Site hosted by Angelfire.com: Build your free website today!

What Happened Next to Samson and Hercules

A Ponderosa story

By Lynne C (LJ) and Katja (Hoss)

 

Rating: G

Disclaimer: No money was made for writing this story, it was written purely for fun. Katja and I do not own the rights to any of the characters, except Sarah Miller and Mr Steadman.

 

Hoss

Dang! I knew I told everyone I’d be workin’ off my debt to Jack Wolf for stealin’ his wolves, but I didn’t think pa’d make me work in the livery every Saturday and late afternoons durin’ the week, for months. Mr. Wolf had me workin’ pretty darn hard, doin’ every dirty, nasty job he could think of and at night I was just plain beat. Heck, there were days I was too tired to eat. And that doesn’t happen often, I can tell ya.

The first week was kinda okay, it was sorta fun workin’ away from the ranch and when Mr. Wolf asked me to do some deliveries to the hotel I thought I had the best job ever. I was all excited ‘bout seein’ them girls. Ya know, the ones with hardly no clothes on. But I didn’t get much further than the door and I didn’t get to see nothin’. So after that first week it weren’t fun any more.

 But all in all I suppose things could’ve been worse. Like bein’ restricted to the yard for Lord knows how long or maybe even a tannin’. But Pa just made us work off the money and hey, they even stopped the wolf-fights too. So I couldn’t really complain, could I? ‘Sides, it was only fair, Jack Wolf had lost a lot of money ‘cause of me.

Little Joe had t’help me sometimes after school. He loved bein’ there ‘cause of the horses, so it weren’t really punishment to him and we talked about all sorts of things. One thing we couldn’t understand ‘bout the whole thing was what the fun was in watchin’ two animals almost killin’ each other. ‘Cause it seemed a whole lot of folks were enjoyin’ themselves in that tent. I was glad Shelby had prevented Little Joe from goin’ in. That weren’t somethin’ for a little boy t’see. I wished I’d never seen it myself, well, I mean I’m glad I saw it, so we could do somethin’ about it, but it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

Another thing Little Joe was mighty interested in, was Jack Wolf’s hotel. Well, not the hotel itself, but what happened inside that hotel. He’d wandered off twice while he was supposed to be workin’ and every time he’d been watchin’ the people comin’ in and out. I didn’t want to rat on him, but he shouldn’t be there an’ he knew it.

And he started askin’ all these questions. Why did those men go there? And why didn’t Mrs. Orowitz like that place? And why did those girls look so different? And these are just the easy questions. I tell ya, that little brother of mine sure knows how t’ask embarrassin’ questions. Of course I didn’t want him t’know how little I knew myself, so I tried Adam’s "evasion" strategy, but I’m not sure it worked for me. Somehow I always start stammerin’ and I get all red in the face. Let him go to Adam with his questions. Embarrass that oldest brother of ours for a change.

 

Little Joe

I guess poor ole Hoss got the worst part of the deal, as he had to go and do more work for Mr Wolf than I did. But I had to go, too, and while I was there, I wanted to use my time in town, to get a good look at the stuff that Pa don’t let me see.

 I watched the poker games in the saloon, as much as I could, until Shelby caught me and sent me out, with her booted foot on my butt. I reckoned I could do pretty good at that game and it might help me with my math. Maybe I should tell Pa that and then he’d let me play? It could be a way of me making some money for the ranch, too. I know that sometimes things are a bit tight. Pa don’t like worrying us boys, but I ain’t stupid and I know it’s a struggle, at times.

 I also tried to get me a peek at the girls in Jack Wolf’s hotel. I’d seen ‘em when they first arrived and my eyes had about popped outta my head. Boy, they were pretty and their clothes were like nothing I’d ever seen before. I knew that Adam and Hoss were interested, too, though they didn’t dare say so, in front of Pa. But even Pa must’ve been able to see that they were something worth looking at. After all, he’s a man and he’s been married three times and so must like women.

 Aunt Ruth don’t like ‘em, though she is never rude if they visit the store, but then I can’t imagine Aunt Ruth ever being rude. She’s one of the nicest ladies I know and I ain’t just saying that cos she gives me candy, sometimes; she really is. When Mama first died, I used to go to Aunt Ruth quite a lot and she would always know, without me saying, if I was in need of a hug and she never let me down. Pa was there for me, too, and Adam and Hoss, but they were coping with their own grief and didn’t always realise when I was feeling low, but Aunt Ruth did. She lost her own kids and so has had a lot of sorrow herself, maybe that’s why she understood so well.

 Uncle Eli is good, too, although he gave me a very stern look when he caught me hanging around the hotel and warned me to stay away. He didn’t yell at me, it’s not his style, but he has a way of making you know that he don’t approve of what you’re doing, without saying much. Pa can do it too, guess it might be a father thing, wonder if I’ll be able to do it, one day?

 I liked helping out in the livery stable and enjoyed chatting to the people when they left their horses with us. Most were just passing through, usually on their way to the goldfields in California, and so were full of dreams of striking it rich. It sure sounds like fun, but Pa says it’s mainly just backbreaking work, for very little reward. I said that it sounded like ranch work, then, but Pa explained that what we are doing with the ranch will be there long after the gold and the miners have gone. We are building for the future, he said, for us boys when we become men, and for all the Cartwrights who come after us. It gave me a nice feeling, sitting on Pa’s lap, listening to his dreams for the future and knowing that I was part of them.

