Summary: A Cartwright Romance
Word Count: 12,000
Katherine Mary O’Fallon got off the Virginia City stage around noon that Tuesday with relief. It had been a hot and dusty ride all the way and she didn’t relish any more travel today since the temperature was reaching the nineties already and it was barely noon. She’d come all the way from San Francisco to her new teaching job here and if truth be told more than one butterfly fluttered in her stomach.
It wasn’t so much she was nervous about teaching. She’d taught before in San Francisco and knew in her heart she was a good teacher. No it was the way she’d obtained the job that niggled at her conscious. But that was done now and time to make the best of things. Stepping out of the stage and dusting off her light blue travel dress she peered anxiously around. It didn’t look like anyone was waiting to meet her although her confirmation letter had said to expect an Adam Cartwright, one of the school board members. Just as well as the first impression she’d leave mightn’t be so good, she thought, just as another trickle of perspiration ran down the small of her back. And even though it was already the middle of the day maybe it would be best to have a bath and get fixed up proper first. Sighing loudly, she instructed the coachman to lift her trunks down and inquired where the hotel might be.
“Yonder,” was the succinct reply just as her trunks hit the hard ground unceremoniously. After tipping the coachman to follow her to the hotel with the trunks she wearily headed down the dusty road. Looking curiously around her, she felt a twinge of excitement. If she’d come to find a place that was a little rough around the edges she’d surely found it. Virginia City was fairly bursting with the industry of a new-found city. Grinning to herself, she entered the hotel lobby and ordered a room and a bath.
Adam Cartwright cursed as his horse pulled up lame on the road to Virginia City. Dismounting to inspect the damage he saw a small stone imbedded in Sport’s shoe. He’d be late now for sure and if it’s one thing Adam prided himself on it was his reliability. But there was nothing for it, you couldn’t ride a lame horse, so, leading Sport by the bridle, he began walking the rest of the way in the hot noontime sun.
One hot and dusty hour later, after leaving Sport at the livery, Adam was at the stage ticket window enquiring about the 12 o’clock stage.
“Why, the stage got in more’n a half hour ago, Adam” the ticketmaster informed him. “Yer a might late, ain’t ya?”
“Yeah, well I took the scenic route in,” Adam replied dryly. “Look, was there a fellow got off the stage asking for me?”
“Feller? Not that I seen. Unless you mean ole Clem Dodge? Him and his wife were on that stage. Been up to Fresno, they was.”
“No, I don’t mean Clem. This man’s a stranger.” Damn, it looked like the new teacher’d missed the stage.
“Hmm. Only stranger I seen on the stage was a woman. Mighty fine looking woman at that.”
“A woman?” Well, that wasn’t right, Adam thought. “Where’d she go to?”
“Clancy took her trunks on up to the hotel.”
“Thanks,” and with that Adam headed off. He’d check it out just the same but he doubted this was the new teacher. He was under the distinct impression they’d hired a man, not a woman. O’Fallon was the name but the first name escaped him. Now he thought about it, he only remembered seeing initials, not a full name. K. M. O’Fallon, but what did the K stand for?
“Hello, Stu. Did a man by the name O’Fallon check in here today?” Adam removed his hat as he approached the hotel front desk.
“O’Fallon, you say? Well, no….not a man. We had a Miss O’Fallon check in just about half hour ago. Why?”
Well that fixed it. There’d been some sort of mixup about this Miss O’Fallon and he’d have to get it straightened out as quickly as possible.
“Umm…what room is she in?” Adam avoided Stu’s question.
“Number 5. Near the back on the right.”
“Thanks,” Adam intoned as he headed grimly up the stairs.
Katherine sighed as she leaned forward to pour a ladle of water over her head as she sat in the bathtub. That felt so good. Why she almost felt like her old self again leaving the dust and the dirt of the journey behind her. Now all she had to do was get a good meal into her and she’d be all set.
A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts and she peered up towards the door between the strands of hair fanning forward over her face. Well, goodness, certainly the hotel staff wouldn’t disturb her now. They must know she was bathing, after all they had just brought her the water!
Another knock, this time louder and more insistent.
“Yes, who is it?” Katherine called out to the closed door.
“My name’s Adam Cartwright, Miss O’Fallon. May I speak with you?”
Well, damn. She hadn’t wanted to face the school board so soon. But she had known all along this moment was coming and better to bite the bullet and get it over with.
“I’m…er…indisposed at the moment. Could I meet you downstairs in a few moments?” she again called out.
“Of course. Thank you.”
Scrambling quickly out of the tub, Katherine hurriedly dried off and began to dress all the while her mind racing at the thought of what was to come. Truth of the matter was, these people here were expecting a male teacher and another truth of the matter she hadn’t gone out of her way to set them straight on that account until now.
A mere five minutes later, Katherine descended the hotel stairs. At her descent, Adam Cartwright, hat in hand, rose from his place on the settee and sharply sucked in his breath. “Mighty fine looking woman” the ticketmaster had said. Pretty much an understatement there.
“Miss O’Fallon,” Adam held out his hand
“Mr. Cartwright,” Katherine shook his hand with a firm grip.
“Please sit down and let me apologize for not meeting you at the stage. I was…er…detained.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that at all. As you can see, I safely made my way here so everything is just fine.” As she settled herself down on the settee and he across from her, Adam couldn’t help but notice that her long hair was damp, loosely pulled back and tied at the base of her neck. In fact he noticed a few other things too. A button was undone on the sleeve of her dress and there was a wet spot at the base of her throat just above the neckline of her gown. It was apparent what the nature of her “indisposition” had been and he didn’t know why he suddenly found that knowledge so unsettling.
“Well it seems everything is not fine. Miss O’Fallon, I’m afraid the school board was under the impression that you were a man.”
“Mr. Cartwright, it was also my impression that the school board was under the impression I was a man.”
“Huh?” For probably the first time in his life, Adam Cartwright was dumbfounded.
“Mr. Cartwright, let me be upfront with you.” Katherine was anxious now to confess her ruse to the man before her, a man unlike any she had ever seen before in her life. Everything about him was just so, so….dark. “I didn’t have to be addressed as Mr. O’Fallon more than a few times in our correspondence before I realized the mistake. Truth is, I wanted this job and I didn’t know if being a woman would hinder my chances so I neglected to correct the error. I do apologize for that but I hope that now that I am here we can work things out.” Her eyes were imploring as she gazed over at him.
“Well, it doesn’t really matter to me, Miss O’Fallon, whether you’re a man or a woman,” –Good God had he just said that?– “but it’s the board you’ll have to convince.”
“Fine, when can I meet with them?”
“Tonight, around 6 o’clock?” That spot at the base of her throat was dry now, he noticed. How come he’d never noticed that spot on other women before, he wondered?
“Suits me fine. Until then. Oh and Mr. Cartwright,” Katherine could not resist adding as he rose to leave, “Tell me…do you normally wear black on such a hot day?”
Startled, turning from the door, Adam defended, “I like black. And is it your normal custom, Miss O’Fallon,” he countered, running his eyes the length of her and settling his hat on his head, “to take a bath in the middle of the day?”
It was Thursday evening and Katherine was dining at the Ponderosa with the Cartwright family. Things had gone rather smoothly, she thought, as the school board had voted to keep her on and she had moved over from the hotel to the widow Jenkins house to board with her. Adam Cartwright had very kindly invited her to meet his family, her being a stranger in town, and judging by these folks she thought she’d like it out here very much.
