Lessons Learned (by Sandy W)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  16,150


“Peg,” Adam scolded, “I saw the way you were racing Cricket this afternoon and jumping him over those bushes over in the East Meadow. I’ve warned you and warned you about that, haven’t I, young lady?”

“Well, yes, Daddy, but Cricket is a good jumper. You know that. Nothing’s going to happen. Uncle Joe showed me how to make the jumps just right so nothing happens.”

“Peggy, I don’t care what your Uncle Joe has shown you, I’ve told you not to do it. It’s dangerous and you’re too young to be taking those kinds of chances.”

“Honey, it’s just that I’m worried about you getting hurt. You need to be more careful. You never know what can happen when you’re on a horse, and jumping that high at your age is dangerous. Now do you understand what I’m telling you because I don’t want us to have this conversation again?”

Peggy hung her head, “Yes, Daddy, I understand.” She did understand. She knew he worried about her and she knew why. He had watched as Joe’s mother had been crushed by her horse from riding into the yard too fast. She also knew that Adam had seen her own father killed while trying to jump a fence, but her mother had finally admitted to her that her father was drunk when he tried that fence. She understood now what that meant.

It was just that she loved to ride so much; it felt so good with the wind whipping her hair, just letting Cricket go full speed, and jumping was even more fun. Daddy just didn’t seem to understand how much fun it was for her, but she would mind him this time because she knew he was getting very unhappy with her over the subject.

“Okay,” Peg, just make sure you do. Adam resolved to have a little talk with his brother, Joe, about this later.

Ben heard their conversation as he was walking out across the front porch. It reminded him of all the times he had warned Joe about the very same thing at just about the same age as Peggy. He knew Adam was in for some real interesting challenges in the next few years. He had raised only boys, but he had a feeling that raising this girl was not going to be a cakewalk for Adam.

“Hi, Grandpa,” Peg gave him a big smile, went over and took his arm and hugged it. Ben reached over with his other hand, tipped her chin up and kissed her forehead.

“Hello, yourself, young lady. How is my favorite granddaughter this afternoon? Haven’t seen you since Hop Sing brought you home from school today.”

I’m fine, Grandpa, just been riding Cricket for a while. I guess I better go in and help Hop Sing with dinner, huh?”

“Well, I think it’s getting near that time, sweetheart.”

Peggy heaved a deep sigh. Helping Hop Sing with dinner preparations was one of her regular chores. Everyone in the family had daily chores. It wasn’t her favorite thing to do, but she did enjoy chatting with Hop Sing while they worked. She skipped on in through the kitchen door, forgetting completely the scolding she had just received.

Ben and Adam sat down at the table on the porch. “Pa, I don’t know what I’m gonna do with her. She is taking more and more chances on that horse, and Joe isn’t helping any by showing her more about jumping.”

“Son, would you like me to speak to Joe about this? I’m sure he wouldn’t want her doing anything to get hurt, but you know how Joe is about horses. He can do just about anything with them and thinks that everyone else ought to be able to. You know he thinks Peggy is already a great rider.”

“Oh, Pa, I know that. I know Joe wouldn’t have Peggy hurt for the world. I just think she’s a little young to be attempting some of those jumps and galloping across the fields as fast as I saw her do today.”

“Well, I think you’re right about that, son. Uh…. I don’t think you need any advice from me, but I would maybe mention one little thing, if you don’t mind.”

“What’s that, Pa?”

“Hmmm, well, Adam…. you remember, when I was raising you boys, do you recollect how many chances I gave you when you disobeyed me?”

“How could I forget, Pa, you gave us one and only one. If we did something wrong, you warned us one time and then the next time, it was too late,” Adam laughed as he thought about it.

“I think I get what you’re saying, Pa. I guess I haven’t been as consistent as I should be with her, have I?”

“Well, this fatherhood thing is new for you, son, and I think I have an idea how you’re feeling. She’s only been here not quite a year and the first six months of that, we weren’t totally sure if she was going to be allowed to stay. And she’s a girl, and believe me, I’m seeing myself how they kind of twist us fellas around their little finger.”

“So you think she’s got me kind of buffaloed, huh, Pa? You’re thinking I need to be a little firmer with her if I want her to mind me.”

“Well, son, you are her father, not me. I’ll spoil her every chance I get, if you haven’t noticed,” he smiled.

“Yeah, Pa, you and about three or four other men around here, including Hop Sing and me – me maybe the worst. I’m thinkin’ you may be right about this, Pa.”

“Adam, I wouldn’t interfere between you and Peggy for anything, but just thought I was kind of seeing a pattern develop that maybe you were too close to the subject to see for yourself. Believe me, I do understand. She’s such a loveable child, it’s hard to say no to her – sure is for me.”

Adam and Ben watched Hoss and Joe approach them from the barn. They had just arrived earlier from being out digging postholes all day.

“Pa, has Hop Sing got supper started yet? My ole stomach’s so empty, I almost wanted to start gnawing on some leather out there in the barn.” Hoss had a pained expression on his face.

Joe laughed, “Stomach’s empty? Hop Sing put four sandwiches in your lunch. How could your stomach be empty already?”

“Well, little brother, I’d say it’s from digging all those holes out there today while you was standin’ around supervisin’.”

“Well…Hoss, you know every job worth doin’ is worth doin’ right and every good job needs a good supervisor.”

“Little Joe, “I’m gonna ‘supervise’ your head with a fence post if you don’t start helpin’ more on that project.”

Ben and Adam both chuckled at their antics.

“Say, Joe, Adam questioned, “You know what I saw when I came in off the East Ridge this afternoon? I saw Peggy down in that meadow with Cricket at a full gallop, and then she was jumping bushes at least three feet tall. I was too far away to talk to her then, but just now she was telling me that you had been teaching her how to jump. Is that true?”

Joe looked concerned. “She was jumping stuff that tall? Adam, I swear to you, I just was showing her one day how to make small jumps if all of a sudden she’s riding along and doesn’t have a choice. I tried to show her the safest way to handle that. I wouldn’t ever try to teach her something where she could get hurt. She’s too young for that now. I promise you, Adam. I warned her about always tryin’ to be safe when she’s riding.”

“Oh, I believe you, Joe. I kinda thought that was probably the case. I can see I’m going to have to have another talk with that young lady.”

That night after Mrs. MacPherson, the housekeeper Adam had engaged to watch over Peggy, had helped Peggy get ready for bed, Adam went into her room for their usual bedtime routine.

Peggy was almost 11 now, but she was small for her age and still not too big to sit in Adam’s lap while he rocked her, talked with her, told her stories or sung to her before putting her to bed. He supposed, at the rate she was growing, she would soon be too big for this, but for right now and considering everything she had gone through, it was a very important time for this still new father and daughter.

Tonight they went over the events of the day, how school had gone for her, and so forth.

Then Peggy noticed that Adam’s expression changed. “Peggy, I need to talk with you a little more about what happened this afternoon when I saw you out with Cricket. Your Uncle Joe tells me a slightly different story than you did about his teaching you to jump. I know you weren’t lying, Peggy, but you did exaggerate just a little bit about what Joe was showing you, didn’t you”?

Peggy had her head against Adam’s shoulder. She turned her face more into his shoulder and said, “Yes, Daddy, I guess I did. He told me to be real careful and not ride too fast and he only showed me how to make real low jumps. I guess I really, honestly didn’t realize that I was going so fast today and Cricket made those jumps so easy, I didn’t think about that it could be dangerous. I’m real sorry, Daddy.”

“Well, Peg, it is dangerous and I want you to think about those things when you are riding. I don’t ever want to have to talk with about this again. If you can’t ride Cricket safely, then I may have to take her away from you for a while. Peggy, I expect you to mind me on this because it involves your safety. Also, it involves your disobeying me today because you knew the rules I had set down about that. When I was your age and disobeyed my father, he gave me one chance and then that was it. Well, this is your one chance, Peg. In other words, the very first time I did something that Pa didn’t feel I should be doin’, he gave me a warning – then if I ever did it again, I was in trouble – I always knew that disobeying him about anything or lying about anything was gonna be trouble.”

Very softly, Peggy asked, “Daddy…what did Grandpa do if you took more than one chance?”

“He usually gave me a whipping, Peggy, and your uncles, too, when they did things like that. I’d sure hate to have to do that with you, Peggy, but I will if you don’t obey me on this. Do you understand me?”

Peggy turned her face even more into his shoulder. She hated having her daddy angry with her. She felt some tears coming and didn’t want him to know, but he turned her face back to look at him and he saw them.

He pulled her head over and kissed the top of it. “Peggy, I don’t mean to sound so rough on you, but this is important and I do mean what I say. I don’t want you to forget this.”

“Now, I think we better get you to bed, Miss Peggy, you have school tomorrow and morning comes awfully early around here.” He helped her off his lap and stood up. She took off the robe that was covering her long flannel nightgown, while Adam pulled back the turned-down covers of her bed. She slipped in and he pulled the blankets up and tucked her in tightly as usual, then kissed her again on the forehead.

