Treasure from Trigo (by Diana)

Summary:  Continuing the story of Adam and Bridey.  Joe helps Adam to face his feelings for Bridey and persuades him to return to Trigo.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  13,380


Chapter One

Hoss Cartwright rode eagerly towards home, it was nearly suppertime, and as usual, he was ready to eat. He had spent the day in Virginia City, doing some jobs for his father, Ben, and collecting some letters, two for his father, and one for his older brother, Adam.

Hoss rode into the yard and dismounted. He stabled his horse and went quickly towards the house, he could smell supper, roast pork, if he wasn’t mistaken. Hoss was the biggest of Ben’s three sons and liked his food. He entered the house and found his family already seated at the table He took off his hat and gun belt and joined them.

“Well I’m glad you made it in time for supper.” Ben said. “ I was afraid you might miss it and fade right away.”

They all laughed, except his eldest son, Adam. Seated at the opposite end of the table from his father, Adam’s dark, handsome features remained thoughtful and detached, as he had been ever since he and Joe had returned from a trip to deliver some cattle. Something had happened to him on that trip, and while they had given Ben the bare outline of events, he knew there was more to it than either of his son’s had told him.

“Yeah, but at least it gave the rest of us time to get something to eat before you come and finish it all.” Said Joe, Hoss’ younger brother, smiling. Joe was the smallest of the three brothers, muscular and broad shouldered, with a mop of brown wavy hair, that outlined a good looking face that was always more ready to smile than frown.

“Did you collect the mail?” Asked Ben, and Hoss stopped piling food on his plate and reached into his pocket and pulled out the letters.

“Sure did.” He said handing two of the letters to his father.

“There’s one for you Adam.”

Adam was eating left handed, because a sling supported his right hand, the result of a viscous attack ten days before.

Doc Martin had been called hurriedly when Adam and Joe had returned from a trip to deliver some cattle. Adam’s face and body were still showing the signs of Casey’s brutality, cuts, bruises and sore ribs, and a hand that he could not move. But the doctor had said that the treatment Adam had already received was as good as any he could give, and had told Adam to rest, and not to use the hand for the next two weeks. Adam looked forward to getting the stitches out of the front and back of his hand and getting back to normal.

Adam put down his fork and took the letter that his brother had collected. He passed the letter to his younger brother and asked him to open it. Joe slit the envelope and extracted two pieces of paper, which he passed to Adam without reading. Adam took them, and as he read the contents, his face became very still and then, without a word, he left the table and went out of the front door.

“What was that about?” Hoss wondered.

“I don’t know. Have you any idea who the letter was from?” Asked Ben, but Hoss just shook his head.

Joe had not said anything, but he thought he knew what one of the sheets of paper might be.

“Would you excuse me for a moment?” He asked and without waiting for a reply, he followed Adam out of the door. He found his brother sitting at the table on the veranda staring at the papers.

“What is it, Adam. Is it from one of the girls?” He asked quietly sitting down opposite Adam, who just nodded and handed Joe the papers. Joe saw that he had been right; one of the sheets was a bank draft for five thousand dollars. The other was a short note, ‘I don’t want your money.’ was all it said.

“It’s from Bridey. She sent it back.” Said Adam sadly.

“Why don’t you take it back to her?” Joe suggested. He had noticed that his brother had been very quiet since their return from Trigo. Adam was taciturn by nature, but had become withdrawn and distant. Something was bothering him. His father had noticed, but had put it down to the experience they had been through, when Adam had got on the wrong side of a local bully, which had resulted in Joe getting kidnapped, and Adam getting the injury to his hand and then beaten senseless, when he tried to rescue Joe from his captors. They had not gone into detail when telling their father; it was something they would both rather forget.

But Joe suspected that there was more to it. Adam had wanted to leave the small town as soon as possible, and Joe knew it had something to do with Bridey, the woman who, Adam said, had saved his life when Casey had put a knife through his hand and he nearly bled to death.

“She doesn’t want it.” Said Adam.

“No, but she does want you.”

Adam looked up sharply at his brother. “How do you know that?”

“Read what she says, ‘I don’t want your money’. It’s obvious, she doesn’t want your money she wants you, and I think you want her.”

Adam was about to object when Joe continued, leaning towards his brother to emphasise his words.

“Adam you said, not so long ago, to remind you that sometimes little brother knows best. Well listen to me now. Go to her, you know you want to. I’ve seen how you’ve been these past days, you didn’t want to leave Trigo, but you were afraid.”

Adam’s dark eyes looked hard at Joe, daring him to continue. Joe ignored that look, which would normally have stopped him in his tracks. This was too important for Adam to scare him into silence. “Afraid that if you stayed you might say something to her, and she might not want you. Well I don’t think there’s much danger of that, but I do think you should go and find out. For your own peace of mind.”

Adam hung his head for a moment, and then looked up at his wise young brother, and reached out his hand to put it on Joe’s arm.

“Thanks Joe, you’re right I have to find out. I’ll leave tomorrow, if Pa can spare me. Why don’t you come too, and see Rosie?”

“No, I think this is a trip you had better make on your own. Come back in and tell Pa.” Joe rose and waited for Adam to join him, and together they went back into the house.

He decided not to tell his father where he was going, or why, just that he wanted to get away for a few days. Ben agreed, he hoped that a few days away might bring Adam out of the dark mood he had been in ever since his return

*****

Chapter Two

Four days later Adam rode into Trigo. The town had not changed, it still looked run down and shabby. He pulled up in front of the hotel and went inside.

“Hello again.” Said Nate, the hotel clerk. He recognised Adam from his two previous visits to the hotel. “Want a room?”

“Yes, just a single this time.”

“Your brother not with you?”

“No.”

Nate passed Adam a key, and he went up the carpetless stairs to the room next to the one he and Joe had shared when they had been here previously. Adam went in and threw his saddlebags on the bed. He sat down beside them and contemplated what he should do next. It was late afternoon and Bridey would not yet be at her job in the saloon. He would go and see her, get this over with, and then he could return home tomorrow having proved his brother wrong, and get on with his life.

Adam thought that he ought to try to look his best for this meeting, so he washed and shaved. He had discarded the sling, and though his hand was still bandaged, he could use his fingers a little to help with getting dressed. He put on a clean black shirt, and went downstairs and out of the hotel. He made his way to Bridey’s cabin behind the blacksmith’s shop, and stood uncertainly outside the door. Then, steeling himself, he knocked.

Bridey answered the door, and when she saw who it was standing there she drew in a sharp breath.

“Bridey, I…”

He never finished the sentence. Suddenly Bridey reached up and threw her arms round his neck and kissed him deeply. Adam responded and they stood there, wrapped in each other, oblivious to the rest of the world.

Finally, the kiss ended and Bridey put her head on Adam’s shoulder. Adam’s hand crept up her back until it was resting on the nape of her neck. He put his cheek on the top of her head as it rested against him. He could smell her hair; it was sweet, like the earth after summer rain.

“Oh Adam. I was so afraid that you would not come back.”

“I wasn’t going to. I couldn’t believe that you would want me as much as I wanted you. I would not let myself believe it was possible.”

Bridey looked up at him, and taking his hand led him inside and shut the door. She turned, and again she was in his arms and lost in his kiss. They broke away and both laughed.

“You would think that we were both old enough to have sorted this out before you left. We’ve behaved like a couple of teenagers.”

Adam laughed, remembering Joe.

“It was a teenager who sent me back. Joe knew all along what was going on. He could see how you felt when I couldn’t.”

They sat together on the settee where Bridey had stitched his hand. She reached for that hand and saw that it was still bandaged.

“How is it?” She asked, concerned.

“Fine. The doctor at home said he couldn’t have done a better job. The stitches are about ready to come out.” He raised his eyebrows in silent question.

“Yes, I can take them out. But this time you buy the whiskey.” Again they both laughed, remembering the amount he had drunk when she put the stitches into his hand, and again later when she had repaired the damage done during the fight, when he had tried to rescue Joe. Bridey examined his face looking for signs of the beating he had taken at Casey’s hands, but there was no evidence of it.

“What do we do now?” She asked seriously.

“I’d like you to come back to the Ponderosa with me.” Bridey was about to speak, but Adam put his finger to her lips to stop her. Adam was not a man who gave his heart easily, but he had no hesitation. “I know it’s too soon, but I would like to ask you to be my wife.”

Bridey looked long and hard at Adam.

“You don’t have to answer right away, I can wait, but not too long.”

“Oh Adam, you won’t have to wait. Of course I’ll marry you.” And again they became lost in each other’s kiss.

*****

Chapter Three

Many kisses later, Bridey stood up and started for the bedroom.

“Where are you going?” Adam wanted to know.

“I have to go to work.” Bridey stated.

“Oh no, no wife of mine works in a saloon.” Said Adam rising, and going over to Bridey, he held her arms to emphasise his point.

“Well I’m not your wife yet. But, seriously, I must at least go over to tell Jack that I’m leaving. He won’t have any girls left, I don’t know what he will do.”

“What happened to Rosie?” Adam had been so caught up in seeing Bridey that he had forgotten to ask about Casey’s sister, who by shooting her brother had saved himself and Joe.

“She was very grateful for the money, and has gone to San Francisco, she thinks that she has an aunt there. She wants to open a dress shop, of all things.”

Adam remembered the paper he had brought with him, and he took it from his pocket.

“I still want you to have this.” And he handed the bank draft to Bridey.

“But I won’t need it will I, when I marry the rich Adam Cartwright.” She laughed. When Casey had demanded ten thousand dollars for Joe’s release she was taken aback to find that the dirty, tattered man she had found wandering in the road had that much available. Adam laughed with her.

“No, you won’t need it, but I would like you to have it. You earned it, and it is good for a woman to have some means of her own. At least people will not be able to say you are just marrying me for my money.”

“My darling, I would marry you if you were penniless.” Adam bent his head and kissed her gently. She pushed him away.

“Go and make some coffee, and let me get ready to go out.”

“I hope that you’re not going to become a nag. I might have to teach you how to treat a husband.” Adam threatened.

“Any husband of mine will soon learn that I expect to be obeyed in my own house. So just go and do as you are told.”

Adam tugged his forelock and bowed. “Yes Ma’am.”

They walked hand in hand over to the saloon, where Adam had first seen her and Rosie. It was also the place where he had first come across Casey, and it brought back some harsh memories. He hesitated at the door, but Bridey took his hand and they went in together.

When Adam saw that the bar was well patronised he suddenly realised that it was Saturday night, and the hands from the surrounding properties were having a night out. Bridey went up to the bar, leaving Adam leaning on the door jamb, arms folded, ready to leave once she had spoken to Jack.