Of course, she had no way of knowing that Virginia City was still abuzz with news of her arrival. It hadn’t taken the board members long to tell their wives about their startling interview with Miss Katherine Mary O’Fallon and it didn’t take the wives long to let the rest of the town know.
She had shot down their reasons for employing a male teacher. It was pure demographics, they tried to explain. Out here there were three men for every woman and most of those men lived on ranches outside the city. So when a woman teacher married she moved away and the school lost another teacher. Miss O’Fallon allowed as how she hadn’t come all this way to find a husband – remarking dryly that San Francisco had it’s share of men too. No, Adam had chuckled, enjoying the site of the squirming board members, Virginia City had not ever seen the likes of Katherine Mary O’Fallon. And when she had left the room so the vote could be taken on her staying or leaving, it didn’t hurt that Adam Cartwright spoke up for her, swaying the others with his opinion that her credentials for the job were all that really mattered.
Ben Cartwright was studying the young woman at the dinner table. She was beautiful, no question about that and her voice and manners were pleasant. But it was her wit and sharp mind that made the strongest impression on him and especially the effect those we having on his eldest son, Adam. For several times during the conversation, when she had made a clever remark that had set them all to laughing, he had noticed Adam laughing too. It was not that Adam didn’t laugh before in his life but he laughed less than his two younger more exuberant brothers. Ben had always thought his eldest to be of a more naturally reserved nature, but now he wondered. Feeling a little stab of pain he wondered how much being the eldest with all the attendant responsibilities had been a factor in that.
“So tell me, Miss O’Fallon, what made you decide to come to Virginia City? It’s a long way from San Francisco,” Ben asked their dinner companion.
“That it is, Mr. Cartwright, and please, all of you, call me Katherine. I don’t really know why I picked Virginia City, per se, I just knew that I wanted to teach somewhere that I could make a difference and I think I can here.”
“But won’t you miss the society? We have a reputation for being pretty uncivilized out here,” Adam questioned.
“Ah, but don’t all great civilized societies begin as uncivilized ones?” Katherine turned in her chair to look directly at Adam. “I think I’d rather be here at the beginning myself. Just think, to teach the future generations that will help settle this land. Students who will become doctors, and lawyers, housewives and ranchers, builders and architects….” warming to her subject, Katherine’s tone had taken on a certain passion.
“Well, hey, Adam here’s an architect, well sort of, ain’t you, Adam,” Hoss interjected.
Katherine’s eyes hadn’t left Adam’s face and now she arched her brow in inquiry.
“I studied it a little in college,” Adam clarified, inexplicably annoyed with Hoss for bringing up the subject.
As the dinner finished up and the group made their way into the great room, Ben invited, “Perhaps, Miss O’Fall….ah, Katherine, you’d like to look at some of the books we have here at the Ponderosa?” and lead Katherine across the room.
“Whew,” began Hoss to Adam and Little Joe as soon as his Pa and Katherine were out of earshot, “that gal sure is something. What colour would you say her hair is? I ain’t never seen that colour of hair afore.”
“Yes, you have,” remarked Adam who had been studying on just that very thing for a few days now, “just not on a woman. It’s the same colour and sheen as on my horse. Sort of chestnut with a little fire in it. They call it auburn.”
“You know, I think you’re right,” Hoss agreed as Adam departed over in the general direction of the bookcase.
“She’s smart, too,” whispered Little Joe to Hoss. “Almost like having another Adam around.”
“Yeah,” guffawed Hoss and nudging his brother in the ribs, “only this Adam’s a darn sight prettier!”
“Miss O’Fallon, Miss O’Fallon, please wake up,” the insistent tone of Mrs. Jenkins voice as she pounded on Katherine’s door finally permeated Katherine’s sleepy brain. She was in bed late this Saturday morning, trying to catch up on a little sleep after the stress of the past few weeks of teaching.
“What is it, Mrs. Jenkins?” she called out.
“You’ve got a few callers downstairs. What shall I tell them?”
Oh no, not again, Katherine moaned. “I’ll be down in a few minutes.” Hastily dressing and brushing her hair back into a loose knot at her neck, she proceeded downstairs. This had really got to stop. For the past few weeks there’d been an increasing number of gentlemen callers parading into Mrs. Jenkins’ parlour. She knew the men out here outnumbered the women but she didn’t have time to waste like this. What Katherine didn’t know was as word of her beauty increased so did the number of callers.
Peeking into the parlour, Katherine was startled to count six young men nervously perched on various pieces of furniture, more than one of them adjusting the tight collars of their Sunday best clothes. “Holy St. Patrick,” she breathed. This really was getting out of hand.
Behind her, she heard a knock on the front door. Surely not another one! Well, she’d just head this one off at the pass. Flinging wide the door, she was met with the dark apparition of Adam Cartwright.
“Oh, Adam, am I glad it’s you!” And with that she yanked him into the foyer.
“Huh?” Adam was startled at this unusually enthusiastic welcome. After all, he’d only come to tell her about the school board meeting.
“You’ve got to help me,” there was a pleading tone in Katherine’s voice.
“What’s wrong?” Adam was instantly on guard.
Wordlessly, Katherine pointed towards the parlour. Hand on his gun holster Adam cautiouly approached and peered into the parlour. Why it was just Billy Bartley and some of the other ranch hands from the Lazy J. He recognized Teddy Rivers from the bank too. His face a question, he turned back to Katherine and asked again, “What’s wrong?”
“Callers,” Katherine ground out distastefully. “Gentlemen callers.”
A little bubble of laughter was rising in his throat, but thinking better about releasing it, he asked instead, “What’s the matter with gentlemen callers?”
“Look, Adam, I don’t have time to be entertaining all these callers. Isn’t there some way the school board could put a stop to this?”
“What would you suggest?” Adam was enjoying this.
“I don’t know. Something.”
“Look, why don’t you just give them some tea and a few of those funny little sandwiches you women seem to like so much and send them on their way?”
“I can’t. Mrs. Jenkins won’t let me use her china anymore.”
“Why is that?”
“Too many pieces got broken.”
Incredulously Adam asked, “Your callers are breaking Mrs. Jenkins’ china?”
“No,” Katherine shushed him. “I’ve been breaking her china.”
Laughing out loud now, “I’m sorry Miss O’Fallon, this really isn’t a matter for the school board. You’re on your own with this.” And settling his hat on his head he headed out the door, chuckling under his breath and entirely forgetting what he had come by to tell her.
“Insufferable man,” Katherine hissed as she headed into the parlour.
Things did not improve over the next few weeks and the steady stream of callers continued unabated. The respectable men who presented themselves in Mrs. Jenkins parlour every week were one thing but some of the other men in town she could do without. Katherine allowed as how Virginia City might be less civilized than she was used to but that did not mean she enjoyed the sound of the whistles that sometimes accompanied her ventures about town.
But it was Saturday, and Katherine was looking forward to her ride as she headed over to the livery that afternoon. Oh, she never rode far and usually just to check on students who had missed some school and to bring them their work.
Walking by the saloon on her way to the stables she passed by a few men lounging outside in the afternoon heat. As usual a few whistles reached her ears but ignoring them she hurried on.
“Hey, what’s you’re hurry there?” One of the men blocked her path.
“Let me pass.” Katherine used all the authority she could muster.
“Now why don’t you and me get a little better acquainted? If you ain’t about the prettiest thing I ever did see.”
Making to go around him, he pulled on her elbow. “I said let me go,” and pulling free Katherine fairly flew away. Behind her she could hear the men’s laughter as one of them remarked, “Hey Charlie, looks like she don’t like ya.”
