Ponderosa Pachyderm (by Patina)

Summary:  A What Happened Next for the episode “Old Sheba”
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  4200


 

Ben Cartwright was sure glad that Angus Tweedy wouldn’t take Old Sheba back. The elephant had become his secret weapon in completing timber contracts ahead of schedule. Sheba could haul timber when it couldn’t be floated down a stream due to low water. She could also bring whole trees down with a push of her head—the men sawed part way through the tree trunk and then Sheba pushed against the tree. Ben bragged that he had moved from horsepower to pachyderm-power.

Joe and Hoss were driving the wagon into town to pick up supplies for the lumber camp. Their father had been awarded a large contract with the Missouri-Pacific Railroad to supply ties for the track. The competition for the contract had been pretty stiff, but in the end, Old Sheba had helped the Missouri-Pacific decide in favor of Ben Cartwright. This meant that Jeb Clarkson, one of the railroad’s biggest contractors, had lost out. Ben warned Hoss and Joe to be careful in town since Clarkson was known to be a sore loser.

While Hoss drove the wagon, Joe went over the list Adam and Pa had prepared. One hundred pounds of peanuts was at the top of the list.

“It’s a good thing Sheba doesn’t eat at the table with us, Brother,” said Joe. “Hop Sing wouldn’t be able to cook enough for all of us.”

“Maybe it’s a good thing fer Ole Sheba that I don’t care much fer peanuts,” Hoss responded with a laugh. “At least I share Hop Sing’s cookin’ with everyone.”

Joe snorted in disbelief. “The only reason you share is because Pa would banish you from the house if you ate everything.”

“Pa wouldn’t do that to his favorite son!” Hoss said with a wink at Joe.

As they pulled up to the mercantile, Hoss said “Let’s get these supplies together and grab a beer.”

“I’m with ya, Brother,” replied Joe.

Hoss and Joe jumped off of the seat when they parked the wagon. Joe went inside with the list while Hoss got the horses situated.

“Hiya, Joe,” said Mr. Anderson, proprietor of the mercantile.

“Good afternoon,” replied Joe. “Pa and Adam gave me a list of supplies,” he said as he handed the list to Mr. Anderson.

“Let’s see. Flour, beans, coffee, sugar, peanuts. Did I read that right, Joe? You want one hundred pounds of peanuts?”

“That’s right, Mr. Anderson. Sheba is gonna be working pretty hard. Lucky for us, she’s happy to work for peanuts.”

Mr. Anderson let out a laugh at that. “Too bad your pa can’t say the same of Hoss, eh?”

“What cain’t Pa say about me?” asked Hoss as he approached the counter.

“Pa can’t say you work cheaper than Sheba,” said Joe with a wink.

“I shore work cheaper than you, Lil Joe,” said Hoss in reply. “You spend money too quick on beer and poker.”

“Speaking of beer,” interrupted Joe, “when are we gonna go get those beers you were talking about earlier?”

“Ya got those supplies on the list, Mr. Anderson?” Hoss asked.

“Sure do, Hoss. Why don’t you boys go get those beers while I gather up what you need? How ‘bout I see you in a half hour?”

“Sounds good,” answered Joe. He and Hoss then left the mercantile for the saloon.

As the door shut at the mercantile, a cowhand approached the counter. “Is them peanuts for the big fella?”

“Oh no,” answered Mr. Anderson with a restrained laugh, “those are for Sheba herself. Those Cartwrights treat her like a queen.”

The cowhand looked surprised for a second. He’d never heard of a woman, queen or not, being that fond of peanuts. Since the two fellas had gone to the saloon, the cowhand decided to do the same.

Entering the saloon, he saw the two fellas at a table drinking beers. He went to the bar and got a beer then he moseyed over to the table in the corner where he joined another cowhand. “Those fellas are two o’ them Cartwrights. They’ve got the Queen of Sheba livin’ with ‘em.”

“What?” asked the other man, his eyebrows disappearing under the brim of his hat.

“And the strange thing is, she likes peanuts. You ever hear of a woman liking peanuts enough to want a hundred pounds worth?”

Sam’s eyebrows still hadn’t come back down. Why would a peanut-loving woman decide a contract in favor of the Cartwrights? Sheba must be some beautiful woman for Mr. Clarkson to lose out. Maybe they should kidnap her so Mr. Clarkson could make the Cartwrights ransom her back. Maybe he and Frank would get a cut of the ransom. Sam was brought out of his daydream by a nudge from Frank.

