The Art of Setting Priorities (by faust)

Summary: Both Adam Cartwright and Juliet Heatherstone encounter someone from their past, with grievous impact on their lives. Where will they set their Priorities? Life or honour? Safety of a once-in-a-lifetime offer or perchance to dream of even more?  The third story in the “Art” universe.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:   58,250


Chapter 1

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot

Hank Sullivan couldn’t believe they were at it again. Not that this was something entirely new; he just couldn’t believe they never got tired of it. Every Sunday for about two months now, they had been meeting at the restaurant in the International House for lunch and disturbance of the peace. Sometimes it was about strange people with even stranger names like ‘Hamlet’ and if this guy ought to be called a thinker rather than a hesitater (these arguments more often than not led to a discussion about something called the ‘true authorship’ involving even more strange names, and leaving Hank completely baffled), sometimes they had a go at each other over what exactly Mr. Lincoln had said to whom exactly on which exact occasion and why exactly this meant or did not mean that the president could be considered an abolitionist before 1859 or ever (at this point Hank again bowed out of understanding a single word of it), and sometimes it was about the superiority of an English saddle over a Western one. As much as the duelists seemed to like their quarrels, at times some other diners considered the heated arguments very much a bother, especially when the adversaries’ voices grew louder or when the topics were a bit—offensive.

Over time Hank had learned to differentiate two sorts of battles: Type A ended with the exchange “Fine then!” – “Fine!” spoken with menacing glares and followed by a very abrupt retreat of both parties involved; whereas Type B was marked by the dissolving into collective laughter and the order of some more tea. After a Type A fight Hank wouldn’t see either of them again until the next Sunday, but a Type B bantering usually meant that Juliet Heatherstone and Adam Cartwright would share a table at the International House at least one more noon during the week. Hank always hoped for a Type B outcome, for once because he found the Heatherstone/Cartwright-encounters quite entertaining and, secondly, but even more important to a waiter, because Type B inevitably led to a much more generous tip.

Today’s lunch special seemed to be one of the latter. While he was polishing glasses Hank could hear Miss Heatherstone’s ringing laughter.

“Oh, sure, Adam, and where would your precious Bard be if Marlowe had not introduced blank verse?”

Hank instantly turned his mind to things that weren’t as dizzying as these words. Honestly, did either of them really understand what they were talking about? Hank wished they’d talk about saddles again. But obviously he was quite alone with his assessment on the recent conversation. Miss Heatherstone’s outburst had attracted the attention of a stranger, who had just turned from the check-in counter in the foyer. The stranger, a tall dark-haired man with fashionable long sideburns and clothes that cried “Easterner” so loudly that Hank wondered if the man purposely was looking for trouble, slowly ambled from the hall into the restaurant and stopped three or four paces behind Miss Heatherstone’s seat.

“My, my,” he said smugly. “If this isn’t the lovely Countess of Barnstoke.”

Miss Heatherstone froze. She exchanged a quick glance with her table companion, and while Mr. Cartwright narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the newcomer, Miss Heatherstone slowly turned around. Her eyes widened in sudden recognition, and she clapped a hand at her mouth to cover the fact that she was, indeed, gaping. Then her hand slowly made its way from her face to her chest to get covered by her other hand, her head tilted to one side and her face lit up with a big, beaming smile.

“Jarvis! Good gracious, is this really you?”

And as things fell out, Hank Sullivan’s tip this day turned out pathetically small.

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Sometimes you have to get to know someone really well
to realize you’re really strangers. ~ Mary Tyler Moore

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*****

Chapter 2

The Art of Brooding

Adam sat down heavily on the bench on the front porch. He rested his elbows on his knees and his chin in his right hand, contemplating the past day’s events. At least contemplating was what he called it. Hoss and Joe would certainly say he was brooding. But he wasn’t. No, really, he wasn’t. He was just…thinking, deeply thinking.

What had started as a refreshing lunch conversation with Juliet had turned into something he could only call a farce after that Jarvis fellow had turned up. H. Jarvis Raymond, great editor of the New York Times, and “very old friend of dear Juliet here.” Full of praise for Juliet’s writing, for her wit and her way of finding stories where no one else would see one. Full of little stories about Juliet’s life in San Francisco, stories that Juliet prohibited to be told.

Not that Juliet’s writing abilities didn’t deserve praise; they most certainly did, but still. Somehow Adam found Raymond had no cause to come all the way from New York just to break into their conversation and show off how well he knew her. Of course, Adam found he himself had no cause to be annoyed about that, either. But still…. It had taken Adam just one glance to develop an instant dislike to H. Jarvis Raymond. He didn’t really know why he despised the Easterner, but the feeling, quite obviously, was mutual. When Juliet had introduced them, their acknowledgement had been as curt as courteously possible.

“Raymond.” A nod.

“Cartwright.” Another nod.

That was all. After that Adam had been forced to listen to how Jarvis Raymond had come to San Francisco to meet Sam Clemens (“Adam has met Sam, Jarvis.” – “Oh, really?”), how Clemens had introduced him to “most wonderful Juliet” and how Raymond had tried to make both Sam and Juliet come to New York. He had listened to Raymond’s enthusiastic stories about where he had taken Juliet out for dinner, which plays they had seen and which operas they had attended. He had watched Juliet’s face light up at the mention of “Troilus and Cressida,” “The Magic Flute” and “La Traviata.” And he had observed her smile going from wide to beaming to dreamy. That was when he thought he was going to be sick.

He had been relieved from this torture when Juliet had asked, “But surely you didn’t come all the way from New York only to have a little chat about times gone by with me?” and had performed her little trademark lopsided smile and sarcastic eyebrow gymnastics.

“Oh no,” Raymond had answered. “As much as I relish our little chat, this is not the main reason I burdened myself with this long, arduous travel.”

“So you’re here on business?”

“You are absolutely right, dear Juliet. Observant as usual.” Raymond had looked at Juliet as if she just had made an exceptionally clever comment. Adam had felt the nausea coming back.

“Long story short: people in New York crave stories from the far West. Well, as you remember, my dear, I always had a thing for the rough country, and those earthy Westerners.” Here Raymond had acknowledged Adam’s presence for the first time since their introduction with a sickeningly patronizing glance. “So I decided this was editor’s issue. And since Sam wrote me you were stranded here, I intended to kill two birds with one stone, if you excuse my pictorial speech, and meet both you and my new series of articles at Virginia City.”

“What do you have in mind, Jarvis?”

“I’m not sure yet. See how people live, and write about their daily life. About their dreams and ideas, about their work and free time.” He had looked at Adam again. “Your friend, Mr. Cartwright here, for example. I could follow him—”

“Most certainly not.” For the first time Adam had felt the need to contribute something to the conversation.

Raymond had thrown him a surprised glance. “Cartwright, I can make you famous. All of New York City will know the name Evan Cartwright, and his daily adventures.”

Adam hadn’t even bothered to correct his name.

“Jarvis, Adam,” Juliet had put special emphasis on his name. “Adam isn’t very fond of reading his name in newspapers. You’d better look for somebody else.”

“My life is quite boring, anyway.” In retrospect, Adam should have known this lame and unnecessary attempt at a diversion would bring him into trouble.

Juliet seemed to be unable to resist any temptation for a witty and often enough biting comment. Like a dog that smelled a hare, she would keep tracking until she got her prey. And somehow Adam had yet to find a way to make it clear that he wasn’t willing to play this game. Not that he minded a battle of wits, Juliet’s creative teasing or their bantering about nearly everything. But he had his limits, and one day Juliet would have to learn to accept them—just as he had learned her limits. With all her haughtiness, Juliet had the heart of a frightened child. She wasn’t easy to hurt, and she seemed to take as good as she gave. But when she was hurt, she was hurt deeply, and suffered intensely—he had experienced that once and still felt uneasy about it because he had been the cause of her pain. He had taken every care not to repeat his mistake. He couldn’t fathom why she didn’t seem to feel the same consideration for him.

