Summary: Hungry for something other than beef for dinner, Hoss gets his family to go on a bird hunt, but Adam ends up in a difficult situation as a result. This is the first of three stories about the family in which winter is the setting and hunting is the theme.
Rating: PG WC: 4,153
“I’m going to die sitting on my butt in a snow cave a few feet from a warm fire and unable to do anything to help myself. The great Adam Cartwright, heir to Ben Cartwright, defeated by a wet roof and snow and his own poor judgment.” Adam closed his eyes giving in to the pain, the weakness, and the exhaustion remembering how peacefully and simply this tragedy had started.
Sitting on the blue chair by the fireplace staring at the fire, Hoss Cartwright looked as thoughtful as his older brother usually did when he was sitting there doing that. Joe poked Adam’s hand and pointed at their middle brother. The two were playing chess and Adam wasn’t about to be distracted enough to let Joe change anything on the board. He did a quick glance at Hoss but kept a close eye on Joe as he did so. As expected, Joe’s hand hovered over the board even as Adam’s eyes came quickly back to the board.
“I won’t be giving you enough time to move anything so don’t try.”
“I wasn’t going to move anything. I was only moving my hand back from yours carefully so I wouldn’t bump anything.”
“Yeah, that’s a good story.”
“Hey, Adam, I got a question for you.”
“Hoss, can it wait a few minutes? I’m almost done here.”
“Almost done here. We’ve only been playing a half hour. This is going to take you a lot longer if you think you’re going to beat me.”
The quick agreement by Adam made Joe nervous, but he didn’t see anything too awful about his position. He had moved his knight into position to prepare an attack on Adam’s defenses. All Adam had done was move his pawns. Joe thought he had him. Concentrating on his attack, he moved his bishop into position to back up his knight. Looking up at Adam, he expected to see worry. However, Adam had a slight smile instead as he leaned forward and moved his queen right across the board into the trap Joe had thought he set. Joe didn’t understand it at all. He looked and looked again especially when Adam said ‘Check’ as if his queen wasn’t in mortal danger. Then he saw it. If he took the queen, Adam’s bishop would take his king. If he moved his king or moved his queen to block his queen, it would only be a temporary respite. He could not stop him because moving those pawns had opened alleys for his more powerful pieces to move across the board. Joe had to concede but didn’t like it.
“You hardly played at all. It’s not much fun playing when you sit back and hardly do anything.”
“I didn’t have to do anything. You played wildly so all I had to do was wait for the opening.”
Ben Cartwright was sympathetic. “Son, you will find out that your oldest brother plays differently based on how his opponent plays. I know. I’ve tried all sorts of things to throw off his system, but his system is to find a way to use your system against you. You didn’t plan ahead which is his favorite way to play. Most likely he was planning about ten moves ahead.”
“I should have known. All he does is plan, plan, plan.”
“Adam, you ready to plan something with me now?” Hoss was ready to move on from the chess argument. He had another entirely different subject on his mind. “I’m tired of eating beef. For about four months, all we have had is beef. The ham is gone and Hop Sing won’t let us have any more of his chickens until summer. What I would really like is a good chicken dinner. Now we can’t have that, but how about a good bird hunt. You got any good ideas about how we could plan on getting a few birds for dinner?”
“Hmm, the snow is melting some so we ought to be able to get to some places where we could do some bird hunting. They might be a bit thin by now.”
“I don’t mind. We could get one for each of us and two for me or maybe three for me.”
“It would take us a couple of days. The best place for hunting birds right now would be by Genoa. I don’t think we’d find much near here now.”
“What would we find there that we wouldn’t find here?”
“Ducks, herons, cranes, and perhaps a few others birds and probably quite a few of them especially in the wet areas near the dogwoods and the willows. Used to be more before all the farmers moved in, but there are still quite a few.”
“You hunt there with Young Wolf?”
There was a faraway look in Adam’s eyes as he talked next. “We got a lot of birds. Smoked most of them. You used to like the smoked birds too. We haven’t done that in years.”
“We didn’t need to do it any more.”
“Hop Sing used to make these great meals with smoked duck.”
“Make again you bring Hop Sing smoked duck.” The cook had come into the room and liked the idea very much of having smoked birds again.
“That’s another vote for it, Hoss. I guess we need to do this.”
“I’ll go too.” Joe liked the idea as much as his brothers did.
However, their father wasn’t as agreeable. “Now wait a minute. One of you at least has to stay here and make sure the work gets done. It is still winter and there is less work, but it still has to be done.”
“Who gets to go then? It shouldn’t always be me who has to do the work while the other two get to have fun.”
