Loved and Lost (by Krystyna)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count: 30,200


 

“Now THAT is what I call something to look upon,”  Hoss sighed with the tones of deep admiration and pleasure in his voice

“Yeah, well, when you’ve not paid for it, a cool drink on a hot day is always twice as good to look upon….and taste..than………..” Joe paused and glanced up at his older brother and frowned “What exactly are you talking about?”

“Jest look and see for yerself, Joe….and remember this….it was MY eyes set light on her first.” Hoss smiled dreamily as his blue eyes gazed beyond the open door of the saloon at the sight that had caught his attention.

“HER!” exclaimed Joe, elbowing his way in front of his brother and spilling half his beer over his hand in the process and then he smiled, and his eyes kindled with fire, and his eye brows twitched. “Wow!” he exclaimed, and his voice trailed away into silence

“Best not let brother Adam in on this,” Hoss cautioned, narrowing his eyes and glancing up and down the street just in case his eldest brother suddenly hove into view, as was his tendency in matters of this kind

“No, no.” Joe cleared his throat and straightened his shoulders and was about to launch himself forwards when a large hand gripped the centre of his green jacket and hauled him back into the saloon “Hoss, all’s fair in love and war, leggo….”

“Didn’t I jest tell you, little brother, thet I saw her first?” Hoss growled. He swung  his arm and sent Joe skittering back into the interior of the saloon.  With a grin of satisfaction on his face as the sound of Joe’s yelp reached his ears, Hoss stepped out into the sunlight. His smile of anticipatory pleasure soon faded, however, as a familiar figure strode along the sidewalk towards the vision that had enlightened their day, and with a droop to his lips, he stepped back into the security of the saloon.

Joe bustled forward, ready to seize his chance, but was prevented from  moving further by Hoss’ hand being placed on his chest and  restraining him. “You mean? Adam got there already?  Just let me through, Hoss…why I’ll…” he paused and gulped. “Pa?” His eyebrows shot skywards. “Pa?” He turned to look at Hoss, who merely shrugged and with a sigh returned to his beer, being joined seconds later by Joe, who draped himself over the counter with a sigh. “What’s pa doing talking to a stranger?” he demanded of his brother who merely shook his head and shrugged.  “He never said anything to me about her; did he you?”

“I’d’ve told you had he said anything,” Hoss mumbled as he raised his glass to his lips

“Must’ve been that letter he got yesterday.” Joe clicked his fingers with a snap, and rolled his eyes “That’s it, Hoss, he had a letter, acted mighty secretive about it too.”

Hoss eased himself from the counter and narrowed his eyes and surveyed his little brother thoughtfully, then nodded slowly

“You know summat, Joe, you’re right.  Doggone it, he was sure quiet about that thar letter, never even told Adam…which reminds me, whar is Adam?”

They exchanged nervous looks and hastily returned to the doorway, only to find that their father and the beautiful vision had disappeared from view, and with a sigh, they both returned to their drinks. Both draped themselves over the counter and dejectedly picked up their glasses and raised them to their lips with a sigh

“Have you boys seen Hogan today?” Charlie the bar tender of the Sassarach asked them both as he approached them, polishing the counter as he drew near and wiping away their spills. “Only he usually comes in on a Thursday for a drink at this time of day!”

“Nope, haven’t seen him,” Hoss sighed

“……..nor smelt him!” Joe murmured

“That’s odd, he’s usually pretty punctual,” Charlie muttered and strolled away, still wiping away spills and drips from the counter.

“Well, well…” a slow drawl of a voice reached their ears and they both turned, glanced at their brother, and returned to gaze forlornly at their half empty glasses. “What a sorry sight to see.” Adam strolled into the Sassarach with the stealth of a lynx, a smile on his lips and his eyes narrowed as he immediately  summed up the mood of his two siblings.  He coughed, as though to announce his arrival, and with a twitch of his elbows pushed his way between them both, forcing them to part and admit him, which they both did with an ease that caught him unawares. When Adam was in a playful mood, he usually anticipated some opposition from his brothers, which led to more teasing until he got them really roused up, hot tempered and boiling, at which stage he would order them all a round of cool beers.

He pursed his lips and glanced from left to right and then stared ahead at the mirror that reflected the counter, and them. With a sigh, he signaled to Charlie that three beers were needed and whilst he waited, he turned his back to the mirror and hooked his elbows onto the counter and leaned his body against it, his long legs stretched at a slight angle. Hoss and Joe did not move. “Say, what’s going on with you two today? Has someone died?” he asked, nudging Hoss, who merely twitched his shoulders, and then Joe, who shrugged.

“Hey, Adam, you seen old Hogan today?” Charlie asked, as he set down the drinks.

“No, nor smelt him either,.” Adam replied

“I already said that,” Joe muttered, doodling with his forefinger in some spilt beer on the counter before Charlie came to mop it up

“Sorry,” Adam sighed and turned and picked up his beer and glanced around at the people assembled in the saloon.  “Well?  Aren’t you going to tell me what’s going on?”

“Nothings going on,” Joe said, picking up the glass and raising it to his lips with a sigh.

Hoss nodded, and then, with a frown, turned to Adam. “Did Pa say anything to you about a letter he received yesterday?” he asked.

“What letter?” Adam frowned and wiped beer from his upper lip  “I didn’t know he had received a letter.”

“Well, he got a letter yesterday, about which he said nuthin’ to any of us…and then he came into town today and met her,” Hoss grumbled

“Met her?  Met who?”  Adam pushed his hat back and a lock of dark hair tumbled free and fell across his brow “Hoss?  Joe?  Do you two mind talking some sense?”

“He did,” Joe said, pointing at Hoss with the beer glass in his hand “Hoss told you what it was all  about. Pa got a letter, and then came into town today and met this girl…then they disappeared.”

“Disappeared?” Adam frowned, and glanced uncertainly from one to the other “How do you mean?  Disappeared where?”

“If we knew where they had disappeared they wouldn’t have disappeared, would they? They would just have gone, wouldn’t they?” Joe snapped peevishly.

“Yeah, that’s right, Adam, if’n they had jest gone, we would have known that they had just gone and probably could guess where they had gone to, but as we don’t know where they’ve gone that means that they’ve disappeared.”

Hoss paused, raised his eyebrows in amazement at his own powers of deduction and shook his head.

Joe and Adam, equally overwhelmed by this display of his prowess, glanced at one another and then back at their brother, who was now gazing thoughtfully at the ceiling, as though, just possibly, he could find his father, or some clue, up there.

Adam nodded and beckoned to a vacant table over to which they strolled.  He took a deep breath and sat down and looked at them both with a slight furrow on his brow. “Look, I don’t mean to appear stupid….” He bared his teeth as though daring either of them to utter a word at the suggestion. “But do you think we could go through all this again, I just seem to have lost the point somewhere.”

“Yeah, I feel just the same,” Joe sighed. “You should have seen her, Adam; she was a dream!  A beauty!”

“She sure was!” Hoss sighed and gulped down half a glass of beer at the memory of her.

“Pa got a letter yesterday…is that right?” Adam glanced at them both and they nodded. “But he never told you about it?”  They shook their heads. “And you both saw this – woman?  Girl?”

“Girl,” Joe said quietly “About 18 if she’s a day.”

“About Joe’s height…blue eyed….”

“How’d you know she had blue eyes?” Joe queried, frowning at his brother who shrugged and decided to finish his drink. “Anyhows, Adam, she was lovely.  Jest standing there with her luggage on the sidewalk, and jest when we were about to go and offer to help her…Pa appeared!”

“Pa?”  Adam took a deep breath and stared in the direction of the door and then turned his dark eyes to look at his brother “She was 18 and pretty, you say?”

“Really pretty!” Joe agreed “And her hair was red.”

“Red?”

“No, it weren’t, Joe, it were that kind of coppery color, all shining like gold,” Hoss frowned

Adam rolled his eyes ceiling wards and shook his head. Then he picked up his glass and drained it dry before getting to his feet, picking up his hat and sliding it over his hair

“Whar you goin’, Adam?” Hoss asked, as he emptied his glass and stood up

“Home! And as soon as Pa gets home, we’ll put an end to this mystery once and for all!” H sniffed and shook his head. Seems like Mr. Hogan’s arrived..”

“Oh, spew, it sure does,” Hoss muttered

Joe said nothing but merely wafted his hat too and fro as he left the saloon with his two brothers striding out ahead of him.

“You’re late, Sam,” Charlie said as he placed the tumbler in front of Sam Hogan, and filled it with whiskey  “Everything alright out there?”

“Yes, everything’s fine,” Hogan muttered and raised the glass to his lips.

Charlie smiled and returned to the other end of the counter.  Most of his clientele had done much the same thing, as they usually did when Sam Hogan arrived. It was not that they disliked the man; Sam Hogan was not a man anyone could dislike, but the fact of the matter was that he stunk.   A skunk would be more welcome at times, especially during high summer.

When all was said and done, Sam Hogan was rather a mystery man. He was about the same age as Ben Cartwright and had arrived at Eagle Station about a year after Ben had settled on the Ponderosa.  For a little while Sam had panned for gold in the Washoe, and befriended the Pauite to a degree where he was one of the few early settlers to be trusted by them. He was tall, thin, gangly.  At one time he was considered a good looking man, but times had, for some reason or another, been difficult and his looks had succumbed to the forces of nature that created sandbags under the eyes and jowls and extra chins. His eyes were rheumy and red, and he lacked quite a few of his teeth.    Through his sparse hair could be seen a red and freckled scalp, and there were some who reckoned that he had more hair coming from his nose and ears than anything that sprouted from his head.

At some time or other he disappeared from the scene, only to reappear some years later to settle on his claim way out of town, with a herd of goats.  He was passionate about his goats.  Sadly, it was the goats that created the problems with the smell. As he was such a recluse, no one knew, but rumor had it, that his goats over ran the house. The smell clung to him so fixedly that within a few years anyone local to Virginia City could locate the man just by snuffing the air. The smell, plus his own desire for privacy, forced him to enjoy seclusion far out on the hills above the river, where it was thought he continued to pan for gold.

But he was a kind man, a Christian man. So much did he abide by the good book, the Bible, that he refused to attend the church (much to the relief of most of the citizens there) because he considered it to be  more full of hypocrites on a Sunday than the saloons were on a Saturday. His honesty was beyond doubt; he was as trusting as he was trustworthy.  His inability to lie was legendary and his desire to help any, was a credit to him as a man.

Once a week he came into town to cash in his poke of gold, and check his bank account and do his business. He would collect his groceries, have one tot of whiskey and then return home….a lonely man whom everyone knew, but about whom no one really knew anything at all.  He was a man who was friends to everyone and considered all as his friend, yet, really, had no friend at all.

“The stage come in then?” he asked quietly

“It did, Sam. You expecting a visitor?” Charlie smiled, polishing a glass with his towel and holding it up to the light to check for smears

Sam merely shook his head and glanced at the whiskey in his glass.

“Many passengers?” he asked, raising his rheumy eyes to meet Charlie’s rather bulbous brown orbs

“Didn’t see, Sam, although I did hear the Cartwright boys talking about one of ‘em, a real beauty by the sounds of it.” Charlie smiled and put down the glass and picked up another which got the same thorough treatment as the first

“Is that right?” Sam said, and with a sigh, he pulled out his leather pouch and put down the money for his drink. “A beauty you say?”

“S’right.” Charlie grinned and pocketed the money.

Sam sighed heavily and left the saloon. With a frown Charlie watched him go and then shook his head and picked up Sam’s glass “Whaddya know, the first time I ever see’d ol’ Sam leave his whiskey.”

*****

“I don’t believe it!” “No!”  “Dadgumit it, pa!”

Ben Cartwright pierced his three sons with black eyes beneath beetling brows and jutted his chin forwards challengingly.  Had anyone asked him how he would have described his sons’ reactions to the news he had just given them, he would have been correct to the nth degree.

Adam stared fixedly at the black kettle that was suspended over the fire, as though somehow it would provide the relevant answers to the questions teeming through his nimble brain.

Joe’s face was contorted with despair and dismay and, to some degree, disrespect for his father, at whom he glared with ill concealed rage, whilst his nostrils flared and his lips whitened with anger.

Hoss looked confused; he looked from one to the other of his brothers before looking once again at his father, who was still standing by the fire, glaring at the three of them in defiance.

“You can’t actually believe her…can you?” Adam eventually asked in his mildest and most respectful tone of voice

“Of course he can’t believe her!” Joe yelled, his voice raising several decibels in his fury “How can he?  If what he said was true…if what she claimed were true…that would mean…would mean…” His eyes blazed at his father and then with a cry of despair he turned away “If it were true, don’t ever expect me to step foot inside this house again!”

“Joseph!”

His name, cried out with sufficient fire in it for him to know his father’s temper was stretched to the limit, but with that deep affection lingering still, forced the youth to stop his headlong flight from the room.  He clenched his teeth, and his fists, and with a fire burning in his eyes, turned to face his father once again

“Just…just tell me that it isn’t true, that’s all I want to hear from you!” he cried hoarsely

Ben opened his mouth to speak but before a word could come from his lips, a sound from the stairs caused them all to glance upwards and stare at the young woman who stood on the top step, looking down at them with a mixture of emotions etched in her face.

She was indeed a very pretty young girl. Even Joe, despite the turmoil in his heart, melted slightly at the sight of her. The glitter of tears sparkled in the moisture of her eyes, which were deep blue and long lashed, and like many who had the color hair she possessed, her skin was very pale and fine, with freckles chasing over her nose and speckling her cheeks like gold dust.  She was tall, slim and delicate in appearance, and the dove gray of her dress, with its white collar and cuffs, plain though it happened to be, only enhanced her appearance.

“Gentlemen,” Ben said in his deep voice, and he turned towards the girl and smiled gently, beckoning to her to descend the staircase, “May I introduce to you Lucinda Cooper.”

They murmured their greeting, reticently that was true, but nevertheless, it brought about sufficient response in her to embolden her to come down into the room and quickly gain Ben’s side, from which position, she looked at the three of them with a degree of perception in her eyes surprising for one so young.

The fury of the youngest there was obvious. She looked at his handsome face and wondered why he could be feeling so much distress. The biggest of the three was looking at her with a tenderness and kindness that made her feel quite timorous. The narrow eyed scrutiny she was getting from the eldest made her feel as though she were a prize filly at a horse show with a too high a price tag attached to it.

She took a deep breath and held out her hand to whoever wished to take it

“I’m pleased to meet you all,” she said quietly.

Hoss was the first to step forward and take her hand and shake it gently, holding it between his fingers as though her hand would break like dainty porcelain. “Welcome to the Ponderosa, miss.”

“Lucinda…my name is Lucinda,” she said quietly as a reminder. He smiled, blushed a little and lowered his eyes to survey the floor.  “You must be Adam?” she addressed the eldest of the three and held out her hand to him “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“And you also, Miss Cooper,” Adam replied, nodding his head politely but not touching her hand, instead raising his head a little defiantly and glancing at his father who narrowed his lips and glared back.

“And that means you must be Little Joe?” Her voice had a slight quaver in it, as though Adams rebuff had knocked her confidence. Joe, soft hearted when it came to women, noticed but did not in this instance change his mood.  Instead he glared at her before throwing a look of anger at his father.

She swallowed whatever else she wanted to say, and allowed her hand to drop to her side.

“Right!” Ben barked “That’s about as much as I shall take from the three of you!  Now sit down…all of you.” By sheer force of will, he made the three men sit down. He gently steered the girl to the chair by the fire, by which chair he stood, as though he had decided that by doing so he would be her champion, her protector.

“Well, Lucinda…as you can see, your news has come as something of a shock to your three……er……brothers………..” He raised a dark eyebrow and glared at the three of them

Joe immediately leapt to his feet and drew in his breath, opened his mouth and rushed from the room, the sound of the door opening and then slamming shut echoed through the quiet room.

Hoss frowned and looked at his father and then at his newly found sister, he gulped. “Er…well…yeah, it is kind of a shock….” he murmured

“Haven’t you got anything to say?” Ben asked Adam, who was sitting as mute as a dummy on the chair beside Hoss.  Adam said nothing, only turned his dark eyes from surveying the girl to his father. He stood up, bowed slightly from the waist to the girl, and began to walk away. “Adam?  Where do you think you’re going?”

“To see if Joe is all right.”

“I want to discuss this first.”

“Not without Joe!” Adam replied, holding himself erect and staring once more in defiance to his father. He glanced at Hoss before turning and walking to the door.

*****

Joseph Cartwright was in the stable, twisting a blade of straw between his fingers, staring into space as he sat on a wooden box by Cochise’s stall.  He barely looked up as Adam approached him; there were far too many emotions teeming over and over in his heart and mind for him to be able to focus on anything.  He gulped back a sob when Adams hand touched his shoulder and looking up he shook his head

“It can’t be true, Adam,” he murmured

“I know it can’t.”

“But, Pa, he’s acting as though it were……and if he believes her, then it means…..” Joseph struggled to stop the tears welling up in his throat and he shook his head “Pa would never have done that, not while my ma was alive.”

Adam sighed and gently stroked his brothers shoulder; many men had fallen prey to the weakness of the flesh, especially when the woman was beautiful. Even though the wife at home was lovely, his father, upright and honorable though he had always been, was yet still a man!

