Placerville (by Fozrulz)

Summary:  Two men show up from Adam’s past.  What do they have against him?

Rated: K+  wc  7300

IT HAPPENED IN PLACERVILLE

It was a bright beautiful summer day on the Ponderosa. Ellie looked out her window and thought this was going to be a wonderful day. She had no school and free reign today. Except for doing her chores this morning, Pa told her she was free today. Pa was in Virginia City on business, Adam was up at the logging camp, Hoss and Joe took a load of supplies to the mines, and she was free free free. Pa had told her that they were all leaving very early, so don’t worry if when she got up no one was home. Hop Sing would be around.

She yawned and stretched. She pulled on an old pair of Joe’s jeans and an old shirt of Joe’s. Pa didn’t really approve of her dressing like this, but he usually let her on Saturdays if they weren’t going into Virginia City. She tried braiding her long hair to keep it out of her face, but it just kept getting tangled. She just couldn’t figure out how to do it, she wondered how Hop Sing kept his braid so neat. She hopped off her bed and went in search of Hop Sing.

She found him in the kitchen. “Hop Sing, can you help me with my hair?” she asked.

“Oh, you come here lil missy, Hop Sing fix for you.” Hop Sing swiftly braided her hair. “You be good girl and stay out of kitchen, Hop Sing very busy.”

“Um, ok, thank you Hop Sing.” she reached up to give him a kiss.

Hop Sing gave her a hug, “Ok, you be good girl, go outside, Hop Sing very busy.”

Ellie really wanted to go down to the corral where the hands were breaking horses. She knew she wasn’t allowed down there without her Papa or one of her brothers. But, she really wanted to see the new horses. She had heard, there was even a new paint pony to look at. She thought, Adam is up at the timber camp, Hoss and Joe are at the mining camp and Papa is gone. None of them should be back for several hours. What would it hurt, she wasn’t going in, she was just looking. Besides, she was nine now. Certainly she was old enough to just look. She quickly finished her chores, saddled up Windy and took off for the corral.

She reached the corral and tied off Windy. She looked around to see if Charlie, the ranch foreman was around. He would sure tell Papa or Adam she had been down there. She looked but didn’t see him, the coast was clear. She breathed a sigh of relief. She perched herself along the corral to watch the hands breaking the horses. She was absolutely mesmerized. She loved horses almost as much as Joe did. She was already riding almost as well as Joe had been at her age.

Charlie rode up to the corral to check the progress of the new horses. He noticed a slight figure with a long braid draping down her back perched on the fence. He frowned. That sure looked like Ellie. Where were her brothers or her Pa? He knew she wasn’t allowed down there without one of them. Charlie had been foreman at the Ponderosa before Ellie was born. He knew the Boss wasn’t gonna be none too happy.

Ellie had no idea that Charlie was there or had spotted her until she felt a stinging swat to her behind. “Eleanor Cartwright what are you doing down here?”

“Ow!” she shouted as her hand went protectively to her bottom. She turned around to see Charlie’s smoldering eyes looking right into hers. “Oh, hi Mr. Charlie.”

“Don’t you “Hi” me missy. Do you have permission to be down here?” Charlie looked downright menacing.

“Ummmm…..”

“Eleanor, I asked you a question.”

Ellie knew she better tell the truth. Charlie had given her plenty of swats during her nine years. She had gotten them for being where she wasn’t supposed to be, for sassing, for disobeying Papa, there wasn’t much Charlie wouldn’t give her a swat for.

“Um, No, sir, not ‘xactly.”

“What’s that suppose to be mean?”

“Well, there ain’t nobody up at the house that said I can’t.” she winced, knowing that didn’t sound very convincing.

“So, what you really mean, is you know you ain’t suppose to be down here, but you figured since there ain’t no one at the house, you could do as you please, ain’t that right?”

She could tell he was furious. “Yes sir, I guess that’s about it.” she said looking down at her feet.

Charlie pulled her off the fence. “You get back up to the house and stay out of trouble missy.” He turned her toward her horse and gave her bottom another stinging swat. “And ‘iffin I catch you back down here, I’m gonna take my belt off. Understand?”

“Yes sir,” Ellie said as she hurried and mounted Windy. Charlie had tanned her once or twice and that was enough for her.

Charlie watched Ellie take off. He chuckled to himself. Lord, he was glad that little gal was Ben Cartwright’s and not his, she was a handful. He wasn’t sure who was worse, Little Joe or Ellie.

