A Man’s First Duty (by Diana)

Summary:  Adam argues with his father and decides that he must leave the Ponderosa.  Will being away from his family allow him to find what he is looking for?
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  24,775


Chapter One

It was late afternoon on a fine spring day in the foothills of the mountains of western Nevada Territory. The first warmth could be felt in the sun as it beat down, melting the snows that had lain thick all winter. Now large areas of fresh green grass were pushing aside the pure white carpet, promising fine grazing to come.

Adam Cartwright pulled his horse, Sport, to a standstill on a bluff overlooking Lake Tahoe. He cocked a leg round the pommel of his saddle and stretched his arms above his head and tried to relax his shoulders. He took off his hat and ran his hand through his dark hair. He had been riding for most of the day, first going to organise the hands who were due to drive some of the cattle from the north pasture to the lush grass on higher ground, and then checking on the handful of men mending the fences around Bear Creek. After that he went up to check on a couple of the line cabins which were maintained in the mountains in case of emergency, to see that the winter had not done too much damage to them. Lastly, he had taken the trail south to the logging camp. There he had got into an argument with the gang foreman, Joe Cassidy, who had decided that he wasn’t going to take orders from an upstart twenty years his junior, no matter that he was the son of the boss. The argument had become heated to the extent that Cassidy had landed a blow on Adam’s jaw. Adam retaliated and the fight that followed had resulted in Adam getting bloodied and Cassidy getting fired.

Adam was not looking forward to telling his father what had happened. He knew that he should not have allowed the argument to get so out of hand. He usually had no trouble handling men like Cassidy. Adam had a sharp, analytical mind and could reason with most people, often managing to persuade them to his point of view, but of late he had found his temper too often getting the better of him.

He had been working long, hard hours since the first snowmelt. His father, Ben, had kept him busy, with one job after another, until Adam began to dread each day and what it might bring. He respected his father and the way he ran the ranch. One thousand square miles of lakes, meadow, pine forest and mountain containing cattle, logging camps and mines, all overseen by one man. Adam and his younger brothers, Hoss and Little Joe, assisted their father with the mammoth task of keeping it all under control. But it was to Adam, as the eldest, that Ben looked for the greatest help. His brothers were six and twelve years younger than him and, at twenty-nine, Adam had more experience on the ranch that he had helped his father build.

He sat for a while longer, his dark eyes looking out from his handsome face, drinking in the sight that he so loved. The deep blue sky reflected in the calm waters of the lake, which were rippled here and there by dancing breezes. Surrounding the lake were pine forests, darkest green and filling the light air with their scent. Over all stood the mountains, covered by snow now, but as the year progressed showing their grey, rocky forms as the snow melted and fed the streams and rivers, which turned what would otherwise have been desert into fertile grazing land.

He sighed, he could not put off going home any longer, he was expected to be there in time for supper. Though even when he got home there would be little time for rest, he had said that he would look over the pricing of a new timber contract. His father liked Adam to check his calculations and forecast figures. He had better not be late or his father would worry. He turned Sport’s head to the east and cantered away.

Yet again, Adam was the last to arrive home and he found that his brother’s horses were already stabled in the barn and settled down for the night. They must have been home for some time as both were cool and sleepy, having eaten their fill of hay and oats. Adam settled Sport and walked stiffly towards the house, still feeling the bruises from the fight with Cassidy.

As he entered he saw Ben, Hoss and Joe sitting in front of a huge log fire that was burning warmly in the fireplace. They all had drinks in their hands and were relaxing before supper. Suddenly Adam felt his temper flare again, and took several deep breaths to settle him. He had been out since first light, before either of his brothers were up, and it seemed that whatever they had been about during the day, it had not taken them as long as Adam’s tasks had done.

Ben was about to greet his son when he saw the cut on Adam’s cheek and the purpling bruise along his jaw. He rose and crossed the room.

“What happened to you?” asked Ben, his piercing dark eyes curious beneath the shock of silver hair.

“I had to fire Cassidy.” Said Adam, taking off his hat and gun belt and laying both on the sideboard behind the front door.

“Why, what did he do?” Ben was worried. Although Cassidy had only been with them two weeks, he had seemed to be a good man and capable foremen. It was not easy to find a man who could run a logging camp. It required a firm hand and quick mind, and Cassidy appeared to have both.

“He was cutting some of the young trees, and when I told him to stop he said that it was not my job to tell him what to do, that he only took orders from you and I should mind my place.” As he related what had happened Adam again felt his temper rise. He knew that if he was to hold any kind of authority over the men he could not let Cassidy get away with that.

“I see. And how did you get the bruises,” Ben asked, taking hold of Adam’s jaw and turning his head to left and right to get a better look at the damage.

“When I told him he was fired he would not accept it. Said I had no business firing him,” Adam jerked his head out of his father’s grip and took another deep breath before he could continue, “He told me to run home to Daddy and get a real man to fire him.”

Adam’s hands were on his hips and his shoulders were tense with the memory of what had happened. He was breathing hard and Ben could see that he was upset, as he had every right to be. None of the men should talk to his sons that way. But he felt that Adam had not handled the situation very well.

“So you had a fight, eh?”

“Yes, but he started it.” Said Adam defensively.

“You should know better than to fight with the hands.” Ben was concerned that it might lead to more trouble with other hands when they found out what had happened.

Adam had turned away from his father, and walked over to the small table by the stairs to pour himself a stiff drink. He took a mouthful and swallowed the fiery liquid before answering. He felt the liquor burn it’s way down to his stomach and a warmth spread from there through his aching body.

“He didn’t give me much choice. I couldn’t let him get away with that, could I?”

“No, but couldn’t you have calmed the situation before it went that far? Cassidy seemed a reasonable man, are you sure that was the only way to handle it?”

Adam turned his dark eyes on his brothers, then to his father, a fire seeming to burn deep within. There was a long pause and absolute silence in the room. Hoss and Little Joe, sitting on the sofa, were like statues, hardly daring to breathe. They could sense the atmosphere in the room and knew that it meant trouble. It was not often that their elder brother and their father locked horns, but it was never pleasant when they did. Both were as stubborn as each other, and both just as strong willed.

“Perhaps you would have preferred me just to walk away, leave Cassidy to cut down those young trees, let him have his own way. If I had done that I would never have had any authority on this ranch ever again.” Adam had been struggling for control in the face of his father’s questioning. Suddenly he could maintain control no longer, he felt the floodgates open and could not stop himself. “Then who would you have to run around for you, ride all over the ranch from sun up to sun set, oversee the men, check the cattle, do the books, and any of the hundred and one other jobs I do. Perhaps Hoss or Joe would like to do half of what I do round here.” Adam ended, his voice raised in righteous anger.

“Don’t take that tone of voice with me, young man. I have every right to question your actions, especially if I feel that they may have an adverse effect on the running of this ranch.” Ben’s voice was raised to match his son’s.

“If you think that what I do is harming this ranch then perhaps you would rather I didn’t do anything. Well that’s fine by me.” Adam glared at his father, then at his brothers. He stared down at the glass he was holding then slammed it down on the table, turned on his heels and went up the stairs, his back ramrod straight, and every muscle tense.

“Adam! Come back here. Don’t you dare turn your back on me.”

Adam paused minutely half way up the stairs, then carried on up to his room. Ben stood staring after his son, and then looked at Hoss and Joe. He spread his hands and shrugged his shoulders.

“What on earth brought that on?” he asked no one in particular. Hoss and Joe exchanged knowing glances, and then Hoss stood and came to his father. He was by far the biggest of Ben’s three sons, topping his father by a good three inches, and powerfully built. Despite his size, he was also the gentlest of them all, and now he put his arm round Ben’s shoulder guiding him back to his chair beside the fire.

“I expect he’s just tired. He’s been out all day, and a rough day it was by the look of him. He’ll calm down when he’s had a rest, you’ll see.”

“Yeah Pa,” said Joe, “Give him a little time and he’ll be back asking you to forget what he said.”

“I hope you’re right. I don’t like arguing with him.” Ben was thoughtful, “I rely on him so much, perhaps I put too much on him. But he always seems to handle things so well. I just thought that this time he had made a mistake.”

Ben was looking towards the stairs hoping to see Adam return so that he could apologise for doubting him. He didn’t mean to upset him by questioning his actions, but he felt that Adam had not handled this situation very well and they needed to talk about it.

But Adam was not about to return, he was sitting on his bed, head in hands, shaking with emotion. He was trying to regain his composure, which had left him as he spoke to his father. What did that man want from him? His father treated him as an equal most of the time, gave him jobs to do and let him do them in his own way. Then he would start to question him as he had tonight. He had not expected his father to be happy with the outcome of today’s confrontation, but he had expected some support from him. Well, if his father could not support his son, how could he expect Adam to support him in return? The situation was becoming impossible. Adam could not function as his father’s right hand man if his actions were going to be questioned. And if Adam could not do that job then Ben did not need him. Perhaps it was time to move on, maybe he had outgrown his family and needed to make a life for himself. A life where he would be free to make his own mistakes and find his own answers.

Adam’s head came up with a jerk. Where had that thought come from? As he considered it Adam realised that it was not so ridiculous, why should he not go away, find a place for himself. He had helped his father build this ranch for him and his brothers. Why should he not go out and find a place for himself? He rose and started to undress, he would sleep on it. Perhaps he would feel different in the morning. He washed, got into bed and lay in the darkness, his body aching, and longing for sleep but his mind would not let him relax.

He dozed off but was soon awake again, the events of the day running through his mind over and over again. He got out of bed and went to his desk, by the window. He sat and started to write. He was there for a long time, occasionally looking up and just staring out of the window. His thoughts kept returning to what his father had said, but could he have done anything different? His actions had been reasonable, even the fight with Cassidy had been unavoidable, as had the outcome. How could his father have doubted him and not supported him? No, the more he thought about it the more he realised that his father had lost confidence in him. He had to leave, he had no choice. He would go away for a while and see how he felt after the air had cleared. Adam went back to bed, and with the decision made, he slept.

*****

Chapter Two

The following morning Ben and Joe were sitting down to breakfast. Neither had said anything past the usual morning greetings. Ben was anxious for Adam to come down, and was worried that he had not yet appeared. Adam was usually the first awake and down to breakfast, but it seemed that this morning he had decided not to rush. They heard footsteps on the landing and both looked up expecting to see Adam appear at the top of the stairs. But it was Hoss they saw there.

“Hoss go and look in on your brother will you, see if he’s all right.” Asked Ben, and Hoss turned back to go to Adam’s room. A few seconds later he again appeared at the top of the stairs.

“He’s not there, Pa. Must have gone out early.” He said descending the stairs. He sat down at the table and helped himself to a plate of eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes. He sat opposite Joe who, while he was muscular and broad shouldered, was the smallest of Ben’s three boys. Joe never ceased to be amazed at the amount of food his brother could pack away at one sitting. He shook his head and returned to his own meal.

When Hop Sing, the Cartwright’s Chinese cook and house keeper, saw that they were all seated he came up to stand beside the table, at Ben’s elbow. Ben looked up, surprised to see Hop Sing holding a piece of paper, which he proffered to Ben, who took it from him.

“Mr. Adam say give this to you when you all together. Very sorry Mr. Ben, very sorry.” And he went back to the kitchen, shaking his head.

Ben paled as he held the paper. He suddenly did not want to read it, he dreaded what Adam might have written. Slowly he unfolded the paper, and as he read his hands started to shake.

“Oh no, please God, no.”

“What is it Pa?” asked Joe concerned.

“What does he say, what’s wrong?” asked Hoss, worried by his father’s reaction.

Ben just shook his head, laid the note on the table, and stared stonily straight ahead, unblinking. Joe picked up the paper and read it to Hoss;

Dear Pa,

I have decided that I have to get away for a while. I don’t think that my being there is helping either of us. I need to get away to sort out where I stand in this family. I have too many roles to play. As your son I try to live up to the standards you have set for us. As your assistant I have tried to be a help to you in running the ranch. As elder brother to Hoss and Joe I have tried to help you to bring them up as you would wish. I seem to have failed at most of these tasks. I must now try to find where I belong in this world.

I’m sorry to do it this way but I knew that you would try to persuade me to stay, and I don’t think that would be the right thing for me to do, and I knew that you would be upset.

I think that a time away from each other will help us both to sort out our relationship.

I will come back, if you will have me, when I feel more confident of my position. Not someone who is looked on as the boss’s son, simply an extension of you, but someone who is a man in his own right. Perhaps I can find in myself the man you would want me to be.

I will let you know from time to time where I am. Please don’t worry.

Tell Hoss and Joe that I love them, that I’m sorry,

Your devoted son

Adam

 

The three men sat in silence, breakfast forgotten, not able to look at each other, each with their own thoughts. Joe had tears running silently down his face. How was he going to manage without his elder brother? He and Adam often argued, but Adam was the one he went to when he was in trouble or when he needed advice, and Adam would always be able to help, even on occasion getting Joe out of hot water without his father ever finding out.

Hoss too was stunned. He saw his family breaking up and he desperately did not want that to happen. For Hoss knew that Adam was the one who kept the family together, he was the cushion between their father’s stern discipline and the youthful, even childish behaviour of his brothers. He made sure that their pranks never got out of hand, and that their father only ever found out about their antics when it was too late to do anything about them, then held Ben back from reacting too harshly.

