Thrown to the Winds (by Debra P.)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  30,900


THE VERY IMAGE

The bank was crowded that morning, but somehow Ben Cartwright wasn’t feeling the impatience he might have expected as he waited in line. In fact, what he was feeling as he looked down at the two checks in his hands was a sense of satisfaction. One check represented payment for some cattle from a young rancher who was just beginning to build a herd. Ben appreciated the young man’s drive and ambition, which reminded him of himself at a similar point in his life, and it gave him a good feeling to be able to help him to a fair start. The second check was a first payment on a timber contract between the Ponderosa and a ship builder in San Francisco, which would provide the ranch with a steady source of income for years to come. Adam had done an exceptional job in securing that contract on such favorable terms, and in seeing that the first stage of it was completed on time despite some serious obstacles. Ben’s mind turned, as it did frequently of late, to wondering if he had really made clear to his oldest son just how much he valued all his contributions to the success of the Ponderosa, and the expression on his face turned wistful. How much different would things have turned out…how much less would the Ponderosa be…if his oldest son had not been there by his side all these years? Then a smile took over as he began to think about finding some special way to reward Adam for his recent efforts.

Finally, the man ahead of Ben in line completed his business and moved away from the teller’s window. As Ben stepped up to replace him, he was greeted with the deference due to a familiar and important customer.

“Well, good afternoon, Mr. Cartwright. What can I do for you today?”

“I’d just like to deposit these, please,” Ben replied, handing over the checks.

“And will you be wanting any cash back?”

“Not this time, thank you, Andrew.”

“Very good, sir.” Andrew busied himself with making out the deposit slip, then waited patiently while Ben signed it. The transaction was quickly completed, and with a brief exchange of polite “good days”, Ben turned to leave.

As Ben made his way toward the door, he passed the desk under the side window where the bank manager, Wilfred Brennan customarily sat, keeping an eye on things. Brennan was a slender, white haired gentleman of dignified appearance who Ben had established a productive working relationship with over the years, and Ben usually exchanged friendly greetings with him when he did business at the bank. On this particular day Ben saw him sitting in his usual spot conversing with a woman. As Ben approached, Brennan rose from his seat smiling and gestured to him.

“Ben, it’s good to see you. Come here for a moment, won’t you? There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

Ben moved toward the desk, beginning to return the smile. Then the woman who had been speaking to the manager also rose from her chair, and Ben found his breath abruptly taken away. For the woman was the very image of Marie! His first glimpse of her brought on a rush of memories of the woman who had been his third wife and Joe’s mother. Because of the circumstances of her tragic death in a riding accident the image of Marie that Ben held in his heart carried a special tenderness and poignancy. And now, as he beheld that image suddenly brought to life before his eyes, he felt himself enter into an almost dreamlike state. He halted with the desk between him and this vision. He began to stare at her, and she began to eye him curiously in return. The sparkle in her green eyes mesmerized him with its seeming familiarity. Her figure and the way she held herself, the tilt of her head, the shade of her blonde hair and even the way she had it done up were all hauntingly reminiscent of his lost love.

For a couple of seconds, Ben was aware of nothing else. Then the voice of the bank manager broke into the moment.

“Mrs. Marchand,” he was saying, “this is Ben Cartwright, one of our most prominent citizens here in Virginia City…and, not incidentally, one of my best customers. Ben, this is Mrs. Rosalind Marchand. She’s just moved here from Philadelphia following the death of her husband.”

Ben looked at Mrs. Marchand again, this time taking note of her long, black skirt and her blouse of sedate gray with trim of black velvet ribbon at the neck and sleeves. So she was a widow. He extended his hand.

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Mrs. Marchand,” he somehow managed to get out.

“And I you, Mr. Cartwright,” she responded in a soft, musical voice.

Their hands met briefly across the desk and her skin was smooth and warm against the roughness of his. As her hand withdrew from his it left a slight tingling sensation behind.

“Ben, I’ve just been consulting with Mrs. Marchand about establishing her banking accounts here, among other things, ” Wilfred Brennan resumed. “But she has a number of other questions related to getting settled around here. And since you probably know this area about as well as anybody, I was wondering if you might be able to…”

“I’d be happy to be of help in any way I can,” Ben cut in quickly, “though I’m not quite sure what that might be.”

“Mr. Cartwright,” Rosalind Marchand replied, smiling, “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m rather out of my element here in Virginia City, and I’m sure that just being able to talk to someone who is as familiar with the town as Mr. Brennan indicates you are will be of great help to me.”

“Well, I’m more than willing to try to answer any questions you have.” Ben hesitated for a moment, eyeing her outfit. “I would propose having dinner together…however, I certainly wouldn’t want to suggest anything improper.”

“I don’t think you need have any concern about that,” she assured him. “My husband has been dead long enough that I can get out of mourning any time I choose. And I really don’t think there would be anything improper about having dinner with a respectable man for what are essentially business purposes. It wouldn’t exactly be a social engagement after all.” There was something appealingly impish in her expression.

“In that case,” Ben responded with a smile of his own, “would you be free tomorrow evening?”

“I certainly would.”

“Are you at the International House?”

Rosalind shook her head. “Actually, no. For the present I’m staying at a boarding house run by a Mrs. Emma Daniels.”

Ben nodded. “I’m familiar with it. Suppose I meet you there around six o’clock? And we can still have dinner at the restaurant of the International House. It’s an easy walk from there.”

“That sounds fine.”

“Very good then.”

At this point the bank manager interjected himself into the conversation again.

“Ben, I very much appreciate your doing this. I know how busy you usually are…”

With some effort, Ben pulled his eyes away from Rosalind Marchand in order to address Mr. Brennan. “It’s not a problem, Wil.”

Turning back to Rosalind, Ben gave her a courteous nod. “Until tomorrow, then, Mrs. Marchand.”

“I’ll be looking forward to it, Mr. Cartwright.”

“And Wil, I guess I’ll be seeing you again…the next time I have a large deposit to make.” Ben sent a sly smile his friend’s way.

“We’re always happy to see you…and your money…Ben.” Wilfred Brennan sent the smile back.

Ben strode toward the door. Just before he reached it he turned back to take one final glance at Rosalind Marchand. He saw her resuming her conversation with the manager. And once again he was overcome by the realization of what a perfect reincarnation of Marie she appeared to be. He couldn’t avoid the feeling that this meeting with her was going to have a significant impact in his life.

But just what would that impact be? That only time would tell.

*****

BEN’S BUSINESS

Late the following afternoon, the three Cartwright sons were gathered in the great room of the ranch house. Adam was sitting in the blue chair next to the fireplace, a book in his hands, while Hoss and Joe sat on the settee, wondering what they should do until dinner.

Though it wasn’t obvious to the eye, both Joe and Adam were nursing a few aches and bruises from having spent a good part of the day breaking horses for an army contract. With Hoss and Ben working together to get the horses ready for the two riders, they had been making very good progress. And then, quite a bit earlier than might have been expected, Ben had suddenly declared “That’s enough for today, boys. Let’s head back to the house.” Though surprised, his sons were not about to question his decision, and they willingly followed as Ben hurriedly mounted Buck and started off toward home.

Now, after cleaning up, the three brothers found themselves with time on their hands, as Hop Sing declared that dinner would not be ready for over an hour. “Why you home so early?” the little man muttered querulously as he bustled off to the kitchen to try to hurry things along.

“I’d kinda like to know that myself,” Hoss murmured to himself as he watched him go. It turned out that neither he or Joe were really in the mood to start up a game of checkers. And, while Joe had decided to find diversion in the latest whodunit that he had acquired, finding something to read didn’t really appeal to Hoss at the moment either. He looked over to where Adam sat and noticed how completely absorbed he appeared.

“What’s that you’re readin’, Adam?” he inquired. “From the look on your face it must be pretty interestin’.”

“It is.” Adam raised his eyes to glance at his brother, and there was a gleam in them that Hoss recognized. “It’s an account of some of the early explorations of Australia. Now there’s a place I think it would be fascinating to visit someday.”

“Really? What’s so fascinatin’ about it?” Every time he heard Adam begin to wax enthusiastic about some faraway place, it gave Hoss an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Oh, a lot of things, actually. There are natural wonders there to rival what we have here in the United States. They have an ancient aboriginal culture with some intriguing customs. And this is something you’d probably appreciate…there are some unique species of animals there.”

That caused Hoss to prick up his ears and lean forward. “You don’t say. Like what?”

“Like a furred animal, a mammal called a platypus, that has a bill like a duck. And there’s the kangaroo, which looks something like a giant rabbit with shorter ears and a very long tail. It has a pouch on the front of its body where it carries its young.”

“Well now, that would be somethin’ to see, sure enough,” Hoss acknowledged, raising his eyebrows. “If a body didn’t hafta go so far away from home to do it,” he added under his breath.

At that moment there was the sound of footsteps on the stairs and the brothers looked over to see Ben pausing on the landing, buttoning the coat of his good Sunday suit. Casting surprised glances at one another, the three young men rose as one while their father continued down the stairs.

“Goin’ someplace, Pa?” Joe inquired innocently as Ben reached the bottom.

“As a matter of fact, I am,” Ben replied. “I’m going to have dinner with someone in town.” Seeing their curious expressions, he continued. “Just a little business at the request of a friend. Nothing for any of you to be concerned about.” He turned toward the door. “I’m not sure how late I’ll be home,” he added. “Have a good evening, all of you.”

Adam came up to him just as he was about to reach the door. “Business, Pa? Anything I could help out with?”

“Not this time, son.” Ben saw the questioning expression on Adam’s face. It was untypical for Ben to be other than forthcoming with his oldest, and Adam seemed to feel it. Then Ben recalled what he had been thinking about the previous day.

“There was something I wanted to say to you, son, and maybe this is as good a time as any.” His voice lowered, creating a small niche of privacy around the two of them. “You know I deposited that first payment from the Viking Shipbuilders contract yesterday….”

“Yeah, Pa…” Adam still looked like he wondered what his father was getting at.

“You did outstanding work on that job, son, and on several other recent ones as well. I just want to be sure that you understand how much I appreciate it.”

“It’s good to hear you say so,” Adam replied, his look of slight surprise melting into a smile.

“I was trying earlier to think of some way I might reward you,” Ben continued.

“That isn’t necessary,” Adam interjected quietly. Still, there was a warmth in his eyes that showed how much his father’s words gratified him.

“I think it is. I couldn’t quite decide what the most appropriate reward would be. And then I thought perhaps I might let you suggest something yourself.” He regarded his son with eyes that were full of pride. “Think about it, Adam. And we’ll talk about it again.”

“I’ll do that. Thanks, Pa.”

Ben smiled as he briefly patted Adam’s shoulder, then turned and made his way out the door. Adam watched him for a moment as he crossed the yard toward the barn, then pulled the door closed. He strode back toward the fireplace, where Hoss and Joe stood with curious looks on their faces. They hadn’t heard most of the conversation between their father and brother.

“Well, that explains why Pa wanted to come in so early…but not really,” Hoss ventured, furrowing his brow. “I wonder just what this business of his is.”

“I’ll bet it isn’t really business at all,” Joe put in. “Why would he get dressed up like that just to meet somebody for business? It almost looks like….” His eyebrows rose. “Say, do you suppose he’s going to meet some lady? What do you think, Adam?”

“I think that whatever Pa’s business is…it’s his business. He’ll tell us if and when he thinks it’s appropriate. Now why don’t we just sit down and relax a little until Hop Sing has dinner ready?” Adam picked his book up, sat back down in the chair and was soon absorbed in his reading again. Hoss and Joe settled themselves back on the settee with a sigh and fell into chatting casually about the day’s events.

A few minutes later, unnoticed by his brothers, Adam looked up from his book and turned his gaze to the door, thinking about his conversation with his father…and wondering exactly what was going on with him.

*****

What was going on was a pleasant evening for Ben Cartwright and Rosalind Marchand. As they took their places across from each other at a corner table in the International House’s restaurant, the light of the candle in the sconce on the wall by the table cast a warm glow over them. It highlighted the attractive blush of Rosalind’s complexion, brought a sheen to the smooth, silvery grey satin of her gown, and lent a luster to the string of pearls around her neck. Ben could easily imagine that he was back in New Orleans, about to have dinner with Marie DeMarigny, the woman he was fast falling in love with.

He was, almost reluctantly, pulled back to the present as Rosalind began to question him about various aspects of life in Virginia City. They talked about which local merchants were the best sources for various types of goods. Rosalind asked where the local ladies went for the most fashionable clothing. She even inquired as to any local establishments that dealt in fine jewelry. Their conversation touched on the local churches (Rosalind was Episcopalian), and on the city’s political situation, including the approaching election for mayor.

Rosalind spread some butter on a piece of crusty bread and daintily took a bite. Then she put the bread down on the appropriate plate and turned a smile on her companion. “Another thing I would really appreciate some guidance on is finding a place to live here in town,” she said. “Mrs. Daniels’ boarding house is quite comfortable for now, but I am going to be wanting a place of my own.”

Ben found himself distracted by noticing how many of Rosalind’s mannerisms, especially the way she used her hands, were similar to Marie’s. But her voice was quite different, much softer, and without the traces of a French influenced accent that had distinguished his late wife’s speech. He had to make an effort to focus his attention on what she was saying.

“Well, I do know a couple of men who might be helpful to you in that regard. I can make myself free in the late morning the day after tomorrow. If it’s convenient for you, perhaps I can take you around and introduce you to them then.”

“That would be wonderful, Mr. Cartwright,” she replied, giving him an appreciative look, and Ben found himself grateful to have an excuse to see her again.

Their dinner of filet mignon was excellent, and as they ate they seemed to become increasingly at ease with each other. With Rosalind’s questions being answered for the moment, their conversation turned to other things. There were a good many questions Ben would have liked to ask her concerning her late husband and what made her decide to give up Eastern city life for such completely unfamiliar new surroundings. But the time was not right for that yet. Instead, he inquired about her taste in music, and saw her face light up at the subject.

“Oh, I’ve been considered an accomplished pianist,” she informed him enthusiastically. “In fact, I had considered trying to make a career of concertizing before I married and settled into a different kind of life. Music is still very important to me, and I was hoping that, once I’m established here, I might start giving lessons. Do you think there would be a call for that?”

“I believe there would be,” Ben assured her. “The only piano teacher I know of in town is a rather elderly lady and, from what I’ve heard, she’s only keeping going because there hasn’t been anyone to take over for her.”

“That certainly sounds encouraging. It’s something I’ll definitely have to look into, once I’m settled,” she concluded.

They continued to converse about music as they finished their dessert of blueberry pie. Ben was almost embarrassed to admit to her that, apart from the hymns he had known since childhood, his taste ran to the sea chanties he had learned as a sailor. But she merely smiled and said that there was room in the world for all kinds of music, and that no one need be ashamed of what they liked.

All too soon, as far as Ben was concerned, it was time for him to escort her back to the boarding house. As they walked down the street together, Ben again let himself imagine that it was Marie by his side. When they reached the door of the boarding house Rosalind turned to face him.

“Thank you very much for this evening, Mr. Cartwright,” she offered. “The dinner was excellent, and you were most helpful in providing information about the town.”

“My pleasure, Mrs. Marchand,” he answered, bowing gallantly.

She gave him a softly spoken “good evening”; he returned it and then watched her slip inside the door.

Ben turned and took a few steps down the walk, then paused. Now, outside the influence of Rosalind Marchand’s presence, he tried to make sense of the feelings that she was arousing in him. He was intrigued by her. He was disturbed by her. And, he had to admit it, he was excited by her and by the thought of her bringing something back into his life that he had believed lost. In some part of him he recognized that there was danger here. But in another part of him he almost didn’t care. The important thing at the moment was that he knew he would see her again. As for what would come after that…he would let that be as God willed.

*****

NO OLD GANDMA TYPE

Two Weeks Later:

It was an unseasonably warm day, and the three Cartwright brothers were taking their lunch break under the shade of a large tree while some cattle that they had been moving to new pasture grazed peacefully nearby.

Hoss was contentedly finishing his second roast beef sandwich and reaching for the piece of apple pie that Hop Sing had packed for him. Meanwhile, Joe sat holding a nearly consumed sandwich in his hands, apparently deep in thought. Adam washed down the last of his meal with a swallow of water from his canteen, wiped the back of his hand across his brow and glanced over at his youngest brother.

“Something on your mind, Joe?” he asked. In truth, he already had a pretty good guess about the answer.

“Oh, just the same thing I suppose we’ve all been thinking of since Pa made his announcement at breakfast this morning…this special guest he said he’d be bringing home to dinner this evening,” Joe replied.

Adam gave a little nod of agreement. “I must confess to being more than a little curious about that myself. He’s certainly done quite a job of keeping up his little mystery over this last couple of weeks. Even I haven’t been able to get any real information out of him…no matter how subtly I tried to bring the subject up.”

Joe chuckled. “Yeah, well I haven’t been having any luck either, and I’ve probably been trying harder than you have. I don’t think I’ve ever known Pa to be so close mouthed about anything. The only thing we really know is that he’s been taking off into town about every other day. For the first time I can remember Pa’s actually been cutting out on his share of the work around here.”

“Well, considering how long and hard he’s worked throughout his life, I don’t think any of us begrudge him a little truancy at this point,” Adam responded with an ironic smile at the thought of Joe bring up the subject of avoiding work.

“Of course not,” Joe resumed. “It’s just kind of frustrating when he won’t let us in on what’s going on. We’ve been assuming that he’s seeing some lady, but we can’t even be sure of that. Heck, it could just be another old friend he’s been seeing for some reason that he’d rather keep private.” A twinkle came into Joe’s eyes. “Or it might even be some old grandma type that someone put in his way and asked him to help somehow.”

