Carried on the Wind (by Diana)

Summary:  As Adam recovers from an accident, he wants to thank his rescuer, but that proves easier said than done.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  G
Word Count:  29,310

I wish to express my sincere thanks to my friend Susan Groves, without whom this story would not exist in any physical, or ‘virtual’, form.


Adam Cartwright was falling.  What had started as a gentle slide, had quickly turned into a heart stopping tumble down the gravel and rock strewn slope, towards the deep ravine that was waiting to claim him.  He tried to slow the speed of his descent by digging his hands into the dirt among the small rocks that covered the ground, but he only succeeded in raising more clouds of gritty dust.  Sharp grains of dirt found their way under his eyelids and he wanted to close his eyes against the stinging pain, but he was watching a clump of trees off to one side, trying to direct his progress towards them.  As he drew level with the small outcropping, he threw out his left arm and wrapped it round the nearest trunk, nearly pulling the limb from its socket as he succeeded in halting his fall.

He watched, horrified, as his horse disappeared over the edge of the ravine, and could hear its fading cries of terror as it vanished.  He guiltily thanked God that his own horse, Sport, was at home in the barn, nursing a swollen fetlock, and it had not been his long time companion that had fallen to his death a hundred feet below.  But then he thought that Sport wouldn’t have panicked when he heard the rattle of the snake.

Adam hugged the tree for a few minutes to get his breath back, trying to clear his vision as he waited.  He blinked several times, and tears streamed down his face as his eyes tried to rid themselves of the dirt that filled them.  Looking down at himself, he could make out the fact that his black shirt was ripped and bloody where the rocks had torn at him, and the skin on his hands had been scraped away.  His head was aching fiercely where it had struck repeatedly against the scattered rocks, and when he tried to raise his left hand to wipe away a trickle of blood from a cut on his forehead, he thought that he must have pulled every muscle and ligament in his shoulder as he had grabbed the passing tree.  But he dismissed all the discomfort, he was lucky to be alive.

Every time he blinked, Adam felt the scratchy dryness of the dust, but he forced his eyes open as he started to climb slowly back up the steep slope, keeping to one side where the ground was firmer and there were more trees, widely spaced but the only help he had.  He found it hard going; he had to use both his arms as he moved cautiously from tree to tree, afraid every time he released his grip on one slender trunk, that he might slip before he could find the safety of another.  He rubbed at his increasingly painful eyes, trying to clear them so that he could seek out a secure path, but, by the time he reached the road at the top of the cliff, he could barely see.  He attempted to look round for the snake that had made his horse shy and take the fatal steps sideways, but his vision was so blurred that he could make out no details on the ground.  He could only hope that the single shot he had managed to get off had been enough.

He sank down and sat on the side of the dusty road, cradling his arm, trying to relieve the agony of overworked muscles and torn tendons in his shoulder, knowing that he ought to try to make his way towards civilisation, but when he opened his eyes he realised that he couldn’t see enough to walk anywhere. Everything around him was a blur, and when he moved his eyes, they sent a pain through his head that forced him to close them.  His shoulders sagged in defeat as he realised that he was alone and unable to see; he would have to wait, either for help, or for his vision to clear.  It was early morning, no one would be travelling that lonely mountain road for hours, if at all.  He lay on his back beside the road and shut his eyes; at least if he didn’t blink they didn’t hurt so much.  He rubbed at them again and tried to open them, but stopped immediately, the pain from the small movement was enough that he didn’t want to try it again any time soon.

Adam had lain there only ten minutes when he became aware that he could hear the hoof beats of an approaching horse.  He pushed himself shakily to his feet; lying still had caused his abused body to stiffen, and his aching head swam as he straightened.  When he opened his eyes all he could see were the bright sparks of stars swimming in his vision, so he closed them again but the sparks remained.  He waited until he thought that the animal must be close, then tipped his head back and opened his eyes just a fraction, so he was looking through his thick, black lashes.  Tears again slipped from his eyes as they protested at this mistreatment, but he ignored them.  He could see little, but thought that he detected the shape of a buggy, his ears confirming what he could see only dimly.  He stood in the middle of the narrow road and held up his right hand, his left hanging useless at his side.  He closed his eyes again as he heard the horse stop some way off, then approach slowly, halting when it came near.  He heard the soft crunch of wheels on the dirt road close beside him, but there was no sound from the buggy, so Adam spoke.

“Can … can you help me?” he asked, trying to sound calm, but he heard his voice come out as a plea.  His right hand held his left arm close to his body and he took a step forward.  Still there was no sound and he thought that the person in the buggy would leave him there.  Then he heard the rustle of material and felt a hand on his arm.

A light voice spoke to him.  “What on earth happened to you?”  A woman’s voice.

“My horse…we went over the cliff,” Adam said hesitantly.  Now there was someone near he felt himself trembling with relief that he was no longer alone.

“I see.”

Adam almost laughed, it was more than he could do at that moment.  “Can you help me?” he asked again.

The woman looked at the ragged stranger before her, seeing the bloody scrapes and tears to his head and body, and knew that she couldn’t leave him there.  “Have you hurt your eyes?” she asked, concerned.

“It’s just the dust.”  He put up a hand to touch them, but pressure on his arm forced it down.

“Don’t do that, it will only make them worse.”  She could see by the bloody smears round his eyes that he had been rubbing at them with his hands, and she held his arm so that he would not do so again.

“Where do you live?” the woman asked.

“The Ponderosa.”  Adam gestured in the direction of his home.

“That’s not far.  I’ll take you there.”

“No, really you don’t have to.  If I can just get a horse…” Adam turned towards her and opened his eyes, but all he could see was a thick mist and patches of light and dark, no detail at all, and he shut them quickly.

“And do what exactly?  Your own horse might have been able to take you home, but I doubt that you can see well enough to get yourself there on a borrowed mount.”

Adam didn’t argue.  She was right, he’d never be able to find his way home as he was.  “Thank you, I’m very grateful to you.  My name’s Adam Cartwright.”

When she didn’t reply Adam frowned.  “Won’t you tell me who you are?  I would like to know who it was that rescued me.”

He sensed a hesitation, then the woman spoke.  “My name is Verity Carlisle.”

The name seemed familiar to Adam but he couldn’t place it for a moment, then he remembered.  He had heard the name spoken in town, along with the gossip.  They said that the woman at the old Mason ranch was a recluse.  Knowing nods, that said they also thought that she was probably a little mad as well, always followed this statement.  No one had seen her since she had bought the place a few weeks before; it was small and isolated, sharing a section of the Ponderosa’s eastern boundary.  She apparently had just one elderly hand who helped her, and it was he who came into town for supplies.

“I’m pleased to meet you,” Adam said with feeling, grateful that she had stopped and helped him.  Verity looked sideways at him, seeing the sincerity on his dark, handsome face.

She helped Adam up onto the seat, and he felt it rock as she stepped up onto the other side of the buggy and sat down beside him.  She slapped the reins against the back of the horse and the vehicle began to move.

After they had travelled for a few minutes in silence, Verity saw a stream up ahead and pulled the horse to a standstill.  “I think we should try to get some of that dirt out of your eyes.  Just stay there and I’ll help you down.”

Adam baulked at being so helpless and tried to open his eyes, but knowing the pain it would cause, his eyelids refused to move and he sat waiting for her, until he felt her hand on his arm and allowed her to lead him to the water’s edge.  He could sense that she was shorter than him and, he thought as his arm brushed against her, quite slim.  He wondered what she looked like; her voice was light and gentle, a pretty voice.  Did she have the face to match?  Was she fair, or dark?  How old was she?  Verity helped him to sit down, pulled a handkerchief from her pocket, and then dipped it in the cold water of the stream.

“Can you open your eyes at all?” she asked.  Adam tried, then shook his head.  “Never mind, I’ll just get some of the blood and dirt from around them.”

Adam was concerned.  “Blood?”

“Don’t fret, I think it’s just where you’ve been rubbing them with your hands, it’s not coming from your eyes.”  She bathed the cuts on his face and forehead, and managed to get some of the dirt out of his eyes.  When she had finished, Adam again put up his hand to rub at them and Verity again stopped him.  “I’m going to put this cloth round your eyes, it’ll help you to keep them shut and stop you touching them until the doctor can take a look at you.”

As she bound the handkerchief round his head, Adam felt the relief of having his eyes held shut.  “Thank you, that feels much better.”

“If you wait there a moment, I will get something to wrap around your hands as well.”  Adam heard her move away and, after a few quiet seconds, he panicked as he thought that he was alone, that she might not come back.  But then he heard the rustle of her skirts as she returned, and he breathed a sigh of relief.  Not being able to see cut to the depth of his being, he felt vulnerable and useless, feelings that he hated.

After she had bathed and bound his hands, she spoke as she held his arm.  “Let’s get you home.”  Adam made to stand but his knees gave way and he fell against Verity.  “I think your little adventure is starting to catch up with you, take it slowly and you’ll make it,” she advised kindly, helping him upright again.

She guided Adam slowly and carefully back to the buggy, and they rode on towards the Ponderosa.  By the time they were approaching the ranch house, Adam had fallen sideways and had his head cradled on Verity’s lap.  While the bandage stopped him from opening his eyes, it couldn’t stop him from moving them under the closed lids, and the pain that caused, mixed with the hurt in his body and a blinding headache that made him feel nauseous, had driven him to escape in unconsciousness.

Verity pulled up short of the house and sat for a few minutes, looking round.  She put her hand on Adam’s shoulder and shook him gently, but firmly.  He came to his senses slowly; he hurt everywhere and had to fight to stay awake.  Adam tried to open his eyes to see where he was, then, as memory returned, he put his hand up and felt the cloth bound over them.

“Will there be anyone at home?” Verity asked, and Adam thought that she sounded nervous.

“What’s the time?” he asked, trying to concentrate on what she was saying.

There was a pause.  “Nearly midday,” Verity reported.

“No.  They’ll be back soon though.”  Adam remembered his father saying that he was taking Hop Sing, their Chinese housekeeper, into Virginia City for supplies.

Verity moved the horse forward and stopped in front of the house.  Adam felt the seat bounce as she got down, and then his rescuer was supporting him in through the front door.  Adam stumbled as he tripped over the edge of the rug behind the settee; he had never noticed that he usually stepped over the rough edge of the furnishing, worn with the tread of many feet.

“I’ll help you up to your room, if you like,” Verity offered.

“Thanks.”  The comfort of his bed beckoned to Adam and he gave her directions.

She sat him on the side of the bed and pulled off his boots, while Adam released his empty gun belt.   He lay down, not bothering to try to get undressed, it was too much effort, and besides, there was a woman present, but he knew that he would have to endure the wrath of Hop Sing for lying in his bed in clothes that were bloody and dust covered.  Verity pulled the blankets over him and told him that she would leave a message for his family, so that they would know what had happened and could send for the doctor.

“Miss Carlisle, thank you,” Adam’s words were slurred as his body told him that it had had enough for one day and forced him into the waiting arms of painless oblivion.

*****

Ben Cartwright ran into his son’s room and saw the still figure stretched out on the bed.  Adam was lying on his right side, turned away from the door, and Ben could only see his back, which showed him that Adam’s dusty shirt was torn, with patches of dried blood darkening the black material.  He went to the far side of the bed and knelt down, observing the cuts and bruises, the bandaging on his son’s hands and the handkerchief bound over his eyes.  The message, which Ben had found on the low table in front of the huge fireplace in the living room, had said that Adam was in his room, hurt and in need of a doctor, but gave no other details.

Adam came awake to the sound of his father’s worried voice, “Adam, Adam, what happened?”

Adam rolled over onto his back and groaned; the adrenaline had stopped flowing and he felt worse now than when he had climbed back up the cliff, he seemed to hurt just about everywhere.  “Horse fell…cliff.  Dirt…in my eyes,” he said slowly, as he put up a hand to take off the cloth that covered them, but Ben stopped him.

“I think you should leave that alone until Doc Martin gets here, he won’t be long.”

Adam let his arm drop back onto the covers.  “OK.”  He didn’t feel strong enough to argue.

“I’ll get you cleaned up in the meantime.  How’d you get here?”  Ben went to the washstand and poured some water into the basin.  Adam heard the sound of the trickling water and was not surprised to feel his father begin to unbutton what remained of his tattered shirt.

“Woman helped me.”  Shafts of pain were driving themselves through Adam’s head and he was finding it difficult to think clearly.

“Why didn’t she wait for someone to come home?” Ben asked as he worked at cleaning the many cuts that covered his son’s upper body, thankful that his legs had been protected by the sturdier material of his jeans.  “Do you know who she was?”

Adam started to nod, but then thought better of it.  “Yes…Verity Carlisle,” Adam said slowly.

“Well, I must remember to thank her.  What happened to your horse?”

“Dead…in the ravine.”  Adam’s head was hurting and he was losing the fight to stay conscious.

“What made him fall?”  Ben wondered.  He waited but got no reply, and he realised that Adam had drifted off to sleep.  He put his hand to his son’s dark hair and stroked it lovingly.  He hated for any of his children to be hurt, it cut him deeply to see their suffering.  But Ben thought that Adam had been lucky not to share the fate of his dead mount.

When Doctor Paul Martin entered Adam’s bedroom Ben stood to greet him.  “Hello Paul.”

“Hi, Ben.  I got your message and came straight over.  What happened?” the doctor asked, as he took off his jacket and hung it over the chair near the door.  Paul was not only a good doctor, but had an air that told patients, and worried parents, that he was in control.

“I’m not sure; he said something about falling over a cliff and dust getting in his eyes.”

The doctor nodded as he washed his hands and dried them on a towel.  “Well, let me take a look at him.”  Paul moved to the side of the bed and gently shook Adam’s shoulder.  The only sign they had that he had woken was the deep breath he took.  “Adam, it’s Paul.  Can you hear me?”

Adam nodded once, slowly.  “Yes, I can hear you, I’m not deaf,” Adam said acidly.  It wasn’t his ears that hurt.

“I want to take a look at your eyes.  I’m going to take off the bandage.”  Paul unwound the cloth and, as it came loose, Adam tried to open his eyes.  He gasped and shut them quickly.

“Hurts, does it?”

“How many years did you have to study to diagnose that?” asked Adam sharply.

“Adam!” Ben exclaimed.

Adam took a couple of deep breaths.  “I’m sorry, Paul, guess I’m not thinking quite straight.”

Paul felt round Adam’s head, and found several sizeable lumps that had no right to be there.  “Bang your head as well?”

“A bit,” Adam acknowledged.

“Well, any pain you have from that will soon pass.  But I want to look at your eyes.  Now, don’t do anything, let me open them for you.”  Paul put his fingers on Adam’s eyelids and gently lifted each in turn.  As he did so, the fingers of Adam’s right hand wrapped themselves in the bedspread, and he gritted his teeth against the pain.

Paul turned to Ben.   “Would you get me some hot water, and bring it and some salt?”

Ben went to find Hop Sing, who was in the pantry stacking the supplies they had brought back from town.  Meanwhile Paul examined Adam more closely.  He checked the cuts and declared himself satisfied at the treatment Ben had given, and he re-bandaged Adam’s flayed hands, then he wrapped the damaged shoulder tightly, fashioning a sling to support it.  When Ben returned with the water, Paul mixed some salt into it and, after placing a towel over the pillows, started to wash his patient’s eyes.  Adam found it impossible to keep still and constantly turned his head away.

“Adam, you must let me do this.  I have to get the dirt out,” Paul said forcefully.

“I’m trying, but they hurt so much…” Adam moaned, fearful of what the pain might mean.

Paul looked up at Ben, who was watching anxiously.  “Can you hold his head still; I must get them as clean as I can.”

Ben sat on the bed and held his son’s head firmly, while Paul washed out his eyes.  Adam fought against them, until finally the doctor decided that he had got rid of as much of the dirt as he could.

“I’m going to put some ointment in your eyes, it may sting a bit, but it will help them.”

Adam drew his breath in sharply and gritted his teeth as Paul used his finger to put the medication under the eyelids.  Then the doctor wrapped a clean cotton bandage over his patient’s eyes.

“I want you to keep that bandage on for at least a week.  The dirt has scratched the surface of your eyes and you must rest and allow them time to heal.”

Adam lay on the pillows, exhausted by the treatment, and said a weak “OK”

“I’ll make sure he does as you say,” said Ben.

Paul was putting on his coat.  “Then I’ll see you next week.”

“I hope to see you then, as well,” Adam said miserably.  The thought of a sightless week, of not being able to read, or see the sun, or his family, filled him with dread.

“Yeah, well we’ll…” Paul stopped himself before he finished the inappropriate sentence.   He motioned to Ben to follow him as he left.

Ben put his hand on Adam’s arm.  “I’ll be back in a minute.  I’ll just go and see Paul out.”  He realised what he had said only when Adam turned his face away.  Ben shook his head sadly, and went out after the doctor.

