"ADAM!" Ben's voice called. He'd followed his oldest son in from the barn and was intent on finishing their discussion. "ADAM!" he shouted again. It was bad enough that Adam had rebuked his authority in front of his two younger sons but to not answer had infuriated him.
"You don't need to shout," griped Adam. "I heard ya the first time." He returned to the main room with a cup of coffee in his right hand.
Ben sighed heavily and placed his hands on his hips. "There is no need to use that tone with me. Show some respect. Remember you're not to old that I cannot punish you."
Adam looked in total disbelief at his father and shook his head. "Oh and you don't think that you haven't already? Why can't Hoss or Little Joe go and sort out the problem with the cattle? Why does it have to be me all the time? You know I've got plans for Saturday night with Suzette."
"Adam, I know you're upset but in all honesty you are the only one I can send to sort out why Davies is holding up delivery on the new breeding stock. Without that stock, the Ponderosa will be crippled," reasoned Ben.
"Aw, come on," spat Adam an action that he instantly regretted. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply in effort to release some of the tension that he felt. "I know that the ranch business comes first but surely it doesn't have to be my responsibility all the time to sort out problems that we encounter. When are Hoss and Joe every going to be old enough to use their own initiative?"
"Son, I wouldn't ask you if I didn't need you to rectify the situation. This needs a diplomatic approach - one that your brothers are not as masterful at as you are," placated Ben. He watched as his oldest son's expression changed to one of understanding.
"When do you want me to leave?" sighed Adam in resignation.
"Day after tomorrow…, there's still a lot of I need your help with before you go."
"Well, can I at least let Suzette know about the change of plans? She is going to be bitterly disappointed. I promised her weeks ago to take her to the dance."
"Sure, son, ride in tomorrow morning and tell her of the change. Maybe one of your brother's could escort Suzette to the dance," suggested Ben.
"Hey, Adam, you chicken out of takin' Suzette to the dance?" grinned Joe as he entered the house ahead of Hoss. "I can take her if you can't."
"Oh, I'm sure that you would jump at the chance wouldn't you, younger brother," sneered Adam. The word younger was spoken in a belittling tone, which Adam knew would annoy Joe.
Joe cautiously moved back a step when his oldest brother advanced towards him with his fists clenched. "Hey, I didn't mean anything by it. I just meant I'd sure hate to see Suzette spend all her time pining for you."
Ben had watched the exchange take place and put a restraining hand on Adam's right shoulder. "I won’t have you two at each other's throats again today. Joe, go and clean up and Adam come with me. I'll show you what I need sorted out."
Hoss reached out and grabbed Joe by his left elbow as he walked by. "Joe, you really should know better than to go upsettin' Adam like that. I seen the way that Suzette looks at ya. I ain't blind and neither is Adam. Just tread real careful like."
"I will, but he better watch his own step," Joe said as he jerked his head in Adam's direction. "Suzette is sure pretty and I know she likes the same things as me. Iffen Adam can't be with her then I intend to."
"This is what I need you to take to Cliff Davies. This is our copy of the contract that was signed by Davies. It clearly states delivery of the new cattle on the twentieth," Ben informed his oldest son. When Adam did not respond Ben looked up at him. He saw what had distracted his son - Joe. He shook his head and cleared his throat. "Adam? Have you been listening to a word I've said."
Adam dolefully shook his head. "Sorry, I had something else on my mind. What were you saying?" The frustration was still evident in his tone but his mannerisms showed him to willing to listen.
After Ben finished explaining to Adam what needed to be done it was time for supper. Hop Sing, pleased for once that everyone was ready to eat at the same time and that the meal would not spoil.
"Hop Sing," Ben said, pushing himself back from the table. "That was as always, a first rate meal."
Hop Sing bowed his head and smiled. "Hen gan xie."
Ben was unsure what Hop Sing's words meant and looked to Adam for clarification. "Bu yong xie," smiled Adam in return to Hop Sing, the little Chinese cook.
Following a brief exchange in Chinese with Adam, Hop Sing cleared the table of its used dishes, while Hoss and Little Joe set up the checker board in the main room. Adam had seated himself in his favourite chair near the fire with a leather bound book in his hands while Ben perused the list of jobs he'd made out for the next day.
The evening progressed pleasantly with Hoss and Joe playfully challenging one another to more games of checkers when Ben took the opportunity to speak with Adam. He'd learnt from his oldest son, that Hop Sing had thanked him for his compliment about the meal and that Adam had told him that he was most welcome for the compliment. Ben admired his son's keenness to learn and wasn't really surprised that he had taken the chance to learn some Chinese.
When the clock had finished chiming in the late hour of eleven o'clock, the two younger Cartwright sons bid their father and Adam goodnight, before retiring to their respective rooms. Ben watched as Hoss and Joe walked up the stairs and then moved closer to Adam. He placed his hand on Adam's shoulder and spoke calmly to him. "Son, I'm sorry for how things have worked out today. I know I ask a lot of you and I am truly grateful for your help. How about you get on up to bed too, we've got a busy day ahead of us tomorrow."
"Yeah, I think I will. Couldn't really get into this book tonight anyway. Goodnight," Adam replied.
"Adam," Ben called to his son as he watched him ascend the stairs.
"Tomorrow will be much better, you'll see."
"I certainly hope
so. I certainly hope so."
"Well, good morning, boys," Ben Cartwright greeted his sons as they made their way to the dining table.
"Morning, Pa," returned a chorus of three voices.
During breakfast Ben allocated the jobs that needed doing for the day. Hoss and Little Joe were quietly pleased at having gotten out of branding although not pleased at the prospect of chasing strays all over the high country.
In the barn both Hoss and Joe ribbed their older brother, Adam about his misfortune to draw branding duty. "Sure is a hot, smelly job ain't it Hoss?" Joe said and nudged his older brother in his side.
"Joe, not now," Hoss cautioned as he cast his oldest brother a concerned look.
"C'mon, Hoss, you know I'm only funnin' with him. Afterall it's normally us that gets stuck with having to brand the cattle. Say Adam, whaddya do to get Pa mad enough to make you get stuck with that hot miserable job?"
"Had you two for brothers!" snapped Adam. His temper had worn thin and Joe had pushed the right buttons to make him anger quickly.
"Hey, you two, knock it off!" growled Hoss. He hated to see his brothers fight and knew what had fired Adam into such a foul mood. Aside from the fact that he had been lumbered with working in the branding pit he was still mad about having to miss the social with Suzette. Hoss had met Suzette on a number of occasions and had found her to be pleasant, witty, intelligent and attractive, with her shoulder length golden blonde hair, blue eyes and fair features. He also recalled how his youngest brother had flirted with her and won her attentions as well.
"Yeah come on, Adam, it's too early in the day to lose your temper. If you lose it all now you won't have any left for the rest of the day," Joe continued to irk his oldest brother.
"Why don't you just get lost," returned Adam, he continued to saddle his horse and led him out of the barn. Without further comment, Adam mounted his horse and rode towards the branding pit.
"Well go figure," said Joe in disbelief as he watched Adam spur Sport on from the barn. "He's been real tetchy since yesterday afternoon."
Hoss shook his head at his brother and continued to saddle his own horse. "And you wonder why, eh short shanks?" Without further comment both Hoss and Joe rode out to where they were to look for stray cattle.
Adam had been working hard at the branding pit when he saw his father approach. "I didn't expect to see you out this way this morning," he said as he walked over to where his father waited for him. He had been oblivious to the steer that had decided to intersect his current path until he heard the warning from his father.
"Adam!" Ben cried when he saw the steer push his son against the railing.
Instinctively Adam jumped back but not quick enough. His right foot became entwined with the steer's hind leg as it raised its cloven hoof and stomped it heavily down on Adam's foot. Angrily Adam pushed the steer to make it move and get off his foot. He thumped the steer on its rump to coax it to move. When the steer moved on, Adam limped to the fence, draped his arms over the top rail and rested his head between his arms.
"Son, are you all right?" Ben asked as he approached.
Adam sighed heavily and ran his hand through his tousled hair. "Yeah, I'll live. What did you want to see me about?"
"I have to pull you off this job, I've got something that needs to be taken care of urgently," Ben announced. He looked at his son's face and saw the confusion that was there.
"Do you need me to go to Davies' now?"
"No, son. But we have a quote to get in for shoring the new timber mine and it's on the way to Davies," Ben finally admitted in a sheepish manner.
"You must be kidding. When was it meant to be in by?" retorted Adam, his tone portrayed his annoyance.
Ben rubbed his right hand across his chin and looked at Adam, his eyes full of regret. "Today," he simply answered.
