Faith, Hope, and Love (by BettyHT)

Summary:  AU story — At the center of the story is a tragedy that leads Adam into a romance and into an adventure.  The results of both will determine his future on the Ponderosa.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:   13,597


Chapter 1

It had started with thefts. By all accounts, some Southern Paiute had snuck into their camp and stolen some sacks of food. The emigrant train didn’t have enough so they set a perimeter guard the next night, and when a second foray was made against them, they thought they were ready. Instead, the guards were killed and more was stolen. However, there was another problem. Some of the men weren’t so sure that the raiders were Paiute. They wanted to go to the local sheriff to see if they could get some help. The next morning, the wagon master, his scout, and two men from the wagon train headed into the closest town. They met the sheriff at his office and told him their suspicions. He said he would help and would have men there that night to handle the problem.

Just after sundown that day, a large force of men attacked the emigrant camp. They were dressed as Paiute and all the men and women and older children who had hoped to make new lives in California were killed and their bodies mutilated. The corpses were left lying about amidst their burning wagons as the youngest children were carried off. A telegram was sent to the nearest Army post telling them of an atrocity committed by the Southern Paiute against an emigrant group headed to California. The Army sent a large contingent that did their best to hunt down every band of Paiute in the area. None were found with goods from the emigrants. However a number of the men were locked up and sent to a camp in Oregon where the Army continued to try to get information from them. All claimed to know nothing. None of the missing children were located. Eventually the official report said that unknown Southern Paiute had massacred the people, and that was how the matter stood for over seven years.

One woman in Virginia City, Nevada lost her whole family in that massacre. She had been married only a short time and her husband had decided to go work for a mining company in Gold Hill. The two of them had left the wagon train only a few days before the disaster happened. Then she was hit with another tragedy when he took a job at the Ophir mine in Virginia City a few years later and died in a collapse because the mine had poor shoring. She blamed Holloway for not installing the honeycomb system sooner that could have saved him and was appalled to find that her only benefit was a box of groceries when her husband was killed. Hoss Cartwright had stopped in to see her a few days later to see if there was anything he could do to help.

“My house needs some fixing and I can’t do it and I can’t afford to hire anyone to do it. I’ll need a job just to get food for myself.”

“Ma’am, I ain’t so good on fixing up buildings, but my brother, Adam, is right good with things like that. I’m sure he would help you ifn ya wanted him to. If you need food, I kin take care of that.”

“I’d appreciate your brother’s help, but as for the food, you can’t keep feeding everyone who needs it.”

“No, ma’am, we can’t, but ifn you ever needs some, you only have to let us know. If I could help ya get a job, I’d do that too.”

“Thank you. I guess I’ll have to find out what I can do. I never thought I was going to have to support myself.”

“No, ma’am, I could rightly see as how you wouldn’t have expected that. What happened shouldn’t have. We did out best to try to talk them into changing things, but it took that tragedy to open some eyes around here.”

“I wish they had listened to reason instead of men having to die to make them see the sense of it. I saw you there that night, you know. You and your brother looked like you cared more than the men who were responsible. All they want is money. Profits!”

“If caring had been enough, ma’am, we woulda got those men out of there.”

“I know. Thank you. I look forward to having your brother help me here. Talking to you has helped. I guess I didn’t know how much being alone was making things even worse.”

“I’ll let Adam know you need some help.”

So Hoss stopped by occasionally with a box of food or other supplies. When there was a problem with the house, Adam was there fixing the roof, the stove-pipe, or any other issue that required some skill with building or repair. Melissa got a part-time job with a restaurant waiting tables. She also had excellent handwriting and did work for many businesses in town making exact copies of documents for them for their records. However, she was a serious woman and didn’t attract any suitors even after her year of mourning ended. About Joe’s age, she was pretty enough to draw the young man’s attention but her personality didn’t mesh with his.

Gradually though, both Hoss and Joe noted that Adam seemed to spend more time there than necessary to make minor repairs. It seemed that Melissa’s serious nature and quiet demeanor didn’t have the same effect on him as it did on Joe. It was after the mess with Laura that they noticed he spent quite a bit of time at Melissa’s house whenever he wasn’t needed on the Ponderosa. Hoss finally asked him about it. Sitting on a crate in the stable, he worked at repairing a halter as Adam worked on a saddle.

“So, Miss Melissa’s house must be near to falling down with all the time you hafta spend over there fixing it up.”

“Nope, it’s not too bad.”

“So, her stove is in bad shape then? Maybe we oughta chip in and buy her a new one then?”

“Nope, her stove is all right.”

“Neighbors bothering her so she needs someone there to protect her?”

“No, her neighbors seem like fine people.”

“Is she troubled by something and needs to talk with someone?”

“No, she seems fine most days.”

“Dadburnit, Adam, getting something out of you is harder than taking honey from a swarm of angry bees.”

Smiling so that his dimple showed, Adam kept working on the saddle he was repairing, but Hoss could see the expression he had and waited. When his older brother was like this, Hoss knew he was toying with him and was ready to talk. However he never made it easy. This was going to be no different. After a lengthy pause, he finally gave Hoss some of what he wanted.

“I like to go over there because I like talking with her. She listens without judging. She doesn’t tell me what to do or not to do.”

“Kinda listens with a tender ear hearing the hurt and the pain?”

Dropping his head then and pausing in his work, Adam acknowledged the accuracy of that statement without saying anything.

“I bin wondering if she’s becoming more than a friend to you.”

“No, we’re friends and no more.”

“You sure about that?”

“I should know.”

“I don’t know. Maybe you oughta think on it some. You seem to be more concerned about her than you would be ifn you was only friends.”

“We talk, I do some work if there’s work to be done, and that’s it.”

“So, you’re friends and there ain’t nothing more ‘tween ya?”

Frowning at that, Adam stopped working and looked at Hoss. “Are you interested in Melissa? If you are, I won’t be standing in your way. If my visits are a problem, I’ll stop.”

“Nah, ain’t nothing like that. It seemed you was spending your free time with her, and well, when I see her with you, she looks at you with a look that kinda says maybe she sees you as well, something more than a friend.”

For years, Adam had trusted Hoss’ judgment in many things so he didn’t dismiss his observations. After thinking about what had been said, he asked the most logical question he thought he should ask of his brother.

“Do you think I should stop going over there then if it’s perhaps giving her the wrong idea about my intentions?”

That made Hoss stop working too as he had not expected that response. Although he hadn’t said it, he thought Adam looked at her with more interest than a friend would show too. Now he was worried that he had perhaps sabotaged the developing relationship by his questions and comments.

“Nah, it wouldn’t be right. You’re friends so you oughta keep on being friends. Don’t let my thinking on things git in the way of that. We all need friends especially friends who’ll listen.”

Hoss saw those frown lines on Adam’s forehead and knew he had confused his brother with the conversation. However he thought that might be good as maybe Adam needed to examine his feelings about Melissa. If he spent some time thinking, he might draw a different conclusion because he might see into his own heart even if he hadn’t seen how she was feeling. Hoss would probably have been surprised though to find out his thoughts were the subject of the next conversation between the two although Adam never mentioned him by name.

Several days later, Adam was again at Melissa’s house and noted the smile she gave him when he arrived. He began their conversation by asking about her past.