 Hoss was thought of, as a bit of a celebrity, after standing up at the town council meeting and getting the law changed, over animal fights. Pa, Adam and me were real proud of him. Course, it was a shame that poor old Samson got killed, after Hoss let him go, but at least Hercules was doing okay. Hoss had caught sight of her, a few times, since we’d released her, but she ain’t come too close and he ain’t encouraged her to, or else she won’t stay wild.

 At the moment, Aunt Ruth is giving us lessons, like Mama used to, but as more people come to the area, it looks likely that we will be getting a regular teacher and a proper school house, instead of a room at the back of the store. I’m not that keen on school, especially now that Hoss don’t go, but I do like meeting up with my friends and I guess if I was just working on the ranch all the time, I wouldn’t see ‘em that often. We have some fun and Aunt Ruth don’t work us too hard and so it’s not all bad. Adam helps me with my homework, although he can be a bit annoying, sometimes, as he gets mad if I try and mess about. But mostly, I like it when he teaches me stuff, as he’s real clever, though I don’t like to tell him, too often, in case he gets too big for his britches.

And Hop Sing is always there, to just see that things run, as they should. He was taken on to cook for us, but he does so much more than that. I just can’t imagine how we managed without him. We all rely on him, even Pa, at times, and yet most of the time you hardly know he’s there. He just gets on with stuff, without making a fuss. In fact, the only time that he gets mad is if we are late for a meal and I guess I can’t blame him. He works real hard doing what he does and it’s not nice if we ain’t there to appreciate his efforts, is it? At least he knows that Hoss will always be on time and will always eat everything in front of him. In fact you don’t wanna rest your hand on the table when Hoss is around, as he’s likely to season it and gobble it up!

 

Hoss

On Friday Little Joe had been helpin’ me again, well, he talked more than he worked but at least he didn’t sneak out again. Anyway we got home just in time for supper. Adam just had to start teasin’ us ‘bout not wantin’ t’do chores anymore, but this time Pa heard him an’ told him to mind his own business for a change. Well, not in so many words, but Adam sure wasn’t happy about it.

At supper I concentrated on eatin’ an’ let Little Joe do all the talkin’ seein’ as how he’s so much better at that than I am. I ain’t never been good with words, don’t know how I managed to say my piece in that council meetin’, think it must’ve been that talk with Adam an’ really believin’ in what I was tryin’ t’do. But Little Joe is different. Ever since he was just a little baby he’d been real good with words. Talked his way out of a lot of trouble too. An’ talked Adam an’ me into a lot of trouble at the same time.

An’ talk he did that night too. He didn’t stop talkin’ long enough to even take one bite, which always gets on Pa’s nerves. What’s it with that boy an’ eatin’? Unfortunately for Little Joe, as he talked, he forgot himself a little. He didn’t just talk about the work and the horses, but he started repeatin’ the things we’d said ‘bout how Mr. Wolf treats his animals. I tried to hush him up, but the boy just kept on talkin’, even ‘bout them girls in Mr. Wolf’s hotel. The way he was goin’ he was talkin’ us right into an early grave. Don’t really know why, but Pa didn’t say much, he just fixed Little Joe with one of them looks we all fear, even ole Adam.

I got the feeling Pa was someplace else with his mind an’ that might’ve saved us, ‘cause I’m sure if he’d been more alert, he’d have started askin’ some mighty uncomfortable questions an’ I ain’t never been good at lying either. I shot Little Joe an angry look, but he didn’t even see it. He was already talkin’ ‘bout some friend at school.

I was watchin’ Pa an’ Adam and I was sure there was somethin’ wrong. But I was a little afraid t’ ask. So I kept my eyes on my plate an’ didn’t say a thing. Finally Little Joe started eatin’ his supper, after Pa gave him a warnin’.

Pa an’ Adam started talkin’ business so I kinda lost interest until Hop Sing brought in some apple pie for dessert. Boy, Hop Sing sure knows how t’make apple pie. It’s even better than ma’s and that says a lot! Suddenly I heard Adam say somethin’ though. Pa hushed him up, but it was too late. I’d already heard it. Seemed there was a wolf killin’ cattle and talk in among the ranchers was that it was Hercules. An’ they were already plannin’ a hunt.

I think I lost my temper for a bit, sayin’ they didn’t know that fer sure an’ they shouldn’t just go around blaming her without proof. An’ when Adam started sayin’ the ranchers were just worried and tryin’ t’protect their stock an’ Pa told me to simmer down, I just stomped outside. I didn’t want t’talk about it no more, but I sure wasn’t goin’ to let them kill Hercules.

 

Little Joe

I guess I did rather let my tongue get carried away at supper time and I was lucky that Pa and Adam had their minds on other things, else I might have been in big trouble. Pa eventually got annoyed with my constant chatter and insisted that I ate and while I was doing so, that's when Adam brought up the subject of a wolf worrying the herds and said that the ranchers were blaming Hercules. Well, I guessed what Hoss' reaction was gonna to be to that remark and I wasn't disappointed. He was real mad and said that no one knew for sure that it was her and it was wrong of 'em to go jumping to conclusions. Of course, he was right, they didn't know for certain that it was Hercules and so I understood why he was mad. It's like I feel when everyone automatically blames me, whenever there is any mischief going on, it ain't always me. OK it is most of the time, but not always.

