Summary: Adam befriends a young woman and her son.
Word Count: 26,680
“Won’t you come in, Adam?” Harriet Ambrose invited, “Jamie will be down soon. Can I get you a cup of coffee while you wait?”
“Yes, thank you, that’d be very welcome.” Adam Cartwright stepped inside the front door of the small, neat, well-kept house on the outskirts of Virginia City. He had rushed an early breakfast to be here on time, and a coffee sounded good. He took off his black hat, to reveal equally black hair above a handsome face, and followed Harriet into the kitchen, noticing that as usual, she had on a dress that fitted her graceful curves to perfection, as would be expected from a dress maker. This time it was deep crimson, which set off the corn colour of her hair.
Since first meeting Harriet and her son, Adam had been a regular visitor to the house, usually to take Jamie out for the day, but he and Harriet had become friends as well. Jamie had just celebrated his ninth birthday and Adam was going to take him on a trip into the mountains as a treat. Jamie had never been away from home overnight and was excited at the prospect of the three-day excursion.
“This is very good of you, I know Jamie is looking forward to it. I hope he won’t be too much bother.” Harriet always worried that Adam might find Jamie a burden.
Adam laughed, looking across the table into Harriet’s pretty, blue eyes. “Will you please stop worrying about us being out together, I enjoy having him with me. He’s good company, and this was my idea,” he pointed out.
“Yes I know, and I’m grateful. He’s been much more settled since you have been coming here. I didn’t realise how it was affecting him, not having a father.” Harriet handed a cup of coffee to Adam and then sat down opposite him at the table.
“Well, there’s no doubting that life is more normal with two parents, but just because Jamie doesn’t have a father, doesn’t mean he isn’t getting a good upbringing.” He looked at Harriet, thinking of his own life, and the fact that he had not had a mother of his own. He had known briefly the mothers of his two younger brothers, before their untimely deaths, but never his own who had died when he was born.
The lack of a parent was one thing that Adam shared with the young boy, and he knew that it drew them together, he also knew he didn’t need to be guarded with Jamie. He could let down the barriers that he had put up against the world, and just be himself. Jamie, with his incessant questions, sometimes made Adam examine his life and ideals in more detail than he would like, but more often than not, he would be satisfied with what he found. He now knew that Jamie never told his mother about their discussions, preferring to keep them special unto themselves, and this left Adam free to open his heart and his mind to the innocent child he had come to depend on and, Adam admitted to himself, to love Jamie came rushing into the kitchen and threw his arms round Adam, his fair hair, white shirt and tan pants contrasting strongly with Adam’s black clothing.
“Can we go now?” He wanted to get away quickly, he had been thinking about this trip ever since Adam had suggested it, and wanted to be off.
“Let Adam finish his coffee,” Harriet admonished her son, and Jamie sat on Adam’s lap fidgeting. Adam downed his coffee quickly.
“I’ve got a surprise for you outside.” Adam looked into the eager face of the boy.
“What?” Jamie’s eyes lit up.
“Wait and see.” Adam winked at Harriet and set Jamie on his feet. Jamie took Adam’s hand and pulled him towards the door. As Jamie got outside he saw Sport, Adam’s tall, sorrel horse, standing at the hitching rail next to a black pony, but there was no sign of the animal that Adam usually brought for him to ride.
“Where’s Jethro?” Jamie was suddenly worried that they were not going on their trip.
“Well, he’s getting a bit old for trips into the mountains. So I thought I would bring a new pony for you.”
Jamie went up to the horse and rubbed its nose. The horse snickered in greeting.
“He’s beautiful. What’s his name?” Jamie looked up at Adam who had come to stand beside him.
“Well now, I thought that perhaps, as he’s going to be yours, that you would like to give him a name,” said Adam, smiling down at Jamie.
“What do you mean?”
“I want to give him to you, for your birthday, if it’s all right with your mother.” Adam looked up at Harriet and saw her smile.
“That’s very generous of you Adam, but I have nowhere to keep him,” Harriet said uncertainly. She didn’t want to take this wonderful gift from her son, but there were practicalities that had to be considered.
“That’s OK, he can live at the Ponderosa,” Adam volunteered.
“Can I Ma? Please,” Jamie begged, looking up into his mother’s face with longing in his eyes.
“Then, yes, of course.” Harriet smiled as she saw the joyful expression on her son’s face. It had come often since Jamie had known Adam, and she was more grateful then he would ever know.
Jamie turned and hugged Adam.
“Oh thank you, thank you,” he cried. Then he turned back to the pony. “I’ll call him ‘Starlight’,” Jamie said decisively.
Adam raised his eyebrows, so Jamie explained.
“He’s got a white star on his forehead.”
“Oh, I see. Starlight it is then.”
Jamie couldn’t wait to get up on his present and begged Adam to hurry up. Adam took his leave of Harriet, who stood and watched the pair ride off. She sighed as they were lost from sight, and she returned to the house. Adam was a good influence on the boy and she wished that he were around more often. She had wondered at first if there might be more than friendship between herself and the darkly handsome rancher, but the spark was not there and they remained just friends.
Adam and Jamie made their way out of town and through the forest, up into the hills. Jamie was getting used to the feel of his new mount, and found that the pony was easy to handle and had a steady, even gait. Jamie had never ridden a horse until he met Adam, but he had learnt quickly and now rode with ease, relaxed in the saddle. Adam saw in the boy the same love and understanding for horses that was evident in his own youngest brother, nineteen-year-old Joe, and wondered if Jamie would make his life with them, as Joe wanted to.
As they rode on Jamie was eager to test the speed of his pony.
“See that tree at the top of the rise?” Jamie pointed to a large specimen in the distance that stood above its fellows, at the side of the track.
“Yes.” Adam looked up ahead, knowing what was coming.
“Race you!” shouted Jamie as he kicked the pony’s side. The animal took off fast, almost tipping Jamie out of the saddle. Starlight was young, unlike Jethro, and the speed took Jamie by surprise. Adam sighed and raced after them, reaching the tree twenty yards ahead of Jamie.
“Aw, you won.” Jamie looked dejected as he pulled up alongside Adam.
Jamie jumped down and sat on a fallen tree trunk. Adam saw the downcast look and came to sit beside him, resting his elbows on his knees and turning his head to look at the boy.
“Did you really expect me not to?” Adam asked reasonably.
“No, I guess not, but…” Jamie kicked at a stone wedged in the dirt.
“But you think I should have let you win, seeing as how Starlight is your new pride and joy, hn?”
“Well…” Jamie didn’t like to admit it, but that was exactly how he felt.
“Jamie, look at me.” The boy lifted his eyes to meet the dark, intense gaze of his man-friend. “You knew you couldn’t win, not against Sport. One day you will have a horse that can beat him, I’ll make sure of it. But how would you know? If I let you beat me, how would you know that, when you won, it was because you could, not simply because I let you? Believe me, a hollow victory is not worth the effort. Better to know you have won because you deserve to, because you’re better.”
“S’pose so.” Jamie wasn’t convinced.
“Part of the fun of winning is the struggle you have to put into it. Knowing it is the culmination of all your efforts.”
“Cul…culmiwhat?” asked Jamie.
“Culmination. It means the highest point, the top.” Adam never spoke to Jamie as though he was a child, and sometimes he used words that Jamie did not understand. Jamie knew that he could ask Adam for an explanation, indeed Adam encouraged it, and he would stop and make sure that Jamie understood before he continued.
Jamie thought about it for a minute.
“But I’m going to keep trying,” he said bravely.
“I hope so.” Adam put his arm round Jamie’s shoulder. “Now let’s get on, only a bit slower if you don’t mind. Neither Sport nor I are as young as we were.” Jamie stood up and laughed.
“Would you like me to help you up, old man?” Jamie offered. Adam scowled and rose quickly to his feet and chased Jamie round the trees, until he caught the fleeing boy and tickled him unmercifully. Jamie had tears of laughter running down his face as he begged Adam to stop. Adam laughed as he held him firmly.
“Now, less of the old man, or I’ll tickle you again. Say ‘sorry’ and treat me with the respect my great age deserves,” said thirty-one-year-old Adam
“All right, all right, I’m sorry.” Squealed Jamie, then as Adam let him go he added, “Old man.”
Adam chased him back to the horses, where they stood for a while to get their breath back. They smiled at each other and mounted, riding off slowly through the forest.
They camped that night in the mountains, amongst the trees near a stream, from where they had a view across to the waters of Lake Tahoe in the distance. Adam asked Jamie to collect some more firewood, while he cooked supper. After eating their fill they were sitting quietly, enjoying the peace around them when Jamie looked at Adam, trying to gauge his mood.
“Do you like my Ma?”
Adam had learnt very quickly that Jamie often asked searching questions that were difficult to answer. But Adam always answered them to the best of his ability. The boy seemed to have an understanding of the world beyond his years, and could deal with difficult replies, if he felt they were honest. But this time Adam wasn’t sure he was following the boy’s train of thought.
“Why do you ask?”
“I was just wondering. I know she likes you.” Jamie was searching Adam’s face hopefully.
“Yes, I like your Ma.” Adam began to get an idea of where this was leading.
“She’s a woman, ain’t she?”
“Isn’t she,” Adam corrected automatically. “Yes, she’s certainly a woman.”
“And you’re a man.” Jamie felt that he was being logical and reasonable, and would soon get the answer he was looking for.
“I’m glad you’ve noticed,” Adam said, smiling.
“Then, if you like each other, why don’t you…you know?” Jamie wasn’t sure of the words he wanted, but he could tell that Adam understood.
“Why don’t I marry your mother, is that it?” Adam raised his eyebrows in question.
“Yes,” said Jamie, relieved that he had got it right.
“Jamie, come here.” Adam instructed and Jamie came and sat close to Adam, who put his arm round the boy. “I like your mother, and I’m glad that she likes me. But that’s all there is. When you marry someone, you must love them, liking them is not enough.”
Jamie looked up at him and shifted round so that he could see Adam’s face.
“But why. You’d be happy with her, I just know it.”
“Jamie, I’ll try to explain it to you. When you love someone you would do anything for them, give everything, even your life, for them. You want to be with them all the time, devote your life to them. It’s so much more than liking them. When you’re older you’ll know what I mean.”
“You wouldn’t give your life to save my Ma?” Jamie was shocked to think that Adam would stand by and see his mother killed.
“I don’t know,” he said honestly. “I hope that I would. She’s a good woman, and important to you. But let me give you an example that’s not quite so extreme. Suppose your Ma decided to move away, and she asked me to go with her, wanted me to give up the Ponderosa and my family to be with her. I couldn’t do it, because I don’t love her. I want to be with my family, here. If I loved her then I would go, because I would want to be with her wherever she was. Do you see?”
Jamie frowned, thinking.
“But I don’t want to move,” he said at last.
“No, I know, that’s just an example, to show you the difference between liking and loving.” Adam paused and brushed at his cheek with his finger, while he tried to think of a line of reasoning that Jamie would understand. “Let me ask you something. Do you like my father?”
“Yes. He frightened me a bit when I first met him, but he’s fun and kind, and tells great stories.” Adam smiled at the description of his father, he made a mental note to tell him what Jamie thought of him.
“Would you want to go and live with my Pa, leave your mother and your home?”
“I’d like to live with you. We could do lots of great things,” Jamie said, excited at the prospect.
“No, not with me, just with my Pa.” Adam shook his head.
“No, then I guess not,” Jamie admitted.
“That’s because you like him, but don’t love him. You love your mother and want to live with her.” The look on Jamie’s face told Adam that he was finally getting through to the boy.
“Will you still come and visit, even though you don’t love Ma?” Jamie was now concerned that he had made Adam think about his Ma in a different way.
“Of course. You visit with friends all the time. Because you enjoy their company and like to see them.”
Jamie nodded, reassured.
“That’s enough talk, time for bed.” Adam tucked the blanket round Jamie and said ‘goodnight’ as he settled himself in his bedroll.
Adam thought back over what he had said and smiled to himself. So many times he had heard his father having similar deep discussions with Joe or Hoss, explaining the world. ‘My God, I’m turning into my father’, Adam thought. Then consoled himself that there were worse people to become.
Adam allowed himself to contemplate what it would be like to be a father, to have someone like Jamie around all the time, dependant on him, sharing his life. He wondered for a moment if the love he felt for the child was enough to draw him to his mother. Adam shook his head, no, there had to be more, as he had just explained to Jamie. But Adam knew that one day Harriet might marry again and Jamie would be taken from him, and he shied away from the thought.
His mind turned to his family and home, finding comfort there until he fell asleep.
The following morning Adam took Jamie into the forest to show him the flora and fauna.
“The what?” Jamie asked when Adam told him what they were doing.
“Flora, that’s the flowers and trees. Flora was the Roman goddess of flowers, and that’s used for anything growing, and fauna, she’s another goddess, that’s animals. The words are Latin, scientists use them all the time to encompass a whole range of things.” Adam waited for the inevitable question.
“Means to surround or contain.”
As they walked through the sun-dappled forest, Adam pointed out some of the flowers and bushes. The trees were predominantly the ponderosa pines for which his home had been named, but occasionally they found a western juniper or sugar pine. Bird song was rare at this altitude, but Adam heard a woodpecker in the distance and they tried to find it. Jamie pointed upwards as he saw the bird high in the trees, and they sat and watched it as it tried to get through the bark to its lunch hiding beneath.
They saw few animals, only the occasional squirrel or rabbit, and in the distance a herd of deer, but then Adam spotted signs of bear and once, a mountain lion. He thought that the spoor was old enough for them not to worry about it, but he pointed them out to Jamie, and then sat him down on the ground.
“Jamie, I want you to be very careful. You know the woods can be dangerous?”
Jamie saw the look in Adam’s eyes and realised that he was very serious.
“These tracks are a few days old, but it means that these animals are about, I don’t want you wandering off anywhere, do you understand?”
“Yes, I’ll be careful.” Jamie looked a little frightened, which Adam thought was no bad thing, but he didn’t want to scare the child too much, this was supposed to be fun. “Let’s see what we can gather to make supper more interesting.”
They went in search of supplies and returned to camp with handfuls of mushrooms, and their shirtfronts full of berries. Jamie had added some nightshade to the collection and Adam had pointed out to him that it was poisonous and would kill him if he ate enough.
The two companions went fishing in the afternoon and caught some trout for their supper. As he cooked, Adam told Jamie more about deadly plants, and explained that you should never eat anything that you weren’t certain about. Jamie was fascinated and Adam promised him that he would try to find some more examples before they went home.
They ate supper, the mushrooms adding flavour to the stew, and the sweet berries making good eating raw. Then they settled down, Adam drinking coffee, and Jamie with some lemonade that Adam had brought at the insistence of his father’s cook, Hop Sing. As usual, Jamie had questions.
“How come you know about so many things?”
“Well, I went to college as you know, which taught me a lot, but knowing about this country I learned by being here. There’s a lot you can learn from books. If you can read you can find out about anything, that’s why it’s so important, but there’s no substitute for experience.”
“I’m having a great experience, thanks Adam.”
“It’s my pleasure.”
“Why did you go? To college I mean.” Jamie wanted to know. He watched as Adam frowned and stared into the fire. Jamie thought that Adam wasn’t going to answer, but waited patiently, until the man looked at him.
As Adam thought about it, he realised that he had never really questioned his decision to go east. He had decided that it was what he wanted to do, ever since he was old enough to know about further education, but why? Slowly, the answer came to him.
