Always and Forever (by Sandy W)

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  11,700

 Dear Mr. Cartwright: 

I am deeply sorry to inform you of the deaths of your nephew, Mr. Will Cartwright and his wife, Laura Dayton Cartwright, who were killed together in a wagon accident.  Their daughter, Peggy Dayton, survived with minor injuries.  Mr. And Mrs. Cartwright left no wills, so their estates, according to the laws of California, will go to their nearest relatives, which would be, as far as we have been able to ascertain, Benjamin Cartwright and Peggy Dayton.   

Laura Dayton Cartwright’s aunt, Lillian Manford, died late last year and left Laura and Peggy with no other next of kin as best  we have been able to determine to this point in time.  As you may be aware, Mrs. Manford was a wealthy woman due to her late husband’s mine holdings and left her estate to her niece, Laura Dayton. 

Peggy  Dayton  is now staying with the Reverend Mark Bishop and his wife, Clarice.  Again, according to the laws of California, unless next of kin willing to take her in can be found, she will be placed in the Santa Cruz Orphanage until she reaches the age of majority, at which time she will inherit one-half of Will and Laura’s ranch or the value thereof; the other half of their joint estate goes to you upon close of probate in six months from the date of their death.   At majority, Peggy Dayton will then also receive the full amount of Laura’s inheritance from Lillian Manford. 

Again, I am sorry to be the bearer of this news to you Mr. Cartwright.  I wonder if  I could have some word from you as to whether or not you  wish to come here and look into the matter of your nephew’s estate.


William James, Esq.
170 Bell Street
Santa Cruz

Ben Cartwright slowly placed the letter on his desk and looked over at Adam, who was sitting next to him and had brought the mail in from town.  Adam was reading a letter from the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, but upon hearing a deep sigh from his father looked up to see the stricken look in his father’s eyes.

“What’s wrong, Pa?”  Adam had not taken time to go through the mail before he brought it out to the ranch and had not realized there was a letter postmarked Santa Cruz.

Ben handed the letter over to his son, knowing the pain this was going to cause him.  Indeed, Ben was feeling very shaken over this news himself.  Though he had not gotten to know his nephew, Will, for very long, Will was family and it was hurtful to him to receive this news.  He had always been fond of Laura, even though he had long felt she was not the woman for Adam when they were courting.  He was especially fond of Peggy and felt deep sympathy for this child now left alone in life.

He watched Adam read the letter and as Adam handed the letter back to him, he saw the pain in his son’s eyes.

“Oh my God, Pa.  This is terrible.  I mean it’s so unbelievable, both Will and Laura gone and now Peggy alone.  I just can’t believe it.”

“I know what you mean, son.  I haven’t really taken it in myself yet.”  First my brother John gone and now his son, Will, and poor Peggy left with no one now.”

 “Well, Pa, as far as I’m concerned, she is not left with ‘no one’.  If you will remember, I was once going to be her father.  She and I have kept in contact these past two years, you know.”

“I do know that son.”  Ben was aware that Peggy and Adam wrote back and forth from time to time.  Peggy and Adam had become very attached during the time that Laura and Adam were courting and engaged to be married.  It had been a very sudden turn of events that lead to their breakup and the subsequent marriage of Will and Laura.  Both Adam and Laura had come to the realization that they did not really love each other enough to marry about the same time that she and Will realized they were falling in love.

“Adam, I think I better go down to Santa Cruz and see to things there.  Are you coming with me?”

“Yeah, Pa, I am.  I’m worried about Peggy and if there is no one else for her, I intend to bring her back here to stay with us.  You wouldn’t mind that would you?”

Ben was actually taken aback by this, all of this being so sudden.  “Well, no son, I wouldn’t mind, but I wonder if this is the right place for her – I mean a house with four bachelors hardly seems the place to bring a 10-year-old little girl.”

 “Then, we’ll bring in a housekeeper or a governess or something.  I’m not going to let Peggy go into an orphanage.  She must be miserable as it is without that.  At least she knows us, she knows me – she wrote in her letters that she wished her mother and I had married, that I had become her father.  I’m afraid she and Will didn’t ever really get on very well and Peggy and her mother were at odds over that.”

“Peggy wrote you this, son?  You never mentioned it before.”

“Well, I didn’t see the need to, Pa.  There wasn’t anything anybody could do about the situation.  I guess Peggy just didn’t take to Will.  I know Will was a good man, but you know how children can be sometimes with a stepparent,” Adam looked rather sheepishly at his father as he related this.

Ben knew Adam was referring to his own prickly relationship with Marie that went on until Little Joe was born.   At that time, things changed between them and Adam was more accepting of Marie and after that grew to love her very much.

“You know, Pa, maybe with more time, things would have changed, but even in her last letters to me she talked about the problems she and Will were having.   Something she said made me think maybe Laura and Will weren’t getting on the best either –  I don’t know if it was because Peggy wasn’t happy about things or just what was going on.  Hard to say.  She’s only 10.   She was a bit angry with her mother, according to what she wrote in the letters. I’m a little afraid she may be feeling some guilt over their deaths now – you know how kids can do sometimes.”

“Pa, I just think she needs us, unless there is someone else in Santa Cruz that she has come to know better and who would be willing to take her in, maybe the minister and his wife where she’s staying.  I mean unless something like that has happened, there isn’t anyone else with Lil gone.  She’s even stayed here in this house before when Laura came to help take care of me after the accident.  She got on okay with everyone then.”

“I remember son.  She’s a sweet child.”  Ben was remembering back to Adam’s accident, which for a time they thought might leave him unable to  walk again.  Laura had just been going to tell Adam that she had changed her mind about marrying him when the accident occurred.  She then had moved into the Ponderosa with Peggy so that she could help with Adam’s care.  It was during that time that Adam came to realize that he really didn’t love Laura enough to marry her, and that Laura finally confessed to him her love for his cousin, Will.

 They had swept Peggy up, sold Laura’s ranch, married quickly, and left for Santa Cruz where they bought another ranch together.

Ben and Adam decided to take the next day’s stage out to Sacramento on the first leg of their trip.

As Adam was packing his things to go that night, he opened the drawer where he had kept two years’ worth of letters from Peggy.  He had answered every one of them, but had first written to Laura and Will asking if they had any objection.  They hadn’t objected, for which Adam was grateful.  Interestingly enough, it hadn’t been that hard to let Laura go out of his life, but it had been pretty heart wrenching for him to lose little Peggy and he was grateful that they allowed him to retain contact.

He picked up the most recent letter and re-read it.

