Savage Son (by BettyHT)

Summary:  After years away from home, Adam is about to travel to Europe and to marry when a telegram from Hoss tells him of a situation from the past that demands his attention.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  6197


Chapter 1

Looking at the letter once more, Ben Cartwright wasn’t sure what to do. He looked at the previous two letters and knew that they were private and knew how much his son hated anyone invading that privacy. Yet the correspondence he had received made him consider doing that. He waited though until Hoss and Joe returned from their tasks and asked them to come to his desk.

“What is it, Pa? Ya look like ya got something serious on your mind?”

“I do, Hoss, and it concerns this letter I received from that woman running the mission up in Oregon.”

“The same one who sent them other two letters to Adam?” Hoss picked through the stack of mail on the desk that had been set aside for his older brother. Adam was set to sail for Europe and had asked them to hold any correspondence for him until he had notified them of his return. He had been living in the east for a couple of years after having moved there from San Francisco. The Ponderosa hadn’t been his home for many years, but it was still his base of when he traveled. He left that address whenever he planned to go anywhere. The departure date he had told them was only two days away for his trip to Europe.

“Yes, the same one. Only this letter was addressed to me or anyone else here on the Ponderosa who could contact Adam Cartwright.”

“What’s it say, Pa? Why is she so intent on finding Adam?”

“She doesn’t say only that he needs to read the previous material that she sent to him. Obviously he can’t and won’t unless we could somehow get it to him in less than two days which is impossible.”

“Ya think we oughta look in them letters she wrote him to see what it is that’s so all fired important. We could always send him a telegram ifn it was something we thought was important too.”

That line of reasoning got Joe to perk up his interest too. He was insatiably curious about those letters. “Pa, I think Hoss has a point there. We should look at those letters to see what is so important that she sent two and now this one to you or us really.”

“I don’t know. That would be prying into his personal matters.”

“It might be, Pa, but ifn there’s something important in them letters he ought to know, there’s no other way to let him know.”

Making a decision, Ben picked up the letters and a letter opener. Joe sat up in anticipation ready for his father to open the envelopes and reveal the hidden messages. Instead, Ben handed the items to Hoss.

“I don’t think we need to have all three of us read Adam’s private correspondence. It was your idea and the two of you are very close. I trust you to know if there is something in here that Adam needs to know before he leaves for Europe. I trust your judgment. You don’t need to tell us unless there is some kind of decision we would need to make.”

Surprised and disappointed, Joe watched as Hoss took the two envelopes and the letter opener and headed upstairs to his room. A short time later, Hoss came down the stairs looking as serious as they had ever seen him.

“I need to go to town. I’m sending a telegram to Adam. I’ll stay there until I hear back from him so don’t wait dinner on me. It could even be tomorrow morning before I’m back.”

As the door closed when Hoss exited, Joe looked to his father. “Now I’m more curious than I was before.”

With his hands crossed as if in prayer, Ben was far more somber. “I’m more worried than I was.”

*****

In New York, Adam Cartwright stood at a mirror in his room at a hotel near the harbor and adjusted his tie. He planned to go out for a light dinner with his traveling companion who was soon to be his wife. Smiling as he looked at his luggage standing near the door packed and ready to go to the ship the next morning, he was as ready as he could be for the trip he had dreamed of making. His itinerary included England, France, and Italy with a tour of the grandest buildings of the continent. A knock at the door interrupted his reverie. Surprised that anyone had come calling, he opened the door cautiously only to find a messenger with a telegram. That brought smiles again as he paid the man.

Opening it expecting good wishes for a safe trip from his father, he was shocked by the message he had received from Hoss. It had to be true, but he could hardly believe it and wondered how it could have happened. He couldn’t answer that where he was, and if it was true, he needed to go to Oregon. The next morning was going to be the beginning of a long journey but not the one he had intended to make. First he needed to go to dinner and talk to his traveling companion. She was not going to like the news he had for her.

*****

Two days later, Adam was headed to Oregon alone. Emotionally exhausted from worry about the future as well as acrimonious debate over the two days he had been in the city changing all of his plans for his future, he sat in his seat and tried to get some sleep. It didn’t come easily. Each time he finally did manage to fall asleep, it seemed they were at the next stop, and all too often, at first, that meant he had to switch trains.