“Didn’tcha hear me, Sam?” Those Cartwrights left. What’re we gonna tell Mr. Clarkson?”

“I dunno. Get us a couple more beers while I think.”

Frank and Sam finished their beers and then left the saloon. They looked up the street and saw Hoss and Joe loading the wagon with the supplies. If the Cartwrights were stocking the lumber camp, that meant that timbering operations must be getting underway.

“We’d best send a telegram to Mr. Clarkson,” said Sam. The two men went to the telegraph office and Sam made out his message. “Bidder has pretty woman Stop Likes peanuts Stop Go with plan Stop.”

The telegrapher gave Sam a quizzical look before sending the message but wired it when Sam paid up. “You wanna wait fer a reply?” the telegrapher asked.

“Okay,” answered Sam.

Finally, after an hour and a half, a reply came to Sam’s telegram. “Follow the plan Stop Do not mess up Stop.”

“Well, that solves that,” said Sam, showing Frank the message. “Looks like Mr. Clarkson don’t want us to stop.”

The two left the telegraph office and realized they would need a plan to get near this Sheba. Frank was hoping Sheba was beautiful with a womanly figure. Sam was wondering if a peanut-loving woman could act like a lady. He thought this Sheba must have strong hands from cracking peanut shells.

Sam and Frank decided to go to their hotel to eat some supper. They figured they’d better live well on Mr. Clarkson’s money while they could. Also, they could ask the desk clerk about Sheba. A lady wasn’t likely to frequent a saloon, but chances were good that she had taken meals at the hotel’s dining room.

Entering the hotel, they noticed the desk clerk putting mail in the guest slots. Sam cleared his throat to get the clerk’s attention. Turning around, the clerk saw the two cowhands. “May I help you?”

“Can you give us some information, friend?” asked Sam.

“I can’t divulge information about any of our guests.”

“She ain’t a guest,” said Frank, forgetting that Sam was supposed to be doing the talking.

“What he means is that we’re looking for a lady who…”

“You gents should try the saloon. We don’t run that kind of establishment.”

“I think you misunderstood, friend,” said Sam. “We’re hoping to find out about a lady friend of Ben Cartwright’s. Her name is Sheba.”

“Sheba is definitely not a lady,” said the clerk, starting to laugh.

“Are you sayin’ we should try the saloon?” asked Frank.

“You won’t find her there either,” said the clerk between guffaws of laughter. The mental picture he was conjuring of an elephant in the saloon made him laugh even harder. All Frank and Sam could do was stand at the desk looking puzzled.

“Is she at least pretty?” asked Frank hopefully.

The clerk shook his head no as he wiped his eyes.

“Where would we find her then?” Sam asked the clerk.

By this time, the clerk was wiping tears from his eyes with a handkerchief. “Try the Cartwrights’ lumber camp. No doubt you’ll find her there.”

Even more confused, Sam and Frank went into the hotel’s dining room. Maybe that clerk wasn’t getting enough sun. They now knew that Sheba wasn’t a lady and she enjoyed hanging around the lumber camp. Plus, she liked peanuts and lots of them. How could she have swayed the railroad to award the contract to Cartwright?

Sitting down at a table, the two men waited for their order to be taken. “How do you think that gal got saddled with the name Sheba if she ain’t beautiful?” asked Frank.

“I dunno,” replied Sam. “Maybe her mama was hopeful that she’d turn out pretty.”

The waiter finally arrived and took their orders of steaks and mashed potatoes. Before he could leave for the kitchen, Sam asked “You ever hear of a gal called Sheba? She works with the Cartwrights.”

“I seen her once,” answered the waiter, a gangly young man. “She came through town with the circus. What a sight she was!”

Both Frank’s and Sam’s jaws dropped. Before either could ask a question, the waiter had headed for the kitchen.

“Did that boy say this Sheba worked in the circus?” asked Frank.

“That’s what he said,” answered Sam still puzzled.

“Do ya s’pose she’s one o’ them bearded ladies?” asked Frank. Sam shuddered to think of a woman sporting a beard.

“Maybe she’s really strong” said Frank. He was picturing a woman in a tiger skin dress lifting a barbell over her head. Sam pictured Sheba as being as big as Paul Bunyan, felling trees with a single stroke from an axe.