At the revelation of the news, Adam through his hands up in disgust and clenched his jaw. His annoyance was clearly evident and did nothing for his present mood. Unable to contain his rage any more he opened his mouth and let his emotions spill out. "TODAY? YOU WANT ME TO TAKE THE QUOTE TODAY? FOR CRYIN' OUT LOUD, HAVEN'T I GOT ENOUGH TO DO?"
If there was any other way that Ben could have gotten the quote delivered before now he would have taken it. The fact of the matter was that he had forgotten about the deadline for the quote until Hop Sing had found the piece of paper lying on the floor while he cleaned the house. With so many other things on his mind the quote had been unfortunately overlooked. "Son, I apologize for the short notice…"
Adam wore a look of disbelief on his face and shook his head. His mood had gone from jaded to resentfulness within seconds. "Why me? Why is it always me that has to alter my plans to accommodate everyone else's? You knew I wanted to go into town and see Suzette … why do I even bother? I give in!"
Ben wisely stepped back during the course of Adam's tirade and flinched inwardly at his son's cutting remarks. He could see the obvious annoyance that his eldest son felt and wished that there were some other way he could rectify the situation. To placate Adam now would only serve to irk him further. Ben sighed deeply when he saw Adam mount his horse and angrily spur it on.
During the ride to the house Adam kept mulling over his thoughts of how his two younger brothers were able to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. The burden of responsibility always seemed to fall on his shoulders - right now he wished he could be as carefree as his youngest brother could.
Ben had pushed his own mount to keep up with Adam and watched in horror as Sport stumbled in the front yard. Time seemed to stand still for Ben Cartwright. He saw his beloved eldest son thrown from his horse and lie motionless on the ground. "Adam!" Ben yelled.
He reined his own horse to a stop and ran towards his son, the whole time calling his name. Relief came when he saw Adam push himself onto his hands and knees. "What did you do a darn fool thing like that for? Riding your horse into the yard like that - for God's sake Adam you could have been killed."
Ben shuddered again at the vision of his son falling heavily from his horse and how his third wife, Marie had met here grisly fate in the same manner. "Adam, thank heavens you're all right," Ben sighed in relief as he ran his hands over his oldest son to check for broken bones.
"I'm all right!" snapped Adam; he pushed his father's hands away and picked himself up off the ground.
"When I saw you fall like that it reminded me of Marie," Ben said as he watched his son get up.
The memories of how Marie had died that fateful day came flooding back - to both father and son. Adam saw the look of horror in his father's eye and reached out to him. "Pa, I'm sorry for scaring you like that. I.." he started to say before turning his head away.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Ben asked once more. To see his son turn away from him like that hurt him. He knew that Adam still carried with him grief that he had not dealt with fully. His son's life had changed drastically from that day. No longer could he be the carefree teenager that he wanted to be - but a father figure to his younger brothers, while his own father fell into deep depression.
"I'll be fine. I just need a hot bath and some clean clothes," Adam replied, his voice broke his father out of his reverie.
Ben watched as Adam limped towards the house, favouring his right foot. "I'll have Hop Sing draw you a bath, you go on ahead and get whatever gear you need. After your bath we'll tend to your foot."
"Thanks," returned Adam.
Hoss and Little Joe rode into the yard, surprised to see their brother's horse tethered to the hitching rail. They exchanged shrugs and quickly tethered their own horses before they ventured into the house. They saw Adam's saddle bags packed an empty dinner plate still on the table and their father bandaging Adam's right foot, oblivious to the protests from their oldest brother.
"Say, older brother, what do you go and git yourself on the wrong side of?" Hoss asked as he approached the red leather wing backed chair that Adam was sitting in.
Adam raised his head a fraction and looked at Hoss raised his eyes in frustration at Hoss. "Stupid steer that wouldn’t move, to impetuous for it's own good. Kind of reminded me of someone in this house," he said and cast his younger brother a sullen look.
Joe caught the look and eased himself back towards the table. "Talking about yourself again, older brother," he jibed.
Adam gripped the arms of the chair and started to push himself up. His father who placed a restraining hand on his thigh stopped his movements.
"Would you two try and talk civilly to each for once. It would make a nice change," reprimanded Ben. He saw Joe glance down towards the floor and Adam sink back into the chair. "Maybe some time apart will do you both the world of good," he continued. "There. How does that feel? Not to tight?" Ben asked after he finished securing the bandage in place. "I'd still prefer if you were to stop by Doc Martin and let him take a look at it before you go on over to deliver the quote."
"It'll be alright. I'll be lucky if I can pull my boot back on with the amount of bandages you've wrapped my foot in." He pulled his sock back on and gingerly pulled his boot on. He winced a little as he did so.
"I thought you wasn't leavin' till tomorrow, Adam," Hoss said. He was sure that his father had said that his brother would be riding out to sort out the Davies' contract till then.
"I was, but now things have changed," he replied contemptuously. His tone earned him a look of displeasure from his father. "Hoss, would you let Suzette know about the change of plans. I doubt I'll get the chance to do it myself."
"Sure, Adam, I'll ride over and tell her for you," Hoss replied as he swiped an apple from the table. "And I'll be sure to keep Little Joe away from her. Won’t I Little Joe?" Hoss asked, grabbing his youngest brother in a fierce embrace and holding him tight against his massive frame.
"I wouldn’t dream of going near her," Joe gulped.
"Just see that you don't," warned Adam, "or we may have to have a talk about things when I get home."
"What's the change of plans about?" Joe asked in effort to change the conversation.
"A quote that needs to be delivered - today," mumbled Adam. The displeasure clearly evident on his face. "Something that neither of you two could manage."
"Hey now, there ain't no call for that," countered Hoss, offended by his oldest brother's comment.
Adam shook his head, placed his hands on his hips and pursed his lips. "Oh, isn't there. Well you tell me, younger brother why I was given the chore of delivering the quote? Why wasn't it to you or Little Joe to do?" Before either could answer he furnished his own response. "I'll tell you why. First off, our youngest brother is irresponsible. Always has to chase some girl or get into a bar room brawl," he started to say, the colour of his face changing to a vivid shade of red the angrier he became. "And you," he said as he jabbed his finger into Hoss' massive chest, "you forget half the things Pa tells you either that or you're more concerned about what's for lunch and supper." As soon as the words had departed from his mouth Adam instantly regretted them. He saw the pained expressions on his brothers' faces and started to walk away.
He hadn't moved very far when he was knocked to the ground by Hoss' fist. Packed into the punch with every ounce of anger that Hoss could muster. His brother had hurt him verbally and he wanted him to pay. He watched as Adam's body twisted and fell clumsily to the wooden floor with a thump that resonated throughout the main room. Little Joe and Ben watched in stunned silence. Dumbfounded they watched as Hoss knelt beside his brother's limp form on the floor.
"Adam. Adam answer me," Hoss called and waited for his brother to respond. He was rewarded when he saw Adam's eye flutter.
"Guess I deserved that," muttered Adam. He put his hand to a gash above his left eye, which was steadily bleeding. "Remind me never to lose my temper again with you," he offered apologetically.
"I didn't mean to lose mine with you either, older brother. But you gotta admit, you drove me to it."
"Hoss, I know I did and I'm sorry. It was wrong of me to take my frustrations out on you and Joe. Give me a hand up," Adam said as he extended his right hand to Hoss.
Ben and Joe exchanged looks of relief when they saw Adam and Hoss mend the rift between them. Ben approached his tow older sons and put his hands on their shoulders. "I'm pleased you've got that out of your systems. I'm not sure the furniture could have taken much more of you both landing on it." He then turned his gaze towards his youngest son. "Joe, go and get me the medical supplies."
When Adam was ready to leave, Hoss embraced him in a brotherly hug. "I'm sorry about that," he said, pointing at the covered gash above Adam's eye.
"Hoss, forget it. You just make sure that Little Joe keeps away from Suzette. I'll see you all in two weeks," said Adam. He waved to his family in acknowledgement and urged Sport out of the yard. Under his facade he was still bitter about having to cancel his plans. He'd given up talking to his father about the injustice of it all and hoped that the time away from his family would make them realize, his father especially, how much they relied on him.
* * *
"Johnny, stop complaining. You know as soon as we get these beeves delivered we can relax," Scott Lancer growled. He'd listened to his half brother complain for the past two hours about what he would miss out on.
At twenty-seven the sandy haired man was two years older than his brother. Boston bred, his grandfather had raised Scott shortly after his own mother, Catherine, had died in childbirth. His grandfather had taken him back to Boston, leaving before Catherine had been buried.
On Scott's fifth birthday Murdoch had visited him with hopes of taking him home to Lancer. This was not to be as Scott's grandfather was prepared to win and have his only grandson by his side forever. With deep remorse Murdoch had returned home to Lancer and thrust himself into building the empire that he would one-day share with his sons.