“Jack, Jack.” She called. The barman looked along the bar, saw Bridey, and came over to her.

“What’s this Bridey, you’re supposed to be working.” He noticed that she had on a respectable day dress, not one of the usual short, glittering dresses that she wore for work.

“Jack, I’ve only come to tell you that I’m leaving. I’m getting married.”

“Really?” Said Jack beaming at her, genuinely pleased. “Who’s the lucky man?”

Bridey beckoned to Adam to come over.

“Don’t I know you?” Jack asked.

“You might remember. I’m the one who had a fight with Casey, couple of weeks back.

“Oh yes. I heard about what happened. You all right now?”

“Yes, thank you.”

Jack turned to address the bar. “Hey fellas, Bridey’s getting married.”

There was a silence, then uproar. Everybody wanted to shake Adam’s hand, and kiss Bridey. If the pair of them had thought that they would just tell Jack and leave quietly, that plan was thrown out the window.

Adam spent the next three hours being congratulated and having drinks thrust in front of him. It seemed that the patrons of the saloon wanted to make the most of Bridey while she was still with them, and she kept getting whisked away to sit with one group or another. Adam kept an eye on her, but she had worked in the saloon for enough years to know how to handle anyone who got too familiar, and Adam stopped worrying about her.

It was getting late when Adam managed to get near enough to Bridey to speak to her. He knew that he had drunk too much, and thought it time to leave. The men wanted to drink with the person who had captured their favourite girl, and at Adam’s slightest suggestion that he might have had enough, they scoffed and virtually poured the drink down him.

Finally, they made it out of the door to shouts of goodbye, and some more suggestive farewells. Adam was unsteady on his feet, and laughing to himself as they started across the street. He stopped and took Bridey in his arms.

“Hello, Mrs Adam Cartwright.” He said, and bent his head, and kissed her. She let him have his way for a minute then broke free, and walking in front of him, took his hand and pulled him the rest of the way home.

Bridey could see that Adam was drunk, unlike her. She had become very adept at appearing to drink large quantities, paid for by the customers, while in fact consuming very little. As he sat down on the settee, she went and got her needlework basket. Adam eyed it apprehensively. The last time he had seen it, Bridey had attacked his hand with a carpet needle.

“What’s that for?” He asked suspiciously.

“Well, I figured that since you’ve had a lot of whiskey at someone else’s expense, we ought to take advantage of it and get those stitches out.”

“But…”

“No buts, you know the routine. You lie there, and let me get on with it.” And she came over to him and pushed him down until he was lying along the settee. He tried to sit up again but she just pushed harder, and finally he gave up and held out his hand.

She unwrapped the bandage that was covering the wound, and then got out a small pair of scissors.

“Ready?” She asked. Adam smiled at her and nodded.

“OK then.” She snipped the first stitch and pulled it out. Adam winced, but said nothing. She continued until she had removed the last one from his palm.

“Now for the back. Are you all right?”

“Yes, I can hardly feel it.” He said. His words were a little slurred from the drink, and indeed, he felt only a slight discomfort. Bridey finished taking out the stitches in the back of his hand, and then bathed the spots of blood, which had appeared, and rebandaged his hand.

“Better keep it covered for a couple of days.” She said, but Adam did not hear her, he had fallen asleep. Bridey fetched a blanket and covered him. She stood looking down at dark, handsome face of her fiancée, thinking how lucky she was. She bent down and kissed him gently on the forehead, then went to her own room.

*****

Chapter Four

They travelled back slowly to the Ponderosa. Adam had bought a buckboard and a pair of horses from the livery stable. The man had been unwilling for him to hire one, as he thought that he would never see it again. They had packed Bridey’s belongings, and Sport was tied on behind.

They were travelling up the east side of Lake Tahoe when Bridey asked the inevitable question.

“So just where is this ranch of yours? When do we get there?”

“We camped on the Ponderosa last night.” It was now early afternoon, and Adam was eager to get home before dark. He had been pushing the horses harder for the last couple of hours. Bridey looked at him amazed.

“You mean all this…?” And she swept the view with her hand.

“Yup. All this and a lot more. You are marrying into a rich family.” He teased. No matter how carefully one described the Ponderosa, the reality of it always astounded those who had not seen it before. Then he became more serious.

“We’re a family rich in more ways than one. We love and support each other; you will find that we’re very close. I hope that you can become part of that. It’s not easy coming into a family like ours, you may sometimes think that my brothers or my father are interfering, but it is only because they care very much. You will have to forgive them.”

“Adam,” Said Bridey turning towards him. “Stop a moment will you.”

Adam pulled the horses to a standstill. He looked out over the view, the blue lake below, and the snow capped mountains in the distance. His heart skipped a beat as he worried about what it was that Bridey wanted to say to him.

“What is it, what’s wrong?”

Bridey turned in her seat and faced him. She put her hand on his arm.

“Nothing Adam. I just wanted to say that I have seen how close you are to your family. Remember I have seen you take on a man who would have killed your brother. Rosie told me that you were willing to give your life to save his. I will not come between you and your family. If they don’t accept me then I will leave, I will never take you away from them, they mean too much to you.”

Adam put his arm round Bridey’s shoulder.

“My darling, they will love you as I do. How could they not? And if they make me chose between them and you, then I choose you. I love you with all my heart, and will never leave you, nor let you leave me, unless it is your choice, made freely.”

Adam held her tightly for a long time. The very thought of losing her now made his eyes fill with unshed tears. Finally, he put his hand under her chin and lifted her face to his and kissed her long and passionately.

“Don’t ever doubt that you are the most important thing in my life.” He said as he let her go.

She straightened and wiped surreptiously at her eyes.

“Let’s go home.” She said, and Adam got the horses moving again.

Eventually they pulled up in front of the house, and Adam leapt from the buckboard and went round to the other side to help Bridey down.

“Let’s go inside and you can meet my family. They should all be here, it’s nearly supper time.”

As they went towards the door Adam noticed Bridey hanging back. He leant towards her and kissed her lightly.

“It’ll be all right, don’t worry.”

He opened the door and saw Hoss, Joe and his father seated in front of the fireplace, drinks in their hands, waiting for supper. They all turned as the door opened.

“Hi, Pa. I’m home.” He said a little unnecessarily.

“So I see, and who’s this you’ve brought with you?” Said Ben, standing and coming over to greet their visitor. Hoss and Joe were also on their feet, Joe with a broad grin on his face.

“Pa, I would like you to meet Miss Bridey O’Connell. Bridey this is my father.” Bridey shook Ben’s outstretched hand. He recognised the name from Adam and Joe’s report of their recent trip.

“Welcome to the Ponderosa, Miss O’Connell.” He said politely.

“And this is my brother Hoss.”

“Howdy Ma’am.” Said Hoss.

“And you know Joe, of course.”

“Hello Joe. It’s nice to see you again.”

Joe was grinning too broadly to reply.

“Would you all sit down please?” Asked Adam. They went back to the seats they had been occupying, and Adam drew Bridey with him to stand with their backs to the fireplace, facing his family. Adam put his arm round Bridey’s waist to reassure her.

“I expect you are wondering why I have brought Bridey all this way? Well I am delighted to be able to tell you that Bridey O’Connell is to become Mrs. Adam Cartwright.”

There was a stunned silence.

Hoss and Ben were looking open mouthed at Adam. They were trying to come to grips with the fact that this brother and son, who never did anything without giving it deep consideration first, and who never gave his heart easily, had in the space of a few days, found himself a bride.

Joe still had a broad grin spread across his face as he shared his brother’s obvious happiness. He felt that in large part he had been responsible for it. It wasn’t often that he did, or could, give Adam advice, but if it only happened once in his life he was glad it was this time.

Then they all started to speak at once. Adam smiled and made Bridey sit on the sofa next to Joe, before he said any more. He put up his hands to stop his family from bombarding them with questions.

“Bridey is the reason I went back to Trigo. I knew when I left there that I loved her.” He stopped and smiled at her, still not quite believing that she had come back with him. “I went back because… well… because Joe made me.”

“Yeah, and I was right. Bridey you have no idea how miserable he was when he left you, I couldn’t stand it any longer.”

“I will always listen to you in future, little brother. I had to go back to find out whether Bridey felt the same, and I am pleased to say that she did, and we are getting married just as soon as we can arrange it.”

Ben stood up. He went to Adam and put his arms round him and held him close, a rare embrace to be shared by these two men, then released him and turned to Bridey.

“My dear you are very welcome to our house, and to our family.” He went to Bridey and holding out his hand, lifted her to her feet. He kissed her gently on the cheek. “You have made Adam happier than I have ever seen him, thank you.”

“He has made me very happy.” She said going to stand again at Adam’s side. “When your sons left Trigo I had no reason to think that I would ever see either one of them again. Then when Adam returned it was like a dream come true. I will do my best to make him happy.”

Adam put his arm round her. He was grinning so much it hurt. Hoss stood up and shook Adam’s hand.

“Dadburn it Adam, why didn’t you tell us that’s what you were up to.”

Adam became serious for a moment, and then looked down at Bridey.

“Because I wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t be coming home alone.”

At that moment, the Cartwright’s cook appeared from the kitchen to say that supper was ready.

“Hop Sing we have a guest for supper.” Said Ben with some trepidation, knowing the reaction it would bring. He was not disappointed.

Hop Sing went back to the kitchen, muttering as only the Chinese can, throwing his arms in the air, but returned to lay an extra place next to Adam’s, and when he served supper there was plenty for all.

The meal was a lively affair with the family asking Bridey questions and getting questioned in their turn. For most of the meal Adam just stared at her, drinking in the sight of this woman in the midst of his family.

*****

Chapter Five

They all went to bed late that night, Bridey in the guest room, but Adam found he could not sleep, his head was spinning with the excitement, and plans for the future. He rose, got dressed again, and went down into the kitchen to make some coffee, which he brought back to the living room. He was sitting quietly, sipping his drink, when his father appeared at the top of the stairs. Adam looked up as he heard footsteps.

“Hi, Pa. Couldn’t sleep either?”

“No, son. Any of that coffee left.” Said Ben, coming to sit in the armchair to the left of the fireplace.

“I’ll get a cup.” Adam disappeared into the kitchen, returning to pour his father some of the coffee. They sat in silence for a minute, and then Ben spoke.

“Son are you sure…?”

“Am I sure that I’m doing the right thing?”

“Are you sure that she loves you, not all this?” Ben waved his arm to indicate that he meant the Ponderosa. It was something that always worried Ben whenever any of his sons got seriously involved with a woman.

