The Art of Horse Selling (by faust)

Summary: Adam Cartwright has a lot of things to deal with: burglars, unwanted newspaper articles about his family, and someone who doesn’t want to saddle a horse. Will he at least be able to survive the whole mess? A WHN for Enter Mark Twain, in a way.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  31,000


Chapter 1

A Strange Lady


Sheriff Roy Coffee checked his pocket watch and shook his head in wonder. This had to be the first time ever that the stage coach from San Francisco arrived not only on time but even half an hour earlier than scheduled. Clem, the driver, gave him a wide grin and went to unload freight and luggage from the roof. Roy watched Josiah, the station manager’s son, setting the footstool in front of the stage to get the passengers an easier exit.

When the stage door opened it came apparent that there was only one passenger. A lady, Roy thought. A real lady. Even though her face and her elegant fawn traveling costume were covered in the fine yellow dust of the Sierras, just like every traveler’s outfit had been before her, she featured the posture of a person who knew their place in the world. She untied the pale blue scarf that had protected her hair. Now, what was seen there wasn’t very ladylike, Roy thought. Dark honey coloured hair, tied up into an untidy loose bun showed that this woman had no coiffeur skills at all. Or that she didn’t care.

When Clem handed her a dark red carpet bag she smiled at him. “Thank you very much, good man. Also for the safe trip. You did fine labour; I appreciate that very much.”

Clem, lowering his head, hid a sheepish grin. “Well, you was okay yerself, Lady!”

She gave him a somehow surprised glance, and with a barely suppressed chuckle replied, “Well, thank you, I suppose…chap.”

She turned to Roy, and, after a glance at his star, she gave him a short acknowledging nod. “Uh, consta—, ahem, sheriff, you don’t happen to know a boarding house belonging to a Widow Hawkins?”

“’Course I do. Best house in town. Can’t find a better place ta stay, Lady. It’s jest down C-Street here on the left hand side, y’can’t miss it, it‘s gotta big plate in the garden.”

“Very good. Maybe the boy can take my luggage there.”

It wasn’t a question. From her it sounded like an order. And sure enough Josiah picked up the bag and sped away. Much to Roy’s amusement he even forgot to hold his dirty fingers out to collect the usual reward for his services. The lady seemed to consider this as appropriate behaviour and watched approvingly as the boy skittered away.

She turned to Roy again and raised an eyebrow. “You certainly can point me to the Territorial Enterprise bureau, too.” Again, it wasn’t a question, but an imperative.

“Same way, Lady, just down the street a few blocks from here. Then turn right into A-Street. It’s jest opposite the Silver Dollar saloon.”

Roy received a short nod of thanks, and then the lady straightened her back, gave them a last distracted smile, turned and walked away. Roy and Clem gazed after her for a long time, watching her stalking down C-Street. Very upright, chin raised and with confident strides, she gave no indication that she was a foreigner in this town.

Eventually Roy cleared his throat. “Never seen anyone like her. Who is she?”

Clem shook his head. “I don’t rightly know; never said her name, that one. But the way she walks and talks she’s likely the Queen of England.”

Their laughter could be heard down the street up to the Bucket of Blood, but fortunately the Queen of England with her long strides had already passed the saloon and was right out of earshot.

*****

Chapter 2

Enter Juliet Heatherstone


“You are J. Heatherstone?”

Joseph Goodman, editor of the Territorial Enterprise, couldn’t believe his eyes. Or his sanity.

You are J. Heatherstone?”

“Juliet Heatherstone, yes. Is there a problem?” Her tone indicated that she did not esteem his repeated disbelief.

She sat very straight, her expression somewhat indignant, one eyebrow raised. Goodman found that irritating. The whole woman was irritating. Covered in trail dust, her hair disheveled, her face tired and worn, she still bore the signs of self confidence and determination. Was there a problem? Oh yes, there most certainly was a problem.

“You’re a woman!” he blurted out.

“I am glad you noticed that. I very much appreciate an employer with keen perception.”  Her eyebrow rose even higher.

“You don’t happen to have a husband named Jacob or John?” he persisted.

“Mr. Goodman, I am not married, neither to a Jacob nor a John nor to any other man. And I have no inclination to change that any time soon. All I want is the job you were offering me two weeks ago.” She spoke with deliberate calm. Only her eyebrow gave her away.

“But I didn’t know you were a woman then. In his letter Sam Clemens just told me about an upcoming young writer named J. Heatherstone he recommended as his successor for the Enterprise.” Goodman felt sudden anger rising. This obviously was Clemens’ one last joke at his expense. “Did you even write those samples you sent me? Or did Clemens scribble them just to make sure I will let you come?”

She heaved a suffering sigh. “You are doing Sam great injustice, Mr. Goodman. You know perfectly well that his writing skills exceed mine by far. Maybe Sam did hide my first name on purpose, and I have to admit this does sound very much like him, but I am a writer and I do want this job.”

“I can’t employ a woman. You have to understand, I can’t have a female writer. You’d be supposed to stroll around Virginia City and investigate.”

“Investigate?” Another inch on the eyebrow front.

“Investigate. Find stories. Discover secrets.  Speak to people. To men!”

“I did that in San Francisco, you know. Writing stories and speaking to people. Even to men.” She had very elastic eyebrows, Goodman observed.

“You don’t have to be sarcastic with me, Miss Heatherstone. This is a wild country, with rough people. I need a confident writer, somebody who isn’t threatened very easily.”

“I can be quite threatening myself, Mr. Goodman. Or so people tell me.”

He considered her in surprise. She didn’t look threatening at all. Despite her sheer height, surely near six feet as Goodman mused, she was rather fragile. Slender, with narrow shoulders and waist. No, there was nothing threatening about her. Though not stunningly beautiful she had a pleasant, finely cut face, pale with just a shower of faint freckles on her cheeks and nose. Well, Goodman pondered, maybe her eyes, maybe they could be considered threatening if she put some effort in it. They were very expressive eyes, and he had never seen eyebrows rise that high. And, of course, her accent. This infuriating, clipped, English upper class accent. She would have to do something about that if she wanted to have a peaceful life in Virginia City. She would certainly have to do something about that if she wanted a peaceful life with her employer. Goodman groaned inwardly. He knew he was going to regret this.

“Four weeks. If you survive four weeks without being shot or tarred and feathered, or having all of Virginia City’s townsfolk run havoc against you, I’ll give you a permanent position.”

“Well, Mr. Goodman, that sounds as if we have a deal. I’ll get myself settled at Widow Hawkins’ and start working tomorrow morning. I see you eight o’clock sharp. Good day, Mr. Goodman!”

Goodman’s groan was audible this time. He had already begun to regret his decision. Watching his newest employee make her way towards Widow Hawkins’ Boarding House, he shook his head. This must be the bossiest woman he had ever met. Make that the bossiest person. Really, he couldn’t think of anyone who had ever appeared as imperious and bossy as she did. Anyone. Well, except maybe Adam Cartwright. Goodman’s face suddenly lit up. Oh, what a wonderful thought! The next time Adam Cartwright requested a retraction, he would have to fight that out with none other than Juliet Heatherstone.  It would lead to a battle of epic dimensions; Goodman didn’t have any doubts about that.

Perhaps he could sell tickets.

*****

Chapter 3

Discoveries


Adam Cartwright stretched his long legs and shifted awkwardly in the blue chair in a futile attempt to work out the kinks in his back. It was no use. A long day in the saddle riding fences had taken its toll on him. And there would be another long ride tomorrow up to the lumber camp. He tried to hide an involuntary groan from his brothers, who, without any question, would start to tease him mercilessly about being the ‘oldest and therefore oh so rickety Cartwright offspring’ if they were to notice his distress. But Hoss and Joe were engrossed in a game of checkers and unaware of anything going on around them. Adam shifted once again, picked the Territorial Enterprise Joe had dropped there earlier from the coffee table, and gratefully accepted a tumbler of brandy from his father. He settled more comfortably in his chair and began to scan the narrowly printed pages. He skimmed over the usual gossip, over some poorly written pieces about mining issues and an obnoxious article about a hanging in Salt Flats two weeks ago. He got caught at the local news section.

“There was another burglary. At the Johnson’s farm,” he said to nobody in particular. “Old man Johnson was injured.” He shook his head in disgust. “This was the fourth raid in less than three weeks.”

Ben looked up at him. “Do they say who did it?”

“No,” Adam replied. “Obviously Roy still has no idea who they are.”

“It’s time he was doing something, though. He can’t let them go on like this. No one is safe as long as those villains prowl around Virginia City.” Ben forcefully set his tumbler on the coffee table. “Johnson was injured. How long will it take until someone will be killed?”

Joe, who was losing the current game against his brother, thankfully welcomed the distraction and looked up from the checker board. “No, they ain’t killers. They’re only stealing.” The moment the words left his mouth, Joe knew he had made a bad, bad mistake. And, predictably, his father’s head jerked up.

“Only stealing, Joseph?” Ben turned around to stare at Joe, not believing he heard what he just heard and thundered, “Only stealing?”

Joe cringed. On second thought losing the game to Hoss would have been a far better choice than to join into the conversation.

“You know better than to speak so thoughtlessly,” Ben berated his miserable youngest son. “I didn’t raise you to consider theft and burglary as a peccadillo!”

“Pa,” Hoss barged in. “He didn’t mean it that way.”

Ben fixed him with a furious glance. “So then, tell me, Eric, in what way did this flippant brother of yours mean his inconsiderate comment?”

Now Hoss winced. All he wanted was peace and quiet and to win a single game of checkers against his ever-chiseling little brother for the first time in weeks. He had come so close to his goal now, but to no avail–little brother had to ruin it all. “Pa, he jest said, he’s happy nobody ain’t got killed. Those robbers sure had a chance ta do that, but they ain’t done it,” he tried. “They took things, not lives.”

Ben gave his younger sons a stern gaze. “I will not tolerate this kind of talk in my house. These people who were robbed worked hard for their money, and the things they bought with that money were precious to them. The simple ‘things’ of utility those burglars stole might have been possessions of great value to the farmers,” he lectured.

There was only one way out. “Sorry, Pa,” Joe and Hoss muttered simultaneously.

“Yes, ‘sorry, Pa’,” Ben snarled. “You better be!”

At that Adam decided to intervene. There was only one thing you could do to calm the waves: quick distraction. “Uh, Pa, do you have anything particular you want me talk to Parker about at the camp?” he offered.

Joe and Hoss shot him a thankful glance. Very quietly they returned to their game. Better to keep a low profile for a while.

“Well, we already talked about that, Adam. You speak to Parker about the new contract and ride out with him to choose the best timber for this purpose,” Ben said, irritated. “You surely didn’t forget that, son?”

“No,” Adam replied. “No, I just wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything else. I don’t want to have to make the ride twice just because we forgot to think about something.” It was lame at best and Adam knew it. He was sure his father smelled the rat. But for once Pa let it go. Perhaps he was seeking some quiet, too.

“Just make sure Parker’s men get the timber ready in time,” Ben told him. “And see to it that they cut down the right trees.”

“They will, Pa. Parker is a good man. He knows his job.”

“Hmph.” Ben nodded in consent. “How long do you plan to stay there, anyway?”

“One or two days. Three at the most. But I want to go to Carson on the way back. I want to see Bob Hanson about the contract one more time.” Adam held his palms out to his father in a calming gesture. “Nothing to be concerned about, Pa. I just want to clarify one or two minor details. It won’t take me long. I’ll be back on Sunday at the latest.”

“Alright, son, take your time. And watch out for these brigands, Adam. I don’t have a very good feeling about you riding out there alone.” Ben reached over and squeezed Adam’s shoulder affectionately.

“Pa, these men raid ranches, not riders. And they roam the Virginia City district, not Carson. I’ll be fine!” Adam had a hard time to hide his impatience but he managed a reassuring smile at his father.

“Just—watch out, son.”

“I’ll be fine,” Adam repeated with forced calm. However the scowl he gave his father made it quite clear that Adam considered the subject closed. Ben accepted that, albeit reluctantly, with only so much as a muttered “if you say so” and a scowl of his own for his rebellious first born.

Now that things were settled, Adam went back to his read. Reaching the last page he started to laugh silently. “Yeah, that’s just the way it is. You got that one right, fella,” he muttered to himself. He held the newspaper askew to the lamp to have better light. While reading, he nodded in approval a few times, until suddenly he burst out, “And amen to that. Amen!”

“What is it, Adam?” his father asked. Even Hoss and Joe gazed at him expectantly. Adam normally despised the local newspaper and his agitation, when yet condescending himself to read the Territorial Enterprise, usually sported a completely different quality.

“It’s this article; it’s brilliant. Listen.” Adam cleared his throat and read out loud, “As our President, the great Abraham Lincoln, stated in 1859 ‘the negro is included in the word men used in the Declaration of Independence’. And I would like to encourage my readers to believe along with Mr. Lincoln that ‘the declaration that “all men are created equal” is the great fundamental principle upon which our free institutions rest (and) that negro slavery is violative of that principle’. Now there is the popular thesis that slaves were far better off than one might think, well cared for and protected from everything evil by their owners. One who dedicates himself to this point might also add that slavery has made the South rich, herewith contributed to the welfare of the United States of America and should be considered as a gentlemanly and fine way of living. Well, this is unless you are a slave yourself, of course. But then there are those who reason you can’t tell what slaves feel if you haven’t lived a slave’s life for yourself. I strongly advise you against trying this out. It would affect your life in a very unpleasant way. And we wouldn’t want you to feel treated disgracefully or as a subhuman, right?”

While Hoss gaped at him open mouthed and Joe merely looked puzzled, Ben considered the things he had heard with a frown. His face relaxed when he started to speak.
“He made a strong statement here.” He leaned forward resting his forearms on the table and nodded emphatically. “Very courageous. And very true, too.”
Hoss squinted his face at Adam. “It’s meant serious-like, yeah? When it is serious, why don’t it sound serious?”
Adam leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. He studied Hoss for a moment and smiled, merely to himself. “Because, Hoss,” he said with a small chuckle. “Because bitter medicine is tolerated best with sugar.”
“Iffen ya say so.”
“This doesn’t sound like the Enterprise’s usual scribble, Adam. Who wrote that?” Ben inquired.

“A ‘J. Heatherstone’. Looks like Goodman finally found himself a worthy successor to Sam Clemens,” Adam said. “This guy has his wits together, that much is true. And for a change this man obviously knows what he’s writing about, and he’s doing some research on his subjects.”

Ben thoughtfully rubbed his chin. “He must be quite new, though. I haven’t heard of any new arrivals at Virginia City yet.”

“How would you? We haven’t had a social visit in town for weeks. Only time we went there it was for supplies, and there was never any time for a talk.” Joe screwed up his face.

“Once the fence repair is done there will be enough time for you to spend in Virginia City, Joseph,” Ben reprimanded mildly. “You can have your ‘talks’ then. And maybe I’ll give you a few minutes tomorrow, while I’m running my errands with Art Barnes. ”

“Well, anyway, apparently there is a new writer and for once he’s a good one.” Adam sounded pleasantly surprised. “It seems the Territorial Enterprise finally is on its way to becoming more than a local rag.”

After one last glance at the praised article he laid the newspaper back onto the coffee table. He went to his father’s desk and picked up the book he left there yesterday evening. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A very fitting read right now, Adam thought. He settled in his chair again and after a gaze at his brothers, who were back at the checkerboard, and a chuckle about their antics of ‘you cheat!’  ‘I don’t, I’m just smarter!’ he opened the book to a marked page and commenced to read.

*****

Chapter 4

Meeting the Queen I


“Is that all you need, Ben?” Arthur Barnes, proud owner of Barnes’ Hardware and Groceries, asked eagerly. The Ponderosa was a good customer, and Ben Cartwright had been in town to buy supplies at least twice a week for the past month. Now, at the beginning of spring, the ranch was being prepared for the long work season and every day unforeseen gaps in the equipment were discovered: broken gear, aged tools, missing or insufficient repair materials. And the quantities of food Hoss Cartwright seemed to simply let evaporate, made Barnes very glad that he had added groceries to his assortments of goods. It was a pity, really, that the late Mrs. Barnes hadn’t lived to see this, for she had vehemently opposed the extension of the choice of goods at the store. But, Barnes thought, the quiet evenings without her perpetual nagging were worth the dispensation of living his victory a hundred times over.

“No, I think this will be it.” Ben shook his head. “Not that I haven’t said that the last three times I was here.”

“I don’t mind having you here, Ben,” Barnes said amiably.

“No, I guess not!” At Ben’s reply they shared a laugh.

“Oh, just one more thing. Have you got some of the McConnel’s tobacco left, Art?”

“I’ll have a look, Ben. I’m not sure, but there might be some in the store. Just a moment, please,” Barnes answered. He left the shop to have a search in the rather messy back room – another heritage of Mrs. Barnes untimely decease.

“Take your time, Art, take your time!”

Ben was inspecting Barnes’ assortment of pipes when he heard, just outside the shop, the piercing whinny of a horse, a muffled thud, nervous hoof trampling, sneering laughter, and the angry voice of a woman.

“You did this on purpose. And get your dirty hand off me, repugnant cretin.”

Ben rushed out on the street. Old Hobey from the livery stable was glaring at a woman—a lady, rather—and stroking the flanks of a befuddled horse, its saddle hanging lopsided. The lady in question was busily brushing sand from her fancy black riding costume in rather furious strokes.

“Now ma’am, there ain’t no need to use no big words on me. It ain’t not my fault the cinches was loose. And I jest wanted ta help ya up,” Hobey ventured.

The lady in black shot Hobey a fierce glance and spat back, “I wouldn’t need any help getting up if you had checked the efficiency of the gear before you let me get on that horse.”

“Ma’am, the riders check their gear, not the—”

“You can’t genuinely expect me to examine a horse or its equipment,” she interrupted him brusquely. Ben noticed the way she straightened her already upright back even more and how she raised her chin. Is she taking a battle stance, Ben wondered as the lady went on, “Well, it doesn’t matter what you do or what you do not expect, anyway. I will not be dealing with you or the likes of you anymore.”

Hobey squinted at her. “Whazzat mean?”

“It does mean, Mr. Hobey, that I fully intend to exclude you and your business partner from any transactions concerning my equestrian pursuits now and in the future.”

Hobey grimaced, took off his hat and scratched his skull. He screwed his mouth into a bizarre snoot of puzzlement. “Eh?”

Ben took pity with him. “She won’t rent or buy a horse at the livery stable, Hobey.”

“Yeah, that figgers.” Hobey gave Ben a nod, tipped his hat to his enraged former customer, turned the horse and led it down the street towards the stable. He mumbled something under his breath, but to the blessing of all parties involved, no one understood a word of his rambling.