He knew she cared for him, even though she wasn’t prone to great shows of affection—but her tiny gestures of care seemed very precious to him. The way she made sure he’d always get a seat facing the room, and never the wall, for she knew he liked to be in control of his surroundings, or her pathetic attempts to help Mrs. Hawkins with cooking supper when she invited him “for dinner.” Her patience when he talked about his daily business (something that seemed to bore other women to death,) and that she never forgot anything he told her about cows or horses or timber transactions. Her inquiries about the well-being of his family whenever they met, and how she shared every single book she bought with him, more than once even giving him the honour of ravishing the new volume.

And yet, she wouldn’t miss any opportunity to perform some kind of battle for power with him to put him in his place or what ever was driving her; even if that meant to commit an indiscretion she knew he’d hate. Did she? Or had he failed to make her understand how much this hurt him? Had she enjoyed their arguments about her articles so much that she missed to see how serious he had been about that? Perhaps he should tell her about Tobias Finch one day, and how his reckless writing nearly got Adam killed. Maybe this would make her see. For now she seemed oblivious to it.

Anyway, sure enough, Juliet’s eyes had darted in his direction, and begun to gleam in that strange way he had learned to fear. “Oh, yes, and that. Very boring, indeed.” She had leaned back and given him a mocking smile under very highly arched brows. “I vividly remember the last very boring event in your life….”

“Juliet, don’t. I’m warning you….”

“Oh, all right! I’m not saying a word. I’m perfectly silent. I finally made Hoss the hero of it all anyway. And he was quite appreciative.”

Adam had held close watch on her face, had seen the battle she was fighting inside. Oh, no! He had tried to coerce her to remain silent with a fixing stare through narrowed eyes, and she should have known better than to—

Well, she had known better, but obviously she hadn’t been able to resist. Yet again. “We don’t want to force anyone into calling for the sheriff again, do we?”

How he had disliked her expression of barely concealed amusement! Well, she hadn’t had to spend a night on a very uncomfortable prison cot, still in pain from an only partially healed bullet wound, and running a fever from overexertion and shame at being charged with disturbance of the peace and assault. He had to admit, though, that Juliet had tried to get him out of jail, and when she failed at that, she had stayed with him for most of the night. He never figured out how she had made Roy Coffee let her do so, but obviously she had her ways with the sheriff. Roy had even let her into Adam’s cell, where she tormented herself on a restless wooden stool, cooling his feverish brow and reading him hilarious stories about a Black Knight and his Fair Lady that she had written when she was a young lady, back in England. The tales had been raw and unpolished, but already sparkled with her dry wit and creative alliterations. Adam had fallen asleep at some point, only to dream about the adventures of a black knight that was him, and a fair lady that was Juliet. When he had woken up, instead of Juliet he had found a new, clean shirt on the stool and a note, written in her elegant hand, simply saying “sorry”.

Of course, Juliet’s allusion was just what Jarvis Raymond had been looking for. “Cartwright, now I am intrigued. Why don’t we two have a nice little drink and you tell me—”

“Mind your own business, Raymond.” His annoyed voice had displayed his dislike of the other man very clearly. “Just stay away from me.”

“Adam!” Juliet had scolded him, with that noble look of disdain she loved to display on occasions, and he hadn’t liked that either.

Shortly after that he had excused himself, reminded Juliet of their appointment on Wednesday, and left the restaurant without another glance back.

Adam was interrupted in his train of thoughts by the arrival of his father.

“Son?”

“Hmmmmh?”

“Supper is waiting. Are you coming?”

“Sure.”

“Is there anything wrong?”

“Nope.”

“Adam, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Adam…” Ben took a deep breath. “If everything is all right then why are you sitting out here, brooding?”

“I’m not brooding!” To Ben he sounded like a child.

Ben shook his head and smiled. “Well, you certainly make it look so. Son, if there’s anything you’d like to talk about—”

“Pa, is there anything in my behaviour that indicates I’d like to talk?”

Ben gave his eldest an annoyed glare. “Don’t you bite my head off, son, and watch your tone!” His voice rose in volume while he was speaking “If you’re having disagreements with Miss Heatherstone, sort it out with her, and don’t take your frustration out on me or your brothers!”

“What does this have to do with Juliet?”

“Everything has to do with Juliet lately. Your mood seems to swing with every conversation you have.”

“This is not—”

“Don’t say this is not true, because it is. Your brothers noticed it, too. What is this woman doing to you, Adam? What is she to you?” Ben gazed intently at Adam, trying to catch his son’s eyes, trying to read something in his face.

“Why, we’re friends,” came the irritated reply.

“Friends? What kind of friends argue all the time? Can you tell me that, Adam? What kinds of friends make each other grouchy and brooding?”

“I’m not—”

“You are!”

Adam considered his father through narrowed eyes, pursing his lips and biting the inside of his cheek. Finally he asked, “So, what’s for supper?”

“Adam!” Ben was beyond annoyance.

“This is none of your business, Pa. Excuse me if I sound rude; I don’t mean any disrespect, but this is entirely my own personal matter.”

“It is my concern, if it interferes with the ranch business or with the peace in the family.”

“It won’t affect anything of that. And now may I have the supper you announced?” With that Adam turned and headed to the house.

Ben sent a glare after his son that was condemned to ineffectively bounce off Adam’s broad back, folded his arms and followed Adam into the great room, shaking his head and growling under his breath, “Friends!”

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True friends stab you in the front. ~ Oscar Wilde

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*****

Chapter 3

Distractions

Adam was quite determined not to let his bad mood ‘interfere with the ranch business or the peace in the family.’ He smiled readily at breakfast the next morning, made a joke on Joe’s account (he was pleased at his family’s failure to notice the slight slackness of bite in his punch line. For people watching him so closely, at times they were quite unperceptive), and even started to work the ledgers, as he was supposed to that day, with a whistle. He soon recognized that with this he had overdone his little display when his father shot him a suspicious glance, and so he slowly let “Early One Morning” trail off and concentrated on the task at hand.

Much to Adam’s relief his family finally stopped throwing him side glances and went outside to do their share of chores. Everything worked just fine, and he only miscalculated four or five times while counting expenses on medicinal help for ranch hands (La Traviata, Raymond must have been very lucky to get tickets for this grand new opera….), fees for their solicitors in San Francisco (just how long had Raymond stayed in San Francisco to be able to take Juliet out on so many occasions…?) and repairs of sawmill equipment (Troilus and Cressida, he would have loved to see Juliet’s reaction to the bawdy comedy contained in that play….), receipts from timber business (he bet that after hearing the Magic Flute Juliet had tried to sing Papagena’s part of the famous duet, hmm, or more probably The Queen of The Night’s aria Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen*…?) and horse trading (he really had to teach Juliet how to keep her horse calm on open range; he would take care of that next Sunday, when they’d finally have their long-delayed day out….)

Since no one was in the house to witness his struggles and how Adam went through every column at least twice to make sure his distraction didn’t leave any traces, his brothers and his father still were under the illusion that he was back to normal when they came home for lunch. They had sandwiches and beef soup and coffee and a lively discussion about the afternoon chores, and none of his family members noticed when Adam added six spoons of sugar to his coffee. Obviously he had them lulled in quite effectively, he thought while he drank the nauseatingly sweet concoction with a stony face. Good.

They could tell, though, that he still hadn’t gotten over what was riling him up, when later that afternoon they found him at the chopping block, staring into the far distance, the axe hanging from his slack right hand, the left one loosely holding a piece of wood on the block. When Joe sneaked up behind Adam, put his face close to his brother’s ear, and yelled, “Yoohoo brother, will we have some firewood tonight or do we have to burn your books instead?” Adam jumped at least a foot, and in one amazingly fluid motion tightened his grip on the log and swung the axe down on it. This display would have been very impressive, if the axe hadn’t slipped off the wood and chopped off a not-too-small chunk of flesh from Adam’s thumb.

The amount of blood that could flow from a vigorous cut into the extreme extremities was fairly surprising, Adam thought before his vision got a bit clouded and he decided to sit down for a spell. His way to the ground was quicker than he had expected, and then he felt Hoss’ strong arms on his back and under his armpits and he was supported into an upright position and guided into the house and to the settee in the great room, all the time hearing his father scold his little brother, “How many times did I tell you not to sneak upon someone with a sharp tool in their hands, Joseph?” and his not-so-little other brother mumbling, “Naw, big brother ain’t distracted. Naw, big brother ain’t riled up. Naw, big brother didn’t brawl with the Queen….”

