An Eye For An Eye

(The characters from the Ponderosa are not mine, but this story is. Please do not reproduce it in parts or in whole with out my permission. I do copyright all my work.

Please read and review. Thanks.)



The sun rose slowly over the Ponderosa ranch. Adam Cartwright sat up and rubbed his eyes as the new day broke. It was still somewhat dark inside the home as he rose and dressed quietly trying not to wake his sleeping family.

Adam crept out of his room and approached the door reaching for his hat. As he went to exit, Adam heard a rustling behind him. He spun around.

"Where you goin'?" a small voice asked from the dark background. Adam knew however who spoke.

"Go back to bed, Little Joe." he said. "I'll be back before Pa gets up."

"Can I go with you?" Joe asked stepping out of the shadows.

"Go back to sleep, I'll be back in a little while."

"Oh, please, Adam." Joe begged, his voice growing louder.

"Shhh. I'll tell you what." Adam said to him. "Go back to bed and I'll take you riding when I get back."

"You promise?" Adam nodded. Little Joe smiled and ran back off to bed. Adam walked outside.

He approached the stable and walked over to his horse, Beauty. He slowly and gently mounted up. She jumped a little, but Adam gained control of the animal. He was getting ready to leave the stable but standing in the doorway, blocking his path was Ben Cartwright.

"Pa." Adam said in shock. "You're up awful early."

"I was just about to say the same thing to you." Ben said as Adam dismounted Beauty. "Where are you going, Adam?"

"I had a weird feeling, Pa." Adam said. "I figured I'd take a ride out and make sure everything's OK." Ben gave him a strange look. "Honest, Pa. Something doesn't seem right."

"You didn't need to slip out so quietly, son."

"I'm sorry, Pa," Adam said. "I didn't want to scare Little Joe."

Ben put his arm around his son's shoulder. "Come back inside, Adam." he said. "I'll ride out later when it's lighter out."

"Yes, sir." The two of them exited the stable and walked back to the house.

They walked inside. Adam removed his hat and Ben closed the door behind them.

"Go back to sleep, Adam." Ben said. "We'll talk about this later."

Adam walked towards his room as his brother, Hoss entered. "What's wrong, Pa?" he asked.

"It's nothing, son." Ben said.

"Why you up so early, Pa?" Hoss rubbed his eyes. "Adam?"

"We'll talk about this in the morning, boys." Ben said. "Go back to sleep."

"OK, Pa." Hoss said. He and Adam walked back to their rooms. "What's going on?" he asked Adam.

"It's nothing, brother." Adam said.

"It's not like you and Pa to be up at the crack of dawn."

"I had a bad feeling." Adam said. "I wanted to take Beauty for a ride around the ranch to check on things. Pa stopped me before I left the stable."

"You gonna ride out later?"

"Pa wants to ride out when it's lighter."

"You think it's something serious?"

"I'm sure it's not, Hoss. I would just feel better riding out there."

..............................

"Can we go now, Adam?" Little Joe asked running up to his brother.

"Not right now, Little Joe." Adam said. "Let's wait for Pa to get back."

"Where'd he go?"

"He went to ride around the ranch."

"Looking for strays?"

"You could say that, Little Joe."

"Pa, back yet?" Hoss asked walking into the room where Adam and Little Joe stood.

"Not yet." Little Joe said.

"How long ago did he leave?" Hoss asked taking Adam aside.

"I don't know." Adam said. "He was gone when I got up this morning."

"You think he's alright?"

"Yeah, of course he is. Pa knows what he's doing."

It was then that the boys heard the swift approaching gallop of a horse. Little Joe ran over to the window and looked out. "It isn't Pa." he said to his brothers. "It looks like Mr. Orowitz."

Adam went over to the door followed by his brothers. Eli Orowitz dismounted his horse and approached the three boys.

"Adam, Hoss, Joseph." he said tipping his hat to each. "Is your Pa home?"

"No, sir." said Hoss. "He's riding around the ranch somewhere."

"Well, then I can use your help, Adam."