Ben hid a smile and turned to the still angry-looking woman. “Are you all right, Miss?”

“I’m fine, thank you, Mr.—?”

“Cartwright, Ben Cartwright.”

She held her hand out to him in a delicate gesture. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Cartwright. I am Juliet Heatherstone.”

Ben looked up in surprise. “Heatherstone? You are not by any chance related to J. Heatherstone, the new writer at the Territorial Enterprise?”

I am J. Heatherstone, Mr. Cartwright.” She lifted an eyebrow and looked at him challengingly. Ben was sure she had heard a comment or two before about her being a woman in this job, and so he decided to keep his thoughts to himself. She’d have her reasons for doing this. She didn’t appear as if she had to work for her living actually, but this could be due entirely to her costly looking clothes and her elaborate speech. If he had ever seen an English lady, then it was right now. The last time Ben had heard an upscale English accent it had been from Lady Chadwick. But this was different. It was the real thing, Ben thought, not the trained tones of the unfortunate Countess. In this lady’s speech generations of earls were audible. A working lady she might be, but a lady by all means. And a very wordly one. Hobey had never stood a chance.

“Miss Heatherstone, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Last night your writing was discussed rather enthusiastically by my family.”

She accepted the compliment with the grandeur of an empress. “Thank you, Mr. Cartwright. It is always very refreshing to receive positive comments.”

Ben was fascinated. He had never met someone who had just fallen off her horse and showed such majesty as Miss Heatherstone. Her dress may have been dirty, her hair may have been ruffled, but her dignity was unshattered.

“You don’t happen to know where I can buy a good horse, Mr. Cartwright?” she asked suggestively.

“Well, actually I do. I was just going to—” He interrupted himself to glance at her suspiciously. “You already knew I sell horses, Miss Heatherstone?” he prompted.

“Yes, Mr. Cartwright. Of course, I heard of the Ponderosa and the fine horses you sell. What a lucky coincidence to meet you here and now!”

She had a rather enjoyable smile, Ben thought. It made it easier to forgive her forwardness. He made a decision. “Miss Heatherstone, if you are interested in buying a horse, why don’t you come to the Ponderosa and have a look at our stock? Why don’t we say Sunday, for lunch? I could take you with the buggy after church, and in the afternoon one of my sons will bring you back home,” he offered.

“My, Mr. Cartwright, what a wonderful idea! I’d be delighted to come and see your ranch. And your horses.”

“Well, then it’s settled. Sunday, after church.”

“Sunday, after church. Very well, Mr. Cartwright. I am looking forward to this.” With that she waved him a benign goodbye, turned smoothly and made her way down the street with the air of a victor. Ben watched her in amazement.

He was startled by Joe’s voice. “Did you just speak to the Queen?”

“Whom are you talking about, Joe?” He gave Joe an irritated look. Since when did Joe leave the saloon without being ordered to?

“Her.” Joe gestured towards the departing figure of Juliet Heatherstone. “Josh says people call her the Queen of England. She’s a real smart-mouth and a snobby—”

“Maybe you should spend less time at the saloon, Joe,” Ben interrupted him huffed. Now this explained Joe’s miraculous leaving of his place at the bar of the Bucket of Blood. Pure curiosity. “Miss Heatherstone is a very…impressive, lovely young lady. She will be our guest on Sunday, and I expect you to treat her with the utmost respect. Now get your brother out here and help him load the wagon. And I’ll go and see whether Art has found my tobacco at last. I really don’t know what’s taking him so long.”

Joe turned to call his brother from the saloon. He was rather puzzled by his father’s irritated reaction. Maybe there was more behind the Queen than Josh had given him. Pa at least seemed to have developed an instant liking to her and so it would be wise not to let the matter of ‘Queen’ come up again. He’d better be keeping his head low. Time to go back to fence repair, he guessed.

*****

Chapter 5

Meeting the Queen II


Sunday had turned out to be very interesting, Joe thought, when he rode back home from the church. He let his horse jog in a slow, relaxed trot next to the buggy, where Pa was chauffeuring Juliet Heatherstone to the Ponderosa. Joe was looking forward to any further eccentricities the strange lady would come up with. The Sunday morning service already had been quite an experience. Since Adam still wasn’t at home, Joe had anticipated a quiet service without his brother’s pleasant but very loud voice right next to his ear during the chorals and without his brother’s hissed mordant comments on the weaker parts of the sermon. Joe wasn’t very religious, but he really didn’t need to hear Adam’s bizarre ideas about how one should have welcomed the Lost Son, and what said son’s big brother might have really thought about having ‘that rascal’ back. So Joe had envisioned how he for once would sit in the pew, just enjoying a warm spring morning and letting his mind slowly slip away without being disturbed. It had looked like a very good plan, indeed. What Joe had not anticipated was—Juliet Heatherstone, the Queen of England. Joe fully understood the origins of this nickname since he had witnessed her making her way down the aisle, tall and confident, with a dress entirely too cheerful for the likings of Virginia City’s church ancients, greeting people left and right with only so much as a hinted nod. The Queen had sat next to his father, who had beckoned her here, at Adam’s usual place, and, Joe had to give her that, had substituted his brother quite effectively. She had commented on Reverend Oldman’s every second word, low and biting, and her “amen” after the sermon had held a definite touch of irony. Her singing voice had been as loud as Adam’s, but unfortunately the similarities ended there. Not that her voice in itself was unpleasant, but Joe was sure she had been singing at least a halftone below everybody else for most of the time—except for the parts where she had vaulted into a never heard of and completely uncalled-for sphere of soprano. Joe was sure his ear wouldn’t recuperate from that for some time.

Now Miss Juliet was chatting amiably with his father while they drove up the broad road to the ranch yard. Miss Juliet. The introductions Pa had made after the service had surely held a quality of their own.

“Miss Heatherstone, these are my sons, Joseph and Eric. Boys—Miss Juliet Heatherstone.”

Joseph and Eric, really, Joe had thought. His father had seemed a little self-conscious or even humble, though, which was a mystery in itself. He obviously had felt that in the presence of the Queen herself “Joe and Hoss” would have been to—profane?

She had held out her hand to Joe. “Mr. Cartwright.”

“Mr. Cartwright is my father, Miss Juliet. Call me Joe,” he had offered.

She had looked down on him as if he had said something indecent. Or—Joe had sniggered inwardly at this thought—as if he was a servant who had failed to call her “your royal highness”. Well, however, it was easy for her to perform a look down on him. She was about the same height he was, and Joe strongly suspected she even surmounted him an inch or two.

“Joe, then.” It had sounded far less enthusiastic than Joe would have liked and had come with a barely hidden resigned sigh. But she had recovered quickly and nodded with a smile when they shook hands.

Hoss had given her one of his broad friendly grins. He obviously liked the idea of being able to look a woman straight in the eye, and Miss Juliet came closer to this ideal than any girl he had met before. (Well, there was the case of Bessie Sue, but Hoss had never considered her as real and proper girl material.)

“An’ I would be Hoss, ma’am,” he had said and shaken her hand vigorously.

Surprisingly she had given back his handshake with equal enthusiasm and she had said, “Hoss” with a genuine smile and not the slightest trace of a sigh. Maybe she’d given up, Joe ventured a guess.

Joe came out of his musing when they came to a stop in front of the ranch house. Hoss beat him at helping Miss Juliet from the buggy, and so he led the horses into the barn, tended to them and then followed the others into the house for lunch.

*****

Chapter 6

Of Horses and Men


About three hours and sixteen horses later neither Ben nor Hoss nor Joe couldn’t help but feel frustrated. After lunch they had taken their guest to the corral behind the barn and presented her with every horse they thought suitable for a lady like her. Miss Juliet had found friendly words for every horse they’d shown her, but she had always ended with, “But it’s not quite what I’m looking for.”

When they had asked her to be more specific, well, she had become more specific: She didn’t want a shiny black horse (“presumptuous!”), she didn’t want an Indian pony (“too small, that’s just ridiculous!”), she didn’t want a calm horse (“I don’t want it falling asleep in mid-canter.”), she neglected a beautiful white horse with a waving long white mane (“I am not a little girl!”), and she didn’t want a sturdy drafthorse (“I certainly don’t picture myself on a coach horse!”).

Now Ben was at a loss. Of course, he had more horses to sell, but most of them weren’t ready trained, and quite a lot of them were reserved for the army anyway. These horses weren’t for a lady who’d probably ride them side saddle.

“Miss Heatherstone, I’m afraid I have to think this over. Why don’t we go back to the house and have a break. A cup of tea, maybe, and a piece of Hop Sing’s apple-pie?”

“I wouldn’t mind a tea break, thank you,” she answered.

Ben gestured his sons to follow and took Miss Juliet’s arm to lead her back to the yard. When they rounded the corner of the barn, she suddenly stopped. She pointed to a big chestnut horse that was now tied to the hitching rail next to the house.

“This horse here. Why didn’t you show me this horse? This is exactly the horse I want.” She crossed the yard in a few long strides and before anyone could shout out a warning she got a hold of the horse and gently stroked its muzzle. “Hey, my boy. Now aren’t you a beauty?” she cooed.

Hoss reached her in a split second. He took hold of the horse’s head collar. “Ya shouldn’t touch a horse ya don’t know, Miss Juliet,” he said. “And ol’ Sport here don’t like strangers very much.”

“He seems quite friendly, Hoss,” she replied irritated. “And he seems to like me. I like him anyway. How much is he?”

“Ma’am, this here horse is not fer sale. He’s my brother’s horse.”

She turned to Joe, who had caught up with them, and gazed at him expectantly. “Joe, you surely don’t need two mounts. How much do you want for this horse?” It was rather a statement than a question, and from Miss Juliet’s tone of voice it was very plain that she felt the business as good as done.

“No, Miss Juliet, you got that wrong,” Joe explained. “This is our other brother’s horse.”

She looked up surprised—annoyed even—with a tsk, but gathered herself together quickly. She raised an eyebrow. “Maybe he wants to sell it then.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Adam’s amused voice sounded from the porch.

Ben, who had followed the interchange without a word, watched Miss Juliet turning towards the dark baritone. She paused when she took sight of Adam, who came down from the porch and rounded his horse. Adam stopped in midstride. He gazed at Miss Juliet and a pleased smile curled his lips. Ben’s eyes went from Adam to Miss Juliet and back. They both seemed to take an instant liking to each other, something Ben found rather peculiar. Adam, sweaty and still clad in his filthy travelling clothes made quite a difference to Miss Juliet’s Sunday best appearance, which should have roused a scowl or at least an arched eyebrow from her. But this time her eyes widened in approval and there was not a trace of the looking down her nose on things that didn’t seem to fit her high-flown standards she had displayed earlier. And Adam, who was normally drawn to the petite, gentle and vulnerable kind, the kind of woman who would never dream of making demands or looking a man they barely knew straight in the eye as Miss Juliet was doing right now, Adam took in her tall stance, the defiantly lifted chin, the small smile tugging at the corners of her lips and he quite obviously liked what he saw. Ben wouldn’t blame him for that, though. She was a pleasant enough sight. Her dress of cream and linden green striped silk, with delicate embroideries of tiny flower bouquets, displayed her slender frame effectively and flattered her pale skin and honey coloured hair. If not for those freckles, the stern set of her jaw and her bordering-on-ridiculous height, contemporary taste might even have considered her a beauty. The way it was, she was at least nice to look at and Adam did that with much perseverance. Finally he offered her his hand.

“Hello. I think we haven’t met yet, Miss. I’m Adam Cartwright.”

She smiled at him. “How do you do, Mr. Cart—”

“Adam, please say Adam.”

“Adam.” This time she beamed. “I’m pleased to meet you. I am Juliet Heatherstone. Juliet.”

“You know who she is?” Joe embarked to reveal the sensation. “She’s the new writer from the Territorial Enterprise, Adam.” He tried to catch Adam’s gaze. “She’s not a man, she’s a woman,” he added unnecessarily.

Adam’s eyes never left Juliet’s face. “Well, that’s quite obvious, little brother, don’t you think?” His smile deepened. “I am very honoured and delighted to meet the person who made my evening read so enjoyable, Juliet.”

Juliet played with a stray lock of hair that had escaped her untidy loose bun and, unbelievingly, lowered her head in a coy gesture. “Thank you, Adam. That’s a very kind thing to say.” Her fingers remained loosely at her neck with the stray entangled in them in a complicated pattern when her head slowly turned up and she peered at Adam from under her eyelashes.  Eyes wide and as innocent as they could be she asked, “Now what about your horse?”

Adam stared at her surprised until he noticed the tiniest twitch at the corner of her mouth and chuckled, “No, never in a million years, my dear Juliet. Even though this performance should earn you some reward.”

Juliet laughed out at that. Her face went back into her normal laconic expression and she said, “Well, it was worth a try, wasn’t it? But still—this is the kind of horse I’m looking for. Don’t you have any more of those?”

“Sport is a brand of his own, Miss Juliet, there aren’t many like him around,” Joe tried to prevent what was bound to happen.

Juliet didn’t spare him a glance. “Adam?”

Adam considered her for a moment and turned to his father. “Pa, haven’t you shown her Niobe?”

His question unleashed a minor uproar. “You can’t consider Niobe suitable for a lady.”—“That horse will never go side-saddle!”—“Adam, are you plumb loco?”—“Ma’am, Niobe here is even more spookier than ol’ Sport!”—“That horse is not even trained for an English saddle!”—“Too big!”—“Too nervous!” —“Son, think! It would be very irresponsible to give Miss Heatherstone a horse like that.”

In midst of all that Juliet stood, straight and still, her eyes on Adam’s face, smiling expectantly. “Can you show me this horse? Please?” she asked in a low voice that was audible for Adam through the turmoil only because his eyes had been fixed on her as well. He nodded and went into the barn to get the notorious horse while his family was discussing why Miss Juliet wouldn’t want to ride a horse like that.

It was love at first sight. Juliet circled the tall dark chestnut mare and took in the horse’s appearance with eyes that spoke of utter delight. She stroked the horse’s elegant head with the small white blaze, spoke in gentle cooing words to her; and Niobe pressed her face against Juliet’s shoulder and beggingly stomped her fine-boned foreleg. That seemed to settle it.

“She’s perfect! She’s exactly what I was looking for,” Juliet exclaimed rather enthusiastically.

“Miss Heatherstone, this horse is a very peculiar animal, and not trained for sidesaddle—”

“Look at these legs, Adam!”

“Miss Heatherstone, I’d prefer you decide upon another—”

“Do you see her eyes? Very intelligent eyes. It will be pure bliss to work with her.”

“Miss Juliet, ma’am, that ain’t no horse fer ya. She’s—”

“Of course, there are the facts that she isn’t trained for my needs and that she isn’t what you would usually ride in this terrain. This has to be considered when we fix a price for her, don’t you think?”

“Miss Juliet, my brother must be joking, this is not—”

“All right then, let’s talk about money, Adam.”

“Sure. And with pleasure. Why don’t we go inside, have a brandy and a nice little chat about—money?”

Adam held his hand out to Juliet giving her an inviting smile and when she came to his side, with a gracious nod of her head and a mischievous smirk, he took her arm and led her into the house. Ben, Hoss and Joe were left standing on the yard, dumbfound and gaping.

“Hoss, can you see me?” Joe asked after a while.

“’Course I can see ya. What’sa matter with ya?” Hoss replied.

“And you can hear me too?”

“I can hear ya alright. Are ya loco?”

“No, I just feel like Miss Juliet couldn’t see me. And she didn’t hear me either. So I wondered whether I had turned invisible,” Joe said with a shrug.

Ben chuckled. “It seems we all turned invisible to her when Adam appeared.”

“Yeah, an’ she’s done goin’ all soft on him,” Hoss noted. “No sniffin’ at him.”

Joe shook his head. “I bet she just tries to wrap him around her finger to make her a good price on the mare,” he said. “But Adam’ll show her!”

*****

Chapter 7

Bargains


Whether Adam had “shown her” or not, no one could tell when Juliet and he emerged from the house about an hour later to join the rest of the family, which in the meantime had enjoyed Hop Sing’s fabulous apple pie on the front porch. Despite the raised voices that had been heard at some time during their conference both contractants now wore satisfied expressions. Juliet offered Adam her hand.

“It was a pleasure to do business with you, Adam. When you deliver Niobe on Tuesday, make sure to have time for another talk, would you?”

For a moment it seemed as if Adam was considering giving her a kiss on the hand but then thought better of it. He shook her hand firmly. “The pleasure was all mine, Juliet. I’ll make some time on Tuesday. And I’d like to take you out for lunch then, if that suits you.”

“I’d love that!”

Ben joined them. “So I take it you two came to an agreement?”

“Yes, Mr. Cartwright, we did indeed. I hope you don’t mind me transferring the negotiations from you to your son.”

“No, no, I don’t mind at all. Adam does most of the horse selling anyway.” Ben nodded at his son approvingly.

“Well, after all is said and done, I think it is time for me to head back to town. I still have to do some work for tomorrow’s issue, and I just had a most wonderful inspiration.” The way she said it she must have struck gold that very minute.

“I’ll drive you home, Juliet,” Adam offered.

“Oh, absolutely not, Adam,” she replied. “I couldn’t possibly impose on you with that. Not after you just have ridden the whole way from Carson.”

“You are not imposing on me. I’d gladly drive you.”

“But you must really be over it, Adam. It would be very incommensurate to ask that from you.”

“I insist, Juliet.”

“Adam, I really can’t—”

Hoss will drive you home, Miss Heatherstone,” Ben stopped their debate. He threw an irritated glance at his eldest and gestured Juliet to the still-harnessed buggy where Hoss, at a sign from his father, had already taken seat. “He was prepared to do so, anyway.”

After they had made their good-byes and Adam had gallantly helped Juliet into the buggy, they watched the carriage slowly make its way on the road to Virginia City. Joe let out a breath he seemed to have been holding for the last few hours. Ben heaved a deep sigh and turned to Adam.

“How much did you make her pay?”

“How much did I ‘make her pay’? You think it was that easy? Oh no, sir, this lady’s got guts,” Adam replied with a chuckle. He didn’t need to tell them that the negotiations had been difficult not only because of Juliet’s refusal to ‘pay more for a horse than for a house’ but also because of the distracting effect her eyes had on him. “She gave me a hard time but in the end we settled on $200.”

Ben gasped. “Adam, you can’t do that. That’s far too much for that horse! The Ponderosa doesn’t make racketeer business, and I don’t want anybody in town think we do!”

“Yeah, Adam, you can’t pull the lady over the barrel,” Joe gave in his two cents. “Niobe isn’t even fully trained!”