“It ain’t no old grandma type,” Hoss’ voice interjected quietly. Adam and Joe both looked over at their brother, who had been quietly following their conversation up to this point.

“And just how do you know that?” Adam inquired.

“I was talkin’ to Phil Archer over a beer at the Silver Dollar a couple a’ days ago. He mentioned seein’ Pa in town havin’ lunch with a lady. And, like I said, the way he described her, she weren’t no old grandma.”

“So just how did he describe her?” Joe asked eagerly.

“He said she was quite a looker. Nice figure. Blond hair pulled back on her head. Green eyes, Dressed real stylish. He didn’t say anything about how old she was except it looked like she was younger than our pa. That’s about all.”

Adam leaned back, looking thoughtful. There was something about that description…

Joe also looked thoughtful, perhaps contemplating the idea of his pa with a younger woman with something less than complete comfort. Without even thinking, he stuffed the last bite of his sandwich into his mouth.

After a moment of silence, Adam spoke up. “Well, whoever this woman is, it seems our curiosity about her is due to be satisfied this evening. And, if you’ll remember, Pa told us to be sure to be home in good time and dressed in our best in order to meet his guest.”

“I know for sure he told Hop Sing to cook up something real special,” Hoss added with a smile, as he wiped the last traces of pie from his mouth with his handkerchief.

“So maybe it’s about time we got back to work so we can be sure to finish up in good time. What do you say?” Adam’s eyes shifted from one brother to the other.

“Sounds good to me,” Hoss replied. Joe nodded his head in agreement. They quickly gathered up the remains of their lunch, and mounted their horses to head back to their task. And for the moment the mystery of their father’s guest was put out of mind as they concentrated on keeping the cattle together as they moved toward their destination.

*****

Ben Cartwright stepped up to the door of the boarding house where he was about to pick up Rosalind Marchand. He was feeling slightly intoxicated. And he wasn’t quite sure if it was from the scent of the roses that bloomed in profusion on the bushes along the front of the house or from the way he was feeling about what he was doing this evening.

But then, he had felt that same pleasant sense of intoxication frequently over the last couple of weeks. He had seen Mrs. Marchand several times during that period. The first couple of occasions had been related to the business of helping her get settled, introducing her to the men he had mentioned who were most familiar with the housing situation in Virginia City and to some of his friends among the local merchants that she would undoubtedly be doing business with.

However, after that, they had begun to meet simply to have lunch together, Though he said nothing about it, Ben noticed with satisfaction that Rosalind had given up the last traces of mourning in her outfits. After lunch, they would take a little stroll around town. Or they would share a brief buggy ride out into the countryside.

The concerns that Ben had felt about the possible dangers of becoming too involved with Rosalind seemed to be fading away. Perhaps that was because, however cautious he was being about his approach to her, he sensed an equal caution in her. There was some reassurance in the fact that she didn’t seem to be trying to entice him or encourage him to go too far too fast. She simply seemed to sincerely enjoy his company. And he knew how much he enjoyed being with her. Their conversations were friendly, but up to this point, they were characterized by more warmth than depth. Rosalind had shared some of the basic facts about her late husband, Oliver, but very little of her feelings about him or the nature of their relationship, except for the fact that, to her regret, they had no children. Ben had told her of his three sons and their different mothers. But he had barely touched on the pride that he felt in his boys, or the grief he had felt at the loss of his wives. And he had not seen fit to mention anything about the uncanny resemblance Rosalind bore to his third wife. It had all left Ben a little impatient, wanting for them to get closer, and wondering how to accomplish that.

He had also been pondering the question of how to introduce the subject of Rosalind with his sons. He had been amused at their curiosity about his activities, but there had been a reluctance on his part to satisfy it. Perhaps that was because his own feelings about the matter had still been far from settled. But now that he was feeling less anxious and more eager at the idea of pursuing the relationship he wondered if it might not be time to be more open about it.

His opportunity came during one of their buggy rides. They had stopped at a scenic spot to enjoy the view of the nearby mountains. Rosalind had exclaimed over the beauty of the scene. But not for long. Her thoughts had been focused on her concern about finding a place of her own. She had been bemoaning the fact that the houses she had seen so far had each turned out to be unsuitable in some way. And as he listened to her an idea had formed in Ben’s mind.

“You know, there could be another alternative,” he had ventured tentatively.

“What do you mean, Ben?”

“I mean that you could always build an entirely new place for yourself from the ground up.”

Rosalind seemed to consider for a moment.

“That would be quite an enormous undertaking for me,” she said finally. “I really have no experience dealing with architects or builders, even if I knew someone in this area I could trust.”

“Well, as it happens, my oldest son, Adam, has a background in architecture. If you would be interested in talking to him about just what you’re looking for, I’m sure he would be able to draw up some plans that would be to your liking.”

“I would indeed be interested,” she responded, her face brightening. “Now when do you think I might meet this son of yours?”

Ben took a deep breath and gathered up his courage. “How would you like to come to dinner at the Ponderosa on Friday evening? I could introduce you to Adam then…and to my other sons as well.”

“I’d love to, Ben.” she answered. The look in her eyes seemed to suggest that she had been hoping for such an invitation.

And so it was that Ben now stood in front of the boarding house door to pick up Rosalind Marchand and take her to the Ponderosa. His nervousness had been growing during the day, ever since he had announced his intention of bringing home a special guest to his sons at breakfast that morning and seen the glances they exchanged with each other. Until then, he hadn’t been that concerned about his sons’ possible reaction to meeting Rosalind. But now he wondered.

Well, he would find out soon enough.

Ben’s knock at the door was answered by a petite middle aged lady with gentle eyes.

“Good evening Mr. Cartwright.,” she said. “Won’t you please come in? Mrs. Marchand said you’d be calling for her. She should be down any minute.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Daniels,” he replied, stepping inside.

Emma Daniels closed the door behind Ben, nodded briefly, and retreated into the adjoining room, leaving him waiting in the entryway.

Almost immediately, the swish of skirts announced Rosalind’s appearance at the top of the stairs. Her forest green gown was beautifully fitted, and the lacy white shawl around her shoulders provided a frame from which her golden head emerged to good effect. As she gracefully descended the steps, Ben’s eyes followed her avidly. He was thinking that he had never seen her look more beautiful. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, he took her hand gallantly.

“You look lovely this evening, Rosalind,” he said warmly.

“Thank you, Ben.” She smiled. “I want so much to make a good impression on your sons tonight.”

“I’m sure you will,” he replied. He offered her his arm. “Are you ready, my lady?”

“Very ready, good sir,” she replied, putting her arm through his.

A few seconds later the entry hall was empty.

*****

Joe paced nervously up and down in front of the fireplace. His brother Adam, sitting in his usual chair, looked up from his reading and observed him sympathetically. “Why don’t you just sit down, Joe,” he said drily. “Wearing out shoe leather like that isn’t going to make then arrive here any more quickly.”

With a sigh, Joe settled himself on the settee and began to twiddle his thumbs.

A couple of seconds later Hoss entered from the kitchen. “Well, Hop Sing says everything’s just about ready,” he announced. He passed the dining table, noticing as he did so that the best tablecloth, dishes and crystal all looked to be in perfect order. He made his way over to the table between the settee and the fireplace where a bowl of beautiful red apples rested temptingly. Grabbing one, he sat down next to Joe and began to munch on it.

Adam regarded him with amusement. “Couldn’t wait for dinner, eh?” he said with a chuckle.

“Well now, I don’t want to greet Pa’s guest with my stomach growlin’, do I?” Hoss responded.

A moment later, the sounds of a horse and buggy pulling up in front of the house could be heard. Hoss tossed his apple core into the fire, Adam set his book aside and all three young men got up to stand in a line facing the door. They were a sight to do any father proud as they stood together all well groomed and turned out in their best white shirts accented by string ties over their most formal trousers.

The door opened and Ben stepped inside. He turned to hold out his hand to his companion. Smiling, and keeping his eyes on her, he led Rosalind Marchand into the room .to where his sons awaited.

“Rosalind, I’d like to present my sons, Adam, Hoss and Joseph. And boys, I’d like to introduce Mrs. Rosalind Marchand.”

Watching Rosalind, he saw a strange expression pass over her face. Then he looked over at his sons…and noticed how each of them was staring at the newcomer in open mouthed astonishment.

*****

DINNER, A SING ALONG AND BORROWED BOOKS

The five people sitting around the elegantly set dining table had fallen into a fraught silence. Ben glanced over at Rosalind, who sat to his right, and noticed how uncomfortable she was as she kept her eyes cast down while she carefully lifted small bites of food to her mouth.

The evening hadn’t really recovered from the awkwardness that accompanied the moment of introduction. Ben still felt a flush of embarrassment as he recalled the expressions on his sons’ faces when they first set eyes on Rosalind. Adam had been the first to recover, stepping forward to take her hand politely.

“Delighted to meet you, Mrs. Marchand,” he said with smooth gallantry, his dark eyes full of curiosity.

“Thank you, Adam. It’s a pleasure to meet you too,” she returned in a voice that was a little too tentative.

Following their brother’s example, Joe and Hoss managed to come forward and murmur their greetings to Rosalind. Again, she responded with careful courtesy. But her face clearly revealed that she didn’t quite know what to make of their reaction to her appearance.

When they all sat down to dinner, Ben had done his best to get some conversation going, but it had not been an easy undertaking. His gentle prodding had finally induced Rosalind to come out with much of the same basic information about her background that she had previously shared with him. However Ben’s sons did not respond as he might have hoped. Joe found himself too busy staring at this unfamiliar, and yet strangely familiar, woman to do much talking. Occasionally he would catch a disapproving glare from his father and force himself to turn his eyes away, only to find himself turning them back again just moments later. Hoss seemed to not quite know what to do, and resolved his problem by concentrating on his plate and not noticing the signals that his father’s eyes were trying to send him.

Adam, however, did notice it when Ben turned an almost pleading gaze on him. Interpreting the message, he gave an imperceptible inward sigh and leaned forward, setting down his wine glass. “So tell me, Mrs. Marchand, exactly what was your late husband’s occupation?”

Rosalind laughed lightly, and a little nervously. “Oh, Adam, it may sound like something of a cliché, but the truth is he had investments…quite a broad range of them, in fact. I never really knew very much about them. Oliver was one of those men who never believed in sharing very much about his business affairs with his wife.”

“And had his family been in Philadelphia for very long?” Adam continued.

“Oh my yes. He had ancestors among some of the very earliest settlers,” Rosalind replied. “My own family was fairly old, but not nearly as old as his.”

Adam leaned back. “I’m curious as to what made you decide to move all the way out here to Nevada after his death.” His eyes were beginning to bore into her in a way that made her even more uneasy.

“I suppose I felt the need for something as different as possible from what I was used to. And I never got along that well with some members of Oliver’s family. So…the farther away from them the better. I do have to say I didn’t quite realize the kind of atmosphere I was getting myself into. But your father has certainly been helpful in making me feel less of an alien here.” Rosalind cast a grateful glance at Ben.

“I believe you mentioned earlier that you’re staying at Mrs. Daniels’ boarding house?” Adam resumed.

“That’s right.”

“So how do you like it there? I’ve heard that she lays down some pretty strict rules for her boarders.”

“Nothing that I find too burdensome. In fact, she’s rather a dear lady altogether. And she certainly keeps things well maintained. The only real disadvantage to living there is that one doesn’t have very much space. That’s why I want to settle in a place of my own as soon as I can.”

“Actually,” Ben interrupted, glad to divert the conversation from an interrogation that he had the impression Rosalind wasn’t very comfortable with, “that brings up one of the reasons I wanted to invite Mrs. Marchand out here this evening. She had been mentioning to me that she had looked at several possible places but none of them were to her liking. I suggested that she might consider having something entirely new built for her. And Adam, I was hoping you might be willing to talk to her about what she’s looking for and draw up some plans for her to consider.”

Adam hesitated, but only for a couple of seconds, as he eyed his father with a speculative look. “I’ll be happy to see what I can do,” he finally said. “Mrs. Marchand, just what basic style did you have in mind?”

“Well, I do have an idea of some of the specific features I want. But I’m afraid I’m not up on the correct terminology to describe them to you.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Adam assured her. “I have a couple of books with illustrations of different architectural styles and features in the bookshelves in the alcove over there. Perhaps you’d care to take a look at them after we finish eating?”

“That sounds like a good idea, Adam.” Rosalind paused briefly. “Or even better, if you would perhaps be willing to let me take them with me I would be able to look at them more thoroughly, and then we could arrange to meet to discuss things.”

“By all means,” Adam replied. “I’ll be sure to get them for you before you leave.”

At that point, Hop Sing entered with their dessert of strawberries and cream. For a few moments, everyone was absorbed in enjoying the luscious treat. But it wasn’t very long before the weight of silence settled down and began to become oppressive.

Ben cast around for some subject to get conversation started again. And then it came to him. “Adam, I don’t think I had mentioned that Mrs. Marchand shares your love of music. She tells me she’s an accomplished pianist and she hopes to start giving lessons once she’s settled.”

Rosalind seemed grateful at the turn to a congenial subject, and she spoke up eagerly. “So you’re a music lover, Adam. Do you play an instrument also?”

“Well, as I’ve said to others, I play at the guitar some. But purely for recreation. I wouldn’t venture to call myself truly accomplished.”

“Aw, don’t be so modest, Adam,” Hoss chimed in. Then he turned to Rosalind. “Truth is, ma’am, he plays pretty darn well. And he sings real nice too. You really oughta hear him some time.”

“Perhaps we could all join in a little sing-along after dinner,” Ben suggested hopefully.

“I think that would be delightful, Ben,” Rosalind responded.

Ben smiled at her, grateful that the turn of subject seemed to have reduced the level of tension to some extent.

So it was that shortly afterwards the Cartwrights and their guest all rose from the dining table and moved over to the area by the fireplace. Adam hurried upstairs and returned almost immediately with his guitar to take his place in his favorite blue chair. He strummed the guitar gently to confirm that it was in tune, then cast his eyes around at the others. “Any requests to start with?”

“How about that one I heard you singin’ the other afternoon?” Hoss offered. “That was real pretty.”

“Ah yes,” Adam replied. “That’s one I only learned recently. I’m not quite sure what its origins are. There seem to be several versions of that story. But the tune is very beautiful. Now how did it start again?”

For a moment Adam strummed the guitar gently, a thoughtful expression on his face. Then the sound began to rise and flow into a haunting melody. As that melody began again more strongly, Adam’s voice took up the strain.

“Oh Shenandoah,
I long to hear you,
Away you rolling river,
“Oh Shenandoah,
I long to hear you,
Away, I’m bound away
‘Cross the wide Missouri.”

The rich baritone voice caressed the words and cast a spell on the listeners through three more verses. With the last repetition  of  “‘Cross the wide Missouri”, Adam drew out the phrase and allowed his voice to fade away as his long, nimble fingers executed a final flourish over the guitar strings.

The moment of silence that ensued was ended by the voice of Rosalind Marchand. “That was lovely, Adam,” she said quietly.

“Sure was, older brother,” Joe agreed enthusiastically. And Hoss and Ben readily concurred.

Adam accepted their praise with a brief nod and a smile. “Thank you, everyone.” He looked over at Rosalind. “And now I think we’d all like to hear from our guest, if she would be so kind as to favor us.”

Rosalind seemed to be becoming a little more relaxed. “I’m afraid my talents are more instrumental than vocal.” Her expression brightened… “However, there is a fairly simple song that my governess taught me that I’ve always loved. She was French, and the song was in her native language.” Seeing in their faces an assent to her suggestion, she very delicately cleared her throat, paused for just a moment to gather herself, and began to sing in a soft, sweet voice.

As she sang, the Cartwrights found themselves, however unconsciously, being drawn to regard her with ever more rapt…and curious…attention. When she finished, Rosalind looked around and saw that they were all staring at her. Her earlier unease returned abruptly, bringing a slight blush to her cheeks.

“It’s just a simple children’s song,” she ventured in a voice that betrayed her nervousness.

“It’s a beautiful song,” Ben answered. “My late wife Marie, Joe’s mother, used to sing it often.” He spoke it past an obvious lump in his throat.

“I remember it very well,” Joe added softly.

Rosalind’s blush grew deeper. “I had no idea. I didn’t mean… I’m sorry if I’ve brought up some painful memories.”

“Not at all,” Ben tried to assure her. But it was clear that she didn’t quite believe him. Wanting very much to relieve the strain of the moment, Ben turned to Adam. “Perhaps we could all sing something together now,” he suggested.

“Sounds like a good idea,” Adam sad, picking up on his father’s cue. “How about ‘Oh, Susanna’?”

“Ben,” Rosalind interjected, “I’m truly sorry to break things up early, but I’m afraid I’m developing a headache. Would it be possible for you to take me home now?”

“Of course,” Ben replied. “It will only take a moment for me to hitch up the horse again. Please excuse me.” He got up and made his way to the door, his whole bearing and demeanor indicating his disappointment.

“And I’ll get those books we were talking about earlier for you,” Adam said. He rose from his chair and extended his hand to Rosalind, wordlessly inviting her to accompany him. She arose, demurely accepting the invitation, and the two of walked over to the alcove where Ben’s desk was. As Adam began looking over the volumes in the bookshelves, Rosalind began casting her eyes around the alcove curiously. Her gaze traveled over the desk and finally fell on the three gold framed portraits resting there. As she focused on the portrait to the right, her breath caught, and she reached out to pick it up. Having located the books he was looking for, Adam took them down from the shelf, turned toward Rosalind, and found her staring at the picture. She looked up at him with a question in her eyes.

