Learning Curve (by Rona)

Summary: A small band of Indians are raiding ranches and homesteads, but are surprisingly inept. Joe stumbles on their secret.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated: T
Word Count: 10,480


 

Riding drag had to be the worst position of the whole round up, reflected Joe Cartwright, as another cloud of dust found its way under his bandanna, and into his mouth. His eyes stung and watered, and the green of his jacket was slowly but surely being obliterated by the dust coating every inch of him. The ground was as hard as a bone; there hadn’t been any rain in almost a month. The pastures were quickly being exhausted, and they were once more having to move the herd to fresh grazing.

One steer, more ornery than the rest, made a break for freedom once again. Joe was sick of this particular animal. It was quite distinctive, as one horn was twisted in a peculiar way. This was at least the fourth time Joe had had to chivvy it back into the herd, and he was beginning to be a bit short tempered about the whole thing. Urging Cochise out, he headed after the steer.

As he snapped his quirt in front of the beast’s nose, he heard a whoop from behind him. Glancing over his shoulder, Joe was astounded to see about a dozen Indian braves coming racing down the hill towards the herd. He dropped the quirt, and drew his gun, firing a warning shot into the air.

Further along the heaving mass of cattle, Adam and Hoss heard the shot and turned. Immediately, they, too, drew their guns, and headed back in Joe’s direction. The hands, seeing the braves, and hearing the rumpus, started to move to protect the herd and their bosses.

Still whooping, the braves began to loose off arrows. They weren’t really aiming at anyone; they were just trying to keep everyone back. Joe ducked as an arrow sang over his head. He fired again, but missed the brave he’d been aiming at. The herd were getting uneasy, and Cochise sidled about anxiously.

A few of the braves had singled out the steer Joe was trying to head off, and rode at Joe without hesitating. Reluctantly, Joe shot at them. One of the braves tumbled to the ground, blood pouring from his shoulder. By now, Adam and Hoss were galloping towards Joe, shooting at the Indians, although they had little chance of hitting them at that speed.

Seeing, the reinforcements, the braves abruptly decided to back off. A few more arrows sailed through the air. Joe felt the tug of one on his right sleeve, but he paid no heed. He put his heels to Cochise, and galloped after them. There was something funny about these Indians, and Joe wanted to find out what it was.

“Joe! Come back!” Adam shouted, but it was no use. Joe didn’t hear him over the uneasy lowing of the herd. “Hoss, I’m going after Joe,” Adam said.

“I’m comin’, too,” Hoss declared, and Adam didn’t bother to argue. He simply nodded, and waved to the nearest hand. “Fred, keep ‘em moving,” he ordered, and they set off up the hill after Joe.

Galloping after the departing Indians, Joe saw them disappear among the trees about half a mile away. There was quite a broad track there, well used by the Ponderosa hands when traveling between one pasture and another. Joe put his heel to Cochise again.

Next moment, something hit Joe across the chest, and he was swept backwards out of the saddle. He landed with a crash on the road, and his head thumped cruelly off the rock hard ground. He was unconscious before he knew what had hit him. Cochise ran on a few yards more, then came to a stop, hopping lame. The braves might not have had much idea about rustling, but they knew how to stop pursuit. The braves who had pulled the rope across the road dropped it, jumped onto their ponies and fled after their brothers.

Cresting the hill, the first thing Adam and Hoss saw was Cochise. Joe was sprawled on the road, and Adam hauled Sport to a stop, and jumped off. Hoss wasn’t far behind. As Adam knelt by Joe, Hoss caught the pinto, and examined him.

“How’s Joe?” Hoss asked, looking over Adam’s shoulder.

“Out cold,” Adam replied. “And look. Did you see this before?” He pointed to Joe’s right arm, where the shaft of an arrow protruded. It had obviously been broken in the fall, as the other bit of the shaft lay close by.

“Dadburnit, no I didn’t,” Hoss declared. “Is it serious?”

“I don’t think so,” Adam responded. “Get me a canteen, and I’ll see if I can rouse him.” He doused his bandanna in the water, and wiped Joe’s dusty face. After a moment or so, Joe groaned. Adam trickled a little water into Joe’s mouth, and he swallowed. Shortly after, his eyes flickered open, and he looked dazedly at his brothers.

“What hit me?” he murmured. He moved and winced, and his left hand crept up to gingerly touch the back of his head. “Oh, my head!”

“Can you sit up?” asked Adam. He slid his arm under Joe’s shoulders, being careful to avoid the arrow. He gently eased his brother to a sitting position. He supported Joe while he looked at his head, and told him what had happened. “It’s bleeding,” he announced, “but it doesn’t look too bad. Can you ride?”

“The pinto’s lame,” Hoss said, quietly. “That rope must’ve caught him, too, and he’s sprained his fetlock. Ain’t no way he’s gonna carry Joe home.”

“I’m all right,” Joe protested, weakly. He actually felt ghastly. His whole body ached from the force of his fall. “Just help me up.” He started to extend his right arm to Hoss, but let out a cry of pain. “My arm!” He looked blankly at the arrow. “When did that happen?” he wondered. He thought back, and remembered the tug on his clothes. He hadn’t felt any pain.

“I’ll take him back double on my horse,” decided Adam. “Hoss, you go back and take charge of the herd, and send someone for the doctor. Give me a hand.”

Between them, they got Joe onto Adam’s horse, and Adam mounted behind him, taking the pinto’s reins. They set off slowly for home, and Hoss headed back to the herd.

*****

It was a few hours before Hoss arrived back at the ranch. He dismounted wearily, and put his horse away. Cochise was resting fairly comfortably, he noticed, and someone had put a poultice on the injured limb. He gave the pinto some extra hay, and a scratch behind the ears, and then went inside.

The table was laid for supper, but there was no one in the main room. That didn’t come as a surprise. Hoss went upstairs, and stuck his head into Joe’s room. Ben was sitting by Joe’s bed. Adam was nowhere in sight. Joe had a bandage around his head, and another one on his arm. He appeared to be sleeping. “Pa,” Hoss whispered.

Glancing up, Ben smiled at Hoss, and rose. He looked back at Joe once more before joining Hoss in the hallway. “Good to see you, son,” he said, warmly. “Is the herd all settled?”

“Sure enough, Pa,” Hoss said. “How’s Joe? What did the doc say?”

“He’ll be all right,” Ben said, glancing back at the room, although he couldn’t see Joe from where he stood. “He has a concussion, and the doc took a couple of stitches in his head. The arrow wasn’t in deep. He was lucky.”