“That’s exactly the point,” Adam said camly. “$200 is not only for the horse. It includes me training Niobe for side saddle and dressage on every Sunday for the next three months. And helping Juliet polish her rusty riding skills, too.” He smirked at Joe, who started to laugh uncontrollably.

“Oh big brother, it just looks as if you were the one who was pulled over the barrel,” Joe got out between giggles. “You sold yourself real cheap!”

Ben barely suppressed an amused smile. “Really, son, don’t you think you gave her a bit much of your time for so little money? She got the far better end of this deal!”

Adam gaze wandered between his father and his brother. He cocked an eyebrow and pursed his lips. “Well, I’m surprised you don’t see the, um, beneficial feature in it: I have fixed appointments with a very interesting and handsome lady for the next quarter of a year. I for my part can’t think of a better way to spend my Sunday lunchtime.” He gave them one of his famous crooked half-smiles, turned and made his way back into the house.

Joe stared at his elder brother’s back in admiration. “How comes that at the end you’re always the victor?” he called after him. “Seems just like you still pulled one over on her!”

*****

Chapter 8

The Art of Horse Selling


Monday evening was a quiet affair. Joe and Hoss were at their usual game of checkers and Ben and Adam were enjoying their habitual evening read with a glass of brandy. Just like barely a week ago, the comfortable silence was suddenly cut off by Adam, who, in anticipation of another J. Heatherstone article, had given the Territorial Enterprise preference over any other reading matter. Obviously he had not been disappointed.

“You just have to hear this. This is…well, Juliet as she breathes and lives.”

He had the family’s attention immediately. Joe and Hoss paused in their game and Ben said, “Well, read it out, son, read it out! Let’s hear what the lady’s ‘most wonderful inspiration’ turns out to be.”

“Oh, yeah, she was inspired, indeed. Just listen to this: ‘The Art of Horse Selling,’ by J. Heatherstone.

Since the sorry state of public roads and the harsh country itself is rendering it nearly impossible to travel by carriage most of the time, it is obvious to anyone who opposes to be confined to their native soil that this fact strongly necessitates a simplification of their traveling standards. In other words: If you want to go somewhere, get yourself a horse. Now I find there are certain rules you should follow if you buy or sell a horse, the most important of which are the following:

1. Seller, make your horses look good. Wipe them, brush them, present them at their best. Do not show beautiful horses you are not prepared to sell. Just don’t. They could raise desires you can’t fulfill.

2. Buyer, make yourself look indigent. You can afford a horse, but you are not prepared to spend a fortune. Wear modest clothes. Avoid jewelry and ermine.

3. Seller, try to find out what your customer wants. Or needs. But most importantly, what they want. Somebody must do whatever makes somebody happy.

4. Buyer, be explicit with your wishes. You know what you want. Make sure they know, too. Don’t take a ‘no’.

5. Seller, feeding your customer makes him easier on you. Make sure the food is good. A good glass of something might do the trick, too. Or two or three.

6. Buyer, take whatever your dealer offers you. Even if you don’t buy a horse, you at least had a decent meal. If the wine is good, drink it. But not the whole bottle.

7. Seller, when you name a price, be stern and self confident. Start with doubling what you are intending to get. Maybe you’ll be lucky.

8. Buyer, pay what you must. But not a cent more. Other dealers have nice horses, too.

9. A good deal satisfies both seller and buyer. And yes, this is possible. Believe me, it is.

And last but not least: 10. If you think you’ve made a good deal—don’t look too smug. Your opponent might feel the need to wipe your smirk away with his own.”

 

The last words Adam read out were barely understandable because he could no longer restrain himself from snickering. His family joined him in the laughter.

“That’s you, Adam,” Joe sniggered. “That’s you she’s talking about! Just how much brandy did you feed her?” He snorted with laughter.

Don’t take a no,” Hoss cackled. “That do sound jest like her.”

“Yeah, the Queen sure doesn’t take no as an answer!” Joe performed his trademark hyena laugh and got up to parade through the living room in a not very flattering imitation of Juliet Heatherstone’s upright posture. “I know what I want,” he declaimed in a crude attempt at an English accent. “And I want it here and now! Surrender to the Queen’s demands!” He fell back into his chair dissolving into even more giggles.

“Joseph,” Ben scolded. “I told you to treat Miss Heatherstone with respect. The townsfolk may be rude enough to give her foolish titles but I don’t want to hear you calling her names!”

Hoss, ever the peacemaker, put in, “Pa, Joe was jest makin’ fun. And ya havta admit she sure is imperious like real royalty. It ain’t no wonder people call her Queen of England.”

“Well, I can’t see why they would,” Adam said folding his arms over his chest. “The Queen of England is a very diminutive matron in her forties with a herd of children and absolutely no sense of humour, whereas Juliet is rather tall, handsome, young, single, smart and very funny. The most entertaining author I have read for quite some time.” He stretched his legs. “And, I don’t think this article is about me in person.”

“Adam, she’s funny alright. But she’s quite imposing, too. And the article is about you. You looked very smug after that deal,” Joe retorted.

“Son, I have to admit, Joe has a point here,” Ben chuckled. “You did have a smug look when you two came out of the house.”

Adam shot him an annoyed glare. “Anyway, be it as it may, this is another well written gem and I’m looking forward to read more of this in the future. Now would you all please go back to what ever was occupying you before and leave me in peace.”

Ben changed a brief conspiratorial smile with his younger sons. “As you wish, son, as you wish.” He picked up his book and concentrated on his read afresh. He had a hard time suppressing a grin. With a last glimpse at their older brother and a barely concealed snigger, Joe and Hoss returned to their abandoned game.

While Hoss and Joe fought battle after battle on the checker board, Adam silently sat in his favourite chair, sipping his brandy and running through the rest of the Territorial Enterprise to discover more of Juliet’s dry-witted writing. Finally he returned to Juliet’s article on ‘The Art of Horse Selling’ one more time and read the last few lines again. He loved her style. She had a unique way of saying a great deal with few words. Her quirky approach on the heavier facts of life matched his own in a way he had never experienced before. As he himself, she observed the finer details of things, finding amusement in bizarre neglibilities. She had a knack for getting right at the crux of matters and courage enough to tell uncomfortable truths. Adam admired the way she was able to serve said uncomfortable truths like a layer cake: the sour facts smoothed over with whipped humour. Never had he seen verity lain in a finer bed of crème.

Adam was looking forward to seeing more of her extraordinary writing. He was looking forward to seeing more of her as well. He would supply the horse tomorrow and take Juliet out for lunch and a little chat on that occasion. Their sales talk had been very pleasant. Juliet had been his equal in every way, a skilful negotiator, sharp witted and with a ready tongue.  She appeared to be well educated, worldly and perceptive. And it didn’t hurt that she had the most intriguing eyes Adam had ever seen. Dark green shaded with grey, they reminded him strongly of the Atlantic Sea during a thunder storm—an image that had been etched on Adam’s memory when he had seen a reproduction of Brueghel’s ‘Storm at Sea with Shipwreck’ at an exhibition in San Francisco. He had empathized with the poor seamen back then, but at the same time he had been mesmerized by the murky, yet powerful and strikingly green ocean and, despite the exposed danger, had felt driven to it. Juliet’s eyes resembled not only the colour of the sea—the power and the danger were in them, too. Well hidden under the expressive green, but definitely there. It kept her face from definite beauty—but also from being ordinary.

Juliet had demonstrated what Hoss called a ‘bossy boot,’ too, but Adam preferred to refer to that as a ‘strong mind’. In spite of his earlier words he could easily see why the residents of Virginia City named her The Queen of England, though. She had a tendency to be a bit, well, presumptuous—imperious even—but Adam was inclined to be forgiving about that in favour of another inspiring conversation with the stormy-eyed lady. Shaking his head and chuckling to himself he rose from his chair, folded the newspaper in half and laid it on the coffee table. His eyes made a quick survey of his family. They apparently had heard him getting up and now looked at him expectantly. As if he were to give them a final statement of general state of affairs of the Ponderosa, of life at large and of the world as a whole, Adam thought wryly. Maybe he should give them something, something to muse about and keep them busy. His eyes fell on the newspaper. He snorted. Well, why not? He tilted his head just a little bit and gave them one of his half-smiles that always indicated there was more going on behind his brow than he would let them see or hear, then raised his eyebrow in an unconscious imitation of Juliet Heatherstone, and announced loudly and clearly, “Well, it looks as if I just fell in love.”

With that he turned to the stairs and calmly made his way into his room where he crumbled onto his bed, convulsing with suppressed laughter. His family watched his departure in stunned silence.

*****

Chapter 9

The Art of Making Adam Angry


Whatever his family thought of Adam’s unexpected declaration of love, he never heard a word about it. Obviously the hint of self-mocking in Adam’s voice had been lost on them and they still were in shock from his uncharacteristic display of affection. Adam was quite happy with this, especially since his feelings towards the talents of a certain writer of the Territorial Enterprise changed abruptly only a few days later, when, during his now usual late night read-through of said newspaper, he reached the local news pages and came across Juliet Heathersone’s account on the ‘Ponderosa’s Involvements In Irish Gold’.

“What the heck…I don’t believe it!” His cry startled his father out of his own evening reading of the Good Book.

“What is it, son?” Ben asked, standing up.

“No, she couldn’t possibly…. Oh, no…no, no!”

“What?” Ben repeated. “And who? Adam?”

“This, this…infuriating…mimesis of a lady!”

“A—mimesis?” Ben furrowed his brows.

“A mimesis, an imitation, a false gem, a forgery, a fake, a phony, a—”

“I got it, son, I got it. Calm down Adam, this can’t be that bad.”

“Don’t patronize me, Pa!”

“I don’t—” Ben made a defensive gesture and sat down in his chair with studied calm. “I just don’t understand why you are so agitated. Surely Miss Juliet didn’t write anything…improper?”

“Improper, that’s just the word. Improper, inappropriate and inadequate!”

“What did she do? I thought you liked her writing.” Ben was bemused. Adam wallowing in synonyms was always a sure sign he was very annoyed. But hadn’t his son spoken about Miss Juliet in very high praise only days before?

“Leprechauns!”

“What?”

“Lepre—bah, never mind. I took our fair ladyship here out to lunch two days ago when I supplied the horse. Juliet and I talked about English folk tales. She has a way of telling the Arthurian Legend….” Adam seemed to drift away for a second but jolted himself back immediately. “Anyway, I told her how Hoss stumbled across these phoney Irishmen taking them for leprechauns. And now today, what do you think is in the newspaper the whole district reads? Here, Pa, listen, and listen good: ‘The Ponderosa, never known for being substantial mining ground or harbouring notable amounts of precious metals, evidently has its own little bullion secrets in the form of pots of gold.’ And it goes on and on. The whole story is in there, but just like it had happened only yesterday. It’s all there: pots of gold, Hoss, small green men, and, and pots of gold and—everything!” Adam blurred, while time and again stabbing his index finger at the newspaper rather violently.

Despite Adam’s obvious rage Ben chuckled. “Well, you have to admit, this is a very entertaining story.”

“But Pa, don’t you see? It’ll be just like back then! She wrote about that stupid pot of gold. And the way she puts it people will think it’s still there. They’ll come in droves and roam the land in search of that bloo—of that gold. Just like then. Or like the time Sam Clemens wrote about the Big Man. Don’t you remember what happened then?” Adam slammed the paper on the coffee table with more ferocity than necessary.

Now Ben saw the point. “No! We can’t let that happen again. We have to do something about that.”

Adam got out of his chair. He picked up the newspaper and slapped it in the palm of his hand. “Don’t worry, Pa, don’t worry. I’ll do something about it.” He went to the fire place and made to throw the offending piece of paper into the flames. He caught himself at the last moment, gave the gazette one more glance and set it down on the table again. “I’ll go into town tomorrow and take care of it.” He spoke very calmly, very coolly. But his words carried a willful threat.

*****

Chapter 10

The Big Bang


Joe Goodman was engrossed in reading over the galley proof for the next day’s issue of the Territorial Enterprise when a shadow fell across his desk. Startled, he glanced up to look into the set face of Adam Cartwright, which bore all signs of barley restrained anger. Cartwright held a copy of the Enterprise in his hands. With a loud thud the paper landed on Goodman’s desk.

“Hello, Mr. Cartwright. What can I do for you this fine morning?”

Cartwright’s voice was low, but held a certain cold, steely note when he said, “I demand a retraction!”

Goodman felt as if he had had an epiphany. This was going to be it, and far earlier than expected. He bathed in anticipation for a moment and then purred in delight, “Miss Heatherstone will see about that in a moment.” Sweeter words he had never spoken.

You can take care of that. You are the editor after all. And as the editor you are responsible for everything the Enterprise contains. Don’t run away and hide behind a woman. I’m mad, Goodman; I am really mad. You should have known better than to publish this leprechaun rubbish. The Ponderosa is not by any means some sort of Sutter’s Mill and I want a clarification in this next edition you’re just proofing.” Cartwright clearly was a good deal annoyed. Well, good! Goodman was only happy that he wouldn’t have to deal with that.

“Mr. Cartwright, I’m sorry, but Miss Heatherstone now is in charge of the complaints department.”

Cartwright narrowed his eyes at him and came closer. His legs touched the rim of Goodman’s desk and he leaned over, so that his nose nearly met the editor’s. “Goodman, stop kidding me. I’m not in the mood to be fooled with. You don’t have any complaints department in this poor excuse for a—”

Goodman interrupted, “My, my, Mr. Cartwright, we don’t want to get personal here. See, I wouldn’t dream of kidding you. We do have a complaints department since, um, Miss Heatherstone came to help us out. It’s part of the new company policy.”

Cartwright screwed his face up at that. The man now looked downright menacing. Goodman pushed his chair back, stood up and took two steps back. Better get some space between him and Cartwright. “Miss Heatherstone wrote that article anyway, so she will be the right person to speak to.”

He quickly turned around and called, “Miss Heatherstone, please be so kind as to join Mr. Cartwright. He has some, er, issues to discuss with you.”

The pause in Goodman’s speech was only brief but Adam heard it anyway. He glanced suspiciously at the editor. “What’s going on?”

Goodman was relieved from answering by the arrival of Juliet.

“Oh hello, Adam, good morning! How very lovely of you to stop by”, she chimed.

“Good morning, Juliet. I—”

“How are you this morning, Adam?”

He was cut off again. This was getting very annoying. He wondered if the Territorial Enterprise considered constant interruption as a new company policy, too.

Juliet literally beamed at him. Adam felt a tickle between his shoulder blades. Something wasn’t right.

Joe Goodman, who had silently retreated behind the printing machine, smiled contently. There was battle in the air. He barely refrained from sniffing. But he sensed it anyway: the foreboding smell of war.

“This isn’t a social call, Juliet,” Adam announced.

“Oh. No?” Juliet’s eyes went wide in wonder. She looked entirely clueless. Purely naïve. Adam pursed his lips. This display of complete and utter innocence was just…fishy.

He squinted at her. “You know why I am here. You wrote this all-fired article that you knew you had no right to.” There was a certain amount of, yes, venom in his voice.

The pleasant expression on Juliet’s face fell away in a split second. “I will not have you talk to me in that kind of voice, Adam!” She scowled at him. “This is not a way to talk to a lady!”

“I will talk to you in any way I find suitable.”

“Is that so? You find this ‘suitable’?” Her eyebrows sped to her hairline in one dizzying movement. “Then, Mr. Cartwright, you are less a gentleman than I thought!”

“While you’re quite the lady, right? I can’t find anything ladylike in ranting openly about things I entrusted you with in complete confidence,” he spat in disgust.

“You never asked me for discretion,” she answered indignantly.

“I told you a family story. I assumed you understood—”

“Oh, how very naïve of you, Adam. You tell me the most hilarious story I have ever heard and expect I won’t be using it?” She straightened her back to an imperious posture. “Anyway, how was I to know you didn’t tell me the whole story only because you wanted me to write an article?”

“Why should I? And if I wanted that—and I did not—I would have told you so. But I did not do that!” His enraged voice thundered through the office. He couldn’t believe she had taken him from anger and annoyance to purest fury in so short a time. He calmed himself with some deep breaths. “You had no right to use this story. You encouraged hundreds of people to trespass on Ponderosa land and search for a silly pot of gold that doesn’t even exist!” His voice rose once more while speaking, and he felt rage coming up from his stomach again.

“I have every right to use every bit of information I can lay my hands on. That’s what I’m paid for, after all. If you don’t understand that, I am sorry, but there’s nothing to be done for it.” There was dismissal in her voice, but he would have none of it.

“Ah, but there is something to be done for it. You can write a retraction. Tell the readers you made this up. Maybe that way the worst can be prevented.”

“The worst,” she emphasized ironically. “You have absolutely no way of knowing if there will be any gold seekers on the Ponderosa at all.”

“Oh, I know they will come. They did it before, and they will do it again!”

“Well, either way I will not write a retraction.” She snorted. “I didn’t make the story up. And it is the company’s policy never to write retractions anyway. It is a brilliant story and I—”

Now Adam resorted to the new company policy of interrupting. “You will write a retraction!”

“I will not.”

“You will!”

“I won’t.”

“You—”

“No.”

“You—”

“NO!”

Adam closed his eyes and heaved a very, very deep breath. He pinched the bridge of his nose, inwardly counting to ten. Then to twenty. Finally he let out a snarl and growled with emphasis, “You will write a retraction.” He deliberately stressed every single word. “Or, by all that is holy, I will give you the tanning you deserve.”

“You wouldn’t dare lay a hand on me, Adam Cartwright!” Juliet replied, beside herself with indignation.

He lifted a corner of his mouth for a moment then pursed his lips considering her. Eventually he said casually, “I wouldn’t count on that.”

Juliet quite obviously had had enough. She lifted her chin in an imperial gesture and glared at him. “You have no manners, you, you…pig-headed peasant.” At that, Adam winced visibly. But he recovered in record time and narrowed his eyes at her.

“Now you overstepped the line, mylady, and I won’t let you get away with it. Write. The. Retraction.”

He stared at her. She held his gaze. They stood like this for what seemed an eternity. Face to face, eye to eye, hazel to green. Neither of them did even so much as blink. Their heavy breaths abated slowly while the minutes ticked by.

The sun threw its golden glow through the front window and lit the room. Dust danced in the warm air. Silence once again settled in the office of the Territorial Enterprise. Goodman heard a fly buzzing lazily through the room. Eventually the fly made the fatal mistake of coming to rest on the very corner of the printing-press the editor had leaned on through the whole episode. Goodman grabbed one of the galley proofs lying on the desk nearby, folded it into a tight roll, and with one swift motion murdered the poor, oblivious insect.