As they left him alone, Adam again felt the rising panic he had experienced when Verity left him by the stream.  Without his sight he was helpless, cut off from the world and those he loved.  He forced himself to calm down and think rationally, Paul had said that it would only be for a week.  Surely, thought Adam, he could manage seven days of darkness, but not being able to see was his worst nightmare come true.

As Ben and the doctor reached the great room that made up most of the downstairs area of the large ranch house, Ben’s younger sons, Hoss and Joe, greeted the two men.  They had heard about Adam’s accident and were waiting expectantly for news.  Paul turned a serious face to Ben.

“What is it, Paul?” Ben asked, suddenly afraid.

“Ben, I should warn you that Adam may have permanently damaged his eyes.  I managed to get nearly all the dirt out, but his eyes are badly scratched.  Most of that will heal, but it may leave scarring that will impair his sight.”

“Do you mean that he may be blind?” Ben asked softly, horrified at the thought.

“That is a possibility, though probably not,” Paul tried to reassure the men who were staring at him.  “But it could affect his vision.  The best I can compare it to is looking through a lace curtain.  You can see well enough, but not clearly.  I just wanted to warn you, but I haven’t told Adam, no point in him worrying about it all week.”

Hoss stood with his hands deep in his pockets, his shoulders hunched.  “Is there anything we can do for him, to help him?”  Hoss was the biggest of the three brothers, strong, broad and tall.  He would use that strength to help his family, but knew it was useless in a situation like this.

“Just keep him as quiet as you can, make him rest so he doesn’t move his eyes too much, and let nature take its course.”  Paul smiled, “Fortunately, I don’t think that he’s going to want to move for a couple of days.  And don’t let him even think of touching those bandages.”

“Don’t worry, doc,” said Joe.  “Even if we have to hog-tie him he’ll do as he’s told.”  This youngest brother would do anything to ensure that Adam recovered.

Paul nodded, satisfied that he had done all he could.  Ben let him out of the door and turned to Joe and Hoss.  “Well, you heard what he said, peace and quiet for a week.”  Ben smiled softly.  “That will make a nice change.”

*****

They had no difficulty keeping Adam in bed for the rest of the day, but, despite the doctor’s prediction, the following morning he insisted on getting up.

“Pa, I’m not ill, and I feel fine.  My head’s stopped aching and so has everything else.”  He wasn’t being strictly honest, but knew he wouldn’t feel any worse if he was allowed out of bed.  “Paul only said rest.  He didn’t say I had to stay here.”  Even after so short a time of enforced idleness, Adam was getting edgy.  He found that the sleep he had had during the previous day had robbed him of a night’s rest.  Normally when he couldn’t sleep, he would read, but that was not possible and, instead, he had run through in his mind poetry that he remembered, imagining himself holding the book and looking at its pages.

“Very well, but you sit downstairs and don’t move unless one of us is with you.”  Ben looked hard at his son, then realised with a start that Adam couldn’t see him, and the piercing stare would have no effect.  “Do I have your word?”

Adam sighed, “Yes.”

“All right then.”  Ben helped Adam to dress, then guided him downstairs and made him sit on the settee.  “Can I get you anything?”

“A cup of coffee would be good.”

Ben nodded and went into the kitchen.  Adam heard the sounds of his father’s booted feet cross the room, striking hard on the wooden boards, but then softer as he trod on one of the rugs.  Other sounds intruded on his thoughts.  The crackling that told him there was a fire in the grate, the ticking of the long case clock beside the front door, bright bird song from outside the dining room window, which made Adam think that the sun must be shining, and the chatter of men moving about the yard.   Sounds that had always been there, but which he had ignored for the more immediate sights of his surroundings and the movement around him; now he cherished them, they were his contact with the world.

He heard his father return from the kitchen.  “There you are, son.”  Ben guided Adam’s bandaged right hand to the cup, his left arm being restricted by the sling that supported his shoulder.  Adam took it and drank slowly.  The coffee was hot and a little bitter, but refreshing, a slightly dusty flavour overlaid with a nutty bite that he had never appreciated before.  He wondered what else this week would reveal to him as his other senses replaced that which had been lost temporarily, and was suddenly, surprisingly, looking forward to the days without sight, and what it would add to his knowledge of the world around him.  No, he thought, he was not ‘looking forward’, he was listening and feeling forward to things he had not experienced.

“Son,” said Ben to get Adam’s attention, “I have to go out for a while, will you be all right?”

“Of course, why wouldn’t I?”

“Hop Sing’s in the kitchen if you need anything, just call him.”

“Pa, just go and stop worrying, will you.”  Adam hated people fussing over him, and he knew that there were jobs that needed doing.  Ben nodded and, picking up his gun belt and hat, took a backwards look at his son sitting quietly on the settee.  He said a silent prayer that the end of the week would see him back to normal, and left.

Adam sat, listening to the sounds around him.  Funny, he thought, the house had always seemed silent before, when he was alone.  Now he heard the creak of the timbers as they expanded in the morning sunlight, the soft sigh of the breeze against the eaves, and the movement of people outside.  He heard the sound of his father’s horse as he rode away, then more horses as men left for their assigned tasks about the ranch.  As the hoof beats faded, Adam became aware of the sound of his own blood as it moved with his heartbeat, and it made him claustrophobic, it was a noise that he couldn’t get away from.  He shook his head to try to rid himself of the feeling, but it persisted.  He put the cup to his lips to drain the contents and then found that he had already done so, shocked to realise that he had no way of telling.  He leant forwards to put the cup on the table, but it fell to the floor as he stopped short of the wooden surface.  He sighed, and bent down to retrieve it, but as he did so the increased blood flow started his head hurting again and he sat back slowly.  He wondered how he was going to manage for the next seven days; perhaps Paul would take pity on him and make it six.

He lay back against the settee, trying not to sleep, but his thoughts turned towards it as a verse ran through his mind:

Care-charming Sleep, thou easer of all woes,
Brother to Death, sweetly thyself dispose
On this afflicted prince.  Fall like a cloud
In gentle showers.  Give nothing that is loud,
Or painful to his slumbers; easy, light
And as a purling stream, thou son of Night,
Pass by his troubled senses.  Sing his pain,
Like hollow murmuring wind or silver rain.
Into this prince gently, oh, gently slide.
And kiss him into slumbers like a bride.     (1)

Adam felt the first wisps of sleep approach and shook himself awake.  He didn’t want to sleep, though he would have easily given in to the temptation to do so, but he wanted to be able to rest at the same time as his family.  Being awake when they were sleeping the night before had made him feel lonely and isolated.  He sat up, and became aware of a peculiar sound from the back of the house.  Curiosity overcame his promise to his father, and he rose slowly.  He made his way cautiously past the settee and held out his hand to feel for the chair where he normally sat, at the opposite end of the dining table to his father.  He made contact with the smooth wood and felt for the table.  He slowly made his way round it, past the chair where Joe would sit, until he reached the other end, then stretched out his hand and took a pace forward until he touched the rough surface of the wall.  A sideways step had him by the window, and he opened it, cocking his head to listen.  The noise came again, a flapping like the wings of a huge bird.  Adam frowned and tried to picture what could be happening at the rear of the house to make such a sound.  He smiled to himself as he heard quiet expletives in Chinese; Hop Sing was hanging out the washing.  Adam visualised what was happening as he followed the sounds.  The washing basket creaked as Hop Sing picked up an article, then he shook it out, causing the flapping sound, then a pause as he pegged it to the line.  Adam assumed the expletives were directed at some misbehaving piece of washing, perhaps a shirt with the arms inside out.

Adam remembered his promise to his father, and started to make his way back to the settee.  As he felt his way to the table, he heard a horse in the yard and recognised the prancing step of Cochise, Joe’s mount.  He hurried so as to be seated when his brother appeared, but in his rush he caught his foot on the leg of a dining chair and fell to his knees, banging his already injured shoulder on the corner of the table.  He cursed his condition quietly and fluently, and Joe chose that moment to enter.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?”  Joe demanded, as he went to help his brother to his feet and back to his place on the settee.  Adam laughed to himself; it was so much what he would have said if he had found his young brother in the same position.

“I got curious, it’s my own stupid fault, fell over the chair,” Adam admitted sheepishly.  “Please don’t tell Pa or he’ll have me cooped up in that bedroom for the rest of the week.”

“OK, just this once, but if I catch you doing anything like that again I will tell him.  You must take care of yourself, if you’re not…” Joe stopped, remembering that Adam didn’t know the possible outcome of his injury.

“If I’m not what?”

Joe hesitated fractionally.  “If you’re not to get into Pa’s bad books.”

Adam noticed the hesitation and knew that Joe was hiding something.  “What is it, Joe?”

“What do you mean?” Joe asked innocently.

“What aren’t you telling me?”

“Nothing.   I was afraid that you might have hurt yourself again, that’s all.”

Adam didn’t admit to Joe that he was right.  By disobeying his father he had hurt his shoulder, and woken up several aches that he had thought were sleeping and under control.

“Is there anything I can get you?” asked Joe.  “I came back to make sure that you were OK.  Pa said that he might have to go out.”

“No, I’m fine, and you must have work to do.”

“Yeah, breaking those misbegotten broncs that we bought last week.  I swear some of them are determined to break me.”  Joe rubbed his back, remembering.

Adam heard the rustle of Joe’s shirt and pictured the familiar movement.  “There’s fresh coffee in the kitchen.  Why don’t you have some before you go back?  And you can get me one while you’re at it.”

Joe nodded, then, realising Adam couldn’t see his agreement, said, “Yeah, why not.”

Adam heard him go to the kitchen and pour out some coffee, then return.  They sat together talking quietly for half an hour, until Joe said that he must be getting back.

“Thanks for coming in, Joe, I appreciate it.”

“That’s OK, but promise me you’ll do as you’re told.  Adam, I’m sorry that you got hurt, but you must be careful, you know, do what the doc told you.”  Joe’s tone held a concern that touched Adam’s heart.

“I promise, now git.”

Adam was seated, as he had promised Joe, when Ben returned late in the morning.

“Well, I’m pleased to see that you haven’t moved,” observed Ben.

Adam was glad that his father couldn’t see the guilty look that would have been in his eyes at that moment.  “Yeah.”

“How about some lunch, then?” Ben suggested, and guided Adam to sit beside him at the table as Hop Sing brought out their meal.

Adam was about to start eating, when it occurred to him that he had no idea what was on his plate.  “What is it?”

Ben looked at him for a second, before he realised what he meant.  “It’s cold ham, eggs and sourdough bread.  Would you like me to help you?”

Adam’s tone was sharp as he replied.  “No.  I can manage perfectly well.”

“Sorry son, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“No, I’m sorry, that was uncalled for,” Adam apologised.  “Let me try for myself.”  Adam found it difficult to eat his meal.  He had only a vague idea what was on his fork, and how much, but he was determined that he would do it for himself.  He wasn’t an invalid and didn’t want any help.  He had eaten only half his food when he gave up, making the excuse that he had had enough.

Ben took his arm and led him back to the settee, placing a cup of coffee in Adam’s hand.

“Thanks Pa.  I suppose a walk outside in the fresh air would be out of the question?”

“You suppose correctly,” Ben agreed.  “Maybe in a couple of days, but right now you sit there and do as you’re told.  If you want anything just ask me, I’ll be at my desk.”  Ben saw Adam’s miserable expression.  “Son, I’m sorry about what happened to your eyes, but you won’t help them heal if you don’t rest.”

“Yeah, everyone’s sorry.”  Adam was tired of hearing the expression, first from Joe, now his father.  He didn’t want their pity, he wanted to get on with his life.

Adam had sat quietly for a time but became restless with nothing to do, nothing that he could do, sightless and one handed as he was.  After many requests, which became increasingly pleading, Ben finally agreed and allowed Adam to venture outside onto the veranda for an hour, making his son promise that he wouldn’t move.  Adam sat in the warm, late afternoon sun listening, fascinated by the sounds that had always escaped his notice before.  Behind the cheering and pounding of hoof beats coming from the corral were mostly the sounds of small wildlife; the scraping of squirrels, the chirping of birds, or calls from some unknown creature to its mate.  He could hear, far off, the lowing of the cattle in the top meadow and behind it all the murmuring of the wind in the trees.  He pictured it all in his mind, and realised that when he thought of his home and its surroundings, he always saw it bathed in sunlight, warm and peaceful.

He sighed and settled himself lower in his chair.  Knowing that it would only be for a week, he could find a certain fascination in his temporary blindness, and the new world it let him into.

Adam heard Ben approaching; the firm, long strides were unmistakeable.

“Adam, it’s me.  I think you should come inside.”

“OK Pa.”  Adam didn’t move.

“Are you all right?” asked Ben, concerned.

“Yeah, I’m fine.  I was just thinking.  We take so much for granted, like being able to see.  But now I can’t, I have a different perspective on the world.  I can hear things that I never noticed before, and smells.  Did you know that from here you can smell the scent of the roses in Hop Sing’s garden at the back of the house?  I’ve never noticed that before.”

Ben sniffed and raised his eyebrows, he had not noticed the sweet perfume in the air.  “So you can,” he laughed.   “But that’s enough, come inside.”

Adam did not resist as Ben held his arm.  He had told his father that he felt fine, but in truth he was tired, his shoulder ached as did the many bruises, and there was a constant, annoying throbbing in his head.  Ben could see his weary step, and Adam did not resist when his father suggested that it was time for him to rest, and that he should go to his room.  As Adam sat on the bed, Ben pulled his boots off for him and saw him settled under the covers.

Ben lowered himself into a chair.  “Can I get you anything?”

Adam shook his head.  “No, thanks.”  He lay back on the pillows and waited for sleep to claim him.

Ben was concerned when he noticed that Adam was breathing faster and a sheen of sweat had formed on his face.  He leaned forward.  “What is it, son, are you feeling all right?”

“I’m…I’m fine.”  Adam reached out, searching for his father’s hand, needing the contact.  “I was just thinking of you and Hoss and Joe.  I pictured you all sitting downstairs.”  Adam’s grip tightened as he continued.   “Then I realised that none of you had a face.”  His voice was breaking as he spoke, holding back the tears.  “Pa, I couldn’t see your faces.  How could I forget what you look like, how is that possible in so short a time?”

Ben was at a loss, but he had to find the right words to comfort his distraught son.  He took a deep breath, hoping that the words would come.  “Adam, it’s not that you’ve forgotten, it’s just that you are so used to seeing us that you don’t need to remember.  When you go away for a few days you don’t forget, do you?”

Adam shook his head.  “I don’t think so, but I don’t remember having to think about what you look like.”

“No, you don’t have to think about it.  You’re trying too hard, that’s all.  You’re not used to having to make an effort to remember.  If you stop trying so hard, it’ll come.”  Ben felt Adam’s hold on his hand slacken, but he didn’t let go.

Adam tried to bring his breathing under control, to relax his mind and body.  Slowly it started to work, and his mind wandered, from scenes of life in Virginia City, to the view over Lake Tahoe, then the workings of the ranch and the people involved.  He could see them all.  In his mind he saw three figures riding towards him.  As they approached he realised it was his family, and he could see each of their faces.  He turned his head towards his father.

“You’re right, Pa.  I can see you all, clearly.  Thank God,” he finished with a heartfelt prayer.  To see nothing was bad enough, but to lose the image of his family would be too much to bear.

Ben squeezed Adam’s hand.  “When will you learn that your Pa is always right?”  Ben thanked God as well.  “Now go to sleep, I’ll be right here.”

Adam settled himself deeper under the covers.  Ben watched his breathing become regular and light as he fell asleep, and he prayed that his son would soon be able to look on the faces of his family once more.  He recalled the first time he had looked into his son’s eyes.  The room was filled with the echo of the last breath that Adam’s mother would ever take, and Ben could still feel the touch of her hand on his.  He had tears in his eyes as he went to the crib beside the bed and lifted the tiny bundle that would grow into the man lying sleeping before him.  The new born baby’s eyes opened and gazed trustingly at his father.  They were a dusky blue, Ben remembered, that slowly changed to become a warm brown during his first year.

“Elizabeth,” Ben whispered, “are you watching over our son?  Can you see his suffering?  Please let him be all right, he doesn’t deserve to be blind.  He gives so much, and asks so little.  Please don’t let them take his sight.  I’d give anything to prevent that happening.”  The tears ran unheeded down Ben’s cheeks as he prayed desperately for his son.

*****

Hop Sing brought Adam his breakfast in bed, and helped him to eat it.  Adam found that the little Chinaman had a natural understanding of when he needed help and when he could manage for himself, and he did not find the assistance so difficult to accept as that of his family.  He stayed in his room until Ben came to help him dress, and took him downstairs.

As the hours wore at him Adam became restless and eventually he stood.  Ben immediately noticed the movement.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked, rising from his chair behind the desk.

Adam turned towards the sound of his father’s voice.  “I just thought that I’d stretch my legs.”