Ellie scowled as she rode Windy back to the house. Hop Sing says stay out of the house, Charlie says go to the house, what was she suppose to do? She thought, I could ride over to Marybeth’s. No, can’t do that. She didn’t really have permission and if Mr. Aaron, Marybeth’s father asked her directly, she’d have to tell him she didn’t have permission to be over there. He’d know right away any how because she wasn’t allowed to ride that far by herself and she’d be in trouble with Mr. Aaron and her papa. Well, she thought what am I suppose to do?

She smiled, she could go to the lake. That was one place she was allowed to go by herself. She could go up there and draw or take a nice long swim and no one would know. Her brothers and her papa wouldn’t be back for hours. She didn’t really have anyone’s permission to go, but she reasoned she shouldn’t bother Hop Sing and there was no one else to ask. She could go ask Charlie for permission, but she didn’t really want to cross him. He had already threatened to tan her if she didn’t go back to the house. She made up her mind and took off for the lake.

Little did Ellie know that she was being watched from a distance. Two riders had been watching her ever since she left the house this morning. They had watched with amusement at her getting in trouble with the foreman of the ranch. One turned to the other. “You ready, James?”

“Nope, not yet,” the one called James smiled, “Let’s wait and see where she goes next.”

“Aww, come on James.”

“Lucas, didn’t I say I wanted to wait?” James said menacingly.

“Ok, ok, don’t get out of shape, James.” Lucas said hastily to his brother. His brother had a temper to match the devil and he wasn’t getting on the wrong side of it.

Lucas and James watched and followed Ellie up to the lake. She tied Windy off in a place where her pony could munch on some good sweet grass. Ellie dragged her sketch pad and charcoal pencils out her saddle bags. She had realized recently she had a talent for sketching, Adam had bought her a pad and charcoals and she carried them in her saddle bags always. She went to her favorite rock and sat down to sketch the incredible beauty in front of her. Her left side was facing the meadow and she was concentrating hard. With her hearing loss, she didn’t hear Lucas and James approach her.

Lucas coughed several times to get her attention. She simply didn’t hear him. James got tired of waiting, he strode over to her and grabbed her arm. Startled, Ellie dropped her pad and pencils and looked into the face of James Farley.

“Who, who, who are you?” she stuttered.

“Don’t matter much who I am does it?” James asked smiling.

“You ain’t suppose to be here, whoever you are.” Ellie said glaring at them.

“Oh is that so?” James sneered.

“Yep, this is the Ponderosa, mister and I don’t know you, so you don’t belong here, so you better leave.” Ellie said coolly.

James was enjoying this immensely, “How you know, I ain’t a new hand?” He still was holding her arm. She tried to shrug his arm away, but he just held on tighter.

“Ow, you’re hurting me let go!” she said through gritted teeth.

“You didn’t answer my question.” he said nastily.

“Cuz you’d have no cause to be here iffin you was a hand and my papa wouldn’t hire any man that would grab my arm like that. If you was, you’d be fired.” Ellie spat at him.

“Oh whee, missy, your sure got a smart mouth on you. Didn’t your pa teach you to respect your elders?” James said laughing as he squeezed her arm a little tighter.

“Only when them’s deserving respect and that sure as heck ain’t you.” Ellie said simmering.

James hauled her to her feet and delivered a heavy swat to her already sore behind. “Listen little girl, I know old Charlie already gave you a couple of swats and iffin you don’t want to feel my belt, you’ll do exactly what I say.”

Ellie started to tear. She had no idea why this man was here. She really wanted her Papa. But, no one knew she was here. How would they ever find her?

“What do you want anyhow?” Ellie said sullenly.

“Seems that attitude ain’t improvin’ much.” James said as he starting unbuckling his belt.

Ellie watched that motion of him taking his belt off and she froze.

Lucas grabbed James’ arm. “James, she’s just a little girl. You’ve scared her. Don’t.”

James hesitated, he turned and walked away. “Get her on her horse and tie her hands,” he ordered.

Lucas turned to Ellie, “Come on, do as he says.”

She just stood there frozen. Lucas sighed and just picked her up and placed her on Windy. He tied her hands. He looked up into her green eyes brimming with fear. “Lil gal, you better obey and be respectful, I’m not sure I’m going to be able stop my brother from taking a belt to you the next time you sass. Take my word for it. Understand?”

Ellie just nodded as the tears starting streaming down her face.

**********************************************************************************

It was late afternoon when one by one the Cartwright brothers and their father arrived back at the house. Hoss and Joe were the first ones to arrive. As Hoss and Joe were putting up the buckboard and taking care of the horses, Hoss noticed Windy’s stall was empty.

“I guess our lil sister went for a ride.” Hoss said nodding at the empty stall. “I don’t think Pa’s gonna be none too happy iffin she ain’t here when he get’s home.”

