Summary: A competitor decides to get even with Ben for perceived injustice by taking what is most valuable to him.
Word Count: 3197
“You’re not always right!” Little Joe stopped working and stood with his hands on his hips almost in a fighting stance as he regarded his oldest brother who in his opinion was frustrating to the point of infuriating him. Adam continued working as if there was nothing unusual in the situation.
“Yes, I know.” The relaxed posture of the man in black was the opposite of his inner turmoil, but he wouldn’t let his youngest brother know that. It was another way to irritate him, and at the moment, he didn’t mind doing exactly that.
“You could have just stopped arguing and we wouldn’t be out here now.”
“You are maddening sometimes.”
“Yes, you’re right on that one too.”
“You keep agreeing with me. If you had done that yesterday, we wouldn’t be in this fix now.”
“Yes, right again.”
“Damn, that’s making me mad. You smirk and keep agreeing with me. Why?”
“Because the less I talk, the more I can work. The more I work, the faster this fence gets fixed, and we don’t have to be out here in some forced camaraderie that Pa always thinks will resolve a problem between us. Satisfied?”
“Pa does think he knows how to handle us, doesn’t he?”
Walking over with more supplies for the fence, Hoss was fed up of the bickering. “Or he’s sick to death about being round you two. Now get working. I ain’t enjoying this no more than you two. Pa always sends me along to make sure you two don’t kill each other. Now get back to work. This ain’t no fun for me neither.”
“Sorry. Hop Sing did send along a big basket of food for our lunch. Speaking of which, isn’t it about time we broke for lunch. I could use some time in the shade and maybe even s a little snooze time. How about it, older brothers? Don’t your old bones need some rest?”
“You two jaspers keep working. It’s the fault of you two that we’re out here now. I’ll go get the basket and get our canteens filled up with some cool water. I’ll put it all under that tree yonder.”
Hoss pointed to a tree near the small creek in the pasture before he gathered up their canteens and headed back to the wagon for the basket. Once he grabbed the basket, he walked to the stream that was making the most pleasant sounds as water trickled over rocks and flowed smoothly down the slow grade. It was too shallow for fish but did remind him that he hadn’t been fishing in a while. He decided that he would do that on Sunday afternoon, and perhaps they could have some fish for dinner. Although if he was completely honest with himself, he knew that he preferred catching the fish to eating them. He didn’t hear the sounds that his brothers heard first. They stopped working and looked back to the north. They couldn’t see much, but it sounded like a bunch of cattle being moved.
“Little brother, I don’t remember Pa telling anyone to move any of the herd today.”
“I don’t think he did unless he decided after we left but that seems unlikely. What do you suppose it is?”
Knowing they were in grave danger as fast as those sounds were getting to them, Adam had a warning to deliver and wasted no time. “I don’t know, but they’re moving too fast and getting closer. Run for cover!”
Joe ran ahead of Adam looking back to make sure his older brother was keeping up with him. That’s why he didn’t see one of the cows who was racing ahead of the stampede and running in front of him. The cow lowered her head and collided with his left side causing him to fly up and over the cow before landing hard on his left shoulder and head. He lay still and Adam rushed to him grabbing him by the right arm to pull him to safety, but before they reached the protection of some boulders and a few large trees, another terrified animal broke away from the others and charged the two brothers. Adam saw her coming and pushed his injured brother into cover. That left him exposed though and he was hit and trampled underneath the panicked animal. He managed to roll close enough to the boulder to avoid any more animals running over him.
As soon as Hoss had turned at the yell to ‘Run for cover’, he knew his brothers were in terrible danger. He rushed to grab Chubb’s reins, mount up, and ride to them hoping to use Chubb to turn the cattle stampeding toward his brothers on an angle away from them. He was partially successful, but he could only pray that it was enough because he knew both brothers were already down.
Once the immediate danger was gone, he rode hard to where he saw both brothers lying still. Dismounting he rushed to his younger brother first and found him stirring slightly and obviously in great pain but mostly unresponsive. He moved to Adam next and found him struggling to breathe as he had taken at least one direct blow to his throat and had injured ribs from being trampled. With his arms held tightly around his torso too as he softly coughed trying to breathe, he grimaced with the pain that each small breath caused him.
Hoss pulled his pistol and fired three shots in the air hoping that some Ponderosa hands might be close enough to hear them. He ran back to the stream to get the canteens and the cloth that had been covering the food. He wet the cloth and used it to try to see how badly He wet the cloth and used it to try to see how badly Joe was injured wiping the blood from his face but being careful not to bump his arm. Moving little, this brother was unresponsive to anything said to him. Hoss went to get the wagon because he knew both brothers needed to get home and to get medical care.