“That’s Marie,” Adam said quietly. “You do look a great deal like her,” he added after a pause. “A very great deal.”

“Obviously,” she returned uneasily, returning the portrait to its proper place.

At that moment, Ben came back in. He quickly looked around for his guest and spotted her standing in the alcove with his son.

“The buggy is ready,” he informed her.

“Thank you, Ben” Rosalind took the books which Adam was holding out to her and tucked them under her arm. “And thank you, Adam. I’ll be sure to look these over very carefully.”

“Whenever you’re ready, just send me word through my father and we can arrange to meet to discuss your plans,” he replied.

“I will.” Rosalind moved to join Ben by the door. He picked up her shawl from where it had been left on the credenza and carefully draped it around her shoulders. Rosalind looked back to where Adam had just rejoined his brothers by the fireplace. “Good evening, gentlemen.”

And with their murmured “good evenings” following her, she turned and went out the door with Ben close behind her.

There was a moment of silence as the three brothers just looked at each other. Then Hoss spoke up. “Well, that sure was strange.”

“It sure was,” Joe agreed. “It was almost like my ma was here with us again.”

“Do you really think so?” Adam responded. “Rosalind Marchand may look very much like Marie, but do you think she resembles her that much in personality?”

“Kinda hard to say after just meetin’ her,” Hoss opined.

“Guess I was too busy just looking at her to really be able to say,” Joe added. “What do you make of it, Adam? Do you think Pa really has feelings for her?”

“I don’t think there’s any question he’s pretty smitten with her. As to what will come of it…I really don’t know. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.” Adam’s eyes were thoughtful as he looked toward the door where Rosalind and Ben had disappeared.

“Don’t know what it is but somethin’ about this evenin’s left me kinda tired,” Hoss said. “I think I’ll just head upstairs and go to bed early.”

“I feel kind of tired too,” Joe said. “Maybe it’s from working so hard this afternoon to be sure we’d finish early. I think I’ll join you, big brother. What about you, Adam? Are you going to go to bed early too?”

Adam shook his head. “No. I think I’ll stay up until Pa gets back and have a little talk with him.”

“Well, good night then, Adam,” Hoss offered.

“Yeah, good night older brother,” Joe chimed in.

“Good night, both of you,” Adam returned.

The two younger brothers headed up the stairs. Adam watched them go. Then with a sigh he settled himself on the settee. He hardly noticed when Hop Sing entered and began to clear away the remains of the dinner. He was gazing into the fire and thinking about what he wanted to say to his father when he got back.

*****

SOME THINGS THAT SEEM A LITTLE OFF

Ben Cartwright helped Rosalind Marchand down from the buggy and together they walked slowly up the path to the boarding house. When they reached the door, Ben took her hand and gently turned her to face him.

“I find myself feeling the need to apologize for my sons,” he began hesitantly. “I’m afraid their behavior tonight wasn’t up to the usual standard of courtesy that I expect from them and I’m sorry for that. I assure you I intend to take the subject up with them at the earliest opportunity.”

“I wouldn’t want you to be too hard on them, Ben,” Rosalind replied. “I think they may have had reason to look a little askance at me.”

“What are you saying?” Something in Ben’s voice suggested that he had an idea of what she meant and didn’t actually want to hear it. The look Rosalind gave him in reply was both inquiring and challenging.

“Ben, why hadn’t mentioned anything to me about how strongly I resemble your late wife?”

The pause before he answered clearly revealed Ben’s discomfort with the question. “I suppose I didn’t want you to think that was the only reason for the interest I was showing in you,” he finally admitted.

“And are you sure it wasn’t?” It was more than a simple question. It was a plea for reassurance.

“Of course it wasn’t,” Ben insisted indignantly.

“I really want to believe that, Ben….”

He grasped her arm. “I admit, it was that resemblance that struck me about you at first. It could hardly be otherwise. But over these last weeks, I’ve been getting to know you…you, Rosalind…and it’s you who is inspiring feelings in me that I had thought I might never know again.” He paused and took a deep breath. “Rosalind…it may be too early to say…but I feel as though I could be starting to fall in love with you.”

She gazed back at him, the tears that were beginning to well up in her green eyes causing them to shine enticingly. “Oh Ben,” she whispered, her voice trembling, “I’m starting to feel that way too.”

She reached up to twine her arms around his neck and he drew her into an embrace. As they stood there cheek to cheek, he closed his eyes, focusing on the vivid images that were floating through his mind. They were all of Marie. And concentrating on them allowed him to ignore the niggling suspicion at the back of his brain that he was trying to persuade himself of his feelings as much as he was trying to persuade her.

*****

Ben entered the house noiselessly, not quite certain of what to expect. As he stood near the door removing his hat and jacket, he looked around and found that Adam was alone in the great room, lounging casually on the settee and contemplating the low-burning fire.

As quiet as he tried to be, the sound of his arrival was sufficient to catch his son’s attention. Adam turned his head and smiled very briefly in welcome. “Hi, Pa. I take it you got Rosalind home safely.”

“Yes,” Ben replied, walking slowly toward the fireplace and glancing toward the top of the stairs as he did so. “Are your brothers in bed already?”

Adam nodded an affirmative. “They both decided to retire right after you left.”

Ben frowned slightly as he sat down in the blue chair at the corner of the hearth. “I was hoping to have a little chat with the three of you about courtesy toward guests. I suppose that will just have to wait until morning.”

“Now Pa, I don’t think we were really discourteous to Mrs. Marchand,” Adam chided gently.

“I’d hardly call the way the three of you stared at her when she first came in polite,” Ben replied.

“Well it might have helped a little if you’d given us some clue beforehand that the woman we were about to meet was a dead ringer for Marie,” Adam pointed out quite reasonably.

Ben leaned back in the chair. “Rosalind suggested as much herself,” he acknowledged. “However, I don’t believe that justifies your making her so uncomfortable by interrogating her the way you did.”

“I thought somebody needed to ask her a few questions. It was obvious that you hadn’t,” Adam responded quietly.

That caused Ben to raise his eyebrows. “Just what do you mean by that, Adam?”

“Pa, can’t you see that there are a few things about this woman that seem just a little bit…off?”

“Like what, exactly?” Ben’s voice had taken on an edge of aggravation.

“Well, in the first place, here’s a woman from an old established Eastern family who marries into an even older one. She is, apparently, very settled in that life. So when her husband dies, what does she do? She travels most of the way across the country entirely by herself. No servant. No companion. Totally alone. And she comes to this area where she admits to feeling out of place. Now doesn’t that strike you as somewhat strange?”

“Does it really seem so impossible to you that she’s simply a very adventurous woman who is trying to break out of her shell?” Ben shifted uneasily in his seat.

“Impossible? No. Even though her personality didn’t strike me as being particularly adventurous…perhaps a little timid, if anything. But the story is unlikely enough that it does provoke some questions…don’t you think?”

Ben did not reply.

“And then, what does she do when she gets here?” Adam went on. “She settles in at Emma Daniels’ boarding house. Now I grant you Mrs. Daniels’ place is quite respectable, but it’s also considered rather modest. I would have expected someone of Rosalind Marchand’s  background to take a suite at the International House where there would be people to wait on her and more of the comforts she is presumably accustomed to. And the fact that she didn’t just provides cause for more speculation.”

“What are you implying?” his father demanded.

“That perhaps she may not be as wealthy as you’d been led to assume. She was a little bit coy about how her late husband made his money, if you’ll recall. That might also account for the way she’s behaved with regard to finding a place of her own.”

“And now you’re going to claim there’s something questionable about that?” Ben’s tone was becoming increasingly impatient.

“She says she wants to find a place as soon as possible. She’s seen a number of houses and found them all unacceptable. She reacted with apparent interest to the idea of building something completely new. But then, when I offered to look over the books on architecture with her right here this evening, her sense of urgency seemed to flag a little. She took the attitude of ‘let me look them over at my leisure and when I’m ready I’ll get back to you’. Forgive me for wondering just how long it might be before she’s prepared to take things any further.”

“Now I really think you’re reading too much into that,” Ben insisted.

“Perhaps so. But in light of the other questions I have concerning her, I don’t think I’m that far out of line in thinking that way.”

There was an uncomfortable pause in which Adam watched his father apparently trying to get control of a rising temper.

“So you’ve come to the conclusion that Rosalind Marchand is an unsuitable woman for me to be interested in… is that it?”

“Not at all. There are too many things I don’t know about her for me to come to any conclusions yet. And that’s just the point. Look, Pa, in the end she may turn out to be everything that you evidently hope she is. I’d like nothing better than to see that happen for you. All I’m saying is that maybe you should take things slow and be sure you really know what you’re getting into.”

Ben cast his eyes down and a slight frown took over his face. There was clearly a good deal going through his mind, but he said nothing.

“Pa,” Adam finally interjected softly, “just how involved are you with her already?”

Ben raised his eyes and gave his son a challenging look. “It may interest you to know, Adam, that I’ve already come to feel that I may be falling in love with her. And she feels the same. We admitted as much to each other when I took her home this evening. So what do you have to say about that?”

Adam was not one to back off from a challenge. And he did not do so now. “I say…I just hope you’re not trying to convince yourself that you feel that way for the wrong reasons…because you want Marie back again,” he said. And his eyes met his father’s without flinching.

Ben pushed himself up from the chair. “Well thank you very much for your opinion, Adam,” he said with a trace of sarcasm. “However, I assure you that I do not require any advice when it comes to managing affairs of the heart. And I would appreciate it if you would remember that.”

Without waiting for any reply from his son, Ben turned and moved quickly toward the stairs. His footsteps sounded sharply as he ascended and disappeared above.

Adam watched him go, then arose from the settee with a sigh. He began to pace up and down slowly in front of the fireplace, his hands clasped behind his back  This conversation with his father had disturbed him. He was concerned that Ben was sailing into dangerous waters and that his normal judgment was not in order to help him avoid the rocks and shoals. He fervently hoped that the result would not be a shipwreck.

*****

PLANS FOR THE DAY

As Adam came downstairs to breakfast the next morning, he was wondering what mood he would find his father in. It was probably a good thing, he thought to himself, that he was scheduled to go into town for supplies today. If Pa was still…what was the right word…annoyed?…upset?…with him, then it would keep them out of each other’s hair for the better part of the day. And once he was in town, he could always find something pleasant to occupy him. In fact, he had some plans, albeit very tentative ones, to meet someone for lunch. Adam smiled at that thought as he reached the bottom of the stairs and moved toward the dining area.

He took his place at the table with a casual “good morning” to the rest of his family and set about serving himself some ham and scrambled eggs from the platters in front of him. He quickly noted that the banter that usually accompanied the morning meal seemed to be absent today.

Just as the quiet was threatening to become uncomfortable, Ben finally spoke up. “Jack Farley was here yesterday with a complaint that three of our cattle had wandered onto his land and done some damage. Hoss, since you’ve been a closer friend to him than the rest of us, I think it would be best if you’re the one to go over there today and settle things with him…see what damage has actually been done, arrange for fair compensation and bring the cattle back.”

“Sure thing, Pa.” Hoss nodded. “Don’t you worry none. I reckon ol’ Jack and me can work things out all right.”

“I’m sure you can, son.” Ben turned to his youngest son. “Joseph, I believe you had said that access to the watering hole out by the birch grove was being blocked by brush and large rocks. That needs to be cleared out right away, and I think that should be your task for the day.”

The look that came to Joe’s face made it clear that he wasn’t exactly thrilled by the assignment…and his father noticed.

“I know it isn’t exactly the most enjoyable chore, Joseph, but it needs to be done,” Ben said in a firm voice.

“Yes, Pa.” Joe replied in a chastened tone.

A hint of a smile crossed Ben’s face then. “Perhaps we can find something a little more to your liking for you to do before too long.” He paused thoughtfully. “Actually, there’s a horse auction coming up in Carson City in a couple of weeks and I was thinking of sending you…by yourself…to represent the Ponderosa. Now how would you feel about that?”

The transformation in Joe’s expression was immediate and remarkable to behold. “By myself? That would be great, Pa!” he replied happily.

Ben smiled at his enthusiasm. “Well then, we’ll have to see what we can do about that…provided, of course that you keep up with your assigned responsibilities until then.”

Joe stared at him for a moment, then broke into a slow smile. “I get you, Pa. I’ll keep up my end of the deal. You can count on it.”

“I’m sure you will, son,” Ben replied in a satisfied tone. Then he turned to his oldest son. “And you, Adam…” He furrowed his brow as if trying to remember… “Hadn’t we discussed something that you were going to do today?”

“Well, we had talked about my making a supply run into town.”

“Ah yes, I recall now. Well, son, I’m afraid something has come up. Jed informs me that we’re starting to fall behind on cutting timber for the next phase of the Viking Shipbuilders contract. That’s a very important job and I’d like to nip any problems there might be in the bud. I’m going to ask you to go up to the timber camp, see what’s going on and do whatever’s necessary to make sure things stay on track.”

“And what about the supplies?” Adam inquired after a brief pause. “Some of the things on the list are needed pretty urgently.”

“Oh I’ll go in and pick those up myself.” Ben noticed the expression of disappointment on Adam’s face. “Is this change of plans a problem?” he asked, lifting an eyebrow.

“Not really,” Adam replied carefully. “I did have some plans of my own in town, but they were very tentative…nothing urgent.”

“Fine then.” Ben pushed back his chair and stood up. “The sooner I get going, the better. Have a good day, boys, and I’ll see you all this evening.” And with a cheerful demeanor, he headed toward the door. He quickly gathered up his hat and gun and made his way outside with the curious looks of his sons following him.

After a few seconds, Hoss gulped down the last of his coffee and set the cup down. “I s’pose I’d best be off too. Old Jack’s a reasonable fella, but he sets great store on bein’ respected, and that means not keepin’ him waitin’.”

“And I should be getting to work too,” Joe chimed in. “Don’t want to give Pa any reason not to let me go to that auction.” He glanced over at his oldest brother, his expression turning serious. “Say Adam, you wouldn’t be upset about me being the one to go, would you? I mean, you are usually the one Pa asks to handle something like that.”

“I wouldn’t be upset, Joe,” Adam assured him. “In fact, I think it’s good idea. And I’m sure you can handle it just fine. You’re judgment when it comes to horses is getting right up there to rival mine, and you deserve a chance to demonstrate it.”

“Well, thank you, older brother,” Joe responded in surprise. “I didn’t think I’d ever get to hear you admit that.” His face broke into an impish grin. “Of course, I might maintain that I’ve actually become an even better judge of horses than you….”

“You might,” Adam cut in drily, “but you still have to prove it.”

“Oh I will, older brother. I will. Just you wait and see.”

And with that, Joe rose from the table. Hoss joined him and the two of them were quickly out the door, leaving Adam to slowly sip the remainder of his coffee and ponder what had just transpired.

He had been completely honest about thinking it was a good idea for their father to send Joe to the upcoming auction. His eighteen year old brother was ready for that responsibility and it was about time he had his chance. But it was unlike Pa not to have at least discussed the decision with him first. And why had Pa suddenly decided to change plans and make the supply run to Virginia City himself? The concern about the timber contract didn’t quite ring true. Adam was aware enough of the deadlines involved to realize that waiting another day or two to correct any problems on the job wasn’t going to make much of a difference. It almost felt to Adam as though he were being punished for the skepticism he had expressed about his father’s relationship with Rosalind Marchand. And that wasn’t like Pa either. Or was it simply a matter of Ben having plans of his own…plans perhaps involving Rosalind? A frown crossed Adam’s face at that idea.

Finally, realizing that all his speculation was getting him nowhere, Adam gave a sigh and slowly got up from his chair. A minute later he was out the door and on his way to the timber camp to do as his father had asked.

*****

Ben Cartwright paused in front of the door of Emma Daniels’ boarding house, raised his hand and gave a tentative knock. Almost immediately it was answered by Mrs. Daniels herself, who gave him a curious look.

“Good day, Mrs. Daniels. Is Mrs. Marchand in?” Ben inquired.

“I believe she’s in the parlor, Mr. Cartwright. Won’t you step inside, please?”

Mrs. Daniels waved Ben through the door, then turned to go down the hall. Very shortly, Rosalind appeared, her face lighting up as she saw who was waiting for her.

“Why, Ben, this is certainly a nice surprise. I wasn’t expecting to see you today.”

“I had to come into town and I…well, I just felt that I needed to see you.”

“I’m flattered,” Rosalind said, lowering her eyes demurely.

“Would you be free for lunch?”

“I’m free, but…were you thinking of the International House? I’m afraid I’m not dressed for that.”

“We don’t have to go anyplace fancy. Just someplace simple and decent where we can talk. Miss Mamie’s perhaps? What you’re wearing would be perfectly fine there.”

“That sounds wonderful, Ben. Just let me get my wrap.”

As they strolled down the street together a few minutes later, Ben’s mind was in a whirl. When he had decided to invite Rosalind for lunch today his intention had been to speak to her more unreservedly than before, and to bring up, as tactfully as possible, some of those matters that seemed to concern Adam. But now, as he felt her arm, slipped affectionately through his, and saw her face turned up to him with that hauntingly familiar smile, he felt his resolve slipping away and he knew that he would not be able to confront her today. Yes, perhaps there were questions that he should be asking her. But not now. Not today. That would have to wait for another time.

******

A GOOD TIME TO BE GETTING AWAY

On a pleasantly cool morning nearly two weeks later, Adam Cartwright came out onto the porch of the ranch house and took a deep breath of the crisp, fresh air. He looked over toward the barn and saw Joe leading his pinto, Cochise, out into the yard. Joe paused to secure some items in his saddlebags, and Adam strolled over to join him. “Looks like you’re about ready to head off to the auction,” he ventured.

