam leaned back with a sigh.

    “Did Charlie get the lock on?” he asked. 

    The distraction had calmed Hop Sing somewhat.  “Yes, put on.  Give me key.”

    “And where did you put the key?” 

    “Hang on hook in kitchen with supply house key, spring house key.” 

    “Could somebody have come in when you were up here with me and taken the key, used it and put it back?” 

    Hop Sing folder his hands in his sleeves and thought.  “Maybe so, but how they know where key.  Charlie say he no tell.” 

    “It’s a puzzle, Hop Sing.  I’ll work on it.  Meanwhile, would you like to have somebody ride out to Ma McMurray’s and buy you some eggs?” 

    “No!” the little Oriental was indignant.  “They white eggs, no have baby chick inside.  Not make strong.  Want my eggs!”

    Hop Sing preferred the large, brown, fertile eggs their hens laid to any other.  The chunky, heavily feathered hens were his pets, and Ben Cartwright favored them as well.  His father wouldn’t be pleased if someone was disturbing his hens and stealing eggs.  If he could only get out to see for himself.  He didn’t want to bother Hoss or Joe; they were fully occupied in doing their jobs and his as well in the rush to prepare for winter. 

    After more reassurances that Adam would redouble his efforts to find the culprit, Hop Sing consented to bring an eggless breakfast of thin sliced, dried beef, soaked and creamed on toast and stewed apricots.  Eggs would have gone well with it, but Adam drank milk along with his coffee and was content. 

    He was reading when Paul Martin dropped by in mid-morning. 

    “Hello, Adam,” he said.  “I had some calls out this way, so I thought I’d stop by and see how you were doing. “  He glanced at the lift bar and frame that kept the covers off his leg.  “I see they’ve made you about as comfortable as possible.  I’m glad you’ve been sensible and stayed quiet.  I half expected to find you up.”

    “It didn’t seem like a real smart idea.”

    “I see.  Still pretty painful, eh?  Let’s have a look.”  Paul folded back the covers and bent to study Hop Sing’s freshly applied poultice.  Before he could do more, the man himself hurried in carrying a basin of steaming water and a bar of carbolic soap. 

    “Wash first.”  He bowed politely, but it was clearly a command. 

    “Ah, yes, always a good idea.”  Doc rolled up his sleeves and gave his hands a good scrubbing.  Hop Sing held out a spotless towel. 

    To hide his amusement, Adam asked Paul if he would like coffee or other refreshment. 

    “After I’m through here.  Wouldn’t turn down a cup of coffee and a slice of that good dried apple pie if you have any.”  At a nod from Adam, Hop Sing went away to prepare it. 

    The Doctor peeled back the light bandage and poultice and sniffed it.    “Uh huh, comfrey roots for wound healing and long used for broken bones, helps keep down infection as well, and yarrow for pain and inflammation and witch hazel – soothing, antiseptic and astringent – a good combination.  Your boy knows his herbs.”

    “He’s not really a ‘boy’,” Adam corrected gently.  After all the doctor did have his hands on his injured leg.  “He’s next to Pa in age and extremely well read in his own language – a real student of nature.  I can’t think how we’d manage without him.” 

    “Yes, of course, Adam,” the doctor muttered absently engrossed in his study of the injury.  “Seems to have done you a world of good.  This looks much better.”

    Adam glanced at his thigh arrayed in every unappealing shade of rust, mud brown, puke green and faded yellow he had ever seen.  “Glad you think so.” 

    “Really,” Paul said.  “The bruising is starting to fade; the hoof strikes are scabbed over and healing with no sign of infection, the swelling is down and there’s less heat in the leg.  Of course, the pattern of bruising away from strike area along with your instinctive reluctance to put weight on it, pretty well confirm my feeling that the bone was damaged.  Hang on, I’m going to probe.”  The doctor pressed blunt, powerful fingers down almost to the bone in the center of Adam’s thigh.  He screamed aloud and had all he could do to keep from striking out at the man as liquid agony flowed up through his hip and down to the knee.  Paul released the pressure, and Adam fell back, pale and panting. 

    “Ah, God!” 

    “Sorry, son, but that pretty well removes any lingering doubt.  Gives you an idea of what could happen if you start using it too soon.”

    Drawn by Adam’s cry, Hop Sing rushed in to glance anxiously from one man to the other.  He looked angry enough to attack the doctor. 

    “It’s all right,” Adam managed.  “He had to check.”

    Unconcerned, Paul went on, “You’re taking mighty fine care of this hombre, Hop Sing, and I know from experience that’s not an easy job.  You keep right on doing what you’re doing now: feed him lean meat and vegetables and don’t let him get up for a while yet.   I’ll come by again next week.”  Hop Sing nodded his understanding.

    “By the way, Adam,” Paul fished in his coat pocket.  “Telegrapher saw me heading out and asked me to bring this.  Said it was a wire from your Pa.” 

    Adam took the rumpled paper in fingers that still shook slightly and opened it. 

    “Not bad news, I hope,” Paul said after a minute.

    “No, the opposite really.   Haas and Levy accepted our offer with no changes.  We can start cutting immediately.  Pa says he has been approached by several other merchants interested in buying or selling.  He’d like to stay on for a while and see what develops.  Would it be imposing to ask you to take a reply for me, Paul?” 

    “No, not at all.  Glad to help.”

    Adam found pad and pencil on his bedside table and quickly printed out his message.

 ‘Ranch running smoothly.  Stop.  Hoss and Joe doing a fine job.  Stop.  Doc says I’m healing well.  Stop.  Take all the time you need.  Stop.  Respectfully, Adam. ’ 

 He tore off the sheet and handed it to the doctor.  “Just charge it to our account, please.  I appreciate it.” 

    Paul nodded and tucked it away.  “Do you need anything more for pain, Adam?  I know how this kind of injury can hurt.”

    “No, thanks, I’m managing.  A glass of wine with a few drops of laudanum to sleep on, and I can make it through.”

    “All right then, cut it back to just the wine as soon as you can.”

    Adam nodded.  “Soon.  Thanks for coming, Paul.  Hop Sing should have your pie and coffee ready.  Go on down and enjoy it.” 

    Paul Martin gathered his things and departed with a cheerful “So long.”  Adam let the pillows support him, closed his eyes and concentrated all his attention inward: first to quiet and wall off the renewed throbbing Paul’s probing has stirred and next to direct his body to send a flood of rich blood and nutrients to the healing bone.


    When Hop Sing had cleaned and dressed the injury, he ran strong, nimble fingered hands, kept soft by the water, soap and oils of cooking and cleaning, down Adam’s lower leg and gripped his long, high arched foot. 

    “No.  No, not yet.”  Adam, always quick, understood what was intended.

    “Must, or … “  Hop Sing held out his arm with wrist rigid, pushed down hard on it with the other hand, but kept his wrist unmoving. 

    “I know, Hop Sing.  If I don’t keep moving, my joints will freeze.  I’ve been workin’ the other leg every day.”  He demonstrated by lifting his left leg and bending ankle, knee and hip.  “And, my upper body.”  He caught the lift bar and chinned himself on it.  “But not this leg, not yet.”   There was a long pause.  “It hurts so much,” he whispered – an admission he would bite out his tongue before making to his brothers or father. 

