Mother Nature’s Wrath
Part one by Debbie B
The sky had turned black and the howling wind seemed to be in competition with the rumbling thunder. Ben had lost count of the times that he had opened the front door and peered out into the darkness. He stood silent, in awe of the flickering lightening that sent its flashes zigzagging across the ebony sky. It was a spectacular sight to behold, one that always left him feeling a bit small in a world so filled with the wonders of nature and of God.
Ben was worried, not of the storm, for nothing he could do would delay or hamper the inevitable, the storm would come, vent it’s wrath on the earth and those caught out in it’s fury. It was Adam, Hoss and Little Joe that worried the senior Cartwright. They had yet to return from the round up. Knowing which direction he had sent them that morning, and which way the storm was forming, Ben had cause to worry.
He glanced at the horses milling around in the corral. They sensed something in the air; animals had a way about them that warned them of impending danger. When Ben looked up, into the swaying trees, and listened closely, there was nothing but the sound that the wind made when it rustled through the tall pines. Not one bird chirped, not one creature stirred, except for the nervousness of the horses.
Ben turned to go into the house but paused, his ears picking up a strange sound that seemed unfamiliar and out of place in the bustling wind and swaying pines. The roar was louder than anything Ben had ever heard before, causing him to cringe at the eerie whooshing vibrations.
Ben glanced over his shoulder, his eyes widened, his mouth fell open and from deep within his throat a scream surfaced, but his words were lost in the black fury that whirled around and unexpectedly swept him off his feet.
His head spun as Ben felt himself being lifted from the ground and swirled around and around. His entire being ached as the wind pelted his flesh, battering his body and leaving cuts and scrapes that would soon turn black and blue.
It seemed a lifetime, but in truth it had only been minutes before Ben felt his body plummet to the earth. His last thoughts before he landed hard, knocking the wind from his lungs as he banged against the hard packed earth that left him lost in the darkened world of obscurity was of his three sons, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe.
Not more than a mile away, Adam motioned for his brothers to stop. He pointed toward the ranch house, a worried expression furrowed deeply across his brow.
“Look…” he called over the howling wind.
“What is it?” Joe shouted back, trying to calm his horse that refused to stand still.
Cochise danced in nervous little circles and Joe was forced to keep looking over his shoulders at the black cloud that had gathered in the distance. He watched in awe as the dark funnel swirled about and seemed to linger in one spot before moving on.
“A tornado!” bellowed Adam.
“Good golly, Adam…tornadoes don’t happen in this part of the country!” Hoss shouted as he pulled Chubb to a stop beside his brother’s horse.
“Not usually, but this is a freak of nature. Come on, we’d better take cover…”
Joe grabbed Adam by the arm, stopping him from leaving.
“What about Pa…and the ranch…that funnel cloud is headed straight for the house!” screamed Joe over the thundering fierceness of the wind.
Hoss nodded his head in agreement, worry written into every line of his rotund face.
Joe did not wait for his oldest brother’s response to Hoss’ suggestion. Instead he spurred Cochise into a run and headed toward home, afraid of what he might find. Hoss waited a moment longer and then followed after Joe.
Adam knew better than to try and stop the pair, yet in his heart he had a sick feeling of what they would find once they reached the main house and barn. He knew the tempest had not quite passed and it was with growing concern for his family that Adam urged Sport into line behind his two brothers.
The three brothers raced home at a full run, each lost in their own thoughts and each with fear mounting the nearer they got to home. Rubble and devastation lay all about them as they pulled their horses to a stop. Large Ponderosa pines lay broken and twisted amid the ruins of the old barn, blocking further entrance into the yard.
Joe slid from his mount; his heart pounding as he raced toward what had once been their home.
“PA!” screamed the frightened young man.
Joe burst through the remains of the front door, into the great room and stood, shock and fear seeping from every pore in his body as he fell to his knees amid the rubble.
“PA!” he screeched a second time.
Hoss stood silently behind Joe and placed a trembling hand on his younger brother’s shoulder as his eyes swept the house for the familiar face.
Adam stopped in the doorway, his heart in his throat at what his eyes beheld. He heard the soft muttering of his brothers and hurried to Hoss’ side where together, they pulled Joe to his feet.
“Pa’s…gone,” stammered Joe.
“Naw…he’s gotta be here…somewhere,” Hoss muttered softly. “Ain’t that right, Adam…Adam?” Hoss spun around to find Adam who had moments before been standing next to him.
“Over here,” Adam said softly.
Hoss and Joe stepped over the scattered and ruined furniture to Adam’s side. In his Adam hand held up one of Ben’s boots. He raised his head to look into the frightened faces of his younger brothers and noted the tears brimming in both the hazel eyes and the blue.
“No…he cain’t be…dead,” stammered Hoss.
“Shut up Hoss…don’t say that!” Joe snapped, grabbing the boot from Adam’s hand.
He turned tear filled eyes up at his oldest brother, his chin quivering with unleashed emotion.
“Pa ain’t dead…is he Adam?” Joe whispered.
Adam let out a long sigh, “I don’t know Joe, I just don’t know.”
"What do you mean, you don't know? You are always braggin' on how you know everything, Adam!" Joe shouted waving their father’s boot in the air.
"Hold on, the both of you," Hoss said stepping in between the two of them. "It ain't no time for arguing. We got to find Pa!"
Adam nodded. Joe let the boot slip to the floor with a clank.
"We have to find Pa," Joe nodded in agreement.
Just then they heard a feminine voice from behind them.
"Do you live here? I could use some help with this man."
Standing silhouetted in the kitchen door was a tall dark haired woman holding a white dishtowel in her hands. The towel was soaked with crimson blood. She was wearing a simple blue checked dress that was smudged and soiled. A few stray curls had come undone from her hair comb. Despite the circumstances and their concern for their father, Joe and Adam immediately observed that the intruder was a very attractive woman.
"What are you doing here?" Adam demanded.
"Who are you?" Joe asked the woman as he rushed forward. "Where's Pa?"
Hoss stood frozen in his place. His blue eyes were wide with amazement and recognition. His heart skipped a beat.
"Dot Gale. Dot Gale from
He had never expected to see her ever again and certainly never, ever on the Ponderosa.
"Dot Gale." He sighed.
The woman smiled affectionately at Hoss.
"You boys better stop wasting time asking questions and making introductions. Your father is lying hurt near the back door and there is no way I can move him. Give me a hand and we can sort things out later."
Part 3 by Katja
Joe let out a primal cry, "PA!!!"
Dropping the boot on the floor he took off to the back door. Adam and Hoss weren't far behind him. They found their youngest brother on his knees sobbing, saying,
"Pa…noooo, Pa," over and over again and rocking back and forth next to the body on the floor.
Adam felt like the floor was disappearing beneath him as he saw the battered face of his father, his handsome features a mess of blood. He clutched his stomach as grief and fear overtook him. Hoss had turned around and was leaning against the wall, clutching his stomach.
"I'm sorry, I found him like this, didn't have time yet to get him cleaned up. I'm sure it's not as bad as it looks." Dot stood next to Hoss and put her hand on his back.
At that moment they heard a bump in the main room and a stream of Chinese words, probably curses, but Hop Sing would deny it.
is boot on floor? Father as bad as boys! Leave things, not clean up. Hop Sing
could break neck. Going move back
He entered the kitchen, looking like he was about to explode, still muttering in Chinese to suddenly stop.
"Who is man?"
"I'm sorry, sir, I found your employer here on the floor, I needed help to move him." Dot said moving towards the unconscious body.
"Employer? Hop Sing not know what missy mean. Not know this man. This man has both boots on; this is Missah Cartwright's boot. Now where's father?"
Hop Sing stood there, holding Ben's boot in his hand, looking around him for answers only to see relieve wash over the boys' faces.
Adam suddenly felt a little ridiculous not having looked closer, having let this Dot's words lead him.
"Poor guy though. Wonder who he is…" Suddenly he fell silent again. "That does leave us with the question where Pa is though."
The relief they had felt when they found out it wasn't Pa there on the floor was immediately replaced with worry again. They realized that if their father had been outside when that tornado hit he could be anywhere and still hurt badly.
Joe had stopped crying and now looked at Adam, hoping his big brother would have the right answers.
"We'll get all the hands together and start a search. We'll find him, buddy, I promise." Adam didn't want to say Pa could be far away by now.
Hoss put his hand on Joe's shoulder. "Adam's right, pumpkin, we'll find him and we'll take him home. Don’t’cha worry none."
But he was plenty worried himself and neither of them was fooling Joe. He wasn't a baby even though he was sometimes treated as such and he knew perfectly well what a tornado could do. He didn't say that though. He just nodded.
looked very much out of place now. She felt silly for having jumped to
conclusions, but she had never met Mr. Cartwright. Hoss and she met in
away down by the
The smell of coffee woke him up and he tried to sit up, only to grab his head groaning.
no, mister, you'd better stay down. Ya've taken a nasty bump on yer head out
"Where am I?" Ben asked as he carefully leaned back into the pillows.
"Yer in my cabin, mister. Been there fer the last
two days." The old man poured some coffee into two mugs and handed
Ben one, carefully helping him sit up.
"Two days? But…what happened? You say I bumped my head, I can't remember bumping into anything." Ben sipped his coffee, but his mind was racing.
probably can't remember; ya were in the river, bumped yer head a few times
against the rocks. It's a miracle nothing worse happened. I reckon
't was that tornado that landed ya there. That was a nasty one. Seen a
few in my time, but didn't reckon there were tornadoes in
"I reckon ya live here." The man laughed. "Now, come on, if'n ya tell me where ya live I'll try ta get ya home as soon as possible. I'm sure there's people waiting fer ya."
if I'm in
dunno what condition she's in and where she is, but I do know that if'n ya keep
doin' this she'll hafta wait even longer ta see ya. Now rest! I reckon that's
the best thing fer ya. Ya just tell me where that
"Of course I'm sure. What do you think I am?" Ben shot back, ignoring the pounding in his head for now. "Some idiot?" His temper was flaring and he knew it.
easy…no one's callin' ya a liar or an idiot. I'll try ta send
word to her."
"You never even told me your name." Ben said as his anger ebbed away again.
"John, just call me John."
"Thanks, John. I'm just worried about her, you know."
"Yeah, I reckon I do know." John said as a sudden sad look came into his eyes.
Ben felt incredibly weary and let sleep overtake his bruised and battered body. Sinking slowly into oblivion, he gave a small smile, as
John Gale sat back and watched as Ben slumbered and the cabin gradually grew dark as night fell and the fire burnt down to a small pile of glowing embers. He leant back in his chair and pulled a threadbare quilt around him for warmth, for Ben occupied the only bed. How he envied the other man! He clearly had a happy marriage - and that was a pleasure denied to the trapper.
"Oh Dorothy!" he thought, his brow furrowing with anger.
"You took everything away from me, leaving
me without a shred of dignity. One smile and a few kind words from a man with
blue eyes was all it took. Frailty - thy name is woman!"
John walked over to a rickety cupboard, pulled out a quart of rough whiskey and took a long pull, then ambled back to his chair. For the rest of a long night, he drank steadily tormented by the visions of his lost wife and his overwhelming need for her.
By mutual, unspoken agreement, the brothers had decided to put the mysterious stranger in the downstairs bedroom of the ranch house. None of them could bear to think of anyone but Ben sleeping in the master bedroom upstairs. Adam sat at the bedside, holding his father's boot, stroking the leather in an abstracted fashion.
"Adam?" Joe was standing in the doorway, holding two steaming cups of coffee. "I figured you could use this.”