His grandfather; fine schooling, a resplendent social circle of acquaintances and a promising career had given Scott many advantages. At his aging father's request he had moved to the Lancer ranch. He'd quickly learned the ways of the West both tamed and untamed and become his father's advisor with ranch and stock concerns.
Scott's move to his father's cattle ranch in the San Joaquin Valley in California had brought with it another surprise. A half brother who he had no idea existed before their chance meeting on the stage. Two brothers could not have been so more diverse in nature had they tried. One raised and educated in Boston while the other had learned life's lessons the hard way in trying conditions.
Johnny Madrid-Lancer, second son of Maria and Murdoch Lancer. He had been blessed with his mother's dark features and the limpid blue eyes of his father. Maria had separated from Murdoch and taken her infant son with her. She had left the ranch and life with Murdoch to be in the arms of another man which hurt Murdoch deeply. Not only did he lose his wife but also his son. She remarried and took her husband's name. Happiness did not last long - with the untimely passing of Maria and it was not long before Johnny had been shunned by his stepfather and left to his own devices.
Johnny, was by nature cynical and cautious with a vivaciousness matched only by his hot temper, that very few were brave enough to challenge. He was a drifter and gun fighter who had spent most of his life travelling around the border towns of the Southwest and working for the highest payer. He'd carved out a name for himself as one of the best gunmen around.
Murdoch Lancer had reunited his sons out of selfish greed he had reasoned. After a vicious assault by land thieves who had left him wounded and killed his close friend, he sent a final letter to his eldest son with an offer he couldn't refuse. Paul O'Brien, who had been Murdoch's closest friend, lost his life in the last land attack. He'd helped Murdoch establish the ranch to be the biggest in the state. With Paul's passing, his only child, a daughter, Teresa, had become Murdoch's ward.
Murdoch had held little hope of ever being able to find his second born and had enlisted the help of the Pinkerton agent to locate him. The news of Johnny's discovery, coupled with the news that he was returning home had come as a great surprise to Murdoch. His son had been found living under a different name, one associated with a famed gun fighter. He thanked his lucky stars that his youngest son had been found when he was - for he was next in line in the firing squad.
Johnny had been given a quick trial and found guilty of aiding the wrong people in at the wrong time as far as the Mexican officials were concerned. If not for the fast-talking of the Pinkerton man who had bought Johnny's freedom and life, Johnny Madrid would have died that day. After he had listened to the agent’s claims about a man who reported to be his father, Johnny accepted the passage to meet the man to who he owed his life. If for nothing else, to say thank you and the one thousand dollars that had been offered for listening.
By share coincidence Scott and Johnny had arrived at the same time in Murro Coyo. Both men turned when they heard their name called. Lancer. Their first meeting of each other. Two vastly different men who shared a common bond - their father. Both held different ideas on how to deal with Day Pardee - the land pirate who had been intent on taking Lancer and claiming it as his own. In the end it was Johnny that had sacrificed his own safety for that of his new found family. He'd been shot by one of Pardee's men when he had lured them out of their hiding place. Having ridden with Pardee before, Johnny had gained his trust and ultimately in the end had used it to his advantage. With Pardee dead, Lancer was safe and in the hands of those who rightfully owned it.
The initial meeting passed as expected, with feelings of distrust and unease. Neither knew what to expect of the other. Time allowed a greater understanding of each other and acceptance; until reunited they became a family once more. A family that controlled the largest ranch in the San Joaquin Valley with the Sierra Madres as a stunning backdrop. A valley that boasted a wealth of riches - gold, silver and rich pastoral land for ranching and vineyards. With the richness of land it also attracted the most unscrupulous amongst the hard workers who toiled endlessly to see the land thrive.
Johnny reached for the hat that hung down his back by the chinstrap, smiled at his brother and urged his palomino horse into a canter. "Well, quit your yappin' and we'll get this cattle moved then," he called over his shoulder as he passed his older brother.
Scott smiled at his brother. At times Johnny could be impulsive and tense. At other times he could surprise Scott with his carefree ways. 'You definitely make my life entertaining,' Scott thought to himself and urged his own horse forward.
Scott had learned that Johnny had been in his first gunfight by fifteen years of age and had grown up in the border towns where the men lived by a code. It was either toughen up or die trying. He greatly admired the changes that Johnny had made in his life. His thoughts about Johnny's achievements were interrupted by the sound of his brother yelling to him.
"Scott, watch that steer… it's gone loco," Johnny called, rounding his horse between the steer and Scott. "What were you doing? Day dreaming?" he asked once the immediate danger had passed.
"Sorry, Johnny … hey, thanks. I guess I was day dreaming," Scott answered, duly chastised.
Johnny slapped his brother on the back and grinned at him. "Well how about next time you keep your dreaming to night time and dream of beautiful senoritas."
"It's a deal," replied Scott, grateful that Johnny had decided not to rib him further about his absent mindedness.
* * *
"Just you keep your hands right there mister," a voice from behind him called.
Instinctively Adam lowered his hands, started to turn round and stopped abruptly when he heard the hammer on the rifle cock. He raised his hands to shoulder height and tried to look over his shoulder at the person who had decided to pull a gun on him.
"I said keep your hands where I can see 'em. Now who are you and whaddya want?"
"My name's Adam Cartwright and I'm here to deliver a quote for my father," explained Adam.
"Cartwright? Nope, caint say as I know that name," came a gruff reply.
Adam sighed deeply and tensed at the sound of approaching footsteps that came towards him. "If you'll have a look in my saddle bag you'll see the quote," he started to explain.
"Pa, would you put that dang rifle down before you hurt someone," a second voice called. "Put your hands down. It's okay now," the voice continued.
Slowly Adam lowered his hands and turned round to face the owner of the voice. "I mighty thankful that you came along when you did. Mister.."
"Stasson. Brent Stasson."
"Adam. Adam Cartwright," said Adam.
"Cartwright? One of Ben Cartwright's boys, from the Ponderosa? Stasson asked as he rubbed his left hand in a thoughtful manner across his chin.
"Yes sir," Adam smiled; relieved to be able to lower his hands. "My father sent me over with a bid for the supply of lumber for shoring the mines. Our quote is in my saddle bag."
Stasson nodded and watched while Adam retrieved the quote. He noticed that Adam limped, favouring his right foot. "Sorry about my father pulling a gun on you like that. He's not been to well lately. Seeing things that ain't there, talking to himself, forgetting what he was asked a few minutes ago. Though you ask him about his childhood and he can recall it clear as day; lives it like it were only yesterday."
"Must be something to do with old age," Stasson continued politely while he waited for Adam to produce the quote that Ben had tendered.
Adam grinned and shook his head. "I could say the same about my two younger brothers." He stretched again and stifled a yawn as he handed Stasson the envelope that contained the Ponderosa bid.
During the moment of quietness he reflected if his grandfather, Abel Stoddard suffered with any form of mental degeneration. He made himself a note to write to his grandfather as soon as he could and make sure that he was all right.
"Long ride?" Stasson asked, accepting the envelope from Adam.
"Yeah. It was a bit. Would you mind if I were to water my horse?"
"No. Not at all, help yourself."
While Adam made sure that his sorrel horse had plenty of water to drink, Stasson eagerly read over the quoted figures. When he'd finished reading the final figure he looked up and saw Adam leaning against the fence trying to take as much weight off his right foot as he could.
"Whaddya do to your foot?" he asked interestedly.
Adam snorted and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Left it in the way of an ornery steer this morning. Do you have somewhere I could sit down for a spell and readjust the strapping on my foot? I'm sure my father had every intention of me not being able to use it again with the amount of bandages he encased it in."
"Come inside. While you're taking care of your foot we'll talk about your bid. I need to know how soon you can start supplying the timber," Stasson smiled.
"Start supplying? You mean we got the contract?" Adam asked, elated that the Ponderosa had been successful in attaining the tender. His father's words came back to him as he let the news sink in. The contract would ensure work for the mill hands and also help keep the ranch afloat during the lean months.
"Tessa. Tessa," Stasson called, entering his stately home. "You have a seat over here," he directed Adam, helping him to get to the high backed black leather chair.
No sooner had he got Adam seated then his wife appeared, wiping her hands on her apron. "Yes, dear." Like her husband she was into her sixties, gray haired but still very vibrant. Her voice was soft like a fresh summer breeze. "My, what happened to you?" she asked before waiting for her husband to explain about their visitor.
"Tessa, this young man's Adam Cartwright. Ben’s…" Before Brent Stasson could properly introduce Adam to his wife, Tessa was helping Adam remove the bandaging from his foot.
