Sins of the Father (by Susan)

Synopsis:  Ben outbids a competitor to win a lucrative contract, setting the man’s son on a course of vengeance.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western, Drama
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  29,455


 

The men lounged in small groups outside the office in Virginia City. Each group seemed to be relaxing in the warm sun, but a closer look showed the men eyeing both the office and each other. The expressions ranged from a touch of anxiety and suspicion to a look of confidence.

“Wonder what’s taking that Owens fellow so long,” muttered Hoss Cartwright as he watched the office. “He’s been reading those bids for almost an hour.”

“He’ll come out soon,” replied Ben Cartwright to his son in a soothing voice. “Those bids are complicated, and I’m sure Mr. Owens wants to make sure he reads them thoroughly.”

“I wonder how he’ll make his decision,” said Adam Cartwright with idle curiosity. “The notice simply said that the contract would be awarded to the most acceptable bid.”

Ben shrugged. “Owens seems to know what he’s looking for. We calculated our bid the best we could. Now all we can do is wait and see.”

“He wants a lot of lumber in a pretty short period of time,” remarked Joe Cartwright. “And some of those specifications were pretty odd. I wonder what he wants it for?”

Again, Ben shrugged. “Owens said he would provide the details once the contract was awarded,” he replied.

Adam looked at the other groups of men standing around. “I’m surprised to see some of the outfits that bid,” he commented. “Other than Kelly and us, I didn’t think there were too many lumber companies that could handle that contract.”

“It’s a lucrative contract,” Ben advised. “I’m sure it’s worth the risk to some of the smaller outfits to at least try for it.” A touch of anxiety crossed Ben’s face. “I’m not sure I wouldn’t be relieved if one of them got the contract.”

“Aw, Pa, you ain’t gonna start that again, are you,” complained Hoss. “We’ve been over this a hundred times.”

“I know, I know,” replied Ben wearily. “It’s just that this is such a complicated contract and with me being gone for the next few weeks…”

“Pa, you could hardly tell the Governor you wouldn’t serve on that committee that’s drafting the new mine safety bill,” interrupted Adam. “You’ve been after him for months about getting new regulations for the mines.”

“Besides, we talked this through,” added Joe. “We can’t pass up this contract just because you’re not going to be around much for a few weeks.” Joe grinned at his father. “Pa, it’s about time you started trusting us to do a few things on our own.”

“Yeah, Pa,” Hoss chimed in. “Don’t you think we can handle one little contract without you?”

“Oh, I’m sure you can handle it,” answered Ben with a grin. “Maybe that’s what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid you boys will find out you can manage fine without me.”

“Never, Pa,” said Adam with an airy wave of his hand. “If nothing else, we need you to put your name on the contract. Buyers like seeing the name Ben Cartwright on a contract. It gives them confidence, even if we have to do all the work. You’re a great front man.”

Ben joined his sons in a hearty laughter at this comment. But Ben’s face sobered quickly when he saw one of the other bidders walking toward him.

“Hello, Cartwright,” said the man to Ben.

“Hello, Kelly,” answered Ben cautiously. He studied the man standing in front of him.

Patrick Kelly was a man who gave the impression that he was not the kind to be trifled with. Kelly wasn’t tall; he probably didn’t reach six feet, even in his boots. But his white shirt and string tie did little to disguise the powerful build of his shoulders and arms. His face had a hard, weather-beaten look, and his dark blue eyes always seemed cold as ice. The wide stetson Kelly was wearing over his thick white hair was pulled low on his head, covering the top of his face with a menacing shadow.

“Cartwright, I’ve got a bone to pick with you,” said Kelly in an irritated voice. “I hear you’ve been spreading some pretty nasty stories about me.”

“I haven’t spread any stories,” Ben replied in a cold voice. “All I did was answer honestly when a few of my business friends asked me about your operation.”

“Well, your ‘honest’ answer has cost me money,” complained Kelly. “I’ve lost two contracts and had to put up a hefty bond for a third.”

“All Pa did was tell them about your contract with the railroad and the Sun Mountain mines,” said Adam in a low voice. “It’s a matter of record that both those outfits ended up paying almost double what they contracted for to get your timber.”

“You keep out of this, you young pup,” growled Kelly to Adam. “I’m talking to your father.” Kelly turned back to Ben. “You keep your nose out of my business, you understand,” he said in a threatening voice. “I don’t need the high and might Ben Cartwright telling me how to run my business.” Kelly turned on his heel and walked away.

“Whew,” said Hoss. “Mr. Kelly sure don’t like you much, Pa.”

“No, he doesn’t,” admitted Ben. “Patrick Kelly is a man who can carry a grudge. I think he’s still mad at me for stopping him from stripping the timber off the ridge above Emerald Bay.”

“But Pa, you had to stop him,” protested Adam. “If he had stripped that ridge, the rain and melting snow would have flooded the whole valley below. Besides, that was almost five years ago.”

“I know, Adam,” Ben agreed. “But Kelly wanted that lumber and he didn’t care about what happened to the valley. He still holds me responsible for losing what he considers a lucrative piece of land.” Ben shook his head. “I ’m afraid Patrick Kelly is still looking for a way to get back at me for that.”

Joe had been only half-listening to the conversation around him. His eyes had been glued on the store across the street. Now, as the door to the store opened and a young woman walked out onto the street, Joe turned quickly back to his father and brothers. “I’ll be right back,” said Joe. Without waiting for an answer, he sprinted across the street.

As he walked up to the pretty blonde in the blue dress, Joe touched his hat and smiled. “Hello, Lucinda.”

“Hello, Joe,” replied Lucinda with a warm smile. “How nice to see you.”

“You sure do look pretty today,” observed Joe with an affectionate look. “Almost as pretty as you did last Saturday at the dance.”

“Why, thank you,” said Lucinda, blushing a bit. “I enjoyed myself at the dance. I’m so glad you asked me to go with you.”

“It was my pleasure,” Joe told the girl. “We’ll have to do it again real soon.”

The shadow of a third person fell across Lucinda. She looked up and saw a tall, sparsely built young man wearing a faded denim shirt and brown work pants. “Hello, Lucinda,” said the young man.

“Hello, Jimmy,” replied Lucinda in a cool voice. She turned to Joe. “I presume you know Jimmy Kelly.”

Joe nodded. “Hello, Jimmy,” he said in an even voice.

Ignoring Joe, Jimmy looked at the girl with sorrowful eyes. “Lucinda, I, uh, well, I kind of thought we had an understanding. How come you went to the dance with Cartwright?”

“Because he asked me,” answered Lucinda in a tart voice. “You never asked me. You just assumed I’d go with you.” Lucinda turned and smiled at Joe. “A girl likes to be asked,” she added pointedly. “Especially when she’s asked so nicely.” Joe grinned back.

“I was going to ask you,” grumbled Jimmy. “It’s just Pa kept me so busy and then all of a sudden it got to be Saturday, and well…”

“Obviously, I wasn’t important enough for you to think about before Saturday,” said Lucinda in a cool voice. “You don’t own me, Jimmy. I’m not some decorative little thing you can pull out whenever it suits you.”

“No, no, of course not,” stammered Jimmy.

“Good, I’m glad we understand each other,” stated Lucinda in a prim voice. She turned to Joe once more, and smiled. “I really did have a good time,” she said putting her hand on Joe’s arm. “Thank you for asking me.” Joe smiled as Jimmy scowled.

Suddenly, Lucinda sighed. “I really must be going,” she told the two young men regretfully. She nodded her head at both Jimmy and Joe. “Good day, gentleman.” Lucinda walked slowly down the street as Joe and Jimmy both watched her with admiring looks.

Abruptly, Jimmy turned to face Joe. “What do you think you’re doing, Cartwright?” demanded Jimmy. “Taking my girl to the dance.”

“I didn’t know she was your girl,” Joe replied. “I ran into Lucinda at the general store a few days before the dance. She was complaining that no one had asked her to the dance. So I did.”

“I was going to ask her,” said Jimmy in a sullen voice.

“Yeah, but you didn’t,” Joe pointed out.

“You Cartwrights,” snapped Jimmy angrily. “You think you run everything around
here. My Pa is always saying how you think you own all of Nevada.”

“Look, Jimmy,” replied Joe, his voice reflecting his growing anger. “It’s not my fault you messed things up with Lucinda. If I hadn’t asked her to the dance, someone else would have. So don’t get mad at me because you took her for granted.”

Jimmy’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t be telling me how to run my life. I don’t need you or anyone else telling me what to do.”

Joe started to make an angry retort but from the corner of his eye he saw the office door open across the street. He bit back the words he was about to spit out. “I’ve got to go,” said Joe abruptly. He turned and walked quickly across the street. Jimmy frowned then saw the man standing in the doorway across the street. He hurried after Joe.

The small knots of men had melted into one large group as a man in a finely tailored gray suit stood in the door of the office. The man was tall and thin, with dark bushy eyebrows prominent on his lean face. His short, wiry hair was dark, but small streaks of silver were dotted through it. He waited a moment to make sure everyone had gathered around. Then he spoke in a loud voice. “I’m Richard Owens, president of the Silver Mountain mine,” said the man. “I want to thank each of you for submitting your bids. I’ve reviewed each of them carefully. The contract is awarded to Ben Cartwright.”

Gleefully, Adam slapped has father on the back as Hoss’ face broke into a wide grin. The other men started drifting away. All, that is, except Patrick Kelly.

“How can you give that contract to Cartwright?” demanded Kelly in an angry voice. “Our bid was lower. I know it was.”

“Yes, your bid was lower,” agreed the man in the doorway. “However, I have chosen to give the contract to the Cartwrights. My notice clearly stated that the contract would go to the most acceptable bid, not the lowest bid. I found the Cartwrights’ bid to be the most acceptable.”

“What do you mean by that?” Kelly asked.

“What I mean, Mr. Kelly,” answered Owens in a cold voice, “is that I choose not to do business with you. I know how you do business and that is not acceptable to me.”

“Has Cartwright been filling your ears with his stories?” shouted Kelly. “Well, they’re lies, all lies.”

“Mr. Cartwright has said nothing to me,” replied Owens. “However, Paul Mason at Sun Mountain is a good friend. Mason told me how you won his contract with a low bid, and then submitted an enormous bill for ‘extra charges’. He needed the lumber he contracted from you, and you refused to deliver unless he paid. He had to pay that bill or be tied up in court for months.”

“All those charges were legitimate,” Kelly complained. “They were for unexpected expenses, costs that I hadn’t counted on.”

“Perhaps,” said Owens doubtfully. “But that wasn’t the first time you submitted a bill for extra charges. And each time you waited until the last minute and held up delivery. The companies involved were forced to pay the extra or find themselves weeks behind schedule. I don’t choose to do business that way.”

Kelly turned to Ben. “You had something to do with Cartwright. I know you did.”

“I didn’t do anything except submit a bid,” replied Ben in a cool voice.

Wheeling around, Kelly turned back to Owens. “I’m going to get this contract,” he told the mine owner. “You’ll see. Cartwright won’t be able to deliver, not with him being up in Carson City and those young whelps of his doing the cutting. You’ll end up coming to me for your timber. And I’ll make you pay dearly for it.” Kelly turned on his heel and stalked off.

Jimmy and Joe had been standing at the edge of the street. Jimmy had an embarrassed expression on his face as he watched his father walk away from the office. Joe noticed the look on Jimmy’s face. “I’m sorry,” he murmured sympathetically.

Whirling around, Jimmy faced Joe. “Don’t be sorry, Cartwright,” Jimmy spat out angrily. “My Pa knows what he’s doing. He’ll end up getting that contract from you.” With a dark look on his face, Jimmy hurried down the street.

“Mr. Cartwright,” said Owens from the doorway. “If you want to come into the office, we can go over the details of the contract and sign the papers.”

“Yes, of course,” Ben agreed. He glanced down the street, watching Patrick Kelly striding away with Jimmy in tow. Ben shook his head briefly, then turned back to Owens. “Yes,” said Ben again. “Let’s get everything settled.”

Nodding, Owens walked back into the office followed by Ben, with his sons right behind him.

Walking over to a desk in the office, Richard Owens sat down behind it. He gestured to some chairs spread around the room. Ben, Adam, Hoss and Joe settled themselves in the chairs.

“Mr. Cartwright…” started Owens.

“Please, call me Ben,” interrupted Ben.

Owens smiled briefly. “All right, Ben,” he agreed. “Before we get started, I want to ask you something. Kelly said you weren’t going to supervise this contract yourself. Is that true?”

“Yes, it is,” Ben told the mine owner. “I’m going to be away for a few weeks. But my sons will make sure the contract is filled.”

Thoughtfully, Owens chewed his lip. “This contract is very important to me,” he said. “I wish I had known you weren’t going to be personally involved.”

“Mr. Owens, I can assure you that my brothers and I are perfectly capable of filling the terms of the contract.” Adam declared. “We’ve all been involved in the Ponderosa’s timber operation for years.”

Owens hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “All right,” he said in a reluctant voice. “I suppose I will have to trust you.”

Reaching into a drawer, Owens pulled some papers out and spread them on the desk. “These are the exact specifications for the lumber I need, and the dates I need delivery. Some of the lumber is to be delivered to my mining operation, and the rest to San Francisco.”

“Yes, we’re aware of that,” said Adam. He looked at Owens curiously. “If you don’t mind me asking, why do you need the lumber delivered to two different locations?”

“The lumber for the mines is for shoring,” Owens replied. “The other lumber is for…a special project.” He studied the Cartwrights for a minute, as if trying to decide whether he should explain further. “I suppose it would be helpful to know about the project,” Owens added. He took a deep breath. “I need the lumber for a ship.”

“A ship?” said Ben in surprise.

“Yes,” Owens answered with a smile. “It’s going to be called The Western Star. It’s going to be one of the finest ships ever built in San Francisco, a clipper that can travel the Pacific and beyond. It’s going to take me on the voyage of my life.”

Seeing the surprised look on the Cartwrights faces, Owens continued, “Perhaps I’d better explain further.” He looked off for a moment, trying to decide where to begin. “Have you ever heard of Charles Darwin?” he asked.

“Charles Darwin?” said Adam. “The naturalist?”

“Yes,” replied Owens.

“I’ve read his book,” Adam indicated with a nod. “His theories on evolution quite controversial.”

“Yes,” said Owens again. “I know Darwin. I met him a long time ago when I was in England. Darwin told me about his plans to sail around the world, exploring lands that few men had seen and studying the unknown habitat of many species. He invited me to go along with him.”

“You obviously declined,” Ben commented.

“Yes, I told I couldn’t go,” Owens lamented. “I wanted to go. But my father talked me out of it. Oh, he had all the right arguments. The voyage was dangerous, and I was needed to help run the family business. He convinced me that Darwin’s voyage was just plain foolishness, and that I should settle down to a more practical life. So Darwin sailed without me. And there’s not a day that has passed that I haven’t regretted not making that voyage.”

Owens looked at the Cartwrights. “I settled down and took over the mining portion of the family business, as my father wished,” he continued. “I married and I made some money. When my father died, I took over the entire business. I became the practical businessman my father wanted me to be. But I never lost that feeling I had missed something, that my life somehow was not complete. So a few years ago, with my wife’s blessing, I began selling off our assets. We have no children, so there wasn’t anyone deprived by my selling out. I began making plans to take the voyage I missed. As soon as The Western Star is finished, my wife and I are going to take that voyage. We’re going to travel to the South Seas, and see those lands that Darwin saw, and perhaps a few that he missed.”

“Mr. Owens, I was a sailor in my younger days,” remarked Ben. “I know what it’s like on a voyage like that. It’s not all soft winds and pleasant sailing. I’ve seen storms where the wind blows the rain like needles into your face. I’ve seen ships becalmed and men praying for even the slightest breeze. There’s many a ship that has left port and never returned.”

“I’m aware of that,” said Owens. “My wife and I talked about it extensively. But we agree it’s worth the risk. We both have such a desire to make this voyage that we are willing to face the dangers involved.” Owens leaned forward. “That’s why it’s so important that this contract be filled on time,” he added urgently. “I need the lumber for the mine so I can finance this voyage. Without that lumber, I can’t bring out the ore I need. And I can’t build my ship without the lumber you will deliver to San Francisco.”

“It will take awhile to build a ship like the one you’ll need,” Adam stated with a frown.

“Three years,” replied Owens. “Three long years I’ll have to wait. And that’s if you deliver on time. If you don’t deliver, I’ll lose my opportunity. The shipbuilder has other contracts. If I don’t meet the financial demands, or if the lumber for the ship doesn’t arrive, the shipbuilder will move on to one of those other contracts. I’ll have to start over again with my plans.” Owens looked down. “After all this time, I don’t think I could stand having to wait longer.” Owens looked up. “So you see, gentlemen, this is more than a contract. This is my dream. And I’m relying on you to make this dream come true.”

“Don’t you worry, Mr. Owens,” said Hoss confidently. “We’ll deliver on time.”

“I hope so,” Owens answered fervently. He took a deep breath. “Well, let’s get down to all the details.

*****

Ben folded the newspaper he was reading and leaned back into his leather chair. He smiled contentedly as he watched Joe and Hoss play checkers on the table in front of him. Ben glanced toward Adam, who was sitting in the chair near the stairs, engrossed in a book. Such a happy, domestic scene, thought Ben, and that last one any of them would enjoy for several weeks.

Looking up, Hoss saw his father watching him. “Hey, Pa,” asked Hoss. “What time are you leaving for Carson City tomorrow?”

“Probably sometime tomorrow afternoon,” answered Ben. “I want to check the herd one last time, and make sure Charlie knows what needs to be done over the next few weeks. I also want to make sure they know how to get in touch with us if they need us.”

“Pa, you worry too much,” said Joe with a smile. “Charlie knows what to do and when to do it. He doesn’t need you to tell him.”

“You’re probably right,” admitted Ben. “But I’ll feel better if I tell him anyway.”

Getting to his feet, Hoss stretched his massive arms. “Well, I’m heading for bed,” he announced. “Since this is going to be my last night in a soft bed for awhile, I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.”

“Hoss, you could sleep on a bed of cactus,” said Joe with a grin.

“Yeah, I could, little brother,” Hoss agreed. “But I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as I’m going to enjoy that bed upstairs. I’ll see you fellows in the morning.” He turned and climbed the stairs to his room.