“You’ve listened so well to my tales of romances gone bad starting with what happened with Laura and Will. Then you wanted to know why I was thirty-four and still unmarried when I got engaged to Laura so that led to a whole series of revelations. In all that time, you never talked about your past. I know so little about you other than that you were married and your family was killed. I’d like to know more if you’re willing to talk about any of it.”

At that point, Melissa had sat down with tears in her eyes. It was the first time Adam had ever seen her show that kind of emotion like that. Even in the past when she had talked of her husband being killed in the mine or her family being killed, there had never been tears. Now there were and he wondered why. He didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“You’re the first person who has ever asked me. No one in my life has ever seemed to care about how I feel or what I’ve lived.”

“Oh, Melissa, I’m so sorry. I’ve been so selfish coming to you for solace and offering you none.”

“But you did. You were the only man I’ve ever known who was willing to be my friend and didn’t want something from me. Oh, I know you wanted my friendship, but it went both ways. You helped me here and looked out for me for years now. You’ve been coming around to check on things ever since my husband died, and not once did you ever want anything for what you did. I kept thinking that sooner or later you would want payment but you never did.”

“I knew you didn’t have money.” Then Adam saw the look on her face, and he knew.
“Melissa, I would never expect that of any woman. Any time I am with a woman, it’s because she wants to be with me. I could never coerce a woman to be with me. That wouldn’t be right. I respect you far too much to think of doing something like that.”

“I know. It makes you so different from so many other men. Other men have come to call on me, you know. It doesn’t take long for them to make their pitch. If I do what they want, then they’ll take care of me. Well, I don’t need taking care of that much. I had that already with my husband. I never want that again.”

At that point, Adam realized why there were no tears when she spoke of her husband and his death. She didn’t mourn him. Her sadness was at the loss of security and stability not the man. Melissa could see that he understood so she began to talk.

“When I was sixteen, he came to my father and offered to court me. He said he would take good care of me. My father said he had to wait until I was eighteen. I thought that was so romantic that he agreed to wait. He was right there when I was of age. He was twenty-two. We were married as soon as he could get my father to agree. It was only six months later. I had no idea what to expect. It was awful. He hurt me. He wasn’t faithful to me. I knew where he’d been when he’d come home with demands for me to do something new that he’d learned. I knew where he’d learned it. Then he would criticize me for not doing things well enough. Oh, I cooked, cleaned, and did his laundry well so to all appearances, I was a good wife, and he had a respectable home. It was what he wanted that way. He didn’t want children so he did what he had to do to try to avoid that. I would have liked some children to love.”

Stunned, Adam didn’t know what to say. He had never expected to hear such things from her. There was more.

“He wanted more money though so we came west when my family decided to go to California. Gold Hill had some strikes then, and he hoped to make it rich there. We left the wagon train before Roundville and headed to Gold Hill. We were there when I got the word that the whole train, all forty-eight people were either dead or missing. That was when things started to get bad. My father wasn’t around so he felt free to do whatever he wanted to do. I couldn’t leave him then for there was nowhere to go. My parents were dead and my sister was missing.”

“Was she ever found?”

“No, the youngest children who were seven or younger were never found. My sister was nine, almost ten, but she was very small for her age. They probably thought she was seven or younger and took her with them.”

“I’m so sorry you had to live with so much pain. I had no idea.”

“It wasn’t your fault. There’s no reason for you to feel sorry. I thought there were no good men in the world after my father died. You and your brother Hoss showed me that there were men who did good deeds and didn’t expect a woman to pay for them. You showed me there still were a few good men.”

“Melissa, there are a lot of good men, good people. I’m afraid that your contact with some poor examples of the kind of men there are here has colored your ideas rather darkly. You should meet more people. There are many good people.”

“Adam, I don’t think you understand that there isn’t a good way for a single woman, even a widow, to meet other people when she isn’t on the arm of a man. People don’t invite me to their homes. I don’t get invited to parties. I would if I was with a man, but that’s where we get back to those offers I didn’t want to accept.”

Smiling then, Melissa watched as Adam began to understand the differences in their lives. He got invited to parties and to homes because fathers hoped to marry their daughters to him or they hoped to get some business deal with the Ponderosa by currying favor with a Cartwright. His status got him invited to probably far more social events than he cared to attend. He could be choosy. Shaking his head, he chuckled without mirth.

“So here we are. I get invited to many events that I wish I could avoid while you wish you would get invited. What a strange pair we are.”

Though neither would have admitted to anyone and especially didn’t see it for themselves when it happened, something changed in their relationship that evening. By opening those lines of communication to no holds barred, they had shown a trust that few ever had with a friend. When it was time for Adam to leave, they stood on the porch of Melissa’s small home and talked about the next time Adam would be able to visit. He told her what he was expected to do at home and how that would make it difficult for him to see her for the next two weeks. She was disappointed but understood. Then they looked at the stars that were emerging and Adam began to name the constellations, which Melissa found fascinating because she had never known anyone who knew so many of them. Most only knew the Big Dipper and the North Star in her experience. The night was cool, and when she shivered, Adam put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her next to him. It was kind and felt natural so Melissa didn’t feel threatened by his nearness even though he was an intimidating man to many. To her, he was gentle and kind. They stood that way until he said it was time to go. She enjoyed the warmth of his body next to hers and the feel of his arm around her. She realized how long it had been since someone had hugged her or held her gently like that. When he released her without any comment and said goodnight, she wanted to tell him to stay. But after tightening the cinch on Sport, he mounted up and rode for home. Melissa waited until he was out of sight and went back inside. However, he was on her mind for most of the night and for many days and nights over the following two weeks.

*****

Chapter 2

On Sunday, the minister decided that it was spring and a good time to sermonize on the subject of love especially to some of the younger members of his congregation. He had no idea that he was going to have a major impact on a man who was a bit older and sat with his father and two brothers in church that morning.

“I speak today of one of my favorite lines of scripture. ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’ That is 1 Corinthians 13:13. There are many lines in the Bible about love. That alone tells us how important God thought love was, but love is what is important. It is not lust, but love is respect, caring, nurturing, and honoring. Seeking love, one must seek what is good and honorable. Read Proverbs 18:22. ‘He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.’ Or Proverbs 31:10-12. ‘A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.’ Goodness and nobility are important characteristics of a wife. And what of a husband? Read Romans 12:9-10. ‘Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.’ Sincerity, goodness, honesty, honor, and devotion are what should be there to the end of your days.”

For over an hour, the minister quoted the Bible to encourage the members of the church to seek the right way in pursuing a relationship. He had lost Adam though in the first few lines. Although appearing attentive, Adam’s mind was altogether occupied with his own thoughts. Hoss noted the look and smiled slightly as he looked at Joe who had noted too how Adam seemed to have an unmoving stare. Joe nodded and returned the slight smile. Their father on the other side of Joe didn’t seem to notice, but the sons would have been surprised to know that he was well aware of their looks and how Adam was staring straight ahead lost in thought. Ben sent a fervent prayer to Heaven that this time there would be no romantic disaster for he didn’t think Adam’s heart could withstand another break. Although he seemed so hard and cold to some, Ben knew how sensitive he was and how he hurt each time he had lost someone he loved.

When the church service was over, Adam walked out slowly and greeted friends and talked with several. When he got to his family who had done the same though, he didn’t appear ready to ride home with them.

