by Linda B.
As usual, he was dressed completely in
black - hat and boots, to shirt and pants in between. Even his leather
gun-belt and holster were a shiny black, although these were covered in a
light film of dust at the moment.
This morning he wore a thick tan
coat, button up to his neck. The collar was turned up high against his neck
to ward off the cool wind, which whipped maliciously around his ears. His
black hair curled slightly around the edges of the hat while his dark brown
eyes missed nothing of his surroundings. The jaw was strong and there was a
subtle hint of fine lines near the corners of his eyes. These had formed
from years of squinting in the harsh sunlight. When he smiled, which wasnít
often enough for his family, his whole face showed the humor he was capable
A tough, hard life as a boy had molded him into a man who rarely
showed his sensitive side. He had been hurt too many times, physically and
spiritually, and because of this allowed very little of his true self to be
seen. To those who didnít know him he was cold, even aloof and the most
serious of the Cartwright sons. Deadly with a
rifle and lightening fast
on the draw with a pistol, few dared challenge him. Those who did quickly
learnt the hard way not to mess with Adam Cartwright. To his brothers, who
knew the man behind the facade, this was their reliable and stoic big
brother Adam. To his father Ben, he was his right hand man and adored eldest
Ben Cartwright had been a sailor, but with the death of his
young wife Elizabeth soon after the birth of their only child, he had taken
the infant boy and departed Boston. With dreams of a new home for himself
and his son, he set off for California. On the long arduous journey, the
father and his boy suffered times of scarce shelter and
food. Even so, the infant grew quickly in these harsh times and when he
could walk, was matching his fatherís stride on the dusty, and often muddy
The young Adam grew increasingly withdrawn and
serious and it took the love of a fair-haired woman named Inger to provide
him with the warmth only a mother could give a child. In his seventh year
she also gave him a brother called Hoss to share in that love. Then once
again he lost his mother, the only one heíd known. Inger died
in front of
Adam, as she fought beside her husband to protect their two sons in an
Indian attack. As her life ebbed out onto the sod floor, and his eyes ran
blind with tears, Adam promised to protect his little brother for her.
Months later in the north of Nevada, Ben discovered the land he sort for
himself and young boys. Towering ponderosa pines and rugged mountains loomed
above the valleys. The meadows suitable for grazing stock were covered in
thick lush grasses, which waved in the breezes. Sparkling fresh spring-fed
streams provided ample
water to nourish both animal and vegetation. Their
first winter on the land they now called home was harsh and only the
generosity of neighbors saw them survive. On the first day of the spring
thaw, Ben vowed never to put his family though this trial again.
Adam was twelve when Marie, his third mother, entered his life. She was a
vivacious blonde New Orleans woman his father adored and who bore him
another son. Joseph never knew the difficult times his older brother Adam
had experienced and grew up happy and cheerful in the love given by all his
family. Adamís intense
commitment and love for his brothers surprised
Ben, but Marie understood - as only mothers could. She saw a rich
intelligence in her eldest son that needed nurturing, along with the
emotions that he kept hidden away.
Adam was beginning to surface his
feelings, when Marie was killed in a horse riding accident. Although he
wasnít at fault in anyway, Adam blamed himself for her death. In his young
mind, his love for her had killed her. Just as Inger had died because he
dared to love her, so had Marie. From that day on he never again gave his
openly, nor let his emotions rise to the surface Ė not even to his
brothers and father. He rarely smiled, he rarely laughed and he rarely
displayed his anger. Only by the way he held his body and through his
movements could those close to him know what he was feeling. Nothing
betrayed him - even his voice was controlled, as were all
Soon after Marieís death Ben sent Adam to college in Boston, as he had
promised his young wife and son. Barely out of his teens, and still
suffering Marieís loss, Adam quickly became hardened to a life without the
comforting love of a family. Upon graduation as an architect, and with a
sure head for business, he returned home to the Ponderosa.
Now at 29,
Adam Cartwright was more than his fatherís right hand man - he was a partner
in the ranch. With his fatherís minimal assistance, he controlled the
majority of the new businesses he introduced to the ranch. Aside from the
cattle and horses they had started with, the Cartwrights now had substantial
holdings in mining, lumber,
grain milling as well as the share market. As
their interests grew and diversified, Ben and Adam began to draw Hoss and
Joe into the decision making. Although neither Hoss nor Joe understood much
of the financial decisions, they each brought their own expertise to the
running of the Ponderosa. This in turn allowed Ben and Adam more time to
handle the all-important tasks of negotiating contracts and reams of
paperwork. Adam and Ben enjoyed their discussions about new ideas put
forward by Adam. Occasionally they were heated, but they also never forgot
how the Ponderosa was started. No matter how busy they were with contacts
and finer details, they each contributed their share to the general running
of the ranch.
This day was no different for Adam as he searched the
surrounding countryside for wayward stock. Heíd finished tallying the lumber
books the previous night and was now on his way back home after reassuring
himself that the mill was locked securely against the oncoming winter
At first glance he would pass for an outlaw in his dark
clothing, but his lithe body shifted effortlessly with the refined movements
of his cutting horse. No outlaw rode the way Adam did.
With barely a
noticeable touch of his knee, Adam maneuvered his mount closer to a wayward
cow and herded her back to the others he had found an hour earlier. His
experience with rounding up cattle had begun as soon as Ben purchased a few
head of steers that first spring. At the tender age of eight, Adam was
spending long days
in the saddle and in conditions so rough, even a man
triple his age would have found them difficult. The boy never complained.
"Here we go again with that damn lobo steer Sport." Cursed Adam, aloud
to his horse. "Third time itís made off again instead of staying with the
Out of the corner of his eye he had managed to see it strike
off at an angle and head towards a thicket of briar. He glanced quickly at
the other eight steers and saw that they had stopped moving and were in a
bunch, grazing on the thinning grass. If they werenít taken to the lower
pastures for the winter, their chances of survival were minimal. Although
they would lose a few head over the coming season, no Cartwright would allow
the preventable death of stock. Life was too precious for them and that also
included their animals.
"Right, letís get after him. Always has to
be one, just like Little Joe." Adam chuckled to himself at his comparison
between animal and brother. "Canít be one of the herd, gotta do something
different. But then again, thatís what little brothers are for Ė never a
dull moment with him hey fella?" He grinned at the thought of what Joe would
be saying now if heíd heard the comments.
Sport shifted into an easy
gallop, his ears pricked forward and eyes set on the quarry they were
seeking. Adam enjoyed riding this horse when rounding up cattle. Trained by
himself from a colt, Adam knew he could always rely on him and trust the
animalís instincts. Although hard work, it was never a chore as both man and
beast became one. Few words were spoken as Adam used gentle touches to guide
him, which only another expert rider would notice.
Cartwright men respected his horsemanship. Whether cutting cattle or
breaking horses, Adam was undoubtedly the best on the Ponderosa. This fact
was another point of amusement between Adam and his youngest brother Joe,
who was quickly catching up to his brother in the bronco riding. They were
equal terms in judging horseflesh and in another year Joe
would be as good a breaker as Adam was. Of course, Adam kept this opinion
between himself and his father only. It wouldnít be right for Joe to know he
was getting the better of his older, more experienced brother. Adam also
didnít mind sharing the horse-breaking chore one bit and openly encouraged,
coerced and cajoled his younger brother into attempting to outride him. He
knew Joe couldnít resist a challenge, especially when it involved horses.
This friendly rivalry had already proven to Ben that Joe could be trusted
with the task of providing mounts on time to meet contract deadlines. The
last three contacts for saddle stock, which happened to be for the army, had
been completely Joeís responsibility, although Adam had kept a close watch
on the daily progress. The army representative left the Ponderosa with
horseflesh and Ben pleased and satisfied with the results as
Adam spotted the steer and saw that it was warily watching
them. Suddenly it threw its head and bolted.
"Yee haa." Yelled Adam,
as Sport surged forward, right onto the steerís tail. Sportís mane flicked
into Adamís face as they gathered speed. Adam guided him to the left of the
steer as he prepared to turn him around. Angry or frightened or both, Adam
couldnít tell, the steer swung its head at the horse and to Adamís alarm,
managed to catch a horn in the stirrup. The flanks of the two animals
collided together and Adam heard leather ripping, just as a shaft of pain
ran up his leg.
"Ahhh." He cried. The force of the beasts colliding
together nearly threw him out of the saddle and it was only his horsemanship
that saved him from falling. He looked down between the bodies at his foot.
The boot was torn and blood was splashing onto both animals. Before Adam
could shake free his boot, the berserk steer lunged forward.
movement forced the horn further into the stirrup and hard against the foot
once more before it continued forward, slashing Sportís belly.
horse screamed and shied away violently from the source of its terror. They
tore apart, but only because the steer veered to the right at the same time
and broke the stirrup strap. Fortunately for Adam his boot slipped out
because of all the blood, otherwise he would have been wrenched from his
horse still trapped to the steer. As it was the lack of feeling in his right
foot and the bucking of his horse, caused Adam to lose his tenuous balance
and he was thrown high into the air.
He landed heavily on his left
shoulder and felt something give as the force of the impact with the ground
knocked the air out of his lungs in a whoosh. The uncontrollable momentum
kept him rolling for a few more yards until he hit up hard against a
sapling. He struck it with the lower part of his right leg and instantly
lapsed into unconsciousness as the agony of breaking bone engulfed his brain
in a blinding red light.
With his flanks heaving from the exertion,
Sport slowly sidled up to his crumpled rider. He reached forward tentatively
to sniff him and snorted at the smell of fresh blood. Uneasily he moved in
closer and snuffled the black hair. A gust of wind ruffled the hair. He
snorted again and spun off, his fear of blood overcoming the trust in his
Adam slowly blinked away the dense fog
from his head. Dark clouds and small patches of blue sky in his vision told
him he was on the ground. He tried to push himself upright with his hands.
There was no movement in his left arm. He tried again, this time attempting
to use his shoulders. A sharp pain lanced across his brain from the left
side and a cold sweat broke out across his body. Using only his right arm,
he carefully pushed himself into a sitting position and looked at his
shoulder. The movements made him light-headed and he waited until the
passed. As gently as he could, he slipped his fingers under the
coat and felt around the shoulder. From what he could tell it felt as though
his shoulder had dislocated. Just touching the area made him suck in his
breath and stiffen up. Anxiously, he withdrew his hand and looked at it
"At least thatís not bleeding." Adam
thought, as he let himself relax slightly. "Time to check what else is wrong
Adam Cartwright." He took a deep breath then let his eyesight drop down to
his right leg and then onto the foot. Tentatively, he tried to move the
injured leg. He stiffened again and closed his eyes.
"Oh damn it, Iím
in big trouble. How the hell am I gonna get out of this mess and back home
with a broken leg and dislocated shoulder?" Adam rarely swore. Ben did not
tolerate the use of profanities of any sort by his sons. At one time or
another, all the boys had had their mouths washed out with soap for using
them when within
hearing distance of their father. Adam was fully aware
of the predicament he was in and the word seemed very appropriate.
could see broken bone poking out through the fabric of his jeans. A little
blood was oozing over the cloth as well. Down further at his boot, he could
see it was torn from heel to toe and he could see some of his sock and toes.
More blood was coming from there and dripping slowly into a dark puddle on
Adam rubbed his gritty eyes and pinched the bridge of
his nose. Eventually he lifted his head and looked around for his horse.
With his injuries as bad as they were, he had very little chance of getting
home without Sport. Only it was nowhere to be seen. At least he knew he
wasnít killed, or heíd be lying nearby. He took a small comfort in knowing
that the horse was alive. Adam shook his head and pursed his lips. He
couldnít afford to dwell anymore on the missing animal and pushed the
thoughts of how he was going to get home away. That would have to wait for a
"BandagesÖI need some bandagesÖgotta stop the bleeding."
Thought Adam as he ran his hand down his damp face. "My shirt... itíll do."
Said Adam out loud as his eyesight focused on the shirt. Luckily heíd
decided to put the coat on at the last minute, otherwise he could have been
injured further. Thanks to it, he wasnít cut from the fall because the coat
had taken most of the damage as he discovered small rips in the cloth. He
could feel some bruises on his back and ribs as he moved, but nothing
apparently serious. He struggled out of his coat, trying not to move too
fast and jar his shoulder, but as he pulled the sleeve down his left arm, a
groan escaped his tense lips. Even the slightest movement was excruciating.
Once the coat was off he unbutton the shirt and removed that as well. He
shivered as a gust of cold wind hit his body. Now an undershirt would have
been ideal to help him keep warm, but he hated wearing them. He constantly
felt the fabric prickle him and give him a feeling of tightness around his
chest. Only when it snowed did
he bother to put one on, unlike Hoss who
wore them constantly.
With his right hand, Adam reached into his coat
pockets to see whether his jackknife had stayed. His searching fingers found
only a scrap of paper and the tin box in which he kept his matches. He
tucked them back safely, deep into the pocket. If he had to make a fire,
heíd certainly need them. In another pocket a pair of black leather gloves.
He stuffed them back where he found them. Maybe heíd need them later, then
"Damn it to hell." Swore Adam again. He looked around
where he had fallen. There was a glint a few feet away. Shielding his eyes
as best as he could, Adam saw his knife. One of the first lessons in
survival that his father taught him, and also his brothers, was always carry
a knife and matches. Adam had chosen a jackknife rather than a fixed blade.
At the time he thought the fixed blade too clumsy and bulky when out riding,
but right now he would have given away his favorite rifle to have reached
down to his boot and drawn out a sweet bladed knife to cut his shirt with.
"How am I gonna get that?" Groaned Adam in frustration. "Crawl you
idiot, crawl." He replied sarcastically to himself as he pulled the coat
back on and buttoned it up. With only one good hand, Adam knew he wouldnít
be able to rip the shirt. He needed his knife but to get it, he had to crawl
or drag himself over to it. "Whereís a brother when you need one?" He
muttered. "One would sure be handy right now."
"Ahhaaa chooÖAhhaaa chooÖAhhaaa choo"
Sniffed Joe, as he wiped his running nose and sneezed a fourth time.