“Pa, don’t worry. She doesn’t care about all this.” Ben looked sceptical, so Adam continued. “When I left Trigo with Joe, I gave Bridey and Rosie, Casey’s sister, five thousand dollars each.”

Ben raised his eyebrows, it was the first he had heard about it. Joe and Adam had been very sparing with the details of their experience in Trigo. While Adam had been gone, Joe had told his father that there was a lot that Adam was not telling even him, and that Ben should not press him about it.

“It was the money that Casey demanded to release Joe. I wouldn’t give it to him, but I gave it to the girls instead. Without their help, Joe and I would probably be dead. Bridey sent the money back. That was what was in the letter Hoss brought back from Virginia City before I left.”

“In that case I’m very happy for you. I will replace the money, of course. What are you planning to do after you are married?”

“I thought I would build a house over towards Diamond Peak. We have a good piece of land there, and it’s near the river. If you don’t mind that is.”

“I think it would be a fine spot for a house, son. We’ll pick out a parcel of land and I’ll sign it over to you.”

“Thanks Pa.” Ben could see Adam hesitate.

“What is it?”

“Bridey asked me, before she went to bed, if you would give her away at the wedding?”

“Of course, I would be honoured.”

“I’ll tell her.” Adam smiled at his father, pleased that he had agreed. “Is it all right if we stay here until the house is built?”

“Where else would you go? Of course its all right.”

Again, Ben could see that Adam wanted to say something, but seemed to be having trouble.

“Son, is there something else you want to tell me?”

“Yes. Well I suppose so. There’s something you should know, about Bridey.” Adam stopped and looked down at his coffee, then raised his eyes to his father. “When I met her she was working in the saloon in Trigo, had done for a couple of years. There may be times when she comes across men who knew her from there. They may try to make trouble for her, when they find out that she’s married to me.”

“Adam, I don’t care where she worked, or what she did. You love her and want to marry her, that’s all I need to know. If you’re happy, that’s all that matters.

“Yes Pa, I’m very happy. She’s a wonderful woman.”

“Do you want to tell me what happened between you in Trigo? What drew you to her?”

Adam’s happiness seemed to vanish instantly, to be replaced by something altogether darker. Ben regretted mentioning anything about that trip. But then Adam looked up at him, his eyes full of pain.

“She saved my life, that’s all you need to know.”

Ben rose and went to sit on the sofa, and put his hand on the shoulder of his troubled son.

“Adam, please tell me what it is that’s bothering you. There’s been something bottled up inside you ever since you came back. You must talk about it, let it out, before it eats you away.”

Adam did not say anything, and his eyes took on a far away look, which concerned his father.

“Adam, talk to me, please.” Ben begged, he was desperately worried about his son.

“Pa I can’t, not yet, it’s too soon, I have to try and sort this out for myself. I’ve come against feelings I don’t know how to handle.”

“Then you need help, please son, tell me.”

Adam shook his head, he couldn’t admit to his feelings at that moment. They were feelings of guilt, failure, and rejection and it made him feel ashamed that he had them, and that he didn’t know how to deal with them.

Ben saw it was no use trying to get Adam to talk about what happened. But he was worried about something else.

“Adam, there’s one aspect of all this that I want you to consider. I know that you won’t like me saying it, but I want you to listen anyway.”

“What is it?”

“Are you sure that what you feel for Bridey is love, not simply gratitude?”

Adam started to protest, but his father stopped him.

“Let me finish. You said that Bridey saved your life after Casey attacked you. She took you in and cared for you. Think about it, the feelings you had for Bridey compared to how you felt about Casey. Those feelings would have been diametrically opposed. This could bring to the surface emotions that you could not rely on. You must be very sure of how you feel now.”

“I know what I’m doing. I do love Bridey, I’m sure of it.”

“I still think you should wait a while before you marry her. Let your emotions settle down.”

“No. I want to get married as soon as we can.”

“Very well, if that’s what you want.” Adam heard the doubt in his father’s voice and tried to reassure him.

“Yes it is, don’t worry.”

“All right then, now go to bed.” Bed instructed, gently.

Adam nodded and went up the stairs, leaving his father to turn down the lamps. Ben sat on the sofa for a long time. He was concerned for his eldest son. Adam had come up against something that he could not cope with, and worse was the fact that he could not seek his family’s help. Why? Ben wished he knew, wished that he could find the words to comfort his son, if only he would listen to them. But Adam had always been fiercely independent, determined to deal with his own problems, but it seemed to Ben that this time the problem was beyond his son’s power to sort out. Perhaps Bridey, who had shared whatever had happened in Trigo, would be able to help.

*****

Chapter Six

“Well, what do you think?” Adam asked Bridey. He was showing her where he planned to build their home.

“Oh, Adam, it’s beautiful.” She said. And indeed it was, with the mountain in the background, and surrounded by tall, soft ponderosa pines. From where they were sitting, looking down on the spot where Adam wanted to build the house, they could see Lake Tahoe in the distance. They dismounted and tied the horses, then walked down towards the small meadow together.

“I thought that the house should face west. I can see us at the end of the day, sitting on the veranda watching the setting sun. The children all asleep, and the two of us, alone.”

“And just how many children do you plan on having, Mr. Cartwright?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Enough to keep me in comfort in my old age, I suppose. Ten should be enough.”

Bridey came over to him and pushed him playfully.

“Well if you think I am going to spend the rest of my life pregnant, you have another think coming.” And she laughed, shoving him again. This time he grasped her shoulders and fell over, taking her with him. They lay together in the long grass, wrapped in each other’s arms, rolling through the lush growth, laughing. Then Adam had Bridey pinned beneath him, and all the pent up feelings of the past weeks came boiling to the surface. All the anger and hatred and bitterness, mixed with the love he felt. He wanted to take her, to feel her soft skin beneath his fingers, to make her cry out for him. He kissed her roughly.

Suddenly he realised what was happening, and he pushed himself away and rolled onto his back on the grass, breathing heavily. He stood and walked away. Bridey got up slowly, watching him, wondering what had happened. One moment he was holding her, as though he never wanted to let her go. The next he was standing, head down, arms wrapped round his chest with his back to her.

She went over to him and put her hand on his back. She could feel the muscles tense at her touch. He took a step forward, away from her.

“Adam, what’s wrong? Have I done something to upset you? Talk to me, please.”

‘Talk,’ thought Adam, ‘that’s all anybody ever wants me to do, talk about how I feel. How can I? How can I admit to feelings which make me ashamed?’

He took a few more paces away then turned and went back to Bridey, stopping just out of her reach, so that she would not touch him. He wiped his hand down his face and stood looking at her, hands on hips.

“Bridey, I’m sorry, it’s nothing you have done, it’s me. I felt that I was about to lose control. That I might hurt you, and I would never do that.”

Adam paused unsure how to say what was in his thoughts.

“Bridey I…I don’t think…Oh God.” He stared at the sky, then closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. Finally he brought his gaze back to this wonderful woman he was sure he loved. “Bridey I think we should wait a while before we get married. I don’t think that you should commit yourself to me until I have sorted out my feelings. It would not be fair to you, or to me.”

“Adam what do you mean.” Bridey was taken aback by what Adam was saying. A few minutes ago, they were talking about having children, and now he was saying that he didn’t want to get married. It was too much to take in.

“I’m saying that I need time. Time to sort out my feelings.”

Bridey hung her head, her arms wrapped about her as though to protect herself from what she was hearing, and trying to hide her tears. Adam went to her and brushed them away with his fingers, then put his arms round her and held her close.

“Bridey, I know that you love me, and that I love you. But that emotion is mixed up with all the others I feel, and I need to be able to separate it, and you, from all that has happened. Will you give me time, that’s all I ask, just a little time?”

“Adam I love you, and because I love you I will give you anything you ask. I would take you as you are, with all your uncertainties. But if you feel that you need time, then I will give it to you. But you must promise me one thing.”

“Anything.”

“You must promise that as soon as you know your mind, whether it is to marry me or not, you will tell me. Don’t be afraid to tell me, even if it’s that you don’t love me enough. I love you too much to see you hurt. And if there is anything I can do to help, you must tell me that as well.”

“I promise.” He took her hand and they walked slowly back to the horses, mounted and rode home.

*****

Chapter Seven

Bridey had decided that it would be better if she moved into Virginia City, giving Adam space to come to terms with himself. She was afraid that just the sight of her brought back memories that were painful to him, and she wanted above all for him to be able to forget them. Adam helped her take some of her things into town and saw her settled into the hotel.

He went to see her two days later, to make sure that she was all right. They were having lunch in the hotel. Bridey wore a deep red dress that set Adam’s heart racing when he saw it. He sensed that they were being observed by many of the people in the dining room, but he did not care, he was proud to be seen with her.

“Adam I should think about getting some sort of work. I can’t sit around here all the time doing nothing.”

“Bridey, if you need money…”

“No, I don’t need money, you have already given me more than enough.” She said, thinking about the five thousand dollars she now had in the bank.

“What would you do?”

“The obvious place for me is in the saloon.” She was teasing him. She knew that if she was to become Mrs. Adam Cartwright, she could not work there.

“Bridey…”

“It’s all right. Don’t look so horrified, I was only joking. But Doctor Martin needs an assistant, and when he realised that I was the one who had treated you in Trigo, he offered me the job.

“Oh, I see. Are you going to take it?”

“Yes, I think I will.”

“I’m glad. You should use your talent, and I’m sure Paul can do with the help.” Adam looked at his hand. Bridey had told him, nearly a month ago now, that he would have barely any scar to show for his injury. The angry redness that had marked his skin was fading slowly, but the injury was still plain to see. He hastily put his hand under the table out of sight. Every time he saw that reminder of Casey, his feelings rose anew to haunt him.

“Bridey, I am going to be away for a few days, I have to go with Joe to mark out some trees to be cut for a contract we have with the railroad.”

“That’s all right, Adam. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine here, and I expect I’ll be busy helping Doctor Martin.”

Adam took his leave of her and rode back to the ranch.

Ben was sitting at his desk when he heard someone arrive. He raised his head, and when he saw it was Adam, he rose and went to the table in front of the fireplace, and poured them both a cup of coffee from a pot on the tray. Ben held one out to Adam, inviting him to sit for a while before going back to work. Adam took the cup and sank down onto the sofa. He could tell that his father wanted to talk, but Adam was not sure that he shared that desire.

“How’s Bridey?” Ben asked by way of getting started.

“She’s fine. She is going to take a job as Paul’s assistant.”

“That should suit both of them very well.” Ben observed.

“Yes, she’s very capable, as I have reason to be thankful for.”

Adam wondered how much longer it would be before his father got to the point. He did not have long to wait.

“Adam, have you made any decision yet?”

