Trouble in Trigo (by Diana)

Summary:  After a cattle drive, Adam and Joe rest for the night in the quiet little town of Trigo, but events lead them both to regret their decision to stop there.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  14,050


 

Chapter One

It had been a long, hot fortnight and Adam Cartwright and his youngest brother, Joe, were looking forward to a good night’s rest. They had delivered a small herd of breeding cattle to a buyer south of Fresno and were making their way back home to the Ponderosa. They were in a hurry to be back because their brother Hoss was celebrating his birthday in five days time and they wanted to be there, but despite that, they decided to stop early. They had been sleeping on hard ground for two weeks, and now they had got rid of the cattle they felt that they deserved something better, just for tonight.

Trigo was what might be described as a ‘one horse town’ if it was not for the fact that there were more than that tied up outside the saloon. The only substantial buildings were the hotel, the saloon, and the bank, the rest of the premises seeming to have been put up with little thought to staying up for very long, rough wooden structures with no substance.

Adam and Joe stopped outside the hotel, and taking their gear from their horses, went inside. They looked at each other apprehensively as they saw the peeling paint and tattered furniture inside. But they were here now, so might as well carry on.

Adam attracted the attention of the sleepy, inattentive clerk by banging on the desk. The man looked up slowly, seeing two men standing in front of him, both handsome, but otherwise quite different. One older, who looked menacing, dressed as he was all in black, with black hair showing beneath his hat, dark eyes looking steadily at him. The other younger, smaller and altogether lighter, a twinkle in his green eyes giving away the humour that lay just beneath the surface.

“Yes.” Said the clerk thinking he had better pay attention.

“We’d like a room. Two beds.” Said Adam.

“Number three, sign here.” And he pushed the register towards Adam, indicating the pen in its inkwell that sat beside the leather bound book. Adam signed both their names. The clerk did not even glance at the register but shut the book, and put the key on the desk. Joe picked it up, and they went up stairs that had no carpet, to their appointed room. The clerk went back to being sleepy.

It was dark and Joe lit the lamps, one on a small, round table by the window, and one on the table’s twin between the two beds. Adam pulled down the covers on one of the beds and grunted as he found that the sheets seemed clean.

“Could have been worse, might have been sharing this with some wildlife.” He said. Joe looked at the other bed and had to agree, it seemed clean enough.

“Let’s get the horses settled and find something to eat.” Joe suggested. They went back downstairs and out of the hotel to find a livery stable for Sport and Cochise.

They discovered the livery almost next door to the saloon, and as soon as the horses were taken care of, they went in search of a drink and some food. Inside, the saloon was a twin to the hotel in it’s state of repair, walls brown from years of tobacco smoke, the tables and chairs had seen better days and the mirror behind the bar was spotted with age. The only well kept part of the saloon was the bar itself, mahogany brown and gleaming, probably because the barkeep had little else to do but polish it. They ordered beers and took them to a table in the corner of the room. There were nearly a dozen other people scattered round the saloon, and a pair of bored looking bar girls trying to get drinks out of a group of reluctant cow hands. They were having little success, and when they spotted new game came over to Adam and Joe, taking seats between them.

“Hello there, haven’t seen you here before.” Said one, moving closer to Joe. She was a raven-haired girl who looked no older than Joe, who was eighteen. She would have been quite pretty if she had not had her face covered in rouge and powder, her lips bright red with paint and her brown eyes dark with mascara.

“How about a drink then?” asked the other, putting her hand on Adam’s, which was holding his glass. A fair-haired woman nearer his own age, she also wore rouge and powder, but lighter than the girl’s. There was an intelligence in her blue eyes which seemed as out of place here as the dark girl’s youth, Adam thought.

Adam and Joe exchanged glances, both just wanting a quiet evening.

“Not tonight, ladies, I’m sorry.” Said Adam, withdrawing his hand.

The women both rose, seeing they were wasting their time on these two, shrugged their shoulders, their short, elaborately decorated dresses sparkling as they did so, and went back to try again to get something out of the cow hands.

“Let’s get something to eat.” Suggested Adam, and he went over to the barkeep and ordered steaks for them both, then returned to Joe.

The young girl had gone to sit at a table with three men. Adam watched her curiously, wondering how someone so young and attractive had got herself into a place like this. While he watched, he realised that the conversation she was having with one of the men was getting heated. He saw the man reach out and take hold of her arm, obviously hurting her with his grip.

Adam nudged Joe to get his attention and motioned with his head towards the couple. Joe knew exactly what Adam was thinking. His brother never liked to see women treated that way, and was likely to try to stop it.

“Leave it, Adam, it’s not our problem. We’re leaving tomorrow, remember Hoss’s birthday? We don’t want to get delayed.”

“No, still…” and he left the sentence unfinished, continuing to watch the confrontation. The girl was obviously frightened of the man, who was about thirty, the same age as Adam, but that was all they had in common. This man was heavier, with straight, unkempt fair hair that hung down over his eyes, and a permanent sneer on his face.

Suddenly the girl cried out, “No, Casey.”

As Adam watched, Casey brought back his hand and slapped the girl across the face. She fell off her chair and he reached down and pulled her back up by her dark hair. That was enough for Adam; he sprang from his chair and crossed the bar in three strides. He got hold of the man’s right arm as he was about to strike the girl again.

“That’s enough! Leave her alone” He ordered

Casey looked round slowly, letting go of the girl as he did so. She ran across the bar straight into Joe, who was coming to back up his brother. He put his arm round her protectively and she responded, gripping the front of his shirt and burying her face in his broad chest.

Adam and Casey were standing facing each other, both looking ready for a fight.

“What’s it to you?” The man asked.

“I don’t like to see a lady treated that way.”

“A lady.” The man laughed. “She ain’t no lady, and what I do to her is none of your business.”

“Well I’m making it my business.” Adam glanced towards Joe and the girl. He indicated that Joe should take the girl out of the saloon, and Joe edged sideways towards the bar, then along it, all the time moving towards the door. They had nearly reached the end of the bar when Casey tried to barge past Adam, who moved to stand in his way.

“We’re taking her out of here until you cool down.” Said Adam, also backing towards the door.

“Oh that’s what you think is it?” and he took two quick steps forward, and swung a fist at Adam, who ducked and in return hit Casey on the jaw. The man staggered but did not fall, looking at Adam with a face red with fury.

“You gonna let him get away with that?” Casey asked addressing the other two men who had been with him at the table. The men rose and came up behind Casey, facing Adam.

“No one comes in here and interferes in our business.” Said the short, dark man to Casey’s left, the other man nodded his agreement.

“Joe, get her out now.” Adam said, not taking his eyes off Casey. Joe went quickly out of the door with the girl. He returned alone moments later and came to stand behind Adam, who sensed his presence without looking round.

“So that’s the way you want it, eh.” Casey said, a small smile on his lips.

“No it’s not, but if you touch her again you’ll regret it.” Said Adam with as much feeling as he could muster.

“You think you’re man enough to make me regret anything?”

“Yes I do.” Adam squared his shoulders. He could see that the man was not going to let this drop.

“Get ‘em boys.” The two men standing behind Casey rushed Adam and Joe, who hit them, using the force of their advance to add power to the blows. Both men went down, winded. Casey, coming up behind his allies had eyes only for Adam. He wanted this intruder and he wanted to hurt him, to put him in his place and show him who was in charge round here. He put his hand on Adam’s shoulder and swung him round to face him, then landed a blow on Adam’s chin that sent him reeling into the table behind him. Adam grabbed the table and stood uncertainly, shaking his head. Then he straightened and advanced towards Casey. Joe was about to step in to help his brother but Adam stopped him.

“No, Joe, he’s mine.”

