When the Big Man Falls (by DJK)

Summary:  An angel saves Hoss and gets help in return.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  6400


 

There were only two choices really. She could stay, or she could go for help. She studied the man lying before her. If she had not placed her hand in front of his nose and felt the faint warmth of his breath, she would believe him dead. She did not know if she could do anything to keep him alive, but she doubted even more her ability to bring help in time to save him. Her major concern with staying was the worry it would bring her brother, but maybe that was a good thing. If Roger came searching for her, it would mean help for both of them. With the decision made, the nervousness left her. She would do what she could and pray that it would be enough.

She studied the man again. He was such a large man, not fat in a flabby way, but simply large in height and bone and build. Lifting him onto a horse was not possible. She had known that from the beginning. Maybe later he would rouse enough for her to help him onto her horse, and she could take him for help. Until then she would have to help him where he lay.

She could hear her father’s voice in her head. First take stock of your resources. She had a horse. He must have had one, but there was no sign of another horse anywhere nearby. There was no sign of anything belonging to the man beyond the clothes he wore. His pockets, of course, might hold something useful. Mentally asking his pardon, she searched his person. There was very little to findsome jerky, a bag of lemon drops, a comb, a clean handkerchief, and most importantly the knife. The pocketknife she would need. Her own saddlebags held only the remains of her lunch and a box of Lucifers. Thank the Lord she would be able to start a fire. She also had two canteens. She had brought her own, and the livery where she had hired the horse had supplied one. There was the saddle blanket. There was wood, and hopefully she could find water nearby.

Then evaluate the problem. He was breathing, but in the minutes she had been beside him, he had not moved in any way. There was blood on the sleeve of his white linen shirt, and blood beneath his head. She gingerly explored his wounds. A long, jagged slash marked his arm; it was still seeping blood. The gash on the back of his head appeared to have bled profusely, but the bleeding had stopped. There was a great deal of swelling around the head wound. His breathing was shallow, and his skin felt cold and clammy. The ground beneath him was cold and no doubt draining his body heat. First she needed to get something between him and the ground, but what? The only blanket would be needed to cover him. Her fingers clenched gathering the fabric of her skirt. She rose to her feet. Reaching behind her, she unfastened the buttons at her waist and let the wide, heavy skirt fall to the ground. Taking the knife, she used it to slit the seam of the skirt. She now had a long length of material. It would have to do. She knelt beside the man and slowly managed to roll him onto his side. She stretched the material of her skirt along his back and then rolled him back onto the cloth. Pulling and tugging, she managed to position the man’s body on the makeshift ground cloth. Then she took the saddle blanket and spread it over him. That accomplished, she sat next to her silent companion and checked his pulse once again.

She needed to start a fire. The sun would soon be setting, and they would both need the warmth. She set about collecting wood. At least burnable wood was in good supply. The forest would provide all they needed. While gathering the fuel, she discovered the answer to one of her prayers. A small spring bubbled up into a tiny creek no more than a hundred yards from where the man lay. They had a water supply. There was hope!

The sun was gone by the time the fire was blazing. She turned to her next task. His wounds needed to be cleaned and bandaged. She placed one canteen close to the fire to heat the water inside. Then she stepped out of her petticoat. Starting at the cleanest portion next to the waistband, she began tearing bandages. The dirtier portion around the hem she rinsed out in the creek. Then she poured hot water over the wet cloth and used it to clean the man’s wounds as best she could. He stirred slightly as she worked. She was sorry that he might be feeling some pain, but she thought it a good sign that he was not as deathly still as before.

Having bandaged his wounds, she paused to consider her next chore. She needed to get some water into him. He had bled out fluid; he would need fluid. She took the second canteen. She positioned herself behind the man and lifted. Positioning him against her knees and chest, she supported his head and shoulders. Tipping the canteen against his lips, she trickled water into his mouth. She cheered aloud when he swallowed. Slowly she continued until she felt he had drunk enough for the first time. She eased his head into her lap and rested.