“No.” Adam said simply. He would like to have told his father that it was none of his business, but he knew that the older man was concerned, not interfering.

“Adam…”

“Pa. It really is not that easy. What you said to me the night I brought Bridey home set me thinking, is it simple gratitude that I feel? The answer is that I just don’t know.” He wasn’t going to tell his father that what he was certain was love, was all mixed up with other, quite different feelings, and he had to sort those out first.

“How are you going to know? You can’t keep her hanging on much longer, it’s not fair to her.”

“No, I know.”

“Well what are you going to do about it?”

Adam could suddenly bear no more of this questioning. He stood up quickly, putting his half finished cup on the table.

“Pa, I know you mean well, but this is nothing to do with anyone except me.” He said heatedly. “So I’ll ask you to stop pressing me. I’ll make that decision when I’m ready, and not you nor anyone else is going to rush me into something I’m not ready to do.”

Adam turned abruptly and left, shutting the front door with more force than was necessary. His father sat for a while longer, staring at the door, hoping that his son would return, apologise for his show of temper, and they could finish their conversation.

But Adam had gone out to find Joe, who was down at the corral.

“Hey Joe.” He called, and his young brother left the horse he was about to mount, and came over to lean on the rail.

“Yeah, what is it brother?” He asked, brushing the dust off his shirt.

“We’re marking that timber tomorrow. I’m going to go up to the north ridge now, to make a start. I’ll meet you there tomorrow.”

“Why the hurry?” Joe stopped brushing at his sleeve and looked up, wondering what had got into his brother.

“No hurry, just want to get started. Would you tell Pa where I’ve gone?”

“OK, but why don’t you tell him yourself? He’s in the house.” Joe was concerned, he was sure that he had just seen Adam come out of the house, and could have told Pa for himself.

”Just do it for me.” Said Adam, and he turned away and walked off. Joe watched him disappear into the barn, and reappear some minutes later to ride off towards the north ridge.

Joe ducked under the rails and went into the house. He found his father sitting in the blue armchair by the fireplace, deep in thought.

“Pa?”

“Yes Joe, what is it?”

“Adam just left, he said to tell you that he was going up to start marking the trees.”

“I thought you were going to do it together tomorrow.”

“Yeah, so did I. Pa, is he all right?”

“I don’t know, son, I just don’t know. I’ve never seen him like this. Oh, I know he hides everything inside, that’s the way he is. He likes to deal with his own problems. But I think this is different, he’s not comfortable with himself. As though he’s lost confidence in himself, and he’s not used to feeling like that.”

“I think I’ll follow him now, if you don’t mind. I don’t think he should be alone out there.”

“All right. But I warn you he may not welcome the company.”

Joe gathered the things he needed to take with him, and then got some food from Hop Sing. He had noticed that Adam had not taken any with him when he left. He saddled Cochise and followed his brother up into the mountains.

*****

Chapter Eight

Joe found Adam by the simple expedient of following the stream that ran closest to the area where they would be working. As he went higher up into the forest he soon smelled the smoke from Adam’s campfire mingling with the sweeter smell of the pines.

Adam looked up startled as he heard a horse approach, then saw it was Joe. He was dismayed to see his brother, he had hoped to have some time to himself, and Joe was the last person he wanted to see. He would be cheerful as only Joe could be, looking at life with all the enthusiasm of youth, and Adam wasn’t in the mood. Joe pulled up and dismounted, and came to sit beside the fire.

“I thought we could get an early start if I came up as well.” Joe explained. He reached into the bag of provisions he had brought, and put some coffee on to heat.

“Yeah.” Said Adam flatly, discouraging further conversation.

They sat in silence for a long time. Adam didn’t want to talk, and Joe didn’t know how to start. Finally, Joe could stand it no longer.

“Adam, I know that I’m only young and you think you are so much older and wiser than me, and perhaps you are, but let me help, please.”

Adam was touched and surprised by the words, but he wasn’t about to open his heart to his youngest, and to Adam, immature brother and said nothing, just helped himself to some coffee.

“Oh, come on, Adam. Say something.”

“All right, if you insist. I don’t want to talk, not to you, or Pa, or anyone else. This is my problem and I’ll sort it out my way. The sooner my family learn to leave me alone the happier I’ll be”

Joe felt as though Adam had hit him, but he wasn’t going to stop now.

“Adam you can’t go on like this. It’s over, you must let it go.”

“Joe…” Adam started, his voice rising in warning.

“No I won’t leave you alone!” Joe was determined to stand his ground in the face of his brother’s imminent anger. “The sooner you stop wallowing in self-pity the better for everyone. Can’t you see how worried Pa is? He wants to help, but he doesn’t know how, none of us do.”

“Self pity!” Adam shouted.

“Yes. You’re feeling sorry for yourself, and have been ever since…that.” Joe pointed to Adam’s hand. “You say you’ll sort it out yourself, but you don’t seem to be doing a great job of that right now.” He knew from experience that if he could get Adam mad enough he would do one of two things. He would leave, or he would talk, but it was always a toss up which it would be.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Adam said through gritted teeth, eyes blazing at his interfering brother.

“Don’t I? I was there remember. You still feel guilty for what happened, when it was not your fault. You didn’t make Casey kidnap me, or attack you.”

“He wouldn’t have done it, if I’d taken any notice of what you tried to tell me in the saloon.”

“Do you mean that the next time you see a wrong doing you’ll just pretend it didn’t happen? Just walk away from it, in case it leads to something you don’t like? Since when have you ever ignored an injustice?”

“It was none of my business, and it put you in danger.” Adam’s voice had softened and Joe knew he’d won. He lowered his tone to match his brother’s.

“Yes, and you came to rescue me, even though you knew there was every possibility that injured as you were, you wouldn’t be able to. I heard you trying to make a bargain to get Casey to let me go, you would have let him kill you to free me.”

“You’re my little brother, what did you expect me to do? Pa put you in my care, trusting me to keep you safe, and what I did put your life at risk.” Adam looked at Joe and said unexpectedly, “Joe, I love you, I would never want to see you hurt. If I can prevent that then I will, whatever it takes.”

Joe’s throat tightened at the words, he could not recall the last time Adam had said outright that he loved any of his family. Adam always kept his emotions to himself, seeing any acknowledgement of them as a sign of weakness.

“Adam, does it ever occur to you that we love you in return. That’s why I’m here, now. That’s why Pa’s worried, and Hoss. We see you tearing yourself apart, and you won’t let us in.”

“Because none of you can help.” Adam shook his head sadly.

“Why not? Please tell me how you feel, so I can understand.” Joe pleaded. He was afraid that Adam was right, perhaps he could not help, could not pull him out of his despair.

Adam stared into the fire, night had fallen, and only the flickering flames lighted his face. Joe thought that he looked older than his thirty years, and he could see the pain in the dark eyes. He desperately wanted to take that pain away. If only he could find a chink in that hard exterior.

“Adam, if it makes any difference I swear to you that anything we say now will not go any further. But I’m not going to let it drop, you’ll have to walk away from me to stop me. We are going to get this sorted here and now.”

Adam looked over at Joe, surprised at the vehemence of the words. Joe was obviously sincere in his desire to help, but Adam was not sure that he could, that anyone could. But would it hurt to speak to his brother? Perhaps the innocence of youth would give him a new perspective on his problem. Perhaps it was time that Joe found out what grown-up problems could mean. But deep down Adam was afraid that if he admitted to his feelings he would lose the respect of his family, and he valued that above all.

“All right, you asked for it.” He paused not sure what to say, or how to say it. “Joe, what do you see when you look at me, what kind of person do you think I am?”

Joe was surprised at the question, but he tried to answer honestly.

“Well, I suppose I see my elder brother. Intelligent, knowledgeable, capable and trustworthy.” Joe hesitated, thinking about his answer. “Someone I have always looked up to, but also someone who can be insufferably smug, demanding, and self-righteous. You drive yourself hard, why? I don’t really know, but you never leave a task unfinished, or a responsibility ignored.” Joe stopped to take a deep breath. He looked at his brother and continued. “You like the world to operate by civilised rules, and are unsettled when it doesn’t.” Joe paused, as Adam looked sharply at him. Adam was surprised at Joe’s answer, laced as it was with insight.

“Well you did ask.” Joe finished, smiling, and was happy to see his brother smile thinly in return.

“Yes, I guess I did.” Adam paused, the smile disappearing. “But do you see a man filled with self doubt and insecurity. Afraid that the world might see through the façade he has created. See through the defences he has built to keep the world at bay so it cannot hurt him? A man used to making decisions that affect our lives here, who’s now lost confidence in any decision he might make?”

“No, never.” It had never occurred to Joe that Adam was anything other than what he seemed, confident, and sure of his place in the world.

“That’s the problem, no one does.” Adam knelt by the fire and poured himself another cup of coffee, before sitting down again. Then he reminded Joe of what he had said. “This is just between us, agreed?”

“Yes, I said so didn’t I?”

Adam nodded. “I suppose it started when I was young, when Pa and I were travelling. I always tried to do my best for him, to help him, but I was never sure that it was enough. And then once, I remember, he had asked me to fix some tack, and I hadn’t done it properly, I wanted to go and play with some of the other boys. Later he told me what a good job I had done and he gave me a quarter as a reward. I felt so guilty that I couldn’t spend it. I’ve still got it and any time I feel like I don’t want to do something, I look at it and remember how I felt when he gave it to me. I was terrified that the tack would break and he’d find out what I’d done, that I’d let him down. It made me determined that I didn’t want to feel like that ever again.

“Then sometimes he’d get cross about something that I knew was nothing to do with me, but I’d think that perhaps I’d caused it somehow. Then, maybe by a word or two he said, I’d imagine that he really didn’t think I was doing things right, and it would make me try harder, pushing myself all the time not to let him down. But I couldn’t talk to him about it, knowing that I didn’t want to hear words of accusation from him, if I had failed him somehow, and I didn’t want to burden him with my problems.” Adam lowered his head, not looking at his brother, not wanting to see Joe’s reaction to the things he was saying. He had never spoken to anyone about the legacy of those hard times.

“You didn’t dare fail in those days, because failure meant death, and I desperately didn’t want to fail him. He had enough to cope with, bringing up a child on his own in those conditions. And then when Inger was killed and he had two children to care for, it became more important not to burden him with the doubts and uncertainties that I’d hidden from him. When Casey attacked me and took you, all those feelings of inadequacy were brought out into the open.”