Hastily reaching the stables, Katherine paused inside the doors to catch her breath, her heart beating wildly.
“Here’s your horse, Miss O’Fallon,” the livery hand brought Mollie over to her as he spotted her arrival.
“Thank you, Hank.” Leading the horse outside she quickly mounted and began to ride. It wasn’t until some time later that she realized she was on the road heading to the Ponderosa.
Pulling up to the ranch house, Katherine spotted Hoss Cartwright working outside. Dismounting quickly she approached him, “Hoss, is Adam here?”
“Why sure he is, Miss Katherine, just up at the house, I’ll fetch him fer ya.” He turned to do so, when the door opened and Adam came out followed by his father and Little Joe. Seeing Adam, Katherine hurried towards him, only to pull up short halfway there. What was she doing? This was silly. Suddenly feeling stupid and embarrassed, she halfturned away.
“Why Katherine, how nice to see you,” Ben welcomed. “What brings you out all this way?”
Katherine remained silent, eyes downcast, mortified now. The four men exchanged puzzled glances, Adam finally approaching her.
“What’s wrong, Katherine?” Adam asked, his voice soft so only the two of them could hear.
“No-nothing,” she stammered.
Reaching out, he touched her arm. “Katherine.”
Peering up from under her lashes to see if the others were listening she finally confessed, “I’m…I’m frightened.” Adam felt his heart lurch at her words.
“About what?” he prodded.
“It’s silly…really….just some of the men…in town…the way they look at me and…and things…I don’t like it.”
Suddenly with a pretty good idea of what she was talking about, Adam soothed, “It’ll be alright, Katherine. I’ll take care of it.” And then louder so the others would hear, “you go on into the house with my brothers now and rest up. I’ll be back later. Hoss, Joe,” Adam gestured to his brothers to escort her into the house.
Watching the three disappear into the house Ben asked, “What are you going to do, Adam?”, indicating the conversation hadn’t been so private after all.
“What I should have done the first time she asked for help,” Adam’s expression was grim. Feeling guilty and something else he couldn’t place his finger on, he headed to the barn to saddle his horse.
Striding into the busy saloon just about an hour later, Adam Cartwright bellied up to the bar and, placing his hat on the counter, he ordered a shot of whiskey. The drink set before him he turned to survey the room. Already filled with miners and ranch hands in town to spend their weekday earnings, it was a boisterous and noisy place. Casually taking his gun from his holster, he fired one shot into the ceiling.
Suddenly the din in the room became deathly quiet and all attention centered on him.
“Why’d you go and do that, Adam?” the barkeeper complained, eyeing the hole in his ceiling.
“Just wanted to let the folks here know about something. Something about Miss Katherine O’Fallon,” Adam drawled, addressing the room now. “She’s my girl now, just so we’re all clear about that,” Adam’s voice held a note of warning as he made eye contact with certain of the men. “And anyone who thinks different will be answering to me. Anybody got any objections to that?”, he challenged.
Several of the men shook their heads and one or two spoke up, “No, no, didn’t have no idea things were headed that way, Adam.”
“Yeah, and you might want to spread the word. Just so we’re all clear about that.” Picking up his whiskey, he downed it in one gulp, settled his hat on his head and stroke from the room.
Storming into the house two weeks later, Katherine tossed down her packages and furiously began working at the strings of her jacket. She had just been over at the general store and hadn’t liked what she’d heard. Wrapping up her packages, Mrs. Abbott the clerk, had admonished her in her parting remarks, “Now you say hello to that nice young man of yours for me.”
“What nice young man?” Katherine had inquired innocently.
“Why, Adam Cartwright, of course,” Mrs. Abbott had replied as if Katherine were daft.
“Mrs. Abbott, Adam Cartwright is not my young man.” Katherine had been eager to set the record straight, a slight blush coming to her cheeks.
Suddenly fearful she’d made a blunder, Mrs. Abbott, looking for corroboration called out to Mrs. Townsend, who was busy looking at dress material, “Minnie, didn’t I hear right that Adam Cartwright was courting Miss O’Fallon?”
“Why sure you did, Harriet. Whole town knows about it. Why everyone knows how he announced it to everybody over there in the saloon.”
“There. What’d I tell ya.” Mrs. Abbott seemed reassured.
Katherine, too embarrassed to pursue the conversation further, hurriedly gathered up her parcels and left.
Katherine had been relieved a few weeks earlier when her constant stream of callers had ceased. Adam had told her he’d had a “little talk” with some of the men and that there’d likely be no more trouble. With a sudden sickening realization of what that little talk might have consisted of, she headed up the stairs to her room, her temper flaring, just as a knock sounded on the door.
The door flung wide in response to his knock, Adam Cartwright was surprised to find not Mrs. Jenkins but Katherine on the other side of it, fire darting from the depths of her green eyes.
“Goodday, Katherine,” he began innocently.
“You go to hell, Adam Cartwright,” Katherine fired off, slamming the door in his face.
With the certain knowledge that a certain piece of information had just made it’s way to her, Adam knocked again. This time the door opened and he peered in to see Katherine already walking towards the parlour. Hat in hand, he followed her inside.
“I’ve just been put in the awkward position, Mr. Cartwright,” Katherine began when Adam had joined her in the parlour, “of being informed that you are my young man.”
“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to tell you about that,” Adam admitted sheepishly. He’d already explained his actions to his father but somehow he suspected this might be a little more difficult.
“I’m listening,” she answered, arms folded in front.
Briefly recounting to her the event in the saloon a few weeks ago and conveniently leaving out what he considered at this point minor details, Adam confessed to having purposely intended for the townfolk to think she was his girl.
“But why, Adam?”
“You know why. It was the only way to stop the men from…from…you know.” Adam cleared his throat.
“But why should that stop them? I mean, er,….,” Katherine fumbled for the words.
“Look, Katherine. I don’t know about San Francisco, but this is how it works out here. Women look to their men for protection, their fathers, brothers, husbands. The other men know who they’d have to answer to if something happens. A lone woman is sort of an easy target, with no menfolk to protect her.”
“But that’s barbaric,” Katherine complained.
“Yeah, well, we are nothing if not uncivilized,” Adam drawled sardonically.
Katherine stood, chewing on her lip, and mulling over what she’d just been told. Seeing her hestitancy, Adam added, “Look, I’m just offering you my protection, nothing more, nothing less. We both know there’s nothing more to it than that so it doesn’t really matter what the rest of the town thinks.”
“I dunno, it just seems like there should’ve been something else you could do instead.”
“Like what?” Adam asked, exasperated.
“I dunno…,” she replied, turning it over in her mind before offering, “….teach me to shoot?”
Katherine chewed on her lower lip as she surveyed herself in the cheval mirror. “Mama, are you sure this dress isn’t too…too…,” she trailed off not sure how to put her opinion into words. Her parents had come to Virginia City to pay a visit and to make sure that everything was going well for their only child. And tonight they had all been invited to the Ponderosa for a party.
Katherine had an uneasy feeling that the dress wasn’t entirely decent. But her mother had brought it all the way from San Francisco for her and it didn’t seem polite to refuse to wear it. The velvet material was a deep green, so deep it was almost black but it wasn’t the colour that concerned her. The sleeveless bodice scooped low at her neckline and even lower at her back leaving much of her shoulders and arms bare. The skirting at the front was subtely swept backwards to reveal slightly the curve of her hips.
“Now dear, it’s a lovely dress. Maybe not what they’re used to seeing out here but the height of fashion in San Francisco. You know it always takes a few years for the fashions to filter out so you’re just a little ahead of things, that’s all.” Mrs. O’Fallon reassured her daughter.