"What seems to be the problem?" Adam asked.

"Man down at Eagle Station is going crazy. He's liable to hurt someone. Do you think you can handle it, Adam?"

Adam turned back to Hoss and Joe. "Hoss," he said. "Take Little Joe and ride out to find Pa. I'll go to town."

"Adam, why don't you take Little Joe and look for Pa?" Hoss asked.

"If there's trouble in town..."

"I can handle it, brother." Hoss interrupted him. "I'm bigger'n you."

"OK." Adam said. "Don't do anything crazy, Hoss. Wait for me'n Pa to get there."

"What about me, Adam?" Little Joe asked. "What can I do to help?"

"You just help me find Pa." Adam said. He'll tell you what to do then."

"Can't I go with Hoss into town?"

"No, Joe. You'll get hurt. And if anything happened to you, Pa would have my hide."

"Adam?" Hoss said motioning towards the door and Eli.

"Go Hoss." Adam said. "We'll be down as soon as we can."

Hoss ran off to join Eli and ride into town as Adam ran to get his horse out of the stable. Little Joe followed behind.

"Oh, Adam. Why can't I go with Hoss? I'd stay out of the way. I promise."

"It's safer for you to come with me. You'll understand when you're older."

"You never let me do nothing."

"Anything." Adam corrected him. "I never let you do anything."

"Well, you don't."

"We can talk about this later, Little Joe. We've got to find Pa."

..............................

Adam and Joe rode around the Ponderosa for what seemed like forever. Adam rode up ahead as a tired Joe lagged behind.

"How long've we been looking, Adam?"

"I don't know, Little Joe, but we have to find Pa."

"Do you think Hoss is OK?"

"I hope so, little brother."

The boys rode silently for a while, Joe still lagging behind. "Adam?" Little Joe broke the silence.

"Yes." Adam said still riding up ahead.

"What if Pa goes home and doesn't see us there? Won't he be worried?"

Adam pulled on his horse's reigns. "I didn't think about that." he said. "Do you know how to get back to the house from here?" Little Joe nodded. "Alright. Ride home. Get there as fast as you can. Don't stop. Do you understand me?"

"Yeah." Little Joe said.

"Go, Little Joe!" Joe turned his horse and began to race away from his brother. "Be careful!" Adam yelled after him. Before long, Joe was completely gone from his sight. Adam continued to ride around the ranch looking for Ben.

..............................

Eli and Hoss swiftly approached Eagle Station. They rode up to the saloon and dismounted their horses rushing inside.

"Where is he?" Hoss asked looking around the saloon.

"If you're lookin' fer that crazyman, he's gone." said a man sitting at the counter with a drink. "Boy, you got some crazy people in this here Eagle Station."

"You're not from around ere?" Hoss asked.

"Naw," the man said. "Just passin through headin fer California."

"Did this man say anything before he left?" Eli asked.

"He left a lot quieter than when he came. Passed me on the way out, said something about gettin even. That that Cartwright'll be sorry he ever messed with him."

Hoss looked over at Eli and then back at the man. "Which Cartwright, which one?" he yelled.

"Oh, I don't know. I guess the old man. Said something about taking care of his boy. Aaron, Alan..."

"Adam." Hoss rushed out of the saloon and got back on his horse. He raced out of town and back towards the Ponderosa.

The speed of his horse caused the wind to almost blow the hat off of his head. Before long Hoss could see the ranch ahead of him. He approached the house and jumped off his horse. Hoss ran inside.

"Pa?" Little Joe ran into the room to see not his father, but his brother.

"Pa's not home yet?" Hoss asked.

"Not yet. Adam's still looking for him."

"Leave Pa a note, Little Joe. We've gotta find Adam."

"He's looking for Pa."

"That crazyman's after him. Now we've gotta find Adam before he does."

Little Joe ran into the other room to get a piece of paper as Hoss heard the slow approach of a horse.

"Stay in there Little Joe, someone's comin'." Hoss said running for a rifle. He hid in the other room with the gun as he hears the horse being dismounted.