Eventually his family left him, propped up with some cushions, his legs sprawled out on the settee, his thumb in a ridiculously gigantic bandage (courtesy of Hop Sing) and with the brandy decanter and a glass within easy reach (courtesy of Hoss, bless him). Adam found himself happily distracted from the day’s events and the mental images of a posing New York editor and an admiringly beaming lady writer by reading the book of the Bard’s sonnets with which a very apologetic Joe had provided him, the iambic pentameter working perfectly in rhythm with the dull throbbing in his thumb. Somehow he felt much more content than for what seemed ages, but was only a day and a half, and finally he fell into a deep slumber—both not in the least induced by the rapidly emptying brandy bottle.

When Hoss and Joe came home at supper time they found their brother still on the settee, clamorously snoring and with a complacent smile on his face. Joe refused to wake Adam, even though his brother wasn’t holding any ‘sharp tools’ in his hands, and so Hoss boldly ventured to rouse the sleeping beauty, only to be startled by the waking Adam’s cry of “And if I tell you it was the lark, it was the lark, Juliet!”

Hoss stammered quite puzzled, “What?”, but Joe pointed at the book in Adam’s lap and said genially, “That’s Shakespeare, Hoss. Older brother here actually dreams poetry these days!”

Of course, Hoss and Joe wouldn’t stop teasing Adam mercilessly about even dreaming Shakespearian quotes, not even after their father finally got home and promptly admonished them for making fun of the poor invalid. But the poor invalid himself didn’t see any need to stop them, because their tiringly frequently repeated mocking about their brother’s literary dreams didn’t leave them time to ponder which Juliet he had actually dreamt of. Anyway, it turned out to be a very long evening.

(*Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart.)

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Dreaming is an act of pure imagination,
attesting in all men a creative power,
which if it were available in waking,
would make every man a Dante or Shakespeare. ~H.F. Hedge

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*****

Chapter 4

Priorities I

“Here’s the article about the Benson’s trial in Carson and here’s the A.P. wire report about the Union’s blockade of the Southern ports; I added a couple of facts the reporter didn’t know. I hate sloppy reporting.” Juliet Heatherstone handed Joe Goodman a few pages narrowly lettered in her elaborated script. “I’m going out for lunch now.”

She was already close to getting late, so she quickly turned and headed for the door when Goodman stopped her in midstride. “Wait!”

She looked over her shoulder, one irritated eyebrow raised. “Pardon?”

Goodman sighed. Of course she wouldn’t just wait and obediently ask for further directives. All right, better go on with it. “You can’t go to lunch now.”

“Mr. Goodman, I have an appointment. I’m sorry, but I can’t stay.”

“Well, you now have an appointment here. I need the articles about the bank robbery in Salt Flats and the last speech of—”

“I know. I’m going to write them when I come back.”

“But that’s too late. We have to deliver this issue earlier, don’t you remember? Mr. Wilcort expressively asked for that; it was part of the deal with his latest advertisements.”

“I will have everything ready in time,” Miss Heatherstone said in forced patience. Her eyebrow, though, rose an inch, and she emphasized, “As usual.”

“No, I won’t chance it. You stay here.” The moment his words had left his mouth he knew he had made a mistake. Thou shalt not try and order Miss Heatherstone.

“No, I won’t.” Her eyebrows reached their ultimate altitude in a split second. “I will provide you with the required articles in due time. But I will decide how I accomplish this task. And now, if you excuse me, I’ll go and keep my appointment.”

“Am I right in assuming your precious appointment is one with Adam Cartwright?”

“This is none of your concern, Mr. Goodman.”

“Well, I think it is very much my concern, as it affects the issues of this newspaper. Your little lunch breaks with Mr. Cartwright usually result in rather harsh articles.” He looked at her challengingly. But braveness seemed to have lost him when he added a rather subdued, “Or in very sentimental ones.”

“I’m sorry; I didn’t get that last one. What was that?” Miss Heatherstone’s tone indicated that by all means she heard him right, and that she didn’t esteem his valuation of Adam Cartwright’s influence on her writing in the slightest, or much less sympathize with his views.

“You heard me. Cartwright makes you sappy.” He was quite daring today, Goodman thought, pleased with himself. But he also recollected the proverb about fire and burned fingers, and so he added, “At times.”

It wasn’t enough to prevent the storm from breaking, and he knew it. Her tone was icy. “I do not write sappy.” She raised her chin, straightened her back and squared her shoulders in what was known all over Virginia City as The Queen’s Battle Stance. “And I strongly advice you, Sir, to stay out of my personal matters. You will not harass me with misplaced comments concerning my affairs privé.”

She glared at him, her eyes shooting daggers, her nostrils flaring and her breath puffing in short, audible gasps, until she eventually let the air out in long trailing breath. She seemed almost relaxed when she raised her right eyebrow, tilted her head and told Goodman, “And now, like it or not Goodman, I’ll go and have my lunch break.”

Goodman didn’t know what triggered his next sentence. Maybe it was the sight of her arrogantly arched eyebrow, maybe it was that insufferable clipped accent, that seemed to get stronger whenever Miss Heatherstone went into Queen-mode, maybe it was just this one disobedience to many, or maybe it was the feeling of being scolded like a little child and not being able to do anything against it—well, he didn’t really care. He just needed relief, and so he blurted out, “You’re fired!” God, that felt good!

The Queen didn’t even seem surprised. She merely considered him for a moment, and then she smiled her lopsided smile and rejoined completely unperturbed, “Oh, really? I feel honoured, Mr. Goodman. This is the second time this month, and I strongly feel that by next year I’ll have reached the same level as Sam Clemens. You made him redundant twice a week, if I understood him right.” She gave him a graceful and dismissive nod, and turned to go. “I’ll see you later then. Tell Wilbur I will dictate him into the lithograph.” And with that and a jaunty swish of her skirt she was out of the bureau of the Territorial Enterprise and gone.

Goodman stared after her, unmoving. It was always the same. He fired her, she laughed about it, end of story. He couldn’t get ahead of her. He buried his head in his hands and shook it, inwardly cursing himself for his weakness, but all the same glad that she, again, hadn’t accepted her sacking.

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Speak when you are angry and you will make
the best speech you will ever regret. ~Ambrose Bierce

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*****

Chapter 5

Too Many Knights

Juliet hurried along the street. She was late and she was agitated, and she wanted nothing more than a sandwich and a calming cup of tea in the soothing presence of Adam. A nice little amiable chat, some gentle teasing and a few words about the arrangements for their so very much delayed day out on the Ponderosa land—that was all she asked for. She was annoyed about Goodman’s impertinence, but also about her own agitation. Goodman shouldn’t be able to rile her up that much, but he never had dared to intrude into her privacy before. Well, she was sure he wouldn’t do it again—the old Countess of Barnstoke-glare had done its magic once more.

Juliet made her way with long, quick strides. She rushed past other passers-by and turned sharply to cross the street near the International House. And then, suddenly, a lot of things happened at the same time. She turned her head to a shrill cry of “Miss Juliet,” heard a piercing whinny and the squeal of wheels and harnesses, felt strong hands gripping her left upper arm and waist and pulling her back, and then a blow and a sharp pang at her temple.

For a moment she was dazed, and the noises of the street seemed to tilt out. She leaned into the arms that were holding her and tried to focus on the blurred voices she heard. Slowly everything seemed to come back to normal. Her vision cleared, and she began to distinguish different voices.

“Are you alright, ma’am?”

She looked up at the man who was holding her; a tall, dark haired stranger, with a long, not overly handsome face and somehow peculiar eyes. Juliet shrugged herself out of the stranger’s grip and made a quick survey of the scene. They were surrounded by a small crowd of people, all of them staring at her, some of them discussing the recent events, one man shaking his head over and over again. The carriage that had nearly run her over stood a few yards down the street at a funny angle to its original lane, with the driver trying to calm down the flustered horses and looking back to see what had happened to his near-victim at the same time. Juliet waved to him hesitantly and smiled as wide as she could without agitating the throbbing in her temple any more. The man nodded, gave her a broad, toothless grin that Juliet, for reasons unknown to her, found quite endearing, and turned back to his horses.