“Mama, I don’t think Virginia City is ready for this dress,” said the unconvinced Katherine.
“Now dear, you look charming. And don’t you want to look nice for your young man?”
“Mama, Adam Cartwright is not my young man.” Katherine stated emphatically, and not for the first time since her parent’s arrival.
“But, honey, Mrs. Wilkins over at the hotel seemed quite convinced of it. Now come on or we’ll be late,” urged Mrs. O’Fallon heading to the door.
“Well, of course,” Katherine muttered under her breath, “I guess Mrs. Wilkins would know better than I.” Resigned now to her fate, Katherine sighed as she clipped on her small emerald earrings, a gift from her parents on her birthday four years ago. Deciding to wear no other jewelry, she secured one final pin into her hair and reached for her shawl.
For only the second time in his life, Adam Cartwright sucked in his breath at the sight of a woman. Tonight he did it when Katherine O’Fallon arrived at the Ponderosa with her parents and she removed her shawl. It was that dress she was wearing, or almost wearing depending on your point of view. Oh, he guessed the critical parts were all covered well enough but it was the way it presented those other ones that did him in. The contrast of her creamy skin to the dark velvet, the gentle swell of her bosom, the long straight expanse of her back. But maybe it was best he didn’t study on it too much. He didn’t need to complicate things right now, and Katherine O’Fallon in that dress was one big complication.
Katherine had noticed Adam upon arriving as well. As usual he was attired mostly in black, a suit this time, with a white shirt and a frothing of black ribbon at this throat. Well, if you were going to wear black most of the time the least you could do was look good in it. And Adam Cartwright certainly looked good in black.
“Katherine, Mr. and Mrs. O’Fallon, welcome,” Ben had greeted his guests, ushering them into the house. “Please make yourselves at home and enjoy the party.” He’d arranged this party for Katherine’s parents on their last night in town and things were in full swing, with the musicians playing a lively tune and the partygoers taking advantage of that.
“Thank you, Mr. Cartwright, I think we just might. Would you like to dance, m’dear?” Mr. O’Fallon inquired and immediately lead his wife onto the floor.
“Katherine, can I get you some punch?” Ben enquired as Katherine settled herself onto a hearby chair.
“Yes, please, thank you Mr. Cartwright.” Ben departed for the freshment table.
Glancing about the room, Katherine noticed Adam had taken up a stance across the way on the far side of the room, leaning up against the wall next to the stone fireplace. Their eyes meeting suddenly, she quickly looked away, noticing a sudden quickening of her pulse.
A moment later Ben returned to Katherine’s solitary figure with her punch and politely enquired, “Or maybe you’d like to dance first? I think I could manage a step or two with the prettiest girl in the room.”
Flashing a pleased smile, “Why of course Mr. Cartwright that would be lovely,” and leaving her punch on the nearby table they proceeded to the dance floor.
Katherine danced a few more times that night, including once with her father and once with each of the two younger Cartwright sons, all the while her temper being piqued at being ignored by the eldest Cartwright son. It was not that she wanted to dance with him, she told herself, but they had an illusion to maintain after all and it would look strange if he did not dance with her at least once. But Adam had maintained his stance leaning by the fireplace for most of the evening, venturing out once to dance with her mother.
Towards the end of the evening, Katherine was startled to look up and see him before her. “Would you like to dance, Katherine?” he politely inquired. Adam had realised at some point he would have to dance with her. It was not that he took no pleasure from the task but that he somehow thought he would take entirely too much from it.
“Are you sure you feel up to it, Adam?” Katherine enquired, an exaggerated tone of concern in her voice.
“I beg your pardon?” said Adam in confusion.
“I mean, do you think your legs will be alright?” she drawled sweetly. “The way you’ve been leaning against the wall all night, I thought they must be paining you considerably.”
Adam’s laughter rang out, diffusing the tense situation as he assured her, “I think maybe I can manage this one dance.”
“Well, fine then,” Katherine smiled as she took his offered hand, a truce having been called.
The dance over, Adam was leading Katherine back to her seat when Mr. O’Fallon approached.
“Mr. Cartwright, I wonder if you’d like to join me outside while I smoke my cigar?” he invited.
“Pa….,” Katherine began with a mildly panicked look.
“Now, now, Katie, this is man talk.” Mr. O’Fallon was firm.
Glancing from Katherine to her father, Adam acquiesced, “Certainly, if you like.”
Watching them go, Katherine sat down and began to sip her punch with a decidedly uneasy feeling.
Lighting his cigar and taking a few preliminary puffs, Mr. O’Fallon began, “Mr. Cartwright, I’ve been hearing things in town ’bout you and my girl.”
“Really, Mr. O’Fallon, I should tell you…..”
“Now, now,” Mr. O’Fallon held up his hand, “I don’t believe in interferring too much with young folks, my daughter included, and I’ll not be starting now. I just thought you ought to know a few things.”
“Like I said, sir, there really isn’t any need.” Adam wasn’t sure he liked the direction this conversation was headed.
“She’s got a little bit of a temper, my girl does,” Mr. O’Fallon continued on as if Adam hadn’t spoken. “Can’t be helped. She’s Irish, you know. But she’s got a good heart to go along with it so don’t let that stop you.”
“Wouldn’t you like to go in now, I think they’re serving dessert,” Adam tried desperately, positive now that he didn’t like the direction things were going.
“And she’s what you might call accident-prone. Peculiar trait, that, get’s it from her mother’s side. All the women are like that. You know, dropping stuff and tripping over things, sort of clumsy. It’s nothing to worry about. None of their men have ever been killed by it or anything. Why, look at me and I’ve been with her Mother nigh on thirty years now, so don’t let that stop you.”
“Mr. O’Fallon, please…..”
“Actually, sometimes there can be a real advantage to it, advantage for the men I mean, the women being that way. But I’m thinking maybe you already know about that?” Mr. O’Fallon asked as he sharply regarded Adam.
At Adam’s blank look he added, “No, I can see that you don’t. Well, never mind. I’m sure you’ll be figuring it out for yourself soon enough. Oh and Mr. Cartwright, there’s just one more thing. Katie Mary is my only child and if I ever hear that you’ve hurt her in any way I’ll be coming to pay you a visit,” and pausing to take a pull on his cigar he added, “but don’t let that stop you.”
“Come on, Hoss,” Little Joe emplored. “What could go wrong?”
“I dunno, Joe. Just seems like we oughter stay out of it,” Hoss said.
Little Joe Cartwright was trying to coerce his brother into helping with this idea he had, this idea centering on Adam and Miss Katherine O’Fallon. He’d noticed how much happier his brother Adam seemed since Miss O’Fallon had come to town and just he could help move things along a might faster. If there was one thing he new about, Little Joe told himself, it was women. So deciding to help Adam out, he devised a plot.
“I’m telling you, Hoss, nothing can go wrong.”
“Why Hoss, Little Joe, how nice of you to stop by. Come on in and sit down. Can I get you anything?” Katherine was a little surprised to see the two younger Cartwright boys as she ushered them onto the settee in the parlour of Mrs. Jenkins’ house.
“No thanks, ma’am, we just stopped by for…for…” Hoss faltered.
“…a neighbourly visit,” Joe supplied, as Katherine sat poised on the chair beside them.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Hoss concurred, “and Adam woulda come too only he’s up on the mesa checking on some cattle.”
“It’s too bad Adam couldn’t be here, ma’am, he sure does set a store by you,” Little Joe offered.
