The Price (by Barbara)

Summary:   A man’s ignorance and greed blind him to the cost of his actions.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  6897


“Adam! I want you to stay out of it. Is that understood?”

“I just can’t, Pa. I have to do what my conscience tells me to do. I can’t just sit back and let John Wiley do this.”

“But, John has been a neighbor of ours for over twenty years.”

“And the Paiutes have been here for centuries. Why should they have to pay the price for John’s ignorance and greed?”

“Adam,” Ben implored, trying to calm down his son to reason with him. “I’m begging you… please! Don’t interfere.”

“Pa, John Wiley wants to mine the last refuge those people have. He doesn’t care about them. All he cares about is what MIGHT be under the surface of those foothills. There are women and children on that land. Where are they going to go Pa? Where?”

“I don’t know,” Ben said crossly. “But it’s none of our affair.”

“Well, I think we should make it our affair and I for one am willing to fight for those people’s lives. I hoped you’d be with me. I thought you’d be on my side.”

“I am on your side. I’m always on your side but I just can’t bring myself to fight against friends.”

“But you CAN watch friends murder innocent people?”

“Murder? It isn’t murder.”

“IT IS!” Adam declared. “It is, Pa! Why can’t you see that?”

The argument between father and son raged on through supper spilling into the living room of the Ponderosa ranch house. Little Joe and Hoss stayed out of it. They knew better than to get between Ben and Adam when sparks started to fly. When their older brother latched onto an issue, it became black and white. He was a passionate man and was undeterred by anyone or anything when he took a stand. He came by his emotions honestly. He was a chip off the old block. Ben had battled injustice too. He could be just as inflexible as his eldest boy.

Earlier that day, while Adam was in town, the news of John Wiley’s plans spread like wildfire through the streets of Virginia City. Most of the citizens didn’t care either way and some were glad to see the last remaining tribe in the area banished. There were very few who were as outraged as Adam on the subject. He found it distressing. He tracked down John Wiley to confront him, finally finding him in the Silver Dollar Saloon. John was flanked by his two sons, Raymond and James. Adam seemed calm enough when he sat at the table across from the elder Wiley. He raised his hand to alert the bartender to bring him a whiskey without diverting his ominous stare from his adversary.

“Rumor has it, you’re planning to mine the lower foothills around Carson,” Adam stated.

“It’s not a rumor Adam. It’s a fact,” John Wiley replied sternly.

“You do realize there is a tribe of Paiutes living in that valley. They’ve lived there for hundreds of years.”

“Yeah. So?” John said indifferently.

“So, they hold claim to that land, John. You can’t just ride in and clear them out. For one thing, they won’t go.”

“I’ll have to convince them.”

“Oh?” Adam took a sip of his whiskey and cocked his head inquisitively. “And, just how do you intend to do that?”

“I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“Are you saying you’ll force them out with violence?”

“If I have to.”

“You can’t do that. There are laws.”

“You just watch me Cartwright.”

“John…you’re a thug and a bigot,” Adam replied bluntly.

“I thought your father raised you to respect your elders, boy,” John retorted irritably.

“My father raised me to respect everyone, no matter what their age, race or creed. But, I’m afraid I can’t respect a man who refuses to do the same.”

Both Ray and James straightened in their seats ready to defend their father. They didn’t take kindly to Adam’s tone. John did not respond to Adam but rather took a gulp of his beer.

“What do I have to do to convince you to leave those people alone?” Adam continued. “They have hopes and dreams just like you and me. They have families. They have a right to live in peace on the land of their ancestors. All they have to call their own is that small parcel of land and you’re set on taking that away from them out of shear greed.”

“They’re not people, Adam… they’re Indians.”

Adam’s temper exploded and he swung his fist at John, hitting him squarely on the jaw. John was sent backward, out of his chair and onto the floor. Both Ray and James bolted out of their seats to charge Adam as the other patrons stood, anticipating a brawl. Adam braced himself and raised his fists ready to defend. But John called off his sons and did not reciprocate. He knew he was no match for Adam and preferred to fight his own battles whenever possible. John wiped his bloody mouth with his sleeve and glanced up at his nemesis who pointed down at him.

