Adam was not a happy boy. At 16 he thought himself an adult. He traveled across the country with his Pa and even helped raise his middle brother, Hoss after his mother was killed by Indians. Most boys would find an Indian attack so terrifying that they would either hate all Indians or be afraid of them. Not Adam Cartwright though. He was curious about all Indians and couldnít understand his fatherís cautious attitude.
"But Pa. The Piautes are a peaceful people. You said it yourself." Adam argued.
"Yes I did. But I also said they are cautious of the white man. I also donít want you to do anything that would cause a war with the Indians, and that is the reason I donít want you going near the Piautes. End of discussion."
"How could I start a war?" Adam said with a sneer.
"Watch your tone young man. Their customs are different from ours. You could say or do something that could offend them. I have enough trouble with rowdy ranch hands and I donít need trouble with the Piautes." Ben returned his attention to his paper work, summarily dismissing his eldest son.
Adam realized he wasnít going to change his País mind and was angry because of it. He turned and stormed out the front door, slamming it in his haste.
"ADAM!" Ben bellowed. Marie came down the stairs at that very moment.
"Benjamin. Little Joe is taking a nap, could you not yell please." Marie knew why Ben was angry. "Heís just a boy, Ben."
"Yes. A boy in need of an attitude adjustment." Ben stood to go after Adam when he was stopped by Marieís gentle hand on his arm.
"Let it go Ben. Heís at an age where heís trying to prove heís a man."
"Heís not a man. Heís a 16 year old boy." Ben fumed.
"Yes Ben, but he has been forced to grow up fast out here. He saw Inger die and helped you raise Hoss, and helped design and build this house with you. He also wants to learn so much. He even wants to go to college."
"Huh. He hardly behaves properly anymore while he has me to guide him. Howís he suppose to go away to school when he doesnít behave here?"
"Heíll settle down Ben. He just needs time and understanding."
Ben smiled at his lovely wife. "You are so patient with him. Even when he was rude to you." Ben hugged Marie close.
Marie returned the affection. "How would you feel if your father came home from a business trip with a new wife and expected you and your brother to accept her without question?"
"Not without question, but it certainly would have been nice to have it without argument."
"Heís his fatherís son."
"Are you saying Iím stubborn woman?" Ben asked with mock severity.
"Would I say that?" She replied with innocence.
"I love you my dear." They kissed and Ben headed back to the paperwork as Marie headed out for the garden.
"Keep an ear out for Little Joe please Ben."
"No problem my love."
Adam stormed to the barn and immediately climbed up to the hayloft. He half expected his Pa to follow him out and take him to task about slamming the door. When Pa didnít show up, he assumed Marie sidetracked him. Huh. I donít need her help with my Pa.
He knew he shouldnít upset his Pa, especially since he wanted to go to college in a couple of years. He was just sick and tired of being the responsible one, the oldest son of Ben Cartwright. He wondered if he would ever be his own man.
Adam was so deep in thought, that he didnít hear Hoss arrive from fishing with his friends by the lake.
Adam jumped. "Oh hey Hoss. Catch any fish?" Adam would have gone with his 10-year-old Ďlittleí brother if he hadnít been confined to the yard for smoking. Something Ross had talked him into. Adam figured the only problem had been doing it on the ranch and getting caught. Next time he wouldnít be caught.
"Nah. They werenít biting. I should have invited Little Joe. He always manages to catch something."
"Yeah, but he gets bored too easily. He would have driven you nuts."
"Probably. Where is the punkin anyway?"
"Sleeping. Ma put him down for a nap."
"Oh. Well, I guess Iíll get to my chores."
"Dinner should be ready soon." Adam walked to the tack room to finish his chores too.
Both boys worked in silence until Hop Sing called them for dinner.
Dinner was a quiet affair. Ben was still displeased with Adamís behavior earlier and Little Joe was grouchy due to the beginnings of a cold.
"Boys. I want everyone to bed early tonight. We have church in the morning."
Ben heard three Ďyes sirsí and smiled.
Church was a disaster. Ben couldnít concentrate on the sermon because Little Joe kept coughing and sneezing. He could have overlooked that, because the boy couldnít help being sick, however, it was the constant whine in his voice that grated on Benís nerves. Hoss had to be poked awake once and Adam was still sulking over the argument from yesterday.
All in all, Ben Cartwright was ready to go home.
"Morning Ross. Whatís up?" Adam turned and smiled at his best friend. Church was over and he was waiting for his parents.
"I thought I would come say hi. Did you finish the extra work Mr. Johansen gave you?"