“Yeah, just as soon as Pa gives me some final instructions,” Joe replied. But there was little enthusiasm in his tone, something to Adam’s surprise.

“Is something wrong, Joe? You don’t seem as happy about going as I thought you’d be.”

“Oh I’m happy about it. I’ve been looking forward to it.” Joe turned back to Cochise and finished tightening the cinch on his saddle. “In fact, this is probably a good time to be getting away for a few days,” he added under his breath but loud enough for his brother to hear.

“Just what is that supposed to mean?” Adam demanded.

“Well, things haven’t exactly been very comfortable around here lately, have they? Ever since the night that Mrs. Marchand came to dinner, it seems like you and Pa have done nothing but needle each other. And it seems to be getting worse. It’s not often that the two of you behave that way, but when it happens, it’s not very pleasant for the rest of us either. I was just thinking that I’d be glad to get away from the tension for a little bit.”

Adam stood silently, hanging his head. “I’m sorry, Joe,” he said finally. “I guess Pa and I didn’t notice how our little squabble was affecting you…and Hoss too, I suppose.”

“You got that right,” Joe murmured. He shook his head. “I just don’t get it. Does it really bother you that much that Pa’s spending so much time with Mrs. Marchand?”

“I’m only concerned that he’s getting himself into something he doesn’t understand.”

“So you mean to point it out to him at every opportunity…is that it? It seems like every time her name comes up, you have to get in some kind of dig about something you have questions about, or you have to make a point of asking if she’s said anything about when she’ll be ready to talk to you about plans for a house. Don’t you think you might be pushing Pa a little too hard?”

“I see your point, Joe,” Adam responded quietly after a moment. “It’s possible I’m not being quite fair about the situation.” He paused. “Tell me, Joe, how do you feel about Pa seeing Rosalind Marchand? You’re the one whose mother she resembles so much.”

Joe didn’t answer immediately. He began to stroke Cochise’s neck absently while his eyes took on a faraway look. “Kind of funny, I guess,” he admitted eventually. “I was so young when my ma died…maybe my memories of her are a little bit rose colored. Seeing Pa with Mrs. Marchand sort of brings things back. But then, knowing she’s not really my Ma….” He shook his head. “It’s…confusing,” he finished a little lamely.

“That’s understandable,” Adam said, laying a sympathetic hand on his brother’s shoulder. And then, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed his father and Hoss emerging from the door of the ranch house together and beginning to make their way across the yard. “Look Joe, I’d like to talk more about this, but right now really isn’t a good time,” he said hurriedly. “I need to get the wagon hitched up so Hoss and I can head off to town. Good luck at the auction…and don’t get into too much trouble, you hear?”

“Sure, older brother,” Joe replied with a smile as he watched Adam turn and quickly disappear into the barn.

A few seconds later Ben and Hoss came up to him.

“All ready, son?”

“Yeah, Pa, Just waiting for your word.”

“You have it, son. Now remember the limit we agreed to for how high you’re authorized to bid. You know what we’re looking to add to our breeding stock. If you see something that fits the bill, that will be fine. But don’t think you have to make a buy just to have something to bring home. Make sure that if you do buy a horse, it’s really right for our needs. And one last thing, Joe…remember to conduct yourself in a way worthy of the responsibility you’re carrying.”

“You can count on me, Pa.”

“I know I can, son. Off with you then. And have a good trip.” Ben clapped Joe on the shoulder and gave him an encouraging smile, before turning and heading back toward the house.

Joe looked over at Hoss. “Say, weren’t you going into town with Adam?”

“Yeah. Guess I’d better get in there and help him.” Hoss started to turn away, then thought better of it. “I just wanna wish you a good trip too.” He cast his eyes down. “Fact is…I kinda wish I was goin’ with you. You know what I mean?”

“I think I do,” Joe answered softly. “Look, Hoss, don’t worry too much about Pa and Adam. They’ll work things out. They might be the two favorites in a contest for stubborn, but when it comes down to it…”

“They love each other,” Hoss finished for him. His face brightened a little. “Well, maybe by the time you get back, things will have smoothed out some.”

“I sure hope so,” Joe said with conviction. He gathered up Cochise’s reins, placed his foot in the stirrup and gracefully swung himself into the saddle.

“Bye, Hoss!” Joe waved to his brother as he turned his horse and started to ride out of the yard.

“Bye, Joe!” Hoss’ eyes followed the horse and rider until they disappeared from sight. Then, with a little sigh he turned and went into the barn to join his other brother.

*****

VINCE ROCKWELL’S SKETCHES

Later that morning, Adam Cartwright emerged from the bank in Virginia City, where he had just finished some necessary business. Once outside, he stopped for a moment and looked down at an envelope he held in his hands. The envelope was addressed to one Christopher Williamson at an address in Philadelphia. The expression on Adam’s face was one of great uncertainty. Finally he slipped the envelope into the inside pocket of his jacket. Then he glanced around, trying to make up his mind what to do until it was time to meet Hoss. Something over by the International House seemed to catch his attention, and he started across the street in that direction.

In front of the hotel there was a bench, and a young man was sitting there with a pad of drawing paper and a pencil in his hand. Vince Rockwell and his artistic ambitions were well known to Adam, and it was his opinion that the boy showed real promise. Vince was often to be found on the bench by the hotel sketching the people he saw passing by that caught his interest. He even made a little money off of it when people saw him and asked him to make a sketch of them, but mostly he did it for the practice.

As Adam approached, Vince looked up at him, raised his hand to smooth the unruly longish brown hair away from his forehead and gave him a broad smile.

“Hi, Adam! I was kind of hoping I’d see you today. I have some new sketches I wanted to show you. You know I always value your opinion.”

“Good to see you too, Vince,” Adam said, smiling back. He noticed a folder lying next to a box of colored artist’s pencils on the bench next to the young artist. “Are they in here?”

Vince nodded. “Go ahead and take a look.”

Adam picked up the folder and opened it, curious to see Vince’s latest work. The first sketch was of a middle aged lady with an apron over her dress, bustling down the street carrying a large bag of flour. Adam smiled in amusement as he recognized the woman as Mamie Canfield, the owner of a café known for good home cooking.

“That’s Miss Mamie all right. You’ve captured the way she walks leaning forward very well. The only thing is, she looks slimmer in your sketch than she actually is. Were you attempting to flatter your subject?”

“Well, she did notice me looking at her. I saw her coming over to see what I was doing, and I didn’t want her to be displeased.”

“So she saw the sketch? How did she react?”

“Oh, she laughed a little and wondered why I chose her to draw of all the people in the street, but in the end she did say she liked it.”

Adam chuckled. “Well, it’s fine to have some consideration for a lady’s sensibilities. But you’re not going to make a habit of altering reality in your work to make it more acceptable are you?”

“Oh no,” Vince assured him. “The true artist reveals his subject as it actually is. That’s what you’ve always said to me.”

“That’s right.” Adam nodded approvingly. He began to leaf through the rest of the sketches, commenting positively on several of them as he did so. Then he turned over a page and found himself staring at the next sketch that was revealed. It was of a very attractive, well dressed woman with golden hair piled up on her head. The magnificent star shaped brooch that adorned her jacket actually seemed to sparkle.

“Rosalind Marchand,” Adam murmured.

“Mrs. Marchand? I’ve been seeing her around town quite a bit lately,” Vince chimed in. “That brooch she was wearing one day really caught my eye. So what do you think of that sketch, Adam? Personally, I feel it’s one of my best.”

“I have to agree,” Adam responded. ”You’ve done a remarkable job with her eyes.” Then an idea seemed to occur to him. “Vince,” he said abruptly, “would you be willing to sell this sketch to me?”

“Want to give it to your pa, maybe? When I’ve seen her, he’s usually been with her. Anyway, I’ll be happy to sell it to you. Does two dollars sound fair?”

“That’s fine,” Adam replied. Giving it to his father wasn’t exactly what he had in mind, but he didn’t think it necessary to let Vince know that. He quickly got out his wallet, removed two dollar bills and handed them over.

After accepting young Rockwell’s thanks and exchanging brief good-byes with him, Adam turned and headed back down the street. On reaching the post office, he paused. He drew out the envelope that he had slipped into his pocket earlier. He perused his newly acquired sketch thoughtfully for a moment, folded it up and inserted it into the envelope alongside the letter that was already there. Finally he sealed the envelope and entered the post office.

When he came out again a few minutes later, he no longer had the letter. His attitude appeared to be one of relief, as though an unwelcome task had been gotten out of the way. Realizing that it was almost time for him to meet his brother, he started off in the direction of the General Store.

And then he caught sight of Rosalind Marchand herself walking up the street toward him. She noticed him at just about the same moment, and stopped, covering her hesitation by shifting the package she held in the crook of her arm. The look with which she was eyeing him, however, could not be covered up.

Adam found himself hesitating about approaching her. He really had no desire to engage with her at this moment. He didn’t know what his father might have said to her about the reservations he had expressed concerning her, but her wariness on seeing him seemed to show that she was aware that he wasn’t her most ardent supporter. Still, it would be impolite, not to mention practically impossible, to ignore her now that she had seen him.

Taking off his hat he walked up to her with a carefully controlled smile. “Good day, Mrs. Marchand,” he said.

“And hello to you, Adam,” she replied.

“I see you’ve been doing some shopping.” Adam eyed the package she was carrying.

“Yes; a lady does occasionally need a new purse and shoes you know,” she answered coyly.

“I hope you’re finding our merchants here in Virginia City are able to satisfy your needs. I’m afraid we don’t yet have the variety of goods available that you would have been used to living back East.”

“I haven’t had any problems finding things so far, thank you. Living in a boarding house I find I don’t really need that much.”

“Naturally. Of course, you may find it very different when you’re finally ready to move into a place of your own. By the way, how are you coming with looking through those books I lent you? Are they helping you to clarify what you want?”

Rosalind seemed to become slightly uneasy under his intense regard. “Oh Adam, I know I’m taking quite some time about it, but this is such an important matter. I promise you I’ll be getting back to you before too much longer.”

Something in her tone and manner left Adam feeling dubious about that, but he refrained from saying anything.

As Adam and Rosalind continued to converse, they were so absorbed that neither of them noticed when Hoss came out of the General Store. He looked around, and his eyes widened in surprise as he saw his brother and Mrs. Marchand talking together. He watched curiously for a few minutes, not certain how he felt about what he was seeing. Rosalind gave a little laugh, and something in the sound of it made Hoss’ insides quiver with uneasiness. He wondered what they were saying to each other, but at the same time he had a sneaking suspicion that, whatever it was, it wasn’t going to lead to anything good.

*****

INTENTION AND EFFECT

Back at the ranch house, Ben Cartwright was sitting at his desk, his eyes fixed on a small jeweler’s box that rested there in front of him. Slowly he reached out his hand, opened the box and drew out a small object from it. He raised the object to let it catch the light that came in through the window behind him and stared at it as the light set it to glittering.

Marie’s engagement ring.

It had been a long time since he had gotten it out to look at it. Even after all the years that had passed, the memories it evoked were so very painful that it made him reluctant to look at it too often. And when he did, it tended to leave him wrapped in a sadness that it would take a couple of days to shake off. But today was somehow different. Today as he looked at it his thoughts were not of the past, but of the future. It had always been his intention to pass the ring to Joe to be kept for his future wife. He had done the same for Adam and Hoss. But even though Joe, at eighteen, was two years older than his brothers had been when they received their mothers’ rings, Marie’s ring still remained tucked away in a corner of Ben’s desk drawer. Why, Ben had asked himself, was he so hesitant to hand it over to his son? Now he was wondering if he had somehow sensed that he himself might have need for it again. He was wondering if the time was right to offer it to Rosalind.

As he sat there contemplating the question, sounds from outside caught his attention. He got up from his chair and turned around to look out the window. As he had anticipated, it was Adam and Hoss returning from town. Moving over to the door and grabbing his light jacket, Ben stepped out onto the porch. Hoss had pulled up the team, with the wagon load of supplies in front of the barn. Ben saw Adam jump down from the wagon and begin unhitching the horses while Hoss turned his attention to unloading the heavy boxes. Ben waited until Adam had disappeared inside the barn with the horses before stepping down from the porch and crossing the yard to join Hoss.

“Can you use a little help there, son?

Hoss looked around and smiled at him. “Sure can, Pa. Most o’ this stuff needs to go to the storage room. Then there are a couple o’ boxes of things to be carried into the kitchen for Hop Sing. Those’ll be the last to be unloaded.” He took the box he had just lifted from the wagon and carefully placed it in his father’s waiting arms.

For several moments, they worked together, getting the supplies stored away. As he made trips between the wagon and the storage area of the barn, Ben glanced over to where Adam was taking care of the horses. But Adam was focused on his task and didn’t seem to notice. Which suited Ben just fine at the moment. Hoss didn’t seem to want to talk much either, but went about his business with a thoughtful, slightly distracted expression on his face, as though he were pondering something. Ben wondered what that might be, but didn’t quite know how to ask.

They finished storing everything that was supposed to go into the barn. There only remained the two boxes that were supposed to go to the kitchen. Hoss and Ben each picked up a box and they set off side by side in the direction of the house. Uncomfortable with Hoss’ silence, Ben finally ventured an inquiry. “So, was there anything interesting going on in town?”

“Nothin’ particular, I guess,” Hoss responded. Then he paused. “Well, we did run into Miz Rosalind. Or Adam did anyways.”

That caused Ben to raise an eyebrow. “Adam was talking to Rosalind? What was he saying to her?”

“I don’t rightly know, Pa. I didn’t hear ‘em; I just came out of the General Store and saw him chattin’ with her. It seemed to be friendly enough. In fact, Adam must of said somethin’ kinda funny, ‘because I heard her laughing once. She’s got a real nice laugh.”

Ben frowned. “And he didn’t mention anything to you about their conversation afterwards?”

“No, Pa. I didn’t think it was any o’ my business to ask him either.” Hoss’ manner became very earnest. “Pa, I know you’ve been kinda upset ‘cause Adam don’t seem to take to Miz Rosalind the way you’d like. But I don’t think he’s really hard set against her. I think there’s just some things he ain’t sure of.”

Hoss’ intention may have been to reassure his father about Adam’s attitude. But the actual effect of his words was something very different. The image of Rosalind laughing at something Adam had said bothered Ben somehow. What exactly was going on between the two of them? It couldn’t be that they…could it? Ben’s frown deepened as a disturbing possibility entered his mind. A possibility he didn’t want to consider, but found it impossible not to.

“You OK, Pa?” Hoss asked him, concerned at the troubled look that had come to his face.

“I’m fine, son,” Ben replied. But his tone was unconvincing. He shifted the box he was carrying and strode firmly toward the kitchen door. Hoss lagged slightly behind, the same sense of uneasiness that he had experienced earlier on seeing Adam and Rosalind together coming over him again, but even more strongly.

*****

MAYBE IT IS BEST

The fire burned warm in the great room after supper that evening, but the atmosphere was cool.

After finishing eating, Ben had settled onto the settee and begun to peruse the new edition of the Territorial Enterprise. At some point, he had set the paper aside and he was now sitting there staring into the fire, deep in thought. Adam had claimed his favorite blue chair and was now deeply absorbed in the last pages of a book. Hoss, missing his usual checkers partner and seeing that neither his father nor his older brother was inclined to conversation, found himself somewhat at loose ends. Eventually he got a piece of wood from the box by the stove in the kitchen, took a knife and, with a sigh, sat down by the hearth and began whittling. But his progress was slow, as he kept glancing between his father and brother and wishing they were not so silent.

When he finished the last page of his book, Adam leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, giving a little sigh of satisfaction. After a moment, he got up and carried the book over to the alcove slipped it back into its place in the bookcase there and began glancing over the other volumes. Very quickly one caught his eye. He pulled it out and leafed through it. Then, deciding it was indeed the one he wanted, he turned to go back to his chair. As he did so, he happened to notice the small jewelry box that still rested on the desk. Curious, he reached over and carefully opened the box. The sight of the ring inside brought a look of surprised recognition to his face. He glanced over to where his father sat with questioning eyes. Putting down the book and taking up the ring, he began to walk slowly toward the fireplace. He stopped behind the settee where his father sat and raised the ring so that it caught the fire’s light. “Well, it’s been a while since I’ve seen this,” he said with deliberation.

Ben turned to look up at him. “What’s that?” Then he saw what Adam was holding and frowned.

“The box with this in it was just lying on the desk over there,” Adam explained. “I’m assuming you must have gotten it out to look at it, Pa.” He paused. “Indulging in some memories, were you?”

“Some very precious memories,” Ben replied, turning his head away. “I hope you’re not going to imply that there’s anything wrong with that.”

“Certainly not. I guess I was just wondering if there might be any more to it.”

“Exactly what is that supposed to mean?”

“I think you know.”

Ben looked back up at his son with his lips tightly pursed. “If you’re wondering whether my memories of Marie have been turning to thoughts of the future…all right…I have been considering the possibility of a future with Rosalind. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the comfort of a woman in my life. I hope you can understand that, Adam.”

“I do, Pa. I’m only concerned that the unusual circumstances may be leading you to push this relationship too fast and for the wrong reasons. I really believe you need to step back a little and hold off on taking any hasty action.”

“I would like to point out, Adam, that I’ve known Rosalind longer than I knew Marie before I proposed to her.”

“But do you really know Rosalind? That’s the point,” Adam retorted, with a challenging tone and look.

Ben suddenly had the feeling that the confrontation which had been simmering between them was about to boil over. He glanced over to the hearth where Hoss still sat looking at them with deep concern.