Adam took the
drink gratefully and took a large gulp, spluttering wildly as he realized that
Joe had poured in a liberal slug of brandy.
"Sure keeps out the cold, doesn't it?"
A mischievous smile curved Joe's lips and his
green eyes sparkled with glee. Still struggling to breathe properly, Adam could
only nod in agreement.
Crossing over to the bed, Joe looked at the wounded man with compassion, gently pulling up the bedclothes and stroking the back of his hand.
"Someone out there must be worried sick
about him," he commented. "Just like we are about
"I'm sure Pa is just fine, Joe," Adam answered, forcing a hearty conviction into his voice.
"For heaven's sake! I'm not a little kid, Adam. It's been two days now and not a single bit of news. Ben Cartwright is one of the best-known men in the territory and yet no-one has seen hide nor hair of him?" Joe glared at his brother. "Well, I've had enough of sitting around here. Someone has to do something, after all. Tomorrow morning, I'm riding out and searching for
"I can't let you do that," Adam stated. "There are more storms on the way, not to mention the flooded rivers and fallen trees. I'm not letting you go out there."
Giving one last look at the man in the bed, Joe stood up slowly.
"In case it escaped your notice, Adam, I
wasn't asking for your permission. I don't really think that I need it, do
Joe walked quietly across the room and closed the door behind him, then leant for a moment against it, trying to steady his breathing. It was never easy to stand up to Adam, his confident and assertive older brother, who was always trying to steer Joe along the correct paths, helping him, protecting him even. When he was younger, Joe had accepted and even welcomed Adam's advice, but now things were very different. He was an adult and more than capable of weighing up situations and making his own decisions.
"Poor old Adam! He just can't seem to cut those apron strings!" Joe thought and despite his anger, could not help giving a small snicker at the image his mind conjured up of Adam wearing a flowery apron over his customary black jeans.
Hidden from sight in the study, Hoss and Dot started guiltily at the sound of his laughter and hastily pulled apart. Dot busied herself rolling some bandages while Hoss strode across the room, not realizing that he still held her blue hair ribbon in his hand.
"He awake yet, Joe?"
Joe shook his head. "Still out of it. I'm not surprised, given that head injury he's got."
"I sure wish he could tell us who he is and where he's from."
Hoss shifted uneasily from foot to foot,
unconsciously running the ribbon through his fingers. Suddenly, Joe had the
very definite feeling that he was intruding on something. He hastily made his
excuses and went upstairs, figuring on making an early start the next day.
Adam stayed by the stranger's bedside all night, mulling over his unfortunate choice of words.
"If anything is guaranteed to rile Joe up,
it's telling him he can't do something," he thought. "Joseph Francis
- huh, more like Joseph Impetuous or Joseph Contrary! But he'll come to his
senses in the morning and realize I'm right. This is no time to go haring all
over the place."
For once, Joe awoke early the next morning. The wild winds had finally died down, although a light rain was falling. He dressed, crept out to the barn and was soon riding out, determined to find his father.
"I won't give up, Pa," he vowed.
"Not until I've found you and brought you back home."
"You said WHAT?" Hoss stopped put down a fork laden with bacon and sausage and gawped at Adam. "Why didn't you just saddle up Cochise and hoist Joe onto his back? Might as well have done just that."
Adam continued to eat his breakfast, forcing himself to stay calm. Dramatic scenes over breakfast were not exactly the way he would choose to start the day.
"He was just overwrought, Hoss. He'll
listen to reason this morning."
"If'n you think it's so all-fired reasonable not to be out there looking for
"I wouldn't dream of it," Adam replied weakly, slumping forward in his chair, regarding his oatmeal with displeasure and wondering if this day could get any worse.
Dot sipped her coffee pensively. Under the table she delicately extended her leg and gently rubbed her foot against Hoss' leg, causing him to almost choke.
In the downstairs bedroom, the stranger tentatively arose from the bed, ignoring the queasy feelings in his head and stomach and moved carefully across the room. He picked up Adam's holster, slung carelessly across the arm of the chair, removed the gun and cocked the trigger.
Slowly and unsteady the stranger made his way to the door each step causing him some pain and discomfort but he kept going as quietly as he could so those on the other side of the door would not know that he had come to.
Once at the door he put his hand on the knob, in the other he still held the cocked gun. He then leaned as close as he could to the door straining his ears to try and make out what the voices on the other side were saying before he made his move. Did they know whom he was, where he came from, what he had done and most importantly what were they going to do about him? He needed answers, he needed them now and he was sure that they would not willingly provide them for him. Did he make a move now or wait and get some answers, hell he didn’t even know where he was or how he got wherever here was. Last thing he remembered before waking up in a strange bed, hearing strange voices was riding and trying to find shelter from the driving rain and wind. He lowered his head as a sharp pain all but overtook him; he leaned against the door for support waiting for the pain and dizziness to pass as he tried to make out what was being said on the other side of the door.
Within seconds Hoss’ face was about as red as the checkers on the tablecloth before him. He lower his head took a big gulp, then a smile spread across the big man’s face and he had a twinkle in his eyes like never before. He looked across the table from him and gave his head a little shake wondering just how he had been so lucky to have this wonderful women coming into his life.
Adam had been looking at the breakfast in front of him without really seeing it, weighing the situation that they were in from all angles. He finally came to the only logical conclusion that he figured would work for them all. Slowing he raised his head as he ran his hand through his hair and straighten in his chair.
Hoss, I have been thinking and believe the best thing to do is for me to go out
looking for Joe. I’m the one that more
or less put him in the saddle. After giving it some thought no matter how ill
advised it is to be out in this weather, it may be that you are both right and
we should be out looking for
Adam now looks over at Hoss, just as his face
is about back to a natural colour. Not realizing what is happening under the table Adam
believes the flush on his brother’s face is from the fact he can not believe
that he, Adam Cartwright has admitted that perhaps his two younger brothers are
right. He braces himself for the fight that he is sure to have from his much
bigger younger brother in telling him that he wants Hoss at home and he will
look for Joe and then
Hoss barely hears the words that Adam has spoken as he stares at Dot across the table. When the words register with him he turns his head quickly toward his brother his face drawn in a frown.
“I said I was going to look for them and I aim to do just that Adam.”
The tone in Hoss’ voice spoke volumes to Adam but he knew he could get Hoss to see his point.
“Hoss I need you here to scout the immediate area, see what damage is done and what takes priority to get fixed.”
He could see that his brother was not about to back down, so he used the ace that always worked with Hoss.
“While I’m out there looking for Joe and Pa, I will take note of any damage further a field on the ranch so we can get to fixing that and I will have the hands out looking for injured stock. Hoss you are the best at looking after the wounded animals that the hands round up. You can assess which can be saved and which will have to be…”
As Adam had been talking Hoss had risen from his place at the table to face his brother ready to do battle with him, his jaw was set in a firm line his mind made up that he was going to go. As soon as Adam mentioned injured animals the hard line on Hoss’ face softens and is replaced with a look of compassion that he has for animals. He sags his shoulders, lowers his head and holds up his hands in defeat before the battle really even started catching Adam in mid sentence.
After a few seconds he snaps his head back up and once again has a serious look on his gentle face.
“Ok you win. You go and find them!” he said poking Adam in the chest with this finger for emphasis, “But you listen to me big brother when you find that scallywag of a little brother you don’t lay into him, just let it be and the two of you work together to find Pa and bring him back safe, or so help me, you is gonna ta wish you was lost in that there storm.”
Adam gives a faint smile and places his hand on his brother’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry Hoss, one raging storm is all I want to deal with in one week, I don’t need to have one name Joe or Hoss on my hands either.”
Adam looks over to Dot who had been standing in silence holding her breath to see what was going to happen.
am going to head into
Inside the guest room the stranger had been listening to this exchange with one hand on the door and the cocked pistol in the other. The gun felt so natural in his hand, he had been admiring the workmanship in it as he listened. It had good balance and leverage; he could get use to having a quality gun like this. At the mentioned of the law he did not wait to see what the man behind the voice was going to say. Throwing open the door he stepped into the dinning room and took a quick look to survey the room and who was in it. Before either brother could react he pointed the cocked gun right at Adam stopping him in mid sentence.
“Nobody is going anywhere.”
Joe had been riding for what seemed like hours in a cool rain. He stopped under a large tree to see if he could get a bit of shelter from the rain that had steadily grown heavier as the morning wore on. When he had left just before sunrise he had not given a lot of thought as to just where he was going to search he just knew that he had to be out here trying to find Pa. He dismounted, wrapped the reins around a low tree branch and pulled the collar of his rain slicker tight around his neck.
“Boy Coch, I was sure that Adam or Hoss would have caught up to us by now. I wasn’t looking forward to hearing a lecture from brother Adam but heck even his company out here and helping to look would have been welcomed. And I know my brothers, Hoss will say he is coming out then Adam will say no it should be him, they would go back and forth on it but Adam will win and he should have been here by now if not at anytime.”
After making a meal on some biscuits, jerky and water Joe readied himself and remounted.
Cochise this is getting me no closer to finding
Joe leans down gives his horse a pat on the neck and then urges him on.
Joe decides his best bet is to work this south section of the ranch in quarter mile sections in a zigzag pattern making his way to the river. As the time wears on, Joe is getting weary and the wind is picking up more by the minute and it has started to thunder and lightening spooking his horse. It is whipping around him so hard now that he is having a hard time staying in the saddle and his horse is having just as hard a time. Debris from the previous tornado is now being picked up and tossed about by the pending storm. Coch stumbles in his efforts to move forward at Joe’s urging. Once he regains his footing Joe dismounts and walks toward the river that they have just reached. He stands just a foot from the banks as he watches the raging water that is near spilling its banks rush past him.
“I have to find some shelter to ride this storm out in.”
As he watches the water for another moment he remembers the cave near by that he and Hoss had played in as boys. It would be more than big enough for both him and Cochise. He is about to turn and head to his horse when he hears a loud cracking noise and he looks up just in time to see a good size dead branch from the near by tree break off in the wind. Before he can react and get out of the way the branch comes down and catches Joe on the head and back knocking him out and he tumbles forward landing with the lower half of his body in the water as debris continues to rush by him and the raging water threatening to pull him in further.
Spooked by the weather and falling branch, Cochise takes off, eyes wild with fear.
John and Ben have been up awhile and sitting around a small table in the humble but sturdy cabin taking in a late breakfast and listening as the storm outside builds up its strength.
“Listen to me, feller yer in no shape yet to tackle that weather and if’n I give it a try I just might end up in as bad as shape as you. No, the place for both of us at the moment is right here safe in the cabin. As soon as the weather breaks again I will get word to that wife of yours or if’n you are up to it the two of us will head to the nearest town and get word to her that you are ok.”
Ben gets up and walks over to the window and looks out then gives a deep sigh but resigns to the fact that John is right they would not make it far in this.
A small smile spreads across Ben’s face.
know this reminds me of some of the storms we get back home in
Ben goes back to the stove pours himself another cup of coffee sets it on the table and then sits.
John holds up the bottle that he had been drinking from the night before and adds some of the whisky to his coffee. He holds the bottle up toward Ben.
“Nothing like a nice hot Irish coffee on a day like this.”
Ben nods his head yes and John pours a generous amount in. At his encouragement, Ben starts to relay a tale of the storm he experience at sea just the year before on his last voyage before his wedding to Elizabeth. The two men sit in the cabin content for the time being with each other company waiting out the storm. Ben continues with his tales oblivious of the existence of his three sons and the storms they are facing back at the Ponderosa.