    Hop Sing released Adam’s foot and moved to his side.  He patted his boy gently on the chest, and the dark eyes, far from inscrutable behind their folded lids, were weighted with sympathy, shared pain and understanding. 

    “Not like, Mista Adam; must.  After . . .”  He nodded at the tray with a wine goblet, tall, dusty green bottle of rich burgundy and small, brown bottle of laudanum.  “Make pain go away.  You sleep.”  He moved back down and grasped the foot again.  “Hop Sing do all for now.  You yell if help.  Not tell.” 

    He flexed Adam’s foot and ankle, and the bruised and damaged muscles of the thigh moved, stretching and pulling.  It tore a strangled cry from Adam before he flung his arms wide, gripped the bed posts fiercely and clamped his teeth.  “Go on.”  It came out half a snarl.  The knee was worse. 

    Afterwards he gulped the laced wine in half a dozen hasty swallows.  Hop Sing handed him a warm, slightly damp towel, scented with pine to wipe away the cold sweat from his face and hands and helped him to lie flat.  Adam slept almost four hours and awoke hungry and in less pain. 

    Joe came in at dusk to report they had cut the last of the hay.  “If the warm, clear weather holds for just another week,” he told his brother, “we’ll have it all dried, baled and stowed.”

    “Nice work, Joe; very nice work.  How many bales altogether do you figure?”      

    Joe tugged at an ear lobe and thought for a minute.  “There 160 bales down in the East Ridge barn, 320 in the big barn west in the foothills where they tend to drift in bad weather, and 210 for the southern range.  I figure we’ll put up close to 175 more for the stock close in around the ranch.    What does that make?”

    “That would be 865 bales – a little more than 108 tons.”  The math slid together smoothly in Adam’s head.  “That should be enough and maybe a little extra if the winter is unusually hard.  You’ve really stuck with this job, Joe.  I think you’ve earned a bonus.”   Both of his brothers had worked hard and finished important and urgent jobs in record time.  It wasn’t fair to share the early completion bonus with Hoss and not give Joe something for his efforts. 

    Joe grinned, and his green eyes flashed.  “I could use a little something extra in my pay envelope mighty fine.  Thanks, Adam.”

    “Don’t suppose there’s any point in suggesting you save some of it, and not blow it all on girls and poker, is there?”   

    “Save it?  What would I want to do that for?”  Joe’s laugh was infectious. 

    “Say, Adam,” Joe’s tone was more serious.  “That’s a darn big crew I’ve had on the haying.  What are we going to do with them all now that it’s about finished?  We’d go broke trying to feed that mob all winter.”

    “Fall’s in the air, Joe.  A lot of the men will want to drift on across to California where it’s warmer; they can work almost all winter on the farms down in the Sacramento valley.  Give anybody that’s willing to go now a half-month’s extra pay and supplies for ten days.  We can use those that want to stay on for a while to glean and bale straw.  We always need more bedding for the barn animals, and Hop Sing will want to insulate a lot of his plants.   Tell them they’ll get the same bonus and a stage ticket to anywhere within 500 miles they want to go before snow flies.”

    Joe nodded his agreement.  The Ponderosa treated its workers well, but they got the pick of the returning experienced and reliable hands each spring.  

    It was almost dark.  The men were at their evening meal.  Hop Sing had gone to take Adam his supper tray.  A long arm reached around the edge of the kitchen door and groped for the nail that held the keys to the separate storage sheds and the hen house.  A gloved hand closed over them and lifted them from the hook.  All but one was quickly returned and footsteps hurried away.  Had anyone been listening they might have heard a creak of hinges and the squawk of a few flustered birds.  The key was returned just as Hop Sing crossed the living room toward the kitchen, and a shadow slipped away. 

    After dinner, when Hoss and Joe had gathered once more around Adam’s bed, he brought up an important task that had been much on his mind.  “I’m truly grateful that we got the fall round-up finished before I got myself stove up, but we still have to start drifting the breeding cows and young stock down out of the higher pastures.  That’s been my job along with a small crew from some years now.  Clearly it won’t be this year.”  He gestured at his leg and grinned ruefully.  

    “Hoss, you’ll be fully engaged getting started on that Haas and Levy timber contract.  I can’t spare you from that.  Joe, if I give you John Lowery for your honcho and your pick of the best men, do you think you could manage it?  John’s been with me the last three years.  He should know the hidey holes and thickets the dumb brutes get into pretty well.”

    “Buckskin Lowery?  Sure, Adam, he’s a top hand.  I can take care of that little chore for you.” 

    Adam knew Joe was capable, but he was also sometimes overconfident.  “Joe, you’ll be in charge, but it’s important to get them all down and in good shape.  They represent next year’s profits on the hoof.  I have every confidence in you, but I would like your assurance that you will listen if Buckskin has any advice to offer.  He’s had a lot of experience with cattle.”

    Joe looked hurt.  “Don’t you trust me, big brother?”

    “You know I do, Joe, but nobody knows everything.  I’ve had plenty of help and guidance from the men I was working with, Pa too for that matter.  Don’t ever be too proud to learn.” 

    Joe thought it over.  “I reckon I see what you mean, Adam.  All right, if Buckskin has som’thin’ to say, I’ll consider it.” 

    Adam figured it was the best he was likely to get.  They worked out the time that should be needed for the job, where to start and what supplies to take.  That done he read to them for a while, but he was still feeling the effects of his exercise session with Hop Sing and begged off to turn in early.  He left the laudanum out but drank two glasses of wine instead and managed to fall into a somewhat restless sleep.  He was awakened several times by his body’s natural instinct to turn. 

    Breakfast brought more complaints of missing eggs.  Short of posting a 24 hours guard on the hen house, Adam was at a loss as to how to proceed.  Hop Sing swore he had his eye on the key every minute.  At mid morning, following the usual clean up and dressing change, Adam was trying to concentrate on the wording of a proposal tendered by a new mining syndicate that wanted the Ponderosa to join in as a major partner.  Ben would want his recommendation when he got home.  At the moment, Adam was not favorably impressed.  The ranch would be called on for a substantial investment, and the chances of a new strike in the area proposed were very slim if his study of the geology of the region meant anything. 

    His train of thought and note taking were interrupted by the front door crashing open followed by the sounds of a struggle, loud voices and outraged squeaks.   Adam put his papers aside and pulled himself more erect.  He suspected he was about to have a visit.  Within moments, old Charlie pushed a young and very frightened boy through Adam’s doorway followed by a flustered Hop Sing. 

    “I caught him red handed comin’ out of the hen house,” Charlie said, giving the boy another good shake.  He had a firm grip on the frayed collar of the kid’s plaid shirt and had him up on his tiptoes.  “I knowed he was the one!  Been keepin’ my eyes peeled.  Danged scamp was crawling out through that little bitty hole I left for the hens to get in and out.  Boy must be half dadburned eel.” 