"No, not yet. I didnít tell Pa about Friday so Iíve been working on it a little at a time."
"Arenít you afraid Mr. Johansen will mention it to your pa?"
"Why should he? He doesnít know who did it."
"Hey I was only asking. You donít need to bite my head off."
Adam took a couple deep breaths. "Iím sorry Ross. Itís just been a long weekend."
"How much longer are you grounded for?" Ross felt a little guilty about getting Adam into trouble.
"Just until Wednesday. Thatís why if I tell Pa about Friday, we wonít be able to take off on Saturday."
The two boys halted their discussion when Hoss and Little Joe came toward the wagon.
"Adam. Ma asked me to bring Little Joe out for you to watch for a minute. Her and Pa are talking to Mr. Johansen."
Adam and Ross exchanged looks. Adam was praying strongly that his teacher wouldnít mention the prank from Friday to his parents. After what felt like an eternity for Adam, Marie and Ben came out of the church and headed for the wagon. Little Joe was bouncing on the seat between Adam and Hoss. Adam looked at his Pa to gauge if he was in trouble or if he was safe. Benís expression gave nothing away.
"Letís go home. I need a nap." Ben said.
Little Joe heard nap and started to cry and scream, "NO NAP! NO NAP!"
Ben, at the end of his patience, took little Joe firmly into his arms and said, "I said I needed a nap young man, but from the way you are behaving I think you could use one too. Now stop that fussing and sit quietly. Papa has a headache and your crying isnít helping."
Joe sniffed and wiped his arm across his eyes and nose. "Sorry Papa." Joe snuggled between his mama and papa and was sound asleep before they made it home.
As they entered the house, Ben asked Adam to take care of the buggy. Adam agreed as Ben carried a sleeping Little Joe upstairs to his room. After Joe was tucked in, Ben changed and headed out to the barn to help Adam. As Ben entered the barn, he noticed Adam limping and wiping tears from his eyes.
"Son? Whatís wrong?"
Adam jumped at his País voice. He was embarrassed that he let the buggy wheel roll over his toe and that he was crying like a baby. "Nothing Pa."
"Adam. I can see that youíre hurt." Ben took Adam by the shoulders and looked into his eyes. "What happened?"
Adam saw his Pa smile and saw only concern. "Iím sorry Pa. I was leading the horses and buggy into the barn and the buggy caught my toe."
"Have a seat and letís take a look." Ben helped Adam sit and removed his boot. Adam hissed as the boot slid off. Ben removed Adamís sock and saw the big toe on Adamís right foot was red and swollen. Ben felt gently for any broken bones. "Can you wiggle your toe son?" Adamís toe moved. "Well, I donít think itís broken, but letís get you inside and put some ice on it."
"What about chores?"
"Donít worry about your chores." Ben picked Adam up into his arms and laughed at the indignant sound from Adam.
"I can walk Pa."
"I prefer to carry you son. No need to make your foot hurt worse by walking on it." Ben carried Adam into the house and set him down on to the settee. Marie noticed and gasped. "What happened Ben?"
"Just a little run in with a buggy wheel. Nothingís broken, but if you could ask Hop Sing for some ice, we can get some of the swelling down."
Marie went for ice while Ben propped Adamís foot up.
"Pa?" Adam said.
"Yes son?" Ben could see the tears Adam was fighting.
"It really hurts Pa."
"I know Adam." Ben rubbed Adamís arm as the silent tears flowed down Adamís face. Ben heard a quiet ĎIím sorryí.
"Son? Itís okay to cry. Youíre in pain and no one here expects you to hold it in."
"Iím sorry Iím so much trouble."
"Adam? Son, you are my firstborn son. You are worth all the trouble you have ever been in and will ever get in. Even trouble at school." Ben smiled knowingly.
"Yes son. Really. I may get angry and yell sometimes, but I will always love you."
Marie entered with and ice pack and a tray with sandwiches for lunch. Ben took the ice and put it on Adamís foot. "There. That ought to help with the swelling and the pain."
"Thatís what País are for. Now since I have you comfy and captive, how about you tell me what happened at school last week."
Adam blushed. "What do you know?"
"Mr. Johansen said someone spiked the water bucket with whiskey. He also said that while everyone else kept drinking it, you and Ross didnít appear to drink any. Is that why he gave you extra work?"
"He gave everyone extra work Pa, because nobody would admit doing it. I did have one drink and then Ross told me not too. I didnít do it Pa."
"But you think Ross did?"