Suddenly Joe knew why his brother worked so hard, pushing himself and those around him to do their best. Adam still felt, after all these years, the need to work hard, to get things done so that his family would not be put in danger. Joe remembered his own childhood, protected by those around him, and realised for the first time in his life how different had been their early years. Joe had always felt envious of his elder brother having their father all to himself, but this threw a new light on those times, and he felt envious no longer. He was grateful now that it had been Adam with his father, and not himself. He didn’t know that he could have survived that journey, as his brother had done.

“Have you ever spoken to Pa about it?”

“No, it would hurt him too much. I can’t do that to him. I know he loves me, and I honestly thought that I had hidden those feelings so deep that I had conquered them, or at least learned to live with them.”

Adam paused remembering those days alone with his father. “I didn’t realise that those feelings were still alive, waiting to come out after all these years, but they have, and Casey was the catalyst.” Adam glanced at Joe, who was listening intently, and he thought he might as well give Joe all the details; it might help him to understand. He told Joe what Casey had done to him in the wilderness of the foothills of the sierras, his voice becoming harder as he recalled what had happened and the emotion it brought with it.

“By the way, that’s where your knife went. You remember that you thought you’d lost it? I must have left it behind. I’m sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter. You can buy me another.” Joe said gently, looking at his brother, who simply nodded, and then continued.

“Anyway, I didn’t know if I could get myself out of the fix Casey had left me in, I didn’t know where you were, or how to help you. I was afraid, for me and for you, I knew then what Casey was capable of, and I knew what it would do to Pa if I had to tell him that you were dead, that I was the cause of it, and that I had failed.” Adam stopped and hung his head; he didn’t want to go on.

Joe sat, shocked to hear what his brother had endured, and what it had done to him. He began to feel that Adam’s problem was, indeed, too deep for any help that he might have thought he could give. But at least Adam was sharing it with him. Joe reached over and put his hand on Adam’s arm.

“Don’t stop now, tell me.”

Adam said nothing for a long time, and Joe thought that he had decided not to say any more. Then Adam spoke softly, the anguish he felt evident in his voice.

“I thought I was going to die out there, then I wouldn’t be able to find you, to help you. And I blamed myself for what had happened, I still do. Then, as I made my way back to Trigo I had a kind of waking nightmare. I was delirious, I guess, but I saw you reaching out to me asking for help that I couldn’t give. And I saw Pa. I had to tell him that you weren’t coming home, because I had failed. He blamed me for what had happened, and he said that if you weren’t there, then he didn’t want me there either, and he sent me away.” To Adam the vision was still very real and tears welled in his eyes as he remembered his feelings at that moment. It was those same feelings that had prevented him from saying anything to Bridey about how he felt for her. He could not stand to be rejected by her as well.

“I had failed, and because of that I was losing my family, and it was Casey who had made it happen. I still cannot think of him without hatred and anger for what he did.”

“Oh God, Adam, you’ve been carrying this around with you ever since.” Joe noticed Adam continually saying that he had failed. That was the key, to show him that he had not.

Adam sat motionless staring into the fire, then he turned again to look at Joe, so alive now but so nearly lost.

“And it doesn’t end there, if it hadn’t been for Rosie he might have killed you. I didn’t need to try to rescue you and should have realised that I couldn’t. If I hadn’t been so stubborn, so desperate to do the right thing, I could have paid the ransom. What’s a few thousands dollars compared to your life? I made the wrong decisions all down the line.”

“Adam, there’s something you should know. I overheard Casey and the others talking. If you had turned up with the ransom then he would have killed both of us there and then. He had no intention of letting either of us get away. You did the only thing that was going to get me out of there alive.”

Adam’s eyes narrowed as he looked at his brother. He was trying to decide whether Joe was telling the truth or just saying that to make him feel better.

Joe was only eighteen, but his emotions were as fully developed as his elder brother’s. He was filled with love for this man, who never opened his heart to anyone, but was opening it to him now. He dug deep inside himself to find the right words to say, knowing that this might be the only chance any of his family would have to help.

“Adam, listen to me. I may in your eyes be only a kid, but I can see what this has cost you, what it has done to you. I do not in any way blame you for what happened. You did protect me, probably more than you know. If you hadn’t tackled Casey in the saloon then I would have, despite what I said about ignoring it. Then Casey would have come after me instead. If he had kidnapped you, I don’t know that I could have done what you did, what you offered to do for me. And as for being afraid, you had every right to be. You were alone, without help, but that didn’t stop you. You got yourself out of there, on your own. That took real courage, and there can be no courage without fear. You didn’t fail, you didn’t let Casey defeat you then, don’t let him beat you now.”

Joe stopped, looking at Adam who was watching him intently, but giving Joe no indication of his reaction to the words that his brother was saying.

“If you had come home alone, as you feared, Pa would never reject you. He wouldn’t think you had failed, because he would know that you had done the best you could, as you always do. Adam, there will always be someone out there that you can’t defeat, no matter how hard you try. If Casey had been that person then there would have been nothing you could do about it. But Pa would have understood. He doesn’t expect that you will be able to solve every problem, deal with every obstacle that life puts in your way. You’re the only one who feels that you should be able to.”

“But it would have destroyed him, to lose you. You’re too important to him.” Adam knew that his father looked on Joe as his baby, to be protected and indulged.

Adam and his father had shared many hard times and their relationship was no longer one of father and child, but had gone beyond that to one of two strong men, who had laboured side by side to build what they had. Ben had had Adam to help with Hoss’s upbringing while they worked, and Hoss by his nature had been a loving and amenable son. Joe had been brought up in easier times, and Ben had been able to get to know his youngest son at leisure. It had made them very close.

Joe had to show Adam that he was just as important to his father, he couldn’t let his brother think that Ben wanted him more.

“That’s as maybe, but he probably needs you more than me, or Hoss. Not just because you’re his eldest son and he loves you, but for the way you help him every day, the way you’ve helped him build the Ponderosa into what it is. He’s told me many times that he couldn’t have done that without you.” Joe felt that he had to show Adam how his family valued him. He couldn’t change what had happened, or how Adam felt about it, but perhaps he could make him see that his father would never reject him.

“He loves you, but you won’t let him show it. You always shy away when any of us try to get near you, but we all love you. I have always been jealous of the relationship you have with Pa. I am his child, as you are, but he always sees you as a man, but treats me like a boy. I think he wants to hang on to his baby for as long as he can, and in that way he loves us differently, but not one more than the other. I know that he respects you, because you have earned that respect, through the things you do and the way you do them. He doesn’t have the same respect for me because I am not old enough to have proved myself worthy of that depth of trust. Oh, I don’t mean that he doesn’t trust me, but it is different, the trust you give to a man and a boy. You’re the only one who thinks you failed, you got us home safe, and Pa will be forever grateful that you protect us as you do.”

Joe fell silent, looking at Adam who was gazing into the fire, apparently lost in thought.

Suddenly Adam rose, turned away, and walked off quietly into the dark woods, his black clothing helping him to disappear almost immediately. Joe stood anxiously. He was about to follow, but stopped after taking two steps. ‘No, if he needs to be alone let him. I’ve done all I can, it’s up to him now.’ Thought Joe, and went back to the fire. He made some fresh coffee because he had the feeling that this was going to be a long night.

Joe was becoming worried and had started pacing round the campsite, Adam had been gone for over an hour, but then as quietly as he had gone, he returned. Joe could see that his eyes were red, but made no comment. Adam sat down again and helped himself to some coffee, then turned to Joe, who had come to sit beside him

“Joe, when you appeared here, my heart sank. I thought that the last person I needed to see was my little brother. Scatter brained, irresponsible, and temperamental. How wrong can one person be? I don’t know how to say ‘thank you’ adequately. I never imagined that you could help, or that you would really want to. I am truly grateful. I have thought about what you said so eloquently, and so passionately, and I have something to ask you.”

“Anything.” Said Joe, wondering what was coming.

“Will you be my best man?”

Joe’s broad grin was all the answer Adam needed, as the young man leaped to his feet and grasped his brother in an embrace that threatened to crush the life out of him before he ever got to the altar.

“Yes, yes, of course I will. How could I let a grumpy old bear like you get married without me beside you to make you laugh?”

“It’s a heavy responsibility, but for some reason I think you’re grown up enough to handle it. Can’t imagine why.” Adam smiled fondly at Joe, who responded in kind.

Joe had something he wanted to say, and became serious again.

“Adam, I’m glad that you feel I have helped. I know it was not easy for you, either to tell me what the problem was, or to hear some of the things I said. But you did it. Please don’t shut us out again, I meant what I said about not telling anyone what has been said between us, but just consider how it helped.”

“Joe, I am what I am, and I can’t be any different, it’s too late for me to change. But one thing I am sure of is that I have someone I can turn to if I need it. A man I can trust, and I will be eternally grateful for that.”

*****

Chapter Nine

Four days later Adam rode into Virginia City. He tied his horse up outside the International House and went inside looking for Bridey, but the clerk at the reception desk told him that she was out. He went over immediately to Doc Martin’s office. As he entered, he almost bumped into Paul Martin.

“Is Bridey here?” Adam asked.

“And hello to you too, Adam.”

“Oh, sorry Paul. I’m looking for Bridey, is she here?” He asked again.

“Yes, she’s in the treatment room. You can go in, she’s alone.” Adam acknowledged the answer with a nod, and was gone. Paul was sorting through some bottles in his medicine cabinet when the pair of them emerged.

“Paul, I have some bad news for you.” Said Adam, and Paul raised his eyebrows waiting for him to continue.

“I’m afraid you are going to lose your new assistant.”

“Does this mean what I think it means?” Paul asked.

Adam and Bridey looked at each other, unable to hide their happiness any longer.

“Yes.”

Paul held out his hand to Adam. “Well it’s about time.” He said and kissed Bridey lightly on the cheek.

“I’ll be sorry to lose you my dear, but if he doesn’t treat you right you can always find a job here.”

“Thank you Paul, but I don’t think there’s much danger of that.”

Adam took Bridey back to the Ponderosa, they had yet to tell Ben the news since Adam had ridden straight into Virginia City when he and Joe had finished in the mountains, and he had sworn Joe to secrecy.

“Pa.” Adam called as they entered.

Ben rose from his desk at the sound of his son’s voice, and when he saw Adam with Bridey, he immediately knew what had happened by the look on their faces.

“Can I take it that this means good news?”

“Yes, you can. Bridey and I are getting married three weeks from today.” Adam told him, grinning.

“Well thank goodness that’s settled. I don’t know how much longer this family could stand the suspense.”

It was said light heartedly, but Adam’s face darkened.

“Pa, I’m sorry.”

“Adam it’s not me you should be apologising to.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Cartwright, he’ll pay for the delay.” Threatened Bridey.

“Please, Pa, don’t give her any more ammunition. I think she’s going to be difficult enough to handle without that.”