“You know that my mother died when I was born?” Jamie nodded, Adam had explained that to him. “Well, I think that I believed that since she had died to give me life, I should make the most of that life, do the best I could with what she had given me, not waste it by just doing enough to get by. I found that I wanted to learn, that I had a talent for learning, and when I heard about universities and what they could teach you, I knew that I had to go there. I would learn all I could, and then use it to help my family. It’s what Elizabeth would have wanted. I think Pa must have known, that’s why he struggled to find the money to send me. It wasn’t easy for him, we didn’t have the resources we have now.”
Jamie wasn’t sure what ‘resources’ were, but he didn’t want to interrupt Adam.
“I suppose that’s one of the reasons that I work hard now. To make my mother proud of me, to see that she didn’t give her life for nothing.” Adam stared into the fire, as he thought about his mother.
“Was it good going to college?” Jamie couldn’t believe that anyone would want to stay in school longer than they had to, but Adam had done so by choice.
“What do you mean by ‘good’?” Adam asked, bringing his mind back to the present. He stretched out on the ground and turned on his side, propping his head on one hand. Opposite him, Jamie mirrored his position.
“Well, I don’t know. I suppose I mean, well, was it…” Jamie stopped, trying to remember a word that Adam had used one day. “Was it beneficial?”
Adam smiled at the boy’s appropriate use of the word.
“Yes, it was. I didn’t like being away from my family, of course. I found that quite difficult to start with. But then I made some friends, and things became easier as I got used to being there. I learnt things at college that I couldn’t learn here.”
“Not even from books?” Jamie smiled, throwing Adam’s own observation back at him.
“I was taught by some of the men who wrote those books, and they had a lot more to tell me than they could put in the books. Being able to talk to them, discuss different ideas with them, made me understand so much more.” There was a wistful tone in Adam’s voice, which the boy picked up.
“Do you wish you were still there?”
Adam looked at Jamie, wondering how a nine-year-old could have such an understanding of how he felt.
“Yes, sometimes, but I never regret coming back home. I can use so much of what I learnt, which is why I went, after all. And at the moment, I want to be with my family. I have a lot to give them, and they give so much to me. But I feel torn in two. Half of me wants to be here and half of me wants to be back East.” Adam admitted, knowing that he would never have said any of these things to anyone else.
“Well, I don’t know where you should be, but a lot of people want you to be here.” Jamie was glad that Adam had decided to come home.
“Thanks, Jamie, but sometimes you have to do what you want, not what others want you to do. But then, as with so many choices one makes, someone usually gets hurt.” Adam stared into the darkness beyond the camp.
Jamie could see that Adam had that far away look in his eyes that told him his friend would not talk much more that night.
Adam woke early next morning and rolled over looking for Jamie. They would have to make their way home today, and must pack up their gear. Suddenly Adam was on his feet, Jamie was nowhere to be seen.
“Jamie!” he called. “Jamie, where are you?” He looked round the campsite anxiously, but the boy was gone. Adam enlarged the circle of his search and finally caught sight of Jamie through the trees. His heart skipped a beat as he saw the boy standing in front of a mature stag whose honey-coloured head was adorned by a magnificent pair of antlers, and Jamie had his hand outstretched towards it. The stag’s head was moving up and down, challenging the small figure standing in front of him. Adam didn’t want to frighten the animal, so he stopped among the trees, about thirty yards away from Jamie who was in a large clearing. Adam wished that he had thought to pick up his gun, but in his eagerness to find his missing companion, he had left it behind.
Adam called softly, just loud enough for the boy to hear him. “Jamie, I want you to back away very slowly, come back towards me, but don’t run.” Jamie looked round, seeing Adam behind him.
“It’s OK he’s friendly,” Jamie called.
“No! He’s not. Come here, slowly.” Adam tried to keep his voice level, while impressing on Jamie the need to move.
As Jamie started backwards, the stag put it’s head down, and then raised it up and bellowed. Jamie was frightened by the noise and turned and ran. Seeing this, the stag started to run as well. The animal was closing on Jamie, and Adam ran towards the boy, shoving him roughly aside as the stag would have caught him. Jamie fell and rolled on the long grass, then he heard a cry, and when he looked round he saw Adam laying on his side, pinned to the ground by the stag, his thigh pierced in several places by the sharp points of the antlers. Adam’s hands were holding the antlers of the angry stag, struggling to push them away from him, his head was thrown back, his eyes squeezed tight with pain, and he cried out every time the animal moved. Jamie ran towards them, shouting. This was too much for the stag, and with a final jerk of its head, it pulled free and took off into the forest.
Jamie ran to Adam and knelt down beside him.
“Adam! Adam!” he cried. Adam didn’t answer, his hands were gripped tightly round his leg, and his face reflected the agony he felt. Jamie looked down and saw the rents in the left leg of Adam’s pants, from his knee almost to the top of his thigh, he also saw the blood seeping between Adam’s fingers. Tears were streaming down Jamie’s face, he didn’t know what to do.
“Adam, please, you gotta be all right.” Jamie let out a small sob as Adam opened his eyes, and groaned. He saw Jamie kneeling over him, and despite the pain, he smiled reassuringly.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Jamie cried. “I didn’t mean to disobey you, but he looked so sad and lonely. Adam, I’m sorry, really I am.” Jamie was hiccupping on his sobs, trying to tell Adam how sorry he was for what he had caused.
“Jamie.” Adam tried to get some strength into his voice, to calm the boy.
“Yeah?” Still sobbing.
“You’re going to have to help me,” Adam said between gritted teeth.
“What can I do?” Jamie tried to stop his crying, he was so relieved to have Adam speak to him.
“Help me up, but gently.” Adam gripped his leg tightly as he tried to sit up. Jamie brushed his fingers across his eyes, trying to stop the tears, and then he put his hands under Adam’s shoulders and lifted, grunting with the effort. Adam half stood, but as he put his weight gingerly on his leg, he screamed and collapsed. Jamie looked terrified, so Adam reached out and patted his arm, leaving a bloody smear on the pale cream linen
“Just give me a minute.” He took a few deep breaths. “OK, let’s try again.”
This time he managed to stay standing, taking all his weight on his right leg. He carefully put his left foot down, and gripping his leg with his hands, put some weight on it. His face contorted with the pain, but he took a breath, and with enormous effort, brought his features under control. He didn’t want to frighten Jamie, he was going to have to rely on the boy to help him, and didn’t want him to panic.
“Back to camp.” Adam instructed and they went together slowly, with Jamie trying his best to support Adam’s weight. Adam moved from tree to tree looking for support, stopping often to rest, and when they eventually made it back, he sank down gratefully onto his bedroll.
“Jamie, get my spare shirt from my saddle bags.” Adam’s eyes were trying to close, but he was fighting to stay conscious long enough to give Jamie instructions. Jamie returned with the shirt and Adam told him to tear it into strips, and then to put some water on to heat. Jamie did as he was told and soon had hot water and was bathing the three gaping wounds in Adam’s thigh, where the antlers had torn into him.
“Adam, Adam!” Jamie was getting no response and started to panic, but then Adam opened his eyes.
“It’s all right, I’m still here, just resting.” Adam breathed deeply, trying to concentrate on what he had to do. “Now, we’ll bind the strips round my leg.”
“What about your pants?”
Adam’s breath was coming faster and his head was swimming. He squeezed his eyes shut and then opened them, shaking his head, trying to make his brain stay awake.
“Never mind them, I can’t get them off, just wrap it over them, but keep one of the longest strips, we’ll need that.” Adam paused, then he continued, “I want you to go and find me a stick, something at least as thick as my finger.” Jamie followed his instructions, and helped Adam to sit up and soon they got the wounds bound as best they could. Adam lay back, his breath coming in short gasps, while he waited for Jamie to find the stick, only the thought of what would happen if he passed out now, keeping him conscious
The boy returned after a few minutes, and Adam took the remaining length of cloth and tied it loosely round the top of his thigh, above the bandages covering the deep wounds in his leg. Then he took the stick, and after breaking it in half to make it the right length, he pushed it through, under the binding, and wound it round and round, until it tightened the cloth as much as was possible, and then he tucked the end of the stick under the cloth so that it could not unwind. Jamie watched, fascinated.
Adam took some deep breaths to steady himself, he had to make the boy understand what he had to do. Without Jamie’s help, Adam knew he could die out here. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard, and then he looked at Jamie. “This is what is called a tourniquet. I have to stop the bleeding, and this should help. Now I want you to listen very carefully. I’m going to give you my watch and I want you to loosen the tourniquet every fifteen minutes, for one minute, and then tighten it again. It must be very tight. Do you understand?”
“I think so. Every fifteen minutes, for one minute.” Jamie repeated the instructions.
“Good boy,” Adam smiled, “I’ll try and do it a couple of times, then it’s up to you.” Adam realised his throat was dry. “Could you get me a drink of water?” Jamie ran off to get the canteen while Adam pulled his watch from his pocket and checked the time. He prayed that he could stay awake long enough to show Jamie what to do.
Fifteen minutes later Adam loosened the stick and groaned as the blood flowed back into his leg. He could see that the black material that had once been his shirt was wet with blood, which dripped steadily onto the grass as they watched. After a minute, he tightened the tourniquet again, and the flow of blood ceased.
“What does it do?” Jamie, as usual, was full of questions.
Adam answered slowly. “Tightening it stops the flow of blood, helping the blood that is there to clot. But it has to be loosened every now and then, or the lack of blood supply will starve the tissue of oxygen and it will die.” Adam looked at Jamie, trying to instil in him the importance of what he had asked the boy to do. “If you don’t do it right, then at best I could lose my leg, at worst I could bleed to death.”
The look on Jamie’s face told Adam that he had, indeed made him take notice. It was a mixture of panic and determination. Jamie swallowed hard.
“It’s OK, Adam, I can do it.”
“Can I do it next time?”
“Good idea.” Adam handed his watch to Jamie, and lay back, waiting. The world was going grey and he realised that he must have left it for a time because, after what Adam supposed to have been fifteen minutes, he felt Jamie’s hand on the stick, and opened his eyes to watch as the boy turned it carefully. Again, Adam felt the rush of blood into his leg, and breathed hard against the pain, but then Jamie tightened the binding and the pain receded.
Adam’s breathing was getting shorter, and he put his hand on Jamie’s shoulder.
“Jamie, I’m going to pass out…but I don’t want you to worry…it’s…it’s natural, just my body…saying it needs a rest. Don’t go wandering off…you hear me? I…need you.” Adam’s eyes were rolling in his head, and finally he gave in and slipped into unconsciousness.
Jamie sat beside Adam, tears coursing down his face as he looked down at his friend and protector, but he steadfastly kept his eyes on the watch and loosened and tightened the tourniquet, following Adam’s instructions.
It was almost dark as Harriet Ambrose pulled up in her buggy outside the Ponderosa ranch house. Inside, Ben Cartwright heard the sound of her approach, and went to the door to see who was visiting at this time of night.
Ben and his younger sons, Hoss and Joe, had just finished supper and were waiting for Adam to return. He had said that he would be home sometime late in the afternoon, at least in time to join them for supper, but as yet there was no sign of him. Ben supposed that he had been delayed in town, knowing that his son was going to return Jamie to his home before coming back.
He went to the door and was surprised, and a little worried, to see Jamie’s mother. He went to greet her.
“Mrs. Ambrose, what a pleasant surprise.” Ben held out his hand towards her. Harriet ignored it and came straight to the point.
“Is Adam here?”
“No, we were just waiting for him. Please come inside.” Ben escorted Harriet into the large sitting room and introduced Hoss and Joe. Harriet nodded to them in greeting and then turned to Ben.
“I’m very worried. Adam said that they would be back this afternoon, but they have not returned. Mr. Cartwright, one thing I have learned about your son is that when he says he will do something, he will do it. If he said they would be back this afternoon then he would have been, if he could. I’m afraid that something has happened to them.” Harriet sat down on the sofa in front of the fire and looked round at the men. Her gaze told them that she was more than worried, she was distraught.
Ben sat down next to her. “Mrs. Ambrose. I can’t tell you not to worry. You’re right, Adam is always reliable, especially when someone like Jamie is involved.” Ben sat and thought for a moment. “It’s too late to go looking for them tonight, but if they’re not home by morning we will go and search for them.”
“Not in the morning, can’t you go now?” Harriet pleaded.
“It will be dark very soon, we would never find them. No, morning will be soon enough.”
“But my son is missing.” Harriet cried, trying to make Ben see the importance of looking for them now.
“Mrs. Ambrose, Harriet, my son is missing too,” said Ben gently.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m so worried, Jamie is all I have in this world.” A tear crept down her face, and Ben put a strong arm round her.
“I know, I know.” He held her as she brought herself under control. Ben was thinking that while he may have other sons, no one could replace his eldest, his precious legacy from Elizabeth.
Joe sat in front of Harriet, on the large coffee table.
“Mrs. Ambrose, we know where Adam was planning on camping and the route he was going to take. We’ll go out at first light and look for them, don’t worry.” Harriet looked into Joe’s bright, green eyes and shook her head. This young man couldn’t understand her concern.
“Yeah, ma’am,” said Hoss, “Adam always let’s us know where he’ll be when he goes into the mountains. It won’t take but a short while to find them.”
Harriet was suddenly taken with how different were Adam and his brothers. Where Adam was tall, slim and dark, Hoss was fairer and half as heavy again, with handsome blue eyes, and Joe was smaller and brown haired. She did not know about their different mothers and wondered at the variation. But it comforted her to see them. Hoss gave her the feeling of enormous security with his size and gentle smile, and Joe’s laughing eyes gave her a sense of hope. Ben, sitting beside her, grey haired and strong featured with deep, wise eyes that told her that he would know what to do. She breathed a sigh of relief at finding such comfort in her trouble.
“Thank you, all of you. I’m sure they’re all right,” she said, trying to convince herself.
“Harriet, would you like to stay here tonight?”
“Oh no, that’s too much of an imposition.”
“Not at all.” Said Ben, realising that it would be better for her not to be alone. “It’s nearly dark, and besides it would be better for you to be here in case they turn up tomorrow.”
“Well, I left a message for Adam at home telling him I would be here looking for him, so I suppose it would be all right,” she agreed gratefully.
“Hoss, ask Hop Sing to make some tea for Harriet, would you?”
Hoss went into the kitchen to find their Chinese cook, and then returned, to be followed minutes later by Hop Sing, carrying a tray. He had not needed telling what was required and had the tea all ready.
At about the same time as Harriet was arriving at the Ponderosa, high in the mountains Adm started to wake. He had stirred several times during the day, but had not spoken, only moaned as Jamie let the blood flow through his leg. Jamie was hungry because he didn’t know how to cook anything, but as soon as he saw Adam move he started to make some coffee, all the time carrying the watch and checking the time. He had seen Adam make coffee on a fire many times and thought that he could manage that. By the time Adam was fully awake Jamie had the coffee ready, and he poured a cup and brought it over to him where he lay on his bedroll, supported by Sport’s upturned saddle. Adam opened his eyes and saw Jamie next to him, cup in hand.
“What’s that?” Adam asked softly.
“Thanks, help me up.” Jamie put his hands under Adam’s shoulders and helped him to sit. Then he got Starlight’s saddle and added it to Sport’s, so that Adam could lay back and drink. Adam couldn’t believe the effort needed just to move, his leg was consumed by pain and he gritted his teeth, trying to hide it from Jamie.
“Well done.” Adam sipped the coffee. It wasn’t bad, and made him feel a little better. He pointed to his leg, “How long?” Jamie consulted the watch.
“I want you to go to my saddle bags, you’ll find a small linen pouch, bring it here.”
Jamie was back a minute later, and handed the pouch to Adam who opened it and pulled out some jerky. Adam chose a small piece for himself, and some for Jamie. He didn’t really feel much like eating, but he wanted to show Jamie that it was all right. Jamie eyed it suspiciously, as Adam held it out to him.
