The Haunting (by BettyHT)

Summary:  It sounds like a Halloween story and there is a ghost story involved, but it is more a story of Adam coming to terms with his lost dreams and making a decision on his future.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  18564


Chapter 1

Riding into the yard at the Ponderosa, Hoss had some news to share. It wasn’t often he knew things before his father and brothers so this was a good situation for him. He dismounted and led Chubb to where the other three were standing and talking by the corral fence. He asked what they were discussing and could tell his father was in a surly mood.

“We’re already short-handed with moving the herd up to the upper pastures and we still have to finish the branding. Adam’s in charge of getting some stock cut out for a small drive and now Joe wants to take at least two weeks to go get some horses.”

“Well, Pa, we’re gonna need them horses to get that Army contract done by next month. We wouldn’t want to cut that too close or we’ll end up trading with the Paiute for horses again, and they drive a mighty hard bargain when they know we need ’em.”

With a scowl, Ben turned back to the corral. It was then that Hoss knew that Adam had probably already used that argument on Joe’s behalf. A slight smirk from Adam confirmed his theory. Joe’s smile showed that he appreciated having his middle brother add his support though.

“I don’t rightly know what the problem is though. We’ve handled this kind of workload before without a problem.”

“The issue is that there are some negotiations coming up in Carson City and Pa thought I was going to handle them. He was going to send Joe on the drive, but now I’ll still be going.”

“What’s wrong with me? Somebody forget I’m part of this family too?”

That got another small smirk from Adam who stayed quiet and waited for their father to speak so Hoss knew that must have already come up in the conversation too. Joe crossed his arms and leaned against the corral fence waiting for their father to answer that one. It seemed both the oldest and youngest were enjoying that moment. Turning around slowly, Ben tried to choose his words carefully, but there simply wasn’t a careful enough for this situation.

“Hoss, you’ve never bossed a drive.”

“And neither did Adam or Joe the first time they did it. I been on plenty of drives and I worked with all three of you doing ’em. What is it, Pa? Dontcha think I kin do it?”

“Of course, I think you can do it.” Ben knew right there that it was settled. There was no going back from those words. “I never thought you wanted to do it.”

“Well, of course, I never wanted to do it when Adam and Joe were there to do it. Course I know they’re both more natural at bossing men around than me, but I kin do it when I needs to do it. You oughta know that. I’ll boss the drive, and Adam kin stay here and do what he’s gotta do for you while Joe goes off chasing horses.” Looking over at Joe, Hoss frowned. “Why do you need two weeks or more?”

“As dry as it’s been, we may have to go much further north. The herds have probably moved to the valleys up there with better grazing. If we want a good string of healthy horses, we’ll be a lot further north than we usually are.”

Hoss nodded because that all made sense too. Then he remembered that he had news. “Say, I heard in town that a pretty widow lady up and bought the Marquette place. It’s been bought and sold so many times, but she bought it and plans to run it herself. She’s got two children both school age too I heard.”

“What is she going to run it as? The last two owners sold off most of the land. There’s not that much left of the place any more.” Adam was a practical man and the idea of a woman running such a small operation seemed odd to him.

“I guess she’s gonna raise chickens for the eggs and have a big garden and orchard. She does baking and sewing too so she figures to make money doing that too. I guess she paid for the ranch with money she had so she ain’t poor. She’s just gonna need enough to pay for things as they go. She’s a smart lady too and educated. They said she bought books too when she was in buying supplies.”

“The place isn’t in good repair. She’s going to need to do a lot of fixing up especially of the fences and outbuildings.” Adam had ridden by on occasion as memories of his friends still haunted him.

“Now, Adam, don’t think about taking on a project like helping her out. We’ve got more than enough work to keep you busy here.”

“Don’t worry, Pa. I think I’m cured of helping out widows who think they can run a place on their own.” With that, Adam turned and walked toward the house.

The others waited for him to enter the house before saying anything more. Ben especially was concerned. After what had happened with Laura and then with some friends who weren’t true friends, Adam had been in such a somber mood most of the time. He worried that he was going to leave.

“Pa, how we ever gonna help Adam out of this mood he’s in? I’m worried he’s gonna up and decide to leave one day.”

“Hoss, I have the same worry, but I’m afraid no one can help Adam but himself. He has to come to terms with everything and find a purpose here. If he doesn’t, I’m afraid you may be right.”

“You don’t really think Adam would leave, do you? I mean, why would he leave?”

“Joe, Adam shared my dream of building this ranch when he was younger, but it was my dream, not his. He had his dreams too. He put them aside for me. Then he had a dream of a family with Laura and Peggy, and we know what happened with that. Right now, he’s like a ship without a rudder. He feels like he’s adrift with no sense of direction, no idea of where he’s going. He may look elsewhere for a purpose if he can’t find one here.”

“Yeah, I understand. Joe’s excited about going after them horses. I’m kinda looking forward to bossing my first drive even if it makes me a mite nervous. But old Adam is just doing what he has to do because it’s expected of him. He feels responsible and has to do it. He don’t take no joy in it. I’d like to hear him laugh again.”

Ben and Joe realized too that they hadn’t heard Adam’s laugh in a long time. Hoss was sorry he had brought up the widow buying the ranch. It seemed Adam had been in a better mood until he had done that and reminded him of unhappy times. It was as if his father could read his mind.

“Don’t let it bother you, Hoss. It would have come up sooner or later, and Adam would likely have had that same reaction no matter when he heard about it.”

*****

For the next two weeks, there was a lot of work to do in preparation for the drive with all three brothers busy with the roundup and moving the rest of the cattle to summer pastures. When the drive was ready to go, Hoss got his last instructions and he left with his crew and Hop Sing as the cook. That last part made him especially happy and Hop Sing was pleased as he would have time in California to visit with relatives and friends before he had to return. As soon as Hoss left with the cattle, Joe and his crew left on their trip up north to try to gather as many wild horses as they could in the next two to three weeks.

*****

That night, Adam and Ben went over the work schedule and all the things Adam was going to have to do while his brothers were gone. It was manageable but would keep him quite busy. He also had a few days when he would be away in Carson City doing negotiations for his father too. Those were the days he anticipated most because he got to do things he seldom got to do with his evenings free there. His father probably wouldn’t have approved of all of his activities so he kept quiet about some of his plans. That first week, he rode by the Marquette place a couple of times to observe any changes he could see there. In some ways, it was good to see someone else living there as it might finally exorcise the ghosts in his past. However it was unsettling too to see how different the place was looking as the new owner made some changes. She was fond of color apparently and the all white house was gradually becoming a light yellow house with green trim. It suited the location well with the trees all around, but was still jarring to him as he had been so used to seeing that white house there for so long even as it had faded almost to gray and quite obviously needed paint.

As Savannah hung up her laundry on the line, she saw the man up on the hill again. It unnerved her to see the black clad man even though all he ever did was stop and watch from a distance. She didn’t know who he was, but all alone out so far from town, she was nervous about it. Each morning, she delivered eggs to the store and took her children to school before she came back to do her work. After the laundry, she planned to do more painting as the money for the eggs had paid for more paint. There were many other projects that needed to be done, but that one would have the most visual impact and make the place look more like a home. That man though was still there. She made sure the pistol in her laundry basket was loaded and ready before she stepped into the clear and waved to him beckoning him to come closer. She wanted to find out who he was and what he wanted.

Up on the hill, Adam was startled. He had been curious and had not wanted to go down to meet the lady. Obviously she had seen him, and it would be impolite and not neighborly at all to leave at this point. He sighed at his own carelessness at being so obvious about his curiosity and rode slowly down the hill to be confronted by a woman who appeared to be about his age or somewhat younger.

“I’ve seen you watching me. I would like to know why.”

“Ma’am, it’s not so much that I’ve been watching you as I’ve been watching the changes you’ve been making here.”

“May I ask why that would be of interest to you?”

“I think you just did.”

“What? Oh, well I suppose I did. So, what’s your answer?”

“You are direct.”

“You are evasive.”

“Yes, my father says that too.”

“You’re quite good at it too, but I would still like the answer to my question.”

“The people who lived here originally were my friends.”

“What happened to them?”

Not sure if he wanted to tell her, Adam paused but then proceeded to be blunt hoping she wouldn’t ask any more questions. “He killed her, and I killed him. They’re buried in that grove out behind the house.”

“Oh. Yes, I’ve seen the markers. No one had tended the site so I cleaned it up a little. I didn’t know if anyone would care.”

Touched by her actions as well as her words, Adam nodded in appreciation. “Thank you. It’s good to know someone took the time to do that.”

“Why didn’t you? Is it too painful?”

“Ma’am, perhaps we ought to introduce ourselves before we talk any more. I’m Adam Cartwright. I live on the ranch next door, the Ponderosa.”

“Yes, I know about the Ponderosa. I was hoping that perhaps you could use some of my eggs or my vegetables. I sell some in town to the general store and to the restaurants, but as summer comes, there will be many others selling too.”

“I’m sure we might be able to use some. Not right now though as we have men gone on a cattle drive and on a hunt for wild horses. Now, may I know your name, please?”

“Oh, I am sorry. I’m Savannah Wilde. I live here with my children Eva and Owen who are at school now. The school term is over this week though so they will be able to help me here.”

“Yes, you have a lot to do.” Looking around up close, Adam could see even better how many repairs were needed. “You could use some help.”

“I could, but I can’t afford to hire anyone right now. I’ll manage until I can get together enough to do that. I only have two milk cows and two horses in the stable so it should hold well enough for that.”

“You can’t put them in the pasture though, can you? Do you cut grass and bring it in for them?”

“Yes, I have to do it that way. The fences are down in too many spots to let them out. That will have to be the summer project.”

“Well, good luck with your projects. I do need to get going. It was nice meeting you, Savannah Wilde.”