The two men ate their meals in silence. Each formed his own mental picture of Sheba. Frank imagined he was courting a seven-foot tall woman who was strong enough to carry him over the threshold if they married. Sam pictured a woman as broad as she was tall, chopping down an entire forest of trees single-handedly and then coming back to the lumber camp to cook and sew. Again, he shuddered at the thought that this Sheba must be quite the homely girl.

Finishing their meals, Frank and Sam went up to their room to plan their strategy. Mr. Clarkson intended for the two to sabotage the Cartwrights. Sheba, pretty or not, wasn’t going to distract them from destroying the railroad’s confidence in Ben Cartwright.

The next morning, Sam went over to the mercantile to pick up some supplies. He figured they would need dynamite, plenty of matches, and some kerosene. Sam had convinced Frank that burning the lumber camp down would be the easiest way to delay timber operations. Frank was worried that Sheba might get hurt. However, Sam figured Sheba would be able to take care of herself.

Walking into the mercantile, Sam realized that he’d have to wait his turn. A lady was at the counter buying calico for a dress. Behind her was a man dressed all in black. Sam was checking this man out. The man, casually leaning without anything to lean against, looked like he could stop trouble in its tracks. In a way, Sam was glad this man was ahead instead of behind him. Maybe he was the sheriff or a deputy here. If so, he’d probably want to know why Sam was purchasing dynamite since he didn’t look like a miner.

“Thank you and have a good day, Mrs. Watkins,” said Mr. Anderson. “What can I do for you, Adam?”

“Pa sent me to get some liniment and another fifty pounds of peanuts.”

“More peanuts already?” the storekeeper asked in surprise. Sam was shocked. How could one person like peanuts so much?

“Pa always said that Sheba was sneaky. Turns out he’s right. Sheba managed to go through at least twenty-five pounds last night.”

Shaking off his surprise, Mr. Anderson said “Well, that’ll be 75-cents for the liniment and one dollar for the peanuts.” After paying up, Mr. Anderson got a bottle of liniment down off of the shelf and handed it over to Adam. “You can pick up the peanuts outside,” he said.

“Thanks a lot,” said Adam, tipping his hat. Adam noticed Sam on the way out and registered the curiosity on the man’s face. Not wanting to answer any questions about the elephant’s craving for peanuts, Adam hurried out of the mercantile.

Approaching the counter, Sam said “That Sheba sure must like peanuts.”

Mr. Anderson laughed and said “She sure does. Lucky for her, the Cartwrights took her in. Not many other folks would be so kind to her.”

“Why’d she leave the circus?” asked Sam, figuring that a sad story would begin.

“From what I heard, the owner of the circus owed Little Joe and Hoss Cartwright some money but offered them Sheba instead of cash. They must have figured they were getting a bargain by accepting the old girl. If they’d know her appetite for peanuts then, they probably would’ve held out of the money.”

The mental picture Sam had previously formed dissolved and a new picture developed. Now he imagined Sheba as a gray-haired granny. Maybe she was dyspeptic and all she could eat was peanuts. Those Cartwrights must be awful soft to take in a lady well past her prime.

Changing subjects, Mr. Anderson asked “What can I get for you?”

“A box of matches, twelve sticks of dynamite, and a small keg of kerosene.”

Eyeing Sam, Mr. Anderson said “You don’t look like a miner.”

“I’m not,” he replied. “I’m clearing some stumps from some land north of here.”

Getting the supplies together, Mr. Anderson asked “Whose land are you clearing?”

“I was hired by a gent from back east who wants me to clear land for him to build on. He figures he’ll be arriving in about two months. Once he gets a place built, he’ll bring out his family. I hear he’s got some beautiful daughters.”

“He’d better keep his young ladies away from Virginia City’s resident heart-breaker,” stated Mr. Anderson.

“Who’d that be?” asked Sam.

“Little Joe Cartwright,” was the answer. Setting all of the supplies on the counter, Mr. Anderson tallied up the merchandise. “Twenty-five cents for the matches, fifty-cents for the kerosene, and four dollars for the dynamite.”

Sam handed over a five-dollar note and got his change. Gathering up the supplies, he headed for the livery to meet Frank. He found Frank inside saddling the horses.

Stowing the supplies in their saddle packs, the two men headed out for the Cartwrights’ lumber camp. “You find out anything about that Sheba lady?” asked Frank hopefully.