“Where’s Adam?” enquired Hoss.

“Here,” came Adam’s voice from behind him, and Adam emerged from his room, newly bathed and changed.

“You see to Little Joe’s pony?” the middle brother asked, and wasn’t surprised to get an answering nod. “I’ll go get cleaned up. When’s supper gonna be ready? I’m getting’ plumb puny waitin’ for it.”

“Soon as you’re ready,” Ben answered, with a laugh. He stuck his head round Joe’s door again, but his youngest son slept on peacefully.

*****

After supper, Hoss looked in on Joe, and found him awake. It was clear to Hoss that Joe’s head hurt, but he made no reference to it. After assuring Hoss, unasked, he was fine, Joe said, “There was something odd about those Indians, this afternoon.”

“Odd?” repeated Hoss. “How’d you mean?”

Screwing up his face, Joe shrugged. “I don’t know, exactly,” he admitted. “But no Indian in his right mind would try to rustle a single steer from a herd that was being pushed by a bunch of cowboys. They’d come along and take it at night.” Joe closed his eyes and thought back to the fleeting glimpses he’d had of the braves. “And there was something wrong with their paint, too. I just don’t know what.”

“I didn’t see them closely enough to notice,” Hoss said. “But I guess you’re right there, little brother. I hadn’t thought of that before. Wonder if Adam noticed?”

“Why don’t you ask him?” Joe asked, sleepily. He had been kept awake for quite a while when the doc was treating him, and his injuries were catching up with him rapidly. “You can ask him, and tell me tomorrow.”

“Good night, Shortshanks,” Hoss said, taking the hint. He shut the door quietly behind him, and went back downstairs. He repeated to Adam and Ben what Joe had said about the Indians.

Shrugging and making a small moue, Adam said, “I didn’t notice, either. But then, we were a lot further away from them than Joe. I was surprised that they tried to rustle a cow while we were there, but they looked young. Perhaps they are young warriors out on their first hunt or something.”

“I hope that this drought doesn’t mean the Indian are having a hard time of it,” Ben said, thoughtfully. “Perhaps we ought to find out if there’s been any other trouble round about lately. You haven’t heard anything when you’ve been in town?”

“Nothin’,” Hoss offered.

“Nor me,” agreed Adam. “But the drought is only really beginning to bite now. Perhaps any trouble has only begun in the last few days. None of us has been in town this week.”

“Is the fire watch still on?” Ben asked. The hills were tinder dry, and the least spark from could set off a conflagration that would burn the whole ranch. They couldn’t afford for that to happen.

“Yep, still on,” said Hoss. “Reckon I’m gonna turn in. I’m a mite tired.”

“I won’t be far behind you,” Adam said, smiling.

“Nor me,” agreed Ben. “It’s been a long day.”

*****

When the family gathered for supper the next evening, Adam and Hoss did most of the talking. Joe was there, but he was still pale and wan looking, and he picked listlessly at his food. The heat was incredible. All the windows in the house stood open, but there wasn’t a breath of air.

“Nate Jenkins said a bunch of Indians tried to run off one of his prize bulls. The bull had other ideas, and they left in a hurry when Nate turned the dogs loose.” Adam took a bite of his meal, and Hoss took up the tale.

“Mizz Johnstone says Abe woke up the other night and saw a bunch on Injuns in the corral. They didn’t manage to get any of their cattle, but they took a ham and a side of beef that had been fresh butchered that day.” Hoss settled back down to the important business of the day – eating.

“It’s the same story all over,” Adam concluded. “They make a raid, but botch it totally. The only thing they’ve managed to get away with was a ham and a side of beef. Nate says they weren’t very young. Not braves out on their first hunt, not that young. He says they looked to be about Joe’s age. And, like Joe, says there was something funny about their paint. It just didn’t seem right.”

“Well, this is a mystery,” Ben commented. He glanced once more at Joe, and stifled the comment he was about to make. Apart from Hoss, who seldom suffered a loss of appetite, the heat was making them all feel less like eating. “Keep your eyes open, boys. These Indians might be inept right now, but who knows when they might start to improve, and I don’t want to lose any of our head before we take them to market.”

“Right,” Adam agreed, and also looked at Joe. “Feel all right, buddy?” he asked. Joe’s shirt was untucked, a sure sign that he wasn’t feeling 100%.

“Yeah,” Joe responded. “I was just thinking about those Indians. That trick with the rope across the road. That’s more a white man’s thing, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I think you’re probably right,” Ben said, slowly. “But they could have picked up the idea anywhere.”

“I guess,” agreed Joe. He laid down his fork. “If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go to bed.”

The rest of his family watched as he made his weary way to the stairs. They all sympathized. It was bad enough to be unwell, without having to suffer thorough heat like this. They each silently hoped that tomorrow would bring rain.

*****

The drought continued unabated. Each day, the sun shone out of an arc of pure blue. The sky seemed to be bleached to almost colorless along the tops of the mountains. The grass shriveled and went brown. The watering holes dried up. The streams were barely more than trickles. Even the mighty Lake Tahoe began to go down. No one moved faster than they had to. People began to die as they drank stagnant water from almost dry ponds. There were many cases of sunstroke.

But life had to go on. On the Ponderosa, chores still had to be done. Hay had to be cut and hauled, and it was a bumper crop this year. Horses had to be shod; fences had to be mended. The grazing for the herd had to be checked regularly. And through all the usual chores, a fire watch was maintained.

The Indian raids continued, and they were still just as ineffective. The odd chicken went missing, and sometimes a pre-butchered ham or side of beef was taken, but generally, the Indians didn’t seem to know what they were doing. Life was too tough, right then, for anyone to begrudge the Indians a few chickens. Everyone was battling for survival.

As he drove the buckboard slowly into town to collect some supplies, Joe found himself thinking about the newspaper reports he had read the other day, which reported that the South was suffering from excessive amounts of rain. He fervently hoped that some of that rain would come their way soon. The sun was beating down on his bare forearms, and he thought sympathetically of one of the men who had a very bad sunburn. Joe had never been as darkly tanned as he was that year.

The town was as busy as usual, but the people moved more slowly. Joe placed the order at the general store, and went across to the saloon for a beer. To his surprise, there wasn’t any beer. “Not enough water to make beer,” Sam, the bartender complained. “All we’ve got is whisky!”