The man was still very unsteady on his feet and he leaned heavily on the doorframe, as he tried to keep the gun trained on Adam and Hoss. He failed to notice Dot, who was standing by the dining table, and she took the opportunity to pick up a cup and throw it at him, knocking the gun out of his hand.
Hoss quickly overpowered him and returned him to the downstairs bedroom, this time tying him to the bed. The man was again unconscious and Adam didn’t want to waste any more time, waiting for him to wake up and give them an explanation for his behavior towards them. All he wanted to do was go and find his brother and his father.
“I’ll leave you to deal with this, Hoss,” he said. “Thanks, ma’am, that’s a deadly right arm you have there.”
“You’re welcome,” said Dot, and she began clearing up the pieces of the broken cup. “I hope you can replace this, wouldn’t want to spoil the set” and then she realized that was a rather foolish thing to say, seeing as how quite a few pieces of crockery had already been smashed, during the storm.
“Yeah, you get going, Adam,” said Hoss. “Dot and I can handle things here. And remember what I said. Don’t start yelling at Joe when you find him. The kid might be a mite impulsive, at times, but this time he was right. We need to find Pa, and quick. Lord alone knows what’s happened to him. He could be lying badly injured somewhere.”
“Right,” said Adam, who had been strapping on his gun and putting on his coat and hat, as Hoss was talking to him. “I’ll just grab some supplies from the kitchen and be on my way. And don’t worry, I won’t start an argument with Joe; it can wait until both he and Pa are back home.”
Hoss just sighed, but said nothing. He knew that Adam cared just as much about Joe as he did and that most of what his older brother said was just bluster, to cover up how worried he was.
The wind had subsided a bit and the rain had now stopped, as Adam left the yard. He wasn’t sure where to start looking; there was a lot of land out there and he was only one man, but the thought of his father possibly being injured spurred him on. He reasoned that Ben must be hurt, or else he would have got back to them, or at least sent word as to where he was. Then there was Joe to consider. Had he been lucky and found their father, or was he, too, now a victim of the storm?
Dave, one of the hands on the ranch, suggested that he borrowed a neighbor’s bloodhound, in the hope that the dog might be able to pick up the scent of his father. He’d stuffed one of Ben’s shirts, which he’d taken from the washing pile in his father’s room, in his saddlebag, and, after collecting the dog, he allowed him to get a good sniff at the shirt. However, so far, the dog did not seem to have managed to find a trail to follow.
Suddenly, Adam saw Cochise coming towards him. For a brief moment his spirits rose, but then he realized that Joe wasn’t in the saddle. He called the horse over to him, and Cochise was happy to come, as he recognized Sport, his stable mate, and, of course, Adam.
The young man dismounted and ran his hands over Cochise, checking for any injuries. Apart from a few superficial cuts, there didn’t seem to be any, but the horse was obviously spooked. Adam spent a fair bit of time, calming him down.
“It’s all right, boy, it’s all right. What have you done with Joe? It’s not like you and him to part company, is it? Is he hurt? Do you know where he is?”
Adam felt a bit foolish asking the horse questions, but Cochise was his only link to his brother
As Adam was talking, Cochise began pawing at the ground and was trying to pull away. He seemed anxious to be on the move and Adam wondered if he did know where Joe was.
The dog was taking a lot of interest in Cochise and when Adam noticed this, he took down Joe’s bedroll and draped the edge of it over the dog’s nose as he’d been instructed by the owner.
Suddenly, the dog started to bark and set off, at a fair pace. Adam quickly mounted and, leading Cochise, began following the baying animal.
Little Joe groaned as he came to. For a moment, he thought he was in his bed at home and that Hoss was throwing water at him, to get him up. But he quickly realized that it was a bit more than a glassful that was making him so wet and cold. He tried to move, but found that he was unable to do so, as the branch of the tree still lay across his back. He was aware of the rushing sound of water, but not that he was partially immersed in it, as he was so cold he’d lost all feeling in his lower body. In fact the weight of the branch pinning him down, was all that was stopping him being swept away.
As his head began to clear, Joe knew that he needed to move and find some shelter. It was growing colder and there was no way he would survive if he had to spend the night outside. He managed to raise his head sufficiently to see if he could spot Cochise, thinking that he might be able to get him to somehow pull the branch off him, but the horse was no where to be seen. He tried, again, to get out from under it, but he just did not have enough strength in his arms to drag his body free.
Exhausted from the effort, Joe sank back down on the cold, damp earth and berated himself out loud. ‘This is another damn fine mess you’ve got yourself into, Joe Cartwright. When are you gonna learn to listen to your big brother and use your brain, instead of running off half cocked, like a damn fool kid?’
“When, indeed?” said a familiar voice, and Joe looked round to see Adam squatting down, at his side.
The young man had been so busy being angry with himself that he’d failed to hear Adam approaching. Mind you, the roar of the water was very loud and he did have one ear pressed into the ground.
“Good job it’s me who found you and not Pa,” continued Adam. “Language like that would get your mouth a meeting with a bar of Hop Sing’s soap.”
“Might be preferable to all this mud,” said Joe. “Are you gonna get me outta here, or just sit there and make your usual sarcastic comments? I’m just about frozen to the bone, brother.”
“Well, seeing as how Hoss and Pa might just miss you a bit, I best save your scrawny butt, again. Me, I’m not bothered one way or the other, but…”
Before he could continue, Joe shouted, “For goodness sake, cut the chat, and get this tree off my back. I know how much you love the sound of your own voice, but now is the time for action, PLEASE.”
Adam just smiled and gently ruffled Joe’s hair.
“I’m relieved to hear that you haven’t lost any of your spirit, little buddy. Just give me a minute and I’ll have you out of this mess.”
It did take Adam slightly longer than a minute, as it was a tricky operation, trying to get Joe to safety, before he was dragged away by the raging water. He had to rig a leverage system, whereby he could raise the branch with his foot, and at the same time hold onto Joe with his hands. He also had to ascertain whether or not Joe had sustained any serious injuries, and this was difficult, as the boy was so cold, he didn’t have much feeling in his body and so wasn’t able to say if he was hurting or not. Adam had to take the risk of possibly doing more harm, by moving Joe, as the only alternative was to leave him where he was and have him freeze to death.
Eventually, Joe was free and Adam scooped him up and carried him to the cave, which Joe had been heading for, earlier. The horses and the dog were already there, as Adam had tethered them, before going to the water’s edge to help Joe.
Adam made a bed out of the saddle blankets and bedrolls and laid Joe down on it.
“Thanks for getting me out of there, Adam. I knew that engineering degree would come in handy, one day.”
“You’re welcome, Joe. Now, I need to get you out of these wet clothes and start a fire, to warm you up on the outside, and to heat up some coffee, to do the same on the inside.”
As he talked, Adam began removing Joe’s wet things. He started with his boots and socks and then peeled off his pants and underwear, which were beginning to form ice particles on them. He left Joe’s shirt and jacket on; the rain slicker had protected these and weren’t that wet. As soon as the wet clothes were removed, Adam wrapped Joe’s body up in the blankets and began briskly rubbing him, through the rather rough material.
“This might hurt a bit, Joe, but we need to get you warm.”
“That’s okay, Adam, carry on, better it hurts than I have no feeling at all.”
Adam continued this treatment, for a while, and then felt that Joe was sufficiently warmed up for him to be able to leave him for a few minutes while he lit a fire. There was still some wood in the cave, from when the boys used to go there, plus some old newspapers, and Adam soon had a decent fire burning. He found the coffeepot and filled it with some water from his canteen. He added the coffee and placed it in the fire. He put Joe’s boots and clothes as near to the flames, as he dared, in order to get them dry.
He then returned to Joe and reached into the blankets and started to massage his feet.
“Oh, that’s so good,” said Joe, who was starting to regain the feeling in the lower part of his body. “You always were good with massages. Do you remember when I was little and I used to have nightmares? You would take me in your bed and rub my back and before I knew it, it would be morning.”
“Yes, I remember,” said Adam, getting a faraway look in his eyes. “Those nightmares started just after Mama died, didn’t they?”
As he said this, he was hoping and praying that he wouldn’t be called upon again, to comfort his little brother, anytime soon, because they had lost a parent. He offered up a silent prayer that their father, wherever he was, was safe.
As if reading his mind, Joe said, “I guess that Pa didn’t show up after I left, did he?”
buddy, he didn’t,” said Adam. “I started out looking for him, but when I came
upon Cochise, I realized that you must be in trouble, too, and so I got the dog
to track you down, instead. He wasn’t having much luck picking up Pa’s trail,
anyway. Maybe the ground was too wet, when Pa came this way, if he came this
way. That’s the trouble; we just don’t know where he’s gone. At least with you,
Cochise was heading for home and he alerted me to the fact that you needed
help, but there’s just no sign of
“Well, we can’t give up, Adam. Apart from a slight bump on my head, I’m fine and so as soon as I’ve warmed up, we can be on our way. We’ll find him, I just know we will.”
Adam smiled at Joe, wishing he shared his young brother’s optimism, and continued rubbing his feet.
“I’ll make us something to eat, and then I think it will be a good idea to stay here for the night. It will soon be dark and so we won’t gain anything going on with the search tonight. You look like you could do with a decent night’s sleep and so could I, then we can start afresh in the morning.”
Joe wanted to insist that they continued immediately, but knew that Adam was right. They were both tired and Joe’s head was hurting more than he cared to admit.
“All right, Adam, we’ll stay, but we must get going at first light.”
Adam agreed and poured out some coffee for both of them. He heated up a can of beans and cut several slices off the loaf of bread, which he’d brought along with him.
“Not quite what Hop Sing is serving at home, but it’s warm and filling,” said Adam, handing the food to Joe, and propping him up with one of the saddles, so that he could eat more comfortably.
“Thanks,” said Joe. Shifting his position caused a sharp, pain to stab Joe in his head, making him wince.
Adam was immediately alert to the fact that Joe was hurting and checked out the bump.
try and take it easy, Joe. If you feel no better in the morning, we shall head
back to the ranch and get you seen by Doc Martin before we carry on looking for
“A good night’s rest will see me all right, Adam, don’t fret,” said Joe, and he managed to eat his supper.
Adam built up the fire and then joined Joe under the blankets.
“Let’s get some sleep, Joe.”
The added warmth of Adam’s body brought comfort to Joe, as it had done when he was a little boy, and he’d just lost his mother. He was soon asleep, but Adam wasn’t so lucky. He lay there, for a long time, wondering how things were back at the ranch, and worrying that they were going to be too late to save their father, or even if they would ever find him.
Morning came all too soon for Adam. Joe had slept restlessly beside him, and his brother’s antics in stealing the blankets had helped disturb what little sleep he had had. Slithering out of the warmth of the blankets, Adam poked up the fire and started the coffee.
“Wake up, Joe,” he urged, shaking his brother. It took several shakes for Joe’s tousled head to appear and he gazed blearily at Adam. “How’s your head?” Adam asked.
“Still there,” Joe grunted.
He could never figure out why his family was so insistent on talking in the morning before coffee. Why couldn’t anyone wait until he was awake to ask questions?
Sighing, and vowing he would get an honest answer out of Joe, Adam started to prepare breakfast. Joe’s clothes were still damp, but Joe slid them on without any fuss and ate what Adam had prepared. He still didn’t feel too good, but he was determined, not to get sent home! Pa was still missing, and Joe couldn’t just sit around waiting.
weather had settled down through the night and as Ben looked out of the window,
he smiled as he realized they would be able to set out and walk to the nearest
“Breakfast is ready,” John Gale announced, and broke Ben’s concentration.
“Thanks,” he replied and went to sit at the table. “Think we can make town today?”
“Don’t see why not,” grunted Gale. “And your wife will be anxious.”
