"Did you have a dispute with your father?"
Tyler and Sally stood by the trees, waiting for the others to take a break as well. They had just written a test in maths and whoever had finished the task, was allowed to go outside. "No."
"Then what's wrong with you? You've been acting quite strange since yesterday."
"Didn't YOUR father talk to you yet?"
Groaning, Tyler put his hands in his pockets and looked up at the sky. "Did he complain again that we were with you all weekend?"
Sally leaned her back against the tree and looked at the schoolhouse. "That would be nothing new and no reason that I'm so mad at him."
"Then what is it? He has no other topic except that there are too many Indians here and that your father is our teacher, that the Cartwrights have too much power, the Sheriff is incapable, the pastor is cowardly and ... "
Sally raised a hand and laughed. "Tyler, please stop. I really wonder how you can stand it with him."
But then she became very serious again. "He talked to my dad about you having to take an exam before winter and that he's going to have a teacher from Carson City to come along to ensure that everything will be perfect."
Amazed, Tyler slowly took his hands out of his pocket and cocked his head. "An exam? What kind of exam?"
"Next summer you're supposed to go to England to a boarding school, so you finally get in contact with sensible people. He doesn't want to have a savage daughter-in-law at some point because you have to marry her."
"I should do WHAT?"
"You should go to England next year."
"He can quickly forget that, I'm not going anywhere. And what's with the talk of marriage? I'll be fourteen next year, not eighteen."
"But what do you want to do? Your father didn't give the impression that he's going to talk about it."
Angry, Tyler kicked the tree. "I'll talk to my grandfather. Certainly he won't allow me to go to England and if he does, then I just fail the exam. If I do everything wrong, then they won't accept me."
"Then I don't want to be in your shoes. Your dad knows how good you are at school. He'll soon realize that you deliberately mucked this exam up."
Tyler looked at her like a duck in a thunderstorm. "But what should I do then? I don't want to leave here. You're all here ..." Now he grimaced even more. "... and I'll be in England then."
Sally slapped her friend against the arm. "We should live the moment and right now we're looking forward to having some days off next week and doing something with the tribe. Who knows, my dad thought the exams for the schools in England aren't so easy. Maybe you don't have to play dumb."
Sally couldn't really support her friend with her words. It could still be noticed that he was pretty mad at his father. Tyler was particularly annoyed that his father hadn't talked to him about it. He had just made a decision and certainly only because he didn't like who his friends were.
When the rest of the little tribe arrived at the yard, they were as shocked by the news as Tyler had been. In the end, they all wished Tyler luck so he wouldn't pass the exam. Then they talked about what they wanted to do on the three days off next week. Aiyana had the idea that they should ask their parents if they could spend the days out on her land. They would also take Rusty and Chayton, who would take care of them too. Tyler and Sarah looked at each other for a moment. Both were aware that their parents wouldn't agree to this idea so easily.
They crouched by the fire and drank their coffee. "Roy, what's your plan? Are we getting out of here now?"
The man named Roy looked into his cup, thinking. "Roy, ... .. we've been able to sell the last few horses well. We should rather get out of here. You've heard that the Sheriff is already suspicious. He isn't as dumb as the last one. He certainly didn't even know why you blew his brains out."
Roy looked up from the fire and into the distance. "You saw the horses on the farm. We would get a lot of bucks for them. We could then put our feet up until Summer."
"But that's hell of a lot. We can't get them just that night and skedaddle and I didn't only see the horses but the dogs as well. And the guy who lives there isn't exactly what you call a cardboard mate."
Now Roy looked directly at the other. "Whether large or small. No one takes another step with a bullet in his brains."
Very sceptical eyes now looked at Roy. "It was alright that we killed that Sheriff but what are you going to do now ... Roy, there's not only the woman but also the two little boys."
"Do you have qualms about doing it?"
"These are kids, Roy. I realize that I might go to the gallows for what we do but killing two innocent children is another matter altogether."
"Remember the money we'll get. For that I'm quite willing to let some kids bite the dust."
Several times the other man nodded. "That's the next problem. That woman is the daughter of this Indian chief. Surely he won't just watch the Sheriff do his job after that, if he follows our tracks."
Roy poured the rest of the coffee into the fire and stood up. "I'm ready to take the risk. We just have to wait for the right time. The Indians will be celebrating a fall festival soon and if we know exactly when the fat guy isn't on the farm, we'll strike. If everything goes according to plan, we're going to have enough lead."
The other, too, rose slowly but he wasn't quite as confident as his boss about the plan.
Finn's left eye flicked slightly as the door opened. "Bonjour, Monsieur."
Finn leaned slightly back and looked again to see if he was standing in front of the right house. Actually, this action was completely unnecessary. Since he hadn't sustained a head injury in the last few hours and days, he knew he was standing in front of the right house. He had taken no other path than the one he knew. Too big was his fear of suddenly being in an Indian village. Or in front of a cougar, or ... Finn reminded himself that he should deal with the real situation again. So he looked at the man in front of him and took off his hat. "Hello. I would like to speak to Mr. Cartwright."
Henri raised his chin and looked Finn up and down with a quick glance. "Whom may I please annouce and with what concern?"
Another twitch of Finn's left eye. "Mr. O'Sullivan. I am the business partner of Mr. Cartwright. "
Smiling, Adam came to the door and handed his partner his hand. Henri opened the door a little further and then reached for Finn's hat.
As Adam and Finn walked into the office, Finn kept looking over his shoulder at the Frenchman. "Adam, ... I'm a bit surprised and slightly irritated."
"Why? Something on the site didn't work out as we thought it might?"
He pointed to one of the armchairs in his office. "Coffee?"
Finn sat down and looked sceptically at the pot. "I would prefer some tea if it doesn't bother you."
While Adam waited for Henri, he poured himself some coffee and sat down opposite Finn. "Oui Monsieur?"
Waiting Henri stood in the door. "Mr. O'Sullivan would like some tea. My wife knows which one he prefers. "
"I'll take care of it, Monsieur."
Leaning over the armchair, Finn looked after Henri in surprise. Then he turned back to Adam and pointed his finger in his direction. "You're surprising me again! But I will not let you fool me. What did you pay to manage him not to laugh?"
Adam smiled and sipped his coffee. "Well, at least I managed that you don't speak that stilted English for once."
"But very briefly, my dear Adam. I will never forget my origins. Just as I will not get used to cursing in every other sentence."