"Ben's oldest son," Tessa smiled. "You know it's been many a year since I've seen your father. How has he been? Is he still as mule headed as ever?" She deftly removed the last of the bandages without jarring Adam's foot too much and tut tutted at the bruises and at how swollen it was.
Adam grimaced as she gently palpated the injured area to feel for broken bones. When Tessa's fingers moved along his instep he inhaled sharply and closed his eyes.
"You really should get this foot seen to. It feels like you've broken this bone here," she said, gently touching the bridge of his foot. "You really do need to put something cold on it - to help the swelling go down."
"It'll be alright. I'll just restrap it and when I get to San Francisco, if it's still annoying me I'll see a doctor there," Adam said trying not to sound ungrateful. He shifted uncomfortably and bit the inside of his mouth in reaction to the discomfort he was feeling. He knew that he should've called in to see the Virginia City doctor when he left home and was now berating himself for not doing so.
"Brent, can you please get me a damp cloth, make it as cold as you can," Tessa said, directing her husband out of the way. "Put you r foot up no this," she continued as she dragged a footstool closer and piled some cushion on it.
"I really must be going," protested Adam. "I want to get further on before nightfall and find a good campsite." He started to get up from the comfortable chair and was pushed back down by Tessa.
"You'll do no such thing. You'll stay right there and let me tend to your foot. I don't want Ben Cartwright to find out that I didn’t take care of his son properly," chastised Tessa. She accepted the cooled towel from her husband and wrapped it around Adam's severely bruised foot.
Brent chuckled and shrugged his shoulders. "I wouldn't argue with her if I were you. She's got a temper on her when she sets her mind to it. Besides it will give us more of an opportunity to discuss delivery of the wood that I need for shoring the mines."
Reluctantly Adam sank back into the chair and accommodated Tessa's wishes. He was nicely surprised at how good the cold towel encompassing his foot felt. "Thank you," he said, truly grateful for the relief he had begun to feel.
"Now that we’ve got that settled I want you stay there and leave that cold compress on your foot for twenty minutes," Tessa smiled, "And you," she admonished as he looked at her husband, "don't keep the poor lad talking. I know what you can be like." She turned her attention once more to Adam. "Adam, let me warn you now, he can talk the leg off an iron pot and talk it back on again."
"Thank you, ma'am. I'll consider myself warned," grinned Adam, earning a wink from Tessa.
During the course of the conversation with Brent about the supply of timber needed, Adam felt himself become drowsy. After several minutes of trying to stay awake he finally lost his valiant battle and succumbed to the call of sleep that had stretched out her warm embracing arms to him.
"What happened? Did your captive audience of one run out on you?" joked Tessa as she pulled a tray of biscuits from the oven.
Brent sniffed the sweet aroma ion the air of the freshly baked biscuits. "No. He just fell right asleep on me. Can't say as I blame him, he's had quite a busy day. You know he was branding cattle before he rode over here this afternoon. I'm gonna have Charlie put his horse up for the night."
Tessa smiled to herself at the generosity of her husband. To take a stranger only known by his relationship to an old friend into their home and also have his horse taken care of, she found extraordinary. "So, I'll be needing to set an extra place for dinner then?"
Brent leaned over and kissed his wife on the tip of her head. "I knew that I did the right thing when I married you," he said, the love that he felt for his wife evident in his voice.
"Really? It was your idea to get married. I could have sworn that my father wanted me to make an honest man of you when we married. Go on, get away with you, you scoundrel. While you're having his horse tended to, have his gear stowed in the spare bedroom. I'll get Angela to make up the bed for him."
Tessa loved to have company and reflected on how quiet the house had been lately since the death of her own son a few short months ago. She busily prepared the evening meal and set an extra place at the table before making sure that the spare room had been made up ready for their unexpected house guest.
When Adam finally awoke it was to the tantalizing smell of roast pork that teased his senses. His stomach gave a low rumble in anticipation of a succulent pork dinner. He opened his eyes to see that a blue woolen blanket had been draped over him. Embarrassed that he had fallen asleep in mid-conversation with Brent Stasson he quickly pushed the blanket aside and tried to stand. He hadn't gotten very far when he heard a voice call out to him in a reprimanding tone.
"Stay right where you are. I'll get Brent to give you a hand to the table," Tessa said as she approached him. "The swelling in your foot has just has a chance to go down and you are not going to undo all the good work by walking on it," she said. Her hands were on her hips in a commanding pose as she spoke.
Adam looked up at her with a guilty expression and ran his hand across his face, chasing the remnants of sleep away. "No ma'am." He patiently waited for Brent to arrive and with his help managed to get to the table by keeping his injured foot elevated.
"Sorry about falling asleep on you like that," apologized Adam when Brent came to his aid.
"I figured you were
more worn out than you cared to admit," Brent smiled. When Adam was
finally seated at the table, he pulled out a spare chair and got Adam to
place his foot up on it. "Best listen to Tess, son. Keep that foot up as
much as you can."
After a hearty meal Adam started to stand up when the look on Tessa's face quickly banished all thoughts of moving. "Just where do you think you are going?" she asked, her tone reminiscent of the one his father used on him when he knew he was in the wrong.
Adam looked to Brent for support. When he saw Brent shrug his shoulders he sighed and sat back down. "I guess I'll just sit here a while longer," he meekly smiled. When he caught the subtle wink that Brent gave him he cleared his throat. "I suppose a few more minutes won't hurt Sport."
"Sport?" Brent asked.
"My horse. He hasn't been fed since we were on the trail this afternoon. He'll be hungry and…”
"And he's already been fed and stabled," countered Tessa. "Brent's readied the spare bedroom for you as well. You'll find your saddlebags in there."
"Thank you," Adam graciously replied in response to their generosity.
When it was time to leave the next morning Adam took the small bag that Tessa had packed with sandwiches and beef jerky. "Thank you both for all your help. I appreciate it very much," said Adam.
"Just make sure that when you get to San Francisco that you get your foot seen to," Tessa lightly admonished.
"I will ma'am," smiled Adam. "I'll also wire my father and let him know to start milling the trees. Take care."
"You make sure that you have a safe journey and when you see your father tell him from me not to be a stranger and make a trip out this way sometime soon," Brent said. He and Tessa both waved to Adam as they watched him ride out of the yard.
When Adam finally arrived in San Francisco a few days later he sent him a telegraphed message to inform him of the contract for the supply of board timber that they had secured. After he'd organized himself some accommodation at the hotel for the duration of his stay he rode out to the Davies ranch.
It took some doing but finally Davies and Adam had made an amicable agreement. Adam agreed on an additional price to cover the shipping of the new breeding cattle by rail. Satisfied that all the misunderstandings between his father and Cliff Davies had been sorted out; Adam made the return journey to town.
* * * *
By the time the Lancer brothers had made it to San Francisco it was late afternoon. Their first priority after completing the transaction for the sale of cattle was to find accommodation for themselves. Their next point of call was the local livery where they stabled their horses. Johnny was in the process of putting his saddle up when he collided with another man doing the same thing.
"Sorry about that," apologized Johnny.
The man he had accidentally bumped into grimaced a little and then nodded before leaving the livery. Johnny watched as he handed the stable boy enough money to pay for the horses’ keep, he couldn’t help but notice how much the man he'd bumped into, limped.
"You okay?" Scott asked, seeing the perplexed look on his brother's face.
"Huh? Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine," returned Johnny "Well come on then, I'm hungry and you own me a drink."
"I owe you a drink? I was the one that saved your butt from being caught by the steer."
"It makes a change… normally I'm the one saving your rear end," chuckled Scott, and pulled Johnny away from his horse.
As the evening progressed Adam found himself at the hotel bar. He ordered a beer and drank the amber contents in one long draw. The liquid was like honey to his parched throat. He looked at the small container of pills he'd been given and put them back in his pocket. "They can wait till later,' he thought to himself. He'd kept his promise to the Stassons and had seen a doctor as he had been able to and smiled when the doctor had confirmed Tessa's suggestion that he had broken a bone in his foot.
Adam signaled the barkeep to refill his glass, and surveyed the room. He saw the two men he'd seen earlier at the livery, saw the saloon girls that adorned the arms of sailors and cattlemen alike and the card players gathered around the cloth covered tables.
He felt his heavy eyelids slowly begin to close, the weariness of the long day catching up with him. He couldn't help but think the hotel seemed extra busy for a weeknight. 'Not a weeknight,' he complained silently. 'A Saturday night. The night he and Suzette were meant to be going out together. Another night in the non-existent dating schedule of Adam Cartwright laid to rest,' he sighed.
