Lila Jane (by DJK)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  40,850


 

His eyes were closed, but he was not asleep. He was lying on a granite outcropping beside the lake letting the rays of the sun and the heat of the rock beneath him draw the chill of the water from his bones. His pa had said that the water was still too cold for swimming and had forbidden him from sticking so much as a toe in while fishing. He had fished for over two hours before he had succumbed to temptation and convinced himself that his pa would never know about a short, little swim. The swim had been short; Pa had been right; the water in the lake was still too cold for swimming. He had stretched out on the sun-baked stone to dry and closed his eyes listening to the sounds around him: wind rustling the trees, four maybe five kinds of birds, water lapping against the shore, and a soft giggle.

His eyes sprang open. He shook his head. He could not have heard a giggle, especially not a feminine giggle. No one but his family lived within a dozen miles of this particular spot. He told himself it must have been something else, closed his eyes again, and relaxed once more.

The second giggle was longer, louder, and definitely not imagined. This time he opened his eyes and sat up looking around him searching for the source of the sound. He was unable to see anyone, but when the giggle transformed into a full-throated laugh, he scrambled up and dived back into the lake.

Surfacing, he blew water out of his nose and mouth. “Who’s there? This is our land. WHO’S THERE!”

He saw movement at the edge of the trees and treaded water as he watched a girl he judged to be of an age with him walking calmly over to the outcropping he had just vacated. She had two long braids, bare feet, and a grin on her face. She sat down on the edge of the granite and tucked her knees beneath her chin.

“Hey!”

“Who are you? Where did you come from?” Adam demanded.

She raised her hand and gestured. “We’re camping over there.”

“We? Who’s we?”

“Father and I. Who are you?”

“Adam. Adam Cartwright,” he answered automatically. Then he said as imperiously as he could manage from his position in the water beneath her, “My pa owns this land. You’re trespassing.”

“Your father doesn’t let people cross his land? Will he have us arrested?” She did not sound intimidated.

“No,” Adam sputtered. His pa would never do that even if there were a lawman residing within fifty miles.

“Will he shoot us then?” This time her tone was definitely mocking.

Adam answered with only a glare. In the silence that followed, the cold that was penetrating his body commanded his attention.

“You can camp the night, but then you’ll have to go,” Adam granted. “Go on and tell your pa.”

“Father’s hunting.” Her lips curled into a smirk. “I can stay for a little chat. I haven’t had anyone but Father to talk to for weeks.”

Adam shivered. “I don’t feel like chatting. Go on!”

Her grin deepened. “Is the water cold? You can come out and get dry if you want.”

“I said go on!”

She turned her gaze skyward and observed nonchalantly, “This is just the prettiest lake. The water’s so clear. Why you can see. . .” Her gaze swept downward and settled on his face.

Adam let his right hand drop beneath the water as he wondered how his face could feel so hot while his body was freezing. “Nothing! You can’t see nothing!”

“Nothing that I didn’t see before you dived in.” Her laughter floated down onto his head. His anger rose to meet it.

His voice grew as cold as the water around him. “I said get! If you’re still here in two minutes, well, if you’ve seen it already there isn’t any reason for me not to come out and teach you a lesson about spying on folks.”

She stuck her tongue out at him. He surged toward the shore. She rose and darted toward the trees. He stopped in the some bushes a few yards from the water’s edge. The girl was already lost among the tree shadows.

Adam crossed his arms over his chest and let a curse slip from his lips. Hearing the vulgarity come back to his ears, he glanced hurriedly around him even though he knew he was now alone. “If Pa heard me say that. . .“ His mind shuddered first, and his body followed. He shook the water from his hair and stood waiting for the sun to dry him. He would have liked to pull on his clothes and chase the girl down, but shrugging he told himself that there would be little point in that. “If I ever laid a hand on a girl Pa would kill me! He’ll come close enough if he finds out I’ve been swimming.” That was why Adam waited until his body had dried to dress. If Pa saw any damp spots on his clothes, the questions would start, and Adam had never been able to straight-out lie to his pa.

Adam’s eyes searched the area carefully before he left the shelter of the bushes to head toward the rocks where his pony was tethered and his clothes laid out. When he arrived, he reached for his cotton drawers, but his hand hovered in mid-air. “Where in blazes?” He began searching for his underwear. After ten minutes of fruitless endeavor, he glanced at the lowering sun, grabbed his pants, and began dressing. As he dressed, he chewed his lower lip and wondered if there was any possible way he could keep his father from knowing his elder son was missing a pairs of drawers.

*****

Adam managed to return home on time and with a string of fish to clean for supper. His father was in an affable mood, and dinner was a pleasant affair. One thing that Ben Cartwright cooked well was fresh fish.

“Time for bed, boys,” Ben announced as he did each evening.

“Yes, Pa. Good night, Pa.” Both Adam and his little brother, Hoss, obediently headed toward the sleeping room. Adam gave a prayer of thanks that he and his father had added a sleeping room for just the boys to the cabin a few months earlier.

As the two brothers began changing into nightshirts, Adam heard Hoss exclaim, “Adam, where’s your drawers!”

“Shush,” Adam turned to glare down at the almost five-year-old.

“But where’s your drawers, Adam; you ain’t wearing no drawers!” The little boy’s astounded whisper still had enough volume to concern his brother.

“I said hush!” Adam gave Hoss an even fiercer glare. “Ain’t any business of yours anyway.” Adam jerked his nightshirt down over his head.

“I would like to know, Adam, precisely the same thing.”

Adam spun slowly to face his father who was now standing in the doorway of the sleeping room. “Um, you want to know what, Pa?”

“I want to know where your drawers are.” Ben had straightened and stepped into the room.

“My drawers, Pa? I have a clean pair in the chest.” Adam’s eyes evaded his father’s and focused on a knothole in the floor planks.

“Where are the drawers you put on this morning?” Ben asked more specifically.

“This morning?”

“You did put on drawers this morning, didn’t you?”

Adam swallowed. “Of course, Pa.” Ben Cartwright might have brought his boys into the wilderness to rear, but he insisted on all the basics of civilized behavior that his own mother had taught him.

“Then where are they now?” Ben’s tone made it clear that he was losing patience with his son’s evasions.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” Ben raised his right eyebrow.

“I lost them.” Adam’s reply was barely a whisper.

“And how exactly does one lose the drawers he is wearing?”

“I wasn’t wearing them at the time,” Adam admitted. He dared to glance upward through his lashes and then blurted out the rest of his confession. “I went swimming. When I got dressed, my drawers were missing.” Adam heard a sharp intake of breath from Hoss. It provided the exclamation point to his own, “I’m dead!”

Ben looked over Adam’s head at his younger son who was still naked and holding his nightshirt in his hand. “Put your nightshirt on and get in bed, Eric.” At the sound of his given name, Hoss sucked in a deep breath and obeyed as quickly as he was able.

Adam’s stomach fell from his knees to his feet. Ben reached out and took his son’s upper arm. He led Adam out into the main room of the cabin. Taking a seat on one of the wooden chairs, he stood the boy before him.

“I forbade you to swim today, did I not?” Ben’s voice was low and hard.

“Yes, sir.”

“I was not unclear; you understood my orders?”

“Y… yes, sir.”

“But you chose to disobey me?”

Adam managed only a nod. Then he looked directly into Ben’s face for the first time since his pa had asked him about his drawers. “I didn’t lie to you about it, Pa.” It was a plea for mercy.

“No, you did not lie, and that was the right choice, but you had every intention of deceiving me, didn’t you?”

“I’m sorry, Pa.” Adam’s eyes were brimming with tears.

“And I forgive you, Adam, but you have a lesson to learn.”

The tears slipped down Adam’s cheeks. He knew exactly what method his father would use to teach that lesson.

*****

When he crawled into bed, Adam buried his head in his pillow. He barely heard his little brother’s “I’s sorry, Adam. I’s sorry.”

Adam did not answer until he heard Hoss begin to sniffle. “It wasn’t your fault, Hoss. You didn’t do anything.”

“You mad, Adam?”

“No, I’m not mad. Just go to sleep.”

“Okay.”

A few seconds passed in which Adam stifled his own sniffles in his pillow. Then he felt his brother shift further from him toward the wall.

“Adam, I’ll be real careful not to touch you there.” Hoss offered the only reassurance he had to give.

Adam sighed. “Thanks, brother.” The last bit of anger at the little boy for his inadvertent finger-pointing drained out of Adam, but a smoldering fire still burned against a barefoot girl with two braids and a wicked grin.

*****

Adam slipped onto his chair and watched his father from the side of his eyes. Ben put a platter of Johnny cakes on the table and sat down.

“Please lead us in thanks, Hoss,” Ben instructed as all three Cartwrights folded hands and bowed their heads.

“Thank you, Lord, for this new day and for the food set ‘fore us. Help it makes us strong and help us, umm, be good.” Hoss glanced at his father before declaring, “Amen!”

“Amen,” both Ben and Adam echoed as Ben began filling his sons’ plates with the Johnny cakes. He also began giving his sons instructions for the day. Hoss asked questions betweens large bites of food, but Adam kept his replies to a few respectful yes, sir’s. Ben took note of his son’s subdued demeanor.

“He’s fretting over his spanking!” Ben kept his sigh mental, and when Hoss left the cabin to feed the chickens Ben kept Adam in his seat by placing a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Yesterday is over and done, Son. I want you to remember to obey me, but, well, you do know that I forgive you.”

“I know, Pa.” Adam’s answer was soft, and his head remained bowed.

“Then I can expect at least a small smile sometime today?” Ben made his tone lightly teasing.

“Yes, sir.” Adam sounded ready to obey an order. He rose; then stopped and asked, “May I be excused, Pa?”

Ben shook his head, placed a hand on either side of Adam’s waist, and drew the boy to him. “Not until things are settled between us. You’re not one to sulk, Adam, not when you know a punishment is deserved.”

“I’m not sulking, Pa.” The quick flash of indignation faded immediately. “Truly I’m not.”

“Then what?”

Ben heard Adam’s reply only because the boy’s mouth was inches from Ben’s ear. “You don’t trust me now.”

Ben’s arms came around his son as Adam buried his face in his father’s shoulder.

“No, no, no.” Ben drew Adam’s face gently from him, so the child could see his eyes. “I placed too much temptation in your path, and I will judge better in the future, but, my son, I trust you in many ways every day, and I will continue to do so.”

“But I. . .”

“You were naughty, and you were punished. The next time you will not make that mistake.” Ben smiled and chucked Adam beneath the chin. “You have always been a quick learner, Adam Stoddard; I expect it to be that way with this lesson.”

“It will, Pa.” Adam’s dimples peaked shyly from his smile. “I don’t want any more instruction.” Adam had slipped from his father’s arms, and his hands reached back to rub the seat of his pants.

Ben shook his head, but a smile remained on his face. “Off with you then. I want those chores finished before lunch.”

*****

“Adam. Adam!”

Adam turned at the sound of his little brother’s voice. “What, Hoss?” He walked to the door of the cabin and watched his brother hurry over from the hen house.

“Lookit what I found,” Hoss called as he walked as quickly as his burden of fresh eggs would allow.

Adam stepped clear of the door as his brother entered. “What?”

Hoss carefully set his egg basket on the floor before holding his discovery out to his brother. “These!”

Adam reached out and took the white cloth. Shaking it out, he recognized his own cotton drawers.

“They was out in the hen house,” Hoss declared. “How do ya think they gots there?”

Adam did a lightening quick assessment of the situation and arrived at the obvious answer within seconds. His eyes darkened and a smoldering fire started to flicker with flames. “Somebody put them there.”

“Who puts drawers in a hen house?” Hoss sounded truly bewildered.

“A two-legged pole cat.”

Hoss heard the anger in his brother’s voice. “What are ya talking about, Adam?”

Adam did not answer. He simply ordered, “Just put the eggs up. And don’t say nothing to Pa about this. Hear me, Hoss?”

Hoss nodded. It had only been a day since his mouth had gotten his brother a spanking.

“She took them! If I ever get my hands on her. . .” Adam’s attention focused on visions of retribution as he hurriedly took his drawers into the sleeping room and stuffed them into the chest where they kept their folding clothes.

“Adam.” This time it was his father’s voice. Adam sighed. There was little chance that he would ever see the girl again. He took two steps toward the main room of the cabin before stopping short. “She had to have left them late yesterday. Maybe she is still around. Maybe. . .” The possibility that he might have a chance at revenge started Adam pondering possibilities. He continued to ponder as he joined his father and brother, and his pondering continued at odd times throughout the next two days.

*****

Adam jumped down from the wagon as soon as his father set the brake, and Hoss scrambled to climb down after him, but Ben caught the waist band of his younger son’s pants.

“Whoa there, the both of you,” Ben called. “We’re going straight to our seats. You can find your friends after services.”

“Ahh, Pa, I just want. . .” Adam began.

“Adam!” Ben’s voice carried a sharp edge.

Adam remembered that he was the cause of the family arriving later than usual and immediately answered, “Yes, sir!”

Ben stepped to the ground and then swung Hoss to stand beside him. Adam trudged around the wagon to join them. Placing his hand on his son’s shoulder, Ben said, “I know you get little chance to be with your friends, but it will have to wait until after services.” Adam nodded, and the family walked over to the benches which were quickly filling with worshipers.

Adam and Hoss sat on either side of their pa squirming slightly as they settled onto a rough bench made from half a log. They had been seated for less than a minute when the reverend signaled for quiet and began to speak. Reverend Marks was a circuit rider who held services in an oversized canvas tent every third Sunday. He was a large man with a booming voice and a tendency toward fire-and-brimstone preaching, but he was well-liked by all for his affable personality. Adam, in particular, found great pleasure in how the reverend’s rich baritone led the hymn singing. Adam and Hoss knew well how they were expected to behave, and neither boy had any desire for further instruction on the matter from their father. They sat attentively with their eyes focused on the reverend. It was not until after the sermon during the passing of the collection plate that Adam noticed a familiar looking pair of braids. Startled and unsure, he began twisting about and craning his neck trying to get a better look at the girl four rows in front and to the left of his father. He was so intent in his quest that he failed to feel his father’s first touch of reprimand. He did feel the second sterner tap but made one more ill-considered attempt. A stinging pop to his thigh stilled him instantly. Outwardly he turned his attention back to the final words from the reverend, but as his hand surreptitiously rubbed at the lingering sting, he fumed.

“It’s her. I bet it’s her. Just wait. Thinks she can spy and steal and get me punished. Just you wait. If it’s her. . . I bet it is.”

The final amen was still ringing in the congregation’s ears as Adam slipped away for his father and brother intent on finding the girl. Minutes after he departed the tent, he spotted her headed toward the necessary located near the trading post. He did not catch up with the girl before she entered but stood waiting when she made her exit.

When Adam blocked the girl’s path, she simply stopped short, said, “Oh, it’s you,” and then had the nerve to smile.

“Yes, it’s me.” The scowl on Adam’s face had yet to fully develop into the one that would someday send cold chills down the spine of hardened cowpokes, rugged miners, toughened lumberjacks, and assorted miscreants; but it was well on its way. The girl did not flinch though the smile left her face.

“You found your drawers?”

“You stole them!” His accusation snapped with indignation.

“Borrowed! I returned them as soon as I could!” Her voice contained its own measure of indignation.

“Not soon enough. Not having those drawers got my tail busted.” If Adam’s cheeks had not already burned with anger, they would have flushed scarlet when he realized what his rage had let him reveal.

“You told your father?”

“He found out.”

“If he did, it’s your fault not mine.” Her voice was flippant, and a smirk settled on her face.

“Mine! You steal my drawers, and it’s my fault. I suppose your pa wouldn’t know if you lost yours.” Adam’s voice squeaked with anger.

“Not if I had the sense God gave a goat. I don’t go showing my bare backside to anybody.”

“You’re a girl,” Adam sputtered, “It’s different for you.”

The smirk faded, and Adam watched as the girl before him chewed her lower lip.

“I guess it is; I never thought. . . I mean I didn’t want you to get a thrashing. It was just a joke.”

“It wasn’t funny!”

“I’m sorry.” She said it simply and waited for his reply.

Adam huffed and crossed his arms on his chest. He stared at the girl, and his right hand slipped upward and tugged his left ear.

“I wasn’t supposed to be swimming; Pa was mostly mad about that,” Adam admitted.

“I won’t ever tell anybody I saw you naked. I promise.” She took her pointer finger and traced a cross above her heart.

Adam decided to accept her peace offering. “Okay.” He offered her his hand.

She accepted it, and they shook.

“My name’s Lila Jane.” Before Adam could respond, Lila Jane added, “I remember; you’re Adam Cartwright.”

“I didn’t think you’d still be around. If you and your pa are passing through…”

“Oh, we’re not passing through; we’re staying.”

Adam’s eyes widened, but before he spoke he heard his name called. “That’s my pa. I better go.”

Lila Jane smiled. “We’re bound to see each other again.”

“Yeah,” Adam muttered unsure whether he wanted that or not, and then dashed off as he heard his father call him once again.

“Did you want me, Pa?” Adam came to a stop in front of his father.

“Where were you?”

“At the necessary, Pa.” He had been standing near it the entire time.

“Is that why you were fidgeting through the last of the service?” Ben asked.

Adam chose his words carefully. “The same reason, Pa. I didn’t have a chance before services.” Adam realized his last remark might not have been the wisest and added, “I won’t dawdle next time, Pa.”

“See you don’t.” Ben’s brow creased with a sense that there was something his son was avoiding telling him. Then he told himself that if there was it would come to light soon enough. “The ladies will have dinner set out in an hour, so you can play with your friends until then. We need to leave as soon as we eat. There are things that need doing at home.”

“But, Pa, it’s Sunday!” There was a definite whine embedded in the boy’s protest. Every third Sunday after service was generally his to spend with his friends, and most often it was the only time he had to play with other boys.

“Even on Sunday there are things requiring attention.” Ben watched Adam’s lower lip slip forward, but his regret that his sons so seldom had a chance to spend time with playmates kept a reprimand from his lips. “Your only task will be to watch your brother. You may take him fishing at the creek.”

“There’s more fish in the lake than the creek.” Adam volunteered.

“And more temptations. The creek, Adam, and we’ll have fresh fish for supper. Now, don’t waste the hour you have.” He gave Adam a light swat on the backside as the boy darted away to find his friends.

*****

As the wagon stopped in front of the trading post, Hoss reached into his pocket and withdrew the contents. “I gots my penny, Pa. I didn’t lose it.”

“Good boy,” Ben replied and patted the little one’s head.

“Adam, do you gots your penny?” Hoss’ head had swiveled in the opposite direction to gaze at his brother.

“No, Hoss, I told you I’m saving my penny; I left it at home,” Adam replied automatically while he scanned the area to see if anyone he knew was in sight.

Ben stepped down from the wagon. “Come on, boys.”

Adam jumped down and then turned to help his brother to the ground. The two boys followed their father into the interior of the trading post.

“Adam, you will watch your brother while I talk to Mr. Benz. You may go out on the porch but no further,” Ben instructed.

“Adam’s gonna help me pick out my candy, Pa,” Hoss declared amiably.

Adam rolled his eyes. Hoss took buying a penny’s worth of candy as seriously as Pa did purchasing a breeding bull. “Come on then.”

Adam gave half his attention to his discussion with his brother on the merits of various sweets while looking over all the nearby merchandise and keeping an ear on his father’s discussion with the store’s proprietor. Finally Hoss made his decision.

“I knows what I wants!” Hoss announced loudly. “I’s ready to buy, Mr. Benz!”

“Eric, you’re interrupting!” Ben followed his reprimand with a stern look.

Hoss’ chin dropped. “Sorry, Pa. Sorry, Mr. Benz. I waits.”

“Would you mind, Ben, if I took a minute to help this important customer before we continue?” Mr. Benz inquired affably as he looked at Hoss’ crest-fallen expression.

Ben nodded and watched as the smile came back to his young son’s face. Mr. Benz made a great show of dealing with his “important customer” as little Hoss’ chest puffed with pride. The proprietor wrapped four peppermints in paper and handed them to Hoss with a flourish. Adam’s eyebrow slide upward; a penny usually bought only three peppermints.

“Take your brother out on the porch, Adam. I shouldn’t be much longer,” Ben ordered.

Adam had already ascertained that the trading post had no new books on its shelves, so he replied easily, “Yes, Pa.” He led his little brother onto the porch, and the two of them squeezed into the old rocking chair that sat there.

Hoss carefully unwrapped his sweets and stared down at them. Then he slipped a mint into his mouth and talked around it. “You can have one, Adam. I’ll share.”

“That’s okay, Hoss. You don’t have to share yours just because I’m saving.”

“You gonna save for a book?”

“Yeah.”

“You gonna read to me from that book when ya gets it?”

“If you want.”

“Then you’ll be sharing with me, so I’ll share now. Go on.” Hoss pointed toward the mints in his lap.

Adam reached with one hand and picked up a peppermint while his other arm slipped around his brother’s waist in a one-armed hug. He slid the sweet into his mouth. Both boys sat contentedly sucking candy and watching the street. Then Adam saw someone approaching that he had not thought about in three days.

Lila Jane came up and leaned over the porch rail staring at Adam and Hoss. “Hey, Adam Cartwright!”

“Hey, Lila Jane.” Adam replied with less enthusiasm.

“That your brother?” Lila Jane pointed at Hoss.

“Yeah. His name’s Hoss.” Adam waited for the expected “Horse?”

“That sounds friendly,” Lila Jane smiled, and Adam’s eyes widened in surprise. “Are you friendly, Hoss?”

Hoss nodded. “Are you?”

Lila Jane shot a look at Adam and then answered, “I am to nice folks with blue eyes. I just love blue eyes.”

“I gots blue eyes,” Hoss responded cheerfully, but then his smile flickered. “Adam ain’t got blue eyes.”

Lila Jane heard the concern in Hoss’ voice and said quickly, “That’s okay. I love black hair too.”

Hoss’ smile became sunny once more. Then he glanced at the candy in his lap. Hoss knew the right thing to do. He lifted the paper and held the sweets out toward the girl. “We’s eating candy. You can have one.”

Lila Jane’s eyes were on Adam, and she read the flickering reaction on his face correctly. “Well, it’s very nice of you to offer, Hoss, but you see, well, I’m not allowed without my father’s permission.”

“Oh.” Hoss knew all about having to have permission. He pulled the candy back into his lap, folded the paper back over the contents, and thrust the package into his pocket.

“Where is your pa, Lila Jane?” Adam had not seen a man he did not recognize while they had been sitting on the store porch.

Lila Jane raised her hand and pointed toward a wagon and tent further down the street. “He’s going to set up a shop there.”

“What kind of shop?” A new business in town was always of interest to everyone.

“Father’s a cobbler.”

Hoss’ face scrunched with puzzlement. “Cobbler’s something ya eat,” he muttered.

“She means a shoemaker,” Adam clarified. “He makes and repairs shoes and boots and such.”

“Oh. That’s good, ain’t it, Adam?”

Adam nodded. “Yeah. Pa’s boots could use new soles.”

“Father figures with people passing through to California there should be work enough for cash money. We’re going to plant a garden and hunt for food too.”

“So you’ll be living in town?” Adam tugged his left ear.

Lila Jane nodded. “Father’s business will grow with the town. As soon as folks know they can get finer shoes here than anywhere else, they’ll come from all around.”

Adam’s eyes traveled downward. Lila Jane was once again barefoot. “That might happen faster if folks saw his work on your feet.”

Lila Jane shrugged and grinned, “I advertize on Sundays.” Then all three heads turned as Lila Jane’s name was called in a deep bass voice.

“That will be Father.”

Lila Jane made no move to leave, so Adam inquired, “Hadn’t you better go then?”

Lila Jane shrugged. “He’ll call again if he really wants me.”

Both Adam and Hoss’ eyes widened at the remark, but hearing boots on the wooden plank they turned their heads to watch Ben Cartwright exited the store.

“Well, boys, we can go over to the livery while. . .” Ben stopped as his eyes found Lila Jane. “Who?”

“This is Lila Jane, Pa. Her father’s going to start a shop. He’s a cobbler.” Adam made his introduction. “Lila Jane, this is our pa.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Cartwright.” Lila Jane made a small curtsey.

“I’m pleased to meet you too, young lady. Mr. Benz told me the town had been fortunate enough to gain the permanent services of a shoemaker.”

“Adam said you need new soles on your boots,” Lila Jane asserted.

“He’s right. I shall look forward to meeting your father professionally as well as to welcome him to town. Unfortunately, we have several errands to finish before we head back to the ranch.”

“Father’s not quite ready for customers yet anyway.” Lila Jane observed and then heard her name called again. “I better go. Excuse me, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Of course, dear.” Ben watched Lila Jane turn and dart down the street with a smile. “Well, boys, we better get going.”

Adam’s eyes also followed Lila Jane as he pondered whether he was pleased that he would be seeing more of the girl.