"When one of our women has turned your head, then you will curse every now and then."
Finn leaned back and put his fingertips together. "I certainly will not."
"What won't you do? To get your head turned by a woman or to curse?"
"I only bet with men of honor."
First, Adam ran his hand over his chin and then he looked particularly long in his palm. He tried not to look at Finn but he couldn' help the smile that crossed his face. "Do you mean to say I'm not a man of honor?"
"You're an American and a cowboy too."
Now Adam leaned forward a bit. "You seem to forget something, Finn, ... .. if you stay here until dark, you won't find your way home."
With a tray in his hand Henri reappeared in the office. On a small table next to Finn, Henri put down a pot and a cup. "Monsieur should let the tea steep another seven minutes. Then it will develop all his aroma."
He turned his head to Adam. "Will there be anything else, Monsieur?"
Again Adam ran his hand through his stubble but as so often lately, he resisted the temptation to simply say what he thought. "No Henri, we have everything we need."
"If Monsieur still needs me, Monsieur will find me in the kitchen. Should I bring Monsieur the bell?"
Henri didn't show what he thought of the slightly harder sound of Adam. With a friendly nod, he left the office. "Henri is not real, is he?"
Sighing, Adam leaned back. "Unfortunately he is. My parents brought him back from their trip because they wanted to do something good for Bridget."
"Your parents don't like you?"
Laughing, Adam took another sip. "They meant well and they were right about us needing some help here."
Finn looked at him in surprise. "I notice exactly how you turn your eyes from time to time even though we get along very well and your Henri comes very close to an English butler. Did you have to hand in all your weapons? Because you are very fast here in Virginia City, with such things, if you don't like something. "
"Let's say, we have agreed upon a trial period until Christmas. That's for how long I'm going to search and use the silence very deep inside of me but then I'll kick him out of the door along with his luggage or strangle him if he just says 'Monsieur' once again."
Adam had said that in a voice so calm and serene, as if he was talking about the sunny weather of an August day. Finn had trouble not shedding the tea he was pouring. "He makes you livid."
"He drives me crazy."
"Then we can get on with important things now and make sure that your hair gradually falls out from sheer anger."
With the corners of his mouth turned up, Adam grinned to himself but he quickly became serious, knowing what Finn was trying to talk to him about. "Before you ask. No, I still haven't heard about Frederic or his lawyer. But what I found out is that he wrote to the lawyer who came to see you in the Summer that he was interested in selling but that they would have to negotiate the price again."
"He wants to hurt you."
Adam tightened his lips and closed his eyes for a moment. "I had hoped that he'd come to his senses over time. But he's so stuck to the rumors. He doesn't even answer the letters from Giovanna. Since she knows that he's reading them, she has written in the last one that she wants to end the marriage properly. But even that didn't make him answer." Adam took a deep breath. "We've known each other since my time in Boston, ..." Now he put his hand over his eyes. "... but he didn't even care that his mother died."
Slowly Adam lowered his hand and took another deep breath. Terrified by himself for speaking so openly with Finn about Frederic, he tried to regain control of his emotions. As it turned out, it was time again to spend an evening at Amarok, or even better, to ride a few days to his mountain. In any case, it should be far away from Henri. "We have to think of another solution. I'll keep trying to reach Frederic but if we don't succeed, we'll have to think about another solution."
Finn looked thoughtfully at the ceiling. "That will not be easy. The track would not be as effective and attractive anymore. There is a danger that the whole thing would not pay off anymore."
Only Finns pupils enlarged slightly as Adam pounded his fist angrily on the armchair. Then he got up and looked out the window at his mountains. He heard Finn getting up, too. "Adam, do you have a map of the area here, or are there only those in our office?"
Slowly, Adam turned around again. Then he went to his desk and picked up one of the rolls that lay there on the table. He unfolded the map in it on his large table by the easel. For a long time the two looked at the map. Then Finn pointed his finger at a field. "What about this piece of land? It would be an alternative. We would still have to work through the fourth mountain but then we would not deviate so much from the original route."
A quick glance at Adam was enough and it was clear that there could be a problem with this piece of land. Adam looked up with the hand closed to his fist. "The land is no longer used but it belongs to someone who won't sell it for sure."
"And if I talk to them? Maybe I'll find the right words."
Adam laughed. "He certainly won't talk to you. The land belongs to Mitch Sanders."
"Oh ..." Finn had to smile. "... the kind gentleman to whom I have talked about courtesy in the saloon?"
"Phew. Then it will be hard."
Adam took his hands up. "Everything has a reason. Nothing just happens that way. Everything that happens happens because it has to happen as well. "
Finn looked at him in amazement. "It's not on me to interfere with your private life but it would be an asset if you limited your visits to the saloon to the evening."
"I'm not drunk. All I'm trying to do is to stay calm because my esteemed brother-in-law hasn't bought this land for the company, for reasons that aren't still revealed to me and thus jeopardizes a project that exceeds the construction of a schoolhouse by far."
Finn looked at the map again. "You're right. We will find a solution and we should not give up hope that your brother-in-law will get in touch with us."
Adam just nodded and continued to look at the map. "Mmm ..." Finn put his fingertips together again and with a very friendly look he glanced toward Adam. "... Adam, I heard that you still go to your friend today."
With pointed lips, Adam tried not to laugh. He poured some more coffee and turned his back on Finn. "You want to go to Yvette's?"
"There, if my way should lead me there, I will certainly not go with you. I do not want to take up an overnight stay in your friend's establishment and that should happen quite quickly with you on the side."
He went to Adam and stood next to him so he could face him. "You know exactly that I mean Koko."
Keeping his eyes fixed on the coffee pot, Adam found it difficult to remain serious. "Oh, you mean Koko? ... Yes, I wanted to visit her today. Why do you ask? Do you want to join me? I wanted to go to the village afterwards."
"Why are you doing this, Adam? I mean, you go to her. Then you can also bring me my tea."
Now Adam turned to his partner and smiled at him. "Well, you don't want to tell me that you can't remember the way to her?"
"You do not have to make fun of it. You do not even get a heart attack when suddenly an Indian jumps out of the bushes. But in my life I may have run into a dog but it was quite a bit more peaceful than here. I can count myself lucky if I'm not shot dead on the way to the office in the morning."
"But you don't intend to end our partnership because we are too wild for you?"