“Why?” said Ben, bewildered. “Why has he gone? I don’t understand. We’ve had arguments in the past, he’s never wanted to leave before. Why couldn’t he talk to me about it?”

Hoss looked up at his father, seeing the hurt in his face. He did not know what to say to help him, but decided that only the truth would do at that moment.

“Pa, Adam has felt for some time that you were taking advantage of him. That you were giving him more and more to do. And I know he was having a hard time handling it all.” Ben was about to protest but Hoss stopped him. “You know that you gave him a lot of work, more than you would give to me and Joe, and he never complained, he took it all on his shoulders and tried his best to cope with it, but it was getting too much for him. He felt that he would be letting you down if he didn’t do it all. He thought that you would be disappointed in him if he said anything, if he suggested that perhaps you should ease up on him. He wanted to do it, to help you, help all of us.”

“And last night I laid into him about Cassidy and how he had handled it. My God, I didn’t realise what I was doing. Was I taking him for granted?” He looked desperately at his two younger sons.

“Pa,” said Joe, “don’t blame yourself. Hoss and I both knew how he felt, but he wouldn’t let us say anything to you. Like Hoss said he was afraid that he would be letting you down if he said he couldn’t handle it. That somehow he would go down in your estimation if he did.”

Ben stood and started to pace the floor. “But that’s ridiculous. I don’t know how I would have managed without him these past years. Ever since he came back from college his ideas and enthusiasm have helped build what we have here. How can he think that I would ever find him a disappointment?”

“Did you ever tell him that?” asked Joe quietly. Ben stared at him and shook his head. No, he had never told Adam that, never told him how much he was valued. Ben realised that his son had every right to feel aggrieved.

“Oh God, I’ve done this to him, made him feel that all I did was criticise him. And now he feels that the only way to make me appreciate him is to go away. That he has to prove to me that he is a man in his own right.” Ben collapsed onto the sofa, all the life drained out of him as he thought what he had done to his son. He had failed him. Failed as his father, failed as his boss, failed as his friend. All Ben could think of was the sudden emptiness he felt, Adam had not been gone more than a couple of hours, and already there was a yawning gap in his life. How was he going to adjust to not having him around, could Hoss and Joe help him as Adam had done? Somehow, he was going to have to go on with his life.

“Joe,” he said suddenly, “He can’t have gone far. Go after him, see if you can stop him.”

“No Pa, if he feels that he has to go you must let him. It may work out for the best in the end. He said that he would come back and you must trust him to do so.”

Ben nodded, of course, Joe was right, they would just have to wait for Adam to feel he could come back to them. He walked towards the stairs needing to be alone for a while. He found himself in Adam’s room looking at familiar objects. His books, the engineering drawings he was working on, the clothes Adam had left behind, everyday things, which now seemed so strange when there was nobody to use them. Ben went over to the open desk and reaching down, picked up a sheet of paper written in his son’s familiar hand. As he read the words Adam had written, he sank down on the bed, his throat tightening.

“Oh Adam, why? Why couldn’t we talk?” He buried his head in his hands and wept for his son.

*****

Chapter Three

Adam was headed east. He wanted to go northwest but needed to get off the Ponderosa as soon as possible, and going east was the quickest way off the ranch. He did not want to risk seeing any of the hands and kept for the most part to trails through the forest, away from the main tracks. He rode gently, he and Sport had a long way to go, and there was no hurry.

As he rode, he thought about what he was going to do next, but could come up with no easy plan. It should not be too difficult for him to get a job on another ranch, but it would have to be well away from the Ponderosa, too many ranchers knew him. He also thought about other things he could do. He had studied at college, so perhaps he could teach. He had plenty of options, he would just wait and see what turned up.

The ride was an easy one, and when he camped for the night, he had left the Ponderosa behind. He had stopped on the way at the place he recognised as the boundary of the ranch and looked back. Memories came flooding over him and for a minute he regretted his decision, but then he shook himself, turned, and carried on. He could not go back now, he had told his father that he needed time away from his family and the reasons he had given were still valid.

The next few days were spent in the same way, riding through the day and stopping for the night, making camp and lying under the stars. It was the first time that he could remember spending days in the saddle without anything to do. No cattle to drive, no destination in mind, just wandering and he was beginning to love it. The freedom to roam where he would, no one expecting him to arrive, no deadline to meet. He thought that he could live like this for a long time, but then he thought that this was not why he was here. He needed to find a purpose, but he would give it a few more days, this was helping him to relax and think more clearly.

Fifteen days of easy riding found Adam approaching the town of Susanville, near Eagle Lake. He was only about a hundred and fifty miles from home, because he had not travelled in a straight line as he wandered. This was a place he had never been before, and he hoped a place where no one would know him. Perhaps here he could find a job for a while. Ranches were usually short handed at this time of year with the spring round up in progress, and there would be plenty of people looking for good hands.

He approached the town over a rise and stopped to look down on it. There was one main street with wooden buildings down both sides, a few of the buildings were brick built, with two stories. Side streets led to other buildings, some small and crammed together, one or two large and imposing. On the outskirts, there was the usual collection of shanties and tents housing itinerant workers. Adam estimated that the town probably had close on a thousand residents. Plenty of opportunities there for him. He squeezed Sport’s flanks and the horse started off down the hill into the town. Adam rode slowly along the main street until he spotted the livery stable. He dismounted and led his horse into the darkness inside.

“Hello, anybody here?” He called.

“Yes, yes, what’s your hurry?” An old man appeared, he was of medium height, but was so bent over that he came no higher than Adam’s belt buckle. He did not bother to try to look up to see his customer.

“No hurry, just want to stable my horse.”

“Well that’s what we do, eh.” And the man reached out to take Sport’s reins.

“I want him curried and well fed.” Adam said not sure that this man was someone he really wanted to trust to look after his horse.

The man heard the doubt in Adam’s voice and looked up, not at him, but at Sport. He saw a tall sorrel, his coat well groomed under the trail dust, and his head held high, ears pricked, his bright eyes looking at his new surroundings. The horse fidgeted as he stood, seeming to want movement not rest.

“Nice animal. You’ve treated him well. Don’t worry I’ll take good care of him. It’s not often I get to look after a fine animal like this.”

“OK, I’ll look in on him later.”

Adam paid the horse’s keep for the night, and taking his saddlebags and rifle, went in search of the hotel.

As he left the barn, another man appeared beside the ostler. He was in his forties, tall and fair-haired, with pale blue eyes that showed deep lines at the corners from years spent in the open air.

“Hi, Jed, what you doing here?” The ostler asked.

“Who’s that?” Jed said not bothering to answer the question.

“Don’t know, just left his horse here.”

The newcomer looked over Sport, seeing a quality animal, not the normal mount for a cowhand. He went to the door and looked up the street, watching Adam approach the hotel.

He waved a hand over his shoulder as he left. “Thanks Lem, see ya.”

Adam found the hotel, it was one of the two storey buildings and looked reasonably prosperous, well kept and clean. The interior seemed dark and cool after the bright sunlight outside and it took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the change. He made his way over to the desk where the clerk looked up and gave him an appraising stare.

“Yes?”

“I’d like a room.”

“How long?”

“Don’t know, maybe just for the night. I’d like a bath, too”

“Number four, top of the stairs. That’s a dollar in advance for the room, and a quarter for the bath.”

Adam put the coins on the desk, picked up his key, and went up the stairs to his room. It was like so many others he had been in, dull and uninspiring, but the bed seemed comfortable enough. He unpacked his bag and lay down.

Eventually the clerk came to tell Adam that his bath was ready, and he spent the next half hour easing out the effects of two weeks on the trail. He finally got dressed and went down to the lobby.

“Where can I get something to eat?” He asked the clerk at the desk, who replied without looking up from the newspaper he was reading.

“Bottom of the street, on the left.”

“Thanks.”

The Red Feather saloon had a small restaurant at the back, and Adam chose a table off to one side that would give him a view of the restaurant and the bar outside. He sat with his back to the wall, observing the other diners. They were the usual mixture of people that one would expect to find in such a place. One man who looked like a travelling salesman, a couple who might have been local traders, and a man who appeared to be entertaining one of the girls from the saloon.

Adam ate his meal in silence, a tender steak followed by a steamed pudding. It was good to have something better than beans and jerky, and he enjoyed it. Then he made his way into the noisy saloon where he stood at the bar nursing a beer.

At the far end of the room, opposite the restaurant entrance, there was a game of poker in progress. Four men were dressed in the traditional garb of cowhands, jeans and rough shirts, the other two men at the table dressed more smartly in ruffle shirts and jackets. Gamblers, Adam surmised, feeling a little sorry for the cowhands. He hoped for their sakes they knew what they were doing. The gamblers could take them for all their wages if they were not careful. The table was the centre of attention, piled as it was with money, several hundred dollars Adam guessed. Suddenly one of the cowhands stood up, knocking his chair over noisily.

“That weren’t my card, you took that from the bottom of the deck.” He shouted.

The older of the two gamblers sat back easily in his chair, and looked at the cowhand. The audience suddenly melted away as they sensed trouble.

“Now then young man, just because you lost doesn’t mean that you were cheated. Why don’t you just go quietly, and let this be a lesson to you not to bet more than you can afford to lose.”

The young man was not willing to let it drop however. He started to draw his gun but the gambler was quicker, and amid the ringing sounds of gunfire, the ranch hand ended up on the floor, sightless eyes staring up at the ceiling. The other hands rose slowly from the table and backed away.

“Now, has any of you gentlemen anything to say?”

They shook their heads, and taking what was left of their money from the table, made their escape. As they went through the doors, they passed the sheriff coming in to see what the fuss was about. He approached the table and after speaking to some of those who had seen what had happened, he sat down and talked to the gamblers. It seemed that there was nothing he could do, the cowhand had drawn first. The sheriff rose, and without giving the two men a backward glance left the room.

Adam went back to his beer. It was a scene he had witnessed too often before, men riding their luck, only to come up against professionals who knew their game. It nearly always ended badly, either by losing all their money or as it had just now, in violence. If they were lucky, they lived to learn by the experience.

In the mirror over the bar, Adam saw a man enter and go to sit with two others at a table. One of them passed the man a beer, and he sat looking round the room. Adam was aware that the man’s gaze returned to him often, and knew he was under scrutiny.

Jed was watching the man at the bar. Tall, slim, dark, and well built, dressed all in black, his gun sitting comfortably on his hip. He could see the face reflected in the mirror was intelligent and alert, similar to his horse, Jed decided, smiling to himself at the thought, though this man had a stillness about him, which his horse did not share. Not a man to take lightly. Could be useful to have around the place, Jed thought. As their eyes met in the mirror Jed rose and came to stand at the bar. Adam looked at him sideways, he was the same height and build, but where Adam was dark this man was fair, a long, hooked nose the main feature of his face.

“Haven’t seen you in town before.” The man stated without looking round.

“No, just got in. Been travelling for a few days.” Adam replied non-committally.

“Looking for a job?”

“What you got in mind?”

“You ever worked cattle?”

Adam had to stop himself from laughing. “Yes, I’ve done some ranch work. Know my way around.”

“We need good help, with the round up and all.” He nodded sadly towards the body that was being carried out. “I’m a man short now. Want to take it? Dollar a day and board ‘till the round up’s finished. Maybe longer if it works out.”

“OK.” Adam found he was pleased with the prospect of work. While he had been happy just wandering, he realised with a start that he was missing physical labour and would be glad to be doing something productive.

“What’s your name?”

“Adam…Adam Stoddard.” Adam knew that he could not give his real name. Even way out here the name of Cartwright might mean something, and suddenly his grandfather’s name came into his head. He had once declared that he had never denied his name, and felt a moment’s guilt at not giving it now.

”Come out tomorrow afternoon. Head south out of town for about five miles then turn west, the Bartram ranch. The house is at the foot of the high peak, by the river. You can’t miss it.”

“OK, thanks.” And that was it. The man went back to sit down with his friends and said nothing to Adam for the rest of the evening.

Adam called to the bar tender, who came over, wiping the counter with a dirty towel as he did so. “Who’s that?” Adam asked indicating the man he had been speaking to.

“That’s Jed Tucker, the foremen at the Bartram place. Good man, tough but fair. Most of the hands like him, runs the place for Mrs Bartram since her husband died end of last year.”

Adam was satisfied. If the men thought that Tucker was all right then it sounded like he had struck lucky. Ranch hands never stayed in a place too long if they felt they were being badly treated. He finished his beer and decided to turn in.

*****

Chapter Four

It was midday and Adam was making his way towards the Bartram ranch through country that was lush and green. Good land for raising cattle, he thought, plenty of good grazing and water. The road wound through wooded valleys, occasionally rising and giving views of the mountains ahead. After a distance he estimated as five miles he saw the road on the right which Tucker had mentioned, Adam took it and kicked Sport into a canter. His horse felt refreshed, the man at the livery had been true to his word, Sport had been well cared for and picked up speed eagerly.

They had only gone a few hundred yards when Adam saw a buggy ahead of them. The woman standing beside it was bending down looking at one of the wheels. Adam pulled Sport to a standstill.

“Howdy Ma’am, got a problem?” he asked.

The woman looked up at him from the other side of the buggy. Adam saw a short, slim woman who appeared to be about sixty, but despite her age she stood straight and looked him firmly in the eye. She was well attired in a dress of dark blue, the matching bonnet on her head covering her well groomed grey hair.