After a time, she eased his head from her lap and went to refill the canteens. Looking at her store of supplies, she took the lemon drops and dropped them one by one into one of the canteens. She then placed that canteen near the fire. The candy would melt, and the sugar water would afford a slight bit of nourishment. They gave babies sugar water, didn’t they?

Realizing her own hunger, she ate the remains of her lunch. She fought feelings of guilt as she chewed and swallowed, but the man was in no condition to eat solid food, and she was sure she would need as much strength as she could muster if she was to have any hope of saving him.

Throughout the night she tended the fire and the big man. She repeatedly bathed his face and feed him the sugar water. In the early hours of the morning, he began to mumble. Three words came distinctly to her ears:  Pa, Adam, Joe. This man had people who cared about him. People he called on for help. People who needed him to return. She prayed that he would live to see them once again, and began to talk softly to the big man.

When the sugar water was gone, she cut the jerky into tiny shreds and shoved them into the canteen. Filling the canteen with water, she set it next to the fire to heat and simmer into a broth.

As the darkness began to lighten, she came to another decision. The man had a chance, but he needed more than she could do for him. There had to be someway to get him the help he needed. She could not lift him onto her horse. How else could she move him? She could hardly drag an injured man inch by inch for miles even if she had the strength. The horse had the strength, of course, but being dragged by a horse across the ground caused injury not healed it. Then she thought of a picture she had seen in a book of an Indian pulling a travois. Could she make a travois and mange to get the man on it? She could try.

She found branches to serve for the poles. She sliced leather strips from the saddle and secured smaller branches and then the saddle blanket to the frame. She used leather from the reins to fasten the poles to the remains of the saddle. She worked steadily, stopping frequently to tend the man and pour water or broth into his mouth. Finally she faced the task of dragging the man slowly onto the travois. She prayed, tugged, prayed, and tugged until he lay on the travois with only the heels of his boots touching the ground. Some of his body was barely clear of the earth, but it was the best she could do. She went to the spring and drank deeply and then filled both canteens. Returning to the man, she explained that she was taking him for help wondering if he could hear anything she said. Taking hold of the leather on the side of the horse’s head, she began leading him slowly back toward the road.

She doubted she had ridden more than thirty minutes after leaving the road yesterday, yet she had been leading the horse with its dragging burden for hours. Then the trees thinned, and she saw the road before her. She stopped. She had seen no houses after leaving the town behind. Surely there were some that were not visible from the road, but she had no idea where they might be. Even though they would be moving more quickly then they had been able to move in the woods, they would never make it anywhere near town before night fell. There was a chance that there was a home nearer in the opposite direction, but could she take that chance? She sat down beside the road to rest and think. She gave water to the man and tried to make out the words he murmured, and then she drank herself. She would have to start toward town and pray that someone would be traveling on this road.

At first she didn’t focus on the sound; she focused only on taking the next step. Then slowly she became aware of the sound and turned to see a man riding a chestnut horse. The man was dressed all in black. She chided herself for allowing a shiver of worry to run down her back. Just because evil knights and dime-novel bad men wore black was no reason to shy away from this man. She needed help and for now help wore black and rode a chestnut horse.

She looked up at the man and saw a puzzled expression. Then she remembered that from the waist down she wore only her bloomers and stockings. She felt herself blush. She saw the man in black change his expression to one of concern.

“Are you alright?” Adam Cartwright looked down at the girl. He observed her state of dress, her obvious fatigue, and the crude travois the horse pulled. He began to dismount even before she answered.

 “I’m fine. It’s the man. I found him in the woods. He’s hurt badly. Can you help us?”

 “Of course,” Adam spoke with a calm assurance as he walked over to the travois.

 “Oh, my God! Hoss!”

 “You know him? You know who he is?”