“I think I’ll pass on that,” Joe said, making a face. “Say, Sam, anyone been in here talking about those Indians lately?”

“Now, someone did mention seeing them off in the distance, Joe, but I don’t recall who it was.” Sam screwed up his face in thought. “Might have been old Griggs. You know, the old trapper who comes about once in a while. Might have been him.”

“I just wondered,” Joe replied. He still found himself puzzling over the attacks. “Well, see you around, Sam.”

“Bye, Joe,” Sam replied, and went back to polishing the glasses. Business was slow.

The supplies were ready, and Joe and the storekeeper loaded them onto the wagon together, and then Joe climbed onto the seat, and headed for home. It was going to be a long journey, especially as he had to keep the horses to a walk.

The team didn’t really need a lot of driving; they knew where they were headed. Joe was almost drowsing as they plodded on. He stopped them for a rest a couple of times, and even managed to find a stream with just enough water to give the team a drink. So when the attack came, he was caught unawares.

The Indians rose up out of the bushes at the roadside, and grabbed the team’s bridles. Joe fumbled for his gun, but a sharp blow on his forearm numbed his fingers, and his gun clattered to the road. Undaunted, Joe resorted to his other weapon – his fists. He began to throw punches at the nearest brave, as the others started to loot the supplies on the wagon.

It was hopeless; Joe knew that. But he couldn’t let the supplies go without a fight. Outnumbered, Joe soon found himself in the strong grip of a couple of braves, while another punched him repeatedly. Even as he fought, Joe was aware that there was something odd about this attack. The braves’ paint didn’t look right. And he’d seldom met an Indian who fought with his fists, and not a knife! But he had no time to think it through. A final blow to the head sent Joe’s wits flying, and he fell to the ground, dazed. He was unable to resist as the Indians bound him hand and foot, and then left, taking the wagon with them.

It was sometime before Joe revived enough to begin to struggle, and he realized very quickly that he had no chance of getting loose. This was one attack that the Indians hadn’t botched. As the afternoon wore on into evening, Joe lay by the roadside, and suffered. His mouth was horribly dry, and his hat had got lost sometime in the melee. The sun beat down on his unprotected head mercilessly. He ached all over from the beating he had taken. “Oh, Pa, find me,” he whispered, before drifting off into unconsciousness.

*****

“Shouldn’t Joe be back by now?” Ben asked, as Adam and Hoss came in.

“He isn’t here?” Adam said, needlessly. “But he left this morning. Even if he went into the saloon, he should have been back long ago.”

They looked at each other, concern etched on their faces. “I think we ought to go look for him, Pa,” Hoss said. “I’d sooner he was angry with us for treatin’ him like a baby, than find out somethin’ had happened to him.”

“Saddle the horses,” Ben said, and he began to buckle on his gun belt.

*****

The sun was well down, but the heat was just as intense. A very faint breeze rose off the water of Lake Tahoe, but it just made the anxious men feel even hotter than before. They had gone more than half way to town before Hoss shouted, “There!” and pointed.

Almost invisible by the side of the road, Joe lay unmoving. His eyes were closed, and bruises marked his face. His shirt was ripped. Ben threw himself from his horse, and knelt by his youngest son. He saw the sweat beading on Joe’s forehead. “Joe!” he exclaimed, and set about freeing him from his bonds.

The blood on Joe’s wrists gave mute testament to his struggles to free himself. Ben took the canteen Hoss offered him, and poured some water onto Joe’s face. After a moment, Joe groaned. Ben lifted his head, and trickled a little of the precious liquid into Joe’s mouth. Joe choked, and opened his eyes. “Pa?” he whispered, his voice little more than a breath.

“Take it easy, son,” Ben said, offering him a little more water. Joe swallowed it eagerly, but Ben wouldn’t allow him to drink too much too soon, knowing that it would make Joe sick. He could feel the heat coming from Joe. He gestured to Hoss to soak a bandanna, and bathed Joe’s sweaty face with it. “Let’s get you home,” he said.

It was only after Joe was home that they were able to ask him what had happened. Joe told them as best he could. His head throbbed, and he couldn’t seem to get enough water. He was soaked in sweat, and his speech wasn’t entirely coherent. Ben, as he helped Joe out of his dusty, torn clothes, noticed that his son had sunburn on the back of his neck, and concluded that Joe had sunstroke. “Bring me some cool water,” he instructed Adam, and his oldest son hurried to do his bidding.

After about an hour of being wiped down with cool cloths, and getting small drinks of water, Joe’s temperature was back to normal, and he was sleeping. Ben hadn’t pressed him to tell them any more about what had happened to him. Time for that when Joe was feeling better again. He checked the window was open before he left Joe alone for the night.

Downstairs, Adam and Hoss were sitting listlessly by the empty fireplace. They looked up at Ben as he came down. “The supplies are gone,” Adam reported. “If it was those Indians, they managed to get this raid right. They must be learning.”

“We’ll find out for sure from Joe in the morning,” Ben said. “He was pretty badly beaten. He’s going to be sore for quite a few days.”

“It ain’t like Injuns to beat people,” Hoss commented. “They’s much more likely to shoot an arrow through ya, or knife ya in a close fight.”

“Then Joe was lucky,” Adam commented, throwing Hoss a black look. Ben didn’t need reminding. “Tomorrow, we’ll go and look for the wagon,” he went on.

“Yes, all right,” Ben agreed. “But stay together. I don’t want any more of my sons getting injured.”

*****

The next morning, they woke to clear skies, and high temperatures again. Joe was still slightly feverish, but he was lucid again, and was able to tell his story. Like his brothers, he was surprised that the Indians hadn’t knifed him. Again, he mentioned the war paint looking wrong.

“Their clothing was completely plain, like the Sioux, but they didn’t look like Sioux,” Joe said.

“If they had been Sioux, you’d be dead,” commented Adam, dryly. “Piautes? Shoshone?”

“I don’t think so,” Joe said, frowning. He ached all over, and his headache still lingered. He moved slightly, trying to find a more comfortable position. But the movement just set up a protesting chorus from a different set of bruises. He winced. “I wish I could put my finger on what it is, but I can’t.”

“It might be worth having a word with Winnemucca,” Ben said. “Perhaps he might know something.”

“The Piautes are away down south,” Hoss said. “I saw Winnemucca a few weeks ago, and he told me he was heading down south till the weather broke. Said this weather is bad for fires.”

“Let’s hope he’s wrong,” said Adam.