"Hoss..."

"Quiet, Little Joe." Hoss whispered. the door swung open as Joe grabbed hold of Hoss' clothes. He pushed Joe's hand away and clutched the rifle tighter.

The footsteps grew louder and the boys became more frightened. It was then that Hoss came from the room pointing the gun at the person who had entered the house.

"Son, put that gun down!" Ben Cartwright said pushing at the rifle Hoss had pointed at him.

"I'm right sorry, Pa." Hoss said putting the gun down. "We thought you were that crazyman after Adam. Where is Adam anyway, Pa?"

"He isn't here with you boys?"

"He went out lookin'' for you, Pa." Little Joe said. "'Cuz of that crazyman in town."

"He said he was gonna get even with you, Pa." Hoss said. "He said he'd get you by gettin' Adam."

"Who said this?" Ben asked.

"I don't know, Pa." Hoss said. "A man in town overheard him."

Ben grabbed the rifle that Hoss had just put down. "I'll start looking for Adam." he said. "Hoss, you ride into town and gather up a group of people willing to help us look."

"What about me, Pa?" Little Joe asked.

"Joseph, you stay here. Go back to your room and lock the door. If Adam comes home, wait for him to call out for you before leaving your room. We'll do the same thing. Don't say a word. Do you understand?"

"Yes sir, not a word."

"We'll search until sundown. If we don't find him, we'll meet back at the house." Ben said. "Go Hoss, Little Joe." Joe ran into his room locking the door behind him. Hoss and Ben left the house and raced for their horses. "Get as many people as you can, son."

"I will, Pa." Hoss answered and the raced off once again towards town.

Ben took off in the opposite direction. "Adam!" he called. His voice echoed through the silence surrounding him. "Adam, answer me!" he yelled even louder, however, he received no answer and continued riding the Ponderosa.

..............................

"Pa!" Adam called. No answer. Adam was further from his father than he knew. "Pa!" he called once again. Adam dismounted his horse, removed his hat and wiped his brow. He placed his hat back on his head and leaned up against a tree. "Hoss has probably got everything cleared up by now." he thought to himself. "Either that, or Pa's home with Little Joe wondering where I am." Adam straightened up and was preparing to mount Beauty when he heard a horse approaching.

Adam turned to see a stranger coming towards him. Adam moved away from Beauty as the man dismounted his horse.

"Are you lost?" Adam asked him.

"No." the man said.

Adam adjusted his hat. "You know this is private property, sir?"

"The Cartwright land."

"Yes sir."

"You Adam Cartwright?"

"Yes." Adam said backing slowly towards Beauty.

The man moved his hand to his side pulling a pistol on the young Cartwright. Before he knew it, Adam was hit in the shoulder.

Adam fell to the ground clutching his arm. The man walked over to him. "Get up." he said. Adam only looked at him with pain in his eyes. The man kicked him violently in his side. Adam cringed in pain. "I told you to get up, Cartwright!" he yelled again. Adam struggled to stand, still clutching his arm to keep it from bleeding.

"What do you want from me?" Adam moaned.

The man slapped his face. "I'll ask the questions, Cartwright." he said. "Get on the horse, we're goin' fer a ride." Adam began to walk towards the horse. "We ain't got all day, Cartwright, move!"

"My Pa'll come looking for me and if..."

The man hit Adam again. "Shut up, boy." he said. "It's 'cuz of yer Pa yer in this far already." He got Adam onto the horse and they began to ride. Beauty was frightened by the other horse taking off so quickly and she bolted from the scene, back towards the Ponderosa.

..............................

"Little Joe!" Ben yelled as he entered the house. Hoss entered behind him. "You can come out now, son."

Little Joe ran out of his room and up to his father. "Where's Adam, Pa? Did you find him?"

"No, son." Ben said. "There are still some folks out looking for him."

"Why aren't you out there with them, Pa?" Little Joe asked. "Why aren't you looking for Adam?"