“Joe, why not come inside first, and find out from her what exactly has happened?   We can’t judge too rashly and if……..”

“If?” Joe jumped up as though fired from a cannon. “If?” He slapped Adams hand aside. “There can’t be any if about it, Adam! If what she has to say is true, then that means everything I’ve ever believed in about Pa is false!  Don’t you understand that?”

“Of course I understand that. That’s the reason I’m here with you, and not in there with them. Look, Joe, we have to face the facts, and we can’t do that unless we have the facts in our possession. We can only get them by going back inside and hearing what she – and Pa – have to say!”

“Adam…she’s barely 18 years of age, and I’m just 21!  When she was born my Ma was still alive, she and Pa were…were happy here with us…not…. he always said that….that they were the happiest couple in the world. Now this girl comes along and claims to be his daughter which makes everything pa ever said about Ma….makes it to be a lie!” He wiped his eyes on the back of his hand. “He said he never loved a woman like he loved my Ma.” He sniffed and wiped his nose, boyishly, also on the back of his hand,  ignorant of what hurt his words could have made on the heart of a man who had been told the same thing about his own mother by their father. “Adam, if he’s lied about that, what else has he lied about?”

“Joseph, listen to me.” Adam seized his brother by the arms and stared deep into the hazel green eyes and felt pity and sadness stir in his heart for he knew, that if what Lucinda claimed were to be true, then he would be asking exactly the same questions as his brother. “ Listen!  Have you ever known Pa to lie to you before?  Things as serious as this are not the things Pa would lie about. Believe me, Joe, you know that surely?” He gave Joe a little shake, as though his words needed to be hammered in a little to get them through the cotton wool of emotions that were filling his brothers head “Look, we know nothing about Lucinda, nothing at all.  Pa probably is as shocked about this as we are, because…….”

“Because if he had known of her existence, he would have told us before now?” Joe asked, his words harsh with cynicism

“Probably.”

“Then why is she here now?  I’ll tell you why, Adam. Because she is eighteen and wants her inheritance!”

“She just may want her family, Joe.”

“Well, we ain’t it!”

“I don’t believe we are either, but we should go in and hear what she has to say, then perhaps we can set about finding out who her real family are.”

“You don’t believe her then?”

Adam paused, and looked at the frightened face of a young boy, and felt sadness touch his own heart and he gave his younger brother an impulsive hug,

“I trust our Pa, Joe; that’s enough for me.”

Joe said nothing to that, but shrugged himself free from Adams embrace, and wiped his eyes again.   He watched as Adam walked from the stables and then, at the entrance, turn and look over at him. He longed to be able to mount Cochise and gallop a hundred miles away, but a sense of shame touched his heart. With a rather hangdog look on his face, he followed his brother back to the house.

Lucinda had not moved from her chair, but was winding a handkerchief nervously round and round between her fingers as she stared at the door.  Hop Sing had come in and was settling a tray of cups and saucers and pots onto the table and, with his usual discretion, quickly and silently left the room.

“Decided to come back then?” Ben barked, glaring at his sons as though theirs was the greater shame for leaving but neither of them answered.  Joe resumed his seat next to Hoss and Adam walked to the tray and began to pour out the coffee, he glanced over at Lucinda

“Tea or coffee, Miss Cooper?”

“Tea, please.”

“Lemon or milk?”

“Milk, no sugar.”

He looked over at her thoughtfully as he poured out the tea, and recognized the fact that she was rallying her strengths, trying to regain her confidence. H passed over the cup and saucer to her and noticed that her hands were steady as she took them from him.  He looked then at Joe who was tugging at the leather ties of his green jacket; there was no denying the fact that Joe was struggling to keep his composure.

It had been strange, coming home and finding Ben standing by the fire, waiting for them as he had been, with his face set as though about to face the greatest challenge of his life. His mood had affected the three of them immediately, for they had halted in their step, been hesitant about taking off their hats and gun belts, aware of the black eyes fixed on them, watching their every move.

“Anything wrong, Pa?” he had been the one to ask as they entered into the body of the room

“I want you to sit down and listen to what I’ve got to tell you….you may not like it,” Ben had replied

“Can we take the news, standing?” Adam had responded, a smile forced to his lips.

“Very well.” Ben had pulled a letter from his pocket, and from the condition it was in, it had been read and re-read numerous times. “I received this letter yesterday. It was from a Miss Lucinda Cooper informing me that she would be in Virginia City by today’s stage. She also informed me that she was my daughter.”

There had descended upon them a crashing silence. A silence so loud that it screamed!

“Daughter?” Joe had hissed between clenched teeth. “Are you joking?”

“No, I’m not joking.  I met her today, from the stage. and she’s here now, waiting to meet you all…her brothers…”

Adam shook himself back to the present, and looked over at the girl who was staring down at the floor, her blue eyes veiled as a consequence.  There was no doubt about it, she was a very attractive young woman, and whoever her mother had been, she must have been quite beautiful too.  He glanced at his father who was looking anxiously at his youngest son.

“Very well.” Ben glanced at them, one by one, and a trace of sadness touched the lines of his face and softened his voice, so that Joe, sensing it, squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. “I would like you to listen to what Lucinda has to say, without interruptions…” he glared at Joe who had raised his head as though to protest, “ and when she has finished, she will be quite prepared to answer any questions you may have. Is that alright with you all?” he asked this gently, as though realizing that the news he had dropped on them had shocked them, as it had himself.

It had shocked him, when he had read the letter, because he knew only too well that it would have been impossible for him to have fathered a child outside of his marriages. He was a man of unbending loyalty and fidelity and the very age of the girl gave her claim the lie. He also knew, when he had met her, that she believed it to be the truth, and was about to have to face that fact, perhaps, brutally so.

“I don’t know where to start…” she murmured and glanced shyly at them, wanting to make a good impression, longing for them to accept her and to accept also what she had to tell them as the truth.

“It’s always the best thing to start at the beginning,” Adam replied gently.

“For example, where were you born, what was the name of your mother…” and here he glanced rather forcefully at his father.

“I don’t know where I was born.”

“Well, where have you come from now, and have you always lived there?” Adam asked

“I’ve lived in San Francisco but I can remember traveling there a long time ago.  I was very small then, and a tall man with graying hair took me to where I was to live. I can’t recall where I traveled from, I can remember though being very distressed at leaving the man but…” She paused and stared at the floor as though trying hard to recall that time so long ago. “I remember that I had a party when I was three years old, and I was happy then.  My mother and father were generous, kind, and very good fun.  The house was always full of laughter and excitement and people. Father was always having people staying from all over the world.

“I went to school, an expensive school, but we were not poor.  I had my own pony when I was little, and always had new clothes and toys.  When I was fifteen I went abroad for two years, to travel around Europe.” She glanced up and smiled, the pleasure she had had during that trip obviously still fresh and delightful. But then the smile faded and she frowned a little. For some seconds they had to wait for her to resume her dialogue. “I had only been home a few months when father became very ill.  Mother nursed him herself, and wore herself out doing so. He died and it seemed as though all the fun and laughter left the house. It became so sad and lonely.  Mother locked herself away from everyone, even from me.

“I couldn’t understand why because we had always been so very close. She was the very best mother to me. One day she came to my room and sat by my side and held my hand and said that she had always loved me as a daughter, which I thought very strange and asked her what she meant by that. She kissed me and said that what she had to say was a hard thing for her, but she had to tell me so that I would understand later on. That was when she told me the truth….”  Her voice trembled and the tears that spiked her eyelashes now trickled slowly down her cheeks, at these she dabbed very hastily with a handkerchief.

“She told me that I was not her daughter, my mother was unknown to them.  My father, the man I thought was my father, had been very friendly with a man who had a child he wanted adopted.  When he brought me to the house, my mother and father fell in love with me, and agreed to adopt me there and then.  Father said  that his friends name was Ben Cartwright and that he lived on the ranch called the Ponderosa.   Every month from thereon a sum of money was deposited in my name at the bank…it was there in trust for me, from my real father.  That is what she said…”   She took a deep breath and glanced up at them. “She left me then, after we had shared many tears, and when she had reached her room she went to bed and she drank a large dose of veronal.  She may have loved me in a way, but her passion was for her husband, and she just could not live without him, not even for my sake.  I think that was the biggest proof I needed to know that what she had told me was true.”

“There was a letter for me, explaining everything just as she had told me.  The solicitors showed me the account and every month there was the entry in my name, sent by Ben Cartwright of Virginia City.  My solicitor said that he knew Ben Cartwright, and that he was very rich and the sums of money he sent for me would not have been that much for him to lose.”

“So you came to see if you could get more, is that it?” Joe snapped, unable to restrain himself any longer. “For goodness sake, isn’t it obvious why she’s here?  She’s making the whole thing up…for her own good…” He bounced to his feet, only to be pulled back down into his chair by Adam, who placed a restraining hand upon his ebullient brothers shoulder to keep him down, by force, if necessary.

“So, you have a vague memory of a journey?” Adam raised his eyebrows and looked in her direction and she nodded “But nothing more?”

“No, only that the man I was with was very kind to me, and I must have been very fond of him because it upset me when he left.”

“And you are – how old?”

“I am eighteen years and four months old.”

“This journey then must have taken place about 16 or 15 and a half years ago?”

“I suppose so.  I can’t recall how long I had been at the Coopers home before I had my party…for my third birthday.”

Adam bit his bottom lip and looked over at his father, who was staring thoughtfully into the flames of the fire, and seeming loathe to comment.  Joe seemed to have retreated inside of himself, deep in thought and Hoss just sat there , looking uncomfortable, miserable and confused.

“It was summer time, when we traveled because I can remember seeing roses in their garden, and I had never seen roses before. I can remember the sun warm on my back. Mr. Cartwright carried me up the garden path..”

“IT was NOT my Pa!” Joe snapped, stabbing an accusatory finger in her direction “My Pa….” He paused, unable to continue on, and once again Adam placed a gentle but firm hand on his shoulder.

“It was not me, my dear,” Ben said very gently “I’m afraid someone has lied to you about that.”

“But mother used your name, and your name is on the bank account.  All those payments were in your name…” She looked at him with her blue eyes filling with tears again “And you’re tall – sixteen or fifteen years ago you would have had graying hair.”

Ben rubbed the back of his neck with an air of weariness.  It distressed him enormously to see the girl upset, to feel her despondency at knowing that after all these years, the parents she had loved were not her parents, and that the man she had hoped would replace them with love and affection on his part, was not, in fact, the man for whom she was seeking.

“Miss Cooper, we have never had a little girl living here with us on the Ponderosa.  My wife and I never had a daughter, and had we been so blessed, she would certainly never have been taken to a strangers home to be raised.” He knelt by her side, taking her hand in his and forcing a smile on his lips. “Someone your adoptive parents trusted gave them a false name, my name.  For some reason no one questioned  the fact that it could have been a lie, although you say this man was a friend of your father’…of Mr. Cooper’s?”

“That’s what my mother…Mrs. Cooper …said.”

“Then we shall have to try and find someone who knew the Coopers and had lived here back then?” He smiled and his dark eyes twinkled

“But couldn’t I have been your daughter…at all?” she whispered, her face hopeful. Ben shook his head sadly, and took her hand in his and held it gently.

“No, my dear, it would have been a complete impossibility.  Believe me, I could never have betrayed my wife so cruelly, nor treated any other woman with such disrespect.”

“So, I have not a family here then after all?” She glanced at them forlornly and swallowed back tears. “It all seemed to have fallen so easily into place, and now, just as easily, fallen into pieces…!”

“Well, there’s no need to worry just now.” Ben stood up, and glanced at the three younger men. “I am sure I can speak on behalf of ALL of us, that you are more than welcome to stay here at the Ponderosa as our guest until we find your family – or find you some alternative place to live.”

“Shucks, that’s a grand idea, Pa!” Hoss bounded to his feet, his honest face ruddy with delight. He smiled widely and looked at the young woman with his blue eyes twinkling. “Tomorrow morning, ma’am, if’n Pa don’t mind, and you don’t mind, perhaps I could take you for a ride round the place…there ain’t nowhere more beautiful I promise you!”

She smiled, glanced then anxiously at Joe, who stood up gallantly and walked to her side. “Miss Lucinda, would you accept my apologies for my rudeness earlier?  I  – I was just kind of thrown out of kilter….” And he took hold of her hand and kissed her fingers with the charm of a courtier.

“I understand, Joe. I’m sorry too, I should have been far more tactful in approaching your father about my relationship with you.”

“It was a shock,” Joe admitted, glancing over at his father. “I didn’t think I could ever feel so angry with you, Pa; I’m sorry!”

Ben smiled and gave his youngest son a hug, realizing that he was also at fault for his delivery of the news had been far from tactful.  He glanced at Adam. who was standing to one side watching them. “Well, haven’t you anything to say, young man?” He said, a chuckle in his voice. Adam smiled and approached the young lady and took her hand.

“Well, apart from the shock you gave us all, may I just say, welcome to the family ……temporarily, of course!”

Lucinda glanced at the three of them, raised her eyebrows and smiled

., Joe began to chuckle, as he glanced at his brothers, who, thinking along the same lines as him, began to laugh along with him.  Lucinda glanced at Ben, who raised his eyebrows, but she began to laugh too, because to have had three of the handsomest, richest men in Nevada as BROTHERS would have been such a waste. She sighed contentedly…all’s well that ends well, she thought and catching Joe’s twinkling hazel green eyes knew that he was thinking exactly the same thing as she was herself!

*****

 

Pa?”

Ben glanced up from his perusal of a ledger and looked into the young and earnest face of his youngest son. He smiled gently, put down his pen and leaned back in his chair

“Yes, son?”

“I just want to apologies for what happened earlier.”

Ben drew in a deep breath and raised his eyebrows and looked at his son thoughtfully. It reminded him so much of Marie — the large tragic eyes, the gentle sad mouth. Once again he smiled and beckoned the youth over to his side.

“Joe, I should have dealt with it more tactfully. To be honest, it caught me off my guard and I should have explained in more detail, instead of just coming right out and referring to her as my daughter.”  He frowned and glanced at his youngest who was now twiddling with the button of his shirt.    “I can understand why you got upset…”

“Can you, Pa?”

“Well, obviously, as she is only 3 years younger than yourself, you were bound to assume that I had been disloyal to your mother.”

“I did, Pa.  I thought you had lied to us while all the time you had this secret love child living comfortably in San Francisco.”

Ben smiled again, and stood up and put a comforting arm around Joseph’s shoulders and hugged him close. “You’ve no fear on that score, Joseph.”

“I realize that, Pa. It was just that – that you’re only human after all, and if Lucinda is this pretty, then her mother must have been really lovely to look at too…”  His eyes twinkled mischievously and his lips quivered into a smile which brought a rumble of a laugh to Bens lips. “I’ll see you tomorrow then, Pa” he chuckled and walked light heartedly up the stairs to his room.

In the room allocated to her, Lucinda sat in the bed and hugged her knees close to her.  It was a large,  spacious and ornately decorated bedroom, one that would appeal to any young lady. she watched as the shadows of the tree by the window fluttered across the wall opposite to her.

Tears dripped down her cheeks in silent streaks and every so often she shuddered as she struggled to suppress her misery.  David and Rose Cooper had been wonderful parents to her, and the years spent with them had been dear and precious ones. Their deaths, and the fact that she had been so powerless to have prevented them, distressed her immensely.  Their loss as parents overwhelmed her, and now, this opportunity to have been comforted by another family had been dashed too.

She bowed her head and her titian hair flowed loosely about her shoulders and down her back.  The moonlight caught it and caused it to glow like fire about her. Joe, who had knocked on the door and peeked in to see if she were all right, gasped at the sight of such a fiery shimmering splendor.  The sound was enough for her to raise her face and glare at him with large moist eyes.

“I’m sorry – I did knock.” Joe’s fingers fluttered in the direction of the door as though it would be proof enough of such an action.  “Are you all right?”

“No!” Her voice wobbled and a tear dripped from her chin onto the coverlet.

“Is there anything I can do at all?”

“No – no, there isn’t, just go away……..please!”

“I’m sorry about how I acted earlier, it was just..”

“Go away!”

“Yeah, well, I’ll – er – I’ll just go then.  See you in the morning!”

The door closed behind him with a faint click, but the sound of her weeping forced him to open it again and approach the bed. When he took hold of her and held  her in his arms, she did not protest.  Softly, gently, he caressed her shimmering hair and calmed her with whispered words of comfort that in themselves meant nothing at all but had the effect of calming her

“I just miss my mother and father so much,” she whispered, wiping her eyes on the sleeve of her nightdress.

“I can imagine – “

“I thought, after father died, that my mother would have loved me enough to have wanted to live, but she didn’t.“

“Some couples are like that, Lucinda; sometimes they just love each other so much that they cannot bear to be parted from them.  I thought my father would when my mother died. “

“But he didn’t, did he?  He loved you all enough to hold on and live.” She wiped her eyes again. “It’s because you’re his real sons, that’s why.  His own flesh and blood.  I was not their own child, so they did not love me that way. I was just baggage dropped on their door step!” She gave a gulp and swallowed the sob that rose to her throat.