The smack made Adam and Juliet jump. Coming out of their daze, they looked at each other in wonder. Finally Juliet offered in a muted voice, “I could write an article where I explain that the whole story is based on a legend and that there is no gold on Ponderosa land.”

“That would be very kind of you,” he answered, equally restrained.

“Fine, then.”

“Fine.”

One last glance, and then both turned on their heel and left the battlefield in opposite directions. Juliet went back to her desk at the back of the office, Adam headed out the front door and across the street to the Silver Dollar saloon.

He was in desperate need of a drink.

Joseph Goodman sat down in his office chair. He rested his arms on his desk and steepled his fingers in front of his mouth, cupping his chin with his thumbs. He did not suppress the smile that made its way across his face. He surely had had his day. A dream had come true. The Queen of England had been, well, not exactly dethroned, but certainly her chair had been rattled, and Adam Cartwright surely had met his nemesis. Two worthy opponents, Goodman had to give them that. ‘Pig-headed peasant’—that had clearly shaken the man. And Goodman just loved the degrading emphasis Adam had put on designating Juliet ‘mylady’ in return.

The only irritating thing was—and Goodman couldn’t shake the feeling—that Juliet Heatherstone and Adam Cartwright had enjoyed their fight far more than one would have expected. Thinking this, somehow Goodman felt betrayed.

*****

Chapter 11

The Most Annoying Man in the World


Juliet was furious. Not that anyone at the International House, where she was having her lunch, could tell she was. Outwardly she seemed perfectly at ease with herself. Sipping English Orange Pekoe from an elegant porcelain teacup and nibbling delicately from a diminutive egg-and-watercress sandwich, she was a picture of cool, composed dignity. But inwardly…now, that was another question. Inwardly there was a fire roaring. A fire so blazing, she felt as if she were choking. Never, never in her life had anyone been able to agitate her the way this annoying, arrogant, pig-headed peasant of a man had done it. Of course, she never had taken so much pleasure out of being annoyed on end, as well. But she wouldn’t admit that right now.

When she had met Adam Cartwright at the Ponderosa those few days ago, she instantly had been attracted by the handsome man with the deep voice. And his eyes of course. Everything he didn’t say was to be read in his eyes. Juliet wondered if he realized that she had seen the pleasure in his eyes when he looked at her while they had their business talk over the horse. Never a believer in love at first sight, Juliet yet had to admit that Adam had made quite an impression on her. Actually, she had immediately considered him as a man worthy of her attention and therefore even allowed him the use of her first name. Miss Westlake, her governess back at Barnstoke Hall, would have had a fit. Juliet smiled in spite of herself when she recalled Miss Westlake’s ever-present rebuke “A lady wouldn’t do that, Juliet.”

Now things seemed a bit more complicated. Adam had come into her workplace, a place she considered sacred, and had attacked her in a way no one had ever done before. Usually a raised eyebrow, a short stern glance and a few well set words made people back away. But Adam had stood and fought his battle. And, Juliet realized, extraordinarily enough, he, a man, had taken her, a woman, as an equal. He hadn’t been easy on her, just as she hadn’t been easy on him. Juliet felt the flames inside slowly subside. He had given her a good fight, stubborn, inobstinate and unfaltering as he was. A pig-headed peasant…pig-headed, oh yes, but a peasant? No, not at all. Adam Cartwright was anything but a humble crofter; but she liked the alliteration anyway. Pig-headed peasant, frog-legged farmer…ox-willed author. She was surprised he hadn’t come up with something like this himself. Especially since it would have been quite true…. He had settled for a sarcastic Mylady that she didn’t find too offensive—she was a lady after all. The tone, however….

A giggle tickled at her throat. She took another sip from her rapidly cooling tea and got herself under control again. She couldn’t hold back a short shake of her head and an amused smile, though.

Why in heaven’s name hadn’t he simply asked nicely for a rewrite? Quite possibly she’d given it to him freely—in spite of company policies. But then again—what would have been the fun in that? Maybe he had taken pleasure in their brawl, too?

Adam, Juliet thought, was a dormant volcano under his normally calm posture, and she found she liked volcanoes. Well, she liked Adam, and she could pinpoint the one second she had realised that. It was when she had had lost herself in his eyes. These usually tranquil pools of whiskey that had turned to blazing fire through their battle. That was when she couldn’t argue anymore, only stare. She would make sure not to make this mistake again. Well, not during an argument, anyway.

Sunday, and her first riding lesson was only two days from now. She would see what more those eyes had in store for her.

*****

Chapter 12

The Most Infuriating Woman in the World


While Adam made his way home to the Ponderosa, he cooled down considerably. His first beer at the Silver Dollar saloon had merely vaporized, but the second one had gone down at a much more considerate rate. He had ignored the curious looks of the other salon guests, who were wondering what might have driven the normally composed and cool eldest Cartwright son into such a furious state, and had just downed his beer trying to pacify his aggravated nerves and considering what had happened earlier. He still wasn’t over it. And while he rode toward his rustic realm at a moderate pace his ever-analytic mind once more contemplated the morning’s events. What on earth had made him so angry, he pondered. What had made him lose his temper?

The whole ruckus had been totally uncalled for. He had never meant to go at Juliet like that. Sure, he had felt betrayed in his trust, and he was furious about the impending turmoil on the Ponderosa land, but this wouldn’t make him that mad under normal circumstances. But what had made these circumstances not so normal? Had it been Juliet? Well, she had a way of provoking strong emotions in him. And this faked innocence, this show of complete ignorance of his wishes, this impassiveness on behalf of his aggravation had just driven him to anger beyond reason. He had literally seen red. And Juliet hadn’t ducked her head and let him have his will as most women would have done when faced with his wrath, but had paid him back in kind. He had to give her some credit for that. And in the far depths of his mind that he generally didn’t allow to surface, he felt that he somehow had even had enjoyed their encounter.

He was sure he had never met a woman that provoked more converse feelings in him than she had. She was a brilliant writer, smart and dry-witted, and a very entertaining companion. But she was also the most infuriating woman he had ever dealt with: imperious, presumptuous and stubborn. He had wanted to clear that haughty expression from her face, that smug smile and those damnable arrogantly raised eyebrows. And that infuriating tone of—yes, infuriating was definitely the word he associated Juliet with at the moment. Infuriating and—intriguing, too, he had to admit that. Oh, yes, he had been captured by her eyes again. Her stormy eyes that had virtually been shooting sparks at him during their little fight. Like lightning in a thunder storm, Adam thought. It had been her eyes that made him stop the argument. He had felt he could drown in the sea of Juliet’s eyes. He would make sure not to make this mistake again. Well, not during an argument, anyway. Her surrender he had barely registered afterwards.

He huffed and shook his head. What a woman she was. Stormy-eyed lady with a temper. He huffed again. Mylady, really. Surely she had noticed his acidity. What had gotten into him? But, then again, it suited her well. Mylady. He smirked.

He was looking forward to their first riding lesson on Sunday. Well, let’s see how Mylady will behave as a student, he thought.

*****

Chapter 13

The Art of Contradicting a Queen


For Adam, Sunday started with a sore ear. Joe had wisely resigned from sitting next to Juliet at the church and had relinquished the seat to his oldest brother. Adam had been pleased with sharing sardonic comments on the sermon with Juliet but shocked at her inability to carry a single tune. Giving her a strained smile he had tried to unobtrusively lean away from her caterwauling as far as possible, but Juliet, with a mocking smirk, had looked at him and sung right in his direction. Adam had been sure she knew what she was doing, and that she had immensely enjoyed torturing him. Had it been some kind of vengeance for the retraction she had obediently composed and published in the weekend issue of the Enterprise?

After the service Juliet had excused herself rather quickly. She had to prepare for the horse’s training and her riding lecture, she’d said. She and Adam had agreed to meet in about an hour and Adam had bridged the time gap by joining his family for a second breakfast at the International House.

When he arrived at Mrs. Hawkins’ stable at the appointed time, Juliet was already waiting for him and greeted him heartily. Her riding costume was as black as Adam’s own clothes and set off her honey-gold hair. Like the other day, a few strands had escaped her untidy bun and curled around her expectant face. She looked like a little girl on Christmas morning, Adam thought, a dignified little girl by all means, but also a fairly eager one. Obviously she considered their disagreement on the offending leprechaun article as over and done with and wanted to turn their battleground back to Elysian Fields.

Well, he could be as forgiving as she was. “I’d like to thank you for the retraction you wrote. I meant to tell you earlier, you did an excellent job with that.” He couldn’t resist, though, adding, “I’m glad you eventually gave in.”

The eager anticipation dissolved from Juliet’s face. Her jaw set and she fixed him with a stare through narrowed eyes. Then she closed her lids for exact two seconds taking a deep breath, and while her eyes ever so slowly opened again her face melted back into a relaxed mask. “Oh, but I didn’t give in, Adam.” Juliet shook her head with a smug smile and lifted an eyebrow. “I merely changed my mind.” She gazed at him, slowly tilting her head, and Adam watched in fascination the little dance her smile performed. It started at one corner of her mouth, crumbled into pursed lips that developed into a near pout, tugged at the other corner of her lips, somersaulted to her eyes, toyed with her eyebrows and went back to where it started. She closed her eyes again and averted her head. When she turned back to look at Adam her face was as composed as ever.

“I see,” Adam stretched out. He couldn’t help but grin. “Now that’s one way to look at it.”

“Oh, it most definitely is.” She could smile with one corner of her mouth while raising the opposite eyebrow. Interesting. Adam confined himself to an acknowledging nod. Juliet received this with a double-cornered smile and another graceful tilt of her head.

“Shall we start now with the horse’s training?” she suggested.

Adam bit back a burst of laughter over her display of sarcastic puppy eyes. He never knew there was a thing like sarcastic puppy eyes, but Juliet had just taught him better. Everything Juliet did seemed to hold a certain amount of sarcasm, even being flirtatious. Was she even being flirtatious? Adam wasn’t sure he would ever be able to tell the true nature of Juliet’s antics. But this wasn’t the time or the place to ponder that. He had a job to do.

“Yes, certainly. That’s why I’m here after all,” he said. “Where is Niobe?”

“She’s in the stable. The saddle is right next to her box.”

“She’s not saddled yet?”

“Well, no.” Juliet sounded irritated. She looked rather puzzled. “You didn’t expect me to saddle the horse, did you?”

“Of course I did. You want to ride a horse, you groom and saddle it!”

Juliet snorted. “Honestly, Adam! I don’t groom horses. I…I don’t groom horses. I don’t even know how.” She held a defensive hand out. “And I have no desire to learn it, Adam, so don’t even try.”

“If you want to ride your horse, someone has to saddle it—that is unless you want to ride bareback.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” she scolded. “Just go and saddle the horse—you will be riding her first anyway.”

“No, I won’t ride her at all. You’ll do that.”

“Adam,” she spoke to him with as much patience as she would use speaking to a little child. “The horse is not fully trained. I don’t ride a horse that is not ready to be ridden. I’m not a bronco buster”—she enunciated this like a foreign word—“That’s your job.”

“Juliet,” he replied with the same forced calm. “This horse is not wild or anything. It doesn’t have to be ‘busted’; I already did that. It’s a tame horse that only needs some refining. And since you will be riding this horse it’s the best you’ll teach her these refinements.”

“But I can’t do that. Adam, I never trained a horse. I don’t know how to do that. That’s why I paid you!”

“You can do that, Juliet. You just do what I tell you to do and it’ll be fine.”

Juliet put her hands on her hips and teased, “Oh, yes, indeed. Now wouldn’t you like that, Adam Cartwright!” She shook her head and huffed. “I’ll do what you tell me to do. If this doesn’t beat it all!”

“Ah, come on, you know how I meant it.”

“Oh, I know exactly how you meant it, Mr. I-Demand-A-Retraction.”

Adam felt the sudden urge to strangle her. He knew Juliet was mocking him. He saw her raised chin, her set back shoulders, her provocative stare. Battle stance, again. He knew it, but still….

Well, no. No, it was no good. If he strangled her now, it would be quite relieving at first but he’d probably be sorry later. He would not only heist the Territorial Enterprise of an exceptional writer but also rob himself of a very entertaining and inspiring interlocutor. And honestly, he had no idea where to deposit her corpse. So he decided to let her go with this. He silently counted to ten. I’m doing this a lot lately, he noted.

“You will find this modus operandi will lead to a better relationship with you and your horse, Mylady, and it will ultimately result in a higher riding proficiency,” Adam told her with deliberate calm.

If she was surprised about his backing away from another battle of wills, she didn’t let it on. But she gave way a bit, too. “I understand. If you think this is the best, we will do it. You’re the expert after all.” Her smile was lovely. “Now saddle the horse, so we can start.”

He would have done it. He really would have done it. For that smile alone he would have done it. If only her tone hadn’t been so commanding.

“I told you, I don’t saddle the horse. You do it. It’s part of the training. To get you acquainted with the horse.”

Her smile was no longer present. “And I tell you, you do it. This is getting sour, Adam. We’ve wasted enough time over this.” There wasn’t a trace of sarcasm left in her voice. Her brows for once were furrowed, her mouth set in a straight line and her tone was pungent. She obviously was used to commanding people and to having them obey. “I don’t do groom work, I pay people. And I hired you. So do your work.”

Adam glared at her. There was no amount of counting inwardly that would calm him down this time. He spoke very low and very pronounced. Anyone who knew him would realize that this was a crucial warning signal. Anyone who didn’t know him would sense that anyway. “You hired me as a riding instructor, not as a stable boy. And I highly recommend you reconsider your choice of words and tone with me.”

Juliet stared back, breathing heavily. She worked her jaws, then squeezed her eyes shut for a brief moment. When she opened them they had gone a shade darker. “I apologize for adopting the wrong tone and locution,” she finally gave him, albeit rather imperially. “Of course, you aren’t a stable boy. But you can do your job as a riding instructor only if we have a saddled horse. So I kindly ask you to please saddle my horse for me.”

Adam sighed. That would have done the trick earlier. But it was far too late for niceties. “No, you do it or we quit today’s lesson.”

Juliet stared at him unbelieving. She could just restrain herself from letting her mouth gape, and only her good upbringing prevented her from stamping her foot. “You can’t quit this lesson. That would be a violation of our contract!”

Her eyes were doing that thunder storm spark shooting again. Avoid her eyes, Adam thought, avoid her eyes or you’re lost.

“Oh, I won’t break our precious contract, Mylady, I merely postpone the date of compliance.” This time Adam let an ironic smile dance in his face.

Juliet balled her hands into tight fists, held her head high and glared at him, drawing deep deliberate breaths. Adam didn’t have to be a mind reader to know she was riled. Sweet revenge, he thought. The storm that was raging in her eyes was a telltale sign even if her voice was composed when she told him, “Very well. Now we have settled that I will adjourn to the house. There are some articles waiting to be written. Good day, Adam.”

If he had ever heard a dismissal it was now. But he was quite content with that. The run of events today hadn’t been what he had planned at all. He heaved a deep breath. “Good day to you, too, Juliet. I will see you next Sunday.”

She was already on her way to the house when she turned and constrained herself to a “Next Sunday then. Fine.”

“Fine.”

Adam shook his head. While he was heading to where he had left Sport he was musing on how this was supposed to be going fine, ever.

*****

Chapter 14

There’s Always a Way Out


When Adam arrived at Widow Hawkins’ the next Sunday, the horse was tied to the hitching post next to the stable, readily saddled. Juliet was standing next to her mount, stroking its noble muzzle. At Adam’s greeting she looked up and beamed at him.

“Adam, how lovely to see you. How have you been this week?” she chimed. “How was church? Brought Reverend Oldman the troops into action against the poor gluttonous or the proud this week?”

“Well, you would know if you’d been there. But since you left me to suffer alone, I won’t share the severity of my agonies with you. You have to earn the privilege to feast on my torments by living through the same kind of purgatory,” Adam replied in a show of complete seriousness.

Juliet gave a high, clear laugh. “Oh, poor Adam! Was it that bad today?”

“Let’s say, I surely missed your company, Myla— uh, Juliet,” he chuckled. “I appreciated your comments on the sermon last week and was hoping for another exchange today.”

“But you do realise we’re supposed to listen quietly, don’t you, Adam?”

“Well, do you?”

She snickered and sent him a sparkling glance.

Adam bathed in her eyes for a moment. Things could be very easy with her. He really didn’t want to spoil that, but he simply had to say,  “I see you saddled the horse already.” He smiled, and he tried to keep any trace of triumph out of his voice.

Juliet looked at him with that lopsided smile again. Adam sensed an eyebrow-raising in the making. One, two—and here it was. A tiny adjustment but it changed her face significantly.

“Oh, no, I told you I won’t do that.” She pursed her lips and considered him with an intense stare. At this exact moment Josiah, the boy from the coach station, emerged from the open barn door.

“I cleaned the box like ya told me, ma’am, and put some fodder in Ny-o-bee’s trough,” he spluttered. “Have ya more for me ta do?”

“Not at the moment, Josiah, but I need you to come back later to unsaddle and groom her.” Juliet turned from the boy to the man. “In about two hours, Adam?”

He looked at her in amazement. “Yeah, two hours should be a sufficient training time.” Adam watched the boy give Juliet an eager nod and speed away. “You hired yourself a stable boy,” he stated. Well, she sure had a creative way to iron out problems.

“I had to, hadn’t I? Since neither you nor I were willing to do the job….” She smiled. “And Josiah was very glad to help me out. He became rather fond of Niobe, especially after he learned the origin of her name.”

“And which origin did you tell him?” he asked her, curious about just how much she knew.

“Well, I assumed you didn’t name her after the daughter of Tantalos who became stone after the tragic death of her children,” Juliet said. “So I told him the story of Niobe, the first mortal love of Zeus.”

“Yeah, I had her in mind when I named the foal. She was so beautiful and proud, she needed a special name.”

“I must say, I was surprised to find this name out here. Niobe is not the usual Venus or Athena.” Juliet gazed at him quizzically. “You must have done some research.”

“Well, I always liked the Greek myths,” Adam replied. He arched a sarcastic eyebrow. “We do have some books out here, you know.”

“Oh, really?” she looked at him with wide round eyes and palmed her chin with both hands. “I thought you were still at the stage of mural paintings and cuneiform script.”

“No. No! Didn’t you see that large scary thing at your office? It’s a fairly new invention, only 370 years old, and it’s called print machine. They’re making a newspaper with that.”