“He’s my brother.” Adam looked at Hoss as he lay upon the travois and fought the panic the sight raised. “Hoss, Hoss, it’s Adam.” He wanted to hear Hoss say he was fine, but his brother only murmured unintelligibly. “You’ll be fine. I’ll get help. You’ll be fine.”

The big man’s name was Hoss, and the man in black was the Adam whose name she had heard over and over through the night. She sighed in relief.

Adam turned to look at his brother’s rescuer. “When did you find him?”

“Yesterday afternoon. I tried to help him. He needs a doctor. He has a head wound and one on his arm. He hasn’t been awake at all.”

Adam looked critically at the travois and made his decision. “I need to go for a wagon. Our ranch is closer than town,” he stated pointing in the opposite direction from the one she had been traveling. “I’ll go for help and send for the doctor. Just stay with him, please.” Adam was already mounting Sport.

“Go.  I’ll take care of him. Go.” she urged.

Adam galloped off. She led the horse a little ways from the rode to the shade of the trees. She sat down and thanked God. She had prayed for help, and the man’s brother had been sent. It was beyond the realm of coincidence; it was divine intervention. The knot in her stomach relaxed for the first time since she had seen the big man.

She heard the horse coming. A slight, young man in a green jacket galloped up on a black and white horse. Rearing to a stop, he called to her, “I’m going for the doctor. The wagon is coming. Is he…”

“He needs a doctor. Go.”

He was gone in a cloud of dust, and again she waited. She heard the wagon and looked to see its dust cloud. She told the big man help was almost there and stood to meet them.

Adam pulled the wagon to a halt and jumped down instantly, but Ben Cartwright was still the first to reach Hoss. Ben began issuing orders to the men who had accompanied them, and Hoss was quickly transferred to the back of the wagon. Ben climbed in beside him. Adam looked at the girl. He doubted she was as old as Joe, perhaps sixteen at the most. She looked frail and uncertain in swirl of activity around her. He took a blanket, walked over, and wrapped it around her.

Suddenly she felt too weary to stand and her knees buckled. She felt strong arms stop her fall and lift her from the ground. Then she was placed on the wagon seat. She summoned the strength to stay upright as the man in black jumped up beside her and set the wagon in motion.

Adam pulled the wagon to a stop in front of the ranch house. As Ben organized Hoss’ transfer to his bed, Adam lifted the girl from the wagon and carried her into the house.

“I’m fine. Really I am. I’m just tired.”

Adam set her in his father’s red leather chair. “I’m Adam Cartwright. The man you helped is my younger brother Hoss. The silver-haired man is our father, Ben Cartwright, if you haven’t guessed. We own this ranch.”

“I’m Cassandra Cuevas. My brother and I are staying in town. Oh, no! Roger!” Cassandra stood up. “I have to get back to town. My brother will be worried to death.”

“Wait,” Adam placed his hands on her shoulders and gently placed her back in the chair, “I’ll send a hand to tell your brother that you’re fine and bring him here. He can bring you a change of clothes. You need to rest.”

Cassandra bit her lip. She really could not ride back into Virginia City in her bloomers. “Perhaps that would be best. If it’s not too much trouble, we are staying at the International Hotel. His name is Roger Cuevas.”

“No trouble at all.” Adam looked up as the family cook and general factotum, Hop Sing, entered the room.

“Hop Sing, Miss Cuevas will be our guest. I’m sure you will see to her comfort.”

“Missy Cuevas need good food, hot bath, and some lest.  Hop Sing will see that she has all thlee, Mistuh Adam.”

“I’ll leave you in Hop Sing’s hands then. I want to go up and check on Hoss.”

“Mr. Cartwright, I pray that your brother will recover. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more. I just couldn’t, I couldn’t lift him.”

Adam turned and gave the girl one of his rare, deep smiles. “There aren’t many men who could lift Hoss onto a horse. You saw how many men we brought to the rescue. Hoss is as strong as a bull; I’m sure the doctor will fix him up just fine.”

Cassandra smiled back. “I’m sure he will.”