“They made a choice, Lucinda; they could have left you there.” He forced a smile and looked at the pretty upturned face. She blinked and smiled and nodded.

“Thanks for saying that, Joe.  I needed to hear that. I was feeling sorry for myself and that’s just so selfish of me!”

“I can get you some warm cinnamon milk if you like…” He stepped back, and paused at the door but she shook her head, making the mass of hair gleam and ripple down her back, “Goodnight then, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He closed the door behind him and sunk back against it and shook his head. Lucinda Cooper was certainly a very, very lovely young girl!

“Propping the door up?”

Adams clipped voice brought him out of his reverie and he grinned sheepishly and shook his head. “No, I was just – just making sure Lucinda was alright.”

“Ooooh?” Adam framed the word with his lips, drawing it out for as long as possible as his dark eyes lingered on the boys’ face.  “And was she?”

“Was she what?”

“Was she all right!”

“Oh, yeah, she’s fine!”

Adam gave his brother a sidelong glance and raised a dark eye brow before passing on down to his room.  Hoss was already snoring; it would be some hours before he would waken and tip toe down to ‘tidy up’ the kitchen.  Down stairs in the big room the old clock hic-coughed to another hour. Ben put away the books and ledgers and stood up and stretched.  He glanced about him and raised his eye brows and shook his head – it had been some kind of day!

*****

She stood framed by the stable doorway, the light shimmering behind her making her hair glow like fire upon her neatly formed head. Her slim figure was dressed in a dark blue shirt and cream colored riding skirt. She looked so frail and delicately beautiful that Hoss and Joe were unable to speak for some seconds as they gazed upon her in rapt admiration.

“Morning, Lucinda!” Hoss managed eventually, blushing a little even as he said the words.

“You’re looking really lovely today, Lucinda,” Joe said which were the exact words that were rolling around Hoss’ head but somehow did not make it out via his lips.

“Thank you, Joe.” She smiled at them as she entered the stables and looked at the horses as she passed the stalls, then she glanced at them both, shyly.   “Your Pa said I could choose a horse and go riding if I so wished today.  He said that you would not mind going with me.”

“Suits me!” Joe grinned, propping his rake against the stall and walking over to the water to rinse his hands. “I’ll be ready in less time that it takes to shake a dogs tail!”

Hoss frowned, and glared with some irritation at his brothers’ retreating back. He looked at Lucinda who was watching Joe with a smile on her lips and that rather vacant dreamy look in her eyes which meant that any attempt on his part to gain her attention now, was a lost cause.   He sighed heavily and picked up the rake and turned to the stall.

“And you as well, Hoss!” she cried, smiling at him but with a twinkle in her and that lost sweet look of dawning love gone from her eyes.

Hoss sighed and glanced at Joe who had already narrowed his eyes and sent the message quite clearly from behind her back that it would be wiser for him to say no.  He frowned, and then beamed a broad smile

“Sure, Miss Lucinda, I sure would enjoy doing jest thet!” he declared.  So what if Joe was annoyed.  Time for Miss Lucinda to see that there were times when brawn was much more preferable than beauty .

“Then, would you select a horse for me, please?” She stood, with her head to one side watching him.

“A pleasure, ma’am,” he replied. Breathing in and drawing in and stretching himself to full height, Hoss walked, uncomfortably, to the little chestnut filly with the cream mane. “Pollyanna here will suit you just fine.  She’s a real steady little critter and…”

“I do know how to ride, Hoss.  You don’t have to give me a pony as though I were just out of the nursery,” she laughed, and looked over to where Sport was pulling straw from his manger.  “I’d like that one.”

“Wal, that’s Sport – he’s Adams horse. I don’t think you would be experienced enough to handle him, Miss Lucinda, and I don’t think Adam would want you to ride him anyhows!”

“But he’s so lovely.” She walked over to Sport, who glanced over at them as though very much aware that he was the topic of conversation.  He humphed down his nostrils and tossed his head up and down for good measure.

“He’s also too high spirited for you, Lucinda.” Joe stood by her side, and took hold of her by the elbow. “How about this little beauty?” and he led her gently towards where a gray filly stood, watching them with black bold eyes.

Lucinda glanced back at Sport. It was obvious that the bigger horse was still her choice and she was about to say so when they heard foot steps approaching the stable and Adam himself appeared.  He glanced from one to the other and raised his eye brows in question as they stared at him

“Anything wrong?” he asked as he walked to wards Sport and gave his horse a gentle caress along its gleaming neck.  “I thought you would all be gone long before now!”

“We were just discussing what horse would be best for Miss Lucinda, while she’s here,” Hoss replied

“Oh yes,” Adam nodded, throwing a blanket across Sport’s back. “And just how long do you intend to be here, Miss Cooper?” He glanced over Sports back directly at her, before returning to his task of saddling the horse

“Well, your father did say I could stay for a while – I don’t know exactly for how long,” she replied, faltering a little as she quailed inwardly at the manner in which he addressed her.

“Well, you know you’re more than welcome here,” he said in the tone of voice that indicated that the welcome was not one to be abused. He began to attach the bit and bridle, giving Sports nose a gentle rub as the horse obediently accepted the bit in its mouth.

Joe and Hoss frowned and glanced at one another and then at their brother, who seemed oblivious of their concern over  the way he spoke to Lucinda,

“Adam…” Hoss stepped forward,  a frown still furrowing his brow but his brother turned and smiled charmingly at him, whilst at the same time tightening the cinch strap beneath the saddle “I was jest about to say thet…”

“You’re wasting valuable time, you know!” Adam cut in, bringing the stirrup down. “Whereabouts are you headed, anyway?”

“Er – no where in particular,” Hoss replied

“Ah well, that’s always a good place to start,” Adam chuckled and mounted into the saddle. He slipped on his hat and after nodding in farewell, rode out of the stable.

They watched him go. The three of them standing side by side as he cantered out of the yard and disappeared from their sight.  Lucinda sighed and turned and looked forlornly at Joe.

“I get the impression that he doesn’t like me,” she said quietly.

“Shucks, don’t take no notice of him. Adam’s just busy, got other things on his mind,” Hoss said and took hold of her elbow, cupping it in his broad hand.

“He’s always like that – you’ll get used to it,” Joe said, taking her by the other arm and trying to lead her towards the left side of the stables.

Behind her back they glowered at one another, Joe’s lips thinned and his eyes narrowed. Hoss’ nostrils flared and he opened his eyes wide in a challenge to the younger man.

“I think I’ll have that one.” She smiled and stepped out of their hands and towards Cochise. “He’s got a really sweet little face “

“Oh, well, actually…” Joe paused as a dark shadow fell across the sunlit stables. Ben entered, his brow furrowed as though in deep thought and when he raised his dark eyes and saw them there. he gave them a brief smile before turning to Hoss.

“Hoss, I’m glad I caught up with you before you left, but I need you to go and see Mr. Hogan.”

“Hogan?  But, Pa..” Hoss protested

“It is important, Hoss.” He glanced at Joe “Unless you would rather go?”

“Who, me?  No, sir…..I mean…I would but I’ve promised to take Lucinda for a ride.”

Ben turned his gaze back to Hoss and then returned it to Joe and sighed and nodded, as though he now understood everything.  Hoss stepped forward and took hold of Ben’s arm

“Couldn’t Adam do it, when he gets back, Pa?”

“No, he could not, Hoss.  Had he been able to do it, I would have sent him to Hogan. As it is, I have had to send him on another errand. Now, then, here’s a letter I want you to give to Hogan, and don’t take too long, Hoss!”

“Yes, sir – I mean – no, sir!”

Hoss took the letter and mumbling to himself under his breath, turned and tucked it into his shirt pocket, then glared accusingly over at Joe, and strode over to Chubb.  Joe smiled and led Lucinda to where a gentle bay was nibbling at the hay rick.

“Now, Lucinda, this is the perfect little mare for you to ride,” he almost crooned, whilst glancing over her shoulder over at Hoss who glared and mumbled at him.  Joe raised his eye brows and shrugged and pretended to look contrite, whilst all the time feeling jubilant.

Lucinda tucked her flaming hair beneath her hat and led out the mare and smiled over at Joe, her blue eyes twinkled.

“She’s sweet, Joe, thank you; what’s her name?”

“Florizel.”

“That’s kind of poetic,” she smiled and stroked the horses nose, “We’ll see you later, Hoss?” she enquired, as the big man rode Chubb from the stables

“Sure thing!” Hoss frowned  and looked challengingly into Joe’s eyes, those sweet, innocent brotherly eyes. “I’ll meet up with you both down at Goose Creek.”

Joe smiled and nodded and watched his brother gallop off. He sighed and then looked at Lucinda, and walked towards where a saddle was waiting for use.

“Odd he should say, Goose Creek.  I was intending in going in quite the opposite direction,” he muttered with a rather wicked glint in his eye

“Well, we should meet him as he would like. I would hate to disappoint Hoss.”  She led the horse from the stable and out into the yard and looked up at the sky. “It’s such a beautiful day, Joe.”

“It sure is.” Joe pushed his hat back so that several unruly curls sprung out and graced his brow “And it promises to get better all the time,” he murmured.

*****

They galloped side by side for some distance, enjoying the view, enjoying one another’s company.

“You know, Lucinda,” Joe finally said as they turned the corner of the track leading to Goose Creek, “I sure am glad that you turned out NOT to be my sister!”

“I could tell that, Joe,” she laughed. “You were very angry at the possibility, weren’t you?” She looked at him and smiled at the sudden discomfiture that fell upon the lad. “It’s alright, Joe; I can understand your reasons.”

“You can?” He glanced at her, his hazel eyes showing the green more intensely with the depth of feeling he was experiencing at that moment as he recalled the anger and distress at his fathers imagined indiscretion.

“It must have been similar to when I found out that my parents were not really my own parents.  You must have suddenly seen your own parents as – well – something less than you had always held them.”

“I suppose so.” He bit his bottom lip and frowned thoughtfully and then looked over at her and smiled. “Anyhow, it’s all worked out for the best. You are not my sister, and I do not have to beat away all those single young men who would be battling their way to our door to request permission to court you.”

“I doubt if there would be that many, Joe,” she laughed, a clear laugh of a young girl enjoying the flattery of a handsome youth.  Then she looked at him with a little gleam in her eye. “Would you have been jealous then, Joe?”

“Oh I don’t know!” He grinned and pulled Cochise to a halt and dismounted.  He walked to her side and helped her from the saddle, putting his hands around her waist and turning her so that her slim body slipped through his fingers.

She looked at him, and smiled and lowered her eyes and turned away. Joe could only continue standing there, although he allowed his hands to drop to his sides as he watched her walk towards where the grass flattened out to the little shingle beach by the creek.

How odd it had felt, to touch her body like that!  Just so innocently, and yet, it had felt as though every nerve ending in his arms had been sent tingling with electricity.   His heart had started to pound and the pulses in his ears had thumped as though he had ran a mile at his fastest speed.   He had been in love, and acknowledged that sometimes he had just loved being loved, and had teased, cajoled, courted girls before now with every trick of which he could think.    Sometimes he had spoken words of love with the intensity of that passion that can rule a man, and break him too.   Sometimes he had flirted and been bemused by the attention it had gained him, but now, with Lucinda, the depth of his feeling for her hit him with the force of a sledge hammer.

“Well, you didn’t answer?” she turned, narrowing her eyes against the glare of the sun and smiled “Would you have been jealous of them, Joe?”

“I – I guess I would have been, Lucinda.”

Joe let the reins between his fingers drop to the ground as he walked towards her, but she turned and began to walk towards the shingle beach, letting her hair fall against her back.

“In that case I’m glad I’m not your sister, too,” she laughed, but did not look back, only casually plucked a blade of grass up with her fingers and waved it too and fro in front of her face.  “This is a lovely place, Joe.  I can understand why Hoss would have wanted to come here.”

“You do?”

“Yes, it’s rather like him, isn’t it?  Quiet, peaceful, and making you feel safe.”

“Is that how you feel about Hoss?” he asked, the words scraping pass his lips begrudgingly

“I should imagine everyone would feel that way about Hoss.   He’s a very gentle, kind man.”

“You’ve only known him five minutes!” he scowled

“I know.” She tossed the grass away and then turned to face him and smiled “But with Hoss, you can tell right away what kind of man he is.”

“And what about me?”

“You?” She stepped back and surveyed him thoughtfully.  “Oh, no doubt about it, Joe, definitely longer…” and she laughed.

Her laugh was soft, happy, and Joe grinned and his hazel eyes twinkled. e cupped her hand in with his own, and squeezed the slender fingers gently.

“As for Adam –“She paused and frowned a little and surveyed the mountains that ringed the Ponderosa like vast avenging angels. “I think it would take even longer to fathom him out!”

“Oh ,I don’t know about that!” Joe exclaimed. “Adams pretty much your average guy.  He works hard, reads a lot and likes music.  What else is there to know?”

She glanced over at him and smiled, and pulled her hand lightly away from his, leaving him to stand to one side and survey her with some misgivings welling up into his heart.

“I think that there’s a whole lot more to know about your brother, Joseph.” she sighed. “Oh, but it is so lovely here.  Could you ever bear to leave it?”

“No, I guess not,” Joe said quietly, resuming his position at her side and strolling slowly towards the beach, only this time it was his turn to pull up the grass stalks and twirl them between his fingers.

She directed her steps toward a flat rock and carefully settled herself down upon it, spreading out her riding skirt carefully and taking off her hat.  She shook her head, as though by removing that restraint at last, she had even a greater measure of freedom as the rich luxuriant copper gold curls tumbled  loosely down her back.

“Joe, I thought when I came here that I had come full circle.  Do you understand what I mean?”

“You thought you had found your family – your real family?”

“Yes.  It’s a horrible situation for me to be in, Joe. I have no roots, no origins.  Being adopted and with no proof of where I belong could ruin every opportunity I could possibly have to make a good marriage.”

“I don’t understand what you mean?” Joe settled himself down by her side, taking care not to crush her skirts as he did so. “You’re so beautiful, Lucinda, any man would be proud to have you as a wife!”

“In San Francisco, amongst my class of people, Joe, it doesn’t work out so easily. You can be beautiful and rich, but without any background, and being adopted…” She turned away and shook her head, and bit hard on her lips to stop from crying. “It’s so unfair!   The ugliest girl with an inheritance and family name can make a wonderful match. Even someone who is ugly without an inheritance, if she has connections in San Francisco that go back several generations, then she’s bound to marry well.  No one will want me now.”

“No, Lucinda, that’s not true.  People, men, they’ll all flock after you…you’re so….”

“Oh Joseph!” She turned and looked at him and put her finger to his lips, “Joseph Cartwright, you are so naïve!”

“What do you mean?”

“Goodness, Joe, life here is so different from back in San Francisco.” She looked at him thoughtfully for an instant, and then with slight shrug of the shoulders and shake of the head smiled. “I imagine that here people actually marry for love!”

“Of course they do !”

“Of course they would, and no doubt, they should after all. But, in the circles in which I have been raised, if you make a good match, with love as well,  goodness me, that surely is a match made in heaven!”

“I don’t understand why you’re saying all this, Lucinda.”

“I’m just trying to work out what to do next, you see?   I have to find out who my parents are – or were.”

“What if they don’t fit into the social calendar too well when you do find out, Lucinda?  What if they happen to have been some dirt farmer who never had a cent piece to rub against a button ?”

“You are funny, Joe.” she smiled and looked at him fondly.  “I suppose it all sounds very strange to you.  All of you are so…”  She glanced away, searching the horizon for the right word but the seconds ticked away without her speaking so that eventually Joe felt it necessary to call her name and remind her he was still there, waiting for her to speak. “Joe, my parents wanted me to have a good marriage; they were wealthy but they came from New York originally. Have you ever been to New York?” She smiled and looked at him with her blue eyes bright. “It’s so big and busy, and the dances there are wonderful. I went once with my mother, we stayed there for three months during the season and…”  She stopped again and frowned. “I’m sorry, I’m talking rubbish to you; these aren’t the things you want to hear!”

“Anything that concerns you is of interest to me, Lucinda,” Joe said sincerely, pushing his fingers through his thick waving hair and making the curls spring out of place

“Is it, Joe?”

“Yes, of course!” He leaned forward, closer to her lips as she leaned down towards him, but then she pulled away. He had to brace himself up to prevent himself from falling flat onto his face

“I think my mother wanted to establish the family in San Francisco, and through me, perpetuate their own dynasty, except that, of course, it would all have been a lie, a pretence.”

Joe chewed the inside of his cheek and looked at her thoughtfully. He saw her beauty and her youth, her present sadness vied with her natural gaiety. He tried to imagine her at some New York ball, dancing with handsome young men in their smart black suits.  He placed his hand upon hers, very gently, as though he were gentling some high bred nervous filly.

“We could have a dance at the Ponderosa if you wish, Lucinda.  Would you like that?”

“A dance?  Oh yes, what kind of dance?” Her eyes sparkled and like a child; her present misery seemed to have evaporated away at the thought of soon to be pleasures

“Whatever kind of dance you would wish!”

“A fancy dress ball?  A masked ball?  Let’s have a masked ball, Joe – that would be such fun!”

