Love Will Tear Us Apart

A Bonanza Fanfiction

by

Maxie Kay

Crossing the yard, Joe Cartwright was halted in his tracks by a tearing sound, then several loud thumps, followed by a loud and painful scream of agony. Galvanised into action, he sped towards the barn, where he discovered his eldest brother, Adam, lying prostrate on the earthen floor and groaning piteously. Behind him lay the source of his misery: two of the rungs on the ladder leading to the hayloft had given way, plummeting Adam to the ground.

"Lie still! Don't try to move!" Joe counselled, falling to his knees beside his brother, anxiously examining him for injuries.

Despite his obvious pain, Adam managed a feeble joke. "I wasn't planning on going anywhere right now!" but his skin was an unpleasant pasty colour and he bit his bottom lip in attempt to prevent any further outward expressions of his distress.

Looking over his shoulder, Joe was relieved to see several of the hands peering in anxiously through the door. "Fred! Ride into town and get Doc Martin! Charlie – can you find some boards? We're gonna have to be real gentle." Despite their care, transferring Adam onto the improvised stretcher and then into the house was a painful and laborious business. Several groans escaped from the injured man before he finally passed out. Unwilling to inflict any more pain on his brother, Joe instructed the men to take Adam into straight into the downstairs bedroom, where he sat at his brother's side, awaiting the arrival of the doctor.

"Sure wish you were here right now, Pa," he thought, carefully running a cool cloth over Adam's high forehead. It felt strange to be the one providing care and succour, rather than to be receiving these ministrations. In fact, Joe felt a little uncomfortable to be tending to his brother so intimately, as Adam was normally a fiercely self-reliant and independent man. Somehow, it did not seem right to see him lying back and meekly submitting to his brother's care. But with Ben and Hoss Cartwright currently travelling towards Sacramento on business, Adam and Joe were in sole charge of the ranch.

Another involuntary moan forced its way past Adam's tightly compressed lips, and automatically Joe murmured words of comfort, instinctively using a low, calming voice. How many times had the situations been reversed? he mused, smiling wryly at the memory of the multitude of accidents that had laid him low. "At least my maims are just a bit more inventive and dramatic, big brother!" he thought, allowing himself a slight chuckle. Adam's brow wrinkled, but was it in pain or annoyance? Joe decided to return to the familiar soothing words of comfort, assuring his brother that he would be fine, that the doctor was on his way. It was unclear if Adam took much of this in, but it kept Joe from worrying too much.

Paul Martin knew the road to the Ponderosa well, sometimes a little too well, he thought. While he counted the Cartwrights among his closest friends, t more often than not his visits to the ranch were on professional business. It was a standing joke among the Cartwrights that Paul should really be given his bedroom, for this would save considerably on his travelling time. At least, on this occasion, his patient had not suffered any major or lasting damage.

"You're a very lucky man, Adam," Paul stated on completing his examination.

Adam looked exceptionally dubious at this statement. "Really?" he said sardonically, disbelief evident in every syllable.

Paul was not noticeably discomfited and just continued washing his hands. "It could have been a whole lot worse. There are no bones broken, which is quite remarkable. However, you've badly strained the muscles in your back and they'll take time to heal. And the only way you can do that is to lie quite flat, right here. Any unnecessary movement could seriously compromise your chances of recovery."

"He will be alright though, won't he?" Joe could not avoid anxiety colouring his words and Paul smiled reassuringly at the young man. After all, it was a relatively new experience for Joe to be the healthy, ambulatory person in a sickroom

"Given time, Adam will be as good as new. But it will take time! And he'll need looking after. Like I said, as little movement as possible until the muscles have recovered."

"No problem!" Joe assured the doctor, with his normal, boundless confidence. He was soon to discover just how misplaced this was. Used to rude health, Adam did not take easily to enforced bedrest and that evening he resisted every suggestion Joe offered to make his sojourn more comfortable, before eventually realising that his little brother did actually knew what he was talking about. Joe rigged up a book rest that allowed Adam to read with relative ease and brought down some books of poetry helped to pass the long, lonely hours that lay ahead.

That evening, as he sat by his brother's bed, watching him sleep uneasily, Joe realised that he would have to assume the full responsibility of running the ranch. He was aghast to realise the magnitude of the job that lay ahead, the range and diversity of tasks requiring his attention, and the number of important decisions he had to make on a daily basis. However, this was a challenge and there was Joe he enjoyed more than that! Unless, of course, you included playing poker, or charming young ladies or… No! he thought determinedly. That was the old Joe Cartwright. Now he had the entire Ponderosa and all its employees relying on his leadership and Joe was determined not to let them, or his family down.

From the beginning, it was a steep learning curve. To the accompaniment of Adam's soft snores and the occasional groan, Joe spent the nest few hours pouring over the ledgers and contracts, trying to place all the numerous interlocking pieces of life on the Ponderosa into a coherent context. It was immediately apparent to him that it was simply impossible for one man to oversee everything successfully. There was no way he could hope to manage all the diverse and varied strands on his own.