“Aww Hoss, Pa ain’t even home yet. She’ll be back afore then.” Joe said confidently.

“Well come on lil brother, let’s head up to the house to get washed up. Supper will be in a little while and I could eat me a whole cow.”

“Ok, big brother, just save some the rest of us.” Joe teased as he headed toward the house. Joe was covered from head to toe with mud. “I think I’m gonna take me a bath afore Pa gets home and tells me to take one.” said Joe.

Hoss looked his brother up one side and down the other, ‘Yep boy, you look like you been wallowing in mud all day.”

“You don’t look any better.” Joe taunted as he picked up a bucket of water and tossed at his big brother. “Oops big brother, looks like you need a bath now too.” Joe said laughing.

“Dad burn you Little Joe, I’m gonna wear your hide out.” Hoss sputtered reaching for Joe.

Joe skirted around Hoss and ran for the bath house. Hoss just shook his head, Hop Sing was gonna be mad if Hoss went in the house dripping water. He’d just have to wait his turn for a bath. He saddled up to the door of the bath house. “Joe, hurry on up, you know I cain’t go in the house like this.” He just heard Joe laughing. Hoss sighed and sat down on the porch.

While he waiting, Adam rode into the yard and saw Hoss sitting on the porch. He noticed Hoss was muddy and wet. “What happened to you?”

“Oh, the ornery lil cuss throwd a bucket of water on me. Claimin’ I needed a bath as bad as he did.” Hoss smiled a little.

“Joe volunteered to take a bath?” Adam raised his eyebrows.

“Aw Adam, Joe ain’t no baby anymore, he don’t mind taking a bath when he’s covered in mud.” Hoss chuckled remembering the days when it took Adam, Hoss and Pa to give Joe a bath.

“I remember not so long ago, getting that boy to take a bath was like putting a bull in a china shop.” Adam laughed.

“Say Adam, Ellie ain’t home. Windy ain’t in her stall.” Hoss said with a worried look in his eye.

Adam looked at his brother. Adam had been worried about her all day. He wasn’t crazy about leaving her by herself today. But, there really hadn’t been much choice. He knew that Hop Sing and the hands would watch out for her. Something didn’t feel right, but he wasn’t sure what and he didn’t want to let on. “I’m sure she’ll be home soon. She knows that she has to be home by supper.” Adam reassured Hoss.

“I don’t know,” said Hoss. Just then the door to the bath house opened and out stepped Joe all nice and clean and in clean dry clothes. “Your turn big brother,” Joe said, his eyes twinkling.

“Dad burn you Joe, I oughta….” Hoss started for Joe.

“Hoss, please, please I was just funnin’ ya.” Joe laughed so hard he was gasping for air. “How about I go get you a nice clean set of clothes and a towel?” Joe took off running into the house.

Adam laughed as Hoss sighed and entered the bath house. Adam turned around leading Sport to the stable. As he headed into the stable, he heard the sound of hooves hitting the dirt. He had hoped that it would be Ellie, but the horse sounded like Buck, his father’s horse.

“Hi son,” greeted Pa, “How are things up at the timber camp?”

“Fine Pa, we out to have the timber cut for the Silver Dollar Mine done by the end of next week.” Adam replied.

There was something in Adam’s eyes and his stance that Pa noticed. Something wasn’t quite right. “Adam, is everything ok?” Pa questioned.

Adam paused, he didn’t want to worry his father unnecessarily, but Pa would surely notice any moment now. Adam sucked in a breath, “Pa, Ellie isn’t home.”

Pa’s eyes turned stormy in an instant, “What?” he bellowed.

“Pa, we all just got home before you. Hoss noticed that Windy isn’t in her stall. We haven’t even had a chance to ask Hop Sing.” Adam said quickly.

Pa strode into the house with a purpose calling for Hop Sing. “Hop Sing!” bellowed Pa.

“Missur Cartwright, why you yell, why you always yell.” the little Chinese cook said hurrying toward Pa.

“Where’s Eleanor?”

“I no know, Missur Cartwright, I fix missy hair in morning and tell her go outside, Hop Sing busy.”

“Did you give her permission to leave the yard?”

The little cook shook his head no. “Missy do chore when I see her. No see her, Hop Sing busy in kitchen all day, make food for miners.”

The front door creaked as Hoss opened the door. He had just come from the bath house, still drying his head with towel. He took one look at the scene in front of him and realized Ellie still wasn’t home. Joe ran down the stairs when he heard all the commotion.

“What’s a matter, Pa?” asked Joe.

Hoss looked at Joe standing on the landing, “Ellie still ain’t home Joe.”