Finally at St. Louis, he boarded a train that he wouldn’t have to leave for two days unless he wanted to leave. He settled into a berth and closed his eyes in exhaustion. In Salt Lake City, he had to switch to riding a stagecoach as that was the most direct way to get where he needed to go. He purchased a pistol and western clothing packing his city clothing into his valise. He had shipped the rest of his things to the Ponderosa with a short note telling them to expect him back within a few weeks to a month or so. He had added a cryptic note that he had no idea how long his task was going to take knowing Hoss would be the only one to understand that.

*****

It took five days of travel switching from one stagecoach line to another and then getting a horse to ride the rest of the way to get to the mission where the woman was who had written to him. When he reached the mission, she didn’t need to ask who he was.

“There aren’t many white men who ride in here. May I assume you are Adam Cartwright?”

“I am, but I don’t know your name. I’m sorry about that. I did not receive your letters directly. I was in New York and about to leave for a trip to Europe. My brother opened the letters to see if it was important enough to send me a wire and have me delay my trip. It was of course, and I got here as quickly as I could.”

“My name is Anne Monroe. Why don’t you come inside then and I’ll explain what was in those letters in more detail than you apparently know.” Once inside, they sat at a table and Anne began explaining what she knew. “A woman named Ruth was living with the Shoshoni who were placed on this reservation. She was obviously white but preferred to stay among them. She ministered to the sick even though she was blind.”

“Blind?”

“Apparently at some point many years ago, she had an illness or infection that robbed her of her sight. However she was healthy in every other way. She had a son with her that we assumed at first was half Shoshoni. He has black hair and darker skin. However when Ruth was injured in an accident, and it became clear that she would not recover from her injuries, she informed us that the boy’s father was white. She told us it was you.”

Anne could see the pained look Adam had and waited for his response.

“Why didn’t she ever say anything before then?”

“She thought you didn’t want to be with her. She was very bitter because you had never come to look for her.”

“I didn’t think she wanted me to look for her. I did try to get in touch with her but never heard anything. I had no idea she was carrying our child. She left the ring I gave her. I thought that meant she didn’t want me especially when I never heard from her. I kept that ring for years.”

“Do you still have it?”

“Yes.”

“Good. That may go a long way to helping mend the relationship with your son. You see, Ruth has passed her bitterness on to him. He thinks you abandoned her and him. He didn’t want you to come here. He doesn’t want to go with you.” Again she watched for the signs of distress on Adam. She didn’t see any. The man was good at steeling himself for the worst. “Do you have other children?”

“No, I’ve never married. I was about to be married in Europe. We had planned a romantic wedding in France, but that all changed with this news. She told me that under no circumstances was I to bring my ‘savage son’ to our marriage. I had to tell her then that there would be no marriage if she set that condition. She called off the wedding.”

“I am sorry that this news has caused such a disruption in your life, but this boy has had a terrible time of it too. He was accepted here because we thought he was half Shoshoni. Now that we know that he is white, he cannot stay here. He has to go, and the only place for him is with you or he would have to be placed in an orphanage. I’m afraid they could not handle him there, and we are afraid of what would happen to him then.”

“Handle him? He’s only nine-years-old, isn’t he?”

“You’ll have to meet him. Being brought up as he was, he’s not what you would expect in a white boy of that age. I have tried to get him to change his hair and dress in anticipation of your arrival or if he had to go elsewhere, but I have had limited success.”

They left then and walked outside to find Adam’s son but didn’t have to go far. Word of Adam’s arrival had traveled quickly and many were there awaiting his emergence from the building. Standing among them was a tall young boy with a defiant look. For Adam, there was no mistaking who his son was among the children there. There was some of Ruth softening his looks but the rest of him was all Cartwright even dressed in buckskins and moccasins.

“Tanner, come meet your father.”

“I have no father.”

“We have talked of showing respect, Tanner. Come here this instant and say hello respectfully to Adam Cartwright.”

Despite the reprimand, Adam noted how Anne had switched to his proper name instead of referring to him as Tanner’s father. The boy stepped forward but said nothing staring instead almost out of curiosity at the man who had fathered him. There was hostility in the look too.

“Hello, Tanner. I think that we have much to discuss.”

Tanner’s eyes flicked to Anne and then back to Adam. Clearly he had wanted to say something but knew it would not be acceptable so he remained silent.

“I brought an extra horse and a packhorse. We can leave whenever you’re ready to go.” From his look, Adam wasn’t sure he was ever going to be ready to go, but it was the only option for either of them.

Anne broke the tension. “Tanner, give him a chance. You have lived through a lot, but the world is still more complicated than you know. Listen and learn. There is still much to find out.”