I quickly finished my supper and asked to be excused. I went outside to find Hoss; he was in the barn and boy, was he mad. You don't see my big brother angry, too often, and it's just as well, as it ain't a pretty sight. He was pacing up and down, like a caged animal, and muttering about what he'd like to do to those ranchers, who had assumed that Hercules was the one hurting their cattle.

I thought it best not to say anything and just let him rant for a bit and I think this was a good move, as he soon started to calm down. I wanted to help, as I had become fond of Hercules, too, and so I asked Hoss what we should do. He wasn't sure and so I suggested that our best plan was to catch the wolf that was really doing the killing and then that would prove to the ranchers that it wasn't Hercules. He reckoned that was a good idea, but said that I wasn't gonna be able to go with him, as it was too dangerous. I reminded him that it was my idea and said that of course I was gonna go, but he still didn't seem that keen. I used all my persuasive powers, including the famous puppy dog look and, eventually, he agreed to me helping him.

Hoss is one of the best trackers I know and I was confident that he would be able to find the wolf, but we needed to catch it in the act of either killing or eating a steer to prove it was the one.

As we were talking, we heard some horses approaching and we went outside to see who it was. It was several of the men from the neighbouring ranches, asking Pa and Adam to join them on the wolf hunt, the following day. They agreed and Hoss asked if he could go along, too, but Pa wouldn't let him. He said that Hoss and I were too young and had to stay home. Those words got me really riled, as I hate being told I am too young to do something, and I know Hoss was mad, as he is seventeen and bigger than most men, already.

Pa and Adam said they would be ready to go, the next morning, at sunup, and then the men left. They all seemed certain that the wolf they were after was Hercules and when Hoss tried to argue with them, Pa silenced him with one of his famous stares.

Once the men had gone, Pa told me it was time for bed and Hoss decided to turn in, as well. I guess it was cos he didn't wanna havta sit with Pa and Adam, while he was still so mad. We went to our room and were soon in bed. Pa came in to say goodnight and after he'd gone, Hoss and I began planning our trip to catch the wolf.

 

Hoss

Yeah, I know I shouldn’t have agreed with LJ helpin’ me catch that bad wolf, but once I’d said it I couldn’t take it back. I don’t know how that little scamp does it, but he always gets me t’agree with ev’rythin’ he wants.

I knew it would be a tough job catchin’ that animal, an’ considerin’ Hercules wasn’t too scared of people, she would probably be a much easier target. We’d hafta be pretty darn quick. I was plannin’ on goin’ the next day after breakfast, but with Little Joe taggin’ along we’d hafta wait until after school. I wasn’t goin’ t’let him play hooky, Pa’d have my hide as soon as he’d finished with that little brother of mine. So I told him I’d meet him after school.

That plan changed when those ranchers came askin’ Pa and Adam t’come huntin’ Hercules down like some sort of criminal. I still couldn’t believe Pa’d go along with that, but he did. I wanted t’go along t’stop them from killin’ her when I just knew she’d done nothing. Maybe if Little Joe’d stayed out of it, I mighta have a chance, but now Pa just told us we were too young t’go. Too young. What does he think I am? Some little school kid? I was old enough t’be workin’ full time on the ranch, doin’ a man’s job, but as soon as it suited him, I was too young t’do anythin’. Well, it wasn’t fair. An’ on top of that those ranchers started t’say all sorts o’things ‘bout Hercules. Sayin’ ya couldn’t trust a wolf, ever. An’ that we’d made it easier for her to do the killin’. I tried t’change their minds, but Pa gave me one of them looks that ya don’t ignore. I figgered I’d better keep my mouth shut for now, but I didn’t hafta like it. I was so mad I didn’t even say goodbye t’any of them an’ just went inside.

My apple pie was still on the table, but I didn’t feel like it an’ when Pa sent Little Joe t’bed I just followed him. I just managed t’get out a goodnight, ‘cause Pa always throws a fit if ya don’t, but I couldn’t prevent myself closin’ the door, a might too hard.

Pa came in soon t’say goodnight t’both of us an’ I knew he was expectin’ me t’make up with him as I always do, but I wasn’t in the mood t’make up. I felt betrayed by him an’ Adam. I did feel a little bad ‘bout things after he’d left the room, but I pushed those feelings away an’ just started plannin’ with Little Joe.

It didn’t take much convincin’ on his part now, t’let him ditch school the next day. That dadburned huntin’ party would leave at sunrise an’ if Little Joe an’ me left before that, Pa’d notice. An’ if Pa wouldn’t notice, older brother was bound to tell him. We did make up after he told Pa on me an’ Little Joe, even though we’d spit on it, but I knew he’d feel the same ‘bout this, he’d feel he’d hafta tell Pa.