Juliet concentrated on the man who quite clearly had saved if not her life then at least her physical integrity. “I’m fine, thank you for your concern, Mr. …?”

“Great God, Juliet, I saw everything. Are you unscathed, dear?” Jarvis Raymond’s face suddenly appeared from the right.

“Yes, I already said that I was fine.”

Even though someone who sounded so impatient couldn’t be too badly hurt, Jarvis went on, “Are you sure? You don’t look fine—”

“I’m perfectly all right, thank you, Jarvis.” This time she spoke with annoyance, very clear annoyance, but, against better judgment, Jarvis was still determined to insist further.

“You are bleeding. You can’t be perfectly all right, Juliet. Why don’t you just admit—”

“Jarvis, will you stop that now; this is getting very exasperating!” Juliet did not cry out or stomp her foot, for she was not given to that form of displaying emotion. But Jarvis knew her well, and he understood what her raised eyebrow and the stern set of her jaw were telling him. So he wisely decided to stay silent and make no reply.

“Ma’am, perhaps you better see a doctor?” The stranger obviously wasn’t as perceptive as Jarvis, or perhaps he was just more courageous.

“No, thank you,” Juliet retorted. She was losing her patience, for the second time in a very short while—that alone should have told her she wasn’t as perfectly fine as she claimed to be. She gingerly touched her temple and when her fingers came back tinted with blood, she looked at them in indignation, as if the blood itself were a major affront to her person. She wiped the offending red off with the handkerchief the stranger handed her and returned her attention to her saviour. “I appreciate you concern, sir, and I am very grateful for your quick intervention. Things could have gone very wrong if you hadn’t been so vigilant. But, really, I don’t need any more coddling.”

Now Jarvis obviously seemed to feel left out. “Juliet, don’t be so obsti—er, stubborn. This cut has to be seen by a doctor, and—”

“No.”

“Ma’am, your friend is right. I’d take you to the doc—,” the stranger ventured only to be rudely interrupted by Jarvis.

“That won’t be necessary, my friend, I’ll take the lady myself.”

“I don’t—” Juliet didn’t even get the chance to object.

“No, fella, you’ve heard her, the lady doesn’t want to go with you.”

“Well, she will in the end. I’ve known her for quite some time, and I—”

“I don’t care about how long you knew her.” The stranger didn’t sound too nice anymore. “I saved the lady, and I’ll take her to the doc.” He reached out to take Juliet’s arm, but she took a step back, covered her arm protectively with her hand and raised her eyebrow at him.

“I said, no.”

And, at precisely this moment, Adam Cartwright, who had been waiting at the International House for the normally very punctual Juliet for a period of time that, in his increasingly concerned mind, bordered on an eternity, entered the scene. He had been alarmed not by the ruckus outside—that was a very familiar thing on the streets of Virginia City—but by a so very well meaning citizen, who had stormed into the restaurant with the words “You’ll never guess what happened to the Queen!”

Adam quickly crossed the street, worked his way through the crowd and took in the two debating man and a seemingly very distraught Juliet. Juliet, standing there, time and again impatiently dabbing with a blood stained handkerchief at a thin rivulet of blood running down the side of her face. Juliet, with her hair in more disorder than ever and her usually flawless to a fault clothing in disarray.

“What happened here?” he demanded.

“Nothing at all.” Juliet rolled her eyes and pointedly crossed her arms. Had Adam been a woman he could have read her thoughts from her face. Not another knight in shining armour. Two had been more than enough, thank you. But Adam was just another knight, and so he would never know.

“Juliet was nearly run over by a carriage,” Jarvis took the helm of the conversation. “But this gentleman here saved her from major injury.”

Adam reached for Juliet’s chin. He gently turned her head to inspect the wound at her right temple. He probed cautiously at the rim of the nearly an inch wide, deep scratch.

“How do you feel?” he asked softly.

“I feel very well, thank you.”

He couldn’t fathom why she sounded so annoyed until she continued, “I just wished you all would stop asking me how I am.”

Although he held heartfelt sympathy for her agitation, he said, “Well, you don’t look very well, Juliet. And this cut surely needs some stitches.”

“But I don’t think so. It doesn’t hurt anymore, and you’re all really making a fuss about nothing. I just have to go and clean myself up, and then we can have lunch as planned.” She dabbed vigorously at the cut.

Adam raised an eyebrow. “Well, if you think so,” he said incredulously. Shaking his head, he took the already soaked piece of fabric from her and thrust his clean handkerchief into her hand. She thanked him with a tiny, somewhat embarrassed smile and pressed the cloth to her temple.

I think the lady needs a doctor.”

Adam turned and looked at the stranger, who had spoken up for the first time since Adam had arrived. His eyes widened in recognition for a second; but at the stranger’s display of an arrogant smile, Adam furrowed his brow and narrowed his eyes on him. “Poole!” he spat.

“In the flesh. Very nice to meet you again, Cartwright!” Poole sounded much more confident than he had any right to—or at least that was what Adam felt.

“What are you doing here?”

“I said I’d come back, didn’t I? I always keep my word, Cartwright. So here I am.”

“I really thought you’d think better of it, Poole.” Adam shook his head in disgust. “You should have stayed…well, wherever you were hiding all this time.”

“I never hide, Cartwright,” Poole said with emphasis. “I never hide.”

Juliet had followed their exchange looking from one to the other and back. She chose the break in the conversation after Poole’s obscure words to put in, “Since you’re the only one who seems to know this gentleman, would you mind introducing him to me, Adam?”

Adam gave her a distracted gaze. “Um, this man is Langford Poole, Juliet. He is…well, not from here.”

Juliet tilted her head and watched him quizzically. When he didn’t offer any further explanation, she held her hand out to Poole and said, “Nice to meet you, Mr. Poole, I am Juliet Heatherstone.”

“Miss Heatherstone,” Poole said smoothly and gave her a displeasingly familiar smile. “It’s a pleasure to meet such a pretty lady in this dump.”

Juliet actually looked surprised. No one ever had titled her ‘pretty’. No one but Adam, that was, and even he had said it rather teasingly. She was elegant and somehow attractive, but ‘pretty’? Nevertheless, when Adam, fixing Poole with a stare and arching his eyebrow sarcastically, said, “You better keep your eyes off this pretty lady, Poole” and put a very peculiar stress on ‘pretty’, she shot him a deadly glare.

Not that anyone noticed it.

“Oh, you think so, Cartwright?” Poole sent a challenging stare back to Adam.

Now Jarvis decided to make himself known again, and to put in his bit. “Mr. Poole here rescued our dear Juliet, Mr. Cartwright. Whatever disagreements you have with Mr. Poole, you surely could be a bit grateful at least.”

“Oh, but I am grateful, Raymond.” Adam took care to put as much sarcasm into this as humanly possible, bestowed upon the editor an icy glare, and turned back to Poole. “Thank you, Poole.” He sounded like a child who had forgotten to thank Aunt Agatha for a Christmas present. “Now bugger off, your help isn’t needed anymore.”

Juliet nearly giggled at that. Outside England she had never heard anyone using this expression, but it seemed that Adam was taking words from her as she was taking them from him. She only wondered if she was really using this particular one so often. Miss Westlake surely would not approve.

Unusual or not, Poole evidently understood the message well. “I’d rather stay here. Just to make sure the lady is all right.”

“I am perfectly—,” Juliet tried to put in, but wasn’t really surprised they didn’t give her any audience. Still, it would have been nice to be allowed to finish her sentence, but Adam apparently was much too busy with playing ‘bull of the woods’, something Juliet found highly bizarre and, amazingly, most endearing, too.

“I’ll take care of that, Poole. Go mind your own business.”

Now Jarvis spoke up again. “Maybe it would be better, if I—”

Well, at least she wasn’t the only person Adam interrupted today.

“You don’t even know where to find the town’s doctor, Raymond.” It was merely a statement, but somehow it carried a threat, and that made Jarvis back away a step or two.