“Pa, I think I’m going to ride over to Melissa’s house.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you were planning to go there on a Sunday. Are you sure you want to start a tradition of working there on Sundays?”

“I wasn’t planning on working.”

When Adam didn’t say anything more, Ben decided not to press him. He gave a look to Hoss and Joe that stopped them from saying anything either.

“Do you think you’ll be home for dinner?”

“I expect so. I don’t know though. Probably.”

Then because he didn’t seem to know what to say, Adam mounted up and rode away without saying anything more.

“Pa, I think he done figured it out.”

“Maybe he has, Hoss, but he’s not at all sure of himself so I want the two of you to be as careful as walking on eggshells around him about this.”

“Pa, it’s not like Adam to be like this, is it? I mean, he hasn’t been like Adam at all lately.”

“No, he hasn’t, and I’m worried about him.”

“I’m worried too, Pa.”

All Ben could do was to squeeze Joe’s shoulder in recognition of their shared concern. Hoss was there too and had the same feeling. He and Ben had talked about it several times because both feared that if something didn’t change, Adam was going to leave the Ponderosa. There were too many things there that reminded him of his losses and nothing any more that seemed to give him joy. One more blow would likely be the last straw.

Neither wanted to broach that subject with Joe because he might bring it up with Adam and that in itself could be the last straw. Joe was left wondering why no one seemed to want to talk about what was obvious to him. He was thinking more and more that it was possible that Adam was considering leaving his home, but whenever he tried to discuss it, Hoss and their father downplayed the idea as if it was highly unlikely. However he thought it was becoming more and more likely. As was typical with Joe, he had enough.

“Why can’t we talk about this? Adam isn’t happy, but no one wants to say anything about that.”

Hoss and Ben exchanged looks until Ben nodded.

“We’ll talk but not here where we can be overheard. Let’s ride for home.”

Once they were well away from town, Ben called a halt. It was time to let his sons talk, and Joe was more than ready to do that. He laid out the whole thing as he saw it. Ben and Hoss listened, and when he finished, both were quiet for a moment until Ben spoke.

“That’s about how we see it too.”

“Then why doesn’t anyone say anything?”

“Because saying it and making Adam face it could be the thing that makes him decide to go. Son, it won’t take much at this point. He’s been shaken by things that have happened. He doesn’t find enough joy or satisfaction in what he does here. If there is any more unhappiness associated with being here, he’s going to be gone.”

Frowning, Joe dropped his head in thought. Then jerked his head up to stare at his father and Hoss. “You thought I’d get him upset and that would make him go. That’s why you wouldn’t talk to me about this.” Hoss shrugged and Ben remained silent. It was all the answer that Joe needed. “I’m smart enough. You could have explained it to me.” Then he said what they had worried he would say to Adam. “I don’t know why he doesn’t find enough to satisfy him here. It’s good for all of us. Why isn’t it good enough for him?”

“Joe, you may not remember this, but when your mother died, I felt that way too. I left for a time, and I had all three of you. Somehow it didn’t seem like enough.”

“But Adam hasn’t had anyone die.”

“No, but each time he has lost someone he loved, they’re gone from him forever as if they have died. I think Regina and Laura left some big holes. He doesn’t know how to fill those voids. He feels empty. He’s getting older and probably wonders if he’ll ever fill that part of him that yearns for a companion in this life. I know how he feels and how he needs to find his own answer without us pushing him.”

“So what do we do, Pa?”

“What do we do? What we’ve been doing. We continue to be a family and support each other the way we always have and do what we have always done.”

“Except around Adam, you want us to be careful what we say.”

“No, Joe, only about this one topic. Otherwise, it would be best if you keep acting as normally as possible.”

Acting as normally as possible was of course easier to pronounce than to do. When Adam came home, he was quieter than usual. His family was consumed with curiosity, but Adam said nothing about what had happened at Melissa’s home. It was the next day at breakfast before he said anything.

“Melissa and I are going to the church picnic together on Sunday. In fact, we’re going to church together first.”

“As friends or something more?” Ben was trying to be as diplomatic as possible.

“For now, as friends. She wants to see how things go. I tried to tell her that as soon as we’re seen together, people will assume more, and she reminded me of the word that the first three letters of that spell.”

Joe nearly had coffee come out of his nose at that one and Hoss choked on the bacon he was swallowing. Adam tried not to smile but couldn’t help a small one from showing. Melissa had more of a wicked sense of humor than any of them knew. He guessed she might be coming over for dinner at some point so they should probably get used to the idea.

Later as Hoss and Adam worked together, Hoss had to ask more. “I’m surprised you and Melissa are gonna still just be friends. Why ain’t it gonna be more?”

“It’s what she wants.”

“Oh, I figured that, but that ain’t what I asked ya. I asked ya why.”

“Hoss, I don’t know why. Except when I talked to her and told her my feelings for her were changing, she looked scared.”

“Scared? Of you? I can’t see why she’d be afraid of you.”

“I don’t know either, but maybe she’s afraid of all men at this point.”

“I kinda get the feeling you got a reason for why you think that too.”

“I do.”

With that, Hoss knew he probably shouldn’t ask. If Adam felt free to explain it, he would have. Instead, Hoss thought about something else.

“You know, once, she talked about her sister that’s missing.”

“Yes, she told me about her too.”

“Adam, just like me, you heard those stories about that Roundville Massacre. It’s not likely the Paiute killed them people, renegades or not.”

“No, none of the goods were ever recovered and none of the children were ever found.”

“The story was that they must have traded it all away and sold the children too ‘cept none of the tribes around her had any of ’em either and none of the stuff from the train. Ifn they traded it, they musta traded it a long ways off.”

“So you think like a lot do.”
“Yeah, I think the people of Roundville did it.”

“The biggest question has always been why.”

“If anybody could figure that out, the law woulda been up there now arresting people long before now.”

“The strangest thing is the missing children.” Thinking for a time, Adam stopped working and looked at Hoss. “I’ve never really thought about this much before because there wasn’t a reason, I guess. Hoss, if what we suspect is true, those children aren’t missing.”

“Huh? Of course they’re missing. No one ever found a trace of them.”

“Of course because they’re still there.”

“What?”

“Think about the age of the children who are missing. At seven or younger, they couldn’t be witnesses in any court in the land. They would be too young to be sworn. No one would believe anything they said. A small community like Roundville could always use more children.”

“Oh Lordy, you think they kept the children of the people they murdered?”

“It makes sense, doesn’t it?”

“It does, but who do we tell?”

“It won’t do any good to tell anyone. We need to get at least one of those children out of there. She can tell the story.”

“She?”

“Melissa’s sister Aubrey is one of the missing children. If we can get her out of there, she can tell the story.”

“But Adam, it will be the same problem. No one will believe what she said she saw when she was seven.”

“That’s just it. She was ten, almost eleven, according to Melissa. She was small for her age so they probably thought she was younger. If she’s as smart as Melissa, she’s never told them her correct age.”

“That would make her about eighteen now.”

“Yes and a credible witness too.”

“How would we go about getting her out of there?”

“It’s a town that wanted money and property so badly that they would kill for them, so let’s go see if we can trade for her.”

“You think we kin jest ride in there and try to buy a woman?”

“No, we’ll have to disguise ourselves and we know they trade with renegades up there. We’ll need our own and I have just the one in mind.”