Bridey dug him sharply in the ribs and they all laughed together. Coming down the stairs, Hoss heard the sound and concluded, rightly, what was going on.

“Hey Adam, when’s the big day?”

“Three weeks.” His brother confirmed. “Hoss can I speak to you outside for a minute.” And went out, followed by Hoss.

Once they were alone, Adam turned to his brother, and friend. “Hoss, I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve asked Joe to be my best man.”

Hoss was surprised, but his heart was too big to object.

“’Course I don’t mind, you can choose who you like, and I’ll bet Joe’s real proud to be asked.”

“Yeah, he is. It’s just that without Joe, I don’t know that I would be getting married at all. You know, that boy has grown up without me even noticing.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. Adam, I’m happy for you, we all are. It’ll be a great day.” Hoss shook his hand and went back into the house.

Adam watched Hoss’ retreating back, thinking how lucky he was to have two brothers who were so generous.

Bridey spent the next three weeks preparing for her wedding. There was so much to do, though with the help of Hop Sing the arrangements seemed to fall into place easily.

Two days before the wedding, Adam drove Bridey into Virginia City.

“But why are we going into town. I still have a lot to do, and don’t really have the time to spare.”

“Trust me, you will want to make this trip.” Was all that Adam would say, and she sat beside him in the buggy itching with curiosity. He had tied Sport to the back of the buggy, and Bridey assumed that they must be going to meet someone, who would ride back with them.

They sat drinking coffee in the hotel until it was time for the stage to arrive. When Adam heard it pull up outside the depot, he took Bridey’s arm and led her out into the street. They were just in time to see the passengers alight, and Bridey cried out in delighted surprise when she saw who had arrived.

“Rosie!” She turned to Adam. “Oh Adam, thank you.”

“Well, I thought that you would like a bridesmaid.”

Bridey raced across the street heedless of the passing traffic. Adam ran after her, fearing for her safety. Virginia City was so much busier than Trigo, and Bridey had yet to get used to it.

Bridey and Rosie flew into each other’s arms. Finally disentangling herself, Rosie turned to Adam.

“I’m so pleased for you both, and thank you for inviting me.” She didn’t quite know how to greet Adam, but he solved that problem for her by taking her in his arms and hugging her.

“It’s wonderful to see you again.” He released her and became serious for a moment. “You know that without you there would be no wedding. In fact without you the Cartwright clan would be sadly depleted.”

They would have stood in sombre mood, but Adam asked Rosie if she would like to go to the hotel for some refreshment.

“Oh no. Let’s go to your home. I can’t wait to see it. I’ve heard so much about it from Bridey.”

Adam raised a quizzical eyebrow at his soon-to-be wife.

“Do you mean that you knew where Rosie was all along?” Said Adam thinking of the trouble he had gone through trying to find her.

“Yes of course, and if you hadn’t been so secretive about your plans, I could have told you.”

Adam could see that this was just another round he was destined to lose, no doubt there would be many more. You did not chose a strong woman as your wife and expect her to bend to your will.

Bridey drove the buggy, with Rosie beside her, and Adam rode Sport back to the ranch. As they pulled up outside Joe came out of the house, and seeing who it was that had arrived, ran to help Rosie down. He embraced her and drew her into the house.

Bridey looked at Adam. “Well, you never know.”

“Forget it, he’s too young.” Laughed Adam, as they followed the pair into the house.

*****

Chapter Ten

From then on, the house was filled with bustle and laughter. Finally, on a Friday morning, less than eight weeks after they had met, Bridey O’Connell became Mrs. Adam Cartwright.

They had decided to invite just a few close friends. It was either that, or invite half of Nevada to the wedding of one of the most eligible bachelors in the Territory. As all the guests would be friends of the Cartwright’s, it was thought to be better this way.

Bridey was radiant in a cream gown embroidered with pearls, which covered her shoulders and arms, but showed off her trim figure. As Adam, in his black broadcloth morning suit, watched her come down the stairs on his father’s arm, his heart filled with love, and where he thought no more love could be, it overflowed. Joe and Adam exchanged glances, and Joe thanked God that he had found the right words, at the right time, to help bring these two back together.

Rosie, in dark blue silk, walked behind Bridey, and both she and Ben, standing beside Bridey, had tears in their eyes as they heard the words that would bind these two together.

The minister took Bridey’s right hand from Ben, and passed it to Adam, who held it in his right hand. Adam looked down at Bridey, and said the words he had learned by heart.

“I, Adam take thee, Bridey to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.”

The minister broke their hold, and then Bridey took Adam’s right hand and held it.

“I, Bridey take thee, Adam to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, honour, and obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.”

The ceremony continued, until the Minister finally said,

“I now pronounce you man and wife.”

Adam turned to Bridey, and taking her in his arms, kissed her, only releasing her as he felt a touch on his arm, and looked round into his father’s eyes.

“Congratulations, son.” They embraced warmly, and then everybody wanted to shake his hand, and kiss Bridey.

The dancing and celebration went on late into the afternoon, when Adam and Bridey had to leave. They came down the stairs, having changed into their travelling clothes, to more congratulations and good wishes. Then they were gone, to a honeymoon in San Francisco. Adam had wanted to take Bridey east, to Boston, but she had insisted that she did not want to be gone for too long. She wanted to come back quickly, so that they could start on the house.

They had told no one where they would spend their first night together, but in fact they were not going far. The Cartwright’s neighbours Angus and Jeanie MacLeod had offered Adam the use of their house. They had known Ben and Adam since they had first arrived in Nevada, and it was their wedding gift to the couple. The MacLeods had arranged to stay the night in Virginia City.

Adam drove the buggy up to the front of the small, pretty house, with its frontage covered in ivy. He helped Bridey down from the buggy and took her elbow and led her inside. Suddenly he felt nervous, not realising that Bridey felt exactly the same. They stood in awkward silence until Adam turned to Bridey and took her in his arms, they kissed and relaxed for the first time that day.

“Mrs. Cartwright, I love you.”

“Oh Adam, I’m so happy, I can’t tell you how I feel at this moment.”

She laid her head on his shoulder and they stood like that for a long time, just relishing the touch of each other.

Eventually Adam stirred. “I’d better go and unhitch the buggy.”

He went outside, and Bridey started to look round the house. In the kitchen, she found that Mrs. MacLeod had left a light supper laid out for them. When Adam returned she told him about it, but as soon as they were together again they both lost all interest in things as mundane as food. Adam took Bridey’s hand and led her, unresisting, towards the bedroom. Bridey raised her eyebrows in question.

“Well,” said Adam mischievously, “It’s been a long day and I’m tired.”

“Oh well, then, if you’re tired I’d better leave you to sleep.” Two could play at that game.

Adam laughed and picked her up in his arms and carried her to the bed, where he put her down gently on the soft, fluffy eiderdown.

“I’d sleep better with company.”

Suddenly, any pretence at being tired was forgotten. Adam lay down on the bed beside her and caressed the skin of her neck, gently running his fingers down until they met the top of her dress.

“Oh, Adam.” Was all she said as she returned his touch with her own, after slowly releasing his tie, and unbuttoning his shirt.

While neither of them was exactly inexperienced in intimacy with the opposite sex, and despite the temptation to do so, they had waited until this moment to be together. They were both glad they had, this night was special, and when they woke in the morning, they smiled at each other, remembering. Adam reached out to Bridey cradling her in his elbow, and again caressed her soft skin, causing her to moan softly, turning towards him. She ran her hand up his body, through the soft, dark hair and stopped at his chest, feeling his heart beat beneath her hand.

“Oh Adam.” She whispered, “Don’t ever let me go.”

“My darling, we will stay here for ever if you want.”

Bridey giggled. “Angus and Jeanie might have something to say about that.”

Adam merely nodded, he didn’t want to talk, he had something else in mind. And he ran his hand down her body until she cried out softly for him. He rolled over until he was on top of her, and as it had the night before, it brought back memories of another time and another place when she had been beneath him, but he did not shy away from the memory and forgot it, lost in the love he had, and wanted to give to this woman.

*****

Chapter Eleven

Three months later, they were again waking up in bed beside each other, though this time they were at home. Adam had his arm round Bridey’s shoulder thinking that they had a little time before he would have to go to work.

Suddenly Bridey released herself from his embrace and left the room. She returned a few minutes later and sat beside Adam, on the bed.

“How many children did you say it would take to keep you in comfort?”

“I reckon about ten.” He smiled.

“Well, only nine to go then.”

It took Adam only a second to realise what she meant. He sat up and held her shoulders.

“Are you sure, when?”

“As much as I can be. It should be in early summer.” She affirmed. “Are you pleased?”

“No.” He said, and when he saw her face fall, he laughed. “No, I’m not pleased, I’m ecstatic.” He held her tightly, and then he leapt out of bed, too excited to stay there.

“Do you mind if we tell Pa?”

“No, of course not.”

They dressed quickly and went down to breakfast, to find all the family together. Ben was surprised to see them so early. Adam had always been in the habit of being an early riser, but had recently found some reason to stay in bed as long as possible!

Adam and Bridey took their accustomed places at the table, and when the others had greeted them, Adam cleared his throat to get their attention.

“Pa, how do you feel about being a grandfather?”

“What!”

“Yes. Bridey’s expecting our first child.”

Breakfast was forgotten for the moment as they all started to talk at once

Ben became serious.

“Adam I think you should plan on having the baby here. The house may not be finished and Bridey needs peace and quiet, not the upheaval of moving.”

“Yes I know, but I will try to have it finished anyway.”

Bridey put her hand on her husband’s arm.

“I don’t mind where I have the baby, but it would be nice for Ben to have his first grandchild born here, don’t you think?”

Ben looked at her with gratitude. As he had come to know Bridey, he realised what a fine choice his son had made in this woman. Here again was an example of her thoughtfulness. Without going against Adam’s wishes, she had given him a reason to have the baby at the Ponderosa, saving him from having to rush the building of their house, and perhaps the disappointment of not being able to finish it in time.

“Yes, of course, you’re right. Pa, I will expect you to sit up all night with me, supporting me, and feeding me copious amounts of your finest brandy when the time comes.” They all laughed, and Ben joy was deepened by seeing his son so happy, making jokes and laughing.

“Hey,” said Joe, “That means I’m going to be an uncle.” And he sat up straighter and puffed out his chest with pride.

“Yeah, me too, little brother.” Said Hoss and his face filled with gladness to think that there would be a baby for them all to care for.

They were all caught up in the excitement, and plans for the future, which suddenly seemed so important. A new generation was about to come into being, bringing that future into sharp focus in their minds.

