My Name Is Dorcas (by Krystyna)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  30,000

                                             My Name Is Dorcas

I can remember the day my mother took my brother and me to watch a pantomime. I remember how tightly I held her hand because large crowds frightened me and I was being pressed on every side by so many people. There was such a gabble of voices that I was feeling sick inside my stomach by the noise. My brother who was three years older than me was very bold and just marched on up the carpeted stairs to find our seats.

My mother handed the tickets to the big man with moustaches who stood at the door; he had looked at them, and then looked at us, smiled, and opened the door wide for us to go into the theatre. He even patted me on the head and made my bonnet go awry so that I had to fidget about to set it straight again.

People were coming in and taking their seats all around us. The buzz of noise that was everywhere seemed to echo all around me in this vast auditorium and the men in the orchestra pit were getting their instruments ready for the performance.

I sat down and pulled off my bonnet. I looked all around me and saw golden cherubs, golden roses, and golden ribbons decorating scarlet velvet drapes. Oh, it was like entering a magic world. Even though the plush on the seats prickled my legs through my skirt, I felt myself lifted up and buoyant. I was entranced.

I had never stepped inside such a place before that evening. I can see myself now, a little girl of five years old, eyes wide and round, mouth just as wide and round, and as still as a mouse. The buzz of voices died down. Music began and I can see myself leaning forward, ready to drink in all the wonders of those brief few hours, captivated and transported to another world and then rather rudely returned back to the bleak reality of my own life.

The performance was Cinderella. My heart tightened inside when I saw the poor little girl struggling to make everyone happy and not succeeding — so poor, so hungry and cold. Like me, I thought, like me. Then the fairy godmother coming and everything turning out wonderful for her. Oh, how pretty, how lovely, how wonderful.

Then the lights dimmed, there was the applause, and the actors coming to take their bow. The music ended. I remember how I just sat there waiting for it all to happen again, and wondering where all the magic had gone.

Mother came and took my hand. I protested that I didn’t want to go, and started to cry. People passed by and smiled at us, and Mother got embarrassed and gave me a little shake. I looked at the stage and realized that my few hours of wonderment were now over.

We left the theatre, Mother taking my hand tightly in her own, and bowing her head against the sleet that was throwing itself at us. I saw others getting into carriages, little girls with thick coats with their hands in muffs and pretty boots buttoned right up being lifted into the carriages by their footmen. I wondered why it was that I had to walk in my thin coat and dress against the bleak wind and sleet with my Mother who coughed so much and my brother who spoke so little.

Father was home already when we arrived and he picked me up and swung me high. I loved my Father. Oh I could hug him and hug him even now, if only he were still alive. I held him close that night because I knew that it was because of him that we had been able to get to the theatre.

My Mother had explained it all as we had walked there earlier. Father had found a wallet with lots of money in it. I mean, really a lot of money. We were poor people and father worked in a foundry to pay all the bills but there was never enough money to get us things like pretty clothes and tickets to the theatre. One of the things I loved about my father was that he was SO honest. He had looked at the wallet and found an address in it and took the wallet right to the house and asked if he could see the master there.

He told us that he just knew the wallet didn’t belong to anyone else there; there was just too much money in it for it to belong to any of the servants. He was allowed into the hallway and told to wait. He said he had never seen so many people standing around doing precious little for their keep as he did then. He had to wait ten minutes before a man came and asked him what he wanted.

“Are you Mr. Ruthven?” he asked very politely, and when the man said he was Mr. Ruthven’s butler, and it wasn’t Mr. Ruthven’s policy to see people the likes of my father, well, my father was all for turning right round and walking home, with the wallet. He just drew himself up real tall and said, “Please ask Mr. Ruthven if I have his permission to spend what I have found which I believe he has lost …” and he stared that butler right in the eye as though to say, ‘So there!”

A big tall man came next. He had reddish hair and Father said he had the biggest moustache he had ever seen. He walked down the stairs and came face to face with my father, “I believe you found something that I recently lost?” he said in a haughty voice.

“I did, sir. If you could care to tell me what you lost then perhaps it might be the thing I found.”

The man must have liked the way my Father spoke up to him for he smiled and told my father he had lost his wallet and it had contained a lot of money. How much exactly was my Father’s next question and the man had gone rather red in the face at that and said how much, and then father produced the wallet and put it in the mans hands.

The man thanked my Father and turned away from him. My father said that he was thinking how arrogant these people were who had so much money that they couldn’t even spare time to say ‘Thank you’ like most folk would, when the man turned, “Tell me, do you have children?”

“Two, sir, a boy and a little girl.”

“I have none, but…” He put his hand in his pocket and took out some tickets, the tickets father later gave mother for the theatre. “Take these, for your children. Leave your name and address with my man here; I may contact you later.”

My father said that he stood there a while with his mouth open, just staring at the tickets and wondering what to say, so he said ‘Thank you’ and left the house.

That was how we got to see the theatre and I saw wonderful magic and was so happy for a few hours.

That was how my father got involved with Mr. Ruthven, and within a few weeks, my father was dead because of Mr. Ruthven. I never knew what had happened, or how it happened. I only know that father stopped working for the foundry and started working for Mr. Ruthven because my father was so honest.

I remember being asleep and there was a loud knock on the door. It kept on and on until it woke us all up. Mother went to the door and I heard some voices, very low, very quiet. I lay there shivering for the night was cold, my blanket was thin and some kind of fear tickled the bottom of my stomach. Then I heard my mother give a cry, like a scream, like an animal caught in a trap. I heard my brother’s footsteps running down the hall to the door but I couldn’t move. I kept my eyes tightly shut and curled myself into as small a ball as I could. I was scared to move in case I was sick.

After that a lot happened all at once. There were policemen coming to the house. Mother went away during the day, and then when she came home, she would sit down and cry. Later on a lady came to the house. She was called Madeleine Ruthven. She wore a very beautiful black gown with a cape that shone with black jet beads sewn on it. She looked so lovely sitting there beside my mother, who was dressed in her best black dress that was shiny from so much wear, and in some places, worn through. They spoke together for a long time, their heads close together and their voices very low. Richard and I had been banished to our rooms, but we lingered near the door so that we could overhear what they were saying. None of it made sense to me, so after a while I went to the window and looked out into the street.

It had been snowing and there were heaps of snow piled up in the street. We lived in a brownstone tenement in New York. There were lots of families like mine here. We were America’s poor, but we were honest, hard working and we loved our country. We also got sick easily, went hungry often, and couldn’t always get to school. Richard and I were more fortunate than many because Mother had been a teacher before she got married, so she taught us the necessary three R’s.

Then suddenly we were packing things away into boxes. Mother had a new coat and bonnet and boots, as did Richard and I. I doubt if we ever looked so smart in all our lives and I can still remember the wonderment I felt when I had seen those clothes laid out on the bed in front of me. But, here we were, ready to say good bye to New York, to our tenement and our neighbors. I hadn’t a clue where we were going but held onto my mother’s hand as we went to the railway station. I looked about me at everything with a little thrill of excitement trickling through every bone. Perhaps the lady in black had been our fairy godmother, and now we were going to be whisked away to a wonderful, wonderful new world.

Well, we ended up in Virginia City, and it was during our journey there that I first met up with Joseph Cartwright.

Oh, I should mention, my name is Dorcas.

*****

The journey was so long. Every morning I would wake up determined to enjoy the day, to be less annoying to mother, and to be good. I tried very hard but I often failed. The train journey was so long, so long and tedious. For a little girl of five, it was very hard to just look out of the window and enjoy the views that flashed pass. I slept often, and woke up hot and dusty.

Mother was always trying very hard to be patient, kind and lovely. It wasn’t difficult for her, not really. She was everything that was good and lovely. That was why my father had loved her so much. She wasn’t tall, she wasn’t thin, she was brown haired and blue eyed. She had a smile that was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. I wanted to be like her but it didn’t happen. I was always too thin, too tall, and too gangly. Richard was like my mother, though, even down to the smile. I suppose that was why he and Joseph got on so well.

Eventually we got to where we had to catch a stagecoach. The Overland Stage it was called and it was very, very uncomfortable. I was squished in between a fat man who insisted he had to sit by the window, and my mother, and Richard. Opposite us was a very imposing man called Ben Cartwright, his son Joseph, and another man who was called Mr. Hansworth.

Joseph Cartwright was called Little Joe. I don’t think he wanted to be called that in front of us, because he went a bit red in the face first few times, but eventually he got so used to it, and so did we, that it didn’t matter so much. He was thin and not so very tall. He was 7 years old when we met, and he and his Pa were on their way back to Virginia City from a trip to friends in San Francisco. I don’t think I had ever seen a boy who so resembled a floor mop before and who talked so much. He had the most amazing tumble of thick curly hair I’d ever seen. He was also a mass of freckles and had lost two teeth.

At first, we had just sat looking at one another, and Mr. Cartwright had been very courteous and introduced himself and Joe to us, and he introduced Mr. Hansworth and the other man and then Ma introduced herself and us.

“I’m Alicia Mannering and these are my children, Richard and Dorcas”

“A pretty name for a pretty little girl,” Mr. Cartwright said and he shook my hand very nicely, and then he said something nice to Richard and shook his hand too, but I was too wrapped up in the fact that someone had said I was pretty. Pa had been the only person to tell me that, and Ma of course, but I had never really believed them.

Mr. Hansworth introduced himself, and was very softly spoken. He was the bank manager of the First National Bank in Virginia City. After the introductions, everyone sat back as though wondering what to say next. Mother looked out of the window and I watched Joe and Richard while I hugged into her.

Oh this journey had been so very long. I was so tired of all the different places we had slept in, all the different vehicles we had travelled on, and the fact that it just never seemed to come to an end. I never knew how my mother had managed to pay for the different boarding houses and travelling expenses, I wasn’t even sure then why we were going so far from New York; all I knew was that I had nothing now to call my own but the clothes I wore and the doll that I kept with me. Her name was Clarabelle.

Richard and Joe looked at one another, as though working out whether or not going beyond that stage would be worthwhile. Richard was the older of the two. My brother was a nice looking boy, very dependable and with a good sense of humor. His grey blue eyes looked at Joe’s face and he smiled; Joe smiled. That was all it took for the two of them to decide that they were going to be good friends.

“Do you play baseball?” Richard asked.

“Nope.”

“You don’t? Ain’tcha got a baseball team back home?”

“Nope – just me and my brother. I got me a pony.” A gap toothed smile followed this statement.

“A real one?”

“Sure a real one. He’s called Brandy.”

“Is he big?”

“Big enough.” Joe looked over at me, “Do you have a pony?” he asked but I just shook my head and ducked away from them, hiding more closely under my mother’s arm.

“There ain’t no place in New York tenements to keep a pony,” Richard explained gravely.

“Oh.” Joe nodded as though he understood. He told me later he didn’t even know what a tenement was so he wasn’t really so clever. “You can come and ride mine if you like.”

“Can I?”

“Sure you can.” He grinned at Richard; this was a seal of friendship. I just knew that it wouldn’t include me, so left them to their chatter.

Mother was talking in her soft voice, telling them how father had recently died and that she was travelling to Virginia City to join her brother. At last, now I knew why we were taking this journey. I hadn’t realized I had an uncle in Virginia City. I wondered if she had ever mentioned it, or whether I had shut myself off in a little world of my own so completely that it hadn’t penetrated my consciousness.

“What’s your brother’s name?” Mr. Hansworth asked kindly.

“Michael Burgess. He runs a store.”

“Oh yes, of course. I know Mr. Burgess.” Mr. Hansworth smiled and nodded, “Will you be working with him in the store, Mrs. Mannering?”

“Possibly.” A little furrow appeared across Mother’s brow. “I was a teacher before I had the children…”

“A school teacher?” Mr. Cartwright interrupted, “But that’s wonderful. It’s just what Virginia City needs.”

Mr. Hansworth looked at Mother and then at Mr. Cartwright, and then I saw him smile as well as he nodded. “We surely do. We’ve only recently begun to build the school house and were going to advertise in papers back east for a teacher. Would you consider taking on the position, Mrs. Mannering.”

“I don’t know.” Mother sat back against the hard surface of the seat and looked at them both, “Wouldn’t it be better for me to have a proper interview?”

“Madam, I’m afraid that we are yet not so civilized as back east. If we see an opportunity come by, we grab at it in case we lose out on it altogether.” Mr. Cartwright laughed, a warm, deep treacle laugh. It made me smile and he smiled back at me, “You’d come to school if your Mama was the teacher, wouldn’t you, Dorcas?”

I nodded and clung tighter than ever to Clarabelle. I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Joe and Richard look at one another and express disgust at the very thought.

So that was how my Mother became the first school teacher at the Virginia City school, built from Ponderosa pine, and having exactly nine pupils.

*****

My Uncle Burgess, as he preferred to be called, was a quiet man. He was very polite and formal. He shook our hands and welcomed us as we clambered down from the stagecoach. He took Mother’s bag and asked a porter to carry the big trunk and valise to the store, but Richard and I were left to carry our own things. Not that they amounted to much nor were they very heavy but it just showed that right from the start he didn’t really want to be too involved with us.

Mr. Cartwright, Mr. Hansworth and the man whose name I can’t remember tipped their hats to Mother and bade her farewell. They all shook our hands too and Mr. Cartwright gave us each some money ‘for candy’. Mr. Hansworth said to Mother that she was to visit him as soon as possible so that arrangements could be made about her ‘position’. I saw my Uncle look rather surprised and cast an anxious look at my Mother. I wondered if he would be angry because he got the same kind of furrow on his brow as Mother would get if she were displeased about anything.

Virginia City at this time was nothing like it is now. This was 1849 and there were very few real buildings. Those that existed were very new and stood out as grand and tall. There were many people milling around, though, streaming out from shanty cabins, tents and odd looking ‘homes’ made up of barrels and tarpaulin. There was a really big half-built timber frame place with tarpaulin flapping about with a big wooden sign saying Saloon.

I had never seen so many people so clearly defined as very rich or very poor. I wondered in which category we slipped into and decided we were the very poor. I held onto Clarabelle as tightly as possible. I don’t think I had ever seen so many children with such obvious signs of poverty upon them. They were there because their fathers had the ‘gold fever’ and most times the ‘gold fever’ ended up with pneumonia or tuberculosis and death. At the same time, some of those children would suddenly be swept into wealth and live their lives riding around in carriages, going to school in Europe, never knowing hunger again. That was the lottery of their lives.

Uncle Burgess took us to one of the buildings and opened the door. It was the store. A big double-fronted store that sold just about everything, or rather, in my ignorance at that time, it seemed as though it did. Through the door we traipsed and came to another.

“This is your home.” he said simply and we stepped in behind him and entered a big room.

Mother looked around her and smiled. It was so light and so big. She touched the back of a chair, an ornament, the table. She looked at Burgess and smiled. “Thank you, Burgess.”

He was pleased that she liked it, and pointed out the other rooms. I looked about and saw some cobwebs and the biggest ever spiders. Richard had gone to the window and was looking out at the yard.

“Where’s your room, Burgess?” Mother asked and he smiled,

“I live upstairs, above the store. I – I haven’t lived here since Gwen died.”

I watched his face then; his mouth tightened into a little button, and the furrow appeared on his brow just like the one Mother would have if she were worried or angry, “I eat at the restaurant…”

“But you must eat here, with us, Burgess, now that we are here as family.” She said that very kindly and he nodded, and touched her hand as though in gratitude.

I hadn’t seen any restaurant. Only those horrible tumbled-down buildings. Perhaps it was one of the new buildings that stood so tall and grand, but I don’t think they cooked much good food from the looks of Uncle Burgess. He was just about as thin as a man could be and I felt sure that some of mothers good cooking would soon fatten him up.

“Of course, your help in the store will be of immense help,” Burgess sighed, “It’s always so busy…”

“I shall help all I can,” Mother replied, “but I have agreed to teach at the school.”

There was that little button mouth again. This time the furrow on his brow was really deep. It’s hard for children to understand adults at times; mostly we tread around them by instinct, and my instinct told me that Uncle Burgess was not too pleased about this development. I looked over at Richard and joined him at the window.