“Blue Knife? Pa will have our hides ifn he finds out what we got planned.”

“So let’s tell him we need to go on a hunting trip. How about in two weeks? That should give us enough time to get ready.”

“You ask Pa. I won’t be able to do it without him getting suspicious.”

So Adam asked and Ben agreed they could go. It was when they were so adamant that Joe should stay home that Ben began to wonder if there was something more going on that he knew. However nothing seemed out of the ordinary with what they packed so he relaxed about it and decided the two simply wanted a hunting trip together which they hadn’t done in a very long time. Meanwhile when Ben wasn’t looking, Adam took some good whisky from the cellar and some hams from the smokehouse. They had some tobacco they bought in town as well as a few bolts of cloth, a large sack of coffee, a case of canned peaches, a few boxes of ammunition, and a small bag of gold coins. Neither shaved that last day, and when they met up with Blue Knife, he had changes of clothing for them and horses for them to ride. They looked like any set of mountain men who traveled with a renegade by the time they rode into the rough town of Roundville.

*****

Chapter 3

The whole maneuver went amazingly well until they tried to make a deal to get the woman to go with them. Prepared to offer trade goods as part of a deal, they found no one was willing to deal. They had identified her rather easily by her close resemblance to Melissa and her slight build. However, she was married already and had a newborn baby with her husband. He was adamant that he wasn’t going to let her go and forbid them from trying to talk to her any more. Adam decided the only way to do it then was to go talk to her and explain the true situation. He had Hoss and Blue Knife stage a slight diversion as he snuck around to her home catching her hanging clothes behind her small cabin with her child in a sling on her chest.

“Please don’t scream. I only want to talk with you.”

“All of a sudden you speak very well for a mountain man.”

“I’m not a mountain man. I’m a friend of your sister Melissa. I came here hoping to rescue you, but apparently you are unwilling to be rescued.”

“I thought it might be something like that. Now, my husband had nothing to do with any of that. He was my age when it happened. I do love him and I married him by my own choice although I did want to get away from the family where I was.”

“Life wasn’t good for you then?”

“Come inside quickly before someone sees us talking. I have something for you.”

Aubrey picked up the clothes-basket and hurried into the back door of her home assuming that Adam would follow. He did. Once inside, she pried up a floorboard and pulled out a small pack of papers, which she handed to him. Looking at them, he realized they were writings and drawings.

“For years, whenever I had the chance, I wrote down things I remembered and drew pictures too of what happened. I was almost eleven years old but they thought I was seven. I got married here when I was almost fifteen except I was almost eighteen. They don’t know that. If they did, there might still be someone here who would want to kill me.”

“Why did they kill all those people?”

When Aubrey started talking, it all came out in a rush. For so many years, it had all been bottled up inside of her with no outlet. She finally was able to tell someone.

“Best I can figure from what I know and from what I have overheard over the years, they got caught stealing from the wagon train. Some men from town dressed up as Indians to steal things. They still do that here, you know. They go on raids that get blamed on the Indians. But that time, they got caught and found out. The wagon master was going to get the law on them as soon as he got to where there was some law. The men here dressed up like an Indian war party then and attacked the wagon train except I heard some people on the wagon train yell that they wasn’t real Indians then either. That was why they started killing folks. I suppose it was the ones who yelled out. Later, I guess they decided then to kill all the witnesses not just the wagon master and the men who might cause them trouble. Afterwards, they grabbed all the children and loaded us in a big wagon and hauled us to town along with everything that was worth anything in those wagons. I saw them take my Papa’s watch from his pocket. They did horrible things to the bodies and shot arrows into them. When we got to town, they divided us up among the families. I had to work for a family until they thought I was old enough to marry. Some were treated better than me and were taken into a family like you wouldn’t even know they weren’t born to them.”

“Why didn’t you say something when the Army came?”

“They kept us hidden away. If the Army had seen us, what would they have thought anyway?”

Adam nodded. “Yes, a bunch of small children being corralled by their parents and shushed would hardly be a cause for concern for soldiers.”

“Now let me write a note to Melissa, and you can take that and those papers. Give them to someone who can make a difference. I don’t think they’ll ever get the ones who did the murdering because a lot of them have died or moved on. It was so dark and there was so much going on that I couldn’t be sure who did what, and I’m the best witness there is. But at least get the news out there. Let the truth be told.”

“I’ll do that.”

“I figured you would. You got kind eyes. Now you better go.”

When Adam met up with Hoss and Blue Knife, they had some new bruises and the news that they had been told to leave town. Because they couldn’t get Aubrey, Adam agreed they could go. They paid Blue Knife with most of the goods they had brought with them making him a happy man. When they arrived home with nothing to show for their hunting trip, their father wanted an explanation.

“Pa, I need to clean up and head to town. I have to go to the paper and then to see Melissa. Maybe Hoss can fill you in before I get back.”

“Pa, it might be best ifn ya wait for Adam ta get back. He knows more about all of this than I do.”

Frustrated, Ben had no choice except to wait as Adam was in a hurry to get to the Territorial Enterprise before they closed for the day. He was there long after they closed though sitting with their editor and main writer as the three men went over the explosive story Adam had given them with the corroborating evidence including the drawings.

“This is amazing stuff, Adam. But why didn’t you go to the Army or other authorities?”

“What can they do about it? As Aubrey told me the main perpetrators are dead or moved on. She is a witness but to the events. She isn’t confident that she could testify to who did the actual crimes. The other children were too young. Many of the people who live there now, although many are less than model citizens, had nothing to do with it, and she can’t identify any others who helped.”

“Will they be able to tell who gave you the information?”

“That’s where your skill as a writer comes in. We want you to write it as if it was told to you by one of the men who did it. You know, he’s dying and is overcome with guilt.”

“That’s brilliant. They wouldn’t have any way of knowing who it could be then.”

“Or where he is or how to get in touch with him. Redraw the pictures so they look more professionally done too. You have to keep these papers in a safe or other place where no one can see them.”

“We have a safe here and when we’re done with them, we’ll give them back to you.”

“Thank you. That is acceptable.”

Then Adam left the office and took the letter from Aubrey to Melissa. He knocked on her door and knew how surprised she was to see him in the middle of the week especially at dusk. “May I come in? I have important news to tell you.”

Although she looked slightly apprehensive, Melissa invited him in. “News?”

“You told me about your sister Aubrey being among the missing from the Roundville Massacre. I decided to try to find her and I did. Melissa, she’s alive, and she sent you this letter.”

Overcome with emotion, Melissa didn’t know how to react at first, but then the questions came. “But why didn’t you bring her back? Where is she?”

“Sweetheart, read the letter.”

It was only later that Melissa recalled that Adam had called her sweetheart, but by then she knew she was. She opened the letter and read the words of her sister. Tears fell as she realized she still had family left in the world and that she had a brother-in-law and a nephew. Looking up at Adam, she bit her lip and then she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him shocking him and herself.

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“I’m not. I rather liked that.”

Melissa had pulled away after the kiss but stepped closer again. Looking a bit embarrassed and with her cheeks turning pink, she smiled shyly. “I did too.”

“It was over rather quickly and I didn’t get to kiss you back.” Using his forefinger, Adam tipped her chin up. “May I?”

In a very soft voice, she replied. “Yes.”