"I knew you should have stayed home Joseph. Hop Sing was right when he said
you looked as though you were coming down with a cold." Ben eyed his
youngest son sternly.
"Aw Pa. You know Adam insisted on me being with
you on this trip. I agreed to come along, but only because it was the only
way to get him off my back. I didnít know I was going to be getting a cold
from dear brother Hoss is all. Just wait until I see him. Iíll give him a
piece of my mind for him being so generous and sharing."
go blaming either of your brothers now you hear? If youíd had the sense to
wear your shirt the other day when you were out chopping wood, instead of
leaving it on the woodpile, you wouldnít have got a chill. Thatís why youíre
ill, not because of Hoss." Admonished Ben as he defended his two older sons.
"And as for the reason Adam insisted on you accompanying me to Carson City,
well that was to get you used to seeing how we negotiate contacts. I agree
with your brother in that itís time you became interested in this side of
the business. What with the extra ventures weíre expanding into, Adam and I
wonít always be able to look after the contracts. You and Hoss will have to
do some of them. "
"More work for us, thanks to big brother."
Protested Joe, as he blew into his handkerchief. "And it was Hossí turn to
chop the wood."
"Hoss has been sick in bed with his cold for over a
week. You and Adam heard Doctor Martin when he said if Hoss went outdoors
his condition could deteriorate, maybe even develop into pneumonia. Thanks
to your other big brother, you donít seem to be complaining about the extra
men we were able to hire this summer because of the additional income heís
made for all of us have you? So I donít want to hear another word about who
was the blame and Iím sick of hearing you dispute every one of Adamís
decisions. Thatís for me to do if I choose to, not you. Do you understand me
Joseph? Iím sure you argue with him, just to annoy him." Glared Ben. Joe did
look unwell. His eyes were irritated and his nose swollen and red.
"Yes Pa." Grizzled Joe, as he huddled into his coat for more warmth and
stuffed his hands into the pockets. But his father was right in that he did
ague with Adam for the fun of it.
"Weíre not far from Virginia City
now." Stated Ben, as he glanced out the stagecoach window. He recognized the
various landmarks as they flashed by. "Weíll get our horses and in another
hour weíll be home - thatís if the weather doesnít get any worse. You can go
to bed and Iíll make sure Hop Sing brings you some hot soup to help warm you
up, but only after youíve apologized to Adam." Ben smiled, knowing that his
youngest son would enjoy the attention and the chance to stay in bed. Joe
wouldnít enjoy apologizing to his brother, but one day he might finally get
it into his head that what Adam did would benefit all of them. "With the way
the clouds are building up, it looks like an early autumn storm is on its
way. I donít want us to be caught in that and by the looks of it Iíd say we
could be in for some snow. "
"Thanks Pa, Iíd like that." Joe pulled
his coat closer and closed his eyes. He felt miserable. After spending the
previous afternoon listening to Pa and the other men discussing boring
contract details, there was a long delay in the stagecoach leaving this
morning. That was bad enough, but then the coach was bumping all over the
place on the rough road, and making him extremely uncomfortable. His head
and nose were aching and felt like he wanted to cut them off. To finish the
day off as soon as they arrived home, he was going to have to apologize to
Adam for arguing and not listening to him. Could the day possibly get any
worse? He didnít think so.
At the Ponderosa ranch, Hoss was staring
out the front door. He grimaced and shivered as a cold gust of wind blew a
flurry of brown leaves across the porch and between his feet. Reluctantly,
he shut the door slowly.
"You ready to eat Mr Hoss? You see Mr Adam?"
Hop Sing was setting out the table in readiness for the midday meal.
There were two places on the table.
"Dadnapit." Cursed Hoss. "Adam
said heíd be back by now and he ainít. I donít like it. He ainít never late
for lunch, especially when he said heíd be home in time." Hoss paced in
front of the fireplace. The heat of the fire, even though it was banked,
warmed the whole room. "And it looks like a stormís abrewing up in the
Iíd say weíre in fer some bad weather either today or
Hop Sing looked thoughtfully at Hoss, before wagging a
finger at him.
"You sit down and eat Mr Hoss. You no go looking for
Mr Adam. Doctor say you no go outside or you be velly sick. Mr Ben velly
angry with Hop Sing if you go outside. Hop Sing no want that. "
Haw, Haw." Laughed Hoss heartily. He slapped the nervous cook on the
shoulder. As if Hop Sing was afraid of his Pa, that was a joke. It was more
like the other way round when he became angry and started jabbering away at
them in Chinese.
"Well we donít want Pa mad at you now do we Hop
Sing? Hold off for another hour with the food. If he ainít come home by
then, Iíll eat without him. I donít think I could wait any longer than that
because my stomachís rumbling already." Hoss rubbed his empty stomach.
To while away the time, Hoss picked up the book Adam had left lying on
the blue chair he always sat in, his favorite. David Copperfield by Charles
Dickens the cover read.
"Funny name." Mused Hoss, as he began to
flip through the pages. "Wonder who he is?"
Adam gazed absently at the sun, as it
attempted to shine though the small gaps in the thick cloud cover. It was
nearly noon, he judged by the angle of the tiny rays, but as he looked
behind him, his face froze. Billowing dark clouds were sweeping down the
mountains. A storm was stirring and not that far away either he judged. He
turned his attention back to his knife.
Using his uninjured limbs, he
slid himself around until his back was towards the knife. Every movement of
his dragging right leg on the ground caused the mind numbing pain to
increase, even though he thought that should have been impossible.
began to drag himself along the hard ground, until he felt the touch of the
cold metal under his hand. Adam picked up the knife and opened up the blade
to start cutting, when to his dismay, he realized he didnít have his shirt.
Somehow it had fallen off his lap as he moved. Then he realized he had been
too concerned about putting his coat back on and reaching the knife that
heíd left if by the tree. Heíd have to crawl back over the same long stretch
of ground to get to it.
"You certainly arenít thinking clearly are
you? You could have saved yourself an extra trip if only youíd kept the
shirt on you fool." Adam snorted with disgust at his own stupidity.
Again he turned himself around, but first he closed the jackknife and put it
between his teeth. Carefully he held it there until he reached the shirt.
The journey back took longer as the throbbing of his leg became harder to
manage. He could have put the knife in his coat pocket but he didnít want to
chance losing it again. One more effort like that to pull himself along the
ground would finish him. He was exhausted.
At the tree he gratefully lent back
against the trunk and closed his eyes. His head was spinning and he felt
nauseous. It took a few minutes of deep breathing before he could open his
eyes and pick up the shirt. Holding the cloth in his teeth, he managed to
cut jagged strips off for bandages.
When heíd completed the cutting, he
studied his injuries. He wasnít going to be able to set his leg without
help, of which he had none, and nor would he be able to get the boot off. He
stretched out and awkwardly wrapped a bandage as tightly as he could around
the boot. It didnít look good at all. He could see dirt and pieces of debris
stuck to the dried blood. He had no choice but to bandage it the way it was
because there was no water to clean it with.
Once heíd finished
doing that he unbuckled his belt and fashioned a sling. He was about to slip
it on, when he saw the tree base. There was a fork about a foot from the
bottom. He swallowed hard and pinched the bridge of his nose.
could put my arm in there, I might be able to pop it back in place.í Thought
Adam. ĎIím going to need both arms to get out of here. Itís going to hurt,
boy will it hurt, but thereís nothing else I can do.í
"I have to
Adam shuffled around and maneuvered his arm into the fork,
before letting the wrist slide down as tightly as he could get it between
the branches. Next he used a bandage to tie it in place. Adam took a moment
to wipe the sweat from his eyes with the cuff of his coat. Finally he was
ready, if that was at all possible. He locked his jaw, closed his eyes and
jerked his torso back. White-hot pain exploded in his shoulder, so intense
that he immediately passed out.
When he came to, the sensation in his
shoulder had eased considerably. He gave himself a wry smile and untied the
bandage. Tentatively, Adam moved the shoulder and found that it was still
aching, but nowhere near what it had been. It worked, and at the first go
too. He hadnít been looking forward to another attempt at re-setting it.
ĎOne problem fixed, but still more to go.í he thought.
picked up his knife and bandages and stuffed them deep into a pocket. In the
other pocket he checked to make sure the matches were still safe, as well as
the piece of paper.
"Well I can make a fire when I need one." Grinned
Adam happily. Just then a strong gust of wind whipped around him and he
shivered. He looked up and his grin quickly faded. Heavy storm clouds were
straight above him and blotted out all sign of the sun. He must have been
unconscious longer than what he thought.
Anxiously, Adam searched the
area for his horse and whistled. He licked his dry lips and whistled again,
as loud as he could, but there was no response. Not until now did Adam
realize how much he was been relying on finding Sport. Here he was injured,
without a horse, without shelter and foul weather fast approaching.
ĎThis is getting better by the minute. What else can possibly happen?í He
thought as he wearily ran his hands through his hair and stared at the
clouds. "My gun!"
He reached down and found his gun had remained
holstered. His thumb and index finger touched the thin leather thong, which
looped around the hammer. He wasnít sure why that fact gave him a small
sense of comfort. It wasnít as though it would keep him warm and dry when
the storm struck.
Suddenly, Adam heard a noise behind him and
awkwardly twisted around, drawing his gun at the same time. He laughed and
holstered his Colt 45. Sport had heard his whistle and come to him.
"I sure am glad to see you fella. Come here boy." Called Adam, grinning
broadly as he beckoned with his hand. As he appraised the horse to see what
damage the steer had done to him he frowned. The horseís gait wasnít normal.
As Sport came closer, Adam could see by the blood on him Ė he had been hurt
too. Of course it could have been his own blood from the injured foot, but
he didnít think they were going to be that lucky. The horse stopped in front
of him and stiffly Adam stretched out and picked up the dragging reins. He
guided the horse around and took a closer look at the off side of his mount.
The steerís horn had gored a deep slash along the belly. From where he was
sitting, Adam could see the wounded flesh, but couldnít make out the
injuryís depth. Fortunately the bleeding had stopped, but it was obviously
causing a lot of discomfort and needed some urgent
attention, just like
He gave the horse a rub on the muzzle as it lowered its head and
snorted a welcome at him.
"Same to you boy." Said Adam as he ran his
hands down the animal's legs. "Iím sorry I canít help you. I canít even help
myself properly, but lets see if we can get home before this storm arrives."
Satisfied that his horseís injuries were limited to the belly, Adam
rolled over onto his hands and knees and winced at the pressure on his sore
shoulder. He shifted his left foot onto the ground, and using the horseís
leg for support, pulled himself upright. Dizziness buffeted him and he clung
desperately to the saddle, letting his
sweating forehead slump against
the cold leather.
"Must be loss of blood or maybe even shock,
whatever it is Iíve got to fight it Ögotta get a move on, or Iím dead."
It was the first time Adam mentioned that word to himself. He didnít
want to dwell on what might happen if they couldnít get to the ranch before
the storm overtook them. Death was something faced nearly every day, in one
form or another, and he was determined to die the way he wanted, not by
freezing to death.
Adam gritted his teeth. He had enough stamina left
for only one attempt at what he was about to do. Standing as he was, with
the majority of his weight supported by one leg, he felt weak and ready to
collapse. The horse shifted with the added weight.
Sportís ears flicked at the comforting voice.
Adam grasped the saddle
horn with both hands and pulled himself off the ground. The muscles in his
upper torso shook under the strain of his full weight and he felt his left
hand slipping. The toe of his boot found the stirrup and he gratefully
hooked the rest of his boot into it. Then a trembling leg pushed him the
rest of the way up and across the saddle on his stomach.
holding tightly onto the saddle horn as hard as he could, Adam shifted his
body around until he could swing his right leg over and push himself
upright. He had no control over the numb leg and it swung down, striking
hard against Sportís side. The intense agony sent his head swimming between
stars and darkness as he clung to the horse and fought the murkiness that
threatened to engulf him and win. Tenaciously, he hung on and clicked Sport
forward with a flick of the reins.
"Come on Sport, get us home."
The horse broke into a trot as it keenly picked up the pace in the
direction he sensed was the way home. A warm barn with a fresh bucket of
oats to eat beckoned him. Although he was as keen as his horse, each jarring
of hoofs sent spears shooting through Adamís body and he was forced to slow
them down or lose
"Whoa boy, Iím not going to be
able to stand this for very long and weíre not even into a gallop." Adam
declared and reached for the spare bandages in his pocket. With the help of
the saddlebag thongs, he tied both of his legs to the saddle. He unbuckled
his belt, which heíd been using as a sling for his injured shoulder, poked
it through his gun-belt and secured it around the saddlehorn. Only then did
he feel slightly comfortable with the knowledge that if he did lose
consciousness, he wouldnít fall out of the saddle. He hoped that the cloth
was strong enough to
hold him, otherwise it would only be the belt
holding him in place.
"All right fella, lets give it another go."
The furious wind howled around them
in icy cold squalls. It forced its way through the rents in his torn coat
and stung him. The smell of impending snow hung thick in the air. Hugging
the coat around him as best as he could, Adam was acutely aware that the
storm wasnít far away. He had no choice but to keep to their current pace.
To gallop the horse now would be stupid because they were both cold and
tired and stiff from their injuries. Any further jarring could cause their
wounds to bleed again and they needed all the spare stamina they had.
After taking a good look at the landmarks around them, Adam knew that
they were still a long ride from the ranch. He had to find some closer
shelter and as soon as possible. He had to think, but where? ĎAnd it
couldnít be too far from the trail he was taking, just in case someone came
out to look for himí. He laughed cynically at
himself. ĎWho would be out
looking for him in this weather? Better still why? They had nothing to tell
them anything was wrong other than a storm had come early and heíd have
enough sense to find somewhere to hole up until it blew over. Storms had
happened before and heíd survived them before. Only this time no one knew he
was hurt and needed help. Ď
Even if he became concerned about his
brotherís late return, Hoss couldnít look for him because of his illness and
Pa and Little Joe werenít expected back until the next day or evening. The
contract they were discussing could take a day or two to finalize, depending
on how determined each party was to get the best deal.