"We're taking turns looking through the night, Little Joe." Ben said, but he could see the panic and despair in his son's eyes. "It's late." he said. "Why don't you get some sleep, Joseph? If I hear anything I'll tell you, OK?"

"Yes, sir." Little Joe said scurrying off to his room.

"I'm sure he alright, Pa." Hoss said. "Adam's probably too far out to travel back here at night."

"You could be right, Hoss." Ben rubbed his eyes. "Why don't you get some rest, son. We'll start looking again in the morning."

"I don't reckon I'll be able to sleep, Pa."

"Try Eric."

Hoss nodded. "Night, Pa." he said and then walked to his room. Ben took a chair and brought it over to the window. He sat down looking out, letting his mind focus on his son. He remembered times early in Adam's life, times when he had done memorable things.

Ben thought back to when Adam was six. Ben's second wife had given birth to young Hoss a year earlier and Adam had immediately taken to him. When she died, Ben was devastated, but Adam took control helping his father to raise his baby brother.

Ben remembered when Hoss grew very ill. Adam, who was young himself, stayed with Hoss until the early hours of the morning. It had come to the point that one day, Ben woke up to see both of his boys huddled together in Adam's room. It was that very sight that Ben recalled as he sat by the window looking out.

He took a deep breath and rubbed his eyes. It was dark out, but Ben could see in the distance, a fast approaching horse. thinking it was his son, Ben jumped up from his chair and ran outside.

The horse raced towards Ben. "Whoa." he said trying to calm the animal. He looked at the unmanned horse and recognized it as Beauty.

Ben led the horse into the stable and lit a lantern. "I wish you could take me to him, girl." he said stroking her coat. It was then that he ran his hand through something wet. He pulled his hand away and looked at it. It was red. Ben looked closer at the horse but saw no wounds. "Blood." he said in shock. Ben walked out of the stable trying to fight back his tears, but couldn't.

Ben fell to the ground in tears. "Oh, God!" he cried. "My son. Oh, God, don't let him be dead."

..............................

"Are you going to kill me?" Adam, who was now bound at his wrists and ankles asked the man.

"What do you think, Cartwright?" he asked. Adam was silent. "I asked you a question, boy."

"I don't think you will."

"I thought you was smarter'n that, boy." he said. "When Sam Ford wants justice, he gets it." Sam paused and looked Adam in the eyes. "Yer Pa shot my boy, Billy. Didn't even know 'bout it 'til I heard from the 'thorities." Adam looked at him. "They said my boy was attackin' someone. Not my Billy. He would never do anything like that."

"My Pa would never shoot anybody without a reason."

Sam slapped Adam across the face. "He killed my boy!" he said. "And now I'm gonna kill you. But the sheriff ain't gonna tell yer Pa. I gonna wait and kill ya in front of'm. An eye fer an eye. Now that's what I call justice, Cartwright."

"Justice?" Adam said. "Killing me isn't going to bring your son back, Mr. Ford."

Sam hit him again. "That ain't the point. Yer Pa's gonna pay fer what he did."

"That's not justice," Adam said, "that's revenge. And it won't solve anything." Adam looked him in the eye. Sam pulled his side arm out of his holster and pointed it at Adam's head. "You gonna shoot me again?" he asked with a straight face. "You gonna kill me, Mr. Ford?"

"What's it feel like knowin' yer gonna die, Cartwright?" Sam said, the gun still at Adam's head. "Havin' a gun at yer head and not knowin' when I'm gonna pull the trigger?" Adam kept a straight face. "My boy didn't know it was his time to go. Think of that as yer advantage." Sam took his gun away from Adam's head and put it back in his holster. "We're movin back to the Ponderosa in the mornin'. Give yer Pa one last chance to see his boy alive."

Sam walked away leaving Adam alone except for a small fire burning in front of him. Adam watched it flicker in the darkness. It burned, but faintly. It was the only movement left that he could see. As the wind picked up, the flames blew. His only light was threatened. The wind blew once again, this time extinguishing the flame, leaving him in total darkness.

..............................