“Well, it was a thought,” Ben commented. “If you two are going to look for the wagon, then for pity’s sake, don’t ride in the midday sun. Rest up then, and be careful.”

“We will, Pa,” they promised, and after giving Joe a smile, they left.

“Can I get you anything, son?” Ben asked, as his older sons left.

“A cool breeze?” joked Joe, and a smile crossed his bruised and battered face.

“If I had one, I think I might keep it for myself,” Ben teased. He hated to see Joe in such discomfort, but the youth’s humor was a good sign. “I’ll leave the door open. If you want anything, just shout.”

“Thanks, Pa.” Joe momentarily looked troubled, and Ben sat down again.

“What is it? Come on, out with it, Joe.”

“I’m sorry, Pa,” Joe said, wretchedly. “All the supplies gone. You’ll have to get more, and someone will have to go for them. I’m sorry I was so careless.”

“I can replace supplies easily,” Ben said, stroking Joe’s hair. “But I can’t replace any of my sons!”

Those wonderful green eyes of Joe’s were always a mirror for his soul. They blazed with sudden light, and the smile he gave Ben was blinding. “Thanks, Pa,” he said.

*****

About two hours later, Ben heard the rumble of wagon wheels in the yard, and got up from the desk to go and look. Sure enough, it was Adam and Hoss, and they had both the wagon and the team. Ben went out into the yard to greet them, and saw that some of the supplies, at least, were still in the wagon. “Where did you find it?” Ben asked.

“Up off the road a bit from where we found Joe,” Adam answered. “Three or four miles on. The team were hitched loosely to a tree, and had access to a little water. They look as though they were well taken care of.”

“Well, let’s get the supplies unloaded, and then we can see what we need to replace,” Ben said. His mind wasn’t really on the supplies; it was on the inconsistencies they kept meeting when these Indians appeared. No Indian would leave supplies in a wagon they had captured, nor would they leave the horses. They would keep any animals they came across. It didn’t make sense.

Later that afternoon, Hoss and Adam rode into town to get the supplies they still needed, and to tell Sheriff Roy Coffee about the attack on Joe. He promised to keep an eye out for the Indians, but with the ground so hard, it was impossible to track them very far. Frustrated, but understanding Roy’s problem, the Cartwrights left for home, and this time got there unmolested.

*****

After a few days, Joe was up and about again, although still black and blue. He reluctantly accepted his father’s stricture about staying in the house, but he was restless, and chafed against the restriction. Ben was out supervising the last of the haymaking, along with Adam and Hoss. Hop Sing was busy in the steamy kitchen, and Joe was bored. He wasn’t in the mood for reading, and he wandered in and out of the kitchen until Hop Sing was ready to do ‘number three son’ serious amounts of injury.

Taking the hint, Joe wandered outside. It was just as hot as ever. He glanced up at the sky, and wondered when it would rain again. Another few weeks of this, and they would be in real trouble! From somewhere drifted the elusive scent of smoke. For a moment, Joe’s nose didn’t register what it was smelling, but there was a tiny movement of air, and the scent of smoke was back in his nostrils.

Smoke! It was what they had all been dreading. A forest fire in weather like this would be a disaster. There was no time to lose. Joe headed into the stable and hefted his saddle onto Cochise. It was an effort, but he barely noticed the strain. He had to get word to someone about the fire, and they had to track it down before the whole ranch burned to the ground!

As Joe rode out of the yard, Hop Sing appeared from the kitchen, and promptly started screeching in Chinese. Joe understood a little of the language, but he hadn’t the time to listen now. He kicked Cochise into a canter. A little further down the trail, Joe met Fred, who was riding back towards the ranch. “Fred! Quick, tell Pa and the others. There’s a fire somewhere! I can smell the smoke!”

Without waiting for a reply, Joe kicked on, following some in-built instinct. Fred shouted, “Joe! Come back here!” But Joe ignored him. Cursing, Fred turned his horse and set off for the hayfields at a gallop.

Pulling Cochise to a halt, Joe sniffed the air again. His pinto pawed nervously beneath him, and Joe absent-mindedly soothed his hand down the sleek, sweating neck. The hint of wood smoke drifted his way again, and Joe pinpointed it now. It was coming from a stand of trees near the lake. He rode on, clutching his ribs, which were aching from the strain.

The fire was still fairly small, which was amazing under the circumstances. Joe dragged his bedroll off the back of the saddle, and ran towards the flames. As he got closer, he could see that someone had dug a fire pit for a camp, but hadn’t made a good enough job of it, and the fire had escaped. Joe began to wield the blanket energetically against the flames. He hoped help would arrive before the fire got any worse.

Fire is a tricky thing. Just as you think you’ve got it under control, it turns on you. Joe straightened, coughing, and glanced back the way he had come. To his horror, the fire had circled round behind him, and he was trapped! The heat was intense, and Joe could almost feel it dancing along his skin. Frantically, he beat at the flames, knowing he had to keep going if he was to have any chance of surviving the conflagration.

Vaguely, over the roar of the fire, he heard shouting, but he had no time to look and see who it was. The smoke was in his chest, and breathing was difficult. With each passing moment, Joe’s movements became weaker and weaker. Suddenly, there was a crash from above, and Joe barely managed to dodge a flaming limb as it crashed to earth. A spark jumped onto his shirt, and suddenly, his clothes were alight.

Yelling in shock, Joe dropped to the ground and rolled, as he had been taught. Then there was a body there, another person, and he bodily lifted Joe, slung him over his shoulder, and jumped through the barrier of flames. Joe’s shirt was still alight, and he was yelling incoherently. Then he was falling, and the cool water of the lake closed over his head. Joe inhaled a mouthful, but the relief was immediate.

As he came, spluttering, to the surface, he realized that his rescuer was Adam, who was also wet through. Adam pulled him roughly to his feet, and propelled him to the shore. Joe could barely move, he was so stiff and tired, but he sloshed his way to dry ground, and flopped down to rest. Adam dropped beside him.

Coughing, Joe watched as Ben and the hands fought the fire. For a time, it seemed as though the flames would win, but gradually, they were beaten back, until there was only a patch of burnt forest. The Ponderosa was safe!

Everyone was blackened with smoke, and coughing heavily. Ben dropped to his knees by Joe and Adam, exhausted. “Are you both all right?” he asked, worriedly. “Are you burned?”