Collecting the checkers, Joe began putting them in a small box. “Pa, what do you make of that fellow Owens?” he asked as he slid the checkers into the box. “I mean, that story he told us this afternoon, about wanting to build a ship and sail around the world. Did you think it was kind of strange?”

“Oh, I don’t know if I would call it strange,” answered Ben.  Ambitious, maybe. Or perhaps a bit of a romantic dream.” Ben shook his head. “I guess every man has a dream. Some are able to attain their dreams, and others aren’t. In Richard Owens’ case, he delayed chasing his dream. And now he’s going to try to reach it.”

“I guess,” said Joe with a puzzled expression. His face suddenly grew sober. “Kelly wasn’t too happy about us getting that contract,” Joe added.

“I know,” agreed Ben. “I want you boys to keep a sharp eye out up at the timber camp. There’s no telling what Kelly might do to cause trouble. He wants that contract, and he’s liable to try something to keep us from delivering that timber.”

“Don’t worry, Pa,” Joe assured his father. “We can handle Kelly.” He stood and stretched. “You know, I think Hoss’ idea about that soft bed was a good one. I’ll see you in the morning.” Joe turned toward the stairs, but stopped as he neared Adam. He watched his older brother for a minute. Adam was deep into the book he was reading; he didn’t even notice Joe standing by his chair. Shaking his head, Joe climbed the stairs to his room.

Ben watched Adam also, but his expression was more thoughtful than Joe’s. “Adam,” said Ben in a loud voice. “Don’t you think you’d better turn in, too? You boys have a long day in front of you tomorrow.”

Adam looked up, startled to see only Ben in the room; he hadn’t noticed Joe and Hoss had left for bed. “Sorry, Pa,” apologized Adam. “I guess I got so wrapped up in this book I didn’t realize what time it was.”

“What are you reading?” asked Ben.

“Darwin’s book,” answered Adam. “Our conversation with Richard Owens this  afternoon got me thinking about it.”

“Owens’ voyage has piqued your interest, hasn’t it?” Ben remarked.

“Yeah, I guess it has,” Adam admitted with a sigh. “I envy men like Darwin and Owens. Being able to travel the world, seeing new lands, exploring uncharted waters. It’s quite an adventure.”

Ben looked at his son thoughtfully. “An adventure you’d like to try?” he asked.

For a moment, Adam didn’t answer; he stared thoughtfully into the fire. “It’s just a silly thought,” he finally answered with a shrug.

“It’s not silly,  Adam,” said Ben. “Not if it’s something you really want to do.”

“Well, I sure would like to try it sometime,” Adam told his father. Then he shook his head. “But there’s too much around here for me to do. The Ponderosa needs all of us. There’s no way I could leave.”

“Adam, the Ponderosa is your home, not a prison,” Ben stated. “All I’ve ever wanted is for you boys to be happy. I’ll admit I would like it if you could find that happiness here. But I also know that’s pure selfishness on my part. I’d never ask you to stay if you didn’t want to.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to stay,” said Adam in an earnest voice. “It’s just that, oh, I don’t know, I guess I keep thinking about all the things there are out there I haven’t seen, all the places I haven’t visited. I just get an itch once in awhile to go see them.”

“Yes, I can understand that,” Ben replied with a smile. “I had that itch when I was younger. That’s why I spent so much time at sea. And why I came west. I kept thinking that there was that one perfect place that I just had to find. I was lucky. I found it.”

Adam shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Pa,” he said, looking down, “I know building the Ponderosa has been your dream.”

“My dream, yes,” Ben declared. “But not necessarily yours,”

His face full of confusion, Adam looked up. “I wanted to build the Ponderosa; I really did,” said Adam slowly. “But now, that doesn’t seem to satisfy me anymore. I feel like I’m treading water or something.”

Ben nodded understandingly. “I know,” he murmured. Now it was Ben’s turn to stare into the fire. “I’ve been thinking about Richard Owens’ story also,” he added quietly. “About how his father talked him out of following his dream. I hope I’m never so selfish as to prevent one of my sons from following his dream.” Ben turned back to Adam. “It’s hard for a father to let his son go, but it’s a necessary part of life.”

“Pa, are you trying to get rid of me?” asked Adam with a grin.

“No, of course not,” Ben replied in a dismissive voice. “I just want you to know that whatever you want, whatever dream you have, I hope you’ll go after it.” He smiled at Adam. “Maybe Owens will need someone to help him on his voyage.”

“Thanks, Pa,” said Adam gratefully. “But it’s going to take three years for Owens to build his ship. That’s a long time. A lot can happen in three years.”

Ben nodded. “Yes, yes it can,” he agreed. “People often change their minds. Or time can harden a person’s resolve. Whatever happens, I want you to know you have my support.”

“Thank you,” Adam said in a soft voice. He cleared his voice and shifted in his chair. “But nothing’s going to happen unless we get that timber cut and delivered on time,” Adam added, his voice now brisk.

“Yes, you’re right,” said Ben, his brisk tone matching Adam’s. “You boys will have your hands full. That’s a lot of timber to get cut and delivered in pretty tight time frame.”

“Don’t worry, Pa,” Adam reassured his father. “We’ll handle it.”

“I’m sure you will, son,” Ben agreed with a nod. “I’m sure you will.”

*****

In an office in Virginia City, another father and son were talking, but the nature of their discussion was considerably different than the Cartwrights.

“I can’t believe Owens gave that contract to Cartwright,” ranted Patrick Kelly for what seemed the hundredth time to his son. “We should have had it.”

“I know, Pa,” answered Jimmy, trying to soothe his father. “But we’ve got plenty of other contracts. We’ve got more than enough work.”

“I know we have plenty of work,” growled Kelly in an irritated voice. “I don’t need you to tell me how to run my business.”

“Sorry, Pa,” apologized Jimmy.

“There’s got to be some way to keep those Cartwrights from filling that contract,” continued Kelly as if he hadn’t heard his son. “Something that will make them miss their first delivery. Once that happens, Owens will pull the contract. And I’ll be right there to step in.”

“Maybe we could get some of our men hired on to the Cartwright crew,” suggested Jimmy. “They could cause plenty of trouble and delays, maybe even a few ‘accidents’.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Kelly snapped. Jimmy cringed at the tone of his father’s words. “The Cartwrights have their own crew. And even if they didn’t, they wouldn’t hire any of our men. And I don’t want to do anything that’s going to land me in jail.”

“It was just a suggestion,” said Jimmy in a sullen voice.

“Well, it was dumb one,” snorted Kelly. He walked over to a map hanging on his office wall. “Where are the Cartwrights cutting?” asked Kelly.

“I don’t know,” answered Jimmy, his voice still sullen.

“Well, find out!” ordered his father. “Find out where they’re cutting timber, how it’s going to be delivered, what carriers they are going to use. I need information before I can figure out how to stop them.”

“How am I supposed to do that?” asked Jimmy in a plaintive voice.

“Use that head of yours for something other than a hat rack,” replied Kelly in a disgusted voice. “You’ve got a tongue. Ask around.”

“All right,” agreed Jimmy reluctantly. “I’ll see what I can find out.”

“You’ll do more than see what you can find,” ordered Kelly turning to his son. “You get me that information, and you get it to me tomorrow. Do you hear me?”

“I hear you, Pa,” said Jimmy with a sigh. “I always hear you, Pa,” added Jimmy almost to himself.

*****

The Cartwright timber crew began assembling their camp with almost military precision. They knew the drill well. They had put up similar camps dozens of times. Despite this, Adam spent the morning giving instructions and handing out assignments. The crew listened carefully and nodded their solemn agreement to Adam’s orders, then went about doing what they knew had to be done.

Both Joe and Hoss watched their older brother with unconcealed amusement. They knew the crew had things well in hand, so Joe and Hoss spent most of the morning sitting around the cook fire drinking coffee. When Adam spotted his two younger brothers lounging by the fire, a scowl appeared on his face.

“You two think you might stir yourselves enough to help us get this camp set up?” demanded Adam as walked toward his brothers.

“Didn’t seem to be any need,” replied Joe casually as he sipped his coffee. “Looks like you have things well in hand, brother.”

“We might just get things moving around here if I had a little help,” said Adam angrily.

“Adam,” observed Hoss in a reasonable voice. “Don’t you think you might be just over-managing things a bit?”

“What do you mean?” demanded Adam.

“Well, you just told Johnny to set up the cook tent,” replied Hoss. He looked behind him. “Johnny set up the cook tent about an hour ago.”

Adam looked at the tent behind Hoss, then at his two grinning brothers. He tried to stay angry, but even he could see how ludicrous the situation was. Adam glanced around the camp. The crew was going about their business efficiently, without the need of direction.

“All right,” Adam admitted with a twitch of a smile. “Maybe I did get a little carried away. But meeting this contract is important to me. I just wanted to get things started off right.”

“Seems to me the best way to get things started is to get out of the way,” remarked Joe as he took another sip of coffee.

“Joe’s right, Adam,” added Hoss. “These fellows know what their doing. Don’t waste your time with getting the camp set up. We need to start thinking about cutting trees.”

“Do you think you two might help me in that regard?” asked Adam with exaggerated politeness. “I mean, after you’ve finished your morning coffee break, of course.”

“Well, I guess we could,” said Joe, putting down his cup. “How about it, Hoss?”

“I suppose,” agreed Hoss. He turned to Adam and grinned. “What would you like us to do?”

“Hoss, I want you to go down and start marking the trees to be cut on that lower stand of timber,” ordered Adam. “Joe, you mark the trees up on the mountain.”

“Right,” Joe said as he slowly rose to his feet.

“Listen,” added Adam in an almost pleading voice. “It really is important to me that this contract be completed on time. I really need you two to help me make this happen.”

“Don’t worry, Adam,” said Hoss, clapping his brother on the shoulder. “Joe and I will make sure nothing gets in the way of this contract.”

“We know it’s important, Adam,” Joe told his brother in a serious voice. “We won’t let you down.”

“Thanks,” replied Adam gratefully. He looked at his brothers and saw the look of confidence in their faces. “Well, just don’t stand there,” said Adam in mock anger. “Get to marking those trees!”

*****

Joe tied his pinto near a fir at the top of the mountain. He had ridden up the far side because he wanted to get a better look at the grove of trees before he started marking the ones to be cut. Joe wanted to do this job right. He knew it was important to Adam, although he couldn’t quite figure out why his older brother was so insistent that this particular contract be met on time. Joe didn’t spend much time thinking about what Adam’s reasons might be. It was important to his brother, and that was good enough for Joe.

Walking slowly down the side of the mountain, Joe studied the trees. He carried a small ax that he would use to mark the trees to be cut. He knew it was important that the timber be the right size. He also knew that he had to be sure he left some trees for future growth. Other timber operations might simply strip a hillside, but that wasn’t the way the Cartwrights harvested trees.

About halfway down the hill, Joe stopped, and a startled look came over his face. He could see someone crouched in the trees. It looked as if someone was watching the camp below. Joe walked forward cautiously, mindful of Patrick Kelly’s threats. Somehow, he wasn’t surprised when he neared the crouching man and recognized Jimmy Kelly.

“See everything you need to see, Jimmy?” asked Joe in a loud voice.

Whirling around, Jimmy at Joe with a mixture of surprise and fear. “I…I…I was just looking,” he stammered.

“Yeah?” said Joe in a voice dripping with sarcasm. “I suppose you’re going to tell me you never saw a timber camp before.”

Jimmy frowned. “What’s it to you?” he asked in angry voice.

“Well, I don’t have to remind you that you’re on Ponderosa land,” replied Joe in an even voice. “Considering the threats your father made the other day, I would say that maybe he sent you up here to cause trouble.”

“My Pa didn’t send me up here,” retorted Jimmy, his voice sounding angrier. “I don’t have to check with him on everything I do.”

“That’s not the way I hear it,” Joe commented.

“What’s that mean?” demanded Jimmy furiously. “You think I can’t do anything  on my own?”

Joe felt a pang of sympathy for the young man standing in front of him. He knew Kelly treated his son little better than one of his hired hands. And he knew that no matter how hard Jimmy worked, Kelly never praised or even seem to notice his son. Joe was sincerely glad he was not Patrick Kelly’s son.

“Look, Jimmy,” said Joe in a gentle voice. “Why don’t you just go find your horse and ride out of here? I won’t say anything about you being up here.”

Jimmy interpreted Joe’s kindness for pity, and that infuriated him even more. He took a step forward. “Oh, right,” Jimmy sneered. “The mighty Joe Cartwright is going to take pity on me. Well, I don’t need your pity. I’m a better man than you anytime, and I’m going to show you.”

Jimmy took a swing at Joe’s head, but Joe saw the fist coming. He dropped the ax and held up his left arm to block the blow. Joe quickly threw a punch with his right fist into Jimmy’s stomach, doubling Jimmy over. Jimmy took a step back, then suddenly straightened and threw another punch. Joe tried to duck the punch, but Jimmy’s fist clipped the side of his jaw. Joe’s head snapped to the side a bit, and he staggered for a step. Joe quickly righted himself, and now his dark eyes blazed with anger; he took a step forward and threw two quick jabs into Jimmy’s stomach. Jimmy doubled over again. Joe hit Jimmy in the face with his right fist, knocking Jimmy to the ground. Then Joe grabbed Jimmy by the front of his shirt and hit Jimmy a solid blow on the chin.

Whatever fight was in Jimmy Kelly evaporated with Joe’s last blow. Jimmy’s body sagged, and his arms dropped to his side. Joe was about to throw another punch when he realized Jimmy was finished. He lowered his arm and dropped Jimmy to the ground.

“All right,” said Joe as he stood over Jimmy, breathing hard. “Now go find your horse and get out of here. And if I ever find you on Ponderosa land again, I’m going to have you arrested for trespassing.”

Jimmy looked up at Joe, his eyes glowing with hate. Without a word, Jimmy scrambled to his feet and started staggering off through the woods.

Joe watched until he was sure Jimmy was gone. He rubbed the sore spot on his face thoughtfully. Then Joe shrugged and turned back to start marking the trees.

*****

“Where have you been all day?” Patrick Kelly demanded of his son.

Jimmy tried to keep in the shadows as he stood in his father’s office. “Doing what you told me,” he answered in a sullen voice. “Checking on the Cartwright timber operation.” Jimmy looked across the office. His father was sitting at his desk, papers spread before him. Jimmy wondered briefly what his father was working on. But he quickly shrugged the thought aside. Patrick Kelly never shared any details of his operation with anyone – not even his son.

“And what did you find out?” asked Kelly, his voice sounding more interested.

“They’re cutting up on Black Crow Ridge,” answered Jimmy. “Near as I can tell, they’re going to haul the timber down to the mill themselves. The only contract I can find with a freighter is with Crowley. Crowley said he’s going to haul the timber from the mill to the shipping yards.”

“Black Crow Ridge, eh?” Kelly mused. He turned to look at a large map hanging on the wall behind him. “Where exactly on Black Crow Ridge?”

Jimmy reluctantly crossed the room toward the map. He studied the map, carefully avoiding his father’s eyes. “Here,” said Jimmy, pointing to a spot on the map.

“What happened to your face?” asked Kelly with a frown. Jimmy had a black eye and a large bruise on his chin.

“Had a run-in with Joe Cartwright,” Jimmy answered, still avoiding looking at his father.

“Cartwright!” exclaimed Kelly. Suddenly, his eyes narrowed. “Where did this happen?”

Jimmy shuffled his  feet and looked down. “Up on the ridge,” he mumbled in reply.

“You idiot!” screamed Kelly. “You let the Cartwrights see you checking out their operation? Do you have sand for brains?”

“Joe Cartwright snuck up behind me,” protested Jimmy. “I didn’t even know he was there. He just came up behind me and grabbed me and hit me before I could do anything.”

“Did anybody else see you?” asked Kelly in an angry tone.

“No,” Jimmy replied. “Everybody else was busy setting up the camp.” Jimmy shifted his eyes evasively. “I think Joe snuck out of camp so he wouldn’t have to do any work. I never saw him leave.” Jimmy didn’t tell his father that he had gotten bored watching the camp and after the first hour, he hadn’t paid much attention to the comings and goings of the Cartwright crew. “I don’t think Joe is going to say anything about me being up there,” Jimmy added, hoping his statement was true.

“You’d better hope he doesn’t,” said Kelly, but he was somewhat mollified by Jimmy’s last remark. He turned his attention back to the map. “Maybe we can do something to disrupt their little business deal,” he declared thoughtfully.

“Think maybe we can get Crowley to cancel his contract?” suggested Jimmy.

“No, that won’t work,” replied Kelly, with a shake of his head. “Crowley does too much business with the Cartwrights. He wouldn’t risk making them mad.” Kelly rubbed his chin. “We’ve got to do something that will keep them from getting the timber to the mill. Crowley can’t haul any wood if it doesn’t get to the mill.” Kelly studied the map closer.

Jimmy waited as his father thought. He wasn’t about to risk making another suggestion that his father would dismiss. He knew Patrick Kelly would come up with something. His father always did.

“The canyon!” announced Kelly suddenly, standing and jabbing his finger against the map. “To get to the mill, they’ve got to haul the wood through the canyon. Now if something were to happen to block that canyon road, they’d have a real problem on their hands.”

“Like what?” asked Jimmy cautiously.

“Oh, I think a landslide would probably do it,” mused Kelly. “A nice big one would block that narrow part of the canyon. It would take the Cartwrights weeks to clear that road.” Kelly nodded to himself. “Yes,” he said in a thoughtful voice. “I think the Cartwrights are going to find the canyon blocked by a landslide.”

“How are you going to start a landslide?” said Jimmy in a puzzled voice.

“A little dynamite in just the right place ought to do it,” explained Kelly.

“Want me to take care of it, Pa?” asked Jimmy in an eager voice.

“You?” said Kelly with a laugh. “You’d probably blow yourself up. No, I’ll have Pete Martin do it.”

“I can do it, Pa,” insisted Jimmy. His mouth took on a bitter smile. “I wouldn’t mind giving Joe Cartwright a grief.”

“No,” replied Kelly firmly. “I want this job done right. Besides, I don’t want to take the chance of you getting caught on Cartwright land again. I don’t want them to find anything that can tie us directly to this. I don’t want Ben Cartwright bringing the law down on us.”