“Yes, she will,” agreed Ben. “Poor Marie.”
Gale repeated, sharply. “I thought you said you wife’s name was
For a moment, Ben just stared at him, then another pain shot through his head. Ben gasped and closed his eyes, one hand going up to hold his head. When he had ridden the pain out, Ben looked at John.
don’t understand,” he whispered. “My first wife’s name was
Gale had been sitting, looking at Ben liked he’d grown an extra head, but now he realized that the man had had amnesia, due to the concussion he’d suffered.
“Sit down,” he instructed Ben. “You look terrible.”
“My head is aching,” Ben admitted.
“I don’t think we’ll be going to town today,” Gale muttered under his breath as Ben slumped down on the bed and slid into a troubled sleep.
“How is he, doc?” Hoss asked. He was acutely conscious of Dorothy standing close beside him.
Paul Martin lifted a tired face to Hoss.
got a bad head injury, Hoss,” he replied. “But I can tell you who he is. He’s
David Paterson, who went missing from
“Wonder how he come to be here,” Hoss mused, as Dorothy casually took his hand.
“It must have been the storm,” she offered. “After all, that’s how I got here. And how your father ended up missing.”
“Where are Adam and Joe?” Paul asked, as he rose wearily to his feet.
“Out lookin’ fer Pa,” Hoss replied, blushing furiously as Paul noticed him holding Dorothy’s hand. “They left here yesterday an’ ain’t bin back.”
Assuring Hoss he would send a deputy from town to collect
“You’re not in any fit state to go!” Adam shouted and Joe wished his brother would conduct their argument in quieter tones. His head was pounding hard enough without Adam’s shouting rattling his brain.
“I’m not going home!” Joe responded, in calm, determined tones, knowing that to shout would weaken his case. “I said I was going to look for Pa and that’s exactly what I am going to do! That sorry hound isn’t proving much use, and two pairs of eyes are better than one.”
“Joe…” Adam began, but his younger brother ignored Adam and mounted Cochise.
He waited for Adam to mount, but when his brother showed now signs of doing so, he turned his horse’s head away. Glaring at the recalcitrant youngster, Adam mounted Sport.
“All right, but if you feel worse, promise me you’ll go home.”
“I’m fine,” Joe protested as he urged Cochise into a trot. “Let’s go.”
They rode in a big circle for most of the morning, encouraging the dog to sniff around, but they found no sign of Ben. Stopping for lunch, Joe forced down some jerky to keep Adam from worrying and said, “Isn’t there an old trapper’s cabin not far away? Why don’t we look there?”
“I think we should leave it until tomorrow,” Adam suggested. “The weather is closing in again.”
“Surely we’ve got time to get there before the weather reaches us?” Joe responded. He jumped to his feet, trying to look healthy. “Come on, Adam. It’s worth a look. Then I’ll go home with you.”
“All right!” Adam capitulated.
They hadn’t gone very far when the rain began. Adam gave Joe a hard look, which Joe ignored. He was determined to do anything he could to find his father. The dog suddenly gave a sharp bark and began pulling off to the left. Excitement charged through both young men and Adam let the dog take the lead.
Next moment, the trail collapsed and horses, dog and men were caught in a roaring landslide. Adam’s last conscious memory was hearing Joe screaming.
When Joe opened his eyes, it was dark. His head throbbed harder than ever and as he struggled to sit up, he realized he was partially buried under debris. His right arm lay useless against his side.
“Adam!” Joe called. “Adam!” He strained to hear an answer, but none came.
Not caring that he couldn’t use his right arm, Joe used his left to start removing what he could of the debris off his upper body.
“Adam,” he called again hoping that his brother would answer him.
Finally he got the last of the debris off his chest and was able to sit slowly into a sitting position. Looking around he started to look for his brother.
Down below he saw both Cochise and Sport and was relieved to see that they both looked alright. But still there was no sign of his brother. Working with just his left hand he slowly got the last of the rubble from off his legs and started to move them checking that they weren’t broken, but his arm was another thing, it was broken. He was more worried about his missing brother; so using his good arm Joe got shakily to his feet and started his search for Adam.
It was a good fifteen minutes later, when Joe found his brother just about covered in debris. Going to his knees Joe brought his hand to his brother’s throat checking for a pulse. Joe took a deep breath and said a quick thanks toward the heavens that his brother’s pulse seemed to be alright. Wiping the mud off Adam’s face he started calling to his brother hoping to get a reply. He continued pleading with the eldest to wake and after a few minutes he started checking him to see if anything was broken.
He could see a gash at the side of his head and could not help but worry more at all the blood there was. He looked toward where the horses were and then back to his brother.
“Adam, I’m going to get some water to clean up your wound. I’ll be right back.”
Getting to his feet he started toward the horses, but the canteens weren’t there. Looking around he saw one at the top of the hill. Slowly he started up the incline, to get what he needed to care for his brother. The rain was still coming down fast and it wasn’t easy making his way up, but he was determined. Finally reaching his target he picked up the canteen and started back down.
Hoss passed the room wondering and worried about his family. How had he let Adam talk him out of going to look for Joe? Stopping at the hearth he stared at the flames.
“Try not to worry,” Dot said coming up behind him, placing her hand on his shoulder.
Turning he smiled at her. “It’s just hard not ta. First Pa is missing and now both Adam and Joe are out there in that storm. I think it’s raining more now than it has been. I should be out there lookin’.”
“Surely your brothers can take care of themselves.”
“Yeah, they can, but well…it’s just a feeling. You know I just can’t help it.” He walked to his father’s chair and sat down his heart aching to be with all his family.
“Then why don’t you go?” she asked, kneeling beside the chair.
can’t leave you and Hop Sing here with that man,” he said getting to his feet.
“I’m going to stay here until
Hop Sing and I can look after ourselves and you’re so
worried. I think it’s more important for you to find your father, besides there
are plenty of men you employ to help watch after
“Nope, I said I’d stay and staying is what I’m doin.” He looked toward the kitchen as he heard Hop Sing enter the room.
“Coffee for you and Missy Dot.” The cook said, bringing the coffee pot to them.
“Thanks,” Hoss gratefully took the pot and filled his and Dot’s cups. “I don’t know what we’d do without ya, Hop Sing.”
“You not worry about father and brothers; everything will turn out like it should,” the cook assured the worried man and headed back toward the kitchen.
After drinking their coffee, Hoss and Dot settled down on the settee listening to the rain that continued to come down in full force.
Ben woke and looked over to where Gale sat sleeping in a chair nearby. He was worried about his boys and Hop Sing. He had remembered that Marie had died and his sons, all three of them, where out in the storm when he was last at home. Closing his eyes he could still hear the sound of the tornado.
‘Tornado?’ he was still amazed that there had been one. Where were his sons? He hoped that they where able to find shelter.
“They must be worried sick about me,” he mumbled to himself.
“Worried about your Misses?” Gale asked as he got to his feet.
“Misses?” Ben questioned.
“You’re wife. You must be worried with the baby do, like it is.” He could see that Ben was a bit confused, “Marie wasn’t it?”
Pulling his hands to his eyes, Ben started to rub them. “No, Marie died quite a few years ago now.”
“Then there’re just the boys?”questioned Gale.
“Yes and Hop Sing our cook. They must be worried sick,” he confessed as he looked toward the window. “When is that rain ever going to stop? I’ve go to get word to them.”
“No need to worry about what you can’t help. How about some more of that Irish coffee?” He asked heading over to the stove.
“Coffee sounds good, but I think I’ll leave out the whiskey this time around,” Ben said moving around until he was sitting on the edge of the bed.
His head pounded and he knew the whiskey wouldn’t help that one bit. So he sat back and waited hoping that he could get word to his three sons soon.
Chapter 9 - by Meira Bracha
Joe struggled down the incline clutching the canteen. He lifted his face into the continuing downpour as a sudden realization made him almost smile.
accidents in as many days must have really addled my brains! What did I
need a canteen for when the whole world is soaking wet?"
His smile faded as he realized that he had expended energy and time that he should have used to help his brother and search for his father. He hung the canteen by its strap around his neck and scrambled and slid his way back down to where Adam was sprawled under a pile of branches, soil and stones. He reached in to wipe more of the mud from his brother's face. He was rewarded with a blink and a squint.
"Seems like the Cartwright brothers are in some kind of competition to see how many trees we can pile on top of ourselves. I concede. You win, unless Hoss has cut down that virgin stand of pines on the North Ridge and buried himself under 'em." Joe tried to maintain a light tone as he painfully uncovered Adam, branch by branch.
was a tough task to accomplish one-handed, though he found that he was able to
use one the lower branches to lever much of the debris pile up and away.
Finally Adam was uncovered, and Joe collapsed onto the ground beside him. Adam rolled his head until he was able to look at his younger brother and gauge his condition.
"Yeah," muttered Joe. "What about you? What hurts?"
"Dunno. Everything, I guess. Let's see. Aargh!"
Adam had maneuvered himself onto his hands and knees, but when he tried to rise to his feet his back seized with a terrible cramp.
"What is it, Adam?" asked Joe, worried.
"Nothing really new, I'm just being reminded again that once you fall from a roof your back never lets you forget. The cramp will probably pass in a minute and I'll be able to stand."
Adam was being a bit optimistic. After a few more attempts, he realized that the only way he was going to get to the horses was to be carried or to crawl. Since Joe could barely carry himself Adam opted for the latter. After a bit more rest, the two of them inched their way down.
As Joe had observed, Cochise and Sport were a bit scratched and ragged, but essentially sound. Adam almost screamed as Joe used his good hand to boost him into the saddle.
unable to sit upright, was forced to sprawl forward with his arms wrapped
around the horse's neck. Joe was riding in a more conventional posture,
but was at least as uncomfortable. His right arm throbbed terribly.
There being no nearer shelter, the brothers resumed their journey to the
trapper's cabin, albeit at a much reduced pace.
Ben looked up from his coffee. The weather and his injuries were clearly going to delay his return home, so he figured he should attempt to get to know his host.
"Been living here long? If this cabin is where I think it is, the trapper who used to live here gave it up years ago."
"Nah, I just came out to
"So what brought you to this isolated spot?"
"Came out here aimin' to kill a man. You look shocked. You want to hear the story?"
Ben tried to appear neutral. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Now you lost three wives and I only lost one. But mine, left on her own accord. At the time I thought that that hurt even worse than death. She was gone to find a man who caught her fancy when he came out our way to buy some horses. He was a big brute of a feller. Seemed friendly enough when we first met him. Wouldn't have figured him to be the wife stealin' kind. I made better time than she did and I got to
"Is that still your plan?"
"No. While I was waitin' the urge kind of passed. I realized it wouldn't solve anything. But I was afraid that if I actually saw them I might change my mind again. So I headed for the hills to think things over. Lucky fer me I found this cabin before the rain started. Next thing I knew you 'dropped' in."
Ben's curiosity was piqued. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to. But I know most of the residents of
John pondered whether he should reveal who his erstwhile, intended victim was. Once he did, he knew that he would never actually go through with his original plan.
"Alright, I'll tell ye. But first, I'd like to know whom I'm spillin' my guts to. We've spent all this time together and ain't introduced ourselves proper. My name is John Gale." He extended his hand.
Ben clasped it. "Pleasure to meet you sir. I'm Ben." A creeping suspicion kept Ben from revealing his last name. Gale didn't seem to notice.
"Alright Ben, I'll tell you. Feller I was lookin' for's got a real peculiar name. Seems they call him Hoss, Hoss Cartwright."
by Lori H.