“It was nice meeting you too, Adam Cartwright. It was much better than worrying about the man in black lurking up on the hill watching me. I won’t worry about you any more.” She saw his eyes crinkle a little at the corners as she grinned at him. There was the hint of a smile there and she thought that if he ever did smile at her, he might have a dimple. It seemed there might be one there. At that point, she had a sudden thought that it would be nice to see that dimple sometime. She quickly banished the thought as she watched him ride away but couldn’t help admiring the view too. It had been a long time since she had a normal conversation with a handsome man. It had felt very comfortable and natural. She hoped he might stop by again.

When Adam got home, he was distracted and his father noticed. Because Adam tended to be touchy about being questioned about his private thoughts and his work was done, Ben said nothing. But over the next couple of days, he noted Adam seeming to be lost in thought far more than usual. He finally had to ask because he was worried that he might not be in a good frame of mind to attend the negotiations in Carson City. He was still the best negotiator in the family when it came to getting all the minutiae in a contract spelled out, and Ben hoped he was ready for the challenge. He snarled at any hint that he wasn’t ready to do what he said he was going to do so Ben dropped the subject, but he still wondered about what had changed.

*****

Chapter 2

Despite what he had said to his father, Adam found himself slightly distracted during the negotiations in Carson City too. He had to work to keep his mind focused on the negotiations that always dragged on as they worked on minor details and haggled over wording. Freckles on a cute nose and hazel eyes framed by rich brown curls that had slipped from their confining pins kept intruding on his thoughts. Worse were the images of those soft lips. Those were the ones he had to banish or he wouldn’t have been able to concentrate at all. He got angry with himself and that helped him focus and get tough with the others on setting the terms.

The men representing the railroad construction company noticed the change in demeanor and realized they had pushed Adam as far as they could. Needing the Ponderosa timber, they settled the rest of the deal on terms far more favorable to the Ponderosa making the final contract better than what Ben had probably expected Adam could get. When Adam smiled at the end and shook the hands of the railroad representatives, they wondered if they had been snookered as Adam seemed to be in a quite jovial mood once they conceded some points they had thought he would never agree to compromise. At that point, they looked at each other and frowned thinking perhaps it had all been a big act but they weren’t sure. It bothered them to think that a rancher from Nevada might have outmaneuvered them.

It was late so Adam decided to spend the night in town and travel home the next day. One of the railroad men however was on his way to Virginia City to make a secondary deal with Barney Fuller. He met with him that evening and told him he had made a deal with the Ponderosa. In order to get a good deal with Barney, he stated a figure well below what they had agreed to pay the Ponderosa. Barney laughed and said he would never agree to such a low amount. Instead he bargained a higher price. It was far less than what Adam had gotten in his contract, but Barney didn’t know that. He had been snookered.

The next morning, as Adam headed toward home, Ben was heading to town to get supplies. Unfortunately he saw Barney Fuller who couldn’t wait to brag about how he had gotten a better deal in one night than Adam had gotten in several days over in Carson City. By the time Ben was heading home, he was boiling with anger that he had concealed well but he needed to vent. When he got home, everyone knew to stay away from him. He stewed the rest of the day until Adam arrived. Waiting at his desk, he was ready to unleash that anger. It was a character flaw he knew he had, but when he was angry, he seldom remembered to curb it. This time was no different.

“I saw Barney Fuller in town today. He couldn’t wait to tell me how well he did with a contract with the railroad and how poorly you did in comparison. I knew you were distracted. I knew your mind wasn’t fully on doing this job. I can’t believe you settled for a price that low!”

Shocked at first by his father’s tone and then by his words, Adam’s own anger built up dangerously high and fast. He took the leather satchel with the contract copies and tossed it on his father’s desk scattering pictures, sundries, and various other items his father scrambled to grab before they plunged to the floor. Adam’s valise hit the floor with a thud, and the next thing Ben heard was the door slamming shut. He stormed to the door and flung it open.

“You could at least face me and tell me what happened.”

But Adam was already riding out of the yard without looking back. Ben went back to his desk and straightened up the mess and then reluctantly pulled out the contracts to look at them. From what he had heard, they would barely make a profit on the timber they would be producing and shipping to the rail construction. The spur line was important to the area, but he didn’t think he wanted to help finance it by selling timber at what amounted to cost. When he read the contracts though, he wanted to slap himself and then Barney. The amounts listed in the contracts were highly favorable to the Ponderosa and would be very profitable. Adam had done an excellent job on them and he knew he had been a jackass when he had confronted his son. Now he didn’t know where he was. He had feared his son might be leaving at some point and worried he may have given him a reason to go.

*****

Later that evening, Owen got out of bed and stared out of his window. He had turned down his lamp and gotten into bed but saw something strange. He had to tell his mother.

“Mama, I think there’s a fire in the stable. It’s glowing around the door. Or maybe it’s haunted. I’ve heard about ghosts and things in town here. I heard there’s a cemetery in town that is haunted and there are lights there at night.”

“It’s not haunted, Owen. Stay here, and make sure that Eva stays in her room.”

In a rush, Savannah was out the door and on her way to the stable intent on grabbing a bucket and taking water from the horse trough if there was a fire. However she knew immediately that it wasn’t necessary. She saw that it was a lantern glow in the stable not a fire. However she proceeded carefully because she wondered who it could be until she saw the horse tied to the corral fence. She smiled even as she wondered why he would be in her stable. She peeked in the crack between the doors and saw him planing some wood. He had her toolbox open and it looked like he was working on the doors. She opened the door, which got his attention.

“My son saw the glow of the lantern. He thought our stable was on fire or perhaps that you were a ghost haunting the place.”

“I’m sorry. I wanted to help and I needed some work to do. I thought perhaps you wouldn’t mind.”

“You needed some work to do?”

“I was angry, and I had to work out the anger.”

“Angry at whom?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Of course it did, but she wasn’t going to push him on that. “What are you doing?”

“When I was here, I saw that your stable doors didn’t open and close properly. I thought I would fix that. I’m good at that kind of thing, and it keeps my mind off other things.”

“How are you going to do that? Fix it, I mean?”

“It’s rather easy, actually. Some of the boards are warped. I’m going to replace them so that they’re all flat and fit together tightly. Then I’ll make sure that there’s a board for the crosspiece that fits snug across all the others. It won’t take long.”

“It’s dark already. Aren’t you afraid of riding home in the dark?”

“It’s a ride I made many times. I’ll go slow and it’ll be fine.”

“I’m surprised our dog, Beau didn’t start barking that you were here.”

“Oh, Beau is his name. Well, Beau and I got along fine as soon as I gave him part of my meal. He’s quite easy to bribe as it turns out.”

“He’s usually a good judge of character too.”

“Usually?”

“I didn’t mean that he wasn’t this time. He did meet you when you were here earlier and I was talking with you. He trusted you and didn’t see you as a threat, and I’m standing here without my pistol in my hand so I must trust you too.”

“Thank you for that.”

“Well, I should let you get back to working then. Thank you, Adam.”

“What will you tell Owen?”

“Why?”

“I would rather people didn’t know I was over here helping you. Gossip always starts so easily about us.”

“I would rather not be the subject of gossip either. Yes, I know children can so innocently share information that others can take the wrong way.” She thought for a moment. “Ever since we found graves on the ranch here, Owen thinks the place might be haunted. He’s heard stories about places in town that might be haunted. I’ll tell him there was no fire only a lantern burning. Maybe he’ll think it was a ghost. He can think the stable is haunted. I don’t want him out here when I’m not here anyway.”

She got the grin then and there was a dimple.

“That is a little bit mean, but it should work too.”

With a smile, she left him to his work. In the house, she went up to Owen’s room and found him still awake much as she suspected she would. He immediately asked what she had found.

“It was a lantern and nothing more. It’s nothing to worry about. Now you go to sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”

*****

After Savannah left his room though, Owen got out of bed and looked out the window. The glow was back at the stable. He wondered if they had ghosts. He went back to bed worrying about that and despite his best intentions to stay awake and monitor the situation, he fell asleep. The next time he awoke and looked out the window, the stable was dark. In the morning, everything looked perfectly normal. At breakfast, he asked his mother if the stable was haunted by ghosts.

“Oh, Owen, you’re seven years old. You should know there are no ghosts.”

Although she seemed sure of her answer, he wasn’t so confident. When they went to get the carriage harnessed up for the daily trip to town to deliver eggs, he saw that he stable doors were perfect. They swung easily and closed tightly.

“Mama, who fixed the doors? Yesterday, they were all rickety and today they’re perfect.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I thought they were always pretty good.”

Owen looked nervously into the stable then wondering what kind of ghost they had that could fix stable doors. He wondered too what else he could do. He hoped he would stay in the stable. When his mother and sister got in the carriage, he hurried to join them after closing the stable doors.

“Mama, aren’t you afraid to go in the stable alone?”

“Not at all, dear.”

“I am.”

“Well, that’s just as well. I don’t want you going out there without me until you’re older. Now, keep an eye on your sister and we’ll get these eggs to town.” But Savannah had a bit of a smile as she flicked the reins and headed the team down the road.

*****

On the Ponderosa, Ben was sitting at his desk wondering what he should do. He had waited up the night before to apologize to Adam. He had gotten out only a simple apology before Adam had gone up the stairs and to his room. It was clear he wasn’t ready to forgive yet. He had hoped to do a more complete apology in the morning at breakfast but found Adam was gone already by the time he got to the dining table. Hop Sing’s cousin said he had gone because he said he was behind in his work after being gone for four days. That was true, but Ben knew why he wanted to be out of the house so early. The look on Hop Sing’s cousin’s face said he knew why too. By midmorning, Ben made a decision and saddled up Buck to take a ride. When he got to the south pasture, he saw Adam with a group of men working on a fence line. They were talking and seeming to have a good time as they dug holes and set posts for a new fence there. Some were bringing in stones to help anchor the posts. As Ben neared the group though, the conversation ceased and the men moved away to leave Adam alone with his father.

“It seems everyone is upset with me.”

“No, they only know what’s likely to happen when you show up where I’m working.”

“What does that mean?”

“I think you know what it means.”