Finn drank the last sip of his tea. "Do not hope. I do not just see my job here in building a railroad track but to remind you where you all come from."
Adam laughed out loud and slapped Finn on the back. "Then we'll get the project finished, because before you can make us Englishmen, we'll get you to curse."
With an indignant look, Finn followed Adam out of the office. "No way. You'll never see that there will ever be a reason I will forget my education that much."
Adam handed Finn his hat. "We'll see. Now we'll both ride to Koko and next month you will accompany me to a celebration in the village and see that the Indians are no different from you Englishmen."
"You were in the saloon today, Adam. Admit it."
Smiling, Finn closed the door behind him.
"Come on, Hoss. Just one beer."
"Well, I don't know, Joe. I didn't want to get back so late."
Joe pulled his brother by the arm to the saloon. "You said that Adam wants to come over yours this afternoon. Then she won't be alone."
Hoss tightened his lips and tapped Joe quite hard against the chest, so that he staggered back a few steps. "Just one beer - and you'll keep your hands off of Kathy. Dianne warned you. If she hears once again that Kathy was sitting on your lap, you might be sleeping on the porch in the near future."
Embarrassed, Joe shrugged. "She wasn't sitting with me for long. The cowboys on the ranch were a bit over the top."
Joe quickly raised his hand and held up a finger. "One beer. Promise, Hoss."
"Then come on, shortshanks."
With a big grin Joe leaned his back against the counter and looked at Kathy, who just flirted with some cowboys who worked on the ranch of Tom's brother. However, when she noticed Joe's gaze, she walked up to him. "Hello, Little Joe. I thought you left Nevada. I haven't seen you in so long."
"Now in Fall we always have a lot to do and then there are those horse thieves. We always have to set up guards at night."
She stood between Hoss and Joe. "Hello, Hoss."
With a smile that made Joe sweat, Kathy looked at the two brothers. "Did those bad guys hit the Ponderosa?"
Joe turned aside and leaned on his arm so he could face Kathy from the side. "Yes, they did but we want to make sure they won't come back. And quite often I have to take care of my brother's farm as well."
"Oh, you also have horses at your farm?"
Before Hoss could say anything, Joe spoke up again. "It's a horse farm and they have the best horses you can get here in Nevada and the surrounding area."
"Oh, I didn't know that. Then you should take special care. Surely it isn't enough just to set up one guard at night. "
"We'll stop it next week because it's getting too cold. Then the horse thieves won't strike anymore."
Kathy looked at him questioningly. "Because it's too cold?"
"If they get the horses, they won't just get two or three and then they'll have to cross the mountains with them to cover their tracks. But they cannot move so fast. This again means that they run the risk of getting into the first snow with the horses up there. They won't be that crazy."
Kathy stood in front of Joe and ran her hands over his chest. "Then you can come back here more often."
"Well, ... I ..."
Hoss grabbed his little brother's arm. "We'd better go now."
"I ..." Joe took his glass of beer. "... I haven't finished my beer."
Hoss took the glass and emptied it all at once. "Now you have."
Without further attention to Kathy, Hoss left the saloon. He had dragged his brother behind him. "Hoss, what's the matter?"
Visibly miffed, he pushed Joe in the back, so that he stumbled in the direction of the horses. "Joe, can't you just shut up?"
"What did I do wrong?"
"We can only be glad that you haven't blabbed out how many guards we're going to set up and where."
"I only spoke to Kathy. She's not a horse thief."
"Joe, ..." Hoss stopped in front of the horses and looked at his brother shaking his head. ".. you weren't alone in the saloon with her. Do you know who followed your conversation?"
Amazed and stunned, Joe looked at the saloon. Then he grimaced and put his hand on his neck, looking embarrassed to the ground. "I didn't think about that."
"And why not? Because you let Kathy turn your head. Joe, just be a little more careful who you're talking to. Adam and Tom assume that someone tells the horse thieves exactly when and where the fewest guards are. It's very noticeable that they always know exactly when they have the slightest risk when they strike."
"I'll remember it. Sorry, Hoss."
"It's all right, shortshanks. Now let's ride home."
Both got on their horses and left town.
"I can't believe we're really allowed to be here."
Sally held a stick in the campfire and looked at the others. Aiyanas eyes glinted proudly. "I didn't believe it either but Até persuaded Lalá Ben and told him to trust us. Bernardo and I had to promise that we would always keep an eye on Winona."
Immediately, Sarah rolled her eyes. "I can take care of myself."
She stroked Rusty, who was lying next to her, her head resting on her legs. She was just as exhausted from the day as Sally's dog. Both were constantly on the move and had searched for rabbits and other animals. Riccardo slammed Tyler, who was sitting next to him, in the side. "Hey Tyler, laugh. You haven't written and passed the exam yet."
"I don't want to leave here. What should I do in England? I don't know anybody there."
"You will find friends there, too."
Not only Tyler looked Bernardo in amazement. Even the others looked at him in surprise. "Didn't you understand that correctly, Bernardo? Tyler should go to England until the end of school time. Not just during the holidays."
"Of course I understood everything, Riccardo. But, schools in England are very good. If you graduate there, you can study here."
Aiyana's brother looked nervously at his hands. He sensed that he was the only one who thought of school differently from the others. But lately he has looked at some things differently from the rest of the tribe. He actually had no real desire to spend the two days out here. He would rather have gone to the construction site with Finn and then he would have liked to have a date with Joan. Even the thought of it warmed his cheeks. Quickly he lowered his head before the others could notice and ask him why he blushed. "But I don't want to study."
"You don't want to work at father's company?"
With his hand, Bernardo had to rest on the ground so as not to fall over, so hard had Aiyana boxed her brother. "What's going on with you lately? Why are you so nervous all the time?"
"Nothing at all. I just don't think it's too bad that Tyler can go to England.
Sally moved a little closer to Tyler, who was still looking into the fire, crestfallen. "But remember, Bernardo, Tyler won't go to England because he wants to but only because his Dad doesn't want him to continue spending time with us. Besides, you would never go to England voluntarily. You're already scared when your father sends you back to the barn in the dark."
The other burst out laughing and Bernardo wanted to get up offended but Aiyana stopped him. "We don't want to argue again. We are incredibly lucky that Tyler's father and Lalá Ben have agreed that we can spend these days together and we should enjoy them. If Tyler will leave next year, we will not spend the Summer vacation together as a tribe. We'd better talk about what we want to do tomorrow. Do we want to go fishing or do we want to try to catch a bigger animal?"