Adam went upstairs, and Hop Sing guided Cassandra to the kitchen where she realized how truly famished she was. After a meal of Hop Sing’s best chicken and dumplings, she followed him to the bathhouse and soaked in the tub. Hop Sing had left a nightshirt and a robe in the room. After putting them on, she returned to the kitchen. In answer to her inquiries, Hop Sing told her that the doctor had arrived and then showed her to the guestroom. A minute after she lay down, she was asleep.

*****

Adam answered the knock on the door and found a blond, young man with a worried look on his face.

“I’m Roger Cuevas. He said my sister was here. Something about someone being hurt.”

“Come in.” Adam gestured toward the great room where Little Joe and he had been waiting for the doctor to come down with word of Hoss. “I’m Adam Cartwright, and that is my brother Joe.”

“My sister, where is she?”

Adam recognized the tone of concern in the man’s voice. “She’s fine, Mr. Cuevas. She’s resting at the moment. She had a long night and day, so it might be best to let her sleep awhile.”

“I want to see my sister!”

“This way then.” Adam led Roger Cuevas to the door of the guestroom. Putting his finger to his lips, he opened it. Roger Cuevas look into the room and saw his sister sleeping peacefully. Adam watched the tension drain from the Roger’s body and pulled the door closed.

“Perhaps you’d like some coffee while I tell you what I know,” Adam offered.

Roger let out a deep breath, “I’d appreciate that.”

“Well,” Adam began after Hop Sing had brought the coffee, “our middle brother has been on a trip inspecting breeding stock. He must have been headed home because your sister found him in the woods off the road to Virginia City when she was riding yesterday.”

“She was riding alone in the woods this far from town!”

Adam knew that tone of voice; it was one he used often when he was speaking of Little Joe.

Joe Cartwright recognized that tone too and interjected, “Lucky for my brother that she was. We wouldn’t have even started wondering where he was for another couple of days.”

“Anyway,” Adam continued, “when she found him, he was unconscious. There must have been a robbery or something. All of my brother’s belongings were gone, and he had been shot. Your sister bandaged his wounds, cared for him through the night, and then built a travois.”

“Cassandra built a travois!”

“She managed to get my brother back to the road. I came upon them earlier today, returned for a wagon, and brought them both back here.”

“Is your brother going to be all right?”

“The doctor is with him now.”

“I, I just don’t know.” Roger Cuevas shook his head and sighed. “My sister should never have been riding alone. What if she…” Roger’s words dwindled away as he covered his eyes with his hand.

“Your sister is just fine, Mr. Cuevas, and my family is very glad she was riding where she was. She saved my brother’s life,” Adam said soothingly.

“I suppose God uses whatever instrument is at hand, even if the devil placed it there.”  There was a sharp edge to Roger’s voice.  Little Joe and Adam both thought that merely saving the life of a stranger would not get Cassandra out of trouble with her older brother.

“You didn’t know then that Cassandra had gone out riding?” Adam inquired.

“I had business in Carson City.  I intended to ride over and back yesterday.  I thought it best if Cassandra just remained at the hotel.  I should have known better than to think she would say put.  Then I was delayed and wired her that I wouldn’t be back until morning.  I thought she was safe at the hotel.  We’ve been staying there for the past two weeks.  Anyway, when I got back today, I thought she had just gone out for a bit.  When she didn’t return, I went to look for her and found out the telegram hadn’t even been delivered. I went back to the hotel to talk to the people there.  I was just about to head for the sheriff’s when your man arrived.  The man at the hotel vouched for the fact that he was from the Ponderosa and worked for you, so I came as quickly as I could.”  Roger Cuevas looked at Adam Cartwright with a rueful grin.  “I’m Cassandra’s guardian as well as her brother, Mr. Cartwright, if I had known last night…”

“Please call me Adam. I assure you that I understand fully,” said Adam with a pronounced glance at his brother Joe.