“I don’t always come to criticize.”

However Adam’s silence was his response to that. He didn’t agree. Ben wanted to get defensive about that, but he had another more important issue to discuss so he didn’t want to get sidetracked.

“I came to offer a sincere apology. Barney Fuller gave me incorrect information about what was in those contracts. I should have waited to hear from you, but he needled me so much I lost my temper. Then I stewed on it for hours. My pride was hurt. That is all my fault, and I should not have taken that out on you. Not trusting you to do a good job was wrong.”

“All right.”

“I’m forgiven.”

“Yes, again, but Pa, I think there’s something you need to do. If that had been Hoss or Joe, would you have greeted them like you greeted me? I understand the anger after what Barney did, but would you have held it in check and asked them to explain first before you unloaded your anger on them?”

“I don’t know that I unloaded on you.”

“You made some accusations before you knew what had happened.”

“Yes, and I have apologized for that.”

“All right, then, I need to get back to work.”

“Will I see you at dinner?”

“I don’t think so. I have other plans.”

“May I ask what they are?”

“You can ask.”

Ben knew he had pushed as far as he dared then. He mounted up on Buck and rode home. Adam’s words continued to reverberate though. The more he heard them, the more he had to admit, those words might be true. He probably would have been angry if it had been Hoss or Joe and then demanded that they explain. He hadn’t given Adam that option but had accused him of wrongdoing first. By the time he got home, he felt guilty. He had done as Adam had said, but he didn’t know why.

*****

When it was time for dinner, Adam headed to town instead of home. He planned on a quiet dinner and then perhaps a drink and maybe a card game. He didn’t often take a night in town for himself but felt he deserved one at least. On his way to the restaurant, he was hailed by Barney Fuller. The man couldn’t wait to gloat.

“I saw your father yesterday. I had a good time letting him know how well I did compared to how you did with the railroad men. You know, sonny, it takes a lot of experience to get a good deal. Someday, you’ll learn enough to do it.”

“Really, well one thing I already know is not to take their word for what they gave a competitor. Do you seriously think the Ponderosa would have accepted an offer as low as what they told you we took? You would think with your experience, you would know when you were being bamboozled. Sorry about the deal you got. If you had asked me, I would have told you the terms of our contract. Excuse me now, please, I’m hungry, and I think I’ve earned one of the best dinners the town has to offer.”

Leaving Barney with a red face and an open mouth, Adam tipped his hat and continued on to the International House and enjoyed some of the best food in town as well as a fine wine. When he finished his dinner, he realized he had been thinking of a broken paddock gate and a fallen corral fence much more than a poker game, a glass of whisky, and perhaps some willing company later. He paid his bill, got his horse, and headed out-of-town with some light left hoping to get to the Wilde ranch before it was too dark to see where he was going.

*****

That night, Owen heard noises, but when he looked out of his bedroom window, he didn’t see a light. There was a full moon and it was a cloudless night though so that masked the lantern light that might have shown otherwise behind the stable as Adam worked on the paddock gate. Savannah heard the telltale noises too and smiled when she realized he must be at work again. She wondered what kind of anger drove him to labor a second night and walked out to see him after she was sure her children were asleep.

“Am I going to have a nighttime helper every night?”

“I wasn’t planning on tonight, but I remembered the state of this gate, and then I remembered the corral fence, and I wanted to do something worthwhile instead of what I had in mind.”

“And what was it you had in mind?”

“Trust me, we probably shouldn’t be talking about that. Now, if you would be so kind as to hold your lantern up high here, I think I can set this paddock gate properly and you won’t have any more problems with it.”

Once that was finished, they tested it and found it sound. Then they did an examination of the paddock fence and found it sturdy enough.

“It wouldn’t likely hold a bull or any animal set on breaking free, but your two milk cows should be fine. You can let them out here after you milk them in the morning and bring them back in to milk them in the evening. It should make it easier to feed them too. You only need to throw the cut grass over the fence instead of carrying it into the stable.”

“Do I need to keep them in the stable at night?”

“Yes, probably. Two of them would be targets for predators. They would be safer in the stable. I’ll work on the corrals next and then they’ll get more room to roam.”

“Why are you doing all this?”

With a shrug, Adam leaned on the fence. “I’m not entirely sure. I guess I needed a project. Something I’m in charge of doing, and there’s no one else around who can tell me what to do.”

“I think I’m starting to get a hint of where that anger is coming from.”

She couldn’t be sure because of the darkness, but even in the moonlight and with the lantern light, she thought she saw a dark look with her comment. His response made her think she was correct in that assumption.

“That topic is off-limits. Now, I’ll put the toolbox away and head on out so you can go inside.”

“Would you like a cup of coffee before you go?”

Pausing, Adam frowned not sure of what she was offering.

“It’s only the coffee. I thought it would be neighborly seeing as how you’re doing all this work, and the children are asleep so they won’t be telling any tales.”

“Yes, a cup of coffee would be nice.”

That cup of coffee turned into almost two hours of talking as Savannah told him about her trip from Georgia with her husband to the California goldfields where he had made a small strike but was felled by a heart attack. “That was shortly before Eva was born. I had money but no husband, a gold claim but no one to work it, and two children. I started a restaurant with the money from selling the claim and did a booming business until the gold ran out. I used that money to come here and buy this place.”

The story of the building of the Ponderosa took as long to tell even though it was the short version. It was nearly midnight before Adam said he had to go. Neither had realized the time until her clock struck the midnight hour. She apologized for keeping him so late, but he said he had enjoyed every minute of it and grinned as he said goodbye. She did like that grin.

*****

Chapter 3

The next morning, Adam had to suppress a smile as he could see his father holding back. He knew his father disapproved of the late hour he had returned and had probably made assumptions as to why that had happened, but he wasn’t going to say anything though it was killing him to do so. It was a good exercise for him in Adam’s opinion so he wasn’t planning on making it easier for him. He simply had his breakfast, said the usual pleasantries for the morning, and said where he’d be working for the day before he left. Ben never got a chance to ask if he’d be home for dinner. While picking up something to eat for lunch, he did tell Hop Sing’s cousin that he would be missing dinner again because he didn’t want the cook mad at him.

“You find better place to eat?”

“No, but I found a better place to be and good company for conversation.”

“Ah, she good cook?”

Shocked that the cook had correctly guessed he meant a woman with his previous comment, he had nothing to say to that. The cook added more food to his sack when he didn’t answer. He thanked him even as the cook had a big smile as he ushered him out of the kitchen and told him to have a good time.

“Need good time. Need to make spirit feel free again. Open heart to good things.”

“You’re a wise man. Thank you.”

*****

That night, Owen saw a light moving in the pasture and then nearer the house. He got worried and went to his mother to tell her. She told him not to worry as there was no problem. He was convinced there was and went to his room and watched as the light bobbed around the corral and back to the pasture stopping occasionally and then moving again a short time later. At one point, he gasped and the ran to his bed and hid under the covers for he had seen the ghost. He had never seen a ghost before, and he found this one completely unnerving. He told his mother about him the next day.

“Mama, that man who’s buried out back in the trees: he’s the ghost, I think. I saw him last night.”

“You saw him?” Savannah was worried about what Owen might say to people. She had told Adam that the children were in bed and wouldn’t be telling any tales. She hoped he hadn’t seen her go out to talk with Adam.

“Yes, he’s all black from head to toe. He must be an evil ghost.”

Relieved that he hadn’t known it was a person, Savannah had to reassure him that everything was fine. “Has he done any evil?”

“Well, no, not that I know.”

“Isn’t the stable door better now, and yesterday you said you can lock and unlock the paddock gate all by yourself now as it swings so easy.”

“Yes, I can.” Owen was frowning even as Eva stared across the table with her eyes wide at the whole conversation.

“I wonder what you’ll find today.”

“Can I go look?”

“You may go look with me as soon as we have finished our breakfast.”

“Can I go with him, Mama?”

“You may go with us when you finish your breakfast too.”

“Do I hafta wait for her to finish, Mama?”

“Yes, Owen, we will go together, and it’s have to not hafta.”

A short time later, the two children were excited as they learned from observing on their excursion. Owen spoke fast.

“Mama, the ghost fixed the corral fence. Well, one of them anyway. We can use that corral now. Things are really starting to look good around here now. We can let the cows out in the paddock, and we can let the horses out in the corral. Wow, Mama, we got ourselves a good ghost. He’s here fixing up his ranch for us. He must like us being here.”

“Yes, we certainly do have a good one then if that’s what we have, and if so, he does seem to like having us here.” Savannah had a big grin at that. “Now, as soon as I finish up here, we have eggs and butter to deliver to town.”

*****

That night, Owen wasn’t afraid when he saw the light out in the corral. He thought it was their protective spirit at work again. He watched for a few minutes and was sure he saw the black ghost one more time. It was clearly the silhouette of a cowboy. He was sure of that so he guessed their ghost was the spirit of the man who was buried on their property. He crawled into bed and slept well wondering what would be fixed by morning. Savannah enjoyed telling Adam the tale that night and hearing him chuckle over it.

“At least he’s not afraid so he won’t be having any bad dreams because of me. How about Eva? Is she all right with this idea too?”

“She will follow whatever Owen says. He has assured her that you’re a good spirit so we have nothing to fear.”

“Well, I do like to think of myself as a good spirit too.”

“I’ll have coffee hot if you want a cup before you go.”

*****

They settled into a comfortable routine. Adam would work for a couple of hours and then head to the house for a cup of coffee and sometimes some pie or cake. They would talk for an hour or so and then Adam would head home. There were no more marathon chats. Both realized they needed to get some sleep and they could always talk more the next night.

After about two and a half weeks, Joe returned after a successful quest to capture wild horses. He and the men with him had found more than they needed and had some horses they could sell to their neighbors if they didn’t find a reason to keep them. Ben went to the corrals with Joe and looked over the stock they had brought in suitably impressed with the quality of the mustangs there.