So we had t’think of somethin’ else. It’s a good thing Little Joe is so good at mischief, ‘cause he reminded me that it would be easier t’leave as soon as Pa an’ Adam were gone. We could just leave right behind them. Pa’d be real sorry he told me to stay home, ‘cause I’m a real good tracker an’ I was sure I’d find that wolf before they did.

We finally went t’sleep an’ woke up the next mornin’ ‘cause Adam was makin’ such a ruckus. Ya’d think he’d be better at sneakin’ around, seein’ as how he had some practice back in New Orleans, but he dropped ‘bout anythin’ he could drop. ‘Twas a good thing too, ‘cause Little Joe an’ me were still fast asleep.

I didn’t wanna look at him, but when he just had to remind us t’behave I turned around an’ gave him an angry look. He seems t’think he was Pa or somethin’. Adam just shrugged and said goodbye. He didn’t think they’d be back until late. Well, that was just fine by us.

We waited until we heard the horses leave the yard and then got up, got dressed and got ready to leave. Hop Sing had made us some breakfast, but we just grabbed some toast, tellin’ him we’d hafta go or else Little Joe’d be late. Since we didn’t say what he’d be late for, we didn’t exactly lie. Or that’s what Little Joe said; I didn’t think Hop Sing saw it that way.

 

Little Joe

I guess I was taking advantage of the fact that Hoss was mad at the whole world, when I got him to agree with me playing hooky. Usually, he is very keen on obeying Pa, but the thought of the hunting party shooting Hercules spurred him on. He was mad that Pa had told him he was too young to go along, but I reckon it was really cos Pa wanted to spare his feelings: he didn’t want Hoss to see Hercules get shot.

Adam was being a mite smug, when he left the next morning, telling us to be good like he did. I know that Pa said it too, when he came in to say goodbye, but it’s to be expected off Pa. I gave him a hug and he said he would take care, as he knows that I fret about him when he goes away.

As soon as they left, Hoss and I got ready and went into the main room. Hop Sing was rather mad that we didn’t stop to eat the breakfast he’d made us, but we had to leave quickly, before the huntin’ party got too far ahead of us. I did take along my lunch, which he’d prepared for me to take to school, and so we weren’t gonna starve.

We went out to the barn and saddled up and were soon on our way. I was quite excited, this beat doing fractions at school. I mean who cares that Johnny ends up with a third of the loaf and Mary with two thirds? I don’t even like bread that much, rather have cookies.

It was a rather misty morning and we couldn’t see that far ahead of us, but Hoss guessed that they would be starting out at the Steadman ranch, where the last calf had been killed. We headed out that way and, as the mist cleared, we could see them in the distance. Hoss noticed some broken twigs on some bushes and dismounted, to have a closer look. He said that he thought this was where the wolf had hidden itself, while watching the herd, waiting to strike. He reckoned that if we followed the tracks back through the woods, we would find its lair. The hunters had also dismounted and were checking the ground and then they headed off, in a different direction. Hoss said that they were likely to be following the route that the wolf took when it dragged off its prey. Both sets of tracks would probably lead to the lair, but our way was going to be quicker, as when the wolf had left its den, it was not laden up with a carcass and so could travel in a straighter line, through wooded areas.

I got off my horse and we began to walk through the woods, following the wolf’s tracks. Eventually, we came to a small clearing and we could see the lair. Underneath a rocky outcrop, there was a cave. The wolf was not there, but there were bloodstains on the ground and we could see the remains of the calf, inside the cave. Hoss suggested that we hid in the bushes and waited for the wolf to return. We didn’t have to wait too long and he came into view. He was quite a bit bigger than Hercules, being a male, and he was darker, in colour. He went into the cave and soon returned, to lie down and gnaw on a leg of the calf. I was not that close to Hoss when we saw him, as I had just been to pee. He motioned at me and I thought he wanted me to join him, and so I started to walk towards him. The wolf caught sight of the movement, our eyes locked and then he sprang up and was after me! I began to run, screaming at the top of my voice and then I suddenly found myself being thrown into the bushes. Hoss had pushed me aside and was now between me and the wolf.

It took me a couple of minutes to regain my breath and when I stood up, a terrifying sight met my eyes. Hoss was lying on the ground and the wolf was on top of him. I could see that Hoss didn’t have his rifle and yet I knew that he had brought it with us, when we left the horses. Either Hoss had dropped it, when he pushed me to safety, or the wolf had knocked it from his grasp, as they began to fight.

I saw it lying on the ground, picked it up and took aim. As I fired, the impact of the shot knocked me on my butt. I scrambled to my feet and was relieved to see that the wolf had run off. I didn’t think I had shot it, but at least the noise had scared it away.

I ran over to Hoss and was horrified to see that he was covered in blood and unconscious. Before I could do anything for him, the wolf came back and I could see that I had managed to shoot him, but only in the shoulder. I picked up the gun, ready to shoot again, but my hands were shaking and I couldn’t pull the trigger. Just then, Hercules sprung out of the bushes and attacked the other wolf. Out of the corner of my eye I watched the fight, but I squatted down next to Hoss, to see how he was. To my relief, he was now conscious and I quickly explained what was happening. He managed to sit up enough to watch the two animals and we were both very glad to see Hercules chase the other wolf away.