“Adam it is then, if you will call me Roger.  My sister may be unharmed now, gentlemen, but I wouldn’t vouch for her well-being when I get her alone.”

“Roger, Cassandra was exhausted.  She’ll probably sleep through until morning if we let her.  We have another guest room.  Please have dinner and stay the night.”

“I couldn’t impose, not with your brother…”

“It’s no imposition.  Please.  The debt we owe your sister…”

“Don’t speak of it.  Really, I am glad Cassandra was able to help your brother.  Please don’t think…”

“Good then.  Joe, will you tell Hop Sing we have another guest.  Roger, I’ll show you where you’ll be staying.”

*****

At first she could not grasp where she was.  Then, as the faint rays of the dawning sun came through the windows, she remembered.  She leapt from the bed with the desire to find out what was happening with the big man.  She stopped suddenly realizing that she could not go roaming about a strange house full of men dressed in a nightshirt even if most of them had already seen her in her drawers.  Glancing about for the robe she had discarded, she discovered her clothes laid out for her.  Roger had been there.  A shudder ran through her as she realized her brother knew about not only her adventure but also her disobedience.  Then she dressed quickly and ventured out of the room.

Adam closed the door to his brother’s room softly behind him, turned, and came face-to-face with Cassandra.

“You’re up.  Are your feeling all right?”  Adam assessed the girl quickly but thoroughly and judged her fit.

“I’m fine, absolutely fine.  How is your brother?”

“He came around a few hours ago.  The doctor feels he should make a full recovery if we can keep infection at bay and see that he has the proper care.”

Relief filled Cassandra’s eyes.  “I’m sure that he’ll make a full recovery then.”  She hesitated.  “I don’t suppose I could see him for a moment.  It’s just… well, I…”

Adam reached back and opened the door.  He drew Cassandra inside with him and led her to Hoss’ bedside. They stood next to the chair where Ben sat watching over his son.

Hoss’ eyes flickered open. “Who’s that with you, Adam?” His voice was weak but steady.

“Don’t you recognize… no, I don’t suppose you could. You’ve never seen her,” Adam replied.

“I’m Cassandra Cuevas, Mr. Cartwright. I found you in the woods.”

Hoss focused his eyes on the girl. He had heard that voice before. “My angel, Adam, my angel’s here.”

“I’m no angel, Mr. Cartwright!”

“I couldn’t see her, Adam, but I kept hearing her voice. She told me to hang on ’cause everything would be all right, that help was coming. I just listened to my angel.”

“We’re mighty glad you did, little brother,” Adam said with a deep smile.

A blush rose in Cassandra’s cheeks, but she took Hoss’ hand and enjoined,” Then you must keep on listening. You’re to follow the doctor’s orders and get well quickly.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Hoss answered as he slipped back into sleep.

Ben took Cassandra’s hand in his. “Thank you, child. You saved my son’s life.”

Cassandra shook her head, “No, Mr. Cartwright. I couldn’t have. I prayed so hard. God just answered my prayers.”

“I can’t argue with that, but we’re still very grateful that you allowed God to use you for his purpose.”

“Your welcome, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Adam, show Cassandra down to breakfast, and see that you eat some yourself,” Ben ordered.

“Yes, Pa.”

Adam led Cassandra out into the hall as Joe Cartwright bounded up the final step. Seeing his brother he exclaimed, “Adam, Hop Sing says you or Pa better get downstairs and eat before he has to come up and get ya.”

“Miss Cuevas and I were just coming down, Joseph.”

Joe’s eyes moved to the girl standing beside Adam.

“Call me Cassandra, please.”

“If you will stop calling us all Mr. Cartwright. I’m Adam, and this is my youngest brother Joe.” Cassandra recognized the young man who had ridden the black and white horse for the doctor.

“Pleased to meet ya,” Joe said tipping an imaginary hat. “Breakfast is being served, if you please.” He extended his arm. As Cassandra took it, Joe continued, “Your brother is waiting for us downstairs.”