Throughout the course of the day Adam had become more and more agitated with his brothers, and cursed them under his breath. He was annoyed at how easily thy seemed to be able to shirk their responsibilities, that his father always relied on him to be the level headed one. As the oldest he had been given his share of responsibilities and at times, as he saw it, his brothers' shares as well.
He leaned with his back against the bar; elbows propped up on it. He took in the ambience of the saloon and debated whether he should call it an early night or stay a while longer and relax.
'May as well and enjoy myself. Won’t get the chance to again for a while,' he thought to himself. He ordered a shot of whiskey and knocked it back in one gulp. Mixed with the beers he had downed earlier the whiskeys that followed had made him relaxed with the warm euphoria they yielded.
Looking around the room he saw a now vacant table in the far corner which he started to walk towards. He hadn't gotten far when he bumped into one of the patrons drinking at a table.
"Watch it pal! We're conducting a business merger," seethed the patron, annoyed that Adam had caused him to spill his drink on some papers.
Still irked from the recent bitterness towards his brother and how easily they could ditch their duties; Adam cocked his head to the side and glared at the man before him. "Yeah, well I'm thinkin' of doin' a little merger of my own," retorted Adam, his tone terse.
"That so. And what kind of merger would that be?"
"My fist with yer face!" snapped Adam.
"Hey now, we can't have no drunks causin' trouble, why don't you just mosey on along partner," a gruff voice from behind Adam said, and took Adam's gun from his holster. "Here, Mr. Banister," he said and handed him the gun.
From across the room Scott and Johnny Lancer had watched with interest as the scene before them unfolded. They recognized the dark haired man as the one that they'd seen earlier at the livery stable.
"Think we should help him out?" Johnny asked.
"Mightn't be such a bad idea, "Scott agreed, and pointed at the men who had walked up behind Adam. He pushed himself away from the table and moved to where Adam was, closely followed by his brother.
"How's the foot?" Johnny intervened; his hand rested on his gun.
"You know this guy?" the disgruntled patron asked, weary of how easily the dark featured man before him wore his gun belt.
"Could say that," answered Johnny. His intense gaze bore into the man before him.
One of the other men seated at the table stood and placed his hand on his friend's shoulder.
"Take it easy fellas. Ol' Charlie here didn't mean anything by it. Look, it was an accident, let's let it go at that. What do you say?"
Adam looked from the two men who had intervened on his behalf to the men seated at the table. He raised his hands out to the side, palms up; he shrugged his shoulders and smirked. Then with unrivaled speed he clenched his right fist, spun on his left foot and delivered an uppercut to the jaw of cowboy that stood behind him with his gun raised.
"You're right," Adam said when he turned back to face Charlie. "No hard feelings," he said and collected his gun from the table.
Before Adam had moved more than a foot away from the group he was struck from behind and pushed onto the table. It collapsed under his weight and sent papers and money flying in all directions. Momentarily stunned he picked himself up from the floor and lunged at his assailant.
Amidst the furore Scott and Johnny soon found themselves embroiled in the fight. While they meted out some decent blows of their own, the odds were not in their favour. Two against eight could not be considered favorable odds in anyone's language.
Both the Lancer brothers fought admirably but it wasn't to be their fight. Scott had been able to defend a number of blows but the one he had not counted on had come from behind him. The last thing he heard was his younger brother call out for help as the floor rushed up to meet him.
Johnny found himself restrained in the grasp of two big men. Unable to stop the punches and blows that littered his torso and face Johnny quickly succumbed to the darkness that robbed him of his senses.
With in the space of a few short minutes, the saloon patrons had witnessed one of the bloodiest bar room brawls in its sordid history. Three cowpunchers seated in the far right corner of the saloon watched the fight with interest. When they saw the Sheriff and his deputies arrive they quietly slipped out of sight.
"Daniel, who started this fight?" the Sheriff asked, and directed his question at the barkeeper.
"That fella there," replied Daniel. "The one all dressed in black. Them fellas with him were also involved."
The Sheriff looked at the three beaten men before him and shook his head. "All right you three. Come with me. You've got some explainin' to do and I figure it's gonna be a long night."
"You figure it's gonna be a long night," quipped Adam, and wrapped his arm around his ribs.
Scott and the deputy supported Johnny between them and followed the Sheriff and Adam towards the jail.
"In there," ordered the Sheriff. His tone matched his mood - enraged. "You," he snapped and looked at Adam, "what's your name?"
"Cartwright. Adam Cartwright."
When he heard Adam tell the Sheriff his name, Scott listened carefully to the rest of the conversation to learn whether this was one of the Cartwright family he'd heard so much of. 'What are the chances that he's from the same family?' Scott mentally asked himself.
"Where do you live?" the Sheriff asked as he pulled some paper out of his top drawer.
Adam coughed and immediately wished he hadn't. His chest felt like it was on fire; his ribs protested against the body's urge to cough. "The Ponderosa ranch in the Nevada Territory."
The Sheriff looked up from his forms and rubbed his hand across his chin. "Hear tell that is quite a spread. Takes up a fair amount of land. 'bout six, seven hundred thousand acres ain't it?"
"Yeah, 'bout that. You seem to know a lot about the Ponderosa," replied Adam. He sat down on the bunk in the cell and leaned his head back against the wall.
"I make it my duty to know everything," the Sheriff smugly answered. "You. What's your name?" he asked as he turned his attention to Scott.
"I'm Scott Lancer and this is…”
Before Scott could offer any further information, the Sheriff slammed his hands on to his desk and glowered at Scott. "I ain't interested in who your friend is right now. I got me a fair idea who he is. I only asked you who you were."
Taken aback by the Sheriff's sudden outburst, Scott unconsciously slunk back against the cell wall.
"You from the same place as your friend there," the Sheriff asked and jerked his head in Adam's direction.
"No, sir. We're from Murro Coyo. Our father has a ranch there," Scott answered while he tried to keep his tone respectful, and gestured between himself and Johnny.
During the questioning of Adam and Scott, Johnny had started to come round - the constant throb in his head a perfect partner to the one in his right side. He moaned and tried to sit himself up. Before he was fully upright he felt his stomach lurch. He inhaled deep breaths in effort to stop himself from vomiting. He lay back with his eyes closed and waited for the nausea to pass.
"You okay?" Scott asked, concerned for his brother.
Johnny raised his right hand and kept his eyes clothes. "You wanna try keepin' it down a notch or two," he said dryly.
Adam watched the exchange between the two men and tried to signal to Scott that the Sheriff now stood at the cell door.
"Was wonderin' when you was gonna wake up, boy," the Sheriff sneered. "You and me are gonna have us a little talk."
Johnny grimaced when he recognized the Sheriff from another time and another place. During his days in the border towns he'd seen the Sheriff in passing - Martin Coltrane. He'd also heard of Coltrane's reputation when it came to hunting down his man. Johnny flung his left arm across his eyes and groaned.
"Didn't you hear me, boy?" Coltrane asked.
"Yeah, I heard you. Was just trying to ignore you like this pain in my head. I was hopin' it would go away and you with it," mumbled Johnny.
Coltrane signaled for his deputy to move Johnny from the cell and sit him at his desk. Johnny's response had the Sheriff curious. He thought he knew who the dark haired man was but wasn't one hundred percent sure. With his curiosity heightened he began his barrage of questions.
"Have a seat," Coltrane said and delivered a solid punch to Johnny's already abused stomach. The force of the punch caused Johnny to fall backwards into the waiting chair. "What's your name, boy?" he continued while Johnny sucked in ragged breaths and tried to calm his breathing. He knew that Coltrane had been successful in breaking the ribs that he’d suspected of being cracked.
"Lancer. Johnny Lancer." He replied in between pain filled pants.
"You tryin' to be funny, boy?" Coltrane asked, his tone one of hatred.
Johnny looked up at Coltrane and gave him a lopsided smile. "No, sir. That's my name."
"You know what I think, boy?"
"No, sir. Why don't you tell me what you think," bantered Johnny.
Coltrane put his right hand under Johnny's draw and lifted his face up to meet his eyes. "I think you're a smart mouth. You're up to something. I think you're lyin', boy."
Johnny looked at Coltrane disdainfully and blew out a breath. "What would I have to lie about?"
"Your name for a start."
Johnny shook his head slowly. "Now, why would I lie about my name for? Ask my brother. He'll tell you what my name is."
"And why would he," Coltrane said and gestured at Scott, "why would he tell me that he's your brother. You don’t look anything alike."
Johnny cocked his head to the side and snorted. "Sheriff, I'll try and make this simple - even for you. Me and my brother had different mothers."
Scott grimaced inwardly when he heard Johnny's insolent tone. "He's telling you the truth, Sheriff," he said as he tried to distract Coltrane.