With his hand cupping her cheek, Adam leaned down and brushed his lips across hers before kissing her softly. He could feel her trembling against him so he did nothing more. She didn’t pull away though so he wrapped his arms around her and held her after he kissed her letting her relax slowly against him as she realized he wasn’t going to do anything more.

“I can feel you.”

“I would imagine you would. We’re wrapped together rather nicely.”

“No, I mean I can feel you and how you are.”

She made a move to slide her hand down his leg and to touch him, but he stopped her.

“Melissa, you’ve been married. Surely you must know that can happen when a man is holding a desirable woman in his arms and has kissed her.”

“Yes, but I didn’t know you would stop and not make me take care of it for you.”

“Take care of it?”

“You know, do things.”

“Melissa, if we ever ‘do things’, it will be because we want to do things and not because you somehow have to take care of me.”

“Don’t you want to do things with me?”

“Sweetheart, I very much want to do things with you, but I felt you trembling in my arms because of a simple kiss. I wouldn’t do anything that would upset you.”

“It wouldn’t upset me if you kissed me again.”

They kissed then and Adam found he wanted more and she was willing. Her lips opened for him and as his hands began to roam, she made no objection. However things were moving rather rapidly and he knew if he didn’t stop, he would pick her up and carry her to her bedroom. Not wanting to take a chance on sabotaging their relationship by going too fast, he pulled away.

“Is something wrong?”

“No, but if I don’t stop now, I may not be able to stop. It’s been a long time since I’ve been with a woman.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been with a man.”

“Then let’s be sure that’s what we want and it’s not that long wait that’s making the decision for us.”

“All right.”

Hearing the disappointment in her voice was strangely satisfying to Adam. To know that despite her fears and her difficult past with her husband, she wanted to be with him made him feel good. It made pulling away despite his physical state a bit easier although the ride home was uncomfortable especially if he let his mind wander back to their kissing and touching.

For days, Adam was distracted amusing his family when they weren’t watching out for some accident about to happen. It was with relief that they sent him on his way on Saturday to see Melissa again. When he walked up on her porch, she threw the door open and greeted him with a smile. That felt good too. He couldn’t ever remember Laura greeting him that way and quickly put the thought of her out of his mind. Stepping inside, he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her not bothering with a slow start this time but going with the enthusiasm she showed until he knew they had to stop again.

“Melissa, I won’t be able to drive the carriage if we keep this up.”

“That’s a funny way to put it, but I understand.”

Picking up her shawl and a hat, she proceeded out the door ahead of him. They had planned a picnic and an afternoon together. It was a way to be together privately without the whispers that would certainly be circulating if Adam spent that much time inside her house. They talked on the ride how silly that was because anything that a couple did in a carriage or on a picnic could be the same as they did in a house, but somehow the gossips never talked about carriage rides and picnics the same way as visiting a woman in her house. That day and over the next few weeks, the two became more intimate with each other. Although they didn’t make love, they were getting close to the inevitability of that happening and both knew it. Melissa finally asked the question that both had avoided discussing.

“Adam, do you love me?”

“I think so.”

“That’s not as definite as I was hoping to hear. I do love you.”

“I’m not sure I knew what love was or what love is. I guess I’m finally learning. Maybe all these years, I was looking for some dream of what love was. I had some romantic notion of it.”

“You don’t think of being with me as a romance?”

“Not the way I once did. What I do know is that when I’m not with you, I want to be with you. When I’m with you, I don’t want to be anywhere else. When I see you smile when I walk up to your house, it makes my heart grow larger and my world seems brighter. The worries I have seem less serious when I talk with you.”

They were at the lake, which was one of their favorite spots to talk. The sound of the water lapping at the shore was a sound that both enjoyed. They had found a sandy cove with giant boulders perfect for sitting and gazing out over the lake or leaning on if that was what they wanted. There were trees on the shoreline that offered shade too. It was as if the place had been made for them. Adam had spread a blanket under the trees and after a walk, they had settled down on the blanket for some lunch, which had been followed by some kissing and snuggling interrupted by Melissa’s question. Adam rolled up on an elbow and looked down at Melissa.

“It’s my turn. How do you know you love me?”

“It was all the little things you did for me and the respect you have always shown me. You trusted me until I trusted you. It all began to grow into love, but what made it all clear to me was when you went to find Aubrey. I knew I loved you then.”

Melissa’s eyes glistened with tears when she mentioned her sister’s name. A few slid from the corners of her eyes down the side of her face and into her hair. Leaning down, Adam kissed her tears and then her cheeks as he murmured soft words of comfort to her.

“Someday we’ll find a way for the two of you to be back together.”

“Adam, how can that happen without risking her life?”

“I’ve got an idea. Hoss and I can go back there and talk to her and her husband. If he’s agreeable, it could work out quite well.”

“Won’t people be suspicious of you and Hoss? Won’t that put you two in danger?”

“Now that the story has been published, there are all sorts of people who have gone up there to question people. I’m sure they may be suspicious, but they won’t dare do a thing. There’s too much attention on them right now. A marshal is up there trying to find out who the children are who were taken. No one knows what they would do with them even if they could identify them. The children only know the family they have now especially the ones who were so young. Even if some remember their families, they’re gone. There is no one to send them to.”

“Except Aubrey.”

“Yes, except no one but Aubrey knows that.”

“What is your plan?”

“I don’t want to tell you in case we fail.”

“Please tell me. Trust me.”

So Adam told her the plan. Then he went a step further and asked her the question he had been working up his courage to ask.

“Melissa, will you marry me?”

“What?”

“I think you heard me. You do that every time a question surprises you.”

“You did surprise me. Are you sure?”

“You must know me better than that by now.”

“Oh, Adam, I’m making such a mess of this. Yes, yes, I will. Please, yes.”

Pulling her into his arms, Adam kissed her with passion before pulling back as he always did when he felt he might take liberties he didn’t have a right to take. With his voice low and hoarse, he whispered into her ear. “Thank you. I don’t know how much longer I could keep doing this. I find you so desirable.”

Later that day, he told Hoss their plan was a go and to start getting things ready. This time Ben insisted they should take Joe along because they might need the help. They agreed. Then Adam told his family his news, which led to some back slapping congratulations. He told them the details would be worked out when he got back hopefully with Aubrey and her family. The three-headed out the next morning with the expected admonition from their father to be careful. He didn’t have to say it for they knew what kind of town Roundville was. They had every intention of being careful.

*****

Chapter 4

A few days later, they were nearing the town. As they had traveled, they had discussed their plan, which was fairly straightforward. Adam was going to try to talk to Aubrey when her husband went to work and explain that Melissa was going to marry him. Then he was going to identify himself and hope she had heard of the Ponderosa. What they wanted was for Aubrey and her husband to decide to move to Virginia City. He didn’t appear to have a very good job so they were going to promise him employment on the Ponderosa if he couldn’t get a job anywhere else. Once Adam and Melissa married, they would live on the Ponderosa, which would mean that Aubrey and her husband could have Melissa’s house. It seemed like a good proposition, but they didn’t know if her husband was going to have any objections to it. They could be in town in an hour, but Joe had a suggestion.

“We should wait until tomorrow.”

Anxious to implement the plan, Adam was incredulous. “Why wait?”

“Adam, why don’t we listen and find out why Joe wants us ta wait?”