“I think the wheel is about to come off. It was moving from side to side as I drove.”

“Want me to take a look?”

“If you wouldn’t mind. I was going to town, but it is getting a bit late now. I would like to get back to the ranch.”

Adam dismounted and came round to look at the offending wheel. He grasped it in his hands and worked it back and forth. Sure enough, there was too much play in it. He knelt down to get a better look at it, and immediately spotted that the wheel nut was missing.

“There’s your problem ma’am, the nut has come off. You’re lucky you stopped when you did. You might have had a nasty accident if you had carried on. Where have you come from?”

“The Bartram place, it’s about three miles from here. I suppose I’ll have to walk back.”

“Well, if you don’t mind doubling up with a total stranger I’d be happy to give you a ride.” Adam suggested, smiling to give her some confidence in this stranger, who could rescue her if she would trust him.

She hesitated. Adam thought that she was probably torn between the offer from a stranger and walking for three miles, so he took off his hat and held out his hand.

“My name’s Adam Stoddard.”

The woman took his hand. Adam was aware that the grey eyes were observing him closely, then he sensed her relax a little.

“Mrs. Alice Bartram.” She stated confidently.

Adam nodded, replaced his hat, and turned to Sport, who had been standing fidgeting by the buggy. That horse never would stand still for long, Adam thought.

“Whoa boy, you got to be patient for a minute, you hear.” Said Adam, stroking Sport’s muzzle. The horse turned his head as if to see what all the fuss was about, but he stood still nevertheless.

“I’ll just help you up.” Said Adam as he put his hands round Alice Bartram’s trim waist. She came no higher than his shoulder and he lifted her easily, so that she was sitting sideways across the saddle. Adam mounted carefully behind her, and took the reins, cradling her between his arms. Alice leant back against him as they moved off at a steady walk. They rode in silence for a few minutes,

“I hope that I am not taking you out of your way young man.”

“No, not at all. In fact I was headed to your place. I met your foreman last night and he offered me a job.”

“Oh? What do you do?”

“Work cattle, mend fences, break horses, in fact anything you might need to do on a ranch.” He finished on a laugh.

“And where have you come from?”

“I’ve been travelling for a while but originally from Virginia City.” Adam did not notice Alice nod her head knowingly.

“I know that town. I haven’t been there for years but I know a man who lives near there. Perhaps you’ve heard of him, Ben Cartwright.”

She felt Adam tense behind her.

“Yes I’ve heard of him.” Adam said guardedly.

“I haven’t seen him for many years. How are those sons of his? Fine young men I believe.”

“I really couldn’t say, Mrs. Bartram.”

Adam could not see the mischievous smile that crossed Alice’s face at that moment. If he had, he might have wondered at the cause of it.

“So you never worked the Ponderosa? Of course my place doesn’t compare but we have some fine land here, raise good stock.”

“Yes it’s good country.” Adam was distracted, wondering if he had made a mistake in taking this job. If Alice Bartram knew his father he would have to be careful, though she had said that she had not seen him for many years, perhaps they had lost touch. But still, she might write to him mentioning the new hand who had come from Virginia City, and he did not want his family to know where he was just yet, it was too soon, and he had not travelled far enough away from home.

“There’s the house up ahead.” Alice pointed and Adam looked up. There he saw the house and surrounding buildings, barn, store and what he took to be the bunkhouse. All neat and well kept, the fences in good repair though the house looked a little run down, but there were bright flowers in pots either side of the door. A woman’s touch in the more masculine surroundings of a working ranch. Two men were moving around in the yard and they looked up as they heard the horse come towards them.

Adam pulled Sport up in front of the house, and as he was helping Alice down Tucker appeared. His eyebrows were raised in question.

“I found Mrs. Bartram stranded on the road just past the turn off. Her buggy needs a new wheel nut. We left it where it was and I brought Mrs. Bartram home.” Adam explained.

“I gather Mr. Stoddard is coming to work here.” Alice stated, and turning a smile to Adam said, “I hope that you will be happy here. We need good hands and will reward good work.” She turned away and went up the three steps to the veranda, which ran the length of the front of the house.

“Thank you, Adam.” She said smiling again and giving him a long considering look. Then she turned and entered the house.

“Yes, thank you for looking after her. Since her husband died a few months back, she has been quite withdrawn. That’s the happiest I’ve seen her for a while. You must have made quite an impression on her.”

“She’s a nice lady.”

“Yes. Come over to the bunkhouse and I’ll get you settled in. I have to ride up to the branding ground. You come with me and you can see some of the ranch.”

Tucker set off across the yard with Adam following. They entered the bunkhouse and Tucker indicated one of the lower bunks, which stretched all round the walls of the large room. There were bunks for about twenty men, a table in the centre of the room and a long wash stand in one corner. The floor was bare but the room itself was light and airy. Better than the bunkhouse at the Ponderosa, thought Adam and he found himself thinking how he would improve the conditions for the men when he went home. If he went home, he corrected himself.

“Leave you gear there.” Said Tucker, and Adam dropped his saddle bags on the indicated bunk, then turned and followed Tucker back to where he had left Sport tied. Tucker went round the side of the house and reappeared leading his horse. The two men mounted and rode out of the yard. Behind them, they did not see Mrs. Bartram peering through the white lace curtains that covered the windows of her front parlour.

”So that’s what you’ve grown into, your father has every right to be proud of you, if only he could bring himself to tell you that.” She said to herself as she turned back into the room. She went across to her desk and took out and re-read the letter from her old friend Ben Cartwright.

Alice and Ben might have lost touch when she met and married Richard, he was terribly jealous of her friendship with Ben. He couldn’t understand a simple friendship between a man and a woman; he felt that there had to be more to it. So Alice and Ben continued to keep in contact over the years through their letters, exchanging occasional pictures, and news of their lives.

Many was the time that Ben had written to her asking advice on the upbringing of his children. She had borne two children of her own, both boys, who had died within days of each other during a typhoid outbreak ten years earlier. Ben had not needed her advice so much in recent years as his eldest son, Adam, had grown into a fine man who helped with his two younger brothers. A man born to be a father if ever there was one.

She had received this latest letter just a few days ago. Ben had told her about the argument with Adam and his sudden departure. Ben was distraught; he blamed himself for not noticing Adam’s discontent earlier. He admitted to Alice that he had allowed himself to rely too heavily on his eldest son, to giving him the responsibility but not allowing him to bear that responsibility freely, without interference.

Alice sat down at her desk, took out paper and pen, and wrote to Ben. She told of her meeting with Adam, and the fact that he was going to be working for her for a while. That he seemed happy and well, and told Ben not to worry, she would make sure he was safe. She also mentioned that, while she had told Adam that she knew his father, she thought he had no idea that they corresponded, and she would not let him find out, unless Ben wanted her to.

*****

Chapter Five

Tucker and Adam had reached the men who were branding the new calves. The scene was one of activity and noise, with men constantly bringing the frightened animals to the fire and tossing them on their sides, then holding them down while another hand brought the glowing irons and put the Bartram mark on them, then letting them up to run off, lowing disconsolately, to find their mothers.

“You want to give them a hand for a while?” Tucker asked, but Adam knew it was not a question, but rather that Tucker wanted to see how he handled himself in these surroundings.

He untied the rope that was hanging from his saddle, and went in search of an unbranded calf. He soon found one and had it cut out and roped with ease. He brought it back to the hands by the fire and, jumping from his horse, had the small animal grounded and held down ready for branding with no fuss, upsetting the animal as little as possible. When the brand was done he let the animal go and went in search of another. Tucker watched him work, seeing the assurance that only comes from years of practice. Despite the size of his horse, larger than usual for a cutting horse, they worked as one, smooth and well balanced. This man had not been entirely truthful when he said he had done ‘some ranch work’, he obviously knew cattle, and the work that went with them. What else did he know? Tucker wondered, and thought that it might prove profitable to find out.

“That’s enough, Adam. Let’s go and look at part of the herd.” He called.

Adam was just about to rope another calf, but left it with it’s mother and returned to Tucker’s side, gathering in the rope and fixing it back in it’s accustomed place as he did so. Adam was puzzled. It was not usual for the foreman to show a new man round, normally that was a job for one of the senior hands who would report back to the foreman. But Tucker was showing Adam the ranch and it’s workings. Why?

They rode off up a slight hill and down into the next valley. There before them was a herd of about a hundred steers. To Adam’s eye they looked like good stock, but were in danger of overgrazing the small valley.

“Well, what do you think?” asked Tucker turning to observe Adam as he looked at the cows.

“I think that they had better be moved soon. This pasture won’t stand such intense grazing for more than a few days. The ground is still quite wet and if they are left here any longer they will have destroyed good grazing land. Better keep them off it until it dries out a bit.”

Tucker nodded, pleased with the answer. He decided to continue, he wanted to find out the depths of this man’s knowledge if he could.

“Mrs. Bartram was thinking that perhaps we could start a small lumber business here. There is plenty of fine timber higher up,” said Tucker pointing towards the mountain which loomed behind them, “But there is no one here who has any experience with timber.” He left the statement hanging in the air, He turned a questioning gaze at Adam.

“Well I do have some experience with logging, perhaps I could help.”

“If you know anything that would be of help we sure could use it.”

“Mind if I ride up there to have a look?”

“No, I’ll come with you, show you the lie of the land.”

They turned their horses up the slope again and headed towards the mountain. The wooded hillside turned into forest as they ascended, sun dappled woods of beech and oak giving way to the darker depths of pine forest as they rode higher. Finally, Adam stopped and dismounted. He wandered around the forest pausing occasionally to look at the trees, and the ground.

“Yes, you could harvest these trees. You have a fine mixture of old trees that are ready to be cut, and new young trees ready to grow up in their place, and with careful cutting, those young trees will come on well. You would have a regular supply every year, you see, if you only take the older trees. It would naturally thin out the forest, give the young trees room to grow. But you have to be careful not to take too many. Firs will only grow straight and strong when they are surrounded by others of their kind. Take too many trees out and they grow crooked or stunted, no commercial value in them.”

The sun was almost down and dark shadows were creeping through the forest. Adam led Sport, with Tucker following behind, to the edge of a low cliff. As he looked out, he saw the forest stretching in the distance, broken occasionally by meadow and river. Plenty of wood there to build a strong logging business. Adam felt a knot in his stomach as he realised that the view reminded him of home. It also occurred to him that if he could create a lumber trade here it would be in direct competition with his father. He turned to Tucker,

“The ground here is firm. Wouldn’t be too hard to get a road cut to take the logs out.”

“Would you be willing to stay and organise it for Mrs. Bartram? If she agrees that is.”

“Yeah, I’ll stay and do that, if she wants.”

“It’s getting dark, better head back.”

Adam mounted his horse and the two men made their way back towards the ranch, reaching the yard as supper was being announced by the cook, who was calling the men by banging a large metal spoon on one of his saucepans. They went quickly to settle their horses in the stable, then into the bunk house, washed the dust off their hands and faces, and went through to a room attached to the sleeping quarters. The other hands occupied the table, which ran down the centre of the long, narrow room. Adam counted ten, ranging in age from a youngster no older than his brother Joe, to a man of about sixty, bearded and tanned. Adam and Tucker sat down opposite each other at the end of the table. The cook came in and started serving the men with an appetising stew. He did it quickly and efficiently, the men passing plates down the table as he did so. Soon everyone was eating, and talking noisily. Tucker called for quiet and introduced Adam who was greeted with nods, and from a few, smiles.

“Where have you come from?”

“How long’ve you been working cows?”

“Do you know Ted Long, he worked in Nevada?”

Answering their questions carefully so as not to give away too much information about his origins, Adam began to sort out who was who. He asked questions in his turn and found that several of the men were a permanent fixture, and had been on the ranch for five years or more, others like himself were just here for the round up. There was one big man, Frank Toller, sitting at the far end of the table, who said little but Adam was aware that he was watching him. The look he gave Adam was not welcoming, in fact Adam would have said it was definitely hostile. Well, there was always one person you had to keep your eye out for, and it looked like it was going to be Toller.

The meal finished, Tucker disappeared on some errand of his own, and the men set to relaxing after the long day’s work. Some went to lie on their bunks, one or two drifting off to sleep, others sat round the table in the centre of the room, a pack of cards appeared and they began to play. A couple went outside, and Adam decided to do the same. He dug into his saddlebags and took out one of the books that he had brought with him, and then ventured out where he found several chairs placed against the wall of the bunkhouse. He selected one, made himself comfortable, and began to read by the light coming through the window behind him.

He heard voices coming from the main house and looked up to see Tucker standing in the doorway illuminated by the soft light streaming from inside the house. Mrs. Bartram was holding the door open for him, and Adam saw Tucker tip his hat to her and start off down the steps. The door closed and darkness once more enveloped the far side of the yard.

A minute later Tucker was standing in front of Adam.

“Mind if I join you?” Tucker asked seating himself in the chair beside Adam before he could reply.

“I’ve been talking to Mrs. Bartram about the timber. She said she would be pleased if you would put together some suggestions about how we could start harvesting the trees and selling them. Can you do that?”

“Yes, I’ll start tomorrow night. It’ll take me a few days to get together an outline, but it should give her an idea of the possibilities.”