Mother and Uncle retreated to where the kitchen was situated and I could hear their voices, although not what they actually said. I looked out of the window and watched people hurrying here and there like so many ants from an ant hill. I felt homesick. I wanted to be able to look out of the window and see proper traffic … horse-drawn cabs, people who wore proper clothing, hard working people and children who played in the streets with their hoops and ropes. I wanted my father to come up and put his arm around me.

“Don’t be frightened,” Richard was looking down at me and smiled at me, so kindly, “I’ll look after you, Dorcas, I promise.”

We stood together by that window for quite some time before Mother came and called us to pay attention to what she was to tell us. I remember her face was rather red and Uncle Burgess was standing with his arms folded looking very cross. Richard took hold of my hand and held it tightly while Mother explained that this was going to be our new home, that we were to behave ourselves, not go into the store without permission, not to touch anything that belonged to Uncle Burgess, not to wander out into the town without her or Uncle Burgess, and now to say thank you to our Uncle (which we did).

Uncle Burgess then left the room and closed the door very firmly behind him. Mother came and with a bright smile said “How about we explore and see which room you would like for your bedroom?”

As there were only two bedrooms, or rooms that could be used as such, there wasn’t really much choice, and it didn’t take that long to make it. We hauled in our belongings, and by the time mother was preparing our evening meal, everything was done. For the time being, Richard and I were to share a room. There were two small trundle beds in the room already, both with very lumpy mattresses.

I can’t recall eating that first meal in our new home. Richard teased me and said that I fell asleep and nearly went face down into my plate. I only remember waking up suddenly during a dark night and wondering where I was – and being very frightened. I clung tightly to Clarabelle and called for Richard but everywhere was quiet except for the dull thudding noise of the mine workings, which was the constant feature of the town. Shadows were unfamiliar and moved across the ceiling, and for a long time I remained in my bed weeping with fright until sleep finally claimed me.

*****

We settled into our new routine. Mother went to see Mr. Hansworth and it was confirmed that she would start school the following Monday. Although this didn’t please Uncle Burgess, she promised to help in the store when she wasn’t at school so that was a good compromise. She would work for him unpaid to compensate for having the house. But she was really pleased with the wage she would receive for schooling, and for the first time since father died, I saw the light shining in her eyes again and she would sing while she was preparing our meals.

Both Richard and I enjoyed reading, so to avoid annoying Uncle Burgess, we would stay in the big sitting room and read, or play with the few toys we had brought with us. We had a few chores to do, of course, and always did them first thing and without Mother having to ask us.

“Mother, I saw Mr. Cartwright today,” Richard said a few days after we had settled in. “He asked after you.”

“That was nice of him” was my Mother’s only comment.

“He wanted to know if you would like to go and see where he lived. He wanted us all to go there.”

Mother’s brow furrowed. She looked at me and then at Richard as though undecided as to what to do.

Uncle Burgess huffed and puffed as usual. “He’s never asked me there, not all the time I’ve been here,” he grumbled.

“I think it’s because of Little Joe, his son.” Mother said quietly, “Perhaps he wants to discuss about his education.”

“Education! Huh!” Uncle Burgess attacked his meal so angrily that he slopped gravy over Mother’s nice white tablecloth and dribbled it down his chin.

“He said he would call round tomorrow morning, but if it wasn’t alright with you, he would understand.” Richard said, but I could see from his eyes that he was telling her more than that; he was really begging her to say yes.

“If you get your chores done, then we shall see,” she replied and gave him a little curt nod which meant more than what she had said too. It meant yes, we could all go.

The morning came and it was very warm and pleasant. I can remember that the sounds of the mines were louder than ever because the air was so still. Mr. Cartwright came driving a wagon in which there were some sacks of flour, beans and potatoes. He had a great big smile on his face and his dark eyes – and he had very dark eyes – seemed to glow like coals. He took off his hat and looked up at Mother and I could see his face go soft, just like my father’s would when he saw mother at certain times … as though he couldn’t believe that he was seeing someone so pretty, except that my father really loved my Mother, and at the time I wasn’t sure why Mr. Cartwright would be looking at my Mother like that …

“Good morning, Mr. Cartwright,” she said and smiled as he took her hand, “It’s a lovely day.”

“It certainly is, Mrs. Mannering.” He smiled and helped her up onto the wagon seat, “Now then,” he looked at us, “you won’t mind sharing the wagon with some sacks of flour and such, will you? I can promise you some fresh sugar doughnuts when we get to the Ponderosa, and apple pie too.”

“Oh boy!” Richard’s eyes flew open wide, “I haven’t had doughnuts for years and years.”

“I haven’t had any,” I said.

Mr. Cartwright laughed and put his hand very gently on my head. “Well, you’ll love these; Hop Sing makes the best ones you’ll ever taste in your life.”

I looked at Richard who winked at me as though we were sharing some kind of big secret. Mr. Cartwright lifted me up and swung me into the back of the wagon, and then helped Richard who settled in beside me.

I can’t recall the conversation my Mother and Mr. Cartwright had along the way to the Ponderosa, except that somewhere along the ride she began to call him Ben and he called her Alicia. He would stop every so often and point out some of the views to us. Sometimes he talked about it like he was saying poetry. It was easy to see, even as a child, that this land of his meant a great deal to him.

When the wagon rolled into the yard, Little Joe Cartwright seemed to appear as though from the ground. He seemed so pleased to see Richard, and my brother was just as excited as seeing him that he didn’t wait for Mr. Cartwright to help him out of the wagon but clambered down himself, leaving me quite alone, except for Clarabelle.

“Hi.”

I jumped and turned to where the voice came from and saw a big boy standing close by. Mr. Cartwright was helping Mother down and had turned to help me, but seeing his son there, he left us in order to escort Mother into the house.

The boy began to unpin the tailgate, and when it was lowered he looked at me and smiled. That was the first time I had seen Hoss Cartwright. I know Richard and I don’t look particularly alike, but it was very hard to see how little skinny Joe could be brother to this person.

Hoss Cartwright was tall and big built, which made him look older than he really was, which was unfortunate. He had the nicest face and kindest smile I had ever seen. I think he was the first person I had ever met of whom I felt not even a twinge of fear.

“Need a hand?” he said, and before I could answer, he had lifted me up and swung me down onto the ground, “I was coming to help Hop Sing with the groceries; didn’t expect to find such a pretty one hiding in among ’em.”

“Thank you very much,” I replied and looked shyly around me. “My name is Dorcas Mannering.” But I was still looking around; there was so much to see, and it was all wonderful.

“I’m Hoss Cartwright. Wal, my real name’s Eric but people call me Hoss.”

I looked at him again and realized that he was really quite shy. He smiled again, awkward and he twitched his shoulders nervously,

“My father had a friend called Hoss,” I heard myself saying, “His real name was Horst, but he said in his country people called him Hoss. It means someone who is kind and gentle. My Mother taught him to speak good English.”

“Shucks, fancy that. I ain’t never met anyone who knew anyone else called Hoss,” he observed and he pulled out two big sacks of flour from the wagon as easily as winking. “Hop Sing’s cooked up a batch of sugar doughnuts.”

“Your Pa said he had, I’ve not had any doughnuts before …”

“You haven’t?” He paused as though he couldn’t believe his eyes, “Shucks, where do you come from, fer Pete’s sake?”

“New York.” I replied proudly, and smiled, “Are you very old, Hoss?”

“Nope, guess not. Guess I’m 12, getting on fer 13.” He led me along to the door which led into the kitchen, “I’m 5 years old than Little Joe. My brother Adam, he’s five years older’n me.”

“I didn’t know you had another brother.” I frowned, and looked around me and then jumped back in surprise as a man approached looking at me with a big smile. “Are you Adam?” I asked, thinking that this ’brother’ looked even less like a brother than ever.

“Shucks, this here is Hop Sing. He’s our friend. He cooks here.”

“Hop Sing cook missy sugar doughnuts, sugar candy mouse, apple pie. You come and see.”

He took my elbow and gently led me to a table whereupon was laid a veritable pyramid of doughnuts. There were little candy mice with sugar icing eyes, and the biggest apple pie I’d ever seen … not that I had seen many in my life time.

Hoss put down the sacks and picked up a doughnut which he gave to me; he smiled and picked one up for himself,

“How old are you then?” he asked taking a big bite and covering his lips with sugar, which he licked slowly clean.

“I’m nearly six.”

He nodded, licked his fingers clean and then told Hop Sing that he would go and get the other things from the wagon. This left me alone with this strange man who was nodding and smiling at me with the biggest smile on his face.

“You like lemonade? You eat up doughnut quick before Hoss come back. He take doughnut each time he come in room and soon no doughnut left. You eat quick now.”

So I did. I don’t think I had ever tasted anything so delicious in my life before, even though I didn’t like the fact that the sugar coated my lips and fingers.

There was a noise at the door and I turned to see Richard and Little Joe tumbling into the room. They were laughing together, nudging one another and play fighting the way boys do when pleased to be in one another’s company.

“Doughnuts – here, Richard, taste these.”

Hoss came in behind them bearing two more sacks of something or other, and these he put away before approaching the table and taking another doughnut. He turned to me and winked. I felt I had found a friend.

*****

The day passed. Richard rode on the pony and fell off twice, but got up laughing. Joe said that when Richard had learned to ride properly he would get his Pa to find a pony for him to ride whenever he came to the Ponderosa. They told me I couldn’t ride a pony because I was a girl and wearing skirts. I didn’t mind; Clarabelle didn’t like ponies anyway.

We went into the big barn and played in it. Mostly hide and seek. We made a tremendous mess of the hay, but Mr. Cartwright didn’t seem to mind. Hoss joined in too; it was one of the best days for laughing and being happy I had experienced in so long that I didn’t want the day to end.

We had a meal with them. There were a lot of creamy potatoes, rich gravy with onions, and meat, probably beef, but I can’t remember now. Mr. Hop Sing could cook an old boot and make it taste wonderful, of that I am sure.

Afterward, we sat around the big fireplace. Richard and Joe disappeared to Joe’s room; we could hear their feet upon the ceiling and their chatter drifted through to us. Hoss sat in a blue chair that didn’t look very comfortable, and I sat with Mother on a stripy settee.

“So where is your other son, Ben? You have mentioned him several times today, but he isn’t here, is he?”

Mr. Cartwright was pouring coffee into some cups. Hoss and I had glasses of lemonade. Mr. Cartwright smiled very nicely at Mother. “He’s at college, back east.” I could recognize the note of pride in his voice and looked at my Mother who was obviously very impressed, “He should return in another year.”

“But I thought you said you had spent most of your time travelling, with Adam and Hoss, until you found the Ponderosa? What schooling did they have?”

“I taught them the basics. Adam was always…” He paused and I could see that he was trying to rephrase the sentence. Instinct told me that he realized that what he had been about to say would have been unkind in front of Hoss. He smiled. “Adam had a thirst for knowledge. Wherever we stopped over, he would go to the school house, if there was one, and get some schooling there. When I married Joe’s mother, she taught Hoss and Adam here, at home.” He paused then, but for a different reason and I felt that was because he was thinking about her, Little Joe’s mother.

“Is Hoss coming to school on Monday with Little Joe?” Mother asked. She looked at Hoss and smiled. “What do you think, Hoss? Would you like to come along?”

Hoss’ face flushed bright red. He looked appealingly at his father who lifted his eyebrows as though to say he was leaving the answering to him, so Hoss shrugged. “I reckon I’m too old, Ma’am”

“Well, 12 isn’t too old, really. Think about it, Hoss. It would be good to have you there too.” She smiled one of her special smiles, and he blushed again.

It was time to return home. Joe and Richard came downstairs and somehow or other managed to persuade my mother and Mr. Cartwright for Richard to stay at the Ponderosa until Sunday after church. I returned home sitting on the wagon seat squished between Mr. Cartwright and Mother. Before I fell asleep on the way home, I wondered if I was going to spend all my life squished between two people because it seemed to me I was doing a fair share of being squeezed between folk since we had left New York.

*****

Life settled into a comfortable routine. School was enjoyable but then I enjoyed learning. Even at my age, I was a good student. Richard and Joe were like twins, always with one another. Little Joe didn’t really pay me much attention, although he did seem to notice if I had a new dress or new hairstyle and would compliment me very nicely. However, I noticed he did that to all the girls … well, to the other two girls who attended classes.

Hoss never attended school after all. A lot of children just didn’t come. Their parents needed them to work and refused to let them. Some children were already working at the mines, or working at their own family diggings. Some women were dependent on their eldest children working in order to provide them money to live upon.

I should mention that, at this point of time, the town wasn’t really a town. It was just a settlement called Eagle Station, or some people just called it The Washoe. Old prospectors called it Washoe; it was an old Indian name for the area.

Sometimes we had as many as twenty children in class and then it would go down to nine. It was always a steady nine and we worked hard for Ma. Even Little Joe would set to with his work, getting as much ink on him as on the paper.

On Fridays, Hop Sing would come with the wagon and take Joe and Richard to the Ponderosa. We would get my brother back on the Sunday. Once a month, Ma and I were invited along as well. Uncle Burgess came once, but declined going again for some reason or another.

“Dorcas, I got something for ya”

Hoss’ face was rather flushed as he strode up to me and I felt quite excited that perhaps he had got me a present – a book perhaps, or a new doll, although I could never part with Clarabelle.

“Have you, Hoss? What is it? Can I see it now? Where is it?”

“Come with me.” He held out his hand and held onto mine to lead me to the stables.

“Pa said it would be just right for ya. What do you think? Ain’t he a beauty?”

Well, not to me he wasn’t. He was just a pony, a fat little brown pony that looked at me in much the same way as I looked at him. Disgusted and disappointed, I think, would sum up both our feelings.

I shrunk back and pulled my hand out of Hoss’ and shook my head. “I don’t like ‘im,” I whispered.

“Shucks, don’t take on so. You will like him once you get to know him. Look…” He shuffled about in his pocket and produced some sugar lumps, “Put these on your hand and feed him.”

He opened my hand and put the sugar lumps on the flat of my palm and then, holding my wrist, offered my hand to the pony. After staring at me with utter contempt, the creature came and took the sugar lumps; his chin was soft and smooth, and he nibbled gently. I felt quite proud of myself and looked at Hoss, who smiled at me, still holding my wrist. “See, that didn’t hurt, did it?”

“No. What’s his name?”

“Billy Boy.”

I nodded and Hoss brought me up closer to the pony and took my hand to stroke it by the neck and around the soft ears. I looked at the pony that stared at me and then looked at Hoss. “Thank you, Hoss.”

Hoss went a trifle pink and looked embarrassed; he did a funny shrugging motion with his shoulders and shook his head as though such thanks was too much. Then he straightened up and smiled. “Hey, how about I saddle him up for you and take you for a ride?”

“What? Now?”

“Sure ‘nough now. We got time, Dorcas.”

So we did – a pity – so I nodded and thanked him again. Billy Boy drooped his head and looked morose, and Hoss got out the saddle, and within minutes was turning to me with a big smile on his face. “Here y’are, Dorcas, I’ll help you up.”

I needed help; it seemed as though I were sitting astride a mountain, and when Billy Boy began to move, I felt the color draining out of me. Richard and Joe came running out to see us and I can still remember Joe’s face as he looked at me and the big smile as he yelled out, “Hey, Dorcas, you look real cute.”

I have to admit those few words did more for my pride and vanity than all the kindness and patience Hoss had shown me. I held on tight to the reins and smiled my hardest at them all. I’m not sure who walked into the house feeling the most proud, Hoss or myself.

The weeks trickled away in this pleasant fashion. I think Richard and I both thought that our Mother was fond of Mr. Cartwright and that he was fond of her. We whispered together about what would happen if they ‘fell in love and married’. Richard liked the idea because it meant he would be step-brother to Joe and Hoss. They were by now quite a formidable trio.

More buildings were shooting up around Uncle Burgess’ store. The smell of fresh pine wood lingered above the smells of the shanties and the fouled gullies that ran alongside the tracks that led in and out of the rickety buildings. Houses appeared on various lots in what people was now considering to be a township and the number of children attending school increased.

One Saturday, Mother came from her room wearing her very newest dress and spencer jacket. She was wearing a very smart hat with a feather in it and gloves that were the exact same color as her jacket. I had never seen her looking so beautiful. Richard and I just stared at her with our mouths open.

“I’m going out for a few hours,” she said with a smile, and her face looked all soft and dreamy.