Adam raised his hands as if in surrender and turned to Joe.

“At this point, we’re all tired from riding so hard to get here. If we go to town, we’ll get there about two. By now, Aubrey has been up for hours probably cooking, cleaning, and taking care of that baby. She’ll be tired too and it won’t be that long before her husband gets home. If we wait until morning, she won’t be tired and we won’t be tired, and you’ll have the whole day to convince her and let her think about it.”

Hoss turned to Adam with a triumphant grin. Adam gave a thumbs up. “All right, you win.” Then he smiled. “I guess, younger brother, that there are times we ought to listen to you. That’s a good idea.”

Grinning, Joe got ready to dismount to make camp. Hoss pointed down the trail though.

“Nope, ifn we’re riding in first thing in the morning, we want ta be as close as can be. We’ll ride that extra hour and camp outside of town.”

Rubbing his behind, Joe let them know he wasn’t happy with that decision.

But Hoss only chuckled in response. “Ya gotta pack on some pounds on that puny behind ya got there, little brother. Why, it’s a wonder you don’t wear holes in the saddle as bony as your behind is. Now my backside ain’t sore at all.”

Joe looked at Chubb though. “I bet your horse wishes you hadn’t packed quite so much padding on your backside though.”

“Why, you little pipsqueak, when I gets ahold of you, you better watch out.”

Rolling his eyes, Adam rode along at a more sedate pace as Hoss chased Joe down the trail for a time until they called a truce and paused waiting for Adam to catch up. They rode until they saw the tops of the tallest buildings in the town and then made camp. Using a site that others had clearly used before, they had a ring of stones to use for the fire and several logs had been dragged in for seating. Obviously others had thought camping out was preferable to the hotel accommodations above the saloon in Roundville. It was where Hoss and Adam had stayed the last time as Blue Knife had camped outside of town protecting their trade goods, which, as it turned out, they hadn’t needed. They had given the gold coins to Aubrey as a gesture of goodwill. Blue Knife had gotten the rest. He owed them a favor, and it was always good having a man like that owing you a favor. It meant he wouldn’t take a job working against them or at least he would tell them if he did.

In the morning, they had a leisurely breakfast not wanting to arrive before Aubrey’s husband left for work. The plan was to lay out the proposal to her first and get her to consider it so she could hopefully talk him into it if she was agreeable to it. Adam was going to do the talking while Hoss and Joe were lookouts and made sure nothing bad happened. It almost worked as planned. However a concerned neighbor saw a man in black enter Aubrey’s home and saw that he had two friends posted as sentries. She sent one of her older sons to tell her Ira, and he came from work with some friends who subdued Hoss and Joe tying them up and gagging them before they marched on the house expecting to find a man in a love tryst with Ira’s wife. They found them in the kitchen having coffee, and unfortunately for Adam, dragged him out and began administering a punishment before the marshal arrived to restore order.

“What the hell is going on here?”

“I found this man with my wife!”

“What about the other two you have tied up over there?”

“They were watching out for him.”

“I guess they didn’t do a very good job.”

“We know this town a lot better than they do.”

“Ira, it’s not what you think.”

Looking down at Adam, the marshal was surprised. “You know him?”

Ira was surprised too. He looked at Adam not recognizing him at all. Of course by then, Adam was holding his hand to his bleeding nose and his face was the worse for having taken several blows. Aubrey finally made herself heard.

“Marshal, I tried to get them to listen, the pig-headed jackasses, all of them. That’s Adam Cartwright, and he’s going to marry my sister. He was here to talk to me and offer my husband a job. I’m not sure now that the offer is still open.”

Ira stood with his mouth open. “That’s Adam Cartwright?” Then he turned to Aubrey. “Your sister.”

“The one who isn’t here.”

Suddenly Ira understood. He didn’t want to talk about it with all those people around. “Marshal, maybe we oughta all go inside to talk about this instead of out here on the street. This seems to be a family matter. Maybe we could let those other two come inside too.” He motioned toward Hoss and Joe. Once inside, Ira turned to Adam. “I never recognized you dressed this way. I thought you was a mountain man and now you show up looking like a gunman.”

Although Adam’s lip was swollen making it harder for him to talk, he did because it was important. He waved off Hoss and Joe. “I was explaining to your wife that we own a large ranch. I’m going to marry Melissa and live on the ranch. I’ll build us a house there so her house will be available. We’re offering you a job and that house if you want to move to Virginia City.”

Looking a little suspicious, Ira had some questions. “How much will this job pay, and how much of it will I owe in rent for this house?”

“The pay is thirty dollars a month and the house will be signed over to you by Melissa as a gift. She has no need of it once we’re married. She will take her personal possessions and items she considers important to her. The rest of the furnishings will stay.”

“How can you afford this?”

Hoss and Joe chuckled at that. The marshal did as well. Ira looked at him questioning why he found it humorous.

“Ira, these men are Cartwrights, from the Ponderosa Cartwrights. They’re just about the wealthiest family in Nevada. If they say they going to do that, they’ll do it. You’re a fool if you decide to stay here swamping out a saloon when you could take them up on that offer.”

“Aubrey, is this what you want to do?”

“If you’ll go with me, I want to go. It’ll be a good life for us and for our baby. He can grow up in a good town with good people around him.”

“All right, I guess I’ll go then.” Turning to Adam then, Ira put out his hand. “Sorry about the misunderstanding earlier, and thank you for still making that offer to me. Can’t say as how I woulda done the same if I was in your boots.”

Hoss chuckled again. “You must remember what it’s like ta be in love with a woman though and wantin’ ta do what it takes ta get her married up with ya. He’s doing this for Melissa not him.”

“It’s kinda crazy though. I only had Aubrey and our boy, and all of a sudden I got a sister too and pretty soon a brother. This is more family than I’ve had in some time.”

“Were you one of the children from the massacre?”

“No, but I don’t know how I came here. I just know the family that I was with wasn’t the one I was born into. I’m a bit older than the ones from the wagon train like Aubrey.” Suddenly Ira knew what he had admitted and turned to Aubrey. “I’m so sorry. It slipped out the way he was asking things.”

“It’s not a problem, Ira. I think the marshal had guessed anyway.”

“Yes, but you’re going to be with family so there’s nothing for me to do. However, can you tell me who the others are from the wagon train?”

“I could, but marshal, what good would it do? Most are happy with the homes they have here. If they aren’t, soon they’ll be going out on their own. There’s no family for them to go to anyway.”

“I know. It’s the dilemma I have here. I don’t know what to do about it.”

“Maybe tell anyone who wants to leave that they can contact you and you’ll help them leave. I think there may be a couple ready to be on their own who aren’t happy here.”

“Would you give me those names? I’ll keep them in confidence and not force anyone to go anywhere they don’t want to go.”

Adam encouraged her to cooperate. “Aubrey, I think you can trust him.”

“All right, I’ll do that.” She wrote a couple of names on a paper and handed it to the marshal. “They’re probably old enough to get jobs.”

Joe took the paper from the marshal’s hand and wrote on it before handing it back. “That’s the Ponderosa address and my name. Any of them need work, they can contact me there and I’ll get them a job with us or with someone. They won’t be all alone.”

“Good job, little brother.” Hoss smiled at Joe who appreciated his support. He looked over to Adam who gave him a thumbs-up.