“Mrs. Bartram would rather that you spent all your time on it, do it as soon as you can.”

“I thought that you wanted help with the round up?”

“Mrs. B. seems to think the timber is more important. Said your time would be better spent doing that than chasing cows.” Tucker snorted a quick laugh and looked at Adam. He paused before continuing “She’s taken to you real strong. Thinks I’m really clever to have found you and got you out here.”

“Well that’s nice of her. I like her too, seems a good woman to work for.”

“Yes she is. I’ve been with the family for nearly ten years, first her husband then Mrs. B. when he died.”

Adam was curious. “What happened to Mr. Bartram?”

“He was killed, nearly six months ago. Bushwhacked while he was out riding the high country, near where we were today.”

“Did they ever catch them?”

“No. Some said that it was because of his gambling, got the wrong side of the wrong people. But no one could ever prove anything.”

“Did he gamble heavily?” asked Adam, surprised at this revelation. Mrs. Bartram did not seem like the kind of woman to be mixed up with anyone who would be involved with serious gambling.

“Towards the end, yes. Mrs.B. tried to stop him but the cards had got the better of him. Takes some like that.” Tucker shook his head sadly. “I heard tell that he nearly lost the ranch. Alice is having a hard time building it back up again, but we’ll get there.”

“She’s lucky to have you then.” Said Adam. He recognised a good foreman when he saw one, and he’d seen enough to tell.

There was a long pause, the two men sitting, gazing out into the darkness. They were comfortable together, each recognising the quality in the other. Finally, Tucker cleared his throat, as though not sure what he wanted to say.

“Mind if I ask you something?”

”What is it?”

“Why are you here?”

Adam looked at him not sure how to answer.

“I mean,” continued Tucker, “It is very obvious that you are not some itinerant cow punch looking for work. That horse of yours for a start. Not your average mount, too well bred. And you know altogether too much about too many things. You’re just not old enough to have picked that up along the way. No, there’s something you’re not telling me.” He looked seriously at Adam, inviting him to answer.

Adam sat deep in thought for several minutes. He knew he could not deceive this man, and did not want to. Tucker had seen too many men pass through this place not to know what he was saying. Adam decided that he might as well tell Jed something about himself and hope that it went no further.

“Have you heard of a big spread down in Nevada Territory, called The Ponderosa?”

“Who hasn’t. Biggest place this side of the Rockies. They’ve got everything there. Cattle, timber, mining, you name it. Why? You work there, is that it?”

“I guess you could say that I worked there.” Adam hesitated, then opened up to Tucker. “My father owns it.”

“What!” Tucker’s eyebrows rose so far they almost disappeared into his hairline. “You mean Ben Cartwright’s your father! But you said your name was Stoddard.”

“I lied.”

“Well what do you know.” Tucker was shaken and he let out a long, silent whistle. He had known there was more to this man than he let on, but this he had not expected.

“The horse was a present from my father when I graduated from university.”

Tucker was speechless for a moment. He had been certain that this man was hiding something, but was taken aback by just how much. He shook his head in amazement. “What did you study?”

“Architecture and engineering.”

“Next you’ll be telling me that you’re running for president.” Tucker laughed.

“No, I don’t like politics. Too many people tell too many lies just for their own ends.”

“You lied to me when you told me your name was Stoddard.” Tucker raised his eyebrows, interested how Adam would respond.

“True enough, but I was not out to gain by it. I was protecting myself from other peoples preconceived ideas of who I should be.”

Tucker sat quietly digesting the things Adam had told him, but he still had not answered the original question.

“So what are you doing way out here, taking a job like this?”

“My father and I had a slight disagreement. You see I do have one failing.” He saw Jed smile at that remark. “OK, only one that I will admit to. I have a temper that I can usually keep well under control. But occasionally it slips out, and this was one of those times. That was what started it.”

Tucker was patient, not knowing how much Adam would be willing to tell him.

“So what did you do for your father?”

“I helped him run the ranch.” Once started Adam found that he wanted Tucker to know the whole story. “That was the problem actually. He wanted my help, even needed it. But I was caught between my father, who let me have the responsibility of being his right hand man, and the hands who tended to look on me just as his son, only in charge because of who I was, not someone who was capable of doing things my own way, of making my own decisions.”

Adam paused, remembering that last night with his family.

“Then one evening I came home after a particularly difficult day, and my father started to question my actions. I had fired the foremen at the logging camp, and he told me there were better ways of handling the situation. Cassidy, the foremen, had made it clear that he thought I wasn’t man enough to do the job I was doing, and then my father more or less said the same. Questioned what I had done, when I felt that he should have been supporting me. That was it. He’d criticised me in the past, but then I decided I just couldn’t take it any more.”

“So you ran away.”

Adam bristled at the accusation, but when he thought about it that was exactly what he had done.

“Yes. I hoped that by getting away for a while it might clear the air between us. Help us both to get a better idea of where I stood.”

“Are you going back?”

Adam pondered on the question, it had been at the back of his mind ever since he left. But the more he thought about it, the more he realised that there was only one answer he wanted to give.

“Yes. I don’t expect the break to be irreparable, I just needed some time away. It was a stupid argument really, he just caught me at a bad time. I let my temper get the better of me.” Adam paused again, then turned to Tucker looking him straight in the eye.

“Please don’t say anything to anyone about me. Just pretend you don’t know any more than you did ten minutes ago.”

“All right, you have my word I won’t say anything. But if Mrs. Bartram asks, I will tell her. I don’t lie to that woman, she’s been very good to me, and I owe her my loyalty. But I won’t say anything to anyone else.”

“Thanks.”

“But I give you fair warning, if I suspect that anything you are doing is in any way harmful to her or this ranch, I will not hesitate to make you pay for it.”

“You needn’t worry on that score. I think Mrs. Bartram is a good woman. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt her.”

Tucker suddenly put out his hand. Adam took it and they shook hands briefly, each man trusting the other. Tucker rose, nodded, and left. Adam looked after him thinking that there was a man he would like to call his friend. He took up his book and went back inside the bunkhouse; he was tired and needed sleep. The other men inside watched him but said nothing. Adam didn’t mind, he knew it took time for a new hand to be accepted and he was happy to be left alone. He settled into his bunk and drifted off to sleep.

*****

Chapter Six

Adam spent the whole of the next two days preparing an outline for Mrs. Bartram. He described the kind of operation he believed she would be able to run, the work that would be needed to set it up, the number of men she would need to employ, and the outlay. He also gave her a forecast of the return she could expect over the next five years.

He handed the document to Tucker to give to Mrs. Bartram, telling him that he would need to talk her through the figures to make sure that she understood them, in case she wanted to alter any aspect, which would affect the projections he had made.

After supper, Adam settled himself into another quiet night in the bunkhouse. He had become friendly with a couple of the men and they sat talking in low tones at one end of the table, while the inevitable card game continued at the other. Suddenly a meaty hand landed on Adam’s shoulder and gripped it firmly. Adam looked round and saw the tall, broad shape of Toller looming behind him.

“Well, ain’t we lucky to have Mr. Lazybones in our midst. Comes to help with the round up and instead spends all his time riding round the countryside, doing no work but taking the money just the same. You think we ought to put a stop to that then boys?”

Toller turned to the other men in the room. There were a few nods from those who did not want to be seen disagreeing with the big man, the rest just looked the other way, they had seen it all before. Toller always judged a man before he knew him, and he had taken against this newcomer, perhaps seeing in him a threat to what he saw as his position as the leader of the men in the bunk house.

“What I do is no concern of yours. If Jed Tucker’s happy that’s all that matters.” Said Adam taking a firm grip of Toller’s wrist and removing the hand from his shoulder, not without some difficulty. He stood and faced his belligerent tormentor. If he was going to stay here for any length of time he would have to get this sorted.

“Perhaps Jed don’t know what you’ve been up to. Perhaps he thinks you’ve been out working with us all day, perhaps he thinks you been rounding up strays.” Toller was standing with his feet apart, hand on hips, chin jutting out.

Adam stood up and faced Toller. “Jed knows exactly what I’ve been doing, which is more than I can say for you. And I am not going to explain myself to you. If Jed wants you to know what I am doing here then he’ll tell you, if not it’s none of your business. All you need to know is that I am earning my keep.”

“That’s what you say, but I still don’t like it. Seems like I might have to teach you what it means to take money you aint earned.” Without warning Toller stepped forward and grabbed the front of Adam’s shirt with his left hand, and took a swing at him with his right. Adam tried to duck but could not avoid the blow entirely. He took it on the side of his head and it left him dizzy. He broke free of Toller’s grip and backed away shaking his head.

“What do you say we continue this outside?” Adam suggested. He wanted to be away from the confines of the bunkhouse and it’s sharp edges. Another consideration was the damage they might do to the fixtures, and they all had to sleep there that night.

Without a word, Toller pushed past the men and went outside. Adam followed and so did the other occupants of the bunkhouse. As soon as Adam appeared, Toller hit him in the stomach. He doubled over sucking in air, but when Toller came up to deliver another blow Adam straightened suddenly, and used the movement to drive his fist into Toller’s chin. Toller backed off, looked at Adam through eyes narrowed with hate, and charged. They went over together, Toller on top.

Adam thought he felt his ribs crack as Toller’s shoulder drove into his chest. He had no time to worry about it, as he struggled to keep his opponent’s hands away from his throat long enough to throw him off. He brought his feet up and gripped Toller’s head between his legs, forcing him backwards and away from him. Toller rolled on the ground and came up madder than ever. He advanced on Adam who stood his ground, he wanted this over as soon as possible. Toller drew back his fist and tried to land a blow, but Adam ducked under it and landed one of his own. Toller staggered back but did not fall, suddenly he had a grudging respect for his enemy.

Toller suddenly lunged, and catching Adam round his shoulders threw him against the corral fence. Adam crashed backwards into it, and it knocked the wind out of him. He fell to his knees gasping, as Toller advanced towards him. Adam saw him coming and waited until the big man was nearly on top of him, then rose from the ground using all the strength he could muster to deliver a blow to Toller’s midriff, the impetus of his rise adding force to the blow. Toller staggered back, winded.

Never one to miss any advantage, Toller began to glance round the uncluttered yard for anything he could use as a weapon. Suddenly he saw it. Outside the barn, someone had left a pitchfork. All Toller had to do was draw the fight in that direction. He and Adam exchanged blows, but all the time he was backing towards the barn drawing Adam with him, followed by the crowd of men watching this battle, but none of them interfering.

When Toller was within reach of the weapon, he grabbed at it, and once he had it in his hand he brought it up and threatened Adam with the long, sharp tines. Adam stopped dead. Suddenly the fight had taken a more serious turn. He backed away slowly, looking for a means of dealing with this new threat.

Toller saw Adam’s hesitation.

“Well what are you waiting for, come and get me, or perhaps you’re too scared is that it?” He taunted. The words did not worry Adam; he had learnt long ago not to let his opponent get to him that way, making him do something rash through anger.

Toller and Adam faced each other, neither one moving, both their faces were bloody, showing signs of the struggle. Suddenly Toller had had enough of this upstart, he lunged at Adam, intent on piercing him with the pitchfork. Adam saw the move coming and, at the last moment, side stepped. He felt one of the sharp spikes tear his shirt and scratch his skin but took no notice. He grabbed the head of the pitchfork and turned swiftly. The force of the spin made Toller let go of the handle and he was tossed, rolling, to the ground. Before Toller could rise, Adam rushed up behind him, and delivered a particularly dirty punch to the back of his neck. Toller dropped like a stone and lay still.

Adam stood shakily, hands on his knees and dragged in great lungfulls of air. Into the silence that prevailed when the men saw their leader prostrate and unconscious, came Jed Tucker. He looked at the two combatants and immediately knew what had happened. He put a hand on Adam’s shoulder.

“You OK?” He asked. Adam could only nod, speech being beyond him at that moment.

“Get him cleaned up and into bed.” Jed instructed the men standing around looking at Toller. They bent down and carried him away, giving Adam sly glances, secretly impressed that he had overcome this challenge, unlike so many before him.

“Mrs. Bartram wants to see you about those figures.”

Adam took a deep breath and tried to straighten up. He groaned as he did so, his damaged ribs reminding him of their presence. He folded his arms across his chest, and felt the blood seeping from the scratch inflicted by the pitchfork.

“What, now?” He asked slightly incredulous that Jed would be suggesting such a thing.

“Yes now. If you think you are up to it. Don’t worry she’s seen Toller’s handy work before. She’ll let you clean up in the house.”

“Why do you let him stay?”

“Because he has only one fault. He takes against people for no good reason, but once he has sorted out where they each stand, he leaves them alone. It doesn’t always come to blows, and he does the work of two men. Come on.”

Adam didn’t move.

“You could have warned me.” He declared.

“If you weren’t prepared for that then you are not the man I think you are.” Said Tucker smiling, and moved off towards the house. Adam had to admit that Tucker was right, he had seen it coming. He raised one bloody eyebrow and nodding, followed Tucker up to the house.

Jed led the way up the steps. He knocked on the door and it was opened almost immediately. Alice Bartram had been expecting the two men, but when she saw Adam she was concerned.

“Oh my goodness, whatever happened to you. Have you been fighting?” She did not wait for an answer, and despite his protests, took Adam’s arm and led him to the sofa in the middle of the room and made him sit down, easing his feet up onto it so that he was lying comfortably. Adam tried to get up again but she pushed him down.