Hoss and Adam both smirked at that. They got a bit nervous though when their father gave them the look that said he was being serious.
“Pa, c’mon, it was my idea, and it’s Adam who knows where to hunt the birds.”
“Hoss, yes, it was your idea, but anyone could have such an idea, and as for the knowledge, he already said enough for anyone of us could find where the birds are. I think we should all be in the running for this trip.”
“You too, Pa. Does that mean if you lose, you’d stay home and do the chores?”
“I guess that would have to be the price I would pay if I lose.”
“Pa, I don’t like that straw thing or the matches thing. I don’t know how, but somehow I always lose those.”
“What would you suggest?”
“How about we draw cards? Ace high and low card stays home.”
“You thinking three could go, Hoss?”
“Pa, why not? It only takes one to do chores so why not have three get out of here and have some fun and bring home some birds for a great dinner and some to smoke? Some of the hands are likely to start filtering in here anyway so before we get back there could even be some help here.”
“That’s true. Some of them will come back even without wages to get a place to sleep and food to eat until we get going with spring work. We often have some showing up as soon as the snow starts to melt like it is now. All right, three will go hunting and the fourth stays home to take care of things.”
“Hop Sing get three days to go to town?” The cook had come out to hear much of the discussion and heard an opportunity to have a small vacation too.
“Yes, Hop Sing, I see no reason why you can’t have a few days too. Let’s get that deck of cards to see who’s going.”
After getting a deck of cards, Hoss had Adam shuffle it, and then had Joe cut it and then had his father cut it again. As fully prepared as he thought it could be, he offered it to his father first who drew a king. Adam drew a six which brought a cackle from Joe who drew a jack. Hoss was up next and felt confident. He pulled a card from the deck and turned it over. It was a two. He felt terrible but resigned. It was as if he couldn’t win these draws no matter what he did. Then a hand reached over and picked up his card and substituted another. He was a winner instead of losing. Looking up, he had only a question.
“You were so excited about going, and of the four of us, I’m probably the only one who wouldn’t mind so much having a quiet house.”
“Adam, thank you. You don’t know how much this means to me.”
Smiling that his brother understood and appreciated his sacrifice, Adam nodded.
“You’re welcome, and make sure you bring home enough birds to smoke. Now that we’ve been talking about them, I’m looking forward to that again especially smoked duck. I like that very much.”
As Hoss and Joe went to the gun rack to choose the right guns for their quest, Ben put a hand on Adam’s shoulder.
“Thank you. I know that wasn’t easy to do after this long winter cooped up in the house.”
“I’ll find things to do.”
“Inger would be proud to know how well you’ve kept your promise to watch over your brother.”
“Thank you. I meant it when I made that promise.”
“I know, and you always keep your promises. Now make me another one. Stay safe while we’re gone and be careful. You’re going to be alone, and I don’t want you doing anything that puts you at risk.”
“I can’t get in much trouble all by myself.”
“Son, I’m always worried about trouble finding you.”
“Pa, I promise to be careful.”
Several days later, Ben, Hoss, and Joe were excited about another successful day of hunting. Dressing out another set of birds and hanging them in a tree, they kept one large one and roasted it for their dinner. Looking back at the mountain range where home was, Hoss looked worried though. The bright blue skies and sun of the previous days had been replaced by low thick clouds.
“Pa, I hope those clouds are bringing rain but not sleet. Gonna be a difficult ride home tomorrow if things are getting iced up.”
“Hoss, I’m more worried that’s a late season snowstorm.”
“It’s too late, isn’t it?”
“No, and what worries me most is the few we’ve had this late have been very heavy wet snow.”
“Adam could have a big problem with that all alone.”
“I’m hoping some of the hands made it back with the warm weather the last few days.”
Joe was cleaning up and had a suggestion. “We’ve got plenty of birds. How about we clean up the area and pack up tomorrow morning and push for home?”
“Son, that’s a good idea, but how about we clean up the camp tonight so all we have to do in the morning is pack up and go?”
“You’re that worried, Pa?”
“I am, Hoss, because I’ve seen what that kind of snow can be like.”
On the Ponderosa, Adam was experiencing what that kind of snow was like up close. Even in the middle of the storm, he feared for the barn roof. Rigging ropes, he took a risk and got up on the roof and cleared some of the wet snow from it. Thoroughly soaked by that, he rushed through the chores of feeding the animals and chickens and headed back inside glad he had strung a rope line to guide himself back to the house. Through wind blown snow, he still saw the snow piling up on the bunkhouse and main house roofs but was too wet to consider taking care of that. With the storm, he couldn’t expect any help either. Inside, he fired up the fireplace and stripped his wet clothing and wrapped himself in a blanket. Once he was warmed enough, he went up the stairs and dressed in dry clothing. Then downstairs, he took his wet clothing to the washroom and hung them in there leaving the door open to the kitchen where he fired up the stove. Soon he had coffee, a warmed kitchen, and a nice warm room with a soft leather chair. He rested out there drinking coffee for a time until with a deep sigh, he knew it was time to tackle the other roofs as he heard some creaks from above.