Dear Adam,

 Hi.  How are you and your father and brothers, Adam?  Everything is okay here.  I got an A on my last reading test and an A on my book report.  I knew that would make you happy to know.  I did the report on the book you told me would be a good one to read Oliver Twist, and see you were right and I got an A.

Traveler is doing good, but I think I’m probably going to have to get a bigger horse to ride someday.   Mommy says my legs will get too long for him and I guess she’s right.  She wants Will to pick one for me.  Mommy thinks I should sell Traveler if I can’t ride him anymore, but I don’t want to because you gave him to me.  I want to keep him always even if I can’t ride him anymore.

 I wish I could see the puppies Hoss’ dog had.  I bet they are cute.  Mommy won’t let me have a dog right now.  She says we have enough animals around here now.  Will always sides with Mommy about things that I want, but sometimes they fight about other things.  It kind of scares me Adam.   Sometimes it makes me remember back when Mommy and Daddy were together and they would fight.  I didn’t like it when they would fight and I don’t like it when Will and Mommy fight.  I mean they don’t really fight. They just yell at each other once in a while.  I’m not sure exactly what it is they’re yelling about because it’s usually late at night and I hear them in their room.

 I wish I could see you again Adam.  I love so much to get your letters, but it’s been so long since I’ve seen you.  I miss you and I miss everything back there.  I remember how Hoss would take me around to see all his little animals and Joe would tell me funny stories and your Pa was always so nice to me, but mostly I miss you Adam.  I miss you a lot..

I have to go now so Mommy will take this letter to town with her.  I love you Adam..



Ben and Adam reached Santa Cruz and first went to Lawyer James’ office to check in with him.  They had wired ahead to both him and to the Bishops, telling them of their planned visit.  Mr. James and Ben discussed Will and Laura’s estate for a bit and then Adam asked about Peggy’s situation.  Mr. James reported that according to their state law, a notice had to be posted in major newspapers about  Laura’s death and to ask any relatives to step forward on Peggy’s behalf.  These notices would run for six months.  If, at the end of that time, no relatives could be found willing to take her in, then she would become a ward of the state and would be put into the state orphanage.

He also reported that Mr. and Mrs. Bishop had been friends with Will and Laura, but they were quite elderly and not really able to take a child as young as Peggy into their home on a permanent basis.  Mr. Bishop was in failing health and though they were very willing to take her in for the present, it would not work permanently.

 “Mr. James,” Adam inquired, “Laura and I were once engaged to be married.  Will was my cousin.  My father here is his uncle.  At one time Peggy thought I would be her stepfather.  She and I had become very close and have still maintained contact through letters for these past two years.  I can’t let her go into an orphanage.  I just can’t let that happen.  Is there any law that says we couldn’t take her back to our home in Nevada and keep her there with us until and if a relative is found willing to take her, and if that doesn’t happen, then to stay with us on a permanent basis?   I would be willing to adopt her.  I’m not married, but we can hire a housekeeper or governess for her, and I’m sure we could get many people to vouch for our family. “

“Well, Mr. Cartwright, it would certainly have been easier if they had left a will and named you as guardian in the event of their deaths, but unfortunately they left no will at all.  There would have to be a hearing in this state and a judge would have to make that determination, then I’m sure the state of Nevada would also require a hearing into your fitness to adopt.  I don’t think there would be a problem here with letting you take her back to Nevada to your home as a stopgap measure while waiting for any relatives to show up.

Probably the largest obstacle to overcome would be Nevada granting you permission, as an unmarried male, to adopt a 10-year-old girl. I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, just saying it might prove difficult.  However, I do know the reputation of the Cartwright family, so it mightn’t prove as difficult as it could be under other circumstances.  I will look into matters here on this end for you and contact you in a couple of days, if you wish me to.”

“That would be fine, Mr. James.   My son and I appreciate that very much.  Now we would like to visit Peggy.”

 “Yes, Mr. Cartwright, the Bishops knew of your planned arrival today and are hoping that you will come and spend some time with Peggy there this afternoon and stay to dinner.  They asked me to extend that invitation to you.  As I understand it,  Peggy is looking forward to seeing you.  They tell me she has taken this very hard, as would be expected, so they are hoping that seeing old friends will do her some good.

Ben and Adam stepped down from their hired carriage and walked up to the front door of the Bishops’ small home.  Adam knocked on the door and it was immediately opened by a white-haired elderly lady with a smile and a kind face.

“Good afternoon gentlemen, you must be the Cartwrights.  I’m Clarice Bishop and I’m very happy to meet you and to have you here.”

Ben and Adam returned her gracious greeting and they stepped into the house.  Her husband was waiting behind her to meet them.  He also was  a kind-appearing man and greeted them warmly. Both Cartwrights could see the man was fighting obvious pain, but making every effort to extend himself for their benefit.  They saw now what the lawyer had meant.  It was obvious that Mrs. Bishop would be having enough on her hands taking care of her husband without the added burden of a young child.  Adam felt himself doubly grateful that they had taken on the care of Peggy, albeit temporarily.

“Mr. Cartwright and Adam, Mrs. Bishop stated,” Peggy is waiting in her room.  She has been anxiously awaiting your arrival, but has also been a little shy about it. I think she would be very happy if you stepped in there to see her and it would afford you more privacy for your first meeting in such a long time.”

Ben turned to his son, “Adam, why don’t you see her first. I think that would be best. I can stay here and visit with the Bishops while you talk with her.”

“Okay, Pa,” Adam agreed, “You may be right.”  Mr. Bishop pointed to the door of the room where Peggy was staying and Adam knocked lightly and heard a soft, “Come in.”

 Peggy had been waiting in her room since early morning in anticipation of Adam and Mr. Cartwright’s arrival.  She was so surprised when she heard the news that they were coming.  She had been so dreadfully lonely since …… the accident.   She could hardly stand to think about that.  She pushed it out of her mind.

Instead she thought about Adam.  He had always been so nice to her and answered every letter she wrote to him.  He sent her things, too.  Books, pictures, some pretties for her hair.  He never missed her birthday or Christmas.  She remembered back to when she thought he would be her new daddy, only before she knew what was happening, it wasn’t Adam,  it was Will.  Truthfully, she had never really forgiven her mother for that.  She loved her mother with all her heart, but her mother kept changing her mind about things – one minute it was one thing, the next it was another.  She sighed.  She would give anything to have her mother back, though.  But deep within her, she resolved to never be like that.  She was determined that when she made a decision about something, she would stick to it.

She had hoped Adam might come, but she had gotten so used to bad things happening anymore, she couldn’t bring herself to really believe that he might really come.  First her daddy had died, then she was so disappointed that her mother and Adam had not married, and now this – her mother and father both gone forever, Aunt Lil gone, and now there was no one.