Poole, however, was unfazed. “I don’t know what bond there is between you and her, but I’m the one who rescued the lady, so I have every right—”

“Oh, please!” Juliet covered her eyes with a hand and shook her head. If nothing else Poole’s emphasis on ‘bond’ and the implications this carried had led Juliet to the end of her patience, and she would not listen to this anymore. “I’ll go back to the Enterprise now. It seems that you gentlemen can carry on your dispute without me just fine.” Without waiting for an acknowledgement of her words she turned and made to walk away.

“Wait,” Jarvis held her back. “You really need to see the doctor first.”

This took Juliet past her ability to suffer. Enough was enough. She shot Jarvis a glare that made him think of Sheffield steel and actually growled, “I’m fine.”

And then Adam had the brass to grip her arm and tell her, “Let the doc decide that.”

Juliet whirled around, hissing, “I told you I’m fine. I will decide whether—”

She never finished her statement. In mid-whirl she turned pale, her face went slack, and her eyes lost focus. Adam tightened his grip on her, and when her eyes closed and her body went limp, he picked her up in one fluid motion.

“If you excuse me, gentlemen, I have a delivery for the doctor,” he announced; and then he pushed the two other men aside, breached the circle of spectators and headed to Doctor Martin’s office.

___________________________________________________________________

Chivalry!–why, maiden, she is the nurse of pure and high affection;
the stay of the oppressed, the redresser of grievances,
the curb of the power of the tyrant;
Nobility were but an empty name without her,
and liberty finds the best protection in her lance and her sword. ~ Sir Walter Scott

_____________________________________________________________________

*****

Chapter 6

Negotiations

Jarvis Raymond gestured Langford Poole to a chair opposite his own at the table in the far corner of the Bucket of Blood saloon and signaled the barkeep to bring two glasses of beer. Poole nodded a “thanks” and sat down. He rested his elbows on the table and his chin in his hands, gazing inquiringly at Raymond.

“So, what is it you want to talk to me about, Mister?”

“Mr. Poole, my name is Jarvis Raymond. I’m the editor of the New York Times—I’m sure you have heard of the Times?”

Poole just waved his hand impatiently.

“I’m looking for interesting people who are willing to tell me their story. You, Mr. Poole, seem to be a very interesting person, and I’d like to hear your story.”

“What story?”

“Well, who you are, and why you’re here, to begin with. Mr. Cartwright mentioned you were a stranger to Virginia City?”

Poole eyed him suspiciously. “What are you on about?”

Jarvis Raymond lay back casually in his chair and, chewing the inside of his cheek, considered the other man for a moment. Eventually he came to a decision.

“I want to be honest with you, Mr. Poole. I heard your name before. Whenever I asked someone for information about Adam Cartwright, your name was mentioned.”

Poole didn’t seem too happy about the turn of their conversation. “What exactly did you hear?”

Raymond smiled amiably and replied rather cheerfully, “He outdrew you.”

Poole just stared at him, dumbfounded.

Raymond didn’t change his expression. “It is true, isn’t it?”

“He caught me…unaware.”

“It wasn’t a fair duel?”

“It was…but I didn’t expect a blasted farmer being so quick. I got…sloppy.”

“I understand,” Raymond stretched out. “And am I assuming right that you are here to, er, right your mistake?”

“I told him he’d be sorry he didn’t kill me when he had the chance.” Poole curled his lips in a cruel smile. “And I’m gonna make sure he will be sorry.”

“So, you’re going to call Cartwright out?”

“You can be dead sure that I will.”

Raymond stroked his chin, watching Poole. He thought hard. This was even better than he had expected. He only had to make sure he’d stayed out of the crossfire and he would come out as the big winner. His prize would not only be a grand series of stories but, with a little luck, also the fair Countess of Barnstoke and her circulation-enhancing writing. He decisively clapped his hands to his knees and leaned forward.

“I have an offer for you, Poole.” Raymond copied Poole’s posture. He looked at his counterpart like a snake hypnotising a rabbit. His smile was the smug and content grin of a man who knew he had an offer to make that no one in his right mind would reject.

The rabbit pricked its ears. “Okay. Spit it out!”

Raymond’s smile widened. Poole wasn’t a man of many words, or one that would beat around the bush for long. Obviously he liked to get into the heart of matters immediately. That was fine with Raymond.

“Do you want to be famous, Mr. Poole? Do you want to become a legend?”

Poole squinted at him. “What do you mean?”

“Your name and face could be on the front page of the New York Times, Mr. Poole. Do you understand what this means? Everyone at the east coast will know you, men will shudder in fright at your name, women will seek your company, children will play your famous fight over and over again; you will be a hero!” Raymond’s arms were outstretched in an inviting gesture that seemed to offer the whole world. “You could be the epitome of a gunslinger, Mr. Poole; you could go down in history!”

“What’s the price for that, Mr. Raymond?”

Raymond waved his hands dismissively. “There isn’t a price. Take this as a gift, Mr. Poole.”

“Only death comes as a gift, Raymond. What do I have to do, and what’s in it for you?”

“All you have to do is to do what you planned to do. You just have to let me observe it and write about it. I’m going to make you the hero of my stories once I got back to New York. That’s what’s in for me: a brilliant story from the West.”

“You think what I’m gonna do is a brilliant story?”

Raymond smiled broadly and clapped his hands. “Well, there’s everything in it: a strapping hero, guns, a fight for honour and love, a beautiful woman—”

“What love and what woman?”

“Miss Heatherstone, of course. Don’t tell me you’re not attracted to her?”

Poole shifted uncomfortably on his chair. “She’s mighty tall.”

“Not taller than you, Mr. Poole. And aside from that—”

“She’s got freckles.”

“Yes, during summer. They’ll fade in autumn, I’m sure. And aside from that—”

“I don’t like the way she glares. And I don’t like the way she tries to be boss.”

“Mr. Poole, once you won the heart of that fair lady she won’t glare at you or use that tone of voice. She can be very sweet, in fact.” Raymond started to feel like a cattle trader. “And she’s not easy to scare; that’ll come in very handy with your line of business.”

Poole seemed to consider this.

“And did you notice her eyes? The way she smiles? Her slim waist?” Well, it was cattle trading. And he didn’t have a prize cow to trade with. But then again, Poole wasn’t a cattle baron, and so maybe he would be satisfied with something less than stellar.

Poole’s jaws worked. He seemed to consider his options. “Well, she’s not too bad, I guess.”

“And from the way she looked at you, Mr. Poole, I believe she thinks you’re quite dashing too.” It was really surprising how easily lies could be delivered once you started it in earnest, Raymond thought. And Poole was only too ready to give his words more credit than they deserved. Simpleton.

Raymond smirked. “Of course, there’s Cartwright. He seems to think Miss Heatherstone belongs to him. But that will be taken care of with your…other dealings, I suppose.”

Poole leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. He screwed up his mouth in a cruel grimace and said very slowly, and very pronouncedly, “Yeah, I reckon that will be taken care of.”

___________________________________________________________________

What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything
and the value of nothing. ~ Oscar Wilde

___________________________________________________________________

*****

Chapter 7

Do As The Doctor Says

Doctor Paul Martin left the examination room, wiping his hands on a towel. “Miss Heatherstone is waiting for you, Adam.”

“How is she, Doc?”

“Oh, she’s fine. A bit shaken, though; her nerves are quite rattled, I have to say. And she didn’t take the stitches too well.” The doctor smiled. “But aside from that, she’s all right. Wanted to go straight back to work, actually. But I convinced her to take the afternoon off and take it nice and slowly.”

“You convinced her? How’d you do that?” Adam looked at the doctor incredulously.

“I just told her,” Doc Martin replied equally quizzically. “This lady is a complete lamb. I really don’t understand why everybody tells me she’s difficult.”

Adam couldn’t believe he heard right. “You just told her? And she complied?”

“Why, yes, Adam.”

“Are you sure she’s all right?”

“Adam, I told you she’s fine. A bit wobbly, maybe, but after a good night’s rest she will be right as rain.” The doctor gave Adam a bewildered glance. “What’s the matter, Adam? Are you alright? What happened to your thumb, anyway?”

Adam returned a rather irritated glare. “A minor accident, nothing to be concerned about.”