As Hoss ran to the wagon, he looked up the hill to see three riders there silhouetted against the late morning sun. The man in the middle tipped his hat before the three rode back down the other side of the hill and out of sight. For a moment, Hoss was nonplussed wondering if he had imagined what he had just seen before the meaning of it all hit him hard. The stampede that had rolled over his brothers had been no accident. Those men had meant to kill them and had come close to succeeding with two of them. He shuddered to think that they might yet be successful because his brothers’ injuries were grave. When he heard horses riding in hard behind him, he drew his pistol as he turned, but it was a group of Ponderosa hands.
“What happened here?”
Holstering his pistol again, Hoss yelled for them to come help him hitch up the wagon that his brothers had used to ride out to the fence line and now would use it to ride back to the house. One of the men volunteered to ride to town for the doctor, and Hoss could have kicked himself for not thinking of that immediately.
“Dadburnit, seeing my brothers taken down like that has got my brain froze up like a winter stream. Yeah, of course, ride for town. As soon as we get them in the wagon, I want one of you to ride to the house too and tell them what happened so they can be ready for us.”
First though, he had to get his two brothers in the wagon. One brother, in his struggles to breathe, was making it difficult. “Adam, ya got to stop moving around so much. We need to get you into the wagon, and we can’t have you squirming around like that or we’re likely to drop you. Now, do you understand me?”
With his eyes squeezed shut and with the struggle for breath making him mute, Adam did make what looked like a nod to the question and his movements diminished. As fast as they could, the men lifted him into the bed of the wagon where he continued to cough softly and to struggle to breathe. Ominously it seemed it was getting more difficult for him.
Next, the men carried the quieter Joe to the wagon. He moved his right hand toward Hoss then who spoke to him. It scared Hoss that he never opened his eyes. He didn’t move his left arm at all nor did he make any sound. With the two severely injured men in the bed of the wagon, Hoss explained what he knew about what had happened. The men were shocked.
“So some men stampeded those cattle right at you boys. They must have wanted to kill you. It’s only lucky that any of you are still alive.”
That was the same response from Doctor Martin hours later as he stepped into the hallway at the Ponderosa ranch house after doing what he could to take care of the injuries to the two men. “They’re lucky to be alive at this point. Joe has a serious head injury, but he’s awake on and off and was able to answer my questions. His left shoulder took a severe blow. At this point, he can’t feel his left arm nor move it.”
“His arm is paralyzed?”
“For now, yes, it is, but that may be temporary. I think it probably is but I won’t know for some time yet. It could be that the swelling is causing the paralysis and the numbness. We’ll have to wait to see how it is once the swelling begins to subside. Swelling is the worst of Adam’s immediate problems too. He took a nasty blow to his throat. Hop Sing has been making ice packs for that, and we’re giving him sips of soothing tea for his throat on the inside which is irritated by his constant coughing as he tries to breathe.”
“What about the rest of his injuries? I saw how bruised and battered he was when we undressed him and washed him before you got here.”
“As suspected, he has damaged ribs. I’ve wrapped them. He may have some damage to internal organs and some internal bleeding. From what I can tell so far, none of that is life threatening at this point because there is no external bruising showing up from that. All of his bruising is consistent with being trampled. It would be good to keep him as quiet as you can. The less movement, the better it will be to allow that bleeding to stop on its own and for healing to start. Right now, I’m more worried about the exhaustion than the internal bleeding. He won’t be able to sleep until the swelling in his throat subsides enough so that he can breathe more normally.”
“But my sons will live?”
“We’ll know more after the next day or two, but I am guardedly optimistic about their prognosis. I’ll stay here to help. We need to keep Adam calm and taking very short breaths to keep that throat open and not as irritated. Frequent sips of fluid will help too and he needs someone there to help him with that. Someone needs to sit with Joe too to monitor his progress. He will be conscious for longer and longer periods. Don’t tell him anything to upset him. That could aggravate his head injury. Tell him that Adam is being cared for just like he is and that both of them need peace and quiet to rest and recuperate.”
“And what do we say to Adam?”
“That your youngest son doing better than he is. He needs to stay calm and concentrate on breathing. I just don’t understand why someone would try to kill them.”
“Paul, I don’t understand it either. I don’t know what the two could have done to make someone want to kill them.”
“Pa, it was meant to get me too. If I hadn’t been getting our lunch ready and getting water for us, I woulda been standing right there with them. Heck, I can’t run as fast as either of ’em so if I’d been there, I wouldn’t be needing a doctor. I seen them jaspers who done it sitting calm as you please up on the hill after all hell done broke loose down below. He tipped his hat ta me like he was sayin’ that’s what he wanted ta happen. Then they rode off with not a word and didn’t help or nothing.”