“Yup, anyone can just about see how highly he thinks of you, ain’t that right Joe?”
“You got that right, Hoss.”
Katherine looked from one brother to another with amusement. Surely Adam Cartwright hadn’t sent his younger brothers here to ply her with compliments on his behalf.
“Well, I think highly of your brother, too,” she conceded.
Hoss and Joe grinned at each other delightedly. This was going even smoother than they had hoped it would.
“Why just the other day Adam was saying…,” Hoss paused, trying to remember what it was Adam had once said. Ah, he remembered now, “…..Adam was saying how much you look like his horse.”
“WHAT?” Katherine shrieked.
No, no, no, that wasn’t the way Adam had said it, Joe reflected. Seems like Hoss had left something out. What else had Adam said? Hoping to bolster Hoss’ pitiful compliment he added, “Yeah and he thinks you’re on fire too.”
“OUT!!! OUT!!! BOTH OF YOU!!!” Katherine bellowed, bolting from her chair and knocking over Mrs. Jenkins potted fern. If Little Joe and Hoss had never seen an Irish temper before they were seeing one now.
Something had gone terribly wrong both Joe and Hoss knew as they beat a hasty retreat out the front door.
“AND TELL YOUR BROTHER TO KEEP AWAY FROM ME!!” Katherine’s words followed them down the front path.
Adam Cartwright had ridden into town a few minutes earlier, thinking to stop at the saloon for a cold beer after rounding up a few strays that day up on the mesa. At least that’s what he told himself as he headed into town on the road that passed Katherine O’Fallon’s house. Coming closer, he recognized Little Joe and Hoss’s horses tied to the front post outside. Suddenly there was a commotion from inside the house and Joe and Hoss came running down the path and quickly mounted their horses. Quickly nudging his horse forward, Adam cut them off just as they prepared to ride away.
“What in tarnation is going on?” he demanded.
“Now, Adam, we was only trying to help,” Hoss pleaded. Sounds of breaking glass could be heard from inside the house.
“Hey Hoss, I think I hear Pa calling,” improvised Joe, that claim given little credence considering the distance.
“Trying to help what?” Adam asked, his voice getting louder.
“You know, helping yer to romance that little gal,” Hoss confessed. “Twern’t our fault she didn’t like what you said about her looking like your horse.”
“Oh please, please, tell me you didn’t tell her I said her hair was the colour of my horse?” Adam begged, a sudden sick feeling overcoming him. “Even you two couldn’t be stupid enough to tell a woman that.”
“Well not exactly,” Little Joe swallowed nervously. “We kinda forgot the part about it being just her hair that looked like your horse.”
“Damn it! Get on home, you two, I’ll deal with you later. And the next time I need any help from the Cartwright School of Romance, I’LL ASK FOR IT!”, Adam yelled, the last bit coming out as more of a bellow.
After Hoss and Joe rode gratefully but uneasily away, Adam tied his horse to the post and, mindful of the possible need for a speedy exit, he left his hat on his saddle horn. Approaching the house and seeing that the front door was open he didn’t bother to knock, entering softly and proceeding to the parlour. There he found Katherine, her back to him, wrestling with something she held in front of her. About her on the floor was evidence of what looked like dirt and broken glass. Quietly he approached her.
“Like his horse, like his damn horse,” Katherine was muttering to herself. Like she did most of the time when she’d been hurt, Katherine was hiding her hurt at Adam’s comment with a good show of anger. It was just that she’d never been compared to a horse before, never, not once. And she didn’t think she liked it. And not only that but she’d knocked over Mrs. Jenkins plant and broke her blue cut glass bowl, too. And now the dang lid on the dang cannister wouldn’t come off so she could clean up the mess. She pried harder, channeling all her anger into the task at hand. Suddenly the lid gave way and her arm flew back forcefully.
Adam Cartwright hadn’t seen it coming. But he sure felt it when Katherine O’Fallon’s fist connected smartly with his jaw sending him reeling backwards. Whirling around and seeing what she had done, Katherine dropped the cannister and flew towards Adam.
“Are you alright, Adam? Did I hurt you, Adam?” In fact, she came at him so sudden he had to put his arms around her to steady them both or they would have toppled over. Katherine reached her hand up to caress the spot she’d only seconds before assaulted. “I’m so sorry, Adam. I didn’t mean to be so clumsy.” Her eyes were wide with concern and Adam noticed a fluttering of the pulse at the base of her throat. For a second he had an irrestible urge to touch her there to see what it felt like.
“I’m alright, Katherine, please don’t worry yourself.” Hell, she could be as clumsy as she liked if this was the result, he thought, savouring the feel of her soft body in his arms. A sudden recollection came to him and he began to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” Katherine asked suspiciously.
“Noth…nothing…,” Adam tried to get out past the guffaws that were consuming him. “I just remembered…something your Pa tried to tell me.”
“Hmm.” He didn’t look none too hurt at the moment so Katherine backed away from him, only to find herself locked in place. “Adam, you can let me go now.” Adam had unconsciously locked the fingers of his hands together at the small of her back.
“Hmm, yes, well,” Adam said, clearing his throat and releasing her.
That little episode had removed Katherine’s anger but a little smidgeon of hurt still lingered inside. Moving over to the window she brushed back the curtain to peer out and with a little frown on her lips she asked, “Is that your horse out there?”
Adam came beside her at the window and together they studied the equine creature nibbling at Mrs. Jenkins’ peony bush.
“Yeah, it is. A real beauty, that one.”
A hint of a smile replaced her frown and suddenly Katherine Mary O’Fallon didn’t mind so much that for the first time in her life she’d been compared to a horse.
Later that night, hearing Adam ride up to the ranch house, Hoss and Little Joe nervously eyed each other. They hadn’t let Pa go to bed yet, wanting his presence and protection just in case things turned ugly.
The door opened and Adam entered, removing his hat and gunbelt. “Evening Pa. Hoss. Joe. What’s everyone doing up so late?”
Confused glances passed between Ben and his two younger sons. “Adam, don’t you have something you wanted to say to Hoss and Little Joe?” enquired Ben who’d been filled in on the day’s events.
“No, no, I don’t think so, unless…well, thanks for helping out today, fellas.” Adam’s tone was pleasant.
“Huh?” squeaked Little Joe.
“Well, it’s pretty late and I think I’ll turn in now,” Adam commented, stretching and pretending to stifle a yawn. “Oh yeah, there is just one other thing. It’s about my horse.”
“Your horse,” Ben repeated, as Hoss and Joe shuffled nervously.
“Yeah. His name. I changed it.”
“You changed your horse’s name,” Ben echoed.
“Yeah. It’s Beauty now.” Turning his focus squarely on Hoss and Little Joe, Adam added, “Do you two nitwits think you can possibly manage to remember that?”
Little Joe and Hoss, relieved to be let off so lightly, chimed, “Sure ’nuff can, Adam, you betcha we can, Adam.”
“Good. See that you do.” And with that Adam headed up the stairs and to what he was sure would be pleasant dreams.
“Adam, something on your mind?” Ben queried from his wing chair by the fire. Adam was sitting on the wooden table staring into the fire, leaning forward, his mouth on his fist.
“Oh, I don’t know Pa….,” he evaded.
Adam didn’t know how things had gotten so mixed up, most notably his feelings towards Katherine O’Fallon. Acutely aware that she’d shown no interest in having suitors and had in fact been very displeased to find out he’d made her his girl, if only as a shield. Adam, who didn’t like to take risks where his heart was concerned, just didn’t think he could take the hurt of being rejected if he pursued her for real. Maybe it was just best to leave things as they were.