Once she was sure he had gone, Hercules came over to join us, and she lay down, next to Hoss, much as our old pet dog used to do with me, when I lay on the floor at home, in New Orleans. I gently patted her on the back and thanked her for her help. I went and fetched the canteen and offered Hoss a drink and then cleaned him up, the best I could.

We took a few minutes to catch our breath and then Hoss said I had to go and get some help. He said he was too weak to get on his horse, by himself, and I was not big enough to help him. I said that I was scared to leave him, in case the wolf returned, but Hoss told me that he would be fine, with Hercules, and the rifle, to protect him. I was still reluctant to go, but Hoss said he could die if I didn’t, as he was pretty badly bitten and the bites were likely to get infected. I could see that I had no choice and so I brought Hoss a bedroll and left him the food, as well as the canteen and the rifle. I promised him that I would get back as soon as I could. I hated leaving him; I couldn’t even give him a hug, for fear of hurting him.

 

Hoss

I think that moment when I saw that wolf goin’ for my little brother was the most terrifyin’ moment of my whole life. When I motioned to him I’d meant that he’d have to stay away, but instead he came right at me. Dang fool. But maybe I should’ve prepared him better before we left. I dunno.

I didn’t even think about what I was doin’, I just jumped up and threw Little Joe in them bushes and myself in the wolf’s path, knowin’ he wouldn’t follow Little Joe but would just move on to the next target. I didn’t even have time t’be scared, but when he threw me on the ground I sure thought I was a goner. Funny how your mind works when yer facin’ death. All I could think was I didn’t get t’finish my chores.

Just before the world got black I heard a rifle shot, but then nothin’.

First thing I saw when I came to was Little Joe hovering over me. He was shakin’ and tears threatened to spill, but he managed t’tell me what had happened. I was amazed that he’d actually shot that wolf. I didn’t know he was such a good shot an’ I owed him my life.

He also helped me sit up. Everythin’ hurt, but I guess I oughta be glad I was still alive. I know it could’ve been a lot worse. An’ Hercules was so brave chasin’ that wolf away. As soon as he was gone, Hercules came to us and she lay down next t’me, lickin’ my hand. An’ we both patted her, thankin’ her for what she did.

I was still in a bit of a shock an’ things were a bit of a blur, but I knew we had t’get outta there, if those wounds didn’t get taken care of, I knew I was goin’ t’be in some real trouble. I also knew I couldn’t walk or ride, I was hurtin’ something fierce. So there was only one thing t’do: Little Joe had t’go an’ get help. I knew he was scared an’ didn’t want t’leave me, but I told him if he didn’t I might die, cause my wounds were pretty bad. A wolf’s bite is always a risk an’ infections were hard t’deal with.

I finally convinced him t’go. Before he left he made sure I had everythin’ I needed within reach an’ then he sort of reluctantly left me there t’get help. I was glad I had Hercules still with me, as it meant I had someone t’talk to. A guy can get pretty lonely when he’s lyin’ in the woods, hurt and in pain.

Hercules seemed t’understand everything I said. She’s a very smart wolf alright. While a was talkin’ she was lickin’ my hand or restin’ her head on my belly. Keepin’ me warm and keepin’ me company. I talked about a lotta things I wouldn’t have talked about to anyone else. Not any human bein’ anyways. I was feelin’ a little sorry fer myself, but I think a guy’s entitled to when he’s as hurt as I was. I was also feelin’ a little guilty. I know I shouldn’t have done this an’ I shouldn’t have let Little Joe talk me into takin’ him with me. But I was also mighty glad he did, cause if it weren’t fer him, I’d probably be dead now. I just hoped it hadn’t been fer nothin’ an’ they’d realise Hercules was a hero instead of a killer.

As time passed I got scared Little Joe wouldn’t find help, that he would be too late. Especially the wound in my leg was hurtin’ a lot. I don’t know how long I’d been lying there, but I got more an’ more tired an’ it was gettin’ hard keepin’ my eyes open. I didn’t talk t’Hercules no more an’ just rested my hand on her head. Just as I was startin’ t’slip away I heard voices.

 

Little Joe

As I walked away from Hoss to go and get my horse, I have never felt so awful in all my life. I knew that Hoss was right and I had to go and get help, but just leaving my brother, lying on the ground, all bloody and hurtin’, well it just didn’t seem right. I blamed myself, cos if I’d just stayed put, then Hoss would’ve probably killed the wolf, without it ever being aware we were there. I was close to tears, but knew that wouldn’t do Hoss no good and so I sniffed hard, wiped my nose on my sleeve and mounted up.

I decided that I should head out to where we had seen the huntin’ party, but then I realised if I went back the way Hoss and I had come, I would miss them, as they were coming a different way. So, I went back to the lair and followed the trail that the wolf had made, as he’d dragged along the calf.

I hadn’t gone too far when I saw Pa, Adam and the other men, up ahead of me. I spurred Paint into a faster stride and was soon alongside ‘em. Once I was actually with my family, the tears that had been threatening to fall, did so, and it took me a few minutes to be able to tell them what had happened. Pa dismounted and I told my story, hanging onto him for grim death. They were all anxious to ask questions, but Pa silenced them, and just lifted me onto his horse and mounted up, behind me. Adam took hold of Paint’s reins and I led them back to Hoss.