“I want to stay here.”

“I have explained to you many times why that is not possible. This is the best answer for you. I know it isn’t your first choice, but it is the best one available.” She saw the look he had, and she thought that he needed a warning as well as his father did of what he might do. “And don’t run away at the first chance. I know you’ve said you would, but he will find you, and as your father, he will have to discipline you. I don’t think you want to start out that way with him.”

“You did not have to tell him what I told you!”

“I did because I am honest. You appreciate honesty, don’t you?”

Caught in a philosophical trap, Tanner had no out. He was outspoken and used that line as his defense in almost every case no matter what he said always claiming that all he said was the truth. Adam had to hold back a smile as he understood what had happened. Anne had given him a clue to his son’s tactics and to his intentions as well.

“Thank you, Anne, for everything. As soon as we get Tanner’s things and he has a chance to say goodbye, we can go.”

“Please let me know how things go.”

“I will. Perhaps Tanner will write to you when he can.”

“I can write. I am not ignorant.”

“I didn’t say that you were, but we will not be anywhere where you can write to Anne for a couple of weeks. I thought we would travel overland to my family’s ranch so we could get to know each other better.”

Tanner nodded thinking that his plan to escape was looking better and better.

*****

Chapter 2

It was three days out that Tanner got his chance to escape and didn’t take it. He didn’t know why he didn’t do it. His father lay on the ground helpless to stop him and yet he didn’t go. Instead, he went to his side and helped him after dispatching the sidewinder that had done all the damage he had wanted it to cause.

“Did you know it was there?”

“Yes.”

“Is that why you tossed your canteen that far to the side of me?”

“Yes.”

“So it would stir him up and when I reached for the canteen, he would strike?”

“Yes.”

“So, you got your wish. I couldn’t stop a baby from crawling away right now. Why are you still here? You could take all three horses and get your fondest wishes. You would be free of me and I’d likely die too. Or is it that you want to stay here and watch me die? I have to tell you that I’m going to do my damndest not to die if that’s what you’re hoping.”

“I don’t want you to die.”

“Then why did you do this?”

“I did, but now I don’t. Be quiet. You will need your strength to live.”

Seeing Adam pale and sweating, Tanner was scared. He knew that a sidewinder strike in the arm was worse than in the leg. He didn’t know that it was because it was closer to the heart and the venom would reach vital organs sooner and more intensely because of that. He did know that he needed to take action quickly. Using the knife he had used to kill the snake but wiping it clean first, he cut across the fang marks on Adam’s forearm and did his best to drain some venom. Keeping the arm lower than the body was important too and Adam instructed him on a tourniquet and how to loosen it briefly and periodically.

In between alternately loosening and tightening the tourniquet, he set up camp taking care of the horses and building a fire. He skinned the snake after discarding the head. It would make a good meal for them when Adam was ready to eat. However as hours passed, he ate the snake as Adam didn’t want any food asking only for water for the next day as he fought the effects of the venom in his system. Alternately chilled and feverish, he needed help to stand to move to the brush to take care of necessities.

While Adam struggled with his physical problems, Tanner examined his emotional ones. He couldn’t quite believe what he had done. With a perfect opportunity to kill the man he had considered an enemy, he had instead saved his life and now wanted him to live more than he wanted anything else in this world. As he watched Adam struggle, he wondered at his own motivation. He knew he didn’t want to be alone, but there were many places he could go so that wasn’t the only answer.

For three days, Adam had tried to engage him in conversation talking about his mother and their time together and how they had come to be separated. He had not participated in any of that, but he had listened even if he had doubted the truth of it. However the more he heard, the more it sounded like the truth. He wondered if his mother had been mistaken because of her loneliness and her illness. There was no way to ever know, but he was beginning to think it might be so. It was a lot to have to try to understand at such a young age.

*****

On the evening of the second day after being snakebit, Adam struggled into a sitting position. “I think I’d like something to eat.”

With his arm still swollen and tender, Adam wasn’t able to do much so he instructed Tanner on fixing bacon and beans for them. It took some time and the results were mixed, but they had an adequate meal.

“Thank you, son. I couldn’t have done that without you.”

“I’m sorry the sidewinder got you.”

“I’m sorry too, but I’m getting better now.”

“Are you going to be able to ride?”

“I’ve done that with one arm before. I’m more concerned that I can’t shoot. I don’t think I could hit much with my left hand and using a rifle with one arm is a major challenge.”

“You could teach me.”