CabinÖthatís closer Sport and we should be able to make it. I can start a
fire and get warm," said Adam through his chattering teeth.
there wasnít much in the cabin by way of food and there was a good chance
his injuries or loss of blood would kill him, but at least the cold wouldnít
get him if he had a fire going. Usually they left the cabin stocked with a
few blankets, in the event of someone needing them as he would. Also behind
the wooden walls, he could make a better attempt at cleaning himself up. It
would be a difficult night without food or water, but he was happy knowing
he would be out of the full force of the weather, which was bearing
relentlessly down on his back.
Adam turned Sport towards the cabin,
hoping they would both last the distance. They had only a mile or two to go
he guessed, but with the wind howling around them the ride took longer than
Adam anticipated. By the time they arrived, the storm had overtaken them and
they were cold and wet. He could barely see a few yards ahead because heavy
snow was falling and the wind was swirling it around both man and horse.
Although the cold had reduced the feeling in his leg to a bearable
throb, Adam had to fight himself to stay awake.
The horse came to a
stop outside the hut and hung its head. Adam fumbled with the knots heíd
used to tie himself to the saddle. The same cold, which had worked its magic
on his leg, also made his hands and fingers stiff threw the thick gloves. He
used his teeth to hold each finger of the glove so that he could slide them
off. A few seconds were spent flexing each finger. Despite his attempts to
improve the circulation, he was clumsy and dropped both gloves onto the
ground. Adam rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes.
He searched in his pockets, found the knife and drew it out.
His fingers slipped on the wet metal and he grabbed at it quickly. If he
dropped it, heíd never get himself loose. He cut himself free and bent over
to slide off, but found he couldnít. He tried again. A tugging at his waist
reminded him that heíd also used his belt to secure himself to the saddle.
Annoyed at his loss of memory, Adam pushed himself back up and with frozen
fingers, worked the buckle of the belt. It didnít budge.
it." He shouted in frustration and renewed his assault on the belt. It came
free in a sudden rush and he felt himself overbalance. Not fully aware until
now of how weak he was, Adam couldnít hold himself up and tumbled out of the
saddle. The snow cushioned his fall slightly, but when his injured leg
struck the ground he could only scream and clutch his thigh. He arched his
back as tears rolled down his cheeks and mingled with the snow stuck to his
cheeks as wave after wave of agony swept through him. His vision began to
turn the snow black and a long narrow tunnel rushed forward.
"NOOOOOO." Shouted Adam. To lose consciousness now would mean death and he
wasnít ready just yet. Not when he was so close to the cabin and sanctuary
from the elements. He lay in the snow breathing deep and fast in an attempt
to keep the oxygen in his lungs. The heavy snow kept falling on his face,
and the heat from his
body melted it into cold rivers that trickled down
his neck and under his coat, chilling him further.
The snow covered
his clothes in a deep layer by the time he could roll over and push himself
unsteadily to his hands and knees. His head hung down and it was an effort
to lift it. In front of him were two steps, which led up to the porch - two
enormous, pristine white steps. One hand led the other as he began to
shuffle forward. Each movement an effort, each breath rasping in his chest,
each touch on his leg pure hell and this he felt was hell except instead of
fire it was snow. On the landing he collapsed on his back. The tips of his
fingers on his outstretched hand brushed the seasoned wooden door. Above him
the handle appeared miles away as he lay looking up at it.
AdamÖMove or Die. You can do it son, I know you can." Adam could imagine
hearing his fatherís voice talking to him, urging him on. He used the last
ounces of strength to reach for the handle and turn it. Weak with relief, he
crawled in and slammed the door shut. A spare thought for his horse crossed
his mind, but in his
incapacitated state he couldnít save both of them,
maybe not even himself the way he felt. Hopefully Sport would find his way
back home. Although the horse was injured, it could survive in the
conditions outside, better than he could. The gloves he had dropped were
lost in the deepening snow. He was so intent on getting into the cabin that
they never entered his mind.
From his position on the floor where
heíd fallen, Adam lifted his head and gazed around his temporary home. There
wasnít a lot to see. Under the single window was a small cot with a thin
mattress and pillow on it, but no blankets. A narrow shelf was on the next
wall, with a few cups and plates, but nothing resembling tins of food. At
his feet was a bucket and the next wall to his right had the fireplace. At
least there was a good supply of wood stacked nearby and that pleased him
but not the absence of blankets. Two chairs and a small table occupied the
middle of the room.
In the short time it took him to look at his
surroundings, Adamís teeth were chattering. He looked back to the fireplace.
Using both elbows,
but relying mainly on the right one, Adam slid across the wooden floor and
rested his back against the cold side of the fireplace. All movement was
becoming harder and harder. As he sucked in his breath in sort gasps, he
reached into his pocket for the paper and matches. His hand drew out the tin
box and a soggy mess.
"No." Adam dropped the paper and let his head
fall into his hands, not believing the run of bad luck he was experiencing.
Frustrated and angry, which wasnít normal for him, but understandable given
the circumstances, he rubbed his face. "Get a grip on yourself Adam
Cartwright. Thereís no one here to help you so youíve got to find
way to start this fire." He opened the tin box of matches. They appeared to
be dry and would strike Ė he hoped.
Beside him was the wood stack. He
picked a piece from off the top and began pulling off all the small twigs
and strips of bark he could find, using the knife to pry larger ones loose
when he could. As he sorted through the wood, a pile of kindling began to
take shape in the fireplace. When he thought he had enough, Adam drew out a
match with a shaking hand. Using the floor as a striking surface, he struck
it. For some strange reason he was taken by surprise when the match caught
and hastily turned towards the kindling. His hands were shaking so much,
that he dropped it. In disbelief, he watched the tiny flame flicker and die
on the cold floor.
"Idiot! You damn idiot!" Cursed Adam. He couldnít
believe what heíd done. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it. Why
heíd been surprised by the match striking he had no idea. It was dry and did
exactly what it was supposed to do. He drew out another match and struck it,
this time he was more careful. The kindling took
straight away and once
heíd added more pieces to the growing flames, it was crackling away merrily.
Pleased with the results, Adam tried to move his body closer to the fire,
but found he had nothing left to help himself with. He groaned and slipped
sideways onto the floor. The combined after-effects of blood loss and shock,
coupled with the cold had finally caught up with him and he felt himself
fading into unconsciousness.
"No, canít pass out now." His groping
fingers inched for the wood but fell short. Adam called out as his body
refused to obey his mind. "HOSSÖ"
In the warm living room of the
Ponderosa ranch a few miles to the south, Hoss lifted his head from the book
he was attempting to read. Surprised, he shifted his gaze around, certain
heíd heard Adam call his name.
"Adam? Is that you?" He asked
hopefully and turned to look at the door. It was shut firmly against the
increasing wind and remained shut. There was no tall brother, wearing black
to be seen.
Hop Sing shuffled silently, as only he could, into the
dining room with his hands clasped firmly around a large bowl of steaming
chicken and vegetable soup.
"You see Mr Adam? I get hot food ready
for him." He asked as he searched around the room for the eldest Cartwright
son. "I bring more broth for you. More on stove for Mr Adam too."
Hop Sing, itís not Adam." Sighed Hoss as he shook his head. "But I coulda
swore I heard him call me." Hoss gave a quick smile to the cook as he took
the bowl from him. "Thanks Hop Sing, it smells delicious." Food always
cheered him up and he certainly needing cheering right now.
Adam outside. I look Ė you eat." Instructed Hop Sing as he headed towards
his kitchen for his coat. He was startled and stopped mid-step when behind
him the door was flung open and in stumbled two snow-covered shapes, along
with a gush of chilly air.
"That stormís hit pretty darn quick hey
Pa? Glad weíre not out there anymore." Snuffled Joe as he shucked himself
out of his coat and hat. He shook them both free of snow and stamped his
boots. There had been no chance to clean them off outside.
grinned as he recognized his younger brotherís voice and pleased that they
had made it to the safety of their home.
"Yes Joseph, Iím sure glad
weíre home too. Any later and itíd be a different story I think." The owner
of the second voice stripped off his outer clothes and hung them on the wall
hook. Hossí hat and winter coat were on the hook, but not Adamís. He glanced
behind him. Only one neatly curled gunbelt rested on the table behind him
and a brown one at that. Ben
spun around quickly and struck Hop Sing, who had moved closer to Ben to help
him with his coat, with his shoulder. The blow sent the smaller man
stumbling backwards, his arms flung out in an attempt to regain his
"Sorry Hop Sing, didnít see you." Apologized Ben as he
helped to steady him. Once he was certain Hop Sing was fine he looked
comfortably over the manís shoulders and found Hoss standing behind the sofa
with a book in his hands.
"Howís your cold Hoss? You havenít been out
in this weather I hope, not after what Doc Martin told you?" Stated Ben
"Howdy Pa, Little Joe. Didnít expect you until tomorrow,
consideriní the weather, but Iím mighty glad youíre home. Coldís gettiní
better and no I ainít been outside, but I was goiní to until Hop Sing
"Why were you intending to go outside in this weather?"
Queried Ben, as he made his way to his desk.
"Pa sweet-talked them good and we got the
earlier stage back." Interrupted Joe. "You shoulda seen him. Had them eating
out of his hand he did and got the price we wanted too." He blew his nose
hard into his bandana and coughed.
"Whereís Adam? Iíd like to go over
this contract with him." Ben lifted the papers from his inside vest and
began to spread them out. He smiled fondly at the three lithographs as he
shifted them to one side.
Hoss followed his father closely on his
heels and waited for him to sit down before answering. He bit his lip and
shuffled from one foot to the other while his eyes remained firmly fixed on
the floor. Ben studied his giant of a son from under his eyebrows. Hoss only
did that when he had something unpleasant to say and knew his father
wouldnít like hearing it. He waited patiently for his son to speak.
It wouldnít take long Ė never as long as Adam took. Wondered Ben. And where
was Adam? He should have heard their voices and finished doing whatever he
was doing and come down stairs. That is unless he was in the barn or the
bunkhouse because his coat wasnít hanging up. Thinking of the barn reminded
Ben that Cochise and
Buck needed a rub down after the cold ride. Ben
thought further. No, Adamís horse wasnít in the barn, so where was he?
He was about to repeat his question when Hoss spoke.
to check the mill was locked up tight for the cominí winter Pa. Then he was
goiní ta look for strays on the way home. He said heíd be back home in time
for lunch. PaÖhe ainít here yet and dadburnit, Iím worried sick."
Ben ran his hand through his gray hair and looked up at Hoss. His
cheerfulness about the contract now replaced with concern and written all
over his face for both sons to see. He knew Adam could look after himself,
but the storm blowing
outside was going to be bad by the looks of what
theyíd seen so far.
"Did you or
Little Joe happen ta call my name when you was outside by any chance?"
"No, why do you ask?"
"I thought someone called my name, just
before you came inside. The voice sounded desperate. And Pa, this may sound
silly but it sounded like Adamís."
Ben, Joe and Hoss looked at each
other. All of them knew it wasnít possible for Hoss to have heard Adam if
heíd called out, but maybeÖ? Ever since Ingerís death, there had been a very
close bond between the two older sons. They understood each other perfectly.
It was Hoss who stood between Adam and Joe when they were ready to come to
blows and it was Hoss who made Adam see that Joe needed to work in his own
way and in his own time. And it was Hoss who often calmed Little Joe and
showed him that what Adam said made sense. Although Hoss and Joe had made
their own unique relationship while Adam had been away in college, nothing
could match the connection between Adam and Hoss. If one was in trouble or
needed help, the other instinctively knew and responded. This was one of
those times Hoss could feel Adam needed help Ė his help.
"Iíll take a
good look around outside." Said Ben. "You two boys stay inside where itís
"No Pa, let me go." Joe held onto his fatherís arm. "I need
Ben considered Joeís request.
"Okay Joseph, get
yourself some extra warm clothes on before you go outside. Make certain you
check everywhere. Go all around the house and do the same for the barn. He
may be back and outside somewhere. Be quick, but thorough and donít get
"Yes Pa, and thanks. Iíll go get my other coat, that one I just
took off is damp from the ride home." Joe pointed towards his green jacket
on the clothes hook before bounding up the stairs two and even three at a
time. He was happy to be doing something to set things right with his older
Ben watched him leave and heard the bedroom door slam
against the wall. He smiled. Usually heíd have yelled by now and told Joe to
be quiet but it didnít seem the right thing to do just now. Joeís enthusiasm
was exactly what Ben needed to bolster his own self with. He could hear the
wind wailing outside. ĎIf Adam was caught in thisÖí He let the thought go.
No, Adam would have found somewhere safe and warm to ride the storm out.
"Hoss, did Adam take any warm clothes with him? Did he have any food or
bedroll for an overnight stay?"
"No Pa, he expected to be back by
lunchtime, maybe a bit later if he found some strays, but not much later
than that. He had no reason to think heíd been needing them things. The sky
was clear as a bell when he left. "
"Hmmm, whereíd he say he was
going after he checked the mill?" Ben asked uneasily as he put his arm
across Hossí broad shoulders. Together they strode over to the dining table
and sat down. Ben couldnít help himself and looked at the empty chair at the
end of the table where his eldest son sat for meals. He felt a wave of
anxiety crash onto him. ĎNo food, no blankets, no proper clothing and out in
a storm as well. Heíd need shelter. Where would he go? Where?í
"Nowhere Pa, he said cominí back from the mill was all. He was gonna see it
he could find any steers we missed last week when we was moviní them to the
Hoss had no sooner finished speaking, when Little Joe
came running down the stairs with a bundle of coats in his arms. As his feet
touched the center landing, a wave of dizziness overcame him and he
stumbled. The falling coats tangled his feet and he fell headfirst down the
remaining stairs. There was no time for him to regain his balance or reach
for the banister. He landed in a sickening crumpled heap at the bottom of
the stairs. The coats sprawled under him, but not thick enough to cushion
"Joe!" Yelled Hoss and Ben together.
crashed over as he sprang to his feet. The loud noise echoed in the silent
room as Ben stepped over it and rushed to Joeís side.
They both knelt
beside the still form, one large man either side. "Heís breathiní Pa." Said
Hoss as he felt Joeís chest rising and falling in shallow breaths. "Guess
heís out cold. He hit real hard."