All the while Adam watched and listened. He heard the way that Coltrane insinuated that Johnny and Scott couldn’t be brothers. He grinned when he heard Johnny's response but like Scott, also grimaced when he saw Coltrane wipe papers from his desk with a forceful sweep of his forearm. He opened his mouth to say something but thought better of it when he saw the deputy scowl at them.
Coltrane focused his cold blue eyes on Johnny once again. The iciness of Coltrane's stare made Johnny visibly shiver. "I don’t appreciate your smart answers, boy."
"You don't?" Johnny asked and raised his eyebrows. "Tell me what kind you like and I'll see what I can come up with."
"Son, you just ain't gonna be happy until Satan has your picture hangin' on his wall," sneered Coltrane before he punched Johnny in his jaw. The chair toppled backwards and Johnny with it by the force of the blow. He hit his head on the wooden floor with a thud that echoed around the jail.
"JOHNNY!" Scott cried and shook the bars of the cell. Separated from his brother by iron bars he was desperate to get to him.
"NO!" Adam shouted and pulled Scott's hands from the bars. "Can't you see? That's what the Sheriff wants. To get you worked up enough that you'll be in the same situation."
Scott stopped his protests when he felt Adam's hand on his shoulder. "Johnny," he softly called.
The Sheriff glared at Scott and pointed to Johnny's prone body on the floor. "I don't know what your game is boy or why you're hell bent for stickin' up for that man…"
"Sheriff, that man is my younger brother - Johnny Lancer," interrupted Scott. His voice quavered slightly as he spoke.
"Like I said, you're stickin' up for the wrong fella. His name is Madrid," Coltrane sneered.
"Was Madrid," countered Scott
Coltrane looked down at Johnny and nudged him with his boot. When there was no response he turned his focus back to Scott. "Whether it is or was it don't make much difference to me anyhow. Clint, get this prisoner back into the cell. I'll talk with him again later when I'm ready."
"Sheriff?" Adam called.
"Yeah. What is it Cartwright?"
"He needs a doctor," Adam said and gestured at Johnny.
"I'll see what I can do while I'm out," Coltrane snidely replied.
During the Sheriff's absence, Adam had managed to persuade Clint into giving them the few medical supplies that were kept in the office. He was thankful that Clint let them care for Johnny without hovering nearby all the time.
"Adam, thanks for your help," Scott said as he wrapped the last of the bandages around Johnny's head. "I certainly didn’t mean for you to get mixed up in all this mess.
"Whoa, hold it a minute. As I recall it was me that threw the first punch and the fight started with my not being able to control my temper," Adam interjected.
Scott chuckled quietly. "Come to think of it now, it was your fault. Care to tell me what it was all about, if you don’t mind me asking. But before you do, you said your name was Cartwright."
"Yeah, what of it?"
"Nothing really, just wanted to know if you were any relation to a Ben Cartwright," Scott said.
"You know him?" Adam
"Not personally. Our father has often spoken of a Ben Cartwright and when you said your name was Cartwright.."
"You put two and two together and got four," Adam smiled.
"Well he should've got four, unless they didn’t teach him how to count at that fancy eastern school he went to," Johnny ribbed, and tried to sit himself up. He quickly banished the idea when his head screamed out in protest once more.
"Take it easy," Scott cautioned when he saw Johnny try to sit up. "And for your information they did teach me arithmetic at school."
"Couldn't help but overhear but what school did you go to back East?" asked Adam.
Scott regarded Adam carefully before he replied. "I went to Harvard before I moved out to California to live with Murdoch and Johnny. You never did say, are you any relation to Ben Cartwright?"
"I never did, did I? Ben Cartwright is my father and I have two younger brothers. Hoss and Joe. How long ago did you go to Harvard? I also went there to study engineering and architecture," spoke Adam. It wasn't often that he got to meet anyone who had also been to Harvard and was keen to talk more about the prestigious school. "Did you go Harvard as well?" he asked, directing his question at Johnny.
"Nope. I did all my learnin' around the border towns," Johnny answered.
"Your father let you go down to the border towns?' Adam asked in amazement.
"I didn't know I had a father then or a brother," Johnny answered and momentarily held his gaze on Scott.
Scott saw Adam's bewildered expression and quickly explained to him how Johnny, Murdoch and himself had been reunited.
"It nearly didn't happen," Johnny grinned. "Had those Pinkerton men been another minute later Murdoch would have been on son less." From his half sitting position Johnny looked around the jail. When he saw only one deputy he beckoned Scott. "Is he the only one guarding this place? We've got to get out of here before Coltrane comes back."
"Yes he is," nodded Scott. "You wouldn't happen to have a plan for getting us out of here now would you?"
Johnny rubbed his hand across his bruised jaw and looked up at Scott and Adam. "Well I figure we have two choices. Either we wait for Murdoch to come and bail us out or we break out." As he spoke the familiar sparkle danced in his eyes.
"Deputy! Let me outta here. I can’t stand being in here, now will you let me out?" Scott ranted as he paced back and forth. "If it wasn't for my younger brother here I wouldn’t be in this mess."
"MY fault?" Johnny said in disbelief. "And just how did you arrive at that ridiculous conclusion?"
"Well, brother, if you hadn't been so generous and wantin' to help this saddle tramp out of the trouble he'd got himself, in we wouldn't BE IN JAIL!"
"Deputy can't you do anything about these two? They're making enough noise to wake the dead. Nobody asked you two to join in so it serves you both right…" Adam said as he joined in the furore and added to the Lancer's tirade.
"Oh boy you're goin' just the right way to have your jaw decorated with my fist," Scott snarled and grabbed Adam's shirt collar.
The deputy had become concerned with the increased tension in the cell and went to intervene. When he saw Adam Cartwright had been pushed up against the bars and Scott's forearm pressed against his throat he unlocked the door and moved in to separate the two men. Unknown to the deputy, Johnny had moved up behind him and taken his revolver out of his holster.
"Hold it right there," warned Johnny and motioned for the deputy to move over to the only bed that occupied the cell. He could feel the last of his energy quickly flee from him and reached out to Adam. "Take this … I don't feel too good," he said before he felt his legs go from under him.
"SCOTT!" Adam shouted.
Hearing his name called Scott turned to see Johnny make a slow descent towards the floor. With cat like reflexes he grabbed Johnny under his arms and pulled him back up. "Hang on brother. Just a few minutes more." Scott helped his brother from the cell while Adam locked the unsuspecting deputy in.
Johnny vaguely remembered being lifted up onto his horse. His entire body ached and all he wanted to do was close his eyes and sleep the pain away. He felt himself begin to slide from the saddle and then pulled back to sitting position once more. His head lolled to one side; a wave of nausea washed over him while a familiar voice kept giving him encouragement. Then nothing. Blackness.
Scott urged Barranca on and held his brother against his chest as they rode. The occasional moan from Johnny was all that Scott heard from him. He knew that riding around the countryside like they were was not doing any good for Johnny. Given the alternative of waiting in a jail cell for Coltrane to reappear held even less appeal.
"This looks like a good place to hold up for the night," said Adam and reined Sport to a halt. In his haste to dismount he knocked his injured foot and yelped in pain as it made contact with the ground.
Scott was torn between caring for his brother and going to Adam's aid. "Adam, are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine. How's Johnny?" Adam asked and limped towards Scott Lancer.
Scott slowly shook his head. "I wish we were back at Lancer. Murdoch would know what to do. Teresa too."
"Teresa?" Adam asked, his interest piqued.
"She's our father's ward. Attractive and did cause a number of problems for Johnny and myself to begin with but we've since agreed that she's more like a sister for both of us," Scott chuckled.
Adam smiled at Scott's description of Teresa and more so at the fact that neither Scott nor Johnny vied for her attentions any more. "How far away is your ranch from here and what did Coltrane want with your brother?"
While Scott covered Johnny with the blanket from his bedroll he filled Adam in on what he knew. "Johnny's had a vastly different life from my own. Like he told you, he spent a lot of time around the border towns. He grew up in them and made a name for himself as a gun for hire. I still don’t know all about his past. Sometimes he'll reveal a bit more, it's a real eye opener and at other times you can’t get anything from him.
As to how Coltrane knows him I have no idea. Maybe he was someone that Johnny crossed paths with sometime ago or maybe an over zealous Sheriff who likes the idea of taking down Johnny Madrid. I remember one time when Johnny was out moving stock we had a visit at the ranch by someone wanting to make a name for himself by killing Johnny."
"Popular guy, your brother," Adam said and looked down at Johnny. A man younger than himself that had seen and done so much; more than a normal man would face and triumph over. He admired the way that Johnny had changed himself; turned from a life of a pistolero to a third owner in what he'd learned to be one of the largest ranches in Murro Coyo.