Richard and I looked at one another. We both knew exactly what was happening; any moment now there would be a knock on the door … and as we thought it, so it happened. Except that the man to step through the door into the room was Mr. Hansworth, the bank manager, and not Mr. Cartwright at all. We both stood and stared with our eyes and mouths wide open now.

He was very kind and gracious. A quiet man with a pleasant face and gentle blue eyes. I doubt if he would know how to be cross with anyone. He offered his arm to Mother and she smiled and linked hers with his and after telling us to behave for Uncle Burgess they left the house.

This happened every Saturday. Richard was often at the Ponderosa with Joe and Hoss, so I was left on my own. It was very lonely but Mother was never gone more than a few hours. She was always happy and singing softly to herself when she came back from being with Mr. Hansworth.

She would decline going to the Ponderosa, so I never went again to ride Billy Boy, or sit in the big room with the books to read, and to talk to Hop Sing in the kitchen and eat whatever he had decided we would enjoy that particular day.

Mr. Hansworth eventually invited us to his house. It was one of the new buildings that we had admired some time earlier. It smelt of pine and reminded us of the Ponderosa. He had a lady who cooked for him and she was pleasant and very Irish. I half expected her to draw up a chair and eat the dinner she had prepared for us, she was that warm and friendly. It was that day that Mr. Hansworth told us that Mother had agreed to marry him.

I can’t remember exactly how I felt about it. I remembered father so well and couldn’t understand how Mother could forget him so quickly as to go off and marry someone else so soon. I tried to talk about it to Richard but he didn’t care. He was more interested in how this was going to affect his friendship with Joe and Hoss Cartwright.

*****

One day after Mr. Cartwright had brought Richard home from the Ponderosa, something happened that changed our lives a lot. Richard was taken very ill. We had one doctor in town at the time, Doctor Philip Hay. He was over-worked, over-tired, over-wrought. When he came to our house, he took one look at Richard and shook his head,

“Young Joe Cartwright’s the same.” he said quietly, “I’ve just come from the Ponderosa to see to him.”

“They’ve been together a lot. Has anyone else – any other children – become ill?” Mother asked.

“No. Not yet anyway.” He gave Mother some medicine and told her what to do, and then looked at me. “You shouldn’t be here. It would be best for you to go somewhere else; otherwise, you could get sick as well.”

I was promptly dispatched to Mr. Hansworth’s house where Brigid Murphy was told to keep a close eye on me. Clarabelle and I were treated like the most important prisoners on death row as Brigid carried out her orders implicitly.

Days ticked by and I spent them wondering if I was going to be sick, if Joe and Richard were well, if Hoss had become sick. I imagined the whole settlement becoming sick and the poor Doctor dying because he was so tired of all the sick people. Once again I was lonely and alone, and desperately missed my family.

One morning just before Brigid was going to make our lunch, Mr. Hansworth came home. He stood in the doorway and looked at me very seriously before he removed his hat and gloves. Then he came and picked me up in his arms and carried me to a big chair upon which he sat with me in his lap.

“Dorcas, I have something very difficult to tell you and I want you to be very brave.” He looked down at me and I could see his blue eyes were moist, and my heart began to pound so hard inside my chest that I thought it would burst right out of it. My ears were throbbing and I could hardly breathe.

“Is Richard very sick still?” I whispered very quietly and clung tightly to Clarabelle, but I already knew the answer, I already knew that he was dead. “Is Joe sick too?”

“Little Joe Cartwright is recovering, although he is still very unwell. But Richard…” He couldn’t say the word; his voice trailed away and he stroked my head gently, “Your Mama is very sad, Dorcas. She wants you to stay here with me for a little while longer.”

“But I want to go home. I want my Mama,” I sniveled.

He didn’t speak. He just sat there with me in his lap, stroking my hair.

*****

Mr. Cartwright and Hoss were at the funeral. Mother was very calm, and looked lovely in her black dress. Brigid stood with me, holding my hand while Mama spoke to the people there. Brigid had made Clarabelle a little black cape to wear and I had a black band on the sleeve of my best coat.

I watched Hoss all the time. He looked pale and thinner than when I had last seen him, so when at last Brigid released her hold on me, I hurried over to speak to him.

“Hoss, how is Joseph?”

“He’s doing alright, Dorcas. He’s sitting up in bed now. We have to keep the drapes closed tight ‘cos the light hurts his eyes. I thought he was going to die, Dorcas.” His eyes welled up with tears and he bowed his head, “I’m right sorry about Richard, you know that, don’tcha?”

“Yes, thank you, Hoss.”

“I’ve missed you not visiting us, Dorcas. I keep telling Billy Boy you’ll be back to ride him again soon. Do you think you will?” He looked up at me with his blue eyes wide, and then he sighed. “I guess not, huh? Not now your Ma’s marrying the bank manager.”

“I will still see you, though, won’t I?” I put my hand on his arm and tried to be very grown up. “I can come instead of Richard, can’t I?”

He sighed and shrugged,

“I don’t know, Dorcas. I don’t reckon on it bein’ quite the same…”

I was about to say something but he was called away by his father. I watched them walk away and Hoss turned his head to look back at me and raised his hand in farewell. I waved back. Then they were gone.

I saw them at times, infrequently in town, sometimes at church. Mr. Cartwright always spoke very politely to my mother, and Hoss would look at me and smile. Mother would hold my hand tightly to keep me at her side, and somehow or other Mr. Hansworth would appear which would cause Mr. Cartwright to bid his farewells and go, taking Hoss with him.

There was a new teacher at school. A lady called Abigail Jones. She was young and this was her first assignment. A month after she had been there, Little Joe returned to school.

He was thin, and his face was so much paler than I could remember. His hair must have been shorn during his illness because the wild mass of curls was gone, although the dark brown hair that had grown waved neatly about his head. He was quieter too, and because he tired easily, he was allowed to stay in during recess and catnap.

“I’m sorry about Richard,” he said to me the day he came back to school, “I bet you miss him, don’t you?”

“Yes.” I looked at him, at the poor pale face and over large eyes. “Were you very sick, Joe?”

“Ain’t never been so sick in my life before,” he admitted with a sigh. “I thought I was going to die as well.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” I said very quickly.

“So’m I.” He smiled slowly and put his hand on my arm, “It was my fault, Dorcas. I persuaded Richard to come with me…”

“Come with you? Why? Where did you go?”

“It doesn’t matter where; just someplace Pa said we shouldn’t because the air was bad. But I went once before and was alright, and I found some arrow heads and all kinds of things there. Richard wanted to see them too, so I thought we’d be alright. Except that it wasn’t…” He bowed his head. “He was the best friend I ever had, ‘ceptin’ for Hoss.”

I nodded and said nothing because I didn’t know what to say, so I just leaned forward on tip toe and kissed him gently on the cheek.

*****

Two weeks later Mother married and became Mrs. Alicia Mannering Hansworth. The Cartwrights didn’t come to the wedding. The following week we left the settlement known as Eagle Station. We were no longer poor, Mother and I. Mr. Hansworth was now the bank manager of the branch in San Francisco and was a very rich man indeed.

Ten Years Later…

I thought that I would recognize the landmarks of my childhood upon my returning to Virginia City. It was no more a city, of course, than Eagle Station had been a town, but it was certainly a prospering melting pot of a place. I stood on the depot sidewalk while the coachman brought down my case and looked about me in the hope of finding some familiar building but it had changed beyond recognition.

Several Chinese hurried by, deep in conversation, and I watched them pass with their long braids bouncing against their backs. I wondered then if one could have been Hop Sing, but if so, I would not have recognized him.

I asked directions for my Uncle Burgess’, and upon receiving them, asked the coachman if he would be so kind as to take my case over there. He smiled and nodded and then turned to pay attention to the other passengers.

It had been a hot, dusty and boring journey, but here I was back at the place that had played such a pivotal role in my life. I walked to Uncle Burgess’ with memories of Richard running alongside me, and, of course, with those memories of him came the ghosts of Hoss and Joe Cartwright.

A tall man in beige shirt, black vest and jeans turned up at the bottom of each leg, walked towards me and politely touched his hat as he passed. He looked deep in thought and I was surprised he had even noticed me. I glanced over my shoulder and saw him disappear into the Sazarac saloon. The bat wings swung too and fro behind him.

I continued on. I had not seen Uncle Burgess since we had left ten years earlier and wondered if he would be as welcoming now as he had been when Mother, Richard and I had appeared on his doorstep.

I stopped once again to look around me. There was a rather grand Town Hall now, and on the corner of the main street was the Internationale Hotel. I tried to recall what had been there before but failed. I walked pass another saloon and crossed the road. I mean, I started to cross the road. I was so overwhelmed by the changes to the town that I hadn’t noticed a wagon bearing down on me until there was a lot of noise all around me and someone had grabbed me around the waist and hauled me off my feet.

The wagon pulled up and a young man jumped down. I was adjusting my hat and trying to restore some dignity to my deportment as he leaned down to look anxiously into my face,

“I sure am sorry about that, Miss. I just didn’t realize you were going to cross the road. Thought for certain you would have seen me.”

“I’m sorry.” I felt a strong hand grip my elbow and help me to my feet, “I’m so sorry. I was day dreaming and didn’t notice you.” I turned to my rescuer and smiled. “Thank you so much…” My voice trailed away and I think my eyes just popped wide with surprise, “Hoss? Are you Hoss Cartwright?”

The young man went a trifle pink, swiped off his hat and nodded. He glanced at the other young man rather uncertainly, so I turned to look at the wagon driver and this time I went a little pink, “Are you Joe?”

“Yes, Miss.” He smiled and his eyebrows jiggled a little as he tried to recall who I was. “I’m sorry, Miss, but do we know you?”

“I’m Dorcas – Dorcas Mannering.” and looked at them both earnestly. Surely they hadn’t forgotten me? After ten years had they forgotten Richard and his little sister? “My mother was…”

“Sure, I remember you now,” Joe cried and his face it up in a wide smile and the hazel eyes twinkled. “My word, Dorcas – Miss Mannering I mean – you sure have grown…” He looked me up and down and laughed. “Well, you sure have grown up into a swell looking woman.” He nudged his brother, “Don’t you think so, Hoss?”

Hoss gulped, he had his hat clutched tightly against his chest, and his blue eyes were just staring at me as though he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He nodded and blinked rather rapidly, as though recovering from some shock, and then nodded again. “You sure have, Miss Dorcas,” he mumbled and went a little pinker. “Shucks, I would never have known it was you had you not said.”

“Nor would I,” Joe cried. “I guess it must have been 8 or 9 years, hasn’t it?”

“Ten years,” I said and smiled at them both as excitement bubbled up inside me. “I would have known Hoss anywhere, but Joe, you’ve changed so much from that scrawny little kid I knew back then.”

“Hey, less of the scrawny if you please, Miss.” Joe laughed again, and it seemed to me that Joe’s life was full of laughter – he was that kind of person. “You know, of all the people to meet today…” He put his hand on my arm. “Pa will be so pleased to see you, Miss Mannering. How about coming to the Ponderosa for a visit?”

I looked at him doubtfully and then at Hoss who was looking at me so earnestly that I felt myself going a little hot in the face.

“I’ve just got off the stage.” I said and laughed a little as though it were rather funny, which it wasn’t, not really, “I’ve to see my Uncle Burgess and…”

“Shucks, of course you have.” Joe nodded and his face became serious, “Look, how about coming to our place Saturday evening. We’re having a party at the Ponderosa, and it sure would be good if you could be there too.”

I looked at him thoughtfully, and then at Hoss who was still staring at me as though he’d seen a mirage, so I nodded and agreed that I would love to be there.

“I’ll come and collect you in the buggy, shall we say around 6 o‘clock?” Joe smiled which made me feel rather giddy, so that I smiled at him again and promised to be ready by 6 p.m.

I suddenly realized that I had been staring at him rather longer than was correct so turned to look at Hoss, who smiled shyly and nodded as though prompting me to say something,

“Hoss…” I put out my hand which he took gently in his own, “I would have known you anywhere. Thank you so much for getting me out of the way of the wagon; you saved me from getting quite badly hurt.”

“Aw wal, shucks, that’s alright. You are alright, ain’tcha?” His face looked anxious and I smiled and assured him that I was just fine, apart from some bruising to my vanity. “I would have come and collected you for the party on Saturday, Miss Dorcas, but Joe…”

“I know, I understand, Hoss.” I pulled my hand away from his and then reluctantly bade them both goodbye until Saturday.

Uncle Burgess was taking my case into the store, and the coachman who had delivered it tipped his hat very pleasantly to me as I passed him. I steeled myself for the meeting with my Uncle and prepared to enter what had been my home for nearly a year.

He was looking old and tired. As he took my hand and welcomed me ‘home’, I felt sorry for him as he looked far from well. The store was the same as ever; he had always kept it immaculate.

“You look well, Dorcas.” he said, struggling with my suitcase as he tried not to knock anything over on the display shelves as he maneuvered it to the door that led to the living quarters, “You’ve grown into a lovely looking young woman. I daresay your mother is pleased with you …” He stepped back for me to pass him and enter the big room, and then he followed me inside, closing the door behind him.

It was just as I remembered. Nothing had changed at all. It could have been Sleeping Beauty’s parlor if there had been masses of cobwebs and piles of dust everywhere. But like some kind of shrine, it was positively gleaming. A bowl of flowers glowed rich colors as the sun from the window shone upon them

“These are lovely, Uncle Burgess.” They were the first words I had spoken to him and I saw his face twist with pleasure, “Thank you.”

“It’s my pleasure,” he replied, looking around anxiously as though he just had to make sure that there was no errant spider about to cast a web, or a beetle about to mount the wall, “I’ve arranged for Mrs. Costello to bring us a meal from the restaurant. She’s a very good cook.”

“That was kind of you too.” I walked to the window and looked out onto the street. “Everything’s so changed. I hardly recognized a thing.”

“Oh, yes, it’s all changed; nothing stays the same,” he sighed, and joined me by the window to look down at the bustling town, “This is a very wealthy place to be, Dorcas, I’ve seen so many changes.” His voice sounded tired and wistful.

“I’m sorry, Uncle Burgess.” I said softly, because I really didn’t know what else to say. I turned away from the window because the last time I looked out of it like this, my brother was standing by my side.

“How’s your Mother? Is she well?”

“Very well. They are in Paris at the moment. They thought they would go on an European tour. That’s why I’ve taken the opportunity to visit you. You didn’t mind, did you?”

His face flushed and once again he gave that odd twisted smile. I was more convinced than ever that he was ill, and felt a pang of pity touch my heart. “I was delighted when I got your letter. I’ve been quite lonely really, since you all left.”

As though he had already said too much, he turned away and hurried to the communicating door to the store from where there could be heard the tinkling of the door bell. A customer and a ready excuse to leave.

I made my way to the bedrooms and decided to sleep in my mother’s room. I didn’t want to share the room with the memories of my brother. Over the course of ten years, the pain of loss does diminish, even though one may think of them every day and have poignant memories, but the pain is no longer there. It seemed that since I stepped back into this house, Richard’s memory was like a ghost that walked side by side with me, and it hurt, very much.

*****

I was ready at the time specified and opened the door to Little Joe who was smiling broadly as he fidgeted about on the porch.

“Hi Dorcas…” He smiled and then the smile froze and he stared at me as though seeing me for the first time. “Wow, Dorcas, I would never have recognized you.”

I closed the door behind me and smiled at him. “I’m not seven years old anymore, Little Joe,” I said with a slight laugh in my voice, “I think you may have forgotten that.”

“If I had, it won’t happen again, I can promise you that.” He chuckled and led me to the buggy.

I recalled how we used to travel in the wagon along with the washing baskets or the groceries, depending on the reason for the wagons use. Now I sat by his side in the buggy with two slick horses desperate to be off; Joe flicked the reins and they lunged forwards.

“They’re lovely horses, Joe.”

“Aren’t they, though?” Joe smiled, as pleased with the compliment as though I had meant him.

“Do you still have Billy Boy?”

“Who?”

“The little pony Hoss got for me, Billy Boy.”

“Oh shucks, no, he went a long time ago. Pa found a family who gave him a good home.”