“It’s just kind of hard,” he finally admitted to his father, as he scratched his neck just behind his ear. “Kind of hard to court a girl that doesn’t want to be courted.”
Drawing on his pipe, Ben observed, “You know, Adam, there are some women don’t know what they want.” And pausing for greater emphasis he added, “Some men too.”
“That was a stupid thing to do, Joe!” Adam flung in anger to his younger brother as they stormed through the door of the ranch house, followed glumly by Hoss.
“Oh, come on, Adam!” Joe retaliated. “Someone had to do it and maybe you just didn’t have the guts!”
“Watch it, Joe,” Adam’s tone had turned menancing.
“What’s going on?” Ben queried as he and Katherine put down their teacups. Katherine had been waiting for Adam who’d promised her a buggy ride home after her visit to the Clancy place.
“Oh, Pa, seems like Little Joe got into a heapa trouble over at the corral,” explained Hoss. “Dang near got hisself killed trying to stop that mean old bull barehanded.”
Thinking it better to wait till later for a full explanation, Ben looked from Joe to Adam who both seemed ready to tackle the other. “Well, that’s enough out of both of you for now,” he said, breaking up the latest clash between his two disparate sons.
Katherine O’Fallon, who had watched the altercation between the two brothers, suddenly narrowed her focus on Little Joe, seeing something she recognized and understood.
Adam came to her side. “I’m sorry you had to witness that, Katherine. I’ll take you home now.” He escorted her out of the house past his father and brothers, a mutual look of hostility passing between himself and Joe.
The ride back to town was conducted in silence, both Adam and Katherine lost in their thoughts. Turning to her at Mrs. Jenkins’ door, Adam said, “Look, Katherine, I had to say it. Joe has to learn.”
“I know, Adam, you’re just worried about him. I can see that.” But that was not all she had seen. “Would you…would you do something for me if I asked, Adam?”
Surprised and amused, Adam replied, “Depends.”
“Would you…would you go a little easier on Little Joe?”
“Go a little easier on Little Joe….,” Adam echoed defensively, crossing his arms high on his chest. “Seems to me Joe gave as good as he got today.” Adam wasn’t quite sure he liked this sudden concern she had for his little brother.
“I know. I know he did, Adam. But it’s just, well,….that’s how he hides his hurt. I kinda know about that.” Suddenly afraid she’d said too much, Katherine hurriedly added, “Well, goodnight, then,” and turned into the house, closing the door behind her.
Adam remained where he stood for a good long while, a thoughtful expression on his face.
Back at the Ponderosa, Ben eyed his youngest son with concern.
“What’s really troubling you, Little Joe?” Ben asked, sensing that more was going on that just what had happened today at the corral.
“Oh, nothing, nothing really, Pa,” Joe answered, the pain still too fresh.
“Time was, you could tell me just about anything, Joe. I’d like to think you still can,” Ben gentled, trying to get Little Joe to open up.
“It’s just….,” Little Joe didn’t know where to start. “You know, Pa, me and Hoss always got along real good…..and Hoss and Adam, well, they’ve got no trouble either. But Adam and me,” agonized Joe, shaking his head, “seems like sometimes we just rub each other the wrong way. Seems like no matter what I try to do I can’t ever change that.”
Placing his hand on Joe’s shoulder and seeking the words to comfort his son, Ben consoled, “You’re a good brother, Joe. Adam knows that.”
Unconvinced, Joe accepted his father’s words in silence.
One night a few weeks later…..
“Why, Hello, Adam,” Mrs. Jenkins greeted Adam at the door of her house that evening. “I’m afraid Miss O’Fallon isn’t here. She’s gone out to the Heston place.”
“Oh,” said Adam, disappointed. He’d been looking forward to seeing her today. It just seemed like he couldn’t get her off his mind. “Well, please tell her that I was by, will you?”
“‘Course I will, Adam. Goodday.”
“Ma’am,” said Adam, tipping his hat.
Mounting his horse, Adam had the sudden thought that he was long past due making a social call on the Hestons. Yes sir, long past due. And maybe now was a good time to remedy that.
Pulling up reign at the front of the Heston ranch, Adam dismounted and tied his horse Beauty to the post next to Katherine’s horse Mollie. Knocking on the front door, he was startled when Katherine opened it to him, a flushed and flustered expression on her face. Two young children were running about her skirts and a baby was giggling from its cot by the wall.
“Oh, Adam, am I glad to see you!” Katherine him greeted enthusiastically.
Remembering the last time she had greeted him that way, he inquired suspiciously, “Oh?”
Before she had a chance to answer, a piercing shriek rendered the air. “Owww, Miss O’Fawwon, Billy’s pulling my hair!!” cried Lizzie Heston.
Quickly turning into the room, Katherine rushed to break up the ensuing fight between the two 5-year old twins. “Now, now, Billy, you don’t want to pull your sister’s hair. Don’t you know that hurts?”
“‘Course it does,” Billy replied knowledgeably. “What’d’ya think I was doing it fer?”
“Now, Billy, maybe you’d best just leave your sister’s hair be, how’s that?” Adam prompted from the door, stopping Billy in his tracks at the sight of this new authority figure.
“Yes sir,” he replied respectfully, his devilish merriment now curtailed.
The seeming crisis over, Katherine turned back to Adam. “Won’t you come in, Adam, that is, if you think it’s safe,” she said teasingly.
Coming into the room and peering around he asked, “You here all alone? Where are the Hestons?”
“Oh, I’m minding the children for them so they could go into town to see that new play. But I must say they’re proving to be quite a handful,” she said, gesturing to the two youngsters who had now begun to run about the room much to the delight of their watching baby brother. Katherine was used to managing children at the school but not ones as young as these and she was having trouble controlling their youthful exurberance. “Annie said to put them to bed about now but they just don’t seem to be tired,” she observed as Lizzie dove under the kitchen table, her brother in pursuit.
As the two whirlwinds made another trek around the room, this time brushing close by Adam, he bent down to stop the sibling in front, the sibling in back colliding with the first and stopping as well. “Hey, what’s all this about?” Adam queried. “You two are a real wild west show.”
“What’s that?” inquired a curious Billy.
“Why, haven’t you heard about the most famous sharpshooters in all the West?”
At the children’s negative headshakes, Adam added, “Why if you two were to go get washed and changed for bed maybe I could tell you all about it. How’s that sound,” he bargained.
“Ok,” was the quick decision, the children racing off.
“Whew, thank you, Adam,” Katherine’s tone was grateful just as the baby behind her began to yowl at the sudden loss of his sibling’s presence. Turning to the child, Katherine lifted him from his cot and softly shushed, rocking the child gently against her shoulder.
Moving to the rocking chair by the fireplace Katherine gingerly sat down and set the child in her lap. “Now, now,” she cooed. “What’s all this fuss about? It’s not so bad. There. There.” The child had begun to calm down and she laid him into the cradle of her arm. Rocking gently now she soothed, “That’s a good boy, quiet now, shhhh.”
Katherine, her eyes locked with the child’s, began to stroke her thumb across its brow, the child blinking slowly in sleepy response. Softly she began to sing, a sweet song of her people, the words unknown, their meaning lost to a country faraway. Adam, watching from across the room, felt a strange pull on his heart. Moving closer he crouched down low, sitting on a stool nearby, leaning forward on his arms with something like wonder on his face.
“What was that?” Adam softy asked, when she had breathed the last note.
“Hmm. Just an old lullaby my mother used to sing to me,” she replied, noticing for the first time his nearby presence.