Joe felt Cassandra hesitate and turned to gaze down into her eyes. He recognized the emotions flickering there; he had felt them often enough.

“Don’t worry,” he stated flashing her a brilliant smile, “Adam and I will be there to protect you.”

“I’ve a feeling I’m going to need it.”

Roger Cuevas rushed up to meet his sister at the bottom of the stairs. He swept her into a fierce hug. “Cassandra, you’re all right?” He stepped back but held on to his sister’s arms.

“I’m perfectly fine, Roger. Nothing at all hurt me, nothing at all.”

Roger could see that she spoke the truth. His brows drew together as he looked down into his sister’s face. Softly, he spoke a single word, “Yet.”

Cassandra dropped her head. “I’m sorry you were worried.”

Joe stepped up to stand on one side of Cassandra, and Adam stepped to her other side.

“We’ll discuss things later, Cass,” Roger said sternly, “For now I think our hosts would like us to join them for breakfast.”

 Joe gave Adam a meaningful look. Adam’s slight nod of acknowledgement and subtle shake of his head went unnoticed by Cassandra and Roger

 The conversation over breakfast was convivial as the members of the two families became acquainted. The Cartwrights learned that Roger and Cassandra had lost both their parents in an influenza epidemic two years before. At the age of twenty-one Roger had taken over the running of the family business and the raising of his then fourteen-year-old sister. Currently the two were traveling in the West and considering moving from Ohio. As everyone finished a second cup of Hop Sing’s coffee, Joe asked permission to show Cassandra some horses down at the corral and whisked her out of the house.

 Adam leaned back in his chair. “It must be very difficult having to be brother, mother, and father to Cassandra.”

 Roger Cuevas looked at the man across from him. Opened his mouth to make a polite reply and then shut it. He felt an overwhelming desire to speak the truth instead, but telling his troubles to a man who was little more than a stranger was not his way.

 Adam saw his hesitation. “This is where you say, ‘Oh, I manage,’ isn’t it?”

 Roger leaned forward and said softly, “What if I said that I hated it?”

 Adam’s right eyebrow rose, “Do you?”

 “I love my sister.”

 “I saw that yesterday.”

 “We’ve always been close. In fact, I loved having a sister, but now.”

 “You hate being a parent?”

 “Yes.” There I’ve said it. “Can you understand that?”

Adam looked directly into Roger’s eyes and replied, “Yes.”

“It’s amazing what she did, ‘ Roger ventured.

“A lot of young girls could not have saved my brother.”

“She shouldn’t have been there.”

“You understand how grateful my family is that she was?”

“Yes. I’m thankful too. Really I am. I’m thankful and proud and angry as hell,” Roger declared.

Adam smiled, “You’re not the only brother who has felt that way.”

Roger closed his eyes and sighed. He looked very young to Adam at that moment.

“What would you do?” Roger asked without opening his eyes.

“Talk to my Pa.”

“That’s the problem, Adam. My father’s dead.”

“I said talk to my Pa, Roger.” Roger’s eyes flew open. “It’s perfectly all right to borrow what you need and don’t have. After what your sister did for my brother, the least I can do is loaning you my father. He’s an excellent one, Roger. I assure you.” Adam rose. “I’ll send him down for breakfast while I sit with Hoss. I don’t think Joe and Cassandra will be coming back too quickly.”

“Joe’s keeping her out of reach until you can save her from my wrath, is that it?”

Adam grinned. “Joe has a great deal of empathy for Cassandra right now.”

Roger returned his grin. “Based on his own experience?”

“Of course.”

*****

Adam sat beside Hoss and listened to his snores. The sound of those snores was reassuring. Adam had listened countless nights to that sound telling him his little brother was sleeping safely nearby. Hoss was pale except for the flush on his cheeks from a slight fever, but somehow Adam knew this time Hoss would be all right. Thank you, God. I haven’t the strength to survive losing him.