As we came in sight of where he lay, I was aware of Mr Steadman stopping his horse and removing his rifle from his scabbard. Just in time, I realised that he thought Hoss was in danger from Hercules, who was still sitting by the side of my brother. I yelled out to him and told him that Hercules was the one who’d saved Hoss and that she was no threat.

Mind you, as we approached them, Hercules did let out some low growls, but once I said her name, a few times, she recognised me and was happy to let us come closer.

Pa sat down next to Hoss and quickly assessed his injuries. He decided that we needed to bring in a wagon to take Hoss home in, and so Adam offered to go and collect one with Mr Steadman, seeing as his ranch was the closest. The rest of the ranchers wanted to continue the search for the other wolf. I explained that it was not likely to have travelled far, as I had wounded it, and Hercules had also inflicted a fair amount of damage. Hoss was able to back up my story, although talking, or doing anything, was very painful for him. He told Pa that Hercules and I had saved his life and Pa hugged me tight, at these words.

Before Mr Steadman left to get the wagon, Hoss asked him to look closely at Hercules and say whether or not she was the one he had caught sight of around his herd. Mr Steadman, and a couple of the other ranchers, had to admit that it wasn’t Hercules they’d seen. For a start she was lighter in colour and smaller. They also noticed that Hercules had a rope tied round her neck and they all said that the wolf they’d spotted did not have one on him. I was very glad that Hoss had forgotten to remove it, before setting her free.

Pa and I did our best to make Hoss as comfortable as we could, as we waited for Adam and Mr Steadman to return with the wagon. We heard some shooting, off in the distance, and so were not that surprised when the rest of the hunting party came back, carrying the body of the wolf. Up close, even though he was dead, he was still a terrifying sight and I found myself moving closer to Pa.

I knew that Pa was gonna have a heck of a lot of questions, once we got back home, and I figured that I might be in for a tanning, but I was still very glad that Pa was there. Although Hoss looked pretty bad, at least I knew that we would soon be home and I was sure that Hop Sing would be able to fix him up, good as new.

When Adam and Mr Steadman got back, four of ‘em, very gently, lifted Hoss into the back of the wagon. Hercules jumped in as well and although Pa tried to make her get out, she was determined that she was not going to leave Hoss’ side. In the end, Pa decided to take her with us. Mr Steadman came along, too, and he said that once he’d dropped us off, he’d go back and dispose of the wolf’s body. The other ranchers said they would stay and do that and then they would spread the word that he’d been killed.

Hoss insisted, even though he was nearly unconscious again, that they also told everyone that it hadn’t been Hercules and they promised that they would.

Mr Steadman drove the wagon as carefully as he could, but it still was a bumpy trip and poor Hoss must’ve suffered over every one of them bumps. However, my brother was very brave and he hardly made a sound, although it was obvious, by the look on his face, how much he was hurting.

I was never as glad, as I was that day, to see our house and to know that Hoss’ suffering would soon be eased.

 

Hoss

Pa’s voice was the best thing I’d ever heard in my whole life. I knew everythin’ would be alright now. All of a sudden I heard Little Joe shout somethin’ though, it took me a while to register what was happenin’, cause it was hard t’concentrate, but when I did, my heartbeat stopped fer a minute. Little Joe was yellin’at Mr. Steadman not t’shoot Hercules. Mr. Steadman already had his rifle in his hand an’ fer a minute I thought he would do it an’ I couldn’t do anythin’ about it. I don’t know exactly what Little Joe said t’him, but he lowered the rifle an’ just watched as Pa came over t’me.

As Pa checked me over I tried t’blink away some tears of relief, but I don’t think it worked. Between the pain an’ the relief everythin’ kinda went in a blur, but I remember the ranchers goin’ off t’hunt down the other wolf an’ me tellin’ everyone how Little Joe an’ Hercules saved my life.

I also almost forced ‘em all t’take a close look at Hercules an’ say if he really looked like the wolf that’d killed the cattle.

I know Adam an’ Mr. Steadman went to get a wagon t’get me home an’ I just slumped against Pa’s shoulder while we were waitin’. It all hurt too much.

Pa told me later that when they brought back the bad wolf I’d half unconsciously insisted that they’d tell everyone in town that Hercules hadn’t done it. I don’t really remember myself, I think I was too far out of it by that time.

All I know is that Hop Sing was tendin’ to my wounds, first hurtin’ me something fierce as he cleaned ‘em out an’ patched ‘em up. I think I yelled some, but then he put somethin’ on ‘em, somethin’ herbal I suppose, some salve an’ he said that was against the infection. I had a fever by then an’ they were startin’ t’worry. Don’t remember much, just Hop Sing refreshin’ those herbs an’ Pa sittin’ on my bed, holdin’ my hand, tellin’ me I’d be alright. I believed him, cause Pa’d never lied to us before.

An’ he was right. After about two days I was feelin’ much more like myself again. The fever was almost gone an’ Hop Sing said the wounds were healin’ nicely an’ since he wasn’t worryin’ neither was I.