“Good night, sweetheart. I love you very much.”

Peggy reached her arms tightly around his neck and hugged him hard, “I love you so much, too, Daddy. I promise, I’ll be good and mind you.”

“Alright sweetie. Go to sleep now.” He turned the lamp down low and walked out of the room.

*****

Mrs. Mac was brushing out Peggy’s hair the next morning as she helped the little girl get ready for school.

“I just don’t see why I always have to wear a dress to school every day, Mrs. Mac.” I could ride a lot easier in my pants.”

“Well, young lady, at your age little girls just don’t wear pants to school. It’s one thing to wear them around the ranch sometimes, but you are getting to be a young lady and young ladies wear dresses. Why your daddy would have a fit, much less your grandpa, if you was to go off to school in pants. Now you better hurry on down to breakfast.”

Peggy did indeed hurry on down, which earned her another scold from her grandpa about running on the stairs.

“I’m sorry Grandpa, I just keep forgetting.” Peggy slowed down and went up to give him his morning hug and kiss.

He hugged the little girl tightly and wondered how the entire Cartwright family had ever gotten along without this little bit of heaven in their home before this past year. He had always wondered what it would be like to have a little girl and now he was having a taste of it with this grandchild. She was certainly a breath of fresh air in this household. Adam was the happiest Ben could ever remember seeing him. It had also been nice to have Mrs. Mac as part of their Ponderosa “family” now. Interestingly, after a bit of a rocky start, she and Hop Sing got along now like they had been friends forever. They worked together on many things, but had pretty much defined out their separate duties and both seemed happy as clams.

Adam came walking in from the kitchen with a cup of coffee in his hands just as Hoss and Joe made their way down the stairs. Peggy gave her morning hugs to her uncles and an especially tight one for her daddy. She hoped he wasn’t still angry with her this morning. She was going to try awfully hard to mind him from now on about her riding.

They all sat down and started their breakfast.

“I just met the new family that moved into the old Wilson ranch yesterday,” Ben informed them. “Stopped by and said my hellos. Seem like a real nice family, Tom and Rebecca Davis and they’ve got the cutest pair of twins you ever saw – just about Peggy’s age.”

“Peggy, I expect you’ll meet them in school today – they were planning on starting today.”

“Oh, Grandpa, tell me about them. Are they girls? The Wilson ranch is close enough that I could play with them if it’s girls.”

“Well, one is Peg. Her name is Kay and her twin brother is Christopher – they call him Chris. They’ve both got bright red hair and freckles to beat the band.”

“Hmmm,” Peggy said, “Well at least I can play with Kay then, can’t I, Daddy?” She turned to Adam, who sat next to her, “Please, Daddy, that’s not very far away, I could ride there on my own even. I haven’t got anyone to play with here. It’d be so nice to have someone my age to play with.”

Adam looked down at the face that he couldn’t refuse, smiled, and answered, “Oh, I expect you can, Miss Peg. I will count on you to make sure you get your homework done every day, but I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to go over there sometimes or have them come over here to play, that is if you and Kay hit it off.”

“Oh, Daddy, of course we will. I like everybody.”

Adam knew that and he was proud of the fact that everybody liked Peggy, too. Even though it was well known that Peggy would one day be a woman of wealth, not only because she was now a Cartwright, but also the money her Aunt Lillian left her, Peggy never gave anybody any reason to think she was stuck up or snobby. All the children that he knew of enjoyed being with her. He tried to make arrangements to have children visit her at the ranch at times and to take her to visit others, but it was difficult to find the time to do that a lot. If these children were as nice as his father made out, then it sounded like it would be a good thing for Peggy

It was Joe’s turn to escort Peggy to school this morning. The four Cartwright men and sometimes Hop Sing traded off on this task, though none of them considered it a task as such. They all enjoyed being with Peggy. She had really become the ‘heart’ of the Cartwright family in the past year. As a matter of fact, as a result, Joe even found himself at times thinking about settling down and having a family.

She gave her Uncle Joe a big hug and kiss good-bye as he left her at the corral where the children’s horses spent the day. The Cartwright men were getting awfully used to this sweet little girl’s ways. Peggy went to play with the other children before going inside.

Peggy immediately spotted the Davis twins and went up to introduce herself to them. They were standing off by themselves, looking around like they were lost.

“Hi, you must be Kay and Chris Davis. My Grandpa met you yesterday and told me about you. My name is Peggy Cartwright.”

Both Davis children, red-haired and freckled as Ben had said, broke into wide grins and within a few minutes all three children were great friends and were planning out their visits.

*****

They soon were all visiting back and forth at each of the ranches. Adam was glad that Peggy finally had some children to play with that were fairly close by. Little did he know just what they were up to some of the time.

If there was any kind of trouble or mischief to be thought up, then Chris was sure to think of it and Kay wasn’t far behind. They were good children, but curious about everything and bound and determined not to miss out on anything. Peggy was having the time of her life with them. They played all over the Davis ranch when she was there, but Adam didn’t let them wander around quite as much when they visited the Ponderosa.

Tree climbing was one of Chris’ main pursuits these days and the higher the tree, the more of a challenge, the better he liked it. Kay and Peggy weren’t quite as interested in going as high up as he did, but they didn’t want to be left behind on anything. There was a particular tree down in the old orchard behind the Davis ranch house that really attracted them. It had many large branches and was very high. It was a fair way up to get to the first level of branches so they used a nearby old picket fence as their first steps up. The fence was within a foot of the tree and they could climb on the fence and then into the tree. When Rebby Davis would catch them at it, she would scold them and tell them it was too dangerous to be climbing that big old tree, but who could really keep kids from climbing trees, she thought to herself.

One day when Adam came to pick up Peggy from the Davis’, he found the three children had climbed probably 40 feet up that tree and the sight scared the wits out of him. When he reached the tree, he cautioned them all to very carefully climb down.

He reached for Peggy as she hung from the lowest branch and helped her down.

“Young lady, I don’t have any say in what Kay and Chris do around here, but I don’t ever want you climbing in this tree again. Do you realize what could have happened being that high up? Those branches get mighty thin the higher up you go. If you fell that far, you could be killed. Do you understand what I’m saying, Peggy?”

Peggy could see he was really angry, “Yes, Daddy, I won’t do it again.” The Davis twins looked on sheepishly.

“All right, Peggy, get Cricket and let’s get you home, and you remember what I said now.”

“Okay, Daddy,” and she ran off to get Cricket.

Peggy kept her word to Adam for a couple of weeks and whenever Chris and Kay wanted her to climb up the tree, she always said no. Chris kept teasing her and tried to get her to come up until finally one day, she gave in and put her foot on the bottom support of the picket fence with her arm over the top as she usually did, but this time her boot slipped off the 2 x 4 as she was trying to pull herself up. She felt her shirt rip under her arm as it came down on the picket, but nothing more.

However, Kay, jumped off the lowest branch, came running over to Peggy and started yelling, “Peggy, you better go home right now!”

“Why, what’s the matter?” Peggy didn’t understand what the problem was. She had just torn her shirt a little, it felt like, but Kay held Peggy’s arm up and told her she better ride home fast. Kay would have taken her to the house, but her mother was way out in the north pasture helping Kay’s father with something.

“Peggy, can’t you tell? You hurt yourself on that sharp old picket on the fence.”

Peggy put her right hand under her left arm and then saw the blood on it. She still didn’t feel any pain, but the blood scared her. She ran for Cricket, mounted and rode home as fast as she could.

She rode into the yard of the Ponderosa much faster than she was supposed to. Adam was just coming out of the barn and had an unhappy look on his face when he went up to meet her.

By that time Peggy was starting to feel some pain under her arm and there was blood down the front of her shirt now. When Adam saw that, his face went white and he helped her off the horse quickly yelling for Hoss, who was still in the barn.

Hoss came running out, took one look at the blood on Peggy’s shirt, and said, “What happened, Adam?”

Adam had lifted Peggy’s left arm up and could see a gaping hole in her armpit that was bleeding copiously.

“Hoss, ride for the doctor quick, please.”

“You bet, Adam,” he said as he ran back into the barn for Chubb, who was still saddled.

Adam picked Peggy up in his arms and took her into the house as fast as he could. Ben and Joe were talking by Ben’s desk.

“Adam, what happened, what’s wrong with Peggy?” Ben asked.

“I’m not sure, Pa. I’m taking her to her room. She has a big hole under her arm that’s bleeding all over the place.”

He went up the stairs as fast as he could. Mrs. Mac was at the top of the stairs, took in what was happening and opened the door of Peggy’s room, then went in and turned back the covers. Adam laid Peggy on the bed and Mrs. Mac pulled her boots off. Ben and Joe were right behind, but Ben had first called on Hop Sing to bring up water and bandages.