“You’re not taking that land, John. I’ll go all the way to Indian Affairs in Washington if I have to,” he threatened. Adam did not wait for a reaction and stormed out of the bar bashing through the swinging doors almost ripping them off their hinges. Once outside, he stopped to gain control. After he took several moments to cool off, he mounted his horse and rode home. He arrived just in time for supper.

Adam placed one foot on the thresh hold of the fireplace. He held the iron poker and bounced it in and out of his left hand impatiently. “First thing tomorrow I’m riding to Carson and warning the Paiutes about John’s little scheme. And, then we’ll just see how easy it is to clear them out,” he announced.

Joe and Hoss sat on the settee and watched the debate between Adam and Ben as they drank their after dinner coffees. Ben sat in the leather chair across from them.

“Well, you’re on your own, son. I won’t stop you, but I won’t go with you either.”

“What about you two?” Adam asked his brothers who seemed caught off guard by his sudden inclusion of them in the conversation.

“Who me?” Joe pointed to himself.

“Yes you.”

“Well,….I”

“You too, huh?”

“Me too what?” Joe defended. “I just think it’s not our fight, Adam. I don’t think it’s right either but it’s really none of our business.”

“And you?” Adam said shifting his prickly glance toward Hoss.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?’

“I just mean, I’ll have to think about it is all.”

Adam straightened up and faced his family. He calmly leaned the poker against the stone of the fireplace. He shook his head regretfully and sniffed with ire. “You all should be ashamed of yourselves,” he hissed.

“NOW LISTEN HERE!” Ben protested. He stood to make his point. “I’ll not be spoken to in that manner.”

“Sometimes, Pa,” Adam said as he headed for the front door, “you leave me no choice.”

With the slamming of the door ringing through the living room like thunder, Ben, Hoss and Joe were left speechless. Adam’s remarks were cutting and they couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable. Each man held his position – they stared into their cups sheepishly.

“I’ll go out and talk to him, Pa,” Hoss finally offered.

“Well, you can try, son.” Ben sounded frustrated. “You can certainly try to talk some sense into that bull headed brother of yours.”

*****

Hoss found Adam in the barn. He was grooming his horse vigorously as if he were taking out his aggravation on his gelding’s hide. Adam was aware of Hoss but did not acknowledge him when he approached cautiously.

“You know, Adam,” Hoss said after taking a short pause to gather his words, “you’ve put Pa between a rock and a hard place. You know he owes John Wiley for helping him get started out here. They’ve been friends for a long time. You and Raymond was best friends growin’ up until you had that fight over Eleanor Richmond. We’ve been through a lot together. We’re indebted to John.”

“One thing has nothing to do with the other,” Adam mumbled without diverting his attention from his chore.

“I’ll come with you tomorrow,” Hoss said, resigned. “I mean, I don’t think you should go out to meet them Paiutes alone.”

“I don’t need your help.”

“Then why did you ask for it back in the house?”

“You made your position quite clear in there. You’ve made your bed. I just hope you can sleep in it. And I hope Pa and Joe can do the same.”

“Ah come on, Adam. Calm down. We’re not your enemy.”

“Sometimes I wonder,” Adam seethed.

“Dadburn it! You’re as stubborn as a mule in mud,” Hoss said with irritation.

“There are worse things to be than stubborn Hoss… like naïve and selfish.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Adam. I guess there’s nothing else to say then, is there.”

“No, I guess not.”

“Just one more thing… if you’ll take a moment to listen.”

Adam begrudgingly stopped his frantic brushing and turned to face his younger brother. His eyes were black with fury – his expression filled with disappointment.

“Good luck and be careful. And, remember, no matter what… we’re here if you need us, whether you believe it or not.”

Hoss stuck his hands in his pockets and quietly left the barn. Adam exhaled heavily and lowered his head to contemplate. As much as he hated being at odds with his family, he had to defend the innocent and he didn’t care who he’d have to walk over to do it. He finished grooming his horse then prepared his rig for the trek to Carson the next morning.

*****

Adam left before dawn without saying good-bye. His silent departure left a sour taste in Ben’s mouth and made his gut twist with guilt. He felt like he’d been kicked in the stomach with a frozen boot. Joe and Hoss were edgy as well, and worked through the day without mentioning the previous evening’s turmoil. It loomed over the Ponderosa like a black cloud. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all uncommonly quiet. They were all thinking about Adam but no one dared broach the subject. They all kept their worried feelings to themselves.