“You’ve never fired a rifle or pistol?”

“No, I was too young.”

“You still are.” Adam saw the look of disappointment. “But I learned at your age for the same reason you’re going to learn. Necessity. My father taught me because if anything happened to him, I was going to have to be able to shoot. You won’t be able to use a pistol. I know it seems like it would be easier, but the weight and the kick is too much for a small hand and wrist. If I had a small caliber, it could work, but this one is too big. However a rifle is a different matter. Bring my rifle, please.”

Once Tanner brought the rifle, Adam had him set some sticks on a stump about fifty feet away. Then he had Tanner sit beside him and explained how a rifle worked showing him how to load it, cock it, and fire it. He showed him the guides on the barrel for aiming. Then he showed him how to hold it and how to steady it.

“As a boy, I always shot like this. I wasn’t strong enough to stand and hold the rifle steady. You won’t be either. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a fact of nature. When you’re older, you will stand to fire. For now, kneel and keep your left elbow braced on that forward knee like this. Keep that rifle tucked into your shoulder and up against your cheek tightly so the kick of it doesn’t bruise you. If it’s held too loosely, it will kick into you when you fire. If you hold it tightly to you, you and the rifle will rock back together slightly with each shot. Ready to try?”

“At those sticks? They’re so close.”

“We’ll start with those. If you hit any, we’ll try something further away.”

Tanner rolled his eyes, but after missing on his first three tries and with a bruise on his cheek, he listened better.

“Now, don’t fire so fast. Sight carefully, hold the rifle tightly to your shoulder and cheek, and pull the trigger back slowly without lifting your head.”

“I hit it!”

“Yes, you did. Now, try for the other two.”

They did some target practice until it was too dark to see clearly. Tanner had never felt closer to a man than he did to Adam that night. He slept with the rifle by his side as Adam told him that if there were a threat to the camp, he would have to be the one to shoot. He sincerely hoped that there would be no threat, but they had been there for two days already so predators could have located them by now and might come to check them out. He had no idea what kind of predators were going to show up the next morning though.

*****

Chapter 3

Awakening to a kick in the ribs, Adam rolled to escape that and got another in the back. His pistol was pulled from his holster not that he would have been able to use it anyway. Two men stood over him then and demanded his money.

“I don’t have any money.”

That earned him a couple more kicks. It was a lie that he didn’t have any money, but he had a fairly good idea that these men would kill him as soon as he told them where he had stashed money. It was in a hidden pocket in the side of his valise that they weren’t likely to see unless they knew to look for it. He wasn’t going to make it easy for them. Apparently they had done this kind of thing before and knew travelers often stashed their money for this very reason.

“Nobody has this much nice gear and three horses and don’t have money. We saw you and the kid yesterday, and you was wasting ammunition shooting last night so you must have money to replace that. Hand it over or we’ll empty your pockets when you’re dead.”

The man’s partner looked around. “Where’s the brat anyway?”

Adam didn’t know and hoped Tanner had gotten himself safely away from the dangerous men there. He hoped to distract them.

“I’ll empty my pockets for you if that will help convince you.”

His hope of distracting them to buy time for Tanner to get away safely died in the next instant though when he heard his son’s voice. Tanner had gone off to do his business in the bushes but had proudly taken his rifle with him when he went. He heard the men approaching the camp and had prepared to defend his father but hadn’t been able to get in position until they had already accosted Adam. While the men had their attention on his father, Tanner set up with the rifle a short distance away where he knew he couldn’t miss.

“Don’t hurt him any more.”

The two men turned and then laughed. “The little varmint thinks he can shoot. Little brat’s earned himself a beating for that.” The man who had spoken started to walk toward Tanner intent on taking the rifle from him when Tanner fired hitting him in the arm. The other man drew his pistol then and Tanner was hard pressed to ready the rifle for another shot running through the instructions in his mind doing each step and trying not to think about the man with the pistol. He fired when the man fired. Tanner’s shot was accurate, but the man had fired hurriedly and in anger. He missed. Tanner ran to his father.

“Are you all right?”

“Get their pistols, Tanner. You hurt those sidewinders, but you haven’t defanged them yet.”

Tanner quickly got the pistols and put them by his father. Then he aimed the rifle at the two men so he could guard his father. Slowly Adam managed to get a pistol into his left hand.

“I can manage at this distance. Go find their horses and get their rifles too.”

In less than ten minutes, Tanner was back with two rifles. “I found some ammunition in their saddlebags.”