“Old man Cartwright ain’t even there,” said Jimmy in a sullen voice. “Looks like Adam is running things.”

“Doesn’t make any difference,” shrugged Kelly. “Those Cartwright boys are as tough and smart as their old man. They’d have the law on us just as fast as Ben if they caught you.”

“At least Ben Cartwright lets his boys run things once in a while,” whined Jimmy.

Kelly seemed to ignore his son’s complaint as he turned to sit back at his desk. But as he settled in his chair, Kelly glanced over his shoulder at Jimmy, then looked away. “There’s a difference,” said Kelly, picking up a piece of paper. “Ben Cartwright can trust his sons.”

*****

It was almost dusk when Joe rode back into the camp. He felt tired, but also was feeling satisfied with himself. The trees he had marked would be more than enough to provide the shoring needed for Owens’ mines. And he knew he had done the job right. The crew could harvest the marked trees without hurting the watershed or destroying the mountainside.

By the time Joe had made sure his pinto was settled for the night, the rest of the crew was eating dinner. Joe grabbed a plate of food and a cup of coffee, and strolled over to where Adam and Hoss were eating their meal.

“Nice of you to save me something to eat,” said Joe to Hoss as he settled himself on a log next to his brother. Hoss’ plate was piled with food.

“You want to get fed, you’d better get here on time, little brother,” answered Hoss in an unconcerned voice. Hoss picked up a biscuit from his plate and took a bite. Joe shook his head in amazement as over half the biscuit disappeared into his brother’s mouth.

“You get the tree marked?” asked Adam as he sipped his coffee.

“Yep,” answered Joe as he began to eat. “Marked some nice big ones. Most of them won’t need too much trimming. I marked some extra trees, just in case.”

“Good,” said Adam with a satisfied nod. “We can start cutting first thing in the morning. With any luck, we’ll be hauling logs down to the mill by late tomorrow.”

“Late tomorrow?” remarked Hoss in surprise. “You in some big hurry, Adam?”

“Yeah, Adam,” added Joe. “How come you’re so all fired worried about meeting this contract? We’ve got plenty of time. And it’s not like we’ve never done this before.”

Adam sipped his coffee before answering. “I just want to make sure nothing goes wrong on this one,” Adam told his brothers. “You heard Owens’ story. This timber isn’t just logs to him. He needs it to build that ship.” Adam took another sip of coffee. “I don’t want to be the one to have to tell him his dream can’t come true.”

“Still seems like kind of a funny dream to me,” said Joe with a shrug. “Sailing around the world. I can think of better things to do.”

“Now wait a minute, Joe,” Hoss argued lightly. “Think about all those places he’s going to visit, all those things he’s going to see. Sounds kind of exciting if you ask me.”

Adam looked at Hoss in surprise. “You mean you’d like to go with him?” asked Adam.

“I didn’t say that, Adam,” replied Hoss. “But I can understand why he’d want to do it. A man gets a notion like that in his head, well, he’s just got to see it through. It just kind of eats at him until he can’t think of nothing else. It’d be like killing him not to let him do it.”

“I can see that,” said Joe, nodding in agreement. “It’s kind of like having an itch that won’t go away until you scratch it. A fellow would go a little crazy if you didn’t let him scratch that itch.”

Adam said nothing and simply sipped his coffee. But he felt as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He still wasn’t sure how he felt about trying to sign on for Owens’ voyage, but he felt better knowing his brothers would understand if he decided he had to go.

“Don’t worry, Adam,” Hoss assured his brother. “We’ll make sure we get that lumber to Owens on time. Ain’t nobody gonna stop us, not even Kelly.”

At the mentioned of Kelly’s name, Joe rubbed his jaw. In the twilight, the bruise on his face was almost invisible. Joe wasn’t concerned about Jimmy; in fact, he had nearly forgotten about his run-in with the younger Kelly. But he knew Adam and Hoss deserved to know about it.

“By the way,” said Joe casually as he sipped his coffee. “I saw Jimmy Kelly up on the mountain today.”

“Jimmy Kelly?” said Adam. “What was he doing there?”

“Near as I could tell, just watching,” Joe replied. “I ran him off.”

Adam frowned. “If Jimmy Kelly was watching us, that means Patrick Kelly is planning something,” he stated ominously.

“What do you think he’s planning to do?” asked Hoss.

“I don’t know,” admitted Adam. “But pass the word to the men to keep their eyes open. I’m not about to let Patrick Kelly stop us from delivering this timber.”

*****

The timber crew started chopping trees as soon as it was light enough to see. Adam made the decision to start with the trees that Joe had marked, and it wasn’t long before the mountain rang with the sound of axes chopping and saws scraping wood.

Joe and Hoss acted as straw bosses for two separate crews, while Adam oversaw the entire operation. Adam kept his eyes peeled for any sign of trouble, but by mid-day, he had almost forgotten about Kelly. The details of running a lumber camp kept Adam so busy that the thought of Patrick Kelly slipped from his mind.

As the crew broke for lunch, Adam looked for Joe and Hoss. He knew he’d find them together. Sure enough, Adam saw his brothers sitting next to each other near the cook tent.

“How’s it going?” asked Adam as he walked up to Hoss and Joe.

“Fine,” said Hoss briefly. In his mind, lunch was time for eating, not talking.

“We got a good start,” confirmed Joe. “No problems.” Joe looked at Hoss and a smile twitched on his lips. “Of course, my crew is way ahead of Hoss’ crew. You might have to add some men to his crew just to help him keep up,” added Joe, trying to keep a straight face.

“Now wait a dadburn minute,” said Hoss with a scowl. “My crew can outwork your crew any day of the week.”

“I don’t know, Hoss,” replied Joe doubtfully. “I mean, they have to compensate for the fact that you’re bossing things. That’s a pretty big handicap they have to over come.”

“Little brother, you better tell your crew to watch out,” warned Hoss. “Because they’re liable to get run over by all the logs my men are going to be bringing down that mountain.”

Smiling, Adam felt a sense of relief. If Joe and Hoss were arguing over who could cut the most logs, then he knew things were going well.

The sound of a distant rumble drew all three Cartwrights’ attention.

“What was that?” asked Hoss looking up to the sky. “Thunder?”

“No,” said Joe looking up also. “There’s not a cloud in the sky.”

“Well, whatever it was, it was far away,” commented Adam in an unconcerned voice. He looked at his brothers. “If you two are finished stuffing your faces, I’d suggest you get back to work.”

Joe looked at Hoss and shook his head. “A real slave driver, isn’t he?” Joe remarked.

“Yep, a real Simon Legree,” agreed Hoss. He scooped the last of his meal into his mouth, then put his plate down. He stood, wiped his hands on his pants and handed his tin plate to Adam. “Just for that, you can take our dishes into the cook tent.” Hoss grinned and walked to the center of the camp.

Getting to his feet, Joe thrust his plate into Adam’s hands. “Here,” he said with a smile. Joe started to walk after Hoss, but suddenly, he stopped and turned. “Don’t worry, Adam,” Joe declared with a serious expression on his face. “We’ll get your timber delivered on time. I promise you that we’ll meet that contract.”

By mid-afternoon, the first wagon was loaded with logs for the mill. Adam watched with satisfaction as the wagon rolled and swayed down the trail.

However, his satisfaction turned to alarm when the driver came riding up the mountain about ten minutes later, perched precariously as he rode bareback on one of the dray horses that had been pulling the lumber wagon.

“Adam!” shouted the driver as he urged the horse up the mountain. “Adam! We’ve got trouble.”

The driver’s shouts attracted Hoss and Joe, and they rushed with Adam toward the driver.

“What’s wrong?” asked Adam anxiously.

“The trail’s blocked,” explained the driver in a rush. “There was a landslide at the narrow bend in the canyon. There’s no way to get a wagon through.”

Adam, Hoss and Joe rushed to picket line where their horses waited. It didn’t take the three very long to throw saddles and bridles on their mounts. In just a few minutes, the three Cartwright brothers were riding down the trail, with the driver plodding along behind them.

The Cartwrights skidded their horses to a stop and dismounted at the narrow bend in the canyon trail, near the wagon loaded with logs. They stood still, looking with shock and dismay at the scene before them.

The road was blocked by a solid wall of rocks, trees, and bushes. It looked as if the entire side of the canyon had slid down onto the trail. The wall of debris stood close to ten feet high.

For a minute, no one said anything. Adam walked slowly toward the debris, his shoulders sagging.

“It will take us a week to clear away this stuff,” observed Joe in a discouraged voice.

“At least that,” agreed Hoss. “Maybe longer. And it will take every man we’ve got at the camp to do it.”

“That noise we heard at lunch must have been the landslide,” said Joe. “Wonder what caused it?”

Hoss frowned. “Don’t know, little brother. Kind of peculiar, though, ain’t it? This canyon ain’t ever had a landslide in it that I can remember.”

“Adam, you want me to start getting the men together to clear this?” Joe shouted to his brother.

Down in the canyon, Adam was staring at the wall of rocks in front of him. His shoulders no longer sagged. Instead, he appeared to be studying the rocks. Suddenly, he turned to his brothers. “No,” said Adam in a firm voice. “If we have to dig out way out, we’re going to fall a week or more behind. We can’t afford that.”

“What do you aim to do?” asked Hoss in a puzzled voice.

Adam looked back at the rocks and studied them again. He turned once more to Hoss and Joe. “Do we have any dynamite in camp?” he asked.

“Dynamite?” said Joe in surprise. “What do you want with dynamite?”

“I’m going to blow this debris away,” explained Adam. “A couple of sticks in just the right place will blow these rocks down the trail. We can clean it up in less than a day.”

“Blow it up?” repeated Hoss in a voice full of doubt. “That’s kind of tricky, ain’t it, Adam? You’re liable to bring the other side of the canyon down if you don’t do it right.”

“I know,” agreed Adam. “We’re going to place the dynamite just right, and not use too much. But I think I can do it.” Adam looked at his brothers with a grim expression. “If we lose a week cleaning up this mess, we’ll fall so far behind that we’ll never meet that contract. I’m willing to take a chance with the dynamite. Are you?”

Hoss and Joe looked at each other and shrugged. “We’re with you,” agreed Hoss. “Except we got one little problem. We ain’t got any dynamite in camp.”

Frustrated, Adam kicked the ground, sending several small stones flying. “We’ll have to send somebody to Virginia City for dynamite,” Adam said in a discouraged voice. “It’ll take them most of a day to get there and back. And figure another day before we can blow this part and clear the trail. That’s two days we’ll lose.”

“It’s only two days, Adam,” said Joe in a consoling voice.

“I hate to lose even one day,” Adam replied, shaking his head. “On a project like this, if you fall behind, you just never seem to make it up.”

“We ain’t got much choice,” declared Hoss reasonably. “We’ll figure out a way to make up the time.”

Biting his lip thoughtfully, Joe stared off into the distance. “There’s some dynamite up in the supply shack near Bowman Creek,” he said slowly. “Pa put it up there a month or so ago, in case those beavers dammed up the creek again.” Joe thought for a minute. “If I leave now, I can be back with the dynamite by late tonight.”

“Joe, that’s a long ride to Bowman Creek,” Hoss advised with concern. “Almost ten miles through some pretty rough country just to get there. And you’d have to travel back in the dark. That’s a rough ride and you’ve already put in a full day’s work.” Hoss shook his head. “You’d better wait ‘til morning.”

“If I go in the morning, we’ll lose half a day, maybe more before we can even begin to clear the trail,” argued Joe. “If I go now, we can blow this thing in the morning and have the wagons rolling by the end of the day.”

“Joe, it’s too tough a ride to make a night,” said Adam with a shake of head. “You can go in the morning. We’ll make up the time somehow.”

“I’m going now,” Joe declared in a stubborn voice. He turned and vaulted onto his horse.

“Joe, wait!” cried Adam.

“I’ll see you tonight,” Joe shouted to his brothers. He turned his horse and started back up the trail at a gallop.

“Crazy kid,” muttered Adam. “He never listens to anybody.”

“Yeah,” agreed Hoss, with a smile. “Sort of reminds me of you, Adam.”

Adam gave Hoss a startled look, then slowly a rueful smile crossed his face. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go figure out where to put that dynamite.”

*****

The timber camp was quiet in the late night, the men long since having retired to their tents. Only two figures were visible — two men sitting by the fire, their shadows dancing eerily on the tents as the flames flickered in the night.

“What time do you reckon it is, Adam?” asked Hoss in a worried voice.

“About ten minutes since you asked me the last time,” Adam answered in an irritated voice. He instantly regretted his words. “Sorry,” he said contritely. Adam looked at the moon high in the sky. “I figure it’s a little after midnight.”

“You don’t think anything has happened to him, do you?” Hoss asked, his anxiety apparent.

“No,” Adam reassured his brother. “Joe will be here soon.”

Hoss took a sip from the coffee cup in his hand, not really tasting the liquid that had grown cold. He tried to think of something other than where his little brother might be. “You know, I’ve been thinking about that landslide,” said Hoss. “Real funny how it happened at just the right place to block the trail. And in a canyon where there’s never a landslide.”

“I’ve been thinking about that, too,” Adam told his brother. “I’ll bet Kelly had something to do with it. But there’s no way to prove that.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” agreed Hoss, his thoughts obviously elsewhere. He looked off into the darkness of the night, hoping to see some movement in the shadows. But no matter how hard he looked, Hoss saw only the same dark outline of the trees, the same impenetrable blackness that he had seen for the last few hours. “We shouldn’t have let him go, Adam,” said Hoss softly.

“How were we going to stop him?” asked Adam in a reasonable voice.

“I know,” sighed Hoss. “But if anything has happened to him…”

“Nothing has happened to him,” Adam assured his brother. I hope, added Adam silently to himself. “Joe knows how to take care of himself,” Adam stated. The comment was meant to reassure himself as much as Hoss.

Hoss turned to stare into the fire. Once again, he wanted to think about something other than Joe, to talk about something other than Joe. But his mind couldn’t seem to come up with any other subject. So he stared into the fire and worried.

Taking a sip of coffee, Adam stared into the fire, his thoughts on his youngest brother as well. But Adam’s concerns also were directed toward himself. He worried that his insistence on meeting the contract and his almost constant prodding of his brothers to do more had caused Joe to take an unwarranted risk. Adam knew his reasons for wanting Owens’ ship completed on time were personal, almost selfish. Adam hoped that he wasn’t going to have to pay a high price to build Owens’ ship.

The soft whinny of a horse and the faint sound of a hoof striking the hard dirt trail roused both Hoss and Adam. The two jumped to their feet and rushed to the edge of camp. They stood peering in to the dark.

A figure emerged slowly out of the faint moonlight. A pinto walked toward camp, its rider slumped slightly in the saddle.

“Joe!” cried Hoss in relief as Joe guided his horse toward his brothers. “We was getting worried about you, boy.”

“I told you I’d be back tonight,” answered Joe in a tired voice as he pulled his horse to a stop. He slid off the saddle and stood next to his horse. For a moment, his body sagged with fatigue. But Joe pulled himself up almost instantly, and grabbed the saddlebags off the back of his horse.

“Here’s the dynamite,” announced Joe in a weary voice as he handed the saddlebags to Adam. “I didn’t know how much you needed so I brought twenty sticks. There’s plenty of blasting caps and cord in there too.”

As he took the saddlebags, Adam studied his brother. Joe’s face was smudged with dirt, and his eyes were ringed with dark circles of fatigue. Joe’s shoulders seemed unnaturally taut, as if he were holding himself up with sheer will power. “You look pretty done in,” said Adam with concern as he threw the saddlebags over his shoulder.

Joe nodded. “Yeah, I’m tired,” he agreed. Joe managed a tired smile. “But we can start blasting the landslide as soon as it’s light. We shouldn’t lose more than half a day.”

“I’ll put your horse up for you,” offered Hoss, grabbing the pinto’s reins. Joe glanced over his shoulder and nodded.

“Come over by the fire,” Adam suggested. Joe took a step and stumbled a bit, his legs too tired to work properly. Adam grabbed Joe’s arm, supporting him as the two slowly walked toward the fire. Adam guided Joe to a large rock a few feet from the fire, and helped his brother ease himself to the ground. Joe leaned back against the rock, his body sagging with fatigue.

“I’ll see if I can rustle up some food for you,” said Adam.

“Don’t bother,” replied Joe wearily. “I’m too tired to eat.”

“At least I can get you a cup of coffee,” Adam declared. He walked to the fire, and grabbed a cup from a small stack of cups sitting nearby. Slipping the saddlebags off his shoulder, he dropped the leather pouches to the ground, well away from the fire. Adam grabbed the coffee pot which was sitting on the edge of the fire, and quickly pour some coffee into the cup.

It had taken Adam only a minute – two at the most – to get the coffee. But by the time he turned to the rock where Joe sat, Adam knew the coffee wouldn’t be needed. Joe was already asleep, his head bowed and his chin on his chest.

Hoss came up behind Adam. “He’s exhausted, ain’t he,” said Hoss with a shake of his head.

“Think we can get him to bed?” asked Adam.

Hoss smiled. “Don’t see why not. “We’ve done it plenty of times before.”

Setting the coffee cup on the ground, Adam gently shook Joe. “Come on, Joe,” he said in a firm voice. “Wake up and go to bed.”

Trying to shake off Adam’s hand, Joe mumbled something incoherent. His eyes never opened and his head never lifted.

Shaking his head,  Adam looked at Hoss. “Grab his arm,” ordered Adam with a sigh.

Hoss put his hands around Joe’s left arm while Adam grasped Joe’s right arm. They gently pulled Joe to his feet. Both slipped the arm they were holding over their shoulders.

Joe stood swaying and knees buckling, literally asleep on his feet. Adam and Hoss slowly guided Joe toward one of the tents, holding their brother as he stumbled and dragged his feet across the dirt. When they got to the tent, Adam pushed the flap open and led Joe inside. Hoss slipped Joe’s arm from his shoulders and pushed his younger brother forward.

Two empty cots, separated by a small table, filled the tent. Adam dragged Joe the last few feet toward one of the cots. Hoss moved across the tent in two long strides, and pulled the blanket off the cot.