Ben expected a visit from John that day but it never came. He thought John would at least have something to say about Adam’s assault on him. Ben was surprised John let that go. He debated on going to see him and reinforcing Adam’s concerns, but he decided not to. He wasn’t sure why. He truly was torn.

John was instrumental in Ben’s success since he, Adam and Hoss settled in Lake Tahoe some twenty-five years ago. He was also a great source of support after Little Joe’s mother died. They had much in common – both were widowers, both had sons and both had achieved great wealth through tremendously hard work. But, Adam was Ben’s son – the most important thing in his life – and he couldn’t help but feel troubled over the disagreement. Once again, Adam was right and Ben felt a fool for not backing him. He knew John had a history of prejudice but uncharacteristically had ignored it. Now, friendship or not, he’d have to confront John and try to stop him from driving out the small tribe of Paiutes. He’d wait to hear from Adam first and then pay a visit to his old comrade.

But, several days came and went without any word from Adam or news of his visit to the Paiute village. And, there was nothing from John either. Ben thought he’d have heard something by now. He found it strange and somewhat unsettling. When the elder Cartwright sat down for dinner that night, he intended to talk to Hoss and Joe about the situation.

“Boys,” Ben said after finishing his supper and laying his napkin across his plate. He leaned back in his chair at the head of the table and lit his pipe. “I’ve decided to ride to Carson tomorrow. I’ve got to find Adam. You’re welcome to join me but it’s totally up to you.”

“We’re glad you said that, Pa. Me and Joe was thinkin’ the same thing.” Hoss smiled supportively but his expression quickly changed to concern. “We shoulda heard from Adam by now. I’m afraid somethin’s wrong… real wrong.”

“There IS something wrong, Hoss,” Ben said. “The fact that we didn’t go with him in the first place.”

“Don’t do that to yourself, Pa. You did what you thought was right,” Joe replied. “We know how you feel about John.”

“Yes, I’m indebted to him but debt or not, we all know that Adam was right. I’ve chosen John over my own flesh and blood.” Ben shook his head seemingly disgusted with himself. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I heard Adam, but I certainly wasn’t listening to him.”

Their meeting was interrupted by the sound of a horse approaching.

“Who could that be?” Ben asked as he rose from the table.

“Maybe it’s Adam.” Hoss sounded optimistic.

It was Adam, and Ben, Hoss and Little Joe were all smiles to greet him as they stepped into the courtyard. But they were taken aback when Adam did not seem as glad to see them as they him. He looked dazed and was slumped in his saddle. Then, without warning, his eyes rolled back into his head and he fell from his horse as if he’d turned to liquid. He hit the ground with a sickening thud.

Rushing to give aid, his family bent over him to see what was wrong. They gently turned him over and there, sticking out of Adam’s ribcage was an arrow. His hand’s and coat were soaked with blood.

“Hoss,” Ben ordered with panic, “get him inside.”

Hoss picked up Adam easily and took him into the house and up the stairs to his room. A trail of blood was left in his wake. Ben followed. And, without instruction, Joe swung himself onto Adam’s horse Sport, and galloped to town for the doctor.

*****

The arrow was removed from Adam’s side, leaving him fighting for life. Doc Martin estimated the wound to be several days old. Infection had already set in, and, besides the immense loss of blood, was the main reason for concern. The doctor, with arrow in hand, descended to the living area where Ben, Hoss and Joe awaited an update on Adam’s condition.

“He’s holding his own Ben,” the doctor reported. “For the moment.”

“For the moment?”

“He’s strong. But, this is… well, all I can say is he’ll need more than strength to overcome a wound as severe as this. The arrow seems to have missed any organs but he’s lost so much blood, Ben. His fever is very high.”

“He’ll make it,” Joe said confidently.

“Let’s hope so,” The doctor replied warily. “Stay close.”

“Can I see the arrow, doc?” Hoss said as he took it from him.

“Is it…?” Ben asked with trepidation.

“It’s Paiute all right, Pa.”

“I’m going to ride out there and…” Joe avowed angrily but was quelled by his father.

“Now, now… hold on there,” Ben said as he grabbed his emotional son by the shoulder. He squeezed slightly as if trying to pump calmness into him.