Peggy was just starting to realize that she had really hurt herself and was getting scared and started to cry, plus her arm was finally starting to hurt bad now. Adam carefully took her shirt off. She was wearing a sleeveless camisole underneath, which he left on. He lifted her arm up and they could all see a large, gaping hole in her armpit leaking a fair amount of blood.

“That’s going to need some stitches, son,” Ben said.

“I know, Pa. I need to clean it up some and try to get the bleeding stopped.” He took a wet cloth that Hop Sing handed him and tried to clean up the wound, then folded some bandages into a roll and put her arm back by her side and held it close to her body, hoping that pressure would stop the bleeding. It was a very deep puncture wound and he hoped that would work.

“Sweetie, how on earth did this happen to you?”

Peggy was pretty much crying full bore now. She could see the concern on all the faces surrounding her and it scared her.

“I fell on the fence, Daddy. My boot slipped. I had my arm over the picket and I guess I fell onto it. I didn’t even know I was hurt until Kay told me. She told me to come home as fast as I could”

“Well, where were Kay’s parents? Couldn’t you go to them for help?”

“They were gone out on the range somewhere. Kay just told me to come home, so I did.”

“Peggy, is that the old picket fence by that tree that I told you not to climb anymore?”

“Peggy looked away from his face as she admitted, “Yes.”

“And were you using it to climb up into the tree? Is that what you were doing when this happened?”

A very soft, “Yes, Daddy.”

“After I very plainly told you not to climb it anymore, is that right?”

Peggy turned her face to the wall, “Mm-huh. I’m sorry, Daddy. I didn’t mean to get hurt.”

“Of course, you didn’t mean to get hurt, Peggy, but if you had obeyed me, this wouldn’t have happened, would it?”

“No, Daddy.”

“All right, we won’t talk anymore about that for now. I want you to lie here just as still as you can and we’ll wait for Doc Martin.”

A series of sobs and hiccups shook her body, but then she lay still and didn’t move. She couldn’t face Adam.

He pulled a chair over by the bed and sat there with her, still holding her arm against her body with as much pressure as he could. Luckily, the bleeding seemed to have slowed. Ben asked the rest of the group to wait downstairs, then pulled up the rocker and waited with his son and granddaughter for the doctor to come.

By the time Dr. Martin arrived, Peggy was hurting real bad. Ben and Adam had changed places several times, keeping her arm close to her body.

Dr. Martin finally walked in. “Well, what do we have here? Hello Ben, Adam. Let me take a look. Joe told me what happened.”

Adam and Ben got up and let Paul examine Peggy’s injury. It was a long jagged wound. It took many stitches to sew it up. Adam held her other hand and spoke soothingly to her as the doctor did his work. It was obviously very painful for the little girl, and both Ben and Adam cringed to see her suffer. Adam sat the whole time on the other side of the bed holding her hand, and Peggy pushed her face against his side, trying not to scream while the doctor put the stitches in. It was a very difficult ordeal for all concerned.

Paul had removed her camisole to do the repair and then applied a large bandage that wrapped around her chest, under her arm and then another to hold her arm against her body.

Finally, Dr. Martin pulled the covers up over her and gave her a spoonful of some very bad-tasting medicine, she thought, which eventually made her sleep.

“Well, Adam, she’s certainly a lucky little girl that that sharp picket didn’t hit the artery, but it was a dirty, deep wound. I can’t promise there won’t be infection and it’s a bad place for it if it happens. She will need to stay as still as possible. I’ll come by in the morning to change her bandages.

Adam sat with her through the night, going downstairs only once when Mrs. Mac ordered him to go down and get something to eat. The others, except for his father, had finally all gone to bed.

As Adam sat at the table with Ben, trying to get a little bit of the food down, he said, “Pa, how did you ever do it? I can’t remember how many times we have all been hurt over the years, especially Joe. How did you ever manage to get through it all those times? This is killing me. I can’t stand to see her hurt like this.”

Ben answered with a small smile, “Well, son, you do what you have to do, but you’re right. To see your child suffer is even more difficult to endure than to have just endured the pain yourself. I see you are now realizing just what I’ve told you boys over the years.”

“Pa, I can’t tell you how much I admire you. You were always there for us when these kinds of things happened. You always remained calm and made us feel like everything would be all right. How on earth did you do that?”

“Truthfully, son, I guess it was kind of an act because I was never calm inside, just felt I couldn’t let you know how worried I was. There is nothing worse for a father than to see his child suffer, and I can see that you now realize that. But, Adam, I’m sure Peggy will be okay. Doc Martin has never let us down yet, has he?”

Adam smiled at that, “No, I guess he hasn’t. I just can’t help but worry, but you know that. And Pa, what am I going to do now? She deliberately disobeyed a direct order from me to not climb that tree and this is the result. I promised her a spanking if she disobeyed me. I can’t very well do that now, and somehow it doesn’t seem right to wait until she is well and then just do it then.” As he was asking his father, he thought to himself – what would I do if I didn’t have him to ask these things of? – he felt so inept at this fatherhood thing. He hadn’t had any time to get ready for it or build up to it like he would have if she had come into his life as a newborn baby, the usual way of things.

“Son, I’d say that is your call. One thing you might think about is that she has already suffered the consequences of her disobedient act. I’m sure what she is going through now is much more painful than your spanking would have been, in addition to the fact that she is obviously feeling pretty guilty about not minding you. If you will remember, the same kind of things happened a few times with you boys, and I think for the most part I let the whipping go when it was obvious that what you had done was hurting more than the whipping would have.”

“Hmm, yes, now that I think about it, I do remember…. like the time Joe fell off the barn roof and broke his arm after you had told him not to be climbing up there.”

“Yeah, that’s one of the times I was thinking of, too. Seems like there were plenty of those times with Joe, but it also seems like he received more whippings than the other two of you put together, or am I wrong in my memory of that?”

“Well, I remember my fair share, Pa,” Adam wryly retorted as he stood up from the table. “I’m going to go sit with her Pa. I don’t want her to wake up and find I’m not there.”

“All right, son, but try to grab a bit of sleep if you can, okay”

“Okay, Pa,” and he retreated up the stairway.

*****

The next morning after Dr. Martin examined Peggy again, he told them that the wound was looking okay so far, and that he would come back for the next two days and change the dressings himself, then after that they could take care of it. She was to stay in bed for at least five days and not move her arm. She would need to stay out of school for another week after that, he had said.

Peggy was in and out of a drugged sleep for the first day after the incident and wasn’t fully aware of what was happening, except for the fact that she was in pain. Adam stayed with her as much as he could, trading off mainly with Mrs. Mac and Ben.

Finally on the next day, she wasn’t taking as much medication and woke up in the morning to see her father sitting by her bed.

“Good morning, sweetheart, how are you doing today, huh?”

“Mmm…. I’m okay, I guess.”

“Daddy,” she said in a timid little voice,…..are you going to spank me? I got hurt because I was going to climb the tree.”

Adam looked down at his daughter’s tired little face with a bit of a fearful look in her questioning eyes.

“No, Peggy, I’m not going to spank you this time because you already were hurt by your actions. I know you are hurting and hope you have learned a lesson already that when I tell you not to do something that puts you in danger, it’s not because I don’t want you to have any fun, it’s because I don’t want you to get hurt. Do you think you have learned that lesson?”

Adam had put his hand up to her cheek and cupped her chin and cheek with it as he spoke to her. She turned her face into his hand and started to cry softly. “I’m sorry, Daddy. I hate it when you are angry with me. Do you forgive me?”

“Peggy, sweetheart, before you grow up, I may be angry with you many, many times, and I may even have to punish you sometimes, but I’ll always forgive you and I’ll always love you. Grandpa’s been very angry with me many times when I was growing up and had to punish me when he felt it was necessary, but he still loves me. You can see that can’t you?”

Peggy nodded her head and settled down then. Adam bent over and kissed her forehead. Paul had told him last night there was no sign of infection and the wound was healing nicely. He thought to himself – well, that’s crisis number three we’ve made it through. The first was getting the adoption through in the first place and he remembered the scare they had at Christmas when she almost died of pneumonia. He marveled again at his father and everything he had been through in his life, how Ben had weathered it all and come through a stronger man for it. As for Adam, he didn’t know if could take going through something like this over and over again.

*****

Peggy had her breakfast in her room that morning as she had been for a week now, but today would be the first day she would be allowed to get up and go downstairs. Adam and her uncles had already left for their day’s work and Mrs. Mac had helped Peggy get dressed. She only had to have a bandage on now that wrapped under her arm and over her shoulder, so her clothes fit okay. It didn’t hurt much if she was careful about how she moved it.

When Mrs. Mac finished with her hair, Peggy started to go downstairs. She had been up and around her room now for a few days, so she was actually feeling pretty good, but she made sure she didn’t run down the stairs. She knew her grandpa was down there and didn’t want to make him angry with her. It was bad enough to have had her daddy so angry before, but he said it was all in the past now, so she felt better about that.