As Joe sagged against him, Adam removed his brother’s hat, gunbelt and coat. He eased Joe onto the small bed, positioning his brother’s head on the flat pillow. Lifting Joe’s legs onto the cot, Adam yanked off Joe’s boots in two quick motions. Hoss tossed the blanket to Adam, who shook out the woolen cloth, then covered Joe from shoulders to feet.

Joe slept through the whole process.

Adam took a step back from the cot. “Once he falls a sleep, nothing wakes him,” commented Adam as he shook his head in amazement.

“He’s pretty tuckered out, Adam,” said Hoss. “That was some ride he made.”

“I know,” Adam agreed softly. He looked at Hoss. “Tell the men to keep it quiet in the morning and make sure no one wakes Joe. We’ll let him sleep as long as he wants.”

“I’ll tell them,” Hoss assured his brother. Then he grinned. “But I’m not sure anything short of an earthquake would wake him anyway.”

“You’re probably right,” replied Adam. He jerked his head to side a bit. Hoss nodded and walked out of the tent.

Adam started to leave the tent also. But he suddenly stopped and looked back to the sleeping figure on the cot. “Thanks,” said Adam in a soft voice.

*****

It wasn’t an earthquake that woke Joe, nor was it the noise of the men moving about the camp in the early morning light. It was the aroma of coffee and the smell of bacon that pulled Joe from his slumber. His mouth was watering and his stomach was rumbling before Joe even opened his eyes. He saw Hoss standing over him, smiling and holding a cup and plate. “Morning, little brother,” said Hoss.

“That for me?” asked Joe hopefully as he sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

“Yep,” answered Hoss with a grin. “I figured you’d be about ready for some breakfast.”

“You figured right,” Joe declared. He swung his legs off the cot and reached for the plate and cup. “I’m starving.”

As Joe began rapidly forking pieces of egg and bacon into his mouth, he looked out the flap of the tent. He could see the bright sunlight of mid-morning. “What time is it?”

“About nine or so,” replied Hoss. “We let you sleep in. You looked all done in last night.”

Joe sipped his coffee. He didn’t want to admit the trip to get the dynamite had been tougher than he thought it would be. His shoulders still ached from the tension he had felt as his horse had slowly picked its way over the trail in the dark. “You blow that landslide yet?” he asked, changing the subject.

“Nope,” said Hoss. “But we should be ready to blast any soon. That’s what I woke you.”

“You waited on me?” asked Joe in surprise.

“Well, it wasn’t just because of you we waited,” Hoss admitted with a smile. “It took us awhile to organize the men, and then Adam had to do his figuring. But when I left, he was getting ready to place the dynamite. I made him promise to wait until I got you before he blew those rocks. I figured you deserved to be there.”

Joe scooped the last bit of breakfast into his mouth and hurriedly drained his coffee cup. “Let’s not keep big brother waiting,” he said as he put the plate and cup on the bed. “Where’s my boots?”

Ten minutes later, Hoss and Joe stopped their horses behind the now unhitched wagon still loaded with logs. They tied their mounts tightly to the back of the wagon and walked a short distance down the road.

Ten men were lounging in various places around the point where the canyon road began to narrow. Some held shovels; one or two had small axes in their hands. All were watching a lone figure dressed in black working near the landslide down the road.

“Adam ready to blow her yet?” asked Hoss as he and Joe joined the men.

“Just about,” answered one of the men.

Taking a few steps forward, Hoss cupped his hands around his mouth. “Hey, Adam,” shouted Hoss down the road. “Joe‘s here. Need any help?”

Adam waved off his brother’s offer of help. He stood next to the landslide, appearing to study the rocks and debris one more time. Then he took a deep breath and reached into his shirt pocket. Adam struck a match on one of the rocks, and lit a fuse. Then he turned and ran up the road.

Hoss, Joe and the other men watched anxiously as Adam ran toward them. They were anxious on two accounts: they wanted Adam to be clear of the landslide before the dynamite blew, and they wanted the dynamite to clear the landslide.

The men felt confident that Adam would have set a long fuse, giving himself time to get clear. They knew how careful and methodical the oldest Cartwright brother was. But none of them knew whether Adam’s plan to blow the landslide would work. A few of the men were betting that the explosion would bring the whole canyon down to block of the road.

“Better take cover, just in case,” puffed Adam as he joined his brothers.

The men scattered, seeking safety behind rocks and along the canyon wall. Adam, Hoss and Joe flattened themselves against a piece of the canyon wall that jutted out a bit. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the landslide down the road.

It seemed like a long time, but in reality, they waited in silence only about a minute. Suddenly, a loud explosion split the air, followed quickly by two more explosions. A large cloud of dust shot into the air, and rocks and tree limbs seemed to fly in every direction. The men ducked their heads as a few small pieces of rock rained down on them.

Then an eerie quiet seemed to fill the canyon. Slowly, heads began to pop up from behind rocks, and the men emerged from their hiding places. Everyone was trying to see through the dust. Adam and his brothers walked a few paces down the road, each of them anxiously peering down the road. At first, it was difficult to see anything clearly through the haze of fine sand and dirt. Then, suddenly, the dust settled.

The remnants of the landslide were still piled against one side of the canyon, a few tree limbs still jutting out from the rocks. But the barrier that had been blocking the rest of the road had disappeared. All that remained of it were the small rocks and pieces of wood scattered along the road.

“Whoo-eee!” cried Hoss in amazement as he stared down the road. “Adam, you done blasted that landslide to kingdom come!”

A small cheer went up among the men standing nearby. Joe clapped his brother enthusiastically on the back. “Good job, Adam,” said Joe with a grin. “I knew all that education of yours would come in handy some day.”

Adam tried to act cool and confident, but he couldn’t hide his elation. His face broke into a wide grin. Adam raised his hand and pointed down the road. “Come on!” he shouted in an excited voice. “Let’s get down there and clear the road. We’ve got some timber wagons to get moving!” Adam started down the road as Joe, Hoss, and the other men fell in behind him. Adam marched down the road like a general, proudly leading his small army.

When the men reached the area once block by the landslide, Adam began shouting orders to his troops. He divided the men into small groups, giving each of them a section of road to clear. The men began working immediately, some shoveling the rocks to the side of the road while others simply reached down and picked up whatever debris they saw.

“Hoss, I want you to check those rocks piled up over there,” ordered Adam, pointing to small bit of the landslide still visible. “Make sure those rocks aren’t going to start sliding down on one of the wagons as it passes.” Hoss nodded and walked in quick strides toward the pile of rocks and tree limbs.

“What about me, Adam?” asked Joe.

“Think you’re up to doing some work?” asked Adam. “I thought you might need another nap.” The words were said lightly, but Adam’s eyes were serious as he searched his brother’s face for the signs of fatigue and tension that were visible last night.

“I’m fine,” Joe replied with a dismissive shrug. Half of Joe’s mouth twitched into a sardonic smile. “Us young folks don’t need as much sleep as you old folks.”

“Well, youngster,” said Adam, satisfied that Joe looked fit, “you can help me get the team hitched to that lumber wagon. I want that wagon rolling as soon as the road is clear.”

Adam and Joe took a few steps up the road but both stopped in the tracks as they heard a rumble. Adam and Joe spun around, their eyes wide and searching for the source of the noise.

The rocks and tree limbs from the remnant of the landslide were tumbling down the side of the canyon. The debris seemed to be burying something right about at the spot where Hoss had been heading.

“Hoss!” cried Joe. He began to run toward the tumbling rocks.

“Joe! Wait!” shouted Adam. He began to run also, and quickly caught up to Joe. Adam grabbed Joe’s arm and pulled him to a stop.

“Let’ me go!” Joe yelled in an almost hysterical voice. He pulled his arm from Adam and took another step.

Adam threw his shoulder into Joe’s back, knocking him to the ground. Adam lay on top of his youngest brother, pinning Joe to the ground with his weight.

“Let me go!” Joe yelled again, struggling under Adam. “Let me go!”

“Joe, wait!” ordered Adam in an urgent voice. “You’re not going to help Hoss by getting buried too.”

Joe stopped struggling but his eyes were fixed on the sliding rocks. Puffs of dust spewed into the air, and the loud crack of rocks hitting each other seemed to fill the air. “Hoss,” said Joe again in a choked voice.

As soon as the last of the rocks tumbled down the canyon, Joe pushed Adam aside and scrambled to his feet. He ran to pile of rocks now sitting on the floor of the canyon, and began to frantically dig, throwing rocks aside. Men ran from everywhere in the canyon toward the debris where Joe was digging.

“Hoss!” Joe cried as his hands tore at the rocks.

“You looking for something, little brother?” called a voice.

Joe spun to his left and froze, his face slack with amazement. Hoss was dusting himself off as he climbed out of a small gully a few feet from the slide. He was bareheaded, and covered in dust, but he seemed in one piece.

“Hoss!” said Adam in relief as he came up next to Joe. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah,” answered Hoss. He worked his right shoulder in a round movement. “Just a little bruised.” He looked sheepishly at his brothers. “I started pulling on one of those tree limbs, and the whole thing started sliding down. So I dove over there to get out of the way.” Hoss looked down and brushed aside a few rocks. He picked up his hat and looked at it in disgust. The tall crown was flattened. “Looks like them rocks mashed my hat.”

“You’re lucky they didn’t mash you,” snorted Joe, but his voice quivered a bit in evident relief.

“Bah, takes mores than a few little rocks to knock me down,” said Hoss as he punched the crown of his hat back to its full height. Hoss plopped the hat on his head and looked around. “We going to do some work or just stand around here all day?”

Adam turned back toward the men who were standing nearby. “All right,” he ordered. “He’s in one piece. Let’s get back to work.” The men started drifting back to the road. “Marty! Steve!” Adam shouted at two of the men. “Why don’t you help Hoss clean up this mess?”

Waling over to Hoss, Joe put his hand on his brother’s arm, reassuring himself that Hoss really wasn’t hurt. Joe swallowed hard. “Be careful this time, you big ox,” ordered Joe in a voice that was meant to be stern but came out strained and concerned. “We’ll never get that timber delivered if we have to keep digging you out.” Hoss simply grinned at Joe.

Adam watched his brothers with a feeling of both relief and concern. Twice in as many days he had feared for one of them because of the timber contract. Both had put themselves at risk, not because Adam had asked them, but simply because they decided it needed to be done. And they had done it not because of the contract but because they knew the meeting the contract was important to Adam. An odd lump formed in Adam’s throat.

After squeezing Hoss’ arm, Joe turned to Adam. “Come on, Adam,” said Joe in a matter-of-fact voice, “let’s get that wagon hitched. We’ve got some lumber to deliver.” Joe started walking up the road as Hoss turned toward the pile of rocks. Both seemed unconcerned, the risks they had faced evidently forgotten already. Adam followed Joe slowly up the road. His brothers may have shrugged aside what happened, but Adam knew he wouldn’t forget.

*****

Adam was working on some papers spread on a table in front of one of the tents when Richard Owens rode into the timber camp two days later.

His attention was so concentrated on his work that Adam didn’t even notice Owens until Owens stood next to the table and spoke.

“Hello, Adam,” said Owens in a pleasant voice.

Quickly, Adam looked up with a startled expression that turned into surprise. “Hello, Mr. Owens.”

“Richard,” amended Owens. Adam acknowledged the name with a brief nod. “May I sit down?” asked Owens politely.

“Of course,” replied Adam. He was sitting on a long bench, and he slid a bit to his right, making room for Owens. “Can I get you a cup of coffee or something?”

“No, thank you,” said Owens as he settled on the bench.

“What brings you up here?” asked Adam curiously.

“I’m leaving for home tomorrow,” explained Owens. “I thought I’d just check on how things were going.” Owens hesitated, then added. “Patrick Kelly came to see me yesterday. He implied you were going to have trouble making delivery on the first load of timber.”

“Kelly,” Adam replied with a shake of his head. “I might have known.” Adam looked at Owens. “We have had a few minor delays,” he admitted, “but nothing serious. We’ll make that first delivery.” Adam pointed to the papers on the table. “In fact, I was just working out a new schedule that is going to speed up the delivery of your timber.”

“Oh?” said Owens with interest. “Tell me more.”

“Right now, we’ve got the whole crew cutting one stand,” explained Adam. “The wagons are standing empty until the crew gets a load of logs ready. Then half the crew has to stop to load the wagons. While they are loading, they aren’t cutting timber. The wagons head off to the mill, and then the crew goes back to cutting. But by the time the wagons get back, there’s not enough lumber ready to load them up. So the wagons stand around empty again.”

“And what do you propose to change?” asked Owens, his interest growing.

“I’m going to split the crew into two smaller crews,” said Adam. “One working on the upper part of the mountain, and the other on the lower part. Initially, the crew on the lower part will pile up logs faster, since they won’t have to haul them as far to the wagons. As soon as they have enough timber ready, they can load up the wagons. Meanwhile, the other crew is continuing to cut and pile up logs. When the wagons get back from delivering the timber from the first crew, the second crew will have a load ready to go. They can load up the wagons again immediately, while the other crew is still cutting. When the wagons get back, they go to the lower part of the mountain where there’s now a load ready. The wagons are loaded and sent off again. This way, we have lumber being delivered to the mill almost continuously. The men cutting the timber, the wagon drivers and the men at the mill all are kept working continuously. No one is standing around waiting on another crew to finish their part.”

“Excellent!” Owens endorsed the idea enthusiastically. He studied the papers Adam had spread on the table. “I see you’re working out not only when the wagons should be at each site, but also a rotation for the drivers as well as the other crews.”

“Exactly,” said Adam. “That way none of the men ends up tired and perhaps makes a mistake.”

“Good, good,” Owens acknowledged, nodding his head. He looked up at Adam. “I’m very pleased.” Owens looked away for a minute, then turned back to Adam. “This project is very important to me, you know,” he added in almost an embarrassed voice.

“I know,” Adam said softly.

“I’ve been dreaming about this voyage for years,” continued Owens. “Almost since the day I allowed my father to persuade me not to go with Darwin.” Owens sighed. “My father was a good man, but he also was a very practical and successful businessman. In his mind, if he couldn’t see the value of a project, well, then it just wasn’t important.”

“And he didn’t see the value in Darwin’s voyage,” said Adam.

“No, he didn’t,” agreed Owens. He looked at Adam. “Don’t get me wrong, Adam. My father was a good man. He would never have forbidden me to go. But he also was a persuasive man, and a man with very strong ideas about how a son should follow in his father’s footsteps. And I have to admit I allowed myself to be persuaded. Darwin’s voyage sounded exciting, but it also was a bit frightening. I wasn’t convinced I wanted to go, and so I allowed my father to make the decision for me.”

“And now you’re convinced you want to go?” asked Adam.

“Absolutely,” replied Owens in a firm voice. “I’ve regretted my indecision for years.”

Now it was Adam’s turn to look off into the distance for a minute. He seemed to be trying to make up his mind about something. “Richard,” said Adam turning back to Owens, “do you think you could use an assistant on your trip. You know, someone to help take notes, organize your schedule, that sort of thing?”

“You mean you’d like to go?” asked Owens in surprise.

Adam nodded. “I very much want to go.”

Owens studied Adam. “Well, my wife is planning to act as my assistant,” Owens said slowly.

Adam’s face fell as a keen sense of disappointment stabbed through him.

Owens continued to study Adam, and he glanced down at the papers on the table. Owens thought about the intelligence and interest he saw in the man sitting next to him. “But my wife is not too enthusiastic about trekking through some of the places we plan to visit,” continued Owens. “She’d much rather stay aboard the ship or in port. I had planned to visit some remote areas of our stops on my own. I wouldn’t mind having an associate visiting those places with me.”

Adam’s face lit up. “I wouldn’t mind visiting those place with you,” he said with a grin.

“Some of those place are very remote, Adam,” warned Owens. “They don’t offer much comforts and they could be dangerous.”

“I’m used to sleeping on the ground in the middle of winter, Richard,” answered Adam with a smile. “I’ve herded cattle in the middle of pouring rain. I’ve eaten more cold beans and soggy biscuits than I care to think about. I don’t think you could come up with anything that’s more uncomfortable than some of the things I’ve done.”

“And the danger?” asked Owens, arching an eyebrow.

Adam shrugged. “Living out here in the West is dangerous. I don’t have to tell you that. Every day is a struggle just to survive.” Adam suddenly grinned. “Besides, I think I’d be bored if there wasn’t a little danger involved.”

Owens smiled. But his face turned serious. “And what about your family?” he asked, offering one last objection. “Won’t they mind your leaving? It’s going to be a long voyage.”

For a moment, Adam didn’t answer. “I’ll miss my family,” he admitted. “And I hope they’ll miss me. But I’ve already talked to my father about the idea, and he’s supportive. He told me he wouldn’t stand in the way of my doing something I really wanted to do. I’m sure my brothers will feel the same way.”

“You’re a very lucky man, Adam Cartwright,” said Owens softly. “Not everyone has a father who is willing to let his son follow a dream.”

“I know,” answered Adam.

Owens cleared his throat. “Well,” he said abruptly, “before we can set sail, we’d better get the ship built. I’d better get out of your way so you can finish the job.” Owens reached into an inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a card. “Here’s my address,” he said, handing the card to Adam. “Write me and keep me appraised of your progress. And send me any ideas you might have about the voyage. I’d be interested in your thoughts.”

“Then you’re willing to let me sign on?” Adam asked hopefully.

Owens cocked his head. “It’s going to be three years before I leave, Adam,” he replied. “That’s plenty of time for us to get to know each other better and for you to be sure this is want you want to do. But, if you feel the same way in three years, I think I’d be happy to have you come along.” Owens stood and offered Adam his hand.

Adam shook Owens hand, then watched as Owens walked over to his horse and mounted. As Owens rode away, Adam studied the card in his hand. Then he tucked the card safely into his shirt pocket and turned back to the papers on the table.

*****

Jimmy Kelly strolled into his father’s office with some papers in his hand. “Hey, Pa,” he started, “I’ve got those shipping schedules….” Jimmy stopped as he saw the anger on Patrick Kelly’s face. “What’s wrong?” asked Jimmy cautiously.

“What’s wrong?” thundered Kelly. “I’ll tell you what’s wrong. Owens was just in here. He told me the Cartwrights are ahead of schedule. Their first milled timber is already being delivered to the railhead. He told me in his ‘oh so polite’ voice that he would not be needing our services.”