"Damn fool." Cried Ben as his hands
ran over the body, feeling for broken bones. "Trust your little brother to
do something like this, just when I need him."
"Aw Pa, you know he
didnít mean ta do it. He was in a hurry as usual."
Mortified at what
he had uttered, Ben glanced at Hoss. "Yes I know Hoss, I didnít mean to say
that. With Joe unconscious for who knows how long and you with your cold,
Iíll have to look for Adam by myself. I was counting on Joe coming along
too. The two of us wouldíve been better to spread out for searching." Ben
shook his head. "I knew I shouldíve kept the men on the ranch instead of
letting them stay in town this winter. Is Hank in the bunkhouse?"
"No. He went into town this morning to see Miss Abigail."
Pa." Decided Hoss, as they carried Joe to the sofa and carefully laid him
out. Hoss pushed a soft pillow under his little brotherís curly haired head.
"No!" Replied Ben adamantly. "Son, I know you want to help, but Doctor
Martin said no outside for you for a week. Youíll get pneumonia the way that
stormís blowing and Iím certainly not letting you go after your brother in
this weather, no matter how much I need you. One son getting over being
sick, the other knocked out and
coming down with a cold and the last one
who knows where is enough to concern a father. I find myself worrying about
all three of my sons, when it shouldíve only been you."
"But nothing." Ben replied sternly, then added in a softer
tone as he patted the strong shoulder. "Hoss, I know youíre worried about
Adam and so am I, but I need you to tend to Little Joe. He may be
unconscious for hours, or maybe only for a short while, but when he wakes up
heíll want to come out into the bad weather too and I wonít have that. While
he was upstairs, I changed my mind and intended to let him go outside the
house, but not with me searching for Adam. Now Iím going to take that look
around outside. Please do as I say and stay inside out of the weather."
As he watched his father fastened his coat and pull his hat down over
his eyes, Hoss slowly nodded. He knew that Ben was right, but that didnít
make him fell any better. Adam needed him and while they were away Hop Sing
could take care of Little Joe. He felt his fatherís concern for all of them.
Hoss struggled with his feelings towards Joe. He felt guilty for even
thinking that Little Joe had deliberately fallen down the stairs. That
thought was nearly as silly as thinking Joe had deliberately caught a cold
to get out of work. He knew his little brother
better than that. The
sound of the door opening broke him out of his thoughts and he looked up.
Ben had the door partly open. Even so the wind swirled into the room,
blowing small snowdrifts with it. He glanced quickly at Hoss, gave him a
half smile, then hauled the door shut behind him.
Outside the wind threatened to tear
his coat away. Ben pulled it tighter against his body. His other hand was
clamped down on his hat to prevent it from being blown off as he ran to the
barn. The doors were banging open and shut with the wind and he could hear
nervous whinnies coming from inside. As he prepared to close them he noticed
only old Betsy and Chubb, Hossí horses were in their stalls. Cochise and
Buck were together near the side post. Neither had lost the rugs, which had
been hastily thrown over their backs. They still had to be unsaddled and put
away for the evening. He gave every horse a quick pat as he looked into each
stall. Then he
headed back outside and slid the bar down securely on the
Ben circled the house and barn, peering closely under the
bushes in case Adam was sheltering under them, unable to make it inside. He
trudged around to the front of the house, head bent down against the wind
and heard a sound, similar to a horse nicker. He looked sideways to the
barn, expecting the doors to have blown
open, but they hadnít. There came
a second nicker, only this time it was in front of him. Squinting hard
against the wind, he saw a shadow loom out of the swirling snow. He didnít
like what he saw. It was his sonís horse and to his horror the saddle was
"Sport." Yelled Ben as he ran towards the hobbling horse. He
forced himself to slow his pace, very aware that if he ran to the frightened
animal it could bolt. He grabbed the reins of the exhausted horse and pulled
it towards the barn. The horse didnít even shy when Ben, in his haste,
accidentally dropped the crossbar and it landed a foot in front of its nose.
Inside the barn, Ben ran his hands over the horse. Its soft skin
quivered under Benís gentle touch. There was a small amount of blood on the
saddleís left-hand flap but no damage to the horse, but as he walked around
to the offside, he found the stirrup missing. Blood was splattered on
Sportís flank and on his belly was a long, deep gash. It hadnít dried, but
then that didnít mean anything. With fresh snow blowing as hard as it was it
may have kept the blood wet or it meant that the blood was fresh, there was
no way to tell which was correct. Tied to the saddle itself, he found strips
of what was once Adamís black shirt.
Ben thought he could work out
what had happened or at least part of it as he picked up one of the ties and
inspected it. The edge was smooth, as though it had been cut. Fear struck
Ben a crushing blow deep within his soul and he staggered against the horse.
"ADAM." He cried in anguish. His son was hurt bad enough that he needed
to tie himself to the saddle.
But where was he? He couldnít have fallen
off. The ends of the shirt had been cut clean, not torn so Adam had made a
conscious decision to get off the horse, but surely he would have known that
his horse would make it home? Unless Adam couldnít hold on any longer. That
means he had to have found shelter but where? He couldnít think. He wanted
to get started after Adam but with heavy snow falling tracking would be
Ben quickly stripped the tack off the horse,
mindful of the belly as he did. In the horseís stall beside the full water
bucket, Ben threw a bucket of oats. Satisfied that the animal was reasonably
comfortable, he slammed the barn doors behind him and slipped the crossbar
into place. He would tend to the horse properly later on; there wasnít time
Hossí head sprung up from where he was tending Little Joe as Ben
crashed open the door.
"Heís hurt Hoss. Sport arrived in the yard as
I returned to the front of the house. I donít know how badly but thereís
blood all over one side of his horse and the stirrup is missing. I canít
tell if any of the blood belongs to Adam or his horse." Ben blurted out.
"Thereís an injury on its belly which looks a lot like a gore and you did
say Adam was going to look for strays didnít you?" He didnít wait for an
answer. "Heís used his shirt to tie himself to the saddle, but the ends have
been cut. He wouldnít have done that without a reason and I think that means
heís hurt in some way. Looks like heís cut himself off the horse or maybe he
couldnít undo the knots, not sure about that either."
"Does that mean
heís holed up somewhere out of the storm Pa?" Hoss tore his eyes from his
fatherís tortured face and settled them back onto Joe. He tucked the edge of
Joeís bandage into the top and smiled as Joe began to stir and moaned
Ben was thinking hard. ĎSo many unanswered questions. Adam
had been hurt rounding up cattle. How badly they didnít know but it was on
the way back from the mill. He knew for certain that theyíd cleared all the
stock from the area surrounding the mill, that meant he was on the way
home.í He walked to the fireplace, which was now roaring, and held out his
hands to get some warmth back into them. ĎJust being outside that short of
time had chilled him. If he was going after Adam, heíd need thicker clothes
than what he had onÖso would Adam.í
"He could have doubled back to
the mill." Offered Hoss.
"Maybe, but I donít think so. Without any
blankets heíll need a fire and Iím sure Adam wouldnít light one in the mill,
no matter how cold he was. Itís too important to him. No, heíd find
"If not the mill, then where could he be?" Hoss
squeezed out a wet cloth and placed it on Joeís forehead.
Ryanís cabin?" Muttered Joe weakly, as he heard the tail end of the
conversation. He blinked and rubbed his eyes.
Ben hurried to Joeís
side and sat on the edge of the table. Joe attempted to sit up but moaned
and lay back, his hands pressed hard against his head.
are you?" Asked Ben anxiously as he lent forward.
"I'm okay Pa, just
a beauty of a headache is all." Replied Joe, as he tried to push himself up.
His face turned a lighter shade and he gulped. "I think Iím gonna be sick."
"Lie back little brother, you must have a concussion to wanna do that."
"Yes, I agree Hoss. Stay still son, youíre not going anywhere."
"Hop Sing, get a pan for Joe please, and quickly."
"But Pa, you and Adam need meÖneed all of us to find
"Joseph, I know how much you want to help Adam, but you canít Ė
not in your condition. You could fall off your horse behind me and Iíd have
you lost in the snow too. No son, stay here with Hoss."
one large hand on Joeís shoulder and pinned him gently to the sofa.
"País right Joe. Neither of us will be of any use to Pa, or Adam. Weíll just
slow him down."
Joe flicked his eyes up to Benís face, then dropped
them back to focus on his hands.
"Pa, Iím sorry. I shouldnít have run
down the stairs so fast."
"Youíre right Joseph." Ben shook his head.
"Iíve told you a thousand times not to do it, but whatís done is done." He
smoothed Joeís head.
"Ya know maybe Joeís right," Hoss said, looking
as Ben. "About Ryanís cabin I mean. Itís sorta on the way back from the
"I took a look around there a few weeks ago. Plenty of
firewood, but not much else." Added Joe. "I was gonna go back and stock some
supplies in case they were needed over the winter. Guess I shouldíve done it
Ben stared at the floor, his mind churning. The hut was
nearly three-quarters of the way between the mill and the ranch. Adam could
have made it that far. The longer Ben thought the more he prayed that Adam
had indeed reached the cabin because he decided to investigate there first.
Ben looked at his two sons. They both desperately wanted to help, but knew
he had only a slim chance of finding Adam and staying alive in the storm
"Boys, Iíll head straight for Ryanís cabin as Joe suggested.
If heís there, and I pray that he is. Iíll need food and blankets for the
both of us. Medicines, bandages and warm clothes will be handy as well.
Heíll probably need a change of clothing if heís been caught in the snow."
He held Hoss and Little Joe straight in their eyes. "I doubt weíll make it
back before nightfall. Weíll wait until the storm blows over and then try in
the morning if we can. Thatís if Adam is there and is capable of riding. If
he canít ride, Iíll come back for a wagon."
"Pa, Iíll fetch Adamís
clothes and the bandages."
"Thanks Hoss." Said Ben as he strode to
the sideboard and pulled out a bundle of blankets from the bottom cupboard.
"Yes Mr Ben?" Answered the cook from his kitchen. He
walked out; his hands covered in flour from mixing the contents of a large
bowl he held.
"Hop Sing, can you pack some supplies, enough for Adam
and me? Better make it enough for a week. I donít know how long itíll be
before we can get back."
"Yes Mr Ben." Hop Sing scurried back into
the kitchen, chattering in Chinese to himself.
"Pa, take Cooch. Heís
saddled up and all ready to go. Heíll help you bring Adam home safely."
"JoeÖthank you." Ben raised his eyebrows in surprise. Joe allowed no one
to ride Cochise, other than himself. To offer Adam the horse was a heartfelt
gesture by him. Ben lent down and hugged Joe. Quietly he whispered. "Iíll
find him and bring them both home Joe."
As his fatherís concerned
face hovered over him, Joe grinned. "I know you will Pa."
the blankets on the back of the sofa while he followed Hoss upstairs to
gather his own warm clothes from his bedroom. He paused outside Adamís room
before making for his own. His mind already set into thinking of when he
found Adam, not if. He would not let any of his sons down, nor would he let
himself dwell on not finding Adam. That thought was too painful to even
consider. Once he had doubled his clothes, Ben returned to the living room.
Hoss thumped down the stairs, his arms full of extra clothes for Adam
and a large bag of medicinals.
"Adamís slicker is here and yours too
Pa. Theyíll help keep the snow off ya and Adamís gear."
idea Hoss, I didnít think of that." Thanked Ben and he squeezed Hossí
Ben collected the precious bundles together and rolled them
into Adamís slicker. He was tying the last knot when Hop Sing came to him
with the supplies bag.
"Should keep Mr Adam full and Mr Ben, you
"Thank you Hop Sing and keep a careful watch on these two for
me will you? Make sure they eat supper and donít go outside. Youíll need to
see to Sportís injury and bed him down. Take extra care of him, he deserves
Hop Sing nodded.
"Weíll see that Sport gets plenty of
"What about supper for you Pa?" Asked Hoss.
"Iím not hungry. When I find Adam Iíll eat something with him."
"Please find him Pa." Joe said, tears brimming in his eyes.
"I will JoeÖHoss, I will. Thereís one important task I need you both to
do for me while Iím gone."
"Yes Pa?" Asked Hoss.
your brotherís at the cabin."
Hoss nodded, then dropped his head to
look at Little Joe. His hand reached out for Joeís arm as he saw a tear roll
down Joeís cheek. Embarrassed, Joe glanced up at Hoss then brushed the back
of his hand across his face and turned away.
Ben hugged his two
boys, then threw on his slicker over the top of the two warm coats he was
all ready wearing. With his hand grasping the door lock he turned and took a
long, hard look back at his sons. Then he opened the door and stepped out
into the storm.
ĎThere wasnít one part of me that
isnít unbelievably cold.í Thought Adam as he rolled his head over and looked
at the fire. It was out. He had no idea how long heíd been unconscious for,
but apparently long enough. Outside he could hear the storm raging around
the cabin. Drafts of wind were blowing across him from somewhere and
swirling eddies of ash from the fireplace. He knew now why the fire had gone
out, but there was no way in his present condition that he could find where
the drafts were coming from, let alone stop them. When he had the next one
lit all he could do was keep the supply of wood up to the flames and hope it
As he lay on the floor he could feel the coldness
seeping further into his body. He felt the coat, it was wet. No wonder he
was cold. The snow must have melted while he was unconscious and soaked
them. He closed his eyes and threw his arm across his forehead. He had two
choices and neither appealed to him in the slightest.
The first one was
to stay as he was and let his body freeze. Or he could take his wet pants
and coat off, but there was nothing to put on. Either way he was going to be
cold, very cold. There was also a very strong possibility he was going to
catch a cold or at the worst pneumonia, whichever choice he made.
While he thought of what was going to happen to himself, a small branch of
hope crossed his mind. If Sport made it to the safety of the ranch, maybe,
just maybe, Hoss found him and worked out that his brother needed help. Adam
shook his head as he remembered that Hoss wasnít allowed outdoors. In fact,
he didnít want Hoss
looking for him, otherwise heíd have a relapse and
develop pneumonia and Adam didnít want that. He had heard the last
conversation between the Doctor and his father while they were discussing
Hossí condition and treatment.