*****

The next time Adam saw Lila Jane she was advertizing. It was Sunday, and not only was Lila Jane wearing shoes, but she was also displaying them to three girls gathered around her. Adam stood beside the church tent with Hoss at his side. He was waiting for his father to release him from his responsibility for his little brother so that he could join the other boys for some fun. Ben Cartwright, though, had become engaged in a lengthy conversation with Reverend Marks. Adam had inched as far from his father toward the gathering children as he dared. Now he shifted impatiently from one foot to another letting his attention drift from sight to sight. His attention began to focus on the group of young girls as bits of their conversation were blown to his ears. Apparently, Lila Jane’s high-button Sunday shoes had found an appreciative audience. Then the girls’ voices dropped too low for their words to reach Adam’s ears, but their giggles did. Settling his gaze on the group, Adam observed several of the girls look in his direction and then lean toward Lila Jane and whisper behind their hands. Adam felt the tips of his ears burn as he decided that he had somehow become the object of the girls’ discussion. As the giggles increased and rose in volume, the stares from the girls become bolder. Adam lifted his chin and turned his back to the group. Feeling a tug at his sleeve, Adam bent over slightly to bring his ear closer to his little brother’s mouth. This allowed him to glance surreptitiously back toward the giggling girls and see Alice Crawford point her finger directly at his backside. He jerked upright as the loudest wave of giggles reached his ears.

“I wonder what in blazes they find so funny!” The thought had barely entered his mind when an answer followed bringing a flood of white-hot anger with it. “She told!” It seemed the only logical explanation. He had allowed himself to be fooled into forgiveness by a smile and a lie of a promise. Fury drove away all control, and he turned toward the girl who had betrayed him. Striding across the grass, he bore down upon Lila Jane with a single-minded intent to wipe the smile from her face. The look on Adam’s face parted the girls around Lila Jane as Moses parted the Red Sea.

Adam planted his feet and glowered at Lila Jane through a fog of rage. “Liar!” He spat the word into her face. “Welcher!”

Lila Jane took a step back as if recoiling from a physical onslaught. Then she stiffened. “What in blazes!”

“You told them.” His volume was lower, but his vehemence increased.

“Told them what?” Lila Jane’s true puzzlement was hidden beneath her defiant tone.

“That you saw me naked!” The gasps of the surrounding girls did not register with Adam.

Lila Jane’s eyes widened. Shaking her head, she made the grave mistake of grinning wickedly. Before she could utter a sound, Adam’s hand moved. His slap eliminated Lila Jane’s grin and brought tears to her eyes. It also brought cries from the mouth of each observer. Adam felt his anger drain from him like water from an upturned bucket. He gasped and then shuddered as it was replaced by the realization that he had struck a girl. Shame froze every muscle in his body. Then he heard his father’s voice.

“Adam!

Feminine voices began declaring that Adam had hit Lila Jane after calling her names. Ben’s eyes went to the girl’s face. The handprint on her cheek was clear evidence of his son’s guilt. Ben’s hand clamped on Adam’s forearm as Ben turned his son to face him.

“Adam Stoddard Cartwright! What is the meaning of this?” Ben did not bellow; his voice had already lowered into a much more serious tone.

“I . . .I. . . she. . . I’m sorry.” The last two words were little more than a whimper as Adam wilted beneath his father’s glare.

Ben drew in a deep breath in an attempt to rein in his anger.

Lila Jane stood behind Adam with her hand to her cheek. She had a clear view of Ben’s face, and her own anger burned away in the face of a superior blaze.

“Lila Jane?” Her father had arrived. Upon seeing the mark on his daughter’s face, Josiah Caruthers’s own anger was kindled. “What happened?”

Ben’s instinctive need to protect his son kept his voice calm as he explained there had been a children’s quarrel and that his son had slapped Lila Jane. Before Josiah Caruthers could voice his outrage or demand atonement, Ben quickly assured him that Adam had been taught better and would be receiving the obviously needed correction he was due.

As Josiah began to sputter a reply, Adam managed to declare, “I’m sorry I hit her.” The simple statement turned Josiah’s attention to the boy.

“You should be. A man does not strike a woman. Never!”

“I know.”

Josiah harrumphed finding it difficult to argue when everyone already agreed with his point of view. Then he sighed. “He’s not a man; he’s a boy.” Josiah’s eyes went back to Ben’s face. “A boy who will clearly be paying the price of his transgression.” Josiah often said that there was no point in beating a dead horse. He turned to his daughter. “Very well then. Come, Lila Jane, we’ll put a cool cloth on that cheek.”

Ben watched Josiah lead his daughter away and then turned his attention back to his eldest son. He again clamped his hand around Adam’s forearm, called Hoss to his side, and led both boys to the Cartwright wagon. Hoisting Hoss onto the wagon seat, he settled the boy there, as he did he noticed a film of tears in the child’s eyes.

“You’re in no trouble, Hoss,” Ben said soothingly.

“Adam is.”

“Yes, your brother is in serious trouble, but that need not concern you.”

“I don’t like Adam to get a tanning, Pa.” It was obviously a plea for mercy.

“Neither do I, but when one is earned, well. . . What your brother did was very wrong, Hoss, very wrong.”

Ben heard a stifled sob and looked into the wagon bed. Adam had crawled into the back of the wagon and was lying there curled in upon himself. Ben shook his head and took his place on the wagon seat. He listened intermittently to Adam’s muffled despair and Hoss’ sniffles the entire ride home.

As Ben guided the wagon next to the barn, he said, “You will go in and change out of your Sunday clothes. I’ll see to the horses.” He set the brake and jumped to the ground. Turning to help Hoss, he saw Adam slip from the back of the wagon and head toward the cabin. He swung Hoss down while watching his eldest. “Go along now.” He sent Hoss on his way with a pat to the back.

Hoss followed his brother into their sleeping room. “Adam?” He received no response as his older brother threw his body face down upon their bed. “Adam?”” There was no response. Hoss chewed his lower lip but made no more attempts at conversation as he removed his Sunday clothes and replaced them with his everyday shirt and pants. Then he wandered back through the main room and out onto the porch. He sat down on the single step and stared over at the barn. When his stomach growled, he looked down with a reprimand on his face. A few minutes later, when it rumbled again, he said sharply, “Stop!”

Ben exited the barn and heard his young son. Striding over, he asked, “Stop what?”

“My stomach’s grumbling,” Hoss replied giving his mid-section another glare.

“I expect it should be,” Ben observed. They had left before the usual communal dinner, and breakfast had been quite a few hours ago.

“But I don’t want nothing to eat.”

Ben gazed down at the boy and then lowered himself to sit beside his son. “Why not, Hoss?”

“Adam won’t speak to me, Pa. Wouldn’t even look at me.”

“Your brother is feeling ashamed right now.”

“ ‘Cause he hit that Lila Jane?” Ben nodded, and Hoss continued, “I thinks it’s ‘cause they was laughing.”

“The girls were laughing at Adam?”

Hoss nodded, “I thinks so.”

“Even so, he should not have struck Lila Jane.”

Hoss gazed up at his father. “Why’s it worser to hit a girl, Pa?”

Ben took a deep breath. “Hoss, generally, well, most often women and girls are not as big or strong as men and boys. They could be more easily hurt in a fight, so we must learn not to strike out at them in anger. Really, we should learn to not strike out in anger at anyone but especially at those who cannot defend themselves.”

“You was real angry at Adam.”

“And that is why I did not punish him before we left town.”

Hoss turned his eyes to his hands. “Pa,” he said softly, “I’s gonna be big and strong when I grows up.”

“All signs are that you will be quite big and strong, Son.”

“I gots to learn not to gets in a temper.”

Ben placed a hand on each of his son’s cheeks and turned Hoss’ eyes to his own. “Yes, Son, you must learn to control your temper and not allow it to control you.”

“I tries hard, Pa.” The child’s tone was deeply serious.

Ben smiled. “I know you do.” Ben hugged the boy to him. Then he stood with Hoss in his arms and walked into the cabin. Setting the boy down, he said, “Wash your hands.”

Hoss obeyed, and Ben took a biscuit left from breakfast, broke it open, and spread the surfaces with molasses. Handing the pieces to Hoss, he instructed, “Take this out on the porch to eat. It should stop that growling for a bit.”

Hoss nodded.

“Then you may play between the house and the barn. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Pa.”

“I need to speak with your brother, and then I’ll fix us some dinner.”

Hoss turned and slowly walked out the door. Ben turned in the opposite direction and entered the sleeping room.

Adam, still in his Sunday clothes, lay facing the wall with his body curled around a pillow. His son’s remorse was obvious to Ben as he walked over and sat on the edge of the bed.

“Adam.” The boy’s whole body tensed. “We need to talk.” Ben placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “Look at me, Son.”

Adam flinched. “I can’t, Pa.”

“Adam.” The command in Ben’s voice was clear.

Adam shuddered. “I’m too ashamed.” The statement ended with a sob.

Ben sighed. “Then you are well on the road to true repentance.” Ben applied pressure to Adam’s shoulder turning the boy onto his back. “And from there it is a short distance to forgiveness.”

“I was just so mad. I didn’t, I didn’t think about her being a girl.”

“You lost your temper. What you did because of that was wrong. Inexcusable, in fact, but not unforgivable.”

“I shamed the Cartwright name.” Adam turned his head from his father’s gaze.

“You are not the first, Adam.”

Adam’s eyes came back to his pa’s face. “I won’t ever hit a girl again, Pa.”

Ben’s hand came up and cupped Adam’s chin. He gazed down into his son’s eyes. “You’re still a boy, Adam, and as such you will make mistakes that could not be tolerated in a man. If you learn from them and their consequences, then you will not repeat them when you are a man.” His hand dropped back to his side. “Do you understand why this was worse than throwing a punch at one of your male playmates?”

“Yes. With Lila Jane, well, it couldn’t ever be a fair fight.”

Ben nodded accepting the child’s level of understanding. “Hoss said the girls were laughing at you?”

“Yes, sir. They were gossiping and laughing, and I got mad.”

“What were they gossiping about?”

Adam’s stomach flipped. “Girls, Pa, well, you know, they talk and tease about, well, things.”

Ben recognized the evasion but allowed it to pass deciding to proceed with what was necessary. “And that should not bring out the degree of temper it did today. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Pa.”

“Then change from your good clothes. You may put on your nightshirt,” Ben instructed.

“Yes, sir,” Adam replied slipping off the bed. He understood that he would not be leaving the cabin before morning and that in a very few minutes he would have no desire to be anywhere but once again face down on his bed.

Adam stopped in the doorway of the sleeping room. “Pa, I, I need to use the necessary.”

Ben looked up from his Bible and said, “Use the chamber pot. Then wash your hands and get your plate from the warmer. Ben had allowed his eldest to sleep off the initial effects of his punishment instead of waking him when Hoss and Ben had eaten.

“Yes, Pa.” Adam turned back into the sleeping room, and Hoss walked over to lean against his father’s leg.

“You think Adam will talk to me now, Pa?”

Ben patted Hoss’ back. “After he eats.”

“Does he have to go straight back to bed?”

“No. It’s about three hours until bedtime.” Hoss smiled. “But I doubt your brother will be in the mood for playing.”

Both of their heads turned as Adam entered the main room. They watched him retrieve his plate from the warmer.

“I’m not very hungry, Pa.”

“You will eat. You may stand while you do so.”

“I can sit.”

Hoss darted toward the sleeping room calling, “I’ll gets ya a pillow!”

Adam’s pale cheeks flushed.

“He’s your brother,” Ben observed casually.

Adam shrugged, and when Hoss handed him the pillow he simply said, “Thank you.”

“I’ll sit with ya,” Hoss stated slipping onto a chair.

“Do you want some milk?” Adam asked.

“Yes. Can I have a biscuit too, Pa?”

“Yes.”

“With preserves?”

“You and Adam may have preserves with your biscuits.”

Hoss grinned, and Adam set the biscuits and preserves on the table and then poured milk for them both.

The two boys ate in companionable silence for a few minutes, and then Hoss began a conversation about two squirrels he had seen while outside that afternoon. When Adam was finished eating, he tidied the table, washed his dishes, and put them away. Then he walked over to his father.

“I need a piece of paper, Pa.” Ben raised his eyebrow in inquiry. “For a letter, um, an apology to Lila Jane.”

“You know where the paper and ink are kept. Bring it to me before you seal it.” Ben motioned for Hoss to come to him as Adam went to get the needed items.

Ben held Hoss and told him a story while Adam wrote his apology. When Adam brought the finished missive to him, Ben read it; then looked at Adam and smiled. “I shall see that Lila Jane receives this.”

Adam exhaled the breath he had been holding, grateful that his pa would not make him deliver the apology in person.

Ben set Hoss on his feet. “Go change for bed, and then I’ll read to the two of you for a while.”

Hoss knew his father wanted to speak to his brother, so he did not complain but went immediately to obey.

When the two of them were alone, Ben said, “You have accepted that you were wrong, received your punishment, and apologized. You are forgiven, Adam. You will start from here with a clean slate.”

“Thank you, Pa. I’ve learned my lesson. Truly I have.”

“Good. There is some instruction I rue having to give.”

“I know, Pa. I’m sorry I made you.”

“I told you that are you forgiven, Adam. Now pick a book for us to read.”

Adam smiled. “Yes, Pa.”

After Ben had heard his sons’ prayers and had seen them settled in their bed, he went to the porch to have a last smoke of his pipe. The two boys lay in bed back to back.

“Adam?”

“What?”

“Pa ain’t mad at you no more.”

“I know.”

“Are you still mad at that Lila Jane?”

Adam was silent for moment before answering truthfully, “Yes.” Deep inside he was angry with Lila Jane, and he remained so for the next four years, two months, and seventeen days.

*****

Adam took a deep breath and pushed open the door to the cobbler’s shop. Glancing around he saw exactly what he had hoped he would not. He knew Lila Jane often worked in her father’s store, and there she was. Her hair now hung down her back in a single thick braid, a white apron had replaced her pinafore, and she was wearing shoes, but it was unmistakably Lila Jane.

The girl turned at the sound of the bell that hung over the door. The smile that had started on her face faded away, and her words had a forced cheerfulness. “Well, if it isn’t Adam Cartwright.”

“I’ve come to pick up a pair of shoes for . . .” Adam paused as he mentally decided on the correct choice: Marie, my stepmother, my mother.

“Mrs. Cartwright,” Lila Jane inserted swiftly. “Father has her dancing slippers ready. I can get them for you. They were paid for when ordered.”

“Thank you.” The words had a coldly formal sound.

“Father said that she wanted new dancing slippers because all of you were going to San Francisco.” Lila Jane commented as she would have to any other customer.

Politeness demanded a reply. “Pa and I have business there. He decided the rest of the family would enjoy some time in the city.”

Lila Jane answered as she wrapped the shoes in brown paper, “I’m sure all of you will have a wonderful time. Tell Mrs. Cartwright that if she dances through the soles of these slippers Father can replace them for her.” She tied a string around the bundle and held it out to Adam.

“I shall.” Adam reached for the bundle, but his hand stopped short.

“Adam.”

For the first time he looked directly at her face.

“I didn’t tell them.”

Adam did not bother to pretend he did not immediately know to what Lila Jane referred. “You didn’t?” His eyebrow arched disdainfully.

“No, I didn’t!”

“Then what was it that all of you were laughing at? Adam’s tone made it a challenge.

“What does it matter? For heaven’s sake, it was years ago.”

“You are the one who brought up the subject, Lila Jane.” He turned away but then turned back. “Why did you tell me that today? Not any other time in four years but today.”

“It’s the first time since you slapped me that we’ve been together with no one else around.”

It was the truth. He had avoided Lila Jane whenever possible and acted with exaggerated politeness when he could not.

“You didn’t answer me. What were you laughing about if you didn’t tell them? Do you deny you were talking and laughing about me?” Adam’s voice was hard and sharp-edged.

“No.” The anger in his eyes lit the same fire in hers.

“Then what!” The demand was sneered.

Lila Jane tossed her head up and glared back at Adam. “Does it matter?” Then the same grin he had slapped from her face long ago returned. “After all, if I had told them, there would have been so little to comment about!” She had lowered her gaze from his face to below his belt.

Adam’s hands clenched, his breath hissed into his lungs, and he forced himself to turn and walk out of the shop. The slamming of the door echoed through the building, and the little bell clanged its way to the floor. A banked fire had once again become a full-blown blaze.

“ADAM! ADAM!” He heard his name being shouted even through the fog of his rage. He also recognized the voice, so his stride did not even hesitate. Deep inside a tendril of fear uncoiled; he was not sure if he could control his anger if he answered her calls, and he was determined never again to let her be the cause of him shaming his name. The calls stopped abruptly, and there was a single high scream. Adam froze. He stood statue-like, not even trying to decipher the sounds behind him. Then he turned slowly and stared back the way he had come. At first everything seemed to pass before his eyes in a slowed motion with the shouts and cries muffled, but as Adam took measured steps toward the scene it sharpened into focus. Lila Jane lay sprawled in the dirt of the street. People were calling for help and gathering around the girl. The driver of the wagon stood holding the harness of his lead horse while repeating, “She stepped right in front of me. There wasn’t anything I could do. She just stepped right in front of me!”

The only person there not muttering questions and exclamations was Adam Cartwright. He stood in complete silence watching as Josiah Caruthers ran to his daughter, lifted her gently, and carried her away. Then he walked slowly to the opposite side of the street a few feet from where the Lila Jane had lain. Bending over, he picked up a paper-wrapped bundle. The paper was dirty and had been loosened when the bundle was propelled so forcefully from the girl’s hands. It was clearly the pair of dancing slippers he had forgotten in his hasted to leave the cobbler’s shop. Adam’s fingers tightened convulsively as he turned and walked quickly away from the site of the accident. He arrived at the Cartwright wagon slightly out of breath.

“There you are, son. Did you get your mother’s slippers?”

“Yes, sir. Right here.” Adam held up the bundle in his right hand.

“Good. Climb up then, and we’ll head home. I don’t want to be late for dinner.”

“Yes, Pa.” Adam’s answer was automatic, and he quickly obeyed.

Ben noticed that his son said very little on the trip home, but in all truth his eldest was never a chatterbox and at fifteen had been known to drift into moodiness. He told himself if there was a real problem it would become clear eventually and that there was no sense borrowing trouble. It was not until Sunday that Ben Cartwright heard about Lila Jane Caruthers accident.

*****

“Paralyzed!”

“Well, possibly; it’s too soon to tell for certain. It’s not as if I can look inside her back.” Doctor Paul Martin’s voice held frustration directed not at his friend but at his own limitations.

Ben Cartwright slowly shook his head, “Such a tragedy, such a tragedy. She just stepped in front of the wagon, you say?”

“So the driver said. He was beside himself. Lila Jane doesn’t remember anything about that day. Which is not too unusual when you’re dealing with a severe concussion. Josiah is just thanking the Lord that she’s still alive.”

“Well, when you see them next be sure to tell him that if there is anything I or Marie can do, he should let us know.”

Paul Martin nodded. “Everyone who knows says the same, of course. Still he and Lila Jane are going to have a hard row to hoe. Even if she recovers, it is going to be a long, slow process.”

“Well, as Reverend Marks said we shall hold the both of them in our prayers,” Ben stated as his eyes began to scan the people in the churchyard.

The doctor nodded. “I see Nathan Standish, Ben. If you’ll excuse me, I need to speak to him about how his leg is healing.”

“Of course, Paul. I should be rounding up those sons of mine and heading for home myself. Remember you are expected for dinner on Tuesday. I’ll have the chess board set up.”

“I wouldn’t miss a meal at the Ponderosa for any. . .” A wry grin settled on the physician’s face, “Well, for anything short of a medical emergency. Give my best to Marie.”

“I shall,” Ben assured. His eyes had located his two younger sons, but his eldest did not appear to be anywhere in sight. Ben searched the different groups of people congregating in the churchyard once again. He saw the group of boys that Adam usually joined on Sundays and walked toward them.

“Boys, have any of you seen Adam?” Ben inquired of the entire group.

“No, sir,” issued from several mouths with accompanying shakes of all the young heads.

“Umm,” Ben’s hand rubbed his chin. “Where has that boy gotten too? If he’s up to some mischief. . .” Ben let the thought drifted away as he continued his search.

“Hoss, have you seen your brother?” An edge had sharpened Ben’s voice.

“Little Joe’s playing over there,” Hoss replied pointing out his three-year-old brother. “He’s playing with Jason. Mrs. Connerly’s watching them. You said it was okay, Pa.”

“I know, Hoss. I wasn’t asking about Little Joe. Do you know where your brother Adam is?”

A puzzled expression flitted across Hoss Cartwright’s countenance. Then he ventured, “He might still be in the church.”

“Inside?”

“I think so, Pa.”

“Well, we’ll be leaving soon. Finish up and get your little brother. Adam and I will meet you at the buggy.”

“Yes, Pa.”

Ben strode toward the steps of the newly built church, took his hat from his head, and stepped inside. He stopped short when he saw the figure of his son kneeling at the altar rail. He drew in a deep breath. “Something’s been troubling him for days,” Ben mused, “It’s time I found out just what that is.” He walked softly but determinedly down the aisle until he stood directly behind his son. Placing his hands on the boy’s shoulders, he said, “Adam.” The single word carried a demand that was clear to both of them.

Instead of looking up, the boy bent his head even further. Ben’s hands moved to Adam’s upper arms and raised him to his feet. Turning his son to face him, Ben said, “It is time that you talked to this father also, Adam.”

So suddenly that it startled his pa, Adam buried his head in Ben’s shirt front and threw his arms around Ben’s waist. As Adam fought the sobs inside, his father patted his trembling back and murmured wordless reassurance. Finally Ben was able to make out the words, “It’s my fault. It’s my fault.”

Ben maneuvered his son onto the first pew and sat beside him. Drawing the boy’s head away from his chest, Ben took Adam’s face in his hands and stated firmly, “Tell me what it is that is your fault.”

“Lila Jane.” The name was exhaled with a shudder.

Ben’s brows lowered in puzzlement. “Lila Jane? What do you mean, Adam?”

“It’s my fault she’s hurt, Pa, my fault!”

“How could Lila Jane’s accident be your fault?”

A tremor passed through Adam’s body. He gulped air and then forced out his story in halting sentences. His father listened as he told of the argument in the shop, his leaving without the dancing slippers, and his ignoring Lila Jane’s calls.

“I just kept walking, Pa. I heard her, but I was so mad. I just kept walking, and it’s my fault she walked in front of that wagon. All my fault!”

Ben shook his head. “No, son, it’s not.”

Adam jerked back and stared into his father’s eyes. “But it is, Pa. I forgot the slippers because I was mad. She would have stayed in the shop if I hadn’t forgotten them. Then I heard her. If I had turned around, she wouldn’t have followed me, and it wouldn’t have happened.”

Ben sighed. “Perhaps not, but still, Adam, it was an accident.”

“I didn’t mean for it to happen. . .”

“Of course you didn’t.”

“But it happened because of my temper, Pa, so it’s my fault.”

Ben studied his son’s face. “There’s not a thing in the world I can say that will make him believe it wasn’t.” He considered his next words carefully. “It was an accident, Adam, but if you feel that your actions helped to create that accident, there is only one thing to be done.”

Adam dropped his eyes to his hands. “Ask forgiveness.” Ben nodded. “I was asking God, Pa.”

“If you have asked God for forgiveness, you have already received it, child.” Both Ben and Adam turned toward the source of the words. Reverend Marks walked toward them and continued, “I did not hear what you needed forgiven, but I do know that whatever you have done God has forgiven you.” He smiled at Adam, “Accept that and forgive yourself, Adam Cartwright.”

“But. . .”

“Would you reject God’s forgiveness?”

“No, sir, it’s, it’s just, well . . .”Adam’s arms crossed and his right hand reached to touch his left ear, “I know God forgives me, Reverend, but, well, what about Lila Jane?”

“The Bible says that if you have wronged a brother or sister, go to them and ask forgiveness.”

“I, I don’t know if. . .”

Ben’s arm slipped around his son’s shoulders, “I’ll go with you, Adam.”

“Okay.”

*****

Josiah Caruthers listened in silence to Adam’s account. His hands twisted a piece of leather while his eyes never left the boy’s face.

“I’m dreadful sorry, Mr. Caruthers. I want to tell Lila Jane how sorry I am.”

Josiah took in a large breath and then let it out slowly. “Lila Jane doesn’t remember anything about that day.”

“Pa said Doc Martin said she doesn’t remember because of her concussion. I. . .I guess I’ll have to tell her before I ask her forgiveness.” Adam shifted nervously from one foot to another.

“Josiah,” Ben Cartwright had been studying the man’s face for signs of anger and was greatly relieved when those signs had not appeared, “if you feel it would be better for Lila Jane to, well, for sleeping dogs to be left to lie.”

Josiah’s hesitated and then set the leather in his hand down with a swift and sudden movement. He sent Ben an inquiring glance and then stood. “If the boy feels the need to apologize, well, child, I’ll show you up to Lila Jane’s room.”

“Adam?” Ben’s single utterance both asked and offered.

“I need to Pa and, um, I guess I’d best do it alone if you and Mister Caruthers don’t mind.” Adam straightened his back and followed Josiah.

Returning to the workroom, Josiah sat down opposite Ben. Ben cleared his throat and began, “Josiah”

Lila Jane’s father shook his head, “Ben, I am not holding anything against the boy. Lila Jane, well, if I’ve told her once I’ve told her a thousand times to look before crossing a street. I’ve been telling her that since she learned to walk, and still she doesn’t more than she does. ” Josiah shook his head again, “She’s always been a little heedless, but, well. . .” A sheen filled Josiah’s eyes. “Doc says there’s a chance.”

“Everyone in town is praying for her healing,” Ben offered in reassurance.

“God’s already allowed her to stay with me. If, well, if that’s all he grants, well, it will be enough.”

“God’s blessings are boundless, Josiah.”

Lila Jane’s father nodded, and both men’s ears strained to focus on a conversation they could not hear.

*****

“I was trying to give you your mama’s dancing slippers?” The only tone in Lila Jane’s voice was one of puzzled inquiry.