“I’ll be fine.” The soft sound of his brother’s voice startled him, and Adam wondered if he had spoken aloud.

“Sure you will, little brother.”

“Ya know you only call me that when you’re worried. I told ya, Adam, I’m gonna be fine. God sent me an angel, so I’m gonna be fine.”

I love you, little brother. “So he did, and you’ll be fit as a fiddle in no time, big brother.” Adam assured them both.

“What was that little gal doing alone in the woods?”

“Disobeying her brother.”

A look of concern came to Hoss’ face, and Adam regretted his remark. “She ain’t in no trouble, now is she?” Hoss queried.

“Actually, how much trouble she’s in depends on Pa.” The look on Hoss’ face changed to one of confusion. “The brother in question is discussing the error of her ways with Pa as we speak.”

“Adam, knowing my head has to be aching from the whack I took, ya could try keeping things simple.”

Before Adam could answer, Hop Sing arrived with broth for the invalid.

“Don’t worry, Hoss. Eat this.” Adam continued in a perfect imitation of his brother’s voice, “Ya must be plum starving to death.”

*****

Joe stopped chatting and looked over at the girl beside him. If not for her, he might have lost his brother. Joe pushed that thought from his mind. He could not bear to think of it.

Cassandra felt his eyes on her. “Sorry, Joe. I guess I’m not very good company this morning.”

“Oh, I think the company’s just fine,” Joe said with a smile. Getting none in response, he continued, “There’s no need to fret, Cassandra. Adam’s going to talk to your brother.”

“That won’t change anything,” she sighed. She was just too weary to guard her tongue.

“Just might. Adam’s pretty good at saving hides. He’s gotten a lot of practice saving mine.” Joe expected at least a tiny smile, but the sadness in the girl’s eyes just grew.

“Roger use to save mine, but now…” her words dissolved into tears.

For a moment, Little Joe was too flustered to do anything. Then he put his arm around the girl’s shoulders. “It will be all right,” he coaxed.

 “It’ll never be all right again,” she sobbed.

Joe pulled the girl into his arms, and she wept against his chest. “Because of your folks?” he inquired softly.

She nodded without lifting her head from his chest. “I’m just a burden to Roger now. He’ll end up hating me.”

Joe lifted her head gently, so he could look into her eyes. “Your brother loves you, Cassandra. Anybody could see it in his face yesterday.”

“Was he furious with me?”

“He was worried about you.”

“I made him worry. I just wanted to… I’m so tired of his… I just…oh, you couldn’t understand.”

Joe grinned, “Believe me, Cassandra, I can understand. Sometimes Adam forgets he ain’t my pa.” Joe felt Cassandra relax slightly. “There’s nobody can be more bossy, overbearing, and overprotective than my eldest brother. Well, maybe Pa can be more overprotective.”

“Roger wants to wrap me in cotton batting and lock me away for safekeeping.”

“So you escaped for a little ride; that’s not that big of a sin. Least ways, that’s what I always told myself when I did it.”

“Did you do it often?”

“Too often for Pa and Adam.”

“Did you get caught?”

“Sometimes. Never had such a good reason to get let off, though. I never saved a man’s life.”

Tears trickled down Cassandra’s face once more. “I was so scared and worried. I didn’t know what to do. I tried to think of what my father would say.” Her voice grew softer as she whispered. It was like I could hear him telling me what to do.”

“I can hear my pa sometimes when he ain’t there. I even think I hear my mama sometimes,” Joe admitted.

“You do?”

“Yeah, I do.”

Cassandra pulled back from Joe and started rubbing the tears from her eyes. “I should be happy about your brother, but… It’s silly and stupid after worrying about something really important to be worrying about a spa… about being punished.”

Joe wished he had a handkerchief to offer the girl, but he didn’t. Offering a smile instead, he said, “If Roger wallops as hard as Adam and Pa, I don’t think it’s silly.” He was finally rewarded with a shy smile. “I don’t have a handkerchief, but ya can use my sleeve,” he offered, ” Or my shirttail.” He placed his arm in front of her face.