When Ben heard John Gale say he wanted to kill Hoss Cartwright, Ben felt like he had been hit by a ton of bricks. He stiffened and gasped, his cup of coffee falling from his hands. The metal cup bounced off Ben’s lap, splashing the hot liquid all over his trousers and burning his thighs. He cried out and jumped to his feet.
A look of concern deeply furrowed in his weathered brow, John grabbed a towel and handed it to Ben.
“Are you feelin’ alright? Maybe ya should lie down and rest a spell. You ain’t lookin’ too good.”
Ben’s movements were stiff and awkward as he wiped at the dark wet stain on his trousers. He made no reply to John’s question for fear his voice would betray his emotions. Instead, he just nodded in agreement. He didn’t want to alarm the man and suddenly make him suspicious. A thousand confusing thoughts and questions swirled and tumbled around inside Ben’s head like a tornado, further compounding the ache in his head. He was thankful he hadn’t told Gale his last name.
John Gale studied Ben, wondering why the sudden change in his houseguest.
Still flustered, Ben sat back down and rested his elbows on the table, covering his face with his callused hands. He needed time to think, to plan his next move but the storm and his head injury were making it difficult to think straight. Why in the world did this man think his son Hoss was carrying on a dalliance with his wife which he had a hard time believing and if it were true, why hadn’t Hoss confided in him concerning this quandary?
Ben took a deep breath and reined in his emotions. “I’m alright, John...thanks for your concern.”
The drafty cabin was silent for a moment; the only sound was the voice of the wind howling through the trees. Ben toyed with his empty coffee cup then replied.
“I know the man you speak of...Hoss Cartwright. He is a good, honest man of high morals and principles who couldn’t possibly have done what you have accused him of.”
Listening to Ben defend Hoss Cartwright, John felt all the old anger building up inside him again. He jumped to his feet and stalked over to the hearth, resting one arm on the mantle and staring at the dancing flames.
He spun around, his eyes black and his jaw tightly clenched. He opened his mouth to speak when suddenly the cabin door burst open with a loud bang. A gust of wind raced inside, howling like a banshee and scattering everything that wasn’t heavy or held down. Ben and John both instinctively covered their faces with their arms feeling like the breath had been sucked from their lungs.
John stumbled toward the open door to close it when suddenly, out of the menacing darkness, the yawning mouth of the doorway spit two figures into the room. Both figures were cloaked in dark rain slickers, their hats firmly secured to their heads by bandanas.
John leaped over the two figures and using his weight to his advantage, finally managed to shoulder the door closed again. Outside the wind and the rain continued to howl in protest.
With the storm banished from the room, Ben and John turned their attention to the two forms that lay motinless on the floor.
John gently took hold of the smaller of the two and rolled him off his companion. From what he could see of his face, this one appeared to be a fairly young man. John quickly untied the bandana and removed the youngster’s hat and rain slicker.
“Looks like this one has a broken arm,” he mused.
John did the same to the second man who appeared to be older. This one was still unconscious but nothing appeared to be broken. Both men’s clothes were torn in places and soaking wet as well as caked in mud. They looked like they had both been in a fight with a grizzly bear...and lost.
Ben gently stood up waiting for the dizziness to pass then stepped up behind John to see if he could offer some assistance.
“Oh my God!” exclaimed Ben. “It’s Adam and Joe!”
“You know these two fellars?” asked John.
“They are my sons!”
Little Joe and Adam began to moan. Joe’s eyes fluttered open first. Ben knelt beside Joe and helped to raise him up into a sitting position. Joe coughed and rubbed his eyes, trying to focus on his surroundings.
When his tired eyes finally focused on his father’s face, Joe cried out, “PA!
He threw his arms around his father and held him in a crushing bear hug, unmindful of the deep throbbing pain in his broken right arm. Pressing his face against his father’s shoulder, Joe released all his pent up emotions and wept unabashedly.
“Thank God you’re alive,” he cried, “we thought we’d lost you, Pa!”
Ben smiled and ruffled Joe’s muddy curls, holding him tightly.
“I’m here boy...its gonna take a whole lot more than a tornado to get me to ever leave you boys.”
Little Joe gave his father a lop-sided grin then urged his father to check on Adam. Aside from a broken arm, Ben could see Joe wasn’t in too bad a shape. Adam however, was very pale and had begun to shiver. Ben grabbed a blanket and draped it around Joe’s shoulders then moved over beside his eldest son.
Adam had just begun to come around when Ben kneeled down beside him. He placed his hand on his son’s face.
Adam blinked his eyes, uncertain whether or not he was dreaming.
Ben desperately wanted to grab his eldest son and hold him tight - to comfort him, but Little Joe had cautioned him to be very careful with Adam and not move him too much because he was suffering from a flare up of his old back injury and he might have a few cracked ribs from the landslide.
Adam’s hazel eyes misted and he reached for his father’s hand.
“Oh, Pa....you’re alive! We found you.” Adam looked around the cabin then added, “What happened to you, how did you get here and where’s Little Joe, is he alright?”
Ben smiled at his son. That was just like Adam, he mused - concerned with everyone else’s welfare and rarely ever thinking about himself.
“Just take it easy there, son,” Ben said. “It’s a long story and I’ll be sure to tell you all about later...but right now we need to be taking care of you. From the looks of you and your little brother, I reckon you two have quite a tale of your own to tell.”
Relieved his son’s were going to be alright, Ben turned to Joe and asked, “What happened to you and Adam, is Hop Sing and the ranch hands alright...and where’s your brother H...?”
Suddenly remembering John’s vow to kill Hoss Cartwright, Ben cast Adam and Joe a covert glance and changed his question to, “Where’s your brother Erik?” placing emphasis on the Hoss’ true name
He fervently hoped and prayed Adam and Joe comprehended there was something going on and that he was trying to warn them not to refer to their brother as “Hoss.”
John was busy fashioning a splint for Joe’s arm that he missed the silent message that silently passed between Adam, Joe and their pa.
Happy to be reunited with their pa, Joe hugged his injured arm close to his chest and scooted closer to the fire in the hearth for warmth, content to wait while his pa tended to Adam.
With John’s assistance, he and Ben gently lifted Adam and placed him on the cot where Ben had slept while recovering from his injuries.
Adam’s skin felt cold and he was shivering so while John finished constructing a crude splint and sling for Little Joe, Ben quickly removed his eldest son’s wet clothes and covered him with several blankets. He tucked the blankets around Adam’s broad shoulders.
“There now...these blankets should help warm you up a bit,” he said.
Adam pinched his eyes closed and groaned as he tried to shift his hips and legs into a more comfortable position.
Ben frowned, worry lines creasing his weathered brow. “Your back is still hurting you pretty bad, Adam?”
Adam nodded, gritting his teeth as another painful spasm held him in its grip.
Ben placed his hand on Adam’s head and said, “You rest easy, son while I check on Little Joe.”
Grinning and winking at Joe, Ben took a seat beside his youngest son.
“How’s our other patient doing, John? Think he’s gonna live?”
A small smile creased John’s lips, the first one Ben had seen on the man’s face. “I reckon so,” he replied.
Ben could see Joe’s pain and exhaustion were beginning to take its toll. Little Joe was fighting to keep his eyes open when all he really wanted to do was surrender to a deep and dreamless sleep.
The excitement of finding their pa still running high, Adam and Joe took turns telling their pa and John about how the tornado had touched down near their home and about the severe damage to the barn as well as the house.
Ben listened carefully, making mental notes on what needed to be done first as soon as they all returned home. When Joe told their pa about his accident in the river and then about the landslide, Ben cringed and whispered a prayer, thanking the Lord for sparing his son’s lives.
Only a brief mention was made of the stranger they had found near the house and, whether warned by a sixth sense or simply not finding it important enough to mention, neither Joe nor Adam alluded to the woman named Dot who had helped them as well as taken a fancy to their brother Hoss.
When Adam and Joe’s tale was finished, Ben told his boys the incredible tale of how he had been sucked up by the tornado and then flung from the sky like rag doll. He considered himself a lucky man that John had found him otherwise he might not have survived his terrifying ordeal.
All four men had a good laugh
when John detailed how Ben had been sure he had been tossed into
Even though all their battered bodies craved the renewing and healing powers of sleep, John and the Cartwrights remained awake until none of them could keep their eyes open any longer; sharing their incredible tales of survival and the many obstacles and accidents the boys faced while searching for their father.
The sun was just peaking over the distant mountains, bathing the clear sky in a blue and lavender glow, when Ben opened his eyes. The interior of the cabin was quiet; the only sounds, the crackle and pop from the fire in the hearth and Joe and Adam’s soft snoring.
The tempest from the night before had finally spent itself sometime during the wee hours of the early morning.
Both Ben and John had fallen asleep sitting at the table, their heads resting on their folded arms. Adam and Little Joe now occupied the only two beds in the cabin. Ben yawned and stretched, working the kinks out of his stiff neck. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes then checked on Adam first then Little Joe. Both of his sons appeared to be sleeping peacefully.
After preparing a pot of coffee, Ben opened the cabin door and stepped outside. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the dank smell of wet earth and the heady aroma of pine. The crisp morning air felt refreshing after spending several days cooped up inside the dusty old cabin.
With the storm now over, Ben guessed it was time they made their way back home. Hoss and Hop Sing were sure to be worried sick about what had happened to him, as well as Adam and Little Joe.
Ben was about to go back inside when he heard a horse snort and whinny. He turned around and spotted Sport and Cochise several yards away, grazing contentedly. He was glad to see his boy’s mounts had not been frightened by the storm and run off during the night. They were going to be needed for the journey home.
Ben was glad to see both of his son’s awake when he stepped back inside the cabin. The odor of fresh coffee filled the small space, making his stomach grumble. John was up and about, throwing together a modest breakfast out of what food stuffs he still had left in the cabin.
“I know t’ain’t much,” he said, “but its fillin’ and it’ll warm yer insides.”
Little Joe rubbed his eyes and tried to sit up. He winced and groaned as a burst of pain exploded in his broken right arm.
“Guess I didn’t dream up the last few days,” he joked through gritted teeth.
John rose to his feet and examined the now vacant firewood box. “Looks like I need to fetch some more firewood.”
Ben offered to help but John told him to stay inside with his sons and rest. As soon as the door closed, Little Joe rubbed his eyes and tried to sit up. He winced and groaned as a burst of pain exploded in his broken right arm.
“Guess I didn’t dream up the last few days,”joked Joe through gritted teeth. He waited for the pain to pass then added, “Mmmmmm...something sure smells good. I’m so hungry I could eat a sow an’ nine pigs an’ chase the boar a half-a-mile.”
Adam and Ben both broke out in a robust round of laughter. Ben patted his youngest son on the back and said, “You sound just like your brother, Hoss.”
Ben suddenly realized his mistake; he should have said “Erik” instead of Hoss. He nervously glanced at Adam and Joe, his eyes coming to rest on the closed cabin door.
“I don’t think he heard you,” said Adam.
John was standing outside the door with an armload of firewood and was about to open the door when he overheard Ben mention Joe’s brother, Hoss.
Ben to Adam
The early morning silence was interrupted by the loud ramblings of the excited Chinese cook.
“Mister Hoss! Mister Hoss!” he called as he hurried into the house. “Come quick!”
Hoss had already been descending the stairs and hurried to meet the little man. Hop Sing led him out into the yard and pointed into the distance.
“Isn't that same dog brother take with him?” he asked
Hoss peered toward the horizon and the distant figure that wandered aimlessly to and fro. Then he whistled, the shrill sound traveled easily in the still morning air. The dog's head jerked up and a deep baying answered the call. As quickly as he could, he loped toward Hoss.