“Yeah, but I was mad and didn’t turn around.”

“Because we’d been arguing?”

Adam nodded.

“What did I say to make you mad this time?”

Adam’s cheeks flushed. “Just, well, something, well, it wasn’t exactly what you said but what you. . .does it really matter?”

“It must’ve mattered to you.”

Adam’s eyes rose to Lila Jane’s face for the first time since he had entered her room and seen her propped up against the pillows on her bed. His hand came up and rubbed the bridge of his nose as he saw a slight smile flicker on the girl’s lips.

“Yeah, well, it shouldn’t have, and I’m sorry my being mad got you hurt, especially hurt so bad.”

Lila Jane sighed. “The man driving the wagon came to say he was sorry. Papa and I had a long talk after. There are lots of things that could change an accident, but, well, it wasn’t his fault and, well, it wasn’t really yours. It was some my own fault, but being mad at myself doesn’t help much either.”

“Then you’re not mad at me?”

Lila Jane shook her head. “Not anymore than I’m mad at me or that driver or God even and not right now anyway.”

“Then you’ll forgive me?” The question was voiced very softly.

A ghost of Lila Jane’s normal smirk settled on her face. “I will if you tell me what I said to make you mad.”

Adam gulped. “You won’t forgive me if I don’t?”

“I might not. I know I will for certain if you tell me.”

Adam felt the blood rush into his face as he did. Downstairs the two fathers heard the sound of feminine laughter and sighed in relief.

*****

Ben Cartwright came down the stairs and stopped short at the sight of his eldest son sitting on the low table before the fireplace.

“Adam. Whatever are you doing up so early, son?”

“Pa, I‘ve been thinking.”

Ben walked to his son’s side and eased down beside him.

“Adam,” he said softly while placing his arm around the boy’s shoulders, “I thought you had accepted that you are forgiven.”

Adam turned slightly toward his father. “I have, Pa, really I have, but I’ve been thinking, and I need you to listen. Pa, please listen before you say no.”

“Before I say no to what?”

“Pa, I want to, no, I need to do something.”

“What is it you feel you need to do?”

“Not go with you to San Francisco. . .”

“Not go to San Francisco! Why ever not?”

“Pa, hear me out, please, Pa. I want to go and stay with Mr. Caruthers and help him instead.”

“Adam,” Ben took his son’s face in both his hands, “you do not have anything to atone for, nothing.”

“It’s not that, Pa, really. Mr. Caruthers, well, you know when somebody’s hurt it takes a lot extra, and Doc Martin said all that about care and exercises and such, and Mr. Caruthers needs to work, and I know I could help.” The words tumbled from Adam’s lips without pause.

“Adam, it will be nearly a month that we will be gone. A month, son, that’s too long.”

Adam swallowed and then retorted, “You were gone months when you went to New Orleans. You left Hoss and me for months ‘cause you felt you had to go.” The challenge made Adam swiftly dropped his eyes from his father’s face.

Ben inhaled sharply but bit back an angry reply.

“I didn’t mean any disrespect, Pa. I know why you felt that way; it’s just, well, I feel like I need to do this.”

Ben sighed. “Taking responsibility for someone else’s child is not done lightly, Adam. Josiah Caruthers might not be prepared to take responsibility for you.”

“But you’ll let me ask him. Please, Pa, please.”

Ben place a hand on Adam’s neck and brushed his thumb against the boy’s hair. “When was the last time he pleaded for something. I can’t even remember.”

“Please. Pa.”

Ben glanced upward and saw his wife on the stairs. He studied her face and then said, “I’ll consider it, Adam. I’m not saying that you may; I’m saying that I will give the matter some thought.”

Adam had learned long ago to tell when his father’s maybe was really a no and when it held the possibility of consent. His eyes brightened. “Thanks, Pa.” Adam stood. “I’ll get a head start on the morning chores.”

Ben’s eyes followed his son out the door and then watched his wife descend the stairs.

“Did you hear what he wants to do?”

“Yes.” Marie’s voice was soft and soothing.

“He was looking forward to this trip more than anyone,” Ben declared. Marie tilted her head slightly. “Well, as much as you at least. He’s chosen this for his punishment.”

“Perhaps it not that simple, mon cher.” Ben snorted. Marie reached out and placed her hand on her husband’s arm. “One of the good sisters once told me that the only way to clean away the stain of hate is with an act of love. Perhaps, Adam wants to clean his heart.”

“”Hate! Really, Marie!” Ben snorted again.

“A childish hate born of temper but one held for very long inside.” She raised her hand to place her palm against his cheek. “When you first came to me in New Orleans, there was much anger and hate in me. I know of hate,” she smiled, “and you have taught me of love.”

“You think I should let him do this?”

“I think you should talk to Josiah Caruthers. From what you have said of him, he is a good man. If two good men think and talk together, the right decision should come.”

Ben placed his hand over his wife’s and turned her palm toward his lips. “I’ll go and talk to him after breakfast.” He stood, and she encircled his neck with her arms. Rising onto her toes she whispered into his ear, “It’s your own fault, you know, mon cher. It is you who have taught him what is right.”

Ben shook his head and then smiled. His only answer was a very long kiss.

*****

Ben rapped on the door and then walked into his eldest son’s room.

“Adam.”

The boy looked back over his shoulder as he answered, “Yes, Pa?”

“I want to talk to you, son.”

Adam heard the serious tone of his father’s voice and turned quickly toward Ben. “You haven’t changed your mind, have you?”

“No.” Ben closed the distance between himself and his son. “No, I have not changed my mind, but I want you to know that you can still change yours.”

Adam released his trapped breath slowly. “Pa, I. . .I. . .part of me wants to go with all of you tomorrow, but, well, I need to do this, Pa, really I do.”

“And I have agreed that you may.” Ben drew in a deep breath and gently nudged Adam into a seated position on the bed. He sat next to the boy and slid his arm around his son’s waist. “Adam, you understand that you will be under Mr. Caruthers authority?”

“I’ll be good, Pa.” A smile flickered on Adam’s lips. “You know I can be a good boy some of the time.”

Ben cocked an eyebrow and looked down his nose. Then he smiled. “Most of the time. Still you have your moments, so I want you to understand that if needed you will accept Josiah’s chastisement as you would mine.”

Adam dropped his eyes and then looked up again into his father’s face. “Yes, sir, I understand. I plan to be a help to him, Pa.”

“I’m sure you shall be.” Ben smiled and ruffled his son’s hair. “Since Hop Sing is traveling with us, you know you can’t just decide at some point to return home.”

“I know.”

“I’ve spoken to Mr. Hampton at the telegraph office. You will send me a telegram every fifth day. Do you understand?”

“That’ll be a lot of money, Pa.”

“That is my concern not yours.”

“Then I’ll make a deal with you, Pa.”

Ben snorted. “A deal? What kind of deal?”

“I’ll telegraph you every fifth day if you’ll telegraph me back each time.”

Ben’s dark eyes sparked. “You shall telegraph every fifth day, young man, or answer to me when we return.”

“Yes, Pa, every fifth day.” Adam’s assurance came immediately upon his registering Ben’s tone.

Ben’s eyes lightened. “And I shall return your telegrams.”

Adam’s face brightened. “Thanks, Pa.”

Ben suddenly pulled Adam into his arms. “I’ll miss you, child.”

“I’ll miss you, Pa, all of you.” Adam returned the hug.

Releasing his hold, Ben stood and moved his hands to cup Adam’s face. “I suppose there’ll be far too many times when I’ll be missing you now that you’re growing into a man.” Ben sighed deeply. “But that’s the way of things.” Ben shook his head slightly and then smiled. “I’m proud of you, son.”

“I want you to be, Pa; I always want you to be proud of me.” Adam’s voice was barely a whisper.

Ben simply patted his cheek and then cleared his throat. “Be a good boy then and get to bed. We have to be up early tomorrow.”

Adam jumped to his feet. “Yes, sir, Pa, sir, right away, sir.” He giggled and ducked away as Ben’s hand came toward his backside.

*****

“Adam, you come.” Little Joe Cartwright peered down at his brother from his mother’s lap. Marie shifted nervously and slipped her arm firmly about his waist.

“No, Little Buddy,” Adam replied stepping closer to the side of the wagon. “Remember we told you I’m going to stay and help Mr. Caruthers and Lila Jane.”

The three-year-old shook his head. What he had been told and what he was capable of understanding were entirely different, but now he had felt the emotion around him as his parents and Hoss had said good-bye to Adam, and the carpetbag at his brother’s feet had brought an awareness that the impending separation was beyond the normal. “Want you to come!” Little Joe declared in an imperial tone.

“And I want to come.” The thought flashed through Adam’s head, but he simply said, “I know you do, but I can’t. I have a job to do here.”

Joe had already learned the power of the words “job to do” when it came to taking away the people he wanted with him. His eyes immediately filled and overflowed. “Want you to come.” This time the tone was pleading.

“Joe, I can’t.” Adam’s voice carried its own plea. He reached out and used his thumb to wipe tears off of his baby brother’s cheeks.

“Pa make you. Pa, make Adam come!”

“Wouldn’t I like to!” “No, Little Joe.” Ben’s voice was firm. “Adam is staying here.”

Joe recognized his father’s tone. “Then Joe stay here too!”

Various sighs and exclamations issued from the other members of the Cartwright family. Adam placed his hands around the child’s waist and pulled him into his arms. He whispered into the small ear. “I’ll miss you, little brother, so much, but I need you to be a big boy like Hoss.”

Little Joe sniffed and looked at his brother. There was never a time when he did not want to be a big boy like his brothers. He sniffed again, “Have job to do?”

Adam squeezed his brother to him and said, “A very important job. Now Hoss and Pa and your ma and even Hop Sing will take good care of you. You’ll have a good time, and when you come back you can tell me stories about everything you did. You know only big boys get to go on trips.”

Little Joe chewed his lower lip and glanced at the people in the wagon. “Who take care of Adam?” he asked aware that everyone who took care of him was in that wagon.

Josiah Caruthers had come out of his shop door and heard the little boy’s plaintive inquiry. He stepped up behind Adam and said confidently, “Your brother will be taken care of, little one.”

Little Joe stared over Adam’s shoulder into the face of the man behind him. “You strong?”

Josiah smiled. He placed Joe’s hand on his bicep. “I’m strong.”

Little Joe’s sigh was loud enough for everyone to hear. “Okay.”

Adam hugged the little boy again and then handed him to Marie. “Be good, Little Joe. You too, Hoss.”

Ben decided a quick departure was best. “You be good too, Adam,” he said and smiled his finale good-bye.

Adam stood very still as he watched the wagon travel out of sight. Josiah stood with him. Then Josiah picked up Adam’s carpet bag and placed an arm around the boy’s shoulders. They turned together and walked toward the shop. Josiah made a point of not noticing the tears filing the boy’s eyes.

*****

Adam rapped softly on the door and then waited. When Lila Jane responded, he pushed the door open and stepped inside the girl’s bedroom. Lila Jane sat in her bed propped up by pillows. She still looked pale, and her legs beneath the bed quilt remained unnaturally still.

“I thought we might play checkers,” Adam offered.

Lila Jane set the book in her hand down on the bedside table. “I’ve never learned to play checkers,” she replied.

“You don’t play checkers!” Adam’s astonishment was clear.

“No, and I don’t play marbles either,” Lila Jane said with an affronted snort.

“Well, marbles is one thing with you being a girl and all, but checkers…”

“Well, I don’t know how, so that’s that.” Lila Jane turned her gaze from Adam to the window.

Adam stared at her and then swallowed. “I could teach you.”

“It would be something new to do.” Lila Jane bit her lip at the thought of why she so wanted something new to do while lying in bed.

“Fine then.” Adam dragged a chair over to the bed and set the checker board on the quilt beside Lila Jane. His fingers nimbly set the checkers in place as he explained the basics of the game. Four games later, Lila Jane was proving herself an apt pupil, and Adam had begun to actually focus on his own moves. As he cleared the board of Lila Jane’s last piece, he heard a deep sigh.

“It’s a nice enough game, but I like chess better.”

Adam’s eyebrow flew upward. “You play chess?”

Lila Jane smirked at the tone in his voice. “My grandfather taught me when I was four.”

“Four!”

“Yes, four, but I didn’t really get good until I was seven or so.”

Adam snorted and then grinned, “I was good by time I was six.”

“Really?”

“Really.” Adam stated firmly. When Lila Jane simply stared at him, he cleared his throat, “I don’t play often though. Pa really doesn’t have the time, and Hoss doesn’t play.”

“Father doesn’t either. I haven’t played since Grandfather got sick.”

“Your grandfather is sick?”

Lila Jane shook her head slowly. “No, he’s not sick anymore. He died.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Adam said automatically.

Lila Jane rubbed the bridge of her nose with her pointer finger. Deciding to continue, she said, “It was the yellow fever. Mother made Father take me to stay in the country. She stayed to nurse Grandfather. They argued about it, but he was her father, and she loved him. She convinced Father that he had to take care of me.”

“Your mother?” Adam’s question was whispered.

“She died five days after Grandfather.”

Adam started to say he was sorry, but Lila Jane had turned her gaze toward the window, so he swallowed and sat silent as the seconds passed. Then he asked, “Is that why you came west?”

“That’s why Father came west; I came because I couldn’t convince him not to,” Lila Jane stated with a brittle edge to her voice. Then she leaned back into the pillows that supported her and said, “I’m feeling awfully tired. I think I’ll rest.”

“I’ll see if your father has anything he needs me to do.” Adam rose and gathered up the checkers.

“He says that you’ve been a great help to him these past few days.”

Adam paused for he heard a thread of bitterness in her tone. “I hope that I have.” Lila Jane offered no reply, so Adam made his way out of the room and down the stairs to the shop.

*****

“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Adam paused to bite his lower lip and then continued, “but I really should ask Mr. Caruthers before I guarantee delivery by Monday.”

“Where is Josiah?” Hiram Hanley asked impatiently. He did not like dealing with some temporary child assistant; he considered himself much too important a personage for that.

“He’s upstairs with Lila Jane,” Adam replied and watched Mr. Hanley roll his eyes. “Her legs have to be exercised three times a day.” The edge in Adam’s voice would have displeased his father as it was being used toward an adult.

“And of course one of those times must be during business hours.”

The sarcasm in the man’s voice lit Adam’s temper, but he said in a controlled and precise voice, “I’ll go upstairs and ask him if there will be any problem, Mr. Hanley. It will only take a minute.”

Hiram snorted but motioned with a wave of his hand toward the back door of the shop. Adam turned sharply on his heel and made his way through the workroom and up the stairs to the Caruthers living quarters. He saw that the door to Lila Jane’s room was halfway open before the sound of a whimper reached his ears. He stopped in the middle of the hall and stood indecisively shifting from foot to foot.

“Stop, Father, just stop. It’s no use anyway.”

“You know what the doctor said.”

“I know he said maybe. Well, maybe it won’t snow this winter, and maybe there’s a vein of gold under this store, and maybe some prince from Europe will ask me to be his wife, or maybe. . .”

“Lila Jane.” Josiah’s tone was as stern as Adam had ever heard it be. “The doctor said it will still be weeks before we know if your back is healing.”

“Or if it isn’t!”

“Until we know differently, we will do what is needed to keep your muscles from wasting.”

Adam heard something clatter to the floor.

“It’s your time that is wasting, Father!” Lila Jane’s voice had filled with petulance.

“If that is so, it is my time to waste, daughter!”

“But your business. . .”

“Adam is tending to the shop. The business will be fine, Lila Jane. So let us continue. Now, child, there is no reason for tears.”

Adam turned on his heel and darted back down the stairs. Striding through the workroom and back into the shop, he announced in a confident voice, “You shall have those boots by Monday, Mr. Hanley. I can deliver them to your office if you’d like.”

Hanley shook his head. “No need. I’ll be by after lunch on Monday. You can let Josiah know I’ll pay him then. Good day.”

“Good day, sir.” Adam’s right hand tugged at his left ear as he watched the man leave the shop. Lila Jane’s voice echoed in his mind as he began to sweep out the shop floor.

*****

“I don’t suppose you would be interested in learning to be a cobbler, now would you, Adam?” Josiah Caruthers looked over at the boy and smiled.

Adam shifted and then said, “Well, sir, I can’t really say that I would.”

Josiah laughed. “That’s all right, boy. Though I would be glad to teach you the trade if you had an interest.”

“Thank you, sir, but no thank you.” Adam finished the last of the milk in his cup and set it back on the table. “I’ll clean up these dishes and then see that the wood boxes are filled.”

“Adam, there’s something I’d rather you’d do this afternoon. There’s enough wood in the boxes for this evening and for fixing tomorrow’s breakfast.”

“Of course, sir. What is it you would rather I do?”

“Play chess with Lila Jane.” Josiah watched the boy’s face and continued before Adam had a chance to answer. “The days are hanging rather heavy on her hands. When we were doing her exercises this morning, well, the best help you could be to me this afternoon is to give her a distraction for a few hours.”

Adam swallowed what he had intended to say. “Yes, sir, but, well, I haven’t seen a chess set about.”

“Oh, we have a chess set.” Josiah rose, exited the kitchen, and returned with a hinged cherry wood box in his hands. “Take this up to Lila Jane’s room, and, Adam, don’t let her tell you she doesn’t want to play.”

“But. . .”

Josiah smiled and clapped Adam on the back. “I imagine you can wheedle her into it if you try. It’s a useful skill, wheedling women; think of this as a chance to practice.” Adam looked askance, and Josiah added, “I advise the use of those dimples I remember seeing once or twice.” He chuckled at the affronted look on the boy’s face and departed for his workshop.

Adam trudged up the stairs to Lila Jane’s bedroom and knocked on the door. Hearing an affirmative response, he slipped into the room leaving the door open behind him.

Lila Jane lay in her bed propped into a sitting position by a pile of pillows. She held nothing in her hands and simply stared out the window.

“Your Pa sent me up. I guess I’ve earned some playtime.”

Lila Jane’s gaze drifted from the window to her visitor. “Playtime?”

“He said we should play chess.” He held out the box in his hands.

Lila Jane flung her gaze back toward the window and said sharply, “I’m too tired for chess.”

Adam bit his lip and then retorted, “Too tired or too lazy.”

“Lazy!”

“Or scared. I bet you’re scared I’ll beat the pants off you.”

Lila Jane turned her face toward Adam; upon it was a smirk he remembered well. “If you haven’t noticed, I’m not wearing any pants.”

Adam raised his chin an inch and returned her smirk. “I’ll beat the drawers off you then.”

“What if I said I wasn’t wearing any drawers either?” She watched a blush rise in his cheeks and giggled gleefully. “Don’t worry; I’m properly attired for company at least in my current state of health, and we can always consider you the hired help.”

“The hired help gets paid,” Adam retorted.

“Then I suppose you’re suffering more from indentured servitude.”

“Let’s just say I have to obey your father as much as you do.”

Lila Jane cocked her head to the right. “Only as much as I do?”

Adam snorted and dragged a chair to the side of the bed. “He said for us to play, so let’s play.”

“And if I beat the pants off you?” Lila Jane tossed challenged toward him.

Adam shrugged. “It won’t be the first time you’ve seen me without them.”

Lila Jane’s mouth dropped open at the reference. Adam grinned wickedly at the thought he had managed to leave Lila Jane speechless. He set the box on the bed between then and unfastened the brass clasp. Lifting the lid he saw that it could be brought back to lie flat and form a chess board. Around the edges of the inlaid squares, were nested the most magnificently carved chessmen, Adam had ever seen.

He reached out and picked up the black king. “They’re beautiful.”

“My great-great grandfather carved them. The black army is French and the white is English. The oak they’re carved from is English.” Lila Jane’s voice was soft, and Adam heard it tremble as she added, “This was my grandfather’s greatest treasure.”

Adam’s gaze left the carved wood and traveled to Lila Jane’s face. The tears were slipping down her cheeks. “Perhaps not the greatest. He had a daughter and a granddaughter who loved him very much. Pa would say those were his real treasures.”

Lila Jane closed her eyes and whispered, “I can see his hands holding them, moving them.” A sigh came from deep inside her. “They’re mine now.”

“I have a compass that belonged to my grandfather.”

Lila Jane’s eyes opened. “Is he dead?”

“No, but I’ve never met him; I mean, I was a baby when we left Boston, and I don’t have any memory of seeing him. He writes me though. He was a sea captain. His ship was called The Wanderer.”

“Someone told me your mother died when you were born.”

“She did.”

“Maybe it’s better not to remember.”

Adam shook his head slowly. They sat for a few minutes with eyes focused on the exquisitely carved chessmen. Then, Adam said matter-of-factly, “You can be white” and began to set the pieces in their proper places on the board.

*****

Adam folded the telegram and stuffed it into his back pocket. He turned and headed back toward the cobbler’s shop trying to push thoughts of his family and the fun they were having from his mind. By the time he opened the door to the shop, he was breathing quickly and shallowly with his sight blurred by a film of tears. He darted through the empty shop and workroom. His eyes focused on the woodshed, and he dashed inside. Slamming the door behind him, he leaned back against its wooden planks and slid down. Drawing his knees to his chin, he buried his face in his arms. He focused on breathing in and out slowly and steadily until he knew he would not embarrass himself by sobbing. He raised his head and sat listening to the mundane sounds around him. The first time he heard his name called, he did not react; the second time he only shifted on the hard dirt floor. A third call did not come, but after a few minutes Adam rose and exited the woodshed. After a few more minutes the sounds of an axe splitting wood filled the air.

“Adam! ADAM!” Josiah Caruthers voice pierced the air.

Adam buried the ax in the stump and responded, “Yes, sir.” His chin remained down, and his eyes focused on the pile of split wood.

“I need you to watch the shop. I have an errand.”

“Yes, sir.” Adam’s answer was immediate and respectful, but he made no move toward the door.

Josiah stepped down from the porch and closed the distance between them. “Did you get your telegram sent?”

“Yes.”

“And did you receive one?”

“Yes.”

“Was there bad news, Adam?”

Adam shook his head. Josiah stepped closer.

“Missing them bad, are you?”

Adam turned his back toward Josiah who placed a hand on his shoulder.

“I didn’t really think about how hard it’d be not to see any of them for so long.”

Josiah’s hand gave a light squeeze. “If there was a way, I’d send you straight to them, son.”

Adam shook his head again. “It was my choice to stay here.”

“And I’m selfish enough to be glad you did.”

Adam turned back toward Josiah. “Are you?”

“You have been so much help to me, Adam.”

“I’ve tried, but, well, it just seems the things I’ve done are so unimportant.”

Josiah’s hand moved to cradle Adam’s neck. “Adam Cartwright, nothing you have done for me and Lila Jane is unimportant, and we shall always be grateful for you presence here in our time of need.”

Adam could not doubt the sincerity in Josiah’s voice. “Thank you, sir. Not just for saying that, but Pa said taking responsibility for another man’s child, well, he said it is not done lightly. You, well, you’ve never blamed me for what happened to Lila Jane, and you let me try to, well, to do what I could.”

Josiah smiled and for the first time Adam saw a resemblance between Lila Jane and her father. “As I told you, Adam, I’m a selfish man. Now, if you get in there and look after my business, I can be on my way.” Adam smiled and dashed off.

The first person to enter the shop was Paul Martin.

“Hello, Doctor Martin.”

“Hello, Adam. Is Josiah in the back?”

“No, sir. He’s on an errand, but Lila Jane’s upstairs, of course.”

“I’ll just make my way upstairs then.” The doctor had passed Adam when he heard the boy’s voice.

“Doc Martin, can I ask you something?”

“Of course.” Paul turned and studied the boy before him.

“I, well, I just wanted to ask, well, is there really a chance that Lila Jane might walk again?” Adam shifted nervously.

“Yes. I’d say that at this point the odds were about seventy to thirty that she won’t. Still there is a definite chance.”

“Does her, umm, I mean would her believing she could make a difference?”

“A patient’s outlook always has an effect on that patient’s recovery.”

Adam shifted again, and his arms crossed on his chest. Tugging his left ear, he stated softly, “I think her outlook is getting darker.”

Doctor Martin sighed, “That would not be unexpected. It’s not an easy thing to face.”

“I think, well, she does less and less. Things like reading and sewing and knitting and such. Things she can do sitting in bed. Shouldn’t she be feeling stronger and able to do more not less?”

“Physically, except for the condition with her legs, Lila Jane has regained most of her strength. If she is doing less, well, the reason is of the spirit not the flesh.”

“She’s dwelling on what she can’t do until she doesn’t feel like doing what she can?”

Paul Martin nodded. “An astute observation, young man. We must try to help her focus on something beside her inability to walk.”

“Is she well enough to sit up somewhere besides her bed?”

Paul rubbed his chin. “I’ll discuss that with her father after I examine her today.” Paul smiled and patted Adam’s arm. “Things will get better, son; don’t fret. Send Josiah up if he returns.”

“Yes, sir.”

Paul noticed an odd gleam in Adam’s eye before turning and heading for the stairs.

*****

Adam glanced over to where Lila Jane sat in the leather chair that had been brought down from the sitting room and placed in the kitchen. This was the second day that her father had brought her downstairs to the kitchen to spend the afternoon. He picked up a large, wooden bowl of potatoes, carried it to Lila Jane, and plopped it onto her lap. “These need peeling. I’ll get you a knife.” He turned on his heel and returned in seconds with a knife and an empty pot. “Here!”

Lila Jane’s face still held a startled look. “What? I. . .” she sputtered.