Little Joe crept through the house into the room where his father sat looking out the window. The sun had begun to rise and Ben still sat motionless, his hands folded across his chest.

"Pa?" Joe said approaching his father. "What're you looking at?"

"Nothing, Joe." Ben said. "I'm just thinking."

"About Adam?" Ben nodded. "He's still not home?"

"Not yet, Little Joe." Ben rubbed his eyes . He didn't want to cry in front of his son.

"That crazyman's got him, doesn't he Pa?" Little Joe had tears streaming down his face. "He's not coming home is he? Adam's not coming home, is he Pa?"

Ben put his arm around his son's waist drawing him closer. "It's gonna be OK, Little Joe." he said. "We're gonna find him."

"But what if he kills Adam, Pa?" Joe asked sobbing.

"He's not going to kill your brother, Joe." Ben said trying to calm his son. "Adam's strong willed, he'll hang in there."

"But what if this man is stronger. Pa? We'll never see Adam again." Joe sobbed.

"We'll find him. I promise you we'll find him, Little Joe."

"Pa!" Hoss exclaimed running into the room. "Mr. Orowitz is out by the stable. Says he needs to talk to you." Both Little Joe and Ben jumped to run outside. Hoss grabbed Joe as he went to run by. "Alone." Hoss said. Ben continued out to the stable.

"Eli." Ben said. "Any news?"

"We're still looking, but I thought I should tell you."

"What is it?" Ben asked. Eli looked at him trying to think of an easy way to tell him what he had come to say. "What?"

"Ben, we found some disturbed brush out on the ranch." Ben looked at him. "We found blood by a tree."

"I found blood on Adam's horse last night." Eli had a questioning look on his face. "Beauty came back to the house last night. She had no wounds."

"I don't want to jump to any conclusions, Ben."

"It would make me feel better if you didn't. I think I know where this is heading."

"We'll keep looking."

"Thank you, Eli." They shook hands and then Eli mounted his horse and rode from the house.

Ben walked out to the front of the house. He stood with his hands on his hips looking out at the horizon.

"Pa!" Little Joe ran out to his father as Hoss slowly followed him. "Did they find him?"

"No, Joe." Ben said. "No, they didn't find him.

"I told you!" Joe cried. He turned to run back inside, but collided with his brother. Hoss held him close trying to console him.

"They're still looking, son." Ben said. "He's going to be OK."

"Pa." Hoss said taking one of his hands away from Little Joe and pointing at a horse in the distance. they could see two figures upon it and as the horse slowly approached, they could see the faces of these figures.

"Adam!" Little Joe screamed and tried to run. Ben pushed him back. "Pa, it's him."

"Hoss, take your brother in the house and stay there." Ben said without looking at them, but staying focused on the approaching animal. "Don't come out, no matter what happens." They all stood staring at the horse. "Hoss, mind your brother. Go, now."

"Come on, Little Joe." Hoss said. Joe didn't move. Hoss took Joe and threw him over his shoulder.

"Adam!" Little Joe yelled kicking at Hoss. "Let me go! Adam!" Hoss carried Little Joe effortlessly back to the house.

Ben could see the two figures on the horse. He recognized one as his son, but not the second man. He felt uneasy as they approached.

As they got closer, Ben could see that his son was wounded. He began towards them and the horse came to a stop.

Sam Ford stepped down off the animal, dragging Adam down after him, his gun at the side of Adam's head.

"Don't you move no closer, Ben Cartwright or I'll shoot yer son right now." Sam said. Ben froze. They were practically face to face.

"Are you alright?" Ben asked Adam.

"For now." Adam answered. His voice didn't quiver, he kept a straight face, but Ben could sense his son's fear. He felt it also.

"You don't know who I am, do you Cartwright?" Sam asked, his pistol still drawn. "I'm Sam Ford. You killed my boy, Billy. You shot him and killed him, Ben Cartwright. I've been lookin' fer you fer twelve years. Every town startin' in New York."