“Go on try it.” Adam bit into the morsel in his hand.
“What is it?”
“Wait, it’s fifteen minutes.” Jamie delayed trying the new food by loosening the tourniquet. Adam’s breath hissed between his teeth and he closed his eyes as the burning pain hit him, but again it passed as the binding was tightened. Jamie uncertainly bit off a piece of jerky and chewed, then smiled at Adam.
“That’s not bad,” he said, tasting the salty meat.
Adam spoke slowly, as his strength waned. “It’ll do for now. At least you won’t starve. Jamie, tomorrow we have to get out of here somehow.” Had Adam been thinking clearly, he might have realised that his family would come looking for them, but his only thought was to get Jamie back home. “At first light I want you to wake me.” Jamie nodded, he could do that. But then Adam said, “It may not be easy, I may not want to wake up. It would be so much easier just to stay here. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I think so, you’re saying that you might not want to move?”
Adam’s breathing was shallow and he was sweating. He knew he would be weaker in the morning, but there was no way Jamie could find his way in the dark.
“Right, but you must make me. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, got that? Just for once…make me do as you say.” Jamie nodded, he wasn’t sure how he could make Adam obey him, but he knew he wouldn’t let him die out here.
Adam shivered and Jamie went and got his own blanket to cover him.
“No, you’ll need that. Going to get cold,” Adam said slowly.
“Just keep it for a while.”
“OK.” Adam felt himself slipping away again. But he wasn’t ready to go just yet, he needed the comfort of having someone close to him.
“Jamie, talk to me.”
Jamie sat close beside Adam where he lay, also needing comfort.
Jamie looked into the man’s face. “Adam, I’m sorry for what I did, and after you warned me, but the stag looked so sad all alone. Can you forgive me?”
Adam met the piercing blue eyes. “That’s all right. Don’t worry about it. Course I forgive you,” he muttered, his senses fading.
“You saved my life, didn’t you? When you pushed me out of the way, you knew the stag would go for you.”
“Guess so.” Adam was too tired to be less than honest.
“That means you love me, doesn’t it.”
Adam’s fogged brain couldn’t follow the boy’s train of thought.
“That’s what you said, that if you love someone you would give your life for them”
“Not dead yet.” Adam wished he were as confident as he sounded.
“But you saved me.”
“Yes, I love you.” Adam closed his eyes and slept.
Jamie sat up all night, huddling close to Adam for warmth. Twice in the night he thought that Adam wasn’t breathing, and he put his hand on the man’s chest, and nearly cried as he felt the slight movement that said he was still alive. He tucked his blanket round both of them and lay close, feeling the shivers that went through Adam. Jamie held the watch so that he could see the hands by the light of the fire, and continued to loosen and tighten the tourniquet at the required intervals. Once, he knew that he had fallen asleep, but as he opened his eyes in panic he noticed that only ten minutes had passed, and let out a long sigh of relief.
As dawn came, Jaime tried to rouse Adam but, as predicted, he didn’t move. Jamie shook him and called his name, but got only grunts in reply. He was at a loss to know how to make Adam wake up, and then he had a thought. It made him pay attention when he was naughty, perhaps it would work on the sleeping man.
He held both of Adam’s earlobes between his fingers and thumbs and squeezed as hard as he could, driving his nails into the skin. Adam groaned and opened his eyes, to see Jamie smiling down at him.
“That hurt,” Adam complained, in a voice hardly above a whisper.
“Good. Now get up!” Jamie said in the most commanding voice he could muster.
“What? Oh yes.” Jamie eased the saddles from under Adam and soon had both horses tacked up, and had packed up the camp, putting Adam’s gun belt safely in Sport’s saddlebags.
“Now you’re gonna have to stand up,” Jamie told Adam.
“Can’t.” It was too much effort to talk, let alone move.
“Oh no you don’t, you’re coming with me,” Jamie instructed as Adam closed his eyes. He gripped Adam’s ear again, and heard a satisfying yelp as he squeezed. “Now get up.” Adam opened one eye to look at this diminutive tyrant and nodded.
With Jamie’s help, Adam made it to his feet at the third attempt, then took his hat from Jamie, and hopped painfully slowly to his horse. He looked up at his saddle, and suddenly appreciated just how tall was Sport, he was an unscaleable mountain, and for a moment Adam rested his head against the saddle, feeling helpless.
“Adam, you gotta get on your horse,” Jamie said desperately.
Adam nodded, and went round to the off side of the horse. He put his right foot in the stirrup, holding onto the saddle horn to support his weight. His arms shook as he levered himself up into the saddle and swung his left leg over. He had no control over the muscles in his leg, and as it hit the far side of the saddle he cried out, and a wave of dizziness overtook him and he fell, landing on the ground on the near side before Jamie could reach him. The breath was knocked out of him and he lost consciousness for a second. Jamie rushed round Sport and knelt beside him.
“I’m all right,” Adam said, uncertainly. “Help…help me up.”
Jamie again supported Adam as he got his good leg underneath him and pushed himself up. He stood, leaning on Jamie until the world stopped spinning.
“It’s OK, just the shock, I’ll take it slower this time.”
Adam hopped round the horse and put his foot in the stirrup again. He hauled himself up and very slowly swung his leg over, using his hand to control it, and lowered the limb until it touched the leather of the saddle. He eased his body to the left, until his leg was hanging almost straight down.
“Jamie, how long?” Jamie again consulted the watch, then looked up, frightened.
“Twenty minutes.” Jamie rushed over to Adam and loosened the cloth, counting as he waited for the minute to pass, then he tightened the stick again. Adam felt the rush of blood into his leg, and his vision narrowed
“Good boy.” Adam breathed, he was lying over the pommel of the saddle, not having the strength to sit up straight.
Adam pointed down the mountain. “We have to go east, that way. We’ll find the road.” Adam took a deep breath. “Let’s go.”
Harriet waved a sketchy farewell, as the three men rode away from the house as soon as it was light. She turned and went back inside, looking round the empty room, and then she went to the sofa and sat down, and put her head in her hands and wept.
“Oh Adam, where are you? What have you done with Jamie? If you’ve let him get hurt I’ll never forgive you,” she whispered.
Joe, Hoss and Ben rode swiftly up into the mountains. Adam had told them where he was aiming to camp, but it was after midday before they found the remains of the campsite. They all dismounted and started to hunt around, looking for any sign that would tell them where the missing pair might be.
Suddenly Hoss knelt down, then called out. “Hey, c’m ‘ere.” Ben and Joe joined him at the edge of the camp, and looked down where he was pointing. They could see a dark stain on the leaves of the long grass. Hoss rubbed the blades between his fingers and showed the result, red. Blood! He looked back and forth, seeing the trail that led away from the camp, and the one that led into it.
After a short discussion, they decided to follow the one that led away, and with Hoss leading, they went slowly through the forest. Hoss was an expert tracker and his father and brother were content to let him lead the way.
Hoss went slowly, continually looking ahead, checking that he had not lost the trail. After a short distance, they emerged into a clearing. A third of the way across he stopped and faced his family, who came to stand beside him. Hoss pointed at the ground, and Ben’s face paled as he saw a large patch of discoloured grass. He knelt down and put his hand on it.
“Adam,” he said softly, blinking back tears that had started in his eyes.
“You don’t know that, Pa. It could be Jamie,” said Joe reasonably.
“No, it’s Adam.” He stood and faced his two younger sons. “If Jamie was hurt, and they could break camp, then Adam would have brought him home.” Ben shook his head. “No, it’s Adam who’s hurt.”
Hoss and Joe thought about this for a second, and then they all went back quickly to the camp site, where Ben and Joe waited for Hoss to try to find any sign that would tell them the direction the pair had taken. Hoss scouted around for a few minutes.
“C’m on, this way.” Hoss pointed east, down the mountain towards the track that would eventually lead back to town.
Jamie rode alongside Adam watching him closely, as they left the campsite. Adam was bent double in the saddle and his eyes were squeezed tight shut against the pain in his leg. Each step that Sport took sent shafts of agony through him.
Every fifteen minutes they stopped for Jamie to attend to the tourniquet and they continued on for two hours, then Adam called a halt. He had no idea where they were, but knew he couldn’t go on.
“Jamie, I have to stop. I can’t go any further.” Jamie leapt from his pony as he saw Adam slipping from the saddle, and helped him down as gently as he could. Adam just lay on the ground, breathing rapidly.
“Can you…can you make a fire?” Adam asked.
“Yes, you showed me how to do that,” Jamie nodded
Before he started, Jamie went behind Adam and put his hands under his shoulders and slowly, with a little help from Adam, dragged him to a nearby tree, and helped him to lean back against it.
“You’ll be more comfortable there,” Jamie explained as Adam nodded and closed his eyes.
Jamie set about laying and lighting a fire, and put some coffee on to heat. He got a blanket from Starlight and covered Adam, and then he dealt with the tourniquet, and went back to the fire. As soon as the coffee was ready, he brought some over and nudged Adam’s shoulder. Adam opened his eyes and saw what Jamie was holding.
“Fifteen minutes.” Jamie started to loosen the stick again, but Adam put his hand down to stop him.
“Just a minute, let’s have a proper look at this.” Adam pushed aside two of the strips of cloth that were bound round his leg.
Jamie loosened the tight binding and Adam saw that the flow of blood was less but had not stopped. He shook his head seeing the blood drip slowly onto the ground, knowing that he could not afford to lose much more. Jamie again tightened the tourniquet, and sat back.
“How is it?” he wanted to know.
“Not too bad,” Adam lied. Jamie looked up into the pale face of his friend.
“Adam, please, you’ve always told me the truth, even when you knew it might hurt, you’ve never lied to me have you?” Jamie looked intently at Adam.
“No.” Adam looked down guiltily.
“OK then, how is it?”
“Bad, should’a stopped by now.” Adam shook his head, knowing there was a possibility that he wouldn’t make it.
“Why don’t I go for help, you could stay here?” Jamie suggested.
Adam drew a deep breath, he had no idea where they were and didn’t know which way the boy should go, and he didn’t want to lose touch with Jamie in the mountains. He was feeling light headed and was having trouble concentrating. “You don’t know the way. We must go a bit further. I’ll be all right after a rest, then we’ll go on.”
Jamie let Adam sleep for a couple of hours, then shook him awake.
“If we’re going on we should go now.” It was after two o’clock and Jamie was concerned that they should find a safe campsite before it got too late.
Adam’s eyes took a moment to focus. “Help me up.” Adam put out his hands and Jamie reached down, and with his help, and that of the tree beside him, Adam got to his feet. Jamie told him to stand still, and went and fetched the horses. He brought Sport to where Adam was standing and helped him to mount.
Adam smiled down at Jamie to reassure him, but the boy saw the sheen of sweat that appeared on Adam’s grey face, and knew the truth. He mounted Starlight and they set off slowly.
Ben and Joe followed behind Hoss, who was going slowly and leaning down looking at the ground as he went. The trail of the horse and pony was not too difficult to follow, though it disappeared occasionally, only to reappear a few yards further on.
After an hour they came across signs of a fire. Hoss dismounted and went over to investigate the remains. He put his hand out towards it and then touched the ashes. He looked up at Ben.
“It’s still warm, they cain’t be far ahead.” Hoss remounted and, after picking up the trail again, led them away.
Adam and Jamie were riding slowly through the forest. There was no sign of the main track, just a vista of trees stretching into the distance. They were lost, and Adam had ceased to take any notice of where they were headed. He only knew they had to keep going if they were to have any hope of getting near home before dark, so he said nothing to Jamie as he gradually felt the world recede. He was riding in a dream, a nightmare, every movement sent shafts of pain through his leg, and they were spreading through him, until they took over his entire being, then gradually even the pain left him as he lost touch with reality. He felt Jamie deal with the tourniquet, but it was as though it was happening to someone else.
“Adam, I think we should stop.” Jamie got no response, so he drew closer and shook Adam’s arm. Jamie was exhausted, he had had no sleep the night before, and would like nothing better than to lie on the ground and close his eyes, but his concern for his friend gave him a strength he didn’t know he had. Adam looked round to see who had touched him, and noticed a boy beside him.
“Hello,” he said.
“Adam, we should stop.”
“Yes now.” Jamie reached over and pulled on Sport’s reins, halting him. Adam didn’t move, couldn’t move. Jamie dismounted and went round to the near side of the horse and looked up.
“Adam if you just slip off, I’ll catch you.”
Adam laughed softly, this boy would catch him? He’d squash him like a fly.
“No, too big,” he said, laughing louder.
“Adam, you must get down,” Jamie begged. He didn’t know if he could make Adam dismount, but he had to get him off the horse. Jamie reached up, grabbed hold of Adam’s belt, and pulled. Adam was surprised by the move and overbalanced, falling to the ground on top of Jamie.
Adam rolled over onto his back, his laughter shaking his body, as he saw the boy stand and brush dirt off his pants.
“Told ya. Too big.” Adam passed out.
Jamie sat him up against a tree, then went back to Sport and got the canteen and after using some of it to wipe Adam’s face, tipped it against the dry lips. Adam turned his head away, his stomach refused to contemplate taking anything in.
“C’m on Adam, you must have a drink.”
“Not thirsty,” Adam mumbled crossly.
“I know, but it will do you good.”
“Go ‘way.” Adam pushed Jamie’s hand away. His eyes were closed and he couldn’t be bothered to do anything.
Jamie resorted to his old trick of gripping Adam’s ears, and again it had the desired result, Adam opened his eyes.
“Jamie,” he said on a sigh.
Jamie again offered him a drink, and he swallowed reluctantly.
“Thanks.” Adam shut his eyes.
Jamie still clutched the watch, and as he saw the hands move and reach their appointed place, he loosened the tourniquet. Adam opened his eyes as he felt Jamie’s hands on him, then he screamed as he felt the blood return to his starved arteries and veins.
Joe turned to his father.
“What was that?” he asked, frowning.
”Sounded like a scream.” Worry and apprehension clouded Ben’s face.
They rode towards the noise.
As Jamie tightened the binding and fastened the stick under it, he heard movement in the dark of the forest behind them. He put his hand on Adam’s shoulder and shook him, trying to bring him back to his senses.
“Adam, Adam,” he said desperately. Adam opened his eyes but said nothing. “I heard something, I think someone’s coming.”
The mounting panic in the boy’s voice broke through Adam’s stupor, and he tried to focus his eyes.
“Get…get my gun.” Jamie ran to Sport and hauled the gun from the saddlebags. He hurried back to Adam’s side and handed him the weapon. Adam held it, laying it on his lap, the gun feeling too heavy to hold. He put out his left arm and Jamie cuddled into the security of Adam’s embrace.
They could hear horses coming closer. Evening was approaching and deep shadows were filling the forest. Adam peered into the trees, and through half open, unfocused eyes, he thought that he saw something move. He raised the gun and fired. The recoil sent him tumbling sideways and he lay on his back, arms outstretched. Jamie leant over Adam, shaking him and calling his name to get some reaction.
Suddenly he was lifted off his feet, and he struggled to get free.
“Hold on there young’un,” said Hoss, setting Jamie back on his feet. Jamie immediately knelt down again at Adam’s side, scrabbling to retrieve the gun. He would not let these people hurt his friend.
Hoss, Joe and Ben surrounded the boy and he became aware of them standing there silently. He looked up into Ben’s ebony eyes, and when he realised who he was looking at, he got to his feet and threw his arms round the man’s waist and cried in relief. Ben put his arms round the boy’s shoulders and held him tightly.