“All right, I may only be able to do one roof. Which one would be the hardest to repair and do the most damage if it was breached? I know the answer. Why am I talking to myself?” He laughed because the alternative was something he tried not to do ever. He searched out a pair of his old boots because his current ones were still too wet. When he got outside, he realized the one good thing was that he wasn’t going to need a ladder or ropes. There was so much snow around the house that he could use furniture and snow to climb up on the porch roof and from there onto the main roof. If he fell, his evaluation was that those same drifts were going to cushion his fall enough too or at least he hoped so. The energy and time to go to the barn, get the ropes, and then secure a system seemed like far too much for the reserves of strength he had.
At first, the work went well as a strong push or two would cause an avalanche of snow cascading over the edge. The snow was wet leaving a layer of moisture underneath it which worked well as lubricant for a slide. Unfortunately, as Adam worked and became tired, he didn’t pay attention to that as well as he should because it wasn’t only the snow that would slide on that much moisture. There was a shingle that was loose and gave way under him. Not anticipating that, he slid down the slope too and at one point was headed directly toward the fireplace chimney. He turned on his side and did his best to stop his slide. He managed to briefly hang on the edge but the edge was slippery. He saw there was no snow next to the house but there was a large drift of snow several feet out from the house. Putting his feet on the wall of the house to try to push himself away from the house as he dropped and landed two stories down, it unfortunately had the effect of pulling his hands from the weak grip he had and making him land awkwardly on the nearly bare ground up against the wall of the house next to the chimney. An avalanche of snow followed his descent crashing over him leaving him stunned in a cocoon of snow.
As the shock of his descent diminished, Adam got to evaluate his situation. His left leg ached, and as he tried to push himself up, knew he couldn’t stand as his lower leg protested vehemently. Pausing as he caught his breath until the pain diminished slightly to a throbbing ache, he knew it was broken. The shovel was in the snow someplace so he had nothing to dig out of the snow. Looking up, he could see an opening, so he knew he wouldn’t suffocate. Wedged against the fireplace chimney, he would have warmth as long as the fire held out. As there was no one there and Hop Sing wouldn’t likely come back during a storm, he worried about freezing as he waited for a rescue. It had been three days. He wondered how much longer his family would be gone and hoped he could last until they returned. Sometimes it got warm after these late season storms. He had to hope and pray that would be true this time and enough snow would melt that he could get out of this snow prison and get back in the house. Trying not to think about that too much because he was already cold and weak, he scooped some snow and put it on his aching knee. The cold increased the pain at first but slowly reduced it. Leaning back, he closed is eyes and then jerked upright causing a severe jolt of pain in his leg even as he swore about his lapse in judgment again. Sleep would be deadly. He had to do his best to stay awake. When that fire inside burned down, he was going to have to do something to try to stay warm. He wasn’t sure what he could do, but he had at least a few hours to think about it. Realizing he had skipped eating and had only had coffee that day as he tackled the problem of the snow, he knew the cold would be from the inside as well as from outside. The prospect was depressing.
A few hours later, four hands managed to return to the ranch thinking their help might be appreciated after the unexpected storm. They had been in town waiting for spring and a chance to work for the Ponderosa again. Riding in after a harrowing ride from town after the snowstorm, they were shocked at what they found. Part of the bunkhouse roof was caved in and the place looked deserted although wisps of smoke did seem to be coming out of the main chimney.
“Somebody must be here. The barn roof is mostly cleared and somebody cleared off the roof of the house. Let’s get these horses in the barn for now, and then we’ll go up to the house and see what to do.”
When they got to the house, there was no answer to their knock of course. Entering because they worried at what they might find, they found Adam’s damp clothing in the washroom. That fit because they had found his horse in the barn.
“Where is he though?”
“It’s odd. Even his boots are here.”
“I guess we need to search. We’ll have to go upstairs and take a look around to see if he’s sick or hurt.”
After a search of the house revealed nothing, the men decided a search outdoors was warranted. “Be sure to check around the barn, the storehouse, the necessary, and the house. Give a holler if you find something. Then we’ll meet back here if nobody finds him.”
They did get a holler when one of the men found the shovel sticking out of the snow behind the house.
“It’s here like he stopped and walked off.”
“There’s no tracks though.”