“Then let me help you,” Ben said, but Adam gently eased the guiding hand off his arm.

“Pa, I can manage. As long as no one’s moved the furniture I can walk round the room.”

“But…”

“Pa, please.  I can manage,” Adam said, a little more sharply than he intended.

Ben watched as his son felt his way round the settee and walked slowly towards the door.  Adam turned and made his way back, carefully remembering to step over the worn rug.  “There, you see.” Adam stopped abruptly, realising what he had said.  He hung his head and turned away from Ben before his father should see the stricken look on his face.  Adam paced back and forth behind the settee cherishing the hint of independence it gave him, while Ben watched.

“Pa, I’m fine, get on with what you were doing.” He smiled.  “Don’t worry, I just need to move a bit, I can’t sit forever.”  Adam stretched to ease out some of the kinks from his back

Ben stayed where he was for a minute, then, seeing Adam move carefully around the room, went back to his desk and the books he was working on.

When Ben said it was time for lunch, Adam insisted on finding his way to the table by himself.  Ben stood nervously beside him, ready to prevent him hurting himself, until Adam made it safely to his seat.  They ate lunch together, but again Adam found it difficult, and did not eat much.

Ben returned to the accounts and Adam sat obediently all afternoon, not that he had much choice with his father in the room, and he still ached, though he kept that to himself.  Despite his efforts to stay awake, he found himself drifting off to sleep.  With no stimulus for his eyes and no movement for his body, it was impossible not to.  He could hardly separate sleeping from waking, only the peculiar and unnatural events in his dreams told him the difference; dreams of darkness, which left Adam with such a feeling of deprivation that he woke fearing he had lost both his sight and his family.

He was awake and once more contemplating how his other senses had taken over from his sight.  Lines from a poem were running through Adam’s head, lines that now had more meaning for him:

‘To walk abroad is, not with eyes,
But thoughts, the fields to see and prize;
Else may the silent feet,
Like logs of wood,
Move up and down, and see no good,
Nor joy nor glory meet.

Ev’n carts and wheels their place do change,
But cannot see; though very strange
The glory that is by:
Dead puppets may
Move in the bright and glorious day,
Yet not behold the sky.

Are not men than they more blind,
Who having eyes yet never find
The bliss in which they move:
Like statues dead
They up and down are carried,
Yet neither see nor love …’       (2)

Adam knew that, when the bandages were removed and he could see once again, he would not go about blind to the world around him.  He would be able to appreciate, even more deeply, the wonderful sights that his home afforded him, the sounds and smells that he had ignored; all his senses would be heightened.  He wondered how long it would last, before he forgot his temporary blindness and the gifts that it had given him.

His thoughts were interrupted by the unmistakeable sounds of his brothers’ arrival; the light gait of Cochise and the slower, firmer tread of Chubb, Hoss’ horse.  The noises faded as Joe and Hoss stabled their horses, and then Adam heard footsteps approach the house.  The added acuteness of his sense of hearing enabled him to listen to them talking as they neared the front door.  They paused before entering.

“What d’ya mean ya found him on the floor?” asked Hoss.

“He’d been walking about, and fell over a chair,” Joe confirmed.  He had promised Adam that he wouldn’t tell Pa, but had, at last, confided his concern to Hoss.

“I think we should get Pa to tell him, you know, what Paul said, that he could ruin his sight if he don’t do as he’s told.”

“I don’t know how he’d manage,” said Joe with sympathy, thinking of Adam’s love of books.  “If he couldn’t see to read or write, it would just about finish him.”

Adam sat motionless, listening to the exchange.  Did they mean that he could lose his sight permanently?  He went cold inside as the words sank in.  Hoss and Joe entered the house and greeted their father and brother.  Ben rose from behind his desk and welcomed them home, but Adam sat, silent.  Then he got shakily to his feet, and turned an unseeing face to his family.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”  His voice was low and angry.  Three pairs of eyes turned towards him, mystified.  Ben went round the settee and took hold of Adam’s arm, trying to make him sit down again.  Adam shook him off roughly.  “Why!” he shouted.

Ben tried to calm him.  “Tell you what?”

Adam’s lips were thin, his face rigid with anger, and he barely opened his mouth as he spoke.  “I’m not a child.  I’m thirty years old.  Grown up enough to be told the truth.”  He turned towards his father’s voice.  “Tell me!”

“Adam, I…”

“I heard them.”  Adam pointed to where he thought his brothers were standing.  “They were talking about me being blind!”

Joe and Hoss looked at each other, wondering how Adam could have heard them.  They glanced at Ben and shrugged their shoulders, bewildered.  Ben again took hold of Adam’s right arm and this time made him sit.  “I’m sorry, son.  Paul and I thought it best if you didn’t have that worry.”

“Tell me what Paul said.”  Adam spoke more calmly, knowing that he would now get the truth.

“He said that there might be permanent damage to your eyes.  Not blindness necessarily, but poor sight.  Only time will tell.”

“What are the chances?”  Adam’s voice shook as he heard his fears confirmed.

“Paul didn’t say, but he did say that rest would help.”  Ben sat beside Adam and put his hand on his eldest son’s shoulder, knowing what the news was doing to him.

Adam was silent, he had thought that he would only have a few days of darkness, and then he would see again.  He had been unsettled but intrigued by his situation, but now…now… to never see again!  He turned and buried his face in the strong shoulder of his father.  He tried to hold back the tears that soaked into the bandage over his eyes, glad that it prevented them from falling.  He didn’t want to lose control in front of his family, it would upset them too much.

Ben held him tight, while Hoss and Joe stood uncertainly.  They moved without thinking and put their hands on him, letting Adam know they were near, trying to show their love.  Eventually Adam sat up, still holding on to Ben.

“Pa,” Adam said softly, “what if I can’t see, what will happen to me?”

“What do you mean?  We’ll be here for you, that will never change, you know that.”

“But what will I do?”  Adam released his fierce grip on his father and collapsed back onto the settee.  “All I have ever done relies on my being able to see.  The work around the ranch, doing the books, the designs…everything.”  He paused, thinking of a dark future.  “Not being able to read.  I don’t know if I can…” He stopped, unable to continue.

Ben took Adam’s shoulders in his hands and held him firmly.  “Now listen to me.  We don’t know that your eyes are damaged, there’s every chance that they will be all right.  I don’t want you worrying about that until it happens.  And if it does, you will cope.  Adam, you are one of the strongest people I have ever known.  You will manage just fine, because you won’t allow it to be any other way.  And remember that Paul said your sight might be damaged, he thinks it unlikely that you will lose it.  You will still be able to see, just not as well as you’re used to.”

Adam nodded.  “I know Pa.  I’m sorry.”  He rubbed his right hand down his face and took a deep breath.  “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.  It was just hearing them say it, I’m sorry.”

“That’s OK, son, I understand.”  Ben stood.  “Now, how about some supper?”

Joe and Hoss joined their father, but Adam remained seated.  “No thanks, I seem to have lost my appetite suddenly.”  He forced a smile.  “Can’t think why.”

Ben put his hand comfortingly on Adam’s shoulder, he knew that his son couldn’t see his expression, and physical contact took its place.  “I’ll get Hop Sing to make you something later.”

“Thanks Pa.”  Adam stayed on the settee while his family ate supper.  He wasn’t listening to their conversation, there was too much going on in his head.  He had told Ben that he was all right, but in truth he was scared.  Paul had said that he ‘thought it unlikely’ he would lose his sight.  But what if he couldn’t see?  What if he had to spend the rest of his life in perpetual darkness?  He would be useless to his family, and himself.  He had had two lives, one on the ranch, and the other as a student in college, qualifying him as an architect.  Both required at least reasonable sight.   He tried to convince himself that he was satisfied to wait and see what happened when Paul took off the bandages.

When that thought went through his head, Adam felt as though a mule had kicked him in the stomach.  There it was again.  So many times similar expressions were used.  See you later, I’ll see to it, go see to the horses, wait and see; the list was endless.  Until he had hurt his eyes, he had not noticed them scattered through conversations.

He was sitting, still contemplating how his world would be changed, when his brothers and father finished their meal, and came to sit with him.  They couldn’t see his eyes, and his face was an unreadable mask, but Adam was slowly sinking into a black pit of depression that would have had his father worried if he’d known.  He was thinking of Boston, and the Home for the Blind that he had visited with a friend, who worked part-time at the institution as a doctor.  The people Adam had seen there came back to haunt him.  Men and women of all ages, unable to fend for themselves, condemned to a life of darkness and isolation, helpless and alone, making their way around by feeling along the walls.  No use to society or themselves, they had been abandoned by the world outside those walls.

Adam determined that he wouldn’t become a drain on his family, if he was useless to them he would leave, go away so that they wouldn’t feel they had to watch over him, look after him.  They had their own lives to lead, and he wouldn’t burden them with his.

He was startled out of his thoughts when Ben spoke to him.  “Would you like one of us to read something to you?”

“You mean because I can’t,” Adam said roughly.

Ben tried to placate him.  “That’s right, son.  You can’t, not for the moment, but you will.”

“How do you know?”  Adam stood abruptly.  “I’m going to bed.”  He started for the stairs, and before Ben could get to his feet to help him, Adam walked hard into the newel post at the bottom of the staircase.  He struck it with his knee and his injured shoulder, and doubled over as the pain hit him.  Ben rushed to his side, to be joined by Hoss and Joe, but Adam shook off the hand that his father put out to help him.

Hoss held Adam’s arm.  “You OK?  Let me help you.”

Joe was equally concerned.  “Did you hurt yourself?  You must be careful.”

“Leave me alone!” Adam cried.  “I don’t need your pity.”

Ben took a firm hold of his son’s arm.  “I’m going to help you whether you like it or not.”  They went up to the bedroom, where Adam sat on the bed and started to undress, while his father stood aside, ready to help if he was needed.

“Is this how it’s going to be?” Adam asked bitterly, as he removed the sling from around his neck and dropped it untidily on the floor, and then unbuttoned his shirt.

Ben bent to pick up the sling, and placed it on the chair before answering.  “We’re concerned for you, because we love you, surely you can see that.”

Adam didn’t take off his shirt, but stretched out on his bed, covering his eyes in the crook of his elbow.  “Pa, I can’t ‘see’ anything, that’s the point,” he said miserably.

“Adam, you listen to me,” Ben said forcefully, “this time next week, you could be back to normal.  Paul said that there was a good chance that your eyes would be perfectly all right.”  Ben sat on the bed, held Adam’s hand and his voice softened.  “Son, this isn’t like you, to give in without a fight.”

“I’m sorry Pa.”  Adam shook his head and smiled thinly.  “I seem to be saying that a lot lately.  But I am sorry, I shouldn’t take it out on you, or Hoss, or Joe.  I know you only mean well.  It’s just that I have never experienced anything like this.  The helplessness that means I have to rely so completely on other people.  And knowing that it might never end, that I might always be like this.”

“I won’t tell you not to worry, but you should try to be positive.  If the worst should happen, we will be here for you.  You won’t have to cope alone, that’s what a family means, not just loving one another, but being there and caring, wanting to help.”

There was silence in the room for a full minute, and then Adam spoke softly, putting his arm under his head.  “An old Lakota Sioux once quoted something to me from one of their legends.  He said: ‘Sometimes I go around pitying myself, and all the while I am being carried on great winds across the sky’”.  Adam sat up and felt for his father’s shoulders.  “Pa, you are that wind and I know you will carry me when I need it.”  He pulled Ben to him and embraced him fiercely.

*****

It was evening, five days later. They had been difficult days for all the family.  Adam had tried, for his father’s sake, to remain cheerful, but then he would descend into depression, and his family had no words to comfort him.  Now he was restless, waiting for the doctor to appear.  Paul had sent a message to say that he wouldn’t be over until after dark, and the hours had dragged by.

“Pa, what’s the time?” Adam asked, as he had so often that day.

“Ten minutes later than the last time you asked.”  Ben sat on the settee next to his son.  “Paul won’t be much longer, the sun has set, and it will soon be dark.”

“Why couldn’t he come this morning?” Adam wondered.

“I don’t know, but there must have been a very good reason, he knows how anxious you are.”

There was a knock on the door, which made Adam jump.  Joe rushed to answer it.  “Hi Doc. We’ve been waiting for you.”

“I’m sure.  How are you Adam?” asked Paul, walking towards his patient.

“Fine.  Can we get on with this?”

“Ben, I want him upstairs, in his room.”  Ben nodded and Adam got to his feet and allowed his father to guide him.  Paul followed them up the stairs and once Adam was seated on the side of the bed, Ben turned up the lamps.

Paul put his hand on Adam’s arm to get his attention.  “Adam, I’m going to take off the bandages.  Don’t worry if you can’t see anything at first, the room will be dark.  Any light would hurt your eyes, remember that they have been covered for a week and it will take time for them to adjust.  That’s why I wanted to wait for it to be dark outside.  The brightness of sunlight would be too much for you to begin with.  I will turn the lamps up slowly to give you a chance to get used to the light.”

Adam simply nodded.  His heart was beating fast and hard in his chest, and he had to force himself to breathe normally.  He reached out for his father’s hand, and felt a reassuring squeeze as they made contact.

“When I take off the bandages, I want you to keep your eyes closed until I tell you, OK?”

Again, Adam nodded.  Paul uncovered Adam’s eyes and reached out to turn down the lamps, until the room was almost completely dark.

“Right, open your eyes slowly.”

Adam hesitated, now the moment had come and there was no turning back.  He cracked open his eyes.

“Remember that you won’t see anything at first, don’t worry.  Now, I’m going to turn up the lamp a little.  Tell me what you see.”

Adam opened his eyes wider, but could only make out blurred shapes around him.  He couldn’t see!  There were only ill-defined colours.

“Pa, I can’t …”

Paul interrupted him.  “Adam, you must blink, to clear your eyes.”

Adam held his breath and did as he was told.  As Paul gradually turned up the lamp, Adam realised that he could see across the room.  He blinked quickly several times, and suddenly everything came into sharp focus.  Adam turned towards Ben.  He couldn’t speak as he drank in the sight of his father standing beside him.  Then he pulled himself up by the hand that held his and embraced his father.

“Pa, I can see.  Perfectly.”  Ben and his eldest son hugged each other for a long time, until Paul cleared his throat.”

“Adam, I need to look at your eyes, just to check.”

“Of course.”

Adam sat down again and Paul examined him, then pronounced himself satisfied.  He stood back.  “Well, as far as I can see there is no damage.  They have healed very well.”

“Thank God,” Ben whispered.

“Amen to that,” said Adam.  “Thank you Paul.”  Adam held out his hand to the doctor, who shook it happily.

“It’s my pleasure.  You are a very lucky young man, you know.”

Adam looked at his father.  “Yes, I know.”

They went downstairs together, to tell Joe and Hoss the good news.  Ben poured them all a drink, and they toasted Adam’s recovery and thanked their friend.

“I really didn’t do anything.  It’s all down to that Cartwright constitution, you know, and the help you got from whoever it was that brought you home.  That probably saved your sight,” Paul said seriously.

Adam looked round the room that he had come to know so intimately during the past week.  He could hear the ticking of the clock by the front door, the chink of glasses as Ben poured more drinks, the sound of Hop Sing in the kitchen preparing a delayed supper.  He shook his head in amazement; they were sounds that had always been there, sounds of his home.  He looked at his family, thinking how close he had come to never seeing them again.  Tears welled in his eyes, but he swallowed hard to force them away.

“Well, I guess I can fix that fence I was going to do last week,” he said, looking down at his hands to check their condition, something that he had not been able to do until now.

Ben went to him and put his hand on his son’s arm.  “Do you think you aught to?”  Ben was concerned that Adam might suffer some after effects from his injuries.  The past week had been one of emotional turmoil for his usually composed eldest son, and Ben felt that he should get back to normal slowly.

“Pa, I’m fine, aren’t I doc?”   He turned to Paul.

Paul looked from Adam to Ben and back again.  “Yes, as far as I’m concerned, you’re perfectly fit.  Your shoulder could take a while before you can use it properly, but otherwise there’s nothing wrong with you.”

“You see Pa, Paul agrees with me.”  Adam thought about what he had just said.  There it was again, the unthinking reference to sight, taken so lightly and yet so precious.

Ben wouldn’t give in.  “All right.  But no fence mending, and only a little gentle riding,” he said firmly.  “Give that shoulder time to heal.”  Ben hoped that would stop Adam from exerting himself.

“Then, if it’s all right with you,” Adam said sarcastically, not liking the restriction of the limits his father was setting, “I would like to go over to the old Mason place and thank Miss Carlisle.”

Ben noticed the tone of Adam’s remark, but two could play that game.  “That would be acceptable.”  He looked hard at Adam.  Joe and Hoss waited for the explosion as their father and brother fought a verbal battle.  They were both surprised to hear Adam chuckle; nothing could upset him tonight.