Adam wanted his younger brother to
come for him, but knew deep down that if Hoss did, he wouldnít be able to
live with himself if Hoss died because of him. For the moment, it was one
brother or the other to die from the cold.
"I got myself into this
mess, Iíll get myself out of it. Iím not going down, without a good fight."
Adam declared aloud, trying to reassure himself. "Lets see if I can get this
damn fire going again."
Adam reached in and used another precious
match to restart the fire. The flame flickered into life, barely catching
onto the kindling. Once they were well alight he let out the breath he was
holding. To see the yellow and red flames devouring the wood pleased him.
Heíd fixed one problem, three more to go. The second was to tend to his
foot, the third his leg and the fourth his wet clothes. He wasnít sure he
could manage any one of them, let alone all three.
Using his elbows,
Adam lifted himself up and settled his back against the wall beside the
fire. He chewed on his lip as he looked down at his leg, then wished he
hadnít looked. The bandage on his foot was filthy and red with blood. Above
that he saw more dirt and color around the broken bone of his leg. He tried
to move it into a comfortable position, but it was stiff. Whether from the
injury or cold he wasnít sure.
Adam squeezed his eyes shut and rested
his head against the wall. The fire was beginning to shed warmth as he
thought of how to clean his wounds. He searched around for something to hold
water. His eyes came to rest on the bucket beside the door.
of good that will do you. You donít have any water and you wonít survive
going outside for some snow to melt now will you? And thereís no way you
could drag it back inside, even if you did managed to fill it up."
Adam licked his lips at the thought of water. He was thirsty as well as
hungry, but there was nothing he could do about either. He shook his head
and reluctantly pulled out the jackknife. Maybe if he cut the dirty bandage
and boot away, he would have a better idea of the damage. Painstakingly
slowly, he slid his leg up towards his thigh. The jutting ends of the bone
grated together and he stopped until his head cleared. The slightest
movements were impossible to bare.
When he could touch the boot, Adam
opened the blade and slid it down inside the edge. The cutting was difficult
and slow. Not because the blade was dull, but because his choice of always
requesting the best leather for his boots had come back to haunt him.
Finally, after a long struggle, the knife sliced through the last section
and he was able to peel it apart. The skin was red and swollen with a long
gash from the heel to toe. There was a good chance of some bones also being
broken. The bleeding had stopped, which was a blessing of some sorts he felt
and because of all the dirt, he considered it a waste of time to re-bandage
the foot. If he left it uncovered he could see what was happening to it in
the way of bleeding or infection. Adam was hoping that the swelling was due
to bruising, and not infection.
His next chore was to slit his jeans
to get a better look of his broken leg. As he inserted the blade into the
material his sweating hand slipped. The knife dug in deeper than he wanted
and struck bone.
"Aaagh." Adam cried, as he grimaced in agony and
passed out. His head hit the floor with a loud thud, the sickening sound
echoed in the small cabin.
Ben wrapped the woolen scarf up against
his chin and pulled his hat down over his eyes as far as possible but still
the snow found its way inside his shirt. The storm raged in torrents around
him as flying snow threatened to blind him of the trail, but he kept on
going. The stakes were too high to turn around and quit.
the halfway point to the cabin a long ways back and knew it wasnít much
further. He glanced behind him to make sure the supplies were still securely
roped to Cochise. They were.
Nudging Buck on with his heels, Ben
could barely find the trail marks leading to the hut. Every now and then he
thought he could smell a hint of smoke on the wind. The encouraging scent
kept up his hopes that Adam had made it to the cabin and the fire was his.
Who else could it be, but Adam? They didnít have any other men out in
this area, so it could only be Adam.
The ride was being made more
difficult by Benís thoughts of what if.
ĎWhat if heís not in the
cabin? What if heís still at the mill? What if heís lying somewhere in the
snow? What if Iíve passed him back on the trail? What if heís hurt so bad
that he needs a Doctor?í
These thoughts kept threading their way into
his mind, threatening to engulf him. Only the fact that he knew his eldest
son so well, kept him pushing the pace of the horses.
of the increasing darkness, he saw the outline of the building and a faint
flickering amongst the shadows. Heíd made it and by the looks of the inside
light, so had Adam. As Ben urged the horses on he prayed.
it be Adam, please God."
In the lee of the cabin, Ben jumped from
his horse and tied both sets of reins tightly to the hitching rail. Then he
ran around the side and up the stairs, scattering snow as he slid across the
damp wooden planks. He threw the door open.
Adam was sure he heard the muffled sound
of horses. He lifted his head on inch or two, but no further the effort was
too much. His entire body was engulfed by bouts of shivers, which he
couldnít stop, even though the fire was well alight. He knew he should pull
off his wet clothes and even if he was naked the fire should keep him partly
warm, but he had no strength left. The cold and loss of blood was causing
him to slip in and out of consciousness. He knew he shouldnít fall asleep,
but the fight was getting harder all the time. His leg and foot were no
longer throbbing and in the back of his mind he knew it was a bad sign.
More noise came from outside, but closer. Suddenly loud footsteps
pounded on the porch and then the door was flung open. A large snow-covered
shape burst into the hut and stopped abruptly. Clods of snow dropped down
and splattered across the floor. Adam hoped he was a friend and not a foe,
because all he could do was stare. He had no capacity to draw his gun to
Ben was stunned. Heíd expected Adam to be hurt to
some degree, but what he saw lying in front of him was something he wasnít
prepared for. His beloved eldest son was lying on the cold floor, visibly
shivering. His dark eyes were staring at him from a horribly drawn white
face. Some of the buttons on his dirty ripped coat were undone and Ben saw
he was shirtless. One leg was pulled up towards his body and he could see it
was covered in dirt and blood. A part of the leg between knee and ankle was
at a strange angle. Was it possible heíd broken it?
Ben in anguish, as one word voiced everything he felt.
Ben slammed the door shut and rushed to Adamís side.
He dropped to his knees, wrapped his arms around Adam and hugged him tight.
Tears of relief slipped down his face and onto Adamís ruffled black hair.
For a moment he was oblivious to Adamís groans.
"Son, Iím so glad I
found you. Your brothers and I were praying that Iíd find you here." A
pleased Ben said as he shook his head.
"Pa." Adam spoke into his
fatherís strong chest. They held each other affectionately for a few
minutes. Each man relieved that they had found each other and enjoying the
comfort of the hug, something that they hadnít done for a long time.
Reluctantly Ben released his son and looked him in the face.
smiled. "Glad to see you Pa. You were the last person I was expecting to be
looking for me. Maybe Hoss, but not you." He frowned. "I thought youíd be at
least another day in Carson City."
"Joe and I finished our business
earlier than planned, so we came home. Lucky we did eh?" Ben returned the
smile, grateful that he could. He shifted beside Adam. He didnít quite know
where to start. "What happened to you?"
Half-heartedly Adam laughed.
"Sort of put my foot in the wrong place you might say."
the smile and nodded his head. At least his son hadnít lost his dry sense of
"I was turning a steer back to the herd, when he decided he
didnít want to be with them. Gave us both a nudge and somehow got his horn
stuck in my stirrup. Sport got frightened, which I donít blame him for, and
threw me. My left shoulder was dislocated, but I seem to have put that back
in because itís not hurting much now. Think I busted the leg when I hit a
tree or maybe when I hit the ground, not exactly sure. Things became a bit
hazy at that point." Adam looked guiltily at Ben. "Did Sport make it home? I
had no choice but to leave him outside. I couldnít tie him up out the back
away from the wind and snow."
"Yes heís safe in the barn back home.
Trust you to think of your horse first son. Heís a bit sore and sorry, but I
donít think as much as you. How about we get you into some dry clothes and
get this fire going a bit harder? Then weíll see how much damage youíve done
Adam ran his fingers through his hair, then down his
"PaÖitís broken, clean through. " His voice very
tight. Adam knew the injury was serious, but he didnít know whether his
father was going to be able to do much to help him.
alright son." Comforted Ben as he stacked more wood on the fire. He was glad
that Adam couldnít see his face as heíd taken a good look at both the leg
and foot. ĎDamnation.í He thought. ĎThis is bad.í
By the time he had
finished stoking the fire, his expression was back under rigid control.
"There thatís better. Should warm you up in no time. Iíll get the
supplies from Cochise and make sure Iíve tied the both him and Buck securely
for the night. Canít have them taking off on us now can we? Once Iíve done
that weíll get you into those warm clothes I mentioned and then work on your
"Cochise? Joeís here too Pa? Why is he still outside?" Adam
twisted around expectantly towards the door. He could do with a strong dose
of his little brotherís fresh face and endless enthusiasm.
Joeís not here. He gave me Cochise to bring you home."
"He did? Why
didnít he come with you?" Asked Adam. Ben winced at the disappointment in
"Joe had a fall at home." Ben continued. "He was up in
his room getting another coat and in his usual hurry to do everything like a
bull at a gate, slipped and decided to finish the steps off headfirst.
Knocked himself out cold he did."
"Is he alright?"
"Hoss and I
think maybe a concussion, but nothing broken except his pride. So thatís why
itís just me son."
"He gave you Cochise for me to ride? In this
weather when he didnít have to?" Wondered Adam, at the unselfish gesture
from his little brother. Joe was particular about who rode his horse and
that was himself, no one else. As for letting him out in the weather when he
didnít have toÖ Adamís eyes glinted in the flickering light as he looked up
at his father. "When we get back, remind me to thank him, Pa." He said
"I will Adam. " Assured Ben as he stood up and headed
towards the door. "I wonít be long."
"Not going anywhere Pa." Adam
shot back dryly. "But I could do with a drink of water."
Adam groaned as he rolled onto his left
"Iím sorry son, didnít mean to hurt you."
his teeth. "Keeping going Pa, just watch that shoulderÖits tender."
"As soon as Iíve slid your slicker under you, I can get these wet things
off. That way youíll have some protection from the cold coming up through
the floor while I get you changed."
"I tried not to cry out Pa, but I
couldnít help it." Ben patted Adamís good shoulder. He sounded exactly like
a young boy.
"I know, but its okay."
Benís hands touched
Adamís chest and he could feel how cold his son was. The strong body was
wracked by spasms caused by his low body temperature. He had to hurry and
get him dry and into the set of clothes he had warming on a chair beside the
"There. Now that youíve got that under you, we can get started.
You just lie back and let me take care of you. I know what Iím doing."
Adam lay on his back as instructed and chuckled, then winced as it
turned into a cough. "You should know, youíve been taking care of me for 29
years and nearly all of that by yourself. "
"Youíd better remember
that my boy. Youíre not too big that I canít whup your backside, if Iíve a
mind you need it." Retorted Ben sternly, then winked.
"Sure Pa, as if
I need a whupping these days." Grinned Adam.
"I should give you one
for getting yourself caught out unprepared for bad weather at this time of
year. Looks to me as though you need some more lessons about leaving home at
least with some food in your saddlebags."
Supporting Adam partly upright with one arm, he unfastened the rest of the
coat buttons and shifted it off the broad shoulders. Despite himself,
shivers ran up Benís spine whenever his hands came into contact with Adamís
cold flesh. The left shoulder sported a vivid purple-black bruise and as the
coat fell further down, he could see numerous smaller bruises and some cuts
over his sonís back and chest. No doubt these were from where heíd struck
the ground after being thrown. While he had Adam sitting up, Ben spread a
thick blanket over the slicker. He let Adamís back recline against him while
he helped him first into the warm shirt and then a coat. Once they were
buttoned up, he lowered Adam back onto the floor and with a second blanket,
covered his upper body. With that done, Ben took a moment to sit back on his
heels and stroke his chin. The next part was going to be more difficult. How
to get his pants off without hurting Adam any further?
fatherís hesitation as embarrassment, Adam began to open his fly himself.
With his Benís help he tried to push the pants down. The jeans were
saturated and clung to Adamís legs. They wouldnít move but every time he
shifted Adam cried out in distress.
"Stop Pa." Gasped Adam as he
squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. "Canít do it this way." Beads of
sweat were forming on Adamís forehead and trickling down his face.
"Hmmm, I have to agree with you there. Iíll use your
knife and have you out of them in no time at all." Said Ben, indicating the
knife Adam had left beside the woodpile.
Adam passed it over and
concentrated on forcing his body to relax. Maybe that would help, but he
didnít think so. Nothing had been easy so far, so why should taking his
pants off be any easier. He snorted at the humor.
Ben tried to avoid
moving Adamís leg as much as he could, but it was impossible. Out of the
corner of his eye he could see Adam biting his lip in vain to prevent
himself from making a sound. Adamís cries struck deep into Benís heart, but
he didnít stop until the pants were cut free and replaced with a warm
blanket. Adamís legs were blue with cold. By the time they were finished,
both men were left heaving for breath from the ordeal.
were closed and there was no doubt he was getting weaker by the minute. Loss
of blood and the severe cold were winning and Ben knew he couldnít stay
conscious for much longer. Ben stood up and stretched his cramped body while
on the floor Adam wished he could do the same.
"That was the easy
part Pa, and we both know it." Said Adam opening his dark eyes to meet his
fatherís. The shivering had changed into a strong twitch and Ben watched
Adamís forehead pucker into a frown and his jaw lock as each motion hit him.
Ben hesitated before replying. "Yes, I know. Iíll fill the bucket with
snow and get it melted. Iíll make us some hot coffee and use the remainder
on you." Adam nodded. His eyelids drooped as he started to drift off to
sleep. His leg was a relentless ache, but he felt warmer. The heat of the
fire and blankets were starting to have an effect.
"Donít go to sleep
on me yet." Called Ben as he dressed himself and picked up the bucket.
"No Pa." Yawned Adam as he shook his head in a useless attempt to stay
It took Ben only a few minutes to fill the bucket and return
indoors. He stomped his boots and himself free of snow. The snow heíd shaken
off earlier had formed small dark puddles, which glinted in the firelight.