Adam had to smile slightly at that. “Good.” Looking over at the two outlaws who had hands clutched to bloody arms, he was brusque. “Now, you two can leave.”

“Without weapons, we’re helpless out here and we’re wounded. Your brat saw to that.”

“You’re lucky that’s all he did. I don’t think I would have aimed for your arms. You’ve got your horses so you can get to where you can get some help. It’s more than you were going to do for us. Now go.”

Tanner watched the two men for quite a while to make sure they were riding away. When they disappeared in the distance, he returned to his father’s side once again asking if he was all right.

“Are you all right, son?”

With that, Tanner collapsed in his father’s arms in tears. He sobbed for a full minute as Adam held him as tightly as he could with his left arm and caressed his back with his sore right hand. He had wanted so much for this moment to happen but was so sorry that it had taken such a terrible circumstance for it to occur. Gradually Tanner’s breathing returned to normal and he sighed deeply.

“Father, you called those men sidewinders. Is that a white man’s way of describing evil men?”

“It can be. It seemed like the right word at the time.”

“I liked it. Mother taught me to speak her language, but she never used words like that.”

“My brother, Hoss, would likely have called them polecats. My brother, Joe, now he might have called them dastardly villains or some silly thing like that.”

“They’re my uncles, right?”

“Yes, and you have a grandfather who will be quite surprised and pleased too to meet you.”

“We should move our camp now. Those men might come back.”

“There’s a town about a day’s ride from here. I think we should head there. I had thought to stay on the trail until we got to the Ponderosa, but with all that’s happened, a few days in a hotel seem like a better idea.”

*****

So they spent a few days in a hotel. Adam took Tanner to a bathhouse after a trip to the general store to buy some clothing. There were a couple of men in the store who made fun of how Tanner looked calling him some names and laughing. They stopped when Adam walked up behind his son with that look he had that could chill a flame.

“We was just funning a little, mister. No harm done.”

“Yeah, we was just leaving.”

Looking up at his father, Tanner smiled with pride. He liked that his father was fierce. Even with the sore arm, Adam was able to intimidate other men. Although Tanner wanted clothing like his father’s, he had to settle for a blue shirt and black pants with a gray hat. There was only a maroon coat that fit him so that was what he got to wear. It helped that Adam said he wished they had the coat in his size. Tanner got a pair of boots too. Adam suggested that he get them a little bigger than he thought he wanted.

“At the end of the day, you may be grateful for that, and you’re going to be growing too. If they’re a little large, you can wear an extra pair of socks.”

They sold one of the rifles and one of the pistols they had taken from the men who had tried to bushwhack them. The other rifle was a good one as was the pistol. Adam guessed they had stolen it from some other hapless traveler.

“Those sidewinders must have gotten the drop on somebody who didn’t have somebody like me keeping watch.”

Smiling at how his son was picking up on how cowboys talked, Adam nodded. “They must have. You can keep the rifle. The rule is though that you can only use it when I’m there or another adult is there to supervise. Is that clear?”

“Yes, father. Thank you. What about the pistol?”

“I’ll keep it for you. When you’re old enough, you can have it.”

“How old is old enough?”

“I’d say probably sixteen, but we’ll see.”

“It could be sooner?”

“It could also be later. We’ll see. I’m not making a promise on something like that. It’s too important. We’ll talk more about that when you’re older.”

The rest of their visit to the small town was a time to rest and for Adam to fully recuperate. The horses got to rest too and were in good shape by the time they were ready to resume their journey. They added supplies at the store and Adam put a rifle scabbard on Tanner’s horse so he could more easily carry his rifle. The young man was very proud of that. He and his father were finding a lot of common ground as they traveled together. Adam was glad that he had planned to go home this way. Although being bitten by a sidewinder and being bushwhacked had not been part of his plan, it had certainly helped cement the relationship between the two.

In order to prevent any more unexpected events though, Adam redid the planned route taking them through more towns so that they were exposed less to dangers and had more opportunity to experience white culture. By the time they reached the boundaries of the Ponderosa, they had spent a month on the trail together.

*****

Chapter 4

“This is the Ponderosa.”

“Where is the house?”

“We’ve got a full day at least to get there. There’s a line cabin near here. We’ll spend the night there and head to the main house tomorrow.” Seeing his son frown, Adam knew he needed to explain some things to him. “Son, the Cartwrights own the biggest ranch in Nevada. We have cattle and horses as well as mining and timber operations.”

“What about the natives who lived here first?”