But even if Adam came to visit her, she thought to herself, what did that really mean?  She couldn’t hope that he would take her back home with them.  When she had hinted at this to Mrs. Bishop, she could tell that Mrs. Bishop didn’t think that was likely to happen.  Peggy had been told what may be happening to her.  They had been truthful with her about that.  She shuddered to think about it.  She had heard about orphanages, places where children went to live when they had no family anymore, and it scared her – very much.

Well, even if Adam couldn’t take her back with him, it still made her happy that she would be able to see him again, even it if were only for a short visit.

He opened the door and saw Peggy sitting in a rocking chair with a rag doll clutched in her arms, the very same doll Adam had given her before she left Virginia City.  She looked up at him.  He could see deep sadness in the little girl’s eyes.  He closed the door behind him and walked to her, lowering himself onto one knee.

He saw tears form in her eyes and she reached out to him.  He gathered her into his arms, picked her up, then switched places with her on the chair, holding her in his lap as she softly cried against his shoulder.

“Oh, Adam, I’m so glad to see you. I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again ever.”

 “Sweetheart, I wouldn’t let that happen. You and I are always going to be good friends.  I’m so sorry, darling, about your mother and Will.   How are you doing?  I understand that you were hurt, too.”

“Oh, just hurt my head a little bit.  I got thrown out before the wagon crashed down the hill.”  She started to cry freely and Adam pulled her closer and stroked her pretty blonde hair.

“Adam, I miss my mommy so much.  I don’t know what to do.  I didn’t want her to leave me, and I feel bad about Will, too.  He really tried to be nice to me.”

“I know he did, Peggy, and I’m sure he knew how you really felt ,sweetie.”

 “But I wasn’t very nice to him, Adam,” she cried.

“Well those things take time, honey.  You remember that Joe’s mother wasn’t my real mother, don’t you?”

She nodded.  “Well, I wasn’t very nice to her at first either.  It just took time and then we became very close.  That would have happened to you and Will eventually, sweetheart, I’m sure.”

Peggy wasn’t so sure about that, but she accepted Adam’s words.  It felt so good to have him hold her and rock her in the chair.  No one had ever rocked her but her mother.   Even her daddy hadn’t ever rocked her that she could remember, but then he hadn’t ever been home very much, now that she thought about it.

Adam continued to rock her and stroke her hair.  She snuggled up to him and the sobbing started to fade, finally leaving her with just a small hiccup now and then.

“Peggy, my father is here with me too.  He’s in the front room with Mr. and Mrs. Bishop.  Wouldn’t you like to go out and see him?  I know he wants to see you.”

 “Okay, Adam.  I want to see him, too.  I remember when mommy and I lived at your house for a while.  He was so nice.”

“Yes, honey, he is nice and he’s been very worried about you, too, and wanted to come down and see you just like I did.  Let’s get up and go out there, okay?”  He put her gently on the floor, stood up and taking her hand in his, they opened her door.

As they came into the living room, Ben stood up, walked over to them, then knelt down to look her in the eyes and took hold of her shoulders.  “Hello, Peggy, darling.  I’m so glad to see you.”  Ben took her into his arms in a hug and she responded, “Hello Mr. Cartwright.  Thank you for coming to visit me.  I’m awfully glad to see you and Adam.”

“Well, thank you young lady,” Ben said as he got to his feet again.  “Why don’t you come over and sit here on the settee with me.”

Ben and Adam sat there with Peggy in between as they visited with her and with the Bishops.  Mrs. Bishop was in and out of the kitchen with her dinner preparations.

Ben watched Peggy as she sat there with Adam’s arm around her.  He could see the sadness in her blue eyes and had a very good idea of how she was feeling and sensed her fears.   He couldn’t bring himself to think of her in an orphanage either and began to understand more fully Adam’s feelings about the matter.  He just prayed it would all work out for Adam and for Peggy’s sakes.  He certainly had no objection to taking this child into their home, and from the short talk he had had with Joe and Hoss before they left, he knew that they would not object either – especially Hoss who loved all children.

 They visited with Peggy for many hours over the next two days until they got word from Lawyer James that a judge had decided, on the basis of his own knowledge of the Cartwright family’s reputation, to allow them to take her home with them at least until the six-month waiting period was over.  They would need to have their family lawyer in Virginia City look into making more permanent legal arrangements.

Adam had not broached this subject to Peggy until he was sure that they would be able to take her home.  Now that he was sure, he proceeded to the Bishops to give this news to all of them.  He wasn’t totally sure how Peggy would feel, but he had a fairly good idea.  Ben decided it would be better for him to handle it alone this time.

When he reached the Bishops, Peggy was in her room, so he first gave the news to Mr. and Mrs. Bishop.

“Adam, it’s been pretty obvious to us, Mrs. Bishop said, “that Peggy cares very much for you and your family.  I think this is a good decision for her and I know she will be happy to hear it.  She’s a lovely, sweet child, Adam.  She’s been through a lot and she needs some stability, finally.  I had many talks with Laura and I don’t think that child has had a real stable life for quite some time.”

 Adam was relieved to hear their feelings on the matter.  He knocked on Peggy’s door and entered.  She was sitting in the rocker again.  He thought to himself that they would have to fix up a nice room for her back home, decorated as prettily as could be for a little girl, and to be sure to remember to have a rocking chair in it.

She gave him a big smile and welcomed him back again.  Adam picked her up out of the chair,  and sat in it again, holding her in his lap once more.

“Peggy, darling, Pa and I just got some good news from your mother’s lawyer today.  I hope you think it is good news, too.”

“What is it, Adam?  What news?”

“Well, how would you feel about coming back home with us to the Ponderosa?  I know that Mr. James has told you that they have to advertise in the newspapers for six months to see if you have any relatives at all that may come forward to care for you.  Well, for that six months a judge has said that you can stay with us, and  then, Peggy, if there are no relatives to come forward, then Pa and I and my brothers would like you to stay with us always.  How would you feel about that, Peggy?”

Peggy’s blue eyes looked up into Adam’s warm brown ones, then she threw her arms around his neck and shouted, “Yes, oh, yes, Adam, I want to go home with you.  I’ve been so scared.  I thought I was going to have to go to that children’s home and I didn’t want to.  Are you sure about this?  I can really go with you?  I can stay there forever and ever?”

“Yes, Peggy, I’m sure.  But you need to remember, sweetheart, there is always a possibility within the next, well not quite six  months now, that there may be some member of your family that you never knew about who might read about this and want to take care of you, too.”

“I hope not, Adam,” she said and then blushed…..”Uh… I’d rather stay with you, if you really want me too.”