    Hop Sing shook his finger under the boy’s nose and released a stream of Chinese invective that was too fast to follow.  The youngster’s dark skin paled to a sickly grey.  “I ain’t done nothing, Mr. Cartwright,” he protested.  “Honest, I never!”

    Adam raised his powerful voice to override the racket.  “All right, everybody, just settle down!  Stealing eggs may be wrong, but it’s not a killin’ crime.  Simmer down.  Charlie, let the boy go.  He’ll stand on his own.  Now, one at a time, tell me what happened.”

    Adam recognized the boy as Petey Lowery, Buckskin’s half Indian son.  Charlie had suspected him of taking the eggs from the first. 

    Charlie got a jump on the rest with his version.  “I’d jest finished up my barn chores, Adam, and come out to pester Hop Sing for a cup of coffee and a slab of that gingerbread I could smell bakin’.  Them greasy bunk house breakfasts don’t set too good on my stomach no more,” he explained. 

    Adam nodded in sympathy.  Eggs fried rock hard in a pan full of bacon grease served with day old beans and soda biscuits were not his favorites either.   “Go on, Charlie.  What did you see?”

    “Wal’ I’d jest squatted down on the shady side of the well ta relish them good eats in peace, when I happened to look over ta the hen house.  Lo and behold, what’d I see, but this here scamp a slidin’ out slicker’n grease.  First one arm and shoulder come out, then his haid poked through, then the other shoulder wiggled on out, and he barely squeezed his butt through.  I rushed right on over and grabbed him ‘fore he could get up and run.”

    “I see too!” Hop Sing interrupted.  “Come outside . . . throw old water on cabbages.”  He demonstrated tossing out water from an imaginary dish pan.  “Hear noise, look hen house.  See Mr. Charlie pull boy out hole.  Bad boy,”  he shook his finger vigorously at Petey again.  “Bad, bad boy, steal Hop Sing eggs!  Mr. Adam need.” 

    “Leave me out of this for the moment,” Adam said.  “Come over here, Petey.”  He patted the side of his bed.  Slowly, with obvious reluctance, the youngster shuffled over until he stood beside Adam.  “I didn’t steal nothing, Mr. Adam,” he said in a low voice.  “Well, nothing that anybody cares about, anyhow.” 

    Adam looked the boy over carefully; gangling and slender, he appeared to be in the midst of a growth spurt.  With the flexibility of youth, he probably could just worm in and out of the hen’s door.  Adam noted that his faded blue plaid shirt and worn jeans were clean – well, save what he had picked up crawling around in the hen house.  His dark hair was long under his battered straw hat, but neatly braided and wrapped with leather thongs, Indian style.  Petey’s hands trembled slightly as he clenched them in front of him, but he stood straight with eyes cast down. 

    “Look at me Pete Lowery,” Adam said.  The lad looked up and met Adam’s amber eyes openly with his own dark ones.  “Are you afraid of me?” Adam wanted to know. 

    “No, Mr. Adam,” came the reply.  “You always treated me and my folks fair.  Speak real nice to my Ma.”  Not everyone one was courteous to a Shoshone squaw.   “I was mighty sorry when you got hurt too.  I saw that ol’ Smoke kick you.  Heard it too.  Sounded like a clap of thunder.”  He looked at the covers tented over Adam’s injured leg.  “I reckon you ought to shoot that blamed mule.” 

    “It wasn’t his fault, Pete.  The wasp scared him.  Don’t worry; I’m going to be fine, real soon.   Right now, I want to ask you a few questions.  You’ll tell me the truth, won’t you?”

    “Yes, sir.”  There was no hesitation in the answer. 

    “Your Pa’s off with my brother bringing the herds down to lower ground for winter.”  Petey nodded in agreement.  “So you and your mother are on your own.”  Another nod.  “Do you have plenty of supplies, food, firewood, money for little things?  Is the cabin sound?  Are you going hungry or cold?  I want you to tell me if you need anything.”

    Petey looked puzzled.  “No, sir,” he said.  “Pa drew supplies before he left.  Cupboard is plumb full.  I help out by huntin’ for squirrels and rabbits and such.  We got plenty of wood, and the roof  don’t leak; cabin’s chinked up tight for winter.  Ma and me is just fine.”

    “I see.  Then why do you want the eggs, Petey?” 

    “Mr. Adam, I told you.  I didn’t take no eggs!  They just think I did.”

    Adam turned to Charlie.  “Did he have any eggs with him when he crawled out?  Anything in his hat, a neckerchief, a pan?” 

    Charlie rubbed at his wrinkled neck.  “Wal’ no,” he finally said, “I reckon he didn’t.  I never seen no eggs, jest Petey.” 

    “Hop Sing?”

    The little Oriental shook his head.  “No see eggs.” 

    “Pete, will you show me what you have in your pockets?” Adam asked. 

    Petey dug into his britches pockets and spread out on Adam’s bed a well oiled and polished jackknife, a dime and two nickels, a small chunk of iron pyrites, fools’ gold, a  roll of string, a semi-clean handkerchief and three hazelnuts.  No eggs.  Petey fingered the small, deerhide pouch that hung from its leather cord around his neck.  “I can’t show you this Mr. Adam.  My Ma would kill me.  But there ain’t no eggs inside, believe me.”

    “I do,” Adam said.  It was the boy’s medicine bag and held objects sacred to him.  It was too small to conceal even one of the Buffs’ big eggs in any case. 

    Adam breathed out gently.  “Take your things back, Pete.  I see we were all wrong about the eggs and owe you an apology.  That just leaves one question.  What were you after in the hen house?” 

    “Just these.”  Petey pulled off his hat and from inside the brim extracted three long, carefully coiled, game cock tail feathers.  They were a rainbow of iridescent colors: emerald green, blood red, tawny gold and metallic blue.

    “These are from those fighting cocks Joe decided to invest in, I take it?”

    “Yes, sir.  I didn’t pull them out neither.  I check every day, and when they shed a feather, I get it out of the cage before it gets messed up.  My Ma uses them to make feathered hats for the ladies in town.  She gets six dollars a hat – sometimes even more.”  Petey was glowing with pride. 

    Adam nodded slowly.  He looked from Charlie to Hop Sing.  “Well, gentlemen, are you satisfied?  Shall we let this hardened criminal go or string him up?” 

    “Charlie spoke with stiff dignity.  “I’m right sorry, Petey.  I misjudged ya.”

    “That’s all right, Mr. Charlie.  I reckon I would have thought something funny too, if I’d ah seen you crawling out of the chicken door.  I didn’t know there was eggs missing.”  He turned again to Adam.  “I haven’t seen nobody taking eggs, ‘cept Mr. Hop Sing.  I’d tell you if I did.” 

    Hop Sing padded up to the boy.  “Hop Sing velly solly.  Make up to boy.  Come eat gingerbread.  Take nice roast of venison home to Mama.”  Petey grinned from ear to ear.   He was about to follow Hop Sing out of the room when he suddenly stopped and turned back to Adam. 

    “Can I still have the feathers, please, sir?” he asked.  “It really helps my Ma.” 