Ben was reading the paper on the settee. She quietly came down the stairs and walked around to the other side of the settee. “Good morning, Grandpa,” she started.

“Well good morning to you, young lady. How are you feeling today? Is it good to be up and around again?” Ben gave her a big smile and motioned her to come and sit next to him. She eagerly moved over to his side. He put his arm on the back of the settee. He wanted to put it around her shoulder, but was afraid of hurting her. Peggy snuggled up against his side and he dropped his hand down and pulled her head closer to him. Next to her daddy, she loved to snuggle with Grandpa. While Daddy smelled of soap, bay rum and starch, Grandpa spelled of sweet pipe tobacco and kind of a leathery scent. She leaned closer and put her arm over his chest.

“Grandpa.”

“Hmmm?”

“Grandpa, are you still angry with me too, I mean about the tree and the accident and everything?”

“Honey, I hope you don’t think your father is still angry?”

“No, I know he isn’t…. I just wondered if you were, though? I’m really sorry for what I did and that I caused so much trouble.”

“No, I’m not angry with you, darling. I’m just happy that you are all right and on your way to being as good as new. We were just worried about you was all, honey. Don’t you think about it anymore, okay? Grandpa loves you very much.”

“I love you very much, too, Grandpa,” she let out a big sigh of relief. She hated to have her daddy angry with her, but if Grandpa were also mad at her, it would be just too much. She never had a Grandpa before in her whole life, and she loved him almost as much as her daddy. Besides, she once saw Grandpa get mad at one of the new hands who had mistreated a horse. She hoped in her whole life he never looked at her the way he looked at that hand and yelled at her the way he did that man. She knew she would want to sink through a hole in the ground if that ever happened.

*****

The next week Peggy started back to school. Kay and Chris were happy to see her and to see that she was okay. They had been pretty scared about what had happened that day. Peggy had to tell them that her daddy wouldn’t allow her to play at their ranch for two more weeks, but they could come to the Ponderosa and play with her after school, if they wanted to.

Just before the two weeks were up, Uncle Hoss picked her up from school. They now always rode together with Kay and Chris as far as their ranch, but today the twins were going to go with them on to the Ponderosa to play with Peggy for a little while that afternoon.

They got to the ranch and ran inside long enough for the snack Hop Sing always had waiting, then ran back out and got on their horses to take a ride out in the East Meadow. Chris challenged them both to a race. Neither of the girls could pass that up, so they took off and galloped way across the meadow and back with Kay winning the first time. That really put Chris’ nose out of joint, so he took off and starting jumping bushes. Soon the girls were doing the same. Peggy seemed to have completely forgotten about the safety rules Adam had set down about her riding.

Unfortunately, Adam was again heading down the East Ridge and had been watching them from a distance for quite some time, his anger and fear building as he made his way down. He was too far away to make any signal to them, but this time he was close enough, he felt, to catch up with her before she made it back to the Ponderosa as happened the last time. Every time he watched the children attempt those jumps, his heart was in his throat, but especially so, of course, when Peggy did it. They were becoming more daring and careless the closer he got to them.

He was finally within calling distance and knew they had not seen him just as Peggy started off to make a particularly high jump, one which Chris had just barely made. Adam dared not call out to her, as he was afraid of spooking either the horse or her at the last minute, which could cause an even worse accident than the jump itself. It was just simply too late and he watched with a terror he had never known before.

Peggy and Cricket soared over the jump, making it easily, but Peggy pulled the horse up short at the sight of her father riding toward them. She knew immediately the trouble she was in. Why didn’t she think of it before? Why didn’t she stop herself from doing the very things he had warned her against? Why? As he rode up to the three children, she could see the tightness of his jaw and the look in his eyes that appeared almost black with the anger he was obviously feeling. In all the years she had known him, she had never seen him look this way at her or anybody else. He kept his eyes on her the entire time as he told Kay and Chris it was time for them to go home. They both gave Peggy a frightened look and rode off.

“Peggy, get down off the horse right now!” Adam commanded in an even voice.

Peggy slipped off Cricket as she watched Adam dismount. He strode over to her, took her by the hand, picked her up effortlessly and deposited her on Sport. He grabbed Cricket’s reins and then mounted Sport behind her. He never said a word to her on the ride home. She could feel the anger and tension in his body as they rode. She couldn’t stop the intermittent tears.

When they reached home, he dismounted, reached up for her and pulled her off the saddle onto the ground. “I’ll take care of these horses first and then I will talk to you in your room. You go up to your room and get ready for bed. No supper tonight.”

Peggy started to run into the house, but then thought the better of it and walked quickly, the tears coming faster now. She passed Ben, who started to say something as she walked by, but he caught the look on Adam’s face and didn’t finish his question. He joined Adam as he led the two horses into the barn.

“What’s wrong son? You look ready to spit nails.”

“I am, Pa. I just caught her again, with Chris and Kay, out in the East Meadow riding at a full gallop and making dangerous jumps all over the place. All three of those kids were taking terrible risks. I’m going to need to talk to Tom and Rebby about this. I wouldn’t think they would approve either.”

Ben frowned, “I see…so that’s why Peggy was crying. What now, son?”

“Exactly what she was told would happen, Pa. She knew the consequences. I realize now I’ve really got to put my foot down here or she is going to get herself hurt or even killed one of these days. I can’t let this go on. I know kids forget, but she and I have been down this same road too many times now, but I’m not looking forward to it.”

“Believe me, son, I do understand how you feel.” He and Adam worked together to get the two horses taken care of for the day. Ben decided to stay on and do some work in the barn as he heard Adam sigh and then watched him head for the house. He didn’t envy him his fatherly responsibilities today.

Adam put his hat and gunbelt on the sideboard and then hung his coat up. He dreaded going up to her, but he knew it had to be done.

Peggy was already in bed when Adam knocked. “Come in,” came the soft little voice, choked with tears.

Adam walked in and over to her bed. It tore at his heartstrings to see the way she looked at him. She was trying to rub the tears off her face, but not succeeding very well.

“Peggy, I don’t think there is much for either one of us to say. I came down the ridge. I could see what was going on from a long way off. You were all three racing back and forth, then on top of that you were doing the very dangerous jumping that I have warned you about before. You can’t tell me that you don’t remember because I know very well that you do remember. I had hoped the fence incident would have made enough impact on you that you would never forget my rules on this kind of thing.”

“You will not be allowed to ride Cricket for one month. You will either ride double with someone to school or in the wagon. You will not be allowed to play with Chris and Kay for that month or with anyone else, for that matter. For this next week, you will come home, do your homework, help Hop Sing with supper, eat, and then go straight to bed.”

“Do you understand every thing I’ve just told you, Peggy?” he asked with his gaze fixed sternly on his daughter.

“Yes, d-d-Daddy,” she stuttered out her answer between sobs.

“All right, Peggy. You and I have had this discussion before, and apparently that discussion didn’t leave enough impression on you for you to remember it for very long. Now I’m afraid that I will have to resort to other means to make you remember.”

Adam reached down and lifted Peggy up out of her bed. He turned around and sat on the edge of the bed, then pulled her across his knees. He remembered giving Little Joe a couple of tannings long ago when he had been left in charge, but that was his brother. This was his almost brand new daughter, and it was not an easy thing for him, but he did what he felt he had to do.

When he was finished, Peggy was sobbing pitifully and telling Adam over and over again that she was sorry. Her bottom hurt the worst she could ever remember. Once in a great while her mother had spanked her, but her mother wasn’t really very strong and those spankings had hardly hurt more than her feelings. This time not only her feelings were hurt, but her bottom felt like a nest of hornets had stung her. She hopped up and down on each foot for a few seconds holding her seat.

Adam took her by the hand, guided her back into bed and slipped her under the covers once again.

“Peggy, I really hated to have to do that. Now you do some hard thinking about this and then go to sleep. I won’t be seeing you in the morning, as I have to leave at dawn for an early meeting in Carson City, but I’ll be home by suppertime. So good night, and remember that I love you, no matter what.” He bent over and kissed her tear-streaked face. She reached up and put her arms around his neck. He pulled her into a tight hug, then laid her back down and walked out of the room.

Peggy was devastated. It was the first time she could remember in a long time that he didn’t sit with her and rock her in the chair before putting her to bed. She turned over onto her side, off of her sore bottom, and cried herself to sleep.

*****

The next morning, as Ben, Joe and Hoss were just sitting down to breakfast, a very quiet little girl walked slowly down the stairs, not giving anyone the slightest chance to scold her again. She passed around her usual morning hugs and kisses. Ben couldn’t help but give her a little tighter hug than usual.

She didn’t seem her usual perky self and, of course, they all knew the reason why. Hoss decided to find something to talk about.

“Well, Peggy, I guess and it’s you and me this morning. I’ve got to take the wagon in and pick up some supplies so’s Joe and I can finally get all our fence mendin’ done we been workin’ on forever, seems like.”