“I told you that I should have taken care of starting that landslide,” said Jimmy in a smug voice. “I would have fixed it so they never would have gotten it cleared.”

“It wouldn’t have made any difference who set that landslide off,” replied Kelly in a biting voice. He slammed the palm of his hand on his desk. “Damn it! Who would have thought the Cartwrights would have any dynamite in camp? And who would have thought they could figure out a way to blow that landslide without bringing down the canyon walls?”

“Well, you said those Cartwright boys were tough and smart,” said Jimmy, unable to resist a dig at his father. “I guess they’re just proving you right.”

Kelly glowered at his son. “Don’t get smart with me, boy,” he growled.

The smirk that had been growing on Jimmy’s face instantly disappeared. “What are you going to do now, Pa?” he asked in a solemn voice.

“I don’t know,” admitted Kelly. He looked off to a side, a pensive expression on his face. “I just don’t know.”

Jimmy bit his lip. “Pa,” he said in a hesitant voice. “I’ve got a few ideas. Maybe if I rode up there, I could cause some trouble.”

“I don’t want to hear your ideas,” snapped Kelly. He looked off again. “I just got to think. I’ve got to come up with some way of stopping those Cartwrights from filling that contract.”

“Maybe we ought just forget it,” suggested Jimmy tentatively. “We’re stretched pretty thin ourselves. I was looking at these shipping schedules. We’re going to have a hard time meeting our own contracts.”

“We’ll meet them, don’t you worry,” growled Kelly. “And I’m not going to forget about those Cartwrights. I owe them for all the grief they’ve caused me.” Kelly’s eye narrowed as he looked at his son. “You ought to feel the same way about the Cartwrights. You’ve got as much reason to hate them as I do. After all, any grief they cause me, they cause you.”

“Oh, I feel the same way, Pa,” Jimmy quickly assured his father. “If you want to cause the Cartwrights some trouble, I’m with you all the way.”

“Good,” said Kelly in a satisfied voice. He ran his hands through his thick hair. “I just wish I could think of something.” Kelly shook his head. “I give half my operation to anyone who could stop those Cartwrights for me.”

Jimmy didn’t answer, but his eyes stared hard at his father. Kelly didn’t notice his son’s expression. “I’ve got some things to do,” said Jimmy. He turned to walk out of the office, expecting some kind of response from his father. When he heard only silence, Jimmy stopped at the doorway and looked back. Patrick Kelly was staring off into space, his expression thoughtful. Jimmy shook his head. His father was ignoring him – as usual. Jimmy’s face took on a determined expression as he walked out of the office.

*****

Over the next few days, some odd things happened at the timber camp.

None of the incidents were major enough to cause concern – an ax disappeared, one of the water barrels had to be emptied and refilled because it had salt in it, a piece of harness was broken – but they did cause some small delays. And with each delay, Adam seemed to grow more irritable and testy.

The last straw seemed to be the missing dynamite.

Hoss and Joe were sitting on a log near the fire when Adam walked up to them. One glance at Adam’s face told his brothers that he was not in a pleasant mood. “Did one of you take some dynamite from the supply tent?” asked Adam without preamble.

After giving Joe a quick look for confirmation, Hoss shook his head. “Nope,” he said,  reaching for his coffee cup. “Why?”

“Because two sticks of dynamite are missing,” answered Adam in an aggravated tone.

“Are you sure?” asked Joe in an unconcerned voice as he continued to eat.

“Yes, I’m sure,” replied Adam, his exasperation growing. “There were seventeen sticks in that saddlebag yesterday. When I went into the supply tent, I noticed the saddlebag was opened. I counted the dynamite. There’s only fifteen sticks in there now.”

“Maybe you miscounted,” suggested Hoss.

“I can count!” exploded Adam.

“Well, I didn’t take them,’ said Joe with a shrug. He looked at Hoss. “How about you, Hoss? Did you take them?”

“Nope,” replied Hoss as he forked some dinner into his mouth.

Adam stared at his brothers. “Don’t you care that we’re missing two sticks of dynamite?” he asked incredulously.

“I care,” answered Joe, sipping his coffee, “but I don’t see that it’s any big deal. We’ll ask around the camp after we eat. Maybe one of the men took them for some reason.”

“For what reason?” demanded Adam.

“I don’t know, Adam,” said Joe in an irritated voice. “We’ll ask whoever took it.”

“Adam, ease up,” suggested Hoss. “We’ll find the dynamite. It’s around here someplace. You’re getting yourself all worked up over nothing.”

“Nothing!” said Adam angrily. “We’ve got two weeks to finish cutting that timber and get the logs delivered to the mill. We can’t afford any delays.”

“We’re ahead of schedule,” countered Joe, his growing anger apparent in his voice. “Hoss and I have been working ten, twelve hours a day keeping the crews busy. We’re going to meet your deadline, Adam.”

Adam looked at his brothers, his anger unabated. “We’d better,” he grumbled. He turned and walked away.

“Whew!” said Joe, taking a sip of his coffee. “Older brother sure is getting hard to live with. I’ll be glad when we get this project done.”

“Yeah, well, he’s got a lot on his mind,” Hoss stated. He looked thoughtful. “What do you think happened to that dynamite?”

Joe shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said in an unconcerned voice. “Somebody probably took it by mistake or something. It’ll turn up.”

*****

Joe wiped the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand as he walked down the path toward the lumber camp the next morning. The day was warm, even though it was only mid-morning. Joe hadn’t bothered with a jacket when he left camp, and now his shirt sleeves were rolled up above his elbows. He could feel a small trickle of sweat running down his neck and back.

As Joe entered the camp, he saw Adam sitting at a table in front of the tents, and Hoss sitting on a log nearby. Adam was shuffling some papers. Hoss was sharpening the blade of an ax.

“Hi, brothers,” Joe said pleasantly as he walked into camp. He stopped at a barrel near one of the tents and pulled off its wooden cover. Joe reached into the barrel and pulled out a dipper of water. He took a long drink from the dipper, then trickled the water over his bare head.

“Sam said you wanted to see me, Adam,” Joe continued as he replaced the dipper and the barrel cover. “What’s up?”

Adam looked up from the papers in front of him. “How many logs have you got stacked at the loading point?”

“Oh, about 15 or 16,” answered Joe easily. “Why?”

“Fifteen or sixteen?” said Adam with a frown. “Don’t you know exactly how many logs are at the loading point?”

Joe glanced at Hoss. Hoss continued to work on his ax, his concentration apparently centered on the tool and the whetstone in his hand. Joe turned back to Adam. “I haven’t counted them today, if that’s what you’re asking,” answered Joe with a shrug. “I’ve been too busy.”

“Joe, you know the wagons are going to be there around noon to pick up their loads,” said Adam in a grim voice. “And they’re expecting a full load of twenty logs to be there when they arrive.”

“They’ll be there,” Joe promised.

“How can you be sure?” asked Adam, his voiced tinged with anger. “You don’t even know how many logs are there now.”

Joe felt his own anger rising, but he tried to keep it in check. “Look, Adam, I don’t need to count the logs,” said Joe, trying to keep an even voice. “I know we’ve got 15 or 16 there now. My crew is trimming three logs right now, and three more trees will be down within an hour. It will only take us a little while to trim those. We’ll have six more logs at the loading point in about two hours. That’ll be more than enough to fill the wagons.”

“I’d still feel better if you counted the logs that were already there,” insisted Adam. “What if you’re wrong? What if there’s only a dozen logs there? Those wagons won’t have a full load and that will throw off the schedule.”

“I don’t need to count the logs,” argued Joe, his anger now evident in his voice. “My crew hasn’t sent those wagons off without a full load yet, and they aren’t going to do it now.”

“Just do me a favor, and go down to the loading point and count the logs,” Adam said in a harsh voice.

Joe looked over at Hoss, seeking his brother’s support. But Hoss continued to work on his ax, seeming to ignore both his brothers. Joe turned back to Adam. “Fine,” he agreed in a clipped voice. “I’ll go down and count your damn logs.” Joe turned on his heel and stalked angrily away from the camp.

For a minute, the only sound in the camp was the scrape of the whetstone against an ax. Adam watched Joe head down the mountain toward the loading area. Hoss continued to work on his ax.

“You know Joe’ll have a full load ready for them wagons when they get there,” Hoss commented without looking up. “He always does.”

Adam turned to Hoss and frowned. “What do you mean by that?” he asked angrily.

Hoss looked up. “I’m just saying you got to trust Joe,” answered Hoss in a reasonable voice. “He’s got his own way of doing things, but he gets them done.”

“Don’t you think it’s a good idea to check on how many logs are down there?” asked Adam in a sharp voice.

Hoss shrugged. “That’s your way of doing things,” he replied. “You do things one way, and Joe does them another. Ain’t one necessarily better than the other. They’re just different. It don’t really make any difference how the job gets done as long as it gets done. And, Adam, we’re getting the job done, even if you don’t seem to realize it.”

Adam stared at Hoss for a minute, then looked down at the papers on the table, not really seeing them. He could feel a flush rising up his neck. He knew he had been acting unreasonable lately. Hoss and Joe had done more than their fair share of work, and they made sure their crews were working hard. Despite some delays, they had made sure every wagon was fully loaded when it left for the mill.

“You’re right,” admitted Adam in a low voice. “I shouldn’t have talked to Joe like that. He knows what he’s doing.”

“Might be nice if you told him that,” suggested Hoss.

“I will,” said Adam, with a nod. “I’ll apologize to him when he gets back.” Adam looked over at Hoss. “How come you didn’t say anything when Joe was here?’ he asked curiously.

Turning back to his ax, Hoss began to sharpen it again. “Because Joe weren’t necessarily right either,” Hoss answered as he scraped the whetstone against the blade. “He could have miscounted them logs.”

Adam laughed. “You know, you’re a philosopher, Hoss.”

Hoss looked up at Adam and grinned. “Nope,” he said. “I’m just the only one in this family with some sense.”

*****

Joe’s anger cooled a bit with each step he took toward the loading area. He knew Adam’s orders made sense; it wouldn’t hurt to be sure he had the count right on the logs. It was just that Joe hated it when Adam gave him orders in what Joe considered a high and mighty tone, like Adam knew everything and Joe knew nothing. Nothing raised his hackles faster than being treated like some ignorant kid.

Taking a deep breath, Joe slowed his step. He knew Adam was working hard, trying to keep two crews plus the wagon drivers and the mill workers on schedule. And Joe knew that Adam had a strong, almost passionate commitment to meeting the contract deadline. Joe told himself that he needed to cut his brother a little slack.

After walking slowly out of the shadow of the woods, Joe started down the slope toward the small, flat clearing where the wagons were loaded. The woods formed a half-circle around the clearing. Joe could see the tall tripod with the ropes and pulley that they used to load the logs onto the wagons. He also could see the stack of logs. However, Joe saw something that he hadn’t expected to see – someone bending down near the logs.

Joe frowned as he approached the logs, trying to figure out why someone would be around the pile of lumber hours before the wagons were due. His frown deepened as he recognized the figure by the logs.

“Kelly!” shouted Joe as he neared the logs. “What are you doing?”

Jimmy Kelly looked up, startled at the shout. He seemed to drop something, then turned and sprinted toward the woods to his right.

Instinctively, Joe reached for the gun on his hip, but his hand felt nothing. Joe had given up wearing his gunbelt around the timber camp. There didn’t seem to be any need, and the gun just got in his way. Joe slapped his thigh angrily, and then took off running after Jimmy.

Jimmy had a head start on Joe, and even though Joe was a faster runner, he reached the woods while Joe was still several yards behind him.

Joe slowed his pace and then stopped as he saw Jimmy disappear into the thick woods. He knew he would have a hard time finding Jimmy among the dense trees and brush, and those same trees and brush offered a man intending an ambush some good cover. Joe stared at the woods for a minute in frustration, then turned away. He decided he had better see what Jimmy was doing around that pile of timber.

Watching from behind a tree at the edge of the woods, Jimmy saw Joe stop, then turn toward back toward the stacked logs. He was sure Joe hadn’t seen him planting the dynamite or lighting the fuse.

Jimmy started to call out a warning to Joe, then stopped himself. Images flashed through Jimmy’s brain, pictures of Joe with Lucinda outside the store, and Joe standing over him after beating him down on the ridge. And Jimmy saw other images: Ben Cartwright standing with his arm wrapped affectionately around his youngest son’s shoulders, Ben looking at Joe with pride and affection, Ben listening carefully to Joe as his son talked to  him. And Jimmy felt a hate for Joe Cartwright.

The hell with Joe Cartwright, thought Jimmy as he turned and ran deeper into the woods. He had hoped blowing up the logs would delay the Cartwrights delivering their lumber. It might even start a fire. His father would like that. But now, Jimmy thought, he might get an added bonus.

He might get even with the Cartwrights for all the grief they had caused his father – and him.

*****

Joe heard the explosion before he felt it.

Joe has walking back toward the pile of logs when a loud thunder of a detonation filled the air. He instinctively ducked his head and covered his face with his arms. Almost instantly, he felt a powerful force knocking him on his back, and the pain of what seemed like a thousand red-hot needles digging into his flesh.

Stunned, Joe laid on the ground unable to move, the pain so bad he could barely breathe. He heard the faint sound of shouts in the distance. Joe gasped for air, trying to get enough breath to shout for help, but his attempt to fill his lungs only increased the agonizing pain. Joe felt as if his chest were on fire. His arm was burning with pain. Waves of agonizing pain seemed to engulf Joe. And, then, mercifully, he felt nothing.

*****

The sun was just past its highest point in the sky when Ben Cartwright guided his buckskin horse to the yard in front of the Ponderosa ranch house, happy to be home. He was tired from the trip from Carson City, but he was even more tired of the meetings and wrangling with politicians he had put up with for the past few weeks. He knew the work on the mine safety bill was important and he was pleased with the result. He just wished there had been an easier way to get it done.

As Ben walked from the barn after stabling his horse, he felt a twinge of sadness at the silence that greeted his homecoming. He told himself he was being silly. The boys were still at the lumber camp and the rest of the men were busy with their chores. He didn’t need a brass band to greet him when he got home. But still, Ben felt a bit of sadness as he walked silently toward the house.

“Hop Sing!” Ben shouted as he walked in the front door. He slipped his saddle bags off his shoulder and onto the bureau near the door. “Hop Sing, I ’m home!” shouted Ben again. He was glad at least one member of the family was going to be there to greet him. Ben hung his hat and coat on the rack by the door.

Emerging from around the corner, Hop Sing walked quickly into the front room. “Mr. Cartwright!” he exclaimed, his distinctive sing-song English tinged with surprise. “You home early!”

“Yes,” agreed Ben, as he unbuckled his gunbelt from around his waist. “I couldn’t stand palavering with those politicians any longer.” Ben grinned at the cook as he rolled his gunbelt and dropped it on the bureau. “But mostly, I couldn’t stand missing any more of your meals.”

“Ah,” said Hop Sing, with a grin. “Hop Sing fix you big dinner. Chicken, dumplings, all things you like. You have fine meal.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Ben acknowledged with a smile. He looked at the cook. “Have you heard anything from the boys?”

“Sons still at timber camp,” replied Hop Sing with a slightly puzzled expression. “Hop Sing not hear anything. Hop Sing busy cleaning house.”

Ben looked around the house. He knew Hop Sing had wanted to take advantage of the fact that everyone was gone for a few weeks to give the house a thorough cleaning. Ben could see the house was spotless — the wood gleamed with polish, the floors shone from scrubbing, and every piece of furniture was neatly in place. “The house looks perfect,” commented Ben.

Hop Sing nodded, trying in vain to hide his pride at the house’s appearance. “Hop Sing work very hard,” he said.

“And it shows,” replied Ben. He smiled at the cook. “Unfortunately, I have a feeling that all your hard work is going to disappear as soon as the boys get home. They seem to be magnets for dirt.”

Hop Sing gave Ben a stern look. “Sons work hard, get dirty. Clean sons no good.” The cook nodded with satisfaction at his pronouncement. “Hop Sing go start dinner,” he added as he turned and silently padded from the room.

For a moment, Ben stood by the door, listening. The house was silent; the only noise he could hear was the faint tick of the grandfather clock near the door. He frowned, feeling the silence was ominous for some reason. Then Ben shook himself. Stop acting like some old woman, he told himself. He walked with long strides to his desk, and sat down in the familiar chair behind it. The creak of the chair seemed unnaturally loud to Ben. He stopped and listened again. Then, with a shake of his head, Ben picked up the stack of mail piled neatly on his desk and began sorting through it.

*****

It was late afternoon when Hoss guided the wagon slowly into the yard in front of the ranch house “Hop Sing!” he boomed in a loud voice when he was still yards from the door. “Hop Sing! Get out here quick!”

Hoss pulled the wagon to a stop as close to the front of the house as he could manage. He looked up when he heard the front door open, and his eyes opened in surprise when Ben walked out of the house.

“Pa!” Hoss exclaimed. “When did you get home?”

“Just a little while ago,” replied Ben with a smile. A small frown creased Ben’s brow. “What are you doing here?” he asked. He looked past Hoss and into the wagon. He could see a figure sitting in the back. The figure had turned at the sound of Ben’s voice and Ben recognized Adam immediately. Ben looked up at Hoss expectantly.

“Pa, I’m glad you’re here,” said Hoss in a grim voice. “Joe’s been hurt. He’s been hurt real bad.”

Ben’s heart seemed to leap into his throat as he ran around to the back of the wagon. He swallowed hard as he looked into the wooden bed of the vehicle.

Stretched out in the wagon, Joe was lying on a blanket which seemed to cover a mattress of straw. Joe’s left arm — splinted and bandaged from elbow to fingers — was resting on a folded blanket at his side. Ben could see some small cuts and burns on Joe’s shoulders and forehead, and a thick bandage was visible over the top of the blanket which covered Joe from his chest to his feet. The bandage seemed to be wrapped around Joe’s chest all the way up to his armpits.

Almost in shock, Ben looked up from his youngest son to his oldest son who was curled in the corner of the wagon next to Joe. “What happened?” Ben asked Adam in a choked voice.

“Somebody blew up a stack of lumber we were getting ready to ship,” Adam explained grimly. “Joe got caught in the explosion.”