    Adam smiled – the slow, open, unconstrained smile that flooded the heart with warmth and affection.  “Indeed you may, Pete.  But, when you want to go in, ask Mr. Hop Sing to let you in.  That way your clothes will stay cleaner.”  Hop Sing bobbed in agreement. 

    The whole troop gathered themselves and marched out of the room.  Adam called after them, “Any chance I could get some of this famous gingerbread?”  Hop Sing stuck his head back around the door.  “And a glass of milk, please,” Adam added. 

    Adam leaned back and longed to rub his aching leg.  He still had no idea where the eggs were going.


    It was quiet with Joe away.  Adam, able to sit up a little longer each day, got all the ranch records and books up to date and wrote a number of overdue business and personal letters. 

    Hoss seemed to be very busy, not only with the timber operations, but with chores around the house, until well after dark.  Rather than dine alone at the big table, he took to bringing a tray upstairs and eating at Adam’s desk.  There were still some days when Adam didn’t feel much like talking, but the lifelong closeness between the half-brothers often made words unnecessary.  The mere fact of physical proximity was comfort and company one for the other.   Each night they went over the orders that Hoss would relay to the hands the next morning just after daylight.  There was still a great deal to be done.   Unwilling to worry Hoss with one more item, Adam kept the problem of the missing eggs to himself. 

    Adam had prepared long lists of winter supplies: flour, cornmeal, sugar, coffee, tea and salt – lots of salt for preserving and cooking; dried beans and fruits, rice and cereal grains, jars of preserves and pickles and blocks of lard and butter,  tins of peaches and sardines, jars of spices, vinegar and cider along with wine and liquors and pipe tobacco for Ben.  In addition they would need everything from matches to coal oil and wicks for the lamps, nails, wire and small tools along with leather and fastening for harness repairs and saddle soap.  Feed corn and oats were ordered by the ton. Then there were warm shirts, heavy wool britches and thickly waxed overalls for working in snow and wet, boots, hats, gloves, scarves and blankets.  The lists seemed endless.  Someone had to take in the orders and pick them up as they arrived piecemeal over a number of weeks.  Then they had to be inventoried, checked off against the original lists and stored safe from rats and other vermin. 

    Hop Sing had to have experienced help with the fall slaughter of pigs to put up bacon, hams, side meat and salt pork for the winter months.  Fat steers were slaughtered and the meat salted or made into jerky.  The fat was rendered and used for everything from making mincemeat and dipping candles, to preserving meat.  Mutton tallow was clarified and made into a protective ointment that kept hands and face from chapping and cracking in the bitter cold.   The late potatoes, onions, turnips and carrots had to be dug, tied in bunches and hung in the root cellar.  Apples, pears and lemons were packed in straw and stored in barrels along with the vegetables.  Cabbage was salted, pressed and made into sauerkraut. 

    And the regular ranch chores had to go on.  Riders went out daily to check boundaries, clear springs and small streams and tend ailing animals.  Line cabins were stocked for the winter.  The riding stock kept at the ranch had to be fed and groomed and their stalls cleaned.   Training went on for young colts.  Then there were the pigs, chickens and rabbits to feed and clean.  The regular hands were stretched thin during this busy time. 

    The mail brought a letter from Ben.  He was enjoying the fall social season in Sacramento and spoke of going on to San Francisco.  He had made a number of useful business contacts and taken shares in a shipping venture that was sending fleece and hides to China and planning to return loaded with silk and spices.   Before staying longer he wanted reassurances about Adam’s health and operations at the ranch.  It had been a long time since his father had taken time to enjoy himself.  Adam wrote a cheerful letter detailing all that had been done on the Ponderosa and added that while his femur was cracked, he was healing quickly and in very little pain.  He even had Hoss add a short note, so that Ben would know that they were all right. 

    Despite his essential and busy role in preparing the household for winter, Hop Sing managed to keep Adam clean, tended, exercised and well fed.  Aware that he was an extra burden at an inconvenient time, Adam kept his requests for help to the bare essentials.  It meant he was often alone for long hours and uncomfortable when an extra pair of hands could have made a big difference.  He surprised himself by being inordinately glad to see Doc Martin when he stopped by for his next visit. 

    The doctor scrubbed well with Hop Sing’s hot water and strong soap, and pulled up a chair to lift the covers, remove the light dressing and examine the injury closely.  “How have you been feeling, Adam?” he asked. 

    “Like a square wheel on a tandem bicycle.  I’m taking up time from both Hop Sing and Hoss that they really can’t spare right now.  I need to get up Paul, do more for myself.” 

    “Well, let me take a look here.”  Paul bent and looked closely at the fading bruise.  The colors were less angry and the hoof marks were beginning to fill in with new, pink flesh and skin.  Light pressure around the outer edges of the huge bruise brought no reaction, but when he applied pressure to the thigh over the suspected crack in the femur and dug into the hip joint, his patient couldn’t suppress a harsh gasp. 

    “Are you still taking the laudanum, Adam?”

    “No, not for several days now; just a glass of wine or a brandy at bedtime.” 

    “And how are you sleeping?”

    “Pretty well.  It will wake me up a time or two when I try to turn.”

    “That’s not unexpected.  Are you exercising the ankle and knee joints?” 

    “Oh, yes, Hop Sing insists.”  His tone was very dry.

    “Hurts, does it?”

    After a long moment Adam said simply, “Yes.” 

    Paul leaned back and rubbed his eyes.  Adam thought he looked tired.  It was the time of year that people started to come down with fevers and coughs, and the rush to prepare for winter meant more injuries and accidents. 

    “How long has it been since you got kicked?”

    Adam counted back quickly.  “Three weeks and four days, Doc.  It just seems like halfway to forever.” 

    “All right.  Hang on another three days. Then, if you feel up to it and truly can’t stand it in bed any longer, you can get up for a couple of hours a day, but you have to give me your word that you will use crutches and not put any weight on that leg yet.  Six weeks is an absolute minimum for the bone to heal and for a big bone like that eight or ten weeks would be even better.  You DO NOT want to put any stress on that leg or risk another injury, and, for heaven’s sake, have someone with you when you get up the first few times.  You will be weak and possibly a little dizzy.  A fall would be disastrous.” 

    “That’s great!”  Adam’s grin was infectious, and his eyes had brightened amazingly. 

    “Say it, Adam!” Paul demanded.  “I know how much store you set by your word.  I want to hear it.”

    Adam sobered.  “You have my word that I will use crutches and take every precaution necessary to allow the bone adequate time to heal.  Will that do you?”

    “It will.  Now, take it slow, Adam.  Up for only an hour or so at first and then back to bed.  You can gradually extend the time unless you find yourself exhausted or in worse pain.  Don’t even think of straddling a horse.  I’ll shoot you myself if I find out you’ve been that foolish.”

    The very thought of his leg pounding against a saddle was enough to make Adam wince.  “Don’t worry.  I’d rather take a running jump down a mine shaft.” 

    “Very well, I’ll leave some instructions with Hop Sing.  You’ll want to keep the injury clean and covered, and it will probably help to support the leg and keep down swelling if he wraps it firmly when you are up. “

    After sharing a cup of coffee and a fresh doughnut along with some local gossip, the doctor took his leave.  Adam’s outlook had brightened considerably.  