“Joe, these look so good, I’m thinking we should keep all of the ones we don’t need for the Army contract. We always need horses, and these would make a good addition to our herds. We could work out which mares to breed and take them out of the working rotation then.”

“That’s great, Pa. I was hoping you might think that way too. With the prices that good horses are selling for right now around here, we could start a breeding program too instead of always relying on catching mustangs.”

“That’s a lot of work, Joe.”

“I know it is, but between me and Adam and some of the other men here who know horses, I think we could do it. Where is Adam, by the way? I haven’t seen him yet and it’s almost dinner time.”

“Ah, Adam hasn’t been coming home for dinner. He does his work and then he goes some place.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know.”

Uneasy then about what had been happening in his absence, Joe was too curious to wait for an explanation. “Did you two have words?”

Sighing, Ben gave that answer with his mannerisms before he said anything. “We did, but I thought it was all settled, and I don’t know why he’s not here for dinner or in the evening. He’s quite pleasant at breakfast now and there doesn’t seem to be any lingering rancor, but he leaves for the day’s work and doesn’t return until it’s time to go to bed. He takes enough food to eat his dinner and from what I can tell, he hasn’t been to town. No one has mentioned anything about seeing him there.”

“Where is he going?”

“Out. When I ask, he says he’s going to be out. So somewhere out there. I have no idea where or what he’s doing.”

“Maybe I should follow him and see where he’s going.”

“Joe, we can’t do something like that. He’s a man. He would resent that.”

“It’s tempting though, isn’t it? I know what you mean though. Maybe I’ll ask him where he’s been going. We haven’t had words so maybe he’ll tell me.”

*****

Except that didn’t work either. Joe brought up the subject when he and Adam were in the stable the next morning. He had noted as their father had stated that Adam seemed to be in a fine mood. So he asked where he had been going in the evenings.

“I see you’ve been talking with Pa. I’ll give you the same answer I’ve given him. I’m going out. I have found some things to do that interest me, but I have no desire to talk about it. It is of no consequence to the Ponderosa or this family. It is my concern only.”

“Why all the secrecy?”

“It’s not secrecy, it’s privacy. I have a right to that, don’t I? I have a right to a life that isn’t being examined and discussed by my family, and yes, I know you and Pa would discuss it if I answered your question.”

“Would you answer it if I promised not to tell Pa?”

“I wouldn’t give you that burden.”

“You know you’re only making me more curious.”

“Don’t follow me, Joe. It’s none of your business.”

“All right. Pa already told me not to do that.”

Of course, that got a smirk. “You going to start working with the horses today?”

“Yeah, and I could use some help too.”

“As soon as I get those fence lines finished, we can see about that. Shouldn’t be more than another day or two at the most.”

“That would be helpful. Pa wants to keep all of them that we don’t need for the Army contract. I kinda talked him into it. I figured we could start a breeding operation and start selling more horses once we got that going. With the price of horses now, we could make a lot of money on that.”

“That’s a lot of work.”

“I kinda figured you would help out on that.”

“I could.”

“We’re going to need more corrals and we could use another stable too.”

“That is a lot more work.”

“For now, I’m wondering if we could rent some space. You know, the Marquette place had some nice corrals and a big stable. Maybe that widow woman who bought the place would rent them to us. I did hear they weren’t in good shape but maybe it wouldn’t take too much to fix them up.”

Adam bit his lip on that one not sure how to respond. Joe didn’t notice as he was thinking about his own idea.

“Maybe I ought to ask Pa about it. I could ride over there and ask her if she was willing to do that for a few months. I would think she wouldn’t mind a bit more cash coming in. Heck, since it’s a widow woman, maybe I should see if Pa would go over there to ask her.”

At that point, Adam had a flash of almost panic or jealousy. He wasn’t sure which, but he didn’t want his father talking with Savannah. Instead, he decided to push Joe in another direction.

“If Pa isn’t entirely sold on your idea though, he might not drive the best bargain.”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right about that. Hey, maybe you could go. You would know best about the condition of the stable and the fences and whether they’re good enough for us to use them.”

“Maybe I could. Why don’t you let me know what Pa thinks of your idea first.”

“Gee, thanks, Adam. I will. I’ll go talk to Pa right now.”

As Joe headed to the house, Adam smiled at how easily he had distracted Joe from his original questions and how he had managed to deflect him from going to see Savannah or sending their father to see her. He felt pretty good about things at that point. His mood sank a bit though when Joe came out fairly soon with an answer. He wasn’t so sure of Savannah’s acting ability or her willingness to engage in subterfuge.

“Pa likes the idea. It’s cheaper than building especially if we don’t continue after this batch. So he said yes and that you can make the deal. Oh, he said to invite her to dinner Sunday too with her children. He said she’s a new neighbor and he hasn’t had a chance to stop over and welcome her yet so a dinner invitation is his way of welcome. Sunday at five if she’s agreeable.”

*****

After Adam agreed to do that, Joe headed out to start working with the horses. The first thing Adam did was stop by his work crew to make sure everything was going smoothly and then told them he had an errand to complete for the ranch. When he headed to the Wilde ranch, some of the men snickered. They had watched at the end of the day a few times to see him ride that way. Most suspected a lot more than what was actually happening. When Adam arrived, Savannah was loading her wagon with the items for her daily run to town. Surprised to see Adam, she waited with her children by the wagon as he rode up.

“Good morning, Mister Cartwright.”

“Call me, Adam, please. It sounds like my father is here otherwise. Good morning, Missus Wilde.”

Adam dismounted and Beau ran to him for some attention. Owen frowned wondering why Beau didn’t bark at the stranger who petted him.

“Beau likes you.”

“I guess he does. Are you Owen?”

“Yes, how’d you know my name?”

“I heard that there were two children here and one was Owen and the other was Eva. I guessed you were not Eva.”

Eva giggled at that as Savannah smiled. Owen wasn’t sure what to think of the man clad in all black and wearing a pistol slung low. He had the impression he was a gunman, but his mother talked to him as if she was not afraid.

Adam turned his attention to Eva. “You must be Eva then.”

“Yes. I lost a tooth.”

She showed her gap in front making Adam smile.

“It looks like you lost more than one.”

“Yes, but I lost the other ones before. I lost that one last night.” She pointed then to the new spot where there was a fresh opening and no little tooth coming in.

“Well, I can see that. I must say that you are still a very pretty girl.”

“Thank you. Mama said that too. She said everybody loses teeth. Do you lose teeth.”

“I did when I was your age. I try not to lose any now.”

“Why not?”

“Because if you lose them at my age, they don’t grow in again.”

Savannah came to his rescue then telling Eva that she had asked enough questions. “She loves to ask questions. She could go all day if you let her. Now, was there a question you have?”

“Yes, I do. I came to offer you a bit of business if you’re interested. Our ranch has need of some extra corral space and stable space. We were wondering if you would be willing to rent space to us for the next few months.”

“I think that could be arranged. I wouldn’t mind a little extra income, and I’m not using most of that space at the moment.”

“I’d have to bring a crew over to make sure the fences were sound.”

“You don’t hafta do that, mister. We got a ghost who fixes things at night.”

All Adam did was raise an eyebrow as if in surprise as Savannah shushed her son. “Now, Owen, I thought I told you that we weren’t going to talk about that with anyone.”

“Sorry, Mama, it slipped out. I forgot we weren’t supposed to tell anyone about the ghost.”

With a smile, Adam moved on. “Another thing, ma’am, my father wanted me to extend an invitation to dinner on Sunday to you and your children. He sends his regrets for not stopping by to welcome you as our neighbor, but he hopes he can make amends for that at dinner.”

“I am pleased to accept that invitation. We’ll be there.”

Looking up at his mother, Owen was concerned. “Mama, where is there?”

“The Ponderosa, sweetie. Adam and his family own the Ponderosa.”

With a smile, Adam said goodbye, mounted up, and headed back to work. He guessed that he and Savannah would have an interesting discussion that evening although he had to admit he found all of their discussions stimulating. He looked forward to each day because it ended with some time with her. Of course, he was going to have to discuss his concerns about dinner and that would lead to a more personal discussion than any of their previous talks. It was the direction they had been heading, but now the pace had been accelerated. He wasn’t sure if he was comfortable with that, but there was no turning back.

*****

Chapter 4

As expected, when Adam was working that night, Savannah came out to discuss what he had asked about earlier. She was also happy to tell him that her children liked him.

“Yes, you were the subject of much of their discussion on the way to town. They were amazed that Beau liked you so much. He barks at strangers and acts very protective of us so when he went up to you they thought that was a good sign.”

“A good sign?”

“That you’re a friend. Eva thinks the world of you already. You talked with her when most men ignore her. She’s never had a father so she craves attention from men. You were very sweet with her.”

“She is a very sweet little girl. I think I drove my father crazy with questions when I was young too. I remember how frustrating it was when he didn’t have time to answer.”

“Was that often?”

“Quite often.”

“Maybe he didn’t have the answers either. Sometimes I don’t know how to answer Eva’s questions. She can ask the most peculiar questions. Now Owen is more the practical type. I can answer the kinds of questions he asks.”

“How are they different?”

“Owen will ask something like how do you figure out how much cloth you need for a shirt. Eva will ask why some people are poor and others are rich and why does God make tornadoes.”

Adam had to chuckle at that. “I think I asked my father both kinds of questions. It depended on the mood I was in and what we were doing.”

“It’s not easy explaining any of those things to a six-year-old girl either so you can stop chuckling too. Maybe when we’re at your house, I’ll put you in charge of answering her questions.”

“Speaking of being at my house, what about my father’s questions? I don’t want him to know I’ve been over here. I’d rather keep that between us.”

“You think your father would gossip?”

“No, not gossip but perhaps jump to conclusions.”

“That we’re more than friends.”

“Yes, something like that.”

“Adam, isn’t it about time that you told my why I found an angry man working in my stable that night? It was strange, don’t you agree? Perhaps you trust me enough to tell me why now? I think you know that I won’t be running around telling tales. I’ve told you my story, and you’ve told me about your family and your family history, but you haven’t told me about you. What is it that you find so difficult to discuss?”