“I heard she’s an old granny,” Sam replied. “The Cartwrights took her in when the circus fired her. She’s got some kind of stomach ailment because all she eats is peanuts.”

“Her cookin’ must be real good then if she’s workin’ in the lumber camp,” said Frank. He imagined an elderly lady who smelled of cinnamon and whose face was lightly dusted with flour. She was probably a top-notch pie baker.

“At least it shouldn’t be too hard to get this Sheba. She’s probably too old and frail to run away from us. If we can distract the crew, we should have no trouble gettin’ our hands on her.”

“Mr. Clarkson won’t be happy if’n we hurt an old lady. We’d better treat her real good,” suggested Frank.

They rode on in silence, knowing that Mr. Clarkson would have their hides if they messed this up. There probably wouldn’t be anywhere out west they could hide if the plan didn’t work. Sam figured he could go back east and hide in a city for a while. Frank would just have to fend for himself.

Finally, they could hear the sounds of the mill up ahead sawing logs into ties for the railroad. The chops of axes could be heard cutting the trees into a suitable size for the saw. Frank and Sam dismounted, secured their horses, and crept forward to scout out the camp.

From the safety of their hiding place, Sam counted six men working in the camp. The man in black he’d seen earlier was also there. Sam noted that he looked like he was the one giving directions. Distract and remove him and they could probably easily take the camp.

Nudging Frank, Sam told him his plan. They would start as small fire out here to get the man in black’s attention. When he came out to investigate, they would disarm him and tie his hands behind his back. Then they would enter the camp with their bargaining chip. If the man refused to cooperate, they would kill their hostage before burning the camp down. The two men returned to their horses to get the box of matches and the kerosene.

Returning to their previous hiding place, Sam and Frank set about gathering pine straw and some kindling to make a fire. Once they got the kindling and pine straw together, Sam withdrew a match from the box and lit it. He set the lit match to the pine straw, which started to smoke. Small flames then appeared. Sam motioned for Frank to follow him to a hiding spot where they could wait for their quarry. Maybe, if they were lucky, they’d get a glimpse of the mysterious Sheba.

A few minutes later, Adam caught the smell of smoke. He quickly glanced around to make sure the saw wasn’t overheating. “Turn off the saw,” he ordered. One of the men disconnected the spout that poured water onto the wheels, powering the saw. Once the saw stopped, all of the men glanced around nervously. Seeing the smoke, one of the men pointed and yelled “Fire!”

Adam quickly grabbed up a pail of water and headed for the source of the smoke. The men were filling pails and pots with water from Snake Creek. Frank wasn’t so sure anymore that Sam’s plan was going to work.

Pouring the contents of the pail onto the fire, Adam quickly turned to dash back to the creek. Sam emerged form his hiding place with his gun drawn. “You’d best stop in your tracks if’n you don’t want to see your men hurt,” he warned the man in black.

Adam slowly turned around to see a man holding a gun on him.

“Throw down the pail,” Sam said.

Quickly judging the situation, Adam swung back his arm to throw the pail at the stranger. A blow to the back of his head resulted in Adam falling face forward near the fire. Sam was shocked at what Frank had done. That wasn’t part of the plan.

Frank dragged Adam’s unconscious form into the woods a little ways where the camp men wouldn’t find him. He figured when the camp men came to the fire, he and Sam would be able to torch the camp and grab Sheba. The idea of the filthy rich Cartwrights forcing an elderly lady to work in a logging camp gnawed at his craw. Poor Sheba should be sitting in front of a fire in a warm cabin being tended to by a devoted son. He’d been raised by his grandmother and felt a bit of sympathy for Sheba. Well, he’d use his share of the money to take care of Sheba in her declining years.

A loud trumpet froze Frank in his tracks. Sam turned deathly white as he felt the ground beneath his feet shake. He hadn’t factored an earthquake into his plan. Maybe the quake would destroy the camp, making his job so much easier.

Frank screamed in terror and pointed. A large, gray beast was charging towards them. The beast had an arm hanging off if its face. A man in a green jacket rode on top of the beast, waving his hat.

Terrified, Sam fled for the creek. The men from the camp grabbed hold of him, though, and prevented him from escaping. He struggled as one of the men trussed him up. Frank was rooted where he stood, still pointing. No sound came out of his mouth now. He was sure the Apocalypse had begun.