“There, there, it’s all right now. We’re here.” He stroked the fair hair until Jamie calmed.
Meanwhile Hoss and Joe had knelt down at Adam’s side. Hoss saw the blood-soaked bandaging on his brother’s leg.
“Looks bad, Pa. We gotta get him home.”
“Right. Joe, you ride into town and get the Doc. Hoss, you go to the ranch and bring the buckboard up here.” The brothers wasted no time in acknowledging their instructions but were gone without a second thought.
Ben knelt with Jamie beside Adam and put his hand on his son’s arm
“Adam, can you hear me?”
Adam turned his head restlessly from side to side. “Jamie run,” he whispered.
“Son?” Ben leant over him, so that Adam could see him.
Adam heard the voice and turned his head towards it, blinking to try to clear his vision.
“Yes, I’m here.” Ben’s eyes filled as he looked at his son’s ashen face.
Suddenly Jamie looked at the watch and turned to Adam’s leg. Ben watched in fascination, then in horror as the pain hit his son. Ben took Adam in his arms, holding him until the pain subsided, then he sat behind Adam so that he could lean back against his father and be more comfortable.
“Good boy.” Adam’s breathing was erratic but he smiled at Jamie, who smiled back and then buried his face in the broad chest of his friend. Adam’s head dropped onto Jamie’s and he lost consciousness.
Hoss came walking back towards them. He had left the buckboard on the track, which was less than two hundred yards from where Adam lay. Hoss carried his brother, with Jamie and Ben following behind leading the horses. As they settled Adam in the back of the buckboard, Jamie climbed in beside him.
“I need to loosen the tourniquet,” he explained, and Ben nodded in understanding.
They drove slowly back to the ranch and into the yard. They had, in fact, not far to go, Adam and Jamie had nearly made it back to the road leading to the Ponderosa, and they arrived before Joe and the doctor.
As Harriet heard them approach, she ran out of the house. When she saw Jamie in the buckboard with blood on his shirt, she ran to him and pulled him into her arms, examining him closely. When she found that he was unhurt, she said a silent prayer of thanks.
“Oh, my darling, are you all right?”
Jamie looked up at his mother, and a tear fell down his cheek.
“I’m fine, but Adam’s hurt real bad. Oh Ma, I’m frightened.”
“There, it’ll be all right, you’re safe.”
“Yes, but Adam’s hurt.” Jamie turned away from his mother, as Ben and Hoss gently moved Adam from the buckboard and into the house. Harriet stopped beside the sofa, but Jamie followed the men to the stairs.
“Jamie, wait here,” Harriet ordered, but Jamie continued.
“No, I’m going with him, he needs me. It’s nearly time.” Jamie held out the watch for his mother to see.
“Time?” Harriet frowned.
“Let the boy come with us,” Ben advised. He had seen how Jamie coped with the tourniquet, and could tell that it was important to Jamie that he should be able to help his friend.
They carried Adam up to his room, with Jamie following. Ben and Hoss managed to get Adam’s shirt off, but decided not to try to remove the makeshift bandages until the Doctor was there and could look at the wound.
Paul Martin arrived as they were pulling a blanket over Adam. He uncovered the gashes in Adam’s thigh and his eyes narrowed as he saw that the long, deep wounds were still bleeding Hoss helped him to remove Adam’s pants, and then Paul told everyone to leave. Jamie refused, and cried out as they tried to force him to go. The noise roused Adam, who opened his eyes.
“Jamie, stay!” Adam commanded softly. Jamie ran to the bed and took Adam’s hand. Adam smiled thinly and closed his eyes, knowing his protector was near.
Paul cleaned the wounds, and then he looked anxiously at the young boy who stood resolutely beside the bed watching him work. Jamie had hold of Adam’s hand, but never took his eyes off the doctor, watching his every move. When Paul was about to start sewing, he looked at Jamie.
“You might not want to watch this,” he suggested.
“Well, it’s not very pleasant, watching me handling the flesh and seeing me stick a needle in him.”
“That’s OK. I cleaned it when it happened, and I’ve helped Adam with the tourniquet,” said Jamie bravely. He wasn’t really sure that he wanted to watch, but he didn’t want to give the doctor any excuse to send him from the room.
“All right, but if you feel a bit sick just don’t look.” Paul smiled at him, thinking what a special friend Adam had found. He started to repair the damage, and Jamie watched in fascination as the sides of each tear were pulled together and held firmly by the gut the doctor used.
“Will he be all right?” Jamie finally found the courage to ask.
“He should be. I can’t see any sign of infection, did you say you cleaned the wounds?”
Jamie nodded wordlessly.
“Have you been looking after him all this time?” Paul was truly amazed at the boy’s ability.
“Then I would say that he has you to thank. He’d probably be dead by now if he’d been on his own.”
Jamie hung his head and started to cry.
Paul went round the bed and knelt in front of Jamie. “What’s wrong? I just told you, he’ll be all right.” He put his arm round the boy, comfortingly.
Jamie sniffed. “If he’d been on his own he wouldn’t have got hurt. It’s all my fault.”
“Now, I’m sure Adam doesn’t think so.”
“But it’s true, it’s my fault.” Jamie turned away, ashamed.
Adam stirred and Paul looked down and saw his eyes flutter open. Adam let out a long sigh that was half a moan.
“Adam, can you hear me?” Paul asked softly. Adam just nodded, once.
“You’re at home, you’re going to be all right. It’s going to take some time for this to heal, and you’ve lost a lot of blood, but you’re going to be OK. Do you understand?” Again the nod.
“Good, now we’ll leave you to rest.” Paul tried to turn Jamie away from the bed and lead him out of the room, but the boy shook off the doctor’s hands and moved closer to Adam.
“No, I want to stay here.”
“But Jamie, he needs to rest.”
“I won’t go.”
“Jamie…” Paul tried again.
“Leave him.” A whisper from the bed.
“Adam, you need to rest,” Paul insisted.
Paul was about to be firm.
“I…owe him.” Adam reached out and took hold of Jamie’s hand. Jamie responded by putting his head on Adam’s chest and hugging him. Paul shook his head, packed up his instruments, and left them.
He went downstairs, and after giving Ben the good news and leaving some painkillers for Adam, he left, saying that he would return tomorrow.
Ben went up to his son’s bedroom and opened the door quietly. The sight that met him brought a gentle smile to his face. Adam was asleep lying on his back, with Jamie lying turned towards him, asleep in the crook of his arm, and Jamie’s arm was thrown over Adam’s chest. It gave Ben the impression that they were protecting each other. Ben backed out quietly and returned to the living room. Time enough later to find out what had happened.
Hoss and Joe were sitting with Harriet, enjoying a cup of coffee. Hop Sing had served supper while Doc Martin was treating Adam. No one had been able to eat very much, but now they were more relaxed, and the coffee tasted good.
“Harriet, Jamie is asleep with Adam, I didn’t disturb him he looked so peaceful. Why don’t you stay here again tonight?” Ben invited, sitting in the chair beside the fire.
“Thank you. Jamie seemed to be exhausted.”
“From the little Adam was able to tell me, I think we owe Jamie a debt of gratitude. It seems that he took care of Adam until we found them,” Ben said.
“I’ve no idea what happened, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I don’t know whether you realise it Ben, but Adam and Jamie are very close.”
Hoss and Joe looked at each other. It didn’t surprise them to hear Harriet say this, they knew that Adam had a natural affinity with children, which would amaze many people who only saw a man who was aloof and taciturn. But his brothers had seen the effect they had on him. Children could see past the stern, acerbic exterior to expose the gentle, generous man hiding inside.
“I know, Adam has told me how much he values the time he gets to spend with Jamie.” Ben smiled.
“I think I’ll get some air, if you don’t mind?” Harriet stood, and smiling at them all, let herself out of the front door.
Hoss spied Harriet’s wrap on the back of the sofa and decided to take it out to her.
“She’ll be cold without this, I’ll take it to her,” he explained awkwardly, only knowing that he wanted to be near her. He told himself that he just wanted to be sure she was safe.
Hoss found Harriet standing in the middle of the yard.
“Ma’am, you left this,” he said, holding the fine, cream wool wrap for her to take, but she stood with her back to him so he could put it round her shoulders.
“Thank you.” Hoss was about to return to the house when Harriet spoke.
“Isn’t it a lovely evening?” Harriet said, “Look at the stars, they’re shining so bright tonight.”
“Yes ma’am, just like jewels.” Hoss looked up, then back to Harriet. Her face was tilted upwards, and her eyes were shining, and Hoss thought she was the prettiest thing he had ever seen.
She put her head down and looked at him. “Please, Hoss, call me Harriet.”
“Harriet, it’s a real pleasure having you here,” he said softly, meaning so much more.
“Well I can’t say I have enjoyed it until now. But it seems that everything has turned out all right, except for your brother getting hurt, I’m sorry about that. I expect we’ll get an explanation when he feels stronger.” ‘And it had better be a good one,’ she thought.
Hoss nodded, he wanted to keep talking to her, but he wasn’t sure what to say. “Yes, we was all worried, but it seems that thanks to Jamie, it’s gonna be OK.”
Hoss found that he couldn’t take his eyes off the woman in front of him. He didn’t know why but he found her fascinating. Hoss had seen her around town, but had never had the opportunity to get close to her and talk to her, and he found that was what he wanted to do more than anything at the moment. He could stand here forever, just watching her.
“Ma’am, Harriet, if you don’t have to get straight back tomorrow, perhaps I could show you a bit of the ranch, if’n you’d like to. I know a lady such as yourself must have a lot to do, and perhaps you won’t have time, but if you do I’d like to, if you want that is.” Hoss knew he was rambling, but couldn’t stop himself.
“Hoss, I’d like that very much, thank you.”
A broad grin spread across Hoss’ face. “Well gosh, that’d be great. Would you like to take a picnic? Hop Sing puts up the best darn picnic you ever saw.”
Harriet smiled. “A picnic sounds fun, and after today I think a bit of fun is just what I need.” She laughed and Hoss’ grin got even broader. Harriet suddenly pointed heavenwards. “Oh look, a shooting star. That’s supposed to be lucky, you know.”
Hoss looked up as well. “Yeah, I guess it is.”
Moonlight coming through the open window cast faint shadows in the room where Adam lay staring at the ceiling. His leg was throbbing painfully in time with the beating of his heart and he was unable to ignore it. He was exhausted but the pain kept him awake. He thought back over what had happened, and turned his head to look at the boy who had saved his life, cradled in the crook of his arm. He gazed at the innocent face, and thought of how he would feel if his young friend should disappear out of his life. His felt a moment of panic, which he immediately tried to dismiss. He didn’t like having to rely on anyone, let alone a child, but he knew that losing Jamie would leave a gap in his life that would be impossible to fill.
He felt Jamie stir and saw his eyes open.
“Are you all right? Can I get you something?” Jamie asked, rubbing his eyes.
“No, nothing, go to sleep.” Adam pulled the covers up to over the boy’s shoulders, but Jamie pushed them back and sat up.
“Adam, I’m sorry, I never meant to get you hurt.”
“Just forget it, it’s over.” Adam brushed his hand over Jamie’s hair to sooth him, he could see the worry in his eyes,
“But I could have got you killed, can you ever forgive me?”
Adam didn’t feel much like talking, his mind still felt as though he was fighting through a fog, but he saw that the boy had a need for reassurance.
“Of course I forgive you, if you feel that you need forgiveness. And you must forgive me for getting us into that situation. You didn’t do it on purpose, you couldn’t know what was going to happen, any more than I could. You have to forget about it. At least put it behind you, we’re both safe. You can’t go on berating yourself for what might have been the outcome.”
Adam waited and was not disappointed. “Berating?”
“Another word for ‘scolding’, a stronger word.”
“No ‘buts’. Promise me that you won’t blame yourself any more. It was as much my fault as yours. I should have kept a better eye on you, I know how tempting wild animals can be. Especially something a beautiful as that stag was.” He looked into Jamie’s eyes. “Promise me.”
Jamie smiled. “I promise. He was handsome wasn’t he? And those antlers were brilliant, like you see in picture books.”
Jamie saw the pained expression, and the thin smile, that crossed Adam’s face. “Oh Adam, I’m sorry.” Jamie cried. Adam held him to his chest and stroked his hand up and down the boy’s back.
“It’s all right. You promised, remember.” He felt Jamie nod. “OK, back to sleep now.”
They settled down again, with Jamie curled in the crook of Adam’s arm where he slowly fell asleep.
The following morning Ben went into the bedroom, and seeing that both Jamie and Adam had their eyes closed, Ben gently put his hand on Jamie’s arm.
“Wake up son,” said Ben, quietly. Jamie didn’t stir, but Adam’s eyes opened. He had not been sleeping and a furrow of pain marked his brow.
“Hi Pa,” he said softly.
“How are you this morning?” Ben asked, glad to see that the grey shadows that had marked his son’s face were fading, though he still looked pale.
Adam closed his eyes again, then opened them, and looked straight at his father. When they had brought him home all Adam wanted to do was sleep, but during the night he found that sleep would not come, and now he felt exhausted and in pain.
“You want me to make something up, or do you want the truth?” Adam asked slowly, rubbing his hand across his brow, he knew he did not have to pretend with this man.
“The truth would be quicker.”
“It hurts, worse than if I broke it, seems like it’s hurt forever.” Adam tried shifting in the bed, but immediately the pain in his leg, which now seemed to spread from his foot to his waist, made him lie still.
“Would you like something for the pain? Paul left me some powders to give you.”
“No, thanks. It’s not too bad if I don’t move.” Adam was always reluctant to take anything that dulled his senses and robbed his mind of its awareness. “How’d I get here?” He couldn’t remember very much of the previous day.
“We followed the trail from your camp. We’d almost caught up with you when we heard you up ahead.” Ben stopped and smiled ruefully. “We’d just spotted you and Jamie, when you took a shot at us.”
Adam opened his eyes wide in horror. “I did?”
“Yes, fortunately I don’t think you were seeing too good at that moment. You couldn’t have hit the side of the barn. We brought you back in the buckboard. Jamie wouldn’t leave your side, hasn’t since we got back.”
Adam looked down at the boy asleep in the crook of his arm.
“He saved my life, Pa. If he hadn’t been there I don’t think I’d have made it.”
Ben pulled the covers straight. “Then I’m very grateful to him. Do you want to tell me what happened?”
Adam’s eyes suddenly felt heavy and he couldn’t stop them closing, he was exhausted with the little conversation he had managed. ”P’rhaps later, I think I’ll…sleep.”
Adam was asleep before his father closed the door.
Ben went downstairs, and saw Hoss and Harriet preparing to leave.
“I hope you two have a good day.”
“Thank you, Ben, I’m sure we will. It’ll be good to have a restful day, knowing Jamie’s safe. I’ll talk to him about it when we get back, let him rest for now.”
“Yes,” said Ben, thinking that Adam was far from safe, he still had a long way to go before he was well again. Harriet saw the frown of worry.
“Oh Ben, I’m sorry, of course you’re worried about Adam, and here I am only thinking of Jamie.”
Ben put his hand on Harriet’s arm. “Don’t you worry about Adam, he’s a strong young man and is going to be just fine. Now, you go and enjoy yourselves, and don’t fret, Jamie will be safe here, I’ll make sure of that.”
“Ben, I’m very grateful to you, and your family.” Harriet smiled, as Hoss came up behind her.
“I think it’s time we was movin’,” Hoss said, holding the door open for Harriet to precede him.