“Well, I really want you to, Peggy, but I just want you to understand that could happen, okay?”

“Okay, Adam, I understand.  I’m just so happy that I can go with you for now.  I won’t  ask for anything else.”

At that Adam thought to himself, “This poor baby, always something more to worry about.  Hope this next six months goes by fast so we can just settle it finally.”

After a few weeks, Peggy was settled in completely at the Ponderosa and the men of the Ponderosa wondered what life had been like before she came.  Adam hired  widowed Frances MacPherson, known affectionately to everyone as “Mrs. Mac” as a “housekeeper” to look after Peggy.   Mrs. Mac had fluffy white hair, a merry face, and was as wide as she was tall.  Adam had known Mrs. Mac most of his  life.  Her husband had once worked for Ben, but had died of a heart attack about five years before.  She had then worked out of a small house in Virginia City as a seamstress.  She had raised two daughters of her own to their teenage years, but they had both died of the fever a long time ago.  She loved children and was more than happy to come out to the ranch and watch over Peggy.  There was a small battle at the beginning as regards her place in the household vs. Hop Sing’s, but her good nature got through even to him and they worked out a truce and a separation of duties that was acceptable to both.

Adam had fixed up a beautiful room for Peggy to the point that Ben had to give him a warning teasingly about spoiling her.  There was indeed a rocking chair in her room and many a night, Adam would hold Peggy on his lap, rocking her and either reading to her, telling her stories or singing old lullabies that he remembered Marie singing to Little Joe.  Peggy loved it when he sang to her and some of the most happy times the family had were when he would get his guitar out in the evening before they went to bed, and he would either play and sing for them or have them all join in with him.

Those outside the family and even Mrs. Mac seemed surprised at Adam’s fatherly instincts, but Ben knew Adam’s heart and had all his life, and he was very proud of his oldest son.  It was no surprise to Hoss and Little Joe either.  Both remembered very well after Marie died who they had turned to when Ben had sank into a depression for a few months after her death.  Those same lullabies that Adam now sang to Peggy, he had once sung to Little Joe.

None of the family believed that there were any relatives existing to come forth and announce themselves, so they pretty much went on preparing for Adam to legally adopt Peggy when the six months were up.  John Duncan, their Virginia City lawyer, had already had the legal papers drawn up and had dozens of sworn affidavits attesting to the moral integrity of the Cartwright family, including one from the Governor of the Nevada Territory.  He was certain that, unless a relative showed up, there would be no obstacle to Adam’s adoption of Peggy.

One evening just prior to Peggy going to bed, as she and Adam rocked in the chair, she asked him how much longer before the six months would be up.

“Well, sweetie, the time will be up in just about five weeks from now.  That’s really not very long at all.  I’m really looking forward to the day that happens, Peggy.  Then you will legally be my daughter.”

“Adam, will my name be Cartwright then, too?”

“Well, Peggy it will be if you want it to be.  What would you think about that?  You could be Peggy Dayton Cartwright if you would like to.  I’d like to give you my name if you would like to have it, honey.”

“I think I’d like that, Adam, then you will really be my daddy always and forever, right?”

Adam hugged the little girl closer and answered, “Always and forever, Peggy,  that’s exactly right.”

“So  then your Pa would be my Grandpa, right?”

 “That’s right, Peg.”

“And so Little Joe and Hoss will be my uncles?”

“That’s right, too, sweetheart.  How about that, Uncle Joe and Uncle Hoss.  Sounds good, huh?”

“Adam, do you think your Pa would mind if I called him Grandpa?  I’ve never had a Grandpa before.”

Adam bent down and kissed the top of her head as he answered, “Sweetie, I think my Pa would absolutely love for you to call him Grandpa.  I have no doubt about that at all.  He loves you very much, you know.  We all do, Peggy.”

Peggy’s eyes were beginning to droop, but she said, “I love all of you, too, Adam, but I have one more question, okay?”

 “Okay, Peg, but then it’s into bed with you.  You’re just about asleep right now.  What’s the question?”

“Well, ……if your Pa will be my Grandpa, and Joe and Hoss will be my uncles, and you will be my daddy…um……do you think I could call you Daddy?

Adam drew a sharp breath and felt moisture in his eyes, “Honey, that would make me the happiest and proudest man in this whole territory if you wanted to call me Daddy.  I was hoping you would want to, Peggy, but I didn’t know how you would feel about that ’cause I know how much you loved your real daddy.”

 Peggy turned her face up to look at him and reached her hand up to his cheek where she saw a tear.  Adam reached up for her hand and kissed the palm.  “Adam, I did love my real daddy, but I hardly ever saw him my whole life really.  He was gone an awful lot of the time.”

She snuggled closer to Adam and thought about how good he always smelled to her.  She could separate out the scent of the soap he always used, the bay rum he used after shaving and the slight scent of the of the starch Hop Sing used in all their shirts.  She remembered her daddy smelled of cigar smoke and whisky all the time.  She knew it was whisky because her mother used to get angry with him for drinking it so much and she heard what her mother called it.  She loved him with all her heart, but she loved Adam too and she felt safe with him, probably the first time in her whole life that she felt completely safe and happy.  He didn’t drink all that whisky like her real daddy had and act all funny like he used to after he had been drinking.  Adam never acted that way.  She knew Adam loved her, too.  He told her many times that he did and she loved it when he rocked her like this.  It always made her feel so good.  Sometimes it reminded her of when her mother used to rock her, but she never felt this safe even with her mother.

“Would it be okay if I started right now….uh, Daddy?”

 Adam drew her up into his arms with her head on his shoulder and hugged her just as tight as he could, “You certainly can, Miss Peggy Cartwright,  always and forever.”

He picked her up, turned back the covers of her bed, helped her take her robe off and tucked her in tightly, leaving the lamp turned down low.  “Good night, darling.  I love you very much.”

“I love you, too, Daddy.”

When he went back downstairs, he found Hoss and Joe still engaged in their never-ending checkers game and Ben reading the newspaper.

 He sat down on the table and gazed into the fire.  “Uh, Pa, Joe, Hoss…I’ve got something to tell you.”

Ben put the paper down, “What is it, son?  Is something wrong?”  Joe and Hoss  were both looking at him questioningly, also.

 He smiled, “No nothing’s wrong at all.  Just wanted to warn you all that Peggy is probably going to start calling you all a little something different starting tomorrow.”

“Whaddya mean, Adam?” Hoss inquired.

 “Well, she just asked me if it would be okay to call you two Uncle Joe and Uncle Hoss, and, Pa, if she could start calling you Grandpa.”