Stopping his work, Adam put the tools back in the toolbox. Savannah was worried that he was going to leave. Instead, he beckoned her to follow him and walked to the stable putting the toolbox down and sitting on a bench.

“It’s not an easy thing to explain and will take some time.” First he gave her a short version of some of his failed romances and then he told her about Laura and how he asked her to marry him and how his cousin Will had gone behind his back and had an affair with his fiancée stealing her and her daughter away from him.

“That’s terrible. The treachery of it was awful, but surely you can’t mourn the loss too much of a woman who would do that to you?”

“It wasn’t just that. You see, I’m thirty-five years old and living in my father’s house, taking my father’s orders, and being supervised by my father in all that I do. Marrying Laura would have been me with my own family in my own house having my own life. When she took up with Will, she took all of that away too. Now even more I resent every order my father gives me, every criticism he makes. That’s why I ended up in your stable working. I was desperate for a job I could do on my own without my father being involved at all and with none of it benefiting or affecting the Ponderosa or my family in any way.”

“It’s so ironic then, isn’t it?”

“That they’re going to rent the stable and corrals from you? Yes, it is.”

“You know you can trust me not to say anything about any of this.”

“Yes, but if my father asks probing questions, how good an actress are you?”

“Ah, I see what you mean. I don’t know. I’ve never had to put on a charade like this before so I don’t know if I can act that well or not.”

“Charade?”

“Act like I don’t know you and like you very much.” Afraid she had said too much, Savannah needed to change the subject. “Are you thinking of leaving? To make a life for yourself away from your father?”

“It’s something I’ve thought about.”

It was too soon for Savannah to say what she was thinking, but she didn’t want him to go. He was thinking that if someone like Savannah would show an interest in him, he might still be able to have a life of his own here and not have to leave. However, he thought it was too soon to ask her if she liked him enough to consider spending time with him. Being together outside of the conversations they had at night would go a long way toward them finding out if they were compatible and if they might fall in love, but he was too snake-bit at this point to take a chance. She wished though that he would. Instead they sat quietly lost in their thoughts for a time. Then Savannah stood.

“I should get back to the house.”

“I should get going too.”

They walked out of the stable together and Savannah held the lantern higher so Adam could easily see the braces for the crossbar. Once the door was closed securely, he turned toward her. She put a hand to his cheek.

“Don’t worry. Everything is going to be all right.”

Before she could drop her hand, he put his hand over her hand and held it to his cheek drawing her closer to him. Up in his room, Owen had noticed a light and looked out toward the stable. He was shocked to see his mother kissing the ghost. He didn’t know what to think and when they separated and the ghost walked away, he crawled into bed and found sleep difficult to achieve. In the morning, he was quieter than usual and only told his mother that he had trouble sleeping. She didn’t suspect why. She had some trouble sleeping too after that kiss. Adam had drawn her close and kissed her softly before releasing her. She had not wanted him to stop though.

“I think you can do better than that.”

It was an invitation and they both knew it. He drew her into an embrace then and kissed her with some passion before releasing her once more but with a promise. She knew then that she would be seeing quite a bit more of the handsome cowboy. She had made a commitment, but she spent part of the night second-guessing herself until she decided she needed to add up the pluses and the minuses of her decision and couldn’t find any serious minuses other than he might leave and the relationship would end. It was a risk she was willing to take. Accepting that, she was able to roll over and slept well the rest of the night.

*****

On the Ponderosa, Adam didn’t sleep well at all. He knew he had taken a big step with Savannah and wasn’t sure he had made the right decision. It had been impulsive and born out of need. Memories of Laura and some similarities to that situation jolted him. Spending time calculating the differences helped. He had some time to think about all of it and was lost in thought when his father and brother joined him at the breakfast table. He hardly responded to their comments and clearly wasn’t paying attention to their conversation. Finally, Joe shouted his name and startled him nearly making him spill his coffee.

“What? Is there a fire?”

“No, I needed your attention and you were off somewhere.”

“I’ve been working hard lately. I guess I may be a bit tired.”

Wisely, Ben said nothing about the evenings and some of the late nights. Instead, Joe rolled his eyes which was enough to irritate Adam anyway. He looked a bit stormy but waited to hear Joe out.

“Are you going to be able to help today with breaking some horses? I need to see if some of the best ones can be broken. If so, then we can sort through the rest and start making decisions on which ones to send over to the Wilde ranch and which ones to keep here to break for the Army contract.”

“I can help.”

“Great, that’s all I needed to know. We work well together, don’t you think?”

“Sometimes we do. We’ll see how it goes.”

Noting how their father was uncharacteristically quiet, Adam looked at him but he was studying his coffee cup it seemed and not about to take part in their conversation. Shrugging, Adam got up to leave with Joe. As they walked to the stable, Joe decided to explain.

“I asked Pa to let us handle it. I told him that the two of us get into enough arguments without him adding to it especially these days.”

“These days?”

“You know, the way you and Pa seem to be on edge around each other some. I was only trying to help. I know we won’t agree on everything, but we can talk about it, can’t we? The only way to make this work is if the two of us can work together.”

“All right, let’s see if we can do it that way.”

“Oh, I know we can. We can start by breaking some horses.”

“How much horse breaking did you have in mind for today?”

“Only as much as you’re comfortable doing. Then we can cut out some horses that you think will make good breeding stock and bring them over to the Wilde ranch. Tomorrow I thought we could do the same. That way we can sort of work out way through the stock and not have to look at all of them the same day.”

“I think I’d like to look over all of them today to see if any stand out. Then do as you say and pick out some for breeding stock. I’m thinking we need to be especially picky about the stallions. You’re right that the best ones should stand out.”

“Why especially picky about the stallions?”

“They’re going to be over at the Wilde ranch and some of the fences are in need of repair. We don’t want an especially aggressive stallion leading all his mares out of there.”

“Maybe it’s not a good idea to put the stock over there then.” Joe couldn’t help having a bit of a smile with how much interest Adam seemed to have already for his idea.

“No, I think it’s a good idea, but if we get the stallions sorted out, we can put a couple in her stable and probably another in her paddock. That way they won’t be able to cause any mischief.”

“That sounds like a good plan. We could probably send a small crew to work on the fences too.”

“It’s being taken care of. It won’t be a problem as long as there aren’t any aggressive horses there.”

“All right, we’ve got a plan.”

Joe didn’t say anything about Adam’s knowledge of the Wilde ranch but already had an idea about where Adam might be spending his evenings. If he was, he could understand too why he wouldn’t be saying anything to their father. He had a tendency to be either too optimistic or too pessimistic in such situations. It was probably best that he wasn’t commenting at all.

*****

That afternoon, the two brothers brought a few horses over to the Wilde place even though they didn’t yet have a formal agreement for rent. They had an informal one and Savannah came out to see them. After Adam introduced Joe, they talked about where the horses would be put. The two stallions they brought over were somewhat agitated in the stable so Adam said he would stay with them until they settled down.

“Thanks. I guess then I’ll tell Pa not to expect you for dinner?”

“That’s right. He knows I’m not there for dinner any night.”

“Oh, yeah, he mentioned that.”

With a slight smile, Joe mounted up and rode toward home. Adam had the distinct impression that Joe was figuring things out and only hoped he wouldn’t talk with their father about it.

*****

He didn’t have to worry. Savannah had the same concern when she brought him some dinner.

“I didn’t think you were likely to have anything with you today.”

“Thank you. I didn’t. I’m pretty sore too so I don’t think I’ll be doing any work tonight.”

“Sore?”

“We were breaking horses this morning. I haven’t done much of that lately. It’s always hard but especially when it’s been awhile.”

“What hurts?
“It would be a shorter list to talk about what doesn’t hurt.”

“Will you be staying long then with the horses?”

“As long as I need to stay to settle them down.”

“Perhaps you could stay a bit longer to talk. I’ll be sending the children to bed soon enough and then I could come back out to talk.”

“I’d like that.”

About an hour and a half later, Savannah was back. When she entered the stable, she heard Adam singing softly to one of the stallions. It seemed to be helping as the horse was attentive to him and not agitated as it had been earlier. The stallion in the other enclosure was already calmed down. She listened for a time before moving closer.

“You have a wonderful voice. I could listen to you sing for hours.”

“Thank you. It seems to be something you and this stallion have in common. As long as I sing a bit, he stays calmer. He does not like being confined.”

“Maybe if it was darker in here, he would calm down more.”

“Well, I’m willing to give that a try.”

They turned down their lanterns to a very dim light. After about fifteen minutes, Adam had to admit that it was a good idea. The stallion had calmed in the darkness. He suggested they go outside and if there was no disturbance for a time, they could assume everything would be all right for the night.

“I have to milk the two cows in there in the morning. Do I have to worry about him?”

“No, he can’t get out of there. I was more worried that he would hurt himself trying. You’ll be perfectly safe. If you’re concerned, I could come over in the morning to be here when you go in the stable.”

“If it’s not too much trouble, I would appreciate that.”

“Let’s sit here and talk for a while to be sure he has settled for the night. Then I’ll be going so I can get back here early.”

“I have a question for you. It seemed today when I met your brother that he looked at you and then at me like he wondered if there was more going on that we were saying.”

“That wasn’t a question, but yes, I had the same feeling. He didn’t say anything though.”

“He’s the curious type and may be trying to figure it out?”

“Now that’s a question, and yes, I think that may be the case.”

“It makes me even more nervous about coming to dinner at your ranch.”

“It’s my father’s ranch, and I guess if they figure it out, then they figure it out. I have no control over that.”

“You won’t be upset?”

“No, I won’t be upset. I enjoy being with you, and I won’t be upset if they find that out.”

“Good, because I like being with you too, and I liked being kissed by you. I hope you do that again.” She had noted how he had kept a slight distance between them. “Don’t worry. I’m not a shy young girl with her first beau. I know this might not go any further. You might decide that your future lies elsewhere. But in the meantime, it has been a long time since I was with a man that I wanted to kiss.”