Joe frowned, then nodded, and forced a smile, which widened into his usual buoyant grin as he saw the pleasure it was giving her. She stood up and whirled around and around with her hands clasped tightly together

“I love dancing, Joe, and music!  It will be lovely – who will you invite?  Will you invite anyone from San Francisco?” She paused and smiled over at him, her eyes gleaming mischievously

“Is there anyone you would want invited from there?” he laughed, catching hold of her hand.

“Oh yes, lots and lots…”

His smile wavered rather and he looked at her and sighed, and let her hand drop to her side.

“Well, we’d best discuss it with Pa first, before getting too carried away,” he muttered

“Of course,” she replied gravely and sat down, very sedately, on the boulder and looked over at the creek. “Joe?”

“Yes?”

“Did that all sound rather strange to you?  The things I said about being adopted and no body wanting to marry me?”

He looked at her and frowned and fidgeted. He walked to her side and sat down and, like her, stared over at the creek as though he had never seen it before in his life.

“It all sounded like something from a different world to one in which we live, Lucinda. Folk here take a person for what they are, not for what they have got, or what their grand fathers once did or for a name.”  He crinkled his brow in concentration and shrugged. “It doesn’t make any sense to me, why no man could marry you just because you were adopted. It’s hardly your fault, after all.”

“If you were me, wouldn’t you want to know who your parents were and whereabouts they came from?”

“Yes, I daresay that I would want to know that, but sometimes it is better not knowing, isn’t it?  After all, the Coopers were good parents to you, weren’t they?”

“Yes, they were wonderful to me,” she agreed and was about to say more when they heard the sound of a horse approaching. Looking upwards, they saw Hoss galloping towards them, Chubb’s dark coat gleaming in the sunlight.

Hoss dismounted and left the reins dangling so that Chubb could graze freely along the rich grassland. Taking off his hat, Hoss walked hurriedly towards them, and smiled widely, his blue eyes practically disappearing in the folds of flesh that creased up from his cheeks.

“Sure is beautiful hereabouts, ain’t it?” he declared, throwing himself full length onto the grass.  “One of my favorite of all places this is, Miss Lucinda.”

“It’s one of mine too, now, Hoss,” she replied and awarded him with a smile that Joe would have given his eye teeth to have had given to him.

*****

The door closed with a thud and Ben Cartwright, pen in hand, growled beneath his breath as a blob of ink splattered onto the white paper on the desk.  He knew from the footsteps that his eldest son had arrived home, and he also knew from the firm clip of the heels upon the floor that his son was not in the best of tempers.  He chewed his bottom lip and put his pen down and awaited Adams appearance in the study area of the big room.

Ever since Lucinda’s arrival, it had seemed to Ben that he had had a huge black cloud hovering over his head and threatening to break open and deluge him with all manner of ills. The look of distrust and betrayal that had sprung into Joe’s face had cut Bens heart to shreds and the mere fact that his word had been sufficient to defuse the situation, only made him more aware of the dangers of other factors coming to light to bring that same distrust flooding back, not just to Joseph but also to his other sons.

He heard Adam sigh as the gunbelt and hat were removed and then the clipped steps sounded that brought his son to wards the desk.  He looked up

“Well, how did you get on?”

Adam Cartwright looked at the face of the man he had cherished and adored all his life long.   A handsome face.  An arrogant, ruthless face so some thought, but he knew how gentle and tender that face could become, when smiles would wreathe the lips and the dark eyes lightened as the sky would do when storm clouds drift away from the warmth of a summers day sun.

But now the finely chiseled lips were thinned, narrowed, as though in expectation of bad news, and the dark eyes were near black in color, so that the velvet blackness of the iris seeped into becoming all one.

He looked at his father and nodded slowly, before pulling out the chair and sitting down and trying to deliver the news in one of the various ways he had rehearsed it in his head all the way home.  He cleared his throat and took a deep breath.

“Well, she was not lying.”

“I didn’t think she would be.” Ben frowned “Who did you see?”

“I went to see Rankin first; he’s been manager of the Virginia City Bank ever since it opened twelve years ago, but he said there was nothing in their records about a separate account in your name to a Miss Lucinda Cooper.”

“Wasn’t he curious?  After all we don’t have any of our funds or trusts in his bank anyway.”

“He may have been, but he did not ask any questions; after all, he wants our business and too much curiosity now could put paid to any chance of that happening.  I led into the conversation by asking him if he knew David and Rose Cooper, whom we had heard had recently died and he was quite a mine of information about them. Apparently his wife’s sister was a neighbor of the Coopers and so Rankin has actually met them on occasions when he has been in ‘Frisco. He already knew about their deaths and that their daughter was now a very wealthy young heiress.”

“What did he have to say about them?”

“They hail from New York City. Both came from wealthy families and moved to San Francisco for health reasons.  Apparently it  came as quite a surprise to their family and friends when Mrs. Cooper had a daughter as she had said quite often that she would never be able to have children of her own. Mr. Rankin did not seem to know that the daughter was nearly three when she arrived at the Coopers via other means other than the stork!”

“You did not enlighten him, did you?”

“No.”

“Did he say whether they had friends here, other than himself?”

“According to Mr. Rankin, they were a popular couple with plenty of friends. But so far as he was aware they had never been in this territory.  If they went away, they traveled to Europe where Mr. Cooper had connections, both business and familial. He was under the impression that they did not know anyone in Virginia City.”

“That doesn’t help much.” Ben picked up and the pen and rolled it between his fingers as he leaned back in the big chair and surveyed his son thoughtfully

“I told him that Miss Cooper was here – on a vacation – and he automatically filled in the gaps for himself, that he had not realized we had been friends of the Coopers and obviously it was a good thing for Miss Cooper to have the opportunity to recover from her losses with friends.”  Adam sighed and, like his father, leaned back in the chair and seemed at a loss as to how to proceed.

“Then did you go to the First National Bank?”

“Yes, I saw Mr. Burns and he said that there was an account in your name  to a Miss L. Cooper.  It had been – as he put it – discreetly handled by them since you first opened it fifteen years ago.” He reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and pulled out a paper, which he opened slowly, whilst he kept his eyes lowered rather than have to watch the color mantling his fathers cheeks with embarrassment. “Account opened July 1847 – depositor Ben Cartwright to Miss L Cooper First National Bank – San Francisco – monthly payments.” H leaned forward and handed the slip of paper to his father, and took another deep breath. “Discreetly handled means…”

“I know what it means, Ben said gruffly. “It means that there’s a separate ledger to the ones available to everyone else here, and that statements of accounts are sent to a box address.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Adam said quietly, raising his dark eyes to meet his father’s.

“Mr. Burns has been handling our financial matters since we first started banking procedures.  Did he say anything else about this particular account?”

“Before he gave me any particulars, he wanted to know why I was asking for information, as such matters were strictly private and confidential.  I gave him the letter you had written before I left.”

“Which you hoped you would not have to use,”  Ben said grimly, his mouth set tightly.

Adam made no reply to that comment but left it hanging in the air as he tried to keep all the stray bits and pieces of information he had garnered that day in some orderliness in his head.  However, he lowered his eyes and stared at the ink blot on the paper in front of his father and sighed.

“Adam, did Mr. Burns say whether or not he could remember me opening that account? Did he refer to it in any way at all?   Has he ever met me or the person claiming to be me when that monthly deposit has been made?”  Ben leaned forward slightly and watched as his sons eyes narrowed in concentration

“He said it was early in the days of their banking in the town, most depositors were bringing in pokes of gold dust and such from the assayers…he could not recall meeting you personally until shortly before Marie’s death.”

“That was in 1847.”

“The account was opened several months before her death.”  Adam raised his eyes and looked once again deeply into his fathers black orbs, before he lowered them once more. “Mr. Burns said that since 1857 the monthly payments have been in cash with a paying in slip.”

“Then he has never personally met the depositor?”

“No, apparently no one has – and he always deals with the transaction – or – as he put it. ‘I always deal personally with such delicate matters as this,” Adam snapped the words out and finished the sentence abruptly.

“He obviously thinks the depositor IS me!”

“He has no reason to think otherwise apparently,” Adam remarked dryly.

“I wonder who he thinks Miss L. Cooper could be,”  Ben frowned.

“Oh, I daresay he’s thought of who she could be over the years, Pa.” Adam took a deep breath. “Payment to a lady friend perhaps?  A lady in distress?  They all know how philanthropic you can be.”  He frowned darkly.  “I don’t know if his imagination stretched to the fact that you could be providing for a daughter – but then again – who knows what bankers imaginations are these days?”

The cynicism in his sons voice made Ben blanch and he reached out and grabbed his sons wrist in a grip as tight as a vice, so tight in fact that Adam winced.

“That’s enough!” he growled

“Enough?  I’ve not even began yet,” Adam hissed, trying to withdraw his hand from his fathers fingers

“No, nor will you! Whatever you’re thinking, you can stop thinking it right this moment!” Ben stood up, his fingers still tight around his son’s wrist. “I have never, never betrayed any of my wives trust nor been involved with any other woman whilst married to them. Now, you just understand this right now, Adam; Lucinda Cooper is no daughter of mine, and any claims to the different will not change that fact!”

Adam looked at his father and took another deep breath, before succeeding in pulling himself free. He rubbed his wrist for a few seconds and then sat down again and concentrated on getting his temper under control, for he had the wisdom to see that hasty words spoken at this point of time, could destroy forever the trust and love that the two men had existent between them.  He took another deep breath

“I called in to see Francis Chapman. He had been a clerk at the bank for years before he retired five years ago. He described the depositor as being tall, broad shouldered, gray haired, very dark eyes, and handsome.” His voice wavered.  “He could remember meeting him once when the initial forms were being signed. Even now, after all this time, he says he can remember the man’s uncertainty –“

“And this man, he used to pay with gold dust?”

“Yes, until ‘57”

“So he must be a miner – a wealthy miner with a healthy vein of gold in his mine.” Ben sat back again and narrowed his eyes as he tried to think of any miners he knew that could be described as a replica of himself.  “Did he say why the man was uncertain?  Was it about the amount he was paying in?”

“He said…” Adam paused in an effort to remember the exact words. “He said that he filled in all the details but when it came to signing his name, he wavered, as though uncertain as to whether to put his true name down or not.”

“And Mr. Chapman is certain then, that the depositor was me?”

“He did not say he was not.” Adam frowned. “You must have seen Mr. Chapman countless times over the years, Pa…”

“Indeed,” Ben nodded

“Then surely all he needed to say was that you came in and made the arrangement, rather than go into spiels about who you resembled and being uncertain about your name?”

“And a man who is going to forge a name could be uncertain about whether to take that risk or not.”

Adam stroked his upper lip tentatively, whilst his brow furrowed in thought.

“He has not committed forgery, and nor has it been fraud or embezzlement, the monies deposited have been his own, whoever he happens to be.”

“But using my name?”

“A man can use any name he wishes – as many aliases as he so chooses – it is not a criminal act unless he commits a crime whilst using it.”

“So there’s another Ben Cartwright in the territory of whom we knew nothing.”

“We know he’s a wealthy miner or prospector – and has a daughter.”

“I should imagine he’s a prospector rather than a miner – otherwise we would know of him by now. A prospector has more chance of living in isolation and having a certain amount of privacy.”

“He also knows that the Coopers are dead.” Adam said quietly. “The payments stopped two months ago; he must be quite sure of the fact that his daughter is now a wealthy young heiress!”

The sound of horses entering the yard stopped their conversation and tacitly, without a word needing to be said, neither man said another thing about the subject.  They both got to their feet and prepared to meet the rest of their family, and their guest.

*****

“Who is that man?”

Little Joe glanced over his shoulder to the shadows of the alley to which Lucinda was pointing and frowned, a brief smile touched his lips. He touched his hat in greeting to the tall laconic figure who retreated back into the darkness as he mounted the wagon and took his seat beside the girl who was still staring down at the alley

“It was just Sam Hogan,” he smiled at her, and then turned his attention to the horses, twitching at the reins and telling them to move on.

“Why was he staring at me so?”

“Was he?” Joe glanced over his shoulder at the alley but there was no sign of anyone there and he smiled and resumed to encourage the horses forward. They inched out into the main road and began to trot eagerly out of the town

“I didn’t like him,” she said suddenly, as the town began to fade away into the distance. “He made me shiver all over!”

“There’s no need to do that; Sam would never hurt anyone in his life.  In fact, Sam is one of the most honest men in the world. I give you my word on that.” And he flashed her a smile to reassure her.

“And that man in the bank?”

“Which one?”

“Mr. Rankin.” She frowned. “I remember seeing him before at Mr. and Mrs. Jones house – he was overly friendly.”

“Oh – is that what you call being polite in your neck of the woods?” Joe chuckled.  “What else was he supposed to do, Lucinda; just walk pass you as though you were a stranger to him?”

She looked at him thoughtfully and a small pucker of irritation emerged on her clear and youthful brow.  She sighed with petulance

“That other man to whom he was talking…”

“Mr. Burns do you mean?”

“Who’s he?”

“Our bank manager.  I introduced you, remember?”

“I realize that, Joe!” She tossed her beautiful curls and Joe watched as the shimmering mass tumbled elegantly about her shoulders. “He seemed so surprised to see me; he just stared, Joe!”

“I would have thought you were used to men staring at you by now, Lucinda.”

“He stared at me differently to other men, and then Mr. Rankin butted in and started talking to me about mama and papa, and then that Mr. – what did you call him – Burns looked at me as though…” She paused. “A though he were surprised to see me there!”

“You mean, surprised to see you in his bank?  Well, perhaps he was. Perhaps he thought you would go and bank with Rankin seeing as how you know one another.”

“No, it was not like that,” she sighed and stared at the horizon thoughtfully.

Joe sighed testily, and flicked the reins so that the horses went even faster.  He had journeyed out with Lucinda with such high hopes of a pleasant morning in town. From the very first moment they had arrived his hopes, like so many castles built in the air, began to disintegrate and tumble down around his ears.

Lucinda had complained about everything. The Emporium was, in her opinion, laughable. The hotel Internationale where he had taken her for some refreshment was primitive. The General Store was unendurable.  The worst thing of all, however, was the fact that his beautiful picture of a perfect girl was falling apart at the seams.

In Europe they did this that way, and in Paris, it was done the other way.  In San Francisco, no woman would be seen in a gown a whole season out of date. hat did the women here think they were?   Being just over 200 miles from San Francisco did not mean they were back in the dark ages, did it?

Then that situation in the bank with Mr. Rankin, creeping and crawling all around her like some slimy serpentine toad, and Mr. Burns, looking embarrassed and guilty as though he had suddenly thought of something that would condemn him to hell fire forever.

He glanced at her face and pondered again at the fine lines of her cheek bones, and the pretty tilt of her chin, the softness of her skin and the peach down of her cheeks along with the sweet coral of her lips.  When she turned to him she smiled and he marveled at the whiteness of the neatest little teeth, like a string of pearls, whilst her dark blue eyes gleamed like sapphires.   He sighed and smiled at her and returned to his task of getting them both safely home.

 

*****

“Hey, Hoss!”

Hoss Cartwright put down the barrel and turned to look at Jacob Sorenson  and Pieter Erikson as they  approached him down main street.  He pulled off his hat and grinned and wiped his brow with the back of his hand

“Hi, boys, where’ve you two been hiding yourselves the past six months?” He leaned nonchalantly upon the barrel and eyed them up and down.

Pieter and Jacob were two Norwegians who had arrived in Virginia City nearly six years previously. They had jumped ship in Frisco harbor and decided to do some gold panning down at the Washoe.  Theirs had been a story of moderate success and they were not in the habit of complaining about their lot in life.  If they arrived in town during the annual Fete, it was guaranteed that they and Hoss Cartwright would be lined up for the one arm wrestling contest and various other events that would display their physical strengths one off against the others.

Whenever they met up, the three of them would automatically size up the others, as though the intervening period of time may had diminished the strengths and prowess of the others.  They would shake hands and go into the saloon for something to drink.

The survey being completed the three men extended hands and shook them vigorously. They turned on their heels and headed towards The Bucket of Blood saloon. The sidewalks bounced beneath the pounding of their feet.  With Pieter and Jacob, Hoss Cartwright never felt out of place.

Adam Cartwright picked up his glass and turned his head in the direction of the door as it opened and the three men succeeded to enter the saloon without getting wedged.  In silence, he beckoned to Charlie and ordered three more drinks, and then moved a little away up the counter to accommodate them.

“I saw your little brother just now,” Pieter said as he picked up the glass and held it to his lips. He quaffed an enormous amount before setting it back down. “He had a lovely young girl with him.”

“Lovely is not the word for it,” Jacob murmured. “She’s beautiful!”

 Frank Derbyshire swaggered up to the counter and slapped Adam over familiarly on the back and then leaned down and leered at the two Norwegians

“You two could be in with a chance to take her to the dance in two weeks time, if you time it right,” he mumbled

“Get away, Frank, you’re drunk and don’t know what you’re talking about!” Hoss said, giving the man a slight shove.

“Wal, don’t reckon on her wanting any of her brothers taking her to the dance, do you?” Frank grinned, waving his glass in an arc that encompassed half the room.