Riccardo scratched his forehead. "Catching is one thing but who prepares it for eating? I've never done that."
He looked around and in the end they almost all said "fish" at the same time.
"Fine. Then tomorrow we will ride to the creek back there at the foot of the mountain." Aiyana pointed to the Sleeping Bear Mountain. "There are the best fish at this time of the year."
"Then we should now ..." Sarah got up and Rusty remained lying yawning. "... slip into our bedrolls, so we won't leave so late tomorrow."
They took all their bedrolls and looked for a place near the fire. "Sally, are you sleeping next to me? Then we can talk about next year."
Briefly, Sally glanced at Sarah and Aiyana, who moved to the other side of the fire, then unfolded her bedroll next to Tyler. Both still talked about England when the others were long asleep.
"And you think we should strike today?"
With the reins in his hand, Roy looked across the land. "The fat man wants to go to the mountains today to see some broncs. And he wants to go there alone. So we can easily get him out of the way. He'll certainly not be missed so soon if he doesn't come to dinner in time. So all we have to do is get rid of the little brats and the Indian."
"Roy, ... I don't know if I can do that. ... I've never shot kids."
Roy swung into the saddle. "Then you take care of the woman and I'll do the rest. But now let's take care of this Cartwright."
Hoss gently patted his horse. "We'll go home soon. It looks like the horses have already moved on. We'll find them again in Spring. We really don't need new horses now."
Hoss refilled his canteen, hung it back on the saddle and mounted. Carefully, he rode up the small hill. The moment he reached the top, he saw from the corner of his eye something coming towards him. Before his senses had realized it, he fell just out of the saddle and rolled down the slope again. Very dazed by the blow, he couldn't stop his fall. He ended up in the water and was immediately carried away by the current.
Roy and his friend had ridden to the edge of the hill and watched as Hoss struggled with the flow.
"Shouldn't we have shot him?"
Roy shook his head. "You have seen the abandoned camp. We want to attract as little attention as possible and we do not know where these people are now. But they can not be far away, since the fire was extinguished only this morning. We do not have to worry about having changed the plan. Because even if the fat man somehow manages to get out of the water, he needs several hours to return home. That's enough for us. "
With a dirty grin, he threw the thick branch down the small hill he had used to haul Hoss off his horse. "Come on. Some horses are waiting for us."
"We should ride back over time."
Riccardo bit into an apple and sat down next to Bernardo on the stone. "But we still have time. We're not supposed to be home until late in the afternoon."
"It not was right that we stayed here. It was agreed that we stay on land of Aiyana.
"Oh, Bernardo, you've been living here in Nevada for so long and you're still scared. Lately, I even think it's getting worse."
Bernardo exhaled deeply and looked down. "I'm not afraid. I ... I just do not enjoy that much when we're all together. If you have choice, you would work at the ranch, wouldn't you?"
"I also like to do something with you." Riccardo looked sceptically at his cousin. "You like to be with Uncle Adam in the office and on the construction site, don't you?"
"Mmm .. sí. Mr. O'Sullivan explains a great deal to me and what you have to do to run such a large construction site and my Dad already lets me work on some important models. Recently, I was even allowed to make a drawing for a new order. It was just a small job but I could see how proud Pa was, that he had very little to change and I did everything as he expected."
Grinning, Riccardo bit into the apple again. "Then you won't work with me on the Ponderosa later?"
"I do not think so. I want to study in three years, like my father and then work here on the railroad."
"You have it good. You're done in three years. In any case, I have to go to school for another five years and only, if I'm allowed to work at the ranch at sixteen."
Now Riccardo looked at Sally and the others standing on the bank of the creek. "Will we all be on tour with the canoes again next summer?"
"Tyler will not be there."
"You think Tyler will pass the test?"
"He is very good at school and he will not dare to answer the questions wrongly. His father would be very angry."
Bernardo was silent at first and looked to the others. Then he shook his head. Somewhat sad, Riccardo looked at him. "Will the tribe break apart?"
"We are one family and Tyler and Sally will always be our friends."
At first very thoughtful, Riccardo then jumped down from the small rock. "Then, as Aiyana said, let's really spend those days together happily. Even the last hours."
Ben nervously paced up and down the living room and kept looking at the clock. With each passing minute, his anger at Adam grew bigger and bigger. Shortly after five, he couldn't restrain himself. Something had happened. At first he had believed that they would only come home later because it was raining heavily since the afternoon. But now he guessed that they once again just wanted to have their way. Soon it would be so dark that you can't see your hand in front of your face.
It wasn't long and his youngest son stood before him on the landing. "Your sister isn't back yet and I'm assuming that they just want to stay out one more night, even though we only allowed them two. I'll ride to their campsite and pick them up. Tell Emillia if she comes from Bridget."
"Will do, Pa."
When Joe saw his father strapping on his belt and putting on his jacket, he didn't want to be in his sister's shoes. With a loud bang Ben slammed the door shut behind him.
Just before it got really dark, Ben reached the former land of Kajika. Surprised, he dismounted. He quickly found the spot where the children had set up a fire but it didn't look like it was from today. Although it had been raining for several hours, he should have found some traces. He turned in a circle, wondering where the children could be. They had probably sought shelter at Koko or in the village. So he got back in the saddle and rode to his daughter-in-law.
Jenkins opened the door and looked at Tico and then at his door in surprise. "I heard the knock the first time. I'm glad you didn't make a hole."
Tico passed Jenkins and stopped in the middle of the room. "I don't feel like joking."
Simon closed the door and looked at Adam's worried foreman. "What happened? Did the horse thieves raid you again?"
"Tell me, don't you miss anything?"
"Did you smoke?"
Both faced each other. Jenkins, very calm but it could clearly be seen how excited Tico was. "No."
Tico took a deep breath. "Did you sleep yet?"
With a mischievous grin Jenkins looked down at himself. When he heard the knock, he had just pulled on his pants. "Tico, can we get to the point now? Sally should be home right away and then we're going to have supper."
"You can forget about supper. The kids are gone."
"Nonsense. They are only delayed by the rain."
"Simon, you know perfectly well that they promised Adam to come back on time. Bernardo, as the eldest, took it very seriously that he is in charge. And everyone has assured that - after Adam got involved with his and Tyler's father - they wanted to stick to the set rules so as not to disappoint him."