I wondered if Billy Boy had been happy about that, and smiled at the thought of the bad tempered little beast. Joe must have seen me smile because he asked me what it was I was thinking about,

“Just Billy Boy. He didn’t like me very much.”

“That’s because he doted on Hoss. He’d follow Hoss about the place like a dog.” He chuckled at the memory, a nice bubbling up from the tummy kind of chuckle. I had always had fond memories of Joe and his laugh.

I had spent a long time getting ready for this evenings party. There were no such things way back when I first arrived, not that I knew of anyway. I was wearing my best dress, very fashionable, lace and silk in shades of cream and very pale pink. Mother had it made for me by a French woman who made all her clothes. How times had changed …

“You smell nice, Dorcas.”

“Thank you.”

“Kind of reminds me of my Ma,” he sighed. “She always smelt like flowers and springtime. That’s how you smell, Dorcas, of flowers and spring.”

I smiled and said nothing, unsure of the comparison. Was it a compliment? I wasn’t sure.

It was very pleasant driving towards the Ponderosa, in the gathering dusk the land about us took on a magical air, and the warmth of the evening wrapped around us so snugly that we were content to just be together and to say very little. It was Joe who broke the silence,

“What brought you back, Dorcas? Was it just out of curiosity?” He looked at me with an unusually serious face.

“A little, I suppose. Mother and my step-father have gone on a tour of Europe, and I thought I would come and see Uncle Burgess, and – and my friends from back then.”

“I’m glad you still consider us as your friends, Dorcas.” He sighed and turned to pay attention to the horses.

“I never thought of you as anything other than that, Joe,” I replied very quietly. “Why would I think of you any differently?”

“Wal, it’s just…” He bit his bottom lip. “I never really saw you properly afterwards, I mean, after Richard – after what happened to Richard.”

“You explained to me what happened, Joe. It wasn’t your fault. No one blamed you.”

“I blamed myself.”

“I wish you hadn’t.” I put my hand on his arm and then wondered whether I should have done so for it trembled slightly beneath my fingers, so I withdrew it and clasped my hands together in my lap. “Let’s not talk about it anymore, Joe. It happened, and it’s over.”

“I just needed to make sure – I couldn’t not mention it, Dorcas.” He looked at me again with those big hazel eyes and looked so sad, “You understand, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do.” I nodded emphatically and looked ahead at the horses as they pricked their ears forwards and seemed to quicken their pace, “Did your brother Adam get back to Nevada, Joe, or did he stay back East?”

“Oh, Adam got back, and stayed put.” He grinned. “He designed several of the buildings in town, you know? He’s a clever man.” His face softened into a smile, the pride he felt for his brother more than obvious.

“Doesn’t he miss life back East?”

“Sometimes I guess he does; after all, it has a lot to offer, doesn’t it?” He looked at me again, “Are you still living in San Francisco?”

I nodded and gave him a short history of my life. Well, it would have been short; after all, I had only lived 18 years. I told him how I went to school and then onto college. I briefly touched upon my year in Europe and how I returned home just in time to say goodbye to Mother as they went off on their own tour.

“I’ve missed it here, Joe. I was only here a year and yet it seemed whenever I thought of a place as home, it was here.”

“I’m glad of that, Dorcas,” he said, and there was a smile in his voice as he spoke.

“Is the party for any special occasion, Joe?” I asked now, and he shook his head and smiled,

“Only to welcome you home,” he said.

*****

As always, the sight of the ranch made me hold my breath for a moment. I had to look around and look at the changes during the time it took Joe to get down from the buggy and come to my side to assist me down. He held my hand tightly and looked into my eyes and smiled such a gentle smile that I wanted to hug him tight right there and then.

There were lighted lanterns dancing across the yard and colored streamers floating about to make the place pretty. The door opened as we approached the porch and Mr. Cartwright stood there with a wide smile and his hands on his hips, then when we were a few paces away, he came towards us. He looked quickly at Joe and then turned his dark gaze upon me. I had forgotten how dark his eyes were, and how warm his smile. He took my hands in his; I could feel the rough calloused skin beneath my fingers, and it occurred to me that, although this man was one of the richest in the territory, he had worked hard to gain those riches, and he still worked hard to keep them.

“Dorcas Mannering. My oh my, look at you? Come on in, my dear, come on in and meet some old friends.” He put his arm around my shoulders and ushered me into the big room.

It was quite unchanged. Just how I remembered it to be, even down to the Navajo blanket cast over the balustrade. There was music playing and people dancing but before I could take any notice of faces and people, Hoss approached with the widest beaming smile on his face

“Hey, Dorcas, you came.” He took hold of my hands and squeezed them, quite gently, but in such a familiar way that it instantly reminded me of his father, for Hoss had the same hard working hands as Ben. “You sure look pretty. Don’t she look pretty, Pa?” He glanced at Ben, who nodded with a satisfied smile on his face, as though he had seen to the making of the dress himself.

“She surely is, Hoss.”

Hoss drew me into the room, and the next thing I knew a tall dark haired man was standing in front of me.

“Miss Dorcas, this is my brother Adam. He was the one went to college and you never got to see before when you was here.” Hoss turned his beaming face to his brother as though he were presenting a prize to him.

Adam Cartwright was the young man who had brushed past me in town the day I arrived. I recognized him immediately and for some reason blushed,

“Good evening, Miss Mannering. It’s a pleasure to meet you at last. My brothers have done nothing but talk about you since they saw you in town the other day.” He took one hand and bowed slightly over it. A very polished greeting.

“I met you in town too,” I blurted out and then lowered my eyelashes a little. “It’s a pleasure to meet you at last, Adam.”

“Actually, your name has frequently been brought up over the years, Miss Dorcas. So I am more than relieved to see that the picture of you was painted very accurately. The most recent picture, I hasten to add.” He smiled, exposing white teeth against his tanned skin.

“Heyyyy, Adam, back off,” Hoss said and was about to say more when Joe appeared with a glass of punch which he handed to me with a smile,

“Here you are, Dorcas. I thought you’d like something to drink to cut the dust from your throat,” he said and he looked at Hoss and then at Adam. “I hope these two cutthroats haven’t been annoying you?”

“Oh, no,” I laughed. “As if they could …”

The music stopped and the couples on the dance floor drifted to their seats, although some came to wards me with smiles and warm looks of welcome on their faces. I recognized no one. They came and introduced themselves, tried to jog my memory by saying how they had sat behind, beside or in front of me at school. Most said how much they had enjoyed having Mrs. Mannering as their teacher. I was pleased about that, because my mother was or had been a most remarkable teacher.

“I love your dress,” a young woman murmured. “It’s French in style, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“I was in Paris last year,” she explained. “You won’t remember me, Dorcas, but I remember you very well. You shared your book with me at recess.”

I looked at her and remembered a thin little girl who had seemed to want to tag along with me everywhere. She was a miner’s daughter and very poor. I remembered one morning mother giving her some food and her father coming next day to return it, saying he and his family didn’t take charity.

“How’s your family now?” I asked as I struggled to remember her name,

“Very well. Pa made a big strike some weeks after you left town. He went in with Gould & Curry and hasn’t looked back since.” She frowned and then sighed, “Well, apart from his lungs of course. He suffers from miner’s lung, but at least we can make sure he lives out his life in comfort.”

“I’m sorry, Jennifer.” I put my hand on her arm to emphasize my sympathies and glad to have remembered her name,

“I never forgot him, you know.” She lowered her voice, “I still go and take flowers to his grave.” Then she squeezed my arm, looked right into my eyes and hurried away back to her escort.

Richard. Of course, she meant Richard. But her words made me shiver. I watched her as she danced away with the young man, and then jumped when Joe came and asked me to dance,

“What was Jennifer talking about?” he asked as he took my hand and led me into the dance.

I looked up into his face and just momentarily could not think of what to say in reply. Jennifer’s words had, in some strange way, numbed my brain and I struggled to find coherency in the fog of confusion,

“She asked about my past, told me about her father,” I replied in a whisper.

“Jennifer’s a strange girl. Don’t pay too much attention to her,” Joe replied quietly, and smiled down at me as though reassuring me and his eyes twinkled in the way I could always remember with such deep affection.

This was, in some ways, the realization of a dream. A child’s dreams perhaps, clung to with a determination that may have been quite unrealistic. Dancing with Joseph Cartwright, my hand in his, his arm around my waist. I closed my eyes and pretended that we were in some wonderful ballroom with an orchestra playing and people watching this wonderfully happy couple as they waltzed around the floor.

“You do look lovely, Dorcas,” he whispered.

I had to bring myself out of the dream to look up at him and comprehend what he was saying just in case I had confused it with the unreality. “Thank you, sir.”

“You were such a skinny little kid, and so shy.” He smiled down at me and his eyes took on a faraway look, “You hardly spoke at all those days you came here. I reckon the only person you ever spoke to was Hoss.”

“You were too busy playing with … with Richard.” I raised my chin and looked at him, and then smiled slowly. “What does it matter? After all, I was a little girl then, and as you say, I was very shy.”

“Now look at you though? You’re beautiful, rich and dancing in my arms. What more could I ask for than having you to dance with me.”

“Were you serious when you said this party was being held for me?”

“Yes. Hoss and I decided it when we met you … it seemed a perfectly excellent reason to have one. You don’t mind, do you?” He laughed then, a soft satisfied chuckle.

“So long as your father didn’t.” My smile widened; I could feel it stretching across my face and I looked into his face knowing that my eyes were sparkling.

“Pa would have a party here for any reason, and he thought this one was particularly fine.”

“I just wish I could remember who everyone was …” I glanced over at Jennifer who was talking to Adam Cartwright at the punch bowl. They were both looking over at me.

“You’ll remember them better as you get to know them more,” Joe replied. “You are staying for a while, aren’t you? You don’t intend to leave Virginia City within days, do you?”

“No, I intend to stay for a while.”

“Well, then, that’s settled, isn’t it?” He drew me in closer so that I could smell his pomade and feel the warmth of his body against mine.

I closed my eyes again and was about to speak when I heard Hoss speaking, and upon opening my eyes, saw Hoss standing right behind Joe, tapping him on the shoulder and telling him that he was ‘cutting in while he could”. Joe hesitated a fraction, and then with a rueful shrug, stepped aside and swept me into Hoss’ arms. I looked at Joe as he stepped back and he smiled, winked and retreated to the punch bowl to stand with Jennifer and Adam.

For a big man, Hoss was surprisingly light on his feet. He held me as though I would break, something fragile and frail, as he danced me around the floor. He smiled down at me and I couldn’t help but notice the look of pride on his face as he held me in his arms.

“Hoss, I never knew you were such a good dancer,” I said with a smile and I saw the familiar blush creep over his collar,

“Adams bin teachin’ me,” he said and then looked down at me. “I guess Joe already told you that you’re the best looking gal here this evening.”

“No, he didn’t.” I replied and sighed. “I suppose you must wonder how come a skinny little girl got to grow up and look like me, is that it?”

“Shucks no, I always knew you’d grow up to be a beautiful woman. You were a pretty little gal, Miss Dorcas.”

“Was I?” I blinked, and recalled to mind the shy child I had been, and then remembered how shy Hoss had been as well. We had been two of a kind in a way, just as Richard and Joe had been as school boy pals.

“You sure was, Miss Dorcas, and I can still recall the day you first rode Billy Boy. Hey, you looked so frightened, and so cute up thar in the saddle that I thought for sure that one day you would be what you’ve turned out to be … a real beauty.”

“Thank you, Hoss,” I whispered and lowered my head because I could remember that day too, when Joe had said I looked cute.

The music stopped and Hoss led me to the punch bowl where Joe hurried to be the first to hand me a glass of the cool liquid. I sipped it gingerly and then nodded. “This is very good.” I laughed as I drank a little more, and turned aside to see what else was on the table.

Adam Cartwright approached me and smiled. For some reason, my new found confidence shivered a little, as though about to take flight, but I rallied and smiled back.

“I hope I get the opportunity for a dance sometime this evening, Miss Mannering.” he said politely.

“I hope so too, Mr. Cartwright,” I replied, hoping to goodness that it wouldn’t happen. Hopefully the evening would come to an end before he could dance with me.

A tall young man approached now and introduced himself as Philip Kopek. ‘The third desk to the right.’ One of Mrs. Mannering’s best students. The music had started and he asked me to dance, so before anyone else could ask, I accepted his offer and placed my hand in his sweating palm and allowed him to sweep me away.

“I could hardly believe it was you,” he said in a rush of words. “When Jennifer told me who you were I nearly choked. I remember Joe saying this party was for an old school friend, but for the life of me, I never thought it would be you. You sure are pretty, Miss Dorcas.”

“Thank you, Philip. I’m surprised you remembered me at all.”

“I guess I wouldn’t have if you hadn’t been the teacher’s kid,” Philip replied, brutally honest as he had always been. “You were pretty shy, back then. Seemed the only kids you went around with were Jennifer and Joe.”

“I can remember you now, Philip. You were always putting your hand up to answer the questions, and you were nearly always right.”

“I worked hard at it. Your mother was a great teacher. Mr. Hansworth’s gain was certainly our loss.”

“I’ll tell her when I see her next,” I promised.

Throughout the dance he told me about his life since I had left. I doubt if anyone could have possibly have been as pleased for the music to end as I when finally he escorted me back to the table.

There were napkins on the table and I hurriedly wiped my hands on one. Joe and Hoss came up to me, both with smiles on their faces,

“How about something to eat, Dorcas.” Joe said, “Perhaps we could eat in the garden.”

“Hey, ain’t that a good idea,” Hoss replied, giving Joe a little shove. “How’s about it, Miss Dorcas.”

“I am rather hungry,” I said quietly, as I noticed Joe give his brother a sly kick on the ankle, “but…”

“Why don’t we have this dance now,” a deep voice said close to my ear, and before I could say another word, Adam Cartwright had taken my hand and led me into the next dance.

I looked up into his face just as he was looking down at me while in the act of putting his arm around my waist. He looked kind but at the same time, rather stern. I glanced quickly over at Joe and Hoss who were both standing with their eyes fixed on us. Jennifer danced by with some young man, but she also stopped speaking to give us a sharp look.

It’s odd, really, dancing with Joe and Hoss, and then with their brother who was probably the oldest man I had ever danced with in my life. He had to be all of fifteen years older than myself. I counted the years difference as we danced, in silence and in perfect time to the music, and arrived at the conclusion that he had to be as old as 30 at least. I looked up at him again and he was still looking down at me, he smiled.

“I was thinking, Miss Mannering, whether you would mind if I called you Dorcas?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t mind at all, Mr. Cartwright,” I stammered in reply.

“I didn’t want to appear too impolite in doing so without your permission.”

“I – I see.” I frowned slightly, and wondered if he were teasing me. He was an excellent dancer, but I couldn’t relax. I had the distinct feeling that he was humoring me, like an older man taking pity on a child. He made me feel like a child.

“Hoss and Joe have spoken a lot about you, you know. When I was at college, you were mentioned in their letters, and when I returned home, you were often referred to… You can’t imagine the flurry of excitement they were in when they came home the other day to say you were back.”

“Oh.” I looked at him and he smiled down at me again, a good humored smile, “Are you making fun of me, Mr. Cartwright?” I asked looking him in the eyes.

“Certainly not,” he protested with a little laugh that confirmed to my way of thinking that he was, if not making fun of me, being very patronizing.

“I think you are,” I said raising my chin and straightening my back.

“Now, why should I?” he asked and spun me round so that my skirts swirled out around my ankles, “Tell me, why should I?”

I lowered my eyes, and tried to think of something to say; what does a girl say to a man so much older than herself without appearing – childish?

“They spoke a lot about you while you were away at college.” I said, “They missed you. Especially Joe.”

“Yes,” Adam nodded, and a slight frown now furrowed his brow. “My Pa left the Ponderosa for a while and I had sole charge of my brothers; we all became pretty well dependent on one another. I guess my leaving for college came a bit too soon after Pa came home, but…” he shrugged, “life is full of disappointments.”

“Especially when you’re young,” I added.

“Very true. But they can hurt just as hard when you get older,” he said in a softer tone of voice.

“Did you enjoy college?”

“I enjoyed everything about my life back east,” he replied and then he smiled before I could assume more than necessary to the meaning of the words he had spoken. “I was young, independent and learning a lot.”

“I went to college too,” I said, “I know what you mean.”