“Her brothers?” Jacob said, lowering his glass immediately back onto the counter and spilling slops of the liquid on the highly polished wooden surface.

“Joe did not look like he thought she was his sister.”  Pieter narrowed his eyes at Frank, and then looked at Adam for an explanation.

“That’s because she isn’t!” Adam replied testily and tried to elbow Frank aside.

“That ain’t what I hear’d,”  Frank mumbled

“Then you heard wrong!” Hoss growled and glared at the reflection of the little man in the mirror above the bar.

“Are you calling me a liar?” Frank promptly yelled, attempting to roll up his sleeves and clench his fists in challenge to them.

“Just that you heard it wrong, Frank,” Adam replied. “Just go home and sober up and remember to keep your mouth shut when you’re drunk.”

“Keep my mouth shut, huh?   Why?  You ‘fraid that folks round here’ll start (hic) talking about your fancy Pa and his fancy (hic) woman!”

A table was pushed back as Tom Riley stood up and pushed aside his chair.

“Is that true, Hoss?   Is that fancy looking gal really your sister?” he asked

“No, she ain’t,” Hoss replied. “And the next one who mentions anything about her will get a lot more than they bargained for.”

“Such as?” Frank swayed forwards, his nose inches from Hoss’ clenched fist

Pieter and Jacob glanced at one another and raised their eyebrows.  It was going to be several weeks before they could test out their mettle against Hoss at the next Annual fete and this looked like too good a chance to miss.

“Hoss, if she is your sister perhaps a good word you could put in for us,” Pieter said in a slow drawl.

“For me – not us,”  Jacob grinned.

Hoss narrowed his lips and glanced over at Adam who was already putting his glass of beer back down onto the counter.   Charlie, the victim of many a bar room brawl, stepped back and leaned down to pick up his stick but within the seconds that it took him to locate it (it had fallen behind a barrel), all mayhem had broken loose

*****

“What happened?” Ben asked, getting to his feet and surveying the brothers  with a quiet resignation on his face, as though the sight of the two of them had not come as much of a surprise.

Hoss and Adam glanced at one another and raised their eyebrows, as though the lack of sympathy for their condition had not gone unnoticed, and each were commiserating the lack with the other. Adam stretched his arms high, as though to loosen the vertebrae of his back, and to make sure everything was still in working order.  Then he began to slowly unravel the bandana from his hand and revealed to his father the bloodied raw knuckles.

“Got into a fight,” he growled between clenched teeth.

“With one another?” Joe asked, pausing in the act of stuffing his mouth with a beef sandwich as he glanced from one to the other of them.

“Nope.” Hoss tossed his hat to wards the bureau, and approached his chair, into which he slumped with a sigh of appreciation only heard from old men.

“You look a mess,” his younger sibling commented, pushing in slightly more of the sandwich than seemed healthy.

“Thank you,” Hoss sighed. “Pieter did this – a chance blow – he was aiming for some other guy, swung his arm back and caught me smack in the eye.”

“Yeah – you can tell.” Joe leaned forward and prodded the swollen eye with his forefinger. “Does it hurt?” he asked, as though amazed that his brother had actually winced

“Does it hurt?  Joe, what kind of fool question is that to ask anyone?  Of course it danged well hurts.”

Joe stuffed some more beef into his mouth and frowned, then looked at Adam who was trying to find some reason as to why so many buttons were missing from his shirt. “Much damage?” he observed

“Tolerable amount,” Adam replied, dabbing his cheek bone carefully.

“Where?” Ben growled

“Sassarach,”  the two men replied in chorus.

“Why?”

The brothers glanced at one another and Hoss, his head slightly to one side, surveyed his father thoughtfully.

“Actually, Pa, we were fighting to protect your honor and reputation.” he replied with a slight emphasis towards the sarcastic.

“MY honor and reputation?” Ben glared at them both, his hands on his hips and his eyes moving from one to the other.

Blood streamed down the side of Adams face from a cut above the left eyebrow and at which he was making some effort to stem the flow by pressing the already bloodied bandana against it, which left the cut on his cheekbone free to flow once again.   Hoss was a mass of grazes and bruises, and had a lump on his head that a Colossus would have envied.  Ben sighed and shook his head

“You mean – Lucinda?”

“Correct.” Adam raised his eyes and glanced at the stairs with his head raised to survey her as she began to come down, very slowly, a step at a time.  “Tell us, Lucinda,  how many people did you tell  that you were coming to see your father?”

“I didn’t tell anyone,” she replied looking at them both with large anxious eyes in a very pale face. “Not a soul.  How could I?  I didn’t even know for sure that Ben was my father!”

“You seemed pretty sure when you wrote to him.”

“I’m sorry,” she replied and lowered her head, allowing a tear to roll rather obviously down her cheek.

“Hey, that’s enough,” Joe said, turning aside from them and rushing to her side. “There’s no reason to turn on Lucinda, it’s not her fault the way things have turned out.”

“Not HER fault!” Hoss blustered.  “Then who else has put it around town that we’ve got Pa’s love child living here with us?”

There was an uneasy silence as all eyes turned towards Lucinda who stood close to Joe and grasped at his arm for support.

“Lucinda?” Ben’s voice gentled, and he approached her slowly, as though if he were to move faster she would bolt like a frightened rabbit, he put his hand on her arm and drew her hand into his. “Look, my dear, try and remember whether or not you spoke to anyone at all about coming here, to the Ponderosa, and when you did so, if you told them I was your father?”

“I didn’t,” she whispered. Then with a sigh, she looked into the dark eyes and blinked rapidly, shedding tears unchecked as she did so. “I was talking to a lady in the stage coach coming here.  She asked me why I was coming to Virginia City and I told her that I was coming to find my father.”  She glanced at them all and bit her bottom lip and bowed her head, so that Joe quite naturally drew her into his arms and held her there, an experience both of them seemed to enjoy because neither of them moved for a few minutes.

“Who exactly did you have this little chat with?” Adam asked between clenched teeth

“She was an English lady.  That was what got us talking; I recognized her accent and told her I had been to England only the previous year and that was why she asked me why I was coming to Virginia City.”

There was silence as the four men exchanged swift glances of unspoken understanding and comprehension. Adam released his breath in a hiss and muttered something about going in search of some iodine.  Hoss shook his head and mumbled beneath his breath and cast a death defying glance over at Joe, who only scowled at him and flashed green eyes at him.  Ben gently extricated the girl from Joe’s arms (with a little difficulty – Joe had an almost amazing affinity to a leech when it came to pretty girls who were in the proximity of his arms) and drew her to his side

“Was this lady a Mrs. Clementine Hawkins?” he asked

“Yes, she was very kind and made me laugh.” Her lips trembled as though intimating that a good laugh was the very thing she needed right there and then but they did not seem to be quite in the same line of thought about that.

“And you told her I was your father?”

“No, no I did not!” she exclaimed. “But I told her that my father owned a very large amount of land and was very wealthy and that he would be waiting for me – and then when the stage pulled up and you came…” Her voice trickled away. “She was very kind to me: I did not mean any harm!”

“How were you to know anyway,” Joe cried. “So far as you were concerned Pa was your pa and – and…” His voice now trailed away and he looked bleakly from Ben to Hos.s “Well, it must have seemed obvious from the bank account – I mean – what else could she have thought ?”

“I think I’ll got and help Adam find the iodine,” Hoss muttered and made his way out of the big room, holding a rather gaudy red kerchief to his swollen eye.

Lucinda did the only thing that a well bred young girl could do; she threw herself upon the mercy of the two remaining men in the room by sinking into the nearest chair and burying her pretty face into her hands and sobbing.

“I’m so sorry,” she stuttered. “What am I to do?  Where am I to go?” she spluttered, snatching at the white handkerchief that Ben thrust into her hands and she delicately blew her little retrousse nose into it and sniffed. “I’m so sorry!” she said once again.

“What’s done is done,” Joe said mechanically and took one of her hands into his and looked down at the pale little face and smiled. “We’ll sort all this out, don’t cry anymore, Lucinda.”

“That’s right,” Ben said gently, although his face bore the traces of some agitation upon every line “We’ll get this sorted out someway or another.”

*****

The knocking  on the door was not overly loud, rather indicative of a polite enquiry as to whether or not anyone was at home rather than a demand for immediate entry.  Ben opened the door, still wiping the traces of supper from his lips and then, with a smile, stepped back into the room

“Sam – well, this is a surprise.”

“I thought it best to come and tell you, Ben.” Sam Hogan entered the room, and pulled off his battered hat as he did so.

The three men seated at the table all muttered a greeting, whilst the young woman merely stared at him as though she could not quite believe her eyes at the sight of him standing there within the haven of her security.

“Er – Lucinda, this is an old friend of ours, Sam Hogan.  Sam, may I introduce to you Miss Lucinda Cooper?” Ben smiled and glanced at the girl, raised his eyebrows at her, as though in some vague hope that she would get the hint and be reasonably polite to the old man.

“Miss Cooper?” Hogan hugged his hat to his chest and color flushed into his face whilst his rheumy eyes grew even more moist.  “How d’ye do, miss,” he said, as though suddenly remembering his manners when in the presence of a lady.

“Very well, thank you,” she replied rather stiffly and then bowed her head, as though by doing so she could cut him out of her mind as well as her sight.

“Well, Sam, and what can I do for you this evening?  Would you like some coffee?   Joe, get Sam some coffee….”

“No, no.” Sam raised a gnarled work worn hand and smiled, his eyes still rested on her gleaming golden head and then he sighed and looked at Ben. “I just wanted to come round and thank ‘ee personally, Ben, for helping me out the other day.  I went round to Mr. Jefferson, and he’s agreed to buy my goats from me for a goodly sum.”

“I thought that he would, Sam,” Ben smiled. “Are you sure that you don’t want to have something to eat with us…..we have only just started?”

“Aye, I know full well that no one’s turned away from the Ponderosa, Ben,” he smiled and once again glanced at her, as though his words were some kind of reproof to her for her coldness, for she still sat with her head bowed as though to shut out the sight of him.  “I have to go just now; I’ve an orphan kid needing care and attention, doubt if the little critter will survive if I stay much longer away.”

“Very well, Sam.  When is Jefferson taking over your goats?” Ben walked with the older man towards the door, and Sam’s shoulders heaved up and down, as though the subject of his goats just at that moment of time, was some great burden that weighed him down considerably.

“In a few days,” he replied. “I’ll miss ‘em, but it’s time for me to let go – can’t keep it up no longer, Ben.”

The door closed on the visitor and Ben returned to his now cold meal, but the coffee pot was still steaming, so he refreshed his cup and then glanced around at the four of them and raised his eye brows.

“He must have had a bath,” Hoss observed. “Or my nose was broken in that fight and I can’t smell properly!”

“I didn’t like him,” Lucinda said quietly. “He made my skin crawl.”

Ben sighed and shook his head as though he could never master the vagaries of a woman.

“Sam Hogan’s been a friend of ours for a good many years, young lady.” He raised his cup to his lips and drank some of the coffee “If it had not been for him, Joe may have died when a small infant.”

“That’s right, and some others besides,” Adam said quietly

“When Joe was about four years of age, he became very ill.  His mother and I were pretty worried about him.”

“Hey, yeah, I remember that time,” Hoss declared, pausing in his murderous assault on his beef and potatoes. “That was the quietest time we ever had with him – before and since,” he chuckled

“And, thank you.” Joe said, with a grin on his handsome face and his eyes twinkling.

“Although he recovered, he did not thrive and we realized that anything with milk in it made him really ill.  We were not sure what to do until the doctor suggested we got him some goats milk.” Ben smiled and looked fondly at his youngest son, recalling the time when his wife had sat by his side with the infant in her arms and lamented at the frail little thing that he was becoming.

“No sooner said than done – Hogan appeared with a pail of milk, cheese and buttermilk every day for months.” Adam smiled and looked over at Joe, as he also recalled with fondness the woman who had reigned as mother over them all for all too brief a time.

“Cheese – I recall that time,” Hoss muttered.

“You ate a whole round of goats curd and cheese – boy, were you sick!” Adam laughed.

“Never touched the stuff since,” Hoss declared with a pride that made them all grin at each other.

Lucinda said nothing, but sat with her head bowed and her beautiful face frozen in an expression of intense disgust.  Ben glanced at her once or twice and then at his sons, all of whom raised (or tried to) their eyebrows as though doubtful as to how to proceed.  He cleared his throat

“You know, my dear, looking at you just now, reminds me of the times I used to be at sea and when I reached harbor, I would stroll around and look at the ships and wonder where they had come from and to what exotic places they were going to sail next!”

“Why?” she glanced at him, a small furrow between her eyebrows. “Why should they remind you of me?”

“Some of them carried the most beautiful engravings as their figureheads – carvings of goddesses, or mythological women.” He sighed. “Not that they ever did much good for the ship, no carving ever changed the course of a ships fate, that depended entirely on the capabilities of the crew.” He smiled slowly and sipped his coffee

“What does that mean then?  Why do I remind you of a ships figurehead?”

“Because you are a very beautiful young woman, my dear, but at times – I wonder what exactly goes on in that head of yours.”

She shook her head and looked at Joe, who just lowered his eyes and stared at his food.  It was obvious that he had been embarrassed by her behavior towards the old man who had been their visitor and preferred to say nothing.

“I just did not like him.  He made me feel uncomfortable.  You should not have invited him to supper like that, Mr. Cartwright!” she fired an indignant look at him from her blue eyes and flung down her napkin and with a mumbled excuse me, fled from the room.

“I’ll go and see to her,” Joe said, half rising but Adam pushed back his chair and gestured to his brother to stay where he was and then, putting down his own napkin, he quickly left the room.

She was leaning against the corral fence that led off from the stables.  Her golden halo of hair shimmered in its luxurious beauty in the fading sunlight and shadows were beginning to lengthen and merge so that soon they would all be engulfed into the oneness of the evening darkness.  She had her chin resting on her arms, folded as they were on the top bar of the fence.

“I was very rude, wasn’t I?” she said quietly, with the lilt of the child in her voice

“Yes, you were,” he replied, and leaned with his back against the fence, so that he could see her face and observe her more closely.

“I meant, to Mr. Cartwright.” She darted a blue gaze in his direction before returning to look at the fading horizon.

“Mr. Hogan’s an old friend of ours, Lucinda. He’s been around here for a very long time and is always made welcome by us.   He saved my life once, long ago, for that alone I have more than enough reason to be grateful.”

“Did he feed you with goats milk too?” she mumbled coldly, her lips sullen and sulky.

“No,” he smiled then and turned, folding his arms like her, upon the top bar of the fence and leaning against them. “It was a long time ago.”

“What happened?” She glanced up at him, intrigued now for this was the first sign of anything like an interest in her that this Cartwright had shown her.

“Oh, I was young and stupid at the time.   My father had married and I resented it strongly and ran away from home.  I was determined to show them both that I did not need them, that I could manage well enough on my own.”

“I took my horse and despite the rain, I sneaked out when it was dark.   As I rode along, with no idea exactly where I was headed, the rain began to fall more heavily. Eventually it whipped itself up into a frenzy of a storm, blowing things down, tossing things about – myself included. I decided to head for a cabin that I knew existed somewhere beyond the river, but when I tried to find the bridge it had already been swept aside.”

“Lightning flashed and I could see some shelter in the distance and headed for it.  I was very lonely, very frightened and very small in that storm but all the time as I headed for that shelter I kept thinking that it would serve my Pa and his wife right, if I got taken so ill that I died from the cold and wet.”

“I remember shaking so much that my whole body was weak, my hands, legs and feet were numb and I couldn’t sit in the saddle anymore and just fell onto the ground.   I hit the ground hard and must have knocked myself out because when I came to my senses the sky was getting lighter but the storm was still lashing down and I realized that I was so cold, so numb, that I could not move – not even to straighten my legs.  I tried to yell above the sound of the storm, but my voice had gone.”

“I blacked out again  and the next thing I could remember was being lifted up and carried away.  I tried to call for my pa, but just croaked something.  Hogan had found my horse and realized I had to be nearby.  He had come searching, had spent hours searching for me.   He took me to his home, took care of me, showed me a lot of compassion and sympathy and nursed me through an illness that – well – nearly fulfilled my earlier wish.”

“Pa and Marie came, but left me with Hogan.  Perhaps because they knew I was in good hands and perhaps because they understood that I needed time to sort myself out.   Hoss came every day and spent a little time with me.”  His voice trailed away and he pursed his lips and stared at the rising moon and frowned.

“I’m surprised that your step mother left you there.  My momma would have insisted on my being brought home rather than be left in that dirty hovel of a place.”

“You should not speak about what and of whom you know nothing.   Hogan’s home was one of the cleanest and most comfortable homes you could wish to be in and he was an entertaining host too, had lots of books, read to me, played the harmonica, we sang songs together.” He smiled at the memories and his dark eyes softened into liquid honey brown.

“I just assumed it would be horribly dirty – most old men are.”

“Hogan was not an old man all that time ago,” Adam said quietly. “He was tall, well built, strong looking like Pa.” He glanced at her. “I was only about 9 or 10 at the time, but I recall that time with him as something pretty special.”

She said nothing to that, merely shivered a little so that he slipped his arm around her and drew her close towards him.  She did not protest, but allowed herself to be held closer to him, so that the warmth of his body enveloped her own and the beat of his heart found an echo in hers.