“Really Mrs. Bartram I shouldn’t be on your furniture, I’m filthy. Why don’t I go clean up first and then come back.”

“Nonsense, you will stay right where you are. Jed what’s the damage do you think?”

“Cuts, bruises and maybe a couple of cracked ribs.” Tucker told Alice. He was standing beside her looking down at Adam, a grin on his face. “Just lie there and let her carry on, she won’t be stopped so relax.”

While Alice went into the kitchen for some hot water, Jed and Adam discussed the fight, and it’s repercussions.

“Toller will leave you alone now, so will all the other men since you pounded him into the ground.”

“I thought as much, that’s why I had to finish it. I couldn’t have stayed if he had won, not doing the job I am. In some ways he was right, I am taking money for very little work. As you must realise by now, it is not really difficult for me to do the forecasts. I am doing them all the time at home, lumber contracts, buying and selling cattle, even the profit from the mines. The income from all the different operations has to be estimated and expenditure geared to match.”

Alice had heard the end of the conversation.

“So you know what you’re doing then?”

“Yes, ma’am”

“Young man, you may call me Mrs.B. It’s less of a mouthful than my full name and so much less formal than ma’am. Now let’s have a look at you, take off your shirt.” Adam hesitated, so she started to undo the buttons. Alice had a way about her that you did not argue with, so he undid the rest of the buttons and sat up stiffly to slide his arms out of the sleeves. Mrs.B. noticed his discomfort and, after helping him remove his shirt, made him lie down again. She felt along his rib cage until Adam flinched.

“Better get those supported, fortunately that will cover that scratch as well. You were very lucky that was not worse.” Alice cleaned the scratch and bound up Adam’s ribs, then bathed the cuts and bruises on his face, and a deep graze on his back, and lastly soaked his bloody knuckles in the water and bound some strips of cloth around them.

“There, that’ll do for now. But I think we had better keep an eye on those cuts for a day or two. Don’t go too far from the ranch house tomorrow, it looks like you took a few blows to the head as well. There is plenty of work here for you to do, so don’t worry on that score.”

“Would you like to talk over those figures now?” Asked Adam remembering that Jed had said that she was keen to do so.

“No, I think that we had better leave them until tomorrow. Meanwhile go and get some rest.”

Adam got up with some help from Tucker, put on his dark shirt, which he noticed was torn in several places, thanked Alice for her care, and went back to the bunk house. He walked in and for the first time was greeted with ‘hello’ and ‘hi’ from several of the men. Adam acknowledged them and settled into bed. He ached and could not get comfortable. He realized that he had been very lucky to come out of that fight with as little damage as he had. He tried to think how else he could have handled the situation, it was reminiscent of the fight he had had with Cassidy. He reckoned that both had been unavoidable if he was to carry on with his job, first on the Ponderosa, now here.

*****

Chapter Seven

The following day, after he had finished his breakfast, Adam went up to the house and found Alice waiting for him.

“Come in, come in.” She said as she stood aside for him to precede her into the parlour. This morning she was wearing a dress of deep yellow that contrasted strongly with his own black clothing. Adam looked round the room remembering it from the night before. There were heavy lace curtains at the windows flanked by thick red damask drapes, good for keeping the winter draughts at bay. The furniture was dark for the most part, but with bright cushions to lift the sombre feeling that prevailed. Sun streamed in the windows and lit the room. Alice showed Adam to a chair and offered him a cup of coffee, which he accepted,

Alice brought the coffee in on a small silver tray and set it before Adam, who poured for both of them from the fine bone china coffee pot, into matching bone china cups.

“Well, how do you feel this morning?”

“I’m all right thank you. Thanks to your care last night.”

“I can see from the way you are moving that you are not ‘all right’, but I’ll let that pass for now. Why were you fighting with Toller?”

“He accused me of taking your money and not doing any work for it. He doesn’t know about the timber business, so you can see how it would look. I seem to have been doing nothing for the past two days except ride through the hills and sit down in the bunkhouse. Naturally he feels upset.”

“What would you like me to do about him?”

“Nothing. It’s settled between us, and I think Jed’s right to keep Toller. He was more upset that I was taking your money, than that I might have been making extra work for the rest of the men.”

She looked steadily at him, satisfied with the answer. “Very well. Before we look at the forecasts you have done for me, may I ask you something?”

Adam nodded his assent, though he was afraid that the conversation was about to go in the same direction as the one he had on his first night with Jed, but Alice surprised him.

“Have you done any accounting before. You know, keeping records of payments in and out, wages, expenses, income, anything like that. And making up contracts and negotiating with buyers. Have you done anything of that sort?”

“Yes, I have. I worked a big spread south of here,” he said carefully, “And the owner showed me how to do all those things, that’s where I learned about making up forecasts.”

Adam was trying to assure her that he knew what he was doing without giving too much away, and without lying to her. It had become very important to him not to lie to this woman. He could not quite understand his feelings towards her. It was not simply that she had bathed and bound his injuries the night before, it was the way she had done it. Like…like…that was it, like a mother!

His mind went to the mothers he had had. His own he had not known, she had died giving him life, Hoss’ mother he had known for only a short time before she was killed by Indians who had attacked the wagon train they were travelling with. Lastly Joe’s mother. Adam remembered guiltily that he had not treated Marie well, he was a youth when his father had married her, and he resented what he saw as her interference in his life. She was beginning to win him over when she had been killed in a riding accident.

“Adam are you all right? Are you feeling unwell?” Alice asked, concerned with the look that had come over Adam’s face. He looked sad and distant, as though his mind was miles away.

“No, I’m fine.” He shook his head, bringing himself back to the present.

“Very well if you say so, but if you feel ill you are to tell me straight away, and we will stop. Do I have your promise?” She smiled at him, daring him not to agree.

“Yes you do. Now let’s look at that forecast for the timber business. If you want to take it on we should get started soon, then we can start looking for customers. I would suggest the silver mines near Virginia City, they are always crying out for timber, there is never enough. And before you can tender for new contracts, it is important that people get to know you and your operation. Get to know that they can rely on you meeting delivery dates and quotas.”

Alice and Adam spent the next three hours discussing the figures and the possibilities. Eventually Alice called a halt, saying that it was time for lunch. She made them both some sandwiches and they sat together on the sofa to eat them. They talked about the state of the cattle market, the prospects for a fine summer, books they had read, music they enjoyed. In fact anything and everything.

Alice enjoyed Adam’s company, and on more than one occasion during the morning had been tempted to tell Adam that she knew who he was and that he did not have to be guarded with her. But she had told his father that she would not say anything to him, and until she had Ben’s permission, she would stick to that.

They were just finishing their light meal when there was a knock on the front door. Adam was going to rise to answer it, but Alice, seeing that his ribs were paining him, put her hand on his knee.

“Don’t move, I’ll go.” And Alice rose and went to the door. Through the frosted glass panel, which formed most of the top half of the door, she could see the shadowy shapes of two men. She opened the door and looked expectantly at them.

“And just what can I do for you?”

One of the men was dressed smartly in dark jacket and trousers, white shirt and string tie. The other, standing behind him, was rougher, in cord trousers and wool shirt with a black leather waistcoat. Both had removed their hats when she answered the door.

“Bart Williams sent us.” The better dressed man said.

“Jamieson, you can tell Mr. Williams that I am not interested in any offer he might make.” Stated Mrs Bartram forcefully.

“Don’t see how you have much choice since he’s holding your husband’s marker.” Said the other man.

“There are serious doubts as to how that marker was obtained, and you know it.”

“That’s as may be, but your husband signed it. Now you accept Mr. Williams’ offer and the marker will be destroyed. You know he’s making you a reasonable offer under the circumstances, so why won’t you just accept it and avoid a lot of unpleasantness.” Said the man Alice had identified as Jamieson.

Adam heard the exchange and rose to come and stand behind Mrs. Bartram. He immediately recognised Jamieson as the man he had seen shoot the cowhand in the saloon.

“The lady said she wasn’t interested.” He said.

“And who may you be?” asked the other man.

“Just one of Mrs. Bartram’s hands.” Replied Adam, “But I don’t like you coming here and threatening her.”

“Well I think that’s up to Mrs. Bartram, don’t you.”

Alice turned to Adam.

“It’s all right, these ‘gentlemen’ were just leaving.” She turned back to her visitors, “You have my answer. I will not change my mind. Good day.” And she shut the door on them. Through the door, Adam could see them hesitate before turning to leave. He and Mrs Bartram went back into the parlour and returned to the seats they had been occupying.

Adam did not say anything, but Alice could see that he was consumed with curiosity.

“Williams wants to buy me out. The price he has offered is a very low one and nothing like the price I will get if I can build the ranch back up, if I wanted to sell that is, which I don’t.”

Adam hesitated a moment. “Jed told me about how your husband died, about his gambling. I’m sorry.”

“There is nothing to be sorry about. Jed doesn’t know the full story. The fact is that my husband was working with the federal marshal, trying to find a way to stop Williams. He had worked the same trick with many small ranchers over the years and they had decided to try to stop him, and asked for my husband’s help.”

“What was he doing, Williams I mean?”

“He would get the ranchers gambling and into debt, then take their property from them. Oh, it all seemed quite legal, but the marshal was convinced that the games were fixed, that the men were tricked into losing so much money. Richard had found some evidence to prove what the marshal suspected, and he was on his way to Sacramento to turn over the evidence when he was killed. Everyone suspected that Williams was behind it, but no one could prove it. The marshal was supposed to send men here to protect me, but he was killed before he could arrange it and none have been sent. So I have to try to keep Williams at bay.”

Adam sat deep in thought for a long time, but at that moment could see no obvious way out.

“Mrs. B. if there’s anything I can do for you I will. Jamieson is dangerous, I saw him in the saloon in town. He shot a man who accused him of cheating. The sheriff could not do anything about it, the other man drew first. I think it was one of your hands.”

“Yes, it was. He had only been here a couple of days, I didn’t know him at all.” Said Alice sadly.

“Perhaps I could get the marker back.” Suggested Adam

“No, you must not do anything that will put you in danger.” Alice was firm. She was afraid that Adam would indeed try to confront Williams, and she could not bear the thought of having to tell his father that he had been hurt, even killed, trying to help her.

“You must promise me that you won’t do anything without telling me first.”

She seemed quite anxious that he should not interfere. Adam could not understand her insistence, if he could do something surely she would let him try.

But he agreed. “OK, if I think of some way to stop him I’ll tell you. You can’t let it go on.”

“No, I can’t. But Williams is a powerful man round here. The law has been unable to touch him, and you’ve seen for yourself what Jamieson is capable of. I don’t want you getting hurt. Now about those figures.” She went back to the papers that they had been discussing. Adam decided to let it rest for now, but he would try to come up with a plan of action that would help her.

“I think I would like you to take me up to the pine forest tomorrow and show me exactly what some of these figures refer to. It’s will be much easier to understand if you explain it to me on site, so to speak.”

They arranged that they would start out first thing in the morning, meanwhile Adam would make the adjustments that she had suggested, and he left to make a start on them.

*****

Chapter Eight

The following morning Adam saddled Sport and a smaller bay horse for Alice, and went up to the house. As soon as he approached, Alice appeared through the front door. She was dressed for riding in a calf length divided skirt, a stetson tipped back on her head.

“Good morning, Adam. How are you feeling this morning? Not too stiff I trust.” she enquired, concerned that a day’s riding might aggravate the injuries from the fight.

“Morning Mrs. B.” replied Adam. “I’m fine thanks, almost good as new.”

She was carrying a canvas bag in her hand, which she fixed to the saddle and, taking the reins from Adam, mounted the horse with ease, not needing Adam’s offered help.

“Well then, let’s get going.” And they rode side by side out of the yard.

Adam took the road that he thought they could adapt into a logging route, and as they rode, he described what he would do to make it serviceable. Alice was paying close attention and asked questions that told Adam that she had a clear understanding of what he was telling her.

He pulled Sport to a halt beside the low cliff where he had stood a few days before, looking at the view that so reminded him of home. He helped Alice down, and took her arm as he showed her a sample of the trees he thought they could harvest.

They spent the morning wandering through the forest, Adam describing where he thought the cutting could start, and the trees they would need to promote in order to keep the operation going. He slowed his normal stride so that she could keep pace with him, and they walked together amongst the trees in the dappled sunshine, the air heavy with the smell of the pines, discussing the possibilities. Adam was pleased with the way Alice was taking note of the things he told her. If she decided to go ahead, he knew she would be able to maintain a good business.

By lunchtime they found themselves back with the horses. Adam was prepared to ride back to the ranch, but Alice reached up and took down the bag she had brought with her. She led Adam to a clear piece of ground near the edge of the cliff, and sat down, indicating that Adam should join her. She reached into the bag and brought out cold chicken and ham, bread, fruit and wine, and laid them on a chequered blue cloth, which had also come out of the bag.

“I though that we might as well enjoy our outing. It’s been a long time since I have done anything like this.” Alice sighed, looking out over the forest.

“Toller’s accusations become more true every day.” Said Adam teasingly, raising his eyebrows at the contents of the bag.

“What you do for me is none of Toller’s business, nor anyone else’s.” She looked pointedly at Adam. “For the first time in months I am actually enjoying myself, and that is worth more than money to me.”