“Finishing school, do you mean?”

“No, college.” I replied firmly, and half lowered my eye lids. “I was studying history and English Literature.”

“Poetry?” He raised his eyebrows.

“Oh yes, definitely. Loads of poetry.”

He smiled, a warm pleasant smile and held me just a little bit closer. Then the music stopped and Joe was at my elbow to reclaim me.

*****

I relived every moment of that evening before falling asleep in bed that night. I closed my eyes and slipped so easily back into Joe’s arms. I could smell his smell and hear his laughter. I recalled the way his hand held mine, and the rose he picked and gave me as we left the house was perfect.

I drifted into sleep as easily as I had glided into his arms for the dances that evening. I could hear Mr. Cartwrights voice as I left, making me promise to visit at the weekend, and to stay for a few days… I heard my own voice replying that it would be wonderful and thank you so much and then I was asleep.

*****

I had learned to ride and was considered by my associates at home to be an accomplished horsewoman. It had been my intention to hire a horse during my stay, and with that in mind, I had a hurried breakfast with Uncle Burgess so that I could get to the livery stable and see what was available.

I had buttoned up my boots and was reaching for my gloves when Uncle Burgess appeared in the sitting room,

“Dorcas, Adam Cartwright’s wanting to see you.”

I gulped. Adam Cartwright? But why? What had I done wrong now? Was Joe alright? Had something happened to Hoss?

I hurried out of the room and through the store to where Adam stood, his hands clasped behind his back while he studied a porcelain figurine on one of the shelves.

“Mr. Cartwright?” I gasped, realizing as I spoke that I was out of breath from nervousness.

“Miss Dorcas?” He smiled as he turned to face me, “I see you were about to go out?”

“Yes, I was.” I pulled on my gloves with an air of determination, and smiled. “I was going to see about a horse.”

“Ah, that is the very thing I have come here to see you about,” he said as he walked towards me, taking off his hat very politely as he did so. “Pa and my brothers and I were discussing the matter this morning -”

“What matter?”

“The matter of a horse.”

“What horse?”

“Your horse?”

“My horse?”

Uncle Burgess coughed at this point which was a good thing as the conversation was bordering on the ridiculous.

“It’s outside. Pa agreed that you should have your own horse while you were here, and Hoss, with help from Joseph, chose it for you.”

“Really?” I stepped back in surprise and blinked; it was hard to believe that anyone could think so kindly of me and provide me with a horse as though it were nothing. Horses were so expensive, so important. People were hanged for taking another man’s horse, although it hardly mattered if he ran off with another man’s wife. I heaved in a deep breath, “A horse – for me?”

“I volunteered to bring it here for you as Hoss and Joe were – er – too busy.” He smiled and crooked an eyebrow which was supposed to indicate something more significant than it did to me.

“It isn’t Billy Boy, is it?” I laughed and followed him out of the store.

He laughed as well, and in that moment, I felt as though we had become friends. The stiffness and whatever it was that had got in the way before was now gone.

“Here she is.” Adam stopped and took the reins of a horse while at the same time he stroked her nose. “Her name is Mistral.”

“That’s the name they call the northerly wind in Southern France,” I whispered as I approached the horse.

“That’s right.” He seemed surprised that I knew, and nodded his approval, “She’s fast; Joe said she was like the wind when he first rode her, so we called her Mistral.”

“She’s lovely.” I stroked her cheek and looked into her eyes. “Oh, thank you, Mr. Cartwright, thank you so much. Please thank your Pa for me. You’re all so kind to me.” I could feel the tears welling up into my eyes and sniffed,

“Our pleasure,” he replied, at the same time producing a clean white handkerchief which he passed over to me. “I’m glad you like her, Dorcas.”

“She’s perfect.” I noticed now, as I dabbed my eyes, that she was saddled and bridled, which caused me to have to blow my nose.

“You’re not allergic to horses, are you?” Adam laughed.

“Oh no, it’s just that I’m not used to such kindness.” Having said that, I blushed, and firmed my lips together so that nothing more would be said about that matter.

“Don’t forget that you’re expected at the Ponderosa for the weekend. I think one of my brothers will be coming to meet you.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” I replied, although I had only eyes for Mistral who was drooling as she chewed on the bit.

He smiled, touched the brim of his hat and bidding me goodbye he turned and walked away.

*****

I was stroking Mistral when I heard someone call my name and upon turning saw Jennifer. She was walking towards me with a very pleasant smile on her face.

“Hello, Jennifer.”

“Hello, Dorcas. What a lovely horse. Where did you get her?”

“From the Ponderosa. Mr. Cartwright thought I would need a horse while I was here.” I smiled at her, “Aren’t they kind?”

“Yes, I suppose they are…” she said with a slight coolness to her voice, then she smiled again, which made her look so attractive that I wondered why I hadn’t realized before that Jennifer really was a very nice person, “Dorcas, I told my parents that you were back and they have asked if you would like to come and meet with them. I’d like it if you would, Dorcas; you were such a good friend to me at school.”

“Certainly. When would it be convenient?”

“Anytime at all. How about in an hour?”

I accepted with pleasure. That would give me time to arrange for Mistrals’ care at the livery stable. I gave Jennifer a smile and a wave of the hand as she walked away from me, and I congratulated myself on having renewed a friendship.

Jennifer – she must have been a year or so older than myself but because of her lack of schooling and frail physical condition I had always assumed her to be the same age as myself. I had been surprised when Richard had scornfully informed me that Jennifer was the same age as himself. Now as I led Mistral to the livery stable I heard his voice in my head again

“You shouldn’t treat Jennifer as though she were a baby like you, Dorcas. She’s the same age as me, you know.”

“But I don’t, Richard.”

“You do too…” The door slammed and I remember staring at it and wondering why he was getting angry with me over such a little thing.

*****

The house had a green door and very highly polished brass door furniture. I knocked and almost instantly the door opened. A young woman in a maid’s uniform stepped aside to admit me and took my gloves and bonnet. I was wondering what to say when Jennifer appeared. She was wearing a grey skirt with a very crisp and expensive white blouse. Understated, and very smart. Her dark chestnut-colored hair was caught at the nape of her neck by a silvery grey ribbon.

“I’m so glad you came, and right on time too.” she slipped her arm through mine as though we had been best friends for years. “Ma and Pa are so looking forward to seeing you, Dorcas.”

I smiled, and as we stepped through the door into the sitting room, we must have looked the very image of close friends, her arm linked through mine and my hand resting upon her arm. Both of us smiling. We received very warm smiles in return.

Mr. and Mrs. Hall were both pleasant people, perhaps a little overwhelmed still by their riches and a little ostentatious in what their riches could provide as a result. Mr. Hall looked thin, his skin was yellowing and his hair very grey and lank. His hand, as he shook mine, was trembling. He was obviously very ill and his breathing was harsh; sometimes he seemed to struggle to catch his breath which would result in a long and loud bout of coughing.

Mrs. Hall was also thin, and her face looked worn and tired as though the burden of her husband’s illness weighed heavily upon her. She doted upon his every wish and whim, and when he finally suggested that they ’leave the young people to catch up’, she willingly rose to her feet, asked to be excused and together they left the room.

For a while we talked about what we had both been doing since we had last met one another. She had received an excellent education, spoke several languages and was a really attractive young woman. I was wondering whether to ask her if there was a young man in her life when she smiled at me and asked, rather archly, if I had any hobbies.

“I like to sew, and to read,” I replied thoughtfully. “I majored in Literature, and read the classics.”

“Anything else?”

“I enjoy poetry.” I looked at her and wondered if I saw boredom stealing over her face and disappointment in her eyes. “Do you have a hobby, Jennifer?”

The expression on her face changed immediately and she smiled, nodded, and after a pause said, “Yes, I have. Do you want to see what it is?”

I replied promptly in the affirmative, and without more ado, she rose to her feet, smiled at me and intimated that I followed her.

We left the rather grand sitting room through a door that led to a small flight of steps into what was the cellar of the house. There was a window at one end of the room through which a spindly light filtered in. I heard the strike of a match and watched as Jennifer lit a lamp,

“This is my room,” she said with some pride in her voice and she held the lamp aloft, “I mean, my study room.” she beckoned me towards her, “Or perhaps I should say my exhibits’ room.” She turned and brought the lamp a little lower, “What do you think, Dorcas?”

What did I think? I was spell bound. I looked upon glass cases, several tiers of them, full of bones, fragments of jaw bones, skulls; there were pieces of pottery, shards of bowls, basketwork, arrow heads, flints of all sizes. There were the frail remains of old wampum belts, drawings on thin buffalo hides, the broken remains of a child’s stick and straw doll. I looked at them and then at her,

“Your exhibits?” I asked in what must have been in tones of awe.

“That’s what I call them.” She lingered in front of a cabinet in which she had once placed some bone fragments, including a rather macabre object which upon closer inspection turned out to be a skull. I stepped back hurriedly and shivered,

“It was Richard who found that skull. He was the one who got me interested in this when we went collecting bits and pieces from the old Paiute land.”

“Richard?” I looked at her in bewilderment as Richard had never brought any thing like this to our home.

“Yes. But we made a pact not to tell anyone. Joe, Richard and I.”

“Joseph Cartwright?”

“That’s right. Sometimes I’d go with Pa to where he had his mine; it bordered the Ponderosa, so I often joined the boys playing around there. We found a lot of these artifacts in the ground Pa had dug out; that’s what got us looking further afield.”

“He never told me anything about this.”

“Of course he didn’t.” She tossed her head back proudly, “It was our secret. You have to remember, Dorcas, you were such a baby back then. What would you have done if Richard came home with an Indian’s skull? Scream? Cry? Run to mother? Of course he couldn’t tell you about it.”

She was right, of course; I probably would have run to mother. Or would I? I would never know now; it was too late.

“And Hoss Cartwright? Did he know about this pact of yours?”

“No, of course not.” She laughed a trifle scornfully, “Hoss was like you; he’d go and tell his Pa. Hoss always does what his Pa tells him. Joe’s different. He’s a free spirit.”

I said nothing to that. It dismayed me to think she had been so involved with my brother and knew more about Joe than I obviously did. All the time at school I had thought she was so quiet, so shy and timid and frail. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

““Richard loved exploring those places. He was always the one who found the very best things. He got so excited by it all.” She shook her head as though coming from out of a dream.

“And you’ve kept these things all these years? But why? Of what possible use are they to you now, Jennifer?”

I was still staring at the bones in some bewilderment. How and why would a little girl collect such strange objects? I could understand why a boy would have done — boys have such curious minds about things such as these — but a young girl? A woman like Jennifer?

“I don’t know.” she drawled. “I guess because I like them, they kind of fascinate me. It’s part of the history of this land after all.” She looked at me scornfully. “Richard and Joe found it fascinating, and I guess I went along with it for a while because I wanted to be accepted by them, as one of the boys, I suppose.” Her voice trailed off and then she looked at me and smiled. “I like to think about what they were like, all those years ago. Don’t you find it fascinating, Dorcas?”

“No, not really. Do you think I should?” I asked, and looked at her questioningly, but she laughed then, a low little chuckle as though she thought my question somewhat amusing.

“You either find it fascinating or not, Dorcas. I doubt it you will ever find it of the same interest that I do.” She shrugged and took my elbow and showed me a few more items. Such tawdry sad little objects that I found of no interest whatsoever and realizing that she eventually led the way out of the room. “You and Richard were so unalike, Dorcas…” she murmured as she closed the door to the basement and led me into the parlor again.

I nodded in agreement. I knew beyond doubt that she was perfectly accurate in what she had said and there was little point in disagreeing with her.

She sat down opposite me and poured me another cup of tea, which she handed to me with a smile still on her face. I felt that she were laughing at me and felt the color mount my cheeks, but said nothing. She took her cup, and then after sipping the beverage, started to talk about nothing in particular, and I was thinking that she was obviously very bored with me when she asked me if I had plans for the following day.

“I was going to go riding,” I replied slowly, looking at her in an attempt to discern her reason for asking.

“What if we go somewhere for a picnic?” she asked, and a smile, pleasantly friendly, passed over her face, “I have been so bored since coming home, Dorcas; you can’t imagine how lovely it is to have a friend here at last. Tomorrow will be such a lovely day; it would be a pity to waste it. Will you come with me?” She looked at me then, her eyes wide and the lamp held at such an oblique angle cast strange shadows upon her face.

“Yes, yes, of course. I’d like to go.” I replied and for some reason I thought of Richard.

“That’s all settled then. We’ll take a picnic. We can make a day of it.” She led the way to the steps, “You’ll enjoy it, Dorcas. It’ll be such fun.”

Fun? That was the last thing I imagined it to be, and, as it turned out, I was to be proven right.

*****

“Dorcas?”

I turned at the sound of my name and saw Little Joe running towards me. He had his usual wide grin on his face and his eyes were crinkled up at the corners and twinkling, when he got up close I could see the faint trace of freckles spread across his nose,

“I was hoping to see you. Did you like the horse?”

“Yes, she’s a beauty. It was very kind of your family to think of me like that, Joe.”

“Oh that’s alright.” He dismissed my thanks lightly and stood smiling at me. “I broke her in myself.”

“Did you name her?”

“Adam did that,” he replied. “When I said how fast she was, like the wind, so up he came with that name.” He frowned slightly then and raised his eyebrows. “Any chance of coming with me for a ride this morning? I’d like to see how you get along with her.”

“I’m so sorry, Joe.” and that was said very sincerely. “I have a previous engagement today.”

“Oh well, never mind. It was just a thought, seeing you here now, an’ all. It would have been good to play hooky for a few hours,” he laughed, “with a pretty girl.”

“I wouldn’t have minded it myself, but I have promised Jennifer -”

“Jennifer?” His smiled faded and he looked solemnly at me. “Where are you going with her?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Just on a picnic, and to catch up with old times.”

“Well…” Joe paused as though he were about to saying something and then looked at me and I felt his fingers take my hand, briefly; it made me tingle from head to foot. “You won’t forget about tomorrow, will you?”

“Of course not.”

“That’s alright then; I’ll come and collect you in the buggy.”

“Oh, but I was hoping to ride Mistral.”

“We’ll bring her along, don’t worry.” He smiled a slow smile. “It’s a long ride out from town, remember?”

“Yes, but…”

“And you have to bring some things along with you, don’t you? Apart from which, it gives us time to talk.”

I smiled at the thought; he was still holding my hand, and I could barely speak so I just nodded and hoped my smile would be sufficient.

“Good morning, Joseph.” Jennifer’s voice came from behind me and Joe dropped my hand as though it were a hot coal, “Hello, Dorcas. Are you ready?”

“Yes, of course.” I looked once again at Joe and smilingly bade him farewell.

He stood there a few moments watching us walk away, but I could see the smile had faded from his face and there was a definite look of concern there instead. There was little doubt that there was bad feeling between them both. Before we reached Jennifer’s buggy, I turned to look back at him but he had gone.

“You don’t want to be taken in by him, Dorcas,” Jennifer said as she bustled herself into the buggy. “You’re new here in town, and pretty.” She looked at me then as though she needed to confirm for herself as to the accuracy of that last statement. “That’s all it needs for Little Joe to home in on you like a bee to honey.”

“You make him sound like some kind of Lothario.” I smiled, and settled down on the seat beside her.

“He is.” She tilted her chin, and taking the reins in her hands. she sent the horses into a smart pace through town. “Joseph just can’t help himself. Perhaps it’s something he’s inherited from his father; after all, heaven help us, Ben Cartwright had three wives!” She shook her head. “It’s not as though there are that many girls in Virginia City as it is, but you can guarantee that Joe Cartwright has broken everyone’s heart.”

“And what about yours, Jennifer? Has he broken yours too?”

I must have sounded hard, cold, for her words stung me and angered me too. She looked at me as though I had uttered a string of curse words and then gave a shrug of the shoulders,

“No. My heart was broken long ago and not by him.” She sighed then, and for a while we fell into silence, “I’m just warning you, Dorcas. It’s only fair; it’s what a friend should do to protect another from being hurt.”