“This just don’t make sense, Pa,” Hoss announced as he slide the arrow through his fingers. “Why would the Paiutes try to kill Adam? They had no reason to. They must have known he wasn’t going to hurt them.”

“Joe,” Ben said with resolve, “you stay with Adam. Hoss and I are going to pay the Paiutes a visit. If Adam can’t tell us what happened, then maybe they can.”

“Yes sir.” Joe resigned.

“Doctor? Can you stay?”

“I’ll stay with him, Ben. And, I’ll do everything in my power to save him.”

“I know you will, Paul. I know you will. We’ll prepare a room for you.” Ben then turned to Hoss. “We’ll leave at first light.”

*****

The violet haze of early morning added to the gloom that filled the house. Ben tried to get some sleep before his trip to Carson, but to no avail. He relieved Joe from his bedside vigil then took his place in the chair beside Adam.

The warm lamplight fell across Adam’s still body making him look like wax. He was so pale and breathed so laboriously. His skin glistened with perspiration – his face was etched with distress. Ben placed a damp cloth on his son’s forehead and clasped his hands together tightly.

“Don’t take him from me. Please, Lord. Don’t take him from me,” he said softly.

After several more words of prayer, Hoss entered the room.

“Time to go, Pa,” he whispered.

“All right Hoss. I’ll be right down.”

Ben doted over Adam for several more moments. He was afraid it might be the last time he’d see him alive. He placed his hand on Adam’s chest.

“I’ll be back soon, son,” he said gently. “And, I want you to be here when I get back. Can you hear me, Adam? Be strong son. Be strong.”

But Adam made no sound or sign of recognition. He’d transcended to another plane. He was in a daunting world of fire and then extreme cold. He’d scream for help but was unheard. He’d run for miles but get nowhere. Adam was in a hell and was fighting desperately to escape. Only time and his infamous stubborn will could see him through.

*****

The ride to the Carson City foothills was quiet. Both Hoss and Ben knew there was nothing to say. All they were interested in was finding out exactly what happened to Adam. Why had the Paiutes attacked him? As they got closer to their destination, they became more and more wary, fearful they too might be set upon. But, when they arrived at the village, the tribe was happy to see them and welcomed them into their camp. The band’s mood was anything but aggressive and Ben and Hoss found it odd.

“I am Toomka,” the chief said cheerfully but his tone held a hint caution. “Welcome.”

“Thank you Toomka,” Ben replied as he and Hoss dismounted.

“Come. Come. We offer food,” the chief said as he pulled on Ben’s sleeve to join him.

Ben obliged, and Hoss followed his father and Toomka to the center of camp where a fire raged. One did not refuse a friendly offer of anything from natives. They were kind enough to give and turning them down was considered rude.

The soft turquoise of dusk fell over the camp like a silk veil. The sky was as clear as colored glass. The moon appeared full and large above them like a golden ghost. In the distance a wolf cried but its sound was warm and strangely comforting. Ben and Hoss sat cross-legged in front of the fire along with the chief and several of his tribesmen. The women began a parade carrying platters of rabbit, wild beans and root vegetables.

“Toomka, I am Ben Cartwright and this is my son Hoss,” Ben finally introduced himself as he began to eat.

The chief nodded acknowledgement as he tore a piece of meat off a bone with his teeth.

“I have two other sons. We have a ranch near Lake Tahoe,” Ben continued.

Again, Toomka nodded understanding and listened intently to Ben. He smiled graciously.

“I’m not sure how to talk to you about this. I guess I’ll just have to say it outright.” Ben sounded apologetic but knew of no other way to communicate his concern. “You see, the reason we’re here is to talk to you about my son, Adam. He rode out to see you several days ago and I’m afraid…well, he returned home and he…”

“What are you trying to tell me?” Toomka asked impatiently.

“Well, when he arrived home, he collapsed. He’d been shot with a Paiute arrow,” Ben finally revealed.

Toomka stopped eating and seemed taken aback. He dropped his rabbit into the sand and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

“I have not seen this person of which you speak, Ben Cartwright,” he said strongly as if he’d been insulted. “We have attacked no one. We are peaceful.”

“Then… you haven’t even seen my son?” Ben said with surprise.

“We have not seen white persons for many weeks.”

Ben and Hoss looked at one another with confusion.

“Toomka?” Ben said. “Are you aware that a man is going to try and drive you off your land?”