Adam lunged at Casey, putting his shoulder down, and forcing him against the bar. Casey let out a grunt and Adam came up and hit him on the chin. Casey retaliated with a blow to Adam’s midriff that made him double over, and as he did so Casey hit him on the side of the jaw. Adam fell to the floor, but before Casey could take advantage of the situation, Adam had rolled onto his feet again, aiming another blow to Casey’s chin. He hit him square and Casey’s eyes glazed slightly. Adam saw the reaction and immediately followed up with several more blows to Casey’s jaw.

Meanwhile Joe was taking care of the other two, whose enthusiasm for the fight had waned when they hit the floor. Joe delivered unopposed punches to the heads of the two men as they tried to rise and both ended up back on the floor, deciding not to try to get up again. Joe stood over them to make sure that they did not interfere with the fight between Adam and Casey. He could see Casey was faltering, and with a final blow Adam had his opponent out cold.

Adam stood for a moment drawing in deep breaths, then straightened, retrieved his hat from the table where he and Joe had been sitting, and they went out of the saloon without a backward glance at the men they had left on the floor.

They looked round outside for the girl but she had disappeared.

“Well, I guess she was frightened. Let’s go back to the hotel, see if they can rustle us up some food.” Suggested Joe. Adam nodded his agreement and set off towards the hotel.

*****

Chapter Two

The clerk at the hotel had arranged for some sandwiches to be sent up to Adam and Joe, along with some whiskey, and they sat and ate hungrily. Adam felt his jaw, where Casey had hit him.

“Well, I tried to tell you it was not our problem, but you wouldn’t listen.” Said Joe, laughing round a mouthful of beef.

“Yeah, you were right. But I couldn’t just sit there and watch it happen, could I?”

“No, me neither. But I think that we had better get out of here early tomorrow. Casey didn’t look the type to forget what you just did to him.”

“You may well be right, and just in case I’ll go down to the clerk and pay our bill tonight so that we can get off at first light, before the rest of the town is awake.” While not the type to run away from a fight, Adam did not want to get delayed by a small town argument.

As Adam and Joe were talking, Casey, who had recovered his wits but not his temper, had entered the hotel, and going over to the clerk had asked him about the newcomers.

“Who are they, Nate?”

“Don’t rightly know, but they signed the register.” Nate said turning the book so that Casey could read the names. Casey let out a low whistle.

“Well who’d have thought it?”

“What is it Case, do you know them?” Asked Pete, the short dark man who had stood to Casey’s left in the saloon.

“Who are they?” Lem wanted to know. He was the other man in the trio, who was thirty-five and whose rosy cheeks and red rimmed eyes reflected the fact that he liked to drink.

They looked at the register, but unlike Casey, neither Pete nor Lem had ever been to Virginia City and the name Cartwright did not mean anything to them.

“That man,” he said with emphasis, “Is going to regret crossing me.” Casey’s eyes narrowed and his bruised lips pressed tight together, as he thought what he would like to do to Mr. ‘meddlesome’ Cartwright.

Pete and Lem looked at Casey not knowing what he planned, but willing to go along with whatever he had in mind. They heard Adam come out of his room and left hurriedly through the front door.

Adam came down the stairs and crossed to the desk.

“I’d like to pay our bill, we will be leaving early in the morning.”

“OK,” Said the clerk. “Where are you headed?” He asked while writing out the bill. He knew Casey would ask, and he wanted to have the answer ready.

“Back home, it’s a long ride and we want to start early, got to be there by Saturday.”

Adam paid over the money and took a receipt from the clerk.

As soon as Adam had disappeared back to his room, Casey came into the hotel and faced Nate.

“What did he want?”

“He paid his bill, said they were leaving early in the morning. Going home.” It didn’t matter to Nate if Casey wanted to know about his customers.

Casey turned to Pete and Lem. “Right boys, let’s get some sleep, we’ve got to be up early in the morning.

*****

Chapter Three

As Adam and Joe left the hotel, the first shafts of sunlight were striking the tops of the buildings in the silent street. They walked to the livery stable, and after saddling their horses, rode out of the dilapidated town glad to be leaving it behind.

They rode side by side for several miles, the trail easy and in good condition enabling them to let their horses run. They were going east, towards the massive bulk of the snow capped Sierras, and the road slowly started to climb up out of the green valley, into the arid foothills of the mountains. They had only gone about ten miles when they stopped beside a small stream, to make some coffee and have a bite to eat. They had left town before breakfast and both felt in need of refreshment.

As in so many things, the oldest and youngest Cartwright brothers were the opposite of each other when it came to doing nothing. While Joe paced back and forth restlessly, eager to be on his way, Adam sat on a log sited conveniently close to the fire he had made, relaxing.

“Why don’t you sit down for a minute, we’ll be on our way soon enough.” Encouraged Adam.

“Ok, for a minute, then I think we should go. We don’t want to be late getting back.” And he sat on the ground opposite his brother. They drank their coffee, talking quietly.

“Well, time to go.” Said Adam, coming back from the stream where he had washed the breakfast utensils, and he kicked dirt over the remains of their fire. As he did so, he was brought to a standstill by the sound of a gun being cocked behind him. Joe was just getting to his feet when he heard the noise. He and Adam turned round together and saw Casey, Pete and Lem appear from behind a fall of rocks, each with a gun in his hand.

“Drop the weapons, now.” Casey ordered, and they both eased the guns from their holsters and dropped them on the ground.

“Kick them over here.” Again, they did as they were told, and Lem bent down and picked them up.

“Right, turn round.”

As they turned away, Adam and Joe looked at each other. Joe motioned slightly with his head to indicate to Adam that he thought that they should try to take them on. Adam shook his head imperceptibly. There were three of them all with guns drawn; he knew they wouldn’t stand a chance.

“Go to your horses.” Casey was enjoying himself. He would show these two what it meant to cross him. As Adam and Joe went towards their horses, Casey and Lem came up behind them, and raising their guns, struck the brothers on the head. They both dropped to the ground, unconscious.

Adam came round slowly. He lay still for a minute, watching the fluffy white clouds high above him in the deep blue sky. He realised that he was lying on his back, and with that thought, he remembered what had happened. He started to sit up, but as soon as he moved an excruciating pain shot through his right hand and up his arm, causing him to cry out. He stopped moving, and turned his head slowly to look at his hand.

What he saw stopped the breath in his throat, and his eyes opened wide. His arm was outstretched and his hand was pinned to the ground by a knife that was driven through his palm, up to the hilt. The blade of the knife was also piercing a large piece of dirty looking paper, which flapped gently in the light breeze. There was writing on the paper, but Adam could not read it from the angle he was looking.

He recognised the knife as one that he had given to Joe as a present when he had broken his first horse. Joe took it with him everywhere, usually in his saddlebags, it being too big to wear on his belt. Now he wished heartily that Joe had not become so attached to it. Adam grimaced. He wished heartily that he had not become attached to it!

Adam turned his head cautiously to look round the makeshift campsite, trying not to move his arm. He couldn’t see Joe anywhere, and a feeling of despair washed over him. He felt a rising panic as he remembered the agony caused by the slight movement he had made, and here he was, alone. He was the only one who could get the knife out, there was no one here to help him, no one to do it for him. Somehow, he had to release his hand.

He lay motionless for a few minutes trying to get himself calm, and do some rational thinking, but he found it difficult to think past the fact that he was going to have to pull the knife out, and the pain which would come with it. Perhaps if he just lay there someone would come, perhaps Joe was not far away and would return.

“Don’t be stupid Cartwright, just face up to what you have to do, and get on with it.” He berated himself.

Even the thought of movement seemed to send a searing pain through the nerves of his hand and arm, but he could not stay there forever. He rolled slowly onto his right shoulder to get a better look at the problem. He saw the earth stained red under his hand and knew he did not have long before he had to take some positive action. He hung his head, and then looked again at his hand. If he tried to draw the knife out, it would drag dirt into the wound, opening up the possibility of infection and blood poisoning. He didn’t want that, there had to be another way. He had to free the knife from the earth first.