They left the yard in the buggy, and Ben watched them go, wondering if there was more to their outing than a simple picnic. He had seen the look on his middle son’s face ever since Harriet had first appeared in the house. He had seen it rarely, but knew it meant that Hoss was interested in her. He also knew that of his three sons, Hoss was the one who had the most difficulty around women. They made him shy and awkward, but if he would just persevere, Ben knew that one day he would find the right one. Was Harriet that woman? Only time would tell.
Hoss drove the buggy slowly, the morning was fine and a light breeze made the air fresh. As they went Hoss pointed out to Harriet many of the different flowers and trees they saw, much as Adam had shown Jamie days before. She was amazed at the variety. In the five years that she had lived in Virginia City, she had not had much opportunity to venture into the surrounding country, and she was finding it a refreshing experience.
Harriet looked sideways at the man sitting beside her. His face was alight at the wonders he was showing her, the simple pleasure that he seemed to take from the country apparent in his gleaming eyes and gentle smile.
She eased a little closer to him on the seat, and Hoss, thinking that perhaps she did not have enough room, moved away from her. A few minutes later she eased over again, and Hoss moved again. He was now in severe danger of falling out of the buggy and pulled the horse to a halt.
“Ma’am, Harriet, is the buggy uncomfortable?”
“Do you think you could stop calling me Ma’am Harriet? You make me sound as though I should have a title, like Princess Something.” She smiled at him.
Hoss’ soft eyes rested on her, to him she sure looked like a princess.
“Sorry…Harriet.” He’d nearly said it again, but it obviously annoyed her, and he didn’t want to do that. “Are you all right, you seem a mite fidgety?”
“Yes I’m fine, thank you. Shall we go on?”
Hoss looked at her and tapped the horse with the reins. As they ventured further along the track, Harriet yet again eased closer to Hoss, but this time he didn’t move away, in truth he had nowhere to go, but drove on conscious of her closeness and liking it.
They stopped at the top of a rise, which gave them a view of the forest spread below them and the mountains in the distance. Hoss handed Harriet down and unloaded the picnic hamper. When Harriet saw it her eyes opened wide.
“Hoss? Are we expecting company?”
Hoss looked round, thinking that perhaps someone was approaching, but saw no one.
“No, not that I know of.” He had a sudden awful thought that perhaps Joe had taken it into his head to be present on their outing. Then he saw where Harriet’s eyes had lighted and he laughed.
“Hop Sing knows I need my victuals, and always sends plenty.”
“I’m glad that he won’t let you starve, I wouldn’t want to see you fade away to nothing.” Harriet laughed with him
They sat on the long grass and Harriet set about spreading out the food they had brought with them, while Hoss made a fire, and put some water on to heat. Hoss had asked her if she would like to take some wine with them, but she told him that she would prefer tea, if that were possible.
After they had eaten, they sat near each other, enjoying the peace of the forest around them.
Harriet turned towards him. “Hoss it’s beautiful here, so quiet. I can see why Adam wanted to take Jamie into the mountains.” She and Hoss looked at each other for a moment, remembering what had been the result of that trip. Harriet shivered for what might have been, and moved closer to the big man at her side.
Hoss put his hand on hers.
“Don’t fret none, Adam’s going to be fine, and Jamie will get over it real soon, you’ll see. But jest now I think they need each other, more than they need other people.”
“Do you like children?” Harriet looked at him enquiringly. This was a man of enormous strength, who might be uneasy in the company of small boys.
“Oh yeah, I love kids. They have a way of lookin’ at things, of makin’ you look at things. Adam says that Jamie does that to him all the time. And they like the simple things in life, critters, and playin’, and their friends.”
“I’m glad.” Harriet put her small hand over Hoss’ large one. He looked down, and then up into her eyes. He wasn’t sure what he saw there, but he liked it, it gave him a warm feeling inside.
“Er, I think we should be heading back now, before it starts to get chill.” Hoss had suddenly become uncomfortable. He had a feeling in his gut that he couldn’t explain, but it became more intense every time he looked at Harriet
Harriet nodded and got to her feet. She and Hoss gathered up the picnic things and put them in the buggy, and then Hoss held out his hand to help her up the step. As he did so, she stood on tiptoe and kissed him lightly on the cheek. Hoss immediately turned red and tried to bury his face in his chest.
“Thank you for a lovely day,” said Harriet, and got into the buggy. Hoss recovered and slowly walked round the other side and joined her.
“Shucks, Ma’am, I’ve enjoyed it as well.” He smiled, finding it easy to do with her seated beside him.
As they rode home, Harriet shivered. Hoss thought that she might be cold and regretted that he had not thought to bring a rug with them, but he hadn’t planned on being out quite so long. She shivered again and snuggled closer to him.
Hoss didn’t know what to do to keep her warm, but there was something he had seen his brothers do with gals. He put his arm round Harriet’s shoulders and pulled her towards him.
“Thank you Hoss, I feel much better,” she said gratefully, a small smile playing round her lips.
“Won’t be long and we’ll be home,” Hoss assured her.
“There’s no hurry, I’m quite comfortable now,” she said.
Hoss looked down at her and saw that she seemed quite happy. The warm glow that he had felt inside seemed to be spreading through his whole body as he felt her leaning up against him. He tightened the pressure of his arm and she didn’t object, but put her head on his shoulder.
When they arrived home, Hoss escorted Harriet into the house and then went to put the buggy away. Harriet looked round for Jamie, but couldn’t find him. She had a moment of panic, until Ben came out of the kitchen and explained that he was in Adam’s room.
“Ben do you think it’s good for him to be spending so much time with Adam?” She wanted to get Jamie away from Adam, but then she saw the question in Ben’s eyes. “I mean when Adam is so poorly,” she added, hoping Ben would accept that as explanation enough
“I don’t suppose so, but we can’t get him to leave, and Adam seems keen to have him there. I expect when they can both put this behind them, they’ll get back to normal. In the meantime, if you have no objection, Paul thinks that it would be best for both Adam and Jamie, if he could stay here.”
“Well, I suppose he can.” Harriet wasn’t sure that she wanted her son so dependent on another adult. It was her place to comfort the child.
“And you too, of course. It would be a pleasure to have you here, if you want to stay,” Ben invited.
“If Doctor Martin thinks it would be good for them, then of course we’ll stay, just until Adam is better. May I go and see him?”
“Of course, my dear. I’ll show you the way.” Ben took Harriet’s elbow and directed her to Adam’s room, leaving her to enter on her own.
Jamie was sitting on the side of the bed, in which Adam lay propped up by pillows, and he jumped up as he saw his mother come into the room. Harriet hugged him, and then went over to the bed and looked down at Adam. He was pale and had dark circles under eyes that were half closed.
Harriet sat down on the chair beside the bed.
“What happened?” she asked. Anger rose in her unexpectedly as she realised how helpless he was, how much he must have relied on Jamie to get him out of the mess he had got himself into.
“It was an accident,” Adam said carefully, “no one’s fault, it just happened.”
“Adam, how can you say that? What were you doing that you could do this to yourself, when you knew you had Jamie to look after? How could you do that? I thought that I could trust you.” Harriet was cross, the worry from the day before coming out now in accusation and bitterness.
Ben came into the room carrying a supper tray for Adam, and heard what she said. He looked at his son, wondering how he was going to react.
“You’re right, it was stupid, I’m sorry,” Adam said, not looking at her.
“You’re sorry! You think ‘sorry’ will make it all right? Jamie hasn’t left this room since he got back, hasn’t eaten properly, and I gather he will only sleep here with you. And you say ‘sorry’.” Harriet’s voice was rising as she spoke.
Before Ben could stop her, Harriet rose and the sound of the slap that she administered to Adam’s face reverberated round the room. Adam’s head was turned by the force of the blow and he didn’t try to turn back to look at her. But Ben had had enough. He stepped up to her and took both her arms in his firm grip.
“How dare you attack my son, when he has done nothing to deserve it, and you know of his condition.” Ben’s rage matched Harriet’s.
“Done nothing! Look at him!” Harriet shouted, pointing towards the bed.
Adam turned his head back. “Stop it, both of you.” He put out one arm, and Jamie came rushing to his side. Ben and Harriet had both forgotten he was there. Ben let Harriet go and she bit her lip, Jamie had gone to Adam, not to her.
“Ma,” Jamie said, “Ma, it weren’t like that, it weren’t Adam’s fault.”
“Wasn’t.” Adam corrected him, gently brushing a hand over the boy’s hair.
“What do you mean?” Harriet asked, her eyes narrowing.
Jamie looked down, ashamed of what he had to tell his mother. “It were…” he paused and looked at Adam, “was…” Adam nodded, “was my fault. Adam saved my life. I disobeyed him, and he could have been killed. He told me not to wander, but then the stag was there, and I wanted to see it. Adam told me it was dangerous, but I ran and the stag chased me, and then Adam pushed me out of the way and the stag got him instead. It should have been me.” Jamie finished with tears running down his face and he turned into Adam’s chest. “Oh Adam, I’m sorry.”
Adam ran his hand up and down the boy’s back. “There now, we’ve been all through this, haven’t we? You promised that you would forget about it, it’s going to be all right. You’re OK and I’m OK, and there’s no more to be said. Jamie look at me.” Adam ordered. Jamie straightened. “What’s done is done, and can’t be undone. It’s no use going through life with regrets, you must put this behind you, don’t suffer for what you can’t change, but learn from it. Do you understand?”
“Now go downstairs with your mother and get some supper,” Adam ordered.
“No, I won’t leave you,” Jamie cried.
“There’s no need to worry, I’ll be fine, and if you don’t get a change of scene soon I’ll start to fret about you. I tell you what, perhaps you would ask Joe to come and sit with me?” Jamie brightened a little at the fact that Adam would not be alone, but he was still unhappy that he wouldn’t be there to watch over him. He went out of the room looking for Joe.
Harriet hesitated. “Adam I…”
“Harriet, forget it. I know how you must feel, and no one has told you what happened, have they?” Adam smiled at her
“No, I just assumed. I expect you have had enough of apologies by the sound of it, but I do apologise, to you, and to you too Ben.” She looked across the bed to where Ben was standing protectively beside his son. “I can only say that it was because of the worry over Jamie, I lost my head, I’m sorry.” She turned and left, not able to bear them looking at her, forgiving her.
Ben sat on the bed beside his son, while Adam picked at the food, not really hungry.
“What you said to Jamie, do you think he will forget what he did?”
“No never, but I hope that he does learn to live with it. I couldn’t bear for him to think about it every time he sees me, it would make me feel so guilty.” Adam turned to his father, “Pa, I love that boy, he’s been good for me, made me look at myself. I know that there are things I can handle more easily now because of him, because I can talk about them with him, even though he may not understand. Things like not having a mother, you remember?” Ben nodded, he remembered Adam coming home after first meeting Jamie, who had made him look at his motherless life, and he had told Ben that he had examined his life and not found it wanting. “I’d hate to think that our relationship had changed in some way because of what happened.”
“I’m sure that all he needs is time and love, and he has plenty of both,” Ben said. Adam had eaten enough, and sank back onto the pillows.
“Did you know that you’re fun and kind, and tell great stories?” Adam asked his father, remembering the conversation he had had with Jamie.
“That’s how Jamie described you.”
Ben thought about it and smiled. “Not a bad epitaph. By the way, how did you get those marks on your ears?” Ben pushed Adam’s head to one side to look again at the bruising.
Adam chuckled. “Jamie found a way to make me wake up when I didn’t want to. Perhaps we could use it on Joe.”
Ben thought he had an idea of what Adam meant and laughed. Then became more serious.
“Well, now you can get some rest, you’re looking tired.”
Adam nodded, the last ten minutes had left him mentally and physically exhausted, and he allowed his father to help him to lie down.
Ben turned as he was about to open the door. “Adam, one more thing.”
“What’s that?” Adam asked sleepily.
“Is there anything between you and Harriet?”
Adam opened his eyes, startled at his father’s question. He thought that the slap she had given him should have answered that question.
“No nothing, why?”
“Because I think your brother might just be interested to know.”
“Joe? She’s too old for him.”
Ben shook his head. “Not Joe.” He raised his eyebrows in a knowing glance, which his son returned.
Adam smiled and closed his eyes. The one thing he had been afraid of was that Harriet might meet someone and perhaps move away, at the very least he couldn’t imagine a new man in her life welcoming his attention to her son. But if that man were Hoss? He fell asleep, thinking of his brother.
The same question was apparently on Hoss’ mind as he came in to see Adam the following morning. Hoss put a breakfast tray on the bed next to his brother, and then sat in the chair. Adam looked up at him, he could tell that Hoss wanted to talk.
“OK, what is it?” Adam picked up a piece of toast and bit into it. He chewed slowly, watching his brother squirm on the chair.
Adam took a mouthful of coffee and still Hoss hadn’t spoken. “Is this about Harriet?”
Hoss looked up. “How’d you know?” he asked.
“I’m intuitive.” Adam began to smile, but then he remembered saying those same words at a very different time. Hoss saw the darkness that came into his brother’s eyes, and put his hand on Adam’s arm. Adam looked up, and smiled thinly. “No, seriously, Pa asked me last night if I had any interest in her.” Adam explained, putting his memories behind him.
“And do ya?”
“No.” Adam rubbed the side of his face. “And after yesterday I would say that she was far too dangerous to get close to.” Adam laughed at the bewilderment on Hoss’ face. “Don’t worry about it. So, what are you going to do?”
Hoss looked unhappy. “I don’t rightly know. I like her plenty, and I think she likes me, but I don’t really know where to go from here.”
“Well, whatever you do don’t rush it. Take your time and let it develop slowly.”
“But you and Joe…”
“What Joe or I do has absolutely no bearing on what you should do. Joe loses his heart to a girl the second he sees her, with no intention of doing anything about it. If you suggested marriage to him he’d run a mile.”
“And you?” Hoss asked. Adam looked thoughtful.
“Me? I can get taken with a girl straight away, have been in the past. But I don’t lose my head like Joe. If I pursue a woman, it’s because I love her and intend to marry her. Now I think you’re more like me, you won’t go after a woman you don’t want to marry, but it takes you a bit longer to do anything about it.”
“Yeah, that’d be right. I jest cain’t see why women would be interested in me.” Hoss shook his head, bewildered.
“Hoss, you would make any woman a wonderful husband.” Hoss looked up to see if Adam was joshing with him, but his brother looked serious. “You are honest, hard working, loving and gentle. She would have got herself a man who would love and protect her, with his own life if need be. She would be respected for the woman she was, not some preconceived idea of womanhood.”
Adam looked at his brother’s embarrassed face. “Hell, I’d marry you myself if I could.” Adam laughed and Hoss smiled.
“So what do I do?”
“Just talk to her, get to know each other. That’s the time when you find out if you want to be together or not. You’re lucky that Harriet is going to be here at the ranch for a few days.”
“Yeah. Well I’d better git and let you rest. Thanks Adam.”
Adam handed Hoss the tray to take back downstairs. “You’re welcome, brother. Good luck,” he said and added in his head, ‘don’t fail me’.
Adam was slowly recovering and Jamie was satisfied to leave him for longer periods, and Harriet thought it was nearly time for her to take Jamie back to town. But first Hoss had decided to take Harriet for a ride by the lake, which was looking particularly beautiful that morning, its calm waters reflecting the white cushions of cloud that floated above its blue surface. They had ridden down in the buggy, and were walking along the shore towards a tree-lined promontory.
Harriet suddenly stopped and stood in front of Hoss, putting her hands firmly on his chest.
“Right, I’ve had enough of your pussy-footing.” Hoss looked taken aback, but stood still. “I’m not getting any younger and can’t wait for ever. Hoss, do you love me?”