Little Joe kept me company lots of the time, playin’ checkers, talkin’ ‘bout them dadburned chores he hated so much and the equally hated schoolwork. He did say he’d seen Hercules once very close t’the house. It was as if she was worried an’ he’d told her everythin’ was okay with me. He said he’d had the feelin’ she understood that an’ she left again.

I asked him if Pa had said anything ‘bout us disobeyin’ him t’go after them, but he said Pa’d been amazingly quiet ‘bout that. Never said a word. I told him I figured that would come soon enough.

An’ I was right. After a couple of days, maybe four, Little Joe an’ I were playin’ checkers. I was still lyin’ in bed an’ Little Joe was sittin’on the bed, the board on top of the covers. Suddenly Pa stood in the door an’ he looked at us very seriously. Ya know, the kind of look that says yer in trouble. He said he wanted t’have a word with us. Little Joe an’ me looked at each other, both sensin’ this was the talk we’d been waitin’ for.

Pa walked over to Adam’s bunk an’ sat down on it. We were both lookin’ down at our hands as he did so. I knew he would feel I’d been punished enough by getting’ myself hurt like I did, but Little Joe wasn’t that sure an’ we both hated t’disappoint Pa. Pa gave us a fairly long lecture on the importance of obedience an’ on makin’ sure yer safe out there, bein’ prepared. An’ neither of us was ready fer that yet. I especially wasn’t ready t’also be responsible fer Little Joe in such a situation. An’ he chewed us out ‘bout the skippin’ school too. Of course I already knew that I shouldn’t have let him do that, but Pa also said Little Joe shouldn’t have taken advantage of me bein’ mad. My bein’ mad at the world was what got us in all that trouble, accordin’ t’Pa. If I’d had put some trust in him, this would’ve all been unnecessary.

By the end of the lecture he had us both squirmin’ and feelin’ about five years old, but we couldn’t say anything against it. He was dead-right. We both said we were sorry an’ we promised it wouldn’t ever happen again an’ then Pa was quiet fer a while, makin’ us squirm even more. As he started to speak again he surprised us both by sayin’ he was also very proud of us fer doin’ what we thought was right. Even though our method was wrong an’ he never wanted that to happen again, he understood why we’d done it. An’ he gave us both a hug.

We were both sittin’ there with our mouths wide open. We’d expected the world t’come down on us an’ instead we got a hug. As we sat there stunned an’ relieved Pa walked to the door an’ just as he passed through it he turned around again an’ told us that as soon as I was better we’d be doin’ some extra chores around the house t’keep us busy an’ out of mischief fer a while.

As soon as he was at a safe distance we both started to laugh. Extra chores might not be much fun, but we both knew it could’ve been much worse.

 

Little Joe

I was very relieved when Pa finally got round to talking to us about our disobedience. I knew he wasn't likely to tan Hoss, after all he'd been through, but I thought that I would be in for it. Sometimes, though, I just can't figure Pa. Mostly, you can set your watch by him, if I had one to set, that is, and I pretty much know how he is gonna react to most things. However, every now and again, I think he just likes to give us a surprise and he certainly did, when I ended up in his lap, having a hug, instead of over it, receiving something a lot less pleasant. Mind you, I ain't complaining and we did still get a lecture and a long list of extra chores to get through.

When Pa asked me to say the blessing, before our evening meal, I was happy to do so. I privately said thanks for the fact that I was sitting comfortably, as well as a public thanks for Hoss being well enough to join us, instead of eating in bed, as he had been doing.

It had been a worrying few days and although Hoss had never been close to dying, he'd still been very poorly. I stayed with him as much as I could, but I still had to go to school. Aunt Ruth was mad about me playing hooky and made me write an essay about obeying my father, but she also gave me some candy for Hoss and a book for Adam to read to Hoss. I listened to it, too, cos it was all about pirates and being cast adrift in an open boat and ending up on a desert island. Adam really makes reading fun, cos he makes up voices for all the different characters and it's like you're seeing the whole thing acted out in front of you.

I helped Pa and Adam as much as I could with the chores. I know I ain't as big and strong as Hoss, but I did the best I could and they were pleased with what I managed to do. I also helped Hop Sing in the kitchen, cos he was having to spend a lot of time tending to Hoss and so I did his chores for him. In fact I did all I could to show them all that I was sorry for getting Hoss hurt, cos I still blamed myself, even though Hoss told me not to.

Hercules stayed around the house the first day Hoss was hurt, but she'd left by the next morning. However, I kept catching sight of her, every now and again and although she didn't come that close, I think she knew that Hoss was getting better.

I played checkers with my big brother and even let him win, a couple of times; didn't think it was fair to kick him when he was already down.

The news about the wolf being killed spread and as no more herds were attacked, most people eventually accepted that Hercules was not the killer. But Jack Wolf was still stirring up trouble, according to Pa.

I was supposed to be asleep, but I heard Pa and Adam talking, after Pa had been into town, one evening. He said that Jack really had it in for Hercules and was saying that she could still be guilty and maybe she had been working with the one who was caught. Not many people were taking much notice of him, but I wished we could prove to him that she was not responsible and that she was a friend to us humans.

Hoss told me not to worry about it, when I talked it over with him. He said there was nothing Jack could do, as Hercules was thought of as a hero by the people who mattered.