Jenkins looked at the window. It was already dark outside. He usually didn't worry if Sally came home later. She knew exactly how she got on outside and what she could do when the weather was so bad that she couldn't ride on. He also readily gave her credit spending a night outdoors on her own. Then he looked back at Tico and gradually he had to agree with him. The children had been so happy that Ben and Mr. Burton finally had agreed to the excursion, even gritting their teeth. They wouldn't abuse the trust that Adam put in them just to stay there one more night.
"I'm getting dressed quickly."
Simon quickly put on socks and shoes. Then he ran back to Tico, his shirt in his hand. "Where do we start searching? On Aiyana's land?"
"We all want to meet there. I was first on the land with Adam and when we found neither a trace of the kids nor Ben, we sensed that something had happened. Adam just wanted to make sure if they weren't at Koko but then Hoss would have told us, since he too knows how hard it had been for Mr. Cartwright to let Sarah go."
Simon's features became serious. He strapped on his belt and took his jacket. "Then let's not waste any more time."
Marc's horse hadn't quite come to a halt, as he jumped out of the saddle and already rushed to Adam. "I'll kill you! I swear, if anything happens to my boy, I'll kill you."
He had grabbed Adam by the collar and was about to punch him, when Jenkins and Tom pulled him away from Adam. Tom grabbed Marc and glared at him. "Pull yourself together, Marc. So far, we don't know what happened and if anything happened, it's certainly not Adam to blame. So if you don't keep a cool head now, you can go home right away."
The Sheriff pushed Marc away and then turned to his friend. "Adam, did you learn anything from Koko?"
Actually Tom needn't have asked this question. As his friend's gaze was, he could literally hear and not just see the wrong wolf. And not only with him. Even with Jenkins, he was clearly visible. Tom took a deep breath inside. That might become some kind of a posse! A father who was looking for just one reason to make Adam and Jenkins' life living hell and two friends who, in their rage, quickly forgot who really wanted to help them. His eyes wandered to Tico and Joe. Tico was worried, too but he was probably the only one he could really rely on to start no trouble. He certainly didn't want to and could not rely on Joe. If something had happened to Ben, the boy would lose his temper pretty quickly. "The horse thieves were at the farm."
Immediately, Adam had everyone's full attention and Tom took a step toward him. "Tell me what happened!"
Adam didn't look directly at his friend. His eyes went past the Sheriff and into the void. "Koko and the children were fortunately not there when the horses were stolen. The men were very ruthless. They killed two of the dogs. It must have happened in the afternoon. Koko went to the village just before the rain started and only came back to the farm at the same time as me."
Adam had to take a break to control his anger. "Joe, can you please ride to the farm? Hoss isn't back yet. He wanted to look for some wild horses today and probably has taken shelter somewhere and won't come back until tomorrow."
"What makes you sure he wasn't on the farm when the horse thieves struck?"
Now Adam looked at the Sheriff. "Tom, you know Hoss. In such weather, he wouldn't leave his horse outside at the door. He would immediately bring Chub to the barn and take care of him. And if he had surprised the horse thieves, they would have made short work of him. They cut the throat of one of the dogs. These guys have no consideration for anybody."
Angry at himself and the horse thieves, Adam pushed his friend aside and pulled Joe to his horse. "You shall ride to Koko. Stay the night with her or try to persuade her to go to Bridget. I don't want her to be alone at the farm."
"Adam, the guys won't come back if they have the horses."
Angrily, Adam pushed his brother against Cochise. "Do as I tell you."
Joe swallowed and swung onto the horse. "If Hoss is back by tomorrow morning, tell him to wait. If I don't find Pa and the kids, I will come to the farm. Because then we also need the help of Amarok in the search."
Joe nodded to his brother. It would make no sense to suggest something else to Adam in his mood.
For a moment Adam looked after his brother. Then he turned back to the others. "The tracks lead to the mountains. There we should start the search."
With three steps Marc stood between Tom and Adam. "What's happening? We want to look after the children and not the horse thieves. Just because it's about your Koko, we're not going to hunt those guys all of a sudden."
Tom didn't react to his old schoolmates. "Do you think that the disappearance of the children and Ben has something to do with the horse thieves?"
"In my opinion, it can't be a coincidence. They won't get along with the horses so fast in this kind of weather. I imagine the kids saw something they shouldn't have. Just like my father."
Quickly Tom thought about what to do. Priority for him had been the children but from what Adam had just said, there could be something in it. "I also assume that everything's somehow connected but at the moment we can't do much more. To ride the mountains in this kind of weather and in the dark would be pure suicide."
"You want to sit back and take things easy till tomorrow?"
"Marc, I want to find the kids as fast as possible but we can't help them if we get stuck in a crevice or crash. But what we can do is ride to the edge of the mountains and wait for the first morning light."
The Sheriff didn't need to ask if everyone agreed. Before he even had the reins of his horse in his hand, the four others were already in the saddle. When they rode to the mountains, Tom took the foreman aside and talked to him about the coming day.
It was just after sunrise. The small tribe was leaning against a rock and the children looked at the eight men standing by the fire. For a long time they had talked during the night about how they got into this situation.
They had just packed their things when the weather changed. The rain was so strong that they sought shelter in this small valley. When the horses dashed into the valley, it was no longer possible for the children to escape unnoticed. It wasn't long before the men discovered them. The bad weather had caused the horse thieves to change their plans and they were very nervous. That they had met the children then hadn't improved their mood. Now the little tribe had to wait and see how things would go on. Although it wasn't raining as much as it had the day before, it still didn't look as if the sun would show up in the next few hours.
"Burgess, we won't wait any longer for the Sheriff to pick up our track, or that even this Indian tribe will find us."
Roy poured his coffee into the fire and didn't show what he himself thought about the whole thing. Everything went wrong from the very beginning. At first, Roy was relieved that the woman with the children had left the farm and no one else was there. But then the problems started. Two of the dogs immediately ran to them. Jeff silenced one with a proper kick against the head. But the other bit immediately into his calf. At first, Roy wanted to reach for his weapon but then he was afraid that the shot could be heard in the village. So he pulled his knife and cut the dog's throat. The bite wasn't that deep but the wound was bleeding heavily. While one of the men cared for Jeff, the others took care of the horses. Everything went very fast and so they were on their way to the mountains. But then the rain started. And not just a light rain. No, it began to storm and they could barely see what lay ahead of them. So it wasn't possible for them to bring the horses over the mountains. Further up the rain could turn very quickly in an unpleasant freezing rain. So they had to make the involuntary stop in the valley. Then the next surprise awaited them. Six children! And quite quickly, they also recognized some of them. Roy had no idea what to do next but he wasn't in the position to show that to his men. "If we can't keep going on because of the rain, the Sheriff won't be able to find our tracks here in the mountains."