With that, Adam wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. “I do appreciate your honesty. I liked kissing you too.” So he kissed her again, and they hugged and kissed and talked softly for a time. “I should go now though. I can feel you shivering, and it’s getting late.”

After she turned up the lantern, he walked her to the house and gently kissed her goodnight before heading home. Upstairs, Owen thought he saw his mother kiss the ghost again, but he was not sure of that. The lantern on the ground beside them was turned down fairly low and he couldn’t see very well. If his mother was going to kiss someone, Owen wished she would kiss a real cowboy like Adam Cartwright. Beau liked him so Owen thought he must be a good man. He had been impressed by the dark clad cowboy too and hoped he would see more of him with the horses at their ranch now. Owen had a lot to think about and didn’t sleep well again.

*****

Chapter 5

When Savannah and the children arrived on the Ponderosa for dinner, Ben was immediately charmed by her and offered his arm to lead her into the house as Joe escorted Owen and Eva. Once inside, Savannah understood why she hadn’t been greeted by Adam and why he had not been at her ranch the night before. Sitting in the blue chair with his right leg elevated and his ankle resting on a pillow on the table in front of him, Adam clearly had not been there because of injury. A large bandage encircled his ankle, and if the blue toes were any indication, there was a nasty sprain underneath that bandage.

“I wondered why I didn’t see you again with more horses or to see to the two who were already there. The two in the stable are doing well. Owen and I fed them grass and gave them water.”

“Thank you. Another horse and I had a disagreement at the breaking corral. He ran me into a fence.”

“Is it broken?”

“Probably not, but it feels as bad as if it was.”

Ben interjected then. “The doctor thinks a couple of weeks with no walking on it should take care of the worst of it.”

“Can you ride?”

“Not for those two weeks.”

Although Adam thought she hid her disappointment well, Joe thought he detected it. Owen was watching his mother and Adam closely too trying to determine what was going on because she had seemed quite sad that Adam had not been there to take care of the horses or to bring more. He never got to ask about any of that because Ben had a lot of questions about Savannah’s plans for her small ranch so that took up much of the rest of the conversation time until dinner. Adam managed to get to the table on his own, but it was clear how difficult it was for him to walk even with crutches. During dinner, Ben began to tell some tales about his time on sailing ships, which Owen found fascinating.

By the end of dinner, Owen wanted to hear more and Ben was willing to oblige. It had been a long time since anyone had been so interested in his stories of the sea. So Joe invited Savannah and Eva to take a walk and see the rest of the place, but Eva had spotted Adam’s guitar and wanted to know all about that. With an enthusiastic young girl at his side, Adam ended up back in his chair entertaining Eva with the guitar explaining how it worked and playing notes for her to demonstrate. Joe escorted Savannah out the door and didn’t miss the look he got from Adam when he did so. He had to grin a bit as he walked with Savannah and later when he came in and the two were smiling, he saw Adam not too happy with that either. By then, Eva was on Adam’s lap with the guitar in front of her as Adam was doing his best to try to teach her some notes even though her fingers were a bit too small yet. She was determined though and eventually between the two of them, they plucked out a simple tune. It was time to go then, but the wind was picking up outside and Joe and Ben went to check on the weather.

“Savannah, it looks like a storm is coming in. Perhaps, you and the children would like to stay here tonight. We have plenty of room. I would hate to see you get caught in a storm on the way home.”

“Is it that close? I mean, it isn’t that far to our ranch.”

“The winds can get so strong that it can take longer, and if branches come down in the road, you might get stranded. Horses can be unruly too with bad weather.”

“I hadn’t considered that.”

“If you like, we can have the children in guest rooms upstairs, and you can stay in Adam’s room. Oh, I’m sorry, that sounded terrible. For a few days, Adam is using the guest room down here so he doesn’t have to use the stairs. So you would be using his room, but he wouldn’t be there.”

Embarrassed by his faux pas, Ben wasn’t pleased at all to see Joe grinning and even the smirk that Adam had. However, at least Savannah had the good grace to accept his explanation without further ado.

“Thank you. That would be very nice.”

As Adam set the guitar aside then, Eva leaned back against his shoulder and closed her eyes. It had been a long day for her, and she felt warm and comfortable. Now that she knew she didn’t have to rush out to their carriage for a ride home, she simply relaxed. Wrapping his arms around her, Adam shook his head gently at Savannah who was going to take her daughter thinking it was an imposition. He spoke softly.

“She’s fine. You can leave her here until Joe can carry her upstairs to bed. Hop Sing’s cousin will get the rooms ready. It won’t take long.”

Savannah pulled a rag doll out of her bag. “I thought she would fall asleep on the ride home so I brought her doll. Now I’m glad I have it because she’ll sleep better tonight with it in her arms.” She tucked the doll into her daughter’s arms and Eva snuggled in even more in Adam’s lap looking very natural there.

When Hop Sing’s cousin announced that the rooms were ready, Joe lifted Eva to carry her to bed and Savannah walked up with him to tuck her in. Owen followed along behind them. A little later, Joe was back downstairs saying that Owen wanted Ben to tell him some stories to help him go to sleep. He was more than willing of course, and when Savannah came back downstairs, Joe yawned rather dramatically and said it was time for him to get some sleep. She thanked him and settled in on the settee next to Adam who frowned a little.

“You don’t have to be jealous. We both saw those looks earlier. Your brother spent most of the time outside telling me all these great stories about you. He’s doing all he can to make sure I think you are the most wonderful man. Of course, I was already thinking that, but it didn’t hurt to have some reinforcement.”

“He knows.”

“Yes, he knows. He’s very happy for us and hopes it works out. I heard him mention to Owen that your father tells wonderful bedtime stories.”

“My brother is a schemer.”

“But his schemes are for good not evil, right?”

“Yes, but you wouldn’t believe some of the complicated plans he come up with. I could tell you some stories.”

“I have time.”

By the time Adam told her the whole story about Abigail Jones and Hank Myers and how Joe’s matchmaking scheme almost had Abigail asking him to marry her though, she realized that she didn’t have time for all the stories. She had laughed though and enjoyed the story telling very much. What she wanted even more though was a good night kiss especially as she considered she might not be seeing him for a couple of weeks and she told him the latter.

“I will find a way. If I have to have someone hook up the carriage for me, I will find a way. I don’t want to go two weeks without talking with you.”

“It’s only the talking you’ll miss?”

“If I found it easier to move, you’d find out it isn’t only the talking.”

“I find it easy enough to move if you don’t think I’m being too forward.” Savannah got up then and sat on the arm of the chair leaning back into Adam’s arms as he wrapped them around her and pulled her into his chest for a kiss that lasted for some time.

“Hmm, I don’t think that was too forward at all. However, I don’t think that will be nearly enough for two weeks. I think more kissing is definitely in order.” He grinned as she relaxed in his arms.

“I’m all yours, well at least for the next few minutes.” Then she got a wicked gleam in her eye. “I do get to sleep in your bed tonight though even if you won’t be there.”

“Don’t remind me. I may have some vivid dreams tonight.” He saw the look she gave him. “No, I’m not going to talk about that.” Then he kissed her before the conversation could get any more telling.

Upstairs, Ben had finished storytelling and watched Owen’s eyes close as he fell asleep. It had been a long time since he had been able to do that with a boy and he found it satisfying. Walking to the top of the stairs, he was going to ask Adam if he wanted the fire stoked but saw Savannah and Adam locked in a passionate embrace. He quietly and quickly backtracked to his room wondering how long they had known each other, but suddenly all those evenings ‘out’ made much more sense. He smiled as he pulled on his nightshirt and robe and waited to hear the bedroom door across the hall close. When it did, he went down the stairs to lock up and bank the fire for the night.

“Adam, do you need me to do anything down here for you before I head on up to bed.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Well, then good night.” However Ben paused at the stairs and decided it was a good time to say something he had been thinking about and it needed to be said. “Adam, I’ve been considering some things you said, and you were right. I would have waited and asked Hoss and Joe what had happened with those contracts even if I was upset. I have taken advantage of you too often and that was unfair. I think it’s because I have depended on you since you were very young to be responsible and mature. That was unfair too and yet necessary. It took away a lot of your chance to be a child. I know you have told me that you don’t resent it, but I know now that you resent that I don’t accept you on your terms, what that life made you. You are serious, mature, and responsible as I expected you to be and I need to remind myself of that when I speak with you. You are a man in your own right, and you are different from your brothers. I knew that, but I came to take it for granted expecting more of you and being disappointed when I thought you didn’t do things exactly as I wanted. I know I need to do better with recognizing that you do things very well indeed but not always what I would do. Now I am trying, and those smirks of yours lately show that you know I have and that you know what a struggle it can be to change habits. I hope you can give me some credit for doing my best with that.” Seeing the surprise and then the appreciation from his son, Ben acknowledged the simple thank you he received.

“Pa, as long as we’re making amends, I have to apologize for not keeping my temper. Sometimes, I can be touchy and stubborn, and that led to the rift between us too. I am sorry about that.”

“Thank you, son. Oh, and I saw Barney Fuller. He said I should have taught my oldest son some respect for his elders. He’s still smarting over what you did to him.”

“What did you say?”

“Nothing. I simply stayed very quiet, and then I did my best imitation of one of your smirks and headed off to finish my errands.”

That got a big grin, and Ben headed up to bed with a big smile for the first time in months and slept very well. Even though he would have to wait for a better time to ask Savannah why Owen thought their ranch was haunted, he felt that he had made excellent progress in clearing away some of the bad feeling between him and his eldest son.

*****

The next morning, Ben enjoyed having Savannah and the children at the breakfast table even if it was for a brief time. She was anxious to get home because there were chores to do and she had a lot of things to bring to town because she didn’t make a trip on Sundays. Adam wished he could help, but there wasn’t anything he could do. Ben said he would though because he was going to be helping out Joe taking Adam’s place for a few days at least. Adam and Savannah didn’t get any time alone to say goodbye so they had to say it with their eyes and with a handshake that lasted longer than was the usual.