“You don’t say! And here I assumed Mr. Goodman was writing all the issues by hand every night. Great God, I walked right into the middle of an industrial revolution!” She clapped her hands in mock amazement but couldn’t keep her face straight for long. She dissolved into sniggers.

Adam watched her in awe. Gone was the Queen of England, arrived was a relaxed young woman, completely at ease. It was as if a mask had fallen from her face. Even her upright posture had passed through a metamorphosis now as she bent with laughter. He had never seen her so full of life and cheer. This was a side of her he’d liked to enjoy more often. And this new easygoing manner would certainly help with the riding lesson.

“After all that mythological and bibliophilic talk, maybe we should start with the training now?” Adam suggested with a smile.

When Juliet nodded, still stifling her giggles, he took the reins and led Niobe to the small patch of land behind Widow Hawkins’ house. Once this had been a back garden with flower beds and lawns but now that the widow had focused her attention on the sumptuous beds of roses and lavender and the opulent pink and blue and white hydrangeas in the front garden, it had degenerated into sandy soil with only traces of grass here and there—ideal for riding.

Adam cupped his hands for Juliet’s foot and helped her to the saddle. He was quite satisfied with what he saw. He had been sure Niobe was the perfect horse for Juliet—and she was! Rider and horse made a perfect match. A beautiful, tall, and proud woman on a beautiful, tall, and proud horse. Juliet arranged her skirt, took up the reins, straightened her back and gave Niobe the tiniest nudge with the heel of her boot. The horse went into motion in an instant and Juliet rode her in a big circle around Adam.

For the next two hours Adam stood in the middle of their improvised riding circle and directed Juliet through the training. Amazingly, she did everything he told her to do. She wasn’t the greatest rider in the world, but she sat the horse and she was able to implement his commands. And astonishingly enough, she did it without any complaints. For a long time Adam wondered why on this one occasion she was beeing so tractable. Only very much later did he understand that it was the prospect of learning that made her so eager and tame. She would go to any lengths to learn something new.

Over the next weeks they developed a certain routine. More times than not they would meet at church, sit next to each other and share whispered comments and an occasional stifled laugh at Reverend Oldman’s sermons, which very often would earn them a scolding glare from Ben Cartwright. After church and a short lunch break they would continue with the training.

The lessons were filled with merciless teasing and good natured bantering and a lot of laughter…except for one day when Juliet commented on Rev. Oldman’s executions about the virtues of marriage, and how both man and woman should seek for a spouse rather than to romp around, with a declamation of, ‘Marriage is but a ceremonial toy’ and Adam retorted that he didn’t think Marlowe’s Mephastophilis was the appropriate reference for matters of this concern, and he personally preferred Shakespeare’s approach of, ‘Marry, peace it bodes, and love and quiet life, and awful rule and right supremacy; and, to be short, what not, that’s sweet and happy? ’ This led them to a heated argument about whether Petruccio was a better reference on marital aspects than Mephastophilis, how the Shakespeare quotation continued and whether or not this was a reasonable approach on the relationship between a man and a woman, if the theater-maker Shakespeare had really written his plays or if Christopher Marlowe had his hands in them and so they all came from the same source anyway, and if there was any need for human beings to get married in the first place.

Their discussion was brought to an end when Adam pointed out that if there were anyone eavesdropping on them right now, this would very likely evoke some quite interesting gossip among the population of Virginia City. The following awkward silence was finally broken by Juliet’s, “Not that they aren’t gossiping already!” And then they both hastened to praise the values of friendship rather than romance. That day they ended the riding lesson quite abruptly, and for some weeks they avoided this topic completely. Reverend Oldman’s creative use of proverbs and their ongoing argument about the true origins of the Bard’s works seemed to be much safer ground, so they tacitly agreed to stick to things like that.

*****

Chapter 15

Early One Morning


It was a good month later when Adam and Juliet decided that Niobe was well-behaved enough to try her out on the open range. Juliet had repeatedly let slip that she wanted to explore the beautiful Ponderosa landscape Adam so often raved about. The two of them easily agreed to skip the next church service to have a headstart into a full day out on Ponderosa territory.

On the scheduled morning Adam was riding to Virginia City even earlier than originally planned. There had been some heavy rain the night before, and Adam wanted to check out if the lovely trail leading to his favourite viewpoint still was negotiable before he picked up Juliet. This spot, which for its quiet and secluded atmosphere he had named the Study, was a sunny place with surprisingly soft grass and just enough space for a medium sized blanket and two people sitting not too far from one another. It was hidden in the massive rock formations, framed by large boulders but with a clear view of the lake at one end. Fortunately the weather had improved much, a clear blue sky and a bright sun promised a warm day once the damp air from the drying pastures had cleared. Come midday the fine meadows of the Study would be dry and warm—just perfect for their lunch picnic.

Adam was equipped with a heavy blanket and a less-heavy book containing a collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets. He intended to read a carefully sought out choice of poems to Juliet to make her see the error of her ways in holding Christopher Marlowe above the Bard. He had also marked passages so different from everything that the dubious poet-spy Marlowe had written, that no one in her right mind would consider his scribblings and this poetry coming from the same origin. The Bard was the Bard, in Adam’s opinion, and even if he did have any doubts in Shakespeare’s authorship, he’d cleary opt for Sir Francis Bacon as the most likely candidate. Anyway, Adam was looking forward to some heated discussions with well thought out and witty comments from Juliet that would challenge him to give his best to contradict her. Not that Juliet would ever give in; no, she was as hard headed as—well, as Adam himself. But for some inexplicable reason Adam found her way of stubbornly persisting in being right quite endearing. Especially when this brought her to the verge of losing her refined manners. One day, he had promised himself, one day he would make her stomp her foot, just like the little girl she resembled so much when she was being obstinate.

It was going to be a very interesting lunch break in more ways than one. A few days ago Hop Sing had set off on a trip to San Francisco to visit one of his neatly numbered yet seemingly countless cousins, this time cousin number seven or eight-and-a-half or something. This had led to Juliet volunteering to take care of their provisions. Adam didn’t cherish any illusions about Juliet’s housekeeping skills. A titled lady, raised in a manor house full of attendants, now lodging in a boarding house, wouldn’t get her hands dirty in a kitchen.

Adam remembered when Juliet had talked about her life in England. She had told him so little, as if she’d rather keep her former life a secret, and she had been so evasive when he had asked for details, that he didn’t have the heart to urge her any further. She had spoken about Barnstoke Hall, though, the great, old manor house, somewhere in the heart of Kent, near a sleepy village called Pluckley, where the most noteworthy curiosity obviously was a man going by the name Bob the Butcher, who made the best sausages west of the river Rhine. She seemed to have fond memories not only of Bob’s sausages that were served for breakfast much to the chagrin of a guy named Jackson (some kind of butler/secretary/children-scarer person, as Juliet described him,) but also of the butcher’s very flowery love poems to the Heatherstone’s cook, Mary. These poems would usually be delivered in the stoneware containing the bangers (as Juliet called them.) Mary was illiterate but entrusted young Juliet with reciting the literary outpourings of the unfortunate slaughterer for her. Mary didn’t like Bob, but she, like Juliet, loved his poems. The Earl of Barnstoke, Juliet’s father, eventually put a stop to this, after he barged in the reading of one of the saucier parts of Bob’s latest work. As a consequence Miss Westlake, a bulky Midlands matron, was engaged to be Juliet’s governess and teach her the finer aspects of being a lady. The education had also included literature, mathmatics (Miss Westlake turned out to be a very scientific person,) geography and some other subjects that seemed appropriate for a future countess. Miss Westlake had refused to give Juliet lessons in singing and playing the piano, though. This was delegated to a Mr. Pinford, a man Adam felt sorry for from the bottom of his heart.

Naturally, the little countess’ education had not included skills that would be of any help at, let’s say, a ranch house. She didn’t know how to run a household or how to breed chickens or how to grow vegetables. And of course she didn’t know how to cook. Every bite she had ever offered Adam after their riding lessons, every piece of cake, every sandwich, every cup of tea had been prepared by none other than the famous Widow Hawkins.

Juliet would find some creative way to solve the problem of providing food for their excursion, though, Adam was sure of that. Maybe she’d order a hamper at the International House or Widow Hawkins, who harboured very motherly feelings for her fellow British guest, again would take care of things. Adam only hoped that if the widow was in charge, she wouldn’t add any of her notorious teeth-cracking cookies to the feast.

Adam had rounded some boulders near the entrance to the path leading to the Study when his attention was caught by a lone figure on a horse. A lone and unfamiliar looking figure. Adam reined in Sport and approached the lone rider slowly, one hand loosely on his Colt. When the man, startled by the nearing hoofbeats, looked up at him, Adam stopped.

“Howdy,” he greeted the stranger. “Do you realise you’re on Ponderosa land?”

The man looked at him squarely. “Yeah, jest like ya are, right?”

“Well, while I have every right to be here, since this is my family’s land, you are clearly trespassing.” Adam’s voice was calm and low but held a not small amount of steel in it.

The stranger blinked a few times, obviously considering the man in front of him and his own options to get out of this situation with as little trouble as possible. Finally he said, “Yah, sorry bout that. I jest wanna shortcut through ta ‘ginia City, ya know. But I got stuck here….” His voice trailed off as he indicated the trail his horse was standing on.

Adam faced exactly what he had anticipated: the trail was flooded. The soil that had accumulated in the beaten tracks had turned into swamp. In the place where the stranger’s horse seemed to be stuck, just at the beginning of the trail, the track was nearly five feet wide and had developed into what could rightly be named a mud hole. The horse’s hind legs were sunken in the nearly knee-deep mud—but that shouldn’t really keep it from going on. It didn’t look too comfortable, though. Well, maybe it just had a little stone stuck under one shoe. Adam dismounted, took the rope from his saddle, and held out the loop.

“I can rope your horse and pull it out of this,” he offered. “Then you can move on. And next time take the longer way round the Ponderosa.”

“Yeah, thanks, I’m gonna do that,” the stranger replied and got off his horse, too. He sank ankle-deep into the swamp.

As Adam gingerly approached horse and rider, suddenly it struck him that he knew this horse. He cast a quick glance to the animal’s hindquarters, and there it was: the Ponderosa brand. This was the horse they had sold Eugene Johnson some years ago, the horse that had been among the stolen items from the break-in at the Johnson’s farm. Adam unconsciously took a step back. He narrowed his eyes at the man next to the horse and drew his gun.

“Where did you get this horse?” he asked the stranger, who stared wide-eyed at the Colt in Adam’s hand.

“Why, I—”

Adam never heard the rest of the sentence. The sharp crack of a shot came at the same time as the impact of the bullet on his body. The blinding pain followed only a split second later and made his legs give way. He went down to his knees and then crashed face first into the reeking mud before he even managed to get his hands up. His body went numb, he didn’t feel anything at all; he couldn’t move, he couldn’t talk, he couldn’t even breath properly. His ears seemed to be the only part of his body that was still working. He heard hoofbeats, a horse coming to a standstill, and the stranger’s voice demanding, “Why did ya shoot ‘im?”

A new voice answered, “He was going to shoot you, Gabe; I saved yar life!”

“Is he dead?”

The sound of footsteps, and then a boot hooked under Adam’s ribcage and hauled him over. The numbness vanished for some seconds of stabbing pain that started in his upper abdomen and radiated into every fiber of his body. He emitted an involuntary grunt and tried to open his eyes. At least he wanted to see the face of the man who was responsible for his miserable state. But his eyes betrayed him just like the rest of his body. He had to admit, though, that breathing had become much easier now his face wasn’t buried in mud anymore. And his ears still worked perfectly.

“Looks like he’s as good as dead. Ain’t gonna be too long before he bites the dust.” The new voice chuckled. “Has bitten the mud already.”

Oh, great, a killer with a sense of humour, Adam couldn’t help but think. Alas, this time the joke was on him. And he didn’t regard the joke as worth much laughter. But maybe it was just him who was getting a bit humourless—not too surprising, considering his current condition. Or it was his brain that desperately tried to shut down, that numbed and muffled even the noises now. He could hear the two guys talking, but his brain refused to transmit the befuddling sounds into meaningful words. Then he heard Sport’s piercing whinny and quick hoofbeats. It filled him with some odd satisfaction that the burglars wouldn’t get his horse, too. And maybe, just maybe Sport would run all the way back to the Ponderosa and alert Hoss, who had stayed home today to finish the repair of the barn roof.

Adam’s thoughts drifted back to the previous day’s supper, when Hoss and Pa had argued whether it was more urgent to repair the barn roof before the next rain or to “have one’s soul saved at church,” as Pa had put it. Surprisingly Hoss had won this time, not at last due to his elder brother’s intervention—even though Adam’s statement, that Hoss might be closer to God on the barn roof than at church anyway, had earned him another scolding look and some headshaking from their father. The memory of Pa’s disapproving face made Adam chuckle, and this sent a new shockwave of pain through his body and brought him back to alertness.

He heard nothing. Nothing but his own heartbeat. Loud and fast and in rhythm with the pounding of agonizing pain. He was alone. Left alone to bleed to death on a muddy trail far offside the road to Virginia City, the road that his father and brother would take on their way back home. And even if by some bizarre coincidence they’d decided not to take the main road but this uncommon trail, they’d come far too late to find him alive. They had an invitation to the Granger’s after church, and since Joe was more than amicably interested in Granger’s beautiful daughter Caroline, Pa would have a hard time to coax him home anytime before supper. And by then Adam would be long dead, that much was sure. And Hoss? Well, unless Sport made it home, Hoss wouldn’t miss him until tonight. No one would miss him until tonight. Well, no one but Juliet.

Juliet. A pang of guilt shot through Adam. Juliet would be sitting at Widow Hawkins’ front porch, waiting for a friend who would never turn up. She wouldn’t be amused about being abandoned. Boy, how she wouldn’t be amused. Adam could easily picture her brooding, tight-lipped, narrow-eyed countenance, and her muttering “You’d better have a very good reason for this, Adam Cartwright!” Well, he had a very good reason for this, in his opinion anyway, but he wasn’t sure if bleeding to death was an excuse for not appearing for an appointment in her world. If he just could move any part of his body, he would try to get to her and ask her forgiveness for not being able to keep their tryst. Perhaps he could then die without her being vexed at him. Somehow the idea of her being disillusioned with him seemed much worse than dying itself. The last image Adam’s brain provided him with was that of Juliet, looking at him with her right eyebrow raised higher than he had ever seen it, tsking, “This is not the way a gentleman would behave, Adam. I’m very disappointed in you!”

With this picture in mind he let himself fall into the welcoming arms of darkness, engulfing him and taking him to a place beyond thinking and imagining and feeling.

*****

Chapter 16

The Lady Is Not Amused


Juliet was not amused. She was not amused at all. She had been waiting for Adam for two hours now. She knew that on the long way from the Ponderosa to Virgina City there could be some delay. But surely not a two hours’ delay. No, obviously Adam was abandoning her, and he’d better have a very good reason for this! While she had been sitting on the front porch swing, straightening her riding costume over and over again, checking the picnic hamper repeatedly and trying to adjust her trademark untidy bun from time to time, she had grown increasingly impatient and finally gotten angry. She hated to be kept waiting. She hated to be stood up. She hated to be left in the dark. She hated the whole situation. She felt humiliated to the core. And she wouldn’t take this lying down. Oh, no! Now her inner ranting had gotten to the point of making a decision. Her jaw set, her eyes narrowed and her shoulders squared, she mounted her horse. A sharp stab with the heel of her boot put Niobe into a swift canter. While she directed the horse to the road leading out of town, Juliet heard Mrs. Hawkins’ anxious voice calling after her, “Lady Juliet, where do you think you’re going to? And you forgot the hamper!”

There wasn’t anything Juliet cared about less than the blasted hamper. Yes, Miss Westlake,‘blasted.’ Bear with it! She didn’t need the hamper anymore. There wouldn’t be a cosy little lunch break with Adam Cartwright today. Oh, no, no lunch for Adam. Once she reached the Ponderosa ranch she would tell him in not-too-unexplicit words what she thought about letting a lady down like this, what a poor kind of light it cast on his character, and how a gentleman was supposed to behave. After that she would ride home and write a harsh article about—well, whatever, but it would be a very harsh article.

Juliet was only happy that there was this broad road through the Ponderosa land leading to the ranch house. She knew it wasn’t the shortest way to get there, but it was a safe way, easy to follow and easy to ride—even with an inexperienced horse like Niobe and an unstable rider like herself. Nonetheless she didn’t feel too self-confident and this only added to her anger. This was all Adam’s fault. And if she had an accident or was thrown by her horse and got hurt, it would be his fault, too. And she would make him pay for that. Oh, yes. The last few miles on the way to the ranch house Juliet entertained herself with imagining the various methods of punishing Adam. She started rather tamely with an extensive shouting, went to forms of corporal torments and ended with different styles of execution. Miss Westlake would have been terrified by the sheer violence of her imagery, but somehow to have such designs simmered Juliet down significantly and made her more ready to accept an apology.

Her newfound leniency only lasted until Niobe stumbled in a pit, though. Suddenly Juliet was airborne, and while she still was in midair, she had only one thought. “Your fault, Adam Cartwright, this is all your fault!” She landed on the ground rather gracelessly but unharmed. Her puzzled horse was waiting only a few steps away, and Juliet brushed herself off and remounted in no time. But, of course, this episode did nothing to dampen her temper; quite the contrary, and by the time she reached the ranch yard she was literally fuming.

Hoss was on the the way to the barn, carrying wooden shingles for the repair. Juliet spotted him immediately, and before she even stopped her horse, she demanded by way of greeting, “Where is that treacherous brother of yours?”

She sounded furious, and in order not to rile her up even more, Hoss decided not to play dumb and ask which of his brothers she was looking for. “Adam? Why, ain’t he with ya, ma’am?”

“Well, he’s obviously not with me, or I wouldn’t be asking for him, would I?” Her voice held that touch of impatience that indicated that she would have loved to add a “you idiot” to her answer, if that hadn’t been highly inappropriate for a lady. But Hoss had other things to worry about than her imperiousness. If Adam wasn’t with Miss Juliet—where was he?

“He left this morning to ride to Virginia City, Miss Juliet,” Hoss explained. “If he didn’t come to you, he must been held up on the way.”

“But I didn’t meet him when I rode up here.”

“Adam don’t take the road, ma’am, he always take the shortcut through the rocks.”

“But then he should have arrived in town hours ago, Hoss.” Her voice had changed from angered to concerned. “What could possibly hold him up?”

“I don’t rightly know, Miss Juliet. Nothin’ good, though, that’s fer sure!” Hoss let the shingles slide to the ground and headed to the stable. “But whatever it is, I’m gonna sort it out!”