“Ma’am, Harriet!” Hoss was totally unprepared for this outburst. Adam had told him to take it slowly, and that was just what he was doing. He had held Harriet’s hand last night, just for a little while, and thought that today he might hold it for a bit longer, if she didn’t object.
“Well?” Harriet had her hands on her hips. Hoss was lost in thought seeing her standing in front of him, so demanding and strong, and so beautiful. He nodded.
“Does that mean ‘yes’?”
“Yes ma’am, it sure does.” Hoss smiled his broad grin that lit up his eyes.
“Well, what are you going to do about it?”
“Well, Adam said I should…”
Harriet’s eyes narrowed, she still hadn’t totally forgiven Adam for what happened, no matter that Jamie admitted it was his fault. Now it seemed he was interfering in Hoss’ love life,
“Leave Adam out of this, it’s nothing to do with him. I’m talking to you, no one else,” Harriet said pointedly. “So what are you going to do?”
Hoss hesitated, so Harriet did it for him. She took Hoss by the hand and led him unresisting to the grass that lined the edge of the sandy cove. Once there, she pulled him down onto the ground beside her. She stretched out and turned towards him.
“Now, do you know what to do?” Harriet’s voice was softer.
“Oh, yes ma’am.” But to Harriet’s disappointment, Hoss pulled her up until she was sitting beside him. He put his arms round her and kissed her. For such a big man his kiss was surprisingly gentle, but it was filled with passion made of love and desire. He pulled away quickly, not certain of her reaction. When he looked into her eyes they were swimming with tears.
“Harriet, what’s wrong?” Hoss cursed inwardly, somehow he’d done the wrong thing.
“Nothing, nothing at all.” She pulled his head down towards her and kissed him, experiencing again the feeling of elation that went through her as he touched her. “Hoss do you want to marry me?”
Hoss was taken aback at the straightforward approach, but realised that was exactly what he wanted.
“Yes.” He bent down and kissed her again, slowly and deeply.
Then they sat together with their arms round each other, looking out across the water, occasionally turning to gaze at the face of the one they loved, and to renew the thrill of that first kiss. Hoss stared at Harriet, and his head was spinning at the suddenness of what had happened.
Eventually they stirred and rose, holding each other’s hand. They went slowly back towards the buggy.
“Let’s go home so I can tell Pa.” Hoss didn’t want to leave, but was eager to break the news to his father.
Harriet nodded, and they drove back to the ranch. She waited while Hoss put the buggy away, and they went into the house together. Before they entered Hoss turned to her.
“Are you sure? Are you really sure ‘bout this?” Hoss couldn’t believe what was happening to him, in such a short space of time.
“Yes, I’m sure.”
They went inside and found Ben sitting at his desk.
“Pa, could we have a word with ya?” asked Hoss, standing with Harriet in front of the desk.
Ben looked up. “Sure son, what is it?” He rose and came to stand in front of the couple.
“Well, me ‘n Harriet, we wanna…that is we thought…well, we…”
“Hoss? What’s the matter?” Ben thought that perhaps he knew what his son was trying to tell him, but he waited.
“Ben,” said Harriet, “Hoss and I are engaged to be married.”
Ben beamed with pleasure, and shook Hoss’ hand. “Son, that’s wonderful. When did this happen?”
“Jest now.” Hoss held his father’s hand and he was grinning broadly, as they put an arm round each other’s shoulders and shared an embrace of such joy it brought a suspicion of a tear to both their faces.
Ben turned to Harriet and bent and kissed her cheek. “My dear, I’m very happy for you, for you both.”
“Thank you, Ben.” Harriet’s face told him that there was more that she wanted to say.
“What is it, is something wrong?” asked Ben.
“No, nothing. It’s just that I will have to tell Jamie, and I’m not certain how he will react to the news,” she said.
“I’m sure he will be pleased for you,” Ben assured her.
“I wish I thought so.” Harriet was concerned how her son would feel
“Do you want me to tell him?” Hoss volunteered, willing to take on the task and spare Harriet the pain of an adverse reaction from her son.
“No, this is something that I must do, and I think I had better do it alone.” She wasn’t looking forward to telling Jamie, she knew it would be a shock to him.
That afternoon Harriet persuaded Jamie to accompany her on a walk to the small meadow, just below the house. Ben had explained the best way to go, and Harriet had found it easily. They wandered among the poppies and buttercups in the long grass
“Jamie?” Harriet was nervous, now she was here she was not sure what to say.
“Jamie how would you feel if I married again?”
Jamie’s eyes lit up. Adam had thought about what they had said that night in the forest and had decided to ask Ma to marry him. Jamie turned and put his arms round his mother’s waist.
“Oh Ma, that’d be wonderful. He’s a really great man, and I just know you’ll be happy. I knew I could talk him into it.”
Harriet was bewildered. She hadn’t realised that Jamie was aware of her interest in Hoss, nor Hoss’ in her.
“Well I’m pleased that you feel that way. Hoss and I want to marry as soon…” The stricken look in Jamie’s eyes stopped Harriet. “Jamie what is it, what’s wrong?”
“Hoss…and you?” Jamie had his hands to his mouth, and his eyes were wide and staring. “Hoss…and…nooooo!”
Jamie took to his heels, with Harriet in pursuit. She chased him all the way back to the house, but her skirts caught in the long grass and Jamie stayed just ahead of her. Harriet had nearly caught up with him, when he ran in the front door and slammed it in her face.
Ben and Joe looked up, startled at the whirlwind that entered and ran up the stairs.
“Harriet, what is it, what’s wrong?” asked Ben as Harriet came in, looking distraught. She flung herself into his arms.
“Oh Ben, I’ve made a terrible mistake. I tried to tell Jamie about me and Hoss and he got completely the wrong end of the stick, and when he realised, he got so upset.”
”Tell me about it, maybe I can help.” Ben jerked his head sideways at Joe, indicating that he should leave them alone.
“Now tell me,” ordered Ben gently.
“Ben, when I asked Jamie if he minded me getting married again, he thought that I meant to Adam.” Harriet started sobbing. “Oh Ben, that boy is so attached to Adam, I don’t know if he will ever accept Hoss. What am I going to do?”
Ben took her in his arms. “Don’t worry. I’m sure that he’ll come round. Hoss is a good man, and he loves children. He’ll make Jamie see that he loves you, and him too.”
“But what about Adam?”
Ben frowned, confused. “What about Adam?”
“How will he feel? Will he try to stop us, because of Jamie?”
“Harriet, sit down.” Ben led her to the sofa, and sat beside her. He took her hand in his and patted it comfortingly. “Ever since Adam was injured you have blamed him for not taking care of Jamie, and you have been jealous that Jamie wants to look after him, and be comforted by him. You and Adam were friends before this, why should you think that anything has changed? He will only want what’s best for you.”
“Yes, but he and Jamie are closer now than they ever were. Will he feel that he’s losing Jamie somehow?”
“Harriet, one thing you must understand is the relationship my sons have with each other. They are actually half-brothers, I am father to each of them, but they have different mothers.” Harriet nodded, she knew that now. Ben continued, “No full blood brothers could be closer than my boys. There have been times when they would have given their lives for each other, and it is only by the grace of God, and the skill of Paul Martin, that they have not done so. But Adam is so much more than a brother to Hoss and Joe. He helped me to raise them, and has an almost paternal interest in them. He would never do anything that would hurt them. If he can make Jamie see what a good man Hoss is and help him to accept Hoss as a father, then that is what he will do, because he will know it’s what Hoss wants.”
Harriet sat quietly, unconvinced.
Meanwhile Jamie had rushed into Adam’s room and thrown himself onto the bed, landing heavily on its occupant. Adam cried out as he caught Jamie and pulled him off his damaged leg.
Jamie realised what he had done and looked up. “I’m sorry, I forgot.” Adam raised his eyebrows, Jamie forgot about his injury? Whatever was on Jamie’s mind must be devastating to have taken him over so completely.
“Jamie, what is it? What’s happened?” Adam held Jamie to his chest.
Jamie wrapped his arms round Adam’s neck and clung to him. “Oh Adam, what am I going to do? I want you, not him.”
Adam put his hand under Jamie’s chin and raised his face until the boy was looking at him.
“What are you talking about? You are going to have to explain.”
Jamie sat up, sniffing. Adam gave him a handkerchief and waited while the boy calmed down.
“Ma’s getting married.”
“She is, who to?” Adam hoped that he already knew, but thought that Jamie should be able to tell him.
“Hoss,” Jamie said quietly.
“Well, that’s great.”
“No, it isn’t. I want it to be you.” The pleading look in the boy’s eyes tugged at Adam’s heart.
“Jamie, I already explained to you why I can’t marry your mother. But if Hoss loves her and wants to marry her, don’t you think that you should be happy for her?”
“I want to be, but I want it to be you,” Jamie sniffed.
Adam hugged Jamie to his chest again, and ran a soothing hand up and down his back.
“It can’t be me, you know that. Hoss is a good man, he will love you as he does your mother. He is my brother, and I know him very well, he will make a wonderful father to you.”
“Hush, don’t fret. It’ll be all right, you’ll see.” Adam kissed the top of Jamie’s head and laid his cheek on the fair hair.
Jamie looked up into Adam’s face, how could he be so accepting of what had happened?
“No it won’t, it’ll never be all right.” Jamie ran from the room, leaving Adam calling uselessly after him.
A short time later Hoss found Jamie hiding in the barn. He didn’t know who it was when he heard soft sounds of crying and followed them, until he discovered the boy curled up in one of the stalls. When he saw who had found him, Jamie tried to run away but Hoss put a meaty hand on his shoulder and stopped him. Jamie stood in front of Hoss, who had gone down on his knees to bring his eyes level with the boy’s. He put his hands gently on Jamie’s arms and looked into his face.
“I guess your Ma told you, ‘bout me an’ her?”
Jamie nodded. “Yes.”
“An’ how do you feel ‘bout that?”
Jamie shook his head and didn’t reply.
“You ain’t too happy by the looks o’ things. Would I be right?”
“Jamie, look at me,” Hoss ordered, and slowly the boy turned his eyes to Hoss. “I love your Ma, and she loves me. And I will love you as well.”
“I want Adam as my Pa, not you!” he shouted and ran out of the barn.
Adam made it down the stairs with the help of a walking stick and his father’s arm. It was slow going and by the time he was settled on the sofa, with his feet up, he was shaking and out of breath. But just being out of his room was reason enough for putting himself through the discomfort of the move.
“Thanks Pa,” he said, as his father handed him a cup of coffee.
“Son, we need to talk.”
Adam raised his eyebrows, he knew what this was about.
“Pa, if this is about Jamie, there’s little I can do. The best thing would be for me to go away for a while, to let Hoss work his magic on Jamie. I know that if only the boy would let him, Hoss could show him what a good father he would be. But having me here to remind Jamie of what might have been, as he sees it, makes it more difficult. It’s a good thing they’re going back to Virginia City. I’m sure that will help.”
“Harriet said that Jamie became hysterical when she told him they were going. She’s torn between taking him away from you, and letting him stay here so he doesn’t make himself ill over it. And you’re in no fit state to go anywhere, and we can’t wait that long. You’re going to have to persuade him that his Ma’s doing the right thing.”
“Because Jamie will listen to you, that’s why,” said Ben. Adam thought that his father had a rather inflated idea of his son’s ability to persuade a nine-year-old.
“Pa, I’ve already tried. Jamie won’t listen, to me or anybody else.”
At that moment Hoss and Harriet came into the house, they had been for a walk and her cheeks were attractively flushed from the exertion. Harriet sat down opposite Adam, and Hoss stood next to her, his hand on her shoulder.
“We were just talking about Jamie,” Ben explained.
“What are you going to do about it?” Harriet asked, looking pointedly at Adam.
“Now, Harriet, it is not necessarily up to Adam to do anything,” said Ben. Adam ironically smiled his lop-sided grin, that wasn’t what his father had said two minutes ago.
“Why not. It’s his fault that Jamie feels as he does. If he had not encouraged him we wouldn’t have this problem.”
“Harriet,” Adam said slowly, his voice deep and quiet. Ben recognised the tone and cringed inwardly, his son was angry. He hoped Adam was not about to say something he might later regret. “Harriet, when I first came to your house I agreed, against my better judgement, to spend the day with Jamie, because you asked me to. Our relationship grew from there into what it is now. You were happy for that to happen, when it suited you, but now when it is proving awkward, you are blaming me for it. Well, I’m not going to stand by and let you do that. You must take some of the responsibility. But I will do my best to make Jamie see that you have found a good man in Hoss, a man Jamie can look up to and admire and, in time come to love. I don’t know how I’m going to do that, but I will try.”
Harriet hung her head, and then looked up.
“Adam, I’m sorry, of course it’s as much my fault as yours.” She put her hand out and Hoss held it gently. Harriet looked up at him and smiled, then her gaze returned to Adam.
“When Hoss and I are married I want everyone to be happy, can you understand that?”
“Of course I can. But you must understand that Jamie may never accept Hoss as his father.” Adam shook his head regretfully.
Harriet stood and tore her hand from Hoss’ grip. “If that is the case, I will never forgive you.” Harriet put her hand to her mouth, and fled through the front door with Hoss in pursuit.
Adam glanced at his father. Ben could see that he looked exhausted, as well he might. Adam leant his head against the back of the sofa and closed his eyes for a moment.
“That’s it then, it’s up to me. Harriet won’t try, she thinks it’s my responsibility, Hoss doesn’t know how to approach Jamie, and even you have told me to do something about it. What you all seem to be forgetting is that, at least for the moment, I’m stuck here. How exactly do you propose that I can help Jamie as I am?”
“Adam, you’ll be on your feet soon enough. The time may help Jamie to come to terms with the situation, but if he doesn’t, then perhaps you will be able to do something. At least it will give you time to think about it,” Ben said reasonably.
Adam gazed past his father, and stared into the fire. “Yeah,” he said sadly, “just what I need, time to think about Jamie.”
Ben patted his son’s arm. “You’ll think of something.”
Adam tried to distance himself from Jamie during the days that followed. He did not encourage the boy to sit with him, sending him on errands that would get him out of the house, or asking him to do chores for him. He hoped that Jamie would get used to seeing Hoss around, and let the big man show him that he was worthy of the same feelings as Jamie had for Adam.
One afternoon Adam asked Joe to take Jamie out on Starlight. Joe agreed readily, and took Jamie in search of a herd of horses that had been reported not far from the lake. They found them and sat all afternoon just watching as the magnificent animals grazed lazily in the sun.
When they returned, Jamie ran to the house to report what he had seen. He rushed in without looking where he was going, and ran straight into Adam who was testing his leg’s ability to support him. He knocked Adam off his feet, and he went down with a thud.
“Aargh!” Adam cried as his thigh hit the floor first, taking all his weight. “You stupid…” He stopped as he saw the crushed look on Jamie’s face. It was the suddenness of it all that had brought the criticism to Adam’s lips, but when he saw Jamie’s shocked expression he stopped immediately.
Adam struggled to sit up. “Jamie, I’m sorry, it was just…”
Jamie ran from the room without looking back. Hoss came over and helped Adam to his feet, and he hopped unsteadily on his right leg, trying to regain his balance.
“Hoss go after him, try to get him back here.” Hoss nodded and went out, leaving Adam to make his way to the sofa, where he sat for a long time staring at the fire, an idea forming in his mind. An idea that he didn’t like, dreaded to try, but might be the only answer.
Hoss went outside to find Jamie, finally tracking him down in the barn with Joe, talking to Starlight.
“You like your pony, don’t you?” Joe asked.
Jamie nodded absently.
“Jamie, what’s the matter? What’s happened?”
“Adam shouted at me, ‘cause I knocked him over.”