“Oh you know Ellie, she probably don’t realize how late it is, she’s probably drawing on the sketch pad of hers up at the lake.” Joe assured everyone.

Pa looked at the boys, “Maybe Joseph’s right, let’s eat supper and if she isn’t home by the time we’re done we’ll go look for her.”

Supper was a somber affair. The only one who really ate was Joe. He wasn’t worried. He knew how his little sister could lost in her sketch pad. The rest of them just made a show of eating. Finally, Adam had enough, ‘Excuse me Pa, I think I’ll go look for Ellie.”

“Me too, Pa.” Hoss said as he threw his napkin down.

“Ok, boys, let’s go.”

“Wait, what about me?” whined Joe.

“Joseph, please I have one lost child, I don’t need two.” Pa said a little too pointedly.

“Aw come on Pa, I can track almost as good as Hoss.” Joe said staunchily.

“You know he’s right, Pa, let me take him with me.” Hoss offered.

“Ok, ok, let’s just get going. Adam you head out to the corral, Hoss, you and Joe head up to the lake, I’m going to go find Charlie and see if he’s seen her.”

“Yes, sir” the boys said as they headed out to saddle their horses.

********************************************************************************
Ellie had been riding for what seemed like hours. Her bottom really hurt what with the swats from Charlie and James and sitting in the saddle for such a long time. She thought they were at Eagle’s Nest, but she wasn’t sure. Eagle’s nest wasn’t but an hour or two from the house, but they had been riding a lot longer. She was really scared. She wished she hadn’t left the yard. She wished she listened to Charlie and went back to the house. She was never going to disobey Charlie again. She wanted her Papa. She wanted to be home sitting with Adam reading a book. She just wanted to be home eating supper with her brothers. She just wanted to be home.

“Mister, uh mister, gosh mister I don’t even know your name. Please can we stop, I’m so sore.” Ellie pleaded.

“James, I think we should stop and make camp. I’m not sure she can go on much longer. This is a long ride for a little girl.” Lucas begged his brother.

James took a look at Ellie. He’s got to admit, that lil gal had grit. Most kids would have started whining a long time ago. That lil gal had been in the saddle for at least 3 hours and hadn’t said one word. She was looking pale and frightened. She also looked like she was about to fall off her saddle.

“Sure, Lucas, this is just fine. This is where we are planning on camping until good ole Adam Cartwright rides here to find his baby sister.” James dismounted from his horse and pulled Ellie off of Windy. “Now you mind me little girl, you sass me and this belt comes off, you understand?”

“Yes, sir” Ellie said as the tears were dripping down her face.

“Now, that’s more like it. A nice polite little girl.” he chuckled wickedly.

Ellie started to cry. Why did they want Adam? Was Adam going to get hurt? If he got hurt, it was because he was looking for her. She should have gone back to the house like Charlie said. If she had just minded. Papa was forever telling her she needed to learn to mind. Papa had had a bunch of “private” talks with her about minding. She just thought to herself, please Adam, please Adam don’t come look for me. But she knew deep in her heart Adam was already looking for her. She sat next to the one called James with her knees drawn up to her chest praying for Adam to stay away.

“Gone on Lucas, take this little note to the Cartwrights, they’ll be here by morning.” James smirked as he handed Lucas a piece of paper.

****************************************************************************

Pa went in search of Charlie. He rode to Charlie’s cabin on the edge of the Ponderosa. The Ponderosa had several cabins for married couples and families. There was also a large cabin for the foreman. Pa rapped hard on Charlie’s door. “Charlie, Charlie, it’s Ben Cartwright.”

Charlie opened the door, “Mr. Cartwright, what are you doing here?”

“Charlie, Ellie’s missing. Have you seen her?” Pa asked anxiously.

“Yes, sir, found her down at the corral this morning. I gave her a couple of swats for being there without you or the boys and sent her back to the house. She ain’t back at the house?”

Pa smiled a bit, Charlie had no trouble given any of his children a few swats if he thought they were misbehaving. “No, she’s not home.”

“Mr. Cartwright, you want me to round up the hands to go looking.”

“Yeah, Charlie, I don’t have a good feeling about this. Round up the men and meet me at the house.”

Pa got on his horse and headed back to the house.

***********************************************************************************

Hoss and Joe headed up to the lake. Hoss sighed disappointedly when they got to the lake and there was no sign of Ellie. “Joe, let’s look around.” Hoss said dismounting from his horse.

Joe jumped off of Blackie and started looking around. He knew Ellie liked to sit on the big flat rock facing the lake. He saw something white sticking up in the grass. It was Ellie’s sketch pad. “Heh, Hoss, over here!,” Joe shouted excitedly.