“I could have a short look at it….” The doctor jerked his chin invitingly to the surgery.

“No, thanks, doc. Hop Sing took care of it already; and it’s as good as healed,” Adam shook the offer off. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to check on Miss Heatherstone now.”

“You’re welcome to do so.” The doctor made an inviting gesture to the examination room and followed Adam inside.

Juliet was sitting on a wide chair, her face still paler than usual, her hands clasped in her lap and her eyes downcast. She was wearing a narrow bandage around her head, that gave her the look of a bizarre mixture of a Paiute squaw and a Roman goddess. A very annoyed Roman goddess. Adam had to stifle a chuckle.

Juliet acknowledged the entrance of the men with a short upward glance. “Don’t,” she warned. “Not a single word, Adam!”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Adam muttered. Louder he said, “How do you feel, Juliet?”

“I’m fine, thank you. I’m going home now, if the good doctor lets me.” She stood from the chair, but had to grip for the back to keep her steady.

“Juliet?” Adam was at her side in one long stride and took her elbow.

“I’m fine, I’m fine.” She released the armrest and looked at him defiantly. “Just a momentary lightheadedness. Really, stop fussing!”

“I think it’ll be better if Mr. Cartwright guides you home, Miss Heatherstone,” the doctor barged in.

“I don’t think this is necessary, Doctor,” Juliet said in a rather poor attempt at her usual imperiousness.

Doctor Martin gave her an intense gaze. “Miss Heatherstone…”

“Oh, all right, all right!” Juliet all but threw her hands in the air. “Then let’s go already, Adam!” She gripped his arm and nearly dragged him out of the doctor’s office. Holding tight to his arm her eyes fell on his bandaged hand. “What happened to you?”

“Cut my thumb chopping wood. It’s okay now, nearly healed.”

“Oh. Good, then.” She gave him a brief smile and added in her usual ironic tone, “Better watch what you’re doing or next time there won’t be anything left to bandage.”

Adam appreciated Juliet’s mocking. Like most people who didn’t like to be fussed over, Juliet didn’t fuss much either. And that, Adam considered a very pleasant trait in a woman.

They were almost out the front door when she remembered her manners, turned back and said, “Goodbye, Doctor; thank you for your service. I assume you’ll send your bill to my address at Widow Hawkins’.”

“I’ll do that, thanks. Bye, Adam, Miss Heatherstone. And be sure to take my advice and rest for the remainder of the day!”

“Yes, Doctor.” And with that, and Adam’s farewell to Paul Martin, they were on their way to Juliet’s residence.

Adam noticed that Juliet, despite her insistence of being ‘fine’, was walking considerably slower than usual, and gripped at his arm for assistance time and again.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” he asked her, when she stumbled and tightened her clutch.

“I told you I was fine.” Juliet’s voice held that strain again. He knew he shouldn’t have asked again, but, for heaven’s sake, he was concerned about her. He had never seen her like this before. But maybe a more playful attempt would be better received.

“Yes, and you also told me you were fine right before you fainted,” Adam said with a mocking smile and a cocked eyebrow.

“It ended that crazy argument, didn’t it?” Her attempt of a raised eyebrow ended in a wince when the motion pulled on her stitches. She restricted herself to a glare and a low huff.

Adam snorted. “You don’t want to tell me you did it on purpose, do you?”

“Pfft!” Obviously Juliet didn’t even find this worth an answer. Or she was more rattled than Doctor Martin had evaluated. Adam looked at her inquiringly. She glared back and rolled her eyes. Well, that was rather encouraging. She couldn’t be too bad off, and so Adam decided to change the subject.

“Why is it that Doc Martin holds so much authority over you?”

Juliet gave him a brief glance and then ducked her head. She looked like a child caught in mischief. But to his utter astonishment she answered without another prod. “He looks very much like my father, Adam.”

He chuckled. “What?”

She smiled, sheepishly. “Don’t tell him, but to contradict Dr. Martin somehow would be like contradicting my father.”

“And you wouldn’t want to do that to your father?” he prompted.

He knew he was walking on thin ice. Juliet only gave bits and pieces of her past and only in her own time. If she felt pushed, she would back off immediately. So Adam only asked very cautiously and was prepared to wait an indefinite time before he would be able to put everything together into one big picture.

Juliet’s face fell, and suddenly her expression was—well, Adam could find no other word to describe the distress on her pale features—desolate. Her eyes searched his face as if she was trying to determine whether or not he would be able to understand the magnitude of what she was going to say. Eventually she cast her eyes down and said in a very subdued voice, “I already disappointed him enough.”

Adam stared at her. In her stance there was nothing left of the Queen, and very little of the other Juliet, the playful, relaxed, easygoing, yet thoughtful and caring Juliet, the one only he seemed to know. She looked astonishingly small and lost and devastated. Adam wanted nothing more than to enfold her in his arms and tell her everything would be all right; that he would make everything all right. What would she do if he tried? Adam was sure that somewhere in the mysterious decrees of Miss Westlake, Juliet’s governess back at Barnstoke Hall, there existed an entry about where and when it was appropriate to gather a titled lady in one’s arms, and that the answer to that was nowhere and never. But Juliet didn’t seem too determined to always keep things by those guidelines, even though she mostly tried to keep the pretense, so maybe he could risk—

Well, obviously he had wavered too long. Abruptly Juliet snorted, straightened her posture, resumed her walk and said, in a voice so cynical that it bordered on bitterness, “Not that that was too hard to accomplish.”

Adam heard it, and he saw it. She was agitated, flushed, and on the verge of tears.

“I can’t think of anything you could have done to disappoint your father, Juliet,” he tried to calm her down.

She stood again, turned to him, and said sharply, “You don’t know too much about me, Adam.” She bit her lip. “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.” She looked at him, pleading for forgiveness first; but then Adam watched in amazement how her tightly pressed lips melted in to a broad smile that developed to a real and honest laugh. He had never met a person who was able to show so many facets in such a short time.

Juliet shook her head. “Pellham Peabody Wilcox the Third,” she announced chuckling, and leaned back against the wall of Widow Hawkins’ barn.

“Sorry?”

“Pellham Peabody Wilcox. The Third. Barely five feet five, thin hair, thin fingers, thin chest; believed in the evilness of men, hated theatres, wine and books you can laugh about. But he was rich, and he had no reservations against a wife who was so tall that she could spit on his head. A perfect match, in father’s eyes.” She looked expectantly at Adam.

“A perfect match—with you?” Adam couldn’t believe it. “And your father was disappointed that you didn’t consider this Pellham Peacox Whatbody as a perfect match?”

“Well, yes. This and that there would never be a little Pellham Peabody Wilcox the Fourth, heir of Barnstoke.”

“Oh. I see.” Adam winced sympathetically. “May I ask…what happened with you and ole Pellham?”

“Well, it turned out he did mind a woman who could spit on his head after all.”

She looked at him, impassive. He watched her, his thoughts racing. Had she? Her right eyebrow twitched, her eyes sparkled.

Adam emitted a short snort. “You didn’t.”

A half smile. More sparkling.

“You did?”

A fully grown grin.

“No!”

“Yes.” She sniggered. “Right on the bald spot. It was wonderful!”

“Naughty, naughty, Mylady!” He barely managed this through his snorts of laughter.

“Father thought so, too. But he couldn’t see the humour in it. He was…very disappointed.”

Adam sobered at her suddenly much more serious tone. “And he didn’t trust you to find someone else?” he inquired.

“Would you marry me?” Juliet blushed. “No, pardon me, I didn’t mean to…well. It’s just, I’ve never been the most desirable choice for ‘suitable’ bachelors and, frankly speaking, I’ve never considered—” She broke off, suddenly, frowning and listening to—what? “Do you hear that?”

Adam wasn’t sure if there even was something to hear, or if this was just another one of Juliet’s creative schemes to end a conversation on the topic of her past. But after straining his ear he heard it too. A faint childish whimpering from inside the barn. They exchanged a short glance, seeing the same intention in each other’s eyes, and entered the barn.

They spotted the boy almost immediately. Josiah, the stage coach station manager’s son and hired stable boy for Niobe, Juliet’s horse, clung to the tall chestnut’s neck, his face buried in the red mane. He was sobbing uncontrollably.