I wanted to tell her that my heart was none of her business but the harm was done. My pride was dented and my heart troubled. It had been bad enough knowing how involved she had been with Richard and Joe when they were children. I’d had a troubled night with little sleep as I thought of them making pacts and being together, while all I had was Clarabelle and loneliness. I shook myself out of my self-pity and forced myself to listen to her as we drove along the track leading out of town,

“Now that women can go to college and prove ourselves every bit as good as men in whatever career we choose for ourselves, we should use it to our best advantage. I tell you, Dorcas, women are on the threshold of a brave new world. We’ll get the vote, we’ll get equal rights and who knows, perhaps one day there will be a woman elected as President of the United States.”

“I rather doubt that…” I said with a smile.

“Oh, you shouldn’t.” She looked at me patronizingly, “Men have had too much of their own way for too long. I proved to my college associates that I was every bit as good as them. I showed them that a woman is every bit as good as a man, and in some cases, better.”

I looked at her thoughtfully, at the stubborn tight little mouth and the petulant scowl on her face. She was an attractive young woman, but at barely 20 years of age, it was clear to see how in another 20 years she would be a dried up bitter woman, perhaps with some so-called important credentials after her name. But in her pursuit of them, she would have lost so much more. I looked away, and wondered, though, perhaps she was right. There were more girls entering college and getting their feet fixed firmly on the threshold of the man’s world. Some had pushed open the doors that had been closed firmly against them and it would be interesting, I surmised, to see how wide those doors would open to accommodate them.

“Women shouldn’t just settle for marriage and babies now, Dorcas. So get that silly idea out of your head. Look at your mother, for instance; a brilliant teacher and what happened to her? Wasted, a perfect waste of intelligence and knowledge just because some man had come along to give her some security and comfort.” She shook her head and dismissed my mother. “You have the same intelligence; I can see it. Why can’t you?”

“I do see it, thank you, Jennifer,” I replied quietly.

“But seeing it, and using it, that’s two different things.” She rambled on, lecturing me upon the evils of men and the life women had a right to lead.

I succumbed to silence and to looking at the landscape, the views, as we continued on with our journey. I wondered who had broken her heart so long ago, and then decided that perhaps I already knew; perhaps it had been Richard.

For some distance the track ran parallel to the mining works owned by Gould & Curry. The noise and the dust everywhere was sad to witness bearing in mind the beauty of the landscape on the other side of the track. It took some time before we were leaving that behind, though, and just driving through a narrow track shadowed by luxuriant trees. The wheels of the buggy caused the long grass and the wild flowers to make a swish swish sound as we rode over them. It was almost possible to imagine that the ugliness of man’s industry did not exist.

Jennifer pulled up beneath some trees, and within minutes we had the picnic basket and blanket set out where we could get a fine view of the lake in the distance.

“That’s Ponderosa territory.” She pointed to the other side of the lake, “One thousand square miles of land all owned by one family. It’s immoral, really. Don’t you think so?”

She flopped down beside me and poured out some cordial. It didn’t seem to matter to her that I had offered no answer to her question. She just stared out at the Ponderosa land as though she coveted every inch.

“Jennifer, that time Richard and Joe were ill… Were you with them that weekend at all?” I asked this in as nonchalant a manner as I possibly could, and stared across the lake in order not to see her face.

“No, I was not. I only went with them when Pa took me with him to the mine. I wasn’t able to go every time Richard was staying at the Ponderosa. Sometimes it was just me and Joe on our own. It was fun exploring.” She smiled slowly; I could ’hear’ the smile in her voice as she spoke, “We must have looked a right pair of vagabonds. We always came back filthy dirty. It was more fun when Richard was with us, though; he was far more sensible that Joe, who just ran amok…” She shrugged and looked into the basket to find something to eat, “Don’t you find it so peaceful here, Dorcas? It makes me think about the people who used to live here so long ago. Have you ever sat under a tree and wondered who may have sat here before and what they did, what they said?”

“Not really,” I replied lamely, and wondered if I were lacking in imagination. “Jennifer, what did happen to Joe and Richard that weekend?”

“I don’t know. I was told the same thing that everyone else was told, that they went where they shouldn’t have gone.” She nibbled at the sandwich she held in her hands, and after a moment’s pause, said, “Why not just leave it alone now, Dorcas. It happened a long time ago. It happened, and there’s nothing we can do about it to change things now.”

I felt I had been dismissed. I took some food from the basket and began to nibble at it, but it was tasteless, and for some reason I wanted to go home, back to the town, back to Uncle Burgess’ store. I just wanted to go home and think about Richard, and Joe.

We chatted about inconsequential subjects while we ate and drank our raspberry cordial. Then she stood up, brushed the crumbs from her skirts and smiling turned to me,

“Come on, Dorcas, let’s go explore!”

Exploration was the last thing on my mind. But I followed her and clambered up the sloping hillside to where the land leveled off. She stood there for a few minutes and then pointed to a spot a few hundred feet away,

“Over there …” she said and walked off with a determination that did her credit but was far too hurried for my liking. I lagged behind a little and took care for my skirts not to get snagged on the twigs that reached out at ground level as we passed by.

There was a distinct chill and a strange solitude in this area. It fell upon me like a shroud and I shivered as I looked about me. There were far fewer trees, the ground was very damp and there were no wild flowers growing. I followed her until she stopped and turned to me,

“This was a burial place for the people who lived here hundreds of years ago. It’s where Richard found that skull I showed you…” She bent down and scratched away some moss, to reveal dark soil, and after some prodding about, she brought out from the earth some beads. She turned to show me, bright beads in the palm of her muddied hand. “This place is a treasure trove of findings, Dorcas. Let’s go further in…” She began to walk towards where the trees were growing more thickly together, as though they were huddled in secret in that strange eerie place.

I thought of Richard and Joe, running about here, finding arrow heads and beads, perhaps some bones. Once again I wondered why Richard had never mentioned it to me, and had to remind myself that I was only 6, and a boy of 9 or 10 would hardly consider a six-year-old a worthy associate in his games. I walked slowly along, touched the tree trunks as I passed, feeling the ground squelch beneath my feet, and wondering why there was such a horrible atmosphere about the place.

“Dorcas?”

I froze to the spot. A shiver trickled down my spine and I felt the color drain out of face. Richard? Was it – could it possibly be – and then the voice said once again,

“Dorcas?” A hand gripped my elbow. “What are you doing here?”

I swallowed hard, felt giddy for a moment and then looked into Joe’s concerned face as he brought it closer to mine, as though he needed to look into my eyes for the answer to his question.

“Jennifer brought me here. We’re looking for – for things.”

His mouth had no smile upon it. His eyes looked large and anguished and he turned round and called her name, loudly. His voice seemed to echo in the air some minutes before she turned to face us.

*****

She walked towards us slowly, as though it was an enormous nuisance but that she felt obliged to do so for the sake of peace. When she was quite close, she raised her eyebrows at Joe. “Joseph Cartwright? What are you doing here?”

“I was concerned about Dorcas. I wanted to make sure you weren’t bringing her here, and what do I find, but it’s exactly here that you have brought her. Jennifer, you know you shouldn’t be here.”

“For goodness sake, Joe.” she shrugged, “You do run on so.”

“Why shouldn’t we be here, Joe?” I asked, “Are we doing something wrong?”

“She knows.” he replied angrily.

“Look, Joe, just because you promised your father that you would never set foot on this spot again, it doesn’t mean that everyone else has to stay away from it.” Jennifer snapped. Her eyes darkened with her anger and she looked at me. “Come on, Dorcas, I’ve something here to show you.”

“No. Don’t, Jennifer…”

She had been about to turn and resume her walk but now stopped, looked at Joe as though he were more to be pitied than anything else, and then smiled at me. “Joe can’t let go of the past either, Dorcas. He’s afraid to come here now because of what happened last time. Isn’t that right, Joe?”

“No, that isn’t right,” he replied with a tension in his voice I had never heard before. I think had she been a man he would have punched her for I saw his fingers curl into fists by his side. He was restraining himself with an immense effort.

“Dorcas, you wanted to know what happened here… Why don’t you ask him?” Jennifer tossed her head, and in her defiance, she looked quite terrible and quite beautiful.

“Was this where Richard and you were that time, when you were both so ill?” I asked Joe quietly.

He looked fiercely at Jennifer again before he turned to face me, took off his hat and nodded. The thin sunlight straggling through the few trees glowed upon his hair,

“Yes. It’s here that Pa told us not to come; he told us it was a bad place. I told Jennifer and Richard, but she dared us to come here anyway. Richard hated it when Jennifer dared us to do things; it used to make him angry but – but we always did the dare. We came here in defiance of what Pa had told us, and…”

“Go on,” Jennifer taunted him, her eyes fixed upon his face.

“Jennifer and Richard had come here once on their own. They had found a well. It’s unusual for Paiute to dig wells and I didn’t believe them when they told me. She dared us to come here. Richard knew where it was so it didn’t take us long, Jennifer was here already -”

“But…” I looked at Jennifer, puzzled and confused, recalling to mind that she had told me she had not been with them. She shrugged at me and continued to stare at Joe.

“We just looked around for more arrow heads, or bones… Richard had found a complete skull one time… I wanted to find something decent to boast about but didn’t. Then we went back to the well and looked down to see how far it would go. We threw pebbles down there and heard the water; it wasn’t too deep. Richard leaned too far …” Joe gulped. I saw his Adam’s apple jerk and he shook his head as though he wanted the memory to go away.

“He fell in?” I whispered.

“Yes. We called to him but he never answered for a while, and when he did his voice sounded strange. He was frightened. I told Jennifer to go and get her Pa, and then when she was gone, I went down myself. As I said, it wasn’t very far down, and the water wasn’t deep; it was mostly mud. I tried to support him as best I could but he’d struck his head and was bleeding badly.”

“The water and mud – they were poisoned, weren’t they?” I said in a low voice.

“Yes, something here in the soil, it isn’t good. Perhaps all the dead bodies that have rotted and decomposed over the years. Perhaps there was a time when there had been sickness here … which caused so many deaths and that’s seeped into the soil, and then into the well. Pa had been told by Chief Winnemucca that the land was taboo. Not just out of respect for the dead, but because the dead didn’t rest; they claimed the lives of the living who came here.”

I turned to look at Jennifer. I looked at her for some minutes, unable to speak, just looking at her as though seeing her through new eyes. She had been the child who had sat by my side and asked me to read to her during recess, because she couldn’t read. She was the child who unknowingly to me had dared my brother and Joe to disobey Ben Cartwright, and to risk their lives. And she had lied to me.

“I think I’ll go home now,” I said quietly.

“I’ll take you home, Dorcas,” Joe said and reached out for my hand.

I hadn’t stopped to think about how I would get home, Mistral was at the livery stables, and there was just Joe’s horse, and Jennifer’s buggy. She shrugged and walked towards us,

“I’ll take her home; she would look stupid riding in on your horse in that dress,” she snorted angrily, and strode away from us in the direction of the buggy.

“I’m sorry, Dorcas,” Joe said as he held my hand, “I’m sorry for what happened to Richard and sorry for – for not explaining it to you more clearly.”

“My mother could have explained it to me, Joe. You did the best you could for him.” I sighed, “It’s in the past now. Let’s leave it there, shall we?”

I looked at him earnestly, I wanted to do that… leave the bad things behind, and look to the good things ahead.

He smiled, squeezed my fingers gently, “You will still come tomorrow, won’t you?” he said in a low voice.

“I had not forgotten.” I replied and let him release my hand so that it dropped at my side.

He rode past us on his horse as we turned the buggy and headed for the town. Jennifer was quiet. She stared ahead and her face was pale, her eyes dark. All her confidence seemed to have drained away and I wondered what she was thinking as she drove along towards Virginia City.

“I’m sorry I lied to you,” she said eventually. “I didn‘t want to have to acknowledge that I was there, and that I knew what had happened. I didn’t want to hear you asking me questions and having to go into all the details. It was bad enough at the time as it was; I didn‘t want to go through it all over again.”

“Why did you bring me here then? Why did you have to bring me to that place with so many bad memories when you knew…” I stopped myself saying any more, and turned away from her.

“Why shouldn’t I bring you, or anyone else for that matter? It’s an interesting place, as well as quite beautiful. It’s a place that has happy memories for me, when I was a child. I thought you would have liked to have seen where Richard used to like playing.” She looked accusingly at me, as though I had done her some great wrong in not understanding or sharing in her desire to be there. “He was always so clever, and smart. He made me feel stupid. He was always the leader, the one who told us what to do, and for once, I wanted to prove that I was better than them both. I knew about the well; he didn’t. That was all.” She frowned, shrugged, and her lips tightened.

“I thought you cared for Richard. You said you still went to his grave…”

“Oh Dorcas, you really are so stupid at times.” She laughed lightly and flicked a look at me that was as painful as though it were a whip lash. “I always loved Joe, and Richard was – was always there with us, always in the way.”

“But I thought…”

“Oh you thought, you thought… well, Dorcas, you thought wrong. That’s all there is to say about the matter.” Her face concertinaed into a scowl.

“Do you still love Joe?”

“I was a child then, I’m an adult now. Of course I don’t love Joseph Cartwright now. Dorcas, it’s about time you grew up.”

*****

Our parting was cool. I don’t think I ever wanted to see her again and was obviously looking distressed as I went into the store because Uncle Burgess excused himself from the customer to come in and find out if I were alright.

Poor Uncle Burgess. After assuring him that I was alright but had a slight headache, he returned to his customer and probably forgot all about me.

I had a lot to think about now. Jennifer’s tirade over Little Joe’s flirtations was obviously due to the fact that her feelings for him had never been returned. How strange it is that we children had such strong feelings for another when so young, and that these grew alongside our own physical growth over the years. I could understand that; after all, I had loved Joe since I had first met him, although I had not realized it was love until the day he had said I was cute when riding Billy Boy.

I decided that the best way to blow cobwebs out of my head was to go for a ride on Mistral.

*****

She was everything that Joe and Adam had said she was – surefooted, fast and a good companion. I loved her for her smart looks, and the mischief in her eyes and the way she nuzzled against my shoulder when she saw me. We were already friends.

It was good to ride out of town. The continual sounds of the mining activity was a constant reminder that the town owed its growth and wealth to the gold and silver being dragged out of the soil. It was not long before I was riding through some lovely green land with trees growing in little clusters providing shelter and beauty for the traveler. I was not sure exactly where I was except that it was not Ponderosa land. My uncertainty lay more with the fact that I was ignorant of the ownership of the land. I let Mistral have her head and kept myself well tucked in to the saddle with my head on a level with hers. It was the most wonderful way of blowing away cobwebs that I could ever have wished for, particularly on this day.

After a while I slowed her to a walk, and was about to turn her back when I recognized a black and white horse galloping some distance away. He was riding across my line of vision and would have been more interested in pursuing his objective than gazing around to see if anyone else was nearby. I smiled to myself as I thought of our roles now being reversed. He had ridden in during my morning with Jennifer and now I could follow him and watch him rope in a steer or whatever it was he was hoping to achieve at the end of his ride.

It took twenty minutes to actually reach the place where Cochise was grazing. I looked around and thought it was a strange place for Joe to be roping in strays. I had not thought of it before but this was not the Ponderosa anyway. I slid from the saddle and left Mistral to graze alongside Cochise. Walking slowly through the grasses and brushing aside the shrubs, I was led in the direction from where I could hear voices. One voice was talking, reading it would seem, and every so often I would hear Joe’s voice. A light voice, then Joe’s voice…and then a girl’s voice.

I stopped. This was probably the time to turn back. Going onwards could only mean seeing or hearing something that I would not want to see or hear. The voice in my head urged me onwards; after all, it said, why leave now and speculate on the worse thing imaginable, when what you see for yourself could be nothing more innocent than – well – Joe talking to some old woman about the price of horses.

I continued on and only stopped when I could see them for myself through the foliage of the shrubs. There was a pool and on the grassy banks was spread a blanket, upon which Joe and a young girl were reclining. He was lying full length, with his head resting on one hand, his elbow dug into the ground, and face turned towards the girl. She was sitting, a pretty girl with dark hair caught up by a ribbon, and in her hands was a book from which she was reading. Once she broke off to look at him and laughed a little at something he had said.

It was an intimate moment between a boy and a girl. Were they lovers in the most innocent meaning of the word? I stood there with my mouth dry, my heart racing, my mind swimming in misery. He leaned forward then and kissed her …

I don’t know how I managed to get back to Mistral without betraying my presence. Perhaps they were so bound up with one another that they didn’t even realize I was there. I managed to get into the saddle and turn Mistral towards town. After that I have no idea what happened. I just cried all the way.