"Well life is never dull. Lancer is a still a good day’s ride from here," said Scott. He sat down beside Johnny, ran his hand through his blonde hair and sighed heavily. "I wonder if Coltrane's got a posse organized yet."
"You can count on it," muttered Adam. He leaned his tired and aching body back against the fallen log and closed his eyes. "We'll have to get moving before too long."
"Yeah, we will. I just hope Johnny's going to be all right to travel. Why don't you tell me some more about your family to help pass the time."
After half an hour
of talking Adam suggested that they moved on. With Adam's help Scott
was able to get Johnny back into the saddle again. The going was
slow for each time Scott urged Barranca into more than a gentle canter
Johnny would cry out in pain.
* * * *
"They suckered me into it, Sheriff," Clint stammered, his bottom lip quivered as he spoke.
Coltrane shook his slowly and blew out a long breath. "Boy, you tell me how three men got the better of you. Three unarmed men locked behind bars. Tell me boy. How'd they sucker you into lettin' them go?"
After Clint had finished explaining about the mock fight Coltrane clenched his fists together and pounded them solidly on his desk. "I can't believe you are that stupid. You haven’t got the sense God gave a lemming. Johnny Madrid was finally mine, after all this time."
"But, Sheriff there ain't no wanted posters out for him or nothin'. You're wanting him was for personal reasons."
"Clint! You goin' against me boy?"
"No, sir. I ain't," replied Clint and finished fastening his gun belt around his waist. He had no intention of going against the Sheriff's wishes but in the same respect he couldn't force himself to hunt down a man in cold blood.
Coltrane checked his own gun and looked up at his deputy. "That's good to hear boy," he said, a sardonic smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. His eyes burned with the hate and disdain that he felt for Johnny Madrid. "Burt, you’re in charge," he said and threw the keys to the cells towards a middle-aged man who swept the floors.
"M-m-m-me in ch-ch-ch-ch-charge?" he stammered. Coltrane had employed him as a janitor when no one else would give him a job. Although a clever man in his own right, he lacked a few fundamental skills.
"Yeah, Burt. Just don’t you go burnin' down the place while we're away y'hear?" chuckled Coltrane.
Burt shook his head emphatically. "N-n-n-no m-m-m-mister Col-trane… y-y-y-you can count on m-m-m-me."
Outside his office the Sheriff was confronted by the three cowpunchers that had witnessed the fight at the saloon.
"We want a word with you," the oldest of the men spoke, his tone gruff.
"That so. What about?" returned Coltrane, his tone equally as hard.
After a brief discussion Coltrane concluded that to have these three men in his posse could prove useful. "You are not adverse to murder then?" he asked and stared intently at each man.
"That we ain't,"
the spokesmen for the small group answered. "We got us a score to settle
with Cartwright an' Madrid."
* * * *
Scott rode down the slope one hand wrapped firmly around his brother, the other in control of the palomino’s reins. Barranca braced himself against the loose shale and with practiced ease gently carried his precious burden down the trail. Adam clucked Sport forward; the gravity pulled him against the fork in his saddle as the sorrel picked his way down the slope, surefooted, but not hurried.
Finally they reached the grove on the mesa. Juniper trees bent as the wind whistled through their evergreen branches. From the mesa ridge, Lancer was less than a fifteen-mile ride. “We’ll stop here for a while and give Johnny a rest,” Scott said as he reined Barranca to a halt. He noted that his brother’s skin had become cool to touch and his breathing ragged and drawn.
Adam nodded in agreement and rubbed his left hand across his face and felt the stubble of more facial hair than was appropriate for a man to carry. The constant throb in his foot hadn’t subsided any; he patted his breast pocket in search of the prescribed medicine and downed two of the pills. His saddled creaked as he rose slightly in the stirrups to stretch his back; Sport tossed his head and pawed his feet anxiously at the ground. “Easy, fella,” soothed Adam and pulled the reins a little tighter. “How’s Johnny?” he asked.
“I’d feel a whole lot better if we were back at the house,” sighed Scott. “It would be much easier all round.”
Adam sensed the younger man’s desire to get the help that Johnny needed and could also see that he was anxious about moving on. “Scott, we can’t stay here, we’ve got to get moving. If few stay here we’re going to be easy targets for Coltrane and his posse.”
“We’ll just give Johnny a few more minutes and then get moving. I doubt we’ll make it to Lancer tonight. The horses can’t go on much longer.” Scott sighed heavily, wishing that they were closer to Lancer than they were.
Unable to go on much
longer Adam and Scott reined their horses to a halt in a sheltered canyon.
At the far end of the canyon the walls grew narrow and twisted, and formed a tight maze. They knew that they would have the advantage there, a strategic lookout point from which they could see all that moved around them. Their rock shelters afforded them protection from the wind that whipped at everything around and from the men that pursued them.
Adam tethered the horses and built a small fire to keep himself and his companions warm as the temperature dropped sharply. From his saddlebag he took a small bag of coffee grounds and added them to the pot of hot water. “Want a cup of coffee?” he asked and offered a small tin cupful to Scott.
Scott nodded and accepted the cup and held it to his brother’s parched lips. “C’mon try and drink some of this,” he urged. He rubbed his index finger under Johnny’s jaw and got him to open his mouth.
Warmed on the inside by the coffee and on the outside by the fire Johnny turned his head towards Scott’s chest and closed his eyes. Within moments he’d returned to his fitful slumber.
Adam watched the interaction of the brothers and thought of his own family back in Nevada and how much he’d missed them all over the last few days. He leaned back against the rock and tilted his head upwards, taking in the night sky and the mysteries it held.
The moon came out
from behind the clouds and shone on the pale grey granite boulders; it
spread its cold light over the ground below as Scott’s mind focused on
recalling everything Johnny had taught him about finding the enemy’s weakness
when pinned down in a canyon.
* * * *
“So what have you got against Cartwright and Madrid?” Coltrane asked and inspected the chamber of his gun before sliding it back into his holster with practiced ease.
The bigger of the men answered the Sheriff. “For starters Cartwright beat us out of a contract and Madrid, he’s responsible for a friend of ours being killed down in Utah.”
“Yeah, we needed that contract didn’t we Lee? Without that contract we had to sell up everything we owned.” The younger man added and winced when he saw the look his older brother gave him.
“We ain’t that broke, just that Cartwright he undercut our price, but it killed our Pa when he found out that we wasn’t to be supplyin’ timber for the mines.” Lee Austin admonished his younger brother and clucked his horse on. His brothers followed in silence and watched as Coltrane occasionally veered off the trail. When the sheriff dismounted the Austin’s watched as he scoured the rocks for clues.
Scuff marks on the rocks had shown Coltrane which way his prey had fled. Dotted on the rocks were small drops of blood. He dismounted and rubbed his fingers over the larger of the drops. An educated sniff told him that the blood was stale. “They past through here a while ago,” he said and looked in the direction of the canyon. As he stood his hand, rested on the oil blackened handle of his .45.
Coltrane continued to survey the area for more clues and visibly shuddered when he saw the treacherous path that his escapees had taken. “C’mon ya nag,” he chastised his horse when it balked at going down the trail. Urged on by the sharp rowels on Coltrane’s spurs the horse began it descent. Like the horses before it, the roan moved with surefootedness down the slope.
“Ya sure we’re goin’ the right way?” Lee asked, “I ain’t seen no tracks in a while.”
“They’re there all right, boy. You just gotta know where to look.” Coltrane’s lip curled as he spoke. “I’d say that they’ve hold up in the canyon, ain’t anywhere else around here to go.”
“Whaddya reckon, Lee? Wanna play mountain goat and get Cartwright ‘n Madrid?” The stocky built man asked.
“Chase, we’ve come too far now not to,” Lee replied. He rolled a cigarette and licked it into shape while his youngest bother Mel carefully checked the rounds in his gun.
Barranca’s ears pricked forward when it noticed the scent of other horses approaching. He threw his head back and whinnied. Sport’s ears pricked forward as he too began to pull at his tethers.
The rattle of horses’ hooves against the rock awakened Johnny from his fitful slumber. “Take it easy, take it easy,” calmed Scott as he restrained his younger brother. He felt Johnny continue to struggle underneath his hands and held him down with more force.
Johnny became more aggravated at his inability to move his brother and licked his dry lips before he spoke. “Scott, you and Adam, you have to get out of here.” His eyes darted madly around the canyon searching for the riders he knew would be coming.
“Johnny, I’m not going anywhere,” rebuked Scott and held his brother’s gaze with his own.
“I can’t get out
of here, Scott.” Johnny reasoned as he pushed Scott’s hands away and urged
his brother to leave him behind. “Scott, just go. I’m dying anyway
so it’s not going to make any difference.” Johnny pleaded with an unnatural
fear in his eyes while blood slowly trickled out the corner of his mouth.