“I don’t think so, Pa,” Adam answered. He looked at Joe. His younger brother’s shirt was burned away in places, but the skin underneath, although a touch red, wasn’t blistered. Adam had arrived in the nick of time!

“Are you sure?” Ben asked, and looked more closely for himself, pulling the remnants of Joe’s shirt away. “Joe, thank goodness you smelt the smoke! But why did you try and fight the fire yourself? Why didn’t you get help?”

“I sent Fred,” Joe protested. His voice was hoarse from the smoke. “I couldn’t not do anything, Pa! The whole ranch might have been lost!”

“You’re on the sick list,” Ben pointed out, acidly. “You could have been badly hurt, Joe! How do you feel?”

“Tired, “ Joe said, and smiled. “I’m okay, Pa.”

“Let’s get home,” Ben said, rising. He put a hand down to help Joe to his feet, and Adam did the same. As he began to get up, Joe realized that his aggrieved muscles were even more painful than they had been. He tired to hide his wince of pain, but Ben had eyes like a hawk, and he looked sharply at Joe’s face. “All right?” he asked. “Can you ride?”

“I can ride,” Joe answered. Nothing short of death would make him admit that he didn’t feel up to it. He shivered slightly, and Ben frowned. Adam was shivering, too. After a moment, Ben realized that there was quite a sharp little breeze blowing in from the lake. Looking over to the mountains on the far side of the water, Ben saw clouds in the sky for the first time in 6 weeks. Finally, there was rain on the way.

*****

The rain arrived that night, battering off the hard ground. The temperature dropped abruptly, and that night in the Ponderosa, there was a fire lit. Adam and Joe had both had a bath and a nap, and were up and about again. Joe was obviously very stiff. His muscles hadn’t recovered from the pounding they’d had from the Indians, and he had aggravated them when he fought the fire. Ben was still exasperated by his youngest son’s behavior, but had to admit that if Joe hadn’t begun to fight the fire, the whole ranch could have gone up In flames.

Watching the flames dancing in the hearth, Ben thought back to the moment they had arrived at the fire, and seen Joe falling to the ground, his shirt alight. Ben’s heart had been in his mouth, but Adam hadn’t hesitated. He had jumped from Sport, and leapt right over the flames, scooped Joe up and charged for the lake. By the time he had got Joe to the water, Ben was organizing the hands into fighting the flames. He realized that both his sons were at least mostly all right, and he could fuss over them later, once the danger was passed. But the picture of his sons trapped by that ring of fire was one that would haunt his dreams for many a night.

With a start, he realized that he had almost fallen asleep, gazing into the tamer flames of the fireplace. He looked at his sons, and saw they were all sleepy, too. Even though it was still early, they had had a long day. “Let’s get to bed, boys,” he suggested, and they all stirred, stretching the kinks out of their abused muscles. “Need a hand, son?” he asked Joe, who was sliding his butt towards the edge of the settee in preparation for getting up.

“Thanks, Pa,” he said, gratefully, for once not too proud to accept the help he needed. As he straightened up, he looked across at Adam. “Adam, I never thanked you earlier for saving my life. I would’ve died if you hadn’t come when you did.”

“Well, I’d have hated Pa to be upset,” Adam joked, not sure how to respond. He didn’t want to dredge up the whole scene again. “And I don’t mind having you around, sometimes.”

Not deceived by the kidding, Joe’s face remained sober. “Thanks anyway.”

“Come on, kid, let’s get you to bed,” Adam said, and for once, Joe didn’t protest at being called a kid.

*****

It rained steadily over the next few days. The ground was initially so hard, that the rain sat in great pools on the land. Gradually, it seeped its way into the earth, and the land began to turn green again. However, the rain kept coming, and it wasn’t long before all the rivers and streams were back to their full flow, and then, as the rain still continued with scarcely a break, they began to reach overflowing.

“I never saw such contrary weather,” Joe moaned one morning. It had been quite bright when they left the house, but the rain had blown in suddenly in mid-morning, and the brothers were soaked to the skin in a matter of minutes. The only consolation was that the hay had been gathered in early, and they weren’t trying to dry it in the wrong kind of conditions. However, roundup was due to start shortly, and although eating dust wasn’t wonderful, eating mud was even worse. “One minute we have no water, the next we have too much!” He turned up the collar of his blue jacket, but it didn’t stop the rain from running down his neck!

“Quit belly-aching and just get on with it,” Adam replied, grumpily. He was as miserable as Joe, but the fences still needed mending, and the sooner they got done, the sooner they could get home and dried off.

The deluge lessened and finally stopped, and Joe and Adam got the fence repaired, and headed for home. “Have there been any more reports about those Indians?” Joe asked, as they rode back. They weren’t in any hurry. Wet pants on wet saddles at any kind of speed could mean a fall.

“No,” Adam responded. “They must have moved on. Or else they got washed out. But who’s had time to look for them?”

“Good point,” conceded Joe, and they jogged on in silence. But his mind was still on the mysteries of the summer. Adam was unaware of Joe’s silence. He was concentrating on not sliding off his saddle. He urged Sport to a slightly faster pace, but the ground was saturated and the horse’s hooves made sucking noises as it plucked them out of the mud. After a few steps, Sport slowed down, and Adam respected his mount’s decision.

“D’you suppose Winnemucca knows about these new Indians?” Joe asked, calling ahead over the few yards that separated them.

“I have no idea,” Adam answered, shortly. “Drop it, Joe! They haven’t been seen since the rains began. Let’s just leave it at that!”

“Well, pardon me for breathing,” returned Joe. “Who rattled your cage? No, scratch that, I know it was me! I was trying to make conversation, that’s all!”

Irked by Joe’s tone, and annoyed with his own shortness of temper, Adam did what he frequently accused Joe of doing – acting without thinking. “Then choose an interesting topic! You’ve harped on about those Indians since you managed to get yourself shot by one of them!”

“Well, you can be sure I won’t bore you any further!” Joe exclaimed. He was furious with Adam’s comments.

“Oh, hang it all, Joe,” Adam began, but a sudden tremor of the earth beneath his horse’s hooves cut him short. It only lasted an instant, but both horses began to panic.

“Whoa, now. Whoa!” Both men soothed their hands, but the horses sidled and half-reared. The wet ground beneath their feet churned into soupy mud.

“Let’s get out of here!” Joe said, the quarrel forgotten. “This whole slope is loose!”