Once the coffeepot was on to boil and the surplus snow melting in the bucket
beside the fire, he reached over and gently shook Adam awake.
you like some hot food before we start son? It wonít take me long to prepare
something." Ben asked, as he peered into the calico bag Hop Sing had given
"No, lets get this over and done with." Adam replied abruptly,
not wanting to put the last task off any longer. He was tired and wanted to
sleep. "We need to find out how much damage there is and what you can do
about fixing it Pa." Adam focused on his fatherís face as he spoke.
Ben knitted his eyebrows and pursed his lips, clearly revealing his concern.
Adam knew Ben wasnít confident in his ability to repair the damage and
apprehensive about causing more harm and suffering to his already injured
Adam spoke gently, keenly aware of what his father was thinking.
"Pa." Ben met Adamís steady gaze. The ever-present torment from the injuries
was clouding his sonís usually sparkling eyes. Ben didnít want to see
anymore suffering in them, but knew his wish was impossible. "I need you to
do this Pa. You know, as well as I do, what will happen if you donít. That
storm might blow over by morning or we could be here for days. Either way,
you have to take care of my leg."
"I donít want us to be here for
days Adam. " Stated Ben pensively as he glanced up at the window. The rim of
the windowpane was encrusted with snow. "Youíre aware that both the cuts are
full of dirt?" Adam nodded. "I should be able to set the break, but the
chance of infection is very highÖ" His voice trailed off. "I need to get you
to a Doctor as soon as possible."
Adam placed his hand on his
fatherís warm arm and squeezed it reassuringly. "I know I need a Doctor, but
we donít have one do we? Youíre all I have Pa, and youíll do whatever is
necessary. I believe in you Pa, I always have and I always will."
"AdamÖ" Ben hesitated, a loss for words to help his son.
"Do it Pa. I
donít think I can take this for much longer and its getting worse. Maybe
once youíd cleaned me up, it wonít be so bad."
Sweat dripped down
Adamís face and into his hairline. He gave his father another squeeze on the
arm and a brief smile, then lay back on the blankets. He fixed his eyes on a
mark on the ceiling and clenched his hands into tight fists beside him.
"Youíd better take a drink of this then Adam." Suggested Ben, as he held
out a bottle of whiskey that heíd withdrawn from the bundle in front of him.
"Hoss thought I should bring it along - just in case you needed it."
"Heís rightÖI do."
"You might want this too." Said Ben hesitantly
as he held out a strip of cloth to Adam.
Adam grimaced, then bit down
hard on the wad.
"There weíre finished." Spoke Ben out
aloud, but Adam wasnít listening. As Ben was cleaning the grime from his
foot, Adam had fortunately passed out. He had managed to drink half the
bottle of whiskey while Ben set out what he thought he needed in the way of
bandages and medicines. Adam never saw the heartache his father endured as
he cleaned and dressed his sonís injuries.
Originally, Ben had
started on the foot but when Adam passed out, he switch over to the more
serious injury. Both cuts were an angry red and swollen. After checking the
water temperature with his fingers to make sure it wouldnít scald, Ben
poured it over both wounds.
Even though he was unconscious, Adam
gave a chilling yell and flung his arms about when Ben pulled on the leg to
set it. Once Ben was satisfied Adam wouldnít move again, he amply powdered
the cuts with sulfur. Then, with clean bandages and two pieces of branch as
splints, bound the leg as firmly as he could.
The foot was easier to
attend to and after repeating the procedure it too was neatly bandaged.
There appeared to be no broken bones in the foot, only the skin was torn. As
far as Ben could tell he felt heíd removed every speck of grime. Possibly
the treatment would prevent any infection, but only time would tell. Heíd
have to keep checking them regularly to see that they didnít fester.
While Adam remained unconscious, Ben strapped the shoulder and fashioned
a sling out of a larger bandage. He slipped the sling over Adamís head and
arranged the arm comfortably across Adamís chest. Satisfied he could do
nothing else for the moment, he gingerly lifted him off the floor and
staggered over to the bed. Even though Adamís body looked lean in his black
clothes, he was muscular and heavy. Once Adam was settled on the bed, Ben
carefully held his sonís limp head and shifted the pillow beneath it.
Satisfied with the arrangement, he gently set Adamís head down.
Despite Benís gentle administrations, Adam groaned as the right leg was
stretched out. Ben tucked him in tightly with an extra couple of blankets,
and then gathered another one around his own shoulders. With a hot cup of
coffee held in both hands, he sat in the chair in front of the fire and
rested his elbows on his thighs. Ben stared deep into the fire as he
prepared himself for the long night ahead. It had been a difficult chore and
he was mentally and physically drained.
"Iíll need to get you home as
soon as possible Adam, so Doc Martin can examine you." Unable to relax, Ben
walked silently across the floor to the window and peered outside. Heavy
snowflakes swirled around and the wind blew relentlessly, but nowhere near
as intensely as it had been when heíd first arrived at the cabin. Ben turned
away and returned to Adamís side. He had no idea of the passage of time as
he had gazed at his sonís ghostly face. Adamís long, delicate black
eyelashes spread out on his cheek in the shape of a Spanish maidenís fan.
How many times had he himself woken up to the same lovely image on
Elizabethís face? Nowhere near as long as it should have been. It was only
in these unguarded moments that Ben could reflect on what might have been,
had Elizabeth lived. She would have shared his life and watched their son
grown into the fine man he was, but time their time together had been so
short. Her loss felt the hardest by Adam.
"Too late to start home and
too cold for you my son." Whispered Ben. "May as well get as comfortable as
I can. As soon as you wake up, Iíll get some food into you so you can built
up your strength."
Adam appeared to be resting peacefully; his
breathing was shallow, but regular. In the flickering firelight his handsome
face shone pale and relaxed. A single lock of black hair had managed to
escape forward onto Adamís forehead. Gently, so as not to wake Adam, Ben
smoothed it back into place and felt the forehead with the palm of his hand.
It was warm and looked flushed. As he gazed down at his sonís face, Ben was
acutely aware of how close heíd come to losing him. He might still do that,
if the storm didnít abate or infection set in, but in the meantime he was
grateful for the luck in choosing this place first. It could so easily have
been the wrong decision.
Joeís hunch about where Adam would wait out
the storm had been correct and it saved Adamís life. The thought never
crossed his mind about how he himself would have weathered the storm if Adam
hadnít been here. He thoughts were only for Adam as he poured himself
another cup of coffee and turned the chair so that he faced Adam. He hugged
the blanket around him and slumped down. Even though he was close to the
fire he felt so cold. The shock of what had happened to his son and of how
heíd treated his injuries struck him in the gut with the force of a fist. He
lowered his face into his hands. The tears that flowed werenít for himself,
because he would have traveled that same road for any one of his sons if
they needed his help, but for all his sons. For Hoss and Joe for not being
able to help search for their brother, even when they desperately wanted to.
For them also for the unknown they now endured until their father and
brother arrived home. For Adam, for what he had suffered since injuring
himself and of not knowing whether he would survive or not.
Gradually Ben brought himself under control. The intense love he held for
his sons was overwhelming, but he wouldnít have it any other way. He wiped
his face with the back of his sleeve and looked up. Adam was awake, the dark
eyes watching him. Ben smiled faintly.
"Donít see that often do you?"
Ben asked. It was disquieting knowing that Adam saw him crying. He wanted to
appear as outwardly strong as possible for Adamís sake.
the smile. "Sure has been a long time, but Pa, you always taught us not to
hide our feelings from one another in this family. Iím not very good at
expressing them as openly as Joe and Hoss, but its good to know you care.
Iím sorry you had to find me like this. I donít like to think of what would
have happened if you hadnít found me."
"Adam, Iíll never stop caring
about you or loving you. Youíre my son- my firstborn and youíll always be
that Ė that can never change. The way I feel also goes for your brothers
It was Adamís turn to feel uncomfortable. He always encountered
the same uneasiness when any genuine sentiment was shown to him. He had
experienced little in the past, which he never blamed his father for, and
didnít know how to handle it when it was shown to him as it was now. Fate
had taken his three mothers from him and fate had forced his father to
shoulder the sole responsibility of keeping his family alive. The same fate
had forced their father to hide his feelings deep within him, if only to
shield his son from the harsh realities of life. By the time Adam had learnt
the difference it was too late, he couldnít change. Marie had helped Ben to
be more expressive but for Adam there had been no one around long enough to
give and show him the open display of emotions a young boy needed to see
when he was growing up.
"Hey Pa, Iím hungry. What have you got to
eat?" Adam asked changing the subject.
Sadly Ben knew exactly what
Adam was doing. Heíd seen the same thing happen so many times before and
always felt that he was to blame for his sonís difficulties in dealing with
his emotions or outward display of them. His darling Marie had been making
progress in bringing Adam out from behind the strong walls heíd built around
himself. Her death had sent Adam spiraling back even further into such dark
despair that he rarely, if ever, let himself show any emotion at all. As a
child, heíd grown up with a childís idea that if he loved a person, then
they would die. It was logical to that same childís mind that if he didnít
admit he loved them, then they wouldnít die.
"Nothingís ready right
now, but it wonít take me long to rustle up something that Hop Sing gave
us." Replied Ben as he tipped out the cold dregs of his own drink and filled
it for Adam. "In the meantime drink this coffee, itís hot and will warm you
up." Said Ben, holding out a cup to Adam.
Adam wasnít hungry, in fact
he was feeling nauseous, but he could see Ben was falling into the same
pattern of blaming himself for his sonís difficult childhood. Maybe if they
shared a meal together, theyíd both feel better. He lifted his head and
looked down but couldnít see anything because the blanket covered his legs.
The pain was radiating up the right side of his body and into his head. He
tried not to think about it.
"Whatís happening outside Pa?" Adam
propped himself up on one elbow to hold the cup. He tried to peer over his
shoulder at the window, but couldnít manage it without spilling the hot
liquid over himself.
"Looks like itís easing up a touch, but itís too
dark to really tell now. Must be after midnight Iíd say at a guess.
Hopefully itíll be clearer in the morning and if it is, then we head home.
Once weíve eaten, Iíll go take a look at the horses to see how theyíre
"If youíve anymore of that whiskey left, Iíd like some in
"Leg hurting Adam?"
"Some." Said Adam
His father wasnít fooled by the reply at all. Ben knew
Adam was in a lot of pain and as usual he wouldnít openly admit to it. Old
childhood habits died hard and Adam learnt at a very young age how to hold
back the tears and hurt he felt. He and his father had very little to share
in the travels west other than themselves and to burden his father with
complaints was something Adam tried to avoid from those days on.
"When I come back from the horses and before you go to sleep, Iíll take
another look at your leg." Replied Ben, as he
tipped a generous helping
of whiskey into Adamís cup.
"Okay Pa, whatever you say."
Even though sleep didnít arrive until the
early hours of the morning, Ben woke at first light. It was then that he
found the storm had eased off considerably. He jumped as Adam moaned and
shifted on the bed. Quickly Ben ran to his side. He could see Adam was
feverish without even having to touch his forehead. Hesitantly he lifted the
blanket off the injured leg and found, as he anticipated, both bandages were
bloody. Heíd have to change them and clean the wounds before they could
leave this morning. Adam wasnít going to enjoy this experience again and
neither was he.
After heíd tended to Adam, Ben prepared a hasty meal.
Even the appetizing smell of biscuits and fatback couldnít tempt Adamís
"Adam, youíve got to eat. You need to keep up your
"What strength? I donít have any." Mumbled Adam, as he lay
on the bed with his eyes closed and an arm thrown across his forehead. The
smell from the food was making him nauseous, but he wasnít completely sure
it was the food or the way his body felt.
"Son, thatís because youíve
had nothing to eat since yesterday morning. Youíve got to eat something."
Adam had no appetite, but to appease his father, he attempted to eat a
biscuit. As he tried to swallow, he gagged and coughed the biscuit crumbs
from his dry mouth.
"I know I should, but I canít do it Pa. Let me
have the whiskey."
The pain in Adamís leg was agonizing and he felt
uncomfortably hot. His head ached and what appeared to be every part of his
body. He ran a hand down his face and looked at it before wiping the sweat
on the blanket. Ben was faced with no
choice but to give him the whiskey.
It was the only way they would get him to sit his horse for the ride home.
While Adam drank, Ben at quickly. He gathered up their meager
possessions and readied the horses for the journey home. A light snow was
falling. His boots crunched loudly through the ice-covered snow and his
foggy breath floated in the air. Snow, up to his mid-thigh already covered
the ground and it was even deeper where drifts had formed. It would slow
them down but he couldnít delay moving Adam any longer.
A lot of
effort and agony on Adamís part was spent before he was eventually mounted
on Cochise. Ben used the few remaining strips of Adamís black shirt to tie
him to the saddle and covered him as best as he could with the extra
blankets and coats.
"Have you any gloves?"
Adam shook his
head and looked down. "I dropped them somewhere around here yesterday when I
was using my knife. No chance of finding them now in all this snow."
"Hmmm. Iíll wrap your hands in some blanket strips or you can keep them in
your pockets to prevent frostbite."
"You take Cochiseís reins and
Iíll keep my hands under cover."
Ben nodded and pulled himself up
onto Buck. He tied the provisions bag behind him.
A few minutes into
the ride, Ben heard Adam call out to him.
around. Adam was swaying dangerously in the saddle. The blanket that had
been wrapped around his shoulders was dragging on the ground, caught only by
a corner which Adam was sitting on. Ben threw himself off Buck and caught
Adam as he pitched forward.
"Canít stay on PaÖdonít think Iím gonna
make itÖcanít stay awake." Slurred Adam. Even in his intoxicated state, Adam
had enough presence to know he wasnít going to stay conscious for much
longer. The loss of blood, no food and the alcohol had doubled their effect
on his body.
"Yes you can Adam. Iíll move you onto Buck and then
hold you until we get home. Cochise wonít be able to support both of us,
otherwise Iíd climb up behind you. Is it your leg thatís making you want to
pass out? We donít have any more
"Funny enough, no. I
canít feel a thing from my leg and in fact I canít feel anything at all. Not
cold either. I thinkÖI think I drank too much whiskey, thatís the problem,
on an empty stomach." Adam hiccuped loudly in Benís ear.
likely all the blood youíve lost is the problem, but I shouldíve made you go
easy on that whiskey. Now Iíll have to make sure you donít get frostbite on
top of everything else thatís happened. That blanket is wet from dragging on
the ground. Remind me not to let you go riding off by yourself again." A
faint grin crossed his face.