"Probably. He knew it was in the water without touching it."
"Why didnít you just tell Mr. Johansen this?"
"I couldnít tattle on Ross. Besides I didnít really know until this morning when I was talking to Ross at church."
"So everyone got extra work?" Pa asked.
"All the older kids did. And Mr. Johansen gave Ross and me twice as much as everyone else. I guess he figured it was me too."
"Did you finish the extra work?"
"Not yet. I was going to finish it this afternoon." Adam yawned.
"Well, why donít you eat some lunch and then take a nap."
"But Pa, I have to finish the school work."
"You can do that tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" Adam asked with confusion.
"Yes tomorrow. You arenít going to school for a few days until you toe feels better, so you have some time to finish it."
"I could finish it and send it in with Hoss."
"Why is this so important to you Adam?"
"Pa, Mr. Johansen thought I was involved. He might think I was pretending to be sick to avoid punishment."
"Is there something else youíre not telling me?"
"Well, Mr. Johansen said if the guilty person doesnít fess up on Monday, he was gonna take a switch to us all. If Iím not there, theyíll all think it was me and then theyíll hate me even more than they already do." By now Adam was crying so hard, he was about to hyperventilate.
"Adam. I will personally go talk to Mr. Johansen and ask him to understand. Iím sure he will."
"Really. Now eat and take a nap."
"Yes sir." Adam ate a sandwich and finished a glass of milk, then fell asleep on the settee. He didnít wake up until Little Joe came screaming down the stairs later that afternoon.
By Wednesday, when Adamís restriction was supposed to be lifted, Sheriff Roy Coffee showed up at the Ponderosa. Ben met his old friend at the door.
"Well, Roy. What brings you all the way over here?"
"The Cullen gang are on the lose somewhere in the area. Iím letting all of the local ranchers know and asking yaíll to keep your boys home from school until the Cullenís are either caught or have moved on."
"How close to you figure they are?"
"Canít rightly tell. They hit a small town on the other side of Placerville this morning, so they could be anywhere. This is just a precaution. Their leader, Christen Cullen, is a ruthless killer."
"Well, Iíll keep the boys home. Adam hasnít been to school all week anyway."
"Ran over his toe with the buggy after church on Sunday. He was pretty embarrassed."
"Iíll bet. That boy fancyís him self all grown up."
"Heís still a boy, but heíll be a good man when he does finish growing."
"Well I have to get going Ben. Let me know if you see anyone suspicious hanging around."
"Can do Roy. Thanks."
"Anytime Ben." Roy mounted up and rode off. Ben headed toward the barn to ride into town and get Hoss from school.
That night, after all three boys were asleep, Marie and Ben talked about the outlaws.
"You donít think theyíll come this far do you Ben?"
Ben gathered his wife into his arms and kissed her. "I donít know my love, but it never hurts to take precautions." Ben saw that Marie was winding up for more questions, so he silenced her with a mind-blowing kiss. As they came up for air, Marie smiled. "Is that your way to shut me up Benjamin?"
"Did it work?" Ben nuzzled at Marieís neck and started to nibble on her ear lobe.
"Oui." Marie gasped as Ben moved down from her ear.
A week went by without another word about the Cullen gang. Ben and Marie decided it was safe to ride up to the foremanís cabin to check in on Jake and his wife, who were expecting their first child. Marie left Little Joe and Hoss in the capable hands of Adam and Hop Sing. Ben also had three ranch hands stay close to the house.
When they returned two hours later, they found the front door open. Ben at first was going to scold Adam for leaving the door open until he heard Marieís gasp from next to him. Ben turned around to see what Marie was looking at. Along side of the house were the three ranch hands, dead from a bullet to the head.
Ben immediately drew his gun and went into the house. Carefully looking through the whole house he only found evidence of a struggle and a small amount of blood on the kitchen floor. He followed the drops of blood into the pantry where he found Hop Sing. He was alive, but he was going to need a doctor right away. Ben picked Hop Sing up and carried him out to the buggy. Marie was shocked but went to help Ben put Hop Sing in the buggy.
"Ben? Where are the children?"
"I donít know. They arenít in the house. Iím going to check the barn real quick." Doing a check of the barn showed no boys, but the covered wagon and all of the horses were gone. Ben headed back outside looking for wagon tracks. He found what he was looking for heading south. Ben joined Marie at the buggy.
"The wagon is gone and so are the horses. It looks like they took the boys with them. We need to get Roy and get Hop Sing to the Doc. Letís go." Ben helped Marie into the buggy and rode as fast as they dared to Virginia City. They came upon a posse, including Sheriff Coffee, as they reached the half way mark.