Before I reached town, I brought Mistral to a stop and dismounted. I had to calm down. I had to reason with myself about what I had seen and how it related to myself and my feelings. At least I could understand how Jennifer felt now.

I remembered the girl now. A little girl about a year younger than myself. Amy. Amy Bishop. She lived on the land known as The Truckee. Well, Amy Bishop, you certainly had grown into a very pretty young woman, I thought to myself, and you obviously have Joe Cartwright besotted with you.

I had no right to expect him to care about me. I told myself that having moved out of his life over ten years ago, a child of 6/7 years old, I had no claims to him whatsoever. He had never been privy to my daydreams, my castles in the air in which he ruled as king. He knew nothing of the silly stories I told myself that fuelled this fantasy love of mine for him. My childish love had hardened over the years into the fondest love of someone I didn’t even know.

I told myself this over and over again as I sat there, my chin in my hands and elbows on my knees, while Mistral chomped on the grass nearby. But it still hurt. The memory of them kissing, being together, sharing time together. It bruised my heart to remember how he had held my hand only a few hours earlier and I had allowed my feelings to flood through me, making me vulnerable, fanciful.

I suddenly felt that I was the loneliest woman in the whole world. I was 17 years old and felt the weight of someone 70 years older upon my shoulders.

*****

I spent the evening with Uncle Burgess, as I had since my arrival. He was a sad and lonely man now, and awkward in my company. We sat opposite one another like an elderly couple who had throughout our lifetime talked through everything until there was nothing now left to say.

He went over his ledgers, counted his money, rechecked his ledgers and finally decided it was time to go to bed. At the door to the store which would take him to his sleeping quarters, he turned and looked at me,

“Dorcas, there isn’t anything worrying you, is there? You seem so sad this evening.”

“I’m alright, Uncle Burgess. Thank you very much for being so kind.”

“You’re a pretty little girl, you know. I always knew you would grow up to be a beauty.” He smiled his gentle sweet smile, which was so replicate of my Mothers that I felt a catch in my throat,

“Thank you, Uncle Burgess.”

“You can talk to me, you know, if you do have anything upsetting you.”

“I’m alright, Uncle, I promise. I was just considering when to leave…”

“Oh, so you’re not going to stay? I thought perhaps you would.” He stepped back into the room a few paces and regarded me steadily, and then sighed. “Well, my dear, you must do what you think best.” Without another word, he shuffled off and closed the door behind him, aware of the fact that yet another female had disappointed him.

There was little point in staying in the room on my own much longer. I stood up and turned out the oil lamps and retired to my own room. For a long time, I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling and watching the shadows moving like giant skeletal fingers across the splintered plaster.

Tomorrow was Friday. I fell asleep wondering how I could excuse myself from this vaguely promised few days at the Ponderosa. I fell asleep and promptly plunged into a dream with Joe’s face looking down at me and his eyes promising me wonderful things … just as had happened in countless dreams during the past ten years.

*****

There was the knock on the door, and steadying my nerves and resolution, I opened it and smiled at the young man standing there with the big smile on his face. He had already collected Mistral who was on a leading rein tethered to the back of the buggy.

“Ready, Dorcas?” Joe said with that familiar chuckle in his voice.

He was in good spirits. He was in love. He glowed with it. I smiled and indicated my valise which he picked up, and whistling to himself, carried it to the buggy.

I called out goodbye to Uncle Burgess and closed the door. He was waiting to help me to the seat when I reached the vehicle and smiled at me again,

“I reckon you should put on a few pounds during the next few days, Dorcas. Hop Sings planned some great meals for you.”

“Really?” I smiled at him and smoothed my skirts, “I’ll look forward to them. He’s such a wonderful cook.”

“Sure is, I reckon if anything happened to Hop Sing, Hoss would just about wither and die.”

He clicked his tongue and flicked the reins and the two horses obediently trotted off. We passed through the town and out into the countryside, while all the time he whistled or hummed under his breath, and I sat there with my hands folded in my lap wondering what to say, what to talk about, anything other than the one thing that was on my mind. But it was Joe who broke the silence first,

“Dorcas, I’m sorry about yesterday. With Jennifer, I mean.”

“She lied to me. She told me that she hadn’t been there when you and Richard got into trouble.”

He frowned and his lips thinned. “She was there alright.” His voice was hard and the usual light heartedness had vanished. “I always thought she had a soft spot for Richard…”

“Why? Why would you think that?”

“Because she was always wanting to be around when he was with me. She was always suggesting what to do and where to go. Had this weird fascination for dead things.” He shook his head. “Richard did too, come to that…” His voice trailed away, “Did you know that?” he looked at me apologetically.

“Not until Jennifer told me. He never told me that Jennifer joined you on his weekends at the Ponderosa.”

“Well, I guess he thought he was being the big brother at the time. Adam and Hoss never told me a lot of things for the same reason. You were very little back then, Dorcas.” He smiled at me with that look on his face that usually would have melted my heart.

During the night, I had reinforced my heart with sound argumentation and could meet his smile with one of my own. One that I knew would not touch his heart at all.

“Did it never occur to you that she resented Richard being there, because she loved you? Children can love passionately, you know, and she loved you, Joe.”

He looked somewhat taken aback and turned away to observe the road with more attention than normal, then he slowly shook his head. “She never indicated that – but why should she? We were kids, just kids.”

“Sometimes I don’t think Jennifer was ever a child.” I sighed/ “It happens though, doesn’t it? Children can feel such an affection for another and sometimes they just don’t outgrow it. Jennifer was so much the opposite of you by nature, Joe; I think she loved you because you were the one person who made her feel happy and made her laugh.”

“You’re building up a defense for her now.” Joe smiled. “You didn’t study law at college, did you?”

“No. But I’ve had a lot of revelations about those whom I loved during these past few days, and I’ve had a lot of thinking to do.”

He was silent then and continued on for a while, obviously deep in thought. Then he began to talk about things relative to the Ponderosa, to the town, and to various other people whom he thought I may recall and be interested in. I was not, but it made me realize that as far as he was concerned, I was still little Dorcas, and no one very special to him at all.

By the time we reached the Ponderosa, we were talking like old friends should and do. It was very pleasant and quite comfortable, but my heart felt like lead. I kept thinking intrusive thoughts as we talked, thoughts of what could have been if my childhood fantasy could have been a reality after all. I knew I was only hurting myself. But, unbidden, the thoughts stole into my mind and robbed me of the enjoyment of that ride with Joe.

Mr. Cartwright and his sons, Adam and Hoss, came out of the house as the buggy rocked to a halt. Hoss was the one to step forward and take my hand to help me down, and then leaned over to pick up my valise. Joe untethered Mistral and took her to the stables while Hoss escorted me to the house where I was greeted warmly by Mr. Cartwright and Adam.

Mr. Cartwright had the gift of making his visitors relaxed and it was not long before we were seated at the table enjoying the food Hop Sing had labored over for us. Joe was relaxed and happy, ignorant of my love for him and basking in the joy of being in love himself. I took care not to pay him more than the normal attention that a visitor would pay to her host’s youngest son.

Adam led me to the settee after the meal and then poured me some coffee. He was a handsome man, confident in himself and with the air of a man who had the ability to achieve anything he set his mind to do. Women would find him alluringly attractive. I could sense that he had that kind of animal chemistry about him. I found him fascinating, but also rather intimidating.

He showed me his newest book, a first edition which must have cost him quite a sum of money, even though Lord Byron’s poems were not what I thought to have been Adam Cartwright’s kind of poet. As he passed it into my hands and encouraged me to read it, I asked him if he enjoyed reading Lord Byron’s poetry.

He smiled slowly. “I read a section of a letter he had written to Thomas Moore in 1821. It appealed to me.”

“What did it say?”

Mr. Cartwright settled down in his chair and balanced a cup and saucer in his hand, inclined his head as though he too were interested in what Adam had to say. Joe and Hoss sat close to the low table in front of the settee and prepared to start a game of checkers.

“Well, he said ‘I can never get people to understand that poetry is the expression of excited passion, and that there is no such thing as a life of passion any more than a continuous earthquake or an eternal fever. Besides, who would ever shave themselves in such a state?’ ”

He spoke solemnly, but his eyes twinkled; Hoss guffawed and Joe glanced up at me and smiled, winked, before settling to his game.

I sat quite still absorbing what Adam had quoted before I blinked and shook my head. “What a strange thing to write.” I looked over at Mr. Cartwright, who was smiling at me over the rim of his cup. “I thought he was going to say something quite profound.”

“I know, that’s why I decided to read his poetry,” Adam said with a chuckle in his voice still. “I thought he was a master of irony, and liked his turn of phrase. You did study poetry in college, did you not tell me?”

“Yes, I did. I read some of Byron’s poems.”

“Have you a favorite? I could find it here if you like?” He took the book from me and in doing so his fingers touched my hand and something like electricity tingled through me. I felt as though I were going to burst into fire and lowered my head to concentrate on my cup of coffee.

“How about this one,” he said and cleared his throat which was accompanied by groans from both his brothers. They were duly ignored.

“She walks in beauty…

She walks in beauty like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meets in her aspect and her eyes:

Thus mellow’d to that tender light

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,

Had half impair’d the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,

Or softly lightens o’er her face –

Where thoughts serenely sweet express

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

But tells in days of goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love is innocent.”

He looked straight up and into my eyes as he concluded that last verse, and I was aware of two dark intense eyes staring into my own. I could barely breathe. It was as though he had searched right into my heart and found me sadly lacking.

“How about something lighter…” Ben suggested.

“How about some music and a song?” Hoss boomed. This last suggestion was greeted with a loud whoop from Joe, who sprung to his feet to find a guitar which he promptly handed to Adam.

And so the evening ended with singing, and laughter, and clapping hands and tapping feet. The day ended much happier than it had begun.

*****

We met again at breakfast. I had slept so well that I felt completely relaxed and refreshed. I had slept without dreams and so awoke with a far happier outlook on the day.

Mr. Cartwright and Adam were already eating their food, and Hop Sing came out immediately to serve me scrambled eggs and ham and toasted bread. The butter was rich and creamy yellow, and everything smelled delicious. Adam poured me some coffee,

“Did you sleep well, Dorcas?” he asked pleasantly and smiled at me over the coffee pot.

“Better than I have done since I arrived in Virginia City,” I replied.

“Joe told us about Jennifer – what happened at the old burial grounds.” He frowned slightly, “Didn’t you realize she would take you there?”

“No. Not at all.”

“She has a fondness for the macabre.” He shrugged and stared at his food as though he had found maggots in it.

“She’s an anthropologist,” I replied and he looked up at me, met my eyes and smiled. I blushed.

Joe came cluttering down the stairs, yawned, and bade us good morning. He pulled out a chair and sat down. Hoss was prompt behind him and smiled at me warmly as he took his seat,

“Sleep alright, Miss Dorcas?” he asked in his usual warm manner and I nodded and smiled. “That’s fine and dandy.”

Hop Sing came and served them their food. Joe continued to yawn until he had got half way through his meal, then he looked up at his father. “Pa, I thought I’d best check for strays this morning.”

“Oh?” Ben looked surprised, glanced in my direction and then back at Joe. “Are you sure you haven’t other duties to consider first?”

“Well, they ain’t gonna find their way home by themselves, are they?” He grinned as though his comment would amuse us. He smiled at me, “You don’t mind if I get down to work, do you, Dorcas?”

“No, you do what you want to do, Joe. I just thought I would go for a ride on Mistral,” I replied, Then, for some stupid reason which can only be blamed on immaturity and jealousy, I added, “I thought I’d ride down to The Truckee. I knew a girl there at school, Amy Bishop, and thought it would be good to see her again.”

Ben Cartwright drew himself up very upright and raised his eyebrows. “I’m sorry, Dorcas, but that won’t be possible,” he said. “I’m afraid that there’s bad blood between the Bishops on The Truckee and the Ponderosa just now. It could be dangerous if you went there. Bishops men are pretty trigger-happy right now.”

“They’re not the only ones, though, are they, Pa?” Joe blurted out angrily, “Aren’t we just as bad?”

“That’s enough, Joe.” Ben scowled at him, and his dark eyes looked as though they could scorch through wood. “I don’t know what’s got into you lately, boy, the way you dictate to us how we should treat the Bishops. You know very well …”

“Yes, I know, I’ve heard it countless times and I’m sure Dorcas will find it very interesting for breakfast conversation but I’m sick of hearing about it.” He pushed himself away from the table and threw down his napkin, apologized to me and then excused himself.

“JOSEPH!”

Ben’s voice boomed across the room and I quaked in my shoes. I had no idea my stupid remark would result in this explosion. Of course I now understood exactly why Joe was so angry, and also why he was being so devious in not telling his family about his feelings for Amy. The door slammed shut and Ben half rose as though to go after him, then thought better of it. He sat down and looked at me, “I’m sorry about that, Dorcas. None of us like the fact that we are at odds with Bishop, which involves Amy as well, nor do we like it that the feud has gone on for so long. The fact is that we’re at stalemate just now…” He glanced down at his plate before pushing it away.

“There’s a disagreement about some land known as The Truckee Strip. We’ve got it in writing that we have the right to it, but Bishop insists it’s his. Some men have been killed on both sides, and once blood is spilled, it makes it harder for both parties to step back and give in to the other,” Adam explained calmly. “More coffee, Dorcas?”

I shook my head and decided that in future I would keep my mouth shut and my feelings locked away until they withered from lack of attention.

“I’ll take you to see the best places on the Ponderosa,” Mr. Cartwright said suddenly, “It’s a long time since I had the pleasure of escorting such a pretty young lady around the place.”

He smiled at me. I caught, out of the corner of my eye, the glance that passed between Adam and Hoss, but I said nothing. I thanked Mr. Cartwright for the offer and accepted it.

*****

Hoss and Adam rode with us some part of the way and then galloped south to do some fence repair work. Mr. Cartwright and I rode side by side in silence for some time, veering to the left where the trees grew to provide shelter. Now and again he would pause and show me some of the spectacular views that his land encompassed.

“I used to bring your mother here,” he said suddenly as we paused to drink in the view of the lake.

We were high up, although the incline had been gradual and not even difficult for the horses at all. Below us, the pines thronged close together like a massive fringe overshadowing the lake. It was a pure blue as it reflected the sky. There were no clouds, nothing to mar the immensity of the blueness. Looking down upon such a scene, it truly did take ones breath away.

“Did you?” I looked at him and tried to remember those visits so long ago, but my life had been so involved with the activities of Joe and Richard that what was happening between my mother and Ben had now slipped out of my mind.

“You’re a lot like your mother,” he said, leaning on the pommel of his saddle and towards me as though to look more closely at my face, “Not so much in looks but in the way you speak, the pitch of your voice, and some of your mannerisms.”

“Mama says I look more like my father’s sister,” I admitted, wondering if he thought I was plain in comparison to my mother who was still a very beautiful woman.

“Then your aunt must have been a very lovely lady, Dorcas.”

“Thank you, Mr. Cartwright. From what I remember, my Papa was a very handsome man.”

“Your Mother told me about your Father, and how he died. Life carries with it a lot of sorrows, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, sir, it does, as you know only too well.” Perhaps that was bold of me to allude to his wives, but I meant well and he nodded and smiled sadly in acknowledgement.

“Dorcas, is your Mother happy now?”

“I believe so, Mr. Cartwright. She and Mr. Hansworth are in Europe at her wish.”

He frowned slightly, as though that was not quite what he wanted to hear, and I suddenly remembered that day when Mr. Hansworth came to take Mother out, when Richard and I had thought it would have been Mr. Cartwright. I remembered also that no Cartwright attended the wedding. I glanced away and watched as a hawk hovered in the sky before streaking down to disappear among the trees.

“Did she – did she forgive Joe for what happened to Richard?” he asked, his voice was soft, quiet.

I looked up at him and frowned slightly. “But it wasn’t Joe’s fault. No one could blame Joe.”

“I’m afraid your mother did, Dorcas. It’s what…” He paused and sighed. “Well, it was a long time ago now. I would hope she had forgiven him, and that she has been happy these past ten years.” He pulled at the reins of his horse and turned its head round.