    That afternoon brought in a rider from Joe’s crew.  A young fellow with a shock of unruly red hair, his broad smile opened on what always seemed an inordinate number of long, white, slightly crooked teeth.  It had earned him the nickname of ‘Smiley.’    Hop Sing led him to Adam’s room.  Adam had gotten a carpenter to fit a portable writing desk with short legs and had it across his lap, creating sketches for a bridge he wanted to build next summer high in the mountains.  If it were sturdy enough to drive cattle across, it would open a number of new hanging meadows to their stock. 

    Adam straightened his back and realized he’d spent too long hunched over his drawings.  He nodded at Smiley.  The young puncher had a three day scruff of reddish beard on his jaws and his trail clothes where stiff with sweat and dust.  He pulled off his old, stained, flat-crowned hat and stuck it under his arm.   “Howdy, Mr. Adam.  How ya doin’?   Your brother sent me.”

    “Is something wrong?  Nobody hurt I hope?”

    “Naw, everybody’s jes fine, but the cattle are pretty scattered.  It’s takin’ longer than Joe thought it would.  We’re plumb out of coffee and sweetin’ and the nights are mighty cold.  We need more supplies and blankets.  It’s all in here.”  Smiley held out a crumpled and much folded sheet of paper.   It was a note from Joe. 

    Adam, hope you’re doing better.  Dang cows are scattered all over up here.  We’re having to chase them out one by one, and supplies are running low.  Please send Smiley back with five pounds of coffee, a jug of molasses, ten loaves of fresh bread and a small wheel of cheese.  We could use a dozen more blankets too.  Heavy frost last night – dang near froze.  Hope to get home in time for the big autumn dance. 

                Your brother,

    “I don’t see any problem with the supplies, Smiley.  Surprises me that the stock is so scattered.  Wonder what happened; any signs of a bad storm or a big cat stalking them?”

    “None that I seen.”   He felt silent and looked around the room as if in search of an escape route.  “Mr. Adam?”  Smiley took his hat out from under his arm and twisted it around in his hands.  His nails were broken and dirt deeply imbedded in the creases of his hands.  He looked both embarrassed and distressed

    “Um.”  Adam made an encouraging noise.

    “I got another message for you, Mr. Adam.  A sort of secret one.”

    “Yes?”  Adam was puzzled.  “Another message from Joe?”

    “Ah, no, no sir.  You see, as I was saddlin’ up, Buckskin come by and asked me to have a word in your ear, iffen you know what I mean.”

    “I see.  And what did he want you to tell me?”

    “Buckskin thinks the cattle may have been scattered by rustlers.  He found some old ashes.   Thinks about three men camped there for several days.  He pointed it out to Joe . . .” Smiley trailed off.

    “And,” Adam said after a little wait. 

    “He thought it was just some hunters.  Joe’s kinda in a hurry to finish up and get on back, seems like.  Buckskin would like to take a little more time and look around some more.”  Smiley rubbed the toe of his boot back and forth on the rug.

    “Was there anything else?”

    “Naw, that’s about it I reckon, Mr. Adam.”

    “Thank you, Smiley.  It’s too late to start back tonight.  Why don’t you get cleaned up and have a hot meal and a night’s sleep in your bunk.  I’ll have the supplies and a letter for Joe ready for you to take back in the morning.” 

    “Yes, sir.  That sounds mighty  fine to me.  See you in the morning.”  Smiley turned with a sigh of relief and hurried from the room.

    Adam bent his head and pushed his hands through his hair.  Damn this leg, he thought.  How am I going to handle this?  I need to get up there.  I can’t send Joe strict orders without giving Buckskin away.  I can’t spare Hoss; I can’t destroy Joe’s authority with the men.   He twisted in frustration, and his leg twinged so hard that it startled a cry from him. 

    Hop Sing came in at that moment with a tea pot and cup.  He set it down and came at once to Adam’s side.   “You work too hard,” he said firmly.  “Sit up too long.  Man Mista Joe send upset you.”  His brow was wrinkled in a serious frown.  “Cold in here.  You drink nice tea, lie down, get warm, rest.”  Hop Sing poured the mug full of steaming tea and thrust it at Adam, then went at once to build up the fire. 

    Adam tasted the tea.  It was chamomile, sweet with honey, mild and soothing.   He needed to think.  It might be best to get down and take the pressure off his hip, relax and look at all the possibilities.  He drank more tea.  The fire was blazing brightly.  Hop Sing was pulling out pillows and helping him to slip down in the bed.  The little Chinaman found a rabbit fur blanket in the closet and spread it over his boy.  “Soon time get out all winter furs,” he said

    Before Hop Sing left Adam gave him Joe’s note and ask him to get the needed supplies together.  Quiet now, warm and alone, Adam let his mind sort thought the many possibilities and his few options.

    Hoss was late bringing up his supper tray that evening.  He said only that he had been busy with chores around the barn.  Adam asked about Sport and was told that he was fine, if restless.  “Needs exercise,” Hoss said. 

    “Turn him out to pasture.” Adam told him.  “It will be a while yet, before I’m ready to ride.  Or you could ride him yourself.”

    “No thanks,” Hoss said quickly.  “I ain’t anxious to have my eyes blacked or my nose busted.  I’ll turn him out.”   He dug into his dinner.

    Adam waited patiently while Hoss plowed through a heaping platter of roast pork, sweet potatoes, the last of the fresh corn – he ate three ears, dripping in butter – and hot biscuits to sop up the gravy.  When he had finished and wiped his hands thoroughly, Adam handed him Joe’s letter to read and a longer one that was his response.  “Smiley came in today.  Joe’s having some trouble finding the cattle.  Buckskin thinks they may have been scattered by rustlers; Joe doesn’t.  See what you think?”

    Hoss moved closer to the lamp and read:

Dear Joe:
    All is well here.  Pa is still in San Francisco and won’t be home for another couple of weeks.  Doc says I can start to get up some in a few days.
    Smiley will have your supplies and a few extras including warm gloves and heavy ponchos.  Hop Sing plans to put in a spice cake and a jug of cider.
    Sorry it’s taking longer than we expected to round up the stock.  By my count we released a few more than 400 head of breeding cows and young steers in that area along with five good bulls after round-up.  Smiley thinks you have about 360 of them gathered but confirms your opinion about how badly they are scattered.   He tells me there’s no sign of bad storms or big predators that might account for it, but he doesn’t have a lot of experience reading sign.  You and Buckskin might think differently.
    You will want to search carefully around that seep spring back under the rimrock and in the willow thickets if you haven’t already done so.  I’ve found hideouts there in the past.  Always remember that when you have more than a few head missing and no carcasses to show for them that rustlers are a possibility.  You might want to look around for any traces of intruders in the area.  It wouldn’t be too hard to slip a small bunch over the pass into California from up there.  Easy to run the brand and sell them to some unscrupulous rancher looking to build up his herd or turn them over to a big butchering outfit willing to ignore the brand, and that’s that. 
    If you find any indication that this might have happened, don’t waste your time trailing them across the Sierras.  They will be long gone anyway.  Instead come on in and let me know.  I can write some friends in California and maybe get a line on them.  There’s no difficulty if you want to leave Buckskin in charge of drifting what you have been able to gather down slowly – he’s a reliable man.
    Pretty slow around here without your foolishness to liven the place up a little.  Hoss sends his best.  Watch yourself, short shanks.