Adam asked, and received permission, to spend more time on the building of the house. It would take all the time they had available, and more, to get it ready, but Adam pushed the men he had hired to get as much done as possible. He was overseeing the work, but left it to the men to do most of the labour. If he had tried to do it himself the house would never have been ready.

As winter came and the snow fell, they had to stop work until the spring. They had completed the ground floor, and when Adam took Bridey to see it, she could begin to imagine how it would look when it was finished. It bore a resemblance to his home, but Adam had taken note of Bridey’s suggestions, and had designed a separate dining room, and a playroom for the children, but there was a large sitting room, with a fireplace that would burn huge logs. Adam had always enjoyed sitting in front of the fire at home, looking into the flames and dreaming. But there were other differences as well, and she couldn’t wait for it to be theirs.

They stood in the snow, in front of the house, and she was leaning against him, his arms wrapped protectively around her.

“Oh my darling,” said Bridey, “Can you imagine what it will be like. To be able to shut the door and be alone together.”

“Bridey, I know it’s difficult for you, not having had your own place, and I’m sorry.”

“No, I didn’t mean that. Your family have been marvellous and I wouldn’t change these last months together. But we’re never really alone, are we?”

“No. But it will be worth the wait, you’ll see.” And Adam turned her round to face him. He bent his head and kissed her softly.

*****

Chapter Twelve

The winter had been hard. Sometimes the temperature had not risen above freezing for days on end. The cattle had suffered and so had the people. The Cartwrights and their winter hands had been out every day taking feed to the herd, and breaking the ice on the streams and lakes. But slowly spring came to the land; bringing calm, clear days with blue skies and a warmth at midday that reminded one that summer was not far behind.

As soon as the roads were clear, Adam had to make a trip to San Francisco to negotiate with buyers for some of the timber that grew so thickly on the Ponderosa. He was standing outside the ranch house, taking his leave of Bridey.

“How long do you think you will be gone?” She asked anxiously. This was the first time he had left her, and she felt nervous about his absence.

“About three weeks. But I won’t stay a moment longer than I can help.” He had never had more reason to hurry home than he had now.

“Well, just keep away from all those dens of iniquity I’ve heard of in the big city.” She instructed.

”Oh, I thought I might just try one or two, you know, to see what they’re like. We lead such a sheltered life here.” He teased.

“Adam Cartwright, if I find out that you have been up to no good, your life will not be worth living.” She issued the threat lightly though, she knew her husband well enough.

“They would hold no interest for me when I have you to come home to.” He said and took her in his arms. He held her gently, remembering her condition. He put his hand on her swollen belly, feeling the life within her. Then he bent his head to hers and they kissed, long and deeply, neither wanting to part. But eventually Adam straightened, and with a last touch on her cheek, mounted his horse and rode off. Bridey watched him go and then returned to the warmth of the house.

Two days later Bridey was riding in the buggy beside Ben. They were going to Diamond Peak to see how the building work was progressing. Adam had asked his father to keep an eye on things while he was away. He was anxious that in his absence the work should continue as quickly as possible. Ben was reluctant to take Bridey, but she pointed out reasonably that it was her house they were building, and that some fresh air would do her good.

They arrived at the site to find the men hard at work. They had nearly finished the walls of the upper floor and were preparing to raise the trusses for the roof. There were two wagons piled high with timber standing by the house, and the men were unloading one of them. They stopped as the buggy pulled up. Bridey and Ben got down, and while Ben went to talk to the foreman, Bridey wandered round looking at the work that had been done.

Ben and the foreman, Brad McAndrews, were deep in conversation when they heard a strange noise, it sounded like the cracking of a whip. They looked up, and were frozen as they saw the cause of it. The single rope that had been left holding the timber on the second wagon had given way under the strain. As they stood transfixed, Ben saw, as though in slow motion, the load of timber begin to move. He called a warning but it was too late, a lifetime too late. The timber was piled high and it all came crashing down on the far side of the wagon, the side where Bridey was standing.

Ben started to move, his legs working frantically, to try to reach Bridey, to pull her to safety. Her scream was cut off abruptly amid the thunderous noise of wood breaking as it hit the ground. Then there was only a stunning silence. All he saw when he had crossed that short distance was Bridey’s arm protruding from under the wood that had fallen on top of her. For a moment, he stood unable to move then, with the foreman’s help, he started frantically to pull the timber away, heedless of the splinters that were jutting out of the broken ends. He threw them aside, calling Bridey’s name as he did so. He was desperate to get her out of there, but as he cleared away more of the blood spattered wood, he knew that they were too late. He uncovered her face, and stood immobile, then sank to his knees beside her.

She was hardly recognisable. The timber had fallen directly on top of her, crushing her skull. Ben stared at this face that had been so lovely and loving, then buried his face in his hands and wept bitter tears. He had come to love this woman like his own daughter; more so, because he loved her for the life she had given to his son. She had made him whole, given him the love and friendship he so desperately needed. How was he going to tell Adam that he had let this happen? How would his son ever be able to forgive him for this, for not keeping her safe?

The foreman, seeing Ben’s reaction, went over to him and tried to lift him to his feet, but Ben angrily shook off the hands that were helping him.

“Leave me.” He said roughly.

Brad could see that he was not going to be able to move Ben on his own, he needed help. He called to one of his men, who were standing nearby not knowing what to do to help.

“Jake, get back to the ranch house. Get his sons here as fast as you can.”

Jake got his horse and rode of as though the devil were after him.

Jake got to the house and threw himself off his horse and ran towards the front door. He hammered on the door and called out for someone to answer.

Hoss came to the door and opened it to see what all the ruckus was about.

“Please come quickly, there’s been an accident. Your father…”

“Pa? What’s happened to him?” Said Hoss taking hold of the man’s shoulders with his huge hands. He towered over the shorter man.

“N…Nothing, he’s all right. It’s Mrs. Cartwright.”

“Hoss, what is it?” Asked Joe, appearing beside his brother.

“There’s been an accident.” Said Jake. “Mrs. Cartwright…I think she’s dead.”

“What?” Said Joe and Hoss together.

“Some timber fell on her. Your father won’t leave her, we need you to come and help him. Please come quickly.” Joe and Hoss disappeared into the house just long enough to get their hats and coats then, getting their horses, followed Jake back to the building site.

As they pulled up, they could see their father crouched on the ground. Brad was kneeling beside him talking quietly, and he looked up as he heard horses approaching. He rose and came over to Joe and Hoss.

“I can’t get your father away from Mrs. Cartwright. He won’t leave her, though there’s nothing he can do. We need to get her out of there. We got the rest of the timber off her and covered her over. I thought that might help your father. But he’s just sitting there, keeps saying it’s his fault. But there was nothing he could have done.”

Joe and Hoss had dismounted and Hoss held Brad’s arm as he said, “It’s OK, leave this to us. You get the body into the wagon. We’ll look after Pa.”

Brad went to do as they suggested. Meanwhile Hoss and Joe went to their father and knelt down beside him, one on either side. Hoss put his hand on Ben’s arm.

“Pa…Pa.” He said gently, trying to get his father’s attention.

Ben looked round, but his eyes were not focused. All he could see was the sight of his daughter-in-law lying there, covered in blood, dead.

“Pa, you gotta leave her, there’s nothing you can do.” And he took his father’s arms in his strong grip and lifted him to his feet. Ben seemed to shake himself and became aware that his son’s were with him.

“How am I going to tell him?” He said, and they realised that he was talking about Adam.

“How am I going to be able to tell him that she’s dead? What is this going to do to him?” Ben looked searchingly into Hoss’s face looking for the answer, but did not find it. To Joe it sounded very much like a conversation he remembered having with Adam, only this time the death was real, and he did not know what to say to his father.

“Pa,” said Joe, “Don’t worry about that. We’ll go into town and send Adam a wire, tell him to come home.”

“But how can he ever forgive me for letting this happen.” Ben said bleakly.

”Adam won’t blame you, how can he, you couldn’t have prevented this, you know that.” Said Joe

“But I didn’t have to bring her here.”

“Pa, even Adam couldn’t stop Bridey doing something when she was determined.” Hoss smiled thinly, bringing to mind in all of them the times when Adam had been exasperated, when Bridey would do something against all his efforts to persuade her otherwise.

“But this will destroy him.” The anguished look in Ben’s eyes sent shafts of concern through both his sons.

“No it won’t, no more than it destroyed you.” Said Hoss gently, reminding his father that he had lost three wives and survived. “And he has us to help him.”

Ben wasn’t sure that it would be enough. He had been watching the men take the body and put it gently into the back of the wagon. He allowed Hoss to guide him to his horse and they all rode into town following the sad cargo.

*****

Chapter Thirteen

It had taken Adam eight days to get home, many of the roads had been blocked or washed away by the melting snow in the mountains. Eight days during which he had hardly eaten or slept. Ever since he had received the wire telling him to come home, his every waking thought had been of Bridey, and how she had looked, that last time they had been together. He had lost not only his beloved wife, but also his child.

As soon as Adam arrived home, Ben sent word into town that the funeral could go ahead, and it was planned for the following day, there was no need to delay any longer. Ben could tell that Adam was exhausted, and tried to get him to rest, but Adam could not. He just kept thinking of Bridey, and the fact that this would not have happened if he had been there.

He walked around in a daze, not able to settle, everything there reminded him of her. He could see her moving round the room, or coming down the stairs in the morning, everywhere he looked all he could think of was his treasured, darling wife. When he sat down reluctantly to supper with his family that evening, he saw her sitting in her accustomed place at his side, except the chair was empty now. He couldn’t stand it, and leaving his meal untouched, he went outside, away from that awful reminder. But even there he found no respite; this was where he stood saying goodbye to her only a few days ago. He sat on the edge of the veranda, gazing out into the night, remembering.

After asking Joe and Hoss to leave them alone, Ben came out of the house to find his son. Ben had earlier tried to tell Adam what had happened, but he had stopped his father, saying that they would talk later. Ben did not want to put it off any longer, he was not looking forward to what he would have to say, but it needed saying before the funeral, when Adam would have to face others who knew what had happened.

“Son, come inside, we must talk.”

Adam just looked at his father, who took his arm and his son followed unresisting. Ben led him into the house and settled him on the sofa, and poured them both a glass of brandy, putting one in Adam’s hand. Adam looked at it and sipped the amber liquid slowly.

“Adam, Bridey was killed because I took her to see the house. If I had not done so she would still be alive. It was my fault, I should not have let her persuade me to take her there, I knew how dangerous such a place could be, especially to someone in her condition.”