"Okay." Slurred Adam. He couldnít manage
a better reply even though he knew his father was joking with him. All he
wanted to do was get home, lie down in his own soft warm bed and sleep.
The three men at the ranch shared an
hourís sleep between them. They were all worried and tired. Each had retired
to their room last night, but finding themselves unable to sleep had
wandered back downstairs. Little Joe and Hoss passed the night playing
checkers and chess while Hop Sing had kept himself busy in between the
kitchen and keeping a never-ending supply of coffee and food up to the
Hoss glanced over Joeís head at the grandfather clock
standing beside the front door. It was about to chime midday.
Sing bustled out of the kitchen. His hands full with 2 platters full of ham,
eggs, toast and biscuits.
"You eat breakfast now Mr Hoss?" He asked
as he set the biggest platter in front of Hossí plate.
so." Said Hoss unwillingly. "Weíve held breakfast back long enough now
waitiní for them. You cominí Joe?" Asked Hoss as he sat down at the dining
table and tucked a napkin into the top of his shirt. He licked his lips
appreciatively and he picked up his fork.
"Yes, give me a minute to
take another look outside."
Ever since dawn then at every slight
noise, Joe stormed outside, hoping it was his father and brother. But
knowing their father, they knew heíd wait until light before moving out.
ĎThatís if heíd found Adam.í Mused Hoss as he loaded his plate up. His
stomach growled loudly in anticipation.
Hoss watched his brother
open the door for what seemed the hundredth time. He was as anxious as Joe
was and both felt guilty for not going with their father. To sit in the
comfort of their warm home and wait while his big brother and father were
somewhere in the snowstorm was difficult for him. Illness or not, he should
have gone looking for Adam.
"HOSS! Hoss, heís found Adam. Theyíre
homeÖtheyíre home!" Shouted Little Joe as he threw the door open and
Hoss sprang to his feet and rushed outside, close
on Joeís heels, even though he was a large man. He slid to a halt when he
saw them. He hadnít known what to expect, but Ben was holding Adam in front
of him on Buck. Adam jerked his head up at sound of Joeís voice. He gave his
brothers a wide grin, then his head wobbled to one side.
Yelled Ben. "Get back inside youíll catch your death with cold, you too
"Aww Pa, let me help you with Adam first. You look as
tuckered out as Adam."
"No. Inside and that goes for both of you. I
can manage by myself. I put him up there and I can get him down." Ben slid
off Buck. He quickly reached up to prevent Adam from falling. Adam began to
sing loudly. Despite his minimal knowledge of music, Hoss could tell he was
off key and slurring the words.
"Early one morning, jush as the shun
I heard a maiden shinging in the valleyÖ."
"Dadburnit, darn cold." Mumbled Hoss as he turned around. He raised his
eyebrows questioningly at Adam before a final glare from Ben sent him
hurrying towards the house. Joe stared at Cochise. Why wasnít Adam wasnít on
his horse. Then he saw the strips of black tied on the saddle, just like
Sportís saddle had. He opened his mouth to speak to Ben.
Joseph, now get back inside, we wonít be long."
Adam slumped forward
and his head fell down one side of the horseís neck. Ben maneuvered his
shoulders under Adamís right arm and as gently has he could took Adamís
"Easy now son. Just lean on me and Iíll do the rest. And you
can stop singing now, weíre home.
Ben smelt the
alcohol on Adamís breath as his sonís head rested limply on his shoulder. He
admitted later that he should have let Hoss and Little Joe help fetch Adam
inside, but at the time he was more concerned about keeping his two younger
sons out of danger then how much they needed to help Adam. It had completely
slipped his mind that they too would have spent a long night worrying about
Adam and, to a smaller extent, himself. For the moment he was content to
mutter under his breath.
"Dang fool sons of mine. One gets himself
hurt and nearly frozen and the other two want to join him."
Dutifully, Hoss and Little Joe waited inside. Ben staggered under the heavy
weight towards the door and tried to keep Adamís foot from dragging on the
ground. He looked up and saw them peering out of the half open door.
Comically, Little Joeís head was the lowest, then straight above him was
Hossí larger head. He couldnít see anything else of their torso. They held
the door open wide as he stepped inside.
"Now you can help me."
Gasped Ben. Little Joe and Hoss rushed forward and lifted an arm of Adamís
around their shoulders. While they held him, Ben took Adamís outer clothing
off. The snow slid from the coat and dropped to the floor in mushy
splotches. Absently Ben thought Hop Sing would be mad when he saw the mess
they were making. He didnít think heíd be too concerned.
careful taking him up to his room, and make sure you watch out for his right
leg. Itís broken and his foot is cut too."
"Sure Pa. Okay Pa." They
Ben shook the snow from his hat and coat and hung them up.
The roaring fire filled the room with welcome warmth. It felt good to be
back home and with all of his family.
"Hop Sing." Yelled Ben.
"Yes Missa Ben? You find Missa Adam?"
"Yes we certainly did, but heís
hurt. Iíll need some fresh dressings to put on his wounds. Will you get me
some clean bandages and hot water and bring them to his room when theyíre
"Yes Sir Miss Cartwright. You and Missa Adam hungry, need hot
"Iíll want something soon, but after Iíd tended to Adam. He
should eat, but I donít think heíll want to for some time after Iíve changed
his dressings. Can you see if thereís any laudanum in the medicine chest?
Heís going to need it when that whiskey wears off. Oh and send one of the
hands in to fetch Doc Martin too. Tell him itís urgent. Adamís broken his
leg, a compound fracture and a foot thatís been gored. Iím sure thereís
going to be some infection in one or maybe both. Heís already running a
"No one here except Hop Sing, Missa Hoss and Missa Little
Joe. Men all in Virginia City I go for doctor after I bring bandages for
Hop Sing scurried to his kitchen, muttering in
Cantonese. Ben rubbed his tired eyes. Heíd completely forgotten about
sending all the men into town to stay.
Ben smiled as he heard Adamís
voice raise in song and drift down the stairs towards him. It was that same
song heíd been singing all day.
"Early one morning, jush as the shun
"Pa?" Asked Hoss when Ben entered Adamís room. He and
Little Joe were carefully preparing Adam for bed.
"Yes Hoss? Now
watch that leg you hear."
"Adamís drunk ainít he?"
"How come Pa?" Joe chimed in as he slipped Adamís nightshirt over the
bandaged shoulder. He winced at Adamís
bruised and cut body.
ashed him to let me drink the lasht of the whiskey for breakfasht. Canít
feel nothiní." Replied Adam from the bed. He was blinking owlishly at them
and grinning. Joe would have laughed if the situation had been funny.
Hoss and Joe glanced at each other before they bent their heads to the
task of removing Adamís pants.
"I didnít think to take along anything
stronger for pain relief. He had to drink half the bottle last night before
I could tend to his leg without him feeling it. Then this morning it was the
only way to re-dress the wounds and get him up onto your horse Joseph."
"But he wasnít on Cooch when you rode in. Why not?" Joeís expression was
so forlorn that Ben nearly laughed, but just managed to hold back by
covering his mouth with his hand. The reason why Adam hadnít ridden Cochise
important to his youngest son, especially since heíd offered the
horse so generously for Adam to use.
"Adam was riding Cochise when we
set off Joe, but weíd only been traveling for a short distance before he
nearly fell off. We used the last of his shirt to tie him on, but he kept on
slipping in and out of consciousness. In the end it was safer for him to
ride up front of me on Buck, so I could hold him. And it was the only way to
keep the blankets wrapped around him too as I didnít want him to get
frostbite." Ben ruffled Joeís hair fondly. "Iím sure heíll want to thank you
for letting him ride Cochise when heís sober, but right now I want to change
those dressings and when he arrives, get the Doctor to have a good look at
"OhÖOkay Pa." Joe appeared happy with Benís reasoning.
"Joe. Can you go see whatís delaying Hop Sing? Even though Adamís drunk, I
may need to get either the laudanum, if we have any, or more whiskey into
him before I start.
"No more whishkey Pa, I promish not to shay a
word." Adam held a finger to his lips. "Shhhhsssss." And grinned.
"Early one morningÖ."
Ben groaned. "Not that song again Adam."
"Why not Pa? I thought you liked it."
"I do, or rather I did, but
youíve been singing it for hours."
Adam frowned for a moment, then
smirked at his family.
"Oh donít you remember shweet Betshy from
Pike, who crosshed the big mountains with her lover IkeÖ"
his voice to be heard over Adamís loud singing.
"What in tarnation
happened to him Pa? You ainít told us where ya found him neither." Both he
and Joe were gapping at the bandages on Adamís leg. Patches of bright red
blood stained the white cloth.
"Hurry up you two, so I can get that
fixed." Ben slapped Joeís shoulder hard and startled him.
right Joe. He was at Ryanís cabin and in a sorry state. Seems one of the
steers he found somehow got its horn hooked into the stirrup, as we thought.
When he fell off, Adam dislocated his shoulder and broke the leg. The horn
tore up his foot badly too, but as near as I can tell, its not broken.
Anyway, he managed to put his shoulder back in, then got on Sport. He made
it to the cabin, but was cold, wet and exhausted. I found him there, just
before the storm really started to blow. I fixed his leg as best I could and
did the same this morning before we started back here. Now I want to take a
look at them again, partly because of the bleeding, but mainly to see if
theyíve become infected. I hope not."
Hop Singís arms were full as he
hurried into the room. He sat the bandages on the end of the bed and held
the towels and pot of hot water out to Ben.
"Where you need this
Missa Cartwright?" He asked Ben the question but was looking directly at
"Right here please." Indicated Ben as he slid a chair closer to
Adamís bed. Hop Sing sat the water on the seat and folded the towels over
its back. He drew a small brown bottle out of his pocket and held it towards
"I go for Doctor now and here is medicine you ask for. Hot soup
waiting in kitchen when you ready."
Carefully Ben took the vial.
"Thank you Hop Sing." He put the glass bottle on the side-table, which Adam
kept beside his bed.
"All right boys, you can help me with the
dressings. Hoss, you take the bandages off and Joe you get the new ones
ready. Iíll lay some of these towels under Adam, then flush out the cuts
with the hot water."
Despite the alcohol, Adam cried out and grabbed
the blankets under him as soon as Hoss touched his leg. His breath hissed
between his clenched teeth and his face twisted in agony. Horrified heíd
hurt his older brother, Hoss stepped back from the bed. His large hands were
clenched, as Adamís were only instead of physical pain it was anguish.
"I know how you feel Hoss and it wonít get easier. What weíve got to do
hurts us as much as him, but weíve got to keep the leg and foot as clean as
possible. You know we canít let the slightest chance of infection start."
He turned back to Adam and gently lifted his head.
this. Itíll help ease the pain." Ben offered the laudanum to him.
"Give me plenty Pa, I donít want to feel nothiní." Adam voice was thick and
his pain filled eyes met Benís. Adam conveyed so much trust and hurt in his
eyes - they were an open book to his soul. Ben didnít want to let him down
even though he felt his stomach lurch and fought the urge to look away.
Ben let him drink as much as he thought appropriate, then set his head
back onto the pillow. Sweat drenched Adamís face and pillow.
waited a few minutes for the drug to take effect, and then Ben gently shook
"AdamÖAdam?" He called. There was no answer.
can start again Hoss."
Hoss sucked on his bottom lip and glanced
between father and brother pensively.
Ben nodded and gave him a small
"Go on, none of us can hurt him anymore now." Ben said softly.
It was late afternoon when Doctor Martin
finally arrived. Ben opened the door and ushered him inside.
Ben and howís my patient? I couldnít get here any earlier, because I was
delivering Margie Johnsonís baby. Hop Sing told me Adamís broken his leg?"
Questioned the Doctor as they made their way up the stairs to Adamís room.
"Hello Paul, glad to see you. Yes, I think you call it a compound
fracture and cut his foot up badly too. He also dislocated his shoulder, but
managed to put that back in by himself."
"You Cartwrights never do
things to yourselves in halves do you? I know that when you need my
services, it must be bad." A frown crossed Benís brow, but what the Doctor
said was true.
Ben held the door to Adamís room open. "It is Paul, it
certainly is." Replied Ben pensively.
Paul took in the room in one
swift glance. Hoss was seated on the chair beside Adam. He dipped a cloth
into a large bowl of water and tenderly wiped the perspiration from Adamís
face. Joe was leaning against the far wall with his arms crossed in front of
him. A book, no doubt one of Adamís, clasped tightly in his hand. Joeís
knuckles were starkly white against the rich brown leather cover.
After motioning Hoss out of the chair, the Doctor sat down and opened his
"You and Little Joe may as well leave. Your father will
help me should I need any."
Hoss and Joe were reluctant to leave and
it took a nod from Ben before they left, pulling the door shut behind them.
"When did this happen and how have you been treating him?" Paul asked,
as he undid the top buttons of Adamís nightshirt and placed the stethoscope
on his chest. Ben didnít have to be told that Adamís shallow breathing and
flushed face werenít good.
Adamís eyes flickered open at the touch of
the cold instrument. He slowly rolled his head towards Paul, blinked twice
before closing them again. His father would have the answers to any
questions the Doctor had. He was too tired to talk.
morning, on his way back from our mill. He managed to set his shoulder, the
left one, after he dislocated it. Iíve put a bandage on it and he rode home
with it in a sling. I cleaned the foot with hot water as best I could and
then dusted sulfur all over it. The bone in his leg was poking through the
skin. I set it and cleaned it as best I could and used the sulfur on that as
"Good so far Ben, what about pain relief?" Asked Paul as he
glanced at the laudanum bottle then back as he lifted the blanket off Adamís
legs. "This will hurt Adam, but Iíll be as quick as I possibly can."
"All I had was whiskey but since weíve been home, Iíve
given him the laudanum when heís needed it, but what we have is nearly
As Paul untied the bandage on his foot, Adam flinched.
"Let me assess the harm youíve done to yourself Adam and then Iíll give you
something stronger once Iíve completed my examination." Smiled Paul.