“We get along with the Paiute and the Bannock. Some of them work for us, and we give cattle to the Paiute tribe here when they are hungry and cannot find enough food to feed their people. We usually work out something they can barter for them so that they can keep their pride.”

*****

That night, the two of them talked at length about the building of the Ponderosa and how Adam had grown up with the Paiute as neighbors. He explained though that his friendship with Young Wolf had soured because of the actions of other whites, which his Paiute friend blamed on all whites.

“There were bad actions by both sides. But when you’re the one losing your lands, your people, your whole way of life, it can be hard to accept that there might be good people among those you see as the enemy stealing all that you hold dear.”

“I guess that’s what Miss Monroe meant when she said that life is complicated, huh?”

“Yes, that is exactly what she meant. It can be difficult to see the other side when you are hurting so much.”

“I think that’s why my mother said what she did about you. She was hurting so much. She wanted the hurt to go away.”

“You’re probably right. That makes good sense.” After a brief pause, Adam had some news for him and thought it was time to share it. “I have some of her things at the house.”

“You do?” Then with some suspicion, Tanner had a question. “How do you have some of my mother’s things?”

“When my family found me in her camp, it was clear she wasn’t returning. I took her Bible, and a few other things she had left behind. She left the ring I gave her inside the Bible so I thought she meant that I should take it. I kept it hoping that someday I might find her or that she might contact me. At first, I thought there was a chance. I had posters made and distributed. I had no idea that she was blinded by illness and would never see one. I had them sent to forts and trading posts. Of course, even if she was there, she wouldn’t have seen them, and she wouldn’t have used the name Ruth then either so no one else would have known. I thought she would see her name in bold letters and read the poster. I have a copy of the poster too.”

“The people make fun of whites for their big houses, but I see now that there is one very good thing about them. You get to keep the past and save it. I have very little of my mother’s things. I have her knife and her bowl and the bag she used to carry her things. All the rest of her things were women’s things.”

“I’ll give you what I have. And I’ll get a trunk for you to keep it in.”

“Thank you. That will be nice.”

*****

They slept well that night and the next morning were up early as both were anxious about the day. Adam asked if Tanner was ready to meet the rest of the family and he said he was, but Adam detected some nervousness there. He wasn’t at all surprised by that. They rode for the day arriving on the hill above the ranch house about four in the afternoon. Adam paused there to give Tanner a moment to take it all in before they descended to meet the family.

“Ready?”

“As ready as I can be.”

*****

As they rode into the yard, Hoss was there and had a big grin. Adam had told Tanner that Hoss was the only one who would likely know who he was when he arrived. He would have to be introduced to the others.

“It’s him?”

“Yes, Hoss, it’s him. Tanner, this is your Uncle Hoss. Hoss, this is Tanner.”

Ben and Joe came outside after hearing horses and voices. Ben stared at Tanner and had some idea of what he was going to hear before Adam said it.

“Pa, I know you knew there was something big in those letters because Hoss wired me. This is the something big. This is my son Tanner. Tanner, this is your grandfather, and the man standing behind him a bit is your Uncle Joe.”

As with Hoss, Tanner put out his hand to shake the hands of the men there. Too shy to say anything more at that point, he stood staring at the men before him. Ben got over his shock quickly.

“Adam, I’m glad you’re home, and welcome, Tanner. Adam, I’m surprised though. I thought you were going to be married.”

“She didn’t agree with my decision to get my son.”

“Ah, yes, I can see that would be a problem. She should have known you never come between a parent and his child. Why don’t we all go inside? We can talk.”

Adam reached for his valise and rifle, and Tanner reached for his leather bag and rifle. Hoss and the others were surprised that the boy had a rifle. Hoss was the first to say something.

“You older than you look ’cause I’m a mite surprised that Adam let you have a rifle already?”

“It’s because of the sidewinders. Two of them tried to bushwhack us. That was because a sidewinder bit Father in the arm and he was lying down. I killed that one with a knife and ate it, but then when those other two sidewinders showed up, it was a good thing Father had showed me how to shoot because I shot one in the arm and the other one too. Father had me take away their guns and made them ride away. This is one of them.”

“Huh?” Hoss frowned and looked to his father and Joe who looked equally confused.

Tanner looked at his father. “Maybe I should have called them polecats or dastardly villains. I don’t think they know what sidewinders are.”

“Oh, they do. They haven’t gotten used to talking with a nine-year-old yet. Let’s go inside, and I’ll translate.”

***The End***

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