At the mention of the baby, Adam looked up and Ben could see the deep hurt in his eyes. It only served to make his guilt more profound and he felt sick inside, remembering that two lives had been cut short, one before it even had a chance to draw breath.

“You left her in my care and I failed you. I cannot tell you how sorry I am. Words are inadequate to express my sorrow, my regret that such a thing could happen. I wish that I could take away your pain, take away the grief that you feel, but I can’t. I know how you feel, what this must be doing to you, and I know that I have caused it.”

Ben stopped, unable to continue in the face of his son’s silence. He knew Adam must blame him for what had happened, and thought that the silence was because he could not bear to talk to his father. But Adam was hardly listening to what Ben was saying. He was aware that his father was saying that he blamed himself for Bridey’s death, but Adam felt incapable of talking. He knew if he did that he would break down, and he had to get through the funeral tomorrow, had to hold himself together long enough to cope with that.

He looked at Ben, and shook his head slowly, he had to get away from the words his father was saying before they broke through the barrier he had put up between himself and the world. He put his glass down softly, and went upstairs to his room.

Ben sat for alone for a long time. He had tried to tell Adam of his regret at what had happened and Adam had just looked at him and said nothing. Ben saw that he blamed him for what had happened, to the extent that Adam could not bear to speak to his father. Ben went upstairs slowly, the sadness he was carrying making him feel old beyond his years.

Next day Adam stood at the graveside with his back straight, his face expressionless, staring straight ahead. He had kept himself under tight control ever since he had come home, not daring to give in to the emotion he felt, for fear he would never be able to stop the tears once they started. Ben and Hoss stood on either side of him, and as the coffin was lowered into the ground, they held him, as it seemed his legs would not support him. Joe stood behind, tears coursing unheeded down his face.

As the ceremony ended people came to give Adam their condolences, and he shook their hands wordlessly. When Adam and Bridey had been joined in marriage, there were only a few invited guests. Now at their parting the whole town seemed to want to come and say goodbye to the woman they had taken to their hearts. With his father on one side and Hoss on the other, they held his arms and guided him to the buggy and took him home.

Ben led Adam into the house, followed by Hoss and Joe, and made him sit on the sofa. Adam did not resist, he had no thoughts but those of Bridey. Ben handed him a glass of brandy and stood over him, making him drink it. Adam shivered as the liquid burnt its way to his stomach, and then just sat holding the glass until his father took it from him. He seemed oblivious to the world around him.

Ben wanted to talk to him, but he did not know what to say, how to ease his son’s sorrow. There was a knock on the door and Joe went to answer it. He found Paul Martin standing there, and stepped back to allow him to enter.

Paul saw Ben, and indicated that he wanted to speak to him alone. Ben followed him out of the door, and then turned to find out what his friend wanted.

“Ben, I’d like to give Adam a sedative. I saw him at the funeral, he can’t go on much longer as he his, he’s exhausted. He needs some rest.”

“Yes, I think you’re right. He looks like he hasn’t slept in days, I know he didn’t sleep last night, I heard him moving about at all hours. And it’s like he’s in a dream. He won’t talk, and doesn’t seem able to do anything for himself. Just follows whatever we tell him to do.”

“Good, then perhaps it won’t be too difficult to get him to take something.”

The two men went back into the house. Joe and Hoss were sitting with their brother, neither knowing what to do to help. Paul asked Hoss to get a glass of water for Adam. When Hoss came back, Paul took the glass, added a powdered sedative to it, and sat on the sofa beside Adam.

“Adam.” He got no reaction so he repeated, “Adam, look at me.”

Adam turned his head, seeing the doctor for the first time.

“Paul?”

“Yes, it’s me. Now I want you to drink this.” He spoke softly, persuasively.

“What?”

“I said I want you to drink this, it will help.”

Adam simply took the glass and drank the bitter liquid.

“Ben you’d better get him up to bed. That was quite a strong dose, it should work soon. I’ll stay for a while just to make sure he’s all right.”

Ben had Hoss help him to get Adam upstairs, and it took both of them to get Adam undressed and into bed, he was slowly becoming a dead weight as he succumbed to the effects of the medicine. They made sure he was comfortable and left him to sleep. Paul checked on him a little later and found him peaceful and breathing evenly. He returned to the living room and spoke to Ben.

“He’ll sleep for quite a while now, and he’ll probably be a little dopey when he wakes, so don’t expect too much sense from him. Ben, if you need me again just send for me and I’ll come right over.”

“Thanks Paul.” Said Ben, shaking the doctor’s hand and seeing him out the door.

*****

Chapter Fourteen

When Adam woke, twenty hours later, it was morning and he knew he had to get up for work, but he would lie there just a few minutes longer. He had not opened his eyes, he still felt sleepy, but he reached across the bed expecting to find Bridey beside him. When he found the bed empty, the memory of what had happened hit him like a sledgehammer, and he opened his eyes and turned to look at the space that should have been filled by his beloved wife.

The endless expanse of bare white sheet beside him was as broad as the emptiness he felt inside himself, and he buried his head in his pillow and wept, great racking sobs tore through him as he gripped the soft pillow, and bit the cover between his teeth trying, and failing, to control them. It all flooded out of him, his love that now had no means of expression, and his loneliness. He cried until he could cry no more, but the sobs continued until he thought his body would never be able to stop, so deep was his sorrow. Finally, even the sobbing stopped and he lay there caressing the sheets that were now so cold, where she had lain with him. The picture he had of her lying there beside him started him crying again, until finally his exhausted body had had enough, and he found release in sleep.

When he woke again, he knew immediately where he was, and what had happened. He waited for the tears to come, and when they did they were gentle, tears for Bridey and for his child, not himself. When eventually they passed, he got up, and after he had shaved and dressed, he went to find Ben. He knew his father was concerned at having to explain what had happened, how he blamed himself for it. Adam remembered the vision he had had on his way to Trigo; of having to tell his father that Joe was dead. He was determined that his father should not feel as he had then.

As Adam came down the stairs, he saw Ben sitting alone in the living room, slouched dejectedly in his chair. Adam noticed a pot of coffee on the table and poured himself a cup, then sat down on the sofa, facing his father.

“Pa, I’m sorry.”

“What?” Ben looked up, taken aback by the words, they were not what he expected to hear.

Adam started to explain, “I’m sorry that I didn’t talk to you when you tried to explain what had happened.”

“Adam I…” Ben didn’t know what to say. “When you wouldn’t talk to me I knew that you blamed me, as I blame myself.”

“Pa, I know. And I know I hurt you, and I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. It wasn’t your fault, you couldn’t stop what happened, don’t blame yourself. Please don’t.” Adam begged, desperate that his father should not feel remorse.

Ben was slightly unsettled by Adam’s attitude this morning. Here he was trying to comfort his father, when the day before he had been grief stricken. Yet now he seemed to have put it behind him. The change was absolute, and Ben was more worried by that than if his son had still been detached and uncomprehending, as he was when Paul had administered the sedative. That he could have understood.

“Adam, are you feeling all right?” Ben queried.

“Yes, don’t worry. I just couldn’t handle your pain as well as my own. I want to thank you for what you did yesterday. I don’t think I could have got through it without you.”

Seeing his father’s concern he explained. “I’ve cried all I can, and it helped. I expect there will be more tears to shed, but for the moment, I can talk about it, and bear it. And there’s something I want to tell you, to help you understand how I feel.”

Ben was still not sure that his son was quite in his right mind, that grief had not unbalanced him somehow.

“Pa, I never told you before, but when I was making my way back to Trigo, after Casey jumped us, I had in my mind a vision of Joe asking for help which I couldn’t give, and you were there, standing behind him. I had to tell you that he was dead, that I had failed to protect him, and because of that you sent me away, rejected me.”

“Adam,” his father protested, “I wouldn’t.” Ben was mortified that his son would think such a thing.

“No, I know that, but the image was very real to me then. I know how I felt, having to tell you Joe was dead, and I remember your reaction. I don’t want to do that to you. You had to tell me that Bridey had died, only this time it was real. Please don’t blame yourself. This is going to be difficult enough without you tearing yourself apart with guilt. So please don’t, for my sake. I need you to be strong for me, to be here when I need you, and I will need you often.”

“Son, I will always be here for you, you know that, but I do feel responsible. If I hadn’t…”

Adam interrupted him. He hated to see his father so wracked with unnecessary guilt.

“Pa, if it was anybody’s fault, it was mine, I shouldn’t have left her. I know what Bridey was like when she got an idea in her head. She wanted to see the house and nothing was going to stop her. If you had refused to take her, she would probably have gone by herself.”

“Thank you, son, for what you’re trying to say. I appreciate it, and admire you very much for saying it.”

Adam rose and went to his father, and lifting him to his feet, put his arms round him in a warm embrace, each taking comfort from the contact. Eventually they parted, and Adam could see that Ben’s eyes were moist.

“Pa, don’t, there’s no need.”

“Perhaps not, but indulge me.” Adam smiled gently at his father, and simply nodded, embracing him again.

*****

Chapter Fifteen

As they were sitting down to lunch next day, Adam turned to Joe.

“Would you have time for a short ride this afternoon? If you can spare him, Pa.”

“Yes, I can spare him if you want.” At this moment, Ben would give his son anything he asked for.

“How about it, Joe, will you come?”

“Yes, if you need me, of course.”

Adam just nodded. He had something in mind and thought that his brother should be there.

They rode to the site of the new house at Diamond Peak. It looked lonely somehow, half finished and silent. No workmen here, no noise of building. Just bare wooden walls reaching up towards the sky.

Adam dismounted. “Follow me.” Adam instructed and went into the house. He went over to one corner of the dining room where there were two large metal containers. He picked on up, and started to spread the contents round the floor and walls. Joe instantly recognised the smell of kerosene, and knew what his brother intended.

“Adam are you sure you want to do this?”

“Yes. I can’t live here, not without Bridey. I was building it for her. And I thought that since you were there at the beginning, you should be here at the end.”

Joe nodded thoughtfully, and picking up the other container, started to cover the parts of the building that Adam had missed. When both were empty, they went outside. Adam lit a match, and standing in the doorway threw it inside, stepping back quickly as the fumes ignited.

The two brothers stood side by side watching the building burn. They watched as the grey smoke billowed into the clear blue sky, taking with it all the dreams that should have born fruit here.

Joe turned to look at Adam, standing silently beside him. Tears were coursing down his brother’s face, and when he saw them, tears started in his own eyes. Adam put his arm round Joe’s shoulder, and Joe put his round Adam’s waist. They stood there, sharing the memories of all that had led to this moment.

“Goodbye Bridey.” Adam said and turned away, leaving behind a chapter in his life that was now closed, but one that he would never regret.

***The End***

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