“Can’t peel potatoes?” Adam asked sarcastically. “I don’t see why not, and if the problem is that you don’t know how, well, I can teach you.”

“I know how!” Lila Jane retorted with a snort, “I just don’t feel. . . “

“I don’t care if you feel like it or not; it needs doing. I don’t much feel like chopping wood, but that’s what I’m going to be doing for the same reason.”

“I was going to say that I don’t feel up to it.”

“Too bad! You do it, or it doesn’t get done. Unless, of course, your father stops working and does it because you’re too lazy.” Adam’s hands had settled on his hips, and he stared down his nose at the girl.

“Lazy!” Lila Jane’s cheeks flushed as her indignation rose. “That’s the second time you’ve called me lazy, Adam Cartwright. How dare you!”

“How dare I overlook the dozens of other times you’ve been lazy?”

“I’m not lazy!” Lila Jane’s exclamation was both loud and vehement.

“Then get busy!” Adam turned and strode out the door. He stopped on the porch and strained to hear what might be happening in the kitchen. Lila Jane’s voice carried out the open window.

“He told me to peel potatoes! He called me lazy.”

Josiah Caruther’s voice followed. “If you peel them, daughter, you prove him wrong.”

Adam stopped eavesdropping and strolled to the wood pile whistling.

*****

Adam heard wood being split before he rounded the corner and gulped. He hurried forward and called, “I’ll finish that, Mr. Caruthers!” Josiah set down the ax and stared at the boy. Adam gulped and added, “I’m sorry.”

“Where have you been, Adam?” Josiah’s voice held an edge that Adam had never heard before.

“I. . .I needed to get something. I didn’t think it would take so long. I know I was to chop the wood, but. . .”

“It is not the wood, Adam.” Josiah drew in a long breath and let it out slowly. “You are not a servant and may choose not to do any task I ask of you.”

“No, no sir, I’m to do what I’m told, but, well, I just got carried away with something else. I’m sorry; I’ll get to the chores right away.” Adam’s sentences tumbled from his lips.

“You did not tell me that you were leaving. I had no idea where you were or why.” Josiah’s words were clipped, and his eyes sparked.

“I worried you,” Adam mumbled in realization of the source of Josiah Caruthers’s anger.

“A great deal!”

Adam eyes dropped to the dirt, and he shifted his weight from foot to foot.

“Does your father allow you to go off without letting anyone know where you are going?”

Adam shook his head automatically. “No, sir. That’s one of his main rules.”

“I’m responsible for you, Adam. In this matter, I deserve the same respect and consideration.”

Adam’s eyes flew up. “I, I didn’t mean any disrespect! I’m sorry; it won’t happen again.”

“It is not that I would tie you to the house, child, but I need to know where you will be and the reason that takes you there.” The harshness had left Josiah’s voice.

“I know. Truly, I know better.” Adam gave a sheepish half-smile. “Pa has had a number of discussions with my backside about it.” His gaze once again focused on the dirt at his feet. “If you. . .”

“No, Adam, but if you ever just disappear on me again, I’ll not let it pass. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, where have you been and why?”

“I needed something for what I was working on.”

“And just what have you been working on?”

“It would be easier to show you.”

Josiah followed Adam into the small outbuilding that served mainly as stable and storeroom. In the empty half-stall was Adam’s project. A wooden chair from the kitchen now had two large wheels on each side and several smaller alterations.

“I needed two hinges to fix a brake.” Adam looked at Josiah when the man made no answer. “It’s stable, Mr. Caruthers. I’ve sat in it, and it will work, and Lila Jane can get about.”

“A wheelchair. I thought about. . .they’re so dear, and I hoped. . .”Josiah seemed to speak to himself as much as to Adam as he walked over and inspected the contraption.

“I should have asked you first.” Adam’s tone was deflated and flat.

“No, no, this is wonderful. You’re a clever lad, Adam.”

“I saw one once. The man even let me ride in it a few minutes. I remembered about it and thought I could rig something like it, so she wouldn’t have to be carried about all the time seeing as how you always have to do it.” Adam swallowed. “I should have spoken to you first, sir.”

Josiah smiled. “I had thought to wait just a bit longer until, well, things were more certain since it would have to come all the way from California.”

“This isn’t as good as a real one, but it should do until, well, until, that is, if she, umm, needs a better one.”

“Will it be ready by suppertime?”

“Yes, sir, but the wood. . .”

“I’ll see to the wood, boy; you see to my baby’s surprise.” Josiah slapped Adam on the back and left humming his favorite hymn.

*****

Adam set down his fork and glanced across the table at Josiah. He lifted his eyebrow slightly, and Josiah returned the barest of nods.

“May I be excused?” Adam inquired politely.

“Yes. Lila Jane and I will see to the dishes tonight.”

A light scowl crossed Lila Jane’s face. Seated in a chair, she was quite capable of drying the dishes she was handed.

“Then I have an errand, sir. I won’t be long.” Adam rose and pushed his chair back to the table.

“What errand?” It was Lila Jane who demanded an explanation.

“That is Adam’s business, daughter,” Josiah admonished softly.

“But, Father. . .”

“Lila Jane!”

Lila Jane snorted and flounced her upper body; Adam smirked at her as he left. Lila Jane resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at him only because her father had come to her side to move her nearer the washstand.

Adam pushed the wheeled-chair across the hard pack dirt between the outbuilding and the back entrance that led into the kitchen stopping as he reached the edge of the slightly elevated porch. Lifting the wheels up onto the planks, he decided that tomorrow’s project would be a little ramp, so that Lila Jane could easily be rolled in and out of the house. He smiled enjoying a deep satisfaction at the thought that he had truly done something to improve Lila Jane and her father’s situation. Lila Jane’s voice drifted out the open window to his ears.

“You should have made him tell you, Father. I mean he shouldn’t be able to just go off like that with barely a word.”

“Leave it be, Lila Jane. That is my decision not yours.”

Adam’s opening the door brought the conversation inside the kitchen to an end. Pushing the chair in front of him, Adam entered the room. With a flourish of his hand, he said, “It’s for you, my lady!”

“No!” The exclamation was shrill and piercing and repeated twice before Lila Jane threw the plate in her hands at the doorframe behind Adam’s head.

“LILA JANE!” It was the first time Adam had ever heard Josiah Caruthers raise his voice in anger.

“I won’t! I hate it!”

Adam did not wait to hear more. He turned and dashed out the door. Having nowhere else to go, he retreated into the outbuilding. Kicking the half-wall of the stall, he threw himself down in the straw at the back of the area where he had toiled most of the day.

“I won’t cry; I won’t cry! I won’t!” His fist pounded the dirt floor as he worked to control his breathing. When he had gained control, he lay completely still with his head pillowed on his crossed arms. Later, when he heard the door open and footsteps approaching, he did not lift his head. Then he felt a hand on his back and rolled over to look at Josiah Caruthers who had gone down on his heels next to Adam.

“I’m sorry,” Adam proclaimed.

“You’ve no reason to be sorry, none at all.” Josiah shook his head to emphasize his words, and then seated himself next to the boy. “Adam, I’m the one who is sorry. I should have realized. . . son, Lila Jane just wasn’t ready. I should have prepared her. I am very sorry you had to go through that.”

“If she doesn’t want. . .”

“Adam, the only thing Lila Jane wants is to have back the use of her legs. Seeing the chair, well, I think for the first time she truly faced the possibility that she might not.”

Adam pulled himself into a seated position facing Lila Jane’s father. “Do you think she will?”

Josiah sighed. “Only the Lord knows.”

“If she doesn’t?”

“We shall learn to live with it.”

Several responses passed through Adam’s mind, but he spoke none of them aloud. They sat there together in silence for a few more minutes. Then Josiah sighed.

“Lila Jane has always had very poor aim; a fact for which I have repeatedly been grateful.”

“I don’t think she meant to hit me,” Adam volunteered in Lila Jane’s defense.

“Never count on that, Adam. Her mother once hit me in the stomach with a porcelain figurine. Lila Jane is very like her mother.” At the look on Adam’s face, he chuckled and added, “It was a quite small figurine.” Josiah rose and offered Adam his hand. Adam took it and was pulled to his feet. They walked back to the kitchen. Adam’s eyes swept the room. His mouth dropped open when he saw that Lila Jane sat in her wheeled-chair facing the corner. Dumbfounded, he stood frozen listening to the sound of chalk against slate. Josiah walked passed Adam to stand behind his daughter. Lila Jane did not look around but raised the slate in her hand closer to Josiah’s view.

“A hundred more times,” Josiah said firmly, “but first you have something to say to Adam.” He turned her chair to face the boy.

Lila Jane did not raise her eyes, and her voice was the softest that Adam had ever heard it be. “I’m sorry I threw the plate at you and that I was rude. I appreciate what you did for me and ask your forgiveness.” She said it in one breath and then sat in silence.

“I forgive you, Lila Jane. I hope, well, I hope it helps for a while, just while you need it, I mean.”

“Thank you.” Lila Jane responded and then said no more. Josiah turned her chair back toward the wall.

Adam shifted nervously and then said, “I think I’ll read for a bit and then go to bed, if that’s all right?”

“Of course. Sleep well, Adam, and thank you.” Josiah’s voice was warm, and he smiled at Adam as the boy walked passed him and went up the stairs.

*****

Adam dropped his load of wood into the wood box and then turned at the sound of wheels against wood.

“Adam.”

“Is there something you need, Lila Jane?”

“No,” she shook her head, “not exactly. I just, well, I truly am sorry. I said it last night because Father made me, but today I truly do mean it, especially about throwing the plate at you.”

“I guess it’s a good thing you can’t hit the side of a barn,” he replied but softened his words with a slight smile.

“Maybe I didn’t mean to hit you,” she retorted.

Adam crossed his arms, cocked his head, and raised his right eyebrow. “Did you?”

Lila Jane stuck her lower lip out and dropped her eyes. “Yes, but I’m glad I didn’t.”

“So am I.” Adam laughed, and his smile deepened.

“Well, I just wanted you to know.”

Adam bit his lower lip. “I’m sorry your father was angry with you.”

Lila Jane’s teeth sank into her own lip. “He hates rudeness.”

“He doesn’t holler much, does he?”

“No. Does your father?”

Adam laughed. “Everyone knows about my pa’s bellowing. Folks in Canada know when I’m in trouble.”

“Well, I have heard. . .”

“Living in the nearest town, I suppose you have!” They both laughed.

“He’s awful strict too, isn’t he?” Lila Jane asked as their laughter faded.

“Pretty much.” Adam shrugged. “He’s fair though, and I know the rules.” Adam shifted and added, “You don’t need to be, well, embarrassed, Lila Jane. We all get in trouble with our folks. My friends have been around before when my pa lit into me.” Adam gave a wry grin. “Sometimes he lights into them too.”

“Then I’ll be careful to behave if he’s around.”

“Oh, he’s soft on girls, so you’d probably be safe anyway. My stepmother, now, that would be a different story. You’d best not throw any plates when she’s around.”

“I won’t.”

“I better get back to my chores, or I’ll be the one getting fussed at.”

“If Father fussed, it would be at me for keeping you from them. Adam, thank you for fixing my chair; it will be easier on Father now.”

“I wanted it to be.” Adam turned and took a step toward the door, but then stopped and turned back. “Your pa is a real fine man, Lila Jane.”

“I know.” Lila Jane lifted her chin in challenge, “There’s none finer.”

Adam refused to rise to the bait and flashed his dimples instead. “We’ll leave it a draw!”

*****

Adam retied his string tie and smoothed down his hair one more time. Satisfied with what he saw in the mirror, he looked around for Josiah Caruthers. Not seeing him, Adam walked to the stairs. He was three-quarters of the way up them when he heard the voices.

“I’m not up to it, Father, really I’m not.”

“Are you telling me that you are ill, daughter? If so, I’ll send for Doctor Martin.”

“Nooo, I don’t need a doctor, I just don’t feel strong enough.”

“You plan to stay in bed all day then?”

“I might feel stronger later, I. . . I don’t know.”

“I do know, Lila Jane,” Josiah’s voice had hardened, “I know that you will be going to church this morning, and that is that. If you find it tiring, you can come home and nap.”

“But Father. . .” A distinct whine had crept into Lila Jane’s voice, and Adam stopped on the final step.

Josiah’s response was low-voiced and unintelligible to Adam. Suddenly hearing a voice in his head admonishing him for eavesdropping, Adam turned on his heel and retreated back down the stairs. Unsure of what to do, he puttered about the kitchen aimlessly for the next few minutes. Hearing the clock chime the hour, he went to the foot of the stairs and called out.

“Mr. Caruthers, I’m leaving for church.”

“Adam, wait a moment.” A few seconds later Josiah appeared at the top of the stairs.

“Adam, Lila Jane and I shall be along shortly. Would you please save us seats in the back row of the pews?”

“Of course, sir! Um, Mr. Caruthers, umm, are you sure Lila Jane should attend? If you want to go, I could stay and sit with her.”

“Lila Jane and I shall both be attending. If you would just see to the seats, please.”

“Yes, sir,” Adam responded in his most respectful tone and swiftly departed.

Adam entered the church and seated himself in the final pew grateful that it was not yet occupied. He nervously drummed his fingers on the wooden seat as the sanctuary filled with congregants. As the Reverend Marks stood, hymnal in hand for the first song, attention shifted to the door. Josiah carried Lila Jane to the end of the back pew, set her down, and took his seat next to Adam. There was not an eye in the church that was not focused on Lila Jane, and there seemed to be a collective holding of the breath by all present.

The Reverend Marks cleared his throat loudly and announced the first hymn in a voice that demanded both attention and obedience. The congregants reluctantly turned eyes back to their hymnals, and the service began. Adam’s voice rose clear and strong even though his eyes slipped sideways to catch sight of Lila Jane. The high color that had suffused her pale cheeks sent a wave of sympathy through the boy. “That’s why she didn’t want to come!” Adam’s eyes darkened. He too had seen the pity expressed in far too many of the assembled eyes.

As the people rose for the final hymn, Adam leaned toward Josiah and said softly, “Perhaps it would be easier to take Lila Jane out now before the aisle fills.”

Josiah looked down at the boy speculatively. “Perhaps,” he replied. Setting down his hymnal, Josiah turned lifting his daughter and carrying her out of the church and down the seven steps that had prevented him from wheeling her chair into the building. Walking over to where he had left the chair in the shade of an old tree, Josiah settled Lila Jane once more into the conveyance.

“May we please go straight home?” Lila Jane’s voice was soft and pleading.

“Is there no one you would like to speak with, child?”

“No, Father, please may we leave?”

Adam saw the indecision on Josiah’s face and ventured softly, “People will understand that, well, that she tired quickly. I. . .I could give folks your regrets.” The music had stopped, and Adam’s eyes flick toward the church door.

Josiah made his decision. “This being your first time out, I’m sure folks will understand. We’ll be on our way then. Adam, enjoy some time with your friends, lad. We’ll have dinner in about two hours. You can make plans for after if you like; just let me know what they are.”

“Thank you, sir.” Adam watched Josiah push Lila Jane in her chair down the street.

“Quite a contraption that.” Adam heard the observation and recognized the voice immediately.

“It should be, Skinny; I made it.” He turned to face his friend, Ross.

“Should have known you did by the sight of it.” Ross grinned mockingly. “Do you have to go back straight away?”

Adam shook his head. “I’m free for the next couple of hours.”

“Good!” He clapped Adam on the back. “Come on!” The two boys headed in the direction of a small group of their peers who were gathered on the far side of the church.

“Well, I heard she was crippled for sure. Those legs are about as useless as the ones on my baby sister’s rag doll.” The observation had been made by one Micah Sparks.

“Yeah! It’s kind of a shame though; Lila Jane was a pretty gal.” Allen Spafford shook his head to emphasis his statement.

“Snippety, that’s what Lila Jane has always been, just plain snippety,” Micah retorted. “Way to high and mighty for me!” A few glances passed among the boys present. They were all aware that Micah, who was nearly seventeen, had been spurned by Lila Jane at the last town dance. Micah saw the looks the boys exchanged and added, “Well, the mighty have fallen now. She’ll be a withered old maid being cared for by her pa. Guess the good Lord saw to Lila Jane’s comeuppance.”

“And I shall see to yours!” Adam’s voice was steel and ice, and his fist landed on Micah’s jaw before the other boy had a chance to recognize who had come to Lila Jane’s defense.

Landing on his backside in the grass, Micah stared up at his assailant. “Cartwright! Why, I’ll. . .”

Adam’s foot rose and planted itself on Micah’s chest pushing the boy onto his back. “You’ll close your blasted mouth, Sparks, or I’ll break your jaw.”

Micah Sparks felt the heat of Adam’s glare and recognized the pure, if controlled, rage that emanated from the younger boy. He jerked his chin upward but held his tongue. After a few seconds, Adam lifted his foot, and Micah pulled himself into a half-seated position.

“I don’t fight on Sunday and not on holy ground.” Micah’s statement attempted to shift shame from himself to Adam.

Adam drew in a deep breath, looked down at Micah like he was a slimy worm, and then turned and strode away.

“ADAM!” The boy heard his name but took three more strides. “ADAM CARTWRIGHT!” He stopped. Reverend Marks and Ross reached him at the same time. “Adam, I would like a word with you.”

“Reverend, Adam just, well, Micah was, um, he was speaking ill of Lila Jane, and ,uh, Adam just. . .” Ross tried mightily to intervene on his friend’s behalf without actually becoming a tattletale.

“Just shut up, Ross!” Adam snapped, anger still filling his voice.

The Reverend’s eye’s darkened. “Excuse us, Ross. Adam, please join me in the sanctuary.” Adam followed the preacher into the church taking off his hat and holding it against his chest.

“I saw what happened, Adam,” the reverend began.

“I’m sorry for punching Micah on the church grounds and on Sunday.” Adam’s eyes remained on the reverend’s boots and his tone was flat.

“Do you think you were wrong only because of the day of the week or the ground beneath your feet?” Adam swallowed and then simply shrugged. “Adam!” The preacher’s voice smacked the air.

Adam’s training in respectful behavior had been thorough, and he immediately rectified his mistake. “No, sir, but he deserved it.”

“Adam, why did you strike Micah?”

Adam wanted to start a litany of Micah Spark’s transgressions, present and past, but as he looked up through his lashes at the pastor’s face, he said simply, “I lost my temper.”

“And that, Adam, is where the wrong lies. Sometimes, well, our Lord’s temper caused him to drive the money changers from the temple, and I shall not preach to you that there is never a need for one man to strike another, but you did not strike Micah because of need but out of a lack of control. That is why you need to kneel at that rail and speak to God.”

“Yes, Reverend.”

“I’ll give you some privacy then, child.” Placing his hand beneath Adam’s chin, he lifted the boy’s eyes to his. “Listen for his answers, Adam, and accept his forgiveness.”

Adam walked out of the church and saw Ross sitting on the top step obviously waiting for him. He scanned the nearly empty churchyard and then sat down beside his friend.

“Is the reverend going to talk to Mr. Caruthers or wait and speak to your pa?” Ross inquired immediately.

“I think neither, but they’ll both hear about it for sure; there were plenty of folks who saw.” Adam picked at a splinter of wood in the plank beneath his hand.

“You’ll probably be okay with Mr. Caruthers if you tell him you were defending Lila Jane, and your pa, well, by the time he hears he probably will only fuss some,” Ross volunteered by way of reassurance.

Adam shrugged and continued picking at the wood.

“Adam,” Ross’s voice dropped to a whisper, “are you sweet on Lila Jane?”

Adam’s head snapped up. “Sweet on Lila Jane! What in blazes! No! I’m not sweet on Lila Jane. Why ever would you ask that?”

“Well, I, I just don’t understand why you’re at the Caruthers instead of in San Francisco with your folks, and you just decked Micah for talking about her. If you were sweet on Lila Jane. . .”

“I’m not!”

“Well, if you were, it would kinda explain things.”

“I’m not sweet on Lila Jane. I’m just helping out her pa. If folks can’t understand that, well, I don’t care.” Adam rose. “I’m going to go tell Mr. Caruthers before somebody else does.”

“Don’t expect you’ll be joining us later then.”

“No, I don’t expect I will.” Adam went down the steps two at a time and walked off toward the cobbler’s shop.

“Adam, I did not expect you so soon.” Josiah looked over his shoulder as Adam entered the kitchen.

“I’d like to speak with you, Mr. Caruthers.” Adam’s eyes flicked toward Lila Jane. “Privately, please.”

“Of course.” Josiah turned. “Lila Jane made some lemonade. Pour each of us a glass, and we’ll find a place in the shade to talk.

They took their glasses and walked out the door to the corner of the outbuilding where Josiah had set two old chairs in the shade of a leaning aspen. It was the only spot on the Caruthers’ property that ever caught a breeze.

Adam sat down in response to a gesture from Josiah who seated himself in the opposite chair. Adam ran his finger around the lip of his glass but did not raise it to his lips.

“I’m listening, Adam.”

“Well, sir, after you and Lila Jane left church, well, there was, well, not a fight exactly.”

“If it was not a fight exactly, what exactly was it.”

Adam took in a deep breath. “It was me punching Micah Sparks and him landing on his butt, and then me telling him to shut his mouth or I’d break his jaw.”

Josiah drew in a breath. “I would suppose you had a reason.”

“Micah has a mean mouth.”

“Which he was using against whom?”

Adam tugged his left ear and did not answer.

Josiah straightened in his chair and stated more firmly, “I asked you who, Adam. I expect an answer.”

“Lila Jane.”

“I see.” Adam wondered whether the anger that darkened Josiah’s eyes was directed at Micah or himself. “I’ll not ask you to repeat what he said; it does not matter. Your actions were wrong, Adam.”

“Reverend Marks talked to me,” Adam offered in response.

“He did? Then I suppose there is nothing more to be said on the matter.”

“No, sir, I expect there really isn’t except, well, you telling me my punishment.”

Josiah sighed almost imperceptibly and rubbed his temple with his left hand.

Before Josiah could speak, Adam’s chin rose, and his eyes flashed, “I won’t apologize to Micah. I shouldn’t have lost my temper, but I can’t say I’m sorry I hit him.” His eyes fell, “I’ve wanted to do it plenty of times before.”

“I shall not force you. I shall be disappointed if you do not change your mind after some reflection, but I shall not force you.” Josiah stood. “You were to have some time with your friends after dinner; instead you will do the cleaning up and spend the time until evening chores at the table reading the Good Book. You will then retire to your bed after supper for that reflection.” Josiah intoned Adam’s punishment while looking down at the boy’s bowed head.

“Yes, sir. Do you want me to memorize verses?”

“Are there any relating to letting go of wrath or turning the other cheek that you have not already memorized?” Josiah asked with a slight smile lifting his lips.

“No, sir.”

“Then reading and reflection will be enough. Drink your lemonade and then come in and change your clothes.”

“Yes, sir, I, I am sorry I lost my temper,” Adam answered quietly.

“A quick temper is a demon that plagues many a man, Adam. My own father, well, Black Jack Caruthers was known for having the worst temper in the state or least the county. He was a good man though, my da. He died five days before my nineteenth birthday stopping a fire that could have burned down half the town.”

“You don’t have that kind of temper.”

Josiah grinned and tousled Adam’s hair. “Saint that she was, God spared my mama that!” He strode off toward the kitchen door with a chuckle on his lips. Adam watched him and finally took a sip of his lemonade.

*****

Adam heard Josiah excuse himself but did not look up from the Bible on the table before him. A minute passed, and then he heard a soft voice.

“Even if I ask, you probably won’t tell me.”

“Tell you what, Lila Jane?” Adam continued to stare at the Bible as he answered.

“Why you’re being punished.”

“You think I’m being punished?” This time Adam looked up and raised his right eyebrow.

Lila Jane rolled her eyes. “You’re not going to tell me that you’re not being punished. I suppose you just wanted to spend a few hours reading the Word of the Lord.”

“I’m not going to tell you anything, Lila Jane.”

Lila Jane snorted and stuck her tongue out from between her lips. “Don’t then!”

Adam leaned back in his chair and said coolly, “I might tell you, if…”

“If what?”

“If you promise you won’t be a coward next Sunday and run away after services.” Adam’s smirk rivaled the one he hated seeing on Lila Jane’s face.

Lila Jane’s hands pressed down on the arms of her chair, and her back straightened. “Run away! I can’t run anywhere!”

“So you admit that you were a coward?”

“A coward!” Adam watched Lila Jane’s hands and prepared to dodge any projectile that might be sent his way. None came only because there was no suitable object near Lila Jane’s hand. “I am not a coward. How dare you!”

“Then promise me that you will stay and face everyone next Sunday. You have to sometime, you know.”

Lila Jane sputtered unintelligibly as her breaths came quick and shallow. She had voiced no actual response when her father returned from the necessary.

“Lila Jane?” Josiah studied his daughter as he walked toward his chair.

Adam spoke instead. “May I be excused to start evening chores?”

Josiah shifted his attention to Adam and recognized the smug satisfaction on his face. He glanced back and forth between the two children and took the easiest course. “Yes, you may. Lila Jane and I will set out supper.”

Adam rose and walked out the door whistling softly. He did not receive an answer to his challenge until he and Lila Jane were alone again after breakfast the next day.

“I promise I’ll stay. Now tell me why you were punished.”

Adam turned toward her. “How do I know that you’ll keep that promise?”

“I don’t break promises, Adam Cartwright.”

Adam cocked his head and raised his eyebrow. “You don’t?”