“Whoa, Sheba!” yelled Joe over the sounds of the commotion. “Whoa, girl!” he yelled again. Sheba finally came to a stop close to Frank. The elephant reached out with her trunk and touched Frank on the forehead. With his eyes rolling upwards, Frank passed out with a thud.

“Down, Sheba,” commanded Joe. The elephant obediently knelt down to let off her rider. “Up, Sheba,” he then commanded. Joe saw the men pushing Sam forward as he stamped out the fire. Adam was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s my brother?” demanded Joe.

Sam looked at Joe tight-lipped. Joe decided to try intimidation. He tapped Sheba’s right foot with this stick and she complied by raising her foot. “Tell me where my brother is or Sheba will crush your friend.”

Looking pole-axed, Sam realized that Sheba was an it, not a she. No wonder old Cartwright had won the contract. A railroad could probably be built by a beast like this.

“I’m losing my patience,” warned Joe.

“He’s over there,” replied Sam with a jerk of his head.

Joe tapped Sheba’s foot again and she gently placed the large foot on the ground. Two of the men stepped forward with another rope and trussed Frank up. Then Joe led Sheba forward to find Adam.

Adam was still laying face-down where Frank had left him. Joe let out a gasp, fearing the worst. Sheba reached out with her trunk and caressed Adam’s cheek lightly. Yet again, Joe was mystified as to why females felt a need to take care of Adam. He knew that he was way better looking than his brother. Must be because he’s old, Joe thought.

A moan escaped Adam’s lips. Joe and gently rolled his brother over. Checking him over, Joe found a good-sized lump on the back of Adam’s head. Adam would probably have a huge headache for a couple of days.

Hoss rode up to see Joe kneeling with Adam’s head in his lap. “How bad’s he hurt?” he asked worriedly.

“Just a bump to the head,” answered Joe. “Good thing he’s got a head as hard as granite.”

Hoss turned his attention to Sam. “Who’re you and whaddya think yer doin’?”

“We work for Clarkson,” sneered Sam.

“Ya won’t be workin’ fer no one while yer in jail,” replied Hoss.

Frank began to stir and realized he couldn’t move. He thought he must have been slain by the beast that had charged him. Maybe he had made it to Heaven. At least he hoped he had. A nudge from a boot made him realize otherwise.

The men pulled Frank to his feet roughly. He saw Sam was also tied up. That big Cartwright fella was here now.

Hoss decided to question Frank. “Why’d Clarkson send ya?”

“He was mad that he lost that contract. So he paid me and Sam to destroy your camp so he could get it.”

Joe emerged on Sheba. He had gotten Adam situated in front of him on the elephant’s back. Adam was still unconscious, his head lolling in time with Sheba’s steps.

Frank paled to see the elephant. Hoss noticed Frank’s reaction and said “Looks like Sheba ruined yer plan.”

“Th…Th…That’s Sheba?” Frank asked in surprise. Sheba was gray, but she certainly wasn’t a granny. He remembered that the hotel’s desk clerk had said Sheba wasn’t a lady. Frank was a bit disappointed since he had been expecting a kindly grandmother type.

“Get those two loaded in the wagon,” ordered Hoss. “Tom, you drive ‘em into town. I’ll go with ya and give a report to the sheriff. Joe, you make sure Sheba gets extra peanuts for saving the camp from these two.”

Hoss headed for town with the prisoners while Joe headed for home. Joe wished Hoss was the one taking Adam home and explaining everything to Pa. Maybe Pa would really see how valuable Sheba was. After all, she put a halt to Clarkson’s plan all by herself. Adam had tried but didn’t succeed.

A groan escaped from Adam and he reached up to touch the back of his head. “Welcome back to the land of the living,” said Joe cheerfully.

Adam noticed that he was high above the ground and being rocked back and forth. A snort made him realize he was riding Sheba.

“Did we stop those guys?” asked Adam.

“Sheba sure did,” replied Joe.

“Good,” said Adam. He then decided to take advantage of Joe being in charge for once. Saying he was hurting and dizzy, Adam leaned back and placed his head against Joe’s shoulder with his forehead resting against his youngest brother’s neck. All Joe could do was tighten his hold around Adam’s waist.

”It’d be nice if you sang,” said Adam drowsily.

With much reluctance, Joe began singing. However, he chose “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain When She Comes.” Adam groaned again. Not in pain, but annoyance. Sheba plodded on, carrying her riders to home and more peanuts.

***The End***

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