"And what are we going to do with the children? I steal horses and do other things that are against the law but I won't stand up and kill children."
With ice-cold glance Roy looked around. "I thought I picked real men back then but as soon as it doesn't work out so well, you get scared, don't you?"
"It was a mad idea right from the beginning that we wanted to get those horses from the farm. We could have done that next year."
"Look at them horses. If we get them over the mountains, we'll get a pretty penny. Trust me …."
All men drew their guns at the same time they heard a shot. They were looking in the direction of the bang. Then they ran towards the two men, who drew a third person between them. Roy put his gun back when it was clear that the man couldn't fight back. "Who's that?"
Briefly, the two men exchanged glances. "We caught him back there, snooping around here. He was about to vamoose. We had to prevent that."
With a loud clatter, the cup slammed on the ground that Roy had just held in his hand. He was angry not only about the foolishness of his men but the fact that the losing streak still went on. "Couldn't you have stopped him another way? If the Sheriff hasn't found our tracks, he knows where to look now."
"That's enough. I'm going to vanish into thin air right now."
The man who had been bitching all morning that things went wrong looked at the others. "Which of you is coming with me?"
In the end, only Roy, his friend and three other men remained in the valley. The rest had fled for fear of being caught. The wounded man was brought to the children. Then Roy and the four others went back to the fire.
Sarah looked wide-eyed at the man lying in front of them. Her voice was only a whisper. "Pa ...?"
Slowly, Ben opened his eyes. First in disbelief but then very scared he looked at the children. When he discovered the horses in the valley, he hadn't seen the children. "Sarah ..."
He wanted to straighten up but immediately he sank back to the ground with a groan. He clasped his right thigh with his hands. "Pa, have you been shot?"
Ben nodded, his face contorted with pain. Immediately, Sarah looked at the wound on his leg. Carefully, she pushed her father's hands away. "Please, Pa, I just want to check it."
"Sarah, ... you ... can't do anything ..."
For a moment Sarah couldn't see anything and cursed softly that the men had taken the only knife from them. Thus she couldn't cut her father's pant leg. Then she looked at Bernardo. "Can you rip the pants open so that I can see the wound?"
At first hesitant but then very determined, Bernardo tore the pants apart at the point where Ben was hit by the bullet. Pretty soon, Sarah could see the bullet point. Then she opened her medicine bag and took out some dried leaves. Before putting them on the wound, she dropped a dark liquid from a small bottle into the wound. Then she laid the leaves on the wound and tied everything with a cloth. Now, for the first time, she had herself realized how important it was to have the medicine bag always filled and, when being away from the village for longer, having the most important things with you to treat an injury. She couldn't wait to be reporting it to the shaman. But then she realized that they first had to come out of this valley. She took a small leaf from a tin and touched her father's shoulder. "Pa ...?"
Ben opened his eyes and turned his head to her. "Pa ..., I put something in the wound so it stops bleeding and doesn't ignite right away. The bullet is too deep. I can't do that yet but I can give you something for the pain."
She handed him the leave. Her father smiled, took the leave and put it in his mouth. "Give me a few more minutes, then we can figure out how to get out of here."
"Lalá Ben, the Great Spirit will show us a way. Just give yourself some more rest."
"The Great Spirit ..."
Ben closed his eyes before the children could see him rolling them. That would probably accompany him the rest of his life. If you didn't know, the Great Spirit would show you the way. Wasn't there the possibility to just admit that the situation was very hopeless? Even if the pain in his leg subsided, he would never manage to climb over the mountains. And he doubted that they might run away through the entrance of the valley.
Aiyana nodded to the others and they sat down in a small circle just a bit apart of Ben. "Winona, what do you have in your bag?"
"All I need to treat a wound or one or the other minor injuries."
Adams daughter looked at the horse thieves, thinking. "We have to get out of here and get help for Lala Ben."
"How do we do that?" Tyler nodded to the men. "They look constantly towards us. And now, in the broad daylight, they surely will notice when one of us climbs the rocks."
"Then we have to distract them."
"Bernardo, are you still going to be a warrior?"
Riccardo couldn't help but grin at his cousin. Sally moved closer to Aiyana's brother. "Do you have any ideas?"
"Sí. We have to make big mess."
"How do you want to do that, my dear brother? We're just a small tribe and not hundreds of warriors."
Bernardo turned around and pointed at the horses. "These are our warriors."
Everyone looked at the horses and Riccardo was the first to understand what Bernardo was up to. "Bernardo, that's the idea. When we scare up the horses and all run wild, one of us can sneak out. They'll be too busy to notice immediately that one of us is missing."
"But who among us should try to escape? I'm not quite at home in these mountains."
"You don't need to be either, Tyler. I will go. I grew up here. I know the mountains."
"I accompany you."
"No. If I go alone, I'm faster. But I'm proud of my brother, that he's a warrior and not a whimpering mouse."
Bernardo slumped a bit but then again he became aware of his responsibility. That he had promised to take care of the others. "Then we will do the mess."
"Winona ...," Aiyana touched Sarah's arm. "... the man who's in charge, drinks a lot of coffee. Do you have something we can put in the coffee?"
Frowning, Sarah wondered what she had in her bag. "I could pour some of the drops into his coffee but I don't know how they work when you drink them."
"Try it. If nothing happens, then nothing happens but if we're lucky, he'll get problems with his belly."
They looked at each other and then it was a done deal. For a moment, they talked about what they wanted to do but they quickly came up with a plan.
"MY PA, ... .. MY PA ...!"
With wild flailing arms Sarah ran to the men by the fire. They looked at her wide-eyed. "My Pa dies, ... he is bleeding to death ...!"
She kept running up and down in front of the men, her arms flailing. Speechless, they watched Sarah as she ran back and forth in front of the small ledge. Their attention was focused only on Ben's daughter. So they didn't notice how Aiyana climbed the rocks and the others ran crouched to the horses. Then it went very fast. The children started screaming and gave some horses such a pat that they ran off. Rusty and Chayton ran around among the horses and their barking panicked the horses even more. As the herd began to move and could no longer be controlled, the children went back with the dogs.