 Ben smiled,  “Son, that would please me very, very much, it surely would.  It’s certainly taken you fellas long enough to make me into a Grandpa and I really like the sound of that.”

 Adam grinned at Ben and said, “Thanks, Pa.”

It was now just three weeks before the big day.  They had arranged for the adoption to be formalized on the day after the six-month waiting period.  Ben and the boys were planning a big party to introduce the new member of their family to the Virginia City community, although all their friends were already well aware of the situation and were happy for the family.  Many thought it was about time there was a woman’s touch in that household, even if it only consisted of a housekeeper and a young child.

Hoss had just returned from escorting Peggy to school that morning.  Each of the Cartwright men were trading off taking her to school and back each day.  Hoss met up with Adam and Joe at the branding corral to start the day’s work.

 Hank, one of their hands, came riding out to the corral mid-morning that day and told Adam, Joe and Hoss that their father wanted them to return right away to the ranch.  They were surprised, but rode back.  They saw an unfamiliar buggy sitting by the front porch.

Upon entering, they saw John Duncan talking with Ben by the fire.  “Well, hello John, Adam smiled, what brings you out here, got some more paperwork for me to sign?”  He pulled up short when he saw the serious looks on John and Ben’s faces.

He asked in a strained voice, “There’s something wrong, isn’t there?  Tell me.”

 Ben looked at Adam sadly, then turned to John.  John didn’t relish his task this day.  “Adam, I’m afraid something has come up.  I don’t know quite know how to tell you this, but a relative has turned up and petitioned for Peggy’s custody.”

Adam looked absolutely stricken, “What are you talking about, John?  There can’t be anybody else.  Laura told me herself that her Aunt Lil was her last living relative and that Frank had no one.”

“Well, Adam,” John stated sadly, “It turns out Frank does have a brother.  He and his wife turned up here yesterday.  They already had made their petition in Carson City last week.  His name Is Jack Dayton and he’s here with his wife, Mary.   Says he and Frank were split up when they were in their teens with Frank going with his mother and Jack with his father.  Both their parents have long since died and they had virtually no contact since that time.  He says he didn’t know until he read the newspaper notice that Frank was even dead, though he did know that Frank had married Laura and had a child.  Uh…..Adam, I’m real sorry about this whole thing.”

“Sorry, you’re sorry?  Well, this can’t be John.  I won’t accept this. I don’t care if he’s Frank’s brother or not.  If he hasn’t cared enough to keep in touch all these years, then why should he care now, and why would he want to take in a child that he doesn’t even know?  And why wouldn’t Frank even tell Laura he had a brother?  No, I don’t believe it and I won’t accept it.  Peggy already thinks of me as her father and that this is her family.  I’m not going to have her hurt again and think she has to go off with strangers.  It’s not going to happen.  Even if I have to take her out of the territory, even out of the country.  I won’t give her up now.”

 “Now, son, Ben said soothingly.  Let’s hear John out on this.  There must be a legal way to handle this without you thinking about going off.  We all love Peggy.  I consider her my grandchild now.  We won’t give her up.  We’ll find some way, I promise you, son.”

Adam threw his hat onto the table in front of the fire.  “Pa, I’ll listen to John and I’ll go through whatever legalities he thinks best, but if it comes down to it, I’m not letting her go.  She is my child now and I’m not giving her up for anybody or anything, just isn’t going to happen.”

Ben knew Adam meant it and so did Joe and Hoss.

Ben and Adam decided to go into town and meet this Mrs. and Mrs. Jack Dayton and see what was going on for themselves. John Duncan had recommended against it, but Adam was determined and Ben didn’t want him going alone.

 They were registered at the Hotel International.  Ben sent up a message asking them to meet with them for lunch in the hotel’s restaurant.  They sat at their usual table and gave the waiter the word to send the Daytons to them if they arrived. Soon the waiter brought the couple in.  They stood and exchanged introductions.  Adam immediately saw the resemblance in Jack to Frank and it made his heart sink.  Jack was handsome like Frank, but there was that same, almost dissipated look that Frank had.  Even though Frank was a young man, the drink had been getting to him and Adam felt the same way about this man.  Frank was also a gambler and this man had that same look about him, too.  Mary Dayton, although dressed conservatively, gave both Ben and Adam the impression that something about her just didn’t fit.

 “Well, I’m pleased to meet you two gentleman,” Jack said.  I’ve heard a lot around here about the Cartwrights and I appreciate everything you all have done for my niece. “

Well, Mr. Dayton, “Ben mused, “We do find it a little strange that Peggy is not even aware that she has an uncle, or that you never made an effort to see her or her family in all these years until now.”

Ben was starting to wonder if Peggy’s inheritance might have something to do with their sudden appearance.  Ben had already made arrangements to transfer his share of Will and Laura’s ranch over to her, feeling that was the fair thing to do under any circumstances and especially since she was about to become his granddaughter, but he knew that was a drop in the bucket compared to the legacy from Laura’s Aunt Lil.  Could this man be just looking for the money involved, he asked himself.

“Mr. Cartwright, as you may know my brother and I haven’t seen each other since I was 14 years old.  We exchanged a letter now and again, so I knew he was married and had a child, but we weren’t close.  But Peggy is my niece.  My wife and I haven’t been blessed with children.  Peggy is my blood relation.  We want to take care of her now.  We appreciate everything  your family has done for her, but now we feel it’s our turn to take care of her and make a home for her.”

 Adam’s face turned red, “Look here Dayton, you didn’t seem to feel the need to make any effort to see Peggy before now, then all of a sudden when you hear that she may be coming into some money, you show up.  I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it.”

Ben reached over and put a restraining hand on Adam’s arm.  He knew they would get nowhere making direct accusations.  It would only serve to get Jack Dayton’s back up.  He could see that.

“Well, I’m sorry, Pa, but that’s the way I see it and I don’t care if they know what I think.   Peggy is happy with us, she loves us.  I’m not going to let anybody turn her world upside down again, especially not the likes of Mr. Jack Dayton.”

 Dayton stood up quickly and pulled his wife up with him.  “All right Cartwright.  I see how things are now.  Well, we’ll just let the law take care of this matter.  My lawyer has told me that the law is on my side in this.  I have proof that Frank was my brother.  Peggy is my blood relation.  I have a wife to be her mother.  The court is going to be on my side in this and there’s nothing you can do about it.  Come on, Mary.”

 With that, he strode off pulling Mary close behind.

Ben sighed.  Adam clenched his fists in anger.  He had blown it and he knew it, but he just couldn’t help it.  There was no way in hell he was going to let those two have Peggy.  She was his now, just as much as if she had been born to him and he wasn’t going to let anybody take her away from him, blood relation or not.