“I’m sorry to have been so rude – to Mr. Hogan,” she said quietly

“Oh, Mr. Hogan’s used to people being rude to him. He’s suffered years of it, by people who have never appreciated his kindness to them.” He stepped back from her now and took hold of her by the elbow and turned her round. “Time to go back indoors,” he said gently

The ash in the fire was settling comfortably about the burned out logs, and the clock was ticking away the hours with an ease of long service.  Ben drew on his pipe and puffed out a wreath of smoke that encircled his head.  He half closed his eyes and through them observed his eldest son as he sat staring at a book perched on his knee

“Interesting book, is it?” he asked eventually

“Huh?  Uh-huh!”

“You’ve been staring at that same page for the past fifteen minutes, Adam.” Ben eased his body out of the chair and walked to the fire and tapped out the remains of the burned tobacco into the embers. “What’s on your mind, son?”

“I was thinking of Sam Hogan.”

“Sam?  Why’s that?”

“Well, I was just wondering what we really knew about him – apart from his craving for privacy, and the many generous things he has done for people .”

“He’s been around ever since I could remember, Adam.”

“He never married, did he?”

“Not to my knowledge, but then…” Ben shot a glance over at the younger man and frowned. “Are you thinking that he could be Lucinda’s father?”

“I had not got that far along, to tell you the truth,” he smiled slowly.

“I doubt it would have been Sam,” Ben said quietly. “Let me think now – he was a miner, rather, prospector when he first arrived here.   Kept himself to himself.   Hardly ever saw him in fact.   He became trusted by the Pauite though; they treated him like a brother and when we had a few problems with them, he acted on our behalf as a kind of intermediary.  He was very fair I’ll say that for him.”

“That time I stayed with him…”

“What about it?”

“The cabin was homely, a homesteaders place – warm and comfortable, lacking a woman’s touch.”  He frowned then, and closed the book with a slight thud and looked at his father. “It was years before we ever got to see inside that cabin again – but it was different!”

“Obviously, with time things change.”

“No, Pa, it was different because a woman had been there.” He frowned again, and glanced about the big room. “It was like here, before Marie came…women add things to a house, don’t they?   They change things without men realizing it.”

“Well, you’re saying then that Hogan had a wife?”  Ben frowned and stared into the ashes before shaking his head. “I doubt it, son, I’m sure we would have known about it had he been married.  Anyway…” he stretched and eased his shoulders back wearily. “let’s sleep on it for now, I’m tired – and we have an early start tomorrow morning.”

“Sure, Pa.” Adam smiled at his father and watched the older man walk towards the stairs, “Pa?”

“Yes, son?”

“Hogan used to look a lot like you at one time, didn’t he?”

Ben paused and looked at Adam, and then returned slowly to his side, so that the two men stood facing one another in front of the big hearth.

“In some ways there was a passing resemblance,” he said softly. “Are you trying to work out the change there has been in his appearance?”

“Well, he never had the benefit of three sons to help him out,” Adam grinned mischievously

“No, he didn’t, and I did, for which I thank God!” Ben placed a gentle hand on Adams shoulder. “Sam Hogan is very ill, Adam, he’ll not see another winter.”

“Which is why he’s selling his flock ?”

“Yes, that’s why he’s selling his goats.” Ben sighed and turned, leaving his son to think over this new snippet of information and to add it to the facts he already possessed.

*****

“Ben! Ben Cartwright!”

Ben’s shoulders stiffened as his name brought, not only his attention to the speaker, but also that of others who were early in their business in town.  He sighed and turned to face Mr. Rankin.

“Glad to have caught you, Ben!”

Ben glanced round and saw with relief that everyone else was continuing with their business. For some reason he had ridden into town with a dull sense of foreboding hanging over him like a black cloud and when Rankin called his name, it were as though the sword of Damocles was about to fall.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Rankin? Don’t tell me you’ve decided to sell those shares you have in our mining operation?”

“No, no – goodness me no, Ben; those shares are doing very well just at present. I’d be a fool even to think of it.” The banker looked at the rancher with a faint air of puzzlement on his face and then, with his hand on Bens arm, he drew Ben closed to the clapboard walls of the bank.

“I’m afraid I rather misinformed your son the other day.”

“You did?   About what?” Ben pushed back his hat and surveyed the banker thoughtfully

“About Mr. and Mrs. Cooper.”

“Oh, I see!   And in what way did you misinform him?”

“Well, I’ve just had a long letter from my sister, Ellen Jones.  She was the Coopers’ neighbor, still is come to that, once Lucinda returns home.” He darted Ben a furtive look as though this was a hook hoping to catch some small sprat of information.  There was none forthcoming; Bens face remained as stern as though carved in granite so the banker continued.  “I was always under the impression that Rose Cooper, Mrs. Cooper that was, had been raised in New York and that was where they met and married, but it seems that I was wrong.”

“You were?”

“Yes.  David Cooper married a young woman in New York – a very good marriage on both sides and reputed to be the love of his life.”

“And no body knew that before?”

“Well, Ellen only found out recently when her housemaid had been chatting to the Cooper’s housemaid.  Ellen only moved there ten years ago so the Coopers’ past history was a closed book to her.”

“But now it’s wide open and available, is that it?”

“I didn’t want your son to think I had given him some wrong information on purpose.  He was very earnest about it all, you see………something seemed very important…….”

Ben sighed and looked at Rankin as though seeing him for the first time.  A thin weasel of a man with furtive ferret eyes.  He nodded slowly

“What happened to the first wife?”

“She was killed on her way to join David in San Francisco.   Her brother was with her and was able to reach safety but…” he shrugged. “he died a short while later!”

“So that left David Cooper free to re-marry?”

“Yes, rather like yourself really,” Rankin bumbled on, then faltered realizing that he had encroached on dangerous ground for Bens face had darkened “Mrs. Cooper – Rose that is – was not so well placed in society as the first Mrs. Cooper but she was ambitious.  She had great hopes for Lucinda’s marrying well and getting the family well established there.”

Ben said nothing, but again sighed, as though weary of the little mans gossip, he touched his hat and was about to turn around when Rankin grabbed at his arm

“That’s the problem you see?”

“Problem?  What do you mean?” Ben narrowed his eyes and frowned “What problem?”

“Miss Cooper!”  Rankin smiled thinly “The dates don’t match up you see….I mean …there’s a question mark about just who’s daughter she could be now.”

“Meaning?” Ben growled, realizing that the sword he had dreaded falling was really hanging over him by a hairsbreadth.

“Questions are being asked as to where she came from?  Who exactly are her parents etc…very sad in the circumstances…she has her inheritance intact of course, but with some doubt as to who her parents happened to be any hope of a successful marriage is out of the question – in San Francisco anyway.”

Ben said nothing to that, his lips thinned, and his dark eyes darkened, always a good signal for anyone with any sense to quit while the going was good.  Mr. Rankin saw sense.

With a scowl on his face Ben watched the Banker scuttle away to his place of business and then with a rumble of discontent, he entered the store.

*****

“What are you thinking?” Adam paused in coiling in the lariat and cast an anxious glance over at his brother. “You’ve been working at half your usual pace all day and your thoughts have obviously been anywhere other than here – so?  What’s on your mind?”

“Aw, I dunno.” Joe flung a blade of grass into the air and shook his head. “I just feel all at odds with myself today.”

“Is it because of Lucinda?”

“I dunno!” Joe sighed and sat down on the grass where it banked up against the tall trunk of a tree.  “Listen, Adam, would you say she was a good-looking girl?”

“Oh sure!” Adam smiled and nodded and his eyes twinkled. “There’s no doubting she’s one of the prettiest little girls I’ve ever seen around here.”

“Yeah, she’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Joe sighed

“Have you fallen in love with her, Joe?” Adam began to re-coil the rope and did so with his eyes on his brothers’ face and he saw the handsome eyes go round and a deeper hue of green, and the lips break into a gentle smile. Then Joe sighed and shook his head.

“Sometimes I think I am, and then – I don’t know –“

“Well, you either are, or you aren’t!”

“I know that,” Joe replied rather testily

“Joe, what is it about her that makes you so uncertain – apart from the fact that she doesn’t love you?”

“What makes you say that?” Joe’s head shot up and he glared at his eldest brother as though he just could not believe what he had heard.

“Well, it’s obvious,” Adam grinned, and sat down beside his brother and tied the rope neatly and then set it down.   He put his hand gently on Joe’s shoulder. “It happens like that sometimes, Joe.   Not every girl that comes to the Ponderosa is going to fall straight into love with you.”

“You mean, she loves you?”

“No, no,” Adam laughed softly at that thought and shook his head.

“Hoss?”

“I doubt it very much!”

“Who then?”

“Lucinda – well, just at the moment, I think Lucinda just loves herself,” he sighed and smiled and ruffled his little brothers hair, much to Joe’s annoyance, for he pushed his brothers hand away with a disconsolate air.

“That’s the thing that annoys me with her – she’s always comparing everything with everywhere else she has been and with everyone else she has met and known.”

“Well, she’s traveled around quite a bit, and there are places equally as lovely as here, Joe.”

“Yeah, but does she have to ram it down our throats all the time?  And she turns her nose up at the people we know, as though they just don’t matter when they’ve made a success of their lives by the sheer blood and sweat of their brow, and all she has ever done is get born to the right folk.”

“She wasn’t though, was she?”

“What?”

“Born to the right folk?   That’s the whole point of her being here, isn’t it?  To find out just who her folk are?”

Joe sighed and shook his head and looked thoughtfully at his brother

“She could be in for quite a shock,” he murmured

“Could be,” Adam replied, standing up now and picking up the lariat he walked towards his horse. “Ready for some work now, brother?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Joe said quietly, then he paused. “Do you think she could fall in love with me?”

“Do you want her to?” Adam chuckled and raised his dark brows “Would it be fair, seeing as how you can’t decide if you love her or not!”

******************

Hop Sing glanced up as the sound of movement from the big room reached his ears.  Picking up a cleaver – always useful to have around in an isolated area – he hurried to see what was happening and who could be there at such a time as 10 a.m. in the morning.

Lucinda, on her way towards the kitchen, saw the cook, gave a shriek and retreated to the back of the room, leaving Hop Sing, with the cleaver aloft in his hand, stepping back in horrified amazement

“Missy? Why you heah?  Why you still in house?”

“Why shouldn’t I still be in the house!” she exclaimed as he lowered the cleaver and looked embarrassed enough for her to regain her confidence in addressing him as the lowly servant that he was. “It’s only 10 o’clock for goodness’ sake?  I came for my breakfast and then…” She paused and surveyed the gleaming table with nothing on it but an oil lamp in its center, “Where is everyone?  What time IS breakfast?”

“You know what time!  Same time as day befoah, and day befoah that one too…..this day all go out for work so eat more early.   You know this is no hotel, missy; I not cook all hou-ah just for lazy little miss!”

“Who are you calling lazy?” Lucinda exclaimed in amazement “And who do you think you are, talking to me like that?”

“You want some food and some dwink, you come in kitchen and make foah you-ahself!” With a toss of his pigtail, Hop Sing turned back to his domain and chattering to himself in his native Cantonese tossed the cleaver into the butchers block in the kitchen centre and continued to prepare the sugar do-nuts so beloved by Hoss. “All time I cook for Mistah Ben and boys, no complain, all that time – now you come and chattah chattah and no do any work at all just stay at house and chattah chattah – why you no cook and clean like lady do ?”

“What?”

“Lady at house all cook clean and keep busy do sewing and mending and knit.  You do nothing but sleep and chattah and sleep and wait for boys to come home.  All time Hop Sing wash clean cook and dust and sweep and go town with wash wash.”

“This is just about enough!” Lucinda exclaimed, her face reddening with temper. “Just let me tell you, Mister, a real lady does not cook, clean, sweep or dust – a real lady knows her place and her place is to be a lady!” With a shriek of angst she turned on her heel and swept out of the kitchen.

“Now I cook in peace – oh good – no moah chattah!” Hop Sing beamed to himself and dredged the donuts with sugar with more glee than the job entailed thus causing him more than the usual amount of cleaning up afterwards.

*****

“I don’t know why I’m still here!” Lucinda wept as she struggled to harness the patient little horse in the stable. “I should have been gone days ago.  I should have gone home and seen about getting myself a husband instead of – just stand still will you, you wretched beast – oh, why couldn’t everything have worked out right!”

She tightened the cinch and checked the buckles and then mounted into the saddle and urged the pony forwards.   Muttering and mumbling and complaining to herself she heeled the pony to gallop out to the roadway leaving a pall of dust to settle in her wake.

She rode at a reckless gallop for some distance and finally pulled the horse to a halt when she realized that she had lost her bearings and was in quite unfamiliar territory.  The horse stood with all four legs shaking, and its flanks heaving whilst it was panting to regain its wind, flecks of foam streaked its sides and its tongue lolled out in its desire to cool itself.

Lucinda was also breathing heavily from the exertion of such a wild gallop.  Having lost herself so readily she set about regaining her composure first, so rather unsteadily she dismounted and walked to a gnarled old tree and promptly settled herself down upon the grassy mound beneath it.   She stared at the horse and scolded herself for bringing the beast to such a state but her anxiety for the creatures welfare did not extend to rousing herself to see to it in any way.  Instead she leaned her head against the tree trunk and closed her eyes and tried to forget for a little while the situation in which she found herself.

Her eyes closed and she fell into a light slumber whilst the horse, finally recovering its strengths, ceased from blowing and wheezing enough to slake its thirst at a nearby stream and although it continued to tremble in its withers for some while, it was slowly showing signs of recovery.

The soft bleating floated across the grassland towards her and she woke slowly from her dream.  For a while she had dreamt that she was a shepherdess wearing some outlandishly medieval gown and hurrying her flock to some shelter. Behind her, silhouetted against the darkening sky, could be seen the figure of a man on a black stallion riding hard to catch up with them all.  Her overriding anxiety had been the welfare of her sheep and fear of the rider stealing them from her.  When she had reached the shelter, the door had opened and Joseph Cartwright had stood there, lounging against the door posts whittling some wood.  He had seemed totally unconcerned about her anxiety and had looked up at the approaching horseman and merely shrugged.

The bleating of her little lambs had caused her to weep and to beg him to let her enter the shelter and to protect them all to which he had replied that this was cattle country and not meant for sheep.   She had cried out for their innocence, they are just little sheep she had said, but Joseph had merely turned his handsome face towards her and smiled and shaken his head before closing the door.

Then she had woken up to hear the bleating close to her.   She opened her eyes and looked about her in amazement, whilst she remained seated beneath the old tree, trying to tell herself that she was still in her dream but had moved on to another scene.   She closed her eyes and told herself that after she had counted to five the sound would have gone.

The bleating was louder and plaintive enough to break her heart.  She got to her feet and scrambled about in search of the creature who was bleating so miserably.  Expecting to find a little lamb she was surprised to find herself looking down at a little kid of only a few weeks old.   It also was surprised at seeing her, for it skipped back a few paces and lowered its head as though to butt her away.

“What a sweet little thing you are!” she cried, and slowly extended her hand towards it but it backed away a little further. “Why were you crying?  Were you hurt?  Let me see?  Stand still now and let me see?”

It paused now and its moist dark eyes stared forlornly up at her face and it bleated again, opening its mouth so wide that she could see the little tongue extended as far as it could go in order to emit the loudest bleat of its life!

“Don’t you want me to look after you, little thing?” she whispered as she reached out to stroke its pale creamy coat.

A sound came from behind her and she turned, straightened her back and looked up at the man walking towards her.  The sun was behind him and directly in her eyes now, and the darkness of the figure was so like that of her dream that she could only cry out in fear and without a sound fall like a stone onto the ground.

Sam Hogan looked from the prone figure of the girl to the frail figure of the kid and sighed.  He pulled the bottle of milk from his jacket pocket and pushed it into the kids mouth and whilst he held it at the best angle for it to feed from, he knelt and checked the girl over, to make sure that she had not hurt herself in her fall.

Her eyes fluttered open and she stared up uncomprehendingly into the worn face of an old man who looked down at her with such a tender expression that any instinct in her to recoil with distaste, was foiled.   Instead she raised herself on to her elbows and looked about her, blinking rather rapidly

“Am I still dreaming?” she asked him  “I was dreaming of sheep bleating…” her voice trailed away and she looked at him more carefully. “It wasn’t sheep, was it?”

“No, just little Nell over there.” He pointed to where the kid was sucking at the bottle which he had fastened to the lower limb of a shrub.  “She ain’t got no ma of her own, you see!”

“I remember now – you’re Mr. Hogan, aren’t you?  The man who has the goats?”

“Did have – I’ve sold ‘em all now, except for little Nell.” He gazed over at the kid who was now pulling hard at the bottle, determined to get every last drop she could from her only source of food.

“Mr. Hogan,” she sat up and looked at him thoughtfully, and then smiled, the little smile that brought dimples to the corners of her mouth and crinkled her eyes so that she looked as sweet and innocent as a child of three, “I was very impolite the other evening, when you came to see Mr. Cartwright.  Would you accept my apology?”