“Then we’re agreed.”  Adam turned towards them.  “Sorry, brothers, looks like you’re on your own for a bit longer.”

Paul picked up his hat and made for the door.  “Well, now that’s settled, I’ll go do some real doctoring.”

Adam saw Paul to the door and held out his hand.  “Thanks again, doc.”

Paul shook Adam’s hand.  “Just make sure you thank the person who bandaged your eyes in the first place, they’re the one who saved your sight.   Goodnight.”

*****

Adam rode slowly towards the Mason ranch, now the home of Miss Verity Carlisle.  He was savouring not only the sights around him, which he had come close to never seeing again, but also the sounds and smells that filled the air.  They gave a depth to his surroundings that he had not appreciated before.

He pulled up, looking down the gentle slope towards the small, neat ranch house with its outbuildings, and the barn off to the right.  He spotted the figure of a woman in the yard, and thought that she must be his rescuer.  He kicked Sport into motion, but was surprised as the figure looked round and, seeing a horse approach, ran into the house.  Adam pulled up and dismounted slowly, not sure what to make of what he had seen.  He remembered the gossip in town about this woman being a recluse.  Did she really shun human contact?  Surely not.  She had helped him when he was in trouble, which was not the act of someone who actively disliked other people.

Adam walked slowly up the two steps that led to the front door.  He raised his hand and knocked.

Inside the house Verity was standing in the middle of the room, not moving.  She had heard the sound of a horse and had hurried into the house before she had a chance to see who was approaching.  Now she could see through the window that it was the man who had said his name was Adam Cartwright.  What was he doing there, what did he want?  Verity thought that if she remained quiet, he would give up and go away.   She heard the knock come again, but still did not move.  After a long time she heard his footsteps retreat down the steps, and she went cautiously to the window to watch him leave.

Adam stood back from the house, looking round.  He noticed movement at one of the windows and again went to the door.

“Miss Carlisle, are you there?” he called, but got no reply.  “I just wanted a word with you.  Won’t you let me in?  I assure you I mean you no harm, I just wanted to thank you for helping me.”  Adam waited but still there was no sound from inside the house.  He backed away and turned to his horse.  He collected the reins, mounted, and with a glance over his shoulder, he rode away.

That night at supper, he told his family what had happened.  “I know she was there, but she wouldn’t come to the door.”

Ben looked thoughtful.   “Well, some people don’t like strangers.  Perhaps she was afraid to open the door.”

“But she must have known who I was, and she certainly wasn’t afraid of me when she helped me,” Adam argued.

Hoss laughed.  “Perhaps she didn’t like the look of you when you was all cleaned up.”

“Yeah, or maybe she thought that you had ungentlemanly intentions,” said Joe, dramatically fingering an imaginary moustache.

Adam smiled.  “Thank you, brothers, for your helpful suggestions.”   He turned again to Ben.  “But I still don’t understand.”

“They say in town that she’s a recluse.  Perhaps she simply didn’t want company,” Ben reasoned.

Adam looked thoughtful.  “Yeah, maybe, but I think I’ll try again tomorrow.  If you don’t mind Pa?”

Ben was pleased that Adam was taking his time to recover and agreed.

The following morning found Adam again approaching the Mason ranch.  As he rode into the yard, an elderly man stopped him.

“What ya doin’ here?” he asked, peering up at the stranger on his horse.

Adam looked down, seeing a man in his mid fifties, slightly bent and whose eyes were screwed up with the effort of staring upwards into the bright sky.  “I’ve come to see Miss Carlisle”.

“Well, she don’t want visitors, so ya can jest turn around and ride outta here.”  The man stood in front of Sport, barring the way.  If Adam wanted to continue, he would have to either ride round the man, or through him.

“I think I’d rather hear that from Miss Carlisle herself.”  Adam dismounted and stood in front of the little man, who tried to make himself big enough to stop this interloper from venturing further.

“Miss Carlisle don’t talk to nobody.”

“Well, I’d like to talk to her.”  Adam held the man by both shoulders and moved him gently, but firmly, aside, advancing towards the house.  He went up the steps and knocked, but just as the day before, there was no reaction.

“Miss Carlisle,” Adam called, “please will you answer the door?”  Silence was the only reply.  “I’ve only come to thank you for what you did for me.”  Adam looked at the windows on either side of the door, but saw no movement.  “Won’t you at least speak to me?”

He heard a noise inside the house, then a voice from the other side of the closed door.  “Mr. Cartwright, I hear you.  I’m happy to see that you are recovered, but please leave, now.  I don’t welcome visitors.”

Adam considered this remark.  “But Miss Carlisle…Verity, I don’t even know what you look like.  Won’t you at least grant me that?  You saved my sight; I think you owe me the privilege of seeing the person who rescued me.”  There was silence, and Adam was about to turn away and leave.

“I owe you nothing.  Please go.”

“Very well.  But I’ll be back.  I don’t give up that easily.”  Adam returned to his horse and rode away.  The short conversation he had had was running through his mind as he made his way back home.

Once in the house he went up to his room, collected a book and rode back to the Mason ranch.  This time the little man was nowhere in sight, and no one stopped him from approaching the house.  He knocked and, as expected, received no reply.  He sat down on the top step, and pulled from his jacket pocket the small volume that he had brought with him.  Adam flicked through the pages until he found what he was looking for, and began to read aloud.

“Go, lovely Rose!
Tell her what wastes her time and me,
That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.

Tell her that’s young
And shuns to have her graces spied,
That hadst thou sprung
In deserts, where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended died.

Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retired.
Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be desired,
And not blush so to be admired.

Then die!  That she,
The common fate of all things rare
May read in thee;
How small a part of time they share
They are so wonderous sweet and fair!  (3)

Verity sat inside the house listening to the words he said.  His voice was deep and mellow as he read, giving meaning to the verse.  She ran over the words in her head.  He compared her to a desert rose flowering in solitude, said that she shuns to have her graces spied, and ‘from the light retired’.

Suddenly anger rose in her.  How dare he come here and read poetry to her, not knowing how it hurt her to hear the words.  What did he know of her that he would dare to try to force her into the light?  Well, he would find out what an injustice he had done!

She strode to the door and flung it open, then retreated.  Adam turned and stared at the door, surprised by the sudden movement.  He closed the book and slipped it back into his pocket, then he got to his feet and, seeing no one in the open doorway, approached it slowly.

A voice from inside spoke loudly.  “All right.  I’ve tried to make you go away, to leave me alone.  But you come here and try to force me to let you in.  Very well, you’ve got your way.”  She saw Adam stand uncertainly in the doorway.  “Come in, that’s what you want, isn’t it?”

Adam hesitated as he took off his hat.  The room beyond the door was dark and he could see no one inside.  He was taken aback by her reaction; he had not intended to upset her, only to get her to see that he meant her no harm, and that she would be safe if she would just meet him.  Verity was on the far side of the dining table, which was placed at one side of the room.  She was half turned away from him, facing the fireplace, and she reached out with her left hand to turn up the lamp that stood between them.  A soft light filled the room as Adam advanced slowly.

“Miss…” he started, then tried again.  “Verity, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to upset you.  I only wanted to thank you.”  He looked at her profile, seeing the dark auburn hair, the fine nose and full mouth, the pale cream of the skin of her long neck that led his eyes down to her slim, full figure encased in a peach-coloured dress.   He drew his breath in as he realised that she was beautiful, standing straight and proud.

“Was that all you meant!”  Her voice was still raised in anger.  “Well, perhaps if I show you the truth, you will go away as I requested.”

She turned towards him and Adam stood transfixed as he looked at her.  Where one side of her face was beautiful, the other was its exact opposite.  The skin of the right side was red and puckered with scarring, the eye half closed beneath a deformed eyebrow.  Adam held his breath, not trusting himself to speak.

“Now you know why I hide myself away,” she said harshly.  “Your reaction is the same one I have met a hundred times over.   I have decided that I will expose myself to it no more.  I do not need a world where I am reviled and shunned.”  Her voice softened.  “Now you know, perhaps you will go and leave me alone.  All I ask in return for my helping you, is that you tell no one about me.”

Adam paused for a heartbeat, then dropped his hat on the table and moved to put his hands on Verity’s shoulders.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.  Please forgive me.”  He looked into her face unflinching, and she could see the sincerity in his eyes.  “How you must have suffered, people can be very cruel.”

Verity pulled away from him.  “I don’t need your pity, any more than I want your company.”

Adam looked stunned for a moment.  Pity!  He remembered shouting at his family that he didn’t want their pity, yet now he was giving it to this woman.

“Miss Carlisle, may I stay for a while.  I promise that I will not pity you,” he smiled, “nor will I read you any more poetry.”

She heard the laughter in his voice and, after a pause, said, “Very well, and I don’t mind if you call me Verity.”

They stood uncertainly until Adam asked, “May I have some coffee?”

Verity nodded and went into the kitchen.  Adam followed her and leaned against the doorpost, folding his arms across his chest.  “It wasn’t fair not to warn me, you know.  You couldn’t expect me to react any other way.”

Verity turned to face him, and saw that he didn’t look away, but held her gaze.  She regretted her earlier outburst.  “I know, I’m sorry.  I was angry that you wouldn’t go away, that you thought you knew what was best for me.”

“I was wrong, of course.”  Adam smiled to himself and Verity saw the look.

“Why is that amusing?”

“Because if my brothers heard me admit that I was wrong, they would never let me forget it.”

“Are you always right, then?” She raised one eyebrow in question.

“Not always, but don’t tell them that.”

Verity asked Adam about his family, and they sat at the dining table while Adam told her about his brothers and father, and the ranch.  When Adam thought that she had relaxed and got used to him being there, he asked about her injuries.

“What happened?  To your face, I mean.”

Verity looked as though she wasn’t going to answer, and then started very quietly to explain.  “It was nearly two years ago.  I lived with my parents in Denver.  One night there was a fire at our house, my parents were killed, but a neighbour pulled me from the flames, saved my life.  I’m not sure that he did me any kindness.  I was looked after by a friend of my parents, and was ill for many months.  When I was recovered, I found the world a very different place from the one I had known.”

Verity stood and went to the window.  After gazing out at the sunlit yard for a moment she turned back to face the first person she had allowed into her house, and saw him observing her closely but with no hint of repulsion.  “I was once considered something of a beauty.  I had gentlemen courting me and went to parties and dinners.  Then suddenly people were frightened of my appearance, they would not look at me, or worse, turned away from me.  I decided that the isolation I could find in the west was the best thing, and I came here, where there are few people to look on me, and I can avoid even those few who would.  Matthew keeps the place for me, tends to the animals.  I have little need of money here, and my parents were quite well off; I have more than enough for my simple needs.  I find that I quite enjoy the solitude out here, even though it is so different from Denver.”

“Verity, I’m…” Adam stopped and glanced down at the cup in his hand.  He wanted to tell her how sorry he was for what she had suffered, but realised that she wouldn’t welcome his regret for something that he had had no control over.  Instead he looked up and smiled at her.  “The Ponderosa is a very big spread, and there are few people there, just the hands and my family.  Would you let me show it to you, perhaps tomorrow?  We need see no one else, I know places where no one goes, and you would be free from prying eyes, free to enjoy this country that you want to make your home.”

“But what about your work?  You have told me how you help your father run the ranch.”

Adam smiled.  “Pa’s determined that, because of my accident, I take it easy for a while, and it will suit me to humour him for another day, if I can spend it with you.”

Verity returned to sit at the table.  Dare she let herself enjoy this man’s company, let him into her life?  She looked up into his warm, brown eyes.  “I think I would like that very much.”

“Then I will pick you up in the morning.”  Adam stood and picked up his hat.  Verity rose with him and stood by the door.  As Adam passed her, he took her hand and lifted it to his lips, kissing it gently.  “I meant what I said, about coming to thank you.”

“It was little enough to do for someone in trouble.  Goodbye.”  She shut the door slowly.

*****

They sat side by side in the buggy as Adam drove them higher into the mountains.  He let the horse walk, allowing Verity to take in the breathtaking scenery that was his home.

Verity looked about her, amazed at the country she was seeing for the first time.  In the few weeks since she had moved to Nevada, she had seldom ventured far from her small ranch in daylight, and had not appreciated the beauty that was to be found there.  The forests and lakes, the meadows and streams, and over it all, the mountains.

“Oh Adam, it’s beautiful,” she said.  “I have not seen much of this country.  I go out sometimes in the early morning, when no one is about, which is how I found you, but I never go far from the ranch.  I hadn’t imagined there was so much wonderful country here.”

Adam smiled, pleased that she liked it as much as he did.  “Yes, we’re very lucky to live in a place like this.  But there’s one spot I want to show you, we’ll be there soon.”  Adam drove the horse into a faster pace and half an hour later pulled to a halt.  He helped Verity down from the buggy and guided her through the trees to the edge of a bluff.  Spread out below them they could see the blue waters of Lake Tahoe glistening in the sunlight, rippled here and there by the breeze.  Beyond the lake, the far shore was coloured darkest green by more pine trees, and rising from them, as though growing from the forest itself, the mountains.

Verity turned to Adam, her eyes sparkling with the wonder of the sight.  “Thank you for letting me come here.”

Adam did not reply, but put his arm around her shoulders as he looked out over the lake.  “It’s one of my favourite views.  I come here when I have something I need to think about.”  Adam became thoughtful, he had wondered if he would ever see this again.  “Seeing all this makes any problems I might have seem very small and insignificant.  It puts things in perspective.”  Verity leaned against him, comfortable in the company of this man, and they stood silently for a long time, until Adam sighed and turned away.  “Well, I’m hungry.”  He made his way to the back of the buggy and brought out a hamper that had been prepared for him by Hop Sing.

“What’s this?” asked Verity coming up behind him.

“Only the best picnic you ever had,” said Adam proudly.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she teased.  “We had some mighty fine picnics in Denver.  We would go to the park or out of the city into the hills, and have cold chicken and salads, and glazed fruits, cheeses and wine.  And music, always there was music.”

“Do you like music?” Adam spread a rug on the ground, sat down, and started to unload the hamper.

“Yes.  I used to sing for my family, or to entertain guests.”  Suddenly Verity looked sad.  “I haven’t sung since…”

“Why not?”

Verity sat on the ground beside Adam, spreading the deep red material of her skirts around herself as she settled.  “I haven’t had much cause to want to sing.  I used to give singing lessons to children when I lived in Denver.  It was wonderful to be able to take a voice that was thin and uncertain, and turn it into something beautiful, full of confidence and meaning.”  Verity’s voice was wistful, as she remembered those far off days.  “But that’s gone; no one would want lessons from me now.”

“You could be wrong, you know,” Adam said, knowing that she probably wasn’t.

“But experience has told me that I’m right.  You can’t know what it’s like, I don’t expect you to.”

Adam moved towards Verity and held her shoulders.  “Verity, I know that you don’t want pity, and that’s not what I mean when I say that someone as young and intelligent as you shouldn’t have had to go through what you have.  But don’t let it take away your life.  Don’t let it control you, the world is still there, at least all the parts of it that you used to enjoy; the beauty, the music and even the laughter.”  He looked into her eyes and suddenly leaned forward and kissed her gently.  She did not pull away but nor did she respond.  When he lifted his eyes to look at her, she eased herself from his grip.

“Adam, don’t do this if you don’t mean it.”

“What?”   He was bewildered by her reaction.

“Don’t pretend that my appearance makes no difference to you.  I can see that you are a handsome man; you could have any woman you want.  Don’t feel that you have to try to make me feel normal.  Kissing a girl may be what you would usually do in this situation, but I know that you don’t intend that it should go any further.”

Adam stared at her.  What was he feeling?  Had he kissed her out of pity, because no man would look at her?  Or, perhaps, out of gratitude for what she had done.

“Verity, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to upset you.  I guess I just did what came naturally.”  He laughed and, after a heartbeat, she laughed with him.

The kiss was forgotten as they sat together, sampling the delights of Hop Sing’s picnic basket.

“I’m afraid there’s no chicken.  Round here we tend to eat a lot of beef.”  He smiled at her.  “But we do have salads, and fruit and cheese.”  He reached into the basket.  “And, I do believe, a bottle of Pa’s finest Chablis,” he said, triumphantly pulling a slender green bottle from the depths.  Adam poured them both a glass, and then held his up in salute.  “To my rescuer, who gave me the gift of sight, and to my little adventure, which gave me the gift of darkness.”

Verity frowned.  “What do you mean?”

“Listen,” he commanded.  Verity was about to speak, but Adam held his finger to his lips to silence her.  She stayed still and listened to the quiet around them.

Finally, Verity could bear it no longer.  “What am I listening to?”

“Now shut your eyes and listen.”  When Verity closed her eyes, she could hear the noises that had escaped her.  The squeaking of a chipmunk in the tree above her, the songs of the birds, and very faintly behind it all, the lapping of the waves on the shore of the lake.