“Do you think you’ll find him?” she asked. “It’s a big territory to search for a man.”

Hoss was already saddling his horse. “Ma’am, the ground is still soft, he’ll leave tracks. I’m gonna follow those until I find ‘im.”

“Well, this sounds rather promising. Let’s go and see if we can find the lost son.” Miss Juliet all but rubbed her hands. She was all business now. Any traces of anger, concern or fear had left her. Her face spoke of an eagerness to act, an expression that Hoss knew very well from his elder brother. Adam had the same look when he decided to act before his feelings could get out in the open and might interfere with his practical logic. People tended to misinterpret this as coldness, but Hoss knew better. Was it the same with Miss Juliet? She surely couldn’t think—

“Ma’am, ya can’t come with me, I’m gonna ride through the mountains. Yar not up to—”

“You go ahead, Hoss, and I shall follow you,” she said sternly. “I can very well judge what I’m up to or not up to. And I am very much up to having a little conversation with Adam once we’ve found him.”

“You mean big brother’s in trouble?”

“Beautifully put, Hoss.” Miss Juliet’s smile was lopsided and didn’t quite reach her eyes. She raised an eyebrow. “Big brother is in big trouble, I’m afraid.”

*****

Chapter 17

Big Brother in Big Trouble


They found Adam in very short time, and in bigger trouble than either of them had anticipated. True to his word, Hoss had been able to easily follow Adam’s tracks. His eyes focused on the ground, he had trailed after his big brother as if being pulled by a rope. Juliet had kept close by, her eyes searching the horizon. She had been the one who had first spotted Sport between some large boulders. The big chestnut had been standing unnaturally still, head low, with only his tail nervously swishing from one side to the other. When they had come closer, they had seen Adam lying in the morass at the horse’s feet, unmoving, nearly irrecognizably covered in mud. For a second both Juliet and Hoss had feared that Sport was standing silent vigil over his dead master, even though neither would have admitted that aloud. But much to their mutual relief, when they arrived at Adam’s side, they soon saw his chest ever so slightly rising and falling with every shallow breath. At this sight Juliet had let out a stifled sob that seemed to surprise her as much as Hoss.

Now Hoss was kneeling in the mud with Adam’s head in his lap, frantically searching for an injury that might have caused the unconscious state his brother was in. Juliet crouched next to Adam, trying to wipe crusted sludge from his face with a laced handkerchief. Soon the cloth was dirtier than the man it was supposed to clean, but Juliet didn’t seem to notice.

“I can’t believe his horse threw him, Hoss,” she said, shaking her head. “It must have been something else.” She suddenly realized the uselessness of her attempts with the soiled piece of fabric and after a disgusted glance at the marred Brussels lace she threw it rather fiercely into the swamp next to her. Her hands roamed over Adam’s chest in search of his heartbeat—just to be sure, just to at least feel some signs of life when there were none to view; then she suddenly stopped in her motion. She bent over, studying Adam’s upper abdomen intently. Her hands probed carefully at his belly until suddenly she let out a gasp.

“Hoss, this…this isn’t all mud!” She held one hand out to Hoss. The black mud smear on her fingers was tinged with red. She looked up at his stunned face. There was panic in her eyes. “It’s here, down here!” She indicated at Adam’s lower ribcage where, at closer sight, Hoss could see how dirt and blood had clotted to a half dried pulp. When Juliet made to wipe away the grime, Hoss grabbed for her hand.

“No, leave it!” he admonished her. “Iffn ya do this, he’s gonna bleed again.”

“But we have to do something, Hoss!” Now the panic had reached her voice, too.

“Yeah, we hafta get him home, and quick!”

*****

Chapter 18

Miss Westlake Would Have a Fit


How they managed to get Adam up onto Hoss’ horse, Juliet never quite remembered. There had been some struggle—with Hoss already on his horse, reaching down for Adam trying to drag him up, and Juliet giving her best to hold the limb, mud-covered, slippery body upright until Hoss got a hold on him. Their attempts had seemed futile for some time, but at the end they had succeeded. Hoss had ridden back to the house, sitting behind his brother, with one arm holding him tightly to his chest, while he had kept the reins in his other hand. Juliet had followed them, leading Sport behind her on a long rein. She had never felt so entirely helpless.

At the ranch house, Hoss carefully lowered Adam into Juliet’s waiting arms. She staggered under Adam’s weight, but managed to keep him and herself upright until Hoss had dismounted and taken his brother in his strong arms. Juliet followed him into the house and upstairs into Adam’s room. When Hoss made to lay Adam on his bed, Juliet stopped him.

“Wait! I’d better cover the bed first.” She took a blanket from the footboard and spread it over the bed covers. “We have to clean him first.”

Hoss laid his precious burden down on the blanket and looked at Juliet in astonishment. “Do ya know what to do, ma’am? You’re not a nurse, are you?”

Juliet gave him a short, impatient glance. “No, of course I’m not a nurse. But I’m not a complete fool, either.” She took a deep breath and looked up into Hoss face. When she registered his hurt frown, she offered him a small smile. “My…brother was a wild boy. He needed quite a bit of nursing from time to time.”

“Your brother?”

She cringed as if she had already given away too much and shook her head. “Not now, Hoss. Please.”

She bent over Adam and started to open his shirt. “We have to get him out of these soiled clothes.”

Hoss pushed her unceremoniously out of the way. “I’ll do that, ma’am!”

“What in—?“ Juliet stepped aside, her arms crossed, her brows furrowed. She mumbled something under her breath that sounded suspiciously like “brute” to Hoss, but honestly, he didn’t care much for that now.

Hoss worked feverishly to open Adam’s filthy shirt. His fingers fumbled with the buttons, and for a split second he wished he had let Miss Juliet do this. Finally he got the darned things open and ripped the garment out of the way. He and Miss Juliet simultaneously gasped at the sight they where presented with. They stared in horror at the mixture of dirt and blood. The hole in Adam’s right side, somewhere under his lower ribs, was barely visible. His whole upper body was covered in blood and grime and only the slight movement of seeping fluid indicated the actual position of the wound. Hoss knew there wasn’t much time left.

“I hafta clean ‘im and dress that wound.” He turned to Juliet. “There’s hot water on the stove, I gonna get some. Can you stay with Adam fer a spell?”

“Of course.”

“An’ get that gunbelt off him, will ya?”

He was gone to the kitchen and back to the room with a bowl of water and linen for bandages in seconds. He hesitated for a moment, then went again and returned with a stack of towels.

He sat on the bed next to Adam and carefully washed dirt and blood from his brother’s belly while Miss Juliet was hovering anxiously at his back. Eventually he laid open the wound: the diameter of barely a thumb, slightly ripped edges, seeping blood even though Hoss could see the bullet was still in. He padded at the hole until the blood was pure red, without the slightest tinge of muddy brown.

“Gimme some of the cloth there,” he asked Juliet, and when she handed him some linen, he formed a wad and pressed it gently on the wound, then secured the wad with linen stripes he wound around Adam’s waist. When he checked the firmness of the compress, he was satisfied that the pressure had already slowed the bleeding down a bit. But still, judging from the amount of blood on Adam’s clothes, and from the fact that he hadn’t stirred even once while Hoss had probed and padded at him, Hoss could tell that all his attempts weren’t enough to save his brother’s life. However, there was nothing else that Hoss could do. He didn’t dare to dig for the bullet. It was located far too deep, and Hoss knew he could easily do more harm than good if he tried anyway.

No, someone had to get the doc, and pretty soon. Adam needed the bullet removed and professional wound care as quickly as possible. This left Hoss in a dilemma: he didn’t want to leave his brother’s side, not now, where he depended so much on Hoss’ experience in tending injuries. Not now, where the only other person around was a snooty damsel in a huff. But then there was no way Miss Juliet would make it to town fast enough to get the doctor back in time. Even if she found the shortcut through the rocks—and Hoss was sure this was nearly impossible—she’d never make it through without breaking her neck. He had seen her riding, and as much as he appreciated Adam’s progress with Niobe, Juliet remained an unstable, inexperienced and anxious rider—even if she probably would never admit that. The broad road to Virginia City was the only way Juliet was skilled enough to use, and even if she managed to make it at a faster pace than before and without any accident—and again, Hoss grumpily doubted her being capable of doing that—she would need hours to get to the doc. Hours they didn’t have. Hours Adam didn’t have.

So despite everything Hoss felt he really wanted, there was only one way to handle this, and he desperately hoped he was making the right decision here and would not regret it later.

“Miss Juliet, I hafta go and get the doc. Will ya be alright stayin’ with Adam?”

“You—what? You can’t—”

“Please, Miss Juliet, I hafta. The bullet has ta come out.”

“Why can’t you do it, Hoss? You seem to know quite well how to—”

“Ma’am, I can’t do that.” Why was she making it so hard? “We need the doc fer it.”

“Then send a ranch hand!”

“Ma’am, it’s Sunday. The hands are all in town. And Hop Sing—”

“…is in San Francisco, I know.” Juliet looked at him with panicked eyes. “I could ride…”

“Miss Juliet,” Hoss really didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but he didn’t have time for this. “You will never make it in time. Never!”

For a moment Hoss thought she wanted to argue this, but then she cast down her eyes. “I suppose you’re right.”

Hoss sighed with relief. “Thanks ma’am. I’m on ma way then. Will ya be alright, Miss Juliet?”

“I will, Hoss. Now go!” She nodded at him encouragingly. “Be quick!”

Hoss looked from her to his brother and back. “Yes, ma’am.” He gave Adam’s shoulder a final pat, then hesitated, biting on his lips and eating the words that wouldn’t come out. Finally he turned and made to leave.

“And Hoss?”

He looked back.

“Be careful, too!”

“Yes, ma’am.” Hoss flashed a short surprised smile, then lowered his head in embarrassment and fled he room.

Juliet sighed. She contemplated the situation for a moment, gazing at the prone, mud covered man lying on the bed. There was a lot to do. Well, first things first, she thought. Adam was soaked to the bone. The dirt had gone through all his clothing, and if she didn’t want him to get even sicker, there was only one thing she could do.

“I guess I’ll be your bath attendant then.” She reached for a towel and soaked it in the bowl Hoss had left on the bedside table. “You know, after this you will owe me, Adam.”

She started with his face. This was going to be the easy part. She wiped him with careful, tender strokes and pats until the grime was gone. Under the dirt his skin was as pale as a sheet. But what frightened Juliet even more was that through the whole procedure he hadn’t so much as stirred or even twitched a muscle. This stillness reminded her too much of another still face she had washed so many years ago. She anxiously fumbled for a pulse at his throat, and was relieved to find one. Thready, weak, and far too fast, but there. She watched his face for a moment. Sweat was forming on his forehead, and the skin around his mouth was an even whiter shade of pale. She checked his temperature with a hand on his forehead. Normal. At least! She combed his hair with her fingers, and they came out dirty. She would have to do something about that, too. Later.

Now she worked to remove his shirt. She didn’t dare to move Adam, in fear to start the wound bleeding again, so this turned out to be harder than anticipated. She struggled with the non-responding material until she got angry enough to turn to Adam’s desk and rummage in the drawers for a pair of scissors. After she succeeded in her search it was only a matter of seconds to cut off the soiled clothing from Adam’s arms and pull out the remains of the shirt from beneath him. She stared at his furred chest for a moment. Don’t stare, Juliet, she heard Miss Westlake’s voice in her head admonishing her. A lady wouldn’t stare at a bare-chested man. She got a grip on herself and soaked a fresh towel to wash Adam’s upper body. It wasn’t easy to get the clotted mass of blood and mud out of his chest hair, but Juliet had patience and determination. You do like this far too much, Juliet! Juliet shook her head to get rid of the annoying voice of her former governess. She rubbed at a particularly grimy spot near the bandaged area with maybe a bit more vehemence than strictly required, and this time Adam let out a faint groan. Juliet stopped her movement immediately. She studied his face.

“Adam?”

No reaction. Juliet ran a hand over his cheeks and over his brow.

“Adam? Do you hear me?”

Nothing. Juliet sighed and let her hand linger at his cheek for a moment. “You’ll be better soon, you’ll see.” She said it more for her sake than for his.

She went on washing him methodically. His long arms, his hands, every single finger got special attention, and even the dirt under his fingernails was cleaned away. At one time she went downstairs into the kitchen for fresh, hot water.

When she had finished with his upper body, she covered his chest with a blanket. Then she went to the foot of the bed, took off his boots and his socks and somehow managed to rid him off his trousers, too. She cleaned his legs and feet with the same efficiency she had exercised on the rest of his body, all the time suppressing the voice of Miss Westlake, that wanted to tell her how highly inappropriate her actions were.

After this was done, there remained the matter of the inexpressibles. Juliet stared at Adam’s pants: the wet mud hadn’t spared them. Juliet…This time she couldn’t block out Miss Westlake’s warning voice. Juliet, don’t you dare….

“Oh, would you please shut up!” Juliet cried out loud. She clapped a hand at her mouth and quickly checked Adam’s face. He was as silent and still as before. Juliet returned her attention to the problem at hand. Well, at least there was no one around to witness her humiliation. And it had to be done. And— she could do this!

“I can do this!” It was spoken so low that it hardly counted for an encouragement, but Juliet took whatever she could get. She heaved a deep breath, hooked her thumbs under the waistband of Adam’s pants, and, closing her eyes, carefully pulled them down.

Juliet considered it as a grand cosmic joke when the blasted (blasted! ) pants got stuck. She was sure somewhere in the spheres someone was having great fun with her. To divert herself she tried to find some literary parallel, but her mind was blank and she couldn’t find any. Finally she settled for seeing this as a great Greek tragedy. And just like the hero of a great Greek tragedy she knew there was no way out of it but getting through with it. And so she opened her eyes, slipped the pants over what they had stuck to and pushed the garment all the way down Adam’s legs and off his body.

With a calmness and casualty that surprised her even more than her sudden courage, Juliet soaked a last towel and washed Adam there. Miss Westlake remained amazingly silent during the whole process. Presumably she had died from a hysteric fit. Juliet fulfilled her task with the same businesslike demeanour she had displayed earlier…but only until her careful ministrations evoked, well, some response. Juliet froze. She quickly turned her head to gaze intently at Adam’s face. He was deeply unconscious. There wasn’t any indication he was aware of what was going on. Only his body had reacted. Juliet let out the breath she had been holding and returned to her assignment. She couldn’t completely suppress a giggle. In her imagination Miss Westlake tried to stir once again, but Juliet rigorously shoved her back into the far depths of her mind. This was nothing she hadn’t seen before, after all. But surely Miss Westlake would not approve that, either.

After she had toweled Adam dry, Juliet decided she wouldn’t bother and try to get him into a nightshirt. She removed the soiled blanket Adam was still lying on, and covered him with clean sheets and covers. This would have to do. She checked Adam’s temperature for what must have been the hundredth time. Still not too hot.

Juliet gathered the soiled towels in the now empty bowl. She gave Adam a last glance.

“I’ll be right back,” she said softly.

She took the bowl, piled high with bloodstained towels, and headed down to the kitchen.

*****

Chapter 19

Ruckus!


His way back into the land of the living was greeted by almost the same image with which his exit from said country some hours earlier had ended. Juliet’s face again, the same eyebrow cocked higher than virtually possible, her voice mildly scolding—which was an improvement, compared to the displeasure Adam had been confronted with in that earlier image—telling him, “Well, it’s about time you came back.”

It seemed that the whole process of coming back to life was a reversal of the way he had passed out. His first sensation was pain. Nearly unbearable, searing pain in his abdominal region. He tried to breath through the pain, to concentrate on the rising and falling of his chest rather than on the hot pokers that seemed to stab into his guts. Somehow he managed to gradually relax his body until the pain subdued to a dull ache. All he had to do was to stay as still as possible, that much was quite clear. Every movement would bring new bouts of burning hot agony. So Adam just lay still. There was no reason to move anyway. Everything was soft, warm, dry, and cosy. He was in a bed, he suddenly realised. In a very familiar bed. Good. He would simply go back to sleep and let Pa handle everything. And when he’d wake up later, all would be well. He sighed carefully, not wanting to disturb his busted—well, whatever was busted. He didn’t care right now; all he wanted was to drift back and…

His reverse travel into reality didn’t let him, though. The next sense he reacquired was his hearing. His auditory nerves were aroused by a crashing sound and a shrill shriek from downstairs. The shock of it initialised the return of his sense of seeing, too, when his eyes flew open. Through the open door he heard the voice of Juliet Heatherstone, and it made him wonder what business she, of all people, had at the Ponderosa.

“Who are you?”

And then he heard other voices, faintly familiar, but he couldn’t quite place them.

“My, whatta pretty bird do we have here. We think we come fer some booty and find such a cute biddy!”

“Nah, Gabe, she ain’t no biddy. She’s a real ostrich.”

“A what-stretch?”

“A ostrich, Gabe. That’s a real huge bird. With frilly feathers and long, ugly—”

“You most certainly didn’t invade this house to discuss ornithological topics.” Juliet sounded as imperious and indignant as humanly possible. But Adam also detected a certain edge in her voice. Fear. “Why don’t you just say what you want and then take your leave.”

“Gabe, do ya understand a word she’s sayin’? Talk like a book, that one!” Now Adam remembered the voice. The joker-killer. “What are ye, lady, a plush princess?”

“Yeah, that’s what she is! An’ she’s a-waitin’ fer a prince, right, lady?”

“First of all I am waiting for you to exempt this house from your presence!” Juliet got louder. Adam could easily picture her: shoulders squared, eyes narrowed and arms crossed. This wasn’t good.

“But we cain’t go now, Missy, since we’re talkin’ so nice-like.”

“Oh, I won’t hold you back; don’t stay on my account.” Adam couldn’t help but chuckle. It hurt to chuckle.

Now the joker seemed to get tired of the niceties. “Careful, lady, I don’t care beans fer yer high-falutin’ words. Reckon, ya better tell me where yer squire has his moolah, and real quick-like.”

“There aren’t any in mullahs in his house. This is a ranch, not a mosque.” Juliet sounded confused. “What are you on about?”

“Lady, don’ joke with me. Wherezzat dough, eh?” The joker wasn’t joking anymore. Adam had heard this tone before—it meant business. There was no way Juliet would get out of this unharmed. She needed help. Where was Hoss? If Adam ventured a guess, Juliet had come looking for him, probably mad as a hornet, which had alerted Hoss, who somehow had found him and brought him home. Now Hoss was on his way to get the doctor and had left Juliet at the ranch.

“I’d strongly recommend you—” Juliet was cut short by something that sounded suspiciously like a slap.