Cassandra giggled, “No, thanks, Joe.”

A deep voice drew their attention toward the house. “That’s my pa calling. They must want us back.”

Cassandra bit her lower lip, and rubbed at her face with her hands.

“Actually, Cassandra, you being a girl, well, if I was you, I’d start crying soon as my brother looked at me. Puppy-dog eyes couldn’t hurt either.”

Cassandra opened her eyes wide and looked up at him through wet lashes. “Like this?” she asked.

“Not bad,” he commented offering her his hand. He drew her to her feet and escorted her back to the house.

Ben and Adam waited on the porch.

“Your brother would like to speak with you inside, Cassandra,” Ben stated with a gesture toward the house.

Cassandra ducked her head and slipped past the two men with a soft, “Yes, sir.”

Joe moved to follow, but Adam and his father both moved to block him.

“They’ll need some privacy, son. I think we’ll get some barn chores done.” Ben took Joe’s upper arm and turned him away from the house.

“He’s not going to tan her, is he?” Joe demanded.

“That’s between Roger and Cassandra,” Ben answered.

Joe turned to his brother and started berating him. “Adam, you were supposed to talk…”

“I did talk to Roger, Joe, and then Roger talked to Pa, and now Roger and Cassandra will have a little talk. You and I will get the barn chores done.” Adam’s tone was firm, and his hand clamped onto Joe’s arm propelling him toward the barn. “Pa, you can go back and check on Hoss.” With a wry smile he added, “Just go in through the kitchen and up the backstairs.”

By the time they reached the barn, Joe was in a full sulk. Picking up a pitchfork, he began furiously removing the soiled straw from Buck’s stall.

“Watch what you’re doing, boy!” Adam’s tone was sharp. Joe stopped to look at his older brother. He planted the pitchfork in the floor and leaned against it.

“Adam,” Joe heaved a sigh.” Hoss will be all right, won’t he?”

“Doctor Martin is pretty confident that he will,” Adam reassured his little brother.

“Adam,” Joe paused and then continued,” Do you ever think of me as a burden?”

Adam stalled for time by answering with another question,” Why do you ask, Joe?”

“Cassandra thinks that she is a burden to her brother now that he’s her guardian.”

Adam considered his conversion with Roger. He did not feel free to discuss with his brother what Cassandra’s brother had revealed to him.

“Roger has a great deal of responsibility now that he didn’t have before,” Adam answered carefully.

“Do ya ever think about…I mean you know when you turned twenty-one that Pa put it in his will that if, well that you would be my guardian.”

“Pa talked to me about it before Hiram wrote the codicil. He gave me the option of refusing, Joe.” Adam stepped closer to his brother and spoke clearly, “Joe, I told Pa that there was no law that could keep me from looking after you and Hoss. You’re my brothers. Will or no will, the two of you are mine to care for.” Then with the corners of his lips turning upward, “You know which brother is always in charge around here.”

Joe smiled back. “Sure I do, Bossy Boots.” Then turning serious once again, “Would I be a burden, Adam?”

“Joe,” Adam answered, “Responsibility, concern, worry, they can all be burdens when it comes to someone you love, but for every burden love brings, it also brings the strength to carry that burden.”

Joe understood his most reserved brother had just told him that he loved him. “You’re a burden sometimes too, big brother,” he ventured. Adam’s smile told Joe that Adam had also understood. Then Joe continued, “I guess God knew what he was doing, don’t you?”

“When he did what, Joe? Adam queried raising his right eyebrow.

“Why when he gave Hoss to both of us. It takes two to carry our big brother, now don’t it?” Joe replied with his cheekiest grin.

“At least two,” Adam replied drawing his brother into a bear hug, “but then maybe God gave Hoss the two of us because he knew that big boy could carry us both.”

***The End***

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