Lila Jane’s eyes blazed. “I didn’t, and I don’t!”

Adam leaned his hip against the table and crossed his arms. “I punched Micah Sparks in the churchyard after you left.”

Lila Jane’s mouth dropped open, and her eyes formed saucers. “Really? Why?”

“I didn’t say I’d tell you that. His mouth needing closing is all.”

Lila Jane’s mouth closed, and her eyes narrowed in speculation. Then she sighed. “It’s needed closing for years.” She pushed her lip out in an exaggerated pout. “You could have done it before I left.”

Adam wagged his finger at her. “Now don’t go blaming me for the fact that you missed the sight of Micah landing on his behind. You should have stayed long enough to see it.”

Lila Jane pushed her lip out further and then shrugged. A wicked grin replaced the pout. “Since I have to stay next Sunday, you could do it all over again.”

Adam rolled his eyes, shook his head no, and departed to his appointed chore.

*****

Adam reread a paragraph in the mathematics text before him and then finished the problem that had puzzled him. Sighing in satisfaction, he pondered whether to end his studies or light the lamp and continue. When the soft sound of music drifted to him, he closed the book and went to investigate. He climbed the stairs and stood outside the door to the sitting room.

“Play ‘Lead Me Home,’ please.” Lila Jane’s voice held a note of hesitant pleading that Adam did not understand. He leaned against the door jam and watched as Josiah raised a mouth organ to his lips and blew the first few notes of a hymn Adam recognized immediately. Almost unconsciously and barely louder than a whisper, he began to sing.

I’m a traveler in a weary land

I’m a traveler in a weary land

I’m a traveler in a weary land

Take my hand, Lord, and lead me home

Adam saw Josiah’s head turn in his direction and recognized his almost imperceptible nod of encouragement. The next verse was sung in a stronger voice.

Many’s the time I have lost my way

Many’s the time I have lost my way

Many’s the time I have lost my way

Take my hand, Lord, and lead me home

Adam stepped into the room and looked at Lila Jane in invitation, but she shook her head. Adam continued to sing as Josiah played.

But your goodness and mercy comfort me

But your goodness and mercy comfort me

But your goodness and mercy comfort me

Take my hand, Lord, and lead me home

Adam slipped onto the settee and then focused on the song.

I’ll join all my loved ones who have gone before

I’ll join all my loved ones who have gone before

I’ll join all my loved ones who have gone before

Take my hand, Lord, and lead me home

Take my hand, Lord; please lead me home

Take my hand, Lord; please lead me home

Take my hand, Lord; please lead me home

Take my hand, Lord, and lead me home

Adam’s voice soared with the final words, and Josiah ended with a flourish.

“You’ve a fine voice, lad!” Josiah smiled as he dropped his hands to his lap. “I knew that, though, from hearing you at church.”

“I didn’t know you played the mouth organ.” Adam observed with a slight note of inquiry.

A shadow flickered across Josiah’s face. “I haven’t much of late.”

Adam turned his attention to Lila Jane. “Why didn’t you sing with me?”

Lila Jane shook her head as a faint blush painted her cheeks pink, “I can’t.”

Adam snorted. “Everyone can sing.”

Josiah chuckled. “Not everyone, boy. Some people can’t carry a tune in a bucket, and I’m afraid Lila Jane takes after me in that regard.”

Adam cocked his head and raised his eyebrow. “Really?” It did not occur to him that some men might find his response less than respectful.

“Really!” Josiah raised the hand holding the mouth organ. “That’s why I learned to play this thing. Can’t play and sing at the same time!” Josiah chuckled again. Then his expression grew wistful. “My Lily was a songbird, though; she had the sweetest voice in the county. Her father had a fine voice too. Many nights I’d play, and the two of them would sing, and Lila Jane. . .” Josiah’s voice stopped abruptly as he straightened in his chair.

“And Lila Jane?” Adam questioned before thinking why Josiah had left his thought unfinished.

Josiah cleared his throat, and it was Lila Jane who answered, “I danced. Didn’t I, Father? I danced!” Her last words were filled with bitterness, and she spat them into the room.

Several images flashed in Adam’s mind: a barefoot girl on a granite outcropping pirouetting to flee, the same girl flitting among the dancers at a social, Lila Jane lying in the street like a broken doll. His gaze locked onto the wheelchair in which Lila Jane sat, and pity painted his face.

Lila Jane drew in a deep breath hissing it in between her clenched teeth. Her fingers clamped around the wooden arms and pushed her body forward.

“Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare pity me, Adam Cartwright. I’ll get out of this chair, and I won’t just walk; I’ll dance. I’ll dance, I tell you, and I’ll make you dance with me!” Lila Jane collapsed back into the chair as she began to sob. Josiah was at her side in moments and motioned to Adam to leave. The boy retreated down the stairs and out the backdoor. The shadows had deepened, and the first stars were appearing. Adam sank to his knees. Clasping his hands together, he prayed, “Dear Lord, please let her. Please let her! Please let, Lila Jane dance again. Please, please.” He sat back and drew his knees beneath his chin. He counted stars until he heard footsteps behind him.

“Adam.”

“It was my fault. I’m sorry!”

Josiah stepped closer and ruffled Adam’s hair. “No more your fault than mine.” Josiah placed a hand on Adam’s shoulder.

“I, I don’t pity her, well, not like that, not all the time.” Josiah squeezed the shoulder beneath his fingers. Adam sighed. “I shouldn’t have let her see.”

“You hide too much too well for a boy your age, Adam. Some things can be too large to hide.”

Adam turned to look at the man behind him. “You feel it too sometimes?”

“Sometimes.”

“I won’t let her see it next time.”

Josiah remained silent, but his hand patted Adam’s back before he rose, and they walked back inside.

*****

“Lila Jane.” Adam walked into the kitchen from the workroom.

“What?”

“I’m to watch the shop, and there’s really nothing to do in there except wait for a customer. I could roll you in, and we could have a game of chess.”

Lila Jane opened her mouth, paused, and shook her head. “No, I don’t feel like chess.”

Adam leaned against the table. “Is the reason you don’t feel like it the fact that I beat you last night?”

Lila Jane snorted. “I beat you the time before that!”

“Then come prove that you can do it again.”

“I don’t want to!” Lila Jane exclaimed testily. Then, before Adam could speak, she added, “Don’t you dare call me lazy or a coward!”

“Okay, I’ll just call you yellow,” Adam tossed back nonchalantly realizing why the girl did not want to play chess in the shop.

“I’m not yellow!”

“Then come in the shop and play chess with me.” Adam allowed a sarcastic edge to lace his next words. “You can sit behind the counter and crouch down out of sight if a customer comes in.”

The damp dish cloth was close enough for Lila Jane to snatch, but the added seconds it took to reach for it allowed Adam to prepare for the throw. He caught the limp projectile in midair and then stood staring at Lila Jane speculatively.

“You wouldn’t,” she sputtered.

He smirked and raised a single eyebrow. “Oh, wouldn’t I?” He tossed the cloth lightly from hand to hand. “You aimed for my head, little girl.”

“Which means your face was the least likely place that I’d hit.” She was learning to distinguish real from projected anger on his part.

Adam rolled his eyes. “If you’d promise not to throw anything else at me ever again, I’d teach you how to hit what you aim at.”

She cocked her head. “Could you really?”

“I think so.”

“I may have to consider it then.”

“Consider it while we play,” Adam invited.

“I. . .”

Adam heard Josiah’s advice in his head and relaxed into a smile. “Please.”

“Well. . .okay.”

Adam’s dimples deepened. “Maybe Mr. Caruthers was right. I should probably try it with Marie next time.”

*****

Adam looked up as the bell over the shop door rang and watched Mrs. Sparks and Mrs. Spafford enter.

“Good morning!” Adam made his voice light and cheery, but he wondered if Mrs. Sparks’s appearance was related to the punch in the jaw he had given her son.

“Good morning, Adam.” Mrs. Spafford’s response was neutral in tone.

Mrs. Sparks sniffed and said simply, “Is Mr. Caruthers about?”

“He’s upstairs with Lila Jane, ma’am. I can let him know that you are here.”

“You needn’t bother. We will show ourselves up.”

“But, ma’am. . .” Adam began though his words sputtered away as the two women strolled imperiously passed him through the door to the workshop. He hesitated and then followed in their wake through the workshop and into the kitchen.

“Mr. Caruthers,” Adam called as the trio mounted the stairs. Josiah met them as they emerged in the upstairs sitting room. His face was neutral and his voice warm as he greeted the ladies.

“Adam, could you please bring something refreshing up for our guests,” Josiah requested as he motion the ladies toward the settee.

“Never mind,” Mrs. Sparks stated, “Josiah, we wish to speak with you.”

“There’s no need to trouble with refreshments, Josiah,” Mrs. Spafford interjected.

“Well, if you’re sure. Please have a seat. Adam, if you would see to the shop then.”

Adam answered quickly, “Of course, sir,” and retreated back down the stairs. The entrance of two cowhands intent on buying new boots took all of his attention for a time, but when they departed, purchases in hand, the boy’s ears strained to hear what might be occurring upstairs. He could recognize raised voices but could not decipher what they were saying. He chewed his lower lip and inched closer to the door. He backed away again when footsteps announced that someone was descending and was busily straightening display shelves when the two visitors swept in from the workroom and out the door without a word. Three seconds later he heard the back door slam. Then the sound of an ax splitting wood began. Adam walked to the back window and watched Josiah Caruthers slam a log onto the block and then split it with one blow.

“He’s furious!” A shudder ran down Adam’s spine. He hesitated and then turned and darted up the stairs. Standing in the sitting room, he listened to the repeated thud and crack coming from the yard below and the muffled sound of weeping.

Adam went the doorway of Lila Jane’s room and looked inside. The girl lay face down on her bed sobbing with an abandon that reminded Adam of Little Joe.

“Lila Jane,” Adam said her name softly as he crossed to her bed. He received no response. A wave of sympathy propelled him to perch on the edge of the bed and reach out to pat the girl’s heaving back. “Now, now, it can’t be that bad,” he murmured.

Lila Jane did not respond, but neither did she pull away, so Adam continued to pat her back and mummer softly. After a few minutes, the sobs subsided into sniffles.

“Do you want me to get your father?” Adam inquired.

“No!”

“Want to tell me what set things off?”

“No.”

“Did Mrs. Sparks or Mrs. Spafford say something?”

“I hate them!” Lila Jane’s vehemence gave credence to her exclamation.

Adam leaned back against the footboard. “I’m sorry, but I can’t punch them for you; their being ladies and all.”

Lila Jane pushed herself onto her elbows and looked at Adam for the first time. “I should have thrown something at them. I would have if I’d thought I could really hit one of them.”

“I still think I could teach you to hit what you aim at,” Adam said as a mischievous grin took control of his lips, “if you make that promise, that is.”

Lila Jane slumped onto her crossed arms, “I’m not ready to promise that yet.”

“Anything they said doesn’t really matter, you know,” Adam observed lightly.

Lila Jane replied with a flat statement, “Father’s so angry.”

Adam did not dispute the fact. “What did they say?”

“They don’t think father should be left to deal with his poor crippled daughter alone.”

“He’s not alone!”

“They don’t exactly consider your being here a good thing.”

“Because I punched Micah?”

“Not just that, but Father did hear all about the bully he was harboring in his home.”

Adam swallowed a curse mainly because Lila Jane was a girl.

“Besides you won’t be here that much longer. They told Father a man could not give a growing girl the proper care on his own. They said that Christian charity compelled them to volunteer to raise the money to send me somewhere I can be cared for properly.”

Adam went rigid. Then he drew in a long, slow breath. “We’ll run out of wood before your pa cools down.”

Several seconds passed before Lila Jane spoke, “He told them to go to blazes, but maybe, well, maybe father should send me away.”

“Lila Jane!” Adam’s voice carried the snap of a bullwhip, “How dare you say that. If your father heard. . .” Adam glared down at the girl. “What your father needs to do is paddle the nonsense out of you more often.” Lila Jane snorted. Adam straightened and pointed his finger even though Lila Jane was staring not at him but at the wall. “If you dare say something like that to him, I’ll do it myself!”

“You’re not allowed to strike a girl, Adam Cartwright!”

“Spanking naughty children is another thing all together, little girl!”

Lila Jane turned her head to glower at him over her shoulder. “As if you would know, boy,” she retorted.

Adam crossed his arms on his chest, “I know. You can ask Little Joe when he comes back if you don’t believe me.”

Lila Jane turned her stare back toward the wall. “Little Joe’s three!”

“And you’re not acting much older!”

“You’re mean!”

Adam grinned. “Exactly what Little Joe says?”

“Go away!”

Adam rose. “I’ll help you get comfortable first.” Adam ignored the icy silence as he turned Lila Jane onto her back and settled her into a seated positioned against the pillows piled in front of the headboard.

“Here.” He tossed a torn shirt on her lap and held out her sewing basket. “That needs mending, and there’s no time like the present.”

“Sometimes I hate you, Adam Cartwright!”

“That’s only fair; I’ve hated you at times, Lila Jane.” He walked to the door and then stopped. “Your father loves you, girl; he couldn’t stand to be without you.” Adam walked out of the room before Lila Jane could answer.

*****

Adam sat down on the porch step and watched Josiah splitting wood. Josiah split five more logs before he stopped and asked, “Who’s watching the shop?”

“I’m listening for the bell. I sold two pairs of boots earlier.”

Josiah lifted another log onto the block. The ax sliced through it with one blow.

“Mr. Knox is coming this afternoon for the pair of shoes he had resoled,” Adam observed.

“They’re ready.” Josiah split another log.

“Lila Jane heard.”

Josiah buried the ax in the block, and then ran his hands through his hair. Walking over to the porch, he leaned against the post and looked down at Adam. “How much did you hear?”

“Nothing really. Lila Jane told me what they wanted. You’ve a right to be mad.”

Josiah’s expression shifted. “Are you giving me permission to be angry, boy?” Josiah did not voice the thought; instead his hand came up to rub his temple. Giving his head a sharp shake, he muttered, “Maybe someone else could give her better care.”

Adam allowed his voice to sharpen and his arms to cross on his chest, “No one could care for her better than you.” He snorted. “There’s only one thing you should give Lila Jane more of.”

“And what precisely do you think that is, young man?” Josiah’s voice had its own edge.

“What my pa would give me if he heard me being disrespectful just now. I’m sorry, Mr. Caruthers.”

Josiah shook his head. “Did you mean any disrespect, Adam?”

“No, sir, really I didn’t.”

“And none was taken. As for Lila Jane and what my daughter needs… well, I need to talk to her, I expect. Go on and tend the shop, lad.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll stack the wood later.”

Josiah shook his head. “I’ll see to it.” He turned and walked inside.

*****

Standing on the raised wooden sidewalk, Adam peered over the top of the batwing door into the dim interior. He felt a grip tighten on his arm a mere second before he registered a sting in his backside. Then he found himself propelled away from the door and swung around to face an irate cowhand.

“Ned!”

“You know better, boy,” Old Ned growled. “If your pa should get word that you were lollygagging in saloons drinking and carrying on, there’d be nothing left of your hide.” The old man narrowed his eyes and shot a fierce glare directly at Adam. Instead of seeing the boy wilt, he saw a smile spread over the young face.

“Ned, am I glad to see you!”

“Did you hear me, Adam Cartwright?” Old Ned demanded.

“Yes, sir, I did, but I haven’t been in any saloons, and I wasn’t going into this one.”

“Then what in tarnation were ya doing at the door?”

“Looking for somebody from the ranch. I didn’t expect it to be you though.” Adam flashed a joyful smile. “I never thought I’d be that lucky.”

Old Ned snorted, but inside he relaxed. “How have ya been, bucko, and why do ya need somebody from the ranch?” Ned’s eyes narrowed again. “You having problems with that Caruthers fellow?”

“No, no, not at all. He’s a real good man; really he is. I’m fine.”

“Have you heard from the boss?”

“Yeah, had a telegram yesterday. They’re all fine and having a good time. Is everything okay at the ranch?”

“Everything’s right as rain. The boys all know how to do their jobs, and wasn’t I the one who taught your daddy what he knows about ranching?”

Old Ned had been one of the first two men Ben Cartwright had hired when he had acquired a herd beyond the capacity of one man and a boy to handle, and his question held a great deal of truth. “Sure enough. Pa knows that, or he wouldn’t have gone off at all.”

“Well, then,” Ned harrumphed, “Besides there’s been plenty of peace and quiet with none of you boys being underfoot.”

Adam knew Old Ned well enough to recognize that the man had just told him that he and his brothers had been missed at the ranch. Adam grinned and then rubbed his backside, “Well, I’ve been able to rest up from my usual dodging too.”

“I’ll give you reason to dodge, boy, if you don’t start explaining yourself.” Old Ned raised his hand and held it as if ready to strike.”

“I need somebody to do something for me. You don’t have to do it yourself, but you’ll get someone to do it for me, won’t you?” Adam entreated. “Please.”

“Just what is it you’re needing done?”

Adam explained his plan to the man he thought of as nearly a second grandfather. The old cowhand listened and then agreed to handle things.

“I’ll see to it myself, bucko. Don’t fret; things will be seen to right.” Ned clapped Adam on the arm.

“Thank you, Ned. I’ll see you tomorrow then.” Glancing up at the sun, Adam added, “I better be getting back. Tell everyone howdy for me, will you?”

“Sure, lad.” Old Ned reached out and caught Adam by the arm. Lowering his voice, he said, “If I hear of you being in this saloon or any other while your pa’s up to San Francisco, there won’t be nothing left of your backside for him to blister when he gets back. You hear me?”

“Yes, sir, I do, and I know you mean it.” Adam purposefully deepened his dimples. “I learned to mind you a long time ago. You know I did.”

Old Ned released his hold and slapped Adam lightly on the back. “Off with ya then.”

Adam darted up the street as Old Ned chuckled and entered the saloon.

*****

Adam slipped from the church and glanced around. His eyes lit up as he saw what he sought. Rushing down the steps, he darted over to where Old Ned stood beside the Cartwright buggy.

“First time I’ve been this near a church on Sunday morning for Lord knows how long,” Old Ned observed as Adam dashed up.

“Why didn’t you come on inside?” Adam inquired with a slightly cheeky grin.

“Didn’t want to cause no lightening strikes what with children and womenfolk being there,” Old Ned replied and spit tobacco juice at Adam’s feet. “Now, everything ya wanted is packed in the back, and whoever comes in next for the mail will pick it up and bring it back to the ranch.”

“Thanks!” Adam stated heartily and then turned to call, “Mr. Caruthers!”

Josiah heard his name and turned his head to locate Adam. He nodded, settled Lila Jane in her chair, and then pushed it over to where the boy was talking to the cowhand.

“Mr. Caruthers, Lila Jane, this is Old Ned. He’s from the ranch.”

Josiah and Lila Jane both voiced polite greetings, and Josiah extended his hand. Old Ned shook it while giving the man a stare of appraisal.

“We’re going on a picnic!” Adam announced with a smile and a hand flourishing toward the buggy.

“We are?” Josiah’s eyebrow rose slightly, Adam’s demeanor deflated, and Old Ned spoke quickly.

“The boy meant it as a surprise for the little gal.”

“I see.” Josiah exchanged a glance with Old Ned.

“I should have. . .” Adam began.

“Been a little less presuming and a little less big for them britches.” Old Ned popped the back of Adam’s leg with far more sound than sting. “We’ve been trying to break him of that for some time, but. . .” Ned shrugged. “He’s a good lad though, and it’s a grand day for a picnic.”

Josiah smiled. “That it is, and we’d be pleased to join in such a fine plan. Wouldn’t we, Lila Jane?”

“Oh, yes!”

“Well, then, ya best get a move on.” Old Ned watched as Josiah settled Lila Jane in the buggy. “The boy knows the team and the way and has a sure hand with the reins. Ya can feel comfortable sitting back and letting him do the work.”

“Thank you for bringing out the buggy,” Josiah said then turned a speculative eye on Adam. “How ever did you arrange things?”

“Adam and I ran into each other in town yesterday,” Ned replied with a wink directed at Adam. “Now you folks have a fine time, and I’ll just wheel that chair back to your shop.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“It will be fine here until we return. You really needn’t bother.”

Old Ned shook his head. “No bother. No bother at all. Get along now.” He slapped the lead horse on the rump, and Adam released the brake. Ned watched Adam drive off with a smile on his face. Then, whistling a hymn he thought he had forgotten long before, he pushed Lila Jane’s chair down the road.

“He works for your father?” Josiah inquired as the buggy rolled out of town.

Adam nodded. “He’s, well, you might call him the senior hand.”

“The senior hand?” Lila Jane’s nose crinkled in puzzlement.

“Well, umm, on a ranch like ours, hands generally come and go except for a few that sort of settle in permanent-like. Old Ned’s one of those who’s settled on the Ponderosa for good.”

“Old Ned?” There was admonition in Josiah’s voice.

Adam heard it and said quickly, “I’m not being disrespectful, Mr. Caruthers. That’s what everyone on the Ponderosa calls him, and really the old is sort of a title of respect. He’s been on the Ponderosa the longest, and, like I said, he’s kinda the senior hand.”

“Like a foreman?”

“Umm, no. We have a foreman and that’s a position, a different job. Old Ned , well, he’s a hand, but he. . .he sorta runs the bunkhouse and sees that new fellows know how things are done on the Ponderosa, and teaches green hands when we have to hire them, and that sort of thing.”

“I see,” Josiah said.

Lila Jane’s lips curled. “Does he teach the boss’s son things?”

Adam overlooked any dig in Lila Jane’s tone. “Yeah, he’s stuck teaching me and my brothers almost as often as my pa.”

Josiah exchanged a significant look with his daughter and then said, “I doubt he minds that much.”

Adam’s eyes became serious, but a smile danced across his lips. “I don’t think he does, most of the time anyway. The Ponderosa is his home as much as it is mine and my family’s.”

They arrived at the picnic spot Adam had chosen after about an hour’s pleasant drive. Adam jumped from the buggy and began automatically giving instructions and grabbing items. Josiah exchanged a glance with Lila Jane, arched his eyebrow, and let the boy have his head.

Josiah sighed contentedly. “If that was an example of how the hands at the Ponderosa eat, you must have people fighting to work there.”

“Pa says a good worker deserves a decent meal, and Cookie gives them one. Most of the canning was from Hop Sing’s pantry though. Hop Sing’s the best cook in the territory.”

“Is that so?” Lila Jane inquired pointedly.

“Yep!”

Lila Jane shook her head. “Is there anything on the Ponderosa that’s not the best?”

“Nope!” Adam flashed his dimples and leaned back on his elbow.

Lila Jane harrumphed.

“Lila Jane!” Josiah’s voice was firm. “You must admit that was a very fine meal and this is a beautiful spot.”

“Well, yes, but. . .” Lila Jane saw the look on her father’s face and left the rest of her sentence unspoken.

Adam straightened and took a deep breath. “Now’s the time for the best part.”

“Best part?”

“You’re going in swimming!” Adam declared as his hand swept toward the pool beside which they had been sitting.

“But I. . .”

Adam ignored Lila Jane and continued to talk directly to Josiah, “I talked to Doc Martin, and he said moving in the water could be good for her, and leastways it couldn’t do any harm. A body can float just moving their arms, and this pool’s calm and not too deep, and you’ll be with her, so it’s safe.”

Josiah considered for a moment, and then said, “There’s one small problem. Lila Jane’s too old to swim in mixed company.”

A blush painted Adam’s cheeks as he immediately understood Josiah’s meaning. “I can go off for a bit, so you’ll have privacy.”

Josiah rubbed his chin, “I don’t know about your wandering off alone.”

Adam’s chin jerked upward. “I’m not a little kid!”

Josiah’s brow lowered, but Lila Jane spoke before he could, “We’re on Ponderosa land, aren’t we?”

“Yes.”

“Then I expect Adam’s been around here alone before, Father. Haven’t you, Adam?”

“Of course!”

“Still. . .”

Adam failed to contain his derisive snort, and Josiah’s feature’s darkened.

“Adam Cartwright, I will decide. . .”

“But. . .”

“Father, please,” Lila Jane’s interjection stopped both Josiah and Adam. “I would really like to go swimming, Father.”

Adam took in a deep breath and spoke softly, “I’m sorry I was disrespectful, sir. Please don’t punish Lila Jane by saying no because you’re angry with me.”

Josiah sighed, “I know you’re capable of taking care of yourself, Adam, and that you’ve roamed about alone countless times, I just. . .”

“I have an idea, sir,” Adam inserted, and then bit his lower lip at the realization that he had interrupted.

“What idea?”

“Well, when I was little Pa had a way of keeping track when one of us was going off out of sight.” Adam put two fingers to his mouth and piercing whistle split the air. “You can hear that for a good bit further than a body can see. Pa would whistle, and when I whistled back he knew things were fine. If he wanted me, he whistled twice quick. If there was trouble, the signal was to whistle three times.”

Josiah looked at both sets of pleading eyes and capitulated. Pushing his overprotective concern out of his mind, he said, “All right, but don’t wander beyond the sound of a whistle, is that clear?”

“Yes, sir.” Adam sprang to his feet. Looking down at Lila Jane, he paused to grin wickedly. “I promise I won’t peek.”

Lila Jane snorted, “I’m not going skinny-dipping like some folks do!”

Adam shrugged nonchalantly, but as he turned to walk away an image of Lila Jane in wet drawers and chemise entered his mind. Hot blood rose into his cheeks, so he quickened his pace as he headed up the stream that fed the pool.