But it was too late. This latest deluge of rain had loosened the soil, and Sport’s few steps in canter had knocked loose a stone. That one tiny thing was enough to start the whole slope going, and there was nothing Joe or Adam could do. With a roar, the ground gave way, and men and horses fell down the slope in a flurry of arms and legs.

*****

Coming into the house, Hoss shed raindrops alo9ng with his slicker. Unlike his brothers, he’d learned not to trust the weather, and had taken his slicker with him. It had kept most of him dry, but there was still a tidemark of wet halfway up his thighs.

“Hoss!” Ben protested, as a drop or two hit him.

“Sorry, Pa,” Hoss said, contritely. He rolled up his gun belt and put it on the credenza. “I sure thought Adam an’ Little Joe woulda in home by now. That fence didn’t need that much repair, did it?”

“I didn’t think so,” answered Ben. He frowned. “Neither of them had their slickers. They’ll be soaked to the skin.”

“I don’t guess they’ll shrink none,” joked Hoss, heavily. “At least they’ll be clean!”

Laughing, Ben clapped Hoss affectionately on the shoulder. “Go put on some dry clothes, son. Supper won’t be long.”

Supper was soon on the table, and Adam and Joe hadn’t arrived. Neither Ben nor Hoss had much appetite and they soon admitted how concerned they were. “What should we do, Pa?” asked Hoss, standing aimlessly in front of the fireplace.

“We’re going to have to look for them,” Ben responded. He walked to the door, and reached for his gun.

There was a sound at the door, and it opened to reveal Adam, caked in mud, his clothes torn. There was a gash along his head, and he cradled his right arm. “Adam!” Ben exclaimed in horror, and caught his oldest son about the waist as his legs gave out.

“Landslide,” Adam said, obviously exhausted. “Joe… is… missing.” Safe home, his duty done, Adam collapsed into his father’s arms.

*****

There was pandemonium for quite a while at the Ponderosa. Doc Martin was summoned. Hoss went out in the yard and found Sport and Cochise. They were both covered in mud and scratches, and were dreadfully lame. He tended to them while Ben gently washed the mud off Adam.

While Doc Martin set Adam’s broken arm, and bandaged the gash on his head, Hoss paced the great room, consumed with worry about both his brothers. He had sent out some hands to look for Joe, but there had been no reports back from them yet. As soon as Ben told him Adam would be all right, Hoss headed out to look for Joe.

The landslide had been easy to find, but a thorough search failed to turn up any sign of the youngest Cartwright. The light faded away, until Hoss was finally forced to go home, empty handed.

Half soaked, and worn out, Hoss miserably confessed to Ben that Joe was still missing. The hands had had no luck, even though they had been digging through the mud with shovels. “He might be dead,” concluded Hoss, flatly.

Wordlessly, Ben stared into the flames. Over the summer, Joe had been in one scrape after another, but Ben hadn’t really feared for his life through any of them. Now, he did. He had faced landslips before, and knew that it was quite conceivable that Joe’s body might never be found. Deep within, he suspected that he would never be able to accept Joe’s death without seeing the body. He would always be hoping that Joe was alive somewhere, and that hope would eventually destroy him and his sons.

“We’ll look again tomorrow,” he said, starkly. “I’ll go and sit with Adam.”

*****

Slowly, Joe fought his way up from the dream that had held him captive. He dreamt that he and Adam were falling, and Adam’s voice was calling out his name. Then Adam’s voice disappeared, and Joe bolted upright. “ADAM!” he screamed.

For a moment, his eyes saw nothing, then adjusted to a different darkness, and an Indian tepee swam into focus. Joe caught his breath. He wondered if he was hallucinating, but details began to impinge on his consciousness. The furs he sat on, and which covered him, were poorly treated and smelt. The tepee walls weren’t as wind and watertight as they should be, for rain leaked in all around the hide structure.

The flap was pushed aside, and a young man entered. His buckskin clothing fit poorly, and his hair hung loose, rather than in braids. He wore no paint, which wasn’t a surprise, and when he spoke, Joe discovered that his English was excellent.

“Are you all right?” he asked, and Joe wondered again if he was hallucinating. But then, the young man touched him, and Joe winced in pain. From all over his body, he was assaulted with pain, and he sank back, biting his lip to stop from crying out.

It was true! He and Adam had fallen! “Adam!” Joe cried, again.

“I’m sorry, you were alone,” the Indian said. “I am … White Deer.”

“Joe Cartwright,” muttered Joe, trying to keep a hold of the grief that bellowed through him. Adam might not be dead, he thought. He swallowed. The pain was centring itself on his left arm and shoulder. He caught his breath as he tried to ease it slightly.

“You’re quite badly hurt,” White Deer went on. “We wanted to take you to your home, but we didn’t know where it was. You’ve been out of it for quite a few hours. You’ve had a bad bang on the head.”

“Ponderosa,” Joe said, his tongue feeling thick. “Please, take me there. No harm will come to you, I promise.”

“It is dark,” protested White Deer, taken aback.

“Please,” Joe repeated, and gathered his wandering wits. “My should is dislocated, and I think my arm is broken. I’m left-handed. If it’s not set soon, I’ll be unable to use that hand again.”

“Of course, we should have known,” said the other. “Rest, and I’ll be back soon.” He gave Joe some water and left.

A short time later, he was back, and with the others. Joe fought back the pain, and asked for their help. There was soon a full-scale argument going on.

“We stole their food,” said one. “They will want to arrest us.”

“It won’t matter,” Joe answered. “Just take me home, and my father will give you what you ask for.”

“We have stolen from others,” interjected another.

And so it went on. Joe repeated again and again that it didn’t matter what they had done. Finally, desperately, he said, “If you need help with finding food and making what you need, we’ll help you!”

There was a stunned silence. White Deer broke it. “What makes you think we need help?”

Too sore to think of keeping quiet, Joe pointed out the discrepancies they’d noticed over the months. Again, the braves were silent.

“He’s right,” white Deer said, at last. “I’m going to get him home, and if they help, I’ll be grateful to them.”

Another argument broke out, but it wasn’t as heated as the last one. Gradually, one by one, they came round to White Deer’s way of thinking. Joe was helped to a crude travois and they headed for the ranch.

It was just daylight when they got there. Ben and Hoss were saddling up, ready to resume the search for Joe. Hearing the hooves, they went out into the yard.

For a moment, they gazed at the Indians disbelievingly, then their eyes fell on Joe, and they rushed to his side. One glance told them both that Joe needed a doctor at once. His green eyes were glazed and he felt feverish. “Let’s get him inside,” Ben said, to Hoss, who gently picked Joe up, and carried him away.