“Wind is still blowing pretty hard. It would cover any tracks pretty fast.”
They yelled his name, but the wind was still strong enough and Adam weak enough and in a snow cave that they never heard him respond. Returning to the house, they only options they had were to bunk in the barn or stay in the house.
“I vote for the house. We can stoke up the fire there and wait for someone to come home. Maybe we could fire up the stove in the kitchen and have some coffee and beans?”
“Seems fair. We can get busy on cleaning up the bunkhouse, and then we can do what we can do to patch up that roof until somebody in the family shows up.”
The end result of that was that when Ben and his sons rode in the next morning, they were relieved to see smoke rising from the main chimney and the kitchen stove chimney. The house roof was clear as was the barn. The bunkhouse roof was caved in but had been cleaned up and was ready for repair. In the barn were four strange horses. Leaving their horses in the barn and wanting to see Adam, Ben and his sons took birds to the kitchen and then walked into the great room to find four cowboys having coffee by the fireplace warming up apparently. All four jumped to their feet. By the blankets strewn around the room, it looked as if the four must have spent the night there.
“Adam should have told you to use the guest rooms until the bunkhouse roof was repaired.”
“We didn’t want to do that on our own, Mister Cartwright, and we ain’t seen Adam. We looked all around for him, but we don’t know where he is.”
Too shocked for any speech, Ben was silent even as Hoss and Joe questioned the men as to that. They told about finding the shovel and the damp clothing in the washroom but no other sign of him at the house.
“There still was coals in the fireplace and in the stove in the kitchen so we knew he’d been here, but there weren’t any tracks. Course it was still blowing pretty hard.”
“Where was the shovel?”
“Out back near the chimney.” Thinking for a moment, the man had a comment. “It was kinda weird last night. We started up a big fire after we were working outside on cleaning up the bunkhouse, and after a bit, we thought we heard crying. We went out back to look around but couldn’t see nobody or nothing. We came back inside, and it was quiet.”
All seven men went out back then to look around. It was sunny and getting warmer. The four men pointed out where the shovel had been. Hoss looked up at the roof and then at the spot making a swooshing movement with his arms. Then he looked at the pile of snow all along the house.
Waking from a pain filled stupor, Adam thought he heard voices. He wished he could call to them, but he tried and could hardly make a sound. All he could manage at first was what sounded more like a frog croaking.
Hoss thought he had heard something and called loudly. He advanced into the tall drifts toward the house. Ben and Joe wondered what he was doing until they heard a weak answer to Hoss’ call. They followed as Hoss veered even more to the chimney where it met the wall of the house digging through the snow with his hands. Soon all seven men were throwing snow until they uncovered the cocoon where Adam lay up against the house chilled but not dangerously so.
“Older brother, you do get yourself in some awful fixes. You hurt?”
Pointing to his leg, Adam tried to speak but he was still unintelligible andhis voice was so weak he could hardly be heard anyway. His lower leg was noticeably swollen.
He nodded and pointed at several spots which Hoss touched gently.
“It’s not through the skin. It don’t feel too bad.”
First Adam made a derisive noise and then closed his eyes, leaned against the house, and said nothing more.
“Yeah, I suppose what don’t seem too bad to me is a heck of a lot different to you. Pa, I think we got to splint that before we move him.”
“I think we can manage with this, Hoss.”
Joe was back with a sled. Hoss agreed that would probably be best if they could move Adam carefully enough not to jar that leg. With care, Adam was moved onto the sled where Ben had laid his coat for warmth. Hoss put his coat over Adam for the trip to the house. After what he had been through, the warmth was medicinal. In the house, the only medicine for pain that was handy was brandy so Adam got liberal doses of that and warm blankets wrapped around him. When he was warmed, and lots of snow had been packed around his leg to reduce the swelling, it was set and splinted. It still hurt, but he managed that well enough.
A few days later on crutches, Adam supervised a new roof for part of the bunkhouse. It was exhausting work after what he had been through so he spent a few days in bed for overdoing it. When he got up after those days, he got a whiff of dinner and smiled. It was smoked duck. He guessed if he grimaced enough and played up his discomfort enough, he would get first choice of the platter at dinner. He did love smoked duck breast. If he mentioned how much he enjoyed it with eggs for breakfast, maybe he could get more of it that way. Ah, he was back to planning. He had made a promise to himself in that snow cave that he was going to think before acting. One lapse in that had been more than enough.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
Other Stories by this Author
- House Hunt (by BettyHT)
- Always With Me (by BettyHT)
- Brothers and Thanksgiving (by BettyHT)
- Messages (by BettyHT)
- The Storm (by BettyHT)