He rolled further over so that he was leaning on his elbow. The pain that caused made him tremble but he knew he could not stop; he had to get the knife out of the ground. He grasped the hilt with his left hand and, after taking several deep breaths, pulled hard. The knife came out of the hard ground bringing his hand with it. Adam screamed and passed out.

As he came to his senses, Adam again felt the pain in his hand, but this time he managed to sit up. He looked at the knife and saw the dirt on it; he also saw the blood dripping steadily to the ground. When he looked at the back of his hand, he could see that the blade had cut through a vein, maybe two, and blood pulsed from the wound with every beat of his racing heart. He knew that he could not waste any more time getting the knife out, he had to stop the bleeding.

He delayed that moment by looking at the paper. The bottom of it, where it was fixed to the knife was blood stained, but the top bore a message.

‘This hand won’t hit me again.’ And underneath that, ‘I’ve got your brother.’ Adam stared at the roughly written words, and knew that the message could only be from Casey. A muscle worked in his jaw, anger giving him the strength to do what he must.

He stood shakily and saw with a sinking heart, that not only was Joe missing but so was Sport. If he were going to get out of here, it would have to be on foot. He swayed slightly, and realised that soon loss of blood would make rational thought and action impossible.

Cradling his hand with his other arm, Adam stumbled to the nearby stream, and gingerly put his right hand into the clear, fast flowing water. He clenched his teeth, and his breath hissed as the current tugged at the knife. He watched in fascination as a red ribbon flowed down the stream from his hand, and he suddenly realised that it was taking his life with it. He quickly withdrew his hand, and pulled his bandana from his back pocket, where he had stuffed it after washing up. He cleaned the blade as best he could, then came the moment he had been dreading, he had to remove the knife.

He washed his sweating left hand in the stream, and wiped the water off on his trousers. He didn’t want his hand to slip when he pulled on the knife. He felt he was only going to be able to try this once, so it had better work.

He sat on the ground, and putting his arm between his legs, held his wrist firmly with his knees. He then took a tight grip on the ebony hilt with his left hand, and gritting his teeth, pulled the knife out in one swift movement. He groaned deeply and fell sideways, laying on the ground gasping, but desperately trying to stay conscious. He had to get the wound bandaged or he would bleed to death. He forced himself upright, and wrapped his handkerchief tightly round his hand.

When he had finished, he sat still for a minute in an effort to get over the shock and then, gathering his strength, got to his feet. His head swam and he took a step sideways, but he stayed upright. He started walking back the way they had come, towards Trigo, that’s where Casey came from, and Adam hoped that he would find Joe there.

Two hours later, he collapsed. They had left him nothing in which to put any water, and he was thirsty, light headed and felt desperately weak. He had fallen many times on his journey, but this time he just lay there unable to move. His right hand, with its blood soaked bandage, rested on his chest and a burning pain crept up his arm. He tried to summon the strength to rise, but he was shaking and disoriented. He knew that he had to move, had to get back to Trigo, then tears started in his eyes. Tears of self-pity and tears of rage for what had happened. Suddenly he remembered why he had to keep going, as images of Joe went through his mind. His anger flared when he thought of what those men might be doing to his little brother, and Adam knew it was all his fault. If only he had listened to Joe and not interfered. He rolled over onto his knees, and got to his feet uncertainly.

He stumbled on, often falling and forcing himself back to his feet. Time had ceased to exist, he did not know how long it was since he had started out, but that did not matter. He had to get to Trigo to save Joe.

“Hang on, Joe, I’m coming.” He muttered, and then started to swear. He used all the words he knew, all directed at Casey and what he had done. It kept his anger alive, giving him the strength to carry on.

*****

Chapter Four

Joe woke up in darkness. He could not for the moment think what had happened, and then he remembered, he and Adam had been held up by Casey and his henchmen. Now Joe was lying on a wooden floor, his hands tied together behind him, and he tried the bonds to see if he could loosen them, but they had been well tied and there was no play in the rope.

It was dark in the room, the only window seemed to have been painted over, and the light outside could not penetrate the darkness. It was too dark for him to make out any details inside the room, the only light was that coming from underneath the door.

“Adam, Adam are you here?” he asked quietly, his voice sounding flat in the darkness. He got no reply, so either his brother was here and not able to answer, or he was alone.

Casey heard Joe call for his brother, and came into the room. As he opened the door light flooded in, and Joe could see he was in some kind of small, wooden storeroom. There were shelves round three sides of the room, starting from the door, with tins stacked in small piles here and there. He was lying against the fourth wall where there were no shelves.

“So you’re awake. Now you just lie there like a good boy, and if he’s still alive, we’ll make your interfering brother pay us to get you back.”

“What do you mean, what have you done to him?” Joe’s heart missed a beat, what did he mean, ‘if he’s still alive’? Adam wasn’t here, and Casey knew something about what had happened to him.

“Let’s just say there’s no danger of him being able to punch anyone for a long time, if ever.” Casey sneered, remembering how they had left Adam.

“Where’s my brother? He’ll make you pay for this, you’ll see.” Trying to convince himself that Adam would be all right, despite what Casey had said. Joe struggled to sit up, finally managing to do so, and leant back against the wall, his head throbbing.

“You’re brother will not be in a fit state to make anyone pay.” Said Casey, laughing nastily, “He’s the only one who’s going to pay for anything.”

“If you’ve hurt him, I’ll make you regret it.” Joe threatened, meaning every word.

“No you won’t, not if you want to get out of here. Now you just stay quiet, and don’t be a bother.”

Casey went out, shutting the door behind him, returning Joe to darkness. He lay down again and worried about what Casey had said. What had he done to Adam? The one comforting thought was, that if Casey expected Adam to pay for his release, then he must still be alive, despite what Casey had said. But what if he wasn’t? How could Joe go home and tell Pa that Adam was dead? He was so worried about his brother that it did not occur to Joe that he himself might not get home.

Meanwhile Adam was making his way along the road back to Trigo. He was weaving from side to side, eyes unfocused, hardly able to put one foot in front of the other, but only desperate to keep going. Then, standing in the road in front of him, he saw Joe calling out to him for help. He was holding out his hands to his brother, but as Adam moved forward to take them, Joe moved back, always just out of reach. Standing behind Joe was his father, asking Adam why he could not save his brother, why had he let this happen? Adam heard his father’s accusing voice, telling him that it was his fault, that he had failed in his duty, and that if he could not have Joe there beside him, then he did not want Adam there either.

“Pa,” Adam sobbed, “Please, forgive me, I didn’t mean for this to happen, please forgive me, I’m trying to save him, but I don’t know if I can. I’m so tired, I just want to stop and lie down. I can’t go any further. Pa, you must understand.” But his father shook his head, and turned away.

Bridey was out for a drive when she saw the man coming towards her. She pulled her horse to a standstill as she noticed that his clothes were dirty and torn, and he was staggering from side to side, obviously hurt. She got down from the buggy, and as she went towards him, Bridey realised that it was the man who had had a fight with Casey the night before. Then she noticed the blood dripping from his bandaged hand.

The man was mumbling to himself, the words incoherent, and she could see the evidence of tears in the dust that covered his face. She stopped in front of him, but he seemed oblivious to her presence, he just kept on walking past her, muttering. She turned and put her hand on his arm.

“I think that you need some help.” Bridey said simply.

Adam stopped and swayed backwards, peering at her through half closed eyes. He stopped speaking and she took his arm, and despite the fact that she stood no higher than his shoulder, she managed to help him into the buggy, where he collapsed across the seat. Bridey got in the other side and lifted his head until it rested in her lap. He seemed to be unconscious, and Bridey wondered what had happened to him to leave him like this.

When Adam stirred and started to sit up, a hand pressed on his shoulder, making him lie down again.