 Ben  and Adam stayed in town until school was out so they could escort Peggy home together.  Adam asked Ben not to say anything about the turn of events just yet.  He was still seething over the whole situation and didn’t feel it was the right  time to tell her.

 “She’ll have to be told soon, son.  News like this gets around fast.”

 “I know that, Pa.  Just give me until tomorrow to figure out how to tell her.  Tomorrow is Saturday.  She won’t be around anybody who’ll let it slip before then.  Please just give me until tomorrow.”

 “All right, son, if you think that’s best.”

 So they picked her up, took her home and spent the evening as usual, but there was nothing usual going through any of the men’s minds that night.  Peggy sensed something was amiss, but was almost afraid to ask what was wrong.  Adam rocked her again that evening until she actually fell asleep in his arms – he hated to put her down.  Finally, though, he slipped her robe off and tucked her into bed without waking her – at least he thought without waking her.

He went downstairs and talked the matter over with Ben and his brothers.  They told him they would stand behind him in whatever he decided to do, but Ben counseled him to at least give the law a chance to work before making such a major decision as leaving with her.  In truth, Ben did not want to see Peggy go to Jack and Mary Dayton at all, no matter what the court decided.  He had made a determination in his own mind about their fitness to have her, as he knew Adam had.  He had always taught his sons to abide by the law, but in this case he knew it would be a terrible injustice for this child to be given to that couple.  On the other hand, it hurt his soul to think of Adam and Peggy leaving the territory.

 Unfortunately, as they hashed all this out, Peggy had softly left her room and sat next to the wall at the top of the stairs.  When she finally realized just what they were talking about, the men heard a loud, “NO!”

Adam looked up the stairs and then quickly started up them.  “NO, NO, I WON’T GO WITH THEM.  I WON’T, I WON’T.”  Peggy was sobbing uncontrollably by the time Adam reached her.  He had never seen her like this before.  She was screaming and crying.  “I WANT TO STAY HERE WITH YOU, DADDY.  YOU’RE MY DADDY NOW.  YOU SAID SO, ALWAYS AND FOREVER, YOU SAID.  I WON’T GO WITH THOSE PEOPLE.  YOU CAN’T MAKE ME GO.  NO ONE CAN MAKE ME GO.”  Adam sat on the top step and took her into his lap.

“Listen to me,sweetheart.  I promise you that you won’t have to go with them.  I am your father now.  Nothing is ever going to change that.  We may have to go to court and have a hearing, but whatever happens you are going to stay with me.  I promise you that, Peggy.  Do you hear me?  I promise you.”

Ben, Joe and Hoss gathered around them.  “Darling,” Ben said gently “everything is going to be all right, Peggy.”  We’ll work it out some way.  Now don’t you worry about it.  Your daddy and me and your uncles here, we’ll work it out.”

“That’s right sugarplum,” chimed in Hoss, “whatever it takes, you and Adam are going to be together.  You are part of the family now, Peg, and nothin’s gonna change that.”

“You betcha, Peggy,” said Joe, “we’re not gonna give you up for anything or anybody.  Now don’t you worry.”

Adam gave a grateful look to his family.  Mrs. Mac had come out of her room and was trying to soothe Peggy, also.

 “All right now, honey, I’m going to take you back to bed now and I don’t want you to give it another thought.  It’s all going to work out okay, I promise.”  Adam meant that promise.  Whatever it took, he would never let her go.

 Peggy’s sobs had subsided to an extent by then and she allowed Adam to take her off to bed again.  He placed her on one side of the bed, then laid down with her on the other side and held her in the crook of his arm until she finally went to sleep.


The next morning, Ben and Adam again went to town and had a long discussion with John Duncan.  They all went to the telegraph office and sent out many wires in search of the truth about Jack and Mary Dayton.  Ben even wired the Pinkerton Detective Agency and hired them to look into the situation.

Within a week, they had answers back.  There did exist proof that Jack was Frank’s brother.  Adam hadn’t doubted that.  He could well see the resemblance.  Jack had left with his father when he was 14, but only stayed with him another two years, then his father had kicked him out of the house.  Jack was never one to want to work with his hands, except with a deck of cards.  That was apparently how he made his living, sometimes as a dealer in various gambling houses in the West, and at other times gambling on his own.  Mary was a saloon girl that he had met in Dodge City, Kansas.  There was proof of their marriage there, also.  Jack was known as a gambler, heavy drinker and womanizer in every large city west of the Missouri, but he was Peggy’s uncle, of that there was no doubt.  And he had never been charged or convicted of a crime.  There were many who had suspected he drew from the bottom of the deck, but none who could ever prove it.

Under those circumstances, John Duncan was afraid, even with his reputation, that he could gain custody of Peggy.

 “John, we know he only wants her to get his hands on her inheritance – we all know that.  Surely the judge will see that, too,” Ben reasoned.

 “Ben, yes, we all know that and the judge may even suspect that to be the case, but the fact of the matter is the law is on his side in this matter.  The judge has a certain amount of discretion, but in almost every case most judges would give custody to the blood relative.”

Adam was quiet and withdrawn as John and his father talked in John’s office.  He was going over in his mind just where and how he would take Peggy and at what point.  Should he wait until after the court hearing?  What if they were given immediate custody and he didn’t have a chance to get away with her?  Maybe it would be better just to take her now.  He hated leaving his family and hated taking Peggy away from a place where he knew she was happy.  But he didn’t have a choice.  He would never relinquish this child to them, never.

 Ben watched Adam and he knew what was going through his mind.  He asked himself what he would do in the same circumstances.  He knew Adam loved Peggy just as much as Ben loved his own sons.  He knew he would do the same as Adam was contemplating if it came down to no more choices.

 As they walked out of John’s office, Ben put his hand on Adam’s arm.  “Let’s stop for a minute, son.  I need to talk with you about something.”

 “What, Pa?”

 “Adam, I know what you are planning and I don’t blame you.  Your brothers and I told you we would stand behind you in whatever decision you make and we will.  The only thing I’d ask of you, son, is when you make your decision, whatever it may be, please let me know in advance.  That’s all I’m asking of you.  To put it plainly, if you decide to take Peggy and leave the territory, all I ask is that you let me know first.  Can you do that for me, son?”

 Adam stared off down the street, but he said, “Yes, Pa, I can do that.  Whatever I decide to do, I’ll give you fair warning.”

 Ben breathed a sigh of relief.  “Thanks, Adam.  Son, I know how hard this is, believe me I do.  Why don’t you head on back home now.  I have a few errands to take care of here in town, and then I’ll bring Peggy home from school for you.”