“You knocked him over?” Joe laughed.
Jamie looked up when he heard the laughter. “He didn’t think it was very funny.”
“No he wouldn’t. You upset his dignity, and you must never do that. He’ll never forgive you.” Joe was still laughing.
“Do you mean that?” Adam had never been cross with Jamie, and the boy had no idea what might be the long-term implications of that anger.
Joe noticed the serious look on Jamie’s face and realised that this was no laughing matter.
“No, of course not. He won’t be mad for long.” Joe patted Jamie’s shoulder
Hoss came in and found them talking.
“That’s where you got to.” He smiled at the boy.
“Joe says Adam will be mad at me for bumping into him.”
“Well mebbe, just a little. But he’ll forget it when his leg stops hurtin’, you’ll see,” Hoss assured him. “Now, time for supper.”
Hoss put out his hand and, a little reluctantly, Jamie took it and they walked back to the house.
Adam had disappeared upstairs and did not join them for supper. The fall had started his leg hurting and he could not sit comfortably, so had retired to bed. He also didn’t want to see Jamie at the moment, knowing what he was planning to do to the boy.
Joe brought him up a tray later, and sat with him while he ate. He told Adam of the conversation he had had with Jamie in the barn.
“He really thought that you would never forgive him.”
“Poor kid, I must have frightened him.”
“Guess so, anyway he held Hoss’ hand as they came back to the house, I suppose he needed some reassurance.”
Adam stared at the wall opposite. He was thinking about the idea that had come to him earlier, and the more he thought about it the more he realised that it might be the answer. A knot formed in Adam’s stomach, and he had suddenly lost his appetite.
“Joe, I want you to do something for me tomorrow.”
Adam explained his plan, and Joe put his hand on his brother’s arm.
“Are you sure that you want to do this?”
“No, I don’t want to, but I can’t see any other way. Just don’t tell Hoss. OK? I don’t think he could fool Jamie.”
“Now go away, I want some sleep.”
“’Night Adam.” Joe left Adam to his thoughts, which kept him awake most of the night.
The following afternoon, with Hoss’ reluctant help, Adam had managed to walk down slowly to the corral, and was looking over some new stock that Joe had bought. Hoss had disappeared into the barn to do a few chores, and had left Adam leaning on the top rail of the corral for support, promising to return in a few minutes to help him back to the house. Hoss didn’t think that Adam should be walking around, but elder brother was determined and you didn’t argue with him when he was in that mood. But Hoss would make sure that he didn’t overdo it, in spite of himself.
Joe was in the kitchen with Jamie and suggested that they should go and look at the new horses. Jamie’s eyes lit up as he saw that Adam was there, and he ran towards him.
“Adam!” Jamie was delighted when he saw the tall, dark clad figure. He had not seen his friend all day because Adam had kept to his room for the morning and Jamie had not been allowed up to see him.
Adam turned. “What are you doing here?” he asked roughly.
Jamie stopped mid-stride, and looked puzzled.
“I…I came to see the horses,” Jamie said, looking up uncertainly.
“Well I don’t want you here.”
Joe came up beside Jamie.
“Adam, what’s the matter?” asked Joe.
“I want to look at the horses, and don’t want to be bothered with clumsy children. I need to see that you’ve spent our money well.”
Joe put his hand protectively on Jamie’s shoulder. “There’s no need to speak to Jamie like that.”
Adam raised his voice as he saw Hoss come out of the barn. “He’ll get over it, I can’t waste my time with him anymore, just get him out of here.” Jamie saw Hoss and ran into his arms.
“Hoss,” Jamie cried, “what have I done. Why does Adam hate me?”
“Aw, he don’t hate you, it’s jest that sometimes he gets a bit wrapped up in what he’s thinking.” Hoss took Jamie’s hand and led him back to where Joe and Adam were standing.
“Adam, Jamie thinks you hate him. I think you aught to set him straight.”
Adam ignored him, so Hoss put his hand on his brother’s shoulder to get his attention. Adam turned slowly.
“Hoss, if you want to get yourself involved with the kid and his mother, that’s fine, I know that you will be happy and make a wonderful father to Jamie, but I don’t need him any more, and I don’t want him here, getting in my way.”
Jamie was hanging on to Hoss’ waist, looking for support as Adam’s words hammered at him. He buried his face in Hoss’ shirt and cried. Hoss lifted him off his feet, and giving Adam a look that promised settlement for what he had said to the boy, he carried him into the house.
Joe watched them go then turned back to Adam, who had started to make his way round to the back of the barn. He was barely able to stand on his leg, and he leant heavily on a walking stick. He stopped every two or three steps to take a breath and his head hung lower as he went.
Joe was going to leave him alone for a while, but suddenly he saw Adam collapse to his knees, and rushed over to him. Adam was retching, losing what little lunch he had managed to force down. When he had finished, Joe pulled him away and sat him up against the wall of the barn. Adam was breathing heavily, and Joe knelt down in front of him.
“Do you think it’ll work?” Joe could see the pain in his brother’s eyes.
“I hope so,” Adam said softly, with infinite sorrow. “I can’t go through that again. Joe, he’s going to hate me.” Adam had tears in his eyes, and his voice caught in his throat as he bit his lip trying to control himself. “He’s never going to forgive me. Even if Hoss marries Harriet, I’ve lost him.”
Adam’s eyes found those of his brother, and the sympathy and understanding that he found there broke his fragile control and he started to sob inconsolably. Joe put his arms round Adam’s shoulders and hugged him tightly, while his composed, controlled, elder brother let his anguish pour out.
When Joe felt Adam bring himself under control once again, he suggested that they should return to the house. Adam shook his head, he couldn’t face Jamie again so soon.
He spoke softly, his mind seeing the face of the boy he had hurt so badly, the boy he would have given anything never to hurt at all. “Go and tell Harriet that she should get Jamie back to town. I don’t think he’ll mind going now. I’ll stay here. Let me know when they’ve gone.”
Joe stood and looked down uncertainly at his brother. He didn’t really want to leave him, but could see the sense in what he was saying.
Joe found Hoss and Jamie in the living room with Ben and Harriet. Hoss was trying to explain to them what had happened, but he was having trouble controlling himself, it was obvious from his tone that he was more than a little upset.
“Harriet, I think that you’d better take Jamie home,” Hoss said. “Get him away from here as soon as you can.”
“Yes, you’re right of course.” Harriet looked down at the boy huddled in her skirts for comfort. She brushed her hand through his hair and looked up at Ben. “Now perhaps you can see what your son is really like. Once he felt that he no longer needed Jamie, he cast him aside like an old pair of boots. I thought that when I first met him, Adam would be a good influence on the boy, but I was wrong, terribly wrong.”
Joe couldn’t tell Harriet why Adam had done what he had, but he wasn’t prepared to let that comment pass.
“Harriet, you used Adam for your own ends. You asked him to be a father figure for Jamie and he was, to the best of his ability, which take my word for it, is considerable. Don’t judge him now, when he needs above all your understanding.”
“Understanding? After what he said to Jamie? Never.” Harriet pushed Jamie towards the guest room; they were leaving as soon as she had packed.
Ben looked at his sons.
“Hoss, what really happened?” Ben wanted to know.
“Adam told Jamie that he don’t need him no more, that he didn’t want him here. I couldn’t believe he’d say that after all the times he’s taken Jamie out. Pa, he just about broke that little boy’s heart.” Hoss didn’t add that he was going to make Adam pay for every word of hurt that he had directed at Jamie, he knew his father wouldn’t approve. Hoss said that he was going to hitch up the buggy, but he secretly hoped that he might find Adam outside.
As Hoss left the house, Harriet emerged from the outside door to the guest room. She had seen the look in Hoss’ eyes when he came into the house carrying Jamie, and saw a way to make Adam pay for becoming Jamie’s comforter. She followed Hoss halfway across the yard.
“What are you going to do? You can’t let Adam get away with this, Jamie’s in there crying his heart out.” Harriet pointed back towards the room. “Hoss, you’re not like your brother, I know that you would never do anything to hurt Jamie or me, nor let anyone else hurt us. Jamie must know that you will protect him.”
Her words fanned the flames of Hoss’ anger, and it burned bright in the usually gentle eyes, as Hoss thought about what his brother had done. He looked into Harriet’s face and knew that he loved her, and wanted to show her how far he would go to prove that love. He set off again across the yard, leaving Harriet staring after him.
As he approached the barn, he heard retching sounds coming from the rear of the building, and went to investigate.
Inside the house, Ben was questioning Joe.
“Joe, is that what happened?” Ben did not want to disbelieve Hoss, but not wanting to believe him, either.
“Yes and no.”
“Would you please explain?” Ben was patient, he wanted to get to the bottom of his eldest son’s atypical behaviour.
“Jamie ran into Adam yesterday, knocked him off his feet. It was an accident but it seems that just for a second, Adam got mad, and when he saw Jamie’s reaction, it gave him an idea. He said those things to Jamie today solely with the idea of driving him into Hoss’ arms, and it worked.”
“You don’t seem too happy about it,” Ben observed.
“Adam’s out behind the barn right now. Pa, it’s tearing him apart, he’s so upset it’s making him sick, but he won’t come in until Jamie’s gone.”
Joe looked at his father, and suddenly remembered the look on Hoss’ face as he left a few minutes ago.
“Pa, Hoss went out to the barn.” Joe’s eyes were wide with the realisation of what might happen if Hoss found Adam.
Ben went out of the door at a run, closely followed by Joe. They headed for the back of the barn, where they found Hoss dragging Adam back onto unsteady legs, obviously not for the first time judging by the blood on Adam’s face. Hoss had hold of the front of Adam’s shirt, but he did not see his brother. Through a red mist of anger, Hoss could only see the person who had hurt Jamie, and through him the woman Hoss loved.
“Hoss! Stop that, right now!” Ben yelled, but Hoss didn’t hear him. He had at his mercy the unfeeling, cruel man who had hurt the blameless little boy, and Hoss was going to hurt him. Adam tried to protect himself, but as Hoss hit him in the stomach, he doubled over. Any attempts that Adam made to defend himself were brushed aside, as Hoss smashed an iron fist into his face, and Adam went down again and cried out as he landed on his injured leg. As he struggled to rise, Ben ran over and knelt beside him, and held him down.
“You stay right where you are!” Adam lay back on the ground only too happy to comply with his father’s command, he didn’t think he could make it back to his feet without help. He could feel blood once more seeping from his wounds and soaking into his pants.
Harriet had followed Hoss slowly to the barn, and when she saw Adam fall to the ground, with Hoss standing over him, she smiled. He deserves everything that Hoss gives him, she thought.
Ben stood in front of Hoss.
“What is the meaning of this?” he roared.
“I weren’t about to let him get away with what he done.” Hoss pointed meaningfully at his victim.
Ben took hold of Hoss’ shoulders and shook him. Hoss’ eyes gradually left Adam and came to rest on his father, and Ben could see the anger subside, to be replaced with a deep regret as he realised what he had done.
“Take Harriet back to town. We’ll talk about this when you get back.” Ben pushed Hoss towards the yard, and he hoped that they would all have calmed down when Hoss returned. Ben knelt beside Adam, who was lying on the ground with his eyes closed, and left Hoss to return Harriet to her home.
As Hoss saw Harriet standing by the corner of the barn, he noticed the smile on her face. He frowned as he thought about it, but then he put his arm on her shoulder and guided her towards the house.
“I’m sorry, Harriet, you shouldn’t o’ seen that.”
“I’m glad you did it. He deserves worse than that for what he did to Jamie.” She smiled up at Hoss, and he could see a cold glint in her eye. Hoss stopped on the porch, before entering the house. He held Harriet so that she looked at him.
“No, he didn’t. He’s my brother, and there ain’t no excuse for what I just done.”
Hoss shook his head. “No excuse.”
They went slowly into town. On the way, Harriet continued to say that she was glad for what Hoss had done, and she even persuaded Jamie that it was what he had wanted, after the way Adam spoke to him.
Hoss dropped them at home, saying that he wouldn’t stop, because he had to get back and sort things out with his family.
“But Hoss, what about us, we’re going to be your family.”
“I cain’t leave it as it is. I have to go back, now.” Hoss started towards the buggy.
“Don’t let them put you in the wrong. You know how I feel, and Jamie too,” Harriet called after him.
Hoss looked back as he drove away. He saw Harriet waving, but Jamie’s eyes were downcast. Hoss thought how lonely the boy looked, and his anger towards his brother rose again.
He drove slowly, wanting the time to think, he had to sort out in his mind what had happened and how he felt about it. He got to the turn off towards the lake and without hesitation, took it. He pulled up, and went to kneel beside Marie’s grave. After a short prayer, Hoss sat on the ground and pictured Joe’s mother as she looked in life, dark and fiery, but with a deep understanding of the men in her life.
“Oh Mama, what have I done?” Hoss put his head in his hands and tears fell on his fingers.
“What have you done?” a light voice asked him.
“I hurt Adam.”
“But he hurt you, by hurting those you love.”
“But he wouldn’t do that. He ain’t never hurt me, not a’purpose.”
“So why did he hurt you now?” the voice asked. Hoss looked round but could see no one near him.
“Dunno, perhaps his leg was paining him, and he wasn’t thinkin’ straight.”
“Do you believe that?”
“So what does that tell you?”
“You mean he knew what he was doing?” Hoss asked, incredulously.
“He did do it on purpose? But why?” Hoss couldn’t understand.
“What happened after Adam said those things?”
“Jamie was upset, o’ course.”
“And what did he do?”
Hoss opened his eyes and looked up, stunned.
“He came to me,” Hoss said, then softer, “he came to me.”
Hoss felt weak at the thought of what he had done. He had to get back home to see Adam and put right all the things that had gone wrong. He hoped that Adam could forgive him, though Hoss knew he had no reason to expect forgiveness from his brother. He realised that he had hurt Adam badly, he had attacked him with the full force of his anger, fuelled by Harriet’s desire for vengeance.
He sat for a moment to gather his wits, and as he did so, he saw Harriet’s face as she stood by the barn, watching what he was doing to his brother. He remembered the smile, and the cold glint in her eyes, and suddenly knew that he didn’t love her enough. As he admitted it to himself he felt nothing, neither regret, nor remorse, nothing.
He wondered if he had ever really wanted to marry her, or had she just pushed him, and he had been swept along, liking the idea of getting married. He did love her, but he knew that the love he had for his family, for his elder brother, was deeper and stronger than the feelings he had for her.
He hurried back home, rushing to put the buggy away, and then approached the house. His steps faltered as he neared the front door, but Ben had heard him, opened the door, and made him come inside.
Hoss saw Adam lying on the sofa, his face a mess, a cut eyebrow and cheek, a black eye, split lip and bruising. Joe was helping him back into his pants, covering the fresh bandaging on his thigh.
Adam looked tpwards his brother, and for a moment steeled himself for another attack. Then he saw the sorrow on his brother’s face, and glanced at Ben.
“Hoss…” Ben started to speak.
“Would all of you please jest listen? Adam I’m sorry, for what I did. I had no right. I know what you was doin’ and I love you for it. The fact is I love you more than I love Harriet.” Hoss started to pace back and forth behind the sofa.
“Hoss, you mean you know…?” Adam said thickly, his mouth and jaw stiff from Hoss’ attack. He looked suspiciously at Joe, thinking that perhaps he had said something, but Joe spread his hands and shrugged.
“Yes. I know that you was drivin’ Jamie towards me an’ away from you, and I’m sorry, more than you can know jest now, ‘cause it was all for nuthin’. Well no, not nuthin’. I don’t know that I want to marry Harriet.” Hoss hung his head in sorrow, realising what this was going to do to Adam, who had sacrificed his relationship with Jamie so that Hoss should be happy.