Minutes later, he snorted as he heard a sharp whistle. He answered with a whistle of his own and sauntered a little further before throwing himself down beside the stream. He absently plucked one of the wild flowers near his hand and began absent-mindedly to weave more of them into a crown.

“I wouldn’t mind cooling off myself,” he mused as he closed the floral circle, “It’s not like I have to worry about Lila Jane sneaking up to peek or steal my drawers.” For the first time, no hackles were raised by the memory of his and Lila Jane’s initial encounter. Instead Adam chuckled as he doffed his boots, shirt, and pants. He paused and tugged his ear before removing his drawers then lowered himself into the water. He heard and answered several more whistles before he decided he had better leave the water and start letting the sun dry his body. Still damp and half asleep when he realized that the two-whistle call had summoned him, he replied in kind and snatched up his clothes. Donning them with remarkable haste, he started back to the picnic site at a swift jog.

He paused as he caught sight of Josiah and Lila Jane. She sat with her back to her father as he pulled a comb through her hair. Adam watched as Lila Jane lifted her face to the sun as contented as a cat in its rays.

Josiah paused and lifted a few strands of hair in his fingers. “As beautiful as your mother’s. Your grandfather called it her crowning glory.”

“Mine’s far too tangled for a crown,” Lila Jane stated. Her eyes widened as Adam strode up, kneeled down, and dropped the wildflowers he had woven onto her head.

“Then here’s another for you, my lady.”

“Adam Cartwright!” His name sprung from Lila Jane’s lips, but nothing more followed.

Adam grinned; it was very seldom that Lila Jane was at a loss for words.

“You went swimming.” Josiah’s remark held a chiding tone.

Adam went back on his heels to look up at the man standing over him. “You never said I couldn’t.”

Josiah rubbed his chin and regretted the light that had left the boy’s eyes. “No, I never did. I should have expected you would.” Josiah let his irritation melt away. “Did you enjoy your swim?”

“Yes, sir, I surely did! Did you, Lila Jane?”

“Yes, Adam Cartwright, I surely did!” Her tone imitated his perfectly.

“I thought you might swim longer,” Adam commented.

“Since Lila Jane and I would be somewhat wet, I thought we should travel back while the sun was still high.”

“Oh, yeah, I should have thought of bringing dry things.” Adam responded then blushed for the third time that afternoon at the thought of handling Lila Jane’s underthings.

Josiah noted Adam’s red face but kept even the hint of laughter from his voice. “No matter. It’s a warm day, much too warm to catch a chill even if a body was soaked through. I worry overmuch.” Then Josiah grinned. “Wouldn’t you say so, lad?”

Adam studied Josiah’s face for a few seconds before replying, “Yes, sir, I guess I would.” Then he matched Josiah’s grin. “But not so you could hear.”

Lila Jane laughed louder and longer than either Adam or her father. Adam repacked the buggy as Josiah settled Lila Jane for the ride home. When they arrived, Adam immediately set to tending the horses pausing only to smile when he noticed the Lila Jane was still wearing her flowered crown.

*****

“Well, bucko, how did your outing go?”

At the sound of Old Ned’s voice, Adam spun around.

“Ned!” Then with a grin spreading across his face he answered, “Really fine. It went really fine.”

“Do you suppose ya might be needing that buggy again?”

Adam bit his lip as he considered the question. “I suppose we might. There isn’t really any reason not to leave it here for a while, don’t you think?”

“Will feeding and caring for the team be a problem?”

Adam shook his head. “It shouldn’t be, well, not if. . .”

“You thinking on me bringing in some fed from the ranch?”

“You don’t have to, but, well, it sure would be nice to have the buggy and team here if we want them. I wouldn’t want Mr. Caruthers to have to pay for feeding Cartwright horses.”

“You gonna ask nice and polite, bucko, or just wait for me to tell ya I will?”

Adam softened his voice, widened his eyes, and said softly, “Would you please bring in a load of feed, sir?”

Old Ned drew his brows together and sent a glare in Adam’s direction. “You’re forgetting, boy, that I know you too well for such shining on. I can see the cheek beneath it a mile away.”

Adam grinned wickedly. “Can’t hurt a boy to try.”

Old Ned placed his hands on his hips. “You sure of that?”

“Well, not if I stay more than an arm’s length away!” Adam watched the older man with enough alertness to evade any reprimand.

Old Ned took a seat on the porch step. “That little gal enjoy herself?”

Adam settled himself on the ground in front of Ned. “I think she really did.”

“Then I won’t be taking the buggy and team.” Adam smiled and then sent the cowhand a pleading look. “And I’ll bring a load of feed in tomorrow.”

Adam’s next words were simple and sincere. “Thank you. I know I’ve put you to a lot of trouble, and I appreciate your helping me.”

Old Ned spit his tobacco juice into the grass. “This kinda a trouble I don’t mind. Now, as to you getting into the other kind.”

“Ned, I haven’t been getting in trouble. I told you I haven’t been in any saloons.”

“And I believe ya, bucko. Can ya say the same about fights?”

Adam’s eyes dropped to the ground. “It wasn’t exactly a fight.”

“Because you got in the first and only lick.”

“Well, yeah, but he deserved it, Ned, really he did.”

“Your daddy gonna see it that way?” Adam shrugged. “Boy, I asked ya a question.”

Adam allowed a slight whine to enter is voice. “I already had two lectures on the subject.”

“They say three’s the charm.”

Adam bit his lip. “Pa will probably make it four when he hears.”

“Is a lecture all ya got?”

Adam shook his head. “I got punished.”

Old Ned’s eyebrow rose. “Did ya? That Caruthers didn’t use too heavy a hand, did he?”

“No.” Adam sighed. “He didn’t use any hand at all. I don’t think he does much.”

Old Ned snorted. “No doubt comes from having only a gal to raise. Ya planning on any repeats?”

“No. No, sir, I’m not.” Adam looked up through his lowered lashes and caught the slight upturn of Old Ned’s lips.

“One punch they said, and him more than a year older,” Ned muttered softly.

Adam relaxed knowing his reprimand was over. “Ned, ummm, did you ever know somebody, well, who got hurt and couldn’t walk for a while, but, well, got better?”

“Ummm,” Old Ned rubbed his chin and pondered not only the question but the boy’s expression. “Well, now, the truth is that I seen two men crippled by being bucked off broncos and another crippled in a stampede. I’ve seen plenty hurt for a time in a lot of ways, but I can’t say I know of a person hurt like that little gal who got the use of their legs back. Then again I ain’t lived long enough to see everything that can happen to a body.”

“The doctor says there’s a chance.”

“Then there must be one.” Adam did not respond but only ran his hand across the grass. “No one wants to see a little gal crippled, bucko, but if it’s to be, it’s to be.”

“I know.”

“One of them that got bucked off, well, I shoulda kept him off that horse.”

Adam looked up into the weathered face. “You felt guilty?”

“Still do sometimes; then again, he weren’t a child, young, yes, but not a child. Some things are best not dragged around with ya, bucko.”

“I’m not, really, it’s just. . . I want her to walk. I keep feeling like there’s something I haven’t thought of to do.”

“Thinking is one thing, bucko; fretting is another. One’s is a horse; the other’s a rocking chair.” Old Ned leaned forward and spoke gently, “Come to think on it, I knew a fellow once who hurt his arm bad. The sawbones who doctored him said it was fifty/fifty that it’d be of any use to him. After a time though, doc told him it looked to have healed and he should start trying to use it. You’d have thought he’d start grabbing for something right then and there.”

“He didn’t?”

“No, he didn’t. What it was was that he was too scared.”

“Too scared?”

Old Ned nodded. “He was scared that he might try and it wouldn’t work. Long as he hadn’t really tried, he had hope; iffen he’d tried and failed he wouldn’t have had even that.”

“Did he ever try?”

“After a time and some powerful prodding, he did.”

“And?”

“His arm got to working just fine. Still was last time I saw him.” Old Ned stood and reached out a hand to Adam. He took it and allowed Ned to pull him to his feet. “I got to be going, bucko. Ya take care now, and I’ll see ya when I bring the feed.”

“Tell everyone at the ranch howdy.”

“That I will.”

“Ned”

“Yeah, bucko?”

“Thanks.” Adam’s eyes lightened. “Umm, maybe I could. . .umm”

“Could what?”

“Go into just one saloon?” Adam dodged the hand that swept toward his backside and laughed. “I’m just funning!”

“You just best remember what I said, boy, because I wasn’t!”

“Yes, sir, Old Ned, sir. I’ll remember just what you said.”

*****

Adam followed Doctor Paul Martin out of the shop before calling his name.

Paul stopped and turned back to answer.

“Yes, Adam?”

“Could I talk to you for a minute, please?”

“Of course.” Studying the boy’s face, Paul added, “You’re not feeling ill, are you?”

Adam shook his head emphatically, “No, no, I’m fine. I just wanted to talk to you, to ask you, well, about Lila Jane.” Doctor Martin took a couple of steps back toward Adam. Adam shifted nervously and tugged at his left ear with his right hand. “Is she, well, are there any signs that she is getting better.”

The doctor took a moment to consider his answer and then replied, “Lila Jane has healed in many ways, and Josiah has done a wonderful job exercising her muscles and keeping them in condition.”

“But are there any signs that she’ll be able to walk again?” Adam’s tone had become more demanding.

“Adam, there’s not a simple answer to that question. There are two possible reasons for Lila Jane’s inability to walk. If her spinal cord was severed or crushed beyond repair, well, there is no possibility that she will ever walk again, but- and this is the vital point- if her injury only caused bruising and swelling that created pressure on the cord, functioning would return when the swelling and pressure are gone. Regrettably, there is no way for me to look inside her back and see which of these scenarios is the true one. We shall only know when time has passed and function returns or too much time passes and it has not.”

“How long will be too long?”

Doctor Martin sighed. “If there is not sign of returned function in, well, it’s not like the number of days is set in stone, but if something positive does not happen before you head back home there will be almost no hope that it ever will.”

Adam tugged his ear again. “Has she even tried to, well, to do anything?”

Paul Martin drew in a deep breath. “Adam, I don’t know if I’m comfortable with discussing any more details of Lila Jane’s recovery with you.”

“But. . .”

“A doctor does not reveal everything he knows about his patients even to a concerned and well-meaning friend.”

Adam opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, tugged his ear, and then said softly, “I see.”

Paul reached out and squeezed Adam’s shoulder, “I’ll be back by in a few days. You know, Adam, Lila Jane and her father are free to tell you what you want to know. I just think it would be best for you to talk to them.”

“Yes, sir,” Adam replied softly. Then he gazed directly into the doctor’s eyes and asked, “She hasn’t though, has she?”

“Adam!” was the only verbal response Doctor Martin gave before turning and walking down the street, but no other response was needed, for Adam had read his answer in the doctor’s eyes.

*****

Slipping from his bed, Adam walked from behind the screen that separated his temporary sleeping quarters from the rest of the sitting room. He saw the light seeping from beneath the door to Josiah Caruthers’ bedroom and walked swiftly across the intervening space. He did not knock fearing that even the slightest pause would allow his resolve to be lost. Instead he pushed open the door and slipped inside.

“Mr. Caruthers.” Adam’s voice was soft, but his abrupt entrance had startled Josiah.

“Adam! Is something wrong?”

“No, not like you’re thinking, no,” Adam replied shaking his head and then dropping his eyes to the floor.

“Then what?” There was a touch of frost in Josiah’s inquiry.

“I, I didn’t mean to be rude. I apologize, but I wanted to speak to you.”

Josiah’s expression became speculative. He had sent the boy to bed hours earlier and had thought him sleeping. “Your apology is accepted, Adam. What do you need to speak to me about?” He motioned the boy to come to him. Adam did with slow, measured steps and stood next to the bed upon which Josiah reclined. Josiah shifted and swung his legs over the side and then patted the mattress as a signal for Adam to sit beside him.

“Lila Jane.” When Josiah’s expression requested an explanation, Adam continued, “Is she, well, has she tried to walk, to stand even, or anything?”

“Adam, I don’t think. . .”

“She hasn’t; she isn’t trying, is she?” Adam’s voice sharpened with demand. When Josiah did not answer immediately, Adam’s exclamation cut through the air, “Well, is she!” The boy sprang to his feet, and seconds later the man did too.

“Young man, you will not use that tone to me.” Josiah’s words were low in volume but hard as steel.

Adam bit his lower lip in frustration but showed not a shred of repentance which surprised Josiah as much as the outburst had. Then Adam stated with less volume but more vehemence, “I have a right to know.”

Josiah drew in a long, slow breath. “Do you remember what right your father gave to me before he left?”

“Yes.” The reply was nearly growled.

Josiah’s hand went to Adam’s upper arm. Adam tensed and instinctively placed his other hand behind him. It was the act of a little boy. Josiah hesitated when he saw it long enough to notice the sheen of tears that rose in the boy’s eyes. He released Adam’s arm and placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder. The tension left Adam’s body suddenly, and he slumped back against the bed.

Josiah squeezed his shoulder and sighed. “Perhaps you do have the right to know; perhaps you have earned that right, but not the right to demand things of me in that tone.”

“I’m sorry.”

Josiah turned and walked to the window. “The doctor has started to ask her to do more than just lie there and try to move her legs. He wanted her to try standing, but. . .” Josiah’s voice drifted to a whisper, “perhaps she has tried as hard as she can and we need to start accepting. . .”

“No!” Josiah turned to stare back at the angry child who was once more on his feet. “Not until she really tries. I know she hasn’t really tried, and I know why.”

“You do?”

“She’s scared, too scared. Sometimes a body gets too scared to move. She’s so scared she can’t that she can’t. We have to make her.” With his last words, Adam’s voice broke. “We have to make her really try.” Adam’s breathing was fast and shallow, and the muscles of his body trembled.

Josiah crossed the room in three strides and pulled Adam down onto the bed. “Calm down, lad, calm down. No one’s given up. No one’s going to stop trying. Maybe you’re right. If you are, we’ll find a way to ease her fear.” Adam’s breathing had become less ragged, and Josiah patted his back. “But now is hardly the time to begin. Unless we’ve woken her, my daughter is fast asleep in her bed.”

Adam looked up at Josiah. “Do you think she heard?”

“I’ll check, but no, I really don’t. My daughter is not a light sleeper. “

“Hoss could sleep through a tornado sometimes,” Adam observed idly. “Little Joe, well, getting him there is a struggle but once he’s down. . .”

“He sleeps the sleep of the innocent.” Josiah patted Adam’s back again, “It’s time you were sleeping that way also, lad. To bed with you now.”

Adam stood, took one step toward the door, and then stopped. He stared at the floor as he spoke, “You owe me at least three good swats. By Pa’s reckoning it would probably be a necessary talking to.”

“A necessary talking to?”

“That’s what pa calls it when he warms our behinds good and proper.”

“Oh, I see.” Adam did not see Josiah’s grin. “Go to bed, lad, I’m far too weary to deliver what is owed.”

Adam did hear the lightness in Josiah’s voice. “Thank you, sir,” he said before he darted back to his bed.

*****

Adam stopped in the doorway and scanned the interior of the shop. Lila Jane sat in her wheelchair staring out the large front window at the street. Walking up behind her, his own stare settled on its view of the dusty road and the opposite sidewalk. Two girls stood talking on that sidewalk, and their quick looks in the direction of the cobbler’s shop left their observers with the distinct impression that the subject of their conversion was obvious. As the two girls started to walk further down the street, Lila Jane spoke softly.

“That first week they came, all of them, one by one, to tell me that they were sorry I was hurt and sure that I would be fine soon enough.” Her hands curled into white-knuckled fists, and her head pressed hard against the back of her chair. “None of them has come a second time.”

Adam acknowledged the truth of her statement with silence. Not once since his arrival had any of the girls he might have named as Lila Jane’s friends visited her. Adam leaned down, released the chair’s brake, and turned Lila Jane’s back to the window.

“If they don’t come, it’s something wrong with them not you.”

“No, no, it’s not something wrong with them. It’s…”

Adam walked around to stand in front of her with his hands on his hips. “It’s what?” He searched her eyes for tears but found them clear and cold.

“It’s just that there’s so many things they would have to think about not saying. Can’t talk about things that I can’t do anymore. Can’t talk about the next dance or social and remind me that I’ve no reason to go to either. Can’t talk about whose making eyes at who because,” her voice faltered, “ ‘cause nobody will ever …”

“That’s not true, Lila Jane!”

“Oh, yes, it is! There’s not man in the world wants a wife who can’t walk.”’

“I’ve known men who had wives who couldn’t…”

“Who they had already married and couldn’t get shed of. Nobody’s going to choose a girl who’s already a cripple.” Her words were hard and sharp with anger. “Would you? Would you come courting the day I turn sixteen?” she demanded. She pressed her hands down against the arms of the chair and leaned toward him. He took one involuntary step back.

“That’s not a fair question.”

“Why not!”

Adam drew in a deep breath before he said, “Because, well, because. . .”

“Oh,” Lila Jane interjected, “how silly of me to forget that you never liked me even with two good legs.”

“I don’t dislike you, Lila Jane. Well, not now anyway.” She watched his right hand tug his left ear.

“No, not now. Now you pity me instead.” Her head jerked up defiantly. “Well, you can just go back to hating me. I assure you I’d rather you did.” Held in front of him by her inability to walk or even roll herself away, Lila Jane simply turned her head as if dismissing him from her mind.

“You’re the one doing the pitying, Lila Jane. You just sit there and pity yourself. If you weren’t so stuck in self-pity, you might actually try to get up and walk.” Adam’s voice held both anger and frustration.

Lila Jane turned her gaze back to meet Adam’s glare. In a curiously calm and flat voice, she taunted, “Well, if you’d just go ahead and lay your holier-than-thou hands on my head and grant me your divine healing, I’ll do just that.”

For the second time, the force of Adam’s slamming the door knocked its dangling bell to the floor.

Fifty strides later he plowed into a six-foot-three, two hundred and eighty pound miner who grabbed his arm and shook him, “What the blazes, boy! Where do ya think you’re going!”

“Sorry, sir,” Adam managed to mumble. The collision having knocked a great deal of his rage from his mind, he stepped to the side and stood with his back against a store wall as the miner passed. “Where am I going?” His body slumped with despair. “I just want to go home!” Several people passed while he debated the actual possibility of hitching up the buggy and returning to the ranch. “It’s not that long until they’ll all be back. It’s not like there’s nobody at the ranch at all. I can tell Mr. Caruthers that Old Ned will see to me.” For a minute he indulged in the vision of home, then he shook his head to dislodge a gruff voice, “A man starts something, he sees it through, bucko.” The smile slipped from his lips. “Unless I tell him some lie, he’ll march me right back, and all I’ll have for my trouble is an aching backside.” Adam sighed not even bothering to contemplate lying to the old man, for he knew far better than to try that. “Better get back before Mr. Caruthers thinks I’ve taken off or finds I left Lila Jane alone.” He straightened and walked resolutely back to the cobbler’s shop.

Opening the door, he stopped abruptly, for Lila Jane sat precisely where he had left her not crying but with her eyes shut and her lips moving soundlessly. Adam slipped inside and closed the door softly behind him. Walking to the space before her, he went to his heels and said softly, “Lila Jane.” Her eyelids only flickered but did not rise. “Would you really want me to come courting? If you were walking, would you?”

The tip of her teeth sunk into her lower lip, and her eyes slowly opened. “For true courting or for fun courting?”

“For true courting.”

She sighed. “No, not really, not for true.”

“That’s all I meant, Lila Jane, because if I felt that way about a gal, well, it wouldn’t matter. To some it wouldn’t matter.”

Lila Jane’s shoulders lifted in a slight shrug. “Maybe there’s some.”

“Coming to court a gal if all you want is to spark her some, and, well, if you knew nothing more could come of it, well, that would be trifling with her, and my Pa wouldn’t hold with that.”

The corners of her mouth turned upwards ever so slightly. “They’d hear him in Canada, would they?”

His dimples appeared. “For sure and certain!”

She smiled, and then it faded. “I have tried, Adam.”

“For real and true?”

Her eyes filled with fire, and her words snapped, “Why do you think I haven’t! Why does everyone think I’m not trying!”

Adam rose and looked down at her. “It’s just…”

“Father! FATHER!”

“He’s not in the workshop. He. . .”

Her curse was relatively mild compared to those Adam had heard from the mouths of many hands, but coming from a girl’s lips he was taken aback.

“Lila Jane!” The tone was pure Pa Cartwright.

Lila Jane blinked, studied his face, and quite inexplicably to Adam began to giggle.

Adam threw up his hands in frustration and turned toward the workroom door.

“Adam.” He stopped in his tracks. “Would you roll me into the kitchen, please?” He turned and without speaking went to stand behind her chair. “And, uh, please don’t tell Father what I said.”

Adam shook his head. “I’m not a tattletale, Lila Jane.”

“Well, we all have our good points, don’t we?”

Lila Jane received no answer as a customer came through the door at that exact moment kicking the little bell across the floor.

*****

Ross leaned his elbows on the counter and brought his mouth closer to Adam’s ear. “She already agreed to dance with me, and I may even invite her outside.”

Adam gave his friend a speculative stare and then volunteered his opinion. “If you take her outside, you best make sure your pa doesn’t see or hers either.”

“Of course I won’t. I’m not a fool, Cartwright!”

“Couldn’t prove that by me,” Adam replied with a smirk.

Ross punched Adam’s right arm and asked, “Well, at least I’m wise enough to get my asking in ahead of time and without an audience. Who are you planning to dance with?”

“No one.”

“No one?”

“I’m not going to the social.” Adam managed to sound quite nonchalant.

“Why not?” Before Adam could reply, Ross added, “Won’t Caruthers let you go?”

“I decided not to go. It has nothing to do with Mr. Caruthers.”

“But, I can’t believe it. What’s wrong with you?” Ross sputtered.

“I’m just not going,” Adam replied a petulant edge sharpening his words.

“Well, I’ll be…” Before Ross could finish, the tinkling of the bell announced the entrance of Ross’s father.

“Ross! I’ve been looking all over for you!” Mr. Marquette sounded fit to be tied.

The boy turned to face his father. “Sorry, Pa, I just. . .”

“You better just get to the wagon. We should have left ten minutes ago.” Mr. Marquette turned on his heel and walked out the door with Ross following quickly in his wake.

Adam shook his head and then turned at the sound of a throat being cleared. Josiah Caruthers stood in the doorway between the shop and the workroom. “Sir?”

“Adam, why are you planning to stay home from the social?”

Adam cursed mentally and answered, “I just don’t feel like going.”

“Why?” The syllable was sharp and demanding.

“I just don’t!” Adam’s reply was snappish, and his gaze swept the floor.

Josiah Caruthers stiffened, “I asked for a reason, Adam.” He watched the boy start to speak, swallow, and then shift from foot to foot. “What does your father do if you lie to him, Adam?” Josiah demanded abruptly.

Indignant because he had been considering a plausible lie, Adam retorted, “I haven’t lied!”

Ice crept into Josiah’s tone, “I did not say you had, boy, but I want an answer not an evasion.”

“I just don’t want to.” The childish whine that infused his declaration made Adam shift and once again lower his gaze to the floor.

“Hear me, Adam; unless the doctor certifies that you are ill, you shall attend that social.”

“But…”

“It is not open for discussion.” Josiah’s tone was one Adam had never before heard from the man, but he recognized it. For a moment, it kept a retort from his lips.

Josiah turned and walked back into his workroom. Adam drew in a deep breath and followed.

“You can’t mean that you’d make me go.”

Josiah seated himself at his worktable without looking at the boy. “I’ve said the discussion is ended.”

“That’s not fair!”

“Adam.” The warning was clear, but Adam did not heed it.

“But it’s not! I have a right to not want to go.”

Josiah set down the knife he had just picked up. He stood and turned. “Correct your tone, Adam.” Every line of Josiah’s body demanded obedience.

Adam forced two words from his mouth. “Yes, sir.” He drew in a deep breath, “I apologize for any disrespect.” Another deep inhalation preceded his next words. “Now may we discuss it, please, sir?”

“Only if you are prepared to give me a clear and truthful answer to my question.”

“I,I,I don’t want to, well, to, to throw it in Lila Jane’s face that I’m going to a social, and she can’t.”

“You planned to deny yourself to spare my daughter’s feelings?” Josiah’s tone had warmed.

“I suppose. . . there’ll be plenty more socials I can go to.”

This time Josiah was the one who filled his lungs slowly. “Adam, there is no need for you to give up the social. Lila Jane can attend if she chooses.”

“But. . .”

“I’ve considered giving her no choice in the matter, but, well, that can wait until we are positive.” He studied the expression on Adam’s face. “My daughter may have to face life in a wheelchair, but I refuse to allow her to face that life as a hermit.”

“She still hasn’t. . .”

“Been successful in even an attempt to stand. Still, Doctor Martin, sees. . ., well, time will tell. Perhaps she does need to want what she is missing enough to try. You will attend the social, Adam.”

“Yes, sir.” The reply sounded more like an acknowledgment that he would be shot at dawn.

“And, Adam, you will try to enjoy yourself.” Adam looked up and caught Josiah’s smile.

“Yes, sir. I best get back in the shop.” Adam exited and stood leaning on the elbows he had propped on the counter. “If he ever tells Pa half of what I’ve said to him and how, I’m dead.”

*****

Adam stood at the bottom of the stairs and stared up contemplatively. He chewed his lower lip, swallowed, and then took the steps two at a time. He strode across the sitting room and rapped sharply on the door to Lila Jane’s bedroom.