They opened their eyes and looked at each other in mutual understanding.  “That’s extraordinary,” said Verity, “you can hear so much more with your eyes shut.”

“One thing I have learnt from a week of not being able to see is that there is so much more to the world, that we ignore.  It taught me to look past what is seen, to notice other things, like sounds.  Verity, when you stopped to help me, I had no clue as to what you looked like; all I knew was your voice, and your kindness.  I hope that you believe me when I tell you that seeing you now, I feel no different.”  Adam took hold of Verity’s hands in his.  “Inside you there is beauty and intelligence and goodness.  The exterior cannot change that, if you don’t let it.  Go out into the world, face those who would turn away, make them look at you, see the person that you really are.”

Verity pulled away from him and stood, going to look again at the view.  She turned back and her eyes were blazing.  “How dare you tell me to face the world?  What do you know of how I have suffered?”

Adam rose to join her.  “I don’t know, I can’t know, but I know that hiding yourself away from the world will destroy you.  How long do you think you can live here before the curious seek you out?  Then what will you do, run away again?”

“I will do what I must, leave if that is the only way, find somewhere else.  I will not be laughed at like some circus attraction, to frighten the children and provide a side show for adults.  Nor will I be pitied.  I will live my life as I choose, and neither you nor anyone else has the right to force me to do otherwise.”  Verity walked towards the buggy.  “I would like you to take me home now.”

Adam hesitated.  “Verity…I’m sorry.  I was only thinking of you.  You shouldn’t have to hide yourself away.”

“No, I shouldn’t.  But most people can’t see what you see.  Until they do I will protect myself from them the only way I know how.  If you want to call it hiding, that’s up to you, I prefer to think that I am keeping myself from their ignorance.”

Adam nodded, knowing that she was right.  They went slowly back to her home, where Adam helped her down from the buggy, but did not release her as her feet touched the ground.

“May I come and see you tomorrow?”

Verity looked up into his eyes.  “On one condition.”

“Oh?”

“That you don’t mention trying to get me back into the world.”

Adam laughed and held up his right hand.  “I promise.”  He leant down, brushed her cheek with his lips, then got into the buggy and drove away, still smiling to himself.

*****

Adam insisted that he was fit enough to resume his duties around the ranch, but still Ben resisted and rode with him when he went to check on the men cutting timber on the south ridge.

When they returned, Adam ate a quick supper and rose from the table.  “Do you mind if I don’t stay, I want to get over to Verity’s place?  I promised that I would see her tonight.”

Joe and Hoss, who were still seated at the table, looked up.

“When are we going to get to meet this mysterious lady?” asked Joe.

Adam had not told his family of Verity’s disfigurement, and was about to tell Joe that it was none of his business, but Hoss spoke.  “Yeah, you seem to be spending a powerful lot of time with her, bet she’s real pretty, huh?”

Adam took a deep breath.  “Who I spend my time with is none of your affair and I’ll thank you to keep your remarks to yourself,” he said abruptly.

“Adam!” said Ben, “that is no way to talk to your brothers.”

“I’m sorry, Pa, but I think I’m old enough to decide who I spend time with, without being questioned about it.”  He turned on his heels, went up the stairs, and returning a minute later, guitar in hand, picked up his hat and gun belt, and left.

Joe turned to his father.  “Pa?  What’s got into him?”

Ben was thoughtful.  “I don’t know, but I wouldn’t push him.  There’s something he’s not telling us, but he’s right, it’s none of our business, so I’ll thank you to leave him alone.”  He received hesitant agreement from both his boys, but was concerned.  It wasn’t like Adam to be secretive about his relationships, and his reaction told Ben that something was wrong.

Adam knocked on the door of Verity’s house and it was opened immediately.

“Adam!  I thought that you had changed your mind.”

Adam entered and took off his hat, laying it on the table. “No, I just got held up.”  He remembered his frustration with his father, who, having insisted on accompanying him for the day, would ride only slowly, forcing his son into a relaxed pace.  Adam slipped his guitar off his shoulders, and saw Verity’s curious look.  “I thought you might like some music,” he explained.

“Oh, that would be wonderful.  Let me get you some coffee first though.”  She disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Adam looking round the room.  He spied some photographs on a side table and went over to them.  He picked up one that showed a couple in a formal pose; the man seated, the woman standing at his side.  He took it into the kitchen.

“Are these your parents?” he ventured.  Verity came over and took the picture from him.

“Yes, this was taken on their thirtieth wedding anniversary.”  Her face softened as she added, “They were killed three weeks later.”  She handed the picture back to Adam, put the coffee pot on a tray, with two cups, and carried it into the parlour.  She sat on the settee in front of the fire, and poured for both of them.

Adam looked at Verity curiously.  “Do you have any other family?”

She shook her head.  “None.  Or none that wanted someone like me.  They didn’t want the whispers and curious stares that I would have brought to their house.”

“I’m…I’m sorry.”  He didn’t know what else to say, and waited for the expected rebuke.

“Yes, so am I.”  Verity turned and smiled at him.  “Play me something.”

Adam picked up his guitar, and after testing the freshly healed cuts on his hands, started to run his fingers over the strings, and he began humming quietly.

“What is that tune?” Verity asked.

“It’s an old ballad.  I learned it while I was at college.  I shared rooms with an Englishman, who knew a lot of old songs.”  Adam began to sing the words:

“Behold a wonder here!
Love hath received his sight!
Which many hundred years
Hath not beheld the light.

Such beams infus’ed be
By Cynthia in his eyes,
At first have made him see
And then have made him wise.

Love now no more will weep
For them that laugh the while!
Nor wake for them that sleep,
Nor sigh for them that smile!

So powerful is the Beauty
That Love doth now behold,
As Love is turned to Duty
That’s neither blind nor bold.

Thus beauty shows her might
To be of double kind;
In giving Love his sight
And striking Folly blind.”   (4)

Adam continued to play the slow, soft tune, and Verity knew that he had not chosen that particular song at random.  He was telling her again that he could see past her deformity to the person beneath, that sight was so much more than merely seeing.

“Adam, you have a lovely voice.”

“Thank you, but I would like to hear you sing.”

“Oh, I don’t know…” The look on Adam’s face said he would not be refused.  She held out her hands and he passed the instrument to her.  Verity settled herself and, as she began to play, Adam realised how talented she was.  The notes floated into the air, filling the room, soft at first, then louder and livelier as she became more confident.  She started to sing, and her pure, clear voice made the hairs on Adam’s neck stand up, as she ran through a medley of lost love, beautiful mountains, and lonely travellers, never ending one song, but running it into the next.  As she finished, Adam stared at her, not wanting to break the spell she had cast in the room.

“Oh, Adam, thank you.  I didn’t know how much I missed my music.”  She held out the guitar, but Adam did not reach to take it from her.

“No, I would like you to keep it.”  Verity shook her head, but Adam insisted.  “I want you to have it.  It deserves a better home that I can give it, better hands than mine to play it.  Take it, please.”

“If you’re sure, I would love to.  Thank you.”

They sat for a while longer, occasionally singing a tune together, but Adam sang softly, taking more pleasure from hearing Verity sing.  Sometimes they would join together in a ditty that left them both laughing, and the uninjured side of Verity’s face lit up with pleasure.  Adam realised that it made the scarred side more apparent, as it did not change its expression, and he found it harder to look at her without seeing the ravages left by the fire.  But if Verity noticed, she said nothing.  Eventually he rose and said he must be going.

“I’m supposed to mark some timber tomorrow, so it’s an early start.”  Adam stretched as he spoke, he had to admit that the day’s riding had taken its toll and he was not looking forward to the hours he would spend blazing the trees the following day, if his father would let him do it.

“Thank you for coming.  I’ve had a wonderful evening,” said Verity.

“I’ll be spending tomorrow night in the mountains, but may I come on Saturday?”

“Of course.”  Verity paused, then continued.  “Adam, I hope that you don’t feel that you have to visit.”

“Don’t be silly, I want to come.”  He leaned down and kissed her cheek in a gesture that was becoming a habit.  She waved to him as he rode away, then shut the door and leaned back against it.  She sighed, she enjoyed his visits, but knew that eventually they would cease.  Other things would take over; he had a life to live that didn’t include her.  He was kind and thoughtful, but there could never be more between them than friendship, though she would treasure that while it lasted.

As Adam entered the house, all was quiet; it seemed that his family had retired for the night.  He was grateful, he didn’t want to face any more questions from them.  He went to the small table beside the stairs and poured himself a brandy, then sat on the settee drinking it slowly, thinking about Verity.  What did he feel towards her?  He knew that at that moment he didn’t feel love, so what was it that attracted him to her?  Was it gratitude, or pity, or something else?  Was it possible that he felt simple friendship…with a woman?  He had never thought of having a woman as a friend.  Acquaintance, certainly, he had many of those, but a woman that he could confide in, and trust?  No, that had never occurred to him.

He was startled out of his thoughts by footsteps on the stairs.  He looked up to see his father making his way down into the room.  Ben poured himself a drink and another for Adam.  He set the glasses on the low table in front of the settee and sat down in the blue armchair beside the dying fire.

“Well, do you want to tell me about it, or are you going to tell me it’s none of my business?” Ben asked pointedly.

“Pa, I’m sorry for what I said earlier.  None of you deserved that, I know.”  Ben could see a troubled look in his son’s eyes.   He sipped the brandy slowly, wondering how to get Adam to tell him what was bothering him.  But his son didn’t wait for the questions.  “I’ve been trying to sort out how I feel about Verity.”

“Oh?”  Ben waited.

“You said that she was a recluse who probably didn’t welcome company.  Well, she has every right to be so.”  Ben raised his eyebrows in silent question.  “She had a terrible accident that left her disfigured.  She came here to get away, to free herself from the reaction of those who saw her.  No one in town knows, and I think she’s right to keep it that way.  Please don’t tell Joe or Hoss, I know they might not mean to, but if they said anything, I could never forgive myself.  People would start to get curious and seek her out, that’s just human nature.  Then she would have to leave.”

“And you would miss her?”

“Yes.”  Adam hesitated, and then glanced sideways at his father.  “Pa, have you ever had a woman as a friend?”

Ben looked in sudden understanding at his son.  “Yes, I have.  And you will find that a woman can be just as true a friend as a man, more so.  Women are better at understanding your problems, being sympathetic to your failings, they revel in your happiness and comfort you in your sadness.  You may not take them for a night in the saloon, but when you need someone to talk to, there is no one better.  Believe me, I know.”

Adam smiled at his father.  “I do believe you.  It’s just that I have never thought of a woman that way before.”  He sipped his brandy.  “I feel I want to help her, but I’m not sure I know how.”

“Adam, I know you, if there is a way to help her, you’ll find it.  Now, go to bed, you look tired.”

“Yeah,” Adam rose, “Goodnight, Pa, and thank you.”

“‘Night son.”  Ben watched as Adam climbed the stairs wearily, knowing that his son would not be happy until he had done all he could for his friend.

Adam sat in bed reading, but his eyes were not focused on the words in front of him, he was thinking of Verity and how he could help her.  As his mind wandered his eyes started to close, and in the twilight world between waking and sleeping, a thought came to him that forced his eyes open again.  He sat up as the idea took shape, and he rose and went to his desk, where he wrote a letter, carefully worded to explain Verity’s situation and her abilities.  He sealed it, planning to mail it in Virginia City the following morning before going up into the forest to start work on the trees.  With that done, and his mind at rest, he settled back into bed and was instantly asleep.

*****

“But Pa, I have to do it.  I’m the only one who knows the timber we need,” Adam argued.

Ben was reluctant to let his son resume his normal tasks so soon.  He had seen the torment Adam had gone through at the prospect of blindness, and for no rational reason, other than being a parent, Ben wanted to protect him.  He put it down to the fact that he had been shocked to see how it had affected his normally strong eldest son.

“It really doesn’t have to be done for another week,” Ben said, “why don’t you leave it, then Joe can go with you.  I know you and Hoss were going on the drive to Sacramento, but Hoss can do it alone.”

Adam drew a deep breath.  “OK, that’s enough!” he said loudly; his jaw was clenched as he tried to control himself.  “I don’t need someone to look after me.  Either I go back to work as normal, or I find somewhere that I can.  It’s up to you.”

Ben approached Adam and put his hand on his son’s shoulder.  “I’m only thinking of you, son.”

Adam shook off the hand and walked away, then turned, his eyes blazing.  “No you’re not.  You’re thinking of yourself.”  He walked back to stand in front of Ben and his voice softened.  “I know you mean well, but can’t you see that you’re being over-protective.  Yes, something may happen, I may get hurt, but I could just as easily get hurt riding into town.  This can’t go on, I won’t let it.”

Ben’s shoulders slumped.  “All right, have it your way.”  He looked deep into Adam’s eyes, seeing in them the boy he had raised to manhood.  “But promise me you’ll be careful.”

Adam relaxed, “Of course I will.”  He turned and picked up the saddlebags that he had prepared.  “I’ll see you tomorrow night.”  He turned back to his father and smiled, “And quit worrying, will you?”  With a wave over his shoulder, he was gone.

Adam went, as he had planned, into Virginia City, then rode up into the mountains until he found the section of forest he had already selected as containing the trees they would need.  He set up camp and started to mark the trees, cutting a notch in each one that was suitable.  Once, as he slammed the small axe into the trunk of a tree, pieces of bark flew off and hit him in the face.  He stopped, stunned.  Such a thing had happened many times in the past, but he had taken no notice of it.  But now he hesitated, finding that he was reluctant to drive the axe into the tree in front of him.  Having come so close to losing his sight, he realised what he was risking.  He shook his head; what with his father’s worrying and now his own sudden reluctance to do his job, he would be useless to his family.

Adam breathed heavily several times and forced himself to continue.  He went slowly at first, taking care with each stroke, but soon he was striking the trees angrily.  He would not allow himself to be dictated to, either by his father or the chance of hurting himself.  He was sweating and his hand and arm were sore from the repeated blows, but he did not stop until it was too dark to see what he was doing.

He returned slowly to his camp and, as he was relaxing after supper, he smiled to himself, knowing that he had overcome his fears and would be able to carry on as normal in the morning.  Then his mind went back to the conversation with his father.  He knew Ben was trying to protect him, but he was feeling smothered by the concern.  He didn’t want or need to be taken care of, and his father knew that very well.  Then he thought of Verity, with no one to care for her, and he felt guilty at being annoyed by his family’s wanting to look after him.

He sat up.  Verity did have someone to care for her; he was there and he would look after her.  Isn’t that what friends did for each other?  He would tell her so on Saturday, tell her that anytime she needed help or guidance, or just a shoulder to cry on, he was there.  Adam smiled to himself; it would be like having a sister, now there was a new experience.

Adam returned to the ranch the next evening and was concerned when he saw Doc Martin’s buggy outside the house.  He dismounted quickly and hurried inside, where he found his father sitting beside the fireplace, a worried frown on his face.

He quickly took off his hat and gun belt as he entered.  “What is it, Pa?  Why is the Doc here?”

Ben looked up, and rose to greet his son.  “It’s Joe, he’s broken his leg.”

Adam couldn’t help it; he laughed, and kept laughing as he sat on the settee, shaking helplessly.

“Adam!” shouted Ben, “I don’t think it is any laughing matter.  Your brother’s hurt!”

Adam fought to bring himself under control.  “Oh Pa, I know.  But it looks like you were trying to protect the wrong son.”  He managed to put on a suitably serious expression.  “How bad is it?”

Ben smiled, seeing the truth of Adam’s words.  “Doc says it’s a nice clean break, shouldn’t cause him any trouble once it’s healed.”

“Well, that’s a relief.  Pa,” Adam stood in front of his father, his merriment forgotten in the face of what he wanted to say.  “I’m sorry that I got mad at you yesterday, you know I don’t like to be fussed over.  But I’ve had a chance to think since then.  I just want to say thank you for looking after me as you have these last couple of weeks.  I needed you then, and you were there for me; it wasn’t right that I should expect you to stop worrying.  I know I’m lucky to have a family that cares.”

Before Ben could reply, Adam had moved hastily to the stairs and, taking them two at a time, went to see Joe.  He pushed open the door as Doc Martin was putting the finishing touches to a plaster cast.

“How is he, Doc?” Adam asked, advancing into the room.

Paul Martin looked up.  “He’s fine,” then he glanced down at Joe, “or he will be if he does as he’s told.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of him.”  Adam turned to Joe, “How’d you manage to do that, horse throw you?”

Joe shook his head, but didn’t reply, so Adam tried again.  “What then?  Steer catch you, tree fall on it, or what?”

Joe looked embarrassed.  “I fell out of the hay loft.”

Adam started laughing again.  Ben had decided to come and see how the doctor was getting on, and appeared behind Adam.  He put his hand on his eldest son’s shoulder and squeezed it tightly in warning.  Joe’s broken leg had provided Adam with more than enough amusement for one evening.  “I thought this wasn’t supposed to be funny!” he said quietly in Adam’s ear.