Juliet reached out for the eleven-year-old, and when the boy started and tried to back away, she took hold of his arm and pulled him into an embrace. “Dear God, what happened, Josiah? Are you alright?”

The boy lifted his tear-stained face to her and stuttered, “Yes, no. Yes—I don’ know, I…I’ve, I’ve done some bad….”

Juliet got her handkerchief out and wiped Josiah’s face. “Shh; first of all, you stop crying. Then you tell me what happened, and then we’ll see how we make it better. All right?”

Adam watched her in surprise. Actually he was a bit stunned that she had taken over so naturally. He had never seen her display any interest in children; but now her face was full of deep concern and her voice void of any imperiousness. In fact, she sounded like a loving and caring mother. Another layer of Juliet’s personality, Adam thought, amazed at this new discovery. He wondered how many more there were to find.

Gently coaxed by Juliet, and interrupted by a lot of sobbing, hiccupping and sniffling, Josiah finally delivered the reason for his miserable state. Apparently he had forgotten to feed Niobe on Monday. Now the boy was in deep concern for the health of the horse, and for the continuation of his job as a stable boy.

After Josiah had finished his speech, Juliet considered him silently for a long time. When she eventually started to speak, it was in a quiet, serious voice.

“Josiah, why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was scared…”

“Scared—of me?” Juliet sounded nearly…hurt.

“That ya’ll fire me, and that ya’ll hate me…”

Juliet pinched the bridge of her nose and took a deep breath. “Why in heaven’s name should I hate you, Josiah?”

“’Cause I’ve done bad, an’ I lied, an’—”

“Well, you have done wrong and, all the worse, you did lie to me; and I have to say I don’t like that very much, Josiah.”

“Now, Juliet—” Adam barged in only to be interrupted by Juliet.

“Not now, Adam,” she said shooting him a sparkling glare. Then she turned back to Josiah.

“You’re a boy doing a man’s work,” Juliet said, warding off Josiah’s protest about being called a boy with only a raised hand and a lifting of her eyebrows that entailed another pained wince. “And you’re doing it very well. I appreciate your good labour. But even a man makes mistakes sometimes, and so did you. Josiah, that you forgot to feed Niobe is nothing but an unfortunate mistake. And I’m sure Mr. Cartwright will certify that she won’t fall ill because of a single day without fodder.”

At that Adam nodded and winked at the boy. “She’ll be fine as frog’s hair. But I’m quite certain she wouldn’t mind a second helping of oats today.”

Josiah looked like someone who had had a load taken off his mind.

“But you really shouldn’t have lied to me, Josiah. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it is being lied to.”

The boy’s face fell again. He sounded nearly comically devastated when he asked, “An’ now ya hate me, ma’am?”

Juliet sighed. “I hate what you have done, Josiah, but that doesn’t mean I hate you. In fact, I like you very much; and I’d be much obliged if you’d continued to look after Niobe. I only want your promise that you won’t lie to me again.”

Josiah’s velocity in changing expressions could only be challenged by Juliet’s, Adam thought. The boy’s face became one single wide beam. “I promise ya, ma’am, I promise!”

“You are aware that any breach of that pledge will entail an immediate annulment of our stipulation?” Juliet delivered this very formally and imperiously, but with much self-mocking.

Josiah screwed up his face. “Err, what?”

Adam opened his mouth for an explanation, but Juliet silenced him with a hand on his arm. She caught Josiah’s eyes, smiled at him and said softly, “Just don’t lie to me, hmm?” She patted his cheek and then gave him a gentle nudge on his nose. “Now go and play with Will; I’m sure he’s been waiting for you since school ended.”

Adam was sure that the astonished look on Josiah’s face matched his own. He’d never thought Juliet would know anything more about the boy than his name. And yet another puzzle piece, Adam thought.

Josiah spat into his dirty hand and held it out to Juliet. Without any hesitation she took it and looked at him expectantly. “I’m not gonna lie ta ya no more, ma’am,” he said with the profound seriousness only a child could provide. “Cross my heart and I hope ta die!”

Juliet obviously had a hard time keeping her face composed. “Very well, Josiah. Now be off!”

The boy sped away at maximum speed; and Adam and Juliet watched him skidding around the stable’s corner at the narrowest possible angle.

Adam offered Juliet his arm, and the way she readily accepted it told him even more than her pale face that she had reached the end of her strength. “Let’s get you home now, Juliet,” he said.

It was only a few strides to Mrs. Hawkins’ house and from the swinging of the curtain in the front window Adam could tell that the widow was watching them already. But before he’d commit Juliet to the care of the old lady he had one more thing to get off his chest. “Do you realise how much that boy adores you?”

Juliet laughed softly. “He loves Niobe. He’d do anything for her.”

Adam shook his head. “He cherishes the ground you’re walking on, Juliet. If he was twenty years older I’d be mighty concerned about him,” he chuckled.

Juliet looked at him in surprise. “Is that what you are really thinking?”

“Oh yeah, Mylady!”

And for the first time that day, Adam saw Juliet looking completely content, smiling happily and genuinely.

___________________________________________________________________

If you want children to keep their feet on the ground,
put some responsibility on their shoulders. ~ Abigail Van Buren

___________________________________________________________________

*****

Chapter 8

Priorities II

When, about half an hour later, Adam left a rather indignant patient and an eagerly attentive Mrs. Hawkins in the widow’s cheerfully decorated front room, Juliet, with a forceful snort, let out the breath she had seemed to have been holding since she and Adam had entered the house. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe deliberately and evenly, in and out, to calm her assaulted nerves.

Adam had led her to the settee as if she had been on the verge of collapsing and even held her hand when she sat down. Juliet had tried to keep the strain out of her voice when she had thanked him, because she knew he meant well, but it had taken a lot of self control. And so there had been very little of that left, when, while an overanxious Mrs. Hawkins had fluttered around like a mother hen, providing Juliet with tea, sandwiches (that hadn’t seemed to hold any appeal at all), blankets (on a blazing hot noon!), and questions about her well-being, Adam had hovered over her, intensely studying her face, suggesting she might lie down and at one point even checking her temperature with a hand on her forehead. Only her gratitude to Adam for being there for her—in every sense of the word—since the accident had prevented her from snapping. Instead she had ever-so-politely asked him to be so kind as to go and bid Mr. Goodman to excuse her this afternoon.

Adam had seemed reluctant to leave, and for a moment Juliet had been tempted to hold him back—nothing had seemed to be more alluring than the vision of spending the rest of the day talking to Adam and relaxing in his soothing presence—but she wouldn’t allow herself this luxury when there still was work to be done. And, to be honest, the last few minutes with Adam in nurse-mode hadn’t been altogether relaxing anyway.

So she had accepted his farewell with a smile, and she hadn’t even objected when he had advised her not to overexert herself. And since she really had been too exhausted to argue, she had simply pretended she hadn’t heard him instructing Mrs. Hawkins to take care that Juliet didn’t go back to the Territorial Enterprise that day, and had instead concentrated on controlling her breathing.

Now, however, Juliet stretched her back and cast a stern glance at Mrs. Hawkins, who had just poured her yet another cup of tea and was now trying to pull the dashed blanket over Juliet’s lap.

“Will you please stop this nonsense right now.” Juliet’s voice was no longer under careful control.

Mrs. Hawkins chose to ignore her tone. “I’ll stop when I’m sure you are fine, child,” she admonished Juliet cheerfully. “I dealt with Harry Hawkins; I can deal with you, Lady Juliet. Now drink your tea.”

Juliet liked Mrs. Hawkins very much. Even though the widow wasn’t exactly the company the Earl of Barnstoke would have chosen for his daughter, Juliet enjoyed her colourful tales of her days at the Vaudevilles, her stories about Harry (the widow’s late husband and strongest man of his time), and even her mild mollycoddling. Mrs. Hawkins had apparently taken up the cause of substituting for Juliet’s mother, who had passed away when Juliet was very little; and she did it with more love and understanding than anyone else before her. But enough was enough, and Juliet would have none of this anymore. The scowl she sent Mrs. Hawkins would have chilled a weaker person to the bone; the widow merely winced, but she refrained from any further attempt at reigning over the Queen.