    With affection, your brother,

    Hoss shoved his hands through his thinning hair and chuckled.  “Adam, you sly ol’ fox!  You tell our little brother not to do something, and you can dang near guarantee he’ll do it.  Betcha he’ll follow them rustlers clear to Placerville now if that’s what it takes.  And sayin’ to leave his men and come on home.  He’ll stay out till the last steer is down, even if they’re up to their butts in snow first.”

    “I can hope,” Adam grinned.  “Either way will work.  Just on the off chance he takes my advice, I’ll need to send some wires to California tomorrow.  Can you spare somebody to take them in?”

    “Sure, Adam.  We’re startin’ to catch up a little now.  The Sacramento timber is all marked, and the men are startin’ to cut.  Got the fence posts under cover and plenty of firewood sawn.  The supplies are almost all here and stowed safe.  I need to help Hop Sing put up the storm windows this Saturday, and most of the heavy work will be done.”

    “You’ve done a great job, Hoss.  Just wish I could have been of more help.  Come Monday, I can start getting’ up some.  I can hardly wait!”  Adam’s eyes lit with pleasure, and he grinned. 

    Hoss shook his head.  “Don’t rush things too much, Adam.  I have to go out to the timber stand on Monday.  Why don’t you wait a day or two until I can be with you?” 

    “Hop Sing will be here.  I’ll be fine; don’t worry.  Now, what’s it going to be this evening: chess, checkers, another dip into Dumas?”

    “I like that ‘Three Musketeers’ real fine, Adam.  If you feel like reading some more . . . ?”  


    Monday threatened rain, or maybe snow or even hail.  Hoss got home in mid-afternoon.  Hop Sing met him at the door.  “Mista Hoss, you go up lite ‘way!  Mista Adam need brother.”

    “What is it, Hop Sing?”  The big man grabbed the little Chinese’s arm.  “What’s wrong?  He was so excited this morning about getting’ out of bed . . .  Ah, no!  Did he fall?”  An icy fear gripped him.  “I knew I shoulda been here!”  If Adam had broken that big thigh bone – or his hip again . . .

    “Not fall, exactly.  Too soon, but try.  You go!”  He pointed at the stairs.  “Need brother.  No listen Hop Sing!” 

    Hoss took the steps two at a time and slowed just enough to keep from smashing through Adam’s door.  He opened it into a dim, silent room.  There were no lamps lit, and the half-drawn drapes framed a gray and dismal evening, rapidly turning frosty.  The only light came from the fireplace.  At least the room was warm.  When his eyes had adjusted, Hoss saw that Adam lay flat in the bed with his face turned to the wall.  His books and papers were roughly piled on his desk, and the bedside table held a sticky wineglass with a few drops from the almost empty Burgundy bottle beside it left in the bottom.  The laudanum bottle stood close by. 

    Hoss crossed to the bedside and looked down at his brother.  He was unshaven; his hair, long overdue for a trim, fell around a face fine carved by pain and exhaustion.
    “Go ‘way, Hoss.”  His words were slurred, his tongue thick.


    “Go ‘way.  Not fit company for rabid wolf.”

    “I can’t do that, no more than you could.  Talk to me, brother.  What happened here?”

    Adam flung his arm out suddenly and knocked the tall, green Burgundy bottle from the table spinning.  “Need ‘nother bottle; this one’s empty.” 

    Hoss caught it before it hit the floor.  “No you don’t.  You’ve had enough.”  He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Adam drunk.  Probably more the laudanum than the alcohol. 

    “This morning you was all fired up about gittin’ out o’ that bed.  Now you’re flat back in it and loaded with pain killer.  Tell me what went wrong, Adam?” 

    His brother muttered something.


    “No guts,” Adam said loudly and distinctly.  “No damn guts.”

    “That ain’t so, and I know it.  You take a minute and pull yourself together here, and then I want the whole story.”  Hoss’s tone allowed no argument.  He took the time to light three lamps, bathing the room in a golden glow.  He closed the curtains against the night and built up the fire until it crackled cheerfully.  Pulling a chair close beside the bed, he laid a hand on his brother’s arm.  “Looka here at me, Adam.”

    Obedient as a good child, Adam turned to face his brother.

    “Now start real slow and tell me what happened.”

    “Had to get up,” Adam whispered.  “Get back to work.”

    “What was the big rush?” Hoss asked.  “I don’t think you understand even now how bad you were hurt.  Doc told us that iffen it weren’t for the need to treat that gosh awful place where you was kicked, he’d a had you in plaster from your waist to the knee for at least six weeks.  It’s only been four.  You got to give yourself time to heal you blamed ijiot!”  

    “I’m a drag on you, Hop Sing, everybody – just when we’re scurrying ‘round like a pack of squirrels storing up acorns for winter; every hand counts, and Pa’s away.”

    “I’m half a mind to wire him to come straight home.  You need him here.”

    “No!” Adam caught at Hoss’s arm and pulled himself half up only to fall back with a harsh gasp. 

    Hoss found a clean handkerchief, poured cool water from the pitcher into Adam’s wash basin, wet the cloth and wrung it out.  Returning to the bed, he used it to blot the oily sweat from his brother’s face and push back the heavy hair. 

    In time Adam said, “I tried, Hoss . . . tried so hard.  Followed Doc Martin’s orders to the letter.  Took my time; had Hop Sing up here with me.  When I got up onto the crutches and this damned leg swung down . . . I almost passed out; felt like it was coming off.”  Adam stopped, looking inward.  “Managed to drag myself to the chair by the window.  So dizzy.  Half fell into it; hit dead center on this bruise.  Scared Hop Sing nigh to death; bled all over everywhere.  Not sure how Hop Sing got me back in bed . . . all blurred . . .”  he trailed off. 

    Adam was quiet for a while, and Hoss waited.  Presently he went on.  “Knew it would hurt; thought I could handle it.  Couldn’t. Can’t.”  A slow flush pushed up from Adam’s throat and spread across his face.  “Feel like a damn fool and a coward, but I can’t get up yet, Hoss; it hurts like fury.  I’m sorry.” 

    Hoss squeezed Adam’s shoulder gently.  “You don’t have a damned thing to apologize for you danged, hard headed . .  .”  He broke off just short of saying ‘jackass.’  “Don’t know why you’re so all fired worried about the work anyhow.  You been handlin’ everything real fine right from where you’re at now.  No reason you can’t take all the time you need to heal up good.” 

    Adam found a grin somewhere.  “I’m bored, Hoss; half out of my skull.  I want fresh air and sunshine, and most of all I want to be off my back.  You wouldn’t believe how it aches sometimes.” 