“But Pa, he fell out of the hay loft.  All the time you were worried about me being out in that dark and dangerous forest, and here’s little brother, safe at home, breaking his leg.”  Adam turned to his brother.  “Joe, I know it’s not funny, it must hurt like the devil.”

A wan smile appeared on Joe’s pain shadowed features.  He was cheered by his brother’s reaction; he had seen enough worried faces for one day.  “Yeah, it does, but I’ll soon be up and about.”

The doctor disagreed.  “Oh no, young man.  You’ll stay right there for at least two weeks.  And even then I make no promises about you getting up.”

Joe looked as though he was about to argue but Adam stopped him.  “Joe, do as you’re told, Paul knows what he’s saying.”  Adam turned to the door.  “I’ll see you in the morning, ‘night.”

After going outside to settle Sport in the barn, Adam went to his room, undressed and lay on the bed.  He thought about Joe and his injury.  He knew how his young, active brother would suffer by being confined to his room, but if only he’d learn to do as he was told, he would soon be on his feet again.

When Ben came down to breakfast the next morning, he was surprised to see Adam already seated at the table, making short work of Hop Sing’s bacon and pancakes.

“Morning, Pa,” said Adam as Ben joined him, “I thought I’d better get an early start.  With Hoss off on the round up this morning and Joe laid up, we’ll be short handed.”

Ben sat down and cast a sideways look at his son.  “It’s worse than you know.  I have to go to San Francisco today.  There’s trouble with the railroad contract, and one of us has to go sort it out, and I need you here.”

Adam smirked.  “You sure that you don’t want me to go, to keep me out of harm’s way?”

“Adam!” Ben growled in warning.

Adam held up his hands.  “All right, Pa, I promise I won’t mention it again.”  He paused, thinking of the problems his family was facing.  “Of course you must go.  We’ll be fine, don’t worry.”  Then he said slowly, “In fact it may be a very good thing.  It gives me an idea.”  Adam rose and, picking up his hat and gun belt, he made his way hastily to the barn, where he saddled Sport and rode out.

Adam finished work early and rode towards the Mason ranch, and Verity.  As he approached, he heard what could only be a scream and he raced into the yard and leaped from his horse.  The sight that had greeted him made him throw away all caution.

Verity was there with three men, who were tossing her back and forth between them, laughing.  Adam charged at the nearest man who was caught totally by surprise at his sudden appearance.  Adam landed a blow on his chin and the man fell, but the other two had had time to realise what was happening and they advanced on Adam, leaving Verity lying forgotten on the ground.  The bigger of the two men lunged at Adam and knocked the wind out of him as his shoulder connected with Adam’s stomach, and they both landed heavily on the ground.  As Adam got slowly back to his feet, the smaller man pulled him upright by his shirt collar and delivered a blow to his head, which sent Adam’s senses reeling.  Adam backed away shaking his head to clear it, then he waited for the two of them to approach again.  As they did so, side-by-side, Adam turned on the bigger man and struck out at him, hitting him on the chin, then he whirled towards the other man and landed a blow in his stomach.  By this time, the first man had recovered and came up behind Adam, grabbing his arms and pinning them behind him.  Adam struggled, but the man was strong, and before Adam could free himself the big man came up to him and landed one blow on his cheek and another in his gut.  Adam doubled over, gasping for breath, then, as he felt the grip on his arms relax, he straightened, threw his head back, and heard the crunch of breaking bone as his head connected with the man’s nose.  Adam got his arms free and reluctantly drew his gun.  The two men in front of him stopped dead at this threat.  Adam stepped back so that he could cover all three.

The big man tried to calm the situation.  “All right, friend, we was just havin’ some fun.  No need for shootin’”

Adam was breathing hard, from the blows that had landed and from anger.  “Fun!  Is that what you call it?!” he shouted.

“We didn’t mean no harm,” the little man whined.

Adam indicated their friend.  “Get him and yourselves out of here, now!”  He took another deep breath, then said matter-of-factly, “If I find you here again I will kill you.”

The two men helped their injured companion onto his horse, and they were gone in a cloud of dust.  Adam ran over to Verity, lifted her to her feet and guided her back into the house.  He sat her on the settee and poured her a glass of brandy, sitting beside her until she had finished it.

“Are you all right?” he asked, his concern evident in his voice.

Verity nodded.  “Thank you.”  She turned sad eyes towards him.  “You see?  That is why I hide myself away.  Now I will have to leave.”  She started to cry and Adam held her until she was calmer.  “I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m all right now.”  She pushed him away and put her hand to his cheek.  “You’re bleeding,” she observed.

“It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.”

Verity stood and went into the kitchen to get some water and a cloth.  She came back and bathed the wound until the bleeding stopped, then she went back to make coffee.  Adam followed and placed her gently, but firmly, on one of the kitchen chairs and made the coffee for them.  He sat at the table with her and poured them both a cup.

“I think you should come to the Ponderosa for a few days,” he suggested.

Verity was about to shake her head, but Adam continued.  “I want to ask you something, a favour.”

“Oh?”

“Yes.  My little brother has broken his leg and is confined to bed for the next couple of weeks.  Hoss is overseeing the men rounding up cattle before driving them to Sacramento, and my father is going to San Francisco.”  He paused.

“Well, your family certainly are well travelled,” observed Verity mischievously.

Adam looked at her and smiled, glad to see that she was recovering from the attack.  “Yes, well.  The point is that I will be the only one at home, and I have to organise the men and the ranch work, so I will be out of the house most of the day.  Now, I know my brother, if there is no one there to keep him in line, he will be out of his bed and doing who knows what sort of damage to his leg.  Hop Sing has gone on the drive with Hoss, and I need someone who could keep an eye on Joe.  I wondered if you would help me.”

“Adam, I don’t think…”

“Verity, you’re right, you can’t stay here now.  Soon it will be all over town and then you will no longer feel safe.  Please, say you’ll come.”

“I will have to think about it,” said Verity, frightened by the thought of meeting any of Adam’s family, and their reaction to her.

“All right, I’ll wait,” said Adam, pulling his watch from his pocket.  “You’ve got five minutes.”

Verity didn’t know what to say.

“Four and a half,” Adam counted.

“But there must be someone else,” she reasoned.

“No one that I would trust with my brother’s health.  Four minutes.”

“But what about this place?”

“Matthew can take care of it for you.  Three and a half.”  Adam stared at the watch.

“But what if your brother doesn’t like me, or worse, is frightened of me?”

“Joe will like you, and nothing frightens my brother.”  An unconscious tinge of pride coloured Adam’s words.  “Two and a half.”

“But …”

Adam put the watch away.  “Just go and pack, will you?”

Rather to Adam’s surprise Verity nodded and went into the bedroom, emerging a few minutes later with a valise in one hand and the guitar in the other.

Adam saddled a horse for her and they rode together towards his home.  When they entered, Adam asked Verity if she would wait while he went to speak to Joe, and she sat obediently on the settee, looking round at the aggressively masculine great room.

Adam entered Joe’s bedroom and was surprised to find his young, restless brother lying quietly in bed.

“Hi Adam,” said Joe, his eyes brightening at his visitor, then he saw the damage to Adam’s face.  “What happened to you?”

“Nothing, it doesn’t matter.  How are you?” asked Adam, realising that only the pain from his leg would have kept Joe quietly in bed.

Joe sighed.  “Bored, Pa left an hour ago.” Joe looked hopefully at his brother.  “I thought I might get up tomorrow, I could lie on the settee, I promise I won’t move.”

Adam’s conscience nudged him as he remembered his own broken promise to his father, but it didn’t stop him being firm with his brother. “Oh no.  You’re staying right there until the doc says you can get up.  But I have a surprise for you.”  Joe raised his eyebrows.  “I’ve got someone to look after you, keep you company.”

“You have?  Who?”

Adam explained about Verity, who she was, and how she looked.  “Joe, I know when you see her for the first time, it will be a bit of a shock, but I want you to remember that she has feelings, same as anyone else.”

“OK Adam, I understand,” Joe said, hoping that he did.

Adam went to the top of the stairs and called Verity to come up.  She climbed the stairs and Adam showed her into Joe’s room.  Joe was silent for a second then spoke.  “Hello, Adam tells me that you are going to look after me.”

Verity nodded uncertainly.

Joe smiled.  “Well, I hope that you won’t be such a tyrant as he would be.”

Verity relaxed.  “Adam has told me of your dislike of staying in bed, and has given me strict instructions for your care.”

Joe looked at his brother and smiled.  “Oh no, I thought that I was getting off lightly.”

“Verity knows what the doc said, so you just be a good boy, and you’ll soon be out of there.”  Adam put his hand on Verity’s arm.  “I’ll show you to your room, and then we’ll have supper.  After that I have some paper work to do.”

“Could we have it here, with Joe?” Verity asked, and saw Joe brighten at the thought of not spending the rest of the evening alone.

“I think we could manage that,” Adam agreed, and after settling Verity in her room, he went to make supper.

They shared their meal together, and Verity suggested that she could do the cooking while she was there.

Adam looked at her suspiciously.  “Are you inferring that I am not a very good cook?”

Verity glanced sideways at Joe, and saw him smile.  She turned back to Adam.  “Well, it’s not that I don’t appreciate having meals made for me, but you will be busy and I will be here all day, and I just thought…”

Adam held up his hand.  “It’s all right, I know that my natural home is not in the kitchen.  I can do well enough that we wouldn’t starve, but I would be delighted if you would take over that chore.”

They laughed together in easy companionship, and after they had eaten, Adam left Joe and Verity alone while he went to attend to the papers that were waiting for him.  Verity walked slowly round the room, looking at the paintings on the walls, of Indians and views of the country, and the objects that lay scattered haphazardly about, artefacts that reflected Joe’s life; leatherwork and carvings.

She turned to Joe.  “You love this country, don’t you?”

Joe smiled.  “Yes.  I love the ranch and the wide-open spaces, the feeling that there is no limit to what we can do here.  There are no walls to keep you in.  I’m lucky that the ranch is so big, but even if it wasn’t, I know I would love this country.  There’s a feeling of life, of growing.”

“I see that a lot of the things you have are of Indian origin.”

“I respect those people.  They lived here for hundreds of years before the white man came.  Taming this land and making it their own.”

“But isn’t the Ponderosa built on Indian land?” Verity queried.

Joe looked sad.  “Yes, it is.  But it was lost to them many years before we came here.  I like to think that we are looking after it, as they would have done.  Pa and Adam are very careful what they let happen to it.  They won’t allow too much logging, or graze too many cattle.”  Joe smiled to himself.  “Do you know, I once suggested that we could make more money by cutting more trees and enlarging the herd.  I was younger, and thought that I was being helpful.  You should have seen their faces!  They both tried to explain at the same time that money wasn’t everything, and that we held the land for the future, not just for now, and we must care for it.  I remember that moment, I don’t think that I have ever seen Pa and Adam agree about anything so completely.”

Verity looked thoughtful.  “Your brother is a very caring man,” she said, remembering his care of her.  “He takes his responsibilities seriously, doesn’t he?”

“I suppose so. I know that he has very strong principles and he sets himself high standards that are sometimes difficult to live with, but he won’t compromise them, no matter what.”

“Do you find him difficult to live with, then?” Verity came to sit on the chair beside the bed, observing Joe closely.

Joe thought for a long time about his answer.  He liked talking to this woman and wanted to be honest with her, but he did not know what her relationship was with Adam.  How open could he be with her?

“Yes, I do, sometimes.”  Verity raised her eyebrows, inviting Joe to continue.  Joe smiled, “Adam and I are very different, I’m just not naturally as serious as he is and he finds that difficult.  He uses his education to help improve the ranch and our life here, but for all his intelligence he can’t see that there’s more to life that working and learning.  He’ll tackle a job by looking for the logical way to do it, where I do it by finding the fun in it, and sometimes that drives him crazy.  But we both get the job done, in our own way.”  Joe looked more serious, “And he’s always there when I need him, and I would trust him with my life.”

“You’re very proud of him, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”  Joe didn’t hesitate to answer.  He had never really thought about it before but he was proud of what his brother had achieved, overcoming the early hardships of his life travelling west with Pa, helping to build the ranch, then going to college and returning to his family, again assisting his father to make their home into the strong business that it had become.

Verity remembered Adam’s pride when he spoke of his brother, and when he had told her of his family.  “You’re very lucky to have such a family,” she said sadly, thinking of her own lack in that respect.  Then she brightened.  “Would you like me to read to you?”

Joe nodded his assent and settled down under the covers, as Verity began to read.  Joe was soon asleep, and Verity crept quietly from the room.  She went down the stairs, to find Adam hard at work on the papers that his father had left for him.  Adam looked up as Verity approached.

“Joe’s asleep,” she informed him.

Adam rose from behind the desk.  “That’s good, he needs all the rest he can get.  That’s his problem, really.  He’s so restless that he won’t stay put like he should.”

“You worry about him, don’t you?”  Verity looked into Adam’s eyes as he handed her a drink.

“Yes, sometimes I think that I have to save him from himself,” Adam laughed, “he never thinks of the consequences of what he does, he acts by feelings not by thought, and that sometimes leads him into trouble.  But if he doesn’t do what the doc says, he could do permanent injury to that leg.  He knows that perfectly well, but that won’t stop him from trying to get up too soon.”

“You think that he’s irresponsible, then?”

Adam looked thoughtful as he considered the question.  “Irresponsible?  No.  Impulsive, headstrong, impatient certainly.  But he’s intelligent, caring and I would trust him with my life.”

Verity smiled and Adam raised his eyebrows at the look.  She explained, “He said exactly the same thing about you, that he would trust you with his life.”

“Did he?  Well I suppose that we all feel like that, Pa and Hoss too.”  Adam turned to Verity and held her hand gently.  “Pa has brought us up to care for each other, and about other people.  Verity, I hope that you will let me care for you as well.  I realise that I am fortunate to have the family I have, and that you have no one.  Let me be there for you, like the family you don’t have.  If you need anything, tell me, whether it’s something you lack or just when you need someone to talk to, let me help you.”  Adam told her of the old Sioux and his words.  “Pa was my wind when I needed him, let me be yours.”

Verity smiled, hiding the tears that threatened at his kind, soft words.  “Thank you, of course I will.”  She swallowed hard.  “It’s been a long time since I had anyone who cared for me as you have.”

Adam leaned over and kissed her cheek gently, and she heard him laugh quietly.  “What?” she queried.

“I asked Pa if a man could have a woman as a friend, and he said ‘yes’.  But I’ve never kissed any of my friends.”

“Then it will be our secret.”  Verity joined in his laughter.

They sat quietly together on the settee, talking late into the night, until Adam reluctantly said it was time for bed.  He had an early start if he was going to get all his work done.  He left Verity outside her room and went to his own, where he lay in the darkness considering his feelings for the woman across the hallway.  Was it friendship, or was something deeper developing?  He was still uncertain when he fell asleep.

*****

The following days passed pleasantly at the Cartwright home.  Adam worked long hours and came home tired, but the evenings he spent with Verity made him forget his exhaustion.

Verity spent her days with Joe, and they developed an easy relationship.  Usually when Joe was confined to bed, he became restless and irritable, but Verity’s presence seemed to have a calming effect on the young man, and he was satisfied to remain in bed.  Then the day came when the doctor told him he could get up for short periods and he was delighted to be able to venture downstairs, with Adam’s help.

Adam was pleased to see that Joe was recovering, but was not so happy to lose the quiet evenings he spent alone with Verity.

The three of them were sitting drinking coffee after supper, when Adam suggested it was time for Joe to return to his room.

“Oh Adam, do I have to?”

“Yes, you do,” Adam insisted.  “I have an early start tomorrow.”

“Then you go to bed,” Joe retaliated.

“And who’s going to help you up the stairs?”

“I can manage fine, and Verity can help me,” Joe said reasonably.

Verity was about to agree that she could manage when she saw the look on Adam’s face.  “Joe, I think you should go and rest.  You’ve had a tiring day.  Perhaps tomorrow you can stay up for longer.”   She looked hard at Adam, daring him to contradict her.

Instead, Adam just said, “Yes, perhaps tomorrow.”  He raised Joe off the settee and supported him as he climbed slowly up the stairs.  When he had seen Joe settled, he returned to Verity, poured them both a drink and sat beside her.

She looked at him.  “I thought that you wanted to go to bed.”

“Yeah, I do.  But I’m going to have a drink first,” Adam insisted.

“Do you think that was fair to Joe, making him go like that?”

Adam looked guiltily down at the glass in his hand.  “No, probably not, but I don’t get any time to spend with you alone now Joe’s up and about.”

“And is that important enough to you that you would upset your brother?”

Adam considered his answer.  He turned to Verity.  “Yes, it is.”

“Adam, I’m flattered that you want to spend your time with me, but we’ve spoken about your feelings before, and you admitted that there was nothing between us.”