“Watcha got lil brother?” Hoss asked as he hurried over.

“It’s Ellie’s sketch pad.” said Joe, the worry now settling over him like a thick blanket.

Hoss took the pad. He looked around near the trees. He walked over to wear Ellie had tied off Windy and said, “Here’s Windy’s tracks, but, Joe, they’s three sets of tracks total. Somethin’ ain’t right here.” Hoss said, his voice low and etched with worry. It was getting dark, there was no way they could track in the dark.

“It’s getting dark, we should head home and tell Pa. We need to come back here and start tracking at day break.” Hoss said, his voice thick with emotion.

Joe looked at his big brother. Hoss looked scared. Hoss almost never looked scared. Joe started to get scared too. “Hoss, we can’t go home we have to go find her. We can’t leave her out here by herself. You know how scared she can be, she’s scared to be alone at night.” Joe fumed as he mounted Blackie.

Hoss reached up and put a hand on his little brother’s knee. “Now, Joe, you listen to me and you listen real good. Somethin’ is wrong. I don’t know what it is. But Ellie wouldn’t go off riding with anyone. She know’s better. You know we cain’t see these tracks in the dark and its gonna be dark in less than half hour. So the smartest thing to do is go on home and tell Pa what we found and come back at day break.”

“But, Hoss….” Joe protested.

“There ain’t no buts Joe, you ain’t gonna do Ellie no good if you’s out there fumbling ‘round in the dark, is you?” Hoss countered.

Joe sighed defeated, he knew Hoss was right. “Ok,” he turned Blackie toward home, “let’s get on home then.

Hoss mounted up and the two brothers headed home.

*************************************************************************************

Dark was descending and Ellie was getting scared. She just wanted to go home. She knew that her family would not be able to look for her at night. She was tired and sore. She was trying to think of way to get back home to her family.

The once called Lucas rode up. “It’s done James.” he said.

“Good, now all we have to do is wait.” James snickered.

“What are we waiting for?” Ellie asked.

“Why, for your big brother to come after his baby sister, that’s what.”

“How’d you know he’s gonna come after me?” Ellie asked curiously.

“Because little girl, you are about the most important thing there is to that family of yours. Especially your big brother.”

“How’d you know that?” Ellie stormed.

“Oh, we’ve been watching you and your family for weeks. We heard from the hands and ole Charlie about how you is the apple of your Pa’s eye and that big brother of yours. How much all them hands watch for you and how ole Charlie loves you like you was his own.”

Ellie just looked at him. She didn’t feel like the apple of anyone’s eye. One of Charlie’s own? That was a laugh, her sore bottom told her that.

“I don’t know why you is saying that mister, I get more swats around here than anyone, especially from Charlie. I don’t get to go nowhere’s by myself. I always gotta have someone with me. I ain’t even allowed to leave the yard.” she grumped.

James was laughing at her belly aching.

Her eyes flashed with anger, “What’s so dad burn funny?”

“You’s funny. You don’t realize how much that family of yours loves you. They got all them rules to keep you safe. But you didn’t follow them rules did you and now your brother’s gonna die for trying to find you.” he just laughed.

Ellie was smoldering, “Why you want Adam anyhow, what’s he ever done to you?”

“Well see little girl, me and Lucas had a family just like yours once. But your brother helped hang my Pa. I was only 16 and Lucas was only 13. I’m here to kill him, just like he killed our Pa.”

“Now I know you’s lying. My brother never hanged a man, ever.” Ellie shot back.

“Oh he didn’t hold the rope, but he testified in court that my pa killed a man. He just as good as strung him up hisself.”

**********************************************************************************

Hoss and Joe arrived back at the house after dark. Adam had already come back from the corral with the same story that Charlie had told Pa. Pa was pacing the floor.

Hoss tossed Chubb’s reins to Joe and said, “Heh, Joe, would you put up Chubb? I want to get in and tell Pa what we found.”

“Sure Hoss.”

Hoss headed for the house and Joe led the horses to the stable. As he led the horses into the barn, he noticed a white piece of paper stuck to Blackie’s stall with a knife. He dropped the reins and ran for the house.

“Pa, pa, come quick.” Joe shouted.

Pa opened the door as Hoss was walking in and heard Joe shouting. “Joseph, what’s the matter?” Pa called out.

“Someone has Ellie, someone named James Farley.” Joe said as he was rushing toward his father.

Pa grabbed the note out of his hand.

WE HAVE YOUR BABY SISTER ADAM CARTWRIGHT. COME TO EAGLE ROCK AT 10 AM. WE WILL SETTLE THEN. COME ALONE OR SHE DIES. AN EYE FOR AN EYE! JAMES FARLEY

“ADAM,” Pa bellowed.