The horse thieves tried to calm the animals and prevent them from running out of the valley. Meanwhile, Sarah went to pour some of the drops into the coffee. She crouched down when she was pulled up by her arm. "What are you doing here?"
She looked into Roy's angry eyes. "I ... I wanted to bring my father something to drink."
"I think your father's dying."
He pulled Sarah away from the ledge and looked at Ben, who was no longer lying there, as he had been a few minutes ago. They had told Ben to hide behind one of the rocks so he wouldn't be trampled on by the bolting horses. Roy pulled his weapon and pointed it at Sarah. "Where's your father?"
His eyes frantically seezed the valley. "And where are your friends?"
Then shots were fired and Roy looked around again. But he couldn't see what was going on, with the horses still running back and forth in the valley. But what he knew was that it would be better to leave now. He grabbed Sarah by the arm and pulled her along. With the gun in one hand and Sarah in the other, he reached his horse, which, however, pranced very restlessly and when he stood close to him, reared up. Roy was unable to soothe his horse so that he could get into the saddle. "Damned. Come along."
He kept pulling Sarah with him and wanted to escape on foot from the valley. He pushed Sarah in the back, so that she would climb the rocks ahead. As he followed her, he kept looking around but still he couldn't see exactly what was going on in the valley. Sarah had reached the top. With a last look into the valley Roy pulled over the edge. Instantly he was on his feet but he could no longer see Sarah. The rain had become stronger again, making it hard to see what was farther away. Then he whirled around when he heard a certain click.
"Drop your weapon."
Roy blinked and looked slightly confused at the man in front of him. "Why should I do that? I've got nothing to lose. How about you?"
Adam took a step towards him and Roy took a step back. "I'm not afraid to die. But do you know how it feels when the bullet hits your chest and you struggle for air?"
Roy had to go back another step because Adam came closer to him again. "You don't die immediately. The blood collects in your mouth. You try to breathe but it doesn't work ... "
Another step back. "... you will slowly go to your knees, because you have no strength left to stand."
Roy had to swallow and then his right foot stepped into the void. His head jerked to the right but then he already fell down. Adam ran to the edge and watched Roy as he fell down the cliff. It wasn't very deep but for Adam it wasn't possible to go down there without putting himself in danger. So he put the gun back in his holster and ran back into the valley to the others.
Before Sarah showed up at the edge of the rocks, Tico and he were just about to descend from the side down into the valley. They had, however, seen that Roy had caught Sarah when Tom ran from the other side down into the valley, apparently opening fire. So they had waited until Sarah had reached the edge. Tico had then taken Sarah to bring her to safety and Adam had been waiting for Roy.
Carefully, Adam went down to the valley. Due to the rain, the ground was so slippery that he had to be careful not to fall. Koko's horses had run out of the valley and Adam only hoped they would run back to the farm. If not, it would take them days to recapture them. He was extremely happy when he realized that the children were all well. Before he went to his father, who now sat on a rock, he went to the small tribe and hugged everyone. He didn't talk much with them. He would do that during the next few days. At the moment it didn't really matter to him how they had come here to the mountains and not - as promised - stayed on the land. It was only important to him that none of them had been harmed. Only now he went to his father to find out how he was. Even if he was sorry that he was shot, it had been good for them. So they had been able to quickly track down the trail to the horse thieves. And since Adam knew that there weren't many places in the mountains to hide such a large herd, he immediately remembered this valley when he heard the shot. "How are you, Pa?"
"Fine. Thanks to our little shaman."
Smiling, he looked at Sarah.
Sarah looked questioningly at Aiyana. "How could you get help so fast? We just startled the horses."
"I had just reached the top when Sally's father kept me quiet. They had already been watching us and had wanted to go down to the valley when they saw me. And then it went pretty fast. Tom and the others took advantage of the chaos we created by the horses. So they could sneak up on the men. But they started shooting when they saw Tom."
Sarah looked at the covered bodies. "Are all dead?"
Riccardo had now turned to her. "Yes they are. What about Roy? Did Uncle Adam catch him? "
"I don't know. I guess so. He came back without him."
"Tyler, are you coming? We want to go home."
The children looked at Marc, who was standing next to Tom and whose expression showed that his opinion of his son's friends hadn't changed. It couldn't be noticed that, like the others, he was glad that the children were well.
Tyler turned back to the small tribe. They looked at each other and realized that the two days had changed a lot. That the tribe had changed. Aiyana was the first to speak and they moved closer together. "Again the tribe has won a victory. I am proud of my warriors. Even if it's not easy for us at the moment, we stuck together when it was important."
"I'll miss you all when I should go to England."
"You will always belong to us."
"I too will leave the tribe."
All eyes were set on Bernardo. "Why, Bernardo? Now that you have shown that you are a great warrior."
"Riccardo, I want to do other things when I'm off."
"Oh, what? Carry Joan's books home?"
Red-faced and wide-eyed Bernardo looked at Tyler, who was grinning cheekily.
"You like Joan?" Astonished, Aiyana turned her head to her brother. "You want to carry her books home?"
"Aiyana, you'll understand that, if you finally allow Randy to carry your books for you."
Even more astonished, Adam's daughter now looked to Sally. "Randy wants to do WHAT?"
When the rest of the tribe began to grin, she glared at all of them. "I can carry my books myself. No boy has to do that for me."
When the others smiled, she also couldn't help but smile. Riccardo leaned slightly towards Sarah. He whispered softly to her. "Should I carry your books?"
"Forget it. I will never date a boy. Because I won't marry. I want to go to the university."
"Whatever the Great Spirit plans for us and even though some of us will go another way, we will always be a tribe. That's why we should promise one thing ... If one of us needs help, we'll be there. We will stick together and fight together."
They closed the circle even tighter. Now it was Bernardo who addressed the next words to the tribe. "I don't want to die in battle but if so, then I will die like a warrior."
And with a serious face they all spoke their motto at the same time but this time in the language of Aiyana. "Wípȟemnayaŋ t'á."
"I'll never forget our tribe, even if my father sends me to Australia. And I am …"
Tyler couldn't continue to speak because Marc had grabbed him by the collar and pulled him out of the circle. "We're going home now and then I'll tell you what's really important in life and that certainly doesn't include those playthings with your weird friends. What comes out of this, we have now seen more than once."