That’s it, Adam thought. He had to get up. He had to get up and help Juliet. Whatever it would cost him, he would not lie here in his bed, listening to Juliet getting mistreated. He carefully rolled over onto his left. The movement unleashed another stabbing pain in his right side. He gasped and clutched his side, finding a thick bandage just below his ribs. He breathed into the pain like he had done earlier, and again, it helped to dull it down to a just tolerable level. He stuck his legs out from under the covers, and somehow managed to push himself upright. He took a few heavy breaths, looking quizzically at his bare legs. Soon he discovered that he was completely naked. He wondered why no one had bothered to put him into a nightshirt; but of course, it was out of the question that he could do this for himself, and so he wrapped the bed sheet round his body in the fashion of a Roman toga. Using his bedpost for support he painstakingly got to his feet. Sudden dizziness overcame him, but he fought it with every ounce of strength he had left. There wasn’t much, he noted, but what little he had seemed to just be enough. His eyes darted around the room in search of his gun. There, on the chair at the desk, his soiled clothes were gathered in a pile, and on the desk lay his gun belt. He braced himself against the wall and accomplished the few steps that separated him from his gun. Good old Hoss! Of course he had retrieved the Colt from the swamp where Adam had lost it and put it back were it belonged. It still was muddied; and Adam fervently hoped that it wouldn’t malfunction.

Clutching his gun as if it was able to keep him upright, he slowly staggered along the wall, through the door, all the way down the landing. When he reached the stairs he leaned heavily against the wall. Something drove spikes of fire into his side, and when he clutched at the bandage again, it was soaked with blood. Well, he hadn’t expected that this little stunt would help him in any way to the road of recovery. With leaving his comfortable bed he had literally begged for a world of nauseating agony and he had achieved exactly what he had bargained for. He could only hold himself at fault for this. Time for another round of pain management. Breathe in, breathe out. Slowly—and not too deep, that would only produce more agony. Breathe in, breathe out. In, out. In, out. Slowly the pain abated to a dull throb and the roar in his ears decreased. The black spots in his vision grew fewer, until his sight was clear again. He braced himself with one hand at the wall, and cautiously peeked around the corner and down into the great room, his gun ready in his other hand.

The joker had herded Juliet to the credenza next to the main entrance. While joker’s friend Gabe was rummaging through the furniture, the joker stood very close to Juliet, fingering her face. Juliet was pale but for the red bruise on her left cheek. Even from his upstairs lookout Adam could detect the daggers her eyes were shooting at her captor. She tried to draw her face out of the joker’s grasp.

“Get your hands off me, repulsive rotter!” she hissed.

“Nah, nah, lady, don’ bite ma head off,” the outlaw breathed at her slimily. “Iffn ya be ma little sweety I might even let you live.”

He leaned toward her face, trying to pull her mouth in his direction with his fingers at her chin. Adam could see the shock on her face, and then anger and the sudden resolve. He raised his gun and prepared for a shot. Juliet got her hands between herself and the outlaw’s body and, taking full advance of the moment of surprise, she pushed her startled attacker from her with all the strength she could muster. The joker was taken completely off-guard, and he staggered a few steps backwards.

Adam trained his gun on the still unsteady man and, giving every breath he had left, roared, “Hold it!”

The joker whirled around and reached for his gun. He never stood a chance. His last joke died with him.

Juliet let out something Adam could only describe as a squeal, as impossible as it seemed, and darted away from her position at the door to the stairway, to him. Gabe, who had reacted much slower than his unfortunate friend, still stood in front of the credenza, staring quizzically at the man he had left for dead in the swamp. His mouth gaped and he didn’t even try to fumble for his own weapon.

Adam took one step forward, and stabilised his swaying body with a death grip at the banister. His still smoking Colt pointing at the joker’s crony, he told him, “Don’t even think of it. Get your hands up and leave ‘em there!” With satisfaction he watched the man obeying.

The increasing roar in Adam’s ears signaled that he didn’t have much time left. He began to feel lightheaded; he couldn’t breathe through the stabbing pain in his side anymore, and he felt his grip on the gun slackening.

Juliet made to come upstairs. He had to stop her.

“Juliet, no. Stay there.”

“But Adam—”

“No. Juliet, only this once do what I tell you and don’t argue.” His voice was urgent and low and filled with pain. Even he could hear the weakness in it.

“Adam, are you all right?”

“I’m fine. Perfect. Now go get to the desk.” He kept his eyes and his gun on the outlaw. “And you, if you so much as move a finger, you’re dead, understood?”

Gabe just nodded.

“Are you at the desk now, Juliet?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Open the first drawer on the left. There’s a revolver. Take it out.”

He heard rummaging, then Juliet’s voice. “I’ve got it.”

“Check if it’s loaded.”

Nothing.

“Juliet?”

“Yes?”

“Check to see if the gun is loaded.”

“I…yes.”

Metallic sounds. Then metal on wood. What was she doing?

“I think it is loaded.”

“You think?”

“It is loaded.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course, I’m sure!” Indignant. Good. That was what he had waited for. He needed her confident and strong. He was about to give up. He felt how his nerveless fingers dropped the gun. Sweat broke from his skin, making him itching and hot and cold at the same time. His knees started to buckle in earnest.

Downstairs in the great room Juliet held the revolver awkwardly in her hands. She was just glad that the burglar had kept his anxious eyes on Adam, not on her. That way he had missed her futile attempt to find out whether or not that annoying gun was loaded. She had clattered at the weapon with Ben Cartwright’s pen knife and with the stamps box to purport a thorough examination. She just hoped she wouldn’t have to use the gun anyway.

“Now keep the gun trained on the scalawag until help arrives.” Adam’s voice sounded even weaker than before. Obviously it was time for her to take over. Juliet straightened her back and gathered her wits.

“Adam, are you—” Her question was answered by the muffled thud of a collapsing body on the landing.

This turn of events provoked the outlaw to chance an escape. He tried to fix Juliet with an attempt of a threatening stare and started towards her. But the Mistress of intimidating stares and deadly glares would have none of it.

“Don’t move!” she grounded him, waving the gun. And for good measure she added, “Varmint!”

From the landing Juliet heard a faint chuckle.

“If you think you have cause to laugh at me, you should seriously reconsider your state of mind, Adam,” she scolded. “I thought you had fainted already, anyway.”

“No, not yet. But I’m on my way.” Adam’s reply came in a voice so low and so lacking his usual bite, that Juliet believed him right away.

“Can’t you try and get back into your bed?”

“No, it’s—” There was shuffling on the landing, and then another thud and a grunt. “I just…can’t.” Adam let out a sound somewhere between a sob and a laugh. “I’m just gonna lie here and—”

His words were cut short by the cracking bang of the front door being thrown against the wall. Juliet gave a startled cry and literally jumped a few inches while turning to the sudden noise. The Colt fell from her hand and went off when it hit the floor. The bullet lodged in the ceiling somewhere above the main entrance, where it left an ugly crater in the plaster. The bang unleashed another shriek from the involuntary Amazon Warrior. She whirled around, just in time to watch the burglar making a leap in her direction. But before she could even decide whether to try to go for the gun again or to simply run away, the abhorrent criminal was tackled to the ground by no one but Hoss Cartwright.

Juliet nearly cried in relief. Help had arrived, indeed. For a tiny moment of weakness she swayed on her feet, feeling lightheaded and slightly nauseated, but she would not faint. She staggered to the blue chair next to the stairway and held onto it for dear life. Closing her eyes and trying to will away the threatening dizziness, she heard the commotion in the room as if through a thick blanket. She registered the proceedings in the great room like a faraway reality that was beyond her reach or desire to join. She understood, though, that not only had Hoss and the doctor arrived, but also Ben and Joe Cartwright. Of course, Hoss would have alerted his family as well. She also understood that while one burglar was dead, shot by Adam, the other one still was very much alive but bound now, and that both would have to be taken to Virginia City.

And while Joe was left downstairs to keep an eye on the outlaw, Ben Cartwright, Hoss and Doctor Martin rushed by Juliet and up the stairs to look after Adam. Adam. This thought brought her out of her stupor. She gathered up her skirt and skittered upstairs.

Adam lay on the floor just at the top of the stairs, curled up on himself, his left hand clutching his right side. He finally had lost consciousness, which to Juliet, who remembered his pain-racked voice all too vividly, seemed to be a blessing. Dr. Martin crouched next to him, took a short peek under the bloodied make-shift bandage and checked Adam’s forehead for signs of fever.

“Well, that doesn’t look too bad,” he announced. “Just let’s get him back into his room. Hoss?”

Hoss picked up his brother’s body, and in doing so snatching the sheet he was wrapped in. He easily carried Adam into his room and settled him on his bed for the second time that day. The doctor followed Hoss with Ben and Juliet not far behind.

“Ben, I know you want to stay here,” he said. “But I don’t need anyone hovering at my back making anxious comments—” He held a deterrent hand out. “And we both know who will just do that.” He turned to Juliet. “And I most surely don’t need a fainting damsel in distress here.”

Juliet opened her mouth, but at a glance from Doc Martin she reconsidered and closed it again.

“So, please, go downstairs and wait for me. Maybe Miss Heatherstone could make some coffee or tea. That’ll do you all good, and I will surely need some when I’m finished here.”

The doctor had spoken with the full force of authority his profession gave him at times. But he would never have expected that both Ben Cartwright and Queen Heatherstone, without as much as a word of complaint, would obey him. They simply stared at him for a moment and then left the room silently. Maybe he should examine them both later, too. For now the doctor was glad he could work in peace. There was just one thing that made him wonder.

“Hoss, I don’t see any trace of that mud you talked about.”

Hoss looked at the doctor, and then at the clean and pristine, and very naked form of his brother under the blanket.

“He was soaked ta the skin, Doc. All his clothes were wet an’ muddy. Miss Juliet must have—” He cut himself off and stared at the doctor in unconcealed horror. His face was turning beet-red while he worked his mouth without forming another word. Doctor Martin had a hard time not to chuckle.

“Well, Hoss, she’s done a thorough job. Good of her. We don’t want pneumonia on top of everything else, do we?”

Hoss still couldn’t get a word out. He just shook his hot, red face.

“Now go downstairs, too, Hoss and let me do my work. I’ll call if I need help!”

“Yeah, jest holler iffn ya need somethin’,” Hoss finally had found his voice. He gave Adam one last look and, shaking his head, left the room.

*****

Chapter 20

Anything a Good Cup of Tea Couldn’t Heal


Juliet poured boiling water into the tea pot. She watched the tea leaves fully unfolding and turning from black to brown. Preparing tea always calmed her. Not that she cared for cooking or other household aspects at all, she had never had to anyway, but brewing tea was an entirely different matter. Making tea wouldn’t get you dirty, make you smell unpleasant or stain your fingers. Besides, she loved tea, and to make a perfect tea, in her opinion, you needed a passion and a determination the average domestic wouldn’t sport. Making perfect tea was a master’s task. A soothing, reassuring, calming ritual. And she needed some calming right now.

This whole incident had been just incommensurate. She had no cause to ride through wild territory; she had no cause to wade through mud holes (and she shuddered at that thought); she had no cause to tend to bloodied, dirtied men, harbouring inappropriate thoughts (she shuddered again, but for completely different reasons); she had no cause to having dealings with the worst sorts of criminals; and she most certainly had no cause to enjoy at least parts of all that immensely.

At least she had survived. Miraculously, she had survived unscathed, unharmed. It was quite notable how a day planned out for pure amusement could turn into a near catastrophe so easily. Just like the day all those years ago, when all she wanted to do was to have a day out punting on the Cam with Henry…. No. She would not think of that now.

What was it that Mr. Goodman had said on her first day in Virginia City? This is a wild country with rough people. Rough people. Well, she had met some of them today. Really, this whole burglar business had been a perfect nuisance. And that nonsense with the gun. How could it be that she, who had lived in the Wild West for nearly four years now, did not know how to handle a gun? She would have to ask Adam for help with that. Or maybe Hoss. Hoss seemed to be very understanding. And very patient. And she wouldn’t get distracted from his explanations of how to use a gun by looking at his hands.

Juliet closed her eyes. Hmm, Adam had the most beautiful hands…. She remembered washing his long fingers, his arms and, well.

She opened her eyes and looked down at her own hands that not so long ago had done things that would distract her mind for many days to come. She shook her head and, in a flash, remembered the men in the great room, waiting for a hot drink.

Just get on with the task at hand, she thought. They all had to do their tasks. Ben Cartwright had washed away the bloodstain on the floor in front of the dining table; Joe had been sent to Virginia City to deliver both the dead and the surviving outlaw to the sheriff and Hoss had been charged with tending to the horses. Juliet’s offer to prepare some tea had been accepted with gratitude. Somehow she suspected everyone was happy to have her out of the way for some time. She knew she was an intruder today, and she desperately wished herself somewhere else.

Finally the tea was ready. Exactly the right shade of red-golden brown. Juliet poured the brew through a strainer into the preheated porcelain pot and arranged the teapot, cups, sugar and milk on a tray. She straightened her shoulders, smoothed some stray strands of hair from her face, gathered up the tray and headed to the great room. Mr. Cartwright and Hoss, who apparently had finished the task of tending the horses already, were now sitting at the coffee table by the fireplace, their faces restless. Like her, they were anxiously waiting for the doctor’s return to the main room and his news about Adam. Juliet harrumphed awkwardly. With all her high class education she had never been prepared for situations like this. And as usual when she didn’t know what to say, she resorted to literature.

“As Thomas de Quincy says: Tea, though ridiculed by those who are naturally coarse in their sensibilities will always be the favourite beverage of the intellectual,” she announced when she carried the tea tray into the living room. Ben gave her an irritated glance but said nothing in return.

Juliet cringed. Wrong quotation, Juliet, once again. She had the decency to look embarrassed. “Well, never mind…” She set the tray down and poured three cups.

Ben stood. “Excuse me, Miss Heatherstone, I think I’ll take my tea outside. I need some fresh air.” He clearly was on the edge.

Juliet smiled faintly. “I understand. Of course you are…excused.” She gave him a graceful nod. Ben took a tea cup and, with a last vexed glare at Juliet and shaking his head, he made his way outside. Juliet gazed after him. He appeared much older than the last time she had seen him.

Juliet busied herself with the tea again and added milk and sugar. She handed Hoss a cup and sank next to him on the settee. Her eyes fell on a book on the table and she reached for it as if it were a lifeline.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets,” she read the spine.

“I found that in Sport’s saddlebag. It’s one of Adam’s favourites. Thought he might like ta have it later.”

“I’m sure he will, Hoss.”

Juliet put the book back. She took her own tea cup in both her hands and buried her face in the upcoming steam as if she was trying to warm herself. Or maybe she was only hiding her tired face, Hoss mused. “You were very brave with them outlaws, Miss Juliet,” he said hesitantly.

Juliet snorted very un-ladylike. “Scared to death would describe it better.” She set her cup on the coffee table and studied her fingers. “Couldn’t even find out whether or not the gun was loaded,” she mumbled.

“Well, ya held them off until the cavalry arrived,” Hoss tried to cheer her up. “And you did a good job nursing Adam.” He blushed.

“Thank you, Hoss. I only did what everyone would have done.”

“Not ev’ry lady…” he trailed off, embarrassed. “Did yer mother teach ya to look after people?”

Juliet studied her fingers even more intently. Then she closed her eyes and heaved a deep breath. She seemed to come to a decision. “My mother couldn’t teach me, Hoss,” she finally said. “My mother died when I was very young. I don’t have any memories of her.”

Hoss looked at her in amazement. They had something in common, after all.  “My mama died when I was only a baby, too,” he said with a bit more excitement than would be decorous, but Juliet didn’t seem to mind. “She was shot with an arrow in an Indian raid.” When Juliet remained silent, he asked, “How did your mother die?”

She looked up, surprised by his blunt question. “Well, we don’t have any Indians in England, Hoss. But we do have humid and drafty old manor houses. My mother died of pneumonia.”

“You lived alone with yer pa then?”

“Not exactly, Hoss. My father wasn’t without help. We had attendants, and Miss Westlake, my governess, of course…and Henry’s tutor, Mr. Melville.” Her face lit up, and she smiled reminiscent. “Hugh Melville…he was wonderful! He allowed me to attend Henry’s studies when I wasn’t occupied otherwise. He always made us write stories. He loved to read stories, he said. But, oh, he was so strict about grammar and spelling. He wouldn’t accept a poorly written story or one with too many mistakes. I owe him so much. Without Mr. Melville I would never have had the heart to start writing professionally. He encouraged me to keep on writing after he resigned and Henry went to Cambridge.”

Hoss had never heard her talk so freely. He understood, though, that this was special. Juliet was offering him…a present? He wasn’t quite sure how he had qualified for being presented with such a gift, but he felt he had every right to be proud about that.

“And this Henry fella is the brother, you was talking about earlier?” He didn’t know why, but he wanted her keep talking.

Obviously he had touched the wrong subject this time. The smile fell from Juliet’s face, and she gave Hoss a stern glare. “Drink your tea!” she ordered rather brusquely. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared blind-eyed into the nowhere. Hoss got the distinct feeling she wasn’t in the room anymore, but somewhere in a world of her own, a happier world of old mansions and admirable teachers and mysterious brothers. He decided it was better to leave her there since it seemed to give her some comfort, and so he silently sat next to her and tried to get down his progressively cooling tea without choking, contemplating the fate of his own brother, who was still being treated by the doctor in the upstairs bedroom.

It was only moments later when both Ben and Doctor Martin returned to the living room, although from different directions. Ben set his cup down on the table, watching the doctor making his way down the staircase.

“How is he, Paul?” he blurted even before the doctor had reached the bottom of the stairs.

“He’ll be alright, Ben.” Doctor Martin seated himself in the red chair next to the fireplace and gratefully accepted a cup of tea from Juliet. He looked at three pairs of expectant eyes and continued with his bulletin. “He lost a lot of blood, and lying in the wetness for indefinite time didn’t do him any good, either. But the bullet didn’t hit anything vital, and I got it out without problems. So it is the usual: Keep him warm and resting, feed him as much liquid as he can manage to make up the blood loss, and look out for any signs of a fever. With all this mud you were telling me about, we can’t be sure there won’t be complications. But you did a very thorough job cleaning him, Miss Heatherstone, so he might be lucky.”

“So he will be fine then, Paul?” Ben managed to sound relieved and anxious at the same time.

“Barring infection, he will be back on his feet earlier than I would like him to get up,” Doctor Martin replied reassuring. “Make sure he stays in bed for at least ten days, Ben. I don’t want those stitches to break open!”

“We’ll tie him down if we have ta, doc.” Hoss looked as relieved as his father.