“Hoss, I would appreciate it if you would leave your brother and me alone for a while. He and I seem to have some things to discuss…in private.”

Hoss got slowly to his feet. He looked pensively from his father to his brother and gave a little sigh. “Sure, Pa, if that’s what you want.” Their eyes followed him as he made his way to the staircase, plodded up the steps, and took a final glance down at them before he disappeared.

Left alone, Adam settled back into the blue chair while Ben got up and began pacing in front of the fire. Neither one seemed to want to begin the discussion they knew was coming. It was Adam who finally took the plunge. “All right, Pa. What is it you wanted to say?”

Ben confronted him with his arms folded across his chest. “Adam, I’ve been trying to figure out why you seem so intent on undermining my relationship with Rosalind and something Hoss said earlier may have just given me the clue. He mentioned that he saw you and Rosalind talking in town and that you seemed rather friendly. He even mentioned that she was laughing at something you said. And that got me wondering if the explanation for your attitude might lie in the fact that you have some interest in her for yourself.”

Adam stared at him with wide, startled eyes. “Pa, that’s not true!”

Ben shook his head. “Is it unreasonable of me to question whether it might be? She’s closer to your age than she is to mine.”

“And you think that means I’m likely to be interested in her? Pa, I swear I have no feelings of that kind for her. If Hoss had actually heard what she and I said to each other, he wouldn’t have gotten such a wrong impression…and  passed it on to you. There was nothing in our conversation but polite pleasantries…certainly nothing you would object to. As for my concerns about your relationship with Mrs. Marchand, I’ve tried to explain before, but you don’t seem to want to listen. Have you even tried to talk to her about…?”

“It hasn’t seemed appropriate,” Ben cut in tersely.

“Then you don’t really know…do you?” Adam hesitated, as if questioning the wisdom of saying what he was about to say. But finally he squared his shoulders and plowed ahead. “Pa, I’ve written to a college friend of mine who lives in Philadelphia, telling him everything I could about Rosalind Marchand and asking if he has any additional information. I thought that if her family was really as old and prominent as she’s made out they should be familiar to him and he might be able to fill in some of the blanks.”

“You did what???” Ben’s voice rose to a near roar and his expression was one of anger, such anger as Adam could not remember seeing directed against him. It unnerved him.

“I wrote to a friend…” he began to reiterate in a deliberately calm and even voice.

“I heard you,”   Ben interrupted him tersely. “I just found it difficult to accept what I was hearing. That you should stoop to prying into my personal affairs in that way…” He shook his head in disbelief.

“Pa, you’re taking this all wrong,” Adam protested.

“Really? How would you take it if you discovered that I was digging up information about a woman you were involved with?”

“I might be angry at first,” Adam conceded. “But I would recognize it as a sign of genuine concern. And I would realize that you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t honestly believe that there was good reason for that concern.” His eyes challenged his father directly and without apology. He hoped to see some indication that what he said was getting through, but that hope was disappointed. The look on Ben’s face remained adamant and his eyes were still dark with accusation,

“I wish I could believe that, Adam. But I can’t avoid the suspicion that your motives for checking Rosalind out are not completely pure. That your real intent has been to separate me from her by planting suspicions in my mind, then afterward to make overtures to her for yourself.”

“In spite of the very objections I brought up to you? And right under your nose? That would be rather awkward for me to explain, wouldn’t it? Do you really think that makes any kind of sense?”

Ben waved away Adam’s protest with an impatient gesture. “I don’t know exactly how you might try to justify yourself, but I have no doubt you are more than capable of coming up with something quite plausible.”

Adam shook his head. “Pa, will you listen to yourself? Can’t you sense how this situation is affecting your thinking? I can’t imagine you talking this way otherwise.” He took a deep breath and continued in an almost pleading tone. “Pa, back about the time all this started, you asked me to think of some way you could reward me for good work I had done. Remember? Well, this is what I’m asking for. I’m asking simply that you hold off on making any decision about your future with Rosalind, at least until I hear back from my friend.”

Ben regarded his son stonily for a long, tense moment, then lowered his eyes as his body started to tremble. “I can’t do that, Adam. You seem to be trying to usurp the position of authority here…to pressure me into going against my own feelings, denying my own needs. Well, I can’t let you do that.” He straightened his shoulders and his eyes locked with his son’s in angry determination. “Adam, I’m tired of your innuendo about Rosalind and the lack of respect it shows for me. I don’t intend to stand for it any longer.” He paused, clearly striving to maintain control, but his agitation caused his voice to waver as he resumed. “Adam, I think it best that you leave.”

Adam sat back in his chair, his face blanched with shock. “Pa, you don’t mean that,” he almost whispered.

“I do,” Ben affirmed sternly. “If you have so little regard for my feelings that you are willing to trample on them for your own benefit, then I can’t see that it’s going to do either of us any good to continue under the same roof together.”

Adam sat silent with lowered eyes, biting his lip. When he finally looked up and spoke his quiet voice was laced with resignation. “Pa, if that’s what you think is going on here…well, I don’t know that there’s anything I can say. You’re clearly not prepared to listen to anything that contradicts your fixed ideas. Maybe you’re right. Maybe it is best that I leave.”

Adam got up slowly, fixing his father with a piercing stare as he did so. “I’ll be out of the house in the morning.” He turned toward the stairs and began to ascend them with a heavy tread.

Ben stared after him until he disappeared. Then he sank back into the chair Adam had vacated and bent forward, resting his forehead on his hand, a picture of dejection.

*****

AIN’T EASY SAYIN’ GOOD-BYE

Up in his room, Hoss sat listening to the sounds of the argument going on downstairs. He couldn’t make out very many of the words, but it was clear how upset both men were. Then there was the sound of heavy footsteps coming up the stairs and the slamming of a door, followed by a tense silence settling over the house.

Anxious about what was happening, Hoss decided to try to talk to his brother. He slipped quietly out into the hall and made his way to Adam’s door. Receiving no response to his knocking, he gently nudged open the door to peer inside. Adam had a traveling bag open on his bed and was busily pulling clothes from his dresser drawers to stuff inside it. Startled and concerned, Hoss momentarily forgot about respect for privacy and pushed the door open. “Adam?” he said.

Adam paused to glance over at him. And Hoss would never forget the look that he saw on his brother’s face at that moment. There was anger there, but sadness too, and perhaps something even deeper than sadness. It was the look of a man who was having his world wrenched out from under him. “What do you want, Hoss?”

“Just wanted to see if you was all right.” Hoss paused. “What are you doin’ packin’ your bag, Adam?”

Adam stopped what he was doing for a moment and lowered his eyes. His hands grasped the bag tensely. “Simple. I’m going to be leaving first thing in the morning,” he said quietly.

“But why, Adam?”

It isn’t my choice,” Adam answered. “Pa basically decreed that it would be best if I left.”

Hoss stared at him in shock. “I can’t hardly believe that, Adam. Pa’d never do such a thing!”

“I’m having a hard time believing it myself. If you had asked me a few weeks ago whether anything could come between Pa and me this way, I’d have said the very idea was crazy. After everything we’ve been through together….” Adam’s voice caught. “I guess I underestimated how much his infatuation is affecting his judgment,” he finished in a low voice.

Hoss frowned and slipped his hands into his pants pockets. “It’s really as bad as all that?”

Adam nodded. “He simply refuses to recognize that there are some things about Rosalind Marchand  that just don’t add up, When I mentioned that I was actually  making inquiries through a friend of mine back in Philadelphia where she’s supposed to come from, Pa practically blew his top. And now he’s got it into his head that the reason I’m doing this is because I’m interested in her for myself.”

That caused Hoss to raise an eyebrow. “You ain’t…are you?”

“Of course not!” Adam responded brusquely. “She may br a lot closer to my age than to Pa’s, but I don’t have that kind of feelings for her. I tried to explain that to Pa… but he just won’t listen.”

Silence fell between them as Adam finished packing his bag and closed it.

“So where are you gonna go?” Hoss finally said softly.

“Well, to begin with, I’m going to San Francisco. And then I’m going to find out when the next ship leaves for Australia…and I’m going to be on it.”

Hoss’ eyes grew large. “Australia? But, Adam, if you do that then…well…when are any of us ever gonna see you again?” Adam made no reply and Hoss went on in an urgent voice. “Look, Adam, couldn’t you just stay in town for a bit? I’m sure it won’t take too long for Pa to cool down and realize what he’s done…”

“If you’d seen his face a little while ago I don’t think you’d believe that,” Adam interrupted him. He shook his head sadly. “No, Hoss, that’s not going to happen. And maybe it’s for the best. You know how I’ve always wanted to see as much of the world as I can. Painful as the circumstances are, maybe this is my chance to actually do something about that.” He looked up and his eyes met his brother’s. “I promise you I’ll always let you know where I am. When I find out when I’ll be sailing, I’ll wire you. But you have to promise me something, Hoss. When I do get in touch with you, I don’t want you to tell Pa anything about it…unless there’s some sort of emergency.”

Something about that didn’t sit well with Hoss, though his feelings were hard to put into words. Still, at the moment he wasn’t inclined to upset his older brother by refusing him. He nodded slowly.

“I promise, Adam.” Hoss said, and he saw the tension in his brother’s body ease just a little. Adam picked up the heavy bag and set it down on the floor next to the bed.

“And what about Joe, Adam?” Hoss went on. “He ain’t gonna be back from that horse auction in Carson City for at least a couple more days. Are you just gonna leave before he gets home and not even say good-bye to him?”

Adam bowed his head and his eyes showed the pain as some of the consequences of his decision began to catch up with him. “I’m sorry about that, but I’m afraid that waiting around for him just isn’t an option. I’ll write him a letter and leave it with you before I go. I guess I’m going to have to depend on you to give it to him…and to answer any questions he may have as best you can.”

Hoss nodded again. “Sure thing, Adam.” His eyes too showed something of the same pain. “It ain’t easy sayin’ good-bye…is it?”

“No. It’s not.” Adam’s voice was as sorrowful as Hoss had ever heard it.

They stood there, neither of them speaking or moving as their shared emotion hung heavy in the air. Finally Hoss stepped forward and wrapped a comforting arm around his brother’s shoulder. Adam accepted the embrace willingly, bowing his head in the effort to hold back the moisture that was starting to well up in his eyes. When he felt his brother become a little more composed, Hoss drew back, still maintaining a grip on his arm.

“Well, Adam, I reckon you’d best try to get yourself some rest…if you can. Be sure and wake me up to say good-bye…before you go.”

“It’ll be awful early. You know, I could just leave the letter for Joe on your dresser and not disturb you.”

“Don’t you even think of it…you hear?” Hoss’ voice, and his eyes, made clear that he would brook no argument.

“All right then,” Adam responded softly, his own eyes showing gratitude for his brother’s caring.

With a brief pat on the arm and a wan attempt at a smile, Hoss turned and, with his head hanging, slipped quietly out of the room.

After a few seconds, Adam sat down at his desk with a sigh, drew out some paper and a pen, and set about the difficult task of composing the letter for his youngest brother.

*****

DON’T KNOW WHY YOU’D THINK THAT

In the kitchen the next morning, Hop Sing frowned. It was time for breakfast and the food was ready to take out, but only one member of the family was at the table. He edged open the kitchen door a crack and peeked out to see Hoss sitting there sipping a cup of coffee that had been brought out earlier. But there was no sign of Mister Ben or Mister Adam. The grim look on Hoss’ face gave the cook even more reason for concern. Well, it would do no good to make Hoss wait for his food because the others were delayed. Hop Sing took up a bowl of scrambled eggs and a plate if biscuits, maneuvered through the kitchen door and set them down in front of the young man. But Hoss hardly seemed to notice. And that was a definite sign that something was not right.

“Food ready. You not hungry, Mista Hoss?” Hop Sing asked with concern.

The inquiry broke into Hoss’ distraction and he looked up at the cook in surprise. “Oh…thanks Hop Sing, but I guess I ain’t in the mood for much ‘cept the coffee this mornin’.”

Hop Sing frowned again. “Father and older brother late. Nobody eat. Food get cold!”

Hoss sighed and looked away. “Adam ain’t gonna be comin’ to breakfast, Hop Sing,” he said quietly after a moment. “Or to lunch or dinner neither. He…he left real early this mornin’.”

“He leave? Where he go to? Why?” the surprised cook demanded.

“I guess you’re gonna hafta talk to Pa about that,” Hoss replied, gulping down the last of his coffee.

Before Hop Sing could pursue the subject further, the sound of someone coming down the stairs was heard and they looked over to see Ben slowly crossing toward the dining area. Hop Sing hurried back into the kitchen to bring more coffee while Ben took his place at the table,

“Good morning, son,” Ben offered a little awkwardly.

“Mornin’, Pa,” Hoss replied in a flat tone.

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as Ben helped himself to some eggs and pondered how to open up a sensitive conversation. “Hoss…have you seen Adam this morning?” he finally ventured.

“Pa, Adam woke me up about four o’clock to say good-bye,” Hoss answered. “He and I talked when he came upstairs last night, so I knew he was goin’, but that didn’t make it any easier on either of us. He was gone just a little bit after that.”

“I see,”   Ben felt a very strong desire to ask Hoss if he knew exactly where Adam had gone to, but something in his son’s demeanor discouraged him from pressing the question. “I didn’t realize he planned to leave that early, I had thought he might at least want to say a few words to me before he left.”

“Forgive me for sayin’ it, Pa, but I don’t know why you’d think that, seein’ as you were the one who told him to go.” Hoss fixed his father with an accusing look as he rose from the table. “Now with Adam gone and Joe away at the auction I’ve got a lot of extra chores to do and I’d best be gettin’ at ’em.” He noticed the taken aback look on his father’s face as he turned away. He was aware that Hop Sing was standing in the kitchen door, holding a cup of coffee, his eyes wide with surprise at what he had just overheard.

As Hoss strode over to the door, grabbed his hat from the credenza and made his way outside, he heard the high pitched tones of Hop Sing and the deep murmur of his father’s voice in animated “discussion” following after him.

*****

It was not an auspicious beginning to the day for Ben Cartwright. First there had been the upsetting discovery that Adam had left without any final words of good-bye. Hoss’ reaction to the situation had only added to his unease. And Hop Sing’s indignant questioning as to just what had happened very nearly crossed a line as far as Ben was concerned. In the end, the cook had turned away muttering in dissatisfaction over Ben’s guarded responses. And Ben had been left feeling deflated.

Altogether the morning’s events had hardly left Ben in the mood to go picnicking in the afternoon. But he had previously made plans with Rosalind, and he was reluctant to disappoint her. And seeing her might be about the only thing that could lift his spirits under the circumstances. So he had decided to go through with their plans and had requested Hop Sing to prepare a basket. The cook had done so, but the glower with which he handed it over as Ben was about to leave made it clear that he was not happy.

Ben picked up Rosalind at the boarding house as arranged and drove out to one of his favorite spots overlooking the lake. Under the shade of the tall pines, they laid out a blanket and settled themselves to absorb the beauty and serenity of the scene as they consumed some delightfully juicy fried chicken and its accompaniments. The barely audible sound of waves lapping gently against the shore far below them soothed the senses and a faint breeze stirred the branches of the trees as it kissed their faces, pleasantly moderating the warmth of the sun.

There was very little conversation between them. Ben was too preoccupied, and Rosalind had not seen him in this mood before and didn’t quite know what to make of it. After finishing his last piece of chicken, Ben laid back and stared up into the cloudless sky. As much as he had been trying to keep his attention focused on his companion, he found the image of his oldest son and questions about where he had gone to intruding into his thoughts in a way that was impossible to ignore.

Rosalind watched him wordlessly as she cleared away the remains of their meal. Uncomfortable with his silence she settled herself next to him and gently laid a hand on his arm. “Ben, is something wrong? You seem so far away,” she ventured tentatively.

Ben’s eyes shifted to her face and he tried, unconvincingly, to smile. “I’m sorry, Rosalind. My thoughts have been elsewhere this afternoon. Please forgive my discourtesy.” He grasped her hand and pressed it lightly to his lips.

“And where have your thoughts been?” she replied.

Her tone was teasing, attempting to lighten the mood. But Ben’s expression did not lighten. Instead it became more sober as he sat there for a moment, pondering just what he should tell her. “Oh, I was thinking about my son, Adam,” he finally got out. “We…we got into an argument last night. It ended rather unpleasantly, I’m afraid. In fact, Adam left early this morning without telling me where he was going…or even saying good-bye. I don’t even know where he is right now.” The pain in his last statement was all too clear.

“That’s a shame, Ben,” Rosalind said softly as she squeezed his hand. “You’ve always spoken of him with such pride and affection…it’s hard to think of the two of you being at odds. And Adam has never struck me as someone who would just go off like that without a word.”

Her eyes as she looked down at him held a question that Ben wasn’t sure how to cope with. Admitting to her that he himself had told Adam to leave was something he was loathe to do. And he was even more reluctant to acknowledge to her that she was the cause of their conflict.

“It’s true that Adam and I have always been close,” he said quietly. “But that doesn’t mean that we don’t occasionally see things very differently. I guess this was just one of those times that went farther than it normally does. And Adam has always been so independent. It’s actually very much in character for him to go his own way,” There was a touch of wistfulness in his voice.

“It’s just disappointing that he won’t be here to talk to me about a new house,” Rosalind said. “Well, I’m sure there must be someone else in town that I could work with. We’ll just have to figure out who.” She saw Ben eyeing her a little strangely at that, and paused for just a second. “But in the meantime, here we are alone together on this lovely, warm afternoon, surrounded by all this spectacular beauty. It would be a shame to waste it all with dwelling on such unpleasant thoughts…don’t you think?”