Adam stared at Hoss. His first reaction was bitterness for what he had lost, but that passed as quickly as it came, and all he had for his brother was love. That was why he had done what he did, and that had not changed.
“Hoss, come here,” Adam ordered, and Hoss sat on the edge of the coffee table in front of his brother, and cringed inwardly as he saw again the damage he had inflicted.
Adam carefully swung his feet off the sofa and onto the floor. Cautiously he sat up, cradling his sore ribs, and when the room stopped spinning, he took Hoss’ hands between his own. Adam smiled as best he could at his brother.
“I did what had to be done,” Adam said softly.
“Adam, I don’t know how to make you know how sorry I am.” Hoss’ eyes were downcast, he couldn’t look at his brother, and the reminders of his own vengeful anger.
“Hoss, shut up a minute. Let me say something and don’t interrupt.” Adam looked hard at his brother, who only a few hours ago would have killed him. “Hoss, you have obviously guessed what happened, and why I did what I did. I’m sorry that I had to do it that way, but I couldn’t think of anything else. It will hurt Jamie for a while, but eventually his feelings for me will fade, both his hatred and his love, and he will be able to carry on with his life, and so will you. If you and Harriet still want to be together and want to come and live here, I can move out, find somewhere else. I don’t think it would be a good idea for me to be here as well.”
Hoss raised his eyes, and put up his hand to stop Adam speaking. To his regret, Adam flinched as he saw the hand raised, and the pain in Hoss’ face that his reaction caused.
“Adam, please believe me that I will never hurt you again, you have my word on that. Pa, you hear me, I promise that I will never do such a thing again.”
Ben nodded his thanks, he hated to see his sons at odds, but above all it hurt him to the very depth of his being to see them raise their hands against each other.
“What are you going to do now?” Ben asked.
“I’m going back into town to speak to Harriet. I had to come back here to sort things out with Adam, but now I have to go back.” Hoss looked at Adam. “Have we sorted it out?” Hoss asked hopefully.
“Yes. I can’t say I didn’t expect you not to react, I should have had baby brother stay to protect me.” Adam laughed at the image of Joe protecting him from Hoss. “Now go and see Harriet, and let me wallow in Pa’s pampering, before he decides that I can go back to work.” Adam lay back on the sofa and closed his eyes. He didn’t want to make Hoss feel worse by telling him that he had a splitting headache, and hurt just about everywhere. But Hoss could see that his brother was hurting, and he felt sick inside at what he had done. Hoss put a hand on Adam’s shoulder, he would find some way to make it up to him.
Adam opened his eyes again. “Go,” he instructed.
It was evening when Hoss returned to Virginia City. On the way, he thought back over the events that had brought him to this moment. First, his sudden infatuation with Harriet, and her pushing him into marriage. Then Jamie’s reaction to Adam’s attempt to get him to accept Hoss, which had ended so disastrously. But above all, he remembered Harriet’s reaction, and he was sickened by it.
He pulled up outside the house and went to the door, which was opened almost immediately. Harriet stood there and Hoss’ heart turned over in his chest when he saw her. He felt his resolve weakening, but then he kept an image in his mind of the grin on her face when he was attacking Adam, and his heart hardened again.
“Hoss, come in,” she invited.
“Harriet we gotta talk.”
Harriet led him into the parlour and they sat together on the blue upholstered sofa. Hoss turned towards her as she put out her hand to hold his. He drew away and stood in front of her.
“Harriet, this is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but I cain’t marry you.” The words were out now, and as he said them, Hoss knew he was doing the right thing.
Harriet hung her head, her hands twisting in her lap.
“It’s because of Adam, isn’t it?” She looked up at him. That man had been the cause of all her troubles.
“Partly. My love for you made me want to hurt him so bad. I ain’t never felt like that before. Oh, I been mad at him, that’s easy to do, but not like today. But I saw you. You was smiling because I hurt him. Harriet, I thought that, like me, you held life to be sacred, a thing to be treasured and respected. I lost control today, and you should have been horrified at what I was doing, but you smiled! I could ‘a killed Adam, and you smiled! How could you do that?”
Harriet stood and went to the window. She could see faint light coming from nearby houses, and thought of the quiet lives being carried on where those lights shone. Soft light warmed the parlour of her home, but the emotions filling the room were far from quiet. Her heart was in turmoil, she wanted this giant of a man standing with her, but she wanted him without the baggage of his family.
She turned back to face Hoss. “Adam got everything he deserved after what he has put Jamie through, I thought you agreed with me about that.”
Hoss nodded. “When I heard him say those things to Jamie this afternoon, I was so mad I jest wanted to show him how he’d hurt the boy, and I wanted to hurt him, I wanted to hurt him bad. But he’s my brother, I had no right to do the things I did, no matter what I may have thought of him. But now I know that he did it for Jamie, and for us.” Hoss hung his head, remembering.
“How can you say that?”
“Because I know that he didn’t mean any of it. By saying those things, he hurt himself far more than I ever could. He did it to drive Jamie to me and away from him.” Hoss paused, wondering why he hadn’t seen it at the time. He knew that Harriet’s encouragement had helped to blind him to Adam’s intent. “Harriet, I saw the look in your eyes when I hit him. I cain’t love someone who would take pleasure in someone else’s hurt. It was wrong, but you couldn’t see that, you still cain’t.”
“So you would let someone hurt me or Jamie, and do nothing about it, is that what you’re saying? I thought that you loved me.”
Hoss looked at her. “I thought so too.” He picked up his hat and went to the front door. “Goodbye, Harriet, I’m sorry.”
Harriet’s face reddened as anger filled her. “Get out,” she said, “I don’t ever want to see you again, nor that evil brother of yours. Get out and don’t ever come near me again, you hear?”
“Ma’am, you got it so wrong, but I don’t think you’ll ever know that.” Hoss shook his head sadly, and let himself out of the door. Harriet stood shaking in the middle of the hallway, and then returned to the parlour and sat crying quietly for what might have been. She didn’t see Jamie sitting on the stairs, where he had been ever since he heard Hoss arrive.
He sat stunned, could it be true that Adam had not meant the things he said? He had to find out, but that would have to wait for daylight.
Ben had excused Hoss from his usual morning chores, and he was sitting in Adam’s bedroom trying to get his brother to talk about what had happened.
“Adam, you gotta put it behind you,” said Hoss.
“Yeah.” Adam’s face was showing not only the effects of his encounter with Hoss, but also his lack of sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, Adam could only see the image of the boy’s face, and the hurt he had caused reflected there.
“I told Harriet I couldn’t marry her.”
Adam looked up. “Why?” He couldn’t keep from his voice the disappointment he felt, that he had gone through all this for nothing.
“I know that you feel I’ve betrayed you somehow, but if you hadn’t done what you did, I might have never seen her as she really is. Adam, she wanted me to hurt you, she’s bitter and vindictive. I couldn’t be happy with someone like that.”
“No, I guess not. Well, I’m glad it wasn’t wasted.” At that moment Adam felt bitter as well.
“Adam, please, don’t turn against me. You showed me what she was like, don’t hate me for that.”
Adam saw the pained expression on Hoss’ face and his heart softened. “I don’t hate you, just myself for even thinking of doing what I did. It’s a mess, Jamie’s upset, I’ve lost his friendship, and you’ve lost Harriet. No one’s come out the winner.” Adam paused as he thought about what he had just said. “But I know that I haven’t lost a brother. I’m glad that you know why I had to do it, but I wish there had been some other way.”
“I think I’m the only one who’s won anything, I saw how much you cared for me. How you could put yourself through this because you loved me.” Hoss put his hand on Adam’s arm and Adam covered it with his own, and his eyes smiled when his lips couldn’t, and Hoss smiled back.
They heard a horse come into the yard and Hoss got up and went to the window.
“What’s he doin’ here?” Hoss stared out of the window and then looked at his brother. “It’s Jamie.”
“Oh no.” Adam wasn’t sure why the boy was there, but he was certain that he didn’t want to see him.
A few minutes later Ben appeared in the room.
“Adam, Jamie’s downstairs and he wants to talk to you.” As Adam was about to refuse, Ben continued, “Hoss will help you to dress, then I want to see you downstairs. And don’t argue.” Ben turned and left before Adam had a chance to say anything.
Adam limped slowly down the stairs with Hoss holding his arm, helping him. When Jamie saw the damage Hoss had inflicted he ran to the stairs as Adam reached the bottom step, and threw his arms round him.
“Oh Adam, I’m sorry. It’s all my fault, if I hadn’t said I wanted you as my Pa, Hoss wouldn’t have done it, and he and Ma could get married.” He sobbed, his face buried in the front of Adam’s shirt.
Adam held Jamie’s shoulders and looked into his face.
“Come and sit down. I can’t stand here for too long.” Adam smiled as he let Jamie help him put his feet up on the sofa, and made the boy sit down beside him.
Jamie looked up at his friend. “I know what you did, I heard Ma and Hoss talking last night.”
Adam looked at Hoss sitting opposite him, who just raised his eyebrows and shrugged, he hadn’t known that Jamie was listening.
“And just what do you think you heard?” Adam asked him.
“Hoss told Ma that you said those things because you wanted me to want him, not you. Did you?”
Adam knew that whatever he said he had lost Jamie, Harriet would never let him near the boy again. He might as well know the truth.
“Yes. I knew that as long as you wanted me, Hoss and your Ma would never be happy. But as it turned out Hoss discovered that he didn’t really love your mother, not enough to marry her. Jamie, I’m sorry for the things I said to you, I didn’t mean any of it, and it was just a way to stop you liking me.”
“Well, it didn’t work,” Jamie said forcefully.
Adam could tell that Jamie was worried about more than what had been said to him.
“There’s something else, isn’t there?”
Jamie looked round at Hoss and Ben, who were listening to the conversation.
“Would you like us to leave you alone?” Ben had seen the look and understood.
Jamie nodded, and the two men headed for the kitchen.
“I’ll make some coffee. Jamie, does your mother know where you are?” asked Ben.
“No, she thinks I’m in school, but I persuaded Jake at the livery stable to let me have one of his horses. He said it was OK seeing as how I was coming here,” Jamie admitted.
“I’ll send one of the hands into town to let her know, she’ll be worried if she finds out you’re missing.”
Ben and Hoss disappeared, and Adam turned to Jamie.
“Right, what is it?” he asked gently.
Jamie hung his head, not sure how to tell Adam what was worrying him.
“Adam, you remember when we was talking, about you not loving my Ma?”
Adam chose not to correct the boy’s grammar. “Yes.”
“You said that if you love someone you always want to be with them.”
“Well, I’d rather be with you, does that mean I don’t love my Ma?” A tear appeared in the corner of Jamie’s eye and Adam reached out to brush it away.
“No it doesn’t. Jamie, I was talking about the kind of love adults share. It’s different when you’re a child.”
“Because there are other considerations, other people involved. I’ll try to explain it to you. There are many different kinds of love. The love of a child is selfish. You want me, but you want your Ma as well, you want to love everybody, and you want everybody to love you. Because of what’s happened that’s not possible, but you don’t want to give up any of it. But real life is not like a fairy story, there can’t always be a ‘happy ever after’ ending, and it seems that this is one of those times. The love that Hoss and your mother shared was a romantic love, and that can be blind. Hoss was willing to hurt me for what I had done to the son of the woman he loved, something that he would never normally have thought of doing. But because he loved your Ma, he put aside his gentle nature, for her. Then there is the love of a family. I hurt you, and was willing to lose you, because Hoss is my brother and I love him and wanted him to be happy.”
Jamie looked confused, trying to sort out in his mind what Adam was telling him.
“Then I can love Ma and you?”
“Yes, and want to be with us both. Jamie, do you remember me telling you that sometimes, whatever choice you make, someone usually gets hurt?” Jamie nodded, he remembered the conversation he and Adam had had in the mountains.
“Well, this is just one example. I had to make a choice, and whatever I decided someone I loved would be hurt. But I hoped, by doing what I did, that it would cause the least hurt, that Hoss and your mother would be happy, and you might eventually forgive me. But your Ma is not going to let that happen, and you must get used to that, and accept it. You must do as your mother tells you, she loves you and will think that it is for the best. Right now, she feels hurt and betrayed and she needs you. She hates me for the things I have done, and she probably hates Hoss as well. The name of Cartwright will not be welcome in your house for a very long time. It may be that, in time, she will come to see things differently, but until then you must help her and give her your love and understanding.”
“But I don’t want to not see you ever again,” Jamie cried.
Adam put his arm round the boy and hugged him. He felt the same, and it hurt him as much as it hurt Jamie. Adam squeezed his eyes tight shut against the tears that would have fallen.
“No, I know, but while you may not think so at the moment, you need your Ma more than you need me. One day things may change, and we can see each other again. Remember that you won’t always be a child, dependant on your mother, you will reach an age when you can make your own decisions, your own choices. Then perhaps you will come and find me, if you decide that is what you want to do.”
“When will that be?”
“You’ll know, when the time comes,” Adam assured him.
Adam reached into his pocket and pulled out his watch, the same one that Jamie had used to time the loosening and tightening of the tourniquet.
“Jamie, I want you to have this. I hope that it will remind you of our friendship, of what you did for me because of that friendship, that you saved my life with it.”
Jamie took the timepiece and cradled it in his hands. He brushed his fingers over the shiny silver surface, where he could see his face reflected. He looked at Adam, it was such a precious gift that he didn’t for a moment have any words to say.
“Adam…I…it will always make me remember what you did for me, and that it means that you love me.”
They sat holding each other for a long time, until Ben returned with coffee, and a drink for Jamie. Adam sat up and let go of the boy.
“Now then, have a drink before you have to go back.”
Jamie reached out and took the offered refreshment, and drank silently. He knew that soon he would have to leave, but was delaying that moment as long as possible.
“Pa,” said Adam, “would you find someone to ride back with Jamie?”
“Of course, when he’s ready.”
Jamie finished his drink and looked at Adam. Suddenly he was burying his face in the broad chest of his friend.
“I don’t want to go, please don’t make me,” his muffled voice pleaded.
Adam eased himself from the boy’s embrace. “Jamie, I’ve explained to you why you must go.” He looked into the sad blue eyes. “Please don’t make this any harder than it already is.”
Jamie wiped at his eyes and nodded, as Ben came to him and took his hand. Jamie stood and faced Adam, sobbing as he tried to control himself.
“Good…goodbye.” Suddenly he flung his arms round Adam’s neck. “I love you,” he said and ran from the house, followed more slowly by Ben.
“And I love you,” Adam said quietly to the empty room.
After seeing Jamie safely on his way home, Ben came back to join Adam, with Hoss and Joe, who had been waiting outside. Adam sat and stared at the fire, not speaking, he felt cold and empty inside. At that moment, he hated the world, he hated his life, but most of all he hated himself for what he had done.
Adam looked up at the three men in front of him, but was unable to speak for fear that he would break down. Joe sat on the table in front of him as Ben sat on the sofa, and Hoss stood to one side. Ben put his arms out to embrace his son and Adam buried his head in the comfort of his father’s shoulder. Joe put his hand on Adam’s knee and Hoss gripped his shoulder. Adam started to cry, he could control himself no longer in the face of the love he felt radiating from his family; they understood what he had lost.
Gradually Adam felt the hatred and emptiness fade away, to be replaced by a comforting warmth. One day perhaps, Jamie would reappear in his life and he held on to that thought, but in the meantime he had the love of his family, and he wrapped it round himself like a familiar blanket, and found that for now, it was enough.