Aubrey looked at Ira. “In that case, Ira, maybe you would like to have short talk with them. They could travel with us.”

“What if there’s trouble?”

The marshal moved over to Ira. “That’s why I’m here.” He looked at Aubrey. “Do you think those boys remember what happened?”

“I doubt it. They were only about four or five. They’re fourteen now, but the families they’re with treat them like hired labor. They’ll do better someplace where people can appreciate them for who they are.”

It took until about noon the next day for the small caravan to head out. When Aubrey saw Adam, she was sympathetic. It was quite different from the reception he had gotten from his brothers when he got up stiffly from his bedroll. His eyes were blackened and his nose was swollen with a slightly greenish tinge. His upper lip was discolored and larger than usual and his lower lip was lopsided with the left side much larger than the right.

“Older brother, you’re going to have a lot of explaining to do to Pa.”

Adam’s voice was a bit slurred but he made his point. “The first thing I may tell him was that I left my two brothers as lookouts to watch my back. He can judge for himself how well that worked.”

“Aw, Adam, they snuck up on us. They knew we was watchin’ and got us from behind. Now, you cain’t hold that against us, can ya?”

Looking hopeful with Hoss’ question, Joe waited for the answer.

“Maybe.” Adam was going to let them stew on that and hope it would keep them from tormenting him because he had enough aches and pains without their taunts.

When they left, they were careful to keep a close watch, and the marshal rode with them for about ten miles. Two families were angry that they had lost their workers, but two boys were happy to be out from under the yoke. They rode in the back of the wagon Ira drove with Aubrey at his side. The plan was that the boys would be guests on the Ponderosa at first until arrangements could be made. Hoss told Adam he hoped the wedding would be soon though so things wouldn’t get too complicated.

“I hope the wedding is soon too but not for that reason alone.” He made a pained face that got Hoss chuckling. Soon Joe wanted to know why and Hoss explained. It was the source of some teasing then for the rest of the trip home.

Hoss wondered too where Aubrey and Ira would be staying.

“My guess is that Melissa plans to have them stay at her house. She has an extra bedroom even if it’s small.” Adam saw the grin start. “Don’t even start with me. Nothing has happened like that.”

For the rest of the trip, Hoss and Joe eased up on Adam. Not only was he suffering from the beating he took, but he had to sleep on the ground on a bedroll and had the additional pressure of bringing Aubrey and Ira home with him. Aubrey’s baby required that they take a longer route too to make sure they could keep him safe. Therefore it took much longer to get back, and Adam knew that Melissa would be worrying more as a result. As they neared the Ponderosa, he made a decision telling Hoss and Joe to ride home with the boys.

“They can use my horse if you take it easy. I’ll ride in the wagon with Ira and Aubrey.”

Although Joe wanted to tease his oldest brother about wanting to avoid their father seeing him that way, he knew too that it was the best way to handle things. He agreed but thought he should ride Sport as the two boys weren’t used to riding. They were agreeable so the switch was made. Adam headed toward town with Aubrey and her family as his brothers headed home.

*****

Chapter 5

As Adam rode in the wagon, he felt a bit chilled so he pulled a blanket around his shoulders. With the blanket to keep him warm and the wagon rocking him from side to side, he finally could relax. He was back home and there was no trouble. Leaning back into the supplies and goods, he found a comfortable position and fell asleep. He had given exact instructions to Ira and Aubrey so they had no trouble finding Melissa’s house near town. When they pulled the wagon to a halt in front of the house, Melissa came out rushing to the wagon with a smile that disappeared as she saw those black boots protruding from the wagon bed, saw the long body wrapped in a blanket, and then saw the bruised and battered face. She screamed once and then sank to her knees shaking and faint. When she felt a hand on her arm and heard his voice, she nearly did faint away. Looking up, she saw Adam leaning over her.

“You’re alive. I saw you laying there and I thought you were dead.”

“Yes, not exactly the homecoming I expected, but it’s good to know you care so much.”

“You look terrible.”

“I’m fine.”

“Adam, what happened?”

“Would you like to say hello to your sister and her husband and your nephew first?”

Melissa looked up then to see her sister smiling at her as well as a man standing at her sister’s side. There was no question it was her sister. It was like looking in a mirror at a shorter version of herself. She stood with Adam’s assistance and walked to Aubrey and reached out almost in disbelief.

“It’s really me, Melly.”

That was all it took for the two sisters to hug and begin crying. Adam looked at Ira. The two shrugged and ushered the ladies into the house. There the whole story was told although not in order and without some of the more distasteful parts. That could all be explained later. It was late afternoon before they stopped talking.

“I’m such a bad hostess. I should have offered you food and a chance to rest.”

“No, we needed this time together, but now I would like some time to rest a bit and I have to feed Thomas.”

The baby was beginning to fuss having awakened after sleeping most of the afternoon. Melissa showed her sister to the spare bedroom and returned to the kitchen to begin preparing a meal. Adam and Ira went outside to bring in the personal things they had packed to bring along. They didn’t own much so it didn’t take long. Adam left his things in the wagon intending to take it to the Ponderosa, but Melissa insisted he stay for dinner. By the time dinner was done, he knew he was too tired for the trip home and said he would take a room at the hotel. She told him that she wanted him to stay at the house.

“Melissa, people will talk.”

“Not with Ira and Aubrey here. We have chaperones now.”

Scratching the back of his neck, Adam was willing to give in except for one problem. “But where will I sleep? The spare bedroom is occupied.”

“You can sleep in my bed and I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“I could sleep on the couch.”

“Nonsense. You’re much too large for it. I can fit on it, but you can’t.”

Ira chuckled. “I kin tell they’re sisters now. Ya can’t win an argument with one of ’em, can ya?”

Later, when Ira and Aubrey had retired to their room, Melissa apologized. “I’m sorry to be so pushy with you. It was just that I missed you and worried about you so much that I couldn’t bear to think of you leaving. I wanted you to be close.”

Wrapping his arms around her, Adam reassured her that all was well. Then he couldn’t help teasing her. Leaning in close, he whispered in her ear. “I have dreamed of being in your bed, but in all those dreams, you were in the bed too.”

“Adam!”

Looking at her, he could only grin until she answered with one of her own.

“I’ve had some dreams like that too.”

“Soon, they won’t be dreams. Have you picked a date for the wedding yet? When can you be ready now that your sister is here?”

“Any day you want. It can be tomorrow if you want.”

“Don’t tease me like that.”

“I’m not teasing. The only people who matter are your family and mine. They’ll be there on any day we choose.”

“How about Saturday then? I want to give Hop Sing some warning. He wants to bake a special cake for us and cook a special dinner.”

“Saturday sounds good.”

Reaching up to gently touch his face, Melissa smiled but with her eyebrows raised. “Perhaps by then, you will look more like yourself again too.”

The swelling was gone and the bruising had faded considerably by Saturday. However, there were still the remnants of bruising around Adam’s eyes and on his cheekbones. Joe and Hoss wanted to kid him about looking like a raccoon, but Ben tried his best to keep the occasion more solemn. Aubrey stood with her sister as Hoss and Joe stood with Adam. Roy walked Melissa down the aisle or down the stairs at the Ponderosa to be more exact. That only lasted until after the ceremony though when Adam’s brothers made toasts to their brother making reference to his abilities comparing him to a raccoon among other animals. The party was small with only Roy, Paul, and a few friends other than family present, but there were plenty of snickers anyway.