“Thank you for bringing my son back,” Ben said, eyeing this group of young men. “I’m very grateful.”

“He spoke of another,” said White Deer. “We didn’t find anyone else.” It wasn’t quite a question.

“My other son, Adam,” Ben answered. “He made it home last night. We were all worried about Joe.”

“I’m sorry we weren’t able to set his shoulder,” White Deer went on. “We don’t know much about medicine. Joe said that you would help us.”

“Anything that I can do,” Ben responded. “Just ask.”

“We need help to live like Indians. We are sorry that we have been raiding ranches over the summer, but we did not know how else to get food.”

Intrigued, Ben said, “Please, come inside. Have something to eat, and I’ll tend to Joe. Then we can talk about what you need. Please. I won’t be sending for the sheriff, I give my word.”

Reluctantly, they dismounted. Ben sent one of the hands for Doc Martin (he wondered if Doc Martin shouldn’t just move to the ranch, the number of times he’d been out that summer), and escorted his guests inside. Hop Sing soon had some food on the go, and the young men fell on it as though they were starving. Looking more closely, Ben thought they just might be.

By the time Paul Martin arrived, the Indians were replete, all of them having almost rivaled Hoss’ capacity for food. Hop Sing was delighted his talents had been appreciated. Hoss came down to join them as Ben went upstairs. After a few minutes, they heard Joe scream in pain, and Hoss blanched.

“Its not easy to hear one you love in pain,” said White Deer. “When we were younger, my brother, Running Deer, was injured, and I remember crying as his arm was set.”

“Joe’s the youngest,” Hoss said. “I’ve always looked out for him. He sure does get into a lot of trouble!”

When Ben came downstairs with Paul, Hoss and the braves were fast friends. After seeing the doctor out, Ben came and sat with them before the fire, and had a restorative cup of coffee. It was then that he heard the tale of White Deer and his friends.

They had been orphaned as very young children. White Deer had only been 3, Running Deer a babe in arms. A missionary had taken all the orphaned children from the lodges, and raised them as white men. When he died suddenly, earlier that year, they were turned away from the mission by the new man, and suddenly found themselves abandoned. They had been unable to get jobs, because they were Indians. Their own people were no longer on the reservation, and they drifted from place to place, until they decided they would return to the ways of their ancestors. The only problem was, they didn’t really know how to do anything. Hence the badly cured furs, and the poorly made tepee.

“We had to steal to live,” said White Deer. “We knew it was wrong, but we didn’t know who to turn to for help.” He blushed. “It was Joe that we shot when we were trying to steal one of your cattle. I don’t know how to tell you how sorry we are.”

“It was a minor injury,” Ben said. “But we will help you. We’ll teach you all you need to know about tracking, and trapping. About curing furs and making a tepee. Why don’t you stay with us for a while? Help with a few chores around the place as you’re learning, and we’ll feed you, too. How about it?”

Eyes shining, the young men looked at each other, unable to believe this stroke of good fortune. “Thank you, Mr. Cartwright, we accept,” White Deer said.

*****

Opening the door, Ben saw that Joe was awake. He smiled and went in, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “How do you feel, son?” he asked, tenderly.

“Sore,” Joe replied, honestly. He was still slightly feverish, but Paul wasn’t concerned. His chest was clear, and his shoulder had gone back into place very nicely, considering how long it had been left. The break in his forearm wasn’t complicated, and Paul had set it easily. Luckily, with it all being on the one arm, Joe still had a hand free to feed himself, and see to other personal needs. “Pa, White Deer…”

“White Deer and his friends are going to stay here in the mean time, and learn all the crafts they would have learned if they had been raised as Indians. “ Ben told Joe the story. He listened intently.

“I knew there was something,” he said, afterwards, almost to himself. “How’s Adam?”

“Like you, sore,” Ben responded. “Now, Joe, don’t go saying ‘I told you so’ to your brother.”

“Me?” Joe said, looking so innocent, that Ben wasn’t fooled for an instant.

“Yes, you!” He laughed. “I know you.” They laughed together. After a moment, Ben sobered. “Joe, you were both incredibly lucky. I could have lost you both.”

“I thought Adam was dead,” Joe admitted, bleakly. “I suppose he thought I was dead, too.” He looked thoughtful. “I’m sorry I scared you, Pa.”

“Joe, you’re safe, that’s all that matters now,” Ben said, a lump forming in his throat. He took Joe’s uninjured hand, and squeezed. “You rest and get well.”

The door opened, and they both looked round. It wasn’t Hoss, as they had both expected. It was Adam. His head was still bandaged, and his broken arm was in a sling. Various lumps and bruises had formed on his face in the last few hours, and he looked all together dreadful. But that cool smile was on his face, and there was warmth in his deep brown eyes. “Well, little brother, I see you’ve turned up again.” The words were tart, but the tone was warm, and Joe grinned.

“And I was right about those Indians,” he blurted, quite forgetting what his father had said to him such a short time before.

“It was probably you being right that caused that landslip,” Adam responded. “Its not often you’re right!”

Sighing, Ben rose. He put his hand on Joe’s forehead, just to check that the fever was still down. “I’m going,” he said. “Please keep the noise down as you fight.”

“We’re not fighting, Pa,” protested Joe. His eyes twinkled, merrily.

“No, we’re just having a discussion,” Adam chimed in. “We don’t have the energy to fight, do we, Joe?”

“No, that’s right,” agreed Joe. “Adam’s getting on a bit now, Pa, and I have to make allowances for him, you see.”

“Getting on a bit?” Adam repeated, and Ben made a hasty exit. He knew this was just their way of showing their love, and reacting to the close call they’d both had, but he could only take so much. He went downstairs, and sank down into a chair.

“Did I hear Adam up?” Hoss asked.

“Yes,” Ben responded, dryly. “He and Joe are having a discussion. I left them to it. If blood starts to flow, they are all yours!”

“Hey, Pa, that ain’t fair,” protested Hoss. “They’re just my brothers, but you’re their pa. Surely you can make them behave?”

“I doubt it,” Ben said, seriously.

*****

As Adam and Joe recovered from their injuries, they took on the bulk of the teaching of the young braves. They explained how to make traps, and the best places to set them. Hop Sing showed them how to skin and gut their prey, and the best ways to cook over an open fire. Adam, who was a fair hand at furs, showed them how to cure furs so they didn’t go off. Joe explained how to make leather. Hoss took on the teaching of tracking, and they picked it up with enviable ease.