* * * *
“Over there,” indicated Coltrane with his rifle. He’d seen the glow of the campfire when he entered the canyon.
Lee nodded and withdrew his rifle from its scabbard. “Chase, go left. Mel go with Coltrane.”
The three brothers separated and with cat like movements made their way to where the Lancers and Adam Cartwright had taken shelter.
Bullets careened wildly in the night sky, in a myriad pattern of directions and ricocheted into the boulders around them while rifle flashes flickered like fireflies against the dark sky. Horses reared and pulled at the tethered reins as the six guns spoke - their voices cracked like bullwhips, and broke the cold deadlines of the pale light.
Agony filled cries filled the night air as bullets hit their targets. Chase rolled in the dirt trying to line up his gun. The second and third shots that Adam had fired in quick succession sounded almost as one and drove him off his elbow and back into the dirt. Chase’s head rolled to one side and his body jerked as he drew in his final ragged breaths. His gun dropped from his hand at the same time his final breath escaped his body.
Mel had seen his brother felled by Adam Cartwright’s gun and returned reckless fire. His shots careened wildly into the rocks as his horse reared under him. Adam’s second shot tore Mel from his saddle; he was dead before he hit the ground.
Scott was trying to hold onto his brother with one arm, while firing his rifle with the other. Unable to get the leverage he needed, he laid Johnny back against the shale. Before he’d had time to take aim a bullet slammed into the side of Scott’s right arm. Momentarily stunned he dropped the rifle and watched helplessly while it clattered down towards the canyon floor as dirt fountains started to appear in front of him. Mesmerized by the almost precise accuracy of the bullets, Scott had a lapse of concentration.
It was all the advantage Lee Austin needed as he moved in on the Lancer brothers. He stood over Scott, with his gun cocked and aimed straight at his head. “I wouldn’t if I was you,” he glowered. “Thought you’d saved me the trouble of killin’ ya,” he added when he saw Johnny’s eyes flicker open.
“Who… who are you?” Johnny asked his voice sounded thick, his eyes unfocused.
“Such a pity you don’t remember, Madrid… you killed a friend of mine.” Austin ground the barrel of his gun into the side of Scott’s jaw, the sight cut into the blonde’s skin. “Does Utah hold any special memories for you?”
Johnny briefly closed his eyes and nodded – he’d remembered. When he opened his eyes again he could see the cold hard face of Austin and the gun that was aimed at his brother’s head.
The sneer on Lee’s face changed to a gloating smile when he saw recollection show on Johnny’s face. “Madrid you killed Dempsey. You killed him in cold blood.”
“He was asking to die and I obliged him, for what he did to the Alvarez family he deserved that and more.” He paused and his right hand snaked down to his holster. “He was lucky it was quick,” Johnny added and propped himself up a little higher.
Scott had never head his brother speak with such venom before in his justification of gunning a man down. He felt the warm trickle of blood as he ran down his neck and pooled at his shirt collar.
Adam had been watching Coltrane edge his way up the canyon and waited until he had a clear shot. His first shot had stunned the Sheriff, but as Coltrane returned fire the second dropped him from leather. Adam knew his shot had only caught Coltrane in his shoulder and worked quickly at picking his way down the rock-face. He heard Scott yelp in pain and looked back towards the rocks. His eyes moved back to Coltrane when he saw him move for his colt. “You move again and I will cut you in half,” Adam warned and with his right foot he kicked the gun out of Coltrane’s reach.
Lee’s gun hung loosely in his hand as he closed his eyes for a brief second. He inhaled deeply and with a speed that only few could match he fired at Johnny. “You draw fast, Madrid, but there’ll come a time when someone will be quicker than you. And that time is now,” Austin snorted like a bronc with distemper. With the speed and deadly accuracy that had earned Johnny his name as a gunfighter he drew his gun and fired hitting Austin, square in the chest before the chamber of Lee’s gun had clicked into place. His .45 blasted lead and flame into the night.
Lee looked at Johnny with contempt in his dark eyes as his gun fell from his hand. His body went slack – death had claimed him as one of its own.
Johnny felt his own strength wane and hoarsely called to Scott as the ground rushed up to meet him.
As dawn crept over the horizon with spears of red lances that pierced the morning sky, Lancer riders moved in, headed by Murdoch Lancer. The rifle reports were loud and had brought Lancer riders to the canyon.
Coltrane was secured to his horse and the bodies of the three Austin brothers were slung over their mounts. One of the hands rode directly into Spanish Wells to fetch Doctor Jenkins while another two delivered Coltrane and the bodies of the dead men to the Sheriff and undertaker of Murro Coyo respectively.
Murdoch Lancer rode slowly back to the ranch house with his youngest son cradled against his massive chest.
Adam Cartwright wished
it had been under better circumstances that he’d been able to meet Scott’s
father and marvel at the view that was ‘Lancer’.
Lancer consisted of rolling; tumbling range filled with tall green grass on which healthy cattle grazed, and over it all poured golden sunlight. Vaqueros on fine horses greeted the returning men and cleared a path that led to a sprawling hacienda, surrounded by corrals, barns and bunkhouses.
Scott grasped Johnny’s right hand. His fingers were strong and Johnny felt their power. “Come on, brother, fight.” He knew that the doctor told him that it could be sometime before Johnny regained consciousness – if ever. So many times since the surgery to repair Johnny’s punctured lung, the young man had spiked fevers that had threatened to end his life. “I’m not giving up on you, Johnny. We’ve got too much to do.”
“How is he?” Adam asked as he entered Johnny’s room. “Teresa sent this tray up for you, she said that you missed breakfast this morning,” he added and set the tray down on the bedside table.
“Thanks,” uttered Scott. “How’s your foot?” he asked while Adam seated himself on one of the spare chairs that had been brought into the room.
“Feelin’ a lot better,” Adam smiled. His smile soon turned into a frown as he tried to scratch the skin under the plaster cast. “Joe’s been giving me a hard time about the cast,” he grinned wryly.
Adam had sent his father a telegram that advised on where he was and the invitation that had been extended by Murdoch Lancer to his family to join them at the ranch in Murro Coyo. He’d conveniently forgotten to tell his father of the cast that he now sported and had been duly chastised when his family had arrived at Lancer.
“Why would Joe do that?” Scott asked and replaced the now warm compress on Johnny’s head with a much cooler one.
“Because when I broke my leg and complained about the cast being uncomfortable and making me itchy, older brother here told me it was all in my mind,” Joe supplied from the doorway. “How’s Johnny?” he added as he moved further into the room.
“No change yet,” sighed Scott and pinched the bridge of his nose with his left hand. “Where’s Hoss?” he asked when he did not see the burly man come into the room.
Joe grinned like a Cheshire cat and chuckled. “Well, he’s chatting with Maria and sampling her cooking.”
“Hmmm she’s a good cook,” a muffled voice responded from the bed. Johnny did not remember sleep coming but the next time he woke, he found himself in his own bed. He peeled back his eyelids and saw the radiant smile that adorned Scott’s face. “Hey, brother.”
Over the next few days Johnny’s health improved and he was soon anxious to be free from his bed.
“Must be something about the youngest brothers,” Adam consoled Scott after his battle to get Johnny to remain in bed. “Always wanting to be up before they should.” He shot Joe a knowing glance and winked.
“I take it you have the same problem,” Murdoch sighed in an exasperated fashion.
Ben Cartwright clasped his hand on his youngest son’s shoulders and nodded. “All the time, all the time.” He turned his attention to Johnny and Scott. “When you two are up to travelling I’ve told your father that you are welcome to visit us at the Ponderosa, and Murdoch I’ll show you around the Nevada silver mine sites before you decide to invest, but I think that you are making the right decision by investing.”
Adam caught sight of someone walking past Johnny’s door and quickly stood. “I’ll be back in a minute or two.” He said as he hobbled out the door.
Hoss and Joe like Ben and Murdoch exchanged bewildered glances. Scott read their confused expressions and with one word supplied the answer that they were all seeking. “Teresa.”
Like hound dogs after a rabbit Hoss and Joe quickly fled the room in pursuit of their brother. Since arriving at ‘Lancer’ the two younger Cartwright brothers had also fallen for Teresa’s charms.
“Teresa, wait up,” cried two voices in vain.
“Boys,” uttered Murdoch Lancer and Ben Cartwright in unison.
“Teresa,” laughed Scott and Johnny.
***Author’s note: In
a Lancer episode (Lifeline?) Murdoch Lancer mentioned that they may have
to sell their shares that they held in the Nevada Silver Mines when it
looked like they were going to forfeit the ranch**