Juliet nodded to herself and stood gingerly. Obviously the combined care of Adam and Mrs. Hawkins had given her back her strength—she couldn’t find any ill effects upon getting up. “Well,” she announced. “I’m going to retire to my room now. I have two articles to write, and I want to have them delivered to the Enterprise as soon as possible. Can you see to that?”

“But you are ill,” Mrs. Hawkins said reproachfully. “Mr. Cartwright told you not to overexert yourself, remember?”

“Mr. Cartwright is not my doctor. And Mr. Cartwright did not promise Mr. Goodman those two articles—I did,” Juliet said, already on her way upstairs. “I will not break my word. Mr. Goodman is relying on me, and I won’t let him down.”

“But—”

“But nothing. Will you deliver the articles or do I have to?”

Juliet didn’t even wait for a response but headed to her room. She knew she had won the moment her words had left her mouth. Adam had told Mrs. Hawkins not to let Juliet go to the office, and no one contradicted Adam Cartwright.

No one but herself, that was.

___________________________________________________________________

Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child.
They get bigger, older, but grown? What’s that suppose to mean?
In my heart it don’t mean a thing. ~ Toni Morrison

___________________________________________________________________

*****

Chapter 9

The Call

Adam closed the door to the Territorial Enterprise very carefully, and while heading back to the International House to collect his horse he shook his head in silent amusement. To say that Joe Goodman had been fuming would be a major understatement. Living with his father for thirty-one years now should have prepared Adam for every stage of outrage, but Joe Goodman had proven that there were ways to express anger that would even have made Ben Cartwright at the top of infuriation look calm and controlled.

When Adam had asked Goodman to excuse Juliet for the rest of the day, the editor first had looked as if Adam had kicked him in his gut, and then had slowly lost every bit of control. He had refrained from shouting, though, whether from habit or deliberate self-control—Adam wasn’t sure. Goodman’s fury had all been on his face, which became redder and redder, and at some point Adam had been confident that Goodman’s head was about to explode. It hadn’t, of course; but the way his head had seemed to become bigger, with his red skin straining and an angry vein throbbing at his temple, had been quite impressive; and Adam had come to view what Juliet called her “accomplishments” in the daily combats with her employer in a fresh light.

In a lower voice, Goodman had raged about articles Juliet had promised to deliver right after lunchtime and which would never be written now. And how did Adam think he would be able to fill the white spaces? The editor had paced the office and accusingly pointed at Adam while he had ranted about how Juliet’s lunch meetings with Adam interfered with the newspaper’s business. This tirade had somehow reminded Adam of how his father had accused their lunch breaks of interfering with ranch business; and while Goodman had babbled on, Adam had wondered about why his father and Goodman attached so much more importance to a little meet-and-eat than the participants of said event themselves. Even though Adam had been less than amused about Goodman’s raging, he had decided not to get himself riled up but to rather ignore the man’s jabber.

And so Adam had taken his leave, telling Goodman he was sure Juliet would find a way to deliver the required articles just in time. The editor had merely snorted, and Adam had left the office without another word.

Knowing Juliet, Adam was sure he was right about her providing the promised articles. She was anything but unreliable, and she would do all in her power to keep her word. In this light he suddenly understood the way Juliet had practically thrown him out of Mrs. Hawkins’ house earlier. Of course, she wouldn’t consider writing as overexertion; he should have been more specific when he tried to order her to rest. Order her—as if ordering Juliet had ever led to anything but back talk. He should have known she wouldn’t comply with him when she hadn’t protested. Perhaps he’d better go back and take care—

Cartwright!

Adam was startled out of his musing by what must have been the most provocative way he had ever heard his name pronounced. He looked up to find Langford Poole standing right in the middle of the junction of A Street and Union. Poole stood there as if rooted in the ground, his feet shoulder-width apart, his knees slightly bent, his head mockingly cocked, his arms hanging limply to his sides. He sure wastes no time, Adam thought as he groaned inwardly.

“Poole,” Adam sighed more than spoke. “Is there anything I can do for you?” Maybe, just maybe they all would be lucky and Poole only wanted to know how Juliet was doing. Adam knew this was a false hope, but a man should be allowed to have his dreams. Even if they only lasted a few seconds.

“Cartwright,” Poole announced with obvious pleasure. “I’m calling you out.”

Adam stood. About ten yards away from Poole, his arms crossed, he considered the sneering gunslinger for a moment, then closed his eyes and said, “No.”

Poole’s smirk fell. “What?”

“I said: no.” Adam let his arms fall to his sides, palms to Poole, hands slightly raised. “Listen, Poole: I won’t fight you. I don’t know what’s driving you, and honestly I don’t give a damn. Just go back to wherever you came from.” He slowly turned toward the hotel, his hands still open as if he was offering—what? When he passed Poole, the gunslinger spat on the ground.

“Are you a coward?” Poole spoke into Adam’s back.

Adam turned and gazed at him. Poole’s strange eyes locked with his, and the man bared his teeth like a mad dog as he repeated, “Are you a coward, Cartwright?”

“No,” Adam said so low it was barely audible. “I’m just not in the mood to kill you.”

He drew his eyes from the stunned man’s face, and before Poole had a chance to compose an answer Adam turned back and continued his pace to the International House.

He wasn’t in the least surprised when he met Jarvis Raymond in front of the hotel. Apparently I’m a very popular man today. And sure enough, Raymond didn’t let him pass but merely blocked his way.

“Mr. Cartwright,” Raymond purred with a sickeningly friendly smile. “I see you had an encounter with your friend Mr. Poole—”

“Poole and I are hardly friends, Raymond, and I’m pretty sure you are perceptive enough to see that for yourself.”

“Well, yes, I just assumed—”

“Stop assuming and start thinking, Raymond. Now get outta my way.”

“Oh, I see you are in a bad mood, Cartwright, but I will forgive you. Our dear Juliet’s accident seems to have put some stress on all of us, hasn’t it?”

Adam balled his fist but willed it to stay at his side rather than jumping into Raymond’s pompous visage. Pretentiousness from Juliet was something unavoidable, like death and taxes, and at times even endearing; from Raymond it was just misplaced and annoying. For Juliet’s sake, though, Adam chose to ignore Raymond’s impertinence. Which didn’t mean he would waste another second on him.

“Raymond. Get. Lost,” he emphasised.

“My, my, Cartwright,” Raymond said placatingly. “You haven’t told me yet how our dear Juliet is.”

Adam wasn’t sure he would be able to hold his fist back any longer if Raymond said ‘our dear Juliet’ one more time, but he had a certain sympathy for Raymond’s inquiry.

“Juliet is fine. The doctor stitched her wound and sent her home. She’ll be all right in no time.”

Raymond nodded. “I knew she needed a doctor. I’m glad, though, it turned out to be a minor injury.” He put his hand out. “Well, if you excuse me, Cartwright, I’ll go and look after Juliet now. She shouldn’t be alone after an ordeal like that.”

Adam ignored the hand. He didn’t know what was bothering him more: Raymond’s dismissal or the indication behind his words; but he knew that Raymond wouldn’t have his way. “You can’t see her now; she’s resting,” he said and winced inwardly at his defiant tone.

Raymond gazed at him with a crooked smile. “All right…I’ll see her tomorrow then.” And with that he finally stepped out of Adam’s way and back into the International House.

Adam untied Sport, mounted and slowly rode down C Street. For once he was glad about the long way home to the Ponderosa. He had a lot to think about, not the least of which included the reason he so desperately had wanted to keep Raymond from visiting Juliet. You can’t see her now; she’s resting; really, he honestly didn’t know where that had come from.

It hadn’t been a lie, though. It had been…a guess. For all Adam knew Juliet could be resting. He had explicitly told her to rest. And usually no one contradicted Adam Cartwright.

From the corner of his eye Adam saw Mrs. Hawkins hurrying down the street in the direction of the Enterprise’s office. He suppressed a grin. No, no one contradicted him.

No one but Juliet, that was.

___________________________________________________________________

Nothing is so aggravating than calmness. ~ Oscar Wilde

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