“Come in.”

Adam opened the door just enough to thrust his head into the room. “I just wanted to tell you your Pa went out and see if you wanted anything.”

Lila Jane shook her head, “No, nothing, I’ll just ring my bell if I do.”

“Well, that’s just it. I won’t be able to answer your bell for awhile.” Adam eased the door completely open.

“Why not? Are you going out too?” Lila Jane was startled. She had not been left alone in the house for any length of time since her accident.

“No, of course not, it’s just, well, I’m going to be in the bath.”

“The bath?”

“Yes, the bath. The social’s this evening, you know,” Adam answered cheerily.

“You’re going?”

“Of course, there’s no reason I shouldn’t, is there?”

“No, no reason, I just…, no, there’s no reason at all.” Lila Jane’s hand made a dismissive gesture.

Adam leaned against the door jam and crossed his arms on his chest. “You could come if you want.”

“No, I most certainly do not!”

“And you thought I’d stay home and keep you company.”

Lila Jane snorted, “As if I need your company.”

“No, I guess you don’t seeing as how you have your pa tied to you.”

Lila Jane gasped. “Tied to me!”

“Call it what you will. You don’t want to go, so your pa gets to stay home too.”

“Father. . .”

“Would never leave you alone in this house for hours. You know that. But then I guess he might as well get used to missing out seeing as how you’ve given up.”

“Given up!”

“Yes, given up. Deep down you’ve given up, but that’s your business, I suppose.” Adam shrugged and turned his back to Lila Jane. Her hair brush hit the door frame with an echoing thud. Adam spun back around. “Should ‘ve let me teach you to aim properly,” he observed with a condescending grin.

“I HATE YOU!” Lila Jane’s shout reverberated through the room. Her hands clenched, and she pressed them into the mattress on which she sat.

“You hate hearing the truth.” Adam’s voice remained unruffled. He cocked his head and let his gaze become speculative. “If you haven’t given up, prove it to me.”

“Prove it to you! I don’t have to prove anything to you.”

Adam shrugged. “Then don’t. Stay here and wallow in misery. I just feel bad for your father.”

The sound that rose in Lila Jane’s throat never managed to form a comprehensible word. Adam watched as her hands pushed her legs off the side of the bed. Pressing both hands against the mattress, she struggled to push herself into a standing position.

“Come on, come on,” he urged silently. He saw her stand for two seconds before he realized she was going to fall. Her knees banged against the floorboards before he could reach her, but he caught her arms before her head could fall forward. They both ended up sitting on the floor with Lila Jane’s hands beating Adam’s chest.

“See, see, SEE! “ She sobbed. They were still there a minute later when Josiah Caruthers rushed into the room.

“What’s going on! “ He ran to stand over them. “What happened!”

“Father!” Lila Jane’s wail cut through both listeners with its desperation. Josiah knelt, lifted his daughter, and held her to him. Adam scrambled to his feet, turned, and ran from the room. Stumbling down the stairs, he ran out the back door. He failed to notice the man standing in the kitchen as he passed him.

*****

He did not know how long he sat outside of town staring down the road to the Ponderosa before the old man came and sat beside him.

“Well, now, bucko, have ya earned yourself a strapping this time?”

Adam continued to stare as he pulled his knees up under his chin and wrapped his arms around them. “How?”

“Meet that Caruthers in the street, and he brought me back to speak with ya. We heard the commotion from downstairs. Caruthers goes up, and next thing I know you come streaking down those stairs like a bat out of h… Hades. I fetched the doc; he’s with the little gal now.”

“She’s hurt bad?”

“Naw, don’t think she is. The doc was mostly just to make sure and set Caruthers mind at rest.”

Adam dropped his forehead to rest against his knees. “I didn’t. . .I just . . .”

“Just what, bucko?”

“I thought, well, sometimes if you’re mad enough you forget to be scared.”

“Set to prodding her, did ya?”

“Yes, sir.” His voice lost the little volume that it had held.

“She got mad and tried to stand?”

“But she fell.” With the last word, Adam’s voice broke.

“Ya remember not that long ago when the little bit was learning to walk. Seems he took a few falls before he got the hang of it. Might be the little gal has got to get the hang of things again ‘fore everything’s working fine.” Old Ned’s hand had come to rest on the boy’s shoulder, and he squeezed it gently.

“Or maybe she really isn’t ever going to walk again.”

“Ya been facing that from the first, bucko.’

“But I. . . I just wanted her to walk again. I wanted to. . .” Adam’s sentence faded away.

“Ya wanted to fix things. That’s the way you are, bucko, always wanting to fix things, but some things just ain’t yours to fix.”

“I asked God to do the fixing.”

“Sometimes God says no, bucko.” Adam did not speak. Old Ned sat silent for a few minutes and then began softly, “My ma had this glass vase. Real pretty thing it was ‘specially when it caught the light. Even more though it was special to her ‘cause it had been her mother’s and hers before her. One day I broke it. Pure accident, but still it was me that done it.”

“Your ma?”

“Understood accidents, but I saw her cry holding the two pieces. My eldest brother, though, was a handy sort and glued those two pieces back together real neat.”

“So he fixed it.”

“Not really. Ma put it back on its shelf, but you could see the break when ya looked, and every time I saw it I felt the way I had seeing my ma crying over them broken pieces. One day I took that vase down and threw it against the floor and stomped on the pieces, ground them with my boot until nobody could have put any of it back together.”

For the first time since Ned had arrived, Adam turned and looked into the old man’s face. “I don’t. . .”

“Think on it, bucko; you’re a smart one.”

Adam chewed his lower lip and tugged his left ear. “She’s not a glass vase.”

“Nope, she’s not.”

“What happened when you smashed the vase?”

“My pa dealt with me.”

“Do you think Mr. Caruthers will, well, think I earned one?”

“We best go see, bucko!” Old Ned rose and then pulled Adam to his feet. He kept his arm across the boy’s shoulders as they walked back through town.

They entered the kitchen by the back door. No one was in the room. Adam stood staring up the stairs with his breath coming shallow and fast. They listened to the sounds coming from above until two men began descending the stairs. When Josiah Caruthers stepped from the shadows into the sunlight beaming through the window, it was clear to both Old Ned and Adam that the man had been crying. The sight cut into Adam with a physical pain. Old Ned felt the boy stiffen and then tremble; he tightened his hold.

“Doc. . .” Ned began.

“I’m sorry, She’s. . .I’m so sorry!” Adam’s exclamation was a soft wail.

Josiah crossed the room in four strides and clasped Adam’s upper arms. “No, no, child. . .”

“But I. . .”

“She’s going to walk, Adam! She’s going to walk!”

“But she, she fell, she. . .”

“She felt it! She felt it! She’s going to walk.” The joy in Josiah’s voice slowly convinced Adam of the truth.

“But how?”

“Now, if you’ll give Doc a chance to speak, we might all know a bit more about what’s happening.” Old Ned admonished.

“Quite right,” Doctor Martin interjected, “Let’s all have a seat.” He motioned toward the chairs around the table.

Ned guided Adam, seated him, and then took the chair beside the boy for himself. When they were all settled, Doctor Martin’s professional tones filled the air.

“First of all, the fall did no damage other than some bruises to her knees. She felt pain, though, and you do not feel pain if the nerves are severed. We tried some standing under the proper conditions. ” The doctor stressed the last two words and sent Adam a stern look.

“The boy was too presuming and big for his britches again. As I told ya, we’ve been working on it for some time, but that can wait.” Old Ned exchanged a glance with Josiah Caruthers.

“That is as it may be. The bottom line is that my prognosis is definite. With time and effort Lila Jane will walk again. There will probably be some residual weakness especially when she is fatigued and quite possibly a slight limp, but she will walk again.”

“Thank the Lord.” The words left Josiah’s lips as a fervent prayer.

“She’ll walk for real and true?” Adam’s gaze bore into the doctor.

Paul Martin heard the plea for reassurance and replied simply, “For real and true.”

“Now ain’t that just too fine!” Old Ned declared with a hearty slap to Adam’s back. “Ya know sometimes God says yes, bucko.”

Adam just nodded, but his eyes shone. “Lila Jane. . .”

“Is upstairs resting. She wore herself out in more ways than one.” Doctor Martin stood and looked at Josiah. “I’ll be by tomorrow morning to set a plan of recovery. There’s still a long road ahead; at times it will be a painful one, but I’m quite confident it will be a successful journey. No need to see me out, Josiah.”

Josiah sprang to his feet anyway and ushered the doctor out through the shop.

“You want I should stay or go, bucko?”

Adam dropped his eyes to the table. “If you’re going to whittle my backside back down to fit my britches. . .”

Old Ned shook his head. “If there’s whittling to be done, it’s Mr. Caruthers’ place to do it.”

“I suppose.”

Old Ned reached out and patted Adam’s shoulder. “I’ve strong doubts he’ll think it’s needed.”

Adam turned his head to smile at Ned. “You don’t need to stay, Ned; I’ll be fine.”

“That you will, bucko!” Ned gave Adam another back slap as he stood. Then he grinned and admonished, “As long as you remember what I said about those saloons.”

Adam rolled his eyes, but made sure to keep them turned from Old Ned’s view. “Yes, sir,” he replied with exaggerated humility.

“Ya know I can tell when you’re shining me on.” The severity in his voice was as fake as the glare he sent the boy.

“Ned,” Adam’s voice had become soft and sincere, “I’m glad you were here.”

“So am I, bucko.” Old Ned made his exit whistling, and Josiah walked back into the kitchen.

“Mr. Caruthers,” Adam began as he stood to face Lila Jane’s father.

“Adam, I would like you to do something for me.”

“Of course, sir.”

“I would like you to kneel with me as I offer a prayer of thanks.”

Adam nodded and sank to the floor. Josiah knelt beside him and bowed his head. When his prayer ended, he stood and pulled Adam to his feet. “Thank you too, Adam Cartwright.”

“I shouldn’t have, well; I shouldn’t have done things the way I did. I just. . .”

“You wanted to help my daughter, and in the end you did.”

“I could have hurt her instead.”

Josiah sighed and shook his head. Tapping his chin with his forefinger, he made a decision. “You do sometimes have a problem with disrespect and presumption, boy. I suppose it is time I dealt with that.”

Biting his lower lip, Adam responded, “Yes, sir.”

“Yes, there’s no help for it.” Josiah watched as Adam shifted from one foot to another. “I shall have to restrict you to the house for the rest of the day. I’m sorry to have to deny you the social, boy, but you have to learn.”

Adam cocked his head slightly and studied Josiah’s face. “Yes, sir. Anything else, sir?”

“That and an early bedtime will suffice.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll be upstairs.” Adam turned and took the stairs two at a time. “It’s a wonder Lila Jane’s not the most spoiled girl in the territory!”

*****

Adam walked to Lila Jane’s door and paused. The door had not closed completely. As he stood there, the sound of slow breathing and a soft snore came to his ears. A smirk crossed his face as he turned and walked to the settee. Settling himself on the dark green cushions, he relaxed and closed his eyes.

As he woke, Adam yawned, stretched, and realized he now lay on the settee. His stocking feet were on the seat, his boots on the floor, and a summer quilt draped over his legs. The light coming in the windows had softened, and Adam realized several hours had passed. Then he heard the tinkle of Lila Jane’s bell. He was on his feet in seconds and hurried to her door.

“What do you need, Lila Jane?” he called without opening it.

“My father.”

“For what?” he pushed the door open a slight bit more. “I can. . .”

“No, you can’t!” There was embarrassment in her voice, and it dawned on Adam what she needed. “Just my father, please.”

“Sure,” he replied hastily and took a step back. Then Adam heard footsteps behind him.

“Go put your boots on, Adam. I’ll see to Lila Jane.” Josiah walked passed Adam and into his daughter’s room shutting the door firmly.

Adam drifted back to the settee and pulled on his boots. A few minutes later, Josiah came out of the bedroom. Adam rose quickly to his feet.

“I’ll take that, Mr. Caruthers.”

Josiah shook his head. “No, I’ll see to it. Go in and speak to Lila Jane.”

Adam nodded but did not move as Josiah left the room and headed down the stairs. He stared at Lila Jane’s door, took a few steps, and then hesitated. After a dozen seconds, he shook his head to clear it and took a few more steps. He was standing, still and silent, before Lila Jane’s door when Josiah returned to the room.

Coming up to stand behind the boy, Josiah spoke in low, even tones. “I thought you were going in to see her.”

Adam tugged his ear and answered in a whisper, “I was but. . . Maybe I should just. . .”

“Go on in.”

“But I, I said, well, some things. . .”

“Lila Jane did not tell me exactly what it was you said, and I don’t intend to ask either of you.” Josiah placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “If you said something for which you should apologize, now is the time to see to it.”

“I suppose,” Adam replied but made no move to step forward.

“Now, boy!” The pop to his behind held far more sound than sting, but Adam’s eyes widened, and he took an automatic step forward.

“Yes, sir.” Adam pushed the bedroom door open and walked into Lila Jane’s room.

Lila Jane sat in a chair next to her window. She turned her head and smiled as Adam entered her room. “Father told you?”

Returning her smile, Adam replied, “Of course he did, and I’m not even going to say I told you so.”

Lila Jane snorted and stuck out her tongue. Adam strode across the room and stared down at her with a mock glare. “That was rude, little girl.”

She returned his glare with a superior smirk. “I meant it to be.”

Adam rolled his eyes, and Lila Jane giggled. He went down on his heels and looked directly into her eyes.

“Lila Jane, I said, umm, some things that, well, they were. . .”

“Suppose to make me mad.”

“Well, yea, but they were rude and mean, and, umm. . .” Adam drew in a deep breath and exhaled his final words, “I’m sorry.”

“Well, I’m not,” Lila Jane paused to watch the flicker in Adam’s eyes and then said, “not sorry that you did it, I mean.”

Adam snorted and settled on his backside. “You’re exasperating, Lila Jane!”

“Not any more than you’re infuriating, Adam Cartwright.”

“Do you forgive me?”

“Of course.”

“You could just say so.”

Lila Jane batted her lashes gently and honeyed her voice. “I accept your kind apology, fine sir, and grant you all my forgiveness.”

“One day, Lila Jane!”

“One day you’re going to dance with me just like I said before.”

“What if I don’t want to dance with you? Do you really think you can make me?”

“Yes.” The word rang with assurance. Adam heard a challenge.

“No, you can’t. If I don’t want to dance with you, I won’t.”

Lila Jane’s head dropped, her teeth sunk into her trembling lower lip, she sniffed, and a tear rolled down her cheek.

Adam was on his knees in a moment leaning toward her and saying, “I’ll dance with you, Lila Jane. I’ll be glad to dance with you.”

Raising her chin, Lila Jane allowed her most galling smirk to settle on her lips. “See. I told you I could.”

“Why!” Adam’s anger shot him to his feet. “I’ll never. . .”

Lila Jane cocked her head, “Will you go back on your word, Adam Cartwright?”

“I didn’t promise.”

“No, you didn’t cross your heart or spit in your hand, but I thought you meant what you said.” The challenge was in her voice again.

“I did,” Adam declared as his hand rose from his hip and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Then his own smirk grew on his face. “I said I’d dance with you, Lila Jane, and I shall. I’ll dance with you at your wedding.”

Lila Jane conceded gracefully, “Fair enough.” Her eyes dropped to her lap. “You better get dressed for the social.”

“I’m not going.”

“You’re not? But you said. . .”

“I was, but now, well, I can’t.”

“Can’t?”

“I’m,” Adam cleared his throat, “I’m being punished.” The color rose on his cheekbones.

“Rightly so, I should imagine.” Then Lila Jane smiled, “Want to play chess after supper?”

Adam blew out a deep breath and shrugged, “Sure after you dry the dishes.”

Lila Jane shrugged in reply. “You’ll be the one washing them.”

*****

Adam put the money in the cash drawer and shut it. He smiled at the thought that he had sold the cowboy not only the work boots he had come to buy but a fancy pair for showing off on Saturday nights. He leaned back against the wall and began humming softly thinking about the fact that the telegram he would send that afternoon would be the last since his family should be returning within a week.

Doctor Martin entered the shop from the workroom and greeted the boy.

“And how are things with you this fine day, Adam?”

“Things are going real well.” He hesitated a moment and then asked, “Aren’t they?”

“If you’re asking how Lila Jane is doing, I’m pleased to tell you that they are. She’s making steady progress now.”

Adam’s dimples shone. “I’ve helped her a few times, and I thought so, but, well, with Lila Jane. . .” Adam’s lips pursed in a rueful smile.

“What is it, Adam. Is there something I don’t know about?” the doctor asked with professional concern.

“No, not really, I mean. . .” Adam tugged his left ear.

“Out with it.”

“It’s just that it seems like. . . I mean every day she seems to get stronger, and she’s even taking a few steps on her own, so you’d think she’d be getting happier and happier, but she just seems to be getting grumpier and more irritable. Sometimes I don’t see why Mr. Caruthers puts up with her attitude. I wouldn’t.”

“It’s not easy for her, Adam. This kind of struggle can wear of person down.”

“I know, but, well, she’s no business taking it out on those helping her. When she thought she might not walk again, well, that might be some excuse, but now she knows that’s not so and needs to be taken in hand.”

Doctor Martin raised his eyebrow at Adam’s authoritative tone. “You think so?”

“I certainly do,” Adam declared without registering the doctor’s own tone.

“Well, that may be, Adam, but you had best remember that in Lila Jane’s case any taking in hand is Josiah Caruthers’s prerogative.”

This time the doctor’s tone did register, and Adam’s “Yes, sir, I know,” was delivered promptly and politely.

The doctor’s forefinger tapped his chin. “Do you still have your buggy and team here?”

“Sure.”

“Maybe getting out for a ride would help Lila Jane’s mood. It is a fine day.”

“Mr. Caruthers has several orders coming due, I don’t know. . .”

“It was just a suggestion. Well, I’ve other patients. Take care, Adam, and remember what I said.”

Adam made sure that the doctor did not see him roll his eyes and answered, “Yes, sir. I will. Have a good day.”

Adam waited until he heard Josiah descend the stairs and enter the shop.

“Mr. Caruthers?”

“Yes, Adam?”

“I was talking to Doctor Martin, and he thought, well, that Lila Jane might be feeling cooped up, and a buggy ride would be a good idea.”

Josiah rubbed his temple. “I wish I could afford to leave the workshop, but I just can’t today.”

“If you set her in the buggy, I could drive her around a bit.” Adam volunteered. He saw the instant rejection on Josiah’s face and quickly added, “That’s if you trust me to take care of her.” He added just a touch of injured feeling to his voice.

Josiah gave him an appraising glance. “It’s not a matter of trust, Adam.”

Adam looked at Lila Jane’s father with a steady and challenging stare, “But it is, sir. You know I can drive the team safely, that I’ve driven on my own before, and that I know the area, so it couldn’t be anything else.”

“You’re walking a fine line, child.”

“I mean no disrespect, sir.”

“Still it’s there.”

Adam dropped his eyes and softened his voice, “Please let me take Lila Jane for a drive. I’ll be real careful.” He considered adding, “If I lose her, you can keep me upstairs on bread and water until my pa comes home,” but decided that might be crossing the wrong line. “Please.”

“A short drive and not through the middle of town,” Josiah capitulated. “Any foolishness and you’ll see a new side of me which I doubt you will like.”

Adam failed to resist, “I understand; I wouldn’t want a real talking to.”

He had started toward the kitchen before Josiah stated, “Make that a necessary taking to,” with a pronounced stressing of the word necessary.

Surprise brought Adam up short for a second, then he delivered a snappy, “Yes, sir!” before going to inform Lila Jane of the planned buggy ride.

*****

Adam slowed the horses and eased the buggy off the road. Setting the brake, he drew in a deep breath. He turned his head and looked at the girl beside him. Lila Jane sat silently staring out toward the mountains in the distance. He turned his eyes forward again and brought his hand up to massage the bridge of his nose. When Adam had told Lila Jane about the buggy ride, she had seemed to perk up with pleasure at the thought, but as they had driven to the edge of town and down the rode her mood had soured, and Adam had no idea as to why. After a few minutes, he stated flatly, “If you want to go back, just say so. It’s not like it’s any skin off my nose.”

“So.” The syllable dripped icy mockery.

Adam’s fingers clenched. “Fine!’ He reached to release the brake, but his hand stopped abruptly. “No! There are some things I want to say to you, and this is a fine place for saying them.”

“So say them; it’s not like I have to listen.”

“Oh, you’ll listen.”

“Or what?” She gave a disdainful snort.

Adam shifted so he could deliver the glare that burned in his eyes. “There’s nothing to stop me from pulling you across my knee and blistering your behind. I know you’ve gotten enough feeling back to make it worth my while.”

“You wouldn’t dare!” Lila Jane shot the glare right back at him.

“Would I?” Thought delayed his response for a second.

“You know you wouldn’t so don’t bother with the threat.”

“What makes you so sure I wouldn’t?”

Five seconds passed, and then Lila Jane said simply, “The look in your eyes right after you slapped me.”

Adam swung his head to stare again at the horses backsides and mumbled softly, “That was different,” but then he realized that his anger had been doused and what Lila Jane said was true.

“Just take me home.”

Adam stiffened his spine. “Whether you listen or not, I intend to have my say.”

“Go ahead then.” Lila Jane gave a trivializing wave of her hand.

The anger returned. “You’ve been acting like a brat, Lila Jane, a mean-spirited, spoiled, self-centered little brat, and it’s time you grew up and behaved. Your father deserves better.”

“Oh, my father deserves better, does he?”

“I think so even if you don’t.” Adam’s voice was cold and calm though his eyes burned. His stare was fixed on the girl at his side, and he had been in enough fights, despite his pa’s admonitions, to not be caught off guard. His hand locked on her wrist and stopped hers a bare half-inch from his cheek. Lila Jane growled in frustration as she tried to jerk her hand free. When she could not, she tried to raise her other hand, but Adam pinned it against the seat back. She struggled, the buggy rocked, and her unbalanced weight propelled her toward the opening in the side. For a moment both Adam and Lila Jane thought she would tumble out to the ground. When Adam pulled her against him, she buried her face in his shirt until the buggy settled into stillness once more.

“What’s wrong, Lila Jane?” This time his voice was the one he used to cajole his little brothers.

“Does it matter?” Her voice held a deep weariness as she pulled herself away from him.

“Sure it does.”

“Not to you, not really. In a few days you’ll go home to your family.”

Adam studied her profile. “Well, yeah, but that doesn’t mean that what happens to you and your pa doesn’t matter to me. I’m your friend, Lila Jane.”

“Oh, really, my friend, and what are you to my father?”

Adam’s brow furrowed. “What are you trying to say, Lila Jane?”

Her shoulders lifted and fell. Then she turned her eyes to his, and he saw they had become dark and hollow. “Are you the son he never had and always wanted, perhaps?”

Adam blinked in surprise. “I. . .”

“Don’t need another father. Father knows that. You sit there fussing at me about hurting him when you’re the one that’s really going to hurt him.”

“I don’t know what on earth. . .”

“You gave him a taste, a little taste of what he wanted; just enough to set him craving, and now you’ll jerk the plate away.” Lila Jane managed to shift her body enough to bury her face against the back of the buggy seat.

“What. . .” Adam’s tugged his left ear. “I mean. . .” He tugged his ear again. “Why do you think your pa is pining for a son?”

“I had a brother, well, almost. My mother had a stillborn boy a year before I was born.” Her words were muffled but audible. “I heard my folks talking once when they thought I was asleep. I’ve known ever since how Father really wanted a son.”

“My God, Lila Jane, you can’t think your pa loves you less than he would a son!”

She turned to face him. “You’re the kind of son he would have wanted to have. I heard him say it to Doctor Martin.”

“I. . .” Adam tried to catch the correct words from the thoughts that tumbled through his mind. “That’s just. . .it doesn’t mean. . .your pa’s a fine man. . .” Adam swallowed. “He loves you, Lila Jane.”

Lila Jane sighed. “I’m tired, Adam, please take me home.”

Adam chewed his bottom lip and then cleared his throat. “When we first settled here before my pa married Marie, there was this lady. She, well, she and her brother, they became friends of pa, of us all really. She treated Hoss and me, well, she treated us good. She, well, women they… it’s different from the way a man treats a child, and we didn’t have any mother. She made me think about having a mother, but that didn’t, well, didn’t have anything to do with how I felt about my pa.”

“What happened to her?”

“Her brother died, and she went back East.”

“Your pa got married again.”

“Yeah.”

Lila Jane made no reply, and after a few minutes of silence Adam gathered the reins, released the brake, and turned the buggy toward town.

As he drove, Adam knew she was weeping, but he had nothing to offer her not even a clean pocket handkerchief, so he stayed silent and kept his eyes on the road. At the edge of town, he stopped the buggy.

“He’ll see that you’ve been crying. There’s no way around it.” Lila Jane only sniffed in reply. “What are you going to say when he asks why?”

“I don’t know. I could always tell him it’s your fault.”

“Fine.” The word turned Lila Jane’s face toward him. “I could make him angry with you; even without lying, I could get you in trouble.”

“Go ahead. Then neither of us will have to tell him the truth.”

“He might punish you for real this time.”

“He said he would.”

Lila Jane blinked. “What did he say he would do?”

“Does it matter?” His tone had remained flat and unconcerned, but she had felt the involuntary shifting of his body.

“He didn’t say he’d thrash you!”