Adam came running, “What is it Pa?”

“Whose James Farley?” Pa nearly shouted.

“I don’t know, why?”

“Because he has Ellie.” Pa said handing Adam the note.

Adam almost sank to the ground. Pa and Hoss grabbed Adam and helped him into the house. Pa turned to Joe, “Finish up with the horses, Joseph.”

Joe started to protest, but knew this was not the time.

“Pa, for the life of me, I can’t think of who James Farley is?” Adam moaned, his head in his hands.

“Think, boy, think! Just settle down and think.” Pa pleaded.

Adam sighed and put his head back. James Farley, James Farley.

Pa was reading the note over and over. “Adam, son, this James Farley seems to think that you’ve killed someone in his family, a father or a brother, perhaps. You sure you can’t remember killing anyone named Farley?”

“Well, I suppose it’s possible Pa. I’ve certainly killed a few men, but none with the name Farley. At least none that I can remember.”

“Well if it’s not someone killed directly, maybe someone you killed indirectly.” Pa said thoughtfully.

“What’d you mean, Pa? How could I kill someone indirectly.”

“Oh I don’t know, maybe like when you testify in court and the result of your testimony is that a, man gets hung or lynched.”

The light went on in Adam’s eyes. His eyes narrowed and turned black as coal. “I think I figured it out Pa. Pa, do you remember about 5 years ago when I was in Placerville to deliver a deed for you?

“I guess so son, you’ve been to Placerville a number of times, what was special about this time?

Adam leaned his head back, remembering, “I remember it was a hot long ride, I think it must have been July or August. I had just gotten back from college. I went to Placerville to deliver the deed. I decided to go into the saloon to have a drink. There were some men playing poker in the corner. I got my beer and watched the men play. I remember the game because there was this big man there, that kind of looked like Aaron Cummings. It shocked me to see someone that big with that red hair like Aaron’s. I had to do a double take, I knew Aaron wouldn’t be in a saloon playing poker. But he just looked so much like him. Next thing I knew, this big red haired man stood up, accused a man of cheating and shot him down.”

“Go on, son….”Pa prompted.

“I was an eye witness to that shooting. I stayed in town to testify at his trial. Don’t you remember Pa, I had to send a wire, I had to stay in Placerville until the circuit judge arrived? You came to stay with me and the children went to the Cummings for the week.”

Pa nodded his head remembering.

“Pa, I think that big red headed man was Farley. James Farley must be his son. I remember him having two boys, the younger one was about the age that Joe is now.”

“But, Adam, you didn’t kill Farley.” Joe said looking confused.

Pa looked startled. He had forgotten that Joe was still in the room. “Joseph, go on upstairs to bed. Adam, Hoss and I will figure this out.”

Joe lifted his chin and pulled himself up to his full height, he looked over at his father with his green eyes just smoldering with fire, “No! She’s my sister! I’m not going anywhere!”

Pa’s eyes fired with the blatant disrespect and disobedience he had just heard out of his youngest son’s mouth. He opened his mouth to say something, but Adam cut him off.

Adam turned to Joe, “No, Joe, but my testimony hanged him.” Adam’s eyes grew wide with fear, “Pa, that note says if I don’t come to Ellie, he’s going to kill Ellie. Pa, that maniac is going to kill Ellie if I don’t come alone.”

“Adam, you are not going alone!” Pa stormed.

“Pa, she’s my baby sister. This maniac is threatening to hang her. I have to go alone.” Adam said shaking his head.

“You don’t have to do any such thing young man and for your information she’s my daughter and you are my son and I don’t intend to lose either of you.” Pa said harshly.

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. Hoss opened the door to their ranch foreman Charlie. “I got the men ready to go, Boss.”

“Charlie, sit down a minute. A man named James Farley is holding Ellie up at Eagle’s Nest.” Pa explained. Pa explained the story, read the note to Charlie and said, “We need to come up with a plan to resolve this without Ellie getting hurt or Adam walking into a death trap.”

The Cartwright men and their ranch foreman talked late into the night to formulate a plan. All was set before Charlie left. “Ok boys, let’s try and get some rest.” Pa said waving them up to their rooms.

“Joseph, not yet.” Pa commanded.

“Sir?”

“Joseph, you are far too young to be going tomorrow. I know that you want to go and make sure Ellie is safe. I will allow you to go on one condition. You will stay out of the line of fire. You will go with Charlie. Tomorrow, you will do exactly as you’re told, when you are told. You will obey Charlie without question. If you do not, I will leave your punishment to Charlie. Do I make myself crystal clear?”