She handed Adam the bottle of wine to open, and produced two glasses from the bag. Adam filled them both as she held them, and she handed one to him, raising her glass as she did so.

“Here’s to you and your ideas.” Alice saluted him.

“May your ranch always be as bounteous as it’s owner.” Adam replied, raising his glass in return.

“Thank you. You’re so …” She stopped suddenly, aghast at what she had been about to say, ‘so like your father’!

“What am I?” Adam queried, curious.

“I was going to say you’re so kind.” Said Alice lamely. Adam suspected that she was going to say something else, but he let it pass.

They sat together talking, eating their lunch, and enjoying the quiet of the forest. Suddenly a shot rang out. Alice’s head snapped round to look in the direction from which the shot had come. When she looked back Adam was lying on the ground beside her, his hands pressed against his left side, his breath coming in short gasps. She bent down towards him.

“What is it, are you hurt?”

“Yes.” Adam gasped. “My side.” Alice pulled his hands away and saw the blood underneath. She quickly separated his shirt from his trousers and saw the hole made by the bullet, in his side just above his hip. She rolled him onto his right side and saw another, slightly larger hole in his back.

“It’s gone straight through.” She told him.

“Good.” He said looking down. “I think it’s only muscle, nothing serious.” And he tried, unsuccessfully, to sit up. He lay back on his side, waiting for the pain to ease.

“Don’t move.” The instruction came from above them. Alice looked round and saw Jamieson standing over her, gun in hand. Behind him, Alice could see Bart Williams, who was smiling at their predicament.

“What have you done? What do you want?” Asked Alice, her heart beating wildly.

“You know what I want. I want you to accept my offer. I want your ranch and I want it now.”

Jamieson went over to Adam and, using his foot, rolled him onto his back. Adam groaned, the wound might not be serious but it was painful.

“Haven’t we met before?” asked Jamieson, not able for the moment to think where their paths had crossed.

“Yes,” said Adam through clenched teeth, “Yesterday at Mrs. Bartram’s house.”

“Oh yes, the interfering hand. Perhaps that’ll teach you to mind your own business.”

Alice turned from Jamieson, pulled the cloth from under the remains of their meal, and tore it into strips, which she was going to use to bind round Adam in an attempt to stop the bleeding.

“Well isn’t that sweet. Caring for your hands so well.” Williams bent down and pulled Alice to her feet before she could start bandaging Adam. “Leave him, let him bleed. The sooner you sign this paper, the sooner you can tend to him.” And he held out a piece of paper to Alice. She took it and saw that it was a bill of sale for the ranch.

“I’ll never sign that, never.”

“Then he can lie there and bleed to death. Is that what you want?”

Alice looked down at Adam, torn between her ranch and the son of her friend. She reached out for the pen and ink that Williams held out to her.

“No Alice! Don’t sign. It’s not that bad.” And to prove it Adam sat up and then rolled onto his knees, sucking in a deep breath as he did so.

“Not yet perhaps.” And again, Jamieson aimed at Adam. Before he could pull the trigger again, Adam threw himself at Jamieson’s knees, making him overbalance. Jamieson fell heavily, letting go of the gun, and they rolled on the ground, each trying to get a grip on the other. Finally, Adam managed to get the upper hand, and pinning his opponent to the ground, delivered several hard blows to his chin. Jamieson lay still and Adam climbed to his feet breathing heavily. The sight that waited for him brought him to a standstill. Williams was pointing the gun at Alice.

“That’s enough.” He commanded, then turning to Alice told her, “I don’t need your signature if you’re dead. I still have your husband’s marker. That gives me claim to the property.” Adam could see Williams’ finger tighten on the trigger.

“No!” Adam shouted and, ignoring the pain in his side, he charged.

He took Williams by surprise as he pulled the trigger. Adam felt the bullet graze his shoulder, but did not stop. He grabbed Williams round the waist and forced him away from Alice.

Williams had been standing near the edge of the cliff and Adam’s onslaught brought them closer to the drop. As Williams struggled in Adam’s arms, the edge of the cliff began to give way. Adam felt himself falling but did not release his grip, and they landed together fifteen feet below, amongst the boulders strewn down the steep slope at the foot of the cliff. Williams was ripped from Adam’s grasp and they rolled down the slope together, bouncing from one rock to another. Adam felt a searing pain in his leg that tore a scream from him, then another pain in his arm. He felt as though he was living a nightmare. His whole body hurt and he could not stop his downward progress, every jolt sending waves of agony through him.

Then, as suddenly as it started it stopped. Adam lay on his back, dazed, staring up at the sky. He could see the top of the cliff and a face peering over it, and he could hear a voice calling his name, but he could not reply. Then gradually he could see nothing but the face, and then…nothing.

*****

Chapter Nine

Jed Tucker and Frank Toller were in the foothills searching out strays. They had been quite successful and had a small herd of a dozen steers in front of them. They were driving them down to the lower pastures when they heard the first shot from higher up the mountain. Adam had told Jed exactly where he was taking Alice, he was too experienced in mountain travel not to tell someone where he would be going. Jed shouted to Toller to leave the cows and follow him. He turned and galloped up towards the forest, hoping that the shot did not mean trouble. Then he heard the second shot, and tried to force his mount into a faster pace.

It took them twenty minutes to reach the top of the cliff. There they saw Adam’s horse, but no sign of him or Alice. Jamieson was lying on the ground amongst the remains of the picnic. Tucker jumped from his horse and went to Jamieson, taking him by the collar and shaking him back to consciousness. Jamieson looked blearily at him.

“What happened, where’s Mrs. Bartram?” Jamieson couldn’t answer, in truth he didn’t know what had happened. Toller, who had been looking around, called out to Tucker, who let go of Jamieson and went to the edge of the cliff as Toller pointed downwards.

His heart stopped as he saw the sight that waited for him. Adam was lying motionless at the bottom of the cliff, one arm and leg seeming to be bent at impossible angles. Alice was kneeling on the ground beside him.

“Hang on Mrs. B. we’re coming.” He called.

Alice looked up.

“Get a wagon, hurry, and get a doctor out to the house. Hurry, please.”

Jed told Toller to do as she asked and he took off without a backward glance. Jed set off down the track that would lead to the bottom of the cliff, going faster than was safe, but arriving within a few minutes and taking his place beside Alice.

“What happened? We heard shots.”

“It was Williams. He decided that he had waited long enough to take over the ranch and was going to kill me. Adam stopped him, but they both went over the cliff.”

Tucker went over to where Williams lay. He took a quick look at him and came back to Alice, shaking his head.

“He’s dead, looks like he broke his neck. Lets have a look at Adam.” And he went down on both knees beside the motionless form of the man he thought of as his friend. He spotted the blood seeping from the bullet wound, and raised his eyebrows at Alice.

“Yes, Jamieson shot him, and I think he caught another in his arm from Williams. It was meant for me.”

Jed heard her voice catch, and when he looked round he could see tears streaming down her face. While they had been talking, he had been feeling all over Adam’s body, trying to assess the damage.

“There is no bullet in his arm, just a graze, but his leg’s broken, and one arm, and I think his collar bone may be broke too.” Tucker shook his head, wondering what he could do way out here, away from any help. The first thing to do was try to stop the bleeding from the wound in Adam’s side. He remembered seeing the cloth lying on the ground at the top of the cliff and, telling Alice that he wouldn’t be long, he went back up the trail. When he got there Jamieson was gone, but Tucker did not bother about that, just gathered up the cloth and rode back as fast as he could, pulling Sport along behind him.

He bundled up the cloth into pads and had Alice press them firmly on the wounds in the front and back of Adam’s body. Then he went into the woods and came back with several small branches, as straight as he could find. He took the rope from his saddle and cut lengths off it, wincing as he did so. No self respecting ranch hand would cut up a perfectly good rope, but there were times when one had to do these things.

He tried to straighten Adam’s left leg, but as he did so he could see the bone sticking through the blood soaked trousers and knew that this was a job for a doctor. Adam moaned deep in his throat as his leg was moved, but he did not stir. Jed laid two pieces of wood down the sides of the leg and bound them as tight as he could, then started on the right arm. This proved slightly easier and was almost straight as he bound that as well. He placed Adam’s other arm across his chest and with Alice holding Adam up off the ground a little, bound the arm tightly with the rope, hoping to immobilise it.

Tucker sat back on his heels wondering what else he could do. He examined Adam’s head and found a large bump and a gash that was bleeding badly. He took another piece of the cloth and bound it round Adam’s head. Adam’s breathing was erratic and Tucker wondered if he had hurt his chest, or if there were any internal injuries. Again, there was nothing he could do about any of those sort of injuries, all they could now was pray.

He glanced towards Alice. She was pressing the pads on the wounds, her face blank. She had stopped crying, but the tears had been replaced by a terrible emptiness in her eyes that was painful to see.

“Don’t worry, Mrs. B. He’s strong and young, he’ll be OK you’ll see.” He said it to reassure her but wasn’t convinced that he believed it.

They sat in silence, unable to do more, Jed continually glancing down the trail willing the wagon to appear, the only sound was Adam’s laboured breathing.

Eventually they heard horses approaching, and the wagon came round the bend in the trail, Toller driving the horses as fast as they would go. He pulled them to a stop in a cloud of dust, and jumped down. He had brought two other men with him to help lift Adam into the wagon, which they did, moving him as little as possible. Through it all Adam did not stir, which Alice thought was a good thing. It was better that he was not aware of the journey they would have to make back to the ranch house.

Alice sat in the back of the wagon, Adam’s head cradled in her lap. He was pale and shivering and Alice covered him with the blankets that Toller had thought to bring with him. Toller was again driving the wagon, and he tried to avoid the ruts in the road, while at the same time racing to get back to the ranch as quickly as possible. He could not avoid one deep hole and the wagon shook with the impact, causing Adam to moan though still unconscious. This was the only sound he made during the whole trip.

As they arrived back at the ranch, they were surrounded by the other men, who had heard what had happened. Many pairs of hands helped to lift Adam from the wagon and take him into the house. Alice directed them upstairs and into the guest room, where they laid him on the bed. Then Alice shooed all of them out except Tucker. She noticed Toller hanging back.

“Please may I help you with him, Mrs. B.?” he asked and Alice nodded. Toller had developed a grudging respect for this man who had beaten him. He did not see why, if he could not defeat him, anyone else should.

Toller took off his hat and set about helping Tucker to get Adam undressed. They had to cut his clothes off, and when they had, they could see the numerous cuts and bruises he had picked up on his uncontrolled tumble down the slope. Alice went to get some water to bathe those cuts, and while she was downstairs, there was a knock on the door. Doctor Wilson had arrived, and Alice ushered the elderly man upstairs without ceremony.

As soon as the doctor disappeared into the bedroom Alice went outside, to find a hand to ride into town with a message for the telegraph office to send to Virginia City.

On entering the bedroom, the doctor did not wait to be told what had happened. The ranch hand who had charged into his office and dragged him out had told him of the urgency of the situation. With help from Tucker and Toller he treated the injuries, and after more than three hours he went in search of Alice. He found her in the parlour pacing the floor.

“Edward, how is he? Please be honest with me, it’s very important that you tell me the truth.”

“Very well. I won’t beat around the bush, he’s badly injured, it’s going to be touch and go whether he survives. He’s lost a lot of blood, and he has several other broken bones apart from his leg. His arm, ribs, and shoulder. One of his ribs had punctured his lung and I had to open him up to repair the damage. But perhaps the single most dangerous injury he has is a fractured skull. If you can keep him warm and quiet he stands a better chance, but you must realise that he may never wake up, he may just slip away from us. I don’t know how strong he his, how strong his will to survive, but that counts for a lot in cases like this. None of his injuries is life threatening on their own, but taken together…well we’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll stop by in the morning. Goodnight Alice.”

“Goodnight, Edward and thank you.”

Jed had gone outside to see that the work due at the end of the day was being done, and found most of the men were standing around talking about what had happened. He got them moving and went back to the house. As the doctor left he passed Jed coming up the steps. Jed noticed the grim look on the doctor’s face, and hurried into the house without knocking. He found Alice in the parlour sitting on the settee, head in hands. When she saw him, she stood and came towards him. Jed put his arms round Alice to comfort her and she buried her head in his shoulder and wept.

Finally regaining control, she pushed herself away from him and sat down again. Jed sat opposite her on a chair and took her hand.

“Alice, I’m sure he’s going to be all right, you’ll see.”

“But what if he’s not, what am I going to do, it’s all my fault. He should never have got involved in my troubles.”

Jed hesitated for a moment. “Alice, there’s something I have to do. I must to get in touch with his father, I think he should know what has happened.”

“Do you know who his father is?” asked Alice, curiously.

“Yes, and Adam isn’t some itinerant cow poke. He told me where…”

Alice stopped him.

“Adam told you about his family?”

“Yes, and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, but Adam made me promise that I wouldn’t say anything about him to anyone. But I never imagined anything like this happening. Now you’ve got to know.”

Again, Alice interrupted him.

“Don’t worry, I already know. Ben Cartwright and I have been friends for many years. I recognised Adam as soon as I saw him, though he didn’t know that. I have already sent Dave Marsden into town to send Ben a telegraph.” Alice turned away, her fist to her mouth. “But I don’t know how I am going to face him, after letting this happen to his son.”