“I’d like to see you try,” Juliet gave her sarcastic input.

The men laughed at that, and Ben stood and made to head upstairs.

“Just a moment, Ben,” Doctor Martin held him back. “He wants to talk to Miss Heatherstone first.”

“What in tarnation—I’ll go and see my son whenever I want to. You can join me, if you wish to, Miss Heatherstone.”

“Ben, he expressly asked me to send up Miss Heatherstone first. Alone,” the doctor all but pleaded.

“I can’t see why—”

“I better go and see what he wants,” Juliet interrupted. “I’ll be back in a spell.”

She rushed out of her seat and up the stairs before anyone could hold her back, taking a cup of freshly poured tea and, after a second of hesitation, Adam’s book with her.

“Paul, what the—”

This time it was the doctor who interrupted. “Ben, sit down!” His voice was nearly as imperious as Miss Heatherstone’s, and the combined effect of having two people ordering him around and being relieved that his oldest would be fine made Ben eventually obey.

“I just don’t understand why Adam wants to see her first.” Ben sounded nearly like a hurt child.

“I guess he wants to thank her,” the doctor said. He leaned to Ben and gazed at him intently. “Ben, he would still be lying out there in the dirt, if she hadn’t come looking for him. He’d be dead by now, do you understand that? It is only due to her and Hoss that Adam’s still alive.” He shook his head. “It was touch and go, Ben. But they did all the right things at the right time.”

“Then I should be thankful, too, I assume.” Ben pondered on what the doctor’s words were implying. Touch and go, touch and go, he mentally repeated over and over.

Everyone’s heads jerked up when they heard raised voices from the upper floor.

“Dignity?” That was Juliet. “And exactly how much dignity do you think there is preserved by a wounded man in a mud hole anyway?”

Adam’s answer was muffled, no wonder considering his weakened state.

“Well, I didn’t put you there either!” Juliet again.

Just as before Adam’s voice was too low for them to understand the actual words.

“Oh, now am I to suppose you’d rather have died than….” Juliet’s retort trailed off.

Ben strained his ears, but he didn’t hear anything more. He gazed at the doctor in puzzlement. “What’s going on there?”

Paul Martin chuckled. “Oh, I have a very vivid idea about that!”

Ben got up from his chair. “What on earth—”

Paul held his hand out to stop him and said, “Sit down, Ben, everything is alright. Just give them a bit of privacy. They need to…talk.”

Ben shook his head about the doctor’s odd inklings, but grumblingly sat down. What was going on up there?

*****

Chapter 21

Dignity


Up there, in Adam’s room, Juliet stood next to his bed, hands on her hips, her face flushed, her expression somewhere between anger and embarrassment. Adam sat propped up at the headboard with a pile of pillows, looking considerately healthier. Drowsy from medication, and still pale, but not the deadly white he had displayed earlier. The strain of pain had left his face—only to have been replaced by something akin to wounded dignity and hurt pride. Neither of them looked at the other, neither of them spoke a work. But somehow the walls still appeared to echo their raised voices from before, and the word “tact” seemed to billow through the room.

Adam rubbed his face with both hands and took his time to compose himself. How could it be that nearly every conversation he had with Juliet turned into a crosstalk at some point? And how could it be that this didn’t even bother him in the slightest? Well, not under normal conditions, but these weren’t normal conditions. He was tired and hurt and in much more pain than he let on, and all he wanted was peace and quiet. Surely she wouldn’t neglect him that. He wearily shook his head, took a deep breath, and decided to make it easy for her. When he looked up at Juliet’s face again, he managed to do it with a genuine smile.

“Juliet, I’m very grateful for what you did. If you hadn’t come out here when you did…well, you just came in time to save my life and—”

“Well, since you saved my life,” she interrupted with a small smile. “And my dignity too, from these criminals, I think we’re even.” She cocked her head and teased, “My strapping black knight in a shining ar— um, shining sheet.”

“You never get tired of the alliterations, do you? Well, I guess I deserved this one, Mylady,” he chuckled. “Come on now, let’s call it a truce.”

“I’m with you here. Let`s just not talk about all that anymore. We simply forget it, d’accore?”

Adam nodded his agreement, and Juliet smiled, relieved. Then her eyes fell on the forgotten teacup on the bedside table, and she picked it up and held it out to him.

“Now drink your tea before it gets cold. The doctor says you have to drink a lot.”

“I’d rather have water. Can you pour me some?”

“Absolutely not. Water would only come up again. Drink the tea, Adam. It’s much better for your stomach.”

Adam sighed resignedly. “Then give me your tea, Lady Assam. You really love to act the dictator, don’t you?”

“I don’t terrorise you, Adam. I’m only concerned about your health.”

Obediently Adam drank the already lukewarm concoction in tiny sips. No further arguments. When he was finished, Juliet took the cup and set it aside on his desk. She gave him another teasing smile. “Good boy!”

He grinned and shook his head at that and shifted into a more comfortable position, but winced and grimaced at the sudden pain his motions evoked in his right side. Juliet was at his side in an instant.

“Do you need more of the pain medication?” she asked.

“No, it’s alright.” It wasn’t really, but she didn’t have to know that. “I don’t like this stuff very much anyway. It makes me have bad dreams.”

“Is there anything else I could do to help you?” She sat down on his bedside.

“Just stay here and talk to me. Distraction seems to be the best medicine.”

“Then I shall give you some of this fine medicine. I could read you some of Marlowe’s sonnets, if you like.”

She reached for the book of sonnets she had deposited on Adam’s desk when entering the room and opened it.

“Ah, there are some marked. Let’s see…My mistress’ eyes…Oh, this is one of my favourites.  My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips’ red—”

“This is Shakespeare what you’re reading, Mylady, not Marlowe.”

“Oh, Shakespeare, Marlowe—whatever you call him, Adam.”

Adam held a hand out. “Not now, Juliet, don’t start with that now. I’m too tired to dispute the true authorship at this moment.”

She smiled amiably. “Just surrender, Adam, and I’ll be quiet.”

“Never! Now read on, Mylady. I’d like to hear some more about those less than coral lips.”

Juliet sniggered. “No, I’d rather read another one. Something more suitable. Wait…here: What is your substance, whereof are you made, That millions of strange shadows on you tend? Since every one hath, every one, one shade, And you, but one, can every shadow lend. Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit is poorly imitated after you—”

“Juliet!”

She sniggered again, then closed the book and laid it on the bedside table. “I’m not in the right mood for poetry anyway.” She gave him a short awkward glance and then looked around the room until her eyes caught his bookshelf and she absent-mindedly read the titles on the spines.

She smoothed her skirt in an unconscious gesture. When she brushed over a piece of dried dirt on the fabric she looked down and realized, for the first time, how dirty her clothes were. There was dried mud and clotted blood all over her skirt front, on her sleeves and even on her chest.

“Dear god, I must be a sight!” She looked embarrassed, though Adam wasn’t sure whether it was the state of her clothes or the fact that she even cared for this what made her feel uncomfortable.

“You are a very lovely sight, Juliet.” It wasn’t exactly true at the moment. Grime-covered clothes, exhausted faces and wildly sticking out strays of hair didn’t raise a woman into the pantheon of beauty; but Adam knew she wasn’t at her very best, and he thought he owed her a little praise anyway. Of course, Juliet saw right through his scheming.

“Don’t be ridiculous! I look like a clodhopper’s wife coming from peat digging,” she snorted. “And I wasn’t the prettiest flower in the garden to begin with. Only the tallest.” She shook her head. “A bad combination if I ever saw one.” Her tone was flat. As if she simply was stating a fact. She even gave one of her little lopsided smiles.

“Well, I don’t know anything about the garden you are talking about, Juliet, or what kind of distorting mirror you look at in the morning, but to me, Mylady, you seem to be the prettiest English rose that ever blossomed.”

She looked at him, estimating his tone. “You’re mocking me,” she finally said with a surprisingly satisfied smile.

Adam chuckled. “Maybe a bit….”

She tilted her head and lifted a teasing eyebrow. “Go ahead, Adam, mock me some more!”

*****

Chapter 22

What Right Has This Woman…


As much as the trio in the living room perked up their ears, they didn’t hear any more heated argumentation from the upstairs’ room.

“Things seemed to have settled down now,” Doctor Martin said with a nudge of his head toward the stairs. “I have to admit I was a bit worried for Adam earlier. This lady does have a temper!”

“Well,” Ben replied. “They seem to get along quite well usually.” Doc Martin lifted a questioning eyebrow at that. Ben just shook his head and shrugged. “Of course, they are bantering most of the time as far as I understand. I can’t really see why, but Adam seems to enjoy that immensely.”

“Anyhow that’s a mystery in itself, Ben. Nobody gets along well with Miss Heatherstone, or so I heard. People seem to consider her as pretty strange.” Paul Martin couldn’t help but chuckle. “But then again, people consider your eldest as pretty strange sometimes, too!”

“Paul, you should know better than to listen to gossip. Miss Heatherstone might be a bit…strenuous some times, but to me she seems to be an open minded, well-meaning person. Perhaps people should start looking behind her….” He was at a loss for the right word.

“Behind her Queen-of-England-ness?” Paul Martin prompted.

“Not you too, Paul,” Ben scolded, albeit half-mockingly. “But yes, behind that facade of coolness and wall of manners.”

“Wall of manners…well put, Ben. Do you think she’s trying to hide something behind this wall?”

“No,” Ben answered. “I think she’s trying to protect something. Probably herself.”

The doctor rose from his seat. “You may be right with that, Ben,” he said. “Well, I better see that I get myself home now. Tomorrow’s gonna be another busy day.”

“Thank you, Paul, for everything.” Ben made to rise too, but the doctor stopped him.

“No need to see me out, Ben. Stay put. You’re going to have a long night, I suspect. Well, I’ll stop by tomorrow evening, but if Adam takes a turn for the worse, send for me at any time.”

“I’ll do that, Paul.”

The doctor made his way out of the house and shortly after that Ben and Hoss heard the sound of the doctor’s buggy leaving the ranch yard.

Hoss turned to his father. “Pa, don’t ya think Joe should be back by now?”

“No, there will be a lot of paperwork at Roy’s. He won’t make it before midnight, I suppose.” Ben rested his elbow on the coffee table and stared into the blazing flames of the fireplace.

Hoss gingerly strolled over to the hearth and crouched next to his father’s chair. “Adam’s gonna be alright,” he offered.

“I know. I know.” Ben shook his head and made to stand up. “I just want to be sure…I’ll go upstairs now. I can’t really see why I should be neglected to see my own son.”

“Pa,” Hoss put a hand on his father’s arm. “Please wait. Adam said he wanted ta see Miss Juliet first—”

“The time for first has long passed by. This is my house, and I won’t be shut out—”

“Pa!”

Ben threw Hoss a surprised glance. Since when had his pacific middle son’s voice-repertoire harboured the quality of rebuke?

“Pa, Doc is right. They need ta talk.”

“What is this all about? They can talk later when I’ve seen to Adam. What right has this woman to impose on him like that?”

Ben’s second attempt of standing up was again prevented by Hoss, who was now crouching before him, his big hands on Ben’s knees, fixing his eyes on his father’s.

“Pa, they really need ta talk. It’ll do Adam good. No one can cheer him up like Miss Juliet these days.”

Ben studied his son with an intense stare as if he was trying to read something that laid just behind Hoss’ eyes. Eventually he frowned and looked down. “I guess you’re right,” he said hesitantly and leaned back in his chair. A faint smile slowly crawled its way on his face. “I guess you’re right. Interesting….”

They sat like that for a long time, silently gazing into the fire, never changing another word, just taking comfort in each other’s presence. Tragedy could have struck the family today, but yet again, they had been lucky, and the latest events of the day proved to be at least, as Ben had said, interesting.

*****

Chapter 23

All Is Well That Ends Well

It was long after dark when Juliet finally came down the stairway. She looked exhausted and worn, disheveled and uncomfortable, but she smiled at the men who rose from their seats by the hearth.

“Adam’s sleeping,” she said softly. She looked down and smoothed her skirt. Her eyes stayed at the bloodstained fabric for some time. At last she took a deep breath and then she straightened her back, composed her features and continued in a far more formal voice, “And I think I shall retire now.”

Ben crossed the room to join Juliet at the foot of the stairs. He was tired and sore and he wanted nothing more than to sit on the rocker next to his injured son’s bed at last, drinking in the sight of his eldest just—living. But before he was allowed to give in to his fatherly concerns he had one more responsibility.

“Miss Heatherstone, it’s getting late. Why don’t you stay the night, and Hoss’ll escort you back to Virginia City tomorrow morning?” he asked with an inviting hand-gesture.

“Mr. Cartwright!” Something in her demeanour changed abruptly and considerably, and the likable, friendly young woman was replaced by—well, there was no other way to put it: by Her Royal Majesty, the Queen of England. She was all indignity when she lectured him, “It would be highly inappropriate for me to stay the night in a house with four men. Not alone and without a chaperone. And anyway, I still have some work to do tonight.” She turned to Hoss in one quick sharp motion that nearly made him jump back. “You had better take me home right now, Hoss.”

“Miss Juliet, it’s getting’ mighty late—”

“Oh, I can go on my own in the dark of night, if it is too much a trouble for you.” The way she said it, it became quite clear that she had no intention of riding to Virginia City alone.

“Hoss, get the buggy ready, you can tie Miss Heatherstone’s horse to it. It will be safer to drive her than to take her for a ride.” Ben’s tone equaled Juliet’s in decisiveness. He was too tired for any arguments tonight. Hoss simply nodded and went out to obey his father’s orders.

“Thank you, I appreciate that very much.” Juliet gave Ben a benign smile, which make him forget the Queen’s attitude in an instant. The velocity of her changes in personality nearly made his head swim. “I shall count on you to keep me updated on Adam’s progress in recovery, Mr. Cartwright. I might be passing by and—”

“You might be passing by? How on earth are you supposed to be passing by? We’re the only people out here.”

Juliet didn’t even blink. She straightened and, impossibly, became even taller. “Yes. I might be passing by. And in that case, I should like to look in on Adam—if you don’t mind.”

Ben sighed. “No, Miss Heatherstone, I don’t mind at all. I’m very sure Adam will be grateful for some company during the next few days. Come by whenever you please.”

“I’ll do that, thank you.” Juliet flashed Ben a surprisingly wide and genuine smile. When they heard the sound of hoofs and wheels from outside, Juliet picked up her shawl from the credenza. She arranged it delicately around her shoulders. “Well, I’d better be on my way now.”  She extended her hand to Ben. “Good night, Mr. Cartwright. Take good care of Adam and give him my best.”

“Good night, Miss Heatherstone. Thank you for caring for my boy. Without you he—” Ben’s voice was thick and, with a shake of his head, he tried to clear his thoughts from the unwanted images that attempted to invade. “Well, I’m just grateful you went to look for him. And, and for your taking care of him. I know it has taken quite something for you to—do what you did.”

“I did what I had to do. At least I like to think so. Well, to be honest, what I’d really like is stop thinking about that at all.” She actually blushed at this. Ben registered it in wonder. He never thought her capable of blushing.

“However, I’m deep in your debt, Miss Heatherstone,” Ben replied. “I hope to see you again soon. This house will always be open for you.”

Juliet received his words with a graceful nod, and let him lead her out onto the yard and help her to the seat of the buggy.

Ben watched Hoss and Juliet waving their good-byes to him. He saw Hoss crack the whip and slowly direct the buggy from the ranch yard out into the darkness. He turned to go back into the ranch house, but stopped dead and shook his head chuckling when he heard Juliet’s voice ringing out of the darkness:

“Come on, make them move, Hoss, and make them move fast—I’ve got articles to write!”

*****

Epilogue

The Inevitable

It was a warm and sunny afternoon. On A-Street life was busily bustling, and in front of the big window of the Territorial Enterprise bureau three boys were playing a game of tiddly-winks. Joe Goodman sat at his desk, drinking a cup of coffee and lazily watching the boys’ antics. His content smile deepened when his eyes fell on the latest issue of the town’s newspaper. His newspaper. A well-written, expertly edited, and highly respected piece of print. Not in the least thanks to his very wise decision to hire a new writer. Even if said new writer was a woman and an annoying, imperious, smart-alecky nuisance most of the time.

He cast a quick glance over his shoulder. Miss Heatherstone was still working quietly at her desk. She didn’t pay him any attention. Good. Somehow Goodman always had the feeling that Miss Heatherstone could read his every single thought when she looked at him with these intense green eyes. He shook himself, and looked out of the window again.

Goodman’s attention was drawn to the street and to the tall figure of Adam Cartwright, coming from the opposite side of the street where he had hitched his horse to the rail in front of the Silver Dollar saloon. He hadn’t been seen in town for a good week; and everybody in Virginia City knew why. Miss Heatherstone’s series of articles about the burglars who had been raiding ranches the past few months, and who had acquired a second income by re-selling the stolen horses—an idea that had been planted in heir minds by nothing less than Miss Heatherstone’s famous ‘Horse Selling’-article; at least that was what rumours in Virginia City conveyed—and about the pitiable victims of said outlaws had found a thrilling closure in yesterday’s edition of the Enterprise under the headline “Adam Cartwright, Fallen Hero.” Goodman just wondered how the man was able to come into town. Miss Heatherstone’s article had left no doubts about the severity of Cartwright’s injury. And it was plain to see that he heavily favoured his right side. He had a pronounced limp, and the way he clutched his right side even publicly indicated that he was, indeed, in severe pain.

If Goodman saw this right, Cartwright had a death grip on a folded issue of the Territorial Enterprise in his free hand as he limped his way to the bureau, and it came as not too big a surprise when said issue only seconds later landed on Goodman’s desk with a well-remembered thud.

For a moment, Goodman had a sense of déjà vu, and this feeling only deepened when Cartwright roared at the top of his lungs, “Goodman, I demand a retraction!”

It was a warm and sunny afternoon. On A-Street life was busily bustling, and in front of the big window of the Territorial Enterprise bureau three boys were playing a game of tiddly-winks. Joe Goodman sat at his desk, leaning comfortably back in his chair, his hands folded on the table before him.

He smiled maliciously, turned his head and called over his shoulder, “Miss Heatherstone, please. Mr. Cartwright has some issues to discuss with you!”

__________

It’s so easy,
To think about Love,
To Talk about Love,
To wish for Love.
But it’s not always easy,
To recognize Love,
Even when we hold it….
In our hands.
Jaka

***The End***

A/N:   This story wouldn’t exist without the amazing Sandspur, who not only encouraged me to write my own fanfiction but also volunteered to beta read the whole mess. Thanks to her this is a safe read now.

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