Joe didn’t want to be left behind. After all he had just as much right to make sure his sister was safe as the rest of them. He also didn’t relish any punishment by Charlie. He had been on the receiving end of Charlie’s belt more than once. Pa’s punishments didn’t hold a candle to Charlie’s. “Yes, sir.” Joe promised.

“I mean it Joseph, absolute obedience. ” Pa threatened.

“Yes, sir, absolute obedience.” Joe said looking directly into his father’s eyes.

“And Joe, don’t think I forgot about that disrespect I heard earlier.” Pa said his eyes boring down on his youngest son.

“No sir,” Joe said his head hanging down.

With that settled, Pa and Joe headed up the stairs to get some much needed rest. At first light, the Cartwrights were sitting around the breakfast table. All were silent. You could hear only the clink of knives and forks against dishes. Pa looked over at Joe and Hoss, “Go saddle up the horses, boys.”

“Yes, sir.”

Adam finally broke the silence, “Pa, you can’t really mean to let Joe come on this, it’s too dangerous.”

“Adam,” Pa sighed, “If I don’t let him come, you know he’d end up following us or something. This way, I know where he is and I know Charlie will keep him safe. I’ve already got to worry about you and Ellie, I can’t be worrying about what Joe is doing.”

Adam nodded, “Point taken, Pa.”

Joe came back in the house, “Pa, Mr. Charlie is here.”

Charlie walked into the house, “Morning Boss, we all set. They’s only two of them. I have the men all around Eagle’s Nest.”

Pa grabbed Charlie’s arm, “Charlie, did you see Ellie? Is she alright?”

Charlie looked into Pa’s eyes, “Boss, your baby’s fine. Last I saw her, she was sound asleep on a blanket. She didn’t look none the worse for wear.”

Pa breathed a sigh of relief. Now if they could only make it a few more hours. He cleared his throat of the lump there, “Charlie, I want you to take Joe with you. Keep him out of harm’s way.”

Charlie raised his eyebrows. “You sure, Boss?”

“I’m sure. Joseph, remember what I said. Absolute obedience.” Pa motioned Joe to go with Charlie.

“Yes, sir” Joe said in his most grown up voice.

Pa looked at Charlie, “I told Joe he was to obey you absolutely. What ever, when ever or how ever. Oh, and I also told him, you would be the one doing the punishing if he disobeyed you.”

Charlie laughed a little, “Come on boy, best get moving.”

“Yes, sir Mr. Charlie.” Joe said jumping on Blackie.

The three remaining Cartwrights mounted up. Pa looked at Adam, “Godspeed and take care son. I hate that you are walking into this alone. You know the men are surrounding the area. Please think before you act, yours and Ellie’s lives may depend upon it.”

“Yes, Pa, I know.” Adam said as he mounted Sport.

Hoss and Pa took off in a different direction to approach Eagle’s Nest from the steep side of the cliffs. Adam took off by himself headed towards Eagle’s Nest.

**********************************************************************************

Lucas handed James a cup of coffee. “Well it will be anytime,” smiled James, “Anytime.”

Lucas eyed his brother warily. Now that the time was upon him, he didn’t really want to kill Adam Cartwright or hurt that little girl. He just wanted to go on to California and find somewhere to settle down. He didn’t want to hang for murder the way his Pa had.

“Lucas, get on down below this draw and keep an eye for Cartwright.” James ordered.

Lucas started to say something, then thought the better of it. He had always obeyed his brother without question or been beaten. He figured his brother was in no kinda mood and he didn’t want him to hurt that little girl.

Lucas rode slowly and quietly looking for Adam Cartwright. He found a stand of rocks that would be the perfect vantage point. He crouched down behind the rocks and waited. As he crouched down, he felt a pistol against his back. “Turn around slowly,” said the voice as a hand took Lucas’ pistol. He turned around to see Ben Cartwright.

“Where’s my daughter?” he demanded looking at this man who held his daughter. Only this wasn’t a man. This was a boy. Why this boy couldn’t be much more than Hoss, 18 at the most.

Lucas sucked in his breath.

“I’m waiting, boy, where is my daughter?” he demanded louder.

“She’s in the draw with my brother James.”

Pa shoved the pistol into the small of Lucas’ back and said, “Start walking, boy.”

Hoss had been watching this whole exchange and silently walked toward his Pa and the boy. With his gun on the boy, Hoss joined his father. “Who’s he?”

“James Farley’s brother. We need to catch up with Adam and let him know.”

Shortly Adam came into sight. Hoss whistled twice. Adam responded with a double whistle. The Cartwrights had devised this signal years ago, as a warning. Adam waited for his father and brother to join him. He was surprised to see a trio riding toward him instead of just Pa and Hoss.