“Not in those words.” Adam shrugged, “What does it matter to you? You’ve gotten me hidings before.”

“I’ve gotten you hidings! Why I never!” she declared indignantly.

“Yes, you did, and you know it. You stole my drawers and …”

“Good night! You said yourself you got that whipping because you weren’t supposed to be swimming.”

“And Pa never would have known I was if I had had my drawers.”

Lila Jane rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe you’re still holding a grudge over that.”

“I’m not holding a grudge; I am just reminding you that you’ve gotten me hidings before, and it never bothered you one little bit.”

“I told you I was sorry about the drawers. How was I to know that would get you a thrashing? Really!” She snorted. “Besides how do you know what bothered me and what didn’t?”

This time Adam snorted. “Am I suppose to think you spent any time weeping into your pillow over my whippings.” Lila Jane’s eyes flickered away from his for a second and then dropped to her hands.

“I’m I suppose to care what you think?”

Without considering the action, Adam’s hand caught Lila Jane under her chin and raised it. “Did it really bother you that I got a whipping?”

She blew a short breath out of her nose but then answered. “I saw how mad your father was, and later, well, some of the girls said, well, that your father could be real strict. I. . .I guess I felt bad that your thinking I had broken my promise had gotten you in that much trouble, and we were joking about you.”

“It was a long time ago, Lila Jane; we were just kids. I shouldn’t have slapped you. I blamed you for a long time, but I got that tanning on my own.”

“Was it really a bad one?”

“Yeah, but, well, it’s different for a boy,” Adam replied striving for a dismissive tone.”

“Oh, really?”

“Well, anyway, you can tell your pa it’s my fault you were crying. If I get a whipping, well, some would say, considering everything, that it wouldn’t be a lick amiss.”

Lila Jane chewed her bottom lip. “I won’t tell him anything that will get you in trouble. I’ll just tell him. . .uh, I’ll just blame it on something else.”

“What?” He saw the blush paint her cheeks but could not figure why.

“Something. Just never you mind. I don’t think Father would thrash you for real any way.” She chewed her lip again. “Please don’t say anything to Father about what I, well, what I told you.”

“I won’t. Lila Jane, well, I think all parents, well, most folks, would like to have both boys and girls. I’ve heard Marie say things about liking to have a little girl, but I can tell you the devil himself couldn’t get her to give up little Joe even for a dozen daughters. I don’t think anything you heard your pa say is any more than that.”

“He thinks of lot of you, Adam.”

“Maybe, and I think a lot of him. He’s a good man. But, Lila Jane, he loves you. Really, I don’t think a man could love a daughter more than he loves you. Whatever you heard him say to Doc Martin, well, everybody gets to thinking of what ifs sometimes. I, well, I think what if my mother, my real mother, hadn’t died, but then, well, there’s my brothers and my mamma Inger, and even Marie. It’s just thinking what if.”

“I think about, well, what if he hadn’t died; then I would have had a big brother.” Something had lightened in her eyes, and Adam saw it.

“And you most certainly could use one!” His grin was wicked; Lila Jane’s slap landed on his forearm not his cheek.

*****

Adam heard his name a second before the ax bit into the log and then something slammed into his leg. His backward tumble landed him against a solid form, and seconds later he found himself in a tangle of brothers with his name repeating in his ears at several different octaves. Then he felt a familiar weight in his lap and instinctively wrapped his arms around the small body of his baby brother. “Little Joe!”

“We’re home!” The voice of his brother Hoss boomed in his ear, and a hand slapped his back with an all too familiar smack.

“So you are!” Adam managed to untangle himself and rise to his feet even with Little Joe clinging like a baby monkey to his neck.

“Boys!” His father’s bellow enveloped them all as Ben Cartwright came and pulled Hoss to his feet.

“Hey, Pa, welcome home!” Adam smiled and immediately found himself enclosed by his father’s arms.

“I missed you, son,” the words settled soft and sincere in Adam’s ears and sunk into his heart. When his father released him, his stepmother stepped into his line of vision.

“We have all missed you, mon fils.” Marie’s hands held his cheeks and drew his forehead to her lips.

Ben’s eye caught sight of the ax still caught in a log which had tumbled to the ground half-split. His face grew stern, and his hand caught Little Joe’s chin and held it. “Joseph, you never, never run at someone who is swinging an ax. You were told to stay with Pa.”

“Wanted Adam,” Joe replied, tightening his hold on his brother.

“Joseph, you or Adam could have been hurt.” Ben’s voice had sharpened. “You will obey me from now on.”

Adam felt his brother’s reaction and patted his bottom before the little boy could speak. Little Joe heeded the silent admonition and replied, “Yes, Pa.” Then his lower lip slipped outward, he sniffed and added, “Joe missed Adam.”

“And I missed you, Little Buddy.” Adam squeezed his brother and turned him away from their father’s stern gaze. “You too, Hoss!”

“Well, we’re all together now!”

Glancing around, Adam asked, “Where’s Hop Sing?”

“He wanted to speak to Hop Ling before we returned to the ranch. He’ll join us shortly,” Ben replied. “You have some things to gather, I would imagine.”

Josiah Caruthers had waited on his porch during the initial minutes of the family’s reunion; now he stepped forward. “He’s had most of his things packed for the past two days; he’s been that anxious. Go on and finish your packing now. Then we’ll all have a little refreshment before your long ride home.”

Glancing at his father who nodded approval, Adam replied, “Yes, sir.” When his little brother’s grip did not loosen but tightened, he asked, “Do you want to help big brother, Joe?”

“Joe help!”

“I’ll help too,” Hoss interjected, and the three brothers loped toward the back door.

The eyes of all three adults followed them until they disappeared inside.

“Being away from you was hard on him,” Josiah observed.

“As it was hard on us all,” Marie replied.

“Still from the look of him, it was the right thing to do,” Ben stated.

“He was a blessing to us, Ben. I can’t thank you enough for allowing it.” Josiah’s sincerity was obvious.

“And we thank you for taking care of him. His last telegram said it was sure that Lila Jane would walk.”

“The Lord has been so good, Ben.”

“His blessings are indeed many.” Ben returned Josiah’s smile.

“Well, no reason to stand about in the yard. Come in. Come in.” Josiah’s hand swept toward the door. Marie started to walk ahead of the two men, and Ben held Josiah back with a touch to his arm.

“Josiah, were there any problems I need to know of?”

Josiah slowly shook his head. “The only problem is that your son has led me to the breaking of a commandment.” The look of surprised puzzlement on Ben’s face provoked a soft chuckle. “We are not to covet that which belongs to our neighbor. I’ve coveted you that eldest of yours more than once in the past weeks.”

“He’s a good boy,” Ben began humbly and but continued, “He’s a fine son. I am truly blessed.” Then he added in a lighter tone, “He does have his moments, though.” Ben saw the flicker in Josiah’s eyes, but when the man said nothing, Ben Cartwright decided that this was one time when he would not ask.

*****

Adam arrived at the top of the stairs with Little Joe still in his arms. He tried to set his little brother down, but Joe’s hold just tightened.

“Now, Little Joe, I have to put you down if I’m going to pack my things.”

“Don’t want to get down.”

“Ya want Adam to go home with us, don’t ya, Little Joe?” Hoss asked.

The three-year-old’s fingers dug into his brother’s neck.

“Ow! Joe, let go!”

“No!” The little boy’s wail pierced the air.

Adam drew in a deep breath and grabbed for more patience. “Now, Little Buddy, I thought you were going to help me. We have to pack my things, so we can all go home.”

“Adam come home too?”

“Yes, but I need to bring my things. Will you get down and help? See Hoss is helping me already.”

“Yeah, see, Little Joe, I’m going to fold this blanket that Adam’s been using and put it away ‘cause he ain’t going to need it no more.” Hoss held up the blanket and waved it in the air.

“Joe help!” Little Joe pushed against Adam’s chest and nearly slipped to the floor before Adam could place him there.

Rolling his eyes, Adam went to gather his toilet articles. The three boys threw questions at each other as they quickly placed the rest of Adam’s belongings in his carpet bag, folded the bed clothes that covered the day couch he had used, and set the folding screen aside.

“Well, that should do it.” Adam declared surveying the room one more time.

Little Joe ran and took hold of the carpet bag’s handle. “Go!” he cried tugging at the heavy bag.

“I’ll carry that, Little Buddy,” Adam said reaching for the bag.

Joe slapped at Adam’s hand. “No! Joe help.”

“It’s too heavy for you.”

“No! Joe big now.” Stomping his foot, the little boy refused to release his hold on the handle.

Realizing his brother was racing toward a full-blown tantrum, Adam put his hands on the small shoulders and spoke firmly. “Joe Cartwright, that is not the way a big boy behaves. Brother will carry the bag, and you can carry something else for me.”

Joe’s lower lip slid out, and he repeated though more softly, “No.”

Hoss walked over. “You better stop making a fuss, Little Joe, or Pa’s gonna come up those stairs and swat your bottom.” Joe’s lip thrust out further as he shook his head. “Yes, he will. You know he’s done given ya one swat today for throwing a fit.”

“Did he, Joe?” Adam inquired in his softest voice.

Nodding, Joe declared, “It hurted. Pa swats hard.”

Adam grinned and picked up the pouting child. “I knew that before you were born!”

“Ya sure did!” Hoss teased.

“And so did you, Erik Cartwright.”

Little Joe settled his head on Adam’s shoulder and slipped his thumb into his mouth. “Joe’s bottom stings.”

At the blatantly untrue plea for sympathy, Adam looked at Hoss and rolled his eyes but asked Joe, “What can brother do to make it better?”

“Ride Joe down stairs.”

“Okay.” Adam lifted Little Joe onto his shoulders.

Hoss grabbed the carpet bag, and seeing Adam’s hat on the peg, snatched it off and slapped it onto Joe’s head where it promptly fell down over his face. “Let’s go!” Hoss headed for the stairs.

Adam started to follow but heard a noise and turned his head. Lila Jane stood in the doorway of her room holding onto the frame. He had forgotten that she was upstairs where she was now able to negotiate the few steps from one hand-hold to another on her own.

“Wait. Hoss take the bag and this little baggage downstairs for me.” As Little Joe began protesting being lifted off his brother’s shoulders, Adam quickly added, “Be good now, Joe, and I’ll give you three rides when we get to the ranch.”

“Story too!”

“Okay, three rides and a story. Go on now.” Adam tipped back his hat enough for the child to see, and Hoss took Joe’s hand and led him down the stairs.

Adam turned toward Lila Jane. “My folks are back.”

“I saw from the window. Heard too!”

“I guess you must have seeing as how you’re not deaf.”

“He missed you.”

“I missed him too. I missed all of them.” Adam closed the distance between them. “They’re my family, Lila Jane.”

Lila Jane tilted her head. “It’s all right to say you love them, Adam.”

Adam kept his tone light, “I do, well, most of the time.”

Lila Jane rolled her eyes. “Are you leaving right away?”

“Your father insists we have something to eat and drink first. Isn’t that why you made that cake?”

“I like lemon cake.”

“So does my brother Hoss, so don’t count on any leftovers. Besides we have to wait for Hop Sing.” Adam noticed a strain on Lila Jane’s face and said immediately, “You better sit down until your father comes up.” He took her arm and helped her to a chair.

“It’s going to be different without you here,” Lila Jane mused as she settled into the seat.

“So you’ve gotten use to having me around?” Adam dropped to the floor in front of her.

“A body can get use to most anything,” she replied with a toss of her head.

“You could just say that you’ll miss me, girl.”

“Sometimes, I suppose.”

Adam flashed his dimples. “You know, Lila Jane, I hardly ever hate you anymore.”

“Well, now, doesn’t that just make a girl’s heart flutter!” She batted her eyelashes and patted her chest to emphasis the point.

“You’ll have lots if beaus one day, Lila Jane, to make your heart flutter.”

“You won’t be one of them.” Lila Jane’s tone was ambiguous as to the reason.

“Now, you told Hoss that time that you liked folks with black hair.”

“So I did. Conner Clemmons has jet-black hair.”

Adam’s back stiffened. “Conner Clemmons is eighteen!”

“And handsome and his daddy’s well-off.”

“He’s got a bad temper!”

“So do others,” Lila Jane retorted with a pointed look at Adam.

“He goes with saloon girls,” Adam snapped back.

“Really!” Lila Jane’s eyes widened, “You know for sure?”

Adam’s cheeks reddened. “Well, yes.”

Lila Jane leaned forward. “How?”

“Lila Jane! There’s some things you don’t discuss in mixed company.”

“Is there, Adam?” Lila Jane let a smirk settle on her face.

“I swear, Lila Jane. . .”

“If your father hears, you’ll be the one getting a swat.”

Adam sputtered in reply without actually forming an audible word.

Lila Jane laughed. “You know, it’s probably best that you are going home.”

“Is that so?”

Lila Jane nodded. “If you stayed, eventually Father would have had to thrash you.”

“Probably when I slapped you again!” Adam kept the thought from moving to his lips and said instead, “I bet it would be the first time he thrashed anyone.”

Lila Jane tapped her chin with her forefinger as if considering her reply and then shrugged. “You’ll never know.”

“I do know some secrets I could share with all those prospective beaus of yours.”

“And there’s a few things I could tell every girl in town of an age to set her cap for you.”

“Friends don’t tell each others’ secrets, Lila Jane” Adam admonished.

“Am I your friend, Adam Cartwright?”

“I suppose you better be; I don’t want you for an enemy.”

“Fine. Will you come play chess once in awhile?”

“Sure.”

“Okay then. Go tell Father I need him to carry me down.”

*****

The shop bell tinkled. In one fluid motion, Adam rose and swung Little Joe from his lap to Hoss’. “I’ll see to that.” He disappeared before his little brother could voice a protest. Striding into the shop, he caught sight of the Chinese man standing just inside the door.

“Hop Sing!” Adam rushed across the floor.

Hop Sing bowed. “Good to see numbel one son again.”

Adam returned the bow and added a beaming smile. “It’s good to see you too, Hop Sing. I hope you found Hop Ling well.”

“Hop Ling well and glad to know of family in San Francisco.”

“Then you enjoyed your trip?”

“Enjoy going but enjoying coming home.”

“I was worried something in San Francisco might lure you away from us.” Adam’s tone was only half teasing.

“Much mole to tempt Hop Sing home.”

“I’m glad.” The sincerity of the words brought a satisfied smile to Hop Sing’s face. “Come on. Everyone’s in the kitchen. You can have some cake. Lila Jane made it, but we won’t tell her how much better yours is until she’s totally well.”

Hop Sing shook his head. “Ate with Hop Ling. Will go wait with wagon.”

“You don’t have to do that Hop Sing.”

“Will wait.”

“Adam!” His wailed name reached their ears, and they both recognized Little Joe’s voice.

Adam turned his head toward the kitchen and then back to Hop Sing. “We shouldn’t be long. We can’t be, since Pa wants to be home well before dark.”

Hop Sing gave a small bow and then departed as Adam walked back to the kitchen. He heard his stepmother’s voice as he entered.

“Hoss can take you, little one.”

“Want Adam!”

Adam saw his father’s face darken and spoke quickly. “I’ll take him.” He reached for the three-year-old and plopped Little Joe on his shoulders. “That was Hop Sing. He said he would wait with the wagon.”

“You invited him back?” The question came at Adam from two directions. He grinned and said, “Yes, sirs!” Then he looked down at the middle Cartwright son, “You’d better come on too, Hoss.”

Hoss flashed his brother an indignant look but rose to his feet and followed his brothers out the back door.

Ben shook his head slightly and exchanged a familiar look with his wife. “As soon as the boys finish, I’m afraid we’ll need to be leaving.”

“I’d urge you to stay, but I know it’s still quite a ride for you to the ranch,” Josiah acknowledged.

“Mr. Cartwright.”

Ben turned his head and settled his gaze on Lila Jane. The girl sat in the wheel chair that Adam had created for her. She had said little while they had eaten the refreshments she had prepared except to exchange some quiet feminine chatter with Marie.

“Yes, child?”

“I, well, I know that letting Adam come here was hard for your family. I, I just want to say thank you. He was a big help to Father, and we appreciate everything he did.” Lila Jane delivered her speech with her eyes cast down and focused on her hands.

“I’m pleased and proud that he was of help to you,” Ben replied. “And we are overjoyed to find you on the road to a complete recovery.”

Lila Jane’s fingers twisted the fabric of her skirt. “I might not be if Adam, well, his being here made a difference. I, I wanted you to know that.”

Marie was seated next to Lila Jane, and she reached out her hand to place it over the girl’s. “Thank you.” She squeezed Lila Jane’s hand. “I think for our Adam that it has made a difference also.”

Lila Jane raised her chin and turned her eyes to Marie’s. After a few seconds, a soft smile spread across the girl’s lips, and Marie patted the fingers beneath her own.

“She should have a daughter,” Ben mused to himself as he watched.

Josiah watched too, and a shadow passed across his face. “If only you could be here with our daughter, Lily!”

No one spoke for the next few moments; then the sound of the boys returning broke the silence, and the adults rose.

“Oh my, I never gave a thought. . .” Josiah began.

Ben and Marie turned inquiring faces toward him.

“The buggy! Really, it would be much more comfortable for Mrs. Cartwright. Adam and I can have it. . .”

“The buggy?”

Adam heard his father’s words as he walked back into the room. Swallowing convulsively, he paused. He knew that his father would never begrudge the use of the buggy, but it suddenly occurred to him that he had no authority to have had the buggy relocated from the ranch without even asking his father’s permission. He heard a gruff voice in his head, “. . .too presuming and big for his britches again. As I told ya, we’ve been working on it for some time!” Adam cleared his throat and hoped his pa would not think it something that needed working on today. “Uh, Pa, um, the Caruthers don’t have a buggy with their living in town and all, but, well, ours is here.”

“It is?”

“Yes, sir, and the team. We’ve used it a few times to give Lila Jane a change of scene.”

“You have?” Ben’s voice was neutral.

“What a wonderful idea!” Marie’s voice rushed into the conversational pause. She addressed Josiah, “It would still be of use to you, would it not? We will leave it with you for a time.”

“No, No, I couldn’t allow that. It was too much, really, that we used it this long,” Josiah hurried to decline.

“Nonsense, nonsense,” Ben’s voice rose to drown out all opposition. “Marie is entirely correct. When Lila Jane is getting around more easily, we can pick it up one Sunday after church. Better yet, you can use it to come out to the ranch and stay for dinner.”

Josiah tried again, “We simply can’t impose. . .”

“It is no imposition.”

Realizing the risk, Adam plunged in anyway. “No sense arguing with my pa, Mr. Caruthers; he’s as stubborn as Whisky Sam’s old mule about some things.” The look he received from both men made Adam take an involuntary step back.

“It is settled then,” Marie inserted taking her husband’s arm. “And so we must be going. The cake was lovely, Lila Jane.”

“Sure was! Ain’t but that one itty, bitty piece left all alone there by itself,” Hoss declared with a pronounced gaze at the dessert.

“Hoss. . .” The admonishment was clear in Ben’s voice.

“Is welcome to put that piece out of its lonely misery,” Lila Jane stated cheerily as she swiftly placed the piece on a cloth napkin and then into Hoss’ outstretched hand. “You can take it with you, Hoss.”

“Thank you, Lila Jane!” Hoss beamed, and Adam sent Lila Jane a smile bedecked nod.

From his position on Adam’s hip, Little Joe declared, “Share!”

Hoss obligingly broke off a bit and popped it into Joe’s open mouth.

Ben gave a momentary gaze heavenward but said only, “Let’s go, boys; we need to be getting on home.”

Josiah went behind Lila Jane and pushed her chair as they followed the Cartwrights through the workroom and the shop and finally out the door.

It took over five minutes to get everyone settled satisfactorily and for a second round of farewells to be exchanged. As the wagon began to roll down the street, Adam turned to look back. Lila Jane had risen from her chair and taken a step forward. She stood with her father’s arm around her waist. Seeing Adam’s head turn, she raised her hand and waved. Adam waved back, turned, and settled his chin on the curly head of the brother sitting in his lap. He sighed remembering that he had promised the boy not only three rides but a story when they got home.

Epilogue. . .

The music drowned out the sound of Ben’s footsteps as he walked up behind his youngest son. Reaching for the cup in Little Joe’s hand, he snatched it from the boy just before it touched Joe’s lips. He brought the cup to his nose and sniffed. Little Joe turned and then shifted from one foot to another and back again. Ben’s eyebrows drew together.

“This is from the gentleman’s punch bowl, Joseph.”

“Is it, Pa? I must’ve made a mistake.” Little Joe’s eyes dropped to the floor avoiding his father’s glare.

“You certainly did, young man!”

“I didn’t mean to, Pa, really, and I didn’t drink none.” The nine-year-old shifted feet again.

Someone laughed, and Ben was reminded of the occasion. His hand came up and caught Joe’s chin and directed the boy’s eyes to his. “This is your one warning, Joseph. Do I need to state the consequences of failing to heed that warning in any way?”

“No, sir, I know them.”

“Do I need to keep you at my side?”

“No, sir, Pa, please!” It was a plea, not a protest.

Ben released his hold. “All right then.” His son darted off into the crowd before Ben could reconsider his decision.

Ben heard a soft chuckle and turned his head toward the sound. Josiah Caruthers had come to stand next to Ben. He had obviously witnessed at least part of the previous scene.

“That boy!” Ben shook his head ruefully.

“Is a fine lad like his brother.” Josiah nodded toward the glass cup in Ben’s hand. “You could just drink that. It’s really quite good.”

Lifting the cup, Ben replied, “As are all the refreshments. This is quite the reception, Josiah.”

“Thank you. Having only one daughter to give away, Ben, I decided long ago she would be married in style.”

Ben heard a certain tone in the man’s voice and observed, “Lila Jane’s not moving away. She intends to help in the shop at times, doesn’t she?”

“For a while. At least until the grandchildren come.” Ben watched a smile creep onto Josiah’s lips. “Now there’s the consolation, Ben. I keep telling myself Lila Jane’s marriage is my only chance to become a grandfather.”

Returning the smile, Ben replied, “A new set of blessings. The Lord does indeed provide compensations.”

“That he does, Ben, and I intend to enjoy mine. After all, she’s married a fine lad, and my son-in-law, well, perhaps I shall find him the next best thing to a son.”

Ben nodded and slapped Josiah on the back.

*****

In the pause between dances, Adam strolled across the room and stood before the bride.

“It’s time I fulfilled my promise, don’t you think?” He bowed slightly from the waist and slipped Lila Jane into his arms before she could respond. The music began, and he swirled her away.

She titled her head back to have a clear view of his face. “So you do remember; I thought you might have forgotten.”

“You know I have a memory like a steel trap.”

“Well, at least one that’s as sharp. We thought perhaps you wouldn’t arrive in time.”

“I almost didn’t.” Adam considered the fact that he had returned from college less than two weeks before. “You knew when I was leaving Boston; you should have considered that when setting the date.”

“Silly me, not to think of it.” She batted her lashes at him.

He arched his eyebrow but made no rejoinder. Instead he said, “You look quite lovely today, you know.”

A serious glint came into her eyes, and her teeth sunk into her lower lip. “Adam, when I came down the aisle, well, could you. . .did I limp?”

“You floated. You shouldn’t need to ask; that’s in the past, Lila Jane. My goodness, girl, you’ve danced with half the males in the hall.” He watched the shadow leave her face. “It wouldn’t matter if you had anyway.”

Lila Jane sighed. “You don’t understand women, Adam Cartwright. You should let me give you lessons, but then you never even taught me to aim correctly.”

“You never promised not to throw things at me.”

“I don’t make promises I know I can’t keep.”

“Then you meant the vows you made today?”

“Yes.”

“You love him, Lila Jane?”

“For real and true, Adam. How else would I be floating?” She smiled. “I think you will like him too when you get to know him. He plays a wicked game of chess.”

“Does he beat you?”

“As often as you do,” Lila Jane admitted. “I intend to invite you to dinner after we’ve settled in. You’ll come, won’t you?”

“Are you sure you want me to? If I get to like this husband of yours, I may feel obligated to advise him about how to handle, shall we say, his wife’s little foibles.” Adam favored her with a smirk.

Lila Jane snorted. “And we all know your views on that subject.”

“You do at least. Am I still invited?”

“Considering that I still have several means of blackmail when it comes to you, Adam Cartwright, you are still invited.”

“Does your father like this husband of yours?” Adam’s tone had grown more serious.

“Yes. He and Father get on very well. They’ll be great friends once Father forgives him for stealing his only daughter away.”

“Did your grandfather ever forgive your father for stealing your mother away?”

“Not completely. Did yours?”

Adam shook his head. “Like yours, not completely. But Pa allowing me to go to college in Boston moved him almost the rest of the way down the road.”

“I’m glad you got to know your grandfather, Adam. Was he what you expected him to be?”

“In some ways.”

She saw the gleam that came into his eyes and raised an eyebrow in inquiry.

He kept the rising blood from painting his cheeks then chuckled before he admitted, “You’ll be gratified to know he had a very heavy hand on the reins, especially that first year.”

“Really?” Her eyes sparkled. “Tell me!”

“Not on your life!”

“Later then.”

“Never!”

“I’ll get it out of you yet, you know.” Her voice was honeyed, but her lips curled into a familiar smirk.

Adam snorted, but the impulse to slap her was only momentary. She read it in his eyes and laughed. He shook his head and twirled her almost off her feet. Then he laughed too. “After all, she’s still Lila Jane!”

***The End***

Return to DJK’s homepage

 

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

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