We rode down and away from the lovely view. I thought of my mother and her marriage to Mr. Hansworth. I wondered if Mr. Cartwright sensed that my Mother had not been happy with her new husband, or, to be more honest, had not been as happy as she had hoped.

“Mr. Hansworth is a very kind man,” I said hesitantly, “He gets her whatever she wants; she only ever has to say.”

“Yes, I’m sure he is.” He smiled at me, but his eyes looked sad.

“Sometimes,” I said quietly, “for some reason, people make the wrong choices, don’t they?”

He looked at me again, as though he wondered why I had said such a thing and then he nodded. “Yes, Dorcas, we all do.”

We rode on in companionable silence for some time and then he turned to show me another view, this time much closer to the lake which seemed to sweep far away from us to meet the horizon far distant.

“Have you forgiven Joe for what happened to Richard?”

“Yes, I forgave him long ago, when we were children. Now of course, I know what really happened with Jennifer…” I frowned a little then and looked at him, “Did Mother know about Jennifer?”

“No one knew. I only knew myself yesterday when Joe told us what had happened between the three of you.” He shrugged, “Joe has a very strong sense of loyalty.”

I nodded and said nothing to that, but thought of Joe being with Amy Bishop and wondered where exactly his loyalties stood now.

“It’s always better to be honest. I’ll tell Mother what happened when I see her. If she does feel anything unjustly towards Joe, I’m sure she won’t when she knows the truth.”

He nodded as though he understood and appreciated what I was saying, although perhaps it no longer held as much importance now as it would once have done.

We dismounted and walked side by side through the tall grasses that swayed in the slight breeze that wafted down from the mountains. I plucked some wild flowers and twisted them into a small nosegay which I presented to him with a smile, and he laughed shyly, like a much younger man, as he accepted it.

“I was very fond of your mother, Dorcas,” he suddenly said when we had come to a standstill.

He was leaning against the trunk of a tree and the filtered sun through the leaves caused the shadows to be dappled over him. Light and shade falling across his face. He was still a handsome man. He was tall and broad shouldered, and, due to being a hard worker, he had not run to fat like many men of his age. His hair, although grey, was still plentiful and well groomed, and his eyes were magnificently dark. I could well understand why women fell in love with him; his voice and his looks denoted him as a powerful and confident man. Even though I was only 17 years of age, I could still sense that same chemistry in him that I had felt with Adam. I was convinced that my mother could not help but have felt equally as much for him.

They were, in a sense, two of a kind. They were exactly what my Mother and Mr. Hansworth were not, and I knew it, just as Richard and I had known it over ten years earlier.

“Did you love her, sir?” I asked rather timidly.

“Not quite, almost. I was most certainly attracted to her.” He smiled then, a secret drifting smile that flitted across his mouth.

“Did she love you?” That, I admit, was bold, but I was curious and he seemed in the mood to talk.

“I thought so. But I was mistaken.”

“I am sorry,” I said after a pause, and as there was nothing else to say on the matter I turned to get back to the horses.

“You’re very fond of Joseph, aren’t you?” he said, moving away from the tree and matching his stride to mine while he twirled the little nosegay around in his fingers.

“Yes, I am.” I thought it only fair to reply honestly; it was only right after all as I had been impudent enough to ask him, and he had been honest with me.

“When you were a little girl, your face would light up as soon as you saw him. It was like the sun had suddenly burst into the room.” He smiled down at me, and not for the first time, I wished I were at least four inches taller. “Are you still as fond of him?”

“No.” I replied and looked him squarely in the face. “I spent ten years building silly castles in the air in which Joe and I would live happily ever after, but now I’ve come back and seen him I’ve realized that that was all it was — just a childish dream without substance.”

He looked at me then, very sternly, and said nothing. I wondered if he thought I was lying, and was disappointed with me. Well, I thought as we strolled back to the horses, when Joe tells them about his love for Amy, he’ll understand why my castles in the air came tumbling down.

*****

In the evening we played charades with much laughter and hilarity. Joe was relaxed and happy. He was playful and skittish, and treated me as though I were his new little sister, just found and to be teased and played with in a most affectionate way. Hoss was quieter, and strangely watchful. More than once I found him watching me and then smiling shyly at me while he cast his blue eyes downwards. Adam was watchful too and I doubt if nothing passed his scrutiny. He was as sharp as a fox, and just as crafty.

We sang more songs, listened to Adam playing his guitar and sang along with him. He had a fine voice, and admitted to having had lessons when back east. I wondered if it were one of the refinements he missed now that he was back here.

I slept once more in the big bed in the guest room. Once again, I slept and had no dreams to disturb me. The whole house seemed to slumber contentedly, although I doubt if some of the inhabitants did so. I wondered if Mr. Cartwright would stay awake for a while, drifting back over old memories and wishing he could turn back the clock. I thought of Joe daydreaming about the girl he loved and worrying about how he was going to tell his family that he was in love with a Bishop. I doubted if Adam or Hoss would be worried about a thing … and then I drifted into sleep.

*****

There were no church services for that morning. There was only one preacher in the area and he had to travel to hold services in Genoa, and Placerville and other settlements. So Virginia City and the others had a service every six weeks.

I breakfasted alone as the Cartwright men had started early on their chores. This would then leave them the rest of the day to relax and catch up on whatever they wished to do on Sunday.

After breakfast, I talked a little to Hop Sing and watched him prepare a large fat chicken for our main meal before I left the house and walked outside.

I visited Mistral and spent an hour brushing her until her coat gleamed, and I made sure her mane and tail were unmated and smooth. Then I kissed her on the nose and strolled outside.

“Oh!”

Both Hoss and I jumped back having come close to colliding into each other. Then we laughed together.

“Oh Hoss, I am sorry, I wasn’t expecting any of you to be back yet.”

“Shucks, Miss Dorcas, and I didn’t expect you to be up yet. It’s still early.”

I laughed again, and followed him back into the stable where he was taking some tack. Once he had hung it in its allocated site, he turned and looked at me with a smile. “You shore are pretty, Miss Dorcas.”

“Thank you, Hoss, that’s very sweet of you to say so.”

“You always was a pretty little gal, a mite scrawny, but pretty anyhow.”

“You were always very kind to me, Hoss. I remember how much time you spent looking after me. It couldn’t have been much fun for you when Joe and Richard were so busy playing and having games.”

“Shucks, I liked looking after you, Miss Dorcas. Fact is, I’d always look after you, if’n I could.”

“That’s kind of you, Hoss.” I smiled at him, and totally missed the point of what he was saying to me.

We left the stables and walked to the corral where several ponies were kicking their heels. We leaned companionably against the corral fence, our arms folded and watched the horses.

“I meant it, Miss Dorcas, what I jest said.” He looked at me intently, the blue of his eyes were bright with the earnestness of his statement.

“What do you mean, Hoss? I don’t understand.” I looked at him, really hard, as though by looking into his eyes I could discern the meaning without him having to put them into words.

“Wal, shucks, I know that you had this kind of soft way of feeling for Joe, but I thought this past few days that you didn’t have it for him no more. Then I got to thinking that mebbe – just mebbe – you might think…” He stopped and frowned, then he stared at the ground very hard before looking up at me. “I love you, Miss Dorcas.”

I gasped involuntarily and stepped back, my hands clasped against my chest. For some seconds, I just stared at him with my mouth open. In my mind I recaptured the times I had seen him looking at me, the expression on his face, in his eyes…

“Hoss, I didn’t know. I didn’t realize.”

“I guess you didn’t. Wal, why should you? After all, I daresay you got suitors back in San Francisco lining up to ask you to marry them, ain’t’cha?” His face had gone a little pinker than normal, and he was digging his thumbnail into the wood of the bar against which we had been leaning. “Fact is, you’re just about the prettiest gal I know, so I can understand if’n you don’t want to marry me or anything.”

“Hoss…” I put my hand on his arm and could feel the heat of his skin through the shirt sleeve. There was so much strength in that arm, and yet I knew him to be the most gentle man in the territory. My heart was pounding so hard that I couldn’t say a word.

“But…” He put his own hand over mine, and curled his fingers around mine. “But if you could, Miss Dorcas, if you could find it possible to marry me, I’d make you the happiest girl in the world; I promise you, I would.”

I heaved in a deep breath, and put my free hand to my face before letting my hand drop by my side. I shook my head. “I don’t love you, Hoss.”

“I’d teach you to love me, Miss Dorcas.” He frowned, “I mean, I’d love you enough for the both of us.”

“It doesn’t always work like that, Hoss. I could hurt you so much – it’s not fair to you.”

“I think I know what’s fair for me, and what ain’t,” he replied, reaching out to take hold of my free hand in his, so that we were standing now face to face, with him holding on to both my hands.

“No, Hoss, I can’t marry you. I can’t. It would be wrong.”

“Wrong? How could it be wrong? You need someone to look after you, Miss Dorcas, and to love you. I want to do that for you. Just let me … please.”

I shook my head. Then impulsively I leaned forward and kissed him, then pulled my hands free and ran into the house.

By the time I had reached my room, I was crying. Tears were streaming down my cheeks and splashing onto my clothes. How cruel of life, how cruel. I was not allowed to have the man I loved, and now I had hurt the man who loved me. It was too cruel.

*****

I heard horses in the yard and cautiously approached the window. I saw Hoss riding out, pause to speak a moment with his father, who was riding back to the house. Ben glanced up at the window of my room before turning his attention back to Hoss. A little while later, I heard his footsteps heavy on the floor below.

I sat down and closed my eyes, determined to think over everything that had happened. What struck me was the paradox of it all. I could imagine telling Joe that I loved him, the look of horror on his face, the realization that he could never love me and the subsequent embarrassment and misery of it all. Was that how Hoss felt now? I felt ashamed not to have noticed his attentions before, not to have known how he felt. Sadly, there is no one so inattentive as the self-absorbed love-sick young. I wondered how he was feeling now and felt ashamed.

I wandered now down another track as I thought about his proposal. He would never, ever, hurt me deliberately. He would keep me safe, protect me from harm, cherish me. I knew that without any doubt at all. We would have children and he would be the most wonderful father to them. He would give his life for me. I knew all that too.

Did I love Joe? Was it infatuation? Could I love Hoss? People say that love comes with the children but could I live with Hoss a lie, a pretence? Every day would be full of little hurts for him, caused by me. His father and brothers would see it. They would know and so would I, and eventually, so would he.

I washed my face and tidied my hair. I thought of Joe and Amy, and knew that I would not stop loving Joe. I was thinking about what I should do when there was a gentle tap on the door and Mr. Cartwright was asking if he could speak to me for a moment. My heart sunk but I opened the door and admitted him.

“Dorcas…” was all he said before I fell into his arms and started to cry again.

He was very kind and patient as he put his arms about me and stroked my hair and said consoling things that I only half heard. Eventually he led me to a chair and set me down, then taking my hands in his own he asked me to explain the problem.

So I told him about my love for Joe and how I knew he could never love me, and how Hoss had just proposed but I could not love him. I had not intentionally gone out to hurt anyone, but I felt that being here, I had ended up hurting everyone.

He sighed and looked at me with his dark eyes growing ever darker. “It seems to me history is repeating itself,” he murmured sadly.

I shook my head. “No, it isn’t, Mr. Cartwright. My mother cared for you; I know that as sure as I’m sitting here. Richard and I both felt the affection you both had for one another and we expected something to come from it. Children may not know what’s happening but they do get the feel of things, don’t they?”

“Then, sadly, she didn’t care enough.”

“Mr. Cartwright. When my father was alive, we were very poor. But we had lots of laughter and happiness together. Mother and Father loved one another so very much. She chose to marry Mr. Hansworth and she doesn’t love him. Not even after all these years and despite all his kindness to her. He loves her so much, Mr. Cartwright, and she hurts him because she can’t love him.” I took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I can’t do that to Hoss.”

“No, of course you can’t. He’ll understand that, Dorcas. I’m just very sorry that Joe…”

“I allowed a childhood infatuation to grow into something that I don’t deserve to have, Mr. Cartwright.” I forced a smile, “It’s not Joe’s fault.”

“No.” Ben sighed, and stood up, drawing me up alongside him; he kissed my brow, “It would have been lovely to have had you as a daughter, Dorcas. Do you want me to hitch the buggy and take you home?”

I shook my head, and hugged him close; I think I loved him at that moment. “I’ll go home with Mistral, if you don’t mind?”

He nodded and excused himself. I heard his footsteps outside on the landing, going down the stairs and then the outside door closing on the big room. I quickly pulled my things together into a valise and then took my jacket. There was now nothing left of mine in the room, and I hurried downstairs and out into the yard where Mr. Cartwright had Mistral waiting for me, saddled and bridled,

“Take care, Dorcas. Don’t forget I am always here if you need me.”

I stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek, and then mounted my horse, took the valise from him, and galloped out of the yard. I didn’t look back. I didn’t trust myself to do so.

*****

Several weeks drifted by, and life in Virginia City resumed some form of routine for me. I helped Uncle Burgess in the store and went on rides with Mistral. I kept myself to myself. There were snippets of news drifting in and out of my hearing, customers chattered to one another, to us. In was inevitable that I would hear of Amy Bishop’s terrible death. I wondered how Joe was handling it. I was wondering whether or not to ride out to the Ponderosa to offer my condolences when Jennifer came into the store.

“I just came to say goodbye, Dorcas,” she said as she stood very primly on the other side of the counter, her hands gripping tightly to the handle of her bag.

“You’re leaving?”

“Yes. Father‘s health doesn‘t look like it will improve. We are going to Switzerland. There is a clinic there where he may get specialized care for his illness.”

“I hope he does,” I said rather stiffly.

“It may give him a few more years of life,” she said. Her face softened with the sadness so many of us feel in such situations, when the fate of loved ones is taken out of our control and one can only rely on a greater Being to give one the comfort so essential in facing the future.

She looked around her, and then seeing there were no customers and Uncle Burgess was not in sight or hearing, she came closer. “You heard about Amy Bishop?”

“Yes.”

“Did you know that she and Joe were – well – more than good friends?”

“Yes.”

“Oh.” She looked surprised and raised her eye brows. Then she drew even closer, “There was another man involved. Mr. Bishop’s foreman. He tried to kill Joe but killed Amy instead.”

“Jennifer, if you don’t mind, I…”

“Have you seen Joe?”

“No, I haven’t. Have you?”

“I went over to see him,” she admitted, going just a little pink in the face. “But Adam’s taken him to Sacramento on business. Mr. Cartwright said they would be away for some time yet.”

“Oh, I see.” I looked at her blankly, wondering what she wanted me to say,

Seeing that there was no response from me, she stepped away from the counter and surveyed me thoughtfully. “I just thought you would be interested, that’s all.”

“Well, thank you for letting me know.”

We stood looking at one another with the counter running between us. She had no expression on her face – it was totally blank – and I know that I, feeling nothing at that moment, must have had just the same blankness. We must have looked like a pair of mannequins.

“Well, goodbye then, Dorcas.”

“Goodbye, Jennifer. I hope – I do hope your life will be a happy one.” I said this sincerely, but she turned at the door and gave me a strange look, a slightly bitter twist of the lips, and a flash of her eyes.

The bell over the door jangled as she left and Uncle Burgess, who had just stepped into the store, looked up, “Was that a customer, Dorcas?” he asked.

“No,” I replied, “it wasn’t anyone important.” I picked up a duster and began to carefully polish the countertop, while I thought of Joe, and Hoss, as well as poor Amy Bishop.

*****

I left Virginia City not long after that having received a cable from Mother to say they were now returning home. Uncle Burgess said that he would soon sell up his business there and join us in ‘Frisco, but somehow I doubted it.

I didn’t see Mr. Cartwright or Hoss again. I hoped that by some chance I would, even as my belongings were being tied down in the trunk of the stage I hoped to see them. I had sent Mistral back with a letter explaining that I was leaving. Even that had not brought back any response from them except a kind farewell note from Mr. Cartwright in which he informed me that Joe and Adam were away, and would be for some time yet. He made no reference to Hoss except to say that both he and Hoss wished me well and sent me fond best wishes.

It reminded me of something Lord Byron had written in his poem “When we two parted.” In his last verse, he wrote:

“In secret we met
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears.”

***The End***

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