After the wedding as the guests enjoyed the dinner buffet and the large cake Hop Sing had baked, Adam talked with his father about the Ponderosa and about his future on the ranch. Adam said he wanted to make a contribution to society; he wanted to have an impact on the future. Ben smiled and looked at him.

“You think you have to leave to do that?

“I don’t think I can do it here by punching cattle and mending fences.”

“You brought out the truth of the Roundville Massacre. You brought Melissa and Aubrey back together. You made sure that Ira and Thomas have a better life not to mention those two boys who are on the ranch working with Joe. You have made an impact on the future and changed things in the present too. Yet you never left your home. In fact, your family helped you in your quest.”

Becoming very quiet, Adam frowned as he thought. Ben left him then knowing he had said what he had wanted to say. Now that Adam was married, he would be forging his dreams of his future. Ben wanted him to at least consider keeping the Ponderosa as part of those dreams. Adam had talked of building a home for Melissa on the ranch, and Ben hoped that was going to be a permanent residence and not a temporary one.

As the party wound down and the guests prepared to leave, Adam and Melissa packed up their things in a carriage too for their wedding night. They were going to spend it in Joe’s cottage, which he had graciously offered for their use. The brothers had fixed it up for a short stay. Melissa was excited to finally know that there would be no restraint in their intimacy but still apprehensive because of her previous experience with lovemaking. However with Adam, she hoped it would be better and tried to tell herself that of course it would be better although she didn’t know how.

At the cottage, she quickly found out how. Adam lifted her from the carriage and kissed her before carrying her inside. Instead of taking her to the bedroom and immediately having relations with her though which is what she expected, he told her to relax as he started a fire and lit the lamps.

“I’ll go take care of the horses and bring our things in.”

Then he kissed her softly again before he went outside. It was a half-hour before he was back. He brought their valises into the small bedroom and then came to her as she sat in a chair by the fireplace.

“You look so lovely sitting there. I almost hate to disturb you.”

“Almost?”

“I want to kiss you and hold you too much to simply look at you.”

Putting out his hands to her, he pulled her to her feet and close to him. Wrapping his arms around her once more, he kissed her cheeks, her nose, and her chin before moving to her lips. The slow progression helped ease her nervousness because by the time he got to her lips, she was anxious for the kiss and wanted him to kiss her so much that she met his kiss with passion of her own. She could almost feel the smile he had as he kissed her at first, and then he dipped down and she felt herself lifted again.

“I’ve wanted to do this ever since that first time I kissed you at your house.”

“That wasn’t that long ago.”

“Sweetheart, it seems like ages. It has been that difficult to wait.”

He carried her to the bedroom and set her down but never let her go helping her unbutton her dress and unpin her hair. As she shed her dress, he took off his coat. Then he wrapped his arms around her again to kiss but his hands were less impeded and began to roam up under her clothing touching places they had never touched before. He slid her other clothing from her piece by piece until she was completely revealed before him. In a husky voice, she asked him if he was going to do the same to himself. He hastily shed his clothing before pulling her close to him again. Moving to the bed, they were able to kiss and touch with abandon. His lips followed where his hands had been earlier. Melissa responded with enthusiasm until it was time for Adam to join with her. She tensed up then until Adam kissed her softly and told her he could wait if she wanted him to wait. As she relaxed, he moved forward causing her to gasp, but then it was all right for her. She told him to go ahead, and he began a rhythm that eventually drew her in too. She held him close as he was aware of her every response to him. When it was over, she looked into his eyes.

“It didn’t hurt. I was surprised. I liked it. I even want to do that again.”

“Sweetheart, that’s how it should always be.”

“It’s never been that way for me before. It always hurt.”

“If a man waits for a woman to be ready, it won’t hurt.”

“You didn’t pull away at the end. He always did because he didn’t want any children. Am I going to have a baby now?”

“Possibly, but I don’t think that the odds are in favor or that.”

“But if we do this every night, I could have a baby?”

“If we did, yes that would certainly increase the odds.” She could feel the rumble of the chuckle in his chest as she rested her head there.

“Why is that funny?”

“I don’t know if I could do this every night. I am willing to try, however. I might walk funny if it’s that often though.”

They did make love again later, and then slept in the next morning. When Melissa awoke, Adam was dressing.

“I need to go take care of the horses. I’ll start a fire in the stove and one in the fireplace to take the chill out of the place. You can stay in bed for a short time until it warms up.”

After Adam indicated the chamberpot in the corner and said he would take care of business outside, he was gone. Melissa did get out of bed finding that what Adam had said about walking funny made sense. After a vigorous night of making love, she did feel that walking wasn’t quite the same. They had breakfast together and spent time talking. Melissa was intrigued that what Ben had said to this son had such an impact.

“I think my father was preparing that statement for me for a long time. It was well rehearsed. He knows how to make me think about things. I have been too ever since he said that. You know there are things I want to do other than ranch work, but I know you want to stay here with your sister, and I have family here.”

“Do you think there’s a way to do those other things and still stay here?”

“Yes, I think that we can work that out. I can do both. It’s going to take some time to find ways to do it all, and my father may not like all the things I decide, but I won’t be leaving. That part he should like.”

That part Ben did like. He couldn’t say enough good things about his new daughter-in-law when he found out that Adam planned to stay. When he learned she wanted to have children and was doing all she could to make that happen, he was overjoyed. There were so many things to make him happy, he didn’t even say anything to Hoss and Joe about their prospects for getting married for at least a few months. They enjoyed that respite. After about six months, Adam and Melissa were ready to move into their new house near the lake. Ben proposed a toast but Adam said he might like to wait a moment so he could include the new information.

“New information?”

“Yes, first comes marriage, then the new house, and third, what you’ve been harassing us about for years.”

Instead of a toast, Ben sat down heavily in his chair. His dream was finally nearing completion. The next generation was on the way. He looked at Adam and then at Hoss and Joe who were grinning. Joe couldn’t stay silent.

“Now there’s something you don’t see every day. Pa is speechless. Adam, I think you’re going to have to make your own toast.”

Shaking himself, Ben stood again. “No, no, I’ll make the toast.” Lifting his glass toward Melissa first, Ben began. “I had faith in you that you would make my son happy. You have done that and made all of us a better family. Hope in the future is stronger because of you. And the strongest of these is love. The two of you show your love in every way. Love holds our family together. Even as you go to your new home, and as you prepare to bring a new life into the world, know that the love of this family is big enough for you, all of you, no matter where you are, or what you do.”

All the glasses clinked together then in the center of the table: all together then and forever.

***The End***

Note: The premise of the story is very loosely based on the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857 although the dates were changed to a much earlier time frame. White men there dressed as Indians attacked the emigrant wagon train bound for California, and when the ploy was discovered, the adults and older children were killed probably to eliminate witnesses. Surviving children were brought to the community and raised by families there. Property from the wagon train was sold at auction. Initially the attack was blamed on the southern Paiute, but their involvement is highly disputed now and most likely they were not involved at all. It is possible that a few renegades were hired or coerced into participating in thefts from the train and maybe even in the killing. It is impossible to know that now. There were nine indictments of white men eventually but only one trial, a conviction, and an execution by firing squad.

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