“I have not heard of this.”

“Well, I’m telling you now Toomka. There is a man in Virginia City named John Wiley and he intends to take this land from you and mine it for silver.”

“This will never happen. Yes, we are peaceful, but we will fight for what is ours. This has happened to many of my people, but I will not let it happen here. No, Ben Cartwright,” Toomka announced positively, “this is our land and it will stay our land.”

“But you are few and John Wiley has many men to fight you.”

“Few will be enough,” Toomka said seemingly naïve of what may be in store.

“Toomka…” Ben implored.

“No. Eat. Be sure Ben Cartwright. We have not attacked your son, but we will attack anyone who comes to us with guns drawn.”

The conversation was over whether Ben had more to say or not. He and Hoss finished their meals and then left the Paiute village to make their own camp for the night. They mounted up, thanked Toomka and rode off into the darkness. They left with sadness because they knew they would probably never see Toomka and his people again. Even if they did foil John Wiley this time, there would be others. The native settlements were virtually being extinguished from the land they had lived on since the beginning of time. Now lit by a vibrant full moon, they found a sheltered spot to spend the night. Hoss built a fire and he and his father lay beside it, reclined on their bedrolls.

“Pa?”

“Yes? What is it son?”

“Who do you suppose shot Adam?”

“I think we both know the answer to that.”

“You think it was John?”

“I think John hired one of his men to keep Adam from warning the Paiutes yes. Our old friend has a heck of a lot of explaining to do,” Ben seethed.

“Let’s be sure of it before we charge in there accusing him, Pa.”

“Well, who else could it be Hoss?” Ben implored.

“It could have been any number of renegades that roam these parts. Or maybe one of John’s men went out on his own to keep Adam quiet. Let’s be sure. This whole thing has gone far enough without makin’ it worse.”

“Maybe you’re right, Hoss,” Ben realized. “I can’t image John would hurt Adam. He’s known him since he was a child.”

“Well, like I said, let’s keep a cool head.’

“Hoss?”

“Yeah, Pa.”

“You’re a good man.”

“Like father like son, Pa, like father like son.”

*****

Little Joe had fallen asleep in the chair beside Adam’s bed. He’d been there all day. The bedroom was slowly becoming dark as twilight spread its cooling blanket across the Ponderosa. The book Joe was reading rested on his chest and it rose and fell with his rhythmic breathing. He was undisturbed when Hop Sing entered the room carrying a tray.

“Little Joe,” he said softly. “Wake up, Little Joe.”

With a slight jolted, he did just that.

“Hum… huh?” he mumbled groggily. “Whatsa matter?” He looked around the room trying to orient himself.

“You have to eat, Little Joe. I have soup for you and Mr. Adam.”

“Thanks, Hop Sing. I’ll have some, but I’m not sure if I can get Adam to take any. I’ll try, though.”

“Mr. Adam needs food so he can get well.” Hop Sing smiled broadly.

“Your soup can cure just about anything. It’ll make Adam feel a lot better, I’m sure.” Joe winked, trying to make Hop Sing feel appreciated for his concern. “Did you give some to Doc Martin?”

“He have to go, Little Joe. Danny Hanson fell off horse and broke arm. His Pa come get Doc Martin but he be back. He say he be back soon, Little Joe.”

“Oh. Well, thanks Hop Sing,” Joe replied clearing his throat from his extended nap.

He watched Hop Sing leave the bedroom and close the door behind him. Joe than sat up and stretched. He looked over at Adam, who seemed more comfortable now. His fever still raged, but his breathing was even and strong. Joe checked the wound and redressed it. Only then did he revert his attention to his humble supper.

He quietly walked across the room to the table in front of the window where Hop Sing had placed the tray. When he got to it, he noticed John Wiley ride up to the house. Joe rechecked his brother before he went downstairs to greet John. A knock came on the door just as Joe reached for the doorknob. He opened the door.

“Good evening, Little Joe.”

“Evenin’, John. Come on in,” Joe offered as he widened the door for John to pass. He noticed the bruise Adam had inflicted on his jaw. “Sit down. Can I get you a cup of coffee?”

“No. No, thanks. I’ve come to see your father and Adam if he’s around.”

“You haven’t heard,” Joe stated somberly.