“Seems like? You mean is forever, big brother. I’m so tired of digging and liftin’ and hammerin,” Joe complained. “Pa? There must be better way to keep cattle from straying.”

“Well, Joe, I’d surely like to know what that would be. When you think of something, you let me know, okay?”

“Well, Pa, I’ll just have to give that some thought.”

“Oh, yeah, Pa, he’ll give that some thought, about two minute’s worth of thought – that’s before he starts thinking again about the purty little Bristow girl over to Mill Run that he’s been calf-eyed over lately. Spends most of his time daydreamin’ instead of fence mendin’.”

Joe scowled at his brother, “Yeah, well, I’d say she was worth daydreamin’ about, big brother, instead of dreamin’ about what’s in your lunch or what’s for supper.”

“I’m gonna get you for that, little brother, you just wait and see if I don’t.”

“Not if I get you first, you won’t,” returned Joe with a devilish grin.

“Boys, boys, now what kind of example are you setting for your little niece here? Can’t you get through one meal without all the horsin’ around?” He smiled over at Peggy, but she didn’t even seem to be listening to the conversation. He could tell Adam’s ‘talk’ with her last night had made quite an impression. This was a much more subdued, quiet little girl than they had seen in some time, but he knew she’d get over it quick. Probably by the time Adam got back tonight and sang her a couple of songs before bed, all would be forgiven and forgotten.

Hoss and Peggy went off to town in the wagon. Hoss kept trying to make conversation, but Peggy wasn’t joining in too much. He wished he knew how to perk her up, but she didn’t seem to be in the mood. He helped her off the wagon when they reached school and she kissed him good-bye.

“Your Uncle Joe will be by to pick you up after school, Peggy. See ya when you get home, darlin’.”

“Okay, Uncle Hoss.”

Joe and Hoss spent the day working on the never-ending fence-mending chore, and then Joe took off on Cochise to pick Peggy up from school. When he got there, it was just time for school to be out, but there seemed to be more adults grouped around the school than children. Joe spotted Sheriff Coffee and Mr. Taylor, the teacher, talking off to one side of the playground. He couldn’t spot Peggy anywhere, so decided to go and see what Roy was up to.

He walked up to them and saw the unhappy looks they both gave him as he neared them. “What’s going on, Roy? Somethin’ happen here at the school, and where’s Peggy, Mr. Taylor?” he asked as he turned and looked around for her again.

“Joe,” Roy said, “I’m glad to see you here. Where’s Adam, out at the ranch?”

“No, he’s in Carson City today, should be back by suppertime, though. What’s going on?” Joe was starting to get a sick feeling in his stomach. “Where’s Peggy? I don’t see her around.”

“Well, that’s why I’m here, Joe. Seems like at the end of the last recess, Peggy was just gone, disappeared, nowhere to be found. Been talking to some of the kids and they don’t know where she went to either. That’s been about an hour and a half ago. We been looking around, but nobody seems to have seen her.”

Joe looked aghast. “Roy, what are you talking about, disappeared? I don’t understand. What happened to her? Mr. Taylor, what’s goin’ on here?”

“I wish I knew, Mr. Cartwright. Peggy seemed very quiet today and wasn’t joining in playing with the other children like she usually does, wasn’t speaking up in class, just didn’t seem to be very happy today, and then when the last recess was over, we discovered she was just gone.”

“Joe, I was talkin’ with the Davis twins. Seems like they think Peggy got into big trouble with her daddy last night and was feelin’ pretty miserable about it today. You don’t suppose she could’ve run off, do you?”

“Run off? Roy, I don’t think so. I mean, yeah, she got in trouble, did something she wasn’t supposed to do and Adam spanked her for the first time, and sure she was unhappy about things this morning, but I sure don’t see her running off. Just doesn’t seem like something Peggy would do. She knows Adam wouldn’t stay mad at her. I just don’t see her running off, but what else could have happened, I wonder? We’ve got to find her, Roy. Something must be wrong. I just can’t picture her taking off.”

“Well, you know, Joe, sometimes it’s hard to predict just what a young kid will do. Maybe she was just feeling so guilty and bad, or maybe she’s mad at her daddy.”

“No, I don’t think she’s mad at him, Roy. She wasn’t actin’ that way, just actin’ a little sad this morning about the whole thing, but I’m not going to stand around trying to figure it out, we’ve got to start looking for her. We’ve got find her before Adam gets home, or he’s gonna go crazy when he hears this.”

Roy, Joe and the townspeople searched the surrounding area for another couple of hours and questioned the children who lived in town, but nothing was found.

Joe knew he needed to go home and face Adam. He knew Ben and Hoss were probably wondering what had happened to him and Peggy by now anyway.

“Roy, I’m gonna have to go home and tell the family. What’s your plan now?”

“Well, Little Joe, a lot of these fellas are volunteering to keep lookin’ on through the night, if necessary. I’m gonna let Clem take over with them and ride a ways with you and talk again with some of the children who’ve gone home already, and see if there is anything they may have remembered seeing. Tell your Pa and Adam I’m awful sorry about this, Joe. I expect you all will come on back with them?”

“Yeah, I’m sure we will, Roy.”

When Joe rode into the yard of the Ponderosa, Ben and Hoss were standing by the barn door trying to decide what to do about the fact that Joe and Peggy hadn’t made their way home yet. Adam wasn’t home either.

“Joe, finally,” Ben said. “Where’s Peggy? Is something wrong, Joe?”

Joe dismounted, “Yeah, Pa, I’m afraid there is something wrong. Is Adam home yet?”

“No, he ain’t, Little Joe. What’s wrong?” Hoss asked with worry in his voice.

“Peggy’s missing, been missing since the last recess at school. Roy and some men from town have been looking for hours now. I decided I better come back and get you and tell Adam.”

Ben gasped, “Peggy missing, what do you mean, missing, Joe?”

“Just that, Pa. She went out for recess and didn’t come back in. No one seems to know what happened to her. The teacher said she was acting kind of unhappy today, and he’s wondering if she just ran off, but I just don’t think so, Pa.”

Ben couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“Nah, Peg wouldn’t take off, Joe,” Hoss put in, “she mighta been unhappy this morning about her punishment, but she wouldn’t run away. I just know she wouldn’t.”

“That’s right, Hoss, she wouldn’t do that, not Peggy,” Ben agreed. “So what does that mean then?”

“Somebody took her, Pa. I got a feeling that’s what it means,” Hoss said unhappily.

“But who would take her?” Joe asked. I don’t get it – you mean for ransom or something?”

Ben looked sick, “I hope it’s just ransom is all, son.”

Joe looked at Hoss and Ben. That was something he wasn’t prepared to think about. No, they would find her, whatever happened. No one could hurt Peggy. It had to be for money. Everybody knew the Cartwrights had money and would pay dearly for Peggy’s return. He had to believe that. The alternative was unthinkable.

“Joe, you and Hoss head back to town and join the search. I’m going to have to stay here and tell your brother. I can’t leave that to anyone else to do.”

“Pa, it’s gonna kill him, you know that,” Hoss was dying inside himself.

“I know,” was all that Ben could say.

They worked together to get fresh horses and to gather together the hands from the bunkhouse to join Joe and Hoss. Ben watched them leave, sick at heart at what he was going to have to tell Adam.

He went up to the porch and sat down there. He wanted to see him the minute he came into view.

About half an hour later, Ben saw his oldest son ride into the yard and went quickly out to meet him.

Adam saw the look on his father’s face and knew instantly that something was terribly wrong. “Pa, what is it?”

“Son, Peggy is missing. She disappeared from the schoolyard at the last recess today. Roy has got a search party looking for her and your brothers and the hands just went back to town to join in.”

Adam had dismounted. “Peggy, missing? Missing? I don’t get it, what do you mean ‘disappeared’?” There was a tremor to his voice that Ben had never heard in his son before.

“Son, that’s all I know. Joe went to town to pick her up and found them all looking for her. Mr. Taylor said she had seemed kind of unhappy today and he’s thinking she ran away, but I don’t believe that. She was a little subdued at breakfast, but that was to be expected after last night. I just don’t think she would run away, do you, son?”

“No, Pa. She wouldn’t do that. No matter what happened, I don’t think she would. Someone has taken her, but who?”

“Son, there’s no telling at this point, but there is someone we have to keep in the back of our mind.”

“You mean her uncle, Jack Dayton, don’t you, Pa?”

“Yes, I do, son. I’ve always been a little afraid of this. He’s a gambler. If he gambled away that $50,000, he might be back for more, thinking he could hold her for ransom this time.”

“Pa, I have to pray that it is him. If it is, then I would think she would be safe enough. He just wants the money. He is her uncle, after all. That’s better, I would hope, than just some stranger, don’t ya think, Pa?”

Ben knew Adam was looking for reassurance, but he had his doubts about Jack Dayton, though he said, “I’m sure you’re right about that, son. I’ve got a fresh horse for you in the barn and Buck is ready, too. Let’s go.”