Climbing into the wagon, Ben knelt next to Joe. He stared at his son’s closed eyes, and watched the faint rise and fall of Joe’s chest. Joe’s skin looked pale, dotted with faint beads of sweat. “How bad is he?” asked Ben, his eyes never leaving Joe’s face.

“He’s got cuts and burns all over,” replied Adam. “His arm’s broken and he got a chest full of splinters. But the doc said he was lucky. He was about ten yards from those logs when the explosion went off. If he had been closer…” Adam didn’t need to finish his sentence.

Reaching down, Ben stroked the top of Joe’s head. “Joe,” he said softly. “Joe, can you hear me?”

Joe lay still, giving no indication he heard his father’s voice or felt his father’s touch.

Ben shook Joe’s head a bit. “Joe,” he said in a louder voice. “Can you hear me, son? Open your eyes, Joe. Look at me.”

For a moment, there was still no reaction. Then Joe turned his head a bit. His eyes fluttered as if he were trying hard to open them. Joe turned his head a bit more. His eyes opened slowly.

Joe stared at Ben, his hazel eyes looking glassy and unfocused. He blinked his eyes twice, seeming to be struggling for consciousness. Then, as if the struggle were too much for him, Joe slowly closed his eyes.

“The doc’s got him pumped full of medicine to kill the pain,” Hoss told his father. He had twisted around in the driver’s seat to face the back of the wagon. “He wanted to make the rough trip from the timber camp as easy as possible on Joe.” Hoss winced as he thought how the wagon bounced down the trail, despite his efforts to drive slowly and carefully. “Doc Martin didn’t want him up at the timber camp,” continued Hoss. “He said he wanted Joe where he could keep a close eye on him. He’s worried about all those splinters. The doc’s afraid he missed some.”

Ben looked up at Hoss, his face reflecting his fear and worry. “When is the doctor going to see Joe again?” he asked anxiously.

“He’ll be back tonight,” Adam answered in a soothing voice. “He told us just to keep an eye on Joe’s fever and send for him if it seemed to go up.” Adam reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a small glass vial. “He gave us some laudanum pills, too.” Adam looked down at Joe. “Doc said Joe was going to need them when the sedative wore off,” he finished in a quiet voice.

Unwilling to trust his voice, Ben merely nodded his understanding of what Adam had said. He stroked Joe’s head, then softly ran his fingers down Joe’s cheek. Ben took a deep breath. “Who did it, Adam?” he asked in an angry voice.

“We don’t know,” Adam admitted. “Joe was unconscious for a long time, and when he did come to, well, he was hurting bad, Pa.” Adam looked off, trying to erase the image that sprung to his mind. He could see Joe on a cot, moaning and writhing in pain. He hadn’t seemed to understand Adam’s questions about what had happened. Joe had been unconscious for over two hours, and then had to endure almost another hour of mind-numbing pain before the doctor finally arrived and dosed him with laudanum. Adam shook his head briefly. He didn’t need to share that with his father. “I don’t know if Joe knows who set that charge. Whoever did it probably didn’t stick around.”

“We figure Kelly had something to do with it,” added Hoss grimly.

Ben looked at Hoss. “Kelly? Has he been giving you trouble?”

Hoss looked uncomfortable. “Well, we don’t know for sure, Pa,” he answered. “But we had some strange things happen, and you heard what he said when Mr. Owens gave us the contract.”

“I haven’t helped things much, Pa.,” Adam told his father in a troubled voice. “I pushed Joe and Hoss hard, maybe too hard.” Adam looked away. “There was a landslide on the canyon trail, and Joe practically rode himself into the ground to get some dynamite to blow it. And when we did blow it, Hoss almost got buried in the debris.” Adam shook his head. “Hoss and Joe did more than their share, and all I did was yell at them and criticize them.”

“Ah, Adam, you’re being too hard on yourself,” said Hoss. “You wasn’t that bad. Besides, you had to push us to meet that deadline.”

Adam looked up at Hoss. “The deadline,” he stated bitterly. “If I hadn’t been so worried about that stupid deadline, I would have never argued with Joe. I would have never sent him down to check on those logs.”

“I’m sure you did what you thought was best, son,” said Ben in a distracted voice. Even as he said the words, Ben knew they sounded glib and offered little comfort. He struggled to find some other words but his attention kept straying to Joe. Ben knew he had two sons who were feeling pain, and Adam’s anguish was just as real as Joe’s. But Ben couldn’t deal with both of his sons’ distress at the same time and Ben’s immediate focus was on his youngest son. Joe needed him the most right now.

“We’ll talk about it later,” Ben advised Adam as he glanced up. He looked back to Joe. “Right now, the important thing is to get Joe inside and take care of him.”

It took several minutes for Adam and Ben to maneuver Joe out of the wagon and into Hoss’ waiting arms. They moved Joe slowly and carefully, afraid of causing him more pain. As soon as Joe was placed in Hoss’ outstretched arms, Adam jumped out of the wagon. He put his arms under Joe’s back and legs, helping Hoss to hold his brother. Ben climbed out of the wagon quickly also, and rushed to support Joe’s head and shoulders.

The trio moved across the yard to the house slowly, fearing that quick movement would jolt the injured man in their arms. Adam kept glancing at his youngest brother. Joe had let out with a few soft grunts as he was moved from the wagon, but otherwise, he seemed blissfully oblivious to what was going on.

Ben had left the front door ajar when he left the house, and now Hoss kicked the door open with his foot. Ben began yelling for Hop Sing as the men crossed the threshold and entered the house.

The Cartwrights were half-way across the living room when Hop Sing padded angrily from the kitchen, complaining loudly in Chinese. His complaints stopped abruptly and his eyes widened as he saw the youngest member of the family being carried to the stairs.

“Hop Sing, get some cold water and alcohol,” Ben ordered tersely over his shoulders as he and his older sons started up the stairs with their precious burden.

Giving a quick nod, Hop Sing spun around and rushed back to the kitchen.

It took several minutes before Joe was settled carefully on his bed. Ben winced a bit as he quickly examined the cuts and burns as well as the thick bandages that covered his son. He pulled the sheet and blankets over Joe as lightly as he could.

Adam and Hoss tried to ease their anxiety with activity. Hoss rushed out of the bedroom and returned a few minutes later with a pillow. He gave the pillow to Ben to place under Joe’s bandaged arm. Adam took the glass vial the doctor had given him out of his pocket and placed it on the table next to Joe’s bed. He filled a glass with water from a small pitcher on the table, and put the glass near the vial. Doing something that seemed helpful  for even a few minutes made both of them feel marginally better.

While Adam stood a few away watching anxiously, Ben sat on the edge of Joe’s bed. Hoss moved to the end of the bed, and concentrated on his little brother, as if he could help Joe by pure will power.

Slowly Ben stroked Joe’s forehead and felt his cheek. “He’s feverish,” Ben noted in a worried voice.

“The doctor said he’d have a fever for a day or so,” replied Adam. “He took quite a battering. The doctor’s biggest concern is infection. He worked on Joe for a long time but he’s still not sure he got all the splinters out.” Adam looked down. “There were a lot of them, Pa, a whole lot,” he finished softly.

Moving quietly, Hop Sing came into the room, his arms filled a bowl containing water. A cloth was draped over his arm, and a clear bottle peaked out of the pocket of his shirt. Hop Sing set the bowl on the table, dipped the cloth into the water, and, after wringing it out, handed the cloth to Ben. He slipped the bottle out of his pocket and put it on the table.

Taking a step back from the bed, Hop Sing watched as Ben began wiping Joe’s face with the cloth. “Little Joe be all right,” said Hop Sing.

Adam wasn’t sure if Hop Sing was asking a question or making a statement, but he decided it didn’t matter. “We hope so,” answered Adam fervently.

Hop Sing glanced at the faces of the other men in the room, his own face reflecting their anxiety. “Hop Sing make broth,” he said softly. The other three men didn’t seem to notice as the cook left the bedroom.

The cool water bathing his face roused Joe. He slowly moved his head on the pillow and his eyes began to open. But the glazed look he gave Ben told his father and brothers that he was still feeling the affects of the medicine.

“Easy, Joe,” said Ben in a soothing voice as he laid a comforting hand lightly on Joe’s shoulder. “Everything is going to be all right.” Joe looked at Ben for a long time, as if he were trying to figure out who was talking to him.

“Water,” mumbled Joe in a thick voice. “Thirsty.”

Immediately, Ben reached for the glass on the table. He raised Joe’s head slightly with his hand, and put the glass to Joe’s lips. Joe drank slowly, sipping the water, but he drank until the glass was almost empty.

As Ben eased his head back on the pillow, Joe’s eyes seemed to search the room. “Adam?” he asked as his eyes moved around the room. Joe blinked his eyes, as if the images he saw didn’t quite register in his drugged brain. “Adam?” he said again.

Getting up, Ben stepped back from the bed as Adam approached. Adam replaced his father sitting on Joe’s bed. “I’m right here, Joe,” Adam told his brother.

Turning his head toward the voice, Joe stared at Adam. He blinked again. “Adam,” said Joe softly, “I’m sorry.” Joe closed his eyes for a moment as if he was gathering strength. He opened his eyes again. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, his voice sounding slurred.

“There’s nothing for you to be sorry for,” replied Adam, as he softly touched his brother’s head.

Joe didn’t seem to hear Adam. “My fault,” he said in a rambling voice. “My fault. I messed up. Won’t make…make the contract. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about the contract,” advised Adam, wincing at Joe’s words.

“I tried…I tried to stop him,” continued Joe. His speech was thick and slurred. “Shouldn’t have…chased… him.” Joe’s head turned a bit and his eyes began to close. “Should have…known. Knew he’d…cause…trouble.”

“Who, Joe?” said Adam sharply. He realized suddenly that Joe know who set the dynamite. He grabbed Joe’s chin and gently turned Joe’s face to him. “Who did it, Joe? Tell me. Who did it?”

For a moment, Joe stared at Adam; then his eyes began to blink. He seemed as if he were trying to make sense of Adam’s question.

“Joe, who blew up those logs?” asked Adam insistently.

Joe blinked again. “Jimmy…Kelly,” answered Joe in a barely audible tone. Joe’s eyes closed once more, and when Adam released his chin, his head fell to the side. Joe’s body relaxed as the medicine once more took hold of him.

“Jimmy Kelly,” declared Adam in an angry voice. “I should have known that little weasel was involved.”

“Jimmy Kelly,” repeated Hoss from the end of the bed. He stared at Joe, then turned to leave the room.

“Hoss, where are you going?” demanded Ben. He rushed across the room and grabbed Hoss’ arm.

“I’m going hunting,” said Hoss in an ominous voice. “Going to get me a weasel.”

“I’m going with you,” called Adam as he jumped up from the bed.

“No!” Ben commanded loudly. He glanced over his shoulder to the bed. Joe laid still, eyes closed and breathing evenly. “No,” repeated Ben in a low but urgent voice. He looked at Adam and Hoss. “You’re not going anywhere.”

“Pa, you heard Joe,” said Adam. “Jimmy Kelly blew up those logs and almost killed him.”

“I heard Joe,” Ben agreed in a grim voice. “And I’m going to tell Roy Coffee. We’ll let the law handle this.”

“The law?” snorted Adam. “You know the Kelly’s. They’ll bribe, argue and lie their way out of this. We’ll be lucky if Jimmy Kelly gets a slap on the wrist.”

“Adam, I know how you feel,” replied Ben. He glanced to the bed again. “Believe me, I feel the same way,” he added in an understanding tone. Then Ben lifted his head. “But you two going after Jimmy Kelly isn’t going to help Joe.”

“It might not help Joe, but it sure will help me,” Hoss declared in a grim voice.

“Listen to me, both of you,” said Ben in an insistent voice. “If you go after Jimmy Kelly, you’ll be taking the law into your own hands. You know that’s wrong, dead wrong.” Ben looked at his sons. He could see they weren’t convinced. Ben took a deep breath. “Besides, you have something more important to do.”

“More important?” repeated Adam in a puzzled voice.

“Yes,” said Ben firmly. “You’ve got to go back up to the timber camp and make sure we meet that contract deadline.”

“The deadline!” Adam almost spat out the words. “Who cares about the deadline?”

“I’ll tell you who cares,” answered Ben. “Joe does.”

Seeing the surprised look on Adam’s and Hoss’ faces, Ben continued quickly. “Didn’t you tell me Joe rode hard to get that dynamite? And didn’t you say he did more than his share? Even now, he’s barely conscious and he’s worried about the contract. I’d say Joe cares a lot about meeting that deadline.”

Adam and Hoss looked at each other, the doubt clearly on their faces. “But, Pa,” Hoss protested, “it don’t seem right just to go back up to the camp.”

“I agree with Hoss,” said Adam. “That contract isn’t important now.”

“It is important, Adam,” insisted Ben. “It’s important to Richard Owens and it’s important to Joe. And it’s important to you.”

Frowning, Adam looked down, the confusion apparent on his face.

Pressing his lips firmly together, Hoss wrinkled his brow in thought. “Pa’s right,” he said after a minute. “Joe and I both know meeting that deadline means a lot to you, Adam. And Joe told me that he was going to make sure you met it.” Hoss looked at the sleeping figure on the bed. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “We’ve got to do it for Joe’s sake. If we don’t meet that deadline, we’d be letting Joe down.”

Adam looked at Ben and Hoss, and then at Joe. He was torn between his need to get revenge for his brother and his desire to make sure Richard Owens’ ship was completed on time. The thought crossed his mind that, while both were important to him, one of those feelings was wrong.

“All right,” Adam agreed in a reluctant voice. “We’ll let the law handle Jimmy Kelly. We’ll handle meeting the deadline.”

Ben let out a sigh of relief. “Good,” he said. He looked at Adam and Hoss. “Thank you,” he added softly.

Walking back to the bed, Ben sat down on the edge again. He grabbed the cloth he had dropped on the floor, and dipped it into the bowl of water. Once more, Ben began gently wiping Joe’s face. “When’s the doctor going to get here?” he asked, not looking at Adam and Hoss.

“He should be here soon,” answered Hoss. “He said he’d be here around sundown.”

“You two stay here tonight,” Ben advised. “Adam can head up to the lumber camp in the morning while Hoss stays with Joe.”

“What are you going to be doing in the morning?” asked Adam.

Ben didn’t answer immediately. He dipped the cloth in the bowl of water then gently dabbed some of the cuts on Joe’s face. “Tomorrow,” said Ben in a grim voice as he worked, “I’m going to town to make sure Jimmy Kelly gets what he deserves.”

*****

Ben rode quickly toward Virginia City in the morning light, anxious to be done with his task and headed home. His thoughts kept returning to Joe, and his face creased with worry.

The doctor had come had sunset as promised, and returned again this morning. Doctor Martin had assured Ben that Joe was doing as well as could be expected, words that offered cold comfort to a father.

Ben had been appalled when the doctor had removed the bandages from Joe to check his injuries. What seemed like hundreds of tiny cuts crisscrossed Joe’s chest and stomach. Small burns, looking red and angry, were dotted across Joe’s body, contrasting sharply with what looked like an equal number of dark bruises. There didn’t seem to be a single area of skin from Joe’s collar bone to his waist that had escaped unscathed.

Doctor Martin had seen how upset Ben was when Joe’s bandages were removed. “It looks worse than it really is,” he had assured Ben. “None of those splinters went deep enough to cause any real damage. The burns and bruising are minor. His injuries are more painful than anything else.”

Ben had nodded, but he hadn’t been convinced.

“He’ll heal, Ben,” the doctor had insisted. “Probably won’t even have a scar to show for it.” The doctor had given Ben a small smile. “By the end of the summer, he’ll be looking for an excuse to strip off his shirt and pretending not to notice the girls swooning over him.”

As Ben held his son tightly, the doctor had dabbed medicine over the seemingly innumerable cuts, bruise and burns on Joe’s body. Joe had groaned and struggled as the doctor worked. Ben could only imagine how much the medicine burned and hurt as it was applied. When the doctor finally finished, Joe had fallen into an exhausted sleep.

A feeling of anger had grown within Ben as he had watched as the doctor re-bandaged his son and dosed him again with medicine to ease the pain. He had seen the doctor check Joe’s injured arm, the arm broken and burned by flying debris. He had listened carefully as the doctor cautioned him to check for signs of infection. Ben had taken it all in, looking stoic and solemn. He kept a tight rein on his emotions, as he knew he had to. For Adam’s and Hoss’ sake as well as Joe’s, Ben knew he had to stay strong, to be the voice of reason. He couldn’t give in to the feelings of anger and pain inside him, not if he wanted to keep his family safe and intact.

Hating the thought of leaving Joe, Ben had almost changed his mind about going to the sheriff. He had come close to sending Adam or Hoss. But Ben had seen the anger in Adam’s eyes as the doctor treated Joe, and the anguish in Hoss’ eyes as the big man tenderly spooned broth into his groggy brother’s mouth. Despite their promise to him, Ben knew both of them would have found it difficult to simply ride to the sheriff’s office. Ben knew it because it took every ounce of discipline he had to go straight to the sheriff himself.

As he reached the edge of town, Ben reminded himself again that it was the sheriff’s job to deal with Jimmy Kelly. His face grew hard as he forced himself to ride by Patrick Kelly’s office in the center of town. As he guided his horse down the street in Virginia City, Ben’s eyes searched the people around him. He was both relieved and unhappy that he didn’t see Jimmy Kelly.

Stopping his horse in front of the sheriff’s office, Ben dismounted and tied his horse to the hitching post. He continued to look around him. He saw a lot of familiar faces, but none of them belonged to Jimmy Kelly. Ben wasn’t sure what he would have done if he spotted young Kelly, but he knew the young man wouldn’t have been walking down the streets of Virginia City for long.

Taking one last look around him, Ben climbed the steps to the sheriff’s office. Then he squared his shoulders and walked purposefully into the office.

Ten minutes later, two grim-faced men emerged from the office and started down the street. After hearing Ben’s story, Sheriff Roy Coffee was just as intent as his friend on arresting Jimmy Kelly.

Patrick Kelly looked up from his desk as the door to his office opened. He was surprised to see Ben Cartwright and Roy Coffee walk in, but his surprise quickly turned to concern. Kelly knew from the look on the two men’s face that whatever brought them to his office was trouble.

“Kelly,” said the sheriff without preamble, “where’s your son?”

“Jimmy?” Kelly replied in genuine surprise. His eyes narrowed. “Why do you want to know?”