Hoss bent down and checked the animal over carefully. “You've had a rough time, haven't you?” he observed aloud while rubbing the floppy ears. The dog was very cut and bruised, but not badly injured overall.
“You'd better get him some water and grub while I doctor these wounds,” he told Hop Sing. “And I guess I'd better tell Dot that I'll be goin' searching after all.”
He didn't have to go far to find her, since she had been watching from the upstairs window and came down to meet him.
“Don't worry, Hoss,” she assured him, “Hop Sing and I will be fine. And that deputy will be here this morning anyhow”.
Hoss knew he'd worry about her. But he was more worried about his family, and knew he had to go.
After making sure there were loaded rifles within easy reach, and that the prisoner was well secured, he mounted his horse and started out at an easy canter.
He had considered bringing the dog with him, but the poor thing was rather battered. And besides, the fierce storms had probably washed any scent away. Hoss was a good tracker anyway---one of the best in the territory really--- and didn't need help following a trail in the soft ground.
It was mid-morning when he stopped near a creek to rest and fill his canteen. The water rushed by in a frantic frothy torrent, wider and stronger than Hoss had ever seen it. He was careful not to get to close.
He suddenly thought aloud, while surveying the storm-ravaged countryside.
He had long ago forgotten who gave it that moniker, but all three of them had played —and even hid— there over the years. It had been such a heady feeling of importance to have a place all their own.
After one last look at the river, and ignoring the sinking feeling that had settled in the pit of his stomach, he mounted his horse and set out for the cave.
It wasn't long before he found the childhood haunt, and he quickly dismounted and tied his horse to a nearby tree. The smell of a spent fire was still fresh in the morning air, and he scuffed at the ashes with the toe of his boot. Some one had been here alright. But was it his brothers? He turned to go, but suddenly he caught sight of unusual discolorations on the rocky floor. He bent to study the crimson stains and his heart skipped a beat. Blood. Hoss hurried to search the cave more closely, but found no other clues.
“Well brothers,” he said to the empty cave, “if you were here then you've sure got yourselves in a pickle.”
He sighed as he walked back to his horse. If they were hurt, they needed him. But where did one look for two lost Cartwrights in the whole wide world?
Dot looked up from clearing debris off the front porch in time to see a rider approaching. Dusting her hands on her skirt, she walked out into the yard to meet him.
“Morning, Ma'am,” the deputy said as he dismounted. “I hear tell you've got a prisoner for me.”
“Yes,” she answered. “He's inside. I'll show you.”
She led him into the house but as they approached the bedroom she could see that the door was opened. She was certain that she had shut it when she last checked on the prisoner. Feeling a sudden rush of fear, she slowed and let the deputy precede her into the room. Only seconds later he came out again and looked at her strangely.
“Is this some kind of joke?” he asked with irritation. “There's no one in there!”
Dot covered her mouth with her hands and her eyes grew wide.
“Really, Deputy, he was just there a little bit ago!” she stammered, glancing around lest he was hiding in the shadows.
The lawman laid his hand on the butt of his gun.
“Well, he couldn't have gone far then, “ he said. “I'll have a look around. Are you here alone?”
Dot continued to glance to and fro. “No,” she said, “Hop Sing just went out back.”
“Come on then,” the deputy said as he led her toward the door. “You can stay with him while I search for the prisoner.”
They walked around to the back of the house where chickens scratched and pecked in endless circles. Not far away laundry flapped on the clothesline and a lone hog helped himself to an abandoned basket of vegetables. But there was no sign of Hop Sing.
“What's going on around here?” the deputy demanded. “There's no one back here!”
Dot took a step back and shook her head frantically.
“But…but...he just came back here!” she declared. “It couldn't have been more than fifteen minutes or so!”
The deputy looked at her without conviction and loosened the safety on his holster.
“Well,” he said, “You stay right here where I can keep an eye on you. I'm going to have a look around.”
Dot sank down on the back step and put her head in her hands. What was going on around here? She sure wished Hoss would come back, he'd know what to do. If anyone could banish the creeping fear that gripped her heart, then he surely could. She shivered and wrapped her arms around her knees as the deputy disappeared around the back of the chicken house.
Suddenly she heard shouts and confused Chinese ramblings. Then the lawman came into view supporting Hop Sing who held one hand to his head and limped visibly on his left leg. She hurried across the yard to meet them, chickens flapping and scattering in her wake.
“What happened?” she exclaimed as she dabbed at a cut on Hop Sing's head with a handkerchief.
“I not sure, Missy,” he answered groggily,” I here doing chores...then deputy helping me up.”
He glanced at the deputy and rubbed the side of his head again.
“Prisoner do this?” he asked. “Him...get away?”
“It would seem that way,” the deputy answered. “Now let's get you taken care of, then I can do a proper search of the area.”
They hurried back into the house and Dot busied herself properly cleaning Hop Sing's wounds. The deputy searched the room while she worked and noticed that a rifle was missing from its place in the gun rack.
“Did Hoss take one of these guns when he left?” he asked.
Dot looked up with alarm. “No,” she said shakily, “he only had his gunbelt. I'm sure of it.”
The deputy looked at her a long moment before handing her one of the rifles.
“Do you know how to use this?” he asked.
“Of course,” Dot said as she took the weapon.
The deputy nodded in acknowledgment and moved toward the door.
“I'll be back shortly,” he said, as he surveyed the room one last time. “ You two best stay close to those guns.”
Dot watched him go and felt that icy chill again. Hop Sing patted her hand with concern.
“It ok, Missy,” he said. “We're safe here.”
Dot's eyes darted around the too-still room. “I hope you're right,” she said. But she didn't sound reassured.
“We need to get home,” Adam said, and started to rise on one elbow. The grimace he couldn’t stop was enough to tell his father everything he needed to know, though.
“You,” Ben glared, “are not going anywhere.” He sat down on the edge of the cot and pushed gently at the center of his son’s chest. “I’m surprised that you’ve forgotten how long it took for you to get on your feet last time.”
Adam sank back onto the flat pillow with a melancholy frown. He spoke quietly, but with force.
me, I haven’t forgotten, but I’m assuming there’s a good reason for you to call
my brother by a name that’d have him backing into a corner if you said it to
Ben wiped a hand over his face and glanced at the closed door. “I can’t go into it all now, but John came out here to kill Hoss Cartwright.”
“What!” Joe exclaimed
“Shh!” Ben cautioned. “He says Hoss stole his wife.”
He raised his hand to stop any more interruptions.
know, I know. I told him I knew Hoss,
that he’d never do a thing like that.
John didn’t believe me. I guess
Dot told him where she was going and why.
But Hoss could never be involved--”
He stopped suddenly when Adam and Joe exchanged glances. Joe bit his lower lip, and Adam rubbed at the bridge of his nose.
“What?” he asked.
Adam raised an eyebrow. “Dot Gale?”
“Dorothy, but he calls her Dot.”
Joe heaved a sigh and leaned back against the wall.
got a problem. She’s at the ranch with
Hoss, and…” His voice trailed off as he
tried to figure out how to put it.
Adam nodded. “They’re smelling of April and May.”
Ben took a breath to deny it when they heard boots on the porch outside.
John bustled through the door with an armload of kindling and dumped it into the woodbox.
“That’ll hold ye for a while yet.”
He nodded at the shelves in the dark corner by the fireplace.
“Ye’re welcome to the food, long as ye need to be here with’n yer boys, Ben, but it’s
‘bout time fer me to be movin’ on.”
“Surely not yet,” Ben exclaimed. “The weather--”
“It’s clearin’ enough fer me to get goin’. Gotta get this settled somehow – ain’t gonna have no peace till it’s done with.”
Joe rose unsteadily, ignoring his father’s gesture to sit back down. “But -- but -- you have to stay.”
“I don’t gotta do anythin’ of the kind, boy.” John dragged a shoulder bag out from under the cot and started putting some supplies into it. “I got it to do, and now the weather’s broke, there ain’t no reason to wait and plenty not to.”
Joe looked wildly at Adam, hoping he’d say something, come up with something reasonable to buy them some time. Adam just shook his head slightly, then grimaced in pain. His back again. His back!
gotta stay and help,” he said. “We need
John looked up from his packing. “You got your Daddy to help you -- don’t need no ol’ mountain man.”
“Yes, we do,” Joe shot back, sure of himself now. “It’s Adam’s back, see?”
John glanced over at Adam just in time to see him hide another grimace by turning his head to the wall. He approached quietly and looked down at him.
ain’t gettin’ better, son?”
Adam breathed heavily through his nose, teeth clenched, and managed a strangled, “No.”
“What’s goin’ on?” John asked Ben.
Ben took his son’s hand, let him grip it as hard as he needed while the spasm passed.
fell almost two years ago, hurt his back.”
His eyes were steady on Adam’s face, though he spoke to John. “Took weeks to get back on his feet.”
“Months before he could walk right again,” Joe interjected. “Hardest thing I ever saw.”
Ben nodded, held up Adam’s white-knuckled fist.
“Don’t . . . talk about me . . . like I’m not . . . here!” Adam’s words broke off into a soft groan.
“Sorry as I can be ‘bout that, Ben, but I don’t see what it’s got to do with me.”
Joe took the two steps to Adam’s cot and grabbed the old man’s shoulder with his good hand to turn him face to face. He jerked his head towards the bed.
“I’ve seen this before.
It gets worse. The doc showed us
-- only thing gonna help Adam is to straighten him out, and that takes two
strong men with good arms -- which isn’t me, right now.”
John frowned. “Whaddaya mean, straighten out?”
Ben’s and Adam’s eyes were turned to Joe, too, wondering what he was up to.
“See how he’s lyin’ there kinda crooked? He thinks he’s lyin’ straight, but he ain’t. Muscles get all cramped up on one side, pull on the ones on the other, they get sore and cramp up -- goes on and on. Gotta get him all relaxed, probably gonna have to get him drunk, then one man grabs him around the shoulders, the other one pulls on his feet. Straightens out his back. Hurts like he--sorry,
Adam groaned again, a bit theatrically, Joe thought, but then he knew his brother would normally rather bite his tongue off than worry his father by crying out in pain.
John winced in sympathy. “No morphine, but yeah, I got enough whiskey to get him drunk a couple times over.” He shuffled over to a box against the wall and dug around in it.
Ben cocked a quizzical eyebrow at Joe, and he shot back his best pleading look. Ben sighed and checked wordlessly with Adam.
“For Hoss,” Adam mouthed.
Ben finally nodded. After all, if Adam was willing to go through one of what he referred to as Paul Martin’s torture treatments in order to buy time to convince John not to murder Hoss, well, who was he to complain? And the treatments had seemed to help Adam before.
“Pa,” said Joe as John came back with a bottle, “you’d better take Adam’s feet. You’ve done this before.”
Adam reached for the whiskey. “Let me have a couple of swallows first, huh?”
John put a pot of coffee on while Ben propped Adam up enough against his chest to drink. The first swallow went down hard, and Adam coughed -- he’d taken a big one, “To get the ball rolling,” he said. Then he sipped slowly, not wanting more of a hangover than necessary.
“Shouldn’ take much, anyway,” he said, his words beginning to slur. “Ain’t had much to eat last day or so but Joe’s beans.”
His eyelids drifted shut, then he blinked owlishly.
“Gonna get somethin’ good from Hop Sing when we get home, righ’ Pa? Mebbe apple pie, or fritters, or…”
voice faded as his eyes closed once more and he slumped against Ben, heavy in
his father’s arms. Ben settled him carefully on the bed and brushed an errant
few strands of hair back into line.
Joe held tight to his injured arm. “Wish we could just let him sleep,” he whispered.