I suppose he was right and so I did try and not to let it bother me, but she had saved Hoss' life and didn't deserve to be thought of badly, not even by Mr Wolf.

There wasn’t much I could do about it and so I put all thoughts of Jack Wolf outta my head. I was too busy with the extra chores I had to do, to give much time to him, anyway. Hoss was able to do a bit more now, but the bite on his leg was the worst one and so he was still having to rest up quite a bit.

I was in the barn doing my chores, and I suddenly heard Hoss calling me. I dropped the pitchfork and ran over to the porch, to be met by a very funny sight. Jack Wolf was standing in front of the porch, dripping wet and a young lady was sat in a buggy, shouting at him. Hoss was on the porch, trying hard not to laugh.

Pa came out of the house and took command of the situation. He look rather annoyed that Hoss was laughing, instead of offering some Ponderosa hospitality, to the young lady. When she had finished yelling at Jack, Pa led them into the house and she told us what had happened, while Jack went into Pa’s room and got changed; he had to borrow some of Pa’s clothes.

The lady, who was called Miss Sarah Miller, was a newcomer to the area and she had accepted Jack’s invitation to go for a buggy ride. The wheels of the buggy became stuck in the mud, as they crossed the river. Jack stood up, to encourage the horse to pull the buggy free and suddenly it did so, with a jerk, causing him to fall in the water.

Unfortunately, Jack couldn’t swim and he was soon in trouble. Miss Miller was now on the opposite bank, in the buggy, and as she couldn’t swim, either, didn’t know what to do. Just then, she saw a wolf appear, from out of the woods, and it jumped in the river and swam over to Jack. She began to scream, thinking that the wolf saw Jack as its next meal, but incredibly, instead of hurting him, the wolf grabbed Jack by the back of his coat and dragged him to safety.

Once Jack recovered sufficiently to speak, he told her that the wolf was Hercules, and that he had once owned her. She recognised the name, as the story of how Hercules had saved Hoss was circulating around Eagle Station. She also knew that Jack had been saying nasty things about the wolf and so she insisted that he came to our ranch and told us how Hercules had saved him from drowning. That was why she was shouting at him, because he didn’t want to admit that he owed his life to Hercules, the animal that he had stood by and watched, as she had nearly died, in the name of sport. Just goes to prove that animals are much more forgiving than humans.

Of course, we were all delighted to hear that, once again, Hercules was a hero, and I really wanted to rub it in to Mr Wolf that he had been proved wrong about her, but Pa wouldn’t let me go too far. However, he did stress that he hoped that this was going to put an end to the stories that Hercules was responsible for killing the cattle. Miss Miller assured us that she would ensure that everyone in town knew about the rescue, even if Jack tried to hide the truth.

After several cups of coffee and a whole plate of Hop Sing’s cookies, Miss Miller and Mr Wolf returned to town and Hoss and I were left, feeling that Hercules had more than repaid us for freeing her.

 

Hoss

I know I’d told Little Joe not t’worry about Jack Wolf an’ his stupid rumours, as he couldn’t really do anything about it, but it still bothered me a lot. Why couldn’t that man let things go? I even talked t’Pa about it when Little Joe was in bed. I didn’t want to rat on him for eavesdroppin’ an’ made Pa promise not t’say anything about it, but I just really needed t’talk about this. Pa managed t’make me feel a little better ‘bout it. He pointed out t’me that Jack was alone in this an’ no one was listenin’ to him. He also said the most important thing was that we thought Hercules was a hero.

It was funny, I’d said the same thing t’Little Joe, but somehow hearin’ Pa say it, made me really believe those words. Pa has a way of doin’ that. Always makes me feel better.

My leg healed slowly an’ it was darn frustratin’ not bein’ able to go around as I wanted to. An’ my leg still hurt quite a bit. Didn’t keep Pa from givin’ me chores though, he said there is a lot ya can do sittin’ down. So he started makin’ me help Hop Sing a bit.

Now most things havin’ t’do with food is fine by me, but I ain’t good at peelin’ potatoes or vegetables. Weren’t stupid enough t’say that, mind ya, so I was sittin’ on the porch with a big basket full of potatoes an’ I was tryin’ not t’cut off too much, when I suddenly saw that carriage ridin’ into the yard. Jack Wolf jumped down an’ he was some sight t’see. He was drippin’ wet.

The sight of him was enough t’make me chuckle, but the way that young lady was yellin’ at him, tellin’ t’do as she’d told him, be an honest man fer a change, well that just did me in. It took all my willpower, an’ thoughts of Pa, not t’laugh at him. But I guess ya could still see it in my face cause Pa threw me one of them looks again.

The story behind this hilarious sight was even funnier, not only did Jack make a dang fool out of himself in front of that nice lookin’ gal, but he also had t’admit he’d been wrong about Hercules. I was gloatin’ a bit, but Little Joe even tried t’rub it in an’ Pa stopped that pretty darn quick. Little Joe knew better than t’do that.

I was mighty glad though that this would put a stop once an’ fer all to all the rumours Jack had spread. He wouldn’t dare be doin’ that no more, not with Miss Miller makin’ sure the whole town knew about today.

Yeah, that day had turned out t’be a real good day, well, except that I still had t’peel them dadburned spuds.

THE END