Ben and Adam met up with the searchers back at the schoolhouse. They were working in teams, spreading out the search. It was dark now and they were using lanterns and torches.

*****

Peggy woke up groggily, feeling cold and with a terrible headache and pain along one side of her face. Her bottom lip also hurt and she could taste blood there. She couldn’t figure out where she was and her arms felt funny. She finally realized she was lying on a cot and her hands were tied together. There was only a dim light in the room, but she could see two people sitting at a small table, a man and a woman.

The last thing she remembered was sitting off by herself on the school playground when a woman came up to her and started talking and asking directions of her. She remembered walking with the woman towards the woods behind the school to show her the path there. The next thing she knew someone grabbed her from behind and put his hand over her mouth. Peggy’s first instinct had been to bite, and bite she had as hard as she could. The man swore, turned her around and slapped her alongside the face and head. She fell to her knees, then he picked her up by the front of her dress and hit her again. That was the last thing she remembered until waking up now.

“Where am I, what’s going on?” she asked fearfully of the two in the room.

“Well, Miss Princess Cartwright finally wakes up,” the man growled at her and stood up.

Peggy tried to scrunch herself up and back away from him on the bed. He scared her, but somehow seemed familiar to her.

“Aren’t you going to say hello to your Uncle Jack?” he asked.

“Oh, Jack, leave the kid alone.” This came from the tired voice of the woman in the room.

“Hey, you stay out of this and keep your mouth shut. I’m just introducing myself to my brother’s kid.”

Peggy realized then who he reminded her of. She hadn’t seen her real daddy in over four years and she had started to forget just what his face looked like, but this man’s face made her remember. He did look very much like her real daddy, but this man looked mean, and though she remembered her daddy and mommy having lots of arguments, he never looked mean like this man did.

“What’sa matter, kid, cat got your tongue?” Jack laughed.

Peggy just backed away more. She was afraid of him. He was the one who had hit her so hard. She remembered Daddy’s spanking for a minute and how much that had hurt, but it had stopped hurting even before she went to sleep last night, but her head and her face were hurting badly now. She wanted her Daddy. He wouldn’t ever hit her like that and she knew it. If this man was her uncle, why was he being so mean to her? She remembered that he had tried to come and claim her before Adam adopted her, but she didn’t know him, had never heard of him before and never wanted to go with him or see him. And then he had just gone away for some reason and Adam had been able to adopt her, which was exactly what Peggy had wanted.

“I want to go home and see my Daddy,” Peggy answered him. “You hurt me and he’s gonna be awful mad at you.”

“Oh, you think so do ya? Well, that’s fine with me, kid, but this time those Cartwrights are really gonna pay and I mean pay big time.” With that, he reached out and backhanded the other side of Peggy’s face and she couldn’t help but start to cry. He laughed again and went back to his chair.

The $50,000 that Ben Cartwright had paid him off with to sign over custody rights to his niece had not lasted very long, and he wanted more. But first he wanted them to squirm. He enjoyed making people do that. He looked over at his wife, Mary. Mary knew that about him – he had made her squirm many a time.

He remembered his brother, Frank, who he hadn’t seen since Frank was 13 and Jack was 14. Frank was weak, just like their mother, but Jack was the strong one like their father. He remembered just before he and his father took off from the family. The barn cat had a litter of kittens. His father had told him to put them in a sack and throw them in the river, but Jack had decided to have more fun than that. He had taken them one by one and wrung their necks, enjoying himself, when Frank had caught him at it. Frank seemed shocked and told Jack he was sick in the head. They got into a big fistfight about it. Their mother and father had argued about that and it wasn’t too long after that Jack and their father left.

Jack never saw Frank again. He heard about him living near Virginia City one time and wrote him a letter to see if he could get any money out of him. Frank wrote back that he had a wife and child and no money to be giving Jack, and for Jack to leave him alone and never bother him again.

Jack wouldn’t forget that. Frank was dead now, but his kid was still alive. He could have his revenge with her. He had thought at one time when he discovered that Frank and Laura were dead that he had finally hit the big time. He had checked into the situation and it had sounded like there was some big money at stake if he was to claim the kid. Jack figured he could get custody of her and then get rid of her somewhere along the line. As her only relative, he could collect all that dough from the aunt, but he had found out different when Ben Cartwright had come to him, telling him he couldn’t get his hands on the aunt’s money if Peggy died.

Cartwright had offered him $50,000 to get out of Nevada and let the Cartwrights have the kid. He certainly didn’t want to take care of any kid and if he couldn’t get hold of her money, then he figured he might as well take the 50 grand. Only, he didn’t realize it would go so fast. His luck had been running against him and he had lost most of it in a series of poker games.

He took the last of it and decided to come back to Nevada and try again for some big money, maybe even more this time. Seemed those Cartwrights were willing to shell out plenty for that kid. But first he was going to make them sweat a little. He figured they would come looking for them in some out-of-they way place, but he decided to play it smarter than that. He took part of the last of the money and rented a house right in Carson City. He knew he could scare the kid into keeping quiet and felt that no one would think to look for them right in the middle of Carson City.

He figured they were probably thinking a ransom note would turn up real quick, but Jack decided to wait them out for a while. Be interesting to see if they put up a reward for getting her back. He was mad because he had lost out on the big money and had to settle for what Cartwright had offered him that day. He was going to enjoy playing with them a little bit. He figured the longer they had to wait, the more they’d be willing to pay.

“Jack, why don’t we just ask for the money, take it, let the kid loose and get out of here. You know they’re gonna guess it’s us, you know that don’t ya?” Mary asked.

“Just keep your mouth shut! We’re gonna play this my way, Mary. “

“You just gotta make everybody miserable, don’t you, Jack?” Mary yelled at him this time. He turned around and slapped her. She put her hand up to her mouth, which was bleeding, and turned away.”

Peggy looked at her uncle with frightened, tear-filled eyes. She wanted her daddy so much. ‘Oh, Daddy, Daddy, come get me, please,” she cried to herself.

*****

The Cartwrights and the rest of the volunteers searched through the night and all the next day, but found nothing at all. Adam was sick to his stomach with worry. He passed up all food that was offered.

“Son,” Ben, admonished him, “You need to keep up your strength if you’re going to continue this search.”

“I just couldn’t get it down, Pa. I’ll worry about it later.”

The searchers continued for three more days, then Roy called it off, saying they had followed every lead, searched every nook and corner they could think of. He told Adam that they would just have to wait and see if a ransom note showed up. Roy hated like hell to tell him that, but he really couldn’t justify going any further along these lines. It didn’t seem there was any place else to look.

The Cartwrights continued on for many days more, though. Adam hardly ate or slept through it all, looking grimmer with each passing day.

Finally, Ben took him aside and told him it was no use. There was nothing more they could do, except wait and put out reward posters for information on Peggy and hope that would bring someone forward. Ben posted a $10,000 reward, which was a very great incentive indeed for someone to turn up with any news of Peggy. He put a description of Jack and Mary Dayton on the poster as possible suspects.

The Cartwrights headed for home, Adam finally agreeing with Ben that there was no place else to look, but he was miserable, heartsick and didn’t know how he could just go on without her. The not knowing was the worst part. Where was she? What was she feeling? He agonized over that.

It had been two weeks since she had disappeared. The search was off, except for those eagerly trying to collect the reward. Not one word from anybody about her. It was as though she had vanished off the face of the earth.

Ben was walking down the upstairs hall and saw that Peggy’s bedroom door was ajar. He stopped and looked in. Adam was sitting on the edge of her bed, her rag doll gripped in his hands. Ben could see tears running down his cheeks. He went over, sat next to him, and put his arm around Adam’s shoulders.

“Don’t give up hope, son. Anything could happen. Someone’s bound to see her with all the posters we have around.”

“I’m not giving up, Pa, I just remember that the last thing she has to remember with me is that I spanked her, Pa. That’s part of what is ripping me up. He gave in to his feelings and turned into his father’s shoulder and sobbed.”

Ben reached over with his other hand and held Adam’s head and tried his best to comfort him, but he knew there was no comfort to be had.

“Son, I don’t know where she is, but wherever she is, I know that’s not what she is thinking about. I know she’s thinking about the good times here and how much she loves you. I know that, son, without any doubt.”

He was quiet then and just let Adam get it out, his boy who had suffered so much tragedy in his life already. Adam had finally really opened himself up to love this child, and now this. It wasn’t fair, but Ben knew life wasn’t fair sometimes. His own life was proof of that. He would have given everything he owned to bring that little girl back and to see Adam smile again.

“Adam, I may have made a mistake by giving Dayton that money to give up his custody rights. At the time, I didn’t see any other way to go. It looked like a foregone conclusion that he would receive custody. Judge Applegate and I had a conversation about it later. He told me that he would have had no other choice, under the law, than to give Peggy to him, but now we are in this situation. But I want you to know, son, that whatever it takes to get her back, your brothers and I are willing to do anything – money, the ranch – anything. I hired the Pinkertons again yesterday. They were really quick and helpful before – maybe there’s something they can do this time.”