“I know,” Ben answered softly. “But we both know it has to be done.”
John waved the coffee pot. “Can’t ye wait jest a coupla minutes -- long enough for a cup?”
They moved to the small table and sat down while John poured out the coffee.
“Ain’t easy, knowin’ what you got to do,” the old man said. “Knowin’ yer gonna have to hurt him.”
Ben looked up from his coffee and stared hard at him.
it’s never easy to do something you know will hurt someone you care for. Sometimes, though, you simply have to go
ahead and do it anyway, like here…or back in
John started to get up, hot words on his tongue, but was interrupted by Adam’s moan. The old mountain man looked at him sharply, then said simply, “We better get to it.”
The rest of the day was every bit as bad as Joe had predicted. The whiskey might have relaxed Adam’s back muscles enough they could be straightened out, but it didn’t do nearly enough for the pain. There were no more theatrical moans -- they were real, and they cut through Ben and Joe’s hearts like the sharpest knife.
Ben watched over his son’s drinking, making sure he got plenty of water, too, and even making soup from some of John’s dried supplies. Adam drank it all, bleary-eyed from alcohol and pain, the trust he had in his family all that kept him going. Joe sat at his side while Ben and John did their work, and never showed anyone the bruises on his good hand from Adam’s grip.
By midnight, they were all exhausted, but when Adam stayed asleep for a full hour without twisting in pain, they raised one last mug of coffee in a toast to each other and collapsed -- Joe on the other cot, Ben sitting on the floor at Adam’s side with his head pillowed on the mattress, and John curled up on a bearskin in front of the fire.
Ben blinked open his black eyes quickly, not realizing he had fallen asleep after sitting with Adam at his bedside. He shook his tired head to and fro jerkily trying to get fully awake and his eyes widening, taking in the small cabin's interior saw only his sleeping sons.
"Dad blamed fool! Adam! Joseph!" he cried excitedly looking about the quiet little room.
Jumping up with a start he yanked the
front door open with a hard pull. Scanning the yard sharply he did not see John
Joe was on his agile feet with a runner's speed and panting excitedly, nose flared, he searched his father's darting eyes.
"Joe, quick, fetch some cold water from the well. John's gone!”
“Coming up, Pa," he quipped darting
out the door.
Adam stirred groggily and pulled himself to sit on the edge of the cot. He groaned painfully aware that sudden movements of his legs and torso could send him into another torturous spasm. He winced at the thought of what he was dreading to come.
Ben scurried about the cabin and found an old bottle of liniment tucked away behind some cans under the dry sink. Pulling apart a few drawers he scavenged some "clean cotton" to redress Adam's ribs. Working with deft hands, Ben rubbed the liniment on Adam's aching back and wrapped him about the chest with the cotton.
"Son, what were you thinking? Why couldn't you talk Joseph out of riding out alone?"
"He's your son, you talk to him!" Adam quipped.
Ben gave Adam a sharp look.
"Hoss happens to be the finest
tracker and hunter in three states and all of
He worked binding the cotton around Adam's ribs Ben tied the strips a bit too snuggly.
"Oof " Adam winced.
"Uh, oh sorry son. I guess I got a little carried away." Ben stammered. "It seems to me that Hoss is the only one of you three that's thinking straight at the moment!"
Ben shook his finger at his eldest who was feeling sheepish.
"Pa, there's something else you should know; Dot is a capable nurse, from what I've seen. Gale probably caught on to the ruse we were trying to pull off last night."
Ben groaned, "Well, let me tell you something, young man, all three of you are going to be called on the carpet for this!"
"Pa, you're shouting!" Adam offered slyly.
"I am not shouting! You're just too dad blamed stubborn, the lot of you!"
‘ ...mmm and I wonder where we could get that from’? Adam mused
"Meanwhile, time is short we've got
to get moving!" Ben said coolly. "We've got to get mounted and head
Gale off; he's a tired old man and only wants his wife back, but let's take no
"Pa, " Joe said pointedly as he walked in with the water bucket, "there's only two horses."
"I'm aware of that, Joseph." Ben told him firmly. "Hoss is very likely following your lead now with a mount and supplies. Knowing your brother's tracking skills,” Ben looked at Adam and Joe rubbing it in, "he'll close in on our trail in eight hours, all we need to do is intercept Gale on the way,"
Ben tenderly massaged Joe's broken right arm and applied cold compresses as he spoke; he redressed the splint and arm sling as best he could.
"We have some advantage; Gale doesn't know the way and the nag he's got is no match for Ponderosa stock. Joe, you'll ride ahead..."
"I'm on my way Pa," Joe assured him.
Ben caught the worried expression on his youngest son’s face.
"Joe," he placed an affectionate hand on his son's shoulder, "John Gale is no threat to your brother. Hoss is a formidable man and he's dealt with the likes of Gale's sort all his life."
One thing Hoss was sure of: it had been
at least a day since his brothers were hold up in the cave. There was no fresh
sign of them in or outside the rocky grotto. The small blood spots he found,
told him the injury was only superficial. No spattering, no blood trail. Adam
and Joe were out of danger...for now.
"Consarn you, Short Shanks! " Hoss sighed peevishly, "if you were here now I'd plant my size fourteen boot on the back end of your pants. Man, oh man, when you get the orneries you get 'em in all directions, that's for dang sure. How many times did I try to teach you to follow the river, anyhow? Now you've really got yourself in the soup. I can just hear Pa now...And you two running off helter skelter, it's no surprise to me one of you winds up getting hurt...just be careful of his back, Joe, his back."
Hoss swung his long, muscular legs into his saddle scanning his bright eyes southeast. The sky above glowed a weird green gray, heavy billowing clouds rolled past as swiftly as a steam engine.
Suddenly, the Big Man stood stock-still; he urged Chub to stand alert, whispering to the stocking horse assuredly.
Crack; bang, bang, bang, crack. Five shots fired!
Hoss quickly made a mental note of the sounds of the echoes. No, not signal shots, he knew. At least one shot was a rifle judging by the report. Hoss' Atlas like body relaxed and listening intently he made a quick assessment. It was useless to return signal fire; the wind was blowing away from him. He sat forward raising his hips off the saddle.
"Heya, boy" he grunted at his thoroughbred.
Chub took off in the direction of the
Ponderosa, pounding the miles away under his hooves.
Dot Gale sat at the kitchen table peeling string beans. She sat nervously trying to concentrate on her task. Maybe some small talk would ease the tension she and Hop Sing were feeling as Deputy Clem walked about looking for the gray haired escapee.
"MM mmm," she drawled, "sure do love to cook up a mess o' string beans with bacon fat. Is that how you make them Hop Sing?"
Hop Sing grinned broadly as he bent over the oven door.
"Well, Hop Sing boil string beans, make them nice and tender. Mr. Hoss likes tender,
with lots of butter. Hop Sing loves to cook; plenty of good food to cook for
Cartwrights, not like the nasty grub hands eat"
Smiling brightly, Dot turned to look out the kitchen window.
"There he is again, Hop Sing! The man's come back!"
They both ran out the kitchen doors, Dot wielding the rifle waist high. The gray haired man found Deputy Clem. Pointing a rifle menacingly, he shot off a round at the lawman while his back was turned. Clem spun around tersely squeezing off a warning shot above the prisoner's head. Hop Sing, with characteristic aplomb, bolted toward the gray haired man and spinning on his heel, thwacked the man with a sharp kick to his belly. The deputy shot again missing him by a scant fraction, he ran in to take over, but the prisoner fired again and again missed his intended target. Incredibly Clem missed another shot; Dot stood at the ready besides Hop Sing. Raising the rifle shoulder high she blasted the stranger. Her shot stopped him dead in his tracks. Clem kneeled besides the dead body of the gray haired prisoner.
"A thief and a looter" he declared.
The rifle the man fired had a silver C on its stock. Deputy Clem went through the pockets of the dead man finding one thousand dollars of Cartwright money.
Dot embraced Hop Sing, "It's all over now!" she cried.
"That was mighty fine shooting, Miss" the deputy said tipping his hat. "And I guess I owe you my thanks, too, Hop Sing," he said shaking the cook's hand. "Well, so much for that criminal. Nothing to do now except take him back to town and see that he's planted. Much obliged to you both."
With workman like efficiency, Clem slung
the dead man's corpse over a horse's back and left.
Hoss was intensely aware that time was running out. A silent tick...tick...tick was
niggling at him the nearer he came to the Ponderosa. He urged Chub on with gritty determination; his bright azure eyes focused keenly ahead. Miles fell away like so much rent sailcloth.
At last he arrived. Pulling the rifle from its scabbard, Hoss circled the yard shouting.
"Pa, Adam, Joe! Dorothy!"
His heart sank a little, not hearing their familiar reply.
Dot ran from the house, "Hoss!"
The Big Man dismounted deftly, his eyes eager.
"I heard the gunshots, what's happened? My Pa and brothers, they're not here? "
"OH, Hoss, it was horrible! The prisoner escaped and tried to kill Deputy Clem and I shot him. The man's dead." Dot explained ruefully, her eyes tired and mouth drawn.
"There, there, there now, Dot " Hoss embraced the young woman hugging her warmly.
"It's all right now. You did what you had to do and you're safe. That's all that matters. And what of the deputy? Did he find any sign of my Pa and brothers?" He asked searching her drawn face.
"No, I'm sorry, Hoss" Dot shook her head sadly.
Hoss' face set tensely. "I'll rub down my horse and give him a breather, then I've got to set out again. Time's wasting."
"Hoss, there's something else...something's been eating at me since you went out."
Dot placed her hand on The Big Man's chest; she looked at Hoss with large painful eyes.
"It's about John, my husband." She wanted to see solace in Hoss' blue eyes. "I think he'll want to kill you if he ever finds you. Hoss, I'm scared."
"What! Why are you telling me this now, woman? Don't I have enough grief as it is? I've got to find my Pa and brothers and now you tell me about John? Thanks a lot, thanks a lot!"
Hoss shook his head unbelievingly and
let out a frustrated sigh. "Look, Dot," he placed firm hands on her
sagging shoulders, “we're not in
Hoss turned away and walked briskly with Chub into the barn...
Hoss gave his faithful companion a
much-needed rub down and fed and watered the trusty steed. He saddled a fresh
horse and took a medical bag and extra canteens
and blankets for his search.
Dot Gale ran towards Hoss as he marched urgently out of the barn with Chub and the fresh horse. The wind had started up again whipping her skirts about her ankles. Hoss drew near her placing a comforting hand about her slim waist.
"I've stayed as long as I dare. I'm not coming back without my Pa and brothers. What ever it takes, I'll do it."
Or die trying, he thought.
Dot didn't want Hoss to go. She held her breath hoping he would understand her great need of his strength. She rested her hand on his broad chest.
"Hoss, be careful, please, I can't go back alone. I need you; I need you badly, please, Hoss"
Dot searched The Big Man's kind face. She ached for his strong embrace. Caught up in the heat of the moment, Hoss cradled Dot in his rock solid arms. He gently caressed her wistful face turning her chin upwards and gazed deeply into her soulful eyes.
"Kiss me. Kiss me...just…once!"
Hoss pressed his lips firmly upon Dot
Gale's longing lips. They kissed with abandon as the wind blew, whistling as
sharply as a freight train.
John Gale stopped to rest his horse at the creek. He filled his canteen aimlessly, stooping low to the muddy ground to take a drink. The water drizzled down his brown cheek as he gulped the cold liquid thirstily. His mind was racing as he squatted there.