“That was then, this is now.”

Verity took a deep breath before she spoke.  “Has something changed?”

Adam lowered his eyes, then brought them back to Verity’s face.  “Yes.  I think I love you.”

“You ‘think’ you love me?”

“Yes.”

Verity stood and walked across the room to Ben’s desk, then turned.  “Well I think you are fooling yourself.  I don’t believe you do.”  Adam stood and was about to interrupt her, but Verity stopped him.  “I think you feel that you should, that somehow you owe it to me to say that, but in your heart you know it isn’t true.”

Adam didn’t move as he replied.  “How can you say that, how do you know what I feel?”

“Because Joe has told me how you care about people.  What you feel is pity.”  Verity’s face reddened as she tried to control the churning emotions inside her, but she could not control her voice as it rose in anger.  “I have told you that I don’t want your pity, so don’t waste it on me, I don’t need it!”

Verity started for the stairs and Adam moved to intercept her.  “Are you so afraid to be loved?”  Her words had hurt him and he was careless of hurting her in return.  He spoke harshly, “Are you afraid that someone might break into the safe, secluded world that you have created for yourself?”

Adam stood in front of Verity, barring her way.  She tried to get past him but he moved to prevent her.  She took a step back, brought her hand up sharply, and slapped him hard.  Adam raised a hand to his cheek then moved out of her way, allowing her to pass.

“I guess I deserved that, but you’re wrong.”

Verity turned as she stood on the bottom step.  “No, I’m not, and when you have a chance to think about it, you will thank me.”  She made her way slowly up the stairs and Adam heard her door shut quietly.

He poured himself another drink and sat down on the settee, thinking of her sitting beside him.  What did he really feel?  He shook his head helplessly, how could he separate his feelings of pity and gratitude from what he was certain were the first stirrings of love?  How could he convince her that he meant what he said?  He finished his drink and considered having another, but rejected the idea, one more and he would be there all night with the bottle, and he still had responsibilities towards his father and the ranch.  He made his way slowly up to his room and lay in bed, but sleep would not come, and he reached for the book on the bedside table.  As he went to pick it up the book fell on the floor, and Adam stared at it as he saw the page that lay open.  He reached out for it slowly and read the words:

“It lies not in our power to love or hate,
For will in us is overruled by fate.
When two are stripped, long ere the course begin
We wish that one should lose, the other win;
And one especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots, like in each respect.
The reason no man knows, let it suffice,
What we beheld is censured by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight;
Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?”   (5)

Adam stared at the page.  He re-read the last lines and thought of Verity.  He had not loved her when he first saw her, he had felt only pity and a need to help her.  Was she right then, that he didn’t love her?  Suddenly, for the first time in his life, Adam didn’t trust what he was thinking, and the turmoil in his head and his heart brought tears to his eyes.  He rubbed them angrily away.  Had the apparently haphazard falling of the book shown him that he was wrong, that he didn’t love her?  He replaced the traitorous tome on the nightstand and turned down the lamp.

*****

Adam sat at breakfast hoping to see Verity appear before he had to leave.  He wanted to apologise to her for the things he had said the previous evening, and to explain, though he wasn’t sure that he could.  He was still uncertain of his true feelings towards her, but it was plain that she had no love for him.  Adam rose, suddenly wanting to get away from the house and another confrontation with his guest.

Verity came along the landing and was about to start down the stairs, when she heard the front door closing.  As she descended into the great room, she saw the remains of Adam’s meal on the table.  She went into the kitchen and made herself some breakfast, and sat at the table staring at her plate.  Her mind was elsewhere, realising that Adam had left before he had to talk to her.  She had hurt him, and that was the last thing she wanted to do, but she knew that any love he felt for her was tangled up in a web of other feelings.  She felt her heart beat faster at the thought of being loved by this man that she had come to admire for his care of, and for, her.  She pushed the thought away; he would regret his declaration if she let him believe that it was true love he felt, and not merely pity.

She shook herself, putting the thoughts behind her, and picked at her breakfast, then she went into the kitchen to prepare a tray for Joe.  She took it upstairs and into Joe’s room, waking him gently.

Joe eased himself up the bed as Verity placed the tray on his lap and poured some coffee for both of them.  Joe ate his food slowly, observing Verity.  She was very quiet, going to stand by the window, looking down into the yard and fingering the curtain absently.

“What’s wrong?” asked Joe.

Verity didn’t answer immediately, but came to sit on the chair beside the bed.  She looked up into Joe’s young face, then she lowered her eyes and stared at her hands as they rested in her lap.

“I’m afraid that I have hurt your brother.”

“Oh?” said Joe, wondering if Verity would tell him more.

Verity looked up.  “He told me he thought that he loved me, and I told him he was wrong, that he only felt pity.”

“How can you be sure?  Adam knows himself pretty well, and he wouldn’t have said it if he didn’t mean it.”

“I know he thinks he means it.  But I believe he feels he should say it, that he thinks if he doesn’t it will simply confirm that my appearance makes a difference, and he won’t admit to himself that it does.  He feels a duty to me to make me feel normal in some way.  That’s the kind of man he is, he wouldn’t see another hurt if he could stop it.  But to say he loves me is wrong, how can I make him understand?”  Verity stood and went back to the window.

“Would you like me to talk to him?” offered Joe.  “I don’t know if it would do any good, you really need Pa, or my brother Hoss.  Adam takes notice of what they say.”

Verity turned back into the room, looking across at Joe and seeing the sad expression on his face.  “Doesn’t he take notice of you?”

“Oh, to Adam I’m just a kid still, always will be,” Joe smiled, “even when I’m fifty.  I don’t give him advice, and never tell him what to do.  He’d laugh if I tried.”

“But you’d like to be able to.”

“Yeah, sometimes.  Adam takes everything so seriously; occasionally I’d like to be able to show him that life can be so much more fun.”  Joe became serious.  “And that, sometimes, you have to think of yourself, not others.”

Joe and Verity were silent for a long time, each thinking of their relationship with the eldest Cartwright son, neither happy about it but not feeling able to change it to their liking, one out of love for his brother, the other out of respect for her friend.

Verity stirred.  “Would you like to get up now?” she asked.  Joe agreed and she helped him to dress and supported him as he hopped downstairs.

They spent the day reading and playing checkers.  Verity proved to be very adept at the game, and at spotting Joe’s attempts to influence the game in his favour, what others might have called cheating, but Verity simply moved the pieces back to their proper places and carried on as though nothing had happened.  Joe began to wish that Hoss would return and play with him.  His brother never knew when he had been cheated, and firmly believed that Joe was the better player.

As evening was drawing on, they heard a horse in the yard and Joe immediately recognised the sound of Hoss’ mount, Chubb.

“That’s my other brother, back from the drive.”

Verity stood uncertainly.  “Joe, would you do something for me?”  Joe nodded.  “While I go into the kitchen and start supper, would you explain to your brother the reason for my presence, and…how I look?”

“Of course, if you want.  But believe me, Hoss will accept you straight away, you have nothing to worry about.”

“Yes, but still, please do it for me.”  Verity made her escape into the kitchen as Hoss came through the front door.

“Hi, little brother, how are you?”  Hoss asked, hanging up his hat and laying his gun belt on the dresser behind the front door.

“Getting better all the time.”  Joe smiled broadly, knowing that his brother was home and safe.

Hoss sat down on the end of the settee, at Joe’s feet.  He spied the checker board.  “Who you been playing with?  Is Adam home?  I didn’t see his horse in the barn.”

“No.  Hoss we have a guest, Adam arranged for her to come and keep an eye on me.  I get the feeling he didn’t trust me to behave if there was no one here.”  Joe laughed.  He went on to explain about Verity and her appearance.

Hoss looked thoughtful.  “Where is she then?”

“Hiding in the kitchen.”

“Hidin’?  From me?”  Hoss was about to go and find Verity, when she appeared carrying a tray on which was coffee and cups for them all.  Hoss went to her and relieved her of her burden, smiling at her as he did so.  “Evenin’, Miss.  I’m Hoss, Joe’s brother.”  Hoss looked at her and his heart wept when he saw her face, knowing the hurt she would have suffered.

Verity looked up, and up.  The man in front of her was so much bigger than Joe, and even Adam, that she was taken aback.  “Good evening, Hoss, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Hoss made her sit down and poured the coffee.  “Joe tells me that you’ve been lookin’ after him.  That’s a job I don’t envy you, but he seems to be improvin’ fast.”

“He’s been very good,” Verity looked at Joe, “no trouble at all, and will soon be back on his feet.”

They all turned as they heard the front door open, and Adam entered.  He stopped as he saw that his brother had returned, then he put his hat and gun belt on the dresser and stood behind the settee.  “You made good time,” he said to Hoss.  Adam looked at Verity but said nothing to her, just nodded his head towards her in acknowledgement of her presence, not wanting to speak to her in front of his brothers, and not knowing what her attitude towards him would be.

“I swear those cows wanted to get to market, they almost ran there, and we had good weather.”

Adam turned to Joe.  “How’s the leg?”

Joe could see the tension in Adam’s face as he looked at Verity, and remembered his earlier conversation with her.  He tried to make his brother relax.  “Fine.  With all the care I’m getting it’ll soon be good as new.  Sit down, have some coffee, you look tired,” Joe suggested.

“No thanks,” Adam said, moving to the stairs, “I’m going into town.”

“Ain’t it a bit late to be going out?”  Hoss asked.

“I think that I’m capable of deciding whether I want to go out or not, don’t you?” Adam said abruptly, and Hoss recoiled at the tone.

“Yeah, sure.”  Hoss suddenly found the coffee in his cup held a fascination for him and he looked steadily at it, avoiding his brother’s eyes.  Adam disappeared upstairs, and was soon back again in fresh clothes.  He headed for the door.

“Don’t wait up for me,” Adam said, and was gone.

Adam rode into Virginia City and found a quiet table in the equally quiet saloon, where he sat nursing a beer.  He’d left the house without any supper and thought that he aught to eat before drinking too much; he didn’t want to get drunk, he just wanted to think and he could do that better away from home.  His thoughts had troubled him all day, and he was no nearer to finding the answer to the question he had been asking himself; did he love Verity?

Bessie ambled over to his table and sat down.  “How about buying me a drink, Adam?”  Her low cut dress sparkled brightly in the dim light, laughing at Adam’s dour expression.

Adam looked up at the lightly painted face beneath the blonde hair.  “Yeah, why not?”  He called to Charlie, who was leaning on the bar reading a newspaper, to bring over a bottle.  Charlie placed the whiskey on the table, with two glasses, and retreated.  Adam poured them both a drink, and then sat back in his chair.  He didn’t want to talk, but Bessie had been a good friend to him over the years and trade was slack tonight; he knew that she would get a rake-off on the cost of the bottle.

“You want to tell me about it?”  Bessie asked, looking at his troubled expression.

Adam shook his head silently, downed his drink and refilled the glass.

“Well, what is it?  Have you argued with your Pa, or is it a woman?  Those are the only reasons I’ve ever seen you look like this.”

Adam glanced up, he had seen Bessie in the early morning and knew that beneath the mascara, lipstick and rouge, there was a handsome woman with a soft heart who had seen him at his best, and his worst, but had never judged him and never expected more from him than he was prepared to give.

“Pa’s away.”

Bessie nodded in understanding.  “So are you wondering how to tell her you’re not interested, or that you are?”

“I did tell her, that I’m interested that is, and she told me I was wrong.  Now the more I think about it the more convinced I am that she was right.”  He shook his head and drained his glass.  Bessie poured him another and Adam took it in his hands and stared at it.  “But I thought that I loved her, how could I have been so wrong?  She said I didn’t feel love, but pity.”   Adam sipped his drink slowly, now he had started to talk he wanted Bessie to understand, to help him.  “She’s not beautiful; in fact she has a face that would make most people turn away from her.  She had an accident.  But inside she’s beautiful, and that’s what I love.”

Bessie reached over and refilled Adam’s empty glass.  “So she thinks you feel sorry for her?”

“Yes, and perhaps she’s right.”  Adam sat up and put his elbows on the table, raising the glass to his lips.  “I guess she doesn’t trust anyone to react to her as they would to other people.”  Adam considered how he felt when he thought he might lose his sight.  Would he have trusted a woman who said she loved him, would he have thought it was only through pity?  Bessie filled his glass again and Adam smiled at her, it was a lop-sided, slightly drunken look.  “Thanks, Bessie, you’re good to me.”

“Go on, tell me the rest of it.”

Adam didn’t speak for several minutes, he just sat, sipping his drink slowly and refilling his glass as he emptied it.  “I had an accident a few weeks back…” Adam started.

“Yes, I heard.”

Adam laughed, there were few secrets in Virginia City, and a potentially serious injury to one of the Cartwrights would have gone round the town like wildfire.

“If I’d lost my sight, I would’ve found it difficult to trust the motives of anyone who tried to get close to me.  Why would they want to get involved with a blind man?”  Adam picked up the bottle and filled his empty glass, and Bessie’s.  “I know Pa’s always worried whenever one of us gets involved with a woman, that her motives are not entirely pure, but that she has her eyes on the Ponderosa.”  Adam sniggered, “I don’t think that we’re that bad looking do you?  It might be that they find us attractive after all.  But Pa’s always warning us about fortune hunters.”  He looked thoughtful.  “I guess it must be the same for Verity, not trusting people’s motives.”  He paused, trying to decide what his motives might be.  “Do I only think I love her, because what I really want is to help her?”

Adam fell silent as he remembered two women for whom he had declared his love, and as he thought of them, he became very still; they had something in common.  Ruth, living alone on the Mountain of the Dead, and Regina, who had chosen to follow her father in the restricted life of a Quaker.  Had he only loved them for what he thought he could do for them, to free them from their isolation?  Did he give his love out of a sense of duty, had he ever really loved either of them?  Did he even know what real love was?  And now Verity, another woman that he felt needed his help.

Suddenly Adam became sad.  “Why can’t I love a woman for herself, is that so hard to do?”

“Adam, never regret that you care about people.  But sometimes you have to think of yourself, what you want.”  Bessie could see that Adam was drunk and only half listening to her, but she pushed on.  “What would you do if she was beautiful, and you did not feel sorry for her?”

“But I don’t …” Adam started to say, but hiccupped loudly before he could finish.

Bessie smiled at him.  “You haven’t fooled me for one minute.  You wouldn’t be here if you were sure you loved her, you’d be with her, persuading her of your feelings.  So, what would you do?”

Adam nodded, picking up the bottle.  He tried to pour the whiskey but missed, spilling the liquor on the table.  Bessie took it from him and filled their glasses, emptying the bottle.  Adam drank half the glass, and then looked owlishly at Bessie.

“If I didn’t feel sorry?” Adam asked and Bessie nodded.  “I’d like her, I know that.”  Adam blinked slowly, he was finding it hard to keep his eyes focused on his companion.  “But love?  I dunno.  Pr’aps not.”  He emptied his glass.  “I gotta go.”  Adam tried to stand, but his legs gave way and he sat down heavily, “Ooops!” Adam looked down.  “Who…moved…the floor?”

Bessie stood and put her hand under Adam’s arm.  “Come on, I don’t think you’ll be riding home tonight.”  She lifted him, put his arm round her shoulder, and guided him up the stairs to her room.

When Adam realised where he was, he stopped and turned towards her, leaning on the door post for support.  “Thish ish your room, what ‘bout your rep … repu … what will they think?”

“That never stopped you before.”  Bessie guided him to the bed, where Adam collapsed in a heap.

As Bessie started to pull the covers over him, Adam put up his arms and wrapped them round Bessie’s neck, pulling her downwards, and kissed her.  “Bessie, I know I love you,” he whispered as he fell asleep.

*****

Adam woke with a blinding headache and a mouth that felt as though he had eaten a desert.  He sat up slowly, wondering for a moment where he was, then he recognised the red velvet drapes and flock wallpaper of Bessie’s room.  He turned his head, groaning as he did so, and saw Bessie asleep in a chair.  He swung his legs over the side of the bed, and rested his elbows on his knees, hanging his head until the room stopped spinning.  Bessie became aware of movement and opened her eyes.

“Well, hello.  How are you this morning?” she asked cheerfully.

Adam held his head.  “Would you mind not shouting,” he begged.

“I wasn’t,” she said more quietly.  “I’ll get you some breakfast.”

“No, please! Just some coffee,” Adam insisted, as he stood uncertainly.

“OK, come down to the bar when you’re ready.”

Adam tried to nod, but nearly fell over, and held onto the bed head for support.  Bessie left and Adam poured some water into the basin, plunging his head into it for as long as he could hold his breath.  The shock of the cold water made him feel a little better and, after he had rubbed his hair dry on a towel, he followed Bessie down into the empty bar.  He glanced across at the clock over the door, which told him it was nearly seven.  He was late for work, and he hung his head guiltily.  His father had left him in charge of the ranch and he had neglected that responsibility.  He had also left his brothers alone, and while they did not need looking after, Adam knew that he should have been at home with them.