Sam Hogan shook his head slowly from side to side, not in refusal of acceptance of her apology, but more from humility and wonder at the way such a young woman could be towards him,  a man most people in the territory held in ridicule.

“There’s no need for that, mis,” he said quietly, lowering his eyes as though the sight of her was more than he could bear, for he was a tender hearted man and her sweet face touched his heart more than she could have realized.

“Mr. Hogan, may I ask you a favor?”

“Ask anything, miss, anything at all!”

“I would so love to have a drink of something cool.  Do you have some milk or water?”

“Back at the house I do.” He glanced over his shoulder to where his home was situated and looked back at her “If you would like to walk over…”

Taking his hand in her own, she allowed him to haul her to her feet and after she had brushed away any debris on her skirts, she followed him, with little Nell skipping about them both, and sometimes falling flat on her face, so that with one swift caring movement Mr. Hogan swept the little kid up and nestled her close to him, in the crook of his arm.

From the outside it was as  much as any other small homesteaders cabin.   On the verandah were two chairs and a table, positioned so as to catch the sun early in the morning.   Several tubs of early flowering geraniums flourished close to the door and when she paused and turned to look behind her, to view the way they had walked, she had to catch her breath, for the view was simply beautiful.

“When the sun climbs over the mountains, and shines back from the water, it’s like a touch of heaven,” Hogan murmured.

“Yes, I would think it would be,” she said softly.

“It’s cooler inside, but if you wish to sit here on the verandah.”

“I’ll come in side – thank you!”

How strange to step inside the little cabin and to realize that it was so unlike anything she had expected.   It made her think that she had actually stepped into someone’s doll house, so ornate inside, but unfinished and unpretentious on the exterior.  She looked about her and smiled, and slowly untied her bonnet and let it drop onto the little table by her side

“This is – lovely,” she said softly

He merely nodded, to him, it was just his home, but that she stood there and said that, made him more grateful for it.   He began to pour out cool water from the sluice into a glass and held it to her to drink

“Mr. Hogan – thank you so much,” she smiled at him again and looked about her with exploring, inquisitive eyes, like a child who had wandered into Aladdin’s cave and was unable to comprehend everything that she saw there.

Beneath her feet the wood flooring had rugs of a quality only to be found in the most wealthy mansions in ‘Frisco.  True, they were soiled and worn, but the colors of the European designs were still beautifully eye catching. The furniture was old, made by long ago carpenters who had lingered lovingly over the carvings and engravings as the sun had warmed their backs in some strange faraway place other than the American states.  Her fingers trailed across the table top, along the top of the high backed chairs and over the tall dresser upon which the shelves were laden with expensive porcelain and crystal.

Even on the Ponderosa she had not seen such exquisite things as these and she stood in the centre of the room and looked about her.  A crystal tiered light hung from the ceiling, and the sun glanced from it and sent prisms shimmering in rainbow hues over the walls.   Expensive laces from France hung from the windows, whilst the curtain drapes were heavy and expensive velvets.

She looked at him from over the rim of her glass and sipped the water slowly.  Such a shabby, grimy and even slightly smelly man.  Yet behind the walls of his clapboard house was a treasure trove, a room that would not have disgraced anyone of her mothers acquaintances.

“Would you like something else?  Some coffee? Or perhaps, tea?” he asked her in a voice that sounded mellower than previously

“No, thank you.  I should be getting back home now,” she said quietly, and set the glass down by the sink.  “Have you always had goats, Mr. Hogan?”

“No, not always.  I’ve prospected here for many years – down by the river.”

Hogan pointed to the twinkling waters that gleamed far below them “Panning for gold, silver, whatever turns up.”

“You must have hit pay dirt then,” she said quietly “To have this beautiful home.”

“Oh, no “ he glanced about him and shook his gray head and his eyes grew slightly moister. “These things are only on loan, for a while longer.”

“On loan, Mr. Hogan?   From whom?”

“From the owner of course,” he said quietly and walked slowly to the door and stood there, staring out to the waters and with obviously no more intention of speaking to her.

She picked up her hat and tied it neatly and walked towards him, glanced back over her shoulder at the room and frowned a little as though there was something she wanted to say, but it was still too nebulous in her mind to grasp hold of and put into words.

“Thank you, Mr. Hogan, you have been very kind,” she said simply, extending her hand and, rather unwillingly it seemed to her, he took it and shook the pretty fingers very gently.

*****

“Adam?”

“Yes?” He looked up, dark eyes wide in surprise at her referral to him, for usually her preference was to talk to Joe or Hoss.

“I met Mr. Hogan today.”

“I hope you were more polite to him than you were the other day,” he said quietly, turning his attention once again to his book

“He took me to his cabin and gave me some water to drink.  I did apologies for my bad manners…” her voice faltered and she frowned slightly. “I was rather surprised at what I saw in his house.”

“It is pretty luxurious, isn’t it?” Adam muttered, turning over a page and trying to remember the last time he had visited Hogan.

“You said you had been inside the cabin, that you had stayed there once for some days.”

“Oh yes, that was years ago.  It was a regular little prospectors cabin then, although it had plenty of books.   It was some while before I ever got to see him there again, and it had changed considerably.  I always suspected that he had married secretly, it certainly looked like a woman had been involved in the changes there.”

“But everything there is so expensive – even – rather ostentatious!”

“Hogan would probably not even know the meaning of that word, my dea,” Ben said quietly, taking his pipe from its stand and filling the bowl with fresh tobacco.  “But he is wealthy – or was – even though he has the appearance of a tramp at times.”

“Old Hogan,” Joe came and sat down on the edge of the table, as close to her as possible, and he smiled at her with twinkling hazel eyes, “is a mystery man.”

“You can say that agin,” Hoss muttered, settling into the big blue chair and stretching out his legs “Dadgumit, but my corn is aching something awful tonight!” he groaned.

Adam and Joe looked at one another and raised their eye brows at that comment but refrained from any comment about their brothers corn.  Joe nodded, and looked at her thoughtfully.

“You’re probably the only person stepped foot inside that place for years.” he said. “He doesn’t encourage visitors.  We always thought it was the smell that kept people away.”

“The smell?” she frowned

“Goats!” Adam muttered, and tapped his nose with his index finger “Especially billy goats – we thought when we were younger that Hogan cultivated the smell deliberately to keep people away. Then he has very extreme religious views…” he shrugged and turned another page of his book as though the subject was beginning to bore him.

“He’s jest a natural hermit really.  Likes keeping hisself to hisself.” Hoss pulled off the boot of his left foot and sighed “Boy, that feels better,” he groaned again and began to rub his toes vigorously.

“Yeah, old Hogan isn’t the only one with a problem with smells around here,” Joe protested, waving his hand too and fro before his nose. “Phew, Hoss, when did you wash your feet last?”  He stood up and looked at Lucinda “How about a little stroll around the yard, Lucinda, it’s a lovely evening.” and he extended his hand in a most gentlemanly manner.

“No, thank you.  I am tired,” Lucinda replied quietly and stood up. “Good evening – and Mr. Cartwright, thank you so much for having me to stay here.  I shall be leaving in a few days time now. I don’t think there is much reason or point in staying any longer.”

“Are you sure, my dear?” Ben asked, rising to his feet as she approached to take his hand and bid him good night.

“Yes, I think so.  I have to go home and get on with life.”

“You don’t have to, you know,” Joe blurted out anxiously “You can stay here for as long as you want, really you can !”

“No, thank you.” She smiled at him and at the recollection of his reaction to her when she had first arrived there.  “Good night, Joseph.  Goodnight Hoss. Adam”

The three of them stood up and said their good evenings in unison, and watched as she mounted the stairs to the landing above and disappeared as she turned to her room.

Hoss sat down and promptly pulled off his sock and rubbed his feet, an action that prompted Joe to give an exclamation of annoyance

“You and your feet!” he exclaimed “No wonder she wanted to go to bed early!”

“All I said was…” Hoss cried but Joe was not prepared to hang around to listen, but strode angrily across the room to the stairs.

They watched him go up the stairs two at a time, and as it was nothing unusual for Joe to mount the stairs in a tantrum – something he had been doing since the age of two – they quickly resumed their activities.  Ben sat back in his favorite chair and puffed smoke rings in the air whilst he thought over fragments of the day.  Hoss rubbed his corn and mumbled to himself about other peoples lack of sympathy.  Adam turned another page of his book whilst his mind lingered over the perplexing problem of Mr. Hogan’s rather lavish cabin.

*****

The sound of a woman’s sobs sifted through the walls of her room and roused Ben from his sleep.  Hurriedly he pulled on his dressing gown and strode across the landing to the room in which the sounds were coming.  Doors along the landing opened and closed as Adam, Hoss and Joe peered out, listened, glanced at one another and ventured out to investigate.  They stole up so closely upon their fathers’ heels that Joe, in the lead, bumped into him with the result that the youngest and the eldest Cartwrights ended up by the side of her bed rather more abruptly than intended

She sat up, clutched at the bed covers and hauled them to her chin as the lamp light hovered closer.  Even so she could not stop the sobbing and when she saw Ben’s face, usually so stern and aloof, looking now upon her with such gentle care she sat up and put out her arms to him in a gesture of such childish innocence and need that his heart melted and he folded her carefully into his arms

“There now, my dear, it’s alright.  Was it a dream?” he said very quietly, as though she really were his daughter, and a child at that.

“Do you want a drink of water?” Joe whispered, looking at her anxiously and then turning to Hoss “Hoss, get Lucinda some water.”

Hoss turned, frowned, and turned again, gave his brother a glare and approached the bed.

“What’s the matter, Miss Lucinda?   Kin I git you anything at all?” he murmured softly, digging his elbow into his youngest brothers ribs to stop him from crowding him out of the vicinity of the bed

“I had a dream,” she sniffed “But it was not really a dream, it was real too.”

“About the cabin?” Adam asked

“Yes, the cabin.” She looked at him and stared into the dark brown eyes as though within their depths she would be able to understand the meaning of her dream and fear.

“You saw things in the cabin that…” Adam paused and looked at his father before he glanced again at her, “that may be frightened you?”

“Shucks, Adam, that’s a bit strong,” Hoss mumbled, putting a hand on his brothers shoulder.

“Well, something must have happened , or been there, to cause this,” Ben said and he stroked her hand and smiled when she turned to look at him with her tear filled blue eyes.

“I saw a silver cup on the dresser,”  she said in a very low voice “It’s a small cup, but when I saw it, I knew that I had seen it before.”

“Probably seen loads of them in other places,” Joe said quickly

“No, Joe, this cup was exactly where it should have been. I realized this evening as I was thinking about the cabin, that I had been expecting to see that little cup there, and – and was not surprised when I had and…” her voice trembled. “I could remember drinking out of it.  Water out of a silver cup tastes differently than when you drink it from a glass or cup.”

“Perhaps it was just a co-incidence.  Or the effects of being half asleep still and not quite out of the dream you had been having,” Ben said in a coaxing ‘let’s get back to sleep’ tone of voice.

“No, it was not that, Mr. Cartwright.  I knew when I saw the cup that I would see a tortoiseshell box with a mother of pearl pattern on the lid – and when I looked – it was there!” She put her hand to her face and shivered “Oh Mr. Cartwright, it was there!”

“Are you sure it was what you saw in Hogan’s’ cabin, and not what you saw in your dream?” Adam asked

“No, I was thinking about it all before I went to sleep – and then I had a dream.”

“Was it about Hogan?” Ben asked

“No, I don’t think so.” She wiped her eyes with her long fingers and accepted the handkerchief from Joe with a tremulous smile of thanks. “I dreamt I was in the cabin, but I was small and couldn’t reach the dresser. I wanted the cup.   Then a lady came and gave me some water and I saw her put the cup back on the dresser just where it had been.”

“What did this lady look like?” Ben asked

“Oh, she was beautiful.  Tall and slim, with blue eyes and golden blonde hair.   She looked very sad but when she looked at me she smiled and kissed me.   She sat on a big chair and read a book aloud to me and – and  it was so lovely that I did not want to wake up.  I wanted to be with her “

“Have you dreamt of this woman before?” Ben asked

“No, I don’t think so.  If I had then I have forgotten.” She sighed sadly.

“I think then, my dear, that tomorrow morning, you and I shall pay Mr. Hogan a visit, and get to the bottom of all this mystery.”

“I don’t know, Mr. Cartwright, I’m scared.”

“Hogan won’t hurt you, you know,” Ben smiled at her reassuringly

“I know, but I’m scared that – that he might be my father.” Her lips trembled and she looked at the four men who looked back at her. “I know I should not have said that, but I didn’t come here to find out that my father was just a smelly old goat herder.”

“There’s a lot of goodness in that old goat herder,” Ben said sternly, leaving out the other adjective in respect of the ‘old goat herder’. “He’s honest and brave, and generous!”

“I know but he’s not the kind of man I expected as a father, not really,” she blew her nose heartily on the handkerchief and wiped her eyes

“I don’t think it will come to that,” Adam said quietly. “I think you’ll find that everything will be explained just the way you would want it.” He stood up, for he had been sitting on the edge of the bed and after a quick glance at his father he said an abrupt good night and left the room,

“He’s angry with me, isn’t he?” she whispered

“Aw, take no notice of that, Miss Lucinda,” Hoss grinned. “Big brother never did take too kindly to being woke up during the middle of the night.”

“Yeah, he’s always like a bear with a sore head at…” Joe peered at the clock “at 2 o’clock in the morning!”

“He thinks I should be pleased just to have found my father – even if it is Mr. Hogan,” she sniffed. “But – but I can’t help it, but I really would have preferred it if it had been you, Mr. Cartwright!”

Ben smiled and nodded as though he quite understood why she would prefer him as a father rather than Mr. Hogan. With a sigh, he stood up and promised that he would come if she needed him and without another word ushered the other two men out of the room.

“Do you want us to come with you tomorrow, Pa?” Joe whispered

“What for?” Ben asked in an exasperated tone of voice

“Well, just in case…”

“For goodness sake, Joseph, get a hold on yourself; we’re just going to visit old Hogan, not Sitting Bull!”

*****

Sam Hogan had the door of the cabin open when Ben and Lucinda pulled up in the buckboard the following morning.   He walked slowly towards the door and stood there a while, waiting for them both to clamber down and approach him before he stepped out and extended his hand to them

“Bin expectin’ you, Ben, Miss Cooper,” he muttered as he shook their hands, then stepped aside to allow them to enter the little cabin.

As Ben entered the cabin, a place in which he had spent numerous evenings with the owner, he tried to see it through fresh eyes, the eyes of the young woman with whom he had come that day.    Few men out west would bother with baubles, net curtains and the like, fewer still would associate what another man possessed with vast sums of money.  A net curtain was just a bit of net, not some fancy named lace from some place faraway costing as much as several bulls.

It had always been obvious that the furniture was not the usual cobbled together affair of a poor homesteader, but Ben, with good solid expensive furniture of his own, never questioned the whereabouts of Hogan’s possessions.  No man in the territory would, because each man stood by their own word, work and sweat.

“You said you were expecting us, Sam?”  Ben put his hat on the floor, beside the chair into which the older man had ushered him.

“’Deed, yes.”  Sam frowned and hastily placed a small cushion behind Lucinda’s back, a courtesy that did not go unnoticed by either of his visitors.  He turned to the stove and ambled over to it to pour coffee into the cups which he passed over to them

“Any reason why in particular?” Ben’s gruff voice asked, when he realized that there was no forthcoming answer to his previous question

“Once I saw Miss Cooper leave yesterday, I knew she would have to come back, and you too….” He sat down on an old rocking chair, a homely item that seemed oddly out of place with the rest of the furnishings there.

“Do you…” Ben paused and sipped his coffee, wondering how he could best  approach the old man. “Do you want to tell us about it?”

Sam nodded and looked at Lucinda with such affection on his face that she turned bewildered, panic stricken eyes to Ben, who merely nodded and then looked at Sam.

“First of all, Sam – let’s get this point straightened out – are you this young woman’s father?”

“No, I ain’t.” Sam sighed and looked at Ben with a slightly higher color in his cheeks than usual. “And before I tell you about all that happened, Ben, I would like to apologies to you.”

“About the account?”

“You know about it then?” Sam went redder with shame and hung his head so that his chin rested upon his chest. “I’m that ashamed, Ben .  I’ve never lied in my life, but events happened so fast that I had no other choice, and I bin living that lie ever since.  Some days I didn’t know how to face you.”

“I only found out about it when Miss Cooper arrived here the other day, Sam.  The bankers were all very discreet and kept your secret well.’

“It weren’t really my secret, fact of the matter is, I made a promise to this lady’s ma, and her pa arranged about the account.”

“You knew my ma?” Lucinda said in a very low voice, and her face went very pale so that the blue eyes shone out like dark blue stones set in alabaster pearl.

“Oh yes, miss, I knew her, and if you forgive me for saying so, I loved her with all my heart and soul.”  Sam put down his cup and got up and walked to the big bureau and opened a drawer.  From the drawer he took an album, and passed it to her. “Some pictures…” was all he said, very gruffly.