"When I catch you, Dot Gale, you'll pay for living in sin with that that cowboy! If I can't have you no one can, do you hear me? I'll take your head in my hands and squeeze and squeeze till your skull cracks open like a walnut. Then, the…" Gale stammered breathlessly, reaching for the pistol on his hip, "I'm gonna put that Hoss Cartwright six feet under!"
Gale stood up twirling the pistol
absentmindedly and throwing his head back, he laughed loudly. The sound of his
manic laughter carried away by the howling wind.
Joe rode his mount as fast as he dared and still keep a good eye on the tracks left behind by John Gale. This wasn’t an easy task with all the rain that came down the days before. Stopping once more, he heard the sound of another horse. Patting Cochise on the neck he whispered.
“I think we might have found him.”
Getting slowly down from Cochise, Joe led the horse closer to where he had heard the sound.
“Hello, in the Camp…may I come in?”
The old man looked up at the call, “I wondered when one of you was going to show up.”
Joe tied Cochise reins next to the horse Gale had been using, before walking into the camp, “mind if I join you?”
“Thanks,” Going toward John, Joe pointed down to the coffee pot. “Mind if I get some?”
Taking a moment to head back to his mount, he got his own cup, “you left kind of early this morning.”
Gale nodded, “Got something to take care of…”
“What would that something be,” the youngest Cartwright questioned. He wanted to stall John Gale as long as he could.
“I think you know, I over heard you’re Pa, brother and you talking about Hoss Cartwright and how I’m looking for him and my wife.”
“If you met Hoss, then how can you believe that he would do what you have accused him of?”
“Ha!” Gale sarcastically laughed. “He’s the reason that my Dot left and I’m going to make sure he pays for that…”
“We should…” Joe started.
“We have nothing to talk about. You finish that cup of coffee and take off. After I finish this coffee I’m setting off again and when I fine that over sized ox, I’m going to put a bullet in him and get it over with.”
“I said finish your coffee and take off; I have nothing else to talk to you about Cartwright,” Gale shouted before throwing the last of his coffee out of the cup he was using and walked away.
Joe watched the man and knew that he had to keep an eye on Gale and to keep his brother safe.
Hoss had been on the trail for a few hours when he finally got back to where he was before he had heard the shot causing him to head for home. Looking around he couldn’t find any track, but he didn’t really think that he would. The ground was soaked and all signs of his brothers and which way they had headed were gone.
Taking one last look around the area he headed in the direction he believed would be the most likely lead him to his father and brother’s. Saying a quick prayer he went back to work.
Ben let his eyes wonder down to his son, who was seated in front of him on Sport. He was worried about the amount of pain Adam was in and wondered about his other two sons hoping that when this mess was all over with, everything would be alright. He glanced around him and wished they could travel in a faster speed, but he wasn’t about to do anything to hurt his son farther.
Hearing a moan escape Adam, he slowed Sport once again and hoped that he would soon catch up with Joe and Gale.
Pacing back and forth, Dot was weighing her options. She knew if her husband caught up with her she would surly die. He was nice enough, but betrayal is something that he couldn’t tolerate. She worried about Hoss. If John caught up with him, while he was looking for his family, her husband would shoot first and ask questions later.
Knowing what she had to do she headed for the barn and started to saddle up a horse. If she rode fast enough she could catch up with Hoss and be able to somehow protect him against John. Soon her task of getting her mount ready was done and she quickly rode off not caring that the ground was dangerously wet.
Later, when they finally told the story to Sheriff Coffee, none of them could quite agree on every detail but two points.
The first, being that, all of them had been desperate to protect Hoss from the wrath of John Gale. It was like a rockslide gathering speed as it rolled down the Sierras, Gale was on a collision course with destruction, his own and the man he thought had stolen his wife, Dot.
The second point was the strange color of the sky and the horrible strange sound of the wind.
"It was like the sound of a stampede," recalled Little Joe.
"A stampede and a train whistle at the same time," corrected Adam leaning back and shuddering. "The sound went right through me and it sort of was part of me at the same time. Never heard anything like it before and I hope I never will."
Until the day he died, Adam
Cartwright never forgot that sound and the physical memory of it. Riding on
Sport in his father's arms he had been in terrible, unrelenting pain. Adam had
just said a silent prayer for something, anything to ease his physical agony,
for him to get home. All he wanted was to find Hoss safe and to get into his
"More fearsome thing I ever did hear in all my days. Sounded like the end of the world," Ben nodded in agreement. Every time he recalled that awful moment, the hair stood on the back of his neck.
"The end of the world? Guess it was for some," Roy Coffee shook his head mournfully at those who had died that day.
"Or the death moans in hell," Ben said in a soft voice.
Little Joe felt cold fear run down his spine. He would have gladly given his life for Hoss but that was not to be.
"And the color of the sky. Never saw anything like it before or since. It was all aglow but dark at the same time." Ben continued.
"Yellow. Sky has no business being yellow," said Joe, adjusting the black sling he was wearing to support his broken arm.
Doc Martin had said Joe's arm
would be healed in six weeks or so. Adam's back was doing better now that he
was home and had a couple of days in bed. Hoss was a whole other story.
"Sky should be blue," reasoned Joe. "Or black at night.
"Sky has no business being yellow," Roy Coffee said awkwardly.
He really didn't know what to
say, the Cartwrights had been through so much, lost so much.
Standing near the massive stone fireplace, Adam nodded in agreement. He shifted his weight trying to ease the suddenly recurring throb in his back. He hated to stay in bed anymore and
"Yellow and green, both like the eyes of a puma when it is breathing in your face," Ben described.
He poured each of his sons a
glass of brandy then downed his in one long swallow.
"Or the eyes of a wolf, a wolf that is about to rip you to shreds. The growl too," Joe said.
He hoped his father didn't notice how his hand
shook when he took the glass from him.
Adam noticed his father had poured five glasses of brandy by habit, though Hoss was absent, old habits die hard.
It had all come together in the end. Some might have said it was divine influence, the hand of God working miracles. Others would claim it was the devil making pain and sorrow and a hell on earth. A few said it all was just random bad luck or good luck saving some and not others.
Even analytical Adam Cartwright couldn't believe all that had happened.
Now, Roy Coffee had to hear the entire story. He was not only Ben Cartwright's best friend, but he was the sheriff of
It didn't matter who the man was, a stranger or someone Roy Coffee knew for decades. The law was the law.
Two days earlier:
Hoss Cartwright had finally given up.
He had lost the trail of his brothers and had no idea where to find them or his father. The wind and heavy rain had erased any trace of their tracks. Trying to track them now was like looking for a needle in the haystack. Hoss realized that the only sensible thing to do was head for home. There were 10,000 acres on the Ponderosa and his family could be anywhere. Maybe they had made their way home and were safe and sound there waiting for him. That was his hope. Even if they weren't, Hoss decided he had a better chance going back to the house. If some of the hands had returned to the bunkhouse and could get some help. Besides, he needed a fresh horse.
Reluctantly, Hoss turned towards home.
Dot Gale had attempted to ride out to stop her husband, John, from gunning down Hoss Cartwright. She knew his jealous mind had twisted a fragment of reality into a delusion, that Hoss Cartwright had stolen his wife. She paid no attention to the wet ground or the unfamiliar trail or the darkening sky and the strange stillness. That was her down fall.
As soon as she
headed her skittish mount past the Cartwright's barn, the horse stumbled
and threw her to the muddy ground. She was shaken, but not hurt badly. As Dot
sat on the ground, the horse galloped off and disappeared over the rise.
Just then the wind picked up.
Holding Adam in his arms, Ben slowly made his way back home. He could hear his son groan as they hit a rough patch. A row of trees downed in the storm had blocked their way and he had to go off the trail to make their way towards the Ponderosa.
"Sorry son. Do you want to rest? Should I help you down?" Ben offered.
"It's too slow going, too slow," Ben said bringing Sport back onto the road.
"Pa, set me down here. You can leave me and ride faster without me," Adam pleaded. "I can manage."
Ben hesitated; he knew Adam was right; time was of the essence. But how could he leave his injured oldest son in the middle of nowhere? How could he not and risk John Gale catching up to Hoss? What if Little Joe got in the middle? His youngest had a broken arm and might not be able to fight off Gale. Which of his boys needed him most?
"Pa! Leave me here," Adam groaned. "I can't stay in the saddle anymore. Hoss needs you more than I do."
sure, son?" Ben asked.
"Hoss needs you more than I do," Adam repeated. " You can't let John Gale shoot my brother. And Joe might not be able to manage."
Settling Adam near a cluster
of rocks that would shelter him from the elements, Ben quickly rode off towards
Just then the wind picked up.
The sky turned a strange
His broken arm was throbbing painfully but Little Joe had to ride on. He had to prevent John Gale from murdering his brother Hoss, if it was the last thing he did. He trailed behind John Gale, just far enough away that Gale didn't spot him. Soon Joe realized Gale was headed directly for the Ponderosa.
Just then the wind picked up.
The sky turned a strange yellow green.
The air was filled with a queer sound like a far off train whistle.
It was unavoidable, inevitable…no matter how his wife tried to prevent it. No matter how hard the Cartwrights struggled to head it off, it was going to happen. John Gale rode into the yard of the Ponderosa from the north just as Hoss Cartwright trotted in from the south. Joe kicked his heels into the side of his suddenly skittish horse and struggled to keep in the saddle as he galloped after Gale.
"Hoss Cartwright?" Gale called.
He slid his pistol out of his
holster and pointed it at the big man.
"What?” Hoss called as the sound of the wind filled his ears.
"Hoss! Look out!" Joe called desperately as he rounded the corner of the barn. "Hoss!"
"Oh no!” shrieked Dot as she stumbled into the yard.
She fought to keep her feet
as the wind picked up force and bits of dirt and twigs started spiraling around
her. Leaves spun around on the branches of the trees and the livestock tried to
escape from the corral.
A shot rang out just as the sky turned yellowish green and the wind grew to a horrific tornado.
bellowed as he galloped into the yard. "Hoss!" the wind took his
The wind caught the roof of the barn and it spun high into the air. The shingles peeled off like the scales of a gutted trout. The sidewall of the barn gave way and collapsed onto John Gale crushing him and his horse.
John Gale was dead.
The remarkably bizarre thing about tornadoes is the amazingly strange damage they do. A tornado can mow down a row of pines and leave the flowers planted below them, undamaged. It can tear off the roof of a barn and leave everything else seemingly unscathed.
Later, when the Cartwrights finally told the story to Sheriff Coffee, none of them could quite agree on every detail but two.
The first being, that all of them were desperate to protect Hoss from the wrath of John Gale. It was like a rockslide gathering speed as it rolled down the Sierras, Gale was on a collision course with destruction, his own and the man he thought had stolen his wife Dot.
The second was the strange color of the sky and the horrible strange sound of the wind.
"So, that's what happened?" Roy Coffee asked.
"To the best I can fathom. Just as Gale rode in and shot at Hoss, the tornado blew the roof off the barn. The man was killed when the side of the barn fell on him. Crushed him and his horse," Adam said.
"Hey everyone! I'm home!" Hoss called as he came through the front door.
He tossed his white hat on
the hook and coiled his gun belt on the sideboard.
"It's about time, big brother! Hop Sing is holding supper until you get home and I'm as hungry as a bear!" Joe grinned.
"And you might have to cut baby brother's food for him," Adam quipped.
"Did Dot get off all right?" Ben asked.
It was wonderful to have all his boys home and safe. Hoss and the hands would be starting work on the barn repairs in the morning.
"Stage was an hour late;
lots of damage on the roads from the storms. That's why I'm late." Hoss
said, walking into the room. "I wired Dot's Aunt Em