"Thanks Doc, Iíd appreciate that."
"Any broken ribs or internal
Adam was well aware that by talking to him, the Doctor
was trying to keep his attention off what he was doing, but it wasnít
"Aaaahh." Adam cried out and half-sat up in bed. He turned
away so that he faced the wall. This way his father couldnít see the tears
in his eyes. "No, just my leg. The shoulder isnít bad."
"Iíll have to
rely on your opinion about internal damage Adam. Youíre going to need the
morphine so that I can complete my examination. "
"Are you sure about
that Paul? Giving Adam morphine I mean? Iím never one to doubt your opinion
usually but heís already had a mixture of whiskey and laudanum."
"Ben, a compound fracture is one of the worst fractures you can have. Not
only is the bone broken, in this case the fibula or lower leg bone, but
because its pierced the skin, that too is traumatized. Adamís hurting
already and Iíve barely started. Iím going to have to use my fingers and
instruments to feel along the fracture to confirm that youíve set the bone
properly and thatís really going to hurt him. Iím prepared to rely on his
judgement about where else heís injured and give him relief from the pain.
Heís very good at controlling himself, but he must be half out of his mind."
"Iím not doubting you Paul, but you just said heís probably Ďhalf out of
his mindí. Can you rely on him to give you a correct diagnosis of himself in
"Pa, stop talking about me as though I was a kid."
Muttered Adam. He waited until his father looked him squarely in the face
before he continued in a quiet voice. "Iím perfectly coherent and besides I
would have told you by now if anywhere else was injured." Adam turned to
Paul and nodded. "Go ahead Paul."
Ben continued to stare at Adam for
a long time before he nodded his agreement.
"Thanks Pa. I know you
mean well, but let Paul take over now. You might want to leave now
yourself." Suggested Adam.
"Do you want me to go Adam?"
replying, Adam glanced over to Paul who shrugged. "Your decision Adam."
"Then its yes."
"If you insist... Paul, call me immediately when
youíre done or if you need me."
"I will Ben, now go and let me take
care of your son."
It was dark when Paul finished the examination. He
was rolling the sleeves of his shirt down as he walked down the stairs and
towards the three waiting men. They all stood up as he reached them.
"You did excellent work in cleaning Adamís injuries. It has
probably saved his life, as I canít see any sign of infection. If there was
going to be any it would have started by now. Keep up the same treatment and
everything should heal nicely. "
"But why is he feverish Doctor?"
"Heís been through a lot Hoss. Itís his bodyís way of
dealing with whatís happened and to make matters worse I think heís
developing a cold."
"I wouldnít doubt that. When I found him he was
saturated and freezing cold. His skin was blue and he was shivering
uncontrollably. How long will he take to heal? Are you sure about there
being no infection?"
"No Ben, Iíll be honest Iím not sure. But
providing you keep up that good work infection shouldnít set in. His leg is
going to take four to five months before its as good as new, but his foot,
which isnít broken by the way, will be less. "
Ben gratefully shook
Paulís hand. "Thatís great news. How is he now?"
"Asleep and resting
comfortably. I gave him another small shot of morphine and he should sleep
for a while longer, possibly until morning unless the pain wakes him up
earlier. Plenty of rest and hot, nourishing food is what he needs now. I
would suggest that someone stays with him at all times, at least for the
next 24 to 48 hours."
"We can do that Pa, Doctor." Replied Hoss as he
lifted an eyebrow towards Little Joe. Joe quickly agreed.
of food, we were just about to sit down for supper, youíre welcome to join
us." Said Ben, indicating the set table. To everyoneís amusement Hoss rushed
to his place and sat down.
Paul checked the time on the grandfather
clock once he was seated.
"Too late for me to head back to Virginia
City, so Iíll take you up on your offer of supper and maybe a bed for the
night? At least I wonít have to travel far to examine Adam in the morning."
"Paul, Iím forgetting my manners. Of course, youíre welcome to stay the
night and Iíll put your horse and buggy away once Iíve eaten."
they were all seated and the food set before them, Ben bowed his head.
Little Joe, Hoss and Paul did the same.
"Lord, we thank you for the
bountiful food on our table. We also thank you for taking Adam into your
care and looking after him during the storm. We also thank you for giving us
another day to be together as a family and we thank you for providing a
Doctor for the people of this valley. Amen. "
Joe tapped lightly on Adamís door. When
he didnít hear a response he pushed it open with his spare hand. Balanced in
the other was a tray with breakfast for his brother.
Adam?" He called softly.
"I am now buddy." Replied Adam as he smiled
and tried to sit up. The drugs Paul gave him earlier were starting to wear
off and any movement of his leg was hurting again. "Is that food youíve
"Yup, sure is. Hop Singís made you your favorite
breakfast. Eggs, over easy and crispy bacon and fresh biscuits. Think you
can manage all that?"
"You just bring it here and watch me. Iím sure
I could out eat Hoss this morning."
Joe sat the tray on the chair and
grasped Adamís arm to help him into a sitting position. He pushed an extra
pillow behind Adamís back before settling the tray on his lap.
Adam was comfortable and eating, Joe sat on the chair to watch him.
As he ate the first bite, Adam could see Joe moving restlessly.
with it Joe."
"If you fidget any more on that chair,
youíll break it and thatís my favorite chair. What is you wanted to ask me?"
"Nothing doesnít make you squirm like a worm on a hook
Joe." Grinned Adam.
Joe took a few minutes before he answered. He
jumped to his feet and began to pace around the room.
"Iím sorry I
argued with you a couple of days ago."
"What?" This wasnít the
conversation Adam had been expecting. Heíd just remembered heíd ridden
Cochise part of the way home yesterday and that the horse and his fatherís
had been out all night in the storm. Joe was upset about the horse he
assumed. Had something happened to it?
"The night before Pa and I
left for Carson City, I argued with you about why I had to go with him."
"Yeah, well I apologize for that but now Iím angry with
you." Blurted Joe as he threw himself back into the chair and frowned at
"Huh?" Adam shook his head in bewilderment. He knew the drugs
Paul had given him would addle his brain, but surely not to the extent he
couldnít follow a conversation with his little brother.
"Cochise? What about him?"
"You didnít ride him home."
"OhÖthat." Adam breathed a sigh of relief.
can remember correctly, I did ride Cochise didnít I? So whatís the problem
"You donít remember which horse you rode?" Retorted Joe.
"Well I think I did. I wasnít in the best of shape yesterday and the
whiskey was helping me forget most things, but not what you did Joe."
Joe remained silent. He was tapping the floor with the toe of his boot
and sat slumped down, his arms folded across his chest.
"Iím sorry I
havenít thanked you for giving him to me to ride home. I tried to ride him
but couldnít stay on. Pa put me on Buck if I recall, because he knew Cochise
couldnít take both of us."
"Is he okay?"
"Heís fine and so is Sport for that matter."
"Uh huh. Why did you give me Cochise anyway? Why not one of the spare mounts
"IÖummmÖI wanted to make it up to you."
couldnít follow Joeís thinking. One moment Joe was sorry for the argument.
Then he was angry because he hadnít ridden him and now Joe was back to
feeling guilty. Adam was confused and rubbed his hand across his forehead.
He was developing a headache and the food, instead of improving him, was
making him feel worse.
"Iím sorry I fell down the stairs. I wanted to
help Pa look for you because I was feeling guilty about arguing with you and
then when Sport came home without youÖ" Joe paused. "I went and knocked
myself out and couldnít go with Pa. I felt so helpless that the only thing I
could do was save Pa some time by letting him take Cochise for you."
"Never mind the reason, I appreciate what you did little brother. Thank you
for letting me ride him, I know how much he means to you."
his head and grinned. "You know if Cochise had been hurt, I would have been
sorry for giving him to you."
"Yup, but not as sorry as I wouldíve
been. Howís your head? Knock any sense into it?"
Asked Adam as he set
the knife and fork back onto the plate.
"Fine Adam. Had a headache
yesterday but its gone now."
Hoss, Ben and Paul walked steadily into
Adam turned to his father. "Pa, thank you for coming and
finding me. IÖIíd just about given up hope when you came in that door like a
big snowy bear to the rescue. It took me a few minutes to figure it was you
and not Hoss."
Ben laughed. "Thatís what fathers are for, to look
after their family when they get into trouble. One day youíll have your own
children and if you find yourself in a similar situation, youíll do exactly
the same as I did. But for now Adam, youíre home and no matter what happens
to any of you, weíll always be here for each other, because we are a
"And youíre stuck in that bed until I say you can get out
Adam Cartwright." Stated Paul.
Adam nodded. "Donít feel much like
walking around. Donít even want to read. Joe, can you take the tray away?
Iím not really that hungry after all."
"How are you feeling Adam?"
Asked the Doctor as he checked his patientís temperature. He noticed that
Adam had eaten only a few morsels of the breakfast.
"Tired and a
little nauseous to be honest. I think Iíll take a nap."
"You do that
Adam." Agreed Paul. He ushered the men out of the room and closed the door.
"Iím going to have to do the rounds of my other patients Ben, but keep a
close eye on Adam. I donít think weíre out of the woods yet regarding
infections. His colorís not good and his temperature is up. The loss of
appetite is a concern too. He should have cleaned up that plate in no time
if all was proceeding the way we want it."
Later in the week, Ben closed the ledger he had been poring over and
stretched his stiff back. No matter how many times he told himself to attend
to the bookkeeping daily, somehow he never could. But then again he had a
good excuse for not doing them this week.
Tonight had been an effort
and he vaguely remembered saying goodnight to Hoss and Joe at sometime
during the evening as he added up the same row of figures and ended up with
As he trudged up towards his room, the grandfather
clock chimed a loud 1 a.m. behind him. Each night his usual routine was to
check on his three sleeping sons and tonight was no different.
room was the first he visited and he chuckled silently at the memory of a
little curly haired boy of three as it flashed across his mind. Only a pale
moonlight glow from the far window lit the room, but it was enough for Ben.
He lifted the bedcovers from the floor and spread them back over the
sprawled shape on the bed. Joe stirred and pulled the blanket under his
chin, grateful for the warmth but not waking.
Ben tiptoed from the
room and into Hossí. As usual his middle son was on his back, snoring
loudly. He was tempted to move Hoss onto his side, but decided not to. It
was late and he was too tired to be bothered by the noise.
hallway a light glowed from under the closed door to Adamís room. Ben opened
the door and peered in. Adamís eyes were closed and on his chest lay the
inevitable book. A quick anger flared in Ben as he made a mental note to
chastise Joe about giving Adam the book instead of reading it to him. Paulís
last words before he departed that evening were for Adam to rest and by rest
he meant sleep, not read.
Knowing how lightly Adam slept, and even
considering how ill heíd been, Ben stepped softly over to the bed. In the
dim light he could see Adamís face was covered in a sheen of perspiration.
With the palm of his hand, he reached out and felt Adamís forehead. It was
still warm, but nowhere near what it had been. The fever had broken that
afternoon, much to the Doctorís and Benís relief.
Benís hopes that
heíd cleaned the injuries sufficiently had been dashed the second day after
they arrived home. A raging fever had burned in Adam for five long days,
kept barely under control by the constant attention of the physician and
Ben. Adam hovered between life and death as they fought to keep his
temperature down as it soared twice. There had been a few moments of
lucidity when Adam would respond to Benís voice and not need any medication.
Then delirium would take over and they were forced to keep him sedated to
prevent him from thrashing about and re-injuring himself.
the majority of his time at Adamís side. He bathed his feverish body with a
cloth dipped in cold water and talked to Adam soothingly when he was
delirious and calling out for him. Despite Hoss and Joeís efforts to calm
Adam, only his fatherís voice and touch could cut threw his suffering and
ease him. Even though he was downstairs attempting to eat and keep up his
own strength, Ben would hear Adamís voice as he called out in his fever. He
would cease eating immediately and return to Adam, much to Paulís concern.
Paul was beginning to worry about Ben falling ill when Adamís fever finally
"Pa?" Said Adam hoarsely.
Ben cursed himself silently.
He hadnít wanted to wake Adam.
"Yes son. I was just making sure
youíre okay before going to bed. Anything you need before I go?"
"Could do with a drink of water." Adamís voice was weak, more a whisper.
There was a pitcher of water on the bedside table and Ben quickly filled
a glass and brought it to him. As he helped Adam sit up to drink, Benís
heart cringed when Adam groaned. He could see that Adam had no strength to
hold the glass, so Ben sat behind him on the bed and cradled Adamís back
against his chest and shoulder. Tenderly he lifted the drink to his sonís
dry lips. At first Adam tried to drink quickly, but Ben held the glass at
such an angle that he could only sip.
"No need to drink so fast son. Too
much and youíll be sick. Just take it slowly, we can take all night if we
Because Adam was leaning against him, Ben could feel his
every movement. Adamís fever may have broken, but his body was twitching
"Are you in pain? Do you need something for it?
Paulís left medications and instructions regarding the morphine for
"No Pa. The drinkís all I need." Said Adam, as he closed his eyes and
relaxed against his fatherís comforting body. In no time he was asleep.
Ben eased himself from behind Adam and laid him down upon the pillows.
He waited a few minutes to make sure his son didnít rouse then moved the
book so that it lay on the bed beside him, within easy reach of Adamís hand.
That single lock of hair, which always fell over Adamís forehead, had
dropped down again onto the sweaty brow. Ben was tempted to move it back
into place but resisted. Instead he blew out the light and closed the door
Back in his room, Ben changed into his nightshirt and sat
on the edge of the bed. He looked to his side dresser where the three
lithographs of his dear wives rested.
He picked up his first wifeís
image and ran his fingers lightly around the gilded frame. These were the
times he missed his wives. He felt lucky to have been married to them and
for the son they bore him. All three had missed out on the joys and sorrows
of their growing sons. How each would have been delighted to see what fine
men they had grown into but somehow he felt that they knew.
lost him this time Elizabeth, My Love. Yet somehow I sensed you were taking
care of him until I could be with him and again when the fever rose. Thank
you my darling." He kissed the image and placed her back beside his other
two loves. As he turned out the light, three bright stars twinkled
above the silent house.
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