“Heard? Heard what?”

“Adam’s been hurt.”

“Hurt?”

“Yeah, he ah… he was shot by Paiutes,” Joe fumbled knowing John and Adam had fought. “He’s upstairs. He’s pretty bad off.”

“No. I hadn’t heard, Little Joe.” John sounded remorseful but Joe wasn’t sure if it was sincere. “I’m sorry, but I’m not surprised. You can’t trust those savages anymore than you can trust a rabid fox.”

Joe was infuriated by John’s comment and struggled to ignore it, not wanting to fuel the feud any more. He escorted John to the leather chair and offered him the seat. He took it, sitting on its edge awkwardly. Joe sat in the corner of the settee closest to John.

“What about your Pa? Is he here?” John asked as he perused the place.

“No he isn’t,” Joe said not wanting to divulge any more than he had to.

“Oh. Well, I need to talk to him. Do you know when he’ll be back?”

“He should be back in the morning. Is there anything I can help you with?”

“I guess Adam told you about what happened in town the other day.”

“Yes, he did.”

“Well, he hit me you know. Did he tell you that?”

“Yes, he did.” Joe repeated steadily.

“What did your Pa have to say about that?”

“I think he was more concerned about your plans to steal the Paiutes land so you could mine it for silver,” Joe replied, attempting to control his indignation.

“Well, like I told your brother… THAT is none of his business.”

“We’re making it our business, John, and you’ve got quite a fight on your hands. And, not just from the Paiutes.”

“Even though they tried to kill Adam? They deserve nothing less than extermination. Why can’t you Cartwrights see that those people are worthless?”

“John,” Joe said trying to contain his temper, “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You heard me.”

“Tell your Pa I want to see him,” John resolved as he stood to head for the door. “And, we’ll just see how you feel about the Paiutes when Adam dies from that arrow wound.”

Joe’s fist came out of nowhere and cracked John squarely in the mouth. It flew so fast it seemed to take both men by surprise – like it had a mind of its own.

“Get out!” Joe demanded.

When John had recovered from the blow, he slowly walked toward the front door. He grabbed the knob and turned back to face Joe who stared back at him with fury.

“Our families have been friends for a long time, Joe. But, it seems the Cartwrights don’t know the meaning of the word.”

“I said, get out,” Joe said knowing John’s comment deserved no response.

“Twenty-five years of friendship down the drain because of those people,” John denounced with disgust. “What have they ever done for you?”

“Absolutely nothing, John. Absolutely nothing.”

*****

Ben and Hoss did return the next morning. Joe came out to greet them as they hitched their horses to the post just outside the front door of the house. They wanted to check on Adam as soon as they got in and didn’t want to take the time to put their horses away.

“How is he?” Ben asked Joe with angst.

“His fever broke this morning. He’s on the mend, Pa. He’s still pretty weak but he’s much better. Doc says he’s going to pull through just fine. He just left,” Joe replied, happy to give his father and brother the good news.

“Oh, thank God,” Ben exclaimed with relief as he headed straight into the house and up to the second floor to see Adam.

Ben entered Adam’s room to find his eldest son sleeping soundly. His fever now quelled, he looked peaceful. He couldn’t help but be reminded of Adam as a small child. They had been through so much together… good and bad. Adam’s face was angelic as Ben took the seat beside his bed. Joe and Hoss stood behind him.

“Adam?” Ben whispered. “It’s me, son.”

Adam opened his eyes and turned his head and seemed to struggle to bring his father into focus.

“Pa?” He said faintly.

“I was worried about you, son. How do you feel?”

“Hungry.”

The three men chuckled at Adam’s response, knowing his simple answer was the best sign yet of his recovery. Then Ben’s glee turned to more serious matters.

“The Paiutes had nothing to do with this, Adam.”

Joe looked at Hoss for affirmation. Ben’s revelation was a shock to him. Hoss nodded at his brother. Joe then waited anxiously to hear exactly who WAS responsible.

“I know, Pa,” Adam said. “I never made it to the village.”

“Did you see who did shoot you?”

“No. All I remember is going through Rocky Crest Pass and it hit me out of nowhere. I managed to hang on but that’s about it. How did I get here?”

“I guess Sport brought you home, son.”

“Remind me to give my trusty steed of mine an extra scoop of oats, huh?”