Marc pushed his son rudely to the horses. Before they rode away, Tyler looked back to the tribe again.
Even though Koko had shown everyone how strong she was in the past few weeks, Adam knew that she was almost shattered with worry. Because the last time he held her in his arms for as long as today was a very long time ago.
The children were in the village at Aponi and Koko was trying to keep the farm going with the help of her father, Riccardo, Bernardo and Little Joe. For after Hoss hadn't returned even after two days, all suspected that something must have happened. Even though Hoss had followed a track that might still have been interesting in his eyes, he always first returned home to let Koko know he was going on a longer hunt. For all those years she came first for Hoss and he would have left the best horse if there was any danger that his wife might worry for him.
They had searched everywhere. In the mountains, the towns and the woods. Amarok and his warriors had followed the wild horses far into the mountains, which Hoss had intended to see but they hadn't found a track. Chub had appeared alone on the farm after almost a week. But even at the horse no indication could be found where Hoss could be.
Adam closed his eyes and unwittingly he held Koko even closer. He had found a track and not told anyone. He remembered how he had knelt at the edge of the river, clutching his brother's hat to his chest tightly. Hoss must have fallen into the water, otherwise there was no explanation of why the hat had been lying there. And with some blood on the brim, Adam assumed that his brother had fallen and hit his head. That he had been attacked by an animal, he could rule out. Even then he would have found some evidence. Hoss was just too big and too heavy to be pulled deeper into the mountains. And that he had encountered the horse thieves, Adam ruled out as well. They wouldn't have taken the time to remove the body. Of course he would have liked to question one of them but they were all shot during the fight in the valley and the man who had fallen down the rocks in front of Adam's eyes wasn't found. The weather became so bad again that Tom couldn't follow his track. But the Sheriff didn't worry about that. By the small tribe, he knew who the man was and there wasn't just one wanted poster about him. One day they would catch him.
Tomorrow he would leave with Little Joe to look for Hoss. Not only for Koko it was important to find his body, his father was only a shadow of himself. The bullet had penetrated very deep but the fact that Sarah had been able to help him quickly, it hadn't been inflamed much. But the wounds that Hoss's disappearance had struck on his father couldn't be treated with tea and leaves.
Adam doubted that Hoss had survived the fall into the water. Not only was it already very cold but also the current had been very strong in those days due to the heavy rainfalls. It was already hard to stay in the water unhurt. With a head injury it was actually impossible. So Adam had discussed with Bridget that he would search until he found Hoss. And if he had to follow the river far to Canada he would.
He gently pushed Koko away a bit. Then he took her face in his hands and looked deep into her eyes. "I'll bring Hoss back to you. I promise you that. I won't come back afore and you know, I always keep my promises."
Koko didn't lower her eyes. Strong and self-confident, she looked at him, though she could no longer hold back her tears. Tenderly, Adam ran his thumbs under her eyes. In vain she tried to make her voice sound as strong as her gaze. "Wynono, how many times have I told you that you shouldn't always promise something if you don't know what the future will bring."
"And how many times have I told you, I live the moment and I'll go my way and find a solution. If I promise something, I'll do everything I can to keep it. I'll bring Hoss back to you. That he'll be here with you. He should see his children become great proud warriors and they should always know where to find him when they need him."
Even though he hadn't told Koko about the hat, he couldn't lie to her and tell her that he would bring his brother back alive.
Now Koko lowered her eyes and looked at her belly. Slightly she ran her hand over it. She hadn't told Hoss yet that she was expecting another baby and with many tears she had only told Adam last week.
A very small smile crossed Koko's face. "I hope it will be a girl. He had always wanted a baby girl and I hope she can be seen who her father was."
Now Adam had to smile a bit. "You want to have a girl that looks like Hoss? Well, then Travis and Nick don't have to worry. Then they won't protect their sister but their sister will protect them."
Koko slapped her friend on the chest but immediately she put her hand over her eyes, not to show that she had started crying again at the thought. Adam took her in his arms again. How long they were still standing in the living room, he couldn't tell. However, he didn't return home until very late in the evening.
Taking a deep breath, Tico reappeared and ran his hands over his face. They finally made it. They had driven the last animals to the plateau. It was high time. Everything had gotten pretty mixed up by the disappearance of Hoss. Adam and Joe had rarely been to the ranch to help them with their work and Mr. Cartwright was still recovering from his injury. Also, the persistent bad weather didn't make the job much easier. That's why he was just glad that they were finally done with the worst work. As it looked at the moment, Winter would start very early this year.
As every time at the end of a year, Tico had prepared a bath to just endulge in his own thoughts for the next hour in front of the fireplace. Beside him was a chair with a bottle of whiskey and a cigar on it. Although his thoughts were, of course, about the whereabouts of Hoss, he didn't want to break with this ritual. Adam had been traveling with Joe for a week to look for their brother. He hoped they would find him before the first snowfall. Otherwise it would be damn hard to find a body before Spring. None of the cowboys believed that Hoss was alive. He was a man who, however badly hurt, would ensure that his family knew where he was, even he could barely speak.
Sighing, Tico poured some whisky and put the cigar in his mouth. Then he grabbed his pants to get the matches. He could feel the pack when he felt something else as well. Surprised, he pulled out a small envelope from his pocket wondering why she hadn't given it to him personally, as they had seen each other today. Although only briefly but otherwise she gave him the letters personally and always with a mysterious smile. If he was thinking about it, she was a bit strange today anyway. Quieter than usual. With horror, he looked at the envelope. She wouldn't have told him that they couldn't see each other any longer? Immediately he opened the envelope and skimmed the lines. Then he leaned back and grinned but at the same time he punched the water with his fist. Again he looked at the letter.
He put the letter on the chair, lit the cigar and took a deep puff. This was a very inappropriate time. Adam would shoot him if he knew the truth. But as his Boss always said. Nothing happens just like that. Everything happens for a reason, at a certain time. And for Tico, there was no question that he would stand by what had happened. Because even if he had to mess with Adam, he would think of another saying from him. Sometimes the hatchet must be dug up to win. And who knew. They hadn't heard from him for so long because he had disappeared all of a sudden. If he had died, then the biggest problem would have been done with it. Tomorrow he would ride to her and tell her that she didn't have to worry. Satisfied with himself and the world, he took another sip from the glass.