“But the words…,” he prompted.
“I don’t really know what they mean.”
Watching her rock the now sleeping child, he observed, “You have a gentle touch, Katherine.”
At the unexpected praise, she shrugged, “Oh, it’s not hard to comfort a child.”
“Isn’t it?” he asked, their eyes meeting and locking.
When Annie and Matt Heston returned home that night, it was to find their three young’uns fast asleep and Adam and Katherine talking quietly by the fire. The four began a companionable exchange, the men talking about ranching and the woman about the children. Awhile later, when it was time to go, Annie pulled Katherine aside.
“I can’t thank you enough, Katherine,” she began. Katherine had met Annie Heston at the general store and struck up a friendship with her. “I can’t remember the last time Matt ‘n me got away like that just ourselves without toting the kids along. It were real nice.”
“Oh, not at all, Annie. I’m glad to help out and the children were just angels,” replied Katherine, fudging on the last a little, her pleasure at Annie’s words warming her heart.
As Katherine and Adam headed out the door, Adam tipping his hat in parting, Annie and Matt Heston watched them mount their horses and ride away together. Seeing a thoughtful look on his wife’s face as she watched the pair disappear into the night, Matt Heston asked, “What you thinking, woman?”
“You know what I’m thinking, husband,” Annie replied.
On the ride back to town together, Adam watched as Katherine began to sway in her saddle, her shoulders drooped with fatigue. Pulling up their horses to a stop, and lifting her from her saddle, he pulled her across to his own, her body nestled sideways to his chest. Shushing her sleepy protests, he wound his arm around her and trailing her horse behind he headed back to town.
Arriving at Mrs. Jenkin’s house in deep darkness, he dismounted and gently lifted Katherine from his horse. Nudging her towards the house, he breathed, “You’d better go in now, Katherine.”
“Goodnight, Adam,” she answered sleepily and turning to go she stumbled. Quickly reaching out to her he swung her up into his arms, her arms going instinctively about his neck, her head buried into the crook of his shoulder. Carrying her to the house and setting her down just outside the front door, he opened the door and again nudged her away. “Go on, Katherine, you’re tired, go on now,” he whispered.
Her arms still about his neck and her body pressed close to his, she murmured dreamily, “Wasn’t it a lovely evening, Adam?”
“Katherine, go inside, it’s late,” Adam implored, the urge to kiss her almost unbearable.
“I know, but wasn’t it just a lovely night?” Katherine sighed. Reaching up she pressed a tender kiss on his jaw then turned to go, closing the door behind her.
Stunned, Adam stared blankly at the closed door. He just might have a talk with that girl. Yup, he was definitely going to have to have a talk with that girl.
Turning away he began to whistle as headed back towards the waiting horses.
Charlie Bates and Vern Parker were discussing the plan.
“See, Vern, what we do is, we get one of those Cartwright boys and we hold him for ten grand. Seems like his Pa ought to be able to come up with that, right quick enough.”, Charlie theorized.
“I dunno, Charlie,” hesitated Vern, “all those Cartwright boys are good with their guns. Seems like we’d be taking an unnecessary risk.”
“Well, if we could just get one of them off by hisself….we’d stand a better chance.”
“You know those Cartwrights always seem to stick close together. Don’t knows how we’d accomplish that.”
Mulling over the problem, Vern suddenly had an idea.
“Hey, what about that gal that Adam Cartwright is seeing. Seems like she’d be easy enough to snatch.”
“Yeah. I hear Cartwright’s right sweet on her. Seems like maybe he’d be willing to pay us something to help her out of the little predicament we got in mind.”
“You know, Vern, I think you’ve got something there,” Charlie agreed. And in a sinister voice he added, “Get the schoolteacher.”
Katherine O’Fallon was at her desk in the Virginia City schoolhouse that Saturday afternoon, marking papers. She often came to the schoolhouse like this to enjoy the peace and quiet away from the boarding house.
Looking up from her desk at a noise at the back door, she called out, “Is someone there? Is that you Petey?” Ten-year-old Petey Smith often came by to clean her blackboards.
“No, Ma’am,” answered a deep menancing voice, “it ain’t Petey.” A scream welled in Katherine’s throat as two men grabbed her and dragged her away, her screams muffled by a hand to her mouth.
Adam Cartwright rode up to Mrs. Jenkin’s house to see Mrs. Jenkin’s out on the porch nervously eyeing the road.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Jenkins,” he began, and then seeing her nervousness he asked, “Is something wrong?”
“Well, it’s just that Miss O’Fallon ain’t back from the schoolhouse yet,” she answered, concern in her voice. “She was supposed to take me over to the store. It ain’t like her to be late.”
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Jenkins,” Adam replied. “I’ll go on over and see if I can hurry her up a bit.”
Approaching the schoolhouse, Adam saw Katherine’s horse Mollie tied to the post out front. Dismounting his horse, he loosely tied it up and headed to the front door. Entering the door he peered around inside at the empty room. Now where had she got to? he wondered. Approaching the front, he noticed a piece of paper on the desk, grimy and coated with dirt. Picking it up he read the words written in a primitive scrawl.
WE GOT YOUR GIRL
BRING 10 GRAND TO PIKE’S PEAK BY NOON TOMORROW
IF YOU WANT TO SEE HER ALIVE AGAIN
Storming into Sherriff Roy Coffee’s office a few minutes later, Adam quickly recounted the events to the startled sherriff. Firing off instructions as he headed to the door, Adam said, “Tell my Pa to arrange for the cash and take it to the peak tomorrow.”
“But Adam, where are you going? You just wait till I get a posse together.”
“There isn’t time for that sherriff. I’m not leaving her there alone,” he called over his shoulder as he headed out the door.
Tracking the trail from the back of the schoolhouse Adam used all of his concentration for the task at hand. He tried not to think, think about how his genuine urge to protect her had backfired in such an awful way. Instead of protecting her, he’d put her in danger. Cursing himself, he grimly continued on.
Inside the old rundown shack, the two men tied Katherine’s hands behind her back and shoved her onto a chair. “Now you jist sit tight and don’t be causing no trouble,” Charlie warned. Something was familiar about him, Katherine thought, trying to place him. Suddenly she recognized him, he’d been that man who’d accosted her outside the saloon. As if he sensed her recognition, he drawled, “Yeah, you and me have met before, ain’t we teacher?”
“Hey, Charlie,” said Vern, “you finish up there. I’m heading outside to make sure we ain’t been followed.”
“Why are you doing this?” Katherine implored.
“Ok, teacher, you’re so smart. You jist think about it. Them Cartwright’s are mighty rich folk.”
“The Cartwrights? What does that have to do with me?”
“Well, you’re almost a Cartwright, ain’t ya? You’re Adam Cartwright’s girl, ain’t ya?”
Suddenly sensing what the nefarious plan was about, Katherine pleaded, “Look, I’m not Adam’s girl. He just said that to give me protection. Really. You’ve got no reason to bring him into this.” Suddenly, with an instant clarity, Katherine realised how important it was to her that Adam not be hurt.
“Well ain’t that just fine. You trying to pertect him. Listen to me now, girlie, what’s begun can’t be stopped so we’re gonna just finish it out.”
Suddenly the door burst open and Vern pushed Adam Cartwright into the room, hands on his head.
“Lookee, here, what I found,” Vern spat contemptuously, a gun to Adam’s back. “Found him out snooping around. Ain’t got no money on him, neither.”
“Well, well, Cartwright, the little gal here not worth the money, eh? Well, maybe your Pa’ll cough up the money for you instead.”