“Alice it was not your fault. You are not to blame, I’m certain that Adam wouldn’t blame you.”

“No, you say that but I am responsible.”

Alice’s eyes took on a far away look as she thought about what had happened, and having to face Ben when he arrived. Jed held her hand, trying to give her the strength to get through the next few days. Neither of them said anything, they were both silently praying.

*****

Chapter Ten

Ben Cartwright was sitting in his office pouring over the ledgers. He had been working on them all day, and every five minutes he thought to himself how much he missed Adam, who would often take this burden from his shoulders. Eventually he put down his pen and stood and stretched. He went in search of a cup of coffee in the kitchen, and was handed one by Hop Sing, then went outside to get some air. He found himself thinking again about Adam. Ever since he had received the letter from Alice Bartram, he had been easier in his mind. Knowing his son’s whereabouts helped, as did the fact that he was with a good friend, even if he didn’t know it. Alice had said that she would keep an eye on him, though if ever Adam found out about that he would be mad, that wasn’t why he had gone away.

Ben watched his two younger sons at work in the corral. They had taken over many of Adam’s duties though they could not replace him, they simply did not have the experience or the knowledge of their older brother, but they were learning. These last few weeks had made them all appreciate just how much Adam did about the ranch, and Ben had sworn to himself that when Adam returned he would treat him with the respect he had earned.

A rider came into the yard and Ben recognised Bart Travis, who did odd jobs around town.

“Howdy Bart, what brings you out here?” Ben asked his visitor.

“Got a message for you, Jack at the telegraph office thought it important enough to have me bring it out here right away.” And he bent down from his mount to hand Ben a piece of paper.

Ben unfolded the message and read it;

ADAM HURT STOP COME QUICKLY STOP ALICE

Ben read the short message again.

“Will you take a reply back to Jack? Tell him it’s urgent.” Bart nodded and Ben turned the paper over, and wrote on the back a message that told Alice he would leave straight away. He handed the paper and some money to Bart, who rode away at a gallop. Ben called over to Hoss and Joe.

“Boys come here, now, quickly.” Hoss and Joe heard their father call and ran over to him.

“What’s wrong Pa.” Asked Joe

“What’s the rush, what’s happened?” Queried Hoss

“It’s Adam, he’s been hurt. We have to leave now.”

“How bad is it?” Joe asked following Ben into the house.

“I don’t know. I just got a message from Alice Bartram telling me to come quickly.” Ben knew that Alice Bartram was not a woman given to panic. If she said it was urgent, she meant it. Knowing this just made Ben more worried, there could be only one reason why she would tell Ben to come quickly.

The three men hurried to collect the gear they would need for the journey. Thirty minutes later they were galloping out of the yard, heading north.

They rode hard and changed horses often, when they could find a livery stable that had fresh horses that they could exchange for the ones they were riding. Joe was particularly upset at leaving his horse, Cochise, with strangers but Ben paid the man well and said they would be back.

On the morning of the third day, they rode into the Bartram ranch, and saw a man standing in the middle of the front yard. They rode up to him and announced themselves.

“I’m Ben Cartwright and these are my sons. I believe my elder son, Adam, is here.”

“I’m Jed Tucker, Mrs. Bartram’s foreman. I’m pleased to meet you, but sorry it has to be under these circumstances. Come up to the house, I’ll find Mrs. Bartram.”

He led the way, and as the men dismounted the front door opened.

“Mrs. B.…” he never finished the sentence as Alice rushed down the steps and into Ben’s arms.

“Oh Ben, I’m so very sorry this has happened. I said I’d keep him safe and look what’s happened. I tried not to let him get involved, but it was taken out of my hands. You must be Hoss and Joe,” She said seeing the other two men, “Please come in.”

She turned and went back up the steps and into the parlour, holding Ben’s hand. Hoss and Joe followed, Jed bringing up the rear.

“Alice what happened, where is Adam, how badly is he hurt?” Ben wanted answers to all the questions that had been going round in his head ever since he had received her message.

“Adam is upstairs in the guest room,” Alice had decided to start with the easiest question first, “He got hurt saving my life, I’ll tell you the details later. He is very badly hurt. He has several broken bones, a bullet wound in his side and a fractured skull. He hasn’t come round since he was injured, the doctor is very worried about him. You had better come up and see him.”

Joe and Hoss exchanged worried glances, and then followed their father and Alice up the stairs and into the bedroom where Adam lay. Ben rushed to the side of the bed and looked down at his son. Underneath a four-day growth of beard, Adam’s face was almost as white as the bandage round his head, and his breathing was shallow. Ben bent down and kissed his son’s forehead in a gesture so gentle and loving that it brought tears to Alice’s eyes.

She went to the side of the room and brought over a chair for Ben, who placed it beside the bed and sat down. He wanted to take Adam’s hand in his, to let his son know that he was there, but one hand was strapped across Adam’s chest, to keep his shoulder still, and the other was half covered in the strapping holding his broken arm in place. Ben took hold of Adam’s bandaged hand and, trying not to move it, started stroking the fingers protruding from the end of the bandage.

“It’s all right son, your father’s here, so are Hoss and Little Joe. It’s going to be OK now, we’re with you.”

Adam did not react.

Ben spent a long time just sitting looking at his son, remembering the last time he had spoken to him and the heated words they had exchanged. How he longed to have Adam awake, if only for a short time, to tell him all the things he wanted to say. How sorry he was for the way he had treated Adam, and how he understood Adam’s need to get away, and how different things would be if he came back. Hoss and Joe, sensing that their father needed to be alone with Adam, went back down to the parlour with Alice.

Ben reached into the pocket of his shirt and drew out the sheet of paper, he had kept it with him ever since he had found it on Adam’s desk. Ben read it again, though he knew what it said by heart and, as had happened many times before when he read the words, tears coursed down his face.

‘I wish that I could show my love
To those I count so dear
But all my life my thoughts I’ve hid
Afraid to let you near.

I stand alone, the choice is mine,
To some I may seem cold.
But how to tell you of my need
To touch, embrace and hold.

And now I know it cannot be
For I have lost the right
To stay with you, the ones I love,
I leave you all this night.

I go to find the man you want
If he is hid in me,
I seek the man I may become,
To set my demons free.

And with that done I can return
To those I count so dear
With open heart and open mind
At last to hold you near.

*****

Chapter Eleven

After two hours Ben came downstairs and asked Joe to go and sit with Adam. He found Alice in the parlour with Hoss, and sat on the sofa next to her.

“Tell me how this happened, Alice.” He said, his tone sounding harsher than he intended.

“Oh Ben, I never meant for Adam to get involved. He offered to help but I told him firmly that he was not to take any action without telling me, but he did it to save my life. It’s all my fault that he is injured, I could have given in to Williams, and then none of this would have happened. If only I could go back.” She went on to explain to Ben about Williams, and what he had done that day on the cliff.

“It sounds as though you had no choice in the matter, and Adam did exactly what I would have expected him to do. You have nothing to reproach yourself for, and I do not in any way hold you responsible for what has happened.” Ben put his arm round her shoulders.

“Hoss go and make some coffee, would you.” Hoss headed for the kitchen. Jed came in through the front door without knocking, as had become his habit recently. He saw Alice and Ben on the settee together, and sat in the chair opposite them. They both looked up as they became aware of his presence.

“Mr. Cartwright, I have come to know your son quite well in the last couple of weeks. He confided to me what had happened between you, and he told me that he regretted the argument that you had, that he let his temper get the better of him. I think that he was sorry for leaving. He’s a good man, I’m proud to know him, and I hope that I can call him my friend.”

“Thank you, Adam would be pleased to hear you say that. I’m sorry about the argument too. In many ways, Adam was right in what he was trying to tell me. I did take him for granted and did expect too much from him. Please God he will survive this and we can make it up between us.”

Hoss came in with some coffee and they sat quietly, seldom saying anything. Suddenly they heard a clatter on the stairs, and then Joe was running into the room.

“Pa, he’s awake.”

They all wanted to go up and see Adam, but Alice stopped them.

“Ben I think you should go on your own. Adam won’t need a lot of people round him, it will tire him too much. So you go, and we will come up later if it’s all right.”

“Thank you, Alice.” Said Ben rising and moving hesitantly towards the stairs. He wanted to see his son, but was afraid of what he would find when he got to the bedroom. Would Adam welcome him?

A few minutes earlier Adam had regained consciousness. His whole body hurt so much that he wanted somehow to run away from it, to leave the pain behind. But he couldn’t move, couldn’t get away. He tried to think round the pain in his head, what had happened, why was he hurting so much? Then he remembered, Williams, Jamieson, the gun, and falling.

He wanted to open his eyes but it was too difficult, took too much energy so he did not bother. Instead he tried to find some part of him that did not hurt, to concentrate on it, to take away some of the pain. He found his right leg seemed to be less injured than the rest of him, and he tried to move it, but the effort was too much and it made the other pains more acute. He groaned, his head was pounding, driving out all thought except the agony he felt. Why couldn’t he pass out, get away from this torment, why wouldn’t his body seek the release of oblivion?

He became aware that someone was speaking. It was a voice he thought he ought to know, but so far away that he could not recognise it.

Through the all-encompassing pain he remembered something important he wanted to do, must do before it was too late.

“Jed, Jed,” he whispered slowly, “Tell my Pa Jed, tell him I need him, that I’m sorry.”

“Adam, it’s Joe, and Pa’s here, and Hoss. Don’t try to move, I’m going to get Pa.” And Joe was running down the stairs.

Ben came into the room and sat on the chair at the side of the bed.

“Adam, it’s me. It’s Pa, I’m here.” He looked at his son, seeing the deep furrow between the eyebrows which were drawn down over eyes tight with pain

“Jed, tell Pa. Jed, tell him…sorry, Jed, tell him.” Adam’s voice faltered, and Ben thought for a moment that he had lapsed back into unconsciousness. But Adam was still awake, still anxious that Jed should send for his father. Ben thought that perhaps Jed could convince Adam, so went to the bedroom door, and called Jed to come up.

“What is it Mr. Cartwright, what’s wrong?” he asked apprehensively as he came in the door.

Adam heard Jed’s voice and recognised it.

“Jed, get my Pa, I need him, tell him, tell him I need him, that I’m sorry, please make him come, Jed, tell him I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, tell him, make him come, Jed, Jed.” Adam was rambling, half his words indistinct, but Jed understood.

Jed bent over Adam, whose body was trembling and soaked with sweat, as he tried to get his message across. Every movement just increased the pain, and he moaned almost continuously, finally making his words incoherent.

“Adam, can you open your eyes? Try to open them, and then you will see your father is here. He’s here beside you.” Jed looked across the bed at Ben who nodded his head, reassuring Jed that he was doing the right thing, and that he should carry on.

“Adam you must open your eyes. We sent for your father and he came, and so did your brothers. They all came because they love you and want to see you well again. Please, Adam open your eyes and look at your father.”

Finally, Adam was still, as though he was listening to Jed and the things he was saying. Was his father really there, had he come all that way? Adam needed to open his eyes and look at his father to make sure, and after a long struggle, he managed to lift his heavy eyelids enough to make out the shape of someone sitting beside him, and knew it was his father.

“Pa, you came. Pa I’m sorry.” Adam whispered slowly, his breath catching in his throat, a tear falling from the side of his eye. Jed noticed it and crept slowly from the room. These two needed to be alone.

“Hush, don’t talk, it’s all right. Everything’s going to be all right.” Said Ben wiping the tears from his son’s eyes with a corner of the sheet.

“Pa I’m sorry.” Adam repeated, gritting his teeth as he tried to move to ease some of the agony he felt.

“You have nothing to be sorry about, do you hear? I’m here and I’m not going away again.”

“Pa…water.”

Ben looked round and spotted a jug and glass on the table beside the bed. He poured the water into the glass and gently lifted Adam’s head so that he could drink. Adam moaned as the movement sent shafts of pain through his head, but he needed the drink. Ben held the glass so that he could sip the life giving liquid, and then lowered Adam’s head back onto the pillow.

“Rest now, son. I’ll sit with you.”

Adam remembered again how he had been hurt. He became fretful, worrying his father who could see the anxiety on his face.

“Alice, is she…?”

“She’s fine. She’s downstairs, waiting to see you.”

Adam was so relieved to hear that she was alive that he relaxed for a moment, and as he did so his body decided that enough was enough and he slipped into unconsciousness. Ben sat with him for a few minutes to make sure that he was not going to stir again. He was grateful that for the time being that Adam had escaped from his agony. Ben went downstairs to be greeted by the faces of those waiting in the parlour.

“How is he, Ben?” asked Alice.

“He’s in a lot of pain and did not say very much. He asked after you. He seemed very worried about you.”

“You have a wonderful son, Ben.” Said Alice, moved that Adam should have thought of her at a time like this.

“Yes, I know.” Ben drew in a deep breath. “I’m going to get some air.” And he went outside.

*****

Chapter Twelve

For days they took it in turns to keep vigil at Adam’s bedside. Days during which Adam woke several times, but when he did wake he was rambling. Each time he was conscious he asked Jed to send for Ben, he asked over and over about Alice, and sometimes he was simply incoherent, unable to form the words he wanted to say.