“Indeed I do,” Ben replied, the look in his eyes turning as dreamy as the tone of her voice.

She bent down to kiss him, and as their lips met a sense of sweet oblivion swept over him, wiping out all his anxiety and leaving only an aching hunger for even more of what he had missed for so long.

*****

 ALWAYS YOUR BROTHER

Hoss was finishing up his evening chores in the barn when Joe returned from the horse auction in Carson City,

“Hey there, Hoss!” Joe called out as he rode into the barn on Cochise.

Hoss turned from pouring oats into Chubb’s feed trough and smiled as he saw his brother. “Hey, Joe!” he called back.

As Joe dismounted from Cochise, Hoss put down the bucket he held and went to meet him. He noticed that Joe hadn’t brought any other horse back with him. “So you didn’t pick up anything at the auction?”

“Nothing,” Joe said with a shrug of his shoulders. “Oh, there was some good stock there, but it seemed to me the prices were being bid up way out of line. I just hope Pa won’t be too disappointed.”

“Considerin’ what he said when you left, I don’t think you need to worry about that,” Hoss assured him.

“Where are Pa and Adam anyway…inside?” Joe inquired innocently.

Hoss began to look a little uncomfortable. “Well…Pa, he had to go to a meetin’ of the Cattlemen’s Association this afternoon and he’s supposed to be home for dinner. But as for Adam….” He had been dreading having to try to explain things to Joe, and now his uncertainty made him hesitate.

“So…what about Adam?” Joe prodded when Hoss remained silent for several seconds. When Hoss still failed to reply immediately, Joe started to become alarmed. “Hoss, what is it? Has something happened to Adam?” he demanded, his voice rising.

“It ain’t like that, Joe,” Hoss put in hastily. “Adam ain’t sick or anything. He just…well, the truth is he up and left.”

“Left? I didn’t know he was planning on going anywhere. Did something come up? How long is he going to be gone?”

“I don’t know about that, Joe.” Hoss was almost squirming now. “You see, he and Pa got into a kind of row after you left…a pretty bad one. And it ended up with Pa tellin’ him to go.”

Joe stared at his brother in blank astonishment. “You’ve got to be kidding, Hoss! I can’t imagine Pa ever saying that to Adam.”

“You ain’t the only one that can’t hardly believe it. Knocked me for a loop it did. And Adam too. You shoulda seen how he looked when I talked to him while he was packin’. He didn’t want ta go, Joe, but he didn’t have no choice.” Hoss’ eyes as he looked at his younger brother held the memory of the sadness he had felt on that occasion, which had not diminished. “He left a letter that he wanted me to give you. It’s up in my dresser drawer. Why don’t you come in the house with me and I’ll get it for you.”

“OK, but just let me take care of Cooch here first.”

“Sure. I’ll help you.”

As the two brothers worked together to get Joe’s horse settled and afterward crossed the yard to the house together Joe continued to pepper Hoss with questions about what had happened, and where Adam had gone, but Hoss’ constant reply was that maybe he’d better see Adam’s letter first. It only took a few minutes until they were standing together in Hoss’ room. He opened the top drawer of the dresser, drew out the letter and handed it over to his brother. Joe grasped it eagerly, pulled the paper from the envelope and began to devour the contents with his eyes:

          Dear Joe, 

          By the time you read this, Hoss will have told you basically what has          happened, but I didn’t want to go without leaving you this personal message as well. You were aware, I know, of the tensions between Pa and me over the concerns I had about his relationship with Mrs. Marchand. I never expected that he would react the way he has to my expressing those concerns or that it would end up with him decreeing that I should leave, but now that it has happened I must abide by his          decision, hard as that is. 

          I deeply regret that I must leave without saying good-bye to you in person          but, under the circumstances, I didn’t feel I could wait for your return. Let me just say again how sorry I am for that. I have promised Hoss that I will always let him know where I am, and he will be able to share the information with you but, as I explained to him, for the present I am asking that it not be shared with Pa unless there is an emergency. I’m afraid Pa may be in for a difficult time in the days ahead and I’m counting on you as well as Hoss to be there for him when he needs you. With me          gone, you are going to have to take on more responsibility around the ranch, and I want you to know that I have full confidence in your ability to step up to the task.

        Finally, Joe, I want you to know that, wherever I may go, I will be thinking of         you and missing you every day. Take care of yourself, and remember that, whatever the uncertain future may bring, one thing is sure. I will remain 

          Always your brother,

          Adam

 

When Joe finished reading he stood there for a moment with his eyes cast down, fighting to get a grip on his emotions. When at last he looked up his eyes were full of both anger and sorrow, and the beginning of tears,

“Hoss, how could this happen? How could Pa tell him to go away? Will we ever see Adam again?”

Hoss had been asking himself the same questions, and he knew that there were no satisfactory answers. He shook his head. “I don’t know Joe. I just don’t know,” he whispered sadly.

*****

REALITY BROUGHT HOME

As Hoss Cartwright strode down the boarded sidewalk of Virginia City’s main street, his eyes glanced idly into the shop windows and through the open doorways, but his mind was too far away to register very much. So distracted was he that he nearly stumbled into a young girl who  darted out of the General Store with a peppermint stick in her hand,  He caught the girl before she fell, but her candy dropped onto the sidewalk. When she bent to pick it up, she saw that it had picked up a good deal of dirt and was no longer fit to be put in her mouth. She began to cry.

“Hey little lady, I’m real sorry,” Hoss stammered. “Don’t you fret now. Here….” He fumbled in his pocket, pulled out a coin and handed it to her. “You take that and get yourself some more candy…OK?” The girl stifled her sniffles, considered for a moment, then looked up at him and nodded with a shy smile. Hoss gently patted her on the head, then she turned and hurried back into the store. Hoss watched her go and, shaking his head, continued on his way.

In his mind, he was berating himself for his lack of attention. But dadburnit, he couldn’t help it if his mind was on other things today. Ever since Adam had left, he was having trouble concentrating on anything other than thoughts of his brother…what he might be doing…if he was all right. With Adam gone everything   just seemed so…wrong. And Hoss knew that he wasn’t the only one who was feeling that way. Pa had been going about his daily routine with a grim expression on his face, and his mood only seemed to lighten when he spent some time with Rosalind. Joe was clearly upset about what had happened. Hoss sensed a simmering anger in him. But, since the primary object of that anger was their father, Joe was hesitant to express it and didn’t seem to know what to do with it. Instead, it seemed to be building up inside him, and Hoss was concerned about what it might be building up to. It was not a happy time for any of them.

A little further down the street, Hoss stopped in front of the telegraph office. This was only the second time he had come into town since Adam left and the first time it would have been too soon for his brother to have sent him a message. But today, with Pa involved in a meeting with their family lawyer over some details of a new contract, it seemed to be a good opportunity to check if there was any news. Hoss glanced around and noted with satisfaction that no one seemed to be watching him and there were no other customers in the office at the moment. He felt it best not to attract more attention than necessary.

On entering, he saw Arthur Peters sitting behind the counter, absorbed in taking down a message that was coming in. Hoss waited until it appeared he was finished before approaching him.

“Hi, Art,” Hoss began tentatively.

Peters looked up and smiled in greeting. “Well, hi there, Hoss! Say, I have something here for you.” He reached over to grab a small batch of message forms and began to leaf through them.

“I was hopin’ you might,” Hoss responded, tensing with anticipation.

“Here it is. Came in just a couple of hours ago,  It kind of caught my attention ’cause there was another message that came in along with it, saying that this one should be held until called for and  that it should only be given to you personally.” Peters held the paper out to Hoss with a look in his eyes that clearly showed his curiosity at the untypical instructions.

“Thanks, Art,” Hoss took it eagerly, having no desire to satisfy the man’s curiosity, but wanting very much to know the contents.

HOSS   STOP   BOOKED PASSAGE TO AUSTRALIA ON CLIPPER SHIP TASMAN OF THE SOUTHERN STAR LINE   STOP   DEPARTURE SET FOR 1 PM ON THE 23RD   STOP   WILL KEEP YOU UPDATED AS PROMISED   STOP   HOPE ALL IS WELL AT HOME   STOP   TAKE CARE   STOP   ADAM    ALL STOP

Hoss looked up from the paper and swallowed a lump in his throat. Well, there it was. Adam was going through with his intention. Not that that was any surprise. Still, somewhere in the back of his mind he had harbored some small hope that his brother might reconsider and do as he had suggested, come back to stay nearby until Pa cooled down. Now that faint hope was gone.

“Art,” he said after a moment, “I’ll sure take it kindly if you don’t say anything about this to anybody.”

“Now Hoss, you know our policy is to keep totally confidential the messages we see,” Art replied in a tone that spoke of his indignation at any suggestion that he might do otherwise.

“I know, Art, it’s just…well…it’s ‘specially important in this case.”

“You don’t need to worry, Hoss. You can count on me,” Peters assured him.

“And just what is it that needs to be kept secret?” a resonant voice demanded.

 The voice startled Hoss with its familiarity and he turned quickly to see his father standing just inside the doorway, having obviously overheard what had just passed. Hoss didn’t know what to say, so he simply stood there silently. Art Peters nervously looked down at the papers in his hand and also kept silent.

“Hoss, is that from Adam?” Ben pointed to the paper in his son’s hand.

Hoss shifted awkwardly on his feet as he frantically tried to think of some way to satisfy his father without breaking his brother’s confidence. But there seemed to be none. “What are you doin’ here, Pa” he finally ventured, hoping perhaps to divert the inquiry. “I thought you was gonna be with Mr. Armitage for a while.”

“That took much less time than expected,” Ben replied drily. “I went over to the feed store, thinking to help you with loading our order, and discovered that you had told them to get our order ready and you’d be back shortly, then headed off in this direction. Now just what is going on?”

“Pa, this is from Adam,” Hoss brought out reluctantly, “but the thing is, you see, he asked me not to tell you about anything I heard from him.”

Ben reddened slightly at that, but his eyes and his tone when he spoke were more pleading than angry. “Hoss, Adam is still my son and I NEED to know what’s happening with him. Now please let me see it.”

At that point, Hoss realized that he wasn’t going to be able to keep this from his father. Slowly he stepped forward and held out the telegram to him. Ben grabbed it and quickly scanned it.

Hoss saw the sudden change in his father’s countenance and he could sense the devastating impact that the message was having on him. Ben had been trying to convince himself that what he hoped for would prove true, that Adam would remain nearby and there would be hope for reconciliation between them. But seeing the news of Adam’s plans in stark black letters had suddenly brought home to him the reality that he was in actual danger of permanently losing his son. A son who, despite the recent tensions between them, he dearly loved. Now the problem was what to do about it.

“One o’clock on the 23rd,” he said to himself in a voice so low that Hoss could hardly hear. “That’s barely enough time, but if we catch the two o’clock stage, we might just be able to make it.”

“Pa, what are you sayin’?” Hoss asked him, confused.

“I’m going to try to catch up to your brother before he sails, and I want you to come with me,” Ben responded tersely. “We’re going to have to be on the stage that leaves at two this afternoon. Even then it’s going to be very close. We don’t have time to go back home, pack bags for the trip and return. Hoss, I want you to go to the General Store and buy whatever we’ll need to get us to San Francisco. Put it on the Ponderosa account. I’ll arrange to send word to Joe about what’s happening, get some money from the bank and purchase our tickets. Meet me in front of the stage depot at about a quarter to two.”

“Sure thing, Pa.” Hoss watched his father turn and hurry out the door with mixed emotions. On the one hand, he felt guilty about not being able to keep his word to his brother. On the other hand, he was glad in his heart that they were going after him. He was anxious about how Adam would react if they did catch up to him. But then, there was only one way to find out about that. Hoss drew himself up with a new determination and headed out the door himself, beginning to compose a list of the things he would need to buy in his mind as he went.

*****

IN THE FOG

The buggy made its way down the nearly deserted street through a thick fog that muffled the sound of the horse’s hooves and lent an eerie quality to the forms of the trees and buildings that lined it. Hoss Cartwright grasped the reins firmly and strained to see ahead through the murky atmosphere. Occasionally he would glance quickly over at his pa, who sat next to him with his head bowed. It hurt Hoss to see his father’s obvious distress. The worst part was that he felt to some extent responsible. And it wasn’t just his pa that he felt bad about. He felt he had let his older brother down as well. That may have been completely unintentional, but it weighed on Hoss no less heavily for that.

The hurried trip to San Francisco had left them both tense, exhausted and looking the worse for wear. But once they arrived there had been no time to rest or clean up. They had immediately rented a buggy and set off for the docks, knowing that there was not a moment to waste. But the pea soup atmosphere through which they struggled to find their way made their progress frustratingly slow.

“Hoss,” Ben said, not wanting to distract his son’s attention, but finding it impossible to endure the fraught silence in which they rode. “Can’t we go any faster? We have to make it in time!”

“Pa, I’m doin’ the best I can. It ain’t gonna do no good for us to get into a wreck in this fog.”

“I know, son. Just…please….”

”I hear you, Pa,” Hoss said grimly, flipping the reins against the horse’s back.

A few minutes later, after a quick stop at the office of the Southern Star Line, they drew up by the dock where the Tasman was supposed to be. But there was no ship there. There were a few men milling about. Ben noticed one man standing there in an official looking uniform, glancing over some papers. He stepped down from the buggy and approached the man.

“Excuse me, sir. I was informed that the Tasman was to be sailing from this dock.

Do you have any information…?” Ben asked anxiously.

“Sorry, mate, but I’m afraid you’ve missed her. There was a little break in the weather and everyone who was supposed to be aboard was accounted for, so the captain decided to cast off just a little early.” The man gestured out toward the water. “See there…she’s already almost out of sight.”

Ben strained his eyes and caught a glimpse of a ship in full sail, almost at the limits of his vision. And as he watched the fog reached out its arms to envelop it and the ship disappeared completely.

“Oh God, what have I done?” Ben choked out. He closed his eyes and buried his face in his hands. His body began to tremble. After a moment he managed to regain control. He raised his head and gazed with sorrow filled eyes toward the shrouded horizon.

“Good-bye, son,” he whispered.

*****

THE MOMENT JUST SEEMS RIGHT

The coats of the horses gleamed in the light of the newly risen sun as they tossed their heads and frolicked around the corral, energized by the bracing chill of the early morning air. Joe and Hoss stood leaning against the rail of the enclosure, observing the graceful animals with pleasure.

“They’re a good bunch,” Joe commented in a voice of satisfaction. “The army should be real pleased.”

“They sure should,” Hoss agreed heartily. “You done a real good job breakin’ this string, Joe.”

Joe answered him with a look of gratitude. But that look changed to one of disappointment as he turned his eyes away. “I wonder if Pa thinks so,” he ventured wistfully. “He hasn’t mentioned anything. I wonder if he’s even noticed.”

“He noticed. I’m sure of it,” Hoss replied, resting a reassuring hand on his brother’s shoulder.

“Then why hasn’t he said something?” Joe demanded.

“Now Joe, you know that Pa… well, his mind’s been on other things. He ain’t quite been himself lately.”

“Yeah, ever since the two of you just missed catching up to Adam in San Francisco…before he sailed.” The edge in Joe’s voice showed that he was still having trouble coming to grips with what had happened. It caused Hoss to look at him with concern.

“I know you’re kinda upset with Pa, Joe, but just think about what he must be feelin’.”

“Well, whatever he’s feeling, seems to me he brought it on himself.”

“Don’t you think he knows that? And that only makes it worse for him.” Hoss hesitated. “Fact is, I ain’t too happy about the idea of both of us goin’ to take the horses to Fort Churchill. With Pa bein’ as low as he’s been, I’m not sure it’s such a good idea to leave him alone.”

“Oh, but I don’t think he’ll be alone very much,” Joe responded drily. “I’m sure he’ll be spending a lot of time with Mrs. Marchand. She always seems to be able to perk up his spirits…if nothing else can.”

Before Hoss could come up with a reply to that, he became aware of the sound of someone approaching. He turned his head and saw Ben crossing the yard toward them. Joe also noticed, but he turned his head away, not acknowledging his father when he came up to stand beside him.

“Well, boys, is everything ready for your trip to deliver the horses?” Ben asked with an attempt at a cheerful tone that didn’t quite ring true.

Seeing that Joe wasn’t going to answer, Hoss spoke up. “Yeah, Pa, everything’s set. Mark and Eddie’ll be joinin’ us after the hands finish breakfast and we’ll be headin’ out right after that. I reckon it’ll be about an hour.”

“That’s fine. And you’re sure all the horses will meet with the army’s approval? It’s important that they should be up to our usual standard.”

A look passed between Joe and Hoss at that, and Joe frowned. Again, Hoss took it upon himself to respond. “Real sure, Pa,” he said in a flat voice. “Fact is, this is prob’ly one of the best strings we’ve ever sold ’em.”

“That’s good to hear. Well, I’ll leave the two of you to finish up the morning chores and I’ll come back out when it’s time to see you off.”

As Ben turned to head back to the house, Hoss reached out and laid a hand on his arm, causing him to halt.

“Pa,” Hoss said uncertainly, “are you sure you don’t want Joe or me to stay here? One of us with the two hands should be able to handle the string with no trouble.”

Ben responded by raising his eyebrows slightly. “I really don’t think that’s necessary, son. There’s nothing else that requires the attention of one of you here at the moment. And I rather thought that the two of you would enjoy making the trip together.” Looking more closely at his middle son’s expression he caught on   to what his real concern was. “You don’t have to worry about me boys,” he said in his most reassuring tone. “I’ll be fine.”