“Thanks, Pa. I’m never going to give up on her. I keep thinking of her off someplace, scared, wanting me to find her. I can never give up.”

Ben held him closer in a final embrace, “I know you can’t son. I know exactly how you feel.”

They heard running footsteps down the hall. Joe came racing into the room. “Pa, Adam, there’s a man downstairs who claims he’s seen Jack Dayton in Carson City.”

They all ran down the stairs and confronted the man who was still talking with Hoss.

“Pa, this here’s Mr. Jenkins. He works in the bank in Carson City. Says he rented a house to a man and his wife about a month ago. Says the description on our poster of someone who might have Peggy fits this man.”

“Where’s the house at?” interrupted Adam.”

“It’s right in Carson City, just off the main street a couple of streets over on C Street.”

“Hmm,” Ben thought, “we never thought about looking right in town – we always figured they’d have her hidden out somewhere, somethin’ like a line shack, or an old farm.”

“That’s right, Pa, maybe we’ve been looking in the wrong place all this time.” Ben could see Adam’s hopes coming alive again.

“Now, hold on just a minute son, it could be anybody.”

“Mr. Jenkins, please tell us just what these people look like, what they said, tell us all the details,” said Ben.

By the time Mr. Jenkins left, Ben and Adam had a pretty good idea that this was indeed Jack and Mary Dayton. The descriptions fitted. He left with the promise that if Peggy was found, he would collect the reward, but he must not divulge his information to another soul.

*****

The Cartwrights arrived just after dark in Carson City and Joe took a very careful look around the house described to them by Mr. Jenkins, hoping that Joe would be the least recognizable Cartwright to the Daytons, if he was spotted. From a distance, Joe could see a dim light and some movement in the room through a gap in the curtains in the front window, but that was all.

They decided then that Hoss and Joe would approach from the back while Ben and Adam would make their way to the front window and see if they could get a look and determine if it were indeed the Daytons in that house.

Adam was trembling with anticipation at the thought that Peggy may be this close. On the other hand, Ben was worried. Why, after two weeks, had they not received a call for money? He couldn’t help but remember the conversation he had with them in the hotel room on that last day before they left Virginia City. When he had told them that Jack would not inherit Peggy’s estate if she were to die, he had seen the look that passed between Jack and Mary Dayton and remembered the chill that went up his spine at that look. He had felt then that their original plan was to claim Peggy and then “get rid” of her at some point and collect all the money. Ben was terribly afraid of just what Jack Dayton was capable of.

In the meantime, Peggy was still lying tied up on the cot where she had been for two weeks. The only time they let her up was once per night to use the outhouse after dark, as they didn’t want anyone to know there was a child in the house. Sometimes, as hard as she tried, she hadn’t been able to wait that long and had wet herself, which only served to make Dayton angry with her again. She had been wearing the same clothes now for these two weeks. She was dirty, smelled bad, was cold, hungry and in a lot of pain. He had hit her many times, seeming to enjoy it. He knew she would not scream because he had warned her what would happen if she did, but it was awfully hard not to. She had to bury her face in the ratty old pillow to hold the screams in. One time when coming in from the outhouse, she had slipped and fallen before being able to climb onto the cot, and he had viciously kicked her in the side. Now her side hurt with every breath she took. She prayed and prayed for her daddy to come save her, but it had been so long now. She found herself sleeping more and more, anything to try to keep the pain and the fear away.

When she was awake, she saw that Jack and Mary both just seemed to sit around and drink more and more whisky with Jack muttering to himself about how he was going to make the Cartwrights “pay.”

This particular night, Peggy was sleeping again and the Daytons were sitting at the table polishing off another bottle of whisky between them. They were unaware of Adam as he peeked in the front window, but he saw them and recognized them both immediately and could see his baby tied up on the cot.

Adam felt a deep rage build up inside of him. He knew that they to be very careful about gunplay with Peggy in that room. He whispered over to Ben, who was beside him, but couldn’t see into the house. “It’s them Pa, and Peggy is there. She’s on a cot on the opposite wall.”

“Thank God, son. Don’t worry, we’ll get her out of there.”

Adam nodded as Ben slipped back through the shadows to go around and alert Joe and Hoss. Adam waited until he returned. He could see the Daytons appeared to be half-asleep and obviously drunk. Ben returned and whispered, “They’re all set, Adam.”

Adam very softly tried the knob on the front door, but it was locked. He gave one look to Ben, then quietly stepped back, raised his leg and smashed his boot into the door next to the knob. The door crashed open, just as Joe and Hoss appeared through the back, guns drawn.

Adam and Ben were quickly through the front, guns aimed at Jack and Mary, who were caught completely by surprise. Jack had tried to rise from his chair, but Adam viciously shoved him back down. “If you’ve hurt her, I’m gonna kill you, Dayton.”

“Adam,” Hoss yelled, “you better come over here.” He had turned Peggy over and saw the condition she was in.

Joe and Ben joined together in the front part of the room, guns trained on the Daytons. Adam and Hoss holstered their guns and Adam ran to the cot just as Hoss got her hands untied.

“Peggy, baby, are you all right?” Adam asked, a sound of desperation in his voice. He could see she was covered with bruises and was either sleeping or unconscious. He knelt next to her and stroked her bruised face, trying to rouse her. She opened her eyes finally.

“Daddy, oh, Daddy!”

“I thought you’d never get here, Daddy. I want to go home,” and she started softly crying.

Adam was aghast at the condition she was in – filthy, bruised, some bleeding cuts. Obviously, she had been beaten and God only knew what else had been done to her.

He gently started to pick her up to hold her close to him, but she cried out in pain.

“Sweetheart, where are you hurt? Show me.”

Peggy pointed to her side. Adam unbuttoned her dress, took her arms out of the sleeves, then pulled up her camisole. As he did so, he realized she had lost weight and that they had obviously let the child wet herself. He could see the deep bruise on her rib cage and when he touched it realized that some ribs were badly bruised, if not broken. They had to get her to the doctor.

“Peggy, sweetheart, everything’s going to be all right now. Daddy is here and we’re going to take you to the doctor to get you fixed up and then take you home. Nobody is ever going to hurt you like this again, I promise you, baby.” He slipped off his coat and carefully put it around her and started to pick her up. The only thing at the forefront of his mind was getting her to some help, but in the back of his mind he was swearing to himself that Dayton would pay for this and pay in blood.

“ADAM, WATCH OUT!” he heard his father scream the words. He turned, but wasn’t quick enough. Dayton had slipped a derringer from his sleeve and had turned to fire at Adam. It was the last move Dayton would make on this earth as Joe put a bullet through his heart. Mary screamed and covered her face with her hands.

Adam felt a stinging sensation in his upper left arm, but his only thought was getting Peggy out of this room. He picked her up in his arms and turned to leave.

“Adam,” Hoss said, “he got you in the arm. Are you okay? Let me take Peggy.”

Adam glanced down at his upper arm and saw the blood running down his sleeve. Peggy realized what had happened and became hysterical, “No, Daddy, are you all right? Daddy, Daddy, don’t be hurt, please don’t be hurt.”

“Peggy,” Adam tried to reassure her, “my arm is hurt a little, that’s all. Uncle Hoss is going to take us both to the doctor, okay? The doc’ll fix us up together and we’ll both be good as new, don’t worry. I’m all right.”

“Joe,” Ben commanded, take care of the Daytons, please. Hoss and I have to get Peggy and Adam to the doctor.” Ben had come over to Adam just as he transferred Peggy into Hoss’ arms. Ben took hold of Adam’s right arm and they started off toward the Carson City doctor’s house, which they knew was only a couple of streets away.

Adam refused to let the doctor even touch his arm until he was absolutely sure that Peggy was going to be okay. The doctor and his wife bathed the little girl and tended to her injuries, all the while with Peggy holding Adam’s hand. Dr. Moore assured the family that she would be fine. Her ribs were badly bruised on one side, but were not broken. She had many bruises, contusions and cuts, but they would heal in time.

Finally, with Adam still holding Peggy’s hand, the doctor cut the shirt sleeve off of his left arm, found that the bullet had passed through, bandaged him up and said he also would heal quickly.

As Adam and Peggy both wanted nothing more than to go home quickly, Ben hired a buggy and they rode home to the Ponderosa, Peggy wrapped in blankets and lying with her head in Adam’s lap and her legs on Ben’s, while Hoss drove. It was 2:00 in the morning when they reached home. Hoss carried Peggy in and Ben and Joe helped Adam in. They sat him down in the blue chair next to the fire, which had been banked for the night and was still putting out a lot of heat, and Hoss put Peggy into his lap. She was half-asleep.

“Son, wouldn’t it be better to take Peg up to her bed and you to yours?”