    Hoss frowned.  Adam’s back had bothered him off and on ever since he fell building a home for that ninny Laura Dayton.  Somehow ‘ninny’ was always the word that came to mind when Hoss thought of the silly, selfish, always complaining child/woman his brother had almost married.  He threw up his hands.  “Well, why in the world didn’t you say somethin’.  You know I’d rub it for you – ease all them kinks out and help you sleep.”  Hoss did give a fine back massage. 

    “Can’t turn over.”

    Hoss imagined himself in Adam’s position.  With his whole right side from the waist down a useless agony with an open wound to consider, turning over would be a problem.   “I see.  We can fix that, Adam.  Would you like to get off your back now?”

    “Ah, no!  No, Hoss, don’t move me! In Heaven’s name don’t move me!   I need more time.”

    Hoss realized his brother was panting hard, sick with pain.  He took his hand and squeezed it firmly.  “You still want that bottle, Adam?”

    “No, not now . . . if you could stay  . . .”

    “I’m going to see Hop Sing for just a minute.  I’ll be right back and stay with you as long as you want me to.  You rest easy and don’t worry ‘bout nothin’.”  Hoss slipped his hand free and tiptoed from the room.  Hop Sing was waiting in the hall outside. 

    “Adam said something about bleeding.  How bad is he hurt?” Hoss demanded. 

    “Hit hoof kick place hard on chair.  Scabs tear, new skin tear, bleed plenty.  Hurt so bad Mista Adam half out of head, fight me.  Finally get in bed, stop blood, but need to clean, bandage.  Toss books at me; say no touch.  Give wine, pain killer.  Drink whole bottle – very fast. Yell, Hop Sing.  No eat, no talk.  Must take care, Mista Hoss.  Wound get dirty, go bad!”  Hop Sing twisted his hands together, half frantic with worry. 

    “I’m terrible sorry you had to deal with this alone, partner,” Hoss told Hop Sing.  “I should’a been here.  I know Adam’s going hate what happened.  He’s calmer now; the wine’s wearing off, but he’s hurtin’ somethin’ awful.  Pa’s got some morphine in his medicine chest.  I’ll try to get Adam to let me give him a shot.  You wait about twenty minutes and then bring up some hot beef broth, tea and toast.  If he lost a lot of blood, he needs to eat, drink.  He’s not strong enough to fight me.”

    Hop Sing nodded.  “Know Mista Adam no can help; pain make him klazy.  He want walk so bad.  Not mad.” 

    “ Good man.”  Hoss gave Hop Sing a pat on the back.  “Go on and get that food while I hunt out the morphine.”

    Adam was so glad to see Hoss back that he surrendered to the morphine shot with a minimum of resistance.  It was taking hold when Hop Sing returned with a steaming mug of beef broth and thin slices of buttered toast.  He got most of it down before succumbing to a heavy, drugged sleep.   Working quickly and quietly together they got the bloody sheets stripped and replaced.  Hoss sponged Adam off with warm water while Hop Sing cleaned and packed the freshly injured hoof wounds.  They cushioned his sore back with pillows and elevated the leg.  When they were finished, Hoss sent Hop Sing off to a well deserved rest and settled close beside his brother. 

    Adam woke just at dawn.  He was calm, clear headed, in far less pain and acutely embarrassed.  Hoss hushed his apologies as he gave him cool water to drink and helped him to his natural functions. 

    “I was terrible to Hop Sing, Hoss,” his brother told him.  “I’m surprised he didn’t just leave me to bleed out.  How am I going to make it up to him?”

    “He understands that you were out of your head, Adam.  Tell him you’re sorry; thank him for helping you and don’t make too much out of it,” Hoss advised.  Satisfied that his brother was comfortable, Hoss took himself off to get a few hours sleep.  Hop Sing came in with Adam’s breakfast soon after.

    Adam made a dignified and elegant apology for his irrational behavior and thanked Hop Sing warmly for his care.  “If I can do anything to thank you,” he added.

    “Find egg thief,” Hop Sing said flatly.  “Ask you many times.  Eggs still run away.  Not so many now, but every two, three days eggs gone.  Last ones.”  He pointed at the fragrant, light omelet on Adam’s breakfast plate. 

    Adam bent his head to hide a slow smile.  “I haven’t been a very good detective have I, Hop Sing?”

    Hop Sing drew himself up.  “Mista Cartlight say you in charge while he gone.  If you in charge then you le..lespon….”

    “Responsible,” Adam provided the word.  “Responsible.  And you’re right.  I am responsible for what happens while Pa’s away.  I should have taken the missing eggs more seriously.  I’m sorry, Hop Sing.  I’ll try harder.”     

    Hop Sing nodded.  “Good.  You do.”

    Adam ate and then dozed again for a while.  When Hoss came in shortly before noon, he pulled himself up against the pillows and asked for hot water, his shaving kit and a mirror.  He scraped off a two day beard, brushed his teeth and combed his hair into some semblance of order.  Feeling halfway human again and resigned to spending another couple of weeks in bed, he was just reaching for a book when he heard a rider lope into the ranch yard at a good clip.  It was followed by a knock on the door, and Hop Sing soon brought up a telegram.   It had been sent from Placerville and came from Joe.  It read:

Got them.   Tracked rustlers to Placerville.   Found stock in holding yard of large slaughterhouse.   Brands newly changed from Pinetree  to lazy H-H.   Sheriff expects to arrest rustlers tonight.   Slaughterhouse offers $50 a head if I don’t press charges against owner.   $2000 seems a good deal for 40 head.  Buckskin with me.   Headed home tomorrow.   Rest of crew bringing cattle down.   Send word to Miss Elizabeth Worth that I will pick her up at 6:00 p.m. for the Harvest Dance. 
Faithfully, your brother,
Joseph F. Cartwright

     Adam dropped the paper in his lap, leaned back and laughed until his sides ached.  Hoss came in to see why Adam’s room was suddenly resounding with deep, rib shaking hilarity.  Half choked from trying to stifle a fit of giggles, Adam handed Hoss the telegram and watched delighted as the big man fell first to his knees and then rolled helplessly on the floor.  When they had both recovered enough breath to speak, Hoss waved his hands about and gasped, “That boy!  He got you again, Adam.  Did what you told him not to do and came up smelling like a rose.” 

    “I know.” Adam was trying hard not to laugh again.  It jarred his leg.  “I swear, he could fall forty feet down a dry shaft and come up covered in diamonds.  Guess we better send somebody over to the Worth place.  I’ll write Liz a quick note; he’s gonna make that dance after all.”  

    Doc Martin stopped in on his way home from a lying in at a neighboring ranch.  Adam suspected that Hoss had quietly sent for him.  After a thorough examination, accompanied by a stern and lengthy lecture, he concluded that the primary result of Adam’s fall had been to set back his recovery by another few weeks.  There was a newly opened cavity under the hoof marks.  It was now granulating and healing, but Paul thought it might have been a deep seated pocket of infection that  ruptured when Adam’s leg rammed into the chair arm and that had been flushed by the heavy bleeding.   Adam was happy to report that the pain and pressure in the leg was now much less. 


    The next morning Adam was presented with an eggless breakfast and some very hard looks from Hop Sing.  The little Chinese said almost nothing as he dressed Adam’s leg and helped him clean up.  Feeling badly about his failure to ferret out the egg thief, Adam did the only thing he could think of.  He sent for Petey Lowery.