Adam gave Ben a questioning look, but acquiesced and said he would see him at home later.

 Ben watched his son mount up and head for home, then immediately headed himself for the telegraph office.  He made a couple of more stops before picking up Peggy and delivering her home.

Peggy was still upset over what she had heard the evening before. Ben tried to reassure her as best he could, but he knew she wouldn’t be reassured about anything really until this was all over.

 Each day for the next week, Ben went into Virginia City, telling the boys he had ranch business matters to take care of.

 As each day passed, he saw Adam becoming more restless and depressed.  Adam always put up a good front for Peggy, but Ben saw through it.

At one point, Mrs. Mac confronted Adam and told him of her suspicions about his plans.  He tried to avoid her questions, until she finally said, “Adam, I’ve known you most all your life.  I know you are going to keep your promise to that child.  I just want you to know that I don’t have any family of my own anymore, but now all of you have become my family.  I love Peggy as much as if she were my own, too, and if you decide to take her and leave, then I’m going with you, whether you want me or not.”

Adam smiled at this kindly lady, “Mrs. Mac, we wouldn’t think of leaving without you.  Thank you, thank you for everything.”

 Joe and Hoss also had a private conversation with him and assured him they would do anything to help, but that they were both praying that everything would work out legally.

Adam was thankful for all their support.  He would hate to leave them, but Peggy came first for him now.  He finally understood everything his father had ever told him about how he would someday feel when he had children of his own.  He couldn’t conceive of loving any child more than he loved Peggy.

 Finally, one morning a week before the court hearing, upon finishing breakfast, Ben gathered up some papers from his safe, put them in a leather case and said he had business in town and would drop Peg at school.

 After leaving her at school, he made two more stops, then proceeded to the International House and inquired of the desk clerk the room number for the Daytons.

He knocked on their door.  “Yeah,” Jack Dayton answered.

 “It’s Ben Cartwright here Mr. Dayton.  I need to have a word with you.”  On the way to town that morning, he had studied the situation over in his mind.  Jack Dayton was a gambler, but just how much risk was he willing to take?  He was also a heavy drinker and Ben knew that men like that tended to need instant gratification.  Ben was taking a gamble himself that that trait of Dayton’s would override the gambling side of his personality.

Dayton opened the door with a frown.  “Listen here, Cartwright, you and I don’t have anything to talk about. It’ll all be said in court next week.

Ben put his boot against the door as Dayton started to close it.

 “Mr. Dayton, you are a man interested in money.  You and I both know that.  Well, I’m a man with money and I think you and I do have something to talk about.”

Dayton grunted and turned his back and walked across to his wife, who was sitting in front of a small table in the room.  Ben went through the door and closed it quietly.  He walked over to the table and put the leather case down, then opened it up.  The Daytons could see that it was chockfull of telegrams, legal papers and what looked to be a large amount of paper money tied up in small packets.

Ben felt safe enough bringing the money with him to their room.  Sheriff Coffee and a few others, including the desk clerk, were aware of his destination this morning.

“Dayton, my son and I and our lawyers have been making some inquiries into this entire situation.  I’ve even hired the Pinkertons to look into your story.  He saw Mary blush at that news.

“Well, so what if you have, Cartwright,” Dayton raised his voice, “I ain’t got nothin’ to hide.”

“Mr. Dayton, I’ve also done some other investigating that I’d like to tell you about.”

“You are most likely aware that Peggy will inherit one-half of her mother’s and my nephew’s ranch when she reaches the age of majority, which in the State of California is 21 – eleven long years from now.  The other half of the ranch goes to me.”

“You are also probably aware that at 21 she will inherit Laura’s aunt’s estate.  You know Laura and Will were young.  When you’re that young, you don’t think too much about wills and such, so they didn’t have one, but Lillian Manford was a shrewd woman who had been around and seen a lot.  It may interest you to know that she left her estate to Laura, but in the event of Laura’s death, the estate goes to Peggy when she turns 21.  During those eleven years, only a small allowance will be forthcoming from that estate, only enough to cover the minimal cost of her food and shelter.

“Now, tell me, Mr. Dayton, how do you think Peggy is going to feel about you two at the end of eleven years?  You will have taken her from the home she loves and the people who love her.  That’s your starting point and knowing Peggy as I do, I would imagine by the time she is 21, she will want nothing whatsoever to do with you, much less share any part of her inheritance with you.”

Dayton was glaring at Ben by this time, but had nothing to say.

“Now, let’s take this a step further, Mr. Dayton.  Suppose something should happen to Peggy before she reaches the age of 21.  Now most people would think that her estate would then go to her nearest living relative, which would be you, Mr. Dayton.”

“But here’s the rub.  According to my inquiries, and I have all the information here if you wish to read it, Lillian Manford wrote in her will that should Peggy Dayton die before her 21st birthday, and should she have no child of her own, then the estate reverts back to the State of California to be divided amongst several different charities so named in Mrs. Manford’s will.”

Ben saw the look of shock pass between the Daytons.  He realized he had been on the right track all along.

“Okay, Mr. Dayton, I think you can see how things stand here now, but maybe you still think that taking on the care of a 10-year-old child would be worth that living allowance each month.”

“However,  wouldn’t it be that much better to go away from here without a child to care for, but still a rich man?”

He could see Dayton’s ears virtually prick up at that.

“Dayton, I’m willing to hand over $50,000 cash on the line to you under two conditions.  Number one is that you will go to Judge Applegate’s office and sign a document relinquishing any rights of custody you may have to Peggy permanently, and a document stating you will not return to Nevada and will have no further contact with Peggy.

“Number two is that after having done that, you will leave on the noon stage today for Sacramento.  At the door of that stage, I will hand over this case with the $50,000.  At no time while we are in the presence of the judge or my attorney will any mention be made of this money.  I think you know my reputation.  I give you my word of honor that I will hand over the $50,000.”

 “You do have a choice here, Dayton.  You can leave here a rich man, no questions asked, or if you are granted custody of Peggy, you will live with someone watching over your shoulder ever minute of your life until that girl turns 21.  I can afford to have that done and I will have that done.  The choice is yours, Dayton.”

Jack and Mary Dayton did indeed leave that day on the noon stage for Sacramento, $50, 000 richer than when they came.  Judge Applegate and John Duncan gave Ben rather knowing looks as the documents were signed earlier, but there was little said at the meeting.  The judge did assure Ben that he would sign off on the formal adoption the day after the six-month waiting period was up at the end of the next week.

Ben rode immediately home to tell Adam the good news.  He found Adam at Ben’s desk supposedly working on the books, but Ben had a feeling he hadn’t  progressed much on them since morning.