Adam said motioning to the boy with the gun in his back, ‘Who’s he?”

“Our bargaining chip.” said Pa. “He’s James Farley’s brother.”

Pa looked at the boy, “What’s your name boy?”

“Lucas.”

‘Pa, Farley said to ride in alone. What if he’s trigger happy? We can’t take the chance with Ellie.”

Pa thought for a minute. “I suppose you are right. Adam you go ahead and ride in and tell Farley we have his brother. Then Hoss and I can bring the boy in. We will be within ear shot.”

Adam agreed. “Come on, Sport.” Adam turned his horse toward the draw.

Adam got to the beginning of the draw. “FARLEY”, he yelled. “It’s Adam Cartwright.”

Farley stepped out into Adam’s view. He had Ellie in front of him with his pistol pressed against her temple. “Come on in Cartwright. And oh, drop your pistol, unless you want this baby sister of yours to die.” he said cocking the gun.

“No Adam, no Adam,” cried Ellie, “he wants to kill you.”

“Let her go, Farley. You got me now. Let her go.” Adam yelled as he dropped his gun belt.

“I don’t think so Cartwright. She should watch you die, just like I had to watch my Pa die because of you.”

“Farley, before you decide to kill me, I think you should know one thing.”

“Oh yeah,” he sneered, “What’s that.”

“My family has your brother.”

James Farley gasped, “Your bluffing Cartwright.”

“Nope, I’m not. If you touch one hair on my sister’s head, your brother will be dead and so will you before you take a breath. Farley, your brother’s name Lucas isn’t it?”

“James, it me Lucas. I’m standing here with Ben Cartwright.” Lucas yelled as he was walked into the draw by Pa and Hoss.

The families just stood there looking at each other. James Farley with his gun on Ellie’s head and Ben Cartwright, his gun on Lucas Farley’s back. Lucas shot James a pleading look.

“James, please you know Pa shot that fella during a poker game. He shot in cold blood. Please don’t become a man like him.” Lucas pleaded. “James, please let that little girl go.”

James’ hand started to tremble, “Lucas, boy, come over here.”

“I can’t James, I have a gun in my back, I can’t move a muscle until you let that little girl go.”

“Eleanor, come to me.” commanded Adam.

Ellie felt the gun move away from her temple. She looked at her papa, who nodded to her. She looked at her brother. He was sinking to the ground on to his knee with his arms open to her. He nodded to her. She ran crying and she flung herself into her big brothers strong arms. As soon as she reached Adam, Pa looked at Lucas.

“Go to your brother, boy.” he pushed Lucas toward James. James had sunk to his knees with his head in his hands.

“James,” Lucas put his arm around his brother. James looked up at Lucas, “I’m sorry, boy, I never wanted you to get hurt. I’m sorry.”

By then Charlie had arrived in the draw with the men. Joe looked at Charlie, pleading with his eyes to be allowed to go to his father. “Go on boy,” said Charlie smiling down at him.

“Pa”, Joe cried relieved as he ran into his father’s waiting arms. As he reached his father, Hoss slipped his arm around his little brother.

Adam picked up Ellie and carried her over to her father. “Aww, Adam,” Ellie sniffed, ‘I’m too big to be picked up.”

“Oh no princess, you will never be too big to be picked up,” said Adam as he handed her over to Pa. Pa received her gratefully and hugged her like he would never let her out of his sight again. “Charlie,” said Pa, “I think you need to take these two into the Sheriff.”

“Sure thing Boss, sure thing.” Charlie said as he headed toward the Farley brothers. “Come on boys.”

That evening, the Cartwrights sat in the great room. Adam was reading to Ellie. Joe and Hoss were playing checkers and Pa was sitting in his favorite chair watching all his children closely. Ellie hadn’t left Adam’s side since they got home. Adam surprisingly let her without telling her to quit pestering him. The clock chimed 8:00. “Ok, Joe and Ellie, time for bed.” Pa said.

“Awww…Pa, awww…Papa.” he heard in a mixed jumble.

“Well, I think we’ve had a busy day and you two need to get on to bed. I guess you could stay up.”

The children turned toward their father with hopeful eyes.

“And, let’s see Joseph, I suppose if you stay up, you and I can have a little talk about that disrespectful behavior last night and Eleanor, I think you and I can have a little talk about just how you ended up at the lake yesterday afternoon or you can just go up to bed?” Pa said his eyebrows raised and his eyes dark.

“Umm…bed!” the children practically yelled as they took off for the stairs.

Pa chuckled, he’d keep them guessing about those “talks”.

 

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