Joe concentrated on the timber operations first of all, for they posed no great problem. At this time of year, only a skeleton crew was required to carry out in routine maintenance and replanting. Likewise, the mines could continue under the guidance of their pit-boss, Stefan. So far, so good, Joe thought, turning to the thornier problems of the cattle and horse operations.

There was a big cattle-run coming up, and it was essential the stock was driven to Sacramento in time for the lucrative market, where Ben and Hoss were already involved in pre-negotiations for new breeding stock, as well as informing would-be buyers of the fine quality of Ponderosa beef. In addition to this, there were several strings of horses on the ranch that had to be saddle-broken and trained in order to fulfil an important army contract.

Leaning back in his chair and raking his hands through his hair, Joe knew it was impossible for him to be in two places at once. He would have to delegate one job – but which one? He looked at Adam, who was now sleeping soundly, thanks to a sleeping draught left by Paul Martin, and knew that in all honesty there was no question at all.

Charlie had been foreman at the Ponderosa for as long as Joe could remember. A weathered man, respected by the rest of the hands, he was more than capable of leading the cattle drive. In fact, he was delighted to be given the task and Joe thought the man seemed at least a couple of inches taller as he strode across the yard and gathered his men together. There was a faint cheer as Charlie announced that Hop Sing would be in charge of the chuck wagon, for this was a guarantee of continued good food, no matter where the men pitched camp for the night.

Hop Sing was not quite so sanguine. "How you manage?" he asked anxiously and Joe sought to reassure his friend that he had learned than enough more general cooking skills to keep himself and Adam well fed for a few weeks.

"Mister Adam be fed up with beef stew and dumplings in one week!" Hop Sing said, with mock acerbity. "You be good boy. No work too hard!"

Joe gave his friend an old-fashioned look and then burst out laughing. "We'll be just fine!" he said, mentally crossing his fingers and knowing that the greatest challenge lay just ahead. "I had some great teachers and I'm an apt pupil!" Hop Sing snorted contemptuously, but as the wagon drew out of the yard he turned back and waved at Joe until both he and the house were hidden from sight by the surrounding trees.

Joe knew that completing the army contract and delivering a string of horses, not only broken to saddle, but obedient to command and willing to learn more was no small task. At times, the enormity of the project seemed almost overwhelming. Although he had Fred, an experienced hand and a skilful rider with animals to help him, time was short and they had already lost valuable days, due to Adam's unfortunate accident. Knowing he had to make up the lost time somewhere, Joe had devised a plan out of sheer desperation, reasoning that at this stage he had little to lose. Just keeping all the various business enterprises running smoothly was a major undertaking for one man, but when the additional duties of tending to his bed-ridden brother were factored in, Joe seriously began to doubt if there were enough hours in the day.

He had figured out a couple of ways to keep Adam from fretting too badly about his enforced bed-rest. Joe knew from experience how slowly the days dragged when you were alone and in pain, so he was delighted when Angus Jeffries, a retired banker, volunteered to come to play chess with his brother. With a mind like a steel trap, Angus was a worthy opponent for Adam and the two men spent long hours, happily waging war across the chessboard, forming a firm friendship in the process. Adam spent the remaining hours redrafting the mine contracts and studying the schematic and geographical surveys of the mines, comparing them with assays and debating where new tunnels might be most profitably excavated. In the evenings, he was eager to discuss his new theories with Joe and scarcely seemed to notice when his brother merely nodded agreement and seemed to have trouble concentrating on the conversation.

In truth, Joe could never remember when he had ever been so tired. Each day continued in the same pattern: checking on Adam and seeing to his needs, then preparing breakfast. Next, he would go to the corral and work with the horses until lunchtime, when he returned to the house and made lunch for his brother. More work with the horses and a hasty supper, then Joe held evening meetings with the various foremen, before snatching a few precious hours with Adam. His final chore of the day was completing the bookwork, a necessary, but tedious task. Joe scarcely had time to think from one moment to the next and the prospect of riding into Virginia City for a few beers had never seemed less attractive. At the end of the day, Joe was only too grateful to drag himself upstairs and collapse into bed.

After ten days of hectic, constant work, Joe felt he was moving almost mechanically, just going through the motions. He worried that Adam would feel neglected and depressed, but was relieved when his brother announced he was convinced he had identified a new seam of ore, which he thought would reap rich rewards. Previously, Joe would have been incredibly excited at such news, plying his brother with questions, but now he was just grateful that this was providing Adam with a purpose that stopped him from becoming depressed and dispirited.

Yet, despite all the travails, Joe was quietly gratified to discover that his new scheme for breaking the horses to saddle was working – and working beautifully! It was the first time he had ever had the opportunity to devise and implement such a plan entirely on his own, without recourse to his father or brothers, and it was incredibly satisfying to see it through to fulfilment. He was convinced the well-schooled animals would command a premium price and he could hardly wait to see the looks of pride on the faces of his father and brothers when he could announce the concluded deal.