“No, Pa, I want to sit right here with her in front of the warm fire. I’m fine, don’t worry. You all go on up to bed.”

Hoss and Little Joe did go up, but Ben sat down in his leather chair on the other side of the fire and watched his son and granddaughter. He was so relieved, he could hardly take his eyes off of them. Adam held the child in the crook of his arm and every so often kissed the top of her head and murmured in her ear how much he loved her, how relieved he was to find her, and how sorry he was that she was hurt.

They eventually all three fell asleep until just before dawn when Peggy sat straight up in Adam’s lap and started screaming, “NO, NO! DON’T! DADDY DON’T HIT ME! MOMMY HELP ME! MOMMY!” Peggy started sobbing then.

Adam and Ben both woke up to her screams, Adam shocked at her words.

“Honey, Daddy’s right here. It’s just a dream. I’m not going to hit you, baby.”

Peggy turned to him and buried her head in his shoulder. “It was a bad dream, Daddy. It was my real daddy hitting me, I thought. He looked so much like the man who took me. It was all mixed up and scary and Mommy was there and couldn’t make him stop.”

Ben had rushed over and was kneeling beside them. “Oh, darling, it was just a bad dream. Everything is all right now. You’re here safe with us now, sweetie.”

“I know, Grandpa. It was just a dream.” But Ben could see the terror still in the child’s eyes. He knew they had a long haul ahead of them to make her ever feel safe again.

Ben stood up. “All right, son, I’m going to insist on this now.” He saw Mrs. Mac heading down the stairs.

“Oh, Peggy, honey, you’re home. Thank the dear Lord, you’re home,” she said as she came over to them. “Are you all right?”

Ben answered for her, “She’s been through quite a lot, Mrs. Mac, and needs to be put in her bed, and Adam here needs to lie down, too.”

Ben took Peggy out of her father’s arms. “Mrs. Mac, I’ll carry her up to her room and you can get her into bed. Adam you wait here for me to come back for you. You’ve lost a lot of blood and I know you’re weak,” Ben commanded in the tone of voice that the whole family knew was not to be disobeyed.

Soon Ben came back down. Adam was feeling pretty punk. His arm hurt and he was feeling shaky, but there was no way he was going to go to his own room. He didn’t intend to take his eyes off Peggy until he was sure she was settled in and letting go of her obvious fears. It had shaken him to the core to hear her screams. He was glad Dayton was dead and he was not sorry to feel that way. Dayton was an animal and Adam was glad that Peggy would never have to worry about him again, but what damage had already been done in these long two weeks?

He let his father help him up the stairs, but at Peggy’s door, he stopped and said, “I’m not leaving her yet, Pa, I have to be with her.”

Ben wasn’t surprised. He opened the door. Mrs. Mac had just gotten Peggy’s nightgown on and tucked her in. She kissed Peggy’s forehead and left the room, knowing that Adam would watch over her. Adam carefully moved Peggy over further on the bed, sat down, pulled his boots off, turned and put his legs up onto the bed and sat up against the head of the bed.

“Honey, I’m just gonna sit here right by you. You close your eyes and go to sleep and don’t worry about anything, okay?”

“Okay, Daddy. Is your arm all right? Are you gonna be okay?”

“Yeah, Peggy, I’m just fine. Don’t worry about me. I’m a pretty tough guy, you know.”

She smiled at him, “Yep, Daddy, I know that already.”

Ben had left the room for a moment, but returned with two pillows and a quilt. He made Adam sit forward so he could place the pillows behind Adam’s back. He took the quilt and covered Adam’s legs.

“Okay, you two, no more talking. I’m gonna come back real soon and check on you and you both better be sound asleep and that’s an order, do you hear?”

“Yes sir,” they answered in unison.

Ben did come in to check about an hour later and found Peggy snuggled up to Adam with her head on his chest, but they were both asleep. Ben hoped Peggy’s sleep would be uninterrupted by any more nightmares.

*****

They both awoke later in the day when Ben walked in with a tray of food for the both of them. Peggy sat in bed and Ben helped her with her food, while Adam left the room long enough to take a bath and change his clothes. He came back to Peggy’s room, sat in the rocker and ate the food that his father had brought for him. Peggy was still tired and hurting, but obviously one happy little girl to be home again. When they were finished with their meal, Ben kissed Peggy, picked up the tray, squeezed Adam’s shoulder and left the room.

“Daddy, can I come sit with you for a while?” Peggy asked.

“Sure, honey, but let’s get your quilt and wrap that around you,” Adam answered as she climbed out of the bed, clutching her old rag doll to her chest. He pulled the quilt off and put it around her, then pulled her up into his lap and started to rock the chair and hum the old lullabies that he often still sang for her each evening.

“Daddy, if that man was my uncle, why was he so mean to me and why did he take me away from here, and how come I never even knew I had an uncle before my mommy and daddy died?”

Adam sighed as he answered, “Peggy, your Uncle Jack was a sick man to do those things. I think your daddy, Frank, knew the kind of man he was and probably didn’t want him around you or your mother. That’s probably why he never told you about him. When I say “sick,” I mean his mind was sick. It would have to be to treat you the way he did. I think he probably took you in the first place so that he could get us to pay him money to let you go. I think the reason he probably waited as long as he did before asking us for money was so that he could hurt us by making us wonder and worry just where you were all this time. I know this probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, Peggy – I mean someone being like that and hurting you like he did, but I’m afraid there are people in the world like that.”

Adam knew there was a question he had to ask her, as much as he hated to, but he knew it had to be done. “Peggy, we know that he slapped and hit you in the face and that he kicked your side and bruised your ribs, but I need to know if he hurt you in any other way. I do need to know that, honey, and you can tell me anything that happened there, even if you think you don’t want to talk about it – it’s something that I need to know.”

Peggy wasn’t sure what he was getting at, but she answered him as best she could that Dayton had hit her many times and kicked her once, and didn’t give her hardly anything to eat. She was embarrassed to tell him that they didn’t let her go use the outhouse as much as she needed to, but she told him that, too.

“And that’s everything that happened, baby, nothing you’re holding back from me about it?”

Peggy turned her face up to him questioningly, “No, Daddy, that’s everything.”

Adam bent down kissed her forehead. “Sweetheart, I am so sorry that you had to go through all that. I would give anything for you not to have had to, and Grandpa and I and your uncles were prepared to give him all the money we had, the ranch and anything it took to get you back if it had come to that.”

“You mean Grandpa would have given him the Ponderosa to get me back?” Peggy asked.

“Of course, honey, we would have given anything for you. You’re more important to all of us than anything else in the world, don’t you know that?” he asked as he pulled her into a closer embrace. “You’re my life now, Peggy. You and Grandpa, Uncle Hoss and Uncle Joe – you’re all my family and there isn’t anything more important to me, certainly not any amount of money or this ranch. We are a family and family is the only thing in this world that really means anything. Grandpa taught us that from the time we were all little boys and it’s probably the most important thing he ever taught us.”

Peggy nestled even closer, “Even when I do something wrong and get a spanking like before, you still love me then?”

“Yes, Peg, even then. You may get lots of spankings before you grow up,” and he gave her a teasing wink as she looked up at him, “but nothing will ever change that love. It just grows stronger with time. Look at the way Grandpa frets over us all. Here we are, all grown men and now I have a child of my own, yet Grandpa loves us all just as much and even more than he ever did, even with all the trouble we’ve given him over all these years – especially your Uncle Joe,” he laughed and Peggy laughed with him.

*****

After supper, Ben decided to let his two ailing charges come downstairs and join the family for coffee and dessert. Hoss carried Peggy down and Ben escorted Adam, even though they both insisted they could very well walk on their own. Adam sat in his favorite chair by the fire and Peggy climbed into his lap again and rested her head against his shoulder.

Adam insisted that Mrs. Mac and Hop Sing join the happy group. Between them, they had managed to prepare a combination of desserts that were favorites of everyone in the household, and the entire Cartwright “family” joined around the hearth and chatted and laughed, each and every one grateful to be fully reunited again. Ben watched Adam and Peggy, saw them both smiling, and felt a tremendous sense of relief and contentment.

Peggy looked around happily at her family, then up at Adam’s face as he glanced down at her and gave her another of his winks, and she remembered how safe she always felt with him. She realized now that bad things could still happen to her in her life, but that he loved her and would do everything in his power to always be there for her and that the rest of her new family would, also. It was such a good feeling to have that the fears she had were already starting to fade. She turned her face into Adam’s shoulder and drifted off to sleep, a sleep filled with blissful dreams this time. Adam stroked her hair and kissed the top of her head, realizing how much he enjoyed being her father and thinking in the back of his mind how nice it might be to really settle down and give this child some brothers or sisters.

Ben, sitting back in his chair smoking his pipe, surveyed his family and said a silent prayer of thankfulness for the blessings each and every one of them represented to him. He had lost much in his life, but he had gained this as a result and how could he ever be anything else other than grateful.

***The End***

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