Ben thought for a moment and remembered the incident. "I was protecting my family, my wife and unborn son. I didn't shoot your boy in cold blood."

"He was seventeen." Sam yelled. "He didn't attack your family."

"He did, Sam." Ben tried to explain. "Billy tried to rob my wife. He had a knife to her throat, he would have killed her."

"No! You shot my boy!" Sam yelled. "Now yer gonna watch me shoot yers." Sam prepared to pull the trigger.

"No." Ben said. "Please. What you want is me, isn't it? Let my son go, take me instead."

"No, Pa." Adam said. "Just make sure he doesn't get away with this."

"Shut up, boy." Sam said.

"You want me, Sam." Ben pleaded. "Let him go."

"Pa." Adam said. He told his father 'no' through the look in his eyes.

"You know that jest ain't gonna happen now, Cartwright." Sam said. "Say goodbye to yer Pa, boy."

Adam's eyes met with Ben's. They stayed locked for a moment, but neither said a word. Ben saw Sam pull the hammer back on his pistol and then begin to pull the trigger. The entire thing seemed to go in slow motion. Everything up until the loud bang of a gun and the thump of a body as it hit the ground.

One clearly calculated shot was all it took. Ben ran up to Adam. They embraced and then looked down to their feet at the body of Sam Ford.

Ben looked Adam in the eyes. "Are you OK?" he asked.

"Yeah." Adam nodded. "Pa?" Adam paused and then continued. "Did you really shoot his son?"

Ben stepped back and took a deep breath. "I first met the Fords when we were living in New York. You were about nine, Adam. Little Joe was about to be born and I went into town with your mother one day to the general store. Billy Ford stopped us after we had bought the supplies we needed. He demanded money, but all we had we spent on the supplies. I tried to explain that but Billy didn't believe us. He pulled a knife on your mother. He was threatening to cut her throat. I reacted in defense of her and Joseph." Adam looked at his father. "He would have killed them both."

Adam fell into his father's arms once again. The two embraced thankful for the miracle that had saved Adam's life. It was then the Ben looked up over Adam's shoulder and in the distance, he saw a familiar face holding a smoking pistol. Ben would have bet anything that one of his friends would pull his family through this, and one, Eli Orowitz, had. He had fired the shot, that perfectly aimed shot that protected Ben's eldest son. Their eyes connected and with that, Ben thanked him for his quick thinking. That was all that Eli needed. He remounted his horse and rode off to town.

Ben and Adam walked back towards the house. Little Joe ran outside, Hoss chased after him.

"He saw you two coming, Pa." Hoss said. "I just couldn't keep him in there." Hoss looked at Joe. "He told you to stay inside. Pa'll whip your honery hide."

"It's alright, Hoss." Ben said. "Everything's alright now."

"Did he hurt ya bad, Adam?" Little Joe asked him. "You're bleeding. Are you hurt bad?"

"I'll be OK, little brother." Adam said rubbing Joe playfully on the head.

"We're going to need a doctor to take a look at your arm, son." Ben said.

"I'll go have Hop Sing get you something to eat." Hoss said and ran off to the house. The other three slowly followed him.

"Adam?" Little Joe asked. Adam looked over to him. "I guess this means that we ain't goin riding or nothing like that."

They stopped walking. "We aren't going riding or anything like that." he corrected his brother.

"Sorry." Joe said. "Well, I guess we ain't... aren't"

"I promised you, didn't I?" Adam asked. Little Joe nodded. "And a Cartwright keeps his promises, right?" Joe nodded more excitedly. "Go on, saddle up. I'll take you out once I get this shoulder bandaged up."

"Oh thanks, Adam." Little Joe grabbed hold of his brother for a moment and then ran off to the stables.

"Are you sure you want to go out riding now after all that's happened, son?" Ben asked.

"I promised him." Adam said. "You see Pa, we could ride out, check on things around the ranch, make sure everything's alright." Adam smiled.

Ben put his arm around his son's shoulder. "Come on, Adam." he said. They both had smiles on their faces as the walked slowly back to the house.