“I’m here to arrest him,” Coffee stated.

“Arrest him?” Kelly’s surprise turned to confusion. “Arrest him for what?”

“For assault,” answered Coffee. “Maybe even attempted murder. I’ll know for sure what the charge is once Joe Cartwright is well enough to talk to the country prosecutor.”

“What are you talking about?” demanded Kelly, his astonishment evident.

“Jimmy blew up a stack of logs at our timber camp yesterday,” answered Ben in a curt voice. “Joe was caught in the explosion.”

Trying to absorb the news, Kelly didn’t say a word for several minutes. Silently, he was cursing his son as an idiot. How many times had he told Jimmy not to do anything that could bring the law to his doorstep? “What makes you think Jimmy had something to do with it?” asked Kelly in an even voice.

“Joe is badly hurt, but he managed to tell us that Jimmy caused the explosion,” replied Ben.

“Who else saw Jimmy there?” said Kelly with arched eyebrows.

“We don’t have any other witnesses,” said Coffee. “But we don’t need any. Joe Cartwright’s an eye witness.”

“You’re going to arrest my son based on the ramblings of an injured man?” protested Kelly. He looked suspiciously at Ben. “Did you talk to the boy, sheriff, or are you just basing this on what Cartwright told you?”

“I haven’t talked with Joe yet,” admitted Coffee. “But Ben’s word is good enough for me.”

“You would take the word of the mighty Ben Cartwright, wouldn’t you,” said Kelly bitterly.

“Kelly, I’m going to ask you one more time,” declared Roy Coffee impatiently. “Where’s your son?”

Kelly looked at both men. “I don’t know,” he admitted.

“When was the last time you saw him,” asked the sheriff.

Kelly thought hard and was surprised at the answer. “I don’t know,” he replied, his voice reflecting his surprise. “I think it was three or four days ago.”

“Your son has been gone for three or four days and you didn’t even miss him?” Ben asked in an incredulous voice.

“I’m a busy man,” said Kelly defensively. “I’ve got a business to run. Our housekeeper makes sure Jimmy gets fed.” He looked at Ben. “You know how hard it is to raise a boy without a mother.”

“I know,” agreed Ben. “I know it’s important to be there to guide your sons, to help them whenever you can. And I know a man shouldn’t lose track of his son for three days.”

“Jimmy’s almost 20,  practically grown. He doesn’t need a keeper,” snapped Kelly.

“No,” said Ben in a sad voice. “Jimmy doesn’t need a keeper. What he needs is a father.”

“Don’t tell me how to raise my son,” Kelly retorted angrily. He turned to Roy Coffee. “Sheriff, Ben Cartwright hates me, and his son hates Jimmy. Anybody could have blown up those logs. They’re just accusing Jimmy to make trouble for me.”

“I don’t hate you, Kelly” Ben told Kelly in a flat voice. “I think you’re a poor excuse for a human being, and even a poorer excuse for a father. I think Jimmy tried to destroy our lumber camp because you told him to, but I can’t prove that. What I can prove is that Jimmy blew up those logs and almost killed my son. We’re going to find Jimmy, and we’re going to arrest him. He’s going to jail. He’s going to pay for what he did.” Ben shook his head. “But the sad truth is, he’s really paying for what you’ve done. Jimmy is going to pay for your failings as a man and as a father.”

Kelly’s mouth gaped in astonishment at Ben’s statement. He tried to think of something to say, but he had no defense against the truth. Kelly sat mutely at his desk as Ben and the sheriff walked out of the office.

*****

Ben literally raced his horse back to the Ponderosa. He had left Roy Coffee to the job of finding Jimmy Kelly. Ben knew the sheriff would find Jimmy eventually. All Ben wanted now was to be with his own son.

His horse had barely stopped in front of the house when Ben  dismounted and looped the reins around the hitching post. Ben walked rapidly into the house and up the stairs, pausing only to throw his hat on the bureau next to the door. He rushed to Joe’s room, wanting to reassure himself that his youngest son was mending. Ben knew he was acting a bit foolish. Hoss was perfectly capable of looking after Joe, and Ben’s presence would make little difference to his son. But Ben didn’t care; he wanted to be with his son.

Walking into Joe’s room, Ben looked at the figure sleeping peacefully on the bed. He glanced at Hoss who was sitting in a chair next to the bed. “How is he doing?” Ben asked.

“He’s better,” answered Hoss. “His fever’s down. I got a whole bowl of soup into him before he fell asleep.”

Giving a nod of relief, Ben moved to stand next to Hoss. “Did you give him another pill?” he asked.

“He didn’t want one,” said Hoss. “He managed to go to sleep without it.” Hoss looked at Ben. “Did the sheriff arrest Jimmy Kelly?”

“He’s going to,” replied Ben. “Roy’s looking for him. Nobody seems to know where he is.”

Hoss’ eyes narrowed. “Maybe I’d better go help him,” suggested Hoss.

“You stay out of it,” said Ben in a stern voice. “Roy Coffee has all the help he needs. He’ll find Jimmy.”

The sound of voices pulled Joe out of his sleep. His eyes fluttered open. Joe grunted softly as he shifted his weight on the bed, and winced as he took a deep breath. He finally turned his gaze to the two anxious faces next to the bed. “Hi,” said Joe softly.

Ben sat on the edge of the bed. “How are you feeling?” he asked gently. Ben stroked Joe’s head lightly.

“I’m all right,” answered Joe. He winced again as he moved on the bed. “Just a little sore.” Joe tried to push himself up on the bed, and he grunted at the pain. Ben quickly grabbed Joe under the arms, and eased his son into a sitting position, pulling the pillows up behind Joe’s back to prop him up. Joe nodded his thanks as he settled back against the pillows.

“You’re more than a little sore,” Ben declared as he stared into Joe’s face. “Do you want one of the pain pills the doctor left?”

“No,” said Joe, shaking his head. “It’s not that bad.” Joe had a vague memory of pills and medicines being forced on him, and he didn’t like what he remembered about what they did to him. “Besides, those pills make me dopey.”

“You’re always dopey, little brother,” remarked Hoss with a smile. “It ain’t those pills that are doing that.”

“Very funny,” said Joe, glaring at his brother. The glare lasted only a few seconds. Joe’s face dissolved into a smile at his brother’s poor attempt at humor.

Joe looked around the room. “Where’s Adam?” he asked curiously.

“He’s up at the lumber camp,” answered Ben. “We’ve got a contract to meet, remember.” Ben glanced over his shoulder and gave Hoss a meaningful look. “Hoss is going up there in a little while.”

“Good,” said Joe. He moved again, trying to get comfortable, and winced at the pain it caused. “Good,” he repeated softly. He looked up at Ben. “I know meeting that deadline is important to Adam. I sure hope I didn’t mess things up.”

“He’ll meet the deadline,” Ben assured Joe. “You know your brother. When he puts his mind to something, there’s not much that can stop him.”

“How come this contract is so important to him?” asked Joe.

“Yeah, how come?” chimed in Hoss. “Adam’s had a burr under his saddle about this contract since we started. It’s not like we’ve never cut timber before.”

“He didn’t tell you?” asked Ben, looking from Joe to Hoss. Their blank stares answered his question. Ben took a deep breath. “It’s important to Adam that Richard Owens get his ship built on time because Adam wants to go with him.”

“Go with him!” exclaimed Joe in surprise. He shook his head. “Well, what do you know.”

“Don’t that beat all,” agreed Hoss. “Adam’s going to sail around the world.”

“Well, not right away,” Ben said. “It’s going to take awhile to get the ship built and the voyage organized. But in a couple of year, your brother might just be in the South Seas.” Ben’s face grew serious. “That’s why meeting this contract was so important to Adam. Building that ship on time isn’t just Richard Owens’ dream. It’s Adam’s dream, also.”

Joe frowned as if he were trying to remember something. “It was Jimmy Kelly who blew up those logs,” he said slowly.

“Yes, we know,” Ben acknowledged. “You already told us. Roy Coffee is looking for Jimmy right now.”

“You know Patrick Kelly was probably behind it,” Joe stated. “Jimmy just does whatever his Pa tells him.”

“I know,” said Ben in a distracted voice. He was studying Joe’s face. “I also know you should be resting instead of talking with us.”

“I’m fine, Pa,” Joe assured his father. “I just want to sit up for awhile. I’m tired of resting.”

Ben put his hand on Joe’s forehead, feeling his fever. Joe was warm, but not excessively so. Joe’s eyes seemed clear, and despite the occasional wince, he didn’t seem to be in too much pain. “All right,” Ben agreed reluctantly. “You can sit up for a bit. But you are going to take a nice long nap this afternoon, do you understand me?”

“I understand,” grumbled Joe. He looked past Ben to Hoss, and his lips twitched into a smile. “He’s worse than Adam when it comes to giving orders.”

“And just who do you think taught Adam everything he knows?” demanded Ben in a  stern voice. But his eyes twinkled with laughter as he spoke.

*****

Patrick Kelly heard the clock striking midnight as he paced in the living room of his house on the edge of town. For the hundredth time, he wondered where Jimmy could be. He knew the sheriff hadn’t arrested him. Roy Coffee would have told Kelly if he had. Kelly had sent most of his timber crew to look for Jimmy, but none of them had found a trace of his son.

Kelly had no idea where his son could be. He never gave a thought to what Jimmy did when he wasn’t with his father. Kelly could hardly believe that Jimmy had been gone for three days and he never noticed. Jimmy was always hanging around him, sort of like a faithful dog following its master. He just took it for granted that his son would be nearby.  Kelly cursed Jimmy again, for bringing all this trouble to his doorstep, for making him pull his crew away from their work, and for setting Ben Cartwright against him. He wondered what he had ever done to end up with such a stupid son.

When he heard the backdoor of the house open and close, Kelly stopped his pacing. He heard the sound of footsteps walking down the hall from the kitchen. At least he had to sense to come in the back way, thought Kelly as he walked to the edge of the room.

“Jimmy!” called Kelly in an angry voice as his son walked past him toward a set of stairs.

Turning a bit, Jimmy looked at his father in surprise. “Hi, Pa,” he answered in a slightly slurred voice. “What are you doing up so late?”

“You’re drunk,” said Kelly with disgust.

“Nope,” replied Jimmy with a grin as he walked toward his father. “Just a bit tipsy.”

“Where have you been?” demanded Kelly.

Jimmy was surprised at the question. He couldn’t remember the last time his father had asked – or even cared – where he had been. “Over in Elko,” replied Jimmy. His face broke into a grin. “I’ve been celebrating.”

“Celebrating? Celebrating what?” thundered Kelly.

“I did for you, Pa,” replied Jimmy proudly. “I got those Cartwrights for you.”

“And how exactly did you ‘get them’ for me?” asked Kelly in an angry voice.

Jimmy didn’t seem to notice his father’s anger. “I spent three days hiding up in them woods,” he answered with pride. “They never saw me. Heck, I snuck right into their camp, right under their noses, and they never saw me. At first, all I did was little things, like hide some tools. But then I found some dynamite. I blew their stack of logs. Pa, I blew it sky high.”

“Do you know that Joe Cartwright was caught in that explosion?” asked Kelly.

Looking a bit morose, Jimmy put his head down. “I saw him going toward those logs,” he admitted. “I didn’t wait to see what happened.” Jimmy looked up at his father, the smile returning to his face. “But I heard the explosion, and I saw the smoke. It was a big blast, Pa, a big one. It must have put a crimp into their operation. Might have even stopped the completely.”

“Don’t you care what happened to Cartwright?” asked Kelly.

Jimmy shrugged. “Not really,” he said. “You always said that those Cartwrights caused us nothing but trouble. I figure if one of them got caught in that blast, so much the better.”

“You fool!” screamed Kelly.

Jimmy recoiled at venom in his father’s voice. His face paled and he swallowed hard. “What’s wrong?” asked Jimmy in a trembling voice.

“What’s wrong?” shouted Kelly. “I’ll tell you what’s wrong. Joe Cartwright was hurt in that explosion. He’s not dead, but he’s hurt bad. Bad enough so Ben Cartwright has the law looking for you. Joe Cartwright told them that you set the blast.”

“Oh,” said Jimmy with relief. “Well, I figure you’ll get the lawyers to handle it. Whenever there’s trouble, you always get the lawyers to fix things.”

“Not this time,” Kelly told his son. “There’s no fixing things this time. Ben Cartwright is bound and determined to see you behind bars. And he’ll put me there with you if he can figure out a way to do it.” Kelly shook his head in disgust. “Your stupidity has put us both in hot water.”

“But Pa, I was only doing what you wanted me to do,” protested Jimmy.

“And just how do you figure that?” said Kelly in a cold voice.

“You’re always telling me about how much you hate the Cartwrights, how much you want to cause them grief,” Jimmy answered. “And a couple of days ago, in your office, you said you’d give half your operation just to stop them from meeting that contract. So I figured I’d stop them for you. I thought you’d be happy about it.”

As Kelly listened to his son, his eyes narrowed. Patrick Kelly knew he couldn’t afford to have Jimmy stand trial. If Jimmy said in court what he had just said in the living room, Patrick Kelly really would end up in jail with his son.

Kelly took a deep breath. “It doesn’t make any difference why you did it,” said Kelly, trying to keep his voice even. “The important thing is to make sure you don’t get caught. You’ve got to leave, Jimmy. You’ve got to go away from here, far away.”

“Leave!” exclaimed Jimmy in astonishment. “Where would I go?”

“I don’t know,” said Kelly. “I’ll give you enough money so you can go to San Francisco or Denver. Someplace where the law won’t find you. ”

“But, Pa, I don’t want to leave,” complained Jimmy.

“It’s for the best if you do,” replied Kelly. He tried to look at his son with concern. “I’m doing this for you.”

Jimmy studied his father. “No you’re not,” he said in a cold voice. “You’re not doing this for me.”

“Yes, I am,” Kelly insisted, trying to sound convincing. “I don’t want you to go to jail. It’s best if you leave.”

Jimmy stared at his father for a long time. He knew Patrick Kelly well enough to know there was no way he was going to convince his father to let him stay. Jimmy took a deep breath. “All right,” he said in a resigned voice. “I’ll go.” He started to leave the room, then stopped and turned back to his father. “You finally got what you wanted, didn’t you,” he added in a sad voice. “You finally got rid of me.” Without waiting for an answer, Jimmy turned and walked toward the stairs.

Patrick Kelly watched his son climb the stairs to his room. The only emotion he felt was relief.

*****

“Joseph Cartwright! Just what do you think you’re doing?”

Joe froze as his foot hit the bottom stair, and he winced at the voice thundering from across the house. Joe was sure his father was away from the house; he had seen him ride out. Granted, it had taken Joe quite awhile to get dressed, but he had eventually managed to get into his clothes and settle his injured arm in the sling. He knew he had wasted about twenty minutes trying to get his boots on before finally giving up and putting on  slippers. But Joe still thought he could spend some time downstairs without detection.

“Joseph!” boomed the voice again.

Walking down the last step, Joe turned toward the voice. He raised his good hand tentatively, and tried his most winning smile. “Hi, Pa,” said Joe nervously. “I didn’t know you were back.”

“Obviously,” Ben replied in a stern voice as he walked from his desk toward the stairs. He stopped in front of his son. Ben crossed his arms over his chest and gave his son an unyielding look. “And just what are you doing out of bed?”

“I, um, I came down to get a book,” said Joe, his tone tentative.

“To get a book,” repeated Ben in a disbelieving voice.

“Yeah, well, you know, it’s kind of boring being in bed,” Joe told his father in a rush, “and Hop Sing is busy and all and well, I just thought I come down and get it myself.”

“I see,” said Ben, his voice still full of disbelief. “And you decided you had to get dressed just to come down and get a book.”

Joe knew he was getting nowhere with his story, so he decided to change tactics. “Aw, Pa,” he declared in a pleading voice. “I was getting stiff just laying in bed. I just wanted to stretch my legs for a bit. I thought it would be good for me.”

Ben was unmoved his son’s plea. “And just what part of the doctor’s orders to stay in bed for a week didn’t you understand?” he asked, his voice still stern and unyielding.

“I’ve been in bed for four days,” complained Joe. “Five if you count the day I slept through.”

“Last time I looked, a week was seven days long,” replied Ben in an uncompromising voice. “Have you forgotten how to count?”

“No sir,” said Joe quickly, “but….

“But nothing,” interrupted Ben firmly. “Joseph, when I tell you to do something, I expect you to do it. And I told you to stay in bed.”

“Yes sir,” acknowledged Joe in a discouraged voice. His face fell as he admitted defeat.

Ben’s face softened as he saw the miserable look on Joe’s face. He knew how hard it was for an active young man to stay in bed for several days, much less a week. “Look, Joe,” said Ben in a sympathetic voice as he uncrossed his arms. “It’s for your own good. The doctor wants you to get plenty of rest, and he wants to be sure you don’t overdo things. And the best way to insure both those things is for you to stay in bed.”

“I know, I know,” agreed Joe. “But I feel fine, Pa. Really, I’m almost as good as knew.”

The look of disbelief returned to Ben’s face. His gaze went to Joe’s arm, still bound by splints and heavy bandages, lying useless in a sling. He could see the white of the bandages from around Joe’s chest poking out from the opening in son’s shirt. “Good as new,” said Ben with a shake of his head. “Joseph, you are NOT good as new. You a long way from being recovered. Now, march right back up those stairs and get back into bed.”

In desperation, Joe decided to try one last ploy. He gave Ben his most appealing look, his eyes wide with innocence. “Pa, I’m already down here. Couldn’t I just stay downstairs for a little while? I’ll take it easy, I promise. It’d probably be better for me to rest here, anyway, rather than climb those stairs again.”

Ben tried to look stern, but he could feel his lips twitching into a smile. Joe had his mother’s eyes, and Ben could feel his resolve melting as he looked into those eyes. “All right,” agreed Ben with a sigh. “You can stay down for awhile.” He pointed to the blue chair near the stairs. “You sit right in that chair and you don’t move, do you hear me?”

“Yes sir,” said Joe solemnly, but his eyes danced with laughter. Joe took a few steps and eased himself into the chair. He looked at his father, trying to keep the look of victory off his face. “See, I’m sitting.”