"Ben. Whatís wrong?"
"Roy. Iím glad to see you. Hop Sings been shot, three of my ranch hands are dead and the boys are missing. It looks like they headed south with my old covered wagon."
"Rogers? Go with Mrs. Cartwright to the doc and give Ben your horse."
"Ben?" Marie asked.
"Iíll find them and bring them home. Stay in town with the doc. Iíll meet you back there."
"I love you. Be careful."
"I love you too and Iíll find the boys."
The posse rode south as the buggy headed for Virginia City.
Adam was scared. He wouldnít let it show, but he was terrified. He, Hoss and Little Joe were playing in front of the fireplace when they heard the shots. When the outlaws came into the house, Adam tried to fight back, just to earn a knock in the head that made him see his vision grey. He refused to black out because he had to protect Hoss and Joe. The outlaws had killed the ranch hands and told them they had killed the cook too. Hoss and Joe were crying when the outlaws loaded the children into a wagon as security against getting caught.
The small convoy rode slowly for hours before Adam noticed the wagon pick up speed. Suddenly the wagon stopped and the next sound made his blood run cold, Indians, and they sounded angry. The outlaws fought, but it was a losing battle.
The first thing the posse noticed were vultures circling above an area ahead of them. Something was dead. As they rode closer, Ben recognized his wagon and the scattered bodies of the now dead, Cullen Gang, all of the outlaws had been killed by Indians. The wagon was peppered with arrows that made it look like a deformed porcupine. Benís heart sank. He didnít want to look inside the wagon, just to find the bodies of his children, but he also knew he had too.
Ben dismounted and headed for the wagon with tears running down his face. Roy Coffee stopped him. "Ben. Why donít you let me check?"
"No Roy. I have to do this. They were my children. My babies." Ben stood at the closed flap of the wagon and paused. What am I going to tell Marie? Ben took a deep breath and opened the flap.
Inside the wagon, huddled together, were his three boys. They were lying curled around each other, and Ben only saw death. He closed his eyes and let the anguish come out as he screamed and began to cry.
The scream woke the oldest boy from his slumber; to find his father crying like his heart was broken. Adam moved from Hoss and Joe who were starting to stir, to his father. He placed his hand on his País head and spoke. "Papa?"
Ben didnít hear him right away, but Adam tried again, "Papa?"
Ben looked up into the eyes of his oldest son. Alive! Ben grabbed Adam and
hugged him close. "ADAM! My son. Youíre alive."
"Yeah Pa. We all are." It was then that Ben saw Hoss holding Little Joe. Both of them were crying. Ben reached for his boys and hugged all three of them close.
"My God, I thought I had lost you."
"We arenít hurt Pa. Just scared." Adam said.
Ben checked all three of his sons for injuries and only found a bump on Adamís temple. Ben helped them all out of the wagon and carried Joe, while Adam and Hoss held onto their father. The posse was pleased to see the boys unharmed. As the entire group began to mount up to head home, Adam noticed an Indian brave on the edge of the clearing.
"Pa? Look?" Adam pointed to the warrior as he came into view. Ben walked toward the brave.
"Ben!" Roy tried to stop him.
"Itís okay, Mr. Coffee. Thatís White Feather. Heís a friend of País."
Ben and White Feather shook hands. "Is it you I have to thank for the lives of my sons?"
"Yes Ben Cartwright. We did not know they were in the wagon. We have been searching for these men for destroying one of our villages. Justice is done. I noticed boys when all I hear is crying. I told Adam to not be afraid that we would watch until father come."
"Thank you. I owe you more than you can imagine."
"No need. Ben Cartwright always good to Piaute. We return favor."
"No. You returned my heart. Thank you."
"We go." And White Feather melted into the trees.
Ben stood for a few minutes just holding his boys close. When he spoke, he turned to Adam. "Iím sorry son."
"What for, Pa?"
"For ever doubting the Piaute. From now on, you can run with Running Dear all you want," Ben smiled, "as long as your chores are done first."
Adam laughed and Ben hugged all his boys. They mounted up with Joe in front of Ben, Hoss behind Ben and Adam riding with Roy. "Letís go get your mother. Sheís worried sick as it is."
"Is Hop SingÖ"
"Hop Singís going to be fine. Heís too tough to be stopped by a handful of outlaws. Letís go home boys."
"Home." Little Joe said around his thumb as he snuggled up to his Papa and went to sleep.