Bessie brought out the coffee and Adam quickly drank a large mug full, then stood, gathering his hat and gun belt.

“Bessie, thank you, for listening and for taking care of me last night.  I hope that I behaved.”

Bessie looked regretful as she answered.  “Oh, yes, you were the perfect gentleman.”

Adam bent and kissed her lightly.  “Another time.”

As Adam left Bessie whispered, “I’ll hold you to that.”

Adam went to the livery to find Sport, grateful that he had left the horse there when he had come into town.  Perhaps he had planned to get drunk after all, but had not wanted to admit it to himself.  As he left the stable, Ike Newton emerged from the telegraph office, waving to him.

“Adam!” Ike called, “I got a message for you.”

Adam pulled Sport to a halt as the man came up to him and handed over a piece of paper.

Adam read it: “Miss Carlisle welcome stop position vacant stop come soonest full stop”.  It was signed ‘Victor Abrahams’.

Adam’s head was throbbing, but he smiled as he rode homewards.  Despite the amount he had drunk the night before, he remembered his conversation with Bessie, and now knew that he didn’t love Verity.  His feelings were of friendship, and wanting to help her, and now he could.

He rode into the yard, looking round. All was quiet, the hands had gone about their assigned tasks, and no one was left to see his late arrival.  Adam tethered Sport and went into the house, where he found Joe seated on the settee with Verity, and they looked round as he entered.

Joe saw the day’s growth of beard on his brother’s face and the look in his eyes that said he had had a heavy night.  “Hi, Adam.  Welcome home.”  Joe’s tone was less than welcoming despite his words.  They had all been worried when they found that he had not returned from town.

Adam looked suitably ashamed.  Yet again, his brother was taking on the role of the responsible one, as he had when he had caught Adam breaking his word to his father.

“Hi Joe.  I’m sorry…”

“We were worried, you know.”  Joe looked towards Verity, who seemed relieved that Adam had, at last, appeared.  “Hoss went to organise the men, he’s gone over to the south pasture.  He said to tell you that, if you came back, he would see you there.”

“I’ll just go and change,” Adam rubbed at his beard, “and shave.  Then I’ll go find him.”  He disappeared upstairs.

When he returned, Joe and Verity were laughing together, but stopped when they saw Adam.

Verity spoke.  “Would you like some coffee before you go?” she asked, uncertain of his mood.

Adam shook his head.  “No thanks, I’ve wasted enough time already.”  He saw the hurt in Verity’s eyes that his off-hand remark had caused, and immediately felt sorry.  “I didn’t mean…yeah, why not?”  He sat in the leather armchair at one side of the fireplace.  “What are you two up to today?”  Adam said to break the uncomfortable silence.

Joe smiled.  “Verity is going to teach me how to play the guitar,” he announced.

Adam almost spilled his coffee in surprise.  “She’s what!”  He looked at Verity. “You do know that, apart from being tone deaf, he’s got no sense of rhythm, and the only thing his fingers are any good at is running through a girl’s hair.”

Verity smiled.  “I’m sure that’s not true, besides he wants to learn.”

Adam had got over the shock of the revelation.  “OK, perhaps I’m not being fair, I know he’s got rhythm, I’ve seen him dance.”  He faced Joe with a gleam in his eye.  “Joe, if you can pick out a tune by the end of the day, I’ll do all your chores for a month,” he promised, hoping that would encourage his young brother to persevere with the unaccustomed pastime.

“Oh boy, now you’re talking.  Get out of here and let me get started.”

Adam rose and headed for the door.  He had his hand on the latch as he turned.  “Verity, I have some news for you, but I want to tell you when I have more time.”

“Oh,” said Verity, curious, “what is it?”

Adam put on his hat, pulling it down low.  He winked.  “Tell you later,” and was gone to meet Hoss.

As Adam approached the pasture, he could smell smoke and the unmistakeable aroma of cooking, and joined the men for their midday meal.  As he started to eat he realised how hungry he was, he had missed both supper the night before and breakfast, and was now making up for it.

“Ain’t seen you eat that much in a while,” observed Hoss who was tucking into his own plateful.

“Ain’t been this hungry in a while,” Adam replied.  He had apologised to Hoss for his lateness, and Hoss had accepted it, and his reasons.

“Did it help any?” Hoss wanted to know.

Adam rubbed his forehead.  “Apart from leaving me with a headache, yes.  I know that Verity was right, I don’t love her.”  Adam shook his head.  “Even when I say it now, I feel that I am betraying her somehow.  But that’s ridiculous, why should I?”

Hoss put his hand on his brother’s arm.  “Because that’s the sort of person you are, you care.  I ain’t known Verity very long, just since yesterday, but I can see what a good woman she is.  Joe likes her too, and I think they are real close those two; he does everything she tells him.”  Hoss shook his head and his voice quivered as he spoke.  “When I think of what she’s had to go through, it just ain’t fair.”  Hoss stood and turned his back on Adam, taking a few paces away.  Adam came up behind him and turned his bigger brother to face him.

Adam saw the tears that fell from Hoss’ eyes.  “You care too, don’t you?” he said softly.

Hoss nodded, not able to speak.

“Guess Pa has a lot to answer for, hasn’t he?”  Adam smiled, and after a heartbeat, Hoss smiled back.

Hoss wiped his hand over his face.  “We gotta do something for her, Adam.  We cain’t let her bury herself in that ranch again.”

“Don’t worry, she won’t have to.  I’ve found her a way out.”  As Hoss was about to ask him about it, Adam stopped him.  “Later,” he said.

The two brothers spent the afternoon organising the men who would stay with the herd for a few days, looking for strays and clearing the springs that provided water for the grazing, then they rode slowly home, arriving as Hop Sing was preparing to serve supper.

When the meal was finished and they were all sitting round the fire relaxing, Verity handed Joe her guitar, the same one that Adam had given her.  Adam looked up enquiringly.

“You didn’t!” he exclaimed.

Joe answered him.  “She did, now listen.”  Joe started to pluck the strings in what was unmistakeably a tune, ‘The Red River Valley’.  Occasionally he stumbled over a note or two, but he made it to the end and stopped.  There was a second’s silence then Hoss and Adam were congratulating him noisily.

“Well, little brother, I never thought that you could do it,” laughed Hoss.

“That was great, Joe.  Well done,” Adam said happily, and then groaned.  “I suppose you are going to hold me to my promise?”

“Too right I will, all my chores for a month.”

Adam laughed, “It will be worth it, just to know that you can create something other than a ruckus.  I never thought to see you holding that instrument, and actually enjoying it.”

“Me neither, brother, me neither.”  Joe shook his head in wonder.

Verity was smiling at her pupil.  “He’s promised me that he will keep it up.  Learn more tunes and perhaps sing a little.”

It was Hoss’ turn to groan.  “Oh no!  Not singin’, I’ve heard tom cats make better music than Joe.”

“Yeah,” said Adam. “Joe if you’re going to sing, please don’t do it near the corral, you’ll frighten the horses.”

Joe picked up his music book and threw it at Adam, hitting him square in the face.  Adam put his hands over his eyes and sank back in the chair, moaning.  Joe was immediately frightened that his brother’s eyes were damaged again.  “Adam!” he shouted.  “I’m sorry, are you all right?”

Adam remained still for a second, then took his hands from his face and broke into a broad grin.  “Yeah, I’m fine, but I had you worried for a minute,” he laughed, satisfied with his revenge.

Joe still looked frightened.  “Don’t ever do that again.”

“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t resist it.  Seriously, Joe, that was good, you keep practising and you’ll be even better.”

“As long as Verity will keep teaching me.”  Joe looked at his tutor, smiling.

“Of course I will, you’re a very good pupil.”

Adam cleared his throat and turned to Verity.  “Before you make that sort of commitment to my young brother, I have something to tell you.”  They all looked at Adam wondering what he had to say that was so serious.  “I have been thinking of those men who came to your ranch, and you saying that now you would have to leave.  I agree that they have made you unsafe, I can see that, but I don’t want you to have to go from place to place, always afraid that something similar would happen.”  Verity sat quietly, waiting for Adam to get to the point.  “I wrote to a friend of mine in Boston.  Verity, how would you like a job as a music teacher?”

Verity looked shocked.  “Adam, I couldn’t, I told you…”

“Oh, but you could.  My friend is a doctor, and spends much of his time at an institution in Boston, helping where he can.  It’s a home for the blind, and I thought that you could teach there.  They have little in the way of education past the basics, but if you could teach them the delights to be found in music, you would be giving them a precious gift.”

Verity looked thoughtful.  “Blind, you say?”

Adam nodded.  “Yes.  Verity they can’t see you, they will only know the beautiful person that I…” Adam paused, then held out his hand to include his brothers, “…we, have come to know.  They will not judge you on your appearance, but only by how you treat them, and help them.”  He could see that she was considering it, and said nothing more.  Joe and Hoss sat silently, thinking of the opportunity it would give her to lead something like a normal life.

“But what about the others there, the staff?”

“They will accept you for what you are giving those that they are trying to help.  Please, say you’ll do it, or at least try it for a time.”

Verity stood and paced round the room, torn between wanting to grasp this chance, and afraid to commit herself to being with people again.  Finally, she went and stood in front of Adam, who rose and faced her.  He put his hands on her shoulders as she looked at him, and stared into her eyes, willing her to say ‘yes’.

“Adam, thank you.”  Verity had been afraid that, after her rejection of his declaration of love, he would turn against her, and all the time he had been planning this.  She hung her head, then raised her eyes to his.  “I will do it.  It frightens me, just to think of the people I will have to face, but if I can help those less fortunate than myself, I will.  They deserve the chance to have music in their lives, something that will make their isolation a little easier to bear.”

Adam smiled and hugged her to him.  “I’m glad.”  Then he whispered in her ear, “I want to talk to you, outside.”

Adam took Verity’s hand and led her onto the veranda, where they sat, once more comfortable in each other’s presence.

“Verity, I have been thinking about what you said, and you’re right, I don’t love you.  Not as a husband should love a wife.”  He took her hand in his and smiled at her.  “But I do love you as a friend, and I hope that you will be able to accept that.”

Verity smiled back at him.  “Of course.  I love you the same way.  It is so long since I have been able to speak to anyone as I have spoken to you and your family, and I am thankful for that.  And I’m so grateful for what you have done for me, finding something that I can do with my life.”  She paused.  “When do they want me to start?”

“As soon as possible, the telegraph said ‘soonest’, they seem to be in a hurry.”

“I will have to sell the ranch, and make arrangements for Matthew.  He’s been very loyal to me, looking after the ranch on his own.  I owe him more than I can ever repay.”

“Why don’t you let me take care of all that, and I’m sure I can find Matthew a job with us on the Ponderosa.  After all, he comes highly recommended.”  Adam laughed.

“Would you?  It would be a weight off my mind.”

“That’s settled then.  I’ll let you know what’s happening, and once the ranch is sold, I’ll send you the money.”

Verity sat silently for a minute, and Adam could see that her mind was miles away.  “What are you thinking?” he asked.

“I was wondering if I really need the money.  I told you that the death of my parents left me quite well off, and I was thinking that there might be something I could do that would help others like myself, anyone who feels cut off from the world.”

“Verity, when I thought that I might lose my sight, I had decided that I would go away, leave my family so that I should not be a burden to them.  Why don’t you use the money to help people like that, who have no one, or who may have left their families for much the same reason.  I’m sure that you will meet people who could make something of their lives, with a little support and encouragement.”  He smiled at her as he saw that she was already thinking of ways of using the money.  “You may even find those who could take their music further, who have the ability to do more than you can teach them.  New instruments, or advanced teaching, it would be available to them with your help.”

“That’s a wonderful idea, I could do so much.”

“I know people in Boston who can help you to invest the money into a fund that will allow you to use the interest, without touching the capital, so that it will enable you to help more people.  I’ll give you a list of names and some letters of introduction.”

“Adam, I don’t know how to thank you.  You’ve given me a new life, and a purpose, and I will be forever grateful.”  Verity laughed, “You promised to be my wind, and turned into a full blown gale.”

Adam stood and pulled Verity into his arms.  “Just remember that you have friends here, if ever you need us.”

“I will.”

Adam bent his head and kissed her gently, and Verity responded.  It was a kiss between friends, showing no desire, but given freely, needing no commitment other than to always be there for each other.

*****

Adam sat beside Verity in the hotel restaurant as she waited for the stage to arrive.  They both had a cup of coffee in front of them, but the drinks were cold and forgotten as they stared at each other, not wanting to part.  There were long, awkward silences in their conversation, which had been light and meaningless, their thoughts elsewhere.  They heard the rumble of the heavy coach as it pulled up outside the stage office, and Adam bent down to pick up Verity’s small valise and the case protecting her guitar.  All her other luggage would follow her to Boston by carrier.

Verity’s face was hidden behind a thick veil and she received curious glances as they made their way out into the street.  But she ignored them, she was at the start of the road to a new life and she wasn’t going to let the staring eyes upset her.  Adam handed the cases up to the driver, and then they stood together on the sidewalk.

“Have you everything you need?” he asked and Verity nodded.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.  By the way, will you promise me that you will make Joe keep up with the guitar lessons?”

Adam nodded, smiling.  “I’ll try, but I think it was the teacher who encouraged him to do it.  He won’t take very kindly to me helping him, he’ll think I’m just trying to give him some culture, and that’s an old thorn between us.  I have an instrument he can use if he wants to, it’s not as good as the one I gave you, but it will do for now.”

“Perhaps if you gave him his own guitar, he’d be more willing.”

Adam leaned over and kissed her cheek.  “OK, if you think it would help.  Now, it’s time for you to get aboard.”  Adam lifted Verity into the coach and saw her settled.  “Oh, I nearly forgot,” said Adam, reaching into his back pocket.  “These are the letters of introduction.”  He handed her the envelopes and Verity looked through them, finding one addressed to herself.

“What’s this?”

“Don’t open it until you are on your way,” Adam instructed.  Verity was intrigued, but agreed to do as he asked.

The driver called down that he was ready to leave, and the coach pulled out.  Adam stood, waving as he saw Verity watching him, and, as the coach rounded a corner and disappeared from sight, he hung his head for a moment, thinking of what might have been.  Then he turned, and nearly bumped into his father.

“Pa!” he said in surprise, “when did you get back?”

“I just got off the stage, had to go over to the telegraph office before I head home.”  Ben looked down the street.  “Who was that?”

“Verity Carlisle.”

Ben raised his eyebrows in surprise.  “Where’s she going?”

Adam put his arm on his father’s shoulder.  “I’ll tell you on the way home.  Let’s go.”

Verity had watched the disappearing figure of her friend, and then settled deeper into her seat; she was the only passenger and she stretched her feet out across the coach.  She had a long journey ahead of her, and now it was begun she was feeling both nervous and excited.  She looked out of the window at the dry scrubland of the Carson valley, and the rocking motion of the stage was lulling her to sleep.  Suddenly she remembered the letters that Adam had given her, which she still held in her hand.  She put those addressed to Adam’s contacts safely in her purse, holding on to the one with her name written boldly on the front.

She stared at it for a long time, wondering what he had written.  Taking a deep breath she tore it open, and, as she read the words of the verses on the single sheet of paper, tears came to her eyes at the thought of what she had left behind, at the future that was opening in front of her, and the man who had given her that new life.  She knew that she would never forget.

‘Great winds across the sky,’ he said,
‘Will carry you away
From seclusion self-imposed, to bask
In the friendly light of day.’

He begged her, ‘let me be your wind,
To help you find the light.
For you gave to me, a stranger,
The wondrous gift of sight.’

The love he then declared for her
Was rightly spurned, he knew,
And in its place, had gladly found,
A deeper friendship grew.

‘I have found for you,’ he promised,
‘A place where beauty lies,
Where men see not the outside
And look not with their eyes.

They need your help, those lonely souls
Who’ve suffered darkness long,
For you can given them back the world
In music and in song.

Your life will be full, yet again,
And as the years go by
Remember the friend, who carried you,
On winds across the sky.’   (6)

***The End***
November 2002

Author Notes:
(1)    ‘Care-charming Sleep’ by John Fletcher 1579 – 1625
(2)    From ‘ Walking’ by Thomas Traherne 1636 (?) – 1674
(3)    ‘Go, Lovely Rose’ by Edmund Waller 1606 – 1687
(4)    ‘The Miracle’ an old English ballad Anon c.1600
(5)    ‘First Sight’ by Christopher Marlowe 1564 – 1593
(6)    ‘Great Winds Across the Sky’ by Adam Cartwright 1830 – Present day

Ruth Halverson appears in the episode ‘The Savage’ written by Joe Stone and Paul King.
Regina Darien appears in the episode ‘The Hopefuls’ written by E Jack Newman.

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