“Just see that you stay there,” ordered Ben. His eyes also began to crinkle with laughter. “Now what book did you want?”

“Book?” said Joe in confusion. He suddenly remembered his earlier excuse. Oh, yeah, um, Shakespeare. That’s it; I wanted to read your book of Shakespeare’s plays.” Joe let out a quick breath. Shakespeare was the only author he could think to name.

“Shakespeare?” Ben replied, trying to hide his laughter. “I’m glad to see you’re improving your reading habits, Joseph.”

“Oh, yes sir,” agreed Joe readily. “I really want to read Shakespeare.”

“Good,” said Ben. He turned to walk to the bookcase near his desk. He would give Joe his book of Shakespeare, Ben decided, and that would guarantee Joe would be asleep in no time.

Ben was almost near his desk when he heard the knock on the door. He frowned briefly. He wasn’t expecting any visitors. With a brief shrug, Ben turned and walked to the front door. He pulled open the door and stared in surprise.

“Hello, Ben,” Patrick Kelly greeted him in an amiable voice. “Can I come in and talk with you for a minute?”

“What do you want, Kelly?” asked Ben, his voice cold and forbidding.

“Just a minute of your time,” replied Kelly, ignoring Ben’s tone. “Can I come in?”

Ben hesitated then pulled open the door. “You can come in,” he agreed, “for a minute.”

Kelly walked through the living room toward the sofa. He saw Joe sitting in the chair, watching with suspicious eyes. “Hello, Joe,” said Kelly pleasantly. “I’m pleased to see you’re feeling better.” Joe merely nodded and kept his eyes on Kelly.

“Say your piece, Kelly,” demanded Ben ungraciously.

Sitting down on the sofa, Kelly settled back, leaning comfortably against the cushions. Ben frowned at the man’s audacity. Kelly was making himself right at home. Ben turned his back to the man and walked over to sit down in his favorite leather chair.

“I’ve come to tell you that Sheriff Coffee isn’t going to find Jimmy,” announced Kelly. “I’ve told the sheriff this, but he doesn’t believe me. I thought that if you had a word with him, you might save the poor man from wasting any more of his time.” The truth was that Kelly was tired of Roy Coffee constantly poking around his office and his timber operation. He knew the sheriff was looking for Jimmy, but there’s no telling what Coffee might stumble across if he kept looking around. Patrick Kelly was desperate enough to get rid of the sheriff to ask the Cartwrights for help.

“And just what makes you think Roy isn’t going to find Jimmy?” asked Ben.

“Because he’s not in Virginia City,” replied Kelly. “I got a letter from him yesterday. Jimmy said he’s run away, trying to avoid the law. He didn’t tell me where he’s going, but he’s left Virginia City for good.” Even to Kelly, the story sounded thin. But it was best he could come up with.

“Pa, that’s a pretty bad lie,” declared a voice from the doorway. “With as much practice as you’ve had, you’d think you’d be better at it than that.”

Three heads snapped to look at the door. Jimmy Kelly stood lounging against the door jamb, looking unconcerned and amused. He also held a pistol in his hand, a pistol that was pointed directly across the room at his father and Ben Cartwright.

Jimmy straightened up and walked slowly toward the middle of the room, his gun still pointed at Ben and Kelly. “Now, nobody make any sudden moves, and nobody will get hurt,” said Jimmy. He moved to stand near the bottom of the stairs, where he could have a clear view of his father and of Ben. He also could see Joe tensed in the chair. “That goes for you too, Joe,” he added, briefly pointing the gun at the blue chair before swinging it back toward the others.

“What are you doing here?” asked Kelly in a furious voice.

“You know, Pa, it’s a funny thing,” replied Jimmy easily. “A man spends a couple of days on the trail alone and he gets to thinking. He starts thinking about all kinds of things, like how his father treated him and why he’s on the trail. I finally figured out that I wasn’t going away for a couple of months like you said. I figured out that you were never going to let me come back.”

Kelly glanced at Ben, then back to Jimmy. His lie to the Cartwrights had been exposed, and by his own son. “Why did you come back?” demanded Kelly in a cold voice.

“You hustled me out of there so fast the other night, I left some things behind,” explained Jimmy. “I came back to get them. I also came to get some more money. If I’m going to be on my own, I’ll need some money.” Jimmy looked at Ben. “You know what he gave me? Five hundred dollars. Five hundred stinking dollars and a push out the door. Not much for a father to give his son.”

“That’s all I had in the house,” growled Kelly. “I would have sent you more if you had asked for it.”

“Maybe,” said Jimmy doubtfully. “Anyway, I’m heading for home and what do I see? My father heading for the Ponderosa. Now that’s a sight I never expected to see. So I figured I’d follow you and find out why you wanted to talk with the Cartwrights. The Cartwrights that you claimed to hate so much.”

“I was just trying to get the search for you called off,” replied Kelly. He glowered at his son. “You’ve ruined that, just like you’ve ruined everything else you touched.”

“See what I mean?” said Jimmy to Ben. “See what a wonderful father I have?” Jimmy’s face suddenly darkened. “Since I’m going to be on the run, I figure I’m going to need plenty of money. So first, I’m going to empty out the safe here, and then I’m going to empty out the safe at my house.”

“You won’t find much here,” Ben advised, his eyes watching Jimmy. “There’s only a few hundred dollars in my safe.”

Jimmy shrugged. “A few hundred dollars helps. Besides, I know where my father keeps most of his money and that’s in a safe in his office.” Jimmy laughed as Patrick Kelly’s eyes widened. “Didn’t think I knew that, did you, Pa? Didn’t think I knew you’ve got over $10,000 in that safe right now?” Jimmy’s face grew serious. “All right, Pa, now and I want you and Mr. Cartwright to lay on the floor. I’m going to tie you up until I figure out how I’m going to do this.”

Ben and Kelly sat unmoving.

“Do it!” shouted Jimmy. He raised the gun and pointed it at his father. “I’ll use this if I have to,” he threatened.

Ben and Kelly slid slowing from their seats and laid face down on the floor.

Jimmy turned to where Joe was sitting and watching tensely. “Ok, Joe,” he said, waving the gun. “You too. Get down on the floor with those two.”

As he slowly rose to his feet and took a step forward, Joe’s eyes never left Jimmy’s face. Jimmy’s eyes darted back to the two men on the floor, briefly ignoring the man beside him. But that brief moment was all Joe needed.

With a sudden move, Joe threw his hip and shoulder into Jimmy’s side. As Jimmy staggered a step, Joe pulled his arm out of the sling, and slammed the arm that was heavy with splints and bandages onto Jimmy’s wrist.

Joe figured the weight of the splints would be enough to knock the gun from Jimmy’s hand, and he was right. But what Joe hadn’t figured on was the excruciating jolt of pain that ran up his arm as he hit Jimmy’s wrist.

As Jimmy let out a howl and dropped the gun, Joe’s face twisted with pain. He bent forward, grabbing his injured arm. Through a haze of pain, Joe tried to land a punch. He raised his right hand and threw a fist in Jimmy’s direction.

The blow was a weak one and merely grazed Jimmy’s chin. But Jimmy seemed to become enraged by it. He turned and threw a hard punch into Joe’s face, snapping Joe’s head back. Jimmy threw two more punches into Joe’s stomach, an area that was already tender and sore. Joe doubled up in pain and his knees began to buckle. Jimmy was in a frenzy. He no longer knew or cared who was standing before him. He only knew that he had a helpless victim on which he could pour out all his anger and frustration. He began beating Joe mercilessly, holding Joe up by grabbing his shirt with one hand, and using the other hand to pound blow after blow on his victim. When Joe slipped from his grasp and crumpled to the floor, Jimmy began to kick him.

When he saw seen the gun fall from Jimmy’s hand, Ben had scrambled to his feet almost immediately. Now he started across the room, desperate to help his son. But Ben felt a hand grab his ankle and trip him, causing him to fall to the floor again. He kicked out with his foot, not caring who or what he hit. He heard a sharp groan, and the hand released his ankle. Ben scrambled to his feet again.

By the time Ben crossed the room, Joe had crumpled to the floor and Jimmy had landed two solid kicks. Letting out a roar of outrage, Ben grabbed Jimmy’s arm. He spun Jimmy around and landed a solid punch of own on Jimmy Kelly’s jaw. Jimmy’s eyes widened in surprise and pain.

Ben didn’t hesitate. He threw a punch into Jimmy’s midsection and then hit the young man again on the jaw. Ben landed two more solid blows before Jimmy crumpled to the floor unconscious.

Two sons laid unmoving on the floor, and two fathers rushed to their aid.

Kneeling on the floor, Ben slowly turned Joe to him, cradling his son’s head and shoulders in his arms. Joe’s face showed the punishment he had taken. Red marks on his cheek, forehead, and jaw were already beginning to swell. Blood trickled from his split lip, and a thin rivulet of blood ran down from a cut over his left eye.

“Joe!” Ben crooned softly as he gently rocked his son. “Joe, can you hear me?”

Joe’s eyes fluttered open. Once again, Joe’s eyes were glaze and unfocused, but this time, the look hadn’t been caused by medicine. Joe blinked his eyes and seemed to bring them into focus. He swallowed hard. “Pa,” he managed to say in a low voice.

Holding his son against his chest, Ben rocked him gently. He looked across the room to where Kelly was standing over Jimmy. Kelly was merely looking at his son, as if the young man on the floor were a stranger. Kelly made no move to help his son. He merely stared at him.

Ben turned back to Joe. He moved Joe’s head from his chest and looked steadily into his son’s eyes. He could see Joe was conscious. “Don’t ever do that again,” he said in a choked voice. Joe managed a small smile before he winced in pain.

Suddenly, Ben heard the sound of gun being cocked. He looked up and his jaw dropped.

Patrick Kelly was standing near the stairs, holding the gun that his son had dropped. The gun was cocked and pointed directly at Ben and Joe.

“Now isn’t this tender scene,” sneered Kelly.

“Put down that gun, Kelly,” ordered Ben. “It’s over.”

“No, Cartwright, it’s not,” replied Kelly. “My idiot son here has done me a great favor. He’s given me the opportunity to get rid of you and put the blame on him.”

Desperate, Ben looked around for some kind of weapon, anything he could use against the man across the room. He had no doubt that Patrick Kelly would pull the trigger.

Kelly aimed the gun. “You and your son are going to die, Cartwright,” he stated without remorse. “And I’m going to tell the sad tale of how my son Jimmy killed you.”

Pushing Joe to the floor, Ben put his body protectively in front of his son. “You’ll never get away with it, Kelly,” said Ben. He knew it was a hollow threat.

“Pa, don’t,” Jimmy pleaded as he pushed himself up on his elbows from the floor. “They’ll hang you.”

“Shut up, you stupid kid,” snapped Kelly, his eyes still on the Cartwrights. “I’ve put up with the Cartwrights and their interference long enough. You give me any trouble and I’ll put a bullet in you too.

Jimmy’s eyes widened. He stared at his father as a gamut of emotions seemed to cross his face – shock, anger and finally sadness. “Pa, don’t kill them,” begged Jimmy.

“Stop sniveling,” growled Kelly.

Jimmy’s eyes blazed with anger. “Pa, I’m not going to let you kill them.”

Kelly laughed. “You can’t stop me.”

Jimmy grabbed at his father’s legs, wrapping both his arms around Kelly’s ankles. He yanked hard and pulled Patrick Kelly to the floor.

Kelly yelped in surprise and started to get up. Jimmy dove on top of his father and reached for the gun in Kelly’s hand. The two struggled for the gun, and suddenly there was the sound of a muffled shot. Both bodies suddenly laid still.

Glancing quickly at Joe, Ben saw his son was propped up on an elbow, watching the scene across the room. Joe’s face was battered and bruised, and his injured arm was held protectively against his chest. Ben knew Joe was hurt, but he seemed conscious and aware. For now, the important thing to Ben was to make sure nothing else happened to his son.

Rising from the floor, Ben hurried to the gun rack a few feet away. He grabbed a rifle and walked over to the two men who still laid entangled on the floor. He wasn’t taking any chances. If one or both of the Kellys tried to use the gun that laid between them, Ben would shoot without hesitation. He had enough of the Kelly’s and their attempts to harm his sons.

Jimmy Kelly slowly got to his feet. The front of his shirt was stained with blood, but it was his father’s blood, not Jimmy’s. Jimmy and Ben stood looking down at Patrick Kelly. Kelly laid on the floor, eyes open and blood seeping out of a hole in his chest. There was no question that he was dead.

Jimmy stared at his father’s body, then softly began to weep. “Pa,” he said, tears running down his face. “All I ever wanted was you to love me. Why couldn’t you love me?”

*****

Ten days later, Joe sat once again in the blue chair near the stairs. The cuts on his face had healed to small brown scabs, and the bruises were beginning to fade. His chest and ribs were still tightly wrapped, but this time, the bandages protect his cracked ribs as well as his other injuries. His arm rested in his sling, the splint and bandages holding the still
knitting bones tightly in place.

Joe had a book on his lap, but he barely glanced at the pages. He kept looking toward the front door.

“Stop worrying,” said Ben as he entered the living room with a tray filled with a coffee pot and several cups. “They’ll be here soon.”

“I’m not worried, Pa,” protested Joe. “Just…anxious. The last load of lumber was supposed to be shipped out this morning.” He looked at Ben. “Do you think they made it?”

“They made it, Joe,” Ben assured his son as he settled in his chair with a cup of coffee. “The message Sam brought down said they were breaking camp and should be here this afternoon. They wouldn’t be breaking camp if they hadn’t shipped all the lumber.”

“I hope so,” Joe acknowledged but his voice betrayed his doubt.

Suddenly, the front door crashed open. Hoss walked in, grinning and rubbing his hands. “We’re home,” he announced unnecessarily. “I hope Hop Sing is cooking up something good for dinner.”

Following his brother into the house, Adam tried to act casual, as if he were coming home from any ordinary day. But the grin on his face showed how pleased he was with himself. “The wandering sheep have found their way home, Pa,” Adam declared.

“Did you make it?” asked Joe anxiously from across the room. “Did you get the lumber shipped on time?

“We shipped the last board day before yesterday,” answered Adam with a smile as he hung up his hat. “Two days before the deadline.”

“Ol’ Adam was there at the railhead just to make sure,” added Hoss. “He looked a like the cat swallowed the canary when that train pulled out.”

Joe let out a whoop. “We did it!” he shouted, grinning. “We did it, brothers.”

“We sure did,” agreed Adam as he walked across the room and settled on the couch.

“Congratulations, son,” said Ben with genuine praise from his chair near the fireplace. “You did a good job.”

“Thanks, Pa,” Adam replied. He looked at Hoss and Joe. “But it wasn’t just me. I couldn’t have done it without these two lunkheads helping me.”

“Aw, Adam, stop your  sweet talk,” Joe said with a grin. “You’ll turn our heads.”

Hoss walked over and sat on the sofa next to Adam. “How you feeling, little brother?” he asked, trying to sound casual. But his eyes were searching Joe from head to toe. “We heard all about what happened with the Kellys.”

“I’m fine,” answered Joe, with a wave of his hand. “Just a couple more bruises. They just kind of blend in with the others.”

“There’s nothing wrong with him that about six weeks of taking it easy won’t cure,” advised Ben. He turned a stern look on Joe. “Six weeks, Joseph. Do you hear me?”

Joe let out a sigh and nodded.

Ben turned his attention to his oldest son. “Well, Adam, it looks like Richard Owens is going to get his ship,” he said. “How about you? Still want to sail around the world?”

Adam looked down for a minute, considering his answer. “Yes, yes, I do,” he replied looking up. “I’ll miss you all, but I really want to go.”

“Then you should go,” said Ben, with a nod.

“Yeah, Adam,” Hoss encouraged his brother. “Me and Joe can handle things while you’re gone.”

“You should go, Adam,” added Joe in a serious voice. “We don’t want to you to stay here just because of us.”

Swallowing hard, Adam nodded his gratitude. “Thank you,” he said softly.

Joe looked thoughtful. “You know, Adam, if Hoss and I are going to do your chores while you’re gone, I think it’s only right you bring us back something.”

“Yeah,” Hoss agreed. “I’ve always wanted to taste one of them coconuts. You got to bring me back some.”

“Now me, I think I’d like one of those island girls,” said Joe with a wicked grin. “You know, I hear they with what they wear you can see their bare…”

“Joseph!” warned Ben. .

“…feet” finished Joe lamely. “I hear they don’t wear shoes.”

“I don’t know if I can manage the island girls,” said Adam with a laugh, “but I can probably promise you coconuts.” He turned to Ben. “What about you, Pa? What do you want?”

Ben looked at Adam. “All I want is for you to get back safely,” he stated in a soft voice.

As Adam poured some coffee and Hoss told Joe about the last two weeks in the timber camp, Ben studied his sons. He knew he was seeing a scene that would disappear soon – his sons, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. It would be a little while yet before this scene was just a memory, but Ben knew it would happen. He vowed to savor every minute with his sons.

“Pa,” said Adam in a serious voice, breaking into Ben’s distracted thoughts. “What’s going to happen to Jimmy Kelly?”

“He’s pleaded guilty to damaging the timber camp and injuring Joe,” Ben answered. He shook his head. “There won’t be any charges for killing his father. I explained to the judge how that happened.”

“Is he going to jail?” asked Hoss.

“Yes, for a year,” replied Ben.

Hoss shook his head. “Poor Jimmy,” he said. “I never liked him much, but I kinda feel sorry for him. He never really had a chance with Patrick Kelly as his father.”

“Maybe a year in jail will help straighten him out,” suggested Adam. “Once he gets out, he can start fresh. He might make it.”

“As long as he does it some place else,” said Joe, his voice tinged with bitterness. “I think I’ve had enough of Jimmy Kelly to last me a lifetime.”

“Don’t worry, little brother,” Hoss declared solemnly. “He ain’t never going to get near you again. I’ll make sure of that.”

“Thanks, Hoss,” said Joe with a wry grin. “I’m going to enjoy having you as a bodyguard.”

“I’m sure you will,” replied Hoss tartly.

Adam looked thoughtful. “You know, a lot of men are fathers,” he said. “But not every father is particularly good at the job.” Adam looked across to Ben, and then to Hoss and Joe. “We’re lucky, brothers, real lucky. We’ve got one of the good ones.”

*****End*****

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