“That’s right,” Adam ground out. “So why don’t you just let the girl go. She’s no good to you now.”
“Nah, don’t knows as I wanna do that.” And he pushed Adam onto a chair and tied his hands to the back.
Katherine and Adam exchanged glances, hers of concern and his of reassurance.
“Vern, you git on out and watch guard. Any more unplanned visitors we get, you jist shoot ’em dead.”
Adam Cartwright began surreptiously working at the knot in the rope at this hands. Charlie Bates sat at the kitchen table with his gun on the table before him. “Now you too just take it nice and easy and no one’ll get hurt,” he warned. The knot worked loose behind him, Adam waited for his chance to move.
“Hey, teacher, come on over here,” Charlie Bates beckoned. When Katherine didn’t move, he turned his pistol on Adam and threatened, “You’d better git yourself over here teacher, unless you wanna see me put a bullet through your fella here.”
Katherine got up from her chair, her hands still tied behind her back and cautiously approached. “That’s more like it,” said Charlie. “You got yourself a fine looking woman here, Cartwright,” he said as he pulled Katherine down to his level and ran his finger along her face. “Yessir, a fine looking woman.”
Suddenly, Adam sprung from his chair and threw his full weight on the unsuspecting man. Katherine hastily backed out of the way as the two men rolled to the floor. Fists flying the two men struggled for dominance. Hastily, Katherine worked loose the knot at her hands. Finally free, she grabbed the gun from the table and pointed it towards the two men still brawling about the room. But it was impossible to make a clear shot. She might hit Adam by mistake. Suddenly the door burst open and Vern appeared.
“What the…,” was all he got out before Katherine turned the gun on him and fired, hitting him in the shoulder and sending him reeling back.
With one final blow, Adam sent Charlie Bates crashing against the wall. Knocked unconscious he slithered to the floor.
Adam went to Katherine’s side and gently pried the gun from her hand. She was shaking like a leaf. Just then they heard horses ride up. It was the sherriff, Adam’s father and brothers. Drawing his gun on the wounded man out front, the sherriff yelled, “You alright, Adam?”
“Yeah, we’re alright, sherriff,” and gently he lead Katherine out of the room.
“You’d better get going, Adam. I’m sure the sherriff will want to talk with you.” Katherine was anxious for Adam to leave now that he’d brought her safely back to Mrs. Jenkins. She felt the tears inside her well, tears that she knew she needed to shed, and she wanted to be alone when she shed them.
“I’m not leaving you alone, Katherine,” Adam gently rebuked.
“Really, I’m fine,” she denied, her voice quavering.
“Katherine,” his tone was soft and deep and soothing.
“Katherine,” his voice caressed, softer still.
“Don’t you dare use that tone of voice on me, Adam Cartwright!” she cried, just as the tears began to course unbidden down her face.
Pulling her to his chest, he held her close as she poured out her hurt. A little while later when the last of her sobs had subsided to a few mere hiccups, he asked, “All done now?”
She nodded into his chest.
“Are you sure?” he asked, handing her a hankerchief from his pocket.
She nodded again, wiping her tears, and drying her nose. Raising her face to him, she offered, “See?”
Suddenly his lips were on hers, his arms tightening around her as he pulled her close.
Startled at first, and then feeling a warmth steal over her body, she wound her arms up about his neck, melting her body into him and feeling her hurt melt along with it.
When the kiss had ended, Adam began, “Katherine, I know this isn’t the time or the place, but I’m not going to wait to lose you again.”
“What I’m trying to say is I love you. I’m asking you to be my wife.”
The words were sweet to her ears and it didn’t take Katherine long to look into her heart and find her answer. “I love you too, Adam. I’ll be your wife.”
Awhile later, sitting on the settee in Mrs. Jenkins’ parlour, arms about each other, Adam asked, “Now are you sure you won’t mind marrying me?” his tone light and teasing, “I have a few faults.”
“I like black,” he repeated his long ago claim, “and apparently I lean too much.”
“Oh, I think I can live with that,” she teased, “I have a few faults of my own.”
“I…I drop things…,” she confessed. “….sometimes they break,” she said, feeling the rumble of his laughter before she heard it.
“You, Miss Katherine Mary O’Fallon,” he declared, “have my permission to break anything I have.” And then lower and quieter, “just as long as it’s not my heart.”
Laying her hand along his face, she answered, “Oh no, never that,” her promise sweet and true.
A few weeks later…..
Katherine was sitting at the table in the dining room of the Ponderosa busily making lists for the arrangements for her wedding. Adam wasn’t giving her much time to make plans insisting the wedding take place as soon as it could. Truth was, Katherine was of the same mind herself. Shooing him away while she considered the guest list, Adam approached Ben and Hoss standing near the gun rack on the far side of the fireplace. “Well, it looks like I’ll need a best man,” he began.
Turning to Ben, Adam said apologetically, “I hope you don’t mind, Pa, but I’d like my brother to stand up for me.”
“Why not at all, Adam. That’s the way it should be.”
After a slight pause, Adam called over, “So how ’bout it, Joe. Will you stand up with me?”
Little Joe Cartwright, who hadn’t looked up from cleaning his gun on the table by the fire because he didn’t figure the conversation could possibly have much to do with him, looked up now.
Glancing from Ben to Hoss to Adam and swallowing hard, the apple of this throat working up and down, he asked, “You want me for your best man, Adam?” notes of disbelief and hope in his voice.
“Yeah, that is, if Hoss here doesn’t mind too much,” Adam replied.
Hoss, looking pleased as punch and wearing a ridiculous grin on his face, having been given a little information previously, drawled, “That’s okay, Adam, I know you can only pick one of us.”
“So what do you say, Joe? Will you stand up with me?”
The apple working again, Joe answered, “Sure I will, Adam. I’ll stand up with you. You bet I will.”
“Thank you, Joe. I appreciate it.”
And Katherine Mary O’Fallon soon-to-be-Cartwright, witnessing the exchange from across the room, who hadn’t thought she could love her husband-to-be any more than she did, found out that she could.
Eight months later…..
Grabbing his wife from behind and spinning her around, Adam Cartwright pulled Katherine close and pressed her spine backwards as he kissed her.
“What was that for?” she asked, when he’d released her, startled and breathless.
“Oh, just saying good morning,” he replied, smiling.
Smiling back at him, she concurred, “Yes, it is a good morning, isn’t it?” she said, putting her arms around him and hugging him close. “But I think you’d better get to work,” she added, referring to the house Adam was building for them, her voice muffled into his chest, “after all you have a family to take care of.”
“Well, I’ve got a wife that needs a lot of looking after,” he teased. His remark was met with silence. A sudden suspicion forming, Adam pulled back a little, turning her face up to his to read her eyes. “Er, is that all I have to take care of?”
A slight shake of her head from left to right confirmed his suspicion.
“What?” he exhaled. “Are you sure? How long have you known?”
“Yes, I’m sure. A couple of weeks now,” she replied shyly.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“Well, I thought maybe you’d notice. Things have…er…changed a little bit here and there.”
Stepping away from her to get a good look, Adam asked, his brows raised in surprise, “What things? Where?”
Giggling, Katherine moved close to hug him again. Turning serious, she asked, “Are you happy, Adam?”
Happy? he wondered. Was it happy to wake up in the morning with a joy in your soul so strong you wanted to shout it out loud? Was is happy to feel there was no room left inside you because your heart was filled to three times its normal size? And was it happy when a little fire-haired girl first breathes to you the words about a child?
“Yeah, I’m happy.”
“Good,” Katherine replied, content.