“He certainly deserves it,” Ben replied with an appreciative smile. But, his expression once again changed to concern. “I have a terrible feeling John Wiley had something to do with it.”

“Do you really think so, Pa?” Adam tried to sit up, but was still too frail to manage it. He winced with discomfort.

“Easy, son,” Ben said as he placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder gently forcing him to lie back down. “Don’t try to do too much too soon,” he advised.

“So, you think John shot me?” Adam complied with a painful sigh.

“Well, I’m certainly going to find out,” Ben replied strongly as he stood. “You go back to sleep. You need your rest. And Adam?”

“Yes, Pa,” he replied – pre-occupied with the pain he’d inflicted on himself with his attempt to sit up right.

“I was bull headed. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you. You were right. Hoss and I met with Toomka and the Paiutes. They are wonderful people… peaceful people. John has no right to take their land and you were right to defend them,” Ben said warmly.

Adam only smiled at his father. He was finding it hard to stay awake and let himself return to sleep. Ben guided Hoss and Joe out of the room like a shepherd would his sheep. The threesome went downstairs and took their usual places in the living room.

“John Wiley came to see you yesterday, Pa,” Joe said. “We…huh, well we had a little disagreement.”

“Not you too,” Ben sounded aghast.

“I couldn’t help it, Pa. He’s got it in his head that the Paiutes are not worth the air they breathe.”

“Yes, I know,” Ben resolved. “John has always been that way. As long as I can remember. But, I tried to see the good in him. I guess I’ve been blind.”

“There is good in John, Pa,” Hoss assured. “It’s just that a situation like this never come up before is all.”

“I guess you’re right, Hoss. But Adam was almost killed and I intend to find out what exactly happened. Somebody shot him. Somebody shot him with a Paiute arrow. They wanted it to look like the Paiutes were responsible so they could get support for driving them off their land.”

“I just don’t think John would show his face around here if he’d hurt Adam,” Joe stated. “I don’t think he did it. Yeah, he wants the Paiutes land but, I just don’t think he has it in him to kill Adam.”

“Well who does?” Ben seemed at a loss.

“Raymond,” Hoss offered guardedly.

“Raymond? Raymond Wiley?” Ben replied with alarm. “What makes you say that?”

“Don’t you remember what happened with Eleanor Richmond?”

“Hoss,” Ben chuckled dismissively, “that was years ago. He and Adam were only boys – just a couple of love struck kids.”

“Boys or not, Pa, Raymond loved Eleanor and she chose Adam over him. You weren’t there. You didn’t see how devastated Ray was. He’s hated Adam ever since. I think this was the perfect opportunity for him to get back at him.”

“Do you really think Ray would hold such a grudge for so long over mere puppy love?”

“It sure wasn’t no puppy love to Ray, Pa. He truly loved that girl. He wanted to kill Adam then and there ain’t no reason why his feelings would change, would they?”

“No. I suppose they wouldn’t,” Ben resolved – his eyes glazed with revelation. “I think I’ll ride over to the Wiley’s place.”

“I’ll come with you, Pa.”

“All right, Hoss,” Ben agreed. “Joe. Take care of Adam.”

“Right, Pa.”

*****

When Ben and Hoss arrived at Three Pine Ranch, the Wiley homestead, they found only their hired blacksmith. He informed them that John, his sons and the remaining hands had set out to the Paiute village that morning. They were well armed and intent on driving the Indians off their land.

With the news of the onslaught, Ben and Hoss stampeded back to the Ponderosa to collect Joe and as many men as they could. They would need they’re help to defend the Paiutes. Hop Sing was left to tend to Adam.

By mid-afternoon, Ben’s small army galloped toward the foothills of Carson City and Toomka’s village. If they rode without stopping and through the night, they just might be able to intercept John and hopefully stop the impending massacre.

Exhausted and covered in trail dust, Ben and his band arrived at Toomka’s village at dawn. They told the chief about the threat and he prepared his braves to defend his small community. With rifles at the ready, they awaited John’s arrival.

Within the hour, John and his makeshift army arrived and stood atop a hill that over looked the village. They charged like a cavalry unit with guns blazing. They were surprised by the amount of artillery that was fired back and were caught in the crossfire. Several men pulled up their horses and dismounted to take cover. The scene was utter chaos.