“Now don’t move. You just lie there and let me take care of this hand.” Adam felt someone holding his injured hand and tried to pull away.

“I said don’t move, this will only hurt more if you do. Here, drink this.” Adam opened his eyes, and when he finally managed to focus, he saw a woman sitting there, leaning towards him. He thought he recognised her, but could not for the moment think why. When he looked into her eyes it came to him, she was the older of the two women in the bar. Without the heavy make-up she looked prettier, more natural. Now she was dressed in a plain dark blue dress. Adam thought that it brought out the blue in her eyes and the porcelain texture of her skin. She really was quite beautiful, he thought dreamily.

His right hand was lying on a towel in her lap and she was holding out a large glass of whiskey to him. With an effort, he raised himself slightly off the settee on which he was lying and took the glass, his hand trembling with weakness as he did so. He could see that in her other hand she was holding a carpet needle and immediately realised what she intended. He drained the glass.

“Now do you think you can hold still while I sew this hand?”

“I’ll try.” He said vaguely, lying back.

“OK then, here we go.” And she inserted the needle in his palm.

Adam entire body tensed and he turned his head away from her so she should not see what she was doing to him. Two minutes of agony later she had finished sewing the wound in his palm.

“Now I have to do the back, here have some more.” And she refilled his glass. Again he drained it, and again she inserted the needle. Adam was thinking that the pain would never end when he passed out.

*****

Chapter Five

Lem and Pete were outside the small, run down ranch house of the property that Casey owned. They were sitting on a couple of rough wooden chairs, Pete drinking coffee, Lem with a glass of whiskey. It was almost dark, the saloon would be filling up, but Casey had said that they must stay near the house, he wanted them to help to guard Joe.

“Do you think this’ll work?” asked Pete.

“Casey thinks so, that’s good enough for me.” Lem replied

“D’ya think he’ll really kill the kid?”

“I don’t know. But you know Casey, once he takes agin’ someone they’d better watch out. Just think what he did to the other one after we jumped ’em. He really enjoyed it, ain’t never seen him like that before, he’s real mad.” Lem shook his head.

“Yeah, well let’s hope that the brother survives to come up with the cash.” Pete had already started spending the money in his mind.

Casey appeared at the door. He had a folded and sealed paper in his hand, which he gave to Pete.

“I want you to take this into town and find out if Cartwright made it back. If he did, give it to him.” Casey did not care. He hoped that Cartwright had died out there, but if he hadn’t, if he made it back to town, Casey would make him pay to get his brother released. Either way Casey knew that he had won.

“Ok boss.” Said Pete getting to his feet, and started towards the barn for his horse.

“Lem, go keep an eye on the kid, don’t want him wandering off.” And Casey laughed nastily. He still hadn’t decided whether he was going to let Joe go, he could kill them both when the brother brought the money.

Pete rode away from the ranch and into Trigo. He stopped first at the hotel, but Nate told him that he had not seen Cartwright come back. This stumped Pete, who stood outside the hotel looking up and down the street wondering where he could be. Surely, Cartwright would have made it back to town before this, and then Pete remembered what Casey had said, ‘If he made it back’. Pete wandered slowly towards the saloon, contemplating his next move. He ordered a drink and sat down. Jack, the bar tender, was talking to two other men, and Pete heard him mention that he had seen Bridey come into town with one of the strangers from the night before, and that he did not look well. Pete drained his glass and left.

He went up to the door of Bridey’s small, wooden cabin, behind the blacksmith’s shop, and knocked. Bridey eventually answered it.

“What do you want here?” She asked, standing in the doorway, hands on hips. She did not like the men from the saloon near her house, her business was conducted there, not on her front doorstep.

“You got a stranger here?” Pete asked, pushing past her.

“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” Said Bridey trying to stand in his way, but he was already in the small room. He could see Adam lying on the settee, eyes closed.

“So that’s where he’s got to. What’s he doing here?”

“He was hurt, I helped him.” Said Bridey coming to stand protectively beside her patient.

“Casey isn’t going to like that.” Said Pete, looking down and seeing the bandaging round Adam’s hand.

He turned to Bridey. “Casey has sent him a message. Make sure he gets it.” And he handed her the note that Casey had given him.

“What is it, what does Casey want with him?”

“You’ll find out when he reads the note.” Pete turned and left.

Bridey knelt down beside Adam and felt his forehead, he was sweating slightly but did not seem hot. The touch made Adam stir and he opened his eyes.

“How is it?” Bridey asked.

Adam tried to sit up before replying, but his head swam and he lay back again.

“It’s all right, thanks to you.” He said softly, lifting his bandaged hand to eye level, then letting it fall back gently onto his chest.

“May I have a drink?” Bridey went to the pump in the corner and filled a glass.

“Better make it water, I think you’ve had enough whiskey for now.” She laughed. He smiled back at her.

“My name’s Adam Cartwright.” He said slowly.

“Bridey O’Connell.”

“Irish?” Asked Adam.

“Not so’s you’d notice.” She said, and she was right there was no trace of the accent.

Adam again made to sit up, as she came over and held out the glass. He still felt light headed but stayed upright. He tried unsuccessfully to flex his fingers, it was painful, and he did not try too hard.

“How did I get here?” He wanted to know, looking round the small, cosily furnished room.

“I was out for a drive and found you wandering in the road about six miles from town.” Adam realised that if Bridey had not found him he would never have made it back to Trigo, and without her ministrations would stand no chance of rescuing Joe, if he was still alive. He looked at her, a deep feeling of gratitude welling inside him.

“What happened to you, your hand I mean?”

“My brother and I were jumped after we left here this morning. Must have been about ten miles out when it happened.”

“Do you know who did it?”

“Casey and his two friends.” Despite his weakness, Adam’s voice sounded harsh and cold.

“Did they do that to you?” She said pointing to his hand.

“Yes, I think so. I guess Casey was mad about what happened in the saloon yesterday. Stuck a knife through my hand.” Adam said bitterly, and he sat very still, remembering.

“He sent you a note. Pete brought it just now.” And she handed Adam the paper that Pete had given her. Adam took it reluctantly, afraid of what it might contain, and tried to open it with one hand. Bridey saw the trouble he was having and took it from him and opened it, handing it back to him without looking at it. Adam read the short note and looked up, swaying slightly where he sat, his face stiff with anger.

“What is it?” Bridey asked, and Adam passed her the paper, and she read aloud the words.

“We want ten thousand dollars to release your brother. Take the money to Morgan’s Bluff tomorrow at sunset. Wait there, I’ll bring your brother. Fail and he’s dead.” Bridey looked at Adam then back at the note.

“Ten thousand dollars!” She said, astounded. “Who’s got that kind of money?”

“I have, but Casey’s not getting it.” Bridey gazed at him startled. There was nothing about this man to suggest that he was rich.

“What about your brother, don’t you want him back? Casey’ll kill him, especially if he thinks you have the money but won’t pay him.”

“Of course I want Joe back.” Adam said roughly, and then regretting the tone he had used, said more gently, “I’d do anything to get him away from Casey. But there’s more to it than simply handing over the money.” He turned to Bridey hoping to make her understand.

“My father has three sons.” He said, trying to frame the words to make Bridey follow his reasoning. “I am the oldest, then my brother Hoss, and Joe’s the youngest. We all travel a lot. I go often to San Francisco, and we all go out on drives or delivering or collecting stock. Any number of things take us away from home. We are all vulnerable, especially when we are alone anywhere. If I pay Casey, it will open the possibility for anyone to try something like this, at any time. I daren’t pay him. Not a penny.” He gripped Bridey’s shoulder with his good hand.

“Do you see, do you understand?” He asked.

“Yes.” And he believed her.