For the day, Adam took over the paperwork as his father took charge of bringing horses to the Wilde ranch and getting them settled in there. He also checked on the two stallions to make sure they were doing all right. In the afternoon, Ben and Savannah got to talk after Ben had taken a tour of the ranch with Owen who eagerly showed him all the work the ghost had done. Ben had noted the craftsmanship and thought he recognized whose work it had to be.

“Owen has been telling me about the black ghost you have had working here many evenings. He even let slip that his mother kissed that ghost once or twice. He wondered if I thought that was all right.”

Savannah had been smiling at his telling of the black ghost but her eyes got very wide with the rest of the story. She didn’t know what to say in response.

“It’s all right, my dear. I know that you and Adam have become very close. I’m happy for the two of you and hope it will work out for you. But why the ghost story? That’s what has me intrigued.”

Shrugging, Savannah decided on the truth. “Adam came to work here without asking me or telling me he would. He needed an outlet for some, ah, energy he had.”

It was Ben’s turn to nod. He had a good idea what kind of energy that was.

“Owen saw the lantern light and told me he thought we had a ghost in the stable. Now I knew that no intruder was going to light a lantern and announce his presence. I heard the sounds of tools too. I peeked in the stable and saw him working on the stable doors. We talked briefly and he simply said he wanted to help and needed a project. So he came in the evenings and worked. I didn’t tell Owen it was a ghost, but I never told him it wasn’t. I had no idea that he had seen us together.”

“Children can be very curious at that age.”

“Yes, they can, and I guess he must be, and now he wants an answer. I know now that I should talk to him and explain things.”

“I hope you don’t think I’m intruding with this question, but I am concerned for you and for Adam. Is Owen going to be resentful that you’re seeing another man, I mean, other than his father who has passed?”

“I don’t think he will be. He never knew his father. Well he did, I suppose, but he was barely a year old when he died. He has no memory of him. It was shortly before Eva was born. Neither of my children has ever had a father in their lives.” She saw the look Ben had and realized that Adam would not have talked to him about any of their conversations. “My husband died suddenly before Eva was born. I don’t think I made that clear when I was at the ranch. The children have only had me. They never had their father in their lives when they could remember him.

“They seem to like Adam.”

“They do. Eva adores him already. All she could talk about today was Adam and that guitar. She wants a guitar now and wants Adam to teach her how to play.”

“She does seem to have some talent.”

“She does. She loves to draw too. She even made some drawings of how she thinks I ought to improve the house. After she saw your house, she said she has some new ideas about adding a porch on the front too.”

“No wonder she likes Adam. He was a lot like that when he was her age, full of ideas. He still is.”

“Yes, he is.” Savannah said no more thinking it wasn’t her place to discuss Adam with his father.

Her cryptic response though sent a message to Ben. He knew she and Adam had been talking, and he had been thinking too about that issue. It was his ranch, and he couldn’t give it up without giving up his life, but more and more, he was trying to think of a way that Adam could have his life here too. Otherwise, he knew his son was going to leave. This horse breeding business Joe had suggested had gotten him thinking diversification. They could easily do that and give each son something else to do that they could manage so that they would each have something of their own as well as the shared dream of the ranch itself. It would take some thought and planning, but he knew that together they could do it.

Noticing how quiet and introspective Ben had gotten, Savannah wondered what he was thinking, but Owen and Eva came out then so she didn’t get to ask. It would have been rather bold of her anyway, and she wasn’t sure how she would ever have done it. She knew is was better to let Ben talk to Adam, and hopefully he would. She had to talk to her son too and hoped it would go well. There was quite a lot to tell him.

*****

Chapter 6

After a few days of working at home, Adam had enough. Grabbing his cane, he struggled out to the stable intent on harnessing a team to the carriage. As he began to work at that slowly, his father and brother came in and without saying a word, took over the task. When they finished, he smiled.

“Thank you.”

“I’m surprised you held out this long. She’s anxious to see you too. Would you please be back before the sun goes down though? I don’t want Pa sending me out to search for you in the dark.”

“I will. I don’t want to drive this thing after sundown either.”

When Adam got to the Wilde ranch, he managed to get the team to the water trough and then set them up with feedbags Joe had thoughtfully provided. When he was going to go to the house, he was intercepted by Owen who had a message for him.

“Mama said to stay out here for a bit. She’s fitting Eva for a dress, and she’s already too fidgety, Mama says.”

“All right. Maybe we could take a look at those stallions then to see how they’re doing.”

“I’ve been feeding them. They seem to like me.”

A bit worried, Adam had to ask. “You haven’t been going in there alone, have you?”

“No, Mama won’t let me do that. I go with her every time she goes in though.”

Relieved, Adam continued to the stable with Owen who kept pace with him as he limped with the cane. He could tell Owen was curious so he explained how he got hurt. Owen wanted to know more than the brief story he had heard when they were at the ranch for dinner and had many questions about breaking horses and training them.

“Are you going to break these stallions too?”

“We will in time, but the main use for them is for breeding so we won’t be worried too much about using them for ranch work. They’ll get some light use, but we wouldn’t want them to get hurt.”

“What does it mean to use them for breeding?”

Suddenly Adam had a hint of what it might be like to be a father and have to face unexpected questions especially when he wasn’t sure of how he should answer. “Ah, they’ll be fathers to many of the new horses we get.”

“Oh.” Except that didn’t quite answer his question although he was going to let it go as he had more important things on his mind as they checked out the stallions. “Mama talked to me about the ghost except she said there wasn’t no ghost.”

“Wasn’t a ghost.”

“Yes, that’s what she said. She said it was you. She said you came here at night and worked. I thought you were a ghost when I saw you. But then I saw Mama kiss you, but I thought she was kissing a ghost.”

Surprised, Adam wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that part. “How did you feel when you saw your Mama kissing a ghost?”

“I’m glad it was you and not a ghost. I mean, I like you. I didn’t really like the idea of having a ghost here even if it was a friendly one.”

“You don’t mind if I kiss your mother?”

“Well, if she wants you to kiss her, I guess it’s all right with me. Oh, as long as I’m not there.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Do you want to kiss her?”

“Ah, yes I do.”

“Why?”

“Well, when a man likes a woman, that’s what you do, I guess.”

“I don’t think I’m ever going to kiss a girl. It seems kind of yucky to me.”

“When you grow up to be a man, it won’t seem yucky.”

“I don’t know. I think it still will be.”

“You wait about eight years or so and then you tell me what you think.”

“I’m only seven now. That’s longer than I am now.”

“All right, you tell me in six years. How’s that?”

“All right, I’ll tell you in six years.”

Adam was rescued then by the dinner bell ringing. It was Savannah letting them know it was safe to come to the house again. When he got to the house, Savannah had a chair pulled out in the kitchen for him to sit. He was grateful for that. Owen immediately headed into the dining area when Savannah said there were cookies and milk there for him and that Eva was already there. She smiled as he left them alone, and she leaned down to give Adam a kiss although a rather chaste one. Adam spoke softly.

“Owen gave me permission to kiss you as long as he doesn’t have to witness it.”

She smiled at that. “Yes, he seemed quite relieved that there was no ghost but that you were the one here working at night. He said he liked you.”

“He told me that too.”

“Eva likes you too. I had to bribe her with cookies and milk to get a few minutes alone with you.”

“I won’t be able to stay late. I have the carriage so I need to leave well before the sun goes down.”

“Will you stay for dinner? I baked a pie.”

“If you eat early enough, and you didn’t need to bribe me with a pie although it is appreciated.”

They did have dinner early that Adam could eat with the family. Eva was thrilled and Owen liked being able to ask Adam more questions. Adam didn’t get to spend much time talking with Savannah but at least she was there, and he got to see her. He told her he would try to come back in the next day or two. When he returned two days later, he brought some of Hop Sing’s cousin’s fresh-baked cookies, some drawing paper, and an illustrated book. With Eva and Owen at the dining table busy with those items, he had time with Savannah. They got to talk and got a few kisses that were more than chaste. Every few days for the two weeks while he was recuperating, he was at the Wilde ranch with distractions for the children so that he got to spend some time with Savannah. At home, he kept the paperwork up to date so his father could help out on the ranch. On that second Saturday, he told her his opportunities for spending time as he was had ended. He wasn’t using the cane although he still had a slight limp.

“I’m going to be back to a regular routine. I’ll try to get here in the evenings though when I can.”

“You won’t have to stay out in the dark though.”

With a grin, Adam had to agree with that. “I’ll be on light duty for a while until I see how well my ankle holds up to riding all day. Now, one more thing: will you and the children come for dinner on Sunday? Hoss should be home. We had a telegram a few days ago that he was on his way back so he should arrive tomorrow.”

“We would like that. I’d like to meet this brother I’ve heard so much about.”

*****

On Sunday, Hoss was looking forward to meeting Savannah too. Arriving home a little later than expected, he had come through town and heard some stories. Coming out of the washroom and looking forward to dinner, he greeted his family. “Yep, I heard she’s a right pretty one and nobody has laid claim to her yet. I heard tell her place is haunted though. Yessiree, story is going round ’bout a ghost cowboy at her place comes at night with lights floating ’round the place.”

Clearly the children had told some other children and the story had gotten around town. Before anyone could explain anything, there was a knock on the door and Adam went to answer it. Savannah was there with the children.

“I’m sorry I didn’t hear you arrive. Hoss was just telling us about how your place has a ghost.”

Wrapping an arm around Savannah in a clearly possessive manner, Adam kissed her cheek before turning to the rest of the family. She slipped her arm around his waist to reciprocate. Hoss was dumbfounded. Owen came in next having heard what Adam said.

“Our place ain’t haunted. That was Adam. He kissed my Mama, but he ain’t supposed to do it any more when I can see. Hey, Joe, Adam says you’re the best horse breaker there ever was. Can you tell me all about what you do? I bet you tell stories as good as your pa.”