On the morning of the eighth day after Adam was injured, Alice was taking her turn to sit with him. She had placed her chair away from the bed, so that the light that was on the table lit the needlework piece on which she was working. She was not making much progress with it, as she would stop often to check on Adam, or simply put the work down in her lap, and run over and over again in her mind the events of that fateful afternoon.

Alice was sitting now with her eyes unfocused, her breath coming faster as she remembered what had happened. How she prayed that she could go back to before that dreadful time, to give Williams what he wanted, would it have been so bad if she had sold the ranch to him, was it really worth all this? Suddenly she became aware that she was being watched. Alice looked round the room, peering closely into the shadows that hung in the corners, away from the light. Then she turned back to the still figure in the bed and, with a start, realised that it was Adam who had been watching her, his dark eyes were open and following her every movement.

He said nothing, just looked at her, which unsettled her slightly.

“Adam, can you hear me?” she asked softly.

“Yes.” whispered on a breath.

“Do you know where you are?”

“Yes.” Again almost soundless, but there was an awareness in the dark eyes which delighted Alice.

“How do you feel?” Alice asked him, because she could think of nothing else to say at that moment, she was so excited that he might actually be recovering.

“I hurt.” Said with a slight smile.

“There’s someone here who very much wants to speak to you, do you think you could manage that?”

“Can’t talk, hurts.” Was all he could manage to say. Concentrating made his head hurt.

“I don’t think you will have to do much talking. I believe he will do enough for the both of you.” Alice put a hand on Adam’s shoulder and quickly left the room.

She went to find Ben, who was standing on the veranda drinking a cup of coffee. Alice came up behind him and noticed the slump in his shoulders. This was taking a lot out of him. Not just Adam’s injuries, but also the fact that they had not spoken after the argument, Adam not giving his father a chance to say his piece before he left. There was so much that Ben might have said, and now he did not know if he was going to get the chance.

“Ben, he’s awake.” Said Alice putting her hand on his arm.

Ben looked down at her.

“What’s he saying now?” asked Ben, thinking of the ramblings of his son.

“Very little, but he is listening. Ben I think he really is awake this time. You must go to him.”

Ben put down his coffee cup and hurried up the stairs to the guest room. He slowly pushed open the door. As he did so, Adam turned his head to see his father enter the room.

“You came.” Said Adam closing his eyes in relief.

“Yes, and your brothers. Alice sent for me.”

Ben sat beside the bed and held Adam’s fingers in his left hand and stroked them gently. Adam found the contact reassuring, and opened his eyes.

“Pa, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t talk son, just listen. When you left, Hoss and Joe told me how you were feeling and why you had to go. I can only say I’m sorry, that I did not realise what I was doing to you, how I was leaning on you. I have never told you how much I value you and respect you, I suppose I just took it for granted that you would know that. I never actually said it, but I do now.”

Ben studied his son’s face looking for signs that he was tiring, but he seemed alert so Ben continued.

“Adam I could not run the Ponderosa without you. Oh, I know I could run the ranch but not ‘The Ponderosa’ and all that it means. Not just the business but also the responsibility of owning a place of that size. Responsibility that goes beyond the simple matter of conducting the day-to-day business. What we do affects our neighbours, even the people in town who rely on our business to keep theirs going. And what we do now also affects the whole future of the area. We could so easily take everything we could, make a huge profit and leave, but you will never let that happen. That was what Cassidy could not see when you stopped him cutting down those young trees. I need your help to safeguard that future.”

Ben stopped speaking. There was silence in the room, then the sound of Adam taking a deep breath.

“Pa, I’m sorry. I lost my temper. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Adam’s face was becoming covered in a fine sheen of sweat as he tried to concentrate.

“Don’t talk now, son. We’ll speak again later. For the moment you just concentrate on getting better, then we can take you home.”

“No.” Adam closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep before Ben could get an explanation out of him.

He went downstairs and asked Hoss to sit with Adam, while he went outside, where he found Alice sitting with Jed on the veranda. Ben poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot sitting on the table by the chairs, and sat down next to Alice.

“Jed, did Adam ever say anything to you about coming home?” Ben asked trying, but failing to keep the worry out of his voice.

“Yes. When he was telling me who he really was and where he came from, I asked him if he was going back. He said that he was, that he did not think the break was irreparable. Why?”

“Because just now, when I mentioned taking him home he said ‘No’, as though he wasn’t coming back.”

“Oh Ben, you can’t take any notice of anything he says in his condition, and you know it. Wait until he is stronger.” Said Alice gently.

At that moment the doctor pulled up in his buggy. He came up the steps and was told of the improvement in his patient. He went into the house and emerged half an hour later.

“Well I’m happy to be able to tell you that your son will be all right. He still has a long way to go, those bones will not heal overnight, but he should make a full recovery.”

“Thank you doctor. Thank you for the care you have given to my son, I will never be able to repay you.” Said Ben taking the doctor’s hand and shaking it warmly.

“No,” smiled the doctor, “But I will be sending you my bill. Good day. Alice I will look in again tomorrow.” The doctor tipped his hat, and stepping into his buggy drove away. Ben and Alice stared at each other, and then Ben put his arms round her.

“Thank God.” He whispered with feeling,

“Amen.” Said Alice.

*****

Chapter Thirteen

Adam was half sitting up in bed. He was surrounded by pillows which were supporting him, two more were under his right arm, and yet more under his left leg, all helping to keep the limbs straight and promote good circulation. It was now two weeks since Williams had tried, and failed, to take the Bartram ranch by force. Adam’s head had stopped hurting and he was left with only a slight headache when he got tired. His other injuries were in much the same state. They did not hurt if he did not move!

Hoss and Joe had just left him. They had come to say good-bye, and were going back to the Ponderosa, which they had left in such a hurry. Someone had to look after things, and Ben wanted to stay a while longer with Adam. The doctor had said that it would be at least another two weeks before he should even think of moving Adam back to the Ponderosa, preferably longer.

Alice came into the room to take away the breakfast tray, which she had brought up earlier. Adam could manage to feed himself, now that the doctor had released his left arm from its imprisonment, designed to immobilise his shoulder.

Alice was going to leave him, she knew that he still suffered occasional bouts of extreme pain, and that he didn’t like anyone to see him in such distress. And an activity like eating, and the movement it required was one thing that brought it on.

“Alice, would you get my father and come back here with him. There is something I want to talk about to both of you.”

“Of course.” Replied Alice, wondering what Adam wanted to say. She found Ben and together they went back to Adam’s room. They stood at either side of the bed looking down at him.

Ben was concerned that Adam had indicated that he wasn’t coming home, but he had not asked Adam again about his abrupt reply when Ben mentioned going home, though he desperately wanted to find out what Adam meant. Perhaps that was what he wanted to discuss with them.

“What is it son? Are you feeling all right?”

“Yes Pa, I’m fine. There’s something I need to know. Who sent for you and why?”

“What do you mean, why. Because you were hurt, of course. And it was Alice who sent for me. But why do you need to know that?”

Adam did not answer his father but turned instead to Alice, who was just as confused as Ben.

“Alice, did Jed tell you who my father was, so that you could send for him?” Jed had already told him that Alice knew Ben, but Adam wanted to hear it from them, wanted to know that they would not lie to him.

Alice realised suddenly what this was all about. She thought that perhaps she could lie to Adam, pretend that she had not known who he was, but she could not bring herself to do that, he deserved the truth. Ben also realised what was behind the questions, and cringed inwardly. He remembered thinking that if ever Adam discovered that Alice knew who he was, he would be mad. Well it looks as though he’s about to find out, thought Ben.

Alice walked away to the window and then came back to stand beside the bed.

“Adam, Jed did not have to tell me who your father was, I knew. I knew who you were, and had known from the first moment I saw you.”

“Did you write to my father to tell him I was here?”

“Yes, I did. I also said that I would look out for you, keep you safe. Well I failed spectacularly to do that.” Alice was nervously twisting a handkerchief tightly round her fingers, unconsciously tearing it as she did so. Like his father, she was desperately worried what Adam’s reaction was going to be.

For a while Adam didn’t say anything, he was breathing hard, and his left hand had a grip on the sheets that threatened to break his fingers.

“Pa, I’m not coming home.” Adam threw the statement into the room and looked steadily at Alice and Ben for their reaction.

“Is this just because we deceived you, is that it?” asked Alice. “I’m sorry that we did that, but we were concerned for you. Don’t throw your family away because of me, and don’t blame your father. I could have told you that I knew who you were, but I was afraid that you would leave if I did. I wanted you to stay, I wanted to share Ben’s son for a little while.” The handkerchief was almost destroyed.

“Son, don’t make any hasty decision until you are feeling better.” Said Ben desperately, coming closer to the bed, and putting a hand on Adam’s shoulder. Adam looked down at the hand, then at his father. Ben removed his hand, sensing that Adam did not want to be touched, especially by his father, at that moment.

“I should not have let Alice keep you in the dark about knowing you, but I knew that you would have a good place here to help you find yourself, as you wanted, and Alice would let me know how you were getting on. You had been gone for nearly a month and you had not contacted me.” Ben finished defensively.

Adam looked sternly at his father and Alice. His face was like thunder, his father could tell that he was indeed mad at them both for deceiving him. Ben worried about what his son would decide to do next, he might take off again, but this time go right out of his life, feeling that he had been betrayed. Alice also saw the look and felt desperately guilty for her part in the deception, and what might be the result.

Suddenly Adam burst out laughing, but paid the price when the laugh turned into a groan, as his ribs and head both hurt at the same time. Alice and Ben looked at each other, confused.

“You should see your faces. I hope that has taught you a lesson, ganging up on me like that. Pa I meant what I said about not coming home. When I set out to do something I intend to finish it, however difficult it may be.” Ben started to protest, but Adam held up his hand. “Just a minute, Pa, let me finish. It’s not for the reasons you think. I want to complete setting up Alice’s logging business first, if she’ll let me that is.”

“Of course, I was afraid that you would not want to, after all this.” And she swept her hand down the bed.

“Oh, I want to, I want to get this ranch working for all it’s worth. I don’t want another Williams to come along and try to force you out, and the best way to prevent that is to have a strong business behind you.” Adam turned to his father.

“Pa, it may take me the best part of the summer to get this up and running, seeing the state I’m in now. Do you think you can spare me?”

“What about what you set out to do for yourself, to find the man you really are? Do you still want to do that?” Asked Ben, curious to know whether his son had settled his demons.

“I have found myself. At least I found out something about myself. I’ve had a lot of time to think these last few days.” Adam paused, gathering his thoughts, “You cannot get away from your roots, that is who you really are, and you always take them with you. It did not matter that Alice knew who I was. I was still the same person whether she knew me or not, as long as I did not try to be something different from who I am. People can take it or leave it, if they have ideas about who I ought to be, that’s their problem. As long as I don’t change to fit in with their perception of me, try to be something I’m not, then I have no problem. Jed didn’t know who I was when he offered me this job, nor when he asked me about setting up the logging business. He did that because of the person he knew, someone he’d met in a saloon.”

Adam put out his hand to his father, who took it gently.

“Pa, my biggest mistake was in not talking to you, not trusting you, and then blaming you for not trusting me. If I could have talked to you before things got out of hand, there would have been no problem. But I didn’t trust you, did not know that you would respect me more if I was honest with you. I was afraid that you would think I was letting you down if I told you that I was drowning in work. I ignored our history, the life we have shared. I forgot the times that you felt you had let me down, and you know I forgave you, that in fact there was nothing to forgive, because I knew that you always did your best for me, for all of us. But I was so arrogant I thought that I was the only one who could see the effort I was putting into the ranch. Too arrogant to think that you might be able to help. I could not contemplate you seeing things from my stand point, and forgiving what I saw as my failure.”

Adam stopped and his eyes glazed over for a second as he thought of all the things he wanted to say, the love he wanted to give his father, but he still could not say them. He had too much difficulty in opening his heart to this man that he idolised. He had become too used to hiding his feelings, keeping them hidden so that he wouldn’t be hurt again. He had lost the mothers he knew, lost women he would have married, and lost his best friend, all this had turned his feelings inward, stopping him from expressing his love, for fear of losing the one he loved most.

“Son, I was just as much at fault. I should have let you know how much I value you, how much I respect you and need you. I just took it for granted that somehow you would know. I had no idea how you felt, how I was hurting you.”

Ben could see that Adam was tiring, his breath was coming quicker, and he was sweating slightly. They needed to get out and let him rest.

“Son I don’t know how, but we’ll manage without you till the end of the summer. But then I want you back, I’ve missed you, we’ve all missed you.”

“Thanks Pa.” Said Adam, and sinking back into the pillows, he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Alice and Ben went downstairs again and out onto the veranda. They sat down together on the swing seat to the left of the door. Alice took Ben’s hand and turned to him, a smile tugging at the sides of her mouth.

“Well I suppose we asked for that, didn’t we?”

“Yes.” Ben laughed, and then became more serious. “I hope he is more settled now, with himself and with his life. I will miss him through the summer, we all will and not just for the work he does. I suppose that I had better get used to it though. I know that one day he will go for good. Adam wants to see the world, to experience so much more than he can have at home. But until that day I will hold on to him as hard as I can, not just because I need him to help me run the ranch, but because he is part of me, and when he goes a little of me will go with him, and cannot be replaced.”

*****

What’s a man’s first duty?

The answer’s brief: To be himself.

(Peer Gynt – Henrik Ibsen 1828-1906)

***The End***

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