And with that he gently pulled free from Hoss’ hand and walked away, with the eyes of his sons following him.

*****

Even as he waved good-bye to his sons while they rode out of the yard an hour later, Ben already felt the pall of loneliness settling over him, and he began to wonder what he was going to do with the rest of the day. Normally there wouldn’t have been any problem, as there would have been plenty of work for him to throw himself into. But this happened to be one of the rare times when there was a lull in activity on the ranch and, as he had indicated to his sons, there was nothing requiring immediate attention. So what was he going to do?

It didn’t take very long for an answer to suggest itself as the image of Rosalind Marchand formed in his mind. He had already seen her a couple of times since his hasty trip to San Francisco. She had, naturally, been curious about his abrupt departure…and his dark mood on his return. He had told her about his failed attempt to catch up to his son, and spoken of his feelings as he had watched the ship sail away with Adam on it. He still hadn’t explicitly told her how their relationship was at the bottom of his problems with his son, but he had a strong feeling that she suspected it.

She had responded with an immediate sympathy that had certainly seemed genuine. He remembered the concerned look in those green eyes and the touch of her hand on his arm as she had softly told him how sorry she was to hear it. He had taken a surprising degree of solace from that. And he found himself wanting more. Ironic, he supposed, that the woman whose presence in his life stirred up the waters, so to speak, should be the one that he turned to provide some comfort in the storm. True, nonetheless.

Yes, going into town to see Rosalind again seemed as good a way as any to pass the coming hours. Having made up his mind, he allowed himself a small smile of anticipation as he went back inside to get himself ready.

*****

The restaurant at the International House was surprisingly busy for the hour, but Ben and Rosalind had managed to secure the same corner table that they had occupied that first night they had dinner together, which afforded them some degree of privacy. It was the time of day when afternoon was beginning to slide into evening, and restaurant staff people were lighting the candles in the sconces on the walls and the lamps on the tables.

Ben and Rosalind had decided to have an early dinner after spending a good part of the afternoon shopping. Rosalind was apparently in a mood to invest in additions to her wardrobe and she was eager to have Ben’s opinion on the garments and accessories she was trying on in the best dress shop in town. Ben had been a little surprised at her free spending on this occasion, since he had previously gotten the impression that she was normally rather careful about her money,  It had brought to mind some of Adam’s speculations about her financial situation. But Ben quickly turned his mind away from such thoughts, since they led in a direction that was so uncomfortable to follow. He preferred to concentrate on the attractive picture she made as she modeled a stylish dress of a lilac hue, spinning gracefully with her arms extended to display the dress to best advantage, a look of childlike delight on her face and a sparkle in her eyes.

Now as he looked over at the woman sitting next to him he observed the same smile, directed at him, and the same sparkle in her eyes, seeming to illuminate the air around her. And he was grateful.

As they sat quietly spooning their bowls of vichyssoise, the subdued murmur of voices from the other tables and the low clinking sounds made by silver and glassware provided a background that was somehow soothing. Very little conversation seemed necessary.

When the waitress cleared away their soup dishes the two of them sat back in their chairs with signs of satisfaction and smiled at each other.

“Ben, it was such a pleasant surprise when you turned up today,” Rosalind began after a moment, “And I was so happy to get your input about the clothes I was trying on. You have very good taste, sir”

“Well, thank you, my lady. It was my pleasure,” he replied. “In fact, it’s always a pleasure spending time with you.”

He said it lightly, but even as the words came out of his mouth, Ben was struck with the sudden realization of just how true they were. In recent days, he had known no greater pleasure than this woman’s company. And he knew that he never wanted to be without that ever again. And just like that the answer to the question about the possibility of a future with her that had been swirling at the back of his mind became clear to him, so clear that he wondered how he had ever doubted it. With a tingling sense of excitement building in him he reached out to take her hand.

“Rosalind, when I came to see you today, I didn’t have any intention of doing this. But somehow the moment just seems right.” He squeezed her hand and looked earnestly into her eyes. “You have become a very important part of my life in the relatively short time we’ve known each other. Your presence has been a light to me at a time when I have sorely needed one. And I know now that I want you by my side from now on.” He leaned closer to her. “My dear, will you consent to become my wife?”

Rosalind’s eyes grew wide and a pretty blush rose in her cheeks. “Oh Ben, you can’t know how much I’ve been hoping for this,” she whispered breathily. “I will be most happy to become your wife.”

Almost unconsciously, their lips came together for a long, intense kiss that drew the curious attention of some of the other patrons in the restaurant and left them both just a little dizzy when they pulled back.

“Ben, people are looking,” Rosalind said, her blush deepening.

“Let them look,” he replied.

They held each other’s gaze in silence for a few seconds. Then Rosalind’s expression turned serious. “Ben, how do you think your sons will react to our news?” she questioned tentatively.

”I believe Hoss and Joe will be happy for me, and as for Adam…well…Adam isn’t here.” The thought of his oldest son made Ben anxious to change the subject. ”It just occurred to me. When Hoss and Joe get back, we should have a special dinner to make the announcement and celebrate. Just you and me, the boys, and a couple of our best friends. What do you think?”

“I think that’s a wonderful idea, darling.” Rosalind smiled impishly. “But we don’t have to wait until then to have a glass of champagne…do we?”

“Your wish is my command, my lady.” And Ben raised his hand to signal the waitress to place the order.

*****

THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERED

Joe Cartwright fastened he cuff on his best white shirt as he came down the stairs. Reaching the bottom, he was about to turn toward the fireplace where his brother was sitting when there came a knock at the door. Joe went to answer it and smiled as he saw the two men standing there.

“Well hi, Doc… Sheriff. It’s good to see you both. Come on in.” He gestured for Paul Martin and Roy Coffee to enter. “You both are looking real sharp tonight,” he added.

“Thank you, Joe,” Doctor Martin replied as he stepped inside. “Your father said that this was going to be a special dinner and we should dress accordingly. But he was pretty close mouthed as to what it’s all about.” He cast a curious eye at the young man in front of him. “Might you be able to tell us what’s going on?”

Joe shook his head. “Sorry, Doc, I’m afraid not. Pa hasn’t let Hoss or me in on it either.” The truth was, Joe had his suspicions and he was pretty sure his brother did too. But, uncertain how he felt about what he suspected, he had no desire to say anything about it.

Sheriff Roy Coffee also entered and stood next to the doctor. “Well, I for one am always happy to accept an invite to one of Hop Sing’s dinners…whatever the excuse.” There was a look of anticipation on his face which quickly changed to a questioning frown. “I’ve gotta admit, I was kinda surprised when Ben asked me.” His voice lowered and took on a confidential tone. “He’d told me about Adam leavin’ and, though he didn’t exactly say so, I got the idea it wasn’t under the best of circumstances. He seemed kinda upset, which was ta be expected. So I didn’t think he’d be doin’ something like this so soon after.” He paused, as if waiting for some response from Joe, but the youngest Cartwright remained silent. “Well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough what your pa has up his sleeve,” Roy concluded a little uncomfortably.

Over by the fireplace, Hoss Cartwright, also dressed in his best, rose from the blue chair and stepped forward to meet their guests. The group gathered in the middle of the room, hands were shaken and greetings exchanged. For a few moments, the Cartwright brothers and the newcomers were engaged in friendly small talk as they awaited the appearance of the host.

The sound of footsteps from over by the staircase caused them to turn their heads, and they saw Ben appear on the landing with a smiling Rosalind Marchand on his arm. Ben looked especially distinguished in a stylishly tailored grey suit with a rich looking vest of silver brocade, while Rosalind made a striking looking consort in her elegant new dress of lilac satin.

Ben proudly escorted Rosalind down the remaining stairs and warmly greeted his friends. Both Roy and Paul had previously met Rosalind, though neither one would have said they knew her well. Their greetings to her were polite but curious. Several more moments of murmured small talk ensued, and then Hop Sing appeared from the kitchen to announce that dinner was ready.

Ben led the group over to the dining area and the all took their places at the table, with Ben at the head and Rosalind seated to his right. The table was set with all the Cartwrights’ best china, silver and glassware, which sparkled and glinted in the light of numerous candles. As soon as everyone was settled Hop Sing began to serve the food with the practiced efficiency of a waiter at one of the finest San Francisco restaurants.

Soon the entire party was enjoying the excellent dinner that had been prepared for the occasion, including a beautiful salad made from fresh vegetables that came from the Ponderosa garden, and a main course of perfectly cooked and tender veal, followed by angel food cake topped with fresh fruit for dessert. There were numerous compliments to the cook as he smilingly took up the dishes to return them to the kitchen. When he had left, Ben rose from his seat and tapped a fork against his wine glass to call for attention.

“I want to thank all of you for helping to make this evening a very special occasion,” he began. “And now the time has come to tell you exactly why it is so special.” He reached out his hand to Rosalind; she put her hand in his and rose to stand beside him. “I have been so fortunate as to have loved, and been loved by, three wonderful women. To be so blessed as to have it happen for a fourth time would seem to be almost beyond belief.” He looked at Rosalind and smiled. “But thanks to this lovely woman that is exactly what has happened. And I am very grateful tonight to be able to announce that Rosalind Marchand and I are planning to be married.” He reached into his pocket, took out Marie’s ring, and carefully slipped in onto Rosalind’s finger. “And in token of our engagement, I give you this ring with all my affection and with great thanks for what you are bringing into my life.” With that, he leaned forward and gently kissed her.

There were several seconds of silence as Roy Coffee and Paul Martin looked at each other in surprise, while neither Hoss nor Joe seemed to know quite how to react,

 Hoss recovered first. He got up from his place at the table next to Rosalind’s and moved to shake his father’s hand. “Well, congratulations, Pa.” He released his father’s hand to take Rosalind’s and squeeze it warmly. “I sure do hope the two of you will be real happy.” He grinned broadly. “It’s gonna be real different havin’ a woman around the house again…but I expect the change’ll be a nice one.”

Paul Martin arose and raised his glass in salute to the newly engaged couple. “Congratulations, Ben. And every happiness to both of you.”

“Amen to that!” Roy Coffee chimed in as he also rose and joined the doctor’s salute.

Joe had remained seated while the others offered their good wishes. Now he too rose…with confusion and anger in his eyes. “Pa, is that my mother’s ring?” he demanded.

Ben was taken aback at Joe’s reaction. “Son, it is the ring that belonged to your mother,” he replied, making an effort to keep his voice calm. “I thought it only right that it should be passed on…”

“How could you do that, Pa?” Joe interrupted him in a harsh voice. “How can you put another woman in my mother’s place and give her my mother’s ring? Mrs. Marchand may look just like my mother, but she’s NOT HER! How could you do it?”

Ben saw in her reddening cheeks and downcast eyes the embarrassment that Joe’s words caused Rosalind, and he felt the anger rising in him. Was he now to have problems with another son over this? Why was it all becoming so complicated?

“Joseph, this outburst is totally uncalled for!” Ben spoke in his most authoritarian voice. “Now I expect you to apologize immediately!”

Joe continued to glare at his father with angry eyes, obviously reluctant to comply. Ben was about to reiterate his demand when the fraught moment was broken by a loud pounding at the door. Everyone was momentarily startled.

“I’ll see who it is.”

Hoss’ quiet voice was a welcome touch of calm as he turned toward the door with the eyes of the entire dinner party watching him. They followed him as he reached the door, opened it and spoke briefly to the unseen person outside. The exchange ended with Hoss receiving an envelope from the visitor and drawing some coins from his pocket to give the person in return. Then Hoss closed the door and moved slowly toward the fireplace, eyeing the envelope warily as he went,

“Well, Hoss?” Ben demanded.

“It’s a telegram, Pa,” Hoss replied. “Art must’ve thought it was pretty important to send it out right away after dark like this.” He stood close to the fireplace continuing to stare at the envelope, as if he sensed something ominous inside it.

Becoming impatient, Ben left his place at the table and moved swiftly toward his son. If he had to grab the telegram out of Hoss’ hand in order to find out what was in it, well that’s what he would do. But before he reached him, Hoss held up a restraining hand. “It’s for me, Pa,” he said firmly.

Hoss shook off whatever caused him to hesitate and finally tore open the envelope, drew out the message and began to read it. Then he suddenly and visibly paled. Becoming unsteady on his feet, he reached out a hand to grasp the back of the blue chair for support. Ben watched him anxiously.

“Son, what is it? What’s the matter?”

Wordlessly, Hoss held out the message to him. Ben grabbed it, read it and suddenly went as white as his son had. He sank back onto the settee, allowing the paper to flutter to the floor as he leaned forward and buried his face in his hands.

Joe, who had followed his father part of the way, now hurried to pick up the paper. He scanned it quickly, then began to read it aloud in a trembling voice.

TASMAN SUNK IN STORM OFF SANDWICH ISLANDS   STOP   PASSENGER ADAM CARTWRIGHT AMONG THOSE UNACCOUNTED FOR   STOP

Joe’s voice caught and he was unable to read further. After a moment, he swallowed the lump in his throat and glanced over to where the others still standing by the table were looking on in shock.

“They ask us to wire a description of Adam in order to match it against the bodies that have been recovered that aren’t identified yet,” he finally got out.

No one spoke as they all sought to absorb the stunning news. Joe looked down at his father, who still sat there with his face in his hands, his body trembling, in obvious distress. Then Ben raised his head and looked back at him. And suddenly everything that had happened earlier seemed unimportant. His confused feelings over his father’s plans to marry again…his anger over the ring…none of it mattered. The only thing that mattered was the news they had just received…and the stricken look in his father’s eyes.

*****

 THE TRUTH ABOUT ROSALIND

The sky was overcast and the slight chill in the air hinted that the evening coming on would be an unseasonably cool one. Hoss and Joe were riding slowly homeward after a day of hard work out on the range. The usual easy banter was missing, and the only sound was the dull clop of the horses’ hooves. They both slumped slightly forward in their saddles, as if from weariness, but from the look on their faces one might easily have guessed that it was something more. The silence between them finally became so oppressive that Hoss felt compelled to break it. “You’re awful quiet, Joe. What’ve you been thinkin’ about?”

Joe turned his head and regarded his brother bleakly. “The same thing as you, I guess. Adam…and Pa. Isn’t that about all we’ve been thinking of lately?”

“I s’pose so,” Hoss returned sadly. And the silence resumed.

Neither of them had been able to put out of his mind the telegram that had informed them of their brother’s disappearance in a shipwreck, or the effect it had on all their lives. As requested, they had wired a description of Adam to the offices of the Southern Star Line. Hoss had sent the telegram, and he had found it to be one of the most difficult duties he had ever had to undertake. In reply, there had come a message with the news that the description did not match any of the unidentified victims from the Tasman. That in itself had provided some small, if uncertain, comfort. But the messages that followed describing the lack of success in the search for any additional survivors had taken even that away. The arrival of each new telegram was coming to be regarded with trepidation by all the Cartwrights.

Then, three days ago while they were having breakfast, a final wire had arrived, announcing, regretfully, that the decision  had been made to discontinue the search. After it had been read aloud, more than a full minute had ticked off while the three Cartwrights had sat around the table staring at each other and saying nothing. Then Ben had shaken Hoss and Joe by standing up, crumpling the paper, tossing it into the fire and beginning to talk about the jobs he wanted them to do. Hoss had interrupted him to gently inquire whether they all shouldn’t stay together that day. But Ben had insisted that they go on with their normal activities. And that was how the situation had remained, with Ben turning aside any suggestion that they ought to sit down and discuss what had happened. He seemed to be in denial.

And that was what Joe and Hoss were both pondering as they rode home that day. Having failed in trying to discuss the situation with their father they felt the need to talk it over between themselves. But getting started was difficult.

It was Joe who finally spoke up, almost with tears in his voice. “Hoss, I can’t stand this much longer. Pa understood what that telegram meant, just the same as we did, but he doesn’t want to deal with it. It meant there’s no more hope of Adam being found alive. Our brother’s gone, Hoss. We should be grieving together…taking care of certain things…and we can’t because Pa won’t accept it! It’s tearing me up inside. How long can he…can we…go on this way?”

Hoss shook his head. “I ain’t sure, Joe. But I think I kinda got an idea of why he’s actin’ that way.”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you see, Joe? If Pa was to admit to himself that Adam’s…gone…well, feelin’ responsible the way he does for tellin’ him to leave in the first place…I don’t know what it might do to him. I ain’t sure he could even stand it.”

Joe considered his brother’s words for a few seconds. “So what do we do?” he asked plaintively.

“Seems to me ’bout all we can do is try to be there for him when he needs us, the  way Adam said in that letter he wrote you.”

The mention of his brother’s letter brought an extra measure of sadness to Joe’s eyes. “I guess Adam was right…as usual,” he said softly.

As they rode into the yard they saw Sheriff Roy Coffee standing by a horse and buggy, tying the horse to the hitching rail. Seeing them approaching, the sheriff stood there waiting while Hoss and Joe rode up to him. “Howdy boys,” he said as they dismounted, and they returned his greeting,

“So how are things goin’? How’s your pa?” Roy inquired, narrowing his eyes.

Hoss and Joe looked at each other. Roy and Paul Martin were the only ones besides the family (which now included Rosalind) who had heard the news of Adam’s disappearance, and who they had confided in concerning the developments that followed. Roy was someone they could trust without question.

“Pa ain’t so good, Roy,” Hoss admitted to him. “He’s still actin’ like we never got that telegram ’bout the search bein’ called off, and Joe and me have been havin’ a hard time dealin’ with it.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Roy said thoughtfully. “Feelin’ like I do about what’s happened, I can appreciate how hard this must be on him.” He straightened up as though steeling himself for something unpleasant. “I know this has gotta be about the worst possible time for it, but there’s somethin’ I really need to talk to your pa about and I’m afraid it can’t wait. Would he be at home?”