“Son, I have some really good news to tell you.”

Adam turned in the chair towards his father, “Yeah, what good news, Pa?  I’m about due for some, I think.”

“Son, the Daytons just left on the stage for Sacramento.  Jack Dayton signed over all custody rights to Peggy.  Judge Applegate told me he will sign the adoption papers next week.”

Adam stood up quickly, a perplexed look on his face that changed  to a huge smile, the kind of smile not seen too often on Adam Cartwright, but when it appeared it could light up the darkest of rooms, thought his father.

“Pa, what’re you talking about?  Do you really mean it?  Is it really true, Pa?”  Adam and Ben gripped each other’s arms.

Ben laughed, “Yes it’s all true, Adam.  She’s yours, really yours.  The whole Jack Dayton problem is over and done with, never to be worried about again.  Congratulations, son!”

Adam was laughing with his father.    He felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders, all in an instant.  Peggy was his, he never had to worry about Jack Dayton again, he didn’t have to take Peggy away to keep her.  It was so wonderful he could hardly believe it.

Then something hit him.  He stopped laughing and looked at Ben closely.  “But, Pa, why would he just up and do this?  We couldn’t find anything on him that would make the judge grant her custody to me.  What happened, Pa…..  I know, you paid him off, didn’t you Pa?”

Ben knew this moment had to come and that he would have to tell Adam the truth.  There was no way around it.  Adam knew every aspect of their financial situation, probably better than even he did himself.

Ben turned and walked over to the fireplace with Adam following behind.  “Tell me, Pa, you paid him to leave, didn’t you?”

Ben turned to him again, “Yes, son, I paid him to leave.  We were right all along.  He just wanted money, that’s all he wanted.  Well now he has it and he doesn’t have to take care of a child to get it.  He’s happy, but we’re even happier, so it’s all worked out.”

“How much, Pa?  How much to pay off the bastard?”

“$50,000,” Ben answered in a low voice.

$50,000!  Pa, where did you get $50,000.  We couldn’t get $50,000 cash together in a month much less this short time.  I’m not even sure we could do it at all.  What did you do, Pa?  Tell me.”

“Well, son …..uh,  I sold the Southern Tahoe Strip to Jim Stewart.  You know he’s been after me to sell it to him for 20 years.  He paid more than top dollar.”

“But Pa, you couldn’t have.  You said you’d never sell that piece.  It’s one of the most prime pieces of property on the Ponderosa.   How could you do that?”

“Adam, I’ve always told you boys that I would never hold my land above my sons.  Well, I don’t hold it above any member of my family, including my grandchild.”

“But, Pa, Joe and Hoss have a stake in that land, too.  I don’t see how you could just sell it off like that.”

“Joe and Hoss know all about it son, and they agreed completely to this, without a second’s hesitation either, I might add.”

At that moment, both brothers came rushing into the house.  “Pa,” Joe almost yelled the question, “did it work?  Did he go for it?  Is it over now?”

Ben turned to them, “Yes, son, he went for it, greedy man that he was.  He signed the papers this morning and left on the noon stage.”

“Yee-haw!”  Hoss yelled and then grabbed Adam’s arms, “I’m so glad for ya, Adam.  Now we can have that little gal here permanent, no more worries.  Aren’t ya, happy, Adam?”

They all saw the tears start to glisten in Adam’s eyes.   He could hardly choke the words out, “I don’t know how to thank you all….I don’t know what to say.”

Joe put his hand on his big brother’s shoulder, “Adam you don’t have anything to thank us for.  We all love Peggy.  She needed to be with you, but we didn’t want you off somewhere worried about whether the law was behind you all the time, and we wanted her here with us.  She’s family now and you both belong here with us.”

“It’ll take some time, but I’ll pay you all back,” Adam insisted.

“Pay us back?  Don’t you ever say that again, older brother,” Joe said,  “the only payback we want is to be able to watch Peggy grow up here where she belongs.  That’s all you owe to us, Adam.”

Adam reached for his little brother and embraced him, then turned and hugged Hoss, then his father.  They all had tears flowing  by that time.

“Hoss finally spoke up, “Well now, Adam, according to that clock over there, you best be goin’ on into town and pickin’ up your daughter from school, or she’ll be left there wonderin’ where her daddy is.”

Adam glanced at the clock, realizing Hoss was right.  He thanked them all again with his eyes and raced out the door.

He and Peggy stopped along the way home and he told her that the Daytons had left and that there was no more obstacle in the formalization of the adoption.  That night he put to bed the happiest little girl in the Nevada Territory.

A week later, they all gathered in Judge Applegate’s office, the papers were signed and Peggy Dayton became Peggy Dayton Cartwright.

That night the Ponderosa held the biggest celebration party that anyone in that part of the territory ever remembered.  Adam got out his guitar and played and sang the happiest songs he could think of with everyone joining in, and Peggy sitting at his knee almost the entire time.

The party went on until the wee hours, but about two hours after Peggy’s regular bedtime, Mrs. Mac gathered her up and took her up to her room to get her dressed for bed.  After she was ready, Adam came in to put her to bed.  He sat in the chair and rocked her as usual, still humming some of the songs from earlier.

“Did you have a good time tonight, sweetie?” he asked.

She rubbed her sleepy eyes and answered, “I had the best time I ever had, Daddy, ‘specially since you are my real daddy now, right?  Always and forever for really now.”

He hugged her close and whispered, “Yes, honey, always and forever for real.”

He rocked her to sleep again, but fell asleep there with her, too, without a second thought for the guests downstairs.

Ben found them that way after he had seen the last of guests away and had come up to check on them.  He slipped into the room, took the quilt off Peggy’s bed and gently placed it over the father and daughter.  He smiled and softly closed the door, knowing how much the closeness meant to both of them.

By that time the rest of the household had all made their way to bed also, but Ben went back downstairs to his study area.  When he had handed over the case of money to Dayton on that morning of last week, he had first retrieved the telegrams, letters and legal documents and put them in his saddle bags, which he had brought into the house with him earlier this morning.

He opened up the bags and took the sheaf of papers out, then bent down and opened his safe.  There was one telegram still in the safe, which he took out and set aside on his desk.  He then gathered the others together, put them in the safe, closed it and locked it.  He picked up the lone telegram on his desk and walked with it over to the fire.

Ben  Cartwright was a man known far and wide for his honesty and integrity.  He had prided himself his whole life on telling the truth.  He fervently prayed that God would forgive him the whopper he had told last week in that hotel room.

 He took the telegram he had received from Lillian Manford’s lawyers and threw it into the fire and watched it slowly turn to ash, the smallest flicker of a smile on his face.

***The End***

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