After a few weeks, Adam returned to light duties, but Joe’s shoulder was taking a long time to heal properly, and he was still forbidden to ride. In truth, it had taken Cochise quite a while to get over his lameness, and Joe admitted that he would find it too painful to ride. Instead, he took the braves round the trees, and showed them which nuts were good to store, and which trees had sweet inner bark that could be tapped for late winter sweetness. He taught them the best place to make a fire, and how to find dry deadfall, even in the wettest conditions.

Finally, as the trees were just beginning to show the first changes of color, Joe was allowed to ride again. He was restricted to light duties, until his arm regained its full strength, but that suited Joe. By now, the braves were living part of the time at their camp, and part of the time at the ranch. Joe waited until they were spending a few days away, and rode off one morning, not telling Ben or his brothers where he was going.

It didn’t take long to find Winnemucca’s camp. Joe rode in slowly, making it clear to all that he came in peace. He was well known in the camp, but it never hurt to be careful. Dismounting, he didn’t protest as he was relieved of his gun, and he followed a brave to the chief’s tent.

Winnemucca was getting on in years, but he still stood as straight as a Ponderosa pine. Joe had always admired the chief. He had a vast amount of dignity, and was adapting to a world where his values were generally ridiculed. Joe had been brought up to respect everyone, whether they were Indian, black or white. It made no difference to him. He respected a lot of the Indians’ beliefs. Many of them held true to the Christian religion, and Joe thought it appalling the way the Indians were treated.

After the ritual exchange of greetings, Joe told Winnemucca why he had come. “I am sure you know about these braves,” he said, after explaining how they came to be around. “Little happens in this land without Winnemucca being aware of it. They wish to live with their people, but have no one. I wondered if Winnemucca would be willing to adopt them into the Piautes, so they would have a people, and the chance to live as their people do.”

“Is this the wish of your father?” Winnemucca asked.

“I don’t know,” Joe admitted. “I thought of this myself. I did not discuss it with my father.”

For a long time, Winnemucca was silent, staring at the youngest Cartwright. He respected Ben Cartwright immensely. He had been treated with nothing but respect from the man. The sons were good men, too. They weren’t afraid to come into the camp, or to help the tribe when it was needed. What this young man asked was very unusual, but it could be done.

“I will ask the people,” Winnemucca said. “You return this time tomorrow, and I will say.”

“Thank you, Winnemucca. I am grateful to you,” Joe said. He was elated. He had half expected the chief to say no at once.

“Joe Cartwright, why do you do this?” asked the chief. “Did they ask this of you?”

“No,” Joe answered, startled. “They are my friends, and I know they want to live the way their ancestors lived. But they haven’t had a chance, and I wanted to help them, if I could.”

“This time tomorrow,” Winnemucca said, and went away.

Unsure if he had just helped or hindered his friends, Joe rode home.

*****

The time went past very slowly for Joe. He was restless, which his father and brothers put down to his being almost well. Joe found it very hard to keep his secret, but he didn’t want everyone to know, in case it fell through. Then, he would be the only one to be disappointed. He tossed and turned all that night, never quite hitting the deep sleep he was accustomed to, and he rose next morning feeling as though he hadn’t slept at all.

Several times over breakfast, Ben asked him if he was feeling all right, and Joe was beginning to get really quite sort with him. “Pa, I’m fine!” he exclaimed. “Honestly, I’m fine!”

“All right, son,” Ben said. “I was only asking.”

“Sorry, Pa,” Joe apologized. “I didn’t mean to snap.” He smiled. “But I am fine.”

It seemed to Joe to take an age before he could slip away. He rode towards the Piaute encampment, his anxiety spiraling out of sight with each passing minute. He tried to keep his hopes under control, but he didn’t quite succeed. Optimism came naturally to Joe, and he couldn’t help but hope for the outcome he wanted.

The entire camp was gathered waiting for him. He slid down from Cochise’s back, and walked slowly forward, his heart in his mouth. Winnemucca didn’t keep him waiting. “I talked with the people,” he said. “I told them of Joe Cartwright wanting to help his friends. I told them where the friends came from. They have agreed to allow them to be adopted into this tribe. Tell your friends. The ceremony will take place at full moon, in two days time.”

“Thank you, Winnemucca,” Joe gasped, barely able to get the words out. A smile broke free, and he looked round the gathered tribe. “Thank you all!”

*****

He was literally dancing on air as he arrived home. White Deer and his friends had returned earlier that day, and Joe couldn’t wait to tell them the news. He cornered them in the big house, as Ben, Adam and Hoss all arrived home. “White Deer, you know you wished that you had a tribe to belong to? Well, Winnemucca has agreed to adopt you all into the Piautes.”

“Why would he do that?” asked White Deer suspiciously.

Warily, suddenly realizing that he might have offended his new friends, Joe explained what he had done. There was a long silence. Joe caught his father’s eye, and ducked his head, recognizing the anger he saw. Adam had his arms folded across his chest, and had one cynical eyebrow raised. Hoss just looked embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to offend you,” Joe said, wretchedly.

“Offend us?” said White Deer. He grasped Joe by the shoulders and the young man looked up into the other’s face. “Joe, do you know what you have done for us?” White Deer was smiling, as were the others. “You have given us the chance of a home, and a people. How can we ever thank you for this?”

“Be happy,” Joe said, simply. He felt his mouth twitch, and then his wonderful smile broke through. Glancing back at Ben, he saw that his father was smiling, too. He knew he would get a lecture about interfering, but he no longer cared! He had made his friends happy, and that was all that counted.

*****

Two nights later, the Cartwrights stood near White Deer and his friends as they were formally adopted into the Piautes. Joe wore a huge grin, which even his father’s lecture hadn’t been able to shift. The ceremony was solemn, but the celebrations after were joyous.

After a time, Ben signaled to the boys that they should take their leave. Winnemucca came over, and nodded to Joe. “They are good men, Joe Cartwright,” he said. “I am glad you brought them to us.”

“Winnemucca is a good man,” Joe responded. “And his tribe are good people. Thank you for taking them in.”

Looking at Ben, Winnemucca went on, “Ben Cartwright is a fortunate man to have one so thoughtful for a son.”

“Thank you, Winnemucca, “ Ben said. He looked at Joe, and placed a loving hand on his shoulder. “I know I am.”

*****End*****

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