“I’m pretty sure he is,” Joe replied. “From what he said this morning, he was planning on staying home all day.”

“And would Mrs. Marchand be there too?”

“I think it’s likely. She’s been coming out from town pretty much every day to spend time with him and going back in the evenings.” Joe gave a slightly bitter chuckle. “She’d be staying with us in one of the guest rooms, only she’s afraid people would think it was improper. It seems she doesn’t want people gossiping about her that way.”

“Oh really? That’s interestin’. Roy Coffee briefly raised an eyebrow. “If she’s there, that’s all to the good. It’ll make things easier.” His expression turned sober. “Well, I might as well get this over with. Come on, boys.” Roy turned and strode toward the door of the ranch house with Hoss and Joe following him, all curiosity.

When they entered the house they found Ben and Rosalind sitting together on the settee in front of a small fire. Ben glanced over and, seeing the sheriff along with his sons, rose to greet him.

“Roy, it’s good to see you. Rosalind and I were just having a small glass of brandy. Perhaps you’d like a little something as well?”

Roy waved the offer away. “Thanks, Ben, but no. I didn’t come out here today to socialize.” He paused, feeling the awkwardness of what he was about to do. “Fact is, there’s somethin’ serious I need to talk to you about. I hate to put more on you right now. I know how hard a time you’ve been goin’ through. But it’s important, and puttin’ it off ain’t gonna make it any easier.”

Rosalind rose hesitantly to stand beside Ben and slip her arm through his. “Shall I leave you two gentlemen to yourselves?” she asked quietly

“That won’t be necessary,” Roy replied, shaking his head. “This concerns you.” Turning toward Hoss and Joe he added “The two of you might as well hear it too.”

The brothers exchanged a look, then moved over to take seats near the fireplace, Hoss in the blue chair next to it and Joe on the hearth. Ben and Rosalind were still standing in front of the settee. Her face was pale, her body trembling with nervousness. He slipped his hand protectively around her waist.

“Why don’t you sit down, Mrs. Marchand?” Roy’s eyes narrowed as he looked at her. “Or should I say Mrs. Fairmont?”

She gave a little gasp which was echoed by the others.

Ben’s face started to redden with anger. “Roy, what are you saying?” he demanded. “I’d advise you to be very careful about throwing around any accusations you can’t back up. Need I remind you that this is the woman I intend to marry?”

“I know, Ben,” the sheriff responded quietly. “I was here when you announced it…remember? And, believe me, I’m awful sorry to have to say this, but if you were to go ahead and marry her…well…she’d be committin’ bigamy. Seems her husband is very much alive and well back in Philadelphia.”

Ben looked at the woman beside him in bewilderment. “Rosalind?”

But she said nothing, only looked down at the floor while her trembling increased.

“Roy, where is this coming from?” Ben prodded, hoping fervently that somehow it would turn out to be some huge mistake.

“Well now, that’s gonna take a little explainin’, so you might as well just sit down and listen.”

Ben sat back down on the settee, drawing Rosalind with him, all the while continuing to regard Roy Coffee with a look that dared him to justify what he had said,

Roy seemed to hesitate, as if gathering his thoughts. “Ben,” he finally began, “before Adam…left…he had written to a friend o’ his in Philadelphia name of Christopher Williamson, tellin’  what he knew about Mrs. Marchand and askin’ for any information he might have about her and her family.”

“I was aware of that,” Ben shot back.

Roy was not fazed. “There was a sketch of the lady in question included with the letter,” he continued, “a sketch Adam had gotten from that young fella who likes to hang around the hotel drawin’ people. Rockwell I think his name is. Anyway, puttin’ the letter and the sketch together, Mr. Williamson thought he had a pretty good idea of what was goin’ on. He went to the Chief of the Philadelphia police department, and he agreed, so they contacted me.”

At this point, all eyes were focused on the sheriff with total absorption. He straightened himself and looked on Rosalind with the steely gaze of a bringer of justice.

“They believe that the lady is actually Lydia Fairmont, the wife of Josiah Fairmont, who had gone missing some months ago. Now Mr. Fairmont is a very prominent financier and political insider, so his wife’s disappearance caused quite a stir. A lot of her clothes were gone, which made the authorities believe she had left voluntarily rather than fallen victim to any sort of foul play. Turned out she had taken a good deal of expensive jewelry as well. Some of the jewelry was her own, things that had been given to her as gifts. But a good deal of it consisted of family heirloom pieces that weren’t her personal property to take. Because of that, Lydia Fairmont is wanted for grand larceny. Now, that sketch that Adam had sent showed the lady wearing a very distinctive star shaped brooch that appeared to be one of those heirloom pieces. The Chief of Police sent me descriptions of the missing jewelry and I’ve confirmed with Albert Zale that the lady we’ve known as Rosalind Marchand has sold him several pieces that match those descriptions. Based on that, I’ve been authorized to take her into custody on those charges.” He paused before concluding in a reluctant voice. “I truly am sorry, Ben.”

 Ben’s face had undergone a remarkable transformation as he listened. There was a hardness in it as he turned to his companion. “That first time we went to dinner together, one of the things you asked me about was who in town dealt in fine jewelry,” he said, almost to himself. Then his voice became firmer and more insistent as he demanded “Is this all true? Are you Lydia Fairmont?”

Her face was still pale as she raised her eyes to meet his, but she was no longer trembling. It was as though, now that what she must have feared had come to pass, she had no further reason for concealment. When she spoke it was in a surprisingly calm voice.

“Yes, Ben, it’s all true. It’s no use denying it. I hoped that I had fled far enough that I could start a new life without being found out. But I suppose I always knew the odds were against it. I’d never done anything like this before, and I guess I just didn’t have the aplomb to carry it off.”

“But why? Why did you run away from your husband?” The hurt Ben was feeling came through clearly. Then something seemed to occur to him, and his voice hardened. “Was he abusing you?”

“No,” she answered quietly. “Not in the way you’re thinking. I suppose I could try to make a play for your sympathy by claiming that was so, but it wouldn’t be true. It was more like he was ignoring me.” Suddenly she seemed eager to explain herself to him. “Oh, not at first, naturally. When he was courting me, he was all attentiveness and gallantry. But after we were married, it didn’t take very long for me to realize that his main interest in me was having someone appropriate to act as hostess for the dinners and parties that were such an important part of his life, and to hang on his arm at social and political events. He was so busy that there was very little time for us to really be husband and wife in any meaningful sense. After so many years, I grew tired of playing my role and putting on a smiling face to cover a hollow reality. My whole situation was becoming more and more stifling. I felt that I just had to break away. Planning how to do it was difficult. There was no one I could confide in without risk of being betrayed.” Her voice turned wistful. “I guess the idea of making a new life was just a beautiful dream that was never meant to be.”

After a few seconds of silence, Sheriff Coffee  moved to stand in front of her and held out his hand,  “If you’ll come with me Mrs. Fairmont,” he said in a low, firm voice,  “I’m afraid I’m gonna hafta   keep you in  jail until arrangements can be made to send you back East for trial.”

She stood up and Ben rose with her.

“Roy, is it really necessary?” he began, but Lydia interrupted him.

“It’s all right, Ben. The sheriff is doing his duty and I have to accept it.” She looked down at her hand, slipped the engagement ring off of her finger and held it out to Ben. “Joe was right, you know. Offering me the ring that had been his mother’s probably wasn’t a very good idea.”

Ben took the ring from her without comment. Roy grasped her arm and began to guide her toward the door. After a few steps, she stopped and looked back. “The thing is, I really did come to care for you, Ben. When I came to Virginia City, I was so uncertain and frightened. And then, one of the first people I met was this handsome, distinguished gentleman who treated me with such consideration and generosity and who was genuinely interested in me. The prospect of making my future with you seemed almost too good to be true. But, of course, when something seems too good to be true, it almost always is. I’m very sorry, Ben. Sorry for all the hurt I’ve caused you. And especially sorry that it couldn’t work out between us. Good-bye, Ben”

She turned away again. A moment later, she and the sheriff reached the door and quietly slipped outside. Joe and Hoss looked worriedly toward their father. Ben’s eyes remained fixed on the door where she had disappeared. His mind whispered words that never passed his lips.

“Good-bye…Rosalind.”

*****

 AS THE RAIN THAT BREAKS THE DROUGHT

Ben Cartwright sat in the blue chair by the fireplace, staring into the flames, slowly swirling the brandy in the snifter he held in his hand…and thinking. This had become his custom almost every night of late, staying up long after Hoss and Joe had gone to bed, with no companions but the harsh thoughts that whirled in his mind and refused to be put to rest.

Night after night it was the same. How many nights had it been now? Ben couldn’t say. He had lost track of just how long it had been since that evening when Rosalind…or rather, Lydia…had been taken away. He knew, from Roy, that she was on her way back East to face criminal proceedings and a husband who was reportedly preparing to divorce her for desertion. Roy had passed on her request that Ben not try to see her before she left town because she feared it would   be too painful for both of them. Somehow, it almost didn’t matter.

The more he thought about it, the more Ben wondered at the way he had allowed himself to become so carried away. Certainly the lady’s resemblance to Marie…and what an extraordinary coincidence that had been!… might have been expected to throw him off balance somewhat. Still, it was not as though he hadn’t sensed some warning bells in the back of his mind. How had he dismissed them so easily? The longer he remained out of the influence of her presence the more clearly he realized that, however he had tried to deny it, what he felt for Rosalind…that is, Lydia…was only the longing to regain the past love that he had lost so tragically. If his judgment had been in normal working order he would have recognized the danger. He would have taken things much slower to see if there was really anything behind the beauty that seemed to blind him. He would have listened to Adam.

As always, the turning of his thoughts to his oldest son brought a wave of intense sorrow crashing down on Ben. While the hurt that Lydia had caused him seemed to be gradually fading with her absence, the pain arising from what had happened with Adam seemed only to grow stronger with time.

Ben put down the snifter, leaned his head back, closing his eyes and gave a deep sigh. How often had he proclaimed that his sons were his real treasure, that he valued them more highly than all his land and wealth? And he had prided himself on that. Prided himself on being such a devoted father. And then, what had he done? For the sake of a romantic dream he had virtually thrown his oldest son away. Thrown him to the winds. And the consequences of that were something he didn’t know how to live with.

There were days when Ben felt that just getting out of bed in the morning was almost too much to cope with. It was only the thought of Hoss and Joe that made him do it in the end. He knew how worried they both were about him. He couldn’t blame them. It seemed he hadn’t been doing much of a job as a father lately…in more ways than one. Not only had he failed to be there to help them deal with their pain over the disappearance of their brother, he had left them to keep things on the ranch going while he found it difficult to rouse himself to do just about anything. That was just one more thing to add to his self-recrimination.

So absorbed was Ben in his sad reflections that he didn’t even notice when the door opened,  a shadowy figure slipped inside and set something down near the door, then quietly began to approach him. The figure stopped.

“Pa.”

It was the whispered word that finally caught Ben’s attention. He turned his head, saw the figure and felt his breath catch as he stared in disbelief.

There before him stood Adam.

Ben’s first thought was to question whether he was losing his mind. Then he noticed that Adam appeared somewhat thin and pale and he wondered fleetingly if this might be a visitation from his son’s ghost, come to berate him.

But the voice came again.

“Pa.”

And the voice was clearer, achingly familiar…and so very real. Still, it was almost too much to accept.

“Adam?” Ben’s voice vibrated with trembling hope.

“Yeah, Pa. It’s me.” A tentative smile flickered across Adam’s face. “So…am I welcome?”

It sent a pang to Ben’s heart to think that he had caused his son to ask such a question. But that was past and done and could not be changed. The important thing now was to reach out to him, to give him the answer that he needed. Ben slowly got to his feet.

“Welcome? Oh, son…as welcome as the rain that breaks the drought.”

He held out his arms

Adam came to him then and they held each other close. Time seemed to stand still for them as they stood there, without words or tears, simply a father and son drinking in each other’s presence and breathing easier for it after being parted for too long.

Finally Ben took a deep breath and spoke huskily in Adam’s ear. “Son, I am so very sorry for telling you to go. That may have been the biggest mistake I’ve made in my life. I can never quite forgive myself, but…can you forgive me?”

“I do, Pa.” Adam’s voice was husky too. “The truth is, my reaction wasn’t what it should have been. Hoss tried to persuade me to stay close in town and wait until you cooled down some. At the time, I didn’t feel like that was going to happen…and I guess that was my mistake.”

Ben shook his head. “Actually, you may well have been right. It was only the news of your plans to sail to Australia that began to bring me to my senses.” He saw Adam’s questioning look. “Don’t blame Hoss for telling me. He tried to keep your confidence, but I happened to overhear him in the telegraph office when he got your wire and he had no choice but to let me see it.” Ben looked into his son’s eyes. “He and I tried to catch up with you in San Francisco before you sailed, but we were too late by minutes. I stood there watching as your ship disappeared from sight. I can’t begin to tell you what I was feeling at that moment.”

Adam returned his look sympathetically. “I’m sorry you had to go through that, Pa. It’s strange, but as we were pulling away I was standing on the deck looking back, and I swear I could feel that someone was there gazing out after us.” He paused. “Or maybe it isn’t so strange after all.”

“The emotions of the moment began to catch up with Ben, and he started to sway slightly. Adam grasped his arm to steady him.

“Here, Pa, let’s sit down, shall we?”

With Adam’s hand still on his father’s arm, they moved over and settled down comfortably together on the settee. Ben’s eyes never left his son. It seemed he was still in the stage of needing constant confirmation that Adam was actually there beside him. It suddenly struck him that the subject he wanted to ask about perhaps most of all hadn’t been mentioned yet.

“Adam,” he began soberly, “we received word that your ship had gone down in a storm and that you were missing. Later we heard that the search for survivors had been called off. Son…what happened?”

Adam leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he started to answer.

“To begin with, I wasn’t on the ship when it got caught in the storm. You see, we had made port in the Sandwich Islands for extra supplies and a couple of minor repairs. There happened to be an outbreak of malaria there at the time and two other passengers and I came down with it. We were sent to the port’s hospital, but the ship couldn’t afford to wait around until were well, so we were left there and the ship sailed away….to its destruction.” Adam furrowed his brow in perplexity. “That part’s easy to explain. What’s not so easy to understand is the breakdown in communications that meant the right people didn’t get the right information about what was happening. I honestly can’t say exactly how that happened. My illness was relatively mild, but I was still out of things for a little while. When I was in a condition to inquire, I was assured that my family had been informed and I had no reason to question it. While I was in the hospital, I had a lot of time to think about what had happened with us. I came to the conclusion that I had been rather hasty in deciding to sail halfway around the world. And, to be honest, I was missing the comfort of my family as I recovered. I decided that, rather than continue on to Australia, I would take the first available ship back to the United States. It was only when I arrived back in San Francisco and checked in at the offices of the line that I found out that they thought I had gone down with the Tasman and that was the notification you had received. I wanted to wire you then, but there was some problem with the lines and I wasn’t able to get through right away. I left a message to be sent as soon as possible, but obviously it hasn’t gotten to you yet.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see it delivered tomorrow,” Ben replied. “That might be a fitting conclusion to such a story of coincidences and miscommunications. But I have to say that right now I don’t care how long it takes the telegram to get here. I’m just happy that you got here first.”

The warmth in Ben’s voice and the affection in his gesture as he reached over to give his son’s shoulder a gentle squeeze were enough to satisfy Adam that things were truly restored between them. But for Ben there was still one thing that had to be said. It took a few seconds for him to prepare himself to say it.

“Adam, I have to tell you…you were right to have doubts about…Rosalind. It turns out she…”

“I know about it, Pa,” Adam interjected quietly. Seeing the surprise on his father’s face he hastened to explain. “When I got off the stage in town this evening, I happened to run into Roy Coffee.” A broad smile spread across his face. “Gave him quite a turn, I can tell you. Anyway, once he got over his shock at seeing me, he took me to his office for a cup of coffee and told me all about what Chris had discovered about her and what happened when he came out here to tell you about it.”

“That was difficult,” Ben acknowledged. “But it was for the best. No matter how it happened, I eventually had to find out that she wasn’t what I thought she was.”

“I’m sincerely sorry about that, Pa. I would have been genuinely happy to see her turn out to be everything you hoped.”

“I know, son. All this has taught me one lesson, though. I promise I will never fail to listen when you express your concerns again. I may not always agree with what you say… but I will always listen.”

Adam was about to reply when they were interrupted by noise from over by the stairs.

Ben and Adam glanced over to see Joe and Hoss standing frozen on the landing, the wide eyed astonishment in their faces slowly transforming into looks of exuberant joy.

“Adam!”

“Dadgummit, I can’t believe it!”

Repeating their shouts the brothers clattered noisily down the rest of the stairs. Adam rose smiling and moved to meet them. Within seconds, the welcome home was in full swing as Hoss lifted his older brother off his feet, Joe slapped him on the back and they both excitedly threw questions at him without giving him time to answer. They couldn’t seem to keep their hands off of him. Adam accepted it all with obvious pleasure.

Ben watched the reunion of his sons with the greatest satisfaction, and a prayer of thanks. The emotions he was experiencing left him almost overwhelmed. His joy was profound  There was also great relief as he felt the weight of the guilt and regret he had been carrying fall away from him. Perhaps  the  most profound of all, there was thankfulness, simple gratitude for the miracle he was witnessing…that what he had carelessly thrown to the winds had been blown back to him on a gentle breeze of grace,

***The End***

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