Eva came in next and took Adam’s hand and curtsied. “Do you like my new dress? Mama just finished it. It’s the one she was working on the day you came over after you had your owie.”

“Yes, it is very pretty, and you are pretty too. That was a very nice curtsy you did.”

“Mama taught me. She said girls are supposed to do that.” Then Eva looked up at Adam with big eyes after seeing Hoss. “Is that your brother? He’s really big.”

“He’s so nice that it didn’t fit in an ordinary size man. God had to make him bigger.”

Looking at him from the toe of his boot to the top of his head, Eva was serious at first but then smiled. “He must be really nice then.”

That got an answering smile from Hoss but also a question. “Kin I ask what the heck’s been happenin’ since I left?” Then Hoss realized what he had said. “Sorry ’bout the language, ma’am, but I was kinda surprised is all.”

So there was a lively discussion of how the ghost story had developed, about the horses being put at the Wilde ranch, and about Adam getting permission from Owen to continue seeing his mother. Then Hoss got to tell his tales about the cattle drive and Joe told a rather embellished tale of Adam being rammed into the fence by a mustang. They finished off the evening with some singing before Adam offered to drive Savannah home. He had Sport tied to the back of the carriage to ride home. After he left, Hoss turned to his father.

“He seems a lot happier than when I left.”

“It wasn’t that way for a while. That’s why he headed over to work at Savannah’s place. But he and Pa worked it out, right, Pa?” Joe had a big grin.

“Yes, to a point, but I have something I want to talk over with all of you. I can tell you, Hoss, the idea I mentioned already to Joe and Adam. I want you to think about it and then we can all talk about it. Diversification. Joe is thinking about setting up a horse breeding operation here that he will run. Adam is thinking of possibly a construction business using our timber. Now do either of those interest you or do you have another idea in mind? Anything we can do is open to discussion.”

*****

At the Wilde ranch, Adam had a similar discussion with Savannah telling her that he was thinking of what he could do to start a construction business. It was the kind of news she had been hoping to hear.

“So that means you’re not thinking of leaving any more?”

“Not at this point. Right now, I’d like to do some building projects near here.”

“And later?”

“That depends.”

“Depends on what?”

“On what happens with our relationship. If I have a home and a family here, I would stay because I would have no reason to go. If all I have is work, then I would go where the work is. Right now, I want to see where our relationship goes. I want it to be a lasting relationship, but it’s too new to be sure of that.”

“I agree. We need to take some time to get to know each other better.” But in her heart, Savannah knew she loved him and that knowing him better wouldn’t change that.

As Adam finished with the carriage horses and putting away the harness, he reached for Savannah and pulled her into his arms. Their kiss was passionate and long. When she pulled away to catch her breath, he smiled down at her.

“Perhaps not too much time.”

“If that kiss was any indication, your heart already knows. It’s your head that needs convincing.”

There was no arguing with that because Adam had drawn that same conclusion. His history had caused him to be cynical and reticent about giving his heart afraid it was only going to be broken again. He wondered how many losses a person could suffer and still desire a life companion. Conquering his doubts was his quest, and he thanked Savannah for allowing him the time to do it.

*****

Chapter 7

It took only a few weeks, some encouragement from Joe, and a little coaching from Owen who asked Adam if he was going to marry his mother. Owen had taken to accompanying Adam on various errands and while they were setting some new fence posts, he had some observations and some questions for the man he was already treating somewhat like a father.

“She looks out the window every afternoon wondering if you’re coming to see her. I mean, I like you coming over too, and Eva wants you to come over too so I thought you could marry Mama and then you’d be here every day. Don’t you think that’s a better idea?”

“Owen, you are a very smart boy. I think I may take you up on that advice.”

“When?”

“I don’t know. When I’m sure it’s the right time.”

*****

When Adam returned home that day, Joe was working in the stable. He asked Adam if he was betrothed yet. Adam told him what Owen had said.

“What do you mean you’re not sure it’s right yet?”

“Exactly what I said.”

“Listen, you love her, so the right time is now.”

“If I’m not sure, how do you know?”

“Anybody could tell that whenever you’re not with her, you want to be. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what love is. If somebody mentions her name, you smile. She’s touched your heart like no one else ever has. I don’t know what you’re waiting for. Divine intervention?”

“I’m a bit worried, that’s all. I don’t want to rush into something and find out it’s a mistake.”

“Adam, she’s not Laura.”

“I know that in my head.”

“Then you ought to tell your heart because that woman loves you for who you are and not for what you can do for her. She doesn’t want to change you, and believe me, there are plenty of reasons why she could want to.”

Joe was grinning then and Adam took a playful swipe at him, which he ducked.

“When did you get so wise in the ways of love, little brother?”

“Not so wise as you can tell from my romantic history, but Pa’s been talking with me.”

*****

That Saturday, Adam proposed to Savannah and she accepted. When he told his family, they weren’t at all surprised, of course. They had been waiting for that announcement. Joe especially kidded his oldest brother.

“Heck, Adam, if that was me, we would have had the wedding already. By the way, when are we having a wedding?”

“As soon as Savannah can sew up a dress and we can arrange a small party.” Adam saw the look his father had. “No, Pa, Savannah doesn’t know that many people here yet. It wouldn’t be right to have her surrounded by strangers at her wedding. Let’s keep it small please.”

*****

The guest list ended up being about fifty, which was a compromise between what the couple wanted and what Ben hoped to have. It was a good size for a party and the children had a very good time. What was best for them was that they were going to spend two nights on the Ponderosa being entertained by their new grandfather and uncles so their parents could have some privacy for their wedding weekend. Adam and Savannah made the most of that Saturday night and Sunday too.

*****

On Monday, Adam and Savannah picked up the children and began to move Adam’s things from the ranch house to her house, which was now their house. When they were at the Ponderosa, Ben had another idea to offer.

“Perhaps instead of Savannah taking all of her produce and eggs to town, she could sell them to the Ponderosa. We could certainly use them and then Hop Sing wouldn’t have so much work to do.”

Savannah looked to Adam but he told her it was her decision.

“I accept. I’ll even give you a better price because it’s a much shorter trip here than to have to go to town every day, and of course, there is the family connection.”

“We’ll pay a fair price.”

“Oh, I’m sure we can work out a fair price. I can be back later with eggs and butter.”

“That sounds wonderful. I will let Hop Sing know that his days of having to manage everything just got a little bit less. I’m sure he would like some milk for his cooking too.”

Everything was falling into place. They all knew there would be some bumps in the road ahead, but they had smoothed out the worst of them and were rolling along well. Hoss and Joe had to get in some teasing though. When the family came back with eggs and with a wagon to get the rest of Adam’s things, Hoss started in on Adam as they finished packing the wagon.

“You don’t suppose he got married just to get outta chores, now do ya, Joe?”

“Nah, he wouldn’t get married only for that. I think he got tired of all the riding back and forth, back and forth.”

Remembering a day like this one about a year earlier, Adam sighed. “Yes, riding back and forth on that hot, dusty road with that hot wind blowing in my face.”

“Well, that reminds me. We never did finish up what we started to do that day, and we ain’t likely ta have another chance at it.”

Hoss looked meaningfully at the horse trough as Joe nodded and grinned.

“Oh, no, you wouldn’t.”

Adam would have backed up to run, but the wagon was behind him and Hoss was to one side and Joe to the other. That’s when his savior came to his rescue. Beau had been resting comfortably under the wagon enjoying the shade there, but saw two men advancing with apparent hostile intent toward his master. He shot out of the space growling with teeth bared. Hoss and Joe suddenly got very big eyes. Joe did the worst possible thing at that moment and ran triggering the chase instinct in Beau who ran after him. Hoss meant to help and went after both but then Beau turned on him when Joe scrambled up a tree. That meant Hoss had no alternative except to follow Joe up the tree but he wasn’t as fast and Beau got a piece of his loose pants material and ripped a hole showing his long underwear. Adam had followed with a leash yelling at Beau to stop, which he finally did looking up at the two men in the tree. Hearing all the commotion, Ben and Savannah had come outside with the children only to see Hoss and Joe in a tree and Adam standing next to Beau looking up at both of them.

“What in tarnation has been going on out here?”

With a huge grin, Adam answered his father as Hoss and Joe smiled sheepishly. “What do you mean, Pa? Hoss and Joe went up the tree to check out the view. I had to stay down here because Beau can’t climb trees. Right, Beau?”

Hearing his master speak so calmly and positively, Beau stopped the low growl toward Hoss and Joe and instead looked up at Adam who petted him on the head. Then Adam started to laugh. At the wagon, Owen and Savannah wanted to know what was funny.

“Oh, this turned out rather well compared to the last time my brothers tried a similar stunt. I’ll tell you on the way home.” Adam was still laughing as the wagon pulled out.

Ben looked at his two younger sons up in the tree, waved his hands in disgust, and walked back to the house. Joe and Hoss looked at each other.

“Well, my plan worked out perfectly.”

“Your plan?”

“Of course, Hoss. You don’t think I would let something like this happen to me otherwise, do you?”

“You planned it? I don’t believe it.”

“You said you wanted to hear Adam laugh again, didn’t you. Well, I got him laughing. You heard him, didn’t you?”

Frowning, Hoss had to wonder. It seemed so implausible, but Joe was being so sincere. He watched his younger brother clamber down from the tree and then slowly followed knowing their father wasn’t going to be happy at all when he saw the tear in his pants.

“Well, ya, that was almost worth being scared half ta death by that dog they got. He seemed like such a friendly dog too.”

Joe couldn’t hold back then and started giggling as he neared the house. Hoss took off in pursuit, but Joe was in the house before he could do anything. Ben finally heard the whole story at dinner, chuckled, and then forbid the two from doing anything in retaliation. He smiled though. Like Hoss and Joe, he had enjoyed hearing Adam laugh. Life was returning to something more balanced, and they could look forward and not back.

***The End***

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