    The boy arrived half an hour later, obviously well scrubbed and combed by his mother.   He found a chair already draw up by the bedside, with a pitcher of fresh milk, two glasses and a plate of thick, sweet oatmeal cookies on the nightstand. 

    “Come on in, Pete,” Adam invited as the boy stood hesitantly in the doorway. 

    “You wanted to see me, Mr. Adam?”  He looked puzzled.

    “I sure did.  I need your help.  Here, sit down.  I was about to have a snack; will you join me?”  He poured them each a glass of milk and passed the cookies.  Petey took one and nibbled carefully around the edges.  The crisp outside and the warm, soft inside was delicious.  He took a big bite and was soon reaching for another.  Half-way through his third cookie he remembered his manners and looked up to find Adam smiling at him over the edge of his milk glass.

    “What did you want me to help you with, Mr. Adam?” he asked around a mouthful of cookie crumbs. 

    “Drink some milk, Pete,” Adam suggested.  “Mr. Hop Sing is still losing eggs from the hen house, and I have to find out where they are going or he says he’ll stop feeding me.” 

    “Aw, naw, Mr. Adam.”  Petey looked very serious.  “He wouldn’t do that.” 

    “Well, maybe not, but we still need to find out what’s happening to them.  I’ve got a hunch that you keep a pretty good eye out for what’s going on around here.  Tell me what you’ve seen for the last month or so.  Anything that struck you as a little odd, something different, somebody where you didn’t expect to see them?” 

    Petey took another cookie and munched thoughtfully.  “Been pretty busy around here.  Lot of new hands for the haying.  I saw one of them pinch one of Mr. Hop Sing’s apple pies that was cooling in the kitchen window, but he’s gone now.”  The boy nodded thoughtfully.  “I didn’t peach on him; do you reckon I should have tattled, Mr. Adam?” 

    Adam tugged at an earlobe.  “That’s a hard question, Pete.  Stealing is wrong; you know that, but a pie – guess anybody can be tempted with that smell of cinnamon and sweet apples floating out on the morning air, and a fellow hates to peach.  Now if it were money or somebody gear, I reckon that would be different, and you ought to tell your Pa or me.  Does that help any?’ 

    The boy drank some milk and thought it through.  “Makes sense I guess.   The pie don’t really hurt nobody much, but taking things that belong to somebody else could hurt real bad.”

    “I think you understand that pretty well, Pete.  Now, can you think of anything else unusual?” 

    “The Jacoby’s cow had a three legged calf.  They had to put it down.  It was real pitiful.” 

    “That’s always sad,” Adam agreed.  Frank Jacoby was a crew boss with the timbering operation.  He and his wife Annie had lived on the Ponderosa for a number of years.  They had their own cabin, a big garden and a milk cow.  

    Petey scratched at his head with somewhat sticky fingers.  “I can’t think of much else, Mr. Adam.  Course there’s them cute orphan pups Mr. Hoss in raisin’ up in the back stall of the barn.  I was sorta hoping he’d give me the liver spotted one.  Sorry I weren’t more help.” 

    Something clicked in Adam’s mind.  “You’ve done just fine, Pete.  Why don’t you wrap up the rest of the cookies and take them along.”  He handed the boy a sheet of writing paper.   “And ask Mr. Hop Sing to come up for a minute on your way out, please.” 

    “Yes sir.  Can I come to see you again, Mr. Adam?  I like talking with you.” 

    “Sure, Pete, you come anytime.  I’m glad of the company.  If we get tired of talkin’ I’ve got some good stories I could read to you.” 

    “Would you?  That’a be swell!”  The lad ran out clutching the cookies tight to his chest. 

    Hop Sing came up soon after and stood with arms folded.  “Boy say you want me.” 

    “Yes, I know you’ve been worried about the eggs, and I think I may know where they’ve been going.  Let me ask you about something else first.  Has Daisy been giving as much milk as usual?” 

    Hop Sing thought for a long time.  At last he said, “Hard to tell.  Most days about same.  Sometimes not so much.”

    “So, maybe she was a pint or two short every second or third day?” 

    Hop Sing nodded.  “Yes, maybe so.”  The little Chinaman softened a bit.  “You like eat?  Good beef and barley soup for lunch.  Build blood, make strong.”

    “I’d like that very much.”   Adam let his head rest on the pillows and closed his eyes.  He could barely remember Hoss calling out, ‘Adam, looka here what Stretch just found,’ an instant before steel shod lightning struck.  It all fit.   

    After supper that night when Hoss brought the book they were reading, Adam put it down and spoke seriously to his brother.  “Hoss, you have to tell Hop Sing the truth about the eggs and milk.  He’s been driving me crazy over those eggs.  If you explain, he may get mad, but he’ll get over it.” 

    Hoss colored and stammered.  “What in tarnation are you on about, Adam.  I don’t know nothing ‘bout no eggs.” 

    His brother was a very poor liar when it came to saving his own butt.  “I know about the orphan puppies, Hoss.  Stretch found them just before I got kicked, didn’t he?  Every couple of days you’ve been stripping Daisy of a little milk, beating it up with a few eggs, and what – a handful of oatmeal or some cornmeal –  cooking it up over a spirit lamp out in the barn and bottle feeding them, haven’t you?  No wonder evening chores were takin’ so long.” 

    “Guess you got me dead to rights, Adam.”  Hoss scrubbed his hands over his face.  “They’re lapping out of a dish now.” He grinned with happy innocence.  “And I’m mixing in some meat scraps.  They’ll be eating regular real soon.  Do I hafta tell Hop Sing?”

    “Underneath all that Cantonese profanity and frequent threats to leave us, he’s got a soft heart, Hoss.  Think what he put up with when we were kids.  Show him the pups; he’ll forgive you, probably help you with them.  By the way, I have a friend that would be mighty proud if you could see your way to givin’ him the liver spotted one.”

    Hoss’s eyes widened in astonishment.  “How on earth can you know about the pups, even their color?  You’ve been right here in this bed the whole time.  You couldn’t have seen me pinching eggs or milkin’ Daisy.  How do you do it, brother?”

    Adam stretched and settled back comfortably.  “A good detective never tells.  I have my methods, brother.  I have my methods.”

    THE END    

Author Feedback --
Gwynne Logan
Site Owner Feedback
Complaints, Opinions, Recommendations?
About this Site
Who do we think we are? 
Why are we doing this?
Our Fan Fiction Criteria
Standards & Practices
  Bonanza Fan Fiction Master Index
Alphabetical by Title
Bonanza Fan Fiction Master Index
Alphabetical by Author
Adam Stories
Joe  Stories
Hoss Stories
Ben Stories
Whole Family Stories
Young Cartwrights
Just for Fun [Comedy Lite]
Post-Timeline Stories
Jamie, Candy, Hop Sing, Griff
Alternate Universe
Death Fics
Fan Fiction Resources
Character Bios & More
Bonanza Fanfic Links
Site Forum
Input & Opinions from Readers, Authors, Site Owners