She sat thoughtful for a moment. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.” Adam withdrew his hand from her shoulder, and resting his elbow on his knee put his head on his hand despondently. He had to find out where they were keeping Joe, that was the first step. Then what? He could go back to Fresno for the sheriff, but Joe might be dead before he got back. He looked at his damaged hand and wondered how he was going to take on Casey, literally single-handed.

*****

Chapter Six

Pete had returned to the ranch after delivering Casey’s message, and the three men were standing outside the cabin, talking.

“Well, did you find him?” asked Casey.

“Yeah, he was at Bridey’s. Seemed she rescued him.”

“Did she indeed. Might have to do something about that. Did he get the message?”

“Reckon so. He was out cold, but I gave Bridey the note.”

“Good. Now, we’ll get up to the bluff early, wait for Cartwright, and when he turns up we’ll take the money and get rid of them both.” Suddenly Casey was glad that Cartwright had survived. Now he would give them the money, and Casey would have the satisfaction of watching him die.

“You mean kill ‘em?” Asked Pete a little anxiously.

“That’s what I mean. You got a problem with that?”

“No, no problem.” Pete was not going to go against Casey when he was in this mood, he might decide to get rid of him as well. Besides, there was the money to consider. The three men went inside, where the raven-haired girl was working at the stove.

“Hurry up Rosie, we’re hungry.” Called Casey, and Rosie took a pot from the stove and dished up three plates putting them on the table in front of the men. Casey tried the food, then turned and spat it out.

“What do you think you’re doing, trying to poison us all?” And he stood and hit Rosie with the back of his hand. She put her fingers to the side of her mouth and when she took them away, she could see a smear of blood. She ran out of the room without a backward glance.

“Come on,” Casey said to Pete and Lem, “Lets get something in town.”

“What about the kid?” Pete asked concerned.

“Don’t worry about him. Rosie will look after him, and we won’t be gone for long.”

“Do you think you can trust her?” Lem asked.

“She knows where she’s well off. They may have tried to help her in town, but they won’t be around for ever.” Casey went outside to find Rosie to tell her what was expected of her.

Joe was sitting in the storeroom staring at the wall, eyes wide and breathing fast. He had heard what Casey had said to Lem and Pete and was frantic with worry, not only for himself, but also for Adam. He had to let him know what would happen if he turned up with the ransom.

The three men left for town, and Rosie returned to the house. She dished up another plate of food and went into the small storeroom, taking with her a lamp from the table. Joe looked up as she entered, showing surprise as he saw who it was.

“I’ve brought you some supper.” Rosie said. “I’ll help you eat it, I’m sorry that I can’t untie you but Casey will kill me if you’re not here when he gets back.” And she knelt in front of him and fed Joe the stew.

“Rosie,” he said, “I heard your brother outside, he said he’s going to kill me and Adam. I can’t believe that you want that to happen. Please get a message to him, tell him what they plan to do.”

Rosie stared at him but said nothing.

“Surely you don’t want to be a part of this?” Still she did not reply, just fed Joe the food.

“Rosie, this all started because we tried to help you, can’t you help us? I just need you to get a message to him, that’s all.”

Rosie looked at him, and Joe could see fear in her eyes. He realised that he was asking too much of her, she would never go against Casey.

“I’m sorry. You and your brother tried to help me, and its just going to cause you trouble, I’m sorry.” Rosie shook her head sorrowfully and, taking the lamp with her, returned Joe to darkness once again.

It was late in the evening; Adam had fallen asleep and Bridey let him rest, only waking him once supper was ready. Bridey had to cut the steak for him, and he smiled at her gratefully as she did so. Adam did not really feel hungry, but he knew that if he didn’t eat it would take him that much longer to regain his strength.

“Thanks. I guess it’s going to take me a while before I can use this hand again.” And he ate silently for a moment.

“Who was the girl? Why was Casey so possessive towards her?” Adam wanted to know. He had to find out something about Casey if he was going to stand any chance of getting Joe back.

“That’s Rosie. She’s Casey’s sister.”

Adam was surprised by this revelation. How could Casey treat his sister so badly?

“How old is she?”

“Seventeen. Their parents died when she was just ten. Casey has raised her since then. They owned a small ranch just outside town and now Casey runs it, with Pete and Lem to help him. They scratch a living. Casey is not much of a one for work, he takes anything that Rosie earns in the saloon, keeps it for himself. Says that because he is taking care of her, she should give him all her money. Since she has no money of her own she’s stuck there. And Casey makes sure he keeps it that way. She looks after those men, cooking, cleaning and even helping around the ranch, when they decide to do any work.” Bridey obviously did not think much of Casey and the way he treated Rosie.

Adam was interested to hear about the ranch. He decided that he wanted to take a look at it.

“Where is the ranch?”

“About eight miles east. The land is not much good for anything there, just arid scrub, but they raise a few cattle.”

“Would you show me?” Asked Adam. If Bridey knew the terrain it would be quicker for her to show him.

“Yes, but do you think you are strong enough to ride?” Bridey could see from his slow movements that Adam was weak.

“I have to go. I don’t have much time, and if Joe’s there, I have to find a way to get him out. We’ll go first thing in the morning. It’s too dark now.”

Adam stood up preparing to leave Bridey to her privacy.

“Where do you think you are going?” She wanted to know.

“Back to the hotel.” Said Adam reasonably.

“Why? You can stay here. It might be safer for you, and I can keep an eye on that hand, you’re not well enough to be on your own. And if we are going out early it would be better for you to be here.”

“But what about you, your…?”

“If you are worried about my reputation, don’t bother.” She said smiling. “I’ve worked in saloons long enough, I have no reputation to worry about.”

“Then, if you’re sure, thank you. Do you ride? I can hire some horses for us from the livery, mine seems to have been taken, along with my brother.” Bridey nodded.

“Yes, I can ride, now you just sit there.” Bridey made up a bed for him on the settee, with sheets and blanket.

“I hope you’ll be comfortable.” She said and left him.

*****

Chapter Seven

Adam did not bother to try to undress, he just lay down on the settee, but he couldn’t sleep. His hand was throbbing, and he was worried about Joe. His thoughts went back to that morning, knowing that Casey had left him there to die. What would a man like that do to Joe? Was he really doing the right thing in not paying the ransom? Would it be better to pay up and then try to track down Casey? How would he be able to go home and face his father if he allowed anything to happen to his young brother? Again he remembered the vision he had seen, of his father sending him away, he shook his head to dispel the painful feeling it left him with.

He already felt responsible for all that had happened. Joe had tried to tell him to stay out of the confrontation between Casey and the girl, but he would not listen. And maybe they should have tried to take on the three men when they were jumped, but again Adam had not taken any notice of his young, impetuous brother. He tossed and turned for most of the night, then finally gave up trying to sleep. He rose, made some coffee, and sat watching the dawn come while attempting to reconcile all these problems, knowing in his heart that he had failed to honour the trust his father had put in him.

Adam could hear Bridey moving about, and when she came out of the bedroom he was surprised to see that she was wearing a pair of trousers, and he had to admit they suited her trim figure.

As Bridey joined him, he was trying to shave left handed and making a poor job of it. The razor that he had found on a shelf in the kitchen was sharp, and he had already given himself a nasty cut under his chin. Bridey came up beside him and gently took the razor from his grasp.

“Sit down and let me do this.” She instructed, and then eyeing the cut said, “I don’t think you have that much blood to spare.”

Adam raised his eyebrows but did as he was told.

“Do you know how to shave a man?” He asked, a little apprehensively. If anyone was going to cut his throat he would rather it was himself!

“Yes I do.” She said, deftly running the razor down Adam’s cheek. “My father was a barber surgeon in St. Louis. That’s where I learned about shaving, and how to stitch wounds like yours. I may have had to use a carpet needle, but I used the finest silk thread, a delicate shade of purple.” She smiled. “You will find that there will hardly be a scar to show for it.”