Now as she turned the pages and saw the face of her mother looking up at her, Lucinda wept.  The tears slid silently down her cheeks in silent testimony of love.  Eventually she looked up at Ben

“It’s the lady I dreamt about last nigh,” she said quietly

Ben nodded, but said nothing.  Sam Hogan also kept his own counsel.  He sat in silence as he watched the beautiful young woman turn the pages of the book and when she closed the album and held it back to him, he raised his hand and shook his head

“Yours now,” he muttered.  “All this is yours; it belonged to her, but it’s all yours now.”

“Sam, I think you should explain about all this, because it is important to Lucinda to know exactly who her parents are, and if you know anything”

“I understand,” he said and he nodded as though agreeing with himself about something. “I was preparing in my mind what to tell you when you came.  Been thinking about it ever since she left.”

“Then, will you tell us?” Lucinda reached out and touched his hand, and did not flinch back when he curled his fingers gently around hers, and sat there with her hand resting in his on his lap.

“It happened a long time ago. I was a prospector here on my own.  Not many about at the time.  It was a lonely place to be, but I did not mind that, it was such a lovely place.  I made friends with the Pauite and they trusted me.  I had some friends amongst the few white men that were here, among them Ben Cartwright and his two boys”.

“Sometimes events happen that you can’t always fathom at the time.  The Pauite came one day and said that some people were caught in the snows and wanted me to help them because they were white folk. Well, they were froze stiff, but they had some goats and those that survived I brung home with me. That’s how I got started looking after goats.  They was good company too and provided me with milk, butter, and cheese and stuffs to keep me going when fodder was low.”

“It saved Joe’s life,” Ben smiled slowly

“Now that was another of them circumstances that happen and ain’t too significant in themselves but things develop from them.  I was coming home from your place one day and met up with a small wagon train. Heading for San Francisco they said.   There were three wagons.   The woman was in the middle of the three; she sat by her man she said was her brother and she had a child on her lap. That was you, Miss.”

“Really?   I don’t remember.”

“Oh, but you was just a babe then.  The lady was beautiful and her voice was so soft you could barely hear it, but she saw I had some goats and asked me if I would let her have some milk for her child.  I was more than pleasured to give her the milk although the guide who was driving the first wagon seemed none too pleased at the delay.”

“When they turned away and rode off, I stood there and watched them going, thinking how lovely she was and wondering why they was so off the beaten track for ‘Frisco.   But they all seemed confident that they knew what they was a-doing, so I went home.”

“What happened to them?” she leaned forward, eager to hear more and now her cheeks were flushed and her lips rosy red, as she listened to the story of her very own childhood unfold.

“It was several days later when I was coming back from giving some cheese and things to Mrs. Cartwright when I  heard a child crying and when I looked around the shrubs, why, there you were, miss, sitting there in the dirt and crying . You wept so weakly that I knew that  you had very little strength left in you to cry for much longer, and oh, how I thanked God for sending me that way on that particular day, for it was not the usual road I took home from the  Ponderosa.”

“I soon saw the remains of the wagons, all tilted over they were….canvas ripped and blowing to the wind and most of the horses dead.  It was sheer wanton cruelty and waste.  Then I thought of the lady and searched and searched for her until I found her.  She had crawled as far as she could go and taken shelter in amongst the shrubs,  from the tracks she had taken the child with her.  Now she was I feared dead and the child had crawled away out of an instinct for life.”

“You mean, she was dead?”

“That’s what I thought at first, miss.  I gave her water and she came to her senses and cried out for you and she called you Lucy, miss.  ‘Whar’s my Lucy’ she cried.”  Sam’s face softened at the memory and Ben lowered his head and thought of his Marie and how she had wept at the thought of Joe dying that miserable time long ago. “How happy she was when I put you back into her arms, she kissed you and cuddled you, and then fainted away again.  By that time, miss, you had fallen asleep, happy and contented being in your ma’s arms again.”

“What had happened, Sam?  Was it an accident?” Ben asked, trying to recall back to his mind any report of such a thing happening back then

“That was my first thought and I looked for other bodies just in case there were other injured thereabouts, but there were none.”

“Was it Pauite?  An Indian attack?”

“No, Ben, it was just the meanest act of all, borne from sheer greed.  You see, the three wagons belonged to the lady and her brother.  She was on her way to her husband in ‘Frisco and she was one very wealthy little lady.   It don’t take long for talk to spread about things like that, and three wagons loaded down with fancy goods an’ all, belonging to a woman and a frail brother, well, they’re easy prey for some of the likes that promise to guide you to safety.   The guide had planned to meet his friends at a lonely desolate place and take whatever they could – didn’t matter who died as a consequence.”

“So that’s what happened.” Ben frowned and sighed and looked at Lucinda “Back then, things were far wilder than they are even now.  At least we can claim a veneer of civilization, but then…”

“Then there weren’t no law, miss.   Doctors came and went.   With so few folk about you had to rely on yourself.”  Sam looked at Ben “No disrespect for you, Ben, but you had problems of your own at that time what with Joe ill, and that anthrax scare among your cattle.”

“I remember that well; we were just starting to build up a herd and it seemed as though we were going to fail in the first season.” Ben scowled darkly at the memory, for  it had nearly broken them, the burden of that year.

“I set to work setting one of the wagons straight and found one of the horses grazing nearby.   Then I took the lady home with the baby.”

“Did she die?” Lucinda asked in barely a whisper

“No, Miss, although she was very ill.  I was not able to leave her to get a doctor, not that there was a doctor in Eagle Station at the time; no, we were here on our own and had to fend for ourselves.   Weeks went by before she was well enough even to sit up and talk sense.”

“Did they find the men who killed her brother?” Ben asked

“Ah, well – seems her brother got away and managed to get to Eagle Station and tell them that they had been ambushed and his sister and her child had been killed.   He was in a very bad way, but he managed to give the telegraph clerk his name and the name of your father, to let him know what had happened.   He had no way of knowing that you were both alive, of course, and died thinking he had done all that he possibly could.   Of course, it meant that as far as your pa was concerned, you were both dead.   As for the guide and his friends, well, they took what they wanted and left the rest.  Who knows what happened to them after that – perhaps one and all of them have stretched a rope by now.”

“Sam, why didn’t you come to the Ponderosa for help? You know Marie would have done anything to help as would we.”

“No, Ben, weren’t no point; couldn’t leave for any length of time.  It weren’t just her body was broken, but her mind too, you see. Had I left her, who knows what she would have done to herself and the little girl.  She was that demented and distressed and frightened.”

“After a while I thought that if I brought back some of the things from the wagon, she would feel more at home, safer and then perhaps she would get better more quickly.  Once I knew I could leave her for a few hours stretch at a time, for she often slept that long each day, I would go to the wagons and load up things and bring ‘em back here.  Slowly I built up the room as you see it now.”

“And did your theory work, Sam?” Ben smiled gently at the old man, who nodded and glanced about him as though he himself were unable to believe that all that had happened so long ago.

“She began to recognize things.  She began to talk and take notice.  I could see she was mending and setting things straight in her mind again.   Eventually all the things she owned that had not been stolen, was here.  This was her home.”

“I’d been a sailor long before I took up prospecting so I was used to sleeping in cramped places in a hammock, and so I strung up my hammock in the barn and slept with the goats there.  Miss Lucy and her mother slept here.”

“What was her name, Mr. Hogan?” Lucinda asked quietly

“Her name was Gwendolyn.  She told me all about herself, where she had been born in New York and what her family were like and her husband, what he had been like, and how they met and the plans they had made.  Her brother and herself were all that were left of a very wealthy family in New York.” He paused there and sighed and shook his head. “It broke her heart to know he was dead.”

“Why didn’t you take her to her husband, Sam?”

“That was the intention, Ben.   As soon as she was well.  That year, when she was still very weak and ill, and not knowing who exactly she was anyway, we had a very bad winter, the worse known hereabouts, never been a worse’n.   The weather didn’t break until April time and she was still too weak to be left.  We talked about when we would go to ‘Frisco for her to join her husband again.   But when she was strong enough and could walk about, the strangest thing happened.”

“What was it?”

“It was though her mind would not let her go beyond a certain point.  Once she were a few yards beyond that verandah, she couldn’t go a step further.  Oh, she tried, but it made her very ill to do so.   It was as though an invisible fence was all around the place and she could not get beyond it.  Then she sank into despair and sorrow, knowing that she could not get to Frisco.  I think the only thing that kept her alive was you, Miss Lucy.   She was a good loving mother to you and as gentle as could be, sometimes watching her with you fair broke my heart, seeing as how I never had a wife or child of my own.”

“So she didn’t get to see my father ever again?”

“No, miss.”

“Couldn’t she have sent him a letter?  Let him know that she was alive?”

“She did that, miss.  I went to town with the letter but before posting it I went to the saloon and someone had left an old newssheet there, and the first thing I saw was a piece about your father getting married to Miss Rose Brannon.”

“Rose Brannon!   But that was the name of my stepmother!”  Lucinda exclaimed, standing up so abruptly that the cup and saucer was knocked from the arm of the chair onto the floor. “Do you mean that Mr. Cooper was my father all along?”

“Why, yes, but I thought you knew that all the time, miss.”

“No, no – I did not know; Rose told me that I was adopted – that is why I came here, because I thought, I thought that Mr. Cartwright was my father.”

They were silent for a while and then Sam nodded slowly and thoughtfully

“That Rose Brannon!” he frowned and then shook his head

“What happened after you saw the newspaper article, Sam?” Ben asked

“I didn’t know what to do about the letter.  Then I wondered whether or not I should tell her, about her husbands remarrying so soon.    Miss Gwen had told me that Mr. Cooper had left her shortly before she had known she was expecting a child, and here was the child now over two years since she had seen him. He had been without the companionship of a wife for two years – and thinking her dead, well, I suppose it was natural for him to marry like that.   I pretended that I had sent the letter. Whether it was sent, or whether we eventually managed to get there in person, the situation would have been the same  – his second marriage would have been void and the whole matter very unpleasant. I only wanted to spare Miss Gwen any more heartache.”

“But why did Rose tell me I was adopted, why couldn’t they tell me that he was my real father.”

“Who knows what goes on in the minds of those in love.  Rose was besotted with your father, adored him.  Sometimes love can be overly possessive.” Ben leaned forward and took her hand. “Sometimes, when people feel hurt enough, they hit out and hurt the ones they love most.”

Again they were silent and the big clock on the wall that had once graced the walls of one of the biggest and most splendid brownstone mansions in New York, ticked away the seconds before Sam began to speak again.

“She had never really regained her full strength, and the illness in her mind, that stopped her from going too far from the cabin, gradually grew worse so that eventually she feared to even step outside the door.  I knew that she was going to die and it broke my heart to think of it.”

“One day she called me and asked me to promise to look after little Lucy.  I promised that I would do so.  She died a few minutes later.”  He wiped away a tear that was held spiked to his lashes and lowered his head. “I did not know what to do then as suddenly looking after a little girl became such a big responsibility.  I had promised to look after her, but she deserved the best that her heritage had intended.  I packed up some legal documents that she had in a box, her wedding certificate and her child’s birth registration and such and then I took little Lucy to San Francisco.”

“Mr. Cooper was a gentleman through and through.  I can assure you of that, as soon as he soon little Lucy he fell in love with her; it was as though he were falling in love with Miss Gwendolyn all over again.  I could see that Miss Rose was not too happy about it, after all, it meant that their marriage was a sham and now here was a child to prove it so.”

Mr. Cooper loved Rose, maybe not as much as Rose loved him but enough for him not to want to make life unpleasant for her.  They were very good to me and eventually Mr. Cooper came up with a plot that would solve everyone’s problems. So they  closed up the house for six months and went away with the little girl.  They remarried secretly in London, England and when they returned announced to the world that they had adopted a little girl.  It seemed to tie up all the loose strings.”

“Apart from one.” Ben said gruffly, after clearing his throat.

“Ah yes.  Well, Mrs. Cooper posed the question as to how they could explain where the child came from – and we put several names in a hat and yours was the one that was chosen.  I wanted to keep my promise to Gwendolyn, that I would provide what I could for the child and even though I knew Mr. Cooper was very wealthy, I wanted to uphold that promise.  Mrs. Cooper, Rose, thought it a good way to confirm their story about you having had this daughter…” he reddened a little and looked shame faced over at Ben. “I do honestly beg your pardon, Ben, I hope you will forgive me?”

Ben looked at Lucinda and smiled and raised his dark eyebrows, then he smiled at his old friend and shook his hand with a firm, warm handshake that seemed to console the fellow.  Then he picked up his hat and stood up, looking at them both thoughtfully, he turned and then paused

“Sam, how was it that we never got to know about this lovely Gwendolyn and her daughter?   All those years they lived here, and there was not the slightest rumor or hint that they ever existed.”

“Times were different , Ben.   If no one went into town, no one would know who was alive or who died in those days.  We were at the beginning of a new life, Ben.  You – well – you had problems of your own on your doorstep to deal with, and a heavy work load, why should you have been involved in our little lives out here.”

“It would have been company for her, for Marie and the children.”

“Aye, perhaps, but that was not Miss Gwendolyn’s wish.  She loved it here, loved being with Miss Lucy – and she died happy.  When I returned home, I heard about your wife, Ben…” and he put a gentle hand on the ranchers arm, a gentle pressure only, and then released it.

Sam walked to the door by their sides and stepped back for them to pass by, but she lingered, and stepped back.

“Can I spend a little time with you, Mr. Hogan.  There’s so much I want to know about my mother.” She turned to Ben “Would that be alright, Mr. Cartwright?”

Ben smiled and nodded and stepped out into the sunlight.   He took a deep breath as though by doing so he could brush away the cobwebs of the past.

*****

Joe Cartwright frowned with determined concentration as he plaited the throngs of leather into a thin lariat. He sat very still and with the blank look of concentrated method stamped onto his handsome features for so long that after a while Hoss became concerned for his baby brother and put a gentle hand on his shoulder

“You alright, Joe?”

“Sure I am,” Joe retorted, rather more snappily than intended.

“Are you sure?”

“Didn’t I say I was sure?  Didn’t you jest hear me say I was sure?”

“Sure, Joe, I was just wanting to make sure that you were sure that was all!”

Hoss shrugged and wandered back to his chair and picked up a plate where a good sized slab of fruit cake awaited his attentions. He picked it up and raised it to his mouth, it hovered there, he looked again over at his brother, and with a sigh, put the cake back onto the plate which he returned to the table.  “Joe, are you worrying about Miss Lucinda going back to ‘Frisco tomorrow?”

“Why should I be worried?  She’s a grown woman, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, I know, but she’s also a very attractive and a very rich young grow’d up woman.”

“For goodness’ sake, Hoss, just because she’s young, “ he gulped, “and pretty,” he frowned, “very pretty come to that,” he bit his bottom lip, “that doesn’t mean she has to stay here, and fall in love with,” he sighed, “one of us, does it?”

“Wal, if this were one of them stories that gits writ in them thar books Miss Ella has in the library in town, she would.”

“She would what?” Joe snapped again, casting a lingering look up the stairs where sounds of Lucinda moving about, busy with her packing, could be heard.

“Wal, stay put and git married to one of us”

“Oh yeah – and which one would that be, do you think?” he glared over at his brother and Hoss grinned and picked up his plate.

“Guess I knows which one you would want it to be,” he chuckled, biting into the cake

“Yeah, well, it wouldn’t be you – and if it were, you’d starve in a week, she can’t cook!”

Hoss shrugged, such a detail was not so important , he never considered himself in the running anyway.  He took another bite of the cake

“Pity she wants to go and see them thar mountains in Switzerland agin.  You’d’ve thought our mountains to be jest as good!” he said, smacking his lips as he licked his fingers

“So what?  Mountains are  just mountains,” Joe scowled, having to unwind some of the lariat due to lack of concentration.

“Then she wants to go and see them thar gardens at that place Ver- say”

“Ver’say?” Joe scoffed

“Yeah, French for – you know – that palace place in France.”

“You mean, Versailles.”

“That’s what I said,, ain’t it?” Hoss frowned and finished the cake and stood up and stretched. “Anyway, I’ve things to do more important than mooning around a girl who doesn’t know a good thing when she see’s it!”

“Such as?”

“Such as the Ponderosa,” Hoss retorted shortly. “Any gal who can turn her nose up at what we have here ain’t worth the bothering with.” Having said what he felt needed to be said, he walked to the bureau and picked up his hat. “We got mountains, and lakes, and everything and anything a lady could wish for right on here – we got clean air,” he clapped his hat onto his head, “and the danged best place in which to live on Gods earth.” He picked up his gun belt. “So why’s a gal got to go off and see gardens in Ver-say, beats me!”

He opened the door and paused and looked over at his brother who was looking at him as though totally bemused

“That was good, Hoss,” Joe declared

“It was?”

“Yeah, kinda poetical without the poetry, though –“

“Yeah.” Hoss grinned, his blue eyes twinkled and his lips parted in a wide smile. “Yeah, guess it was at that.”  He winked at Joe and rubbed his hands together “Jest don’t go telling Adam, wouldn’t want to upset him none, him thinking he’s the only one knows how to talk poetry.”

“I won’t!” Joe grinned and winked back and as the door closed he sat down and stretched out his legs and put his feet up onto the table and sighed a long drawn out sigh of pleasurable relief and delight.

***The End***

Return to Krystyna’s homepage

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.