The battle continued for what seemed an eternity. But it was actually only minutes before the remaining aggressors, including John, retreated. When he regrouped for another push, he noticed his son Raymond was not with him. He searched the area panicked – his horse rearing and dancing from John’s tight fist on the reins.

“RAY!” he yelled, hoping his son was only behind. “RAYMOND!” he tried again.

Only then did he realize that Ray lay on the battleground. Ben knew it too. He could see Ray’s body not fifty feet from him. He wanted to go to him but was afraid he’d be fired upon. When the dust settled, remarkably Ray was the only casualty. A deafening silence fell over the valley as the two forces awaited the next round.

John and his men stood atop the hill once again as Ben looked up at them, hoping they’d give up. The air filled with apprehension as no one knew what would happen next and no one was prepared for what did.

Quietly and without fear, a young Paiute woman walked out onto the battlefield. She carried a jug of water and approached Raymond kneeling down beside him. She gently turned him over and rested his head in her lap. Then, she filled his mouth with water, all the while oblivious to her audience. Her only concern… the injured man.

Both sides watched the scene unfold with awe. They waited to see if she could revive Ray and when she did, they all stood in silence. She had shown them with one kind act how blinded they were by greed and violence.

John held his hand up to stop his men from advancing. He rode his horse calmly down the side of the hill and stopped in beside his son and the woman. He dismounted. Only then did he see Ben. Now, it all made sense. He picked Ray up out of the dirt and helped him into the saddle. Then, he lead them both back up the hill and out of sight.

*****

EPILOGUE

After Raymond Wiley recovered from his injuries of that fateful day, he admitted to shooting Adam. He’d found a Paiute arrow several years before on a hunting trip. He never intended to use it. It was just a souvenir. But when Adam hit his father in the Silver Dollar Saloon, Ray’s deep hatred for Adam surfaced. Hoss was right; the opportunity arose for Ray to get back at Adam for his heartbreak when they were just kids. And Ray reckoned that when Ben realized the Paiutes had ambushed his son, he would side with the Wiley’s to take over the Indian land.

The Cartwrights and the Wiley’s remained friends despite the hostility, though. John had changed. All it took was the simple kindness of the Paiute woman to make him realize that humanity and bravery were not exclusive to any race or creed. He saw that people were the same – good and bad – and that he had no right to the land the Indians called home.

Adam recovered too. It was a long, painful road but several weeks later, he followed his brothers as they bounded down the stairs to breakfast. Adam was too mature to bound, not to mention still a little tender. Ben beamed as he watched all of his boys join him at the table. He found it difficult to suppress his joy. The Ponderosa had finally emerged from the darkness of discord and was returning to normal.

“Well, Adam,” Ben proclaimed cheerfully, “it’s good to see you up and around.”

“It’s good to be up and around Pa. Pass the bread, would’ja,” he asked casually as if the weeks of upset had never occurred.

“How do you feel, son?”

“Pretty good.” Adam shrugged, seemingly surprised at just how good he did feel.

“Are you ready to go back to work?”

“As ready as I’ll every be I guess,” he said as he took a piece of bread, broke in half and dipped it into his egg.

“Good,” Ben smiled. “There’s that fence in the north pasture that needs repairing and we still need to brand the rest of our spring calves. And, there’s 200 bales of hay that need to be unloaded and stacked.”

Hoss and Joe’s faces soured as they listened to their father recite the list of chores that awaited them.

“Ah, well… I…” Adam stumbled. His face changed from nonchalance to strain. “All of a sudden… I don’t feel very well. I think I’m having a relapse… I think I’ll go back to bed.”

“Relapse nothing,” Hoss remarked boldly, realizing Adam’s poor attempt at getting out of work. “You’re as fit as a fiddle and you know it, older brother.”

“Can’t pull the wool over you’re eyes huh Hoss,” Adam winked.

As Ben lapped up his son’s banter, he vowed to never be at odds with any of them again. The price was too high. Adam, Hoss and Little Joe were his life and his greatest source of joy. They were his rock and his reason for living. He was proud of their goodness and their fierce loyalty to one another. He’d raised fine, upstanding men and there was nothing more rewarding to him than that. They’d continue to fight for the underdog no matter who stood in the way of justice. It was the only way to be. The only price from then on… understanding.

***The End***

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