When she had finished his shave, which Adam had to admit was quite as good as any he had done for himself, Bridey went over to a small dresser in the corner of the room. She opened the bottom drawer and reached deep inside.

“I think you had better take this with you, it was my father’s.” She said, and as she withdrew her hand Adam could see that she was holding a revolver. He took it from her and checked the movement of the cylinder and the action of the trigger. He was satisfied that the gun was serviceable, and after loading it with the bullets Bridey handed to him, he picked up his empty gun belt from the table where Bridey had laid it the night before. He slipped the gun into the holster, and was trying to do up the belt when he realised with a start that he would not be able to reach the gun with his left hand. He took it out of the holster, and tucked it into the belt of his trousers. He had always thought that this was a dangerous way to carry a gun, it was too easy to shoot yourself by mistake. But at the moment he had no choice.

They went to the livery stable and Adam hired a horse for each of them. They went slowly because Adam found that the slightest exertion left him giddy. Together they rode east out of town, and when Bridey said that they were nearly there, he called a halt.

“I think we had better go the rest of the way on foot. We don’t want them to hear us coming, if they’re at the ranch.”

They tied the horses to a tree and started off together. The ground was rocky and dry, only the occasional stream giving the land the water it needed to grow a sparse covering of stunted grass. They went slowly, stopping often for Adam to stand bent over, with his hand on one knee, breathing deeply. As they topped a rise, they saw below, in a small valley, some run down buildings.

“That’s Casey’s ranch.” Bridey said, pointing.

Adam motioned her to get down behind a scattering of rocks, which would give them a view of the ranch without being seen themselves. It could be a long wait before anything happened and Adam shifted his position to get more comfortable, and Bridey came to sit beside him. Adam looked at her puzzled.

“What are you doing in Trigo?” He asked.

“Do you mean why Trigo and not somewhere else?” Adam nodded. “Well that is where I had got to when I ran out of money. I was making my way to San Francisco. My father had died, and no one wants to be shaved by a woman.” She looked at Adam, who had the grace to look guilty of exactly that reaction.

“So I decided to ‘seek my fortune’, as they say. I got mixed up with a couple of fellas, and they were useful for a time, I was a woman alone and they gave me a measure of protection. But I guess that by the time we got here they had had enough of me. They took what money I had left and disappeared one night, leaving me with nothing. Well, in Trigo there aren’t too many opportunities for a girl except the saloon. I have been trying to get enough money together to finish the trip, I reckon in another year I should make it.”

“I’m sorry.” Said Adam thinking what this woman had put up with, but it had not made her bitter.

“Don’t be, no experience is ever wasted. And just think, if I had not been stranded here then I wouldn’t have been around to help you.”

“That’s true. Bridey I am very grateful to you, you know that.”

As he finished speaking Adam heard movement from below. Pete came out of the door of the cabin. He stretched and went over to the horse trough and plunged his head into it, coming up shaking the water from his hair. Lem followed a minute later and Adam heard them talking, though he was too far away to make out the words. They laughed together over something Lem said, then turned as Casey appeared in the doorway.

If the three of them are here then Joe must be here as well, thought Adam. A muscle worked in his jaw as he thought of what he would like to do to these men, but he knew that he would have to act rationally if he was to get Joe out of there alive.

He turned away and sat with his back against the rock, considering his next move.

“What are you going to do?” Asked Bridey.

“I don’t know yet.” Said Adam. He was frustrated that he could not for the moment think of a plan of action. If he had been able to use both his hands he would have gone in there and got Joe out by force, but he was not sure that he could do that, handicapped as he was. For the first time in his life he envied his little brother’s left-handedness

“I can use a gun, Adam. Let me help.” Bridey offered. Adam looked at her gratefully, but shook his head.

“No. You have done enough already. I won’t put you in any more danger, Casey isn’t going to be happy that you have helped me as much as you have, and you still have to live here.” Adam was concerned for her. Pete knew that he was at her home and would have told Casey, who might decide to take his revenge on her.

“You could do something, though. Go back to town and find someone to send here with a message for Pete or Lem. Get one of them away from here, and I’ll deal with the other two.”

“Are you sure?” She asked. She was worried that Adam might be taking on more than he could handle.

“Yes, go please. Don’t worry,” He said putting his hand on Bridey’s shoulder to reassure her. “Just remember that if it comes to a fight, they want the money, but I will be trying to save my brother’s life.”

Bridey leant towards Adam and gently kissed his cheek, “Good luck.” She said and was gone. Adam watched her go, a slight frown creasing his forehead, then turned back to keep an eye on the ranch buildings. Apart from the main cabin, the only other structure was the barn to the left. Adam thought that if he could approach the cabin from that side, the barn would give him cover. With that in mind, he started to make his way round to the opposite side of the valley. He went slowly, but once he got there, he again found shelter behind the rocks that seemed to predominate in this landscape.

*****

Chapter Eight

Two hours after Bridey had left, Adam heard hoof beats approaching. A man rode up to the front of the cabin and called for Pete, who came out to see what he wanted. After a short exchange the rider left and Pete went back inside, only to reappear a minute later. He went to the barn and was soon leaving on his horse, headed for town. Adam took this as his cue, and started to make his way carefully down the steep side of the valley, to the barn. He was breathing heavily when he got there, and paused to look through the dirty window of the barn, and his anger rose when he saw Sport in one of the stalls

Drawing the gun from his waistband, he crept from the barn towards the cabin. He saw no one, and when he reached the door of the cabin he used his bandaged hand to lift the latch. He pushed the door open and rushed inside ready for any opposition.

Casey and Lem were seated at the table in the middle of the small room, a bottle of whiskey on the table between them, and Rosie was asleep on a cot in the corner. Lem was holding a glass to his lips having just taken a swallow, and he choked as Adam entered. They seemed to be taken completely by surprise. Casey started to stand, reaching for his gun.

“Don’t try it.” Ordered Adam, pointing the gun at Casey to emphasise the meaning of his words. Casey stopped, sat down again, and raised his hands.

“Where’s my brother?” Adam demanded, and Casey jerked his head sideways towards a door.

“In there.”

“OK let’s go, both of you.” Lem and Casey rose and went to the storeroom. They opened the door and Adam followed them inside. He saw Joe tied up on the floor.

“You OK?” He asked.

“Yes, but I sure am glad to see you.” Joe said with feeling. He noticed that Adam was holding the gun in his left hand, and that his right hand was heavily bandaged. Joe was about to ask him about it, but Adam wanted to get out of there as soon as possible and did not give him the chance.

“Right, untie him.” Adam instructed Casey. Joe stood up and turned his back to Casey, who undid the ropes. As Joe turned round again he saw a shadow fall across the doorway. Adam felt something press hard into his back. He straightened, and looked over his shoulder.

“Now why don’t you just drop the gun?” It was Pete. He had come back as Casey had told him to. Casey suspected that Adam might try to rescue his brother, and had not been taken in by the subterfuge. Adam let the gun drop to the floor.

“It won’t work, Cartwright. Why don’t you just give us the money and ride out of here?” Casey asked.

“You won’t get a penny from me. Let my brother go. It’s me you want, not him. Let him go and you can have me. Joe’ll ride away, and won’t come after you, just let him go.” Adam was bargaining desperately, his only thought was to get Joe out of there, out of danger.

“Adam I won’t go and leave you.” Cried Joe, who was shocked that his brother thought that he would do such a thing.

“Shut up. You’ll do as you’re told.” Said Adam, angry with Joe for trying to dissuade Casey.

“You’re forgetting something, aren’t you? It looks to me as though I’ve got you, and your brother. Lem tie the kid up again.” Lem bent down to retrieve the rope that had been restraining Joe, and retied his hands.

“Right, outside both of you.” Adam’s shoulders sagged dejectedly. He had tried and failed to save Joe. Worse, it looked as though Casey might kill both of them. He thought of his father, and what the news would do to him when he found out, and he saw again the vision he had had on the road back to Trigo, of his father turning away from him, because he had failed

With Pete still holding the gun on him, Adam turned and made his way slowly back into the main room. Casey followed and Lem pushed Joe after them.