“This is a nightmare. When Hop Sing comes back up here with more ice, I want you to go talk to the men. We need to set up some protection for the three of you, and we need the men to be alert to three strangers on the Ponderosa who want to kill my sons. What did they look like?”
“They were pretty far away and against the light. The leader who tipped his hat was a tall man with gray hair and a long white beard. I couldn’t see no more from where I was. Who was it that could hate us so much to want to do something like that?”
“Not you, me.” With a face that had turned to a mask of fury, Ben turned to leave the room, but Hoss grabbed his arm.
“You wouldn’t have recognized him because you weren’t at those meetings. It’s Frank Miller. I took those contracts from Miller by outbidding him, and I bought that land he wanted because Nate Jeffords didn’t want to sell to him. Nate sold to me at a lower price than Miller had offered him. Miller thinks I did something underhanded to get it. He doesn’t understand it’s because honest, God-fearing men want nothing to do with him. He’s hurt a lot of people and threatened many more.”
“What are you going to do?”
“What my oldest son asked me to do days ago. I’m going to get Roy and we’re going to go after him.”
“It’s what he wants.”
“No, he thinks I’m going to come at him in a rage without thinking. I’m going to go at him with righteous anger, the law, and enough men to make sure he never hurts another man again.”
After Ben left, Hoss went back and forth between his brothers’ rooms tending to them as needed and checking on them. Joe slept so he wasn’t a problem other than worrying his brother. It was Adam who worried Hoss much more directly when he noticed that their father hadn’t been around for quite a while. Struggling to speak with the damage to his throat, he choked out the question despite Hoss trying to tell him that the doctor said he wasn’t to talk. Once asked, it had to be answered but mindful of Paul’s admonition that Adam had to be kept calm, Hoss was careful in how he phrased his answer.
“Now don’t you go get fretting like a swarm of bees lost their honey to a bear. Pa went to get Roy and he took a bunch of the men with him. He’s gone after Frank Miller, but he’s doing it the way you wanted him to do it, all legal and proper and hopefully without a shot being fired.”
When Adam struggled to say something more, Hoss leaned down to hear. “Oh so you wouldn’t mind now if Pa woulda used some force and went after him. Ifn he shot him, he could get locked up, you know.”
Hoss leaned down again as Adam had something more to say. “Yup, getting shot there would hurt, and Roy might not feel obliged to arrest someone for shooting him where the sun don’t ever shine.” Hoss had to laugh then. “Now you stop all that talking and get some rest.”
Despite his assurances to Adam, Hoss was worried until he heard horses in the yard. Looking out, he saw his father and sighed in relief. He turned back to the bed to see those hazel eyes looking at him.
“Pa’s home and looks fine. He should be here soon.”
Ben was there soon as Hoss predicted. He checked on Joe and found him sleeping. Then he came to Adam’s room and told him he had finally taken his advice and that Frank Miller was in jail. However Ben was sporting a big black eye and his two older sons stared at it long enough that he knew he had to explain.
“We brought Miller into the jail and all was going according to plan, but then he said something and all my anger was back.”
“What’d he say, Pa? It musta been something pretty bad to get you fighting mad.”
“It was. He said he had his revenge on me already, and he hoped his men got the third son too before it was all over. I couldn’t help myself and I told him to shut up and pushed him. He swung at me and that’s when I got this.” He pointed at his black eye. “I blew up then and made sure he paid for it all. I asked Roy why he didn’t stop me, and he said it was about time Miller found it a little bit of what it was like to be in a stampede.”
“He need a doctor when you was done?”
“No, but he probably felt like he did.”
Adam couldn’t talk with the injuries he had, but couldn’t help a snicker even if it did hurt a little. He pointed toward Little Joe’s room and Hoss chuckled too.
“Yep, our little brother is gonna enjoy the story too. We’re gonna be telling this one over and over, I betcha.”
Adam even got to smirk a little then as their father groaned a bit. However seeing his son able to smile and knowing Joe would likely be able to have something to giggle about made it all worthwhile. Hoss offered to get a pad of paper so Adam could write out what he wanted to say but couldn’t.
“Oh, no, don’t do that. I’m enjoying this silence from him. It doesn’t happen often.”
Hoss laughed loudly at that as did Ben as Adam had a scowl. From the other room, they heard Joe say Pa a couple of times. Ben and Hoss hurried to the younger man’s room to find that he was only wondering what was causing all the laughter was so they had to tell the whole story again. In his room, Adam heard Joe make the comments he had wanted to make. He grinned and laid back, closed his eyes, and relaxed. Things were getting back to normal on the Ponderosa.