“Outside.” Ordered Casey, and they all followed Adam out into the yard.

“Now I’m going to finish what we started in the saloon.” He said, and coming up quickly behind Adam placed both hands on his back and shoved hard. Adam stumbled and fell, and he put his hands out to stop himself. As he hit the ground he felt fire shoot up his right arm, and he ended up sprawled in the dirt. Casey came up beside him and kicked him in the ribs. Adam rolled away, trying to rise but Casey kicked him again before he could get up. Adam rolled further, and this time was able to get to his feet, cradling his right arm with his left. He stood, breathing hard, and faced Casey who was looking at him with a sneer.

“Not so big now, are you?” Casey said, and as he came closer, he swung a blow at Adam’s head. Adam ducked and delivered a blow of his own. Casey staggered back but soon recovered, and advanced on Adam. Casey suddenly stepped forward and grabbed the front of Adam’s shirt, landing several blows to his head. Adam tried to retaliate but was hampered by only having one hand with which to hit Casey. He tried once to use his right arm to ward off some of the blows, but as soon as he made contact with Casey’s fist, the pain he felt did more to help Casey than himself.

Joe was watching horrified, unable to help his brother because Lem had hold of his arms. He struggled to free himself but Lem just held on tighter. Joe could only stand by and wait for the inevitable outcome of what was becoming a very one-sided fight.

Casey finally let go his grip on Adam’s shirt, and hit him square on the jaw. Adam’s legs gave way and he fell to the ground, lying on his back, arms outstretched. Casey went up to him.

“I’ll teach you to get in my way.” He said and stamped on Adam’s bandaged hand. Adam cried out and tried to roll out of Casey’s way, but Casey followed him and administered several heavy kicks to Adam’s rib cage, talking as he did so.

“How do you like that?” Kick, “Coming into my town.” Kick, “Telling me what I can and can’t do.” Kick.

Joe cried out, “Leave him alone.” And breaking away from Lem, charged at Casey, knocking him to the ground. Lem, recovering, ran over to Joe and lifting him up from the ground where he had fallen in his rush, delivered several blows to his head and stomach. Joe dropped to his knees, his head swimming, and his breath coming in short gasps.

Casey had got back to his feet and went over to Adam, who was struggling to rise. Casey pulled him to his feet and hit him again, meeting no resistance. Adam put up his arms to protect his head, but some of the blows got through. With each blow that landed, Adam would have been knocked to the ground, but Casey again had a grip on the front of his shirt.

Suddenly a shot rang out and Casey straightened and let go of Adam. Without Casey to hold him up Adam staggered and fell. Casey turned slowly, a look of surprise on his face. He saw Rosie standing in the doorway of the cabin, the gun in her hand still smoking from the shot she had fired.

Casey started to walk towards her but had covered only half the distance when he sank to his knees. He stayed like that for five seconds then fell forward on his face and lay still.

“Lem, untie Joe, now.” Lem, seeing the gun levelled at himself, hurried to obey. As soon as he was released, Joe, ignoring the pain in his head, ran over to Adam who was lying still, his eyes closed.

Lem and Pete looked at each other. They saw their chance to get away, and they took to their heels in the direction of the barn, to emerge a moment later, riding away from the scene as fast as they could.

 

Chapter Nine

Rosie came over to Joe as he knelt down beside Adam and tried to rouse him, without success. Joe looked at Rosie, he could see the evidence of Casey’s treatment on her face, and the reason for the heavy make up that he had seen in the saloon became apparent.

“We’ve got to help him.” Joe said desperately.

“Let’s get him inside.” Said Rosie, and between them they carried Adam into the cabin, and laid him on the cot in the corner of the room. Rosie went to the pump in the opposite corner and drew some water, which she put on the range to heat. Joe used some more of the water to try and clean up Adam’s face.

They heard a buggy draw up outside, and footsteps running towards the house. Rosie opened the door just in time for Bridey to rush through it. She stopped when she saw Adam, putting her hand to her mouth in shock. She soon recovered however, and pushing Joe aside, took over.

“Rosie, see to Joe. I’ll look after Adam.” Rosie brought some hot water to the table and started to clean the cuts on Joe’s face, while Bridey did the same for Adam. Joe looked appreciatively at Rosie, but the usual dazzling smile, which would have girl’s hearts racing, was missing. His face was sore, and he was worried about Adam. He kept glancing over to the bed, where Bridey was tending to him.

Adam stirred and forced his eyes open. He could see Bridey sitting beside him, a bloody cloth in her hand.

“This is getting to be a habit with you.” He said thickly, “Why…why did you come?” His cut lips and sore ribs made speaking difficult. But Casey’s attack had more temper in it than planning, and while he had drawn a lot of blood, Adam knew there were no serious underlying injuries.

“Hush now, you just lie there and let me take care of you.” Said Bridey in a tone that would stand no argument.

“I came to make sure that you were all right, and I passed Lem and Pete riding away for all they were worth.” She was unbuttoning his torn shirt, and when she saw the cuts and bruises on his ribs Bridey was concerned, but after feeling her way up one side and down the other, she could tell that while a few of the ribs might be cracked and many of them bruised, there was no lasting damage. Again Casey had let his anger get in the way of aiming his feet to do any real damage.

“Joe…?” Adam was worried about his young brother. He was having trouble concentrating, but well remembered why he was there.

“I’m here, Adam. Don’t worry everything’s OK.” Joe got up from the table and went to stand looking down at his brother.

“Casey? Where…?”

“Casey’s dead, Rosie shot him.” Said Joe, trying to reassure him.

Joe was concerned when Bridey removed the bloody bandage from Adam’s hand, and he saw the knife wounds, and the stitches in them. Some of the stitches had come away, and the incisions had started bleeding again.

“What happened?” Joe wanted to know.

“Casey.” Was all that Adam was prepared to tell him. He wanted to protect Joe from the details of Casey’s previous attack. He had seen more than an eighteen year old should have to see, and Adam wanted him to be able to forget it as soon as possible, though he knew that he himself would never forget.

“I’m going to have to restitch this, Adam.”

“You’d better go and get the whisky then.” He paused remembering the last time she had used his hand as a sampler. “ What colour are you using this time?” Adam tried to smile at Bridey but his mouth was not working properly. However, she saw the intent reflected in his face and smiled at him.

“Let’s see what Rosie has to offer.” Said Bridey, and Rosie nodded and went to the cupboard in the dresser and brought out her sewing basket. In it were several needles and a few skeins of thread. Bridey selected the finest needle she could find, and held the basket out to Adam.

“Right then, what’s it to be?”

Joe was astounded. It was bad enough that this woman was going to stitch his brother, but to make him choose the thread was too much.

“Why don’t you just get on with it, stop tormenting him?” Joe would have pulled Bridey away, but Adam stopped him.

“Joe, it’s all right. Bridey stitched it before, she chose last time now it’s my turn.” He selected a rich blue. He offered it to Bridey and as she took it, Adam held her hand.

“To match your eyes.” He exchanged the thread for a glass of whiskey, and laid back waiting for Bridey to start.

It was dark when Adam came back to his senses; half a day had gone by. He had not lasted past the third stitch this time, and Bridey was grateful that he had not been conscious of her ministrations. He turned his head and saw Bridey still sitting beside him, her head bent, breathing evenly. She was asleep, and Adam did not want to wake her.

The whiskey he had drunk had made him thirsty, and he eased himself off the bed, drawing a sharp breath as his ribs objected to the movement. He waited for the pain to ease and his head to clear, then shifted off the bed. He stood for a few minutes, unsure that his legs would support him. He shook his head, he couldn’t remember ever having felt so weak, for so long. He took the blanket that had covered him and put it gently round Bridey’s shoulder. She stirred but did not waken. Adam went slowly to the pump and filled a mug with water, then made his way quietly outside and eased himself down to the ground by the cabin, leaning against the wall.

The stars above him were massed like sparks from a bonfire, and he drank in the feeling of freedom they instilled in him. But he could find no peace in the sight. He thought about all that had happened and it left him uneasy. He had feelings that would not let him rest, feelings of hatred and anger towards Casey, and feelings of guilt. He had caused all this to happen, and he had put Joe in danger, all because he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. He knew he should never have got into a fight with Casey, he was old enough to know better. He heard the door creak open and looked round to see Joe coming out of the cabin. He sat down beside his brother.

“You all right?” Joe asked concerned. He had heard Adam leave the cabin minutes earlier and was worried when he had not returned.

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“Liar.” Joe accused.

“OK. I have been better, but nothing that won’t heal. How about you, did they hurt you?”

“No, just kept me tied up in the storeroom. The worst thing was not knowing what had happened to you. I guess we were lucky, huh.” Said Joe.

“Yes, thanks to the girls.” There was silence as each man considered what these women had done.

“That Rosie sure is something. Shooting her brother like that.” Said Joe.

“Yeah. And Bridey would make a great doctor.” Said Adam, holding up his hand.

“What happened?” Joe wanted to know.

“Leave it, Joe. It doesn’t matter any more.”

“That bad, eh?”

“Let’s just say that but for Bridey I’d probably be dead out there somewhere.” Adam refused to go into detail. Joe did not need to know what had happened, and Adam found it too disturbing to talk about.

He still remembered clearly the vision he had seen, of his father saying that if Joe was not coming him he did not want Adam either, that he blamed Adam for losing Joe. Adam knew that it was only in his imagination, but he blamed himself for what had happened, and the feeling of rejection was still strong and real, although it had never happened.

“Casey really took against you didn’t he?”

“Remind me the next time you tell me not to interfere, that little brother knows best. Now get back to bed.” Adam had had enough talking.

“Yes sir.” Joe said sarcastically, and got to his feet. “You coming?”

“In a minute. I just want to sit here for a while.”

“OK, goodnight.” Joe hesitated before leaving. “Thanks Adam, thanks for coming to get me.”

“’Night Joe.”

Adam was left alone. His thoughts went back over the last two days and everything that had happened. They would be late getting back for Hoss’s birthday, but they were lucky to be going home at all. It could have ended so differently, would have done but for Rosie. The thought of the girl turned his mind to Bridey. When he first saw her, he had dismissed her as just another saloon girl, but since he had got to know her, his opinion had changed completely. She was a strong woman, with a tender heart. A woman he liked. He found that as he thought of her, a warmth spread through his body, a feeling he recognised, a feeling of desire.

He shook his head. It was ridiculous, she wasn’t interested in him. What she had done was done because he was hurt, she would have done the same for anyone. She was a strong, independent woman, living her own life with no ties. Why should he think she would want him? No, it would be better to get away from here and forget her.

He got up and went back into the cabin and lay down on the bed, turning away from her as she sat beside him.

*****

Chapter Ten

The following morning Joe left early to find a telegraph office, from where he would send his father a wire to tell him that they would be late home, that they were sorry to miss their brother’s birthday, and would explain when they got there.

Bridey had persuaded Rosie to come back into town and stay with her, until she decided what to do next. Adam would take a room for himself and Joe at the hotel, and they would leave in a few days when he was feeling up to the long ride home. But for now Adam travelled in the buggy, driven by Bridey, and Rosie rode the horse Adam had hired, and lead Sport behind her. During the previous afternoon, while Adam slept and Joe nursed his cuts and bruises, she had retrieved the hired horse from the tree where Adam had left him tied, and had stabled him in the barn. The ride back to town was quiet, Adam saying nothing unless they spoke to him, and when he answered it was in monosyllables. Bridey looked at him wondering what was wrong, but he stared straight ahead, seeming to ignore her presence completely.

When they arrived back in town, Bridey asked that Adam should bring Joe to her house for supper. Adam politely declined, making the excuse that he wanted to rest, because they needed to get home as soon as possible. Bridey was surprised but did not press him. Adam waited for Joe in their hotel room, the same one they had so recently left.

Joe appeared early in the afternoon. Adam was lying on the bed resting, when Joe came in. He got up slowly, and went to the window, looking down at the street below.

“How are you?” Joe asked. Adam turned back to face him.

“Fine. I think we should leave in the morning.”

“Are you sure that you’re feeling up to it. It’s a long ride.” Joe could see that Adam was having trouble just moving about the room.

“Sure I am. We don’t have to hurry. Pa isn’t expecting us at any particular time, but I think we should go as soon as we can.”

Joe was puzzled. Why was Adam so anxious to get away? But he didn’t argue.

“I think I will go and see Rosie, tell her we’re leaving.”

After Joe had gone, Adam wandered slowly over to the bank on the opposite side of the street. He talked to the manager, and then went back to the hotel. He and Joe had supper sent to their room, and prepared to leave in the morning.

The next day was overcast and grey, reflecting the sombre mood of the elder Cartwright. Joe went to get their horses from the stables and brought them back to the hotel. Adam was inside settling their bill, and when he was finished, he went out to join Joe, waiting by the horses. Adam stopped as he saw Rosie and Bridey standing talking to his brother.

“Hello.” He said.

“Goodbye.” Said Bridey.

“Yes I guess it is. Thank you for everything. I can never repay either of you for what you did, but this might help.” And he reached into his pocket and drew out two envelopes, handing one to each of the women.

“What’s this?” Asked Bridey.

“Don’t open them until we’ve gone.” Adam instructed. Bridey and Rosie looked at each other intrigued.

“All right.” They both agreed. There was an awkward silence. Suddenly Rosie stepped forward and kissed Joe on the cheek.

Bridey did the same to Adam. “We’ll miss you.” She said, a slight catch in her voice.

Adam kissed her cheek lightly, then turned and mounted his horse with some difficulty. Joe sprung onto Cochise and turning the horses, they rode off up the street. Rosie and Bridey stood watching them out of sight.

“What do you suppose that was all about?” Rosie asked.

“I don’t know, but they certainly seemed in a hurry to leave.” She was puzzled by Adam’s behaviour. He had seemed so friendly towards her, and then suddenly so cold. She found that she did not want him to leave, but he had decided that they needed to get home, and she was not going to stop him. She looked at the envelope that he had given her and tore it open. She stared at the paper it contained, then turned, and ran back to her cabin, tears in her eyes.

Joe and Adam rode slowly along the same road they had taken two days before, but did not take the turn off which would have led them through the mountains. This time Joe had insisted that they would go up the valley to Placerville, and then turn towards home. He could see that Adam was not comfortable being in the saddle, and had decided that they should take the longer, easier route. Adam did not argue, this time he could see the sense in what his brother was saying.

They stopped for a break at midday. As they sat by the fire, Joe’s curiosity got the better of him.

“Why the hurry to leave?”

“I just want to get home.”

Joe pressed him, “Oh, come on brother, you know very well that you shouldn’t be riding in your condition. There has to be more to it than that.”

“Leave it, Joe. I don’t want to talk about it.”

Joe could see that it would do no good to try to force Adam to talk, so he changed the subject.

“What was in those envelopes?”

“I gave the girls the ten thousand dollars that Casey wanted for your release. Half each.”

“Wow. What do you think they’ll do with it?”

“I don’t know. But at least they won’t have to stay in Trigo. They have a choice now. They can get away and make new lives for themselves. I owe them that. They saved our lives, and I would like to give them a chance at a new life.”

Adam stood and kicked dirt over the fire, and slowly mounted Sport. Joe jumped on Cochise and they rode away, back to the life they loved.

***The End***

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